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Dance with Darkness

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Angel.

Demon.

Hereditary enemies.

Or, so he’d been told. Drilled into him since the dawn of mankind, when the Almighty began to retreat, and left Her ethereal creations grasping at the echoes of Her will. He had seen the War, the carnage as a thousand points of light careened downwards. The hollowing out of Heaven’s halls; a necessary cleansing, they told themselves.

Enemies. The ones who broke God’s heart without remorse. The Unpardonable Sin. Deserving their rot, their festering misery, cries echoing up through the floor whenever those that remained became restless, became doubtful.

Aziraphale knew all this. Knew that it was time for the balancing act to end. For too long he had dangled, staring into the darkness below, slowly, slowly now, never enough to lose his grasp. Slipping into what should have been ice, but instead was warmth. Comforting. A Roman bath, oysters shared, a lean frame stretched out beside him.

The warmth beckoned him. Was it malice? Was it temptation? It could only be so. After all, that was what he had been told. It was not he who had his strings cut and was cast out. Damned. He clung on, nevermind that his eyes always sauntered downwards. No one needed to know. It was just business. The Arrangement. It was for humanity’s sake to keep an eye on his adversary, to make sure mischief never turned to cruelty.

Perhaps he could even perform the Unthinkable Miracle; to make a Fallen one Ascend again. See red hair cascade over unblemished white once more, yellow eyes soften to precious gold. He had been one of the last to Fall, hands outstretched in anguished realization of what he had done. He could be the first to Rise. Why not? There were no limits to the Ineffable Plan.

They stood there, the quiet babble of the river carrying little ducks to their destination. The red hair was cropped, tucked up under a towering hat, but curled over the collar just enough to entice his wayward fingers. He had touched it once. The blood soaked streets of Paris. The jostling crowd itching to see who was next to meet their Maker. A black ribbon undone, and Aziraphale had caught it before it flitted away in the wind, an ache in his chest that could not be satisfied. Let me. Since you... helped me and all.

“You been visited by Head Office since you opened your shop?” Crowley is rigid, a strange tension rolling off him in waves. Aziraphale almost steps closer, closer to that soft red hair that had slid through his fingers like silk.

Instead, he fishes bread from his hat, eyes firmly on the little ducks who wobble from the shore to the fence. “Oh no. No, they seem quite content for now.” His eyes dare to flick over. He’s not sure if he likes Crowley with mutton chops. The tufts of hair ill fitting on the sharp cheekbones. “The, ah, miracle you covered for me in Lisbon earned me a rather nice accolade.”

“Yes, I’m sure saving a priest would earn you a nice accolade.” The undercurrent of a hiss, never a good sign, and Aziraphale swallows, gaze locked back onto the ducks. They’ve been seeing more of each other this century, having both set up shop in London. The Arrangement a worn quilt, familiar and uncomplicated to hide under. Sometimes, the Arrangement lent itself to dinner, lent itself to a bottle of wine among ancient texts. Sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness below (could darkness really feel this comfortable?)

“Well, I’m certain that tempting the young duchess to dabble in absinthe earned you equal commendation,” Aziraphale was fast running out of miracled bread. “That was not easy for me either, watching her... well... give in to that.”

There’s a pointed silence. Crowley has moved away, just a fraction, but it rips up something deep in Aziraphale’s core. The ducks are beginning to grow bored, and a breeze blows a hint of enticing cologne towards him.

“That’s my point, Aziraphale. This could all go wrong. That’s why I need a favour. Insurance, if you want.” Black gloves hand over a scrap of paper. Their fingers brush together, but Crowley pulls away. Usually he lingers, the whisper of a caress that trickles down Aziraphale’s spine.

Holy Water.

The world has stopped. Collapsing in on itself and squeezing the life from his heart. He stares at Crowley openly now, his horror undisguised. Crowley’s face hasn’t moved an inch but he can feel his eyes meet his, intense and pleading.

“This... this will destroy you,” he whispers, fingers clenching the damned words. “I won’t bring you a suicide pill!”

A world without Crowley. He’s stopped breathing; lungs seizing up and threatening to shrivel up. Crowley still isn’t looking at him, a vein jumping in his jaw, Adam’s apple bobbing with every swallow. Aziraphale fixates on that, the visible sign of life.

“It’s not a suicide pill! It’s insurance. If it all goes pear-shaped. This could end tomorrow and I need to be prepared.”

Betrayal rushes to Aziraphale's cheeks. The quilt is being shredded before his eyes; Crowley gleefully destroying the lingering touches and wine soaked smiles. A head tilting downwards and letting him tie a ribbon in the soft curls, scarcely breathing, scarcely noticing the destruction around them. Promises to be there, the one constant in this ever-changing world as God has long since retreated and no longer speaks.

"No. Out of the question! To even... to even ask that of me! Bad enough we have the Arrangement-” Aziraphale can destroy things too, can spit words he doesn’t believe in and see the hurt swell over jagged features, “now you want me to risk even more scrutiny by giving you this?! If they knew I had been fraternizing-”

Fraternizing?!” No word had ever sounded so poisonous. Crowley is turned fully to him now, chest rising and falling rapidly, and for one wild moment, Aziraphale’s eyes fall on the snake-head cane. Violence. A demon’s nature. Had Crowley killed before? Surely he must have.

