Crowley slept soundly. How could he not? They narrowly avoided a premature End Of All Things, saved humanity —Or, well, help save humanity… At least a little bit?—, and, somehow, the two of them managed to slip in the deceit of the century, get their head offices to lay off their backs for a hopefully long, long time, with a rather plain trick and just a little push in the right direction by a woman that died hundreds of years past.
(And wasn’t that funny. The woman that gladly called herself witch saved their sorry hides, probably not having the slightest clue of what the words she wrote down meant. It made Crowley wonder if that had been a freak accident brought by Free Will, or… If someone Above decided to push her just a tiny bit in the right direction. He soon stopped wondering. Whichever the case might be, it really did not matter very much, to him. He would never get an answer, so why bother?)
So he slept, of course he did. How could he not? The last handful of days had been possibly the most emotionally and physically draining of his entire life, barring the day he Fell. And when you live as long as he did, that is saying something.
He called Aziraphale, first, of course. He’d rather not have the Angel barge in on him like last time he decided to take a nap.
“Oh, dear.” Aziraphale immediately responded, a soft note of concern not hidden by the abysmal quality offered by the ancient phone he insisted using. “Are you quite alright? I was tired myself, I have to admit, after having to keep that form so many hours… Want me to come over, take a look at you?”
“I’m fine.” Crowley replied, rolling his eyes minutely. Not realizing there was a fond tilt to the line of his thin mouth. “I’m just— Tired. After everything, you know? After all that was… Something.”
Aziraphale sniffed primly. “I certainly cannot deny that.” He then declared, mild. “Very well. I will be on the lookout—“
“No need, you worrywart—“
“I will be on the lookout. Just to be safe.” Aziraphale interrupted him, firmer. “If is there anything else I can do for you—“
“Stop by, mist my plants every couple of days, aye?” Crowley did not hesitate. “Just don’t be nice to them.”
Aziraphale laughed like a chime in the wind, in his ear, and that was it.
Surprising exactly no one, Aziraphale had done far more than just mist his plants.
They did shake rather harshly, when he dragged himself in the corridor, scratching his back and yawning, which meant that Aziraphale had definitely been nice to them. Suited Crowley just fine, nothing quite like keeping the greenery in check with fear, when some hope was thrown into the mix as well.
But there was a new entry that stood, unmoving. A bonsai. They weren’t Crowley’s favorite, bonsais. Too small. He much preferred plants with big leaves, lots of green. No doubt, Aziraphale had been enchanted by it. He liked cute, small things. A bonsai was a plant that would probably fit in his stuffy bookshop, sitting by a window, a point of green between the endless amount of dark bound books and the somehow golden light of the place.
Crowley approached it, it’s companions still shaking. He tapped at a tiny leaf with the tip of his left index finger.
“You will learn soon.” He murmured, voice thick with sleep but no less menacing. “How to grow and stay healthy, and then I guess I might give you back. Tiny thing like you, suits him more.”
If the other plants had eyes, they’d probably glare with jealousy at the small tree, now.
It wasn’t just the bonsai, of course. Aziraphale had stocked his usually empty kitchen, an overflowing tea box in the pantry sitting side by side with a tin of the ridiculously expensive cocoa the Angel loved to drink. Bags of handmade biscuits, from the bakery down the streets, surely. Instant ramen.
(Crowley had whispered the idea of instant ramen to the humans in an attempt to piss off a certain food connoisseur he knew, which accidentally resulted in something that could feed broke, working students rather cheaply. Whoopsies. Not his finest moment as a demon, and a lot of work he could not claim to keep the guys below off his back for a bit. It made for good hung-over nibble, though.)
“Oho, now we talkin’—“ He breathed as he opened the fridge and found a case of craft beer. He popped one open with a thumb and took a hearty swig, as he turned around to check the sleek clock hanging from the wall.
It was a quarter past seven in the afternoon, and the date informed him that he slept for two weeks and a half. Not his longest nap, by any means. He thought that, tired as he was, he would sleep far longer.
Not that he minded. He was free— They were free, for the foreseeable future. No offices to answer to, no apocalypse to prevent. Just them, and time. Even with immortality, he was rather happy he could spend more of it with Aziraphale, instead of sleeping for months.
He sauntered toward his office, contentment washing over him. He’d call, tempt Aziraphale to a dinner, as a thank you for keeping his plants watered. He’d say yes, of course, and they could catch up— For how much catching up there could possibly be, after just over two weeks. What are two weeks, really. A blink of an eye.
“I’m afraid I cannot—“
“What do you mean, you cannot?”
He could see Aziraphale nervously chewing on his bottom lip like he was standing right in front of his eyes, maybe shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“Nothing personal, dear!” He replied, genuine torment in his voice. “I just have an appointment, and you would not believe how hard it was to even get it— I had to miracle Mrs. Cartwell’s parrot to stop it from cursing so much… She thought that the poor thing had to have something wrong with it, to say such foul words, but the bird was as healthy as it gets! I tried to suggest to her to speak with her grandson, ask him if he might have something to do with it, and she started cursing me out.” He sighed deeply. “I think I at least did a favor to Dr. Madeson, with that one. In any case, I could only get an appointment for those shots right around supper, so I am afraid I will have to turn you down, this time around, my friend. But I do am very happy that you are awake, of course! Maybe we can meet up for brunch, tomorrow? My treat—“
Crowley, who had been releasing an interrupted, confused low hum from the back of his throat as Aziraphale dumped words over his head, stopped it. Cleared his throat.
“What the hell— Heaven— Oh, whatever. What are you talking about?!”
