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A Time You May Embrace

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"You have got to be joking," says Gabriel.

"Do I look like I am joking?" says the Metatron.

He doesn't. He looks like the Metatron always looks, in his rare, disturbing in-person appearances: like a being created without any capacity for humor whatsoever.

"But this isn't the Plan!" says Gabriel.

"Have you listened to nothing I've been saying?" says the Metatron, in a tone that makes it very clear he was created with the capacity for annoyance. "There is a new Great Plan."

"Okay," says Gabriel, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes. It's an urge he's not very good at resisting, but he manages it somehow. "There's a new Plan, fine, but this... This isn't a plan, Metatron. This is at best a long-term goal, and not a very realistic one, I might add." He could also add some other words for it, like "insane" and "unbelievably stupid" and "against every single fucking thing we've ever stood for," but he's already pushing it if they're talking about instructions handed down from the Almighty Herself. Not that they have anything but the Metatron's word for that. Not for the first time, Gabriel finds himself a little suspicious of unquestioning faith as a Heavenly policy. Not for the rank and file, obviously, but surely he ought to be allowed to offer some feedback. "Where's our action plan?" he says, instead.

"It is your job to come up with one. Aren't you the one who's always touting your leadership abilities and your skill at, what was it? 'Outside the box thinking?' Figure it out!"

And with that, he's gone.

"Fuck!"

Gabriel closes his eyes for a moment and tries to collect himself. He's in control here. He'll make this work. Although, to be completely honest, he isn't even entirely certain what "outside the box thinking" is meant to entail. It just sounded really good as a phrase for motivating people.

He opens his eyes again, grits his perfect teeth, and starts contemplating how to write what is bound to be the absolute worst memo of his eternal life.

**

"...request your presence at a joint brainstorming session aimed at producing synergy by accessing diverse perspectives," Dagon reads aloud, her expression growing more and more incredulous with each word, "with the goal of formulating a mutually acceptable action plan, re: the aforementioned prospective merger or future cooperative operational status, to be held at our earliest mutual convenience in a neutral location. Signed, Archangel Gabriel, Holy Messenger of God, Chief Operating Officer of Heaven, and Creation's foremost arsehole."

She looks up from the paper -- a paper that clearly did not originate in Hell, being of a pristine whiteness and featuring text not produced by a manual typewriter with at least one permanently stuck key -- and back over at where Beelzebub sits, leaning intently forward on her throne. "I added that last part. He inexplicably forgot to include it." She tosses the paper to the floor, where it instantly becomes far less pristine. "Is he fucking joking?"

Beelzebub sneers. It is, Dagon notes, one of her more thoughtful sneers. "Since when has that idiot had a sense of humor?" There's a faint hint of a buzz on the first "s." She's definitely a bit worked up about this. Dagon carefully pretends not to notice.

"Should I send him a reply telling him to fuck off?

"No," says Beelzebub slowly. "As disgusting as the thought of--" She pauses, clearly forcing herself to spit out the word. "--reconciliation might be, this could work to our advantage. What, after all, was our ultimate objective in carrying out the Great Plan?"

"Retaking Heaven," says Dagon, fairly sure this isn't some kind of trick question.

"Exactly. And how much easier will that be if the idiots invite us back in?"

Dagon considers that for a moment, wishing she could find the flaw in this reasoning. "I don't like it," she says.

"Neither does Gabriel," Beelzebub says. "The less he likes something, the more of that ridiculous jargon he uses."

"I do like him not liking things," Dagon admits.

Beelzebub smiles. Which is always disconcerting and a little startling, even for Dagon, who has known her literally forever. "If nothing else, it might be very entertaining to see what we can get them to agree to." She settles back in her throne, and, disturbingly, smiles even wider. "In fact, I might have an interesting idea or two already."

**

It's been a good day.

All Crowley's days have been good, since the world didn't end. Which isn't a surprise, of course. The freedom of being able to say a giant "fuck off" to Hell and spend the rest of eternity however he wants, with a great, big, ridiculous, endlessly entertaining world still here to enjoy himself in? What's not to like?

But if he's honest, it's not even mostly that that's making him happy. Mostly, it's the difference in Aziraphale. The way the angel pauses, in moments when before he'd have said, "Oh, no, we can't possibly, you're my enemy," and instead just smiles that crinkly smile of his and agrees to come out for a drink, or to let Crowley nap on his couch, or whatever it is that seems like it might make them happy, without having to be persuaded into it. Crowley can see it, then, clear as anything: the relieved absence of a burden Aziraphale's been carrying since the beginning, perhaps without ever quite letting himself understand that it was there. Crowley always understood, of course. It's one of the first things he ever learned about Aziraphale: what that conflict between the right thing and the righteous one does to the expression in his eyes.

So any day that expression's gone from Aziraphale's face is a good day, and the days when Crowley also gets to sit here with him like this are even better. Which has been most days, lately.

It's kind of funny, really. They haven't been doing anything with their time that they haven't done before. They're still just sitting here in the bookshop drinking wine and arguing for the sheer, perverse joy of arguing. But it does feel different now, somehow. And not just because it's happening more often, or because at some point, without discussing it, they've both started sitting together on the couch instead of facing each other across a table.

Today, at least, is different in a more obvious way, because today Crowley has brought chocolates. And not just any chocolates. Ones he's personally fetched from a hoity-toity chocolatier in Paris he remembered Aziraphale mentioning he liked once, just as a little surprise. Which is something else that's different, now he thinks of it. Time was, he'd have played that down, for both their sakes. Oh, I was just in the neighborhood, it's nothing, don't thank me, shuddap. This time, he just shrugged and admitted they were a gift, that he'd been thinking of the angel. And it was fine. Better than fine, even, because it made Aziraphale's already-beaming face beam even harder.

He picks a confection out of the box. The chocolate is rich and velvety and dark as sin. A little too bitter for Crowley's taste, honestly, but Aziraphale loves it. Crowley holds the piece out to him, an offering between thumb and forefinger. "Tempt you to another bite?"

Aziraphale gives him that crinkly smile again. "Oh, you're too kind," he says, and his eye are sparkling in a deliberately teasing way, but Crowley can hear the real sincerity behind it. He can't bring himself to mind, though. Eh, fuck it, maybe calling him "kind" can just be another one of the things Aziraphale is finally allowed to do now. Maybe that's a gift Crowley can give him, too. Probably earned it, really.

The angel reaches out to take the morsel from him, and for an unhurried moment, their fingers brush. Aziraphale's hand is warm and soft against his, and Crowley is struck, all at once, with a dizzying sense of possibility. Of just how much time they have in front of them. Time, even, for moments like this one to become familiar. To become normal. To become simply a thing that the two of them do without noticing. Or perhaps even to become--

Aziraphale frowns. "What was that?"

"Hnh?" Crowley says, his eyes still on the chocolate. On Aziraphale's fingers on the chocolate.

"Was that the front door bell?"

Crowley mentally reviews the last few seconds, but if he heard the blessed thing jingling, his mind must have refused to cede any attention to it. "You didn't lock it?" he says, some ill-defined pang of disappointment making him sound more accusing than he means to.

"I was almost certain I did, but apparently not." Aziraphale sighs. "I'll go and get rid of them." He pops the chocolate into his mouth, swallowing it too quickly, without the chance to savor it the way he likes, and moves to stand up.

"I'll do it," Crowley says, before Aziraphale can rise to his feet. He is going to curse whoever might have dared to disturb them. Whoever it is, he'll make sure they never enjoy the taste of chocolate again. He'll make sure they're always interrupted at the wrong moment, for the rest of their lives. He'll--

"Oh, fuck," says Aziraphale quietly.

Crowley stares at him for a moment in sheer astonishment. He hasn't heard Aziraphale swear like that since someone told him the news about the Library of Alexandria.

From the entrance to the back room, a voice says, "Well, well. Isn't this... cozy," in a tone of bluff and hearty disgust, and is answered by a disdainful, buzzing grunt of agreement.

Of course. Of fucking course. Because somebody up there hates him, literally as well as figuratively, and somebody down there hates him even more, and it was probably far too much to ask that he'd seen the last of these two and their infinite cosmic bullshit. With an effort of will, he tears his eyes off Aziraphale and looks up at them. "Gabriel," he says lightly. "Beelzebub! To what do we owe the annoyance?"

"I come with tidings," says Gabriel. He kind of looks like he's biting down on a lemon as he says it, and Crowley dares to wonder, just for a moment, whether that might mean it's actually good news.

"We come with tidings," says Beelzebub. She sounds annoyed, but then, she pretty much always sounds annoyed, so that doesn't really add any new information.

"Right, right," says Gabriel. "Sure. We come with tidings."

"Who even says 'tidings'?" Crowley says, unable to resist. "Nobody says 'tidings' anymore."

Aziraphale rises with stiff, angry decorum to his feet. Crowley quickly slithers off the sofa to stand beside him. A little too close, maybe, but Aziraphale doesn't object. "We have no interest," Aziraphale says, "in anything either of you might have to say. I must insist that you vacate my establishment this instant!"

"No can do," says Gabriel. He's smirking now. Crowley indulges in a brief fantasy of conjuring up hellfire and throwing it at his face, but since the ensuing fight would probably involve everyone here finding out very quickly just how very, very not-invulnerable Crowley is, he manages to resist. Barely. "New orders from--" He points upward and gives the two of them a significant, and significantly punchable look.

"There is a new Great Plan," says Beelzebub.

"Oh, for--" Crowley begins, but as seems to happen so often these days, his mind and his lips stumble awkwardly over the question of what to put after that. This time he ends up finishing the sentence with a limp "...for crying out loud," which does not remotely achieve the effect he was going for.

"Good for you," says Aziraphale. "But that's nothing to do with us. We are retired. In case you had somehow failed to notice." He sounds utterly unwavering. Good angel. Crowley is proud of him.

He fights down the impulse to reach out and grab Aziraphale's hand. Might distract him too much. Might read as a sign of weakness. Instead he puts on his growliest, most dangerous voice -- which, admittedly, might be slight overcompensation for that poor showing a moment ago -- and says, "Unless you want to destroy the Earth again. Then we'll make it our business."

"Oh, yes," says Aziraphale. He sounds a bit alarmed, as if this thought hadn't quite occurred to him yet. "Quite right."

"Are you idiots not listening?" says Gabriel, who appears not to have been at all intimidated by Crowley's deeply intimidating voice. "That was the old Great Plan. I told you, there's a new Great Plan. And guess what? You two get to play a starring role. Consider it a second chance. Your opportunity to make up for how badly you screwed things up last time."

"I believe it is you who are not listening, Gabriel," says Aziraphale. "We are done. You have no more power over us. Or have we not adequately demonstrated that to you?"

"Okay, fine." Gabriel smiles in a way that just makes Crowley want to punch him even more. Which is a genuinely impressive feat. "Then I guess it's back to Plan A, after all. I admit, I'm not looking forward to explaining it upstairs, but, hey, at least the Almighty will know who to blame. Again." He turns toward Beelzebub. "Looks like the war's back on, Beez. Since we've already been through that whole Antichrist thing, I say we skip it this time. Might as well just destroy the Earth directly, get that over with, and get right to the fighting. What's your schedule for the week? I'm thinking Tuesday."

"Works for me," says Beelzebub. Did either of them even listen to Crowley being intimidating?

Crowley looks at Aziraphale, desperately hoping he's got some kind of brilliant, big-brain response to this. He sees Aziraphale looking back at him, clearly desperately hoping the same thing. Shit.

Crowley lets out a noise that's meant to be a casually weary sigh but is rebelling against its purpose very hard and struggling to be a mildly terrified moan instead. The result is a bit disconcerting, but mercifully difficult to interpret.

Fortunately, Aziraphale has apparently tapped into some heroic reservoir of inner calm. "Quite bold of you, to presume we can't stop you again," he says. His voice is miraculously steady, although Crowley doesn't think there's an actual miracle involved. "But if it will help to resolve this more quickly, you may tell us what it is you want."

Crowley tries not to smile at him in appreciation. He thinks he's successfully managed to turn the expression into some sort of vaguely supportive sneer.

But Gabriel grins like he thinks he's just won some kind of victory. Prick. "Heaven and Hell..." he says, then pauses, apparently for dramatic effect. Such a prick. "...have decided to forge an alliance."

Crowley's heart drops. So, this is it, then. Exactly what he was afraid of. The Big One. All of us against all of them. Maybe not in the form of immediate global destruction, if they're holding that up as the alternative, but he can't imagine that whatever they have in mind will be any more enjoyable. Bless it, he thought they'd have more time. Time to enjoy themselves first. Time to prepare. Time to... to... He finds himself desperate to reach out for Aziraphale's hand again, and this time, he doesn't fight it. Aziraphale squeezes back so tightly that it's almost comforting. Almost.

"And we're even including your precious mortal realm in the arrangement, too," Gabriel continues. "Strictly as a junior partner, of course."

Wait, what?

"What?" says Aziraphale. His hand goes limp in Crowley's, presumably with shock.

"That is where you come in," Beelzebub says.

Crowley blinks. He's trying very, very hard to process this. It sounds... good, right? If they're thinking of humanity as a partner instead of an annoying obstacle? Is that good? "So you want us to be, what?" he says, trying not to sound quite as confused as he is and probably failing. "Ambassadors?"

"Ambassadors," Gabriel says thoughtfully. "Hmm. Hadn't quite thought of it like that. In a manner of speaking you might be ambassadors." He turns to Beelzebub again with a questioning look, as if checking whether she agrees.

"No," says Beelzebub.

Gabriel turns back to them and shrugs, an amused hey, who am I to argue with my new ally? sort of gesture. Crowley really wants to punch him. Six thousand years among humans and demons, and nobody has ever stirred up the impulse to physical violence in him like this guy.

"What, then?" says Aziraphale. "Exactly?"

"You," says Gabriel, "are going to forge our alliance for us."

"The traditional way," says Beelzebub. "None of this corporate merger nonsenzzzz."

"Hey!" says Gabriel. Beelzebub gives him an unapologetic look.

"I'm sorry," says Aziraphale. "Which tradition is this?"

"Marriage," says Gabriel. "That's how humans do it, right? We have to include them somehow, so it's basically a perfect solution. One angel, one demon, one stupid human custom."

What.

Crowley tries to say the word, but it doesn't come out at all, not even as a garbled noise.

Marriage? Marriage? With... with Aziraphale? Him and Aziraphale?

The thought does something to his insides, something swooping and light and fizzy, before sinking rapidly down to turn into something sickening and leaden somewhere in his stomach instead, as the word echoes through his mind in Gabriel's voice.

Aziraphale is saying something, something he's stuttering and stumbling over. "Not... not... that is, it used to be quite common, but... I'm sorry, did you say marriage?"

They have to get some control over this conversation. "Why us?" Crowley croaks. "That doesn't make any sense. We're not even on your sides anymore!"

