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The Sword and the Shield

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Update: I have a short animation of BAMF Azi on my tumblr here

 The Sword and the Shield

Crowley has only seen Aziraphale do this once before.

The evening had been a pleasant one up until that point. Crowley enjoys not having to hide themselves anymore, now that Heaven and Hell have decided to leave them alone. The cry for help splitting the night air isn't one they could have ignored, though, and that's how the demon and the angel have found themselves here, on a poorly lit road staring down the barrels of a couple pistols. The men on the other side of those pistols are clearly angry that the pair haven't hurried to excuse themselves yet.

"Keep walking, grandpa!" one of them shouts at Aziraphale, pressing the gun into the angel's cheek. "Or eat a bullet!"

But a third man stands just behind the other two, mid kidnapping, so they aren't going anywhere. The young woman he's got around the middle is kicking and screaming and sobbing, fighting with all she's got to not be thrown into the back of the van she's being helplessly dragged towards. If they get her in that van, Crowley is sure she'll never be heard from again. He's sure their plans for her are more evil than anything he would have ever dreamed up on his evilest day.

The three men have ignored Aziraphale's demand that they release her. Before the night is over, they'll wish they'd done as the angel commanded.

"I said," Aziraphale repeats, normally good-natured voice now low and dangerous, "let the young lady go. I must warn you, I will not ask a third time."

"We ain't got time for this," the man holding the woman snarls. Crowley has surmised this is the ringleader of the group. "Arnie, shoot the grandpa. Murph..."

The one pointing the gun at Crowley cocks his head, waiting for the command. Crowley is still and silent, unconcerned. He knows something the humans don't.

The ringleader's eyes rake over Crowley and his mouth twists into a lewd smirk. "Not Red," he decides. "Grab that one to take wiv us. I can sell a body like that, eh, Red? There's a market for all kinds."

Still Crowley doesn't move. He considers snapping his fingers and breaking this man's neck, but he's felt the shift in the air. Aziraphale hasn't shown a bit of shock at the gun in his face, like he had in the church in World War Two. He hasn't made a single comment about the inconvenience of discorporation, like he had in the cell during the French Revolution.

What he has done is clench his fists. There's a crackle in the air, a charged intensity that wasn't there before. Crowley can read the signs. And he knows how this is going to end.

The angel doesn't twitch as Arnie grabs him by the front of his coat, tapping Aziraphale's lips with the gun.

"Open your mouth," the man commands with a cruel glint in his eyes, the kind that Hell can't compete with because humans have more capacity for evil than demons.

But he's still just a human and he doesn't know the mistake he's made, and it's already too late. So Crowley doesn't move to help either himself or the angel because there's no need.

Aziraphale's eyes are brighter now but his face has darkened, the contrast growing until he's a pillar of glowing light and shadow. Somewhere overhead, thunder rumbles a deep, guttural growl. There isn't a cloud in the sky.

The gun begins to glow as well, hotter and fiercer until Arnie drops it with a yelp, clutching his burned hand while his partner does the same. Arnie's eyes whip back up to Aziraphale, who hasn't moved.

"What-"

"Crowley," the angel says, quite calmly. Somehow, his calm is even more intimidating than a raging fury would be. He's in perfect control.

"Mm?"

"Take the young woman."

All three of the men seem to be struggling to move now, grunting and straining against the invisible force that holds them. Crowley tilts his head in Aziraphale's direction.

"Angel... are you sure?" Not that the woman shouldn't be protected, of course she'll have to be. But if Crowley handles that, then the other part of the job falls to Aziraphale, and this is an ugly business.

Aziraphale closes his eyes and takes a breath. Crowley will wait; he doesn't mind doing the dirty work to spare the angel the trouble. But then Aziraphale opens his eyes again, and they're flooded with dazzling white light that illuminate the area and draw baffled, nervous curses from the three men.

"Quite sure."

Crowley nods, accepting the answer. He regards the woman, surrounded by men who would force her to be a commodity for men. Before approaching, he gives himself a shake. By the time he reaches her, his spiked red hair is in soft, loose curls; his jeans have become a smart skirt and tights. His glasses have gone several shades darker, just to be safe, and he speaks to her in the same gentle, effeminate voice as Nanny Ashtoreth.

