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Let prudes in need of proof / heed what Epicurus said / old master of the truth / who held that all are led / by their senses to the goal / Life-perfecting Pleasure / Pleasure is the goal of all / omnis vitaeque perfector. –Petronius, Satyricon


Rome, 40 AD

Autumn always had its beckoning towards sleeping and dying, and the humans took it all so seriously. When it came down to it, it wouldn’t do to resist. It meant so much to them--especially that return-of-the-light business at the Solstice.

Or so Aziraphale told himself when the festival of Saturn was creeping up on them again. Human nature, he supposed, to long for something lost, to cherish a mostly fictional memory of a Golden Age. If the details of their racial memory left something to be desired, the sentiment was pure--honestly the actual Paradise itself, while a lovely place, he blasphemously believed, suffered a bit for its lack of the rich patina of nostalgia.

For all that Saturn, in his well-informed opinion, was a false god, they’d come round sooner or later. After all…he thought with a secret smile…what was the harm in the hope for the Great Return of a sacred king of some sort, in some hour of greatest need?

Seven years on from that horrendous necessity, he was at last in a mood to celebrate something. And he supposed Rome was as good a place to do it as any.

He had also decided he’d been avoiding a certain nemesis long enough.

***

It was with some trepidation that he’d approached an impressive domus located a little bit too close for comfort to the Palatine Hill. He was surprised to find Crowley asleep, and now he was unsure what to do. Though they were on as good terms as it was possible for immortal enemies to be, they hadn’t seen one another in seven years. Startling one of the Enemy sleeping might mean a few weeks’ absence from the Earth while the paperwork went through, and he would so hate to miss Saturnalia just when he’d decided he was finally in the mood for it.

He just looked at the demon for a while, pondering. Crowley was mostly face down on a low, wide bed, breathing deeply—-surprising—-and completely oblivious to the presence of his natural enemy.

Aziraphale cleared his throat loudly and very obviously artificially.

Nothing.

He did it again. Still nothing. A little bird started a watery song outside the window.

“Crowley?”

Nothing.

“Wake up!” he said, raising his voice.

The timbre of the breathing changed and Crowley rolled over, the sheets covering his unclad body threatening to lose their artistic discretion. Aziraphale decided he wasn’t going to let that happen, and, nervously, he sat down on the edge of the bed. His weight seemed to make no difference, and he had no choice but to reach out and lightly shake one bare shoulder.

“GYAH!” came the cry, and a pair of snake eyes flew wildly open.

“Er…”

“Go-FUCK, it’s you.”

“Yes, it is. No sword, I promise.”

Crowley pressed a hand to his forehead. “What month is it?”

“The tenth. Midway through. Just about to Saturnalia, which is why…”

Crowley laughed. His eyes were puffy with sleep, and his mouth a little slow. “Shit, that was almost a month.”

Aziraphale blinked. “A month? Don’t you have…I suppose you might quaintly deign to call them, responsibilities?”

Crowley ran a hand through his tangled hair, shook his head, and grinned. “I did. ‘Sss’all taken care of, now.”

“Oh, really?” Aziraphale said. This was an Enemy in an unguarded position. Perhaps he might reveal something worthwhile, or at least worth a wile.

“Yup.” Crowley just said smugly.

“Well,” Aziraphale said. “Clearly you’ve got Sloth down pat. But I would have thought it wasn’t enough just for you to sin…”

Crowley shook his head. “Never mind. You wouldn’t understand. What do you want?”

“I just didn’t want you to miss Saturnalia, that’s all,” Aziraphale said, fully aware of how idiotic it sounded.

“Were you hoping to see me serving feasts for slaves and pulling babies out of rubbish pits and whatnot?”

“Of course not, merely that,” Aziraphale spread his hands, “it’s hardly fun without, you know, a counterweight. And it has got fairly licentious, and I thought you’d like that.”

Crowley snickered. “Did you want me to trade places with you? Is that it? Do you want an excuse to be out there sabotaging sewers and seducing Senators’ sons and satirizing sapientes and…”

“I want you to stop the alliteration, regardless.”

