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And Boughs Where Apples Made

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They stayed in Tadfield for the rest of the summer. It was easy, now neither of them had to worry about human constraints. Crowley's shop wouldn't suffer any loss of business, and his stock would stay fresh and ready for sale. Aziraphale was always happy with any excuse to put people off coming in to buy his books.

They drank a lot of wine. Crowley caught Adam trying to steal his apples three times, and missed him twice more, even with the aid of demonic miracles, finding the telltale ribbons that Adam left tied in the branches to mark his victory. Aziraphale kept score on the whiteboard in the kitchen.

One day, Aziraphale dropped one of his favourite mugs. It shattered on the tiled floor with a loud enough noise to bring Crowley rushing in from the other room, and Aziraphale found himself unexpectedly in tears as he stared at the fragments of china.

"You okay?" Crowley asked, uncertain, and Aziraphale tried automatically to say yes, and found that he was shaking and mute in the face of an overwhelming and ridiculous grief at the sight of the shattered mug. "Oh, angel..."

Crowley bent swiftly, reached out towards the mess, and the pieces skittered back together as his hand drew near, the mug reforming perfectly just in time for him to pick it up by the handle and set it carefully back on the countertop. Then he took Aziraphale in his arms and held him as he wept and felt like an idiot and couldn't stop.

(He'd broken too many things, over the years, that couldn't be repaired. Oh, if Crowley wasn't around, he could fix them with a quick miracle, but anything that Crowley saw broken had to stay broken, or raise too many questions. Aziraphale wasn't exactly clumsy but he'd never had to be particularly careful before, had always been able to restore anything he damaged. And somehow it was always the things he loved best that he managed to destroy.)

Crowley was rubbing his back and murmuring meaningless comfort and Aziraphale couldn't stop crying and he realised finally that it was because he was waiting for this to break, too, for the cracks to show, for some separation to occur, between the Crowley who held him and kissed him like they were a human couple, and the Crowley who'd kept a careful arm's length between them for thousands of years.

Don't make me choose, he thought in desperation, pressing his face into Crowley's shirt, Oh don't make me choose, between having him back and losing him.

"The mug isn't a metaphor for whatever you think it is, you know," Crowley said, far too good at reading Aziraphale after all this time (eleven years, six thousand years). "It's just a mug, and it's as good as new now."

He kissed Aziraphale's cheek, kissed away the salt.

"I love you," Crowley said, the way he kept saying it, over and over, like he had for eleven years, like he never had in all those millennia before.

Aziraphale wanted to believe him. He did believe him. And he still couldn't believe it would last. He feared it was the final echoes of a life of make-believe, that sooner or later, Crowley would settle back into who he'd always been, and step away, and Aziraphale would have to take everything he'd learned about his own heart in the last three and a half centuries, and stuff it into some dusty box, never to be opened again.

"It's okay," Crowley said, fingers gentle now in Aziraphale's hair. "I'm here."

Aziraphale nodded against his shoulder, and pushed back his fear again, and allowed himself just for now to believe in the certainty in Crowley's voice.

Things would come back to Crowley at the strangest moments. He went to buy Aziraphale roses (he'd been bringing Aziraphale roses for years and felt nothing but joy in it) and he ended up a sobbing wreck in the village florist. He got home somehow, found Aziraphale reading in the study, threw himself into his arms and stayed there for a very long time.

"Why?" he asked finally, when he could speak, when Aziraphale's fingers in his hair and kisses on his brow had soothed the memory of anguish. "That time, that first time in London, when you left. It was— it must have been Heaven's fault, I know that now, but please, tell me the truth, finally."

Aziraphale shuddered and closed his eyes and clenched his fingers tightly in the back of Crowley's shirt, but he answered, his voice low and wretched, his words faltering like a doomed ship on a treacherous reef. By the time he was finished, all they could do was cling to each other, both reliving that awful parting, both knowing how that lifetime had ended.

"I kept your letters," Aziraphale whispered. "I've read them so many times."

Crowley laughed hoarsely.

"I read yours until I knew them by heart," he replied. He took a deep breath and let it out again. "No wonder you stayed away."

Aziraphale made a broken noise, shook his head.

