Chapter 1: Plausible Deniability
NOTE: If you’re here for the porn (no shame in that!), skip straight to Chapter 2. You won’t be too lost. If you’re not up for porn (also no shame in that!), Chapter 1 is a fully-contained story in its own right with zero sex, just a buttload of violence.
This fic is inspired by a fantastic homebrew RPG I’ve been playing for the last few years. Herne is an NPC created by our DM. Susannah, Felix, #Ted, Radu, Angel, Dino, and Sugar are my fellow players’ characters. Trevor is my own little trash boy. In the game, we’re all vampires, and sometimes we have to do odd jobs for our landlord, Satan. In this fic, our characters are all humans, and it’s Crowley who gets one of our "rent's due, bitches" assignments. So, Chapter 1 is only about 50% Good Omens fic, and the other 50% is a big old love letter to my dice-rolling horrible vampire friends. Y’all are great and I am truly #blessed to have you weirdos in my life.
Takes place in 2013 to coincide with the honest-to-goodness real, actual 'Pink Mass' conducted that year by The Satanic Temple on the grave of Fred Phelps's mom. Also presumably takes place before the events of the book Good Omens, which is logistically impossible given the timeline but whatevs. I’ve never seen the show, so I have no idea how/if this fits with show canon.
Dedicated to Hand Ball Barry, R.I.P. 2018-2018. He died for (and also as a direct result of) our sins.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Thunder rumbled somewhere out on the broad, flat Kansas horizon. Grass fires smoldered as a weak rain blanketed the cemetery and extinguished the few untoppled candles that had survived the demolition of the pentagram. A scrawny young man in black robes and a tattered, horned headdress sat in the back of an ambulance, holding an ice pack to his groin and avoiding eye contact with his friends. A much older and louder man fought against the paramedics who were struggling to get him into a different ambulance. He shouted to anyone who would listen that agents of Satan walked among them, pointing mainly at the people in the robes but also at medical personnel, law enforcement officers, and a few members of the local television news team who were setting up cameras. EMTs darted through the crowd, strapping blood pressure cuffs to shell-shocked onlookers with their arms still raised, phones out, continuously recording and transmitting the devastation surrounding them. The wind kicked up clouds of pink glitter at their feet.
Crowley walked between the headstones with his hands in his pockets, frowning at the mayhem. He had to pause when a squat brown goat, its coat faintly glitter-speckled, ambled across his path with a colorful poster in its mouth. The poster made some bold claims about the feelings of the Almighty towards homosexuals. The goat chewed on it contemplatively.
Crowley sighed. “Well this is a shitshow.”
“Quite.” Aziraphale came up beside him and produced an umbrella, raising it to cover both of them before the rain picked up in earnest. “What’s more…” Aziraphale gave Crowley a pained look, though Crowley was locked in a staring contest with the goat and didn’t see it. “I’m afraid it might be a successful one.”
The goat fixed Crowley with its steady, untroubled gaze and the demon conceded defeat. (Crowley’s glasses would almost certainly have prevented the goat from seeing him blink, but goats can always tell. They won’t hold it against you, but they will know that you cheated, and you will know that they know.) It gave a high-pitched bleat, dropped the poster, and trotted over to join some other goats in a game of headbutting the emergency responders. A few black-robed humans tried to corral them, but the goats had twice as many legs and considerably fewer injuries than the humans so it wasn’t much of a competition.
One woman swung her handbag at a lanky black-and-white goat that had ventured perilously close to the news crew. The goat ducked, caught the bag square on one horn and yanked sideways, ripping the bag open and scattering keys and cough drops everywhere. The joyful bleating this elicited from the rest of the herd forced the news reporter to pause her recitation of the day’s events. She gestured at the goats with her microphone and addressed her crew. “Okay, this isn’t gonna work if they won’t shut up, so let’s cut. Frankie, can you grab some B-roll of the livestock?” The crew members nodded and ceased filming, except for Frankie, who shifted focus to the goats.
The reporter pointed over the heads of the crowd and started walking without pausing her instructions. “Dominique, let’s set up on the other side of the cemetery, maybe get some long shots of the ambulances.” The crew minus Frankie hastily gathered their equipment and jogged to keep up with the reporter’s brisk pace. “Make absolutely sure you get the crater in frame while I’m talking, okay? Eyes on the prize, team! If we play our cards right, we could go viral.”
Crowley sighed again, more deeply this time, and Aziraphale rested a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “Yeah,” Crowley said, rubbing his eyes. He could feel a headache coming on. “Angel, I think you might be right.”
-One Week Earlier-
It had been a quiet but productive day for Crowley. The weather was dreadful, so he’d curled up on the sofa with his phone to spread digital despair while the wind howled outside and sleet pelted the windows. Social media had completely changed the sin game. It was the best thing to ever happen to the internet as far as Crowley was concerned— half the time he didn’t even need to leave the flat to meet quota. He’d spent most of the day on tech support forums answering printer troubleshooting requests with instructions that would result in reformatted hard drives and/or fires, and had just settled in for a long, relaxing evening of snitch-tagging content creators into Twitter threads that criticized their work. He hadn’t felt so cozy in ages.
He flung his legs up over the arm of the couch and scrolled through news feeds. Just as he was tapping out a choice contribution to The Discourse, the letters slipped from under his fingertips and changed. CROWLEY, the tweet draft now read, WE HAVE RECEIVED YOUR REPORT.
“Gah—fuck!” Crowley jumped and fumbled not to drop the phone. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to this. Couldn’t they just send an email that he could ignore for several months and to which he could eventually reply with an obvious lie like “oh no, I never saw this, it must have gotten caught in my spam filter, you know how they are,” like normal people, and leave his poor electronics (and nerves) in peace?
The Hellish text continued: YOUR OBSERVATIONS ARE ASTUTE AND WE HAVE DEVELOPED A PLAN BASED ON YOUR SUGGESTIONS. “Suggestions? What suggestions?” Crowley wondered aloud, thinking back over everything he’d written in his last report. That had been the one about the ironic Satanists, hadn’t it? That report didn’t have any action items, it was just a basic brief on a weird new phenomenon that Crowley found perplexing yet endearing. He definitely hadn’t imbued it with an “I await your instructions on this urgent matter” vibe. In fact, Crowley devoted a great deal of energy to deliberately excising that vibe from all of his communications with the higher-ups down below. The next words to appear on the screen snapped his attention back to the present: HERNE WILL EXPLAIN THE ASSIGNMENT TO YOU IN DETAIL.
“Oh fuck, not that guy,” he said.
“Why not that guy?” Herne asked, perched on the opposite arm of Crowley’s sofa. Crowley jumped again, and this time failed to not throw the phone.
“Jesus, fucking— Herne.” Crowley hissed, scrambling upright and retreating as far from Herne as the couch would allow. “Why do you have to do that?”
Herne smiled. “I don’t.” Sunlight shimmered on the beads of sweat dappling Herne’s skin as the ocean breeze tousled his raven-black hair, which was impossible, since they were indoors in London in the middle of the night in a rainstorm. He braced one elbow on the sofa cushions and leaned, allowing his half-unbuttoned shirt to fall open on his tanned, chiseled pecs. From somewhere, Crowley could hear the cries of seagulls.
“So what is it?” Crowley asked. Fucking Herne. Every time with the damn seagulls.
Maintaining that placid, infuriating smile, Herne lifted a hand and plucked a leather-bound folder from the air, then held it out to Crowley. “I’ve brought your assignment.” Crowley snatched the folder and started flipping through it, mostly to have somewhere to look other than the discount cologne ad lounging on the end of his sofa. “The bosses were impressed with your investigation of the insincere Satanists. They thought you showed uncharacteristic initiative.” Herne raised a sly eyebrow at Crowley because of course he fucking did, fucking Herne, and Crowley conspicously ignored it. “They’d like you to put the fear of Hell back into the unbelievers.”
Crowley froze. “They want me to do what now?”
“Our Dark Lord and Master is displeased with the growing number of humans willing to take his name in vain. They hail Satan as a performative stunt, for shock value, for laughs, or else to add some occult flavor to an otherwise mundane orgy.” Herne brushed a nonexistent speck of dust off his shirt collar and sniffed. “We feel it cheapens the brand.”
“Uh.” That was not at all the point Crowley had intended to make with his report. “So… I’m supposed to, what, punish them? For copyright infringement or something?”
“In a manner of speaking. We want you to infiltrate an upcoming ritual and answer their prayers.” Herne’s voice went quiet and deliberate. “Show them the true power of the forces they invoke. If these flippant children are so intent on dressing up as occult acolytes ‘for the Gram’, give them something to really post about.”
“Well that’s just—” Crowley’s self-preservation instinct kicked in before he could say complete bollocks. “...sort of an oversimplification of the, um, the situation I described.” He swallowed, flipping back through the file. “This ritual you want me to— fulfill, I guess? Yeah, it’s not…” He searched for some way to communicate his meaning without risking death by hot pointy objects. “I understand why Hell might be concerned, but really, this has nothing to do with us. It’s… it’s just a joke. They’re being ironic.” Crowley held up the file and gestured at the text. “The whole point of it is we can’t even do the thing they’re asking. Nobody can.”
Herne didn’t blink. “We understand their intent perfectly. Your job is to make sure that they understand ours.”
“...right.” Crowley wished he had enough conscious control over his physical body to make it quit sweating. “By doing some... scary fireworks and creepy voices, I guess.”
“Or murder. Dismemberment. Manifesting unimaginable yet remarkably squid-like transdimensional horrors. Whatever gets the job done.” Herne looked away and ran a hand through his stupid perfect hair. “You’re a smart little demon, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”
With some effort, Crowley unclenched his teeth. “Yeah. Okay. Got it. When is this happening?”
“Saturday at two in the afternoon, local time. It’s in Topeka, Kansas. The file has directions to the precise location.” Herne glanced back at Crowley. “You sure you can handle this one?”
“Yes. Definitely.” What else could he say? “I’ll do my best.”
“Mm. Hopefully not. If you fuck this one up, I get to eat you.” With that, Herne vanished in a puff of sea spray and sandalwood.
It took a moment before Crowley could say anything. Still dazed, he glanced back down at the papers in his lap, hoping that maybe the intervening minutes had miraculously transformed the assignment into one that made even a single ounce of sense. Alas, they had not. “What the fuck?” he whispered once he had regained the power of speech.
Had they even read his report? Well, clearly they had, but it had gone right over their heads. Served him right for assuming anybody in Hell would be able to grasp a concept like irony. Or, well, he supposed Hell did understand dramatic irony, but only the kind with a bunch of accidental incest and grisly death. Not the weird, vague, absurdist human kind, the sort that might inspire some creative milennials to perform a Black Mass solemnifying the ritual murder of the paper napkin industry. Crowley thought it was harmless fun, all things considered, but he was apparently in the minority with that opinion.
He knelt on the floor and wedged his arm underneath the sofa to retrieve his mobile, then sat back on his heels, stared at the screen and weighed his options. He could just do the job. Scare the living daylights out of a few performance artists and show them the error of their ways, all for the glory of Satan. It would backfire spectacularly, of course, no question about that, but maybe he could spin the failure into an “I told you so” and be rewarded for his foresight, instead of… Herne hadn’t been serious about eating him, had he? Who could tell with that weirdo? He probably fucking would. No, Crowley couldn’t risk it.
On the other hand, if the project were derailed by something totally unexpected, something that Crowley obviously couldn’t have anticipated, much less prevented, well, then, who could blame him? ...Hell. Hell could blame him. Hell would definitely still blame him. But perhaps not as fatally?
Crowley tapped the digits of a number he did not, for good reason, keep saved in his contacts but nonetheless could have dialed blindfolded, and waited. “C’mon, pick up,” he muttered, drumming his fingers on the coffee table. “Don’t pretend you’re sleeping, I know you’re not.”
Aziraphale answered on the fourth ring. “What do you want, Crowley?”
“Pretty rude, angel, not even saying hello.” Crowley concealed his relief under a thick layer of sarcasm. Aziraphale usually took his calls, but it wasn’t always a sure thing. “Who says I want anything? Maybe I was calling just to chat.”
“It’s half past three in the morning, and you never call just to chat.” Aziraphale’s voice was chiding in a comfortable way that spoke more of habit than scorn. “So what is it you want?”
“Right. Well. So I just got this new assignment—”
“The less I know about that, the better, I think.”
“See, normally I’d agree with you, but this one…” Crowley glanced back at the file and winced. “It would really, really help me out if you could, uh. Thwart me.”
There was a pause. “Thwart you?”
“Yeah.” Crowley crossed his free arm over his chest and fidgeted. “Just this once.”
“You want me to thwart you.”
“Yes. Hard as you can.”
“Despite our entire relationship resting on a foundation of strenuously avoiding any unnecessary thwarting.”
“Despite all that, yeah.”
“Why?” A note of worry crept into Aziraphale’s voice. “Crowley, is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong.” Crowley got up and started pacing the room. “This job’s just…”
“No! Nothing like that.” He rubbed his face and searched for a way to say it’s just really stupid and I don’t want to do it. “It’s... just... really... stupid. And I don’t want to do it.” Nice work there, Crowley, very smooth.
The change in Aziraphale’s facial expression was audible. “You’re calling in the middle of the night with an unprecedented request for aid because you don’t feel like doing your job?”
Crowley tilted his head. “Well don’t put it that way, angel. Come on, isn’t it your job to stop me from doing my job?”
“We’ve never operated that way and you know it.” Aziraphale sounded almost tired enough for the late hour now. “I don’t understand why we should change a system that’s been working for millennia. I stay out of your way, you stay out of mine, and we’ll catch up over drinks next Thursday. Are you free next Thursday? I forgot to ask when we—”
Crowley cut him off with a hiss. “No, Aziraphale, if you don’t help me with this then I won’t be free next Thursday because I’ll have been eaten by a demonic Calvin Klein model!”
“I thought you said this job wasn’t dangerous?”
“It’s not the job, it’s the consequences of—” He sighed. “Look, can I come over? I promise it’ll make more sense if I explain it in person.”
There was silence on the line for a moment, then Aziraphale made a sound that Crowley had come to associate with impending unpleasant lectures. “Fine. The shop’s locked up, come in the back door. Don’t let anyone see you.”
“Of course I won’t let anyone see me. What do you think I am, an amateur?”
“No, I think you’re a capable and experienced demon who ought to know better than to flagrantly waltz into your enemy’s sitting room in the middle of the night, but here we are.”
“Nobody ‘flagrantly waltzes,’ that’s a stupid phrase,” Crowley mumbled, cradling the phone with his shoulder as he pulled on his coat. “And you’re not my enemy, you’re my counterpart.” He straightened and moved the phone to his other hand. “My stuffy, uptight, annoying—”
“Take an umbrella. It’s pouring outside.”
“I don’t need—” Crowley looked down to find an umbrella in his previously free hand. “Really, angel?”
“I’ve just cleaned and I don’t want you dripping on everything.”
“You’ll miracle me an umbrella halfway across town, but you can’t do anything about a few puddles on your floor?”
“Goodbye, Crowley,” said Aziraphale, and he hung up.
Crowley considered the umbrella and rolled his eyes before stuffing it under his arm. “You’re lucky you’re pretty, you nerdy bastard,” he muttered under his breath, and walked out the door.
Aziraphale paced the length of the bookshop’s back room, brow furrowed, stirring a mug of tea he’d brewed half an hour ago. Crowley watched him, sitting backwards on a desk chair and resting his head on his folded arms, steaming— literally, since the rain had been pretty intense on the way over. This method of drying off might be less effective than an umbrella, but it was immensely more satisfying given that it annoyed Aziraphale and made Crowley look really cool at the same time. The file from Herne lay open on the desk between them.
Every few minutes when the angel’s rounds brought him near enough, Crowley reached out and tapped the edge of Aziraphale’s cup, reheating the rapidly-cooling tea. Aziraphale hardly seemed to notice.
“Are you ever actually going to drink that,” Crowley asked, “or do you just like carrying around beverages and stirring them symbolically?”
Aziraphale waved a hand in Crowley’s general direction. “The process is meditative.”
“I think you’ve been ‘meditating’ long enough to give me an answer.”
“Crowley…” Aziraphale sighed and shook his head. “It’s a complicated situation.”
“What’s complicated about it?” Crowley shrugged. “Some devil-worshippers are planning to desecrate a grave, you swoop in and put a stop to it. Do the freaky wings-and-eyeballs thing, that’d work. Satanists wet their pants and run home crying for their mommies, angel saves the day, demon gets to tell his bosses ‘oh well, tried my best, maybe next time.’ It’s a win-win.”
Aziraphale set down the mug and picked up one of the pages from Herne’s file. “The problem isn’t how to foil their plans,” he said, pointing at a line of text. “The problem is precisely who would benefit from my intervention.”
Crowley squinted to read the name Aziraphale had indicated. “Yeah, what about them?” he asked. “They’re wankers, sure, but they’re your wankers.”
