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Left Unaware

Chapter Text

It starts small.

Maybe it's just the lighting.

Maybe it's chalk.

Maybe it's a figment of his imagination.

He tells himself this as he finally lets himself acknowledge the single grey feather slipped in amongst the usual black. It's been three months since he and Aziraphale circumvented The Plan, and one week since this little physical anomaly showed up to put a kink in his usual tomfoolery. He just thought it would fall out, maybe go away on its own. After all, he's kept up with his usual work. He summoned some pineapple onto random pizzas going to unsuspecting college students. He was his usual dastardly self. Nothing had changed, so why would his feathers?

But something had changed, hadn't it? He wouldn't admit it to himself, not now and likely not ever, but something about losing humanity as a whole and the general injustice of it had triggered something in him that he hadn't felt since Eden. Pity.

Pity, empathy, compassion. All of these were rooted in an acknowledgement of the murkiness between good and bad. For humanity to have understood the nuances of who was deserving of empathy they required him. Crowley's temptation. A Pandora's box of what makes human beings humans. He'd sort of patted himself on the back for this fact once, then promptly forgotten it (or, as promptly as a 6000+ year old occult figure can). Hell seemed to have forgotten said mistake too.

"Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?" Crowley'd said. Funny indeed.

What was not funny was that the grey of the feather was not rubbing off. Nor was it washing out. So Crowley plucked it out and went on with his day, awash in a sort of strange nostalgia he couldn't quite pin down.

It's while drunk with Aziraphale that he notices the next one.

"All 'm sayin' is that yanno it wasn't even that bad like eternal damnation is a bit rough yeah?"

Crowley's not even sure what the conversation is about anymore, but judging from Aziraphale's expression, he's either said the right thing or his companion is too drunk to notice. It's likely the latter, since his companion is also too drunk to notice Crowley's legs thrown over the armrest of his chair, shoes scuffing the corner of a rather nice looking table. In his defense, the table is covered in bottles and therefore any attempt at scuffing the top of the table is ill advised.

Aziraphale, in his own defense, is not so much too drunk as he is too distracted. Crowley is positively sprawled out on his couch. God Herself is likely angry at him. This is how things start. One bad decision (okay, perhaps a series of them, but who’s counting other than the Almighty) and that could be it for him. It is not so much the being damned portion that scares him as it is the fear of the unknown. He’s very well established here in his role as an angel on earth and it would be a shame to throw that all away. And, thus, Aziraphale finds himself nodding along to the conversation but participating very little. Crowley, who has known him for thousands of years, is very very aware of this abnormality in reaction.

"Shits wrong. What is it?" He asks, narrowing his eyes in Aziraphale's direction as he stands to get another bottle of wine from the cupboard.

Aziraphale blinks at this, provides a polite smile with the faintest of a blush, and is about to go off about how "no no, he's fine, truly" when suddenly he sees it.

One grey feather poking out through Crowley's black wings.

“A-actually, look at the time. 10 at night already. What a shame, the passage of time.” He’s fumbling over his words, knows Crowley will pick up on it the moment they’ve passed his lips, but he really doesn’t know what to do. Despite his earlier insistence, he’s too drunk to really process what he’s just seen, regardless of how many times he’d replayed it in his head in years past.

Can you reverse fall?

No, it's never been done before.

There’s a first for everything.

Crowley raises a brow, turning on the ball of his foot with a sort of suavity that Aziraphale has learned to ignore for his own health over the last 6000 years. His long fingers are still wrapped around the neck of the bottle. Aziraphale is very grateful for the fact that angels, unlike humans, are not so easily tempted.

“10 at night, is it? The night the antichrist was delivered, we drank till dawn,” he says, slower than before, as if he were focusing very hard on not slurring his words. Aziraphale feels cornered, jittery, the way he felt when they went searching for the antichrist’s records at the nunnery and he’d been pinned to the wall.

Must be the alcohol.

“W-well that was quite a night for actions regretted later, might I remind you,” Aziraphale insists. He knows this is no argument, that Crowley sees right through it to the general confusion and worry simmering in his gut. He just chooses not to acknowledge these things. For his health.

Crowley snorts and Aziraphale is suddenly acutely aware of the secondary meaning those words could hold. Confronting the issue of the feather might be less mortifying.

“If you must know, it's your wing,” Aziraphale says suddenly.

Crowley’s brows furrow in confusion and he’s about to ask Aziraphale to be a tinge more specific when suddenly he’s reminded of the strange little grey feather from a few days earlier.

Shit.

“It’s a good look for you, I must say."

But it's too late. Crowley is in a frenzy of trying to find the godforsaken (blessed, perhaps?) feather in amongst the other, darker ones. All of a sudden his eyes land on it, and Crowley lets out a breath he didn't realize he was holding as he confirms that, yes, the feather is indeed much lighter than the others.

Crowley plucks it out immediately and, despite miracling the bleeding away, Aziraphale winces visibly.

"Crowley, you mustn't. Pulling them out won't stop the problem, nor will denying their presence," Aziraphale insists matter-of-factly. He's sobered up a little (stress will do that to you) but the slightly drunk concern still seeps into his words. "If I'm quite honest, I barely see this as a problem. Perhaps it's forgiveness or an understanding of your intentions."

"After six thousand years?" Crowley snorts, sitting back on the couch with his feet on the table. He's trying to appear nonchalant about the whole thing, but his posture is rigid and he looks like he might get up and run off at a moment's notice. "Besides, your lot aren't much of the forgiving type for bigger offenses."

Like mine.

Crowley, even after literally god only knows how much wine, is acutely aware of how Aziraphale's eyes turn down towards his lap. No loose string has ever been as interesting to Aziraphale as the one he’s currently picking at to avoid Crowley's gaze. And there it is again, filling the air in a way that makes Crowley feel stifled despite being its creator - pity.

But this time it's mixed with a million other emotions, muddying its usual sharpness. While humans are extremely emotionally intricate, they are inherently predictable in some ways. Aziraphale, meanwhile, is inherently predictable only to Crowley but even then there are times like this when Crowley is not able to perfectly decipher what is going on behind the angel’s eyes. Times like this where something deep in his gut worries that he never will.

“I’m going to sober up. I need to think about this,” Aziraphale says, his tone soft as he finally looks up. He aches for Crowley, really, and knowing that this is tearing Crowley apart makes Aziraphale forget the years of hoping this might happen. He sits up then, prim as the day he was created, and sobers up with little more than a grimace. Setting aside the now full bottle he’d been nursing a few moments earlier, he gives Crowley a bit of a sad look and offers him a hand in reassurance.

Crowley doesn’t take it. He won't meet Aziraphale’s eyes. They barely made it out alive the last time they defied convention. For the first time in a long time, Crowley actively worries for himself, for his safety, for Aziraphale’s safety if heaven and hell realize who’s to blame for this fiasco. His existence in this sort of limbo is a threat to both sides and he knows it, has known it since the first feather came in. He just hasn’t acknowledged it until now.

“I’ll be doing a bit of shelving, but you’re very welcome to sleep on the couch if you wish.”

Chapter Text

Aziraphale actually had intended on doing some shelving. He’d recently gone on a bit of a trip around the British countryside to pick up some very old and very collectable children's books from some elderly collectors who were looking to downsize and had responded to his newspaper advert. “Looking to buy school books,” the advert had read. “Anything prior to 1900 will do.” He was rather lucky with the number of responders to such adverts through the years. He always walked away with far more books than he’d planned to purchase and many more individuals willing to sell their books than was really likely. He just knew not to question his good fortune lest it end.

(Crowley still claims he has no hand in Aziraphale’s book buying luck. Crowley is also a liar.)

He looks over at the utility cart full of books.

There’s at least fifty in there.

It would take him the better part of an hour to shelve all of them.

He could be doing better things with his time.

One would think that Aziraphale’s book of choice for demon and angel related questions would be the Bible. In this, one would be incorrect. While the Bible contains a great deal of information on certain events of religious importance, it seemed to gloss over the minute details of daily life as an employee of Above or Below. After all, God preferred to give only what information was most relevant to Her creation like a professor who outlines what will be on a test because she knows her students won't care for the material anyways. People wanted the answers to the “how to get into heaven” test, and therefore she provided it along with some fun factoids for the tryhards (as every class and every creation had at least a few of those).

No, such details were only provided to the Almighty’s creation through the visions or musings of one or another chosen mortal. Angels and demons didn’t much care to know what their purpose was or why they were present or what the rules and regulations surrounding falling were. Angels and demons were usually quite satisfied with the simple explanation that these things are ineffable. Humans were different. Some humans, however select and few their numbers, wished to know everything. These humans were known amongst mortals as philosophy majors.

If one lacks living philosophy majors, the textbook or article variety will do.

Armed with a shelving cart, Aziraphale spends the better part of an hour combing through his extensive collection, pulling off books and dissertations by long dead monks and recently dead college professors and perhaps never really alive PhD students. His demonology collection really has grown in the past few decades. He has transcripts of private conversations with medieval popes and a signed copy of the Catechism. He flips through his very annotated copy of the Bible in search of his even more annotated copy of a 2010 article on the physical constraints of demons. An encyclopedia containing the names of every major demon and their general abilities is also added to his cart (although upon its purchase Crowley was quite disappointed to hear that his new name was not used and that, rather, he was still referred to as Nachash). Then, just for good measure, he pulls out The Nice and Accurate Prophecies.