"I shouldn't have," he said. "I should have come to you. I should have come to you every time, I should have tried—"

Crowley kissed away his self-recrimination, stroked fingertips over his damp cheeks. There were moments when Aziraphale seemed his normal self, seemed relieved and delighted that the future stretched out in front of them, but he was more often fragile, and haunted, and looked at Crowley like he was waiting for Crowley to push him away. Like each time Crowley remembered something from one of his previous lives, it was another weight on a set of invisible scales that would one day tip them apart.

"I understand," Crowley said. "I do. I understand, angel. And you came back, this time. You came back. It— it meant so much—"

He remembered a time, eleven years ago, when Aziraphale had held him like this, kissed him in reassurance, repeated the things Crowley needed to hear over and over until he finally started to believe them. He wasn't sure how long it would take, to do the same for Aziraphale, but if it took the rest of eternity, he'd find a way to make him understand.

They had an upright piano in the back room of the cottage, an indulgence Crowley had protested at the time but that Aziraphale had insisted on and never regretted. He found Crowley sitting on the stool, glaring at the instrument as if it had personally offended him. Aziraphale made a questioning noise; Crowley grimaced, and a formless surge of fear seized Aziraphale's chest.

"You'd think," Crowley said, "having two sets of memories of learning to play would be an advantage, but I keep getting mixed up."

Aziraphale let out a shaky breath. For a moment he'd thought... he'd wondered if that talent was some facet of Crowley's temporary humanity, if it had deserted him now he'd returned to his true self. The prospect of never hearing him play again had, for that instant, been almost unbearable.

"Are they so different?"

"Yeah, they teach scales differently now, and some of the musical notation's changed, and I swear I remember one of Mozart's bits but I can't find it anywhere..."

"How does it go?"

Crowley beckoned him over. The stool wasn't really big enough for both of them - or it hadn't been, until Aziraphale tried to sit down on it, and discovered it had become rather wider than he remembered. It was still narrow enough that they had to sit pressed close against each other, which both amused him and made his heart ache fondly.

Crowley began to pick out a melody, added in the left hand as his confidence increased, brow slightly furrowed in concentration. Aziraphale watched his fingers, mesmerised as always by how quick and clever they were, how they danced over the keys.

"Salieri," he found himself saying, as the composition stirred his memory. "It's Salieri, not Mozart." He laughed under his breath. "He's no doubt rolling in his grave even now, dearest."

"We both know most of that rivalry was just gossip," Crowley replied with a sideways grin, letting his hands fall into his lap.

"Yes, but he still wouldn't appreciate the mix-up, especially given how much more famous Mozart has become."

Crowley looked suddenly thoughtful.

"Did you know him? Before we met in Vienna? You never mentioned it, but—"

"No, I didn't. I was... I spent a long time out of touch with civilisation, to be honest." Aziraphale thought of the bright blue waters of the Aegean sea and the islands he'd hidden away on. "It was all new to me, when I met you there."

The familiar shadow of old pain fell over him, began to drag his thoughts to dark places, to all the things he should have done and all the things he should never have permitted.

Crowley's arm slipped around his waist; Crowley's chin rested on his shoulder.

"What shall I play you?" he asked, breath warm on Aziraphale's cheek. "Can't guarantee I won't mess it up, but I'll have a go."

Aziraphale closed his eyes and tried again to believe.

"That one that..." He blushed. "The one I used to think you'd written."

Crowley laughed, and then made one of those noises Aziraphale had come to recognise as a moment of epiphany, of memories colliding and making something new.

"God— I mean— oh, whatever, I don't think She cares." Crowley grimaced and then laughed again, desperately fond and exasperated. "I finally understand how you got to 2013 without ever hearing Elton John. You've always been fifty years behind on popular culture, ever since they invented it in Sumeria."

"I've caught up a bit," Aziraphale protested.

"Yes, because I made you." Crowley nuzzled affectionately against his neck, then reluctantly drew back so he could get his hands on the keys. "And you still get Queen and Prince mixed up."

He started on the melody, found his confidence, leaned into the opening bars.

"You want me to sing it too?" he asked softly, glancing at Aziraphale.

He had a good enough voice and could hold the tune as long as he had accompaniment, but singing had never been the fun part for him. He'd only done it on special occasions, like when he sat down to play this for Aziraphale for the first time, and Aziraphale quite genuinely believed that it really was his song for several years.

"Yes," he said, and rested his head on Crowley's shoulder, and closed his eyes.

One of the strange but strangely wonderful consequences of Crowley's overlapping memories was that he now remembered seeing Aziraphale for the first time, not once, but over and over.

