Actions

Work Header

Time Makes You Bolder (Ineffably Yours Part III)

Chapter Text

Heaven.

Raphael sighed. They considered disguising the sound as a cough, realised a moment later that it didn’t much matter. Quiet Raphael, meek Raphael, safe, soft, compliant Raphael. Not a single archangel in the room had even heard them make a sound. They looked away from Gabriel and took to staring out of the window. It was raining. It seemed as though it was always raining now, as though, perhaps, it always had been.

When was the last time the heavens were filled with sunshine? Raphael pondered the thought, surprised that they couldn’t recall a day since the tribulation began that hadn’t been blighted with celestial rain.

As Gabriel staggered to and fro across the front of the room, he ranted about the end times, about judgement, about every being within heaven’s walls standing up to be counted. Raphael caught the archangel in their periphery, arcing back and forth like a great swinging pendulum of a clock that was counting down to nothing but the end of everything. The other archangels, the only rank still permitted to stand within Lord Gabriel’s presence, watched him with expressions that ranged from outright devotion to morbid curiosity.

Does he know, Raphael wondered, that he is leading them into a slaughter? Us. That he is leading us into a slaughter? Is his faith so blind that he believes he can stand against hell and triumph? The quiet archangel looked back at Gabriel, saw the brackets of saliva gathered at the corner of his lips, the deep, cracked folds in his forehead as he furrowed his brow and spoke of serving the Almighty in the final battle between heaven and hell, of standing together as one in the face of evil. Yes, Raphael realised bitterly, of course he does. Of course he thinks this is what She wants.

There is another way, they thought, felt that chilling prickle of dread tiptoe across the nape of their neck as soon as the words formed in their mind. Or was it something other than dread? Was it a memory? Yes. A memory of the last time they’d heard those words spoken aloud, a memory of the last time celestial rain had poured so freely throughout the heavens, a memory of a defiant figure, golden-haired, standing as proudly rebellious as they ever had while Gabriel had hissed every threat in his arsenal to try and eke out even a glimmer of fear.

He never did, did he? You never gave him the satisfaction, my love. Raphael swallowed, teeth bearing down on the inside of their cheek as the memory of that day, the worst day of all, faded away, leaving nothing but a scar in its wake. You never stopped believing in a better world, my Morningstar. And neither did I.

 

***

March. Crowley’s Garden, London.

It was a rainy spring afternoon when an angel and a demon woke up in paradise. As close to paradise as they were likely to find in South London, at least.

You’re here, Crowley thought, gazing at his angel, finding a hundred memories and a thousand promises in those blue eyes, finding only beauty and tenderness in that sweet face, the face he had spent six thousand years chasing around the world and then, at last, beyond it. You’re here, angel, we’re here. At last. We’re back, we’re us again.

“Angel,” the demon murmured, voice soft with longing as he reached out one hand, speaking the words again, as if he couldn’t believe it might be true until he heard it confirmed from the source himself. “Angel, is that you?”

As gentle raindrops plopped down between the soft white blond curls atop his angelic head, Aziraphale’s expression turned from relief to rage, conjuring up all the thunderous anger of a thousand heavenly storms.

“What?” Crowley asked, taking a step back and jumping at the sound of a twig snapping beneath his foot. A thrum of panic swelled in his throat and suddenly he was filled with the mounting horror that perhaps this wasn’t his angel at all, perhaps it was a surprise interloper who had crept quietly across from the old world, perhaps it was…

Is that you?!” Aziraphale mimicked, fists pressed to his hips as he sing-songed Crowley’s words back to him.

In the same breath, the demon uttered a sigh of relief. It was, in fact, his angel standing there, just an inexplicably irritated iteration of him. It had been six thousand years and he was more than used to Aziraphale’s baffling huffs, which were far more common than his own extremely rare, always logical fits of demonic rage. At least, he was sure they were always logical. Before he had a chance to ruminate on his own lack of emotional restraint, Aziraphale spoke again, his voice rising in pitch with every sentence, cheeks growing pinker and more adorably cherubic with every barbed question.

“I can’t believe you even had to ask! Who else would it be? What sort of a welcome is that anyway? We’re finally together, properly this time, and you can’t even tell if it’s me? Oh, what’s that look for? Disappointed you don’t get another go with Agent Angel Face? I can disappear again if you’d prefer, my dear, I’ll let him know you want another spell of lip locking, shall I? I knew you enjoyed that more than you…”

“Aziraphale.” Crowley’s voice brimmed over with weary amusement, coupled with a hefty dose of millennia-old adoration.

“What?” Aziraphale wheeled around, further irritated that his monologue had been cut short, just as he’d been getting to his best lines.

The demon stepped closer to him, taking both of the angel’s hands in his own. He smiled. “Please stop speaking so I can kiss you.”

To Crowley’s surprise, Aziraphale did just that. There, in the garden that a snake from the pits of hell created from nothing but love and the desperation to do good one final time, an angel and a demon kissed as the rain fell and the sun shone as brightly and beautifully as she ever had.

“I can’t believe this needs to be said.” Crowley broke away from the angel for a moment, laughing against his lips as he pressed his forehead to Aziraphale’s. “But it’s only ever been you, of course it has, you idiot.”

“Your idiot.” The angel smiled, jutted his chin up to fill the distance between them as he closed his eyes, pressing his lips to Crowley’s and feeling a great aching sigh tremble through his body. At last, at last, the thing that matters at the end of it all. Crowley, the only thing that has ever truly mattered.

“Excuse me. Hey, excuse me!”

A low rumble of frustration snarled out from Crowley’s throat as he pulled back from Aziraphale, looking over the angel’s shoulder to find a man stalking towards them, one index finger extended like a weapon as he waggled it in their direction.

“Might I remind you this is a family park? Kindly keep your hands to yourselves, pawing all over each other like it’s a bloody…carnival.”

On instinct, Aziraphale let his hands fall away from Crowley’s waist, took a step back and turned to smile politely at the man, opening his mouth to fire back a passive apology. Before he had a chance, though, Crowley took a pace forward, expression darkening as he flung a hand out to gesture at the beauty of their surroundings, at the sun shining down on them, at the rain that fell in fat droplets, bursting against the ground like ripe fruit. Finally, he jabbed a thumb towards Aziraphale, fixing the man with a look that was, unmistakably, a challenge.

“Oi, mate, show a bit of respect. You’re literally in the presence of your creator. Look at him, look at that face. Aziraphale the Almighty, that's what you should be calling him. Actually, do you know what, you shouldn't even be looking at him. You should be on your knees, pal.”

The man barked out a half-formed retort, the words faltering when Crowley cocked his head to the side, glowering as he took Aziraphale’s hand in his own. Realising his request for them to do what they want in private but keep it behind closed doors was not a thing likely to happen on that particular spring afternoon, he looked from angel to demon and shook his head furiously, storming off towards the gate as he released one last insult over his shoulder. “Nutters!”

As the man stalked away from them, Crowley braced his thumb against his index finger, eyes trained on the man’s retreating back. Ever one step ahead of whatever chaos Crowley had forming in his mind, Aziraphale curled a hand around the demon's and brought it down to rest between them. He shook his head. “Maybe we should calm down.”

“If you think I’m going to be calm at any point from now until the end of eternity…”

And then, if only to stop their cover being blown within the first five minutes of their outdoor adventure, Aziraphale silenced him the only way he knew how, with a slow, deep kiss that left the demon tripping over promised threats that no longer held any real sense of menace.

“Now,” the angel murmured, as they broke apart, lips still aching with longing that was nowhere even close to being quenched. “About going somewhere more private?”

“Solid plan, angel, as always. Lead the way, let’s go, follow you anywhere and all that.”

***

Aziraphale had thwarted no less than five attempts at demonic miracles before they reached Anthony’s flat, where Crowley heaved a throaty exclamation of frustration as he dug around in his pocket for the keys.

“One little miracle isn’t going to give us away, angel.” As he tried the third key on the ring to no avail, Crowley turned to give Aziraphale a pleading look.

The angel tutted, tapping the slim bronze key and smiling victoriously as Crowley slid it into the lock and they heard that satisfying clunk of a door unlocking. “I don’t know that, and you certainly don’t. Your head office might not be paying attention but Gabriel is not going to let us go that easily.”

“I’m just saying, angel, there are two of us and one of that purple-eyed wanker. Don’t you think we could take him?” Crowley looked back at the angel as he stepped over the threshold, pushing the door closed behind them and locking it for good measure, as if that might stop a potential onslaught of heavenly emissaries sent to return them for judgement.

“Look at us,” Aziraphale said plainly, gesturing first to his own cream ensemble and then at Crowley’s sprayed-on jeans. “Do we look capable of vanquishing anything other than a cream tea and a…rock and roll photoshoot?”

“Rock and roll.” Crowley looked down at his jeans. He looked up at Aziraphale. And then he sighed. “We’ve moved on from bebop, at least.”

There was a patter of paws across the floorboards then and both angel and demon turned to find Barnaby’s familiar black form trotting towards them, ears piqued with curiosity as he sniffed Crowley’s calf, then reared up to press his front paws against his thighs, stretching up to treat the collar of his black shirt to a welcoming lick. He sat back down, tail swiping back and forth across the floor as his gaze darted from the demon to the treat jar on the sideboard, as if he was sure such a welcome deserved a reward.

“Hello, my boy.” Crowley knelt down in front of him, hands coming up to rub the soft velvet of his ears as he smiled at him, marvelled at the simple joy of giving his dog a much overdue stroke. “You get more handsome every time I see you. Can you show me where he keeps the treats? I think you can, can't you? What a good boy.”

As Barnaby galloped happily to show Crowley precisely where the treats were secreted in an old biscuit tin, circling back around to make sure he was following him, Aziraphale shrugged out of his jacket and grinned at the two of them, demon and faithful hound, reunited once again. He remembered the look of cautious excitement on Crowley’s face when he had set Barnaby on the floor of their home and watched the puppy stumble across to the demon, as if he had recognised his master on first sight. Like recognises like, the angel thought with a wry smile.

It was a strange emotion he was feeling, he mused, settling down on the sofa and watching Crowley ask Barnaby politely to sit, then lay down, then roll over, before tossing out a treat that the dog caught in his mouth, immediately bounding to his feet for another round of tricks. As they had walked, no, strolled back from the garden, hand in hand, arms swinging merrily between them, there hadn’t been a thought in his mind but pure happiness at walking side by side next to the love of his life.

That was it, he realised, with a jolt of emotion that left him swallowing thickness in his throat; there had been nothing in his mind but love, nothing but delight at he and Crowley finding each other again, despite it all, together just the way they should always have been, happy and unafraid. There had been no looking fearfully over his shoulder in case heaven’s eyes were following their every move, no prickling terror that they were about to be discovered, no nervous worry for Crowley’s safety. It was gone. That fear, that lifelong, eternal fear of persecution, of judgement, it had fallen away the moment he had forged that better world, a place where angel and demon could stop running and just be.

“Crowley,” he murmured, breaking away into a cough to disguise his wavering voice.

“Mmm?” The demon looked up lazily, turned his attention back to Barnaby a moment later, both hands rubbing circles on either side of the dog’s chest as Barnaby butted his head against Crowley’s arm in a burst of affection.

“I feel…safe,” he said finally, realising he meant it, realising it was the first time he had felt anything close to safety. In their new world, he understood, there was no higher authority to worry about, to bend to; they were the only higher authority. There was, at last, nobody to answer to.

“Oh, angel, come here.” Crowley left Barnaby with one final pat, joined Aziraphale on the sofa and wound an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close and pressing a kiss to his forehead. “I feel it too. Something’s different here. It’s…I don’t know, something’s lifted, though, hasn’t it?”

“I think it’s freedom,” the angel breathed, fingers pressed to the sharp triangle of skin exposed at the unbuttoned collar of Crowley’s shirt.

“Do you remember those nights?”

“Of course I do, every one of them. Those hopeless, wonderful nights. This is everything we always dreamed of back then.” Aziraphale took Crowley’s hand in his own, pressed his lips to each of his fingers in turn, a kiss for each of those stolen nights.

“You always told me you’d take me somewhere where we wouldn’t have to run any more. I always knew you would. I meant it, Aziraphale, you’ve always been the bravest one of us.”

The angel laughed, looking away for a moment, out of embarrassment, out of shame. “I don’t think what I did for all those years was brave, Crowley. I think it was selfish, I think it was…”

“…In the past. It was in the past, angel. In another world, another lifetime now. This is what matters. This, here. We’re here, we’re safe, we got out. We made it.”

“We did, didn’t we?” An exhale of amusement, of barely believing it was true, as if the notion of it was too great a victory to truly comprehend. “And now there’s just one thing left to do.”

“Sneak Raphael out of heaven?”

“Now there are just two things left to do.”

“Smother Gabriel with his own sense of self-importance?”

Aziraphale sighed, gesturing up and down the length of their bodies. “Now there are just three things left to do.”

Crowley nodded, as understanding washed over him. “Ah, of course. The old, er, four souls, two bodies debacle.”

Quite the debacle indeed.” The angel raised both eyebrows, nodding slowly. “Any more brainwaves while you were rattling around in Sergeant Snake Hips’ cranial recesses?”

“Well-” The demon was cut short before he could confirm whether or not any brainwaves had occurred. He froze, brows knitting together as he patted the front pocket of his jeans. He pulled out his phone, well, Anthony’s phone, and frowned at it. “That’s weird.”

“What?” Aziraphale asked, leaning forward as though the message might have come from Gabriel himself, beamed down from heaven through celestial 4G.

Crowley slid the phone back into his pocket, ignoring the second round of vibrations as the message remained unread. He looked back at Aziraphale, smiling. “Nothing, it’s just that you’re the only person who ever called me. Getting a message while you’re sitting next to me, it's strange.”

“Mmm, yes, there’s rather a lot here that’s strange. The plants, for one.” Aziraphale looked around the flat, gaze lingering on the couple of token plant pots displayed on a shelf near the window.

Next to him, Crowley let out a rumbling sigh. “You mean the lack of plants. I can’t stand it, angel, it’s so…barren. First thing tomorrow we’re going to a…a plant shop.”

“A garden centre.”

“Yes, whatever, a garden centre, a plant shop. It’s all the same. A place where humans acquire plants.”

“Do you mean to tell me you, Anthony J Crowley, giver of life to all of the world’s greenery, have never actually bought a plant?”

Crowley looked at Aziraphale as if it was very plain that he was the one making absolutely no sense at all. “Why would I need to buy plants, angel? I can just…make them, will them into being, miracle them into existence.”

Aziraphale opened his mouth to reply, then closed it, shaking his head and muttering something about horticulture and the economy before he remembered more pressing matters were at hand. “We’ll make our way to a garden centre post haste in the morning. What were we talking about before, anyway?”

“You were on about saving the world earlier, that’s what I want to hear more about. Go on then, what’s your plan, or did you just say it because it sounded good in the moment?”

Aziraphale paused, pursing his lips, before they creased into a little smile. “It did sound good, though, didn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, very epic, very…angelic, my sweet principality. Now, which world were you referring to? Your new safe haven or my beloved ball of rock?”

“I fear it’s a bit late for your ball of rock, my love.” When Aziraphale spoke his voice was tentative, as if he wasn’t sure how best to break the news, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to say the words at all. He looked across at Crowley, gauging the demon’s response. To his relief, he nodded sadly, as if he knew any notion of salvation for the Earth was a fruitless endeavour. Another one of the universe’s forgone conclusions, Aziraphale thought glumly.

“I know.” Crowley sighed, fingernail scratching at a streak of mud that had splashed onto the ankle of his jeans in the rain storm they’d been caught in earlier. “I might have an overblown sense of self-importance but even I don’t think the two of us can overcome all of heaven and hell combined. Afraid it’s curtains for the good old Pale Blue Dot.”

“I can live with it.” Aziraphale raised his chin defiantly. “Providing it takes Gabriel with it, of course.”

The demon smiled, a slow quirk of the lips, his tongue caught between his teeth as he ruminated on the idea of the world he had helped Raphael build all those millennia ago claiming one last angelic victim as it crumpled in on itself. Vengeance, the last stage of its life cycle, perhaps.

“It was the fire in the bookshop, Crowley, that’s the thing that got me worrying.”

“I know.” He laid a hand on Aziraphale’s thigh, giving it a little squeeze as he thought back to that awful night, to the heart-rending panic he’d felt as Anthony had driven over to the shop and he’d been filled with all the horrified memories of the first time he’d stood there and watched the bookshop burn, fearing that might have been the thing to tear the two of them apart forever. “And this time there was no handy little antichrist to pick up the pieces. It’s almost ready, though, isn’t it? Perhaps we can help them out while we’re here, help get things back up and running.”

“Oh, no, that’s not what I… Yes, we should help them get things back up and running, that’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about actually. But what I meant was…there should have been more of a shift afterwards. Something of an untethering. We should have felt something, Crowley. The portal, it burned away in the fire. I thought it was the only thing linking us to Earth, I thought we pulled away after that, that this world became separate but, oh, I did this, didn’t I? I brought so much of the Earth with us, things I couldn’t bear to leave behind. The garden, your garden, your dingy little club, my favourite shop on the corner that does the…”

“Overpriced little cakes you love so much, yes, I spotted that made a glorious reappearance on this side of the rapture. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but our celebrations that the Earth is destined to self-destruct and take Gabe and the rest of the God Squad with it were slightly uninformed, given that this place will go down with the ship?”

Aziraphale sucked in a deep breath, lips pressed tightly together as Crowley waited for the angel to tell him he was wrong, that he had completely the wrong end of the stick, that he was catastrophising again. Instead, the angel smiled apologetically and shrugged his shoulders. “Basically. Yes. That’s my worry.”

“Your worry? It’s the bloody end of the world, angel. Again. Literally. Why does everywhere we try to live want to end itself? Is it us, Aziraphale? I mean, I’m seeing a pattern.”

“It’s the…” Aziraphale trailed off, eyes flicking upward before he leaned in, lowering his voice as if he was sure somebody up above must be listening. “It’s the celestial realm situation. I’m starting to think it’s not the Earth we’re linked to but up there and down there. There isn’t a heaven here, is there? And I’m sure there’s not a hell either. Can you feel if there’s a hell? Can you feel anything at all, any burning desire to go down below? If this place could stand on its own two feet…”

“Burning desire.”

“Oh, you know what I mean.”

“You really have a knack for saying the worst possible thing, don’t you? And the thing is, I can never tell if you do it on purpose.”

“Hmm, one of the universe’s great mysteries,” Aziraphale mused, rolling his eyes as he shifted closer to Crowley on the sofa, bracing both hands on the demon’s thighs. “Look, I think I know what we need to do. First thing’s first, we need to get our bodies back. Well, probably not the original ones, not sure there’ll be much good to us now. But we need bodies, we can’t keep sharing like this, it’s highly impractical.”

“Actually, angel, first thing’s first, we need to eat something. We’re going to have to look after our corporations now, you know? No eating and drinking just because the mood takes us. Regular meals. Five a day. Or is that vegetables? And water. Lots of water. We’re like plants. Except we don’t have to be watered from below. I’m starving. When was the last time I was starving? I haven’t been properly hungry since…I don’t know.”

“1969. Stonewall. You almost swallowed that hot dog whole.”

“That was just a cry for your attention, if I’m honest.”

“Well, I think-” Aziraphale stopped mid-sentence, eyes darting to Crowley’s face to shoot him an incredulous look that softened, almost immediately, into hopeless adoration. “You’ve always had my attention, Crowley, ever since you sauntered up to me in Eden and started talking about lead balloons.”

“More of a slither than a saunter, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, you were still sauntering even then. You don’t need legs to saunter, my dear.” A low grumble rose up from the angel’s stomach then and he clapped his hands together. “Right then, a spot of lunch before we move onto the harder stuff, eh?”

“Brilliant, I was just thinking we should have a drink to celebrate.” Crowley followed the angel into the kitchen, mentally running through the various alcoholic options he knew Anthony had nestled atop the makeshift bar on top of the sideboard in the living room. “Whisky?”

“Ah, well, yes, a drink would be lovely but I was actually referring to the pickle we find ourselves in. How we’re, er, going to create our own little celestial realm and save this world and all its inhabitants from meeting the same sticky end as Earth.”

Crowley hopped up onto the worktop, fingers curling around the edge of the smooth wood as he contemplated the mammoth task Aziraphale had so casually laid out before them. He drummed his fingers against the worktop, wondering if a sensible answer laid within his mind. It didn’t, and so he decided to go with his back up option. Sarcasm, followed by a snack.

***

“I think you're right,” Aziraphale said, pausing to swallow a bite of cheese and pickle sandwich, washed down with tea that had been left to infuse for at least five minutes too long. He wrinkled his nose at the taste, then shook away the discomfort, returning to the matter at hand. “We can’t do anything that might interfere with their lives. When they take control of these vessels again they need to slip back into their routine as if nothing at all happened. They’ll remember everything, won’t they?”

“Yeah, sure they will. It’ll be like Cornwall all over again. They’ll feel like they’ve come out of…brain fog, or something. Might be a bit hazy for a while but everything will be there in their memories. It’s a thing now, brain fog. Stress, or something. The cult of work. Capitalism. Or caffeine. Something like that, anyway. Brain fog, it’s a thing.”

“Yes. Brain fog. Quite.” The angel looked at him over the rim of his chipped mug, which bore a picture on the side that was a great likeness to Barnaby, even down to the troublesome glint in the dog’s eye. “So, we’re agreed? Whatever we do, we have to keep up appearances. Nobody can know we aren’t Agent Angel Face and Sergeant Snake Hips.”

Crowley sighed, nudging Aziraphale’s foot with his own under the table. “I really feel like we need to stop using those code names. They’re supposed to be private.”

“Oh, please, as if there are any boundaries left, Crowley, honestly.”

“Speak for yourself. I’ve been, excuse the expression, an angel in there. Closing my eyes, going off to my happy place whenever they’re…” The demon trailed off, loathe to even entertain the idea of his human counterpart indulging in…shenanigans. It would be, he had decided, akin to watching a sibling in the act. A younger sibling, of course, given that he was, undoubtedly, the older and wiser of the two Crowleys.

Aziraphale pulled him out of his reverie then, offering the linguistic catchall they had deviated to countless times throughout history. “Fraternising?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Really?” Aziraphale swallowed another bite of his sandwich, fighting back a smirk as Crowley stared him down. “You haven’t even snuck a little peek? You, with your…appetite?”

“No! Of course I haven’t! I’m not going to watch uninvited like a…like a lurker. Have you been peeking, angel? Have you been lurking?

“I most certainly have not been lurking.” Aziraphale drew himself up then, huffing at the mere notion of being considered a lurker. “I have never lurked a day in my life.”

“Oh, please, I was there in Paris.”

We’re not supposed to speak about Paris!” The words came out in a garbled rush, the angel’s voice rising in volume until the final word tumbled out of his mouth as nothing but a desperate squeak. There was a moment of almost silence, with Aziraphale’s panting breaths the only sound in the room, and then Crowley uttered a little chuckle and turned his attention back to the bagel he was halfway through eating.

“So,” the demon said finally, “no interfering in the little ones’ lives. We’re just going to lay low until we think of a plan. Fly under the radar, attract no attention whatsoever. Business as usual.”

Aziraphale smiled, reaching across the table to slide his fingers through the demon’s. “This is anything but business as usual, my love.”

“Defying the odds to be together? Seems pretty business as usual for us, doesn’t it?”

***

The sun had dipped below London’s tower blocks and that perfect spring day was close to becoming a perfect spring night, and in a little flat in Pimlico an angel and a demon were getting reacquainted. Intimately.

“Crowley…”

“No no no, no talking.” Crowley shook his head, pressed his lips against the angel’s before he could say another word. There’d been enough talking for one day, as far as he was concerned, enough time spent discussing other people. There was a long night ahead that was to consist of nothing but darkness and his angel and the sort of closeness so all-encompassing that he could barely distinguish where he ended and Aziraphale began. They could almost be one, two halves of a whole, darkness and light, good and evil. He smiled against Aziraphale’s lips, chastising himself before he kissed the angel again, reaching up to run a hand through his hair, brushing the curls back from his forehead, feeling them sweep back into place a second later. He didn’t have to be the darkness, not in their new world. Still, old habits, he thought to himself. As if he could ever feel like anything but the dark foil for Aziraphale’s light, as if anybody could feel like anything other than a shadow in the presence of such sweet, innate goodness.

“We get to start again tonight, angel. A new beginning,” the demon whispered, the words half-formed against Aziraphale’s skin as he breathed them against his neck, followed them up with a quick nip against the sweeping arc of skin above his collarbone. Tonight I find you all over again, angel, every perfect inch of you. And tomorrow night, the same, and the night after that. It’s us now, me and you. No more running, no more rushing, no more stolen nights. Every night is ours.

“I thought there was no talking.” Aziraphale leaned up on his elbows, hooking a finger around the strap that hung around Crowley’s neck, the harmonica swinging gently between them. “Maybe we can lose this, just for the time-being, I know you’re very fond of it but could you save the serenade for afterwards, flourish for a job well done, perhaps?”

In a heartbeat the harmonica found a new home on the coffee table, joined a moment later by Crowley’s shirt, Aziraphale’s waistcoat and then, after a string of expletives when it had buzzed to life for the fifth time that hour, Crowley’s phone made up the final party member. Distractions cast aside, the demon found Aziraphale’s lips in the darkness, the fingers of one hand deftly unbuttoning the angel’s shirt in the sort of fluid motion that could only come with years or, perhaps, millennia of practise.

“A quiet life, angel, that’s what you said we were going to build, do you remember?” Crowley slid an arm to the small of the angel’s back, pulled him up until they were face to face in the darkness. He glanced across at the phone, skittering wildly across the coffee table as it teetered dangerously close to the edge, one more vibration away from toppling over onto the floor. “Nothing quiet about this, is there? Bloody thing hasn’t stopped since we got back.”

“Well,” Aziraphale murmured, the word devolving into a moan as he felt Crowley’s fingers tug at his belt. “Why don’t you switch it off so we can get to work on that new beginning you mentioned?”

“I always said you were the smart one.” With a smile loaded with intention, Crowley tore his gaze away from the angel for long enough to grab the phone off of the table. His thumb hovered above the power button for a second and there, in the cool light radiating from the phone, Aziraphale saw the demon’s face contort in a picture of absolute dread.

“What?” he asked, shifting backwards and sitting up, feeling the atmosphere shift from desire to panic. “Crowley, what’s wrong?”

The demon leaned back to click on a lamp, then waved the phone in Aziraphale’s face, gulping as he waited for the angel to take in the missed calls, the cheery messages of what time do you want us? Is half nine all right?

Half past nine lay almost forty minutes in the future when an angel and a demon stared at each other in terror and chorused two words in perfect, horrified unison.

“The party!”

Chapter Text

March. Crowley’s Flat, London.

Thirty Seven Minutes Until the Party.

Thirty seven minutes before an angel and a demon were due to host their first house party, tensions were running high. For Aziraphale, at least. Crowley, meanwhile, was trying to enjoy a quiet drink before the mayhem began.