With at least twenty individual sources, Aziraphale finally sits at his desk to read.

He’s promptly reminded of the gravity of the situation. None of these sources will have a concrete explanation of what is happening to Crowley. As he’s thought over and over again through the past few decades, a reverse fall has never occurred before or at least has never been witnessed. Therefore what he expects is not a manual on how to handle these sorts of situations. Rather, what he hopes for is a confirmation that it is, at least in theory, possible to reverse fall.

He takes a deep breath to steady himself, eyes closed for a moment, before finally opening the cover of his first book.

……………………….

Crowley went downstairs the next morning looking like he’d just been emotionally run over by a truck. His sunglasses were back on and his coat was tucked around him tightly despite the warmth of the late summer. Were he to be fully honest, he just didn’t want Aziraphale realizing what an effect last night's conversation had on him. The weight of every poor decision he’d ever made was sitting on his shoulders. He was an Atlas of his own making. No sense worrying Aziraphale about it.

He steps into the central portion of the store, having expected Aziraphale to still be shelving. Aziraphale did, occasionally, de-stress by removing every book from the shelves before spending the day locked in, reorganizing the books using a new and increasingly complex system of his own creation. With how visibly uncomfortable he’d been the night before, Crowley half expected him to still be up, alphabetizing the books by the third letter of the author's mother's maiden name or something equally, exaggeratedly bad.

It’s then that he hears it: the shattering of a mug on the floor, a softly muttered non-curse, and a sudden ruffle of papers.

He follows the sound into Aziraphale’s back room and finds him seated at his desk. He only knew of the desk's existence through memory as every square inch of available space was presently covered in books and academic sources, layered as much as three sources thick in some places. In the middle of this literal storm of paper is his angel, picking up the pieces of his favourite mug with a bit of a sigh.

Crowley leans against the doorframe as the pieces come back together, sealing as if they'd never been broken in the first place. Aziraphale turns at this, looking frazzled and a tinge manic.

"I'm sorry I didn't mean to wake you," he insists. He's comforted by Crowley's slight shake of the head, a mutually understood yet silent it's no bother.

"Was up anyways," Crowley says instead, squinting a bit to read the title of the book tucked under Aziraphale's arm. "Reading the Catechism at five in the morning, are we?"

Aziraphale's eyes light up at the reminder of his night of reckless academia. He shakes his head, opens the book, and pulls out a poorly photocopied paper before handing it over to Crowley.

"It's possible," are the only words that come with it.

Crowley raises a brow but quickly skims the perfectly highlighted portions of the paper. Worry begins to fester in his gut again, cold and bitter. It's possible. Aziraphale sounded so excited. Whether this was the normal academic excitement of discovering something new or the angelic excitement of saving the unsavable, Crowley didn't know. What Crowley did know is that this, for Aziraphale, is quite literally playing with fire. He can't risk it.

"Does anyone else know?" Crowley asks, tone lifeless. "Did you ask for guidance or talk to the Metatron or pray?"

Aziraphale's face falls a little at the unreadable tone of Crowley's voice. He hated it more than he did seeing Crowley angry. It was the tone he used when he knew something was a risk but didn't want to get Aziraphale involved. He fidgets in response, rocking imperceptibly on his feet.

"No. I didn't believe they'd be of much help. You know how angels are, not very keen on curiosity."

Crowley nods. He's still disappointed in himself for getting Aziraphale caught up in this mess, but at least Aziraphale hadn't gotten himself too deeply involved yet. Crowley could still fix it.

"This doesn't leave this room and you aren't going to look into this anymore," he says, tone cold as he hands him back the paper. "Don't get yourself involved."

Aziraphale’s brows furrow and he stutters a bit, as if he’s attempting to fully process the gravity of Crowley’s tone, to somehow make sense of it in conjunction with his own hidden excitement. Something in Crowley aches and Aziraphale feels it as if the pain were his own. But something about how Crowley is reacting angers Aziraphale. He feels a need to hurt whoever made Crowley think that he wasn’t worth being saved. It steeles him, his anger, directed at this mystery entity that makes Crowley question his self worth so constantly.

“I wasn’t there when you fell,” he says, tone measured, clipped. “Therefore I have no way of knowing who is responsible for your feeling the way you do. But a third category, fallen but neither angel nor demon, is theoretically possible and if this isn’t mercy, I don’t know what is.”

“Mercy, angel, is for humans. She made that very, very clear when she damned us all to hell for asking questions.”

Crowley just about spits the response, but he can’t help it. Aziraphale is insufferable, bull headed when he wishes to be and as much as this is usually what makes Crowley like him, Crowley also knows this will one day be Aziraphale’s demise. If the angel being angry at him is what it takes for him to drop this line of inquiry, he’ll take it even if it means losing him.

“You’re playing with fire and I’m not staying to watch,” Crowley concludes before walking out the door.

Chapter Text

There's a downpour going on outside, raindrops attacking Crowley's window as he looks out at the sullen, damp darkness of central London. A handful of businessmen walk with their black umbrellas. Crowley considers for a moment wasting one of his precious infernal miracles to tie their shoelaces together in the hopes of getting to watch them tumble about in the grey wet muck. One of the businessmen smiles in the direction of the other in a way that betrays more fondness than he was likely going for. The other businessman doesn't seem to notice, and Crowley decides he has better things to do than meddle with Londoners. 

Instead he gets up, ignoring the steady beat of the rain on the glass of his expansive apartment and the desperate tone of the ancient ansaphone as yet another of uncountably many messages is left.

"Crowley, I'm very sorry, truly," the machine begins again, as if this whole business hadn't been enough of a punishment. Above and Below were getting creative with their punishments for impertinence these days. "I never meant to worry you. I understand that you still want me to end my research of this topic, but I refuse to allow you to risk walking into this situation blindly. I want to help, Crowley. Please allow me to."

A long beep. A beat of deafening silence. Crowley's phone rings again and then the ansaphone begins again.

"Crowley do you really intend to ignore me the whole night?" This time, the answering machine sounds angry, hurt, impatient. Crowley doesn't respond, staring at the impersonal concrete ceiling. The machine falters for a moment, collecting it's thoughts, but it's next words still sound tentative. "Can we get done what needs to be done for now, and then you can hate me afterwards? After all of this is over, if you wish to never see me again then so be it. But you are…"

The machine thinks. The rain pounds. Crowley looks over at his desk.

"You are a fool if you believe for a moment that I would let you handle this alone."

Another long beep. Crowley's fingers twitch to call back, to respond to the pained voice and make things better. But he won't. 

So he doesn’t. He knows avoiding Aziraphale is something he can’t do forever, but to be in his presence is to pull him into whatever mess he’s gotten himself into. Two more feathers have appeared since the fight a few days ago. He was completely assured that he’d made the right decision regarding this until Aziraphale had started calling him mercilessly. And now, for the first time in millennia, he prays for a sign.

He waits then in the silence. For a few moments it’s just Crowley and the hit of rain against the apartment walls. Then the long beep of the answering machine pulls him out of his wishful fantasy. 

Who is he kidding. God forsook him ages ago, before the creation of time itself. 

He stands, considering for a moment where he actually plans on going before deciding that he really just can’t be home alone with the ansaphone pleading with him like that, so he grabs his coat and another pair of glasses, stepping outside into the cold just as the machine picks up Aziraphale’s voice again. 

 

……………………….

God, in all Her infinite wisdom, knows that Her creation is full of idiots. She doesn’t necessarily work in mysterious ways. They just seem mysterious to the many members of Her creation who wouldn't have picked up on a sign even if they ran right into it.

……………………….

 

Most of the time, going on a drive is a very calming experience. There’s something about speeding along a highway that reminds you that feelings are a thing, even when you’re completely numb. It’s like taking that first full breath after a good long cry. Except that it can last as long as you need it to, and if it were up to Crowley, it would last hours.

These things are, of course, weather and traffic permitting. 

It was just Crowley’s luck that neither the weather nor the traffic were permitting that evening. The traffic is just short of crawling with the rain coming down as it is. Two multi-car, rain-related crashes on the M25 have left Crowley stranded and nearly an hour away from any functionally therapeutic roadways. Part of him itches to miracle away the crashes but that would be a very angelic thing of him to do. 

But his intentions were selfish. 

He remembers the three mismatched feathers on his wings and groans as he accepts his fate and sits in his bumper-to-bumper disaster. 

He’s been in the same spot for what feels like hours and the white noise of the rain and occasional honking is doing absolutely nothing for his patience. It’s too quiet, just him and his thoughts, and his traitorous mind keeps replaying the messages from the ansaphone over and over again. 

I want to help, Crowley.

You are a fool if you believe for one moment that I would let you handle this alone.

Why won't the angel understand that he can't? He can't help. Crowley doesn't deserve his help. Crowley doesn't deserve him

Do you really intend to ignore me the whole night?

Crowley’s ignored lots of things his whole life like his emotions and how Jack and Rose could have both totally fit on that door and how his back still hurts sometimes when he wakes up from nightmares about falling. But this is different, harder to ignore, and really he’s at his wits end with regards to it so he decides instead to completely drown out his feelings with music. He hadn’t put any new CDs in the car since the apocalypse-that-wasn’t, but honestly a bit of anti-establishment anger courtesy of Freddie Mercury sounds great right about now. 

