Written for: atomais
Notes: The request for this story went above and beyond any expectations for a specific prompt I'd have hoped to get my hands on, and I absolutely can't believe I did get my hands on it (so, thank you, atomais!)—Aziraphale and Crowley move into that cottage together in the South Downs. Cue people treating them like a couple, fawning over their pet-names for each other, and generally believing them to be life-partners. Eventually, they just decide that, really, they've technically been dating for six thousand years and might as well give it a go. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the source of the title, because I love games like that.
Summary: A change of scenery often means more than you bargained for.
The bookshop walls were crumbling.
Aziraphale had never particularly noticed this before, but then, he'd never particularly had the time or the inclination. He wasn't even sure he could chalk it up to time or inclination, in fact, given that he was, right now, three sheets to the wind and attempting to explain this to Crowley.
“But I like your walls,” protested Crowley. He wasn't drunk enough to hiss, not yet, which was mildly disappointing. There was something endearing about the tendency.
“Whatever for?” Aziraphale asked, indignant, and half of what had been intended for his mouth went down the front of his shirt. He'd leave it for the dry cleaners to quarrel with.
“They have, er,” Crowley said, wagging his index finger at the article he seemed to wish to name, but couldn't. “That thing. Mauve. Moulded, has got flowers on. You know.”
“Wainscot,” sighed Aziraphale, refilling Crowley's glass. “And it's moulding, I fear.”
The demon's yellow eyes widened a little, as if, in his present state, he'd forgot they were perfectly capable of doing so without lifting the bottle. He'd abandoned his sunglasses about an hour ago, as Aziraphale had kept complaining of the glare. Also, his drunken expressions were priceless.
“Replace it,” Crowley suggested in a rare moment of lucidity. “They've got a special on at B&Q.”
“Couldn't possibly,” Aziraphale muttered. “I'd know it was a sham. And this is a listed property.”
“You've got funny ideas about deteriorat—um. Interior decorating.”
“Rub it in, why don't you,” lamented Aziraphale, “since you're so bloody good at it.”
“No, 'm not,” Crowley insisted. “Besidesss, my flat's about as tired as your shop.”
Aziraphale frowned. “But I thought you liked my—”
“I do,” said Crowley, quickly, with a touch of guilt. “Better than mine, anyway.”
“Right.” Aziraphale tapped his chin; a bit more wine ought to do the trick. “Clearly, dear boy, we're in a sorry state of affairs with regard to our respective residences.”
Crowley nodded morosely into his glass. “The carpet mocksss me.”
Whether it had to do with the hissing or the fact that Crowley looked utterly miserable, Aziraphale couldn't rightly say. However, what he did know was that this was simply not on, and that something had to be done about it. Sooner, not later. Perhaps even immediately.
“We ought to relocate,” Aziraphale suggested.
“As in...leave London?” asked Crowley, as if such a thing were inconceivable.
“Well, yes. It would entail packing up—or, if you like, paying someone else to pack you up—and making a fresh start. Somewhere they don't know you.”
“Angel, this is London. Nobody knows me. Or you, for that matter.”
“I think you would be surprised,” said Aziraphale, carefully. He was dimly aware that this was territory that perhaps required more gravity than they were giving it, and so he sobered up just enough to realize that Crowley's eyes were the slightest bit manic, even afraid.
Crowley chewed on his lower lip, and then glanced up, nervously tapping his glass.
“You're saying we should both go?”
Aziraphale blinked. As far as he was concerned, that wasn't even negotiable.
“Of course. What did you think I was saying?”
“Well, there was you this and you that; I thought—”
“Yes, but in general terms. What I said first was that we ought to relocate.”
Crowley's color had gone back to normal, as if he'd seen the merit in sobering up himself.
“You do realize,” he said, slowly, “that we've made an awfully big decision whilst inebriated.”
“Nothing is set in stone,” replied Aziraphale, reasonably. “We might change our minds.”
“Might,” Crowley echoed, regarding his sunglasses. He put them on. “As far as location, what did you have in mind? I veto Yorkshire and the entirety of Wales.”
Aziraphale spluttered. “But Llangollen—”
“Fine. What about Scotland?”
“Edinburgh is all right, and Inverness might be worth the mischief.”
“Those poor tourists,” Aziraphale groaned. “Crowley, really.”
He grinned, abashed, not snake-like in the least.
“It was worth a shot. Cornwall?”
Aziraphale thought about that for a few seconds, and then shook his head.
“I quite fancy Dublin. There's a lot of excellent property sitting empty.”
“Too volatile,” said Crowley. “I wouldn't invest.”
