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“Well, why does that matter?”

Crowley lifted his chin as Aziraphale’s question fully sank in, just so it was clear that he was looking at him. Aziraphale sat in his bergère chair, slightly slouched after three and a half bottles of a fine Brunello di Montalcino shared between the pair of them. Nestled in the back room of the bookshop, they’d been casually drinking the afternoon away, neither in the mood to go anywhere, but desperate for some excuse to bask in the other’s presence.

It had been a month since the Apocalypse had been successfully thwarted, and they still hadn’t figured out a way to ask the other to just stay.

“Crowley.” Aziraphale pushed himself up, so he could sit a bit straighter and - in his mind, at least - look a bit more officious. Authoritative. Demanding.

When it came down to it, he just looked like he was pouting.

Crowley hummed as he took a long sip of his wine, swirling the notes of fig and leather on his tongue to delay having to come up with an answer. Aziraphale frowned harder as he set his own half-empty glass down on the table between them. With a snap it was full again, though the gesture didn’t distract the angel as much as Crowley hoped it would.

Oh well.

“What’s that, angel?” he finally sighed, letting his head loll against the back of the couch, loose limbs belying the tension coiling somewhere in his gut. Possibly his gut. Where did humans keep their guts?

“I asked why does that matter?”

Right. So he had.

Crowley drained the rest of his glass, then let it slip from his fingers. It still landed upright on the table, even if it didn’t have a right to given the angle of its descent, but he expected it to be on the table, so it was. His gaze fixated on the pair of glasses, one empty and one full to the brim, the bindings of the books crammed into the shelf behind him barely reflected in their surface. 

“Why does that matter,” he echoed, voice nothing more than a murmur, but still laced with the dark, heaviness of storm clouds creeping into the atmosphere.

He stood from the couch in one fluid motion, despite the wine sloshing through his veins, and slithered out of the back room. Aziraphale’s sputtering was lost on him as he strolled past the shelves and out the front door without a goodbye or even a reason why. Just the soft ring of a bell and then nothing. Surely Aziraphale would take his sudden departure as reason enough.

Why does that matter?

Crowley gritted his teeth and sobered up in an instant. He didn’t look back over his shoulder, making a beeline for the Bentley. Aziraphale wouldn’t follow him. He knew better. He’d leave him to his sulking, then later - once he’d cooled down and came crawling back - would roll his eyes at how dramatic he was being and huff, ‘really, Crowley, was that necessary?’

Because that was what they did. That was what was safe. Just like drinking the day away in the back of the bookshop or trying new restaurants or whatever Aziraphale came up with as an excuse for wanting to spend time together.

Except it wasn’t safe for Aziraphale to be around him. Not before, not now. Not ever.

He’d nearly forgotten. He’d grown too complacent. That realization sank in quite quickly on what Crowley had thought was the first day of the rest of their lives. The first day on their side. Finally on the same page. Equals, partners, friends. Not adversaries. Not the wily Serpent of Eden and the principality Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate.

But then, like a stone dropped into the deepest chasm in the ocean, reality struck him in the form of Aziraphale’s frightened, pale face, robbed of his voice and agency.

He should’ve expected it.

No, he did expect it. He knew Aziraphale - had known him for six thousand years - and expected that things wouldn’t change just because of some gamble. A ridiculously optimistic gamble that their respective sides didn’t know them as well as they knew each other. Or that whatever back channels Heaven and Hell had didn’t tip them off to the fact that the two of them might try something as stupid as swapping bodies and pretending to be one another to weasel their way out of their punishments.

Yeah, honestly, Crowley was still surprised it had worked at all. 

(Especially when he could still feel the dull pulse of something hotter than hellfire licking at his insides the moment Gabriel told ‘Aziraphale’ to shut his stupid mouth and die already… He’d stood on the precipice of giving it all up just see the look that fucking Archangel would have in his eyes as Crowley made him regret ever thinking that.)

