It was a warm, sunny afternoon. The day knew better than to be anything but. It was the kind of afternoon one could spend leisurely draped over a chaise lounge with a cold, crisp glass of a dry white wine in hand, condensation damp against one’s fingers.
The sunlight dappled the floor in rippling light as it shone through the glass ceiling of a carefully constructed conservatory off the back of a cottage on the South Downs. The rays carded through the red of Crowley’s hair like a lover’s caress, highlighting the layers of his coif that was, perhaps, a touch too dramatic for a quaint village in the country. Aziraphale adored it nonetheless.
The demon stalked about the glass enclosure with all his snake-like suspicion. From behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses, he was likely glaring at any smudges that dared to streak the expansive windows overlooking the back garden. Uncertainty and judgment writhed within the corporation in dark, twisting loops, rather fruitless in their attempt to conceal the wanting that pulsed at the core of that tangle, Aziraphale no stranger to wanting and having to hide it himself.
But goodness, they hadn’t even seen the bedrooms yet.
“Um.” Aziraphale’s gaze was drawn to the young woman by his side, her fingers curled around one of those newfangled slabs – “Tablets, angel, and yes, for Someone’s sake, it makes a difference.” – as she touched something on the screen. “This property doesn’t have everything on your wishlist, but I thought this made it worth considering.” She nodded at the conservatory and the man-shaped being slinking around the perimeter, likely making sure each corner got a respectable amount of sun.
Warmth blossomed like a sunflower in his chest, petals straining after Crowley as he moved across the room. “You thought correctly, my dear girl,” Aziraphale assured her softly, keeping the conversation between the two of them. “I must say, this is a lovely feature. And, ah, is that a summerhouse I see down the path?”
“Yes, that’s included. I know you didn’t specify much in terms of what kind of outdoor space you wanted, but with your husband’s interest in gardening, I thought he might appreciate it,” she explained, unaware that Aziraphale had stopped listening midway through.
Husband? His control on his corporation slipped as his heart leapt in his chest before attempting to gallop from the confines of his ribcage as the word wrapped around him like a sunbeam. Husband.
It wouldn’t be the first time a human – or angel or demon, for that matter – mistook them for a romantic couple, but it was the first time Aziraphale could consider the prospect without the weight of impossibility threatening to crush the fine tendril of hope. That barely concealed wanting beneath the veil. Free from judgment, from uncertainty. It had been nearly three years since they cut ties with their respective sides, since the world nearly ended and the beauty beyond these window panes burned to ash, but everything was still so new.
Three years was but a blink, a gasp for breath after surfacing from the depths of thousands of years to taste the air for the first time. Aziraphale and Crowley still didn’t know what to do with the sharp oxygen hitting the backs of their throats, lungs unsure whether to reject it or take another breath. Getting a cottage together certainly felt like taking several.
It was a delicate dance, and neither of them took to dancing naturally. They already knew the steps to their Arrangement, moved within it with ease, but changing up the rhythm and adding new options as they spun around one another proved to be, well, a challenge at best. Any progress they’d made in defining their relationship to one another in the past three years had been met with a stumble or missing a beat, too wary of stepping on one another’s toes when it didn’t matter and practically kicking at each other’s ankles when it did. Of the unspoken things that lived between them for six thousand years, which ones needed saying now? Didn’t Crowley know that Aziraphale wanted him to whittle down his resolve the way he was so used to, so comfortable in him wielding his silver tongue like a blade as he cut away each hem and haw? And couldn’t Aziraphale see that out of all the words he did give Crowley freely, when added all up, were hardly worth the weight of the air it took to voice them, conversation for conversation’s sake.
It wasn’t always like that, of course, and some of their best exchanges were full of nonsense and laughter and minor temptations. One couldn’t get by for as long as they had without being able to enjoy the fluff as much as the more philosophical discussions, and those they didn’t have much trouble with either. Only when the subject turned inward did they crawl at what seemed like very much a snail’s pace, and Aziraphale could understand the frustration a five-year-old Warlock had felt when learning the virtue of patience from Brother Snail. Perhaps not the best of God’s creatures for that particular example.
Though, perhaps, had they not been separated for six months at the start of 2020, they would have purchased the cottage sooner. Was it Aziraphale’s fault Crowley didn’t pick up on his hints to come over to the bookshop despite his protestations? And was it Crowley’s fault that he wanted Aziraphale to ask him straight out? The answer to both was yes, something they were able to come to terms with when they formed their bubble that autumn.
But they were here now, months and months later, and had decided they’d had enough of the city and that it was rather silly to go back and forth so constantly. And, in case Pestilence came out to give them all another reason to quarantine everyone again, this way they could share the same shelter. They could have a place that was theirs, for their side, full of their things. Neither of Heaven nor of Hell. Just a cottage in the countryside, with a place for plants and shelves for books, a well-stocked kitchen and a safe spot to park the Bentley.
