Title: Spin it Sideways.
Summary: In which there are bombs, humans, sleep, wine, wings, a bowler hat, and absolutely no footnotes.
Author's Notes: I apologise profusely to anyone who recognises the title reference. Thanks to A&C for the betas (neither that A nor that C, dear reader.) Thanks also to musegaarid for her patience as I hauled in this whale – we who are about to die salute you, or something.
“I didn’t-” Crowley’s voice on the other end of the telephone line was harsh with the static of his breathing. “It wasn’t me, angel. I swear.”
“Good gracious, Crowley. What are you talking about?” asked Aziraphale.
“Haven’t you seen?” Crowley’s laugh was tinged with hysteria. “Of course you haven’t, it’s on the TV. Turn on the radio, Aziraphale, or whatever it is you use. It’s happening again. Maybe we should have let the Apocalypse-” Another laugh, or a sob; the line crackled and went dead.
Something had happened, and Aziraphale was beginning to gather that this something wasn’t exactly pancakes and sugar-daisies. Previously, Aziraphale had been caught up in the soothing feeling of rediscovery, buried at the back of his shop in the smell of wine bottles and ancient texts. But now he could feel the misery and fear resonating through London.
Aziraphale didn’t need a radio. The bell on his shop door gave a too-cheery jingle as he shut it, and he took a moment to consider. It was far too far to walk, too immediate for public transport, and Crowley didn’t sound in any fit state to drive…
Wings blossomed out behind Aziraphale, invisible to the human eye, and he flew.
Sergeant Geoffrey Wilkes looked at the remains of the bus.
It was all very tragic, yes, but he’d seen far worse incidents. Maybe his wife Sarah was right; death and danger was now run-of-the-mill to him. His first thought when he had heard about the incident was that it would be nice to get out of the office for a bit. Of course, now he was more upset: he really didn’t need the kind of publicity a terrorist attack would thrust upon he and the boys. His lips thinned. It was hard to avoid publicity when there were some twenty reporters crowding in on him.
“Elaine Barrows, BBC News,” said one, thrusting a microphone under his nose. “Do the police have a statement regarding the number of losses this tragedy has caused?”
“Police estimate fifty people dead, and over three hundred wounded,” Wilkes rumbled. Another four microphones joined the first.
“Paula Taylor, International Weekly. Do you deny that these figures are lower than the ones given in the previous few hours?”
The sergeant shifted his bulky frame uncomfortably. That was just it, wasn’t it? Originally police had estimated three hundred dead, possibly more – it had been peak hour and the busses had been crowded. Yet it seemed numerous passengers had managed miraculous escapes, and even more had managed swift recoveries even as the ambulance team had arrived. He would have said it was uncanny, if he had been the kind of man to use words like that.
“Certainly police overestimated the original damage of the bombings,” he told the reporter. “However it seems that Londoners are tougher than we first thought.” He offered her a sardonic smile. “We can only hope numbers continue to fall.”
He took the momentary lull in questions as permission to stride away. His officers slid smoothly in front of the media, allowing him to move over and examine the bus again. It was merely an empty wreck now, anything remotely human having been removed.
Wilkes examined himself for some signs of nausea or grief, but all he could find was a hard layer of scorn for the scum who would bomb innocent people. Terrorists – nutters, the lot of them. Before joining the force he had been a religious man, but twenty-six years of dark and disfigured scenes had left him disillusioned with God.
A flash of movement caught his eye. Had the crews overlooked a survivor? Wilkes strode forward until he could see through the shattered windows. There was a civilian inside. Probably some nuisance of a relative, come to weep over the damage. Or maybe more of the press – Wilkes never ceased to be amazed at the lengths those people would go to for a story.
“Excuse me,” said Wilkes briskly, pulling himself up through the twisted doorframe, “You shouldn’t…”
He trailed off as the man turned to him. His suit was dirty and ragged, the left side copiously stained with what looked like blood. His blue eyes were endless and tear-filled and – Wilkes wondered how he hadn’t noticed until now – he had wings.
“There’s so much to do,” said Aziraphale. “And I’m so tired.”
“What-” began Wilkes, but the angel raised a hand as if to wave his questions away, and disappeared.
Wilkes found himself standing in the wreckage of what had been the 405 to Kensington, wondering why he was crying.
Crowley had tried to call the angel again, but the lines were flooded. When he’d finally made it through, the phone just rang and rang, endless without ansaphone or angel to take the call. He had considered taking the Bentley around to the bookshop, but from what he saw on television the traffic was even worse than usual.
He was far calmer than he had been when he’d called Aziraphale. It was some time before the realisation that this wasn’t going to be a third World War had hit him, and he had settled in to watch the assorted news broadcasts and admire how tough humans could be. Barely five hours onwards and they were drinking in the pubs, making grim jokes and sneering at the Americans.
Of course, he knew Aziraphale wasn’t at home. The swiftly falling death count told him that much. Children recovering miraculously from shrapnel wounds had been Aziraphale’s speciality in years gone past, and Aziraphale had always said it was like riding a bicycle (something Crowley had never bothered with, which was maybe the point of the analogy.)
He flicked past the news channels and found a rerun of The Goon Show, which he watched half-heartedly. He’d never found them as funny as the Python lads. The credits ran without him even knowing what the episode had been about.
“Coming up next, a documentary on the lifecycle of the snake, as presented by- HELLO, CROWLEY.”
Crowley practically fell off the sofa. “Er, hi,” he said, his stomach sinking.
“WE ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS ABOUT, CROWLEY.”
“Uh, the bombings?”
“NO, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE IKEAN EMPIRE.” Hell had taken to sarcasm like a duck to table tennis. “WELL DONE, CROWLEY. YOU HAVE EARNED A COMMENDATION.”