"Come, dear," he murmurs, plucking the struggling girl from the grasping arms of her frozen kidnapper. "You're safe now, there there. They'll not come near you ever again."

She's sobbing but the shift in his appearance makes her feel safer, as intended, and she clings to Crowley as he pulls her further back, away from the men. He angles the young woman the other direction, putting himself between her and the others.

"What is this?" the ringleader shouts, paralyzed but for his eyes and voice. "What are you?"

"I am the angel Aziraphale."

Thunder rumbles again and even Crowley feels goosebumps. The young woman inhales sharply, looking between the man with the glowing eyes and the rescuer she's clinging to. Crowley nods at her unasked question.

"Real live angel," he assures her. "He'll take care of them." Really he ought to get the girl away from here, but he also isn't sure he wants to leave Aziraphale like this. Not because the angel is any danger, quite the reverse, but because Aziraphale will need him afterwards.

"You're not," Arnie blusters, eyes flicking down to the gun he clearly longs to scoop back up. "There's no such thing! They're not real, I tell you!"

A wind picks up from nowhere; Aziraphale's coat billows around him. His internal glow is so bright now that the shadows are gone. The street might as well be in the full light of day from Aziraphale's power, a dazzling figure with a grim face. His eyes are pools of radiance but his brow is furrowed. This is not a war the men will survive.

And now his head turns to Arnie. Crowley's sharp nose tells him the man has wet himself.

"Confess your sins," Aziraphale commands. He doesn't raise his voice, as soft as ever, but the words are full of glass shards and the edges of holy blades, and the baying of hounds. The angel raises his hand and Arnie sinks to his knees.

"Please, it wasn't me!" Arnie is blubbering, tears streaking down his face. "It was Kev's idea. It's his operation."

"Arnie, shut your mouth!" the ringleader roars.

"Tell me what you have done."

And he does. Every detail, how he lures their victims in with false promises, how they organize the sales. Maybe he thinks it will save him. Maybe he's compelled by the angel's power. It doesn't matter, because in the end, Arnie collapses to the ground and he doesn't move again.

Aziraphale burns brighter.

And then he turns to Murph, the man who'd dared point a gun at Crowley.

"Confess your sins."

"I'm not telling you anything!" Murph seethes, and it's not a wise decision.

The angel's fists clench tighter as Crowley cradles the girl's head against his shoulder, shielding her gaze from Aziraphale, who shines like the sun and could do just as much damage. Above them, lightning cracks the sky, thunder booming loud enough that Crowley feels it reverberate in his chest.

"It won't hurt you," he whispers to the woman they've rescued. "Don't be afraid." Huh. Who would have ever thought the whole 'be not afraid' line would be his responsibility? He presses a gentle kiss to the top of her head, the kind that had always soothed Warlock when he was frightened by a storm.

Aziraphale hasn't moved but somehow he's standing in front of Murph. This time when he speaks, his voice is the thunder.

"Confess." And wings erupt from his back, crackling in the electric heat.

The human breaks down, collapsing in a heap of soiled pants and groveling as he tries to grab Aziraphale's legs. "You're not real," he groans. "You're not real, you're not real..."

"I assure you, I am. How many others have you taken?"

"Murph, don't you dare say a word," the ringleader snarls.

But Murph has finally realized the one he ought to be afraid of isn't Kev, it's the radiant warrior they shouldn't have challenged. With terrified sobs and many pleas, he tells them about the warehouse in the seedy part of town where seventeen more women are being kept for the "industry".

"I repent, I repent!" he clamors once he's revealed all. "Angels, ain't- ain't they supposed to show mercy?"

Crowley wants to roll his eyes. This man hasn't been reading the right Bible.

"Mercy belongs to God," the angel intones as the wind picks up power, and in his fists he's holding fire. "And tonight, I am not God's mercy."

He raises his head.

"I'm her sword."

Murph collapses in a heap, cold and still.

It's Kev's turn, but his face is set in a sneer and he shakes his head as much as he's able. "I ain't scared of you."

Aziraphale is standing before him. "Yes," he replies, lightning crackling out from his body, the power of Heaven channeled through his angelic form. "You are."