If it weren’t for a prophecy flat out telling them it was what they needed to do, he didn’t think he would’ve been at all on board with Aziraphale’s enthusiastic suggestion. Or if he’d at all been in the right state of mind to argue with the angel, which was questionable on a good day, let alone riding on Armageddon’s coat tails with the loss of his car, the bookshop, and Aziraphale thrumming under his skin. The threat of losing him yet again imminent.

But he didn’t lose him again. They survived. Pats on the back for both of them. Gold stars all around. 

The point was, he hadn’t expected things to change so quickly. Aziraphale took to change like a duck took to oil spills, as in not very well. Which, for the record, Crowley was fine with. 

Aziraphale wouldn’t be Aziraphale if he didn’t work himself into a self-righteous huff over the thought of doing something different. Even if it was something as simple as finding a new tailor because his last one had retired, as humans often do. He needed to be eased into things, introduced to them in a way that piqued his curiosity. 

He needs to be tempted, the voice in his head hissed. Crowley kicked that thought right out his ears, shoulders hunching to barricade his mind as he slammed the car door shut and tore off down the street. Like he could outrun his own head.

No, Aziraphale didn’t need to be- enticed. Or persuaded or coaxed or rushed. Crowley could be patient, he reflected as he tightened his grip on the wheel. He’d already waited six thousand bloody years.

There wasn’t really anything to even be patient for. If all they did for the next six millenia was eat little nibbles together and go for walks in the park every day and drink themselves silly in the bookshop, well that all sounded pretty perfect to him, actually.

But then he’d been given hope.

Crowley felt his ribs rattle as something deeper than his corporation ached. The very vibrations of his intangible existence quivered as anticipation and longing swirled somewhere in the gaping void of him. Raw at the edges. Cut down the center and carelessly peeled back, open and bare if you looked close enough. Open and bare so that blasted hope could swell in the space it left. Full to bursting. Quaking with the kind of pressure that could only build up after years and years and years and years

“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”  

When Aziraphale touched his hand at the Ritz… when he’d looked at him with eyes so warm and rich with- with- something. Something that Crowley had only ever caught glimpses of over the years. He knew it had been directed at him before, dozens of times now, but never while Aziraphale knew he was looking. Never so openly. Never so... happy.

Before the Apocalypse, whenever he’d catch a sliver of that rapturous shine, that warm and rich feeling would spill down his spine to pool in the center of him. Delicious and divine, going down as smooth as golden syrup while coating his infernal nature with cloying, saccharine feelings. Sweeter than the sticky toffee pudding Aziraphale liked so much from the pub near the park, always languidly sucking the sugar from the tines of his fork with a pleased hum and fluttering lashes. 

Aziraphale’s happiness made Crowley feel just like that. Like a big, lumpy serving of sticky toffee pudding. Too worried about going too fast that he stayed stuck and sticky - sticking to himself in the hopes that he wouldn’t stick to Aziraphale and drag him down into this honeyed hell.

But that was before the Apocalypse. Before the body swap. Before their side.

When Aziraphale touched his hand at the Ritz and smiled at him… Crowley smiled back. Just a small, barely there quirk of the lips, undetectable if you didn’t know where to look. But Aziraphale knew. Aziraphale practically bubbled over with knowing. Instead of drowning in that syrupy warmth, Crowley tried to savor it. They had all the time in the world now.

And then it all went pear-shaped, didn’t it?

Another six thousand years could go by, and Crowley would still have the vivid image of Aziraphale staring at him, fear bright in his eyes. The predator in him could taste it. Like he’d coiled around him too tight and squeezed. He’d never forget it. And he’d never allow himself to be the cause of such a look again. 

Throughout the millennia they’d known each other, Crowley couldn’t recall a single moment where Aziraphale truly seemed afraid of him. Wary, maybe. Cautious and fretful, nervous and uncertain. But never terror. 

Crowley laid his hand heavily on the Bentley’s horn even though no one was in his way, muscles in his neck tense and taut as he glared straight ahead. He’d never been afraid of him before. Afraid for him, sure, but not of

What did you expect? He knows the game you’re playing. You said so yourself, he’s so clever, isn’t he? He’s finally seen Heaven for what it is, now you’re next.

