Chapter 1: Aziraphale, Alone
Twenty years after the Almost-Apocalypse, and Aziraphale was feeding the ducks.
Time hadn’t touched the angel- his face was unlined, not a single strand of grey hair in his mass of curls- but there was a sadness in his eyes, a slump to his shoulders, that hadn’t been there twenty years ago. He thought back to that day- the sky so blue it had almost hurt, the sense of freedom, of feeling so light they might just fly away.
Aziraphale had fully expected to die when they’d felt Lucifer coming that day, and when he hadn’t, when both he and Crowley had been fine, and free, and happy- he’d seen it, just for a moment, the possibility of them having a life together, hope a shining silver road that twisted on and on, infinitely far into the future.
Hope had been everywhere that day, thick enough to choke on.
They’d been so happy. And so stupid.
He remembered Crowley, the long expanse of his neck as he tilted back his head to let out that singularly uncool laugh that Aziraphale loved so much. His black hair had looked almost brown in the bright sunlight, and Aziraphale had smiled at the fluid motion with which he pushed it back- that effortless, serpentine grace that permeated every motion, so that even him throwing bread to the ducks enthralled the angel, made him want to memorise every angle, every smooth curve of him. Crowley had pulled him close, and Aziraphale had lifted up his sunglasses, letting the sunlight illuminate the deep golden sea of his eyes, feline and elegant. They’d been full of laughter and love and possibility, walking arm and arm to the Ritz when they couldn’t be bothered to miracle up any more bread, Crowley fumbling with the frame of his sunglasses and laughing at something stupid that Aziraphale had said, some shared memory.
Aziraphale looked down at the loaf of bread he had next to him now, bought from Waitrose. He didn’t miracle things up much anymore these days.
What was the point, he thought, of miracles, of magic, if it couldn’t help with any of the important things?
That day had been the last time he’d ever seen Crowley.
When he’d gotten home from the Ritz that evening, his cheeks rosy and his head still buzzing slightly from the wine, there had been a summoning from Heaven on his desk.
Aziraphale had sobered up instantly, the warm feeling of contentment leaving his body as he surveyed the note, a thick piece of parchment written in swirling Enochian. The meaning was clear: Above wanted to talk, and they wanted to talk now. He thought back to that afternoon, his and Crowley’s arrogant assumptions that both Above and Below were just “pretending it hadn’t happened.” They’d been wrong, obviously. They’d just been biding their time.
Aziraphale had swallowed, felt a heavy weight settle in the pit of his stomach, got out his chalk and begun drawing the circle with a shaky hand, taking as long as possible to draw the long, swirling arcs. When he finally had it completed, he brushed the chalk dust off his hands, let out a deep sigh, and took a long, final look around his bookshop before stepping into the circle and disappearing with a flash of blue light and a soft chime of bells.
He always forgot how bright Heaven was, the offensively white light that was just too intense to be enjoyable. Maybe he was just too used to the dimness of earth- England didn’t get much sun. He blinked a few times tried to adjust to the light, and then noticed Gabriel- of all the angels, it had to be bloody Gabriel, didn’t it- standing next to him with a jolt of surprise. The messenger angel nodded at him.
“Aziraphale. Good of you to come.” Gabriel’s voice was just as annoying as it had been six thousand years ago, and Aziraphale felt a wave of bitterness. If this was it- if that was the last he’d ever see of earth, of Crowley, there was little point in being polite, was there?
“I wasn’t aware that I had much of a choice in the matter.” He’d responded, petulantly.
Gabriel tilted his head in acknowledgement, but did not voice any response. Instead he moved on.
“Yes. Well. You are here to discuss the end of the world. Or rather, the fact that it didn’t.” The Archangel gave Aziraphale a hard stare, and he squirmed slightly, but didn’t lower his gaze.
“Well, look, as I already told the Metatron, how do you know that this isn’t part of the ineffable plan as well, hmm? This could have been what He wanted all along.” He didn’t want to argue with Heaven, didn’t want to get into even more trouble than he was surely already in, but he didn’t regret his actions and he was trying to explain this to Above in the only terms that they’d understand.
Gabriel sighed and waved his hand dismissively.
“Yes, yes, we’ve heard it all before. And we suppose you can’t argue with ineffability. But, Aziraphale...” Gabriel gave him another one of those flat stares that the angel couldn’t quite figure out. “You’d better stay on Earth for now. I don’t think all the angels would be as understanding as I am.” Gabriel turned away, clearly finished with him, and Aziraphale felt his heart surge with the return of the hope he’d felt earlier that afternoon. If the worst Heaven was going to do was to tell him to remain on Earth... well, that was no punishment at all, really. He walked back over to the portal, a renewed spring in his step, the future wide and full of potential.
“Oh, and Aziraphale,” Gabriel added from over his shoulder, and the angel stopped abruptly. “We know. About you and the demon Crawly.”
It’s Crowley, he almost corrected, but held his tongue, his heart beating furiously, terribly afraid. He turned to look back at the other angel.
“You... know? And all you’re doing about it is saying that I am to remain on earth?”
Gabriel gave a humorless smile.
“It won’t be a problem any longer. We hear Below is taking care of it.”
And then all of Aziraphale’s dreams for the future imploded.
We hear Below is taking care of it.
How those words haunted him, even all those years later. He threw some bread listlessly at the ducks, watching as the water-logged crumbs sank downwards into the silvery surface of the lake. His small hands gripped the smooth wood of the bench as the memories overcame him. Even now, twenty years later, he could remember every detail of that meeting, had overanalysed every syllable to see how things could have gone differently, how he could have saved Crowley, somehow, ended it faster.
We hear Below is taking care of it.
The words rang in his ears as the bookshop rematerialised around him, shockingly dim after the bright light of Heaven. He’d run outside, realised that he didn’t actually have a car- it was Crowley who always drove them everywhere- then remembered that he was an angel, for Goodness sake, reached into the ethereal plane and gave the fabric of reality a sharp tug, and appeared just outside the door of Crowley’s apartment.
He knew straight away that something was wrong. The neat little placard reading A.J Crowley just next to the doorbell that Aziraphale had made for him when he’d first moved in had been ripped out, the corner still hanging limply, the rest presumably turned into the small pile of ashes now coalescing into the carpet. The door was slightly ajar, Aziraphale had realised with a sick feeling of dread, and he pushed it open with his eyes screwed shut, not sure if he wanted to know what was inside. The silence resounded in his bones, and he slowly opened them, taking in the destruction- the furniture upturned, expensive carpets stained with a substance that might have been blood, and all Crowley’s plants- the plants, he’d confessed to Aziraphale one particularly drunken night, that he kept around because he missed Eden, his pale imitation of the lush paradise where their story had begun- all his plants were dead, withered and brown. Aziraphale had been over just a few days ago- he and Crowley had tried to make pancakes, and failed miserably, and ended up having to miracle away the whole mess- and then there had been a veritable forest of rich, verdant plants. The finest plants in all of England, Crowley had always said. And the most terrified. Aziraphale nervously touched the leaf of a Sansevieria (also known as a snake plant, something Crowley had found hilarious, obviously), and watched as the leaf crumbled to dust. Now they were also the deadest plants in all of England.