Aziraphale bristled at that. “They most certainly are not.”
“Not wankers, or not yours?”
Aziraphale took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “They are beloved children of God.” His lips pressed into a hard line. “And while all of God’s children receive infinite grace, some of them require… slightly more infinite grace than others. An uncountably infinite set of grace as opposed to a countably infinite one, if you will.”
Crowley nodded. “So, what you’re saying is, on a scale of one to the set of all real numbers, they’re wankers.”
“I said they were beloved children of—”
“Angel, when you say that, it means wankers.” Aziraphale remained expressively silent.
He returned the papers to the desk and sat down on the sofa opposite Crowley. “The fact remains, all agents of Heaven are under strict orders to render no aid whatsoever to any member of the Westboro Baptist Church.” Aziraphale spread his hands and gave Crowley a look of genuine regret. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t interfere with this.”
“Well, okay, so that’s—” Crowley grasped for some loophole. “I get why you don’t want to touch those fuckers with a ten foot pole. But you’re not technically aiding her if she’s already dead, right?”
“That’s not a line I feel comfortable treading. If anyone—” here, Aziraphale flicked his eyes toward the ceiling— “were to take notice, what am I supposed to say? ‘Oh, sorry, I was just doing a favor for my demon friend, which by the way is a thing I have’? I don’t see that ending well for either of us.” The angel fixed Crowley with a look that made him feel like he’d dog-eared a page in a second edition Principia Mathematica and should prepare himself to never hear the end of it. “Maybe instead of trying to pin your failure on me, you could put that effort toward actually doing your job? As you’ve said, the poor woman is beyond help now. You may as well use this as an excuse to recruit some new devotees.” Aziraphale picked up his cup of tea and took a sip at last. “It sounds like you could even have some fun with it.”
“Angel, you don’t get it.” Crowley groaned and dug his fingers into his hair. “Nobody’s coming out of this with a newfound devotion to Satan! It’s not a matter of genuine unholy reverence, it’s performance art. Best case scenario, all I do is put them off anything with even a whiff of the occult for the rest of their lives. Hell, a scare like that could even push some of them into the arms of the Church, and then where would I be?”
Aziraphale fidgeted with his mug. “… Kansas?”
“Fucked,” Crowley corrected. “I’d be fucked, Aziraphale. And you would be too. I mean, what if word gets around that weird rituals are packing heat now? You remember the 80s, do you want another Satanic Panic on our hands?”
Aziraphale shuddered. “Oh, no, that was exhausting.”
“Right, so unless you want to spend the next twenty years doing damage control, let’s figure out how you can stop me from completing this really fucking poorly-thought-out evil plan in the first place.”
Aziraphale tapped the mug against his lips and adopted his thinking face. “Well, I’m limited in what I can do. Maybe I could... keep you here?” He gestured at Crowley with a halfhearted look. “I could say I caught you plotting some nonspecific-but-likely-evil schemes, and just, I don’t know, lock you in a closet somewhere so you can’t carry them out?”
“Not sure I like setting that precedent,” Crowley said, spinning slowly on the desk chair. “Besides, sitting tied up in your storeroom for a week? Sounds boring. Unless you’re gonna whip me and call me your dirty little demon slut.”
“That’s true,” Aziraphale said, frowning. “We don’t want to give my superiors the impression that I can just imprison you whenever it’s convenient. Plus we’d have to come up with an explanation for how you eventually escaped.”
Crowley shrugged as the chair brought him back around to face Aziraphale. “Easy, I seduced you.”
“Crowley, please.” Aziraphale stuck his foot out to stop Crowley from starting another spin.
“Tell them I hit you with my sexy wiles and you folded like a horny origami swan.”
“I know you’re only making lewd jokes because you’re nervous—”
“It’s not a joke! I’m a legit snack.”
“—but we need a practical solution.”
Crowley grumbled and scuffed the floor with his feet. “Well, in a perfect world, they’d just call off the whole thing on their own. If nobody actually gets around to invoking any dark forces then I’m off the hook.”
Aziraphale perked up. “Now that’s something,” he said. “What if they did call it off? Not because of some awesome display of supernatural power, but for reasons that would appear entirely mundane?” He looked out the window at the storm. “Something like inclement weather or a nasty case of norovirus.”
Crowley flinched, visibly horrified. “Jesus, angel, don’t throw around words like ‘norovirus.’ I don’t actually hate the little weirdos.”
“No?” Aziraphale inclined his head toward Crowley. “They certainly seem to be the source of your current headaches.”
“Nah, it’s not their fault.” Crowley waved his arm dismissively. “Truth be told, I’m kinda fond of them— they piss off the sincere Satanists like nothing else, which earns them plenty of points in my book. And sure, yeah, they’re doing it all for a noble cause, but I can overlook any incidental good deeds as long as they’re a big enough pain in somebody’s arse.” He slumped further down on the chair. “Wish I could just leave the poor fuckers alone and let them have their fun.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were getting soft in your old age.” The smile Aziraphale gave him might have been condescending on someone else’s face, but long experience told Crowley it was merely infuriatingly tender.
“You take that back.” He pointed and glared. “I’m a very evil bastard.”
“The absolute worst,” Aziraphale agreed. “Utterly despicable. Not one compassionate bone in your body.”
“Well I wouldn’t go that far,” Aziraphale murmured, casting his gaze aside and smirking.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“So no illnesses or injuries for any of the participants.” Aziraphale set the tea back down and steepled his fingers. “That still leaves a wide range of minor misfortunes that could discourage them from going through with the ritual. There’s the weather, traffic delays, malfunctioning equipment, last-minute schedule conflicts…”
Crowley turned the idea over in his head. “That’s actually not a bad plan,” he said, “but I can’t risk setting up any of these ‘misfortunes,’ no matter how minor. I mean, if I got caught—” Crowley didn’t like to think of what Herne might do to him upon discovering evidence of explicit insubordination. He had a brief vision of thousands of seagulls blacking out the sun in a shrieking cacophony, then he shook himself and refocused. “You could do it, though.”
Aziraphale tensed. “It would be almost as risky for me as it is for you. I can’t be seen to aid any—”
“You wouldn’t be, not directly.” Crowley spun the chair around in an acrobatic fucking pirouette and sat with his hands braced on his knees, leaning forward at Aziraphale. “There’s a world of difference between defending the gay-bashers and just playing a few tricks on some fake Satanists. They’d barely even look like miracles! You’d have loads of plausible deniability.” Aziraphale looked queasy, but Crowley pressed on, bringing his hands together in supplication. “Come on, please angel, help me out just this once? I’ve been your friend since the beginning of time.”
“That’s using a very generous definition of ‘friend,’” Aziraphale countered.
“And what are you, angel, if not the very definition of a generous friend?” He let his glasses slide down his nose a fraction. Crowley was at something of a disadvantage when it came to making puppy dog eyes, but he’d seen Aziraphale’s heart melt over pictures of snakes wearing tiny hats often enough to think he had a shot.
Aziraphale scowled at Crowley. “Stop that. I know what you’re doing.”
“What, what am I doing?” He batted his eyelashes.
“Well, is it working?” He quivered his lip. “Do I need to add some waterworks?”
“Oh, for the love of— no.” Aziraphale closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “This ritual. It happens on Saturday?”
“Yes, this Saturday,” Crowley said, feeling a glimmer of hope. “But I’m heading over tomorrow to do some recon first. Scout the location, all that.” Aziraphale looked thoughtful, and the glimmer of hope grew into more of a sparkle, threatening to become a full-on ray.
Aziraphale bit his lip and it was not fair what that did to Crowley’s pulse, not at all. “Not tomorrow,” he said, “I can’t leave on such short notice. The shop—”
“The shop will be fine, you get negative three patrons a week and you’re hardly going to disappoint them.”
“I have things I need to take care of,” he said, firmly but not unkindly. “And I can’t even promise I’d be any use to you. And I would like to note for the record that this is still a very dangerous plan that I shouldn’t be involved in at all, and I’d be bending a lot of rules just to help you skirt your responsibilities. But, once I’ve made all the necessary arrangements… yes.” A smile tugged at Aziraphale’s mouth at the same time that a quiet resignation claimed the rest of his face. “Give me a few days, and I’ll meet you in Kansas and see what I can do.”
Crowley lunged from the chair and threw his arms around Aziraphale fast enough to knock the breath out of him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, squeezing Aziraphale in a tight hug. “You are a lifesaver, angel.” Without thinking about it, Crowley planted a hard kiss on Aziraphale’s cheek. “I owe you one. I owe you one million.”
“All right, all right, you’re welcome.” Aziraphale squirmed in Crowley’s grip. “Now let me go before I come to my senses and tell you to go jump in a lake like I probably should have done in the first place.”
Crowley pulled back and grinned— Aziraphale was flushed pink to the tips of his ears. Oh, damn me to Hell and back again a few extra times for good measure, he thought, you are just too fucking cute to be anything but the death of me.
It was a quarter to two on Saturday, and someone had beaten Crowley to the gravesite. Next to the granite headstone, a slight woman with a ginger sidecut sat on a cooler and scanned the cemetery, tapping her foot and humming. Crowley ducked behind a bush before she could spot him. She didn’t look much like a Satanist, ironic or not, but he preferred to be safe rather than sorry.
Before long, another person walked up. She had dark glasses and black clothing with a lot of unnecessary buckles and spikes on it, more in line with a classic Satanist image. The redheaded woman waved and smiled.
“Hi Felix,” she said.
Felix nodded back. “Hey Susannah. Anybody else here yet?”
“Nope. We’re the first.”
“Awesome.” Felix took a pack of cigarettes out of her jacket pocket and offered one to Susannah, who declined with a shake of her head. She lit one and took a drag. “I’m like a hundred messages behind in the group chat. What are we supposed to be doing here?”
“To be honest, I’m not really sure.” Susannah leaned back and looked at the clouds. “Trevor said he’s bringing candles and glitter. #Ted said to bring beer. I’ve got us covered there.” She patted the lid of the cooler. “I don’t think we’re supposed to have open containers on cemetery property, but what the groundskeepers don’t know can’t hurt them, right?”
“They don’t give a shit,” Felix said. “I’ve been coming to parties here for years. As long as we don’t litter, nobody’s gonna notice we were here.”
“Really? Even with…” Susannah cocked her head toward the headstone.
“What about her?”
“Kinda a big name around here. I’m surprised they don’t have more problems with vandalism.”
“Shit, is that what we’re doing?” Felix let her head fall backward. “Ugh, Trevor, that little shitlord. If he burns the best fucking rave spot in the city, I swear to god—”
Susannah put up her hands. “Pretty sure we’re not doing anything permanent. No spray paint, no sledgehammers. Trevor made it sound like some kind of sacred ritual.”
“You’re telling me our resident YouTube atheist found religion?”
“Nope.” Susannah’s expression soured. “If you wanna know most of what you’re missing in the group chat, Trevor is definitely still on his Dawkins kick.”
“Big fucking surprise.” Felix exhaled a long plume of smoke. “Whatever this ends up being, I’m getting pictures. Whether they turn into blackmail or evidence is up to fate.”
Crowley looked up as Aziraphale touched his back and crouched beside him. “Sorry I’m late,” the angel whispered. “What have I missed?”
“Not much so far.” Crowley pointed out the two women. “The short one’s Susannah and the cool one’s Felix, sounds like at least two more people on the way.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Which grave is the, ah, subject?”
“Right there. Woman of the hour.” Crowley scooted aside and gave Aziraphale room to get comfortably seated near the opening in the hedge he’d been using to surveil his targets. “They mentioned candles and— glitter? For some reason?”
Aziraphale wrinkled his nose. “Ugh. They’ll never manage to clean that up.”
“Herpes of the arts and crafts world. You’re welcome.” Crowley had received a commendation for inventing glitter.
Susannah and Felix turned their heads as three new figures approached, all dressed in long black robes— though one of them was in a terry cloth bathrobe and crocs.
“I’m gonna hate myself for asking this,” Felix said, “but Radu, are you wearing anything under that?”
The balding man in the bathrobe scratched himself. “All I’ve had to eat today is like six Benadryl and a magic brownie,” he said with a thin, gravelly voice and an unfocused smile, “so your guess is as good as mine.” Felix and Susannah both inched away.
“Aww, Radu,” said a second man, “you thought my brownies were so good they’re magic? Thanks, dude!” He put his arm around Radu. Big block letters shaved into the side of his head spelled out the name #TED.
“Wait, they weren’t?” The final man— really more of a teenager— set down a grocery bag overflowing with craft supplies. “You mean I coulda had one?”
“Oh no, those brownies were chock full of ketamine.” #Ted gave the teen a stern yet warm look. “No good for a growing boy like you, Trevor.”
Trevor balled his fists. “I’m old enough for drugs brownies!” His voice cracked when he spoke.
“Not for breakfast, son,” Radu said, patting Trevor on the shoulder. “But when we get home, you can have a little drugs brownies. As a treat.” Trevor pouted.
Aziraphale leaned close to whisper in Crowley’s ear. “Are those his legal guardians? They seem frighteningly unfit for the job.” Crowley shrugged, equally bewildered.
“Who are we waiting on?” Trevor smoothed his robes and stood up as straight as he could. “We need everyone here before we begin.”
“Sugar and Dino are on their way,” Susannah said, looking at her phone. “Dino just texted. He says they got stuck in traffic. Huge wreck on the highway.”
Crowley nudged Aziraphale. “Was that you?”
“It wasn’t huge,” he rushed to say. “No one was badly injured. They’re going to give the driver an X-ray to check for broken ribs, and that’s going to reveal a precancerous mass that his doctors can remove before it becomes a problem, and the insurance payout will more than cover the cost of a new car.” He coughed. “And it knocked over a billboard displaying a very crass advertisement for extra-long hot dogs, so everyone benefits.”
“Whoa, hold up—” Susannah’s eyes widened. “Dino says Angel’s coming with them.”
“What? No!” The blood drained from Trevor’s face. “He said he wasn’t gonna!”
“Yeah,” Susannah said, “I didn’t think he would be interested either. He’s so…”
“So uptight it’s like he’s got a nun’s ruler shoved up his butt 24/7?” Felix interjected.
Susannah made a face. “I was going to say ‘lawful good,’ but, yeah.”
“It’s all right, Trevor,” #Ted said, “I know how hard you worked on this. We won’t let Angel guilt you into changing your mind.”
Trevor attempted to look defiant. “He wouldn’t be able to guilt me!”
“Yes he would, son, it’s his Catholic superpower. He can guilt any one of us.” #Ted paused. “Well, obviously not Radu, but you know what I mean.”
Radu gave a thumbs-up. “I watch my porn in the regular browser,” he said. “No incognito mode for me.”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Felix cut in. “It took me weeks to get rid of the malware. Could you please get your own fucking computer? Or at least resist the temptation to click every pop-up ad you see on mine?”
Radu’s smile did not waver. “Nope.”
“Wait a minute.” Susannah narrowed her eyes. “Radu, you live in a condemned Blockbuster. You text on a Jitterbug. Since when do you know how to use a computer?”
Felix glared. “He clearly doesn’t.”
“First rule of being a dealer,” Radu said, “don’t get high on your own supply. Vintage VHS porno got a limited lifespan and I can’t be putting my precious babies through their paces every time I wanna crank it. I gotta keep the good stuff in pristine condition for the viewing pleasure of all my loyal customers.”
Felix stubbed out her cigarette on one of the headstones. “You run a video rental store. It’s 2013. You don’t have loyal customers.”
“Ah ah ah, shhhh,” #Ted said, pressing a finger to his lips. “The IRS has ears everywhere.” He shot a suspicious look at a passing squirrel. “We’re a cash-based business with low overhead,” he said, a little too loudly. “There is no suspicious discrepancy between our foot traffic and our revenue, everything is very normal at our legitimate real store that is definitely not a money laundering scheme.”
“Yeah, taxation is theft!” Trevor shouted. The jar he had been struggling to open exploded in his face, showering him with glitter. Crowley glanced sideways just in time to see Aziraphale lower his hand. The angel had that mildly seasick look again and it tugged at Crowley with a feeling that he was professionally obligated not to call ‘guilt.’
“Hey, nice one,” he said to Aziraphale, giving him what he hoped was an encouraging smile. “Very subtle. Wouldn’t raise a single celestial eyebrow.”
“Don’t mention it,” Aziraphale said. He cut his eyes toward Crowley. “Seriously, don’t mention it. To anyone.”
Trevor coughed and spat glitter as Radu pounded on his back. #Ted and Felix broke into the beer while they unpacked the rest of Trevor’s supplies: stacks of scented candles, matches, more glitter, and a few folded black robes. Periodically, Susannah checked her phone for updates from Sugar’s car. She frowned and turned the phone over in her hands— “Hey, what gives? I just had at least 40% and now my battery’s in the red.”
