Crowley likes the Arrangement. They check in every few months or so via letter or in person, exchange notes, then go about their business. The only thing that might put a kink in this routine are the rumors of plague Crowley’s been hearing. It’s hard to travel discreetly to perform miracles and temptations when half the continent is dying.
Crowley’s heard from downstairs that this plague is going to be a big one too. Supposedly Pestilence is leading the charge. With this in mind, Crowley decides to meet up with Aziraphale a few weeks early and see if the angel has heard anything from above.
As Crowley travels south from Milan, he stops in taverns and inns to check in with the local gossip. Everyone is nervous as news of the plague spreads from Pisa, but when he hears that disease has arrived in Florence, he quickens his pace. That’s the last place Crowley's heard from Aziraphale, and it wouldn’t surprise him if the angel's put himself in harm’s way to save an entire city.
As Crowley rides towards Florence, he tells himself that his haste is only to preserve the Arrangement and has nothing to do with Aziraphale in the slightest. When he gets closer to Florence, he’s directed to Aziraphale by whispers of a convent on the south side of the river that miraculously hasn’t been touched by the plague. It’s rumored that if a person makes it there, they’ll survive the disease.
As he approaches the convent, his hellish steed begins to stamp its feet and throw its head in agitation, protesting getting closer to the divine power emanating from the building. Eventually, a few streets away, it comes to a standstill and refuses to go any further.
Crowley spurs the horse forward with his heels, but the hellbeast only rears angrily.
“Alright, fine, you bloody bastard,” Crowley curses, dismounting bad temperedly. The horse whips its head around to bite him, but Crowley summons his demonic power and sends the creature downstairs before it even turns halfway. As he does, he feels a similar surge of malevolent power in front of him. It feels almost like a Horseman, but that’s not likely. The plague is already in Florence, and Pestilence isn’t one to linger.
The holy Presence in Crowley’s peripheral vision flickers as he makes his way quickly on foot to the convent. When he arrives, he can sense Aziraphale’s aura, but he can’t get a fix on the angel’s location. Maybe it’s because Aziraphale is inside the convent? He waits impatiently in the piazza for someone to leave the building and seizes on the first brother that exits the door.
“Is Signor Fell inside the church?” He asks in rough Italian. The brother looks confused. He grits his teeth and repeats, “Signor Fell? About this high? White hair, blue eyes? Is he inside?”
The brother’s eyes spark with recognition, “Yes, Brother Fell! He was just here, but he stepped outside. There was a person in the piazza that was disturbing the sick so Brother Fell stepped outside to talk with them. From what I heard it became quite heated. Why do you ask? Are you a friend of his?”
“Of sorts,” replies Crowley, stretching his senses to see if he can feel Aziraphale nearby.
“Would you like to wait inside the convent for him to return?” The brother asks.
“Oh, no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Crowley demures. “No, I’ll look around, see if I run into him.”
“If you’re sure,” the brother replies. “Our doors are always open.”
Crowley scoffs quietly, then turns and looks over the piazza.
He can still feel Aziraphale’s angelic presence protecting the building, but it seems weaker now, almost strained. He prods at it thoughtfully, testing its power. The convents holy defenses lash out at him, burning at his demonic presence, but it allows him to see Aziraphale’s aura trailing away from the convent.
Now that he knows to look for it, it’s all too simple to follow. Crowley traces the path carefully and finds Aziraphale sitting on the ground in an alley. The angel’s eyes are closed and he looks vaguely weary. He doesn’t even look up as Crowley approaches.
“Aziraphale, what are you doing?”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale’s eyes snap open, startled. “What are you doing here?
“Looking for you, obviously. There’s a plague on if you hadn’t noticed. What are you doing on the ground?
“I was just resting.”
“You were just resting,” Crowley replies flatly. “On the ground. During the middle of a plague.”
“And this has nothing to do with the surge of power I sensed a few minutes ago?”
Aziraphale has the grace to look slightly ashamed. “Well, it might have had something to do with it.”
“Do you want to explain what happened?” Crowley asks pointedly.
“Well, if you must know, Pestilence showed up and asked me to step aside so they could bring plague into the convent.”
“And?” Crowley prompts. This isn’t good. Pestilence is far above their pay grade.
“I refused of course!” Aziraphale says self-righteously. “The convent is a haven for all, I can’t have Pestilence coming in and making people sick left and right.”
“So what did Pestilence say?” Crowley asks.
“Oh, nothing much,” Aziraphale says dismissively. Dread is building in Crowley’s stomach. Aziraphale, for all his deflecting, is still sitting on the ground and leaning heavily on the building next to him.
“Are you sure about that?” Aziraphale shifts uncomfortably under Crowley’s accusatory tone, looking pale and tired.
“They might have…” Aziraphale’s sentence dissolves into mumbles.
“I didn’t catch that, angel,” Crowley says sweetly. “What exactly did Pestilence say to you?
“They might have said my interference was unwelcome and that it would end immediately.”
“What!” Crowley yelps. “Aziraphale, that’s not nothing much! Did they say anything else?” Crowley’s stomach is churning.
“Well, not really…” Aziraphale trails off. “They may have pointed at me. But they could have just been pointing at the convent, you know. It is rather lovely.”
“Ohhhhh, angel,” Crowley groans.
