It’s nearly sunset on a chilly April evening when he feels it. The light trickling in through the windows of the bookshop is lovely, casting everything it touches in orange and pink glowing light. Aziraphale is nestled amongst a half dozen pillows, sign on the door flipped to “closed” though it’s only just turned six o’clock. He’s halfway through a cup of cocoa when his chest tightens suddenly, the way it might feel for a human having a heart attack, making him gasp and spill some of the hot liquid onto the first edition Hemingway in his lap.
His hand clutches at his heart, and he takes a few deep breathes. He hasn’t felt the tug in centuries, not since the blessed Catholics finally figured out how to put the right words in the right order and made Aziraphale’s life a living hell (pun not intended) for a good eighty years or so until the hoopla died down. The draw pulls hard in his chest, surges in his very marrow, unmistakable and painful and impossible to ignore.
“Oh for Heaven’s sake,” Aziraphale swears, only mildly irritated even as the discomfort grows nearly unbearable.
Carefully, he miracles the book clean and marks his place. He removes his glasses and slips into his shoes, muttering and tutting the whole time. The feeling gets stronger every passing second, the chanting that’s started ringing in his ears louder and more insistent. He sighs and makes his way to the roof, unfurling his wings once he’s sure all the humans on the street have their attention diverted elsewhere. He focuses on the beacon and takes off, rocketing towards the sky in seconds.
It’s a short flight. The knot in his chest finally eases when he arrives, abating to a mild ache and then disappearing entirely when he’s touched ground. He’s in front of a run down church. The roof has mostly caved in, foundations barely holding together, jagged shards all that remain of the stained glass windows. The ground is littered with rubble, and the air feels disturbed from his landing, and from something else, something palpably ethereal. The destruction feels new, and not as though it’s the result of decades of neglect and natural disasters. He walks through a cloud of dust as he approaches, and makes a mental note to visit the dry cleaners when he returns to Soho.
The church isn’t large, built for a small local community that looks as though it only held about a hundred people in it’s prime. He isn’t even sure what country he’s in, he’d let his grace respond to the call without paying attention to where he was actually going. A chill shudders through him when he ascends the steps. The prayer that’s been vibrating through his core strengthens, and he hears a human voice reciting it now, clear and strong.
The thing is, many religions have various hymns and prayers that invoke directly to angels (or, more specifically, archangels), but are usually not on Aziraphale’s radar, so to speak. This particular prayer doesn’t even work, in a technical sense. It’s meant to draw him in, just on the off chance that a human actually does manage to trap something demonic, though that’s never been the case. True human possessions don’t happen, not how the humans imagine anyway; demons are more than capable of manifesting their own bodies, and angels only possess humans in the most dire circumstances. But in Her infinite wisdom, She made sure that this prayer would summon the nearest angel to investigate the matter. “Just in case,” Gabriel had told him when he delivered the assignment, trying to hide his smirk and not succeeding whatsoever. And, being the only angel on Earth, it meant that it was always his duty to respond.
He approaches a man draped in black robes. He’s hovering over a body that’s barely moving, curled in on itself and cowering slightly. The man’s voice is clear and strong as he recites the prayer that dragged Aziraphale to the blasted Middle of Nowhere, Europe.
“Most glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies, Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in our battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places- ”
“Hello,” Aziraphale greets cheerfully. The man whips around; his face is shrouded in dark facial hair, but Aziraphale can see the shock melting into fear in his expression. “Yes, er, sorry, Michael is… well, unavailable, so I’m here to - “
“Who the devil are you?” the man interrupts, voice shaky. He holds a silver cross out, incorrectly assuming it will protect him. He’s dressed in the customary black and white robes, white collar indicating his priesthood. His terrified eyes widen when they catch sight of Aziraphale’s wings.
The crumpled figure on the floor groans, ignored by both parties, though Aziraphale’s heart goes out to the poor man who’s been roped into this pointless charade and has clearly suffered because of the priest’s arrogance. Aziraphale straightens, raising his wings to their full height.
