Telling Warlock was going to be the hardest part. Harriet could deal with the rest, but having to sit her son down and tell him that life was really going to change would be more difficult than she was ready for.
Harriet downloaded several self-help books onto her phone in preparation for the conversation, and hoped that between all of them, she’d have a template to work from. The truth was, she didn’t know any divorced people. Divorce was something the middle class did; in her social circles, you simply stayed married and avoided each other unless the man decided to marry his mistress. If a starter wife lasted through the mid-life crisis, she was considered to have it made. Harriet was about to torpedo Thaddeus’s reputation by walking away having cleared that hurdle. Wives didn’t leave.
God, the rules people made for themselves were exhausting. She took a sip of tea and set her book down, considering. She had enough money that she should be fabulously happy. The fact that she wasn’t was due to playing a game that would in theory make her happier but instead made her miserable. What was the point? Harriet couldn’t seem to remember what it was anymore.
The problem was then figuring out a different set of rules to live by. Harriet wasn’t sure how much time she had to knock together a plan for her new life, or what would be provided for her, so she was doing research. Not that she thought Crowley and Aziraphale would strand her with nothing, but it seemed sensible to have a plan anyway. Just in case.
She did like the idea of going into psychology, maybe even for people who had touched the supernatural like she had. Who else was going to believe them, after all? Harriet had no idea what the market looked like there, but she’d ask Crowley. He would probably know.
Or maybe she’d write her own self-help book. She took another sip of tea and let herself imagine sitting at a desk by a window, rain pattering against the glass as she typed words of wisdom on a sleek laptop. It had some appeal. She could set her own hours, for one thing, and have dinner waiting in the Instant Pot for when Warlock got home from school. Just the two of them.
Yeah, it had some appeal.
The other thing that made her pause when she imagined this new life for herself was Crowley’s place in it. Harriet was a woman of simple needs. She wanted her son, a sense of self-worth, and a reasonable amount of very good sex with a very attractive woman. Once a week or so sounded perfect.
She didn’t want a relationship. That seemed too complicated right now, what with the way the last one she’d attempted had worked out. Besides, the woman she wanted to keep having sex with was happily engaged elsewhere most of the time. Honestly, the current arrangement suited Harriet perfectly. She just wasn’t sure how to bring up the notion of continuing it past the agreed-upon closing date.
Harriet wanted to not be in love for awhile. She wanted to define herself as a mother and a woman, not someone’s wife or girlfriend. It was too hard to keep hold of yourself when you belonged to someone else; Warlock was the only one who could have that much of her. He’d made do with less for too long, so she owed him that much. But romance? No thanks. She could just as easily go to dinner or a play with friends. If she could keep sleeping with Nanny, she’d have everything she needed. It would be very tidy.
Maybe that was why she didn’t have any faith that she’d get to have it. If she were in love with someone, she wouldn’t necessarily want to share them. She should probably be grateful that Aziraphale was fine with the three times Harriet had been promised.
She was counting down the days now, as winter crept timidly into spring and green started to appear in the world again. If Crowley appreciated symbolism as much as Harriet suspected, this would be the season for new beginnings. And if Harriet flung herself into a whirlwind of activity, cleaning out the house and setting her affairs in order, then she was just being prepared.
She found herself sitting among boxes of photo albums one morning, around ten when the house was just hers aside from the staff. She cracked one open and stared down at a picture of herself and Thaddeus. It was summer and they were at a party; she recognized her parents’ backyard. He had a hand on her waist and they were smiling. Harriet was pregnant.
And all of a sudden she was weeping, pressing a hand over her mouth and trying not to make enough noise to alert the cleaners. She wept for the woman in that photo, who thought her husband would spend more time at home once he was a father, and she wept for the baby she’d carried. The one they stole from her. And she wept for the woman who’d carried Warlock, wherever she was. She’d loved her baby too, and she probably had no idea what had happened, so she couldn’t cry over it. So Harriet would cry for both of them, and for what they’d lost.
Warlock found her later, halfway into a bottle of Sauvignon blanc. “I thought you were gonna stop,” he said accusingly.
She wiped her eyes and gave him a bleary look. “I know,” she told him sadly, sliding down further in the armchair. “I had a bad day.”
He gave her a betrayed, disgusted look and went upstairs. Harriet listened and sniffled, and then shuffled to her feet and dumped out the rest. She rinsed the glass and filled it with water and drank that, and closed her eyes as she took some centering breaths.
She’d had a bad day, yeah, but that was no excuse. God, was she really going to crawl back into a bottle when she was so close to getting out? Harriet filled the glass again with water and took a sip, feeling disgusted with herself. Then she set the glass down and climbed the stairs. “Warlock?” she called through the closed door. “Honey, I'd like to talk to you.”
The door opened. “Are you drunk?” he asked suspiciously. “I don’t wanna talk to you if you’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” she sighed. She was barely even buzzed, thanks to a truly horrifying alcohol tolerance that she’d built up over the last ten years. “I dumped the rest of the bottle.”
Warlock glared at her, but left to go fling himself onto his bed, where he’d spread out some of his books.
Harriet stepped cautiously after him, looking around her son’s room with new eyes. She took a seat in the chair where Nanny used to sing to him. If she concentrated, she could remember snippets of the lullaby.
“Well?” he demanded. “What did you want to say?”
She looked at her son, studying his face. God, she loved him. She had no idea how to tell him any of the things she needed to. “I found something out recently, honey,” she finally said.
He blew a piece of hair out of his face and looked skeptical.
Harriet swallowed and changed the subject. “If your dad and I split up, who would you want to live with?”
That got his attention. “Are you getting divorced?” he asked eagerly.
“This stays between us,” she told him, pointing a stern finger in his direction. “I mean it, Warlock. Not a word. I’m trusting you here.”
He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “You’re really gonna do it?” he asked in a much quieter voice.
“I’m getting some things in order,” she confessed. “But I needed you to be prepared.”
“Have you talked to Dad yet?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Not yet. I’m working out how to make him understand I’m not angry at him.”
“That’s new,” Warlock muttered.
“I know,” she admitted. “We’ll be happier apart, honey. I just want to do whatever I can to make you happy too.”
He was studying his tartan comforter with intent, picking at a thread. “I used to ask Nanny why you didn’t get divorced,” he finally said.
Harriet bit her lip. “I know.”
“She said sometimes people were too afraid to be alone. Is that what it was?”
Harriet considered. “I was,” she finally said. “Not anymore.”
“Oh.” He swallowed. “I’m gonna have to move, huh?”
“You can stay with your dad if you’d rather,” she said, something squeezing painfully in her chest. “I’m sure there will be people around who can—”
“I’m not staying with Dad,” he said fiercely.
She swallowed. “That’s fine. And if you change your mind, that’s fine too. I want you to be where you’re happiest.”
“Except I’m not gonna change my mind. Why would I want to live with Dad? He’s never around.” Warlock gave her a narrow, suspicious look. “You want me to live with Dad?” he spat at her.
Harriet’s heart broke. How could she love him so much and show it so badly that he didn’t know how she wanted him? “Warlock,” she said, and then took a deep breath. “Of course I want you with me. But I wanted to give you the space to make up your own mind. I’m not going to have as much money as your dad after we split. Things are going to change a lot. And...” she hesitated, and then forced herself to say it. “If I ever start dating again, I’d be dating women.”
Warlock sat up very quickly. “You’re gay?” he shouted.
Harriet winced. “Yeah,” she admitted.
His mouth dropped open. “Then why did you marry Dad?”
“Sometimes people know when they’re young,” she said, trying to hide the pleading note in her voice. “And sometimes people ignore it and try to have a life they know their parents want for them. I can’t ignore it anymore, honey. And I don’t want you growing up thinking that a marriage like mine and your dad’s is a good thing. We’re not happy.”