He remembered seeing him on the wall of Eden, of course, a worried angel watching the humans trudge through the desert, remembered how he'd been drawn even then to his warmth, to the way he looked like he was wondering about things. Remembered thinking, it couldn't hurt, could it? To try and talk to him? He doesn't look like the smiting sort...

He remembered seeing him the Sicilian market, the Englishman who paused like he was holding his breath, who only exhaled when Crowley smiled and greeted him. He remembered thinking he wanted those blue eyes to crinkle around the edges, wanted to hear him laugh.

(If he pushed, he remembered the real first time, the one Aziraphale had buried, remembered that even in that moment of confusion and alarm, he'd been struck by how the stranger had looked at him, so fond and so full of familiarity.)

(He had to push to find the details of Copenhagen, too, to dig out the memories Aziraphale had delicately and mercifully hidden. He remembered the man who'd walked into his shop and gazed at him like they'd known each other always, remembered the way his heart had stuttered and found a new rhythm.)

He remembered seeing him in that smoky salon, hovering at the back of the room, eyes always on Crowley. He remembered playing up to the attention, adding extra flourishes to his performance, choosing his pieces with care when he realised that Aziraphale would be back next time. He remembered taking his courage in his teeth and threading through the guests, a deep sense of rightness filling him as he slipped up on Aziraphale's left. He remembered his disappointment when Aziraphale fled; his delight when he came back.

He remembered glimpses of him, moments he'd barely registered at the time. The sense of being watched among the goldenrods, though when he looked up, he caught only a flash of impossibly white-blond hair vanishing among the ranks of soldiers. One day in his villa in the Algarve he'd gone to put out the lamp and had the strongest urge, just for an instant, to rush outside, to throw open the front door and call out, to say wait, don't go to the empty air.

(He remembered the last seconds of an agonising death, when gentle hands had eased his pain, and he'd seen shining wings above him, and known peace despite his terror. He chose not to bring that to mind as often as the others.)

He remembered knocking on the door of the bookshop that had miraculously escaped the ravages of the Blitz, arms full of tulips, head full of schemes and plans, and then seeing that face, those eyes widening in startled recognition, feeling his heart jump like an electrified thing, feeling everything in him cry you, it's you, it's you again.

He remembered Aziraphale walking into his shop and saying, there you are...

He could recognise it now, the way that every lifetime had added weight to the next, the way that every time he'd seen Aziraphale, it had cast echoes forward. How he'd felt that faint stirring in Sicily, a deeper recognition in Copenhagen, outright longing in Vienna. How when Aziraphale had come to him this time, in London, his whole world had tilted and changed its axis, taking Aziraphale as its new north without a second's hesitation.

No-one was supposed to experience this, to go around and around through human lifetimes like a train on endless tracks, with the shadows of each life throwing themselves long into the next. What Azrael had done was a far greater insult to the order of the cosmos, in Crowley's opinion, than anything he himself had attempted.

But then, he could admit he was biased.

Aziraphale wasn't sure what prompted it, but one day Crowley dragged him into the bedroom, made him sit down on the edge of the bed, and insisted he get his wings out. He then set about grooming them to the same standard as his own (which he'd spent some hours on a few days after the Apocalypse) while Aziraphale sat stunned and tried not to make too many embarrassing noises.

Neither of them, strictly speaking, needed to do this by hand, any more than they needed to visit the barber or bathe or buy clothes, but like with so many other things in their long lives on Earth, they'd acquired habits. Aziraphale's was to subconsciously keep his wings in a state of basic functionality and not worry too much about how they looked; Crowley's was to sit down with several mirrors and a slightly alarming variety of implements, and do it all by hand until he was satisfied with the stylish result. He'd had to improvise this time, since his collection of brushes and combs and long-handled back-scrubbers was long lost. Fortunately, human innovation had reached new heights in the meantime, and Crowley seemed happy enough with the results.

He didn't use any tools on Aziraphale, preferring to just run his fingers through his wings and smooth the hair-thin barbs until each individual feather lay sleek and neat in its place. It felt wonderful, soothing and tender and desperately intimate. They'd had their wings out around each other so many times, over the millennia, enjoying the chance to be in their own true forms out of the sight of humans, but it would never have occurred to Aziraphale to do something like this, and Crowley had never so much as suggested it before.