“Well, whatever you wish to call it.” Disgust seeps into his voice, shattering memories of watching Shakespeare in the rafters, arms resting against each other, only because it’s crowded, only because there’s nowhere else to put them. “There’s no point in discussing this further. I won’t risk my life for this.”

Thin lips curl, and Crowley is stepping further away now, taking the scent of his cologne with him. “I have plenty of other people to fraternize with.”

“Oh, of course you do. Of course. Why am I not surprised?” The quilt is in tatters now, irreparable, and Aziraphale’s throat is thick with despair.

“I don’t need you.”

Aziraphale stops. For one brief moment, his fingers twitch, The red hair curled around the collar, getting longer. It would be easy to reach out like before. Smooth this over. Whisper in hushed tones that they didn’t have to do this. An invitation for drink, for unspoken apologies, and daring hands to wipe spilled wine from red lips. Crowley is still there, and he had never refused him before, never.

Aziraphale steps back, hat returned to his head, flinging the paper into the water and setting it ablaze. Severing the ties at last. No more dangling. No more dancing with darkness.

“The feeling is mutual. Obviously.”

He turns. He does not see Crowley’s expression. Murderous, he tells himself. Crowley might kill him for this. A demon’s job, after all. And, he is an angel.

Hereditary enemies.

= = = =

20 years pass. A blink of an eye. Life in London has churned on. More books are found and added to his collection. More people led towards Heaven’s light. He feels a strange itch, something missing, something fundamental. He has hoisted himself fully on the Divine petard and life has never been more uncomplicated.

He sends Crowley a telegram. He has not heard of him since that day in St. James Park, where they had torn up everything they’d ever known. He can’t say what compels him; certainly he does not miss him. That dark presence weighing on his chest like an anvil, corrupting him.

Only to check up on him. Make sure his evil influence is combated. There had been a long peace since Napoleon's reign. He did not want that disturbed.

He suggests an exclusive cafe. Whisky is served there, alongside the most delectable cuisine the English Empire can offer. Crowley likes whisky; it makes him loose and free and charmingly open. There’s a flutter of anticipation as he sits there, idly wondering what Crowley will look like now. A chameleon, the cutting edge of fashion, while Aziraphale stays still.

But, Crowley doesn’t come. He checks his watch, checks it twice, eyes zeroing in on every flash of red tresses. After four hours and two bottles of whisky he has to admit defeat. There’s a bitterness on his tongue he tells himself is from his drink.

Yet still, he has the faint tendrils of hope when he arrives back at his bookshop. There were times he’d open up shop and catch a glimpse of long limbs dressed in black, lounging on his couch as if he were a fixture. Meant to belong. Perhaps 20 years was too fresh for public dalliances. But, here, in Aziraphale’s private oasis, here, ties could be repaired.

The bookshop is dark. There is no smell of smoke and musk that rises to greet him. No heavy presence that sinks beneath his skin and seeks out every inch. There’s a paper lodged into his letterbox, and he ignores the way his fingers tremble as he rips it open. A telegram. His heart soars high before crashing down and splintering. His own words glare back at him, stamped with red letters at the top:

UNABLE TO LOCATE RECEPIENT.

= = = =

Another 20 years. There’s anger lurking in the crevice of London’s heart, that old familiar human song of blood-lust. Aziraphale can feel it with every footfall, ringing through his legs and into his very core. He escapes to Vienna to take in a rendition of Mozart’s best works, and he feels it there too. Seething and pulsating. Humans march past in military dress, young faces chiseled into false glory.

This feels different. He can’t explain it, and it niggles at him over sachertorte and fine wine. He’s seen outbreaks of war and conflict before. One doesn’t live for thousands of years and escape the human peculiarity for self-obliteration. Crowley’s original temptation continues to reverberate throughout time, transformed more and more into something cold and downright Hellish. Perhaps that was Crowley’s intent all along; to infuse Hell into God’s creation.

It’s easy to dwell on Crowley’s wretchedness. Easy to ignore the glimmers of panic that have sprung up in his mind. 40 years is here and gone with a simple yawn, and they have gone far longer without crossing paths. Before the Arrangement, when humans were thrown into their corners of the globe and separated by vast seas, it was easy to steer clear of one another.

It’s hard to say what drew them both to settle down in London. No matter where the whims of their offices demanded they go, London was home. A city that had devoured everything around it, teeming with life, with excitement, with absolute humanity. Their accents have morphed into the English cadence, and Aziraphale has difficulty remembering what Crowley sounded like before. Was his voice always so throaty? Dipped in something splendid that rippled through Aziraphale’s soul and chipped away at his Grace?

The city bleeds differently when Crowley is gone on assignment. Unsettled and restless. Aziraphale will dole out temptations even when he doesn’t have to, and Crowley always notices. He knows when Crowley has slipped back over the invisible border; heart slowing into a regular rhythm, senses honed in on the demonic addition. Crowley must be able to sense him as well. He shows up whenever Aziraphale is in dire straits, an eyebrow cocked, a snicker of amusement. What peril have you gotten yourself in now, Angel?