“I’m sure it was just a coincidence,” Aziraphale finishes, sounding desperately cheerful. “If Pestilence wanted me gone, I’m sure they’d just discorporate me on the spot! No, I’m simply tired from protecting the church, that’s all.”
Aziraphale does have a point, Pestilence isn’t particularly known for their subtlety. But the angel really doesn’t look well.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine, must be getting back to the church, people to save and all,” Aziraphale says hurriedly, pushing himself up from the ground. “Perhaps we can meet up later? I really am frightfully busy at the moment.”
Crowley looks at him consideringly, but besides looking a bit peaky Aziraphale seems to be alright. “Sure, Aziraphale. Why don’t you stop by mine after sunset, I’m right around the corner.” Crowley quickly rattles off a nearby inn that suddenly finds itself with open rooms.
“That sounds lovely,” Aziraphale agrees distractedly, “I’ll see you after sunset then.”
Crowley watches as Aziraphale makes his way slowly toward the end of the alley and turns back towards the convent, then clenches his fists and returns to his own lodging. He paces his rooms and stews for the next several hours, replaying his meeting with Aziraphale in his head and resolutely not worrying about him.
But when the sun finally dips below the horizon and Aziraphale doesn’t show, the gnawing anxiety in Crowley’s stomach begins to grow. He tells himself to be patient, that Aziraphale’s likely got himself caught up healing some sick child and is on his way to Crowley’s lodging at this very moment. Then the fiery streaks of sunset fade from the sky and full dark sets in, stars winking into existence in dark blue above Crowley’s window.
Crowley waits another hour, just to be absolutely certain Aziraphale isn’t coming, then grabs his cloak and heads for the streets. If the angel won’t come to the demon, the demon will go to the angel. He walks quickly towards the convent, already planning how he’s going to remove the angel without having to walk on consecrated ground when he sees a body lying in the road.
Another victim of Pestilence’s plague. He’d seen a handful of bodies as he’d entered the north end of the city, but most of the city’s beggars had already died by the time he arrived in Florence and the middle and upper classes mostly died in their homes. He goes to avert his eyes, hoping to give the human some semblance of dignity in death, but his eye catches on a familiar shock of white blonde hair.
“Aziraphale?” Oh no, it can’t be. “Aziraphale!” He’s running now, skidding to his knees next to the crumpled form. There’s a running litany of “No, no, no, c’mon angel, don’t do this to me,” pouring from his mouth as he carefully turns Aziraphale over and straightens his crumpled limbs. At first glance, it looks like Aziraphale got dizzy and collapsed like a felled tree, but angels aren’t supposed to get dizzy at all and Crowley has a sinking suspicion that something is terribly wrong.
Crowley carefully touches Aziraphale’s face, but he’s completely unconscious. The angel is burning up with fever, sweat on his temples and spots of color bright on his cheeks. More alarming are the buboes on his neck, an indicator of the plague if Crowley’s ever seen one.
“Aziraphale, wake up. C’mon, angel.” Still no response. Angels don’t get mortal sicknesses, it’s just not how corporations work. Crowley blinks sideways to check on Aziraphale’s ethereal form and is almost instantly blinded. Definitely still an angel then. Then why isn’t Aziraphale healing himself?
Crowley remembers Aziraphale’s words from earlier that day. ‘They might have said my interference was unwelcome and that it would end immediately.’ His gut instinct had been right, Pestilence has deliberately given Aziraphale the plague. Shit, shit, shit! Maybe he can nurse Aziraphale through it, it can’t be that hard to keep a human corporation alive.
Crowley utilizes a demonic miracle and hefts Aziraphale into his arms before willing them both back into Crowley’s rooms. He carefully places Aziraphale on the bed where the angel’s head lolls sickeningly. Crowley quickly miracles up several pillows and thinks furiously.
Aziraphale can’t heal himself, but maybe Crowley can help? He places a careful hand on Aziraphale’s sweaty forehead and tries to miracle the plague away, but nothing happens. Crowley can’t even connect to Aziraphale’s essence, like there’s a presence blocking him. It must be Pestilence enforcing their will. Maybe he can negotiate with the horseman, get them to release Aziraphale?
Aziraphale gags where he is lying on his back, then begins to vomit, choking as it fills his mouth. Crowley curses and yanks Aziraphale onto his side, bile leaking from his lips and dripping onto the sheets. The angel retches a few more times before coughing weakly and slipping back into unconsciousness.
Negotiating with Pestilence is going to have to wait. Aziraphale can’t be left alone in this state. Aziraphale will have to wake up eventually, and hopefully when he does they can work out a plan. Crowley resigns himself to a bedside vigil and settles himself on an uncomfortable stool to keep watch.
When Aziraphale finally regains consciousness, Crowley is exhausted. Aziraphale had continued to vomit throughout the night, spewing miserably onto the wooden floors of Crowley’s rooms. Crowley had miracled it all away with a twitch of his fingers, but as the night gave way to dawn, Aziraphale began vomiting bloody bile instead. This was not a good sign.
Crowley wipes those thoughts away along with the blood from Aziraphale’s lips, and determinedly doesn’t think of the bloody mouthed plague victims he’d seen in the streets of Florence.
It’s as he’s wiping a clean cloth over Aziraphale’s face that the angel screws up his face and winces.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley asks, abandoning the cloth. “Are you with me, angel?”