He cursed several other drivers as they swerved to get out of his way, the tires of the Bentley squealing as it tore through London. Through it and out. He needed to get away, needed out of London, needed- not air, he didn’t need air, he didn’t need to breathe, he just needed-

Space.

“Alpha Centauri. Lots of spare planets up there!”

The M25 was no longer an infernal ring of fire, but he still drove onto the shoulder to avoid the traffic, careening into the countryside like a bat out of Hell. Or a snake, rather. Freddie howled on his radio, the show must go on! The show must go on!

No. No, he had to stop. This all had to stop.

He’d tried to put an end to it in 1862.

He’d slept through more than half a century trying to put an end to it once.

Whatever happens, I’ll leave it all to chance. Another heartache, another failed romance…

It was his own fault, really. He’d started to suspect it, every now and again, but he’d been able to avoid the niggling little thought for centuries. As they became more comfortable in the Arrangement - with each other - that was when he turned on himself. His own traitorous whisper crooning in his ear, Do it. Ssssay it. Make it happen.

“Ssssshall I tempt you to a ssssspot of lunch?”

“Temptation accomplished.”

He’d been tempting Aziraphale the whole time, hadn’t he?

Not, like, goading him or teasing him to get him flustered and huffy and so indignant. Proper temptation. Doing his job, unintentionally, without even realizing it. Forgetting himself. Like the way he’d forget about hissing or blinking or ducks. He was a demon. Temptation came with the territory.

It was one thing to be in favor of the general idea of tempting Aziraphale, but quite another for it to actually happen. At his own hand, at that.

He wasn’t sure what had spurred on this sudden spiral this time, sometimes he was able to ignore the niggling guilt and the knowledge that he was just wrong. So wrong for Aziraphale. That no matter what Crowley’s intentions might have been, he was only paving the way for the angel’s personal pathway to Hell. As wretched as Heaven was and as much of a bastard as he could be, Aziraphale didn’t belong in Hell.

The show must go on! The show must go on!

Crowley silenced the radio with a sharp flick of his wrist, preferring the silence to the taunting melodies sung by one Freddie Mercury.

It started with the Arrangement. At least, that was when he started noticing. It was incredibly likely he’d been doing it since the beginning. Since the garden. Had he tempted the angel into lifting a kind wing for him to shield him from the first storm? Appealed to his compassionate nature, the one that gave away a sword to the humans who were in need.

But the Arrangement was where he noticed the slips. Not at first, no. Not until he realized that the extra temptations might have been costing Aziraphale a few frivolous miracles to keep them concealed from his superiors. That they might even cost him his life - or his corporation, at any rate. Crowley had always assumed no one would suspect a thing because that was what he believed. Why would anyone suspect anything?

Then everyone was a suspect and Aziraphale wasn’t safe. Not from Heaven and not from Hell. So he’d asked for insurance. Something to buy them time when things went- well, pear-shaped. That was all he’d wanted in the end. Just time with Aziraphale. Had that been so bad to tempt him into?

The answer was a resounding yes, yes of course it was bad. But he was a demon, after all. It came with the territory.

And if there was anything he wanted more than time with Aziraphale, it was the angel’s safety. Even if it meant taking himself out of the picture.

But then that would leave Aziraphale alone.

The Bentley screeched to a stop on the shoulder of the M4, just skirting the edges of Bristol as the engine idled. Somehow he’d nearly ended up in Wales, the sun set on the horizon behind him and the sky dusted with gentle strokes of lilac and periwinkle before it was swallowed up by the black of night. It had been late afternoon when he’d left. They’d had dinner plans.

Crowley clutched the wheel as he was doused in an icy chill. This was the first time he’d left London since the Apocalypse. Though he and Aziraphale still needed their space from time to time, neither one of them had actually left London.

He wrenched the Bentley back onto the road and took the first exit so he could promptly turn about. He drove like holy water lapped at his heels, the countryside a blur that bled into the background and then into darkness as the rumble of the car’s engine and the roar of Crowley’s own thoughts drowned out everything else.