So Crowley is still in London, that much Aziraphale knows. In fact, he’s stayed put for the last four decades. Not once has he felt Crowley’s energy disappear across the Channel, and Aziraphale isn’t sure if that is comforting or humiliating. The damned telegram lies crumpled at the bottom of his desk, taken out every few years and examined for any trace of cologne.

Dinner perhaps is too social for Crowley to pretend to forget. This, however, Aziraphale can comfortably excuse. There is war brewing, something dangerous, that makes his essence tremble. Heaven does not deign to give out snippets of the future, but inevitability hangs in the air. A matter of when. Not if.

Which is why he finds himself staring up at a grand Victorian townhouse. He walked here, to convince himself that this was business, the most basic form. Not because of the Arrangement. Not because every step that leads him closer to Crowley makes his blood sing. They had always collaborated on wars and peace; the least they could do, when so many souls depended on their actions. And if war really was to break out, well, severed ties or not, they had a duty to inform each other.

The streets are silent, not even a stray squirrel darting across the trees. He’s never been here before, but there is no denying the energy that radiates from the rust red bricks. He inhales a lung-full, eyes shutting at the knowledge that Crowley lies just beyond that door. Surely he won’t turn him away. He never has. A strange longing to bury his nose in fiery hair, fill every pore with musk and smoke overtakes him, and he nearly turns away. 40 years of unblemished holiness. He can’t throw that aside.

His feet lead him up the stairs despite himself. One, two, three, there’s a thin layer of dust on the black doormat. The windows are filled with dust as well. Dust, dust, that’s not Crowley’s way. Grime is what it’s like in Hell. Bloody enough of it down there. He peers inside, but the shades are drawn, and a lump rises in his throat. Choking him. It’s fine. Crowley has always been theatrical.

The doorknocker is a gargoyle, even though Crowley professed to hate them. Keeping up appearances, a never-ending game they’ve both never quite perfected. Trembling fingers latch onto the cold brass. One knock. That’s all it would take. If Crowley is all the things he said he was, he will answer.

5 minutes pass. 10 minutes. 20. And Aziraphale is still standing there, trying to steady his breath. Harsh words ring in his ears, the yellow eyes piercing over the edges of his too small glasses. I don’t need you. An unread telegram. 4 bottles of empty whisky. Just one knock and it can all be over.

He presses his forehead against the door, biting his lips so hard blood fills his mouth. Crowley is only meters away. That alluring energy winding around him, familiar, so familiar. A quilt in tatters but not quite destroyed. Crowley must know that he’s here. Perhaps he’s standing on the other side, waiting.

If he opens the door, I’ll talk to him. I won’t even bring up St. James Park.

The door remains shut. Night is beginning to fall and a cold breeze making the hairs on the back of his neck rise. The fingers curl into a fist and he’s shoving away from the door, nearly leaping off the steps. He ignores the fact he stood there for two long hours, hoping and praying, even to God.

I don’t need you either.

= = = =

Humans are so wonderful. Capable of so much goodness, even without a gentle prodding from Above. Caring for each other in times of need. Weaving wonderful stories through text, through music, through paint. Endlessly striving for greatness.

Aziraphale loved humans. Even in their worst moments.

But, this.

Not like this.

War has broken out, and it is unlike anything Aziraphale has ever seen. He’s been on this Earth for over 5000 years now. He’s seen a lot in that time. He’s no stranger to death. Destruction. Human cruelty that slays even the most innocent souls. The Romans liked war. Were rather good at it, as Crowley bitterly boasted at times. Empires rising and falling and crumbling into the winds of time. So it goes.

This was different. Cold. Detached. Aziraphale knew sadism. This was indifference. He had seen glimpses of this during the French Revolution. Cutting off lots of people’s heads very efficiently with a big head-cutting machine. It had chilled him then, sitting in the dampened cell, listening to the screams mingle with shouts for more. But, it was only one country. A moment in time. Getting carried away, an outburst of pent up anger from a class of people kept down far too long.

The deadly efficiency spilled across borders and into every village and home. He watched the waves of young boys hop over the trenches, and watched their souls get carried away by Death. Those last moments, when they whirled around, reaching out for him, needing assurance, so many, so many. Aziraphale could not comfort them all. He stood frozen in place, watching them Rise and Fall, a tsunami of praise washing over him for every soul saved.

He held many positions over the years during wars. A priest was often fitting; laying warm hands on dying boys’ flushed faces, revealing himself and watching their eyes fill with reverence. Crowley never interfered with these last rounds. He left those to Aziraphale and Death, and Aziraphale had never gotten around to asking him why.

A priest seems useless here. Too much suffering. Too many bodies to comb through the rubble for. He is not feeling very ethereal these days with blood tattooed under his fingernails and ash caked on his cheeks. He’s decided to be a doctor; a way to pull down miracles from Heaven without anyone being the wiser.

It is 1915 in Belgium; a beautiful little country bursting with gourmet cuisine and resplendent cities. How often had Aziraphale walked alongside the canals, allowing the spray from passing boats to wet his face, chocolates melting in his mouth. April means spring, means rebirth, and the men resent it. Gone are the talks of being home for Christmas. Christmas has come and gone with no end in sight.

