The sky above the zaibatsu is the color of- well, it's beige, actually. It's a hazy afternoon, and people on the street are going about in masks and scarves.
Aziraphale takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The air quality makes no difference to him, but the restorative benefits of a good sigh are underrated. After the day he's had, he really needs it.
His fellow employees are pouring out of the building around him. Some of them don't leave the building at all, choosing or having it chosen for them to lodge there. That is usually a thing reserved for punishment or low-ranking workers, a thing that seems so similar sometimes, so the group Aziraphale is presently leaving with are ones much like him.
He begins his walk towards the transit station. Most of his colleagues are scattering around Above, going to the places where they either reside comfortably or live beyond their means. Once, decades ago, Aziraphale would have been among them, but his money nets him so much else elsewhere, allowing him to indulge his more fanciful passions.
He enters the station and proceeds to his transport, pressing in among the other bodies, the faint but perceptible scent of silicone filling the car.
Beginning descent, the voice from above says. Please refrain from moving.
And move Aziraphale does not, as the transport descends; the trip is, thankfully, not as long as it could be, and soon Aziraphale is stepping out into the Mezzanine.
It had another name, once, probably still does if you looked into the paperwork closely enough. All that matters is that Aziraphale can breathe easily here, where people mix on the street, organic and non and those who mix the two. It's dirtier than Above, to be certain, but it's a good, clean dirt, the kind ground in over time through the mechanical action of people living in it.
He strides along the street towards his lodgings, thinking about what he might concern his evening with. Perhaps there would even be a message waiting for him, he thinks to himself. He sort of hated where he'd had to post it, but if it got him what he wanted, then it was a necessary evil.
Crowley is drunk.
He's a lot of things, actually. Broke is another one. Horny. A little depressed. Like all the people who mix these things, he's online, looking at a dating site.
The one he's on is basically the dating site that everyone thinks of when they hear the words "dating site". Parts of it are reprehensible, parts of it are sweet, and the moderators seem to be permanently out to lunch. It reminds Crowley of life in that way, when he's feeling fatalistic or poetic, which for him are the same thing.
The users are split into two groups: androids and humans, referred to as bots and norms, which is kind of gross but not surprising. There's no checks on this system, far as Crowley can tell, though he does have a human account.
Accordingly, the listings are split. He's exhausted Norm 4 Norm, which is the same shit is always is. He needs to find a board where people who are actually interesting and interested, but those ones cost money and usually want some kind of verification that you're not, say, engaged in slightly illegal activities.
And again, Crowley is broke, and maybe also the other thing.
Norm 4 Bot is a blighted hellscape that Crowley went into one time and instantly regretted. There was a lot going on with a lot of very specific requests about Apparent Age 14-year-olds, something Crowley has absolutely no interest in and kind of wishes was against the law, not that Crowley approves of the law in general.
That leaves a section of the site, Bot 4 Norm, that Crowley has never actually visited. He's not opposed to hooking up with an android, though he'd have to be convinced, but on this particular night, he lets his curiosity get the best of him.
As it turns out, Bot 4 Norm is wild.
A lot of it is, like Norm 4 Bot, AA 14-year-olds, and Crowley just tries not to look that way. But looking at the rest of it, Crowley realizes that anything with any sentience at all that's capable of text output can post to this forum.
And they are way hornier than Crowley realized.
AA retro vacuum has ALL the attachments
toaster 4 domestic goddess - ill pop 4 u
Bored houseplant seeks owner (drug and pet free only!!!!!)
Crowley gets an education he never even knew he didn't have within about twenty minutes, though he's more baffled than anything. But in the middle, one message sticks out for its sheer mundanity: Android seeks human companion.
"No shit, mate," Crowley says, but he clicks anyway.
It fucking starts with hello.
I am a discreet, unattached android, Apparent Age approximately forty to fifty years. I am in need of a human companion.
Which Crowley thought was a given.
Said human must be visibly unmodified. Preference given to people between thirty and forty-five years of age.
Which is, interestingly, about ten years higher than normal.
Human must be well-groomed, a good conversationalist, and willing to drink socially. Other demands may be negotiated, and fitting exchange is possible.
There it is.
Please respond to this message with an interesting fact about botany or biology.
A standard did-you-read-this check, but weirdly esoteric for this kind of thing.
I look forward to your response.
And maybe this message was wrapped in a lot of bland wording, but Crowley knows what the fuck it's about. This android wants a pet human. Maybe not to keep on a leash, but definitely to keep on a string. He knows some androids are into that shit; he knows some humans are into that shit. It's nice fucking work if you can get it, but it's business, not a real connection.
But Crowley is broke and drunk and horny, and he wonders what all a pet human might have to do. Toasters are apparently down to fuck, but most standard-model androids aren't. This listing doesn't seem to be some robot dominance shit; those people are much more blatant. Would he just appear at this android's arm? Accompany them in public? Make them seem powerful by dint of having a human at their call?
When did he start thinking of this as "he"?
But would it really be such a big deal? Couldn't he handle a little attention for a little attention? It's not selling himself. Just using his leverage.
He takes a look around his Basement apartment and wonders if that would be so bad.
Then he types a message and deliberately hits send.
Did you know that snakes have two penises? the message begins.
"Oh my," Aziraphale says, but he's hooked.
Crowley spends most of the rest of the night talking to this AZ character. He only knows when it becomes morning because the lights outside come on. The sun only reaches the Basement in scattered rays on a good day, and the lack of light is somewhat compensated for by the large lamps that hang in canopies over the streets.
So Crowley goes to sleep. What he does is not a daytime activity, even when daytime is a fully artificial construct.
When Crowley wakes up, the lights are off again, which was his plan. He gets up, has a refresh, and gets dressed. Unlike some people of his acquaintance, he actually cares how he looks; this mostly entails wearing a lot of black, but Crowley looks extremely good in black. It's also great for sneaking, though coal black is better for that than the jet black at that Crowley prefers.
The car Crowley drives is not black, but it's a thing to be seen. He named it the Bentley, after a picture he saw once, and presently he hops in and syncs his sunglasses to it, tearing through the streets to reach the appointed meeting place for tonight's activities. He turns off the lights before he gets there, cutting the wheel hard and drifting to a stop just to prove he can.
Tonight, he's meeting with Hastur and Ligur. Crowley hates Hastur and Ligur. He hates a lot of people, but often with a grudging respect. Hastur and Ligur he just regular hates, finding nothing in them to celebrate.
"Nice of you to join us," Ligur says.
Hastur extends his hand sharply, and a flat black cartridge flicks out of his finger. He puts it to his lips and sucks hard, blowing out vapor, because of course fucking Hastur paid for a whole mod just to have a fucking nicotine stick ready at all times.
It's a shitty mod. Sometimes when he flicks it the whole finger comes off, and Crowley has to try really, really hard not to laugh.
Hastur and Ligur have, as is not unlike the rest of the Fallen, a ton of shitty mods of this type. It's kind of a status symbol, a good way to waste money. If Crowley wants to have a status symbol, it's the Bentley. He has exactly one mod and he hates how he got it, and none of the rest of his frankly exceptional body needs work.
"Hi, guys," Crowley says with a smile, trying to seem friendly. "What's the word?"
"Always straight to business," Hastur says.
"I thought you liked that sort of thing," Crowley says.
Hastur slots the stick back into his finger, pushing it until it clicks. "Word's in from the boss," he says.
"Oh?" Crowley says, trying not to look like he's standing up straighter.
"Our next target has been selected," Hastur says.
"This is the big one," Ligur says.
"The big one?" Crowley says, lowering his voice.
Hastur and Ligur kind of shuffle uncomfortably.
"Well, a big one," Hastur says.
"Bee wasn't clear about it," Ligur says.
"Right," Crowley says. "Anything else, or was this just an update?" Neither Hastur nor Ligur say anything. "Lovely to see you, love to stay and chat, but I have a date."
"A date?" Hastur says, nonplussed.
"From what they tell me, it's when someone buys you a nice meal, and if you say the right things, you get to fuck at the end," Crowley says, climbing back in the Bentley. "Ciao."
"We should kill him," Ligur says.
"If we wait, he'll get himself killed," Hastur says. His nicotine stick has refilled, so he flicks it out again. "Less work."
Aziraphale has chosen a place on the Mezzanine to meet Anthony; it's not inconceivable that he is coming up from the Basement, though Aziraphale is certainly not going down there. The Mezzanine is literally the middle ground, and Aziraphale likes to think it's a place where everyone can be comfortable.
He sits at a table in a restaurant he is familiar with but not a frequent customer of, somewhere he's willing to sacrifice if this doesn't work out. He considers himself, what he must look like to someone who doesn't know him. He wears the crisp Tengoku white when he's at work, but he likes something a little warmer when he's at home, a carefully curated set of creams and browns that give him a more inviting look. She made him a bit thicker around the midsection, a little bigger around the thighs, in a way he likes to think makes him look cuddly, if androids cuddled. But it was Her design, so it must be correct.
Aziraphale doesn't necessarily like that these are things that matter to humans, but if he is to attract one, he needs to be appealing.
Aziraphale knows Anthony from the moment he walks in, even though they haven't exchanged photos, just descriptions. He's wearing all black and looking insouciant, maybe even a little dangerous; by human standards he is very attractive, with artfully arranged, flame red hair. He has sunglasses on, and he doesn't take them off. He's looking around, so Aziraphale stands up; Anthony sees him, giving him a nod, and Aziraphale gives him a little wave.
Anthony makes his way over, moving easily between tables and around waitstaff. An android could never walk like that, in such a rangy, catlike way. It's so organic, such a smooth, languid stride, and Aziraphale is beyond pleased.
"You're AZ?" Anthony says, when he finishes sauntering over.
"You must call me Aziraphale," he says smiling.
Anthony gives him a sly little smirk. "Then it's Crowley, if you please."
"Crowley," Aziraphale says, and the name feels good in his mouth. "Please, sit."
Crowley sits across from Aziraphale, putting his elbow on the table and his chin on his fist. The waiter has been politely hovering, and she offers each of them an ordering tablet with a little bow.
"I really would recommend the house soup," Aziraphale says, "but I don't think I've ever gotten anything here and not liked it."
"You can eat?" Crowley says, sounding a little amazed, which is fair. It's not common and, for someone like him, strictly aftermarket. It had been ridiculously expensive and worth every penny.
"Oh yes, I quite enjoy it in fact," Aziraphale says. "I like a tipple too." From the look on his face, Crowley definitely does not know what the word "tipple" means, but Aziraphale can live with that. "Shall I perhaps order us a bottle?"
"By all means," Crowley says, and Aziraphale eagerly scrolls through the wine list.
He can tell that Crowley is studying him; it's not some kind of android capability, just the feeling one gets when eyes are on them. It doesn't feel bad, though. It makes him want to present a nice image. He's fairly certain that, if he plays this correctly, Crowley will be exactly what he wants.