He kept staring at her, with a funny little nose crinkle that make him look like a confused puppy. It would be hopelessly endearing if she wasn’t so afraid of what might come out of his mouth.
She swallowed and forced a smile. “I just thought you should know before you made a decision.”
His brow creased. “So what made you figure it out now?” he asked bluntly.
Harriet shrugged. “I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books,” she said, which wasn’t untrue.
Warlock narrowed his eyes at her. “No one else’s mom is a lesbian at school,” he said, in a tone that implied he didn’t want to be the only one.
“That you know,” Harriet countered. “Relax. I’m not looking at dating anyone right now. I’m going to have to learn to be single before I can even think about meeting someone new.”
He sucked his teeth and refused to meet her eyes. And that was fine. It wasn’t every day that an adolescent boy had to deal with the earth-shattering notion that his mom might be checking out the same tits he was. She’d give him some time to process.
Finally he asked, “how do you learn to be single?”
Harriet laughed. “Mostly by trying to like yourself.”
Warlock’s face scrunched up. “Yeah, okay,” he said with a trace of wistfulness. “That does sound hard.”
“I like myself better when I’m around you,” she told him with a little smile, and stretched out her hand to him.
His lip curled as he stared at it, but then he sighed. “Shut up,” he muttered, curling his sweaty hand around hers.
His hand used to be so much smaller, so tiny he could barely grip one of her fingers. It was amazing, how one little baby could grow so fast into a gangling, surly boy. Harriet gave his not-so-small hand a squeeze and smiled, sparing a thought to the other son she had out there somewhere. She hoped to God—if God was listening—that he had a mom who loved him even half as much as Harriet loved Warlock. And maybe one who was better at being a functional human being. He deserved that. Every kid did.
“I love you,” she told her son.
He mumbled something that might have been, “I love you too,” but was directed into his lap, so she couldn’t confirm.
She’d take it. After all, her self-help books said she should embrace the imperfect.
The hand that closed over her mouth, jerking her out of a sound sleep, wasn’t entirely a surprise. Harriet didn’t shout, just inhaled the scent of salt and smoke. Then she relaxed. The hand remained for another moment, and then vanished.
“Bit complacent,” Nanny whispered lightly against her ear.
Harriet rolled over to face her. “No one else wants to touch me in this bed,” she whispered back.
“Shame, that.” She wasn’t wearing her glasses. Her eyes gleamed in the dark.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Harriet confessed.
“Oh?” Nanny propped herself up on an elbow. The strap of her black silky nightgown slipped off her shoulder.
Harriet made a face and pushed it back up. “Let’s go downstairs,” she suggested.
In the kitchen, she put the kettle on.
“You know,” said Nanny, kicking her feet idly at one of the tall kitchen stools, “I’d planned on ravishing you in your lonely neglected marriage bed. It was going to be spectacular.”
Harriet gave her a fondly exasperated look.
“I even wore the trashy knickers you like.” Nanny leered at her.
“How did Aziraphale like the oral sex?” Harriet asked instead of thinking about Nanny’s trashy knickers.
“Loved it,” Nanny told her briskly. “Big fan, yep. Probably gonna work it into our usual repertoire.”
“Glad to hear it.” Harriet got two mugs out and set them on the counter. “I want to renegotiate terms.”
“Oh?” Nanny leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand. She swayed slightly, Harriet noticed. Like a snake.
Harriet dropped a teabag into each mug. “In light of all the factors,” she explained.
A flash of guilt crossed Nanny’s face, making her look less like the bombshell she was made up to be and more like Crowley. “Right.”
“I want you to help me find my biological son,” Harriet said firmly. “I have to know he’s okay somewhere, just for my own peace of mind. And if he’s not, you need to make him okay. Does that seem fair?”
Crowley looked stricken, but nodded.
Harriet nodded too and poured them both tea. “I’d also like a little more detail about what happens after I leave. What are you providing and what will I be responsible for? I can’t plan with so many unknowns.”
“Reasonable,” Crowley muttered, slurping the tea obnoxiously.
Harriet ignored it. “And I’d like to keep sleeping together, if you’re amenable.” How had she become the kind of woman who said things like that? She never used to be this assertive.
“Could be.” Crowley looked amused. “I can ask what Aziraphale thinks.”
“Perfect. I don’t want a relationship for the foreseeable future, but it seems a shame to walk away from good sex.”
“So you’re proposing an Arrangement,” Crowley said, laying an amused emphasis on the word that Harriet didn’t quite understand.
She decided to ignore it. “Sure, why not?”
“As far as what to expect after you leave, I assumed I’d be handling most of it,” said Crowley with a shrug. “Things would sort of...fall into place as you decided what you wanted to do with yourself.”
It was Harriet’s turn to look amused. “So what, a house would become available in whatever location I wanted to live? And it would just happen to be within my budget? That sort of thing?”
“More or less, yeah. Warlock likes his school? He can stay there. You find one that suits him better? A place opens and wouldn’t you know, tuition is so reasonable this term. Amazing, isn’t it?” Crowley grinned.
“You could almost say miraculous.” Harriet grinned back.
“You could.” Crowley saluted her with the mug. “So how about it, Harriet? We can end it all here, tonight. All you’d have to do is bend over the counter—just here would be fine. I can take care of the rest.”
Harriet raised her mug to her lips. “But all the terms aren’t settled. I’m not spreading my legs in a cold kitchen if I don’t know whether it’s the last time you’ll ever be between them.”
“For he—what d’you want me to do, call him?” Crowley demanded.
“You probably should.” Harriet sipped her tea.
Crowley stared at her. “Unbelievable.”
Harriet watched as Crowley set down the mug and pulled a sleek black phone from—somewhere, and pressed a button. “Angel!” Crowley barked. “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be—” there was a pause, during which Crowley coughed and went faintly pink. “Yes, but see, she wants to know if we can keep shagging after it’s done!”
There was another, longer pause this time. Harriet found herself gripping her mug rather tightly.
“Said she doesn’t want a relationship,” Crowley murmured after a moment. “No, suppose you can’t.” Another pause. “Yes, I know it’s only sex, angel, I’m the one who gave them the idea in the first place.” Crowley stopped. “Oh, alright, fine, they came up with it themselves. You know what my point is.”
Harriet frowned, trying to follow the thread of this conversation.
“Oh, bless it all, why don’t you just talk to her then?” Crowley thrust the phone at Harriet and stalked away, muttering darkly.
Harriet raised it gingerly to her ear. “Hello?”
“Ah, Harriet,” said a smooth pleasant voice on the other end. It immediately made her feel warmer. “I hear you’re becoming an accomplished negotiator.”
“Thank you,” she said, feeling awkward in spite of herself. She didn’t know what to say to the partner of the demon she’d been sleeping with.
“I don’t suppose he’s bothered to tell you that he and I are quite a recent development?” asked Aziraphale lightly.
Harriet blinked. “I—no. I didn’t know that.”
“Quite recent,” Aziraphale repeated. “And he’s rather newer to sex with humans than I am. You are, in fact, the only other being besides myself who’s had the pleasure of knowing Crowley...shall we say biblically?”
Harriet craned her neck to where the demon was poking around her pantry and clucking with disapproval. “I hadn’t realized it was that recent.”
“Quite. Hard to believe, isn’t it? He’s a marvelously quick study.”
“You don’t sound jealous,” she said slowly.
“I’m a being of love, Harriet. Love isn’t jealous, as a rule. My concerns have nothing to do with that, my dear. It would simply be hypocritical of me.”
“I’m not sure I’m following,” Harriet told him.