“I knew he should have called into Fortnum’s for a wellington,” Aziraphale wailed, pacing back and forth in front of the sofa, hands wringing in front of his stomach as he stared desperately at Crowley, who was reclined on the sofa, one leg up on the cushions, the other foot tapping gently against the ground, whisky in hand as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Of course that was your idea.” The demon rolled his eyes, typing out a message to Anthony’s group chat to tell them nine thirty was fine and that they could pick up his order from the Dominos round the corner on their way if they fancied making themselves useful. “A wellington. At a house party.”

“Everybody-”

“Yes, all right, everybody loves a wellington.” Crowley held up a hand, silencing the angel before he could launch into his inevitable passionate defence of pastry-wrapped meat. “We haven’t got time for this right now. We’ve got thirty six minutes.”

“Well, my dear, we would stand a much better chance of being ready if you would do something other than sprawl around drinking whisky.”

Crowley took a long sip, savouring every rich, woody note of the drink as he swilled it around his mouth before swallowing it, jabbing an index finger in Aziraphale’s direction. “You should try it, sprawling, does wonders for stress levels. You don’t want to get him all stressed out, do you? Plays havoc with the immune system, stress.”

“Brain fog, stress…what in heaven’s name are you wittering on about?”

“Do you know almost three quarters of adults in this country have felt so stressed in the last twelve months that they felt overwhelmed in the workplace? That’s just the start of it, angel. It’s this book, you see, called Rewired. Anthony’s been reading it. It’s a riot, you should tell your little man to give it a go. Might help with all that dithering.” Crowley swung himself up off of the sofa, draining the last mouthful of whisky from his glass and strutting over to Aziraphale, kissing him lightly on the cheek as he disappeared into the kitchen.

“It’s not dithering,” Aziraphale hissed, following him. “It’s proceeding with caution and it’s got me this far so I don’t intend to… Crowley, what are you doing?”

The demon was kneeling down on the floor, arms braced on either side of the open cupboard as he all but disappeared inside. Eventually he re-emerged, red-faced as he pulled a stack of large plastic bowls free from the depths of the cupboard. “Punch bowls. That’s what we need. Just need to get them all good and merry and they won’t notice a thing. Rinse these out, will you?”

“Hell’s most domesticated demon,” the angel murmured to nobody in particular, running the bowls swiftly under the tap before depositing them, right side up, on the draining board.

Crowley tutted, turning them over to allow the drips of water to drain away. “You can’t share a body with Mr Neat without picking up a few tips. You, on the other hand, somehow yours has made you even more…”

“Even more what?” Aziraphale nudged the demon’s shoulder, splaying both palms as if he couldn’t wait to hear the impending character assassination. As Crowley turned his attention to wiping down the countertops and it became apparent an answer wasn’t forthcoming, the angel shook his head incredulously. “I don’t know why you’re so calm. This is going to be a disaster, Crowley. If they figure out we’re not who we’re supposed to be… We should just cancel the party.”

“Look, let’s not worry about something that hasn’t even happened. It might be fine, they might not notice a thing, we just have to do our best impression of a dog walker and a bookseller. I know that’ll be a bit of a stretch for you but you’ll have to do your best.” Crowley paused, taking in Aziraphale’s look of open-mouthed horror and hands that hadn’t stopped fidgeting since they’d entered the kitchen. “Perfect, angel, you look terrified. They won’t suspect a thing.”

Let’s not worry about something that hasn’t even happened? Look at who you’re talking to. All I know how to do is worry about things that haven’t even happened. I can’t do this, Crowley, I’ll never be able to pull this off. They’ll take one look at me and they’ll know. And then Gabriel will know. And then we’ll be back there in a flash and he’ll have us up on that stage. He’ll have my highlight reel of shame to hand, I know he will. It’s all right for you, you’ve already seen your worst moments but…oh good grief, they’ll know all about St Tropez, of course, about the boat. They’ve already shown me photos, Crowley, they know everything.”

“If stealing champagne from the bourgeoisie is the worst thing they’ve got on you then you’ve escaped pretty lightly.” Crowley stopped cleaning then, shaking his head and placing both hands on Aziraphale’s shoulders, leaning in close to look him in the eye. “How did you make the leap from opening the door to a couple of friends to awaiting judgement in heaven? It’s your mind, angel, it’s lying to you. You need to rewire it, learn how to stop it before it runs away with you. It’s all in the book.”

And then, for only the fifth time that century, Aziraphale swore. It was becoming a habit nobody had seen coming. “I don’t want to hear about the bloody book, Crowley.”

The demon raised both eyebrows as he let Aziraphale’s sentence echo around them, the shock of his outburst magnified with each ringing refrain. By the time the sound had faded away, the angel was looking sheepishly down at his feet.

“Just give me something to do. A job. I need a distraction.”

“You can hoover,” Crowley said finally, nodding out towards the living room. “All that dog hair, just have a quick whip round with the hoover, that would be a massive help.”

Aziraphale bit his lip, closing his eyes and sighing as if he’d just exhaled his last iota of patience, as if all the calm and peace he'd felt earlier that day had galloped away without a trace. “I’m an angel, Crowley. I don’t know how to hoover. I can sweep at a push.”

“Figure it out, Aziraphale. You’re going to start stressing me out in a minute. We’ll never cope if we’re both on the edge. Yin yang…all of that, you know? Balance. I don’t know. You know what I mean.”

“I have absolutely no idea what you mean.”

Hands pressed to the angel’s hips, Crowley ushered him out of the kitchen and sent him on his way, clapping his hands for extra emphasis as Aziraphale stumbled hopelessly towards the Dyson leaning against the wall. “Twenty four minutes! Go! Hoover! Dog hair!”

***

Nineteen Minutes Until the Party.

As he stood in a kitchen that didn’t belong to him and rifled through the cupboards to find enough glasses for their guests, whose arrival was drawing ever closer with every tick of the clock, Crowley was trying his hardest not to let Aziraphale’s panic creep into his own thoughts. It was easier said than done, however, given that Anthony hadn’t made it to the end of his anti-stress, anti-anxiety bible, Rewired, before Crowley had taken it upon himself to take over operations. Why didn’t I let him get past chapter six? How am I ever going to learn how to control my goblin brain if I don’t read up on how to dispel anxious thinking patterns? Where did he leave his copy anyway? Maybe I have time for a few pages of quiet reading before… Wait. The demon stopped mid-way through his frantic monologue, gently unloading an armful of glasses on the worktop. Why is it so quiet anyway? Why can’t I hear the hoover?

He jogged towards the living room, calling out for Aziraphale and wondering if his demand for the angel to hoover the flat might have been the chore that broke the principality’s back. He paused in the doorway, arms folded across his chest as he felt all traces of panic ebb away, content in the knowledge that however nervous he might be, Aziraphale was undoubtedly in worse shape.

The angel was quietly letting out frustrated little bleating sounds as he dragged the silent vacuum cleaner back and forth across the floorboards, looking helplessly at the little tumbleweeds of black dog hair that were still gathered in the corners of the room. From his comfortable bed, which doubled up as a front row seat from which to witness Aziraphale’s impending meltdown, Barnaby looked on, watching the angel with a curious expression on his face, as if he couldn’t fathom his lack of domesticity.

“Angel.”

Aziraphale looked up, sweat beading on his brow as he rattled the hoover uselessly in one hand, as if that might stir it to life. As a streak of sweat trickled down the side of one cheek, the angel wailed desperately. “It won’t suck, Crowley!”

In the doorway, Crowley paused, infinite possibilities of snappy one-liners rearing up in his brain. He shook his head. Not the time. “Give that to me, go on, you go and have a shower and calm down.”

When Aziraphale spoke his voice was a tentative plea, as if the idea that had just sprung to mind was the only possible thing that stood any chance of helping him calm down. “D-do I have time for a bath?”

“No.” Crowley laid a hand on his forearm, shaking his head sadly as he took the Dyson. “No, I’m afraid you don’t have time for a bath. But I’ll run you one tomorrow, yeah? Loads of bath bombs, an unholy amount.”

“I do like bath bombs.” Aziraphale rocked back on his heels, face brightening. “Will you get in it with me? I don’t think it would be as much fun on my own.”

Crowley smiled, one hand finding its way to the angel’s waist and pulling him close for a kiss, just a peck, and then another, slower. A kiss of solidarity, something to centre them both. “Course I will. Now, we’ve got sixteen minutes until they get here and we still need to hoover and…I know I’m forgetting something.”

“Drinks!” Aziraphale cried, clapping his hands against his thighs as his jaw dropped. “How could we forget drinks? How are we supposed to get them too merry to notice we’re us without any drinks? Crowley, grab the whisky. What else have they got? Oh, heavens. My heart, Crowley, it’s flapping.”

“Fluttering.”

“Yes, fluttering, whatever, doing that hither and tither business. Why does it feel so weak?”

“Are you thirsty?” Crowley asked, looking back towards the kitchen before leaning heavily against the vacuum cleaner. “Is that why we’re panicking, are we just thirsty? This is exhausting, isn’t it? Remembering to eat, remembering to drink, descending into a dread spiral if you leave either a minute too long.”

“Who would ever want to be human, eh? Fetch me a glass of water while I’m in the shower, will you? It might settle my nerves.”

“On it,” Crowley promised, nodding sagely as Aziraphale disappeared into the bathroom. He glanced down at his watch. Fourteen minutes. Clicking the hoover into action, he rolled it back and forth across the floorboards in the exact motion he’d watched Anthony do countless times over the months. Just like that, all traces of dust and dog hair and pizza crumbs disappeared from sight. Like magic, he thought, laughing to himself.

It wasn’t just nerves, Crowley realised, as he rested the vacuum cleaner back against the wall and poured Aziraphale, and himself, a glass of water. He downed his in one, refilling it once more for good measure. There was something else churning in his stomach. Was it excitement? Yes. A flurry of anticipation for the night ahead. It was, he mused, the first time he and Aziraphale would ever have hosted guests, the first time they would ever have socialised together as a couple, those two trips to the Devil’s Den in the old world notwithstanding. It was a little thrill amongst the fear, the idea of the two of them interacting with friends, albeit friends who weren’t exactly their own, as if they were a regular, happy couple, just two people in love having a quiet gathering with their nearest and dearest. It was the first chance they had ever had, he realised, to be average, if only for one night.

“Drinks,” he said to himself, index fingers pointing towards the sideboard that he intended on turning into the bar for the evening. The glasses were ready and waiting to be filled, the punch bowls were ready to be spiked with whatever Lily planned on intoxicating them all with, and he smiled as he arranged Anthony’s alcohol collection in a more pleasing manner next to the glasses. It was a meagre collection, all things considered: a half-drunk bottle of vodka somebody must have left after another party; an almost empty bottle of Baileys that looked as though it had seen more Christmas outings than any brave bottle of Baileys should; a smattering of gin and whisky bottles, gin having arrived on the menu shortly after Zira had appeared on the scene. He picked up one of the gin bottles, turning it over in his hands and smiling at the familiar brown paper wrapping, now that was definitely something Aziraphale had brought over from the old world. He put it back down, twisting his lips into a little grimace as he pondered the unimpressive spread of drinks.

Got to be something else around here. Kneeling down to get a better look in the cupboard, Crowley sighed, feeling an ache in his left knee. Didn’t plan on spending so much of this evening on my knees. No. That’s a lie, isn’t it? Planned on spending most of it on my knees, if I’m honest, just thought I’d be situation between a pair of angelic thighs rather than neck deep in Anthony’s depressing cupboard of chaos. Why are there…why are there peanuts in here? How do these have a sell by date that predates this entire world? It doesn’t even make… Oh, jackpot.

Clambering roughly to his feet, Crowley held his prize aloft, gazing at it victoriously, all but hopping excitedly from one foot to the other as he waited for Aziraphale to emerge from the bathroom. He placed the bottle front and centre, knew it was exactly what they needed to help the night go off without a hitch. Can’t get suspicious we’re celestial visitors if they can’t see two feet in front of themselves, can they?

“Finally,” he exclaimed, ushering Aziraphale over as the angel padded out of a misty bathroom, tendrils of steam whipping out over his shoulders as he rubbed a towel roughly through his hair and slipped back into his waistcoat, pink-cheeked and far calmer than he had been ten minutes previously. “Come here, angel, look what I… Oh, you smell great.”

Aziraphale beamed proudly, leaning his head to one side to let Crowley have a closer sniff of his neck. “Found it in the cupboard in the bathroom. Dashing, isn’t it? It reminded me of you.”

“That’s because it is mine, well, Anthony’s.” Crowley dabbed at the angel’s neck with the cuff of his black shirt, attempting to wipe away all traces of the smell. “You can’t wear that, they’ll know something’s up if they walk in and Zira doesn’t smell like Zira. Wait there, oh and check out what I found hiding in the back of the cupboard. What do you say, for old time’s sake?”

Aziraphale turned, bursting into joyous laughter as he spotted the bottle resting next to the glasses. He picked it up, trying the lid and nodding to himself as the seal held tight. He called out to Crowley, who emerged from the bedroom a moment later, rectangular glass bottle in hand. “It’s sealed, looks like those two haven’t tried it either.”

“Well, be rude for them to try it before us, wouldn’t it?” Crowley grinned, then waved the bottle of aftershave temptingly in Aziraphale’s face. “This is what you’re supposed to smell like. Anthony keeps a bottle of it in his bedside table, soppy git. Stand still, let me give you a spritz.”

***

Four Minutes Until the Party.

“Let’s send them away,” Aziraphale moaned, the words falling against Crowley’s lips as the demon bent his head for another kiss. “Let’s just turn the lights off and pretend we’re not in.”

“Tempting,” the demon breathed, fingers circling the angel’s wrists and pressing them back against the door, holding him still with one hand as the other tugged at the button of his trousers. Beside them, the angel’s belt lay discarded on the floor, coiled like a snake.

“Meant to be your job, I know.” Aziraphale opened his mouth to continue speaking, words devolving into nothing more than a sharp inhale as he felt Crowley’s teeth catch his lower lip, biting down just hard enough to elicit a little hiss of pain. Perfect.

“If I get a move on we won’t have to send anyone away.” After one last quick kiss, Crowley released the angel’s hands, running his own down the length of Aziraphale’s body as he knelt before him, fingers curling in the waistband of his trousers as he pressed his lips and tongue to that soft strip of warm skin at the angel’s waist. Heaven, he thought, looking up to find his eyes meeting Aziraphale’s, he looks like heaven. Tastes like it too.

He felt fingers slide achingly slowly through his hair, fingertips raking against his scalp, and closed his eyes, letting out a breath of desire as he peeled the angel’s trousers down past his hips, over his thighs, pushing them down to…

Bzzzt

“That bloody intercom,” Crowley hissed, head craned back as he gazed up at Aziraphale. “To be continued. Later.”

“As if I can wait until later.” The angel raised both eyebrows desperately, as if to illustrate that he really, really couldn’t be expected to wait until whenever the unspecified later would be. Still, there were more pressing matters at hand, so he reluctantly fastened his trousers and followed Crowley to the door, where the demon was ready and waiting to greet their guests, looking every inch the anxious, guitar-playing, dog-walking Londoner he was pretending to be.

Bzzzt

“You have to let them up, Crowley.” Aziraphale nodded towards the intercom, as if the demon hadn’t spent the best part of the previous three decades living in residences that came complete with such functionality.

“Ah, of course.” Crowley leaned in close, holding one finger over the green button. “Hello?”

“Hello, little ones!” Two warm voices cooed the words, and Crowley promptly felt his heart plummet through his chest, down his legs and crash haphazardly through the floor. It was possible, he thought, that it might not stop falling until it reached the underside of the globe, or whatever shape Aziraphale’s creation took the form of.

“It’s Raphael.” Aziraphale smiled brightly, tugging Crowley’s finger away from the button as they heard the intercom fall silent.

A heartbeat later, Crowley turned to the angel, tears of disbelief and wonder filling his eyes as he realised who he was about to come face to face with after so many dreadful years of searching, of regret, of hateful not-knowing. “And Lucifer.”

Chapter Text

March. Crowley’s Flat, London.

“Aziraphale…” Crowley turned to the angel, fingers brushing the side of his hand. He took a step back, staring at the intercom as if it had just delivered news the demon thought impossible. “I never…”

“Crowley.” The angel placed a warm hand against his forearm, stopped himself a moment before peace flowed from his touch. No. No miracles. So easy to forget, he thought, shaking his head. When he spoke he kept his voice soft, careful. He could see the demon’s jaw jump as his teeth ferreted away against the inside of his cheek. Nervous energy. It had to go somewhere. “It’s…it’s not really Lucifer. It’s Luci, isn’t it?”

“Luci,” the demon said to himself, nodding slowly and pacing in a large circle, hands clasped behind his head. “It’s just Luci. It’s not…of course it’s not really them. They won't know me. Not me.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Aziraphale asked, leaning close to tuck a lock of hair behind Crowley’s ear, kissing his cheek while he was in the area. He stepped back, stroking his thumb across the bare skin in front of the demon’s ear. “I miss it, the tattoo. Your eyes too. Anthony's eyes are beautiful, of course, like autumn leaves in the sunlight, I know you’ve always loved the spray of colours when the leaves turn. But they’re not your eyes, not quite.”

“I’ll be me again soon enough, angel.” Crowley smiled, nose nuzzled to the angel’s cheek. “Tattoo and snake eyes and proclivity for mischief and all.”

“I would say I wouldn’t have you any other way but present events tell a somewhat different tale. Rather, I would have you any way I can, it seems.”

There was a knock at the door then, a cheery rapping of knuckles against wood, and Aziraphale gave the demon a little nod of reassurance, mouthing you’ll be fine as he approached the door. Crowley nodded, inhaling deeply, holding the air in his lungs for three long beats before he exhaled, making a silent promise to stay calm, to do absolutely nothing at all that might appear out of the ordinary. He could do it, even if he was about to come face to face with the closest thing to guardians he had ever had, estranged for so many thousands of years. He would channel Anthony J. Crowley Jr: human, dog walker extraordinaire, always collected in the face of imminent chaos. Apparently.

Aziraphale was feeling a little nervous himself, though he couldn’t let it show in front of Crowley, not when he knew the rollercoaster of emotions the demon was about to hurtle headfirst through. If coming face to face with the human forms of Raphael and Lucifer was enough to leave him breaking out in a cool sweat of trepidation and love, what in the world must Crowley be feeling? He had all but been raised by Raphael, had learned everything he knew about love and creation from the sweet archangel, forever patient, always nurturing. And Lucifer, well, everything that made Crowley Crowley came from Lucifer, the one who had led him into temptation, the one who had taught him the nature of pride, of rebellion, of holding firm in your beliefs, even if those beliefs could lead to nowhere but destruction. It was Lucifer, after all, who had spearheaded the movement that had set Crowley on the path that had led them, both of them, to that very moment. Perhaps Lucifer is the reason you and I are anything at all, Aziraphale thought, reaching out to squeeze Crowley’s hand one last time before he swung the door open and pasted an angelic smile on his face.

“Welcome, welcome!” Aziraphale’s voice rang out as he raised both hands in excitement, ushering Raphael and Luci over the threshold and into the living room. Once inside, he found himself staring at Raphael for a full two seconds longer than was comfortable, unable to tear his eyes away from the exact replica of the only one of heaven’s employees he had ever felt himself able to trust. And then there was Luci, a cloud of colour and perfume and textures, a thick emerald green scarf pulled free from their neck and deposited on the coat hook, heeled boots kicked off to reveal skinny jeans tucked into socks that had images of the Mona Lisa printed on one foot and the Venus de Milo on the other. In a flash of making themselves at home they stood four inches shorter, head hovering at Raphael’s shoulder level, had transformed themselves from something intimidating to something soft. Heavenly to earthly, Aziraphale thought, with a wry smile. “Now, while we wait for the others can I get you a…”

Before Aziraphale could execute the plan to ply all partygoers with copious amounts of alcohol, Luci had turned and caught sight of Crowley, who was standing in front of the sofa, fists clenched by his sides, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

“I can’t believe it’s you.” The words were more of a desperate hiccup as Crowley rushed towards Luci and flung his arms around them, locking his fingers behind their back as if he never, ever intended on letting them go again. “I can’t believe you’re here, I thought… I thought I would never see you again. Lucifer…”

“…And the Guys will be here in just a moment,” Aziraphale interrupted, waggling a finger towards the front door and smiling knowingly at Raphael, who was shooting Luci a look of amusement and mild confusion, as if he had grown used to this sort of thing happening from time to time over the years. The angel took the opportunity to lean closer to Raphael, dropping his voice. “He’s over-tired.”

Romantic reunion last night, was it?” Raphael laughed, clapping Aziraphale on the back and beaming at him. “We’re both delighted for you, of course. Oh, before I forget, we brought you this. Seemed like we should be celebrating, the two of you back together.”

As he produced a bottle of very fine wine from underneath one arm, Aziraphale weighed up whether or not it was grossly impolite to promptly stash it at the back of a cupboard until he and Crowley could enjoy it alone. Masquerading as a human was proving to be difficult business: navigating guests, conforming to etiquette, wrangling Crowley before he could cry on every single person who walked through the door.

“Of course you would see me again, you silly sausage.” Luci patted Crowley on the shoulder, disentangling his hands from their waist and leading him towards the makeshift bar. “Now, it seems like you need a drink more than I do. Oh, what have we here?”

“That’s for later.” Crowley sniffed, taking the dusty bottle out of their hands and waving it limply in Aziraphale’s direction. “For later, isn’t it, angel?”

Both angel and demon froze at the sound of the pet name hanging in the air. Eventually Aziraphale shook his head, laughing to himself. At least they use the same pet names as us. “Yes, dear, let’s hold off on that until everyone else is here. Raphael, whisky?”

“Won’t say no, Zira, never will.” Raphael nodded, following the angel over to the sideboard, murmuring in appreciation when a heavy glass of amber liquid was deposited in his hand. “Lovely. Now, we’ve got some news of our own actually. Had a call from the architects earlier. We’ve got a moving in date, at last. Housewarming in the works, of course, you’ll both be coming?”

“Oh, yes, absolutely.” Aziraphale grinned, elbowing Crowley lightly in the ribs. On autopilot, the demon nodded, wiping his eyes and sniffing quietly into the glass of wine he was cradling in one hand.

“What’s all this, you sweet boy?” As if the elephant in the room, namely Crowley’s tiptoeing on the edge of hysteria, couldn’t be ignored any longer, Raphael set his glass down on the sideboard and cupped Crowley’s face in both hands, which only served to propel the demon into even more violent sobbing.

“Started drinking early, did he?” Luci mused, leaning close to Aziraphale as the two of them watched Crowley place his hands gently on top of Raphael’s, wailing words nobody, not even Aziraphale, could ever hope to understand. Raphael nodded patiently, as if he was following along without any trouble at all.

“Nervous about the party,” Aziraphale said, deviating to his old mantra of necessary lies being far easier to keep up with if you kept them as close to the truth as possible. It was a strange feeling, standing in the presence of somebody who shared the great lawless Lucifer’s very essence, that towering charisma that bordered on hypnotic, pulling everything in its path closer, not caring a jot whether or not closer was where it wanted to be pulled. He had spent very little time in Lucifer’s presence in heaven, two or three brief encounters before everything had gone so desperately awry and then, of course, they had been gone without a trace. They had never left though, not really, not while their presence was still felt so heavily throughout heaven. Gabriel might have cast Lucifer out but he could never cast out the echo of that passionate spirit, even if what remained of it was a great deal quieter than before.

“I came to see him, you know, while you were apart.” Luci’s voice was light, though there was a hint of apology there. Whether it was genuine or not was anybody’s guess. “I hope you don’t mind.”

Aziraphale looked across at them, found them smiling back as easily as if they were sharing a drink with an old friend. He relaxed a little then. Perhaps the night really could go off without a hitch. He just had to get a handle on Crowley’s crying and they might stand a chance of remaining undetected. Although, he reasoned, even if any of their humans’ friends did suspect something, surely they could never even begin to guess at the truth. Not a natural leap, he thought, smiling, jumping from something’s not quite right to ah, must be a demon and angel on the run from a vengeful archangel.

“What, er, what did you say to him?” Aziraphale asked, rolling his glass gently to and fro as his eyes flitted from Luci across to Raphael, who was good-naturedly enduring an unending embrace at the hands of a very emotional demon. “Sorry, Luci, just bear with me a moment, I think he might need some water.”

“Oh, he’s all right.” Raphael laughed, smiling fondly at Crowley as Aziraphale tugged his arms away from the man’s waist and grabbed for his wrist.

“Come on, human boyfriend,” he whispered the reminder, voice low as he pulled the demon behind him. “Let’s have a word in the kitchen.”

Before they could get to privacy, however, the front door burst open and Mick, Lily, Sammy and Dan tumbled inside, brandishing pizza boxes and bottles of drink and roaring for no reason other than excitement at the evening’s impending shenanigans.

“All right, hubbies?” Lily cried, slamming an armful of Dominos boxes down onto the coffee table before turning her attention to Aziraphale and Crowley. As her gaze settled on Crowley her eyes narrowed and she took a step forward, eyeing him suspiciously. “You look…have you changed your hair? Something’s different.”

“Yes! Yes, that’s it. Took him to my barber this afternoon.” Aziraphale nodded quickly, reaching up to run a hand through Crowley’s hair. “We’ll be with you in a moment, my dear. Drinks are on the side, help yourselves.”

Fingers wrapped tightly around Crowley’s elbow, Aziraphale guided him towards the kitchen, ignoring the raucous roars that followed them, as if they couldn’t possibly be slinking off into the kitchen for any reason that wasn’t sinfully nefarious.

Mercifully alone, Aziraphale marched Crowley back until he was pressed against the window, then looked hurriedly over his shoulder to ensure nobody else was within earshot. He leaned in close to the demon. “Are you all right? You’re crying an awful lot.”

“I’m sorry, angel.” The demon sniffed, running an index finger back and forth under one eye, as if it might do anything at all to stem the flow of long overdue tears. “It’s these human sensibilities, they cry so easily. I only cried twice in six thousand years before this.”

“Well, Crowley, that’s a lie, isn’t it? You cried twice just on Christmas day.”

“That wasn’t my fault, it was…”

“The Snowman, I know, I know.” Aziraphale paused, offering him a gentle nod of solidarity, followed by a sweet kiss pressed to his forehead. “You’ve got to get control over yourself, my love. They’re going to know something’s up. There are only so many different ways I can say you’re tired before they start to suspect something.”

“I am tired. And I’m hungry. Probably thirsty as well. Do you know that dehydration can lower the human focus by up to fifty percent?”

Aziraphale nodded enthusiastically, dutifully retrieving a glass from the cupboard and filling it with water. “I didn’t know that, very interesting. Now, drink up. Big night ahead of us. Suspicions to thwart and all that.”

By the time Crowley had finished munching his way through the packet of crisps Aziraphale had found in the bread bin, the demon had all but stopped crying, with only the odd solitary tear escaping that the angel was sure he could blame on a troublesome eyelash if the need for an explanation arose. Then Luci’s laugh echoed around the flat, filling the kitchen and leaving Crowley’s bottom lip quivering adorably.

