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Crowley had to actually take his glasses off to take in the full horror of what he was seeing.

His normally orderly and sparse apartment was now bedecked in flowers. Pink and yellow, blue and white, each of his plants was now sporting whole damn garlands of it, filling the air with sticky sweet scent. Even his elegant rubber plant was all but groaning under the hundreds of tiny pink flowers that almost overwhelmed the leaves.

Eyes firmly on the horrifying sight in front of him, Crowley eased his phone from his back pocket and unlocked it with a swipe of his thumb. Aziraphale’s contact was on the home screen so it was just a matter of touching the little winged icon. The connection came to life as Crowley slowly put the phone to his ear.

He had to wait for seven rings before Aziraphale picked up. He was used to it, though; the only time the angel had been in any way prompt in answering his phone was during the Apocalypse. Other times Crowley wasn’t sure the angel even knew where his phone was, despite its being a landline and therefore stationary.

“Hello?” Aziraphale sounded guilty and Crowley was sure, down in his bones, that the angel knew who was calling.

“What,” Crowley said, unclenching his jaw to speak clearly, “did you do to my plants?”

“Nothing!” came the automatic response.

Only one word, but that was enough. Crowley said nothing, thinking intensely uncharitable thoughts at the angel. Waiting him out. He was a demon, he could sense guilt from a continent away, much less a few blocks.

“It’s not my fault!” Aziraphale wailed finally. “I know nothing of gardening! I thought healthy plants were usually blooming plants! And yours weren’t doing too well. I thought. So I might have performed a minor miracle. Or two.”

“My plants,” Crowley said, slowly, fighting not to extend the ‘s’ into a full hiss. “Do not. Flower.” He glared at the traitorous plants. The leaves were already shaking, the movements only serving to spread the too-sweet scent around. “They are the wrong genus for that,” he went on, his voice rising. The shaking of the leaves was getting stronger. “THEY SHOULD KNOW BETTER.”

“Really, Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded faintly admonishing. “I'm sure they look rather lovely.”

That was the problem, wasn’t it? Crowley cut the connection, never stopping his glare.

“He is the only reason you are all not in the line for garbage disposal,” he said slowly, turning to look in the direction of his kitchen. “For now.”

---

Shopping was the first order of business.

The problem with feeling better was that he felt better.

The whispers had come back soon after he fell asleep in Aziraphale’s bed, indistinct images of blood and power, black flames that ate through the world. He dreamed of being a snake, an enormous flying leviathan of a snake that spread hellfire in its wake.

Shifting forms helped, but the whispers were still there, at the edge of his consciousness.

Aziraphale’s presence helped, muted the whispers, a fact he learned only after leaving the angel’s bookshop.

He left his Bentley illegally parked in front of the shop and walked in, scattering a group of pierced youngsters like particularly fearful hens. The wind tugged at his long hair and he had to shake his head to get a few strands out his face. The flashes of lust he could feel blinking into existence around him the moment he entered put a grin on his face. Yes, he still had it.

A young woman in very short pink shorts stood in front of the counter, looking at the catalog. Behind the counter a tall, extremely fit middle-aged man was pulling several catalogs off the shelf before him. He had black hair with some grey coming in at the temples and facial hair styled in the movie star fashion, like one of those American superheroes, Metal Man or something like that.

His pale grey eyes flicked up at the sound of the door opening and recognition lit his face.

“Mr. Crowley!” He closed the catalog and pulled it away from the counter, despite the outraged squawk of his customer. “What can I do for you?”

“Excuse me, I was here first!” the woman said, turning to glare at Crowley.

“Back room,” Crowley said, ignoring her completely, He motioned towards a door in the back, half hidden in the shadow. A snap of his fingers as he moved towards it and the locked door swung open.

Shelves to the right held items one would typically find in any storage room of a shop like this: boxes with medical supplies, inks, various sterile tools in their sealed packagings, and a myriad of other items Crowley had no idea the purpose of.

To the left, behind a heavy green curtain, was what was really interesting.

When Crowley pushed the curtain aside, he saw a tattoo table there, black and shiny and awaiting a completely different set of customers. Runes drawn in paint mixed with sacrificial blood covered the walls, even the ceiling - most of them were sound-dampening runes, some presence-dampening - and a large protection circle was visible beneath the table. The metal shelves along the furthest wall were filled with items both blessed and cursed, herbs beneficial and deadly, and everything in between. If one's business was providing specific services to beings of the occult, one had to be prepared for all kinds of visitors.

Maximillian Fisk came from a family long associated with magic and the occult. Back in the early sixteenth century Crowley had had a rather nice arrangement with Maximillian's ancestor, a talented witch who needed a demon to join some of her… rituals. Faced with the choice of Hastur or Crowley, she went for Crowley. Smart woman. The power had eventually died out in her family -- not enough female descendants and even fewer willing to renew the contract with the powers of Hell -- but the knowledge survived. Her descendants had decided, sometime around the end of the seventeenth century, that if they didn't have the power to cast spells, they could nevertheless make a satisfactory living providing services for those who did.

Crowley rarely used Fisk's services for himself, but he'd brought more than one soul in need to the shop over the years. And, well, it was almost a hobby, popping in on the descendants from time to time.

“Mr. Crowley,” Max said, sounding both cross and cautious. Crowley wasn’t known to be especially merciful to his pet projects. “How can I help you?”

Crowley shucked off his jacket and threw it onto a chair near the table. He pulled off his scarf and started tugging his shirt out of his jeans. “I need a protection sigil tattooed,” he said as he pulled his shirt halfway up his chest. He paused and sighed at Max's confused and interested glance.

The shopkeeper inched towards the cursed items on the shelves. “Too much Heavenly power close by?”

“Actually,” Crowley said as he got rid of the dark grey shirt and threw it on top of the jacket, “the other way round.”

Max paused, giving Crowley a questioning look. “Are we setting protection against a particular demon? Do you know the name?”

Crowley's lips twisted. “Everything dark. I want to be as invisible as possible to anything and everything from… that side.”

Max licked his lips, looking at Crowley apprehensively. “That type of spell will require something holy,” he said slowly. “I have some holy water blessed by a very pious priest down in Notting Hill…” he trailed off.

Crowley understood his apprehensions. Telling an occult being he would have to be tattooed with ink mixed with holy water, however miniscule the quantity, was a rather dangerous thing to do.

Crowley flung himself at the table, folding his hands around the reinforced edges. “Better get to it, then.”

Thankfully, Max mixed the paint quick enough that its influence was minimized. Crowley could feel the container of holy water, of course. It wasn’t anywhere near the potency of what Aziraphale had brought him back in the sixties, but it was still dangerous, definitely painful.

“This rune won’t last for long,” Max said, pulling a small rolling stool closer to the table with his foot. “Maybe a month, depending how much stress it’s put under. Your own body will work on disabling it, too, so I expect it will remain painful throughout the whole time it’s active.”

Crowley grunted in response. He hoped Max was smart enough to know when to stop talking and start to work.

The tattoo gun buzzed as it came to life, the sound uncomfortably close to that of a thousand flies buzzing around his head.

“Try to move as little as possible,” Max said quietly, sitting down beside Crowley, making the demon snort. At least he didn’t tell him to stay still.

The needle punched through Crowley’s skin, and he screamed.

---

 

“You should maybe take it easy for a few hours,” Max said, diligently tidying gauze swabs and gloves. Anything that had the smallest amount of Crowley’s blood on it went into a small bin beside the table, including the tattoo gun he'd used. A device that caused a demon pain, in some very obscure way, also gained power.

Crowley sat on the table, sweat drying on his skin, head in his hands. He felt like he was rocking the hangover of the century, complete with a pack of elephants stomping inside his head and something furry dying on his tongue.

“How much holy water did you put in the ink?” Crowley groaned, sweaty hair hanging limply around his bowed head, the ends brushing his knees.

“A full drop,” Max said, dampening another gauze with clean water. He circled around Crowley and used the wet gauze to wipe the fresh tattoo.

The cool water felt good against his itching skin. The pain subsided as he got used to it, but the vague sensation of being sick, a mild fever raising goosebumps on his skin, was much harder to endure.

Crowley very much wanted to say he wasn’t going to do it again, but he knew he couldn’t. As sick as he felt from the injection of holy water, the whispers at the edge of his consciousness had quieted into a faint buzz he could ignore if he tried, and the relief far outweighed the discomfort.

This wasn’t the first time he'd marked himself this way, but he had to say he preferred modern tattoos over the ancient method of burning a mark into the skin. It would fade and disappear eventually, he knew, but until then he had some breathing room.

He waited until Max threw the gauze and the last pair of latex gloves into the waste bin and then snapped his fingers, disappearing the whole lot.

Max sighed. “I liked that gun,” he said mournfully.

“You're charging me an arm and a leg for less than an hour of work!” Crowley said, feeling both outraged and a little proud. Such wonderful extortionists, this whole family. He did good work, he really did.

Max snorted, very quietly, and passed Crowley a piece of paper with a string of numbers on it.

“Only real money transfers please,” he said turning back to putting his supplies away. “It’s very hard to explain to HMRC money that appears out of nowhere in my accounts.”

Crowley only made a disgruntled sound and slithered down from the table. Legs. He had legs. It would be good to make sure they could hold him up. It was such a bother sometimes, all these bones. Really, what were those mammals thinking?

Once he was mostly vertical, he pulled on his discarded clothes. At least they had enough sense not to wrinkle.

He shrugged the jacket on, turned to look at himself in the narrow mirror attached to the door leading out of the backroom, and wrinkled his nose at his reflection. The clothes were okay, every sharp line where it should be, the thin top stretched nicely on his chest. His hair, on the other hand, looked like something that had been chewed up and spat out. Dark with sweat and messy, it frizzed up around his head in ways his hair was just simply not allowed to.

He snapped his fingers, cursing at the sharp twinge at the base of his spine where the rune now lived.

Instantly, his hair was a shining, wavy mane. A thick braid on the left side had silver thread woven in, ending in a heavy silver clasp etched with snakes twisting and twining all around it. The braid rested over his shoulder, the clasp pleasantly heavy against his chest. The braid helped to keep most of the hair out of his face -- it was a style he’d seen Vikings use, and while he preferred something a little more showy, he had to give credit where credit was due. The late eighth century had certainly been fun in Europe.

Crowley hummed thoughtfully, looking himself over in the mirror. The long red hair was really quite striking with his black clothes. No doubt Aziraphale would cast him some of Those Looks. He wondered if he could tempt the angel into touching him to get a better, er, feel for the new hairstyle.

No time like the present to find out.

He put on his glasses and sauntered out of the shop. He had an angel to torture, after all.

---

Crowley did stop for an unbelievably sugary chocolate milkshake on the way. He knew Aziraphale wouldn’t let himself be dragged into any sort of fast food joint, and he needed both the sugar and the coldness to combat the poison in his system.

He snapped his fingers instead of pushing the door open, enjoying the way Aziraphale’s wards sluiced over him, admitting him without so much as a whisper of protest. He felt welcome, more so than ever before, and something small and brittle inside him uncoiled just a little at the reception.

The shop was nearly empty, just one middle aged woman browsing the displays with Aziraphale hovering over her like a mother hen afraid someone would take away her chicks.

Crowley put the takeout cup to his lips, found the straw with his tongue and gave a loud, obnoxious slurp.

Aziraphale looked well, replenished and glowing with Grace, although his expression was anything but angelic as his head snapped up to glare at Crowley. The demon could tell when the angel caught sight of the new hairstyle because the words of admonishment visibly died on his lips.

Crowley smirked, casually leaning one shoulder against the nearest pillar and tilting his head so that the silver of the clasp and threaded in his hair caught the light.

Aziraphale’s eyes widened.

Then he jerked his attention back to the woman, who was reaching for one of the tomes. Crowley remembered that one from at least twenty years ago. He watched as the angel fluttered over the woman, coming up with increasingly less believable reasons why she couldn’t buy the book. Aziraphale, flustered and distracted, couldn't keep his eyes from sliding towards Crowley.

Crowley let himself sink deeper against the pillar, letting the hand holding the milkshake fall to his side and giving Aziraphale a good look at the long line of his body. His free hand he pushed into the pocket at the front of his jeans, making them tighten.

Aziraphale’s eyes skittered down, then he jerked them back up to meet Crowley’s, his neck gaining a tiny pink flush.

The woman was pulling out her wallet, her sharp dark eyes clearly catching the shopkeeper's distraction. She was going in for the kill. Crowley thought he'd help her out a bit and tilted his jaw up, flashing Aziraphale some neck. He remembered how the angel put his lips there just a few hours ago. Aziraphale clearly remembered it too, if the way his pupils expanded was any indication.

The woman rapidly pulled a few bills from her wallet, obviously in a rush to catch the window of opportunity. Crowley couldn’t help but grin wider, lowering his head enough to let his glasses slide just that tiny bit down his nose.

Aziraphale tore his eyes away just in time to see the woman throw the bills onto the counter and leg it to the door with the book held firmly to her chest.

“No! Wait, this isn't--” But it was too late, the woman was already out the door and away with her ill-gotten goods.

“You!” Aziraphale turned on him, throwing up his arms in outrage. “You helped her!”

Crowley took a long, obnoxiously slurping pull from his milkshake and met Aziraphale’s eyes head on. “Have you been to my apartment recently?”

Aziraphale froze, like a rabbit caught in headlights of an oncoming car. Guilt was written all over him. “It needed some color?” the angel said weakly after a few heartbeats.

Crowley took another pull from his milkshake. “That woman also needed your book,” he drawled, shifting to let more of his hair slither forward over his shoulder.

Aziraphale’s eyes tracked the movement, seemingly hypnotized for a long moment. Then he shook himself and frowned, his lips pulling down in a displeased expression. “I liked that book!”

Crowley snorted. “You have twenty identical ones!” he said, taking another pull from his milkshake. He made it a bit of a show, dragging his lips slowly over the straw before starting to suck, making sure to hollow his cheeks.

Aziraphale flushed, but also raised his head, still offended but now also interested.

“But this one was printed with an imperfect letter ‘r’ that looks like ‘i’ which then makes for hilarious spelling mistakes.”

“You have more.” With the hand holding the milkshake, Crowley motioned at the stacks upon stacks of books crammed into every inch of available space. “Many more.”

“That’s not the point!” Aziraphale protested. “She made off with my book!”

"You do run a shop, don't you? Isn't the purpose of a shop to sell things?"

Aziraphale opened his mouth, shut it, then muttered "Not always."

“And my apartment is now full of pink and yellow flowers,” Crowley said, starting to move towards Aziraphale. “No need to be so grumpy about it.”

“Grumpy!” Aziraphale exclaimed, loud and definitely grumpy as hell.

“Yes,” Crowley nodded. “It will spoil your appetite.”

“Wait…” Aziraphale backed up a step, "What are you doing?”

“Sweetening your mood,” Crowley said, slurping the last of the milkshake from the cup and throwing it away.

“What? How…?”

Crowley didn’t bother to explain.

He sank to his knees.

The sound Aziraphale made coiled deep in Crowley’s belly and sparked an unquenchable heat. He grabbed Aziraphale by his hips and pulled him closer, more feeling than seeing how his hands fluttered above, obviously unsure what to touch.

Crowley tugged at Aziraphale’s belt, adding a healthy dose of power to the movement to make sure he got it open before the angel caught on to what was happening.

The pants opened up readily enough and then it was just a matter of dragging the sensible underwear down and pulling Aziraphale’s cock out. The angel squeaked, his hands landing on Crowley’s shoulders, fingers digging in as he invoked the Lord’s name in vain.

Crowley didn’t wait. He opened his mouth and took Aziraphale in without warning. If there was one thing Crowley knew how to do it was to swallow. He was a snake after all.

He couldn't help but grin, as much as he could with his mouth full, feeling the warmth of Aziraphale’s body against his chilled mouth. The gasp and shudder it earned him was a reward in itself.

“Crowley! Somebody might… day… window… oh Lord,” and a flash of angelic power brought a shiver of excitement to Crowley. He could hear the shutters slamming shut, locks engaging with a loud snap as the angel miracled the shop closed.

Aziraphale’s fingers twitched spasmodically on his shoulders, digging in even through his jacket. Crowley hummed around the rapidly hardening cock and then swallowed around it, feeling as it slowly filled in his throat. He pushed forward, taking it deeper, until his nose was buried in the soft skin of Aziraphale’s groin. He smelled nothing like human. No sweat, not really any musk, but something purely the angel's own. His power, the books, time, the light, the cologne he'd recently changed.

Crowley swallowed, making his throat tighten against the thick head blocking his airway. Breathing was for the weak -- who needed air when he could do this, swallow down Aziraphale’s hard length and hear him choke out half-uttered words above him. The angel’s hands fluttered over him, one fisting in the loose part of his hair, the other fighting not to settle on the braid.

Crowley closed his eyes, enjoying the sound and the taste of the angel, the shaky fingers in his hair and the the ragged breathing.

He sucked, swallowing hard and often, wringing even more breathless sounds out of Aziraphale. The angel’s hand went roaming, touching Crowley’s cheek, thumb skirting the line of his lips stretched over Aziraphale’s cock, then down to his neck, curious fingers settling on his throat for a moment, no doubt feeling the way his own cock stretched Crowley’s throat.

Something about it all, about the curious, unsure touches, the shocked lust pouring off of the angel spoke to his deepest, darkest desires, bringing out his want and all the greed connected to it. He dug his fingers into Aziraphale’s hips, pulled him closer and sucked harder, bobbing his head, his focus narrowing to nothing but the taste and feel of him in his mouth, the smoothness of his skin, and the heaviness of him in his throat. It hurt a little, a glorious ache in his throat every time he pushed all the way in, his nose smushing against the heated skin.

Aziraphale was chanting his name in a voice gone ragged and tight. Crowley only held on tighter, pulling their bodies together, so close he was all but wrapped around Aziraphale’s legs.

When the angel came, his fingers were tightly woven into Crowley’s hair, pulling hard in his moment of abandonment, his cock swelling in Crowley’s mouth and spilling the seed, burning him with the familiar tingle of Grace.

Crowley licked him through the hard shudders and the small tremors that followed, kept him in his mouth, snug and warm, until his breathing evened out and his fingers unclenched their death grip on Crowley’s hair.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale managed, voice breathy and wrecked. His fingers were shaking. “Oh, Crowley.”

His hands went to Crowley’s cheeks, tilting his face to make him look up even as Aziraphale sank to his knees in front of him. He kissed Crowley like it was the first time, the only time they were ever going to kiss, all shaking lips and gentle hands.

“I’m guessing this went over well, yes?” Crowley asked, even as he was being kissed again.

---

They ended up on the couch in Aziraphale’s office somehow, miraculously both managing to fit onto it. They lost most of their clothing on the way. Aziraphale seemed dead set on touching every part of Crowley with his lips. He trailed gentle kisses over Crowley’s cheeks, licking his own taste out of the demon’s mouth. He ran curious, gentle hands under Crowley’s shirt, fingertips tracing careful patterns. Their legs were tangled together, Aziraphale’s soft and smooth, Crowley’s skinny and rather hairy.

“What brought this, er...” Aziraphale blushed a little, “whole thing on?”

His hands were on Crowley’s belly now, stroking gently, feeling out the shape of him as if it was the first time he'd ever touched the demon.

“Seemed like a good idea at the moment,” Crowley said, turning into the touch, only half aware of his mostly-hard cock still trapped under the black cotton of his underwear.

Aziraphale hummed. Now that Crowley wasn’t sucking his brains out through his cock, the angel was liable to notice things Crowley didn’t necessarily want to show.

Aziraphale shifted against him, their bodies sliding closer together as the angel gently insinuated himself between Crowley’s legs, his head on the demon’s shoulder. One of his hands trailed lower, from the stomach he was investigating over the hard jut of the hip down to the thigh to wrap around Crowley’s knee. His thumb stroked there, slow, gentle circles that did strange things to the demon. Crowley turned his head, exhaling sharply, surprised by the strength of his reaction.

“My dear,” Aziraphale murmured, pressing his lips to the exposed line of Crowley’s neck. His lips were curious and diligent, mapping every inch of Crowley’s neck, going up to his ear and tracing that too, breath soft and warm against his skin. “You don’t have to give me more than you are comfortable with,” Aziraphale whispered, slowly making his way down Crowley’s neck, licking gently at the hollow of his throat. “I love you the way you are,” Aziraphale promised, body shifting, belly pressing against Crowley’s trapped cock, giving him something to thrust against. Crowley’s hips jerked once, twice, pleasure building up at the base of his spine.

“You promised to fuck me,” he invited, giving Aziraphale a squeeze with his knees.

“Not as a...quickie on the couch,” Aziraphale sounded more shocked by the idea than he had been by Crowley going down on him in his shop. His hand stroked from Crowley’s hip, down his thigh, to whatever of Crowley’s leg he could reach. Slow, careful strokes that were almost unbearably gentle.

Crowley didn’t understand it. He was tough, he could take it. He didn’t need to be… coddled. He wasn’t going to shatter because somebody pressed too hard. This tenderness was odd and uncomfortable. He was a demon, he didn’t need it.

He blinked, eyes suddenly burning as he lifted his head to look down at Aziraphale, now occupied with placing tiny kisses on every inch of available skin on Crowley’s shoulder.

Aziraphale wasn’t just having sex, or even making love. Aziraphale was, for lack of a better word, performing an adoration. “What...” Crowley said, throat so tight he was incapable of finishing his sentence.

Aziraphale’s eyes were lowered, lids covering them, the pale lashes fanning over his cheeks and he looked peaceful, happy even. He took hold of Crowley’s wrist, now completely limp in shock and brought it to his lips, pressing them to the madly beating pulse. Crowley shuddered hard at the sensation, at the expression of Aziraphale’s face, at the utter peace he radiated in that moment.

“What are you doing to me?” Crowley asked, voice so quiet he could barely hear it himself. He realized he was shaking.

Aziraphale opened his eyes, blue and endless, and looked into his own without a shred of fear. “I only do what I feel you deserve,” Aziraphale said quietly, pressing his lips to the inside of Crowley’s palm.

“I don’t…” Crowley tried to say he wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t for him, but Aziraphale was sliding off of the couch, kneeling on the floor and bending his head to Crowley’s knee.

“Aziraphale, no, wait…” This time it was the angel that stopped him, his hand wrapping carefully around Crowley’s leg.

“Shh,” he hummed, lips touching the surprisingly thin skin of his knee.

Whatever voice Crowley still had was lost at the sight of Aziraphale kneeling between his legs, touching his body as if it was the most precious thing he'd ever owned. Slowly he trailed his lips down the bony edge of his shin. His hands followed along, wrapping over the flinching muscle and teasing the tiny hairs on Crowley’s skin even as his breath fanned over it, raising a riot of goosebumps.

By the time the angel's lips reached his ankle, Crowley had his wrist in his mouth and was biting it to stop the noises fighting to get out of his throat.

“I have always found you fascinating and irresistible,” Aziraphale said, pressing his cheek to the naked arch of Crowley’s foot. “It’s why I kept falling for every invitation.” He switched to the other leg and Crowley whimpered, closing his eyes tightly. He couldn’t watch, couldn’t see this. Just feeling it was almost too much to bear.

The angel didn’t stop, didn’t give in, just went on mouthing hot little patterns over the skin of Crowley’s legs, hands gently cradling his ankles. He could feel Aziraphale's hair tickling the inside of his thighs, how warm he was, heat pouring off of him in waves.

“I like what my touch does to you,” Aziraphale murmured softly, shifting closer between Crowley’s legs, pushing his thighs apart more as he mouthed his way upward.

All Crowley could do was squirm and pant, something deep inside him trembling and overwhelmed at the devoted attention. He was used to interested looks, to awed looks, he put effort into appealing to that part of the human brain. But he'd never truly expected the angel to react to it, never expected Aziraphale to look at him with a covetous eye. Never expected him to be this dedicated, as if Crowley was one of his rich, complicated desserts he would take hours to eat.

He almost sobbed when he felt Aziraphale lean over him, his hips firmly between Crowley’s thighs, smooth and warm, so very much there. He reached out his hands towards Aziraphale, touching his head, the short curly hair slipping through his fingers teasingly.

“I want you inside me,” he said roughly, closing his knees against the angel’s body, locking his legs behind his arse and pulling him closer. He was hard and shaky, hands trembling for no good reason, and he couldn’t imagine letting Aziraphale go without having him as close as he could possibly get him. He wanted to be fucked, to be touched, to be possessed, anything and everything as long as this huge yawning hunger inside him was finally satisfied.

Aziraphale thrust against him, cock hard and trailing a line of wetness across Crowley’s thigh as the angel turned his head to mouth at Crowley’s wrist, rubbing his cheek over the palm, beautiful and pale, the only person Crowley would ever trust like this.

“Too many clothes,” the angel murmured, his other hand tugging at the tight underwear and Crowley whined, long and loud, ending up on a groan.

He had to snap his fingers twice, the first time failing due to shaky fingers. The clothes went away, leaving him naked in Aziraphale’s arms. He gasped at the delicious feel of Azirpahale’s cock against his naked skin.

He couldn’t wait. Not a single second longer, not a heartbeat. It was all too much, his body on fire, his whole being fragile and on the verge of shattering. Aziraphale’s touch burned, like a benediction and the worst torture Hell could offer, pure and painful and crashing through all his defences.

“Now,” he said, surging up, his arms around Aziraphale’s shoulders, sliding of the couch and bearing them both to the carpeted floor. Aziraphale was doing something, Crowley could feel the power surge up close by, but it didn't matter what. Nothing mattered but getting the angel inside him, right now. He was burning alive.

They ended up on the floor, Aziraphale sitting flat on the carpet and Crowley kneeling over him. He snapped his fingers one more time, lips sloppily pressed to Aziraphale’s cheek, arm wrapped around his shoulders, long hair falling over them both. His claws, long again, sracthed carefully at the angel’s skin.

Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded as shattered as Crowley felt, his hands firm on Crowley’s hips. His voice sounded like a prayer.
It only took one roll of his hips to feel Aziraphale press against him, hot and slick. His cock was firm against Crowley’s hole, already slick. He wasn’t human, he just looked like it, and he could play fast and loose with the rules if he wanted to.

It was Aziraphale that broke the status quo. His grip on Crowley’s hips tightened and he pushed him down.

Crowley cried out as he sank down onto the angel’s cock, feeling it push into him and open him up. The only thing he could do was wrap his arms around Aziraphale shoulders and cling, panting as his body gave in and stretched around the angel, wrapped around him like a glove. He was dizzy, mind spinning, body aflame, all his awareness focused on this amazing being touching him inside and out.

He pressed his open mouth to Aziraphale’s own, not enough awareness left to kiss, just to breathe the angel in.

It was Aziraphale again that made him move, the surprisingly strong hands on his hips lifting him up and Crowley cried out again, the sound swallowed by Aziraphale’s lips.

The feel of him, hot and hard, dragging over sensitive skin, filling him, pushing back in, making Crowley lose whatever breath he'd managed to regain.

The rhythm started easy, slow and deep, but it didn’t stay that way for long. All Crowley needed was to roll his hips, feel the new angle, the pleasure it spiked, mind reeling at the sensation of Aziraphale inside him. The angel’s hands were in his hair again, fingers wrapped in the red waves doing nothing to get the mass of hair under control. The braid had come loose and it was everywhere, spilling over their faces, strands fire-red against the paleness of Aziraphale's skin.

The angel took pity on him, pushed his tongue into Crowley’s open mouth, as breathless as Crowley himself in this mad rush for pleasure. Crowley moaned again, mind spinning and body aflame, sucking hard on that tongue, wanting Aziraphale deeper, closer, wanting everything.

His cock brushed against Aziraphale’s belly, the sensation almost too much. All Crowley could do was shove his hips forward, harder, deeper, wanting that stretch and that fullness more than anything.

He didn’t expect Aziraphale to come first, the angel's hands tightening almost painfully in Crowley’s hair and his hips snapping up sharply. His cock twitched and swelled, spilling come inside him in long, hot spurts. Crowley cried out, feeling it tingle and burn right up his spine and into the base of his skull. The shock of it, the goddamn Grace of it, pushed him over the edge and his mind blanked out as he tightened on that amazing cock and came, crying out right into Aziriphale’s mouth.

He slumped there, limp and exhausted, on Aziraphale’s thighs, feeling him soften inside him where everything was slick and tingly, his arms draped loosely over Aziraphale’s shoulders, letting the angel hold his whole weight. He felt as though there wasn’t a single bone in his body, he was just skin and pleasure, mind quiet for once. He pushed his nose under Aziraphale’s ear, taking deep breaths of the angel’s scent, feeling the heat between them dissipate, sweat and come slowly drying on their bodies.

---

They ended up in the bath, somehow, Crowley wasn’t absolutely sure how. The bathroom looked bigger than what he remembered and the tub was able to hold both of them. Crowley still hadn’t remembered how bones work, but Aziraphale didn’t seem to mind. He sank into the hot water, settling Crowley between his legs, the demon’s back to Aziraphale’s smooth chest. The angel claimed Crowley was too bony to lie on comfortably and Crowley was too sleepy to have any reservations. He simply melted into the soft, warm body under him and closed his eyes as Aziraphale played with his hair. It was heavy now, the long strands setting the water aflame with its color.

Aziraphale washed the demon's hair, fingers combing ever so gently, massaging his scalp and sending more pleasurable little shivers down Crowley’s body. Aziraphale took good care of him, making sure not a single drop of the shampoo fell into Crowley’s eyes. If he'd known his hair would be such a hit with the angel he would have never cut it and damn the current fashion. He was cool enough to pull off any type of hair anyway.

Crowley let him, basking in the touch and drifting on the pleasure still buzzing in his body. Soon Aziraphale’s fingers left Crowley’s scalp and ventured lower, soaping up the length of his throat, fingers tracing his adam’s apple curiously and investigating the hollow of his throat with gentle diligence. He soaped up Crowley’s chest, hands soft as they framed Crowley’s pectorals, scratching delicately through the sparse hair there and then went lower. Crowley roused himself when he felt the hands slide deliberately down his stomach and wrap around his soft cock.

“Angel,” he said, not sure if he was asking, admonishing or maybe encouraging. All at once possibly.

“Can I?” Aziraphale asked, voice low and hoarse, so close Crowley could feel the vibration of his voice against his cheek. “Can I see you?”

The soapy hands were handling him, gently but firmly, running, sliding slickly over his sensitive flesh.

Crowley laughed. This was ridiculous. Why was Aziraphale even asking? As if Crowley were even capable of saying no to him. “Yes,” he said unnecessarily, letting his knees fall further apart, giving Aziraphale access to whatever he wanted.

“I like watching you,” Aziraphale admitted, tilting his head down to press his cheek against Crowley’s. It felt smooth and hot. “I think you are beautiful,” he added even softer, one of his hands sliding lower and tugging briefly at Crowley’s balls before those questing fingers found Crowley’s hole - still sensitive and aching a little from the vigorous use. He touched there, rubbing softly around the swollen skin and Crowley had to grab the edges of the bathtub, claws clinking against the enamel and water splashing out. He arched back, his head pressing firmly into the shoulder it was resting on, and groaned.

Aziraphale breathed out an inarticulate sound, lust and emotion heavy in his voice.

Crowley shuddered against him, eyes closed to hide the burn of them. “Yes,” he gasped, turning his head and burying his face in Aziraphale’s neck, claws scratching hard against the sides of the tub. “Yes, do it.”

The fingers pushed in where Crowley was still slick and open, reawakening the tingle, filling him again. Crowley could only pull his knees up and feel it, let Aziraphale stroke him slowly into hardness again, those two fingers never leaving his hole.

It took a long time, but Aziraphale didn’t seem to be in any rush. Even with his eyes closed and his back to the angel, Crowley could feel Aziraphale’s gaze, watching as Crowley hardened slowly. Sometimes he would take his hand away from his cock to stroke down Crowley’s heaving chest or his trembling belly, sometimes down the twitching thighs. But it always came back, the firm, slick hand, wrapping around Crowley’s cock and stroking him slow and tight, making the orgasm inevitable.

When it came, slow and thick like molasses, Crowley blushed to the tips of his ears. Aziraphale’s attention fixed on every detail of him coming, every twitch of muscles, every spasm that tightened his body around those fingers inside him felt somehow more intimate than the touch itself.

When he was done, body wrung out and the last echo of tremors working their way through his body, boneless again, Aziraphale covered his clawed hands with his own and pulled them away from the sides of the tub. He brought them up to his lips and kissed them, each finger, one by one, before pulling Crowley up enough he could kiss him too. Crowley went easy, boneless and sated, opening up to Aziraphale in all the ways he could.

---

Crowley woke up to the sight of Aziraphale trying to break into his phone.

He stretched, flexing his toes and getting used to all the bones again, then rolled to his side to watch as Aziraphale fumbled guiltily with the phone, clearly torn between hiding it and admitting to what he was doing.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley drawled, smirk stretching his lips as he watched the discomfited angel. “Having trouble?”

Aziraphale flushed all the way down his chest. Crowley followed the progression of pink with his eyes. He could almost taste the blood under the skin.

“I… I think I might need one of these,” Aziraphale said weakly, avoiding Crowley’s eyes. He looked adorable, his hair mussed from sleep and pink staining his pale skin. Absolutely delicious.

Crowley stretched again and grinned. “Want the code?” he offered.

Aziraphale’s eyes skittered to his, surprised. “You would give it to me?” He turned the phone in his hands, nervously. “Just like that?”

“Three,” Crowley said slowly, watching the movements of Aziraphale’s hands and remembering what those hands had done to him just a few hours ago.

Aziriphale hesitated but temptation won. He swiped his thumb over the screen, bringing the phone to life and Crowley heard the beep of the number being entered.

“Three,” he said, pulling one knee up and running his claws over his own skin. Aziraphale’s eyes followed the movement and stayed there, watching for a long moment before he remembered what he was doing and entered the next number.

“Three,” Crowley said again.

Aziraphale looked to him for the next digit. The number made him frown. “This doesn’t seem very much like you,” the angel said.

“Six,” Crowley said, still watching Aziraphale closely, waiting for him to figure it out.

The angel’s finger hovered over the last number. His eyes widened suddenly and his mouth opened as he entered the last part of the code. Three three three six - EDEN.

“4004 BC was a pain to enter,” Crowley said wryly, enjoying the dumbfounded look on Aziraphale’s face.

“You…” Aziraphale seemed at a loss for words.

“It’s customary, isn’t it?” Crowley said gently. “Remembering dates like that, first meetings and other such things.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed, abandoning the phone in favor of lunging for the demon. He was there, pressing down on him and kissing him, his weight heavy and warm. “You are amazing,” he murmured between kisses.

Crowley pulled him closer, spread his legs and settled Aziraphale snugly between his thighs, pressing their bodies together as close as he could.

“Every time you touch me,” Crowley said quietly, when the kiss ended and Aziraphale was lying there with his cheek pressed to Crowley’s neck, “you break me open,” he finished, voice low and hoarse.

Aziraphale was quiet for a while, breathing in tandem with Crowley. “Is that a bad thing?” the angel asked carefully.

Crowley ran his hand over Aziraphale’s back, feeling the dips and curves of it, liking that there was enough flesh on the angel that he could hold onto something other than bone.

“No,” he said finally, because as terrifying as it was, Crowley couldn’t imagine giving it up. “It’s a lot, sometimes. But not bad.”

“I love you,” Aziraphale said, a little helplessly. “I can’t… I won't take it back, now that I've admitted it to myself.”

Crowley pushed his nose into the blond curls, inhaling Aziraphale’s unique scent.

“Angels can sense love,” Crowley said slowly, “but demons can’t. We just...can’t… I… I have to believe, because I can’t know it, not like you can.”

He could feel how Aziraphale squeezed him at that, the emotion he wouldn’t speak of clear in every line of his body.

“Oh, Crowley.”

But he didn’t want pity. He didn’t want Aziraphale to look at him like he was some kind of wounded bird that needed saving. He was a demon, a very old one at that, he could take it. He could take anything that was thrown his way.

“But you can sense lust,” Aziraphale said thoughtfully. “Avarice, jealousy,” he continued, clearly mulling over something.

