Crowley finds Aziraphale in an open field just outside Lower Tadfield. The day is blindingly bright, like the backs of angels on Sunday.
Aziraphale is sitting on a fence. Balancing, rather. Crowley wants to ask him how he does it, or more to the point, why he's doing it, when Aziraphale makes the question moot by seeing Crowley and promptly toppling off.
Crowley has nothing better to do than catch him before he hits the ground, with the result that he and Aziraphale hit the ground together. As he stretches out a hand to help Aziraphale up*1, he starts to suggest that next time Aziraphale gets the urge to train for the circus he practice his balance on a trampoline instead of a fence. But Aziraphale interrupts."Don't say it," he says. "It was obvious all along, I know."
"What, that you have the balance of a drunken penguin?"
"That I'm not good at sitting the fence," sighs Aziraphale. "I wanted to see what the cliché was all about."
"You do understand it is a figurative cliché," says Crowley carefully, "and not a literal one."
"Yes, well," says Aziraphale huffily, allowing Crowley to dust off his coat. Then, after a moment's pause: "You know, I don't think I've ever seen anyone successfully sit on one of those things."
"Why would anyone want to?" Crowley leans back against the fence--standard white picket variety--and crosses his legs. "I can't imagine the view gets more interesting five feet off the ground."
"Well, no, not particularly," Aziraphale continues. "But I wasn't all that concerned with what was around the fence so much as staying on it for a bit."
"Which begs the question," says Crowley, raking flecks of dirt from the angel's wings, "Upon which side of the fence would you have fallen if I hadn't caught you?"
Aziraphale sniffs. "I don't fall," he says with a good deal of dignity, folding his wings back and resettling them beneath his overcoat.
Crowley sidles closer. Aziraphale's feathers are bunching up the back of his coat ever so slightly.
"Not even for a good wine and a firssst edition of Libro de Arte Purpura Coquinaria?*2" asks Crowley.
Aziraphale turns his head and looks edgewise at Crowley.
Crowley smiles. "Admit it."
"Oh, do hush," says Aziraphale, looking guilty. "At any rate, I shouldn't wind up on your side of things anyway, even if I did fall."
Crowley tilts his head, and Aziraphale's eyes flicker over his face. What he has just said is not technically a lie, but it carries none of the reassurance of truth. Crowley reaches out a hand to brush the remaining feathers from Aziraphale's coat. Aziraphale leans back, too, and lets him.
"You know, there aren't always two sides to everything," says Crowley after a few moments. "We should know better than anybody else. There's yours, and mine, and--" he stops short of saying 'Adam's,' and instead settles for, "well, Earth's."
"You're suggesting I should fall just so I could land neatly among humans, is that it?" Aziraphale scoffs, but beneath the disdain Crowley hears an amusement so faint only 6,000 years of listening could detect it.
"No," Crowley answers in some surprise. "I just meant that--" he stops short, realising that he doesn't quite know what he means, not exactly. One of Aziraphale's stray feathers is stuck to his finger. He shakes it off more violently than he needs to. Then he thinks*3, swallows, and says faintly, "You give Him all sorts of credit for ineffable design, Angel, but you never dream that any of that design might possibly have been created to apply to you."
Aziraphale's eyes widen, and then narrow. "Of course it wouldn't apply to me, I'm not hu--"
Crowley takes the moment, opportune as it is, to remind Aziraphale that they are both far more human than either of them ever acknowledge.
When they break apart, Aziraphale is panting and gripping him by the shoulders. His wings are visible again, threatening to unfold in a snap and demolish the seams of his overcoat.
"You're tempting me," he says. His voice is low and his eyes are bright. "Why--"
"I want the third side," replies Crowley with a sudden rush of realisation. "And so do you."
Aziraphale holds on to Crowley's sleeves and tugs, hard, and Crowley knows, he knows that He would not have given them human hearts that beat faster, human pulses that skitter when flush up against each other like this, if there were no answer, no alternative plan into which this fits.
"You don't trust Him," says Aziraphale hurriedly against Crowley's ear. "There is no third side for you--there can't be, it wouldn't--"
"You're my third side, I suppose." Crowley tilts his head into the feathers at the base of Aziraphale's neck. "I trust in that well enough."
"Ah," says Aziraphale, and then, "Ah," again, as though he gets it, though that might also have something to do with what Crowley is doing to the feathers.
"Angel," says Crowley. It's the Garden all over again, he thinks. We are the tempted and the forbidden, all at once.
He winds himself around Aziraphale like a snake, and takes a bite of his fruit.
It's not a fall, he thinks, if he meets the angel halfway.
1. A feat which involves first getting Aziraphale to stop saying 'oof,' and 'my goodness, are you all right?' and 'what a lucky thing, that was, wasn't it,' rolling him off onto the ground beside him (which is no easy task considering that with Aziraphale's wingspan being as long as it is, he has a tendency to start rolling and then not stop until his wings are unfurled and the rest of him is several yards away), and finally getting to his knees and carefully manoeuvring around said gigantic wingspan until he is within reaching distance of Aziraphale's arm, much like a ship charting a small island, if the island were comprised mostly of down-feathers and checkered wool and had a tendency to say 'oh dear,' and the ship decided to kick the island in a rather annoyed way when it had managed to navigate all the way around it--not hard, of course, just firmly enough to get the point across; the point being that it's a quite overblown and dramatic thing when angels fall.
2. Which technically means The Big Book of the Art of Cooking Shellfish. It's not that Aziraphale is fascinated by shellfish per se--in fact he is rather terrified of them after seeing that Italian movie years ago, the one with the orgies and the giant fish--even though the fish isn't really a shellfish, and moreover isn't really a fish, being constructed of two giant eyes and so much fiberglass; but Aziraphale does not really need an excuse, because he figures if any angel is likely to one day be attacked by a giant clam, or get instant paralysis from eating the wrong batch of lobster puffs, with his luck it's just well and bound to be him, and so he might as well steer clear of the things altogether. Rather, what draws Aziraphale is the fact that in 2184 B.C., the Rabbi Yehoyakim Mazal, who was noted far and wide for making the best clam chowder this side of Burra-Burra, spent years compiling the shellfish recipes in this book only to publish it two days before the Great Hebrew Shellfish Prohibition went into effect, thereby ensuring that only five copies of the book were ever sold, and that Mazal, in addition to being forced to write altarscopes for the Judaic almanac in order to recoup, was forever after known among all the other temple leaders as the Rabbi without a Cause.
3. About something he has been thinking about for a very long time, but hasn't brought up to Aziraphale yet because it is too embarrassing for a demon to think about, and would be even if there were the slightest chance of it ever actually happening; even though the stubborn part of Crowley's brain insists, particularly when he has been drinking too much, that stranger things have happened; and that if angels were to fall, then technically it's just possible, isn't it, that demons could also rise.