“No.” Aziraphale warned, shaking his head. “No, no, no. You can hold it together, I know you can. As soon as they’ve gone you can cry on me for the next fortnight, whatever you want.”

“I just can’t believe they’re here.” Crowley swallowed deeply, stretching his eyes as wide as he could in a vain attempt to banish his tears.

“Of course they’re here, we invited them.”

“After all this time, angel. Raphael and Lucifer, the way they always…”

Aziraphale lowered his voice, wishing it hadn’t come out as quite as much of a hiss but letting it hang there all the same. Tough love, perhaps, might do the job. “It’s not Raphael and Lucifer standing out there, Crowley. Just like Anthony and Zira aren’t us, remember? And that’s who we’re doing this for, isn’t it? What’s the number one rule?”

Crowley looked up at him in confusion, then straightened himself up, looking hopelessly around as if the only thing he was ready for was a good, long sleep. Eventually he shrugged, nodding towards the sad little fern that sat atop the fridge. “Always water from below?”

“The little ones! We leave the little ones’ lives as we found them.”

“Little ones? Steady on, you’ve only just got back together.” The kitchen door creaked open then and Mick appeared behind them, one eyebrow raised as he caught the tail end of their hushed conversation. “I, er, just came to get some ice.”

“Old Mick! I thought I’d never-” Crowley stopped, clearing his throat as he glanced at Aziraphale. “I mean, thanks for coming. Mate.”

“Again with the old. Knock it off, you cheeky git. Come here.” As Mick enveloped the demon in a bear hug, Aziraphale took the opportunity to give Crowley a nod of approval before he disappeared back into the living room to find the final guests had arrived and the party was well and truly about to begin.

“Here he is!” Dan cried, raising a pizza slice in Aziraphale’s direction as if it was a champagne flute. A glob of melted cheese bungeed from the tip of the pizza and the angel felt his stomach lurch at the prospect of a second meal in as many hours.

Aziraphale settled himself down on the sofa next to Dan, smiling at the singer as shyly as if it was the first time they had met, which, of course, it was. As far as Aziraphale was concerned, at least. He was three bites into a hastily retrieved slice of pizza before he realised Dan wasn’t alone on the sofa and was flanked by Clara and Bella, the two girls Zira had invited on a whim, partially to make up the numbers on his side.

“Ladies.” Aziraphale nodded at the girls, dressed in their customary identical black ensembles. Of course, up close their outfits held the usual minuscule differences, as if they were desperate to assert themselves as two independent people but didn’t quite have the confidence to break from the safety blanket of a mirror image.

“Hi Zira, oh my god, we were so excited to get your message, weren’t we, Bella?” Clara shifted forward on the sofa, knees pressed against the edge of the coffee table as she looked past Bella and Dan to wave excitedly at Aziraphale. Well, as easily as one can wave with a glass in one hand and pizza in the other. “How are you? We missed you at the gig. Crowley said you were okay but…”

She trailed off, leaving the unspoken question in the air ready for Bella to pick up, right on cue. The second girl nodded sombrely, shooting a quick glance at Dan before mentally giving him the green light to be privy to their conversation. “We thought you two might have, you know, split. We were devastated, weren’t we, Clara?”

“Right.” As if the conversation was a tennis rally played solely on one half of the court, Clara jumped back in. “We were devastated. I said to you, didn’t I, Bella, we can’t let the Den’s power couple go under, can we? We were going to stage an intervention if you weren’t at the next gig.”

“Oh, it was nothing really. Just a tiff.” Aziraphale shrugged, trying to channel every inch of the bookseller’s twitchy energy. He fiddled with his hands, then wondered if perhaps it was too theatrical, might read as performative, so opted to reach for a second slice of pizza. He looked up then, found both girls watching him with rapt focus, noticed even Dan was hanging on his every word, keen to hear his side of the story. I could get used to this, the angel thought. After so many years of flying under the radar, of keeping even the smallest anecdotes inside, what a treat it was to be encouraged to share. He leaned forward conspiratorially, looking towards the open kitchen door, to where Crowley was still ensconced inside. “You know how musicians can be.”

Aziraphale’s audience, which amounted to precisely three people, nodded passionately, Dan letting out a little laugh of self-deprecation, as if he knew only too well how musicians can be.

“Honestly, mate, he was gutted. He really was. The moping. You’ve never seen anything like it.”

He felt a little flare of happiness for Zira, wondering if he would ever get an opportunity to tell the bookseller how heavily the temporary break up had weighed on the dog walker. How bizarre it was, how miraculous, to care so strongly for somebody he had only ever spoken to as if through a veil, somebody who didn’t even know he existed, who thought him nothing more than a conscience, a part of their own mind.

“We said that, didn’t we, Clara? We said you two would be lost without each other.”

In response, Clara nodded wisely as she swallowed a gulp of whatever concoction was lurking in her glass. Aziraphale glanced down at the drink, wondering if he should take over role of barman, if only to pep up the measures a little. No single measures in this household, he thought to himself. “Can I get anyone a refill?”

“Tiger, thanks, mate.” Dan nodded, swinging an empty beer bottle loosely between his index finger and thumb.

No sooner had Aziraphale excused himself from the group on the sofa than he heard somebody calling his name. He turned to find Lily waving him over, midnight blue lipstick dotted with pinpricks of silver glitter as if her mouth was the night sky itself.

“Zira, we need you. Settle a debate, will you?”

As Aziraphale bustled over, swallowing deeply as he gathered the courage to face Crowley’s two bandmates he’d been most nervous to be scrutinised by, Sammy rolled his eyes, wrapping one hand firmly around the aux cable that was connected to Lily’s phone. He gave it a little tug to absolutely no avail whatsoever. “I’m just saying, Lil, you can be a bit of a dic-”

“Oh, charming. You hear this, Zira? Look at him. Have you ever seen a more furious postman in your life?” Lily sat back on her heels, one hand gripping her phone and the other reaching out to gesture towards Sammy who, Aziraphale had to concede, was doing a particularly stand up impression of the world’s angriest postman. Although, given that he had met precisely one postman in his life, it wasn’t a crowded field of competition.

“Dictator, if you’ll ever let me finish a sentence. I don’t know why you always get to control the music, that’s all. I’ve actually got a playlist I’d really like to…”

“No one wants to hear your misery music, Sammy. They won’t like it.”

“No one’s ever had the chance to know if they like it, Lily, because you’re an aux hog.”

“I will give you kudos for that niche insult, postman, but that’s as generous as I can be without feeling nauseous.”

As if they had only just remembered he was there, the two of them turned back to Aziraphale. It was Sammy who spoke first. “I bet the jean genie lets you have a go on the…”

Sammy! You can’t say that! He’s not a heathen like the rest of us.”

Sammy sighed. It was a laboured sound, as if it could barely contain all of the long-suffering frustration seeping from the postman’s very soul. “I was going to say, if you’re quite finished, that I bet Crowley lets him have a go on the aux cable. Also, I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that this one isn’t a heathen-in-training. The new year’s day hickey display, lest we forget.”

“Gone but not forgotten.” Lily nodded reverently. “Anyway, the hubbies are back together and balance has been restored to the universe. Are you on your way to the bar? Grab us a drink, will you?”

“What can I get you?” Aziraphale stopped a mere heartbeat before tacking on a customary my good woman, which he was concerned might read as patronising enough to arouse suspicion. “Wine? I think we have a bottle of white somewhere.”

“White wine, this one?” Sammy barked out a laugh, extending his little finger as he adopted the plummiest accent in his arsenal. “Lillian, would you like a glass of white wine? Zira, mate, give her a shot of everything in a pint glass and be done with it.”

“Actually, Zira, white wine would be lovely, thank you.” Lily smiled warmly at Aziraphale, before giving Sammy a pointed look. “And this angry little boy will have a juice, won’t you? He’ll take it in his highchair.”

Ever since Zira had first met the acquaintance of Crowley’s bandmates and Aziraphale had watched the way they openly berated each other at every available opportunity, he’d begun to understand that, in some circles, merciless insults were something of their own complex love language. While he and Crowley had settled into their default safe space of casual bickering near enough as soon as they’d laid eyes on each other, Lucifer and the Guys took things to a whole new level. As he squeezed past Raphael, Luci, and Mick, he made a mental note to give it a try himself. Perhaps, he reasoned, it might help make the humans feel comfortable around him.

“Oh, Zira, darling, pour us a whisky and coke, will you?” Luci asked, leaning across Raphael to pass Aziraphale their glass.

The angel took it, smiling to himself as he mused the ease with which Luci had asked for the refill, as if they truly believed it was their old friend Zira standing there, not the very soul who had brought them into existence in that universe. He had become rather good at hiding in plain sight over the years, he reasoned, perhaps all those years of running weren’t entirely wasted.

Playing at being the resident barman had been one of the more ingenious ideas he’d had that day, Aziraphale decided, after a full twenty minutes had passed without any palpitations of fear that he was about to blow their cover. After mixing Luci a whisky and coke that they had tasted, then promptly topped up with another generous glug of alcohol, Aziraphale realised he might have been going a bit light on the alcohol front. And so, after obediently delivering Dan’s beer and Lily’s wine, he turned his attention to mixing drinks for himself and Crowley. Just a little something to take the edge of.

As if the siren song of alcohol had summoned him, Crowley took that moment to tiptoe out of the kitchen, eyes red-rimmed but mercifully dry. Aziraphale watched his gaze flick from person to person, nerves weighing down the corners of his lips until he spotted the angel and made a beeline for him. At least, it would have been a beeline, if he hadn’t been pulled to and fro from group to group on his way to the bar. It was Lily Aziraphale had been most worried about, for both of them, given that indulging in chaotic bluntness seemed to be her favourite pastime. For a moment Aziraphale saw her watching Crowley carefully, looking first at his hair and then at his face, as if she was trying to identify exactly what it was that seemed so unfamiliar. And then the demon cracked a joke at poor Sammy’s expense and all of the heavy tension hanging in the air dissipated.

“Are you feeling better after the crisps?” Aziraphale asked, dropping his voice as Crowley joined him, the demon sliding one hand into his back pocket, as if entirely too much time had gone by without the two of them touching in some way.

“Much.” Crowley nodded, leaning in close. “Lily’s a sharp one, isn’t she? Had to slag off Sammy’s shoes to deflect attention.”

“What’s wrong with his shoes?” The angel craned his neck to try and get a better look at the postman’s feet.

“Oh, nothing. First thing that came to mind. Didn’t realise all I had to to blend in was be mildly demonic to the people I’m supposed to love. Easy.”

“Mmm, comes rather naturally, doesn’t it?”

“Playing to my strengths, angel.” He nodded towards the empty glass in Aziraphale’s hand. “What are you making me?”

The angel thought for a moment, surveying the myriad bottles that were now stacked up next to the glasses. Eventually, an idea came to him. “Pirate mimosa.”

Crowley sighed, though whether the sound was filled with longing or weariness Aziraphale couldn’t be sure. “Tell me, angel, what exactly goes into a pirate mimosa?”

Aziraphale added a splash of juice to an empty pint glass, then filled it almost to the brim with the Prosecco they’d found in the fridge during their panicked cleaning session earlier. He shrugged, passing it to Crowley. “Drink up.”

“This is just fizzy wine with unspecified tropical juice. It’s not even a mimosa, let alone a pirate mimosa, which I’m pretty sure you just made up.”

“Oh, forgot.” Aziraphale held up a hand in apology, then took the glass from Crowley and downed two gulps of the liquid, topping it up with a liberal serving of spiced rum. “There. Pirate mimosa.”

Crowley looked down at the concoction, watching as the dark rum seeped through the drink, turning it an attractive shade of dull brown. “Delicious.”

As the demon politely sipped at the drink, turning away to grimace after every mouthful in a vain attempt to spare Aziraphale’s feelings, the angel mixed himself a similar drink with an extra few shots of rum. Just to settle my nerves, he promised. He took a sip, felt himself recoil with a shudder at the taste, which wasn’t a world away from artificially sweetened paint stripper. Not that he’d ever imbibed paint stripper but even so. When he looked up, Crowley was watching him with an amused smile on his face.

“Now who’s crying?” the demon asked, reaching out to wipe a tear from the corner of the angel’s eye.

“It is a bit strong, isn’t it?” Aziraphale coughed, taking another sip.

“Eye-watering, some might say.”

“Drink your drink. It’s what humans do, drink horrible drinks. Waste not, want not. We’re on a budget now.”

“We need to pace ourselves,” Crowley warned, in a rare display of self-restraint. Though, perhaps, Aziraphale wondered, that had more to do with the fact he seemed to need a moment or two to steel himself before each mouthful. Every barman has to start somewhere, the angel said to himself.

“Pace ourselves. Yes. Very sensible.”

“That was my nickname down in hell, did you know that? Sensible Crowley.”

Aziraphale turned to look at him, barely fathoming the notion that there was something of Crowley’s old life he hadn’t been privy to. “I thought it was Bastard Crowley.”

“Oh, yes, you’re right. So it was. Tonight, though, tonight it’s time to say hello to Sensible Crowley. And Sensible Aziraphale. That’s what they’ll call us.”

“Who’s they?”

“I don’t know, just the unspecified them, you know? That’s what people say, isn’t it? Anyway, drink up, angel. But slowly. Sensibly.”

***

One Hour Later.

“I love this song!” Aziraphale screeched, slopping his fresh pirate mimosa down his wrist, a few stray droplets cascading down to the thigh of Crowley’s jeans. The angel whooped, pawing at the denim and walking his fingers inward until they were groping for the demon’s inner thigh.

“You don’t know this song.” Crowley cackled, closing his hand over Aziraphale’s and sliding it up a few inches for good measure. “You’ve always been a damned tease, angel.”

Aziraphale laughed, dancing away from the demon and letting himself get pulled back a second later. As Crowley leaned down to press a kiss to his jaw, the angel’s eyes snapped open, as if something had only just dawned on him. “Less of the damned, thank you very much. There’s only space for one demon in this relationship.”

“Mmm.” Crowley stumbled back a pace, brandished his pint glass as if he was about to make a toast. He appeared to think better of it, thought it infinitely more sensible to pogo up and down on the spot as the music thudded around them. “You know what they say about you in hell? Angel in the streets…”

“Yes, very good.”

“…Demon in the sheets.”

“Excuse me?” Aziraphale’s jaw dropped open. “Who says that?”

“Well, me.” Crowley laughed, taking the angel’s hand and twirling him wholly out of time with the music. “Me, myself, and I. That’s three. What? It’s true. Absolutely sinful. Come here, I’ve got a wile for you to thwart.”

“Oh, good.” Lily raised an eyebrow from her vantage point on the sofa. On either side of her, Dan and Sammy nodded resignedly. Though their hosts’ voices were drowned out by the music they had insisted needed to be cranked up to full volume post haste, the sentiment behind their words was abundantly clear to every guest in the room. “We’ve reached the point of the evening where we need a spray bottle to get them apart. They’re an hour ahead of schedule. Must be a full moon.”

“Is it me or are they…” Dan trailed off, waving a hand in Crowley and Aziraphale’s direction, squinting a little through his almost-drunken haze as he tried to ascertain which one of the two was holding the other up, or if it was a mutual effort.

“Even more all over the bloody place, and each other, than usual? No, mate, it’s not just you.” Sammy looked back at the couple, felt his lip quiver as he bit back a laugh. “What are they doing?”

“I think-” Lily paused, leaning forward for a closer look at the angel and demon, who might have been limbering up for some sort of celestial ritual, or might simply have been enjoying her playlist. “I think they’re dancing.”

“Come on, guys!” Crowley called out to them, dancing over towards the sofa with all the grace and rhythm of a drunken uncle at a wedding. “Ha, guys! Guys! Lucifer and the… oh!”

The demon fell silent, hands clapped dramatically to his cheeks as he stared from his bandmates to Luci, who was perched atop the sideboard, legs swinging back and forth as they poured Raphael a fresh drink. He opened his mouth to shout again, then brought one fist to his lips, shaking his head as if he was summoning up all of the willpower at his disposal to keep from crying.

“No!” Aziraphale wailed, had grown all too used to the warning signs as the evening had progressed. He rushed towards the demon, shoe catching on absolutely nothing at all and sending him staggering into the arm of the sofa, almost depositing the rest of his pirate mimosa in Dan’s lap. “My love, no more tears. It’s just the band, isn’t it? You’re just excited to see them.”

It was touch and go for a moment, but then Crowley swallowed the ball of emotion in his throat and promptly dissolved into hysterical laughter, waving his glass first in the direction of Lily and then over towards Luci. “Lucifer and the Guys, all in one place, at last!”

“Yes.” Lily nodded slowly, speechless, for once. She reached out and patted Crowley on the hand as he careened past her with Aziraphale in tow.

“Sorry,” the angel bumbled, after he smashed into the dining table, barely able to register whether the victim of his drunken impression of a bulldozer was human or furniture.

“He just apologised to a chair,” Sammy said plainly, as if no further comment was required but he just needed to know the others had seen the spectacle.

“Why are we the only ones staggering?” Crowley asked, arms snaking around the angel’s waist as if he thought he was the responsible one.

“It’s these drinks, Crowley.” Aziraphale paused to guzzle the rest of his drink, vaguely aware that he had stopped grimacing after every mouthful somewhere around the third glass. “Why are they so strong?”

“Wily barman. Keeps giving me the eye. Think he wants to take me to bed.”

What?” Aziraphale stared at Crowley in horror. Crowley stared back, waiting for the penny to drop. A moment later, it did. “Oh, well then. Yes, he rather does. Time to wrap things up here, I think. Everyone’s had a jolly old time. Went smoother than…cotton.”

“Silk.” Crowley corrected him, then looked down at his own feet, if only to keep himself tethered to reality. “You know, angel, something tells me celestial corporations are made of sterner stuff than these human bodies. Can’t handle their drinks, humans, can they?”

And then, before either angel or demon had a chance to tell their guests that they were very sorry but it was well past both of their bedtimes and so, regretfully, they would have to ask them to get a wiggle on and vacate the premises, Sammy’s voice cut across the room, from where he had made a very pivotal discovery.

“Is this absinthe? You are such a pretentious wanker.”

Crowley and Aziraphale looked hazily across to find the postman gripping the neck of the bottle of green liquid, sloshing it around as he waved it in their direction.

“I’ll fetch the sugar, shall I?” Raphael asked, already moving towards the kitchen as if a group bonding session of drinking absinthe was a foregone conclusion.

“Spoons, darling!” Luci called after him, hand cupped to their mouth like a makeshift megaphone.

“We’ll just do the one,” Aziraphale whispered, fingers curling around the edge of Crowley’s back pocket. “And then we’ll wrap things up, shall we?”

“Absolutely.” Crowley nodded, eyes trained on the angel’s as Raphael squeezed past them with a bag of sugar cubes in one hand and a fistful of spoons in another. “Just one and then it’s me, you, and the mattress.”

***

Nineteen Minutes Later.

“Down it! Down it!”

As the group descended into mismatched clapping to accompany their maniacal chanting, Luci stood in the middle of the circle and polished off their hefty measure of the green fairy in one neat glug. Easy.

“Be an angel, pour us another.” They deposited the empty cup in Raphael’s hand, then leaned in for an unhurried kiss, as if the absinthe had suddenly flared up and begun to take effect.

“Aniseedy.” Raphael laughed, one arm slung around Luci’s waist as the two of them busied themselves preparing a fresh drink for everybody in the group, after Lily had made them all promise they’d have at least one round in tandem. For the memories, apparently.

Making short enough work of preparing the drinks that the unspoken group consensus was of course they know how to mix absinthe without resorting to Google, Raphael and Luci passed the glasses around after doing very complex things with teaspoons, sugar cubes and, to Aziraphale's alarm, fire.

“Time for a toast?” Luci asked, raising their glass. “To our two lovesick puppies, may your hearts always be full and your bed always be warm.”

“To the hubbies!” Lily cried, as the group raised their cups in response.

Crowley looked across at Aziraphale, taking his second taste of the elusive drink as the angel nodded at him, miming the action of ticking the very last thing off of their collective bucket list, before knocking back his own drink. Better late than never.

And then, through his blurred vision, Crowley heard Mick’s gruff voice lightened with friendly teasing, as a tear slipped from his eye and streaked slowly, dramatically down his cheek at the sound of the well wishes from humans who knew nothing of their story, of their millennia long fight to be together with full hearts and a warm bed.

“Oh, look out, someone get the tissues, he’s gone again.”

Chapter Text

March. Crowley’s Flat, London.

An hour had ticked by since the first drop of absinthe had passed Aziraphale’s lips and he had acquired quite the taste for the drink. As the tang of aniseed on his tongue increased, his inhibitions plummeted in the opposite direction and, as was customary, the yin yang balance of his and Crowley’s roles began to shift, leaving the demon sitting in the seat of responsible party for the time being. A terrifying notion indeed.

Aziraphale was used to watching Crowley from a distance. It had often been the only way he could. Stolen glances, stolen moments, and then stolen nights. Always stolen. Borrowed time, as if one day being cornered into paying back the debt of that happiness was the inevitable price to pay for love.

It had been a long lifetime of watching each other from a distance, eyes following the other’s path across a room, gaze meeting and held for a moment, or two, or three, until Aziraphale would lose his nerve and look away.

A long-held habit took more than mere hours of freedom to shake loose, and Aziraphale had found himself slip back into that old routine of quietly watching Crowley’s every move, of allowing himself the luxury of his gaze roaming slowly over the outline of the demon’s face, his lips, his body. That night, as they stood amongst their most trusted confidantes, Aziraphale was deep in slurred conversation with Lily and Mick when he realised he had retreated back to that unwelcome comfort zone, watching Crowley over the rim of his glass as the demon swayed between Raphael and Luci, rapt in the midst of whatever topic was at hand.

Crowley’s stance shifted in a way that was imperceptible to every being at the party, besides one. There was a tilt of his hip, one foot sliding forward just so, and then he cocked his head to the side and met Aziraphale’s eyes across the room. A smile. So slow and intentional it was as if a spotlight beamed down on them both, everything else fading away in the darkness. Aziraphale felt that familiar thud of panic in his chest, a millennia old shot of adrenaline to spur him into action, and shook his head in response, a physical reminder to his soul that he didn’t have to love through subtleties any longer. He was free, at last, to love with all the fervour of a hurricane sweeping through country and town and city alike, leaving chaos in its wake, with only the heartbeat of onward, onward, onward to him pounding in its chest.

“Can’t look away, can you?” Raphael laughed, clapping a hand on Crowley’s shoulder as he followed the demon’s eye-line to find it settled on the angel, who was looking back with equal devotion. As far as the partygoers were concerned it was a look of newly-blossomed love, the type of all-encompassing blinkered affection that could only accompany a honeymoon period, something so intense it could never hold true over the years, or even the months, a solar flare that would burn itself out and give way to a more understated devotion, that had to, in the end.

Of course, what Raphael and the other partygoers didn’t know was that they stood in the presence of two beings for whom the human lifespan was merely a blink, something that measured devotion in decades, not millennia. The angel and demon who stood before them had lived a love story in reverse, had crested the peaks and troughs of a lifetime of love, had faced breaking point after breaking point, and even stared the finality of death in the face before they had been granted the luxury of something as light and carefree as a honeymoon period. And now they had it, after six thousand years of waiting, it was something they had no intention of letting go of.

It was the first time, Crowley realised, that to be caught looking at Aziraphale with equal measures of love and desire in his eyes wasn’t danger. When Raphael smiled at him as if he was happy, proud even, to see the two of them so in love, the demon felt a rush of something that had laid dormant in him for so many thousands of years. It was, he understood, something close to what he had felt in the early days, the days before. Family. That was the closest word he could use to describe it. He felt as though he was standing amongst the safe, soft blanket of family and there, in the centre of it all, was Aziraphale. Love was the thread that tied it all together, what he felt in that moment for everybody standing in that room with them. A different kind of love, perhaps, but love all the same. It still held the same building blocks it always had: patience, rebellion, hope, and kindness. It was what had been missing since he fell, since the little family he had carved out in heaven had been snatched away as he tumbled into the endless dark. It was what had been missing from that six thousand year struggle on Earth. He had had flashes of it, yes, in the kindred spirits he had met along the way. But human life was so…fragile, so fleeting. Now though, in the place where they no longer needed to hide, perhaps a family was the last missing piece of the puzzle.

Lost, momentarily, to notions of trust and family that had been quietly forming in his mind, Crowley found his thoughts pulled back to Aziraphale at the precise moment the angel had crossed the room to reach for the half empty bottle of absinthe. There was a look of steely determination on his face as he took a deep swig that left Crowley racing towards him, ready to leap into the role of responsible party and put a stop to whatever required such intense alcoholic courage.

“Don’t do it, angel,” he said, dropping his voice as he gently attempted to wrestle the bottle from Aziraphale’s grip. Aziraphale’s iron grip, as it turned out. “Aziraphale, give that to me.”

“No,” the angel slurred, raising the bottle to his lips to guzzle another mouthful of the elusive green liquid. He slammed the bottle down onto the sideboard, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand in a motion so messy and undignified that it was testament to the angel’s blood alcohol level. “I’m doing it, Crowley, it needs to be done. I’m telling them. It’s the only way.”

Crowley swallowed a gulp of fear. Sometimes, he reasoned, Aziraphale with a plan was just as terrifying as Aziraphale with no plan whatsoever. It might take him a while to formulate a plan of action but once he had, there was no convincing him to deviate from it. It was best, Crowley had learned, to let him get on with it and start thinking of the best route of escape. Although, that was far easier done prior to a night of wine and whisky and pirate mimosas. And absinthe.

“Whatever you say,” he conceded, finally, picking up the bottle to suck in one last mouthful of the drink. It wasn’t even good, a spicy, medicinal taste that left a heat on his tongue long after he had swallowed. Still, it did leave laughter on the tip of his tongue too, kicked that burning desire for Aziraphale up a notch, something he hadn’t thought was possible. Get it over with, and then I’m going to get you alone. Finally.

Aziraphale laid a hand on Crowley’s forearm, gave him a wink that was far more troubling than reassuring, then staggered forward a pace, taking the absinthe bottle and flicking a fingernail against it, leaving nothing but a dull tap echoing quietly beneath the buzz of drunken chatter in the room. When the sound attracted no attention whatsoever, the angel raised his voice. “Friends, we have something we need to tell you. I’m afraid we haven’t been quite honest with you. You see, there’s a reason we’ve gathered you all here tonight.”

Their friends turned, one by one, eyeing the couple with interest that grew, slowly, into excitement as various pennies began to drop, albeit incorrectly.

“Oh my god.” Lily clapped both hands to her cheeks. “You’re getting married! Ha, Sammy, pay up!”