"That," says Beelzebub, "is what is perfect about it."

"Absolutely," says Gabriel. "You two have already forged your weird little..." He waves a hand back and forth between them, "whatever it is you have."

What they have? What is it that they have? Whatever it is, it's not the sort of thing that forms a marriage.

...is it?

"Which is great," Gabriel is continuing, "because it means we don't have to force any of our own into something this disgusting in order to benefit from the symbolism."

"Yes," says Beelzebub. "You made your bed, Crowley. It seems only fair that you and your angel should have to lie in it."

Marriage. Bed. Marriage bed?

"Especially," says Gabriel, as if he's read the thought that hasn't quite managed to form itself in Crowley's mind yet, "since we'll be expecting a consummation, of course." He gives a little grimace and shudder of disgust.

"It is traditional," says Beelzebub. She looks less disgusted, and more sort of... vindictive.

"But I'm sure you'll be up to it," Gabriel says. "You've already basically gone native, right? What's a few more gross bodily functions between traitors?"

Aziraphale lets go of Crowley's hand and thunks heavily down onto the couch. That... seems kind of appropriate. Crowley decides to join him there. Just so he won't be alone.

He teeters so badly on the way down that he almost misses the sofa entirely. Hopefully nobody noticed.

"I trust your silence constitutes agreement." says Beelzebub.

"Excellent!" says Gabriel. "We'll contact you with the details. Come on, Beez. We've got a wedding to plan!"

"I am a Prince of Hell," says Beelzebub. "If you continue referring to me as 'Beez,' I will call the alliance off."

"Fine, fine," says, Gabriel. "Whatever you say, your royal fly-ness"

And in a flash of light and a cloud of sulfur, they're gone.

On the sofa, Crowley looks at Aziraphale.

Aziraphale looks back at Crowley. His eyes are enormous.

What the fuck are either of them supposed to say about this?

**

"I believe," says Aziraphale, mildly amazed by how almost-steady he is able to make his voice, "that this calls for something significantly stronger than wine."

"Satan, yes," says Crowley. His voice isn't steady at all.

Aziraphale gets up slowly and moves to the drinks cabinet, as much to buy himself time to gather his thoughts as because he truly does want the drink. His thoughts refuse to be gathered, though, sinking instead under the weight of a petulant, wounded anger.

Everything had been so lovely. All of it, since they won what they'd thought was their freedom, but tonight, especially. The chocolates. The small, pleased, unselfconscious smile on Crowley's face as he watched Aziraphale opening the box. The dark, sensual taste of the first confection. The way Crowley's fingers had lingered on his for a moment over the second one.

That had felt deliberate. As if Crowley wanted to touch him. As if that were something they might perhaps be able to add to... to whatever it is that they already have.

Foolish angel that he is, he'd been looking forward to it. To the slow, careful unfolding of whatever sweet and interesting new thing might arise between them. Some fanciful, unhelpfully poetic part of him cannot help imagining the first tiny bud of a flower finally beginning to emerge on a vine they'd nourished between them for millennia. Although, if he's honest, it was poor, dear Crowley who did much of the watering.

Can you kill a flower by trying to force it to bloom too quickly? Crowley would probably know. Although Crowley would probably tell him it was a silly, over-sentimental analogy. And he would probably be right. And yet.

There are so many reasons for him to be furious right now. But the only one that seems to matter is this feeling that something fragile and important has perhaps just been suddenly, irrevocably ruined.

He grabs two glasses and two bottles of whiskey. Not the best stuff, certainly not. But nothing in his collection is bad, and for a moment he resents that, because he knows he'll barely taste it. Yet another pleasant possibility, gone entirely to waste.

He pours and hands a glass to Crowley. Their fingers don't touch.

Crowley stares into his glass as if trying to remember what whiskey is. Aziraphale turns away, pours one for himself, downs it in a gulp -- yes, a waste, a terrible waste -- and pours another. He sits heavily down next to Crowley, who is draining his glass now as if expecting to find some sort of relief at the bottom. He doesn't look like he's finding it either.

They sit in silence for a long moment. Aziraphale is quite certain he should say something. He lives surrounded by words. He ought to be able to come up with some appropriate ones.

"This is utterly ridiculous," is what he finally comes out with. It doesn't really seem to cover the extent of things at all.

"Yeah, they've outdone themselves this time," Crowley says. He pours himself another glass, but leaves it sitting on the table, waiting. He leans back and takes a deep breath. His face takes on that look he gets when he's scheming, or trying to. Aziraphale knows it well. He also knows how to tell when Crowley's having difficulty. "Right," Crowley says. "What are our options?"

Aziraphale takes a moment to consider this, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. "I'm not certain we have any," he says. "We can't let them destroy the world. Not after... Well, we simply can't."

"Yeah," says Crowley. "Be kind of a waste, after all that trouble we went to." He picks up his drink, takes a swallow, puts it back down again.

"And..." Aziraphale hesitates. He is quite certain they aren't being watched now, but he lowers his voice, anyway. "We don't even have the leverage they believe we do."

"Might not get us very far even if we did," says Crowley. "Much as I hate to admit it."

"Even if we did have the ability to oppose them," says Aziraphale, hating himself for saying it but knowing it to be true, "I don't know that we should. If a three-way alliance truly is the new Ineffable Plan--"

"The new Great Plan," Crowley says. "Not necessarily the same thing, angel."

"It might be, this time. I think it may be the right thing to do." Crowley gives him a disbelieving look. "The correct thing to do," he amends.

"Why?" Crowley leans towards him, his bare yellow eyes locking onto Aziraphale's own. "Because your Lord and former master says so?"

That hurts. It hurts more than he would have expected. "No, Crowley. Because if it works, it will prevent another war and keep this world and everyone in it safe. Including you and I."

"If," Crowley mutters. He leans backward again, and scrubs a hand across his face. He looks terribly weary, now, and Aziraphale instantly forgives him for anything he's said.

They sit in silence for a moment. Aziraphale takes another drink. It doesn't seem to be having much of an effect.

"We could fake it," Crowley says, at last. That hurts, too, for some reason. With an effort of will, Aziraphale manages to forgive again. "Do whatever ceremony they have planned and..." He waves a hand. "...and all that." As if "all that" were nothing. As if it didn't mean... what it means.

Aziraphale cannot help remembering, again, the feel of Crowley's fingers on his own. Cannot help imagining how they might feel, trailing down his body. How Crowley's face might look close to his, in a moment of such intimacy. All that.

"And then just... go on as we are?" Crowley finishes. Aziraphale can't tell from his voice whether that's what he wants. To be able to pretend it never happened. Whether he thinks that's what Aziraphale wants. Whether he imagines for a moment that it might be possible for nothing to change.

Not that it matters. "Marriage is a sacrament, Crowley," he says. "If they make me take a vow..." Humans can break even the most sacred vow, of course. But angels are made of sacredness. Even now, he can't imagine such a thing won't have some sort of hold on him.

"And they'll make me sign a contract," Crowley groans. "Shit." Because a demon can no more easily break a human contract than an angel can a human vow. All part of the ineffable balance of the universe.

"I'm sure they will."

"No faking, then."

"No."

Crowley runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. It says something about his mental state, Aziraphale thinks, that it doesn't immediately right itself back into its usual careless perfection, but is left sticking out at random angles. He wants to reach out and put it to rights. He doesn't. "What exactly are they expecting from us in all of this, anyway?" says Crowley. "I mean, marriage? A proper, not-fake marriage? What does that even mean?"

Aziraphale tries not to think about Crowley touching him, about Crowley's mouth finding its way onto his bare skin, about what it might feel like. A soft wetness? The tantalizing flickering of a tongue? "Well," he says, retreating to safer ground, "I imagine they'll expect us to live together."

"Would that be a problem for you?" Crowley says. His voice is terribly soft.

Of course it wouldn't be. Crowley is already here most days, and quite a few nights. And Aziraphale already misses him, every time he sets foot out the door. "No," he says. "But I am not redecorating."

Crowley gives him a slow, crooked smile. "Course not. Getting married and having to move books around, in same century? That much change might kill you. Or discorporate you, at the very least."

The familiar teasing tone is somehow an immense relief. Aziraphale feels deeply grateful for it. "And then you would have to be married to a disembodied spirit. I imagine it would be terribly difficult for you."

"Tragic," Crowley says. "I'd have to eat all the chocolates myself."

"So," says Aziraphale. "Living together isn't a problem. What else?"

"Hang on," says Crowley, his eyes widening, "aren't political marriages usually about, you know, producing children? To unite the later generations in one family, that sort of thing?"

For a moment, they stare at each other in mutual, horrified shock. "Surely not," Aziraphale says, finally. "I don't think that's even possible for us."

"Yeah," says Crowley, slumping a little in relief. "Yeah, sorry." He clears his throat. "Right, then. Right. Human marriage. What else does it mean? Apart from whatever it does for their tax forms."

"Mutual support?" Aziraphale ventures. "Caring for one another? Looking out for each other's interests."

"We hardly need to swear to that," Crowley says quietly, and Aziraphale wants to... wants to... He doesn't even know. To take Crowley into his arms, to pull him close. To swear to things they don't need to swear to, maybe.

He swallows. They have to acknowledge the thing they haven't talked about yet. They have to. "Sex," he says, dropping his gaze so he's no longer meeting Crowley's eyes. "Obviously."

"Yeah," says Crowley. He makes a small sound, then, like he wants to say something else, but nothing emerges.

"And love, ideally," Aziraphale says. It comes out rather roughly.

Crowley says nothing. After a moment, Aziraphale can't stand it anymore, and looks back into the demon's eyes.

And there it is, of course. Love. It isn't usually so naked in Crowley's face, but then, Aziraphale doesn't usually allow himself to say the word. Not about them.

They might well have come to this conversation one day. They might have had it joyfully, of their own free will. They might have been ready for it. Ready to say the word. Ready to hear it.

"Oh, Crowley," he says, feeling as if his something inside him might be threatening to break under the weight of all that might-have-been, "what are we going to do?"

"Move too fast, apparently," Crowley says. It should sound accusing. It doesn't. It sounds apologetic.

Aziraphale pours them both another drink.

**

Crowley isn't sure how long they've been drinking. At some point, the sun came up, and now it's starting to set again, so... a while? Long enough that they've had to partially sober up once... twice?... more?

He's aware that this is probably not the healthiest response to the situation, although at least neither of them has to worry about cirrhosis of the liver.

He's also aware that the last time they got anywhere near this deliberately, pointedly, avoidantly drunk together it was the night Crowley delivered the Antichrist, and there's something messed up, something stupidly sad, about the fact that their response to the impending end of the world and an impending wedding are exactly the same.

Not that they've talked about it since the first few glasses. Instead, they've talked sort of... around it. Orbiting the topic in great big circles. Like it's some sort of... of star. Too bright too look at directly, but too massive to escape from. (Why, Crowley wonders, does he only think about stars when he's sloshed? Is he really that much of a nostalgic drunk?)

It can't be coincidence, anyway, that all their usual drunken reminiscences about people they've known have been about married couples this time. Usually people in political marriages they'd managed to make the best of. Or hadn't.

And now Aziraphale's going on about a wedding they attended together in 1810. Crowley had been there to tempt the bride to run away with the best man. Did a good job of it, too, although it was embarrassingly easy, because they were clearly stupidly in love. They lived a long, happy life together afterward, from what he heard. Come to think of it, he doesn't believe Hell even got its hands on either of them, in the end.

Aziraphale is waxing rhapsodic about the food he was able to eat before the bride absconded, because of course he is, but that's not what Crowley remembers the most.

"I tried to get you to dance," he says. It's hard to get all the words to come out in the right order. Is it getting close to sober-up-a-bit time again? Naaah. "You wouldn't dance w'me." He can kind of feel his face doing something he hopes isn't actually a pout, but he's a little too drunk to care.

He does care, though, that Aziraphale looks a little sad at that. He reaches out to pat the angel's shoulder, but misses and pats the back of the sofa instead. So he does it again, deliberately. There, see? Totally meant to do that.

"Couldn't," Aziraphale says.

"Yeah, yeah," says Crowley. "I'know. No dancing with demons. No doing anything fun with demons."

"No," says Aziraphale. "Well, yes. But, no, I mean... I couldn't. Didn't know how. Six millem... millemia... six thousand years on Earth, and never learned to dance. 'Cause angels don't."

"Oh," says Crowley. Wait, does that mean he might have danced with Crowley if he'd known how to? "Um. I could have showed you?"

"Angels don't," Aziraphale says. "But do you want to hear a secret?"

Crowley wants to hear all Aziraphale's secrets. "Eh," he says.

Aziraphale leans in close to him. Crowley can feel his sweet, boozy breath on his face. It's kind of nice. "I learned," he says, as if it's the juiciest confession he's ever come out with. Which, knowing Aziraphale, it might be. "While you were asleep. Couldn't stop thinking about it. Not dancing. When I could have. So I..." He smiles, a smug, secretive, ridiculously beautiful smile. "I learned the gavotte," he finishes, in what he apparently thinks is a whisper.

Crowley doesn't even know where to begin taking all of this in. "The gavotte?" he settles on.

Aziraphale nods solemnly. "Yep." He only ever says "yep" when he's very, very drunk.

"The gavotte?"

"It was fun!"

"Oh," says Crowley. "I wish I could have seen that. You, dancing the gavotte."

"Maybe we can gavotte at the wedding," Aziraphale says.

They both freeze. Crowley's not entirely sure, in his case, whether it's because Aziraphale suggested dancing the bloody gavotte at their wedding, or because he suggested dancing the gavotte at their bloody wedding.

Suddenly, Aziraphale looks like he's trying not to cry. "I'm sorry," he says. "You deserve so much better."

"Better than the gavotte?" Crowley says. He's honestly not sure whether he's trying to make a joke or not, but Aziraphale laughs a little, in a sniffly sort of way, and his angel laughing is better than his angel crying, so that's good? He still looks sad, though. Crowley puts a hand on his arm. He manages not to miss this time.

"You did all that watering," Aziraphale says, inexplicably. "You watered and watered and watered, and I thought, oh, good, now we can see what grows out of it, but you can't make things..." He makes some bizarre, agitated hand gestures. Crowley can't tell what they're meant to convey. Grabbing confetti out of a box and throwing it? "Open," Aziraphale says, which doesn't help much. "You can't force flowers to, to..." He makes the same gesture again, only higher up. "To bloom!" he says, apparently having finally found the word he wants.

Crowley blinks. "'Course you can," he says. "I usually just yell at mine. They'll bloom if they know what's good for 'em."

"No!" says Aziraphale. "That exactly what's wrong. You can't... can't just yell a marriage into existence!" Which is a little funny, because it's Aziraphale who's the only one yelling at the moment.