He fiddles with the CD player and just waits in the rain until the music hits him at an appropriately loud volume. He intends to successfully shut out his feelings, after all. 

When you’re feeling down and your resistance is low, light another cigarette and let yourself go, Freddie begins. Crowley must have paused this at a weird spot last time. Whatever. The song is still good and the melancholic tone is closer to what he needs right now than it is to what he wants. The traffic moves an inch. Crowley takes it gratefully. Some honking from an impatient Londoner informs him that his music is too loud. 

This is your life. Don’t play hard to get. It’s a free world.

He takes a breath. He’d lived without Aziraphale for millennia before their agreement. He and Aziraphale had done just fine with the occasional meet up. No reason they couldn’t go back to being casual friends who accidentally bumped into each other every once in a while. Or maybe he could avoid him completely, find somewhere where he could live anonymously but still do a lot of good demon work, like New York. Freddie is right. It's his life and he doesn't need Above or Below. He most certainly doesn't need Aziraphale and his reckless need to help and his unconditional forgiveness that rivals that of God Herself.

All you have to do is fall in love, play the game.

He’d forgotten where this song goes. Maybe being a sappy shit worked for Mercury, but it doesn’t for Crowley. He skips the song. 

I don’t want my freedom. There’s no reason for living with a broken heart.

He skips this one too. 

Can anybody find me somebody to love?

He slams the eject disk button with an unnecessary amount of force. “Whoever is fucking with my radio is operating on some really demonic shit,” he mutters. The mortals stuck in traffic with him are just glad that they don’t have to listen to Queen at an ungodly decibel anymore. 

 

……………………….


Idiots, She thinks to Herself, especially these two.

Chapter Text

In the end, Crowley hadn’t even gotten to go on the cathartic drive he’d been hoping for. He’d just gotten off the highway at the nearest exit and found his way back to his apartment. The phone would still ring but the machine wouldn’t pick it up. Tape limits and all that. By nightfall the calls stopped entirely, which was great because Crowley was two seconds away from ripping the plug right out of the wall. He’s not usually the kind to respond to these things aggressively. He’s actually been very proud over the ages of his ability to limit his emotions to one per century. But now, with everything that had been happening over the past few centuries and the end-of-the-world-as-we-don’t-know-it coupled with this sudden and exhausting reverse falling nonsense, Crowley has really let himself go in the whole outwardly expressed emotions department. 

If he can’t drive and drinking reminds him too much of Aziraphale, then he’ll drown out his emotions with the only other by-yourself human vice that he actually enjoys: sleep. 

It’s not long before he’s passed out on his bed. This whole being alone forever thing is really way more exhausting than he remembered it being. 

……………………….

Gabriel smiles at him, all perfect teeth with none of the actual affection or joy. Aziraphale had told him what they were called once, back in the day. Non-Duchenne or some other psychological mumbo-jumbo name like that. Whatever they’re called, its one of those. All teeth and no eyes and completely soulless. 

Gabriel is easy to read. His impatience is so easily betrayed by the twitch of his brow, his hands. He so badly wants to strangle Crowley right then, but for the sake of propriety and perhaps in order to feel some sort of superiority, he stands and waits for whatever it is he expects Crowley to do next. But Gabriel is also an angel who expects respect, who demands it. Whatever it is Crowley was expected to do, Gabriel is utterly pissed at the fact that it hasn’t been done already. His patience wears thin all too quickly and, within seconds, his smile falters. 

He gestures to the large pillar of fire that Crowley had conveniently not noticed before. Hellfire. He recognizes it in an instant. His heart drops in a way that he can’t explain and for reasons he doesn’t understand. He’s immune to this. Gabriel’s other hand is clenched as he speaks. “So...into the flame.”

And then it hits him. This isn’t a punishment for him. This is a punishment for Aziraphale. The memories flood back to him. The swap. The anger he felt that Gabriel would dare hurt Aziraphale. The concerning level of relief he felt stepping into it himself. 

Crowley steps forward, mind blank of coherent thoughts, reliving all the anger he felt in that instant. He wanted to grab Gabriel. He wanted to make the angel suffer for the years of torment, for all the things Aziraphale brushed off because he was too damn forgiving. He wants to pull Gabriel into that fire himself. 

He says something very Aziraphale-esque but pairs it with a smile that mirrored Gabriel’s. Gabriel has had it. He’s losing composure. Oh how Crowley would love to watch him make a fool of himself in front of his coworkers. But no. He’d be risking discovery and he can’t have that. 

“Shut your stupid mouth and die already.”

Crowley is incensed. How dare he. How dare he not see Aziraphale for what he is. Aziraphale, in all of his whims and decadences, is the single most angelic being in God’s creation. He somehow, truly believes in the goodness of everything in a way that Crowley (bitter and exhausted and so frequently bested in his work by humans themselves) will never understand. He’ll forgive on a whim even if the sin committed is completely unforgivable, even by God’s standards, to the point where Crowley at times wonders if undeserved mercy, if grace itself, was Aziraphale's idea. And he is kind. He is so very kind that at times Crowley wishes he weren't, wishes Aziraphale were capable of hating the people who hurt him if only to keep him from getting hurt again. And he will get hurt again. Aziraphale would rather get hurt over and over, be trampled and used indefinitely, than risk hurting someone in return. This may be the second time around but the anger is just as raw, wrath coursing through Crowley’s veins as he steps into the fire. If Aziraphale won't hate those who hurt him, Crowley will in his stead. 

He collects himself for a moment. He doesn’t give a shit about the plan anymore but he still won’t hurt Gabriel. He won’t soil the image of someone who is so genuinely good , especially not in the name of settling a score. 

But he will put the fear of God (or, more precisely, the fear of Aziraphale) into him.

He cracks his neck, looks right into Gabriel’s soul, and spits the hellfire at him. It’s just slow enough for the angels to jump back and Crowley sees the fear and confusion in Gabriel’s eyes. He’s never felt this satisfied in his life. 

And then he wakes up.

……………………….

It was a good dream , Crowley insists to himself as he frowns down at his coffee. It’s three in the morning and he’d barely slept but something about the dream has unnerved him sufficiently to keep him from going back to bed. 

It’s not guilt. He’s had enough time to let Gabriel’s words fester in the few days since the event and if anything, he’s grown to hate the archangel more . If given the chance to repeat the events of that day, he would have done the exact same thing. He just can’t vouch for whether or not Gabriel would have left that meeting alive this time. 

In the end, maybe he should have killed Gabriel. Gabriel and his little team likely didn’t mention the details of the events that transpired. Covering up the whole debacle mitigated the risk of dissent in the ranks, which would have been inevitable if it were discovered that an angel not only was immune to hellfire but could also manipulate it. But if he’d killed Gabriel… Well, the death of an archangel would be widespread news. No one would fuck with Aziraphale again in fear that they might be destroyed. He’d be the most powerful angel alive, if only through rumour. 

He wouldn’t be in the situation he is now if he’d done that. He wouldn’t have to worry about Aziraphale’s safety so constantly if it were believed that Aziraphale was dangerous and unstable. Once Hell found out, Crowley was certain they'd blame Aziraphale's presence for the reverse fall, but if it were known in Hell that Aziraphale had been willing to kill one of his own... Well, Crowley wouldn’t have to cut him out if he wasn’t scared of putting him in danger by association. 

He’s in danger anyways. Crowley chokes on his coffee.

The thought is so abrupt that Crowley nearly wonders if it was his own. But as he wipes at his shirt with the only clean kitchen dish towel he owns, he realizes with a sinking feeling that it's true . Threatening Gabriel without killing him has made Aziraphale a wild card in heaven’s eyes, dangerous but still unwilling to kill an angel if given the opportunity. Without thinking, he’s made Aziraphale a target . He’d been so worried about hell discovering the reverse fall that he hadn’t even considered that threatened angels might be more dangerous to Aziraphale than hell’s petty anti-purity complex. And then he’d left him to fend for himself against the forces of Heaven. 

Fuck.

……………………….

Aziraphale isn’t moping. He’s just bonelessly lying on his couch with all the curtains drawn, reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis by candlelight and trying not to sob. The letter has always been dear to his heart, typed and bound as a rough manuscript with Ross’ scratchy, heavy hand littering the manuscript with annotations, preceded by a short inscription To a dear friend, in memory of another. Only God will know how much he meant to us both. Robert Ross.

It hurts to read again, but in a way that distracts him from the ache that’s sat in his chest for days, but only just barely. It’s still there, omnipresent and haunting as if a piece of his soul had gone. Reading sad things as a means of distraction feels about as useful as taping together a gaping wound with a bandaid, futile but making one feel as if they’d done something of mild use.

You’re being melodramatic he thought with a sigh as his eyes, barely focused, skimmed across the pages. But the only person to have ever cared about his emotional whims is gone. He’ll be as melodramatic as he pleases. 

A bell, almost inaudible from the back room of the shop, signals the arrival of a customer. 