“Oh, oh, no I know what this is. Little ones.” Mick took a pace back, beaming at the group as he nodded towards Crowley and Aziraphale, recalling the conversation he had walked in on earlier that evening. “Congratulations to you both, will we be hearing the pitter patter of little…”

“For Somebody’s sake,” Crowley hissed, looking accusingly at Aziraphale, who shrugged back as if he couldn’t fathom how they had all got his announcement so wildly off-base. The demon looked back at the group, sending a silent apology to the sleeping human in the back of his mind who had no idea of the chaos he was going to step back into. “We’re not getting married, and we’re not…acquiring offspring. Angel, I think you should explain what you meant. Nice and accurately.”

“Ha!” Aziraphale jabbed a finger against Crowley’s chest. “Good one. You’re so sharp, Crowley, do you know that? You’re so sharp. So funny. My funny, funny demon.”

“Yes, all that wit, it’s been said.” Crowley leaned into him, lips grazing the angel’s ear. “What are you doing?”

“I’m saving the world,” Aziraphale explained patiently, lips lifting into a smile. “I’ve figured it all out, Crowley. It was the absinthe. Clarity. There’s clarity in inebriation.”

“There is not, and has never been, clarity in inebriation.”

“We just need a helping hand. What did you tell me about learning to trust people?” he whispered, before turning back to the group and raising his voice beyond acceptable levels for the early hours of the morning in a crowded block of flats with poor sound insulation. “Our story begins six thousand years ago…”

He’s not, Crowley thought, horror etching itself on his face as he watched Aziraphale do the unthinkable and…tell the truth. What is he doing? How could he… why? What is he…

“And what was I supposed to do? She was expecting, rather a quick turnaround all things considered but such is life, and there was going to be…weather, you know? How could I just leave them to face the wilds without any way to protect themselves? Anyway, that’s not important, not really. It’s what happened next that really set the wheels of this whole…shebang, in motion…”

Aziraphale regaled Anthony and Zira’s friends with the sweeping tale of dedication and forbidden love, of the Earth’s history and the twin roles an angel and a demon had played across the eons, how they had loved each other from afar, and then from a distance, and then so intimately that not even the promise of death could tear them asunder. Next to him, Crowley stared in terrified silence, swigging a mouthful of whatever alcohol was in reaching distance whenever the angel reached a particularly harrowing plot point.

“…And then, you see, we couldn’t just give up, could we? Not after how far we’d come…”

As Aziraphale flung his arms wide in his very best impression of Satan clawing his way up to the Earth, Crowley scanned the faces in the crowd for Raphael’s, looked for a flicker of recognition. He knew it was pointless, knew that the man standing in front of him wasn’t the archangel who might have been looking down that day in Tadfield when the world failed to end.

“…Of course, he’s better than any of them in heaven ever have been, present company aside, of course, Raphael. He’s always been so much better than that place. But what choice did we have? A chance to be together? We had to try.”

As Raphael perked up at the sound of his name, he shot a glance across at Crowley, as if he might be able to provide any sort of rational explanation. The demon shrugged, then nodded, then shook his head. Cover all bases, he thought, taking another swig from the bottle as he unbuttoned the next button of his shirt. It was so hot. Or was that the fear sweats Anthony spent so much time lamenting?

“…It all happened so… Oh, Crowley, getting undressed already? We have company. No? I see. Where was I?” Aziraphale paused, tapping his chin. “Ah, yes. It all happened so fast, I just…I just thought of love, I thought of everything that had ever mattered. Everything I had ever cared about. And then we were here. Sort of. Your friends, your sweet friends, they’re…let’s say they’re sleeping and we will keep them safe from the world, from up there, from everything. So, you see, as our best friends from the old world and the new world, we need your help, we need to get back, and we need to make this place safe for all of you.”

Aziraphale finished his monologue with a slow blink, as if he had only just truly understood the depths of what he had shared, as if until that moment he had thought the whole performance had been for an empty room.

There was silence. Dreadful, enduring silence.

Angel, what have you done? Crowley looked at Aziraphale in dismay as the angel looked back in hazy confusion, as if he couldn’t quite fathom the demon’s unenthusiastic feedback.

A clap punctuated the silence. Two claps, really, but given that the sound came from Clara and Bella’s palms it rang out as a single entity.

Then a spluttered laugh fell from Lily’s lips as she raised her glass in Aziraphale’s direction. “Brilliant, Zira. Tell us another one, go on.”

“Yes, very…creative, isn’t he?” Crowley nodded emphatically, reaching around to squeeze Aziraphale’s shoulders as if he was nothing but wholly supportive of his drunken little storyteller. “Always telling him he should write some of those tales down. Have a word, will you, Lily?”

Aziraphale looked around at the group, bewildered, as they descended into chatter about his story, agreeing unanimously that the part where Raphael existed as a softly-spoken heavenly entity needed a little bit of work if it was to reflect real life.

“No!” Aziraphale cried, stumbling forward a pace and waving an accusatory finger at nobody in particular. “You need to listen to me! I brought all of my favourite things… Sushi and…and crepes. Haven’t you wondered why there are so many crepe stands in London? Nobody needs a crepe stand on every street corner, it’s preposterous!”

Next to him, Crowley raised an eyebrow as if he was both indignant and vindicated in equal measure.

“And…have any of you tried to visit…I don’t know, where haven’t I been? Crowley, where did I never get to? What’s the name of that… Crowley, please, what’s that little island I always wanted to go to?”

“Vanuatu. And it’s me that always wanted to get there but never managed it, angel, not you. You spent loads of time there, remember? Why they’re all so happy. Were so happy. Were? No, are. Not the End of Days just yet, is it? Or is it? Is there going to be a formal announcement? Probably. That smug bastard loves to prance about on that bloody stage, doesn’t he? Honestly, when I get my hands on…” Crowley trailed off, looked at the group of mystified faces staring back at him and gestured hastily to Aziraphale. “Back to you.”

Aziraphale took another step forward, reaching out to touch Raphael’s face as if he was the most miraculous thing he’d ever seen. When the angel spoke his voice was slurred but incredibly earnest, as though he might take inspiration from Crowley and break down into tears at any time. “You were there…” He turned his attention to Mick after that, reaching for his salt and pepper hair and twisting it lovingly in his fingers. “And you were there…”

Crowley raced towards him then, scooping both hands under Aziraphale’s armpits and helping him climb to his feet after the angel had sunk to his knees in a clunking motion of drunken reverence. “Come on, Dorothy, let’s get you some water.”

“Oh, very good, Crowley. You’re on a roll tonight. Dorothy, indeed. We're off to murder the wizard, eh? The purple-eyed bastard of Oz."

As the couple staggered off into the kitchen, laughing loudly about a joke only the two of them understood, the rest of the party watched them leave in shocked confusion.

“Do you think they’re okay?” Luci asked finally, looking back to Raphael with an amused smile on their face. From what they knew of Crowley this was entirely normal behaviour but to see Zira so utterly out of control, even after he’d polished off a pizza and a half to line his stomach, that was a brand new experience. They heard raucous laughter siren out from the kitchen followed by suspicious silence and then, a moment later, a low moan that sounded anything but angelic. Luci raised an eyebrow and turned their attention back to their drink, while Dan tactfully fiddled with the volume on the speakers until the music rose by enough decibels to keep them blissfully ignorant about what might be going on in the next room.

Safely hidden in the kitchen, an angel and a demon had made it to the sink but were not, by any stretch of the imagination, getting the water they had gone to retrieve.

“Can we ask them to go home yet?” Aziraphale whined, letting his eyes flutter closed as Crowley’s lips found his neck, the demon’s teeth scraping against the soft skin he found there. “I mean it, I want you to myself. It’s the thrill of confession, Crowley. It’s so liberating.”

“Spoken like a true believer. You told them everything, you naive, beautiful fool. I thought we were supposed to be laying low,” Crowley murmured, hands sliding up under the angel’s shirt, nails gently raking across the warm skin of his stomach until Aziraphale sucked in a mouthful of air in frustration.

“Oh yes, well, that’s going swimmingly, isn’t it?” He was silenced with a kiss, tasted the aniseed on the demon’s tongue and let himself be walked backwards until his back hit the edge of the sink and there was nothing but the gratifying weight of Crowley’s hips rolling tantalisingly slowly against his.

This is how I ought to finally go, Aziraphale thought to himself, feeling Crowley’s hand under his knee, pulling one leg up until it was wrapped behind the demon’s waist, pulling them closer together. He ran one finger along the inside of the Crowley’s waistband, bit down on the demon’s lip as he moaned into his mouth. May the Almighty smite me where I stand for I am truly about to sin against this kitchen sink.

“Oh, for the love of… Don’t mind me, I just came in to get more hummus.” Raphael stood next to the fridge, one hand on his hip in mock-annoyance, betrayed by the smile on his face. “Last time I saw you it was all lingering looks and chaste hand holding and now it’s…dry humping against the sink. What’s got into you two tonight?”

Crowley broke away from Aziraphale for the briefest of moments, sighing at the second interruption of the evening. He pulled back for long enough to utter two words before he turned his attention back to the angel and laughed against his lips. “It’s ineffable.”

Raphael rolled his eyes, smiling affectionately and kicking the fridge door closed as he carried a teetering stack of hummus tubs back into the living room. “In their own bloody world.”

***

Twenty Six Minutes Later.

“I love you,” Aziraphale whispered, fingers pressed to Crowley’s cheekbones as he stretched up for a kiss, one laced with all the tenderness befitting eternal, unstoppable love.

“We came back to each other, angel.” The demon broke contact with the angel for long enough to smile, then dipped his head for another kiss, one hand stroking lazily down the length of Aziraphale’s forearm until he reached his hand, linking their fingers together as he pressed the angel’s arm back against the sofa cushion. “We always do. Every time.”

Aziraphale sighed contentedly, as if he didn’t have a single care in the world. Either of them. Both of which they were supposed to be saving. After they sobered up, of course. “And we always will. Over and over again, me and you. Whatever pulls us apart, always back together in the end.”

“It’s a good world, this.” Crowley smiled down at him, turned his head to the side to take in a glimpse of that world through the window. Granted, the view was nothing other than the night sky but the stars were shining brightly and proudly enough that it might have been the most beautiful view of all, except for the one underneath him. “You did it, angel, you made a better world.”

“For all of you. For all of you who fought for it. I’m sorry I…” The angel hesitated, heaving a deep sigh as if he was exhaling a weight he had been carrying for far too many years. When he spoke his sentences were fragments, snatched thoughts that came too quickly to articulate in his usual eloquent way, alcohol tugging at his speech until he was stuttering over the words. “I’m sorry I was too much of a coward to march with you all. Back then, I mean. Before. I believed in it, you know, what they said. What Lucifer said. I was just too afraid to follow you then.”

“It’s lucky you didn’t. You really would have followed me straight into the pits of hell.” Crowley laughed, nuzzled his cheek against the angel’s neck. “Imagine if we’d both fallen? Wouldn’t have lasted five minutes down there.”

“Excuse me, I might have thrived.” Indignant to the point of absurdity, Aziraphale let out a little huff, as if the idea that he could possibly have succumbed to hell’s darkness was insulting at best and deeply hurtful at worst.

A chuckle, as light as if those years in hell were far enough away that Crowley could find humour in the tragedy. The demon leaned in close, smile as soft as if he couldn’t fathom loving Aziraphale any more than he did in that exact drunken moment. “If you say so, my sweet angel. Now kiss me like we’ve been trapped inside ourselves for all these months.”

“We have been trapped inside ourselves for all these months.”

“Exactly.” Crowley smiled, closing his eyes to meet the angel in a kiss.

Three feet in front of them, the angel and demon’s party guests were sitting in a horseshoe shape with their backs firmly directed towards the sofa, determined to remain blissfully ignorant about whatever might be going on beneath the blanket their hosts had messily draped over themselves after they staggered back in from the kitchen.

“Well, this is getting increasingly awkward, isn’t it?” Lily asked, glancing across at Mick, who gave her a nod of solidarity, a haunted look in his eye persisting after he had made the mistake of looking over his shoulder five minutes previously. As the group fell silent, Sammy handed her an almost-empty bottle of whisky, which she took a generous glug from before handing it back so it could begin its journey back through the ranks.

“Should we, er, move to a different room?” Dan asked, swallowing nervously as he considered taking a peek in the direction of the sofa, thinking better of it when Mick laid a warning hand on his forearm.

“No, son, don’t do it,” he said, grey mane bouncing as he shook his head vehemently.

“What’s the tipping point, do you think?” Luci mused, biting back as a laugh as if they were thoroughly enjoying the chaos of that most unexpectedly lively evening.

Silence, for a moment, as the group considered what exactly the tipping point might be. And then Crowley did something that left Aziraphale moaning desperately into that silence and they all exchanged a horrified look to confirm that, yes, that was very much the tipping point and, no, they were never going to let them forget it after they sobered up. However many days that might take.

“To the kitchen?” Raphael asked, voice frantic as he rose to his feet.

Another voice then, calling out from the tangle of limbs and hair and wet lips on the sofa. The group turned to find Crowley beaming up at them from his position atop Aziraphale, cackling as he bellowed what must have been a hilarious joke for those in the know, given the way the angel dissolved into laughter beneath him.

“To the world!”

Chapter Text

March. Crowley’s Flat, London.

2.57am.

Outside a cosy little flat in London, an exasperated neighbour was banging on Anthony’s front door. They had shown incredible patience that night. When the occupants in the flat upstairs had cranked up the music they had merely rolled their eyes and turned up the volume on their TV. When the revellers had begun shrieking about the green fairy they had treated themselves to a gentle bout of tutting and hoped they would settle down soon enough. They had relaxed, finally, when things had fallen silent for a brief period some time around one in the morning. Then a second round of shrieking had begun but still they had remained patient. After all, that sweet redhead who lived upstairs was always the first to smile and say good morning, to take in parcels and crouch down to give the dog a pat on the head.

And then the singing had begun.

No. Not singing. Wailing.

They had looked at their watch. Just shy of three in the morning. Enough was enough. And so they found themselves hammering on the door that belonged to that sweet redhead, trying to keep their rising temper at bay as the gruff roar of a mangled song blasted out from inside the flat.

No reply.

They hammered louder. With two fists that time.

It was a fruitless endeavour. There was nothing they could do to be heard over the din inside, short of locating a microphone of their own and starting a rival impromptu karaoke session in the corridor. They didn’t have a microphone to hand, however, so had to be content with giving the door a little kick of frustration and retreating downstairs to do the only thing they could think of to make themselves feel better: write a strongly worded note.

Inside the cosy little flat that was currently a very noisy little flat, the group had been doing their very best to separate Mick from his beloved sidekick: the karaoke microphone.

As he finished executing a Stevie Nicks-esque routine of twirls and his latest vocal performance came to a very whimsical end, Lily lurched forward to wrestle the microphone out of his grip while he was still riding the performance high and his guard was down.

“Finally,” she muttered to herself, bumping Mick out of the way with her hip as he staggered behind the sofa to messily pour himself (and the top of the sideboard) a drink. By the time he’d wobbled back to collapse onto the sofa and beam at the others, as if glowing praise was imminent, Lily and Sammy had taken their position in front of the group and were preparing for what they were sure would be the rendition of the night.

“Turn around, Lily,” Sammy hissed, a heartbeat after he had raised the microphone to his lips and realised Lily was standing by his side and not, as they had rehearsed countless times in the past, with her back to his.

“Oh, you want to go full choreography?” she asked, a customary eyebrow raised as she gave Sammy a quick up and down. “You’ve had, what, three drinks, are you sure you can handle it? It’s quite complicated.”

“Shut up. I’ve had way more than three drinks. I’ve had more drinks than you. And it’s not complicated. It’s just lots of…pointing and turning and…Swedish goings on.”

Swedish goings on it took you three weeks to learn.” Lily’s final retort would have been a whisper, had she not growled her passionate defence of Abba’s dance skills directly into the microphone. As Sammy opened his mouth to reply, she held up a hand so close to his face that she could feel his angry huff graze her palm. “Postman, commence the music.”

Back to back in their customary starting position, the music burst to life, Sammy and Lily shoulder shimmied in perfect harmony as they warbled the opening lines of the song, and Anthony’s neighbours in every direction heaved identical sighs into the darkness as they pressed their pillows firmly against their ears.

“We should sing something,” Aziraphale said, swaying gently out of time with the music as he slid an arm around Crowley’s waist. The angel and demon had been forced to observe the karaoke battle from a standing position after their guests had crowded onto the sofa to get the best view. Or, unbeknownst to the two of them, to prevent further unsubtle barely-under-the-blanket activities transpiring.

“Sing?” Crowley turned to him, wrinkling his nose. He couldn’t have heard him correctly. Aziraphale was many things but an exhibitionist was not one of them. Unless he was seated in the back of a taxi and then all bets were off.

“It looks like rather a lot of fun, doesn’t it?” the angel continued, nodding enthusiastically towards Lily, who had jumped dramatically into Sammy’s arms to mark the end of the song. As the two held their position, chests heaving with the exertion of performing while under the influence, the rest of the partygoers burst into rapturous applause.

“Oh, buckle up, voice of a generation incoming.” Crowley nudged Aziraphale gently with his elbow as Luci elegantly snaked the microphone cord around their wrist as they scrolled through the makeshift karaoke player, which was really just YouTube search results on Anthony’s laptop. Still helping us out, even when you’re temporarily relegated to the background, aren’t you, mate? the demon thought fondly, feeling a little twinge of guilt at how much his human counterpart would have loved the party. Perhaps, he mused, there would be a time when demon and human alike could sing absinthe-fuelled karaoke together.

“You’re holding it together remarkably well.” Aziraphale leaned a little closer, dropping his voice to ensure they couldn’t be overheard. “Have you turned a corner?”

“Turns out I was just hungry.” Crowley shrugged, nodding down at the stack of pizza boxes that were neatly piled up by the side of the coffee table. “Human corporations, you know? Can’t tolerate hunger for more than an hour without crying or shouting. Or both.”

“Mmm.” Aziraphale pursed his lips, opened his mouth a moment later to propose a quick trip to the kitchen to replenish the supply of snacks that had dwindled to a few sparse crumbs over the hours. Only that was the moment Luci purred into the microphone and every other person in the room fell silent under the inevitable spell of a perfectly husky voice singing lyrics of love and enduring devotion.

The way you wear your hat

The way you sip your tea

The memory of all that

No no, they can’t take that away from me

As Clara and Bella’s eyebrows shot up into their respective hairlines in perfect sync, Lily reached across to slap Sammy excitedly on the knee, and all he could do was nod back as they collectively stared up at Luci in awe-struck admiration. Luci, meanwhile, eyes half-closed as they lost themselves to lyrics that unknowingly transcended their mortal existence, had a whisper of a smile on their lips that was the mirror of the soft grin Raphael wore, the two of them disappearing into a secret memory of the first time they had heard that song, of everything it had come to mean to them.

“Angel.” Crowley reached for Aziraphale’s hand, gripping it tightly as he swallowed a lump in his throat. “Angel, I need a snack.”

Aziraphale sighed, following his eye line to Raphael, who was tapping out the song’s rhythm on his thighs as he mouthed the lyrics as easily as Luci was singing them, voice lazily seductive with the sort of intonation that could conjure up joy and melancholy in a single line. It was striking, the love between them, but what had struck Aziraphale since the moment they had entered the flat earlier that evening was how inclusive their love was. It was something so soaring that it invited everybody else to share it, to feel that warmth and celebrate it with them, the antithesis to his and Crowley’s forbidden, hidden love that had been relegated to the shadows for so many thousands of years. They have their love here, at least, even if they’ll never know it, Aziraphale thought. Maybe that will be us, one day, my love. Squeezing Crowley’s hand, the angel bit his own lip to keep tears at bay. “I don’t think you’re hungry, my dear.”

“Angel,” Crowley murmured, gaze flicking from Raphael to Luci as he felt a surge of clarity and determination settle over him, as if suddenly the reason the two of them were standing in that cramped little flat had become blindingly obvious. “Can we... is there a way to... I mean, I want to find them. Lucifer. I want to bring them back together, Aziraphale. I need to know what happened to them. I need to bring them back together.”

Though he was filled with doubt and fear and disbelief that they could ever do such a thing without ending either themselves or the entire world in the process, Aziraphale nodded as he gave Crowley’s hand another squeeze. There would be time enough for practicalities in the morning. For now, the night was a celebration and he had no intention of dampening anybody’s spirit with realism. “We’ll find them, Crowley. Wherever they are, we’ll find them.”

And in that moment he allowed himself to believe that they really would find them, that one day they might watch an archangel and a lightbringer sing softly of love daring to persist beyond everything else.

The way you sing off key

The way you haunt my dreams

No no, they can’t take that away from me

***

3.32am.

“Yes, yes, that will work nicely, ladies. It’s a date.”

Bella waved her phone an inch away from Aziraphale’s face, clumsily jabbing a finger at the calendar app she had open as she barely contained a screech of excitement. “Are you sure? Write it down so you don’t forget us.”

“Again,” Clara added, following the word with a grin a second after Aziraphale spluttered protestations in his best impression of a mild-mannered bookseller who was well overdue brunch with his very human boyfriend’s non-groupies.

Such was the angel’s indignation that the weight of Clara’s well-intended verbal jab knocked him back a pace. Although that might have been the absinthe. It was one of the night’s enduring mysteries. “I can assure you…”

“Hey, you two sounded pretty good earlier, have you ever thought about starting a band?” Lily interrupted Aziraphale’s bleating before he had a chance to fully voice his shock that anybody would even suggest, imply, or infer that he might do something as dastardly as forget about a brunch date. Heaven’s above.

“Oh my god, oh my god, do you think so?” Clara asked, bouncing up and down on the spot as she brought her hands to her mouth and dissolved into rapturous screeching.

Bella reached up to wrap a hand around Clara’s forearm as she widened her eyes. “We always thought about it, didn’t we, Clara? Maybe we should. Maybe we should just do it. Should we just do it? I think we should.”

“Why not?” Lily laughed, slapping a marker pen against the palm of one hand. “If idiots like us four can book gigs, there’s hope for anyone. Now, must dash, time to wreak low-level havoc.”

Ominous parting words delivered, she bounded off to join Sammy, who was barely containing childlike glee as he glanced from the marker pen in Lily’s fist to Dan’s carefree sleeping form, spread-eagled charmingly on the sofa.

“Never gets old, drawing a dick on your friend’s forehead, does it?” Lily called over to Aziraphale and the girls, pausing to grip the pen cap between her teeth and pull the pen free. She brandished it like the holiest of weapons, before turning her attention to the human canvas sleeping soundly, innocently beneath them.

While Clara and Bella peered over to marvel at the level of intimate detail Lily was artfully sketching across Dan’s forehead, a thought had begun to wind itself around Aziraphale’s brain. It might just be the perfect moment, the angel realised. I’ve got this human thing cracked. I hope you’re watching, Crowley, because I'm about to truly become one of them.

“Looks terrible, Lily. Terrible drawing. Where did you learn how to draw? At the…school of terrible drawing?” Merciless insults as a complex love language, it was easy enough to get to grips with. Aziraphale nodded happily at his own success, had even gone so far as to cup his hands around his mouth to ensure everybody at the party heard him.

The group fell silent, looking from Aziraphale to Lily as confusion etched its way across their faces and they tried to piece together why in the world the sweet bookseller they had come to know and love would say something so mean.

“What’s your problem, Zira?” Lily glared over her shoulder, narrowing her eyes at the angel before she looked back at her handiwork, suddenly unsure if she might have missed an important anatomical detail that might take her masterpiece from terrible to awe-inspiring.

“I, er. Goodness, I’m so sorry, my dear girl. I never meant to… Oh, how could I? What a horrible thing to say. It’s, er, it’s very lovely, what you’ve drawn. Tip top.” Stumbling forward as he approached the sofa with both hands held up in apology, Aziraphale crouched down next to Lily and gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Honestly, it’s the most…detailed forehead appendage I’ve seen in quite some time.”

Doing her best to stop her glare creasing into a smile, Lily pursed her lips and passed Aziraphale the marker pen, nodding pointedly down at the spare stretch of space that was Dan’s right cheek. “Go on then, if you think you can do better.”

“Oh, no, I absolutely don’t think I can do better. You’ve created quite the…”

“Go on, mate, knock her down a peg or two.” Sammy leaned forward, giving Aziraphale a nudge in the right direction. Behind them, the rest of the partygoers were gathered in a small circle, watching the scene unfold with silent interest. Silent, except for Crowley, who emitted a weary sigh as he watched Aziraphale swallow nervously and press the tip of the marker pen against Dan’s cheek.

“Well, let’s see.” The angel paused, looking back at Crowley and letting his gaze settle over the front of the demon’s jeans, as if they might beam forth a jolt of divine inspiration.

“Don’t look at me,” Crowley called back. “You’ll have to use your imagination for this one.”

“Oh, oh, well that will be easy enough, won’t it?” Aziraphale snipped, unknowingly relaxing his grip on the pen and casting a thick black line down the length of Dan’s face. “It’s not as though I’ve been trying to get a good look to refresh my imagination all night.

“Right!” Mick stepped forward then, clapping his hands together as if he knew the conversation was about to take a turn he didn’t have the emotional resilience to weather. “Lily, excellent job, as always. Zira, I’m sure whatever you were going to produce would have been…tip top. Let’s, er, let sleeping frontmen lie, shall we?”

As the group turned back to their previous conversations, Aziraphale went to stand up and might have actually managed it if Lily hadn’t taken that moment to clamp her hands on his shoulders to pin him in place. She took the marker pen smoothly from him, a wicked grin spreading across her face as she gripped his chin with her other hand. “And where do you think you’re going?”

***

Do you recognise me at all? Crowley looked casually across at Luci as they sipped their drink, looking up at their framed sketch that hung slightly off-kilter on the wall in front of them. You don’t, do you? I’m a human to you, nothing more, nothing less. I see so much of them in you. That same spirit, that same…brightness.

“Are you okay, little one?” Luci asked, a gentle hand coming to rest at Crowley’s waist. He felt warmth at their touch, tried to swallow the pang of longing for his old friend as drunken confidence formed thoughts in his mind of how it would feel to finally bring the two of them back together, after all of that time.

I won’t come back here without you, Lucifer. I won’t come back here unless I can bring the two of you back with me. That’s what it means to be a family, doesn’t it? That we stick together, that we pull each other through. And we are a family, even if we’ve all been apart for so very long. You were my first family. You saved me, and now it’s my turn to save you, both of you.

“Yes.” He smiled at Luci, gave a little nod of reassurance that he was absolutely, one hundred percent fine. And, in that precise moment, he was because, at last, he had the semblance of a plan. How to execute it was another challenge entirely but there would be plenty of time to figure out the specifics. So many hundreds of years had already passed, what would a few more weeks matter? “Yes, I’m fine. Another drink?”

“Always.” Luci laughed, passing him their glass and watching him fondly as he poured them both a refill. He was a little unsteady on his feet, a lot unsteady, in fact, but his tears had dried and whatever had caused them seemed to have taken a backseat. It had caught them off guard, how quickly they had come to love that gentle soul who had taken their dear friend and made him so very happy. It had been a pleasant surprise how quickly he had become part of their winding family of waifs and strays and those who might have been forgotten, who might have slipped through the cracks if they hadn’t forged their own path, found their own imperfect family to anchor them through the chaos of existence.