“Oh…! Oh, yes, of course. Forgive me, you were asleep, after all—“
“Aziraphale, I slept for not even three weeks. That’s nothing! What did you manage to get yourself into, this time around?!”
“Well, no need to sound like that, I say.” Aziraphale replied, sounding affronted. “I did not get myself into anything. It’s more like…. Something stumbled into me, that is all.”
Crowley groaned. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
At nine minutes, thirty seconds, and probably dozens of road rules broken, Crowley braked into a perfectly Bentley-sized spot that seemed to somehow always be free for the taking, whenever he went to the bookshop. The sign on the door said ‘closed’, but he promptly ignored it.
He did not have the time to even call for Aziraphale, before the reason for his strange behaviour made itself known.
There was a big, black cat lazily lying on what free space there was on the counter. It had long fur as dark as night, with an almost copper shine to it under the light, covering it’s body. The cat looked up as the door closed behind Crowley with a jingle, and blinked at him slowly with bright yellow eyes, it’s furry tail raising in a lazy half-moon a couple of times, before it laid back down with a little huff.
“Oh, here you are!” Aziraphale interjected, sounding overjoyed as he hurried down the stairs leading to the loft. “Good morning, dear. Hope you slept well— And I see that you already met— Well.” He stopped by the counter, scratching behind the cat’s ear, who immediately started to purr loudly. “I haven’t quite settled for a name, yet, I’m afraid.”
Aziraphale was smiling up at him with crinkles at the side of his eyes, shining with love and happiness and all that angelic mushy stuff. Crowley took his glasses off, eyebrow arched.
Aziraphale tensed a bit.
“You couldn’t stop crying for days.” Crowley said, flat.
“I know.” Aziraphale sighed, gaze turning melancholic.
“You sounded very firm, too—”
“I know!” Aziraphale interrupted, sounding just a smidge annoyed. “I know, Crowley. I remember. It’s just— Everything is different, now, you know? We— The apocalypse is no more, there is no Great Plan, and we— We are free, now, so I thought—“ He let out a small, terse laugh. “I could try, do something different. Modern medicine has gone so far—“
“How long do cats live?” Crowley asked, sighing softly.
“If well cared for, they can live even up to twenty years of age! Quite marvelous, for creatures this size, don’t you think?”
Twenty years— Barely the blink of an eye, for them.
“You are setting yourself up for heartbreak.” Crowley sighed, shaking his head. Aziraphale’s mouth turned into a thin line, but he didn’t protest.
“In any case—“ He started, clearly steering the conversation toward safer shores. “I cannot help but feel responsible for the poor thing. I kept finding cookies stolen off of my plate, without explanation. I really did not think much of it, I figured it might be mice, wouldn’t be the first time— But about five days after you went asleep, I spotted this little guy.” He was still scratching the cat, having moved from behind the ear to under it’s chin. The cat was still purring up a storm. “It took me a while to coax him out of his shell, and at first I wanted to leave him at a shelter, but— He seems rather content here, doesn’t he? Likes to doze on that sunny spot by the window.” He chuckled, affectionate. “He’s good at keeping bugs at bay, too— I think it would be nice, to keep him around.”
Crowley knew that tone. He knew the decision was already made. He dedicated a small part of his soul to start working on lines to console his friend with, when the cat would inevitably be claimed by death in about twenty years -more probably, less-, and just surrendered himself to this new arrangement.
“Very well.” He said, flat, putting the sunglasses back on. “So, I guess the shots you were talking about on the phone—“
“Vaccines, yes.” Aziraphale confirmed, a bright smile back on his mouth. “It was more challenging that I thought, booking an appointment with the closest veterinary. I was very lucky they took me in when I first managed to get him into a carrier, but I could see how busy they were, so I do not want to impose with unplanned visits, if I can, you know?”
“You miracle-d a potty mouth off a parrot, but can’t miracle an appointment at a more convenient time?” Crowley asked, eyebrow arching once more. Aziraphale sniffed.
“Did the soul of that parrot a favor.” He said, turning his chin up slightly. “Not that animal souls ever get cursed, they are too pure— In any case, I want to do things properly. No cheating.”
“…You are impossible.” Crowley sighed, exasperated. “Fine. Do things your way, I guess.”
“Why don’t you come with me? The animals are very cute to look at, and you can tell me about your sleep.”
“What is there to say, about sleeping?”
“Did you not dream?”
Crowley thought he might have, but he couldn’t really recall. He shrugged, as Aziraphale walked around the counter and bent down, only to re-emerge with a plastic pet carrier, softly putting it down by the cat.
“Can you please get in, dear?” Aziraphale said, barely a murmur. The cat opened one bright yellow eye, thin pupil contracting as he pointed it at Aziraphale. He then turned around and up on four paws, lazily stretched, back arching, and sauntered without a protest inside the carrier. As Aziraphale closed the also-plastic door, the curve of his usual soft smile firm on his mouth, Crowley cleared his throat.
“No cheating, huh?” He then asked pointedly. “Seems awfully obedient, for a cat.”
“He’s just very smart.” Aziraphale replied, no hesitation in his voice.
The animals were cute —What. They were. Bite him—, and there was a surprising variety of them, too, in the small waiting area with plastic seatings. There were cats and dogs, of course. But also a couple of hamsters, a turtle in a shoebox kept on the knees of the young boy that kept petting it’s shell with a single finger, a bunny on a leash intent on chewing on the leg of the chair it’s owner was sitting on, and, surprisingly—
“Huh.” Crowley breathed, looking at the young man sporting a bright blue mohawk, tapping away at his phone, as a ball python lazily rested on his shoulders like the strangest kind of shawl. “That’s a pet I can get behind.”