“It’s difficult to explain without sounding terribly arrogant, so I do hope you’ll forgive me. You are a young woman in reasonably good health. Given that, I anticipate you ought to live another fifty years, perhaps even sixty.”
“Knock on wood,” Harriet agreed. “I think I get where you’re going with this.”
“It’s terrible to lose someone you love,” he said gently, “even when you love them as a friend. Perhaps especially then, because a true friend is a rare and beautiful thing.”
“The alternative isn’t great either,” she pointed out.
“No, of course not. I only worry about him. He’s terribly tender, under it all.”
Harriet watched as Crowley crossed to the bin with a bag of stale crisps and threw it out. “I’m learning that.”
Aziraphale went quiet for a moment. “There’s also the matter of attachment,” he said. “I’d hate to see you close yourself off from the possibility of love in the future just because you have Crowley to see to your needs.”
Harriet turned that over in her mind. She could see it, falling into a comfortable rut after awhile, missing opportunities, passing up chances... “I don’t want that either,” she told him. What she wanted—what she really wanted—was a couple of friends she could lean on during the scariest phase of her life. She wanted people to talk to who understood, and if she got off with one of them regularly, then so much the better, but she mostly wanted company. “I just don’t want to do this alone,” she confessed in a whisper.
Crowley looked over at her sharply.
“Oh my dear,” breathed Aziraphale. “You won’t have to.”
“I want to write a book,” she said, feeling herself tearing up. “I want to live in London so Warlock can stay at his school. I want to be with people who think I’m interesting. I just—”
Crowley’s arms were suddenly around her, pulling her tight against her soft chest as she snatched the phone from Harriet’s ear. “Did you go and make her cry, angel? What’s that for, hm? I—oh.”
Harriet tucked her face into Crowley’s neck, touched by the protectiveness. She wanted Warlock to grow up with people like them, who talked about feelings and who would be there for him after she was gone.
“There there,” mumbled Crowley, rubbing her back briskly. “You’re alright, dear.”
“I will be,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Right,” Crowley murmured, “okay. Thanks, angel.” She tucked the phone away. “He says it’s fine, pending some fine-tuning and keeping in mind what he said to you.”
Harriet nodded. “Okay.” She slipped her arms around Crowley’s waist, sighing. “Did you just clean out my pantry?”
“The quality of the staff is really slipping these days,” Crowley sniffed. “They knew better than that when I was around.”
Harriet snorted. “You know us sloppy Americans.”
“I know you’re not as sloppy as I’d like you,” Crowley murmured.
“You’re terrible,” Harriet murmured, smiling in spite of herself.
“It works.” Crowley’s hand dropped to give her ass a squeeze.
Harriet sighed, nuzzling Crowley’s neck. “Yeah, it does work. You’re lucky you’re hot or I’d never put up with those cheesy lines.”
“Oh, come now. You’ve been waiting your whole life to be seduced by cheesy lines.” Crowley bent to kiss her.
Harriet turned away. “You should have planned this for right after I brushed my teeth,” she said.
Crowley paused, then sighed and lifted her hand off Harriet’s ass to snap her fingers. A second later Harriet’s mouth felt minty and fresh.
“That’s seriously weird, you know that, right?” She wiggled her tongue around her mouth thoughtfully.
“You get used to it.” Crowley kissed her slowly.
Harriet curled her hands in Crowley’s collar, tugging her closer. “I’m not fucking you in my kitchen,” she whispered against her lips.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Crowley grinned crookedly.
“Fucking on granite counters is adventurous? I thought you were supposed to be kinky.” Harriet grinned back.
“Oh hush.” Crowley nipped her ear. “Do tell if you’ve got someplace better in mind,” she whispered silkily.
Harriet bit her lip. “You wanna see what we did with your old room?” she asked.
“Naughty, Harriet.” Crowley looked delighted. “I hope you haven’t changed it.”
Harriet pulled her into an absolutely filthy kiss. “Not a goddamn thing,” she whispered. “You just need to put some sheets on the bed.”
“Done,” Crowley whispered against her mouth. “Lead on, dear.”
It was a struggle not to laugh as they crept up the stairs hand in hand; the nanny’s quarters were on the mostly empty third floor. The house had been built to support live-in staff, but Thaddeus and Harriet only had cleaners and the gardener, who now lived somewhere in Surrey and only came in on weekdays. The nanny had been the only one who lived with them.
Now the third floor—second, if she was going to be English about it—was shut up. It got cleaned along with the rest of the house, but the rooms sat empty except for storage. Crowley had an arm around Harriet’s waist and pressed her against the door to the nanny’s room, kissing her mouth and jaw with flattering hunger.
“Shit,” Harriet breathed, “I used to want to be you so badly. Or—Nanny, I guess.”
“Did you really want to be me?” Crowley’s nose brushed against her ear. “Or did you just want me?”
“Million dollar question,” Harriet whispered, reaching behind her for the doorknob. She got it open and they slipped inside. “I knew you were important, we’ll go with that.”
“That’ll do.” Crowley drew herself up, and Harriet could see the transformation into Nanny Ashtoreth. Her body language changed, her facial expression went gentle and stern, and her hands tightened on Harriet’s waist. “Now,” she said, stepping around Harriet neatly and sitting primly on the bed, “was there something you needed, dear?”
Harriet’s eyebrows shot up. “Way better than the kitchen,” she said approvingly.
“If you wanted the nanny,” Nanny purred—and shit, the Scottish accent was back—and crossed her legs, “then you’ll get the nanny.”
Harriet’s mouth was suddenly a bit dry. She stared at the long, pale stretch of thigh visible under the short silky nightgown. That contrast of white skin and black silk was doing things to her. “Yeah,” she croaked. “I want the nanny.”
“Close the door, dear,” Nanny murmured, and Harriet did, leaning back against it as she took in the demon in front of her. Her eyes gleamed in the light, and her big hand patted the bed beside her. “Come sit down. Tell me what you need.”
Harriet felt shaky like a newborn colt, but that was okay. She managed to cross the room and sink onto the bed, turning to Nanny with a desperation that scared her a little.
Nanny reached up to brush her hair back from her face. “I accept your new terms,” she whispered.
Harriet leaned into the hand. “Then I accept your offer,” she whispered back.
“Now to seal the deal, as it were.” And that was Crowley’s stupid grin peeking out, making a bubble of fondness explode in Harriet’s chest before it sank back under Nanny’s stern but gentle smile.
Harriet felt daring, so she slid her hand over Nanny’s larger one. “I know you’ll take care of me,” she said, biting her lip.
“Of course, dear.” Nanny turned her hand so it enveloped Harriet’s. “Just let me see to everything.”
“Okay.” Harriet raised her face for a kiss and was rewarded with a swift press of those hot lips. They quickly moved from her mouth to her jaw and down her neck, causing little sparks of pleasure that made her sigh.
“You’re so tense, dear,” Nanny murmured, nibbling at the tendon on her neck. “Lie back, now. Let’s help you relax.”
Harriet let Nanny ease her back onto the mattress with a hand on her chest. She gripped the plain quilt in her fists as Nanny leaned over her, stroking her thumb softly across Harriet’s collarbone. “Touch me?” she whispered.
“Anywhere you like, dear,” Nanny cooed at her, and Harriet squirmed.
“You know where,” she said, shifting her legs. The quilt was just cotton, but it felt decadent on her bare skin. She wished she’d worn something sexier than shorts and a t-shirt to bed, but she could have spoken up earlier if she’d wanted to change.
Nanny’s eyebrows shot up. “Naughty,” she said again. “Not quite the demure girl I remember now, are you?”
Harriet grinned up at her. “No,” she agreed breathlessly; Nanny’s free hand landed on her bare thigh and there was a thumb stroking just under the hem of her sleep shorts. “Don’t you like it when I’m forward?”