“Sssssorry,” the demon snapped. “Truth is, angel, I don’t need it. I need the rest. And right now, I have the chance and I’m going to enjoy it: the commendations keep flowing in anyway, because it’s just that kind of time. Hail Gaius Caesar, son of Germanicus.[1] There’s just no competing with him, so I intend to enjoy my redundancy.”

“You mean it’s because of the Emperor that you’re so thoroughly skiving off?”

“Yes, may he live forever. Though I’ve been saying ‘I give him six weeks’ for two years now. I’m flattered—-all this time you’ve been most diligently, tirelessly thwarting I’m sure, and thinking it was me…I’m touched.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale said quickly. “I’ve been burning the midnight oil, I assure you. Thwart thwart thwart all the time, old boy. And then of course the odd inspiration here and there but one doesn’t want to overdo that.”

“Hmm,” Crowley said. “I suppose I should be paying more attention then. But from what I have seen, there’s very little evidence of your handiwork about these days.”

“I think you’re spending too much time among the decadent elite,” Aziraphale said airily, thinking of the kind of gentlemen who frequented his little business in imported scrolls, asking very little of him.

“Hence my exhaustion. You’re getting quicker on the uptake as the centuries go by, you know.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to drain your limited reserves of energy.”

Crowley hissed. “Please. I was at Capri, you know. Briefly. You’d sleep too.”

“I doubt I could ever again after witnessing that.”

“Probably not. Tiberius didn’t age well. I doubt that’ll be a problem for his heir, though.” Crowley smoothed down his hair with a touch and started to remove the sheet to sit up. Aziraphale glanced away quickly, unsure why--surely nothing was there he hadn’t seen plenty of at the baths. Which, technically, he did not need to use, but it was good to set a proper example of cleanliness and health, and...well, that was an infertile path of rationalisation, so he abandoned it. “But alas,” Crowley sighed. “You give me insomnia. So up for Saturnalia I shall be. You’ll regret this.”

Aziraphale walked away pleased with himself. And, though he did not quite acknowledge it, relieved that his official bete noire had really had very little to do with all the beheadings and disembowellings and drownings and poisonings and crucifixions and burnings and mutilations and…it made him feel a little green to think about, so for the most part, he didn’t.


***

Aziraphale had never quite got the hang of this role-switching thing at Saturnalia. Giving gifts generously to the less fortunate and being polite to slaves and treating the grand pronouncements of children with fond deference came to him all too naturally.

This had not gone unobserved in his little neighbourhood of merchants. It was a common opinion all along his block, in fact, that the overweeningly nondescript—-if endearingly swishy—-bookseller Felius needed nothing so much as to be brought out of his shell and put as emphatically on the spot as possible. Which is why every other single soul on his street at the block club meeting held themselves strictly taciturn on Saturnalia plans: it was all worthwhile to see the look on the unassuming and ever-unchanging middle-aged gentleman’s face when he realised he was about to be crowned the local Lord of Misrule.

But because the good people of the mercantile district were kindly disposed to him after all, the ridiculous crown and the laurels and the over-the-top and cockeyed purple mantle and the whole mess of costume jewelry and miscellaneous motley he was expected to wear came presented with a very large jug of wine.

For his part, Aziraphale would’ve much preferred to slink quietly along giving everybody candles as usual (and nervously watching his own little shop fill with them). Lucius the candle merchant had once confessed that Saturnalia didn’t make him nearly as rich as one might think, considering the rampant regifting that went on in these decadent times when the people had no pride, and he personally had witnessed candles with his great-grandfather’s mark that were made in the days before Julius Caesar still in annual circulation among the more déclassé of the sprawling interrelated households, and he really ought to have gone into the wine business after all, for one would have to be truly shameless to regift used wine, though he wouldn’t put anything past the lower classes these days…

Aziraphale earnestly hoped his public service in lending a sympathetic ear to such monologues was being noted to his credit upstairs.

