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Plausible Deniability

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The demon appears outside the angel’s makeshift shelter some time after dusk, right about the time that Aziraphale is settling down for the night - packed away half under a tree, amongst a pile of furs and blankets.

His arrival is preceded by a great deal of clanking and clattering, having climbed up the small hill to the angel’s encampment wearing the lower half of his suit of armour. The top half seems to have been discarded, for the time being. The dark knight done for the day, Aziraphale thinks, wryly, as he lowers his book to view his counterpart. A demon off the clock.

“Cold bugger of an evening, isn’t it?” Crowley grunts, coming to a halt. He’s pulling a face, clutching a black woollen cloak around himself over the top of his tunic.

He’s discarded the chainmail as well as the plate metal and, while the angel can see the scabbard of his sword, hanging loosely from his belt, there is no weapon. Not that Aziraphale had expected Crowley to have come here with intentions of a duel. This is a social visit. The angel is almost certain.

“See you’ve got a fire…” the demon shifts closer, not put off by the lack of response to his initial introduction. “Looks like a good one, too. Always cheers an evening up, a fire. Nice warm flamey thing...”

He’s acting as if nothing had happened, earlier that afternoon - as if they had parted amicably - and that irritates Aziraphale. Crowley has not endeared himself, today; saying their holy and infernal work did nothing more than cancel each another out; implying that the pair of them have no more effect on humanity than a harsh winter, or a dry summer… Well, it was just offensive. Not to mention ridiculous.

“Listen,” the demon grimaces, reading the mood in the air, “about earlier…”

The angel rolls his eyes, making to turn over in his furs and ignore him.

Crowley steps forwards.

“No, wait - hear me out. I’m not going to try and convince you of anything. I’m not here for that, so just forget about it, alright? I didn’t mean to offend you, or anything…” He curls his lip, shakes his head slightly. “It was just an idea. And a stupid idea, really… S’not like it would have worked. Couldn’t expect something like me to be able to deliver a halfway decent blessing, could we?”

Of course they couldn’t, Aziraphale thinks, confidently. As if a demon could perform a blessing equivalent to that of an angel. As if anyone would ever mistake their work for one another’s. It was a stupid idea. Ridiculous of Crowley. He is a silly, ridiculous demon.

Aziraphale eyes his counterpart, across the small fire between them.

Crowley had always been softer than the rest of Hell’s emissaries, and a lot more palatable. The angel had thought it was work-shyness at first. After the garden, Crowley had shown no real intention of getting down to any proper demonic business. He’d capered around the Earth quite happily, instead, causing low-grade mayhem. Messing up human migration patterns and fiddling with the development of agriculture. He invented a couple of ways to irrigate crops which stirred animosity between tribes, and occasionally lifted a finger to instigate the theft of a goat, or some cattle - but nothing major.

As time went on, Aziraphale began to realise that Crowley’s lack of contribution to the bedevilment of the world wasn’t really out of laziness, but rather out of a distaste for the way Hell did things, in those days. He had a very refined palate for mischief, did Crowley. He didn’t like cheap, tawdry temptations - causing one human to murder another, over some perceived sleight, or things like that. He didn’t like pointless violence. He did like clever tricks and long enterprises - things that lasted generations and took planning and intelligence to pull off. He liked mucking around in affairs of human politics and city infrastructure, lacing all of his works with little jokes that only he would be able to see, at the end of it.

Of course, not all of Crowley’s undertakings were works of genius. He got up to plenty of silly nonsense, as well. He liked to do things like cause roots to grow across paths, and make everyone in a certain village to loose their left sandal, simultaneously - and he had an endless fascination with designing things that went fast. He liked fast ships, and fast chariots (though Aziraphale had never seen anyone look more out of place, on horseback). He liked racing around the place, and dancing, and drinking, and all the debauchery that came with it. He was full of life, was Crowley. And more than a little soft, Aziraphale had noticed, on Earth and all her humans. Especially the children. Aziraphale had caught the demon playing with children more than once, in his time.

He remembers a little village in Mesopotamia, momentarily, and it stirs warmth in his belly - a feeling of softness towards the strangely innocent demon Crowley had been, before the great flood. A demon who had sat in the dust and let children braid his hair. Crawly, he reminds himself. Crowley had been Crawly, then. A dead name, refashioned and reclaimed. A born again demon, the angel thinks, with a smile to himself.

“Well, never mind all of that,” he says, to his counterpart, of their conversation earlier that day. “Shall we put it behind us?”

Crowley eyes him, for a moment, looking as if he might be thinking Aziraphale a little pompous. Then he dips his head, anyway, and wanders closer, through of frost.

“Sounds good.” It crunches underfoot, as Crowley passes around the fire and comes to stand near Aziraphale’s feet. “Decent of you, angel.”

The angel closes his book, setting it down beside a small pile of parchment and a half filled quill, and looks up at the demon.

“You don’t fancy a companion for the evening, do you?” His counterpart asks, guilelessly, staring back down. “I’m freezing my arse off, down there.”

The angel feels his eyebrows slide up, reflexively.