Last year, Aziraphale had pulled off one of his grandest miracles with a Christmas truce. Germans and English and French all meeting in the middle and seeing they weren’t so different after all. A bit of hope, it was so desperately needed. Even Aziraphale had rolled up his sleeves and played football, a choked laugh escaping as he was tackled into the mud by a spry young Austrian.

He does not think he has it in him again.

And Crowley. Crowley is nowhere to be found. Not in England as these impossible machines take flight. Not in France as the trenches are bombed and bombed and bury thousands in the fertile soil. And not in Belgium as old cities shake and quiver and Aziraphale feels a paradigm shift occur in his beloved human beings.

Of course, they cannot be there for every war. Wars break out simultaneously all across the globe. Humans care not for the stretched resources of Heaven and Hell’s solitary Earthly guardians. Aziraphale is in Australia while Crowley is in Egypt. They meet somewhere in the middle, tense. Care for a drink? Maybe two. They exchange notes, sitting too close for mere business but it is alright. No one is looking.

A war like this means all hands on deck. And still, Crowley is nowhere to be found. He even asks Death, though he knows no answer will come. Death’s blank face only gazes at him, thoughtful almost, before drifting away in the nearby smoke. Aziraphale has trouble focusing on where he is. Too many souls screaming in agony. Death’s stench is everywhere. He is drowning in it. London still? He can’t discern. Crowley’s energy is too faint, a mere whisper among the devastation.

It is 1915 and he is No Man’s Land, picking over barbed wire, miracles landing haphazardly on an uneven terrain. A hand reaches out, tugs on his sleeve, begging for mercy. Aziraphale crouches down, sees eyes as rich as amber stare back at him. He glances, recoils, focuses on the eyes. The boy is missing his lower half. Death lurks nearby.

“It’s alright,” he lies through his teeth, brushing the dirt caked hair back from his face. “It will all be over soon.” He allows his wings to enter the mortal plane. The boy gasps, a shaking hand reaches out and caresses the feathers. The hand falls limp, and Death has arrived, pulling the soul from nowhere, cradling it in its grasp.

Aziraphale does not linger.

The sky darkens without warning. The wind sounds strange, rushing towards him, weighted down with something. Aziraphale scarcely has time to react, eyes wide. A yellow cloud races forward, sucking up everything in its path. Aziraphale is a Principality. Gifted with a flaming sword. He pushes forward as men run the opposite direction. He cannot show fear.

Except, he is afraid.

Suddenly he’s choking. Lungs seizing up, unable to grab in air. He does not need to breathe, but he has grown used to it. Second nature, much like his beloved humans. It burns and burns, ripping his lungs apart with detached indifference. He stumbles around, blind, everything is a thick yellow, heavy. He needs to focus, to miracle this away, but all that comes out is a whimper.

Aziraphale has never discorporated before. That’s what he calls it. Dying is for humans. A transformation from mortal to immortal. He’s heard of it, of course. There are angels that sometimes venture down, wrong place, wrong time. A mountain of paperwork, and slow, very slow to work through. Bodies are tricky things to stuff many eyes and spinning wheels into.

If he does not get out of here soon, he will be discorporating.

His eyes are aflame, simultaneously fried out of their sockets and pouring with tears. His skin is being flayed from him, nothing spared. Miracles, miracles, he’s an angel! His wings shudder free, and even they are not immune. The gas clings to everything and Aziraphale can’t take flight.

He’s dying.

A very human fear strikes him as he falls to his knees in the mud. Even the wet soil brings no relief, merely sucking him deeper into his grave. The gas is efficient, oh the humans are very good at efficiency now. His blood is turning to poison, eating him from inside out, and it hurts, it is more excruciating than anything he’s every endured. Yellow, everything is a hazy yellow.

Yellow eyes. Red hair tied with a ribbon. Hands that graze his cheek when no one is looking.

Crowley. Where is Crowley?

Crowley should be here. Aziraphale is dying and he should be here. Pulling him up through the murky clouds and into the stars. Think the humans will land on the moon soon, Angel. Clever, clever little things they are. Crowley was there in Paris. Crowley was there in Egypt. Crowley was there in Italy. Always in the nick of time. What peril have you gotten yourself in now, Angel?

“C-Crowley!” he begs, falling onto his side. He can’t see. He can’t taste. He can’t breathe. “Crowley! Where-” He’s hacking up blood. It’s wet around his lips. Crowley is running out of time.

“P-please... Crowley...”

He has never died before. Death has turned its attention to him, simply waiting. Black swarms his vision, pinpricks of light going dull one by one.

It is 1915 in Belgium. There is no angel dying on the ground in Ypres. He is only Aziraphale. His last word is Crowley. For one impossible moment, his world flickers out of existence, just like it would for a human.

= = = =

Churches usually bring Aziraphale an immeasurable sense of bliss. Home. Among the sacred texts and stained glass windows. A stack of books are clutched in his hands, his most treasured possessions.

Another war has broken out, more brutal than the last. Aziraphale does not feel at home here, only the hollow echo of faith. Sirens shriek in the night air, a never-ending song that fills every waking moment. He is not on the battlefield. He tells himself it is only because of the hassle of last time. Wheedling for his new vessel to be identical to his old one.

If he is issued a different body, Crowley might not recognize him.