Visions of a bookshop in flames licked at every corner of his mind. Like hell if he was going to let something like happen just because of their last conversation. It had been all his fault anyway.

Somehow he’d allowed himself to be led to the slippery slope of discussing temptations with the angel in the first place. At first they’d been recounting drunken tales of temptations gone wrong throughout the Arrangement’s existence. Many of Aziraphale’s foibles were enough to wring a snicker or two from Crowley sober, let alone when he was two bottles deep in wine. They’d started out laughing, loose and casually leaning more and more in to one another.

“You’ve always had quite the knack for tempting, my dear.” He’d been smiling as he said it, cheeks a ruddy red and eyes bright from the wine as he looked at him from over the rim of his glass.

“S’pose I do. Quite good at temptations, me,” he drawled, lips pulling back from his teeth in a roguish grin.

Aziraphale wiggled in his seat, a chuckle of his own escaping him. “That you are, you wicked serpent. I never really stood a chance against your wiles.”

The warmth of the alcohol flooding his corporation’s bloodstream fizzled out and turned leaden as the pleasant sensation of pumping blood ceased. “S’pose you didn’t,” was said a little less playfully, in a throat that had gone dry and tight. “This whole time…”

“What’s that?”

“This whole time, that’s what I’ve been doing, isn’t it? You were right.” Crowley set his glass down, then picked it back up and took a large gulp.

“Right about what?”

“Right not to trust me. From the beginning. From the garden.”

The Bentley pushed one hundred miles per hour, careening back into London’s city limits when it shone as brightly as the stars speckled overhead, a beacon in the night. Crowley didn’t allow his corporation to breathe until he sensed the angelic presence that enveloped the city, and only then did his ironclad grip lessen on the wheel. Aziraphale was fine. He was fine.

Crowley pulled off the M4, but didn’t dare go into London proper. Instead he stayed on the M25 for several hours, circling the city. He couldn’t be so careless. They were all each other had now. Because of him, Aziraphale had fallen out of favor with Heaven and had no one on his side but him. Yes, it had been what Crowley had wanted, but did that make it right? He was a demon. Didn’t that automatically make anything that he wanted wrong?

As the night dwindled, wandering past midnight and into the early morning hours, Crowley finally had enough of the dizzying circles. Tempted - do it, do it, do it - to drive past the bookshop just to see - not to go in, but just to look - Crowley ignored that traitorous urge and drove instead to St. James. Though London never truly slept, no city ever did, the streets were quieter at this time of night and the park would practically be his to wind his way through.

He laid his hand on the top of the Bentley as he stepped out, the car still warm, and the serpent in him let out a soft hiss. Then he brushed past the Duke of York Column and down the steps. Hands shoved into the bottom of barely there pockets, Crowley stalked through St. James’ Park. He all but melted into the shadows as he ducked in and out of the beams of light casting a milky glow from the streetlamps along the path. 

The duck pond was just ahead. He could see the same wrought iron fence he’d stood at in 1862, where fury had burned in his chest and the tiniest bit of relief assured him, there, he won’t want to talk to you now. He won’t miss you while you’re gone. He won’t be tempted. He’s safe. He’d stood there for hours, stewing in his own soup of emotions, the heat of it eventually becoming tepid until it inevitably cooled and congealed inside him. Until the sun sank and it all went dark. He’d eventually retired to their bench - it wasn’t yet their bench though, the benches had been new and Aziraphale hadn’t been too fond of them at first - and then spent his last waking hours of the 19th century on the hard, wooden seat.

(By the time he’d awoken, the idea of park benches had grown on Aziraphale and Crowley had completely lost any further opportunities to tease him about it.)

He’d never admit it, but half of him stayed there to keep himself from booking it to the bookshop to apologize - even though it was the angel that overreacted and was clearly in the wrong. Fraternizing. The gall he had to boil down everything they had been through over the past century to that. The other half wanted to see - though he doubted, very strongly doubted - if Aziraphale would come back. If Aziraphale wondered if he was still there.

But Aziraphale didn’t come for him. That wasn’t what they did. 