“Crowl’y?” Aziraphale’s voice is rough and gravelly as he blinks his eyes.
“Where am I?” Aziraphale rasps.
“I brought you to my rooms. When you didn’t show up after sunset, I went looking for you.” The memory of finding Aziraphale crumpled in the road is still visceral, the taste of fear lingering in his mouth. “I’d thought maybe you’d gotten held up at the convent, but instead you were collapsed in the middle of the street, Aziraphale. If I hadn’t found you, you would have discorporated on your own vomit!”
Crowley realizes he’s practically shouting when Aziraphale flinches away from him. He takes a moment to compose himself then grips the angel’s shoulder in apology. “I was worried, Aziraphale. The Arrangement won’t work unless you’re around to hold up your end of the bargain... and I’d really hate to go back to doing all the work again.”
“Yes, the Arrangement. That’s all,” Aziraphale whispers. There's a knowing look in his eye, mouth quirked with an emotion Crowley doesn’t want to name.
“Anyways,” says Crowley, releasing Aziraphale’s shoulder and any lingering emotions. “We need to figure out a way to cure you. I tried to miracle the plague away but Pestilence wasn’t having it.”
“I didn’t have any luck either. It’s like I can’t access my…” Aziraphale pauses, clearing his throat as he thinks. “I can’t access my essence, as it were. I’m present in my corporation,” Aziraphale emphasizes, as if trying to convey something the English language didn’t have words for, “-but I’m not inside it, if you know what I mean.”
That doesn’t sound good in the slightest.
“I wouldn’t worry, Crowley. I’m sure with enough rest I’ll sort myself out.”
That’s a lie. Crowley can see it in the way Aziraphale breaks eye contact and looks away. They both know how this is going to end.
“Would you do me a favor, my dear?” Aziraphale says, abruptly changing topics.
“Of course, Aziraphale. Anything.”
“Would you mind terribly checking up on the convent for me? It’s only that I was protecting it and I’ve been away for several hours and I’m frightfully worried.”
“You want me to go check on the convent?” Crowley’s voice goes high and incredulous. “Angel, you’re - ” dying, “- sick, I can’t just leave you here.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine for an hour, Crowley.” Azirphale shoves himself upright against the headboard as proof, then noticeably sways as a wave of dizziness overcomes him. “Look, I’m hale and hearty as an ox. Besides,” Aziraphale coaxes, ”you can send one of the brothers back, they’ll be able to help me and you can be on your way.”
As if Crowley would leave Aziraphale with some human. However, the convent would be a good place to start if he wanted to look for Pestilence.
Crowley scowls furiously. “Fine,” Crowley snaps, “I’ll go to the convent.”
“Oh, really?” Aziraphale is beaming.
“Yes, really,” Crowley grumbles. With a snap of his fingers, an end table appears next to the bed and is quickly covered with a small loaf of bread, a large jug of water, and a damp cloth. Everything an ailing angel could need.
“I will be right back, angel. Don’t go discorporating while I’m gone.” Crowley’s tone is dismissive, but they can both hear the fear underneath.
“I wouldn’t dare,” Aziraphale promises. Last night’s rest seems to have done him some good even with the intermittent vomiting, but Crowley is still incredibly reluctant to leave. The angel is feverish and pale and Crowley is worried something will happen while he’s gone. But if he doesn’t go and try to find Pestilence, Aziraphale will discorporate for sure.
Crowley snarls under his breath and opens the door, Aziraphale’s rough coughing trailing over his shoulder as he goes.
Crowley makes haste to the convent, walking quickly over the deserted streets. He did say he would check up on it for Aziraphale, and it’s as good a starting point as any to look for Pestilence.
When Crowley arrives in the piazza in front of the convent, he can sense the wrongness. The formerly holy aura has vanished, and the entire area feels desecrated and off. Even the tell tale burn of consecrated ground is gone. He pushes open the convent doors with trepidation.
The smell of sickness greets his nose. Pestilence has brought plague to every man, woman, and child who’s taken refuge here, sparing no one. Crowley can still sense Pestilence in the city, but he’s starting to realize that the horseman is too powerful for him to find unless they want to be found. He needs Pestilence to come to him. And the only thing that summoned Pestilence was foiling their plans. Mind made up, Crowley rolls up his sleeves and begins healing the sick.
He experiences every buboe, every fever, and every rattling cough. As a rule, demons avoid healing humans because they're forced to feel the ailments they fix, but Crowley is determined. Aziraphale needs Pestilence to release him, and Crowley needs Aziraphale. Therefore, anyone suffering from the plague experiences his ‘healing’ touch.
With every plague victim under his hands, he wonders how Aziraphale is doing. Are the angel’s lungs filling up like Brother Mateos? Is his skin turning black and painful like young Leonardos, where every touch is agony? He desperately hopes it isn’t so, and sends the first brother he heals to look after Aziraphale.
After what feels like an eternity, Crowley feels Pestilence’s presence outside. He pushes through the front doors with a bravado he doesn’t feel and is confronted with the gruesome sight of the horseman’s form.