“Choosy,” Aziraphale muttered. “What's that leave us?”
“You can never go wrong with a seaside cottage, can you?”
“Perhaps Cornwall's a good choice after all.”
Crowley traced patterns on the table, as if trying to remember something.
“Bit too fashionable, now that you mention it.”
“But you mentioned it.”
“Never mind,” Crowley said, snapping his fingers. “South Downs. There are some pockets of not-too-trendy if you look hard enough, and you can see France on a clear day.”
“I thought you were all in favor of trendy,” said Aziraphale.
Crowley wrinkled his nose.
“Trendy things, yes, but have you got much experience with trendy people?”
Aziraphale smirked behind his hand.
“I'm faking it,” Crowley snapped. “There's a difference. Anyway, that's where I'd go.”
“Then let's,” said Aziraphale, converting the smirk effortlessly into a smile.
* * *
“Kitchen,” said the estate agent, stepping over the fine line between hardwood and tile as if superstitious. “As you can see, the window over the sink affords a lovely sea view.”
“Oh, that's perfect,” Aziraphale practically cooed. “My dear, won't you have a look?”
Crowley wrinkled his nose and stepped up beside him.
“Bit small,” he said. “The window, I mean.”
“The bay window in the bedroom's just stunning,” said the estate agent, as if she'd just been handed the key to clinching this sale. “If you'll follow me this way—”
“No,” Crowley said. “I'd rather not. Let's have a look outside, angel,” he added, because, really, it had been happening since time out of mind and, by now, it was patently ridiculous. Best just to play along and let people think what they wanted to think.
And try not to think about it.
They'd chosen a bad day for viewing. The sky was a muddled shade that Crowley suspected he ought to like, but didn't. The back stoop became a sort of boardwalk and meandered towards where the grassy embankment dropped off. The sand was white and crisp in spite of the overcast pall that made sea and sky seem to fade together.
“It'll be no trouble, of course,” said Aziraphale, staring out over the choppy waves. “I rarely indulge in sleep. You may do with the bedroom as you please.”
Crowley shoved his hands deep in his pockets and stared at his feet.
“We're really going to do this, aren't we.”
“Of course we are,” said Aziraphale, turning to beam at the estate agent, who had finally caught up with them. “Are there any structural issues of which we ought to be aware?”
“For nineteen-twenties construction, it's quite sound,” the young woman reassured him, running her expensive pen down her cheap clipboard. “It's been renovated several times by past owners. The boiler's in a bit of a state, but that can be replaced before you move in.”
“Please,” said Crowley, acidly. “Some of us appreciate hot water.”
“There, now,” Aziraphale said, patting his shoulder. “We'll be all sorted.”
“You'll take it, then?” asked the estate agent, entirely too hopeful for Crowley's liking.
“Of course we will,” Crowley snapped. “Make an offer, that is.”
The young woman blanched.
“What he means,” Aziraphale said, “is that he's sure that extra five thousand is merely a formality, and, that being done away with, we're more than happy to go through with it.”
“I'll contact the owner and get back to you,” said the estate agent, slightly crestfallen.
Two hours later, as they were sitting in a beach-front café sipping hot cocoa and enjoying still more views of the dismal weather, Crowley's mobile rang. He answered and said mmm-hmmm a lot in response to the young woman's excited wittering, mostly to savor the experience of Aziraphale sitting forward in his seat and biting his flawless nails.
Crowley finally hung up and sighed.
“Well?” Aziraphale asked.
“We can drop by and fill out the paperwork today,” Crowley said.
As if the silly grin weren't bad enough, Aziraphale actually squeaked.
“Oh, Crowley,” he said, once he'd recovered himself. “Well done. You're a much better negotiator than I've given you credit for.”
“I'm assuming you can pay for your half straight up? Nothing dodgy on the books?”
“Of course not,” said Aziraphale, primly. “And of course I can.”
“Well, then, we'd best get a move on,” Crowley replied, rising. He left a fiver on the table.
“The service wasn't what I'd call stellar,” Aziraphale said rather too loudly on the way out.
“It's not about the service,” Crowley said. “It's about forging connections.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale. “Oh, right. Since we're going to be locals and all that.”
“And all that,” Crowley echoed, sliding uneasily into the driver's seat. “Yeah.”
What bothered him wasn't the swiftness with which it had happened, or even the relative ease.
It was how curiously much he wanted it. How easily he'd agreed.
* * *
The installation of Crowley's furniture was, to say the least, a nightmare.
“As much as you can't bear to part with it,” said Aziraphale, watching the movers struggle to find a proper angle for the unwieldy piece, “I'm afraid it's got to go.”
