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They say love is a virtue, don’t they?

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“To the world,” they’d said. And Aziraphale‘s eyes had gone crinkly and his cheeks a tiny bit pink as he’d finally relaxed after the trials of the week and let himself take a moment to think about what, exactly, he was so glad to have saved.

Humans could be wonderful, and all. Sondheim was wonderful, not to mention Britten and Brahms. So were Italian wines, French opera, Buenos Aires, kangaroos, and whales. And sushi. Was there a contradiction there? Would a better angel be vegetarian, perhaps? The thought came unexpectedly as he sipped his champagne, and was dismissed easily: a better angel wouldn’t be eating at all. And Aziraphale was rather pleased to be realizing he didn’t want to be a better angel, if being this angel in particular meant he got to sit here eating brunch with Crowley.

And ah, there it was. They were now halfway through their crêpes, or really Aziraphale was halfway through his crêpes, since Crowley hadn’t eaten a bite and was instead sitting there with his chin propped in his hand, just watching him. Or presumably watching him. Those damnable- infernal- thoroughly irritating glasses made it so difficult to tell. It was all very off-putting, not least because he had a feeling it was off-putting for all the wrong reasons.

“You alright, angel?” Crowley said suddenly, shifting in his seat and breaking the silence that Aziraphale had only just noticed was hanging over them.

“I- Of course! Never better!”

“You’re awfully quiet. Something off with your food?”

“No, not at all, I’m simply . . . relishing a moment of peace after preventing the Apocalypse and all.”

“Well I’ll shut it then, sorry to have disrupted your peace.”

“Oh, that isn’t what I meant at all . . .“ he protested, but trailed off as he realized he didn’t want to have to explain that he had been lying through his pearly, angelic teeth about what was really on his mind.

It came to him, suddenly, that Crowley must be bored, sitting and watching him eat while Crowley himself took no more than the occasional sip from his champagne flute or coffee cup. Of course, it was hard to tell, since Crowley’s default attitude towards anything was a kind of cheerful mockery that had to be carefully examined if one wanted to know his true feelings. He might scoff at the notion of brunch in nearly the same way that he mocked Aziraphale’s love of tartan, but Aziraphale was fairly certain that Crowley actually enjoyed brunch while loathing tartan to the depths of his being.

Brunch, it occurred to him, might be one of Crowley’s, since he wasn’t sure there was anyone else in the universe who so thoroughly enjoyed caffeine, alcohol, and watching people pay through the nose for overpriced scrambled eggs. But on the other hand, there was no one on Earth—or anywhere else, for that matter—who enjoyed a good Croque Monsieur quite like Aziraphale did. So one could say that brunch was one of . . . theirs. Now that was a new and rather exciting thought. After all, why shouldn’t they take joint credit for something that had brought humanity such collective joy and angst?

“We’re on our side,” as Crowley had said. Aziraphale had denied it vehemently at the time, but he had known even then that it was true. And wasn’t it truer than ever, now? Back then he’d been maintaining some semblance of obedience to Up There, even if his heart hadn’t been in it for literal ages. He rather regretted keeping up the show so long, now that he was beginning to feel the delicious lightness of saying hang it all, come what may, let Heaven and Hell try to keep him from doing what he wanted. Having what he wanted. Whom, one might say.

He went pink again. And realized Crowley was still staring at him.

“I- I’ll get the check, shall I?” Aziraphale said hurriedly. Crowley’s eyebrows arched.

“You’ve still got crêpes! And half a cup of tea! You sure you’re alright?” Crowley said, sounding perplexed. Then hid his face in his hands, saying, “Oh come on, don’t do that,” as Aziraphale did a mortifying “check please” hand motion at their server. “You know my side literally invented that move to tempt waiters into chucking things at rude customers.”

“. . . Your side?” Aziraphale looked at him, pouting with a hurt that he hoped looked playful. “I thought there was no your side anymore.”

“Oh, you know what I meant.” Crowley looked exasperated. “Look, this isn’t- would you fancy a coffee somewhere else? There’s that new place near the bookshop, or . . . you could come round my flat. The man who invented the Keurig owes me a lifetime supply for helping him get his idea off the ground, and I could use some help getting through my backlog of pods.”