“A com-,”

“Just a share of your fire. Would be the decent thing to do, wouldn’t it?” The demon shuffles his feet, slightly in the cold dirt. His armour clanks. “Snakes are endothermic, you know. We don’t do so well, in temperate conditions. Not that you can really call this temperate. I’d call it fairly fucking arctic, myself, but I’m not involved in decisions like that.” His brow contracts in a frown. “Did you know we’re due to get a mini ice age soon? It’s going to be fucking dreadful. I heard Hastur talking about it, a couple months back. Him and the chaps down in ‘plagues and pandemics' are all up in a tizzy over it.” He tucks his hands up, under his armpits, his breath clouding in the cold night air.

He looks very thin, under all his steel plate, and chainmail, and oversized tunic. His hair is ruffled up on one side but flattened on the other. He’s not sorted it since pulling off his hood and helmet, the angel thinks, feeling a strange wave of fondness rush through him. Ridiculous, silly demon.

“You can share the fire,” he tells Crowley, making sure to keep it clear, from his tone, that he is only allowing such a thing because it is his holy duty to pass on goodwill to all. (Though, he’s not one hundred percent sure that this holy duty extends, to demons. He has never quite dared to ask Gabriel that one, during any of his performance reviews).

“Much obliged.”

Crowley drops to the ground without preamble, shuffling closer to the fire on his knees and making a great show of tugging his cloak tighter around himself.

He sits for about half a minute, then turns his head, casting a long look over at Aziraphale - eyes very wide, and very gold.

The angel steels himself, slightly.

“What you reading?”

The question is voiced with unfiltered interest. It’s something that Crowley does, sometimes - something he’s done since he realised it makes the angel more malleable. He’ll find some reason to come and hang around Aziraphale. Then he’ll push a little lilt into his voice. He’ll fix the angel in a steady stare with those wide, golden eyes. Give a little pretence at intimacy. Of friendship.

Aziraphale feels ashamed, sometimes, that his loneliness is so apparent - that even the Serpent has identified it. He soothes himself with the knowledge that Crowley is made to seek out weakness. (Though he suspects his desire for connection is probably just as evident to a human as to a demon). He knows he should be satisfied in his role - honoured to be out in the world, carrying out Her heavenly work. It’s just difficult not to feel a little isolated, sometimes.

The Earth is wide, after all, and time is vast, and the angel has always been alone for all of it. He longs for connection. He longs for something that can persist beyond the frame of a human lifespan. Some nights, he can’t even bring himself to feel ashamed, when Crowley focusses all of that demonic energy in on him and his mortal belly warms, in response. Sometimes, he lets himself pretend that there isn’t a gaping void between them - lets himself imagine that they are just two creatures who get along rather well. Who could be friends.

It’s silly, he knows. But he gets so very lonely. And they do get on so well. They always have.

The angel looks down, at his discarded book.

“It is a tale recorded at a monastery,” he tells Crowley, giving a little sniff of the cold night air. “A little place, about thirty leagues north of here. I’m translating bits of it as I believe it may have some value, to physicians wishing to study the effects of certain plants. It mainly concerns the toxic effects of-,”

“Nightshade?”

Aziraphale frowns.

“Yes, actually.” He tilts his head. “How do you know that?”

“Just a guess.” Crowley shrugs. “Not much toxic growing in these parts. Just nightshade, really…” Crowley looks down at the ground, picks at a few stones, selects a small twig and breaks it in half - examining the ends, before tossing it into the fire. “And foxglove, hemlock, monkshood… winter cherry, if you’re trying hard enough.”

Aziraphale stares at him, suddenly unsure if he’s talking from personal experience.

“They mainly just kill the humans, though. You want anything a bit more fun, you’ve got to travel south,” Crowley continues, watching the small twig burn. “Hey - do you remember those poppies, in Turkey? You could bleed the milk from and-,”

“You don’t actually poison people, do you?” The angel asks him, quietly.

Crowley’s head jerks up, his face all screwed up. 

“What? No! Bloody Hell, angel, that’s dark…” he looks down at Aziraphale’s book, then back up at the angel himself. “Your lot don’t have you up to anything like that, do they? S’not why you’re reading all that nonsense?”

Aziraphale shakes his head, feeling absurdly relieved.

He knows Crowley is a demon - but he’s always known him as a bit of a soft demon and he really doesn’t want that to change. He doesn’t want to learn anything about his counterpart that would make it difficult to share a fireside. Or a skin of wine, or two, every now and again. Or the pretence of friendship. The plausible deniability of their situation is all that keeps him from running away, out of fear.

“No. None of that,” he tells Crowley.

“Well, you never know,” Crowley eyes him. “Your lot did go in for a bit of the old political assassination, back in the day…”

“It was only twice,” the angel mutters, wishing it was only zero times - hating the little sideways flick of his counterpart’s golden eyes which tells him the demon is fully conscious of his line of thought.

They sit for a moment longer, listening to the fire crackle.

Eventually, Crowley shuffles an inch or two closer.

“Don’t want to share a blanket, do you?”