“Great! Hey, that’s great! Thanks a bunch. It wasn’t easy, you know. Lotsa, uh, tempting involved. Hard work.” He mimed wiping sweat off his brow, realised Hell couldn’t see him, and stopped. “Anyway, if that’s all, I’ve got a couple of virgin sacrifices in the next room, can’t stick around…”
“THAT IS NOT ALL, CROWLEY. YOU HAVE BEEN DOING WELL OF LATE. OUR LORD AND MASTER WISHES TO… REWARD YOU.”
“WE HAVE A SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT FOR YOU, CROWLEY. IN IRELAND. YOU WILL LIKE IT.” Crowley very much doubted that. “YOU WILL BE VISITING A COVENANT OF SATANISTS TO CHECK ON THEIR PROGRESS IN OUR PLANS. THINK OF IT AS A HOLIDAY.”
“A… holiday. Great.” A holiday in a dirty little backwater with no decent restaurants and Dagon likely looking over his shoulder. Hell’s assignments tended to be as rewarding as jabbing red-hot nails through one’s wrists. With anyone else, he would have said they meant well, but in this case he knew they didn’t. “I’ve been needing to get away. Pressure of the job, and all. Though I’m not sure everything here will run smoothly without me. I’ve got some stuff in the works, you know. Schemes and so on.”
“SOMEONE WILL BE SENT TO TAKE CARE OF THINGS. HELL ALWAYS TAKES CARE OF THINGS, CROWLEY.”
“Ngk. Right. Of course. I’ll, um – I’ll talk to you later then, right?”
Crowley slumped back on the sofa. He had thought things couldn’t get any worse, which he should have known meant they would. A commendation and a holiday, while Aziraphale was out amongst the dying and the dead… Crowley pulled off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. He could feel a headache playing its opening bars at the base of his skull. It was no use worrying about the angel. Aziraphale didn’t need his help.
There was a knock on the door, and Crowley pulled himself up from the couch. The universe, it seemed, had decided today it was going to be cleverly ironic. He wasn’t all surprised when he opened the door and found Aziraphale slumped against the doorframe.
“How’d you know I lived here?” he asked stupidly. Aziraphale seemed to take this as permission to come in.
“You’ve always lived here,” he said reasonably.
“Yeah. Well, not always. But you never came- hey, don’t get blood on the furniture.”
“Terribly sorry,” said Aziraphale, and the dried blood vanished from his coat with a wave. “Do you have any tea?”
“Yeah, I’ll get you some, shall I?” He ducked into the kitchen and tried to look busy. Aziraphale shouldn’t be here. If Hell decided to call again, or worse, sent someone to drop in, then he would be in deeper trouble than a surgeon with leprosy.
The drink he gave to Aziraphale was close enough to tea to be passable. He looked closer and saw that Aziraphale’s eyes were red, noted the way his hands clutched the teacup with their effort to not shake. “Are you okay?”
“Why did it happen, Crowley?”
Something Crowley hadn’t realised was tense relaxed. Aziraphale wasn’t accusing him. “I guess... politics. You know humans can be bloody-minded buggers when they want. The G8 conferences were today, Bush’ll have no problem selling everyone his war on terror after this.” Crowley smirked. “Hell, maybe Bush did it.”
“Don’t spout conspiracy theories,” said Aziraphale, but his lips did twitch.
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Why not? I know more about paranoia than any human.” He sipped his tea and smiled as it burned his tongue. “Look, you should get some sleep, you look completely buggered.”
“I don’t sleep,” Aziraphale reminded him.
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“Sloth is a deadly sin, Crowley.”
“Yeah, but exhaustion isn’t. Don’t talk to me about sin, angel. You’re not the one who has to go play fire and brimstone with the Satanists later this month.”
“I beg your pardon? Where?” Aziraphale seemed to recover some of his composure.
“Ireland. Down There seems to think that since I did such a good job Up Here-” Crowley rolled his eyes, in case Aziraphale managed to get the wrong idea “-I deserve a holiday. Next they’ll be giving me a Christmas bonus.”
“Oh dear,” said Aziraphale. “I suppose I’ll have to close the bookshop for some time – and I’d just managed to reconcile myself to having a few customers.” His eyes took on that far away look they seemed to get when he thought of accounts. “The flight will be expensive, but I think I can manage.”
“What? Aziraphale, you’re not coming with me. This is a mission from Hell!”
“Of course I am, my dear,” said Aziraphale. “I see a wile, I thwart, remember? If you didn’t want me to come, you should never have told me.”
“I’ll remember that in future,” muttered Crowley, though he knew the angel was right. The Arrangement dictated Aziraphale come with him, so as to have a fair chance at stopping whatever Crowley was put up to. “Anyway, if it’s angelic righteousness, you can send the bill to Heaven. I know I plan to wring every last drop out of Finances, the bastards.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” said Aziraphale.
They fell silent. Crowley noticed Aziraphale’s cup had refilled itself. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, steeling himself for recounts of blood-filled lungs and dying babies.
“No,” said Aziraphale. “I will be fine. Stop worrying, Crowley.”
“Wouldn’t want to be stealing your job,” said Crowley, a touch ashamed.
“No,” said Aziraphale again. And then, resigned: “I should be going. Thankyou for the tea. And… allowing me time to recuperate.”
Crowley looked away. “Yeah, yeah, polish my halo while you’re at it,” he said uncomfortably. “I’ll call you when I find out an exact date.”
“Until then,” said Aziraphale. It sounded solemn, but Crowley could hear the laughter in his voice. Smug bastard loved it when Crowley showed any sort of virtue. He just grimaced, and didn’t look up until he heard the door close.
As morning-afters went, it was quite stunning. Aziraphale had always felt that the day after a momentous event was more real, somehow. Starkly quiet, a time for reflection and rejuvenation and hope.