Aziraphale slowly got to his feet, legs shaking, swallowing the lump in his throat, and continued his hopeless funeral march throughout the apartment. In the corner of the room, he found a plant mister, leaking what felt suspiciously like holy water. Aziraphale felt any last vestiges of hope abandon him. And then- half-hidden underneath the sofa- he saw them, Crowley’s sunglasses, one lens cracked down the middle. He slowly pulled them out, cradled them in his arms, saw his stupid, useless face reflected in the accusing black of the lenses. And that was when he lost it, broke down, there in the middle of a sea of dead plants, holding onto a pair of broken sunglasses for dear life, shoulders heaving with sobs that shook the entirety of his small frame. He was so stupid. So worthless and slow and he should have known, he should have been there, he shouldn’t have just left him he shouldn’t have left him he-
There in St. James’ park, he felt the familiar sting of tears burn against his eyelids. He gingerly pulled out the sunglasses, ran his thumb down the crack marring the right lens, enjoying the warm rush of the blood that welled up in his hand. He deserved the pain. He deserved much worse.
He’d tried to find Crowley, he had, burying his head in every book he could find on Hell, on demons, tried every summoning, every tracking spell, called in every favour he’d accumulated over the course of six thousand years.
It hadn’t been enough.
That was when he’d understood the true punishment of Gabriel’s effective ban from Heaven. Crowley had been the one constant in his six thousand years of life. The one person he’d trusted. His enemy, then his friend, then much more than that, but always there, a constant presence with his slit-gold eyes and raw, sinewy grace. They’d revolved around each other, trapped in their great cosmic dance for millennia, until Aziraphale knew all the steps. Until he could perform it to perfection. Until he had broken free, and made his own dance, whirling ever closer to Crowley, until they were intertwined, two hearts beating as one, two mirroring souls.
And now Crowley was gone, and Aziraphale was alone, freefalling, trapped in this city of infinite memories. There was nowhere on Earth he hadn’t gone with Crowley at some point, nowhere where he would be free from Crowley’s shadow staring back at him through those empty sunglasses. And he had to go on, to pretend, to keep going, all alone. There could be no escape to the white emptiness of Heaven, to bury himself in angelic power and pretend that the past hadn’t happened, the luxury of forgetting. Gabriel would deny him even that desperate pretence.
But he didn’t dare leave London, in the end.
What if Crowley came back, came looking for him, and he wasn’t there? What if he couldn’t find him? So Aziraphale stayed, and kept his bookshop, even though the memories hurt, a deep, gnawing, physical pain.
He missed Crowley. He missed the demon so much. His counterpart, his opposite, perfectly balanced, matching puzzle pieces in the jigsaw of the universe. He was gone, and it was like someone had torn out Aziraphale’s heart.
He slowly came back to the present, threw the last of the bread to the ducks. The sky was grey and overcast, and it had begun to drizzle, the fine type of rain that completely drenched everything in minutes. The angel sighed, disgusted with everything but especially with himself, and slowly made his way back to his bookshop.
Maybe he was crying, or maybe it was just the rain on his skin. He didn’t know, but pulled open the door to the bookshop and half-fell inside, the endless twisting rows of shelves staring down at him judgementally. He stumbled his way inside, to the back room where he and Crowley had shared so many drinks and jokes and had contemplated the universe. So many lasts, and they hadn’t even realized it.
That was the problem with being immortal. You assumed you’d live forever, would have forever, and so he’d taken things slow, hadn’t said all those things he’d felt, done all those things he’d wanted to do that he’d just assumed would happen at some point. And now he was alone, just a useless, foolish angel, too much of a bastard to be any good at it, but not even strong enough or spirited enough to fall and burn like he deserved. So he’d suffer like this, haunted by the memory of all that he’d lost, as humanity withered and died around him. Aziraphale, alone.
He took out the sunglasses again, the empty black lenses that reflected everything he no longer was, everything that was no longer there, and with a strangled sob he hurled them to the floor, watching the delicate glass shatter and spiral into dark slices of nothingness, the frames twisting out of shape. Then he realized what he’d done, began to cry in earnest, and miracled the glasses back together, leaving just that one long crack down the right lens. If only he could miracle himself back together, make himself work again.
We hear Below is taking care of it.
It. As though Crowley wasn’t even a person.
It had been twenty years. When would it stop hurting? When would he be normal again, or at least okay? He just wanted to feel okay again. Aziraphale stared into the sunglasses, and with an abrupt sigh, went to bed. He didn’t need to sleep, but he’d picked up the habit. It helped pass the time, and there was nothing better than the heavy blanket of unconsciousness to block out the thoughts in his head. He screwed his eyes shut, listening to the desperate pounding of the rain on the roof, and tried to lose himself in memory, to forget the harsh truth of the present, letting the great drifting tide of sleep wash him away. Oh, the beauty of oblivion.
His breathing slowed, became more regular, and he hoped, prayed, that maybe, maybe in the morning he’d be okay again.
Chapter 2: You Look Like Hell
The rain hammered down, heavy as the ache in the angel’s heart as he tried to escape into sleep. Then he heard it- a desperate knocking, breaking the rhythm of the rain, someone pounding at the door. His first instinct was to scowl- he never wanted customers, but especially not right now. On the other hand, what kind of customer arrived at the dead of night, in this weather? Aziraphale sighed, but welcomed the escape from his thoughts, and slowly made his way downstairs, flicking on the lights as he made his way to the door. He didn’t know who’d want to be here at this time, who’d come for him through the pouring rain. Just another of the billion things he no longer had.
He reached the door to the small bookshop, making his way through the familiar maze of bookshelves. The well-worn door handle fit neatly into his palm, and he twisted it and pulled the door inwards, peering out into the rain.
A pair of wide yellow eyes stared back at him.
His breath caught in his throat. Shivering in the pouring rain, black hair stuck to his forehead in long tendrils, impossibly real and there, stood Crowley, his mouth half open, a slightly lost expression on his face.
He was too thin, was Aziraphale’s first impression. His eyes seemed slightly too large for his face, and his shirt hung off his small frame, revealing a jutting collarbone. His arms were locked around himself, and standing there, in the dim light coming from the bookshop, he looked so much smaller, more frightened than the angel remembered. Aziraphale didn’t care. Crowley was back, finally, and that was all that mattered. He gave a strangled half-sob and launched himself at the bedraggled demon, enveloping him in a hug, trying to feel him, to be sure that this was real. Then he stopped as at his touch, Crowley flinched, actually flinched away from him. He dropped his arms and inched away from the demon. He was so stupid, he thought. If Crowley was still alive, that meant he’d spent the last twenty years in Hell. The things he must have been through... he awkwardly cleared his throat and worriedly looked up at Crowley.
“Do... do you want to come in? I can make you a cup of tea?”
The demon nodded, wordlessly.
Aziraphale puttered nervously around the little kitchen in the back of his bookshop, sneaking glances at Crowley whenever he could. He’d given the demon the thickest wool blanket he could find, and sat him down on his small, squashy brown sofa, but he was still trembling, whether from the cold or exhaustion or something else, Aziraphale didn’t know. In the light, his warm skin had a greyish tinge. He poured the demon a mug of tea, passed it to him, marvelling at the feeling that burst through him as their fingers brushed each other, and watched as Crowley clutched the cup to himself, long fingers curling round the sides, pupils dilating in relief as he let the warmth of the cup soak through him. Aziraphale watched him drink his tea in silence. There didn’t seem to be anything to say.
When he was finished, Crowley carefully placed the cup on the soft wood of Aziraphale’s kitchen table. The angel gave him a small, worried smile. Crowley still hadn’t said anything. Aziraphale wondered if he’d forgotten how.
“You can sleep on the couch for tonight, but obviously you can stay as long as you like.” He tried to be professsional and calm, to suppress the wave of questions threatening to trip off his tongue, the torrent of emotions. “I’m- you can tell me if you need anything, you know that, right? Anything.” Aziraphale swallowed another sob, turned around, and made a show of cleaning up the kitchen, although there wasn’t really much to do.