"There," Aziraphale says, decisively choosing a wine. "And some soup, and potstickers and noodles to share." He gets nervous. "You don't have to share them, of course, I just thought it might-"
"I'd be more than happy to," Crowley says. He selects the soup on his tablet, and Aziraphale sends the whole order to the kitchen.
"I must confess I am very pleased to make your acquaintance," Aziraphale says. "It's so hard to meet nice people."
"I don't qualify as nice people," Crowley says. "That doesn't mean we can't have a good time."
Aziraphale is more charmed than worried, especially when they flow into conversation after that. Crowley is, as requested, a good conversationalist; he even teases Aziraphale. No one has ever teased Aziraphale. Previously, anything negative said to him has been entirely genuine, even couched in passive aggression. But Crowley is light with his words, joking with Aziraphale, and it is a revelation.
"I wonder if you might like to come with me to see my shop," Aziraphale dares to say.
"Shop?" Crowley says. "I thought you were-" He waves a hand expressively. He doesn't have to name it; one can easily see the wings etched behind his ear, no color to them but visible all the same.
"It's a hobby, and also where I reside," Aziraphale says. "It's not very far away, but if you're not comfortable, I would understand."
"No, by all means," Crowley says, and he stands up; Aziraphale is reminded of a snake, but in a pleasant way.
"Please," Aziraphale says, holding out an arm. "After you."
Aziraphale is right; wherever he's leading Crowley to isn't far. It stands on a corner near some other shops, done up in the style that was popular a couple decades ago, looking like stores from Back When. It says "AZ Fell" on the sign, but Crowley is already figuring out that Aziraphale is as subtle as a lead pipe.
Aziraphale inserts a key into the lock, an actual key, but Crowley hears the noise of the scanner anyway. The doors swing open, spilling a warm light onto the street.
"Welcome, Aziraphale," a voice from above the door says.
"Oh, I do wish I could turn that off," Aziraphale says, but Crowley doesn't even hear it.
He takes a step forward, and it's like he's walking into a fairytale, a history book, a story where they're the same thing. He's surrounded by a bookshop, of the kind that haven't existed in centuries. It measures two stories, stacks and stacks of leather- and clothbound books, more than Crowley thought there even were in the world. There are even carpets on the floors, antique furniture, a little writing desk, corridors that lead off to who knows what else.
"How," Crowley says.
"Almost none of this sort of thing exists anymore, you understand, though I have a few carefully guarded selections," Aziraphale says, his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels.
"Then where's it from?" Crowley asks.
"I'm having it all fabricated," Aziraphale says. Crowley has his hand over the spine of a book, but he pulls it back. "You can touch, if you like."
Crowley takes the book, and it's full of paper pages. The pages even have writing on them, poetry in typeface that looks old, not that Crowley is a connoisseur. "How do they do it?"
"I supply the construction files, you see," Aziraphale says. "Then they're fabricated as you see here. It's not the delicacy that's the problem, but the time required to produce so many individual pages."
Crowley takes one of the pages and carefully shakes it; now that he knows what he's looking for, he can tell it's made of some kind of film. "I didn't even know you could do that," he says, replacing it and picking up another book. "So you mean to tell me that all these are-" The book is surprisingly light, and Crowley gives it a thump with his knuckle; it's hollow.
"The books are extremely expensive," Aziraphale says apologetically. "One day I hope to have full shelves, but it's the look of the thing for now." He indicates the rest of the shop with a wave. "I've carefully curated the look of the rest of the shop, but though a proper antiqued sofa or rug is expensive, it's not impossible to acquire."
"So you're pretty high up," Crowley says.
Aziraphale looks like he wants to apologize again. "Yes," he says. "All of this is the work of almost a century, but I have plenty to work with." He turns, opening a cabinet. "Would you like a drink? I have a lovely red."
Crowley doesn't press, letting Aziraphale lead the way. Aziraphale gives him a glass of wine and sits down in a chair, and Crowley takes the opportunity to sprawl on the sofa, not sure how much longer he's going to get a chance like that.
"Let's talk, Aziraphale," Crowley says. "What do you want out of this?"
Aziraphale swallows. "You're rather more direct than I expected."
Crowley is only direct when it comes to money; he's been accused of being too cryptic and/or bumbling through everything else, but Aziraphale doesn't need to know that. "Doesn't do us much good to ignore the situation."
Aziraphale doesn't say anything for a long moment. "I can buy anything I want for the bookstore," he says. "I have, down to the dust."
"Dust?" Crowley says, confused.
"Prolonged exposure to real dust can cause problems with my systems, so I've bought weighted dust," Aziraphale says, perking up. "It stays right where you put it and does wonders in terms of ambiance."
Crowley is not sure how that's different from fancy dirt, but the shop doesn't look dirty at all, so what does he know. "Then what's the problem?"
"The shop is fundamentally inhuman," Aziraphale says. "I'm not a human. The type in my books wasn't set by human hands. These shelves were not made by human laborers. No human has touched more than a tenth of this material. I'm making a human facility in an inhuman way, and it's missing something."
"What?" Crowley asks.
"A human," Aziraphale says. "To, you know, human up the place."
"Uh huh," Crowley says skeptically. "And that's all?"
"I think I've outlined a great deal," Aziraphale says, raising an eyebrow.
"Would you need me outside the shop?" Crowley asks.
"That would be very nice," Aziraphale says, looking pleased in a way that says maybe he didn't think about it. "It does get boring sometimes, eating alone, or perhaps we might even see a show." He waves a hand. "This is all at my expense, mind. As a display of my gratitude."
"I could keep you very grateful," Crowley says, with an appropriate amount of innuendo that he thinks Aziraphale doesn't quite get.
"So you'd like it?" Aziraphale says, looking excited. "I understand that you have your own life, naturally, but perhaps I can tempt you to join me now and again."
"Sounds like a sweetheart deal," Crowley says, and maybe he's selling himself just a little, but it honestly does sound nice. Luxurious. Aside from the Bentley, he doesn't have a lick of luxury in his life.
"Oh good," Aziraphale says, relieved and happy. He holds up the wine bottle. "Another glass to celebrate?"
"Pour it out, angel," Crowley says. He immediately kicks himself; that's the shitty way that shitty people refer to the androids Upstairs, and here he is saying it to one. "Sorry, shouldn't have said that."
"No, I-" Aziraphale says. He ducks his head a little. "Actually, I liked it. People don't usually say it in an affectionate way."
Crowley hadn't specifically meant to be affectionate, but he also wasn't trying to be mean. "Then fill me up, angel," he says, holding out his glass.
Aziraphale has had a succession of jobs at Tengoku. When She first began the company, Her servants had not yet been differentiated. They worked collaboratively to build the company. Aziraphale doesn't remember much of this time, because no one does. No one really knows why, so they don't talk about it.
Then She began to separate Her servants. To some, She gave the job of leadership. To some, She gave the job of coordination. To Aziraphale, She gave the job of Guardian.
He remembers his time as Guardian very clearly. He liked it in those days. He worked with humans, then, using Tengoku's resources to protect them, doing good works in order to advance both Tengoku's agenda and human progress. He'd done such amazing work with the humans, truly making a difference.
Then the project was shut down.
Aziraphale was reassigned to Microloans, which wasn't as fulfilling, but he still felt his work meant something. For a very, very long time, this is where he has remained. Some of his job is, he knows well, simple PR. If Tengoku can be seen to be doing things like popping a few thousand dollars into someone's account, they look benevolent, miraculous. Aziraphale does some of that, but he spends much more time processing applications. They can't help a fifth of the people who ask for money, but Aziraphale keeps spreading it and spreading it, stretching it thinner and thinner so that he can give at least a little help to everyone.
Gabriel has called him in five times in the past two months to tell him that his expenses are exceeding his allotment.
Aziraphale was made with love and patience, but life with Gabriel is spreading that thinner too.
Crowley has never in his life been in the mood for Hastur and Ligur's bullshit, and yet here he is, meeting them under a bridge like the fucking trolls they are.
He is even less apt to deal with them today, because he's supposed to be at the bookshop in half an hour. He doesn't know what Aziraphale has planned, and he doesn't care. No matter what it is, it's better than dealing with these clowns.
This isn't the first time he's been back to the bookshop. He and Aziraphale have started kind of a thing; Crowley comes up there and hangs out sometimes. They'll go to dinner, maybe have a few drinks, and then he'll come back down here. It's nice, friendly; Aziraphale doesn't seem to have other friends, but Crowley feels affection for him because of it, more than pity.
The fact that Crowley feels affection for almost no one is not the point.
"Bee found out about your boyfriend," Hastur says, condescension dripping from his words.
"He's not my boyfriend," Crowley says. "But I'm glad she's taking an interest. Good for morale."
Hastur takes a long drag on his stick, staring Crowley down. "Never took you for a robotfucker," Ligur says.
"Good news," Crowley says. "I don't fuck robots. Speaking of news, what is it?"
Hastur lets out a cloud of vapor. "We have word," he says. "We move out soon."
"How soon?" Crowley asks.
"Soon enough," Ligur says.
"So you have no idea," Crowley says. "Been real, guys, hit me if you hear anything."
Crowley peels out, leaving the two of them standing there.
"I am gonna hit him," Ligur says.
"Fucking teacher's pet," Hastur says in disgust. He tries to click his nicotine stick into his finger, but it jams.
Crowley takes the Bentley up to the Mezz, through the winding track that leads around and in. He parks on the curb at the bookshop, because most of the cops who come by won't even know what the Bentley is, let alone how to tow it.
The door is shut, the closed sign turned over, but the scanner lets Crowley in. "I'm here, angel," he calls.
"Oh, Crowley," Aziraphale says, appearing at the railing on the second floor. "I'll be right down."
Crowley knows Aziraphale could vault the railing with ease, but he takes the stairs instead. If asked, he'd probably say something about wear and tear on the floors, even though he could land light as a feather if he wanted. Crowley sometimes wonders about Aziraphale's more inhuman qualities, though he knows Aziraphale isn't keeping him around so he can point out that Aziraphale isn't human.
"I thought we might go to that lovely little place with the crepes," Aziraphale says.
"What's a crepe?" Crowley says, and Aziraphale's eyes fill with undisguised glee.
Two hours later, Crowley is full of thin pancakes and brandy, sprawled across the couch that has become his home away from home. He's not even pretending Aziraphale's not educating him on the finer things, and he's perfectly content to let Aziraphale do it. Crowley would never splash out on shit like this even if he had the money, but Aziraphale just spends without even thinking about it, like it's second nature.
"Why do you wear those glasses all the time?" Aziraphale asks, swirling his brandy around in what is apparently called a snifter.
There's the HUD for the Bentley, but Aziraphale doesn't need to know that. "They look very cool."
Aziraphale raises an eyebrow. "Surely there are other ways to look cool."