The sun rose with the kind of pink you never see in paintings, and Aziraphale stood on the doorstep of his bookshop and felt, all over London, people wake up and remember. His hands shook when he made tea, and for once he chose not to settle down with a newspaper. Instead he sat down and remembered, a quiet acknowledgement not just of those who had died yesterday, but all the pointless death he had known right back to Abel in the cornfields.
Then Aziraphale stood and stretched, making dust motes dance gold in the sunlight. Acknowledgement was all well and good, but one shouldn’t dwell. It was bad for the soul.
It had been a busy day. Kate’s brother had rung from Cairo in the early hours of the morning, drunk and weeping over remembered nightmares. She had reminded him that she had moved to Ireland when she had married, and so she was absolutely positive she hadn’t been hit by a London minicab.
Then there had been the incident with Mr O’Flanighan, an irritable yet well-off old man who was that hotel rarity, a regular. He had lived on the third floor since his wife died, and today he was complaining that the maid had been stealing money from him. Suzette, the maid, had called him a disgusting old pervert and handed in her notice.
There had also been a storm of new admissions, and the only person who had bothered to book hadn’t shown up yet. Kate gave them a mental deadline of five o’clock – if they hadn’t turned up by then she’d give the room to someone else - perhaps the lady with the harelip who had been hanging around outside all day.
Her Creative Writing professor had taught his class a game, once, back when she’d been studying Arts in England and not sitting in a dead-end receptionist job. It was to look at people and imagine something about their lives: their profession, their family, their history. It was supposed to help with character development, but it was a good strategy for defeating boredom as well, and Kate made thorough use of it during the duller aspects of her job.
Take the two men who had just entered the lobby. The first gave off the impression of a schoolteacher, or maybe a librarian. He was old-fashioned, holding the door for the other, who was definitely some kind of businessmen. Advertising, at a guess. Kate smirked. Likely he’d just lost all his stock and had to make do with a run-down dump like this one. Probably they were visiting the first man’s Auntie, or grandmother or something. She was ill. It was going to be very hard for Kate to turn them down – maybe she’d give them the room instead.
“Booking in the name of Crowley?” said the businessman boredly. Kate tapped at the computer, but she didn’t have to.
“You’re in room 3B; here’s the key. I’m really sorry, it’s only one bed, I had no idea…”
“It’s fine,” said Crowley. “We only need one.”
Kate blushed, and the other man coughed. “I’m, er, staying at my grandmother’s, you see.”
Well. She’d never been right before.
“All in order, then. I’ll have someone bring up your suitcases immediately.” She smiled her cheerful hospitality smile, and wondered if perhaps she shouldn’t have stayed in England. She had a promising career as a writer ahead of her, and it certainly wasn’t going to flourish if she ended up bogged down with children in this absolute wreck of a town. And speaking of children, hadn’t she ought to make an appointment to the doctors? Her monthlies were a week or so overdue, and while she’d put it down to stress, there were other possibilities…
“Have a nice day,” she said weakly to their backs.
“Honestly,” she could have sworn she heard one mutter. “Do I look like a librarian to you?”
“You only booked a single bed?” Aziraphale asked.
“I didn’t think it would matter. If I’d booked two beds certain people might get suspicious. Dagon is probably going through every bill with a fine-toothed comb. I’ve been sent here because I’m doing well, so odds are they’re looking for some reason to drag me down, and I’m not going to hand them one on a silver platter.”
Aziraphale peered into the dingy little bedroom. “You could’ve booked two rooms.”
“You said it yourself; you don’t sleep. This saves expenses all around. You can bollocks around with books in there while I get a good night’s rest, no harm done.” Crowley shrugged.
“Except to my reputation.”
“Something of mine you’ve never failed to drag through the mud. Besides, rooming with a demon – ‘s not really that different to going out to dinner with a demon, or stopping the Apocalypse with a demon, now is it?”
Aziraphale felt himself defrosting. “Very well,” he said wearily. “Have your bed. I do hope we won’t be staying too long.”
“Me too,” said Crowley, opening the minibar. “I’ve been told a week, but you never know with my people. Drink?”
Aziraphale eyed the tackily tiny bottle. “Those are very expensive.”
“The more of hell’s money we drink away, the less there is for them to use for evil…”
“I’m not entirely certain that’s true,” said Aziraphale, whose finances remained steady no matter how much expensive wine he drank.
“Let’s test it,” said Crowley, and conjured up a couple of glasses. Azirapale looked at the content of the minibar and added a few bottles of wine to the table.
It was – Aziraphale steadied himself against the table – it was a very good wine. Lots of flavour. Like tulips. Aziraphale had never eaten tulips, he was told they caused indigestion, but their vivid colours reminded him of the taste of wine.
Now they were having tea. It was properly British, was tea, though Aziraphale had seen Crowley slip something into his. A few drinks ago he might have thought twice about meddling with hot water, but he and Crowley had discussed it.
“We’re in Ireland, right?” Crowley had said. “So how d’you know we won’t turn Irelandish?”
“Irish,” corrected Aziraphale.
“Yeah,” said Crowley. “So? I mean, I’ve got a bit of a fondness for good ol’ England, even if I weren’t born there.”
“You weren’t born anywhere.”
“My point ‘zactly! So what’s to say,” Crowley waved his hands and tipped over an empty bottle. “Whasstosay we aren’t Irish just by living here?”
Aziraphale thought about this. “But we’re not. Not living here. ‘S just a holiday, my dear. You can’t be adopted for a holiday.”
“Jesus was,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale hadn’t been able to think of a response to this so he’d hazarded the kitchenette and made them both a cup of tea. Properly British, was tea. It’d fool anyone who saw them, unless they got out their wings, and what were the chances of that happening?
