Take my hand, I'm a stranger in paradise
It was not a beautiful night, the night that Crowley fell in love. There was no music, there were no flowers except maybe a few clinging defiantly to trampled bushes in the countryside. The air stank of gunpowder and blood, the sky was full of smoke, and the screaming of the terrified and dying drowned out every other noise near the village of Mons.
Crowley had been drawn to Europe in 1914, following orders—demons could find a lot of evil to do in the middle of a war—but he made the journey to Mons on the night of August 23 because he sensed something fairly unusual, some build-up of angelic power massing in the skies over Belgium. Certainly if the angels were trying to end the war, Crowley would be expected to oppose them. Really, though, he only wandered in the direction of all that divine essence in the hope that he might run into the one angel—the one being—with whom he could probably find some respite from all the useless, ugly work. Someone who would smile at him and lighten the atmosphere for a few minutes just by being his own ridiculous, foppishly dressed, nattering self. It would be a relief to discuss crepes and books instead of the grind of war.
When he got to the Front, despite the power he’d felt approaching, Crowley was still startled to see an entire host of angels descending from Heaven through the clouds and gunsmoke. Without meaning to, Crowley formed some vague, stupid hope that the battle—maybe even the war—might actually be ending, that Heaven was going to live up to its own advertising for once and spread peace, or some such bullshit. Of course, Heaven was really there to pick sides, the angels had swords in their hands, and the battle of Mons raged on even more violently, as the outnumbered British gained confidence and the Germans lost it.
Aziraphale wouldn’t be with those bastards who flew into the trenches, of course. There was no way whatsoever that the gentle, white-haired angel with the pure blue eyes would ever raise a hand in violence against anyone, especially humans. But Crowley did feel Aziraphale’s presence somewhere nearby, very strongly. The demon picked his way through the fields behind the Front and into the city of Mons itself, dodging soldiers and vehicles and overworked doctors, walking through a mixture of mud and blood. As soon as he saw the level of suffering in the town, it was clear that this was a place to which Aziraphale would be drawn, and indeed, he felt his friend’s aura very clearly now. Once again, however, Crowley was not expecting the magnitude of the angelic power he would find that night in the darkness of Mons.
He came around a corner and discovered that what he’d thought were searchlights or armored car lights were nothing of earthly origin. There, in an open square, nearly a hundred casualties were lying, they were bleeding, and they were dying, but there was no screaming here. There was only a beautiful, almost overpowering (at least to a demon) angelic glow. There on the ground by a low stone wall sat an angel with a terribly wounded young man in his arms. Other men lay near him, quietly, gazing fondly skyward at the two gloriously beautiful white wings that were spread out over the square, blocking the sight of airplanes and smoke and fire. The angel’s pale robes were soaked with the stains of the horrors all around him, but those wings were shining pure white above it all. Crowley could feel what Aziraphale was telling the soldiers. You are loved. Above this Hell on Earth there is happiness, there is forgiveness, there is no pain. That old standard that angels were supposed to spout and so rarely did: Do not be afraid.
While a few miles away other angels splattered themselves in the blood of German soldiers, Aziraphale alone was promising paradise, and to all—German captives and British troops dying together in the square, with Aziraphale shielding them from the last few minutes of terror that should have been their due.
Crowley was used to seeing Aziraphale bring comfort to those who were suffering. Aziraphale had been created as the Angel of Compassion, after all. Crowley had seen his best friend heal, and weep, and surround broken people with his angelic aura, wiping away fear like dirt from a window. But Crowley had seldom witnessed Aziraphale showing his power to this extent, even in war, his aura so strong and bright that it was almost touchable. And after nearly 6000 years fraternizing with the angel, Crowley knew why it was different tonight. He could feel it. Aziraphale was angry.
Aziraphale still felt the Great Flood, Crowley knew, the angel had internalized it somewhere, thousands of men, women, and children drowned on a whim of God. Deep inside, the angel held an anger against himself for not helping during the Flood, for following orders, which was no doubt why the angel had defied his orders tonight, absenting himself from the Front to minister to the ones who had already been stricken from the rolls as if they no longer mattered. Beyond the Flood, there had fallen countless others in countless wars and disasters, and Aziraphale mourned them all, down to those he watched over tonight.
The Angel of Compassion possessed twin powers—a heavenly aura to comfort the soul, and a physical magic to heal the body. But the second power went only so far—although he could remove all of the pain, Aziraphale could not heal wounds of this magnitude, not wounds that were grave enough to kill. The Angel of Compassion might be stronger than fear but he was not stronger than Death. He couldn’t fix everything. He couldn’t fix this. And he was very angry about it. Angry at himself, angry at his fellow angels who were out there creating more broken bodies who would end up dying tonight beneath Aziraphale’s wings.
What was most painful to Aziraphale though, was that somewhere in the depths of that angelic soul, hidden as well as Aziraphale could hide it, there burned an almost Hellfire-hot wrath against God Herself for allowing or even causing all the suffering. It was the exquisite torture of a righteous anger without the possibility of its being righteous, not for an angel.
But right now, in the way that only he could, Aziraphale was turning all the power of his anger into love, transforming the rage and hurt into something that burned just as hotly, but instead pushed away the darkness and pain of dying men and left behind room to breathe, room to trust.
Whether the angel could feel any of that peace himself, Crowley did not know.
That, of course, was the moment that Crowley fell in love, there in the mud of the square, and the noise and the suffering, as far away as he could go from that brilliant heavenly light and still be able to gaze at his best friend Aziraphale, Guard of the Eastern Gate of Eden, showing his true nature. Or maybe it was just the moment that Crowley realized he was in love, and had been, must have been, all those years ago, standing beside the angel on the Garden wall. Listening to Aziraphale admit that in hopes of protecting humanity he’d given them the flaming sword meant to threaten them. Watching the first rainstorm approach Eden, both of them a little afraid, ill at ease, and Crowley instinctively stepping toward Aziraphale until he stood under the protection of those white wings himself.
It was ludicrous, of course. A demon in love with an angel, a damned creature offering what—what could he offer?—to a celestial being who embodied love itself. Who certainly loved him, Crowley was sure of this, but the Angel of Compassion quite literally loved everyone. Sheltering Crowley from the rain was in Aziraphale’s job description, it was Crowley who was drawn to the angel in a way that transcended what a demon’s feelings ought to be, not the other way around.
And it was more than ludicrous, it was dangerous, for both of them. Their respective sides would bring punishment down on them if they knew they’d cultivated a friendship, and if it ever moved beyond that—for Crowley, it would just be pain, but for Aziraphale, it could be Falling. And if this angel Fell—who would protect the people of the earth? What other angel would possibly show compassion to humanity?
Crowley eventually stepped back, out of the square, occupying himself with what low-level mischief might look good to Hell, knocking over some crates near the entrance to town, in case angels might be on their way, not that the bastards couldn’t just fly over the mess he was making. He came upon a group of civilians, shivering and crying, and there was nothing Crowley could give them, of course, serpent’s eyes and shaken faith were not going to calm anyone. He managed to miracle up some food for them, with token nods to Hell—the bread was a day old, the fish overcooked.
And then he flew into the night, a Fallen angel on wings burned black, up in the air amidst all the smoke and screaming. He left Mons, and the Angel of Compassion, behind.
Two weeks after the Almostpocalypse
The bookshop was in its usual state of disarray when Crowley stepped through the door. It was early afternoon, around one, and Crowley had just rolled out of bed about thirty minutes earlier. He’d thrown on some clothes—jeans, t-shirt, blazer, all in black today—miracled up some coffee, and headed to the bookshop where he fully intended to finish wasting the day on Aziraphale’s couch, watching the angel putter about and listening to him prattle on about whatever it was that he might wish to prattle on about: food, books...well, food and books, probably. Now that Heaven and Hell had sacked them, Crowley felt almost as if he could call himself retired. Not that he’d been terribly active when he was on the clock, but now there wasn’t much pretending to do anymore.
Aziraphale, of course, had failed to get the retirement memo. Today, not only was his shop all in a tangle, but its shopkeeper as well. Aziraphale had his coat and vest off and his sleeves rolled up, his glasses were askew, and strangest of all—his tartan bow tie was crooked. Crowley watched Aziraphale flitting from bookcase to bookcase, all dusty and looking very ill at ease. The demon wasn’t even sure Aziraphale had noticed him come in.
“Angel, are you all right?”
Aziraphale must have been aware that he was standing there, because he didn’t jump when Crowley spoke. Still, he spared his visitor not a glance. “I can’t find a book.”
“Well—not the first time that’s happened.”
“This one’s important.”
“Where did you have it last?”
The angel looked at him now with a mix of annoyance and worry on his face. “I don’t even know if I had it last!”
Crowley put his coffee down on a nearby shelf. “Okay—whatever that means—look, you’re all flustered, let’s get some lunch and then you’ll—”
“We don’t have time for lunch!” Aziraphale cried, delving into another bookcase.
At this point, Crowley took his sunglasses off and regarded the angel intently. “You. Don’t want to go to lunch. What book could you possibly have lost that’s more important than lunch at the Ritz? We could get a table—”
Aziraphale stopped his nervous movements and turned to face Crowley. The demon recognized the expression on the angel’s face, eyebrows raised, a little hopeful, a little pleading, a little bit (no doubt unconsciously) adorable. The angel tended to use this particular expression to silently ask for Crowley’s help, and the demon was not good at fighting the urge to do whatever Aziraphale asked when he wore this look. Actually, Crowley wasn’t very much good at not doing whatever Aziraphale asked him for anyway, but they both pretended that those instances were limited to ones in which Aziraphale made this particular face. This time, though, it almost looked as if those blue eyes held unshed tears.
“What book is it, angel?” Crowley asked softly.
Aziraphale shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Crowley took a seat on Aziraphale’s couch, briefly tugging on the angel’s sleeve to guide him to sit down as well. In the sunlight, Crowley could see little dust motes floating out of the soft white curls of the angel’s hair. Aziraphale would no doubt label himself unkempt at the moment, but to Crowley he looked as enchanting as ever.
What was a little harder for Crowley to deal with was the fact that with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up, Aziraphale had revealed more of his body than Crowley had seen in a very long time, since fashions had gotten more conservative and the angel had gladly embraced the trend. This afternoon, Crowley could see the pale peach skin of the angel’s forearms, covered with delicate white hairs that sparkled in the sunlight. Crowley was never sure whether Aziraphale’s beauty came naturally to the corporeal form he had taken or if it was the angelic essence shining through, making his appearance just a touch more alluring than was really fair.
Crowley focused on Aziraphale’s face, not that that was much better, but at least it was a sight Crowley was more used to. “Okay, angel. Let’s have it from the beginning.”
Aziraphale looked down and noticed that his tie was crooked, and began to fuss with it. “Around five o’clock this morning I had this feeling like I had to find a book. A desperate feeling. It’s not exactly like I’ve lost it, more like I’m—missing something? But I don’t know what book it is or why—”
“We’ll figure it out, okay? We’ll figure it out.” Crowley put a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder— not his bare arm—anxious to somehow pull his angel out of the agitation he’d fallen into. As always, Aziraphale’s body temperature was far warmer than Crowley’s, and the part of Crowley that was still essentially serpentine soaked up the heat.
Back at the beginning, it had been common for Crowley and Aziraphale to go long stretches of years without seeing each other. Gradually, though, those stretches had gotten shorter, and then one day they’d both found themselves in London, and started seeing each other more often—monthly, weekly, and when they’d worked together to raise Warlock, it had been daily. Now it was every day still, and Crowley didn’t know how he’d ever gone so long without being so near to Aziraphale, to the cleverest, kindest, strongest, most beautiful person he knew. The Angel of Compassion had been created to love, and not just living things. Aziraphale loved all the delights of Earth, he loved wine and music and poetry and dessert and every beautiful thing that he ever came across, and it was—well, it was Heavenly just to be in his company. Despite how torturous it was for Crowley to be close to Aziraphale and still so far away.
The angel regarded him with worry in his sky-blue eyes. “Crowley, something about this feels...dangerous.”
“You mean like the book is dangerous or like something else will be dangerous unless we find the book?”
“I just think that we really need to find it.”
“Yes, of course we do.” Crowley withdrew his hand and smacked his own leg. “Can’t have more than a few weeks off from saving the world, can we? No retirement for us!” He gave Aziraphale a smile to soften his complaining. “Can you tell where the feeling is coming from? Heaven? Hell? Earth?”
Aziraphale frowned, concentrating. “Not—not Heaven. I still feel them a little and I don’t think they’re mixed up in this.”
Crowley made a noise that meant That remains to be seen but Aziraphale didn’t acknowledge it.
“I don’t think it’s Hell, either, it doesn’t feel infernal...I guess it must be Earth. Somewhere…”
Suddenly Aziraphale did something that he did not often do. He touched Crowley.
The Angel of Compassion was not exactly reluctant to touch people—well, to touch humans. He touched them to heal or comfort them, to take their pain and fear away. But he very rarely touched Crowley. And Crowley knew why. They’d spent 6000 years attempting to hide the fact that they weren’t the enemies they were supposed to be, that they had never fit very well into the role of adversaries. They had both feared Heaven or Hell finding that out, so even if Aziraphale and Crowley were fraternizing , they didn’t touch. But behind that fear, Crowley knew, was something even stronger. Aziraphale was an angel, through and through, and becoming physically close to a demon was most likely simply not something that he could allow himself to do. If Crowley needed healing or compassion, yes. But for any other reason—well, there was no other reason for Aziraphale.
But now Aziraphale had taken Crowley’s hand, and Crowley wished suddenly that he could reach his coffee because his mouth felt a little dry. The angel’s skin was warm against Crowley’s and soft as flower petals.
Aziraphale looked at Crowley with a determined expression. “I need your help.”
Crowley managed to say, “Yeah, okay.”
“We need to search out where this is coming from. I can’t quite narrow it down, but maybe if you help me—”
“Okay, yeah, sure.” Crowley’s voice faded as Aziraphale reached out and took his other hand as well.
Aziraphale closed his eyes. “Do you feel it?”
Crowley let his mind reach out around the twists and turns of the bookshop, over the couch, behind the bookcases, across the dusty, sunlit floor. Aziraphale was right, there was something amiss, an unease in the air. It was faint, but it definitely didn’t belong in the comfortable, warm, slightly stuffy atmosphere of the bookshop. “I feel it,” Crowley said, and then the demon and the angel stretched their minds out together, following the worrisome trace of the intruder out the door and into the street.
Taking an astral walk through London with Aziraphale was almost like taking a regular walk through London with Aziraphale, except that the angel and demon existed only as their natural energies. Of course, without any corporeal boundaries, Aziraphale was just a little too exuberant to ever entirely keep to himself, and his pretty golden-blue angelic aura would flit about the street, winding its way around flowers and songbirds and food carts.
Crowley would focus his own deep red demonic aura on anything other than watching Aziraphale’s true form dance itself about. The demon could feel the people around them and their petty complaints and hunger and impatience. He wondered if Aziraphale sensed only the pleasant emotions of the people they passed. And then they were up higher, moving faster, as the track got stronger. A moment more and—
“Oh, of course it’s a church,” Crowley grumbled, taking in the gray walls rising from the crowded street, the glare of sunlight through stained glass. Try as he might, he couldn’t sense anything greatly amiss with the church itself, but whatever was causing all the fuss seemed to exist within the darkened space inside.
Back in the bookshop, they opened their eyes and Aziraphale smiled at him, that beautiful smile that Crowley only saw at those rare times when Aziraphale wasn’t trying to hide the fact that he loved Crowley deeply. As only the Angel of Compassion could do, of course, there was no more to the emotion than that. Why Aziraphale thought he needed to hide it, Crowley did not know, and he also wasn’t sure if the angel was aware he was never remotely successful at it. Aziraphale quite literally radiated love at all times, he could no more conceal that than he could the fact that his eyes were blue and his fashion sense unfailingly anachronistic. Perhaps Aziraphale worried that being overly demonstrative would make Crowley uncomfortable. Which, of course, it did, but at the same time, somehow, it didn’t.
But Crowley couldn’t tell him that, he couldn’t express to the angel what it felt like to be held by him right now, the warmth of his skin, the gentle pressure against his fingers, the peace it gave Crowley. It would embarrass the angel—well, it would embarrass them both. They were friends. There wasn’t anything else they could be. They might have retired from their jobs (with different levels of success), but the rest had somehow remained the same. Between them, at least, it appeared that there was still a great deal of pretending to do.
The angel withdrew his hands, his gaze wandering over the shop again, restlessly. “It’s like the book is the answer, but I don’t know the question.”
Crowley stood up and miracled his coffee hot again so that it could warm the fingers that were rapidly growing colder without Aziraphale’s touch. “Well, then, angel, I guess we’re off to church.”
It was a Catholic church, and looked it—statues of saints, stained glass depictions of silver plates and chalices and more saints, dark wooden pews and kneelers, dim lanterns suspended from the ceiling. Incense floated thickly in the air.
Aziraphale felt quite comfortable in churches, of course. There was usually a sense of openness there, like the building was somehow larger than it really was. Oftentimes churches felt peaceful. Sometimes they didn’t, and Aziraphale would always try to miracle them into doing so, driving away whatever unpleasantness seemed to have come up between Earth and Heaven. As much as he could, anyway.
There was no peace in this church. Rather than open, this place felt close and claustrophobic, although the sanctuary was deserted except for them. But Aziraphale could hardly miracle away the unease if he wanted to find its source. The angel squinted in the dim light, trying to follow something he could not see. He was so intent on his quest that he’d completely forgotten that no church could ever be peaceful for Crowley.
Aziraphale heard the demon come up behind him, shuffling his feet oddly. “Ow, fuck . Consecrated ground.”
Aziraphale felt a stab of sudden sympathy, irritated with himself for forgetting. “Oh, yes, sorry.” He snapped his fingers.
Behind him, Crowley’s feet stopped their uncoordinated tap dance as Aziraphale started checking pews for suspicious books.
Crowley’s voice interrupted him. “What did you just do?”
“Oh, I turned off the effects on you,” Aziraphale answered absently.
“Turned off the—you can’t do that, this is consecrated ground, even an angel can’t turn off consecrated ground.”
“Crowley, I should think I would be well aware of what I can and cannot do.” Aziraphale picked up a hymnal and tried to feel its essence. This particular book was full of modern hymns with almost no Latin other than one verse of Adeste fideles . Of course, Aziraphale had to admit, it wouldn’t really do nowadays to try to call the fideles —the faithful—to O come into church in a language they didn’t understand. So lamentable, maybe, but not exactly evil, and certainly not the book’s fault.
“I am the Angel of Compassion,” he reminded the demon, turning to give him a look. “I can turn off anyone’s pain.” The word mostly was a whispered aside to the unfortunate hymnal.
Crowley’s eyebrows were raised above his sunglasses. His fire-red hair looked very dark in the shadowy space, but light from the stained glass windows was illuminating his face with shades of blue and green and purple. Even here, in a place antithetical to his nature, Crowley was achingly beautiful. Aziraphale stopped looking at him.
“Well if you can do that,” the demon asked, “why didn’t you turn it off in that church with the Nazis? 1941, why didn’t you turn it off then?”