"Wait, are we talking about that now?" says Crowley. Satan, he might actually have to sober up a little for this. "We're not talking about gardening?"

"It's just," says Aziraphale, "it isn't fair." Oh, angel. Still wanting to cling to the idea that life is fair? After all of... everything?

Crowley goes to put a hand on Aziraphale's arm, realizes he's still got it there from the last time, and rubs it clumsily up and down, instead. "Sorry, angel," he says, even though he doesn't know what for. Although he is fairly sure that, for once, it isn't really his fault.

"Six thousand years, Crowley. Six thousand years, and it's don't touch! Mustn't touch! Nasty demons!"

"Wankers," says Crowley. Meaning Heaven, of course, not the nasty demons. Although most of the demons qualify, too.

"And then," says Aziraphale. "And then, just when one is finally, finally able to say, 'I don't care, I shan't listen to you anymore,' along they come and say, sorry, we changed our minds. Now we're ordering you. Touch the pretty demon, you! And now I don't want to want to, because they want me to, and I don't want to want what they want me to... to want!" He stops and looks puzzled for a moment, as if trying to parse his own grammar, but from the look on his face, he's apparently decided that he did, in fact, get it right.

Crowley, on the other hand, doesn't feel like he's followed it at all. Which is a problem, because it seems as if it might have been fairly important. Especially the part about... "Wait," he says. "You think I'm pretty?"

"Always thought you were pretty," Aziraphale says. Or sort of mumbles, anyway. "Wouldn't be a problem, if you were... were ugly and cruel, and... and not you."

Crowley doesn't quite understand the logic of that, either, but he doesn't care, because... "You think I'm pretty!" He's grinning now. Ear to ear. Doesn't know why he's so happy about that, but he is.

"Yes, well, you don't need to get a big head about it."

Crowley sways forward a little. "I think you're pretty, too," he confides, somewhere in the vicinity of Aziraphale's ear. And maybe there's something mentally clarifying in the close-in scent of Aziraphale's cologne and skin and whiskey-soaked breath, because now Crowley's brain is ticking through some of the past few minutes' conversation a little more coherently. "Hang on," he says, and he thinks he can see the faintest hint of a shiver crossing Aziraphale's body as Crowley's breath puffs out across his cheek. "You don't want to want to touch me? That mean you do want to touch me?"

"Well, of course I do," says Aziraphale, peevishly, as if it ought to have been obvious, as if it might have been okay, all this time, for Crowley to think about more than their fingers brushing. To think about fingers combing through his hair, instead, or sliding down his back, or maybe even wrapping around his--

The front door bell jingles.

Aziraphale pulls away. "For God's sake, who is it now?"

"Aaaarrgghhnnnnggggghnnn," says Crowley, which he thinks is actually a fairly appropriate reply.

"Hi there," says Eric the demon, from the back room's doorway. "Just wanted to let you know, we're having a little meeting. For the wedding planning? Actually--" He grimaces a little in good-natured, apologetic, embarrassment. Or maybe it's mild fear. "--I'm already running a bit late, so if you're coming we should probably, you know?" He gestures towards the front of the bookshop with his clipboard.

Shit. Now. on top of everything else, they're going to have to sober up.

**

The meeting, it turns out, is being held in a very ugly room in an ugly hotel, with a very, very ugly carpet. The kind that would leave Aziraphale seriously questioning the idea that humanity has had six thousand years to perfect the art of carpet design if he hadn't personally lived through every one of them.

There are a surprising number of angels and demons here: dozens of each, none of them, as far as Aziraphale can see, looking the least bit happy or comfortable. Well, good. If he isn't happy or comfortable, he doesn't see why any of them should be, either.

And he certainly is not. He doesn't know which is worse, the harsh, sharp-edged feeling that always accompanies sudden and unwelcome sobriety, or the vague-but-not-vague-enough memory of the things he appears to have said while he was drunk.

Gabriel and Beelzebub, predictably enough, are standing together at a podium at the front. Gabriel is making one of his interminable speeches about pulling together as a team that Aziraphale wouldn't have bothered listening to even back when he thought listening to Gabriel was his sacred duty.

"Gotta go," mutters their demonic escort, dashing off to towards a table next to the podium, where several other, identical demons with clipboards are already seated.

"I suppose we should find somewhere to sit," says Aziraphale. And, then, "Oh." Because, of course, the angels are all seated together, on the right side of the room, and all the demons are together on the left. Neither side looks inviting.

"Bride's side or groom's?" says Crowley dryly.

"Neither," says Aziraphale. He marches up to the angel half, yanks an empty chair from the back row, and plops it down forcefully in the middle, just behind the place where the aisle between the sections opens.

Crowley gives him a lopsided smile, grabs his own chair from the demon half, and settles beside him in a sort of tense slouch, a paradoxical posture that Aziraphale imagines very few people could pull off with that sort of style.

Suddenly, the drunken memories snap into a distressingly sharp focus. Good Lord, did he really tell Crowley that he was pretty? He is, of course. Perhaps slightly less so right now, with the tight, braced-for-trouble expression that's creeping onto his face, and his eyes all covered up again. Although it may be that Aziraphale only finds his eyes so lovely to look at because he covers them up so often. Because Aziraphale himself is almost the only one permitted to see them these days. Not that the color hasn't always been eye-catching, all the way back to his first glimpse of it in Eden. But some things are perhaps made more special by being shared privately.

Which brings them back to the problem at hand. Aziraphale sighs and looks away from Crowley, tries to pay attention to whatever it is that Gabriel is saying now. But all he can think of is how much he wishes the two of them were somewhere else. Back in the bookshop, finishing the chocolates. Walking through the park. Dining out at an old favorite restaurant, or a promising new one.

Rather ironic, really. They're meant to be here to plan their... their wedding. (He still has trouble thinking the word. He supposes he'll have to get past that, if they are going to go through with it.) To arrange for his and Crowley's lives to be joined together, formally, in the eyes of Heaven and Hell and Earth, forever. And all he can think is how much he'd rather simply be with Crowley, instead.

When he thinks of it that way, it does sound a bit silly. Perhaps it really isn't so much to ask. He does love Crowley. He can admit that now, in the privacy of his own mind. It may be time he admitted it to Crowley. Perhaps that's the main thing the bloom on his metaphorical vine is still waiting for. Crowley's reaction when he admitted to wanting to... to touch him was surprised, yes, but not, Aziraphale thinks, reluctant. Quite the opposite, perhaps.

Will it really be so bad? The wedding, and everything it signifies? Aziraphale does like a nice party. With a little time to talk it over, to get used to the idea, is it possible they might even find the whole thing rather fun?

He realizes he's been staring at Crowley -- who, in turn, seems to be staring at the carpet, perhaps admiring the demonic hideousness of its pattern -- and still not hearing a word Gabriel has been saying. He wrenches his gaze up to the podium and gives himself a stern little admonition to pay better attention. This does concern him, after all.

Fortunately, he doesn't appear to have missed much. Gabriel seems to have only just now concluded his familiar harangue-disguised-as-a-pep-talk and to finally be moving on to the business at hand. "Okay," he says. "As you know... At least, as you know if you've been paying attention, Annumiel--" An angel in the third row instantly snaps into the same stiff, upright position as their fellows with an air of humiliation that is palpable even from here in the back of the room, and Aziraphale winces a little in sympathy. "--our brief for this mission means humanity needs to be involved. What does that mean? Well, in practice, it means that we're going to let them do most of the actual work." He lets out a smug little chuckle. Most of the angels dutifully chuckle back.

"But," Gabriel continues, "as any of you who have spent any time on Earth know--" Oh, as if Gabriel himself speaks from vast experience there! "--humans are slow when it comes to getting things done. Really, incredibly slow. And we need to fast-track this thing. So, we are authorizing full use of miracles, divine or demonic--" Beside him, Beelzebub nods in confirmation. "--aimed at getting them to hurry the Hell up." He looks at Beelzebub and gives her one of his smarmier smiles. "No offense."

"Will a miracle help to hurry you up?" says Beelzebub, and Aziraphale feels a most disconcerting surge of appreciation for her.

"Ha, ha," says Gabriel. It is entirely possible he thinks that's actually a laugh. "Anyway, the idea is, they do the work, and we do whatever we have to to make sure they have it all done by Saturday."

Wait. Saturday? This Saturday? Aziraphale double-checks his memory of the current calendar, making sure to account for the day he and Crowley lost to drinking, and comes up with the same disturbing answer. The day after tomorrow.

The day after tomorrow.

"Now," Gabriel says. "First order of business was finding a place to hold the ceremony. Which was an issue, because some people have a tiny little difficulty with the traditional venue." He gives Beelzebub an amused, accusing look.

"And zzzzzzome people," says Beelzebub, "are too cowardly to set foot in a Satanic temple."

Gabriel clears his throat. "So," he says, "we had to find a neutral alternative, and I'm pleased to report we've hit upon a solution that I think should work for everyone. They tried to tell us it wasn't possible for some reason, but we've reached an agreement with the humans, after applying just a small" -- he holds up a thumb and finger, not especially close together -- "amount of divine intervention, and we're going to do it all right here, in this hotel. Both the ceremony, and the reception afterward. So that's step one dealt with."

This hotel? This hotel? With this carpet?

He was wrong to think this might be all right. He was so wrong. This is a terrible idea.

"Step two," Gabriel says, "is the cake. Which I'm told is an important human tradition, but I gotta say, I'm questioning this one. Do we really need a giant plate full of consumable matter? I mean, who's going to eat that stuff? Maybe we could just have a statue of a cake, instead?"

"Not all of us are as precious and prissy about these things as you are, angel," says Beelzebub.

"Oh, right," says Gabriel. "I forgot. Flies will eat anything won't they? What would you prefer, Your Excellency? A cake made out of dung?"

Disturbingly, there are a few approving murmurs from among the demons.

"Ugh," says Gabriel. "Fine, whatever. Hell can be in charge of the cake."

Aziraphale might weep. He might actually weep.

"Next up," says Gabriel, "is the music. We've put Dagon, Lord of the Files, in charge of that, since files seem to be how humans do their music these days." Is that meant to be some sort of joke? Aziraphale doesn't quite understand it.

Dagon rises from the front row and approaches the podium. Gabriel moves only very slightly to the side to accommodate her. She shoves him further out of the way, and he retreats a little, with what he probably imagines is good-natured dignity.

"Right," says Dagon. "We have done a thorough investigation into the music most popular among humanity in the last decade, in the interest of fully representing Earth in the ceremony. I've put together a brief sampler."

Dagon touches a button on some small device, and music -- if it can properly be called that -- pours forth through tinny, poorly placed speakers scattered around the room.

Baby shark
Do do do do do do
Baby shark
Do do do do do do
Baby shark
Do do do do do do
Baby shark!

"I like that one," Dagon says, and smiles a wide, fishy smile.

The song cuts off awkwardly and is replaced with something in Korean. Aziraphale immediately dispels the Gift of Tongues miracle that allows him to understand the lyrics. It doesn't help.

"Crowley," he says, his voice a pleading whimper. But Crowley is already standing up, and Aziraphale rises quickly to stand beside him.

Annoyingly, the music switches back to a language Aziraphale needs no miracles to understand.

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Well, at least that might be an appropriate sentiment for a wedding? It's too late to salvage any of this, though. It is entirely too late.

"Oi," says Crowley. He may be using a miracle to amplify his voice so it can be heard easily over the music, across the room. "Oi! I have a few questions!"

Beelzebub gestures to Dagon, who presses her control again, cutting the music off. She looks disappointed that it's gone.

"Traitors," says Beelzebub. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry," says Aziraphale. "I thought this was a meeting to plan our wedding. Why would we not be here?"

"You weren't invited," says Gabriel, jostling Dagon aside to reclaim the podium. "For very good reasons, apparently. Who even told these two we were here?"

He looks around the room, until his gaze rests on the demon with the clipboard, who is doing a very, very poor job of not looking guilty.

"Assumed they were supposed to be here," he mutters. "Like the angel one said. 'S their wedding, innit?"

"You know what they say about assuming," says Gabriel.

"No?" says the demon. "What?"

"Excuse me," says Crowley. "I said, I have some questions."

"What else is new," says Uriel from the front row. "As I recall, questioning the decisions of your betters is what started you on your way to Hell in the first place. One would think you'd have learned by now."

"I have questions as well," says Aziraphale. "No. I have demands." Crowley turns to look at him. He's smiling, which is probably not warranted, but nice to see, anyway. "But after you, dear."

Wait, did he just call Crowley dear? They waste a moment staring at each other in surprised silence.

"For Satan's sake--" Beelzebub starts.

Crowley whirls around to face her again.

"Satan? Funny you should mention Satan. That raises another question. Where is His Evil Majesty in all of this, anyway? I mean, I wouldn't expect him to put in a personal appearance, but you'd think he'd at least make a little speech over your frankly terrible sound system here. He loves that sort of thing."

"Lord Szzzzatan," says Beelzebub tightly, "is busy. He has a great deal to re-evaluate after someone ruined a plan he spent thousands of years perfecting."

"Hardly perfected," Aziraphale mutters, low enough that only Crowley can hear him.

Crowley smirks. "Oh," he says. "You mean he's sulking. Seriously, did you even tell him about any of this?" Crowley sucks air through his teeth and shakes his head. "I mean, come on. Reunification with Heaven? You know how much he hates those guys."

Wait. Does that mean this supposed alliance might not be real at all? Aziraphale can't decide whether he feels more relieved or worried by the possibility. Clever of Crowley to consider it, though, one way or the other.

"Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves," says Gabriel. "'Reunification' is a strong word. Right now, we're just talking about a preliminary reconciliation."

"'Preliminary reconciliation' doesn't sound much like His Dark Majesty's sort of thing either, Gabe," says Crowley. Some of the angels, Aziraphale notices, are stirring and murmuring a little. Aziraphale can't tell if they're relieved or worried, either.

Beelzebub lets out an annoyed sigh. "Lord Satan has been fully informed, I azzzzure you. And he has given me full authority to act for him in this matter. I have his memo, if you want to see it." She makes an elaborate, if rather weary-looking, gesture with one hand. In a puff of dark, oily smoke, a scroll appears, and unrolls. There is some very official-looking calligraphy on it, and at the bottom...

Aziraphale can only glance at the glowing mark for a moment before his eyes begin to sting and some angelic self-preservation instinct forces him to look away. Satan appears to sign his memos in actual, burning hellfire.

"For fuck's sake, Beelzebub," snaps Gabriel, a hand held up before his eyes, "put that thing away!"

Beelzebub smirks, an expression that is much less attractive on her than it is on Crowley, and vanishes the scroll again.

"Was that legitimate?" Aziraphale asks Crowley, quietly.