“So what were we talking about?” asked Crowley.
“Ineffability,” guessed Aziraphale, because that’s what they usually talked about when drunk. Maybe that was because they had to be drunk to talk about it.
“Nah, nah, nah, we were talking about Satanists! Bloody nuisance things. All circles and chanting and dead roosters. I mean, why’d they wanna go kill roosters? Roosters dun’t do nothing to nobody. ‘S people who do all the everything. Huh! Satanists!”
Aziraphale nodded. “Aren’t you supposed to be visiting them?” He thought about it for a moment. “Or was that me? Ooh, my head is rather swimmy.”
“Me,” said Crowley. “Gotta give them some message from Our Master Satan or whoever… his secretary, probably – lovely young, er, demon. ‘Pparently they’ve been killing all the right roosters. The Satanists, that is, not the secretary.”
“So you just pat them on the back, tip their hat and say ‘keep up the good work’?” asked Aziraphale.
“Yeah. And they’ll say ‘great, could you desecrate our temple while you’re here’ or summat. Maybe I’ll end up in their stained-glass windows.”
“They’d need too much black glass,” pointed out Aziraphale, who was rather amused by this glimpse into the workings of the Unholy Church. Not much different to the Holy, it seemed (though of course, he’d already known that.)
“But Satanists are all about the black, see. They’ll like it. Temple all dark and that.” Crowley wiggled his fingers, obviously trying to demonstrate a spooky atmosphere and instead looking like a musical finale. “’Sides, I don’t always wear black.”
“Some of us, if you haven’t noticed, like to change our style ‘ccasionally. I wear… I wear navy. And, uh, indigo. And charcoal. And that one time I wore cobalt to the Ritz…”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. As far as he knew, that was all fashion-designer for black. “I sometimes think the thesaurus was the death of the English language,” he confessed.
Crowley stared at him. “You need another drink or five.” He looked at his empty teacup and it turned itself into a highball glass, filled with a cocktail that probably had a dirty name and a high alcohol content. Aziraphale’s followed suit.
“Y’know,” Crowley remarked, “Sometimes I think getting drunk is the only way to deal with it all.”
“You’ve been spending too much time around humans.” Aziraphale sipped his drink gingerly. It still tasted like tea, which actually wasn’t that bad.
“I’ve been spending too much time around you. I never used to drink this much.”
Azirapale smiled, the alcohol numbing his cheeks and nose so that the expression felt odd. “Here’s to six thousand years, then,” he said.
“Here’s to six thousand more,” added Crowley, and they both drank.
The bed wasn’t too uncomfortable, Crowley was discovering. He’d been in no position to notice last night – he’d almost forgotten to sober up after he’d stumbled into the bedroom. But now he felt that the pillows were just the right size, and the mattress was springy without being too soft. He rolled over, prompting a slight gasp from his bedside.
Crowley’s eyes flew open. Aziraphale was already halfway through the door, but Crowley still considered him caught red-handed. “You were watching me,” he said, sleep-stupid and astonished.
“Yes,” admitted Aziraphale. “It’s… rather fascinating, you know. Does it hurt?”
“What, sleeping or you watching me?”
Crowley watched the blush slide up Aziraphale’s cheeks with no little amusement. “Sleeping, I meant. Do you dream?”
“Sometimes. I don’t usually remember.” When he did, he felt that the things he dreamed of were beyond human comprehension: the clash of angel upon angel, the way the world had split in two with the fall of the Morningstar, and the hugeness of his Creator in the beginning of beginnings.
“Well. I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s quite all right, angel. You should join me some time, it’s an excellent relaxant.” His smile was utterly predatory.
“I told you, I don’t sleep,” said Aziraphale, but he wrapped an arm around himself as though self-conscious. Crowley rolled over again, and grinned into his pillow. The angel might be as deaf to innuendo as a lump of rock, but something in him heard and understood Crowley’s temptation. Perhaps there was hope for him yet.
“It’s nearing afternoon,” added Aziraphale. “If you want to get anything done today, you ought to get up.”
Crowley knew he didn’t mean it, of course, because he closed the door behind him
Sixty-five years and Sean O’Flanighan had never seen the like of it in his life. The room opposite his own was a single bedroom, and yet two men were occupying it. He complained over breakfast to Elena, the waitress.
“Don’t be daft,” she said to him fondly. “Kate told me the older one is staying with his grandmother.”
“I saw him coming down the stairs this morning.”
“He probably slept on the sofa. I’ll bet they’re brothers or something.”
“They’re queers, that’s what they are,” snapped O’Flanighan. Elena sighed and scooped up the last of the breakfast things. He yelled at her back: “The sinful leftovers of Sodom and Gomorrah. They’ll bring fire and brimstone down upon this hotel, ye just see if they don’t.”
“Are you talking about me?” Aziraphale stood smilingly from his nearby table. “It’s been a while since I’ve rained fire and brimstone anywhere – there’s far too much paperwork involved.”
O’Flanighan eyed him suspiciously, and eventually gave a brief laugh. “You’ll be from England, then. Funny buggers, the English.”
“Mr. A. Fell, at your service.” Aziraphale held out a well-manicured hand. “I assure you, my associate and myself have no relations beyond the business aspect.”
“Well then,” said O’Flanighan, who figured polite young men were a pleasant enough occurrence, even if they were queer. “I should hope so. What’re you standing there for? Sit down.”
“Now, boy. Are ye familiar with the Bible?”
Aziraphale wasn’t as oblivious as everyone seemed to think, Crowley especially. He knew what was behind all the little winks and nudges. It wasn’t that he didn’t approve, it was just that they had it around the wrong way.
He was an angel. He loved: everything, fiercely, with all his heart. He loved, and he was in love with Crowley.