***

Meanwhile, in the spacious digs of the rich and infamous, one Crolius, aka Corvinus, aka Cornutus and numerous other less publishable things, was trying his hands at a bit of the turnabout game himself and not doing terribly well at it. For example, he was finding it a good deal more difficult to actually prevent drunken Senators from falling into the vomit trenches than to help them trip into them. And discouraging his young comrades from wagering on which patrician wife the Emperor would insist on fucking and then publicly critiquing the performance was downright hopeless--he decided finally that if such things were going to happen anyway, which they were, someone might as well make a profit. There had sprung up specialists in wife-guessing just like there were men who were suspiciously good at calling the chariot races.

He had been congratulating himself on finding just the right perfectly insulting gift for the angel when he ran into an acquaintance nearly as accomplished in the realms of vice as himself (impressive considering his much shorter lifespan) and they greeted each other in the traditional way.

“Ave old friend, haven’t seen you in so long, as one of your arse cheeks said to the other,” said Metellus.

“Your breath reeks of dormouse and jism and inferior vintages,” said Crowley.

They embraced warmly and proceeded to regale each other with whispers of all sorts of more entertaining turnabouts going on citywide. The Emperor was setting quite a tone.

***

For his part, Aziraphale realized that he was going to have to pace himself--how had this festival got so bloody long?[2]

There was only so much blessing of children wearing crowns and animals wearing togas and men dressed as women and women dressed as richer women and torchlight processions of all kinds of folk who weren’t dressed at all, that even an angel could stand. He had been thoroughly reassured that these were civilised times, and unlike in the old days, he would not be sacrificed, nor would he be expected to ritually couple with a priestess of the harvest goddess (for there was no-one in Rome who would expect him to do anything of the sort with a woman, ritually or otherwise). He would, however, be expected to stay comically regal, no matter how much wine they plied him with.

Unfortunately, the Emperor set the tone for everything. After Aziraphale had caught himself subjecting some poor slob who’d accidentally crowned him with a chamber pot to a mock execution that involved something really rude with a woman wearing a lion skin (which neither participant really seemed all that put out by), he was close to being ready to abdicate. He was starting to almost rue the passing of the sacrifice tradition--after all, it wasn’t as if natural old age was the most common cause of death for rulers around here, and it would certainly get him out of the bone-deep embarrassment.

It was all rather showy. Not at all his sort of thing. And he was starting to suspect that good old Saturn was being rather out-appreciated at his own festival by Bacchus.

He knew it was true on the third night when he was dragged around the city on a sickening binge of having gifts thrown at him and throwing them back—and really, the tossing of cheap jewelry at the virtuous maidens of Rome who bared their breasts on request was hardly an improvement in decorum.

Aziraphale wanted desperately to go on a massive thwarting bender, but it would hardly be suited to the spirit of the holiday. That should have been someone else’s job. Predictably missing in action when needed most, that demon. Aziraphale was half-tempted (so to speak) to give him some small relic of Jesus for a present. (Perhaps a nail.) He settled for an insultingly nondescript candle.

Every public tavern and semipublic gambling den and allegedly private brothel was showing its colours, and perverse generosity was the order of the day. By the time the procession started snaking its way up the hill where the presents were bound to be the best, Aziraphale noted with some concern that his litter-carriers seemed to be very much drunker than he was. He hoped he wouldn’t be reduced to miracling to avoid a painful landing on the filthy cobblestones. That would be hard to explain if he had to.

So it was horror tempered with relief that he felt when they stopped outside a particularly notorious (and rather upscale) brothel and started dragging him in, complete with drumbeats and dancing girls (most of whom were not, in fact, technically female) and tambourines and assorted cavorting.

They’d caught the bawdy house in mid-observance, though most of the “gifts” being exchanged did not look much different from regular business. But as Aziraphale tried his blessedest to find something to look at that wasn’t flesh-toned and moving in a bestial manner, he did note a change.

