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Interdependence

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What they don’t tell you about Falling is, well, everything you would need to know. No one talks about what it’s like. Not in Heaven (they wouldn’t really know, now would they) and certainly not in Hell (not much heart-to-heart happening down there). Obviously it’s horrifying, but that summary doesn’t really cut it, in Crowley’s opinion.

It was for reasons of Falling that Crowley had woken up from his century-long coma a hundred years ago.1  He was having a lark, dreaming and all that, until he dreamed of Falling. This was not uncommon, and if he was lucky, he could control that dream, and actually Fall upwards to give Heaven the finger or flap his white wings before they were barbecued. But that time he had dreamed in a loop. Over and again he would arrive in Heaven where someone (Gabriel, Michael, once it was Lucifer, once even Hastur) would smile at him with the same creepy, passive-aggressive smile, and he would feel the weightlessness before the plunge, and then his wings caught fire, and the flames crept up his spine and leapt from feather to feather to feather until both wings were singed and dripping with blood that was curdling until it was black as the universe around him, and it was oppressively hot, just absolutely scorching, as he fell like a star from the sky. He plummeted down down down . In the dreams he always went through the Earth—just smashed right through the desert, the molten core, everything—and landed in Hell, and fell through that, too, until he was suspended among the stars, writhing and shivering, white-hot pain racing through his body, and then he would start back again in Heaven with the Judgment, service with a smile. Then the screaming, thrashing, the pungent scent of burning hair and feathers and flesh, the whole grand production.

This time the dream was a little different.

For one, it was definitely Gabriel who sent him through, and this time he said, “Shut your stupid mouth and die already,” with his lips curled in disgust, which felt a bit like ordering a hamburger at the counter and getting a “fuck you” in return. For the Earth portion, he was driving the Bentley at 110 mph and it was also on fire. In Hell, Satan looked a lot different from his days Up There. Oh, and most importantly, Crowley’s body wasn’t his fucking body . Aziraphale was Falling, and it was all Crowley’s fault.

In his flat, in Mayfair, in the year 2019 if you were most humans and 6019 if you were immortal, Crowley lurched out of bed in a panic and stumbled across the bedroom, bumped into the doorway and slid against the wall until he landed on the floor. Here he sat shaking, pupils dilated to saucers; he could hardly see, save for a hazy mixture of light and shadow that looked distinctly like flames. His back—his angel's wings, he thought, they're gone —pressed against the concrete wall, he sank to the floor and curled into himself, knees folded to protect his body and arms upright to shield his face. He hid beneath the large, vibrant leaves of his plants, who didn’t know how to feel about their tyrant cowering beneath them, sobs and whimpers wrenching free from his throat. A fern in the corner drooped in sympathy, which ordinarily would have prompted Crowley to make an example out of the insubordinate weed. Now, he didn’t even notice.

“Ssstop, ssstop…” came a small, broken voice that sounded quite like Crowley’s, but other than the plants, no one was there to confirm whether it actually belonged to him. Crowley would’ve denied it, of course, but he was a little busy Falling for the seven hundred and twenty-first time. Approximately.

After an eternity or an hour, Crowley began imagining that Aziraphale was guiding him up by the shoulders, righting him, gently pulling his arms away from his tear-stained face and murmuring pleasant nonsense like: “Oh, Crowley . It’s all right, I have you now, you’re all right.” The imaginary angel held on tight as he beckoned Crowley forward on legs like a newborn foal’s. “Yes, let’s get up off the floor, it’s much too cold and hard down there. That’s right, come now. I don’t suppose you’re shaking with the cold, hm? No, I shan’t think so.”

It would occur to Crowley later that he wasn’t, in fact, imagining this.

Aziraphale had actually come into his flat, helped him up off the floor, sat him on the bed, laid him down, and miracled a soft, downy quilt to cover his friend. Crowley, not yet processing these events to comprehension, fell back asleep.

Aziraphale decided that sleep would do him good. He was no stranger to anxiety, and Crowley needed a chance to calm down after an episode as severe as that. It was a strange thing, panicking as an ethereal being. It wasn't as if his heart had a tempo to speed up or his breathing a rhythm to become perforated with gasps.2 No, it was more of a…an anguish, and he had felt it rolling off Crowley in waves. And Aziraphale did not like suffering. Obviously. 

The angel busied himself in the kitchen, which, to his disappointment, was quite barren. Crowley didn't eat much, and when he did—well, it just wasn't suitable for a time like this. No, he needed…a home-cooked meal, something nice , and Aziraphale decided he would provide just that. 

Similar to the way he sat, when sleeping Crowley normally sprawled out like a starfish on his silk sheets, but at this moment, he lay somewhat twisted up and small. When he finally stirred, Crowley squinted at the bright, almost heavenly light streaming in through his windows. He shut his eyes and groaned at the throbbing in his head. Then he sat up, vertebrae cracking like machine gun fire, and flinched as a sharp pain seized him.

Aziraphale—what was he doing here?—walked in and, finding Crowley awake, smiled brightly. “There,” he said, triumphant and satisfied. “How are you feeling?”

“Nngh,” said Crowley. His head felt heavy, and he clutched at it with both hands. “Been better.”

“Naturally. After a spell like that, no one would feel right as rain, not at first, but with a bit of food and in due time...” 

Aziraphale was rambling, and Crowley was swimming in the goo of his own mind. The events prior were coming back slowly and in pieces, like fitting together the jagged edges of a broken mirror. Had he looked into a mirror at that moment, he would've seen that he looked nearly as jagged and broken as he felt. Crowley pressed his palms into his eyes, which felt all crusty and throbby. Not normal. “Angel,” he said wearily, “what…what exactly…are you talking about? What the Heaven happened to me?”

“Mm?” the angel pipped, clearly not prepared to explain that part. “Well. You see. It’s a- I was a little late, so I’m not quite sure. You- you were in the hall, and I- well, I thought you might’ve been in danger, so I had a look around your flat.”

“I was,” Crowley lied. Granted, at the time, it did feel like he was in danger.

Aziraphale gasped, eyes widening.

“Don’t worry, I scared 'em off.”

“But- but why… If you did scare them off, why- you were under the fern.”

Crowley grunted.