Gabriel claps him on the shoulder, expedites the paperwork because there are too many souls swarming Heaven’s sterile halls, and pushes him back onto the battlefield. Vimy Ridge. He nearly dies there, too.

War has stormed London, his sanctuary. The bombs fall daily; the Blitz, so they call it. There is a horror festering in Germany, and Aziraphale knows he will soon be forced there. He is running the clock, drawing closer to humans, operatives in the British intelligence. Here he can help, can force-feed Heaven reports about winning souls through new techniques.

Tonight was his opening act. He feels giddy, playing pretend, sucked into these trivial human games. Not trivial, not to him. Heaven is a far-flung galaxy, visible only when sought after. Humans can be touched, can be loved, can be influenced to do good things. Aziraphale sometimes feels more human than ethereal. Death has rattled him. He sees its horrific visage at every turn.

“Sorry to inform you chaps, but you have been, oh, what is that delightful American expression? Played for suckers!” He turns to his companion. He is grinning, unable to help his excited wiggle. She is smiling too, a smile that does not meet frosty eyes.

Too late he realizes he is the one who has been played.

Three guns are jabbed in his face. Ice fills his veins, stopping his heart mid-beat. They are laughing now, tucking his treasures in a bag, and they will be killing him in what should be his home. His lungs constrict, phantom gas filling them, and he reaches a hand out backwards, needing to brace himself. Seeking the blessed pews, a doomed mission of comfort. Maybe he will feel God this time as blood pools in his mouth.

He finds a cool hand instead.

Everything slows, stops. A familiar darkness seeps into his skin, winding up his arm and finding his heart, kick-starting it back to life. One beat, two, that’s it, Angel.

Crowley. Crowley is here.

One of the Nazis is talking; Crowley has added to his name now, information that is drowned out by the presence at his back. The hand has slipped away. Aziraphale’s chest clenches in alarm, until he turns and sees Crowley unable to stand still.

“Consecrated ground,” he winces, “like being on a beach with bare feet, fuck!"

Everything seems blurred, slowed down, with every detail demanding his attention. Crowley is as tall and lean as ever, a perfect picture of a sleek war-time gentleman. Silken hair still short, oh it suits him, just like every other century that seems tailored explicitly for Crowley.

A million words gather behind his lips. 79 years since he’s laid eyes on Crowley. He has felt every one of them. He wants to shake him. He wants to laugh. He wants to cast him out in righteous fury.

“What are you doing here?!” comes out instead.

“Stopping you from getting into trouble!” As if it’s obvious. Shouldn’t even be asked. Paris. Egypt. Italy. Countless other times before, too many to name.

But not Ypres. Aziraphale steps back. He blinks for a moment, and sees clouds of smoggy yellow. Another blink and he is in a church, with a cold metal barrel pressed against his curls. Crowley is smirking. He finds this funny. No waver in his confidence, despite hopping to and fro.

“It’s a pity you both must die,” the traitorous woman says, no hint of remorse in her voice. The safety clicks off. One second and Aziraphale will be meeting Death once again. He feels small and afraid. Human. A shot to the back of the head should be quicker than poison gas. At least this time he will see Crowley.

Crowley’s expression changes as he looks at Aziraphale. He sets his shoulders, standing still. It must be agony; he can tell by the words hissed through clenched teeth. “Alright. Enough fucking around. Say your prayers, not like it’ll do you any good.” His gaze meets Aziraphale, and he wishes the glasses were gone. “Going to need a real miracle for us to survive a stray German bomb.”

A real miracle. Aziraphale glances at his manicured hands. He sees blood underneath the fingernails. They are shaking.

“Aziraphale. Yeah? You with me?” Crowley is fading out of focus. He remembers a French executioner telling him it will be quick. A clean slice, humane, really. He had been annoyed back then. A minor inconvenience.

There’s a strange whistling from above. Poison gas cylinders, raining down like shooting stars. He can still feel the barrel of the gun against his head. He imagines the bullet racing through, bursting into his skull.

“Aziraphale!”

He hears the click of the trigger and he squeezes his eyes shut, not bothering to hide his agony. No pain comes. His head is intact. He swears he heard the snapping of fingers. The German is cursing, and the whistling is growing louder. Hands find his, yanking him closer.

Angel!”

It happens faster than a human could ever process. A burst of energy, enveloping them both, a shield, forged from the Divine. The church explodes around them, fire raining down. His hands are being held, secure, slipping back into the warmth.

It is over before it begins. Crowley is breathing heavily, sweat beading his forehead from the blisters on his feet. He has not let go of his hands, and Aziraphale looks down at them. Exactly as he remembers. Only now a thumb is gently caressing his wrist, finding the pulse, resting there. Crowley’s lips are moving; he’s counting. Aziraphale’s eyes slip shut and counts with him.

It is a long time before either of them speak. The sirens are still wailing. A grateful distraction. Crowley has not stopped counting. He is long past 60. The darkness covers him, slowing his heart, and Aziraphale does not resist.

“You going to tell me what you were doing with a bunch of Nazis?” Crowley’s voice is exactly how he remembers, too. Throaty, and gritty, and inviting. 79 years since they have seen each other. Longer since they’ve touched.