“Here. New creation, that.” Crowley passed back a drink, a dubious concoction of tequila and rum and something vaguely purple-tinged swirling in the glass.

“Aren’t you an imaginative one?” They took a sip and smiled, ignored the fire on their tongue as the combination of spirits burned a path down their throat. “Quite a kick.”

Before either of them could speak again, the contemplative mood was cut through by Aziraphale’s happy cries as he careened up to Crowley, slinging his arms around the demon’s hips as he beamed inanely.

“Crowley, look! I’m a demon!”

It could only have been Lily’s handiwork, the black curving horns sketched above each of the angel’s eyebrows, complete with a pointy little beard drawn onto the tip of his chin. The effect was positively devilish. Sort of. Or it might have been, if it had been drawn on literally anybody other than the only angel who resided on that planet.

“Look at those demonic eyebrows, angel. Very…helly.”

“Helly?” Aziraphale wrinkled his nose, let out a little laugh of gentle teasing, as if he wasn’t the one standing there with a face full of marker pen graffiti. “Shouldn’t it be hellish?”

Crowley rolled his eyes, meeting Luci in a smile. “Oh, all right, we can’t all be a walking, er…”

“Dictionary? Heavens, my dear, how much have you had to… Oh!” As the angel abruptly cut himself short, Crowley followed his eye line and sucked in a horrified breath as Aziraphale took a juddering pace towards the thing that had caught his attention: his sword, which was peeking out from behind the sideboard.

“Don’t you even think about it,” the demon hissed, grabbing for the waistband of the angel’s trousers and yanking him back before he could lay one finger on his heavenly weapon and blow their cover once and for all.

As Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest further, Mick unknowingly stepped into the role of life-saver by bellowing out the ultimate distraction for a very thirsty angel with a very deep love of hot chocolate.

“Hot chocolate! Who wants a hot chocolate?”

“Me! Me, me, me!” Sword all but forgotten for the time-being, Aziraphale turned to Mick as if he was quite clearly the messiah and thrust one arm up into the air, in case his very enthusiastic wailing didn’t quite hammer the point home. “Please! Mick! Cocoa! Please!”

“Cocoa? Calm down, do you think you’re bloody Dickens or something?” The big man laughed, clapping a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder before turning his attention to Crowley. “Come on, you, give me a hand.”

***

“Are you all right, son?” Mick asked, leaning back against the kitchen worktop as he waited for the milk to boil. “You seemed upset earlier.”

“Oh, you know.” Crowley shrugged, waving his concern away with a hand. “Emotional few days. Haven’t been sleeping well. Better now.”

“Hmm. Well, as long as you're sure” Mick nodded, though there was a look of suspicion in his eyes that betrayed the smile on his face.

The demon picked up the block of chocolate and broke off a few squares, suspending them above the milk that had just begun to bubble. “Time to chuck this in?”

“Go for it.”

For all of the many years that he had known Aziraphale, the angel had always had a penchant for hot chocolate, which made it even more alarming when Crowley had realised he had absolutely no idea how to make the drink. Tea was a different matter. Tea was his comfort zone. Hot chocolate? A wild new frontier. He dropped the squares of dark chocolate into the saucepan, jumping back as a flick of boiling milk splashed against his thumb.

“Careful.” Mick laughed, gently stirring the chocolate into the milk as it began to melt. “It’s a wonder any of us have made it to the end of the night without serious injury.”

“It was only meant to be a quiet one,” Crowley said sleepily, more to himself than anybody else.

“Well, those are always the nights that get out of hand, you should know that by now. You’re usually the ringleader.”

Crowley smiled, felt himself swell with pride on Anthony’s behalf and wondered idly what sort of scrapes he might lead the band into in the future, when the world was theirs and there was no threat of interference, of becoming collateral damage in the war between two celestial realms.

“Have you got any squirty cream?” Mick asked, leaning back to tug the fridge open in search of canned dairy products to further enhance the group’s end-of-the-night hot chocolate experience. He scanned the desolate shelves of the fridge, long since raided by both an angel and a demon, and their party guests. “Bit sparse is here, isn’t it, mate? Reckon you need next week’s allotment drop off a bit earlier than usual.”

“Allotment,” Crowley murmured the word aloud, tried to remain calm as his mind was filled with visions of sprawling greenery, with rows and rows of succulent vegetables and tender fruits and wild, glorious plant life as far as the eye could see. Plants. Plants, plants, plants. Calm down. Plants. So many plants.

“Yes.” Mick resumed stirring duty, wrinkled his nose as he watched a revolving door of expressions parade their way across Crowley’s face. “The allotment. Where I grow my vegetables. The ones that stop you lot getting rickets. Are you all right?”

“Plants.” The word escaped the demon’s lips before he had a chance to contain it. It hung between them for a moment, then faded away as both man and demon pretended it had never happened. “Yeah, so, the allotment. All that veg. So, er, do you, by chance, need any help with it? I mean, can I come down and help you with it one day? I’ll weed. I don’t mind weeding. Love weeding, me.”

“Since when have you-” Mick shook his head, deciding to drop the point before he could make it. It might be nice to have some company as he strolled about the patch of land. It used to be a shared activity, of course, but…well, time had passed and it might be nice to share it again. “Yes, son, I’d love that.”

They worked in peaceful silence for a little while longer, mixing a pinch of cinnamon into the pan before ladling the finished product into a row of mugs, topping each one with a generous handful of marshmallows.

“Thought this might help you boot everyone out. Signal the end of the night, you know? This lot might keep on going ’til tomorrow night if we don’t give them a nudge, eh?” Mick took a sip from his own mug, sighing happily as the sweet drink hit his tastebuds. Then he gave Crowley a careful look. “They’re a riot, aren’t they, Zira’s friends? Raphael and Luci, they’re very friendly. They invited me to a party. I’m actually a bit nervous about it, mate. What if it’s…”

“An orgy?” Crowley finished his sentence, knew precisely where Mick’s mind was taking him. “Could be. Orgy or some sort of ritualistic human sacrifice. Either or. Place your bets.”

Mick laughed, as if he was far too exhausted to truly consider either possibility. “I don’t know which would be worse.”

“Oh, the orgy, for sure. All that crushed velvet, I can picture it now.”

***

4.19am.

Crowley rolled his eyes as Aziraphale glugged a generous measure of whisky into the remainder of his hot chocolate. “No, angel. I’ve already mixed enough drinks tonight. If I drink any more my soul will leave my body.”

“Mine already did!” Aziraphale piped up happily. “Remember that? What a palaver. Nightmare, let me tell you.”

“Mmm, yes. Your body buddy couldn’t make it tonight then?” Crowley let out a little huff, unable to fully let go of the irritating flare of jealousy he felt whenever he was forced to remember those hours when Aziraphale had, first of all, gone missing under very suspicious and fiery circumstances, and, second of all, had had to take refuge in another person’s body. It was a little like their current situation, he supposed. Only it was nothing at all like that and he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to let go of the immature animosity he felt towards the very pleasant medium who had let his soulmate shack up within her corporation during very desperate times.

“Don’t be petulant, Crowley.”

“I’m not being petulant, I’m being-”

What Crowley was being was to remain another one of that night’s burning mysteries, as he was interrupted by a big black dog slamming into his legs. Barnaby, who had been accidentally released from his bedroom prison after Dan had somehow got lost on his way to the bathroom he had visited hundreds of times previously, had taken that moment to announce that he was well overdue some attention.

Petulance all but forgotten, Crowley passed his empty hot chocolate mug to Aziraphale and slapped at the front of his thighs, encouraging the dog until he leaped into his arms, scrabbling up the demon’s jeans with his back legs until he was firmly cradled against his master’s chest.

As the next song ticked onto the playlist and a cheery beat echoed around the room, Aziraphale watched as Crowley danced with the dog in his arms, one arm cupped under Barnaby’s back legs to hold him up, the dog’s front legs draped over the demon’s shoulders. He sang along with the song’s happy lyrics, getting close to every other word wrong but neither caring nor noticing, pausing every few words to press a loud kiss to Barnaby’s snout.

God, I love you, Aziraphale thought, felt an overwhelming rush of love as he watched Crowley move towards him, staggering under Barnaby’s weight. Look at you, look how free you are, how unafraid, I should have brought us here in the very beginning. He smiled to himself, no sense in mourning all that wasted time, that’s what Crowley would tell him. The best thing he could do to honour the sacrifices they had made was to make up for that lost time, to stop hiding how he felt, to revel in the luxury of being able to walk up to the one he loved, to kiss him, to tell him how utterly in love with him he was.

So that is exactly what Aziraphale did.

Crowley smiled, kissed him back and then, as the last strains of the party reared their head, an angel and a demon danced until the dawn, with Barnaby cradled between them like the spoiled canine baby that he was, the three of them surrounded by everything they had ever needed: all the family and laughter and love in the world.

Chapter Text

March. Crowley’s Flat, London.

The morning after the night before, Crowley awoke to the sound of sweet birdsong.

The demon opened one dry eye and glared weakly in the direction of the window, where a little brown and white bird was perched on the edge of the outside sill, beak angled up towards the sunny sky as it trilled a pretty melody.

It was, all things considered, a very gentle way to be woken up. Unless, of course, you had only gone to bed three hours previously after a night of irresponsible, immature, illogical alcohol consumption.

“Will someone shut that fucking nightingale up?”

The sound that crawled out of Crowley’s mouth was little more than a choked rasp and the demon ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek, discovering both the taste and texture he imagined he would find at the bottom of a birdcage.

“Angel,” he murmured weakly, inching one arm desperately across the bed in search of Aziraphale’s sleeping form. He found nothing there, just wrinkled sheets that had gathered under the angel’s pillow after their post-party fraternising had rendered them incapable of clinging onto the underside of the mattress. Elastic, the angel and demon had learned, could weather many storms but not, as it turned out, their enthusiastic celebration of their party guests finally leaving them to their own debauched devices.

Crowley had roamed the human realm for six thousand years but it wasn’t until that precise moment he truly understood how it felt to be hungry, dehydrated, nauseous, and riddled with both regret and anxiety for no explicable reason, all at the same exact time. It was not a welcome feeling.

“Aziraphale,” he called, flopping over onto his back with all the effort he could muster, bringing one hand to the side of his lips in case it helped to amplify the sound. “Aziraphale, where are you? Please, angel!”

That poor angel, Crowley thought, gathering the courage to open his other eye and take in the scene around him. Open curtains, rumpled bedsheets, a pair of trousers dangling from the bedpost…it was less chaotic than he’d thought, which was something, at least. Where is he? Where is my sweet angel? What if he got out and got lost? No. No, calm down, he’s not a dog. He’s an angel. An angel who no longer has the ability to miraculously sober himself up at a moment’s notice. He hates hangovers, he’ll be frantic, he’ll…

The bedroom door swung open, startling Crowley out of his internal monologue, and Aziraphale came stumbling through the door with a cheery smile on his face. He plopped heavily down on the edge of the bed, causing a shockwave to run through the mattress that left Crowley gripping his head in pain.

“Well, wasn’t last night a lot of fun?”

Crowley dropped one hand from his head, staring up at Aziraphale in absolute confusion. The angel was backlit by the sunlight pouring in from the window but, despite the fact his face was half-shadowed, he looked…spritely. “Fun? What do you mean fun? Shouldn’t you be cursing alcohol to the pits of hell?”

“Now why in the world would I do that?” Aziraphale asked, brows knitting together as he peered down at Crowley. He reached out to run a finger along the underside of the demon’s jaw, pursing his lips in sympathy. “Are you all right, my dear? You look at bit peaky.”

“Peaky? I’m…how are you even alive, angel? I remember you free-pouring tequila down your own throat and gargling it to the tune of…”

“Twinkle twinkle, little star.”

“Yes, that was it. You should be me, you should be under the duvet crying about existence. I should be the one pottering around the flat wittering on about eggs and amino acids. Oh, bloody hell, get some eggs on the go, will you? I might actually discorporate if…”

“Die. We can actually die now.”

“Excellent. Yes. A dreadful reminder of my newfound mortality. Thank you for that. Now, why are you smiling as if you aren’t in a world of pain?”

Aziraphale shrugged, gave his head a little toss to and fro as if to illustrate that he had truly defied the odds and really had escaped hangover hell. Then he leaned closer to Crowley and tapped the side of his nose, as if he was about to divulge a precious secret. “I beat the system, my love.”

Crowley sighed, hugging his knees to his chest and resting his chin gently against them. “What did you do, angel?”

“Well…” Aziraphale sucked in a deep breath, as if he had absolutely no intention of deviating from his story to do something as mundane as breathe. “After we sent everybody home and we finally managed to get some uninterrupted time to ourselves, you, my sweet demon, fell into the deepest of sleeps and I, well, didn’t. I walked around the flat for a while, I marvelled at the amount of empty bottles such a small group could accrue, I, er, expelled a touch of vomit…in the toilet! I promise, no need to look so alarmed. Quite a bracing bodily function, if I’m honest, not sure I’m keen to repeat it but we’ll just chalk it up to experience, shall we? So, what next? Ah, yes, had a bit of a funny taste in my mouth after that so I ate some toast. And then I realised I really love toast so I had five more slices. Oh, we’re out of butter, by the way. And bread. I played hide and seek with Barnaby for a while and then I heard you wailing into the ether so I thought I’d better check on you.”

The angel shifted position as his story came to its close, and he slapped both palms lightly against his knees and gave a little wiggle of satisfaction at beating the system, as he called it. As he stood up and wobbled towards the door, understanding dawned on Crowley and he smiled wickedly, as if his beloved’s imminent downfall was something he would take great pleasure in. He was a demon, after all.

“Angel?”

Aziraphale stopped in the doorway, tottering in a messy circle as he turned back to face Crowley, clutching for the door to keep his balance. “Yes, my dear?”

The demon’s smile widened into a grin. “Do you think perhaps you’re not hungover because you’re still drunk? You look a little…unsteady there.”

“No.” Aziraphale shook his head resolutely, then staggered a pace to the left and looked up, eyebrows raising in shock. “No, no I can’t be. I…I think I’ve cracked this human existence, Crowley. It’s just a meticulously-timed cycle of eating and drinking and sleeping at just the right moment. I…can’t still be drunk. I ate toast.”

“Did you drink water like I told you to? Your glass is still half full.”

“My glass is always half full, Crowley, I’m an angel.”

“You didn’t drink any, did you?”

“No…but, the toast.”

“Angel, bread is many wonderful things but a miracle cure is, alas, not one of them. You rode Dan around the living room like a horse while downing a pint of beer. Of beer, Aziraphale. Since when have you ever…”

“Crowley, stop. Please.” Aziraphale swallowed tightly, wringing his hands as if real, palpable fear was beginning to set in. He looked around as if he might find the answer to his woes written on the ceiling or, perhaps, the floor. “I don’t feel right. I feel all…woozy and energetic. Why do I have so much energy, Crowley? I haven’t even been to sleep. Please, you have to help me.”

“What did I tell you all those moons ago?” Crowley smiled again, knew that if he wasn’t already hellbound, hell was exactly where he would have been sent for torturing that sweet soul with threats of a hangover worthy of the end times. The actual end times. “Don’t let the dreads get to you, angel. Now, why don’t you burn some of that energy off and take Barnaby for a walk? It might help you sober up and I need absolute silence, lest I perish.”

“Okay, yes, perhaps that will help. A jog, maybe? Will a jog help? Crowley, please, will a jog help?”

“I think a jog will do the trick quite nicely. Nothing as sobering as a jog, so they say.” The demon took a wary pace forward, found that his limbs did all still work as expected, and pressed a kiss to the angel’s quivering lips. “Maybe you could pick up supplies on the way back. Coffee, bread, bacon, eggs, that should see us through this horror show. Chop chop, angel. We might survive this hangover yet.”

Aziraphale nodded desperately, calling for Barnaby. As he turned to leave, Crowley noticed a streak of something on his forehead, then let out a little laugh as a memory from the night before flashed through his mind.

“Something the matter, dear?” Aziraphale asked, looking back around and giving the demon a face-on view for the first time that morning. “Why are you looking at me like that, is something wrong?”

Crowley bit his lip, shaking his head a little too enthusiastically. “No, nothing at all. Off you go, angel, have a nice walk.”

***

“I can’t believe you!” Aziraphale slammed the flat door behind him, pausing to kneel down and unclip Barnaby’s lead, giving the dog a pat on the shoulder for good measure. “Good boy, Barnaby, go and play. Do not give your father any attention whatsoever, we’re not talking to him.”

“Quiet down, angel, please.” Crowley opened one eye from behind his sunglasses, waved a hand limply in front of his body, which was sprawled horizontally across the sofa. “Some of us are just trying to survive the day. Did you get the coffee? I heard it’s integral to overcoming a hangover. Of course, according to the book it’s not the best thing to beat the dreads, can just exacerbate the anxiety but…”

Aziraphale sighed, closing his eyes as if it would help him summon up one last iota of patience. “I really, really don’t want to hear about the book right now. Can we talk about the fact you sent me out in public knowing I had this…mess on my face. How could you let me walk out the door knowing I look like this? Poor show, Crowley, poor show.”

The angel stabbed a finger against his forehead, where his fingertip smeared the already smudged horn that Lily had drawn on him the night before. His pointy little beard of mischief had been reduced to an inky blob that stretched across one side of his jaw like an asymmetrical chin strap, while the other devil horn was blended up towards his hairline like a second, bolder eyebrow.

“Thought it would be funny.” From his comfortable position on the sofa, Crowley gave a shrug, which was about as much as he could do without a sharp pain blooming in his head.

“Right, well, I’m glad it was so amusing for you. I got chased. Yes, chased down the road by two boys trying to take my picture. Said they wanted to put it online. Online. Can you imagine the uproar that would cause if up there got wind of it? Hmm, what do you think about that? Is that funny?”

“The idea of Gabriel and the God Squad uncovering our hidey-hole because a picture of you with devil horns went viral is mildly amusing to me, yes.”

“Went viral? Good lord, you’re getting far too comfortable living as a human. Look at you, laying around like you’ve…got the day off. We’re supposed to be saving the world, we don’t have time for reclining. Get up, come on.” The angel stormed over to the sofa, grabbing Crowley by the bicep and attempting to haul him to his feet.

The demon let out a low groan of protestation, trying to bat Aziraphale’s hand away as if it burned where it touched his skin. Meanwhile, his other hand was busy ruffling Barnaby behind the ears, as if it was the most important job he could conceive of. “We will save the world, angel. We just need to have a rest first. Doesn’t that sound nice? Little nap, snuggle on the sofa, bacon and eggs on toast, what do you say?”

Aziraphale pursed his lips, then relaxed his grip on Crowley’s arm and melted into a small smile. He sat down on the sofa, his body occupying the swell of space left in front of the demon. He licked one index finger, then began rubbing idly at the devil horns on his forehead. “That does sound nice, I suppose. Just a short nap won’t hurt, will it?”

“Course it won’t. Just need to recharge our batteries and we’ll be good to go. All that…saving the world malarky.” The demon grinned up at him, craned his neck as he stretched up for a kiss that tasted of mouthwash and tequila. “You still haven’t sobered up, have you?”

“Not too sure, if I’m honest. Haven’t spent much time in a human body when I haven’t been, er, under the influence, as it were. Who would have thought that out of the two of us I’d be the one swanning around half-cut like some sort of lush? Oh, that reminds me! What about this bath you promised me yesterday when we were getting ready for the party? An unholy amount of bath bombs, that’s what you said.”

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” Pulling himself up with a wince of pain, Crowley leaned forward to brace his elbows against his thighs and ran his hands through his hair. He held his palms out and squinted down at them, then turned to Aziraphale in confusion. “Why is my hair so greasy? Is it the alcohol?”

“I think you’re meant to wash it, Crowley,” Aziraphale mused. "Perhaps it needs doing every day."

“Every day? I have to wash it every day? Who’s got time for that? Why are humans so…oily?” The demon looked plaintively towards the bathroom, unable to fathom an existence that required daily grooming habits that extended beyond a quick click of the fingers to restore order. Sure, he had grown fond of the odd shower and hair wash in another life, had quite enjoyed dabbling with cologne and hair styles and eyeliner over the years, but that was all through choice, something of a fun hobby he indulged in when work was thin on the ground and he needed to keep himself occupied. Now it felt like necessity the novelty was quickly wearing off. “Honestly, angel, no wonder they don’t have time to get anything done. By the time we’ve cooked breakfast, washed our hair, tidied up this mess…what else do we need to do?”

“Stock up on bath bombs?”

“Ah, angel, can it wait? I can’t face sunlight today. Can we go tomorrow?”

“No, Crowley, we can’t go tomorrow. I don’t want to deepen your despair but we have to work tomorrow. You know, part of not interfering with the little ones’ lives, that great plan we dreamed up?”

Work? You mean…Wait, what do you mean? You’re not actually suggesting I do…whatever it is Anthony does. What does he do anyway?”

“You should know, shouldn’t you? You’ve been…” Aziraphale trailed off, his sentence petering out as he waved vaguely up and down the length of Crowley’s body. “…Living in there for months now.”

“I usually have a snooze while he’s working. Hurts my eyes, staring at a screen for that long. Did you know that ongoing exposure to blue light from electronic devices can cause headaches, eye strain, loss of focus? And that’s only the beginning.” The demon swallowed a hiccup, reached for a glass of water on the coffee table and took a sip. His face screwed up in a tableau that could have been titled The Moment of Regret as he swallowed the remnants of a glass that had been filled not with water but with rum and lemonade, which had long since lost its fizz. “Oh, oh that’s awful. Angel, could you get me some water? Please.”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, wondering idly if there was anything he wouldn’t do for love, and then bumbled off into the kitchen, both grateful for the spring in his step and fearful that soon the time would come when that spring would falter and he would have to take to the sofa for the foreseeable future.

“Make us some bacon and eggs while you’re there, will you?” Crowley called out after him, punctuating the sentence with a loud kiss, as if that would somehow seal the deal.

It did, in fact, seal the deal, and two minutes later Aziraphale found himself staring down at an empty frying pan on the hob as he contemplated cooking breakfast.

***

During the months that Aziraphale had been hidden away in the back of Zira’s mind, he had often wondered why the human got so stressed when tasked with assembling breakfast. Aziraphale had eaten breakfast plenty of times over the years and, even if he had never cooked breakfast, he was sure there couldn’t be that much to it.

Twenty minutes later he emerged, red-faced, bleary-eyed, oil-flecked, and sweating, with two plates of something that vaguely passed as sustenance gripped in his hands. He stood in the doorway, attempting to catch his breath as the fire alarm wailed desperately in the background.

“Could you get that, Crowley? Make it stop, please.”

The demon raised his head a couple of inches from the arm of the sofa, then gently nestled it back down, closing his eyes as if that might somehow close his ears at the same time. “Just waft a tea towel at it, that’s what the humans do.”

“My hands are full, in case you didn’t notice. Can you just do something to help?” Aziraphale hissed, thrusting the plates of food onto the coffee table as he stalked back into the kitchen. A moment later, Crowley heard the flick of a tea towel whipping desperately back and forth in front of the fire alarm. And then, glorious peace.

The demon reached for a plate of breakfast, balancing it on one knee as he popped the golden yolk of one egg with the tip of his knife. It wasn’t runny. It wasn’t even half runny. It had, perhaps, been runny ten minutes previously but runny was a distant pipe dream for that particular egg. Even so, as Crowley took his first bite he silently declared it the best breakfast he had ever tasted. By the time he’d finished the eggs and had turned his focus to the blackened bacon, Aziraphale staggered out from the kitchen and flopped down next to him, clutching his head with one hand as he folded an entire piece of toast into his mouth.

“I think it’s finally hitting me. The hangover, I mean. I feel wretched.” Aziraphale heaved a sigh, looked at Crowley with wide eyes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a baby deer. When he spoke, it was as if his entire future happiness rested on the demon’s reply. “Is the food okay? I know I’m not much cop at this cooking lark but I’ll keep trying.”

“Angel,” Crowley murmured, leaning close for a quick peck, smiling as he felt the crunch of breadcrumbs on the angel’s lips. “It’s perfect. Everything is utterly perfect.”

Aziraphale’s head had begun to feel as though it was being squeezed in a vice from every angle, his throat felt dry, and his stomach was worryingly unsettled. Despite it all, at the sound of Crowley’s voice declaring everything was utterly perfect, he had never felt better. Except for six hours earlier when he had been filled to the brim with all the frivolity of a spontaneous night of antics. “Sometimes I can’t believe we’re really here. Did you ever think all those years ago when we dreamed of a life together that we would ever really make it?”

“Yeah. I did, angel. I always knew we would make it in the end, even if it took a little while.” Crowley nodded, thought back to the hope that had sustained him through so many centuries of darkness.

Aziraphale smiled, forever heart-warmed by Crowley’s deep-down optimism, buried as it was under layers and layers and layers of demonic pessimism. It was then that he spotted a small slip of white paper by the front door.

“Crowley, what’s that on the floor?”

Chapter Text

March. Crowley’s Flat, London.

To the gentlemen inside number nine who thought it was appropriate to host a rave that-

“Well, it wasn’t a rave, was it? They’ve lost my interest already.” Crowley yawned, as if listening to Aziraphale regale him with the first half a sentence of the note had rendered him just about ready for his second nap of the day.

“Crowley, this is serious,” Aziraphale hissed, thrusting the note in Crowley’s direction. The demon raised an eyebrow, falling silent compliantly, and gestured for the angel to continue. “To the gentlemen who thought it was appropriate to host a rave that lasted from dusk until dawn.

“Didn’t start at dusk, though, did it?”

That time Aziraphale didn’t speak. He didn’t need to. The murderous glare he shot Crowley sufficed. As he continued reading the note, Aziraphale paced up and down in front of the coffee table, his speed increasing as he got further and further through the passive aggressive rant that had been slipped beneath the front door somewhere between the karaoke session beginning and the party ending.

We’re so delighted that you have such a robust sound system. Truly. It was so generous of you to share its mighty power with us. Hearing a strangled cat shriek its way through karaoke was the most wonderful surprise the weekend held. Not that we want to rain on anybody’s parade but the next time you plan on screaming until five in the morning we WILL take further action.

Aziraphale stopped pacing then, folding the note in half and letting it flutter out of his hands and down onto the coffee table. He looked down at the ground then up at the ceiling, teeth biting nervously against his bottom lip as he closed his eyes and sighed.

“How did we let this happen? We’ve been back for twenty four hours and we’ve already landed them in trouble. That was the only rule, Crowley, the only rule. Don’t interfere with the little ones’ lives. Well, we’ve really gone and done it this time, haven’t we? Their reputation is in tatters, they’ll never recover from this.”

“And I don’t think I’m ever going to recover from this hangover, can we talk about that instead?” On the sofa, Crowley idly looked away from the mirror he had balanced on his knees, which he’d unhooked from the wall after needing to get a closer look at his hair in all its greasy glory. A small groan escaped his lips when he caught sight of the frantic expression on Aziraphale’s face and realised it was not going to be the quiet afternoon of recovery he had planned.

