The creature was smaller than Aziraphale might have expected. It lay curled up in a ball, no bigger than the palm of the angel’s hand, away from the pet-store glass. It looked sad. It looked familiar, but he would never have admitted that.
His decision was made before he so much as stopped to think about it, and he was handing over a handful of money – honestly earned, from the few books from whose company he’d been persuaded to part over the past few years – to a bored middle-aged clerk, and receiving in return a heavy glass tank stuffed full of supplies, and a small, sad snake curled up in a plastic container with air-holes poked in the lid.
Aziraphale used a miracle to get them home, and another to get the snake set up under its new heat-lamp, with a comfortable amount of tank furnishings and a dish of water, and he didn’t care what Head Office had to say about it.
He set up the snake in the window, where it could look out at people passing by. He didn’t know if snakes exactly cared for people-watching, but it only seemed fair to give it the chance.
Naming it took a little more effort. No matter how hard Aziraphale thought, the name that whispered in his mind was always Crawly . But, of course, he could hardly call the snake that . That name was already taken, and far too much baggage to foist on a poor innocent baby creature, besides.
He purchased a baby name book from the store down the road. He pretended not to see the strange look that the cashier was giving him. He knew that they knew him, and he knew what they thought of him. Not the sort that would be likely to be having a baby. Not with a woman, anyway. It was none of their business, he decided, walking out with his head held high and his cheap square book held in his hand.
Half the night later, the snake had been christened – not officially , of course, Aziraphale didn’t think sacraments were available for reptiles (a shame, he thought) -- Beatrice. It seemed a sensible name, and pleasant. The sort that would encourage a good temperament in its bearer. And he thought the snake might be female. He had no idea how he was supposed to be sure, and, while he had checked his shelves, he didn’t seem to have any books on the care and keeping of reptiles. Or of any kind of pet.
About a week later, Beatrice seemed to be adjusting well to her new home. She was sleeping in the warm red glow of her lamp, curled up in her customary ball, contentedly full of mouse. The bell over the door rang, and Aziraphale ignored it. He was contented in the back room with an old diary (not his) and a mug of cocoa, and besides, it wouldn’t do to be too friendly to customers. Might encourage them into making a purchase.
“ Angel !”
Well, that got Aziraphale’s attention. It was Crowley’s voice, unmistakably, and it sounded urgent. Aziraphale jumped to his feet and not-quite-ran to see if there was something the matter. Could he be hurt? Had someone come after him? “What’s the matter, dear?” He called ahead.
Crowley was standing just inside of the door, staring goggle-eyed at the tank in the window. “What is that ?”
Aziraphale took an unnecessary breath, relaxing when he saw that Crowley was, seemingly, intact and unharmed. “That’s Beatrice. Don’t shout.”
“What is it doing here?”
“She’s a pet! A rather nice one, to be honest.”
There was something in Crowley’s eyes, behind his glasses, that seemed out of place. Something sour and fragile at once. A wounded look. “Why -- why a snake ?”
“She seemed so lonely. I’d popped by the pet store – I do that sometimes, just to see the animals, and there she was, and she looked unhappy. I thought I’d better do something about it.”
“That simple, is it?” Crowley’s tone, too, was sour. “You see a sad little snake, and you rush to do something about it?”
“Well, if I could help, why shouldn’t I?” Aziraphale said, affronted, not understanding what the problem was.
“Help. Any creature deserves your help, then, yeah? Even the ones cursed to be enemies to humanity, to crawl upon their bellies?”
Aziraphale looked at Crowley searchingly. “Why should that bother me? It’s not as if she’s hurting anyone.”
“Is it not in its – her – nature to hurt? Isn’t that what Upstairs would have you think?”
“Well --” Aziraphale glanced around, then upwards, as if fearful that someone might be listening -- “I’ve always thought there were some flaws in their thinking on the subject. “A thing named according to its nature”, and all that, but that doesn’t seem quite true , not all the time. I mean to say, you are evidence enough that it isn’t always true!”
Crowley took a step back. “What, me?” His voice took on a straining tone of forced levity. “What’ve I got to do with that?”
“They’d have me say that of course you’d be cruel and untrustworthy, being a demon, but I’ve hardly found that to be true, and I rather think we’ve been... friends long enough that I would know what you’re like.”
“ Friends.” His voice sounded even more strange. “Is that what we are? Or am I project to you? A pet ? A demon that you can reform ?”
Aziraphale took a moment to try and find an answer to that outrageous question, and it was a moment too long. Crowley turned on his heel and walked away, letting the door to the shop bang shut behind him. Not giving Aziraphale a chance to speak again.
I told myself this was going to be fluff.
Also, AO3 hates my formatting, and we are all just going to have to live with that.
The argument hung sour in the air for almost a month. Almost a month of silence, no calls, no visits. No walks in St James’s Park, ducks going unfed. Unfed by them at least, international scheming was unlikely to stop for any man, woman, or other.