Now here he was again, trying to do something to keep himself from throwing open the bookshop’s door with a bottle of wine in one hand and a box of pastries from a patisserie in Paris - that Aziraphale loved but would rarely go to because things never went well for the angel in France - in the other. A lackadaisical apology dripping from his tongue as he came up with some excuse or another for running out on him and ruining their dinner plans. He’d hold up his offering to his pouting angel, who would give up the act in a matter of moments and insist Crowley stay to indulge in the gifts he’d brought him. Then they’d sit on the sofa yet again, warm and happy in the sanctity of the bookshop.

But he couldn’t have that. No, he could only have the emptiness of cold isolation as he slithered through the dark. It was what he deserved

Crowley’s footsteps faltered before he even knew why. He froze, caught in the space in between the light, hidden from sight. He wasn’t alone.

Aziraphale sat on the bench. Their bench. He was- he was waiting-

Crowley’s throat bobbed, tightening around the angel’s name to keep him from calling out to him. If he turned back now, he’d never know. Aziraphale hadn’t seen him yet. He wouldn’t have to face him.

But even at this distance, even in the dark, he could see the nervous way he rubbed his palms against the top of his thighs. As prim and poised as ever, straight-backed and square-shouldered, Aziraphale still radiated fretfulness as he sat there, alone. Quite possibly for the past several hours.

When he craned his neck, glancing over one shoulder and then the other, Crowley’s knees went weak. Why was he looking for him? Why was he waiting? He wasn’t supposed to be the one who waited.

His eyes flickered towards his direction and Crowley stayed as still as a statue, waiting for his gaze to pass him by. If he could paint his body in the blood of a lamb to go unnoticed by the angel, he would have. He almost got away with it. Aziraphale almost turned away, but something in the shadows compelled him to hold Crowley’s stare unknowingly.

Slowly the tension coiled in Aziraphale’s shoulders ebbed, all the lines of him softening under the gentle halo of light their bench was bathed in.

“Crowley.”

Crowley closed his eyes and took the time to exhale heavily. “Angel.”

For several minutes, maybe even an hour, that was all that they said. Aziraphale waited for him to come to him, and Crowley waited for him to leave. When he didn’t, Crowley released a guttural growl and stormed into the lamplight to slide into the space left for him on the bench.

The smile Aziraphale offered him was genuine, if a bit weary. “I hoped I’d catch you here. Thought you’d stop by eventually. I do know how you like to feed the ducks. Though I suppose they must all be asleep by now. They weren’t when I got here. Er...”

Crowley’s jaw clenched as he tried to work out something to say, unable to imagine Aziraphale coming here straightaway after their… well, it wasn’t even a proper argument, was it? “Ngk.”

Out of the corner of his eye, hidden from view by his sunglasses, he saw the fondness in Aziraphale’s gaze. “I hoped I’d catch you,” he said again, each word spoken with a deliberate carefulness, like he was speaking to a spooked horse, “because I wanted to give you an answer. A proper answer.”

“To what?”

Aziraphale paused. “You know to what.”

“Dunno. S’been a while. Couple hours now. Don’t even know what we were talking about, honestly. You feeling peckish? Supposed to be a place nearby that’s still open, serves chips-”

“Crowley…” Oh, but when he said his name like that…

Crowley faced him fully, not nearly as loose-limbed as he looked, and Aziraphale’s effervescent eyes broke down the flimsy walls he’d tried to erect in the past several hours. In the past few centuries, if he wanted to be specific. “Fine. Go on,” he murmured.

“Well…” Aziraphale wrung his hands together, then placed them on his thighs as if to brace himself. “Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Crowley stared at him, lips parting on nothing - not words nor breath. 

“What if all of this has been one big temptation? What if, the entire time I’ve known you, I’ve just been tempting you to this?”

“Well, why does that matter?”

Aziraphale watched him closely for a beat, until the wires of propriety snapped and left him sagging against the back of the bench, desperation glistening in his eyes. “I asked you ‘why does it matter’ because I’m still here, Crowley. I want to be here. Your temptations can’t be all that bad if you’re actually giving me something that I want, now can it?”