Doing things the human way, they’d procured an estate agent to assist them in locating the ideal home. So far she’d been doing an admirable job of attempting to appease an angel and a demon who’d lived through six millennia and had a list of abodes longer than the Thames. She’d taken them to several houses on the market in the area, close to the sea and the lovely Devil’s Dyke, perfect for summer walks, and this cottage was stop number four.
“It’s only two bedrooms,” Crowley had scoffed when he looked up the listing on his phone, despite Aziraphale telling him not to. He didn’t want to go into any of the homes with preconceived notions, but Crowley, of course had questions. “We said three. And there’s only one picture. Why’s there only one picture? Can’t trust a listing that only gives one picture. Means they’ve got something to hide.”
“The owners only just listed it,” the estate agent explained. “They’re planning to put more pictures up, but they’re expecting a lot of traffic. It’s a very desirable property.”
“What direction do the bedrooms face? Is it east? Plants’ll do best in a room facing east.” They would do best in whatever room Crowley put them in because they knew better than to dare put up a fuss about window placement when he so graciously allowed them to live, but he wasn’t going to tell the agent that.
“I’m not sure what direction they face, but I don’t think you’ll have to worry about your plants here, Mr. Crowley. There’s-”
“See, my dear, there’s no need to fret,” Aziraphale had cut off his tirade with a soothing gesture.
“Yes.” Aziraphale took his hand and gave the back of it a gentle pat. “We’ll find a proper place to set up your darling plants.”
A handful of indignant and offended noises were pulled from his throat, giving their agent enough time to interject, “Let me just show you…”
Hence why the conservatory had been their first stop. They’d caught glimpses of the powder blue kitchen and dove gray sitting room only because they were on the way, but the glass enclosure filled with light and stands for plants a plenty had been all Crowley needed to quiet his complaints. It didn’t matter if neither of the bedrooms faced east if he could keep his plants out here. The need for a third bedroom rendered moot as well with the addition of this space to play with, which left one for Aziraphale’s books and the other for Crowley’s large, luxurious bed and blackout curtains, in case he needed to sleep away another crisis. Of course, Aziraphale hoped that living together would somehow give Crowley a bit of incentive to stay awake. Or at least cut his naps down to a week or two at a time.
“Mr. Crowley? Mr. Crowley, are you alright?” The estate agent attempted to snatch his attention back, but Aziraphale could only blink at her a moment before realizing she was addressing him and not Crowley himself.
“Ah, my apologies. What was it you were saying?” he asked, not bothering to correct her. It would… well, it would raise questions that they really didn’t need to waste time answering if she was assuming they were married. Not when there was more of the house to see.
“Did you want to go out into the garden?” she asked.
“Yes. Yes, I think we should. Come along, my dear,” he called to Crowley - his supposed husband, he thought with a barely suppressed shiver. “I’m certain the glass panels are properly intimidated.”
“Can’t have them smudging,” Crowley argued, but followed them out to the little garden path to take in the planters, summerhouse, and cherry trees.
Admiring the land from within the shade of the little covered patio area, Aziraphale watched as Crowley examined the planters with a curious arch to his eyebrows. To Aziraphale’s knowledge, he’d yet to consider growing plants that produced food or culinary enhancements. With a little wiggle, the angel wondered if he could convince the demon to try his hand at it so that they could cook with them. Provided he didn’t scold them too much. Aziraphale doubted it would be good for the flavor profile.
“S’not bad,” Crowley offered up, refusing to look at their agent as he sauntered back towards the house. “But doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have a good book room. Let’s see that next.”
The agent smiled at Aziraphale as he sighed. “That’s sweet that he’s looking after what you want, too.”
With a chuckle, Aziraphale stepped down from the summerhouse and straightened his waistcoat. “Oh, yes, but don’t let him hear you. He has his pride, you know.”
“Oi,” Crowley called back over his shoulder, definitely hearing them.
Unfortunately, it also meant he heard what came next. “You seem to know each other very well. How long have you been married?” she asked.
Aziraphale froze. “Well, er…” He twisted the ring on his pinky finger as Crowley swiveled around to face them, both eyebrows arched high above his sunglasses as the angel dithered on a response. Well? “I suppose… well, we’ve known each other for quite some time, but ah, didn’t really… commit until fairly recently. About three years?”
Crowley’s lips were twitching now, unable - and possibly unwilling - to hide his mirth. “Sure about that, angel?”
His corporation blushed in a mortifying manner, but he lifted his chin and ignored the demon’s taunts. “Yes. Quite. It’ll be four years in August.”