Pestilence’s body (if it can be called a body) is covered in weeping sores, lesions, and buboes protruding from every surface. Filthy white rags covered in pus and fluids are haphazardly draped over their arms and legs, and their face is almost entirely covered in bandages. All that is visible are two piercing white eyes and a cruel, bloodless mouth.
“A demon?” says Pestilence, their voice echoing around the piazza. “Now, why would a demon heal the sick?”
“I sought an audience with you, my lord,” Crowley says, bowing low. “I wish to intercede on behalf of the angel who protected this convent.”
“Why would a demon intercede for an angel?” Pestilence coughs curiously.
“I have been tasked to tempt this angel to fall,” Crowley hastily lies, “And I fear if he discorporates he will be sent back to heaven and my hard work will have been wasted. I would ask my lord to release him so I can continue my work.”
Pestilence pauses for a moment. “No. I think not.”
“But my lord - ”
“I am tired of your interference,” Pestilence rumbles. “I have work to do.”
Pestilence waves their hand and everything goes dark.
Crowley wakes sluggishly. His first scattered thoughts are of Aziraphale, but he can’t remember why. How long has it been? He can no longer feel the sun’s rays on his skin, so it must be past sunset by now. Then he remembers. Aziraphale is dying, and Crowley has been gone far too long.
He opens his eyes wide and scrambles to his feet, limbs coltish and uncoordinated beneath him. His stumbling limbs swing him around to face the convent as he regains his balance, where he is confronted by a gruesome sight. Through the wide open doors are dozens and dozens of plague dead. Every person Crowley had healed is now a corpse, including the brother he’d sent to look over Aziraphale. His stomach twists in anxiety. Had the man returned when Crowley didn’t come to relieve him? Who's watching Aziraphale?
Crowley reaches for his power and wills himself away from the convent, away from the reproachful eyes of the people he’s failed to save. As he sends himself through the ether towards his rooms, he feels beyond grateful Pestilence hasn’t decided to lock his power up as well. Apparently, one discorporated entity was all they were willing to risk in a day.
He arrives with a pop of displaced air and almost trips on Aziraphale, who is crumpled in the doorway with a puddle of bloody sick underneath his head.
“Aziraphale!” Crowley falls to his knees beside the angel and miracles away the mess. “I thought I told you to stay in bed.”
Aziraphale rouses and coughs breathlessly.
“Felt…” Aziraphale wheezes, “felt Pestilence. You didn’t… didn’t come back. Thought the convent-” Aziraphale lapses into a coughing fit, curling up on the floor and grasping at Crowley’s breeches.
When the worst of the coughing is over Aziraphale lies limply on the ground, energy exhausted. He swallows, then asks hoarsely, “The convent. How is it?”
“It’s still standing,” Crowley prevaricates. It’s not really a lie. There’s no point in telling Aziraphale what happened, it’ll only upset him more. “But don’t worry about that. You need to rest.”
Aziraphale frowns weakly at him but doesn’t push the subject.
“Into bed with you,” Crowley says, fake cheer in his voice. “Time for good little angels to get their rest.” He reaches down to cradle Aziraphale in his arms but the angel cries out in pain and squirms away.
“Don’t, please. My arms…” Aziraphale trails off and Crowley remembers with a wince the painful buboes on the other plague victims’ skin. He smooths a careful hand down Aziraphale’s back, feeling for a place unmarred by pain, then carefully lifts Aziraphale off the ground and walks the few steps to the bed.
When he tries to deposit Aziraphale onto the mattress, the angel clutches at his sleeve weakly.
“Stay. Please,” Aziraphale whispers.
“Of course, angel. Whatever you like.”
Reassured, Aziraphale releases Crowley’s sleeve and sinks into the bed, looking feverish and uncomfortable. This at least is something Crowley can fix. With a wave of his hand, a new basin of water and wash cloths appears on the end table. Crowley places them strategically on Aziraphale’s wrists, forehead, and ankles, carefully avoiding the painful buboes on his neck and armpits.
Aziraphale shivers pitifully and gasps at the cool water but says nothing as Crowley cleans the sweat from his arms and legs in long, smooth strokes. The repetitive motions soothe Crowley too, giving him a brief reprieve from worry as he carefully washes Aziraphale’s skin. The trance is only broken when Aziraphale twists to his side and coughs harshly into his pillow.
“Here,” Crowley mumuors, drawing Aziraphale upright and holding a cup of water to his lips. “Drink.”
The angel only manages a few mouthfuls before weakly turning his face away and shivering miserably.
“Have you eaten anything today?” Crowley asks, setting the cup back down.
“You should try eating, you need to keep your strength up.”
Aziraphale just looks at him, and Crowley’s heart sinks in his chest. They both know there’s no use in feeding Aziraphale’s corporation, but Crowley selfishly wants to keep Aziraphale around for as long as possible.
“Just a little something, Aziraphale.” The unvoiced ‘please’ lingers in the air between them.
Aziraphale’s eyes soften. “Of course, my dear.”
Crowley cuts a generous slice of bread and hands it to Aziraphale with a flourish. “Can I tempt you with some freshly baked bread, signore?”
“Perhaps,” Aziraphale says hoarsely, sounding amused.
“On my honor, signore, it came out of the oven only a few moments ago,” Crowley replies, channeling a street urchin he and Aziraphale had run into while in Rome several decades ago.
“Well, in that case, I must accept.” Aziraphale smiles before taking a small bite.