“Why didn’t you bring your own blankets?” Aziraphale asks the demon, grumbling a little harder than is really warranted, as he separates one of the furs from the pile he’s nestled in and hands it over to Crowley. “Actually - why aren’t you in your tent, if you’re cold? You’re only just down the hill, aren’t you? Just outside the village?”

He is. Aziraphale doesn’t need to ask. He’d noted where Crowley was lodged when he set up camp, this afternoon. He’d chosen somewhere to lay his bedroll that was specifically far enough away to spell distance but easily within walking distance from the dark knight’s camp - just in case, say, one demon was want to wander up.

“Just fancied getting some air,” the demon says, pulling a face. “S’a bit noisy in our tent, at the moment. The lads have brought another lad back from the village  inn and, you know…” Crowley makes an obscene hand gesture, which makes Aziraphale purse his lips. “Anyway, wasn’t in the mood for any of that. So, I thought I’d come and say hello.” Crowley finishes wrapping himself in the pale fur and looks around himself, frowning, as if he’s just realised something. “Where’s your valet, anyway? And your horse?”

“Down in the village, for the evening.”

The angel reaches behind himself, pulling a skin of his best wine out of his bag and tugging the stopper free. He takes a deep draught and then reluctantly hands it over to Crowley, who has already thrust out a hand, expectantly. Because he’s a horrid, pushy demon, Aziraphale thinks. And because he is always too soft on him.

“Big night out?”

“We’ve been on the road for six weeks. I think the poor lad just fancied a bit of time to himself.”

“Sure he doesn’t fancy something more? That place has a bit of a reputation.”

“Your work?”

“Oh, you think so highly of me, Aziraphale…” The demon takes another long suck on the wineskin. Then another.

Summoning his most judgemental frown, the angel reaches over and snatches it back.

“Hey - that was good!”

“I know it’s good. It’s mine,” the angel gripes. “Just like the fire is mine. And the furs. You’re only here to freeload off my good will.”

“Well, that the point of you, isn’t it?” Crowley grumps. “Spreading good will?”

The angel pulls a petulant expression.

The demon eyes him for a moment, then gives another little shiver and wraps the furs tighter around his shoulder.

“Can I get in with you? I’m still fucking freezing.”

Aziraphale, feels warmth flutter through him, starting in his abdomen and spreading right out, to his toes. It settles in his cheeks, eventually, turning them to scarlet.

“Crowley-,” he doesn’t quite know what to say. “I-,”

“I’m not trying it on,” the demon mutters, flicking his thin slivers of pupil skywards. “It’s just cold.”

They stare at one another a long moment.

“Come on…” The demon pulls a little grimace. “Imagine I go and get myself discorporated on account of hypothermia and you have spend the rest of eternity dealing with Hastur, or some vile thing, as my replacement?”

Well, that’s a get-out clause if ever Aziraphale has heard one - perfectly fitted, for the two of them. It’s an opportunity for the angel to talk himself into this, if he wants to. A nice easy choice; one soft demon in his bed roll, now, or the possibility of a worse one in his life, further down the line.

They are not real alternatives, Aziraphale knows. Crowley isn’t really going to die of hypothermia, out here, tonight. He might chill a little, or receive a brush of frostbite to those long toes, but his body won’t die. Angels and demons are made from stronger stuff. Aziraphale has absolutely no duty to keep him comfortable, let alone to keep him comfortable in that manner… but he wants to. That’s exactly what he wants to do.

“Alright,” he says, voice very small.

Crowley makes a vaguely triumphant noise and begins to shuffle over, armour clanking.

“Oh, no - absolutely not,” the angel grumbles, looking down at his plate metal. “you take those off, first, Crowley. No, really, you are not allowed under here with any of that on.”

“Alright… alright…” the demon reaches down, struggling with leather buckles and clasps until the plate is falling free and he’s shuffling forwards, unencumbered by metal. He’s in leather and cotton underneath, so much more slender than he had appeared - as a dark, fomenting shadow - earlier that morning. “Happy?”

“Hmf.”

He moves until he’s kneeling next to Aziraphale. Then does an expectant little raise of his eyebrows. “Go on, then, move over.”

A bit miffed at being told to move over in his own bed, the angel shuffles sideways. Then, even more reluctantly, lifts up a corner of the pile of furs and blankets, opening up the warm centre of the nest, where he is ensconced.

Cold air rushes in, making him shiver, slightly.

“Oh for goodness sake, hurry up.”

“Alright…”

The demon unwraps his fur and cloak and drops them on top of the pile. Then, wearing just a tunic, slides in alongside the angel.

He’s all angles and bones. As he wriggles around, orientating himself first on his side and then on his back, he catches Aziraphale with an errant elbow more than once, and the angel grumbles. He fits fine, once he’s settled, though. He fits just perfectly, in the spare room of Aziraphale’s bed. Crowley might be broad across the shoulders, but he’s slender with it. Spare. The bare minimum required for Earthly service, Aziraphale thinks, staring into the foot or so between their faces. How typical, of Hell.

It is odd that Hell should have made him so beautiful, though. Or perhaps that was just Crowley, showing through the skin they’d provided? A little hint of that soft demon that Aziraphale has come to know. A roiling ball of chaos and energy. Bright eyes. Clever tongue.

