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the bucket list

Chapter Text

It had admittedly taken them a while to think up the first couple of things to put on the List, mostly because they were neither of them very well versed in how humans actually went about doing the things they all seemed to be very busy going about doing.

In the end, Crowley, sodden with conviction and very good whisky, had simply miracled half a page of text off the nearest copy of the Daily Telegraph and started writing down whatever came to mind. Put together IKEA furniture had been first on the List merely because an IKEA advert had fallen out of the sheaf of Telegraph pages, but that was advertising for you.

Crowley had also written, in no particular order: re-decorate, also due to the IKEA advert; get a pet, to which Aziraphale had immediately and horrifiedly said no; see all the tourist things in London, mostly because he’d always thought Hell should’ve got credit for the London Eye and it hadn’t, so he had never been to see it out of sheer spite; go somewhere we’ve never been before, which he’d written traveling the human way very small next to, as if they’d both need the reminder when the time came; eat something we’ve never eaten before, at Aziraphale’s suggestion, though Crowley thought that would be a rather ambitious goal for the two of them, considering; take up a new hobby, after which Aziraphale had asked if he still had that old guitar he’d obnoxiously gone about with in the 1970s, which Crowley did; and finally, at the bottom, do something magnificently reckless.

“You don’t think stopping Armageddon was magnificently reckless?” Aziraphale had asked, scowling at Crowley’s crabbed handwriting on the page.

“No, it absolutely was,” Crowley had said. “Most exhilarating thing I’d done in six thousand years, though.”

“As long as it’s not the same magnificently reckless thing, then,” Aziraphale had said, going stern. “Once is quite enough, thank you very much.”

“I’ll be sure to drop the Antichrist a note about it, if it pleases you,” Crowley offered. He put on a very serious tone that sounded a bit like Death, if Death were wearing a three-piece suit on a Sunday evening and writing a complaint to the Tadfield Advertiser. “Dear Sir: I must inform you that I am about to do something magnificently reckless, and I want to make absolutely clear that I and the general public do not need your help in arranging it.”

And then they’d both laughed until their sides hurt. It hadn’t been that funny, actually, but it was a bit like pulling the stopper out of a plug: once it started, it all had to go.

When they’d finally gotten themselves under control and Aziraphale had gone to find out about another bottle of whisky, Crowley had leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, still giggling, thinking about how it had felt to walk away from Armageddon, himself and Earth and Aziraphale all unscathed. Almost like Falling, he thought, but as if he’d been flying instead.

*

They decided on the tourist traps for their next.

“The London Eye,” Crowley declared, raising his arms triumphantly in front of it. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Aziraphale struggled to come up with a suitable compliment. “It’s, erm, big. And—” he was unable to help himself, frowning at the swirls and eddies of people coming and going— “Crowded.”

Crowley laughed somewhat embarrassedly. “Yes, well. It’s possible that the whole tourist idea has gone a bit beyond what I’d originally envisioned—put a food cart and a pop-up shop outside an amphitheatre to help draw in the crowds, that sort of thing, but then marketing was invented and the rest was downhill from there. Anyway,” he cleared his throat loudly. “Best get used to it, angel. Here be the public.”

Aziraphale muttered something about plans backfiring spectacularly and joined Crowley in the queue, which, as far as he was concerned, lasted about as long as the nineteenth century had. He considered doing a little miracling on the sly to get the group in front of them to suddenly remember that they had—all twelve of them—left their respective stoves on, but Crowley caught him by the wrist just as his fingers began to twitch.

“Isn’t patience a virtue?” Crowley asked out of the side of his grin.

“I’m an angel, the virtue is built-in,” Aziraphale threw back, which they both knew wasn’t precisely true. He let the miracle go unfinished though; he had given his word, after all.

They’d agreed there’d be no miracling at all for the day—no unexpected gestures of goodwill for cuts in the queues, no surprisingly vacant spaces in front of the best views, no opportune breakdowns of tourist tour busses all over the greater London area. Crowley was almost delighted at the thought of it, as much as any demon could be delighted (which, in Crowley’s case anyway, meant very delighted but pretending not to be) and he had gone online and got some sort of complicated fast-track combination ticket with reservations for certain things at certain times instead.

If he’d been pleasantly surprised that all the best times were still available when he checked, well, the no-miracling rule hadn’t taken effect yet, had it?

The glass-walled pod they eventually filed into was much bigger than the various postcards of London’s stylised skyline made it look, and through some stroke of luck—“Honestly, I didn’t do anything,” Aziraphale whispered defensively, at Crowley’s glare—they were only joined by about four other people, all of whom seem quite content to leave them alone.

“It’s a half hour for the full rotation,” Crowley told him as they took a spot looking out over the Houses of Parliament. “On a clear day you can see about forty kilometres. Well, they can see about forty kilometres; I suspect we can see a bit further than that.”

They could.

It was a strangely familiar sensation, watching the streets fall away as they rose into the sky. Aziraphale’s wings, tucked away out of reality, felt oddly cramped against his back, as if they knew they should have manifested and taken to beating. It made him feel unsteady, as though he had sunk both his feet into quicksand; he put a hand on a railing to steady himself.