“Ah, I am the principality Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate - though, well there’s no gates anymore, I suppose. I’m here to - well, I’m responding to - “
“Angel,” a familiar voice mumbles weakly.
The man on the floor shifts, shock of crimson hair appearing near the priest’s feet. Aziraphale’s breath catches, fear slicing through him like a sudden dagger to the chest.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale exclaims, rushing towards him.
“Now hold on there - “ the priest starts, holding a hand out to stop Aziraphale’s advance. Aziraphale presses his thumb and forefinger to the man’s forehead without pausing or even sparing him a glance. He thuds to the floor, deeply asleep before his head hits the ground.
Aziraphale kneels beside Crowley, carefully rolling him around to look at his face. He appears to be relatively unharmed, save for the way his whole body seems to be smoking, and the black bruises scattered along his jaw. His hair, typically styled into a fashionable and ridiculous pompadour, is a tangled matted mess. He won’t open his eyes.
“Think you may’ve made him piss ‘imself,” Crowley slurs, sounding pleased despite everything.
“What happened, dear boy?” Aziraphale demands. His hands flutter over Crowley’s arms and shoulders, searching for any unseen injuries.
Crowley smiles, a humorless, pitiful thing. “Los’ my glasssses. Accidentally let the Father here get a - get a good look at - thessse.” He gestures to his eyes, still screwed shut.
He’s grateful, for a moment, that Crowley can’t see his face. He inhales shakily, trying to muster up something resembling composure. He traces his fingers over Crowley’s jaw, healing the dark purpling skin. Crowley hisses, unconsciously curling towards Aziraphale in his misery.
“’Sss hot,” Crowley mutters.
“Sorry,” Aziraphale says, soothing a hand over the healed skin.
“No,” Crowley says. “It - the ground, it’sss…”
It takes a moment, then Aziraphale gasps and gathers Crowley in his arms as best he can.
“I’m so sorry, my dear, here - “
Crowley grunts as Aziraphale hauls him to his feet. Crowley leans on him heavily. He makes use of his wings and they’re out of the church in seconds, Crowley gripping his shoulders tightly.
“Wait, wait,” Crowley gasps. He’s stopped smoking, and his eyes have finally opened. They’re wide, yellowish gold filling the entire sclera, and he’s so pale. Aziraphale has never seen him look quite so pale, and the fear that’s been choking him since he found him squeezes hard in his throat.
“What? What do you need?” Aziraphale asks gently.
“He - knows my face,” Crowley pants. “Can’t - can’t let him leave - “
“I’ll take care of it. Wait here a moment.”
Carefully, he lowers Crowley to the grass. He treks back to the priest and kneels, pressing his fingers to his temples, erasing all remnants of Crowley from his mind. He widens his influence, looking for traces of Crowley in anyone within a twenty mile radius and wiping their memories as well. Satisfied, he straightens and looks down at the man, hands clenching tight at his sides. Man of God or not, something hot and angry licks in his stomach as he looks at him. He barely suppresses the urge to kick him in the ribs.
A flash of silver catches his eye as he turns to leave, a flask with a cross etched innocuously on the side tucked into folds of his robe. He’s not sure what draws him to it, but finds himself plucking it from the priest’s belt, slowly unscrewing the top. He sniffs; it’s not harsh like alcohol, but there’s something in it he recognizes. His heart sinks a bit as he pours a little of the clear liquid onto his hand, and his blood runs cold when he feels the warmth of it, the way it seems to linger on his skin even once he wipes his hand dry.
Without pausing to consider the ramifications of doing so, he pours it on the priest’s face, who chokes awake, gagging and sputtering wildly. Aziraphale and Crowley are gone before he opens his eyes.