“Of course you can.” Aziraphale replied, sounding smug, walking with intent toward the counter area, slaloming between dogs attempting to sniff at his legs. The dogs, unsurprisingly, flattened their ears and retreated, as Crowley followed. “Hello, just checking in— Mr. Fell, I’m here for my cat’s vaccinations.” He added, as the young woman behind the counter smiled at him.
“Of course, the doctor will be with you shortly—“ She replied, tapping away at her keyboard. “Have you decided a name, Mr. Fell?”
“I’m afraid not yet.” Aziraphale replied, apologetic. “Would that be a problem…?”
“Oh, the doctor doesn’t mind, but do let us know as soon as you decide. For the records, you know.”
“Of course, thank you very much— We will be waiting, then.”
The young woman eyed Crowley, a brief, knowing smile passing on her mouth, as she nodded. Crowley blinked, unsure of what to make of that. Humans.
“Can’t you really decide for a name?” He asked, as he and Aziraphale sat down on the creaking chairs.
“A name is quite an important thing, is it not?” Aziraphale replied, carefully placing the carrier on his knees. “I do not want to rush it—“
Crowley, who bent down to look through the carrier bars, sniffed. “Fleabag.”
“What?!” Aziraphale replied, affronted. “Certainly not!”
The cat blinked back at Crowley with thin pupils, not very dissimilar from Crowley’s own.
“I am not calling our cat any of that.” Aziraphale interjected, a tone of finality in his voice, just as another young woman opened the door with a number two on it, calling for ‘Mr. Fell’. He stood, chin up, carrying the carrier in both arms.
“Wait… Did you say our cat?” Crowley muttered, a crease between his eyebrows, as he followed suit.
He missed the second knowing smile that young woman behind the counter launched in their direction.
Crowley sighed, patting Aziraphale’s shoulder with slightly tense fingers, as Aziraphale sniffed insistently.
“You know— Mortal things, they go fast.” He then said, vaguely awkward. This wasn’t exactly his strong suit. “He had a good life.”
“Maybe— I could have—“ Aziraphale stuttered, voice water-y. “I could have done more, I could have—“
“Aziraphale— This was not your fault. He was old, already— You treated him as good as anyone could have. It was just— His time.”
“Do you think—“ Aziraphale sniffed again, tears following the wet tracks on his cheeks. “If I ask the Allmighty, maybe—“
Their eyes met. Crowley didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to. Aziraphale seemed to deflate, shoulders sagging, as the wetness in his eyes spilled again.
“I know.” He murmured, strangled. He hugged himself, a nervous gesture that was all too human. “Crowley… I was stupid, was I not?”
“I don’t think you were.” Crowley replied, slowly. “This is what you Angels do. Love.”
“Not— Like this.” Aziraphale replied. “I love… All living things, of course. How could I not, I was made for that, wasn’t I?” A nervous chuckle. “But— Caring so deeply for a mortal creature is… Dangerous.”
“…Not a good idea, yes. I agree.” Crowley sighed. “But…”
This is what makes you… You. He wanted to add. But that sounded dangerously like some kind of acknowledgment that Crowley wasn’t sure he really wanted to face.
Aziraphale was different, from all the other Angels, that was indeed true. Angels, who loved, but did so from afar. Coldly.
It seemed like a conflicting concept. How could one love coldly? And yet, the Angels did.
But not Aziraphale. Aziraphale, who could be ruthless when he wanted to, and yet seemed to love stronger, and warmer, than any other servant of the Allmighty possibly could. Aziraphale, who found an old horse abandoned at the side of the road, probably left behind by an owner that did not want to deal with it’s broken leg. Aziraphale, who healed the animal, foolishly, and then proceeded to get attached to it, even more foolishly. Cared for it for the years the horse had left to live.
It was a happy one, that horse. Crowley could feel it, even if he wasn’t really supposed to.
Aziraphale was staring at him with his watery gaze, waiting for him to complete his sentence. Crowley sighed again, and closed his mouth in a thin line, patting Aziraphale’s shoulder once more.
The Angel finally looked away. “Crowley, if this ever happens again… Do not let me.” He murmured, raw. “I cannot do this a second time. It would destroy me.”
In any other circumstance, Crowley would have teased him for being so dramatic. But watching Aziraphale spill tears in such a human fashion over an animal that didn’t had very long to live in the first place…
It was hard to deny that his declaration might have been true.
“Very well.” Crowley replied, long, thin fingers squeezing. “I will see to that.”
As soon as the carrier was opened, the cat sauntered out, fluffy tail held up high. He made a bee-line for a spot clear of books under the window, where a velvet-y red pillow that must have been placed for him was, and promptly rolled himself up on it, content.
“Oh, c’mon. Just pick one.” Crowley moaned, clearly continuing an ongoing discussion. “I gave you plenty.”
“Plenty, terrible ones.” Aziraphale replied, unfazed. “Give me a good one, and I might agree to it.”
“You will end up calling that cat Cat. Mark my words.”
“I’m not eleven—“
“Wouldn’t have guessed, the way you cannot decide,” Crowley sniffed pointedly. “…Harbinger Of Furry Destruction.”
Aziraphale levelled an almost pitying look at him.
“Oh, c’mon, that one’s a bit funny, you gotta admit.” Crowley protested, letting himself fall heavily on one of the cushy armchair strewn about. “Besides, he will certainly destroy your style.”
“What do you mean?”
“Long-haired black cats and cream coats do not mix well, Angel.”
“Well, it’s a good thing humans invented lint rollers, is it not?” Aziraphale replied, clearly amused. “I guess we will have to skip dinner, considering the time, but can I treat you to some tea and biscuits?”