“Thank you kindly for your patronage signore, many blessings upon you,” Crowley finishes. The warm mood lingers as Aziraphale nibbles his way through half the slice and then places it to the side. He still looks feverish and ill, but the spark in his eye is back. For a brief moment, Crowley thinks Aziraphale might pull through.
Then Aziraphale twists to the side and vomits. Crowley holds him through it, keeping him from falling off the bed and into the pile of bloody sick. With each retch, Crowley can feel Aziraphale’s muscles tense and contract, each successive heave bringing tears to the angel’s eyes.
When he finally finishes, he hangs limply in Crowley’s arms. Sweat and bile stain Azirpahale’s linen shirt and Crowley miracles it clean and dry with a thought. Aziraphale sighs gratefully and relaxes further into Crowley’s hold.
“Alright, Aziraphale,” Crowley murmurs. “Time to go to bed.”
Aziraphale hums vaguely in assent and allows himself to be manhandled back onto the mattress. As soon as the angel’s head touches the pillow, he’s asleep. Aziraphale’s fever is still too high for Crowley’s comfort, but Crowley decides Aziraphale needs the rest more than he needs a new round of cold cloths.
Crowley comes to regret that choice. Within a few hours, Aziraphale’s fever has increased drastically, creating nightmares and hallucinations that torment and torture the angel. Aziraphale twists miserably atop the sheets in response, whimpering and battling creatures only he can see.
Crowley almost preferred it when Aziraphale was awake and coughing. At least then he could offer aid. Now, when Aziraphale reaches into thin air and shouts, “Crowley!” with a look of despair on his face, Crowley can only grab his hand and try to soothe him back to sleep.
When Aziraphale jerks away after a particularly brutal nightmare, Crowley finally breaks and inquires about what he dreams about. Aziraphale doesn’t answer, instead panting and coughing for air as he tries to calm himself after the latest round of horrors.
“What do you see?” Crowley pushes again, desperate for something he can do to help.
“Memories…” Aziraphale whispers, not entirely present. “The flood. Sodom and Gomorrah. Pompeii. But they’re all wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re there.” Aziraphale’s gaze is roaming the room now, restless and feverish.
“I was there, Aziraphale. I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”
“You’re there, Crowley,” Aziraphale says suddenly, locking eyes and grabbing Crowley’s hand. His palm is sweaty and hot where it presses against Crowley’s. “You die. I try to help, but you die. You can’t die, Crowley.”
Aziraphale’s eyes are burning, boring into Crowley’s soul. Then he breathes out a ragged sigh and lets them fall closed, grip slackening as he falls back into feverish dreams.
Crowley regrets having asked. Now Aziraphale’s pitiful cries of “Crowley!” hurt all the more.
When daylight arrives, Aziraphale’s forearms are black and blue. The corruption starts at his fingers and steadily marches its way up, bringing pain and discomfort wherever it spreads. Aziraphale even asks Crowley to remove his distinctive signet ring because its weight on his finger causes him pain.
For the most part, Aziraphale sleeps. The nightmares seem to have receded with the dawn, but Crowley is still kept busy by the periodic coughing fits that jolt Aziraphale awake. Crowley tries to coax water down Aziraphale’s throat to soothe the angel’s wheezing coughs, but he only vomits it up a few minutes later. Crowley decides to stop the attempts when the angel can no longer support himself on his blackened hands and Crowley’s firm grip inevitably brushes against one of the many painful spots on Aziraphale’s skin.
Either way, Aziraphale deteriorates by the hour. His fever continues to climb as the sun sets, growing increasingly delirious with each degree it rises. Crowley tries everything from a medicinal brew of willow bark he’d learned from a healer in China to cool baths, but Aziraphale can’t keep the brew down and the bath makes him panic.
It’s as his back is turned to replenish the cool rags that he hears Aziraphale shout incoherently. He spins around to see Aziraphale lying rigid on the bed, motionless. Then the angel’s limbs begin to tense and jerk spastically, his back juddering up and down against the bed as some unseen force twists his spine.
Crowley leaps for the bed, grabbing at Aziraphale’s flailing limbs and trying to prevent him from hitting the wooden bed frame. It’s distressingly easy to pin Aziraphale’s blackened wrists to the bed, but Aziraphale doesn’t notice Crowley’s touch, eyes twitching frantically beneath his lids as the harsh convulsions punch air from his lungs.
Aziraphale’s back arches abruptly, legs kicking out and almost hitting Crowley in the stomach. Crowley doesn’t know what else to do besides climb on top of Aziraphale and pin him to the mattress. He shoves his weight atop Aziraphale’s squirming mass and does his best to prevent him from further harm.
A dark part of his mind reminds him that he’s always wanted to be on top of Aziraphale, but not like this. Instead of a gentle smile and blue eyes gazing up at him, he gets the bowstring tight line of Aziraphale’s neck as his head thumps on the mattress.
The convulsions continue, minute after minute, Aziraphale continuing to buck and twist beneath him. Then they stop. Aziraphale’s body relaxes completely and the room goes silent.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley whispers. He can’t hear breathing. There’s no reassuring rise of the chest pinned beneath him. “Aziraphale?!”