“Never,” Crowley said, folding his arms and squinting at the door-frame disapprovingly. “We've got history, that sofa and me. They'll squeeze it through.”
Sure enough, they did. Just barely.
Crowley's book, cassette, CD, LP, and DVD collections came next, in a series of neatly labeled boxes. The potted plants, Crowley carried in himself, having preferred to transport them in the back seat of the Bentley instead of trusting them to the vagaries of a moving van.
Aziraphale's books came after that. They were all he'd brought.
“We'll need more shelves,” said Crowley, frowning, once the movers had cleared out.
“We'll need climate control,” Aziraphale muttered. “Maybe that spare room at the end of the hall.”
“What? That's my office.”
“But where will I put mine?”
“In the bedroom,” said Crowley, absently. “It's not as if you'll wake me.”
“Very funny,” Aziraphale said. “You'll wake up and natter at all hours.”
Crowley scowled at him and bent to open the nearest box.
“What makes you think that?”
“You're a light sleeper.”
“How would you know? Wait, don't answer that.”
Aziraphale sighed and wandered into the sitting-room, inspecting the damages. Crowley's sofa was overlarge, but it didn't make moving about impossible. A few of his plants had already found a home on the coffee table, and he'd placed the remainder on the dusty windowsills. Crowley was neither a skilled interior decorator, nor a logical one.
“Hey, would you look at this! It's that espresso machine you bought me two Christmases ago.”
“Put it in the kitchen,” said Aziraphale. “I'll fight with the instruction manual later.”
Crowley hummed contently as he sauntered past with the box under one arm.
Aside from the bay window, one of the bedroom's more redeeming features was, in fact, the presence of built-in shelves. They lined almost the entirety of one wall, and, Aziraphale reasoned, there'd be space for his desk beneath them. He'd worry about climate-control later.
Unlike the rest of the cottage, the bedroom had carpeting. It looked clean and plush, recently replaced. Aziraphale made sure no one was watching, sat down on the no-longer-bare mattress (easy enough to miracle Crowley's bedclothes out of their box and tailor them to fit), and removed his shoes and socks. He stood up again, wriggling his toes.
Just then, something tiny with soft paws and silky fur scuttled across his right foot.
“Crowley! There's a—”
Crowley appeared in the doorway, stricken.
“Body in the closet? No phone jack in the bedroom? What?”
“...mouse,” Aziraphale managed, his cheeks heating.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, that's all right. They rarely hurt anybody, mice.”
“I shall have to add traps to the grocery list,” said Aziraphale, determined.
“You bloody well won't,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”
“It's bad enough, you killing hapless doves. I won't have you adding mice to the bloodbath.”
“Very well,” Aziraphale sighed, and hoped for Crowley's sake the mouse wouldn't cross his path again. He had a dislike of the creatures; they tended to chew on vellum.
“Swear,” Crowley said, holding out his hand.
“I said, very well,” repeated Aziraphale, irritated, and shook it.
“Now,” Crowley said. “Come and give me a hand with that infernal machine, won't you?”
* * *
They'd scarcely been settled in for a week when the first curious neighbor turned up.
“Hallo?” Crowley asked, cracking the door only just enough to see the woman's kindly, wrinkled face, a swath of greying brown hair, and one crow-footed hazel eye.
“So sorry to trouble you,” she said, and her accent was three times as posh as Aziraphale's, if that was even possible. “My Harold heard that the Prewett woman's cousin finally managed to find a buyer. I thought I'd pop by to see how you were settling in, Mr.—?”
“Crowley,” said Crowley, opening the door the rest of the way.
Difficult to feel threatened, what when the woman was standing there holding what looked like a home-made bakewell tart.
“Mr. Crowley, so nice to meet you. May I come in?”
“Er,” said Crowley, stepping back. “Yes. And you are?”
“Oh, dreadfully sorry,” said the woman, offering him her hand. “Phillippa Morrison. Please, call me Pippa. All my friends do.”
“Pippa,” Crowley repeated, starting as the tart was thrust into his hands. “Thanks.” He clipped the word to the roof of his mouth, hard, holding the tip of his tongue immobile.
Pippa breezed past him and into the sitting-room, smiling benevolently at her surroundings.
“I must say, the cousin did a good job on renovations. This place was dreadful—no insult to dear Jean, rest her soul. All those cats running about. And the fishbowls everywhere.”
“Cats?” Crowley echoed. He couldn't help but think of the mouse. Good on it. Real survivor.
“She kept after them,” Pippa reassured him. “Very tidy, our Ms. Prewett. My, aren't you high-tech,” she said, admiring the espresso machine. “It looks new.”