“Can’t you read? We’re closed!” Aziraphale shouts. In all his years of being annoyed by his customers, he doesn’t think he’s ever quite snapped at one like this. He’d been sarcastic, even passive aggressive, but never openly hostile. He’ll regret it later, but the bell doesn’t ring again to mark the visitor’s fearful retreat, so Aziraphale sets the manuscript aside and wipes a little too roughly at his eyes with his handkerchief before going out. No sense being seen in such a state. 

Crowley didn’t really know what state he’d find Aziraphale in when he ran out the door earlier that morning, but guilt rises into his throat like bile when he notices the wetness of his cheeks and the red tinge to his eyes. The guilt threatens to swallow Crowley whole when the initial frustration in Aziraphale’s expression turns to comprehension and then finally settles on a sort of choked elation. Aziraphale is likely still angry, but he’s setting it aside just to have Crowley back in his life. I don’t deserve that. I don’t deserve him. 

Crowley clears his throat as if to speak but the words get stuck in a way that is so very unlike him. He’s not used to apologizing, it seems to go against his very nature as a demon. It is far too similar to asking for repentance. But he owes Aziraphale that and more. Much more. For being terrible, for putting him in danger, for hurting him over and over for six millennia. How could he possibly apologize for six millennia of mistakes in one moment?

The first sound between them is a sigh, Aziraphale’s, the tone tinged bittersweet as he hugs Crowley close and finally lets go of the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Crowley can’t remember the last time he was touched lovingly, let alone embraced. So he freezes, unsure of the protocol for how to react to such things. Affection, especially expressed affection, is not something demons are built to process but Aziraphale is so glad and so exhausted by the events of the week that he doesn’t pick up on Crowley’s discomfort until long after its melted away into tentative acceptance. There’s the slightest movement against Crowley’s neck, and a blush begins to warm his cheeks until he realizes that they’re words, so soft they were barely above a whisper against his skin. 

"Hmm?" He questions, pulling tentatively back, just enough to hear him more clearly. Aziraphale’s smile is watery and the guilt in Crowley's throat is suffocating. Look what you did! He’s crying again. 

"I said you must be freezing, what with the rain and your being in pyjamas. I'll make us some cocoa." 

Had Aziraphale been able to see through Crowley's glasses, he would have realized how soft his eyes had gone, betraying an ever present longing that was, and had always been, reserved only for Aziraphale. Crowley cleared his throat before speaking. 

"Been through a lot. Might want to make us something stronger." 

Aziraphale’s nod is slightly absent, expression spacey as he thinks back to where he’d been only minutes before, crying over the relatability of Oscar Wilde’s anguish like some sort of amateur schoolboy with a broken heart.

"Tea then," he said finally before going to the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Tea, much to Crowley’s surprise, ends up being perfectly fitting. He needs to think clearly, to formulate in his mind the growing list of exactly what it is he should apologize for with regards to the events of this past week. The warmth of the mug in his hands is grounding and, really, there’s something inherently them about patching up their relationship over tea. Aziraphale, meanwhile, has not stopped smiling for the past fifteen minutes and its making Crowley feel guilty. It’s an emotion he’s not used to experiencing in such large quantities. 

“I’m so pleased you’re back,” Aziraphale confesses after he’s gotten enough tea in his system. Two mugs in and he feels like a new creation. “I was worried you weren’t getting my messages.”

Crowley has been nursing his first mug for the past fifteen minutes in silence, enjoying the calm before the inevitable storm. But now the storm has reached his shores and he really doesn’t have a proper escape route from here. At least not one that wouldn’t result in him tripping over some of Aziraphale’s prized first editions. So he thinks it over, considers the least terrible way to respond. 

“I got your messages. Just didn’t think I’d be able to respond with the answers you deserved.”

They both look down at their mugs. Crowley’s tea is starting to go cold. 

“Well, something must have changed then if you’re back,” Aziraphale says finally, looking up to meet Crowley’s eyes and he must somehow sense the fear still sitting in the corner of the demon’s mind because he reaches out to him, resting his hand lightly on his. “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you, nor was it my intention to pry.”

Crowley immediately tried to interrupt. He can’t stand to hear the angel blame himself for things that were not even considerations for Crowley. I don’t care that you snapped at me, he wants to say. You had every right. But Aziraphale is determined and God is regretting making them both so hard headed. 

“Crowley, please. I need to say this,” Aziraphale pleads and Crowley doesn’t have it in him to protest just yet so he focuses a little too hard on a long lost crumb of shortbread on the otherwise immaculate worn wooden countertop. “I genuinely just wanted to help but I understand if I overstepped in my research. If it's of any reassurance, I haven’t touched any of the books since last night. I’ll set them aside for you and you can read them if you wish, but I won’t push. We can act like this never happened, but if you do need someone to talk to, I’ll be here. I can’t know what you’re going through, and I won’t try to pretend that I do, but I can listen.”

Crowley sighs. He knew this was coming, had known since he’d first heard the messages on the ansaphone. But in the rush of leaving home he didn’t have a chance to plan out what he’d say when it came to this. It’s no excuse and he knows it. Aziraphale deserves an answer. He deserves to know that absolutely none of this was his fault and absolutely all of it was out of his control. He wants Aziraphale to stop blaming himself, for once.

“None of this was you, first off,” he says, and its not a great start but its a start. To add to his many debts, he knows he owes Aziraphale eye contact but he’s not quite sure he’s going to be able to continue if he’s distracted by the angel’s bittersweet smile, a reminder of the constant forgiveness that Crowley doesn’t deserve. “Want to know the real reason I didn’t want you looking into this? Hell is ruthless . If they find out about me, they’ll blame you for it, think you made me good or some other nonsense. If they see the research, they have more reason to think this was planned somehow. They’ll destroy you and not think twice about it. Bonus points for them too because killing an angel is a pretty good way to get that interstellar war they wanted in the first place.”

Aziraphale’s tea sits forgotten between them and his thumb twitches against Crowley’s hand as if he’d wanted to do something but just barely held himself back. The silence returns but it’s no longer empty. It’s filled with the racing thoughts of a demon and an angel who are both separately contemplating just how much personal information is appropriate to reveal to the other if you think they might die. Aziraphale decides that to say anything about how he feels right now would be undermining to Crowley, the one actually going through this. Crowley decides that to say anything about how he feels right now would be overwhelming to Aziraphale, for whom all of this is new information. God decides these two have already sacrificed too many prime opportunities to say something.

“Assuming you’re correct and Hell will blame me for this, what motive would we have had in planning something as outrageous as a reverse fall?” Aziraphale says, blessedly, just as the silence was beginning to make Crowley seriously contemplate running away. “I mean, it’s such an effort and for what? I genuinely don’t understand what our motive would have been. They can’t pin this on us. This isn’t a...premeditated act of forgiveness.” 

“They don’t think like that. They try you for whatever crimes they want.”

Crowley says it quickly because he doesn’t want to dwell on the question. Heaven and Hell already know too much about the dynamic between Aziraphale and Crowley. They’d jump to conclusions, claim that it was an act of love or something equally ridiculous, and then he’d lose his angel again. Even if this isn’t his main concern now, it had been enough of a concern to contribute to him running out. Heaven and Hell could make no assumptions if Crowley and Aziraphale weren’t together when he was found. Why commit treason against Hell if you aren’t even planning on being together?

“Well, that’s rather rude.”

The comment is so very Aziraphale that Crowley snorts the tea he’d been drinking. “I think that’s the idea, angel.”

Crowley has never felt this relieved seeing the angel smile. 

 

……………………….

 

They haven’t spoken of Crowley’s situation since his return the day before. But Aziraphale is intelligent. He’ll realize eventually that Crowley is hiding something, and then he’ll ask, and Crowley won’t have a clue what to tell him. He wouldn’t dare tell him about his concerns regarding Heaven. If Aziraphale were to realize, truly let himself comprehend the ethical nuances of what Heaven’s angels do, he would resent them. If that triggered a Fall...well, Crowley would never forgive himself for that. So he doesn’t mention it, and he won’t bring it up, and he’ll feign ignorance if the angel ever asks what he’s hiding. Instead, Crowley sits on the carpet, legs tucked under him at an impossible angle, and wonders how long he has before Aziraphale asks. Thankfully, Aziraphale is... occupied. 

“Ma’am, I truly wish for both our sakes that this weren’t the case,” he sighs into the telephone. He’s been doing plenty of sighing during this call. “There are simply no complete original copies, whatsoever, of the works of Sappho, signed or otherwise.”

Aziraphale looks over at Crowley, looking as if he’s about to laugh before mouthing “can you believe?”. Crowley mouths back “hang up already”, but Aziraphale just rolls his eyes in response.

“No, ma’am, you won’t find it from any other bookseller either,” he explains exasperatedly at the phone. “There are absolutely no surviving copies. None.

The angel goes quiet for a moment and Crowley wonders if the woman on the other end of the line has given up on her request for an original, signed, lost, and literally ancient collection of poetry. Crowley has never been so tempted to unplug a phone in his life. After all, he’s been sitting on the floor, hopelessly ignored, for the better part of an hour after having been back for less than a full day. But then Aziraphale’s expression softens and it seems the call is finally coming to an end.

No such luck. Aziraphale’s face forms a very similar, frustrated expression. This time it contains more menace. 