The sound of Crowley’s voice, rough from disuse, made the angel turn around sharply.
“Thank you.” The demon gave a small, weak smile, made of hopeless gratitude and bone-deep exhaustion.
“Oh, Crowley,” said Aziraphale tearfully, coming back over and gently sat down on the sofa next to the small huddle of blanket and demon. He carefully lifted his arm. “Is- is it all right if I do this?” Crowley nodded, and Aziraphale gently placed his arm around the demon, trying to get some of his warmth to diffuse to Crowley’s frozen limbs. He noticed the torn hem of the demon’s trousers peeking out from under the tartan of the blanket, still sodden with water, and let out a small squeak of horror.
“Oh, of course you’re cold, dear, your clothes are soaking wet! Wait here, I’ll go and get you some of mine.” He quickly shuffled off to his small wardrobe, trying to find something that wasn’t too tartan for the poor demon. The size would be off, he knew- he’d always been rounder than Crowley, never having understood the demon’s love of aesthetic, but the difference would be even more glaring with Crowley’s painfully thin frame. Length would be tricky, too- Aziraphale was, regrettably, really rather short.
He gave up on fashion and settled for the warmest jumper he could find, accompanied by thick tartan pants and woollen socks. It would do for now. He walked back into the back room where Crowley still sat on the sofa, feeling that same storm of things left unsaid hit him- I missed you, I love you, where have you been, what did they do? But he said nothing, and merely handed the demon the small pile of clothes with what he hoped was a comforting smile.
“I know it doesn’t really compare to your usual suits, but, well, it’s warm and dry.” Crowley took them with that pitiful wide-eyed stare of his, as if in these last twenty years even the most basic decency had become alien to him. Maybe it had, who knew. Crowley had never really talked about Hell. Aziraphale had never really asked. He’d never really wanted to know. “More tea?” He bustled off to the kitchen without waiting for an answer, giving the demon some privacy to get changed in.
He walked back in a few minutes later, carefully holding a fresh mug of tea, and grinned at Crowley’s new outfit- a beige turtleneck jumper that dwarfed the demon and hung loosely about his frame, forming a nice contrast to his slightly-too-short tartan pants, and exposing a few centimetres of scrawny leg. The whole thing was covered by the soft woollen blanket in a different tartan that clashed admirably with the trousers. Crowley didn’t seem to mind, making himself as small as possible and trying desperately to warm up. He took the proffered tea with a small smile.
“How- how long was I gone?” Crowley’s voice was still hoarse, but he seemed to be coming to his senses a bit, felt more like the hopelessly awkward demon the angel knew and loved.
“Twenty-eight years. It’s 2018, just.” Aziraphale sat back down on the sofa, feeling the soft brown leather give under his weight. He tried to gauge Crowley’s expression, figure out what was going on in those yellow eyes. Crowley tightened his grip on his teacup, brown fingers trembling slightly. He nodded.
“Felt longer.” He clumsily shifted his small mountain of blankets so that he was facing the angel full-on, his hair starting to dry in a frizzy mess. He quirked one corner of his mouth slightly. “I missed you, angel.” Aziraphale smiled back, overwhelmed by the strange fluttery feeling of hope in his heart at the sound of the familiar nickname. He stared into Crowley’s eyes, the golden depths illuminated by the rich yellow light emanating from Aziraphale’s kitchen, and felt a warm surge of contentment surge through him. It would be okay. They were going to be okay.
“I missed you, too.” His eyes were watering slightly, and he hoped that Crowley couldn’t see. The demon quickly finished his still-steaming tea, the heat not seeming to bother him, and then the two of them just sat there, in the warm, comfortable kind of silence that comes with the familiarity of six thousand years together. He gently placed his arm around Crowley again, felt his taunt body relax into him, and after a while, Crowley gently intertwined his hand with the angel’s, his long, calloused fingers snaking through Aziraphale’s pudgier ones. They didn’t talk. They didn’t need to. Time enough for talking in the morning, Aziraphale thought. Sitting there with Crowley pressed against him, he finally let himself hope again, let himself consider the possibility of that future with Crowley, the two of them being together. He’d missed feeling like this, dreaming like this. Goodness, he’d missed his demon so much. He smiled down at him, gently coming back to the present, and realized that the demon’s eyes were closed, his breathing easy and regular. Crowley had fallen asleep.
Aziraphale didn’t dare move, didn’t dare disturb Crowley- he’d earned his sleep, the poor dear- and so he stayed perfectly still, eyes scanning over every inch of the demon’s body that he could see through all the blankets, with the loving ease of someone rereading a favourite childhood book, coming back home to their favourite characters, remembering all the little details that time had erased, like the small mole at the nape of Crowley’s neck, how stupidly long and dark his eyelashes were, the way they graced the smooth curve of his cheek. The demon was pressed right up against Aziraphale, close enough for the angel to feel the furious beat of his heart, the way that his bones stuck out through his skin.
The first order of business once Crowley woke up, he decided, was to get him a proper meal. Possibly at the Ritz. Then to get him some proper clothes. He began planning it all out in his head, trying to work out the practicalities of reintroducing a demon to earth after a twenty-year hiatus, when his thoughts were interrupted by a sudden thump as Crowley’s still-sleeping body slid over Aziraphale’s round shoulder, depositing the demon’s head squarely in his lap. Aziraphale stared down, not quite sure what to do about this sudden arrival, trying to resist the urge to run his hands through the mess of Crowley’s black hair, get it looking presentable again, although, Aziraphale thought wryly, thinking of his own tangled mess of curls, he was hardly in any position to judge.
Instead, he just watched Crowley’s sleeping form, and felt his eyelids gently drift downwards, lulled to sleep by the warm glow of happiness building in his stomach.
He was woken a few hours later by the sound of Crowley’s screams.
He jerked upwards, reaching for a sword that hadn’t been there for several thousand years, the warm weight of Crowley in his lap holding him down. He looked around, tried to find the intruder, then realized that the demon’s eyes were still screwed shut, that he was still asleep. Crowley’s breath came in short, panicked bursts, building up to a small scream as his long fingers grasped onto the front of Aziraphale’s pyjamas, clinging on for dear life. A nightmare. The demon was having a nightmare, Aziraphale realized, his heart breaking at the thought of Crowley, trapped in the mindless terror of his memories. What was he supposed to do? He knew you were never supposed to wake a person who was sleepwalking- did the same apply to nightmares? He stared down at Crowley, unable to get a grip on the wild flurry of his thoughts, still muddled and half-asleep.
Crowley let out another, small, pitiful, cry of terror, and Aziraphale could stand it no longer. He gently shook the demon’s shoulder.
“Crowley. Crowley dearest. It’s just me. You’re safe. Wake up now, come on...” he tried to keep his voice calm and steady, wasn’t sure if he was managing it, but kept on going, muttering soothing nonsense to the demon until Crowley finally came back to consciousness with a small gasp.
“Shhh. It’s just me. It’s alright. You were having a nightmare. You’re safe. You’re safe now, Crowley.” Aziraphale peered down worriedly at the demon, who seemed to have realized that he was on the angel’s lap, and hastily scrabbled upwards, still breathing heavily. He sat up, staring at Aziraphale, who suppressed a small smile as the wide sleeves of the beige jumper he’d lent Crowley flapped furiously downwards.
“Are you all right, dear?”
Crowley shrugged, staring distantly at something only he could see.
“Fine.” He replied brusquely, voice raw. Aziraphale stared at him.