“One owner from,” was all Crowley could think to say.
“You've been too terrified to use it,” said Pippa, knowingly. “You'll have it figured out in no time.”
“I've got it figured out already,” said Aziraphale, raising his voice from back the hall. He'd been holed up in the bedroom all day, unpacking and cataloguing his books. “It made a lovely cappuccino this morning. You missed it, my dear. You and your beauty sleep.”
Pippa raised her eyebrows at Crowley, pursing her lips in a not displeased fashion.
“I didn't know you had company,” she said.
“He's not company,” said Crowley, flatly. “He lives here.”
“My mistake,” she said, winking. “Would you mind introducing us?”
“Not at all,” said Aziraphale, emerging into the kitchen entirely too quickly for Crowley's liking. “Pippa, what a pleasure. The tart will prove most welcome. We've next to nothing in the house. Would you like a cappuccino? Some nice cocoa? Or would a cup of tea do the trick?”
Crowley busied himself fetching down three mugs. Whatever conversation was imminent, he wanted no part of it. Not because he objected, but because he didn't trust himself.
“We decided it was time for a change of scenery,” Aziraphale was saying to Pippa, already seated at the table across from their nosy visitor, who was busy slicing the tart. “Crowley, fetch a few plates, too, there's a good chap. What was I saying? Oh. Scenery. We felt it was time for a change.”
Pippa was nodding enthusiastically. “I know exactly what you mean. That's what brought Harold and me out here twelve years ago. He'd finally taken retirement.”
Crowley tapped the countertop, forcing the water in the kettle to an early boil.
“After a while,” said Aziraphale, in a low voice, “the pace grows dreadfully exhausting.”
“You poor darlings,” said Pippa, thanking Crowley with a nod as he put a steaming mug in front of her. “Well, maybe not you,” she said to him. “You're young yet. Brave of you to give up a good city job with lots of prospects. But that's love, isn't it?”
Crowley was tempted to drop Aziraphale's mug in his lap, but didn't. Instead, he set it down in front of the angel, hard, letting a bit slop over and onto the table.
Aziraphale gritted his teeth.
“Absolutely,” Crowley said, sliding into the chair next to her, putting on a disarming smile. “But I've not given anything up; don't be fooled. I work from home.”
“Lucky boy!” said Pippa. Crowley was almost shocked she didn't lean over and pinch his cheek.
For the next hour, Crowley sipped his tea and picked at a slice of tart while Aziraphale and Pippa chattered about everything from the foul weather to the mouse in the bedroom.
“Looks as if the cats missed one,” said Pippa, chuckling.
“Glad of it,” Crowley muttered into his mug.
“He's something of an animal lover,” said Aziraphale, with an air of long-suffering affection.
“You don't usually see it in corporate types,” Pippa remarked. “What a catch!”
Aziraphale beamed, and Crowley wanted to smash something.
“Well, I'd best be off,” Pippa said, hastily finishing her tea. “Harold's expecting his supper soon. It's been lovely meeting both of you. I expect we'll run into each other quite often.”
“In a village this size, that's the logical conclusion,” said Crowley, deadpan.
Pippa paused and tilted her head at him, as if she had only just noticed something.
“Light sensitivity,” she said. “My niece has got that. They make shades these days that look like normal glasses, you know. They're more compact and let people see your eyes.”
“I'll keep that in mind,” Crowley said. A crack was forming at the juncture of the mug's handle; he could feel it. How she'd failed to notice his white-knuckled grip, he'd never guess.
While Aziraphale saw a still-chattering Pippa to the door, Crowley lingered at the table, pushing the last few crumbs of tart around on his plate. Why couldn't people just mind their own business? Furthermore, why couldn't people just let him figure out what his business was?
Aziraphale finally returned, yawning. “What a lovely woman.”
“If you like them loose-lipped,” Crowley snapped.
“You can be positively dreadful sometimes,” said Aziraphale, giving him a look that he hadn't seen in a good decade or two and that was, unfortunately, genuine. “No manners.”
“At least I've enough sense not to go around knocking on strangers' doors,” he seethed.
“What was it you were saying about forging connections?” asked Aziraphale, wearily.
Scowling, Crowley got up and left the room with his damaged mug in hand.
“Maybe I was wrong,” he said, but didn't bother to look back.
* * *
Aziraphale had enough sense to know they had a problem on their hands. But what it was, exactly, he couldn't say, no more than he could've said whether he'd really lacked time or inclination as regarded his erstwhile bookshop's mouldy moulding. To a point: whatever it was, it was making Crowley miserable.