Aziraphale hadn’t the faintest idea what a “backlog of pods” was, let alone what it had to do with coffee, but he wasn’t in the mood to ask.

“No, I- Look, I think it’s best if I head back to the shop. Do some inventory, check on everything. Adam’s a remarkable boy but I’ll really feel better after looking things over for myself.” Plus he was finding it a little hard to breathe around Crowley. Not that he strictly needed to breathe, but it was an uncomfortable feeling nonetheless.

Crowley looked at him for a long moment, then the laser of his focus moved elsewhere and he stood up. “Alright, angel. See you round.”

He sauntered out without looking back, leaving Aziraphale feeling guilty for a couple of reasons. The first was that he rather thought he’d hurt Crowley’s feelings, which you’d think would be difficult to do to a demon, but Aziraphale knew Crowley was touchier than he liked to let on. The second was that he’d realized he was staring rather openly at Crowley’s long, slender body as he walked away. His gait had a lazy, slithery quality to it that was . . . tantalizing.

Aziraphale quickly settled the bill and stalked out into the street, irritated with himself.

It wasn’t as though these thoughts were new, he thought as he started down the road. Ever since Crowley had first come slithering up beside him on the worst-best day of his young life, he’d had a sense that this infuriating, irreverent, beautiful demon was perhaps the most important creature in his universe. But between all the work he had to do for Up There, and his unshakeable conviction that someone like Crowley could never feel about Aziraphale the way Aziraphale felt about him, he’d had plenty of motivation to bottle things up, as it were.

Now, though, it seemed he was unexpectedly retired, and his thoughts had much more freedom to dwell on certain aspects of their, er . . . partnership? Relationship? He didn’t think there was any chance that Crowley wanted him, not the way he wanted Crowley, but surely there was some affection between them, at least? Crowley certainly hadn’t miracled Hamlet into a hit for his own pleasure. And he’d called Aziraphale his “best friend.” At least, Aziraphale thought he was the person Crowley had been referring to, that day in the pub. Crowley hadn’t specified, strictly speaking, and it wouldn’t do to be presumptuous. (Was that only yesterday? Surely that couldn’t have been just yesterday.)

No, Aziraphale thought, unlocking his shop and taking a deep breath that was full of the scent of old books and blessedly free of any lingering whiff of smoke. No, he wasn’t someone Crowley could feel anything more than friendship toward. He was soft, and delicate, and scrupulous to a fault. But maybe he could become someone Crowley could want. It was a new day, a new age, he could be anyone now, couldn’t he? Without Heaven to worry about, he could be his own angel. His own person, even. And if that person just happened to be someone who fit his image of what Crowley’s ideal person would be, well, wouldn’t that be a funny coincidence.

He sighed, settling in at his desk and pulling out a ledger so he could make halfhearted attempt to redo his inventory now that the world had been remade. But it was difficult to focus, and his thoughts kept returning to Crowley.

When it came down to it, he didn’t even think he knew the words for what he wanted. Could one . . . seduce . . . a demon, anyway? And could something really be termed “seducing” if an angel was doing it? And he didn’t think it was possible to “court” someone you’d known since the beginning of Time, or that Crowley would deign to participate in something that might remotely merit the term “courting,” for that matter. And certainly demons didn’t “make love” . . . Aziraphale found himself wondering rather desperately what it was demons did do.

“Well if I play my cards right, maybe I’ll find out,” he said quietly. “New world, new me.” Setting his ledger aside—if he couldn’t fool himself into believing he was going to get any work done, he wasn’t sure who else he was trying to convince—he settled in to think about what kind of a person Crowley could want, and how he might go about becoming that person. And tried not to get distracted thinking about what Crowley was doing at that very moment.

* * *

Crowley, as it turned out, was speeding along a motorway quite a distance from London. He’d set about taking the long way home and gotten a little carried away. Anything to try to take his mind off the angel and his own incorrigible hopes now that the future—their future—was wide open.

* * *

They didn’t see each other for nearly a week after that, though it felt like much longer. Aziraphale wasn’t sure what Crowley had been up to, but as for himself he’d gotten to work. His initial premise was this: he felt that, having been Crowley for half a day, he now had a good grasp of what Crowley would be attracted to.