“No! No, we can’t. We need to fix this right now, Crowley.” Aziraphale stalked towards him, plucking the mirror from his lap and carefully replacing it on the wall, taking a moment to grimace at his own harrowing reflection. He swung Crowley’s legs off of the sofa, collapsing down into the space they left behind and pulling them back across his thighs a moment later. “I can’t cope with this. My head… I need a sandwich, a bath, and a nap. All at the same time. How could we mess things up so quickly?”

“I think we messed up when you had your pirate mimosa brainwave,” Crowley mumbled, though his enunciation wasn’t quite blurred enough for Aziraphale to miss the jab.

The angel huffed, as was customary, flinging Crowley’s legs out of his lap and onto the floor, where the demon’s feet collided with the rug with a satisfying thunk. “Well, I think we messed up when you cried on every guest who came through the door.”

Crowley leaned forward, but slowly, given the pounding in his head, and narrowed his eyes as he hissed out his final trump card. “Fine. I think we messed up when you decided to tell the humans every little detail of our secret history.”

“Yes, well, let’s get back to the present, shall we? No good in pointing fingers after the horse has bolted, is there?” Aziraphale said primly, glancing down at Crowley as if he was far too angelic to get dragged into a petty bout of name-calling, particularly if he was poised to lose said petty bout of name-calling.

“That’s not right, angel. It’s something about bolting the stable door, not-”

“I know! Crowley! Please can we stay focused?”

“I was focused until you started waving that note in my face. I was focused on my hair, I was focused on what we’re going to eat for dinner, I was focused on perhaps squeezing in another little nap. See? Plenty of focus. Focus by the bucketload, me.”

Aziraphale closed his eyes. Then he sat still for a moment, enjoying the way his head stopped pounding quite so violently if he blocked out the outside world. He sat still for so long that he didn’t come to until his chin lurched down towards his chest and he violently jerked himself awake to find Crowley hovering in front of his face, phone held up just an inch or so from his eyes.

"What are you doing?” he asked, voice too tired to foster any real emotion.

“I’ve never seen anybody literally fall asleep where they sit, angel, it had to be documented. Quite miraculous.” Crowley looked over the top of the phone, raising his eyebrows as if he’d just cracked the joke of the century.

“Stop that,” Aziraphale hissed, grabbing the phone out of his hand and stabbing at the screen until he managed to end the video recording. “When we vacate the premises they’re going to see all of the evidence we leave behind, aren’t they? No discussing the nature of our existence on film.”

The demon shrugged, flopping back into his nest and tossing the phone onto the coffee table as if the angel had just wrung the last drop of fun out of the morning. “That seems like a very niche rule.”

“This is a very niche situation, Crowley! Honestly, couldn’t you have left me sleeping for a moment? It was all that wittering on about naps that did it.”

Crowley nodded, patting his lap enticingly. “Excellent idea, angel, couldn’t have come up with a better idea myself. You settle down here and we’ll have a nice little hug and nap, how does that sound?”

Aziraphale stifled a yawn with the back of one hand, allowing himself a series of long blinks to stave off the worst of the tiredness. “That sounds like an excellent… No! No, stop trying to tempt me. We need to fix this note business. How are we going to restore order? What do humans usually do when they’ve upset somebody?”

“Promise not to do it again, buy a gift, hope the materialistic display distracts from whatever ill they committed, give it a month or two and then repeat said ill? Seems a perfectly honourable cycle, doesn’t it?”

“A gift! Perfect. We’ll buy them a gift.”

While Aziraphale clapped his hands together in glee, as if the idea of descending on the disgruntled neighbours downstairs with a bouquet of flowers and a very sombre promise not to have any more parties was his idea of a perfect afternoon, Crowley settled for rolling his eyes, wondering when his soulmate might grasp the notion of sarcasm.

“Now, what does one buy to try and pacify sleep-deprived neighbours? Ah, perhaps a hamper? Shall we go to…”

Crowley sighed, unfurling himself from the cosy den of the sofa and swiping his phone, wallet, and keys off of the coffee table as he nodded for Aziraphale to follow him. “If you’re about to say bloody Fortnum’s, think again. We’re on a budget, remember?”

***

“I thought we were on a budget…” Aziraphale grabbed for Crowley’s arm as the demon stopped dead in the middle of the street, staring up in wonder at the shop in front of them. The angel followed his gaze and found he, too, was rendered silent by the glorious scent wafting out from the shop, combined with window displays that looked more heavenly than heaven ever had.

Crowley turned to him, giving his head a little shake as he reached for the angel’s hand, entwining their fingers as he tugged him inside the shop. “Angel…just…just don’t, all right? You wanted a bath, didn’t you?”

“Yes, quite right, jolly good. Let’s go in, shall we? We’ll just treat ourselves to a couple of things, just to help us get through the day.”

They were perhaps three paces inside the shop when a friendly but terrifyingly over-enthusiastic shop assistant thrust a basket into Crowley’s empty hand and accosted them with what felt like a hundred questions in the space of five seconds. “Hi guys, welcome to Lush. How are you today? Are you here for anything in particular? What can we help you with? We’ve got a brand new range of bubble bars I can show you. Would you like a demo? Have you got a list or are you just treating yourselves? Ooh, you look a little bit worse for wear, heavy night last night, was it? Bath to recover? Always a good idea. Oh, I love your jacket, is it vintage?”

“It’s, er, no, I believe it’s quite new.” Aziraphale smiled politely, taking a step back as she advanced on him with a purple and pink swirled bubble bar that was she insistent he had to watch a demo of.

“Come on, let’s leave Mister here to have a little look around and I’ll show you the new bits and bobs we’ve got in, shall I?” Without waiting for a response, she hooked her hand through the crook in Aziraphale’s arm and led him off towards a big bowl of water that was perched next to a towering stack of bath bombs, leaving Crowley alone and unsupervised, which was never a wise idea.

“Oh, yes, I can smell the violet. Very…violet-y.” The angel nodded, leaning down to inhale a cloud of the bubble bar’s sweet scent, hoping the half loaf of toast he had consumed over the past twelve hours wasn’t about to make its presence known.

While Aziraphale was busy watching an extremely alluring demo of every new item that had graced Lush’s shelves over the past six months, Crowley roamed the cavernous shop, trying and failing to exercise self-restraint. It shouldn’t have been in a demon’s nature to be drawn to something as wholesome and twee as bath bombs…but Crowley had never been hell’s run-of-the-mill demon, had always preferred flowers to flagellation, tea to torture, and self-care to sulphur pits. As he made his way around the shop, dodging smiley shop assistants around each and every corner, he found himself drawn to whichever items teetered firmly on the tightrope between whimsical and ridiculous.

That sounds like something Aziraphale would love…Oh, glitter, well, that’s a no-brainer. Ah, rose-scented? Into the basket you go, my friend.

After he had busily filled his basket with bath time treats he knew his human counterpart would thoroughly encourage him to splurge on, he was sure of it, Crowley came to rest in the queue for the cash desk and let himself take that moment of pause to disappear into contemplative self-reflection.

They had spent six thousand years pacing the Earth from pole to pole, overseeing it, watching it thrive, watching it fall into peril, and watching it endure everything the celestial realm threw at it. They had spent six millennia dodging heaven and hell in the hope that one day they would get to disappear into their lofty dream of quietly loving each other for the rest of their days. There were times when it had seemed like nothing but a pipe dream, especially to Aziraphale, Crowley knew that, as if the angel could never fathom existence together as anything but a fantasy to keep them both going when the alternative was too bleak to imagine.

In a way, that day felt something like the first day of the rest of their lives. It was the first day they had woken up together in Aziraphale’s new world, had been able to truly be together without fear of being caught. Danger was looming, of course, they both knew that, but danger felt like something of a distant roll of thunder rather than a black cloud hanging directly overhead. They were safe, for now, and they had time. Time enough, it seemed, to spend a day complaining about dehydration and purchasing bath bombs by the basket load.

As they had walked down Oxford Street in search of the perfect apology present, he had taken Aziraphale’s hand right there in the middle of the street. The angel had frozen for just a heartbeat, phantom pain pulsing in the old scar of dread. Then he had relaxed, wrapping his fingers tightly around Crowley’s hand and swinging their arms to and fro as they wound their way through throngs of Sunday shoppers, smiling brightly, despite the hangovers.

How simple it was, how good it felt after all that time. It was worth braving the outdoors, to overcome the overwhelming desire to curl up in a sofa nest and hiss at the sunlight, purely to walk hand in hand with his angel. And the best part of all? Nobody had even noticed them. Nobody had given a second thought to the tall, rakish man in black, eyes hidden behind dark glasses, or his blond-haired, fussy partner who debated whether flowers or chocolates or a fruit basket or, perhaps, a three-tier cake, would be the most appropriate apology gift.

In the end, Crowley had decided to make matters simple and tuck an oversized box of bath goodies under one arm as he moved through the queue, partially because he couldn’t think of a better way to soak off rage than in a warm bubble bath…but mostly because his headache was really starting to become a problem and the thought of braving the crowds to fight their way to one more shop was enough to leave him feeling weak. Besides, nobody could stay angry after a bubble bath, it was a truth universally acknowledged.

I’m sorry, little man. Crowley tried to fashion his wince into a smile as he handed over Anthony’s debit card and bid farewell to more money than any human or demon should ever spend on bath bombs. I’ll make it up to you, I promise, I’ll do…overtime, or something. Do all the computer things, eat jacket potatoes with beans for a month, that’s what you do, isn’t it?

“Couldn’t say no, could you?” The demon smiled as he made his way towards the exit and passed Aziraphale, who was staggering towards the till with a basket of his own that was dangerously close to buckling under the weight contained within.

“Well, it would be rude, Crowley, especially after she spent so long showing me everything. I didn’t go too over the top…I just picked up two of everything that had glitter in it.”

Crowley laughed, looked down at his own overflowing bags, then kissed the angel lightly on the cheek. “I’ll see you outside, this place is giving me a headache. Too much…positivity in the air. Makes the skin itch a bit. Or maybe that’s the glitter.”

***

“Well, I’m certainly not doing it.” Aziraphale let out a little laugh of no way, passing the Lush box back to Crowley.

The demon shook his head, gently, because his hangover was yet to be a distant nightmare, and nudged the box back to Aziraphale. “You were the loudest, angel.”

You were the one who decided to get the guitar out to play that godawful White Wedding song. The only song you know how to play and, might I remind you, you have a live performance coming up in matter of weeks.”

“No, angel, you may not remind me. Now, off you go. Present, card, desperate apology, that’s all you need. Just get in and out as quickly as possible. And smile a bit, nobody can stay angry if an actual angel smiles at them.”

Aziraphale dissolved into one of his most heavenly smiles, his cheeks lifting as he basked in the warm glow of the compliment. A second later he came back to himself, waving a finger at Crowley as if to remind the demon he knew him far too well for any wool to be pulled over his angelic eyes. He pressed the brightly-coloured, psychedelic-printed box to Crowley’s chest, forcefully that time, and then folded his arms. “I won’t do it, Crowley. I’m…I’m too scared and I feel sick. And my head hurts. And I’m thirsty. And I really want a bath. Please, my love, will you do it? I’ll be ever so…”

Crowley let out a frustrated snarl, wrapping one arm around the box as he slid the card off of the coffee table. “Fine.”

The angel sighed with relief, then clapped Crowley on the shoulder as he turned, Lush bag hooked over one arm, and hotfooted it into the bathroom before the demon could change his mind.

Stupid, soft demon. You’ve never been able to say no to him. All he has to do is flutter those…No, he doesn’t even have to do anything in particular, does he? All he has to do is ask. And an angel asking a favour? That’s a very dangerous thing. You of all…entities should know that by now. That’s how you found yourself plummeting through space and time into the depths of hell. It’s also how you found yourself facing the untold horror of apologising to a stranger. You never learn, do you?

Crowley berated himself as he tramped down the stairs towards flat number seven and tried (but failed) to stop beads of nervous sweat taking up residence on his forehead. He wiped his free hand across his skin, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the feeling of dampness against his hand. Do humans just spend all day every day leaking in escalating degrees of intensity?

Then he was there, standing in front of door number seven as he attempted to rehearse his apology. Nothing was forthcoming. Except beads of sweat that were in danger of morphing from beads into full-blown anxiety trickles.

“Ridiculous,” he hissed, as he unballed his fist and dropped it to his side for the fourth time in as many minutes. He was trying to muster the courage to knock on the door but it was impossible. He couldn’t do it. He could survive Satan’s wrath and, yet, the thought of knocking on a neighbour’s door was too much to bear. It was, he mused, perhaps his most human moment of all.

“I’ll just…leave this here,” he murmured, crouching down and gently pushing the box across the floor until it rested against the door. He laid the card on top and straightened up. “There. Perfect.”

In what might well have been a moment of temporary insanity, he then took it upon himself to jab a finger against the doorbell until a piercing shriek rang out from inside the flat. He stood, frozen, staring open-mouthed at his own finger, as if he couldn’t quite believe his own digit would betray him so harshly.

And then there was a clatter from inside the flat and footsteps approached the door. In that moment Crowley was plunged into the tailspin of survival mode and he realised he had two choices: fight or flight. Of course, he did what any sensible, hungover demon would do: he sprinted away as fast as he could, rounded the corner and caught his foot on a step he didn’t notice was there, and face-planted the ground, very nearly breaking his very human nose in the process.

By the time he had slunk up the stairs, metaphorical tail between his legs, and staggered back into the safety of the flat, Aziraphale had donned a fluffy bath robe and was curled up on the sofa, a spread of takeaway menus fanned in his hand as he stared down at them in absolute concentration. “How did it go? I was thinking perhaps we could treat ourselves to…”

The angel looked up at the sound of Crowley slamming the door, and found his demonic counterpart standing before him with a fat lip, a look of horrified humiliation on his face, and blood dripping from his left nostril.

“Ah, they haven’t quite forgiven us then, I take it. I told you we should have gone to Fortnum’s.”

Chapter Text

April. Crowley’s Flat, London.

Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.

Aziraphale uttered a sleepy little huff at the sound of the alarm buzzing to life on Crowley’s phone, promptly turning over and falling back into a perfectly lovely dream about books, armchairs, and a warm bowl of dessert that was as comforting as it was delicious. Conversely, Crowley was out of bed and shuffling through the living room before he had even had time to silence the alarm. There was no time to waste. A well-deserved bath and an early night had seen off the last of their hangovers of doom and the Monday ahead was a very exciting day indeed. For one celestial entity, at least.

As he spread lashings of butter across two slices of perfectly golden toast, Crowley realised he’d been way off base when he’d expressed such ravenous disinterest in the world of human work the previous day. It had been the hangover doing the talking, and that hangover had forgotten that Anthony Crowley was not just a web designer, he was also a dog walker extraordinaire and that, in Crowley’s demonic opinion, was more than enough reason to leap out of bed with far too much zest and pep for a Monday morning.

“Thor will only bring back the ball if it’s orange, Gemini and Impa must be given treats at the same time or they’ll get jealous, Mac needs a quiet walk without too many people or he gets nervous…”

With a slice of toast in one hand and Anthony’s little black book of clients in the other, Crowley paced up and down the length of the kitchen, which was, admittedly, only long enough for three of the demon’s sprawling paces before he had to about turn and begin the short journey again. He absent-mindedly shook toast crumbs free from the tips of his fingers as he buried his (purple-bruised) nose in the pages of his human counterpart’s guide to each of his canine charges, committing their preferred walking routes, times of day, treats, and toys to memory. He had no intention of giving each and every one of those fluffy little angels anything less than the best walk of their lives, only to be surpassed by the walk he would take them on the next day, and the next. If he was going to live as a dog walker, even for a short period of time, he was going to live as the best damned dog walker London, nay, the world, had ever seen.

Everything had to be perfect. The sun had barely made an appearance in the sky and the morning rush of eager commuters was in full swing, and one very enthusiastic demon was already packing his work bag, despite the fact he wasn’t due to pick up his first client for another two hours.

Toast successfully inhaled and a too-strong cup of tea imbibed, Crowley set to work filling up his water bottle and preparing snacks suitable for both human and canine into the little plastic containers he had watched Anthony dutifully fill at the beginning of every work day. Food and drink conquered, he flipped open the designated dog walking satchel and rifled through it, making sure every conceivable eventuality was covered: portable water bowls? Check. More bio-degradable poo bags than it was possible for an entire pack of hounds to make their way through in a single day? Check. Myriad treats suitable for every imaginable canine palate? Check. Spare leads, in case one happened to inconveniently discorporate mid-walk? Check. Whistle, on the off chance any of the dogs might finally start paying attention to it? Crowley slung it round his neck, his gaze lingering on the harmonica for just a moment too long, as he began wondering if perhaps that might be the better option… No, no. He shook his head, marvelling at his own remarkable sense of self-restraint. It was an instinct that had become rather rusty in recent months, that idea of having to hold back, of swallowing his desire in favour of cautious self-preservation. Still, forgoing the burning need to blast the harmonica in the middle of St James’ Park didn’t quite register in the same ball park as the six millennia of restraint that had come before it.

Crowley swung the bag over his shoulder with a little humph that evolved, rather suddenly, into a much larger humph as the weight beared down on him. He staggered a pace to the left, then shrugged the bag off and flopped down onto the sofa, already exhausted.

“I haven’t even left yet,” he murmured, wondering if a day would ever dawn when he didn’t feel ready for bed before he’d even made a dent in his to-do list. All the questions he’d ever had about humans’ unyielding compliance, drudgery, and all that tutting made more and more sense with every passing moment he spent living as one of them.

Barnaby, who was as astute a dog as there ever had been, recognised Crowley’s sleepy eyes and stifled yawn as the perfect moment to strike. He hopped up onto the sofa and curled up adorably, eyes wide and bright as he rested his chin against Crowley’s knee, uttering a little yawn of his own that he knew no human or celestial entity could resist. A moment later a hand came to rest against the back of his neck and the dog congratulated himself on a very successful sofa infiltration mission.

“Just need to close my eyes for…” Crowley trailed off, pressing the back of one hand to his mouth as he attempted to stave off another yawn. “…A minute, that’s all. Wake me up in a minute, will you, boy?”

***

Crowley’s eyes snapped open some time later, sunlight filling the room beautifully and, by extension, filling Crowley with dread.

“What time is it?” he cried, as he flung himself off of the sofa. Following the unspoken cue, Barnaby slunk back down to ground level and took up his position by his empty food bowl, tail thumping rhythmically, lest his master think they were going anywhere without a solid meal first.

“I can’t be late, I can’t be late, it’s my first day.” The demon stabbed frantically at the screen of his phone, letting out a little sigh of relief when the clock showed he still had forty minutes before he was due to pick up his first charge of the day. Perhaps the pre-dawn wake up call was a little over the top, he conceded. Barnaby uttered a little bark of frustration, then looked pointedly at his very empty bowl. “Oh, of course. Sorry, boy. Let’s get you some breakfast first, shall we?”

As the big black dog tucked into his big bland breakfast a moment later, Crowley flicked through his phone to locate the weather app to scan the hour by hour forecast for the day ahead. While he waited impatiently for it to load, he looked up and laughed to himself, shaking his head as he slid the phone back into his pocket. A former angel of creation relying on a dubious mobile phone app to describe the weather? A travesty. Realising the old-fashioned way was usually the best way, the demon tugged open the window behind the sofa and thrust his head out to get a feel for the temperature. Mild, with the sort of closeness that meant rain was more than likely before the day was over. Satisfied, he slid Anthony’s trusty dog walking coat off of the rack and slipped it on, hauling the hefty satchel over his shoulder and wincing under the weight of it.

There was just one last thing left to do before he started his grand adventure into the world of human work, stepping into the dream job role he had never imagined would come to pass. Leaving Barnaby whining at the front door, Crowley nudged the bedroom door open with his hip and bustled inside, carefully lowering a plate of toast and a gently steaming cup of tea onto Aziraphale’s bedside table. He paused by the bed, stroking his fingertips through the angel’s soft curls and leaning down to press a kiss to his temple while he slept. All those months ago I kissed you just like this while I watched you sleep in my bed, and it changed everything, didn’t it, angel?

Just as he had done in that memory Crowley held so dearly in his mind, Aziraphale stirred, reaching out to grab weakly at the demon’s forearm.

“Are you off then?” he asked, voice slow to wake and deeper than usual, hoarse and unused overnight.

Crowley nodded, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Off to pick up Mac while it’s quiet. Golden retriever, nervous but very sweet, bonded with Barnaby on account of them both being snooty where newcomers are concerned.”

Aziraphale smiled sleepily, eyes half-closed as he reached out to cup Crowley’s face in both hands. “Good luck, my love. I hope you have the very best day. I’ll see you at lunch?”

“I’ll come by the shop when I’ve dropped the last two off, if you can wait that long I can pick us something up on the way.”

“My dear, I waited for this for so many years, I think I have the patience to wait for a late lunch.”

A shared smile of the pleasures of the everyday, one last kiss, and then the demon was gone, his faithful, fluffy shadow pacing alongside him.

***

“What’s the drill, boy, do you come in with me or do you stay outside?” Crowley hovered outside the front door for a moment, looking down at Barnaby and pondering what the standard dog walker protocol might be. In the end, he opted for the safest choice, to keep Barnaby by his side at all times, in case he was taken by a flight of fancy and galloped off into the unknown.

“Doing well for himself,” the demon noted with a low whistle as he entered the house. He scuffed his shoes against the welcome mat and nodded approvingly down at the gleaming parquet flooring that herringboned down the hallway and into the living room, from which a sweet golden retriever came happily ambling out to meet him. Crowley smiled, kneeling down and extending a hand for the dog to sniff. He wasn’t sure if he smelled any different to Anthony, indeed, had never been entirely sure if it was possible for a soul to carry its own scent but, even so, he had spent six thousand years repelling otherwise-jolly canines and he couldn’t help but hold his breath every time he brushed past a dog in the street, just in case his presence led to that heart-sinkingly familiar jump back, followed by a reactive snarl.

Perhaps, he dared to hope, as Mac treated him to a friendly lick on the forearm, it wasn’t down to his short-term rental of Anthony’s body at all, perhaps Aziraphale really had created the sort of paradise where a demon could temporarily moonlight as a dog walker and grow to become adored by every hound in London. That would be paradise indeed.

“Come on then,” he murmured, plucking the dog’s lead off of the coat rack and fastening it to his collar, before calling out for Barnaby, who had disappeared to explore shortly after they’d made it inside. A moment later, the big dog came bounding down the stairs, trailing his lead in his wake, looking all together too innocent not to be guilty of something. Crowley sighed, lacing both leads over the top of the bannister as Barnaby sat obediently in front of him. “What have you done?”

The dog’s tail thumped against the floor. He looked the picture of innocence. Almost. It was his inability to look Crowley directly in the eye that gave it away. Guilty as sin.

“Barnaby?” Crowley asked patiently, leaning against the bannister and very much failing to disguise how much he was enjoying his first proper day of dog ownership. Barnaby could have razed the entire top floor of the house to the ground and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, might have gone so far as to punish him with a cursory tut, if he was feeling particularly strict. “What did you do?”

After it was clear an answer was not forthcoming, Crowley left the dogs alone and hotfooted it upstairs to scan the rooms for Barnaby-related chaos. As it turned out, it didn’t take him long to discover the perfectly shepherd dog-shaped patch of warmth atop the bed in the master bedroom, complete with a souvenir in the form of a ring of black fur. If the botched clean up job taught Crowley anything, it was that he had relied far, far too heavily on demonic miracles throughout his day to day life. Have I really never made a bed the human way befpre? There’s so much to learn. So many boring, laborious, energy-draining chores to master, he mused, as he jogged down the stairs and deposited Barnaby’s residual fluff into the kitchen bin, before retrieving both dogs and heading back out into the sunshine.

“Lead the way, Mac, where do you fancy going today?”

***

It turned out that Mac had wanted to go absolutely everywhere, all at the exact same time, given the way he had dashed from one side of the pavement to the other, again and again, until Crowley checked his watch and realised it had taken them almost their entire allotted hour together to make their way down precisely four streets. Perhaps leaving the dogs to make all the decisions wasn’t entirely practical. Still, it had given him a little buzz of happiness to see the floppy, fluffy dog look over his shoulder and bark excitedly every time he stumbled across a brand new smell, as if he couldn’t bear for Crowley not to be included in his and Barnaby’s in-depth exploration of Ebury’s streets.

Dogs really are the best people, he thought to himself, smiling as he watched the two happy hounds bound down the path that led back to Mac’s house, as if they could bid each other farewell safe in the knowledge that the sooner they said goodbye, the sooner the next day’s glorious reunion would come.

With Mac the golden retriever safely returned to his plush abode, it was time for the day’s real work to begin. Though the demon had faced untold challenges throughout his existence, that didn’t stop dread swirling in Crowley’s chest as he began the long walk to pick up his next charges - all five of them. Six dogs at once? It felt like madness. Wonderful, chaotic madness, but madness all the same.

Something he had grown used to rather quickly was the way Barnaby would huddle against his legs if people got too close to them on the street. After the second time a stranger had absentmindedly let their hand graze over his fur and the dog had uttered a low growl of warning, Crowley had realised that, despite his outgoing nature, Barnaby wasn’t a fan of unknown humans. It was a feeling he could relate to entirely too well, that innate distrust of the masses, as if anybody who hadn’t earned his trust was a default enemy, potential danger hiding in plain sight. A lifetime of survival depending on elevated suspicion was a hard state of mind to shake, and Crowley had already had to remind himself multiple times that morning that they were no longer in the old, dangerous world, where to survive was to run, to hide.

Did you get that from me, boy? he wondered, glancing down at the dog and giving him a reassuring pat on the back, or am I just looking for things that link us together? Do you remember me, from before? Or do you just see me as him, as a human? They were, naturally, questions that would lay unanswered for eternity, which gave Crowley creative license to decide that of course Barnaby remembered him from the old world, had come to think of him as his first master, the one who had first showed him love and affection and the importance of extra treats on Christmas day.

“Why do they all have to be so spread out? Somebody needs to have a word with him about his logistics,” Crowley lamented, dragging a hand across his damp forehead and swallowing a retch at the hideous moisture of ever-leaking humans. He had been tramping his way across the city for near enough an hour and he hadn’t even made it to the next pick up point, where he would be retrieving only one of Verity’s regal wolfhounds, Impa, given that Midna was housebound with a sore ankle after chasing a rabbit across the heath a little too enthusiastically that previous weekend.

***

“Hello, Anthony, love. Come in, come in, I’ve got some cakes for you to take back for you both.” Tracy leaned forward to plant a kiss on Crowley’s cheek, patting him on the shoulder as she encouraged him to step inside the house, leaving Barnaby and Impa to canter down the hallway in search of a grumpy ex-sergeant to harangue. She smelled like jasmine and mandarin, and the scent, as sweet and warm as it was, was enough to leave Crowley pouting as he descended into childish jealousy. “Come on, dear, try one while they’re fresh.”