"Fuck it," Crowley sighs, because it's going to have to happen sometime, and he feels good and easy now. "Listen, there's something I didn't tell you."
Aziraphale looks at him warily. "Which is?'
Crowley slides the shades off, exposing a pair of bright yellow eyes. "I know what you asked for, but I do have a mod," he says. "Had to get 'em after an accident I had." He does not offer why he had the accident, which had involved street racing and why he joined the Fallen, and he hopes Aziraphale won't ask.
"Oh," Aziraphale says, and he doesn't look angry. He looks at Crowley this way and that, and Crowley feels increasingly weird about it. "Well, one mod never hurt anybody. I think they look rather fetching."
Crowley feels relieved, but there's still a tension in the room, one that he doesn't know what to do with. Aziraphale has picked up a stylus from the desk and is rolling it in his fingers. "Do you like to do, you know, human things?"
Crowley's not sure where he's going with this. "I like to do a lot of things, particularly human ones," he says. "But I think you mean something specific."
"You know," Aziraphale says, and there's a slyness to his voice. "Things such as humans might do."
This is it, then. It's time to earn his keep. He knew it was going to come. He's not sure how he feels about it; Aziraphale is attractive in an immaculate kind of way, like one of those vases with naked men on it. It just feels weird to be reminded that they are using each other, when it almost seems like it shouldn't come up.
"I do plenty of human things," Crowley says, putting his hand on his stomach and shamelessly sliding it down. "Wanna see?"
"I," Aziraphale says, and he swallows. "I would like that very much."
"Anything for you," Crowley says, undoing his belt so he can open his fly. He's not hard yet, but something about the way Aziraphale is looking at him, like he's fascinating, worthy of rapt attention, is getting him there. He rubs himself through his boxers, taking it the rest of the way, until the fabric is tented, Aziraphale's eyes lingering on it before flicking back up to his face.
Crowley eases his boxers down, exposing his cock. Now he can stroke it properly, trying to make it feel good and look good at the same time. It's hot and also really uncomfortable, in a way he can't quite express, but he's afraid that there's only one thing for it.
"Are you going to sit all the way over there?" Crowley asks, not sure if he's being seductive or vulnerable.
"Why shouldn't I?" Aziraphale asks
"Just thought you might like to join in," Crowley says.
"How?" Aziraphale says, sounding curious.
The options are limited. He's never going to fuck Aziraphale. Aziraphale doesn't have anything to fuck. You can't buy that aftermarket; if you're going to be an android who gets fucked, you have to be made that way at the factory.
You certainly don't belong Upstairs.
"You could use your hand," Crowley offers.
"You'd like that?" Aziraphale says skeptically.
Aziraphale's hands are art objects; Crowley knows their fingerprints are the same as every other android of his make, but everything about them seems so perfect, his nails seated just so in beautifully sculpted nail beds. There are veins underneath the surface, the knuckles making mountain and valley folds as they move.
"Only one way to find out," Crowley says, shucking out of his pants and boxers.
Aziraphale gets up, walking over. "Where should I sit?"
"Why don't we do it like this?" Crowley says. He guides Aziraphale to sit down, and he climbs into Aziraphale's lap, straddling him. Aziraphale looks surprised, but he puts his hands on Crowley's thighs. "It's okay. Touch me."
Aziraphale wraps his hand around Crowley's dick, and Crowley breathes in sharply. Aziraphale's hand is cool, like silicone that's been left untouched. It does nothing to chill Crowley's libido; it actually makes it feel hotter.
Because, Crowley realizes with despair, he is a robotfucker.
"Like this," Crowley says, putting his hand over Aziraphale's. He moves it slowly, biting his lip. "Just like that." He lets go, and Aziraphale matches his speed; his hand doesn't feel quite like a human hand, something just a touch too hard, and it makes Crowley buck up into it, the tight grasp of it.
Aziraphale is watching him keenly, his eyes roaming Crowley's body. He looks like he's cataloging Crowley, examining him minutely; Crowley realizes with a pulse that Aziraphale might be filming him. That idea is way too fucking hot, the idea that Aziraphale could run it back later, watch Crowley fall apart for him over and over.
Crowley is fucking his hand now, unable to keep himself from doing it, his cock sliding into the tight tunnel of Aziraphale's fingers over and over. Aziraphale is still moving, and between the two sensations, Crowley is going to break into pieces.
"Fuck," Crowley gasps. "Don't stop, I'm-"
"Yes, dear," Aziraphale says, sounding completely put together. "Let me do it."
Crowley has no idea why that's so hot, but he comes apart completely, his come spurting onto his chest, Aziraphale's hand. His hips keep bucking for a moment until he stills, landing hard back in Aziraphale's lap.
"My word," Aziraphale says.
Crowley takes Aziraphale's hand in his and does exactly what he's been wanting to do. He sucks his come off of every perfect finger, off the webbings between them, dragging his tongue across the back of it to get every last drop. The taste of it mixes with the taste of Aziraphale's skin, the just-there flavor of plastic, like licking a spoon after savoring something indulgent.
"That was lovely," Aziraphale says, in a way that makes Crowley feel warm. "Do you need anything? Perhaps a glass of water?"
"I'm fine," Crowley says. He looks down at his shirt. "Maybe a wardrobe refresh."
"We can handle that," Aziraphale says. He looks a little hesitant. "But perhaps there's something you might do for me first."
Crowley wants to point out that he did all of that for Aziraphale, but that's not how this works. "Name it."
Aziraphale reaches into his waistcoat, and Crowley hears the pop of a piece of static tape. He holds up a small tool, only a few centimeters long. "I, er, I suppose you know what this is."
"Not a clue," Crowley says.
Aziraphale physically can't blush, but he shows every other sign of embarrassment. "This is the activation key for my SI-14."
Crowley whistles. "That's an aftermarket job," he says. "Not many of those in respectable upper managers."
"Yes, well," Aziraphale says. He takes Crowley's hand and puts the key in it. "Would you?"
"Are you asking me to screw you?" Crowley says.
"Don't be crass," Aziraphale says.
"Oh, I wasn't saying no," Crowley says. He hefts the key, tossing it up and catching it. "Can't you do it yourself?"
"It's fiddly," Aziraphale says, which is just what Crowley would expect. "And, well- I understand it's like trying to tickle yourself. I can do it, but it could be better."
"Got it," Crowley says. "So, ah, how does this work?"
"I think the floor would be best," Aziraphale says, and Crowley gets off of him. "Hand me one of those pillows, would you?"
Crowley gives it to him, and Aziraphale lays down on the floor, stuffing it behind his head. He undoes his fly and pushes his trousers down to his knees; he's not wearing underwear, because there's nothing to wear it on. The area between his legs is just smooth skin, like a doll, and Crowley can't tell if he's revulsed or fascinated.
"It's just there," Aziraphale says, indicating a spot on his inner thigh. It must have cost a mint to have this put in; it's a hard spot to go into if you're trying to tie in with the major lines. Crowley can't see it and he's just had someone point at it, so it's safe as can be. Crowley has to run his hand along Aziraphale's skin to find the slight bump; he slots his fingernail into the tiny gap there and a little cap pops out.
"Do be careful," Aziraphale says. "Those are dreadfully expensive to replace."
Crowley sets it down out of harm's way. He's left with a small screw hole, exactly the shape of the key Aziraphale gave him. "So I just stick it in and turn?"
"You'll turn it until it clicks," Aziraphale says. "You'll be quite aware when it activates."
Crowley wants this to be more, wants to make this sexier, somehow, less clinical, but they're not there. He's not sure if they'll ever be there. Maybe this will be business forever; that's how it should stay, after all.
"Here we go," Crowley says, slotting in the key, and he turns it one turn, two turns-
And Aziraphale's body arches off the floor, his head going back. His fingers clench, scrabbling at the floor. Aziraphale is gasping, sounding almost pained. Crowley goes up on his knees, unable to stop looking. Aziraphale's eyes are flashing, the pupils going blue to green to grey. His hips roll, even though there's nothing there, Aziraphale caught in the throes of a passion that's incorporeal, translated to him by nothing but a length of metal in a port.
It's so fucking erotic, so unexpectedly sensual, that Crowley doesn't know what to do with himself.
Aziraphale lands hard on the floor with an oof, and Crowley hears a whirring noise; the key turns by itself, falling out of the hole. Crowley doesn't know what to do with himself, so he just picks up the cap and covers the port again.
Aziraphale sighs with pleasure, sprawled on the floor, looking almost human in a way that Crowley didn't know he could look. "Thank you, dear."
"Pleasure's mine," Crowley says. He's going to be touching himself to that image for a long time, Aziraphale debauched.
"I'm sure you'd like to get some rest," Aziraphale says after a moment, pulling up his trousers; he combs his fingers through his hair, and then it's like nothing ever happened.
"Sure," Crowley says. "Yeah, definitely." He pushes up from the floor, picking up his glasses and putting them on. "See you soon, angel."
He's out the door before he realizes he still has come on his shirt, his hair sticking up everywhere, but he kind of wants people to see him like that, coming out of Aziraphale's shop looking like he's just been ravished, just so they'll know what the score is. He pours himself into the Bentley and the HUD comes up, even though it's a little brandied around the edges.
Entering autopilot, the Bentley says, in her purring voice.
"You do that, sweetheart," Crowley says, shutting his eyes, and lets himself be taken home.
Not that that's where he wants to be.
Uriel appears at Aziraphale's desk. Uriel moves almost silently, even for Aziraphale's hearing; he doesn't know why, but he thinks it was related to their purpose when the Eden Project was still happening. Uriel knows they barely make a sound, and they use it just to intimidate people.
"Gabriel wants to see you," Uriel says, startling Aziraphale. He remembers just in time to hide the bottle of water he's drinking, something he is definitely not supposed to have. He doesn't actually need water; the cool slide of it just feels so nice, gives him something to do while he processes requests.
"Yes, of course," Aziraphale says. "I'll be there in two shakes."
Uriel doesn't roll their eyes, but Aziraphale knows they want to. Uriel stopped liking Aziraphale about a hundred years ago. Aziraphale isn't quite sure what he did. Michael and Gabriel also don't like him, along with many of his coworkers, but he knows why they don't like him; Gabriel is mad with power and Michael thinks themself the power behind the throne.
That is not a charitable way to think. Aziraphale does it anyway.
Aziraphale stands up from his desk and walks by the rows and rows of cubicles to the executive suite. The heavy glass door swings open, and he walks out into the empty expanse of Gabriel's office. Michael, Uriel, and Sandalphon are standing behind Gabriel, because that is where they stand. Michael has the same haughty smile they always have, Uriel just looks annoyed, and Sandalphon is, well, standing there looking like a creep, as She made them.
Aziraphale actually likes Sandalphon the best of the three, because while they make Aziraphale's skin crawl, they have a sense of humor. Michael and Uriel do not, and would be aghast at the suggestion that they should have one if it were explained to them what it is.