1941...the rescued books… Aziraphale pushed back against that powerfully bittersweet memory as he started searching another pew. “Well, back then, you know, if Heaven had seen, well... So I just hid that little miracle inside the big one, the one that saved us being discorporated. I mean, you don’t think blowing up a church building un-consecrates ground, do you?”
“Well of course it—doesn’t?” Crowley sounded bewildered, and Aziraphale had to focus on not letting the demon realize Aziraphale was laughing into a prayer book.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Crowley demanded.
“I assumed you knew.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
Aziraphale gave up on the pews with an irritated sigh. None of these books felt quite right—well, quite wrong . “It’s not the first time I’ve healed you, Crowley. And you know angels aren’t supposed to be able to do that.”
Crowley’s voice rose into a higher register. “Aren’t supposed—why not?”
“The divine essence can kill demons, it’s not meant for healing them, only fighting them.”
“But you can—”
“Angel. Of. Compassion. It wouldn’t be much good to have a healing power that harms other creatures, now would it?” Aziraphale gave him a warm smile, letting a little of his true feelings for Crowley—friendship, admiration, love—stretch out across the church and envelop the demon in a bit of a protected space, especially seeing as he was behind enemy lines at the moment. If Crowley felt it, he didn’t react, other than maybe shuffling his feet again a little bit. Aziraphale became aware of some flowers in a vase by the altar growing new blooms, and he toned down his enthusiasm a little.
Aziraphale started wandering the church, trying to pick up on the trace of the whatever-it-was. It seemed to be everywhere and nowhere. In the church, but somehow not in a particular place in the church.
As the angel ran his hand along the edge of a pew, he suddenly felt a sharp pain. The angel made a quick little hissing sound—probably very Crowley-esque—and looked down at his hand curiously. Blood was starting to seep out of a little cut on his palm.
Crowley came up behind him. “You all right, angel? Did you cut yourself?”
“Yes. Not sure how, though.” Aziraphale bent his head over the pew, but he could see nothing sharp.
Crowley’s voice was soft and dark. “Guess I’m not supposed to be able to heal you, either. Done it before, though, haven’t I?”
Aziraphale glanced up at him and smiled. “Yes, you have.” Aziraphale didn’t need Crowley to heal him, of course, but it was a lovely feeling to have his friend make a bit of a fuss over him. Also, if the angel was being completely honest, which was an extremely, terribly bad idea in this case, the feeling of a little demonic healing burned with a searing pleasure that that no spicy food could ever reach.
Crowley gently slipped his hand underneath Aziraphale’s injured hand. But Aziraphale immediately made them both jump by saying, “No!” in a very loud voice. He grabbed Crowley’s wrist with his other hand and pushed it away.
Crowley went still. Aziraphale instantly realized what he’d done. “Oh, no. That’s not what I meant. It’s—the cut’s infected already. I don’t want you to get close to it.” Aziraphale’s body was protected by the healing aura of the Angel of Compassion. Aziraphale couldn’t get sick. But Crowley’s body could.
Crowley said, “Oh,” and Aziraphale was not sure if Crowley believed him. It was the truth, though. Aziraphale could feel the infection starting to climb up from the wound. Awfully fast for something like that. What had he cut his hand on? He concentrated until the infection burned away and the wound closed. Then he realized he was still holding Crowley’s wrist and let go of it. “Thank you,” he offered.
Crowley said nothing, just moving away down the aisle. Aziraphale wasn’t sure what to do. He tipped his head back to look up at the domed ceiling. There was no answer there, so he started looking for another stack of books somewhere. Maybe in the sacristy. He looked around for the little room. 1
Crowley’s voice startled him out of his searching. “Angel. Come here.” Aziraphale looked up to see the demon standing near the back of the sanctuary looking pleased with himself. “Come here,” he repeated, sounding irritated, as if Aziraphale were a misbehaving puppy. Aziraphale gave him an eye roll as he acquiesced.
“Angel, it’s not a book. Or rather, the whole thing’s the book.”
“Look at this.” A small flame of Hellfire came to life in the demon’s palm with a soft whoosh and he held it up to the stone wall in front of them.
With the better lighting, Aziraphale started to be able to make out letters carved into the wall. “It’s the church itself,” Crowley informed him, in a very self-satisfied voice.
“Oh, my…” Aziraphale started to touch the stone, feeling the words, the spaces in between them. It was difficult to make out every single letter, but Crowley was right, this was the text they had been looking for, Aziraphale could feel it. Not a book—an entire, not to mention consecrated, building. “You know,” Aziraphale remarked, “this is probably not a good sign.”
Crowley answered with a noise that made it sound like he wasn’t particularly troubled by anything at the moment, but Aziraphale didn’t believe him.
“I just can’t quite read the—” the angel started, and then Crowley touched his hand to the wall. The flame in his palm became a river of fire, spreading out along the wall and flowing into every letter, until the words burned clearly against the dark stone. The flickering light cast a red glow onto Crowley’s face, giving his pale skin a radiance and turning those black glasses into dark, expressionless hollows.
“Oh, thank you,” Aziraphale told him, a little breathlessly, forcing himself to look away from Crowley’s face for the second time in about ten minutes. “Well, let’s see,” he said, in a wavering voice. “It’s Hebrew.” Crowley, who either couldn’t read the writing or was too lazy to bother, snapped out the flame in his hand and moved off into the sanctuary. Aziraphale started translating the blazing letters. “ Four thousand years ...well, what’s today, let’s see, it’s Tuesday…” After some mental calculations, he called out, “You know, Crowley, I’m afraid that whatever’s happening is going to happen soon.”
When Crowley didn’t answer, Aziraphale turned around to see the demon standing in the front of the church, looking up at the black boards that announced the hymn numbers for the week. As Aziraphale watched, the white plastic letters and numbers lifted off the boards and started spinning slowly in the air. “What are you doing?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley gave him a delighted smile. “I’ve never gotten to mess around in a church before. Of course, I did blow up the last one I was in, so that has to count for something.”
The letters coalesced back onto the boards, spelling a new message, and it wasn’t Hebrew, and it certainly wasn’t church-appropriate. “Oh for Heaven’s sake,” Aziraphale complained.
“Nope,” Crowley replied, shaking his head. “That’s not a very good curse, angel, especially in here. You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Aziraphale turned his back quickly. “I’m not seeing this. All right, there’s the date, and then what, Horsepeople, I guess... Death ...well, he certainly is one of them. Not my favorite, I’ll admit.”
“So can you turn off the harm from holy water, too?”
Aziraphale whirled back around to see Crowley approaching the font in front of the altar. “No!” the angel cried, quite loudly. “Holy water is much too strong, and you know I can’t save the dying—”
Crowley stopped short of reaching the font and gave Aziraphale a mischievous grin, because they both knew very well that holy water was terribly dangerous, they’d even switched places to avoid Crowley coming into contact with it in Hell. Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Damn it, Crowley.”
“Now there’s a good curse!” Crowley exclaimed, raising his arms in a cheer. “For an angel, anyway. Still, got to use that one.” He went back to the announcement boards. Aziraphale tried to translate more quickly, anxious to be able to shoo the demon back off of the holy ground onto which Aziraphale had so regrettably invited him.
“ Death , yes, suffering , of course, why not?” He tried a little Crowley-style flippancy. “Not like we expected it to be a prophecy of a day at the beach, did we? And it ends—” Aziraphale looked up. There was more writing up near the ceiling, but he couldn’t make it out, even with the letters blazing. The angel took off his suit coat and laid it gently over a pew, and then allowed his wings to manifest, careful to miracle temporary holes in his shirt and vest so that the fabric wouldn’t tear. It felt good, as always, to stretch his wings out after they’d been hidden a while. The colored light from the stained-glass windows played over them, making a rainbowed mosaic of what was normally pure white 2. Aziraphale flapped his wings gently and rose up toward the ceiling.
What was written up there was easier to read, probably because people hadn’t been running their fingers over the letters for the last few centuries, but Aziraphale rather wished that it wasn’t. His translation finished, he gazed down over the sanctuary to find that Crowley was now standing in front of a stained glass depiction of the angel Gabriel. The window-Gabriel had lost his halo and sported beautifully crafted demon horns and a mustache. But Crowley had stopped his desecration and was just staring up at Aziraphale.
“What?” Aziraphale asked.
The demon’s expression quickly became one of amusement, hiding whatever had been there before. “Nothing. It’s just you, in front of the stained glass, with the wings, and the fire—well, you look very...smite-y.”
“Then I suppose you’d better start behaving in here.”
“What, with this idiot?” The stained glass window’s label Gabriel changed before Aziraphale’s eyes to Wanker.
Aziraphale couldn’t really fault him there.
Crowley smiled, just a little, one of those mild expressions that suited his sharp, stark features so well. “Just come down from there, angel. If someone walks in off the street and sees you like that, the Vatican is going to certify this place as a site of angelic visitation. And watch your wings, I don’t want the car smelling of burnt feathers.”
Aziraphale landed quickly and folded his wings back into invisibility.
“I guess technically now it is a site of angelic visitation,” Crowley mused. “Demonic too, come to think of it. Yeah, best not to let anyone know.” He snapped his fingers and the blazing letters went dark again, smoke rising hazily through the air. Crowley handed Aziraphale his suit coat. “So what did it say up there?”
“It isn’t good, I’m afraid.” Aziraphale told him, slipping the coat on.
“Never is, this sort of thing.”
“No, I suppose not.” Aziraphale started ushering the demon down the aisle toward the doors. 3
Crowley gave him a smile. “Well, we’ve faced down Lucifer himself, now, haven’t we?”
“I rather think Adam did that, actually. And anyway, this is something new.”
“I thought you said it was a Horseperson.”
“There are only four, Aziraphale, and we faced them all.”
“Actually, there are five. One retired, remember? And I’m afraid it’s that one that this writing mentions.”
Crowley took a last look at the sanctuary before they stepped back out into the brighter sunshine of the street, and Aziraphale pretended very hard that he didn’t see Gabriel’s white robe disappear entirely from the window. “Oh, wonderful,” said the demon, quite as if he hadn’t just left a stained glass archangel in a very crude state. “We get to have another plague in London.”
Crowley was driving the Bentley back to the bookshop in his usual manner, so Aziraphale had one hand on the door and one on the seat beside him as the car careened about the streets, trying hard to hold his body still, as if that might help somehow.
“Crowley, will you please watch out for the bus?”
Crowley paid the angel’s warning no attention, as usual, passing the bus with an inch or so to spare. “So why the Hell—Heav—why even is there an angel who’s allowed to heal demons?” he asked. “Can’t imagine your lot would be very happy about that, like how does that even work, how is that a thing?”
“I don’t know. It just is.”
“And did Heaven never notice, in 6000 years they’ve never said, ‘Hey, Aziraphale, we can sense in your heavenly aura that you can bring succor to the damned’?”
“Succ—” Aziraphale started that sentence over. “Well, I don’t think it’s ever occurred to them to check. It’s not exactly a situation that one expects to come up, is it? It’s never been written about anywhere I’ve seen. Crowley, this is actually a one-way—”
The Bentley spun around a corner, solving the one-way street situation, at least. But then Crowley stopped watching the road to study the angel. “Hang on a second, if it’s not written about, how did you know you could do it? How did you know it wouldn’t hurt me the first time you healed me?”
Aziraphale tried to look as if that weren’t actually an excellent question. “Well, I hoped—”
“You hoped? So you could have killed me—”
“You’re going to kill yourself if you don’t watch the road, Crowley.” Aziraphale waited until the demon had reluctantly put his attention back where it needed to be. “Because you don’t burst into flames when we touch, I assumed that healing would—”
“You can’t touch me?!”
“No, of course I can.”
“Not you!” Crowley took his hand off the wheel to gesture wildly in the air. “Angels—angels can’t touch demons?”
“Oh, no. Or else someone starts on fire. One of them does—depends on who’s stronger. And I happen to be quite a bit stronger than you. You know, I am a Principality.” He tried to give Crowley a noble look and the demon looked back at him as if Aziraphale had claimed that the angel could do something completely ridiculous, like beat the demon at croquet. And actually, he couldn’t even do that. Deflated a little, Aziraphale went on. “Anyway, you had already touched me on the hand, in the early 3500’s BC, and no bursting into flames! I did think you were rather brave to try it.”
“Well I didn’t know I was supposed to end up perishing in the flames of Heavenfire just to touch you on the hand.”
“Does Hell really not teach their demons these things?”
Crowley made one of his vague, effortlessly graceful gestures. “Well, you know, Hell’s not very...organized.”
“I guess demons don’t make a habit of touching angels. Except—well, except us.”
“Oh, yeah,” Crowely agreed absently.
Aziraphale debated saying what he wanted to—it was hard sometimes to decide how exactly to show compassion, whether it would be kinder to say a particular thing or to keep silent. And things were extra touchy with Crowley, because although the demon seemed to like feeling the warmth of Aziraphale’s angelic aura at times, it still seemed to make him quite uncomfortable.
Holding hands in the bookshop—clearly that situation had put Crowley ill at ease. Of course, for Aziraphale, it had been the wonderfully calming touch that he’d needed in his state of near-panic. He was truly grateful that Crowley hadn’t pulled away.
It was just possible that Crowley could tell—Oh, Hell, Aziraphale knew he could tell, the angel was well aware that he had no kind of poker face—Crowley had to know that Aziraphale was in love with him. But the demon didn’t love him, of that Aziraphale was sure. There might have been a chance for it once, on one snowy night—but Azriaphale had let it slip through his fingers. Or maybe there never had been a chance. Crowley probably couldn’t even imagine himself loving an angel, never mind a pudgy, soft, mild-mannered angel who talked too much and dressed in a much too old-fashioned manner, and was simply too kind and naive for the world.
Crowley was sharp and cynical and distrustful, and the thing was that he was right. He’d been right about Heaven simply wanting a war, he’d been right that God would not intervene to stop Armageddon, and though it had broken Aziraphale’s heart, he had come to try to accept the truths that Crowley had made him see two weeks earlier when the whole world had almost disappeared into an all-consuming war.
Aziraphale had always trusted Crowley. The two had shared a companionship for so long that somehow the angel had made the difficult and unexpected journey from trusting Heaven to trusting only his best friend. And no one else but Crowley could have possibly made the angel feel better after the near-ending of the world had brought Aziraphale’s status with Heaven down in flames of Hellfire.
They were friends. That had never been a temptation or a surrender, it was simply a fact.
They were just friends.
If the demon had wanted to be loved—dear God, Aziraphale could have loved him to Alpha Centauri and back with a love brighter than Heaven had ever dreamt of. But of course, Crowley didn’t want that, and Aziraphale had to work very hard to keep himself from showing too much of his love. It was hard enough for Aziraphale to control that level of feeling when he was keeping it inside himself.
So compassion was really the only thing that Aziraphale had to give. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t spectacular, but sometimes the demon would accept it, and because of that, Aziraphale simply could not stop offering it.
“Did you know, it’s why you don’t have nightmares at the bookshop?”
The demon glanced at him. “What?”
“When you stay over at the bookshop, you know, in the room upstairs. Or—or that night in your flat after the shop had burned.” You could come home with me , Crowley had said, offering the disillusioned, grieving angel some compassion of his own, and Aziraphale had grasped onto it with both hands. Spending the night simply watching over Crowley’s sleep in Crowley’s own flat had been one of the most pleasurable of the angel’s life.
“I make sure your dreams are pleasant,” the angel said.
Crowley’s voice darkened and for once, he began looking intently at the road. “You’ve been altering my dreams?”
“Well, not exactly. I don’t look at them or anything,” Aziraphale hastened to assure him. “I don’t know what you dream.” Heavens, how he wished he did. Did Crowley ever see Aziraphale’s face in dreams? In the nice ones or in the nightmares? Or in both? But the angel had never had the courage to look.
“It’s just that when you sleep I can feel if there’s negative energy coming from you and I—heal it. Make it nicer. Anyway. I just wanted you to know. That’s another thing an angel’s not supposed to be able to do for a demon, but I do it for you. Crowley, the traffic light—well, I guess it wasn’t completely red. More like pink.”
Crowley was silent for a second and then said, “Well, that’s—that’s very kind of you, Aziraphale.”
Crowley still wouldn’t look at him, but Aziraphale’s heart lifted and he gave the demon a smile that he couldn’t see. “You’re welcome.”
The Bentley whirled around a corner and Aziraphale slid against the door. There was another moment of silence, and then Crowley went back to his chattering as if Aziraphale had said nothing. The angel was not surprised.
“You know, there was going to be a war on, they still don’t tell us these things. Hey, soldiers of Hell, by the way, make sure when you’re fighting the angels, you don’t bloody touch them! How do you know who’s more powerful, before the touching? Like do you have to compare resumes?”
Aziraphale was still smiling. “I think you’re making this far more complicated than it is.”
“War’s always complicated, angel.”
“Mmm.” Aziraphale watched Crowley’s profile for a moment, letting his eyes travel over the sharp lines of his face, the soft fall of his hair. And then down, across the broad shoulders, the long fingers curled against the steering wheel.
The thing about Crowley was that his demonic power was deceptive, because although Crowley had been created a fairly minor demon, the truth was that he did not actually need any great strength of power to do anything. Crowley was the Serpent of the Garden, the tempter of Eve, and that was not a talent that worked by force. So although Aziraphale was technically much more powerful than Crowley, that didn’t really mean a damn thing when it came to the angel attempting not to metaphorically burst into flames from sitting next to the demon in a car.
You shouldn’t have touched him, Aziraphale told himself. This is exactly why you don’t touch him because then you spend the rest of the day staring at his—
“Weren’t you at Mons?” Aziraphale asked suddenly, with only a little bit of a squeak to his voice. “There were some demons who showed up there to oppose the angels. I heard there was some bursting into flames.”
“Oh, I wasn’t at Mons,” Crowley said, still focusing on his driving for once.
“Really? I could have sworn I felt you there, the night that—”
“Nope, never at Mons. Not my scene, all those angels descending. No, I’d be nowhere near there.”
“Oh. My mistake then.”
“Yeah. Look, we’re here.” The Bentley screeched to a stop at the curb outside the bookshop, and Aziraphale gingerly relaxed his hands where they were still gripping the car.
“So we are.”
Crowley gave him a smile, although it was a weary one. “All right, angel. World needs saving. Again.”
2 Yes, I am saying that he is gay as fuck. (back)
3 Yes, they walked down the aisle together, but backwards. This might possibly mean that in my particular headcanon, they are already married. (back)
Just wanted to note that other writers have used the Angels of Mons thing, so it’s not an original idea to me.
Also, author is queer and religious.
Chapter 2: All lost in a wonderland, a stranger in paradise
All lost in a wonderland,
a stranger in paradise
Crowley watched Aziraphale read from at least four books at once, sitting at his desk and then bouncing up to a nearby shelf, wearing those little glasses on his nose, tie slightly askew once more, but this time he hadn’t removed his coat or vest. Night was falling around the bookshop, and the angel’s activity was dimly reflected in some of the windows. Cocoa in that ridiculous winged cup had long since grown cold on the table beside the couch, where Crowley sat. The demon was nursing some scotch and probably outwardly showing admirable restraint in not bothering the angel during his bustling about. In reality, his brain was just too busy going over and over the conversation in the car.
I make sure your dreams are pleasant.