“Obviously,” Crowley nodded.

“I feel lust when I look at you,” Aziraphale said. “Jealousy when I see you paying attention to others. Avarice when you leave.”

Crowley froze, the angel's admission stunning him speechless.

“Can you feel that?”

“I…” Crowley swallowed, throat clicking. “Yes.” He squeezed Aziraphale, unable to find words to express what this meant to him, how it felt to hear Aziraphale admit it. He cleared his throat. “I think the Ritz reservation is gone by now,” he said, wanting to lighten the mood, needing time to glue himself up again. Aziraphale, apparently, could break him even when he was barely doing anything.

Aziraphale shrugged in his arms, “Chef Zhao usually keeps a table for me anyway.”

“Ah,” Crowley murmured, thinking of the Chinese man of German descent who had met his Italian wife while traveling in Thailand and settled with her in Ireland only to open a sushi restaurant in London. He did know his way around a fish. “Sushi.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale nodded, pushing up and away from Crowley’s arms. “It’s settled then.” He scooted down and let his feet drop to the floor. He hesitated, looked around the bedroom, and eventually settled on miracling himself a robe. It was adorable how Aziraphale had no hangups about sex, but would not walk around the room naked. Crowley had no such inhibitions. He stretched out, making sure to shake his head and spread his hair on the white sheets. Sooner or later, Aziraphale was bound to be lured by the red mass.

Aziraphale came back soon enough, looking a tiny bit embarrassed and hiding something in his hand. As Crowley expected, his eyes kept going to the hair more often than to anything else.

“I have something for you,” Aziraphale said, sitting down at the edge of the bed and extending his hand with a little jewelry box on it towards Crowley.

“A present!” Crowley sat up immediately, leaning closer and reaching for the box.

“I thought… I hope this will fit you.” He made a vague gesture towards Crowley, or maybe south Asia, it was hard to tell. “Fit your style, that is. Feel free to not use it, of course, if it’s not to your liking. I just wanted to…”

“Give me,” Crowley yanked the box out of his hand and opened it impatiently.

Inside were earrings. Small hoops, each made of two snakes twined together, one white gold and one yellow gold. He lifted one of the earrings up, to better catch the light. Each of the snakes had eyes made of some red stone, ruby most likely. Close up, he could see that their bodies were patterned with miniscule scales. They were pretty and sparkly, small enough to go well with most of his jackets.

And snakes.

One could never have enough snakes.

“I like them,” he decided, putting the earring back into the box with its partner. “My ears aren’t pierced, though.” It wasn’t easy, making a permanent hole in a demon’s body. He'd tried a few piercings before and the problem was that whenever he shifted forms, he usually came back to the default. Which was why, oddly enough, cutting hair versus using his power to change the length, worked better.

“Oh,” Aziraphale wilted, looking disappointedly at his hands. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”

“I know somebody who can do it for me,” he said, fishing for the phone in the covers. Max had probably closed the shop already but he'd open it up again if he knew what was good for him.

Shop. 30 min. Or else.

He sent the message and looked up at Aziraphale.

“Get dressed, angel. We have somewhere to be in half an hour.”

Chapter Text

Crowley didn’t wait to be let into the shop, just snapped his fingers and sauntered in, trusting Aziraphale to follow.

“This seems really impolite,” Aziraphale said, sounding a little apprehensive. “This is somebody’s shop.” The angel looked around the dark room. “Obviously closed. We shouldn't just waltz in like we have the right.”

“Max is used to it by now,” Crowley waved Aziraphale’s comments away with a negligent hand. Really. Max worked for demons, the occasional confused angel and everything in between. He was probably used to working odd hours.

“What does Max do?” Aziraphale asked cautiously as he followed Crowley, frowning at the way Crowley opened the door to the backroom with a snap of his fingers.

The rune of protection painted on the inside of the door flared grumpily, resisting his power but giving in eventually. Crowley knew it was mostly a warning system, not a true protection. Max, for all his contacts, couldn’t dream of having enough protection to keep Crowley out if he really wanted in.

“He performs services for all occult beings. Piercings, tattoos and the like.”

“Like the one you suddenly acquired on your lower back today?” Aziraphale asked innocently.

Crowley twitched, his words drying out suddenly and he was forced to hum and haw before he untied his tongue enough to speak. “Just a little safeguard,” he said, deciding to play it down.

“I see,” Aziraphale said, stepping through the doorway after Crowley.

The little windchimes that hung from the ceiling near the shelves of supplies chimed softly.

“Oh.” Max’s voice came from behind them both. When Crowley turned around, the man was standing in the middle of his shop, staring at the open door to the backroom, eyes going from Crowley to Aziraphale and back again. He eyed the chimes and then Aziraphale. “Oh,” he repeated unnecessarily and looked back to Crowley with wide eyes. “That’s a first.”

“Chop chop,” Crowley clapped his hands loudly. “You have to make some holes!”

Max cleared his throat and tugged at his blue sweatshirt to try and straighten it out. The dark stains under his arms and disarrayed hair were a clear sign that Crowley had pulled him away from some form of training. Crowley twisted his lips. He had no idea what humans saw in exercise. It was only getting sweaty and tired, without even an orgasm as a pay off.

“Piercings?” Max said in surprise, again looking from Aziraphale to Crowley.

“Yes,” Crowley nodded, dragging aside the heavy curtain hiding the backroom from sight and sauntering in. He could see from the corner of his eyes how Aziraphale paused, studying the spells layered on the room, the runes hiding this space from strangers.

“Apparently,” Aziraphale added, casting Crowley a suspicious look.

“What?” Crowley asked, shucking off his jacket and sitting down on the rolling stool Max had used earlier. He pushed off, enjoying the way the little wheels spun as he sailed across the room.

“This,” Aziraphale pointed to the rune under the table, “is pretty advanced for humans.” He looked to Max apologetically. “No offense meant, my friend.”

“None taken,” Max said, still giving Aziraphale wary glances. It was hilarious how uncomfortable Aziraphale made him.

Crowley turned and pushed again, sailing back across the room to fetch up against the table.

“I met his great great great…. something mother. We had great fun together.” Crowley closed his eyes, remembering Marion. She was a fiery one. Short and plump, she'd had an energy about her that made men jump out of her way. She'd also had a penchant for summoning demons and brewing amazing moonshine. “She gave me alcohol, the witch.” Crowley said with feeling, remembering the truly amazing state of inebriation he'd achieved on her plum brandy and the joyful way she would delve into the occult.

“And you...what? Spilled some secrets while drunk?” Aziraphale sounded very short now, lips pinched together. He looked at Max again, definite suspicion in his eyes. “Or did you…”

“What?” Max asked, a small metal tray with a few instruments in his hands. He was watching Aziraphale warily.

“You only spilled your secrets, right?” Aziraphale asked Crowley, never taking his eyes off of Max.

Crowley stared at Aziraphale for a long moment before the metaphorical light bulb lit up in his brain. Oh. Oh. Oh yuck.

“Aziraphale!” he admonished, crossing his arms in front of himself in a protective gesture. “How could you?! That's… that’s… ewww! I’m a demon!” he added in an affronted tone, barely believing what Aziraphale was implying.

“Obviously,” Aziraphale said pointedly, still looking suspiciously at Max, who clearly had no idea what was going on.

Crowley all but choked on the next breath. How dare he. Ew. Ew. “I’m an occult being! I do not procreate! I have never procreated! We just partied! And...chatted!” He finally ran out of breath. “For a few years.”

Aziraphale gave him a long, assessing look before the steel went out of his spine and he was again the soft angel Crowley knew best.

“Of course, my dear,” Aziraphale said softly. “I’m sorry. It’s just, well you know what they say about witches and summoned demons…” he trailed off, blushing a little.

Interestingly, Max too was blushing.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley said slowly. “Have you ever seen a freshly summoned demon?”

Aziraphale opened his mouth, then his face twisted in disgust briefly before he smoothed the expression away. “Oh. Oh.”

“Yes,” Crowley said pointedly. Hastur’s looks had foiled more than one potential contract. Most demons never figured out that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

“I’m dreadfully sorry.” Now Aziraphale looked guilty.

“No matter.” Crowley waved his concerns away, feeling gratified as it occurred to him that Aziraphale was jealous.

Max cleared his throat, looking wide-eyed between Crowley and Aziraphale. "Is everything...alright?"

“Indeed," Crowley said with a sly smile. "Now, we were about to poke some holes into me?” This whole thing was getting wildly off track.

Max cleared his throat and looked at his little tray of supplies. “If you want a temporary piercing, I can do it right now. If you want something permanent… I will need time to get the needles properly blessed.”

“Blessed!” Aziraphale exclaimed, taking a step towards Max. The man skittered backwards as if he was afraid of being run through with a flaming sword at any moment.

“Angel,” Crowley said patiently, softly. “However tiny, it’s still permanent damage to a demon’s body.” He shrugged. “Anything else will heal within hours, or at my next shift.”

The silence that fell was heavy and uncomfortable, Aziraphale looked at Crowley with an expression Crowley couldn’t quiet read.

“I can try to get the old priest to bless them if you want it fast, or if you're willing to wait I could commission some from Rome. Longer delay, but better chances of success,” Max said slowly, careful not to place himself between Crowley and Aziraphale.

“Are you sure?” Aziraphale asked eventually.

Crowley pulled off his glasses and tucked them into the neckline of his shirt, all the while keeping eye contact with Aziraphale.

“Yes.” It was an understatement. He wanted it with a hunger that only a demon could know.

Aziraphale swallowed. “Then there’s no need to wait,” he said decisively and turned towards Max. He reached out, extended his hand over the tray Max was holding, and closed his eyes, blessing the whole damn thing, tray included. Crowley could feel the sheer strength of the blessing in his bones. He wouldn’t even be able to touch the damn thing now.

Max, obviously both impressed and unnerved, walked a wide circle around the angel until he reached Crowley.

“The hair,” he said quietly, setting the tray on the table and pulling out a pair of latex gloves from a box attached to the side of it.

Crowley snapped his fingers, a small elastic band appearing in his hand. It was black, with a twisted pattern that looked like corded leather. He tested the give with his fingers, then reached back and twisted the mass of loose curls into a messy man-bun, strands trailing down from it that tickled his neck a bit. Judging by the way Aziraphale’s eyes followed his movements, the angel wasn’t against the look.

Crowley waited until Aziraphale’s eyes met his again before he smirked, enjoying the very faint flush that spread over the angel’s cheeks

Max cleared his throat after a few moments, shifting uncomfortably. “What are we piercing?” he asked, picking up his tools.

“I don’t know,” Crowley said slowly, letting his voice drop until it dragged through his throat like gravel. “I’m not the one to choose.”

Aziraphale’s lips parted, just a little, just enough for Crowley to see the way his tongue flicked out to wet them. The angel swallowed, his eyes never leaving Crowley's.

“Just the ears,” he said after a beat, his voice anything but steady. “Please.” The word sounded like benediction.

Max moved to touch Crowley’s ear, but the demon shot out a hand and caught his wrist in an unbreakable grip. He never took his eyes off Aziraphale, trying to tell him without words that Aziraphale could have this, this and many other things, that he could mark Crowley as his if he wished. Anything he wanted, Crowley would give.

“You can choose whatever you like,” Crowley said, quietly, voice dropping even more.

Aziraphale’s hands twitched and he seemed startled by the movement. He twisted his fingers together in front of him, pressing them firmly to his body as if he was holding himself back from doing something.

“The ears,” he repeated, his voice rougher than usual. "For the time being." The pink was darker now, travelling down his neck, but he never averted his eyes. He kept them on Crowley, heat and guilty possessiveness warring in his eyes.

“Do you have your own earrings, or shall I use some of mine?” Max asked. From his evasive gaze, Crowley guessed he was probably catching onto the subtext.

Crowley let go of Max's wrist and pulled out the small box from his pocket. He flipped it open with one finger, never taking his eyes off of Aziraphale. He wanted the angel to see this, to see him doing this. He wanted Aziraphale to know it was for him, because he wanted it.

“It will hurt,” Max warned, putting something around the lobe of Crowley’s ear. He didn’t move, didn't try to see what it was, it didn’t matter to him. The only thing that mattered was Aziraphale.

It was like being shot, a sudden, sharp jolt of pain that speared through him followed by a pulsing, spreading ache from the place the blessed needle had punched through.

He didn’t make a sound, too conscious of Aziraphale’s rapt gaze, of the way the angel was all but devouring him with his eyes, avarice pouring off of him in thick waves.

When Max did the other ear Crowley was ready; he didn’t so much as twitch at the shock of holy steel puncturing through him, radiating waves of pain. Aziraphale did. He made a tiny, breathless sound and Crowley had to clench his fist on his own thigh to make sure he wouldn’t move, wouldn’t rip the ear Max was still manipulating.

Time slipped, just a little, nothing but the blue of Aziraphale’s eyes existing. He came back to the clink of Max putting his tools back into the tray. The gloves followed, as did the gauzes and everything else he'd used during the procedure.

Crowley licked his dry lips and looked down at the tray. It positively radiated holiness, the blessing ridiculously powerful.

It was too dangerous to leave powerful items like that in the hands of a mortal. It was best to dispose of it. But he couldn’t make it disappear, not with that much power packed into it.

He looked back towards Aziraphale, whose eyes were dark and serious, with a covetous air the angel rarely allowed himself.

“Angel?” he asked, loathe to break the moment. “Could you…” he motioned towards the tray.

“Ah, yes,” Aziraphale jerked out of his reverie. “Of course.”

He made a move with his hand, just a small wave, and the tray, along with everything inside it, was gone.

Max made a tiny sound. Awe or terror, Crowley couldn’t say.

“Right,” Crowley stood up, ignoring the burning ache in his earlobes. Now that the blessed steel was gone, replaced by the tiny weight of the hoops, the ache was dissipating. “We have dinner reservations.”

His knees felt a little weak when he walked over to Aziraphale, who didn’t seem to even be breathing.

“I’ll send you your fee,” Crowley said without looking at Max. He couldn’t take his eyes off the angel.

“How do I look?” he asked softly, leaning close.

“Beautiful,” Aziraphale reached up, just barely brushing the pad of his finger over the tiny hoop in Crowley’s left ear. It felt like an electric shock, heat shooting down his spine. “Absolutely amazing,” he breathed.

Then he stepped away, to Crowley’s endless disappointment and looked around Crowley to Max. “I do hope you will keep this…” Aziraphale fumbled for a fitting end. “...event to yourself,” he finished a little lamely.

“Oh, he will keep quiet,” Crowley said, letting a growl into his voice. “Because if he doesn’t, I will know exactly who is to blame.”

He didn’t bother looking at Max to see if he got the message. He took a good grip on Aziraphale’s hand - the touch electric - and tugged him out of the shop, snatching his jacket on the way, aware of Aziraphale’s eyes on his face the whole time.

They had a dinner to catch after all.

---

Dinner was a special kind of torture.

Chef Zhao actually cried at the sight of the angel. He proceeded to hug him and call him very unflattering things in a bastard mix of German and italian.

He did have a table for them, although the fact that Crowley saw him scratch something out of the reservation book suggested that some hapless human somewhere was going to get turned away when they came for their dinner.

Aziraphale ordered a wide arrangement of sushi rolls, some kind of new seasonal set with cucumber and melon bits, soft, moist fish and fresh spicy salad on top, while Crowley went with some of the really nice Italian pasta they also offered, more interested in watching the angel eat than actually consuming anything himself.

He slouched in his chair, one elbow hooked over the back, legs stretched out under the table. He made sure to press his legs against Aziraphale’s.

The angel did not move away but kept still under the touch, and Crowley could feel a half smirk tugging at his lips. He sank down even more, rubbing slowly against the warm flesh and thinking it would be so much easier if he was a snake. He could coil himself against Aziraphale’s limbs, could hear the way the blood rushed through his veins, could soak up his heat with his whole body. Crowley braced his elbow on the table and put his fingers to his lips, enjoying watching Aziraphale trying to decide which roll to taste now. He held the chopsticks -- white with red and blue peacocks delicately painted on them -- correctly and gracefully. He looked happy, eyes assessing the beautifully prepared and served food, flicking up every so often to take in the hoops glinting in Crowley’s ears.

Crowley kept his hair in the messy bun, content to give Aziraphale as good a look as he wanted, the negligible weight of the jewelry a tangible sign of the angel’s mark on him.

“Are you not hungry?” Aziraphale asked finally, when Crowley abandoned the rest of his pasta for Zhao's amazingly strong coffee. Crowley could swear it was strong enough to kill an average human.

“Food isn’t exactly what I’m in the mood for,” Crowley answered, insinuating his foot between Aziraphale’s.

“Ah.” Aziraphale’s eyes flicked up to Crowley’s face, immediately sliding to his ear and catching on the little hoop. Crowley shifted, turning to expose his neck and give Aziraphale a better view of the tiny glittering snakes while pretending to look around the small but crowded restaurant.

“Should we ask for the check?” Aziraphale asked in a strange tone that Crowley couldn’t quite decipher.

“Finish your meal, angel,” Crowley said. He truly was content to sit there and stew in his lust, watching Aziraphale eat.

Aziraphale’s eyes slid from Crowley’s ear to his neck, staying there for a long moment. Then he dragged them up to meet Crowley’s slit-pupiled gaze.

“I don’t think I’m in the mood for food after all,” Aziraphale said quietly. He raised his arm to call the waitress, without breaking eye contact.

Crowley could feel his eyebrows go up. “Oh really,” he murmured, reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket to pull out a wad of money. He didn’t even check how much he left, just chucked a bunch of bills onto the table, his eyes never leaving Aziraphale’s.

The waitress came and packed their leftovers with quick, nervous fingers, a blush blazing on her cheeks. Clearly she was picking up on the tension between the two of them.

Aziraphale thanked her absently, his voice remarkably steady considering the lust pouring off of him, desire and avarice and something else, something stronger and deeper that was nevertheless tangled deeply in all of that.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said quietly as they made their way towards the Bentley (parked as illegally as possible right in front of the restaurant). A glaring orange triangle was affixed to the back wheel, and Crowley erased it out of existence with a snap of his fingers.

“Yes angel?” The Bentley came to life the moment Crowley touched it, engine purring throatily and lamps glaring a wide arch of light over the dark street.

“Would you take me to your apartment?”

Crowley paused, his body seemingly forgetting how to operate, as he turned to look at the angel. “My apartment?” he repeated blankly, tilting his head down to look at Aziraphale over his sunglasses. It was always a thrill, a strange sort of happiness, that Aziraphale never flinched from his gaze.

“Yes,” Aziraphale confirmed, stronger, standing straighter in front of Crowley, the paper bag of leftovers held loosely by his side.

Readying for battle, Crowley realized.

“You wouldn’t like it,” he said weakly, feeling something shivery and wild in his chest, beating against his ribs like a bird he hadn’t stunned properly before swallowing. “It’s…”

“Yours,” Aziraphale interrupted, his voice low and uncommonly strong. “It’s yours.”

Crowley lifted his head slightly, just enough to put the sunglasses back between them.

“That is,” he began, looking at the door he was holding half open and avoiding the angel's eyes. “I mean,” he tried again, looking for words, trying to understand the sudden onset of panic twisting in his stomach.

“No?” Aziraphale asked, voice soft and infinitely understanding despite the disappointment Crowley could sense through his skin.

“Get in the car, angel,” Crowley said, getting in himself. His heart was pounding and he couldn’t understand what it was that he was feeling.

Aziraphale stood on the sidewalk for a long moment, staring at Crowley with dark eyes before he roused himself and circled the car to the passenger's side. He got in slowly, making sure to be gentle when he closed the door.

“Crowley,” he started, then cut himself off, folding his hands on his lap. “I’m sorry if I overstepped…”

Crowley put his foot on the gas and turned the wheel sharply. The U-turn shouldn’t have been possible with a car as long as the Bentley, but it was Crowley’s car, a good car, and it managed to slither between the metal railings with a quarter of an inch to spare. Crowley put his foot down on the gas, the car speeding up in a blink of an eye, leaving behind them a wild cacophony of honks and curses.

Aziraphale barely squeaked, but his hand did go to the roof, bracing himself. Crowley felt offended. It wasn’t like he ever crashed the car! He was an amazing driver!

“... this is not the way to my shop,” Aziraphale said after a moment, looking at the quickly passing buildings outside.

Crowley didn’t answer, just overtook a bus and scared a few years of life out of the driver of a red Ford Fiesta in the opposite lane.

“You won’t like it,” Crowley repeated, but drove towards his Mayfair apartment nonetheless, gas almost to the floor and cars scattering hastily out of his way.

Surprisingly, Aziraphale was for the first time in his life ignoring the road completely. His eyes were fixed on Crowley's profile. “I’ve seen it before,” Aziraplahe said quietly, his eyes burning into the side of Crowley’s face.

“Not everything, angel,” Crowley said. The angel's intense gaze made him feel as if there were ants crawling all over his skin, at the thought of doing what Aziraphale was asking of him.

“We have known each other for a very long time,” Aziraphale said, shifting beside him. Crowley turned the wheel a little, enough to get dangerously close to a cyclist on the road and extract a sharply indrawn breath from Aziraphale, though not the usual ‘Oh Lord’.

Crowley grumpily evened the car out again. “Everything is different now,” he said, so quietly he wasn’t sure even angel ears would be able to pick up the words over the roar of the engine. He saw the light turning to yellow and stepped on the gas, squeezing in just in front of a taxi and neatly avoiding a white Toyota Yaris, a particularly ugly model.

“I want you to show me,” Aziraphale said, words barely a whisper.

In the years since the first car was invented Crowley had never hit anything, never crashed a car or even so much as scratched it. The only time he'd come close to an accident was when the book girl hit him.

And then Aziraphale put his hand on Crowley’s thigh and he almost took out a lamppost, only the car’s quick reaction saving them from plowing into the lamp and then probably off the bridge completely.

“I’m sorry!” Aziraphale cried out, snatching back the offending hand and holding it to his chest. As if it would help any.

It didn’t.

Crowley could still feel it, the impression of palm and fingers on his leg, warmth seeping through the fabric of his jeans like a brand. He would never be able to un-feel it now.

He slowed down, pretending the lamppost incident hadn’t happened, and fixed his eyes ahead.

“Put it back,” he said roughly, hands clenching the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white.

It took Aziraphale a moment, looking worriedly from Crowley to the road and back again, but at last he did, indeed, put the hand back where it had been.

It rested lightly, almost timidly, just above Crowley’s knee. It did nothing, just rested there, warmth seeping through the denim to burn right through Crowley’s very being.

The demon found himself operating the pedals more often than necessary, slowing down and speeding up, because each time his leg muscles flexed he could feel the weight of Aziraphale’s hand press down a little, could feel how the fingers shaped themselves around his leg, their presence intoxicating.

He took the longest possible route to his apartment building but if Aziraphale noticed, he never said a thing.

Aziraphale was the first to exit the car, Crowley staying for one moment longer, lowering his head to rest on the steering wheel. He exhaled, long and loud, realizing he had goosebumps.

He rubbed his palms over his thighs, trying to get rid of the phantom feeling of Aziraphale’s hand, but it didn’t help.

He left the car and went to Aziraphale standing halfway between the car and the door to Crowley’s apartment building, watching him with those darkened eyes that Crowley couldn’t read. Or maybe he just didn’t want to. Some things were better left unsaid, after all.

“Come, angel,” he said, stepping up beside him and sliding his fingers against his palm. Aziraphale twisted his hand and caught Crowley’s fingers before the contact broke, twining them together and pulling carefully closer until their palms were slotting together.

“Good evening, Mr. Crowley, Mr. Fell,” the concierge greeted them.

“Hello, Mike,” Crowley said absently, not even looking at him. It took all he had to saunter towards the elevator without showing how shaky he felt. He kept his other hand in the pocket of his jeans lest Aziraphale see it tremble.

The moment the door of the elevator closed behind them, Aziraphale tugged on their joined fingers. “How does he know my name?”

Crowley could feel the angel's eyes, on his neck, on his ear, boring into the side of his face.

“The one I met when you were… gone,” Aziraphale’s voice fell at the last world, fading almost completely as his fingers tightened around Crowley’s. “That one knew me too.”

Crowley shrugged, making a vague series of sounds low in this throat. “Well..” he said, watching intently as the numbers on the floor display changed. “It made sense, you know,” he went on, dragging the answer out as much as he could. “Who else would come looking for me using the front door, right?”

The elevator pinged, finally, and the door opened letting Crowley escape the small, enclosed space.

“I suppose you are right,” Aziraphale said gently. “Thank you.”

Crowley could feel heat prickling up his neck as he led the way to his apartment. He snapped his fingers to open the door and shushed his wards when they grumbled at the angelic presence.

It was dark inside, the dark paint on the walls and black furniture combined with the half-shuttered windows let very little light into the place. There were no carpets on the floors, just shiny dark stone, no throw pillows and definitely no piles of tempting books anywhere in sight. There were a few, mostly on planets and stars, and Crowley found himself charmed by the colorful pictures and wildly inadequate descriptions.

He lingered by the door, trying to read Aziraphale’s reaction, but the angel wasn’t giving away much so Crowley decided to act as if this was normal, this didn’t matter to him at all.

He took the leftovers from Aziraphale and headed for his barely used kitchen. He passed the still-blooming plants and hissed at them, the pinks and yellow flowers an eyesore in his beautifully color-coordinated apartment. They shook and straightened, leaves a vibrant green. They did not lose the offending flowers, the ungrateful bastards.

When he came out with the plates of food, he saw Aziraphale whispering urgent reassurance to his plants.

“Garbage disposal,” he said as he passed the little scene, pretending he didn’t see the completely new assortment of flowers unfolding.

“Oh come on!” Aziraphale cried after him, “don’t be so mean to the poor plants! They try so hard!”

He pretended not to hear, choosing instead to set the low coffee table. He put the sushi down, admiring the contrast of the flat stone plate, the pastel-colored fish, and the gleaming, black glass table. Next he chose his favorite tumblers, the ones with the rounded bases that rocked from side to side as if they were about to spill every time one set them down. One of his greatest inventions, it stimulated faster drinking like nothing else.

He pressed a hidden button on the wall. A secret panel slid aside, revealing a well-lit liquor cabinet, a gleaming metal table sliding out from its hiding place behind the fake panel with a faint hum of motors.

Crowley prided himself on his selection of whiskeys: Macallan, Laphroaig, Bowmore and the Macallan 64 too (because he could), the Dalmore and a few others. He had a few red wines too, heavy and sweet, no longer produced commercially. People had forgotten how to make the old types anymore.

He heard Aziraphale’s footsteps entering the living room as he was pouring the first glass.

“I told you you wouldn’t like it,” he said mildly, turning to hand Aziraphale the tumbler. The angel looked a little rumpled but also uncharacteristically serious.

“It’s very… angular,” Aziraphale admitted, sitting down gingerly on the couch.

“It’s how I like it,” Crowley said, a tad defensively.

“It fits you,” he said, taking a large swallow of his whiskey. Crowley saw him brace himself to hate it, as he usually did, calling whiskey nothing more than the worst type of moonshine. Instead, Aziraphale froze, swallowed, coughed and then looked at the glass in surprise. “Huh.”

Crowley laughed, pouring himself a drink. “I wouldn’t serve you cheap booze,” he said, taking a long drink and enjoying how it burned as it went down, leaving a smoky aftertaste.

“You never do, my dear,” Aziraphale nodded. He looked soft in the sparse light, his curls gaining a more golden color.

“Well, maybe once,” Crowley allowed. “Scotland.”

“The 827,” Aziraphale nodded. “I still don’t remember most of that week.”

“I was in a very bad mood,” Crowley admitted.

“I remember that,” Aziraphale nodded. “I think by the second day your mood was significantly improved.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Crowley said, shaking a few wayward curls away from his face. “I honestly only remember up to us moving to that horrendously cute cottage you had at the time.” Then he frowned. “What were you even doing there? You never said.”

Aziraphale blushed and groaned at the same time. “Hiding.”

Crowley's eyebrows shot up, curiosity making him sit up straight and take notice.

“I… got in trouble with the king, had to lay low for a bit,” Aziraphale's half-smile suggested that he thought Crowley would find the story hilarious, despite how embarrassing it evidently was for the angel.

“You… got in trouble with the king?” Now that was a story Crowley simply had to know. Bringing the bottle and tumbler with him, he went to sit on the couch beside Aziraphale. He stretched his legs out, propping his feet on the table, and crossed his ankles, suddenly viscerally reminded of how it had felt to drive with Aziraphale’s hand on his thigh.

“He thought I was seducing his wife,” Aziraphale mumbled into his whiskey.

Crowley nearly dropped his glass, shooting up straight and turning to look at Aziraphale so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash.

“What? How!?” he asked, delighted by this bit of trivia and the way the angel was blushing.

“I thought she was genuinely interested in the manuscripts!” Aziraphale wailed, waving a hand in his agitation. “And it just kind of always happened that we were alone! I wasn’t trying to seduce her!”

And then Crowley was howling with laughter, his whole body alive with it, imagining a mortified Aziraphale making a hasty escape from the city, running from an enraged husband. “Amazing! The things I don’t know about you!”

“Oh, do shut up,” Aziraphale said testily, when Crowley didn’t stop laughing for three minutes straight.

He finally stopped, the laughter helping him relax into the couch, achieving a state as close to bonelesness as a mammal could. “Any other dirty secrets I wasn’t aware of?” He rolled his head towards Aziraphale, finding the angel already watching him. “What?”

“Do they hurt?” Aziraphale motioned towards his own ears, his eyes on the exposed ear and the small earring there.

“Ache a bit,” Crowley admitted, raising his hand to touch one of the earrings. It was a strange sensation, feeling the metal shift inside his ear, but not bad. There was no question that he would keep wearing them. Aziraphale was too fascinated with them for Crowley ever to give them up.

Aziraphale frowned. “That was holy steel he used on you.” He sounded incredibly guilty about it, too much for something so small.

“Angel,” Crowley said slowly. “I have been thrown into a boiling pit of sulphur when I Fell.” He did his best to keep the soft smile on his face. “Something like this,” he motioned towards his ear, “doesn't even register as pain.”

Instead of cheering Aziraphale up, his face fell, brows twisting together in a frown. “I wish I could take the pain away,” Aziraphale said quietly, then drained his glass in one long swallow. Crowley watched his hands, wondering if the angel would touch him again. He could still feel the phantom warmth of Aziraphale’s hand on his thigh. “It’s unfair. I can heal any human, can take away mental as well as physical wounds. Yet for you… I can’t do anything for you.” He was talking faster, fingers clenched on the tumbler, eyebrows drawn together. He seemed agitated, pained in a way Crowley hated, because he couldn’t do anything about it. “When you were hurt, I couldn’t do a thing to help you. I could only wait and hope you found a way to pick yourself up on your own.”

Crowley turned further towards him. A few curls had escaped his tie and fell onto his face, one of them tickling his nose. He scrunched it up, trying to get rid of the itchiness, it didn't work, and he finally pushed the lot off his face with his hand. The angel watched him with rapt attention.

“Aziraphale,” he murmured, taking the tumbler from his hands and putting it on the table with his own glass. They both rocked precariously, making Aziraphale squeak in alarm. The sound was almost as good as the one Crowley'd gotten from him when he pretended to almost run over a pedestrian.

“Even your glasses stress me out!” he said sharply, quite obviously trying to divert Crowley's attention.

Crowley reached for Aziraphale’s hand, covering them with his own to still the nervous wringing. “You saved me,” Crowley said slowly, firmly, admitting the truth, feeling how the fingers stilled under his touch.

“I didn’t!” Aziraphale sounded even more agitated. “That’s my point!” He gesticulated wildly. “You would have healed on your own.”

Crowley shook his head hard enough the tie broke and his hair spilled everywhere, the heavy mass like a warm blanket down his back, strands of fire falling over his face and shoulders, obscuring his view.

“Not now, not when I hid.” He closed his eyes, exhaled and let himself admit the truth. “When we were on that airstrip… I was ready to give up. I did give up. I didn’t know what to do. Satan, he's… none of us could have fought him.” He lowered his head, the ends of his hair spilling in between them onto the black leather sofa.

“What?” Aziraphale sounded completely baffled.

“You told me to do something or you wouldn’t ever talk to me and I… it was actually worse than dying, you denying me, discarding me.” What the fuck was he saying? It was like he lost all his higher brain functions when Aziraphale was near.

“I would never…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Crowley cut in, slicing the air with his hand. “You kicked me into shape and you saved my life. All our lives, really.”

Aziraphaletook Crowley’s hands between his palms. The heat trapped between them felt heavy, inescapable. “I won’t discard you,” Aziraphale said fervently, his fingers tightening on Crowley's. “I probably wouldn’t even manage to give you the silent treatment for longer than a century anyways.” His hands were hot and soft on Crowley's, the warmth seeping into the demons bones. Then he frowned.

“I meant to ask, actually,” he said. “Where did you take us that Satan didn’t manage to chase us there?”

“Uh...”

“Uh?” Aziraphale repeated.

Crowley really didn't want to answer this question. Like really, really.

“It’s complicated. It worked, and that’s all that matters, right?” Crowley said, backpedaling away from the conversation as fast as possible.

“At first I thought you stopped time" Aziraphale went on, "but the Morningstar isn’t confined by time so that wouldn’t have worked. It couldn't just be some other place as he has access to all of creation…” Aziraphale froze, his eyes widening as that too-smart brain connected the dots.

“Satan couldn’t reach us because the place you took us to didn't exist until you moved us there,” Aziraphale said slowly.

“Angel, stop,” Crowley said tightly.

“You have the power of creation.” Aziraphale stared at him with wide eyes. “No angel below the second triad can do anything like that. Just who were you before your fall? Were you a V--”

“Stop,” Crowley said sharply, slapping his hand against Aziraphale’s lips. “Don’t. Don’t say it out loud.” he whispered urgently. “Do you know how much it took to make them forget? To make everyone forget? I am the demon Crowley, that's all I am, that's all I have ever been.” Crowley was aware the hiss was coming back into his speech but he couldn’t let this out, couldn’t let Aziraphale say it and unmake thousands of years of work. When he fell, he stripped himself of power and stripped all of creation of any memory of him. He became nothing and no one, just one of many thousands of demons.

“You could have…” Aziraphale whispered, eyes still wide.

“I never meant to fall,” Crowley said, throat tight and a bitter aftertaste in his throat. “Much less did I want to become someone’s tool for revenge.”

“So you erased yourself from everyone's memory.” Aziraphale stared at him with emotions Crowley wasn’t ready to accept from him: pity, rage, awe.

It was all too much, so Crowley turned away and reached for the bottle of whiskey. He poured them both as much as the rocking tumblers could hold. “It was a long time ago, angel.” He drained his glass, barely feeling the burn. “A very long time ago.”

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said, reaching for his over-filled tumbler and clinking it against Crowley's mostly empty one. “Alcohol now?” he asked, a tiny uptick to his lips, and Crowley couldn’t help but respond with an equal smile.

“Alcohol,” he nodded decisively, refilling the bottle with a snap of his fingers.

Some alcohol would definitely help wash the bitterness of memory out of his throat, and Aziraphale was there, sagging just a little against the couch, his shoulder tilted ever so slightly towards Crowley.

It might have started badly, but it didn’t turn out that way in the end.

 

---

Crowley was drunk.

Not totally, utterly, knows-not-his-name drunk, but pleasantly sloshed nonetheless.

He sank down so deep into the couch he was nearly lying down, legs still stretched out and feet on the table. The couch had stretched and shifted to accommodate their lounging at some point in time. He had a plate of sushi in his lap and the bottle of whiskey leaning on his thigh. At some point, Aziraphale had miracled them some never-melting ice to add to the tumblers. (Crowley giggled at how the angel kept complaining about the rocking tumblers.)

They were eating sushi with their fingers, hunger re-awakened after a few hours of drinking. The alcohol didn’t diminish the jolt he got every time their fingers brushed. The angel’s presence almost drowned out the last faint echo of the whispers that the aching rune at the small of his back didn’t quite suppress. He ate slowly, making sure to pick the more spicy rolls. He quite liked the burn, and knew Aziraphale didn’t.