He presses his ear to Aziraphale’s chest and is reassured by the rapid beat he finds there. He holds his breath as he waits for Aziraphale to resume breathing and is rewarded when Aziraphale sucks in a ragged gasp. Hope restored, Crowley lifts his head and waits anxiously for signs of consciousness.
After ten minutes of watching, Aziraphale’s eyes begin to move sluggishly underneath his lids. Crowley hastily removes himself from Aziraphale’s chest and moves to sit on the stool near the bed.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley asks. Slowly, Aziraphale’s eyes open, revealing confused slivers of blue.
“Cr’ly?” Aziraphale slurs.
“I’m here, Aziraphale, what do you need?”
Silence. Aziraphale’s eyes are closed again. He’s probably unconscious. Crowley puts his head down and allows himself a moment of weakness. Tears burn at the corner of his eyes, fear battling with relief in his chest. That had been far too close.
“You,” Aziraphale rasps. Crowley startles, head snapping up.
“Need... you...” Aziraphale’s hand is scuffing along the bed sheets, reaching feebly for Crowley.
“What do you need me to do, angel?”
“I’m right here, Aziraphale. I won’t leave.” He wishes there was a way to break through the delirium and convince Aziraphale he’ll be here until the end.
“No,” Aziraphale says hoarsely, a hint of lucidity creeping into his gaze. “Come here... With me.” Aziraphale looks pointedly at the space next to him on the bed, shifting onto his side so there’s room for Crowley’s lanky frame.
He freezes. He doesn’t have a single thought in his brain, but Aziraphale is looking at him expectantly.
“Are you sure, angel?”
Aziraphale huffs frustratedly. “Yes.”
Crowley’s heart feels like it’s too big for his chest. He moves slowly, giving Aziraphale plenty of time to change his mind before he gets on the bed, leaving several feet between them.
“No!” Aziraphale coughs. “Closer.”
The angel scoots backwards in clear invitation. Throwing caution to the wind, Crowley molds himself to Aziraphale and places his head firmly on the angel’s back. Tension he hadn’t even realized he was holding releases upon hearing Aziraphale’s steady heartbeat.
“Now…rest.” Aziraphale commands imperiously, a hint of his former self in the tone.
Crowley thinks he might actually be able to. Positioned like this, molded to Aziraphale’s back like a coat, he can feel every twitch Aziraphale makes, hear every rasping breath. If Aziraphale needs him, Crowley will know. And his fever warmth is soothingly warm… Crowley drifts into semi-consciousness with Aziraphale’s heartbeat thudding reassuringly in his ears.
The reprieve doesn’t last long. Aziraphale has several more seizures throughout the afternoon and evening, each more violent than the last. Each one drains Aziraphale of more energy, and he takes longer and longer to come back to consciousness.
Crowley is loathe to admit it, but he doesn’t think Aziraphale is going to make it. Aziraphale, when not seizing or coughing, is practically comatose. His only reassurance is Aziraphale’s steady heartbeat and his rough, ragged breaths.
Part way through the night, Crowley pulls Aziraphale upright and cradles him in his arms to try and ease Aziraphale’s breathing. The headboard jabs at Crowley’s back uncomfortably and the angel’s corporation burns with feverish heat where it rests against Crowley’s chest and torso, but he can’t bring himself to move. In this position he can feel Aziraphale’s heartbeat under his hand and his uneven breaths against his skin.
Sometime after midnight, Aziraphale briefly gains consciousness and tries to speak.
“Crowley…” Aziraphale rattles, struggling to breathe. Crowley can feel the strain where their bodies touch as Aziraphale’s chest desperately tries to expand.
“It’ll be alright, angel, don’t try and talk.”
“Please don’t…” Aziraphale’s breath hitches, he can’t seem to get any air. He tilts his head back desperately, chest straining. Crowley tenses, but then Aziraphale finally takes a breath. “Please don’t go.”
“I’m not going to leave, Aziraphale. I’m with you to the end.” The corners of Aziraphale’s mouth turn up. Crowley can see the gratitude in his eyes.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale breathes, voice almost too faint to hear. “My...dear.” His blue eyes close and Crowley’s heart seizes in his chest. He bends his face to Aziraphale’s mouth and almost gasps in relief when he feels faint breaths tickle his cheek. He’s still alive.
Aziraphale doesn’t gain consciousness again.
In the early hours of the morning, Aziraphale begins to stop breathing. Every time, Crowley pulls him close and holds his own breath until it starts again. He knows now that Aziraphale isn’t going to make it, he knows the horseman is too powerful, but he hopes anyway. He even prays, shooting off desperate prayers to God, to Satan, to anyone who’s listening. Aziraphale doesn’t deserve to die like this.
But he’s going to.
This close to the end, Crowley blinks sideways every few minutes to check on Aziraphale’s angelic essence, which is still bright as ever. He tries to reassure himself that it’s not really Aziraphale dying, just his corporation. This doesn’t prevent him from wincing as the ethereal tethers to Aziraphale’s corporation snap one by one.
Around three in the morning, Aziraphale stops breathing entirely. Distress crinkles Aziraphale’s face as his lungs weakly strain to fill with air until Crowley soothes a hand down his chest and whispers, ”It’s alright, angel. It’s almost over.”
Crowley swallows his grief and listens as the rhythm of Aziraphale’s heart falters, counting each beat. Beneath his hands, Aziraphale’s body relaxes.