He slept better at the bookshop, Crowley had noticed that many years ago. It wasn’t like it wasn’t obvious that it was because of Aziraphale, but Crowley had thought it was just the comfort of sleeping with a friend nearby. Being alone in bed, of course, because Aziraphale didn’t sleep (he was created to be a guard, after all, Guard of the Eastern Gate), but still not being entirely alone.
But now Crowley knew that Aziraphale had been doing it on purpose. That it wasn’t just the calming effect of being near a trusted companion that brought him peace, it was the angel’s actual aura climbing the stairs into the bedroom that Aziraphale had miracled into existence just for Crowley, and chasing nightmares away.
They weren’t even nightmares, really. They were just memories. Falling hadn’t been just putting your hand up and choosing sides. Falling had been falling , helplessness, vertigo, regret, terror, pain. Six thousand years had dimmed it, but sometimes in the middle of the night, with logical thinking dulled by sleep, the emotions could come back without anything to keep them in check.
Aziraphale had meant well in telling him, Crowley knew, but the angel didn’t seem to understand that it would awake in Crowley not a sense of gratitude so much as an embarrassment at having been somehow seen during what he’d thought were private moments of pain. It was strangely, somewhat uncomfortably, intimate. And fuck , it ignited that hunger in Crowley that the demon spent so much effort pushing down.
Because if it felt that good, that soothing to have the angel’s aura surrounding him as he slept, what would it be like to have the angel himself in bed with him, holding Crowley physically in his arms? Crowley had dreamed it. Holy Hell, had the demon had some extremely pleasant dreams about the angel, and his rounded body, and his soft hair, and his mouth. ( Please, Somebody let Aziraphale have been telling the truth about never looking too closely at Crowley’s dreams . )
Of course, the dreams didn’t matter. The real problem was that Crowley knew exactly how it felt to have Aziraphale’s shoulder beneath his cheek, he knew what it was like to feel Aziraphale’s arms around him, and to slide his legs against the angel’s body.
He knew what it felt like to tilt the angel’s head where he wanted and begin to absolutely devour his mouth—
No. That memory was too precious to look at, it was too fragile, and too painful. That snowy night in Frankfurt Aziraphale had been showing him compassion, that was all, just like the dream-fixing in the bookshop. Crowley was the one who felt something more than that, he was the one who had caused them both such terrible pain by failing on that one single night in six thousand years not to reach for what he craved more than anything.
Crowley was a demon, and lust was certainly one of his many sins, but this constant ravenous desire he felt for his best friend honestly seemed more like a punishment than a sin, something Crowley wasn’t really choosing to do, more like something he had to withstand. He had to look into Aziraphale’s blue eyes and not want to see them dilated in the darkness, bright with tears of pleasure. He had to smell the angel’s scent—all the colognes in the world couldn’t mask that, Aziraphale had the most intoxicating angelic scent, like gardenias and marzipan and clean air. Crowley had to breathe in that fragrance and never lean closer to where it would be stronger, the curve of Aziraphale’s neck, the pulse point in his wrist.
Crowley had to watch Aziraphale move, the steady grace of his walk, the way he folded his hands together just so, like he was tidying them up, a place for everything and everything in its place. How in God’s name was Crowley supposed to watch that and not want his own hand caught up with the angel’s? That stupid cream-colored suit coat traced a line around the angel’s softly curving body that was more beautiful than any painted angel’s robe—tight around the shoulders, looser in the front where Aziraphale’s vest buttons gaped a little, falling in a clean line down his back, swinging against the back of his thighs. How was Crowley supposed to look at that without wanting Aziraphale to take the jacket off , along with everything else he was wearing, for the rest of eternity?
There was one gift that Crowley could give Aziraphale that hadn’t been written or baked or composed by someone else, one thing that could only come from Crowley himself. There was one pleasure that Crowley and Aziraphale could share, one thing that Crowley wouldn’t have to sit back and watch Aziraphale enjoy alone. Was it any wonder that so much of Crowley’s thoughts and dreams centered around making love to his best friend?
Crowley was the tempter of the Garden. If there lurked any kind of desire for him in Aziraphale’s heart—if maybe, just maybe there was something beyond the compassion, if Aziraphale wanted to try out the pleasure of being touched, if he was lonely, or even just curious about something he had clearly never tried—Crowley knew he would be able to build on that, to wear down the angel’s defenses, get past his fears, and tumble the Guard of the Eastern Gate into bed with a demon.
And that was exactly why he never had. Almost everything had always been harmless flirtation between them, half of which he was sure the angel was too obtuse to even notice. But if Crowley ever actually tried to seduce the sweet little angel out of those clothes and into his arms— it might work.
But afterwards—what then? Crowley knew the pain of Falling. How could he trade the love and friendship Aziraphale had given him for the shame and terror of a Fall?
Both of them would have been in danger with their head offices if they’d found out that Crowley had been doing blessings and Aziraphale temptations, or that they’d rescued each other from trouble. The Arrangement had always been risky, and Crowley often regretted tempting Aziraphale into it. He was, in the back of his mind, also still confused that Aziraphale had ever agreed to do temptations. But Crowley had been weak, unable to question that fact, unable to resist having an excuse to meet with the angel, finding any possible ostensibly business-related reason to spend time in Aziraphale’s company.
But even the Arrangement wasn’t nearly as dangerous for the angel as Crowley’s feelings for him. If Crowley had tempted Aziraphale into bed, he would have gotten a commendation. It was hard to imagine that Heaven would ignore the event and not have their own response. Even now when they didn’t owe allegiance to Heaven or Hell anymore, Aziraphale still answered to an even higher authority. The risk was too great. Even if—even if Crowley’s hopes might be answered and he found that Aziraphale loved him the way Crowley loved the angel—even then, they were, as Aziraphale would always point out, hereditary enemies. Nothing would ever change that, nothing would ever mitigate the sin of a demon tempting an angel to forsake his nature for him, and an angel giving in.
Crowley couldn’t get the sight of Aziraphale in that church out of his mind. His beautiful, sweet, fair-haired angel suspended in front of the stained glass on outstretched white wings, as glorious as Crowley had ever seen him. An example of what beauty God could make if She really wanted to. And behind him, casting red flickering shadows onto the unsullied white of those feathers, the fire that Crowley had set bleeding into the walls of the church.
No matter what Crowley had done before, whether or not he thought he deserved to Fall—if he turned those glorious white wings to demonic black, and Aziraphale’s angelic glow to Hellfire-red, if he took from Aziraphale his reason for being, his love of being an angel—for that Crowley would deserve to Fall farther, harder than anyone else. No one could forgive that.
He’d never forgive himself.
Crowley drained his scotch and focused on watching his friend, as angelic as ever, flit about through the cluttered shop. Aziraphale was here, he was safe, and after all they’d been through, there was no way in Hell Crowley was going to be the one to put the angel he loved into danger. Whether or not Aziraphale insisted on messing with Crowley’s dreams or holding his hands or doing any other ridiculous things in the name of compassion.
“Do you think he felt left out, Pestilence?” Crowley wondered aloud, willing the shakes out of his voice. “Retired before the Abotchalypse and missed all the fun? Like is this something new, then?”
The angel, per usual, contradicted him. “It can’t be new, Crowley, it’s been written on the wall of a church for the last few hundred years.”
“Well, a few hundred years isn’t that long, really.” Crowley looked idly around the shop. “I wonder who even put it on there, I mean was it like a miracle, or did somebody actually take a chisel—”
Aziraphale looked up at him with a suddenly sober expression. “It isn’t new, Crowley, here it is in this book as well.”
Crowley sat up and put out a hand. “Let’s have a look.”
Aziraphale handed him the darkly bound tome and perched beside him on the couch once more.
“So why didn’t you know about this, then, if it’s here in this book that you own?”
The question seemed to embarrass the angel just a little, which was what Crowley had intended, and Crowley hid a smile.
“You can hardly expect all prophecies to be accurate,” Aziraphale informed him primly. “So it makes little sense to memorize them all.”
Crowley flipped over a page and made a sour face. “This is in Latin, angel.”
“Then why did you give it to me? You know I don’t read Latin anymore.”
Aziraphale blinked. “Because you asked me for it.”
Crowley rolled his eyes and handed the book back. “Just tell me what it says.”
Aziraphale took the book and adjusted those ridiculous little reading glasses. “So, three plagues. Oh, no, it’s three and then a fourth one.”
“Oh, well, four, that’s not so bad. I mean Egypt had ten, didn’t it?” Crowley refilled his scotch and touched a finger to Aziraphale’s cocoa cup, bringing it back to warmth in case the angel thought to reach for it.
“Mmm.” Aziraphale was still scanning the text. Crowley could feel the angel’s usual soothing warmth coming off of him, crossing the small space between them, making Crowley long to move just enough to come into physical contact with the angel, legs touching ever so slightly. Of course, that was a road that sauntered vaguely downwards and Crowley knew better than to walk it. “Let’s see...yes, three plagues of Egypt,” the angel informed him. “It doesn’t say which three, though.”
“Oh, bollocks, what were they?” Crowley asked with a groan. He leaned back, trying to think. “Uh...I know this…darkness...”
Aziraphale started counting on his fingers. “Darkness, locusts, frogs—”
“Boils—that was disgusting. So was the river of blood, stank like anything.”
Aziraphale gave a shiver beside him. “Yes, it did. That’s five. Hail and fire—”
“Is that one or two?”
“That’s one, they came together.”
“Right, that was a Hell of a—well, a Heaven of a storm. And then flies. Oh, oh, and pestilence of livestock.”
“That one was awful, all those poor animals.”
His adorable soft angel. “Yeah, it was. What are we missing? That’s eight.”
“Well, death of the firstborn, obviously.”
“Yeah, that was the big one. But what—locusts? Flies? Lice? How many bug plagues were there, anyway? I didn’t realize your lot was so fascinated with bugs. Thought that was more our thing.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I think we’ve got all ten in there somewhere.”
“Okay, but it doesn’t say which ones we’ve got coming now? Which three? Or four?”
“Well—let me see.” Aziraphale traced a finger through the book again. “Okay, the first two are plagues from the Bible.”
“Two of the plagues of Egypt.”
“Right. And then one extra-biblical plague.” The angel looked up at Crowley. “That means it didn’t make it into the Bib—”
“I know what it means, Aziraphale, I didn’t think it meant some reserve plague they had lying about in case demand was too high for the other ones.”
Aziraphale smiled. “Yes. Sorry.”
“What’s the fourth one then?”
Back to the book. “Um—oh. Well, it’s rather more serious.”
“More serious than death of the firstborn?”
Crowley could feel the angel’s mood plummet even further, bringing a coldness to the air between them. “Well...it’s the death of quite a lot of people. Three out of every four people, actually.”
Crowley raised his eyebrows. “A seventy-five percent mortality rate? Oh, that’s harsh. Worse than the black death, that was only, what—60 percent?” Aziraphale had such saddened eyes that Crowley rushed ahead. “Well, it’s the modern age of medicine, angel, I mean, Pestilence retired because it’s the modern age of—”
The angel flipped a page in the book, and then suddenly said, “Wait.” A beautiful smile spread across his face.
Crowley watched it like it was a sunrise after a stormy night. “Good news?”
“Well, it says here that Pestilence was only expected to take a hiatus, a break, not a real retirement, and then come back with a final four plagues.”
Aziraphale looked slightly irritated with him not having immediately understood. “No, I mean a final four plagues. At the end. At the end of the world. A few weeks after the war between Heaven and Hell had started, he was supposed to have come back and done his thing.”
“Oh, I see! But Armageddon didn’t happen—”
“Didn’t happen,” Aziraphale agreed, nodding his head.
“So are we all right?”
“Well—we must be.”
“Except—” The angel drooped a little again.
“Except at five this morning you got an ethereal overdue-book notice, didn’t you?” Crowley said softly. “Probably wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t real." He made a growling noise. “Wanker probably did feel left out of the Almostpocalypse and wants to do his thing anyway.”
Aziraphale was looking down at the book. “Well it could be that the, er, overdue book notice was set up years ago, you know, and nobody—”
“Turned off the alarm? Could be.”
“Crowley, we need to know.”
Crowley felt suddenly wary. Whatever the angel was thinking, it was something he didn’t think Crowley would want to hear, so Aziraphale looked away, and Crowley could literally see him trying to put on a brave and convincing face. Crowley got tired of watching it, as amusing as it was, and spared him the effort. “Yeah, no, Aziraphale. We’re not contacting Heaven.”
“Well, you don’t have to contact Heaven. I would do that.”
“No. It’s too dangerous. They tried to kill you.”
“Yes, that’s not the sort of thing one forgets. But it didn’t work. I don’t think they’ll try it again.”
“Angel—” Crowley took the book away, out of Aziraphale’s hands, as if the book itself was the bad decision the angel was making. “How can we expect them to leave us alone if we don’t leave them alone?”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said softly. He wasn’t putting on the pleading face now. He wasn’t asking. The Guard of the Eastern Gate, with those harshly vibrant blue eyes, was visible for a moment. “I need answers.”
Crowley had to look away, even though he had his sunglasses on, to make sure that Aziraphale couldn’t see the emotion on his face. “Fine,” he said curtly. “But I’m coming with you.”
The following morning, Aziraphale’s shoes clicked on the polished floor of Heaven’s receiving room. The angel had never quite realized how much he hated that. Clack. Clack . How was a person to find any serenity in this room with that awful noise going on? And the lighting was so glaring that it almost hurt his eyes.
Gabriel had strode into the meeting room— clack clack —with his expression furious, purple eyes glaring, and Aziraphale just tried very hard not to see the archangel represented in a stained glass window with horns and a mustache and so very little else. He didn’t dare look at Crowley for fear he was thinking the same thing.
Sandalphon, a short, stout, and disagreeable little teapot, followed in Gabriel’s wake and they stood there, the four of them, three angels and a demon, pretty much just glowering at each other.
“Well?” Gabriel snapped.
Aziraphale gave him as pleasant a smile as he could. He wasn’t sure how pleasant it looked.
“We are here about a matter of a prophecy,” Aziraphale started. “As part of the final war—”
“The war you averted!” Gabriel exclaimed.
Aziraphale folded his hands together in a show of patience. “Yes, that war. As it turns out, Pestilence was planning to—”
“He retired,” Sandalphon interrupted, with a smug look on his face.
Aziraphale refolded his hands. “Yes, I’m aware. But I was wondering if you might confirm whether the prophecy may still be active. You see, I got a warning—”
Gabriel had opened his mouth to interrupt again, but stopped abruptly when Crowley quietly removed his sunglasses and blinked his serpentine eyes in the heavenly light. Gabriel and Sandalphon, to their credit, looked just south of horrified. Of course, to them, Crowley was the one demon in all of Hell who could withstand holy water. But it made Aziraphale angry, suddenly, that they could look upon those golden eyes and not see their loveliness. That they would see in Crowley’s demonic appearance something to fear, that they could not understand that it was the beauty of the soul inside him that made Crowley’s corporeal form so breathtaking. A soul that had rebelled against God but also against Hell, performing miracles and temptations alike as it suited him, a soul so strong that no one could direct it except its owner. Crowley had always been so unbelievably brave.
Seeing that he had the angels’ attention, Crowley said quietly, “You will let him finish. Clear?”
Gabriel nodded quickly.
Crowley gave Aziraphale a hint of a smile. “Go ahead, angel.”
“Yes. Um, thank you." Aziraphale knew that he was smiling back at Crowley. It was always so blessedly difficult for Aziraphale not to smile when he wanted to. “Look, Gabriel, we don’t want to be here any more than you want us to be. So if you could please just tell me anything you know about the four plagues. Two we know are from Egypt, and the third is extra-biblical, and then the fourth—”
Gabriel’s face turned confused and he looked at Aziraphale as if he was some sort of interesting yet disgusting bug that he was going to make fun of and then squash. “What is that supposed to mean? Extra-biblical? You’re not even making sense. There’s no extra Bible, you idiot!”
Sandalphon leaned in close and whispered knowingly, “Perhaps it means it’s an extremely biblical plague.”
Aziraphale could hear Crowley try—not very hard—to hide his laughter.
Gabriel’s expression turned wrathful again. “Aziraphale, what in Heaven makes you think we would tell you anything?”
“We needn’t be on opposite sides of this, Gabriel. This isn’t about us, it’s about humanity. Surely you—well, surely you could just…” He trailed off, aware suddenly, reminded once again, of how stark the receiving room was, how vast and how empty.
Crowley huffed in annoyance. “Look, you stupid git, let’s just make it a yes-or-no answer. Either you’re expecting the—”
“Flood,” Aziraphale supplied hastily, and to his credit, Crowley barely missed a beat.
“Flood,” he repeated, “the—the river—” He flashed golden eyes to Aziraphale.
“Yes, the great, massive flood of fire”—Crowley was getting into it now, waving his arms about—“all through central London, huge burning river of fire, or you’re not. So which is it?”
Gabriel’s face darkened so severely that his skin nearly matched his purple eyes. He pointed his finger at Crowley and stepped menacingly toward him. “ You don’t get to ask—” He got one only step closer before a sudden burst of harsh, heavy, heavenly light blazed up between Gabriel and the demon. Gabriel stumbled back, although he unfortunately kept his balance.
“Do watch your step,” Aziraphale advised him politely.
The light subsided as quickly as it had come and Crowley gave Aziraphale an appreciative, somewhat surprised glance. Looking at his familiar, beautiful face, Aziraphale realized for the first time how absolutely freezing cold the receiving room was.
Gabriel’s face was still contorted with rage. “Aziraphale, I’m not telling you one thing about the river of fire! Not when it’s coming, not where! If you think—”
Crowley slid his sunglasses back on. “Yeah, they don’t know anything. Waste of time.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Indeed. Sorry to drag you up here, my dear.”
“Ah, no, always wanted to know what the place looked like.” Aziraphale couldn’t see Crowley’s eyes behind the glasses, but he felt the wink the demon gave him anyway. They turned and started walking back to the staircase.
Aziraphale folded his hands together in front of him. “Well, where does that leave us?”
“Square one, I’m afraid.”
Behind them, Gabriel continued to sputter. “Aziraphale, you were always a shit angel and now you’re half demon and it’s improved you, you stupid effing sod, no wonder humanity left the Garden with you guarding it, they just wanted to get away from you! Because you smell like—”
Aziraphale looked up at Crowley with a sigh. “If you’re not going to, then I believe I will.”
Crowley got a most delightedly demonic smile on his face. “Oh, no, angel, please. Be my guest!”
Aziraphale took hold of Crowley’s jacket lapel and tugged him around the corner before taking great pleasure in snapping his fingers.
There was a pause. There was a scream. Sounded like Gabriel. And then Sandalphon: “What, you’ve got purple underwear? Is that cause it matches your eyes?”
Aziraphale and Crowley dissolved in laughter like a couple of human teenagers, racing down the hall together and thundering down the main staircase. Everyone stared at them as they passed and Aziraphale felt as if he’d just learned to fly, his heart soaring.
“You left his briefs on?” Crowley complained as they staggered to a stop in the antechamber.
“Well, I am an angel, you know,” Aziraphale pointed out, straightening his waist coat a little. “I can’t really be responsible for the traumatization of all Heaven!” He just managed to get the words out before being seized by another fit of giggles.
Crowley gasped in laughter and caught Aziraphale by the sleeve, guiding him down to the doors. “Come on, angel, let’s go home.”