“I got you, Sus.” Felix dug into one of her jacket pockets and pulled out a heavy, bricklike external battery. She pressed a button on its case, then pushed up her shades and stared. “Okay, what the fuck? This thing was full of juice when I left home.” Felix held the battery up and showed the others the faintly blinking charge indicator. “Now it’s dead.”
“Uh, guys,” Trevor said, “my phone’s dead, too.”
#Ted checked his phone and looked up sharply. “They’re all dead.”
“Didn’t know you could do that,” Crowley murmured. “Impressive.”
Aziraphale nodded. “I’ve been practicing. It’s very effective at keeping the shop free of loiterers.”
Radu’s eyes darted wildly and he scratched at his thinning hair. “#Ted, what’d you put in those brownies again? Cause I’m getting seriously paranoid here, man.”
“Yeah, guys, this feels really weird.” Susannah chewed her lip. “We can’t get in touch with Sugar and Dino, all our phones die suddenly… maybe we should just call it a day?” The five exchanged uneasy glances.
Crowley leaned forward. “Yes, that’s it,” he whispered. “Give up, leave, forget about this and go get brunch. C’mon, Satanic rituals are overrated, wouldn’t you nerds have so much more fun with a nice D&D campaign or something?” He touched Aziraphale’s hand. “If they don’t make up their minds in a few minutes, could you give me a freak rainstorm?”
Aziraphale’s face twisted in discomfort. “That’s rather high profile,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything with the weather unless we have no other choice. The chances of drawing unwanted attention—”
The arrival of the last three fake Satanists interrupted both Aziraphale and the group at the headstone. A blonde woman with a smile almost as bright as her crisp yellow sundress bounded up, jumped on Felix and Susannah, and pulled them both into a fierce hug, heedless of Felix’s spikes. “Hey y’all!”
“Hi Sugar,” Susannah said, returning the hug. “So glad you made it! We were just talking about leaving if you didn’t show up soon. Traffic was bad?”
“The worst,” Sugar groaned. “Half the highway’s shut down.”
“Just happy to finally be out of that car,” said a short man with a suit jacket and an immaculate pompadour. He carried a cloth-lined basket and held it out to Felix. “Please, get these away from me before I eat them all. Sugar’s a bona fide pastry wizard and this spell of hers has got one powerful area of effect.” He winked at Sugar.
Sugar rolled her eyes. “Dino, quit flirtin’. You did all the decorating.”
“Can’t stop, won’t stop,” Dino replied. “But yeah, the little pentagrams were my idea. They came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.”
“Wait a minute, Dino,” Sugar said, reaching into the basket. “Radu, catch.” She tossed him a ziplock bag filled with cookies. “Those ones are dairy-free.”
“Sweet! Not gonna shit myself to death today!” Radu opened the bag and took out a shortbread cookie sporting a neat little pentagram drawn in red icing. “Aw, Sugar, you shouldn’t have.”
“Yeah. I know.” Sugar beamed threateningly. “That’s what makes me the nice one.”
As everyone gathered to share the cookies, the eighth and final member of their circle stood a few feet away with his arms crossed over his chest. He looked like a bouncer, black-clad and lean but well-muscled. By process of elimination, this had to be Angel.
Angel cleared his throat. “So, Trevor.” Silence fell and Trevor choked on a bite of pentagram shortbread. “Wanna enlighten us as to what we’re all doing here?”
“Oh, um—” Trevor trembled. #Ted laid a hand on his shoulder and shook him supportively until he achieved a sort of resonant frequency and regained a smidge of composure. “Well, uh, we’re all gathered here today because, uh… because we’re gonna use devil magic to turn Fred Phelps’s mom gay.”
“Is that so?” The chill in Angel’s voice could freeze the Everglades solid. “And why, exactly, are we doing this?”
“Cuz he’s in charge of Westboro Baptist Church and they hate gay people!” Trevor sputtered, waving his hands in exasperation. “Come on, Angel, you of all people should appreciate this.”
“Yeah, no,” Angel said, “this does nothing to materially benefit me or any other member of the LGBTQ community. It’s barely a step up from moving Bibles to the science fiction section in Barnes & Noble.”
Trevor set his jaw. “That was a vital exercise of my freedom of speech!”
“A minimum wage retail worker had to reshelve each one of those so that you could get seven upvotes on r/atheism.” Angel gave Trevor a deadpan look. “You definitely struck a blow for rationality there. Much logic. Very wow.”
“They’re right, he is good at that,” Aziraphale murmured.
Crowley narrowed his eyes at Aziraphale. “Are you taking notes?”
“I absolutely am, this is excellent material. Expect to hear some of it the next time you do something moronic.” Crowley shoved him.
Dino stepped between Angel and Trevor, spreading his arms. “Angel, baby, lay off the ass-chewing,” he implored. “It’s only Trevor. Is he really worth it?”
Angel fumed. “I’ll lay off when he admits he’s so steeped in Christian cultural hegemony that he’s unconsciously reinforcing the very same moral hierarchies he claims to oppose!”
Dino took Angel’s hands in his. “We both know that’s never going to happen.” He leaned in close and gave Angel a conspiratorial grin. “At least this stunt’s getting him off the message boards and into some fresh air, right?”
“Just please, Dino, tell me you don’t buy this ‘doing it for the gays’ bullshit.” Angel’s posture softened a tiny bit as he relaxed into Dino’s embrace. “Last week he was abusing Bayesian statistics to ‘prove’ you’re not really bi. Trevor’s not exactly a learned scholar of queer theory.”
“Nah,” Dino said with a quick wave of his hand. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a shiny silver harmonica, and flipped it into the air before catching it and bringing it to his lips for a quick phwee and a shrug. “This is a tire fire, I just want to see how it shakes out.”
Angel jumped back. “Dude, what the fuck, I thought you left that thing at home!”
“What, this?” Dino held up the harmonica. “I bring it everywhere. Fun to have around, never know when you might need a little—” Here, Dino made as though to blow into the harmonica again, but Angel smacked it out of his hand with a look of abject terror.
Sugar rushed over. “Angel, what the sam hell?” She glanced at Dino retrieving the harmonica from the grass, then put her hands on her hips and glared at Angel. “Are you still on about this?”
Angel shook his head at the harmonica. “That shit is bad news,” he said. “Abuela didn’t raise no fool. I know haunted when I see it and that thing is fuckin haunted.” He made the sign of the cross without lifting his eyes from the gleaming instrument in Dino’s hand.
Sugar gave an exasperated sigh. “He got it at a pawn shop in a strip mall, not a damn crypt. You’re acting ridiculous.”
“Was that pawn shop still there when we drove by the next day?” Angel shot Sugar a challenging look. “Was it?”
“Retail space in that part of town has a really high turnover rate.”
“It vanished into thin air the second we were gone.” He crossed himself again and thrust an accusatory finger at the harmonica. “Haunted!” Dino slipped the harmonica back into his jacket and put up his hands in a conciliatory gesture; only then did Angel step down from red alert.
“A-hem,” Trevor said— actually said, out loud, pronouncing it like a word rather than a throat-clearing noise. “If nobody else has any other interruptions planned, I think we can begin.”
Crowley looked over at Aziraphale. “Please tell me you’ve got some other interruptions planned?” Aziraphale made a face and didn’t answer. Crowley felt a tightening in his chest.
“So how exactly do we do this, o wise and powerful leader?” Felix drawled, lighting another cigarette.
Trevor puffed up his chest. “Okay, well, according to the WikiHow, we need two couples who are willing to kiss for the sake of the ritual. One that’s two girls and one that’s two boys.” He failed to conceal an eager glance at Felix, who flipped him the bird.
“Nnnnnope,” she said, “no way am I acting out your weird Suicide Girl fantasy, you little turd.”
Sugar and Susannah exchanged a brief series of inquisitive looks and acquiescent shrugs, then Susannah said, “We’ll do it. But yeah, Trevor, you have to look the other way while it happens.” Trevor’s shoulders slumped.
“Okay, fine,” he said, “but we still need two guys. I’m gonna be leading the whole thing so it can’t be me.”
Dino flashed Angel an inviting look, eyebrows raised. Angel shook his head. “No, man, I still think this is a shitty idea. I’m not getting involved.”
Trevor frowned. “Well if it’s not you guys, that leaves…”
#Ted wrapped an arm around Trevor’s shoulders and looked at him with warm concern. “Now son, your daddy and I might make some weird noises here in a minute, but that’s just because we love each other so much. I don’t want you to be scared little buddy. It’s all perfectly natural.”
“Love’s a beautiful thing, Trevor,” Radu agreed, pouring baby oil on his chest.
“Uh…” Trevor ducked out of #Ted’s fatherly embrace. “You guys do know you’re not my real dads, right?”
“Ohana means family, son,” #Ted said. “And family means nobody gets left behind when you need some dudes to make out for Satan.” #Ted turned and clapped his hands on to Radu’s shoulders. “All right, brother, you ready for this? Are you ready to take our friendship to the next level?” He stared at Radu with an intensity bordering on mania. “Will you join me for what might be our most excellent adventure yet?”
Radu grinned. “Hell yeah buddy, fuck me in the ass ‘cause I love Jesus.”
“JUST KISSING!” Trevor yelled, waving his hands in alarm. “All you need to do is kiss! Keep your clothes on! Please?”
“Now would be a really great time for that rainstorm, angel,” Crowley hissed.
“I can’t just make it rain,” Aziraphale whispered, “weather patterns take time to shift!”
“Then get shifting!”
While Susannah and Sugar donned their robes, Dino and Felix sprinkled glitter in the shape of a pentagram on the grave. The task was tricky enough to start (five-sided shapes are notoriously difficult to eyeball without a compass and straightedge), but they weren’t helped by the sudden uptick in the wind’s intensity. Each line they laid down vanished almost instantly into the twinkling breeze. Cursing and shielding their eyes from the stinging hellsparkles, they redoubled their efforts, digging glitter into the dirt with their fingers. Crowley might have admired their determination if it wasn’t a key ingredient in his impending doom.
Trevor and #Ted had similar trouble with the candles. They huddled together, using one another’s bodies as mutual windbreaks, but every match they lit was swiftly snuffed. Eventually, Felix stomped over with her lighter and burned the wicks into submission with the practiced determination of a lifelong smoker. They set clusters of flickering, pumpkin-spice-scented candles at the five corners of a pentagram made of equal parts mud and glitter. It might not win any beauty contests, but the group now had a passably-serviceable summoning circle. The clouds overhead thickened.
Crowley felt like he might throw up. He had planned this far, he’d put together an outline of what he could do if the ironic devil-worship progressed to a point of no return, but he’d been clinging to the hope that Aziraphale could disperse the crowd before that. He couldn’t even be mad— Aziraphale was obviously trying, the concentration was clear as day on his face. Weather was tough! Bless him, the angel was giving those humans all the plausibly-deniable Hell he could muster. But if humans were good at anything, it was persevering with a bad idea despite innumerable gentle and not-so-gentle hints that they probably shouldn’t. It was, literally, the oldest story in the book.
Trevor took up his position behind the grave marker. “Okay,” he said, “kissers, come kneel on either side of me up here. Everybody else, just… uh…” He gestured around the circle. “Sorta stand around? Like in a solemn way.” He reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a pair of horns on a headband, then fastened them into his sandy hair.
“Cool evil priest costume,” Felix said. “You definitely don’t look like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s trollsona.”
Trevor blushed furiously. “Shut up, Felix!”
Susannah and Sugar knelt on Trevor’s left and linked hands across the headstone. #Ted and Radu took up their spot to Trevor’s right, leering at one another disconcertingly. Dino glanced at the darkening sky and sucked his teeth. “Hey friendos, we might want to hurry this up. We’ve got rain coming.”
Aziraphale was making a nervous noise in the back of his throat and it was all Crowley could do not to leap from the bushes and start physically knocking people over. He would really have to go through with this, wouldn’t he? He pictured himself explaining to Herne why several promising young acolytes had all of a sudden devoted their lives not to the Prince of Darkness, but to the pursuit of serious psychiatric help. If Crowley was exceptionally lucky, he’d only get pecked to death by seagulls; being transformed into one and then roasted on a spit seemed equally likely.
Trevor raised his arms, but before he could speak, he saw something on the edge of the cemetery that made his eyes go wide. Seven humans, one angel, and one demon turned their heads in unison to see an approaching crowd armed with bright neon picket signs, led by an aged, animated little man who could be none other than Fred Phelps himself. They were headed for the circle.
“Oh shit,” Trevor squeaked. “They found out.”
“Oh, no no no no no,” Aziraphale whispered. “They’re here. Crowley, they’re right here!” There was terror in his eyes. “I have to stop, they’re too close. If anything I do gives them even the slightest advantage—”
Crowley laid a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder to quiet him. “It’s okay, you did all you could. Don’t risk it.” He frowned at the advancing mass of angry churchfolk. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll scare everyone off for us.”
Aziraphale gave a short, flat laugh. “Given how events have unfolded so far, what makes you think we’re at any risk of being lucky?”
Phelps pointed and bellowed. “Get your filthy hands off my mother’s grave, you bunch of—” Here, he used a word that Crowley inferred from context did not mean ‘cigarettes.’ The four who had been kneeling beside Trevor scrambled to their feet and backed away, but Trevor stayed frozen to the spot, staring at the mob and shaking so hard that it knocked his horns askew.
“Come on, kid, we gotta run!” Radu pulled at Trevor’s arm. “You’re too skinny for prison! You won’t last a day!” Trevor didn’t budge.
With a frustrated groan, Angel marched over to where Trevor stood paralyzed. He took a deep breath and planted himself squarely between the acne-scarred teenage disaster and the oncoming wave of Christian extremists. “My friends might be assholes,” Angel declared, “but they’re still my friends.” He curled his fists and stared down the worst the WBC could throw at him. “If you wanna get to them, you go through me.”
Phelps came level with Angel and sneered. “You have no right to talk to me that way, you dirty little trespassing—” Phelps punctuated his sentence with a racist slur followed immediately by a homophobic one in a neat one-two punch. Angel was silent for a beat, and then he punctuated Phelps’s face with his fist.
The old man went down hard and the mob erupted into chaos. Most of them threw down their posters and fell on the Satanists with their fists, while a few swung their picket signs like scythes. #Ted ripped off his shirt and ran full-speed into the fray, screaming, followed closely by Radu— who, thank whatever powers had the unenviable task of watching over him, had in fact remembered to put on underwear that morning. Someone had Angel in a headlock, but dropped him as #Ted and Radu tackled them from behind. Sugar helped Angel to his feet just as Angel knocked the legs out from under a guy who’d been swinging his fist at Sugar. In the space of a breath, Sugar took up one of the discarded protest signs, tore away its day-glo message, and started cracking skulls like softballs. It was hard to say what was more disturbing: the sharp thwack of her weapon connecting with an unlucky head, or the gleeful, thousand-watt smile that never left her face while she did it.
“This is getting out of hand,” Aziraphale said, wincing and gripping Crowley’s arm. “We have to do something.”
“Absolutely not,” Crowley shot back. “As long as they’re fighting, they’re not summoning anything. They keep this up and we might just get out of this without a single miracle.”
“You mean you might,” Aziraphale snapped.
A woman grabbed #Ted’s arm and bent his fingers backward with a sickening crunch. #Ted screamed and fell to his knees, freed from the woman’s grasp by Radu, who leapt up and bit the lady right on the face. Felix, Dino, and Susannah huddled together and watched in horror as Radu threw his head back and snarled at the sky like a pasty, horny panther. Dino held his harmonica to his chest as though it was a talisman, gripping it so firmly it turned his knuckles white.
Aziraphale glared. “I gave you a car crash and a freak thunderstorm,” he said, “I think you owe me one.” He narrowed his eyes. “One million, if I remember correctly.”
Crowley groaned. “All right, fine, I’ll do something, you can call off the flipping exorcism.” He shut his eyes and concentrated for a moment. “Okay. The police just got an anonymous tip that everyone’s favorite free speech fans are causing trouble at the graveyard again. They’re on their way.” He crossed his arms at Aziraphale. “Happy now, angel?”
Felix and Susannah each grabbed one of Radu’s arms and yanked him off a sobbing, bleeding woman. He had something disturbingly ear-shaped clutched in his teeth. “You don’t want me to answer that question truthfully,” Aziraphale said.
“Oh, you’ll live,” Crowley grumbled. “Just as long as they get here before…” He spotted Trevor still standing at the headstone, improbably untouched in the midst of all the fighting. He’d gone white as a sheet when the Phelps clan first appeared, but now, a sharp aura of resolve had overtaken him. Crowley knew that look. Correctly identifying that look happened to be a vital survival skill for anyone spending most of their time in the company of angels, demons, or other overdramatic idiots. It was the look of a man who’s just decided (with no input from his compatriots) that he has nothing left to lose, and whose only remaining concern is finding the most spectacular way to sacrifice everyone for his cause.