It was rather like method acting, Aziraphale thought, delighted. He’d studied Stanislavski extensively, having felt it his duty to brush up on his acting skills to make sure he presented as humanly as possible as the twentieth century wore on and it seemed people were growing harder and harder to fool. With the advent of the internet, he’d had to redouble his efforts to blend in, with some mixed success. He still had to keep a sharp eye on certain conspiratorially-minded forum-posters with an uncanny knack for noticing things like . . . well, like an unaging dandy who looked like he’d stepped out of a Wellsian time machine and ran a business that shouldn’t be able to break even in modern London. The attention was nothing a gentle miracle or two couldn’t take care of, at least.

Aziraphale sat himself down to make a thorough list of characteristics he’d want to take on in his upcoming role as “Crowley’s ideal.” He’d have to be more suave, less soft, more rakish, less fastidious. He might even, he realized with a grimace, need to update his wardrobe. He could wear a watch, and a jumper (provided it was cashmere), and . . . loafers, maybe. He drew the line at trainers.

Less musical theatre, more bebop. Less port, more whiskey. More swagger! More confidence! Surely he could manage this.

The phone rang and he nearly jumped out of his skin. He sighed; he’d have to get better at “keeping it cool.”

Was it Crowley on the line? He hesitated, about to pick up the receiver. Confident, chilled-out people waited a few rings before picking up, didn’t they? It wouldn’t do to seem desperate. He waited one more ring, then grabbed the phone.

“Hello?” he said, trying to sound casual but coming out strangely breathy.

“Angel! How are you?”

“Oh, Crowley, fancy hearing from you. I’m peachy, really.” Easy-breezy, Aziraphale thought.

Peachy? What decade- Anyway, it’s not important, I’m calling because I miracled up a couple of tickets to that new Merrily revival for tonight. Fancy an evening out?”

Aziraphale was frozen with indecision. Merrily was his favorite Sondheim. But he didn’t want to sound too eager; enthusiasm for Sondheim did not fit with the New Aesthetic he was cultivating. Then again, it seemed foolish to turn down an opportunity to try out his new persona on the very person he was trying to impress.

“You still there, angel? I thought you’d be excited,” Crowley said, sounding put out.

“Oh, yes- I mean, sure, I can move some things around, fit in a theatre trip tonight.” The internet had suggested that people found you more appealing if you had a busy, vibrant social life. It made you seem like a hot commodity, or something.

“Er . . . thanks? Meet you at the usual spot for drinks before the show?”

“See you there.” He hung up; that same website had suggested it was a sign of weakness to say goodbye. Aziraphale thought it seemed rude, but who was he to question modern etiquette?

* * *

Aziraphale laid out an outfit of brand new clothes for the evening: a navy suit, cut along lines that seemed rather daring to him but that his tailor had said would catapult his whole look into the current century, in a colour that would bring out his eyes. He’d tousled his hair with great care, too; that was also supposed to be All the Rage, for whatever reason. It seemed a bit silly to work so hard to make oneself look like one hadn’t tried at all. But he did look quite dashing, he thought, as he surveyed his reflection in the shop window and set off towards the West End.

If there were to be a soundtrack to this moment, Aziraphale thought, it would be “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders. And why not—with a swift flick of his wrist, he clicked on a radio on the balcony of a nearby flat, and the music poured out as he strolled along, much to the surprise of the flat’s owner.

Turning on other people’s radios, listening to rock music—he was getting the hang of New Aziraphale already.

And he was fashionably late arriving to the pub, as well; he almost never arrived anywhere after Crowley, but this time the demon was already sitting at the bar when he strolled in, looking just the same as ever.

Crowley beamed when he walked in, though his expression turned quizzical as he looked Aziraphale over.

“What did you do to your hair? Were you caught in a windstorm or something?” Crowley sounded bemused. “And your suit! Navy isn’t normally your colour, is it?”

“It is now,” Aziraphale said primly. Then, addressing the bartender: “I’ll have an India pale ale, if you have one.” Crowley opened his mouth as if to say something, then seemed to think the better of it.