Over the next few weeks, Aziraphale organized as many distractions as he could possibly think of: trips to the local farmers' market (every second Saturday of the month), a survey of the local shops, a new restaurant for dinner every few evenings. They ran out of restaurants inside a fortnight.
Which was how they ended up back in the beach-front café sipping cocoa and staring at the rain.
“Bad time of year for a move, winter,” said Crowley, darkly.
“It'll be Christmas soon,” Aziraphale realized aloud. “I haven't sorted your gift.”
“As long as it's not another espresso machine, you'll be fine.”
“Have you given any thought to what you want? We're beyond surprises, I should think.”
Crowley shrugged. “We could lay in a garden come spring.”
“I'm not buying you seed packets,” said Aziraphale. “You start traumatizing them too young.”
“Makes for good upbringing,” Crowley said. “Well-behaved sprouts.”
“You haven't got enough jumpers. You've been chilled, all this damp sea air.”
“I don't do jumpers.”
“You might consider starting.”
Mandy, the girl from the counter, had wandered over and was standing beside their table, one hand frozen on Aziraphale's empty mug. She ducked her head and bit her lip.
“Am I interrupting?”
“No, dear girl,” said Aziraphale. “I'll have another, thank you.”
Mandy glanced at Crowley, her wide blue eyes by now accustomed to their own reflection in his sunglasses.
Aziraphale couldn't help but notice that she pitied him. It was upsetting.
“I'm finished,” said Crowley, fishing in his coat pocket. He handed her what sounded like two quid.
“Thanks, sir,” she said, as she always did, but now there was more affection in her pronunciation of sir than Aziraphale found proper. He wondered if Crowley had noticed.
“She likes you,” said Aziraphale, once she was gone. “Rather more than she ought.”
Crowley actually lowered his glasses a fraction and stared Aziraphale in the eyes.
“What she ought or ought not to do is her own business,” he said. “Leave her to it.”
Aziraphale's stomach twisted as Crowley pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
“She ought not to get her hopes up, is all I'm saying,” said Aziraphale.
Crowley snorted, not quite a laugh. “And why's that?”
“Never goes well,” said Aziraphale. “Our sort and humans.”
“Not that you'd know this from personal experience,” retorted Crowley.
“Nor would you,” Aziraphale replied, biting back the urge to attempt sarcasm.
“I don't know,” Crowley said. “It might be worth a shot.”
“Giving it a try. While we're on this whole change-of-scenery kick, you understand.”
“Crowley, she's sixteen. And you're—well, you're—”
Crowley stiffened, sitting back in his chair.
Aziraphale swallowed. Suddenly, Crowley's discontent made perfect sense.
“Not interested,” he said.
One sharp eye-tooth crested briefly over Crowley's lower lip.
“No,” he said, rather candidly. “I'm not. Not really. I just wondered what you'd say.”
“Nothing favorable,” Aziraphale said, his stomach unclenching. “She's hardly your type.”
Crowley looked almost like he wanted to laugh, but like it might hurt if he did.
“What constitutes my type, do you suppose?”
“Security,” said Aziraphale. In for a penny, in for a pound. “You prefer to feel safe. A sixteen year-old waitress hardly fits the bill, no pun intended. Moody. Unpredictable.”
“At least she's kind,” Crowley said.
That gave Aziraphale pause, but it was true, really. Crowley couldn't abide cruelty.
“I'm sorry,” Aziraphale murmured. “This conversation has been anything but.”
“You still haven't answered my question,” Crowley reminded him, smiling sadly.
And it was hard, then, unbelievably so, to gather the courage to say what they both knew.
“It's a terrible idea,” said Aziraphale. “I'll hurt you. I always do.”
“But I feel safe,” Crowley pointed out. “I felt safe enough to follow you here.”
“You felt safe enough to bring us here,” Aziraphale corrected him. “There's a difference.”
Crowley's lips twitched, and this time, his smile was more hopeful than sad.
“Call it a lark,” he said. “Everyone thinks we're married as it is.”
“True,” said Aziraphale. “I've been content to let them think so. Easier to fit in that way.”
“Exactly,” Crowley said. “Now, all we've got to do is...”
He trailed off and ended up staring at his hands against the battered tabletop.
“Try,” said Aziraphale, reaching across to cover them with his own.
* * *
Human relationships, Crowley reasoned, generally started off small. Hand-holding, quick kisses. That sort of thing. Unless one or more of the parties involved happened to be some sort of sex maniac; in which case, all bets were off and it was straight into the sack. He severely doubted that either he or Aziraphale was prone to nymphomania.