“Mm. Right, August. How the time flies. Feels like it was only yesterday,” Crowley interjected smoothly, still grinning like a snake as he sashayed his way over to stand at Aziraphale’s side. “Or, you know, a minute ago.”
“Oh, hush, you ridiculous thing,” Aziraphale huffed.
“You married me,” Crowley pointed out, apparently more delighted with this game than Aziraphale gave him credit for, and oh how his heart trembled at the claim. “Think that makes you the ridiculous one.”
“How very dare you.”
Their estate agent appeared charmed by their antics nonetheless. “It must be nice to be so comfortable with each other after all these years.”
Try six thousand. Their intimate knowledge of the other had settled around them by the turn of the twentieth century, anything that came to light in the past three years was simply what to do with that knowledge now that they were free to acknowledge it at all. And even after three years there was still something between them, holding them back. They were looking at each other through glass panelled walls, still not quite close enough to touch.
Aziraphale bestowed a kind smile upon her while Crowley walked away. “Thank you, dear girl,” he managed. “But part of me still can’t help but wonder at the time lost.”
“I wouldn’t consider it lost if you still ended up where you are today though, yeah? At least you still have a future together,” she pointed out, stirring the hope tucked away in the center of his corporation. The wanting.
“Oi, house hunter,” Crowley hollered from the conservatory, already back inside and waiting. “Book room. Where is it?”
With a snap the cottage could’ve been theirs, no questions, paperwork miraculously completed and the keys in their pockets the next day. Of course neither really knew just what the process truly entailed these days. Aziraphale’s experience in real estate dated back to before the 1800s when he purchased the bookshop and Crowley’s was limited to whatever happened to be on television at the time - Cowboy Builders a particular favorite of his, even if it was sorely lacking in cowboys - but that was hardly an obstacle for either of them.
“Shall we telephone you tomorrow with our decision, dear girl?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Though the sooner we get you in, the better. The owners are expecting a few more offers on the place, just so you both know.”
There wouldn’t be any other offers.
“Not to worry. We’ll, ah, make our decision quickly. Faster than you can say-”
“Don’t say ‘tickety-boo.’” Crowley turned away and headed for the Bentley. “Let’s go, angel.”
Aziraphale simply smiled apologetically, though it was rather insincere as far as apologies went, appearing far too pleased with his entire situation. “Is there anything else you need from us before we go our separate ways?”
“No, just that when you are ready to make an offer, there’ll be some paperwork we’ll have to submit. Are you planning on staying in the area?”
They hadn’t been, but upon reflection did think it an excellent idea to stop into a pub for a drink to deliberate and ensure they were both on the same page, so to speak. The estate agent gave them the name of a place close by where they could have that drink and something to nibble while they chatted about what sort of offer to make and what their back-up plan should be in case the sellers countered their offer.
While they might have been doing things the human way, they weren’t complete idiots. It helped that they planned on putting down a cash offer over asking, but a little demonic or angelic insurance never hurt.
The village their cottage was situated in was a sweet little thing. Crowley was pleased to see there was a cafe and a bakery off the main road, his lips twitching into a reluctant smile when Aziraphale finally spotted them and gave a giddy little wiggle.
“Just think, Crowley. We could be regulars there.”
“S’not like we have much of a choice with all the options,” the demon teased, satisfied with the huff and sidelong glance he received in turn.
The pub was up to both of their standards from first glance, and there was an inn on the first and second floor. While they could make it back to London rather quickly, they’d both decided it couldn’t hurt to spend some time in the village they might come to call their new home before calling their agent in the morning.
Crowley gave it a good onceover before nodding at the bar. “Go and get us a seat, angel. I’ll check us in.”
“Shall I order for you, my dear?”
“Mnneh, something drinkable,” he advised helpfully, to which Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Something strong,” he amended as he strolled over to the front desk.
Aziraphale selected a scotch off their top shelf, then a bottle of pinot noir. While the fair was very much restricted to pub food, he supposed he ought to resign himself to a shift in cuisine when they decided to eat out. It was a sacrifice he’d been willing to make, however, and after touring all the kitchens earlier that day, he had to admit he was rather looking forward to experimenting beyond baking. Especially if Crowley planned to cultivate a vegetable crop for them in the back garden. Oh, he could envision it now. Crowley bringing in fresh aubergine and courgettes, tomatoes ripe off the vine. Perhaps they could grow grapes and fruit trees and make their own wine without miracles.
If Aziraphale could teach himself to bake, he believed anything was possible. Oh, but how delightfully domestic would that be? Eating a dinner entirely of their own design.