“Eh, why not.” Crowley then added, as Aziraphale went for the stairs. “C’mon, pick one of my names! If you do, I’ll let you give a name to that bonsai you left at my place.”
“Oh, you noticed, then!” Aziraphale replied, his voice muffled and yet clearly satisfied. “Do you like it?”
“ ’S alright.” Crowley conceded, knowing that Aziraphale was surely smiling smugly to himself, now. “We’ll see how it behaves.”
“Be nice to it.” Aziraphale said, appearing with a full kettle that boiled in a suspiciously short time and a tray with mugs and biscuits on it.
“Not. A. Chance.” Crowley replied, obnoxiously slurring every word, winning a fond chuckle. A comfortable silence sunk on them softly, like a blanket, as they dug in their unusual meal.
The cat did not move from his pillow, a misshapen circle of blackness.
Crowley had to admit, the small creature seemed to fit quite well, by their side.
The contentment Crowley felt about the cat was rather short-lived.
He should’ve knew it, in retrospect. The way the cat seemed utterly indifferent to him when he first stepped into the bookshop.
Most animals did not like Crowley very much. Not that he would ever mistreat them -he was a Demon, not a jerk-, but he also was no Saint Francis, and animals were simpler than humans. Primal. And as such, they could sense Crowley’s nature. Would steer clear of him.
Not all, mind you. Snakes wouldn’t, no surprise there. Bugs. Oh, he wished bugs would steer clear of him, but those tended to be even simpler than mammals, and would go about doing their bug-y things, regardless of Crowley’s demonic presence.
But the cat… Oh, the blasted, bloody cat.
He did not care. He would sit there, all confident and smug, level bright yellow eyes at Crowley as if saying ‘I’m not afraid of you’.
The cat, who would pull Aziraphale’s attention away whenever it seemed like the two were starting to get too engrossed in their usual banter, meowing for whichever reason. The cat, who would roll over and let Aziraphale pet his belly as the Angel cooed words dripping honey, all the while staring at Crowley. The cat, who would make sure to jump into Aziraphale’s lap at every possible occasion, swatting with a clawed paw at Crowley’s leg, if he dared to try scoot closer to the Angel.
Aziraphale would laugh, at that, blindly naive. “He does like to play with you, does he not?”
“Sure.” Crowley replied through gritted teeth, glaring at the cursed animal, who glared back.
The cat wouldn’t let Crowley pet his belly, ever. Or let Crowley touch him, in general. He would never purr for him, or sneak around his legs fluidly, butting his head against his shins like he would do with Aziraphale. The cat would make sure to staple himself to Aziraphale’s side the second Crowley stepped into the bookshop, and then stare at him from the window when Crowley would leave.
The cat… The cat was waging war for Aziraphale’s attention.
And he was winning.
“I wonder if they would let me take some leftovers…” Aziraphale sniffed. “I guess these kinds of restaurant don’t really do doggy bags, do they.”
“…What.” Crowley replied, not an inflection in his voice, a fork half-way to his mouth.
“Oh, you know… Maybe I can bring some home. For the cat.” Aziraphale explained, confirming Crowley’s worst suspicion. “Oh, I really ought to find a name, calling him ‘the cat’ feels so impersonal…” He added with a sigh, fingers resting on his cheek in a pensive pose.
Aziraphale wanted to take leftovers from a price-y, high-end restaurant. For a cat.
“Really.” Crowley simply said, in the same flat tone. Aziraphale blinked.
“Well, if I get to eat such delicious things, I think it’s only fair he also does, don’t you think?”
“Huh-huh.” Crowley let out, not really moving his jaw. He then snapped his fingers. “I guess now they do have them. Doggy bags.” He added, still flatly. Aziraphale smiled brightly, clearly none-the-wiser.
“Oh, thank you so much, dear.” He said, affectionate. “I’ll go speak to them, then.”
Crowley watched as Aziraphale made his way toward the closest waiter, a small skip in his step. He then stabbed his penne with more force than necessary.
“Why am I even helping that stupid sack of fur winning, anyway.” He muttered to himself.
The plants were the only ones that knew of his troubles.
How could they not, really. It wasn’t like Crowley had anyone else to talk to, besides Aziraphale. Sure, since the not-apocalypse there were those humans. The descendant of Agnes and her skittish boyfriend. The lady Aziraphale briefly possessed and Shadwell. Adam and his young friends. Crowley guessed he could call them— Something.
Not friends. Friend was a word with a certain amount of meaning, for him. Acquaintances. He could call them that.
It was more than he called any human, before. That had to count for something.
(Not that he’d mind, calling a human ‘friend’. But, as Aziraphale put it, getting attached to mortals was a dangerous thing. And Crowley… Dealing with that was scary. It would feel like Falling again.)
Of course, his fellow Demons weren’t even in the question to begin with. So, he had Aziraphale, the plants, and a limited number of humans.
Aziraphale: The bloody cat is his. Bad mouthing him to the Angel; Not a good idea.
The humans: Shadwell would suggest an exorcism, very likely. Crowley highly doubted the cat was possessed, for how annoying he was. Anathema… Would probably go look into Agnes’ book. The kids would surely laugh at him for his stupidity.
The plants: Can’t speak, only listen. Will shiver with fear whenever he’d growl, pissed off. The perfect audience.
The plants it is, then.
“..And then—“ He was ranting, pacing back and forth like a caged lion, leaves bobbing and shivering in the air he kept moving around with abrupt arm movements. “The furry bastard sinks his claws into my calf, and Aziraphale laughs! He laughs! He’s so bloody blind for that stupid, little jerk, and—“ He growled, teeth grinding. “I thought I should keep count of how many times I’m losing to the cat, and then I thought I really should not, but I guess the idea was there and now I’m keeping tally anyway! Why me!”