They didn't discuss it again for the remainder of the afternoon, although Aziraphale went out of his way to do a handful of inconsequential things he would rarely have done otherwise, such as pay the bill and hold the door for Crowley on their way out. When they got home, he hung both of their coats and put the kettle on. He even suggested they watch telly for a while, and sat a bit closer than normal. It was, Crowley decided, an acceptable start—and curiously comforting, too.
In fact, they might have gone on like this indefinitely, even quite happily, if not for what happened on the second Saturday in December, which was, in lieu of the farmers' market, an indoor craft fair at the town hall where one was supposed to do one's holiday shopping.
While Crowley was perusing some antique watch-chains at a stall otherwise filled with bizarre thrift-shop odds and ends, he overheard Aziraphale and Pippa engaged in conversation with a stranger. He'd seen this gentleman once before, as it happened, walking a gratuitously small dog.
“...used to run a bookshop in London,” Pippa was saying. “His collection's magnificent.”
“Extraordinary,” said the gentleman. Posh, too—even posher than Pippa. Outrageous.
“I wouldn't say that,” said Aziraphale, too modestly, and even somewhat over-protectively. “It's a handful of dusty liturgical texts, hardly worth anyone's while.”
The gentleman chuckled: a deep, warm bass that made Crowley's skin crawl.
“You don't strike me as a collector of the insignificant, Mr. Fell.”
“Don't let him fool you,” Pippa said. “I Googled the titles. They're valuable.”
Crowley felt Aziraphale's flinch as keenly as if he'd been standing right next to him, rather than five feet away. He stood up straight and put his hands in his pockets, head tilted.
“I'd like a private viewing,” said the gentleman. “If I may be so bold. I've some volumes of my own, and perhaps some of them might interest you. A trade, if you like. Or—”
“Angel, you have got to see this,” Crowley said, insinuating himself between Aziraphale and Pippa, slipping both arms through the crook of Aziraphale's elbow, pulling him in as close as he dared. “One of those chains is a perfect match for your old watch. Fifteen-carat rose gold,” he added, letting his breath ghost over Aziraphale's earlobe. “Delicious.”
It might've remained purely a sham if Aziraphale hadn't actually shivered.
“I, er,” he said, gratefully, one hand flying up to cradle Crowley's wrist. “Let's have a look.”
“Ta,” Crowley said, beaming smugly at the gentleman. And your little dog too, he thought.
Pippa thwacked him lightly across the backside with her clutch.
“You're a saucy one once you get past the shy stage, aren't you?”
“I have no idea what you're talking about,” said Crowley, and dragged Aziraphale over to the jewellery case. It was strangely thrilling, the fine tremors running through Aziraphale's upper arm and the way he hadn't let go of Crowley's wrist and was suddenly so fiercely possessive—
“This is dull,” he said, resting his chin on Aziraphale's shoulder. “Let's go home.”
Aziraphale hadn't been breathing for the better part of five minutes.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “Let's. Pippa, my best to Harold.”
“Naughty!” Pippa called after them, her grin positively wicked.
“She'll be the death of us,” Crowley muttered, almost glad of the cold as they emerged into the dim early evening.
Aziraphale laughed, the sound startling and wondrous.
“I hope not, my dear,” he said, and kissed Crowley.
If Crowley had been thinking clearly, his first notion might have been that this was a bit faster than he'd intended to proceed. On the other hand, Aziraphale's mouth coaxed his own half-open almost effortlessly, and he fancied he could taste everything that the angel had ever tasted. Château d'Yquem 1784. Dates from Baghdad. Fugu, prepared with a fatal mistake, on that trip they'd taken to Japan. Pippa's admittedly excellent bakewell tart. The pomegranates of Eden.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale murmured against his lips.
“Hmmm, what?” Crowley ducked his head, nosing into the angel's collar, seeking out his pulse-point. There. He kissed it lightly, just to see what Aziraphale would do.
“We were going home,” said Aziraphale, with slight difficulty.
Crowley grinned and breathed him in, warm tobacco-cotton-wool.
“You gave me a fright,” he said. “The venom turned you a bit blue. Did you know that?”
Aziraphale took a shaky breath. “Venom?”
“Tokyo, three years ago. Never mind. In hindsight, it was funny.”
“If you want sushi for dinner, you ought to just say so.”
“I don't want anything for dinner,” said Crowley, leading Aziraphale resolutely by the hand. “I want to go home.”
The Bentley was exactly where they'd left it, clamped tyres and all.
“Finally,” Aziraphale sighed, sliding into the passenger seat.
Crowley fumbled his key into the ignition and sped the whole way back.