They make it as far as Aziraphale’s couch, and all the fight goes out of Crowley the second he recognizes he’s in the bookshop. Warmth blossoms in Aziraphale, selfishly pleased that Crowley thinks of the bookshop as a safe haven. But then Crowley groans in pain, and the feeling is quickly snuffed out.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale asks, hands hovering awkwardly once Crowley is settled on the cushions, not sure where to put them. “Crowley, dear, how can I help, what - what can I do?”
“I don’t - I don’t know,” Crowley admits through gritted teeth. “I’ve never been trapped and left to burn alive in a blesssed church before, you know.” There’s no real bite to the words, which is almost as concerning as his physical injuries. Crowley’s hands clench into fists, jaw clenched tight.
“Oh, you’re hissing something awful, poor dear. Alright, well I should - I should check you for burns, let me - “
Crowley hisses again when Aziraphale makes to unbutton his coat.
“No, I’ll - I’ll do it,” Crowley growls, pushing Aziraphale’s hands away.
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, pulling back immediately. He chastises himself for feeling hurt of all things, while his friend is in such pain. He swallows the feeling as Crowley unbuttons his coat, peeling off layer after layer with shaking hands until he collapses back in his undershirt, breathing hard.
“I can’t - Aziraphale, I - “
“Allow me?” Aziraphale asks. Crowley nods, closing his eyes again and leaning his head back with a grimace.
Gently, Aziraphale tugs at Crowley’s undershirt, pulling it up to his collar to examine his abdomen. His skin is pale, with no indication of burned flesh, just the faintest tendrils of clear smoke still rising from his skin like steam. He checks his arms and carefully tugs the shirt back down when he’s satisfied, hating himself for going pink in the cheeks at a time like this.
“No burns, but you’re very… well, warm,” Aziraphale says rather stupidly.
Any other day and Crowley would be rolling his eyes, would say something clever in response. Now he just scowls, eyes screwed tightly shut.
“No ssshit, Aziraphale,” he manages anyway.
“How did this happen?” Aziraphale asks, unable to bite the question back anymore. “It’s 1957, for Heaven’s sake, I thought all that ridiculous exorcism business was in the past.”
“Dunno,” Crowley shrugs, wincing as he does. He manages to wrangle himself in a slightly more upright position, swearing quietly to himself. “I was just - passssing through, tiny little nothing town, and Father Whatshisname got too good a look at the ssstranger with the - the abominable eyes.”
“Don’t say that.”
Crowley ignores him. “Next thing I know, whole congregation’s ganging up on me - calling me demon, demanding I prove myself, threatening - well, threatening some very decidedly non-Christian things, I won’t trouble your delicate ears with it.”
“Oh, really, Crowley,” Aziraphale chides. Crowley manages a tiny smile at long last.
“They - wanted me to hold a consssecrated crossss,” Crowley continues, eyebrows pinched. “Which, y’know, not the most comfortable but… doable. And the church was already sort of in ruins, so it wasssn’t so bad.” His expression darkens. “Father though, he didn’t buy it, to say the least.”
He stops, gritting his teeth and dropping his head back against the sofa.
“How long did he keep you there until he found the right prayer?” Aziraphale asks quietly.
Crowley’s nostrils flare. “Two days.”
“Two - Crowley! Why didn’t you call?” Aziraphale grips Crowley’s knee without thinking. Crowley’s leg twitches.
“Couldn’t bloody move, could I?” Crowley snaps. “I tried to essscape, nearly blew up the whole dam town doing it, but I was - too weak. After a couple hours I couldn’t even crawl, didn’t even have energy to ssshift into a ssserpent.”
“Why didn’t you call earlier?” Aziraphale presses, leaning closer into Crowley’s space. “When they first accused you, I could have stopped it, I could have - “
“I thought I could handle it,” Crowley mutters. “How was I supposed to know sssome…some backwater priest in the middle of nowhere would have access to the right exorcisssm prayer?”