“Why would you…”

“Why would I what .” Crowley could feel his own defenses rising. He sat up tall, poised before the potential threat. Predatorial slitted pupils were insulated by irises that filled his eyes with an unsettling amber. These eyes did seem to force Aziraphale to look away, more often than not, and now was no exception.3

"There's nothing to be ashamed of," Aziraphale said quickly—a nervous smile tug-of-warring with his lips. "There are lots of lovely books about anxiety and similar matters. They argue that perceived danger feels just as real as, er, real danger. I recommend a stunning read by—" 

Embarrassment burst in Crowley like Hellfire."What are you implying? Spit it out, angel!"

"That you, by my best account, were having a panic attack. They are very common and equally as treatable, and it's best not to generalize, but—"

"No. No. I told you it was real."

"Yes, but I can understand that one may feel the need to cover one's tail, as it were."

"You're saying I'm lying."

"What I'm saying is if it really was intruders, you would tell me who it was and what they were doing to make you cry!"

"Get out," growled Crowley. He rose shakily, pushing on the mattress with one hand; pointing a long finger at Aziraphale with the other. His golden eyes blazed. 

Aziraphale scoffed. “I can’t. The bread is still in the oven, and it won’t be done for twenty minutes, so if you can wait until then—”

“I said, GET OUT . GO HOME, AZIRAPHALE. To your ssstupid little ssshop with all your bloody booksss! Why- why don’t you go and read up on how to be a better angel? The kind that doesssn’t get all friendly with demonsss, like the idiot you are!”

Aziraphale was absolutely appalled and more than a little indignant. “Now, Crowley, you can’t just go around— I will not take orders from you! I am only trying to help! If you would just LET ME—”

“You know what, guesssss what? You’re NOT HELPING. You’ve made everything worssse.”

“Well, fine! Fine then. I’ll- I’ll go. I won’t stay where I’m not needed. Or- or wanted, evidently.” Aziraphale turned on his heel and stormed out. He even slammed the door, which wasn’t nearly as satisfying as he thought it might be.

Crowley flinched at the slam, which extinguished his fiery anger. He had fucked up. It was like Falling all over again, but this time he was losing something really important, and that’s when his eyes welled up again. With a groan that resembled a heavy, creaking door, he slumped back down on the bed. Aziraphale had been right. He’d been right about so many things, but Crowley had such a hard time not being a stubborn bastard. What was he supposed to do, anyway? Plea for Aziraphale to stay and watch him have a meltdown, so he'd leave because he was too pathetic? No, no good. Couldn’t have that. He’d just have to meltdown in private, then, as per usual. 

“Did he sssay he wasss baking bread?” Crowley barked a laugh as he launched into a monologue. “I’m ha- havin’ a mental break, and thisss- this bastard … that’s amazing. Bloody sssoldier of the Almighty, baking bread in my kitchen while I cry! And now I’ve turned him away.” He gulped as his voice started to get all wobbly and tearful again. “And you know- I’ve no idea how to bake bread. Never needed to learn.” 

Oh yeah, he was out of his bloody mind. Didn’t mention that yet?

Crowley heard a tentative knock at the front door. He pushed himself back up with a grimace, stepped feebly into the foyer, dropped his forehead against the door with a soft thump and mumbled, “Yeah?”

A familiar, stage-whispery voice came from the other side. “It’s me. Open up.” 

Aziraphale had been eavesdropping, but it was for a good cause! He thought (in his humble angelic opinion) that the motive warranted forgiveness.

“Go home, angel.” His voice was scratchy and low now, and there was no bite in his tone.

“I’m— I’m coming in! Stand back,” the angel declared and, after a few seconds, busted open the door. 

Unprepared for the sudden movement, Crowley’s head smacked into the door, and then he sort of got carried along with it. Aziraphale gasped when he heard a thump and a clatter and found his friend crumpled on the floor, scrabbling up on his hands and knees. 

“Sssorry. Sorry.” Crowley would’ve liked to have said more, but he was incapacitated by the distinct feeling that he might discorporate at any moment.

Aziraphale wanted to go to him, to scoop him up and take care of him again, but now he hesitated. “I forgive you,” he said softly. 

If Crowley had been looking at Aziraphale, he would’ve seen his forehead creased in worry and confusion. When he did finally lift his gaze, tear tracks streaked Crowley's cheeks and his lip jutted in a pout that trembled when he sighed.

Aziraphale stepped forward and offered his hand, helping the poor boy to his feet. 

“Just- I…” Cue the many stammering noises Crowley made when he was truly out of sorts.

Aziraphale waited patiently. More than once he’d made the mistake of interrupting, thinking that he’d help things along, but each time Crowley had promptly shut up mid-stammer and Aziraphale had got the hint that he should rather keep quiet and let the words come.

Eventually the words came. “Um. Bad day. You know?”

“Yes,” the angel whispered, a flicker of a smile passing over his features. “Yes, I think I do know.”

Crowley nodded and sniffed. “Right.” He turned for the living area, waved a hand to shut the door, and tipped his head in the direction he was walking to let Aziraphale know he should follow. A difficult hobble echoed the usual sashay of his hips. 

Crowley settled onto the sofa, his long body draped upon the leather cushions, and with hardly a thought, miracled a hard-backed chair into something his angel would find more comfortable. The telly switched on with some horrible reality show Crowley had been responsible for producing.

Aziraphale retreated and reappeared with the soft blanket from the bedroom and laid it over the thin and almost shockingly disheveled demon. Crowley’s hair, normally coiffed neatly in an upward stroke, stuck out at all angles, flat here, puffy there; his eyes and nose were slightly tinged pink, and his face looked paler and sharper in contrast. Crowley didn't protest, hardly even looked up or reacted at all, save for a single surprised blink. There was no sass, no glare, no dramatic sigh, no snide comment, no begrudging thanks, no mockery made—only two yellow eyes locked in a vague stare in the direction of the telly. Something in Aziraphale's chest clenched. 

The heartache persisted as he put the kettle on, all the while listening to some poor girl choose a lifelong mate from a selection of vaguely handsome strangers. Aziraphale drummed his fingers on the countertop. It was reasonable to think that with a bit of rest under a watchful angelic gaze, Crowley would be chipper by afternoon. (Or, you know, the demonic equivalent of chipper. It wasn't much different, really.) Two steaming mugs in hand, he returned just in time to see the season's final selection and to see that Crowley had pulled the blanket up over his head. The poor dear was so tall his feet stuck out, and he hadn’t bothered to fix it. Aziraphale did, of course; he set the tea on coasters, made the blanket just a tad longer, and tucked that bit around Crowley’s bare feet. "Much better," he concluded. The angel very nearly miracled a pair of fuzzy woolen socks onto the demon’s feet, but after a moment’s deliberation, he thought better of it.