He ordered the whole baked camembert with garlic and rosemary, fig relish, and ciabatta bread to start, an adequate companion for the Domaine de Valmoissine. Crowley seemed to approve as he slid into the seat across from him, indulging in a swig of the ruby wine after Azirapale poured. It stained his lips and his soft mouth with red, as sumptuous as a blushing fruit fresh from the vine. Aziraphale had to take a long drink of his own glass just to cope.
If they were married, there would be nothing to stop him from leaning towards him, inhaling his leather and earthy scent that tickled his senses with just a hint of smoke, and kissing the wine from his lips. But they weren’t actually married, had no label at all aside from their side. It worked well enough for them, except for the fact that there wasn’t a precise definition as to what that entailed and what was allowed. Or how to even start, for that matter.
So instead of kissing him, Aziraphale talked to distract his mouth and Crowley hummed in all the right places, interjecting as needed. They spoke about the cottage, it’s appeal and which rooms would suit their respective needs. Aziraphale’s pulse fluttered in his wrists - an odd place to feel one’s heart beat, in his opinion - as he held his breath and drank his wine, waiting for Crowley to bring up why he didn’t correct their estate agent. Why he’d gone along with the ruse of a marriage. Questions would be understandable now that it was only the two of them. They could even laugh about it, maybe. Such a human construct, marriage. The idea of an angel and a demon needing the labels and definitions that went alongside the institution that was intended to join households together and later manifested as the culmination of a romantic courtship… Well, wasn’t it ridiculous?
But Crowley said nothing, conversation weaving into various lanes as the bottle emptied and evening trussed the sky outside the window. The wine fogged up the edges of their vision with a warm haze, fingertips daring to brush as they gestured, the toes of their shoes bumping under the table. One of their unspoken languages they were equally fluent in, the hidden touches that could mean nothing at all. No one would look twice at the idle way Crowley’s fingers ghosted over the backs of Aziraphale’s knuckles, unaware of the electricity that sizzled beneath their skin as the ethereal and occult voids within yawned with a yearning yet to be filled.
No one questioned when they ordered another bottle to take upstairs with them, just as no one questioned their lack of luggage as they sought out their room for the night. Another hidden touch, Aziraphale’s palm smoothing down the slope of Crowley’s spine as he opened the door. The demon swept an arm inward, inviting Aziraphale in as if he were personally responsible for the room.
Perhaps he was, Aziraphale realized as the electricity in his veins sputtered to a dim spark, eyes wide as he took in the sight.
A double bed wasn’t so unusual, hardly cause for alarm when only one of them slept, but the rose petals and plate of chocolate covered strawberries resting on the duvet were not what he’d been expecting. Nor the clawfoot bathtub indiscreetly claiming center stage of their intimate accommodations, a bucket of ice and bottle of champagne still chilled to the ideal temperature sitting beside it.
Somehow, they’d been given the honeymoon suite.
“Seemed fitting for our first night as a married couple,” Crowley drawled, entirely too pleased with himself as he slipped past Aziraphale to take in the room. “And wouldn’t you know all the other rooms were booked? Lucky us.”
He inspected the bed as if there was any possibility it would be anything less than the plushest of pillow tops with the highest thread count known to Crowley. With a hum, he plucked up one of the strawberries and held it out in offering, not at all surprised to see the angel still lingering in the doorway. The red of the fruit stood out against his fingertips and Aziraphale was once again reminded of Crowley’s wine-stained mouth and wondered if strawberries would stain just as prettily.
At least, that was what he wondered until the mortification set in. A sensation quite the opposite of blushing stole the color from his cheeks as he looked at Crowley, ashamed and humiliated. Of course he should have expected something like this. Of course Crowley wouldn’t take the slip from earlier without having a little fun with it.
“Stop it, Crowley.” His heart gave a weak little lurch as Crowley stepped closer with the strawberry, still toying with him as it wavered invitingly in the space between them.
“It’s no apple, but the bloke at the front desk said this would be better suited to this sort of thing.”
“This isn’t funny, Crowley.” Aziraphale took a step back reflexively and that seemed to still the demon in his tracks.
“It’s just a joke, Aziraphale.”
“Not if you’re the only one laughing,” he snapped, even more humiliated now that Crowley was backing down. Of course it was a joke, hadn’t he just been thinking about how ridiculous the prospect of an angel and demon marrying was?
Crowley moved away from him quickly, as if it was his presence that burned him rather than his own embarrassment. “I’ll get us another room,” he told him earnestly as he lowered the strawberry back to the plate, then held his palms open, like soothing a spooked horse - though, admittedly, Crowley had never been that good with horses, nor was that a decent comparison for Aziraphale, nothing against the creatures themselves. “Alright, angel? Just don’t- mmngh. Just wait a moment.”