But then, Crowley had never so much as suggested kissing him before, had never tried to take his hand or hold him in his arms or—

The shivering dread rose up in Aziraphale again, the sick expectation in his stomach, and he heard Crowley murmur softly as his shoulders tensed.

"Sorry," he mumbled, trying to return to the loose relaxation that had been creeping in.

"'S okay. D'you want me to stop?"

"No," Aziraphale said too quickly, too desperately. He closed his eyes and swallowed. "I just... what brought this on?"

"I thought it about before," Crowley admitted, extra gentle as he stroked through some of the longer feathers, tugging a little in a way that felt amazing. "When I realised you were never going to do it yourself. Since, I dunno. Since we stopped having them out all the time, and you stopped paying attention to yours. Made me want to grab a brush every time I saw them."

"You never offered."

"Well, no," Crowley said, in a tone both amused and a little sad. "Sometimes it was hard to get you to even be in the same room as me, I wasn't about to scare you off with any crazy ideas about touching."

Aziraphale turned suddenly and without really meaning to; Crowley yelped and ducked to avoid being smacked in the face with a freshly groomed wing.

"I'm sorry—"

"It's fine." Crowley caught his hands, ran his fingers gently over the palms. "Look, I just thought... this was something we've never done before. I thought it might be... nice. To do something that isn't..."

He trailed off, but Aziraphale understood. Something they'd never done Before or After, as themselves or as their human shadows; something without the layers of meaning and memory and regret.

"It is nice," Aziraphale said, and Crowley smiled, kept stroking his hands like he'd stroked his wings, and suddenly something cracked and something like bravery or desperation sent Aziraphale scrambling forward into Crowley's arms, his voice like the tumble of water spilling from a collapsing dam. "When you kissed me in Sicily— when you kissed me in Vienna— I thought it was because you weren't really yourself, because you didn't know who we were—"

"Angel," Crowley whispered, holding him tight. "No. It was because I didn't have any reason to be afraid. I didn't know we were on opposite sides. Weren't you listening, that night the world didn't end? I'd have married you in Rome and I'd have kissed you a lot sooner. Maybe on that wall, when you were so worried about your sword, just to see if it would cheer you up—"

Aziraphale made a startled noise against his shoulder, and Crowley laughed and hugged him tighter.

"Only half-joking," he murmured.

"I was listening," Aziraphale replied weakly. "I was. It's just..."

"I know." Crowley's fingers found his wing again. Aziraphale trembled under the soft, deft touch. "It's okay. We've got time, remember? I'll keep telling you."

Adam came around often, even when he wasn't conducting fruit-related raids. He was remarkably relaxed about everything that had happened, except that sometimes Crowley had the feeling that he was being inspected, that Adam was checking on his progress.

"You know," Crowley said one day as they were throwing a ball for Dog, "I've seen hellhounds. I've never seen one like this."

"Dog likes being Dog," Adam said, either a child's simplicity or a philosopher's wisdom, it was hard to say. "And I like being me."

"Hmm." Crowley miracled the ball out from behind the bush where it had vanished, and immediately received Dog's rapt attention. "I like being me, too. Thank you. For what you did."

Adam shrugged, as bashful in the face of praise as any pre-adolescent.

"Thank you for the stars," he said.

The first time Crowley had the nightmare again, he woke Aziraphale from his own dreamless sleep by bolting upright and crying out in horror. His eyes were wide and entirely yellow, no hint of white, and for a moment, held no recognition of his surroundings.

Aziraphale followed him out of the nest of covers, gentled him until his panting breaths eased and his shaking ebbed.

"It's that first death," Crowley said finally, with a shudder. "The very first one, in the Great Plague. Fuck. No wonder I couldn't read that bit in the Decameron."

Aziraphale shivered in sympathetic horror, even as he felt a wave of a terrible, selfish relief. Since Crowley had first tried to describe the nightmare to him, he'd been so afraid it was the memory of succumbing to influenza, abandoned in London and never knowing why he'd been betrayed.

"I'm sorry," Aziraphale murmured, as much from that guilty relief as from his own ineffectiveness. He smoothed damp hair from Crowley's face, miracled away the sweat that had soaked his pyjama shirt. "I can't— stop them anymore—"

"Wait, is that what you were doing? This whole time?"

Aziraphale nodded. Crowley made a complicated noise and dragged Aziraphale back down into the covers so he could wrap himself around him in a distinctly serpentine fashion.