Nothing came from the demon under the blanket, not even a sigh or a shifting of his newly warmed feet. Perhaps he was asleep again. The silence was biting and nerve-racking all the same, and Aziraphale couldn't quite banish the feeling that he was, well, bad at this. After all, Crowley took such good care of the both of them, always showing up at just the right moment to save the day like that fine fellow from the spy films Crowley liked so much. James Bond! That was it. Like the daring and debonair 007, Crowley didn't seem to need much of anything, and Aziraphale supposed he'd gotten rather used to that. It wasn’t easy, you know; caring for a demon was trouble, not just for the usual Good vs. Evil reasons, but you saw how Crowley reacted to a simple (though somewhat bumbling) answer to his own question.

Like a snake from a hole, Crowley slithered out from the cover of the blanket and held one of the mugs of infinitely steaming tea. Aziraphale's chest swelled with pride as the knot there loosened. 

What , angel.” He could feel those holy blue eyes on him and it was starting to make his scales chafe.

“What? Nothing.”

“Don’t play dumb.”

“I was thinking.”

“Hm. Dangerous, that.”

Aziraphale glared more out of habit than actual frustration. At the moment, Crowley’s familiar wisecracking was music to the angel’s ears. “I was thinking that if you could give me a hint as to why you were upset, I can put to rest the thought that your, er, former side, or mine, will be sending their regards in a moment."

Crowley considered the offer. He toyed with it, he analyzed it, he made up his mind about it. Yes, it would be a harsh truth, but they'd learned more than a few of those over the last six thousand years and many more over the last eleven days, and it was about time someone told the truth about Falling. 

“I, uh,” Crowley scrubbed furiously at his face. “I was asleep.” He sniffed, swallowed, and paused. “Dreaming.”

“What, er, what was the dream about? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Falling, eternal damnation, that stuff. Dream comes round every hundred years or so. Except...was different this time round. For one thing, I was you .”

Aziraphale startled, his wide eyes focused on Crowley, who didn’t look up because he knew exactly the face the angel was making, and he couldn’t deal with that now.

“Yeah. Was like going Up There again when we switched places."

"Oh dear." Aziraphale frowned, his forehead creased. "Oh!" He said, like he'd realised something; then realising again, he softened. "Oh. I… I'm so sorry."4

Crowley shrugged and shook his head. If anything, apologies should go the other way round, but he wouldn't even know where to begin, except for maybe the Beginning. 

Aziraphale's gaze wandered away as he thought. "Is that…" he began delicately, "what you wanted, when we started our Arrangement?" 

" No ."

The direct eye contact was startling. Aziraphale hardly ever got a sober glimpse at those fascinating golden eyes; even though they made his insides quiver and quake, he treasured them. It was a bit like looking at a solar eclipse: a beautiful rarity, enticing as anything, but even the briefest glance could burn.

"I believe you," said Aziraphale, and it was true. 

“Of course I didn’t. One Fall is more than enough between the two of us.” Falling was something Crowley wouldn't wish on his worst enemy, which happened to be Aziraphale, technically speaking. 

Distantly, a ding sounded. Aziraphale had forgotten the bread. With an embarrassed smile, he rose from the chair. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“I’ll be here,” Crowley mumbled as he sagged into the sofa.

They settled down with freshly buttered, though slightly doughy, bread cut into wide slices. After a long silence punctuated with inane chatter from adverts for body slimming products and mobile telephone companies, Crowley glanced over at the angel with a curious and slightly devious look.5 “Angel.”

“Mm?” said Aziraphale through a mouthful of bread.

“Why were you in my flat, to start?”

Aziraphale swallowed and gave Crowley a regretful sidelong glance. “Given that you’ve...been honest with me, it seems there’s no harm in saying, though it feels rather like it needn’t be said, given the circumstances of our lives to this point, especially these past few years, but I.” He cleared his throat and tapped the edge of his plate. “I suppose I rather...missed you.”

If Crowley’s eyes could get any wider, they’d take up his whole face. “Missed me.”

“Quite.”

“We’ve spent centuries apart.”

“Yes.”

“And you haven’t seen me for two weeks, and you missed me.”

He huffed. “Yes! That is what I said!” Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t look so smug. I… Well, you know you’re dear to me, Crowley. If I can make one thing clear, it would be that.”

“Aw.” Crowley tried to make that sound mocking, but it resulted in something terribly earnest and soft. “Could’ve phoned me.”

“I suppose.”

“Better this way, though.”

Aziraphale’s guarded expression opened up with hope, his eyes lifting in surprise, the corners of his mouth smoothing out. “Yes, I thought so too. I didn’t mean to be presumptuous, but with your open invitation, recently—and you’re always coming round to my shop, I thought at least I might see if you weren’t busy.”

“I thought I was still dreaming when you came in. Thought you weren’t really there.”

Aziraphale lips twitched into a bittersweet smile. “Here I am.” He looked away for a moment, just this side of disturbed with what he’d seen on an impromptu meeting in Crowley’s abode. Crowley had said that this was unusual for him, but it was entirely possible that he was lying, and even if he was telling the truth, this anomaly revealed other things that the demon was perhaps wrestling with. The poor fellow couldn’t have even stood upright properly on his own; Aziraphale had to hold him the whole way to the sofa. “You know, you could have fooled me that you’d gotten hurt. You were walking differently.”

Crowley frowned. “No, I wasn’t. When?”

“On our way to the bedroom, and then the sofa. Just wasn’t your normal style, that’s all. Bit different.” 

Crowley grinned. “What way do I normally walk, angel? Care to show me?”

“You do move your, er, pelvis significantly. Nonetheless gracefully, pardon my language. Today I couldn’t help but notice you moved more, er, trippingly.”

A pause. Then, “Oh, yeah, bad pain day I suppose.”

Aziraphale softened. “You’re in pain,” he said mournfully.

“Always. Just- just am.”

The angel assumed the look of a kicked puppy, leaning back as his eyes searched Crowley for answers to questions he wasn’t yet willing to ask. 

“Ah, there’s another thing. S’been...ever since the Fall. Something to do with my spine.”

Aziraphale, who has hardly been in pain a day in his long life, said, “All the time?”