"Oh, yeah," says Crowley, his voice equally low. "He must really think that if the war happens without the Antichrist on his side, he's going to lose." More loudly, he says, "All right, fine. So, my next question--"

"Do we have to put up with this?" says Gabriel, in the tones of a being who is largely unfamiliar with the concept of having to put up with anything, but is definitely deciding he doesn't like it.

"No," says Beelzebub. "I don't believe we do."

"Great." Gabriel makes a gesture towards the front row. "Sandalphon?" Oh dear.

Sandalphon rises from his chair and starts towards them. From the other side, without even waiting for permission, Hastur also rises. And "oh dear" suddenly seems entirely inadequate.

"What about my demands?" Aziraphale says. He intends it to be forceful, but he fears it may have come out a tad on the plaintive side.

Sandalphon and Hastur stop directly in front of them. The nasty smiles on their faces, so different in detail, are strikingly similar in sentiment. There is, Aziraphale thinks, also a hint of fear in their eyes that's gratifying to see, but he isn't at all certain that it's stronger than the hatred.

Beside him Crowley tenses. Don't try anything, Aziraphale tells him with a look. Please. Whether he gets the message or Crowley has decided on his own to be sensible, Aziraphale isn't sure, but in the end all he does is hiss at them a little and say, "Don't waste your time, angel. Even if they'd listen, I don't think they're capable of giving you what you want. They're probably not even capable of understanding it."

This may be a clever way of backing them out of the situation. It may also be the bare, depressing truth.

"Listen to your fiance, Aziraphale," says Gabriel. "And, hey, don't worry! We are on it. You two just go home, relax, do... whatever weird stuff it is you do together and let us handle everything." He makes an expression with his face that might bear some hypothetical resemblance to a smile. "All right? Great. Just be back here at three o'clock on Saturday. Do not make us come and get you."

"Bye-bye, lovebirds," says Sandalphon, and grins as if he actually thinks he's just said something witty. Hastur snarls, a high-pitched, feral sound that Aziraphale might almost find amusing if it weren't so strangely terrifying. Crowley sneers back at them, bares his teeth, and waggles his head a little in a face-saving snaky threat display.

Aziraphale tries to think of a suitable parting line, something that will firmly put them all in their places, without antagonizing them further. Nothing comes to him.

Instead, he turns, and with as much dignity as he can muster, walks towards the exit. Crowley, at his side, matches him stride for stride. Hastur and Sandalphon follow them the entire way.

Behind them, he can hear angels and demons laughing at them, together.

He says nothing, as they walk through the hotel's ugly corridors and out through its boring, awful lobby. Crowley says nothing, as they walk to Crowley's illegal parking spot and enter the Bentley.

Finally, halfway to the bookshop, Aziraphale simply cannot stand the silence any longer. "What was your next question going to be?" he says.

"Hmm?" Crowley swerves to avoid a pedestrian by mere millimeters and swings immediately into a nauseatingly sharp turn. "Oh. Dunno, really. I was just making it up as I went along. Figured I'd come out with something brilliant. I was looking forward to finding out what it was."

"Oh," says Aziraphale. "That's a pity. I would have liked to hear it."

They make the rest of the journey home in silence.

**

They don't say anything as they enter the bookshop and make their way to the back room. They don't say anything when they get there, either. They just stand there, looking at each other. They should do something, say something. Crowley briefly considers pouring them another drink, but there probably isn't enough alcohol in the world to help make this feel like any less of a mess.

Satan, Aziraphale looks so miserable. Crowley hates seeing him like this. Right. They've got to make some kind of a plan, or find some way to come to terms with it, or... or something. Which probably begins with talking to each other, and it looks like Crowley's going to have to be the one to start.

"So--" he says, but he's barely got that one short syllable out before Aziraphale finally breaks.

"I can't," the angel says. His hands flutter at his sides, clutch at each other, wring and rub and fall quivering to his sides again, as if he no longer knows how to cope with having them. "I'm sorry, Crowley. I just... I simply can't!"

Crowley fights down a stupid, traitorous pang of disappointment. Idiot demon. Why on Earth would he think Azirphale could be remotely okay with any aspect of this? No matter what he might have said when he was drunk off his heavenly arse? "All right," he says, evenly. "Then we won't."

"But we have to," says Aziraphale. It's not a wail. Not quite. "We must... We must consider the bigger picture. This is larger than what you or I want." Oh, he has that look on his face. The one that wants Crowley to talk him out of something, while truly, genuinely believing it would be a bad thing if he did. Satan, that's a tough one.

Tough, but he's had a lot of experience. "I know," he says. "But that doesn't mean there's not a way round it." There must be. An alternate solution they can propose to Heaven and Hell, maybe, one they'd like even better than this stupid plan? He has no idea what that might be, but surely he can come up with something. He just needs to buy himself some time to think. Maybe he can sabotage the preparations? Nah, that probably won't set them back very long. Maybe he can convince them to postpone? They're only doing it this fast, probably, because they're worried about Crowley and Aziraphale having time to wriggle out of it. Maybe if they can somehow be convinced that he and the angel are enthusiastic about the idea but not the timing, they might be willing to put it off for a while, especially if they can spin the idea of a long courtship as part of the tradition. Maybe...?

"Larger than what you and I want," Aziraphale says again, quietly, as if he's trying to convince himself. As if he's trying very hard to resign himself, for the greater good.

Crowley's whirling thoughts spin to a halt. Bless it, he thought he'd never have to watch Aziraphale go through this again. The bastards. The utter, utter bastards.

"What is it you want, angel?" he says, as softly as he can manage. Because that's the question, isn't it? Whatever it is, one way or another, he'll make it happen. Somehow.

"What do I want?" Aziraphale says, sounding more surprised by the question than he deserves to be. "I want not to have a cake made of dung at my wedding!"

This... is not exactly the answer Crowley was expecting. He blinks.

Aziraphale barely pauses for a breath. "I want not to swear a sacred vow of marriage while standing on the world's ugliest carpet, to the tune of the worst, and most infernally catchy music ever dreamt up by humanity, while the assembled hosts of Hell and Heaven laugh at us! That's what I want, Crowley!"

Crowley blinks again. "I really hope that music is meant for the reception," he says, and resolves at once never to tell Aziraphale that he was personally responsible for the internet popularity of all three of those songs. Even if they end up going through with it, it's all right for married couples to have some secrets, right? He's pretty sure he's read that somewhere.

"What I want," says Aziraphale, and something, some change in his voice, snaps Crowley's attention immediately back from his wandering thoughts, "is for how you and I love each other to be none of their God-damned business."

Crowley's heart skips and flutters at this in a way utterly unbefitting the shriveled, demonic organ it's meant to be. He reaches up and removes his glasses, letting them fall to rest atop a pile of books, and looks Aziraphale squarely in the eyes. He doesn't care if the angel can see every single vulnerable, naked, ridiculously hopeful thing he's feeling in them now.

Well, no. No, he does care. He wants Aziraphale to see. "How do you want us to love each other, angel?" He says it carefully, more carefully than he's ever said anything in a long, long life of legendarily consequential words.

"I wanted it to happen naturally," says Aziraphale. "In its own time. At the right time. And now it's all..." He swallows. His eyes are filling with tears. "It's all been rather spoiled."

Crowley takes Aziraphale's hands in his. He's supposed to be a cold-blooded creature, but he's always had warmth to spare in his hands. "Nah," he says. "Can't happen. Those wankers don't have the power to spoil what we have. Never did, never will."

Aziraphale clasps his hands in return and tries to smile. "Yes," he says. "Yes, I'm sure you're right." He sounds grateful. Moved, even. But not any happier. At best, he sounds successfully resigned.

Resigned, Crowley decides, is not bloody good enough.

"'Course I am. I'm always right." Aziraphale opens his mouth to respond, but Crowley cuts him off before he can speak. "Don't argue with me," he says, six thousand years' worth of fondness in his voice. "Not now."

"All right," says Aziraphale. The smile he's managing isn't very big, but the affection in it makes Crowley's heart do that fluttery thing again. "We can argue about it later."

Crowley squeezes his hands, gently. "No we won't," he says. "Because you're the one being stupid this time." Is this going to work? If he had anyone to pray to, he'd pray for it to work. But the only being he has to pray to is Aziraphale. And he's already doing that.

"I beg your pardon?"

"It did happen naturally," he says. "Didn't it? Six thousand years we spent at it. Why isn't now the time, after all that? If it's what you actually want?"

"Well, I... I..." says Aziraphale, and stutters to a stop. He doesn't have an answer for that. Crowley knows he doesn't, because the only answer has to do with Gabriel and Beelzebub, and fuck them, they don't get a say. Not in this. Not now. Not if there's anything Crowley can do about it.

And suddenly... Suddenly, he has an idea what he can do about it. A beautiful, ridiculous, utterly terrifying idea.

"Angel," he says, quickly, before he finds some cowardly reason to talk himself out of it. "I'm going to do something. I'm going to do it because it's what I want, because after six thousand years and facing the end of the world together, I don't think there is anything we need to wait for. But if you don't want me to, if you really do need more time, angel, stop me. Stop me, and say no, and we'll come up with something else. I promise we will."

And slowly, not taking his eyes from Aziraphale's or releasing his hands, he sinks to one knee.

"Crowley," Aziraphale breathes, and for a moment Crowley thinks he's going to stop him, going to say What are you doing, you ridiculous thing, this isn't the answer at all, get back up here this instant, and he steels himself to accept it, to play it all off as a joke, even. But all Aziraphale says, even more quietly, is, "Oh."

He probably ought to have a ring. That's the custom these days, isn't it? Or would that only be appropriate if Aziraphale looked more female-ish? Hopefully he's all right without one. The diamond industry is entirely too evil even for Crowley to be comfortable with, never mind that he happily accepted the credit for it with Hell, and...

And, oh, Satan, he's going to have to say something now. Something good, because this is important. This is real. He draws in a deep, slow, shaky breath.

"Marry me," he says, because it seems like the only way to start. And now he's said it. It's a thing he's said, it will always be a thing he's said. Even if this turns out to be a terrible mistake and they never talk about it again, it will always have happened, for the rest of eternity. "Marry me," he says, "not because it's what our idiot ex-bosses want, not because you still want to be a good angel and you think it's what God wants from you, not even to save the world. Marry me, angel, because..."

He fumbles, so many feelings trying to come out of his mouth right now that they're tripping over each other. "I think this is what we are," he says, because it's the only way he can think of to say all of it at once. "Our own side. You and me, on our own side. The rest is details, Aziraphale. You can have all the time you want to sort it all out, I promise. I only want us to say that to each other, and know we both mean it. Our side, forever. I think that's gotta be what marriage means. And it's not too soon for that. I'm not sure Eden would have been too soon, for me, but I don't think it's too soon for you now, either, not after everything. Is it?"

Aziraphale lets out a small, wordless sound. Tears are spilling out of his eyes now, rolling down his face. Is that a good sign? Are they the right kind of tears? For Satan's-- For Someone's-- For their own sake, he hopes it's a good sign.

"We can elope," Crowley says, desperately. "We don't have to go to their stupid party. I won't make you eat a cake made out of dung, I'll get you a good cake, the best cake. I'll spend the rest of my life getting you cakes. If the humans ever stop making them, I'll tempt them back to it. I want to spend eternity watching you eat cake."

"Crowley," says Aziraphale. His voice is shaking in a way that Crowley's somehow never heard before, and he braces himself for the answer, tells himself that it's all right, that he's lived this long with the angel saying no, that it doesn't mean anything other than that he still needs time to talk himself into a yes, that... "Yes."

"Okay," says Crowley, "I... Wait. Yes? Did you just say yes?"

Aziraphale grips his hands hard enough that if he were human, it would probably really, really hurt. "Yes When you put it like that, how could I possibly say anything else?" He's still crying, but his eyes are shining so brightly that Crowley would swear he can see a halo in them. Crowley feels something unfolding inside his chest, something as bright as Aziraphale's eyes, something opening like a flower. "Oh, come here, you ridiculous serpent," Aziraphale says, and pulls him up, and wraps him in an embrace.

They've hugged before, once or twice, but it was always awkward and fast, and ended with Aziraphale remembering himself and pulling away as if he was afraid of being burned.

He doesn't pull away this time. He lets Crowley hold him, close and warm and solid in his arms, lets him bury his face in the angel's neck and draw in the clean, complicated scent of him. "Aziraphale," he says, the word coming out choked, but heartfelt.

"Why do you always have to be so right?" Aziraphale says, into his hair.

Crowley decides not to point out any of the times he's been spectacularly wrong about things, like which baby was the Antichrist. After all, even that worked out all right in the end. And he doesn't think that's really the kind of thing Aziraphale means, anyway. "Take it up with God," he says. "I'm just the way She made me."

That gets a laugh from the angel. Crowley joins him in it, feeling giddy. He nuzzles against Aziraphale's neck a little. Is that okay? Is he allowed to do that? He thinks the noise Aziraphale's making now is pleased, so apparently he is.

"I love you," Crowley says. "Did I say that when I was proposing? Probably should have said that while I was proposing."

"Oh, my dear," says Aziraphale, his arms tightening around Crowley, cuddling him close. "I know you do."

"Yeah," says Crowley, "me too," and he knows Aziraphale knows what he means. That he's known Aziraphale loved him probably since before Aziraphale did.

"Good," says Aziraphale. "That's very good." He unwraps his arms from around Crowley and begins to pull away.

Crowley makes a frankly rather embarrassing sound of protest.

"I know, darling," says Aziraphale. Crowley can hear him trying the word on for size. Hopefully he's deciding it fits, because Crowley could get used to it. "But there will be time for this later."

Crowley releases him, watches him pull a handkerchief from his pocket and dab the tears from his face. He looks stunned. More than stunned. But he's still smiling.

"Promise?" says Crowley. He means it to be cheeky, but it comes out raspy, and a little raw.

"Yes," says Aziraphale, and Crowley's heart leaps again at the firm, quiet certainly in his voice. "But for now..." He draws a long, deep breath. "I do believe we have a wedding to plan. Very, very quickly."

**

So, that is it, then. All decided. He is going to marry Crowley. He is going to marry Crowley.

Not the marrying Crowley he thought he might be about to do, that sad, forced, ludicrous thing his enemies are expecting of him. Instead, he's going to marry Crowley, to take the hand of his best and dearest friend and promise him to let nothing ever come between them again, not Heaven or Hell or Aziraphale's own doubts, not anything at all. He doesn't understand how it is these two actions are even described by the same words. It almost feels as if they've found some sneaky semantic loophole to exploit.

It also feels surprisingly difficult to think about it. Dizzying, even. As if he can't quite take in the shape or the scope of it yet. Or quite believe the reality of it.

Not that there is much of an opportunity to try. Everything immediately becomes something of a whirlwind, and Aziraphale finds himself thinking so hard about what they're doing that he has surprisingly few moments to, well, think about what they're doing.