“You mean do I appreciate a brazen little hussy crawling into my bed and making demands?” Nanny slid her hand into Harriet’s shorts, making her squeal—it was cold. She smirked. “It has its appeals, yes.”
Harriet groaned; those fingers warmed up fast between her legs, and they’d started to pet her very softly through her underwear. “I’ll try not to be too demanding,” she breathed, shifting her hips to optimize the angle.
Nanny snorted. “I’m sure. Look at you, already so greedy. You really ought to be patient, dear. Don’t you trust Nanny to give you what you need?”
Harriet bit her lip, shivering with delight. “Yes, Nanny,” she whispered.
“Let’s get these off you, then.” Nanny tragically withdrew her fingers from Harriet’s underwear and patted her hip. “Up.”
Harriet arched helpfully so Nanny could tug her shorts and underwear down her legs and bit her lip when Nanny carefully set them aside. The fastidious care was somehow erotic; she didn’t pretend to understand it, but it was working for her.
“There.” Nanny gave her a critical once-over and nodded. “Much better. Now open those legs, dear, and let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
“Shit,” Harriet whispered shakily, and spread her legs.
Nanny craned her neck to take a look, and Harriet had to shut her eyes then. The feeling of being looked at, appraised and measured, and ultimately being found desirable hit her right in whatever powered her libido. It got her so fucking hot, and Nanny knew just how to do it to her. “Well well,” Nanny purred. “It seems you need a great deal, dear. I haven’t seen a cunt this wet since Boris Johnson got caught in the rain.”
That startled a laugh out of Harriet, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from breaking the mood.
When she looked, Nanny looked pleased with herself. She met Harriet’s eyes and smirked.
Harriet let herself giggle then. “Nice.”
“Thank you, dear,” said Nanny smugly.
“Presumably your treatment of the two is going to be considerably different,” said Harriet, still grinning.
“Oh, undoubtedly, dear. Unless you’d like to be repeatedly struck.”
“I’m not much for spanking,” said Harriet with a shrug.
“Pity. No matter, Aziraphale likes it well enough.”
“Variety.” Harriet nodded.
“And I can still take you over my knee for other nefarious purposes.” Nanny smiled slowly. “I’m told they make a variety of devices for the express purpose of sexually torturing pretty women.”
“That seems like something we should investigate,” said Harriet, swallowing.
“It does, doesn’t it? Next time.” Nanny pushed Harriet’s legs further apart. “For now you’ll have to satisfy yourself with me.”
“Not hard to do,” Harriet whispered.
“Thank you, dear,” said Nanny primly, and slid a finger into Harriet. “My, that went easy, didn’t it? I ought to give you another.”
“Yeah,” Harriet managed, arching as a second finger pushed in. “Feels good.”
“I’m sure. There we are.” Nanny put a hand on Harriet’s abdomen and crooked her fingers. “Oh, now that’s got you all tight. Too much tension, perhaps?”
“It’s nice,” Harriet told her. “Can I have another one?”
Nanny gave her a knowing look. “Greedy,” she said indulgently, and gave Harriet another finger.
Harriet whined, canting her hips into it. She was greedy; she’d felt greedy and needing and dissatisfied her whole life. But Nanny said it like it wasn’t a bad thing that Harriet wanted more. Like she wasn’t asking for too much, or even more than Nanny was prepared to give. What a fucking contrast to her husband, or the political wives. Or really, anyone in Harriet’s old life. They didn’t treat her like she deserved more, so she didn’t need them.
What she did need was for Nanny to finger her harder. Three of those long, graceful fingers made a nice stretch, but what Harriet wanted was a thorough fucking, and this wasn’t doing the trick. “Nanny,” she whined again, arching her hips. She’d speak up if she had to, but she wanted to see if Nanny would just know, somehow, the way she always seemed to.
Sure enough. “Turn over, dear,” Nanny told her, pulling her fingers out and making Harriet sigh at the loss. “Come now, up and over. And put that pillow under you, dear, just like that.”
Harriet shivered. With the fluffy pillow under her hips, she effectively had her ass propped in the air. Ripe for the taking, as it were. The thought made her moan softly and hide her face in the bedding.
“That’s better,” said Nanny approvingly, and she ran a hand down Harriet’s flank. Harriet moaned, and Nanny patted her ass patiently. “Be a dear and spread a bit wider.”
Harriet shuffled her legs further apart, and then moaned helplessly into the pillow when Nanny pushed all three fingers back into her at once.
“Now we have it,” Nanny murmured, and started to move them properly.
Harriet bit the pillow, arching her back to get as much inside her as she could. Those fingers were perfect, sending little jolts all through her gut as they fucked her. And Nanny was relentless; she got up on her knees, moving behind Harriet to improve the angle, and then she was working from the shoulder, slamming into her until Harriet was crying out into the bedding. She clenched her hands on the quilt, moving her hips and fucking back as best she could. It was too good; she was halfway to coming just on those fingers.
“You certainly make a pretty picture, dear,” Nanny cooed at her. “Your thighs are shaking.”
Harriet knew they were. And she could feel that they were slick too, where Nanny’s vigorous fingerfucking had smeared wetness halfway to her knees. She felt filthy. Absolutely debauched. She wanted more.
“Are you satisfied yet, girl?” Nanny asked sharply. “Or have I got to stuff another finger in you?”
Harriet moaned, lifting her ass up.
“Wanton,” Nanny tutted, and slipped her pinky in as well. Like this, the whole of her hand up to the thumb slid right in, and it—it ached, but in a way that made Harriet want to spread wider and beg for more. She remembered the doctors telling her in low voices about exercises she could do, back when she’d been pregnant, that would make labor easier. Remembered that she’d birthed a child once, and she could take more than this.
“More,” she slurred, turning her head and shivering at how rough her voice sounded. “Come on, more.”
Nanny paused. “You sure, dear?” she asked carefully. “Breathe, take a moment.”
“I’m sure,” Harriet rasped, canting her hips and shuffling her knees apart. “Put your whole fucking hand in me.”
“Good lord.” That was Crowley, getting flustered under the persona. It was cute. Harriet liked it.
She wiggled her ass insistently. “Miracle up some goddamn lube if I’m not wet enough.”
“Shit,” Crowley hissed. “Yeah, okay, just—here.” And then something cool dripped between her legs and made Harriet shriek into the pillows.
She kicked her foot uselessly against the mattress to signal that that was fucking cold, and it immediately warmed up pleasantly against her skin.
“There we are.” Nanny’s voice was back; apparently Crowley had pulled herself together again. Good. Harriet wasn’t sure she was capable of talking an anxious demon through fisting her. She slid a hand over Harriet’s hip, soothing her as she rocked her fingers in and out. “You barely need this at all, you know,” Nanny said in a low voice. “You want this so terribly much, dear, you open right up for me.”
Harriet whined, shoving her face in the pillow again as Nanny fingered her. The bulge of her knuckles was an insistent press against her, threatening pain but never delivering. Finally Harriet sighed, tension draining from her body, and let her in.
“Nicely done, girl,” cooed Nanny, patting her hip. “Oh, you’re marvelous.”
Harriet got her elbows under her so she could push back, but Nanny’s hand tightened on her hip.
“No,” she said softly. “Let me drive, dear.”
Harriet shivered and let herself go boneless against the bed. Nanny would take care of her.
“There we are.” That voice was so soothing, just like the big warm hand that caressed her hip as Nanny’s thumb brushed against her hole. Harriet sighed as Nanny slid it in, so gently she wanted to scream. Maybe this looked violent from the outside, but Harriet could feel how careful Nanny was being with her. It was lovely, being handled this delicately. The stretch was intense, but never actually painful. Nanny worked her fingers in and out, just a gentle rocking motion until Harriet got used to it. Time seemed to go strange and thick as Harriet’s focus narrowed down to where their bodies were joined. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so aware of herself. It was heady.