“Fine? Crowley, you’ve been in Hell for the past twenty years! I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. Of course you aren’t fine, and that’s perfectly reasonable. You don’t have to pretend with me, you know.” Crowley snuffled, and moved a bit closer to the angel, resting his head against Aziraphale’s shoulder. Aziraphale hugged him tight. “See? You can cry, if you want. ‘S alright.” Crowley burrowed closer, and gave a strange sort of smile.
“Can’t,” muttered Crowley from somewhere under Aziraphale’s armpit.
“Why on earth not? You know I won’t judge you.” Aziraphale peered down at him, which required some impressive manoeuvring on his part. There was a movement which he supposed might have been a shrug.
“No, I actually can’t. Body doesn’t have tear ducts.”
“Really?” Asked Aziraphale, fascinated. He didn’t actually know a lot about demon anatomy and how everything worked down Below- there weren’t many books on the subject and Crowley wasn’t the foremost expert, spending most of his time as he did on Earth. “Why on earth not?”
“See it as a sign of weakness, s’pose,” Crowley mumbled. “Dunno.” He still seemed exhausted, ready to drop off again at any moment.
“You’re not weak, Crowley, you know that right?” Aziraphale said anxiously, voice slightly higher than usual. “You’re amazing and witty and silly and if Hell can’t see that, then, well-” he broke off, laughed awkwardly. “Well, I was going to say damn the lot of them, but considering...”
Crowley laughed as well, and the deep, open sound sent an indescribable feeling running through Aziraphale.
“I missed you, Crowley. I missed you so much.” And I love you, he thought, but he didn’t say it. Didn’t dare. Wasn’t sure if Crowley still felt the same way, knew it wasn’t fair to spring this on him after all he’d been through. So he just sat there, and smiled, and tried to look happy, as Crowley grinned up at him and slowly fell asleep.
Aziraphale woke up to the smell of smoke, body stiff after a night of awkward angles on the sofa. He sat up, blearily, watching the sunlight filter through the window and illuminate the fuzzy hairs of the tartan blanket someone had draped over him. Crowley wasn’t there, and Aziraphale’s heart lurched for a moment, before he heard the familiar sounds of Queen coming from the small radio in the kitchen. He smiled, and followed the sound. Last night’s rain had cleared away the clouds, leaving the day bright and full of promise.
The demon was standing over Aziraphale’s small stove, trying to separate something charred and very dead-looking from the bottom of a frying pan. He looked over at the angel with a grimace, which Aziraphale found very hard to take seriously with Crowley still dwarfed by the huge beige sweater and with his bare feet sticking out from under his cheery tartan trousers.
“I tried to make breakfast, but, well...” he gestured at the frying pan with a plastic spatula. “I seem to have rather lost the knack.” He looked up at Aziraphale with those wide eyes, as though he was expecting to be kicked out for burning... were those supposed to be pancakes? The angel honestly couldn’t tell. “I’m sorry. For the mess.”
Aziraphale came over and gently took the spatula from Crowley, marveling at their closeness, the realness of him- it wasn’t a dream. Crowley was really, truly back.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, dear! Look, I’ll clean up, it’s no problem...” he reached for some kitchen towel, Crowley hovering awkwardly in the background, clearly wanting to help but not quite sure how to go about it. Aziraphale threw the charred, ashy thing from the frying pan into the bin, and thought that he’d probably just discreetly miracle the the rest clean later when Crowley wasn’t looking. It was true that he’d been using magic less lately, but he had his limits. He brushed off his hands and looked over at Crowley, trying to suppress a smile at the demon’s forlorn expression.
“Shall we go out for breakfast? I can show you around and you can get yourself some new clothes, unless you want to keep walking round in that.” He gestured at Crowley’s mismatched outfit.
Crowley cocked his head in acknowledgement, in a way that reminded Aziraphale mildly of a puppy being offered a treat.
“I’d love to angel,” he gestured at his eyes. “What about these, though? I don’t think anyone noticed last night in all the rain, but today... I really don’t feel up to doing any glamouring or anything yet.”
Aziraphale let out a small, breathy laugh and pulled out the old pair of sunglasses he’d kept for the last twenty years, quickly miracling the crack whole again. They’d been all he’d had left of Crowley- now that the demon was standing right in front of him again, whole and hale, he didn’t need them anymore. He’d much rather have the real thing.
Crowley stared at amazement at the glasses, turning them over in his long, elegant fingers.
“You kept these? All those years?”
Aziraphale shrugged, not wanting to think of how he’d obsessed over the glasses, running his hands over the now-healed crack until they’d bled.
“I found them in your apartment. After. Figured you’d want them if you ever got back.” He looked over at Crowley, his gaze still fixed on the glasses as though they’d drawn him in somehow.
“My apartment... that’s gone now, I suppose?”
"Some human called Neil’s renting it now. I tried to keep it empty for you for as long as possible, but, well...”
Crowley nodded, digesting this information. He didn’t really look suprised, just resigned.
“I figured.” He looked over at the angel, eyes wide and hopeful. “Could I... could I stay with you? Until I find a new place?”
“You can stay as long as you want, dear. Now. Breakfast?”
Aziraphale miracled Crowley up some shoes- there was no way the demon would be able to fit into his size 4’s- and then Aziraphale led them out into the bright early morning sunlight, bright rays reflecting off Crowley’s newly-repaired sunglasses. Aziraphale sort of already missed his eyes, the unique Crowley-ness of them. But he had to admit that the demon looked excellent in sunglasses. Even if the whole jumper-and-tartan outfit didn’t really do him any favours.
They walked arm in arm, Crowley gawking at the sheer amount of people around them, their sleek black mobile phones- Aziraphale confessed that he didn’t really understand how they worked, either- they keep changing, dear, I can’t keep up- and Crowley deciding then and there to get one as soon as possible. (Crowley really wasn’t surprised at Aziraphale’s technological ineptitude. His computer had been old twenty years ago.)
Aziraphale loved looking at Crowley like this- curious, excited, keen to explore everything, his shoulders wide and head tilted back to let out his deep, open laugh. He seemed much more like himself, and Aziraphale let himself relax and enjoy the morning. They had breakfast at an excellent little café near Convent Garden the angel had discovered a few years ago. Crowley tucked into a full English with such gusto that Aziraphale had to laugh.
“Did the food Below not quite live up to your high standards?”
Crowley shook his head, mouth full of sausage.
“No bloody food at all.” He shrugged, skewering a mushroom onto his fork with an unecessary amount of force. “I know we don’t really need to eat, but come on. Like you said, standards.” He gave a breezy laugh, like the fact that he hadn’t eaten for twenty years was a joke. Yes, they could survive without it, he’d never eaten in Heaven, but- it wasn’t healthy. And Heaven had been naturally nurturing, and good. You didn’t really need food, he supposed. Looking at Crowley’s thin frame, he doubted Hell had the same effect. Aziraphale leaned forward.
“Do you- want to talk about it? Below?”
Crowley shrugged, pushed some food around his plate.
Aziraphale nodded, didn’t push it, but let out a quiet sigh, and watched the demon polish off the rest of his food in a quiet mood. Then he brightened, realized something.
“Are you done?” Crowley nodded, and the two of them got the bill, Aziraphale leaving an inordinate amount of tip, as always. They stood up. “I have something to show you.”
They walked back outside, Crowley pulling the long sleeves of the beige jumper over his hands and folding his arms defensively over his chest. Aziraphale stared at him in disbelief.
“Are you cold? Crowley, it’s eighteen degrees! This is more or less the warmest this miserable country gets.”
Crowley shrugged, again, and pulled the sweater down further, stretching the sleeves slightly.