“You’re lucky it was correct,” Aziraphale tells him. “I might not have responded otherwise, and you’d be…”
He can’t even speak it. The hand on Crowley’s knee finds one of his hands instead, still so hot it’s nearly scalding. Aziraphale holds it anyway, heart doing a funny little flip when Crowley twists his hand around and curls his fingers around Aziraphale’s.
“I’d be fine, angel. He’d have just banisssh- fuck - sssent me downstairs if he ever managed to get it right, and then I’d just have to wait around for another body. Irritating, but manageable.”
If Aziraphale were anyone else, he’d be fooled by Crowley’s aloof attitude, but he’s not. He can read the truth in the careful way Crowley speaks, in the nervous twitch of the fingers held tight in his own.
“Right,” Aziraphale says shakily. He can’t fathom why the holy water remained untouched for two days, why the priest didn’t use the most obvious tool at his disposal, but he doesn’t push it. It’s a sore subject, and he still can’t shake the feeling that being doused in holy water might have been a favorable outcome in Crowley’s mind.
Crowley hisses in pain suddenly, hand tightening in Aziraphale’s.
“Oh, Crowley, what can I do?” Aziraphale asks anxiously. Crowley shakes his head.
“N-nothing to do, angel,” Crowley gasps. “It’ll pass… I’ve been in churches before.”
“Never for this long,” Aziraphale points out. “Come, you should at least be in bed, try to get some rest.”
Crowley doesn’t argue. Aziraphale helps him off the couch, supporting him as they climb the stairs to Aziraphale’s flat. He leads him to the bed, clean and largely unused. Crowley is a burning presence against him, and he miracles away the top two layers of his own clothing almost unthinkingly, taking care to make sure his coat hangs itself neatly on the coat rack.
Crowley chuckles. “If I weren’t - burning alive from the inside out, I’d make a joke about - too hot, and - overeager - and - “
“Hush, now,” Aziraphale says when Crowley trails off into some unintelligible stutter. Crowley huffs and lolls his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder. Aziraphale can smell smoke in his hair.
He tucks Crowley in, careful to only use the top sheet, though Crowley is beyond the danger of overheating at this point. He removes Crowley’s shirt, boots, and socks with a wave of his hand, not quite trusting himself to do it the human way.
“Er, do you want these on?” Aziraphale asks, gesturing to his distractingly tight jeans.
Crowley snaps his fingers and they disappear, leaving him in nothing but a pair of silky black undergarments. Aziraphale blushes and tucks the sheet around him.
“You’re still so warm,” Aziraphale worries. He summons a cold towel and presses it to Crowley’s forehead. Crowley sighs, leaning into the touch. Aziraphale dabs it all over his face, his neck, down his chest and arms, and slowly Crowley relaxes under his touch.
“Crowley?” Crowley hums in response. Aziraphale inhales, steeling himself before he loses his nerve. “Did you - did you know he had holy water?”
A beat, then another. Crowley stiffens just enough under Aziraphale’s hand that he knows the answer before Crowley manages a small nod.
“You didn’t… seek him out because of that, did you?” Aziraphale asks, dreading the answer.
“I didn’t… not do that,” Crowley says evasively.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Crowley!” Aziraphale exclaims. The wet cloth in his hand turns suddenly hot in his anger, making Crowley shrink away from him.
“Sorry,” he apologizes hastily, dropping the cloth and standing to pace by the bed.
“Listen to you, taking Her name in vain,” Crowley says weakly, sounding far more amused than the situation calls for.
“This is exactly what I was afraid of when I refused to - it’s- it’s too dangerous Crowley!”
“He was - curiousss! I’d gotten word he was interested in demonic affairs, he’d traded with lots of people, paid for information on possessssion, I thought I could just show him - and he’d - and well I’d never have been there if you had just given me - “
“Don’t,” Aziraphale says sharply. “Don’t start. I’ve told you, I will not be part of you ending your life.”