Crowley has come to pick out the nuances of Aziraphale’s on-the-phone expressions. He has expressions for difficult customers and expressions for customers looking for books Aziraphale hates but will never confess to hating. He also has expressions for customers who call to sell him books, with specific subsets for books he wants and books he needs like air. He also has a somewhat smug, very pleased with himself expression for when a local researcher or university student calls him to ask for his book expertise. 

But the one crossing Aziraphale’s features now is very different. His lips are tight, jaw a little clenched, with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes as if he were trying to sound polite on the phone but knows he’s failing. When he starts speaking into the phone with his forced customer service voice, Crowley knows what’s happened and he knows, blessedly or cursedly, that this means the call is almost over.

The book is officially for sale, but she’ll have to pry it from Aziraphale’s cold, dead hands first. 

“Why yes, I do believe I have one of Anne Lister’s diaries. But I’m afraid this one was never decoded. It does use her common code but it is rather long and with how complex Lister’s system was, I’m afraid it’ll take months to translate.”

He’s trying to deter her. The expression remains. Crowley wants to strangle her through the phone for taking up so much of his day. 

“Ah, yes, well if you’ve decoded another one of her diaries in the past, I suppose it will be easier to decode this one,” he says and the tone is noticeably tight as Aziraphale’s patience wears thin. He won’t be selling this book, so talking to the woman on the phone is a waste of his time. Crowley tries to catch Aziraphale’s attention but the angel waves him off. “Well then, I can hold the book for no more than twenty four hours. Tomorrow the shop will be open from 3:45 in the afternoon to 4 and you will have to arrive fifteen minutes early for paperwork. Also the machine is down so I’m afraid I’ll only be able to accept cash.”

Crowley waits for her to give up or accept the ridiculous rules. Aziraphale finally bids her goodbye and hangs up the phone. 

“How dare she,” the angel says and this is an anger Crowley is used to, one he finds amusing. “Already has one diary and wants to take mine. Well, I won’t sell to someone greedy enough to want to hoard two priceless historical artifacts, even if it is for a university.”

Crowley debates whether or not to mention Aziraphale’s two floors, piled high, of priceless and hoarded historical artifacts. Then he remembers he rather enjoys spending the night on Aziraphale’s couch. He decides not to take risks.

“How dare she, truly,” he says instead. His eyes betray his mirth. 

“Why do I have the feeling that you aren’t taking this nearly as seriously as I am?” Aziraphale asks pointedly as he looks down at Crowley, who is now all but sprawled on the sun-bleached carpet. 

“Call’s over, Aziraphale. She won’t get your book. We have better things to do.”

Crowley is right, and Aziraphale knows Crowley is right, but he’s still frustrated after the call and feels a need to channel it somewhere. If he can’t complain about the customer, he’ll complain about something else. 

“Better things to do like what? Preparing for this inevitable...scuffle with the powers of Hell? I don’t see you doing much of that.”

Crowley sits up at that, shooting Aziraphale a look. “Now? You’ve known about this problem for less than a day and you want to solve it now?”

“Why, would you rather we wait until Beelzebub rings our doorbell?” 

Crowley doesn’t miss the way Aziraphale says our, as if the bookshop was collectively theirs, as if he weren’t imposing on his space. Our. The way the not-apocalypse was theirs. The way the agreement was theirs. 

He’s overthinking this. But Aziraphale said it so smoothly, as if he’d believed it fully. As if our, us were just how Aziraphale saw them. A unit. 

Crowley's heart aches. He ignores it.

“N-No, you’re right, we should plan then.”

Chapter Text

The ceiling really isn’t interesting enough for Crowley to have been staring at it for three hours, but what else is a demon to do when the angel he’s saved the world with is sitting just one room over, reading as if he weren’t currently at risk of permanent destruction at the hands of both Heaven and Hell? Crowley can’t sleep like this. Even curled up under the afternoon sun, even after two mugs of tea, and even after stealing Aziraphale’s favourite blanket from the couch, Crowley can’t sleep. 

But the three hours have forced him to think things over, prioritize in a sense. 

As he sits up and stretches out in a way that is entirely inhuman, he concludes that there’s not really much left to lose with regards to their relationships with Heaven and Hell. Their little body switch charade was officially a smack in the face to both sides. They’ve mocked Heaven and Hell and now they’re dealing with the consequences, but it’s also sort of...freeing. 

No expectations. They’ll go to dinner, meet in St James’ Park, go to museums. It’ll be just like before, but now without worrying that they’re being followed, without need for secret codes. 

To top it all off, it’s not as if Heaven or Hell will expect them to fulfill their original duties either. They’re off the hook for that too. 

But this raises an entirely new problem, one Crowley hadn’t even considered until this point. 

If they’re no longer working, no longer expected to keep up with Heaven or Hell, is there still an agreement?

He’d pushed the whole save-the-world plan with the understanding that things would continue as normal after. But they haven’t, not really, and they never will return to normal if Crowley’s wings are any indication. The agreement is lost and so is his excuse for turning up at Aziraphale’s bookshop at ungodly hours to hash out new, neutral plans. The current threat will buy him time, give him reason to essentially move in until an altercation occurs, but it could all be over in a matter of days. 

He’s got two options, he realizes. 

Accept defeat and, with it, the understanding that he’s run out of excuses to interrupt Aziraphale’s life. 

Confess to six thousand years worth of feelings he still barely lets himself acknowledge and hope for the best. 

He knows and completely accepts that the second option is the only valid one. It’s just mortifying in a way that makes him question his own demonic capacities. 

Shuddering at the idea, Crowley curls up in the knit throw, ignores how much it smells like Aziraphale, and finally falls asleep.

 

……………………….

 

He wakes up, much later in the evening, to the sound of Aziraphale setting a mug of tea and some books on the table beside the window seat. The sun has long since gone down, and without the warmth to make him drowsy, Crowley isn’t too determined to fall back asleep. So he rolls over, a little less gracefully than he’d intended, and reaches for the mug without asking who it was for. 

His angel is curled up on his couch in silk pyjamas, wings unfolded carefully behind him, holding another mug of steaming tea in one hand as he holds up a book with the other. It’s ancient with a cracked, dry leather spine and Aziraphale’s fingers are impossibly gentle with the turn of every page. The book is clearly precious to him, written in an ancient language that Crowley could read if he put effort into trying, but is much too tired to do so now. In fact, he’s much too tired in general. He’s especially much too tired to fully process whatever is going on in his throat. 

Aziraphale looks up just in time to see Crowley fall off the window seat in a tangle of limbs, old knit blankets, and far too many throw pillows. 

“Oh, you’re awake,” the angel says and there it is again, the indescribable fondness in his smile that threatens to swallow Crowley up in a combination of guilt and something else he dare not name. He pushes the feeling down, runs a hand through his hair, and tries to pretend he didn’t just make a fool of himself in front of Aziraphale. 

“Yeah, well, no sunlight left.”

Aziraphale just nods absently, takes in the sight of his disaster of a companion, and then remembers the stack of books. The thought of bringing this whole mess up again makes him bite his lip. “I know it was a begrudging acceptance on your part, but I do believe we should begin planning for this upcoming altercation with Hell.”

“Alright.” 

“I mean it’s something we should have both started looking into the moment I noticed, honestly,” the angel goes on, rambling in his nervousness and fidgeting with his hands. The wings retract just slightly. “I can only imagine Hell is as antsy as Heaven is regarding the lack of a battle, so I have no doubt in my mind that they would take the first opportunity to work out their frustrations. There’s also the added fact that we are technically responsible and they never did get to punish us the way they wanted and really-”

Crowley is trying very desperately not to smile for two reasons. Firstly, demons don’t really do the whole smiling thing, especially not for reasons as terribly domestic as the ones running through Crowley’s mind now. Secondly, this is a serious conversation and Aziraphale is getting worked up. If he thinks Crowley is laughing at him...well, he doesn’t want to consider it. 

Instead, he interrupts. 

“Angel, I said alright,” he repeats. “No need to go on. You’re right. Did you check online too or just the books?”

Aziraphale is caught off guard by how easy that was. 

“I- uh- yes I checked the local university database as well,” he replied, fumbling for a stack of papers hidden behind the books. It’s comforting sight for a demon who would really not like to touch a computer after all he’d done to make sure they never worked as you wanted them to. “I began looking into it while you were asleep, actually. I printed out the ones that seemed most interesting.”

Crowley grabs the stack, eyes skimming over titles and names, recognizing a few of the authors as well-respected theologians and others as well-respected philosophers. The angel is nothing if not meticulous in his research. He also has an uncanny ability to find sources like this even without Crowley’s book-buying miracles. “Did you read them?”

Aziraphale shakes his head and lifts the tome he’s holding until Crowley can read the gilded words on its cover. It’s a book of prophecy written in a long dead language. “I’m a tinge desperate. Last time we had to face them, we had Agnes’ predictions but I checked and she has nothing more for us, I’m afraid. This one I know contains predictions beyond the apocalypse, I’m just unsure of whether or not they will pertain to us.”

“I know what individual demons are capable of. Dukes and Lords of Hell and all that. Do you want a list?” he suggests. “Might be more useful to know what we’re up against than to hope someone predicted it.”