Aziraphale looked back at the great expanse of the antechamber, where the other angels were either staring at them or peering up the stairs from where they’d come. “Crowley,” he said quietly, “I feel like a stranger here.”
Crowley took a graceful step closer and in a smooth movement, slid his arm around Aziraphale’s shoulder. And Aziraphale should have pulled away from this unexpected and nearly unprecedented touch, but instead he did what he felt like he should do and simply leaned into it. Crowley let his hand drift down Aziraphale’s arm and pulled him close as they walked through the doors.
They went to the park, and Crowley sat on a bench in the late morning sunshine, listening to the birds in the trees and the ducks in the pond, watching Aziraphale sitting next to him folding and refolding his hands.
“There have been plagues before,” Crowley pointed out.
“Not like this.” Aziraphale wasn’t looking at him, his eyes turned up to the sky. They were exactly the same shade today, the sky and his eyes, a bright celestial blue.
“No, exactly like this, angel. The numbers don’t matter, it’s always the same. I remember—” He broke off, not wanting to remind Aziraphale of the horrors they’d seen, as if Aziraphale needed any reminding. “There will always be plagues, and there’s nothing that you can do about it except to ease the pain of those you can. I’m sorry.”
Aziraphale didn’t answer for a moment, looking out over the pond, and when he did Crowley recognized a strength in his expression that made the demon’s stomach uneasy. “Crowley, I need to believe that I was put here to do something good. Something remarkably good, not just little miracles. Something that makes a difference for humanity.”
“Angel, you have done remarkable good. You’ve averted famines by making it rain. Talked down the wind before it carried away buildings. You’ve even had a demon doing little miracles for you since the eleventh century.” He saw Aziraphale smile at that. “You’ve been taking away people’s pain for six thousand years. But you’re not talking about crops and weather here, you’re talking about going up against two, count them, two Horsepeople, one of whom is Death. ”
“The children faced four Horsepeople without a problem.”
“You don’t have the Antichrist backing you up!” exclaimed Crowley and some park goers looked at them, not that Crowley cared. “Aziraphale, we’ve only just survived the end of the world. Why are you so anxious for another fight?”
“Crowley, I may not be Heaven’s agent anymore, but I’m still here .” Crowley could see that beautiful but terrifying expression on the angel’s face, that determination, that blasted compassion. “Perhaps stopping the earlier plagues will keep the fourth one at bay. I’ll just find a way to miracle them all away, and then I will seek out Pestilence—”
Crowley sank back against the bench. “Oh, don’t worry about that, angel, if you try to screw up his plans, he will find you. He will find you .”
They sat in silence for a few moments, watching the world go by around them. A woman strolled by holding the hand of a small boy who was chattering away about pizza.
“Reminds me of Warlock,” Aziraphale observed softly.
“God set the Angel of Compassion as Guard of the Gate of Eden for a reason. I have to believe that.”
“It’s possible,” Crowley allowed. Nobody else would have given away that flaming sword. No other angel would have comforted the tempter of Eve during the first cold rain of the world. Aziraphale had brought him warmth that day and Crowley could feel that same heat coming from the angel right now, beside him once again, still so lovely, his white hair softly curling in the sun, his shoulders broad like they could hold up the universe.
“I feel compassion for them. It’s my nature. It’s my purpose.”
Crowley watched a duck turn upside down to eat, and then bob back up again, and then down once more. “Death can kill an angel, Aziraphale.” He was surprised he even got the words out, they were so heavy. “He can just—stretch out his hand and poof . You no longer exist.”
Aziraphale frowned as if Crowley were being ridiculous. “Death and I have faced off many times, and it hasn’t come to that.”
“Oh, right, it’s just business between you two, isn’t it?” Crowley looked down at his hands. “I thought he had, you know. Poof. In the burning bookshop. I couldn’t feel you anywhere.” It was so hard to keep his voice steady that Crowley couldn’t be quite as careful about what he was actually saying. “I’ve always been able to feel you, that’s how I know you’ve gotten into trouble again, gotten locked up in the Bastille or on the wrong side of police lines at Stonewall. That moment in the bookshop when I couldn’t find you was the worst of my life.” Worse than Falling. He broke off, staring at the pond.
Aziraphale’s voice was as soft and soothing as he’d ever heard it. “I’m so sorry. I was just idiot enough to get myself discorporated—”
Crowley turned to him with a blast of anger. “I don’t need your compassion, Aziraphale! I need you to listen to me. You’re not the Guardian Angel of the Earth!” He knew the words were wrong as soon as they came out. “Oh, no. Don’t you take that and run with it. No.”
Aziraphale blinked those clear blue eyes slowly and Crowley knew it was too late. “What if I am?” the angel asked.
Crowley could sit still no longer and leaped off the bench, putting space between them. “Well, what does that make me then?”
Aziraphale’s expression grew confused and sad, as if Crowley had somehow hurt his feelings. “I thought we were a team.”
“A team?” Crowley threw out his arms. “I can’t be the Guardian Angel of anything! For Hell’s sake, I’m not an angel !”
“But—but we’re on our own side. We don’t have to care about—”
Crowley seized onto that thought feverishly and he let more unwise words come out, anything that might have the smallest chance of working. “Yes! Yes, we are on our own side, you and me, and if something happens to you, then it’s just me, and what am I supposed to do by myself here? I don’t have Heaven, I don’t have Hell, I don’t have a purpose anymore, I don’t have a life plan, I only have you. Do you understand? You are everything, Aziraphale. Yes, humanity needs you, but you’ve given them so much, you’ve given them everything you have already. They’ll get along, they’ve been getting along for six thousand years. But I simply can’t live without—”
There was a wet plop sound and something green landed at Crowley’s feet. He looked down and saw a frog sitting on the grass beside his shoe. It gazed up at him and closed one eye in a wink.
“I don’t suppose,” Crowley said quietly, “angel, I don’t suppose that you’ve actually got a plan that can stop a plague of frogs.”
He looked up and met Aziraphale’s eyes, and the angel’s expression was such a tangle of emotions that Crowley couldn’t sort them out. “Well,” Aziraphale began, but the sentence clearly had nowhere to go.
A frog landed in Aziraphale’s lap.
Crowley ran a hand through his hair, trying to get control of himself, heartbeat, breathing, hands, voice. “Winging it again, then, are we?” he asked.
Aziraphale gently picked up the frog from his lap and it perched on his finger. “You know, when you think about it—” He met Crowley’s gaze. “What else have we ever done, you and me?”
Somewhere in the park, a human started screaming.
Plop plop plop plop.
Marzipan in case you don’t know what marzipan is, because I didn’t, but the word sounded cool, so I used it
Chapter 3: If I stand starry-eyed, that's a danger in paradise, for mortals who stand beside an angel like you
In homage to the Episode 3 cold-open, I give you a trek through 5 historical periods with our boys.
We've been hinting around about something steamy having happened on a snowy night in Frankfurt, and now we get to see what it was!
Current plot will resume in Chapter 4. This chapter is super long but I love it and I hope you do too!
Edit: @Vyrdandi (Tumblr: Mooninparadise) did some beautiful artwork for the Salem scene so look for the link! <3 It's so amazing!
If I stand starry-eyed, that's a danger in paradise
for mortals who stand beside an angel like you
The night that Aziraphale fell in love was, in fact, a beautiful night. He’d been in Athens for only a day but already he was enjoying settling back into its rhythms, rediscovering its pleasures. The air smelled of oranges and sage. A breeze ruffled through palm and olive trees and brought a soft warmth into the passageway of the inn where Aziraphale was walking. His mouth still held the sweet taste of the piece of honeyed cake he’d just finished, and indistinct noises of the night were the only sounds that accompanied his quiet walk.
Or it was quiet, until someone else stepped out of a room into the passageway directly in front of Aziraphale, closing the door softly, clearly taking pains not to disturb whoever was still inside. He turned—but even before he turned, Aziraphale recognized him. No one else had hair of that shade, a red that smoldered with otherworldly fire. No one else moved with that same snake-like, mesmerizing grace. Aziraphale looked down the passage and saw the demon Crawley, stepping out of a bedroom in an inn late at night, and the angel’s first thought was not Oh no, what’s he been up to now? and it was not Darn it, now my time in Athens is going to have to be spent fixing whatever mischief he’s been doing.
It was Whose bedroom is that?
Crawley looked down the passage and as his gaze fell on Aziraphale a brightness crossed his face, just for a second, before it was chased away by a brief confusion, and then, finally, a much more appropriate look of guilt or shame. “Angel,” he said quietly.
“What are you doing here?”
Aziraphale wasn’t sure what here he meant—Athens? This inn? This hallway? He picked hallway. “I was just meeting a friend for a snack.” It was very easy to feel a sense of righteousness, because the angel had not just been caught coming out of someone else’s bedroom, and, obviously, never would be.
Crawley studied him for a second, raising his eyebrows above those strange dark glasses he had taken to wearing in order to hide his serpentine eyes. His black cloak wrapped around him somehow both carelessly and elegantly, and his scarlet hair fell in curls over his ears. “Oh,” he said, in quite an odd voice. “A snack .”
Aziraphale had, in fact, been involved in a very upright activity indeed, and he hastened to inform the demon of it. “We were discussing theology.”
The demon crossed his arms and leaned against the wall of the passageway, blending darkly into the shadows except for the fiery shade of his hair. “ Theology . Is that right?”
Aziraphale was confused as to what the demon might disbelieve about that. “Yes.”
For just a moment, Crawley still wore a suspicious expression, but then it melted off of his face and the ghost of a smile appeared. “I suppose you were,” he said quietly.
Aziraphale then came to the topic he wanted to discuss most. Except that as he asked the question, he realized that maybe he didn’t actually want to know the answer. “And what were you doing?”
“Oh, uh—” He gave a disarming smile. “Just a little demonic errand.”
Aziraphale was cut off as the person in the bedroom from which Crawley had just come screamed, quite loudly.
Aziraphale gasped and rushed toward the door. “What did you do?” he demanded.
He didn’t get the door open, however, because Crawley grasped his wrist, and at the touch, Aziraphale froze. It wasn’t the first time they’d touched, and it didn’t happen often, but every time it did, Aziraphale found himself feeling something indescribable, unknowable, something that seemed to be more than the sum of its parts. The demon’s skin was cool to the touch, due to his serpentine nature, no doubt. But his fingers were soft, not scaley, his grip was gentle, and it was all somehow very graceful, the way he’d taken and was holding Aziraphale’s hand so that the pulse point in Aziraphale’s wrist jumped against the demon’s fingers.
All of that was there, those were the parts. But then there was something bigger, something that made Aziraphale’s head a little hazy and his own skin flush with heat. Maybe it was because even the Angel of Compassion couldn’t quite touch demons without having some sort of reaction, but Aziraphale honestly doubted that. This was something else. Something that scared him, which was odd, because Aziraphale had never been the slightest bit afraid of this demon.
Crawley spoke softly. “Angel, please don’t wake him up. I worked very hard on that.”
Aziraphale looked at him in surprise. The demon’s face was quite close to his own, pale in the dim light. The breeze from the passageway’s window ruffled his crimson curls just a touch, and even they seemed to move with the demon’s customary grace.
“You gave him a nightmare?” the angel asked.
Crawley let go of him then, and Aziraphale reclaimed his hand, realizing that he should have demanded it back earlier.
Crawley had one of those looks on his face that said Yes, I’ve been caught doing something rather mischievous, and I’m busy thinking of how to explain it away. “Look,” he said with a bit of a smile, “Let’s get a snack and I’ll tell you all about it.”
For some reason, the first objection that came to Aziraphale’s mouth was, “I’ve just had a snack.”
Crawley seemed a little thrown by that admittedly odd response, especially coming from an angel who loved earthly food, but he made an adjustment. “Well, a glass of wine then. I could use some wine.”
“I suppose so, after all that demonic work!” Aziraphale shot back.
Crawley rolled his eyes at that, Aziraphale could tell by how his eyebrows moved above the glasses. “Come on, angel.”
Aziraphale followed him down the passageway, back to the restaurant he’d just left, and he didn’t quite realize that he’d simply obeyed the demon’s command until they were sitting together at a table and Crawley was ordering wine. Aziraphale made up for this lack of protest on his part by demanding “Well?” as soon as the waiter had moved off.
Of course, by this point, the demon had had enough time to think of a good explanation. Aziraphale waited for it expectantly.
The demon started with another disarming smile, and then said, “Well, look, the thing is, it’s not like there’s a whole lot to do around here.” Crawley waved his hand to indicate the inn, or possibly the whole city of Athens. “You know, everybody’s into politics and grand ideas and improving the body and nobody really has any fun.”
“Maybe,” Aziraphale suggested, “if your idea of fun was something better than giving people nightmares—”
The waiter brought wine and Crawley took a large drink of his. “They posted me up here six months ago, with nothing but some vague orders about sowing discord, and the only fun I’ve had the whole time is listening to that chap Homer recite the Iliad .”
Aziraphale put down his wine, untasted. “You enjoyed the Iliad ?”
Crawley looked insulted. “Of course I did! It’s got a big war, hasn’t it? A plague, kidnapping, betrayal, ghosts…”
“And some rather less gloomy qualities. Omens, prophecies, heroics, romance…”
Crawley had an absolutely beautiful look on his face. “You liked it too?”
Aziraphale smiled at him. “I loved it. I heard it last year for the first time, and—”
“Yes.” Crawley was nodding. “Yes, I know. But, get this, now Homer says he’s retiring.”
“Yes. No more stories. One and done, he’s got all the fame and fortune he wants and feels no responsibility to his fan base. So I—wanted to inspire him.”
“That was Homer’s room?”
“Yeah. I go into his room and—”
Aziraphale caught his breath. “You—you give him nightmares.”
“Well, not just nightmares.” And when he said that, Aziraphale’s heart stuttered a little. “I mean, I’ve got some range,” the demon went on. “I can do adventures, battles, monsters—”
Dreams. He was still only talking about dreams. Aziraphale’s voice squeaked a little. “Monsters?”
Crawley grinned at the angel’s curiosity. “Oh, yeah, got a big one, six heads on six necks, can eat six sailors at a time! And then there’s this whirlpool,”—he spun his hands around—“and is it a monster or a whirlpool? You don’t know, you just have to try to sail your ship past it. And get this, it’s right across the channel from the six-heads monster—”
“And you have to find a way through,” Aziraphale finished for him. “Not getting too close to either side.”
Crawley stopped spinning his hand and pointed at the angel. “Yes! Exactly. I knew you were one for literature.”
Aziraphale took a sip of his wine. “Well, it does sound rather fascinating. What else happens?”
The demon gave him a rather melancholy look. “Actually, I’m not terribly good at the whole plot thing. I haven’t gotten very far.” He ran a finger over the top of his cup and Aziraphale could not to anything but watch that finger move. “What it needs is someone who can write the rest of it, you know, the wins, the losses, omens, ghosts… Would help if it was someone who reads a lot.” He flicked his gaze up to Aziraphale and it was blindingly obvious to the angel that he was now being tempted. Literally tempted, by a demon, to give an innocent man nightmares, and why? So that the demon would not be bored.
This was exactly how all of Crawley’s temptations of Aziraphale were, somehow impossibly more stupid than any temptation the angel had been warned about, but at the same time somehow more insidious, because it was invariably just a small thing, just a little bit of mischief, and it would be so easy to say yes. Aziraphale was of the opinion that while this sort of thing might make it look like Crawley was bad at being a demon, it actually meant that he was really quite good.
What did it mean for an angel to say yes to a demon? That wasn’t even the question that mattered. What did it mean for Aziraphale to say yes to this demon, with his long fingers and graceful hands, his skin like pearls and hair the color of fire, with his golden eyes hidden from view? Behind those glasses his serpentine eyes were cast into a darkness from which Crawley shouldn’t have been able to see anything except in the brightest light, but Crawley had probably miracled his way out of that problem because Aziraphale could always feel the demon’s vision on him, so sharply.
Crawley must have been the most glorious angel that God had ever created, because if he was this beautiful after Falling, how must he have looked when there was a heavenly glow about him? Or maybe this breathtaking form had come after the Fall, when Crawley was transformed into the Serpent of the Garden, the tempter of Eve. Crawley was, there was no mistaking it, temptation personified, with his darkly seductive aura and his mesmerizing movements, his habit of sitting just a little too close, and his skin that was paradoxically Heavenly to touch.
Aziraphale had asked Crawley once why he had Fallen. After that he’d never brought it up again. It was obviously a painful subject, and Aziraphale should have known better than to push him. Crawley had said that he just asked questions. And that really was the only answer Aziraphale needed.
Aziraphale knew the rest already, had known it from the beginning when they’d met on the Garden wall. Crawley wasn’t evil like the other demons, he was not someone or some thing that Aziraphale had ever had reason to fear. It was ridiculous to think of fearing him. Yes, Crawley did perform temptations and mischief and spur humans on to bad deeds, but he was—when he was near—well, the demon just made Aziraphale feel safe. God help him, Aziraphale trusted him. He hadn’t even meant to, this was a feeling that just was. It was there the moment that Aziraphale had met Crawley, before the demon had a chance to try any kind of temptation of the angel, before he’d even taken human form. There had just been that feeling, like a signpost on the Garden wall. Angel, do not be afraid.
However, it was not that Crawley wasn’t capable of successfully tempting Aziraphale. That had never been the case, and unfortunately, the angel wasn’t just vulnerable to small misdeeds and mischief.
It had surprised him the first few times, but the angel had found himself embarrassingly close on more than one occasion to finding the word yes breathing out from his mouth of its own accord when his gaze fell on the demon. Answering a question that Crawley wasn’t really asking, but that Aziraphale heard all the same. Saying yes to something so pleasureful that Aziraphale knew it would make food seem tasteless and turn fine music into cacophony.
And wouldn’t that have been something to boast of in Hell, a Principality of Heaven reveling in, delighted with the touch of a demon? But Crawley had never tried any conscious seduction of Aziraphale. (The fact that he was the most gorgeous being in all creation was not Crawley’s fault.) He never tried to pull Aziraphale down by teasing or insidious suggestions or manipulation, and Aziraphale trusted that he never would. The angel wasn’t entirely sure why, but he guessed that it might have been because Crawley also valued the whatever-this-is that they had.
If either of them had a friend on Earth, it was each other. The angel had spent more time in Crawley’s company than with any other single person, even if their visits were rare and had been spread thinly over the last three thousand years. But they were happy times. Moments where Aziraphale could talk and Crawley would listen, no matter if the subject matter were literature or theology or what the angel had eaten for breakfast, Crawley would listen, and he would make jokes, and he would look at Aziraphale with those golden eyes, and Aziraphale would feel—he would feel welcome . Aziraphale was the only angel on Earth, but with Crawley he somehow did not feel how alone he was. And it seemed that Crawley valued that as much as Aziraphale did. Despite the fact that it was forbidden, dangerous, neither of them wanted to lose it.