“Moves in and out, but yeah, better part of six thousand years. Oh, don’t look at me like that; I’ll tell you where you can put your pity. I’m still a demon. Facing my eternal damnation ,” he said with a majestic flair.

“I suppose,” said Aziraphale, doubtfully. “What does it feel like?”

“So curious. With as many questions as you have, you ought to have Fallen by now,” Crowley drawled, and then rolled his eyes at the stricken look that passed over the angel. “Just a joke,” he said, in an effort to smooth it over.

"Is pain what makes you so tetchy?" 

Crowley shrugged. "Sometimes. And sometimes I'm just… being a demon . Pain doesn't really make you good or bad. It just hurts."

It was true that Crowley had more empathy for humans perhaps because of his experience with pain, but it was equally true that he was happy to cause a bit of pain possibly for the same reason. So he compromised, like miracling real bullets to do no damage but allow quarreling coworkers to blow off steam.

“Is there anything to help it?”

“A cane, on occasion."

Aziraphale gaped. “I thought that was part of your outfit.”

“Does both.”

Another long silence followed, and Crowley sunk comfortably into it. He hadn't said so many words about it his whole life, and truth be told, they’d hardly scratched the surface of things, but the sense of relief this brought on was unexpectedly gratifying. 

Aziraphale, on the other hand, hadn’t had more than a nibble to eat and had already set his plate down on the coffee table. 

Crowley gazed at the angel for a moment as he watched him work things through. “I’m okay,” he offered quietly.

“Yes, I— I suppose it’s just me, then.” The series of expressions he made gave the impression that he was being pricked with a lot of little needles.

Crowley shrugged. “I say I've made peace with it. Not all the time, can’t very well do that, but just to get through the days.”

“Surely it can’t be that bad.” Aziraphale’s eyes glimmered with hope that was quickly extinguished when Crowley spoke.

“Nobody said anything like that.” He let the statement linger. 

“Sleep’s good as well. Helps. Little stretch, glass of wine...”6

“Oh. That- yes, I can see why.” Aziraphale clutched tightly at the quilt before smoothing it out.

Crowley sighed. This was turning into A Thing. “Angel, there's nothing to worry about."

“I only wish I’d known what you were keeping from me. It was kind of you, but I could’ve helped .”

“I didn’t keep anything, and I definitely wasn't being kind. I’ve been the same since the Beginning.”

That just made things worse. Aziraphale’s head was in his hands. He was silently cursing himself for not being a better friend.

“My point is, I’m the same as I ever was. Don’t need to make a big fuss about it. If I ask you a favour, you’ll know why.”

After a moment of deep consideration, Aziraphale sat up. He could live with that. In fact, he had lived with that. He had helped, he thought. There had certainly been moments. It was just that he’d always had a difficult time figuring out what Crowley needed or wanted from him, and the new knowledge should help. He brightened. Well, then. That wasn’t so bad. The angel’s hands twitched happily in his lap.

Crowley grinned. “All right?"

"Yes. All right." He chewed his inner lip, thinking. His eyes narrowed. "I would like to try something."

"Okay?"

"Turn around? I'll— I promise to be gentle."

Crowley didn’t see this going well, but what the Heaven. Sure. “All right, then.”

Aziraphale settled onto the sofa and laid his hands on Crowley's back, touching him with what would best be described as reverence. He didn't press down, didn't poke or prod or do much at all. He just touched and sensed. It wasn't so much a massage as it was an assessment, but then suddenly Crowley felt an absence of the pressure that he'd held for so long. This elicited a moan, and his head dropped forward, which tugged at the top of his spine and released a pleasant pop! Much of the pressure returned when the angel's hands fell away, but for the moment he felt lighter, and that seemed nearly almost enough.

“Better?”

“Gauh,” Crowley said eloquently.

Aziraphale slowly, carefully wrapped his arms around Crowley’s waist, relieved when Crowley relaxed against him. He contemplated their whole discussion. He had known Crowley for six millennia, yet he had learned so much in just a few hours. “I’ve never dreamed before.”

Crowley tipped his head back, taking interest. “No?”

“Well, I’ve only slept once.”

“Yeah, I remember that. Just after the thing with that Egyptian library.”

“Right. I thought, ‘Well, I could do with a rest, and Crowley seems to like it. After all, I do like exploring the pleasures of humanity.’”

“But no dreams.”

“No dreams. You still seem to enjoy it, even though your dreams are so unbearable.”

“They’re not, usually.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, intrigued.

“Yeah. Murder, crime, adultery, you know, demon delights .” He grinned, enjoying himself when the angel rolled his eyes.

He could make something up. Easy. Lie, half-truth, the options were limitless. He could lie, but what for? Why tell Aziraphale the Truth but spare him the rich loveliness of that truth, the reason the horrors were nearly unspeakable? The pleasures of the universe marred by hatred and hurt. The ones you loved, there in your mind but just out of reach, slipping from your grasp as the dreams faded and reality came into focus. Aziraphale didn’t know what missing meant, not really. The angel had appeared in thousands of dreams, nightmares, thoughts, fantasies. The dream before the nightmare tonight, for example, had felt so real, so lovely, so forbidden and intimate. Only to be destroyed moments later. Cremated. Burned to a crisp.

Right then.

“Hanging the stars, sometimes. That one’s good. Once in a while that Christ fella shows up. Way before the, uh, crucifying bit. Sometimes you’re there.”

“Me? What am I doing?”

“Could be anything. Oh, sometimes I’ll tempt you into something,” Crowley said with a casual wave of his hand. 

“Tempt me? To do what?”

Oh, he’d made this far too interesting for the angel. Aziraphale had always been terrible at resisting a simple temptation. It was too easy, really. Crowley shook his head, lips pressed together, trying to extinguish this spark of fascination he’d kindled. “Nothing much, really. You’re too, er, good.” But it was too late. He could feel his face heating up, and Aziraphale’s eyes were bright with fascination.

“I won’t judge,” the angel said diplomatically. “It is a dream, after all.”

He’d made a mistake. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t face another rejection, not now. “Can’t- can’t remember.”

Aziraphale frowned. “Can’t remember just one?”

“Nope. I'll see if I can have another. Good night, angel.” Mission aborted, Crowley staggered up and headed for the bedroom.

All it took was one angelic sigh.

Crowley paused in the doorway. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes.” Aziraphale smiled triumphantly, although he tried not to give himself away. Crowley wasn’t the only one who could put on a good so-called Temptation, but Aziraphale felt that he’d tempted people to do good things, for the most part. He patted the sofa.

