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Such an Old-Fashioned Word

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Aziraphale had, as Crowley may have pointed out a few dozen times, a type. It wasn't necessarily sexual (it better not have been), but it had to be said that a certain kind of long, lean build plus a shark-tooth smile just brought out roses in the angel's cheeks, made him flutter a little more, inspire a little more, just made him a little more himself. He had made an absolute cake of himself for Rob Armin, he had lost his head for Sei Shonagon, and one didn't even like to think what a fool he had been for that certain pope's son.

Crowley, who had done all but stand in the rain with a placard saying JUST SO YOU KNOW! felt more than a little justified post-apocalypsisn't in being a little territorial about his angel. That meant that when he lost sight of him in Florence, he was both irked and unsurprised to see him underneath an awning, sheltering from the rain with a tall man in a suit so sharp it could cut.

His irritation with the situation was such that he didn't realize that something was wrong- really wrong- until he was halfway across the street. Humans, with their thousands of years of needing to work together in a society that might suddenly turn and kill off a percentage of them, had largely dulled the alarm bells in their head. While some remained, so many of the others had been muffled up. Crowley wasn't a human, and his alarm bells, by necessity tuned differently from an angel's or a human's, worked just fine.

As he came up behind his angel, his rang out with a chorus of you idiot, you're going to get eaten, and not in the pleasant way that he and Aziraphale liked to play with sometimes.

“But truly, you must ask for the anginetti,” Aziraphale was saying earnestly. “They do them up perfectly there, so light. They've been using the same recipe for almost two hundred years, and I've never had one that was less than positively divine.”

“Two hundred years,” echoed the man in the knife-sharp suit. “Perhaps I have been too hasty in my dismissal. Thank you, it is something I will certainly investigate further.”

“Speaking of investigation,” Crowley said, coming up to place a hand on Aziraphale's shoulder. “Why don't you go over there, angel?”

He didn't have to look at Aziraphale to know the angel was turning to him with bemused curiosity. He kept his eyes on the man in the suit, who was now looking at him with a calm and reptilian surmise.

“There's a pizzelle iron in the window right across the street. Must be sixteenth century if its a day. Go have a look, we could make pizzelles at home.”

“Oh! Well. I'll just be a moment then. Sir, it was fine speaking to you. I hope you have a good holiday in Florence.”

“Of course,” said the man, inclining his head. “A pleasure.”

They were both still until Aziraphale had made his way across the street, and then Belial narrowed his eyes at Crowley.

“Rude, Crawley. We were only passing time.”

“It's Crowley these days, and you don't get to pass time with that one. You don't get to touch that one.”

Belial's look was faintly scornful, which meant that he felt nothing but contempt for Crowley and everything he meant, and that he might possibly show that contempt by eating him.

“You were never so powerful as that, First Tempter. You could not meet me in battle and expect to win.”

“Yeah, I might not win, but I would make you sorry,” Crowley said, even as he knew he probably wouldn't even do that. Belial was another order entirely, and Satan, how long had it been since anyone in Hell had even had contact with the bastard anyway? And then why did it have to be him when he and Aziraphale were just stepping out for a nice quick gelato?

Belial gave him a smile that never came anywhere near his eyes.

“You would try, wouldn't you? And all for that angel.”

“Times are changing,” Crowley said, making a deliberate effort to keep his wings in. Belial didn't seem to want a fight right this moment, but a challenge would probably end that double quick.

“Yes, I've heard.”: Belial paused, looking surprisingly thoughtful. “I believe I owe you some thanks.”

There were still some people in the desert who used Belial's name to mean wicked and ruin. He was not a being that said thank you, not even with that slight smile that hid so many teeth. Crowley scowled, drawing back a little.

“Come again?”

“I heard the trump, First Tempter-"

“Again, Crowley.”

“-and I woke up from my sleep and I heard the fallen summoning me east. Come and see, they said, and I thought it was over.”

“You never showed. I would have heard about it if you had.”

“I went back to sleep.”

Crowley stared, so impressed by that kind of sloth that he momentarily forgot to be frightened witless.

“You... slept through the last trump?”

“If it was going to be the very last day, I was not going to spend it eating angels.”

“There was something else you wanted.” Crowley said, unable to keep the curiosity from his voice.

“Indeed. This world is...Well, I'm sure you understand.”

No, Crowley would have said, he did not. He had never seen the appeal of bloody big bone sculptures with some of the meat still on, he didn't understand why you would ever skin someone and use them to bind a book, and he most certainly did not understand doing it all with a pleased little smile on his face.

Then, for some reason, he glanced at Aziraphale across the street, hovering at the window he had pointed out, and maybe there was one thing he did understand.

He turned back to Belial in surprise.

“No.. .no way in all the-”

Belial's hand shot out, dragging him in by the shirt, bringing him far, far too close to those legendary teeth.

“Think very carefully-”

“Old friend you were thinking of having for dinner?”

The voice was light, caustic, exhausted and utterly lovely. Crowley felt as if he had been dunked in a pool full of pheromones, but as Belial pulled away, he realized that it had mostly been emotions sloshed off of the other demon, so powerful it had casualties.

The man who approached them was human, so far as Crowley could tell, though attractive enough with curly dark hair and blue eyes. He looked as if he could sleep out the century, and there was a nasty scar on his cheek that Crowley thought might have cut into his mouth. There was something in him that smelled a bit of Hell, though that might have been Belial's influence, and maybe something underneath that that smelled somehow of Heaven though degraded and faint.