The woman shaking in Crowley's arms clings tighter to him, but she's moving her head as though to raise it. He quickly sets a hand on the back of her neck to cradle her in closer.

"No, dear," he murmurs in the same soft, feminine voice, shielding her from the blinding light bursting from the angel in golden plumes. "Don't look. It'll only hurt your eyes."

She sniffles and nods, burrowing her face in the folds of his coat. "Are you another angel like him?" she questions, barely audible with her face hidden.

Crowley watches Aziraphale, who stands with wind billowing in his coat and lightning crackling over blinding wings, with fists clenching to bring the rumbling thunder, with eyes lit with white hot power and an expression of ethereal rage. Crowley doesn't know when Aziraphale's feet left the ground but he's hovering.

"There are no other angels like him," he replies.

Crowley has only seen Aziraphale do this once before. It was 1945, in a bunker in Berlin. No one had survived that one, either.

"Confess your sins." His mouth didn't even move this time. He's the thunder in the night and the electricity in the air.

Kev shakes his head, clenching his jaw.

The mighty wings flap, just once, and Kev is on his knees. Aziraphale raises his fists that still hold flames.

"Crowley."

The demon nods, tucking his chin over the young woman's head and adjusting so his back is solidly to the angel. He closes his own eyes, clenching them tight. "We're good, angel."

He doesn't see exactly what happens because that would likely kill him and they aren't taking that chance. He only knows the light becomes so bright that he can see it from behind his lids, with his back turned, even through the dark glasses. He knows that Kev is looking at Heaven. He knows Heaven will burn away all that is evil and he knows that once the evil is gone there won't be anything left, because that's all Kev is.

Crowley thinks Kevin might have screamed, but the sizzling lightning and the roaring of wind is loud enough to cover the sound.

Then everything goes silent and still. It's over. Crowley peels his eyes open and twists to see Aziraphale looking down at the three humans. His wings are gone, the glow receded so the scene has fallen back into darkness. Crowley would have relished killing these men, but even in the shadows he can see there's no glee on the angel's face, no righteous delight at smiting down evil. There's only anger and disappointment.

The angel looks over his shoulder, not at Crowley and the girl, but at something the demon hasn't seen yet.

"You may have them now if you wish."

I THOUGHT I MIGHT HAVE WORK HERE TONIGHT.

Ugh, that voice. Crowley protectively holds the girl, but the figure in dark robes isn't here for her. Death glides past them, standing beside Aziraphale. He looks down at the humans as well.

SHALL I FINISH THEM OFF?

"I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do. Is it their time, or will you spare them?" the angel asks.

If it was possible for a skull to grin, Death would be doing so.

TO CONTINUE LIVING NOW WOULD BE CRUEL. YOU HAVE REMOVED THEIR EVIL AND NOW THERE IS NOTHING LEFT. THEY WOULD LIVE AS NOTHING.

"Indeed."

BUT THERE IS TORMENT ENOUGH WHERE THEY ARE GOING. I SHALL TAKE THEM WITH ME. FAREWELL, ANGEL AZIRAPHALE, GUARDIAN OF THE EASTERN GATE.

And then there is nothing but Crowley and Aziraphale, and a still trembling girl.

There is work to do now. They will have to return the woman to her family. They will have to find the warehouse with the others and free them as well.

And then they will have to drink. Crowley knows the angel can barely stand to kill even an insect, not that he himself had actually killed the humans. He will need some company for a while, and Crowley will provide that.

It is far too easy, Crowley reflects, to mistake Aziraphale as a helpless, hand-wringing bookshop keeper. It is far too easy, he thinks as he remembers Arnie pressing the gun to the angel's face, to think him weak, prey. It is far too easy to forget he's an angel who had carried a flaming sword and protected the first humans when the world was new.

It is far too easy to forget what that means.

Aziraphale chooses the appearance he gives, gentle and warm and full of hope and miracles instead of the power and wrath he carries in equal measure. It's the role that suits him best. He's love and hope incarnate. But he's still an angel.

A good angel.

And demons run when a good angel goes to war.

The Keeper

The Keeper (artwork by cogitaeworks, used with permission)

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