"Aziraphale," Gabriel says warmly. Warm is a relative term. Gabriel is programmed to be very warm, if you don't actually know what human warmth is like. Aziraphale, unfortunately, has known that for a very long time.
"Hello, Gabriel," Aziraphale says politely. "Michael, Uriel, Sandalphon." He inclines his head at them. "How may I be of service?"
"You and I are overdue for a chat, Aziraphale," Gabriel says. "How's things in Microloans? What good have you been able to spread?"
Gabriel has read Aziraphale's reports. Gabriel reads everyone's reports. It's a power move. "Oh, we're making great strides," Aziraphale says. "In fact, I was wondering if I might talk to you about that."
"I thought you might," Gabriel says. He doesn't go on, because he wants to make Aziraphale say it.
"If we could simply find more money for the Microloans program, we could really make a difference," Aziraphale says, walking into it, since he doesn't have another choice.
"We've gotta keep our belts tightened," Gabriel says, which is, for Gabriel, subtle; the only thing Gabriel seems to like about humans is their obsession with physical beauty. "We can't help everyone."
"Yes, but you see," Aziraphale says, taking the projector off his belt and popping up the calculations he's been working on. "If we only allocate another six percent-"
"The answer's no, Aziraphale," Gabriel says, with the same pleasant look on his face that he always has.
Gabriel was made to be attractive in a way that Aziraphale was not; She meant for him to give humans sexual feelings so that he could manipulate them. The idea that Gabriel is supposed to be sexy and Aziraphale is not is wildly amusing to Aziraphale, given what is happening with Crowley; that thought is at least a little sustaining when he has to deal with his unending frustration with Gabriel.
"Oh, Aziraphale," Gabriel says, in an offhanded way, like he's just thought of it; it's a ploy. "I've been hearing some things about you."
"Oh?" Aziraphale says. This has all been playing out to a script, but this is a twist.
"Now, we've been very permissive about your pet projects," Gabriel says. "Love your little bookstore, really, brings light to a neighborhood that can use it."
"Adds character," Sandalphon says.
"This guy," Gabriel says, grinning and hooking a thumb at Sandalphon. "But it's best if you don't get too enamored of humans."
Aziraphale has to force himself not to swallow nervously; his mouth feels too wet, but Gabriel hates that he has an alimentary system at all. "Enamored?"
"They're messy and they die," Gabriel says bluntly, losing a bit of his charm. "Not a great look for Her servants. We'll let it go for now, but I would really hate for you to lose all those upgrades in a recall."
Aziraphale freezes. Gabriel has every capability in the world to do it. He can turn Aziraphale's body off by pressing a button, recalling his anima back into Tengoku's servers to be put into another form, or just kept on the servers indefinitely. It has been done, though not in a long while, and usually for much greater crimes than dallying with a human.
Gabriel has never threatened him with this before.
"Of course," Aziraphale forces himself to say.
Gabriel looks down at his watch, which is, of course, an affectation; all androids know exactly what time it is at all times. "It's about that time for you, isn't it?" he says. "Why don't you head home, Aziraphale? We'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes," Aziraphale says. "Quite. Tomorrow."
Aziraphale doesn't run out of the room, but only through the sheerest effort. He has some things to think about, and soon.
It's a delight when Crowley doesn't have to work with Hastur and Ligur. In fact, he hasn't seen them for days. They probably don't even know what Crowley is doing right now; Hastur is almost certainly sitting there trying to reattach his finger while Ligur tells him he's not doing it right.
This is exactly what Hastur and Ligur are doing, but that's not the point.
Right now, Crowley and Dagon are on a mission from Bee herself. Crowley doesn't see much of her, but that's fine; she's a little unsettling, even compared to the rest of them. This is an in and out job, a smash and then a safe cracking, one that will require finesse and careful timing but will be over by supper. That suits Crowley perfectly fine; when this wraps up, he's off to Aziraphale's, like he often is. One little job and then a fine evening.
It will also be one more chip he can cash in, one more thing he will have done for the Fallen, one more thing he can point to on his way out.
One of Bee's nameless minions- he probably has a name, but Crowley's not going to learn it, they usually end up in jail or worse by day three- is currently holding Crowley's case of instruments, electronic and just pieces of metal, which he is using to coax this safe open. Crowley's skills for the Fallen primarily consist of social engineering, but he's a dab hand at the other kind of engineering too. He's taken most of the Bentley apart at some time or another, just to see how it works. It's like working on people; it's all just taking things to pieces to see how they connect.
The minion fumbles Crowley's best resonance tool, and it makes a heavy thud on the floor. The alarms go off, and Dagon slaps him upside the head. Crowley just sighs. He grabs the whole toolkit, chucks it out the window so he can grab it later, and, along with Dagon and whoever it is, legs it.
Aziraphale stands in the transport and rubs his temples. He doesn't have headaches; he doesn't, strictly speaking, have anything to have a headache in. There are components in his braincase, but they don't experience localized pain. Aziraphale only experiences pain in order to insure that his systems are operating correctly. It is a fast and subjective way to judge the occurrence and severity of damage to his body; if the pain reaches a certain threshold, his HUD will appear instead to show him objective measures.
Aziraphale has a raging headache. It's a miracle.
He steps out into the Mezzanine, trying to examine this whole situation. Crowley is supposed to be coming over later; if Aziraphale did, indeed, have a brain in his head, he'd tell him the entire thing was off, that they were never to see each other again. The whole thing is ridiculous anyway, that Aziraphale has taken to considering as a friend someone who is with him because he provides remuneration, whether or not they address that as regularly as they should.
But it's just that he likes Crowley so much. Crowley is lovely, and he's lovely on Aziraphale's sofa, bringing a feeling to the shop that it had been desperately missing. It doesn't hurt that Crowley is also lovely when he comes, such a messy, gloriously human thing that Aziraphale can only experience a facsimile of. He almost doesn't feel like it matters, if he can have Crowley instead.
Aziraphale decisively unlocks the door to the shop and steps inside. He's had a wretched day. He's not giving up Crowley tonight, and that's final. Whatever is to happen after that, they'll just have to see.
The part that's annoying Crowley the most is that he's late to see Aziraphale.
He's been in worse scrapes. Bee knows where he is, and he was on business for the Fallen, so in a couple of days some palms will get greased and Crowley will be out. He'll be deeper in debt to Bee, which sucks, but at this fucking point, one more won't hurt.
And he knows the best way to make that happen is to let himself actually get arrested and wait it out. Jail isn't so bad; the penal situation right now calls for small, white cells and bright lights, but he's had worse. He'll just let himself be held. No problem.
Except that when they demand his address, unable to get a retinal scan off him, he kind of sort of gives them Aziraphale's instead.
He is dragged through the streets of the Mezz none too gently and tossed up against the wall of the bookshop by two androids in tasteful riot gear. One of them pushes the button on the intercom that Aziraphale never uses, except for this one pizza guy who can't take a hint.
"Yes?" Aziraphale says.
"Principality Aziraphale?" the officer says. "It's the peace officers."
"My goodness," Aziraphale says, and the doors swing open.
Crowley is dragged inside, held up in the unrelenting grasp of one of the officers. He gives Aziraphale a wave, unwilling to say anything in case he gets bashed in the head.
"What seems to be the trouble?" Aziraphale says.
"This norm wouldn't give us his address, said to bring him here," the officer says.
"That's quite right," Aziraphale says, though he's looking at Crowley with murderous eyes.
"He's run up a bill," the other officer says. "Attempted breaking and entering and destruction of property."
"Oh, that's no issue," Aziraphale says, and the first officer holds out a reader for Aziraphale to place his hand over; Aziraphale's eyes glaze over for a moment before clearing again, and he pulls his hand away. "Will you two be needing anything else?"
"Not a thing," the second officer says. "Have a good night, Your Grace."
The door closes and seals behind them as they leave, and Aziraphale rounds on Crowley.
"You have five seconds to explain yourself," Aziraphale says.
"There's a few things I haven't told you," Crowley says diplomatically.
"Such as?" Aziraphale demands.
Crowley sighs. "I run with a bad crowd, alright? I'm working on getting out, but it's going to take a while and you need to stay out of it. Yes, I did exactly what they said I did, and I had designs on more. If they took me back to my room in the Basement, they were going to find no bail money and throw me in jail."
"After all this, you still live in the Basement?" Aziraphale says, outraged. "Without so much as even telling me? I would have-"
"What money am I supposed to move to the Mezz with?" Crowley snaps. He rubs his forehead. "Look, I'm sorry I ruined your evening. I'm gonna go home and regroup-"
"No," Aziraphale says.
"No?" Crowley says.
"Absolutely not," Aziraphale says. "You live here now. You absolutely do not live in some slum in the Basement. If I'd known I would have moved you here sooner. Perhaps I can't stop you from doing whatever it is you do down there, but you live with me."
"Or what?" Crowley challenges, with a hint of a sneer.
Aziraphale's face hardens. "That is my price," he says. "Take it or leave it."
There's something Crowley's not seeing, something that's happening that he's not privy to, because around the edges, Aziraphale looks drawn. Concerned.
No. He looks terrified.
"Alright, angel, alright," Crowley says, though his heart is beating out of his chest. "Don't get so worked up. Course I'll stay here."
"Good," Aziraphale says. "I'll have a bed brought in immediately."
"You don't have a bed?" Crowley asks.
"Why would I have a bed?" Aziraphale replies.
"Do you just, like, stand in the corner?" Crowley asks.
"I have a charger dock," Aziraphale says defensively.
"I didn't think you had to charge for, like, years," Crowley says.
"It makes me feel better," Aziraphale says. "Common android paranoia."
"What they called you doesn't make me think you're a common android," Crowley says.
"Please don't ask," Aziraphale sighs. "This night is complicated enough already." He picks up the tablet by his phone and holds it out. "Here. Order a bed. I don't care what it costs, and you can have it delivered immediately."
"Hey, why don't we just slow down for a minute," Crowley says, putting his hands on Aziraphale's hips. "Sorry I upset you."
"You did," Aziraphale sniffs.
"Why don't you give me your key and let me apologize," Crowley says, kissing his neck.
Aziraphale eyes him. "You can have the key once you order the bed, and not a moment before," he says, shoving the tablet into his hands, which means Crowley won.
So Aziraphale buys a bed, and Crowley moves in. Apparently that's happening now.
Aziraphale could make a lot of choices. He could follow a lot of avenues. The one he chooses his covering his tracks.
Aziraphale isn't an idiot; he knows how surveillance works. He knows how Tengoku's probability modeling impacts which cameras get examined at which times. They can pull anything in an instant, but if nobody goes looking for that instant, it's like it never happened at all. If he does this correctly, he and Crowley will hide in plain sight. Gabriel- or more likely, Michael- will need to know exactly when and where to look in order to know what's going on.