“Doesssn’t mean I have to like it, does it? Not a lot of good things about Below, but at least ‘sss warm.” He said petulantly, his hiss slightly more pronounced as it always was when he got sulky. Aziraphale had forgotten that. He’d sort of missed it. Every memory, every little unique mannerism clicking back into place to make the complex patchwork that was Crowley, gave him the same feeling of happy understanding you got from reading a piece of information and just getting it- oh of course, that’s why that’s happening, I understand, it all links- and it gave him a happy, euphoric feeling that not even Crowley ruining a perfectly good jumper could spoil. He tugged on one of the demon’s sleeves.
“Well come on then, Snow Queen. It’s not far.”
They ambled down to a small side street filled with rusty corrugated iron doors and large padlocks. Crowley eyed the very un-Aziraphale-like street with mild suspicion.
“What is this, angel?”
Aziraphale didn’t answer, instead fumbling through his pockets, until he pulled out a gleaming set of silver keys, guarded by a series of gaudy and highly impractical keychains, mostly references to Aziraphale’s favourite literary works. They jangled invitingly, and Aziraphale beckoned Crowley over to the nearest garage/hangar thing- he wasn’t exactly sure what the technical term was- and unlocked it. There, in the cool shadows, like a great beast waiting to pounce, sat-
“The Bentley! You kept her! Oh, Zira...” Crowley hugged the angel passionately, and Aziraphale stood there awkwardly, his wide grin threatening to split his face in two. Crowley broke off the hug and ran over to the car with an excited smile, like a child on Christmas morning. He lovingly ran his hands over the shining contours, pushed up his sunglasses so he could see more clearly. “I can’t believe- thank you. Thank you so much.” He smiled over at Aziraphale, eyes bright and shining. The angel smiled back at him, and fished out an old-fashioned set of car keys from his seemingly endless pockets.
“Do you want to go for a drive?”
if...if Crowley had to deal with the current weather situation in the uk he would probably just yeet himself directly back into hell and honestly same
(Sorry that this chapter's a bit shorter but the next one's really long i swear and i'll get it up ASAP!)
The days passed in a giddy blur. Aziraphale hardly recognized himself- barely a week ago he’d been struggling to get through all the long hours that made up a day, usually in bed by half six, trying to sleep away time. Now there wasn’t enough time in a day for all the things he wanted to do, not enough time to properly savour Crowley’s return. They’d gone for lunch at the Ritz, several times now, and despite a few menu changes found the whole experience was still just as good as he’d remembered it.
Having the Bentley back was good, too. He’d never dreamed of driving it himself- didn’t know how, for a start, the whole thing looked devilishly complicated, if you’d excuse the pun, and for another it had just seemed wrong- like dancing on Crowley’s grave, he’d always thought, and then pushed away, because the idea of Crowley being dead, not just discorporated, but really, properly gone- it didn’t bear thinking about. And now he didn’t have to, he tried to reassure himself, but twenty-eight years of worry and guilt and dreaming up the most horrible scenarios imaginable didn’t just vanish in a week.
But they were doing well. They were. They went out, and they laughed, and one bright afternoon they’d gone and fed the ducks at St. James’ Park, and it had been as though nothing had ever changed. They’d gotten Crowley a fresh wardrobe of crisp suits and flamboyant shirts, and he’d regained some of the weight he’d lost, the deep shadows under his eyes lessening slightly. He’d also invested in a sleek new laptop and mobile from a company called Apple (Crowley had had a laughing fit at the name and decided it was very probably some rare bright spark from Below, something Aziraphale had had to agree on when he found out just how little tax the corporation was paying), and had ruthlessly set about catching up on twenty years of technological progress, often laughing at bizarre images called ‘memes’.
“It’s ingenious, really,” he’d told the angel over an excellent bottle of red wine one night, “all this internet stuff. Everyone trying to be someone, to prove their worth, all the hate and the ignorance and the downright nastiness... Below could learn a thing or two, that’s for sure.”
Those were the good times, when Crowley seemed exactly like himself, just as he always had been. But Aziraphale started to notice little discrepancies, after a while. The demon was quieter, seemed a tad more subdued and serious than before. The nightmares still raged on, waking him several times a night. And then there was the issue of magic. Before, Crowley had always been the one to use miracles far more gratuitously, Heaven always having frowned on that sort of thing, but since he’d gotten back, Aziraphale hadn’t seen the demon do anything as simple as miracle away a hangover. Maybe he was just biding his time. Or he was still out of practice, like his still-atrocious cooking (Aziraphale had woken up to a ruined kitchen twice more before he’d firmly told the demon that he should possibly leave breakfast be until the two of them had had a chance to practice together). Or maybe... maybe there was a problem, somewhere, that Aziraphale didn’t know about, something that Crowley didn’t trust the angel enough to tell him.
The thought hurt the angel more than he cared to admit.
He should just give the demon time. Crowley had been through Hell- quite literally- and he just needed time to recover. That was all.
And then there was the other thing, the thing Aziraphale was scared to even think of, translating his delicate feelings into words.
Just after the apocalypse had been averted, when they’d felt young and free and immortal, when they’d decided Above and Below were going to leave them be... their relationship, always closer than friendship by any human standards, as was to be expected after six thousand years together, had unexpectedly shifted into something that was distinctly... more. Something that had involved clumsy first kisses in the back of Aziraphale’s bookshop, and spending nights wrapped in each other’s arms, never anything so raw and human as sex, but certainly a new and hitherto unknown feeling of intimacy. Of trust, and togetherness, and... love.
He’d said it. Once. That last, drunken day at the Ritz, gazing at the flickering reflection of candlelight in Crowley’s glasses, feeling warm and peaceful and intensely happy, his traitorous lips had formed the words.
I. Love. You.
There had been a terrible, awkward moment afterwards, when he’d realized what he’d said, the significance of it, and he’d stared at Crowley in horror, trying to gauge his reaction, decode the furrow between his brows, the sudden flush on his cheeks- and then Crowley had softened, and leaned in, lips caressing the soft skin of Aziraphale’s cheeks, his voice a soft whisper pressed up against the angel so that he could actually feel the words reverberate through his body.
I love you too, angel.
And they’d kissed awkwardly across the table, deep and passionate, paying and leaving the restaurant as quickly as possible after catching the pointed looks of the waiters, giggling, actually giggling on the way home, high on love and life and freedom.
The next day, Crowley had been dragged to Below, and neither of them had said a word about it since he’d returned.
Aziraphale still remembered the way Crowley had flinched when he’d hugged him on the night he’d first gotten back. He didn’t want to force the demon into anything, didn’t want to make him do anything he wasn’t ready for. So he said nothing.
Those were good reasons. Kind, selfless reasons that made him sound better than he was. He didn’t... he didn’t want to hear that Crowley didn’t feel the same way. That maybe he never had. He’d carried the deep burning torch of his feelings inside him for the last twenty years, and he knew, he knew that if Crowley didn’t feel the same, if that flame flickered and died... it would destroy him. Utterly. Aziraphale kept quiet instead, preferring to feed the flames on hopeless dreams instead.
Eventually, he knew, he’d have to wake up. But for now, he closed his eyes, pushed down his feelings, and soldiered on. He still had Crowley back. He was still happier than he’d been in two decades. He should be euphoric. He should be relishing every moment with Crowley. And so he smiled, and laughed, and lived for every moment of contact they had, the accidental brush of their fingers, Crowley gently bumping shoulders with him, the impossible closeness of him. He waited, and watched, and wanted.
There were so many human things he didn’t have to put up with, that he could just miracle away. Feelings, unfortunately, were quite beyond his control. Especially love.