“If you must know,” Aziraphale’s voice sounds torn to shreds. “I was trying to infiltrate them. Make them think I was on their side with-”

Oh.

A lump crawls into his throat, and he’s stepping back. Crowley lets him, though his hands slide down the entire way. His books. Collected over centuries. Kept safe from the world, tucked into his private Eden. Now ash and smoke in the air, too far gone for miracles to retrieve.

“My books.” A broken whisper. He chokes out a laugh. Crowley thinks his books are ridiculous. The unspoken hangs in the air between them; the harsh words and endless years of silence. “They’re gone. They’re... they’ll all be... blown to pieces.”

Angels are not supposed to put stock in material things. But, Aziraphale doesn’t feel very angelic sometimes, not these days. His heart is sliding down out of his chest and into the rubble. A near century of loneliness; books had been his friends. Those books were the best of them.

Crowley moves past him, a grunt, pulling something from the debris and pressing it against his chest. “Little demonic miracle of my own.” It is not lost on Aziraphale it is over his heart. One beat, two, that’s it, Angel. He stands there for a moment, hand splayed against the briefcase. One tiny, material object keeping them apart. Aziraphale is open mouthed, shaking for a very different reason now.

“You-”

“Had me bloody worried there, you idiot. Thought you were going to make me do all the work.” Crowley still hasn’t moved, and Aziraphale notices his cologne is the same. He leans forward an inch, breathes it deep. Crowley’s hand tightens against the briefcase.

“And they... they’re all here?” The trust he once had has been shattered after so many years. After dying alone on a battlefield. Anger licks at the back of his throat, crashing together with an overwhelming emotion that has been buried for millennia. Trumpets sing out in joy. Abandonment screaming in his mind. And Crowley is still there, still within reach, thin lips pursed together with his own repressed memories.

“Yep. Cross my heart.” He removes his hand, and cold rushes to claim the empty space. “Lift home?”

He’s walking away now, but slowly. Aziraphale can catch up if he wants. It is hollow without the darkness, and he folds in on himself, watching the usual swagger become a limp, seeing a strange car gleaming under the streetlights. Crowley had said he didn’t need him. Crowley had allowed him to die.

But, he is trembling from head to toe. His soul has shattered and been put back together with slender fingers. Books pressed against his chest. A finger at his pulse, keeping him close. A bullet dissipating, an impossible feat.

If he turns back, I’ll go. I’ll forgive everything.

His heart has stopped again. Blood slowing in its tracks, sluggish. Another century of silence becomes inevitable with each step Crowley takes. He has so many questions, so much despair. The emotion that has been kept under lock and key begs to take over. Promises forgiveness. A fresh start. Aziraphale resists, eyes never leaving the retreating figure. Crowley is going to leave. They had made it clear where they stand.

“Angel.” He’s turned. Aziraphale clutches the bag tighter to his chest, hardly daring to believe. “Don’t keep me waiting. Feet are fucking killing me.”

His tone is soft, and the dam breaks. Aziraphale’s feet carry him forward, faster, faster. He is hardly aware of what he is doing, only that something inside him has unfurled, light and euphoric. Crowley is holding the door open for him. It almost seems like he’s smiling, lips quirked up at the edges. That shouldn’t be possible. Demons are Hell incarnate. He remembers their last meeting, Crowley’s face contorted with rage.

The lips curl further as Aziraphale pauses, carefully arranging his hat, before lowering himself in this strange vehicle. He’s seen that smile before. So many times. Could Heaven have been wrong?

“London Soho, right?”

“Y-Yes. That’s right. The usual place.” Aziraphale doesn’t drive. Cars are frightening things, too fast, too flashy. What was wrong with a horse and carriage? Crowley’s scent is overwhelming, and Aziraphale is trying to resist sinking into its embrace. “This is yours?”

“Yep. She’s all mine.” He pats it fondly before peeling away, and Aziraphale feels a flare of jealousy.

= = = =

He does not know what compels him to invite Crowley in. Knows less why Crowley accepts. They’re tucked in the backroom, the old telegram a tell-tale heart buried in his desk. He offers Crowley a drink. Not wine; wine is too refined, too grandiose. Aziraphale is a wreck, and he reacts accordingly. Tequila, a wicked delight he had first tried in Mexico.

Crowley can never let a moment pass, quirking an eyebrow at the bottle. “Not exactly your usual.” There’s a playfulness dancing in that sultry voice, and Aziraphale’s stomach back-flips.

“It’s not exactly been a usual day.” He wills his fingers to steady as he pours them both a glass. His mind is pulled in countless directions as he sneaks glances at his guest. Crowley seems thoroughly unruffled, as if 79 years had only been 79 minutes. The hat is resting on the table, and he can see the hair slicked back, effortless.

Where to begin? Why did you come? How did you know where I was? He takes a long sip, relishing in the acrid taste on his tongue. Where the hell have you been? Are you expecting me to apologize? Crowley isn’t lounging like he used to. Elbows resting on his knees, spindly fingers tracing the rim of his cup. The air feels stale, weighed down by countless decades.

Why did you let me die?