Trevor straightened his spine, then his horns, and took a deep breath. “In the name of Lucifer,” he cried—
Crowley broke out in a cold sweat. “Oh fuck, kid, no, don’t say it—”
A couple heads turned at the sound of Trevor’s voice, and with that same stony determination, he hitched up his robe and fumbled with the zipper on his jeans. “We beseech all the powers of Hell—”
“Stop it, stop it, fuck, shit, stop—” Crowley dug his fingers into his hair.
“—to turn this dead lady gay as fuck!” In full view of everyone present, Trevor whipped out his dick and slapped it down on the headstone in front of him.
“TREVOR WHAT THE FUCK?”
“Holy shit, Trevor, what—”
“Oh my god kid, put that away, for fuck’s sake!”
“WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
“Son, we’re gonna need to have a serious talk about manscaping.”
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said, his voice hollow. He tapped Crowley on the shoulder. “I’m… I’m afraid that’s your cue.” Crowley whined involuntarily. He couldn’t watch this. With a sinking, suffocating feeling, he squeezed his eyes shut and snapped his fingers.
The ground shook. All around the grave, the pentagram flared to life as the glitter took on a deep red infernal glow. Candle flames surged upward and fire licked around the circle and across the poor old woman’s headstone, causing Trevor to shriek and stumble backwards, slapping frantically at his flaming crotch. The earth inside the ring of fire surged and boiled. From the center of the pentagram, a hairy, horned head emerged and thrashed from side to side, throwing off showers of deep black prairie topsoil as it struggled to free the rest of its body. A second goat followed close on its heels, kicking and screeching, clawing its way up with sharp little hooves. Soon, dozens of goats were pouring out of the earth, stampeding in all directions and filling the air with bone-chillingly human screams almost loud enough to drown out the cries of the humans they pursued. The goats saw no difference between the combatants of the strange battle they’d been thrown into. They ran down anyone and everyone, ironic Satanist and zealous homophobe alike, united in their terror and hatred of anything on two legs. The crowd scattered.
A shaggy white goat with a bell clanging at its neck plunged blindly toward the bushes that concealed Aziraphale and Crowley. The noise made Crowley open his eyes, but not quickly enough— Aziraphale threw himself protectively over Crowley as the goat vaulted over the bush, rebounded off Aziraphale’s back, and shot off into the distance, bleating wildly.
“Ow,” Aziraphale said, lifting himself off Crowley with one arm and rubbing at his back with the other. “This was your plan?”
Crowley grunted and sat up. “One of them. Honestly not my best.” He straightened his sunglasses and pulled a couple twigs out of Aziraphale’s hair. “But what was I supposed to do? Turn into a snake and do a hypnotic dance? That never helps.”
“Well you’ve certainly made a spectacle, that’s for sure.” Aziraphale craned his neck over the bushes to survey the chaos, ducking down again as a pair of goats chased a frantic, flailing #Ted past them. “Do you think it will satisfy your employers?”
“Maybe?” Crowley grimaced. “Probably not. I don’t think I won many hearts and minds.” He peered through the branches and tried to pick out the Satanists in the flurry of hooves and shouts.
Dino was curled in a ball with his back pressed against a headstone, rocking back and forth. The harmonica was still in his hands. He stared at it, transfixed, sweating, practically hyperventilating, and Angel cried out to him. “Dino, no!” It was no use. He moved with a jerk that looked less like Dino raising the harmonica and more like the harmonica yanking Dino’s hands along behind it as it flew to his lips. Dino inhaled, and the sharp notes of the mouth harp tore through the din like a saw.
The air filled with a thick, crackling energy that snagged at the skin like steel wool. Dino rose from the ground. Crowley squinted. He looked… taller? Sharper? No, he looked exactly the same as he had a moment ago. But there was also more of him.
Aziraphale’s eyes widened. “What did you do?”
“That’s— that one’s not me,” Crowley said, struggling to keep his voice even. “I don’t know what that is.”
Dino rolled his shoulders and cast his gaze over the cemetery, taking in the turbulent sea of goats, blood, fire, and screams like it hadn’t reduced him to a shuddering mess just minutes before. He curled his lip.
“What the fuck-ass white nonsense is this?”
The voice that poured from Dino’s chest was deep and rich and hailed from nowhere near Dino’s native Atlantic City. Every human present swooned, while every goat ceased its bleating and stared at the source of the melodious sound.
“Is he possessed?” Aziraphale asked in a frightened whisper. “That looks like possession, is it a demon? Who is it?”
Crowley scowled. “Okay, first off, not all demons know each other, and second—”
The thing that wasn’t Dino brought the harmonica back to Dino’s mouth and squeezed air from Dino’s lungs into it, and then a wall of light and sound swept the world away.
“Give it to me straight, doc, am I gonna lose the hand?”
Susannah paused wrapping the elastic bandage around #Ted’s wrist. “What? #Ted, it’s a sprain. You’ll be fine.”
#Ted gripped Susannah’s hand with his good one and stared into her eyes, unblinking. He was seated on the cooler while Susannah knelt to examine him, and blood trickled down his face from a head wound that threatened to rechristen him #FED. “Don’t sugarcoat it for me. I can take it. Just promise me one thing: if you have to amputate—”
“Amputation is not on the table here, trust me.”
“—put my hand on ice. Save it. Use it to clone me with your doctor magic.”
“#Ted, honey, we’ve been over this. You’re not a starfish.” Susannah finished securing the bandage around #Ted’s wrist and patted him on the cheek. “I’m also not a doctor.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Sus, I don’t care if you’re a hologram.” #Ted bobbed his head in a motion that managed to be a nod and a shake simultaneously. “You’re just as good as Beverly Crusher and don’t let anyone tell you different.”
Susannah screwed up her face. “Are you talking about… I’m an EMT, not an EMH. That’s not even a real thing. Please tell me you know that’s not a real thing?” She pulled a pen light out of her pocket and shined it into each of #Ted’s pupils in turn.
“It’s okay, buddy,” Radu said. He stood behind #Ted massaging his shoulders, robe open and chest spattered with blood, glitter, and goat hair. “I’ll be your healthcare power of attorney, make sure they carry out your wishes. We’re gonna cut off your hand and clone us a new son. A hot one.”
#Ted put his newly-bandaged hand on top of Radu’s and gazed up at him with glowing fondness. “Oh, Radu, you know I always wanted to give Trevor a little brother.” His eyes welled with tears. “If I don’t make it through this, promise me, you’ll raise him right.” He choked back a sob. “Promise me you’ll name him… Barry.”
Sugar stumbled toward Susannah, moaning and holding her head. “Gimme a beer. No— two beers. I need two beers.” She kicked the cooler and made a growling noise at #Ted and Radu. “You’re between me and the beer. Be somewhere else.”
#Ted rose from the cooler and Sugar lifted the lid, but Susannah reached over and snapped it back down. “Nope, absolutely not,” she said firmly. “Alcohol and concussions don’t mix.”
“You suck,” Sugar slurred. Susannah handed her a bag of ice and she held it against her head. “Dunno what’s worse,” she mumbled, “the goat hoof to the face or that music. Feels like I’m still hearing it.”
“Yeah, about that,” Felix said from the ground, still sprawled out where she’d fallen. “Dino… what the fuck?”
Dino did not appear to know what the fuck. He had been the only one standing when everyone came to, shaking off memories of blinding light and harmonica chords winding together into a soul-piercing blues song that blocked out all thought. By the time everyone had made it shakily back to their feet, the police and the news crews were already there, and Dino was once again a mere lounge singer— albeit with a few more hairs out of place than he preferred. He hadn’t done much since then except stare into the middle distance and absently stroke his thumb along the back of the harmonica.
Sugar offered Felix a hand and lifted her off the ground. They walked tentatively to Dino and stood on either side of him, exchanging significant glances over his head.
“Hey, hon,” Sugar said, forcing her voice into a semblance of its usual Southern sweetness, “maybe I should take that harmonica off your hands for a little while.”
Dino snapped back to life and right into a too-casual shrug. “Nah, no need babe, I’m fine,” he said through chattering teeth. “Just peachy.”
Felix put a hand on his shoulder. “Dude, you know I’m like, the last person to give any credence to Angel’s whole, you know, deal—” They all glanced toward Angel, who had gone to his knees immediately upon waking and had not ceased his stream of trilingual, profanity-laden prayer since then— “but all available evidence suggests you should not be the one holding that thing right now.”
“Dollface, you’ve got it all wrong,” Dino said, smiling. “This old thing? It’s nothing!” He waved the harmonica just out of reach of Sugar’s free hand with calculated indifference. “I can put it down any time I want.”
“Cool,” Felix said. “So…” She held out her hand in front of Dino expectantly.
Dino hugged the harmonica to his chest and his eyes darkened. “I just don’t want to.”
Meanwhile, Susannah dabbed at Radu’s chest with a gauze pad soaked in antiseptic. “Radu, uh, is any of this blood actually yours?” The police eyed Radu suspiciously, and Radu eyed them right back, licking his lips. “On second thought,” Susannah amended, “I don’t really need to know.”
#Ted hobbled up to Trevor and put an arm around his skinny shoulders. “Look at you, kiddo,” he said, beaming with pride. “Never thought I’d see the day. Feels like just yesterday you were crawling around in diapers, babbling nonsense and chewing the feet off all your Barbie dolls—”
Trevor winced. “We’ve known each other for a year and a half, #Ted.”
“—and now you’re all grown up, leading unholy rituals and violating municipal livestock ordinances like a pro.” #Ted clapped him on the back. “I’m proud of you, son.”
Trevor gasped. His lip trembled, and his grip on the ice pack slipped as he looked up at #Ted. “Y-you… you really mean it?”
#Ted smiled. “You bet I do.” Trevor burst into tears and threw his arms around #Ted.
Susannah pointed sharply. “Trevor, I swear to god, if you ever want a boner again you need to pick that ice pack up and put it right back where you had it.”
At long last, the clouds opened, and rain poured down on the crowded cemetery. Paramedics, news crews and zealots scrambled for cover, and in all the commotion, no one noticed a couple of strangely-dressed British guys ducking past the cops and cameras.
“Before you ask,” Crowley muttered, glancing over his shoulder, “no, I don’t know what that was. All I know is it didn’t come from Hell and I never, ever want to find out where it did come from.”
“As grateful as I am for its assistance halting the bloodshed, I believe we’re in perfect agreement there,” Aziraphale replied. He stepped out of the way of a baby goat making off with some poor soul’s windbreaker. “Where did you find all these goats, anyway?”
“Petting zoo, about five miles up the road that way.” Crowley gestured off to the distance and frowned. “Guess I ought to put them back.”
“Oh, no, I don’t think that’s necessary,” Aziraphale said, watching some goats splash and frolic in a puddle. “They seem much happier here.”
Crowley nodded and made a noise of assent. “Mm. Oh, here, almost forgot.” He handed Aziraphale a shortbread cookie with smudged red icing. “Nicked you one of those biscuits.”
Aziraphale’s face lit up. “Oh, you’re too kind!”
Crowley groaned. “Don’t give me that, angel, it was theft.”
“Right, right,” Aziraphale said easily, “very wicked. Bad demon. Want half?” Crowley shook his head and Aziraphale took a bite, closing his eyes and humming in sugar-fueled contentment.
“What I could really use is a drink,” Crowley said, shoulders sagging. “If I’m getting recalled to Hell for an exciting disciplinary debrief, I’d rather not do it sober.”
“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you think,” Aziraphale said. “You did as well as you could under the circumstances. They have to appreciate that.”
Crowley glanced over. “Your optimism is as adorable as it is tragic.”
“Hm. Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to be proactive, just in case.” Aziraphale patted Crowley’s elbow and gave him a warm smile. “Let’s go get you drunk, dear.”
Crowley’s phone buzzed again, face-down on the bar between him and Aziraphale. Crowley studiously ignored it.
Aziraphale gave him a pointed look. “You’re going to have to answer that eventually.”
Crowley buried his head in his arms. “I can’t do it right now.” He gave a muffled groan. “One more drink and I’ll check my messages, promise.”
“That’s what you said four drinks ago.” Aziraphale gently nudged the phone towards Crowley. “Surely the suspense is worse than knowing?”
Crowley whined. “Just… ugh.” He pushed the phone back. “You read it. Tell me how bad it is, scale of one to ten. So I can mentally prepare myself for how fucked I am.”
Aziraphale made a little disgruntled noise, but turned over the phone and swiped through Crowley’s notifications. He knit his brows in puzzlement. “Um…”
Crowley opened one eye. “How bad?”
“Well… the good news is, I don’t think you’ll be making it back to Hell any time soon.”
He lifted his head. “They don’t know about the screwup yet?”
“That’s the thing,” Aziraphale said, frowning. “They know what happened. But, well, it seems they think you performed splendidly, and they’d, um. They’d like you to do it again.” He held the phone out to Crowley with a hesitant look. “Congratulations?”
Crowley grabbed the phone and stared. In the hours since he and Aziraphale had first barricaded themselves in the hotel bar, the Kansas Goat Massacre (goats being the perpetrators of said massacre, not victims) had flooded the internet at the speed of memes. Three different autotuned remixes of the local news vied for the coveted spot at the top of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. New Vines of Trevor catching his privates on fire set to various dubstep songs cropped up faster than censors could take them down. Message boards overflowed with speculation about whether it was a hoax, and intrepid skeptics documented their attempts to recreate the rituals needed to summon forth hordes of angry livestock. The sudden surge in occult interest had drawn competing official statements from the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple, and the webmasters of both organizations were working overtime to meet increased demand. Herne had already sent a list of a dozen new services, séances, and summonings Crowley was expected to oversee in the upcoming weeks. “Oh, fuck me,” he groaned.
“Come now, don’t act so glum. You thought they were going to torture you!”
“This is worse than torture,” Crowley said, “it’s work!”
Aziraphale pursed his lips. “You poor thing.”
Crowley rubbed his temples. “This was so stupid, I’ve started a damn fad. They’ll have me chasing down every idiot who squirts a ketchup pentagram onto his hamburger now. I won’t get a moment’s rest.”
“Hm.” The angel had an inscrutable look. “Could I see your mobile again for a moment?” Crowley handed it back and took a long swallow of his drink. He looked up when Aziraphale gasped, holding the phone out in front of him. “Oh heavens, I’m afraid I’ve broken it,” he said, his face a mask of perfectly shocked contrition. “You know how I am with these newfangled technologies— dreadfully sorry, darling.” He set the now-dead phone down next to Crowley’s hand. “If I had to guess, I’d say you’ll be entirely unreachable for at least twenty four hours. What a terribly inconvenient disruption to your workflow.” There was a glint in his eye.
Crowley grinned in spite of himself. “You cheeky bastard.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Aziraphale picked up his drink. He glanced sidelong at Crowley, and his mouth twitched into one of those half-suppressed smiles that tended to give Crowley a weird, warm feeling like glitter was exploding inside him— the nice kind of glitter, not the ecological nightmare kind. “Crowley,” Aziraphale said, gazing at him with a dangerous level of fondness, “may I be emotionally candid for a moment?”
Crowley made a face. “Ew, I wish you wouldn’t.”
“It’ll only take a minute, I promise you’ll survive.” Aziraphale looked down into his glass. “I know things didn’t exactly go to plan today, and I fear I was less help than you’d hoped for, but… I’m really quite glad that you asked for my assistance. I know we’re good at staying out of one another’s way, but it’s gratifying to know we can also work together if something complicated comes up. Something neither of us could handle alone.” He met Crowley’s eyes again and smiled warmly. “That you trusted me with this, it’s— well, I’m touched.”
Crowley struggled to smother the glitter-feeling with the familiar, comfortable weight of dripping sarcasm. “Aww,” he teased, “I love you too, honey.”
Aziraphale sighed. “Yes, of course, Heaven forbid you accept my gratitude with anything approaching actual candor.”
“Yeah, angel, Heaven does actually forbid that,” Crowley replied with a roll of his eyes. “But, you know, if it weren’t cosmically fucking verboten for me to feel anything but contempt for you and all you stand for, I might say…” He nudged Aziraphale’s shoulder with his own. “...that it’s nice to know you’ve got my back when shit goes sideways.” He took a drink. “Though hopefully it won’t, not for a good long while. I’m sick to death of sideways shit for now.”
“Oh, yes, absolutely,” Aziraphale agreed, beaming and raising his glass in a toast. “Lovely adventure, thank you for inviting me, let’s please not do anything like it ever again.”
Crowley smiled and clinked glasses with Aziraphale. “Cheers to that.”
me, like three flippin months ago: Gee whiz, I sure like this book, I should write some fic about it. Haha what if I used that RPG session where we fucked around with the ironic Satanists, that would be funny
me, four hundred words in: I need some names for these Satanists. Oh, what if I used our characters? Fun cameos! In-jokes that no one will understand! This is a good idea!
me, five thousand words in: Oh right, there are like... a billion of us in this campaign. There are so many of us. Also one of our characters is literally named Angel, that's not gonna be confusing as fuck or anything
me, eight thousand words in: it doesn't count as self-insert fanfic if I set Trevor's dick on fire, right?
me, ten thousand words in and there still isn't any kissing yet because I am too busy thinking up more gross things for Radu to do: I have no one to blame but myself and myself is a stupid bitch
Chapter two is coming soon. Aziraphale and Crowley will bone, I promise. #Ted and Radu will not (sorry #Tedu stans, all two of you).