“This is great!” someone whispered to him. “They’ve traded places. Clients and procurers and brokers and the lot. The staff is calling the shots and they and their guests take their pick.”

“Oh dear,” said Aziraphale, who thought suddenly that if he worked in such a place his idea of a nice turnaround would be a cup of a hot infusion and a good scroll somewhere quiet. Maybe a bath with no one else in it, not that such a thing existed in Rome.

“Make way for the king!” the drunken tailor shouted as he guided them around corners to make sure said king could see everything going on from all possible angles, including some that were quite unflattering to the participants. Apparently private rooms were another mundane convention unsuited to being truly festive. Snickering, a hand on his back pushed him towards a particular couch, and Aziraphale suddenly felt the fell swoop of a pounding headache when he saw what reclined there.

“My dear Felius,” smiled Crolius, the consultant to the pimpocracy.

Aziraphale choked back a peal of horrified and fascinated laughter. For all that it shouldn’t be a shock to see Crowley horizontal these days, he had never seen him quite so…

Quite so.

He couldn’t be said to be naked exactly, for he was wearing bronze wristlets and a matching collar. There were, in fact, bronze chains to go with it, loosely draping from his wrists. He also wore a languid and smug expression, as well as what appeared to be some kind of oil about his skin, and as Aziraphale peered close in morbid fascination, he could see the skin bore a fair amount of marks: little bites and scratches and bruises. Completing the unsubtle picture of debauchery was some sort of loincloth whose crimson colour was much lewder than nudity, for it drew the eye irresistibly. It left few questions unanswered, especially the one about whether or not he was truly enjoying this kind of treatment.

For his part, Crowley was seized by a gentle riot of amusement as he looked up at his frumpy celestial acquaintance all red-faced and shocked and bedecked in fake jewels and garlands of greenery tangled around his neck and dripping from his disheveled hair. He’d never seen such a ridiculous-looking reveler, and yet he had to concede that for once, the angel was appropriately dressed for an occasion. It couldn’t be said to suit him, and yet there was a certain something about it, and that was enough to germinate a most devious way of embarrassing Aziraphale.

“Io Saturnalia,” he drawled.

Aziraphale realised he was gaping. He accepted that. He was not willing to accept that he’d been on the verge of drooling. Purely out of forgetting to close his mouth, of course.

“What on the green good earth are you…??”

“Taking my proper place, I suppose. Something about masters and slaves and all that, right? Except I don’t have any slaves anymore. I can’t keep them, they’re too bloody annoying. So tonight I am more of a…public utility.”

“Er, pardon my question but…roughly how many?”

The demon guessed at a number that made the angel blink.[3]

“Aren’t you, er, tired?”

If I were human, I might be dead, Crowley thought at him. “Not particularly,” he said, looking the angel up and down. “Paltry, really, compared to Metellus over there--he’s serviced half the consulate. Including, I’m told--“ he said in a very loud stage whisper--“Consul Incitatus.” He made a little whinnying noise. Metellus would have shot back an insulting rejoinder were his mouth not occupied. “So. Still thwarting?”

“You’re cheating,” Aziraphale complained. “You’re tempting.”

“I’m so glad you think so,” the demon purred, stretching.

Aziraphale sighed.

“You do realise,” Crowley said, “that royalty has its privileges.”

“You can’t possibly mean…?”

“I most certainly can.”

And Aziraphale realised then that a few people were watching him rather expectantly.

Now might be the time for a small miracle. A vanishing act, at the very least.

But the demon was looking at him with such arrogance, such smugness, such utter confidence that Aziraphale would have no choice but to back down in a humiliating manner…

“Why you, I wonder…” Aziraphale mused. “And not some other patrician pillar of society chained to a bed and free to all takers? A woman, even?”

“There is nobody who has ever met you in the history of the world who has ever thought you’d be interested in women,” Crowley sighed. He was sure he’d explained this before.

“Just as well, I suppose,” the angel muttered. “That got some of my people in a lot of trouble once.”