His glass is empty, and he doesn’t remember drinking it. He refills it anyway, more than he rightfully should. The books rest beside him, pressed against his side, as if to say they were there, always would be. Darkness lingers on them. They will be stained forever. He pulls them closer. Imagines they’re warm skin instead.

“Got a lot more books, I see,” Crowley starts. He usually does. Has it always been that way? They’re rusty at this dance, tripping over each other’s feet. Aziraphale makes a sound, a cross between a laugh and a sigh, and he takes another long sip. Crowley doesn’t continue, and the sirens fall silent for the first time that night.

“Where are you these days?” He forces the waver from the words. He might be talking about World War I. The long nights in the medical tent, tremors wracking his body, needing to be brave, because angels aren’t meant to feel fear. Crowley’s fingers haven’t stopped moving, endlessly circling the glass.

“Haven’t found the right one yet,” he shrugs, and he clenches his restless fingers into a fist before fishing around his breast pocket. “Got bored of the old place. Stuffy as fuck. Didn’t realize it had gotten so damn uptight when I woke up.” A cigarette is jammed into his mouth, lit with a stroke of his finger.

Sleeping. Something ominous slots into place in his mind. A horrified revelation. But, it’s quickly drowned out by the fluttering in his stomach, his quivering hands. Let him indulge just this once. Let old ghosts be just for tonight. He is so weary from being angry, from being alone.

His eyes zero in on Crowley’s lips. Funny things, cigarettes. Drawing attention to mouths like that. The way the smoke curls lazily in the air, tendrils reaching out towards him, tempting him.

“Sleeping awhile?” his voice sounds odd to his ears. Husky. He can’t stop watching Crowley’s lips, delightfully pink, a perfect ‘O’ with every puff of smoke. Heart beating a violent tattoo against his throat. Too much has happened. World tilting on its axis, not sure where it will end up. Crowley crashing back into his life, saving his books. Ypres seems a distant memory.

“S’pose you could say that.” Another plume of smoke. The air feels charged, a peculiar electricity. Crowley is leaning closer now, one hand clenching his trousers. Aziraphale has not blinked. A veil has been ripped off his vision. Everything thrown into sharp relief. Crowley’s hair redder than he can ever remember. “Got myself a car, though.”

“I saw. That’s not like you. You were never one for personal belongings.” His mind and heart cross swords with one another. Who will win? He wonders what it would be like to inhale that smoke directly from Crowley’s mouth. He’s flushed under the collar, has to stop himself from pulling at it, because Crowley’s sharp eyes see all.

They see all, indeed. Crowley’s elbows have moved from knees to table now. He’s never been so brazen on such little alcohol. Aziraphale should move away. A respectable distance. You never knew who was watching. They still have 79 years to sort through. Crowley hums, and the smoke tickles his nostrils now. From Crowley to him. He shivers.

“Make an exception every now and again. Got her brand new, too. Off the assembly line and everything.” Pride colours his tone and there’s that jealousy again.

“Oh? And when was that?” It’s his turn to be bold. He inhales deeply. He has not checked the books yet. Doesn’t need to. Crowley’s word is worth its weight in gold and that realization is unleashing forbidden fantasies. Crowley notices, eyebrows raised high into his hairline, knuckles white as he clenches his trousers.

“1926.”

Something snaps. A balloon unexpectedly popping; air rushing out of the room and leaving them gasping. Aziraphale recoils, the smoke in his lungs stabbing at him, yellow, and choking, and poisonous. He pushes the table away, tequila sloshing over the edge.

“Put that-that infernal thing out!” Crowley leaps back as if scalded. His expression flips through a thousand different emotions, lips once inviting now twisted into a scowl. He does so, the cigarette crushed out of existence. Arms folded, closed off. They are in St. James Park all over again, a chasm that grows ever wider.

1926. Only eight years after the war. Nothing for them. A cough, a sneeze, a wink. Crowley could rouse himself to buy a car and pour his love into it (demon’s can’t love, they can’t, they can’t!) but he left Aziraphale to die under sulphuric clouds.

“Why did you come tonight, anyway?” He downs his tequila. It’s not enough. He can’t look at that face, the face he would have given anything to see yesterday. “I don’t need you!”

Harsh words dredged up from the grave. Ring in the air like a gunshot, and they’ve hit their mark. Crowley makes a strangled sound, slamming his glass down into fine dust.

Rescuing your ungrateful arse!” Crowley never insults him, not like this, and the chasm is getting wider, a crack in the Earth that splits them in two. Evil oozing out, delighting in this, threatening to subsume them completely. “If I hadn’t miracled away that bullet you’d be up there!” Disgust is evident at the mention of Above and Aziraphale feels as if he’s been slapped. “You just fucking stood there, what the heaven was the matter with you?!”

Aziraphale is on his feet before he can think, clawing at his eyes, he can’t get rid of the gas squeezing his lungs. “Oh-oh why thank you!” He never loses control like this, but it’s all crashing down on him, the horrifying realization of what he feels for Crowley, seeing him after far too long. A hand in his, slotted together, meant to be. Being betrayed, after so much unspoken, that unwritten promise to never let him down.

“Oh bravo, Crowley! Yes, you came tonight, didn’t you!” He’s pacing, hardly aware of it. Belgium, Belgium, all he can see. “Thank you for joining us for this war! Did you enjoy your sleep?! A car is f-far more important than helping me during the Great War!”