“What?”

“I know I might have given you the wrong impression the other day- after the Ritz,” he clarified needlessly. “No, I know that I did. Not to mention everything leading up to it and Armageddon… But you must know it was never my intention to-”

“Aziraphale,” Crowley cut him off, his name all he could give voice to as he fumbled for more to say. “That’s not- I know that. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“But I do-”

“No, you don’t-”

“Don’t just presume to-”

“I got ahead of myself, that’s on me. Going too fast-”

“You’re not listening, Crowley!” Aziraphale told him firmly, his brow and jaw set as he faced him. “I do want to catch up to you. But that doesn’t mean I’ve figured out how, exactly. That bit’s still, well… I’m figuring it out as I go. The point I’m trying to make is that I want our side. I’ve decided and I’m quite firm on where I stand now. So if you think you’re tempting me, then you’re sorely mistaken-”

“But that’sss the point,” Crowley interrupted again, jaw twitching as he clenched and unclenched his teeth. “Angel, temptations only work if a part of you wants what I’m offering. People can want all sorts of things, that’s not bad in and of itself, but when they act on it… well, that’s when my lot counts it as a win.”

“It’s not always a bad thing to act on what you want.”

“It is when you’re a demon,” Crowley hissed.

The look Aziraphale cast him made it clear he wasn’t at all convinced. “You and I both know you’re more than that, my dear.”

“Am I?”

“Yes. Without question.”

“Well, I don’t think so. I mean, you’ve said it yourself. You are an angel, and I am a demon. Wouldn’t something this nefarious just be in my nature?”

Aziraphale quieted for a moment, struck by his own timeless argument thrown back in his face. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, eyes glassy and bright.

“Don’t apologize. Why are you apologizing? It’s fact.”

“It was judgmental and small of me to hold that over our heads for so long.”

“I never held it against you.”

“Well, you should have.” Aziraphale pressed, leaning in just an inch. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you did.”

Crowley could only shake his head in disbelief. Aziraphale wasn’t supposed to be apologizing, that wasn’t at all what he’d intended with this conversation. Why wasn’t it sinking in that all the thousands of years they’d known each other, every interaction had just been a way to drag Aziraphale further down. To tempt him into forsaking Heaven, into Falling...

“I’ll ruin you,” Crowley croaked out.

“I don’t think you could,” Aziraphale murmured.

“I already have-”

“Crowley-”

“-the Arrangement-”

“-I was just as much on board-”

“-I wouldn’t let you say no-”

“-because I didn’t want to say no-”

“Aziraphale, you don’t understand-”

“Crowley, you’re not making sense-”

“I’ll drown you.” Crowley looked at him desperately. “Smother and destroy you. It’s what I do. I forget myself. I pull things down- I sssssow the- the sssseeds of my own destruction. I’ll make you Fall-”

Aziraphale reached out before he could think better of it and laid his palm against Crowley’s cheek. He froze as his thumb gently stroked just beneath where his sunglasses hit his cheekbone. His lips trembled, the rest of his argument evaporating into the space between them and if he had a functioning human heart, he was sure it would be clenching at Aziraphale’s soft touch. Instead he just ached, aching for more and aching because it was too much.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered his name like a prayer and something deep in his essence shuddered. “My dear… I don’t believe you’d let that happen.”

Crowley made the effort to blink. “Why?”

“Well, I think… all things considered, given your habit of swanning in to save me at the last second, why I think it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to assume that you’d be there to catch me if I did.”

A broken, wheezy sound escaped him, as if the demon could be winded by his words alone. “You…” he tried, his voice too raw for him to hear, so he waited out the swell of emotion clogging his corporation’s chest and watched Aziraphale wait right along with him. “‘Course I would,” he whispered eventually.

Aziraphale’s smile turned tender. “Of course you would.”

“S’not how it works though.”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“S’pose it hasn’t.” Crowley’s brow furrowed as he slowly lifted his hand, covering Aziraphale’s with the lightest touch to make sure it was real. “You really don’t think I tempted you into fraternizing with me?”