"Thanks," he mumbled into Aziraphale's neck. "Thank you. It was so much worse when I didn't know what it was."

He had a way of doing this, of getting his arms and legs just so, that shouldn't have been comfortable but was, and that made Aziraphale feel as enclosed and encircled as if he were wrapped in Crowley's wings.

"Maybe it'll fade now," Crowley went on with vague optimism. "Or I can, I dunno, repress it or something."

"Is that healthy?"

"Ask me again in a hundred years."

Sometimes, the memories that struck Crowley were ones he'd had with him for years, given sudden new depth as his mind slowly rethreaded them into the much larger web of recollections. Like when he triumphantly brought in the first ripe-enough apple (small, but gloriously red) before Adam could get to it, and then stopped mid-step, and started to laugh.

Aziraphale had learned to recognise when his mirth was triggered by some emerging memory. He just raised his eyebrows, and waited.

"I offered you an apple," Crowley managed at last. "Oh, angel, your face."

Aziraphale smiled, and if there was still something hesitant about it, it was at least warm and amused rather than bittersweet.

"I almost kissed you then," Aziraphale said. "I wished that I had, after."

Crowley gave the apple an assessing look, then took a bite. Sweet, not as sweet as the later yield would be, but sweet enough. He held it out to Aziraphale.

"Want to try again?"

Aziraphale blushed, actually blushed, to Crowley's deep delight. He took the apple, never looked away for a second as he bit into it just where Crowley's teeth had marked it. Crowley found himself swallowing rather harder than he'd anticipated, felt his knees get a little weak.

And then Aziraphale insisted on eating the entire rest of the apple, and Crowley couldn't even bring himself to protest, because there it was, that spark of mischief that had been too long absent from Aziraphale's eyes, that hint of stubbornness, that well-hidden desire to tease.

There you are, he thought, grinning as Aziraphale finally deigned to kiss him, tasting of apples and the faintest traces of self-satisfaction.

"Angel," Crowley said, far too gentle and careful, and Aziraphale froze in the middle of making tea. "There's something you should know."

Aziraphale flinched, but said, "Yes?"

He heard Crowley get up from the kitchen table and come towards him. Warm arms wrapped around Aziraphale's waist from behind.

"When I died in Sicily," Crowley said, and Aziraphale closed his eyes against the pain of it. "It was quick, angel. It was over before I even knew it was happening. I didn't have time to be afraid."

Aziraphale took a shaky breath, leaned into Crowley's embrace, let himself be held up.

"Copenhagen," Crowley went on. "Yeah, I had dreams, I had these wisps of memory. But my life was all right. I learned the names of the stars. And when I died, it was quiet. It was peaceful. I thought about seeing Venus for the first time through that telescope. I thought about the constellations. I had this idea I'd end up among them. I wasn't afraid, that time."

Aziraphale nodded, barely breathing.

"London, oh, I can't pretend it wasn't awful, Pestilence came for me herself, you know, she held the grudge for all that time... I worried about the bookshop. I hoped it would all still be there when you came back. I never doubted that you'd come back, even if I wasn't there to meet you."

Tears streamed down Aziraphale's face and he didn't even try to stop them. Crowley pressed a kiss to the back of his neck. Aziraphale could tell how hard this was for him from the pauses, from the way he breathed, but he ploughed on, determined.

"You took my pain away, in Ypres. You took my pain away, that second time in London, and oh, angel, you don't know how long I'd been living with that pain, what it was like to be free of it for those last months, what it was like to go softly and think of you in my final moments."


"You made it better," Crowley whispered into his hair. "You made it easier. Thank you."

One afternoon the weather broke and it rained for hours (which surely had nothing to do with Crowley telling Adam that flawless summer days were all well and good, but hosepipe bans were an undesirable consequence). They leaned into each other on the sofa and talked for hours about the things Crowley had missed in the last few centuries, comparing his human recollections with Aziraphale's angelic ones, darting back and forth across history with no regard to continuity. Crowley heard the way Aziraphale hesitated sometimes, tried to frame things in a less revealing way, tried to hide his first-hand knowledge, before he remembered that he didn't have to anymore.

At last he fell silent, and Crowley could tell he was turning something over in his head, so he just sipped his tea and enjoyed the feeling of his arm around Aziraphale, the warmth of him, and the knowledge that they could do this again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that...

"What... what was it like?" Aziraphale asked suddenly. "Being human, I mean. Really human."