Then Aziraphale’s heart stops.
Crowley wants to sob. His chest is a gaping, open maw, and there is a distant roar in his ears. He shuffles Aziraphale’s corporation closer and presses a kiss to the angel’s soft hair, then blinks sideways.
There’s nothing. Aziraphale is truly gone.
Back in the corporeal plane, he feels something shifting in his arms, and he blinks back. Aziraphale’s corporation is disintegrating, the angelic matter that had composed it collapsing back into light and trickling into the sky. He holds tighter, a hoarse, “No!” escaping his lips as he clutches the body in his arms.
The corporation is dissolving faster and faster now, the pure heavenly light burning where it touches his skin. He grabs at it anyway, light particles scalding and slipping through his fingers. That’s Aziraphale, that’s all he has, vanishing into thin air.
Then there’s nothing left.
No sign Aziraphale was ever here at all. The bloody floor, the sweaty sheets, everything is miraculously clean.
There isn’t even anything to bury, Crowley thinks. He pulls his knees to his chest and drops his head, allowing oblivion to swallow him whole.
Time goes a bit blurry. He comes back to himself a few days or weeks later, feeling gritty and sore. He lifts his head stiffly and unfolds his legs, then rubs his eyes. He swings his feet to the floor and considers standing.
It’s time to go. He has things to do. Temptations. Wiles. Hell will have noticed his absence. Yet he still doesn’t move. He drops his head down and scrubs through his hair furiously, dust particles clouding the air. He catches a gleam of gold in the corner of his eye. What…?
He turns his head and sees a ring. Before he even fully processes what he’s doing, Crowley is on his knees holding the familiar gold band. There’s nothing of Aziraphale’s presence in it, no tingle of warmth, but Crowley cradles it close all the same.
Crowley leaves Florence the next day. He summons his hellfire steed and rides out of the plague ridden city without looking back. At a deserted villa outside the city, he stops and steals a thin gold chain. With careful hands he threads Aziraphale’s ring onto it before clasping it around his neck. The winged band dangles above his heart, a constant reminder that Aziraphale will return to Earth.
For the next half century, this reminder is almost enough. He travels around Europe and Asia in a daze, vaguely committing minor wiles and temptations to keep downstairs happy. He sleeps too, long months lost to darkness and nightmares, but it makes time go by faster.
At the turn of the century, he finds himself a new pastime. Namely, drinking himself far beyond what would kill a normal man in local taverns. He’s slumped over a table almost unconscious when Aziraphale walks in.
Unlike in Crowley’s nightmares, Aziraphale is glowing and healthy, not a mark or bruise to be seen on his corporation. Crowley squints at the hallucination suspiciously, vaguely impressed at the quality of the liquor.
“Crowley?” The hallucination says, looking concerned. The imagined Aziraphale walks towards him and sits beside him on the table. Crowley shoves his head into his arms and hides his face. This is a new level of cruelty even for his subconscious. Then the hallucination touches his arm. Crowley makes himself sober so quickly it’s painful.
“There you are, Crowley! It took me ages to find you, you know.” Aziraphale is beaming at him, warm hand still resting on Crowley’s sleeve. “What are you doing so drunk? Aren’t you supposed to be out tempting the masses?”
Crowley lets the question hang in the air as he takes in Aziraphale’s new corporation. It looks exactly identical to the old one, but he finds himself soaking in the little details anyway. Even for a demon, fifty years is a long time, and he finds himself remembering all the things he’d forgotten over the years. For example, the way Aziraphale holds his shoulders when he’s stressed or the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles. He loses himself to looking.
“Are you alright, my dear?” Aziraphale asks, looking concerned.
“Uh,” Crowley says, startled out of his observations. He clears his throat and rubs a hand over his face, then says, “I’m fine, angel. It’s just been a while. What took you so long?”
“Oh, the paperwork,” Aziraphale sighs, looking terribly put upon. “It was absolutely dreadful. Gabriel insisted on everything being filled out in triplicate, and then he made me wait until Pestilence had left the continent. Really, as if I would go back to confront them a second time. I’m not a complete idiot.”
Crowley looks some more, taking him in. Aziraphale’s eyes are alert and lucid, and there’s not even a hint of pain or stiffness as he gestures irritably about the bureaucracies of heaven. Aziraphale doesn’t seem to notice Crowley’s rapt gaze as he continues to chatter.
“Now, you simply must tell me what I missed. I was kept awfully busy with all the souls Pestilence was sending up, and fifty years is a terribly long time. How many people did you tempt while I was gone? I have so much catching up to do!”
Crowley doesn’t know how to say ‘Actually angel, I didn’t really do any tempting at all because I was too busy mourning you like a widow,’ so what he says instead is, “Oh, just the usual stuff, people losing their cattle, that sort of thing. I’m sure you’ll be caught up in no time.” His hand creeps up to his chest on its own accord and begins to worry at the ring underneath his shirt, a reassuring habit he’d acquired around year two of Aziraphale being gone.
“Oh,” Crowley gasps as his fingers touch the band. “I have your ring! I saved it for you!”
“Oh, did you really?” Aziraphale beams. “I had wondered where it wandered off to.”