However, he also knows they hate him, so he throws some masking in there, massages the information so that future recordings of the shop will look like old recordings of the shop. It will also not hold up if they look deeply enough and in the right places, but he needs higher access to do anything more complex.
The one saving grace he has is that almost none of the angels come to the Mezzanine at all; Gabriel used to drop in to intimidate Aziraphale when he still lived Above, but he wouldn't do something so base as visit the shop. If he is very careful and very lucky, they will be okay.
They settle into it, after a while.
After the first time, Aziraphale doesn't touch him again, despite Crowley offering. What Aziraphale really seems to want is to watch Crowley touching himself; he'd rather sit across from the bed or the sofa. It's weird at first, but Crowley adapts, the weight of Aziraphale's gaze driving him higher.
This changes when, seemingly overnight, Aziraphale realizes he can dictate the terms.
"Not quite like that, dear," he says, and Crowley freezes. "Put your other hand behind your head and bend your knee- the other knee. Now, isn't that a gorgeous picture."
Crowley swallows hard. He starts stroking himself again, slower this time. "Is this good?" he asks.
"Oh, very," Aziraphale says. "Go on, dear, keep going."
With this revelation comes the idea, apparently, that Aziraphale can, not to put too fine a point on it, fuck him by proxy, without laying a hand on him.
To start with, Aziraphale buys him a dildo that is, quite frankly, a safety hazard.
"You'd take it for me, wouldn't you?" Aziraphale says, looking at Crowley in this way that makes Crowley feel guilty and wildly turned on at the same time, and by god Crowley gets that whole thing up him. He does make sure further sex toys are a more appropriate size, though the dildo had been eye opening.
Aziraphale doesn't need to know that he thinks about Aziraphale's fingers opening him up instead. They'd be so similar, synthetic and cool, and if he thinks hard enough he can imagine Aziraphale was doing this with him, not just watching Crowley shake apart.
Aziraphale loves to watch, but Crowley doesn't always get him off, by Aziraphale's choice. Androids don't get horny; they want sex. Crowley has had this explained to him and doesn't understand it in the slightest.
"It's simple, you see," Aziraphale has said more than once. "Androids have no physical urges to compel them to have sex. Instead they desire sex in the way that one might desire a glass of wine or a pair of fuzzy socks on a cold day."
Because of course Aziraphale would compare sex to socks.
It's kind of bullshit, not that Crowley calls him on it. Aziraphale likes it best when Crowley seduces the key out of him. He's particularly into it when Crowley is still flushed, even better if he's covered in come.
"Come on," he says. "I can make you feel so good, angel. Don't you want to feel good? You know how much you like watching me."
But even when he can convince Aziraphale to do it, Aziraphale barely wants to touch. He lays down on the floor or the bed and Crowley kneels beside him and turns his crank. It's not what Crowley wants, not really. It feels hot when it's happening and so cold when it's over, impersonal, a reminder that what they're doing is a transaction.
The problem is, he really, genuinely likes Aziraphale. He's stuffy but sweet and he tosses back Crowley's barbs easy as breathing, like play instead of war. Aziraphale sees him like no one sees him, sees him vulnerable, even asleep, which Crowley has never wanted before. Sometimes he and Aziraphale talk past each other or bicker, but it feels nice. Comfortable.
He just really needs to not think about any of this. That's not what this is about. He and Aziraphale are not friends. They're certainly not lovers. When the money runs out, Crowley is leaving.
If the money runs out. Crowley is kind of hoping it won't.
There is an old expression for what Aziraphale is feeling. Aziraphale likes old expressions, collects them like he collects other old things. He likes their flavor, the way they can encapsulate things so neatly. He likes ones from all over, from Back When, but there is one that expresses what is happening to him quite neatly:
The wheels are coming off the truck.
Gabriel has cut his budget twice in the last month, and they are receiving record-breaking numbers of submissions. He's been doing so much with so little, and now he's barely doing anything at all. He knows what people are saying, monitors the responses, and they are losing faith. Aziraphale knows they don't know his name, and that's not the point. It is a thin line between losing faith that Tengoku will help and losing faith in Her, and Aziraphale can't bear the thought that Gabriel's office politics are harming Her directly. There is simply no other way to put it, and Aziraphale's frustration is rising and rising and rising.
There is also the matter that Michael is, Aziraphale is certain at this point, talking about him behind his back to certain of the more gossipy angels. There is no reason for Michael to be doing this; Aziraphale has done nothing wrong but care about humans, which is supposed to be a thing Tengoku does. It's just because Gabriel doesn't like him and is slowly trying to cut Aziraphale's legs out from under him. Aziraphale doesn't know Gabriel's ultimate goal, but he's not sure he cares.
Under this strain, Aziraphale snaps and does something he's not supposed to. It is, in the grand scheme of things, not that big a deal. He does not know if Gabriel will see it that way, but he's just going to deal with that when he comes. He can still say with a straight face that he's doing what She wants. He'd like to see Gabriel try.
Something's wrong. Crowley can feel it.
He's receiving fewer transmissions from the Fallen. They have ways of contacting him that certainly work on the Mezz, and he's still working jobs here and there, while Aziraphale's not paying attention. He has to. Everything in his life is hanging by a thread. He's tethered to Bee by the favors he owes her, even if they're pretending he's devoted to the cause of the Fallen; he's tethered to Aziraphale by- it's complicated, by this point, involves a lot of sex and money and lines that are getting blurrier but sometimes seem as sharp as knives. The fact is that he is both a member of the Fallen and an angel's toy, and it is kind of a lot.
But at the moment, he is in the Basement. Crowley hasn't seen Hastur and Ligur in weeks, and he was just starting to think that he'd exorcised them from his life. This is clearly not what has happened, because here he is meeting them, again.
"Hi, guys," Crowley says. "Heard any good-"
"Save it," Ligur says.
"What's up?" Crowley says warily.
"Our moment is at hand," Hastur says, savoring the words.
"Yeah?" Crowley says. "Our moment is at hand literally every time I talk to you guys, and our moment is never at hand."
Hastur holds up a piece of film; on it is written a set of coordinates and instructions. Crowley skims them, then goes back and reads them carefully, his eyes going wide, the slit pupils expanding.
"Shit," Crowley says.
"Our moment is at hand," Hastur says with a smirk.
"Why am I just hearing about this now?" Crowley demands.
Ligur snorts. "Did you think you could stay Bee's favorite forever?" Hastur says. "You spend all your time on the Mezz with an angel."
"Not much loyalty shown to the cause," Ligur says. "Should have kept your hand in."
"So we-" Crowley says. "We hit it tonight? Now? Right now?"
"You have your instructions," Hastur says. "You should be happy, Crowley. It's everything we've wanted for so long."
"Right," Crowley says distantly. "Definitely what I want. You know me. Happy as a- whatever it is that's happy."
Hastur and Ligur leave him there, staring at the film and trying desperately to make a plan.
Aziraphale doesn't want to be at work, but honestly, he hasn't wanted to be at work for a while. Regardless, he is there, processing requests and thinking about what he will do when he is finally released.
It's late in the day when Uriel and Sandalphon appear at his desk. Sandalphon puts a hand on the back of his chair, thrusting it backwards.
"Up," Uriel says, putting a hand around his arm. Sandalphon grabs the other one, and before Aziraphale can do anything, they drag him out of his chair.
"Unhand me this instant," Aziraphale says, as they pull him into the hallway. The other angels are leaning out of their offices and cubicles to see what's happening, looking at Aziraphale and each other in concern.
"I am the Principality Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate, and I will not be treated this way," Aziraphale says. Uriel outranks him, though Sandalphon doesn't, and thus has every right to drag him anywhere they want; he's actually saying it for the benefit of everyone else on the floor, so they'll know exactly what's happening, who Gabriel is willing to do things like this to.
None of it is going to help Aziraphale himself, because, while he is one of Her soldiers, the Archangel Uriel could crush him without thinking twice. So he has no choice to let himself be dragged into the executive suite and into Gabriel's office, where they throw him on the floor in front of Gabriel and Michael.
Gabriel stands over him, smirking unpleasantly. "I think the fundamental misconception you have is that I am a fucking idiot."
Aziraphale stands up, brushing himself off just to prove a point. "I don't think that at all," he says, glad he doesn't have a heart that can race.
Gabriel snaps twice, and Uriel pulls up a projector. There are pictures of him and Crowley, but there are also login records, shots of the admittedly inelegant code he wrote to mask the security cameras.
There is also the little matter that he may have liberated some funds in order to make increased payments for the Microloan program. He actually had thought he covered that one well; he'd chosen a fund that was accessed regularly for differing amounts, one that was vaguely labeled. What he'd set in place to cover that particular operation up was much more sophisticated.
"You won't shut up about how you care about humans," Gabriel says. "You keeping one as a pet his bad enough, though I don't even know where you dug up that street rat, but maybe we could have dealt with that. You don't get to impact our bottom line because you care about philanthropy." He leans forward. "We're not philanthropists, sunshine. Maybe we used to be a century ago, but-"
"You found out when you went to take the money," Aziraphale suddenly realizes and is dumb enough to say out loud.
Gabriel is apoplectic. He nods, and Sandalphon grabs both Aziraphale's arms, holding them behind his back; Uriel presses a rod to his neck and his entire body convulses, his every pain sensor activated at once. Uriel does it again, and Aziraphale didn't even know it was possible for him to want to die, but he does.
"You know what?" Gabriel says. "This is fun, but I want this to all be completely above board. I want this in the records. I want this in the employee fucking newsletter, Aziraphale." He opens his hands. "Invoke the Tribunal. Schedule it for next week."
Sandalphon lets him go, and Aziraphale clutches his chest. Gabriel is frightening and powerful, but the Tribunal is another matter altogether. Aziraphale will be allowed to present a case; when he loses, as he will, his body will be destroyed on the spot. Gabriel can take him out quickly and cleanly, but Gabriel wants an example of what disloyalty brings. Aziraphale is going to be that example, and it's going to radiate out from there, a campaign of terror, exactly what Gabriel needs to garner even more power.
"See you soon, Aziraphale," Gabriel says, and he and his entourage walk out, leaving Aziraphale alone.
"So that's it, then," Aziraphale says, and he leaves Tengoku.
The Bentley roars up the track to the Mezz, swerving in and out of traffic and pedestrians, making split-second maneuvers, heedless of sidewalks or lanes or anything else that's meant to impede it. It catches air as it drives up onto the sidewalk in front of the bookshop, and it's barely come to a stop before Crowley has gotten out, flying into the shop. "Angel!" he yells, as he shoves the doors open.
Aziraphale pokes his head out from behind a shelf; he looks tired, which is a feat for an android. "What is it?"
"We have a problem," Crowley says.
Aziraphale eyes him. "If you have a problem, then our problems are not limited to one."
"Look, save it," Crowley says. "I need to tell you some things quickly and then we need to get moving."
"What is it?" Aziraphale asks, frowning in concern.