A little part of him liked to point out that Crowley was a demon, and while associating with demons was forgivable, falling in love with them probably wasn’t. But this was the same voice that said getting drunk wasn’t the best idea, and maybe he should just stick to blessings and divine ecstasy, and really it was cheating if he used divine powers on the books. It was used to being ignored.
Aziraphale had dealt with Mr O’Flanighan the same way he dealt with everything else that irritated him; by being excruciatingly, infuriatingly polite. It had worked – the man had retreated to his own room in confusion. Aziraphale was left with the day stretching out ahead of him. He tipped the waitress, had a brief talk with the receptionist about the importance of human life (particularly the unborn) and encouraged the cleaner to use a more environmentally friendly product. Unable to think of anything else to do short of barging into random rooms and inquiring about the health of their occupants, Aziraphale decided to see if Crowley was up for a walk.
Crowley was gone.
The note was brief – he was off to get it over and done with, no point Aziraphale tagging along and he really really meant that, no offence, and he’d tell all when he returned.
Aziraphale sighed. He’d read the books he’d brought along already, and while he could just conjure up a few more he wasn’t in the mood. Instead he moved into the little bedroom and examined the bed.
It was still rumpled from use, but it looked inviting all the same. Aziraphale didn’t have a bed in his own flat and had never considered getting one, but after watching Crowley this morning… well, what was the harm, really? Crowley wasn’t here. Tentatively, he removed his shoes, and then after some thought most of his other clothes as well, hanging them up neatly in the little closet.
The sheets were cool against his skin. It felt a little odd, lying down while sober, and when he closed his eyes the enormity of what he was trying to do seemed to spring up out of the darkness. He turned so he was in a more comfortable position, and reached for sleep.
Aziraphale dreamt of Daniel in the lion’s den, of Abraham and Sarah, of a thousand thousand faces he’d seen and known and loved. He dreamed of being surrounded by a great presence, an almost womblike feeling, and the itch of new wings. Above all else, he dreamed of Crowley. Crowley crawling on his belly in the dust. Crowley drunk at a tavern in Gomorrah. Crowley standing with he and Shadwell against the Adversary. Crowley drowning in holy water. Crowley crying out for help in ancient laguages. Crowley whispering Aziraphale?
He awoke. There was a hand on his shoulder and when he looked up he saw his pale face reflected back in Crowley’s sunglasses.
“Yes?” he said, ignoring the catch in his own voice.
“I-” Aziraphale couldn’t deny it. “Not anymore.” He felt himself crimsoning, far more embarrassed to be watched than have been caught watching. Instinctively, he pulled the sheets to his chin.
“You don’t sleep. Remember? But if I didn’t know better I’d say you were dreaming.”
“Yes.” Aziraphale felt the images drifting away from him like smoke, but a flicker of his dream-self’s agony remained. “It was…” Awful. Wonderful. Not meant for angels. “I see why you like it.”
“I never thought you’d be one for escapism, though when I consider your humungous bloody book collection I s’pose I shouldn’t be surprised.”
But you are, thought Aziraphale, and blushed again. He closed his eyes in silent mortification, and felt the mattress shift as Crowley stood.
“Well, uh. I came to see if you wanted to get some food, but if you want I can let you-”
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of missing dinner. It was merely an experiment, nothing more. You’ll have your bed again tonight.”
“Yeah,” said Crowley. Aziraphale looked and saw he’d taken off his sunglasses. Relieving and worrying; Crowley only did so when he was anxious, but he didn’t seem to realise it made his expression much easier to read.
“So, what do you-” Crowley began, just as Aziraphale said, “Er, do you think you could-”
“What?” Aziraphale motioned to the door. “Oh, right. Sorry, angel, I forgot about modesty. I figured, ‘we’re all standard issue here…’”
“Er, yeah, sure.” Crowley backed out of the room, seemingly still shell-shocked by the sight of Aziraphale sleeping. “Just come out when you’re ready. Which you will. Of course.”
The door snicked closed and Aziraphale climbed out of bed, noting with bemusement the way his body demanded he lie down again. It was a bad sign if his body started getting ideas of its own – that usually meant they were wearing out, and Aziraphale had only had this one for a couple of hundred years. Heaven would not be impressed.
He tied his tie with a flourish and turned away from the mirror. Vanity, and all that. Feeling much more comfortable now he was clothed, Aziraphale stepped out into the main living area.
“I wonder if there are any sushi bars in this- mnnfff!”
He was thrown against the doorframe and positively mauled by an armful of very enthusiastic demon. Eventually he managed to push Crowley off, but it took longer to stop sputtering.
“What, in Heaven’s name, was that all about?”
“I just wanted to try it,” said Crowley, who was smirking too much to be entirely innocent. “You get to experiment with sleep, I get to experiment with… other things.”
“I’d appreciate it if you would leave me out of your experiments.” Aziraphale’s voice was the kind of cold that heralded ice ages.
“Duly noted,” said Crowley, and then: “You were saying about the sushi bars?”
Deirdre loved living in a small town, and she loved waitressing there even more. On her resume she had written that she was a people person, but a more callous observer would note that she was a gossip.
Relationships were, she felt, her speciality. She was responsible for ruining no less than three marriages – her own not included. So she was a touch excited when she saw the couple at table three bickering.
It was a couple of young gents – foreigners, by the plummy accents, and wouldn’t that help the scandal along nicely? They had been very nice about the restaurant being out of fish, and the older one had known an indecent amount about wine, but that didn’t stop Deirdre listening in on their conversation with avid fascination.
“I can’t believe you,” the younger one was saying. “How long have we known each other? I mean, how long? Yet one little kiss and you start behaving like we’re bloody strangers.”
“Six thousand years,” the other replied, and Deirdre sniffed. She didn’t understand the clap-trap about reincarnation, and therefore hated it on principle. “And you still didn’t ask first.”