“Er, sure, same for me then,” he said instead.

Aziraphale sampled the beer the bartender placed in front of him, and immediately regretted his choice. He’d heard IPAs were in vogue, but he wondered now . . .

“Crowley, are you responsible for this?”

The demon looked wounded.

“What? If the humans want to lean into a trend of ordering drinks they all hate, just to try to one-up each other, that’s supposed to be my fault?”

“Hm,” was all Aziraphale could say to that. A thought occurred to him, though. “Are you still doing . . . a lot of tempting, these days? Exerting your wiles to sway the whims of humanity?”

“Well, I-“ The demon faltered. “I suppose there’s not much reason to change my ways—it’s not like I was really acting in Hell’s interest the last couple centuries, to be honest. All my ‘evil doings’ have been more of a lark than anything.” He looked down at his drink, hesitating.

“But?” Aziraphale asked, probing.

“But . . . but I do feel like changing things up a bit, I suppose. Taking it easy on the occult powers, putting my feet up, as it were. Being . . . normal. Or normal-ish.” Crowley cracked an impish grin. “How about you, angel? Feeling any different, post-Apocalypse?”

“Oh my dear, I think you’ll find I’m quite a new man,” Aziraphale said, eyes twinkling as he took another tentative sip of beer.

* * *

They’d ended up back at the pub after the show. Crowley had ordered drinks for them both, some kind of sour beer that was much nicer than the hoppy swill they’d had earlier. Crowley raised his glass across the table, smiling with a carefree happiness that made Aziraphale’s heart ache with longing.

“What’s the line from the show?” he asked Aziraphale, who feigned ignorance. “You know—‘Here’s to us! Who’s like us?’”

“Damn few,” muttered Aziraphale, grimacing and clinking Crowley’s glass half-heartedly. Merrily always left him feeling a little raw; its characters—suffused with regret and hope and love in spite of all the dreadful things they did to one another—caused him to reflect more than was wise on his own long line of choices, good and bad, stretching across the millennia.

“That’s it!” Crowley took a long swig. “I know you know every line in the script.”

Aziraphale smiled weakly. He was crabby, and for no good reason. He’d been aloof and chilly at the theatre, too; he couldn’t seem to calibrate this new personality. And what with the Sondheim and the drinking and the effortless happiness that was radiating off of Crowley, he was finding it far too easy to be himself—his old self, that was—and was floundering mightily in his attempt to be Cool and Suave and Attractive.

Crowley fixed him with a stern look over his glasses. “Alright, come on, angel. You’ve been acting funny all evening. What’s wrong? Didn’t like the cast? Didn’t think they did it justice?”

“What?” Aziraphale said, trying to work out how to look guileless and alluring at the same time but failing miserably. “Nothing’s wrong!”

“Look, I can tell you’re lying,” Crowley said, looking exasperated. “I know your face like it was my own. I-“ He faltered.

“You what? What do you mean?”

“That is, I was just going to say, it was my own. For a day.”

“Oh. Of course.”

“Obviously.” Crowley took a deep breath. “Right, well I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight, but it seems to me like you’re trying awfully hard to be someone you’re not.”

“Oh please! ‘Someone I’m not,’” Aziraphale scoffed. “People change all the time.”

“We hardly count as people! And . . . And I rather like you as you’ve always been,” Crowley said, all in a rush. If Aziraphale didn’t know better he’d almost think the demon was blushing.

Not enough, Aziraphale thought, pained. But he couldn’t say that, so what he said instead was: “Well I can’t think why! I’ve been soft and silly and- and ridiculous, trying to keep Heaven happy. And now that’s all changed and I don’t have to be responsible to anyone but myself, and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it! And if you don’t like it, you can sod off.” He clapped a hand over his mouth, shocked to hear himself be so rude. But the damage was done.

Crowley’s face was frozen, his expression unreadable behind his dark glasses.

“Right,” he said, standing up. “Sure. I’ll be off, then.” He turned and walked out before Aziraphale could apologise. That hadn’t been what he’d intended to say at all.

“Well that went down like a lead balloon,” Aziraphale said quietly, sighing and paying their bill. He’d leaned too hard into his new persona; he’d been aiming for devil-may-care nonchalance but seemed to have flown straight past that and gone right to boorish disregard. He’d have to work harder to seem natural.