“What I still don’t understand is how they expected to demonstrate success.” Aziraphale leaned one elbow on the bar and pressed his glass to the side of his head, thinking. “Turning someone gay post-mortem? It’s not as though they could prove it worked.”
“That’s the whole point, though,” Crowley said, raising his hands and gesturing helplessly. “It’s an exercise in absurdity, the point is that it’s nonsense! All those poor sods wanted was to show how stupid it is to go around shouting about what other people’s dead relatives are getting up to in the afterlife. Honestly, I think it’s brilliant. Fuck those funeral crashers, give them a taste of their own medicine for once.” He scowled into his whiskey. “But then I have to go and fuck it all up for them because Hell has their knickers in a twist about some ‘image problem.’ Never mind that if we actually respond to the ritual, it ruins the effect for no purpose whatsoever except to prove the fundies right.”
“You didn’t though, not really,” Aziraphale said. “The cultists—or whatever they were—called on the powers of Hell to change a woman’s spirit from a heterosexual one into a homosexual one, and you answered with a terrifying goat explosion. You didn’t actually fulfill their request.” He furrowed his brow. “Did you?”
Crowley scoffed. “Of course not, that’s impossible. At least as far as I know.” He raised his eyebrows at Aziraphale. “What, are you saying your lot can do that?”
Aziraphale waved the idea away. “No. The concept’s meaningless.” He set his glass down and turned it in circles, watching the ice swirl and melt. “I suppose sexual orientation could be said to be a fundamental aspect of personality, but precisely which elements of individuality persist in someone’s immortal soul is impossible to predict. One’s essential nature isn’t necessarily immutable, but it is deeply personal. And largely unknowable to any but the soul itself.” Aziraphale gazed thoughtfully into the distance. “You might say it’s—”
“If you say it, I will hit you.”
“—a mystery,” he concluded, meeting Crowley’s glare with his most beatifically serene smile.
“Well, that’s a shame.” Crowley rested his elbows on the bar and leaned forward. “I was having fun imagining how it might work. ‘Oi, angel, we’ve just received an urgent request for lesbification, go dust off your spiffiest feminine incarnation and eat this woman’s pussy till she switches teams. Alleluia and all that.’” He grinned, and at this angle Aziraphale could see the sideways glance Crowley shot at him from behind his shades. It was clearly calculated to fluster his presumed angelic sensibilities, but the combined effects of alcohol and exhaustion had suffused Aziraphale with a sort of warm, pleasant fuzziness from which it was difficult to summon an appropriately mortified response. It was only Crowley. Aziraphale could worry about upholding the dignity of the head office some time when the company was more consequential and less companionable.
“Well, I don’t think my attentions have ever had that effect.” He chuckled and stirred his drink. “And if they have, it was quite unintentional, I assure you.”
Crowley let out a laugh. “You make it sound like you’ve actually—” He turned to face Aziraphale. “Wait, have you?”
“Have I what?”
“Ever, you know—” Crowley began to make some illustrative hand gestures. Aziraphale swatted at him ineffectually, trying to suppress a smile.
“Oh stop that, will you? People will see!” He grabbed Crowley’s hands and they struggled for a moment before Aziraphale managed to pin them down flat on the bar. “And yes, of course I have. Haven’t you?”
Crowley’s mouth hung open. “You’re kidding.”
“Why is that so strange?” Aziraphale frowned. “I feel as though I ought to be offended.”
Crowley snorted and pulled his hands back. “Well it’s not very angelic behavior, is it?”
Aziraphale gave a tiny shrug. “It’s part of the job.” His face felt warm, like the beginnings of a blush— but that made absolutely no sense because he was referring to the will of the Lord, about which he could by definition feel no shame or doubt. Usually, anyway… It was possible that those last few drinks hit him a little harder than he expected.
Crowley scoffed again. “Wh— okay, my job, yeah, sure, but your job?” He gestured between them and shook his head. “No way.”
“Yes way!” Aziraphale blurted, feeling strangely affronted. Well now, that was entirely ungrammatical. His first experience with true inebriation was proving to be quite an adventure. “What would you know about it, anyway?”
Crowley smirked at him, clearly disbelieving. “Name one time.”
Several familiar voices in Aziraphale’s head listed out all the reasons he shouldn’t dignify the question with a response: It’s none of his business. He’s a demon. It’s dangerous to divulge intimate details of Heaven’s plans to those who are sworn to oppose them. He’d probably just laugh at you. And did we mention it’s none of his business? Because it’s none of his literally God-damned business. These were joined by a new, very insistent voice, shouting down the rest and echoing through all that pleasant fuzziness: Where did Crowley get the get the idea that you’ve never had sex? He’s wrong! He’s wrong and you should tell him! This is very important for some reason!
“Well.” Aziraphale took a sip of his drink. “Not that it’s any of your business, but.” He focused intently on the wallpaper on the far side of the room and tried to compose himself in a posture of nonchalance. “Are you familiar with the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila?”
He heard no response. When the silence persisted, he glanced in Crowley’s direction— and saw the widest, most genuinely shocked open-mouthed smile he’d seen on Crowley’s face in over a century. “That was you?”
Aziraphale’s blush deepened. “I may have had a hand in some of her more… memorable ecstatic visions, yes.”
“More than a hand, from what I’ve heard!” Aziraphale looked sharply away and Crowley latched on to it, needling him. “Don’t get shy on me now, angel, I’ve seen the Bernini.” He elbowed Aziraphale, grinning. “You minx!”
“Oh, that bloody statue.” Aziraphale groaned and closed his eyes. “I’ll have you know the sculptor took a lot of liberties.”
“He wasn’t the only one.” Crowley leaned close and spoke in an exaggerated, breathy whisper. “And he plunged his fiery spear into me again and again, until I was filled with the most exquisite—”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale smacked Crowley’s arm. “Honestly!”
Crowley wiggled his eyebrows. “Putting the ‘O’ in ‘O Holy Night?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you.” Aziraphale buried his face in his hands, trying to hide the sheepish grin growing on his face. “You’ll never let me live this down.”
“What? No!” Crowley threw his arm around Aziraphale and gave him a little shake. “I’m proud of you, angel! Didn’t think you had it in you.” He paused. “Or should I say in her?”
Aziraphale reached for something resembling righteous indignation, but he took one look at Crowley leering at him over his sunglasses and succumbed to the very undignified giggle trying to force its way out of his throat. Crowley snorted, and that was all it took to send them both into a fit of helpless laughter.
Aziraphale wiped tears from the corners of his eyes. “You know she thought I was a seraph? Can you imagine?”
“Puts a new spin on sleeping your way up the corporate ladder. Ooh, there’s something to put on your business cards!” Crowley nudged him. “A. Z. Fell: Bookworm in the streets, seraph in the sheets.” Aziraphale smiled and shook his head.
“All right, all right, show a little respect.” He put his hands on the bar in front of him and exhaled, forcing as much solemnity into his voice as he could muster. “It was a holy act.”
Crowley picked up his glass and tipped it toward Aziraphale in salute. “Nice work if you can get it.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Do you, still? That the sort of thing they have you doing often?”
“Oh goodness no,” Aziraphale said, “not for ages. That sort of saintly vision went out of fashion a long time ago.” He finished the last of his drink and sighed. “No, I’m afraid my work isn’t quite so exciting as that nowadays. Certainly not compared to yours, I’m sure.”
Crowley pulled a face that landed somewhere between furtive and confessional. “Eh, honestly?” He spread his hands. “Not as much excitement there as you’d expect.”
That was surprising. Aziraphale had always assumed that Crowley’s... well, to borrow a phrase he’d picked up that afternoon, Crowley’s whole deal, with the swagger and those trousers that looked to be monstrously uncomfortable, was in service of his duties as a solicitor of sin. “You mean, you don’t tempt people to sins of the flesh?”
Crowley shook his head. “Not often, no. Not really my department. I mean, if Hell’s serious about a seduction, they’re gonna send a specialist. An incubus or the like.” He shrugged and went back to his drink. “I’m not that kinda demon.”
“I confess, that runs counter to the way I’ve generally pictured you.” Aziraphale put a hand on his chest and adopted a performatively scandalized tone. “How dare you sir, I’m not that kind of demon!”
“Shut up,” Crowley said, smiling and kicking Aziraphale’s shin. “Trust me, I’m up to the task if the situation requires. S’just it very rarely does. Humans, you know?” He gestured around the bar with a sweep of his hand. “Most of the time, you give them the barest little nudge and they’ll hump like rabbits all on their own.”
That rang an alarm bell in a distant corner of Aziraphale’s mind. There was something important there, some significant detail he’d overlooked or forgotten, and Crowley’s words had briefly touched on it— but his thoughts kept slipping off the thing and tripping into rabbit holes. Hah. Rabbit holes, oh dear. “Why rabbits?” Aziraphale’s question came out a little slurred.
“Hm?” Crowley had flagged down the bartender to refresh both their drinks and had to turn his head to look back at Aziraphale. He cleared his throat and asked again, taking care to enunciate more clearly.
“You said, ‘hump like rabbits.’ Why rabbits?”
Crowley shrugged one shoulder. “It’s just an expression. I don’t think anybody asked the rabbits about it.”
“Well that’s what I mean,” Aziraphale said. “I understand the implication: the rabbit’s prodigious rate of reproduction seems to imply a vigorous sex life, but it’s not— the rabbits don’t necessarily— I mean, if we’re strictly speaking of how often or, or enthusiastically they copulate…” He had to pause. He’d forgotten where he was going with this.
“Well all right then, Encyclopedia Angelica,” Crowley asked, “what should I say instead?” He turned in his seat and rested one arm over the back of the chair, settling in to give Aziraphale his full attention. “All creatures great and small, which one you think fucks the most?”
Aziraphale rested his chin on his hand and considered. “Well, several species have the rabbit beat in terms of fecundity. Given the right environmental conditions, common dormice will outbreed the rabbit by a mile.” He leaned in and dropped his voice like he was relaying a piece of salacious gossip. “And none of them hold a candle to the invertebrates, not when you’ve got an Argentine queen ant laying four million eggs every month. Every single month! Rabbits could never.”
Crowley passed Aziraphale a fresh gin and tonic. “I will never understand how you remember so many weird animal facts while you’re drunk.” He was laughing again, and Aziraphale couldn’t tell whether it was with him or at him, but he found that he cared very little. To make Crowley laugh was a rare joy for Aziraphale, and he craved it even if it came at his own expense. The words pressed up against his lips unbidden, propelled by that insistent, indistinct alcohol fuzziness: I love making you laugh, do you know that? It’s my favorite thing in the world— but if he said that, it would make Crowley stop laughing. So he didn’t.
“But you weren’t asking which species produces the most offspring,” Aziraphale continued, taking the offered glass. “You’re asking which species has the most sex. The obvious candidate would be bonobos.”
“Oh come on, that’s not a real animal,” Crowley drawled, “s’not even a real word.”
“I assure you, bonobos are very real. They’re related to chimpanzees and they’re well-known for the frequency of their sexual relations.” Aziraphale gestured with his free hand. “Zoos can hardly even display them— they scandalize the visitors!”
“I’m not buying it, Aziraphale, pretty sure you’re making this one up.” Crowley’s grin was skeptical in a familiar way that translated to ‘I don’t actually think you’re making this one up, but please continue disagreeing with me, this is fun.’
“They are real! And they have scads of partners, any gender, for absolutely non-stop sex. You asked which animal engages in the most sexual activity, and that’s the one.” Aziraphale gave a decisive nod. “Bonobos.”
“So how come I’ve never heard of these depraved sex monkeys before?”
“Well, there’s no accounting for your deficit of education.” Aziraphale took Crowley’s scoff in stride. “And bonobos aren’t depraved,” he continued, “they’re quite peaceful. Turns out all that sex makes for a remarkably harmonious society. Really, if you want an example of the animal kingdom at its most sexually horrifying, you need look no further than ducks.” Aziraphale shuddered. He did not like to think about the sexual practices of ducks.
“Ducks?” Crowley frowned. “Like, the ones in ponds? What’s wrong with ducks?”
Aziraphale’s hands flew to his mouth. “Oh, you poor dear, you don’t know,” he said, “you don’t know about the ducks!”
“I know plenty about ducks,” Crowley countered, “or at least I thought I did. Why, what do ducks do that’s so horrible?”
“No, you don’t want to know.” Aziraphale shook his head firmly. “I won’t tell you, I couldn’t bear to hurt you like that.”
“Well obviously now I have to look it up.” Crowley grabbed his phone before Aziraphale could stop him, but halted and gave Aziraphale a wry look. “Or I would, if somebody hadn’t killed my battery for the evening.”
Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief. “Trust me, you’re far better off without that knowledge. It will bring you nothing but regret.”
“Angel, come on, you know who you’re talking to.” Crowley flashed him a grin that was more serpent than human. “You say it like that and I’m practically obligated to covet it.”
“I know,” Aziraphale said mournfully, “there’s no stopping you now I’ve put the idea in your head. You’ll seek out the truth eventually.” He took both Crowley’s hands in his and looked deep into his— well, his sunglasses, but it felt close enough to meaningful eye contact. “In that case, these are your last few hours of innocence.” Aziraphale gave Crowley’s hands a gentle squeeze. “Cherish them.”
Crowley seemed equal parts amused and concerned. “Aziraphale, are you okay? Usually you don’t get this maudlin over waterfowl until much later in the evening.”
“Ah, yes, you have a point. I’m… rather drunk.” After a moment’s pause, he remembered that he was holding Crowley’s hands and released them. “You know, as it turns out, I think I might be something of a lightweight? How dreadful. I had no idea.”
“Secret’s safe with me. But you might want to sober up a touch before you’re weeping over cormorants, yeah?”
“Yes! That’s a very good idea.” Aziraphale brought his hands together and rested them on the bar in front of him. “How. Um. How is that normally accomplished, again?”
“All right, now you’re worrying me. Can’t you just…?” Crowley made a little twirling motion in the air with his hand.
“Interesting fact: …no?”
Crowley’s demeanor changed instantly, all ease banished from his posture. “What happened?” His voice was low and urgent. “Did something happen at the cemetery? Did Heaven find out you were—”
Aziraphale shushed him. “No, it’s nothing like that, you needn’t worry. I planned this. It’s not unexpected, just…”
“What do you mean you planned this?”
He attempted a careless shrug but suspected it came off as more of a wobble. “Well, in order to keep this operation off the books, I had to sort of… shuffle a few things around, miraculously-speaking. The last thing we want right now is to bring down the wrath of a Heavenly audit on our heads.” Aziraphale had been the subject of just such an audit some years back, and he winced with embarrassment at the memory— he still maintained that banishing mildew from antique cookbooks was a perfectly legitimate use of the power of God, no matter what Gabriel said. “Nobody should bother looking into the specifics of my day-to-day miracles, just as long as I don’t start calling on more than my usual share of Heaven’s might. To that end, I’ve been carefully rationing the use of my power so as to avoid dipping too far into the discretionary fund, as it were. The most obvious place to cut back was the supernatural upkeep of my physical form. So, for the time being, I’ve divested myself of those particular abilities in favor of doing things the old-fashioned way.” He smiled brightly. “It’s sort of an adventure!”
Crowley didn’t look pleased at all. “You mean, this whole time you’ve been helping me, you’ve been actually getting hungry and all that?”
Aziraphale nodded. “And thirsty, and tired. And unexpectedly grimy, by the end of the day— I have to bathe so often. I hadn’t counted on that.” He turned over his hand, flexing his fingers and watching the movement of tendons under the skin. “It’s easy to forget how much maintenance these bodies require.”
Crowley grimaced and looked away down the bar. “Aw, Satan’s sake, angel, I didn’t know I was putting you out like that.”
“Nonsense, it’s nothing I can’t manage. I’m choosing to think of it as an exercise in empathy for the suffering of humankind.” Aziraphale found the ordeal of commercial air travel and budget motels more bearable if he framed it in those terms, though that framing had been less helpful on the taxi ride from the airport when he discovered his body’s heretofore unknown predisposition towards motion sickness.
“We’re only in Kansas,” Crowley muttered. “You want a thorough understanding of pain and suffering, you need to head to Arizona.” He summoned up a glass of water and slid it over to Aziraphale. “Drink that. You can empathize with humanity via hangover another time.”
“Oh, that’s marvelous, thank you!” Aziraphale hadn’t realized how parched he felt until he lifted the glass to his lips— did thirst always make water taste this incredibly sweet? “You’re so thoughtful sometimes, Crowley.”