Deirdre started collecting the plates of some diners who had barely touched their meals, wanting to hear more. Obviously they had one of those open relationships Trisha went on about. She was monogamistically smug that it hadn’t worked.
“If I’d known you wanted to be asked…”
“Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as you always say.”
The tone was pleading, but ‘Aziraphale’ remained unmoved. “I know what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work. I’m not made that way.”
“Pfft. Just because you’re an angel, doesn’t mean you can’t want.”
Aziraphale’s reply was so low Deirdre had to strain to hear it. “Wanting and having are very different things.”
“Haven’t I made myself clear? You can have, if you want. I’m…” a soft laugh. “Heck, Aziraphale, do I even have to say it?”
“Do we have to do this here?” Aziraphale hissed. “The staff are listening in.”
Deirdre immediately carried her tray back to the kitchen, trying to look as though she cared not a tuppence for their silly lover’s spat. They were silent when she collected their plates, and civil over dessert, but by the time she came with the bill they had started up again.
“If we’re going to do this, I want it to work,” Aziraphale was saying.
“It’s never going to happen. You’re expecting something I can’t give.”
“You can, Crowley. You were an-” a swift glance in Deidre’s direction “-accountant like me once, remember? I believe you still have the capacity to-”
“Don’t say it.” Crowley’s voice was pained. “Don’t even think about it. If my employers get wind that you tried to imply…” he shook his head as though in disbelief. “You’re right, let’s not talk about it here. I’m finished with this crummy town. If I’m going to deal with this I want familiar surroundings.”
“You want to fly back tonight?”
“Why not? We can afford it, can’t we?” Crowley laughed bitterly. Deirdre broke the third golden rule of waitressing and surreptitiously checked the tip. Well, yes, if that was anything to judge by they probably could.
Disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to follow their story further, Deirdre retreated to the kitchen where there were still meals waiting to be served.
They maintained an uncomfortable silence between the restaurant and the hotel and the airport. Crowley hadn’t bothered to bollocks around with the airlines, so they were seated separately, and it helped a little. Crowley felt that too much longer in Aziraphale’s company and he would have needed some time alone, and that was hard to find in a small, enclosed space thousands of miles above sea level.
He was reduced to sitting in the toilets, feeling claustrophobic and wishing he hadn’t tried to kiss Aziraphale in the first place.
Crowley wasn’t even sure why he’d done it. Aziraphale had just looked so beautiful asleep, and bizarrely erotic when awake, all sleep-roughened voice and crumpled confusion.
Then Aziraphale had gotten up on his celestial high horse and said No, Crowley, angels don’t have sex, not even with old friends who are really curious and somewhat attractive. Crowley had been able to tell he was angry because he had been quivering. It was one of Aziraphale’s more amusing quirks, and Crowley forbore from teasing him about it in case he stopped.
It wasn’t as though he hadn’t kissed people before. It was the easiest way to fill his lust quota – lewd enough to satisfy hell, without compromising Crowley’s admittedly dubious morals. But there had been no feeling behind it. Crowley was feeling passion bubbling over in his chest, and passion could lead to… other things. The kind that was Not Allowed.
Demons didn’t have instantaneous forgiveness, that was the problem. Even if he had been entertaining thoughts of a (he shuddered) loving nature… well, he’d seen the poor bastards who had decided maybe they were on the wrong side after all. Twisted creatures which wandered like beggars among the souls of purgatory, eternally bleeding from what Hell’s minions had done to them. Crowley didn’t think he could stand the tedium.
He didn’t need this. Aziraphale was wonderful, but a complication. Perhaps Crowley could bugger off to another part of the world, stir up some trouble. Time away, that was the key. Bury himself in his work. Of course, he’d really prefer everything would just go back to normal.
Crowley had a distinct definition of normal when it came to The Arrangement, and it certainly didn’t involve kissing.
“Excuse me!” There was a sharp rapping at the door, jerking Crowley back to the reality of his few feet of solitude. “Hello? Is anyone in there?”
“I’ll be right out,” Crowley called smoothly, and made a brief show of rattling the toilet roll and flushing.
It was a really nice day. Gord barely thought about his imminent meeting with the Latvian diplomat as he meandered through St. James Park. Really, who wanted the cold numbers of politics when there was sunshine and the soft sound of water? A duck quacking occasionally? Maybe he should give up and go home to his wife. Hand in his badge, as it were. If he left now, he could make the Church fundraiser. His son was playing one of the three kings, if he remembered rightly, and if Gord didn’t put in the work now there’d be no reaching him later in life.
“Stop that,” somebody said – quite close by. Gord turned around (once, perhaps, he would have whirled, but the long years of training his reflexes were succumbing to too much gravy at dinner). He realised immediately the young man wasn’t addressing him.
“I can’t really help it,” the other one said. “It’s what he wants, you know.”
“That’s worth at least one duck, I reckon.”
“Oh, my dear.” There was disappointment in the man’s voice. Who did he think he was, somebody’s grandmother? Though if his outfit was anything to go by, maybe that was the case.
The first man was already close to the water’s edge, and now he bent over, peering down. “Hey, that’s not a duck. It’s-“ he leaned further. “I’m not sure, actually.” He reached for the black blob floating among the weeds and ducks, pinwheeled the other arm wildly for a moment, and fell into the water.
It was, Gord reflected, like watching something out of a Warner Bros cartoon. The man sufaced, sputtering angrily. There was something green in his hair, but he ignored it as he fished around for whatever he had been trying to reach. The man on the bank seemed caught between horror and laughter.
“Sod off,” said the young man, clambering out of the water, prize dripping in his hand. “Let’s go back to the shop, I’ll need to change now.”
“What was it?”