“Aside from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben,” Crowley said loudly, putting his hand right next to Aziraphale’s on the rail and sounding a bit like he’d swallowed a tourist pamphlet, making Aziraphale wonder if he’d been responsible for those too, “you can also see Embankment station and the Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridge, all the good weird buildings like the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater, and then St Paul’s, a bit to the east. On a clear day, to the west, some people claim you can see as far as Windsor.” He studied Aziraphale for a moment, and then added, much quieter, “It’s been a while since you’ve flown, hasn’t it?”

“It’s not the height,” Aziraphale answered shortly. “It’s the sensation that I should have manifested in order to be up here. Feel like I’m trying to fly with both my wings behind my back and two bottles of very expensive wine in me.”

Crowley flashed a very quick smile. “Focus on your feet instead. Actually these pods are surprisingly steady—I might’ve got the commendation after all if they’d been just a little more shaky.”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help the huff of laughter.

“All right, dear boy,” he finally managed, once he had found his breath and his balance again. “Show me where I can see St Paul’s.”

*

“Would you look at that,” Aziraphale said softly, forgetting his white-knuckled grip on the railing for a moment as the dome of St Paul’s soared out of the surrounding city. “I haven’t seen it so clearly since Wren was puttering about with it, after the fires.”

Crowley wasn’t much for churches, perhaps predictably, but he watched Aziraphale taking it all in, and knew better than to say.

I suppose this is really why I didn’t get the commendation, he thought instead, when Aziraphale turned to him with a blinding grin, already pointing out this or that detail that may have had a little divine inspiration behind them whenever Wren himself was being too much of an egotistical git to listen to anybody else. Cost-benefit analyses being what they are.

He tucked his hands into his pockets and decided he didn’t actually mind.

*

“Bit surprising that we both settled on London, isn’t it? Of all the cities in the world we could’ve ended up.”

Crowley looked over. Aziraphale’s face had gone back to a much healthier colour since they disembarked from their Eye-pod. (“Puns,” Aziraphale had said, in that exasperatedly amused tone he got sometimes, “are below even you.”) They’d gone into the SeaLife aquarium, per their fast-track combination tickets, and the muted noise and cool air seemed to suit him much better.

“I dunno,” Crowley said easily. “Where would we be if not here?”

Aziraphale shrugged, studying the tank in front of them. Dazzlingly bright little fish swam through coral formations, darting in and out of the false rock foundations of the exhibits. “We weren’t here for about five and three-quarters millenia. Where were we before?”

“Nowhere any good, that’s for certain. Look, that giant starfish, there in the corner.”

Aziraphale leaned in to see it better. “I’d have thought somewhere like Las Vegas would’ve been more your speed,” he said, then he straightened and moved on to the next tank, which had a bunch of anemones and tiny clown fishes in it. “Though I guess you never really have been about the flash in your temptations.”

“Excuse me,” Crowley said, affronted, “I’m plenty flash.”

He was wearing sunglasses indoors, for pity’s sake. He had flash.

Aziraphale just looked smug. “They’ve got sea turtles round this way,” he said, ignoring Crowley’s protests. “There’s apparently some kind of tunnel through the tank.”

*

The tunnel was full to the brim with schoolchildren when they got to it, a dozen or more tiny little white polo shirts clamouring and gasping as shoals of fish shivered and danced alongside them and enormous green turtles soared calmly over their heads. Aziraphale and Crowley hung around the entrance for a while, watching the fish and the kids in equal measure, and if a miracle or two happened while they were standing there—a green turtle lifting a flipper to high-five one little boy through the glass; a shoal of fish darting into complicated, recognisable formations for a collection of wide-eyed little girls—there was no one there to call them out on it.

“You’re a soft touch for kids,” Crowley said, once their chaperones had successfully moved them all along. He took his sunglasses off and stepped closer to the glass. “Typical angel, eh?”

Aziraphale hummed. “I wasn’t the one doing the letter formations,” he pointed out. He put on the tone he used when he was allowing a waiter to think he’d been talked into a dessert he wasn’t really sure on when he’d been planning to order it all along, and granted, quite magnanimously, “I suppose you are a bit flash. Just sometimes.”

Crowley grinned. In the cool blue light of the water, he looked like someone had wet down all his edges, leaving them smooth and a little intangible. His gaze tracked a sea turtle as it swam over his head; his eyes shone.

It wasn’t until they were leaving that Aziraphale even remembered that they could have miracled away some of the crowds, if they’d wanted to. He was glad they hadn’t.

*

An angel and a demon walked into Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.

Twenty minutes later, an angel and a demon walked back out.

“I guess not everything humans enjoy is really translatable across experiences, is it?” Aziraphale said, feeling disturbed.

“It’s really not,” Crowley agreed. “Come on, I’ve got a better idea.”

*

Aziraphale looked up at the white columns and grinned. “Not exactly what I’d call a tourist trap,” he called up to Crowley, who was already climbing the steps.

“Trafalgar counts on its own. Besides, I needed a palate cleanser,” Crowley called back. He stopped at the top step and waited for Aziraphale to join him before leading on to the doors of the National Gallery. “Have you been before?”