There was one other thing that Crawley put into Aziraphale’s head though, and like the seduction, Aziraphale didn’t think this was a conscious temptation. But it was there nonetheless. Crawley’s rebellion had not been against the goodness of God like some of the other Fallen, wanting to align themselves with evil and the powers of darkness. Crawley had rebelled against the—well, what Crawley saw as—the, well, lack of goodness of God, if such a thing could exist. Aziraphale could never see it that way, of course, but he possibly could start to understand, maybe, under certain circumstances, why someone might question the goodness of perhaps one or another of God’s decisions. The Flood, for example. Aziraphale never really meditated on that event, he’d worked it out in his heart, and it was part of the Ineffable Plan, which was good, the Plan was good, because God was good. There were no questions to be asked about it. But when he was in Crawley’s company, those rich and easy moments when their paths crossed, Aziraphale could sense the turmoil in the demon, and sometimes, sometimes , he could see where Crawley might possibly find cause to be a little confused, having had what he must have thought was the right reaction to a situation like the Flood. To ask a simple question.
He’d certainly been punished well enough for asking it.
It wasn’t until that night in Athens that Aziraphale himself got an answer to a question he hadn’t realized he’d been asking. It wasn’t until he had said it— “Well, I suppose it’s really just inspiring a talented writer to create another beautiful work of art,”—it wasn’t until he had given in to the small misstep to which Crawley had tempted him that Aziraphale first realized why the punishment of Crawley had utterly broken the angel’s heart, why Crawley's Fall was the one decision of God that Aziraphale had ever actually, truly, overtly wanted to question.
Crawley was saying, “Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly,” with a grin on his beautiful face, his temptation accomplished, and Aziraphale could only think of how wonderful it was to be sitting at a table with him on such a lovely night and hearing his voice, and seeing him smile, and he knew then that he loved him. Aziraphale loved Crawley with everything he had, with every spark of angelic flame in his soul, with every thought that ever came through his mind. And that was not something he’d been tempted into. It wasn’t lust. Or rather, lust was only one side of the swiftly tilting feeling, lust for this glorious creature was a vice all wrapped up in the most beautiful virtue of all, something so lovely that it made desire seem nothing like a sin.
Angels were creations of love, they were made to love, and how impossible it would have been, Aziraphale thought, not to have tumbled easily into love with someone who had been his companion here and there over such a long span of time. But the feeling wasn’t just familiarity or friendship. It wasn’t just Aziraphale’s customary compassion. This was something sharp and intense, something that awakened in Aziraphale’s heart only in the presence of one single being in all the universe. The artist who had created the stars and planets. The endlessly clever spinner of tales and temptations. The most beautiful soul that the angel had ever known.
Aziraphale had, quite simply, fallen for him.
It terrified Aziraphale, of course, that this feeling was a kind of falling. And there would be suffering, of course, any fall brought that. It would probably never be requited, this love, Aziraphale knew that, but he was already used to that. Aziraphale loved everyone but very few ever loved him back. And Heaven would certainly never approve, it was no doubt quite forbidden to feel beautiful things for the damned, whether you were the Angel of Compassion or not. And Crawley—of course, a demon might not even be capable of love, it might have been part of what was taken from him.
If it hadn’t been—if he could love Aziraphale in return—that could mean Aziraphale’s Fall.
They could be friends, of course, they already were, but even that was painful. Aziraphale would have to keep hiding that from Heaven, and hiding it from Hell, and trying somehow to hide it from himself because they could never be more than friends and it would never be enough. This was a torturous love, a love that could not live and yet could never die. Love for a demon. Heaven help him, and God be praised for it too. 1
He’d never be able to say it out loud. But the Principality Aziraphale, Guard of the Eastern Gate of Eden, sat at a table in Athens with a terribly wonderful demon and he thought, I love you.
And the demon blinked at him suddenly, almost as if he’d heard, and Aziraphale felt his face grow warm, until he realized that Crawley was looking over the angel’s shoulder.
“Did you do that?” Crawley asked, and Aziraphale turned to look and found that the lemon tree just outside the restaurant had burst forth into very unseasonable blooms, the pure white flowers now sharing space with nearly full-grown lemons, two kinds of product that had never been intended by nature to co-exist. Mixed together like that they made a heady, almost intoxicating scent of innocent blossoms and mature fruit.
It was definitely not the first time that flowers had sprung up when Aziraphale looked at Crawley. It was, however, the first time that Aziraphale realized why.
Aziraphale turned around and took a large drink of wine. “Oh,” he said, quite as if he weren’t about to discorporate from feeling things that were clearly too large for him to control. “I just got a little excited, I guess.”
Crawley gave him an amused smile. “You really do love your books, don’t you?”
“It’s a neat trick,” Crawley said, appreciatively. “Anyway, I think I’ve got a basic premise in mind. A fighter from Troy trying to make his way back home after the war, and all the adventures he has on the way.”
It was a beautiful idea. All the adventures to have on the way . “Oh, yes,” the angel answered. “Battles and magical creatures and narrow escapes—”
“And romance,” Crawley said, quite as if a demon would normally say something like that.
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed softly. “It definitely needs some of that.”
Crawley gestured for another bottle of wine and flashed the angel a most delighted smile. “Okay, so let’s say our hero’s name is—what—Odysseus?”
Aziraphale nodded. “I like that.”
Aziraphale was quite busy. The day was growing short, and he was hoping that he might have just enough time to finish what he was working on before he lost the natural light. The vellum pages of the manuscript he was illuminating were soft under his fingers. On the desk in front of him a jar of gold leaf glinted and dark inks glowed in their pots. The slow, methodical process of copying a book was just the sort of thing that brought peace and pleasure into Aziraphale’s heart.
The page he was copying had a C as its first letter and Aziraphale had been trying to convince himself not to draw the letter as a handsome serpent, because firstly, no human would get the joke, and secondly, a certain demon might, and he was already possessed of a little too much ego.
Aziraphale’s fingers were stained with ink in various colors,and he was looking forward to finishing the page and washing his hands. His white robe already had two blue stains on it from a dropped pen and he wanted to get it cleaned up as well, although he planned to use a small miracle to be sure the stain came out. Plus, he was hungry, and there was a delightful restaurant in the village below the monastery.
So he really was quite busy, which is why when two monks burst into the copy room, exclaiming that they had found a demon, Aziraphale ignored them. Humans were often thinking that they had spotted celestial or infernal beings, and considering that one of them was sitting on a stool right in front of them, they deserved their reputation for being quite rubbish at it.
“Brother Andrew, come see!”
That was Aziraphale’s assumed name, but he just waved the monks away.
“But you’ve got to come see it. A beast from Hell! He’s got these huge black wings!”
Aziraphale’s reed pen paused above the paper.
“And yellow eyes like a snake!”
Aziraphale slowly placed his pen in its receptacle and stood up from the table. With the monks racing ahead of him, he quickly miracled his hands and clothes clean, deciding that he was definitely going to make the letter C into a snake, one that looked as unintelligent as possible.
The courtyard of the monastery had a stone patio of sorts, though the grass around it was constantly trying to infiltrate it and break up the stones. Today there were five monks in the courtyard, and none of them were standing on the stones because what was there was clearly terrifying them. It was a man—or looked somewhat like a man—dressed in black hose and a dark red tunic that set off the scarlet of his hair as it fell over his shoulders. His tunic had been torn by the silver chains wrapping around his arms and waist. He had golden eyes that were squinting into the light, their vertical pupils just slits. What was making the monks keep such a distance, holding gingerly to the ends of the chains, was that from the man’s upper back grew two enormous black wings. They spread out over the courtyard, the lush ebony feathers shining as they caught the early evening sun. The wings flapped occasionally in some sort of protest, though this was made difficult by a chain thrown over the left one. The prisoner was also missing a shoe.
Aziraphale tried quite unsuccessfully to smother a snort of laughter.
At this sound, the man—the demon—looked up, and when he saw Aziraphale a heady relief washed over his face. After this expression came a large dose of embarrassment, and then finally, to Aziraphale’s complete lack of surprise, the demon relaxed his stance a bit, threw out a hip, and tried to look utterly cool and unconcerned.
“Angel,” he said.
“C—” Aziraphale stopped himself. “Demon. What on earth are you doing?”
Aziraphale waved his hand in irritation. “Yes. Before that.”
The other monks seemed horrified that Aziraphale was having a conversation with the demon, and there was some anxious murmuring.
Crowley shifted a little under the chains. “Look, angel, really, it wasn’t my fault. I just dropped by to tempt some nuns—”
“Nuns!” Aziraphale exclaimed.
“That is literally my job,” the demon reminded him. “Anyway, lovely group, didn’t need much tempting, already quite happy getting up to some rather naughty activities, very progressive.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes, not terribly bothered when a monk pulled on one of the chains and the demon hissed in pain.
“And then it’s just so bloody cold out right now I went into a tavern to get warm.”
Aziraphale sighed. “You got drunk.”
“Very drunk and lost my glasses and then they dragged me out here and somebody stabbed me and my wings came out, and you know—” Crowley flapped his wings a little and the monks shrieked and drew back.
“And you’re too drunk to free yourself.”
“Uh….possibly. But also the chains have been dipped in holy water, so you know, that’s...rather painful.”
“Yes, I can feel that.” Aziraphale made no effort to alleviate the pain, however.
“So I can’t do much miracling right now. Also I was stabbed.” When Aziraphale didn’t respond to the demon’s try for pity, Crowley shifted back to trying to look as if there were nothing much the matter with him or the world in general at the moment. “So what have you been up to? Living the monastic life now? That’s a bit on the nose for you, isn’t it?” He hissed at another monk and smirked at the reaction he got.
“I haven’t taken vows. I’m just here copying a few manuscripts for my own collection. That way I can be sure they’re done correctly.”
“Yeah, that sounds like you. The Bible or a Book of Hours?”
“Well…” Aziraphale frowned a little and admitted, “The Canterbury Tales.”
Crowley grinned at him. “Oh, I’ve heard that’s good. A little rowdy for your tastes, though, isn’t it? Quite a lot of—well, naughty activities .” He twitched his eyebrows suggestively.
Aziraphale reddened a little with embarrassment. “Yes, well, um, it’s actually a commentary on modern life, you see—”
The monk pulled on the chain again and Crowley growled with pain. “Angel, do you think we might be able to discuss this anywhere else?”
Aziraphale sighed deeply. Then he turned to the monks. “Look, ah, brothers, I think you really ought to just let him go. I mean, he looks to me like he’s a very minor demon, probably not terribly conscientious about his job, I’d guess. Definitely, a great deal more trouble than he’s worth.”
“A minor demon?!” Crowley erupted, startling the monks. “I tempted Eve, in case you’ve forgotten. I showed Christ the kingdoms of the—”
Aziraphale cleared his throat. After a second, Crowley looked at him with sudden understanding. “Oh, right, sorry. You were trying to— I am a little drunk.”
The whispers and cries of the monks changed tone a little at this point and finally one of them pointed at Aziraphale and shrieked, “Brother Andrew is in league with him!”
For a moment, the only sound in the courtyard was Crowley collapsing into drunken laughter.
Aziraphale bristled. “I am certainly not in league with a demon! It’s really just more of a…” His voice trailed off. “...mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Crowley was still laughing. “Yeah, angel, you’re going to have to do your thing, I’m afraid. They won’t listen to you like that.”
“Crowley, I really was in the middle of something quite important, and if I do that, I’ll never be able to get back to it. Honestly, I really should just let you get discorporated. Tempting nuns, frightening monks—”
Crowley was still grinning, though, which made Aziraphale’s pretending useless. The monks were staring at Aziraphale in fear and the angel looked at them with a regal displeasure. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” he snapped. With a small roll of his shoulders the angel manifested his white wings under the dying daylight, letting his heavenly aura glow visibly. “I am the Principality Aziraphale,” he informed the monks, “Guard of the Eastern Gate of Eden. Now will you please let this extremely minor demon go?”
The monks were shocked into silence and then as one they fell to the ground, their black habits flat across the grass, hiding their eyes, muttering prayers.
Crowley was laughing so hard that it made him gasp for breath. Aziraphale refused to acknowledge him. He started wading through the prostrate monks to Crowley’s side. “All right, um, thank you. I’ll take charge of him, yes, thank you, give me the chains, taking him straight to Hell, yes, all right, here we go.” He grasped one of Crowley’s chains, giving it a little yank as he did.
Crowley’s golden eyes widened in surprise. “Ow!”
Aziraphale was not receptive to his cry of pain. With a last, saddened look at the copy room, Aziraphale snapped his fingers and angel and demon reappeared in a forest clearing just above the village. Aziraphale gently folded his wings away and then, not as gently, removed the chains around Crowley.
Crowley gave a deep sigh and started to fold up his own wings.
“Stop,” Aziraphale chided him. “Let me see.” Crowley’s face softened in relief and Aziraphale frowned at him. “You didn’t think I was going to let those burns go, did you?” The angel waved a hand over Crowley’s left wing, and the demon winced as the feathers righted themselves and the black plumes fleshed out and grew soft and luxurious again. The little bit of heat in Aziraphale’s hands as he healed was a welcome feeling, and it served to calm the angel down a bit from his annoyance. Or maybe that was just because they were alone now, Aziraphale and his demon, and it was actually quite a beautiful evening. The forest around them was lovely in the twilight, the trees cast into light and shadow, moving together in a soft breeze, the sound of insects and owls somewhere unseen.
Did Crowley have any idea, Aziraphale wondered, how impossibly beautiful his wings were? The ebony color was so deep and rich that it glowed when it caught any light, and the feathers were so soft that touching them was like feeling the wind, light and heavy at the same time. Angel wings weren’t like this, angel wings were fancier, fluffy with soft down, quite showy and extravagant. Crowley’s wings were sleeker, broader, more powerful, more elegant, so much more graceful. Blackened wings were widely thought of as part of the punishment demons endured for Falling, but it didn’t make any sense to Aziraphale that such beauty somehow hadn’t been a gift from God.
Aziraphale didn’t need to touch Crowley’s wings to heal them. But right now those feathers were so close, wavering softly just an inch below his hand, and Aziraphale couldn’t remember the last time they’d been within touching distance. It must have been that night about a hundred years ago in Austria with the rainstorm and that funny little village where the houses had stained glass windows.
The truth was that Crowley could be too much temptation even if the demon wasn’t doing any conscious tempting. It wasn’t really Aziraphale’s fault that one of his fingers dropped a little and ran itself along the sharp-soft spine of Crowley’s left wing, just for a second. When Crowley gave a little gasp Aziraphale pulled his hand back. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m hurting you.”
The demon’s voice was a little shaky. “No, you—” He cleared his throat. “Well, you have good reason, don’t you?”
Aziraphale pressed his trembling hands together to quiet them. “Yes, I rather do. Where did they stab you?”
“Right side. My right. Your left.”
Aziraphale pulled at the bottom of Crowley’s tunic and found that it was soaked with blood. He moved the fabric aside and saw a dark, open wound. “Crowley, you didn’t tell me this was so serious!” Compassion and worry jolted him and he pressed his hand directly against the demon’s flesh, letting heat and healing envelop the area. Crowley gave a little groan. The flesh of his waist jumped a little under Aziraphale’s touch as the sides of the wound pulled together.
And then here was an entirely different—well, actually it was really quite the same problem, wasn’t it? Aziraphale found himself moving very slowly to take his hand away from Crowley’s side after the healing was done. Touching was not something they did often, whether it be wings or flesh, and really that was a very good thing because it was just so hard once the touching got started for Aziraphale to stop.
Aziraphale’s fingers rested lightly against Crowley’s waist, moving just slightly, running over a spot right above the top of the black hose the demon wore. Aziraphale’s mind quite helplessly started to note exactly how tight those hose were in an area of Crowley’s body that Aziraphale already thought about quite a bit, and it really was rather unfair for the poor angel to suddenly be able to see that area quite so well defined.
“Roses,” Crowley said suddenly, and Aziraphale was startled into snatching his hand back. He looked over his shoulder at the bright red blooms that had sprouted in a bush behind him. “Do you pick what flower it is?” the demon asked, and his voice was a little bit higher pitched than normal. Aziraphale quickly realized that it must be because Crowley was still in pain, so he sought out and healed a holy water burn on his shoulder.
“Oh. No. They just kind of happen.”
“Well, they really are just—very lovely." Crowley’s voice was wavering in earnest now.
Aziraphale snorted a laugh and ran a hand across Crowley’s forehead, mercilessly sobering him up.
“Ow!” the demon complained. “Was that really necessary?”
“I don’t want you getting into any more trouble.”
Crowley rubbed his eyes. “Eh, that’s fair.” He passed a hand over his clothes and the fabric mended, the bloodstain melting away.
“Shoe,” Aziraphale informed him.
Crowley looked down. “Huh.” With a snap, the demon again wore two shoes. With another, the demon held a new pair of dark glasses in his hand. He slipped them on with a graceful motion. “Well, angel, how about dinner? You can tell me all of the Canterbury Tales.”
Aziraphale felt a little deflated, looking at his hands, which were now stained with blood instead of ink. He felt Crowley watching him as he miracled the mess away. “Well, I could have read them to you, but—”
“Ah. Just a moment.” Before Aziraphale could react, Crowley disappeared. He was back a few minutes later, laughing bubbling out of him. “You should have seen them, angel, they were terrified! I’ll have to submit a report on that one. Had my wings out and everything. Terrifying monks, well, terrifying monks twice! That’s a bad deed well done.”
Aziraphale ignored all of his prattling, focused on the book in Crowley’s hand. The demon quieted down. “Well,” he said, “I’d been wanting to read it anyway.” He gently put Aziraphale’s copy of the Tales into the angel’s hands.
Salem, Massachusetts, United States
Crowley’s boots made a harsh clomping sound on the wooden floor of the meeting house, but he could barely hear it over the noise of the crowd, the shrieking, the pleading, and the crying. The shrieking was coming from a group of young ladies, claiming that they saw a witch tormenting them from the rafters of the meetinghouse. The pleading was coming from their victim, a woman with black hair and ripped clothing and bruises purple against her pale skin. The crying ones were her children on a bench behind her, so young, calling for their mother.
A judge, severe in black clothes and hat, sat above the crowd. His voice was as dark as Crowley had ever heard from a human. “Mary Harwood, you are now called to give account of what witchcrafts you have perpetrated on the afflicted.”
Crowley made some sort of low growling noise in his throat, but nobody could hear that either.
When Crowley had gotten into Salem a few hours earlier, he’d visited Mary Harwood in jail, where she’d sat on a muddy floor, shivering in the cold. Shivering because all the extra clothing she’d been given against the windy, wet weather was wrapped around her children, who of course had been incarcerated with her. If she was a daughter of Satan, she’d been poorly rewarded for it.
Crowley had checked, just to be sure, lingering a moment at the cell door, gently forcing the young woman into eye contact with him. She’d attempted to turn away in fear when she’d seen his eyes, but Crowley hadn’t let her. Crowley’s nature as a tempter made it easy for him to search a human’s soul, to find out what sins might linger close to the surface, waiting for him to give the right push that would draw them out. Mary Harwood was burning up with wrath, and that was a sin, though under the circumstances, it would have been very strange not to find it within her. But she’d made no pact with any devil, and she seemed quite unlikely to ever find that a viable option, given her repulsion at seeing Crowley’s serpentine eyes. She was no witch.