“Fuck. It’s not much warmer in here, is it?” Crowley shivers, convulsively.

His teeth are chattering. Aziraphale can see the tips of them, just beneath the edge of a red lip. Very white. Slightly too-sharp. He wants, for a split second, to run his tongue over them - to feel the smooth and the edge, and to slip his tongue beyond. He wants to press in and pull back, and embrace, like humans do. Wet, warm kisses. It would be a nice feeling, he thinks - a distraction from the ceaseless pull of Earth and time. For just a split second, it feels almost logical. Then, the moment breaks and it doesn’t.

Aziraphale counts the faint freckles on Crowley’s cheeks, instead. Admires the long curve of his dark eyelashes. The reflection of the firelight off the sharp tip of his nose.

“You let all the heat out, when you lifted the furs,” He tells the demon. “Just give it a moment to gather again.”

“Nnnnng… why don't you do some of that glowing angelic nonsense, to speed things up? Think good thoughts, or whatever it is your lot do.” Crowley gives a whole body shiver and shuffles closer, pressing the outside of his shoulder into Aziraphale’s arm.

His muscles are tense, contracting slightly. After a minute or so of contact, however, they begin to relax. Spasmodic little twitches grip him for a while. Then release him, slowly, to stillness.

He breathes out.

“Ss’bloody cold…” 

“It is.”

The demon and the angel lie on their back and side, respectively - touching at intermittent points, along their lengths. Shoulder, elbow, hip, thigh, ankle, the tips of Crowley’s left toes; Aziraphale can feel the slow pull of the demon’s body, soaking in his heat. Breathing out, he gives it up a little more willingly.

“Any better?” he asks Crowley, softly.

“Yeah, a bit…” Crowley shifts his legs, lifting one foot to rub against the opposite shin. “Still can’t feel my left buttock, though.”

“I can,” the angel grumbles. The outside of it is resting against his upper thigh. “It’s bloody freezing.”

Crowley turns his head, looking up at him. They share a quiet few seconds, just staring at one another. Then both of them begin to laugh at exactly the same time.

They laugh for a good half a minute, allowing the movement to bring them closer, their limbs filling up the no man’s land between their bodies. It is comfortable, in their slowly warming cocoon of plush blankets and furs; a soft, sustained pretence; another world, for as long as their laughs echo in the quiet forest around them. The fire crackling behind them means only some of their breath clouds in the air. Aziraphale can see little curls of vapour lifting from Crowley’s lips, backlit by firelight, then swallowed by the dark. He can see the white points of those sharp teeth.

Pretty, silly, ridiculous demon.

Uuuuughh… do you remember being warm, angel?” Crowley asks, shoving his feet under the angel’s. Aziraphale accepts the movement with a little smile, parting his ankles to accept freezing skin against his own. They’ve not touched like this in a long time, but he doesn’t mind. The underside of Crowley’s feet are smooth and surprisingly soft. “Properly warm, I mean. Do you remember the summer heat, down in the Mediterranean?”

“Yes. I did love Cyprus…” Aziraphale sighs.

Cyprus was a long time ago, but he remembers it vividly. He remembers the summer heat and a villa and olive groves. He remembers slicing fresh lemon and drinking chilled wine. And the feel of being barefoot on dusty earth. The scent of salt water. Of pine.

Crowley lets a long groan.

“Real heat, angel… Basking on those rocks, in the morning, just south of Paphos. All those dry, sandy beaches.”

“Mmmm.”

“Hell… do you remember being dry?”

“Vaguely,” Aziraphale sighs, sadly. “Like a memory of a distant dream.” 

The demon chuckles.

“Don’t think I’ve been dry since I arrived here.”

“No,” the angel sighs. “Me neither.”

“It’s been years.”

“Decades…”

“I think the skin on my feet is trying to peel away and abandon me.”

“Yes, my shoes have completely lost integrity.”

“Leather?”

“Yes.”

“Mmh. I’ve been using waxed cotton, under the armour. Makes things a bit more bearable. S’still fucking awful, though.”

“Thank you, I’ll give it a try. Gosh… do you remember what it’s like to have dry clothes?” Aziraphale reminisces, wistfully. “Pulling them on when they’re all freshly laundered. When they’ve been hung out, in the sun, to dry… All fresh and warm. Do you remember those wonderful robes, in Cyprus?”

Crowley turns his head, wrinkling his nose.

“To be fair, I don’t. Spent a lot of my time in Cyprus being naked.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale pushes a bit of disapproval into his voice, mainly because he feels he should. “You did, didn’t you?”

“Was going for a mythical ocean nymph vibe,” Crowley wriggles his fingers to punctuate the point, then slides his hands back underneath the furs and wriggles slightly closer, pressing his thigh against the side of Aziraphale’s.

“Mythical ocean-?”

“Nymph, yeah.”

“Well, whatever you were going for, you were a complete nuisance, Crowley,” the angel reminisces. “Capering around the place… Spreading nonsense to the locals…”

“Hey - the cult of Aphrodite was not nonsense! It was a movement empowering women. Mainly of women in specific areas of employment, I’ll grant you, but-,”

“Prostitutes.”