Aziraphale considers it and seems to fiddle with the corner of a page in his book before acquiescing. Crowley is the expert on this, or at least the only expert they can get their hands on right now. Even if he’s sitting somewhere in between angel and demon. Even if Aziraphale is itching to just find a prediction in one of his books of prophecy and move on. 

Aziraphale hands him a pen. “Write it on the back of one of those.”

Crowley writes down every potentially relevant piece of information he can remember, from Beelzebub’s common on-Earth hangouts to his capacity in summoning hellfire. Then there are past rebellions to add. Each one of them had failed but they were a good example of what not to do and an even better example of what high-ranking demons were capable of if pushed into wrath. Adding properties of hellfire probably makes sense too. Aziraphale should be informed of the restraints on common versus high ranking demon miracles. 

“Crowley?” The angel’s voice is tentative, unsure. “This will end in another direct conflict, right? So the same risks are involved.”

Crowley has no idea how long it’s been since he started writing things down, but Aziraphale has somehow worked through three books of prophecy and half a pile of religious texts. But that’s not what he notices first. His angel looks...

Distraught.

“Likely, yeah. Why?”

He tries to act nonchalant, but he’s been feeling the dread for days. He knows what risks Aziraphale is referring to. If Heaven and Hell get their hands on them, that’s it. Either they’ll be destroyed or kept apart eternally and Crowley, in this moment, realizes he’d much rather have the former. 

“I- well- so I’ve been meaning to talk to you. About things. Really, I should have done it before the apocalypse but I suppose part of me genuinely believed from the start that we’d miraculously make it through and now I worry we might not,” Aziraphale starts, and it's a jumble of quickly spoken words, as if he’d worried they might not get out if they weren’t running at a million kilometers an hour.

Crowley sets down the papers and runs through the millions of scenarios running through his head before settling on one, the most nerve wracking one. 

Shit. Aziraphale knows.

Had he been obvious? Had Aziraphale found out about the book buying miracles or the apparation of his favourite tea in the cupboard? Had he hugged him for too long when he’d finally come back? Had he finally processed the reasons why Crowley left to protect him? 

No, he said these are things they should have addressed before the apocalypse that wasn’t. It’s something older. Something he likely did without thinking decades or centuries back. 

Human hearts aren’t able to safely operate under these conditions and a malfunctioning of Crowley’s human form right now would be truly tragic. 

“And I understand if this is inappropriate given the context and I truly don’t want to overwhelm you or take advantage of a complex situation but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something were to happen and I hadn’t done this yet.”

It was the books in the Blitz and all the dinner invitations, wasn’t it? He’s known this whole time. 

Aziraphale takes a deep breath, hands clenched in his lap. He looks like he’s about to shatter. 

“I think I’m- No, I know I’m in-”

Oh.

Crowley doesn’t even let him finish. He’s elated and overwhelmed and he doesn’t even really stop to think about what he’s doing until he’s pulled Aziraphale in close enough by his shirt to kiss him with all the suddenness of someone who has sat on this exhausting realization for far too long. 

The demon had unbiddenly imagined this exact moment so many times he’d lost count. Every time he assumed it would be awkward, the result of a long conversation that ends in a stumbled confession just like this one. It is a little awkward with Aziraphale bent over in his chair and Crowley still sitting on the floor but honest to God- Satan- whoever, it was completely worth it to feel Aziraphale’s hand on his cheek as he kissed back.

 

……………………….


And God saw everything that She had made, and, behold, it was very good... fucking finally.

Chapter Text

Relationships are like crime scene investigations. The first twenty-four hours can make or break the rest of a relationship no matter how eternal both parties involved were and, therefore, how miniscule twenty-four hours were. Crowley and Aziraphale, being the infinitely awkward beings they were, had spent the first three hours reading. Sure, they had been reading together and Aziraphale had actually gotten up the courage to hold Crowley’s hand for most of it. They were also sitting rather close on the couch, a couch that should not have, in its condition, held both of them but which did solely because both the demon and the angel wanted it to. 

But where first dates go, staying in to read ancient documents in the hopes that you won't get killed by your coworkers (nor by your boyfriend’s coworkers) isn’t really on anyone's list of top date ideas. 

“Should we...should we be doing something else? All things considered,” Aziraphale asked finally, thumb rubbing along the back of Crowley’s hand in a way that made it very, very difficult to read. They definitely should be doing something else but the thought of suggesting anything else makes Crowley’s face feel hot and he wonders, dear God, when did he get bad at this?

“What are you proposing?”

Aziraphale hadn’t really counted on Crowley throwing the question back. He honestly has no idea what he was thinking of when he suggested “something else” and thinking back to his favourite romance novels provided him nothing. None of them really covered the Hell-is-going-to-literally-break-loose situation Aziraphale and Crowley are currently facing. He wets his lips, looks down at their entwined hands, and finally comes up with an idea. “Perhaps we could watch television and order some take out?”

Crowley raises a brow as he finally looks up. Aziraphale can’t help it as his eyes quickly slip back to Crowley’s lips and he wonders, for what feels like the millionth time, if it would be utterly inappropriate to kiss him right then. He meets his eyes instead. 

“Don’t we already do that?”

“I suppose, but it is different now, isn’t it? Less like two friends watching telly and more like two…” 

Aziraphale trails off but the very obvious blank remains. There it is, the unspoken question that has been lingering in the air from the moment their lips brushed. What exactly are they now? More than friends, surely, but that aspect hasn’t been lost either. Boyfriends seems rather inadequate after six thousand years of hoping. Lovers has...connotations. They’re running out of words.

“Partners,” Aziraphale completes. It still doesn’t encompass exactly what they have, but it’ll work for now. “A sort of night in…a date, if you prefer.”

“Is the Principality Aziraphale asking me on a date?” Crowley teases in reply and he decides he likes the sound of it. Partners, the way they were when the agreement was still on, the way they had been for centuries. It made the new development feel like less of a severe change. Still them, just holding hands, apparently.

As for the proposal of a date, well… Where first dates go, a night in isn’t quite the usual choice either. But after centuries of dance halls, drunken nights, late-showing films, dinners at the Ritz, picnics in the park, “once-in-a-lifetime” astronomical events, and secret meetings in museum cafes, they have sort of exhausted the usual list of first date options. If asked outright, none of these were dates. But then one considers the longing in Crowley's eyes behind his sunglasses, the way Aziraphale's hand twitched to reach for Crowley's on so many occasions that the angel lost count, the way being drunk sometimes gave them an excuse to be far too close. It seems to hit them both at once that these had been dates all along . Crowley has somewhat forgotten how to breathe. 

At the least, a night in is better than spending three hours doing research. Besides, it’s only been a few months since they’d saved the whole world together. They can afford to stay in. 

It’s also much more enjoyable, Aziraphale feels, to stay in where he can kiss Crowley’s smug expression right off his face. 

“Perhaps he is, if the demon Crowley is willing to accept.”

Crowley gets to his feet, stretching a bit. He seems to pause for a moment, his breath catching in his throat as he realizes just how many options he has now, how much freedom to do the things he’s wanted to for so long, things he’s literally dreamed of. So he fights back his usually useful self control and leans in to kiss him, briefly, for the second time today. He walks away before he can process the parted lips and flushed face of the angel he’s loved for so long. He’ll be completely useless for the rest of the day if he doesn’t. “I’ll place the order. Sushi or…?”

“Oh, uh, yes. Th-that would be fine.”

 

……………………….

 

They’ve been watching back-to-back episodes of some historical drama that Aziraphale insisted was “period-accurate and absolutely stunning”. Crowley agreed to it mostly because he misses the fun of mid-century clothing. It’s not the 1950’s that he misses, as most would suspect, but the 1850’s. The dramatics of it all, they both agree, has really been lost since the decline of hooped skirts and evening coats and Crowley is about to bring up that conversation again when he feels more than hears Aziraphale’s words against his shirt. 

“Is...is this okay?” 

Crowley looks up from his sushi and there Aziraphale is, leaning against his side with his cheek resting against his shoulder. 

Things could not be more okay. Crowley has been sitting here debating appropriate levels of physical contact in his head for the past three episodes and then there goes Aziraphale, just lounging with half his body weight on the demon as if everything was fine .

“T’sss fine.”

And it is fine, because it means Crowley doesn’t have to make the first move. Crowley can just sort of lounge into it as if everything is fine, because everything is fine, and nothing has ever been this fine before. In fact, there is absolutely nothing he can do to make this moment more fine. Fine, he decides, is a woefully inadequate but accurate way to describe how one feels while essentially cuddling a literal angel while said angel watches yet another episode of “very pretty demonic vessel in a rather expensive corset (that Crowley genuinely wants ) tears into a rich man who is also immortal”. He missed the finer points of the plot but that can’t be helped. There’s a literal angel on his shoulder. 

It’s been only six hours since Crowley kissed Aziraphale and he’s already losing it. Perhaps that’s what happens when one shifts from six thousand years of imagining things to an infinite future of getting to do them. 

“Are you certain? Because I can move,” Aziraphale adds, even as he shifts to get more comfortable, his hand settling almost (but not quite) on Crowley’s own. It’s really not that comfortable with the demon’s arm pressed between them so he moves instead of replying, not even really thinking as he shifts so that his arm wraps around the angel’s shoulders, hand dangling. Had his brain been in functioning order, he might have registered the intimacy of his own sudden shift and likely corrected for it. But he doesn’t. Side effect of kissing an angel, mayhap. 