Crowley had released her gaze and wiped her memory of the fright of seeing what he was. The temptation for him, of course, was to miracle the woman extra blankets or to somehow block the wind from coming into her cell. But, of course, if that sort of thing were discovered, it would be seen as a deal with the devil (which on some level it actually would be, though Crowley would take no payment for it) and it would seal Mary Harwood’s fate as a witch, leaving her children motherless. Any larger miracle, such as rescuing the woman or sending all the rest of Salem straight to Hell would definitely draw a great deal of attention. And actually, that was exactly why Crowley was in Salem, because he’d sensed quite a lot of miracling going on, and he knew where it was coming from, and it was going to lead to trouble for a certain lovely white-haired angel.
“ I am innocent of being a witch! I don’t even know what a witch is!” Mary was crying.
“ Then how can you know you are not one?” demanded the judge with a smug smile.
Crowley shifted his shoulders a bit. Sending most of Salem to Hell was such an attractive thought. But he had another priority. He scanned the meeting house crowd until he saw what he was searching for, a trace of soft snowy curls underneath a gray hat. He could feel the anguish coming from the angel as he watched the trial. In fact, Crowley could see a bit of a sympathetic glow beneath Aziraphale’s skin, and it made Crowley shiver with anxiety of his own. He whispered a greeting, and it traced its way through the crowd, over the pews, until it reached the ear he wanted, and Aziraphale turned around. He saw Crowley. And he smiled.
God, the angel had the most beautiful smile. Even in this courtroom where everything was hard and painful and wrong, that smile brought sweetness and peace. It lit up Aziraphale’s whole face, making his blue eyes sparkle, they honestly sparkled. There couldn’t possibly be a lovelier smile in all the universe.
The smile faded though, quite suddenly, and Crowley felt cold. He knew what was coming now. What was always coming when he first found Aziraphale at the scene of some human tragedy. Aziraphale stood and wound his way through the crowd to stand by Crowley against the back wall of the courtroom, separated a little from the rest of the attendees who were pushing forward.
“Crowley. What are you doing here?”
It wouldn’t matter if Crowley said that he had just come into town after saving forty orphans from a fire, not to mention a cartload of nuns and three newborn puppies. Aziraphale’s first thought was always going to be the same. Crowley told him a part of the truth. “I’m on business.”
“Business.” Aziraphale’s voice took on that righteous tone. “So this is you. The hysteria, the accusations—”
“Accusations?” Crowley hissed, and the angel’s eyes widened.
“ Mary Harwood,” demanded the judge, “are you not sorry to see these girls so afflicted? Do you not think they are bewitched?”
“ I don’t know what to think about them!”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Crowley snapped quietly at the angel beside him. “Men, women, and children thrown into jail, people dangling from ropes, fear and hatred everywhere, that is definitely the work of a demon. And look, I’m a demon. It was obviously me.”
Aziraphale was staring up at him. His mouth opened a little, and then his eyes filled with regret. “I’m sorry.”
Crowley looked at him with surprise for a second, but the sound of Mary’s children wailing was filling his head, and it just—to see the angel’s welcoming smile and then lose it was more painful than anything Crowley knew.
“You’re sorry?” Crowley demanded. “Oh yes, because you can’t have any hurt feelings, can you? No pain where you go, Angel of Compassion, even feeling sorry for me.”
“I’m not feeling sorry for you!” Aziraphale protested. Crowley could see him starting to get flustered, confused by this uncommonly sharp interaction between them. “I actually am sorry.”
“ They say someone with your likeness torments them! Who is it, if not you?”
“I am no witch!”
Crowley leaned in. “Well, you can be sorry, angel, but I don’t care. Doesn’t seem like forgiveness is in the air around here.”
And with that, Aziraphale’s normally pleasant nature had steamed off and he lashed out at Crowley, falling back on what he knew was hurtful, what on some level, Crowley knew the angel believed. “You know, it’s lucky they don’t know what you are or you’d be up there on trial!”
“Right, because I’m a demon. Everybody would be scared of me. For Hell’s sake, Aziraphale, they’d be scared of you too, you’re as alien to them as I am.”
“I’m an angel,” Aziraphale said haughtily. “They wouldn’t be afraid of me.”
“Oh, you don’t think so?”
And that was when things got weird. Or maybe they got normal for Crowley and Aziraphale, and it was just that their normal was weird. Staring down at the angel, meeting his angry blue eyes, the furious heat in Crowley sort of tripped over itself and came tumbling down as something else. This new feeling was just as strong as the anger, but it was much more familiar, something forged over nearly 6000 years of constant (mostly) innocuous bickering. It was one part mutual admiration, a much larger part competition, and a little bit, Crowley had recognized, of sexual heat, though he wasn’t sure the angel had ever picked up on that. But it wasn’t anger anymore. Anger couldn’t last between them, they felt it far too infrequently, and thus were terribly out of practice with it.
The angel huffed in annoyance but Crowley could see him vainly attempting to swallow his own unbidden smile. “You know what?” Crowley whispered. “I think we should find out what they would think of an angel.” He waved a hand at Aziraphale and the angel’s mild glow began to manifest more clearly.
This was something, although Crowley would never admit to it, that the demon loved to watch. Aziraphale’s skin was normally a smooth, warm, peaches-and-cream color, with a soft rose underneath that would come to the surface when the angel got flustered or emotional. When the heavenly golden glow was added, it wasn’t like gold leaf on a manuscript, tacked on top of an underlying layer to make it prettier. The underlying layer of the angel’s skin was already perfect. Nothing could have been added to it. What the glow did was just to accentuate the colors, the cream, the peach, the rose blush, and it didn’t so much make Aziraphale look more beautiful as made him look alive. Like somehow more alive than any other living creature, like he was more perfectly realized than any other being in creation. It made him look like a damn angel was supposed to look, but Crowley had never seen another one who remotely compared. The other angels glowed cold in flat dimensions. Aziraphale was so vibrant in his angelic glow that when you looked on him it was like you could actually hear the glow as well as see it. God had clearly made the Angel of Compassion from something other than the clay She’d used for everyone else.
Of course at this point, the Angel of Compassion was pissed at him, and when Aziraphale noticed the growing glow, he pushed it back down again and hissed, “Stop that!”
Before Crowley could guess what to expect in response, it was already done. Aziraphale snapped his fingers and Crowley felt a little divine magic whisk across him. He shivered. “What did you—”
“ Do you not see how those girls are tormented? You are practicing witchcraft before us now! Why have you no heart to confess the truth?”
Crowley looked down at his hands and found that his normal ivory skin tone had bleached out into a frosty white. And his hair, which was down around his shoulders, had started to glow with a fiery energy against the black fabric of his coat, almost as if his hair were a moving flame. He groaned. “What is this supposed to be, a demonic glow? Demons don’t glow, Aziraphale.”
Crowley expected a sassy remark from the angel in response but Aziraphale had suddenly fallen silent. The angel was staring at him, almost in surprise. Well, Crowley probably looked more demonic than he ever had, and so that was obviously unsettling the angel. But it wasn’t quite revulsion on Aziraphale’s face. It was—
Crowley took a deep breath and turned away. “What do these idiots think an angel looks like?” he murmured. “Saw a few gravestones on the way in. They seem to be into the whole skull with wings idea.”
Aziraphale gasped. “Crowley, please, that’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
“I don’t think it, they do. Hold still.”
But before his fingers could create the snap, Aziraphale waved a hand and Crowley felt his hat disappear into the ether and he felt a sharp pain on the top of his head, in two different places. He put up a hand and growled at the angel. “I don’t have horns, I’ve never had horns. Aziraphale!”
The angel shrugged his shoulders innocently. “They think you ought to.”
Crowley mussed up his strangely hued hair to cover the two horns, which thankfully, were fairly small. “Okay,” he hissed. “You are getting the whole six wings, eight eyes treatment!”
It was only when Aziraphale snorted a laugh that Crowley realized at that point that a lot of the other noise in the courtroom had fallen quiet and that quite a few people were turned around in their pews, looking intently at them. Crowley and Aziraphale instantly stopped their arguing. Aziraphale stood completely still while Crowley made a show of turning around to see what everyone might be looking at, as if it could possibly be the back wall, which was the only thing behind them. After a moment, the crowd apparently became satisfied that there was nothing to see that was more exciting than the trial (apparently the demonic glow was less obvious than Aziraphale had intended). The congregation turned back to stare at poor Mary Harwood and the noise level in the courtroom picked back up a bit.
Crowley relaxed a little, but he avoided looking directly at the angel, and from the corner of his eye he could see Aziraphale training his gaze away too. If they made eye contact now, it would be all over.
Very quietly, Crowley snapped his fingers and the angel beside him was no longer dressed in Puritan black but angelic white. Robe and sandals, straight from the Garden. Aziraphale had worn those clothes the first time Crowley had ever met him and Crowley remembered them well.
Aziraphale took in a quiet breath and without looking Crowley in the eye, murmured, “Quite traditional.”
“No extra eyes?”
Crowley let a bit of a sadistic smile creep across his face. “When you least expect it, angel.”
And that was the point at which Crowley won the game, because Aziraphale burst out laughing, right when poor Mary was trying to defend herself against an accusation of magically knocking wheels off of carts, because obviously, witchcraft could have been the only cause of that.
The crowd, hearing the angel’s laughter, turned around again, this time exclaiming to each other and pointing.
“Well,” Crowley said, stretching his arms a little and shaking his head so that his new horns came back into view. “Shall we do this?”
“Let me do the honors, if you please,” the angel replied, and he snapped his fingers, sending Crowley’s dark glasses into whatever void had claimed his hat.
“Get them out of here, angel,” Crowley growled. As Aziraphale started moving through the crowd, Crowley let his black wings erupt out from his shoulders. He opened his yellow eyes wide and grinned at the crowd. The crowd, to a person, screamed.
Crowley didn’t really need to do anything else, he just stood there and flapped his wings occasionally and the humans started throwing themselves through windows and doors, including the teenaged accusers of Mary Harwood. That made Crowley feel better, watching them react to a real malicious presence.
At the front of the courtroom Crowley could see Aziraphale crouching down to put himself at the same height as Mary’s two children. The kids of course, were terrified, but as soon as Aziraphale let a little of his angelic glow manifest, and let that glorious smile come through, the children ran into his arms. Aziraphale handed the smaller one to her mother, and then picked up the larger one. And then he turned back to look at Crowley.
And Crowley—Crowley didn’t pray, of course. Who would listen? Even if someone listened, who would ever grant him a wish? But he hoped, very strongly, almost like a prayer, that Aziraphale wouldn’t look at him with pity. A glowing angel who could command the instant trust of frightened children feeling compassion for his demonic friend who could only terrorize people would have been more than Crowley could take.
Maybe someone heard him, maybe Aziraphale himself somehow understood Crowley’s wish. But it was granted. Aziraphale looked across the courtroom at Crowley and fell into that beautiful smile again. There was Crowley, looking more demonic than he ever had before—with horns even—and there was an angel grinning at him, looking on him as a friend and a partner in crime. There were no accusations now.
Aziraphale tilted his head toward the door and Crowley nodded. A snap of the angel’s hand had him disappearing with Mary and her children. Crowley could have snapped himself away as well, but he was nowhere near done scaring the Hell out of Salem, Massachusetts.
When Crowley finally landed beside Aziraphale and Mary’s family in a wooded clearing, he felt a thousand times better. “Oh, angel,” he said, folding his wings away with a sigh. “I don’t do that often enough.”
Aziraphale probably wasn’t sure if Crowley meant scaring people or flying—he meant both—but the angel just smiled at him. “You’ve torn your shirt and coat,” Aziraphale advised him, very practically.
Mary and her children were staring at Crowley with some dazed fright, but Aziraphale turned to them and smiled and they relaxed. “Nothing to fear,” Crowley heard him whisper. “He’s a friend.” Crowley noted that they were wrapped in thick blankets now and that the children had stopped shivering.
Aziraphale turned to Crowley and fussed over his clothes, mending the tears his wings had caused. Crowley waved him away. “Worry about your own outfit, angel.”
Aziraphale looked down at his robe and sandals. “Oh, right.” He snapped and his puritan clothing returned. Crowley frowned and snapped his own fingers, and Aziraphale’s puritan black blanched out into white.
“You look weird in black,” Crowley explained.
Aziraphale smiled good-naturedly. “So what are you actually doing in Salem?” he asked.
“Oh. Well. Ah...trying to prevent happening exactly what happened, now you mention it.”
“Trying to prevent Mary from being rescued?”
Crowley frowned. “No, angel. For Hell’s sake. Trying to keep that bigoted lot from finding out what you are because you can’t keep that glow to yourself in a place like this. Miracles right and left, I could feel them halfway across the country. These idiots are entirely too suspicious, and they’re hanging people from every tree!” He stepped closer, but stopped short of touching Aziraphale. “They can’t see angels here, Aziraphale, they only see devils.”
Aziraphale had this incredibly soft look on his face as he gazed up at Crowley. “Oh,” he said quietly.
Crowley dropped his gaze and stepped away. “I told you, it was business. If they caught you, some supernatural creature, they’d see you as proof that they’re onto something here and then this whole thing will get worse.”
“Doesn’t Hell want it to get worse?”
“What—loads of humans running around up here arguing over who’s in touch with Lucifer and hoping to meet him in cornfields at midnight and wanting little frogs to suckle from their ankles? They’re nothing but a headache. They all show up in Hell claiming they made a bargain with the devil and we don’t know who the f—” He glanced at the children. “...who the heck they are.”
“Ah. I suppose we did make it worse,” Aziraphale said, with a frown.
“Nah, they’re going to do what they do regardless. Humans are endlessly inventive with ways to hurt each other.”
Aziraphale was looking up at him with that soft expression again. “Well, thank you. For looking out for me.”
“It wasn’t about you. I’m just following my orders.”
That was the wrong thing to say, because Crowley could see on Aziraphale’s face how little stock the angel put into Crowley doing something because he’d been ordered to.
“You wouldn’t take ‘I’m sorry,’” the angel said. “Will you take ‘Thank you?’”
“Not even for Mary?”
Crowley just scowled at him.
“How about if I get rid of the horns?” Aziraphale offered.
“That I will take, if you please, they’re giving me a headache.”
Aziraphale waved his hand over Crowley’s head and the horns disappeared. Somehow it felt a little like crunching ice between his teeth. Behind the angel, a patch of purple and gold irises bloomed suddenly in the clearing.
“Those are nice,” Crowley said. “Haven’t seen those in a while. Pretty color. How about the rest of it? I’m not this bloody pale, angel.”
Aziraphale turned away from frowning at the flowers to gaze up at Crowley again. “Oh,” he said quietly.
“It’s just—it rather suits you, you know? The—the coloring and the hair. You look—”
Crowley found himself caught up in Aziraphale’s gaze. He was dimly aware of a whole raft of irises sprouting up all over the ground, blue this time, just like Aziraphale’s eyes. Was the angel about to say beautiful ?
Aziraphale broke away first. “Anyway, yes, sorry,” He waved a hand and Crowley felt the divine magic again and his skin returned to its usual tone. Aziraphale produced new glasses and handed them over. Crowley put them on with slightly shaking hands.
“Let’s get these people away from all this,” the demon suggested. “What do you think, is New York far enough?”
Aziraphale made some silly face as if he were actually pondering the question and not about to say what they both knew he was going to say. “We could do Paris.”
“Oh what a coincidence, Paris. World’s best crepes found in Paris, aren’t they?”
That smile was back on the angel’s face, but with a little nervousness to it. “You’re not really going to do all the eyes and wings, are you?” Aziraphale asked.
“Oh, I have enough trouble without you being able to see behind you,” Crowley answered. But he could tell that the angel wasn’t sure if he was joking.
Aziraphale was on his way somewhere else. There was a little restaurant down the road that had stayed open despite all the shortages, and the angel was tired and hungry. Aziraphale fully intended to make sure all diners at the restaurant could have a good meal, of course, not just himself. He also planned to purchase some very expensive wine, and to greatly overpay his bill. He did not intend to stop in the squat little tavern with the red curtains in the windows, because it didn’t look like it was terribly adventurous when it came to dining. But as he was passing by, he suddenly recognized a very familiar aura. He knew it so well by now that it was almost something that he could smell—campfire smoke and something else that was always changing. Today it was cinnamon and cloves.
Aziraphale pushed the door open and stepped inside. The interior of the tavern was all dark wood and somewhat dimmed from the glare of the outside. It smelled pleasantly of beer but not too strongly of food, and of the small crowd inside, only a few people were eating.
The demon was curled up on a couch in the corner in front of a blazing fire, covered in a couple of fur blankets. His glasses had slipped down on his nose a little and his eyes were closed. A lock of red hair had fallen over his forehead and Aziraphale didn’t realize until it was too late that he’d stretched out a hand to tuck the strand away.
Crowley stirred, but he didn’t open his eyes. “Hello, angel.”
“Are you all right?” Aziraphale asked.
“It’s just so bloody cold. It’s June and it’s snowing.”
Aziraphale sat down on a chair beside the sofa. “I’m afraid there was a volcanic eruption last year. Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. The ash has been blocking the sunlight.” Crowley didn’t answer. But he did open his eyes and with his glasses slipped down, Aziraphale got to see their true golden hue. And he got to see Crowley smile at him, which was warm and wonderful. “What are you doing here?” Aziraphale asked him.
Crowley stretched a little, but then burrowed into the blankets a little more. “Oh, inciting riots over food, something like that.”
“Surely there are warmer places where people might like to riot?” Aziraphale suggested.
Crowley rolled his eyes. “I may have insulted some git who turned out to have a rather large influence on where I get posted.”
“Worth it though. Wanker. I suppose you’re here to avert famine and keep the peace? You’d think Heaven would send a host of angels with a crisis like this.”
That comment was a little sharper than Aziraphale expected. Crowley knew it was a difficult subject for the angel—the involvement, or lack of it, of Heaven in the suffering of mortals. It seemed so ridiculous that Aziraphale was the only agent of Heaven on Earth, the only one there to try to right the wrongs of the world.
Crowley sat up suddenly and gave Aziraphale another smile, and Aziraphale immediately forgot about his frustration and got lost looking at the demon. (And it was quite the terrifying thought that Crowley knew that he could distract the angel from dwelling on his earlier insensitive comment, just by smiling at him. Aziraphale was very careful not to think that thought.)
It had been a while since they’d seen each other—nearly two years. And every time Aziraphale was reunited with Crowley like this, it was like rediscovering him a little bit, because he was just so much more vibrant in person than in even Aziraphale’s most heated memories. And this time, Aziraphale was re-memorizing the demon by the glow of flickering firelight.
God, he was beautiful. The scarlet hair, the golden eyes. The angles of his face growing darker and brighter in the changing light. Firelight seemed to flatter Crowley more than any other kind of light, Aziraphale had noticed long ago. Maybe because Crowley was a demon and Hell was a fiery place, or maybe it was just because Crowley had been a snake and was naturally drawn to heat. Crowley may have been issued a human body, but his true nature was still somewhat serpentine, and that meant he could be rather cold-blooded. He was definitely not suited to the freezing temperatures of this year-without-a-summer.
Aziraphale realized that Crowley was saying something, and he broke off his staring with a little embarrassment and a great deal of disappointment.
“I don’t suppose you’d mind starting a little riot?” Crowley asked. “Something just large enough to write home about? Nobody would have to get hurt.”
Aziraphale smiled at him. “I think I can fit that into my schedule. But first let me help you.”
Predictably, the demon growled on hearing this, and sank deeper into his blankets. “I don’t need your help, Aziraphale. Just the riot.”