Aziraphale woke up slowly, muscles stiff and aching, on the sofa again. They’d settled into a sort of routine- they’d make a show of going off to bed, Aziraphale upstairs and Crowley on the sofa, and a few hours later the angel would invariably be jolted awake by the sound of Crowley’s nightmares, the whimpered sobs and stifled screams, and he’d hurry down the stairs, gently rouse the demon and sit with him until he was quite sure he was all right, and then a bit longer, and eventually one or both of them would fall asleep. And in the morning, Crowley would already be up, poking about on his fancy laptop and furiously refusing to acknowledge that anything had happened, leaving Aziraphale to miracle away the feeling of stiffness in his joints, make breakfast, and try and coach any meaningful information out of Crowley. And to be frank, he was growing a little tired of it, the waking up alone, the moment of disorientation, the waste of power- this corporation wasn’t the youngest anymore- and Crowley’s whole attitude infuriated Aziraphale. And on this particular morning, he was having none of it.
He scrambled to his feet, ran his hands through his mess of curls, and made his way over to Crowley, who was sitting at the kitchen table, meticulously removing dirt from under his fingernails with a very expensive-looking fountain pen, such a manual, time-consuming activity that the angel had to fight the urge to miracle them clean for him, or ask Crowley why on earth he didn’t just do that himself. He sat across from the demon, and awkwardly cleared his throat. Crowley instantly thrust down the pen, flushing slightly. He ran a hand through his hair, tucking a strand behind his ears.
“Angel. You’re up. Hi.”
Aziraphale gave his best understanding smile and placed his small hands on the table.
“Crowley, dear. Are... the nightmares are going to keep happening, aren’t they?”
Crowley’s cheeks went even redder and he picked the pen back up, winding it through his fingers, intently looking down and avoiding any eye contact with the angel.
“I’m sorry, I- I’ll get myself a new flat soon,” he forced out, as quickly and quietly as possible, “and you don’t have to come down every night. Really. I’m sorry for the noise.” He continued fumbling with the pen, dropped it on the floor, and let out a choice swear word that made Aziraphale jump instinctively. He stared at Crowley’s hunched, defensive form in concern.
“No, that’s- that’s not what I meant at all.” He gently reached out and touched the demon’s bony wrist. “I just- it’s sort of inconvenient, isn’t it? This whole sofa thing? The both of us don’t really fit, and it’s really rather uncomfortable.” He tried to meet Crowley’s eyes. “So- I was wondering- my bed’s a double- there’s plenty of space- us sharing would be much more convenient than me going downstairs every night-”
Crowley looked up, slitted eyes incredulous, one corner of those vivid lips beginning to curve upwards in a smile.
“Are you asking me to sleep with you, angel?” The edge of a smirk was starting to creep into Crowley’s voice, as he finally began to raise his head, his bold stare a challenge.
“Yes.” Aziraphale nodded. Then: “No,” forcefully, as he realised just what the demon was implying. “Look- will you share a bed with me, Crowley?”
Crowley’s smile could have outshone Heaven itself.
“I’d love to, angel.”
Aziraphale nodded furiously.
“Well then. Good. Yes.” And he turned away and started fumbling with things in the kitchen, face a bright, angry red. Was that flirting? Was Crowley flirting with him? Had that just been a joke? Because of his hurried denial, did Crowley think that he didn’t want that? Did he know that he did? This was all so confusing.
It had been easier before, somehow. He’d known Crowley so well, better than he’d know himself, and he’d been able to read his emotions off his face, to gauge his reaction. That was still there of course, those six thousand years of shared memories, but something was different now, as if they were slightly out of sync. Whatever had happened to Crowley- the fact that Crowley wouldn’t tell him anything- it widened a disconnect between them. Aziraphale felt the distance slipping through his fingers and he didn’t know how to fix it.
Instead he smiled, made breakfast, and said no more about it.
The day passed well enough, with Crowley trying to teach a reluctant Aziraphale about the wonders of the internet- the demon had picked up more in a week than the angel had in twenty years- and Aziraphale grudgingly trying to navigate the World Wide Web. He was sat at the table, glowering at the slim, silvery laptop which gave off an aura of utter contempt, and tried to focus on the website Crowley was showing him now, something called Amazon. Crowley was leaning over him to reach the keyboard, suited arms over Aziraphale’s shoulders, ridiculously close.
“So you can buy things online, you see,” Crowley was saying, “like clothes. Or books, for that matter, which means less people go to bookshops now. Which means less people coming to buy your books.” He tilted his head and smiled at Aziraphale, who grudgingly had to admit that this whole internet thing did have its perks. Crowley’s long fingers flew along the keys, finding another website- eBey or something- and showed the angel all the different categories of second-hand books, helping him find a lovely old sixteenth-century bible for quite a reasonable price, which Aziraphale found himself quite wanting. Crowley gave his best tempter’s smile, and helped the angel set up a date with the owner to go and inspect the book tomorrow. The whole thing- Crowley’s confidence, his easy laugh when Aziraphale grossly misused a piece of internet slang, the nearness of him that set Aziraphale’s heart racing- helped the angel forget the mess of thoughts in his head and just enjoy Crowley’s company.
Time passed, and before Aziraphale knew it, it was late, and they were both tired, and it was time to go to bed.
They got changed separately, Crowley in the downstairs bathroom and Aziraphale upstairs in his bedroom, surveying his neatly made-up double bed with a newly critical eye. It was a lot smaller than he’d realised. He already found himself regretting this, but it was too late to do anything about it now, so he stood there awkwardly in his floaty silk pyjamas, waiting for Crowley to show up. Finally, the demon appeared in the doorway, dressed in...
“What is that?” Aziraphale asked, trying to make sense of the offensively green one-piece outfit that the demon was wearing, complete with a bizarre hood that featured scales, googly eyes, and a red forked tongue that dangled in between his eyes. Crowley grinned and gave a little twirl, revealing that there was also a tail at the back, for goodness sake.
“It’s a snake onesie!”
“A onesie! All the humans are wearing them these days. It’s fashion, angel.” He pulled down the hood and pushed back his thick wave of hair awkwardly. Aziraphale wasn’t sure if the demon was messing with him or not, but the overall impression of Crowley dwarfed by this ridiculous green thing was so silly that he couldn’t help but smile. He walked over to the right side of the bed.
“So... this is my side of the bed. You can take the left.”
Crowley obligingly walked over to the other side and flipped over a corner of Aziraphale’s pristine white duvet cover.
“Right... shall we, then?” Crowley gave Aziraphale a lopsided smile and then the two of them inelegantly tumbled into bed from opposite sides, pulling at the corners of the duvet covers. Aziraphale let his head hit the pillows, and then turned to face Crowley.
This was... closer than he’d realised. Yes, so they’d been close to each other on the sofa, practically on top of each other half the time due to the limited amount of space, but this was still different. This was a bed. People did things in beds, and here he was, gazing into the deep void of Crowley’s eyes, only a few centimetres of nothing separating them. He could have... Crowley was right there, yellow eyes wide and unreadable. He could have reached out, could have finally said something, confessed his feelings, but he was still scared and stupid and unsure of what the correct course of action was, so he said good night, turned around, and let sleep take him.
He’d expected to be woken up by the nightmares. Instead, it was the cool caress of the night air on his skin that woke Aziraphale, who reached blearily for his duvet and realized it wasn’t there. He looked round, exasperated, and his eyebrows made their way dramatically up his forehead as he registered Crowley’s skinny form wrapped up in a cloud of duvet, snared around his body in a way that made it remarkably hard for Aziraphale to tug it back, try as he might. He sat up, tried to find the corner or something he could pull on, and caught sight of Crowley’s dark head, face relaxed and open, black hair spilling over the white of the pillow in a bizarre parody of a halo. There was something so intimate and vulnerable about Crowley, surrounded by the stark white of the thick duvet, that... he looked almost angelic, the spread of white like great wings.