And then the ball of Nanny’s thumb popped inside.
Harriet made a noise she didn’t have a name for, a low animal sound that reverberated through her whole body. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. She couldn’t believe it actually felt good.
But oh, it did. Nanny’s hand slid in easier once the widest point was through, and it was the most intense feeling Harriet could remember. She felt like she would float right out of her skin if there wasn’t a hand on her holding her steady.
“Good God,” Nanny breathed, and Harriet knew she was staring. She shifted her weight on the bed, and her hand moved, just a little, which was enough to make Harriet whimper. “Fuck, that’s incredible.”
Harriet slumped, flexing her fingers in the quilt. She was perfectly happy to melt into a puddle right here, basking in all the endorphins jumping around her system. Every tiny movement of Nanny’s hand sent shock waves through her, pulling noises from deep in her chest. She almost didn’t care if she came or not, because she was riding the high regardless.
“Look at you,” Nanny whispered. “You really love this.”
Harriet made a guttural noise that she hoped passed for agreement and shifted her hips, only to whimper pitifully at the way Nanny’s hand felt. She couldn’t even clench, she was stretched so tight.
The other hand left her hip and slid down the back of her thigh. “You sound like you've seen paradise.”
Harriet nodded dreamily, groaning again when that hand moved inside her.
“Do—d’you want to come?” The hesitation in her voice made Harriet pay more attention.
“Hm?” She turned her head. It was hard to form words. “Yeah, okay.”
“Right.” And she sounded like Crowley again, all nervous and eager to please. “I can do that, yeah. Shit, I can’t believe that fits.”
Harriet groaned. “‘S too late to freak out, so stop it,” she muttered.
There was an irritated hiss behind her.
Harriet was prepared to forgive, though; she felt amazing, and the hand on her thigh carefully dipped between her legs, making her moan happily. Crowley’s fingers prodded at Harriet’s stretched-out hole, presumably just to marvel at it, and then they slipped higher, ghosting across her clit and sending electricity through her veins.
“God, you squeeze me hard when I do that,” Crowley whispered, and Harriet didn’t even think she could squeeze like this. Her body was amazing. “Fuck, okay. That’s it...” Her voice was slipping back into Nanny’s, and someday Harriet was going to tease her about needing to get into character to top, but that was for later.
For now, she shuddered at the clever fingers that brushed across her clit again. Everything already felt overwhelming, and this even moreso. Harriet shrieked into the pillow when Nanny started to rub her clit in quick little circles; the motion matched what she was doing with her hand inside Harriet, and that required some serious coordination.
“Oh, you love that, don’t you?” Nanny purred. “Look at you now, you greedy thing. Taking everything I can give you. Wet, wanton little whore, you’re lovely like this, you really are...”
Harriet was going to buy her something nice. Tickets to the opera, maybe, or a fruit basket. Treat her to lunch at the Savoy, because she was pretty sure she was going to die like this and it would be beautiful. She could feel herself cresting a wave, and the sensation built and spread out from her clit where Nanny was rubbing her so good, and it was almost gentle, the way it washed over her and didn’t stop.
Nanny didn’t stop either, and Harriet lost track of time as one orgasm flowed into another; her legs twitched and she was biting down hard on the pillow to muffle her cries. It was perfect, and she nearly sobbed with the loss when Nanny finally brought her down.
“Easy, dear,” she murmured. “We’re just going to—” and suddenly Harriet was empty, clenching around nothing as her confused muscles tried to adjust to the absence of that hand. “Not going to mess with that,” came an unnerved mutter.
Harriet shuddered. “Jesus Christ,” she slurred.
“He wasn’t terribly kinky, dear,” Nanny said mildly. “I offered.”
Harriet paused, then slowly turned her head to stare.
“What?” Nanny waved her miraculously clean hand. “Part of the whole temptation bit. You know, in the desert.”
“I just got fisted by someone who knew Jesus,” said Harriet flatly.
“Er,” said Crowley guiltily. “Yeah.”
Harriet let herself flop face-first into the bedding so she didn’t have to think too hard about that. She took a deep breath, and then another one, and then sat up. Muscles that were not used to being so well used protested, and she curled a hand over her abdomen. “So what now?” she asked softly.
Crowley looked at her—and it was Crowley now, all serious yellow eyes and all trace of Nanny’s self-assurance gone. “Depends,” she said. “I can miracle you away tonight, with Warlock. We can go shopping for a flat tomorrow that will conveniently find itself empty and waiting for you. You can be free.”
Harriet swallowed. “I think,” she said haltingly, “that I want to sit down and talk to my husband.”
Crowley nodded. “Of course, dear. It’s nearly morning.”
Harriet glanced at the single window in the room. Still dark, but that wasn’t surprising. “I believe you.”
Crowley gave her a faint smile. “You’re sure?”
“I think I have to,” said Harriet slowly. After all, they had shared over fifteen years together. The fact that most of them had been unhappy was beside the point. Thaddeus wasn’t abusive; there was no reason to sneak out in the middle of the night with the kid. She could run like a coward, or she could leave in a way that would make her feel okay with herself.
She knew from her self-help books what she needed to do.
Crowley reached out and smoothed her hair behind her ear; immediately Harriet felt her hair and her thighs miraculously clean themselves up. “There’s a girl,” she said softly. “I always knew you had it in you.”
Harriet forced a smile. It wasn’t a conversation she was looking forward to, but she slipped into Crowley’s arms and let herself be held as the sun rose. Crowley rocked her softly, resting her cheek on Harriet’s head and stroking one of those big hands up and down her back. When dawn had crept across the room far enough to touch the edge of the bed, she sighed.
“Time for me to go, dear,” she murmured, and Harriet nodded.
“Right,” she said with a deep breath. “Yeah.” It was an effort to let go, but Harriet did it, and forced another smile. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Of course, dear,” Crowley whispered, chucking her gently under the chin. “I’ll find you.”
Harriet nodded, and slowly got to her feet. She didn’t look back as she left the little room on the third floor and padded down the stairs past the bedrooms and to the kitchen. Crowley could make her own way—had been doing it longer than Harriet had been alive, so Harriet felt free to worry about her own problems. Besides, she’d just talked to Aziraphale and heard the love in his voice. Crowley was going to be fine.
And so was Harriet, once she cleared this final hurdle.
She made coffee. Two cups, just the way they both liked it, and she carried them upstairs. Thaddeus was still asleep. He didn’t have any meetings today until the afternoon, so he’d allow himself to sleep until seven and then go straight to the office. Warlock had a lunch packed and his homework all done the night before, and a driver ready to take him to school. He didn’t need her this morning.
Harriet set the coffee down on Thaddeus’s nightstand and crossed over to her side of the bed with her own cup. It didn’t take long for the smell of fresh coffee with cream to pull him into consciousness. She took a sip and watched him as he sniffed and opened his eyes.
“Did you make me coffee?” he asked, sitting up and peering at her as though he hadn’t seen her clearly before.
Harriet nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“Thanks, honey.” And there was that little boy smile that she’d loved once. He sat up and gingerly took the cup in his hands—he always had warm hands. Harriet had adored his hands once upon a time. “What’s the occasion?”
Shit. Harriet wished he hadn’t given her such a perfect opening. She took a deep breath. “I think we need to talk.”
The smile dropped off his face. “Is this about the Pestana?” he asked.
So he had seen the room charge. Harriet bit her lip. “You knew.”