Aziraphale’s gaze flicked from Crowley’s to their hands and back. “Quite the contrary, actually. I’d say it was I who tempted you. With the oysters, don’t you remember?”

Something that might have been a laugh tried to choke him. “Yeah. Yeah, I remember. Was a real let down, you know, after all the hype.”

“I beg your pardon- A let down? What the devil do you mean, those oysters were positively scrummy! I haven’t had one nearly as good since-” Aziraphale sputtered, only stopping when Crowley’s shoulders started to shake, his own huff of a laugh escaping him as he pinched his cheek. “Oh. Oh, you wily old serpent.”

“You make it too easy, angel.”

They exchanged smiles, and whatever oppressive air that constricted Crowley’s chest started to flake away. Not completely, no it would take a lot more than a thwarted Apocalypse, a body swap, and an overdue conversation on a bench to absolve him of it, but maybe they could chip away at it. Bit by bit. Maybe one day they’d meet in the middle.

Aziraphale’s eyebrows bunched in concern. “About… about that day, when we had lunch at that mediterranean bistro…”

“The dolmas.”

“Yes. And the rain,” he murmured, voice threatening to crack. “I never did thank you.”

“You didn’t have to. Figured I owed you one from Eden.”

Aziraphale shook his head, but the softening lines of his face spoke of relief and fondness beyond something neither of them could hope to quantify. They didn’t have the words for it. Crowley gave his hand a quick squeeze, then drew away from him, allowing their hands to fall into the space between them which didn’t feel as empty as it had only minutes before.

“So, alright then?”

“Yep.”

“Oh… oh good,” Aziraphale sighed with a happy little wiggle. “I was so afraid it had all gone bebop-shaped between us, you know.”

Crowley froze mid-stretch. “What did you just say?”

“Bebop-shaped. You know, because bebop is terrible.” Aziraphale looked quite pleased with himself.

Crowley just stared at him.

“Unlike pears which aren’t terrible at all,” he continued as if he hadn’t just broken the last of Crowley’s brain cells. “Really quite unfortunate that they were the ones chosen for such a phrase. Of all fruits.”

Crowley opened his mouth, but honestly had no words.

“Now then… would you like to come back to the bookshop? I have some brandy that might warm us up a bit, if you’d like.”

“Oh, um, yeah. I’d like that. Sure.”

Aziraphale beamed at him, then stood from the bench with a slight bounce on the balls of his feet. He waited for Crowley to rise, then the pair of them fell into step as they followed the path back towards the Bentley. There was a slight nip in the air, Crowley realized, one he hadn’t noticed before. Autumn was well on its way, it seemed, another year winding down. Another decade almost at an end.

Maybe it was wrong to stay. Maybe it would only hurt Aziraphale in the end. Maybe he really should sleep the rest of the century away.

But he couldn’t leave Aziraphale alone. He lost his chance to end it in 1941. One could even say he lost his chance six thousand years ago, the moment he decided to slither up to an angel on the wall of Eden. The least he could do for him now, after everything he dragged him into, was stay with him, catch him, if that was what he wanted.

How could he not give Aziraphale everything that he wanted?

“You know you can’t actually make that a saying,” Crowley told him as they walked.

“Hm?”

“Bebop-shaped. It’ll never catch on. Music doesn’t have a shape. Pears have a shape, therefore, pear-shaped is the better saying.”

“I don’t need it to ‘catch on.’ That’s just what I’ll be saying from now on.”

“I can’t let you do that.”

“Why not?”

“You sound ridiculous.”

“It’s too late. I’ve already decided.”

“When did you decide that?”

“While I was sitting on that bench waiting for you.”

“Are you telling me this is all my fault?”

“Well…” Aziraphale’s lips curved up as he gently nudged Crowley’s arm with his own. “Evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction-”

“Oh, shut up.”

“I beg your pardon!”

Their familiar bickering faded into the night as they left the park and slid into a vintage car. The headlights flicked on and the engine purred to life as Crowley swung it around towards Soho. They continued to prattle on, back and forth, their dance a familiar one, while Freddie accompanied them, gently singing along.