It felt naughty, somehow, drinking good alcohol and eating fancy foods with his fingers. Aziraphale was a long line of warmth against his side, his cream-colored coat a startling contrast in the dark-colored apartment. Him and the flowers.

Crowley glanced towards the corridor. Even from this position he could see a few of the rebelliously blooming plants.

He hissed at them.

Aziraphale, deliberating over which roll to pick, looked up and laughed. “Did you just hiss?” he asked.

“No,” Crowley denied instinctively.

“You did!” Aziraphale said delightedly. “What were you hissing at?”

Crowley grumbled instead of answering and picked up a piece of sushi at random. He put it in his mouth and chewed loudly. He was a demon, of course he was going to deny anything he was accused of.

Aziraphale tried to look over Crowley's shoulder to see what he'd been hissing at, but his position was uniquely unsuited for it. He kept wiggling though, turning and twisting, sliding on the slippery leather and getting nowhere fast. Eventually he made a low, frustrated sound, braced his hand on Crowley’s thigh and twisted.

Many things happened then.

Crowley squeaked. Not a sound any self-respecting demon should make.

Aziraphale caught a glimpse of the offending flowers and started giggling like mad.

They toppled sideways, the plate sliding off Crowley’s lap and onto the floor with a heavy thunk.

Crowley didn’t care, his brain mostly short circuited by fact Aziraphale’s hand had landed really damn high on his leg.

The angel ended up mostly on top of Crowley, wide blue eyes staring at him, the mirth just barely fading away and something darker replacing it. He smelled like the heady mixture of sins he'd promised Crowley, lust and greed and envy all mingling with the well-known scent of the angel.

Crowley felt strangely unable to move. Alcohol made his limbs soft and his head fuzzy, but that was not why he couldn’t move. Aziraphale’s weight on top of him was heavy and warm, relaxed and stimulating at the same time.

“This place,” Aziraphale said, strangely seriously for someone who had been giggling madly just a few moments before, “is not something I would have ever chosen for myself.” Crowley flinched but couldn’t do anything more because Aziraphale’s hands were on his face, taking away the sunglasses and forcing eye contact. “But I find it fascinating,” he said, clearly trying to be careful with his words. “It’s dark and angular, full of uninviting furniture and disturbingly erotic sculptures - and don’t think you won’t be explaining that one - but...” He licked his lips. His own hair was disarrayed enough it was falling over his forehead, almost reaching his eyes. “But it’s fascinating too,” he continued softly. “It’s… uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable? Crowley mouthed back, heart sinking. He knew, he knew Aziraphale wouldn’t like being too close to what Crowley was. It had been a ridiculous notion, that an angel, faced with all that Crowley was, wouldn’t find that unpalatable at least on some level.

Aziraphale was still staring at him, shaking his head as if to silence Crowley’s thoughts. “It makes me realize how much I've changed,” Aziraphale said, his thumbs reaching Crowley’s lips and sliding softly over them. The demon licked them, catching the faint aftertaste of soy sauce and the always miraculous taste of the angel's skin. “I didn’t know what lust was until you breathed it into me,” he admitted. “I mean, I knew of it, of course. Intellectually. One can’t remain ignorant, living among humans for so long. But I never felt it.”

“I’m sorry,” Crowley said quietly against the pads of Aziraphale’s fingers. He'd never wanted to change the angel, didn't want to; he just wanted to have him.

Aziraphale shook his head. “Let me talk,” he said, shifting atop of Crowley, twisting until their chests were pressed tightly together and the demon could feel the warmth of his breath on his lips.

Crowley was fine with that. He didn’t really have words anyway, so he just nodded, staying as still as he could for Aziraphale.

“It’s like I was living with one eye closed,” Aziraphale said quietly, ghosting gentle fingers over Crowley’s eyes. The demon closed them under the touch, feeling it feather down his lids. Aziraphale sounded too coherent, too put together and Crowley wondered if the angel had sobered up on the sly, wondered if the angel had been fool him into a false sense of security the whole evening.

“Like not knowing half the flavors in the world. I was fine with how things were, because it was all I knew.” Aziraphale broke eye contact for the first time, looking down to Crowley’s lips. “And then you came,” Aziraphale laughed to himself, eyes closing briefly. “You, a demon, just sauntered up to me, an angel, to have a chat. A chat.” Aziraphale laughed again, shaking his head. “I had no idea what to do with you. You were so fascinatingly alive, so open and curious. I felt like the odd one out next to you, like I was missing something obvious.” Aziraphale looked at him again, soft and wry and yet somehow unbending through all of that. “You'd learned the trick of how to live life to the fullest, while I was stumbling in your wake, always a few steps behind.”

His fingers continued tracing the shape of Crowley's lips, awaking tiny shivers and making Crowley uniquely aware of them.

“When you let me feel the Lust, your Lust, it was like opening my eyes fully for the first time.” Aziraphale's face wore a half-stunned smile, even as he shook his head slowly at himself. “I realized that you were showing me how to live, how to enjoy life. I could finally see what it was that drove you in your endless pursuit of whatever new and amazing thing humanity had discovered.”

Crowley wasn’t sure he could listen to any more of this Something in his chest ached, his throat was tight, and in many ways listening to this was as hard as going into Aziraphale’s burning bookshop.

“This place, your place, terrifies me,” Aziraphale said tightly, speaking faster, as if sensing that Crowley was on the verge of running away, mind spinning with alcohol and things he didn't want to name, much less admit. “It’s everything I never was, everything I shouldn’t be, and yet I find it utterly beautiful.”

“Shut up,” Crowley managed to squeeze out, through a throat so dry he felt like it would crack and bleed with every word. “Shut up.”

“I won’t,” Aziraphale said fiercely, the veneer of soft, fussy angel suddenly discarded as if it had never been. “I won’t. You awoke this inside me, you showed me that my world was too narrow, not as I thought it was at all. You gave this to me,” and his voice dropped, rough and insistent. “You showed me how to feel and now I am going to show you, make you see, everything that I feel when I look at you.” His hands were firm on Crowley’s face, keeping him still by force, his eyes burning.

“I hate this place and love it in equal measure and if you ever bring any other demon or angel here I swear I will smite them out of existence,” Aziraphale said tightly.

He kissed Crowley before the demon could even think of responding. His mind was spinning in a thousand different directions when Aziraphale did his best to devour him with his lips. There was nothing soft or gentle about the kiss. His lips were firm, their teeth clicking together as the angel did his best to lick Crowley’s very soul right out of him, hands fisting hard in his hair.

It didn’t even occur to Crowley not to give in, the thought of doing anything other than opening himself up to the unexpectedly fierce angel never even sparking in his mind.

“You want to own me,” Crowley breathed, stunned and weak with the revelation.

“Yes,” Aziraphale growled. “The light and the dark, every fascinating bit of you.” The words barely managed to squeeze through his clenched teeth, his hot and heavy body pressed firmly all along Crowley's. “I want you to give it to me.”

Crowley wasn’t sure his lungs were working. He couldn't seem to breathe. He arched under Aziraphale, pressing himself closer to that strong heat. “Take it then,” he hissed, human speech failing him and dissolving into sibilant proto-language. “I dare you.”

Some part of Crowley, a small and wild part deeply buried under millenia of anger and bitterness, bared its teeth at the challenge. The angel couldn’t take him, didn’t have the balls, never wanted to before…

His train of thought was interrupted by the sting of angelic power all along his senses, strongest where they touched, setting his skin on fire. Aziraphale was tearing down his own defences, leaving himself vulnerable and open, a prey to Crowley’s instincts again.

Trusting him.

Crowley whined, turning his head aside lest he do something inadvisable, and twisted, trying to wriggle out of the hold Aziraphale had on him. It didn't help. One of the angel’s hands was knotted in his long hair, keeping his head in place; the other found the hand with which Crowley was attempting to push Aziraphale away and flattened it against the couch with more than human strength.

“Breathe it into me again,” Aziraphale said, just as fiercely, eyes wide and burning with a bright blue fire the likes of which Crowley had never seen. “Give me your lust, give me your yearning, give me everything.”

Someone (not God, never God) help him, but Crowley did. He couldn’t think, much less figure a way out of this impossible situation. When Aziraphale’s lips crashed onto his, all he could do was let go. He let the power fill him, let it overflow his defences, let it set his body ablaze... and then he breathed all of that into Aziraphale. Each shuddering breath, each shift of muscle against bone and skin, each pulse of warm blood, and the unquenchable, never-ending hunger for things they could never have that lay at the core of every demon’s existence, the bitter memory of things lost forever.

Chapter Text

Someone screamed.

It might have been Aziraphale or him, he couldn’t tell, his mind spinning with alcohol and the sheer volume of power he was pouring into the angel. And Aziraphale was taking it, swallowing in a greedy kiss, hands like vices, keeping him still, holding him in place.

When the kiss broke Crowley felt dizzy and wrung out, a strange hollowness inside him, the rage somehow spent, the fear banked, baffled in the face of Aziriphale’s hunger. The angel twined fingers in his hair, making him tilt his head back, and attached his lips and teeth to Crowley’s neck, sucking and worrying a mark that would last for weeks. Crowley could only whimper and shudder under it, imagining how dark, how visible the mark would be. Tight under his jaw, so clearly possessive and fierce, so very fierce, setting Crowley’s body ablaze.

He managed to squirm enough to let Aziraphale fall into the vee of his open knees, feeling him press hot and hard against his own aching cock trapped under the layers of denim and cotton. Aziraphale wasn’t letting go of his hair, biting his way down Crowley’s neck, sucking a marching line of vicious love bites until he reached Crowley’s adam’s apple and put his teeth there. The sound Crowley made was less and more than human, body seizing with sudden heat, skin coming alive in a burst of burning desire cock twitching desperately under the layers of clothes. Crowley squirmed, tugging at his trapped arm, trying to move his head but Aziraphale would have none of it. He growled against the skin he was mangling with teeth and tongue, pulling the hair harder and Crowley saw white, a hard shudder wracking his body in that merciless grip of hands and teeth.

“Please,” he begged, nothing in him now but need, hitching his hips up, trying to rub up against Aziraphale. “Please.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale panted, lips and mouth and teeth letting go of his skin, leaving a line of stinging marks in their wake. “I want to see you,” he said, shifting his knees to sit up, making Crowley spread wider in response. Crowley could only whimper and let it happen, not a shred of resistance left in him.

When the angel let go of him suddenly, Crowley opened his eyes to a sight that took his breath away. Aziraphale was flushed dark, eyes burning, lips swollen and wet, his hair in disarray framing his face in messy little curls. He loomed over Crowley, arched over him in his many layers of clothes that Crowley at that moment hated with a burning passion.

Aziraphale was looking at him, at his body, as if it were a four course meal and the angel hadn’t seen food in a century.

“Aziraphale…” Crowley rasped, but whatever words he'd meant to utter scattered like a flock of startled birds when Aziraphale took hold of the neck of Crowley’s shirt and ripped it apart exposing Crowley’s chest.

All the demon could do was stare in stunned silence, body coiled with tension and fire coursing just under his skin. The contrast between the cool air against his chest and the sweltering heat of his jacket made goosebumps appear on the newly-exposed skin. As if hypnotized, Crowley watched Aziraphale watch him.

The angel licked his lips and extended his hands, palms flattening against Crowley's pectorals and dragging down, fingers leaving faint white marks and almost breaking Crowley's mind with how good it felt. The angel’s hands reached the snake-patterned belt and he paused momentarily, then Crowley felt the tingle of the angel's power like a physical caress as he disappeared the clothes in his way.

Crowley cried out at the sudden influx of sensations. The warm, slick leather under his suddenly naked ass, the textured feel of Aziraphale’s clothes against the inside of Crowley’s thighs, the shockingly cold caress of the air against his painfully hard cock, already leaking wetness.

He didn’t have long to get used to it, Aziraphale’s hand was already there, closing tightly over his cock and dragging from root to tip in a long, perfect stroke that obliterated whatever sanity Crowley had managed to cling to so far. He stroked Crowley with a perfectly tight grip, the skin of his hand sliding deliciously against Crowley’s cock, making his vision blurry with how good it felt.

“I can’t stop watching you,” Aziraphale ground out from between clenched teeth, “I can’t close my eyes even for a second.”

Crowley surged up, catching onto the angel’s shoulder and pulling their faces together, kissing him hard, wet, licking into him with all the desperation he felt in that moment. Aziraphale made a sound, low and guttural, surging against him. Crowley could feel his cock hard against him where their bodies met, could feel the heat of him, and he cried out, pushing his hips up and into Aziraphale, wanting him closer, deeper, in.

“Please,” he repeated hoarsely when the kiss broke. Aziraphale was arched over him, one hand braced against the armrest above Crowley’s head, bowtie all askew and hair a mess. His eyes were locked on Crowley's as if their lives depended on it, as if Crowley would dissolve into shadows in the next second if he looked away.

“I want to see everything, I don’t want to miss a second,” Aziraphale murmured on an exhale, and then Crowley felt him, his cock hard and slick, the head so wide, pressing at his hole. Before he had time to do anything, add some magic maybe to make it easier, Aziraphale was pushing in. Crowley gasped and arched, his body giving in easier than he had anticipated, still slick from their earlier encounter. Earlier today, it was all happening in the span of one day. Crowley wanted to say something, laugh or cry or maybe just beg again, but all he could do was pant and make incoherent noises as that heavy cock pressed him open inch by inch. Aziraphale kept himself braced over Crowley, kept watching him wide, hungry eyes, one hand roaming his chest in hungry, frantic movements, fingers tugging at his nipples.

He was panting, fingers scrabbling at Aziraphale’s clothes, thighs rubbing over the angel's coat. The angel didn’t take anything off, didn’t even miracle them away, just enough of an opening to be able to fuck Crowley. Something about that, about the animal urgency of it, stoked the heat even higher and Crowley twisted under Aziraphale, tightening on him, pleasure spiking inside him.

The angel was hot inside him, heavy and hard, pushing in steadily, with long thrusts that hit just right every single time. One of his hands was braced above Crowley’s head, the other was on his jaw, thumb pressed against Crowley’s open lips, eyes burning as they tracked every expression with fervent focus.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley moaned, fingers clutching the lapels of the angel’s coat.

“Almost there,” Aziraphale whispered, voice soft and wrecked as if it was him being pinned down and fucked within an inch of his life. His thumb crept between Crowley’s lips, pad stroking over his tongue, filling his mouth with the taste of angel. Crowley pulled him closer desperately, hitching his hips into every hard thrust, feeling it stretch and fill him, the pleasure spiraling higher and higher, like an overloaded spring. His legs were twined tightly around Aziraphale’s, his thighs rubbed raw by the fabric of the angel's clothes, the hot sting only making everything better. And throughout he kept his eyes open, unblinking, fixed solely on the burning blue stare of his angel.

With every thrust his cock rubbed over the sinfully soft velvet of Aziraphale’s vest, the cold weight of his pocket watch an icy surprise as it rubbed over the heated skin of his belly, ratcheting the sensation even higher. All he could do was hold on and ride it out, letting himself go, letting Aziraphale see him being pushed to the breaking point and then beyond, and then the tension broke and he screamed, body tightening and clamping down on the cock inside him, mouth panting and open against the pleasure swamping him. The space between their bodies became slick with his release, come staining the old velvet of Aziraphale’s waistcoat. His hands relaxed and let go their death grip on the lapels of Aziraphale’s coat. He closed his burning eyes, basking in the moment, in the pleasure still pulsing through him, in the faint contractions of his entirely too human body. If mammals did anything really well it was orgasms. Snakes definitely didn’t have those.

“So beautiful,” Aziraphale whispered, pushing Crowley’s sweaty hair off his face and ghosting tiny kisses over his forehead and eyes, trailing hot, wet lips over his flushed cheeks. “I can’t get enough of you.”

 

Crowley returned the kisses eagerly, managing to get one hand into Aziraphale’s equally sweaty hair, and hummed a wordless invitation. Aziraphale kissed him, slow and filthy, licking deep into him, shameless and fearless and Crowley could feel himself grinning right into the kiss. He shifted and realized Aziraphale was still inside him, hard and hot, stretching him in all the right ways. He tightened his legs on the angel's, pulled him closer and hitched his hips, taking Aziraphale deeper and inducing a sharp little sound of pleasure from him.

“Come on,” he urged, shivering at how good it felt to be filled again, the press of Aziraphale’s cock sparking along his over-sensitive nerves. “Finish what you started,” he panted against Aziraphale’s lips, sharing breath with him.

Aziraphale pulled back and thrust in once, slowly, testing the waters, and Crowley shuddered, his knees locking hard against the angel’s sides.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded wrecked, absolutely destroyed, his voice breathy and ragged, the most beautiful Crowley had ever heard it. He shivered under the angels weight.

“I dare you,” Crowley drawled, tightening down on the cock inside him and arching, undulating in a way only a body that knew what it was to be snake could ever do.

Aziraphale shuddered hard against him, head going down to rest against Crowley’s shoulder, his sweaty curls tickling the demons neck.“Are you sure?” His hand trailed down Crowley’s chest, fingers lingering on the nipples, tugging and teasing before they slid lower, tickling his still heaving belly and then to his hip, locking there with firm fingers. The angel’s hips were giving barely there twitches, like he was fighting against his borrowed instincts.

“You calling me soft, angel?” Crowley nudged him and pressed his lips to Aziraphale’s temple. “I want to feel you come inside me,” Crowley murmured against his skin. “I want to watch you while you do.”

And he did, he wanted to watch Aziraphale lose himself in Crowley’s body, wanted to watch him with as clear a mind as he could manage in this situation, for once not distracted by his own pleasure.

Aziraphale shuddered again, just the once, before his hand tightened on Crowley’s hip and he was straightening, bracing on the slippery leather and moving.

He choked on a breath at the sheer desire he could sense in Aziraphale. His grip on Crowley’s hip was bruisingly strong. He raised himself above the demon, his face red and sweaty as his hips stuttered in an ever-quickening rhythm, no longer the deep, slow strokes that made Crowley come unglued but fast little jabs that showed how close he was to his own release. His eyes were half-closed, eyes locked on Crowley, showing him what he had asked for, showing the pleasure, the need he wanted to see.

It ached a bit, being used like this, Crowley was sure he was going to ache the next day too and swore to himself he wouldn’t let it heal for days. He wanted something to remind him of this moment, of Aziraphale braced over him, fucking into him with abandon, all his caution and reticence thrown to the wind, giving Crowley free reign of his new desires.

He loved the stretch and burn of it. He was a shifter at his core yet there was something about the way Aziraphale rearranged his body with his desire, changed him that terrified and amazed him at the same time. He couldn't get enough of the sight of the angel, his angel, sweaty and disheveled, bruises forming under his harsh grip. He couldn’t take his eyes off the blue of his eyes, couldn’t imagine looking anywhere than into his eyes the whole time.

Crowley was the first to break the stare. He locked both his hands behind Aziraphale’s head and pulled him into a kiss, tongue going deep inside him, taking away his breath, giving his own in exchange, and held him close as the orgasm crashed through him. Aziraphale cried out into his mouth, body tensing and hips snapping one final time against him, cock swelling that little bit more inside him. Aziraphale came and the fire of his Grace whitened Crowley's vision, punched the breath out of him, and harrowed his soul.

“... ley.” There were hands on his face and a familiar voice calling him. “Crowley!”

He groaned, throat not working well enough for words yet, and flapped his hand a little against whatever it was he was touching.

“What happened, Crowley?” Aziraphale was still sprawled on top of him, hands on Crowley’s face, trying to … wake him up? Oh. So he did pass out, at least a little.

“..isss the blesssing, thasss all,” Crowley managed to croak out, without opening his eyes. Every bone in his body felt like it was made of liquid and all he wanted to do was lie there, gently squished under Aziraphale’s warm weight, and drift.

“Blessing?” Aziraphale sounded confused. And tired. Crowley felt very proud of that last one. “What blessing?”

“The ones you do when you're excited,” Crowley said, interrupting himself with a wide yawn. Hm, maybe a nap wasn’t a bad idea right now. He and Aziraphale were as entwined as human bodies could be, which wasn’t all that much considering what a snake could do, but good enough. “Or when drunk,” another yawn. “You do a lot of those then. Kinda forgot how an unblessed wine tastes.” He giggled, still feeling the faint burn of the blessing spreading through him. “And apparently when you come. Didn’t expect that.”

“I do what?!” Aziraphale immediately took his hands off of Crowley, as if protecting him from any further inadvertent blessings and the demon dissolved into giggles again because the angel was still inside him, so what did a pair of hands matter?

“It’s fine,” he sighed, trying to tamp down on the giggles. “They aren’t very strong,” he said consolingly.

Aziraphale slowly relaxed against Crowley, his body no longer one unbroken line of tension. “What do you mean that I… I can’t have… doesn’t it hurt?!”

Crowley kept petting his hair sloppily, his coordination shot to hell and back. “I got used to it,” he assured Aziraphale, slurring the words only a little bit. “Will get used to you coming inside me too.”

“Oh dear Lord,” Aziraphale sounded inappropriately horrified.

Crowley patted him again. “At least after I realized you weren’t actually trying to kill me on the sly,” he said, remembering the first time the angel handed him blessed wine.

“Oh Lord,” Aziraphale said faintly, sagging against Crowley and squishing the air out of his lungs.

Crowley approved. He patted Aziraphale in reward. “I cottoned on rather quickly that it was just an accident,” Crowley consoled the angel further. “And anyway, after I got used to the burn, the leftover high was pretty damn nice.”

“The burn,” Aziraphale repeated, still sounding faintly shocked.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Crowley kept patting Aziraphale and yawning. He really wanted to nap. He tried to stretch, but as much as the couch did it’s best to accommodate them, it was still a couch and much too small for two grown men.

“It’s not fine,” Aziraphale said with his lips pressed to Crowley’s neck. Crowley thought about the series of love bites blooming slowly on his neck. He shifted his head to give Aziraphale better access, hoping the angel would maybe suck another one or two onto his skin.

“Got a bit of acquired immunity by now,” Crowley assured him sleepily.

The angel had softened inside him completely and now slipped out, leaving Crowley feeling strangely empty and already missing the stretch and the weight of him. He shifted his legs against Aziraphale’s hips, enjoying the solid presence of the angel between his thighs and the slick, messy feeling of being well used and pleasured.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded strange, tense but also soft. Very soft. “You have to tell me if I’m hurting you.”

Crowley yawned again and tried to wrap himself better around the angel. One of his legs slid off the couch and he grumbled a curse. “This couch is too small,” he complained, shifting again. He wanted to sleep, and he wanted to be wrapped all around Aziraphale, soaking up his heat. He couldn’t achieve either of those options, which was annoying, but not annoying enough to make him actually get up.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded upset again.

Crowley snorted, the snort ended in another yawn. It had been a good day, but also a very long day.

“I will tell you if you ever hurt me,” he promised easily. Aziraphale had only ever really hurt him the once, when he refused to run away with him, but that had turned out for the best anyway. The world would have ended while they hid on Alpha Centauri.

Aziraphale made a frustrated little sound against his neck. Crowley stretched again, hoping for a little bite. As usual, his hopes remained unfulfilled.

“Fine,” Aziraphale said. “Tell me if I cause you pain.”

“Oh.” Crowley tightened a little, enough to reawaken the delicious ache of his hole. “That’s usually not a bad thing at all,” he murmured, delighting in the ache in the tingling of the bruises Aziraphale sucked onto his neck. “Not a bad thing at all,” he rumbled, words slurring. He did his best to scratch gently at Aziraphale’s untidy hair. His angel sounded much too grumpy considering what they'd just done.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale sighed, face pressed tightly to Crowley’s neck. “I love you.”

The words were a jolt to his system, always a shock, his heart stuttering for a moment before it restarted its regular rhythm. His mind blanked for what felt like an eternity before he reminded himself he was a damned old occult being and wouldn’t be caught tongue-tied like a human teenager.

“I loved you longer,” he said, sleepy and pleased when he felt Aziraphale laugh against his neck. He tried to coil more of himself around the angel and his leg slipped off the couch again.

He growled weakly.

“You mind if I go snake for a bit?” he asked around another yawn.

Aziraphale gave his hip a gentle squeeze. “Go ahead my dear,” he said fondly, so Crowley let his shape dissolve a little. “Don’t touch the shirt, I want to save it.” With those last words he changed his shape. Suddenly the size of the couch didn’t matter at all. He slid slowly against Aziraphale, wrapping coil after coil around his warm, soft, inviting body. He could feel the blood rushing under his skin, could taste the angel's scent with his whole body. He burrowed his head in the warm, dark crook of Aziraphale’s shoulder, tasting the skin once more with his slender forked tongue before he let his eyes fall shut. Aziraphale’s fingers found his head and slid gently over his scales, rubbing carefully under the hinge of his jaw. It felt really good and Crowley made the snake equivalent of purring in thanks as he drifted off.

---

He dreamt of fire.

He dreamt of being a snake, a huge leviathan of a creature that could travel the air as easily as it could the land.

He dreamt of power, endless oceans of it at his disposal, dark and waiting, coming to him like a well-loved pet, rubbing up against him and rushing to his orders.

He dreamt of being powerful, of being untouchable and free, of being coiled tightly around a bright loving soul.

He dreamt of a black firestorm of power that made him untouchable by either Heaven or Hell, flames that kept both forces away from the peacefully sleeping soul hidden deep inside his coils.

He dreamt of a city full of demonic energy, but without the ever-present stink of Hell.

He dreamt of swimming through soft darkness and bringing forth planets, stars, and continents, of building cities with high spires and beautiful arcing connections, of libraries full of books from every corner of the universe.

He dreamt of a clawed hand on his scales, of power filling him up until he became so full of it he was untouchable by any other force but this one.

He dreamt of being safe in an endless sea of chaos.

He dreamt.

---

He woke to the smell of books and hot cocoa.

He raised his head, and his jaw slid over familiar short curls and he tasted angel on his tongue.

And people. Female and human the most. He stretched his neck, yawned widely feeling his jaws gently pop, and blinked his eyes open.

Just in time to see a pretty girl's face go completely white roughly half an inch away from his snout. He watched, as if in slow motion, as her eyes widened and then rolled back and she… fell.

Aziraphale, with Crowley wrapped around his shoulders, the familiar scent-taste all over him, lurched forward to catch the fainting woman, nearly dislodging Crowley in the process.

He tightened instinctively, making Aziraphale give a startled squeak. The result was a confusion of limbs and coils that ended up with a miracle, a very confused woman, a very guilty angel, and one frazzled demonic snake.

“You almost dropped me!” Crowley cried, the moment the customer was out the door.

“I certainly did not, and you almost crushed me flat!” Aziraphale retorted, nervously looking through the window after the fleeing woman.

“I didn’t!” The denial was as instinctive as breathing. “I mean,” he caught himself when Aziraphale leveled on him a scathing glare, “I didn’t mean to?”

Aziraphale’s face went through a series of different contortions, eventually settling on a soft smile. “I was carrying you on my shoulders for so long I forgot you were there,” he finally admitted, a little sheepishly, and came closer to Crowley.

The demon fixed his eyes on the old-fashioned tartan bow around the angel's neck and remembered staring at it while Aziraphale fucked him stupid on the leather couch in his sitting room. He hoped the angel didn’t clean his apartment often. He wanted to save as much evidence as possible.

“Hi,” he said stupidly, raising his eyes to Aziraphale’s and leaning forward, just enough that his hair fell forward in a fiery, curly mess that immediately drew Aziraphale’s attention. He felt something warm and proud unfold carefully in his chest.

“Hi,” Aziraphale said, blushing, probably because he'd caught Crowley eying his bowtie and thinking impure thoughts.

“I hope you didn’t disappear the shirt,” Crowley said, reaching for Aziraphale’s lapels and pulling him into a kiss.

It was slow and smooth, Aziraphale opening up under his kiss and letting him in, letting him lick into him and taste him to his heart's content.

“Why are we in the shop?” he asked after a few moments. His lips were stinging and Aziraphale looked somewhat dazed and definitely more disheveled.

“I waited for you to wake up the whole night, but when you were still snoring by morning…”

“I don’t snore!” Crowley interrupted, offended.

“... I decided to just go back to the bookshop and open it, as I usually do.” Aziriphale pretended not to hear Crowley’s protest, didn’t even deign to acknowledge it.

“And you what, tossed me over your shoulders like a scarf and went out?” Crowley asked, mimicking the action. He wasn’t sure what to feel about this. He remembered dreaming, strange dreams that morphed from one to another in an endless series of slightly disconcerting yet pleasant images. He hadn’t expected to sleep for longer than a few hours. He looked out the window at the already-setting sun and swallowed. He'd definitely slept longer than a few hours.

“Let me tell you that stopping a taxi with you looped around my shoulders was almost more of a miracle than I was capable of,” Aziraphale complained.

Crowley blinked, feeling strangely wrongfooted and almost shy for no reason he could discern. “You could have left me in the flat,” he said weakly. He wouldn’t have minded that, really, it must have been excruciatingly boring, just waiting around for someone to wake up for hours on end. Waking up alone would have sucked, yes, but a note would have been fine.

“I wouldn’t leave you alone when you're so vulnerable!” Aziraphale sounded offended. “And besides, you looked happy,” he added quietly.

“I was,” Crowley said without thinking. “Am,” he added, stumbling over his words. “Happy that is. With you.”

Aziraphale opened his mouth, then closed it, a blush slowly raising up on his neck and creeping onto his cheeks. “Me too,” he admitted quietly. “Even when you're a snake.” Then he smiled, a little wickedly in Crowley’s opinion. “You are actually much more approachable as a snake, content to cuddle all day long. Very n…”

“Don’t say it!” Crowley yelled, pointing a threatening finger.

“...nice,” Aziraphale finished, and Crowley growled but didn’t actually do anything. Aziraphale was quiet for a long moment, watching Crowley expectantly.

“What?” Crowley asked, sensing he was missing something.

“I was hoping to get the usual reaction,” Aziraphale said, the blush still firmly on his cheeks.

Crowley frowned, trying to figure out what Aziraphale meant.

“You? Me?” Aziraphale pointed between them, then looked behind him at the walls covered with overflowing bookshelves, “Wall?”

Crowley blinked, felt the heat of the blush stinging his cheeks. He cleared his throat, straightened his jacket, tossed his hair back and then grabbed Aziraphale’s lapels and bore him back into the bookshelves. He made sure to stay close, using his whole body to keep Aziraphale pinned, his nose a hair's breadth away from the angel's.

“I’m not nice, I’m a demon,” he snarled as fiercely as he could. “I’m never nice!”

Aziraphale made a tiny sound, not shocked, rather as if he saw a long-missed dessert rotated back onto the menu at his favorite restaurants. Then he raised his hands, fisted them into Crowley’s hair, and kissed him like Crowley was his last meal on earth.

By the time this kiss ended, Crowley’s lips were swollen and sensitive, his knees were definitely on the weak side. Aziraphale nudged Crowley’s chin up with his nose, pushing closer until he got his lips on Crowley’s neck and started sucking another mark onto the demon’s neck.

Crowley… just held on during the process, mind pleasantly blank of anything but the angel.

“I’m glad you kept the marks,” Aziraphale murmured when he let go of Crowley, eyes fixed on his neck, lips wet and parted.

Crowley nodded vaguely, not really listening. It took a moment for his brain to reboot and when it did, he turned to the nearest cabinet with mirrored doors and bent over to actually look at himself.

On the left side of his neck, all along the tendon, there was a marching line of dark red marks sucked into his skin; his Adam’s apple was nearly covered with a huge one, and now there was a new mark, pink and fresh, on the left side of his neck too. He stared at the array of bruises for a long moment. He even took his glasses off to admire the scope of the damage.

“You sure you don’t want to equip me with a collar and a tag saying ‘property of Aziraphale?’” Crowley asked eventually, turning back to look at the angel.

Aziraphale might have blushed, but he definitely wasn’t shy about meeting Crowley’s eyes. “I think, perhaps, the collar would be too much,” he allowed after a long moment.

“But not the tag, eh?”

Aziraphale adjusted his bowtie, looking down for a second before casting a quick glance at Crowley. "Well..." and then his eyes were skittering away again. Guilty, but also wanting.

“I’ll work something out,” Crowley sighed, turning his attention back to his reflection and thinking about possible accessories he could add without overloading the outfit.

When he looked back at the angel, Aziraphale was staring at him half shocked, half guilty. “I wasn’t being… I mean… you don’t have to if...” He was becoming more flustered with every attempted reassurance.

“It’s okay,” Crowley said softly, leaning his hip against the table piled high with books. “I’m serious. If you want, I’ll wear it, you know.” He pointed at his ear, where the little hoops gleamed. “Like I wear those.”

“I think… that’s too much, Crowley,” Aziraphale said as softly. “You shouldn’t be so quick to give me things.”

Crowley rubbed at his thighs, the phantom touch of Aziraphale’s hand still very much there. He suddenly wanted to drive somewhere far away, with Aziraphale beside him and his hand on Crowley’s leg the whole time.

“I will,” he said, taking off his sunglasses and catching Aziraphale’s eyes. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t give you,” he added, watching the way Aziraphale’s eyes widened. “If you asked.”

The angel’s lips opened but no sound came out, because just then, very inconveniently, the bell above the shop door rang and a sharply-dressed woman with two little kids in tow entered.

Aziraphale glanced from Crowley to the woman and back. The demon smiled and put his sunglasses back on, replacing the dark barrier between them. Him and his fool mouth.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale extended one hand towards the demon, as if he thought Crowley was going to leave. He wasn’t, of course. He'd been pretty much stuck in the angel's orbit since roughly the beginning of mankind, he wasn’t going anywhere now.

Then his smile faded and the rune at the base of his back ached.

Not of his own choice anyway.

“Mr. Fell,” the woman said, in a pleasant, low voice.

“I’ll be right with you,” Aziraphale said hurriedly, not taking his eyes away from Crowley. “I just need to…’

Brows furrowed, he looked frustrated and torn, patience fraying. There was a bit of proud spark growing in Crowley’s belly at his much he could push Aziraphale off balance without actually doing anything.

“It’s okay,” he said, trying to reassure his frazzled angel.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Aziraphale ordered, pointing a finger at him as if he were a naughty dog.

Well, if they were playing that kind of game...

Crowley arranged himself against the nearest table, long legs spread loosely and pushed his hands into the tight, front pockets of his jeans. He made sure his hair fell down over one shoulder in a riot of rebellious curls, the ends almost reaching the table and made it a point to tilt his head in Aziraphale’s direction, watching his every move.

He enjoyed how the woman kept looking between him and Aziraphale, clearly adding the numbers correctly. The way she gave him a considering once-over, noticing the earrings, the clearly expensive jacket, the very tasteful accessories, and the hair, that was amusing too. Especially as she then transferred her gaze to Aziraphale in his outdated clothes, soft and restrained and definitely not flashy, and took on a puzzled expression, clearly struggling to figure out how the two of them had ended up in the situation they were quite obviously in. Crowley understood her on a certain level. Falling for an angel was the most idiotic idea he'd ever had, but oh, the best also. He was sure, down to his bones, that there would never be a single being in creation who would make him feel as stupidly smitten as Aziraphale did, much less agree to try and stop the Apocalypse with him.

The woman cleared her throat. "If I could just have the book I left with you for repairs?" she said, "and then I'll be out of your way."

"Yes, of course." Aziraphale hastened into the back room and reappeared carrying a green leather-bound book. He laid it on the desk to wrap it up, but kept fumbling the packaging, looking back towards Crowley every few seconds.

The woman watched the angel, confused frown very much in place. Crowley guessed he and Aziraphale didn’t fit any of the usual tropes of current times. He waited until she glanced towards him again and made sure to catch her eye, even through the dark lenses.

“It’s because he is almost divine in bed,” Crowley said, indicating Aziraphale with his jaw.

The woman blushed a fierce, red but her eyes immediately skittered back to Aziraphale with a completely different kind of speculation in them.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale exclaimed, and the book slipped from his fingers again.