“All right. I think I might stay and have some supper though.”
“There’s not much food.”
“Oh, I think the kitchen might just find enough to feed this crowd. Some hot soup might warm you up.”
“I don’t need any soup.”
“Well,” Aziraphale said, standing up, “I’m glad to see the weather hasn’t made you cranky.”
“I’m cranky by nature, I’m a demon.”
“Mmm-hmm.” The angel talked the fire into agreeing to produce a healthy glow for the rest of the evening, and then walked over to the kitchen. A few more miracles created baskets of vegetables and loaves of bread and cuts of meat (it was miracled meat, not from real animals, Aziraphale could never bring himself to eat an animal) and took away the surprise of the cook at finding such riches. It wasn’t long before the aroma of food filled the tavern, and more people started coming in. Conversation got louder, and the hungry passed around bowls of soup.
Aziraphale took a bowl over to the corner where the demon was still huddled under his blankets. “Soup, my dear.”
The demon poked his head up and rolled his eyes at Aziraphale, but he did reach for the soup. The problem was that his hands were shaking so much that they could barely hold the bowl. Aziraphale grasped his wrist and was astonished by how cold Crowley felt. “Oh, good Lord,” he whispered, setting the soup aside. He lifted up the fur blankets so that he could sit under them as well.
“Angel,” Crowley said in a warning tone.
“Shut up,” Aziraphale told him, as politely as possible. He removed Crowley’s glasses and set them on the table, leaving the demon blinking at him warily. Then, under the blanket, Aziraphale placed a hand against Crowley’s arm. The demon’s skin jumped a little at the touch.
Aziraphale leaned against the back of the couch, closed his eyes, and let an angelic warmth flow through his arm, into his hand, down his fingers and deep into the demon resting beneath his touch. After a few seconds, Crowley sighed deeply and the sound of it lulled Aziraphale into a bit of a dreamy state.
He was called back to reality by Crowley whispering, “Don’t set me on fire, angel.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Aziraphale dialed back the warmth a little. And then back to dreamland.
It was a beautiful place, and Aziraphale knew it was a dream because it couldn’t be real. They were in a tavern, in front of a blazing fire, hidden beneath blankets. Aziraphale was warm, so wonderfully warm, and the heat of him called to Crowley, who sought him out like a snake looking for a spot in the sunlight. The demon came to rest against him, with Aziraphale lying on his back against the arm of the couch, and Crowley partly on top of him. Their legs shifted until they were tangled together, and Crowley’s arms slid around Aziraphale’s chest. The angel wrapped his own arms around Crowley, one behind his back, the other against his head, drawing it in to rest against Aziraphale’s neck. Crowley’s red hair brushed against Aziraphale’s cheek. The demon made little sighing noises and Aziraphale murmured nonsense to him in response, just holding him. For the first time in nearly 6000 years, holding him the way he wanted to, without Crowley pulling away, without anyone interrupting them, without their own words and worries pushing them apart.
A Fallen soul and a soul in grace, a demon and an angel, one who was strong enough to speak the truth about the coldness of the world, one who clung to the warmth of life and strove to never let it die out. Where they differed, they did not mix, but instead fitted up against each other like a puzzle, one giving where the other had an open space, taking from the other where they needed to. Somehow on that night they made a whole out of two broken pieces.
Dimly, Aziraphale realized that the whole tavern was warming. The diners removed their coats. More food appeared and was passed around, nothing Aziraphale could remember consciously creating, but it all smelled wonderful. More people came in from the outside, and the chatter in the tavern was overwhelmingly cheerful.
Outside, it stopped snowing.
Aziraphale realized that he was glowing visibly, but no one paid them the slightest bit of attention, even when the fur blankets slipped off of them a little, no longer needed. No one remarked on how closely they were wrapped around each other. No one approached them at all, as if they were loathe to interrupt whatever beautiful thing was happening.
After what had to have been hours, Aziraphale opened his eyes and found that Crowley had lifted his head from the angel’s shoulder and was looking at him, his face just inches away. He was without a doubt the most startlingly, achingly beautiful thing the angel had ever seen, or had ever dreamt of seeing. The pupils of his golden eyes were swollen in the dim light, and Aziraphale realized that the demon could probably see Aziraphale a whole lot better than the angel could see him. But Crowley didn’t draw away from Aziraphale, apparently not bothered by gazing on what Aziraphale knew was a quite ordinary face, and very round, nothing like the stark beauty the demon possessed.
It seemed for a moment that Crowley was debating something. The gaze of his golden eyes dropped to Aziraphale’s mouth and back up a few times, searching. Maybe looking for permission, a shared desire, Aziraphale didn’t know. He didn’t even know if he answered or not before their lips met.
But it wasn’t Crowley kissing him, and it wasn’t Aziraphale taking the lead, it was both of them, at the same moment, leaning forward to close the distance between them. And they didn’t draw away. Their mouths remained pressed together, just breathing against each other. It seemed that they stayed an eternity that way.
Eventually, they both started to move their mouths. Aziraphale felt his lips part and Crowley’s did the same. And then came the brilliantly sharp moment when Crowley licked his tongue into Aziraphale’s mouth. Aziraphale felt a piece of his heart slip away from him and steal into a Fallen angel and it went with his blessing.
Crowley slowly moved his hands against Aziraphale’s face, one palm beneath his jaw with the fingers curled softly around Aziraphale’s cheek, the other hand at the nape of the angel’s neck. He was being so gentle, but those hands quickly tilted Aziraphale’s face exactly the right amount so that Crowley could sweep his tongue fully into Aziraphale’s mouth.
Aziraphale was being kissed, for the first time. Dear God, he was being kissed by the being who’d helped to create the stars. The artist who had filled the universe with such glorious wonders was focusing all his attention and energy on him. On an ordinary angel who had thought that he’d understood a great many things about pleasure and love, but had clearly never had the imagination that Crowley did, because right now, the architect of the universe was creating a new wonder, just for Aziraphale, just for them. A new kind of beauty that had not existed until Crowley took Aziraphale in his arms and sparked it to life.
And Crowley was being so gentle. He was careful. But he was so clearly ravenous for this, for this new creation, for Aziraphale . Aziraphale had never seen Crowley hunger for anything, not for food or music, those were just simple pleasures of life. Aziraphale hadn’t even realized Crowley knew what hunger was. But now it was astonishing to feel how voracious the demon could be, how greedy his movements, as if Aziraphale was something to be both possessed and consumed.
And Aziraphale was consumed. He let himself be. He clung to Crowley and put his trust in him, and he felt treasured.
Aziraphale started to say it, he couldn’t stop himself, not that Crowley would hear it because Aziraphale was just whispering against his mouth. I love you . But at the moment those words were formed, there was the sudden, startlingly loud noise of all of the snow on the tavern roof melting in the same instant and splashing down to the ground in a huge waterfall. Aziraphale opened his eyes and the contact between them broke.
And there they were, with Crowley holding Aziraphale’s face and lying half on top of him, and Aziraphale clinging to the demon’s shirt like he expected someone to try to pull him away. It hadn’t been a dream. It was real. And it should have been, in this first moment afterwards, awkward, embarrassing, terrifying. But it couldn’t be, that wasn’t possible, because whatever that connection was that they’d formed, it was still there. And neither of them wanted to lose it.
Aziraphale thought a moment and then remembered how to talk. “Warmer now?” he whispered.
“Yeah.” Crowley leaned forward and picked up his glasses from the table, slipping them on. But it wasn’t as much of an act of hiding as it usually was, because he was still looking at Aziraphale in the same way, still smiling at him so fondly. “Gardenias,” he said quietly, nodding to indicate the window. Through the glass Aziraphale could see new flower bushes crowding against the tavern, white blossoms dropping petals into the puddles on the ground, as if the former snowfall had turned to flowers. “I always liked those best,” Crowley told him.
Aziraphale couldn’t say anything, he just smiled and no doubt he blushed. Crowley didn’t seem to mind. They stood up from the couch, disentangling themselves. Aziraphale tried to offer Crowley the soup, miracling it hot again, but the demon shook his head. “Don’t need it.”
“Well,” said Aziraphale quickly, just because he needed to say something, and he knew neither he nor Crowley cared what it was, “well, can I interest you in a game of cards? I’ve just been to the States and learned this terribly fun game called poker.”
The demon’s eyebrows rose behind his glasses and he got a very amused smile on his face. Aziraphale was mesmerized looking at that mouth, those lips, no longer imagining what they could do. Now, dear God, he was remembering it. “You play poker,” Crowley said.
Crowley was grinning now. “Aziraphale, you can’t lie. Poker is about lying and you are the worst liar I have ever seen. Actually, never mind, yes, let’s play poker. For very high stakes.” He directed the angel to a chair and sat opposite him. Under the table, their knees brushed together. Crowley was warmer to the touch than Aziraphale had ever felt him.
“All right,” Aziraphale said bravely. “But you are forbidden to cheat.”
This made the demon laugh. “Angel, I’m not going to have to.”
The other diners caught wind of the game going on and people wandered back and forth from the table where technically, good and evil were struggling against each other in a contest of skill. But in reality, it was just two old friends drinking dark beer and laughing and being close, very much more on their own side against the world than against each other, because they both felt it was utterly ridiculous for anyone to expect them to be enemies. And Crowley won, of course. He won every hand and so the other people in the tavern started trying to give Aziraphale advice, as if the angel were capable of following it. Aziraphale knew that the game required keeping one’s emotions hidden, but being the Angel of Compassion, he was really very terrible at that under the best of circumstances. But he didn’t remotely care about trying to hide anything at that moment. He was too caught up in the fact that he didn’t have to keep hidden something that was much more important than a hand of cards.
He knew that his love for Crowley was absolutely shining on his face. And Crowley didn’t look away. He didn’t recoil, he just smiled and laughed and teased and won hands, taking IOU’s for all sorts of things that they both knew Aziraphale didn’t possess, land, houses, jewelry, horses, silly things like teapots made of peacock feathers and hats that housed rare books, and anything else their somewhat inebriated minds could come up with. And the other patrons laughed and cheered with them and suggested a sailing ship crocheted of golden thread and shoes made from glass.
It was the happiest evening of Aziraphale’s life, and that seemed to make it a joyous evening for everyone else present. Hiding his emotions, indeed. Aziraphale’s love was so strong that it could pull along an entire tavern full of people, not to mention the weather.
It had to end, of course.
Aziraphale wasn't sure how he expected it to end, although he definitely had some strong thoughts on the subject. But the evening had another loss in store for him, and it was much more important than imaginary possessions. It was real, and it was Crowley.
Someone came into the tavern late in the night, and Aziraphale could feel the anxiety coming off of him. There had been an accident. A cart had overturned and a child was trapped and injured and Aziraphale knew, he knew that he shouldn’t just go. He shouldn’t just leave Crowley, he shouldn’t abandon this wondrous thing that they had found because it was so new and so fragile.
What he should have done was to link his hand with the demon’s, to whisper to him that he’d come right back, and that when he did, he’d pull Crowley up the tavern stairs to a cozy room and lie with him in a bed and let Crowley kiss him and kiss Crowley back and turn the whole of Germany into a flower garden overnight.
What Aziraphale did was to leave without a word, without a promise, without any acknowledgment of the joy the angel had found in Crowley’s arms. No whisper of the fact that Aziraphale had said I love you. And it wasn’t because of the humans who needed him, and it wasn’t because he didn’t want to make love with Crowley for the rest of eternity. It was because for one second, Aziraphale betrayed the feeling that they had found that evening, that understanding. He betrayed it with fear. Not of Crowley, never of Crowley. Of what Crowley was, as if that mattered more than who he was. When the poor father of the child was asking for a miracle, Aziraphale had a doubt. He was an angel. He was an angel , and he loved to be an angel, it was his whole purpose, and for one second he wondered what it would mean for an angel to proclaim to the whole world that he loved a demon.
Heaven wouldn’t understand, or Hell. God might not even understand. And if She didn’t—it could mean a Fall.
And so Aziraphale took up one last hand of cards, this time playing against the universe. The stakes were very high. Aziraphale had to choose something to bet and he only had two precious things left. One was his identity as an angel. The other was Crowley.
Was Aziraphale willing to lose it all for love? It was a question that had to be asked. And Aziraphale, damn him, he didn’t have an answer. He didn’t have faith. And it was the greatest sin of his life.
He went out into the cold, saved the child, miracled away the broken leg, wrapped him in warm clothing, gave the family food and firewood. He even fixed the cart. He was avoiding going back to the tavern because he feared that whatever gift he’d been given that night was gone, and it was gone because Aziraphale had let it go.
Hours later, while standing in the empty tavern with the gardenias browning and dying in a new snowfall, Aziraphale was able to answer the question, with the only answer possible. But it didn’t matter then, the game had ended.
Aziraphale was never sure exactly why Crowley had left, what reasons the demon gave himself for disappearing for the next fifteen years, because that was how long it was before Aziraphale saw him again. And when he did, Aziraphale came to him with a fragile joy in his heart, his mind full of fantasies of firelight and warmth.
But it was too late. Crowley saw the emotion on the angel’s face and he turned away. The trust had been broken. Crowley might still make Aziraphale feel safe, but the angel had refused to let it flow the other way. Aziraphale had abandoned Crowley, forsaken him.
Don’t set me on fire, angel. Crowley was his usual standoffish self, content to bicker and grin and complain and drink with Aziraphale, but he would never again get close to letting the angel hold him in his arms, and would never again get close to accepting the heat of Aziraphale’s love, no matter how cold he got.
Humanity didn’t love Aziraphale, not beyond gratitude and prayers. It was rare that Aziraphale ever formed a personal enough connection with a human that they would recognize the angel’s true nature. That was as it should be. Humans tended to be afraid of angels at worst, to misunderstand them at best.
Crowley—Crowley was the only one who might ever understand the angel, a fellow immortal on Earth. Crowley was the only one Aziraphale had ever thought might love the Angel of Compassion in return. But if he had, for a moment that night in Frankfurt, Aziraphale had refused to take it.
So Aziraphale wrapped up his love and put it back into his heart and locked it away once more. It was love that he was willing to pay the highest price for, but nobody would accept that price now.
What did he have left? The thing he hadn’t risked. Being an angel, the Angel of Compassion. It would have to somehow be enough.
A quick miracle dropped Crowley outside a pub in Whitechapel at seven in the morning. The streets were already crowded, and the crowd was already drunk. It was not a place that Crowley expected to find Aziraphale, unless someone was in trouble. And with the anxiety that Aziraphale was projecting, that was the obvious answer.
Crowley spotted the angel easily. Aziraphale was wearing a cream suit coat and trousers and a white top hat, which in Whitechapel made him stand out like a rose bush in a field of alfalfa. Crowley amended his own clothes to shabbier, more common things.
Aziraphale was standing in the street a few yards from the pub, peering through the window at the diners inside. If he was trying for subterfuge, he was failing miserably, but no one inside seemed to be paying attention to anything but their drinks. Aziraphale didn’t look up as the demon came to stand behind him, but he nodded his head a little. It made Crowley stupidly happy that Aziraphale recognized him without turning around.
“What’s going on, angel? I thought we were having breakfast.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I quite forgot.”
Crowley looked at the angel with a little concern. “You forgot breakfast?”
Aziraphale turned to him with a sort of anxious, but also quite triumphant look. “Crowley, I found him!”
Right, so who could be important enough that finding him would make the angel forget to eat? Crowley looked around the street. “Who, Franklin?”
Aziraphale blinked at him. “What?”
“Because that would be strange, seeing as he disappeared in the Arctic. Or did you find him in the Arctic and miracle him back here? That’s bloody nice of you, the poor man had probably eaten all the other sailors by now.” Crowley was hoping to play the game Can Aziraphale tell if I’m joking (answer—no, never), but Aziraphale just gave him an exasperated look. “Nobody's found Franklin.” He dropped his voice low. “I found Jack the Ripper!”
Crowley followed Aziraphale’s gaze now, picking out a man sitting at a table in the pub. “What? The Ripper? Is that him?” Crowley looked over his dark glasses for a second, evaluating the man. “He looks rather small.”
“It’s him. I caught him coming out of a flat on off Dorset Street at four-thirty this morning. He murdered a woman inside! Most dreadfully.” Crowley could feel the pain coming off of Aziraphale and wanted to lay a hand on his shoulder, but of course, he did not. “There was nothing I could do for her,” Aziraphale said mournfully, “so I followed him.”
Crowley put up a finger. “Hang on. What were you doing lurking around Whitechapel at four-thirty in the morning?”
Aziraphale peered through the window again as if he was expecting the man to spontaneously disappear. “I was meeting a sailor.”
Crowley choked on a breath of air that he hadn’t realized he was taking. “You were what ?”
“To buy a book he found in India.” Aziraphale produced a small, darkly bound book from under his arm and showed it to Crowley, who had to stop coughing before he could speak.
“Oh, right, of course. A book. So. Ah, Jack—Jack the Ripper. Did you alert the police?”
“No, I don’t have any evidence. He’ll probably just get out of jail and go on killing.”
“Well, what do you plan to do about it, then?” Crowley fully expected the angel to put on that face, his pleading face, and the demon let a small amount of power rise up in him, ready to snap his fingers and produce whatever outcome Aziraphale asked him for.
“Well,” said the angel, “I was thinking I might push him in the Thames.”
Crowley started coughing again, as if oxygen had suddenly become poisonous without notice. “Push him in the—” He stared at Aziraphale, who looked quite the same as always, a little flustered, but as sweet and lovely as ever in the early morning sunlight. As if he hadn’t just suggested that the Angel of Compassion might murder someone.
Aziraphale was feeling pain, Crowley could tell that, it was partly the woman who had been killed—very gruesomely, as far as Crowley could glean from the angel’s agitation—and partly something else that Crowley had been feeling in Aziraphale for a while now. A constant sort of pain, a lasting strain between them.
No, don’t think about Frankfurt.
Who was he kidding, he was always thinking about Frankfurt. He was thinking about it now as he looked down at the beautiful little angel by his side. Thinking about that tiny sound Aziraphale had made when he’d opened his mouth below Crowley’s and Crowley had pushed in to taste him. Answering a question that Crowley had pondered for millennia, honestly from the first time he’d ever seen the angel on the Garden wall. What would Aziraphale taste like? The answer, probably unsurprisingly, was amazingly sweet but with a darker flavor beneath it, like strong black tea with vanilla.
In Frankfurt, Crowley had learned what it was like to hold an angel in his arms. To hold Aziraphale in his arms. Aziraphale had been manifesting his angelic glow and it had made the touch of his skin under Crowley’s hands both soft and sharp at the same time. Kissing Aziraphale in the midst of that glow had been like trying to hold something in your hands that could not actually be held, like a ray of light, but somehow you’d managed to grasp it, and it was the most necessary thing in the world to keep holding on. Even if it hurt to hold on, which it did, because with the realization of what untold joy existed in the universe there also came the shadow of knowing that the world was cold, and life was unfair, and that you could lose this, even if this was the reason for the universe existing, you could still lose it.
And he had.
God—well, Someone—had intervened and Aziraphale had been called away, and without the angel’s overwhelming warmth in the tavern, Crowley had cooled down. He was left only with the heat of painful emotions.