* * *
On arriving home, neither one of them said a word, trailing into the cottage one after the other, as if it were just another evening upon which Crowley would ask where on earth the remote control had got off to, and then proceed to watch some truly awful telly whilst Aziraphale caught up on the Saturday papers and then made the plant-watering rounds, because that was his job now. Aziraphale was aiming for normal. For careful. For safe.
It was in the midst of plant-watering that Crowley crept up on him, catching Aziraphale by the wrist as he aimed the mister at a stubbornly dormant orchid's exposed roots. Aziraphale paused and turned to look at him, questioning, and his breath fled for the second time that day. No glasses, no glare.
Just Crowley's unblinking yellow gaze, hesitant and hopeful.
“I couldn't let them settle down for the night without supper,” Aziraphale explained.
“They never sleep,” said Crowley, his eyes flitting suspiciously from plant to plant.
Aziraphale set down the mister and took Crowley's face in both hands, stilling him.
“I won't have this if it will hurt you,” he said. “I simply won't.”
Crowley's breath left him in a rush, half hiss and half laugh.
“If you'd had that bloke around, that would've hurt.”
“What if I had him around for purposes of robbing him blind?”
Crowley's lips twitched as Aziraphale's thumbs played at their corners.
“Only if he honestly doesn't know the value of his books. Fools deserve what they get.”
“So we do,” Aziraphale murmured, and leaned to kiss Crowley for the second time.
They ended up in the bedroom, because Crowley had issues with the sofa, history be damned. Aziraphale supposed he could understand: popcorn down the cushions and leisurely afternoon naps were not quite the same thing as lovemaking.
Crowley caught his eye just then, and what he saw there drew a flush across his fine, high cheekbones.
Damn them, too; Aziraphale understood why Mandy wanted what she saw. Well. She couldn't have him.
“Jumper,” Crowley said, fisting his hands in the wool. “Get rid of it. Now. It's putting me off.”
Aziraphale struggled out of it with Crowley's hindrance (not help, he was never any help, bless him) and then turned his attention to the buttons of Crowley's expensive shirt.
“I recognize this,” Aziraphale said, parting the linen slowly, tracing spectral lines with his fingertips down Crowley's pale chest. He let his thumb linger over one nipple, thoughtfully circling. "From before. From the Beginning, from the very first time you...changed. Has it really been so long?"
Crowley's breath returned to him, a brief, almost painful stutter deep in his chest. He struggled out of his shirt, disengaging Aziraphale's hand from its cautious explorations. Aziraphale took the opportunity to wish his own shirt away, hardly of a mind to let Crowley attempt buttons in a state of such agitation. He'd get worse, or have second thoughts.
Aziraphale watched Crowley drop his shirt on the floor with a look of abject frustration, and then pulled him close before he had the chance to work himself into a snit. Crowley shivered and melted against him, both arms folding tightly about Aziraphale's neck. His breath came fast and shallow against Aziraphale's jaw, and when Aziraphale shifted his weight on the mattress just so, Crowley settled in his lap with a low, helpless moan. There, oh. There.
“Thank you,” said Aziraphale, softly, in his ear, working a hand in between them.
Crowley's trousers were uncomplicated enough to tease open, at least. Crowley's erection had already managed to slip free of his shorts, damp and hard in Aziraphale's palm. Aziraphale stroked him once, gently, kissing Crowley's groan right back into his mouth. He kept stroking, intoxicated and (he was startled to discover) more than a little smitten.
“For...for what?” Crowley panted, pushing forward into Aziraphale's hand.
Aziraphale kissed him, braced his free arm about Crowley's waist, coaxing him as his thrusts grew taut and erratic. Not long now, not long at all, and, oh, they were still half-dressed and it was wonderful just to hold him like this, just to have him. Unexpected, how it made Aziraphale's heart clench just to tell him so.
Crowley came clinging and shuddering, not at all quiet, for what seemed like a very long time.
Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut, swallowing amazed laughter, holding him closer still, calming him. Safe.
* * *
On waking, Crowley was certain of two things: one, that he was naked, and two, that he really hadn't dreamed the previous evening. The fact that he was draped over a warm, motionless Aziraphale was sufficient confirmation. Against all odds, the angel was asleep. And also naked. He wasn't so sure about the not-nymphomaniacs thing anymore.
He nuzzled Aziraphale's ear and pressed down with one knee, parting Aziraphale's thighs.
“Get up. I want a cappuccino.”
“Mmm,” Aziraphale murmured, and then yawned. “No.”
Crowley wriggled impatiently, and all that got him was a fierce kiss.