“Yeah, don’t go spreading that around.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
One he was done with the first glass, Crowley refilled it with a gesture and looked at him sternly until he started drinking the second. “Tell me something,” Crowley asked when Aziraphale was almost finished, “How shitty is your hotel?”
“Oh, it’s— er, it’s all right.” Aziraphale fidgeted in his seat. “Perfectly serviceable. I can’t complain.”
“Aziraphale.” Crowley fixed him with a knife-sharp look that even darkened lenses couldn’t dull. “You can’t stand miracling away your bills even when you’re not ducking an audit, so that means you’re paying for lodgings with your own money. And you run an antique book shop in the age of Amazon. How shitty is your hotel?”
“It’s fine, really.” Aziraphale’s hotel was somewhat less than fine, in fact, but grousing about the anemic shower or the lumpy mattress didn’t seem in keeping with his stated goal of empathy for the plight of the common mortal. “There’s even a complimentary breakfast buffet.”
“Uh-huh, and how is that breakfast buffet?” Crowley raised an eyebrow. “Remember, you’ve actually got to eat something for breakfast now. Don’t have the luxury of passing it up if it looks rubbish.”
“Well…” Aziraphale held out for a few seconds, then crumpled. “Oh, Crowley, it’s awful. It’s nothing but prepackaged muffins and stale bagels, and I think they’ve been setting out the same two oranges every day for weeks, just hoping nobody notices.” He groaned pitifully. “They put ice in the milk! I can’t understand it! It’s abhorrent!”
Crowley’s mouth twitched. “Right.” He tilted his head and drew in a breath, seeming to consider something. “Listen, angel, I wouldn’t put money on you working out how to use Uber even if you were sober as a judge, and it’s America so nothing’s walking distance.” He gestured over his shoulder. “If you want, you can sleep it off in my room. I’d wager it’s less shitty than yours and I can guarantee it’s a lot closer.”
The generosity of the gesture caught Aziraphale by surprise. As much as he liked spending time with Aziraphale, Crowley prized his solitude. A permanent Earthly posting offered ample time to oneself (a commodity in short supply both Upstairs and Down), and it was safe to say that they’d both taken their positions with that perk in mind. To take Crowley up on his offer felt like a terrible imposition, especially after such an eventful day— surely he’d been looking forward to some time alone to unwind, rather than babysitting a drunk angel?
Crowley scowled. “Oh, come on, don’t give me that look— there’s two beds. This isn’t a rom-com.”
The alarm bell sounded again at the end of some long corridor in Aziraphale’s imagination. What look was Crowley talking about? His hesitation was clearly sending some volatile social cue, but— well, damned if he could put his finger on what it was. Easier to simply accept than to puzzle out exactly what his refusal would imply. “Thank you so much,” Aziraphale said, leaning forward precariously. “I don’t know how I can possibly repay you.”
“Don’t trouble yourself, it’s only fair. I still owe you one.” Crowley settled their tab and stood to offer Aziraphale a steadying hand. “Or, y’know, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine.”
“Nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-seven, I’d say.” Aziraphale held up two fingers. “I’m counting both the waters.”
“Both? Didn’t know you were so easy. I’ll have this debt paid off in no time.”
As they made their way upstairs, angel leaning a touch heavily on demon and demon keeping uncharacteristically quiet about it despite many golden opportunities for angel-teasing, Aziraphale heard Crowley talking to himself under his breath. “Saint Teresa of Avila,” he muttered with a note of wonder, followed by a quiet laugh and a shake of his head. “Never would have guessed. Not in a million years.”
Though he’d never made a regular habit of it, Aziraphale did occasionally enjoy sleep. He liked the aimless, gentle dissolve of conscious thought, and nothing settled a troubled mind like a nice REM cycle. He indulged in a quick nap every now and then, but didn’t see the use in devoting a full third of his time to it like humans did— especially not after the invention of the printing press and the resulting abundance of available reading material. So it was fair to say that his body’s sudden, stubborn demand for eight hours of rest every single night had substantially upset his routine, which made its current refusal to get started on this whole sleeping business all the more vexing.
He was somewhere in the low thousands when he gave up counting sheep, and since then he’d done little but stare at the ceiling. He’d tried lying on his back, then on one side, then the other, managing only to tangle himself hopelessly in the sheets. Aziraphale was not, as a rule, given to questioning intelligent design, but honestly, how could something as simple and necessary as falling asleep be so difficult to accomplish? Perhaps he should file a complaint. Far be it from him to criticize the design of the human body, but this insomnia business—not to mention the bizarre tendency to bite one’s tongue while chewing—gave the impression that the system could benefit from a little troubleshooting.
Aziraphale rolled over to look at Crowley, sprawled face-down on the other bed and dead to the world. “You make it look so easy,” he grumbled, hugging a pillow to his chest and glaring. Maybe Crowley was the problem? Perhaps some deeply-buried angelic instinct was warning him, Demon! Right over there! Don’t let your guard down! It seemed unlikely. Crowley looked less devious than ever. He slept in briefs and an oversized black t-shirt with a faded white eye on it, and even under the red glow of the digital clock display, he looked less like a foul fiend of the pit and more like a jumble of elbows in a potato sack. The effect was actually sort of charming— Aziraphale didn’t usually see Crowley looking so comfortably disheveled. It felt curiously intimate.
Given Crowley’s fondness for decades-long naps, Aziraphale had assumed he would be a heavy sleeper, still as a corpse— or else that he would thrash about in torment haunted by the nightmares of the damned, but that was based on what Aziraphale had to admit were some pretty prejudicial assumptions on his part. In reality, Crowley muttered some half-words and nonsense phrases from time to time, wrestled away most of his covers without waking himself, and snored a little. His sleeping habits were almost aggressively normal. It occurred to Aziraphale that watching Crowley sleep was pretty creepy behavior, but he had precious little else to do. He closed his eyes—they itched with the same exhausted restlessness that plagued the rest of his body—and thought of how lovely it would feel to join Crowley. He jumped. In— in sleep, obviously, join him in the state of being asleep, that’s what Aziraphale meant. Not join him in bed, what a preposterous notion— could you even imagine? The sleep-deprived mind does go to some strange places—
And then Crowley rolled over on his back and stretched one of his arms over his head, pulling his shirt up a few inches and exposing the jut of a hipbone and a dusting of rust-colored hair that vanished into his underwear, and Aziraphale suddenly found that he could even imagine. Quite vividly, in fact.
The thing is, while Aziraphale himself was an eternal celestial being, the physical form he inhabited on Earth was for all intents and purposes an ordinary human body. He could, and did, use miracles to spare it much of the wear and tear it might normally suffer, but it still had all the same needs as any other body. Some of those needs, he was used to meeting without supernatural assistance— why should he magically banish his hunger when he could just as easily eat a sandwich? Others, he dismissed so routinely that he often forgot they existed. Six thousand years’ practice made such dismissals as easy as breathing (or not breathing, should the situation require), and as such, it had been a long time since Aziraphale had given any thought to things like insomnia or allergies or… unexpected sexual arousal.
The alarm bell in Aziraphale’s head clanged angrily back to life. Crowley was handsome, Aziraphale had always known that. It was one of any number of objective, established facts about reality: plants produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, light travels in a vacuum at a little under three million meters per second, Crowley is attractive. If this ‘experiment in empathy’ was accomplishing anything, it might be to add Aziraphale is an idiot who consistently fails to anticipate even the most predictable outcomes of his choices to that list of objective facts, right alongside there is a world of difference, and also no difference at all, between ‘Crowley is attractive’ and ‘you are wildly attracted to Crowley and have been for ages, you incomparable dunce!’
Aziraphale clutched the pillow tighter and squeezed his eyes shut against the mental image of slipping into bed next to Crowley, rolling him over and smoothing out all those rumpled, sleepy angles until he was spread out beneath Aziraphale, warm and breathless and— no, stop that. None of that! He was not about to entertain a sexual fantasy about an agent of Satan. More importantly, there were some things you just didn’t do to— well it would be unspeakably rude, wouldn’t it, to think those things about a, a, about a colleague? Especially when he was right there! Aziraphale made the mistake of opening his eyes again, as if to check that Crowley was indeed still right there. He was. And so was the shallow dip between his collarbones, upon which Aziraphale desperately wanted to put his mouth as soon as possible, and oh no.
Aziraphale flopped on to his back and stared intently up into the darkness. He could manage this. He could. Humans did it every day, going about their business while navigating sudden, inconvenient sexual feelings for their friends, and you didn’t see them losing their minds over it. Well, except for all the times you did. In fact you frequently did, but— never mind that, he could do better. He just had to find something else to occupy his thoughts, something engrossing, methodical, and strictly non-erotic. Something like a mathematical theorem, maybe one of the tricky ones requiring proof by contradiction— even Aziraphale found those tough to follow. It was a confoundingly elegant sort of logic: if an assertion is impossible to prove directly, start by supposing that its opposite is true, and proceed as far as you can until you arrive at a logical absurdity. Thus, having shown that the opposite statement implies something obviously false, the original statement is proven to be true. He folded his hands on his stomach, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and focused his thoughts firmly on the ancient Greek proof of the existence of infinitely many prime numbers.
Let us begin by assuming that there are not infinitely many primes, and that there exists instead a finite set of prime numbers. This set has n elements, numbered p1, p2, p3, … pn.
This was good. All Aziraphale needed to do was maintain his focus and he’d be safely asleep in no time, all embarrassing, inappropriate feelings banished and hopefully forgotten by morning.
Now, let P be the product of all the elements in our finite set of prime numbers; in other words, the factors of P comprise all our known primes. Let Q be a number equal to P plus one.
He swallowed. These were safe, solid thoughts to dwell on, and most importantly, they were miles away from wondering what the skin at the base of Crowley’s throat tasted like.
If Q is prime, then we have identified a prime number not contained in our set of “all” prime numbers, proving false our original assumption of a finite set of primes.
It probably didn’t even taste like anything, just— just soap, probably. Focus!
If, on the other hand, Q is composite, consider its factors: Q will have no factors in common with P because they are too close to one another, just like you have no factors in common with Crowley, which is why you should not under any circumstances spread your palms flat on his thighs and ghost your fingers over his skin before hooking your hands behind his knees to—
All right, well, clearly this wasn’t working. Aziraphale rolled on his side and curled in on himself. Every image he pushed out of his mind just made room for another: Aziraphale sinking his fingers into Crowley’s sleep-mussed hair. Crowley’s lips, swollen and kiss-bitten, parted around Aziraphale’s name. The press of Crowley’s hard cock against Aziraphale’s thigh, under his hands, on his tongue— stop, stop, why couldn’t he stop thinking about this? Aziraphale bit down on his lip, hoping the pain might cut through this fog of arousal. He wasn’t used to having this little control over his body’s reactions. He thought back on his earlier assessment of his self-imposed plight and grimaced— “it’s sort of an adventure!” Oh, what a fool he’d been.
Tentatively, Aziraphale moved his hand down toward the growing physical evidence of his predicament. He was maddeningly hard, but a flood of shame coursed through him as his fingers brushed over his erection. Could there be anything less dignified than touching himself in the dark while Crowley slept not ten feet away, like some graceless teenager at a sleepover? To call it a breach of etiquette would be a laughable understatement. But he had to do something, this was getting ridiculous.
He shut his eyes and shoved his hand into his boxers, taking his prick in a tight grip. He could just— this wasn’t really any different from eating or bathing, was it? He was merely addressing one of this body’s needs. Aziraphale would bring himself off as quietly and efficiently as he could manage, and then maybe he could finally fall asleep and put an end to this mortifying episode with Crowley none the wiser. He tried to drive any thoughts of Crowley from his mind as he stroked himself, but it was all too easy to imagine the demon’s long fingers curled around him instead of his own. Aziraphale’s throat worked around a quiet whine. He could practically hear the sultry whisper under the sound of his own short, ragged breaths: Angel…
“-’ziraphll? What’re you doing?”
He froze. That was not a sultry whisper from Aziraphale’s imagination, that was a drowsy mumble from the other bed. He kept quiet, his pulse pounding in his ears— maybe Crowley was talking in his sleep again?
“You masturbating over there or something?”
Trembling, Aziraphale twisted around to see one of Crowley’s bright yellow eyes peering at him through the darkness. He couldn’t quite tell in this light, but he suspected that he’d gone a vivid shade of pink from head to toe— and Crowley could see in the dark a lot better than he could.
“I—” Aziraphale squeaked. Lie, just lie, he told himself. If you ever want Crowley to look you in the eye again, then for the love of all that’s holy and a few things that aren’t, LIE! He opened his mouth, but nothing came to him. “I-I— I’m sorry—”
“Oh shit,” Crowley said, blinking. “I didn’t actually think…” He ducked his head, and Aziraphale heard a percussive, strangled laugh. “Well, don’t stop on my account— I can, ah, I can step out for a moment, if…” Crowley laughed again, stifled and giddy; it sounded like he could barely restrain his mirth enough to form words. “Or, y’know, I can stay, if you’ve got an exhibitionist streak—”
Aziraphale didn’t need light to tell that his blush had deepened from pink to red. He tugged his knees up to his chest and covered his face with his hands, whining and wishing he could sink through the floor and disappear entirely. Clearly, the best course of action now would be a swift discorporation followed by several decades of paperwork and a reassignment to some remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Or just to the Pacific Ocean, full stop. Preferably the bottom of it.
Crowley gradually caught his breath. “Aw, c’mon, don’t be like that,” he said, “I’m just teasing— really, angel, I don’t care.” Aziraphale heard rustling as Crowley extricated himself from his nest of bedding to sit up straighter. “I get it, you haven’t got your miracles, so your body’s just… being a body, doing body things. It happens!”
“M’sorry,” Aziraphale croaked out, still tucked into a miserable little ball of shame.
“Pfft, don’t be. You can blame it on me if it makes you feel better— demon, wiles, et cetera.” Crowley tossed his hair and flashed a wicked smile. “You couldn’t help yourself, I’m just so devastatingly tempting that my mere proximity overwhelmed you with lust. I didn’t even have to do anything, that’s how talented I am.” He shrugged. “Plus, honestly, I’ve been slacking off in the ‘inspiring foul deeds’ department lately, so if you look at it that way you’re helping me hit my quota.”
Aziraphale flinched, then raised his head and stared. “Is that…” The possibility sank its hooks in, and he sat up as he felt anger flare in his chest, hot and bright. “Is that what this is? Is this an assignment? Are you tempting me right now?”
“What? Angel, no, I was joking.” Crowley’s grin melted. “Aziraphale, come on, you know I wouldn’t do that to you. Not the capital-T kind, never.” Aziraphale watched Crowley wilt, just a little, then school himself back into an expression of casual irritation too perfectly composed to be genuine— and oh, that was so much worse. Remorse hit him like a punch in the gut. He really was doing a bang-up job of the whole friendship business tonight, wasn’t he?
“No… of course not,” Aziraphale said. He fell back against the headboard with a thump and rubbed his hand over his face. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. It was uncalled for.” Of course Crowley hadn’t— he’d been asleep, for Heaven’s sake. It was bad enough when humans tried to pawn off responsibility for their own bad behavior by claiming infernal interference; Aziraphale had even less excuse.
Crowley stayed quiet for a moment. “Yeah… well. Can’t really blame you for going there, can I? I’m the one who brought it up.” The accusation clung to the air between them like the memory of smoke, stagnant and bitter even as it cleared. “S’not like that would make any sense, though,” Crowley continued, mouth quirking back up into a half-smile. “Not unless a snoring demon in a puddle of sleep-drool is the kinda thing that gets you going.”
I should laugh at that, Aziraphale thought. Crowley was throwing him an obvious lifeline, something that could drag them both out of murky waters and back to the relative safety of snark and self-deprecation. He could picture it clearly: Aziraphale would chuckle and shake his head, give Crowley the opportunity for one last parting barb, and then they would both settle back into sleep— or at least into politely ignoring one another while attempting to sleep. He could take hold of this runaway train of an evening and wrestle it back on track to fade into a benign, embarrassing anecdote, and he wouldn’t even have to lie, he’d just have to… do something… other than stare in frozen silence like a deer in headlights… as he had been doing for the past thirty seconds… while the moment… sailed on past.
Comprehension dawned. “Oh,” Crowley said. And then, more quietly, to himself, “...oh.”