“You know, your lot have terrible hang-ups about sex, angel.” 

“We do not!” Aziraphale exclaims, frowning at Crowley, who has now pressed the soles of his feet against his calves, to keep them warm. “It’s only the context of the matter we’re interested in. Nobody’s saying anything’s inherently right or wrong, about the whole… about the act itself. I mean,” he blushes terribly, “if it’s done with mutual respect, there’s nothing wrong with two consenting adults… enjoying themselves and,” the blush deepens, “using their bodies in whatever way feels natural to them.”

Crowley watches him steadily for a moment, then gives a little wriggle and a rush of laughter.

“You are such a tit.”

“Excuse me-!” Aziraphale begins to protest, but there is a laugh pulling through him again, because Crowley has this way of looking at him which makes him feel like he’s being included in the joke, rather than the subject. “I’d hardly say-,”

The act itself…”

“I was only meaning-,” the angel reaches over, pulling the furs up from where they’ve fallen down around Crowley’s shoulders. Ridiculous demon. “Oh, stay still! You’re letting all the cold air in.”

“I’m only using my body in whatever way feels natural to me.” Crowley gives a sinuous little wriggle.

“Be still, you ridiculous snake! Or I’ll throw you out of here and you’ll have to go back to your tent of debauchery.”

“Nnnnggh…” Crowley wriggles closer. “No… don’t, angel. Don’t… You know they don’t have oil up in these parts? They have to melt animal fat, instead. The smell’s very off-putting.”

“Maybe you should take up horticulture. Plant some olive trees.”

“Seems a bit too much like good will towards men, that one. Or, towards parts of men, anyway.”

The angel chuckles, despite himself.

They watch one another for a long moment, Aziraphale feeling a familiar cloying sensation at the base of his spine. He knows he’s being ridiculous, in moments like these, but it just feels so nice. So familiar. He knows Crowley - he’s known him for so long. There’s nobody else he can reminisce with, about the Cyprus of three hundred years ago, as they lie tangled up in their own body heat. Nobody else could possibly understand.

“I remember the olive groves outside that villa you had, back then,” the demon smiles, slightly. The expression in his eyes distant. “Down towards Amathus. Do you remember, angel? It was so quiet out there. You could hear the ocean, from up on that flat bit of land, by the cliffs. I came to visit you once.”

“Yes, you did.”

Aziraphale can remember it well. Crowley arriving in the dust, with that week’s wine delivery, long legs dangling over the edge of the cart. He remembers the demon jumping lightly down to greet him, wrapped in long gauzy strips of fabric, a single gold bangle on one arm. Cascades of copper hair, all the way down that long back.

They had drank together, that evening. Laughed a lot. Crowley had told him all about Paphos and all the demonic nonsense that had been happening, on the surrounding Isles. They’d shared a meal. Or, rather, the demon had picked at a few bits of cheese and olives, and the angel had polished off the best part of both of their meals. Then, they’d sat out on cushions, under an endlessly clear sky, and Crowley had named every star for him.

He remembers finding the demon kneeling in the ocean, the next morning, washing his skin clean in the surf. There had been something impossibly beautiful about him, naked in the pink half light; the pale stretch of his body curved easily over on itself, shadows pooling in the notches of his spine. Bright eyes, catching the light. And all that hair. Soft curls, still damp from a swim.

“You had so much hair,” Aziraphale murmurs, eyes tracing the demon’s current, short crop.

“Mythical ocean nymph, remember?”

The moment feels so soft, so warm. The fire behind Crowley is catching in the reflections of his eyes. Fire on fire. Red and gold and yellow.

“Mm… Hell’s work, in action.”

Aziraphale says it heavy with implication, because he knows that little of what the demon did, in Cyprus, was very demonic and Crowley knows it, too. Crowley knows that he’s a bit of a soft demon, just like he knows Aziraphale is a bit of a lax angel. They don’t talk about it, though. They don’t talk about this strange truce between them, or the fact that they’ve never bothered with any of the smiting and thwarting that they write about, in their reports. They don’t talk about the warm moments that have happened between them, in the past.

Crowley runs his lower lip between his teeth.

“You like my work, angel.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He does, actually. He’s probably Crowley’s biggest fan.

They watch one another very closely, for a moment.

“Fancy a quick one, for old time’s sake?”

“Mmh.” The angel makes a small, disapproving noise.

“Or did we agree not to do that, anymore?”

“We did,” Aziraphale says, very quietly. “You know we did.”

They’d had that conversation several hundred years ago, after they’d met up in Rome. After they’d had dinner together, and drank their fill of wine, and Aziraphale had led the demon back to his apartments, in the north of the city, and let Crowley to press him up against a wall.

They’d been meeting up after an argument and some time apart, that night, and things had been charged. A line had been crossed. Some of the physical had slid into the emotional and it had all started to blur together, for Aziraphale. What he was doing with Crowley because the pair of them were bored and needed an Earthly distraction, of an evening - and what he was doing, of an evening, just because Crowley was in town. It had become difficult, to distinguish.