“You know this, er, gentleman?” chuckled one of the boys who’d been occasionally handing Crowley a glass of wine, or sometimes an oyster.

“But of course--the bookseller. You should see what’s in his back room, my pretty.”

Aziraphale harrumphed in dissent, but the boy was looking at him with new interest.

He decided to not deign to refute this and simply asked Crowley, “Well, how shall I do this then?”

“Your Lordship’s choice,” the demon grinned, enjoying very much the way Aziraphale was uncomfortably postponing the inevitable and making his own torment worse by the moment. “I’ve been had all sorts of ways. By men and women. But if I may suggest,” and there was that stage whisper again, “since everyone who knows you thinks you’re, er, --I will try to be tactful: effeminate...I think it’d be amusing if you proved them wrong by fucking me—if you can.”

Aziraphale had thought he couldn’t get anymore lightheaded with disbelief. He was wrong. “Of course I can,” he blurted, realising uncomfortably as he said it that it was true. “But…” In this situation, he decided, praying for strength would be highly inappropriate. “You, my dear, in muliebra pati?”

“Please, I’ve been doing that all day. Besides, I fail to see how my reputation could get any worse,” Crowley said proudly, watching Aziraphale’s deer-in-the-torchlights expression with obvious delight.

“Excuse me, m’lord,” muttered an overpainted matron sarcastically, tapping Aziraphale on the shoulder. “Were you planning to use that? Because if not…”

Aziraphale stood up straight. With a flash of his eyes, the room froze in a tableau like a living pornographic mosaic, and there was only he and Crowley free of the stop of time, staring at each other.

“Oyster?” said Crowley, taking one from the plate in the boy’s statue-still hand.

“No thank you.”

“Not Leviticus, I hope?”

“Don’t be absurd. I just think they’re slimy.”

“More for me, then,” the demon shrugged, slurping it off the shell.

“Quite,” Aziraphale said, his smile not entirely pleasant.

“Clever trick,” said Crowley. “You could bolt for it now, you know.”

“I could,” said Aziraphale calmly. “But I don’t think I will.”

Crowley blinked to see Aziraphale all but stalking upon him.

“I think, dear boy,” the angel said, “On this festival evening when we confound expectations, that I will take you up on your very kind offer.” And he was very satisfied to see Crowley’s eyes go wide, and to see him snatch the wine cup from the frozen boy’s other hand and drain it in one gulp.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned over the boggled-looking demon. “Unless, of course, you were only bluffing, and you don’t really want it. Of course I would never…”

“Um…Well, yes,” Crowley said quietly. “I was bluffing. But…er…actually,” he said, drinking in that slightly malicious stare. “I do also really want it.”

“Whore,” Aziraphale purred almost gently and leaned in.

When time was released, any of those still paying attention to this little sexual drama that was far more complex than it seemed would have thought only that the bookseller had moved supernaturally fast to take advantage of his opportunity. They’d have seen them suddenly locked in a ravenous kiss, one pudgy hand sliding over a smooth chest, and heard gasps and little groans that sounded oddly surprised. And they’d have shrugged and smiled and looked for something to engage themselves, as it was hardly anything they hadn’t seen before, or so they thought.

But Aziraphale was truly amazed at the sight of Crowley’s eyes dilating, his scent of sex and wine and perfume rising, his unnecessary breath coming faster as Aziraphale examined and touched and tasted all the little marks he’d earned, tweaking one rather red and abused nipple, sliding his tongue over bruised lips. “Oh…” he whispered into Crowley’s mouth. “You’re so…”

“Hot?” the demon whispered back hopefully.

“Slutty,” Aziraphale said. “Eager.”

“You have no idea,” Crowley growled. But as Aziraphale slipped his hand slowly down Crowley’s belly, across one hip and down under that mocking red cloth, he did have some idea.

“Didn’t think you even liked me,” Aziraphale said, stroking him teasingly before dipping down low and running his fingertips over the softest skin yet, caressing the round objects beneath, flicking up to lightly scratch the insides of Crowley’s thighs as the demon made soft exclaiming sounds.