Aziraphale did not leave the shop much over that time. Even his usual lunch spots had lost their luster, and, though he wouldn’t admit it, he feared running into Crowley, or, perhaps worse, into a fellow angel, who would pick up on his mood instantly, and to whom he would have a Hell of a time – forgive the pun – explaining what exactly had him in such a sulk.
No, it wouldn’t be worth it. Instead, he stayed in his back room and his tiny, cluttered, dusty apartment, with only Beatrice and himself for company, and brooded over Crowley’s parting insults. Is that really what he thinks of me? He wondered, over and over again , sorrow bitter in his mouth. That I only value him as a project? That I don’t -- there were words he still could not say, even to himself. He could not say the words for why Crowley’s absence had torn such a gaping hole into the center of his chest. They were friends , that was all, he missed his friend . He valued him, and wasn’t that a subversive enough way to feel about a demon? Why should he put more words to it, words that treaded into territory not just discouraged, but outright forbidden, at least for angels?
He rubbed his eyes. They felt gritty, sore. Ah, the failings of a corporation. But that was not what had startled him out of his thoughts. There was --
There was a knocking at his door. It was a windy night, and rainy, and the sound of it was pleasing to Aziraphale , blocking everything else out into a soothing haze. But through it, still, the knocking sounded urgent.
And it was late . Well gone midnight, gone two in the morning even. Aziraphale had been in his pajamas for hours. He sighed, and got up from his chair. Wrapped a flannel robe around himself, and hurried downstairs. Who would be knocking at his door, at this hour, on a night like this? Only one person. Only Crowley.
And so it was. The demon stood outside the locked door, for all he could well have miracled it open. His sunglasses were still firmly in place, despite the darkness outside, and rain ran sadly down his hair. He looked smaller than usual, and sad, and lost.
Aziraphale sighed again, and opened the door. “Come in, dear boy, don’t just stand there in the rain. What’s the matter this time?”
Crowley twisted his hands together, fidgeting, standing on the threshold as awkward as if it were holy ground. “I wanted to see you.” He muttered, at length. “Wanted to ask you something.”
“Ask away, then. It must be important, if it’s brought you out this late.”
Crowley lifted his head then, and his eyes met Aziraphale’s , the only barrier between them being now Crowley’s dark glasses. “Why do you keep me around? I know it wasn’t quite fair of me to accuse you like I did last time, but... what are you getting out of this?”
For a moment, Aziraphale found himself lost for words. “What am I getting – out of this? Out of the Arrangement? What the – what the dickens do you think I’m getting out of it?”
“I don’t know , that’s why I’m asking! It’s not like you need help with all your little miracles, you’re already doing so many Upstairs wants words with you about it half the time! You don’t need me anymore!”
Aziraphale took a step closer to Crowley, then another. The silence hung between them for a moment, fragile as blown glass, and when he broke it, his voice was soft, tender, almost reverent. “Oh, Crowley. Of course I need you. I always need you.”
Crowley was looking at the ground again. “For what, then? What am I giving you that you can’t get from other angels? From your pet ?”
“So much.” It would take only a slight motion for them to be touching now. “There’s plenty they can’t give me. Plenty other angels wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t want. And Beatrice – it's nice to have her around, that’s all! A little creature, a bit of company. You’re not jealous of her, you mustn’t be!”
Crowley’s hand came out then, quick as the strike of the snake he was, and grabbed Aziraphale’s wrist. “You’re mine . You want to take care of something so bad, you should save that for me .”
“Why?” Aziraphale made no move to pull away from him, despite his tone. “Does it mean I love you any less, if I love something else as well? Some thing else! Not even human, not even anywhere near what you are!”
“Well, we’re both snakes, aren’t we?”
Aziraphale had to laugh, despite the overall mood of the situation. “It’s not the same! She’s a real snake, an earthly snake! You are – you are the snake! The very original!”
Crowley’s face shifted, subtly. “And you... you like snakes, right?”
“I would have thought that would be obvious by now.”
“You like me ?”
“Crowley, I...” the words caught in his throat. The words he would not even let himself think before rose up now, sharp as shards of glass. “I do like you.” He took a deep breath, and gathered his courage. Angel of the Eastern Gate. He could do this. This was no more dangerous than giving away his sword, it wasn’t even on the same level. “I love you.” There. Plain, simple, and done now. Out in the open.
There was silence then. Aziraphale closed his eyes, afraid to see Crowley’s reaction. In thinking of the danger of what Heaven might think of his feelings, he had forgotten to worry about what Crowley might think. Forgotten to take into account how dangerous an offended demon might be.
His eyes were still closed when he felt the press of lips against his own. Crowley’s lips were cold, wet-slick with rainwater, but soft underneath. Aziraphale leaned into the kiss, deepening it.
Crowley’s hand came up to the back of Aziraphale’s head, threading his fingers through soft curls. “So, you love me, huh, angel?”