The thought shocked Aziraphale, but dissipated as he took back some of the duvet and caught sight of that ridiculous snake... thing. Still, he fell back asleep with a happy ache in his heart.
The nightmares came at about three o’clock in the morning. It started small, Crowley’s breathing speeding up, until his breath came in hoarse, panicked gasps that turned to whimpers, curling into a ball and making himself as small as possible.
“Crowley. Crowley. Come on, dear, you’re just dreaming, you’re all right...” Aziraphale sat hunched over the demon’s small form, hand placed gently on his shoulder, trying to urge him back into the waking world. At last, Crowley’s eyes flew open, and he lay on the bed panting.
“You all right, dear?” Inquired Aziraphale, the same words he’d uttered that first night. They’d felt insufficient then and they still didn’t fit now, but what else could he say?
Crowley forced himself into a seating position. Aziraphale noticed he was trembling, still breathing hard.
“I...” Crowley stopped, and weakly shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno, really.” Aziraphale moved closer to him, felt the marble coolness of his skin, and draped the vast majority of the duvet over Crowley and his stupid snake outfit. He didn’t say anything, just let Crowley talk.
“I guess... ‘m fine, mostly. And then I remember...” a gate slammed shut in the yellow furnaces of Crowley’s eyes, and he snuffled and put his head in his hands. There was a long silence as Aziraphale waited for Crowley to say more, then when he realised he wasn’t going to, for him to figure out what to say next.
“How did you get out?” He whispered eventually, something he’d been wondering since Crowley had first gotten back.
Crowley shrugged again, staring into the darkness lurking in the corners of the room.
“Sometimes I think I didn’t.”
Aziraphale nodded, and placed his arm protectively round Crowley’s bony shoulders.
“Sometimes I think so too. When I wake up alone. That it was all just a dream, that I’m all on my own. And then I’ll hear you singing along to Queen, or something stupid, or, like now, I’ll hold you, and feel how solid and real you are.” He moved closer into Crowley, trying to transfer some of his warmth into the demon’s still-cold body, which relaxed into him as Crowley buried his head into his shoulder, the obnoxiously large eyes from the snake hood glaring balefully up at Aziraphale, who gently pushed back the hood and ran his hands through Crowley’s dark mass of hair, thrilling at the illicit contact, the way Crowley just held him tighter.
“You’re real. I don’t know how you did it, Crowley, but you’re well and truly back.”
A shadow flashed through Crowley’s eyes at that, but instead of saying anything, he just pulled Aziraphale downwards so they were both lying down again, surrounded by white clouds of duvet and pillows. Aziraphale slowly ran his hand down Crowley’s cheek. It felt sort of like flying. This was unchartered territory, but the rules didn’t appear to apply down here in the dark. Crowley placed his hand over Aziraphale’s, the feel of cold skin sending shivers down his spine. Crowley let out a low laugh that felt like an earthquake, then leaned in even closer, pressing his lips to Aziraphale’s.
Oh. All right, then. Just like that, they were kissing. Aziraphale felt ridiculous for all his panicked thoughts, his indecisiveness. This-them- was so easy, the most natural thing in the world, the way their bodies curved together. Kissing a demon, he reflected distantly, filled him with more deep, righteous belief than anything in Heaven ever had, the way that they fell into each other, the deep feel of it. His lips, still pressed against Crowley’s, curved into a joyous smile. He was kissing his silly, fussy, brave, beautiful demon, and Crowley was kissing him back.
The only thing that was ruining the mood was the abominable green onesie, but Aziraphale figured that asking Crowley to take off his clothes might be going just a bit far. Then he decided to stop overthinking things and just enjoy the feel of skin on skin, bodies pressed together.
He was kissing Crowley. And Above and Below could go screw themselves, because it was the greatest feeling in the world.
He didn’t realise until much later that Crowley had never actually answered his question.
The idea of Crowley on the internet is both beautiful and terrifying.
Aaah thanks for reading this shameless self-indulgence!! One more chapter to go :)
He woke up slowly, warm and peaceful, a great well of joy in his heart. Aziraphale’s limbs were still tangled up with Crowley’s, bodies as close together as they could manage, and Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s steady heartbeat echo through him. He smiled to himself, and gently opened his eyes, taking in Crowley’s still-sleeping form, his eyes screwed shut, his fists clutching the front of Aziraphale’s pyjamas. Crowley reaching for him, Crowley’s skin brushing his, the memory of their kiss seared into his mind, all gave him a sense of absolute contentment and peace that was only slightly ruined by the offensive snake onesie.
He lay there, not daring to move, until Crowley slowly opened his eyes and stretched out, languid as a cat. He slowly seemed to become aware of Aziraphale’s body on his, and a self-satisfied, slightly bashful grin spread over his face.
“Morning, angel,” he said, voice still thick with that early-morning roughness.
Aziraphale tilted his head to look into Crowley’s eyes.
“Hello, dear,” he said, supremely aware of what had passed between them. “Are we going to talk about last night at all?” Or are we going to completely avoid the topic, like we’ve been doing with whatever happened to you, he thought, but said nothing.
A thoughtful expression crossed over Crowley’s face.
“...So we did.”
An extremely demonic glint crept into those extraordinary golden eyes.
“Want to do it again?”
Needless to say, it was some time before the two of them got up to have breakfast, at which point Aziraphale abruptly remembered that he was supposed to be meeting that man with the Bible from eBay at half eleven, and he ran round the kitchen, trying to make toast as quickly as possible, remembered that he was an angel, for goodness sake, and simply miracled it ready, while Crowley sat and watched the spectacle with a slightly bemused expression. Aziraphale plonked the toast on the table, chugged back half a cup of tea, wincing at the heat, and then fumbled with the tartan bow tie he had on, just above his usual sweater vest, a nice sky-blue one today.
He was quite proud of his outfit. It looked snazzy.
He straightened his tie, ruffled his curls briefly before deciding they were hopeless, and gave Crowley a last, concerned look.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
Crowley raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“You’re going to get a bible, angel. Really not my thing. The exact opposite of my thing, in fact.” He waved an elegant hand. “Go. I’ll be fine, I’ve just discovered Netflix.”
Aziraphale downed the rest of his tea.
“Which is what, exactly?”
Crowley gave a positively predatory smile.
“We can Netflix and Chill later, you’ll figure it out.” He said it with the exaggerated cadence he used for all modern slang, accentuating the fact that he knew what it meant and how to use it. Judging by the mirth sparkling in his eyes, it was probably something inapropriate. Aziraphale rolled his eyes, and made his way outside.
The whole thing went much quicker than expected. Aziraphale could tell at a glance that the Bible was a fake, but not wishing to upset the owner, who clearly had no idea, he bought it as quickly as possible for the asking price. Slightly higher than the asking price, if truth be told. And then he’d let the man keep the change. Money wasn’t a particular concern for an immortal being, anyway. And Aziraphale was in an excellent mood, and just eager to get back to Crowley as soon as possible.
He hurried back into the bookshop, maybe forty-five minutes after having left, the Bible tucked under one arm. He opened the door to the back room, relaxed, ready to greet Crowley, only to be faced with-
Crowley’s wings had always been a bright, shining white. It was something that had always surprised Aziraphale, who’d somehow gotten the idea that they should be black- white was too angelic, too pervasive a reminder of what Crowley had once been, what he wasn’t. It always felt sort of like Above was peering accusingly over Crowley’s shoulders.