“What? Oh.” The rescued item was shaken out. “A… bowler hat? I ruined my favourite shirt for a bowler hat?”
“You didn’t ruin anything. It’s a good thing we walked, you wouldn’t wan to soak the Bentley. But in this weather I’m positive you’ll dry very quickly.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The sopping man reached over and plopped the wet hat firmly on the other’s head. “You could have grabbed me, you know.”
“Er. I didn’t think- that is, I didn’t want to…”
“What, give me the wrong idea? Oh, that’s it. We need to talk.” He stormed away. The other man stood tearing up the last of his bread. Eventually he followed, but Gord didn’t notice; he was too busy composing his resignation letter in his head.
Crowley blessed as Aziraphale fumbled with his keys. He wanted to have it out with the angel right then and there, but the Soho neighbours tended to be too curious for their own good – especially the bloody bookshop owner next door.
“Look,” he said, the moment the door was safely closed behind them. “You can touch me, all right? I’m not going to jump you or anything so completely hideous.” He reached out to emphasise his words, but the angel shied away.
“Your previous actions rather indicate otherwise.”
Crowley hissed in exasperation. “Don’t hide behind the British gentleman. What the fuck’s going on, Aziraphale?”
To his credit, Aziraphale didn’t wince at the curse word. “What we desire from each other would not be so incompatible if we were human. Feelings, hormones… it all gets lumped together. But as we are, I’m not sure anything I feel for you could ever be reciprocated.”
“Stop languaging your way around the question. You what. Have… love for me?” The word felt awkward as it slid of Crowley’s tongue, like chewing on aluminium foil.
Aziraphale looked at him. “Oh my dear boy. I’ve love for everything. But I’ve been in love with you ever since you encouraged William to start writing down those lovely little ditties of his. Perhaps before.”
Crowley was almost too shocked to speak. “Is that what you’ve wanted all this time? If you won’t let me tempt you, then there’s no way I’m going to let you redeem me.”
“Then perhaps… a compromise?” Aziraphale reached out and lightly touched Crowley’s cheek.
Trust the angel to have thought out and around his objections. “It would be in the Spirit of the Arrangement, I s’pose.”
“It’s just another step, really,” Aziraphale agreed, smiling. Crowley wanted to say more, but Aziraphale’s thumb was moving slowly over his cheekbone and really, speaking was overrated.
Aziraphale’s kiss was gentle like the rays of the sun, brushing with undefinable sweetness along Crowley’s jaw and onto his lips. He could feel Aziraphale breathing against his cheek, and when the angel hesitantly opened is mouth slightly, Crowley thought it more tantalising than the lewdest whore in Gomorrah.
One hand seemed to move of its own accord, moving up to clutch at the material of Aziraphale’s shirt. He tilted his head and parted his own lips, and with the swiftness of a magicians conjuring the kiss turned deep and passionate. Crowley was aching with the feel of the angel’s tongue tracing over his teeth, and the harsh breath that was almost-but-not-quite a whimper.
This wasn’t the kiss of before, which had been swift and stolen. This was languorous and luxurious, each pulling what they wanted from it and giving back in kind.
Aziraphale drew away, plucking Crowley’s sunglasses off as he did so. He turned them over in his hands and stared at them. “What now?”
“Now,” said Crowley, in no mood to play games, “I take you to bed and ravish you.”
Aziraphale’s gaze snapped up. “But we’ve barely-”
Crowley swept the angel back into his arms. “Six thousand years is a long time. This isn’t exactly the first date.”
“This isn’t exactly a date at all,” pointed out Aziraphale, but he didn’t pull away. Another series of kisses – light and gentle, and Aziraphale was clearly smiling like a loon. Crowley growled, and licked at his ear, bit gently at his neck, tugged at his tie until Aziraphale was following him across the room, weaving between book-covered tables.
“I don’t have a bed,” said Aziraphale.
“So?” said Crowley, and it was his turn to grin.
“I thought… that is, I want…”
“Next time, angel,” said Crowley, ecstatic in the knowledge that there could be a next time.
He pushed Aziraphale onto the easy chair and straddled him, then went back to the angel’s soft neck. Aziraphale drew a shuddering breath, and his hands gripped Crowley’s shoulders, sliding down to push off his jacket and moving to the buttons of his shirt.
Crowley pulled back, watching Aziraphale focus on the buttons with the same kind of attention to detail he reserved for his books. He trembled at each new patch of pale skin revealed, trembled at the way Aziraphale’s fingers stroked gently as they continued relentlessly downwards.
The shirt fell open, and Aziraphale placed his hands against Crowley’s chest and kissed him slowly. It was the patience of tectonic plates and the dizzy rush of deep-sea currents. Crowley was drowning in the stillness and it was too much, too much, his fingernails gouging into the headrest and his eyes screwed shut.
“Relax,” whispered Aziraphale, his fingers brushing a trail of sparks over Crowley’s skin. Everywhere he touched was too hot, and everywhere he didn’t was too cold. Crowley shivered. “Shhhh,” said Aziraphale, and touched a finger to Crowley’s lips.
Crowley sucked it in tantalisingly, his eyes glowing as he swirled his tongue expertly. Aziraphale gasped, and then moaned, once delicate touches turning into a grip firm enough to bruise, his fingers dragging around Crowley’s sides and over the smooth planes of his back as they kissed.
Faster, yes, and both of them were gasping now. Crowley wanted heat, wanted friction, so with a thought he vanished their clothes, his hands still tangled in Aziraphale’s hair.
But Aziraphale stopped. “Cheater,” he gasped, and Crowley felt awful – not because of this angelic pronouncement, but because Aziraphale was flushing deeply and Crowley had perhaps gone too fast.
“I want you,” he said, pushing his aching cock against Aziraphale’s as evidence of this, but the angel’s gaze remained locked firmly on his.