Crowley thought for a while before answering. Aziraphale gave him time in turn, leaning his head against Crowley's shoulder while he waited.

"It's not as different as you might think," Crowley said finally. "Not really, not at the core of it. There's just... a lot of the questions are the same. Some of the answers are different. It's... harder work, I suppose, with all the day-to-day things you have to do just to survive. And the beginning part is weird, let me tell you."

"You mean childhood?"

"Yeah." Crowley grimaced into his mug. It was easier to talk about now, at least, now that he could view his human parents - this lifetime and others - through a more detached lens. "Though I think that was... some of that was my fault."

"What do you mean?"

Crowley sighed.

"I think they always knew that I didn't belong," he said quietly. "I had brothers, in Copenhagen. They used to call me a changeling. It was like that every time. Whatever Azrael did, I think it... forced me into their lives. Sometimes they hadn't even wanted kids. Sometimes I just wasn't what they expected. Some of them were kinder about it than others."

"Oh, my dearest." Aziraphale turned towards him, pulled him closer. "I'm not sure that was your fault. It's my understanding that... well, that it's sadly rather common, among humans."

"Good thing it wasn't like that for Adam," Crowley muttered, burying his face briefly in Aziraphale's hair. "Sometimes, I— I keep thinking about how close it all was, how it all could have just gone to hell—"

"Me too," Aziraphale whispered. "Sometimes I think about what could have happened if— if we'd arrived a bit later, or if Adam hadn't realised what had been done to you—"

Crowley shuddered. He miracled both their mugs onto the nearby table so he could wrap Aziraphale properly in his arms.

"Do you ever wonder," he said after a while, "if it was all... part of the plan? All of this?"

"I do wonder," Aziraphale admitted. "I kept finding you. And there were the flowers. Over and over..."

They sat in silence for a while, drawing comfort from their closeness.

"I have to know," Crowley said suddenly. "Did you invent that whole language of flowers nonsense?"

"Me? Why would you think that?"

"Seems like your sort of thing. Making everybody puzzle out crossword clues everytime they want to give someone a bouquet."

"It is not," Aziraphale replied indignantly. "I had nothing to do with it. But I thought it was rather nice."

"You're not the one who had to overthink every wedding arrangement for the last eleven years."

Aziraphale laughed, then grew serious again.

"Will you keep it, do you think? The shop?"

"I..." Crowley tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. "I don't know. I liked it, but it was hard work. Suppose I could cheat a bit now. Or do something else."

He glanced out of the window. The climbing rose he'd been cajoling for years had finally covered the garden wall properly and had been blooming sweetly all summer. The raspberry canes he'd planted for Aziraphale were getting in one last round of fruit before autumn set in. There were daises and clover in the lawn, but Crowley had always rather liked their soft whiteness, had never understood the desire for uniform, bland grass. He'd been thinking about getting a greenhouse set up in one corner and trying his hand at something more exotic.

"I like the garden better," he said. "Cut flowers die. Everything here keeps coming back, year after year."

"It's a lovely garden," Aziraphale replied. And then, softly, almost shyly, so that it took a moment for the impact of the words to register, "The best I've ever seen."

Aziraphale didn't know when it happened, when he truly started to believe, but he knew it had happened the night Crowley said, out of nowhere, "We should go back to Rome. Do it properly this time."

Aziraphale made a face, remembering their last visit.

"I wonder if maybe its time has passed, dearest."

"Nah." Crowley got up to refill Aziraphale's glass. "Lots of new things to see. Lots of old ones to talk about. We could get oysters. Raise a glass to old Petronius."

Aziraphale felt his eyes well with tears, but for the first time in... he didn't know how long... instead of resignation and weary sadness, he felt a prickle of defiance, irritation, a rebellious surge of no, stop that, I've done enough crying for several lifetimes.

"That could be nice," he said, blinking once, hard, dispelling the tears unshed. "Perhaps we could... take one of those winemaking tours, or something."

Crowley snorted in amusement.

"Any excuse to get sloshed before lunchtime," he said cheerfully. "Sounds good to me."

His eyes were so lovely in the low light, almost umber, soft with an open affection he'd never dared show in the time Before. Crowley hadn't resumed his habit of wearing sunglasses, had said offhandedly that it felt too strange after so long. To see him like this, now, like Aziraphale had seen him so many other times through history - lit by some dimly flickering flame, leaning close to pour a drink - but with all that love in every line of his smile, all that silent promise in the way he let his fingers linger on Aziraphale's when he passed back the glass.