Obediently, Crowley sat. 

“Ah, well, you know… S- it’s rather more simple stuff,” he shrugged. “Kiss someone, or you know.”

Kiss someone?”

Should’ve lied. Should always lie. Much easier than this.

Who?

“It’s not important.”

Aziraphale couldn’t see why Crowley would have such...erotic dreams about him, or, well, he supposed it wasn’t erotic, exactly. After all, it was only kissing, and if one was going for erotica and one was a demon, why stop at kissing? Logically speaking.

“Oh, come now. There must have been someone. What I really don’t understand is why . Temptation or no, it seems like a rather strange dream, though I suppose that’s from an angel’s perspective.”

Crowley grunted.

“But who? ” Aziraphale wondered aloud, and he nearly missed the answer. He must have been mistaken, however, because it almost sounded like… “What did you say?”

It was a secret Crowley had kept for the better part of six thousand years, yet suddenly it felt like he couldn’t go another day without telling it. Pressure mounted, squeezing him from the inside out like he was a supernova. “ME! It was me! Who else was it gonna be, Sandalphon?! " His tone was heated and acrimonious, the words slamming through the air. 

Crowley was milliseconds away from calling it a day and going either full serpent or full coma to avoid the angel in his flat, how could he be so stupid to invite him back into the flat, to talk about dreams and feelings and drivel, and now he’d made a mockery of himself and what for! To what end! He was never going to live this one down, and it didn’t matter how polite angels could be. They’d both know.

For Aziraphale, the impossible had suddenly become real. The lovely expressions that he’d attempted to decipher and had pondered over for days, the books that Aziraphale had searched for and that Crowley had mysteriously happened upon, the many lunches they’d had during which Crowley had hardly consumed more than coffee. Long drunken nights spent chortling over bad jokes. The church bombing, his near-beheading in Paris, Hamlet , Alpha Centauri. Six thousand years’ worth of a life spent together, and it all added up to something far more than the sum of its parts.

They’d hidden it, until they hadn’t, from the world and from themselves, but now… It was time. Now was the time. He felt it.

“I suppose the Temptation wouldn’t take much effort now,” replied Aziraphale with a wave of his hand.

The engine of Crowley’s mind stuttered and turned over. "Uh, w- wh- eh- what?" 

For just four payments of nineteen pounds ninety-nine, you too can get not one, but two bottles of Magical Miss cream… chirped the telly.

“What with our respective head offices not breathing down our necks, so to speak.”

The telly switched off.

“That did complicate things, you see.”

Crowley stared at him with the expressive intensity of a Van Gogh painting. “I beg your bloody pardon? ” he hissed through clenched teeth.

Aziraphale stared back, gaze landing just above Crowley’s eyes, brows slightly raised. He smiled gently. “There’s no need for begging. Just kiss me like in your dream, and that should suffice.”

Crowley’s face was on fire, but he leapt at the chance. After six thousand years, they were finally operating at the same speed. He dove across the sofa and pressed his lips hard against the angel’s, but he yielded to the electricity of it, the softness of it, the taste of it, it was so, just so... it tasted of…

Fuck metaphors. It was a bloody good kiss.

“Oh, Crowley. ” Aziraphale breathed his name like soft like the gentle downward float of white feathers; like big, puffy clouds, the kind that humans always imagined were in Heaven but unfortunately were not. It was too nice to be spoken from angel to demon, but Crowley drank in the kindness like he was dying of thirst.

He felt a tender hand on his cheek, and the touch was vivid, not lost to the fringes of his imagination. It was real. This one was real .

Chapter Text

It was a lovely afternoon in the rare stretch of summer that would've nearly needed a miracle to occur, ever since they and Adam had begun working on climate change. After all, couldn't have the end of the world come just after the end of the world had ended.1  Unfortunately, it was the sort of afternoon where everyone and their little yappy dog had come to St. James's Park, which meant that all the benches were full and all the grassy areas were covered in blankets and all the walkways were packed. A path cleared to accommodate our two ethereal (or occult, depending on your persuasion) beings, and the path grew wider still when Crowley noticed how tightly Aziraphale pressed his lips together and his shoulders back. 

"All right, angel?" 

"Not even a spot to feed ducks."

Crowley nodded. 

"Or hear one's own thoughts." The angel’s hand clenched and loosened repeatedly at his side.

"No. Listen, I'd rather sit somewhere. Fancy some lunch?"

Aziraphale relaxed slightly. "I know just where to go."

At a diner just beyond the reach of the St. James's crowd, Crowley entertained Aziraphale's ramblings about the current state of the world's culinary exploits. 

"I've been reading that they're starting to do lovely things with vegetables, to make noodles! I saw a packet of them at the market and picked it up. Butternut squash. How about that?" 

"Was it any good?"  Ordinary pasta wasn’t half bad, but squash seemed too fibrous or downright mushy to make a decent spaghetti, Crowley reasoned.

"Oh, yes, well I— I was so excited that I hurried home before I bought ingredients for a sauce. But I had my olive oil handy, the Marchesi de Frescobaldi Laudemio from Italy, and it went splendidly." 

Crowley remembered obtaining the olive oil. He also remembered Aziraphale's curiosity when he had presented him with the bottle, which was wrapped rather crudely in a brown paper bag. Aziraphale had peeled back the paper so carefully that Crowley had nearly snapped at him for prolonging the torture. But all was well when, paper finally gone, a look of pure, unadulterated enthusiasm had swept over Aziraphale’s soft features; the sight had been so breathtaking that Crowley had found himself leaning rather heavily on his cane.

“Would you like some?” Aziraphale lifted a forkful of pastry and cocked an eyebrow.

“What is it?”

“Canelé. It’s got rum in it,” he noted, and moved the fork closer until it hovered before the demon. 

Crowley’s mouth went dry. “You finish it. I’ll try it next time.”

“But I’m offering it now. I’ve already had enough. I think you would like it.”

“Don’t have a fork.”

“Just bite.”

“I’m not gonna…” let you feed me , he thought but couldn’t say. You know what you do to me. I do it to myself, imagining it over and over again, and the warmth, and the love, I remember what love feels like, I remember because I feel it every day with you. We do this dance, with pastry or olive oil or old books or holy water between us, remembering the steps and the rhythm so well we fall into it naturally. 