They were black now, trailing guiltily over the living room, but not the glossy, elegant black of crows or ravens, but a dull, ugly colour, as though his wings had been- they’d burnt his wings. Those monsters, those bastards down Below... Aziraphale’s hands suddenly ached for his sword.
Crowley’s long fingers were clenched around a fistful of cruelly ripped-out primary feathers, that same, somehow wrong black, the shafts stained with blood. Rusty flecks coated Crowley’s hands, framed his fingernails. There was something terrible and empty in his eyes.
His left wing hung at an unnatural angle, a shard of bone sticking out, a jarring white against the unnatural black of his wings. Crowley distantly let his hands fall open, the feathers cascading to the floor. A lot of things clicked into place in Aziraphale’s mind- of course Crowley hadn’t been miracling up anything- what little power he’d had would have been used to heal his wings, the great invisible wounds Aziraphale had been too blind to see.
“You’re back early,” he said, flatly. The statement so utterly failed to fit the scene in front of him that Aziraphale could do little but stare. After a moment, he gently picked up the fallen feathers, ran his hands over the coarse, ashy strands. Crowley looked down, not meeting his eyes. “Did you get your bible?”
“Crowley.” Aziraphale said sharply. “You’re- look at the state of you, dear.” He sat down opposite his bedraggled friend and gently took Crowley’s bloodied hand in his. “I tried. I tried to give you your space. But you need to talk to me. Otherwise I can’t help you.”
“You can’t help me, anyway.”
Aziraphale drew himself upwards.
“And how would you know that, unless you talk to me, Crowley?”
Crowley shrugged angrily, pushed Aziraphale’s hands away and sullenly folded his arms over his chest.
“Going to take on all of Hell by ourselves, are we?” His tone was acid, but barely concealed the hurt beneath.
“The whole of-” he didn’t want to start this, not just yet. There were no good endings to this conversation. Aziraphale sighed and leaned forward. “Let me heal your wings.”
Crowley flinched backwards.
“Why on Earth- Crowley. Dear. You’re hurt, and you need help.”
“I don’t need your blessed pity!” With a noticeable effort, Crowley dragged his broken wings back into the ethereal plane, leaving only the few singed feathers Aziraphale still had in his grasp. Crowley sat on the sofa, looking small and fragile, like a glass statue of himself, as though he might smash at any minute. Aziraphale sighed, and in a voice that felt like if came from somewhere very far away, repeated his question from the night before.
“How did you get out, Crowley?” With his wings like that... there was no way Crowley had escaped. And Below wasn’t just going to give up after torturing Crowley- because that was what it had been, Aziraphale saw now, torture- for almost thirty years.
Crowley’s voice was very small, as rough and hoarse as it had been that first night.
“I was supposed to kill you.”
“I haven’t, obviously,” Crowley grumbled. “Didn’t even try. I just saw you there, in the doorway, surrounded by light... you’re too bloody good, angel, that’s your problem.”
Aziraphale smiled down into his hands and let out a rough laugh.
“Kind of goes with the job description, I’m afraid. Angel of the Lord and all that.” He looked up, serious now. “But why? Why would they ask you to do that?”
“It was a test. To see if I was a proper demon again, if they’d fixed me. So they said, if I killed you, they’d let me go. Otherwise they’d drag me straight back Down.” He buried his head in his hands. “Turns out Hastur was right after all. I’m just fucking defective.”
It was a good thing Aziraphale didn’t need to breathe, because he seemed to have forgotten how.
“You- why didn’t you just tell me, Crowley? I could have set up some warding. Or helped you. Or something.”
Crowley shook his head miserably.
“I didn’t- I didn’t want to put you in any danger. You are not going to get yourself killed for me.”
“So you can put yourself in danger, but I can’t?”
“YES!” Crowley half-shouted. “Yes. Because you’re better than me, you always have been. You’re a literal angel, for fuck’s sake. Me? I’m just a broken demon.” He stared at the burnt feathers in Aziraphale’s hand with a furious intensity.
“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare talk about yourself that way.” Aziraphale was close to tears, but breaking down right now would help no one. He steeled himself and stared dead into Crowley’s eyes. “Do you know how I’ve felt these last almost thirty years? How terrified I was for you?”
Crowley laughed with a sound like barbed wire.
“I was in Hell, angel. Actual Hell. And I had to deal with the exact same fears. Are we really going to play who’s had it worse?”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“If one of us has to die, it should be me.”
“But neither of us has to die! I can put up some demon wards- or something- why won’t you just trust me, Crowley?”
There was a tense, short silence. Crowley ran his hand through his hair and the familiar gesture sent a bolt of pain through Aziraphale’s heart.
“Because I’ve seen how that ends. With one or both of us dead or Below. Unlike you, I learn from my mistakes.”
So that’s all I am. A mistake. He pushed the thought away.
“Exactly.” He forced the words out. They tasted like broken glass. “So we’ll learn from our mistakes. Be prepared. I won’t let them take you again.”
“So they will kill you and drag me down past your dead body!” Crowley was standing now, shouting, his voice cutting through the room. “Or worse, Below’ll take you too. I love you, angel, but you have no idea-”
Aziraphale wasn’t sure if his heart was still functioning.
“What- what did you just say, dear?”
Crowley let out a low, broken laugh, and half-collapsed back onto the sofa.
“I said that- that I love you.” He seemed slightly surprised by his own words, still refusing to meet Aziraphale’s eyes.
Aziraphale’s heartbeat was suddenly a thunderstorm, drowning out his voice as he said, small and pathetic-
“But- I love you too, dear. I always have.” His hands gently cupped Crowley’s ashen face, lifting it to face him. “I was so scared- that you didn’t feel the same way-” he looked down, suddenly ashamed. He’d been so obsessed with his own feelings, trapped in a cycle of his own making, that he hadn’t properly considered Crowley’s experiences, what he’d been through Below.
Crowley lightly placed his hand over Aziraphale’s, eyes wide and hopeful.
“I thought- I mean, you’re an angel. You’re so blessed beautiful, Zira. How could I not love you?” He fell quiet, but Aziraphale saw the question in his eyes. But why would you love me, a broken demon?
He ran his hand down Crowley’s cheek, and the demon closed his eyes and shivered. “But you’re not broken. Or defective.” Aziraphale leaned in. “You’re brilliant” he whispered into Crowley’s skin, “and brave, and strong- you’ve been through Hell, and you can still laugh, Crowley. You’re incredible, and- and I love you.” He loved the way it rolled off his tongue, those three syllables, the happy, lighter than air feeling they gave him.
“And if Above or Below decide to get involved?” Crowley asked, still slightly unsure.
“Then I’ll finally have a decent excuse to punch Gabriel in the face.”
Crowley looked positively delighted.
“I think I’ve had a bad influence on you, angel.”
Aziraphale gave a self-conscious chuckle.
“Yes, well... He’s had it coming since Eden.”
Crowley laughed, a real, deep laugh this time, his beautiful mouth crinkling upwards in a smile.
This time, it was Aziraphale who started the kiss, leaning in deep and trying to take in everything Crowley, the precise smell of him, the soft smoothness of his skin. He kissed him like he never wanted to let go.
Things weren’t perfect. Things would never be perfect. Love is a wonderful thing, but not particularly helpful with trauma. But they faced it together, Crowley and Aziraphale, ready to face whatever the world- and Above and Below- would throw at them. (Aziraphale was kind of hoping it would be Above. He really did want to punch Gabriel’s teeth out.)
They were together. They were in love. For the first time in almost thirty years, they were okay.
...And that's it. Thank you so much for reading!! Everyone's been super nice and supportive. I've had a great time writing this and I'm so glad you liked it!