There is the long debate to be had, first, about where to hold the wedding. Clearly a church is out of the question; it would hardly do to have Crowley hopping up and down through the entire ceremony. It does admittedly seem a bit odd for an angel to marry in a strictly secular ceremony, in the even odder -- indeed, the utterly unprecedented -- event of an angel marrying at all. But then, this could be said to be the ultimate in mixed marriages, religiously speaking. In any case, keeping Heaven and Hell out of it is a very large part of the point. Let he and Crowley speak their vows only before humanity. He is certain the Almighty will hear them, one way or another, and hold them just as sacred.

But the thought of solemnizing the culmination of a relationship nearly as old as the world somewhere as pedestrian as a registry office? It scarcely bears thinking about. True, it might be a step above what Gabriel and Beelzebub are planning, but only barely. Eventually, they decide to say dash it all and to Hell -- or possibly Heaven -- with anyone's ideas of convention or constraint and hold it in the bookshop. The carpets here, after all, are very much to Aziraphale's taste, and there is something about the intimacy of the setting that feels appropriate. This is to be for them, after all. Where else should they declare their choice to make a life together, but a place that already feels like home?

Aziraphale does have to stop for a moment, when that phrase enters his mind. Choosing to make a life together. That is what they're doing, isn't it? That's what Crowley's asked of him. What he's said yes to. Not an alliance. Not a capitulation. Not a convenient arrangement. A life. Together. Our side.

How simple the decision seems, now that he's made it. How obvious. Of course this is what they've always been moving towards, however slowly. It almost seems, now, that he should have thought of it that day at the Ritz, the very first moment they were free to do as they liked. How could it not have occurred to him that the bloom they've been nurturing had already flowered, that there is nothing left to do now but to look at it, recognize it for what it is, and pluck it?

He becomes so lost in that thought, in the middle of a conversation, that Crowley has to touch his hand to bring him out of it. Which is a little startling. Not that Crowley is touching him like this -- he's done so, on occasion, before today -- but the way that he leaves his hand there, resting softly atop Aziraphale's own. As if it belongs there. As if they already are... what they're about to be. Which he supposes they are, in most of the ways that count. Now that he thinks about it.

And yet, the other ways are still important, too, if they are going to do it all properly, so Aziraphale shakes off the contemplative moment, if not the demon's hand, and gets on with it.

By noon on Friday, they've found a registrar to officiate, or rather their ceremony has miraculously appeared on the registrar's schedule for tomorrow morning, and by Friday afternoon they've obtained all the necessary forms and successfully convinced everyone involved that notice was, in fact, filed on time and with all the required documentation, including a listing of the bookshop as an approved and well-established wedding venue that must have simply slipped everyone's mind before today. Although even with this rather impressive flurry of miracles, the process takes rather longer than Aziraphale would have liked, and occasions much grumbling from Crowley about what a terrible idea it was to introduce humanity to the concept of bureaucracy in the first place.

Then there is, of course, the cake. Aziraphale will settle for nothing less than the best, something far closer to ambrosia than dung. Even in the midst of their hurry, he takes his time settling on a selection: a scrumptious confection redolent of fresh vanilla bean, topped with a light, lovely fondant to be decorated with delicate designs of black and white feathers. The humans they employ for the purpose find themselves baking straight through the night and finishing faster than they would have believed humanly possible. They also, afterward, find themselves cured of bunions and asthma, hardened arteries and hay fever, and one neglected mole that would otherwise eventually have proved itself cancerous. Well, it seems like the least they can do. (Although it does leave him wondering, fleetingly, how it is that the two of them can still draw on miracles so freely. Are Gabriel and Beelzebub too afraid to try cutting them off? Or did they never truly have as much authority over such things as they pretended to? Perhaps it is a question best not dwelt on too long.)

In the end, all of it happens exactly as fast as it needs to. And between conversations, and tastings, and forms, and a visit to a jewelry shop, Aziraphale continues to find himself with only a moment, here and there, to look at Crowley, to take in the languid, fiery intensity of him as, for instance, he calmly suggests to a human that they had better not disappoint his angel -- his angel! -- with the wrong cake topper, and to think, again, We are about to marry.

And then, suddenly, the time has passed, the sun has set and risen again, and now they truly are. About to marry. Mid-morning on Saturday, hours before their divinely- and infernally-appointed time, and everything finally seems to be done. Furniture has been moved to clear out a space in the back room. The cake has been given pride of place on a little table, looking delicious and beautiful and delightfully temping. (Like his groom, Aziraphale thinks, giddily, and another little dizzying stab of my God, we're actually going to do this goes fizzing through his heart.) The words "Just Married" have been carefully soaped onto the back window of the Bentley, despite the fact that they aren't planning to go anywhere afterward, because Crowley hasn't wanted the vehicle to feel left out. They haven't changed, because Aziraphale rather likes the idea of marrying in the same clothes he's worn and loved and made a part of him for over a century and Crowley is endearingly confident that he looks sufficiently sharp in anything. But they do have rings nestled securely in their pockets.

And now here is the registrar, the human who's going to wed them, standing at the front of the shop between the boys' adventure novels and his less valuable volumes of bad prophecy, looking utterly, and perhaps understandably, confused.

"I'm sorry," she says, looking around. She has a sweet face, beneath the befuddled expression. Aziraphale decides he likes her, although it might just be that he is in quite a benevolent mood at the moment and ready to like almost anyone who isn't an angel or a demon. Present company excepted, obviously. "I think there must be some mistake. Is this... a bookshop?"

"Oh, well spotted," says Crowley, but not with any real unkindness.

"Yes," says Aziraphale, taking the woman's coat and hanging it up. She seems for a moment as if she's about to protest, but he smiles her into submission. "But I assure you, it's all quite in order. This is a very historic building, you know."

"Yep," says Crowley. "Lots of history here." He gives Aziraphale a small, crooked smile that immediately makes him think of Crowley showing up with flowers the day he opened the shop, of the two of them shaking hands in this room the night the Antichrist was born, of so many other days and nights, the two of them drinking wine and laughing and Crowley smiling at him, just like this.

"And it's a terribly romantic spot," Aziraphale says. He might swear, just for a moment, that Crowley's smile turns the tiniest bit... soppy... at that. He might tease him about that later. Or simply keep it, close to his heart, to take out and remember in times to come.

The registrar opens a folder she's holding and looks at a paper inside it, her forehead wrinkling. "Well, it does say everything is in order..."

"There," says Aziraphale. "You see? Not a thing to worry about!"

"But I'm sorry," she says. "I... Well, I'm afraid I'm not very well-prepared. Usually I do have time to speak with the couple first. But it seems there's been some sort of a mix-up..."

"Not to worry, my dear girl," says Aziraphale. "You're here, that's all that matters. And very glad we are to have you, too. Aren't we, Crowley?"

"We are if you do your job," says Crowley. "Which I would strongly suggest you do. The future of humanity may be depending on it."

"Excuse me?" says the woman.

"You must forgive my... my fiance," Aziraphale says. And, goodness, that is a word that surely requires some getting used to. Not that he'll have the opportunity, he supposes, as it's about to be replaced with an entirely different word very soon. "He exaggerates. Well, slightly."

"Not an exaggeration," says Crowley, slouching elegantly against a shelf of misprint Bibles. Which seems as if it should be uncomfortable for him, but if it is, he's refusing to acknowledge it.

"Well," says Aziraphale, smiling at both of them, "since everything is in order, and since it is rather important, to us if to no one else, perhaps we should, ah, get on with it?" He takes the woman's elbow and leads her, unresisting, into the back room. Crowley follows, with a distinct air of trying to pretend he isn't relieved to be away from the Bibles. "Is there anywhere in particular you'd like us to stand?" he asks.

The registrar looks around the room. "Anywhere you like is fine. And, uh, yes, I suppose we can begin whenever you're ready. If you'd like to bring in your witnesses?"

Oh, bugger. And they'd spent so much time trying not to forget anything.

Aziraphale looks at Crowley with, he fears, an embarrassingly imploring expression. Of course, his embarrassingly imploring expression, historically, does tend to be very effective with Crowley...

"Be right back," says the demon, and disappears through the front of the shop.

Almost immediately, he returns with two humans he's apparently plucked up off the street. "This enough? I can get more. Just say the word. There's loads more out there."

"That's fine," says the registrar. "Thank you."

"I do love a wedding!" the elderly woman trailing behind Crowley says.

Aziraphale beams at her, and at the young man beside her. "Hello!" he says to them. And to Crowley, "Thank you, darling." Crowley, interestingly, blushes a little at this. Oh, yes. Freely calling Crowley "darling" is something he could get used to very quickly. Even if the other words might take a little longer.

The older woman looks surprised at this, however, and oh dear, if she's going to feel the need to complain about the nature -- well, the apparent nature -- of this particular union, he might have to... to... Well, to do something unpleasant. He isn't entirely certain what, but he isn't at all looking forward to it.

But instead, she gives him a big, bright smile. Shame on him for doubting, really. Crowley always has had surprisingly good taste in humans,when he's not approaching them as targets.

Well, for the most part. Aziraphale is less certain about the young man, who seems to have rather different priorities. "Do we get cake?" he says.

"Oh," says Aziraphale. "Yes, of course." Wedding cake, after all, is meant to be shared. That is practically its function. Only the meanest, most gluttonous of creatures would hoard an entire wedding cake all to himself. There's certainly no excuse to feel disappointed about it.

Crowley gives him a knowing smirk, and even behind the dark glasses, he can see the amused glint in the demon's eye. "Don't worry, angel. I'll make sure you get your share."

Goodness, now Aziraphale is blushing, and he doesn't even know why. "Yes, well," he says. "There will be time for that after the wedding. Do we have everything we need?"

"Yeah," says Crowley, and looks into his eyes again in a way that makes Aziraphale forget that he'd actually been talking to the registrar until she answers.

"I don't have any detailed information on what you want from the ceremony," she says. "But as far as I'm concerned, yes, we do have what we need." She's peering into the folder again, as if waiting for it to contradict her, but, of course, it doesn't. That was rather a lot of miracles they spent on all those papers yesterday. She closes the folder again and looks around for somewhere to leave it. Lacking much in the way of literature-free surfaces, she settles for a stack of poetry books and leaves it resting gently atop a volume of Walt Whitman.

"Well, then," Crowley says, drawling out the words. "Let's get hitched. Whaddaya say, angel?"

What does he say? This is, he supposes, very nearly his last chance to change his mind and say no.

"Yes." He turns to the registrar. "Marry us now, please. I..." He tries to bite back the words, fearing they will sound foolish, somehow, but they come soaring out of him, anyway. "I don't believe we wish to wait any longer."

She smiles at them. She still looks irreparably confused, but also genuinely happy for them. Willing and ready to do her part, even if she scarcely comprehends what it is she's a part of. Perhaps that makes her the perfect representative for humanity. It's how they've always been, isn't it, from the very beginning. Confused, but game. He's so very glad to be living among them. "How would you like to begin, then?" she says.

Crowley looks at him, waiting for him to speak. It is almost unbearably touching. "I think," he says, taking Crowley's hand, "that you should do what you need to do now, to make it binding. And then we can go on from there as we like."

"All right," she says and smiles again, more softly this time. She looks at the witnesses, as if to make sure they're paying attention, and Aziraphale takes a glance at them, too. The woman is dabbing at her eyes. The man is stealing sidelong glances at the cake. He loves them, with a fierceness that surprises him. He loves them all.

But not as much as he loves Crowley. Whom he is marrying.

And all at once, it is all very, very real.

**

"All right, Mr. Crowley," says the registrar. She appears to be looking at Aziraphale rather than him, as if she's lost track of which of them is which, but it doesn't matter. They know who they are, even if no one else does.

The angel's hand is so distractingly warm in his that he almost misses the fact that the human is giving him words to repeat. That would be ironic, wouldn't it? If he was so distracted by Aziraphale that he forgot to marry Aziraphale? He'd probably never live it down.

"I declare that I know of no legal reason why I, Anthony J Crowley, may not be joined in marriage to Aziraphale Fell," he says, after her. Satan, Aziraphale's human name is ridiculous. He's marrying a being with a ridiculous fucking name. The thought shouldn't make him anywhere near this happy.

Aziraphale repeats his own appropriate variation on the words. No legal reason. It almost makes Crowley want to laugh. And not even in a cynical, demonic kind of way.

There are more words for him to echo now. "I--" he starts, but he can't do it, not like this. He stops, whips his glasses off, and banishes them to the ether with no thought about whether he'll be able to get them back later. He looks at Aziraphale again, this time without any concealing darkness between them. Not that it was ever much of a barrier to begin with. "I, Anthony J Crowley," he says, and if the humans are reacting at all to the sight of him, he doesn't notice, doesn't care, "take you Aziraphale Fell, to be my wedded husband."

Aziraphale looks like he might be going to faint, or burst out in wings and holy light, but instead he takes a deep breath and says his part. "I, Aziraphale Fell, take you Anthony J Crowley, to be my wedded husband." His voice barely even shakes.

"I know we didn't discuss it," the registrar says. "But if you have any promises you wish to make to each other now--"

Aziraphale doesn't even wait for her to finish. "Yes," he says. His hand tightens on Crowley's. "You were right, you know, my... my love. You so often are. It really is one of your most irritating and most wonderful traits." He swallows and straightens, without taking his eyes from Crowley's. "And so my vow," he says, "is our side, Crowley. Simply that. Forever. No matter what." He drops Crowley's hand, and Crowley can't help making a noise of complaint, because how can this, of all times, be the right moment to let him go? But Aziraphale is reaching into his pocket, reaching for Crowley's hand again, sliding a ring onto his finger. A simple, unadorned gold band, traditional for this time and place. A circle, to represent eternity. One that will probably outlive the civilization that produced it, here on his finger. If they're lucky. And right now, he's feeling very, very lucky. "With this ring, I thee wed," Aziraphale says, almost lightly. Then, low and serious and warm, "Very much of my own free will."

Crowley's mouth is suddenly dry, his tongue trying its hardest to go all snakey in his mouth. He can't not look at the ring, and he can't not look at Aziraphale's face, and he might be going cross-eyed in the attempt to do both. He doesn't care. "Yeah," he says, grateful he's somehow managing to speak the words instead of hissing them. "Our side. Our side." And then he's fumbling for the other ring. For a moment, he thinks he's lost it, but, no, it's safe in his pocket, it's here.

Aziraphale has his hand stretched out like a queen holding it out to be kissed. Crowley slips the ring onto it, watching in fascination as it slides down effortlessly and nestles at the base of the angel's plump, elegant finger, immediately looking as if belongs there, as if it always has. "With this ring, I thee wed," he says. "And definitely not because anyone else wants me to. You know how bad I am at doing what I'm told."

"I know," says Aziraphale. A demon ought to wither under the amount of love that's shining out of Aziraphale's smile. Crowley, greedy snake that he is, basks in it.