The plants did not answer. Obviously.
“We are like— Twenty-three to zero.” Crowley admitted, running thin fingers through his already messy hair. “I’m losing to a cat!”
‘What are you losing?’ The plants could ask, if they could speak. Which they couldn’t.
“Aziraphale!” Crowley answered anyway. “It’s like, he only has eyes for the blasted thing, and—“
‘And?” The plants pushed, gently. Which they would never be, toward Crowley.
“And— He—“ Crowley’s shoulders sagged. “I should’ve stopped him.” He added, voice lower and subdued. “I should’ve done as he told me. Not letting him do this again. Twenty years, if he’s lucky, and that cat will be gone, forever. And he will be heartbroken.” He sighed, deeply. “Why did I let him do this?”
‘Because you love him.’ The plants replied in a chorus. Which did not exist. Because plants do not have voices to chorus with.
Crowley turned around with eyes bright of a fury so strong not even the dark glasses could keep it hidden. The leaves shook.
“I think I have decided the name.”
“Is that so.” Crowley replied, sipping his starbucks loudly. Too sweet. This was the last time he’d let Aziraphale convince him to drink one of those sugar-y monstrosity.
“Yes.” Aziraphale confirmed, sipping much more quietly. “I’m going to be calling him… Crawl.”
Crowley stopped walking. It took Aziraphale seven steps, before realizing and turning around, blinking in a clearly confused manner.
“Crawl.” Crowley said, slowly, as the sidewalk crowd walked around them, some muttering about bloody tourists not knowing spacial awareness. “Crawl.”
“Yes.” Aziraphale repeated, tilting his head on a side oh-so slightly. “Is that wrong?”
“Well, it took me quite some time, before I finally discovered what he was.” Aziraphale said, pensive. “He was very good at crawling around unseen. And he still does that, you know? Slides in the tightest spaces only to pop by my side whenever. He seems to be liking it, surprising me. I think it’s quite the adept name, do you not?”
If Crowley had been in the right state of mind, he might have been able to discern the frankly inordinate amount of weight behind that statement. An Angel’s passive communication. But in that moment, he was too busy doing a small, internal dance to really catch on.
Aziraphale was naming the cat after him. After Crowley.
“Sure.” He said, sounding utterly unfazed. “If you like it.”
Aziraphale said nothing, just smiled that small, secretive smile of his. By the time they got back to the bookshop, the thirty-something to one tally already did not taste as sweet as it did when Crowley first added that single point on his side.
It only tasted of the bitter knowledge of how much losing the newly baptised Crawl would soon hurt his best friend.
That said, while a cat’s lifespan counted as the blink of an eye, for their immortality, Crowley did not exactly expect for it to happen so soon.
Aziraphale’s eyes looked dangerously water-y, when he turned around. Crowley had welcomed himself in the bookshop, as he usually did, finding a clearly frenzied Angel running all over the place, sending stacks of books levitating into the air with a terse hand movement, only to groan and put them down, moving to the next spot.
“Oh, Crowley—“ Aziraphale stammered, blinking, making the thin layer of tears over his eyes wobble dangerously. “It’s… I think one costumer must’ve left a window open and… Maybe Crawl went out, I— I c-can’t find him anymore—“
“Hey hey hey—“ Crowley rushed in, trying to sound soothing. “Calm down, I’m sure he’s around here, somewhere. Found a nice, secluded spot to sleep in. Cats don’t like strangers very much, do they? If you had customers over, he probably just decided to hide. I’m sure he’s going to pop out at any moment.”
Aziraphale sniffed, fingers twisting anxiously against his chest. Crowley sighed.
“Look— I’ll go take a look around the neighbour, but I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you… I don’t know, try shake that packet of treats he likes so much? Might lure him out.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that—“ Aziraphale exhaled, clearly trying to calm himself down. “Very well, yes, I— I will do that, and you—“
“Taking a look around. I’ll be right back.”
Crowley managed to wait until he was out the door and down the stairs, looking around as he walked with long strides, before hissing through his teeth.
“Bloody cat, where are you?! You don’t get to just— Waltz in in his life and then disappear as you please—“ He growled, balling both hands into nervous fists repeatedly. “That’s not how it works! You are supposed to stay in, leave cat hair all over the place and look cute, not—“
Not root your presence into his heart, only to rip it away and leave behind the pain and suffering of a foolish Angel that Crowley had then to deal with—
But no matter how much he cursed under his breath, how many bushes he checked and under how many cars he looked, Crawl seemed nowhere to be found. As he made his way back to the bookshop, shoulders heavy, he found himself— Not praying, never that, but hoping, that the stupid, furry face really never left the bookshop.
Short-lived hope, that promptly got destroyed once he stepped back in, only to find an utterly dejected Aziraphale sitting on one of the armchairs, shoulders slumped and a pack of treats in his hand, fluffy black tails nowhere to be seen.
It was possibly worse than the horse had been. Having to deal with a easily prone to tears Aziraphale, back then, sucked royally, but at least tears were a sign that the Angel was dealing with the grief, step by step. Crowley had never been good at the whole… Consoling thing, but at least he could offer brief touches to let Aziraphale know he was there, back then.
But now… It was like Aziraphale was pretending nothing ever happened in the first place, and that was somehow far worse.