The demon moved in a flurry of dark limbs, practically lunging for the phone on the nightstand as Aziraphale watched from the doorway. Hackles that had raised so sharply smoothed out as the ridiculous creature tripped over his own feet and didn’t even attempt to look cool about it. Instead he bumped a knobby knee or elbow against the nightstand’s corner and swore bitterly.
“Thought you said it was the only room-”
“‘Course it’s not the only bloody room,” Crowley replied as he lifted the receiver, connecting to the lobby without having to dial for it.
Aziraphale blinked, his hands clasping over his middle as he watched the way Crowley’s jaw tightened when he ground his teeth together. The way his skin had lost the pleasant flush of wine, pale and stretched taut over the angles of his face. Aziraphale was struck with the urge to reach out and stroke the point of his cheekbone with his thumb. To feel the pressure of skin on skin, as close as these bodies would allow them to be.
Oh. Oh, Crowley had been just having a bit of fun. He wanted to embarrass him, yes, because sometimes it did him well to be brought back down to Earth. He could get caught up in his own head, in his wonderings and worries over the right and wrong thing. Just as he could pull Crowley up to the surface when he fell too far down his own dark pit of regret and rejection.
Aziraphale blinked again as the front desk answered the phone. “Yeah, listen, there’s only one bed and it turns out we need two. And there’s… moths? Moths in the room. Are moths usually an inn problem? No? ...Bedbugs! That’s the one. Right, so look, there’s bedbugs in here, we need another room.”
Crowley’s spine straightened with a jerk and his head turned to Aziraphale as he stepped further into the room. His eyes were unreadable beyond his tinted lenses as he watched him close the door behind him and listened to the voice on the other end of the line.
“There are no other rooms…” Crowley repeated slowly, so Aziraphale could see the shape of each word on his lips. “Right. No, that’s- s’fine. We’ll stay. What’s a couple of moths anyway. Yep.” He hung up without saying goodbye and without tearing his gaze from Aziraphale.
With a slight shrug, Aziraphale let his eyes sweep over the room consideringly. “I suppose it is a perfectly suitable room. And it’d be a shame to let the champagne go to waste.”
“Yeah…” Crowley replied softly, but he didn’t relax, still coiled tightly, preparing to flee if need be.
His turn to be soothed then, this part of the dance Aziraphale more than familiar with. “It is a rather… interesting choice having the bathtub in the middle of the room.”
“People get up to rather interesting activities on their honeymoons.”
The corners of Aziraphale’s lips lifted. “That’s not entirely inaccurate.”
“It’s entirely accurate.”
“Are those fresh strawberries?” Aziraphale pointed to the plate, crossing to the bed with a steady stride to select one. “Or do you suppose they were the frozen kind?”
“You think I’d let anyone dare to try and give you anything other than fresh strawberries? That hurts, angel.”
“One can never be too certain when it comes to you and your jokes.”
They were fresh. Just as plump and sweet as their coloring promised. Aziraphale ate one slowly, both to savor the fruit and slightly bitter chocolate as well as to let Crowley bask in the satisfaction of watching him eat.
“Would you plant strawberries in your garden, my dear?”
“Might do,” he murmured, head tilting ever so slightly as Aziraphale picked up another.
“Oh, I do hope so. There really isn’t anything that compares to fresh strawberries. Perhaps cherries, in the winter. Or crisp apples in autumn. Pears.” Aziraphale’s brows lifted in silent expectancy as he cleaned the chocolate flecks from his fingers.
“Of course bloody pears.”
“A few pear trees would frame the house quite nicely, I should think.”
“Oh, would they?” Crowley finally relaxed, shoulders loose and languid as he sat back against the bed. “You an expert on gardens now?”
“Well, I did guard the first,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“Yeah, and look how that turned out.”
“That was all your influence.”
“You helped. Giving them your flaming sword.”
“A joint effort, then. Our side in action from the start, I suppose.”
Aziraphale snapped a chair into existence beside the lamp in the corner, taking a seat there as he made to pour them more wine and sample some of the champagne. The television screen mounted on the wall flickered on at Crowley’s demand, the dull humming of voices a soundtrack to their easy banter, finding their footing once again in their dance. They eased back into it, into each other as they always did after six thousand years of knowing one another. Six thousand years of wine and fruit and oysters and crêpes and whisky and scotch. Of concerts and museums and plays.
Six thousand years of excuses.
Coats were discarded, and Crowley’s waistcoat had been snapped somewhere, leaving him in his black henley and tight jeans. His sunglasses had found a home on the nightstand at some point. Aziraphale kept his own waistcoat on, as comfortable as the angel could be. They unwound around one another, feeding off the other’s sense of contentment.