“Yeah.” Thaddeus watched her over the lip of his cup. “I wasn’t sure you’d say anything.”
Harriet sighed. “It’s not exactly about the Pestana,” she said, feeling her courage waver. “Although If we’re going to talk about that we can just as easily discuss Tiffany’s lipstick on your collar.”
He winced. “Honey—”
“I don’t think there’s much point in discussing it though,” said Harriet. “Do you? We’re both sleeping with other people, Tad.”
Thaddeus studied her. “You look different,” he said abruptly. “You look better.”
“Self-esteem,” she said with a shrug, and then stopped herself. It was too easy to get defensive when she talked to him. That wasn’t what she wanted. “I’m not angry,” she told him, “about Tiffany. That’s—that’s whatever. This is bigger than that.”
He frowned. “Honey, it’s early. What exactly are you trying to say?”
“I want a divorce.” Harriet let it hang there, in the ringing silence. She didn’t try to soften the blow.
Thaddeus stared at her. “You what?”
“I want a divorce,” she repeated evenly. “I’m tired, Tad. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Divorce?” he repeated stupidly. “I don’t—how can you even say that? I know we’re going through a rough patch—”
“Honey, we’ve been going through a rough patch for thirteen years,” Harriet pointed out as gently as possible. “Are you really willing to keep it up for another thirteen?”
He blinked rapidly. “Okay, I know I haven’t been home much,” he began.
“You left me alone to give birth to our son,” she said, and took a fortifying sip of coffee. “You’ve made it abundantly clear that your career matters more than me or Warlock. And this administration is despicable, Tad. I can’t believe you keep bending over for them.”
“But you’re happy enough to spend my money,” he said, anger surfacing.
Harriet held up her hand. “I gave up my career for you,” she pointed out. “Remember that? But I’m not going to ask you for alimony. I can make my own way, Tad. All I want is to make sure Warlock has the best. We can agree on that, can’t we?”
He eyed her distrustfully. “You haven’t worked since before Warlock was born and you don’t want alimony?” he asked.
She closed her eyes and fought the urge to smash her coffee cup in his face. “I’m perfectly happy to get it all in writing,” she said evenly. “We can work out the details of who pays for what. I just want to make sure Warlock can stay in his school.”
“This is—” Thaddeus shook his head. “Harriet, where will you go? What are you gonna do? Do you even have a plan?”
“I have part of one,” she told him. “I can figure out the rest as I go.”
“Okay.” He rubbed his eyes. “Okay, you have a plan. How long have you been thinking about this?”
“You mean before or after I committed to leaving?” asked Harriet. “Because I’ve toyed with the idea for years, but this time?” She considered. “Right around the time you ignored me at the Christmas party.”
“You’re leaving because of the Christmas party?” he demanded.
“I’m leaving because every party is just like the Christmas party,” she snapped. “You want a perfect family to flash in front of your colleagues like an accessory, but we aren’t people to you, Tad. And I’m not interested in being your arm candy. You can find younger and cheaper if that’s all you need in a woman.”
“I need you,” he insisted.
Harriet shook her head. “You don’t even know me anymore,” she told him quietly. “How do I spend my time? What committees am I on? Who did I have lunch with last week?”
“You—” He opened his mouth and froze, an anguished expression passing over his face.
Harriet smiled sadly. “Yeah,” she said. “You don’t have any idea.”
He looked away. “What are you gonna tell Warlock?”
“I’ll tell him the truth, that we’ll be happier apart.” Harriet took a fortifying sip of coffee. “He can choose where he wants to live, with no pressure from us.”
“You’ll be able to support him on your own?” Thaddeus asked sourly.
“I have faith things will work out,” she replied. “I’m going to start looking for a flat here in London. Warlock won’t be far, if you want to see him.”
“You’re so sure he’s going to live with you.” Thaddeus stared at her, totally bemused.
“Well, which one of us helped him with his book report this quarter?” Harriet asked. “Don’t think of it as losing us, Tad, because you never really had us to begin with. We’ll just be a little further away.” Which would come in handy when things crashed and burned with the State Department.
“We can’t just get divorced, honey!” he said. “People will talk.”
“I don’t care.” Harriet looked at him. “Blame everything on me if you want. I don’t plan to see any of the expat crowd again, so feel free to say whatever you want to save face.”
“Jesus,” he whispered, looking away.
Harriet studied his profile. He was still soft with sleep and his hair was sticking up in all directions. She felt nothing when she looked at him.
“Okay, okay.” He took a deep breath. “What about this? We can take a long weekend. Go to Brighton or something, just the two of us. You’re absolutely right, I’ve been a terrible husband, but we can—”
“There’s no trip that could fix this, honey,” Harriet said softly. “This marriage is dead. We’re both having affairs, we never have sex anymore, and I can’t actually remember the last time we had fun together. Can you?” She raised her eyebrows.
His mouth was hanging open. “There was the—” He stopped, and something stole across his face in the silence.
“See?” she said quietly.
“No,” he said blankly. “It’s not that bad, Harriet.”
“Denial isn’t working for me anymore, Tad. And I have to do what works for me now.” Harriet gripped her cup tightly.
“So what about me?” he demanded. “You’re just gonna walk out and take my son?”
“The son you couldn’t be bothered to spend time with?” asked Harriet mildly. “That son? Yeah, I think so, although God knows if you want to build a better relationship with him I will be completely supportive.”
“Are you really sure you can handle him by yourself, hon?” Thaddeus probably wasn’t saying it just to be cruel. He was never deliberately cruel. Harriet was giving him the benefit of the doubt. “I mean, you’ve had nannies since he was a baby.”
She certainly did have a nanny. Harriet took a sip of coffee to fight the hysterical urge to giggle. “I’ve been doing some work on myself lately,” she said once she lowered the cup. “I’m devoting myself to being a mother. It’s easier if I’m not pretending to be a wife.”
That was deliberately cruel, and she felt bad when she saw him flinch. But she didn’t take it back.
“So that’s it,” he said softly. “Seventeen years of marriage and then you wake me up with a cup of coffee and tell me you’re leaving.”
“Are you even in love with me anymore?” Harriet asked. “Or is this your pride that’s hurting? Because that’ll pass, trust me. If I can swallow the entire Oval Office watching me in childbirth because you couldn’t be bothered to be with me, then you can get over them knowing I left you.”
“Again with the labor thing?” he snapped. “That was years ago! I told you already, I was sorry I couldn’t be there, but you did great!”
Harriet wanted to tell him. Wanted to scream and fling her coffee in his face and tell him how he abandoned her to face Hell alone, but there was no way to make him understand. There was too big a gulf between them, too many years of silences and hurts and petty grievances to cross anymore. She shook her head. “I never forgave you,” she finally said. “I tried, but I never could. Not for that. Not for leaving me alone when I needed you most.”
He didn’t understand. It was clear from the look on his face, and Harriet didn’t have the energy to explain.
“Look,” she said, “at the end of the day we will be happier apart. We already live mostly separate lives anyway. You can start dating that girl openly now that I’m moving out. I can make my own way. And you can be a father on your own terms, for as long as Warlock is willing to put up with it. At least you won’t have to worry about him staying in his room when the Russians or the Tories come to dinner.”
“And Tad?” She cut him off and looked him in the eye. “Consider that this administration won't be here forever. There’s an old metaphor about rats and sinking ships.” She got to her feet. “I’ll shower in the guest room.”
“Harriet.” The pleading note in his voice made her turn. Thaddeus was sitting on the bed with his empty cup dangling from his hands.
She raised her eyebrows. “What is it?” It wouldn’t be like him, to make a play for her now. He’d never fought to keep her before.
Sure enough, he dropped his eyes and stared at the floor. And Harriet nodded. He wouldn’t put up a fight now either.