After a couple of days, the cat’s stuff had disappeared. No more bowls in a corner of the kitchen, no fluffy pillow in the sunny spot by the window, no stuffed toys strewn about— Nothing. As if the cat had never been there. Aziraphale would go on with his usual routine, but he looked— Off. Like a lightbulb suddenly being much dimmer than usual. Even his scarce, rare clientele seemed to have noticed. And if he wasn’t fooling the humans, he could hardly fool Crowley himself.
“Are we going to talk about it?” Crowley suddenly snapped one night as they sat with a bottle of finely aged brandy in the middle of them. Aziraphale blinked.
“The cat.” Crowley continued, relentless even in front of the tiny flinch that shook Aziraphale. “You can’t go on like this, Aziraphale.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about—“
“What, you gonna pretend the bloody thing was never even here?”
“That’s… No, I’m not doing that.” Aziraphale sighed, putting down his glass with measured, slow movements. “I’m just— I was stupid.”
“Is that so.” Crowley drawled, eyebrow arching just a tiny bit.
“Yes.” Aziraphale replied, firm, and yet looking like a chastised kid. “I shouldn’t— Have grown fond of him in the first place. I should’ve just taken him at the pet shelter as I first thought. I was being silly, pretending this time around things would be different just— Just because of some changes.”
“Mh-mh.” Crowley replied with, an universal way of saying ‘go on.’, before taking a methodical sip, golden eyes pointed at his friend from behind the glasses.
But Aziraphale did not go on. He closed his mouth in a thin line, instead, and then launched at Crowley what looked dangerously like a reproaching glare.
“I asked you to stop me from doing this again, back then, did I not?”
“Excuse me?!” Crowley spat out, after almost choking -in a figurative way- on a sip of brandy. “Are you saying this is my fault?!”
Whatever took over Aziraphale, in that moment, seemed to promptly leave as the Angel sunk back into his armchair.
“No, of course not. You did remind me, after all.” He muttered, eyes not quite pointed at Crowley. “The truth is… That by the time you woke, I already grew attached to Cr— The cat.” He added, stumbling, as if saying ‘the cat’ instead of the name he was given would change anything. “Maybe, had you been there the day I discovered him— Things would be different.”
“Ssso— It’s not my fault, but it kind of is?”
“No, Crowley, no.” Aziraphale let out, with a joyless chuckle. “No, that is not what I am trying to say. It was what it was, it’s no one’s fault.”
“…Then what is, that you are trying to say?” Crowley inquired, softly, after long seconds of stretching silence.
“…I don’t really know.” Aziraphale replied, smiling at him with a sad crease in the middle of his eyebrows.
As life would have it, the cat came back. It came back crawling, Crowley would have said ironically, hadn’t he been extremely relieved when the furry little bastard jumped in from a window like he owned the place, fur matted and looking far thinner that he had been when he went missing almost a month prior.
“Crawl!” Aziraphale exclaimed, his voice thick with relief as he immediately scooped up the animal in his arms. Crawl started to purr in earnest. “Oh, I was so worried— Look at you, you lost so much weight! Oh, I have to call, take an appointment right away—“
“Let’s go.” Crowley sighed, taking the Bentley’s keys out of his pocket. Aziraphale blinked at him. “They take walk-ins, don’t they? Let’s just go get him checked right now.”
“Oh— Oh, of course, I’ll just— Go get the carrier—“ Aziraphale exhaled, clearly in a tizzy, as he spun on the tip of his feet, looking around like the carrier would magically appear out of thin air —which, all things considered, might.— “I— Yes. Carrier.”
And as Aziraphale went up the stairs, still carrying the fluffy menace, Crowley’s eyes met the cat’s. Their eyes were similar, it was undeniable. And maybe they were similar in other aspects, as well. With a frown, he pointed his index and middle fingers at his own eyes, before turning them toward the cat.
I’m watching you.
He would’ve liked to put the fear of Crowley into him, as well, so he won’t dare trying to pull off another disappearing act. But he doubted Aziraphale would appreciate him yelling at his cat that just came back after being AWOL for almost a month. He’ll have to do with just that.
The cat blinked slowly at him, not a trace of challenge in his bright yellow eyes.
“It’ll pass, don’t you worry.”
Crowley blinked, as he stood with his hip cocked against the counter. He tried to follow, when Aziraphale was invited into room number two once more by Dr. Madeson, the both of them immediately falling into a tick discussion about cat habits and whatnot, closing the door behind them before Crowley could also get in.
He did not take it personally. His presence, or lack thereof, would hardly change anything. So he leaned against the counter, arms crossed… And then the receptionist spoke.
“This— Moment. It will pass. It’s normal, for first time pet owners.” She said, smiling up at him. “When me and my boyfriend got our dog, for a while it was like he forgot I even existed— I did not hold it against him, he wasn’t malicious, just— Adjusting to now having to care for a defenseless new life that became part of ours. After a bit he relaxed, and we got a new routine that included our pet. I’m sure your husband will do that too, soon.”
Crowley spluttered, almost sliding off the counter. “What— No, we—“
The young woman patiently waited, her thin eyebrow arching just a tiny bit.
“We are not— Like that. Just… Friends.”
“Is that so.”
Crowley blinked, at having the deadpan, short sentence, being turned against him, for once.
The way she smiled back then, when they came for the vaccines— Oh, boy, she thought they were married then, already?
“Yes, that is so.” Crowley replied, firm, because putting aside the ridiculous, impossible thought of the two of them promising eternal loyalty to each other into the House of the Lord (even though the idea wasn’t too bad— Granted, he’d have to spend the ceremony dancing on tip-toes, which would ruin the moment, surely—)(Oh, wait, secular marriages were a thing, now, weren’t they?)(Wait, no. Stop thinking. This is a bad train of thought. Do not embark), Crowley was very firmly, stubbornly sure of one thing.