Crowley smirked and tossed his hair back, letting the marching line of love bites come into full view. “That’s not a denial,” Crowley pointed out, letting his voice drop, going low and velvet soft. This time both the woman and the angel blushed.

“Stop it!” Aziraphale told him sharply, still blushing. He looked down at the book he was still trying to wrap in protective paper, doing his best to ignore the considering look the woman was giving him.

Crowley chuckled, tilting his head to make sure the love bites were clearly visible and grinned.

Aziraphale finally got the woman out of the shop, hustling her and the kids out and all but slamming the door behind her. He immediately flipped the sign to "Closed" and exhaled a long breath before putting down the blinders.

“You are a menace,” Aziraphale said, forehead still against the doorframe. Crowley straightened a little against the table he was artfully posed against. Had he gone too far?

“I’m a demon,” he said cautiously. He didn’t know why he felt compelled to remind Aziraphale about it. It was usually the angel who kept dragging that fact out.

“You,” Aziraphale said tightly, turning sharply and walking with quick, purposeful steps towards the demon, “are a distraction.”

Then he was there, pushing between Crowley’s legs, hand grabbing a fistful of hair and pulling his head back, making him arch.

“Oh,” was all Crowley managed before there were teeth and lips on his neck and yes, it was another love bite being viciously sucked into his skin.

His hands were twined in the cream coat, nose full of Aziraphale’s scent and he couldn’t stop the little shudder that wracked him at the sensation of Aziraphale’s solid form between his legs.

“You really do like marking me,” he breathed out on a laugh, feeling Aziraphale’s lips on his neck, licking almost apologetically at the tingling skin.

“You are spoiling me,” Aziraphale said, a touch of a complaining whine in his voice. His hands slid down Crowley’s back, down to his hips and then he was gripping Crowley’s ass hard.

Crowley squeaked, though he would never admit it to anyone, when Aziraphale heaved him into the air. He clung to the angel, strangely shocked and excited as Aziraphale hitched him higher, lips still firmly attached to his neck. Aziraphale might look soft and pudgy, but he was an angel, he was so much stronger than any human. Crowley wrapped his limbs around him and laughed, even as he was deposited onto the old couch in Aziraphale's office. The angel attempted to let him go, but the demon only laughed and clung harder, forcing them both to fall together onto the soft cushions.

Aziraphale landed with an "oof", Crowley cradling him carefully between his thighs, enjoying the weight of him, the way it pressed him into the couch. His scent, even the feel of his power was deliciously heavy.

Aziraphale was combing Crowley’s hair out with his fingers, carefully spreading the strands along the back of the sofa above Crowley's head. “You can’t do this,” Aziraphale said quietly, his hands still busy making graceful patterns with Crowley’s hair. His eyes looked soft, but his mouth was pressed into a flat line.

Crowley reached out to touch his thumb to those lips, feeling out the shape and hoping he could wipe away the tension he couldn’t understand. “Can’t do what?” He rolled his hips, pressing himself against Aziraphale’s belly. “Tease you?”

Aziraphale closed his eyes briefly, his hands still in Crowley’s hair.

“Give me… give in… you can’t just give me what I want,” Aziraphale said finally, sounding conflicted.

“What?” Crowley was blinking up at the angel. “The hell I can’t. I will give you what you want, because it's what I want.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded embarrassed now, uncomfortable. “I’m not very good at, um, limiting myself. I like to… overindulge,” he admitted, an embarrassed flush rising up on his neck.

“Never would have noticed,” Crowley said on instinct. It made Aziraphale laugh and Crowley liked that, liked the way it made the angel look.

But the angel sobered quickly. “I can’t be so careless with you,” he said. “You can’t just automatically fulfill my wishes, because I will always want something. I would hate myself if I blurted out a wish and you fulfilled when it wasn’t something you enjoyed.”

Crowley opened his mouth to tell the angel just how ridiculous that sentiment was, but the angel pressed his hand against Crowley’s mouth and shushed him.

“You make me want things, too many things, and not all of them good for you or me. Just… just let me be careful with you, please.” Aziraphale took his hand off Crowley’s lips and the demon licked the fingers, tasting the salt of Aziraphale’s skin. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this request.

“I’m tough, you know,” he said finally. “Demon,” he added, pointing at himself. “I’m not going to shatter because you pushed too hard.” Seriously. What could an angel possibly come up with that a demon hadn’t done himself, or at least tempted other people to do? He tried to think of anything and drew a blank.

“But I will,” Aziraphale said quietly, seriously. “I will shatter if I were to harm you in any way.”

“I told you already,” Crowley protested. “I’m…”

“Tough, I know,” Aziraphale interrupted, taking off Crowley’s sunglasses. “But I’m not,” he said gently, locking eyes with Crowley. “I’m soft. It would break me.”

Oh.

“Well…,” Crowley didn’t know exactly what to say so he hummed and hawed a bit, Aziraphale smiling wider with every vague sound. “I… I mean, you don’t have to take care of me, you know.”

“I want to,” Aziraphale wasn’t letting him look away, wasn’t letting him break the moment. Crowley wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Nobody ever wanted to take care of him. Not really. When he was an angel, he was made of whole cloth. They came into being fully formed to serve Her. When he Fell, he was the only one concerned about his own well being. He wasn’t sure what to do with somebody asking to take care of him.

“I… okay?” he said, still feeling wrongfooted and not entirely sure what he was agreeing to.

Aziraphale brightened immediately, leaning in to kiss him, slow and careful. He had a way about doing it, like Crowley was a new and delightful dish he intended to enjoy one tiny piece after another.

---

They spent a long time on that couch, just touching and kissing without things going any further. Aziraphale kept touching his hair, rearranging it in flowing curves and spirals on the couch, wrapping it around his hand and watching how it slid through his fingers.

It wasn’t until the sun had set completely (and Aziraphale’s stomach started complaining loudly about the mistreatment they were heaping on it) that they finally stopped.

Aziraphale was the first to get up, fixing his clothing with a minor miracle. Crowley didn’t bother. He stayed stretched on the couch, shirt halfway up his chest and hair an absolute mess. He was half hard, as he had been for most of the evening really, but it wasn’t anything urgent. He liked how Aziraphale touched him, liked the sounds he made when he found something fascinating, liked the heavy weight of him on top, the warmth.

Aziraphale ordered takeaway from a very cheap Thai restaurant not far from Chef Zhao’s establishment, and when it arrived Crowley laughed at the subterfuge.

“Don’t laugh! He will skin me alive if he knows I’m ordering from them," Aziraphale grumbled, opening up the order which was, as requested, packed into an unmarked brown paper bag. "There’s a feud going on there.”

“A feud?” Crowley asked, amused at the seriousness of Aziraphale’s expression. The angel was carefully pulling out dishes from the bag and arranging them on the coffee table.

“It’s all very dreadful,” Aziraphale said, shaking his head. “Chef Zhao’s older son is apparently going out with the youngest daughter of the family owning the Thai place. There’s some bad blood between the families you see. I don’t know all the details."

“So you are ordering on the sly, asking for the food to be wrapped in unmarked paper?” Crowley stretched out on his side on the couch, enjoying the little pleased glances Aziraphale threw his way every so often.

“Yes,” Aziraphale inhaled the spicy aroma of the soup he was holding. “And you will keep quiet about it too,” he gave Crowley a stern look, “lest I be banned from both places.”

Crowley pursed his lips, considering whether he was hungry or not. Food wasn’t as much of a thing for him as it was for Aziraphale.

“You want something? Tom Yum Goong should be to your taste,” Aziraphale said, nudging one of the containers Crowley’s way, the plastic utensils miraculously turning into silver cutlery.

"The soup?" Yeah okay, he could go for that. It was spicy and had shrimp. He'd always liked shrimp. “Did you really carry me on your shoulders the whole day?” Crowley asked, taking the lid off the container of soup. It really did smell amazing.

“It was a bit hard getting you to stay on at first. You kept sliding off.” Aziraphale made a slithery motion in the general vicinity of his shoulders.

“I was asleep,” he defended between bites.

“I know,” Aziraphale was speaking slowly, devouring his red curry with gusto. “After a few attempts you seemed to figure out what I needed you to do and kind of twisted round yourself to stay in place. You were a really nice passenger,” Aziraphale added. “I have no idea why the cab drivers made so much of a fuss about you.”

Crowley giggled into his soup, imagining the scene. “But that was in the morning, I woke up on your shoulders in the evening.”

“I did a little more of the work I had abandoned, mostly inventory, which is still not finished, minded the shop, did some research.”

Something about the way Aziraphale said the last word triggered Crowley’s demonic senses. There was a titillating sensation, a potential for sin that immediately made Crowley focus on it.

“Ressssearch?” he inquired, dragging out the "s" in the word as much as possible.

Aziraphale flushed what Crowley thought was a very becoming shade of pink.

“What kind of research?” Crowley pushed the remnant of his soup away and leaned closer to Aziraphale.

“Since we're doing,” Aziraphale made a vague gesture with his fork, “this now, I thought I should… be more prepared?”

Crowley opened his mouth to get in a small dig at Aziraphale’s clumsy choice of words (surely there were better phrases than "doing this"?) but found he couldn’t, not when he himself wasn’t sure what to call the thing between them.

He cleared his throat instead. “Prepared how?”

Aziraphale's eyes went to a book resting on his desk, bulging with bookmarks on numerous pages. “I was aware of sex, of course,” he said. “I even made an effort once or twice over the millennia, to see what the whole thing was about.”

Crowley’s head swivelled towards Aziraphale and his eyes widened. “What? When? With whom?” Crowley demanded, torn between delight at knowing Aziraphale had actually given in to curiosity before and the urgent desire to go back in time and scratch their eyes out. Whoever they were. “How was it?” he couldn’t help but ask before Aziraphale had a chance to answer the first set of questions. “Was it good? Did you like it?”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “It was a pleasant enough experience,” he allowed. “What you and I do is completely different.”

“Different how?” Crowley asked, frowning. He was literally on the edge of his seat. “Better? It’s better, right?”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale sighed. “Is being with me the same as being with the probably unbelievable number of humans you've slept with?”

Crowley blinked at him. Then he spread his hands hoping his whole body expressed just how much he realized this was an idiotic question. “Of course,” he said. “I love you,” he said slowly. “I never loved any of the humans.” Then he frowned. “And it wasn’t like I slept with all that many of them.”

Aziraphale was looking at him all soft, his lips partially open.

“What?” Crowley again felt like he was missing something

“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale said very softly. “I love you too.”

Oh.

Crowley felt himself blush and cleared his throat and looked away, feeling strangely shy. He got up and went to Aziraphale’s desk and picked up the big tome he'd noticed before. It was bristling with blue, green and yellow bookmarks. The cover was dark blue, black letters in some horrifically unreadable font. He turned it in his hands and showed it to Aziraphale without attempting to decipher the title. “So this?”

“As I was trying to say,” Aziraphale said patiently, “before you interrupted me, is that while I was aware of sex, it’s wasn’t something that interested me on any personal level. So, I mostly ignored it.”

That definitely wasn’t news, Crowley was rather surprised Aziraphale had sampled the goods at all before. It galled him that the angel had chosen some hapless human for the sampling though. Crowley was sure he would have done a much better job.

He harrumphed and dropped down on the couch, making sure to sprawl over ninety percent of it, tossing the book beside him and leaning back to put his arms over the back.

Aziraphale smiled at him, as if his grumpiness was amusing in any way, shape or form. “So while I was aware of sex, a lot of the… specifics… escaped me.”

“Specifics.” Crowley leaned forward, the tantalizing connotations too delicious to ignore.

“Would you stop interrupting me! Alright, I have researched sex!” Aziraphale yelled, throwing his hands in the air.

“Did you watch porn while I was a snake on your shoulders?!” Crowley asked, half delighted and half disappointed he'd missed such an amazing opportunity.

Aziraphale did his best to try and smite him with his gaze alone. “No,” he said slowly, with forced patience. “I researched using proper materials,” and he pointed at the book sitting innocently beside Crowley.

Book!

Crowley grabbed for it and turned it in his hands until he could read the title properly. There it was, staring right at him in large letters in that illegible font: The Full and Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Sex.

Below that there was a smaller addition: Illustrated.

He blinked at the book for a few seconds, mind racing, and then took in the… amazing number of bookmarks sticking out of the pages.

He looked at Aziraphale, keeping the book securely in his clutches to make sure the angel didn’t try to miracle it away.

Aziraphale cheeks went pink, and he cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap like the proper angel he definitely wasn’t anymore.

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat again. “I have studied a little.”

Crowley looked at the dozens, if not hundreds, of bookmarks and mouthed the words ‘a little’ to himself.

Aziraphale noticed it, glared, but continued. “I have made some decisions.” Then he suddenly seemed unsure. “For myself of course. Observations. Opinions, really.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow. “About what?” he asked after a moment, realizing his throat was dry.

“I bookmarked the things I found...interesting.” Aziraphale was striving to sound casual, but his hands were twisting together nervously. “The green ones,” he motioned towards the bookmarks, “are the things I think I would like you to do to me.” He was clearly gaining traction; somehow discussing sex as research material seemed less stressful to him. “The blue ones, I would very much like to do to you.” Abruptly his courage seemed to abandon him and he looked down at his hands, shifting nervously.

Crowley cleared his throat. “And the yellow ones?” he asked, because he didn’t want Aziraphale to stop or hide anything from him.

“You could read the book,” Aziraphale said quietly. "See for yourself."

Crowley looked at the brick in his hands. It was huge. He hated reading.

“I will read the book,” he found himself answering without much thought.

“There are pictures,” Aziraphale offered, as an incentive maybe. Crowley didn’t need any more incentive other than the fact there were green and blue bookmarks in abundance.

“If you are interested, we could try out some of the things…”

“I’m interested,” Crowley said immediately, without even cracking the book open.

Aziraphale frowned at him. “You didn’t read it yet,” he admonished the demon.

“I will read the book!” he promised, opening it at random, not even looking at the pages. “See? Reading. But I want to. Do it with you, I mean.”

“Do which ones?” Aziraphale pressed.

“Everything,” Crowley was eager to reassure. “Even the yellow ones.”

Aziraphale laughed and covered his eyes with his hand. “Please read the book first,” he said fondly.

“Okay,” Crowley said, his heart hammering in his chest for no reason whatsoever. His fingers found the nearest yellow bookmark and opened to it.

It was indeed illustrated, with tasteful but informative sketches. The font used inside the book was a lot more readable and he skimmed a few passages just to be sure of what he was seeing.

“You… do realize this requires a different set of genitals, right?” he asked, looking up from the book. Not that that was a problem for him, he sometimes shifted to a female form when he got bored. He would definitely shift forms if Aziraphale wanted to do that to him.

Aziraphale nodded, avoiding Crowley’s eyes.

“I mean,” Crowley went on hastily to reassure his angel, "it’s not a problem. I’m used to changing shape. I can switch whenever…”

“Actually,” Aziraphale was looking kind of hopeful at Crowley. “I was hoping it would be me,” and he pointed to the open page and the lovingly detailed naked woman in the picture. “I've never shifted forms, never needed to, but we are of the same stock and I'm sure you could teach me.”

Crowley stared blankly at the angel, his mind fizzing out completely, nothing but static making it through.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale asked, looking concerned. “Are you all right?”

“You are amazing, you know that?” Crowley said quietly, slowly coming back to himself.

Aziraphale had another blush in him, this one distinctly pleased. “Thank you, my dear.”

“You have something to do, right?” Crowley asked, closing the book and pressing it to his chest.

Aziraphale followed his movements with curious, if slightly confused, eyes. “I.. yes?”

Crowley nodded, getting up. “Good, you do that. I will read.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale gave him a tiny smile again. “I uh, made you some bookmarks, too.” He motioned towards an envelope on the desk. Crowley went to investigate and found a set of purple, red and orange bookmarks inside. “In case you, you know, found things you'd like to try too? Because this is not just for me, you know.”

Crowley blinked, feeling a strange sting in his eyes. Then he collected the bookmarks, crossed the room to his angel and bent down to kiss him long and deep. “See you later,” he said roughly. “I have some reading to do.”

---

He was dreaming.

He knew he was dreaming. He remembered stumbling into the bookshop hours, maybe days later and finding his angel already curled up and asleep in the bed. The Book. The Book was Hell, pure and simple. Reading it had been such a bad idea. The best idea. Stupid. Brilliant. All of the above, really.

He remembered curling around Aziraphale, soaking up his heat and falling asleep almost immediately.

Standing on the pavement and staring up at flames bursting out of Aziraphale’s shop didn’t feel any less wretched in a dream than it had when he was awake. He could feel that the place was empty. There was no familiar angelic signature inside, no sense of the welcome that Aziraphale’s wards spread to everyone. All that made this place Aziraphale’s home, all of it was gone too.

Aziraphale was gone.

He shifted, curling up on himself, trying to escape the image, the aching sensation of emptiness. Arms around him and a familiar voice calling his name woke him up.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale was touching his forehead, pushing the tangled hair away from Crowley’s face. “You were dreaming.”

“I was,” he said, voice small and shaky, and he turned to the angel holding him, intent on touching him, on seeing him alive and well.

“You weren’t strong enough to stop it from happening,” Aziraphale said gently. “You couldn’t stop them from killing me.”

What?

He turned, hands going to Aziraphale’s shoulders, fingers digging into what should have been the soft cotton of his pajamas. His fingers met no flesh though, no resistance, just flecks of holy light burning his fingers as it dissolved.

He jerked forward, chest tight and eyes so wide they hurt, trying to grab the last sparks of golden light. Instead, he stumbled and fell face first onto hard concrete.

He groaned, tried to push himself up, vaguely aware of the people passing him by. He was in the park, his head throbbing so hard his vision swam and when he looked up he saw angels pulling Aziraphale away, hands tied behind his back.

No it was wrong. It couldn’t be then. It was too early. They hadn’t changed bodies yet. Crowley was still Crowley. Aziraphale couldn’t go to heaven, they would force him into Hellfire and destroy his very soul. He surged up, screaming, reaching for his angel but something hard struck his head, then his back. The blows kept coming, agony spreading through his body, bones breaking as he tried to do something, anything, to reach out, to save Aziraphale.

“You are too weak, Crowley,” Hastur said with no little pleasure. “Not enough, never enough.”

He blacked out, his last sight the blue of Heavenly light taking Aziraphale away for his execution.

He blinked his eyes open, head pounding, and realized he was standing on the familiar Soho street in London.

Only it wasn’t familiar any longer.

Ash floated everywhere, sullen red fires crawled over ruined buildings, a howling wind picking up the debris of dying humanity. The skies were a rusty orange above him as the forces of Heaven and Hell battled for ultimate dominion over an extinct world.

One of the figures he recognized: Aziraphale, with his flaming sword, facing the whole might of angelic choirs and failing, speared through by the cold light of Heaven, falling, wings dissolving into nothing while Crowley could only watch helplessly, unable to move, to do anything but bear witness to the destruction of everything he loved.

He woke up in Hell, lying on warm stone, nose full of ash and soot, the roar of Hellfire buzzing in his ears. His head was pounding and his mouth was dry.

He looked at his clawed hands, shaky and pale and smudged with the ever-present soot. He sat up and looked around him. Beelzebub, Hastur, Ligur and dozens upon dozens of demons, all standing with his their back to him, staring at something. The roar of Hellfire was almost too loud to think. Beelzebub turned to him, the flies around her head buzzing agitatedly. She smiled, stretching out her hand to him.

“Come, Crowley. Come and look at your greatest achievement,” she said, sounding so pleased with him that he knew it must be very bad indeed.

His nose was full of ash and the scent of flesh burning, chokingly thick in this place. As he got shakily to his feet, he realized he knew this place. These were the plains where he'd woken after his fall, when his Grace had burned away in Hellfire -- and along with it his sanity, for a long, long time.

There were screams, but there were always screams in this place of torture. There were too many demons blocking his view for him to see anything beyond them.

Beelzebub was still smiling, waiting with her hand extended. “Come Crowley, look. Isn’t he beautiful?”

The demons in front of her parted, letting him see down to the burning plains, the pools of boiling sulphur, and the form kneeling there. His head was thrown back, toothless mouth open and wailing an endless screech of agony even as his clawed fingers tore at the burned-out, wretched remnants of his wings. He screamed, a raw, tearing shriek, an insane and lost sound, overlaid with a grief so deep it scorched. Crowley watched in an endless moment of stunned horror as the newly fallen angel ripped away his own skin and bone, sightless eyes staring open and lightless.

Aziraphale.

“You were never strong enough,” Beelzebub said, her voice filled with satisfaction. “Of course you had to drag him down with you.”

No. No no no no no.

He lurched forward but the flames surged, the heat pushing him away. He didn’t care, he spread his wings to their fullest extent and dove into the fire, only distantly realizing he was screaming as loudly as his angel.

He saw Aziraphale dying at the hands of Heaven, at the hands of Hell’s minions, at his own hands. He heard him scream and curse, heard the angel forgive him and beg him for help. He heard the last breath he gave and every scream of agony.

It didn’t matter how hard he fought, how much he tried, he kept waking up to Aziraphale dying and begging him to do something. He never could, always, always reduced to watching, helpless and useless and powerless as the angel died a horrific death.

He screamed and raged, fought and clawed, and still at the end of it he only watched, tears scorching down his face as the images unfolded in front of him.

Chapter Text

Pain woke him.

The rune at the base of his spine was burning like fire, pain shooting up his spine to the base of his skull. His face was wet and his eyes burned. He could feel the still presence beside him but was too afraid to look. He just lay there, feeling the waves of pain come and go and stared at the uneven ceiling of Aziraphale’s bedroom.

It hurt to sit up, hurt even more to stand up. His muscles trembled oddly, knees almost folding for a second. He had to hold onto the wall and pant for long moments before he was sure his legs would hold him. He was aware of a presence behind him, the warmth and light of it, but couldn’t find the strength to turn and look, couldn't bear it if it was yet another nightmare, another vision of Aziraphale dying.

Something thick and sticky was on his hands, dripping down his back and sliding down his leg. He looked at his hands and saw they were red with blood, some of it already clotting under his fingernails.

He fixed his eyes on the floor, careful to avoid catching even a glimpse of the person sleeping in the bed and made his way to the bathroom as quietly as he could.

The bathtub, old-fashioned and deep, brought back sweet memories that turned bitter on his tongue with the imprint of the dreams so fresh in his mind. He snapped his fingers, changing the clawed tub for an ultramodern shower nook, all black tile and silver accents, hot water cascading down from the ceiling. He didn’t bother trying to undress, just snapped his clothes away and stepped under the hot spray, hoping the water would chase away the chill that seemed to have settled in his very bones.

He lowered his head, letting his hair soak up the water and slide heavily down his back, hanging in wet, dripping strings. He rested his forehead against the black wall, hands spread on the cool tile to anchor him in this time and place, this calm moment where the only pain that existed was physical.

He watched the water swirl down the drain, streaks of blood dark and thick in it, and understood down to his very core that there was no stopping, and no winning this battle. Whatever that power was, that darkness, it had a foothold in him and it clearly wasn’t letting him go.

He closed his eyes but the images from his dreams came back, running like a movie behind his eyelids, each death more gruesome than the previous.

His knees folded, slowly, as the dream-memories overwhelmed him, the desperate sensation of absolute and total helplessness. He couldn’t do anything, couldn’t stop any of it. And the worst part was that there was so much truth to the dreams. If Heaven took Aziraphale before they figured out what the prophecy meant, if any of their superiors decided to call their bluff… Crowley curled down into himself, tears washed away by the hot water, and whimpered, swallowing the sound halfway. There was so little he could do, nothing beyond paltry tricks and sleight-of-hand, really.

It all felt so useless, so completely inadequate.

Not enough.

The whispers in his head were getting stronger, showing him how inadequate he was, telling him all the ways things would finally come to a bloody, hopeless end. All the ways Crowley wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

Never smart enough. Never good enough. Never strong enough. Not to stay in Heaven, not to be a proper demon. Always half-hearted, always inadequate, always not enough.

A scream was building up in his chest, pressing against his ribs, clawing at his throat. He shoved his hand between his teeth and bit, hard, until he could taste his own blood on his tongue, and sank onto the tile floor, curling down, over his knees, choking on his own scream.

Then there were hands on his shoulders, pulling him up and towards a warm, solid body.

“Crowley...” Aziraphale’s voice, urgent and tight with worry, cut through the miasma of misery and darkness. “Crowley, please.”

He couldn’t speak, couldn’t even make any noise other than the wounded whine deep in his chest. He surged forward, knees ripping open on the metal grate of the drain and turned into that solid body. He pressed his head into Aziraphale’s chest, nose digging into the wet cotton of his pajamas and fingers clutching at the flimsy fabric so hard they ached.

“Shhh,” Aziraphale said gently, soothingly. "Hush, it's alright. Don't be afraid." Crowley could feel the angel's cheek pressed against the top of his head, could feel the vibration of his voice, the arms closed tightly around him as the angel knelt beside him in the shower, barefoot and soaking wet, curling around Crowley as if he could somehow protect Crowley from the rest of the world.

Crowley opened his mouth, wanted to say something, maybe apologize for disappearing Aziraphale’s cozy bath or for being such a fool. All that came out was a harsh sob, the huge knot of misery in his chest still fighting to get out.

“Please, Crowley,” Aziraphale was begging now, crushing Crowley to him. “You're safe, you're okay now. I have you.” Crowley was vaguely aware he was shaking, and that only made it all the worse. He was the failure here, he was the weak link, he had brought this darkness into Aziraphale’s home. He pushed his head deeper against Aziraphale’s chest, so hard his face hurt, wishing the angel could, for once, block out everything but his own light, even if it was going to burn Crowley out.

“It’s inside me,” he mumbled, past clenched teeth, past the thorns in his throat, “in my head. I can’t… it’s there, please.” To his shame, Crowley realized he was begging too. For salvation, for release, for mercy. Anything to stop this.

Aziraphale’s hands were fisted tight in his hair as he crushed Crowley to his chest, but it wasn't enough, the echo of the whispers were still loud in his mind, buzzing in his ears with recriminations and reminders of all the things that might have been and could still be.

Aziraphale shifted even closer, folding Crowley into him and then there was a sound like a distant thunderclap, the pressure of it making Crowley’s ears pop.

His angel's wings.

Aziraphale released his wings in this plane, folding them forward to shield them both, locking Crowley in the tight cage of his body and wings, blocking out water and sound, leaving just his Grace, softly shining from the white feathers.

Their touch burned, just a little, where they brushed his naked skin - smooth and hard, edges sharp enough to cut. The burn was nothing in comparison to the blessed silence, the images finally fading from his mind, replaced by merciful emptiness.

Crowley gave a small, grateful moan and sagged against the angel, his strength cutting out in the instant rush of relief.

“Are you with me now?” Aziraphale asked quietly. He did not move away from Crowley. He just curled closer, doing his best to gather all of Crowley’s limbs under the protective umbrella of his wings. “Please say something,” he whispered, his voice shaking,

“Sssorry... about your bath,” he managed to squeeze out, past a tongue that felt thick in his mouth.

“I don’t care about the bath!” Aziraphale cried, crushing Crowley to him so hard the demon's bones creaked.

“Was nice,” Crowley mumbled, curling closer into the warmth surrounding him. He didn’t even care about the sting of Aziraphale’s feathers on his back. It was good, kept his mind clear.

“What happened?” Aziraphale asked, trying to comb his fingers through Crowley’s wet hair. "Can you talk about it?"

“I…” Crowley hesitated. “I slept, I think. Dreamt.”

“I know you did,” Aziraphale sounded tight, worried, despite his efforts to stay calm. “Waiting for you was… nerve-wracking, so I decided to try to sleep some of that time off.”

Right. The Book. Crowley wasn’t sure how long he'd been holed up in his apartment reading it. A day, maybe longer.

“Then I woke up to you sleeping beside me,” and now there was something close to a smile in Aziraphale’s voice. “I didn’t get worried until evening. I couldn’t wake you up, Crowley.”

Oh. “How long was I asleep?” Crowley asked, muzzily.

“Five days,” Aziraphale said slowly. “I couldn’t wake you, no matter what I tried. You weren’t reacting to any stimuli, not sound or touch.”

Fuck.

Five days. He'd spent five days trapped in that damned nightmare, without any means of escape. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, lifting his head to look up at the angel. “I didn’t mean to.”

Aziraphale sighed. “I figured that one out myself, when I saw the torment in your face.” Aziraphale looked pale and drawn, his eyebrows pulled together in a frown. He shifted to get a view of Crowley's back. “The rune's stopped bleeding,” he said, looking down at Crowley.

Bleeding?

Oh. Crowley remembered the mess on his hands.

“Your bed,” he winced, letting go of Aziraphale’s pajamas and rubbing at his eyes. They ached fiercely.

“Waking up to a bed soaked in your blood, without you, with bloody marks leading to the bathroom, was not the best morning I've ever had, I have to admit,” Aziraphale said, voice going tight again. His wings were still stretched over them, shielding Crowley from the whispers.

“I’m sorry,” he said, horrified. He knew exactly how that must have felt. He had dreamt it a dozen times. “I’m so sorry.”

Aziraphale closed his eyes and lowered his head. “I was afraid,” he admitted. “I was afraid you wouldn’t wake up at all.”

“I’m sorry,” Crowley repeated, aware that it was the only thing he could say. “The rune helped, that's why I got it. The whispers… they faded, I thought I could keep it under control.”

“The rune is fading, too,” Aziraphale said, sliding his hand down Crowley’s wet back to cover the aching mark. “You did it with holy water,” he said, his voice appalled. “Holy water!” he shouted, almost shrieked, unexpectedly, making Crowley flinch. “Did you think I wouldn't notice? That you have this… poison!... under your skin?”

Crowley worked his jaw, looking for an answer that would ease the tension out of Aziraphale’s mind, his voice. “I didn’t have a choice,” he said quietly. “I could feel it in my head, the whispers.” He looked down at the wet tile. “It seemed to help.”

Aziraphale pulled him closer again, his hand fisting in Crowley’s wet hair. Crowley closed his eyes and let himself be held. The angel sighed deeply. “Let’s get you dry, shall we?”

---

Half an hour later, he was dry and wrapped in a black silky bathrobe with a beautiful red bird printed all along its back. Oddly enough, the robe was miracled by Aziraphale, not Crowley. The angel had done a good job catching his taste, Crowley reflected.

He was holding a very full glass of scotch and sprawled on the couch in Aziraphale’s study, watching the angel fuss. The study was more of a mess than usual, multiple stacks of open or bookmarked books on every available surface.

“I’m better now,” Crowley said reassuringly when he saw his angel bring a third cup of cocoa into the study, two earlier ones still sitting steaming on his desk. “Sit down, please.” He patted the couch beside him.

Aziraphale looked at the couch, at Crowley, then at his desk, and chose the chair.

Crowley narrowed his eyes suspiciously and shifted, letting the robe part enough to show the length of his leg. Aziraphale’s eyes dragged down to the exposed skin, mollifying Crowley a little. So Aziraphale wasn’t mad at him.

“You were asleep for so long, I… went back,” Aziraphale looked down at his hands.

“Back,” Crowley repeated, blankly.

“There,” Aziraphale explained. “Where you… where that thing grows.”

“You did what?!” Crowley was on his feet so fast his scotch sloshed out.

“Crowley, please,” Aziraphale said, miracling the alcohol away with a wave of his hand before it even reached the floor.

Crowley growled, looked at the half empty glass and downed what was left in one swallow. “You saw what it did to me!” He felt as if his heart had permanently migrated to his throat, doing its best to burst out from there. “You saw! Why would you…” He threw his hands up and then hurled the glass at the nearest wall, watching in satisfaction as it shattered into a million little pieces.

Aziraphale flinched, just a little, and looked down at his hands, folded tightly in his lap. “I know,” he said quietly, body very still in his chair. “I know very well, Crowley.”

Crowley stilled, letting his hands fall. He'd forgotten for a moment that it was Aziraphale who had had to bear witness to what had happened last time Crowley faced the Darkness. He hadn’t realized what that meant, not really, not until the nightmares had come and he was forced to become an unwilling witness to Aziraphale’s death.

Whatever warmth the scotch had given him was gone. Crowley sighed, pushing his mostly-dry hair out of his face and scratching his scalp in the same movement. “I’m sorry,” he said, turning sharply and snapping his fingers at the shattered remnants of the tumbler. It gathered itself together and was back in his hand, the stain also gone from the wall.

“It didn’t touch me,” Aziraphale said, voice still tight and body utterly still. Crowley looked at him from the corner of his eye, at the perfect posture and rigid pose, and suddenly couldn’t stand the distance between them. Not when the memory of Aziraphale dying over and over was still so fresh in his mind.

The angel was dressed in loose cream slacks, blue button-down and a cream-colored sweater. Crowley wondered if he too was cold, if the chill he felt somewhere deep in the core of his being had somehow infected Aziraphale too.

Crowley went back to the table where stood the mostly full bottle of scotch and poured himself another drink. There were many things he wanted to say, none of them nice and even fewer of them constructive. So he kept silent.

“It seemed almost… aggressive in how much it was ignoring me, actually.” Aziraphale spoke up again, when the silence became too heavy to bear.

“It’s darkness, it’s… even Hell didn’t feel like that,” Crowley said. “Not like the light was gone, but as if there never had been any light to begin with.” He couldn’t explain it. It felt so much more primal, chaotic, so much older than any other darkness he'd ever encountered. He was a demon, and this thing terrified the shit out of him.

Aziraphale nodded. “I felt it. I felt the power of the portal, the immense size of whatever is behind it, but it… ignored me.”

“Portal?” That surprised Crowley. When he'd last seen it, it was just a presence, growing into something but not yet possible to understand. “You think it was afraid of you?” Crowley recalled the sting of Aziraphale’s wings on his back and the blessed silence of being enveloped in them.

Aziraphale frowned. “I wouldn’t go that far. It wasn’t like one of the powers of Hell. Demons,” he gave Crowley an apologetic look, ”have basically two reactions to angels."

“Fear or aggression,” Crowley supplied. Most of his peers would either run at the sight of an angel, terrified of being destroyed or attack, all the while wetting themselves at the idea of destroying a servant of God.

Aziraphale nodded. “This… power. It parted around me. It wasn’t afraid, though. It just… ignored me. Very aggressively.”

“It’s better that way,” Crowley said, taking his drink with him as he ambled towards the angel. He missed the armor of his well-fitting clothes, but this robe was flashy and fancy enough for his tastes. Plus, Aziraphale gave it to him, which on some level at least indicated that he wanted to see Crowley wearing it.

He put a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder and circled him, trailing his hand along that tense back as he did so.

“Count yourself lucky. I’m proof of what happens if that thing takes an interest,” he muttered glumly and drained half the glass in one go.

Aziraphale reached up and put his hand on Crowley’s, now paused at the other shoulder. “I can’t just stand back and watch as it tears you apart,” he murmured, squeezing Crowley’s fingers. His own were soft and smooth, well manicured.

Crowley thought about Aziraphale’s reaction to his claws, the way he seemed both fascinated and happy to see them, and let them emerge. His nails darkened and lengthened, wickedly sharp tips pressing into the knit sweater.

Touch. Touch would be good now, he decided. He wanted to feel Aziraphale, alive and warm, very much unharmed by the horrors in Crowley’s mind.

He put the glass down on the edge of the messy desk and grabbed the bottom part of his robe, pulling it up to his knees. Then he straddled Aziraphale’s legs and sat down on his lap. The angel made a small, surprised sound, his hands hovering at Crowley’s sides.

Crowley sighed, rested his forearms loosely on Aziraphale’s shoulders and shifted closer, feeling the black silk of the robe bunch up between them. He wrapped his feet around the back legs of the chair, which groaned in protest at his shifting weight, and resettled, body pressed close to the warmth of his angel.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale’s voice was shuddery and strangely breathy as his hands slowly settled down on Crowley’s back, their touch feather light.

Crowley shook his head, letting the hair fall forward, long fiery strands spilling over Aziraphale’s shoulders and narrowing the world to just their bodies, the space between them.