The angel had lain awake, dithering over the situation for hours. Then, unable to quell the panic, he had woken Crowley from where he was dozing, against his side, and told him that - while this had been lovely - he really didn’t think they should do it, again. And then, he’d rather unceremoniously kicked the poor demon out into the street. At two in the morning.

Not one of his proudest moments.

Across the way, Crowley is watching him, perhaps remembering the same night. If he is, however, he takes the high road and doesn’t mention it.

“You told me once that sex was just a pastime, same as chess,” he reminds Aziraphale, instead, widening his eyes to punctuate the sentence.

“And you told me you weren't here for that, tonight,” the angel counters.

“Well, I wasn’t. Specifically.”

“Mm. Otherwise why would you have left your tent?”

“Well…” The demon eyes him. “I mean… there’s chess and there’s chess…”

They continue to stare at one another, a different weight to it, now. Some unspoken barrier has been breached. Want has been admitted to. Specific want. Crowley doesn’t want any willing body, he wants Aziraphale. He wants them. And that puts ‘them out in the open. Makes it suddenly more real and dangerous.

Aziraphale swallows.

He wants them, too. He always does, in the moment. It’s all the psychoanalysing that goes on, afterwards, that’s the problem.

What they did together had all been very simple, in the beginning. It had started as a bit of an exploration of their earthy bodies. Nothing more than idle curiosity. Then, it had continued because it had felt good and why not? There had been no reason to bring emotion into it, after all. They weren’t human. They weren’t actually seeking a mate, or trying to reproduce. It was just the shadow of the need for that, lingering in the wiring of their almost-human bodies. And it wasn’t the worst thing, to understand that urge, the angel had reasoned with himself. (He was so good at reasoning with himself). It was good, to appreciate the pressures that drove humanity.

It had only happened a dozen or so times, the angel thinks, watching Crowley, now. Little moments, scattered throughout history. Evenings where they’d been a little more drunk than usual, or a little more bored - or when it had been a while, since one of them had found a suitable human. It had always been nice, even their first fumbling explorations, but there had never been emotion tied to it. At least, not at first. It was just one of those human things they did together, as a sort-of joke about how not-human they were. Like eating. Or drinking. Or chess. It had just been a pastime.

But that isn’t strictly true, anymore, the angel thinks. They have been living in these bodies for so long, now, that they are no longer just vessels. Aziraphale does not just eat to fit in, anymore. He gets something from it. And where he lives and how he dresses means something, too. Their emotions are threaded into their actions, now. What they say and do matters. And Aziraphale finds himself wanting on levels to torturously entwined that it makes his head spin.

He exhales, watching Crowley watch him. Wide, golden eyes eager.

Oh, maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world, if they just-,

“No…” he rolls over on his back, sighing, tearing his gaze away from the demon. “No, Crowley. I can’t. We can’t… It’s completely inappropriate. We’re shouldn’t even be talking.”

“Well, I wasn’t suggesting a soliloquy.” The demon leans slightly closer, mouth drifting down towards his neck.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale snaps.

The demon flinches, drawing back, his eyes widening slightly in surprise. They stare at one another for a good few seconds, then Crowley seems to shake himself out of it. He pulls back and away from Aziraphale, rolling over on his back to stare up at the tree overhead.

“Fine.” A muscle works in his jaw. “Never mind. Forget about it.”

“Crowley-,” the angel begins again, a little softer.

“Sorry I asked.”

“It’s just not appropriate-,”

“Bloody hell, Aziraphale, I said forget about it! Okay?”

“Okay…”

“Alright.”

“Good.”

“Fine…”

They lie for a minute and a half in silence, just the crackling of the fire between them. Aziraphale can feel Crowley stewing, darkly, for the first little while. Then, he feels his counterpart’s shoulder being to relax. Then twitch, as he lifts a hand up to run it over his face.

Ngh-,” his voice is softer, suddenly. “Fuck…”

He leaves it hanging, the self deprecation filling the air alongside the crackling of the fire and the sound of Aziraphale’s breaths. The angel is watching Crowley’s backlit profile. The anger which had flared, inside him, is draining, slowly - leaving an ache behind. Crowley is so close and so familiar. The sharp edge of that brow. The cut out curve, under his lip. The tip of that sharp nose…

“Sorry, angel.”

“It’s fine,” he says, very quietly.

“S’not, really… Do you want me to leave?”

“No.” The word falls from his lips reflexively - followed by the rest, a couple of seconds later. “I never want you to leave, Crowley. That’s the problem.”

There is a rustle beside him.

Crowley’s head turns, eyes finding Aziraphale across their nest of furs.

“What?”

Cold, liquid fear floods through the angel, freezing his mouth shut.

Fuck.

He should not have said that, he thinks, staring into Crowley’s wide golden eyes. He really, really should not have said that. It is the sort of honesty that he and Crowley just don’t employ, with one another. It’s the sort of honesty that leaves them both exposed - and both looking very treacherous.