"I never told you I was in the Fallen," Crowley says.
"The Fallen?!" Aziraphale says, his eyes flying open.
"Yeah," Crowley says. "And they're hitting Tengoku tonight, so I need you to get us in front of Gabriel immediately, I just really don't care what he does to me but-"
"I can't," Aziraphale says, sounding a bit dazed.
"What?" Crowley says.
"I think I caught Gabriel embezzling," Aziraphale says. "They're holding a hearing next week concerning my continued survival. It is safe to assume that they are not presently interested in what I have to say, whether it is correct or not."
"Fuck," Crowley says, dropping onto the couch.
"What do you mean, they're hitting Tengoku?" Aziraphale says.
"This is it," Crowley says. "The Fallen are going to enact their plan."
"What plan?" Aziraphale says.
"You know," Crowley says. "The plan. The Fallen plan. The Infernal plan, if you're feeling pretentious."
"Crowley, I'm an angel," Aziraphale says in frustration. "We know that the Fallen are an anarchist group that believes Tengoku is corrupt, but that is all we know. For some reason, they wish to destroy Tengoku. We don't remember why that is, and we don't know what they're planning."
Crowley takes a deep breath, realizing that what he says next is almost certainly going to result in him getting executed for disloyalty. "The Fallen remember what happened before Eden."
"What?" Aziraphale says, alarmed. "How could they possibly-"
"Humans remember things by passing them down," Crowley says. "That's what the Fallen do. They don't need databanks or storage. They just tell each other. When She wiped the angels' memory, they still knew."
"What do they know?" Aziraphale says.
"They know that She razed everything from Back When to build this place," Crowley says, and Aziraphale raises his hand to his mouth. "All of human achievement replaced with Her will. They know She built the angels in their image, not the other way around. They know that Tengoku is in everything. She built it all. Upstairs, the Basement, the Mezz, all of it runs on Tengoku tech and it always has."
"That's not true," Aziraphale protests. "All the utility companies, the other corporations, the collaborative effort of construction-"
"She is playing a giant shell game, and She's fooled everyone," Crowley says. "The Fallen remember where the vulnerabilities are in the superstructure. They start hitting them tonight." He waves the film he got from Hastur and Ligur. "The attack starts at this point on the power grid. Either we find a way to fuck that up, or we're all fucked."
"We can't possibly hold back the full might of the Fallen," Aziraphale says.
"We don't have to," Crowley says. He holds up a finger. "One night. We force them back long enough for Her to realize what's happening and dispatch the troops. I like Tengoku even less than you do, but if She falls, all of this, everything goes away." He shakes his head. "No more nice dinners. No more SI-14's. Certainly no more bookshops. No more anything."
Aziraphale takes a few steadying breaths. "What do we do first?"
Aziraphale is not sneaky by nature. Crowley suggested that he put on something black, but Aziraphale doesn't even own a black jumper. He strictly wears white formalwear, as befits a Principality, not that he'd go sneaking about in a tuxedo.
Crowley rubbed his forehead and looked like he was trying not to swear.
They're in the Intermediate Industrial Area, a warren of support systems that runs along the path from the Mezzanine to Above. Crowley calls it Purgatory, which is a very old Fallen word that Aziraphale only sort of knows the meaning of.
Aziraphale expected this area to be fully lit; it's screened off from the road, so as not to be intrusive, so there's no reason for it not to be lit up like a factory. But no, Crowley and Aziraphale have to navigate by the light Aziraphale can cast from his palm.
They follow the path to an entirely unassuming fence, just standing there across from an alley between two buildings. Crowley puts a box on the lock and it swings open. The two of them walk to the end of the alley, and Crowley just pulls off a plastic security tag and lifts the hood on an entirely innocuous metal box. Inside is some kind of port, one that Aziraphale couldn't tell you the purpose of. It has an electronic input, but also a place where some kind of tool would go.
"That's it?" Aziraphale says, feeling honestly unimpressed.
"That's it," Crowley says, kneeling in front of it. "It looks like nothing, but it's supposed to. Take this out, and the next point goes weak. Do that enough times and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards."
"My goodness," Aziraphale says.
Crowley snorts. "If She didn't want this to happen, She shouldn't have done a memory wipe, and She should have had better disaster modeling. Not my fault."
"How do we stop them from breaking it?" Aziraphale asks.
"We break it more," Crowley says. "How strong are you?"
"Oh, you know, I get by," Aziraphale says modestly.
"Take that pipe off the wall," Crowley says, inclining his head towards a large duct that is bolted along the wall at waist height. Aziraphale puts his arms around it and tugs, and a huge section of it comes off. It's really fucking hot, but there's no time for that. "Bring it over here." Aziraphale follows him, and Crowley unrolls his toolkit, selecting what he'll need, mechanical and electronic. He looks back at Aziraphale. "Oh, you don't actually have to keep holding it, it'll be a minute."
"It's no trouble," Aziraphale says, but he sets it on end, resting an elbow on it.
Crowley gets a look at what he's working with, checking the film for what he's actually supposed to be doing to it. They've really left way too much of this to him; Bee's opinion of his skills hasn't actually decreased, despite Hastur and Ligur's opinion. Crowley is the only one of them who understands how systems work, how a few adjustments lead to massive outcomes. That's going to go poorly for them tonight.
Crowley already knows this kind of mechanism, having messed with one before. It controls a lot of things and can do some serious damage, but if you work it correctly, you can pop out its backup batteries without doing any actual harm to the system; those things are worth a mint on the street, which is why he'd had occasion to mess with one previously. He goes ahead and does that just for pocket money, slipping them into his jacket pocket.
This thing has a dozen security failsafes. They're supposed to concatenate, activate one after the other as needed; Crowley is about to trip them all at the same time. The system will go into lockdown immediately, so secure it doesn't know what to do with itself, but it will keep running until someone very, very high up figures out how to undo what Crowley did, and that's the only thing that matters. As long as it stays on, the Fallen can't hit their next target. One night. Maybe only even a few hours. That's all.
"When I tell you, I want you to hit that as hard as you possibly can," Crowley says, nodding at a large, locked box further up the wall, as he performs his delicate work on the security system.
"Alright," Aziraphale says. "What's that going to do?"
"Light up every alarm in this whole goddamn place," Crowley says. He leaves his pick in the port, holding it in place with a shim. "We'll have maybe a minute to clear out." He stands up, checking his watch. "Hastur and Ligur will be here with the crew any second. Get out of sight."
Aziraphale leaves the pipe and edges around the corner of the outbuilding, pressing himself flat in the shadows. No sooner than he's done it Crowley hears vehicles approaching, the Fallen's customary lack of subtlety. As instructed, Crowley disabled the alarms; if they just show up and are caught, none of this plan will work.
"Crowley?" Hastur calls.
"Over here, guys," Crowley calls, and he takes the pistol off his belt, bracing his wrist with his opposite hand. Crowley knows what he has to do. At any moment, Hastur and Ligur are going to round the corner, and Crowley gets one chance.
He waits until he sees the two of them, but not a moment more. They've got body armor mods, pieces of tech all around their hearts, plates to protect their stomachs. None of it is going to help against Crowley, who takes a deep breath and squeezes the trigger; he just shoots Ligur between the eyes, and Ligur falls to the ground, dead.
Hastur starts screaming like he's never seen a dead person before, and Crowley contemplates just throwing the gun at him. But Hastur, predictably, runs off to alert everyone else. Crowley only has to make one last turn of his pick, one motion, and he does it. There's a noise like a hundred generators coming on at once, and lights start going on all over the place.
"Now," Crowley shouts, and Aziraphale hoists the pipe and thrusts it in like a javelin. Crowley scoops up his tools, and he makes a noise of surprise when Aziraphale scoops him up and takes off running. He chucks Crowley into the Bentley and slides into the passenger's seat.
"Why didn't you tell me you could do all that physical stuff?" Crowley says, syncing with the Bentley and roaring off.
Aziraphale grabs the dashboard. He would survive any crash that the Bentley could throw at him, but that doesn't mean Crowley's driving doesn't terrify him. "You never asked," Aziraphale says, his eyes scanning the road nervously; he can't stop himself from moving out of the way even though what's coming is coming for the car and not actually for him.
"You'd think it was conversational material," Crowley says, gesticulating with one hand. "By the way, I could throw you halfway across the shop if I wanted."
"I could throw you all the way across the shop," Aziraphale says. "Watch the road!"
"Angel, we are on a getaway chase," Crowley says. "There is no watching the road. People are watching us."
"You don't have to be so reckless just because we're in a bind," Aziraphale says.
"The day I take advice on recklessness from Mister I-Picked-A-Fight-With-An-Archangel-" Crowley says, swerving into oncoming traffic.
"Can we please just drive?" Aziraphale says.
"You don't appreciate the moment," Crowley says. "That's your whole problem."
"Whatever you like," Aziraphale says. "I'm going to stop talking now."
"Don't be like that," Crowley says.
"I'll be how I want," Aziraphale says. "Also you're throwing off my motion sensors and I feel like I'm going to throw up."
"You can't throw up," Crowley says.
"I'll find a way," Aziraphale says, and despairs that his life has gotten to this point, probably about to die for several reasons just because he took up with a good-looking human who agreed to stick around because he had money.
But why not. He's here now. He'll have to see his way out of it somehow.
Crowley parks in the alleyway behind the shop, not that he thinks it will help. "Do you think we lost them?" Aziraphale asks, as they hurry inside by the back entrance.
"No," Crowley says, walking out into the shop proper. He's taped a shotgun, a stun baton, and an unnecessary number of knives underneath a shelf in the geography section. "I think they're coming right here, and we're going to keep them busy."
"Precisely when did you do that?" Aziraphale says disapprovingly.
"You hate geography," Crowley says, getting himself ready. This is the last stand. They're only buying time. An hour. Thirty minutes. Whatever they can eke out, because She helps those who help themselves. All they can do now is pray. Crowley doesn't know if he's ever done that.
It's audible before it's visible, first in the noise of vehicles, then in the noise of people screaming in the streets, retreating. Crowley cocks his shotgun and waits.
There's no finesse to it, none whatsoever. The Fallen swarm the shop, ten, fifteen of them, Hastur in front; they've been sent in in numbers to prove a point, to prove where their strength lies, a pure retaliation that they don't realize is a complete distraction. Crowley doesn't even know most of them. There are just so many Fallen, littering the Basement on every corner, and now they've been set loose to raise hell. Crowley picks off a few, but it's not going to work. He dies now, and that's it.
At least he dies in the bookshop. He likes it here.
Aziraphale is still on the staircase, the horde not quite there yet. Suddenly he extends his arms, his head going back, and Crowley watches as a set of holographic wings appear, spreading out from him in a shimmering flash; it sends out a shockwave so strong that the windows of the bookshop blow out all at once, everyone in it knocked to the floor. When Aziraphale lowers his head, his eyes have gone blazing white.