Aziraphale felt soft and solid beneath him, his slacks a little rough against the sensitive insides of his thighs. Crowley shifted his legs, just to feel the drag better, and exhaled softly, reptilian eyes half-lidded as he watched the expressions running across Aziraphale’s face.

“Why this robe?” Crowley ran the very tips of his claws over the pale, vulnerable throat. The angel tilted his head back, just a little, just enough to give Crowley more skin to play with.

“I saw it in Shanghai, in the twenties. In one of those fancy shops, for tourists obviously, but the colors… it made me think of you.”

“It’s very nice,” Crowley admitted. The thick silk felt smooth and decadent against his skin, the red bird with its delicate feathers the kind of eye-catching detail he loved. “Makes me feel like a present.”

He reached for the abandoned drink, one hand curled around Aziraphale’s neck for balance. Once he had it in hand, he leaned back, enjoying the way Aziraphale’s hands tightened on his sides to keep him balanced, and took a long pull from the glass, enjoying the way the alcohol slid smooth and smoky down his throat.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed, watching him with rapt eyes.

Crowley looked down at him, pressing the cool glass to his own cheek for a moment, cooling the heat there, and then moved it lower, to his neck still marked with faint bites Aziraphale had left on him. He liked the marks. He didn’t want them ever to disappear.

“Did you think about me wearing it?” He asked, letting the hand with the glass drop.

Aziraphale licked his lips. “No. I mean, yes.” His hands moved, slowly, a little unsure, as if the angel still wasn’t completely sure of his welcome, of having permission to touch whatever he liked. “Not like this,” he whispered, voice somewhat wobbly.

Crowley smiled, shifting again on Aziraphale’s knees, a long, slow undulation only someone who was occasionally a snake could perform. Aziraphale felt very warm under him, inviting and good.

“Do you like it?” Crowley asked, putting the glass on the desk and leaning down, combing through Aziraphale’s hair with both hands, his claws teasing at the scalp carefully. One of Aziraphale’s hands slid down his hip, traced the folds of the silk on his thigh, stopping once his palm was resting on the Crowley’s kneecap. His fingers curled, tracing the tendon underneath with careful little touches that felt like fire on his skin.

Aziraphale licked his lips. “Yes.” His other hand, which was slowly creeping up Crowley’s back finally reached high enough that he could tangle it into Crowley’s hair. “You are beautiful,” he whispered.

Crowley smiled, feeling the pull on his hair and tilted his head back, closing his eyes. “I am,” he agreed, voice dropping to a low purr, “in your eyes, aren’t I?” Aziraphale shook his head, evidently wanting to protest, but Crowley wasn’t about to let him. They were living on borrowed time, at least Crowley was. Deep down he knew there was no escape. That sooner or later, the alien darkness would win, would take over his mind. Whatever was left after it was done with him would not likely still be capable of love.

He curled down, pressing his lips against Aziraphale's. The kiss was slow, just a careful drag of lips against lips. He closed his eyes to feel it better, to not miss a single sensation. Aziraphale’s hands were soft and warm, his fingers trailing gentle patterns against the inside of Crowley’s knee. The angel was slow to respond, motionless under Crowley’s lips for long moments before his lips parted on a shuddery exhale and Crowley swallowed the sound eagerly.

“I don’t want to lose you,” Aziraphale whispered, his lips sliding against Crowley’s, hands tightening.

“There might not be a choice,” Crowley said, lips against Aziraphale’s cheek, feeling the contours of his cheekbones. “I’m doing what I can, but…” He shrugged, lost for words. There were no words to explain how that darkness in his mind felt, the enormity of it.

“But you don’t have to do it alone,” Aziraphale said almost desperately, his hands coming to Crowley’s head and pushing it back enough so he could look into Crowley’s eyes. “Let me help,” he begged.

Crowley had to close his eyes. He couldn’t look at him like that. “I can’t stand the thought of it… touching you, dragging you down, destroying you.”

“It’s already touched me,” Aziraphale said gently, like someone trying to break bad news to a particularly young child.

“No,” Crowley objected, shaking his head, unwilling to listen, to hear what Aziraphale was saying.

“If it takes you,” the angel continued, “It’s going to take a piece of me too.”

Crowley made a sound, soft and sad, and bent down, hiding his face in the warm curve where Aziraphale’s neck met his shoulder.

“Let me help,” Aziraphale whispered, fingers combing through Crowley’s hair and sliding down his back, tracing the bumps of his spine. “Please.”

Crowley closed his eyes, pretending he couldn’t feel the burn of tears in them, and pushed his face deeper into Aziraphale’s neck, wanting his skin to block out the world for him. If he nodded, just a little, they were the only ones to know.

“Touch me,” he whispered, tightening around Aziraphale, one of his hands trailing down the angel’s chest, feeling the slow, steady breaths and the warmth of his body.

“Is it all right,” Aziraphale asked quietly, still petting Crowley’s hair, fingers oh so careful of the long silky tangles, “if we don’t…” he trailed off, his fingers spreading over Crowley’s back, just beneath his shoulder blades. “I don’t feel up to…”

Crowley pushed his hand under the sweater, spreading his fingers over Aziraphale’s ribs, feeling them expand and contract as he breathed.

“Just touch me,” he murmured, soaking up the warmth.

“For as long as you let me, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, very softly, turning his head to press a loving kiss to Crowley’s shoulder. “I promise.”

---

It was hours before Crowley stumbled out of Aziraphale’s bed, feeling both frustrated and strangely sated.

He needed to check on his plants and pay Max, lest the man become testy and botch the next job Crowley gave him.

The rebellious bastards were still flowering like mad. Worse, there were tiny, pale green buds sprouting everywhere, making the plants look disgracefully fluffy.

“I don’t even know what to say,” he growled, glaring at them until they trembled. “I am very disappointed in you. All of you!”

The living room was a mess but Crowley couldn’t help but smile at the sight. There were still plates on the low coffee table, chopsticks on the floor and his clothes scattered about. He picked up the jeans and the jacket, giving them a good shake. Underneath them he found his charcoal grey shirt. It was cleanly split down the middle, the bottom of it fraying. Aziraphale must have used quite a bit of strength when he ripped it open.

Crowley held the shirt up, basking in the memory of Aziraphale being possessive. Perhaps he could frame it and hang it on the wall across from the TV. Or maybe above it? No, he would never be able to watch anything.

He lowered the shirt, still thinking about where to put it, when he realized he wasn’t alone in the room.

He flinched and then frowned. His senses weren’t registering anything. Anything at all.

And yet the woman, for it was a woman, stood directly across from him, looking at him with jewel-green eyes. Her face was fairly pretty but of indeterminate age. She wasn’t a girl, nor an old woman either, somewhere in the large area between. She was thin, painfully so even. Her pale cheeks were hollowed and there were delicate shadows under her incredibly green eyes. Her neck, long and with sharply defined tendons, was mostly hidden by a high-necked dress. The dress was dark red, almost black, the cloth thick and smooth. The sleeves were so long that he could barely see the tips of her fingers, hands demurely crossed in front of her, and the skirt was long enough to touch the floor. Besides her eyes her most striking feature was her hair, long enough to reach the floor and silvery white, almost transparent, making her look even paler and more fragile. A sense of stillness and a sort of elegance radiated from her. Her head was held high and she didn’t seem to be intimidated by his inhuman eyes at all.

“You are an interesting creature,” she said, her voice low and pleasant. He wasn’t sure what language she was speaking, but he could understand her all too well.

She wasn’t there, wasn’t in his flat.

She was in his head.

“You are it. You are the… the darkness!” He pointed a clawed finger at her. "What are you?"

“Merely a Steward.” She inclined her head, a gesture more befitting royalty of old than a modern woman. “It was brought to my attention that there might have been some… communication issues.”

“Communication issues,” Crowley repeated blankly, baffled by the innocent term.

“You are an interesting one,” she said, looking around at the flowering plants. “You are not a creature of nature,” she added as the plants began shaking as if Crowley was running the garbage disposal in his kitchen.

“Kinda older than that,” he said, still blankly, consciously refusing to acknowledge the horror of talking to somebody inside his head.

She nodded, and a few wisps of her colorless hair slipped forward, abruptly changing color from pale nothingness to a pale red and then darkening to exactly the same shade as his own hair. Her skin darkened too, assuming a more natural color than the deathly pallor of before. Only her eyes stayed the same. She didn’t seem to be aware of the change in coloring.

“You are not especially powerful,” she said, green eyes shining, “but you are infinitely interesting.”

That did not sound good. Crowley had spent a good part of his life making sure nobody looked too closely at him. “So, you're like a little kid that finds a butterfly interesting and therefore has to rip its wings off?” Crowley asked bitterly, pushing his hands into his pockets to hide their shaking.

“You are fascinating. There is both the Dark and the Light about you, but you are too weak,” she frowned, a tiny sneer of distaste forming on her lips. “We will make you stronger, harder, glorious, and then we will present you to our Master.”

Crowley flinched at the words, images unfolding in his mind again of a huge scaly body floating gently in the skies, obscuring even the sun, black fires following in its wake. He shook his head. “I'm good just as I am,” he said hoarsely. “I don’t need to be changed, and I definitely don’t need any more power.”

The woman frowned, looking him up and down. “You chose the Darkness, you requested its help and it answered your call, therefore you are now one of ours.” She moved for the first time, spreading her hands at her sides. “You have been found worthy of our Master’s favor and you shall receive it.”

Crowley paced the small distance between the TV and the opposite wall, her stillness somehow making him feel like he was about to shiver right out of his skin. There was a kind of absolute conviction to her words, an undeniable truth that terrified him. No matter how hard he tried, he could not sense a lie in her, not even an obfuscation.

“Listen. Just listen,” he said a touch desperately. “This has to be some kind of mistake. I haven't asked for any favors…”

“You asked for the power to create a place outside of time and space, a space carved from the Dark yet safe for the Light and the Living. A space none but you could touch.” She turned her head as he paced to keep him in her sights. Her hair was changing again, fading to soft blond, golden highlights playing in the pale strands. “You asked to be a god for a moment, and were granted your wish.”

Crowley opened his mouth and then closed it, helplessly. He wanted to say he didn't know what she was talking about, but oh, he knew. That moment when the world was ending, when Aziraphale had told him to ‘do something’. He had moved them, without thinking much, not with his head anyway. He'd assumed, ever since that moment, that it was just his powers being taxed beyond what he thought possible at his strongest. He was about to die. Aziraphale was about to die. The world and everything in it was about to cease to exist. He'd thought, arrogantly maybe, that he was the one to perform the miracle everybody needed. But that wasn’t what had happened. He had… prayed. Prayed to a God that never answered, never listened, for strength, for a safe place, to have that moment of peace, of space to think. Only a moment.

His prayer had been answered.

Just not by the person he would have expected.

“Listen, I didn’t know! I wasn’t… it wasn’t planned, okay? I'll give it back, whatever I was given, alright?” He lifted his hands in an entreating gesture and smiled his wiliest, most charming smile. “With interest even. Or, you know, work off whatever debt I incurred." The world, the angel he loved… how in hell was he going to pay that kind of debt? Best not think about it. “Just tell me what you want and I'll give it to you, okay? Whatever you wish, the world is your oyster!”

She was looking at him unblinkingly, her hair now jet black and lashes soot dark. “We wish for you,” she said, unmoved by his outburst.

He lowered his arms. It was like talking to a wall. For all that she looked human, he knew she wasn’t one at all. She seemed not to understand his emotions, didn’t seem to even grasp the concept of wanting something for herself.

“You can’t have me,” he said desperately. “If anything, I belong to Hell and they don’t let go of anything once they've got it.”

The woman frowned, thin brows pulling together, her dress changing to ash grey -- a uniquely bad color for her, Crowley couldn't help noticing, that made her look like a wraith. “Hell?” she asked, clearly having no idea what he was talking about.

Crowley exhaled, sensing a possible path to salvation. “Hell, the land of the damned, the place where the souls of the cursed ones go.” He was maybe pumping it up a little but he was desperate to get through to her that there was something much bigger and more powerful than himself that held his reins, however loosely. “The place where the Light of God does not reach, whereto the Unforgiven have been cast.” He spread his hands out wide, trying to convey the enormity that was Hell. “I am the Fallen, I am and forever will be. There is nothing that can change God’s will, and Her will was to cast us out and throw us there. So you can't take me, you know, anywhere else.”

Instead of looking worried the woman brightened visibly and nodded. “Land of the dead,” she repeated. “Yes. We have lots of those. They never hold out long in the face of my Master.” She shrugged. “My Master does enjoy putting a wrench in the Almighty’s plans.”

“I’m a demon,” he said desperately.

She nodded again, as if hearing something completely different than what he was saying. “Your loyalty to your current masters is admirable,” she said with a tiny smile. “A demon going so far as to inject something Light into his body to deny us is a truly interesting occurrence.”

Crowley hated how she said that word, interesting -- it sent cold shivers down his back.

“I'm not at all interesting,” he said firmly. “I’m an ordinary demon. Foot soldier. I lie a lot. That's what I’m good at. Nothing to see here, I’m lazy and incompetent, spend far too much time with humans…”

“You may not be fully ours yet,” the woman said, looking into his eyes. She was as tall as himself, he realized. And suddenly much closer than before, mere inches separating them. “But you will never be theirs.”

She lifted her hand and touched two fingers to his chest. He could not sense her, but he could feel that touch. Just two fingers, slender and fragile, pressed to his sternum.

The thunder that ripped through the skies above his building was strong enough to make him stumble. He didn’t hear the ones that came after, didn’t see the storm raging above and below, because something inside him, deep behind his sternum, in the very core of his being, boiled.

He opened his mouth to scream, but not a sound came out because he was dying. It felt like Falling, only this time the power was burning him from within. Dark shadows seeped from his skin and sank into the floor. The agony seemed endless and unstoppable. Something was twisting inside him, rearranging, burning out pieces of him and it hurt, it hurt so much and he couldn’t even scream.

“Come to me when you recover,” the woman said, standing over him with her face calm and expressionless. She didn’t seem to be taking any joy in his suffering, but neither did she seem to experience any empathy for his pain. “I have wiped the board clean. We can start building now.”

---

Aziraphale found him on the floor of his apartment, lying unconscious in the stinking black mass that had poured out of him, most of the surrounding carpet burned black and blood crusting his eyes.

“Crowley.” The angel's hands were careful as they reached for Crowley’s head. He was kneeling beside the demon, his hands gently pushing the hair away from his sweaty face.

“I’m alive,” Crowley croaked through a throat dry as the desert. Everything hurt, his body as weak as if he were a newborn human.

“You are,” Aziraphale confirmed, his voice low and tight.

He was crying, Crowley realized, fat drops of tears falling on his face as the angel bent over him. He tried to lift his hand to touch Aziraphale, to tell him he was okay, alive and still felt like himself (more or less) under the pain and weakness. He only managed a twitch of a finger, but it was enough to make Aziraphale notice. The angel reached for his hand and squeezed it, hard, tears still running down his face.

“I felt Heaven and Hell tremble,” he said. “Everybody felt it.” He closed his eyes. “I knew it was you. I knew something had happened and you were smack in the middle of it.”

It wasn’t like he planned these things, Crowley thought resentfully. He didn’t ask to deliver the Antichrist, he definitely didn’t ask to be singled out by this power, whatever it was.

“Am I,” he asked through cracked lips, “still… a demon?” He remembered the shadows and light boiling out of him, remembered something in his very core being changed by force, forged anew.

Aziraphale was shaking his head. “I’m sorry,” his voice hitched, and Crowley's heart sank. “You...you are an aardvark now,” he finished, voice wobbly.

Crowley laughed. It hurt like nothing else, but he laughed and so did Aziraphale, even with the tears still wet on his cheeks.

“Can you move?” Aziraphale asked finally, looking worriedly at the destroyed clothes.

Crowley made a brief effort that left him trembling, limbs weak and shaking. “No,” he sighed, barely able to move his head.

Aziraphale swallowed. “If you turn into a snake I could carry you out.” He looked up through Crowley’s windows. “We should leave this place as soon as possible. Before somebody comes looking.”

And somebody would. Crowley knew they would. Whatever that woman, that force, was, it had reached through him to touch both Heaven and Hell. Reached and yanked something loose. They would come looking, yeah, and they wouldn’t be polite about it.

“Get the shirt,” he slurred, trying to concentrate enough to get a handle on his shape.

“Shirt?” Aziraphale looked at the shredded one still on Crowley’s body. It took a huge effort to motion towards the chair and the torn shirt lying there where Crowley tossed it earlier.

Aziraphale looked to the chair, at the charcoal grey shirt he'd ripped apart while it was still on Crowley. The angel blushed and growled at the same time. “Oh for…!” He seemed at a loss for a proper admonishment.

“Shirt,” Crowley mumbled again, even as he found the core of him, miraculously unchanged, still unmistakably his, and loosened the hold it had on his shape.

“Oh fine, I'll get your shirt!” Aziraphale got up from his knees, his white slacks dirty with the stinking mess and soot, and marched towards the chair angrily.

Crowley was smiling when his shape and his consciousness dissolved.

---

He woke up still aching somewhere deep inside, but feeling less like he was about to die. If he had dreamed, he didn’t remember.

He was somewhere high and warm, looped into relaxed coils. His head was resting on something soft and very warm, something smelling like Aziraphale. He stretched his head right and left, feeling soft touches all along his skin. Blinking, he realized his head was resting on top of Aziraphale’s, and the soft touches he felt were the angel's golden curls. He was wrapped around Aziraphale’s shoulders and neck, soaking up his heat and probably making him terrifically uncomfortable.

Crowley stretched and lowered his head, looking around. They were in Aziraphale’s office, the angel seated at the already messy desk now all but drowning in texts, loose pages of notes everywhere.

“Don’t read them!” Aziraphale cried, rushing into action the minute he noticed Crowley was awake, turning the pages and closing the books in a flurry of activity. Crowley hissed irritably. As if his eyes were made for reading printed text like this. He twisted round and bit Aziraphale's ear. Well, chewed on. Nibbled. Very carefully. To show how displeased he was.

Aziraphale twitched and gasped, then giggled and pushed Crowley’s head away from his ear. Crowley squirmed around to give him another chomp and it turned into a delightful sort of scuffle, him doing his best to get at Aziraphale’s ears and the angel trying to fend him off.

When Aziraphale was flushed and laughing, Crowley decided his job was done and slowly uncoiled himself from the angel's shoulders and made his way down. Aziraphale lifted his hand, fingers brushing the top of Crowley’s head and staying there, letting Crowley’s body slide under his hand as he went down. It felt good, this gentle touch, and Crowley arched, just a little, enough to extend this moment. He liked them, those little gestures and touches. Liked the scent of Aziraphale when he was happy, the sound of his laughter. He liked to collect those moments and hide them deep in his memory.

“What naughty things are you are researching now, angel?” Crowley asked when he'd reformed, straightening his new clothes. He'd gone with a different jacket this time. Less textured but with a long line of buttons at each wrist and much sharper shoulders.

“I mean it,” Aziraphale said, closing the cover of his desk and nearly crushing a few of the books in his haste. “You cannot see any of this. Not a single mark.”

Crowley blinked, realizing Aziraphale was serious.

Aziraphale was wringing his hands, a worried frown on his face. “I think, that is I’m fairly certain, I have a plan,” he announced.

“A plan,” Crowley said blankly. It was like he was living in an echo chamber lately, forced to repeat what other people said the whole day.

“Yes,” Aziraphale nodded. He looked at his now covered desk and moved to stand in front of it to hide it from Crowley’s sight even more completely. “There are a few conditions for it to work, though.”

Crowley swallowed, a faint sense of hope blooming in his chest. “Yeah? Like what?”

Aziraphale stopped fidgeting and looked Crowley straight in the eye. He'd never flinched from Crowley’s inhuman eyes. Not even once. “If you agree, if you want to try this, you have to trust me,” Aziraphale said, stressing the word unnecessarily.

“I trust you, angel,” Crowley said, baffled. “I've always trusted you.”

Aziraphale closed his eyes, exhaled and then opened them, pinning Crowley with an intense blue gaze. “I mean blind trust. Faith. I need you to do what I say.” He laughed suddenly. It was not a happy laugh. It was broken and shaky and Crowley hated hearing it. “I need you to do what I tell you and not ask questions. Not a single one.”

Crowley opened his mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. He laughed, disbelievingly. “You… are asking me not to ask questions,” he said, disbelieving laughter still hiding in his words. “Me.” He spread his hands. “I was cast out of Heaven because I asked questions even as a newly minted angel.”

“I know,” Aziraphale said, steady and firm. “And I am asking you now to believe in me.” He swallowed. “I’m asking you to have faith.”

“Faith…” Crowley wasn’t sure what to say. What to feel. He always trusted Aziraphale, even when he knew the angel was lying to him. But he always questioned, too. It was who he was. It was the core of himself, the one thing that never changed.

“I know it goes against your nature,” Aziraphale said, hands again wringing together. “But…”

“I’ll do it,” Crowley said, before he even knew he was going to say it. “I’ll… yeah, what the hell.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I'm all out of ideas at this point.” And scared. He was very, very scared.

Aziraphale’s eyes glowed with barely-veiled holy light. His whole body did. He extended his hands towards Crowley, palms up. “Will you promise to follow me, through the good and the bad, the darkness and the light? Will you believe?” The throb of power in his voice hurt, cutting through Crowley's ears, making his demonic core tremble in the presence of the Light, instinctively raising its ugly head and whining like a beaten dog.

He hadn’t expected to be called out right away, and in this kind of way, but this was Aziraphale and he trusted his angel, always.

Crowley stepped closer, the angel's light stinging like a bad sunburn on his skin. “I promise,” he whispered, putting his hands into Aziraphale’s glowing ones, feeling the weight of that promise settle against his heart and burn into the skin of his palms.

The moment the glow went out, he jerked his hands back and shook them, trying to get the sting out. He wanted to ask what was going on, what was the plan, what had he just done, but in the end he just bit his cheek and remained silent. No questions.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, a bit of the echo of power still in his voice. “I love you.”

It hurt, hearing those words still laced with heavenly power, the sting of it zinging over his bones, bringing back memories of things ripped from his mind when he Fell. But he supposed that didn't matter now.

“You need me to do anything?” he asked gruffly, stuffing his hands into his pockets again.

Aziraphale was quiet. Crowley wished he could say something, take the frown away from his lover's face but he was still reeling, his mind in turmoil from the promise Aziraphale had demanded, the promise he had freely given.

Blind faith. The kind of obedience Crowley wasn’t able to give even to God, he was now supposed to give to Aziraphale.

“Actually, yes.” Aziraphale looked to the covered desk and then back to Crowley.

“Yeah? What?” He was eager for something to do, to feel like he was still in control of what was happening to him.

Aziraphale took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I need you to go to Hell.”

Chapter Text

There were many entrances to Hell. There was the Main Entrance, of course, but Crowley felt like it would be best for all concerned if he didn’t use that one.

He found a tiny crack, located under a soup kitchen not twenty meters away from one of the oldest churches in London, and squeezed his way down. It wasn’t unusual that entrances to Hell and Heaven were located within a stone's throw of each other. Each side liked to keep an eye on the opposition.

Changing form and slithering through the ground, down, down until he felt the heat of the eternal fire on his scales was somewhat harder than usual. The hole, which he was sure he'd utilized at least twice before, felt strangely tight and constricting, forcing him to push harder than he was used to.

He punched through in a shower of rocks and debris, falling down harder than he expected onto rocks melted to glass eons ago. He shook his head and stretched, shifting from his snake form. Strangely, the shift felt different, as if he was turning it the other way around. Instead of decompressing his human form from the snake one, it felt like he was actually compressing down from a different form.

He frowned and looked at himself, at the red and black scales fading from his skin, and couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Maybe it was just that it had been so long since he'd shifted forms in Hell. Not like he spent any more time here than he had to.

He checked the pockets of his new jacket, the thin box still securely with him.

A fucking paring knife.

“Curse me a knife, he said,” Crowley grumbled uncharitably. “No bigger than this, he said. Make it good. Make it as deeply, seriously cursed as demonically possible, he said,” Crowley put his sunglasses on and rolled his shoulders. “Go fetch, he said,” Crowley really did not want to come down here. His skin was crawling and he felt like a child who was doing something his parents had utterly forbade him.

He chose the smallest, oldest crack he could find -- but Hell was full of damned souls and demons of different types, from the Fallen to the new breeds that popped up ever since the beginning of Hell, and moving through it undetected was virtually impossible. And even if Crowley was technically allowed to be there, he had a feeling bad things would happen should he be discovered.

Especially after whatever the heck it was that the spectre, the Steward, whatever she was, had done to him. He didn’t feel much different, but then again, he hadn't felt much different when he was cast out of Heaven, either, so his track record with noticing changes wasn’t the best so far.

Right.

He had some cursing to do.

Out of all the places in Hell, there was one to which human souls were never taken. The lakes of boiling sulfur, the first ones, the place wherein the Fallen were cast. A place cursed by God Herself, so that it burned out whatever Grace was left in a fallen angel after his dive from heaven.

It was a place of torture, yes, but not for humans.

 

Crowley shuddered, queasiness clogging his throat as he remembered his own fall. Remembered the utter, merciless agony. Remembered how it wouldn’t let him go until he'd ripped away every bit of his wings. Remembered the phantom sensation of his fingers tearing through flesh covered in boils, shredding through skin and muscle, breaking bones and ripping them out in the madness of the agony of Falling. Only after he'd torn away every bone, every feather, every bit of skin did the boiling sulfur let him go, let him crawl out onto the glass-smooth rocks.

He vaguely remembered not being the only one in torment; he remembered others beside him, screaming out their own agony through burned-out throats. Not all of the Fallen survived the landing; even fewer survived the hunger that came after the sulfur.

The hunger.

That was when his claws had leaped forth, long and razor-sharp, tearing through his maddened brother’s flesh as the hunger goaded them into turning on each other.

More died from that ensuing chaos than from the Fall itself. Those that survived came out of it changed, sick and forever hungry. That was at the core of every demon, really. The hunger, the need for something they weren’t allowed to remember, something that would never be satisfied.

The hunger morphed into hatred, into anger, into madness. It drove the demons to hate hate hate, to greedily devour souls and destroy all that She created.

Crowley was hungry too, always, the need gnawing at him every day of his existence. The memory of those first days, the chaos, the blood of his brothers on his hands sickened him, sickened him enough that, when sanity returned, he chose to satisfy his hunger in other ways. Staying away from Hell, away from the miasma of misery and hatred helped. He found a certain kind of satisfaction in humans, in the endless chaos and wonder of the world topside.

He touched the black, slimy wall in front of him and pushed. The black rock crumbled, showing a crack leading deeper into hell, the stinging sulfuric vapors a dead giveaway of what that place was. The smell brought up bitter memories and his stomach rolled, his fingers lengthening into claws, long and sharp, obsidian black.

But Aziraphale wanted the knife thoroughly cursed, and Crowley couldn’t think of a better way to do it than immersing it in the sulfurous substance that had burned away the hearts and minds of thousands of angels.

He stepped into the cavern, heels clicking against the melted rock, carefully buried memories surging to the surface. In a way he was grateful for them; trying to fight through the sickness of the memory made it easier to avoid thinking of Aziraphale’s plan. He'd promised not to question, but he wasn’t sure if "questioning" included "wondering about the why, or the details”. Was it only verbal questions he wasn’t allowed? Or was it thoughts also? He didn’t know, couldn’t ask, and decided to err on the side of the cautious.

So, misery it was.

His wings, hidden even in this place, trembled as he remembered the agony of their growing back, black and tainted by what he had survived. Crowley, apparently, was very attached to survival, even when mostly insane.

He reached the edge of the first of the endless pools, the yellow and white liquid boiling thickly, like syrup, and releasing noxious gasses. One would think the stench would shock his senses, make it impossible to smell anything else -- but no, he was not permitted that reprieve. He could still smell the stench of his own fear.

He opened the small box and took out the expensive paring knife he bought just before his trip down. An odd thing to want to curse, he supposed, but it wasn’t like he'd had all that much time to collect supplies for the trip. He'd grabbed the first thing that matched the word "knife" and was human-made, not miracled into existence, and trotted off to Hell, as instructed.

He turned it in his hands a few times, the shiny black handle and silver steel of the blade innocuous and harmless. Really, what could one do with something this small?

He gave an irritated huff. No questions. He crouched at the edge of the pool, small paring knife in hand and realized he would have to put his hands into the sulfur. Hellfire couldn’t hurt him, but this could and would. Probably eat away a good chunk of his hand too.

He clenched his teeth and plunged the hand holding the knife into the boiling sulfur.

Nothing happened.

Well, not nothing. It burned, like putting one’s hand into extremely hot water, but when he pulled it out the skin was only pink and stinging, much like when he touched Aziraphale glowing with Holy power.

He spent some minutes just looking, puzzled, at his hand, at the way it was still whole and mostly undamaged. Then he looked at the knife. The sulfurous liquid slid off it like oily film, dripping slowly and thickly down into the lake, leaving only the curse of corrupted, destroyed Grace behind.

Well, at least that part had worked. This thing would definitely be able to cut through angelic bodies now. Not just flesh, nor the celestial bodies built to allow them to appear in the physical world, but the very core of them.

He'd done what Aziraphale asked, but something deep inside him was hesitant to bring this back to his angel. Though small and definitely less menacing than, say, a flaming sword, it was still wrong. Wrong on so many levels. It shouldn’t be anywhere near an angel, especially a soft one like Aziraphale.

He put the knife back into the box and closed it tightly. He'd promised, though. He'd promised to have faith in Aziraphale and he was going to keep that promise, no matter how hard it was.

A noise from behind it, from the crack he'd made, caught his attention and he whirled around to face whoever or whatever it was, wings snapping out in an instinctive display.

A demon. Crowley didn’t know this one personally, but had see him hanging around Hastur often enough to know trouble when he saw it. The demon was staring at Crowley’s hand, still pink but largely undamaged, eyes wide. Even as Crowley watched, the demon opened its mouth to raise the alarm .

He moved, wings propelling him faster than the demon could shout. His clawed hand wrapped around the demon's throat, squeezing as hard as he could, and he slammed him into the wall, silencing him immediately.

The demon stared at him with wide, terrified eyes. Crowley's claws were digging into his throat, punching through the skin, spilling beads of black, stinking blood.

Crowley stared at him, fangs bared, and realized with a wrench that he couldn’t let the creature go, couldn’t risk him telling anyone about Crowley being here, doing something, his (apparent) immunity to the Lake of Fire, before Aziraphale had a chance to do...whatever it was he was planning on doing. He couldn’t.

The demon clawed at Crowley's wrist, trying to fight free of his grip. It was a lower-level one, didn’t even have wings. There was no hope for him. All Crowley needed to do was close his fist and rip him apart.

Crowley hesitated, his claws lengthening in response to his agitation. The demon gurgled, stinking of fear and corruption.

Crowley couldn’t do it. Not in this place, not with the memory of other flesh parting under his claws, other blood spilling over his fingers, was in the front of his mind.

He couldn’t kill, not even a demon, just because he wanted to keep a secret.

Crowley screamed, closing his eyes and ripped into the demon the only way he could. Not into his flesh. Into his mind, clawing and tearing at the memory of him seeing Crowley.

He was shaking when he stepped over the unconscious demon to return to the crack he'd used to get in, the tremors only leaving him when he changed shape, expanding and stretching and squeezing back into the too-small crack, desperate to get as far away from this place as he could.

---

Aziraphale wasn’t in his bookshop. The place was locked down tight and it stank of Light so much Crowley began sneezing the moment he parked his Bentley in front.

His feet stung and his clothes smoked ever so slightly as he forced himself past the wards; they did their best to keep him out, only giving in when he made it abundantly clear he was not going to be deterred. Even then they kept whispering of danger at him, whispering ‘leave’ at the edge of his senses.

He didn’t find Aziraphale, his desk clean and empty of any books or notes. Part of the office floor had been cleared of carpets, and remnants of angelic script still glowed in the middle of the open space, stinging his eyes when he tried to read it.

The only helpful thing he found was a note, pinned cleanly to the door, with an address on it and three words: Meet me here.

Crowley pulled the note free and ran his thumb over the graceful handwriting. Aziraphale had learned to write in a beautiful, flowing hand back when humanity first started to create illuminated manuscripts. Even though there was no longer any need for scribes, Aziraphale was still in the habit of penning his notes as if they were tiny works of art in themselves.

This note wasn’t as pretty as the few he'd got from the angel over the years, though. There was more of a slant to the letters this time, not all of them perfectly aligned, and the usual fancy flourishes missing or barely there.

Crowley wondered if it was just the hurry, or something else, that had turned Aziraphale’s uniquely steady hand unsure.

He folded the note, focusing on the feel of the thick paper under his fingers, the sting of the Holy in his nose, and chased all questions away from his mind. He still didn’t know if he was allowed to think them.

And he had promised.

He folded the paper once more and put it into the inner pocket of his jacket, hissing a tiny ward at it to make sure it wouldn’t get damaged.

The address was half an hour's drive out of London. Well, half an hour's drive for him. A human would probably need an hour and a half at least. He did have to chase some cars off of the M25 to reach his goal, but only one driver ended up in the ditch; the rest managed to safely land on the side of the road.

When he reached the address written on the note, he pulled up to the abandoned, and frankly falling-apart, two-story building and stared.

He knew that building. Or rather he used to know it, back in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds. It had been a brothel, a quite well known one too. He'd done good work here. Bad work. Er, professional work.

He let himself out of the Bentley and went to investigate. The door was long gone, the wood rotted through and fallen off the hinges. The inside was in largely the same state, with rotten wood, crumbling brick, and animal droppings everywhere.

It wasn’t hard to spot the footmarks, leading towards one of the old walls and then disappearing in the center of a wide swath of floor that was clear of dust and debris.

The basement.

Crowley remembered the basement. Mostly it had been used to store alcohol and hide the more prominent guests if there was any trouble. He didn’t bother trying to remember the trick of opening the secret passage. He just snapped his fingers and part of the wall obediently opened up, swinging out in a wide arc.

The passage behind was narrow and twisty, lit by merrily burning torches, their yellow light skittering over the uneven steps leading down. It smelled a lot less musty than it should after a few hundred years. There was no dust on the steps, no cobwebs on the walls and when he stepped into the spacious room dug deep underground, he found the space sparkling clean and empty.

Well, mostly empty.

In the far corner of the room was his angel, hair a mess. His cream-colored coat was pristinely clean, if a little fatigued around the edges. He was holding a book in his hand, all but bursting with notes, and was just finishing drawing something on the floor.

Behind him there was a desk, very similar to the one in his office, groaning under piles of books and notes. In the center of the desk were two boxes. One was an ordinary wooden one, not much bigger than the one in which Crowley carried the cursed knife; the other was iron, holding something frightfully holy inside, the power of it making it hard to even look at. Crowley blinked his eyes and looked down at the floor instead, taking in the symbol drawn there.

It was huge, spanning most of the room, its basic shape that of a circle but heavily ornamented and detailed. It seemed strangely familiar.

“Key of Solomon,” Crowley said after a moment. He changed the intonation at the last second, so not to ask a question. He was just stating a fact here. “You are drawing a demon trap,” he said, after walking carefully around it.

Normally such a trap wouldn’t be able to hold him. Wouldn’t hold any of the winged demons, really. But normally it would be drawn by humans with their limited understanding of magic. This one was built by an angel and Crowley didn’t want to accidentally get stuck inside, even if the trap felt inert at the moment, probably because it wasn’t finished. There was a small gap in the circular design, right where Aziraphale was standing.

“Crowley!” he greeted, raising his head.

Crowley studied him for a moment. The angel was trying to look normal, but his smile was strained and he was too serious by half. “You're nervous,” he said, coming closer.

“I very much want this to work,” he said, straightening up and turning to Crowley with a wobbly smile. “How did it go?”

Crowley didn’t like the secrets, didn't like that he couldn't ask what was happening, that he couldn’t ferret the secrets out himself. He had to just coast along, like a helpless human, and believe Aziraphale knew what he was doing. It was much harder than he'd expected to step back and let somebody else lead the show.