“My prick likes you, for some reason,” Crowley whispered. “No accounting for taste.”

“Maybe I’ll find out how it tastes,” Aziraphale threatened.

“No, you don’t want to know where it’s been.” Crowley’s counterattack had begun--yes, those chains were long enough to let him touch--as his hand snaked under Aziraphale’s tunic and grasped experimentally, then assuredly, his eyes widening in mocking admiration. “Mmm…so I see Heaven has its pride as well…not bad.”

“A compliment…from an expert,” Aziraphale panted, his eyes involuntarily closing for a second. Bloody…Dacia…that Crowley was…

“That’s going to feel so good,” Crowley admitted breathily.

“I think it already does,” Aziraphale groaned, recovering his composure enough to reach for that bottle of oil, to facilitate his own explorations, slipping one slick finger through the tight ring of Crowley’s very token resistance. The demon threw his head back and hissed in fierce delight, exposing a throat the angel couldn’t resist nipping.

“You tease,” Crowley moaned, gripping his hair. “I want you now.”

Comical toga draped to preserve what little modesty they had left--he was an angel, after all--Aziraphale leaned over Crowley, looking deeply and fearlessly into his eyes as he hooked his arm under one slim leg, lifting and parting and grasping. My, but the demon was flexible. He made a sound he knew his throat wasn’t designed for as Crowley took his cock in one slick hand and guided him inside with a little snarl and a hungry snap of his hips, legs cinching around him. He was tight and hot and sentient and gripping in there, moving like a sea serpent swimming, exhorting Aziraphale onward, harder.

Head swimming, half aswoon, Aziraphale braced his hands against the bed and drew himself nearly all the way out and then in again. Crowley moaned as Aziraphale repeated this move again and again, a little harder each time. The riot of sensations, the overwhelming of every sense as he fought to keep his eyes open and fixed on Crowley suddenly made Aziraphale understand why humans went crazy and killed and died over this.

“Caesar’s nuts, you’re good. Don’t know how, but you are!” Crowley whispered, “And big. And hard. More, please--aargh!”

“You’re loud,” Aziraphale grunted.

“Use me,” Crowley breathed. “Pillage me. I’m your America, your newfound land…” his hand drifting to stroke his own aching cock in time with Aziraphale’s movements, and the angel suddenly drew up, seizing the demon’s wrists and pinning them flat to the bed.

“No anachronisms in bed, boy,” he snarled. “Very naughty. And you’ll come when I want you to.”

Crowley whimpered. Aziraphale slipped a hand beneath his arse and gave it a little slap. Then he took pity on the poor demon’s arousal and took it in his hand, sliding up and down as he resumed shagging Crowley senseless, and finally the demon’s back snapped upward violently as he came, clenching everything he had around every part of Aziraphale that was in his snare. Aziraphale was right there with him, driving the last of it out of him and pulling Crowley up almost into his lap as his own body erupted in shuddering spasms.

There was a long, a very long and rather shocked pause, as they panted and sweated all over each other limply.

“Holy fuck,” Crowley whispered.

“Technically, yes,” Aziraphale replied. “I hope it didn’t, er, harm you.”

“Don’t think so,” Crowley murmured. “But if it had, what a way to go.”

“I think,” Aziraphale said, stretching out for a moment to catch his breath, kissing Crowley’s shoulder a little tenderly and a little guiltily, “I had probably best go home.”

“Not a bad idea,” Crowley panted, running a hand through Aziraphale’s hair and knocking loose some stray foliage. “I think,” his hands were shaking, “I ought to call it a night.”

“For the best, I’m sure,” said Aziraphale, still very dazed, and more than willing to will himself unseen as he staggered home. But he smiled as he straightened his tunic, and untangled the laurel wreath from his hair and placed it on Crowley’s head. “For your great achievements on the field of athletic competition.”

Crowley laughed, and looked suddenly very happy indeed. He was asleep by the time Aziraphale got to the door.