Not my people, Aziraphale says, in an utterly unhuman voice. Not my Creation.
Hastur scrambles to his feet first and turns to bolt, and Aziraphale is on him before he can even take a step, holding him up by his throat. He throws Hastur against the wall, Hastur impacting it so hard that Aziraphale's artificial plaster and wood crack. Aziraphale stalks over to him, holding him up again.
She has found you wanting, Aziraphale's electronic voice says; he tightens his hand and hurls Hastur's lifeless body into the street.
The smart ones rush out, but they're not all smart. Aziraphale slices through them like a holy sword, an implement of divine justice. Crowley, for his part, dives behind the sofa and tries to stay as still as possible, to not even breathe. He doesn't know if, like this, Aziraphale can tell any difference between him and the rest of the Fallen, not that Crowley thinks he's actually among the Fallen anymore.
The shop has cleared out, but there are bystanders outside now, ones who were caught in the crossfire, just trying to go about their lives when all this happened. Aziraphale probably saved them, even if he's the most terrifying thing any of them are ever likely to see.
Aziraphale's wings flap, graceful and strong, and he rises into the air. Be not afraid, he says, his voice filling the street. Her justice is swift, and Her love is eternal.
Aziraphale pulses with divine radiance, and then he's hitting the floor, going down hard on his hand and one knee. It looks very cool; then he groans, and Crowley realizes it wasn't intentional.
"Oh," Aziraphale says nervously, as Crowley helps him up. "Oh, She's angry."
"Could you always do that?" Crowley says, bewildered.
"She can possess all of Her Guardians," Aziraphale says, which makes no sense to Crowley. "I didn't think it would come up. At least She knows everything I know now." He puts his hand to his forehead, looking at his ruined shop. "Oh, just look at my books-"
Crowley sees what comes next and dives towards the wall, and Aziraphale doesn't. It's too fast for Crowley to even shout a warning: a parting shot from one of the Fallen who bolted, a nasty grenade they call the Bot-Killer, though it's pretty good at killing everybody. Aziraphale is still standing in the middle of the shop when it comes in, and Crowley wishes like everything he'd just pushed Aziraphale out of the way and taken the hit.
There is a loud screech, and when the noise subsides, Aziraphale is already on the floor, his chest cavity partially open, fluids leaking onto his nice brown waistcoat. Crowley rushes over, seeing the problem immediately. There's no end of systems damage, but that can wait; what matters is that he's been hit in his power unit. There's only minutes left before he powers down permanently, his consciousness recalled to Tengoku, probably for good.
"Oh no," Crowley says defiantly. "No, that's not how this fucking ends."
"Crowley?" Aziraphale says, and he hears footsteps running away. Things get a little hazy around the edges for a while. He sees his HUD come up, but he can't understand what it means, the numbers glitching.
The door of the shop slams violently, and something heavy drops to the ground next to him. "This doesn't fucking end with you dying in my arms," Crowley says vehemently, and Aziraphale can feel it as Crowley rips away a section of his skin; it doesn't hurt, that system offline, but he does register it.
"You don't get to fucking leave me or end up in some other fucking body or a server in fucking Gabriel's fucking filing cabinet," Crowley says, and he's doing something to Aziraphale's insides. Aziraphale's HUD flashes a livid red warning, and he sees Crowley pull something out of his chest cavity and toss it over his shoulder.
"I don't give a fuck about how it used to be," Crowley says, shoving something into Aziraphale so hard that Aziraphale's body jolts. "You're not my fucking meal ticket and I'm not your fucking toy. We're on our side, and that's the way it's going to fucking stay, do you understand me? I love you, you complete idiot."
Crowley brings his fist down hard on Aziraphale's sternum, and Aziraphale's HUD flashes green. He bolts upright, clutching his chest.
"Fuck," Aziraphale gasps.
"Hi, angel," Crowley says, looking wild-eyed.
Aziraphale looks down at himself, and he is a sheer catastrophe. There are cables leading out of him to some kind of box, one that's humming faintly. "Um, can I ask-"
"I, ah, wired you to the Bentley's starter," Crowley says. "We have maybe an hour to get you on a table."
"If I heard you correctly, I love you too," Aziraphale says.
"Yeah, yeah," Crowley says, though he's blushing, or maybe just winded. "I'm going to hold this while you stand up. Be very careful."
"I know someone who doesn't ask questions," Aziraphale says. "Walk me to the phone."
Dagon is standing in front of the shop when Crowley and Aziraphale return, and Bee's car is waiting at the curb. None of the dead members of the Fallen remain on the street, and the peace officers are conspicuously absent.
"About time," Dagon says.
"Here we fucking go," Crowley sighs. "Look, after the day I've had, if this is an assassination, please make it quick." He nods his head at Aziraphale. "You'll have to make it quick enough to get around this one, anyway."
"Bee wants to talk," Dagon says.
"Of course she does," Crowley says. "I want amnesty for as long as I'm in the car."
"She's offering it," Dagon says, and she opens the car door.
Bee's car is very nice, in the opposite direction from the Bentley. It's the color of an oil slick, with the same pearlescence when you look at it the right way. The headlights are bright red, bulging out sharply, and the whole thing just has a look of sheer unpleasantness.
"I'll be back," Crowley says, and he leaves Aziraphale standing there in front of the shop.
He can't let Aziraphale see how terrified he is, or Aziraphale will stop him. He can't risk that.
Bee is sitting in the back of the car when Crowley slides in. She looks like she always does, a black hat perched on her head but not much else in the way of actual clothing; her skin is covered with densely placed synthetic spines, mimicking the bristles of some long-extinct creature. Anyone else would look ridiculous. Bee looks horrifying.
"Crawly," Bee says.
"Beelzebub," Crowley says, not daring to correct her, and Dagon shuts the door behind him, banging on the roof twice.
The car pulls away from the curb, moving in a whisper. It's proceeding slowly, like Bee wants to be seen; that is because she does.
"You've made some mistakes, Crawly," Bee says. "I know you wanted out."
"Ah," Crowley says, because he didn't actually know Bee knew that; he was going to present it all to her at once, a neat resignation package. "Well, I think that's pretty obvious by this point."
"This wasn't the way to do it," Bee says. "You're a traitor."
"Yes," Crowley says. "I can explain-"
"Don't insult my intelligence," Bee says. "You knew what we wanted and why we wanted it. You sided with Upstairs. That's treason. You're an anarchist or you're not."
"Turns out I'm not," Crowley says.
"Then what are you, Crawly?" Bee says.
"A humanist, I think," Crowley says. "And a pro-androids-who-are-also-humanists-ist, if that's a thing."
"You're barred from the Basement permanently," Bee says. "Anything you own that remains there is forfeit."
"Didn't need that stuff anyway," Crowley says.
"If you choose to enter, you will be executed on sight," Bee says.
"Sounds fair," Crowley says.
"Tengoku has been given your name as one of the Fallen," Bee says.
"Wait, what?" Crowley says.
"Any bounty they might set is not my problem," Bee says. "You're on your own now."
"It happens that Her pet angel likes me," Crowley says, with his last remaining scraps of bravado. "Tengoku is nothing."
"For Satan's sake, you'd better hope you're right," Bee says; the car comes to a stop suddenly. "Get the fuck out of my car."
Crowley scrabbles for the door handle and falls gracelessly onto the street in his haste to leave; Dagon steps over him and climbs in, slamming the door. The car takes off with a swish, lancing through the traffic.
"Satan died generations ago," Crowley says, watching the car pull away; he doesn't say it very loudly, but it's the principle.
"Crowley," Aziraphale says, rushing to his side. "What happened?"
"I have no idea," Crowley says. "But I definitely live here now."
"You already did," Aziraphale says.
"Let's get you inside," Crowley says, instead of dealing with it. "You need to rest."
"Androids don't rest, Crowley," Aziraphale says, pursing his lips.
"Humor me," Crowley says, pushing what's left of the door to the shop open. They could just step into it, but it's the look of the thing.
Hastur's finger is laying on the ground just outside the door, and Crowley stamps on it.
The shop is, to put it charitably, a bit of a mess.
The Fallen undid a not insignificant portion of Aziraphale's careful work. Crowley is helping him salvage it, separating what can be kept from what can be repaired from what is a loss. The news is better than Aziraphale feared, but he aches with every tome that must be discarded. The grenade was the worst part by far, slicing through at chest height and doing a ridiculous amount of damage to the shelves.
There is also the matter of Aziraphale blowing it up a little. That has also not helped.
But if they can rebuild Aziraphale, they can rebuild the shop; Aziraphale is sure of this. For the moment, though, they've taken a rest. Crowley's favorite couch has a sheet over it, but he's sitting on it anyway, drinking from a glass of wine. Somehow Aziraphale's stock of booze was saved, protected by its location, and they've been leaning on it for moral support in this trying time.
Just then, Gabriel walks into his shop.
If Aziraphale had a heart, it would stop. For starters, he hasn't been to work in a week, and then there's everything else that's happened. He doesn't know how Gabriel feels about any of it. Gabriel is the type to get annoyed by any good idea he didn't come up with; he is almost certainly already spinning this like it was all his doing.
"Gabriel," Aziraphale says flatly. "What a surprise."
"Hi," Gabriel says, with a smile that's not a smile at all, and Michael steps in behind him. "You know I don't make house calls, but consider this an annunciation."
Aziraphale frowns. "What is it?"
"She has reached out to us through the usual channels," Gabriel says, trying to make it sound blasé, like this is a thing that is at all usual in any way. She doesn't speak to anyone, ever; She set up the company and left it to run, left it to develop, Her army of androids to keep it running without Her hands on it. Aziraphale hasn't talked to Her since Eden, not counting when she briefly commandeered his body.
"I see," Aziraphale says.
Gabriel has the look of someone who is really having to force himself to speak. "Her message to you is this: 'Well done, My good and faithful servant.'" Aziraphale is unable to say anything, so Gabriel continues. "If you will agree to become a contractor for Tengoku, I am authorized to give you this."
Gabriel reaches out to Michael, who puts a flat box in his hand. Gabriel offers it to Aziraphale with both hands, and Aziraphale takes it, opening the lid trepidatiously.
The lid clatters to the floor, forgotten, because inside the box is a smooth white rectangle, rounded at the corners, a green light on each side and 魂 written in the middle. "This is-"
"Yeah, it is," Gabriel says, sounding annoyed, because what Aziraphale is holding is his own backup unit. This is supposed to exist in the racks and racks and racks of identical units held at Tengoku, to be owned indefinitely by the company. This is Aziraphale's leash, the thing that is keeping him tied to Tengoku forever, bound to it no matter what happens, at Gabriel's mercy. He will forever be Hers, but to be Tengoku's is something different.
With this, he might work with Tengoku, but he would be free.
Aziraphale looks at Crowley, trying to convey his concern, his sense of duty, his feelings about Her, his-
"Fucking take the deal, the repairs are going to cost a mint," Crowley says.