The aforementioned angel doesn’t mention it either and Crowley assumes that he’s distracted by the vessel’s complex and, as is the case with all witches written by men, vaguely sexual ritual. In reality, Aziraphale is just too comfortable in the warmth of his partner’s touch to really register the boundary they’ve overstepped. He hasn't really been paying much attention to the show either. 

Regardless, the touch is enough of a reassurance to silence any further inquiries of “is this okay?”

 

……………………….

 

“Aziraphale?”

Aziraphale looks up from his book, closing it gently in his hands in order to pay Crowley his full attention. It’s nearly three in the morning and he’s quite certain Crowley was already asleep on the couch, cocooned in throw blankets, at least an hour ago when he’d last seen him. The demon in question is now still cocooned in at least two blankets, but standing in the doorway to Aziraphale’s bedroom, staring down at his own socks with his shoulders curled in. He’s wearing his glasses again despite the relative darkness of Aziraphale’s minimally lit room.

Something is wrong and Aziraphale can feel it.

“First, you can say no,” Crowley prefaces. 

“Yes dear?”

Crowley takes in a breath as if this conversation is the most draining thing he’s ever done, and then he finally looks up. Aziraphale can tell Crowley’s gaze has landed on his eyes despite the glasses, and the angel’s brows stay knit but the expression softens to something lovingly concerned. When the words finally come, they do so all at once. 

“Can I spend the night?”

Aziraphale relaxes at that. Had that been it? Had Crowley not assumed he could stay as long as he’d wished? “Of course dear.”

“No, I mean here. Can I spend the night with you?”

Oh.

The words carry with them another, more implied meaning. Crowley needs something but doesn’t want to push, doesn’t want to go too fast, even if it means suffering with whatever this is alone.

He pulls aside the duvet slightly in invitation, and Crowley seems to scan his expression as if testing to see if this is truly fine, if he’s somehow overstepped. Seeing nothing, he tentatively comes over to crawl in. Aziraphale’s hand reaches for Crowley’s immediately and he notices the clamminess there. There’s something Crowley isn’t talking about.

“May I ask what’s brought this on?” Aziraphale presses as his thumb traces along Crowley’s knuckles again. Crowley turns slightly to face the wall, one hand still held in Aziraphale’s as he finally takes off the glasses with the other. But Aziraphale doesn’t need to see his face to know what’s there. He bites his lip at the thought that something, somewhere, has made Crowley cry.

There’s a bit of a sigh, an adjustment of blankets. Aziraphale sets his book aside just in case.

“No, you may not,” is all that finally comes in response. 

Aziraphale is crestfallen at the realization that Crowley still doesn’t trust him with this, whatever it may be. Sure, the current incarnation of their relationship is a mere few hours old, but they’ve known each other for so long and they’ve seen so much together that to be left out of this, whatever it may be, makes his heart hurt. No. This isn’t about him and he won’t push it. If Crowley isn’t ready, so be it. Hell, if Crowley is never ready then so be it. He doesn’t owe Aziraphale an explanation of his pain. He’ll be here to listen if Crowley ever decides to tell him what had happened, but for now he’ll settle for being here for him, whatever he may need. 

He finally sets the book aside and turns off the light, adjusting the duvet around Crowley gently before resting one tentative hand on his arm. It carries with it questions for which Aziraphale knows there will be no answers if he asks them outright. Is this fine? Is this what you need? Is there anything I can do? I’ll fight Beelzebub, Satan, even God Herself. Just tell me what you need.

Long fingers come up to twine with Aziraphale’s, pulling on his arm lightly until it’s settled around Crowley’s waist atop all the blankets. 

“Thanks, angel.”

Chapter Text

Morning, if you had to ask Crowley, is a completely unfair time of day to pick a fight. You’re still in your pyjamas, probably still wrapped up in a blanket. You might be halfway through a pancake, lovingly made for you by your literally angelic soulmate, and savouring the fact that this is your life now. You might even be discussing the unbearably domestic things you plan on doing today. Groceries, a walk in the park, maybe a nap. Said soulmate might do some reading. You definitely do not plan to be visited by a heavenly host and a hellish fiend at nine in the morning. 

Gabriel and Beelzebub don’t seem to care. 

“Gabriel, Beelzebub,” Aziraphale starts, but the tone is pinched, smile mirroring Gabriel’s. A smile not meeting his eyes. He’s learned. Crowley’s heart drops a bit at the thought. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Gabriel glances between them. "Heaven and Hell had unfinished business with you both. We were called to make sure it gets done properly."

Crowley gets to his feet with his empty plate, raising a brow in Gabriel's direction as he starts to wash the dish in the hopes that doing something with his hands will keep him from smiting the angel where he stands. He should honestly get a commendation or at least a ‘get out of anger management free’ card for his restraint alone. “You two aren't officially here, just trying to quietly clean up after your last mess. Beelzebub, how'd you explain to our Lord Satan that a minor demon tasked to earth survived submersion in holy water?”

The aforementioned demon is uncharacteristically silent. As is his high-ranking angelic company. Crowley laughs. “Can’t kill us. What are you here for?”

“Aziraphale knows. It’s in his collection.” Beelzebub sets down a leather bound tome, sliding it towards Aziraphale. The angel takes in the gilded lettering of an ancient and forbidden language and its as if the words have physically knocked the air out of him. He glances up at Crowley in a panic and Crowley knows suddenly that this is a variable Aziraphale didn’t consider in any of his endless piles of research. He understands why.

“Gabriel, you wouldn’t.” The fear in the angel’s voice is palpable, leaving in its wake the softest shake. 

Gabriel grins and Crowley wonders if he shouldn’t start the fight now, punch the glee right off the angel’s face. “You’re right, Aziraphale. Witchcraft is a sin and I wouldn’t dare. But Beelzebub’s side invented this stuff and really, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be allowed to use it. If it happens to benefit me, then it happens to benefit me.”

Crowley doesn’t need an explanation as he stares down at the book. He knows that language. He had used it himself. His need to abandon it and cut himself off from everything it represented was all the motivation Crowley needed to learn every human language he could get his hands on. Anything to keep him from having to speak it again. 

“Do you recognize your mother tongue, Crowley, or have you strayed so far from your roots?”

He’s too distracted to quite process who asked him the question, attempting to understand how that book, faded with age and cracked in the spine, has come to exist. The language does not have a written form. It had not, to his knowledge, ever fallen into human hands. 

Yet there it is in Latin lettering. A book of Satanic binding spells written in the language of his realm.

Belialian. 

"I don't understand the meaning of this, honestly." Aziraphale attempts to keep his voice steady but it comes out sounding too measured, too controlled, and Crowley wonders how he can manage even that with the way his hand has begun to shake under the table. 

“Binding us to earth won't change anything, Gabriel. We aren’t planning on leaving. And if it’s handfasting you’re looking to do, we could do that ourselves, thanks,” Crowley adds in an attempt to take the attention off Aziraphale. But it doesn’t work. Gabriel is still staring at the principality as if wondering how best to cut and quarter him.

“Crowley, that’s not-”

“The humans these days are so uncreative with binding,” Gabriel sighed as he cut Aziraphale off with practiced ease. “Our languages really are powerful. A name, some blood, and we could own you both. Bind you to us . I think that would be a better way of setting an example than destroying you would.”

"Saves us training new earth-bound demons," Beelzebub adds. 

“A very good point! Since free will is so important to the Almighty, we’ll give you a choice.” Gabriel folds his hands in front of him, resting them on the surface of his wool coat as he speaks. Aziraphale hates this, the waiting, the knowing that somehow he didn’t prepare them sufficiently for whatever it is that Gabriel , of all people, has managed to think up. He knows what Gabriel is about to offer them; it’s a chance to go quietly with a punishment of pain and paperwork if they don’t. Aziraphale won’t even consider it. He won’t even flirt with the thought of giving in now , when he finally got what he’s wanted for the better part of a few thousand years. Gabriel, in all his superiority, is still an idiot at his core and Aziraphale knows that somewhere in his master plan, the archangel has missed something. 

If there’s a single angel in the universe who knows that book better than Hell does, it’s you.

Binding spells are not inherently complicated. They use basic techniques and really only require easily found items. Aziraphale has never performed one like this, though. Binding people to each other in marriage is easy and rather enjoyable. People binding themselves to objects is rather taboo, but can be functional and is something Aziraphale has personally witnessed a few times and read about many more times. It’s difficult but can be managed if the person performing it is sufficiently capable.

Binding another person to an object so that you could control them requires extreme skill and extreme cruelty. 

It also requires a name.

Oh.

Aziraphale looks up suddenly from the book, smile tight as he tries to disguise the sudden hope threatening to slip into his features. “Not to interrupt, Gabriel, but I do believe you need our true names in order to continue with this...plan you’ve come up with.”

“We’re not stupid, Aziraphale, we know that.” Gabriel all but rolls his eyes as he looks over at Beelzebub as if for confirmation. Beelzebub’s discreet nod confirms Aziraphale’s suspicions and oh God thank you for making these two the least intelligent creatures in the universe. 