We meet again, adversary. Do you remember the last time we met? Oh, I do. Meeting the only other person the love of your life has been inside, you don’t forget that in a hurry. I’m onto you, Medium, however hard you try to buy me off with cakes and…

“Bloody hell.” Crowley all but swooned as the soft, buttery sponge gave way to a sharp tang of berry that burst to life on his tongue. Then came the buttercream, rich and smooth, the perfect balance to the tart jam. It was, he had to admit, the best cake he had ever eaten in his entire millennia-long existence. And he had spent a great deal of time in Aziraphale’s company, which meant he had sampled more than his fair share of cakes over the centuries.

Tracy beamed with all the satisfaction of a mother hen whose morning of baking had been a rip-roaring success. It was a well-known fact, of course, that the best part about baking was getting to share it with loved ones who would inevitably declare that batch of cakes the best you’ve ever made.

“You baked these…for us?” Crowley felt an unexpected surge of emotion in his chest as he looked around the neat little kitchen, found two racks of miniature Victoria sandwich cakes ready to be packed into the waiting tupperware.

It was such a simple thing on the surface, the gift of a few cakes, but when Tracy nodded with a little laugh and began packing them into the dish so Crowley could take them home, the demon had to look away and bite the inside of his cheek.

“Thank you, Tracy, for these. That’s so…that’s so nice of you.” It had always been one of the demon’s least favourite four-letter words, one he had always thought of as the most boring, at least. In that moment, though, as he pulled Tracy into a hug and near enough lifted the little astrologer off of her feet, nice had never seemed like a lovelier word.

“Oh, not to worry, love. You’re family, you boys, I wouldn’t sleep if I thought you might be going hungry.”

Family. There was that word again. Unconventional, chosen, wonderful family. Maybe family really is what we never knew we needed, Crowley thought to himself, feeling the comforting weight of a box of cakes weighing down his satchel as he left the Shadwells’, dogs in tow, a wide smile on his face.

***

It had been some time since Crowley had stood within heaven’s gates and felt comfort. Indeed, it had been so long he could barely remember what being in heaven even felt like. It had also been some time since he had broken into a run purely because he wanted to, had always preferred to take life at a more sedate pace. In fact, the last time he remembered running for pleasure had been in that very park as he had run into Aziraphale’s arms on that beautiful day when they had finally taken hold of each other and pledged to never let go.

On that particular sunny day in St James’s Park, however, as the demon ran to and fro across the grass with a pack of six boisterous dogs galloping beside him, Crowley began to wonder if Aziraphale hadn’t brought them to a new world at all and had, instead, transported them directly to heaven.

His shirt was dotted with muddy pawprints, his hair was firmly slicked to his forehead, and stray blades of grass clung to the knees of his jeans, accompanied by bright green grass stains, which had come about after Barnaby and Thor realised they could very easily indulge in a tag team scenario and trip their good-natured dog walker up as he raced after Impa. The demon was sticky-palmed after throwing his rapidly depleting collection of tennis balls again and again until all of them, canine and celestial, had to stop to catch their breath, Crowley doubled over as he panted right along with the dogs. Six happy faces looked up at him, mouths open, tongues lolling as they let out little barks of excitement at the realisation that now play time was over, treat time couldn’t be far behind, and Crowley was only too happy to indulge his fluffy army of sidekicks.

The demon beamed up at the sky as he was jolted forward by the collective tug at six leads, the dogs letting him know it was, regrettably, time to leave. Still, there would be tomorrow, and however many days he had to stand in for his human counterpart. While the incessant showering and hand washing and cleaning was already becoming bothersome, the dog walking was an entirely differently story. Who could ever want more than this, Crowley wondered, as he let Barnaby and the gang pull him away from the park, sunshine and laughter and a bag heavy with freshly baked cakes, and the love of your life waiting for you at the end of the day?

***

“What do you think, boy, did I do okay on my first day?” Crowley looked down at Barnaby, smiling as the dog blinked up at him. That had to serve as agreement, didn’t it?

He had dropped the other dogs off, exhausted but exhilarated, at their respective homes after the lunchtime sojourn around the park, and turned his attention to the afternoon’s engagement: helping Aziraphale at the shop.

It was a blessing in disguise that Anthony had noticed a quieter than usual start to the year where the web design side of his business was concerned, which equated to far less potential for Crowley to cause his bank account to take too much of a hit. Except for the bath bombs, but those were a one off expense, the demon was sure of it.

It had been a very strange day, all things considered, and that was quite a remarkable feat, given that the vast majority of Crowley’s days had been rather strange indeed. Life as a demon and all that, it didn’t lend itself to a great degree of normality. Still, that day had been strange but for all the right reasons, for once.

There had been that blissful moment before he had left the flat, where he had sat on the bed and stroked Aziraphale’s hair, felt the angel’s hand grip his arm as he tenderly wished him a good day at work. That tiny moment they shared should have been so forgettable, such a part of everyday life that it barely registered as something remarkable. But for the demon who had spent six thousand years craving anything resembling normality, every moment of the mundane was remarkable, in its own quiet way.

His first day of masquerading as a human with a job and rent to pay and an ever-evolving list of adult responsibilities had really begun with the morning walk with Barnaby and Mac, the nervous golden retriever who had been content to stay safely close to him, to explore as far as he was comfortable without being pushed any further than he was ready to stray. Don’t worry, boy, Crowley had thought, as the dog had taken a few tentative steps back towards his home after a pigeon had flown too close for his liking, you’re safe with me, we’ll go as slow as you need to.

Next, of course, there had been the trip to the Shadwell house, where his opinion of Tracy had done a very abrupt 180 the second she had foisted cakes and warmth and love upon him. He was a fickle demon, as it turned out, only needed a sweet treat and a hug to recover from a deeply-held perceived slight. Shame heaven never considered baking and physical affection as a method of resolving conflict, he thought with a wry smile, picturing the archangel Gabriel donning a fetching apron as he whisked eggs in a bowl.

The strangest part of all, Crowley decided, was the stacked keyring that Anthony kept in his work bag, strung with keys of all shapes and sizes that fitted doors that led to sweet little flats in Brixton, or grand mews houses in Ebury, or well-loved two up, two downs in Islington. These people, who must have been strangers to him once upon a time, trusted him enough to give him access to their home. It was something he had wrestled with every time he had let himself into somebody else’s home that day, as if he would be caught out soon enough, as though his secret would be up and his soul would be laid bare, something twisted and dark and innately untrustworthy. That day was perhaps the first time in six thousand years that anybody other than Aziraphale had ever placed an iota of trust in him. It felt good, he realised, to be trusted.

Crowley smiled to himself as he walked through Soho’s familiar streets, albeit more heavily populated with sushi restaurants than before, and let his feet carry him back to the bookshop, or the latest iteration of it, at least.

It had been a very good day indeed.

***

“Crowley, is that you? Thank heavens you’re here, it’s been a terrible day.” Aziraphale’s voice rang out from the back room and Crowley swallowed a chuckle, unclipping Barnaby’s lead and watching as the dog dashed off to smell absolutely everything in sight. After all, it was the first time he had visited since the fire and the new-look Z. Fell and Co. was filled with hundreds of new smells to discover. “I’m back here, will you come through? I need your help. He’s been selling books.

“Yes, angel, I believe that’s entirely the point of being a bookseller.” Crowley made his way into the back room of the shop, collapsing into an uncomfortably unworn chair and giving it a good, hard glare. Gone was his favourite armchair, the one he’d nestled into on so many hundreds of evenings that it had come to conform to the contours of his body. He sighed, feeling the tough structure of the interloper in its place, and wondered how many hundreds of evenings it might take until that one began to feel like home. He caught himself then, gently reminded himself that he wouldn’t be there for many hundreds of evenings, perhaps just a handful, that it would be his human counterpart who would sit there in his place, sipping wine and watching the flames dance merrily in the fireplace.

“Good morning at work then, my dear?” Aziraphale asked, sticking his head up from behind an angel-height stack of books that Zira had failed to organise after they’d been shipped up from the very successful auction he and Anthony had attended in Cornwall.

Crowley leaned his head back against the unyielding cushioning of the chair, closing his eyes against the discomfort and sighing happily, his enthusiasm for the day far outweighing his irritation at losing his favourite chair. “The best.”

Chapter Text

April. Z. Fell and Co., Soho.

While Crowley had been cavorting (slowly) through London’s streets that morning beside Barnaby and Mac, the timid golden retriever, the heaviest weight on his mind was whether he should bestow the dogs with the treats in his left pocket, which promised to give them gleaming coats, or those in his right, which promised healthy teeth and gums.

Conversely, Aziraphale had much bigger problems. Mainly, the horrifying realisation that to stick to his pledge to not accidentally destroy Zira’s life meant he would have to, at some point or another, do the unthinkable and sell a book.

He had spent hundreds of years safeguarding his collection and, despite the fact his collection was no longer in tact thanks to the small hurdles of both the rapture and the bookshop fire, the idea of letting even one book go felt, at best, soul-crushing and, at the more dramatic end of the spectrum, akin to a cardinal sin, and Aziraphale was one angel who knew a lot about sin.

Deciding to ignore the reality of bookselling for a little while longer (after all, he had been ignoring it for two hundred years so what was another few hours in the scheme of things?), Aziraphale took himself on a tour of the new look Z. Fell and Co..

The first thing that unsettled him was the smell. Gone was the comforting musty aroma of old books that he thought might have imprinted itself into the very foundations of the place, replaced instead by the industrial whiff of plaster and paint, things that were new and soulless. Still, it was better than smelling of charcoal and ruin, he supposed, calling his mind back from the memory of that night when smoke had filled Zira's bookshop and he had felt so powerless, so small. He could have stopped the fire in an instant, could have saved every one of those stories, but there were bigger things to save than a single bookshop, though it had devastated him to watch it burn, all of that history turned to ash, the only real memento he had brought with him to the new world.

It was disconcertingly tidy inside the shop. Tidier, in fact, than Aziraphale had ever seen it, even before he purchased the building in the old world. Still, it made sense that the shop was so tidy, given that Zira had only spent a week living there before he had come to his senses (aided by a gentle nudge from his angelic conscience) and hotfooted it across London to make amends with the man who he would spend the rest of his days loving in every wild and wonderful way that he could. While the tidiness was off-putting, felt far too clinical for a bookshop, a place that should hold adventure and mystery around every corner, Aziraphale did appreciate that it gave him a blank canvas to work with. Rearranging the books in his collection, ahem, inventory, had always been one of the angel’s favourite ways to wile away a few hours, so after he had finished exploring the little flat above the shop, he turned his attention to the main event: the books themselves.

It didn’t seem as though Zira had got much further than dragging boxes of books into the centre of the shop floor, though there was a rather precarious stack of noteworthy titles piled up in the back room, which Aziraphale planned on scouring before the day was out, just in case he needed to borrow anything particularly interesting before the books made it onto the shelves.

To have so many boxes of books to unpack, to discover, to lovingly place upon the shelves, nestled beside their perfect complementary counterparts, now that was part of the job Aziraphale was more than happy to get on board with. None of that selling malarky, none of that…

Ding.

A cheery little note echoed around the empty shop and Aziraphale cast an accusing glare at his phone, which he had fully intended to leave at the flat that morning but had slipped into his pocket at the last moment, just in case Crowley needed to contact him about a lunch-related emergency.

Blasted thing, he thought to himself, shaking his head as he returned to the books. Alas, no sooner had the box cutter swept neatly through the packaging tape holding the box closed than the sound came trilling through the silence again. And that time, it brought company.

Ding.

Ding.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Aziraphale hissed, hauling himself to his feet and brushing sawdust from his trousers as he stalked over to the recently-installed cash desk to retrieve his phone, feeling his heart sink as he took in the plethora of notifications filling the screen.

You have: One new order

You have: One new order

You have…

“Yes, yes, one new order, I get the picture.” The angel heaved a heavy sigh, wondering which book he was destined to say goodbye to, before unlocking the phone on his third attempt and squinting at the device. He had been taken to a screen that asked him to input a username and password. Not his strongest suit, admittedly. Still, the username field was easy enough, given that it was pre-filled with what he presumed was Zira’s e-mail address. Just the password field to go then. How hard could it be? He and Zira were near enough one and the same, surely he could crack the code.

Password: Books

Aziraphale smiled as he tapped the screen. That had to be it, didn’t it? It was precisely what he would have used, after all.

The username or password you entered is incorrect. Please try again. Two login attempts remaining.

Aziraphale felt sweat dampen his brow as his heart thrummed in his chest. Oh, so there were high stakes involved. That changed everything. Only two more attempts or…what would happen? How am I supposed to know this? It’s…it’s too hard. There are too many possibilities, how is anybody supposed to guess a password? Ignoring the irritating realisation that that was entirely the point of a password, he racked his brain to try and come up with something that might be viable. Now, what was Zira a particular fan of? The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. Of course!

Password: Crepes

The username or password you entered is incorrect. Please try again. One login attempt remaining.

Oh no, oh no, oh no. Aziraphale closed his eyes, placed the phone back on the desk and tried to steady his breathing. The pressure was on. I don’t need this, not on my first day, the angel thought to himself frantically, wondering what terrible repercussions would be waiting if he squandered that one last login attempt. And then it came to him, what did Zira love more than books and crepes? There was only one thing he could think of.

Password: AnthonyJCrowley

The username or password you entered is incorrect. Your account has been locked due to multiple failed login attempts. Please contact the website administrator.

Aziraphale felt white hot dread turn to ice in his veins as he read the notification aloud in a voice that trembled with every cursed word he spoke. He had been in the shop for less than two hours and had already irrevocably destroyed Zira’s entire career. Worst of all, there was nobody else in the vicinity whose door he could possibly lay the blame at. It was time to face facts, he really was the worst bookseller in existence, and that time the moniker didn’t feel like a positive trait.

What have I done? What have I done? Oh, Zira, I’m so terribly sorry. I will find a way to fix this. You can’t be locked out forever, can you? I only got it wrong three times. That’s nothing at all. You can’t punish somebody for tripping up three times, that’s barbaric. Aziraphale paused then, cast a pointed glance heavenward, before falling silent and doing the only thing he could think to do in times of extreme stress: he retreated to the kitchen for a rejuvenating cup of tea, accompanied by a plate of comfort biscuits.

***

By the time midday rolled around Aziraphale had almost recovered from the bracing run-in with technology. The tea had worked wonders, as it always did, and the biscuits had provided enough of a sugar rush to sustain him until Crowley was due to arrive in a short while. To pass the time, he had returned to the shop floor to finish unpacking the box of books he had started on earlier.

As he lovingly pored over each and every title, beginning to formulate some sort of coherent order on the shelves, he couldn’t help but stop and smile at the familiar titles, happy to see them return to the shop, even if they were a slightly different edition to those he had held in the old world. Then there were the other titles, the ones that were a mystery to him, those stories he hadn’t yet discovered but was keen to learn more about. Some he cast a dubious glance over, pondered what Zira’s thought process could possibly have been when he’d deemed them a must-have for the shop, while others were met with a little chuckle and a nod of approval, proof that the Zira-shaped apple didn’t fall far from the Aziraphale-shaped tree. Then, on occasion, there would be a book that would stop him in his tracks, something so intrinsically linked to his past that he had to take a moment to flick through the pages, to read snatches of the story and fall into fond recollection.

The copy of Candide had taken him by delighted surprise, nestled unassumingly near the bottom of the box, but he had let out an exclamation of joy as he pulled it free and held it close, one palm brushing across the cloth cover as he’d closed his eyes and slipped into those warm memories of the past. Of all the books Zira and Anthony had brought back from the auction, that was the one that undoubtedly had Crowley’s interference all over it.

If you could see us now, Aziraphale thought, thumb running across Voltaire’s name, embossed grandly on the spine of the book, golden and proud and enduring even after all of those years. Fitting, of course. Did you know? I’ve always wondered. I mean, did you really know? If anyone had ever come close to knowing our story, I’m sure it would have been you, you damned fiend. I wish you could have known the role you played in this, all of this. All the trouble you and Crowley caused me, what a pair you were. We loved you dearly, both of us did. I hope you knew that, in the end.

There were others, of course, besides the rebellious Frenchman, whose stories could send Aziraphale time-travelling back to memories so specific he could still taste the meals they ate together, smell the scent of perfumed smoke in the air, hear the chatter and bickering and the laughter, oh, so much laughter. As time had ticked by and heaven had grown more watchful, he had been forced to take a step back, to hold distance as a buffer between himself and humanity. Friends had lived and died, and were replaced by acquaintances, and after they too had passed on, they were replaced by nobody at all, just strangers the angel might exchange a nod with as they passed in the street.

He missed them, those who he had called friends once upon a time. Heaven’s only angel who had ever missed humans, he expected. It had hurt, to give up on friendship as heaven had become a darker place, as if simply being his friend might somehow put them at risk, as if Gabriel might note his acquaintances and deny them entry when the time came, just because he could. There was one friendship, of course, that he had never given up on, whatever the cost. Friendship set on fire, that had always been the phrase that came to mind when he thought of what he and Crowley had. Even in the beginning it was something smoking and sparking, rising up and flickering with temptation, spreading out and around him until it felt as though the intensity might choke him.

It had been just the two of them for so many years and he had convinced himself that that was the way it should be, that all they really needed was each other. If he was honest, though, he would admit that they weren’t alone by choice, that it was solitude borne out of necessity. It had been a comfort to have friends, people to share memories with, familiar faces to visit, places where he could relax, just a little, sometimes even have fun. If Crowley was there too then fun was a foregone conclusion, had always accompanied the demon with every step he took. The mutual friends they had shared over the centuries, they had always been just the ticket to afford them reasons to spend time together. Even when their love felt like a hopeless dream, Crowley had made sure there was still fun to be had, laughter to be shared, as that, after all, was the cornerstone of any friendship, smouldering or otherwise.

Aziraphale wasn’t sure that he was quite ready to dip his toe back into the world of making friends, not just yet, not until he knew they were safe, all of them, that he had done his job to protect those he had sworn to watch over. But perhaps, when the work was done, he could grow to enjoy friendship once again.

***

“It’s a nightmare, Crowley, I’m telling you. Not only do I have to sell books, I have to do it online. You know how I feel about the internet. It’s against me, it always has been.” Aziraphale paced up and down the back room, eyes trained on the demon who had slumped haphazardly in an armchair shortly after arriving with Barnaby in tow. “Crowley, are you even listening to me?”

Crowley shrugged, refusing to get tugged into Aziraphale’s drama spiral, and waved a chicken and avocado sandwich in his direction. “Calm down, angel. Have a sandwich. You’re probably just hangry.”

“Hangry?” The angel stopped, fists clenched, and sighed, as if he had far better things to do than fall for one of Crowley’s linguistic tricks. Again.

“Yes, hangry.” The demon grinned, tossed the sandwich to Aziraphale as the angel relented and sat down for lunch. “Fun little portmanteau of hungry and angry, and a feeling I think you’re already becoming well-acquainted with.”

“Oh.” Aziraphale smiled softly, taking a bite of his sandwich and letting out a little moan of appreciation. “Oh, that is quite lovely. Hangry. I like it.”

“Mmm. Thought you might. So, did you do anything helpful this morning or did you just fret for five hours about the idea of selling a book?”

“I unpacked three boxes of books, thank you very much, and you would do well to admire my handiwork before we leave. All those shelves, positively groaning under the weight of literary excellence. I thought I’d better slow down, though, to be honest. If I keep this up the shop will be ready to be reopened far too soon.”

Crowley fixed him with a curious look. “Isn’t that a good thing? Business will be booming by the time we hand back the reins, make up for yesterday’s shopping spree.”

Aziraphale chuckled, let out a sigh that was laced with embarrassment at his own predictable softness. “It was one of my proudest moments, you know, opening the shop; putting the final touches in place, deciding on the displays, and then watching my name be painted there, plain as day, as the owner of it all.”

“You looked so happy, I remember.” Crowley reached out, curled his hand around Aziraphale’s. He’d been there, of course, had known how important it was to the angel. He’d arrived with flowers, chocolates, all the material ways you say congratulations to a friend when they achieve a dream. Funny, though, that it was Gabriel himself who had got to Aziraphale first, a poorly-timed venture down to Earth to discuss business, leaving Crowley hiding outside, flower bouquet in hand, lip curling at the sight of the archangel after all of that time. He’d returned to the shop later that day, of course, armed with wine and temptation, and then they had celebrated properly.

Aziraphale ran his thumb down the length of Crowley’s hand, smiling absent-mindedly as he thought back to the night, the way the demon’s eyes had watched him as he’d poured their wine, the warmth of Crowley’s lips against his neck, all of the promises they had made in the heady rush of adrenaline that accompanied the achievement of a dream. The next dream, the biggest one of all, had felt within reach, for once.

“It was a good day, wasn’t it, angel?” Crowley leaned across the table, met the angel’s lips in a kiss, and then another, to make up for the one that had been missing from that day two hundred years ago.

“And an even better night.” Aziraphale laughed. “It was special, that moment. I don’t want to rob him of it. No, he should be the one to reopen the shop, to feel that pride in himself. It’s his dream now.”

You sweet soul, Crowley thought, eyes roving over Aziraphale’s lips as they curved into a smile, thinking fondly of how Zira might decorate the shop for the grand reopening, how excited he would be to open the doors once again, to let the light pour in and send those stories on their way, ready to be discovered by new hands.

“We’ll get it ready for him then,” the demon announced, clapping a hand against the table. “Then when we bid the little ones farewell all he’ll have to do is plan the launch party. We can do it, can’t we, angel? You’ve done it once before.”

The angel smiled “We? That sounds infinitely more fun than trying to do it alone. Besides, I think I might need your help with the er, online side of things, you being the technical one and all.”

“Technical?” Crowley wrinkled his nose, patting the phone in his phone. “I’m not very au fait if it goes much further than ordering junk food on a phone. Afraid we might need to rope in a professional for that.”

“You are the professional,” Aziraphale pointed out. “Supposed to be, at least. Either way, you’re far more au fait with it all than I am. I’ve already locked him out of something or other because I don’t know his password. Why would I know his password, for heaven’s sake? You have to help me, Crowley. It said only the website administer can help me. How am I supposed to track them down? They could be anywhere.”

Crowley gave him a look, one that might have caused lesser beings to wither where they sat. “All that time you had to watch him and you didn’t even think to memorise his passwords in case we ever needed them?”

Aziraphale closed his eyes as he attempted to steady his nerves, chin jutting forward in frustration. “No, Crowley, obviously I didn’t, did I?”

“Well, it would have made this a hell of a lot easier if you…”

“Yes, I’m sure it would have! Look, are you going to help me, yes or no?”

“Yes, yes, fine. It’ll give me something to do when the dogs are occupied, I suppose. Oh, and before you burst a blood vessel, I’m pretty sure you’re looking at the site administrator, so you can stop clutching the sandwich in your death grip of panic and relax.”

“I am relaxed. Surrounded by books, how could I be anything but relaxed? Observe how relaxed I am.” Aziraphale took another bite from his sandwich, pasting on a fake smile to show Crowley just how relaxed he was.

“Positively zen.” The demon raised an eyebrow. “Good timing, all this. Anthony had been complaining about work being a bit quiet, hadn’t he?”

“Well, I’m sure Zira would want his opinion on how things run around here anyway. He cares, you know, about what he thinks. He cares about him rather a lot, in fact.”

“Mmm. For what it’s worth Anthony’s the same. Soppy gits, the pair of them.” Crowley looked up from his phone, where he was tapping away in an attempt to release Zira’s account from the digital prison Aziraphale had landed it in. “Done, I’ve reset your password. It’s SergeantSnakeHips666, thought you might remember that one.”

Aziraphale smiled, batting Crowley on the arm. “Soppy gits, indeed. Where in the world do they get it from?”

***

As the working day drew to a close, an angel and a demon had settled into a peaceful routine of checking the online orders that had come into the website that day, sourcing the books from their hiding places in various boxes, and then packing them up ready to be taken to the post office. If Aziraphale thought of the collection strictly as Zira’s, kept his own emotions out of proceedings, it become rather a fun process, working together to get the books ready to be sent to their new homes.

Crowley had set the tone by blasting Queen throughout the empty shop, the two of them taking a little dance break between packing up orders, while Barnaby had a well-earned snooze on one of the armchairs in the back room, nestled peacefully under a blanket.

“Treasure Island, did you say?” Crowley asked, eyeing a stack of books that were teetering on the edge of the desk.

“Yes, my dear. Burgundy cover, not the navy.”

Crowley nodded, reaching out to pull the book free from the pile. Before his hand could make contact, however, a tremor shook through the bookshop and sent the stack of books toppling down to the ground. The demon snatched his hand back, blinking down at the titles that were strewn across the floor as Barnaby's frantic barking echoed out from the back room.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale called, rushing across to the desk, eyes wide as he reached for the demon’s arm. “Did you feel that?”

As the angel’s fingers curled around his forearm, it was if a surge of Aziraphale’s panic transferred to him. Crowley felt his chest tighten, and he looked up at Aziraphale in dismay. “What was that?”

Another tremor came then, the desk screeching across the wooden floor with the force of it. Three books tumbled down from a shelf behind them and, outside in the street, there was a scream from a passerby as the sky darkened overhead, as intense as it was sudden.

There was time for a flash of fear, a twist of anxiety in the gut as it felt like something was about to happen. And then it stopped. The ground beneath their feet calmed and the black clouds seemed to dissolve away, leaving the sky as blue and clear as if they might all have imagined the feeling of darkness.

“Angel,” Crowley whispered, taking Aziraphale’s hand and giving it a squeeze of reassurance. “What’s happening?”

Aziraphale looked up at him, swallowing tightly. Suddenly the bookshop didn't feel like such a safe haven any more. “I...I think he’s trying to drive us out.”

Chapter Text

Heaven.

“Blessed day, archangel.” The words slid from Gabriel’s mouth, a slur of speech dripping from his lips. He leaned across the desk, head bent low, shoulders high and pointed like mountain peaks, jagged lines that were little more than wasted flesh stretched across bone. A stench too, carried on his breath, sour with decay and corruption.

“It is, Gabriel, yes.” Opposite him, the archangel Raphael smiled thinly, hands clasped in their lap as they nodded pleasantly. Their expression was impassive, bordering on vacant. An affectation of naivety, of course. It had always been the safest way to navigate heaven, milling from task to task like a dispassionate worker bee, silent and inscrutable.

“Aren’t you-” Gabriel paused, wiping a lick of drool from the corner of his mouth, rubbing the stained sleeve of his robe against his skin until it flared pink. “Aren’t you going to ask me why it’s such a blessed day?”

“Look around you, Lord Gabriel, all of our days are blessed. We are in heaven, after all.” The archangel spotted the narrowing of Gabriel’s eyes, the tightening of cracked fingernails around the edge of the desk. “But, please, do tell me why today is so special.”

Gabriel laughed, a shrill sound that left Raphael thinking only of darkness. “We have found them, those two who would forsake the Almighty.”

No. Raphael felt a fist grip their chest, clenching tight, squeezing out the hope they had quietly held there since the day of the rapture. No, please. Mother, you can’t let him find them. I prayed to you, I begged you to keep them hidden.