He curled his hands into the lapels of the the pale coat and tugged.

The angel closed the book, making sure Crowley couldn’t see what was written on the pages, but let himself be pulled close enough their hips were touching.

Crowley slid his hands under the coat and jacket, feeling the soft, slightly worn waistcoat under his hands and the warmth trapped between the angel’s body and the layers he wore.

“I got what you wanted,” Crowley said, leaning low enough his lips were brushing Aziraphale’s as he spoke. His hair fell forward like a heavy blanket, fiercely red where it met Aziraphale’s shoulders.

Aziraphale raised a hand and touched Crowley’s cheek, thumb tracing the line of his cheekbone and then going to the tattoo on the side of his face. One finger traced the snake shape there slowly, thoughtfully. “Did something happen?” he asked, pulling back enough to look Crowley in the eye. His own were still a little too bright with the power he must have summoned in the bookshop.

“I took care of it.” Crowley sighed, letting his voice soften, go lower. Then he leaned down and kissed Aziraphale, his hands spreading over the warm back and pulling Aziraphale even closer, until they were flush, bodies fit together as best as they could in their current position.

The angel sighed into the kiss, lips opening, giving Crowley entry. He let the demon in, welcomed his tongue and slid softly against it. “We shouldn’t,” Aziraphale said when he broke the kiss, his warm hand withdrawing from the back of Crowley’s neck. Crowley missed the touch the moment it was gone. “I have to keep a clear mind.”

Crowley growled quietly. He wanted touch now, wanted to feel something good after the misery of Hell. “You stink of Light,” he said instead, nettled by the rejection and the uneasy memory of Hell still very much at the forefront of his brain.

“And you stink of sulfur,” Aziraphale said calmly, “but you don’t see me making a fuss about it.”

Crowley grumbled again, but stepped back to pull out the box containing the cursed knife and extended it towards Aziraphale. “I don’t know why you even needed this, but here,” he said, pushing the box at the angel. “One cursed blade, as per order. Shipping included in the price.”

“Price?” Aziraphale sounded alarmed, pausing as he reached for the box. The way he was wrinkling his nose at it probably meant he could feel the stink of evil all over it.

“Yes,” Crowley said with unshakeable confidence. “You, me and page sixty-two of The Book.”

“Page… I’m afraid I didn’t pay attention to page numbers,” Aziraphale said, sounding incredibly guilty.

“I bookmarked it,” Crowley said helpfully. “Even added an exclamation point so its easily visible among all your other bookmarks.” To be truthful, by now The Book probably had more bookmarks than actual pages. Maybe they should bin the whole idea of bookmarks and just go item by item.

Aziraphale colored, just a little. Crowley was pretty sure this was one of his pleased blushes, not the embarrassed kind at all. Then the blush faded, as did the half smile on his lips.

“Yes,” he said, sounding unreasonably serious. “Once this whole business is done and over with, we can do… page sixty-two.”

Crowley didn’t like how serious Aziraphale suddenly was, and the sense that he was missing something huge and right in front of him only grew.

Aziraphale took the box from Crowley’s fingers, wincing as if it stung him, obviously feeling much the same way Crowley did about even looking at the iron box with whatever was inside it radiating Holy power like a lighthouse.

“Should I do something?” Crowley looked around the empty space. There was just the one chair, near the desk, but that too was piled high with books.

Aziraphale gave him a sideways look. “You could take off your jacket,” he said carefully. “Would be a shame to mess it up.”

Under normal circumstances Crowley would have been delighted at the request, but he did not like the sound of this, not at all. He took the jacket off and draped it over the chair. “What now?”

“Step into the circle, please,” Aziraphale motioned towards the area warded off by the Key of Solomon.

Crowley kept a wary eye on the mark as he stepped into the space indicated by Aziraphale. The mark covered most of the room anyway, so it wasn’t like he had to be especially careful about staying inside the boundaries.

Aziraphale opened the box and took out the cursed knife. His lips turned down and Crowley could see the way his hand twitched as it closed over the handle. He wondered if it hurt. He couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t.

“Do be careful with that,” Crowley murmured, stuffing his hands into his pockets to keep himself from reaching out and taking the knife away. It looked so wrong, the angel holding that cursed thing in his hand.

Aziraphale nodded and set the knife on the floor, near a smaller circle drawn with the same blue paint as the Key of Solomon. Some sort of focus circle, no doubt. Crowley had spent enough time around witches to recognize one when he saw it, but some of the marks around it were written in angelic script and while he could recognize it for what it was, he would never be able to read those runes.

Aziraphale went to the desk, opened the two boxes that waited there, and removed their contents. The wooden one contained another small knife, metal blade and wooden handle, nothing special about it that the demon could see.

The third was an old, rusted nail, roughly as long as Crowley’s hand. The power pouring off it was enough to make Crowley take an instinctive step back. It took him a moment to gather himself enough to step back into the place Aziraphale indicated earlier.

He looked at the three items, arranged neatly on the floor just outside the focus circle and didn’t like the implications of what he was seeing. Not in the least. He wanted so badly to ask, the question almost leaping out of his throat before he managed to swallow it down like barbed wire.

“Aziraphale,” he said as the angel took off his coat and his jacket, then his waistcoat. The angel made no reply. Crowley watched him open the tiny white buttons of his sleeves and roll them up carefully, and didn’t like that one bit.

“Give me your hand,” Aziraphale said, stepping into the focus circle.

Crowley extended his right hand. Aziraphale’s warm fingers closed over his in a gentle hold.

Aziraphale went to his knees inside the circle and Crowley mirrored him inside his own, keeping their hands joined.

Aziraphale picked up the innocuous metal blade with his other hand and Crowley swallowed nervously. Magic cast with demon blood wasn’t something to be done lightly, nor was it something that could be washed out of one's soul later on.

“Aziraphale,” he said tightly, but the angel only shook his head, a frown of focus on his face, and turned their joined hands so that Aziraphale’s hand was on top.

Crowley watched as Aziraphale cut a tiny wound into the back of his own hand with the ordinary metal blade. Blood welled up immediately and Aziraphale turned their linked hands over to let the drops splatter onto the painted lines of the Key of Solomon.

The circle flared to life, blue light flashing up from it and a deep, bone jarring buzz shooting through Crowley. The mark was powering up but it wasn’t closed yet, the inch of space between two ends of the line enough to leave it fairly harmless.

Crowley shivered and tightened his fingers on Aziraphale’s. “I really hope you know what you're doing,” he murmured as Aziraphale lifted the blade again. The angel's lips were moving but Crowley couldn’t understand the words.

Aziraphale returned the squeeze, then pressed the tip of the knife to the back of Crowley’s hand and cut him.

“Ow!” he complained, watching as the half-inch wound started bleeding. There was a kind of satisfaction in seeing Aziraphale roll his eyes at him, briefly, before rotating their joined hands once more.

He stopped mid-movement, though, Crowley’s blood welling up on his hand but not yet dropping to the ground.

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said tightly, his eyes focused on Crowley, for the first time showing him the fear and the guilt he'd kept hidden up till then. “You have to go through this. We both do. This is the price we have to pay.”

Before Crowley had time to understand fully what Aziraphale meant, the angel gave their joined hands a quick turn and Crowley’s blood splashed directly onto the gap between the lines of Key of Solomon.

Later, Crowley would swear that he felt it the moment the drop landed, in his very core. It was like the world shook, a great tremor going through reality itself.

The ensuing explosion of power ripped the two of them apart, his body hurled away from the barrier that suddenly exploded upwards and downwards from the circle, creating a perfect sphere. He landed on his back in the center, hard enough to force the breath out of him. His senses reeled, ears buzzing and eyesight swimming from the pressure of the ward. It was around him, above and below, cutting him completely off from the world. He knew, could feel deep in his bones, that there would be no miracling himself out of this trap.

The barrier glowed blue and red, waves of color twisting and twining, chasing themselves all along the boundary.

It was very quiet inside the barrier.

When Crowley got back to his feet, when his head stopped spinning from the sudden change, he saw that the focus circle was glowing with gentle blue light and Aziraphale was still kneeling inside it, watching him with an unreadable expression.

Crowley burned to ask what was happening, what the angel planned but he had the feeling he was about to find it out.

Aziraphale closed his eyes, his lips moving. He was praying, Crowley realized.

The angel reached out of his focus circle, put down the blade he had used to cut them both and picked up the cursed knife Crowley had brought him. Crowley watched as he placed the knife on his knees, so small, such an unthreatening blade. Some stupid, foolish part of Crowley thought that the knife was meant for him. That he would be the one to pay the price for any spell cast here.

He looked at the barrier, the blue and red light of it, and realized that his price wasn’t to be a knife in the chest.

His role was to watch as Aziraphale offered up whatever sacrifice the prayer demanded.

He was on his feet in an instant and beside Aziraphale the next, hands leaning on the invisible yet solid barrier. “No,” he said loudly. “No!”

Aziraphale didn’t look at him. He fussed with his sleeves. Once he was satisfied with the way his clothes were arranged, he picked up the knife, grimacing as he did so at the touch of the cursed object, and looked at it for a moment.

Crowley could see him swallow, could see the way his hand shook gently, for the briefest moment, and then Aziraphale pressed the tip of the fucking paring knife to the inside of his wrist and sliced.

Crowley didn’t know if Aziraphale made a sound; his own scream drowned out all other sounds. He could see, could feel, how the blade punched through the human skin and into the angel's celestial being.

He watched, horrified, as Aziraphale braced himself and dragged the knife through his flesh, opening skin and muscle from wrist to elbow, blood as well as Grace flowing from the wound. It pooled up quickly, thick rivulets running towards the palm of his hand.

Carefully Aziraphale put the knife away and leaned forward, extending his wounded arm towards the barrier. With one finger he painted a rune on the floor, with his blood and his Grace and whatever energy it was that made a celestial being. The rune glowed with incandescent light of all colors, impossible to read, impossible even to look at.

There was a sound, like a lock clicking shut when Aziraphale finished the last curve and sat back, the cut suddenly no longer bleeding even though the flesh was still damaged, skin parted and red muscle visible underneath.

Crowley exhaled. It was finished, the rune was finished, he could tell, and the cut, though deep, didn’t seem life threatening. He sagged against the barrier. It was all good. Aziraphale was going to let him out of this trap and Crowley was going to kill him, but they were all right.

Aziraphale knelt, back erect, in the focus circle, eyes closed. He brought his palms together, lips moving in words Crowley would never again be able to understand, stray drops of his blood bright on his cream colored slacks. Crowley watched the cursed knife, the blade coated with blood, still resting on his angel's knees, and… shivered.

Why wasn’t he putting the knife away?

Aziraphale opened his eyes and a tremor rippled through the barrier, a surge of power that again pushed Crowley away. He didn’t fall this time, his wings flashing out to keep him upright, resisting the push of energy.

Gold streaks of energy zigzagged all over the barrier, like a thunderclap waiting to happen. He watched them warily, feeling the potential power. The gold light streaked across the barrier for a few more moments, and then Aziraphale opened his lips and the world went insane.

The streaks of gold light, with a crack like lightning, converged and then shot straight towards the rune, and the ensuing explosion of power threw Crowley off his feet. Like being in the middle of the storm of the century, invisible winds tore at his hair and clothes, tossing him around the interior of the trap like a leaf. He felt his back collide with the barrier, shoving the breath out of his lungs again. The winds caught him again, throwing him to the ground and rolling him wings over ass until he fetched up against the opposite side of the barrier.

The storm died as abruptly as it had started.

Crowley, gasping, opened his eyes and saw that the entire barrier was now glowing gold, the blue and red of before all but gone. A line extended from it along the floor, glowing and golden, straight to the rune painted in Aziraphale’s blood and Grace. But there were other lines now. Golden and glowing, equally spaced all around the barrier, springing from central point at the top down the sides but not quite reaching the floor.

Crowley got to his knees and looked at them, felt their hunger, felt them waiting, saw what was below each of them, and he understood.

Each line would connect to a rune.

He looked at Aziraphale, who had risen and was stepping out of his focus circle, the dirty, cursed knife clenched tightly in his hand. The first cut raw and open, yet not bleeding a single drop anymore.

One cut. One rune.

He looked at the floor and the waiting connections.

Nine more runes.

Nine more cuts.

He staggered to his feet, bracing himself on the barrier and looked at Aziraphale. The angel wasn’t looking at him. He just walked, slowly, the few feet to kneel at the base of the next line.

“Don’t,” Crowley said, coming to stand in front of Aziraphale, hands resting on the barrier. “Aziraphale,” he pleaded. “Don’t do this.”

Aziraphale never raised his eyes from his work, but Crowley saw him swallow.

“That blade is cursed! Those cuts, they're slicing into your core, your spiritual self.” Crowley reined in his fear, tried speaking slowly, reasonably. “I don’t even know if they'll heal.” He glanced at the knife and wished he'd cursed himself instead of it. Why did he have to be so fucking obedient about Aziraphale’s request? He could have cursed the blade himself and given it back, pretending it was the best he could do. But no, he had to go and do his fucking best. “One wrong cut and you could cripple yourself,” he whispered, feeling sick. “Please, Aziraphale, be reasonable about this.”

“I am,” Aziraphale said quietly and pressed the knife to the inside of his wrist again, on the opposite side from before. He exhaled, once, and sliced.

“Stop!” Crowley shouted, hitting the barrier with his fists, hard enough it hurt. It made no difference, of course.

Aziraphale’s hand was steady, just as it was with his calligraphy, as he carved a long line from wrist almost to his elbow, blood welling up rich and red all along the deep cut.

“Fuck,” Crowley managed, almost choking on his own words as he watched the way the angel draw another rune, in blood and Grace and love.

Crowley turned away, hands balled into fists, choosing not to see the magic, denying the scent of blood, refusing to hear the quiet, rapid breaths indicating Aziraphale was fighting to control the pain.

He moved away, as far away as the circular barrier allowed, and covered his ears with his hands, trying to deny this travesty that was happening because of him, with the tools he personally had provided for it. He pretended he couldn’t hear a thing, couldn’t see the flash of power as another rune powered up, couldn't smell the blood. Pretended that all of this wasn’t his fault.

He managed to wait out one more, just one more, before something inside him snapped and he whirled back towards Aziraphale. The angel was pale, three long cuts on his left arm, the skin gaping obscenely, the palm of his hand smeared with blood and dirt. His fingers were trembling.

“Enough,” Crowley forced the word through a throat tight with emotion, eyes fixed on the damage. “It’s enough. Stop it right now, Aziraphale.”

The angel’s trousers were filthy now, dirt from kneeling on the floor and the blood that had spilled from his arm.

Aziraphale didn’t look at him, ignored him as if he wasn’t even there, and knelt down again, facing the fourth line. There were five to go; there wouldn’t be enough body to cut if this went on any longer.

“Don’t you dare,” Crowley growled, coming to the barrier directly in front of the angel. “Don’t you fucking dare. I swear I will break this.” He slammed his fists into the barrier hard enough to split his knuckles. His blood fizzed as it touched the barrier, the sting oddly satisfying. “I will break it, Aziraphale. And then I will kill you for being such a damned fool.”

The angel’s eyelids fluttered for a moment but he didn’t look up. He set the cursed knife against his forearm again, and with one sharp move cut across the first two lines. Crowley saw him choke back a scream, saw the way he paled, how the muscles in his jaw bulged with how hard he was clenching his teeth, how his nostrils flared on a sharp exhale. Beads of sweat shone his forehead and although his breathing was even, Crowley could tell he kept it so only with great effort.

“Enough!” the demon roared. He couldn't stand it, he wouldn't stand it, not one second longer. He couldn't stand the sight of Aziraphale bleeding out his Grace for him.

Burn, he thought. Burn it all.

The Hellfire that sparked to life around him didn’t need kindling to start, didn't need air to burn, it just needed his rage, bitter and guilty, to fuel it.

Flames surged out from where he stood, covering the whole of the old floor inside the Key of Solomon, and when they reached the barrier they raged upwards, the heat so strong it lifted Crowley’s hair and whipped it just as the wind hadbefore. The golden barrier flared and fought, but Crowley hit it again and again, the pain of each blow stoking his panicked rage higher, stoking the fire until he was enveloped in a furious maelstrom. Red and yellow, scarlet and gold, blazing until it burned white-hot, until it was almost too much even for him.

Burn, he thought, break it.

The Hellfire battered at the barrier, cracked the floor, evaporated a small pieces torn loose and melted the rest but the barrier held. It held.

He screamed, the rage a living thing inside him, and changed, shifted, and there was suddenly more of him. He could feel the flames licking against his skin but there was no pain, could feel the way the barrier blocked him, and he pushed. With all the desperate rage, all the bewildered love and terror he felt, he grew and swelled and filled the space, pressed against the barrier like water against a dam. Something would break, the barrier or him. Something would break because he couldn’t, wouldn't stand a second longer of this.

“You promised me faith,” Aziraphale’s voice was quiet but somehow he heard it ,and it cut through his rage like a knife. He looked at Aziraphale, kneeling by the next fucking line, a thick drop of blood oozing from his nose.

Crowley remembered then, with a sharp clarity of horror, that Aziraphale had taken his own blood to power the trap, too. His and Crowley’s. It was one thing to fight against himself, but fighting the barrier meant fighting Aziraphale. Breaking it meant killing the angel.

With every ounce of strength he possessed, Crowley stopped. He shifted back, surrendered, shrank to human size, the inferno of Hellfire fading and dying in the same moment.

He sank to his knees, hands twisted into his hair, and he screamed in useless, fruitless rage.

There were now five deep cuts on Aziraphale’s left arm, two long ones from wrist to elbow and three crossing over them. His arm looked like something from a slaughterhouse, skin shredded and red muscle and flesh exposed.

“Please,” Crowley whimpered when he finally managed to unfold himself from the curled-up ball of rage and pain. nothing had ever hurt like this. His throat ached, his hands throbbed, his chest felt like somebody had scoured it with barbed wire. “Please, Aziraphale, I'll do whatever you want. I will. I swear I will. Just… stop.”

Aziraphale didn’t.

His hand shook when he tried to grip the knife with his damaged arm, fingers slick with blood barely managing to hold the sticky handle firmly enough for a proper cut. He did it, though. Face deathly pale, he cut a sixth line into his body, despite all the promises Crowley continued to make. It didn’t matter what he offered, what he swore to do or not do, the angel would not bend, wouldn’t even look at him.

He messed up the seventh cut, his hand slipping and the knife cutting a curved line down his arm instead.

Crowley sat by the barrier, forehead resting against it, hands dangling loose between his legs. The knuckles he'd damaged were swollen and aching. He sat there defeated and watched as Aziraphale kept praying and kept on cutting.

“I hate you,” Crowley said quietly, exhausted and helpless, stuck in the trap of his own making. He couldn’t break it, couldn’t escape it, could do nothing but sit there and watch one of the greatest atrocities ever to take place. An angel bleeding out his Grace for a demon.

There were tears on Aziraphale’s face as he struggled with the eighth cut. His hair was matted with sweat and his breathing was ragged, no longer controlled.

He watched Aziraphale get to his feet yet again, for the last time. Both his arms were a mess from elbows to fingertips. Blood was everywhere. On his arms, on his knees, his thighs, splattered on his once-immaculate button-down.

“You're going to finish it, aren’t you?” Crowley asked quietly. He, tilted sideways until he could get his hands under himself and crawled towards his angel, to the last line, the last of the runes. “Come hell or high water,” Crowley said bitterly, too exhausted to fight any more. “You will deny the connection between us for six thousand years and then do this.” He lay down on the ground, tight against the barrier, so thin yet so unbreakable, on the other side of which was Aziraphale, on his knees, struggling to remain upright, his grimy hands shaking on the knife. Crowley couldn’t even imagine the agony he must be in.

He placed a palm against the barrier, fingers spread. As close as he could get, not close enough. “If this is some kind of proof of love, I don’t want it,” he said quietly. “I want dinners at the Ritz, and drinking your reds, and making fun of your books.” He closed his eyes. He couldn’t look at the tears streaming down Aziraphale’s face even as he felt the wetness on his own cheeks. “I never wanted this.”

Aziraphale hand was shaking so badly when he raised it to his arm for the last time that the knife slipped from his fingers completely. The angel knelt there for a long moment, his breath a quiet wheeze, almost a whine, before he managed to lift the knife again. He was almost back to the focus circle, the spell bringing back to the beginning. Ritualistic magic tended to do that.

Crowley stared at the last rune, at the radiant glow of its lines and curves, and felt nothing but a hollow exhaustion. He didn’t react as the barrier changed again, power ratcheting up so strong it burned along his nerves. It was like sitting too close to the sun; even closing his eyes didn’t stop the light from pouring in.

It took Aziraphale three tries to get up from his kneeling position. His clothes were rumpled, shirt damp with sweated, hair matted and dark. There was blood and soot everywhere, marring the cream and gold and pale colors of him, somehow making the travesty of what was happening even starker.

“You promised to give me faith,” Aziraphale said, his voice echoing with power, strange and alien, not like his angel at all.

Crowley closed his eyes and rested his cheek on the smoothness of the floor that had melted and solidified, feeling the residual warmth.

“And I have given it,” he said, eyes closed, too tired, too utterly broken to look at Aziraphale. “If there’s anything I haven’t given you yet, you are welcome to it.” The worst part, the very worst, was that even now the words were true.

He heard Aziraphale drop the knife, the clatter of the handle hitting the ground a familiar sound by now, one he would remember for the rest of his life, however long -- or short -- that turned out to be.

He opened his eyes in time to see Aziraphale pick up the third item. The rusty nail. Crowley didn’t need to ask what it was. He remembered all too well the nails the Romans had used to crucify their enemies. He just couldn’t figure out what it was for at this point.

He saw what picking it up did to Aziraphale, though, and it took his breath away. The moment the angel closed his hand on it, his wounds healed. Not completely, and not all of them. The cut on the back of his palm, the one made with ordinary knife, was gone. The cuts made with the cursed blade changed. They glowed, sizzled even as the powers fought each other. Then the gaping flesh pulled together, scabbing over in the blink of an eye. His whole body glowed with ambient, painful light that scoured Crowley’s senses. His eyes were almost unrecognizable, burning with otherworldly power. And then his wings came out, luxurious,white, and glowing too bright to look at.

He walked through the barrier as if it wasn’t even there, came over to Crowley, his steps slow, the nail clutched in his right hand.

“I need one more thing from you,” he said, voice still echoing, the thing in his hand radiating so much Light power it hurt to even be close to it.

Crowley wanted to laugh, but only managed to choke out a sob.

“Show me your wings, demon Crowley.” Aziraphale didn’t even sound like himself anymore, his reverberating voice so alien to Crowley’s ears.

It hurt, in a strange and new way, to release his wings and spread them on the floor under him.

Aziraphale knelt beside him, knees brushing the edge of his right wing. Crowley looked at the metal clenched in Aziraphale’s hand, at the strange glow in his eyes, and wondered distantly if Aziraphale was going to cut off his wings, or possibly nail them to the floor.

“Do what you will,” he said, voice low and painful. Whatever Aziraphale was going to do, Crowley knew, trusted, somewhere deep in his heart, that there was a reason for it. A reason for this pain, for this horror, for this blasphemy that was happening here.

Aziraphale straightened, gripping the nail in both hands, and raised it above his head.

“So be it,” Aziraphale said in that alien, distant voice and brought the Holy metal down.

It was like being struck by lightning. The nail went through his wing and deep into the floor, its touch spreading liquid fire through his body, feeling like his wing bones were charring from within.

He opened his eyes and screamed.

Then Aziraphale was yanking the nail out, blood and feathers following. Agony not felt since the Fall millenia before swamped him and he convulsed, thrashing on the floor, body one long line of pain.

Then Aziraphale’s own wings were lowering and he was reaching for his own wing, bloody fingers clenching in his feathers and yanking hard, ripping free a whole fistful of them with a scream that almost equaled Crowley’s.

Out of the quickly dissolving clutch Aziraphale chose a tiny downy one, no bigger than his finger, and pushed it into the hole the nail had left in Crowley's mere seconds ago.

Too many things happened at once then to ever really remember what came first and what was second.

Crowley felt new burn among the agony wracking him, this new poison a familiar mix of pain and pleasure: Aziraphale’s grace.

The wards collapsed, power going out of the trap and rushing in towards Crowley at the same time, slamming into him hard enough to lift him off the ground. It blazed through his body, alien and cold, merciless as it stretched through every atom of his being and fused him together without mercy.

He could feel it, even as he screamed, Aziraphale’s feather changing him in some fundamental way, growing into him, a piece of Glory burying itself inside his demonic core.

He must have lost consciousness, because when he opened his eyes again he was lying flat on the floor of the basement which was now missing a roof. Or, really, everything above it. He blinked his eyes and saw a clear night sky and stars moving lazily above, unconcerned with his fate.

His head was resting on something soft and warm, something that smelled like blood and soot, but also like Aziraphale.

He rolled his head to the left and saw an edge of cream colored coat, folded into a pillow for him. Everything ached in a strange way, like nothing he'd experienced before. Slowly he rolled his head right to see Aziraphale lying on the floor beside him, looking as wretched as Crowley felt.

He was filthy and disheveled, streaks of dirt and blood drying on his face. His eyes were open and he was looking at the stars, their light reflecting in his familiar eyes.

“Aziraphale?” Crowley croaked, doing his best to turn towards him. It was much harder than he expected, to force his body to move.

“My feather,” Aziraphale said, voice tired and shaky. Desperate. “I gave you my feather.”

Crowley knew. He could feel it there, in his right wing, even when the wings were hidden. He could feel Aziraphale’s Grace inside him. A tiny sliver of it, but enough.

Under the enormous silence of the clear, starry sky the dark whispers had gone silent. His mind was his own again. It was only now, in this quiet, peaceful moment, that he understood that he hadn’t been alone in his head for a very long time. The insidious whispers had crept in and grown, carefully and treacherously taking away his peace bit by bit.

The sense of inevitability, the inescapable conviction that the darkness in his mind was a fate he could not avoid -- that was gone too. He felt like he could breathe freely again.

“When I went back to the portal I realized that its power, its darkness, would not interact with me at all. I couldn’t hear the whispers, the voices. Couldn't even sense them. And then, later, when my wings blocked the voices out of your head.” Aziraphale coughed. “It gave me an idea.”

“I’m a demon,” Crowley said, still shaky and reeling from what happened. “How did you manage to do this, to implant your grace inside me?”

“You told me I could.”

Crowley blinked. “What? I never…”

“Blessed wine,” Aziraphale whispered. He sounded exhausted. “You told me I was blessing the wine when drunk and that you got used to drinking it.” Aziraphale was breathing slowly, the starlight making his face look even paler. “And the earrings, the tattoo. The blessed needles that changed your body.”

“An acquired immunity.” Crowley tried to snort and then choked, because his throat was too dry to make the sound correctly. Aziraphale kept giving him blessed things and Crowley, like the idiot he was, kept taking them because it was Aziraphale. The wine he unintentionally blessed that had made Crowley wonder for a good thousand years if the angel was trying to sneakily kill him. Even that stupid silk robe. He tried to laugh again and it only ended in more coughing. And then, once the angel opened up to him, let himself experience pleasures of the flesh with Crowley… each time he'd spilled inside Crowley, it was like being hit with a tiny bit of his Grace. Frankly, Crowley was damn surprised he hadn’t melted into unrecognizable demon slag from it all ages ago. Acquired immunity, he thought muzzily. That shouldn’t even happen. And yet.

The story of his life, really.

“Yes,” Aziraphale confirmed. “Enough to not die from a bit of my Grace.”

Crowley fell silent, half of his mind on the ache of the alien feather in his wings. He could feel the exact place where the feather lived now, close to his spine, amid his tertiary feathers. He itched to open his wings, spread them, look at them, but he didn’t think he was capable of it. Didn’t think he could stand to see the way he was changed, again. Not yet.

“The runes?” he asked after a long moment, mind shying away from the memory.

“It was the price. Your pain. My pain,” Aziraphale swallowed, his throat clicking dryly. “We had to go through it, both of us, to prove we were worthy. We had to pay a price equal to what we were asking.” Aziraphale closed his eyes. He looked very pale. “You said you hated me.”

Crowley shifted his hand, despite the protesting muscles, until his fingers hit Aziraphale’s.

The angel twitched, as if surprised and then exhaled a shaky sob.

“I lied,” Crowley murmured, sliding his fingers against Aziraphale’s.

“I knew,” Aziraphale said very quietly, “that you might not forgive me for this, even if the spell worked.” He shuddered, once. “I… knew.”

“It was your price,” Crowley said, understanding. “To be willing to lose the very thing you were trying to save.”

Aziraphale nodded.

“And mine?”

“You loved me,” Aziraphale said, turning slowly, painfully to his side. Their faces were inches apart.

“So I got to watch you suffer, locked behind an unbreakable barrier,” Crowley said.

“Yes.”

Crowley closed his eyes, consciously letting go of his anger, and moved closer, until he could press his forehead against Aziraphale’s. He remembered the Apocalypse and what Aziraphale had said to him. He didn’t understand then why Aziraphale did it. He understood now. “I forgive you.”

Aziraphale made a sound then, a tiny and wounded little thing that fluttered down from his lips.

Crowley shifted closer, pulling Aziraphale in by the hand he was still holding. The angel came slowly, almost reluctantly at first, before making another choked sound and surging up into Crowley's embrace.

His hands reached for Crowley’s shirt, fingers digging into the thin cotton, and his face pressed into the hollow of Crowley’s throat.

“Thank you,” Aziraphale sobbed into his skin and Crowley curled around him as best as he could. “Oh, thank you.”

Crowley closed his eyes, arms going around the shaking form. “I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t forgive you for,” he said gently, feeling the hot exhale of Aziraphale’s breath on his skin.

They stayed like that, curled together on the destroyed floor, dirty and wrecked, until the sun rose and then longer, until it set again, bathing them in its golden light.

---

It was late the next night before they recovered enough to get themselves up and moving. Aziraphale packed up the books, (because he wouldn’t ever just leave them or let them be destroyed, no matter what). Crowley packed up the cursed knife. He wanted to make sure Aziraphale would not get access to it again. Just in case.

He disappeared the ordinary knife but walked a wide circle around the nail, still lying where Aziraphale dropped it.

He watched as the angel picked up the things that couldn’t be destroyed and shouldn’t be left behind. Then they climbed the stairs, which had miraculously survived the explosion of power. Once they were back on ground level, Crowley looked back down, at the burnmarks and the still crisp lines of the Key of Solomon and thought, Burn.

The flames that erupted in the sunken basement started out orange, but as they grew, eating through paper, wood and stone alike, they darkened to red and eventually to black. He knew that by the time they were done, there wouldn’t be anything of the building left.

“You should be careful with those,” Aziraphale said, coming to stand beside him and watching the black flames consume everything they left behind.

Crowley rubbed his neck and shifted. “Yeah, I suppose I should.”

Aziraphale nodded and went to the Bentley patiently waiting for them on the driveway. The passenger door opened when Aziraphale touched it and Crowley could tell the angel hadhn’t used his power to miracle it open. It was just his car, joining the rebellion his plants had started already.

He grumbled, but didn’t yell at the car. He supposed he could live with it, if it was Aziraphale.

He got into the car and glared at the steering wheel.

“If you sprout any flowers, I will melt you into a pile of slag,” he hissed under his breath.

He cast a sideways look at the angel sitting perfectly straight beside him.

“You ready to go home?” he asked, starting the car. It purred around them, the radio kicking in and the slow beginning of "Who wants to live forever" filling the air. Crowley looked at the car disbelievingly and kicked it.

The familiar croon of Mercury’s voice sounded out louder, the words “who wants to love forever,” steadily gaining volume. Crowley hissed and kicked the car again, aware of the way Aziraphale was looking between him and the radio, the corners of his lips curling up.

“Slag,” he hissed, kicking again.

The tracks switched, "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy" coming up, and Crowley hissed again. He geared up to kick once more but the sudden touch of Aziraphale’s hand on his thigh froze him in place.

“Don’t be grumpy,” Aziraphale said, his hand warm and gentle. “It’s just happy to see you safe and whole.”

“It’s misbehaving,” Crowley complained, glaring down at the steering wheel again.

“Take me home,” Aziraphale said with a small smile, his hand moving a little higher, fingers curling up into something much more possessive than before.

Crowley cleared his suddenly dry throat. “Yeah,” he nodded. “Okay.”

---

The clawed bathtub was back.

Crowley made a positively indecent sound when he saw it, already half filled with water and scented foam. He pulled his shirt over his head and threw it onto the floor, kicking his shoes off at the same time. When he opened his belt and unzipped his jeans, he realized Aziraphale wasn’t moving, just standing in the doorway and watching Crowley with dark eyes.

“Why are you still dressed?” Crowley turned to him, letting his jeans gape open. “We're both filthy as Hell, a bath will do us good.”

And they were. Filthy with soot, dirt, sweat and blood in Aziraphale’s case. Both of them stank of ritual magic, the remnants of it like an oil film on his skin.

Aziraphale looked down and then away, shifting his hands to lock them behind himself. “I can wait for my turn,” he said, looking anywhere but at Crowley.

“Turn?” Crowley said, baffled. “You did things to me in that tub I never had done to me before!” He spread his hands, “And now it’s… turns?”

Aziraphale blushed, even the tips of his ears turning pink. “I’m not,” Aziraphale said, looking away as his voice trailed off. “I mean…” He licked his lips. “That is..”

Crowley watched the way the angel fidgeted and felt something like disappointment settle in his chest. He was really looking forward to some more touching, the way Aziraphale kept his hand on Crowley’s thigh more than a little promising the whole way to London.

“Not up to making an effort?” Crowley asked, trying not to sound hurt.

Aziraphale’s eyes shot to his, wide and surprised. “Oh no! I mean, yes! I mean, that’s not what I was referring to!”

Crowley cheered up immediately. “So, what’s the problem?” He made little motions from the angel towards the tub, hoping to speed up the process of undressing.

Aziraphale sighed, sounding adorably irritated.

Crowley liked this better than the careful withdrawal of before.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, still puffed up. He was clearly gearing up to give him a proper talking to, so Crowley cocked his hip and tilted his head so that his hair spilled over his left shoulder. It was messy and dirty, but the color was still enough to catch the angel's eye. He tilted his chin up a bit, to make himself a better target for Aziraphale’s ire.

“I mean,” Crowley said, making sure his voice dropped to innuendo. “I was thinking a nice bath, maybe some lather, some skin on skin…”

“It’s my arms,” Aziraphale cut in, blush still on his face, but the irritation was fading. He unclasped his hands from behind his back and moved them forward, playing with the cuffs of his shirt. “The marks… they haven’t disappeared.”

Oh.

Crowley swallowed, remembering how it felt to watch the thrice-damned knife cut through Aziraphale’s earthly and celestial body at the same time, bleeding him.

He came closer, taking Aziraphale’s wrists in his hands gently and raised his angel's hands. He opened the cuffs. First the right one, then the left one.

He was very careful when he rolled the sleeves up. The wounds were still there, red and a little swollen, the scabs holding the shredded flesh together.

Crowley felt like an utter idiot. When he'd woken earlier, there in the basement of the abandoned house, he'd seen that Aziraphale’s sleeves were rolled down, cuffs closed, and he'd assumed that the holy relichad healed him completely, or maybe the ward did it when it collapsed and fried Crowley’s circuits. He didn’t expect the cuts to still be there, red and raw.

“I thought they were gone,” Crowley said slowly, holding Aziraphale’s wrists carefully.

“I know,” Aziraphale said gently, as if it was Crowley cut up all to hell.

“They must hurt,” he said, staring at them. Five long cuts on each arm, miraculously not permanently damaging Aziraphale’s ability to move.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to lie to him. He had this look about him, his eyes just a little wider. Crowley always knew when the angel was about to lie, even before he could smell the lie itself.

“Don’t,” he cut in, squeezing the undamaged parts of Aziraphale’s wrists. “Just don’t,” he pleaded.

Aziraphale closed his eyes briefly and then looked up. “Yes,” he admitted finally. “I think they are supposed to.”