***

The next day of festivity was a good deal quieter and calmer--apparently the market district’s Lord of Misrule was not the only person who had gone to extremes the previous evening. Aziraphale had felt things akin to a hangover before. But this was his first time experiencing its frequent companion, the exquisitely agonising sensation that combines the headache and stomach upset (banishable, for an ethereal being) with a creeping, eldritch, psyche-deep horror whose nature is a disbelieving shriek of I did WHAT last night??! (Not banishable for anyone, especially an ethereal being who knows he cannot truly blame it on wine).

Blundering through a day of alms-giving and child-patting and sweet-cooking and horse-blessing with that on one’s plate, that’s a state of existence best got over with. But as evening deepened and the torches came on again, Aziraphale sensed the source of that particularly nasty feeling standing right in his doorway.

The impeccably-groomed, toga-clad demon seemed to bear little resemblance to the shameless catamite he’d been, but Aziraphale could see faint marks around his wrists, and when he sat up insouciantly on the counter, he flashed the angel a glimpse of scratched and bitten thigh. And Aziraphale remembered the intensely good feelings that had resulted in the intensely horrific ones, and thought to himself, here is one of the Creator’s more perverse and complicated little Mysteries, which is saying something. “Hello, Aziraphale,” Crowley smirked. “It occurred to me I forgot to give you your gift.”

“Really?” Aziraphale smiled. “I rather thought you had.”

“Oh no,” Crowley admitted disarmingly. “I think that was your gift to me.”

“Flattery will get you…”

“Back into bed I hope, sometime,” Crowley said, producing a wrapped package and holding it out.

Aziraphale unwrapped it a little nervously. “Smells like a candle.”

“It’s bloody Saturnalia, what do you expect, a wedding ring?”

The angel groaned when he saw it. It was a candle indeed: wax molded artistically in a very distinctive and very lifelike shape, complete with folds and veins and slight curving angle, and to add insult to insult, it had a pair of graceful feathered wings curving out of the sculptured balls, its wick emerging from the tip like a too-eager preliminary drop. Well, this was one candle he wouldn’t be donating to the Temple.

Crowley shrugged. “Well, before last night, I thought it would embarrass you.”

“It does so even more now. Happy?”

“Yes!”

Aziraphale looked down sadly. “I’m so sorry, mine for you is…well, there isn’t one, really, I was angry at you and…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Crowley said honestly, across the shop in a stride and lifting Aziraphale’s chin in his hand. “I’ll take an I.O.U.”

“Well, if you want, I suppose…”

“Not now,” Crowley sighed. “I have to go inspire some sedition.”

“Considering who’s in charge, isn’t sedition more my department these days?”

“That’s a good question. I have no idea. But I’m used to it. Please don’t be too upset when Bugfuck Caesar has me executed in some inventive way. You know I’ll be back.”

Aziraphale sighed. “You always are.”

“If you ever wanted to get rid of me,” Crowley said, “last night was the wrong thing to do.”

Aziraphale gave the most world-weary expression he had ever practiced before a mirror. “On some level, I must have known that at the time. I’ve got quite used to you.”

“And I to you. I wouldn’t have done that with just anybody…all right, that’s a complete lie, I would have. But not nearly so enthusiastically.”

“Vale, then, with good wishes,” Aziraphale said slyly, and patted Crowley’s arse just because at last he could.

Their lust-fuelled truce outlived the Emperor. Barely.

***

But when my limbs were worn out with fatigue
And I lay half dead on my couch
I made this poem for you, my sweet friend,
That from it you may learn my suffering.
Now be not too proud, and do not, I pray you,
Apple of my eye, do not reject my prayers
Lest Nemesis demand penalties from you in return. --Catullus

~fin~


[1] Better known to history by his nickname, as so many great comedians have been.
[2] Originally seven days, cut to three by Augustus, restored to five by Caligula, so of course in actual practice more like twelve.
[3] It was a mildly impressive figure, but of course he was exaggerating, and anyway the Empress Messalina would easily beat his record just a few years later.