She sobbed in the shower, sinking to the floor and thinking of the woman she’d been when she married him. If she could, she’d reach back through time and hug that girl, try to shore her up against all the pain and disappointment that she’d have to face. She ached with the weight of years wasted, and the nearly unbearable lightness she felt now that she’d ended it.
Thaddeus was gone when she came out, so she dressed and went downstairs with the notion of having another cup of coffee. Before she could reach the kitchen, the housekeeper stopped her in the hall.
“Mrs. Dowling,” she said cautiously, “the movers are here.”
Harriet stared at her. “Movers,” she repeated.
“Yes, ma’am.” The housekeeper eyed her with cool approval. “They arrived just after Mr. Dowling left.”
“Did they now?” Harriet kept her expression carefully controlled, although her heart leapt. “That’s incredibly convenient. Alright, let them in.” She went to pour herself that second cup of coffee and pulled up real estate listings in London on her phone. Odds were good that she’d find a miraculously good deal.
An hour later, several glassy-eyed men were packing up Harriet’s half of the master bedroom and she had appointments to see four different London homes in the afternoon. It was Friday; she’d be back before Warlock got home from school.
Things were, in fact, falling into place.
“This came for you in the post,” said the housekeeper, whose admiration had made Harriet pour her a cup of coffee earlier and tempt her into drinking it with her at the island. She handed over a small, beautifully handwritten card on expensive, heavy stock.
Harriet took it, amused, and read the elegant invitation to afternoon tea. “A. Z. Fell’s,” she noted, lips quirking. “Ever been?”
The housekeeper—her name was Moira, Harriet had just learned—blinked. “The bookshop? I’ve never been inside, no, but it’s been a fixture in Soho for ages. Even before the area cleaned up.”
Harriet looked at the card again, imagining Aziraphale in the sleaziest days of the 1970s, floating around like the little ray of light he was and gracing everyone he met with those bright smiles. It was a charming thought. “I guess I’d better call to confirm,” she said.
“Very good.” Moira nodded.
Harriet pulled out her phone and dialed the number on the card. Somehow she wasn’t surprised that it was Aziraphale who offered his contact information first, although she had to say she was touched.
After three rings, a coolly formal voice answered the phone. “A. Z. Fell. May I help you?”
“It’s Harriet,” she said. “I got your invitation.”
“Harriet!” Aziraphale’s voice went from winter to summer in an instant. “I do hope you’re alright.”
She smiled wanly. “I’m getting there.”
“I had thought,” he said cautiously, “that you might appreciate the company.”
“Dear God, absolutely.” Harriet barked a laugh. “I’ve got an appointment to see a few houses over on that side of the city this afternoon, so honestly, tea at your place would be perfect.”
“Lovely.” She could year his smile over the phone. “Crowley also wondered if Warlock would be able to join us. After school, that is.”
Harriet hesitated. “I think I need to talk to Warlock about the present situation and see how he feels,” she said. “The whole trying to be a better mother thing means a lot more listening. But you know he loves his nanny, so don’t take it personally.”
“Of course not.” Aziraphale’s voice softened. “I’ll pass it along.”
“Thanks. And I’ll see you once I’ve looked at some houses.”
After the call was over, she went upstairs to brush her teeth and put on some makeup. She called a divorce lawyer and set up an appointment for tomorrow morning. Miraculously, there was an opening at a convenient time. She stepped around the movers, who were still packing up her things with vaguely puzzled expressions, and grabbed her purse. There was no way she could stay here any longer. If she didn’t keep moving, she’d lose momentum and the whole fragile situation would fall apart.
Harriet took a car into central London, interested in looking over some of the districts where she’d spotted available listings. It was pathetic, how little she knew about this city having lived here so long. Sure, it was home, but Harriet had allowed her world to shrink over the years, and she’d left so many areas unexplored.
The first flat she had an appointment to see was an ultra-modern high rise in Mayfair. The website had listed views of the river and sleek concrete interiors, with three bedrooms and two baths. It was close to the tube station and included a coveted parking spot. In short, it was ideal.
Harriet looked up at the building consideringly. Little more modern than she was used to, but she liked it. There was an hour to kill before her appointment, so she wandered the neighborhood, noting restaurants and shops that caught her eye. She found herself charmed, and more than a little bemused that this property was within her budget. Mayfair was notoriously expensive.
The agent was a mousy looking man with the befuddled look on his face that Harriet was beginning to recognize as a symptom of demonic intervention. She smiled at him anyway and followed him to the lifts, which were all gleaming stainless steel and smoky glass. The man rattled off some facts about the building as they headed up, like the fact that it had a pool and a sauna and a fitness center. Harriet was impressed.
When the lift opened, she saw that this was the top floor, and there were only two units here. She frowned. “I thought we were seeing 1602,” she said.
“Oh no,” he told her. “I’ve been—” He broke off, looking terribly confused.
A door opened at the end of the hall. “No no, Reg, I’m looking at 1602. This woman here is buying this one.”
“Crowley.” Harriet couldn’t stop the grin that spread over her face. He was lounging in the doorway with his shirt unbuttoned way too far, in pants he probably had to lie down to put on, and snakeskin shoes. He looked so tacky.
She wanted to hug him.
“Hey Harriet, see you found the place alright. Good. Reg, you can pop along now, there’s a chap. Take yourself to a late lunch.” Crowley sauntered out and patted Reg on the shoulder as he backed into the lift helplessly.
“But my commission,” he said.
“No worries, mate.” Crowley grinned as the lift doors closed on his face. Then he clapped his hands and turned back to Harriet. “Now. I suppose you want to see the place.”
“This is your flat.”
“Course it is. I haven’t any others to give you.” He jerked his chin and sauntered past her to the door. “Coming?”
Smooth. Harriet followed, amused, and stepped into the most austere dwelling she’d ever seen. “Wow. Marie Kondo would be proud of you.”
“Shut up,” he muttered, taking her arm and leading her to the kitchen. It was beautiful and spacious, with windows overlooking the city. “Here. This is enough, right? I’ve got a second bedroom and an office if you need the space. If you don’t like it we can work something out.”
Harriet glanced at him. “So you’re moving in with Aziraphale?”
He scratched his head, making some complicated faces. “Yeah.”
She eyed him. “You’re nervous,” she said gently.
He let out a hysterical little laugh. “Nervous, she says. I shouldn’t be, should I? We’ve known each other for six thousand years.” He looked away.
“Have you ever shared a space before?” Harriet crossed her arms. “Seems to me it’s pretty normal to be nervous when you first move in together.”
Crowley looked at her then, and his face was a child’s face, desperate for reassurance. “Yeah?” he asked, trying and failing for nonchalant.
She smiled softly. “Yeah. Now show me the bedrooms.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Really, Harriet?”
Harriet rolled her eyes. “Not like that, you perv. Come on, I want to see the rest of this place.”
So he took her around, showing her the cavernous master bedroom with its decadent attached bathroom and the office, where Harriet remarked on the throne (“It’s an antique,” he told her snottily) and admired his da Vinci sketch.
“It’s better than the painting,” he said, standing behind her. “He thought so too. Said he’d got her smile right in the drafts.”
Harriet was delighted. “Are you sure you want to part with this?” she asked.
“Oh, the sketch is coming with me. I don’t like you that m—”
“I meant the flat, idiot,” she said.
“Oh.” He blinked his yellow snake eyes at her. “I mean, there’s always 1602.”
“What’s the deal with that, anyway? Did you just arrange for another flat to be empty?” asked Harriet, leaning against his ridiculously huge desk.
“Owner got a fantastic job offer in Madrid,” said Crowley casually, inspecting his nails. “Funny how you’re willing to sell fast when you have to move for work.”