That was not an idea he should ever ponder on. Ever. Angels and Demons mingling in all too human fashion— Absolutely crazy. They were enough of an outlier with their unlikely friendship that somehow survived through the centuries. But that? That might have been a step too far, even for him.
And yeah, ok. He did love Aziraphale. Denying it, at that stage, was a moot point. His heart broke when he thought he’d lost him, and they both knew it. He begged him to just… Leave, just the two of them, in a desperate attempt to cling to each other in the face of The End Of All Things. They faced their kin side by side, supporting each other.
He allowed Aziraphale to keep the stupid cat because he could see how happy it made him, even if Crowley knew it would be trouble. He allowed Aziraphale to do whatever he pleased, because there was pretty much nothing he’d ever deny to him.
Because he loved him.
But— Did Aziraphale love him back? He loved Crowley, of course, he knew that— But did he love him the same way Crowley did, in that almost suffocating way?
(And yes, he knew the way he pretty much sold his soul to the Angel wasn’t healthy… But he was a Fallen who could never fully embrace his role as a Demon, who abhorred the thought of really hurting a living thing, and that was… Preposterous, to say the least. He was never cut for the Demon life, so, he guessed that at the end of the day, loving an Angel with all his being was possibly the least strange thing about himself. And he was mostly ok with that.)
So, Crowley had long accepted his love for Aziraphale, and rolled with it— What drove him insane was how he could never figure out if Aziraphale felt the same way. Because Angels love, it’s their thing, and when you know that the one you care for is capable of loving all— The lines become blurry, and you can’t figure out if the way he cares for you is simply because of his role, of who he is, or if he claimed a selfish love for another individual of his own volition. And that’s… Terrifying.
No, Crowley shouldn’t ever ponder about any of this, for his own sanity… Except it was exactly what he was doing, right at that moment. Pondering over it.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake—“ He muttered through gritted teeth, tiredly massaging his temples. The receptionist sniffed pointedly.
“Well, good luck, then.” She said, almost maternal. Crowley wanted to glare at her, but he felt too tired for even that.
He thought that Aziraphale had been obvious in his moping, when the humans seemed to notice it— And clearly, he hadn’t been the only obvious one. If this woman, who saw Crowley only once before and didn’t even speak to him, could figure him out so easily…
Oh, heavens. There was no chance Aziraphale did not figure out his feelings already. Maybe… The fact that he said nothing, so far, was a kind way to shot him down. Clearly, Aziraphale wasn’t interest into anything more other than friendship.
Crowley let himself fall on one of the free chairs that whined just a bit under him, an unhappy tilt to his mouth and discontent washing over him.
He would hum and nod in the right places, as Aziraphale went on about how the cat was fine, just a bit underweight, and how easy it would be to bring him back up in perfect shape with the right food, about how exams thankfully came back clean, the cat did not pick up any illness—
And despite the fact Crowley was deploying his best ‘I’m listening’ skills, Aziraphale seemed to interrupt his relieved monologue abruptly, a small crease appearing between his eyebrows as he stared at Crowley’s profile.
Crowley pointedly did not look in his direction. Not that it’d made any difference.
“Are you… Alright?”
“Shouldn’t I be?”
“You seem… Bothered.” Aziraphale’s voice was much more subdued, after he hesitated for a couple of seconds on the right word. “Are you sure everything is fine?”
“Hunky-dory.” Crowley replied, slurred, and then flinched minutely. He knew he did not hold the sarcasm back, with that. At all.
Aziraphale fell silent, the crease still firmly lodged between his eyebrows, and now his mouth turning in a thin line. Even if Crowley still stubbornly refused to take his eyes off the road -Aziraphale should be glad about that, really— he still noticed out the corner of his eyes. And when Aziraphale wore that expression, multiple things could follow. Holier-than-thou denial. A stern disapproval. A worried inquiry.
And sometimes, somehow, all of the above at the same time.
But not this time around. What followed was a fleeting touch, like being tickled by feathers, and then a firmer one, as Aziraphale put his fingers over Crowley’s, tight around the steering wheel.
“…I must thank you.” He murmured, with a softness in his voice it made Crowley’s little, shriveled, demonic heart swell as if he just witnessed the birth of the cutest baby lamb ever. “For… A lot of things.”
Crowley wanted to turn his hand around and entangle their fingers together. Savour the feeling of holding Aziraphale’s hand. Really holding it, not sharing a hasty handshake over an agreed arrangement, nor a convenient body-swap. Really hold it, squeeze his palm gently, run his thumb over Aziraphale’s knuckles—
“I know you don’t— Approve, of this situation. But, regardless, you’ve been by my side with nary a complaint, and I— I’m not quite sure I deserve such a profound loyalty.”
Loyalty. He thought of loyalty barely two hours ago, as his traitorous imagination made him think about marrying the bloody Angel.
Crowley squirmed uncomfortably. “C’mon, now. You’ll make me sound like a good guy.”
Aziraphale’s hand was still over his. He was smiling.
“You’ve always been a good guy, to me.” He said, easily, a surprisingly rough thumb slowly following the harsh lines of Crowley’s bone-y knuckles.
Somehow, Crowley managed not to shiver.
“Whatever you say.” He replied, instead, sounding utterly unfazed. Aziraphale’s fingers lingered for a few more instants, before retreating softly.
The rest of the drive went by in complete silence, Aziraphale looking out the window as he sat far more slouched than usual, clearly content with the state of beings.
He must be, Crowley figured. The silly cat was back, after all.
It was probably stupid of him, to build this rivalry with the pet inside his head. The cat would be but a fleeting presence in their lives. Crowley figured he could let him hoard Aziraphale’s attention. Be kind to him.