“Come on…” the demon mumbles, after a few seconds of stunned silence. “Don’t be daft.” His expression is quite strange, all of a sudden. Not one that Aziraphale recognises. It’s a mix of things - surprise and fear, and something else that the angel cannot place, exactly. Something warm but also slightly sad. “S’no need to pretend,” Crowley murmurs. “I’m a complete git. I’ll bet you can’t wait to see the back of me, most times we bump into one another. All that trouble I cause…”

And the fear that’s gripping Aziraphale’s insides sort of intensifies and vanishes, all at the same time. Because - bless Crowley - he’s trying to make it easier on him. He’s trying to give Aziraphale a get-out clause, just like he had earlier. Silly, ridiculous, beautiful demon that he is.

And this is why they can’t grind their bodies together, anymore, the angel thinks, like they have, sporadically, throughout history. It wouldn’t be a mindless fuck, if they sunk into one another, tonight. They mean too much to one another, now. It would be an expression of something. The same ‘something' that’s pulling at the base of the angel’s spine. The same ‘something’ that he can feel, spilling out into the air, between him and Crowley.

The demon shields his emotions so carefully, most of the time. He is so incredibly good at it. But there are moments where he slips up - where Aziraphale has felt what’s going on, beneath the surface. There have been moments where Aziraphale has said or done something, (and a few moments when they have just been sitting together, doing nothing at all), when the angel has been able to feel heat, bleeding through the cracks in the barrier that Crowley keeps up, between them. Soft, needy heat. Soft, needy love.

It is love. Aziraphale has known that for a while, now. He’s known, too, that he should push Crowley away, because of it, but he’s never quite been able to. Crowley is the only thing that lasts, in his world. He can’t bear to deny himself the comfort.

“I mean, we are always bloody arguing,” the demon continues, still valiantly trying to provide him with an out. “We disagree about almost everything, angel. You’re ready to throw me off a cliff by the end of most of our conversations.”

A smile pulls at the corner of Aziraphale’s lips. Bless Crowley, he thinks. Bless this silly, ridiculous demon.

“And I’m tactless,” the demon continues, “and rude. And I always make you look underdressed and out of date, by comparison.”

“Hardly a unique trait, that last one,” the angel points out. His voice feels thin, without substance.

“Yeah…”

Crowley looks incredibly glad that he’s broken the awkward monologue.

Aziraphale isn't know what to say next, though. He doesn’t think there is a right answer. What was one supposed to say, after inadvertently telling one’s metaphysical counterpart that you never wanted them to leave - love heavy in the subtext?

There are no instructive texts, to guide the angel, on this. No letters from scholars, learned in the field. No case studies. No data. All he’s got is instinct, and all that’s doing is screaming at him to lean over and kiss his friend. (No. Not his friend, Aziraphale reminds himself, gently. His hereditary enemy. His demon counterpart).

Oh, he wishes he was better at this…

“You don’t have to leave,” he tells Crowley, softly. “I just… can’t anymore.”

“Fuck, Aziraphale…” the demon blinks. He looks in physical pain, for a moment. “Just… forget about all of that, alright? Forget I said anything. I was being an ass. We don't do that anymore. I get it. We’re good...”

The angel nods.

He feels all tangled up, inside, as if a lot of things might come spilling out if he tries to speak.

“Listen," Crowley mutters, "I’ll just warm up a bit and leave.”

Aziraphale sides a hand over, finding the arm that lies between them. His fingers fit perfectly around the demon's wrist.

“What?” Golden eyes trace his face, still wearing that mixed expression. Nervous, warm, pained. “Stay?”

He nods.

“Oh.” They watch one another a long moment. “You sure? I can head off anytime. Chuck those idiots at my place out. It’s not a problem.”

“I know.” I want you here, the angel thinks, but does not say.

“Okay…”

He wonders if Crowley can feel his love spilling through cracks in his emotional barriers, the same way he can feel the demon’s. A part of him hopes Crowley can. The rest of him wants to take the secret to the grave.

“Alright, well… Just give me a kick if I’m taking up too much room, alright?” The demon gives a little grimace. “Because, you know, I’m going to fall asleep and you’re warm, so I’ll end up gravitating towards you. It’s a snake thing.”

Aziraphale smiles, shyly.

“Well, that’s to be expected, I suppose.”

“Yeah…”

They watch one another a moment, then Crowley adds, guilelessly. “You can keep reading your book, if you like? Could even read it out loud and I could listen in." He pulls a petted lip. "Learn about plants, in case I ever need to poison anyone.”

Only Crowley could make ‘I’m going to curl up beside you - will you read to me?' sound demonic. It must come from the years of practice he’s had, passing his nonsense off as Hell’s work, the angel thinks.

“It’s in latin,” he warns the demon.

“Ugh… I hate latin.”

“I know.”

“Wait - I thought you were translating?”

“I am.”

“Well, read it to me in that, then?”

Pushy, demanding creature, Aziraphale thinks, with a faint smile.

The demon is getting a bit of his swagger back, now that the awkwardness of their little interlude  is fading, and Aziraphale is glad. He had worried that this would become a thing. But of course it won’t, he reminds himself. It’s Crowley. They aren’t like that They’ve drifted peripherally through one another’s worlds for so long, now. They know how to be what the other one needs. They never ask for too much. They know what’s allowed and what’s not. They work within the confines of their little truce, their little arrangement.