He found, standing alone outside the pub, that what he really wanted was a good sleep. Sleep wasn’t something that came naturally to Aziraphale, but he’d done it a handful of times. This seemed as good a moment as any, with the long, lonely hours of the night looming ahead of him.

As soon as he was back at the bookshop, he went up to his flat and dug through his rather disused wardrobe, searching for his striped nightshirt, which he hadn’t worn in about a century. Then he had to spend several minutes clearing stacks of books off his four-poster before he could settle in for the night. He lay down on top of the blankets (it had never occurred to him to try sleeping under them, since he never really felt cold) and stared up at the ceiling.

A minute ticked by. Aziraphale cleared his throat and shifted. This really was tremendously dull; did humans have to lie there every single night for Lord knows how long, just waiting for sleep to come? It must be dreadful for them.

He lay there for what felt like another eternity, but was probably all of three minutes, trying to focus his mind. His thoughts kept drifting back to Crowley; this was a common problem but seemed somehow worse now that he was in bed.

But perhaps what looked on the surface like a problem could actually be a solution? Aziraphale knew that humans claimed to sleep better after engaging in certain . . . activities. It didn’t seem likely that something so, er, arousing could be relaxing. But he supposed, based on his understanding of how endorphins worked on the human brain, that the idea must have some merit. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try? And if he were going to succeed—possibly, some day, if he was very lucky and went about it in just the right way—in his pursuit of Crowley, wouldn’t it be wise to develop some kind of- some kind of knowledge of his own body, before leaping into bed with another being?

He shut his eyes, unsure of how to begin. His conviction was already wavering; maybe it would be easier just to give up, go make a cup of tea, and try to pass the night some other way. But no, he was new Aziraphale, wasn’t he? And if new Aziraphale couldn’t manage this, what hope did he have of working up the gumption to seduce Crowley?

He briskly tugged his nightshirt up around his waist and planted a firm hand on his thigh, stroking a tentative finger up towards the curve of his stomach. He hesitated, tracing a line on the soft skin near his cock but somehow afraid to go further, even on his own blessed body. He tried to think what kinds of attentions Crowley would be giving him, if he were here; that would be easier, he thought—and also much more exciting—than trying to figure out what to do for himself.

Crowley would kiss a line down his chest, maybe licking or (he moaned softly at the thought) biting as he went. In his mind Crowley nibbled along the line where thigh met pelvis, slowing agonizingly as he approached Aziraphale’s already-hard cock, which was suddenly throbbing and practically dripping. He could only hope he’d be able to make it throb and drip less if he managed to get Crowley into his bed for real; surely it would be embarrassing, and repellent, for Crowley to see him so desperate and exposed a state.

Luckily the Crowley he held in his imagination didn’t care, and was maybe even excited by Aziraphale’s arousal. In his mind Crowley exclaimed at the sight of Aziraphale’s need, and looked up into Aziraphale’s eyes with a devastating mixture of adoration and joy. “Oh, let me taste you, please angel,” Crowley would say, darting his tongue over his lips. (Back in reality, Aziraphale bucked his hips and moaned again, louder this time, his lips almost forming the sound into a name.) He pictured Crowley kissing the base of his cock, gently at first, then with more and more passion as he moved slowly towards the tip, and Aziraphale would gasp as Crowley slipped his mouth around Aziraphale’s shaft.

“Oh yes, just like that, don’t you dare stop,” he groaned, as in his mind Crowley took him into his demonic mouth and did unspeakable, nearly unthinkable things with his long forked tongue. The imaginary Crowley was looking up at him with yearning, or maybe awe, or ravenous hunger, or pure burning lust—Aziraphale couldn’t decide which he liked best so he tried to picture them all at once, holding in his mind the image of an impossibly protean demonic visage worshipping his cock.

“Crowley, Crowley, Crow-LEY!” he panted, astonishing himself. It had never occurred to him that his own imagination—combined with the judicious application of his hand on his cock, of course—could make him feel so good. Faster than he would have thought possible, a wave of delicious feeling crested within him, and he found himself spilling helplessly into his own hand as he came for the first time in his long life.