That, and he felt the distinct need of going home and spend some months licking his metaphorical wounds, now that he somehow managed to open up that box full of thoughts he definitely did not want to face, only because a receptionist at a veterinary office assumed the two of them were married.
It wasn’t the most solid of box, that one, to say the least.
“Thank you so very much, dear.” Aziraphale said with the usual warmth he reserved for Crowley, as he climbed out the Bentley, carrier in arms, and walked around so he could stand by Crowley’s open window. “Want to come inside? We could order some take-out—“
“I think I’ll just… Call it a day.” Crowley replied, mildly. Go home and drink myself in a stupor. That, he did not add.
Aziraphale looked at him with something indecipherable in his eyes. He’d look at Crowley like that, from time to time, which Crowley couldn’t quite discern the meaning of— But it was fine. They were so different, it was fair some miscommunication might happen, from time to time… And to him, the mystery added to Aziraphale’s irresistible charm.
Except, he was just about to find out what that look meant, none the wiser.
“Crowley—“ Aziraphale’s hand was on his jaw, now, fingers like the wings of a butterfly. He bent down, as Crowley turned toward him so fast his neck creaked.
He could not ask ‘What?’, nor Aziraphale added any more words. Because he was now leaning in through the open window, tilting Crowley’s face toward him with a delicate touch on his chin, pushing a chaste, but long kiss against his lips.
“See you tomorrow.” Then Aziraphale said, now standing once more by the side of the Bentley, crow’s feet at the side of his eyes as he smiled warmly.
Crowley stared, mouth slightly open, and mind nothing but white noise. He kept staring as Aziraphale climbed the brief steps up to the door, turned once more to look at him and let out a little giggle, and then elbowed the door open as to not shake the carrier more than necessary.
Crowley stared a minute more at the closed door, and then his brain finally rebooted. (Blue screens of death, another invention of his. Surely, that was what just happened to his brain, right that moment.)
“Aziraphale!” He barked, getting off the car and slamming the door with more force than necessary. “What was that?!”
No answer came, obviously, so he called again, louder. “Aziraphale!”
One of the windows of the first floor loft opened, and Aziraphale leaned out a bit, resting his elbows on the windowsill with the look of the proverbial cat that ate the canary. “Yes, dear?”
Crowley approached, craning his neck to look up at him. “What even was that?!”
“What do you think it was?” Aziraphale replied mildly, lips curling a bit more into a smile.
“What— You— I—“
“Tell you what.” Aziraphale interject in front of his blabbering, still speaking with a tone that suggested they were discussing the weather. “You come by tomorrow and we can… Negotiate the terms of our arrangement anew. How does that sound?”
“Well… I think that, at this point, our old arrangement does not have a reason to be anymore, do you not?” Aziraphale shrugged. “So… Negotiating.”
“…You… Really are a bastard, you know that, right?” Crowley finally managed to string together a proper sentence, as a smile opened on his mouth. Aziraphale laughed.
“That makes me worth knowing, according to a certain someone.”
“I take it back.” Crowley immediately quipped back, still smiling.
“No, no you don’t.” Aziraphale said, joyful, and with the self-assurance of someone that held the truth in a tight leash. “See you tomorrow, Crowley.”
“…Yeah.” Crowley exhaled, softly, after the window had closed behind a still smiling Aziraphale. “See you tomorrow.”
Aziraphale sniffed, again. Crowley could see how he was working his throat, surely gulping down a sob. He quietly rubbed his back, and Aziraphale leaned against him, resting his head on Crowley’s shoulder with a trembly sigh.
“I think he was a bit like you.” Aziraphale finally said, voice thick. “Crawl, I mean.” He added, as if there was the need to specify, when the both of them were standing in front of the little urn containing the ashes of their beloved pet.
When Crowley had ordered it, he specified what must be printed on the side. He could see the slight questioning look in the man taking his order, but he said nothing as he wrote down on his agenda. The urn was perfect, with quite the artistic rendition of Crawl and two feathery wings on his back, a white one and a black one.
“Yeah. I think cats and snakes might be more alike that one would suspect.” Crowley agreed softly, still rubbing Aziraphale’s back, winning a brief, water-y chuckle. “…I’m going to miss the little guy.” He added, almost a whisper.
Aziraphale hummed, rubbing his cheek against Crowley’s shoulder. “Me too.” He then added, subdued. “But… I don’t regret it.”
“Keeping him. Loving him. He was happy, up until the last moment, I could feel it.” Aziraphale replied, voice turning a bit more firm. “This pain we are sharing… I think… It’s what makes us— Well, us.”
“Caring for a mortal thing… Yeah.” Crowley agreed, hand stopping on Aziraphale’s lower back. “Not a lot of our— Buddies would do that.”
“Call ‘em that.” Aziraphale muttered, somewhat annoyed. A brief smile pulled at Crowley’s mouth. “But— Yes, that is what I meant. So— I don’t regret it. At all.”
“Me neither.” Crowley said, as he shifted his weight from a foot to the other, and turned around to face Aziraphale.
Aziraphale blinked up at him, with tears still hanging at the corner of his eyes, and an expression mid-way between deep-sedated sadness and quiet acceptance on his face. Crowley put a palm on his cheek, thumb gently drying a tear away. That was enough to make a tiny smile emerge.
They would ride the grief together, and come out on the other side stronger than before. The unlikely duo, the too-kind Demon and a-bit-of-a-bastard Angel, standing side by side, now closer than ever before. And then they would take the plunge once more, and yet again care too much for a mortal thing, and suffer when they will inevitably lose it.
It suited them just fine.