As the night wore on, the conversation slowed to a gentle stop as Crowley let his brain grow sluggish and sleepy from the champagne, golden eyes heavy-lidded as he watched something in black and white on the screen. Aziraphale conjured one of his books that didn’t mind traveling here and there on a whim, content to read into the night when the demon eventually succumbed to sleep. He heard the television quiet, then the rustle of Crowley’s clothes against the duvet as he rolled onto his side. Flicking his gaze up over the top of his book, Aziraphale found himself sinking into the amber gold eyes watching him silently.
Crowley watched for several pages. At some point he pushed himself up to remove his boots and shove down the duvet so he could wriggle beneath it and the sheets. His hair fanned out against the pillow, tempting fingers to card through yet again, like it had in the sunlight. It seemed even the night couldn’t quell the urge to touch.
No, not when they were both so used to wanting in the dark.
“Why’d you say we were married?”
The question came once he’d settled again, comfortable and partially concealed, protected with a layer of cotton between them. Aziraphale swallowed, fingertips drumming on the page as he lowered his book to his lap. Even expecting the question, he didn’t really have an answer.
“Well, it wasn’t the first time someone has assumed that we’re… intimately acquainted with one another.”
“Yeah, but not married. Haven’t heard that before,” Crowley murmured.
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. “Does it make that much of a difference?” he asked cooly.
A series of muffled sounds were swallowed by the duvet before Crowley answered properly. “Guess not.”
It did. Somehow it did for both of them, though Aziraphale was certain neither of them could explain it. Crowley fidgeted in bed and Aziraphale continued to tap a rhythmless beat against his book.
“I also thought-” Aziraphale found himself speaking before he’d really committed to it, so chose his next words carefully. “Well, I thought it might be simpler to work off that assumption. Certainly would make the entire house hunting process easier.”
“Does it?” Crowley asked from his lump on the bed.
“People don’t normally question married persons when they decide to purchase a home together,” he pointed out. “It’s assumed that’s an obvious step that they’d want.”
“So you’re saying people wouldn’t understand if we wanted to buy a house if we weren’t married…”
Aziraphale shifted in his chair. “No, not exactly. Just that it makes things easier. And I didn’t want to contradict her and have to come up with a reason she could comprehend why two gentlemen of our apparent age and dispositions would want to live together.”
“Speak for yourself ‘bout apparent age and disposition,” Crowley muttered, though he sounded more petulant than offended and it made Aziraphale smile fondly. “So ‘just because’ wasn’t a good enough answer?”
“Most humans wouldn’t accept a simple ‘just because,’ my dear. You have eating from the tree of knowledge to thank for that.”
Aziraphale watched him pout for a minute or two, until his expression mellowed into a still pool of contemplation. Even when Crowley realized he was being seen, Aziraphale didn’t look away. He let himself be seen right back, for just that moment. In the half light of this borrowed room, they both peeled back the tangled layers to peek at the wanting winking like a candle’s flame in the dark.
The duvet pooled in Crowley’s lap as he sat up, sober and somber as he spoke. “Why did this room scare you?”
Aziraphale stared back, pulse quickening. “It didn’t.”
“It’s just a question, angel.” Crowley angled his head as he tried to read him, so Aziraphale looked anywhere but his lovely eyes. “It’s not going to bite.”
“Of course not,” he agreed, hoping that would be the end of it, but Crowley had all the patience of Brother Snail and Sister Slug, a virtue that he’d never quite lost. Not when it came to him, at least. “I wasn’t afraid. Not of the room and not of this question either. I wasn’t expecting it. It… I didn’t know what your intentions were. What you wanted.”
“You know what I want, angel,” he said slowly. “You’ve known since… Someone knows when, but I haven’t tried to hide it for a long time.”
“You said it was a joke.”
“Just because I want something doesn’t mean it isn’t still funny.”
Aziraphale exhaled in a sharp, sudden huff, and he could understand as frustrated amusement swelled alongside heartache and longing. “You wily old serpent.”
“Demon,” he pointed out, unhelpfully, falling silent for a few beats which may have been seconds or minutes or hours, then asked, “What do you want, Aziraphale?”
Crowley’s voice was low, the wanting spilling through the gaps in his defenses as the words scraped against his throat long since chafed from asking, over and over again. What do you want? Anything, I’ll give you anything. Take you anywhere. Let me do something.
Aziraphale stared at the patterned carpet floor, at the corner of a worn diamond that had been tread upon for decades. Faded, color rubbed right out of the fibers. He could remember when humans first dyed fabrics, the air filled with the strong, pungent odor as textiles were soaked in ochre and hands stained with indigo. Crowley would remember, too. His own eyes, colored like the liquid ochre themselves, were wide as he watched once white wool emerge from pools in hues of reds, pinks, blues, and goldenrod yellows. It was the first time Aziraphale saw Crowley wear something other than black, unable to resist trying a robe steeped in red.