He wouldn’t have been able to say all that if his life depended on it. But judging by the impish half smile on Aziraphale’s face, he didn’t have to say anything at all. With the angel’s gaze burning a hole through his lenses, Crowley leaned forward, let the fork between his lips, and lapped up the bite of sweet pastry.

“What do you think?”

“It’s fine.”

“Sweet.”

“Yes.”

1-2-3, 1-2-3, round and round again. You lead. I’ll follow.

They’d had not fifteen minutes of peace before all Hell broke loose. (Not literally, but the figurative wasn’t much better.) It seemed that everyone who had gone to St. James’s this morning had also come to the diner for a late lunch, and the lunch rush ebbed and flowed around them like a tidal wave. Aziraphale clutched his fork tightly.

Perturbed, Crowley pushed his sunglasses further up his nose and did his best to ignore it. “Any other vegetables masquerading as noodles that I ought to be wary of?”

Aziraphale winced as a waitress whizzed by with a tray piled high with greasy food. “Er. Just- just about anything you like could be....could be. That.”

“Really? Could you use a tomato?”

A roar of laughter broke out from the table beside. 

“A what?”

“A tomato.”

“Er. No, I don’t think so.” His hands fluttered and he set his napkin on the table.

Crowley hummed, disinterested, and racked his brain for another subject. “Seems celebration is in order.”

“R-really? Whatever for?”

“It’s been one month since everything went all...Hell in a handbasket. Haven’t heard a word from downstairs.”

Aziraphale’s lips twitched into a strained smile, and although Crowley was right, it was truly good news, he cheered without heart. “Hurrah!”

Crowley eyed him warily. “We ought to get going.”

“You- your...order hasn’t arrived. Give it a moment.”

“I don’t care about that, I care about—” Something crashed on the floor, and Crowley jumped reflexively. Just a plate, nothing more. Steady on...

There was a low, throaty humming, and it was growing higher and more urgent.

Something was going to explode. Or rather, someone.

Aziraphale, to be more specific.

Aziraphale felt like he was going to combust like Hellfire. It’s what he always imagined it was like to Fall, to burst into flames, to sink lower than low, to be stamped down and his chest hurt and his skin prickled and his muscles ached from how tight, how hard he was pulling himself together to keep from setting them both ablaze. 

There had been a moment just before everything had gone completely sideways when he had tried to say something, he had tried to warn Crowley, but the words had gotten up and walked off with his sanity, and he’d lost his hands to a flurry of motion, and his whole body rocked with the chaos. It was bad things were bad it was bad he was bad there was bad everywhere.

To his memory, it had started with a baby wailing, which wasn't much, but a party of fourteen had taken the cluster of tables next to theirs and a cloud of perfume had enveloped him and someone had clinked his glass and made a speech, and someone had bumped into the back of his chair and shoved him into the table, and a light had flickered, and the entrées had come and thickened the air with grease, and the baby had wailed louder and the mother had shushed her and the waitress had shouted something to the cook, who had slammed the lid on the deep-frier, and the man had rapped on his glass and a woman had cackled and the fourteen had clinked glasses and scraped their knives and chewed with mouths wide open, and the lights had strobed, and the grease in the deep-frier had burned, and Crowley had said that he'd had radio silence from Below but that it'd only been a month since, and the baby had screamed and the fourteen had eaten and a woman had complained and the waitress had hollered, and a plate had crashed, and every fork that had ever scraped a plate had simultaneously screeched above the cacophony of terror. 

A myriad of voices, of volumes and pitches and cadences overlapping, buried him in the bright white lights that flickered and gleamed as in the conference rooms of Heaven. 

I can’t understand I don’t understand there isn’t I’m not I can’t I don’t mean to be I’m sorry.

He saw lips moving in the crowd of so many eyes and suits and clicking shoes, and he could hear words, and likely well-constructed sentences, oozing from Crowley— focus on Crowley —swirling in and out of focus, asking for his attention, and Aziraphale clung to it desperately, but it was just liquid ooze, a gelatinous goo of sounds with meaning swimming around in it somewhere.

“—going—help—home—don’t worry—”

Aziraphale couldn’t speak. He nodded, and the nod was frantic and jerky because everything about him felt frantic and jerky and he couldn’t seem to sit still, his hands and feet begged for movement, and he was trapped in this body, but the way he saw when he was in his original form, the bodiless presence, the eyes in all directions, it would be too much or too little, everything was already slipping away and he could just as easily discorporate, just as easily lose it. 

A hand pressed into his arm and he flinched and lashed out and then it was gone. A sob fell out of him. He wanted to hide. They were staring, everybody was, his eyes were closed but he knew they were staring.

“So sorry, angel.”

All sound merged into one screeching-sucking-buzzing that sharpened and dug into his eardrums and enveloped his whole body. He screamed. He couldn’t hear it, but he could feel the scream in his throat, blood thumping in his temples, a tightness around his lips. Pressure tore at him and beat and bruised him, he was falling and stuck and sinking and it stretched on and on until...

Quiet.

Everything was...outside of his head was...it was completely silent. Quivering at the sudden absence of anything grounding, he wrapped his arms around himself and bowed forward. Bit by bit, all the mangled fragments of self shifted together and became whole.

To his left, he heard a sigh. “Can I...hold you?”

Fresh tears collected on his lashes. “Ti-tightly. Please.”

“Of course,” said Crowley, and he wrapped his long, spindly arms around his angel and coaxed him to lean in. When Aziraphale finally let go and let his whole weight into the hug, Crowley crooned. “There’s a good love, yeah.”

He rubbed a hand over Aziraphale’s arm and stopped when the angel shivered and sucked in a breath and sat up, parting from the too-soft touch. “I- I can’t I can’t Ican’tIcan’t.” 

Beginning in the spot that Crowley had touched, he felt razor-sharp legs crawling along his skin, under his sleeves, burrowing, wiggling, itching, etching. It took everything in him not to scratch. He saw a blur and felt a weight shift onto his lap and then. And then. He felt a little cooler. The itch went away.

Soft hissing shimmered like rainfall around his ears. With his eyes now open, Aziraphale gasped at the sudden clarity of everything. Or, rather, of nothing. Nothing but Light was all around them. Time had stopped. 

Crowley had stopped time.

Crowley had stopped time for him.

And there was his snake, curled in his lap. A heavy, constant, grounding presence. Aziraphale placed both palms on the scaly skin and tenderly slid his hands across it, following the scales like rain running off shingles on a roof. 