Aziraphale tugged his arms out of Crowley’s hold, turning them and stopping Crowley from staring at them.

“Can you heal them?” Crowley asked, voice low and painful.

“I don’t want to even try,” Aziraphale said unexpectedly and Crowley’s head jerked up.

“What?”

“They are a proof for me,” he said quietly.

“Proof of what? That you can be hurt? News flash angel, you always could be.”

Aziraphale was shaking his head, the a soft smile on his face. “I know you hate it,” he said gently. “But to me it’s proof that I didn’t stand back, didn’t choose to let things happen around me.” He swallowed, hard. “I think I needed this,” he said, looking down at the cuts that were definitely going to scar. Not just his fleshly body, but his celestial body too. “I needed to prove to myself that I would never again be undecided, when it comes to you.” He raised his eyes and looked at Crowley. “Because you never hesitated, did you. Not when I denied the connection between us time and again, not when I told you I didn’t even like you, not when I hid behind our respective sides. You never hesitated, and I did.”

“I’m a demon,” Crowley said tightly. “I didn’t have anything to lose. You… you had everything to lose.” He shook his head, trying to find the right words. “You…”

“No,” Aziraphale cut in. “I had everything to gain.”

This time it was Crowley’s turn to close his eyes, unable to see all the things shining in Aziraphale’s eyes.

“I can understand if you don’t want to look at them right now,” Aziraphale said gently. “That’s why I thought it would be better if we..”

Crowley stepped closer, his hands coming to Aziraphale’s waist and pulling him close, enough for their bodies to press tightly against each other, the soft velvet of Aziraphale’s waistcoat warm against his bare chest.

“I want you,” Crowley forced past a tight throat. “I don’t care how, I just want you.”

And that was the truth. Crowley wanted. His hunger, his yearning, instead of turning into bitter madness, transmuted into this. His endless amazement at the world and at the only other person who seemed as enamored with it as himself. Aziraphale was a mirror to himself, a lighter and clearer one, but a mirror nonetheless. They loved the world, the people in it, all their beautiful and horrible deeds, and in that shared love Crowley found his hunger redirected and satisfied.

He closed his eyes and pressed his lips to Aziraphale’s cheekbone, feeling the deceptively soft skin and fragile warmth of him.

“You can have me,” Aziraphale murmured, tilting his face into Crowley’s kiss. “I swear. You can have as much of me as you want.”

“Then I want you in the bath with me,” Crowley said. He was a demon after all, and they knew how to use a weakness when they scented one out.

Aziraphale laughed, the sound soft and strangely happy. “Yes,” he nodded. “I’m getting the picture.”

“Lose the layers, angel.” He reached around and slapped Aziraphale’s ass making the angel squeak and jump.

Crowley laughed and pushed his jeans and underwear down, kicking it off as he did his boots. He was going to burn those clothes anyway, he didn’t care how they got treated now.

He stepped into the bathtub and sank into the hot water smelling like lilacs and lemon, submerging his whole head. The angel apparently liked to choose his bath products to smell much like his favorite desserts.

“Give me a show?” he asked when he surfaced, using both hands to push his wet hair back.

He got a towel to the face for his trouble.

There was a shiver of magic in the air and then Aziraphale was stepping into the tub behind him, urging him to give him space.

“You could always get in front,” Crowley invited, being deliberately difficult and enjoying how Aziraphale had to slide wetly against his body to fit into the miniscule amount of space between Crowley and the lip of the tub.

“I told you before,” Aziraphale grumbled, pushing at Crowley’s back. “You are way too skinny to recline on comfortably.”

“So fussy,” he laughed but curled up closer to the foot of the tub, letting Aziraphale slide the whole way in, the angel’s legs framing his hips as he settled.

He felt soft and solid behind Crowley, skin slick with water and soap when he shifted back, reclining against Aziraphale’s chest. He could feel the giving softness of Aziraphale’s round belly. It did provide a nice padding for Crowley’s admittedly bony spine. He relaxed more and could feel the shape of Aziraphale’s cock, still soft and resting snugly against his lower back. Crowley found he liked it, this closeness and the way the angel’s body felt against his. He liked the way Aziraphale slid his arms around his shoulders and pulled him closer. Crowley could feel the uneven drag of the fresh scabs on the insides of Aziraphale’s forearms, the way they caught on his skin when Aziraphale embraced him.

“Thank you,” Aziraphale murmured, cheek pressed to the top of Crowley’s head. He was squeezing Crowley tight enough to make it hard for him to breathe.

“For what?” Crowley lifted his hands out of the water, reaching for Aziraphale’s forearms but hesitated for a second, before he let them touch them, crossed over his chest.

“For believing in me,” Aziraphale barely exhaled the words. “For surviving.”

Crowley squeezed Aziraphale’s forearms, very carefully. “Always,” Crowley murmured just as quietly. “You gave me the world, Aziraphale. You gave me love,” his voice broke. “I never knew I could be loved. Not again… not after…” Crowley swallowed. “Thank you.”

If he was crying, Crowley thought that it was allowed, just this once, in this quiet place with Aziraphale wrapped around him.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale couldn’t name what he was feeling in that moment. Love, yes, of course, but so much more. Crowley was shaking, not much, but they were pressed so close together Aziraphale could feel each and every breath, as well as the tiny tremors that wracked him.

Aziraphale was squeezing him, probably too hard, but he couldn’t stop himself. He wanted this contact, wanted that confirmation that Crowley was still alive and strong, still larger than life.

“Can I touch you?” Aziraphale asked, his cheek still pressed to the crown of Crowley’s head.

Crowley breathed out a quiet laugh. “You don’t need to ask,” he murmured, his body suddenly relaxing and sinking into Aziraphale's. Lord, but he was bony. Aziraphale could feel every single bump of his spine, the hard press of his shoulder blades. When he shifted his hands lower, the soapy water stinging the barely scabbed-over wounds, he could feel the ridges of Crowley’s ribs under his fingertips. The demon was all wiry strength and energy. It fascinated Aziraphale, even before he learned to be fascinated by the body itself.

“Isn’t that too much?” Aziraphale asked. He felt giddy with such brazen permission, his body strangely aflame and almost dizzy with how excited it made him. He wanted so much. He wanted to touch every little piece of Crowley, drag his fingers, his lips over every single inch of skin. He wanted to know how he felt, how he smelled. He wanted to catalogue that information, wanted to record it and save it in the deepest corner of his mind where nobody else could touch it. There was a fiercely possessive flavor to his want, his need to know Crowley in the most biblical of ways.

He dragged his hands over the slick skin of Crowley’s belly, feeling how the lean muscles moved with each breath, and cupped the hard jut of the demon's hip. The bone felt strong and hard under his hand, but also small and almost fragile.

“Haven’t I made it clear?” Crowley’s voice was slow and raspy, dropping into the register that made Aziraphale squirm. “I want you to touch me, I love it.” Crowley chuckled, shifting in his arms, pressing the back of his head against Aziraphale’s shoulder and turning to drag his teeth gently over Aziraphale’s neck. “I love it when you do,” another bite, slow and sparking fire in Aziraphale’s belly. “Do your worst,” he murmured, lips still mouthing at the skin, “Show me how you feel.”

Crowley relaxed even more, sinking into Aziraphale, his knees falling open in an invitation that made it hard for the angel to breathe. Crowley was temptation and absolution all in one, body open and willing, oh Lord, so willing.

Aziraphale slid his hand up one of those too-slim thighs. He thought about the way those thighs looked in the skinny jeans Crowley preferred, or (even better) back in the days of tights, the soft fabric hugging every curve and hollow. There was something about the way he melted into Aziraphale, the way his body opened up that was dizzying. "Architect of Sin," they called him and Aziraphale never before understood why. He was such a bright and lively spirit, always moving, always questioning but so rarely malicious. Some part of Aziraphale had always believed that the only reason Eve succumbed to the snake's temptations was that she was already halfway there and he just nudged her over the edge.

But here, now, with Crowley sprawled on top of him, slick with water and breathing soft little breaths against his skin, he was temptation personified. Nothing would have stopped Aziraphale from succumbing to it. There was no law, no prohibition, no power, that would stop Aziraphale from touching him, from mapping every secret inch of him. He was going to be greedy about it, he knew already. He was going to take the knowledge and keep it to himself, bind it deep inside him and guard it jealously, possessively, with all he had.

He touched Crowley’s thighs, running his fingertips against the small hairs there, and then wrapped his palms around as much of them as he could, marvelling at how small Crowley was. Tall, yes, and strong, but also almost delicate in his build.

It felt deliciously presumptuous to hold Crowley this way, as if he had the right, the ownership enough to do this. To wrap his fingers around him and squeeze gently, feel how the muscle twitched under his hand. The inside of Crowley’s thighs felt delicate, vulnerable. When he pushed, just a little, he felt the legs give and spread under his direction.

He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, his heart pounding hard enough to deafen him.

“Angel?” Crowley asked drowsily, some of the bonelessness draining out of him. "What is it?"

“Can I wash you?”

Crowley chuckled soundlessly, more of a vibration in the water than anything else, one of his hands going down to trail little patterns on Aziraphale’s thigh. “It’s the hair, isn’t it?” he murmured, shifting to look up at Aziraphale’s face.

Aziraphale felt his breath catch at the warm tone, the rumble in it bringing back memories of what they'd done together, of how amazing it was having that gorgeous mass of red touch his body everywhere.

“It’s you,” he said, feeling the heat of Crowley’s gaze on his face. “It’s everything you.”

“Aziraphale…” Crowley started, voice losing its tempting, sexy rumble and edging into something entirely too serious.

But Aziraphale wasn’t interested in Crowley lessening the impact of his words. He would say it was Lust, it was the newness of sex and using his body this way. Aziraphale knew better. Sex in itself had never been a draw beyond idle speculation, an abstract concept. It was Crowley who made sex something spectacular, something Aziraphale wanted. He wanted it because it was with Crowley, with the one person who understood him, accepted him as he was.

“Sit up,” he nudged Crowley off his chest to sit up straight. “I will start with your hair.”

In the week Crowley had spent locked in nightmares, Aziraphale had found himself at a loss for what to do, looking for a distraction. He slept with Crowley every night, even though sleep wasn’t something Aziraphale generally engaged in since it was more of a way to pass the time than something he enjoyed. However, with Crowley warm in his bed, always curling into him as soon as he got a whiff of the angel's presence, sleep was a different thing, a lovely habit to pick up.

Sometimes he would lie for hours with Crowley’s relaxed, lean frame wrapped around him, head resting on his chest, and play with his hair. It was so heavy and warm, a living blanket of their own that trapped the heat of their bodies. It always felt silky smooth as it fell through his fingers and Aziraphale loved it. He researched a wide range of completely unnecessary topics while waiting for Crowley to wake up, abusing Crowley’s cellphone to do so. He watched YouTube tutorials on how to do fancy braids and other creative things to do with long hair, and grew eager to try them all out. Almost every article he read claimed that people with long hair were especially affected by scalp massages; the weight of the individual hairs caused stress to the skin of their scalp, and a massage stimulated blood flow as well as reducing the stress.

Now, remembering, he poured a good handful of the new melon-scented shampoo into his palm and shifted to sit up straighter behind Crowley. He put his hands on Crowley’s head, spreading the shampoo delicately. Crowley kept obligingly still, his wet hair plastered to his neck and back, the rest of the glorious length floating in the water like a crimson cloud.

At first Aziraphale simply lathered it up, gently pulling the rest of the mass out of the water and working the suds into it. There were bits of debris in there, pebbles of concrete and burnt remains of unrecognizable things. Briefly he remembered Crowley shapeshifting, remembered the huge form of him, endless, armored scales struggling against unbreakable barrier, Hellfire raging around him as the barrier started to crack under the pressure. Aziraphale had felt it, felt the strain and the first pop when a binding gave. A few more seconds and everything would have been lost. But Crowley had stopped, listened to Aziraphale, and subsided into the quiet misery of blind faith.

Once he was sure most of the silky length was clean, he pushed his hands under the soapy mass to Crowley’s neck, hard and long, and slowly dragged his thumbs over the tendons there. It got him a surprised inhale and a quiet murmur, Crowley tilting his head back into Aziraphale’s hands. Trusting him.

Aziraphale let his fingers dig into the wet hair until he could feel the firm scalp under the tips of his fingers. Once he had Crowley's head well cradled, he started to move his fingers in tight, hard circles, feeling the shape of the skull under the scant protection of flesh.

Crowley shivered, a whole-body shudder, and moaned, his voice low and breathy and going straight to Aziraphale’s cock. He bit his lip, pressed closer, and went to work, rubbing small circles all over that heated skin, sometimes letting his blunt nails scrap gently over it.

Crowley broke out in shivers, goosebumps dotting his arms and his spine seemed to liquefy in a matter of seconds. “Ohhhh,” the sound was indecent, a low rumble so heated it brought a red hue to Aziraphale’s cheeks. “Oh yes, please.” Crowley swayed gently with each movement of Aziraphale’s hands, the only thing holding him up the death grip he had on Aziraphale’s knees.

The angel wanted to keep this up for the whole night, wanted to hear the muffled, unintelligible sounds leaving Crowley’s throat for hours, wanted to see what would happen if he kept it up, what state he could bring the demon to. But eventually his arms began to ache, the exertion awakening the pain even as the hot water softened some of the scabs. Soap stung the cuts and he had to stop eventually, regretfully.

Crowley was bent forward, head hanging low and mouth slightly open, lips red and plush. His eyes were half-closed and he looked soft, so soft with the high blush on his cheeks. Aziraphale reached for his neck again and his shoulder and pulled his back, shifting to the side. He lowered Crowley back, the hand under his neck supporting him. He lowered Crowley into the water, red hair spreading around him in a fiery halo. His half open eyes, dazed and soft, met Aziraphale. He didn’t blink as the water touched his head, his hands were soft and relaxed at his sides as he let this happen, let Aziraphale lower him into the water like he used to do to humans he was baptizing. Crowley didn’t close his eyes to protect them from the water, didn’t reach for the edge of the tub, didn’t even reach to catch onto Aziraphale. He just went limp, eyes fixed on the angel, and let himself be submerged until all of that amazing hair spread around him in water, tendrils sliding gently over both their bodies. He looked beautiful, like the most amazing creature to ever walk the earth; pale skin, golden eyes, and the endless red of his hair all around them, filling the tub with a thousand shades of sunset.

Aziraphale believed in God. Even when his faith in Heaven failed, his belief that the Almighty would watch over them never faltered. He always believed in God, always would. But one thing had changed. He used to think that he could only ever worship the God he believed in, but that wasn’t the truth any more. He still believed and loved, he still worshipped, the Almighty, but this, now, Crowley trusting and still in his hands, felt like faith too. It felt like worship, like sacrifice and benediction all in one. It filled him with power, with feelings too great to contain in this mortal form. He felt as if he would burst with it, choke and die under the beauty of the moment and be born anew, into a completely new creature.

Aziraphale couldn’t stand it. The look in Crowley’s eyes, soft and trusting and endlessly open. The beauty of him, slim and strong, living so hard he shone like his own star, was so incredible it hurt. It was so much that it ripped Aziraphale open and he pulled Crowley up, out of the water and into his embrace. The demon seemed to read him, his hands going to Aziraphale’s neck and they were kissing. Their lips slid wet and salty against each other, tongues sliding soft and sure, licking deep. He cradled Crowley’s head, half braced on the edge of the tub, one shoulder under Crowley as he did his best to reach into Crowley’s very core, to devour him and have him. Crowley's hand was on his neck, fingers long and strong, pulling Aziraphale closer as he opened up under the kiss.

Time ceased to matter, the hot water, the melon-and-fire scent of Crowley, the softness of his plush lips and slick skin the only reality Aziraphale chose to acknowledge.

They fit together inside the tub, Crowley half on top of Aziraphale, his eyes glassy and golden, vertical pupils just barely expanded, his lips open and inviting, sharing breath as they kissed. Aziraphale touched him, ran his soapy hands down that too-lean chest, thumbs catching on nipples and rubbing them into hardness, devouring every last sound he managed to pull out of Crowley. He touched the softly moving belly, palmed the too-hard hip and traced the unbelievably delicate skin down until he could wrap his hand around the hard cock. It was long and heavy in his hand, skin like softest of silks. He rubbed his palm over the head, feeling the hardness and the give of it, greedy for every little gasp and jerk he managed to elicit.

When he urged Crowley up, the kiss failing to sate his hunger in the slightest, only pushing it higher, creating an endless hollow in his chest. Crowley went easily, letting himself be pushed to sit on the edge of the tub, strands of his crimson hair sticking to his chest, his shoulders, falling forward over his face. Crowley’s eyes were half lidded and filled with fire, low-burning embers that never left Aziraphale’s face. His lips were swollen from the kisses, half open, thin tendrils of wet hair sticking to them. Aziraphale couldn’t take his hands off his demon, couldn’t stand to be parted from the slick softness of him for one second. He wrapped his hands over one bony ankle, investigated the long line of the hard tendon, fingers curling possessively over the calf, feeling it twitch and flutter under the touch.

“Oh Lord,” Crowley breathed when Aziraphale pressed his lips to Crowley’s knee and sucked hard, wanting to leave a mark. He pushed closer, between Crowley’s knees, shouldering them open and losing himself in the shuddery exhale Crowley made when he touched his lips to the inside of one unfairly slim thigh, when he let his teeth dig into the soft skin and hard muscle. Crowley’s hands were in his hair, fingers sliding through Aziraphale’s hair, fruitlessly seeking purchase.

“Please,” Aziraphale murmured, drunk on the way Crowley let him push his knees apart, the sound he made when Aziraphale pressed his lips to the unbelievably tender flesh in the juncture of Crowley’s thigh and sucked there too.

“Anything,” Crowley managed, voice cracking.

“I want...” Aziraphale breathed against the hot skin of Crowley’s groin, rubbing his cheek against the smooth column of his cock, feeling the head trail wet little marks over his cheek. “I need...” he didn't know how to say what he wanted, what he felt, how he needed to devour Crowley, take him and have him, feel him inside in every possible way, filling him until there was nothing but Crowley.

He turned his face, dragging his lips over the hard cock, tasting skin and fire. He opened his mouth wider, taking the thick head in, the taste exploding on his tongue. This was almost this, almost what he so desperately needed. He held on hard to Crowley’s legs, felt him curl over him, hands scrambling for a better hold on his water-slick back. Almost there, almost. He pushed forward, taking it deeper, fighting against the alien sensation, and Crowley made a sound, deep and almost pained, his hips surging up, taking Aziraphale by surprise and pushing past the restriction and deep into his throat. He jerked, a moan choking against the cock now in his throat, filling his mouth so completely his vision whited out and he was coming. Just from that, just from Crowley finally, gloriously, inside him. His body locked, spasmed, throat tightening around the obstruction, and then Crowley's hands firm and gentle, pulling him back, letting him breathe. He whined and jerked again, the orgasm pulsing out of him in almost brutal waves, throat aching with the phantom memory of Crowley’s cock inside.

He was being pulled, pressed against the wet, slick body of his lover and Crowley was kissing him, licking deep inside him, stealing every sound, every breath, hands running over Aziraphale’s body feverishly.

“This,” Aziraphale said when he managed to catch his breath, his words mostly lost in Crowley’s mouth. “I want this,” he murmured, his own hands restless, clutching at Crowley’s naked form, dragging up his chest to tangle in the short hair there, greedy for contact. He kept touching, groping insistently with insatiable hunger. “I want you inside me,” he groaned, hands finding the mass of wet hair and fisting there. “Please, Crowley. Please.”

“Anything,” Crowley said, had been saying for a while, Aziraphale realized, voice as wrecked as Aziraphale’s. “Anything for you.”

---

He wasn’t sure how they got onto the bed, miraculously dry. All he could see was the shock of red hair and the glint of Crowley’s golden eyes as he braced himself above Aziraphale.

The curls were dry and shiny, smelling sweetly of melon, spilling over Crowley’s shoulders,l onto the bed, onto Aziraphale’s chest.

It felt like a revelation, when he spread his legs for Crowley, when he moaned his invitation. This was exactly what he wanted, Crowley’s lean, hard body over him, muscles tense and lips soft and wet and so inviting Aziraphale couldn’t hold back for a second without straining to kiss them. He fisted his hands hard in those amazing curls when he felt Crowley’s body between his thighs, felt the strength of him, felt the way the bed dipped and shifted when he braced himself above Aziraphale.

One of them cheated, but for the life of him Aziraphale couldn’t tell which one, and when Crowley pressed against him, cock hot and slick, Aziraphale was already wet, opening slowly under the steady push, keening into Crowley’s mouth. He kept their lips locked, kept taking Crowley's breaths, gave him his sounds in exchange until he was dizzy with it. His body gave and Crowley pushed in, cock hard and filling him mercilessly, perfectly wiping away the last remnants of sanity.

Everything was heat, pleasure building inside him with every deep thrust. He couldn’t get over the feeling, over the stretch, the presence of Crowley inside him. It was exactly what Aziraphale wanted. The phantom ache of Crowley’s cock in his throat, the stretch of him inside him now, the panting, never ending kiss, the scent of sweat and melon and power. He held on tight, arched to get as close as possible, until he could feel every shift of muscle when Crowley rolled his hips into him, whole body pushing into the thrust.

Aziraphale wanted to remember this moment forever, the way their bodies slid against each other, the strain of Crowley’s muscles, the laboured breathing and the hair spreading over them both, painting the world in a million shades of red. He wanted to remember the feeling of being broken open and filled, of everything being replaced by Crowley for that one moment in time. Crowley around him, inside him, bound to him in impossible ways, his, always his, only his.

Aziraphale came again, the orgasm catching him by surprise, body seizing suddenly as he spilled between their bodies, gasping for breath.

Crowley made a sound then, almost painful, clenching his hand on Aziraphale’s hip and pulling him up, sliding deeper on the next thrust, making Aziraphale see stars again. He thrust once, twice, face flushed and jaw tight as he fought for his own release, body taut as a bowstring.

Aziraphale could feel it when he came, when he pushed deep one last time and stayed there, cock swelling that little bit more before spilling himself into Aziraphale.

This too was perfect, that bit of Crowley inside him too, and Aziraphale tightened his legs around him to make sure he stayed inside, stayed close. He tugged at the hair he'd never actually let go of, pulling Crowley closer, kissing his forehead, his cheeks, his eyes. He felt so much, too much to contain in this human body and it ached that they were of different enough make that they couldn’t just abandon their earthly bodies for a moment and be one, merge together into a single being. But they couldn’t, so this, this entirely human thing, was the closest they could be. He tightened around the cock still inside him, enjoying the ache and the fulness, the sensation of Crowley slowly softening.

“Stay inside me,” Aziraphale rasped, his throat dry as the desert.

“Oh Lord,” Crowley said on a shaky exhale, face pressed to Aziraphale’s neck, his breath hot and fast against the angel's skin. “This was…” his voice trailed off, something fragile and tender in his voice.

“Yes,” Aziraphale nodded in confirmation, and then laughed because there was just too much to feel, too much of his lover and not enough at the same time.

Crowley rearranged his limbs, his weight shifting on Aziraphale without actually changing position, another of those snake things he did and pretended were completely human.

“Nap?” he asked, one of his hands petting gently along Aziraphale’s flank. “Or do you want to do something more?” His head was mostly resting on Aziraphale’s shoulder, his hips still between Aziraphale’s thighs and that felt good, the heavy presence of him on top.

Aziraphale exhaled a shaky laugh. “I don't even know what I’m doing,” he admitted, running his palms down the sweaty length of Crowley’s back under the blanket of his hair.

“Taking a ride in the fast lane,” Crowley murmured, placing small, lazy kisses on Aziraphale’s chest. His lips were very soft. “It’s fun.”

Aziraphale laughed again, closing his eyes, nose full of the scent of their sweat, their come and the melon shampoo. He realized he would never again be able to smell melons without thinking of sex, of this moment. Frankly, he doubted he would even be able to eat the fruit without having wholly inappropriate thoughts.

“It’s terrifying,” he admitted.

“I’m here to catch you if you stumble,” Crowley murmured, voice slow and gravelly, edging into sleep.

Aziraphale gentled his messy hair over his back before gripping the sheet and pulling it over them haphazardly. He could have stayed as he was, but he knew Crowley got cold easily and liked being toasty warm above all else.

Crowley gave a sleepy murmur of appreciation and Aziraphale felt his heart swell again at the way Crowley trusted him, the way he would just let himself drift off to sleep with him.

He let his hand rest in the dip of Crowley’s back, where there were two hollows that he idly wanted to lick one day and closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep too. There was nothing he would rather do now than lie there, wrapped in Crowley, surrounded by the scent of their love.

---

Aziraphale was dreaming.

He knew that just as surely as he knew that he'd never dreamt in his life before. Angels didn’t, as a rule.

He had a drink in his hand, the orange and champagne taste of it decadent and light. He always did like Mimosas. He was surrounded by people, also holding glasses of the sparkling pale-orange drink. There were glass panels in the walls, and when he looked closer he realized they were habitats. Snake habitats, to be exact. He was in the London Zoo's Reptile House.

There seemed to be some sort of event going on, with crowds of beautifully dressed people and small tables placed here and there, piled high with tiny canapes and lovely fruit tarts.

He looked through the closest pane of glass into the habitat behind it, at the green and black snake raising its head as if sensing his gaze. It was a lovely specimen. Slender, with black scales on top and light-green belly scales that extended into something akin to tiger stripes.

“Aren’t you a cute one,” Aziraphale murmured, smiling down at the creature.

Then he thought of Crowley, because of course he would think of Crowley and his snake form. He wondered what his lover would say about him complimenting other snakes. Would he laugh? Or would he get jealous? It was hard to tell; the demon was often mercurial in his reactions. He remembered how soft and cool Crowley’s skin felt when he was a snake, how very smooth. He wondered if this was a common trait to all snakes.

“This one is really pretty,” a voice beside him said. He turned and saw a dark-haired woman in a white and green dress beside him. Her hair was pulled back in a complicated braid that was more reminiscent of bygone times than modern fashion, and her dress was much simpler than most of the ones he saw on other guests. She also seemed sharper, more defined than the other people in the dream, who were little more than vague shapes.

“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “Quite lovely.”

“It would have been fun having a snake, but my husband and son always preferred bats.”

“Bats,” Aziraphale repeated, puzzled by the strange turn in conversation.

The woman turned to him. She was beautiful in a warm, understated way. High cheekbones, smooth skin and very dark eyes. “Yes,” she sighed. “If it wasn’t bats then it was some mangy beast or other. Never anything pretty, not even a cat.” She sounded equally mournful and cheerfully resigned.

Aziraphale wasn’t sure what to say. “Maybe getting a cat won't be that much trouble?” He'd had contact with most animals throughout history, cats included, but those were usually working cats that hunted mice and rats around homesteads. They never seemed like much trouble to him, very self sufficient. “To balance out the... bats?”

The woman laughed. She really had a very lovely laugh.

“That’s a nice thought.” She turned and spied a passing waiter. Quick as a viper she snatched two little tarts from the tray and extended one towards Aziraphale. “Balance.”

She bit into her own tart, whipped cream smearing the corner of her lips. Aziraphale looked at his own tart, tiny, perfectly round, topped with glazed raspberries, blackberries, thinly sliced peaches and grapes, and decided it was one of the prettiest desserts he had ever seen.

“You have…” He pointed to the corner of his own mouth and her eyes widened, and then she was giggling as she devoured the rest of the tart before bothering to clean herself up.

The pastry was sweet and fresh, the whipped cream smooth with a bit of vanilla and lemon zest, he was sure. It tasted amazing and he took his time eating it bit by bit.

“Balance,” she said after she was done with her own pastry, “is a tricky thing to keep, you know. It takes so little to disturb it.”

Aziraphale was too busy with his dessert to pay too much attention to what she was saying.

“My husband, for example. He tends towards dark moods if somebody doesn’t snap him out of them. Very grumpy by nature.” She took a sip of her drink.

Aziraphale finished his delightful treat and chased it down with a swallow of mimosa. He felt really good, filled with a sense of calm pleasure. He should definitely take Crowley out for some nice dessert soon.

“Then it’s good he has such a bright soul to balance him out,” Aziraphale said. It was an honest compliment. She seemed like a truly bright spirit.

She scrunched her nose. “He has a different lover now,” she said, some of her cheer fading out.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said. And he truly was sorry, because if he knew one thing about this woman (the way one knows things in dreams, suddenly and completely), it was that she loved her husband very much still. Clearly the break wasn’t by her design.

“He needs someone beside him,” she said philosophically. “He doesn’t do well alone. Gets grumpy,” she shook her head. “So very very grumpy.”

Aziraphale wasn't sure how to respond to this. She clearly loved her husband, but he couldn't sense any falsehood or anger when she spoke about his new relationship. “I’m still sorry,” he said, heart swelling at this bright spirit's plight. “It must have been hard, to lose somebody you love so dearly.”

She looked into her half full glass, then at Aziraphale. “I guess that’s what I get for dying early,” she sighed and took a delicate sip from her flute.

Aziraphale blinked at her, the words not adding up until they suddenly did. The brightness of her presence, the way she seemed so real, was because she was a blessed soul, one of the humans who was granted special favor from the Almighty. Even after death they served as messengers sometimes, if they wanted to. They were allowed freedoms and powers no ordinary human soul could ever possess, and used them in a myriad of ways. Sometimes they watched over special places, sometimes they guarded their family members. Sometimes, apparently, they came for a chat with an angel.

“Oh,” was all he managed, and she laughed again.

“Don’t look so gloomy, it was a long time ago,” and she waved his concern away. “Anyway, don’t worry about the gift too much. I’m just trying to make sure the balance is maintained.”

“Gift?” he said, remembering how utterly amazing the little tart had tasted. He looked around and it was just the two of them in the room now. None of the snakes were moving.

The woman blushed a little, as if embarrassed. “Forgive my subterfuge.” She didn’t look like she was feeling any guilt, though -- just embarrassment at being caught. “I thought this was better than shoving it down your throat as if you were an unruly three year old.” She shook her head. “God, that kid of mine would not eat anything without a fight.”

“What did you do?” Aziraphale asked, feeling mildly uneasy. The sense of gentle pleasure was still very much present, which made it hard to get truly worried.

“You'll like it,” she promised, waving away his concerns much as Crowley waved away any chance of potentially hitting pedestrians when driving like a mad creature through central London. Then she added, “I hope.”

“You hope?!”

“Anyway, must be going now, farewell!” She took a step back then paused as if she had just remembered something. “Oh, and if you see my husband, be sure to tell him Marie sends her regards!”

She faded out of his dream with the last word, as did the little tables, the walls, the snakes, everything, leaving Aziraphale blinking, mildly alarmed and confused in a landscape of pure whiteness.

---

He woke up to Crowley doing his best to bury his head under Aziraphale’s pillow, his arm loosely draped over Aziraphale’s stomach. He wasn’t snoring; he only seemed to do it in his snake form, which seemed both completely improbable and an extremely Crowley thing to do.

Aziraphale shifted, uncomfortable, strangely aware of his wings all of a sudden. They were hidden, as always in the mortal realm. Humans didn’t usually cope well with the physical embodiment of his Grace. For the most part, the wings were a weapon, really. Just like his flaming sword. He liked the wings better, though, because they could shield, could defend as well as attack. He remembered Crowley in the shower, a pale wraith made of anguish and suffering. He'd felt so helpless then, so useless, the pain pouring off Crowley and unable to do anything about it. He'd unfolded his wings then, not because he had a plan, but purely out of protective instinct, because he wanted desperately, foolishly, to shield Crowley from whatever horrors he was facing and wings were what angels used to shield. The fact that it had worked was as much a surprise to him as it had been to Crowley. The fact that the touch of his wings didn’t burn the demon to the bone, of course, was yet one more shock.

His wings were itching like mad.

At first he tried to put it out of his mind and enjoy the morning, the little sounds and movements Crowley made while asleep, his scent, the sight of all that lovely hair spread out around his lover. He savored that last new thing, the word lover. He knew it was childish to get so excited about a simple two-syllable word; it wasn’t like it changed anything between them. They were friends, best friends, long before they decided to try the whole lust and sex thing, and in the grand scheme of things the sex (amazing as it was) didn’t matter much. And yet. Calling Crowley his lover sent a happy shiver through Aziraphale’s body, a frisson of warmth that curled deep in his chest and stayed there, smug as a contented cat.

He wanted to enjoy this morning to the fullest, wanted to just watch Crowley sleep for a while. But the itch grew, intensified, until the urge to unfurl his wings was unbearable.

Eventually he managed to carefully shift away from Crowley without waking him, watching fondly how the demon shifted and sniffled in his sleep before settling into deeper slumber curled around the pillow Aziraphale provided in his stead.

He went to the bathroom and locked the door behind him. Then he let the wings out.

The filled the space from wall to wall, brightening the room with the gentle light radiating from them. The long flight feathers were sharp as knives; any demon getting close would be cut to pieces by the Grace-infused blades. Aziraphale puzzled for a moment over the fact that the very shine of his wings should have hurt Crowley, yet he only reacted to the actual touch of them, and even that wasn’t much of a reaction. Aziraphale couldn’t stop thinking of what he had said, that he’d been drinking the wine Aziraphale would sometimes accidentally bless. The idea that Crowley had gained some form of immunity to Aziraphale's Grace due to extremely long exposure was a lovely one. He couldn’t express what it meant to him, that he wasn’t the threat to Crowley that he was meant to be.

He shifted his wings, bringing them forward enough that he could touch them. He put his hand on the bony ridge at the top, preparing to dig his fingers into the feathers to see what was causing the infernal itch.

He got no further than sliding his palm flat along the top edge of the wing. The moment he touched one of the itchy spots he felt... movement. Something was under the skin, protruding slightly and moving in little twitches.

His heart skipped and lungs seized. He jerked his hand away, heart pounding.

Whatever it was, felt alive. Aziraphale swallowed through a tight throat.

It was terrifying, not only the instinctive disgust of being physically invaded, but because angelic bodies should not change. Not ever. They were designed by the Almighty and they were going to stay as Her hand had formed them until the end of time. To change, to have something growing inside him, in his wings which were the most vivid outward sign of his angelic nature, was unthinkable.

Aziraphale exhaled sharply and braced his hands on the sink. He felt dizzy, his knees weak. He caught a glimpse of his forearms, the underside lined with deep cuts, the scabs stark against his pale skin.

He thought of the ritual, he thought of all he felt when he held Crowley in his arms, all those emotions burning him right down to his soul. He wondered, faintly, if he was Falling. If this was how it started. He wondered, shaken to his very core, if loving could be sin enough to Fall?

He must have made a sound, because suddenly the door to the bathroom was crashing in and familiar clawed hands were on his shoulders, turning him around, pulling him close, into an even more familiar chest.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley said softly, his hair tickling Aziraphale’s nose. “What’s wrong?” His hand was on Aziraphale’s head, pulling him closer, hiding him.

“Promise you'll stay with me,” Aziraphale said, shaking. He wrapped his arms tightly around the demon, his hands digging hard into his skin. “Please.” He could feel his heart thudding, fear freezing him from the inside. If he was Falling, if it was really happening, he needed to know Crowley would be there, would help him.

“What’s going on?” Crowley sounded more worried now, his body tense. “Tell me. Let me help.”

“I think...I think I’m Falling,” Aziraphale managed to squeeze out through a throat almost too tight to breathe. “My wings,” he choked out, closing his eyes and pushing his face into Crowley’s chest, wishing it was enough to stop reality from reaching him.

Crowley flinched at the words, his arms tightening spasmodically on Aziraphale, hard enough to hurt. The angel welcomed it, welcomed even the pain because anything was better than thinking about what was happening.

“You are not,” Crowley said, voice hoarse and low. “You are not Falling.”

“My wings,” Aziraphale tried to explain. “Something’s happening to them. They're changing, mutating…” He grabbed Crowley’s hand and pressed it flat to the top of his closest wing, letting him feel the horrifying thing moving under the skin.

He was pressed so close he could feel the way Crowley twitched suddenly, an instinctive reaction that meant he too felt the wrongness.