Aziraphale lay still for a few moments, savouring the feeling. If an imaginary encounter with Crowley left him as spent and helpless as this, he could hardly begin to think what the real thing would be like. He shivered a little at the thought.

He did feel more relaxed, really, and he thought sleep would likely come easier now. Though he should really clean himself up first. He opened his eyes, looking around for an expendable towel or something that he could use to wipe off.

And froze.

Crowley was standing at the foot of the bed, utterly still, his expression like nothing Aziraphale had ever seen.

“Wh- What are you DOING here?” Aziraphale gasped, mortified, trying and failing to get his nightshirt back down around his knees in anything like a dignified fashion. Though what did it matter, what dignity did he have now, after Crowley had seen- oh Lord, how long had he been standing there?

Crowley seemed to sputter to life. “Y- You called my name, and you sounded, er, distressed so I, er, came, as it were, right away . . .” He let out a choking laugh, sounding a little manic and almost relieved, but that couldn’t be right.

“Oh sweet heavens,” Aziraphale breathed, burying his face in a pillow. He’d always thought Heaven came down too strongly on masturbation, since as far as sins went it didn’t seem like it was really hurting anyone. And now he’d tried it all of once and it had cost him his dignity and (he could only assume) his best friend. After a mortifying display like that, he was quite sure Crowley would want nothing to do with him from now on.

“Look, angel, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed, but-“ Crowley began.

Aziraphale interrupted him, unable to bear whatever he was about to say. “I know I’ve ruined whatever friendship there was between us, and please know that I am so, so sorry,” he babbled in a strained voice.

“Angel, if you’d just-“

“-and I completely understand that you won’t want to see me again, so I’ll leave London and go- go somewhere, I don’t know, somewhere remote where you won’t ever have to worry about running into me, and I hope with time you’ll be able to leave this whole embarrassing incident in the past and-“

“Angel, listen to me.” Crowley’s voice was full of a raw emotion that Aziraphale couldn’t identify, but it made him shut his mouth abruptly. He supposed he owed it to Crowley to listen to whatever he had to say, anyway. He sat very still, looking down at his hands, and heard Crowley take a long inhale.

“Angel. You know I set the stars in the sky,” he began, his voice soft. Aziraphale looked up at him, perplexed, but nodded slowly. Crowley took a tentative step towards him, then another. “I’ve walked the rings of Saturn, watched a hundred thousand sunrises, stood atop the pyramids when they were brand new, wandered the hanging gardens of Babylon.”

He paused, sitting down on the bed and taking off his glasses and looking straight into Aziraphale’s eyes, his pupils strangely dilated. He continued, his voice shaking, “But nothing has ever been quite so beautiful as the sight of you, touching yourself and calling out my name.”

The two stared at each other for a long moment.

“Oh,” Aziraphale said. He felt he ought to say something more, but his faculties of speech were somehow not cooperating.

Crowley grinned helplessly. “Yeah. Oh indeed,” he said.

They sat in silence for another moment, Aziraphale finding himself very distracted by the proximity of Crowley’s face to his.

“Only-“ Crowley said suddenly, “only please tell me you’ll drop the act and just be you, alright?” Aziraphale looked sheepish. “You’ve been acting funny ever since the Apocalypse and I’ve missed the normal you.”

“Oh, my dear, I’ve been such a fool. I only thought I might be more pleasing to you if I made some . . . adjustments.”

Crowley stared at him in disbelief. “Angel, you idiot, I’ve been in love with you for millennia, just the way you are. Don't go changing for my sake, I’m begging you.”

A coy smile crept across Aziraphale’s lips. “Oh, I think I might like it when you beg me,” he said.

Crowley made a strangled noise, his hands curling into fists around Aziraphale’s blankets.

“Oh yes, I like that quite a lot,” Aziraphale said, breathless and happy. “I won’t try to be someone I’m not, but I think that, together, we could . . . explore some . . . heretofore unplumbed aspects of my self?”

Crowley, apparently incapable of speech, only nodded enthusiastically.

“In that case, would you mind terribly if I-“

“Anything you want, angel,” Crowley whispered. “Anything you want.”