“You’re afraid,” said Aziraphale.
“Of what?” scoffed Crowley. He slipped one hand down between them and fisted Aziraphale’s cock so he couldn’t answer. But he didn’t need an answer. He knew. “I’m sorry if you wanted flowers and pink sheets, angel,” he said cruelly as Aziraphale writhed under him.
“Oh, stop it,” said Aziraphale, gathering himself together and pushing Crowley’s hand away. His lips were dark from kissing and his hair was tousled, but he still managed to look dignified and authoritative and compassionate and oh, everything that Aziraphale was.
Terror seeped slowly back into Crowley – terror, and shame. “I-” he said.
“Oh, come here,” said Aziraphale, and pulled him close, and held him. “What are you trying to prove, Crowley?” he murmured. “Who are you trying to prove it to?”
Crowley pressed his face into Aziraphale’s shoulder, every fibre of his being focussed on the hand that had started out rubbing his back but was now circling slowly downwards. Everything he was, everything he felt – it was all centred in that hand, sliding over his hip, trailing loosely over his thigh, and wrapping around his cock like a lightening bolt.
“Fuck,” he half-sobbed. “Oh, fuckfuckfuck Aziraphale.”
“There now,” sighed Aziraphale. “It isn’t that bad, is it, Crowley? To be loved?”
Crowley could only keen, long and low and needy.
“You’ve been waiting so long,” said Aziraphale, his face buried in Crowley’s hair, his hand moving slowly over Crowley’s cock, tightening in just the right places. “We both have.”
Crowley sat back, and Aziraphale’s eyes were like a clear and fathomless lake. “What do you want, Crowley? It’s yours for the asking. What do you want of me?”
“I want…” Crowley felt like he was close to tears, but the pleasure flowing through him caught and held him. “You. Want to pin you down. Fuck you ‘til you scream.”
“Yes,” said Aziraphale, and the tenderness was more than Crowley could bear. “On a bed, perhaps?”
And then they were. How Aziraphale could be so levelheaded under the circumstances was beyond Crowley, but they were on a bed. White sheets and only one pillow, just small enough to fit into Aziraphale’s backroom. Definitely a bed.
“Cheater,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale chuckled. They were horizontal, now, and Crowley hadn’t imagined how wonderful it felt to tangle legs with someone, to be pressed chest-to-toe, nose-to-nose. They kissed some more, Aziraphale’s slow, wringing kisses making Crowley itch.
“Please,” he whispered, and, “Aziraphale.” Aziraphale breathed in his words and let Crowley go.
The first finger was the hardest. Crowley wasn’t quite sure… well, he knew about preparation, of course, it was just they didn’t have a little jar of something to help ease the way. Realising pornography often glossed over the finer points of penetration, Crowley cheated a little more, and found in the slickness he could easily add a second finger.
“Oh.” Aziraphale arched a little off the bed, his eyes fluttering closed. Crowley pushed his legs wider and scissored – Aziraphale practically fell off the bed.
“That was…” Aziraphale didn’t finish, because Crowley’s lips were around his cock and Crowley was proving that he could, indeed, do very interesting things with his tongue. Manicured hands fisted in the blankets sporadically.
Crowley pulled back, licking his lips. “I s’pose all your books didn’t tell you about that.”
“Not… in quite those terms, no.” Aziraphale arched up again as Crowley removed his fingers moved his cock into place. “I’m ready. Quickly. Oh, Crowley.”
One long, smooth thrust that left them both gasping and Crowley was in, his fingers bruising Aziraphale’s waist. Aziraphale’s legs locked them like that for a moment, and when he released Crowley it was as a tightly wound spring. The demon gasped and moved, leaning over Aziraphale and pounding him as promised, beginning a steady rhythm that allowed him to free a hand and send it wandering over to Aziraphale’s cock, where it pumped in time with Crowley’s thrusts.
It didn’t take long. The newness of the feeling had Aziraphale crying out in abandon, and Crowley came just at the look on his face, unable to stop his hips jerking or the burning tears that slid down his face. He threw back his head as Aziraphale clenched around him and felt his wings tear free. Ecstasy in sin… in that moment, he had never felt further removed from humans.
At last, spent, he collapsed on top of Aziraphale, who seemed extremely close himself. Aziraphale’s own hand joined Crowley’s, setting a demanding stroke. Crowley didn’t really want to move, he just wanted to lie here forever as Aziriphale clung to him, bucking and gasping.
He felt Aziraphale spurt onto his hand with a shout, and then flop back with the same bonelessness as Crowley. One hand carded through the demon’s wings – an entirely pleasurable feeling. The rhythm of Aziraphale’s sleepy petting acted like the movement of a boat and sent Crowley gently into sleep, truly peaceful for the first time since his Fall.
Aziraphale had always felt that the day after a momentous event was more real, somehow. He felt as though he understood every thread of cotton in the sheets, and the arm Crowley had thrown uncaringly over his chest seemed to pulse with life.
Sleep was still a luxury afforded only to men and demons – Aziraphale had awoken himself as soon as he had felt the dreams coming. Now he reclined on the new bed and considered. Despite all their protestations, both of them had given their fair share of love – and lust – last night. This would still take some working out.
But of course… Aziraphale smiled. They had all the time in the world. Time enough to understand each other beyond idiosyncrasies and bad habits. Aziraphale had the patience of mountains, and if it took a hundred lifetimes eventually Crowley would See.
Or perhaps not. Ineffibility, and all. Funny to think that it could even apply here. But he and Crowley seemed to have a history of turning the Plan on its head, so to speak.
He shut the door quietly as he left Crowley for another few hours sleep. Once bedded down, the demon was almost impossible to rouse, and Aziraphale saw no reason to try just yet. He wanted to talk… but it could wait.
It could wait.