“Clever humans,” he’d said with more fondness than Aziraphale could ever recall hearing as he admired the shifting color in the light and shadow. “They’ll make art out of anything. Give them the colors and they’ll paint the world. What do you want, Aziraphale? What colors suit an angel?”
“Well, I couldn’t possibly. Vanity isn’t becoming for an angel, Crowley.”
“It’s not vanity to appreciate someone’s creation. Blue would look good on you. Bring out your eyes.”
Crowley had always loved the artists. The painters, musicians, philosophers, artisans of all kinds. Aziraphale could appreciate them as well, drawn to the poets and playwrights of centuries past, but he didn’t know their passion. What it felt like to create. Crowley once stained his hands with starstuff, lovely fingers smudged with indigo as he painted the sky.
Aziraphale had never seen it, but he could imagine the wonder Crowley must have been.
Would you paint for me? He could have asked. I want to watch you blossom like a budding jasmine. Moonlight on the grove, dappled in starlight. What would your yearning heart create now that you’ve loved and loved and loved me? Show me. I want to see.
But, oh, had Crowley shown him time and time again.
He was buying a cottage with him, money no object for beings like them, but Crowley was giving up his more modern, sleek aesthetic for a homey cottage nestled in the chalk hills of Southern England for a cozy kitchen and plush furniture and quiet evenings in. Where there were only two pubs in town and hardly a nightlife to speak of. Where he would put up a fuss over tartan throw pillows and too many books and move Aziraphale’s clutter in an attempt to compartmentalize it all. Because he wanted a life with him. An eternity with him.
And what was Aziraphale giving up in return? Solitude and silence with which to immerse himself in his books? Crowley would give it to him, if he only asked. Crowley would give him anything. What do you want?
“It’s so much,” he whispered, hands holding fast to his book in his lap if only to keep them from reaching out and taking, taking, taking. Desire, longing, the craving that cored out the center of him that no amount of human comforts could fill… He didn’t know what to do with it all.
Movement on the bed had Aziraphale flicking his gaze up. Crowley’s shoulders had sagged, golden eyes bright in the light of the single lamp. His smile was cast in the shadow of his side of the room - his bedroom, Aziraphale’s study, Crowley’s space, Aziraphale’s space - the defined lines still cutting through their borrowed room. Aziraphale’s breath hitched, something too soft in Crowley’s stare stuffed in his lungs.
“S’alright, angel. Go back to your book,” he told him. “You can wake me for breakfast.”
With that, Crowley laid himself back down. He rolled onto his side, back to Aziraphale and the light from the lamp, then went still as he prepared for sleep. For several minutes, Aziraphale’s corporation didn’t dare breathe, to keep from disturbing the demon or from choking on the too soft fibers of Crowley’s fondness. When he didn’t breathe, he could pretend time wasn’t slipping through his fingers like sand, spilling from every crevice even as his grip tightened. For eternal beings, time should have meant nothing. The countdown to the end of the world had stopped. Centuries, millennia, eternity on Earth stretched before them once again.
And Crowley still believed that when Aziraphale said something was “too much” that he meant it as a criticism of the demon’s efforts.
He closed the book without saving his page and set it aside. Shoes toed off and set by the chair, Aziraphale padded over to the bedside, the right side left open while Crowley curled up on the left. For another minute, neither of them moved.
Aziraphale slowly lowered himself to the edge of the bed, gaze still fixated on Crowley. He bent one knee and drew that leg up onto the mattress, then the other followed. He slid over the duvet cover until he was a breadth’s width away, eyes level with the nape of Crowley’s neck. He wiggled a bit closer, then banded an arm around Crowley’s waist so he could pull himself flush with his back. Bowing his head, his forehead touched where Crowley’s wings would meet on another plane, and he could feel his warmth radiating through the thin cotton of his shirt.
Crowley didn’t move, but Aziraphale knew he was awake. He could feel every muscle tense in anticipation, in fear.
It was still Aziraphale’s turn to soothe him. “This,” he murmured, squeezing him about the middle as he pressed himself closer. “I want this.”
A wispy, trembling breath escaped the confines of Crowley’s chest with a shudder, his hand settling over Aziraphale’s to keep him there. “Angel-”
“I want your records on a shelf in the study,” he continued before he lost his nerve. “And your excessive espresso contraption that takes up too much space in the kitchen. I want to have a chair in your conservatory, not your ridiculous throne but something comfortable, so I can take tea while I admire your lovely plants, and there’ll be a chair for you, so you can join me when you’re not prowling around the place pestering the poor dears. I want a sofa in the study for you to lounge on while you look up nonsense on your mobile telephone while I restore an old first edition, I believe we could fit the one from the bookshop in there. And we could pick out a new sofa for the sitting room. And I want…”
Aziraphale swallowed, his throat tightening around his words as they threatened to overtake them both. “I want to lay in bed with you. On occasion. Just like this. Beside you.” Where I belong.