Aziraphale’s face burned. He squeezed himself back into his tiny shame-sphere and buried his head in his arms. “I’m so, so sorry…”
“Hey. Hey. Stop that.” He heard more rustling, then felt the mattress dip as Crowley sat down on the edge of the bed near his feet. “Knock it off with the self-flagellation already. If anybody should be apologizing, it ought to be me. Angel, hey, look at me.” Aziraphale lifted his head. The faint glow of the alarm clock was the only illumination in the room, and Crowley’s pupils were dilated far enough in the low light that they were almost round. It lent his expression an alarming softness. “Listen. The whole reason you’re out here in the middle of nowhere, short on miracles and contending with weird Satanists and stale bagels, it’s all on account of me. You did me a huge favor.” He tilted his head and gave a rueful smile. “And how do I repay it? By giving you shit over— over nothing.” Crowley rested one hand on Aziraphale’s knee and put the other under Aziraphale’s chin, gently tugging him up out of his defensive crouch. “That’s hardly any way for me to say thank you, is it?” Crowley’s voice was low and gentle, and he kept leaning closer, his gaze drifting from Aziraphale’s eyes to his lips and back again, and his hands felt so warm, and his face was really very close now, and this was— this was—
“What are you doing?” It was out of Aziraphale’s mouth in a tight, breathless rush before he could stop himself.
Crowley’s eyes snapped open and he froze, near enough to Aziraphale now that their noses almost touched. “Badly misreading the situation,” he answered, “apparently?”
He started to pull back and Aziraphale grabbed his hands. “No, stop,” he said, “you’re not… misreading…” He winced. Crowley held very few things sacred, but his debts were chief among them. Aziraphale couldn’t bear the thought of Crowley… indulging these perverse fantasies out of some twisted sense of obligation. He’d rather endure Crowley’s ridicule or his outright disgust, both of which he felt he richly deserved. But it also wouldn’t do to let Crowley feel like he was the one acting with impropriety here, not when he’d just caught Aziraphale—oh, good lord—red-handed.
Aziraphale took a deep breath. “It’s just that, regardless of— well, of however I feel, um…” He forced himself to look Crowley in the eye. “Please understand, Crowley, you don’t owe me anything. Certainly not anything like that.”
Crowley nodded vigorously. “Oh, yeah, obviously I know that, yeah.” Was it a trick of the light, or was his face just a touch flushed? “I know you don’t want that, you’d never want— I just thought— you know, you’ve done so much for me lately, and it’s, I mean it’s not like I think you’d ever expect— just— but that’s not the point, the point is I might…” Crowley’s mouth ran silently through a series of different shapes before he gave voice to any of them. “I might. Kinda want to. A little?”
“You—” Aziraphale felt gravity lurch sideways. “You might want to?”
“Yeah, well.” Crowley jerked his shoulders in a way that looked like something trying to imitate a shrug and not finding much success. “Maybe I’ve been nursing a bit of a crush. For a while.” His face twitched and hid it by glowering at his feet. “Sue me, all right? You’re gorgeous and I’m weak!”
Aziraphale stared. It felt like his lungs couldn’t take in enough air to keep up with the speed of his racing heart. “You think I’m gorgeous?” It’s not that he disliked how he looked, but, well, there were the sort of angels who got made into frescoes, and then there was Aziraphale. He’d always thought he cultivated an aesthetic that was less ‘celestial glory’ and more ‘approachably frumpy’— but Crowley said he was gorgeous?
Crowley’s head snapped back up. “Of course you’re gorgeous. Has somebody been telling you you’re not gorgeous?” His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a scowl. “Who’s telling you that, is it one of the other angels? Is it that vain prick, Raphael? I never liked him, who does he think he is, talking to you that way? I’ll rip his arms off—”
“Oh, no, please don’t,” Aziraphale interjected, unsure how conscious Crowley was of his tightening grip on Aziraphale’s hands. “That’s a kind offer—sort of—but there’s no need for, um, for anything like that.” As it happened, Raphael had a reputation among the other angels for extreme body positivity (which was a little strange coming from someone who only occasionally had a body), and he would in all probability dispute Aziraphale’s ‘frumpy’ self-assessment with a furious torrent of compliments and then launch into a diatribe against frescoes promoting an unrealistically narrow standard of angelic beauty, but all that was beside the point. Aziraphale looked down at their joined hands. “You. What you mean to say is, you want—” He gestured between them. “—with me?”
“I mean, only if you want to,” Crowley said. “I just assumed— but if you do, I’m, uh.” He swallowed. “I’m pretty extremely not opposed to the idea, yeah.”
Aziraphale needed a moment to process this new information. There were plenty of reasons—an uncountably infinite number of reasons—that he shouldn’t take Crowley up on this. But this was such a magnificently absurd turn of events that his mind blanked out in contemplation of it, and he found he couldn’t articulate exactly why it would be such a bad idea… and, well, if he couldn’t directly prove it was a bad idea, maybe he should start from the assumption that it was a good idea, and see where he could go from there? That is a willful misapplication of the concept and you know it, hissed one of the familiar voices in Aziraphale’s head. He told it to fuck off.
“Okay,” Aziraphale said, nodding to himself. He focused his gaze back on Crowley’s face and kept nodding. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Crowley nodded along, his eyes wide and searching. “Okay… what?”
“Okay— this.” Aziraphale let go of Crowley’s hands, grabbed his face, and pulled him into a kiss.
“Mmmff—!” For a moment, that muffled noise of shock was Crowley’s only reaction, and Aziraphale panicked—he overstepped, he’d ruined everything, this was a disaster, they’d never come back from this—but then Crowley planted his hands on either side of Aziraphale’s face, mirroring the angel’s gesture. “Oh, thank fuck,” he gasped as they parted for breath, “that’s what I was hoping you’d say.” And he kissed Aziraphale back.
They kissed hungrily, clumsily, breaking now and then to wedge a stunned question into the proceedings: “But you never said anything—” “Well, neither did you!” “I didn’t think you were interested!” “Maybe if you’d asked…” “Oh, shut up, you beautiful idiot—” Crowley licked across Aziraphale’s bottom lip and Aziraphale opened his mouth to admit that improbably flexible tongue, swallowing a moan— his own, or Crowley’s, he couldn’t be sure. He forced himself to remember that, at least for the time being, this body did occasionally need to breathe.
Crowley pulled away from their embrace to shuffle himself properly up onto the mattress, and Aziraphale, breathing hard and riding the wave of adrenaline coursing through his blood, took the opportunity to tug his shirt up over his head and toss it aside. That earned him a yellow-eyed stare that seared Aziraphale’s skin like a brand. It made him feel like he’d been hollowed out and filled with something new and raw and molten.
Crowley braced his knees on either side of one of Aziraphale’s thighs, wetting his lips and casting an admiring gaze over the newly-bared expanse of Aziraphale’s chest. “Fuck,” he breathed, “the sight of you…” The dim red glow was apparently more than enough light for Crowley, though Aziraphale’s mostly-human eyes could only manage a hazy, indistinct impression of the demon before him. He wished he could see Crowley more clearly. He wanted to memorize that half-drunk, half-starved look on Crowley’s face, wanted to secret it away in some hidden place under his ribs and carry it inside him forever, but turning on a light felt dangerously close to a rational decision and he feared that if he started making any of those, he might not be able to stop— and there were a great many irrational things happening at the moment that Aziraphale needed desperately not to stop.
Crowley let his hands hover over Aziraphale’s skin, and he lifted his gaze with a question in it.
“Oh,” Aziraphale answered, taking one of those hands and pressing it to his chest. “Yes, please do.”
Crowley leaned into the touch and buried his face in the crook of Aziraphale’s neck, circling his arm around the angel’s waist and pulling them close. He ran his hands over Aziraphale’s skin and sucked wet, open-mouthed kisses along his throat that made Aziraphale gasp and twist his fingers in Crowley’s hair. He yelped when Crowley’s thumb brushed over a nipple. Crowley paused and looked up. “You ticklish there?”
“N-no,” Aziraphale lied, shivering at the touch.
A smile crept over Crowley’s face. “You sssure?” He dipped his head, and with a speed that standard human physiology shouldn’t permit, flicked his tongue against Aziraphale’s other nipple. Aziraphale jerked away and clapped his hand over his mouth, muffling what could have been a very embarrassing shriek. Crowley grinned wider. “I think you are…”
Aziraphale hugged his arms to his chest. “I won’t reveal my weaknesses to an agent of the enemy.”
“Nope, too late, that’s going in my next report.” Crowley nuzzled the underside of Aziraphale’s jaw. “‘Uncovered irrefutable evidence that the principality Aziraphale makes a squeaky noise when I lick his nipples.’ That’s top-notch intel, right there. Really gonna turn the tide in the war on Heaven. I’ll probably get a promotion.”
“Fiend.” Aziraphale unfolded his arms to take Crowley’s face and tilt it up for a deep, languorous kiss, to which Crowley eagerly acquiesced. “Though, you know,” Aziraphale said, pulling away from the intoxicating slide of Crowley’s mouth, “if you’re serious about cataloguing my vulnerabilities, you should probably search the rest of me.” He smiled as innocently as he could manage, half-naked and tangled up with a serpent from the depths of Hell. “Just in the interest of thoroughness.”
“Yeah?” Crowley licked a path up the side of Aziraphale’s neck, then traced around the edge of his ear with his nose. “How much of the rest of you, exactly?” His tone was carefully neutral, balanced right on the edge between levity and lust: This can still be a joke if you want, just say the word. I’m not that kind of demon.
Aziraphale pulled him closer and answered with his lips just brushing Crowley’s ear: “All of the rest of me.” He took Crowley’s hand and moved it to his groin, pressing it into the fabric to feel the firm swell beneath. Crowley dropped his head to Aziraphale’s shoulder and hissed a long string of syllables in a language Aziraphale couldn’t identify, followed by something that sounded a lot like “thank you”— and while Aziraphale didn’t care to speculate as to who the intended recipient of this whispered gratitude might be, he suspected it wasn’t him.
Crowley’s mouth was back on his as he tugged purposefully at Aziraphale’s boxers. Aziraphale scrambled his hands under Crowley’s shirt, hungry for more of that warm, freckled skin and determined not to be the only one naked by the end of this. That neither of them seemed willing to stop kissing or touching for even the short time it would take to snap their clothes away complicated the process somewhat, but at last, Aziraphale had Crowley in his lap with nothing between them but a heated stare. He cupped his hand over Crowley’s jaw and gently tipped his head back, then pressed his mouth to the hollow of Crowley’s throat and tasted the faint aroma of soap that clung there— well, fancy that. He’d been right after all.
Aziraphale could feel more than hear Crowley’s appreciative hum as his lips moved over the demon’s skin. He bit down on the juncture of Crowley’s neck and shoulder just a shade too softly to bruise, and the groan that punched out of Crowley’s chest sent a jolt straight to Aziraphale’s aching cock. Crowley pulled back and locked eyes with Aziraphale, then dragged his tongue across his palm with exaggerated, deliberate lewdness and wedged his slicked hand between their bodies. He gave Aziraphale’s cock a few slow, firm strokes, pulling a quiet, helpless noise from Aziraphale with each one, and smiled. “I’m gonna make you feel so good, angel,” he whispered, and oh, hearing that old nickname flushed with new intent was even more affecting than Aziraphale had imagined it would be. Crowley’s fingers sparked flames that licked along Aziraphale’s nerves and settled low in his belly, sending his pulse thrumming as his pleasure built. He sucked in a sharp breath at a particularly delicious twist of Crowley’s wrist and lurched forward, clutching at Crowley’s shoulders.
Crowley stilled. “Too much?”
Aziraphale huffed a laugh. “No, it’s— you’re perfect. It’s just if we keep on like this, I’m afraid it might be over sooner than I’d like.” He kissed the corner of Crowley’s mouth and pushed him down onto his back in the tangled mess they’d made of the sheets. “Let me do something for you.”
Crowley’s chest rose and fell as he looked up at Aziraphale with something like dazed reverence. “Sure, yeah,” he breathed, “Whatever you like.”
Aziraphale smiled and turned his attention to Crowley’s neglected erection. It was just as beautiful as the rest of him, flushed red and smearing a streak of slick where it curved against his belly. Aziraphale brushed his fingers up its length, listening to the hitch in Crowley’s breath as he jumped under the touch, then rolled his palm back down to its base. Crowley arced upwards, chasing the pressure, and Aziraphale bent to kiss him. He kissed his way over Crowley’s mouth and jaw, down his throat, and across his chest, tonguing experimentally at one of his pert, pink nipples and drawing a soft moan from Crowley’s lips in the process— apparently, Crowley didn’t suffer the same ticklishness that Aziraphale did. With curiosity, Aziraphale lapped his tongue over Crowley’s nipple and gave it a firm, steady suck.
“Oh ffffuck—” Crowley thrust up into Aziraphale’s grip. His prick leaked a fresh trickle of precome and stiffened further under Aziraphale’s fingers, and he let his eyes drift closed. “Fuck, angel, that’s so good,” he panted, “keep doing that— please keep doing that, holy shit—”
Crowley twisted his fists in the sheets and writhed as Aziraphale wet the fingers of his free hand to circle Crowley’s other nipple, keeping up a steady, stroking rhythm on his cock. Aziraphale thrilled at all the broken, vulnerable sounds he could wring from Crowley’s body like this, humming and licking and sucking at his acutely responsive skin. He sighed into the sparse red hair that covered Crowley’s chest and couldn’t resist planting a kiss over his heart. “You’re a vision.”
“A-ah! A porny vision,” Crowley bit out, laughter cutting briefly through his moans. “But I guess that’s—ohh, yes, like that, just like that—guess that’s your specialty, right?”
Aziraphale nipped at Crowley’s neck. “I would hardly call the manifestation of divine love ‘porny,’ dear.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t’ve either before about twenty minutes ag-oh fuck—” Aziraphale moved down the bed and hoisted Crowley’s knees over his shoulders to get his mouth on Crowley’s cock. Crowley thrust his hands into Aziraphale’s hair and bucked his hips. “Christ!”
Aziraphale pulled off with a wet pop and pouted. “Might you try blaspheming just slightly less?”
Crowley’s chest heaved and he dragged his fingers over Aziraphale’s cheek, letting his thumb catch on Aziraphale’s lip. “Mouth like that? Don’t really think I could, no.”
Aziraphale had lost count over the years of how many times Crowley had bragged, in myriad different contexts and with varying degrees of subtlety, of the many weird things he could do with his tongue. The implication had always been obvious, but in Aziraphale’s experience, people tended to overvalue dexterity when it came to the art of oral pleasure. Spelling out the alphabet and tying cherry stems into knots were certainly impressive feats, but he felt there was a lot to be said for simple consistency, dedication, and stamina— all of which Aziraphale possessed in abundance. And if Crowley’s lovely, wordless cries were any indication, it seemed Aziraphale might stand a chance of bringing him around on the matter at last.
“Gotta say, angel, this is n-n-nnggh-not a skill set I ever—a-aah!— expected you to have,” Crowley ground out between ragged breaths. “Not complaining, just—fuck, how—!”
Aziraphale curled his tongue and bobbed his head a few times before answering, plunging Crowley back into incoherence. He laid his head against Crowley’s hip with a sigh. “I don’t know why you’re acting so surprised— I did tell you, after all.” He smiled up at those golden eyes, blown wide with pleasure and glinting when they caught the light. “I’ve made saints come so hard they saw God.”
The short laugh that burbled up from Crowley’s chest sounded half-terrified and more than a little aroused. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he muttered as he carded his fingers through Aziraphale’s soft curls. “Or, wait, is that what this is? Some kind of sneaky, sexy plan to get me into bed and literally— fuck the Hell out of me?’
What Aziraphale meant to say to that was, “I’m almost certain that’s metaphysically impossible.” What he actually said, meeting Crowley’s eyes through his lashes and turning to brush his nose along the side of Crowley’s erection, letting his breath ghost across Crowley’s sensitive, overheated skin, was, “would you like that?”
Crowley scoffed reflexively, as though in self-defense: “I’d like to see you try.” Aziraphale licked slowly up the length of his cock, and a powerful shudder rolled through Crowley’s body as he made a noise like a wounded animal. “I really would though,” he said, his voice gone suddenly low and needy. “I really, really would, I would like that so much, Aziraphale, I would like that a lot, yes please.”
Aziraphale’s pulse leapt. He hadn’t expected— well, any of this, but certainly not Crowley’s ardent pleading, nor the heady way it stoked his own desire. “Right,” he said, raising himself up on his arms. “Then we should probably— we should— ah, do you have…” Aziraphale hesitated. Technically, there was nothing stopping him from summoning up what they needed, but there were some miracles you really, really didn’t want to have to explain on an expense report.
Crowley sat up and caught Aziraphale in a quick kiss. “Don’t worry, I’ve got us covered.” He reached over Aziraphale and across the bed, pressing his long torso up against Aziraphale’s side—and oh, didn’t that feel nice—and fumbled open the drawer on the nightstand, pulling out a bottle of lubricant. Aziraphale noted the absence of the sharp, charred taste that close proximity to demonic miracles usually produced in the back of his throat, and he knit his brow.
“Just… had that ready to go, did you?”
“Oh, yeah.” Crowley unscrewed the cap and picked at the foil seal beneath. “It’s the first thing I do, any hotel I stay at: find the Gideon, chuck it out, and replace it with some lube and a pack of rubbers.” He gave Aziraphale a lopsided smile. “Loads more useful.”