Aziraphale stretched his ankles, his fingers, his head and neck. His broad wings fluttered and then closed in, creating a canopy over his head. There, now they were truly safe.

He sniffled and sighed in relief, and gently stroked the middle of Crowley’s head in thanks. He let his lungs fill and empty, enjoying the steady rhythm that tethered him to his corporation. It was just like Crowley to do something so sweet for him, like this. He always knew what to do. The imaginary Hellfire that had consumed Aziraphale now dimmed into a soothing warmth that flickered gently in his chest.

Eventually his sweet snake slid from his lap, and Aziraphale watched him go, hands still as the scales slid underneath. When Crowley shifted forms, Aziraphale noted the way he stretched and grimaced, lines of pain cutting through his forehead. “Right then,” he murmured. The loud crack that erupted from his neck made Aziraphale wince. Crowley merely sighed. The lines smoothed. “Can’t stay here forever. I am dreadfully sorry, but we’re gonna have to get back into the thick of it.”

Aziraphale swallowed. He didn’t want to go back. Not then, not there. But they had to. “Yes. Quite right.” He smoothed his clothes with trembling hands and fiddled with his cufflinks. 

“We’ll make a quick escape, just hold onto me and I’ll do the rest.”

Aziraphale nodded. “All right, I’m- I’m ready.”

“Forgetting something?”

“Hm?” He couldn’t imagine what he’d be forgetting. They hadn’t brought anything with to be forgotten, and it’d all come back with them when time recommenced.

“Your wings.”

Large, white wings flowed serenely back and forth. The wind they generated tousled Crowley’s hair.

“Oh.” Reluctantly, he folded up the wings and slid them into the ether. He felt the tightness immediately. It transcended both forms and filled him with a sense of discomfort and imbalance. The angel tried not to mind it.

Crowley took his hand, and Aziraphale nodded.

Crowley snapped and the world inverted.

After all that tranquility and nothingness, the restaurant’s hustle and bustle seemed almost worse than the first time around, and Aziraphale felt himself sinking quickly into the same horrible imbroglio he’d been in before.

He was ashamed, but he hid from it all, holding on to the protection Crowley offered. Something soft was draped around his shoulders and shadowed his peripheral vision, and briefly Aziraphale worried that he’d accidentally let out his wings, but then he saw that what covered him was black. Crowley had wrapped his jacket around the angel, paying back a favor as old as Time itself.

In Crowley’s opinion, he did his best to prepare Aziraphale for what was to come—spoke gently, waited for him to process things, held his hand—not because he was nice, but because Aziraphale deserved it and Crowley was practical. He couldn’t hold up Time forever, and either way, in an instant they would be back in the restaurant, surrounded by the blasted calamity that was giving his angel a hard time. He looped a steady arm around Aziraphale’s back and guided him outside as swiftly and gracefully.2  as he could, away from the astonished faces of very loud and annoying humans.

Crowley wanted to kill them all.

Crowley’s head hurt. Actually, his everything hurt. His back, his knees, his left wrist, which was locked forcefully against the handle of his cane. His forehead was punching his brain and both were being pummeled by pulsating temples. He looked at Aziraphale, who wasn’t faring much better and had tucked himself against Crowley’s shoulder, shielding himself from the onslaught of sensory input. They stepped out into the car park, where the tarmac was slippery from a downpour that had momentarily cleared up.

He guided Aziraphale into the passenger’s seat, clambered into the other side, threw his cane behind, put his hands on the wheel, and sighed. “Your place, then,” he decided, and cruised at reasonable 60 mph to Soho—not because he was kind, but because Aziraphale was resting, and Crowley hardly had the energy to shift traffic patterns, let alone the ability to stop time and stave off another meltdown.

Crowley sprawled out on Aziraphale’s lumpy old sofa with a needlepoint pillow shoved behind his back at the exact angle he liked and his chin slumped down to his chest. He heard Aziraphale pacing, picking books off the shelves, flipping them open, sighing at them, shoving them back into place. Again, again, again.

It took time for Crowley to summon up words and then to push them up his throat and into his mouth. “Angel.”

Aziraphale tsked and moved onto the next row of shelves.

In a mighty display of strength and willpower, Crowley lifted his chin. “ Angel.

“What is it, Crowley?”

“Ohh, in a foul mood, are we? Come here and rest a minute, will you? I know you’re as tired as I am, if not more.”

A shaky sigh came from behind a row of Brontë novels.

“Come on,” beckoned Crowley. “There’s a love,” he said, putting on a smile and patting the sofa when a worried cream-colored coat with perfect posture emerged from the bookcases. He watched Aziraphale, still several paces away, close his eyes and take a deep breath.

"You stopped time," he said, apropos of—well, not nothing , but it was sudden. 

"Yeah."

"Why?" 

I didn't know what I was doing, but by Anyone, I wasn't going to sit there and let you cry. Crowley shrugged. "Seemed like the thing to do." 

Aziraphale's eyes opened and directed themselves at Crowley, searching him. For what, Crowley didn't know. And didn’t care. Couldn’t afford to care. His head rolled back against the top of the sofa. His eyes closed on their own accord. 

“Don’t think too hard on it.”

“I hurt you.” The angel's voice wavered and sounded strange, like there were hands clasped around his throat.

Well, that caught his attention. Apparently, they were having this conversation no matter what. Crowley sighed. He didn’t bother filling his lungs again. “What are you on about?”

A rustling let him know that Aziraphale was moving, and he forced his eyes open to see his hands twisting round and round, blunt nails digging into soft skin. What an energy he had, after that whole ordeal. Crowley admired it as much as he resented it. But even a hasty glance at his face told Crowley what kind of energy it was. The downturned lip, the tight lines around tear-filled eyes, the set jaw. Guilty, he was. Looked ready to pay penance. 

“I’m sorry.

“M’just tired, angel. It's not like we haven't done this sort of thing before. You get yourself in a spot of trouble, I come in, it's…we've got a system, I s'pose. Works."

"It- it worked, maybe, when it was on purpose!" 

Crowley made a sound tethering confusion and annoyance.

"I didn't know how the book dealing in the church was going to go, what with those Nazi fools, but I knew you were in that network, so I- I got the word out that way, covertly, of course."

He tried to understand what Aziraphale was saying, he really did, until sparks flew in his sinuses and eye sockets and a headache snaked its way across his skull. "No. We're not doing this. Not now.”

A soft, wet sob shuddered from the angel’s lips, and he clasped a hand over his mouth trying to stifle the next one.