The hand over his squeezed, then was gone as Crowley rolled in one fluid motion to face him. Aziraphale drew his arms back, but his wrists were caught in his long-fingered grasp, loose enough to break, but neither of them wanted it to. Eyes the color of a storm at its peak looked at the demon through pale lashes, lashes that fluttered gently over his cheeks as Crowley pressed a kiss over one eyelid. Aziraphale twisted his wrist so he could hold onto his hand, drawing it close to his chest, drawing it up to his mouth so lips could touch the backs of those fingers.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley murmured, his name unholy benediction on his lips.
“I want you,” Aziraphale breathed, the swell of love in his chest cresting and breaking over him with shuddering waves. “I want you so much, Crowley-”
“Shh…” Crowley rubbed his thumb over his knuckles. “You’ve got me, angel. You’ve got me,” he murmured until Aziraphale relaxed beside him, awash with his love rather than drowning in it, soft and content. Just as he should be. “But you know…”
“Know what?” Aziraphale asked.
“Well, wasn’t going to say anything, but technically you’re on the bed. I’m in the bed. Might have to make some adjustments there.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “You ridiculous thing. I thought it was something serious.”
“I’m entirely serious. This just won’t do.”
Crowley shifted closer to the center of the bed to meet him, erasing the line between them by kicking aside the duvet. Aziraphale huffed out a laugh and wiggled to assist until their knees touched, a socked foot skimming a calf over their clothes. Grinning, Crowley drew the duvet back over them both.
“You have any idea how long I’ve been trying to get you in bed?”
“Oh, darling, that’s such an obvious line.” But it got a giggle out of the angel all the same, especially when Crowley fixed him with a look while entangled with him in the sheets. “You can do better.”
“You’re already here, don’t think I have to.” Crowley watched him with a tenderness that could only come from six thousand years of loving someone, and Aziraphale felt the waves of it caressing him as if to tempt him closer, as if he wasn’t already submerged in the ocean of his own love. There was still another question Crowley wanted to ask, but the words didn’t come quickly. Instead he clutched his hands like he expected him to go at the first sign of slack, to pull away and reject him again.
So Aziraphale asked his own question. “Can I stay here with you?”
Crowley’s breath punched out of him, looking so lost Aziraphale had to wrap his arms around him again to keep him. “Always, angel. You don’t have to ask.”
“I rather think I do,” he murmured. “I want you to know… you must know how I feel, Crowley, what I want.”
“I do,” Crowley assured him. “Might not feel it the way you do, but I know.”
“You still deserve to hear it. From time to time.”
“So do you.”
“Well, aren’t we just a couple of old sillies then?” Aziraphale smiled gently, even as Crowley sighed dramatically and closed his eyes against it.
“Now you’re just talking nonsense,” he muttered, then cracked open one eye. “You’ll stay the whole night?”
Aziraphale lifted his hand, finally cupping his cheek and stroking the delicate shape of it. Then he leaned forward and claimed a kiss from his mouth until a desperate little sound spilled from him, the wanting surging through them both, essences bright and shining. It was a slow, tender kiss, as slow as anything else they’d done these six thousand years, but they had to make it well-worth the wait.
“Dearest heart,” Aziraphale breathed against his lips. “I’ll stay with you forever.”
They kissed again, or perhaps they never stopped. Dozens of kisses spiralling into one long expression of love, until Crowley couldn’t keep his eyes open despite his hungry mouth yearning for more. With the pad of his thumb, Aziraphale nudged his lips closed and watched him struggle to stay awake. Sleep not needed, yet the demon so accustomed to it after centuries.
“Sleep, my dear. I’ll be right here when you wake.”
Crowley did. And Aziraphale was.
It was a warm, sunny afternoon. The day knew better than to be anything but. It was the kind of afternoon Aziraphale liked to spend in the conservatory with a good book and surrounded by the vibrant leaves of Crowley’s plants, a glass of cold, crisp wine just within reach. He reached for it then, without looking up from the page, but it wasn’t the damp, cool glass that met his fingertips, but the buttery soft flesh of a pear. Aziraphale looked up, Crowley standing over him as he pressed the fruit from their garden into his hand.
As Crowley sprawled in the chair beside him, stealing a sip of Aziraphale’s wine, the angel bit into the fruit and hummed around the burst of sweet juice on his tongue. He reached to his left as Crowley reached for his right, their fingers interlocking and golden bands glinted around ring fingers in the light of the day.