Crowley unclasps the chain from the back of his neck and pulls the ring out from underneath his collar. The ring is still warm from his body heat as he slides it off the chain and places it into Aziraphale’s waiting hand.
“Thank you, my dear. I truly appreciate you keeping it safe for me.” The ring slides onto Aziraphale’s finger effortlessly, like it never left.
“It’s nothing. Don’t make a habit of it, yeah?” Crowley means it to be aloof, dismissive, but his voice cracks and he’s sure Aziraphale can sense the still lingering grief in his chest.
“I’ll do my best.”
“Do you fancy dinner perhaps?” Crowley tempts.
“I am a bit peckish,” Aziraphale replies with a knowing grin.
“Great. My treat, angel.” Then he’s holding open the door to the tavern and they’re both walking through it.
Crowley barely remembers dinner, too distracted by watching Aziraphale. He analyzes every moment, looking for a flinch of pain while simultaneously basking in Aziraphale’s sighs and smiles as he eats his meal. He keeps waiting for something to go wrong, but to all appearances Aziraphale is completely healthy.
Things come to a head when Aziraphale invites him back to his lodgings for an after dinner drink.
As Crowley walks into Aziraphale’s room he’s unexpectedly struck by how familiar it looks. Then without a hint of warning, Crowley is back in that dark, close room, and Aziraphale is struggling to breathe in front of him, choking on nothing as he gasps for air, and -
There’s a warm hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure you’re alright, Crowley?”
“I -,” he twitches away from Aziraphale’s hand and turns away, desperate to regain the tatters of his composure. He sucks in a breath and remembers how Aziraphale’s had caught in his throat.
“No, I’m not alright,” Crowley snaps, memories reemerging after half a century. “You died, Aziraphale. In my arms. And then you didn’t come back for fifty years. How am I supposed to be alright?”
“Oh, my dear boy.”
The tenderness in Aziraphale’s voice is almost enough to break his control, but Crowley is determined not to cry. Satan’s sake, he hadn’t even cried when Aziraphale died in the first place, so there’s no point crying when he’s alive and within reach. Stupid, faulty corporation.
Crowley can feel Aziraphale’s body heat as he draws closer.
“I had no idea. Please, is there anything I can do to help? It truly wasn’t that bad, really, I don’t remember much.” Lie. That’s a lie. Aziraphale probably remembers every miserable second.
“It’s fine,” Crowley says harshly. “I’ll be fine. Just the drink talking. It was nice seeing you, angel.” He moves towards the door but is halted when Aziraphale grabs his sleeve.
“Please let me help,” Aziraphale implores.
The warmth of his hand bleeds through Crowley’s sleeve before Aziraphale releases him. He hasn’t felt warmth like that for fifty years.
“Crowley?” He’s still fixated on the lingering warmth on his wrist.
“My dear, are you alright?” Now there are warm hands on his face. A thumb brushes across his cheek.
“Oh, please don’t cry, my dear.” His feels himself being drawn close. His head is gently tugged down until it rests on a warm shoulder, and his nose is pressed into a neck that smells remarkably like Aziraphale.
Slowly, he pulls his arms up and returns the embrace. Aziraphale’s relaxed inhales push against his chest, and there is a steady heartbeat beneath his palms.
“Missed you,” Crowley mutters. He’s sure he’ll be embarrassed about it later, but he needs Aziraphale to know.
Aziraphale doesn’t reply, but that’s okay. He’s letting Crowley lean on him while Crowley takes the broken pieces of himself and tries to put them back together. As the seconds pass by, the constant ache of loss begins to ease.
Aziraphale sighs. “Truth be told, I rather missed you too.”
“Really?” He pulls himself up, looks Aziraphale in the eye.
Crowley grins at him. “Heaven wasn’t entertaining enough for you? No demonic wiles to thwart?”
“Don’t go getting too full of yourself,” Aziraphale scolds, eyes twinkling as he gently released Crowley from his embrace.
“Me? Never. The model of humility, me.”
Aziraphale simply raises an eyebrow.
Normally at this point Crowley would make his excuses and saunter out the door. But now…
“I don’t think that -”
“You know, you could -”
They both stopped, blushing.
“You first, angel.”
“I was just going to say,” Aziraphale begins delicately. “That a newly recorporated angel would probably want to keep a close watch on any demons nearby. To thwart their wiles, and such. ”
“And Hell would want any demons to keep tabs on newly recorporated angels, just in case they performed too many miracles. It would make sense for a demon to stay close by. Maybe even in the same lodgings,” Crowley finishes.
“Exactly my point.”
Crowley startles himself by yawning. All of a sudden, he is absolutely exhausted. He points vaguely at the bed.
“Of course. I certainly won’t be using it.”
Crowley slumps onto the mattress with a sigh and stares at Aziraphale. There is a small, niggling fear in his chest that says if he shuts his eyes Aziraphale won’t be there when he opens them again. Aziraphale watches with amusement as Crowley struggles vainly to keep his eyes open.
“Go to sleep, Crowley,” Aziraphale says gently.
“Don’ go?” Crowley mumbles into the pillow, exhaustion slurring his words.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Aziraphale replies. Crowley eyelids lose the fight against gravity, and comforting darkness surrounds him. “Now, rest. When you wake up, you’ll have had a lovely dream about whatever you like best.”
And for the first time in fifty years, Crowley dreams peacefully.