“Oh I truly doubt that. Crowley sometimes forgets his own original name,” Aziraphale says, earning a mild protest from the demon in question, one that Aziraphale quickly quiets with the slightest look. Please, dear, I know what I’m doing and, besides, you know it’s true. “Although I’m certain you’d find both of ours somewhere in the shop, just as I could find yours. It truly is fascinating how much knowledge can be found in human publishings.”

“If I wanted to hear you talk about books, I wouldn’t have assigned you earth, Aziraphale. So shut up so we can get this done and leave.”

Crowley shrugs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Don’t think principality Aziraphale was done talking.”

Aziraphale smiles over at him, genuinely this time, and while now is definitely not the time to be sappy he is hit with a certain inexplicably warm feeling in his chest. He gets to his feet and sighs as he finally picks up the book, touch reverent. He knows its contents the way he knows the contents of every other tome in the bookshop, including those of one very large encyclopedia of demonology and one larger still encyclopedia of angelology.

“Thank you, dear,” Aziraphale continues. He doesn’t look up, soft fingers carefully running along each page until he finds what he knows is there. “Beelzebub, I suppose you know binding rituals can also be performed in enochian, changing the power of the bind and its intentions. Were I to perform a binding ritual, verbally, all I would need is a name and an intention to protect.”

He smiles back at Crowley, excitement crinkling the corners of his eyes in a way that would make Crowley’s heart melt if he weren’t still terrified. “I bind you both from doing harm to others,” Aziraphale begins. The words he speaks are ancient, melodic vowels strung together in a forbidden way and Crowley, despite all his millennia without it, has never once felt so reassured to hear Enochian again.

Well, can’t say I’m sad about having Aziraphale’s smile and voice be the last thing I remember, Crowley thinks genuinely. 

Oh ye of little faith, God wishes She could reply. 

“Be gone, Gavri’el and Ba’al.

Chapter Text

If you asked Crowley exactly what had happened, he would genuinely have to admit that he has no idea

Aziraphale had been looking back at him. He’d glowed with power he was clearly barely controlling, held together by sheer, hard-headed will . His human form wasn’t made for this and somewhere during the process of casting out an extremely powerful demon and angel it had split. Hairline fractures crew to chasms, the space between the edges of his being too exhausting to comprehend. Whatever he was toying with was dangerously ethereal and Crowley suddenly understood why angels so often presented themselves to humans with the warning of do not be afraid. Demons in their true form manifested as whatever the human wanted most. The goal was to have the temptee see what their life could be like if they just gave in. But angels were another thing altogether…

Angels served as a reminder of the sheer, inexhaustive power of God herself. Angels, quite literally, put the fear of God in you. An angel in their true form veritably shakes with a power they can barely control but usually merely channel, the force bending the very matter around them as heat bends the air, leaving their image as more of a blurred concept than of a tangible form. They require witness. Their very being demands the same attention as a tragedy: to look is to be burned alive, but somehow you are unable to fight that urge. If that’s what the servant looks like, then how terrifying must the master be?

Crowley has not actively feared God since he fell. She didn’t want him, he didn’t want Her. 

But seeing exactly what strength Aziraphale was capable of possessing for the first time? 

Terrifying. 

So this is why they’d wanted Aziraphale destroyed. Not because of Crowley or what Crowley had done. Not because hellfire made him powerful. But because they knew what power an intelligent, curious angel could behold if his divorce from Heaven left him unhinged. The only thing holding the collective of angels back from God Herself is their own fear of the consequences that came with acting out.

Fearing her is the only thing that held Aziraphale at bay. 

Now that's gone.

He’d heard the angel speak then. Something distant, as if not coming from him even as his lips moved. 

And then Crowley had woken up on Aziraphale’s settee, cocooned in his own fully grey wings while boasting a feeling he could only describe as unnervingly pleasant. A mug of tea sits on the end table by the ancient couch, cooling in the breeze from the window. He takes it in his hands and sighs at the warmth as he takes the stairs down to the shop two at a time. Aziraphale has a million things to explain and, when the angel spots him from his seat behind the register, he looks like he’s about to burst with every explanation he’s undeniably ruminated on all afternoon. But Crowley is exhausted and, in all honesty, he’s not too worried about an explanation. 

He sets the mug next to Aziraphale’s now forgotten bookbinding project, leans over the countertop, and kisses him with the slow sort of sweetness that he’s craved since Eden. It’s done. Whatever they had left to worry about is done. Aziraphale has somehow managed to permanently rid them of their enemies and for once in his life , Crowley doesn’t feel like he’s running on borrowed time. There’s nothing left to run from. He pours every feeling he’s ever withheld into the ghostly touch of his lips on Aziraphale’s.

Every hurried explanation dies on Aziraphale's lips in a heartbeat and he responds with the same tenderness, if a little more insistent; rose-leaf lips sighing in response to the press of bite-roughened ones. The hand not currently being used to brace himself against the countertop slithers its way into auburn curls, holding Crowley near, and the morning's disaster is now just short of forgotten, tucked in somewhere between twined fingers and heavy-lidded eyes as a mere inconvenience to be handled later. Aziraphale can only focus on one thing at a time in this state. The brush of Crowley's thumb over his knuckles. The tentative movement of his lips. The smoothing of short hairs at Crowley's nape under Aziraphale's fingers. 

When he breaks the kiss, it's a gentle parting, leaving barely a gasp of air between them and letting his forehead settle against Crowley's. Maybe they should go upstairs, close the shop for the night, curl up-

"What happened?" Crowley's tone comes out a little hoarse and oh lord does Aziraphale not remember in the slightest what he'd just been thinking about. 

"Sorry, dear. I turned to make sure you were fine and suddenly you were a heap on the floor.” Every explanation he'd set aside before seems to bubble back up to the surface now that the proximity has been diminished slightly, as if the microcosm of mingled breaths between their lips was sufficiently large as to let Aziraphale clear his head a bit. "I wasn't quite sure what to do and I was sort of still reeling from everything myself and I assure you, I did try to make things more comfortable for you but you do know how old that chaise is and your wings were out so I just attempted to tuck you in as best I could."

Crowley pulls back a bit. His eyes are a little too wide and his hand twitches from where it sits on Aziraphale's own, no doubt aching to grab his sunglasses back. He's...he's worried. Despite everything they've just succeeded in doing.

The demon - if he could even still be called such - had been awfully careful with his wings the past few weeks. He’d kept them tucked in, invisible. If he had been asked, he would have likely said that he didn’t want to worry Aziraphale, didn’t want to remind him of just how serious the so-called reverse fall situation had become. It made sense. Aziraphale was already worried about an altercation with Hell. Crowley was worried about an altercation with Heaven. They had enough on their plates without needing to be reminded that Crowley had somehow done the impossible. He’d somehow regained grace

In reality, he didn’t want to admit to what these wings mean. Our side. Somehow.

Rejected by Heaven and Hell, a creature in limbo.

But not quite. His lips are still warm and kiss bruised, his hair tousled. Aziraphale looks perfect: eyelids still heavy and lips still a little parted. If Crowley has been cast out, so too has Aziraphale, even if he has no physical manifestations to show for it. God may have forgiven Aziraphale for giving away the sword, for lying to Her face, perhaps even for averting the apocalypse and forcibly casting out one of her archangels. But Heaven won't forgive. Aziraphale won't be welcomed back. He has given up his home, his livelihood, his very belief system and all for what? For tea with a demon and stolen kisses over a cash register. 

(But also for more than that, Aziraphale knows. He has sacrificed all he's ever known for the way the demon laughed when Aziraphale read The Importance of Being Earnest aloud or the way he hid his tears against a wool sweater during a rainy night reading of Les Miserables. For the way he makes his tea so perfectly and smiles genuinely when Aziraphale begins to ramble on about the things he loves. He would have faced God Herself if it meant getting to hold Crowley through his worst again, the way he had only a few nights ago, to keep him wrapped up tightly in his arms until the sobs he'd been hiding subside to light hiccups, barely audible over the SoHo traffic but still aching in Aziraphale's heart with every telltale gasp. Could Crowley not see how much he wants to envelop him, to run spectre-soft fingers along grey down feathers and remind him just how much he is wanted ? How priceless he is now? How he has always been nothing short of Aziraphale's whole world, even if the angel has not always been attuned to just how true such a fact is? He wanted to somehow make Crowley realize that this supposed sacrifice of his old life was nothing , because there was no way on God's green earth that Aziraphale was going back to his sterile, heartless realm after knowing what it was like to love and be loved in turn.)

"You saw them."

Aziraphale turns his hand in Crowley's so that he can twine their fingers, lifting his hand to kiss the knuckles. "I saw every feather and, Crowley, I hope you understand that this doesn't change anything for me."

He seems to relax and Aziraphale comes around the counter to gather him up in his arms, resting his cheek against Crowley's chest with a soft sigh before continuing. "I saw your wings and somehow you saw my true form, so I would say we're both pretty evenly matched in surprises for the day."

Crowley considers his words and he's not sure how much he accepts them, but the hug is warm and the touch is soft and Crowley, despite having woken up only a few minutes prior, is still exhausted from the day's events. All he wants to do right then and there is bury himself in the angel’s arms and sleep for eternity.

"Can we go to bed?"

"Certainly, love."