“Oh Lord, oh Lord,” Aziraphale kept repeating, eyes tightly closed, whether in prayer or denial or simple fear he didn't know.

“Look at me,” Crowley said, gripping Aziraphale’s face tightly and tilting it up. “Look at me right now!”

Aziraphale opened his eyes, his terror momentarily overridden by the harsh command. He could feel the way Crowley sagged suddenly, the tension flowing out of him. His hands were infinitely gentle as he gathered Aziraphale to his chest again.

“You are not Falling, Aziraphale,” Crowley said in a rough voice, equal parts relieved and wretched.

“But…”

“It starts with your eyes,” Crowley said after a moment, voice full of terrible things. “They burn the eyes out first. To take away the Light. It’s why most demons have black or red eyes.” Crowley was shivering, Aziraphale realized. “If they survive the Fall, they have to draw on the darkness or the fires of Hell to fill the void.”

Some still-rational part of Aziraphale’s mind recognized the horrible logic of Crowley’s statement. Angels had eyes of all the colors in existence, yet demons didn’t.

“But… yours are gold,” he whispered against the naked skin. He couldn't bring himself to look into those eyes at that moment. He wouldn’t be able to stand seeing the pain he could already hear in the demon's voice.

Crowley sighed. “I was a snake first,” he answered. “I used my animal form to fill the void.”

“And... the wings?” He hated to ask, would never make Crowley recount the Fall for him, not under normal circumstances. But if he was Falling… “When do they change?”

Crowley was shaking in earnest now, arms painfully tight around Aziraphale’s. “They don’t,” he said in a forced tone. “They... hurt. They become nothing but pain, a burning agony. So much that it drives you insane. They burn, and burn, and burn until you tear them off, rip them away, bone by bone, muscle by muscle.” Crowley swallowed. “After,” he choked, then fell silent and just breathed for a few moments, slow, shuddering breaths. “After, sometimes, new ones grow in.”

“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale ached with grief, feeling so ashamed of asking, of forcing him to remember it all. “I’m so sorry.”

Crowley pressed a kiss to Aziraphale’s temple and shushed him gently. “It’s alright. You are not Falling. Whatever is going on with your wings, you are not Falling.” Crowley sounded as shaken as Aziraphale, his voice unsteady. He bent down and picked Aziraphale up with strength far greater than any mortal of his stature would have.

The angel kept his face firmly pressed to Crowley’s shoulder, holding onto him, willing the scent of his skin to keep reality away for a few more minutes.

His wings dragged on the floor as Crowley carried him out of the bathroom. He refused to even acknowledge them, much less do anything with them. Vaguely he noticed that the demon never flinched at their touch, but when Crowley sat him gently on the bed, his saw the angry pink welts on Crowley’s arms. He caught them before Crowley could withdraw and held on to them.

“Wait,” he said, gripping Crowley's wrists tightly and turning them so could look at the thin pink lines. They didn’t look too bad, like stripes of a bad sunburn. When he brushed his fingers across them he could tell they were a little swollen.

“It doesn’t matter,” Crowley tried to tug his hands away from Aziraphale’s grip, but Aziraphale didn’t let him.

“It matters,” Aziraphale insisted, eyes fixed on the burns.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley said, kneeling down in front of him. “This,” he gestured at his arms. “This is nothing. I get worse making tea.”

“I hurt you,” Aziraphale said, heart sinking. He'd been so sure Crowley would be immune to his wings, that the demon could touch them without repercussion.

“I don’t care,” Crowley snapped. “Sorry,” he said immediately after, sounding contrite.

Aziraphale stayed quiet, trying to parse what he felt at the realization that Crowley truly and absolutely did not care about any pain he might suffer, accidental or not.

“It seems we match now,” Aziraphale said weakly, looking at the dark lines of scabbed cuts on his own forearms. They were quite mangled, the both of them.

It had been a very intense few weeks. Aziraphale wished for nothing more than a few hundred years of nobody interfering with them and nothing happening at all.

Crowley looked at the deep cuts, healing human-slow on his angel. His expression shuttered, eyes darkening until whatever he felt was hidden behind the otherness of his slit-pupiled eyes.

It hurt, a dull ache deep in his chest, seeing how much Crowley hated the sight and how quickly he hid his reaction. Aziraphale knew that this pain, this guilt he felt, was part of the price he had to pay to keep Crowley by his side.

“Your wings seem to have a bit more... oomph than usual,” Crowley murmured gently, breaking into Aziraphale's somber thoughts. He was naked, Aziraphale realized. Unprotected skin and crimson hair was everywhere. Aziraphale’s wings twitched and he pulled them closer, preparing to hide them again. He couldn’t risk causing more damage to his lover.

“No, no, no,” Crowley protested. “Don’t hide them now. We have to take a look at them and see what’s going on.”

Aziraphale… didn’t want to. Didn’t want to see what kind of monster he was becoming, didn’t want to face the reality of it. He shook his head.

“Come on.” Crowley leaned in closer, his wrists still trapped. He leaned his forehead against Aziraphale’s. “Let me see, okay? Just a quick look.”

“Angels are immutable. Eternal.” Aziraphale closed his eyes. “I should not be changing at all.”

“You have been changing for the last six thousand years. Is a tiny change to your body really that important?”

Maybe he was right, maybe Aziraphale was overreacting. “You’ll get hurt if you touch my wings again,” he said, shaken and unsure.

Crowley opened his mouth to protest and Aziraphale glared him into silence. “Alright,” Crowley nodded. “Wait here.”

Crowley pulled the angel with him into the bedroom, where he rummaged through Aziraphale’s closet until he found the black and red silk robe. His back to the angel, he wrapped himself in it, pulling the flaps snugly around himself and finishing up with the wide belt. The red phoenix looked amazing, curling from Crowley’s back over his shoulder, its tail flaming all down his left leg. The wide sleeves and sharply cut shoulders gave a sense of drama and understated sexuality that fit Crowley perfectly.

Finally, Crowley turned to face Aziraphale and raised his hands in a triumphant gesture, showing a pair of long opera gloves reaching to his elbow.

Aziraphale didn’t know what a thin layer of silk was going to accomplish against the power of his wings but apparently Crowley assumed it was a lot.

When Crowley came back to the bed and put his hands on the first wing, Aziraphale couldn’t sense the faintest twitch of discomfort from him. If he focused, he could sense only the faintest tingle of demonic energy from the hands running across his wings.

He blinked, surprised and relieved, and looked at Crowley. The demon had a frown on his face as he investigated the odd, living entity within Aziraphale’s wings, looking completely preoccupied. It felt very strange, each time he found another itchy spot and his fingers pressed there and manipulated the skin. Aziraphale had a moment of poleaxed understanding. He'd seen that look before, Crowley performing incredible feats with simple objects simply because he believed that was how it should be. How had Aziraphale never understood that Crowley had the power of creation, the power to adjust reality to his will? It was beyond comprehension, how he could have been so blind. Maybe it was because Crowley only did it with painfully ordinary objects, treated it as the most normal of things but here he was, using a pair of thin silk gloves to protect himself from all the power of Aziraphale’s Grace and it was working.

“I love you,” Aziraphale said helplessly, adoring the way Crowley’s face was scrunched up in concentration. Lord, how much Aziraphale loved him! His secrets, his devotion, his joy in life, and his sheer capacity for love that put most angels to shame. And all that in a demon.

Crowley twitched. He always did when Aziraphale said the words, as if each time was the first time he'd heard them.

Crowley closed his eyes briefly, then turned to look at Aziraphale. “I love you,” he said quietly, almost painfully. “You are not Falling,” he repeated. “But if you did, if ever…” His face twisted, pain clearly painted in his eyes. “I would be with you. You wouldn’t be alone. I swear.”

Aziraphale nodded. He believed Crowley, believed every word. If he Fell, Crowley would be there for him every step of the way.

It was easier to ignore the fingers rifling through his feathers, hands, pulling the skin taut and gently touching the protrusions, when he had the image of Crowley’s focused expression to gaze at.

It didn’t take long before Crowley was sitting back and peeling his gloves off. “I think,” Crowley said quietly, casting a careful look Aziraphale’s way, "those are eyes."

“Eyes,” Aziraphale said, his mind a blank.

“Yeah.” Crowley rubbed the side of his nose. “There’s a lot of them. They seem to still be growing in, still closed, but yeah, definitely eyes.”

Eyes were not a demonic trait, they were an angelic one. Only not in the choir to which Aziraphale belonged. Angels, Archangels and Principalities - all of them had bodies that were mostly human in shape and features. It made sense, since they were created to be the point of contact between the ethereal world and the human world. They were meant to look familiar.

The second or first tiers, on the other hand, were definitely not designed for human eyes. Even a glimpse of an angel of the higher tiers would not only make the witness lose their mind, it would burn their eyes out too.

“Congratulations,” Crowley said, sounding profoundly uncomfortable. “You seem to have gotten a promotion.”

Promotion?

Angels didn’t get promotions!

Then he remembered the odd and seemingly senseless dream. A gift, she had said. Something to keep the balance.

He remembered the endless shape of Crowley in the trap, armored scales and black hellfire raging around him, and realized he was being changed to match Crowley. His lover, whether he knew it or not, had changed. So now, Aziraphale had to change as well, to keep them balanced, so that neither could overpower the other.

He stared at Crowley, who was clearly trying to be supportive and not show how much the change unnerved him, and felt a rush of pure joy.

If there was any proof he might have hoped for that this love he felt was not a bad thing, that there was nothing shameful in loving Crowley, it was this. This tangible proof of the Almighty's acceptance of them both, of them together, felt like a blessing, permission at last to stop fearing the end would come any second.

He closed his eyes and laughed, the last traces of fear leaving him in a rush.

“Angel?” Crowley sounded worried now. “What’s so funny?”

Aziraphale slid off the bed and into Crowley, his hands going to Crowley’s head and tangling in the amazing hair as he bore him to the floor, joy all but overflowing.

“I'll tell you later,” he promised, laughing and kissing Crowley.

They had time, they could have this. Aziraphale wasn’t going to waste a single second of the time they fought so hard for.

Crowley, still confused, let himself be flattened -- as always, willing to go step in step with Aziraphale, hands going to Aziraphale’s sides and pulling him closer.

They had all the time in the world now.

Chapter Text

Crowley stopped the Bentley when the ground became too uneven to drive even a demonically enhanced car.

It was almost evening, sun sitting low on the horizon and bathing the empty landscape in shades of red.

He was aware of Aziraphale’s eyes on him, sitting quietly on the seat beside him, his hand warm and sure on Crowley’s thigh. Even now, after everything they'd done, all the sex they'd had, Crowley’s heart still did a stupid little stutter when Aziraphale put a hand on his leg. The angel was braver now, or a tad more of a bastard, because he would often move his hand up Crowley’s thigh, fingers curling possessively around the muscle. He was never crass enough to actually touch anything interesting, but the fact he was exploring, acting more obviously possessive, definitely put Crowley’s imagination into overdrive.

Crowley tightened his hands on the steering wheel hard enough that his knuckles whitened, and glanced over at Aziraphale. The angel’s eyes were dark, watching him carefully.

“This is probably a bad idea,” Crowley said, letting go of the steering wheel and stretching his fingers, the faint ache fading away.

Aziraphale moved his hand, the maddening, perfect hand he'd kept on Crowley’s leg the whole drive here, and gripped his lapel to pull Crowley closer.

Crowley had one of his best jackets on, cut so tight and vicious it made people scatter from his path. Aziraphale seemed to enjoy it, though, his fingers skimming appreciatively over the fabric every so often.

Ever since they'd started this physical thing, Aziraphale kept surprising him with how easily he took to sex. It wasn’t even his hunger for pleasure he wanted to satisfy, it was his hunger for Crowley. The angel had evidently decided, somewhere along the way, that the thing he liked best was getting his hands on Crowley and doing his best to liquefy Crowley’s brain through pleasure. He would get Crowley to come over and over, helpless in Aziraphale’s hands, until the angel deemed him broken enough to meet his standards. It was like riding a rollercoaster, as exhilarating as it was terrifying.

“It’s worth it to try,” Aziraphale murmured gently.

Crowley shifted on the seat, hands going to Aziraphale’s face and leaned in, to kiss him. A long slow kiss that teased at those soft lips until Aziraphale was opening his mouth, trying to catch him into a harder kiss. Crowley didn't let him, closing and withdrawing, enjoying the shuddery breaths and the plush touch of lips on lips.

He had his leg already under him, he realized a moment later, body straining to get closer to Aziraphale, the angel’s hands pulling him closer, fingers sneaking under the jacket to trace the shape of his ribs. He could never have enough of this feeling, the reciprocated love that filled him with so many emotions he hardly knew what to do with himself most of the time.

One of them made a sound, a low and hungry thing, and Aziraphale reacted instantly. He exhaled sharply, his breath ghosting over Crowley’s wet lips and wrapped his hands in Crowley’s hair, twisting it around his fists and immobilizing him as he surged up to lick into him. Slow and deep, he kissed and nipped at Crowley’s lips, body pressing closer and closer, only the confines of the car stopping them from entwining their bodies together.

Aziraphale was the one to break the kiss, his hands still fisted in Crowley's hair. He lowered his head to rest in on Crowley’s shoulder and panted. “We shouldn’t be doing this,” Aziraphale said, voice gone low and raspy, “not now.”

Crowley laughed, unwilling to take his hands from where they had wormed their way under Aziraphale’s coat.

“I've never had sex in the car,” Crowley said, tilting his cheek to press it against Aziraphale’s head. He could still smell the lust on him.

Aziraphale laughed at this, his hands loosening their tight hold on Crowley’s hair. He straightened, pulling away despite Crowley’s protests.

“If we get out of this alive,” Aziraphale said, trying to comb Crowley’s hair into place with his fingers, “I promise I will help you fix that awful lack in your sartorial education.”

Crowley closed his eyes and let Aziraphale rearrange the curls however he wished. “Yeah, fair enough,” he said finally, and turned to look at the unassuming box resting on the back seat. It was wooden and warded heavily enough that nothing of what was inside seeped through. “It would be safer if you stayed here,” he said weakly.

“I’m not staying behind,” Aziraphale said, tone hard as steel. Crowley was sure he could hear echoes of power in it. He sighed. He hadn’t really expected the angel to agree anyway.

He watched the calm and seemingly harmless expanse of grassland around the car and wondered again if this was a good idea at all.

He and Aziraphale had spent almost a week in bed, exploring the different bookmarks but also enjoying the pleasure of doing nothing but being together. Crowley slept a lot, enjoying the freely-given body warmth as Aziraphale read, using Crowley’s body like a pillow. They ordered in, left crumbs in bed, and argued over who got to try their bookmark next. They watched movies on the flatscreen he miracled onto a wall opposite Aziraphale’s bed and argued incessantly over what constitutes good cinema.

Somewhere around the fifth day an idea occurred to Crowley. He couldn’t really afford to have something as obviously powerful as the Steward and whatever it was she served hanging over his head indefinitely.

The bonding Aziraphale had performed, the single small, white feather hidden among his black ones, these were keeping the whispers away and Crowley’s mind was once again his own. Well, it was mostly Aziraphale’s, but what was left wasn’t drowned in the dark insanity the whispers brought.

Crowley couldn’t fight the Dark, the Steward had proved that clearly enough, but he could negotiate.

He reached into the back seat and picked up the box. It was roughly the size of a shoebox, dampening runes carved into the wood on all four sides. Box in hand he exited the car, the cold air of the evening a shock to his flushed face, and Aziraphale followed suit.

“Maybe…”

“No,” Aziraphale cut in, coming closer and reaching for Crowley’s free hand. He tangled his fingers with Crowley’s, his palm warm and soft against him. “Whatever happens, whether we fight or negotiate, win or fall, we do it together.”

Crowley closed his eyes and pulled their joined hands up, to his mouth. He kissed Aziraphale’s fingers wishing there was something he could say to ease the hard expression in the angel’s eyes. “You are a marvel,” he said through a throat that went tight suddenly. “I shouldn’t be dragging you into this but…” Crowley kissed Aziraphale’s fingers again. “I’m glad I’m not alone, as selfish as it is.”

“I will not be left behind,” Aziraphale said fiercely, fingers squeezing back. “Never again.”

Crowley nodded. He could tell Aziraphale had made up his mind and nothing he said would change it.

It was easier to walk towards the blazing source of Darkness with Aziraphale’s hand in his and his feather shielding him from the seductive whispers.

Nothing was visible to human eyes, not yet. Just an empty field of scraggly grass and loose rocks.

Crowley could sense the power, though. It grew, no longer only underground. Great pillars of it framed a void, a portal of some kind. To what he couldn’t know, and didn’t wish to find out.

As they approached the portal his skin broke out in goosebumps from the sheer power pouring off of it. “Stay here, okay?” he said to Aziraphale. “I think I should speak alone.”

“I don’t like this,” Aziraphale said, but he slackened his hold on Crowley’s fingers. “I will stay close.”

Crowley nodded, feeling the wind tug at his hair, whipping it around his face. “I just don’t want this to look like we're trying to challenge or threaten her.”

“You think she would look at me and see a threat?” Aziraphale asked.

“I think she will know it’s thanks to you that I no longer hear her,” Crowley said, taking a step towards the portal. “It’s better to keep things polite.”

“She wasn’t very polite when she tortured you for days in your dreams,” Aziraphale pointed out, his spine straight and lips pressed together firmly.

The angel was spoiling for a fight, whether he realized it or not, and Crowley was both touched and terrified by it. He couldn’t remember Aziraphale ever being ready to fight for anything less than the fate of the world.

“Yeah, well, hold your horses,” Crowley laughed. “We shouldn’t pick a fight we can’t win.”

Aziraphale’s lips twisted, corners pulling down, but he hung back and let Crowley get a few steps away from him.

Crowley turned to face the portal, considering the options for making his presence known.

He needn’t have bothered.

She was already there, pale as a wraith, her hair black as night and jewel-green eyes, looking at him with a small frown between her thin eyebrows. Her dress was as black as her hair, even the warm rays of sunset unable to give her color.

“Hello,” Crowley gave her a little wave.

“You have changed,” the Steward said, looking slightly off to his right, below his shoulder. His wings were not visible in the mortal plane, but he knew without a shred of doubt that she could see them, could see the tiny white feather hidden among the black ones. “You have a piece of Light growing inside you now.”

“Er… yeah. Wasn’t really keen on the whispers.” He made a vague motion towards his head. “Insanity. Terror. Not my thing.”

“I must admit, your action was surprising,” she said, her tone of voice pleasant but not giving away much. “For a demon.”

“I told you, I’m a really bad demon,” Crowley admitted. “A disgrace really. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

“You may no longer hear us,” the Steward said, her hair fading to grey and then golden-blond with touches of red. “But you have been touched. The Dark has chosen to favor you, whether you want it or not.” She was too elegant to shrug, but something in her body language told Crowley she wanted to. “You will be ours, sooner or later.”

“Listen,” he said, stepping closer. “How about a deal?”

Her lips twitched, a smile almost forming before she hid it from him. Something in his words had struck a chord with her. He wished he knew what.

“How about ceasing the hostilities in exchange for a small gift?”

“Hostilities?” she repeated, sounding amused. Her eyes slid past him, fixed on something behind him . He didn’t need to follow her line of sight to know she was looking at Aziraphale, standing ready a few meters behind him. “Is that what was happening?”

Crowley absolutely did not like the considering expression on her face as she watched Aziraphale. He extended the box towards her. “I bring gifts. Something to… compensate your loss. The time and effort put into me. I’m hoping this will be enough.”

“Nobody has ever tried to bargain before,” the Steward said, looking intrigued.

Crowley opened the top of the wooden box . The moment the seals were broken, power poured out like a rolling fog, raising goosebumps on his skin.

Inside, the cursed knife and the holy nail were nestled together on a bed of black cloth. They were items of great power, but their nature had been perverted by the ritual Aziraphale performed with them: the cursed knife was caked in angelic blood, while the nail was equally dirty with demonic.

Crowley clenched his jaw, tilted the box to offer it to the Steward. Her hair was changing again, darkening into deeper red, her skin paling to a milky white. He wondered if the changes were in response to something, or maybe she wasn’t a physical being at all and the form was an afterthought.

“Since you're sure I'll join up with you eventually anyways, you've got nothing to lose by leaving me be.”

He wasn’t sure she was even listening to him now. Her green eyes were fixed on the box and the items of power and pain inside. She might not be any kind of demon he recognized, but she was demonic enough that things as powerful as the artifacts in the box would at the very least gain her attention.

“You are an interesting toy,” she said, raising a pale hand to hover over the box. “My Master has a penchant for those whose hearts are too strong to be overrun by the Dark.”

Toy?

That did not bode well for him at all, as if somebody or something could casually change him, do whatever they wanted with him just for fun. There should have at least been a purpose to the suffering they had gone through, some reason better than idle distraction or entertainment.

She spread her fingers over the box, and he saw the first true reaction in her since all of this began. Her eyes darkened and her pupils expanded, not much, but enough to betray her emotion. Her lips opened as if in desire, just a tiny bit.

“So much power in this,” she murmured. “So much pain.”

“It seemed fitting,” he said tightly. “A fair price for my freedom.”

The Steward took her hand away and looked up at Crowley, her eyes strangely warm. It was as if for the first time she was looking at him as a person, not simply an object. He was real to her now.

“Only a heart that knows how to truly love can hold true Dark,” she said, turning her eyes towards Aziraphale in the distance. “We will see if your love is enough to keep your heart safe.”

She pointed at the ground between them. “Put the box down.”

Crowley did as she asked, bending down to place it on the ground between them. A lock of his hair fell forward, the ends falling briefly inside the box and were burned away before they touched the items inside.

Shadows, slow and thick as dark blood, boiled up from the ground and enveloped the box, pulling it down underneath, into the roots buried deep underground. The enormous portal Crowley could sense so clearly was merely a small part of it, the bulk of the power spread out beneath the surface, burrowing deep into the world. He pushed his hair back and looked at the Steward. Despite her clear appearance to his senses, she wasn't even there. She was a projection, like the one that had manifested in his apartment. The fact she didn’t deem him important enough to show up in person made him hope for the best.

“I find your gift adequate,” she decreed at last. “I agree to your bargain. But my word is not my Master's word. What he will choose to do, I cannot foresee. But he is occupied elsewhere and I have other matters to attend to.” She turned as if to leave, but stopped mid-movement to look at Aziraphale. “If you value his life, you will make sure he never crosses paths with my Master.”

Crowley did not take his eyes away from her.

“Thank you,” he said, adding a small bow to appear appropriately grateful.

“Until we meet again,” she said with a nod a small and regal gesture. Then she faded from the world and from his senses, leaving only the impression of enormous power boiling just on the edge of his perception.

Crowley couldn’t know if she would keep her word, or if she would continue to hound him, but he had a feeling she wasn’t the kind to throw her promises around tly. There was nothing to do but wait and see, but some part of him believed that his harebrained idea to bribe the Steward had actually worked.

Still mostly disbelieving, he turned to his lover. Aziraphale stood behind him, as promised, back stiff and face serious. Ready to fight. Ready to die if it came down to it.

Crowley’s heart swelled almost painfully with how much he loved Aziraphale in that moment. Steady and brave, he gave Crowley something nobody else ever had. Because for Aziraphale, Crowley was enough. Just as he was, with his flawed existence and broken faith; he was enough to love, enough to fight for, enough to keep.

He swallowed the painful lump in his throat and smiled, spreading his hands. “So, how about that car sex?”

---

Crowley walked back into his sitting room, carrying two mugs of tea. He paused in the doorway, leaning against the doorframe and watching the expressions passing across Aziraphale’s face as he looked thoughtfully at the new item Crowley installed. The frame was glossy and silver, heavy and eye-catching where it hung above his flatscreen. Inside the frame was pinned the shirt Aziraphale had ripped apart in his eagerness, lovingly preserved to forever bear proof to the fact the angel could and would be goaded into being a beast.

“I can’t believe you put it up like this,” Aziraphale sighed, but there was an embarrassed yet fond smile on his lips when he turned to Crowley. His blue eyes drifted to the curls Crowley had made sure were slithering seductively down his shoulder, then to his ear where the entwined snakes glittered, then further down to his still-marked neck. Sometime during the last week Aziraphale had decided that Crowley’s unmarked neck was an offence to all creation and that it was his civic duty to mark it up whenever he so much as caught a glimpse of pristine skin.

Crowley didn’t have any complaints. He only took to wearing shirts with a deeper neckline than usual. After all, it was also his civic duty to tease the hell out of the angel.

“I like looking at it,” Crowley admitted, pushing himself away from the doorframe and ambling towards Aziraphale.

He watched the way Aziraphale swallowed, head tilted back, his neck uncharacteristically exposed. He called up the memory of unknotting the bowtie in the car, unwrapping that pale throat slowly and carefully as they were wedged into the back seat of a very embarrassed Bentley. He still had the ugly thing in his pocket.

“Is one of those for me?” Aziraphale asked, looking at the steaming mugs of tea.

Crowley nodded, but didn’t pass the mug over. Instead he put them both on his black glass coffee table. “You asked me to trust, not long ago,” he said, rounding the table to stand in front of Aziraphale.

The angel looked up, his eyes searching Crowley’s. “I did,” he admitted.

“Will you trust me now?” Crowley asked carefully. There was something that had been on his mind ever since Aziraphale gave him one of his feathers. The tiny thing had protected him from the influence of the Steward, restoring his peace. And yet he felt unbalanced, the feather like a tiny weight on his wing. It was warm and there, always there, impossible to ignore. Aziraphale had literally grafted his mark into Crowley’s very being. Yet Crowley didn’t have a hold on the angel, nothing to mark Aziraphale as his, no gift to weigh on the angel's soul the way Aziraphale’s feather did on his.

“Always,” Aziraphale said, voice low. “What do you need me to do?”

“Give me your hand,” Crowley extended both of his own. “And lower your barriers.”

Aziraphale didn’t say anything more. He lifted his right hand and placed it in Crowley’s waiting ones. His eyes were the brightest blue Crowley had ever seen, brighter than the sky on the sunniest of days. There was so much light in them, a never-dying brightness that stopped Crowley’s heart every time he looked into them.

He could feel it, as soon as he touched Aziraphale’s skin, that the angel had lowered his defences, the rigid barrier between their essences thinning rapidly.

No.

They weren’t being lowered, he realized as the small contact of their hands brought a thick rush of power. They were being torn down, hard and fast, leaving Aziraphale utterly vulnerable and defenseless in a matter of moments.

Aziraphale never took his eyes off Crowley. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t ask any questions. He just gave Crowley what he had asked.

Something was stuck in Crowley’s throat, in his chest, making it all but impossible to swallow.

He looked down, to where he held Aziraphale’s hand in his, his natural talents draining energy as fast as the limited skin contact allowed. It must have hurt, both the destruction of his barriers as well as the drain, but there was no sign of it Aziraphale’s eyes. He just looked at Crowley, soft and loving, and gave.

Crowley closed his eyes and lifted their hands, his fingers curling over the freely offered palm. Aziraphale was standing straight, looking at him and letting him do whatever he wished. Crowley couldn’t look him in the eyes for long, for fear the sheer trust shining from them would destroy him.

He lowered his head enough to brush his lips over the angel's fingers, letting his breath fan over the pale, soft skin.

When he opened his eyes, he let the fire come to him, let it fill his core, where the awareness of his shape resided. He uncurled one of his hands from Aziraphale’s, trailed it down the palm that he remembered Aziraphale cutting open at the beginning of the ritual that had saved him, and then put it on the angel’s hip. To steady himself or keep the angel close, he had no idea.

He leaned forward until his cheek was almost touching Aziraphale’s, close enough he could feel his breath on his own skin. “Don’t move,” he hissed, the sound low and sibilant, echoing in ways it just shouldn’t in a human form.

Then he reached into that burning core of him and carefully, purposefully, sank his claws into his soul. Carefully, scale by scale he started pulling pieces away. A sensation unlike anything he'd ever experienced filled him. He didn’t have a name for it, maybe pain, maybe love, maybe something made of both, as he carefully tore away bits of himself and molded them into a slender shape. Power blazed in that tight, dark space between their entwined hands, strong enough to disturb the air and whip at their hair.

It must have hurt the angel, he knew it must -- there was too much darkness in it not to -- but Aziraphale remained calm and steady, his eyes never leaving Crowley’s face.

He had to be careful, so careful. The bits he tore off were eager to go back where they came from, trying to slip through his grip, trying to return to their rightful place. But Crowley was stubborn and careful, picking every bit and packing into a familiar shape, feeling the new thing being born between their clasped hands, feeling it move and squirm with the life he was breathing into it, shaped from his own power and the energy he was rapidly siphoning off of Aziraphale.

When he felt it was ready, when he felt it live finally, new and fragile but with the potential of growth, he loosened his grasp on Aziraphale’s fingers and let it slither out. It curled around his finger, glowing golden and red before it slid onto Aziraphale’s hand. Crowley didn’t need his eyes to see it, he could feel it with his entire being.

He felt Aziraphale twitch then, his vulnerable and exposed body a million times more sensitive to the power flowing down to his wrist to curl there inquisitively, searching for a place to put down roots.

The back, he thought. Between the wings, he thought. The secret, safe place. Nobody would ever see it but him, but it would serve its goal still.

He gave a gentle nudge and the power in the shape of a snake curled lower, slithering down Aziraphale’s forearm, burrowing deep into his Grace with every second.

“No,” Aziraphale said, voice raspy and wobbly when the creature reached his elbow and started up his arm.

Crowley froze, something cold unfolding in his chest, dampening the flames.

Aziraphale lifted his other hand and wrapped it around Crowley’s, around the power still blazing there, trapped between their palms.

“Where I can see it,” the angel said, voice wrecked. “Please.”

Crowley had to close his eyes, he couldn’t look at the expression on Aziraphale’s face, not and remain in control, not if he was to finish breathing life into his creation.

He made it turn back, made the slender rope of living power twist back around Aziraphale’s forearm until i’s triangular head rested on top of Aziraphale’s wrist, just under the edge of his cuff.

“Raise the barriers now,” Crowley said tightly. “Quickly.”

Aziraphale did not question, he just did what Crowley asked, his shields coming up as fast as he'd torn them down before.

Crowley waited, barely daring to breathe, keeping his connection to this newly created being, holding it in place, helping it take root in Aziraphale’s being, until the last of his angel's shields came up and the connection severed abruptly.

He blinked his eyes open, hand still held securely between Aziraphale’s, their cheeks touching. He turned to brush his lips over the soft cheek, to the half parted lips and then to the hands between them.

“Can you feel it?” Crowley asked, pulling back to look at their still joined hands. His claws were long and black against Aziraphale’s pale skin.

“Yes,” Aziraphale said, hushed and vulnerable.

Crowley swallowed and reached for Aziraphale’s cuff, opening the cufflink with shaking fingers and pushing the sleeve up to see the skin.

There, on the pale and mostly hairless skin of the angel's forearm, was something that looked like a fresh tattoo of a black snake curled around his forearm, each scale perfectly defined, its small triangular head resting between the delicatee bones of Aziraphale’s wrist. It was just barely hidden by the cuff. A quick movement or a bit of carelessness would reveal the tiny black snout to anyone. everyone. They would know Aziraphale was marked.

“It’s beautiful,” Aziraphale said, reaching the fingers of his other hand to touch the snake.

The moment his fingers connected, the flat black scales expanded into life, turning gold and fiery red, an image of a living snake overlaying the two dimensional one.

“It’s me,” Crowley said, throat tight again. “It’s my scales.” He reached to run a finger over the tiny intersecting pattern. “It’s my invulnerability to Hellfire.”

“What?” Aziraphale’s eyes flew wide, pupils huge and darku.

“I can’t protect you from everything -- can’t protect you from much, really -- but I can protect you from Hellfire.” Crowley swallowed, inspecting the faint signs of life he could sense from the mark.

“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale reached for Crowley and pulled him close, pressing his lips to the demon's. He kissed Crowley’s chin, his cheeks, his eyes, lips soft and dry.

“They won’t be able to burn you now,” he said tightly, pulling Aziraphale closer, wrapping himself around him as tightly as possible. “Even if they want to. It will respond if it feels the touch of Hellfire, it will grow enough to protect you from it.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed, pressing his face into Crowley’s neck. “I love you,” he breathed into his skin. “I love you so much.”

Crowley pulled his angel even closer, curling tight around the unbearable light and beauty of him.

“Me too.”

---

He woke up to tiny snores.

It took a while to rouse himself from the pleasant nothingness of well-deserved sleep. He was stretched on his own silk sheets, cocooned in the warm comforter wrapped around him like a boa constrictor. It was early, he could feel it in his bones. Demons were night creatures. Too much sun gave them indigestion.

The snores continued. Too small to be made by a human throat, they baffled him even in his half-awake state.

Finally he rolled over, flapped an arm out until he found the warm body beside him and buried his face in the soft flank. “Why are you snoring?” he mumbled, enjoying the smooth skin.

“I’m not snoring,” Aziraphale said, sounding amused. His hand landed on top of Crowley's head, fingers scratching lightly at his scalp.

“I can hear you snoring,” Crowley complained. All that smooth skin was distracting him from sleep. He refused to open his eyes, however, choosing to lick the bit of skin his mouth was pressed against.

Aziraphale laughed and Crowley snuggled closer. His hand found the firm bone of Aziraphale’s hip and curled there while he mouthed his way up that soft stomach.

Aziraphale laughed again, but there was still snoring and that made no sense whatsoever. Crowley finally opened his eyes and raised himself on his elbows to investigate.

The first thing he noticed was a marked forearm, the snake shape stark against Aziraphale’s pale skin. His mark. His scales living inside his angel now. He reached for the forearm and pressed his lips to the dark coiled shape. He'd done that for hours the night before, kissed and licked his mark, the living shield he had gifted to Aziraphale.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, sounding soft, happy. “Come here.”

He let himself be tugged up, stretched along that soft, warm body, let himself be kissed. Slow and soft, Aziraphale mapped the shape of his lips, peppered kisses over his eyes and forehead. Crowley leaned into the caress, happy and at ease, finally.

The tiny snores continued.

“Seriously, angel...” Crowley broke away and raised himself higher, looking around the bed. “What’s with the snores?”

And then he saw it. His cell phone resting on the pillow near Aziraphale’s head, the video replaying a shaky and poorly-made recording of himself in snake form, tangled in his luxurious black comforter… snoring.

“No,” he said, horrified.

“Yes,” Aziraphale answered with a beatific smile on his face.

“That’s why you tried to break into my phone!” Crowley yelled, lunging for the phone.

Aziraphale interrupted him.

What happened next was an undignified scuffle, full of squirming bodies, curses, threats and underhanded moves as Crowley fought to delete the eyesore from his device and Aziraphale, dead set against it, fought to prevent him.

“I’m going to delete it,” Crowley threatened, sprawled under Aziraphale’s weight and eyeing the phone, held securely out of his reach.

“Probably,” Aziraphale agreed. His hair was mussed and there was a flush of exertion on his cheeks. “But I studied a little, while you slept.”

Crowley thought of The Book.

“Oh really...” His cock twitched in interest. Aziraphale studying usually meant good things. Very good things. Maybe more of the green bookmarks, for example.

“I mean,” Aziraphale said pointedly, “that I've learned there are things like the ‘cloud’ where one might store, say, a video one doesn’t want to lose to unfortunate accidents.”

Crowley narrowed his eyes“So you read up on internet data security,” he motioned at the phone still kept securely in Aziraphale’s hand and still emitting the thrice damned snores, “but you didn’t take a look at any porn?”

Aziraphale licked his lips, looking delightfully guilty. “I… didn't say that.”

Crowley's eyes widened, a delighted smile growing on his face. He stopped fighting for the snoring phone and instead put his hands on Aziraphale’s sides.

“Aha,” Crowley said, so delighted he was vibrating with it. “And tell me, angel, what did you see?”

Aziraphale smiled, stretching over Crowley, his body soft and warm and definitely interested. “I could show you instead?”

And he did, while the phone snored in the background.

 

 

The End.