He believed, and it was like breaking, and it was like finally being made whole.

Crowley drove them up to London for the day as the summer was waning and Adam and the others were grumbling about having to go back to school soon. Aziraphale wanted to check on a few things in the bookshop, and Crowley found he had an urge to look around their flat, to see it from his new perspective on the world. He left Aziraphale fussing over something at his desk, and went upstairs.

He knew there had been no living space when Aziraphale had first bought the building, was sure this door had once led to a closet or something equally mundane. He climbed the carpeted stairs cautiously, almost afraid they'd vanish under his feet, but although he could feel the old echoes of miracle work in the walls, they had existed for long enough that they were in no danger of fading away.

Crowley stood in the sitting room and looked around, and thought about the day Aziraphale had invited him up here, all nervous and watchful, and Crowley hadn't been able to understand why, had wondered why they'd never come up here before to spend the evening. He knew now it was because the place hadn't existed before that day.

He ran his eyes over all the familiar furnishings, the knick-knacks Aziraphale couldn't resist, the art prints Crowley had contributed in a burst of decorating enthusiasm a few years ago, the books that always crept in and formed drifts for a while until they were relocated back downstairs, the flat-screen television that Crowley had coaxed Aziraphale into installing despite his natural inclination towards something much smaller (and possibly in black and white). And for the first time, he saw how much of this place had been made for him, how much devotion Aziraphale had poured into the form of it, from that window that caught the afternoon sun just right for napping, to the sofa that was exactly the right length and depth for Crowley to really stretch out on.

And he finally understood why so many things seemed to have a subtle snake motif, and it made him laugh and wipe tears from his eyes at the same time, and he rushed downstairs to find Aziraphale, unwilling to be apart from him for another single second.

He found him standing in the secret room, looking over it all with a lost expression.

"I suppose this isn't really necessary anymore," Aziraphale said, as Crowley came up gently behind him, slotted himself against his back with a chin on his shoulder. "I don't have anything to hide from you."

There was a weight to the words, of more than books and flowers and boxes of old letters. Crowley caught his breath, wrapped his arms tightly around Aziraphale's middle.

"We can find other places to fit it all in," he replied. "As we go along. It doesn't have to be right now."

Aziraphale nodded, but there was something building in him, Crowley could feel it, a tension and a determination.

"What did you think, when you first came in here?" he asked.

"I thought—" Crowley hesitated, but answered truthfully. "I thought of Bluebeard. The flowers— like all those dead wives."

Aziraphale nodded.

"It's like a tomb," he said. "It's no place for the living."

He snapped his fingers, and before Crowley's eyes, the flowers wilted, then withered, then crumbled to dust. All except the bouquet he'd made eleven years ago, which Aziraphale took down from its shelf with careful hands.

"But I'll keep this one," he said softly. "You put so much love into it."

Crowley made a noise against his shoulder that he couldn't even classify in his own mind. He hugged Aziraphale tightly, breathed him in, silently promised himself that for every one of the flowers that had been destroyed, he would bring Aziraphale ten more.

"Let's go to dinner," he said. "I want to take you out somewhere really good."

Aziraphale smiled. The bouquet vanished from his hands; Crowley knew instinctively that it would be waiting for them back at the cottage.

"The Savoy?" Aziraphale suggested. "Claridge's?"

"The Ritz," Crowley replied with sudden certainty. "I bet a table's just opened up. Miraculously."

Aziraphale laughed, and turned in his arms, and kissed him.

"I don't know how I got by without you," he whispered against Crowley's lips as they parted.

"You'll never have to again," Crowley promised, and took him by the hand, and led him away from the past.

Edain came out of Midhir's hill, and lay
Beside young Aengus in his tower of glass,
Where time is drowned in odour-laden winds
And Druid moons, and murmuring of boughs,
And sleepy boughs, and boughs where apples made
Of opal and ruby and pale chrysolite
Awake unsleeping fires; and wove seven strings,
Sweet with all music, out of his long hair,
Because her hands had been made wild by love.
When Midhir's wife had changed her to a fly,
He made a harp with Druid apple-wood
That she among her winds might know he wept;
And from that hour he has watched over none
But faithful lovers.
- The Harp of Aengus, William Butler Yeats