“Of course not, Will,” said Belial, going solicitously to his side. “You know that I promised to take you out on our own this evening.”

“Yeah, you said no operas, no poetry readings, and no galleries. I'm going to hold you to that,” said Will with a faint smile. “Are you going to introduce us, though?”

“No, not at all,” Belial said firmly. Will shrugged, nodded, and then gave Belial a sharp eye.

“But I'm not going to find-”

“No,” Belial said with great patience.

“All right. Then I'm going to occupy myself like a good boy while you do... whatever it is you're doing.”

He nodded politely at Crowley, wandering back towards the river, and Belial... Belial looked like a cat that had fallen off of a high shelf and now wanted to be sure that no one saw him caring. It was absolutely a lost cause, especially to Crowley who had made a career out of knowing when people cared, no matter how embarrassing it was.

“So...”

“Not one word, Crowley,” said Belial, a slight amount of red on his cheeks. For someone who had more color in him at all, it would have been a blush.

“Not from me, anyway,” Crowley said.

He waited.

“It is terrible, isn't it,” Belial said finally, “To see your own heart walking about without you, on legs you never cared to give it, with wants that were never any part of you?”

“Maybe not when your heart has legs as nice as he does,” Crowley suggested, which won a soft huff of laughter from the other demon.

Very rude, Crowley. I have taken eyes that dared to look at him.”

“But you can't now, can you?” Crowley said.

Belial looked at him sharply.

“If you are going to make fun-”

“Not me,” Crowley said. “Not when you are the only thing on the planet that has an inkling of how I feel every livelong day.”

Belial shot him a suspicious look. Aziraphale was just coming out of the antiques shop across the street with a paper bag rather too large to hold only a pizzelle iron.

“Look,” Crowley said quickly. “We got what we never should have had, you and I. Shouldn't have, never looked for, and let's be real, don't deserve.”

Belial's eyes widened slightly. It was a look of gape-mouthed astonishment for him.

“So what do we do with it?”

Times were changing. No one would ever believe Belial could speak in a voice that was so soft, so very humble.

“Enjoy it. Keep it, protect it. End the world if they're threatened or maybe begin it all over again to see them happy.”

Belial found a smile from somewhere. He had probably taken it off a monk or something centuries ago.

“I never knew you to be so poetic.”

“But right, too.”

“Hm.”

Before Crowley could respond, Belial disappeared, and that was fine. Crowley could stand letting the other demon get in the last word if it meant that he didn't get eaten.

Oh fuck-fuck-fuck, that was Belial, his brain told him. You fucking smarted off to the fucking King of Six Thousand Eyes, the eater at the end of the world, oh fuck....

A gentle hand at his back made him flinch. He spun around and actually gasped with relief when he looked into Aziraphale's eyes.

“Oh, angel, thank fuck,” he said, wrapping Aziraphale into his arms.

Aziraphale tolerated it for a moment, and then gently unwrapped him.

“Are you all right, my dear? That demon didn't say something untoward, did he?”

“Well, he- Wait, you knew that was a demon?”

Aziraphale gave him an unimpressed look.

“Of course I did. I am still an angel, you know.”

Crowley stared at him, feeling just a bit like he wanted to tear out his hair.

“Are you joking?” he exploded. “Do you have any idea who that was? He could have discorporated you without thinking about it, he could have opened his mouth and just devoured you..!”

“Oh no,” said Aziraphale with a slight smile. “Not him.”

Aziraphale was halfway down the block before Crowley caught up with him. Now he could look into the paper bag and see not only a pizzelle iron but also what might have been a tiny hard candy press with a few floral molds.

“Explain.”

Aziraphale looked up at him in confusion.

“The love, Crowley, can't you feel it?”

Crowley gritted his teeth.

“No, angel. Still can't. You can feel love. I can't. That's why you have to keep telling me.”

Aziraphale softened immensely. He juggled the bag to one arm so he could stroke Crowley's face briefly.

“Oh, I do love you, my dear. So very much.”

Crowley went weak for a moment like he always did when Aziraphale said such things, but then he remembered what they were talking about.

“So love. That was what Belial was putting out there?”

“Love as vast as the darkest places between the stars. He's been wounded by it, or perhaps poisoned might be a better term. He'll never be what he was again, even if he mourns it for every day he has left.”

Aziraphale would have continued walking, but Crowley grabbed him by the arm, pulling him back to look at him face to face.

“What does that mean?” he demanded. “What do you mean that love poisoned him?”

Aziraphale smiled a little, and Crowley felt something inside himself go very cold and then a little hot. Aziraphale gazed at him as if taking in every line of his face, every strand of his hair, and every part of him was utterly and identically precious to the angel.

“Darling, love was never meant to be just an easy thing. It can be a glory, a shame, a prize or a goad. Belial's young man... well. That's one who has learned to turn it into a weapon.”

An image flashed through Crowley's mind of a great horned stag, red eyes lining both sides of his arched neck like jewels, rearing and bellowing with pain and helpless, helpless fury as a blue-eyed angel sliced deep into its chest with a spear. He shook off the image. It was the damned twenty-first century, he wasn't meant to be having religious visions on the street.

He walked with Aziraphale through the streets of Florence. The rain had let up, now people were coming out again, smiling at the sun, the stones and each other.

“What about us?” he said finally.

“Hmm?”

“What's love for us?”

To his surprise, Aziraphale reached down to squeeze his hand gently. The angel was never one for public displays of affection, but Crowley thought that that might change in time.

“For us? Why, Crowley, love is a home.”