Perhaps they could figure out a way to help one another out with more, now and again, the angel thinks. A working arrangement. Something to make their time here a little bit easier. To give them an emotion-free excuse to see one another…

The angel reaches over, pulling his heavy tome back towards himself, reaching around for his quill and a scrap of paper.

A working arrangement would have to wait, for now. He’s not ready to think about it, yet. Perhaps in a couple of years, he decides, jotting down the page number at the top of the scrap of paper. Perhaps, next time he and Crowley bump into one another, they can talk about it. And, until then, Aziraphale would try and get his head around what sort of favours they could do for one another that didn’t affect their Heavenly and Hellish remits.

Agreeing to not perform little things that will directly counteract one another’s blessings and temptations, perhaps. Minor things. Things that don’t require any real holy or infernal action - just a little bit of human trickery. Yes, he thinks, he might just about be able to justify that.

“Don’t fuss around too much, now,” he tells his counterpart, lying beside him. “You’ll mess up my notes. The ink isn’t running smoothly, as it is, because of the cold.”

“Your quill is magically refilling itself, angel” the demon points out, from his position at Aziraphale’s side, buried up to his nose in the furs. His golden eyes are peering out, over a dark sable. “Surely you could just go the rest of the way, and miracle the ink to flow?”

“No, that wouldn’t be at all correct,” Aziraphale blusters, dabbing at his paper with the tip of his quill to get things moving. “Not at all. I couldn’t possibly go putting magic into the words, themselves. Creating an environment to replicate human works is one thing, Crowley, but using our powers to alter them, even in such a small way… Well, that would be quite wrong, wouldn’t it?” He scratches out a short line, then glances down at the demon. “Quite wrong.”

Crowley is watching him with wide, dark pupils.

“You are an idiot,” he mutters, after a long moment, then wriggles over onto his opposite side so the curve of his back is pressed near to the angel’s side. “Go on, then. Read. I need to learn about poison. Lots of evil wiles to plan.”

Aziraphale turns his eyes back down to the page and begins to read. The translation is a bit slow and he misses bits, occasionally, but Crowley doesn’t seem to mind. He just buries himself deeper in the furs and slides his feet back under Aziraphale’s, finding a space beside the angel’s forearm where he can press his head. He makes little noises, in solidarity, every time Aziraphale exclaims over some new fact - and occasionally gives a little ‘heh’ when Aziraphale pronounces something wrong - but otherwise he doesn’t talk. And, after half an hour or so, he goes quiet, breaths evening out against the angel’s side.

Aziraphale reads out loud for a little bit longer, anyway, just because it feels nice. Then, he gently slides his quill and notes back into his bag, and just lies for a bit, watching the back of Crowley’s hair glint in the dying embers of the fire.

He is not sure what is going to play out between them, over the coming years. There is a good chance that they won’t see one another, for a while. He’s due back on the continent and Crowley has business in the north, but they are both heading back to London, eventually. Heaven and Hell both want a foothold in the area, for future trade reasons, and they are opposite numbers. Where one of them goes, the other will eventually follow.

Agreeing to streamline their work would give them a nice solid foundation to move forwards with, Aziraphale thinks. It would cut out a lot of unnecessary faffing around and cancelling one another out - and it would give them a reason to see one another. A safe reason, not bound to emotion. And if it also allows them to justify grabbing a drink together, occasionally, then that would be fine, the angel decides. They do get on so very well, after all. And they’re only trying to fit in, amongst the humans.

He tries not to think to hard about what humans do together, in the late hours of the evening - what the humans down the hill, in Crowley’s encampment, were probably doing right now - finding distraction in one another’s bodies. He tries not to think about the fact that he and Crowley could be doing the same. That the demon had been willing. That he had not been willing with the trio of humans, in his tent, but he had been very willing, for Aziraphale. Specifically because Aziraphale. And that’s the problem, isn't it, thinks the angel. They shouldn’t be one another’s exceptions. (Regardless of how exceptional they have been together in the past). They are supposed to be enemies. They are meant to be opposed.

Giving a little grunt in his sleep, Crowley butts his head indelicately back, against the angel.

Aziraphale reaches out, resting fingertips against his hair.

“Hush…” he presses just a little bit of his powers into the movement. “Have only good dreams.”

The demon squirms once more, thens settles down.

Beautiful.

Deciding he can always blame Crowley for having sought the contact out, come the morning, Aziraphale leans closer and wraps one arm around his counterpart’s side. Then, when demon doesn’t wake, he leans the rest of his body closer too. They lie for a moment, Aziraphale acclimatising to the sensation of having all of the demon warm and pressed up against him - to having the scent of Crowley filling his nostrils, mixed with the woodsmoke and the furs. Then, deciding he’s already an embarrassment of an angel and he might as well commit to it, Aziraphale tilts his head the rest of the way in and rests his forehead against the back of the demon’s neck. Skin on skin. And they spend the rest of the night that way. Warm. Secure. Together.

Crowley gives them the specious pretence of animosity, the next morning, by slinking off without waking him. And by stealing the rest of his good wine. And his best pair of socks.

.