"Congratulations!" says the registrar, possibly only because it's that or "Oh my God, what's wrong with your eyes?!", but he appreciates the sentiment, anyway.

And that, he realizes with a jolt fit to rival the one that sent him plummeting out of Heaven, is it. In the sight of this small, semi-random, officially sanctioned representation of humanity, and presumably in the sight of God, if She even cares anymore, they are... what they are now. What they're going to be, for as long as they continue to exist. Which might just possibly be until the end of time. Together.

How is it this easy? Six thousand years of temptations and blessings, of clandestine meetings and forceful denials, of carrying around this, this thing that's been sitting patiently there in the center of his chest, trying to be content with stolen scraps of Aziraphale's attention and half-baked dreams of distant possible futures, and in the end, it's all just this easy?

Not that he's complaining. Not that it doesn't feel right. More right than anything easy has ever felt in Crowley's life, angel or demon.

Behind them, the old lady cheers, a loud, exuberant whoop. He decides he kind of likes it. It's nice to be cheered at by a human for once. It's not how he's used to them responding to him.

"You may kiss if you like," the registrar suggests in the tone of a human trying to be helpful.

Everything goes all still and distant around him, as if he's stopped time again. He hasn't, although it takes him a second to be sure of the fact. No, it's only him that's frozen, like an idiot.

He hadn't even thought about this. Despite all those mentions of "consummation," despite Aziraphale admitting that he wanted to "touch the pretty demon" -- something he's still reeling from a little, if he's honest -- somehow, it had never actually occurred to him that they might kiss.

Or even that the humans might expect them to kiss, but if that's the only reason, then he should probably just say "no thanks," and send them all on their way. This is still about what they want, him and the angel he's given himself to, and if kissing isn't what Aziraphale wants, or hasn't yet decided that he wants, well, then, they can just--

Aziraphale leans towards him. His lips are puckered out. He looks ridiculous. He looks beautiful.

He looks like he wants to be kissed. Crowley might be a miracle-worker, but it would take a lot more than that to be able to tell him no.

He leans forward, and cups the back of Aziraphale's head with one hand -- the angel's hair feels even softer than he expected, like a cloud ought to feel, but doesn't -- and touches his lips to Aziraphale's.

The angel lets out a happy noise, an "Oh, look, Crowley, they have crepes!" sort of noise, and moves his lips against Crowley's, just a little.

Crowley's kissed people before. In greeting, in places where that sort of thing was expected, or to add a useful dash of lust to motivate a human proving resistant to his more usual sort of wiles. To be honest, he's always found it a bit boring. They're just human lips, after all. Nothing that interesting. It's not even a part of Aziraphale he's thought very much about touching, not like the hair that's currently exceeding all expectations under his caressing fingers, or the intimate places where he imagines a touch might just make the angel call out Crowley's name instead of God's.

So why is it making him feel this? This stick-your-finger-in-a-light-socket feeling that's sparking out in all directions from his lips, making his entire head go light and fizzy, shooting downward to tingle deliciously in a place where, nearly six thousand years ago, he'd thoughtlessly decided it would be convenient for blending in with humans if he were anatomically correct.

He kisses back, maybe a little too desperately, a little too hard, because he wants Aziraphale not to stop, because he wants to give this back to Aziraphale, to make him fizz and tingle, too, wants it more than he can remember wanting anything since the world didn't end. And maybe he's succeeding, because the angel makes another sound, like he's discovered there are raspberry crepes now, and crushes their lips together even harder. Crushes their bodies together, too, or maybe that's Crowley, he doesn't know any more, can't tell, doesn't care, only knows that the angel's body is soft and solid in his arms, that he's nibbling now on Crowley's lower lip, that he's darting out his tongue, and Crowley's is meeting it, and they're touching, just the tips of them at first, and then more of them, sliding and tasting and tangling, and Crowley's mouth is wide open now, and Aziraphale's is, too, and they are definitely getting the hang of this. He's starting to feel like he ought to apologize to all those humans he's mocked as pushovers for lust, if this is what was tempting them, except that he's not going to spare any part of his consciousness thinking about humans when Aziraphale's tongue is in his mouth, and Aziraphale's--

There is a loud throat-clearing noise behind them. "Excuse me?" says the registrar.

He'd flash her a head full of scales and fangs, give her one of those heart attacks humans are so susceptible to, teach her never, ever to interrupt a demon when he's snogging his new angelic husband, but that takes anger to pull off properly, or at least a smidgen of annoyance, and he can't exactly manage either of those emotions right now, not with this light, floaty feeling pushing everything else out of his mind. So instead he just keeps kissing, flicks his tongue teasingly against Aziraphale's, lets it go a little forky. Aziraphale seems to find that exciting, judging by the way he pulls Crowley in even closer. And--

"Excuse me," she says, more firmly. "I'm very sorry to interrupt, but we do have some paperwork you gentlemen will need to sign."

Oh, right. Yeah. They probably do need to do that.

Aziraphale pulls away from him a little, finally, or tries to. His lips don't seem to want to give up Crowley's, a fact that makes Crowley feel... feel... Satan, he doesn't even have a name for it, but it's big and it's wonderful, and it refuses to ever let him do anything other than kiss back, every time Aziraphale comes back again for one last tiny nibble.

This time the throat clearing noise is loud. Crowley's actually rather impressed she can get that kind of volume with nothing but squishy human lungs.

Aziraphale finally pulls away from Crowley completely, if reluctantly. Crowley expects him to look sheepish, but he doesn't. At all. He looks a lot more like a cat who's just eaten an entire aviary full of canaries. "Of course," he says. "We wouldn't want to leave any irregularities."

Crowley snorts. Or tries to, anyway. The fizzy feeling, which hasn't faded even though Aziraphale's standing half a meter away now with his tongue strictly confined to his own mouth, seems to be getting in the way of his capacity for sarcasm, too. He'd worry, but he's sure it's only a temporary effect.

The paper, when the registrar produces it for them, already has the witness' signatures. They must have signed while he and Aziraphale were distracted.

Aziraphale peers carefully at their names. Crowley strongly suspects he's planning on sending them thank-you cards. Hopefully he's not going to expect Crowley to help.

"Sign here," says the registrar, pointing to the page. Crowley takes the pen she's holding out for him and writes "Anthony J Crowley" in a lazy scrawl more or less in the right place. Then he hands the pen off to Aziraphale, ignites this tip of his finger, and sears the glyph of his true name deep into the molecules of the paper. If you're going to sign a contract, you might as well do it right.

Aziraphale gives him an approving look and follows suit, writing his ridiculous human name in neat, beautiful calligraphy, and, below it, etching a swoopy, elegant sigil of holy light.

"There," Crowley says. "We've done it, angel." He doesn't notice any difference from having signed, but that hardly surprises him. Demon or not, he never did need a contract to bind him like this, not to Aziraphale.

"All right?" says Aziraphale, quietly in his ear.

"Never better," he says. And he means it. He couldn't have said, really, what he'd expected to feel right now. But, aside from the weird, soppy, half-drunk feeling still lingering inside him from the kissing, what he mostly feels is a sense of relief. As if things have finally come out right in the end.

"Now do we get cake?" says the human man. Either he hasn't even bothered paying attention to the sight of two celestial beings searing their true names into the fabric of the universe, or he shares Aziraphale's sense of priorities. Then again, maybe he's just hungry. He does look as if he might have missed a few meals, and his clothes are shabby enough to give a hint of the reason why.

Crowley discreetly miracles a wad of cash into the man's pocket -- money conjured from nowhere, bad for the economy, a perfectly demonic thing to do -- and turns back to Aziraphale, whose face has lit up at the mention of cake.

The humans have traditions about cake, which Crowley supposes they might as well follow. Not that new one about smashing it in each other's faces, though, even if he does find it entertaining. He's quite sure that if he tried that, they'd find out pretty quickly how angel-demon divorces work.

He takes Aziraphale's arm and leads him to the table.

"It's so beautiful," the angel sighs happily. "It almost seems a shame to cut into it."

He's not wrong. Crowley has to admit, the overworked, miracle-driven humans did an exemplary job. He's glad they're not all dead in an apocalypse. Or still stuck in a garden eating nothing but fruit, even if it does mean he accidentally did the right thing. "It's meant to be eaten," he says.

He picks up the knife, and gently wraps Aziraphale's fingers around his own on the hilt.

Together, they cut.

It's a little hard to coordinate the slicing together, and the first piece, when they've slid it out onto a plate, is ragged and messy around the edges. But, judging from the smile on Aziraphale's face, he doesn't mind at all.

Crowley picks up a fork, detaches a generous bite, and raises it slowly to Aziraphale's lips.

It almost feels as if his hand should be shaking, but it's not. It's steady as Aziraphale looks him in the eyes with an expression that makes him feel almost as if he's being kissed again, as Aziraphale's lips close over the fork and his face takes on that dreamy, transported expression that only ever arrives there via fork. Or possibly, sometimes, spoon.

"Good?" Crowley says.

Aziraphale swallows. Crowley has never seen anyone else capable of making the action of swallowing seem anywhere near that decadent. And he's the being who invented -- well, all right, who took credit for -- the concept of pornography.

"Oh, yes! It's--" Aziraphale stops himself, and gives Crowley a smile that's... It's adorable. There's no other word for it, no matter how much Crowley might wish for one. He wants to kiss it. He wonders if he'd be able to taste the cake. "I was going to say 'it's heavenly'," Aziraphale says. "But we both know, there's nothing remotely like cake in Heaven."

Aziraphale takes the fork from Crowley's hand. His fingers brush against Crowley's, like they did with the chocolate... Was that really only the day before yesterday?

Crowley parts his lips as the angel raises a forkful of cake to his mouth. And Aziraphale isn't wrong. Crowley's never been all that fond of sweets, not like Aziraphale is, but this is really, really good. He swallows. "Nothing like it in Hell, either."

"So glad we decided to stay here," Aziraphale says. His smile's gone all soft. It's still embarrassingly adorable.

He's wondering if now would be a good time to kiss again, if that would be okay, if it was meant to be a one-time thing or what, when someone starts clapping.

Both of them turn to look. It's the old lady, looking delighted. Beside her stands the man, still looking hungry, and the registrar, looking more than a little dazed.

"Oh!" says Aziraphale. "Where are my manners? Let me get you all some cake."

He does so, with lots of smiles and polite little comments, but also with a bustling quickness.

"Thank you so much!" says the old woman, holding her plate of cake in front of her, while the man starts shoveling his in and the registrar simply stares at hers as if waiting to see whether it's going to do anything strange.

Paying no attention to them, the old woman peers past Crowley at a shelf of boring Victorian novels. "Is this an actual bookshop?" she says, curious and friendly. "Because, you know, I'm in need of a present for my niece. She's quite the bookish sort."

A small sound of angelic distress comes from somewhere behind him. Barely audible, really, but Crowley is finely attuned to it. Time for a dashing demonic rescue, clearly. "We're extremely closed," he says, mimicking Aziraphale's familiar cadence on the words. "In fact," he says, slipping back into his own speech patterns, "now that the wedding's over, you really shouldn't be in here at all. Rules, you know. Nothing I can do about it. The hours are clearly posted on the door."

"Oh," says the old woman. "Oh. Well... It was very nice to be here!"

"Very nice to have you," Aziraphale says, appearing next to Crowley to shake the woman's hand. Rather awkwardly, considering that she's still holding cake. He moves on to do the same to the other two.

"But I haven't finished my cake," says the man around a mouthful of crumbs.

"Take it with you," says Aziraphale. "No need to worry about returning the plates. I'm sure they'll find their own way back."

"Buh-bye, now!" says Crowley, grabbing the old woman and the young man by an elbow each and hustling them through the front of the shop and out the door. He turns to find the registrar behind him, holding her folder. "Got everything?" he asks her. He can feel the soft ripple of an angelic blessing settling onto her and spreading out through the walls of the shop to land on the others, as well. He's not sure what it is, but it feels like a good one.

"Yes," says says. "But... But, listen. Who are--?"

Crowley escorts her through the door and closes it in her face. He turns again, to see Aziraphale wordlessly holding out the woman's coat. He swears, and takes it, and opens the door again. She's still standing there, motionless, on the other side. He thrusts the coat at her, and her fingers close around it.

He starts to close the door again, and stops. He looks at her.

"Thank you," he says. "I mean it." And he closes the door again, firmly but gently.

"Thank you," says Aziraphale. "Lovely woman, really, but I should not have to deal with customers on my wedding day, of all days!"

"No problem," Crowley says. "I mean, I like humans, but there's a time and a place for 'em."

"I believe that was the time and place for them," Aziraphale says. "But now...?" He looks a little hesitant, now. As if he's not at all sure what happens next.

Well, neither is Crowley. But he's looking forward to figuring it out together, the way they've just promised to do. And, suddenly, he has an idea.

"Would you like to dance?" he says.

"Oh!" says Aziraphale. And, yes, say his eyes, his face, the way his body sways gently towards Crowley's. "You know I can't. Unless it's the gavotte. And we'd need more people for that."

"You can," says Crowley. "Anybody can. Just follow my lead."

Aziraphale hesitates a moment, then nods and steps closer to Crowley. So close their bodies are almost touching again. "All right," he says. "I shall trust you. But don't complain if I step on your feet."

Crowley raises an eyebrow. "If you think that just because we're married now, I'm going to stop complaining, you're in for some very bitter disappointment," he says.

Aziraphale laughs, and the expression in his eyes is the exact opposite of disappointment. Fuck, Crowley loves him.

He raises his fingers and snaps, thinking only that he wants some appropriate music.

Sometimes, his miracles have a different idea of appropriateness than he does. He starts a little in an oddly guilty surprise as the strains of a too-familiar song fill the bookshop. Is it a good thing or a bad one, to dance at your wedding to the song you've spent decades playing on lonely, self-indulgent nights when the only person you've ever loved is too afraid to be with you?

"Too be-bop?" he asks, although using the word pains him. "I can change it."

But Aziraphale is listening with one ear cocked, a thoughtful expression on his face. "No," he says. "I like it."

And so he takes Aziraphale's hands, and they step and sway to the sound of the Velvet Underground and Nico singing about mirrors, and hands in the darkness, and seeing your true, best self reflected in someone else's eyes. And if he feels just the barest hint of a watery tightness in his own eyes, he can tell himself it's only because it's all too painfully cliché.

He can. But he doesn't have to. And like so much else today, that feels like a relief.

They don't dance well. They barely even move at all. But they dance together, pressed in close, and when Aziraphale does step on his foot, Crowley instantly forgives him.

When the song lapses into silence again, after playing twice without Crowley consciously commanding it to, Crowley raises his face from the angel's shoulder and softly says, "More?"

He expects a "yes," but Aziraphale pulls back from him, just a little, and licks his lips, and says, "Crowley. Do correct me if I'm wrong, but... You enjoyed the kissing?"