“Mm. Once or twice. Not in the last fifty-odd years, I don’t think.”

He followed Crowley in, and then nearly ran into him when he stopped just inside the door, inhaling deeply, the sort of intimate, habitual gesture you do when you’ve been to a place so many times you have pinpointed exactly what you like about it. It had the same smell all old museums have—climate-controlled air and cleaning supplies and very old, very faded varnish.

“You’ve been a few times, I take it,” Aziraphale said.

It was odd, all of a sudden, to realise that Crowley did things without him. Of course, he had always known on some level that Crowley did loads of things without him—they’d spent the vast majority of the last six thousand years just barely brushing past enough other every odd century or two, especially in the beginning—but he supposed most of it had been nefarious demon-related things, not pursuing high-brow interest things.

In retrospect, he should’ve known better. Crowley had never been one to spend an awful lot of time on the demon-related business of existence; he’d been positively shoddy about it once the Arrangement had begun. And Aziraphale had known about the plants, after all, and the Bentley, and the wine. He thought about Crowley trying to come up with a list of things he liked and struggling to say anything beyond those few things; it occurred to Aziraphale now that it was less that there weren’t other things and more that he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to share them.

He considered, very briefly, being offended—what was the National Gallery compared to Armageddon, especially when they spent half their evenings ensconced among Aziraphale’s books!—but in the end that felt counter to what Aziraphale really wanted, which was to know what else there was pinging about in Crowley’s interests.

“We won’t count it for the List,” Crowley shrugged, deliberately misinterpreting Aziraphale’s unspoken question. “Since it’s a repeat.”

Aziraphale let him.

*

Crowley led Aziraphale through the galleries, wandering from portrait to portrait, seascape to seascape, history to history. He knew most of the works fairly well by now, and he’d known a fair number of the artists besides, and before he knew it he found himself quietly recounting the stories to Aziraphale, noting the techniques, the provenances, the movements, the connections. Aziraphale, he knew, had never been as interested in the physical arts as he was—he preferred books and music to paintings and sculptures—but he’d listened to Crowley so intently that it wasn’t until they were slipping into his favourite room on the second floor that Crowley realised he’d been talking through nearly the entire building.

He shut his mouth with a decided click, and something in him tried to blush. He beat it back with a pointy-ended stick of sheer determination.

Aziraphale looked over, but Crowley had forged ahead before he could voice the question. Together they made their way through the room, the soft light of the afternoon sun filtering through the muted glass of the skylight.

“Which one is your favourite?” Aziraphale finally asked quietly. He wasn’t looking at Crowley—studying a Gainsborough instead, as if Gainsborough were even all that interesting—but his eyes had gone nearly cobalt in the pale light, against the dusty blue damask of the walls.

A studied casualness came over Crowley before he could stop himself: a defence mechanism. Aziraphale isn’t dangerous, he scolded himself, but he couldn’t shake it off; he felt like his snake-self had been slipped over onto his back and pinned, the soft red scales of his belly exposed for tooth or claw. “What makes you think my favourite is in here?”

Aziraphale didn’t answer right away; Crowley began to feel somewhat irate at the stupid Gainsborough he was studying so thoroughly.

“The way you come into this room,” he said eventually. “Like you’re stepping into a presence.” He finally turned and looked at Crowley, abandoning the Gainsborough as though he hadn’t really been looking at it at all. “You come into this room holding your breath.”

Is this how humans feel, Crowley thought suddenly, when we know how to reach them? What will tempt them, what blessing they need—do they all feel like this? Exposed down to their marrow?

Crowley took a breath and held it, and held it, and held it. Aziraphale waited.

“The Turners,” Crowley admitted softly, all in a rush. “Group of three on the end—the one in the middle.” They were there, right behind him—Aziraphale peered quietly over his shoulder, his gaze drifting over Ulysses deriding Polyphemus and settling instead on Rain, Steam, and Speed.

“What do you like about it?” Aziraphale asked. His voice was still gentle, as though he’d taken Crowley’s hand to ask it.

Crowley meant to say something careless about early impressionism, about the way Turner’s style had developed from traditional landscapes into something almost violently elusive. He meant to say something about how Turner had created furiously, about how he’d been a solitary, rude, morose man at the end of his life and how he’d bequeathed his works—his hundreds of works—to the British nation anyway, desperate to be remembered; he could even have said something about how most of the Bequest was at the Tate, separated from these, set apart from these, even though Turner had wanted them to remain together, always together.

Crowley didn’t say any of that. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth, and without having to turn to look, he said, “It doesn’t feel like it’s running away. That’s London, there in the background, but it’s gone ephemeral in the rain, as though it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s going somewhere else. It feels like it’s running toward.”

Aziraphale studied at the painting for a long time over Crowley’s shoulder.

“I hope it found whatever it was hoping to find,” he said, and something in Crowley’s belly unfurled like a new leaf, shiny and verdant and reaching.

Aziraphale looked at Crowley. Crowley looked back at Aziraphale.

He said, “I think it did.”