Aziraphale tipped forward until his head rested on Crowley’s shoulder, and he shook with silent laughter. “Of course that’s what you do.”
“I’m just doing my part to promote sexual health, aren’t I? You can’t fault me for that!”
“Because you can’t possibly fit condoms and a Bible in the same drawer.”
Crowley sighed. “If it’s really that important to you, angel, I can go fish it out of the bin—”
“No.” Aziraphale took one of Crowley’s hands in his and raised it to his mouth, kissing across the back of it and over his fingers. “No, I think you should not under any circumstances depart from this bed, not until we’ve made very— thorough— use—” —he emphasized each word with a press of his lips along the inside of Crowley’s wrist— “of your thoughtful and generous provisions.”
Crowley threaded his fingers through Aziraphale’s hair. “How do you say shit like that and make it sound so hot?” He brought their mouths together for a hungry kiss, then rested his forehead against Aziraphale’s. “D’you want me on my hands and knees?”
In fact, Aziraphale rather liked the idea of getting Crowley in his lap again, but the rushed, breathless way he’d asked made Aziraphale think this was something Crowley had imagined before—possibly often, and intimately—and that was its own kind of enticing. “That sounds wonderful,” he murmured, letting his lips linger over Crowley’s. He slid his hands down to Crowley’s waist. “Would you let me finger you?”
“Fuck yes, I want as much of you in me as I can get.” Crowley’s breath was hot as he mouthed along Aziraphale’s jaw. “You don’t have to treat me gentle.”
Aziraphale frowned at that. “I’m afraid I’m not really one for sadism…”
“Nah, I didn’t figure,” Crowley said, kissing a spot just below Aziraphale’s ear. “Just thought you should know I don’t mind— uh, I mean I…” He swallowed, and the corner of his mouth lifted in a nervous smile. “I like it a little rough.”
“Well, in that case…” Aziraphale moved his hands lower and flexed his fingers, testing his grip. He looked pensive. “I suppose we’ll just have to aim for a happy medium.”
With neither warning nor fanfare, he gripped Crowley’s waist and flipped him over, pinning him to the mattress with one arm bent behind his back. Aziraphale worried for a moment that he’d pushed too far, but the startled, shivery moan Crowley let out sounded nothing short of rapturous. He straddled Crowley’s thighs and sank down, resting more of his weight on the demon’s trapped arm, and Crowley positively whimpered at that.
“You seem to like this,” Aziraphale observed wonderingly, trailing his fingers down Crowley’s spine. “Being held down. Restrained.” He canted his hips forward to press his stiff cock up against Crowley’s backside. “Kept from acting on all those wicked little thoughts running through your head.” Crowley answered with an unintelligible noise and ground back against Aziraphale, and the angel smiled. “Is it possible you’ve got a bit of a thing for a good, hard thwarting?”
There was a low grumble in the back of Crowley’s throat. “Honestly, it’d be weirder if I didn’t.” He twisted around and shot Aziraphale an embarrassed look. “Don’t make a big thing out of it, okay?”
Aziraphale kissed the tip of his ear. “Of course not, darling.” He released Crowley’s arms, but kept his knees clamped firmly around Crowley’s legs as he slicked his fingers with lubricant and smoothed his hand over the demon’s back. Aziraphale worked a finger inside, moving at a relaxed pace, marveling at how eagerly Crowley’s body opened for him. He pulled Crowley up on to his knees with his head pressed down into the pillows. The new angle allowed him deeper and he eased a second finger alongside the first, prompting an encouragingly greedy sigh. He leaned forward and planted a kiss against Crowley’s shoulder. “Good?”
“S’good, ssso good,” came the slurred reply, “so fucking good, don’t stop.” Crowley groaned and pushed back on Aziraphale’s fingers, and the brazen want of it sent Aziraphale’s head swimming. “Come on, gimme another, I need to feel you.”
The hot stretch of Crowley around him made him ache with need, but Aziraphale kept his movements measured— as keenly as he wanted to pin Crowley’s wrists to the headboard and make him scream, this slow, steady unraveling was too sweet to rush. Aziraphale drank in the sounds of Crowley’s mounting desperation, savoring the feel of him under his hands as he writhed and squirmed and fought to fuck himself on Aziraphale’s fingers. “Swear to god, angel,” he panted, “if you don’t put it in me right now I think I’m gonna die.”
“Wanton, insatiable, and blasphemous,” Aziraphale noted, barely managing to keep the tremor out of his voice as he withdrew his hand. “Quite the combination.”
“Aziraphale, shut up and fuck me.”
Aziraphale steadied a possessive hand on Crowley’s hip. “All right,” he purred, “but only because you asked so nicely.”
The long, slow slide into Crowley’s body was overwhelming. Aziraphale was no stranger to sexual pleasure, but he’d never made love without the benefit of celestial control over his corporeal form. Its absence rendered all his physical sensations much more immediate— and so much louder— making demands of his body that he struggled to refuse. He’d barely worked the head of his cock in when he had to stop and dig his fingers into Crowley’s sides, breathing heavily as he tried to quiet the hot, pounding thing inside him that urged him forward and growled for more— he feared that if he didn’t, he might embarrass himself in very short order.
Crowley didn’t seem to care. He pushed back against Aziraphale, striving to take more of him. “C’mon, harder, please—” Aziraphale exhaled slowly and pulled Crowley’s hips flush against his, sheathing his full length in Crowley’s arse.
He closed his eyes. “Oh— Crowley— the way you feel—”
“Yeah,” Crowley answered on a shaky exhale, “same.” Aziraphale pulled back for a slow thrust and Crowley rolled his hips to meet it, snaking a hand between his legs to work over his own cock. “Fuck, angel, you feel amazing, why didn’t we ever try this before?”
“Oh... plenty of reasons, probably,” Aziraphale replied absently, finding a rhythm and rocking into Crowley with more vigor. “Though I confess, presently— none of them come to mind.” Crowley moaned and flung a hand up over his head to grip the sheets. The muscles of his back flexed with each of Aziraphale’s thrusts, and he turned his head to the side to pant against the mattress, slack-jawed and eyes clouded with lust.
Aziraphale stroked his hand down Crowley’s thigh. “You’re beautiful like this,” he whispered.
Crowley blushed and hid his face. “Shut up.”
“You are.” Aziraphale leaned forward and wrapped an arm around Crowley’s waist, holding him close and speaking against his skin. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Aziraphaaale...” Crowley whined and wriggled in Aziraphale’s grasp. “Don’t give me compliments while you’ve got your cock in me, pick one or the other! I can’t take both.”
Aziraphale laughed and kissed down Crowley’s spine, straightening up and shifting his angle in a way that made Crowley gasp and shudder. He really was beautiful. To paint any more perfect a picture than this—Crowley spread out before him, open and unguarded and utterly undone with desire, Aziraphale’s to touch, caress and adore—would take a miracle.
Well… only a very small one…
Aziraphale bit his lip and pressed his thumbs into the hollows under Crowley’s shoulder blades, sliding between molecules to dip surreptitiously into extradimensional space, and Crowley jerked and swore as his wings suddenly sprang forth from the ether.
“I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have.” Aziraphale’s voice was rushed and apologetic as he skimmed his hands over Crowley’s back and combed his fingers through the demon’s glossy black feathers, soft and dark as midnight. “I just— I wanted to see all of you…” Crowley started to turn around, but yelped as the movement unbalanced Aziraphale, who floundered unthinkingly and, in an attempt to stay upright, yanked down hard on the wing he’d been admiring.
“Oh no!” Aziraphale squeaked and covered his mouth. “I’ve hurt you!”
Crowley shivered in stunned silence. “Yes,” he breathed, eyes gone wide and glassy, sounding like he’d hauled the words up out of the very depths of his soul. “Do it again.”
Aziraphale blinked. Hesitantly, he sank his fingers into Crowley’s downy coverts. He hooked his hands over the bend where wing met skin and tugged.
Crowley cried out and went limp and pliant, like all his joints had turned to melted wax. “Keep— keep doing that,” he gasped, “It feels— fuck, I don’t know why it feels so good. Just pull on them while you’re fucking me, please.”
Heart hammering in his throat, Aziraphale moved his hands down Crowley’s wings, spreading them wide, and gripped them for leverage on his next thrust. Crowley wailed.
“Fuck, yes, yes— yes!”
The litany of yes and angel and various choked-off syllables that might have been pieces of Aziraphale’s name grew louder as he fucked Crowley hard and steady, pulling on his wings like a horse’s reins. Feathers bent under his fingers and sweat ran down into the creases of his knees, and Aziraphale’s world narrowed down to nothing but Crowley’s desperate voice and the hot, vibrant thrash of Crowley’s body beneath him. He slid his hand down Crowley’s arm and laced their fingers together. “I won’t last,” he rasped against the demon’s shoulder.
“Don’t want you to,” Crowley ground out, clutching Aziraphale’s hand and squeezing tight. “Come in me, angel, I want it—” And that was all it took to tip Aziraphale over the edge, burying himself deep and spilling into Crowley with a ragged shout.
As the rush of orgasm receded, Aziraphale pulled out and rolled Crowley onto his side, dropping to the bed alongside him to take hold of his eager, twitching cock. Crowley whined and panted into Aziraphale’s mouth. He kept his eyes shut tight while Aziraphale stroked him, but they flew open—shocked, unfocused, the color of saffron and sunrise—as he came messily over Aziraphale’s fingers.
A fuzzy sort of silence settled over them as they lay side by side, taking deep breaths and staring numbly at one another while the world came back into focus, drifting on a sea of endorphins. Aziraphale couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Crowley look so soft and unguarded, all rounded edges and loosened knots— he wondered if he looked much the same, himself.
Crowley’s mouth twitched. His shoulders shook and the corners of his eyes crinkled up, and it took Aziraphale a moment to realize that Crowley was laughing. Not laughing at, either: he was very clearly laughing with, tugging Aziraphale with him into that warm, secret world of shared glee. He pulled Aziraphale close and caught his mouth in a sloppy, worn-out kiss. “What the Heaven was that?”
Aziraphale gave him a shy smile. “Well... I believe we just had sex. Isn’t that what the kids are calling it these days?”
Crowley barked a laugh. “Yeah, I’ll say we did.” He stretched one of his wings up over his head, arching his back and cracking his joints. “Satan’s tits, angel, I haven’t been fucked that well in… ever.”
Aziraphale blushed, but his face contracted in worry as he scanned the crooked lines of Crowley’s primaries. “Oh, your wings— are they hurt? I fear I handled them rather indelicately.”
“Nah, I’m fine. Just some ruffled feathers. Definitely worth the preening I’ll have to give ‘em tomorrow.” Crowley rolled his shoulders and tucked his wings away, folding them back into their usual pocket dimension. He gave Aziraphale a quizzical look. “How’d you do that, anyway? Bring my wings out?”
It was Aziraphale’s turn to laugh now. “You’ll think I’m terribly childish, but…” He grinned sheepishly. “It’s an old prank.”
“An angel prank.”
“You’re telling me there’s such a thing as an angel prank?”
“Well, let’s say you run into another angel while you’re both corporeal— on assignment, maybe. If you’re clever about it, you can sort of… sneak up behind them and…” Aziraphale walked his fingers up Crowley’s arm in a tiptoeing motion, then burst open his hand and wiggled his fingers, beaming from ear to ear. “Pop their wings.”
Crowley’s tone was deadpan. “…you sneak up and pop their wings.”
Aziraphale smothered a giggle. “The best way to do it is to wait until right before they have to walk through a doorway—it’s tremendous fun!”
Something softened in Crowley’s expression, shifting under the surface like the flash of a fish’s scales in a deep, still pond. The smile that stole over his face was bewildered and delighted and filled with such glowing fondness that Aziraphale could feel it light up the room. “And here I was, thinking you were done surprising me for one day,” he murmured, gathering Aziraphale to his chest and kissing him soundly, sweetly, thoroughly, before pulling back to nuzzle his hair. “Show me how it works.”
“Because then you’d use it against me.”
“Yeah, obviously, that’s why I want you to show me!”
Aziraphale swatted playfully at Crowley. “If I taught you how to do it, you’d do it constantly. I’d never get any work done!” As soon as the words left his lips, the thought of work punctured Aziraphale’s bubble of happiness as efficiently as if an official reprimand had dropped straight down from Heaven into his lap. His face fell. “That is, of course… assuming I still have work, after all this,” he said, his gaze sliding away from Crowley’s face.
A crease appeared on the demon’s brow. “Hey, don’t fret about it, yeah?” He rubbed Aziraphale’s shoulder, uncertainty warring with the comfort in his voice. “Nobody’s gonna find out about any of this. You said it yourself, they’re not paying any attention if you’re not using up your share of the miracles. And even if they notice the stuff with the Satanists, you stopped before the wankers showed up— it’ll look like a perfectly legitimate thwarting, I can even back you up on it if they need proof you were foiling my ‘fiendish plans.’ You’re safe, angel. I promise.” He kissed Aziraphale. “And, uh, about this part of… all this…” He gestured vaguely with his chin, indicating the naked sprawl of their sweat-slicked bodies. “Obviously I’m not telling anyone. None of their business, is it? Just between us.” Aziraphale felt Crowley’s arms suddenly go stiff around him. “Of course, if you don’t want— this doesn’t have to change anything. With us, I mean.” He swallowed. “S’a weird situation, isn’t it? Unique circumstances and all. It can just be, y’know, that weird thing that happened in Kansas once.”
“Yes…” Aziraphale frowned, slightly. “Once…”
Crowley forced a smile. “Yeah, ‘cause once you’re back to your old self, got your powers and all, you won’t have to muck around with any of these— weird body things. Weird, totally normal body things. That we don’t have to feel weird about, because they’re normal. And you won’t have to worry about them, anyway, since—”
“That’s true, I won’t have to,” Aziraphale said, cutting Crowley off and taking hold of one of his hands. He looked into Crowley’s worried eyes and squeezed. “But… I might. Kinda want to.” He smiled. “A little?”
Crowley barely breathed, and didn’t blink. “It’d be risky.”
“Oh, extremely. If anyone found out—”
“—we’d hang, both of us, no question.”
“Hanging would be the least of our troubles, I expect. Torture and interrogation seem more likely.”
“And not the normal kind of torture, either— no thumb screws and acid pits for us, no firing up the old penis-flattener. They’d make us test subjects for a whole slew of exciting new ways to suffer.” Crowley let that thought sit for a moment. Then he raised an eyebrow, and lifted his shoulder in a delicate shrug. “But, you know. If that’s all that stopping us…”
Aziraphale felt warmth spreading through him all the way to the tips of his toes. “We can sleep on it.”
Crowley smiled. “Yeah… yeah we can.” He reached over Aziraphale and pulled the covers up around their shoulders, ducking in to plant a kiss on Aziraphale’s forehead. “Night, angel.”
Aziraphale tucked his face into the curve of Crowley’s neck and sighed happily. “Sweet dreams, demon.”
As he drifted off, Aziraphale felt Crowley’s fingers combing through the hair on the back of his neck, brushing over his shoulders, stroking along his back… and prodding, gently, all the way down. He chuckled and smiled against Crowley’s skin. “I’m not telling you how it works.”
Crowley squeezed Aziraphale closer. “Oh, I’ll figure it out, just you wait,” he declared, poking at Aziraphale’s spine with more determination. “And then one day, when you least expect it, I’m gonna creep up behind you and—pow! You’ll never see it coming.”
“Mmm, I’ll hold you to it.” Aziraphale slung his arm around Crowley’s waist as a heavy, bone-deep exhaustion settled over him, and Crowley’s soft laughter was the last thing he heard as he sank at last into the sweet embrace of sleep.
assorted fun facts
- ha HA, you thought you were getting PORN, but instead you got MATH HOMEWORK (and then porn)! Sorry. I’m a mathematician, it’s an occupational hazard. This is a great explainer on the concept of proof by contradiction, and part 2 specifically covers the proof that Aziraphale doesn’t quite get to the end of. It’s my favorite lil proof!
- This is the Bernini sculpture that Crowley mentions. Link includes one of St. Teresa’s passages describing the vision upon which the statue was based, and uhhhhhhhh. Dang. Get it, girl. (also, to my girlfriend’s cat, who is also named Teresa of Avila: I am SO sorry for using your namesake as a dumb sex joke like this, please accept my apology in the form of an extra scoop of kibble when it’s my turn to feed you, and stop looking at me like that, you poop in a box you have no right to judge me!)
- One of my most vivid childhood memories of sleepaway bible camp is that they served milk at breakfast the same way that they served lemonade and bug juice: in a pitcher full of ice. There’s nothing like a bowl of Lucky Charms with more ice cubes floating in it than marshmallows to kick off a long day of Talking About Your Close Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ. Anyway, I’m an atheist now, I’m sure that’s unrelated.
- Listen. Take it from someone who’s had a perfectly romantic park date ruined by violent duck sex on more than one occasion: Ducks are not to be trusted.