"Yeah," says Crowley. It's a stupid, inadequate understatement, but he thinks the angel can tell.

"Oh, good," says Aziraphale. "So did I. Very much. And if you wanted to... to do other things, well." His gaze darts down to the floor, then back up to meet Crowley's. "I would be quite amenable."

Other things. "You sure?" he says. He raises a hand to Aziraphale's face and caresses his cheek. The angel rubs his face against Crowley's fingers like a cat.

"Oh, yes." He kisses Crowley's fingers. The sight is mesmerizing. "If there was no good reason to wait any longer for this, then I certainly don't see a point in waiting for that. But only if you want to, of course. I know it isn't something you'd do simply to please Hell. But I don't want it to be something you do only to please me, either. I've wanted to touch you for a very long time. I've admitted that already, however embarrassingly. But, believe me, I can be perfectly content touching you like this, if it's what you prefer." His hands slide up Crowley's back, knead a little at his clothed shoulders. Crowley imagines that touch with no barriers between them but the physical mass of their bodies, imagines Aziraphale's naked hands on his own naked skin, and finds the thought of not having that instantly unbearable.

"You can touch me any way you want," he says. He kisses Aziraphale for the second time, but it doesn't stop the next word from tearing itself from him unbidden. "Please."

"Well, then," says Aziraphale, a soft, hot whisper in his ear. "Perhaps we should go upstairs. It may surprise you to know, but I do, in fact, own a bed."

"Lead on, angel. I'm all yours."

As Aziraphale takes his hand and pulls him towards the stairs, Crowley waves one last, hasty miracle towards the cake.

It won't do at all for Aziraphale to come back down when they're done and find it getting stale.

**

Aziraphale doesn't know why he feels so deeply, almost obsessively aware, just now, of the feeling of Crowley's hand in his: the smooth warmth of his skin, the slender bones beneath, the hint of hidden strength in his grip. He hasn't married Crowley's hands, for goodness' sake, or his convenient Earthly body. It's the immortal, transcendent being within that he's joined himself to. Isn't it? Of course it is. He would still be Crowley in another body, might yet be if anything happens to this one. There can be no question of it.

But Aziraphale does love Earthly things, and he very much wants to feel these hands on this own physical form, knowing that it's Crowley who's guiding them, Crowley who's taking pleasure -- or so he very much hopes! -- from this feeling of matter encountering matter. He wants to make love as if their bodies are a part of them. Which perhaps, after six millennia, they are. He certainly has learned to take pleasure in his. He's looking forward to learning how to take still more.

He realizes abruptly that he's come to a halt at the top of the stairs, lost as he's become in his thoughts, in the simple sensation of Crowley's hand in his. Crowley stands beside him, calm and still, as if he's prepared to wait forever for Aziraphale to emerge from the tangle of his thoughts. Or perhaps as if he, too, is happy to stay here, hand in hand, and take a moment to contemplate what it is they're about to do.

Aziraphale clears his throat. "Right," he says. "The, ah, the bedroom is this way."

He leads Crowley forward, much more quickly now, towards the door of the bedroom, and opens it. And stops again.

Oh dear. He hadn't even thought. It's all so... tiny. Not the bed. The bed should be adequate for their purposes, as long as they keep their wings in. But the whole little flat, itself. Tiny, and very nearly bare, because Aziraphale doesn't live here, not really. He bakes in the kitchen occasionally, stores his clothes in the wardrobe, freshens his cologne in the lavatory. He's turned on the television in the sitting room three or four times since he obtained it in 1969 to watch humans setting foot on the moon. Every few decades, he'll take a short, refreshing nap in the bed. But it's downstairs in the bookshop where he lives, where he reads, and sips his tea, and spends evenings drinking wine with his friend.

He realizes he's dropped Crowley's hand. He wants to reach for it again, but can't quite bring himself to turn and face him. "It isn't very much, I'm afraid," he says. "I hadn't exactly had time to think about... Well. I know I said I refuse to redecorate, but I meant the bookshop, obviously. I scarcely expect you to want to live here, as it is. I imagine you'll want more..." He waves a hand around, vaguely. "… more gadgets, and darker colors, and, I don't know, snakes and plants and..." A miserable thought occurs to him. "Oh, unless you'd rather stay in your flat. I could commute here, I suppose. If I had to. Or... or some married couples do live separately, if it's that's what you'd prefer--"

"Angel." Crowley takes him by the shoulders, turns him around to face him again. "What did I say about worrying about details later? I want to live here. Or downstairs with your books, whichever, I don't care."

"Oh," says Aziraphale. "Really?" He can feel a weight of anxiety sliding off of him, and smiles his gratitude at Crowley.

"Really," says Crowley. "And do you know what else I want?"

"What?" says Aziraphale, wriggling a little in anticipation of the answer.

Crowley leans forward, a sinuous, snaky movement. "I want to take off your clothes," he says. The words whisper thrillingly against Aziraphale's ear.

"Yes, please." It might come out a little squeaky, but it doesn't matter, because Crowley is making good on his words now. Slender fingers begin undoing his waistcoat, taking care with every button, but wasting no time moving from one to another.

In moments, Crowley is easing the waistcoat off his shoulders. He tosses it casually towards the floor, and Aziraphale begins to make a sound of protest, when it blinks out of sight.

"Hung it up in the wardrobe," Crowley says. His lips lightly brush Aziraphale's neck, just above his collar. Aziraphale shivers as Crowley begins undoing his bow tie. "I know how you are."

"Thank you," Aziraphale says, because if he says anything else, if he gives voice to the feeling glowing inside him, to the voice in his mind that's saying something like I married, you I married you, and it was right, he might start shaking uncontrollably, and he wants Crowley to be able to continue taking his clothes off without having to deal with that.

Crowley has always known what he's meant when he says "Thank you," anyway.

The demon unbuttons his shirt with the same speed and the same care, slides it off and vanishes it, too. And a little more of Aziraphale -- or of his body, but it is also him, it feels like him -- lies revealed before him. Bare arms, a swathe of skin and hair between his neck and the curve of his undershirt. Crowley plants a soft kiss on his collarbone. He can't tell if it feels the way he imagined it would or not. He can't remember how he imagined it. The reality of it is too overwhelming.

He pulls off the undershirt on his own, when Crowley straightens up again. It vanishes, too. Crowley's doing, not his. He trusts it's folded neatly somewhere appropriate.

Crowley is looking at him with an expression in his wide golden eyes that Aziraphale might almost flatter himself is something like wonder. The demon reaches out, slowly, as if he's waiting for something to stop him, and slides his hands up and down Aziraphale's sides and across his chest, thumbs skimming over his nipples in a way Aziraphale finds unexpectedly arousing. Although that may be as much the realization that Crowley clearly does want to touch him as it is the stimulation.

Crowley leans in and kisses Aziraphale again, soft and sweet, with a slow caress of tongues. When he pulls back again, his fingers come to rest on Aziraphale's flies. He unfastens the top button slowly, whether to prolong the anticipation or because he's waiting to see if Aziraphale has anything to say about it, Aziraphale doesn't know. What he does know is that the mere proximity of Crowley's hands is causing things to stir down there in a decidedly interesting, decidedly interested fashion.

He also knows that there are probably some things he should say before he becomes too distracted to talk. "I should probably mention that I've never actually done this before."

Crowley takes a moment to look up from what he's doing, as if he's been mildly mesmerized by the sight of Aziraphale's crotch. His hand stills on the second trouser button.

Aziraphale can't tell if he's surprised or not. "It never seemed quite the thing, to try it with humans," he continues. "I have done some, ah, experimentation. By myself." He swallows. "I don't imagine it's quite the same."

"Yeah," says Crowley. "Me, too. Same, on both counts."

Aziraphale blinks. "Really? No demonic orgies? No lustful temptations?"

Crowley shrugs a little. His fingers don't move from the button. "Never interested me very much."

"But you're interested now?" Aziraphale says, carefully. Can he feel the heat of Crowley's fingers through his clothes, or is it just his imagination?

Crowley's eyes look unblinkingly into his. "Always been interested in you, angel," he says, as if it's an unremarkable statement of fact, as if he's telling Aziraphale that the sky is blue, or that God created the world.

"Do you think we could just vanish the rest of our clothes?" says Aziraphale, suddenly acutely aware of the restrictiveness of his trousers, and of the frankly unfair amount of Crowley still covered in cloth.

Crowley raises and hand and snaps, almost before Aziraphale is done saying it.

And here they are, naked together. For the first time. Funny to think of that, that there's a "before" and an "after" in their lives together, now, and this moment where they're standing is the transition.

"Better?" says Crowley, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, much!" says Aziraphale, and throws himself forward into Crowley.

Crowley's arms fold around him immediately, their bodies pressed together all along their lengths, skin against skin.

One flesh, the humans say of married couples. Aziraphale has always thought that rather poetic. But now, he believes he might finally truly understand it.

He runs his hands up and down Crowley's back. He can feel the flex of Crowley's lean muscles, the sharp jut of his shoulder blades. The bumps of individual vertebrae in his not-quite-human spine. He is beautifully made. By Hell or God, or by Crowley himself, his form is beautifully made.

Crowley kisses his neck, and he kisses Crowley's hair, and they stand like that for a delirious, timeless moment, growing hard against each other, growing close, learning to become one flesh.

He dares to move his hands down to rest on Crowley's buttocks. The scant curve of them fits perfectly in his hands. He can't quite tell if the way Crowley grinds into him is a response to that pressure, or if it's his own strength pushing them together, but either way it's glorious, it's too much and not remotely enough and he needs to... he needs to...

Oh, blast it, he doesn't even know quite what he needs, but he knows where they ought to be doing it. "I think we should move to the bed, Crowley. I think we should do that right now."

Crowley makes a hissy growl of assent, as if he's agreeing so hard he's lost the words to say so, and then they're pulling and pushing and guiding each other onto the bed. Honestly, it would probably be more efficient if they let go and stopped trying to make it there together, but to contemplate that thought is intolerable.

And then he and Crowley are rolling together across a silky tartan duvet that no one but him has ever touched before. He ends up atop Crowley, staring down at him, and is overcome, all at once, by the desire to make a change for him, after all. He rests his hand on the cloth, turning it to a rich, deep black, trimmed neatly in red. Crowley's colors.

Crowley turns his head to look at it, his cheek squished against a pillow, and raises an eyebrow.

"Quiet," Aziraphale says. "I'm allowed to broaden my tastes."

"Definitely not gonna argue with that," Crowley says. He smiles, bright and goofy, and Aziraphale can't help but kiss him again.

"What shall we do?" he says, as their lips part. (After their fourth kiss, he notes. He wonders when he will stop keeping track?)

"Everything?" says Crowley. "I'm up for everything."

"That might be rather time-consuming," says Aziraphale, smiling. "Do you even know how to do everything? I mean, you have been virtuously saving yourself for marriage."

Oh, that look of pretended annoyance on Crowley's face is every bit as delightful as the feel of Crowley underneath him, of the feel of Crowley's fingers kneading at his buttocks as if they're good, fresh bread dough and he's planning on making Aziraphale rise up, all light and soft and edible.

Possibly that metaphor got away from him a bit.

"I know how to do this," says Crowley. He rolls them sideways until he can snake an arm between them, and wraps his hand firmly around Aziraphale's cock.

Aziraphale lets out a loud, warbling, "Ooooooh!" It might be embarrassing, if there was anyone here but Crowley to hear it. As it is, Crowley only looks evilly satisfied at having made it happen.

Slowly, slowly, Crowley moves his hand. He's slicked it up, Aziraphale realizes, much the same as Aziraphale likes to do himself, in his own occasional explorations.

It feels so different, so very, very different, when it's Crowley's hand.

"Crowley!" Possibly he sounds rather shocked. Although that's not quite the word he would use to describe how it is he feels.

"Good?" Crowley says. He looks eager for the answer, intent on the action. He looks, Aziraphale might think, if it weren't so utterly blasphemous, almost like a man having a religious experience.

"Don't stop," he says. "Don't stop, Crowley, please." His hands dance across Crowley, touching any place he can reach, drinking in the feel, the warmth of Crowley's flesh as Crowley's hands grip and slide and slide and squeeze, and.... and...

"Angel," whispers Crowley. "My angel."

And suddenly it's all too much, it's all too bright and beautiful and earthy and good, because Crowley is touching him and he is Crowley's and Crowley is his, that's true, that's real, they've made it real today, and Crowley loves him, Crowley loves him and wants to touch him, and he loves Crowley, and Crowley's hand is on him, and Crowley's naked skin is on him, and Crowley's naked eyes, and Crowley is touching him, and oh no, no it's too soon, it's too soon, not yet. "Crowley," he gasps. "Oh no, Crowley, I'm... I'm going to--"

"It's all right," says Crowley, and kisses his cheek. His hand moves and moves and doesn't stop. "It's all right, angel. You're allowed."

And Aziraphale comes, in Crowley's embrace, at Crowley's hands. Funny, Aziraphale thinks, how much a purely physical pleasure can so thoroughly transport the spirit. And then he thinks nothing at all, his spirit transported far beyond words.

He comes back to himself a moment later, with what he imagines would be a surge of embarrassment if such a feeling were remotely capable of penetrating this languid, post-orgasmic joy. He has made a mess of himself, and of his lovely new-old duvet, and his friend -- his lover -- his husband is still here beside him, utterly un-seen-to. Crowley props his head up with one hand and gives him a look that's amused, and far too satisfied for someone still in that clearly unsatisfied state.

"Oh dear," Aziraphale says. "I'm terribly sorry, Crowley, I didn't... That is, I should have... Or, rather, I shouldn't have..."

"Don't apologize," says Crowley. His voice is as sincere as Aziraphale has ever heard it. "You don't know. You don't know what you look like when you do that, you don't know what it does to me. Even watching you eat, seeing that look on your face. Gives me a thrill, sometimes, just to think, I'm the one that brought him to this restaurant." He dips a finger into the mess on Aziraphale's stomach, traces a lazy pattern through it that Aziraphale thinks might just be the sigil of his name. "To be allowed to do that to you..."

"…is extremely unfair," Aziraphale says, because it's that or burst apart from the sheer, flattering joy of Crowley's words, "unless I'm allowed to reciprocate."

Crowley grins and flings himself sprawlingly down onto the duvet. No one that gangly should remotely be that elegant, but, of course, Crowley always was one for breaking the rules. "I'm all yours," he says.

Aziraphale gazes lingeringly down the length of him. He's been thinking of using a miracle to ready himself again, but he's beginning to think he might not need one at all. The mere sight of Crowley like this might very well do it for him soon.

Particularly the sight of Crowley's cock, poking out from a thatch of hair the red of fire and apples, all full and ready and eager for him. For him. Imagine that.