“So what?! Another war, humans killing each other, doing what they do best!” He’s on his feet too, the table has tipped over. He doesn’t regret it at all. Shouting over Aziraphale, drowning him out. Thousands of years and it’s never come to this. Aziraphale can’t breathe, knees buckling, and all that surrounds him is a murky yellow. “I’m glad I slept through it, and if you knew any better you would have slept through it too!”

A sword pierces his chest, and Aziraphale is dying all over again. Crowley wields the blade, oh it hurts, it burns. He loves him, and Crowley knows it, and he twists the blade in anyway.

He turns away. Eyes welling up with devastation. He’s speaking, choked words containing pieces of his soul. “You left me, you left me, you didn’t come-” He had pleaded for Crowley. He would have done anything. Told him the truth. Forsworn Heaven. And Crowley hadn’t come.

There’s a moment of silence. Crushing under so much hostility. Crowley is breathing heavily, and Aziraphale is crumbling from the weight of his gaze. He wills himself to speak, to send him away to another century sleep, but the words stick in his throat. He’s not strong enough anymore.

A tentative hand reaches out, finds his shoulder. “What... what are you talking about.” It’s hoarse sounding, scratched raw and red, but the anger has been forced away. “Aziraphale.”

He shakes his head. He can’t. The hand squeezes, gentle. It should not be capable of gentleness. But, it always has been, always will be. Only for him.

“Ypres.” A sob, containing an eternity of torn loyalties.

“Ypres? I... thought I heard something about that. Mustard gas?” A long pause. The next words are careful, cradling a bomb, careful now, the air is flammable. “Angel. Did-”

“I died.” He looks up. He shouldn’t; should turn away and return to unblemished bliss. But, he looks and sees the glasses are gone and yellow eyes staring back at him. He has already been shattered, did not think he had much left in him unbroken, but one look, and he implodes. A fading star, collapsing on its own melancholy.

“I died- and you-you didn’t- you weren’t-”

There is no hesitation. There’s always been hesitation, because the walls have eyes, the ducks have ears. Tonight, however, the world spins differently. Sun rising in the west. The moon shining at daybreak. Crowley gathers him in his arms, flush to his chest, and Aziraphale clings to him. Ypres has sliced his skin a thousand times, taken so much away.

He has dreamt of this, in his most private moments. Reality is much different, much as it always is. Tears soak the expensive suit, and Aziraphale claws at him, desperate, needing to be closer, it’s not enough. Crowley’s heart hammers against his own, attempting to soothe, atone for his mistake. The room dims, and Aziraphale panics, before feathers brush against his cheek, darkness filling up every crevice and it is Divine, it is a Blessing.

It is home.

“It won’t happen again.” A sacred vow, the words stitching him up, making him new. Black thread, interspersed with gold. Lips pressed into his hair, Aziraphale lets out a soft gasp, hot tears slipping down his cheeks, not sure who they belong to.

Tomorrow, he will be sent to Germany. He does not know this yet, but his essence quivers with inevitability. They need him there, need Light to chase out the unfathomable void. Crowley seems to sense this, too. Clutches him closer, hand splayed at his neck, daring to caress, daring to touch. St. James Park fading away.

He will be there in Germany as well. He does not know this yet, either. He will not be sent there, for Hell thinks he has done enough. He will go again, and again, and gather up Aziraphale and tether him to Earth, to himself.

They hold each other until dawn. Crowley sometimes whispers to him, impossible promises. Aziraphale hangs his hope on them, these twinkling lights in the sky. Pulling away, and Aziraphale feels a part of himself is already missing.

Crowley cradles his face, calls him the cleverest, bravest bastard he knows. Armour slotted over his frame, forged from darkness, and it is more splendid than all the jewels on Earth. A feather falls, landing in Aziraphale’s hands. Laid against his skin, Aziraphale claims it.

The air shifts; something is coming, but Aziraphale hangs on. 79 years. He has felt every one of them. It’s too soon, too soon. Let them come. Let them see. He can’t bear to wait another 79 years.

“Don’t go.”

The air trembles, a warning. You never know who is watching. Crowley squeezes his hands; he is safe with Crowley. He wishes he had seen it before. Crowley’s distraught, but they both know what must be done. It’s too dangerous. Too fragile. Can’t risk what has at long last been stitched back together. He hitches up a smirk anyway, for old times’ sake.

“Can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll see you soon. Don’t you worry.”

He curls Aziraphale’s fingers around his feather, lets it linger, just like he used to. More surety in the touch, so much has changed, they both have scarcely processed it. Aziraphale watches him leave, feels his breath return to his lungs, the air clearer than it has been in decades.

Gabriel appears soon after. Tall and beautiful and the epitome of perfection. Germany, until all this is over. Try not to discorporate. An inconvenience, one they can’t afford. Heaven is counting on him, pull out all the stops, carve out a win for our side.

Aziraphale nods, smiles, dutiful. A feather is resting against his chest, knowledge only for two. He is not quite ready, but it will come. Decades later, maybe centuries, but his fate has been sealed in time. There is no hurry, not anymore.

Darkness is a partner that is patient for a dance.