Scouring the archangel’s face for weakness and finding a flicker of something that satisfied him, Gabriel turned to pace slowly around the office, keeping his eyes fixed on Raphael as he walked to and fro. He seemed to come unstuck, unfurling to stand straight and proud, as if he had drawn sanity from the revelation, as if Raphael’s despair was fuel. “Weak, the signal, admittedly. But do you know something, Raphael? I think we finally agree on something. What is it you’re so fond of saying…that none of us ever stops learning? I’ve been watching them, you know, humans. It’s quite remarkable what they’ll do to survive.”

Gabriel paused then, time to sink back down in the chair and rasp in a gulping breath, his strength dissipating as quickly as it had arrived, the tank all but running on empty.

“I always thought he spent so long walking among them that he became more human than divine in the end. The angel, of course. The demon? He was always…defective, never right to serve Her. So many years on Earth, inevitable that they wouldn’t pick up a few tricks from the Almighty’s…lesser creations. The vermin, the pests, the things that hide away. Did you watch humanity in the early days, Raphael, did you watch as they hunted and fought to survive?”

Raphael nodded. There were no words to say. Nothing to do but wait and listen and hope that all of Gabriel’s peacocking was nothing more than bluster, an attempt to assert himself to distract from another failure.

“Ingenious, the ways humans learned to survive on nothing but the Almighty’s creations. In the old days, of course, before they grew comfortable and lazy, before they gave up on all of that potential She gave them. They were hunters once, did you know that? Did you watch them as they flushed out vermin, forced it to show itself, to sign its own death warrant? Sometimes all they had to do was pursue their prey until it was too weak to go on.”

“You don’t know where they are,” Raphael murmured, voice soft but steady as they rose from their chair, bearing down on Gabriel, unafraid as that strain of hope returned. “If you had found them they would already be destroyed.”

“How do you know, Raphael, that I haven’t come here today to tell you that good news myself?”

“Because I have known you, Gabriel, for as long as you have walked these halls. You would have forced me to watch.” Raphael swallowed, curled their hands into fists so Gabriel couldn’t see them tremble. “Like the last time you destroyed everything I loved.”

“Now, now, Raphael, does it look as though I have time for reminiscing?” A thick, wet tongue ran along two rows of teeth, incongruously bright in that dark slice of a mouth. “Enjoyable as that would be.”

“What are you really doing, Gabriel, that has turned you into…this?”

The archangel leaned in close, as though he needed Raphael to hear every word he hissed. “I’m taking my lead from the humans, Raphael. I’m flushing out the vermin. And I’m building an army, archangel, for when the time comes to strike. Didn’t you hear? The end is nigh. There are wars to be won.”

Gabriel held their gaze, waiting for a glint of fear, and then, unsatisfied, swept out of the office, leaving a cloud of dank fog in his wake. His footsteps stopped suddenly and Raphael heard his voice in the corridor.

“Remiel, what are you doing lurking out here?”

Another voice answered, light and enthusiastic, accompanied by a quiet rustle of parchment. “I have a message, Lord Gabriel, for the archangel Raphael.”

“Be quick about it then.”

There was the sound of a dull thump, a shoulder colliding with a body, and then the angel Remiel crept into Raphael’s office, head bowed and expression meek as they kept their eyes trained to the ground. The angel paused in the doorway until Gabriel’s footsteps faded away, then he straightened up and pressed the door closed, testing it once, twice to be sure it was tightly shut.

He turned to Raphael, dropping an empty scroll of parchment onto their desk and raising an eyebrow as he nodded over his shoulder towards the door Gabriel had just stalked out of. “So?”

Raphael’s eyes darted to the door, then the corners of their lips twitched as they slid an old, battered biscuit tin across the desk. They smiled down at it fondly, then looked up at the angel standing in front of them. “Sit down, Remi, we have work to do. But first, would you like a biscuit?”

***

April. Crowley’s Flat, London.

Crowley unbuttoned his jeans, tugging the fly down and patting his flat stomach. Next to him, Aziraphale rolled his eyes.

“Nugget?” the demon asked, offering the angel the last morsel of the McDonald’s they’d spent the evening munching their way through.

“Go on then.”

“I told you this was a better idea than cooking.” Crowley paused to suck the last remnants of a banana milkshake through a straw, before flopping back on the sofa, sighing contentedly. “Who has the energy to cook on a Friday night?”

“Indeed.” Aziraphale nodded, pursing his lips as he glanced guiltily towards the kitchen. “That salmon though, Crowley, we really should have cooked it today. It’s wasteful.”

Crowley shrugged, waving away his concern with one hand, ever in favour of a more laissez-faire attitude towards fish on a Friday. “Oh, it’ll keep another day, angel.”

“Mmm. We’ll see.” The angel was not convinced. Still, after his fifth consecutive day of working to get the bookshop in order, the idea of returning to the flat to cook a meal (from scratch, no less) had rendered him close to hysterical. No, far better for the stress levels to give themselves a little treat to celebrate the end of a very successful first week of flying under the radar. Crowley was insistent that the biggest threat to humanity’s future happiness was stress and, as such, was doing everything in his non-miraculous power to ensure the two of them had a stress-free stopover in the land of the living. Onto happier things than panicking about eating fish after its use by date, the angel decided. He reached out to stroke Crowley’s arm. “Crowley, do you remember the first time I ever tried McDonald’s?”

I would follow you anywhere.

The demon smiled, turned to press his forehead to the angel’s temple, his lips grazing Aziraphale’s ear. “I could never forget that night, angel. There was no way back, not after that.”

“It’s funny,” Aziraphale said, pausing to catch Crowley’s lips in a kiss, as bold and sweet as that night had been. “After everything we’ve been through, every moment that split existence into before and after, that night feels like the most pivotal night of them all.”

“Of course it does. Nobody forgets their first McNugget.”

The angel laughed, head thrown back as he let out a cackle of absolute joy, before reaching for a pillow to bop against Crowley’s perfectly coiffed hair. It was something that hadn’t gone unnoticed, the amount of time the demon would spend preening his locks in front of the mirror until they looked artfully dishevelled. By the time Aziraphale was finished with the cushion there was nothing artful about it, just plain dishevelled.

Crowley caught the angel’s forearm, tugging him forward until they were nose to nose. He narrowed his eyes, almost furious, but the lazy smile spreading across his face betrayed him. “What the hell was that for?”

Aziraphale jutted his chin up just enough for their lips to touch, a tried and tested move he had favoured for near enough two millennia, the closest they had come to a kiss until desire had won out. “I was trying to lure you into taking a trip down memory lane with me and all you could think about was food.”

“I thought after six thousand years it might be time for role reversal. Keep things interesting, you know?” Words soft against the angel’s lips, the demon slowly, achingly trailed his fingers from the nape of Aziraphale’s neck up into his hair, fingertips lost amongst the curls.

The angel closed his eyes, felt a tug of desire in the pit of his stomach as Crowley’s other hand came to rest against his chest. A hint of skin against skin, that was all it took, still, after all of those years. “I think you might be right, Crowley, our lives are sorely lacking anything interesting at the moment, aren’t they?”

“Such sarcasm.” His tongue brushed against the angel’s lips and then, after a moment of nothing but the sound of breaths heavy with longing, he pulled away. “So sorry to derail you, angel, so rude of me. What were you saying?”

“I…” Aziraphale trailed off, blinking as he shook his head, attempting to refocus his thoughts. “I have absolutely no idea.”

As Aziraphale floundered to recapture his train of thought, Crowley smiled to himself, wondering if a day would ever come when he would tire of being able to pull the angel’s focus with a single kiss. Impossible, he reasoned, we could be sitting here, well, not here, somewhere more ethereal, sitting somewhere, anyway. Wait, what was I even… Oh, right, we could be sitting in an unspecified location in six thousand years and I would still feel the same thrill as I do in this very moment. Well, not in this very moment, the same thrill I felt…thirty seconds ago? Probably more like a minute. Okay. We could be sitting in an unspecified location in six thousand years and I would still feel the same thrill as I did precisely one minute ago. Got there in the end.

“Oh!” Aziraphale cried, slapping one hand against Crowley’s thigh, startling the demon out of his chaotic train of thought. “I was talking about food.”

“Really?” Crowley scrambled onto his knees, turning to face Aziraphale and bringing his hands up to frame either side of his face in a tableau of shock. “You? Talking about food? Whatever next?”

Stop it.” Aziraphale laughed, pushing his chest until he cascaded backwards, flopping back against the arm of the sofa and gesturing for the angel to continue. “Have you ever noticed how many of our most memorable moments have been centred around food?”

Crowley opened his mouth to speak, then promptly closed it when he realised he was incapable of anything other than irritating sarcasm that was, most likely, wearing extremely thin. Had been wearing gradually thinner for the past millennia or so, he suspected. Still, patience was a virtue and all that, and Aziraphale could be incredibly virtuous when the situation called for it.

“Think about it,” Aziraphale continued, refusing to be distracted a second time. “There was the time with the McDonald’s, and the rum baba incident in Paris.”

“I still dream about that rum baba.” Crowley closed his eyes, smiling fondly at the memory of his teeth grazing Aziraphale’s fingertip as he fed him on a night that had, admittedly, spiralled just a little out of control, even for them.

“My fingers tasted of rum for weeks after that night.” A pause, as they both disappeared into momentary recollection, before Aziraphale carried on with his run down of their top culinary moments over the millennia. “Sushi, of course. How many nights did we spend falling in love over sushi? Do you remember those coddled eggs we had at the National Gallery cafe that time?”

Really? You’re putting coddled eggs among our greatest food-related adventures?”

“What’s wrong with coddled eggs?” Aziraphale wrinkled his brow in confusion that bordered on annoyance.

“Nothing,” Crowley insisted, brandishing both palms in apology. “Nothing’s wrong with coddled eggs. Wow. I never knew you were so passionate about…”

“Coddled eggs are sorely underrated, Crowley.”

“Sure, no, you’re absolutely right, angel. I didn’t mean to…cause any offence?” His voice rose at the end, a question more than anything else.

After a moment, the angel nodded curtly. “None taken. What about those pesto testaroli we used to eat when you had the house in Pompeii, do you remember?”

“How could I forget? You insisted on them every time you visited.”

“Oh, come on now, how could I not? They were perfect. Do you know, I think they might have started my interest in crepes? What else is there? I must be forgetting…”

“What about the time I deep-throated the hot dog?” Crowley added helpfully, remembering the way he had all but unhinged his jaw atop the wall in Manhattan on that fabled summer night in 1969.

“Yes, that was, er, bold foreshadowing.” Aziraphale raised both eyebrows. “I think the fermented shark deserves a special spot at the top of the list. What a meal that was, do you remember?”

“Not the sort of thing you forget, is it, piss shark?” Crowley shook his head, eyes closed as he felt his throat thicken at the memory of the sour gelatinous cube of shark sliding down his gullet.

“Oh, Crowley, how could I miss them off of the list? Oysters! What single food encompasses more of our… Wait, wait a minute.” The angel stopped suddenly, finger quivering as he thrust it accusingly towards Crowley’s face, expression darkening as realisation dawned on him. “Have you always hated oysters?”

Crowley gasped, something he tried to play off as shock that Aziraphale would ever accuse him of such century-spanning deception. Really, though? He was wondering how in the world the angel had cracked his lies after all that time. “No, I…of course I don’t hate oysters. What would ever give you that idea? I mean, I’ve eaten enough of them over the decades, haven’t I? Who would be so stupid as to pretend they like something just to, I don’t know, garner favour with the object of their affection?”

“Hmm.” Aziraphale pursed his lips, considered Crowley’s passionate defence for a moment, then nodded in agreement. “Yes, yes, I suppose you’re right. Nobody would be that foolish, surely. It was just… Anthony really hated them, didn’t he? I thought maybe…never mind.”

“Yes, never mind.” Crowley nodded violently, clinging desperately to any topic that might shift them away from a deep dive into their love story, as told through various oyster dates. “Speaking of the little ones, how do you think they’re getting on in the, er, ole cranial recesses?”

Aziraphale shifted then, drawing his knees up to his chest and folding his arms around the pillow against his thighs. “What are they in there doing, do you suppose? Do you think they’re as angry as we were to be cooped up like that?”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re tucked up having a nice little snooze, angel.”

“Ah, of course. Dreaming of…”

“Whatever they like best. Yes, I know.” Crowley laughed, always relishing the opportunity to trot out one of the angel’s favoured lines, tried and tested over the millennia.

“What do you think they’ll do, Crowley? With the rest of their lives, I mean? Once we…fix things.”

“What’s got into you tonight?” Crowley asked, reaching out to rub slow circles around one of the angel’s knees. “First you’re looking all the way back, now you’re looking all the way forward.”

Aziraphale smiled, sliding his hand on top of the demon’s and giving it a little squeeze. “It reminds me of what matters in the present. The past, it’s full of all the sacrifices we made to get to where we are, and the future, that shows us what we’re working towards, what the point of this all is. It’s easier now to see the future as something within reaching distance. When we were still…knocking around in the ole cranial recesses, as you would say, it felt like something so abstract, something that might lay hundreds of years in the future. Everything was so dependent on them holding onto each other and all we could do was watch, gently guide them if they would listen. It was…it was something of a prison, wasn’t it? On that night when Zira walked out of here and I thought we might have been torn apart…”

“Don’t.” Crowley shook his head, smiled despite himself. “We weren’t, and we aren’t. I swear to you, Aziraphale, there is nothing that will ever tear us apart, not any more.”

The angel looked away, eyes focused on the corner of the rug beneath the coffee table, as if he needed to look elsewhere to summon the courage he needed to speak his next words aloud. “Crowley, I wanted to ask. What happened on that night? There was a moment when Zira looked at him and what he saw…I saw it too. It wasn’t you, my love, it wasn’t anything I’ve ever seen in you before.”

There was a shift in the room, the cosy atmosphere of nostalgia and warmth clawed away and replaced with an eerie darkness, a blanket of dread that smothered rather than comforted. Aziraphale found his eyes drawn to the corners of the room, tricked by shadows that seemed to be fleeting things, shapes that skittered away in his periphery. Next to him, Crowley had grown silent and still, save for the pounding rise and fall of his chest as his heart thrummed behind the safe cage of his ribs.

They were on the precipice of something, Aziraphale sensed it, a conversation (or a confession?) that had been left unsaid for so many years, for all of the years they had spent on Earth, perhaps. He opened his mouth to apologise, to pull the words back, to turn the conversation back to happier things, but then Crowley shook his head and looked up at him.

“I told you what happened to me after I fell, didn’t I?” Crowley raised a hand to brush his hair back from his face, fingers shaking. Not just his fingers, Aziraphale noticed, as he reached out to stroke his arm and felt the demon’s skin tremble under his touch. His face was racked with uncertainty, jaw clenched and eyebrows knitting together as he held Aziraphale’s gaze, and then looked away. “I told you about the solitude and the darkness, about the empty hallways and the shadows. Isolation can be as sharp a torture as a knife, if you know how to wield it. Nowhere knows more about isolation than hell. Some days it felt so crowded down there I thought I might drown but that feeling was nothing against those first years, that barren stretch of torturous solitude. I was alone. Truly alone. I didn’t have anybody, angel, not a single soul on my side. My family was gone, my Mother had abandoned me, everybody I thought had ever loved me had left me to fall.”

Crowley stopped then, took a moment to catch his breath, had heard the warning of it hitching in his throat. He didn’t venture back to those days, not often, and on those desperate nights when he had let his mind drag him all the way back to the earliest years in hell, he had only tortured himself with those times, the first times, never what came after.

“It was enough to break some of them, the loneliness. Enough to make them desperate, make them compliant, anything so they wouldn’t have to go back to it. Not me, though. I wanted it to break me, I was ready for it to take whatever part of me was wrong, but they said I wasn’t ready yet, that I needed more time before I could serve hell. And so they sent me back down to that place. Only that time, I wasn’t alone.”

“My love, you don’t have to tell me,” Aziraphale whispered, shifting closer to him. He curled an arm around Crowley’s waist, lost the other in his hair as he pulled him to his chest, felt the demon’s breath shudder against his skin. It was for Crowley’s benefit more than anything else, of course, his insistence that the demon need not continue if it was too much. There was a feeling, though, beneath his need to keep his soulmate safe, that perhaps, for once, the words were best unsaid, perhaps even the knowledge of the depth of hell’s torture would be too much to bear.

“It had been…months, years? I don’t know. Time didn’t seem to hold any meaning down in the pits of hell. They sent me deeper that time, further away from the light, where it wasn’t even dark, it was…it was blank, the way the world might have been before it was ever formed. Empty and silent and unending. All I could do was walk. Footstep after footstep in the hope I would walk all the way to the end, whatever that meant. There was no night, no day, no wind or rain, no stones beneath my feet. I wonder now if perhaps they really had sent me to an unformed world, I don’t know, I’ll never know, and that really is a blessing.

“They wanted me to give up hope, I think. I shouldn’t have kept walking. I should have stopped and given up and folded into myself until I looked as broken as the rest of them. But I couldn’t, I don’t know why, I didn’t want to take another step but I kept walking, one foot in front of the other. I didn’t know, you see, if one more step would take me to a door. Or a ladder. One more step might have been the thing that led me out. There wasn’t a ladder, of course. Hell is not a place that encourages its prisoners to set themselves free.

“I never saw it coming. I never saw it at all. I felt it, though. The way you feel bad news before it arrives, or a thunderstorm in the moments before. It felt like night creeping in, dead trees poisoned by the ground, life burned away to ash. A far off thing, at first, as if it wasn’t even following me, just watching. Biding its time. Waiting for me to slow down. What did I try to do? My stupid, hopeful soul, I tried to outrun it. Left foot, right foot, just keep walking, one more step and then another and another, now two more steps, keep going, you’ll leave it behind. But you can’t, can you? You can’t leave darkness like that behind. I didn’t look back, not once. I didn’t want to see it. If I had, I think it would be all I would ever be able to see, every time I close my eyes, even now. I think it would have consumed me, angel, eternally.

“It followed me in the end, of course. There were no footsteps creeping behind me, just that feeling of a weight tugging at my chest, my shoulders, something thick and heavy pulling me back towards that darkness, pulling me down until I could barely keep my head up, until I could barely remember what I was walking towards, what I was hoping for. It wasn’t fear that it smothered me with as it got closer, it was…nothing, it was emptiness, as if everything that had ever mattered began to fade away. It was the stars that left me first. The first things I ever made, the first things I ever loved. As it got closer it felt like everything else began to fade, like all the colour from my life drained away, red and blue and yellow dripping from my fingers until I became a shadow myself, grey and flat, until I became nobody.

“That’s when it spoke to me. It had to wash me away from myself first, I think, before it could get close enough to whisper. Its words were poison, angel. Every word I’ve used to punish myself for all of those long years after the fall, it would breathe them into me until, in the end, I became what it told me I was. It happens, doesn’t it, if you hear something enough? You begin to believe it and, eventually, you become it. Broken. Useless. Evil. Guilty. I don’t know how many years had passed before they decided I was ready, before they knew I had accepted what I was. Saying it wouldn’t have been enough, I had to believe it, I had to know that I was everything it told me I was. That was when they pulled me from the pits, and then it was gone. Physically, at least.

“Demon-eater, I’ve heard them call it, angel-eater too, of course. It doesn’t discriminate; equal opportunity destruction. It has no master, it’s older than us all, something harnessed by Satan to isolate us, to devour hope, to strip away everything that we love, everything that we hold on for. That’s what it is. It’s a shadow on your back, whispering to you in the dark, and I think…I fear that…once it has you, I’m not sure it ever lets you go, not truly. I think perhaps it’s always there in the distance, watching. Maybe it never takes another step towards you, or maybe it visits in the night while you sleep, I don’t know. It’s hell’s greatest weapon. It’s taken more souls than every demon combined ever will. It is despair, hopelessness, defeat. Its message is everything I was sent to Earth to spread. And I would have, I truly believe that. But then I was in the Garden and I saw the trees, the sky was above me again, I felt the sun and the wind, and I began to remember what hope felt like.

“When you brought us here, you gave me a chance to see everything I could have been if I had never fallen, but we haven’t really left, not yet, have we? Even here we’re still…tethered to Earth. To heaven, to hell. On that night when Zira saw that darkness in me, in him, you saw a glimpse of what I would have been if I had truly fallen, if I had become everything hell told me I was, if I had never known hope and love and laughter again. I think you saw what I might have been if we had never met, angel.” Crowley reached out for Aziraphale’s hand, found it at his waist and gripped onto it as tightly as if it was a lifeline. And perhaps, the demon thought with a sad smile, it had been. “I’m sorry, if it scared you to see that in me. I’m not…it’s not what I am. A glimpse of a road not travelled, thankfully.”

“Crowley, I…” Aziraphale fell silent, because what was there to say? There was nothing to take it away, those years of torture Crowley had endured in hell. The only way to play a part in healing that pain was to love him, to make sure he never felt such loneliness again, to fill his life with colour and song and laughter, to do everything in his power to create a world where those words could never touch him again.

The demon shook his head, breathed out the whisper of a laugh. “The only thing I never told you. The final frontier of confession. Gabriel would be so proud.”

Aziraphale smiled, looking down at their clasped hands, the physical manifestation of everything they could be if they worked together. “It’s not going to happen here, Crowley, not like that. No light without darkness, I know, but I won’t let it take this world, it will never spread its poison here.”

Crowley let out a long, low breath as his heart began to calm. It was out there now, the very worst of it, the darkness that had created all the hateful parts of him, and Aziraphale was still there, holding his hand, making sweet promises for the future. “I feel it less here, for what it’s worth. It’s just an echo, the last glint of white before a scar fades away.”

“I should have done this centuries ago,” the angel sighed, head pressed back against the sofa cushions as he closed his eyes in frustration. “I should have brought us here, somewhere safe.”

“You wouldn’t have been able to, not until that moment.” Crowley shook his head, felt a rush of love for the angel by his side, in both name and nature. “I wonder sometimes if everything that ever happens to us has already been written. If all of us are just part of some Great Plan we can’t possibly understand.”

“The Ineffable Plan.” Aziraphale laughed, remembering that day when those words had saved the entire world. “Perhaps God does, indeed, play dice with the universe.”

A smile and then a kiss, the full stop at the end of a story the demon would never tell again. “What happened to best not to speculate?”

“Times change, my love, thank God.”

Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.

“What do they want?” Crowley wondered aloud, voice laced with affection as he retrieved his phone from the coffee table and spotted the name on the screen: Lucifer and the Guys.

Dan: Final call for rehearsal. Two weeks, are we all in? Sammy’s turn to buy pizza. Don’t even think about ‘forgetting your debit card’

Lily: I’m in, and make mine an extra large, thanks, Sam. Little Brother, don’t you dare try to change the setlist, I don’t care how many saccharine serenades you want to dedicate to your hubby

Crowley smiled down at the screen, felt fondness surge in his chest, and then sent back a middle finger emoji for good measure. It was the little things, in the end, that helped him see the bigger picture.

“It’s not just this we’re fighting for, angel.” Crowley brought a hand up to cup the angel’s face, thumb stroking a gentle path down the length of his jaw. He leaned across, pressed a sweet, lingering kiss against his lips. When they broke apart he unlocked his phone and held it between them, the two of them looking down at the background wallpaper of Anthony and Zira, heads together, beaming at the camera as the sun set behind them.

They had spent near enough eternity fighting for each other, fighting for their love, for freedom, but they had won that battle. It was time for a new war. They were fighting for Anthony and Zira, the human counterparts they had grown to love so fiercely, they were fighting for family, for Raphael and Luci, for Lily and Sammy and Dan, for sweet, paternal Mick, for Barnaby, for every soul they had come to love in that world.

He thought back to that strange flickering tremor they felt in the bookshop, something that was sent to cast fear into their hearts and, yes, it had worked. But it had cast something else at the same time as that initial fear: determination, indignation, hope. “You said he was trying to drive us out, didn’t you? The tremor, the darkness. It was Gabriel, wasn’t it? Has heaven finally found us?”

Aziraphale shook his head, hoping that his words were true, that he wasn’t over-confident or, even worse, complacent. Had enough time passed that he might begin to underestimate heaven’s power? “No. No, my love, I don’t think he’s found us, not yet, or I don’t believe we’d be sitting here right now. But he’s close. I would wager a hundred worlds around us felt those same tremors. He’s hoping we’ll panic, that we’ll do something rash to give ourselves away.”

Crowley fell quiet for a moment, shaking his head in disbelief as if he’d just understood the punchline of a joke that had been told many centuries earlier. Pest. Broken. Vermin. Wrong. Exiled. Hopeless. No. No, not any more. He sat up, fists balled in his lap, and when he spoke his voice was strong, rising in volume until his words were all but a call to arms.

“Oh, we’re not going to give ourselves away, angel, and he’s not going to drive us out. We’ve spent too long running. Not any more. We did the impossible. We got out, we made it to a better world. Now we call the shots. We decide when it’s time. And when it is, we’re going to beat him.”

It was in Crowley’s nature for a feeling to strike and for him to run with it, wherever it would lead. As his posture changed, assertive and ready to fight, Aziraphale raised his hands and affected a warning voice in a bid to calm him down before he could get too fired up. “No, no, I think we should stick to the plan. We stay hidden and let heaven and hell take care of each other; we can win by staying quiet. A passive victory is still a victory.”

Crowley glanced back at the painting hanging behind them. “I am not leaving them in that world. They should be here with us. We can’t look after this place alone for eternity. We can’t do everything on our own, Aziraphale.”

Please, my love, stay here with me where we’re safe. We have each other, finally, we can’t risk it. The thought died in Aziraphale’s mind before he could truly commit to it but the imprint of it rang true, that fear of going back only to be caught in a trap, of gambling their future away on a bet they could never win. “We’ve survived as a we for six thousand years, Crowley, despite the risks, because we did everything on our own.”

“We deserve to do more than just survive, angel. I want us to live, to be happy, I don’t want us to exist in the shadows any more.” Crowley dropped his voice, taking Aziraphale’s face in his hands, just as he had that day in the park when everything should have ended. “Listen to me, I know hell, I know their weapons, I know all of their terrible secrets. I know every trick they have laying in wait. And you, you know heaven. You know everything they’re capable of, you know the lengths Gabriel will go to, you know the devotion of his army. We know what they don’t. We can defeat them, angel, together. But we can’t do it alone.”

Crowley was right. They couldn’t leave sweet Raphael to die in a war they would never fight in, they couldn’t give up without searching for Lucifer, without hoping they might have somehow hidden away for those long millennia, that there was still a chance. They couldn’t turn their back on the world they had loved for so long. That was why he had made the new world, wasn’t it, to preserve as much of the Earth as he could? He knew then that he would never rescind on the promise he had made Crowley on that night the world had failed to end: that he would follow him anywhere.

“Together?” Crowley asked, extending a hand, offering a pledge to see their dream through to the end, whatever the cost.

After a breath, Aziraphale took it, linking their fingers together as he nodded, determined. There was no how or when, the time would come for that, all that mattered was why. For family, for love, for the world.

“Together. To the end of everything.”