“Fine,” he sighed, settling into an easy rhythm as Aziraphale's legs came up to wrap around his hips. Fascinating, how effectively sex could shut down all rational thought. It explained a lot about humans, and a lot about why Crowley liked humans. They lived in the moment.
“I thought,” Aziraphale gasped, both hands lost in Crowley's disarrayed hair, “you wanted—”
“Yes,” Crowley managed, remembering this from last night, the part where Aziraphale had tensed and tightened his fingers in Crowley's hair before hauling him bodily back up for a kiss (and for the rest of it, oh God). It was something of a pity Crowley couldn't taste him this time, he thought, driving down harder. “But I want you first, see?”
Aziraphale groaned and went still under him, and then their bellies were warm and slick and yessss. Crowley muffled his shout in the pillow, dimly aware he'd all but brought the house down the night before. It was a good job their nearest neighbor lived a mile off. With his luck, Pippa'd have heard him anyway. And if she'd not heard, she'd certainly know.
The angel curled and uncurled his toes against Crowley's calf.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Cappuccino,” Crowley lied.
A leisurely shower and a frantic mouse-chase later (they'd found him lurking behind the toilet, and Crowley had given him enough of a head-start to vanish out the door), Crowley got his coffee. It was nice, he supposed, if you liked that sort of thing, but there was too much foam, and Aziraphale had overdone it with the wonky cinnamon heart.
At lunchtime, they realized there wasn't any food left in the house. Aziraphale bribed Crowley into making a run to the nearest Tesco Express with a snog on the sofa. Baby steps, Crowley thought. The cushions didn't seem offended, although they'd left some spectacular wrinkles in the leather.
As it happened, Pippa found him in the produce section.
“Hi,” Crowley said. He clung to a bag of carrots, terrified.
“Don't you look well rested,” she said, smiling.
Crowley wondered if he was even speaking to the same brazen, handbag-wielding harpy as the day before.
“I suppose,” he said. “But right now, I'm hungry.”
“Not to worry,” Pippa replied, taking the carrots out of Crowley's hands. “I'm about to put together a nice Sunday roast. Won't the two of you join us?”
Crowley felt something like relief blossom in his chest. And, for the first time, he smiled right back at her.
Aziraphale would be cross at the unexpected change of plans, of course, but—
“Of course,” he said, brightly. “I'll bring the espresso machine.”
* * *
For Christmas morning, Aziraphale thought, it's dreadfully quiet.
From his vantage point at the kitchen window, he could see the sweep of grass, and then the beach and the ocean just beyond. There was a fine shimmer of frost all over everything—even the sand, which glittered like diamond-dust in the first pale light of morning. Sleeping was pleasant, but he fell out of it from time to time, unable to find his way back in spite of Crowley snuggled up to him. The truth was, he sometimes missed the bustle of London.
Two months in this tiny village, almost three, and what he found himself missing most were the fairy lights and the holiday rush.
Aziraphale plucked a mug off the dish-rack and miracled himself a cup of tea. No sense in using the kettle, not at this hour; he'd wake Crowley. And he did very much want Crowley at his best, what with guests coming later—Pippa, Harold, and one of their grown children. They'd paid the café a visit the day before and left a card with forty quid in for Mandy.
There were sails on the horizon, or something that looked an awful lot like sails. Aziraphale sipped his tea and watched the brief flash of white vanish, only to find himself distracted by a familiar figure plodding along in the surf, walking a ridiculously small dog.
And the mouse perched on the windowsill, a stale bakewell crumb clutched in its tiny paws.
“Shoo,” whispered Aziraphale, mortified. “It's not proper, you know.”
The creature just went on nibbling the crumb, its black eyes intent on Aziraphale.
“Mice live in fields,” said Aziraphale. “Thickets. Places like that.”
The mouse twitched its whiskers and finished off the morsel, padding along until it found an easy point from which to leap down onto the counter and scurry over the far edge.
“It's a seaside mouse,” said Crowley, yawning as he wandered into the kitchen. “Hasn't got any thickets. Or fields. Nothing but sand and salt water, as far as the eye can see.”
“My manuscripts,” said Aziraphale, worriedly. “Once we've run out of crumbs—”
“We'll get more crumbs,” Crowley said, stepping up behind him. “Think of it as similar to feeding the ducks.” His arms snaked tentatively around Aziraphale's waist. The gesture was somehow far more intimate than anything they'd managed in roughly a fortnight of being lovers.
But haven't we always been? Aziraphale wondered.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Crowley whispered, resting his chin on Aziraphale's shoulder.
“The wainscot has got to go,” said Aziraphale, and turned his head for a kiss.
—Continue: Outtake #1 [Missing Scene from The Walls, the Wainscot, and the Mouse]—