It's a lovely, flushed rosy color, itself. It makes him think, absurdly, of strawberry ice lollies.

"What if," he says thoughtfully, "I were to use my mouth on you?"

Crowley's cock twitches.

"I'll take that as a yes," Aziraphale says, amused.

"A unanimous yes," Crowley says. "You have no idea how happy this body is to finally get a vote."

"Oh, I think I might have some idea." He flicks out a tiny miracle to clean himself up a bit, and tilts his head as he begins pondering angles. "Perhaps it might be easiest if you were sitting. I could get onto my knees and do it that way."

"An angel on his knees for a demon. What is the universe coming to?" Crowley says it with his usual sardonic humor, but immediately looks like he might regret making the joke, as if fearing he might have gone a bit beyond the pale.

"Not just any demon," Aziraphale says, smiling warmly at him. "And I think the cosmos has come to a very nice place. Come, sit right here." He pats the edge of the bed.

Crowley gives him such an adorably besotted look as he positions himself where Aziraphale has asked that he can't resist kissing him again. Number five.

"Let me put some put some pillows behind you," Aziraphale says, rolling across the bed to reach for them.

Crowley groans a little. "Just get back over here," he says.

"What a demanding fellow I've married," Aziraphale says, but he returns and sinks to his knees before Crowley, lets Crowley run gentle fingers through his hair.

He nuzzles his face into Crowley's brighter, coarser hair, and breathes.

Crowley smells human, and a little reptilian, and, faintly, of something that reminds Aziraphale of Heaven as it was in the beginning, full of hope and possibility and overflowing with the forces of creation.

But he isn't down here simply to breathe, no matter how pleasant it might be.

Aziraphale pokes out his tongue and licks down the length of Crowley's shaft, as if it was, in fact, an ice lolly. Delightfully, Crowley tastes exactly as he smells.

Crowley lets out a yelp of surprise and pleasure that rapidly disintegrates into a breathless laugh. "Sa--" he starts, then stops and corrects himself. "Aziraphale." His fingers move restlessly through Aziraphale's hair. It feels very nice.

"Right," says Aziraphale. "Now, I may not be entirely certain what I'm doing, but I'm sure I can puzzle it out." He has, after all, read a great deal of human literature, including some of the less respectable sort. Purely in the interest of understanding his charges, of course.

First, however... He's become a little too aware of the hardness of the floor beneath his knees, through the thin antique carpet. With a little wave of his hand, he provides himself a cushion. Much better. He could, of course, have simply miracled away the sensation of discomfort, but that would be cheating. Besides, he wants to feel everything. Properly.

He half expects Crowley to laugh at him, but the demon only strokes his hair again, his fingers following as Aziraphale re-positions himself and brings his lips forward to kiss the head of Crowley's cock.

"Ahh," says Crowley. It's almost, but not quite, a hiss.

Slowly, Aziraphale engulfs him, seals his mouth around him. Guides him in deeper, then out again a little, then in.

It's a bit awkward. He isn't entirely certain what he's meant to be doing with his lips, or his tongue. But his experiments in the subject seem to be pleasing enough, to judge from the gasps Crowley continues to make, the way his fingers clench and relax in Aziraphale's hair.

Perhaps he's naturally good at this. It would only stand to reason. He's always enjoyed the world best with his mouth, always loved the taste of it. And Crowley is part of the world. They both are, together.

"Nrrkkkk!" Crowley cries out as Aziraphale takes him in particularly deep. "Angel, fuck, your mouth, I love your mouth, always loved your... nnnnnnk!"

There, you see? Aziraphale tries the same trick again, a little deeper, only to run up against his body's gag reflex. Quickly, before the noise it wrenches out of him can become too embarrassing, he dispels it. Indeed, he might as well leave it off for good. He's never had any need of it yet.

He takes Crowley in as far as he can go. There are drops of fluid oozing out onto his tongue now, salty and strong. Not a flavor, perhaps, that he would enjoy encountering in a meal, but in this context, he could come to regard it as a delicacy.

It is also somewhat distracting, enough so that he loses track of his teeth for a moment and nearly closes them on Crowley. He stops, of course, as soon as he feels them touching Crowley's skin, starts to try to form some noise of apology around the part of Crowley that's filling up his mouth, but Crowley's body is tensing, almost convulsing, and the sound his making is not one of pain. Aziraphale is reminded, abruptly, of strong demonic hands throwing him against a wall, the feeling of utterly non-threatening threat, the way all he could do in that moment was to stare at Crowley's lips and wonder, if the world were going to end, whether they might at least dare a quiet kiss goodbye.

He's glad that didn't happen. This is so much better. The taste, the smell, the solidity of Crowley inside him. The hands in his hair, clutching uncontrollably now. The feeling of being trusted, with his teeth, with everything. The sounds Crowley is making.

"I'm..." Crowley pants. "Angel, gonna, I'm gonna, I... nnggggk."

Aziraphale doesn't stop what he's doing, but raises a hand, reaches out for Crowley's where it's braced upon the bed. Clutches at it, squeezing out a yes.

Crowley tenses again, flings his head back, lets out a sound no human lungs could make, not by themselves, and Aziraphale's mouth is filled all at once with new sensation, with twitching and pulsing and taste.

Warm liquid fills his mouth, and Aziraphale drinks it down, welcoming this part of Crowley's body into his. Matter meeting matter. One flesh.

He's decided he quite likes the taste.

"Aziraphale," Crowley whispers.

Aziraphale, at last, lets Crowley's organ slide out of his mouth. Such an odd-looking thing, really, especially at the moment, softening and covered in strands of saliva. It doesn't look like an object deserving of the vast well of affection Aziraphale feels for it now. But then, so many things on Earth are like that. Seemingly silly, until you get to know them.

"Come here," Crowley says. He sinks backward and holds out his arms. Aziraphale climbs onto the bed and pours himself into them.

'I believe," says Aziraphale, as he moves against Crowley, finding the best way to fit his plumply padded frame snugly into Crowley's angular one, "that that was some very successful gardening." He trusts Crowley to remember their drunken conversation, to understand the meaning of it now. Crowley always does pay attention to the things he says. At least, to the ones he actually means.

"See?" says Crowley. "Told ya so." He gives Aziraphale a slow, impossibly fond smile and strokes his face. Aziraphale can feel the drag of his ring across his cheek. It's as warm and as welcome as his fingers. "Six years pretending to be a gardener," Crowley says, "and you still couldn't recognize something in bloom when it was staring you in the face."

"Hmm," says Aziraphale. "I'm not sure, you know. We might need to do a great deal more watering. Just to be on the safe side." He rubs up against Crowley a little, lets him feel his body's expression of renewed interest.

"I did say I wanted to do everything, didn't I?" says Crowley, pretending to be thinking about it. "Right. Just give me a few minutes, and we'll see what else we can check off the list."

"Oh, my dear," says Aziraphale. He tucks his head against Crowley's chest. He can feel a heart beating there, steady, and unnecessary, and beautiful. "There's no rush. We have all the time in the world."

**

"Furthermore," says Gabriel, "you can take that Satanic priest right back to whatever pit of evil you found him in, because that is not what we agreed to." If his physical form were any less perfect, he's certain he'd be nursing a headache right about now.

"What does it matter?" says Beelzebub, "as long as a human performs the ceremony?"

"It's not," Gabriel bites out, "in accordance with their laws and traditions."

"It's in accordance with the traditions of Satanists," says Beelzebub. "And I didn't see you caring about the letter of human law when we were arranging anything else."

"First of all, neither of them is a Satanist! Not even Crowley. Second--"

"Zzzzince when is any of this about them?" Beelzebub interrupts.

"Second--" says Gabriel.

"Um, 'scuse me," says that stupid-looking demon with the... hair... things. Or one of them, anyway. Gabriel's never quite been able to figure out whether it's multiple identical demons, or one demon in multiple bodies. Mostly because he hasn't cared. Whichever it is, it's poked its stupid-looking head into the office where he and Beelzebub have been arguing for what feels like at least a century. "Only it's nearly five o'clock, and the lads were wondering when when we were going to start, 'cause the schedule I have here says three."

Gabriel lets out an annoyed groan. "Fine," he says. "In the interest of getting this done, the Satanist can stay. But he doesn't get to do the ceremony. If he wants to say a few words at the party, well, I think there's a church down the street. Maybe we can go grab one of ours to balance things out."

Beelzebub doesn't look happy about that, but seems to decide she's scored enough points for the moment. "That would be acceptable," she says. "We will still get the traditional sacrifice from him afterward."

"Great," says Gabriel. "Okay, then. Let's get this thing started. Where's our happy couple?"

The stupid-haired demon blinks and looks around the room. "I thought they were in here with you," he says.

"Fuck." Weirdly enough, he thinks he can actually feel that headache building now, after all.

**

They find the traitors in the rooms above the angel's bookshop.

Gabriel bursts in ahead of her, all grumpy, melodramatic Divine Wrath. "I told you," he bellows, "not to make us come and get you!"

As Beelzebub follows him in, she sees the angel traitor look up at them and blink in surprise. "Oh," he says. "Do you know, I actually forgot all about you?"

Crowley only grins, a wide, triumphant grin.

"Excuse me?" says Gabriel. "Now, you listen here, sunshine--"

He apparently has completely failed to notice the utterly, stupidly obvious. "Gabriel," she says.

"Let me handle this," he says. "I'll--"

"Look at them, you idiot!"

They are, of course, naked together in the bed. The entire room smells disgustingly of sex. She doubts one needs the senses of a fly to notice it.

They're also both wearing rings.

Crowley sees Gabriel noticing this, finally, and waves a hand in the air, showing off his band of gold. "Yeeeeah, turns out we didn't need you at all," he says. "Funny, that."

"I-- What? No," says Gabriel. But he can surely sense the truth now. Beelzebub can, now that she's looking for it. A distinct metaphysical change in the world. A vow, and a contract, but not just that. Something else, something deeper and much, much harder to break.

"It's done," she says. "They did it." She wonders, suddenly, whether this was a good idea at all. Certainly it's less amusing than she expected. Well, except for the look on Gabriel's face. That's almost worth it.

"But--" says Gabriel again. But there's nothing he can do, and he obviously knows it.

"The alliance holds," she says. She turns back to the traitors with a sneer. "Congratulations," she says.

"Oh, thank you," says the angel, all happy, glowy sincerity. "It really did work out extremely well, I think, for all concerned."

"Super well," says Crowley. He wraps an arm around the angel, and holds him close. "Thanks for not spoiling it by showing up."

Beelzebub rolls her eyes, turns, and stalks out through the bedroom door.

"Where are you going?" Gabriel demands.

She stops and looks back at him. "Since I'm on Earth," she says, "I'm going to do what the humans do in these situations. I'm going to go and get a drink." It's been a while since she's been up here. She wonders if the humans still make tequila. She always very much enjoyed the worm. "You want to come?" she says, and waits for the prissy lecture about consuming matter or the vice of drink, for the entertaining look of disgust on his face.

"You know what?" he says. "Fuck it. Why not?"

And without another word to the traitors, he steps out to join her.

**

From his exalted position at the right hand of God, the Metatron looks down on the world.

Below, in an otherwise uninteresting bar in Soho, he can see Gabriel, Archangel of the Lord, and Beelzebub, Prince of Hell. They are working their way through their third bottle of tequila. That either of them is still upright, he feels, is quite a testament to the work of the Almighty in creating their celestial essences and physical embodiments. If they were as human as they look, they'd be on the floor by now.

Instead, they are talking. They've moved on from insulting each other to complaining with considerable gusto about Aziraphale and Crowley. They appear to be finding a great deal of common ground on the subject.

The Metatron turns his attention away from them, towards a hotel in which a room full of angels and demons has given up on waiting for a wedding and jumped directly to the party.

God's attention, of course, is already there. Her attention is always already everywhere.

"I'm forced to admit," he says, "this went rather better than I had expected."

God smiles. Or does something equivalent to a smile, anyway. She rarely bothers with a face these days, and certainly not when it's only Her and the Metatron. "O ye of little faith," She says. She's quoting from that book the humans wrote about Her again. She always seems to find it funny.

"It's not You I had my doubts about, Lord." He waves a hand downward, towards the realm of matter. "It's them."

They watch the party for a while. In the absence of their superiors, the representatives of the Hosts of Heaven and the Legions of the Damned have begun to relax and enjoy themselves.

Here, a demon is tempting an angel to eat a bite of cake. (The cake is not, in fact, dung. It's devil's food, because Hell has a very literal sense of humor.) The angel hesitates, but decides that since Gabriel isn't watching and God hasn't forbidden it, it might be all right to take a taste. The demon laughs, not as nastily as he might, at the startled and delighted look on her face.

Over there, a recording angel, bored with waiting for something to document, is giving Dagon pointers on upgrading her filing systems. Dagon looks if she might finally be coming around to the idea of digital databases.

In the middle of the room, several demons are attempting to teach angels how to dance. They're trying to teach them to disco dance to a sea shanty, so it's going rather... interestingly. But they do appear to be having fun.

In other spots: a lively conversation between two demons and a human caterer on the subject of horror movies, a somewhat confused Satanic priest energetically arguing theology with a cherub, and two beings who were friends before the War meeting for the first time since its end and trying to make awkward "so, how have you been?" conversation.

It's all very tentative. There are a great many entities still on the sidelines, eyeing each other warily. But it does seem as if it might be the start of something. A first step in a new Ineffable Plan.

"That's the difference between you and I, Metatron" God says. "Or one of them, anyway. Besides the omniscience and omnipotence and having created the universe, I mean. I have faith in free will."

The Metatron shifts his gaze to Aziraphale and Crowley. They're naked, still. Twined around each other. They're having a lively, laughing conversation about whether they're up for yet another bout of physical lovemaking, or whether it might be time to take a break for food.

"I have faith in them," says God. She sounds proud. Like the day She thought up elephants, or the Grand Canyon.

"They have helped a great deal," he admits. "Twice now. Despite having no idea what they're doing."

"They look like they know what they're doing to me," says God, wryly amused, as the lovers' lips meet, as they begin rocking their bodies together again.

The Metatron snorts. "I suppose You'll want to give them some sort of reward now," he says. "Shine Your blessings upon them, that sort of thing."

Below them, a demon gasps "I love you" into an angel's mouth. An angel kisses the word "always" onto a demon's temple, across the mark of the Fallen on his skin.

"Nah," says God. "I think they're doing a fine job blessing and rewarding each other. They don't need Me at all."

Coming from anyone else, it would be blasphemy. Coming from Her? "You're right, of course," he says. "But then, You usually are."

God's smiles again. "I try," she says.

They say nothing more for some time, watching. Bearing witness.

Below them, as the world spins on, there is drinking, and dancing, and conversation, and sex, and love, and something that might, in time, become a true cosmic reconciliation.

And, lo, it is... Well, he has to admit, it's really rather good.