Crowley grimaced. Shouldn’t’ve said that. That was bad. And not in a good way. He sat all the way up, and his voice slid into a gentle murmur. “You’ve got it all wrong. Promise I’ll explain later. Just don’t cry, don’t… Come to me, all right?”

Aziraphale flumped down beside him, jostling the uneven cushions, and tugged him into a tight hug. Crowley stiffened—old habits—and then wrapped his arms around the angel, let his shoulders down, tucked his face into a weathered coat collar, and let it all be. 

The pair stayed like that long after the angel’s tears had dried. 

With Aziraphale tucked comfortably in his arms, Crowley's mind wandered until he lay at the cusp of sleep, his consciousness hanging over a cloudy dreamland that misted and blurred his thoughts. Cozy, that's what this was. Any number of lovely things could happen here, in this place between dreams and realities that were better than dreams. 

He awoke in a puddle of drool. His own, he thought, judging by the dry trail starting at the corner of his mouth. He'd made a mess of Aziraphale's collar. Crowley lifted his head and found Aziraphale slumbering peacefully, slack against the sofa, his cheek slightly smooshed against the top of the cushion, limbs still entangled with Crowley's. Light just barely illuminated the room, but flecks of it danced on his angel's skin. Beautiful creature, darling angel, golden sunshine soul. Crowley reached out and slipped his fingers through shiny, white-blond curls and settled his palm on the back of a kind and clever head. A smile tugged insistently at the corners of Crowley's mouth, and if he let it be, no one would be the wiser.

"I love you," he murmured, free to speak his mind, safe in the knowledge that his angel was asleep. "Oh, how I love you. More than anything. More than all the stars, more than this whole Earth. Drop of a hat, I’d do anything for you, I really would.”

Aziraphale grasped his hand, and Crowley froze. His mouth went dry. With bated breath he watched the angel for signs of consciousness. 

Shame came quickly and quietly. It burned his throat and pooled in his belly. He gently flexed his fingers in an effort to pull his hand back, but Aziraphale’s grip tightened. Their eyes met. Crowley itched for his sunglasses, and in his mind’s eye he could see them propped atop a stack of books on the coffee table. You’re asleep, he could say. Dreaming. This is a dream. It’d be right clever, maybe even work, but he couldn’t summon the words, couldn’t speak. His mouth was open and nothing was coming out.

Just when he thought things couldn’t get worse, in a pitiful croak, he said, “Sorry I woke you.” Crowley simultaneously hoped that two contradictory things had happened: 1) that Aziraphale hadn’t actually heard what he’d said, he just didn’t mind being woken up, and 2) that Aziraphale had heard.

One of those tricky little nervous smiles passed over Aziraphale’s face, and he shook his head. As the angel lifted his head, faint red lines revealed the sofa cushion’s imprint upon his cheeks. Glimmers of sunlight made a halo of his frizz of curls.

Crowley’s emergent hope shrank abjectly into a bright, optimistic corner of his mind well-guarded by a pack of imaginary hellhounds. He averted his gaze, cleared his throat, and swallowed. “Napping’s nice, innit? Pleasures of sleep at its best.” Other than a century-long coma; he could use one of those right about now.

A moment passed between them, and he heard Aziraphale inhale and then sigh. “I...I did- I did hear you, you know.”

“Nyh,” said Crowley. Aziraphale’s speech seemed a bit more stilted than usual. Not a good sign, he thought.

“So kind,” the angel continued, voice wavering. He cleared his throat and blinked a few times. "After I ruined our lunch.”

Crowley frowned and pulled back. “You didn’t.”

The assurance was greeted by a tight, half-hearted smile, the kind you’d give a clipboard-welding Oxfam canvasser on a street corner as you quickly skirt by with your head down. 

“I’m serious. You didn’t do anything. It was them. Animals. All of them.” Never mind that he was a snake. He was still civilized.

Aziraphale’s throat bobbed. His watery eyes shut.

Crowley gave his hand a squeeze. “Listen, I’d do it all again. Stop time, go all slithery so we can sit together.” He shrugged. “Whatever it takes.”

Tears were falling fast down Aziraphale’s cheeks, and Crowley’s heart plummeted.

“What can I do? I’ll do anything. Try me.”

Aziraphale’s body went rigid, his brow furrowed, his breath stuttered. His mouth clamped shut.

“I mean it, Aziraphale. Just say the word and I’ll —”

The words died on his lips when Aziraphale ripped away, untangling himself from their snuggle. His body buckled, elbows on his knees, fingers gripping his curls. He gasped. “Nothing. Nothingnothing nothing .”

Right. 

Okay. 

Nothing. 

Nothing he could do. Totally powerless. Fine. If as much as he could do was nothing , then he would do that. He would do nothing bloody perfectly, so help him...

With his posture achingly rigid, Crowley sat as still as possible while Aziraphale rocked urgently beside him. His fingers twitched with the urge to pry Aziraphale's fingers from his hair, to hold his hands, to kiss his fingers, to make everything okay. Meanwhile Aziraphale gulped every inhale and shuddered every exhale, making breathing seem rather necessary and borderline torturous. Those arduous breaths, along with the swish of fabric as his body rolled back and forth, represented the only sounds in the room. It set Crowley's teeth on edge, but he did nothing. 

Then, something smacked him in the face. Bewildered, Crowley recoiled and scrambled atop the sofa. A gentle tickle of feathers caught his chin. He blinked, his vision sharper than before. 

Wings. 

Aziraphale had let out his wings. 

Crowley let himself down shakily, skirted around the breadth of plumage, and paused, instantly mesmerized by the sight before him.

Flapping his tremendous, pearlescent wings, Aziraphale looked positively blissful. Peaceful. Radiant. Breathtaking

Ohh, ” the angel sighed, chin uplifted, eyes closed, forehead smooth, mouth slightly slack.

Crowley swallowed reflexively. This was undoubtedly the loveliest creature he had ever seen, and to date Crowley had seen nearly everything. 

The angel could do with some preening, and Crowley would be all too happy to oblige, but for now he relished in the cool breeze brought on by the thrum of beating wings. His own sorry appendages twinged enviously beneath his skin. Aziraphale's breathing quieted, his body slowed, his shoulders unfurled, his posture straightened.

Slowly the wings were folded up and returned to the in-between.

Aziraphale nodded, seemingly to himself. “Better.”

Crowley couldn’t have agreed more.