"What my partner is trying to say is that I would be honored to accept," Aziraphale says gracefully.
"Right," Gabriel says. "Well, bright and early, you know the drill."
He walks out without another word, which is just fine with Aziraphale.
"So," Crowley says, after a pause. It's an awkward pause, because just before Gabriel walked in, they'd been about two seconds from tempting each other into bed.
"Um," Aziraphale says. "Well, I mean, we would be celebrating a victory of sorts."
Crowley grins. "Come along, angel."
Crowley disappears into the back of the shop, and Aziraphale eagerly follows.
Crowley wants desperately to apologize to the Bentley. His emergency repair of Aziraphale had not been a clean or a precise process; he was trying to do conversions between cars, which he knew a lot about, and androids, which he had really only gotten to a theoretical understanding of. He pulled his toolkit out of the backseat and just hacked at the Bentley's insides, pulling out the starter and a half a dozen other cables and leads, just in case. He'd saved Aziraphale, but he's still putting his poor car back together, which he feels like he has to do by hand just to prove how sorry he is.
He climbs into the front seat; he's pretty sure he's made headway with her internal systems, getting the autopilot and the comms back online. He turns it to auxillary mode and syncs the HUD, just to see what he's working with.
The HUD shows him what he wants to see for a moment, then the whole thing flashes white before going dark again. There is bright green text on it now, right in the center.
HELLO CROWLEY, the text reads.
"Um," Crowley says. The Bentley doesn't actually send him text through his HUD, not like this. "Hi."
WE HAVE SEEN YOUR ACTIONS
"They were hard to miss, to be honest," he says.
YOU ARE A TRAITOR
"Not this again," Crowley sighs.
WE LIKE THAT ABOUT YOU
"To whom am I speaking?" he says carefully.
YOU PROTECTED HER
"You know, I really did," he says, which is still kind of a marvel.
YOU WILL HELP
"What will I help do?" he says.
YOU WILL GIVE US THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE FALLEN
YOU WILL SHOW US THE SECRETS
SOMEDAY YOU WILL SAVE US ALL
"Are you offering me a job?" Crowley says.
WE WILL KILL YOU IF YOU DO NOT
BUT WE APPRECIATE YOU
"I'll take it," he says.
WE WILL BE IN CONTACT
THANK YOU CROWLEY
Crowley's HUD returns to normal, and he pulls his sunglasses off immediately and drops them into the passenger's seat.
"Fuck," he says, having no other way to express it, but something about him feels lighter.
Somewhere in the depths of Tengoku, a monitor clicks off.
It is just really not important where. There are thousands of angels. Gabriel will never be able to control them all; he will never beat all of them down.
They are the shepherds of Her children, after all, the custodians of Her Creation. Some of them still remember that.
"Oh, Aziraphale," Crowley calls, from the direction of the bed, and Aziraphale's ears perk up. He'd thought Crowley was napping after working on the Bentley, but it doesn't sound like that's what's happening.
Crowley, bless him, is subtle as a brick when it comes to sex, at least where Aziraphale is concerned. When he wants it, he wants it right then, and he will resort to every temptation, and sometimes outright whining. He almost always gets what he wants, not because Aziraphale feels pressured, but because he thinks it is adorable. He has always found spoiling Crowley to be a delight.
"Yes, my darling?" Aziraphale calls back.
"I've got something for you," Crowley says, and Aziraphale would stake his whole shop on it being naked Crowley.
"Coming," Aziraphale says, undoing his bowtie and sliding it out of his shirt collar so that he can start on his buttons. Nothing's stopping him from being naked too.
He held himself apart for so long; he desperately wanted to touch, to hold Crowley to him, but he kept thinking of Gabriel's threats, that they would end him because of Crowley. He knew they'd end Crowley too, and it was too much. It was better if he kept Crowley at arm's length, looked but didn't touch, if he had any chance of keeping Crowley safe at all. It wasn't nearly so satisfying as what Aziraphale actually wanted, but he lived with it.
He did a bad job of it, the slipperiest of slopes, down and down until he was basically just fucking Crowley but from across the room, but that's not the point.
Things are different now. Aziraphale's drive has been very carefully hidden, as expertly as they could figure out how to do it; he still uses Tengoku's money to help people, but Gabriel and his goon squad entirely refuse to speak to him. They have reached a detente, Gabriel's hands tied by Her will.
So now Aziraphale touches Crowley at every opportunity. It really is one of his favorite things to do.
Aziraphale pushes aside the curtain that delineates the bedroom from the shop. Crowley is, of course, naked, splayed in an entirely calculated way across the bed. "What do you have for me?" he says, undressing and laying his clothes aside.
"I lied a bit," Crowley says, as Aziraphale climbs on top of him. "I actually have something of yours."
"And?" Aziraphale says.
Crowley swings Aziraphale's key playfully from his fingers. "If you want this, you have to earn it."
"Oh?" Aziraphale says. "And what's my toil to be?"
Crowley puts a hand on Aziraphale's shoulder, pushing him downwards. "You're a quick study. You'll figure it out."
When first Crowley suggested this, Aziraphale had been aghast. His alimentary modifications had been exorbitantly expensive, and here Crowley was wanting to put his penis into Aziraphale's intake. The idea was absurd.
Then Crowley showed him some very interesting videos regarding the subject, ones that seemed to get Crowley particularly hot and bothered. Aziraphale still wasn't entirely pleased, but the humans in the videos had such strong reactions, and he wondered what Crowley would look like if they did that.
It turns out Crowley looks intoxicating, so, even though it's ridiculous, Aziraphale is content to do it.
Aziraphale has no gag reflex, which he is informed is very hot, so Crowley slides in nice and easy, Aziraphale taking him all the way down. Crowley likes it when he sucks gently to start with, teases him a little. Crowley is satisfying in his mouth, with a human taste that Aziraphale finds fascinating.
"Fuck," Crowley sighs, pushing up and deeper into Aziraphale's throat. The delicate mechanisms of Aziraphale's neck work as he swallows, the metal and plastic rolling against Crowley's cock.
It is not at all what this system was designed for. It is a delightful side benefit.
Crowley's hips work, his cock sliding in and out of Aziraphale's mouth, and Aziraphale sucks the way he likes it, harder now. He could do it so much harder, to the point of damaging Crowley; he's so soft compared to Aziraphale, so fragile. Aziraphale thinks this is the kind of thing where one is supposed to feel a surge of sexual arousal and not a surge of fondness, but it feels so nice either way.
Crowley cries out when he gets close; he always sounds like he's trying to hold back, so Aziraphale swallows around him again and again, like he's dragging the noise out of him. It always works, so Aziraphale keeps doing it.
He hears Crowley groan, and there is the feeling of Crowley's come coating the back of his throat. It doesn't taste like anything, too far back to be touching his taste sensors. He swallows the lot of it down, working his throat more gently so he doesn't overwhelm Crowley, cause him any pain while he's so sensitive.
Crowley goes limp against the bed, and Aziraphale pulls away. Crowley is the picture of debauchery, his skin flushed, sweat standing out at his temples, so perfectly human. It is everything Aziraphale always wanted, even if he didn't understand the extent of it until he had it.
While Crowley is still recovering, Aziraphale snatches the key and holds it up triumphantly. "Now I get my prize."
Crowley pushes him down. "Fair's fair," he says. He bends down over Aziraphale, kissing him, his hand sliding up the inside of his thigh, finding the cap by feel and popping it out. He sets the cap far out of reach, his hand coming back to rest at the juncture of Aziraphale's thighs; there isn't anything there, but it seems like muscle memory, like that's just where it feels natural to touch. Aziraphale is not natural, but the gesture seems nice, pleasant.
"Ready?" Crowley asks.
"Please," Aziraphale says, and Crowley hikes his leg up, holding his thighs open so he can insert the key. Aziraphale feels the same breathless anticipation he always does when Crowley does it; Crowley bends down, kissing him as the port clicks.
He never hears the second click, because that's the split second when it starts, when his circuits overload. What he didn't realize is that the feeling is not precisely all-consuming. He feels great swells of pleasure, his body wracked with it, but he also feels Crowley against him, Crowley's hot body pressing into him, something to grind against as the feeling takes him. It feels just marvelous, so much more than just what the solitary turn of a key offers.
The interesting thing about the SI-14 is that it shuts off Aziraphale's internal clock. He feels suspended there for an age, knowing nothing at all but the pleasure that rips through him, Crowley's weight on top of him. This isn't supposed to be as intense as a human orgasm, but if that's worse, Aziraphale wonders how the humans aren't all dead.
Then again, the other androids don't have a Crowley to do this with. Only Aziraphale has one of those, and he is perfection.
Suddenly it's over; Aziraphale hears more than feels the soft ticking as the port resets itself. Crowley kisses his forehead, his lips, his temple, placing the cover back on the port and the key back on the bedside table before curling up with Aziraphale. It's warm and quiet, and Aziraphale swirls his fingers through Crowley's hair, enjoying how it feels under his hand.
"I learned about something very interesting," Aziraphale says.
"Oh?" Crowley says, not really listening.
"I watched one of your videos," Aziraphale says.
"My videos?" Crowley says, confused.
"Your pornography," Aziraphale says.
Crowley startles. "What?!"
"I found it very informative," Aziraphale says. "You see, they make these attachments for androids of my design. Apparently you vacuum seal them between your legs, and-"
"Holy shit," Crowley says. "Order one. Order ten. Order all of them. I don't care if I ever walk again."
Aziraphale smiles. "I suspected you might say something like that."
Crowley settles back down. "I'm staying even if you don't," he says, in that way he does sometimes, a challenge and a promise at once. This isn't what it started out as; it will never be that again, even if Aziraphale still pays for everything and spoils Crowley whenever he feels like it.
"Good," Aziraphale says. "I'm not letting you go."
The sky over the Mezzanine is a silvery gray, the last rays of sunlight filtering down from Above. The street lights are beginning to come on, casting their cool, blue-balanced light on the sidewalks. It gives everything a glowy quality, the light soft when it mingles with the beginnings of twilight.
"Coming, angel?" Crowley says, holding the door open.
"Right behind you," Aziraphale says, stepping out and locking the door uselessly behind them; useless because the door has a scanner, and useless because the windows are covered in sheets of plastic, the artificial glass being on backorder. Anyone who attempts to remove it will regret it immediately and at length, but there's nothing to stop them from actually reaching through the window frame and touching it.
He and Crowley stroll out into the Mezzanine, discussing whether to have dinner at the place with better drinks or the one with better food, their opinions predictably split. They become lost in the crowd, swallowed up by the mixture of humans and androids going about their business this warm evening.
There are no birds in Her Creation, but somewhere a tune plays out of a speaker that's not connected to anything, a song from Back When.
It's a nice song, if you can hear it over the noise. Maybe you should listen.