Crowley’s face is impassive. When he speaks again it’s through gritted teeth, words halting in his throat, like they’re being dragged from deep within him against his will.
“And I’ve told you, that’s not what I want it for.” He shudders suddenly, face contorting in pain. Aziraphale steps closer instinctively, cloth back in hand. He reaches for Crowley again but Crowley grabs his wrist, looking at him gravely.
“Would you rather I be tortured for eternity?” Crowley says, voice dangerously low. Aziraphale’s chest clenches painfully. “Or you? This, what’s happening to me now, is nothing compared to what they-what they’d do to me, to you, if they find out, angel. It’s - insuransss - ”
He hisses and drags the last syllable, head falling back onto the pillow. Aziraphale perches next to him, dabbing at him with the cold towel. Crowley eases, slowly, limbs going lax bit by bit. When he looks back at Aziraphale his eyes are glazed over, stormy and delirious. With any luck, Crowley won’t remember this conversation in the morning.
“It’sss… moot, anyway,” Crowley stammers. “No… ssself respecting priest, not even th’ corrupt ones - is - is g’na give me anything - walking around with with these…”
He gestures flippantly to his eyes again, closing them as though remembering he’s not wearing his glasses, as though he’s ashamed.
“Crowley, stop. Look at me.”
Crowley does, after a moment. He’s a demon, the most cunning he’s ever known, the Serpent of Eden, and he doesn’t need Aziraphale’s protection. Yet he feels an impulse to wrap him in his wings, so strong they almost unfurl on their own.
“I won’t hear you talk about yourself that way,” Aziraphale says firmly. “I know you’re a demon and you don’t want to hear it, but you’re wonderful, Crowley.”
Crowley goes very still, though his eyes tell him everything he needs to know. Aziraphale drops the cool washcloth and cups Crowley’s face, watching Crowley’s face shutter into something precarious.
“You’re wonderful, Crowley,” he repeats fervently. “And your eyes are… have I ever told you how beautiful I think they are?”
“Christ, Aziraphale - “ Crowley chokes. “You can’t - “
“Because I do,” Aziraphale continues. His hypnotic eyes are wild, drinking in everything Aziraphale is giving him. “I’ve always thought so, my dear. But… I would like to avoid an incident like this again, so just to be safe…”
A new pair of glasses materialize. They’re a similar design to what he wore in 1941, the last time Aziraphale saw him. A bit bigger perhaps, with blinders on the sides, and a touch of gold on the rim; Crowley’s name in Enochian. He’s sure Crowley will make adjustments to keep up with the fashion, but he looks at them like a treasure, like they’re something precious. He takes them delicately from Aziraphale. Aziraphale stops his hand as he moves to put them on, gently holding his wrist and leaning over him.
“You don’t need to wear them with me, Crowley.”
Crowley swallows, focusing hazily on Aziraphale’s hand. He’s fading fast, as is Aziraphale’s nerve.
“Frivolous miracles,” Crowley mutters. Aziraphale takes the glasses and sets them on the nightstand.
“Not frivolous,” Aziraphale says. “Not - not for you.”
Crowley’s face crumples. He looks on the verge of something that neither of them can afford to speak or hear out loud, and so Aziraphale strokes a hand over his forehead to stop him, carding it through the mess of red fringe.
“Promise me you’ll be more careful. No more priests, or churches, no more foolhardy attempts for holy water.”
Promise me you won’t do this again. Promise you won’t abandon me.
Crowley searches his face for a long minute, stretching into two. “Angel,” he says softly.
I can’t, he doesn’t say. Aziraphale hears it all the same.
There’s another conversation to be had, one buried in the deep sand of all the unspoken things between them and yet always lingering at the surface. One that will take another ten years to develop, one that involves begging, and all the reasons he can’t lose this ridiculous demon in his bed, but he’s far too shaken, and not quite brave enough to face that conversation tonight. Crowley drifts into sleep with Aziraphale’s hand gently combing through his hair.