“Isn’t it just?” Harriet watched him. It was still kind of a mindfuck that he could just be a woman whenever he wanted, but she liked to think she was rolling with it. It wasn’t that he was a manly man, either; she was pretty sure those were women’s jeans. He just carried himself so differently depending on what gender he was wearing. “So you’re going to what, keep that one as a man cave or something?”
“Or something,” he murmured without looking at her. “The books and the plants need different humidity.”
“Plants?” Harriet blinked. “You have plants?”
“Yeah.” He shrugged, which made her suspect the plants meant a lot more than he wanted to let on.
“Can I see them?” she asked carefully. She didn’t want to overstep.
But he brightened. “Sure, alright.” He swaggered down a hallway Harriet hadn’t seen yet, and when she followed him she stepped into the most gorgeous greenhouse she’d ever seen.
“Now you know what’s expected of you,” Crowley growled, and for a second Harriet was confused. Then she noticed he was glaring viciously at an umbrella plant and realized the threat wasn’t directed toward her at all.
“Are you verbally abusing your houseplants?” she asked anyway, because some things were too ridiculous to be believed without verbal confirmation.
He paused. “How else are you supposed to keep them in line?”
“Have you tried anything else?” Harriet stepped around him to admire a deep red orchid. “I know you were nicer to my son.”
“A kid’s different from a plant,” he said defensively.
She reached out to touch the petals, and she might have imagined it, but she thought the leaves trembled. “Everything needs to feel supported,” she reminded Crowley.
She could feel him watching her; his gaze had a weight to it. “Aziraphale doesn’t know how I talk to them,” he finally confessed, very softly.
“You don’t think he’d approve.” She didn’t bother making it a question.
Crowley huffed. “He’s not like us, you know. There’s nothing petty or cruel about him.”
Harriet couldn’t imagine being that good. She shook her head. “Maybe you should start thinking of them as kids,” she suggested. “See how that works.”
He didn’t answer, and she didn’t press it. What he did say was, “I popped over to Tadfield.”
Harriet turned sharply. “What did you find?”
He shrugged, reaching over to inspect a nearby leaf. “Had to bully the only one of those nuns still hanging around the area. She told me they did adopt the third baby out. Local couple who were desperate to have a child and willing not to ask nuns too many questions. They still live in the area.”
Harriet was still for a moment, thinking that over. “Did you find anything else?” she finally asked.
Crowley scratched his head. “He, er, breeds fish.”
“Yeah. Got his name in the local paper and everything. He raises tropical fish and wins prizes for them.”
Harriet blinked several times. “You’re sure it’s him?”
“He’s got your mouth,” Crowley told her with a crooked smile.
It felt like all the air left the room. “So you saw him.”
“Just for a minute. He was on his way to school with his friends. Seemed cheerful enough.”
Harriet had to take several deep breaths to hold in whatever emotion this was. She couldn’t even name it; there was heartbreak and wonder and a fierce kind of joy all bundled together when she thought about that boy. She loved him desperately, even though she didn’t know his name. He was happy. He won prizes for his fish. He had her mouth. God, she hoped life was good to him.
Crowley was watching her hesitantly, reminding her of a puppy who brought back the ball and wasn’t sure if it had earned a treat.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I—thank you.”
He nodded sharply and looked away.
Harriet took the opportunity to pull herself together. One crying jag per day was enough, she decided, and looked up to study the ceiling. Concrete. Very modern.
“Okay,” she said after a minute. “Okay.”
Crowley turned back to her.
“I really appreciate—God, everything.” Harriet swallowed. “I just want you to know that. Thank you.”
“You’ve thanked me enough,” he told her. “As far as I’m concerned I’m just paying you back.”
“But you’re not,” she said. “You were a lifeline. I—there’s no way I could have left if not for you.”
He gave her a soft smile. “I just threw you a rope, girl. You pulled yourself up.”
She went to him then, overcome with fondness, and wrapped her arms around his skinny waist. “You’re a good friend,” she murmured.
He patted her back far too awkwardly considering where he’d had his hand just this morning. “Oh, shut up.”
Harriet shoved her face in his neck, curious in spite of herself whether he smelled the same regardless of gender. He did; she sighed at the faint burnt scent of his skin. “I can still feel it whenever I move,” she said softly.
Crowley stilled. “Yeah?” he asked cautiously.
Harriet nodded. “Yeah. It’s good.”
His hand rested lightly at the small of her back. “I don’t do that much,” he said haltingly. “Be a woman, that is. Sometimes it’s fun, but often enough it’s a bother. Too many extra steps you’re expected to take before you so much as walk out the door.”
“Tell me about it,” muttered Harriet, who had put on mascara to look at houses.
“Sort of nice,” he mumbled, “having someone appreciate it so much.”
Harriet smiled against his neck. “I really do.”
He grumbled, but Harriet got the impression that deflection was Crowley’s coping strategy of choice. Besides, he held her like she was fragile and he didn’t want to break her, and that spoke for itself.
“You should try being nice to your plants,” she said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. “You might find that they want to make you happy.”
Crowley swallowed. “Yeah, maybe,” he allowed.
After that there was nothing to do but visit Aziraphale. They drove to his bookshop in Crowley’s car, an unfairly sexy Bentley that had both a seatbelt and a CD player (Harriet tried to put on what looked like the Velvet Underground but turned out to be Queen, prompting a loud groan from Crowley), and while Crowley drove like a madman, Harriet felt pretty certain he wasn’t actually going to crash into anything. Stuff had a way of working out for Crowley, after all.
Aziraphale’s bookshop was exactly what Harriet had imagined; very English, very cozy, and it looked as though its heyday had been somewhere around 1873. She admired the books crammed onto the warm wood shelves and the overstuffed brocade chairs and the way the light seemed just a bit warmer than it should have by rights.
“Unbelievable,” she muttered as Aziraphale ushered them toward a frankly decadent tea spread, “I’ve been past this place a dozen times and I never came in.”
“Well, I must say I’m glad of that,” sniffed Aziraphale. “I rather detest customers.”
“He hasn’t sold a book in years,” Crowley told her happily. The way he looked at Aziraphale was so soppy and fond that Harriet had to hide her smile behind her teacup.
“I should think not,” said Aziraphale loftily. “Really, my dear.” But he favored Crowley with a brilliant smile.
Harriet sat back, content to watch them bicker and nibble a shortbread between sips of tea. In an hour, she’d pick Warlock up from school and hug him tight and tell him that his parents were getting divorced. She’d direct the movers to bring their things to Crowley’s old flat. Tomorrow, she’d meet with her lawyer and get papers drawn up.
And after that? Well, the after part still seemed a long way away. Tricky to think that far ahead; seemed like bad luck to her. But Harriet thought Crowley’s office, with its spectacular views of the city, might make a nice place to start an outline for her book. Maybe Warlock needed a new school after all; a fresh start for both of them. She could ask him once they got settled in.
It didn’t feel real yet. It probably wouldn’t for some time. Then again, she was having tea with an angel and a demon, so reality was something Harriet Dowling was prepared to accept as fluid. The thought appealed to her. It spoke to possibilities. As Crowley leaned over to brush crumbs off Aziraphale’s lapel, she thought she might not be the only one reveling in newfound freedom.
They’d all get to revel together, thanks to Crowley. It had been way too long since she’d had friends around to just sit with and enjoy the little things. There would be more as time went on, Harriet knew. She needed human company, and they didn’t need a third wheel constantly hanging around, but in the moment this seemed like the perfect place to be.
“—don’t understand why you don’t simply miracle them away, angel—”
“Oh, but you’re so very sweet about it, my dear, thank you—”
The tea was really very good. Harriet took another sip and smiled.