If Aziraphale had not left the tavern when he had, Crowley would have found out in short order what the rest of the angel tasted like. There had been no doubt in the demon’s mind that when the poker game ended Crowley was going to suggest that Aziraphale pay off his pretend debt in a way that left them both divinely exhausted, so to speak. He would have taken Aziraphale up to a room in the tavern—Crowley didn’t know if there even were any rooms there but he would have miracled one if he needed to—and Crowley would have kept the angel there for three days, at least.
Crowley had been on the verge of succumbing to temptation himself, the only one he could never resist. Because it almost seemed like the angel might have actually felt some desire for Crowley, something heavier and darker than compassion. The way he’d crumpled the demon’s shirt in his hands, those Heavenly sounds he’d made, the way his legs moved over Crowley’s as if he was trying to keep him from getting up off of that couch. Like Aziraphale wanted to get closer to someone than he had ever been, and he wanted that person to be Crowley.
But Crowley, with his own overwhelming desire, had been ready to pull Aziraphale with him on a road that led straight downwards, a road the angel did not know, and therefore did not know to fear. Tricking Aziraphale into sin, leading him like a snake in the Garden. If Crowley had been successful with his temptation, Aziraphale would have Fallen for it.
Thank God that Aziraphale had pulled away and curse the whole universe for it.
And now standing in Whitechapel with the angel, Crowley would be damned (again) if Aziraphale just wandered into a different mortal sin, especially since the pain the angel was feeling was Crowley’s fault. That night had been the most dangerous temptation Crowley had ever carried out, and he’d done it to Aziraphale, who was supposed to be his closest friend. Crowley had crossed a line, violated the Agreement—stay out of each other’s way, don’t sabotage. Be kind to each other. Crowley understood the angel’s anger. He felt it himself.
Crowley cleared his throat and it made a desperate sound. “Push him—well, that’s not really your way, is it, angel?”
Aziraphale’s shoulders sank a little. “No.”
Crowley gave him what he hoped was a cheering smile, though it was completely false. “I mean that’s Jack the Ripper . We’ve got to do this one with some style.”
The angel brightened a little. They regarded the man together through the window. He looked completely ordinary, just another man in Whitechapel. “Let’s see,” Crowley mused. “The Ripper. What’s his body count so far?”
“At least five. Possibly more.”
“Yes.” Aziraphale’s voice was gentle. “That’s not uncommon around here, it’s the only way some people have to keep themselves off the streets.”
“I know, angel. Well.” He thought a moment. What was something that didn’t involve murder? Not a question he ever thought he’d have to ask himself while working with Aziraphale. “We could let the punishment fit the crime, I suppose…”
He looked to Aziraphale for confirmation and the angel smiled delightedly. “Oh, I like that. That would serve, I think.”
Crowley gave him a curt nod, and snapped his fingers.
In the pub, what had been a normal-looking man was now a normal-looking woman, and not a wealthy one. She wore a shabby corset and several skirts and shirts over it. All the clothing she owned in the world. Nothing in her pockets but a sliver of soap and a broken mirror (Jack’s knife had quite disappeared). No way to pay for the gin she was drinking. Well, no way except one.
Jack—Jaqueline, Jane, Jean, whatever—sat frozen at the table, her eyes wide. No other pub patrons had noticed the change, but Crowley made sure that Jack did. She looked down at herself, her fingers scrabbling at the table. Then she stood up. And then she started shrieking. Nobody paid her much attention except the angel and demon standing in the street. Aziraphale was laughing and Crowley felt it bubble against him.
“Of course,” the angel said, after a minute, over the ghost of giggles, “women can still be murderers.”
“Oh, didn’t we learn that one the hard way?” Crowley groaned. “I didn’t drink anything handed out by an Italian woman for a good hundred and fifty years after that. Glad you were with me.” 2
Aziraphale had this endearing habit of tilting his head when he was trying to solve a problem, like the problem could physically look different if Aziraphale changed his viewpoint. “Maybe,” he mused, gazing sideways into the pub, “we could add just a dash of late-stage syphilis?”
Crowley choked on a delighted laugh. “Did you really just say a dash of syphilis?”
Aziraphale snapped his fingers. In the pub, Jaqueline’s face took on a horrified, pain-filled expression. Her shrieking faded to a kind of gurgle and she lurched back to a seat.
Crowley nodded appreciatively. “That is a nice one. How long’s she got then?”
“About a week, I should think.” Aziraphale turned to Crowley. “Do you know, we could probably submit this to both our head offices. Saving the women of Whitechapel...”
“Getting Jack into Hell ahead of schedule...”
“It’s very efficient of us.”
Crowley smiled down at him. “Well, that was a good, well, and a bad morning’s work. Shall we celebrate with breakfast?”
Aziraphale looked elated. Thank Someone. They turned, leaving Jack the Ripper to her fate.
“They’ll never solve it now, you know,” Crowley remarked as they strolled out of Whitechapel.
Aziraphale shrugged. “Oh I hardly think that will matter. I’m sure in a few months, everyone will have forgotten all about him.”
So I picked these historical eras/events based on things I already knew about and wouldn’t have to research much. That included The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales, the Salem witch trials, the Year-Without-a-Summer, and Jack the Ripper. I don’t know what that says about me, but my kids made fun of me for it.
Notes on Salem: Mary Harwood is not a real person, but the dialogue in this sketch comes directly from the actual trial transcript of Bridget Bishop. Bridget Bishop was executed for witchcraft along with 18 other men and women, and at least six others died undergoing the trial process during the Salem Witchcraft hysteria.
Notes on Frankfurt: The Year Without a Summer, aka "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death," which inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein! And origins of poker. The poker game is in here because I had originally plotted for Crowley to have won the bookshop in a poker game at some point in the past. It was going to be this running joke through the fic that Crowley indeed is the kind of person who owns a bookshop, although Aziraphale still runs it, of course. But that joke ended up being just an extra thing that didn't really fit, so I took it out, and I was going to get rid of the poker game too, but then poker turned out to be this amazing metaphor right when I needed an amazing metaphor. So that worked out strangely well. And speaking of plotting issues, I had not intended for the boys to kiss in Frankfurt. It was supposed to be much more ambiguously romantic, just cuddling and angelic warmth. But sometimes I talk with my characters and the boys told me that there was absolutely no way that they were going to pass up a chance like this. My response was something like, “Do you know how STUPID you have to be to kiss somebody like that and still think they just want to be friends for the next two hundred years? Do you have any idea how much backpedaling you two are going to have to do?!” But of course, it’s not good policy when writing romance to avoid turning up the heat should the opportunity arise, so there we are.
And a mea culpa: I realized after having written Frankfurt (1816) and London (1888) that the fight over holy water in St. James park took place in 1862. The Year-Without-a-Summer and Jack the Ripper are obviously set dates and can't be moved. I tried putting in references to the 1862 fight in the Jack the Ripper sketch, but it just messed things up. I don't actually spend any time on the 1862 fight in this fic, anyway, but we're officially going to pretend that it took place after 1888. My bad!
Chapter 4: I saw your face and I ascended, out of the commonplace into the rare
SOMEONE used a little demonic intervention to rewrite the plot of this chapter. Not naming names, but...
See the end notes for more
I saw your face and I ascended
out of the commonplace into the rare
Aziraphale looked down at the little frog on his finger—it was adorable, really, with round black eyes and tiny pale fingers. Some sort of tree frog, apparently. His lap was steadily filling with them. At least frogs were better than locusts.
Aziraphale then looked up at Crowley, who was still standing in front of him as Aziraphale sat on the bench. He’d been saying things, Crowley had, before the frogs. He’d been standing there, all in black, in front of the river, with his wine-colored hair glowing in the late morning sun, and he’d been saying things that were more confusing and out of place than frogs falling from the sky.
You are everything, Aziraphale.
Well. What the Hell was Aziraphale supposed to do with that? Because it sounded like Crowley was trying to say that he felt something that Aziraphale was pretty certain the demon didn’t feel. Or maybe it didn’t mean I love you or maybe it just meant I love you as a friend . It probably did.
But then there was the problem of I can’t live without— and the first little frog had brought an end to that sentence. Of course, Aziraphale knew how the phrase typically ended. You. I can’t live without you.
That brought up several more questions. Firstly, was it true? Say it was. What did that mean, live without ? Was it, I would be miserable without you because I love you? Or was it more like, you’ve been my only companion for six thousand years, I’ll be so alone without you that I won’t be able to stand it ? Was it desperation? Loneliness? Love? What kind of love?
Oh, Hell. Aziraphale knew he was being ridiculous. Dear Somebody, how the demon could tempt without even meaning to. Crowley wanted Aziraphale’s company, and Aziraphale had thought that he had taught himself how to hear that sort of thing without thinking Crowley was trying to say I love you. But apparently he’d lost that skill somewhere.
Aziraphale could never live without Crowley either. Not for a second, and yes, the angel loved him, but it wasn’t just that. Aziraphale needed the friendship as much as Crowley did, the ease of it and the happiness, the history. The problem was—well, one problem, they had a few—was that Aziraphale looking into their relationship for something that wasn’t there might push Crowley away. The demon was uncomfortable with compassion from Aziraphale as it was. An I love you from the angel might cause Crowley to avoid him for the next thousand years.
But Crowley did need friendship from Aziraphale. Aziraphale could provide that. He’d be delighted to. He could—oh. Crowley was talking. Pointing at Aziraphale’s lap. Right. Frogs. Yes. What the Hell were they supposed to do with those ? That was the question that should be on Aziraphale’s mind. Because, of course, it was one thing to say you were going to stop four plagues and take on two Horsepeople. One could sound very brave saying that. One could actually be brave enough to try it. But that didn’t necessarily mean one had any idea how to go about it.
“Let’s try a miracle,” Aziraphale suggested, unsure of whether Crowley had already come up with that or had even tried it yet. Why on earth had the demon picked the start of a plague to say something like You are everything, Aziraphale? Honestly, it was bloody distracting.
Aziraphale stood up from the bench, gently dislodging his small companions. The ground was littered with them now, little green and brown frogs leaping about, making it look like the ground had suddenly become animate. There were quite a lot of people screaming, but other people were laughing in a sort of delight at the phenomenon. A few kind souls were ushering the frogs off of sidewalks and into marshy areas before they were stepped upon. Some held frogs in their hands and shrieked with mock disgust or else just looked astounded or enchanted by the encounter. And all across the park, people had pulled out their cell phones and were recording the fall of bright green frogs from a clear blue sky.
Egypt had known it was a plague. London didn’t seem to. Probably the humans would explain it as a weather phenomenon, a tornado that had picked up the denizens of a swamp somewhere and carried them along until the frogs grew too heavy and fell from the sky.
And there was Crowley right in front of him, beautiful, distracting, angry, impatient. Right. Aziraphale gave him his hand—they were both shaking a little, the angel noticed—and Aziraphale felt their powers stretch out and whirl together and try to push back against the falling frogs. It was as effective as it might be to try to stop them using a strongly worded note.
Crowley let his hand fall away from Aziraphale’s and he ran it through his hair, a little frantically. “No, we can do this. What—what eats frogs? What eats frogs?” He turned in a whirling motion, scanning the park, and they both remarked on the river at the same time. Little splashes of frogs were dropping into the water, and some of them swam about, and some of them were never seen again.
“Fish!” Crowley exclaimed, at the same time that Aziraphale cried, “Trout!” They grinned at each other, on the same page again. And then as frogs were coming down the waters of the river started coming up , sending thousands of sparkling fish high into the air.
It was, of course, the stupidest thing they’d ever done, and that was saying something. The fish seemed a little confused. Right up until they started to suffocate and then the air was full of dying fish and falling frogs together. Aziraphale quickly miracled the fish back into the water, although it was too late for some of them. A couple of ducks paddled over, investigating the frogs, and snapping up a few.
Crowley looked at Aziraphale, and tilted his head a little. “Would have made more sense, ducks. Breathe air, you know. And they can fly.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
There were a few more plops, but they seemed to be slowing down now. One of the frogs on the bench was blue, and Aziraphale wondered if he was the same species of tree frog or something else quite similar. Where did the frogs even come from? Aziraphale picked up the blue one and it perched on his shoulder.
Aziraphale sighed. “Well, we’ve—oh, Crowley, stop that.”
Crowley, who’d moved off down the sidewalk a little, flashed the angel an annoyed look, flicking a forked tongue at him. “Stop what?”
“Six thousand years, I know when you’re going to turn yourself into a snake. I don’t want to see you down there eating frogs.” Aziraphale put a protective hand over his blue companion.
“Well, I thought that was the point!” Crowley snapped.
“But there’s no purpose to it now and really, they are quite adorable.”
“You were going to let them get eaten by fish!”
“Well, fish aren’t you, they aren’t aware of what they are doing, they don’t have higher reasoning. It’s not like you even need to eat!”
“Doesn’t stop you. Bet you’ve eaten frog’s legs.”
Aziraphale gave him a horrified look, hoping the frog on his shoulder wasn’t too frightened. “I do not eat animals!” he reminded the demon.
Crowley sighed and dropped onto the bench. The frogs had stopped falling now, and they watched children rushing to and fro trying to collect them. There were sirens in the air—Aziraphale wasn’t quite sure what the police were going to be able to do, but humans did like lights and sirens.
“It would work out well if we had a bug plague next with these frogs to eat them all,” Crowley said. He looked at Aziraphale as the angel sat down beside him. “It couldn’t be plants, could it?” the demon asked. “I mean if was ivy—because I have a way with plants, you know, they listen to me. We could have had our own ivy army, angel, wrapping around buildings and climbing things. Weapons made of ivy, great big ivy whips—and don’t give me that look, you’re not going to my flat and interfering with my plants, Aziraphale, we’ve discussed this.”
“You brought it up.”
Crowley sighed but declined to agree with the angel, though Aziraphale was clearly in the right.
“Well,” Aziraphale said. “Frogs. Could have been worse.”
Crowley gave him an incredulous look. “Oh, angel, you’ve jinxed the whole thing now.”
“That’s superstitious nonsense.”
“Yeah, because as occult beings, we aren’t bound at all by superstition. You wait. Next one will be worse.”
Aziraphale folded his hands up in his lap. A brownish frog jumped up to perch on his fingers again.
“They like you,” Crowley remarked.
“Yes, because I’m not a snake.”
“I’m not a snake, either.”
Aziraphale nodded toward Crowley’s empty lap. “I think they can tell perfectly well that you’re a snake.”
“Nah, it’s just that angelic glow you’ve got.”
“I’m not glowing.”
“You’re always glowing a little, Aziraphale,” Crowley said, waving his hands about, “like inwardly , and the beasts of the field can sense it.”
“Frogs aren’t beasts and they don’t live in fields. Why are we arguing about nothing?”
“To avoid arguing about asking Hell to tell us what the next plague is.”
Two frogs were climbing on Aziraphale’s left shoe. He sighed. “Yes. I suppose we had better get to that.”
“Angel, if you ever step another foot in Hell, I will never talk to you again.”
Aziraphale looked at him with some surprise. “Last time—”
Crowley turned to him and, to Aziraphale’s shock, removed his glasses. Aziraphale was left gazing into Crowley’s serpentine eyes, which were all golden and black now, not a hint of white at the edges. “I will not see you there, Aziraphale. I cannot see you there. End of discussion. I will talk to Hell and I will tell you what they say.”
“Crowley! That’s completely unacceptable!”
Crowley stood up and gestured to Aziraphale’s lap, where there were now at least eight frogs. “You play with your little friends and I will find you later.” He started walking away, replacing his glasses as he went. Aziraphale noticed he was careful not to step on any frogs.
“Crowley! Do not make me—”
Crowley turned around and spread his arms. “What? We’re going to fight now? Your powers against mine?”
Aziraphale reined in his temper a little, remaining seated on the bench. “Wouldn’t be much of a fight.”
“Right. Principality .”
Aziraphale sighed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Crowley made a face that indicated that he wasn’t sure how else Aziraphale could have meant it. And he was probably right. “I’m not budging on this one,” the demon told him.
“What if you get into trouble?"
“Angel, we are in trouble. I’m trying to keep it from getting worse. World loses the Angel of Compassion now, three plagues to go, what’s going to happen?”
“Well, what if I lose you ?”
Crowley stopped moving. His face became impassive. “Won’t happen.” And then he snapped his fingers and disappeared, and Aziraphale was left sitting on a bench under a pile of frogs and staring after him.
When Crowley got to the Bentley, he was completely expecting to find an angel leaning up against the car, probably with at least five frogs perched on him somewhere. The streets, Crowley noted, were completely free of frogs. All the little green beasts were safely tucked up on the grass, all the little ponds and puddles along the way were cleaned and unpolluted, and there was a obvious residue of angelic activity in the air. But no angel.
Well, then, he was probably already at Crowley’s flat, letting his new friends hop about among Crowley’s plants. If that was the case, Crowley was definitely going to eat some frogs. If Aziraphale had thought the little creatures would be safe because he didn’t try to take them in the Bentley, he was going to be sorely disappointed.
But Aziraphale wasn’t at Crowley’s flat. And no frogs, either. Crowley reached out a little and searched for the angel. Still in the park. Quite as if he’d listened to Crowley’s pleas and didn’t intend to come with him to visit Hell. Not that Crowley was actually going to visit Hell, of course, he wasn’t that stupid. He was just planning to see if anyone down there would take his call.
But Aziraphale listening to him? Doing what he was told? It made Crowley uneasy, and in retrospect, what he should have done was to listen to that intuition and get back to the park and his angel. But instead, Crowley figured he might as well take advantage of the fact that Aziraphale was keeping his distance and make the call before the angel changed his mind.
He went into the living room and turned on the TV, throwing his jacket over the sofa, running a hand through his hair, removing his sunglasses. A newscaster was talking about the rain of frogs in St. James Park. So the first plague had had a rather small scope. The next one would likely be worse. Crowley found himself pacing.
You are everything, Aziraphale.
Holy Hell, what was wrong with him? And Aziraphale had said nothing. Granted, there was a plague of frogs, but Aziraphale had said nothing.
How obtuse could the angel be, really? Did he realize that a person didn’t say things like I can’t live without you, so go off with me to Alpha Centauri unless they were in love? Crowley couldn’t even tell, because this was exactly what Aziraphale would do if he did know the truth. He would ignore it out of sympathy, an angelic kindness to the ridiculously besotted demon who’d been hopelessly circling around him for six millennia. That damned compassion. Compassion for the damned.
A demon in love with an angel. Was it a punishment to Crowley? Was it a joke? Was it Someone’s way of hurting Aziraphale or the world, or both, tempting Crowley to tempt the angel and then the Earth would have lost the only truly loving ethereal guardian it had ever had?
All Crowley had ever wanted to do was to keep the angel safe. He knew they’d never be together, he knew they’d never be lovers, Aziraphale would never look on Crowley with enough angelic mercy to pull the demon out of his personal Hell. But Crowley loved him so much that it didn’t matter. It was enough for Crowley that Aziraphale existed in the universe. It was enough for Crowley to try to spend his life keeping Aziraphale happy, keeping Aziraphale safe.
But no amount of love could change the fact that Crowley himself was Aziraphale’s biggest danger.
The TV flicked abruptly into a different kind of broadcast and Crowley glowered at it. Beelzebub stood on the other side, in the low lighting of Hell, flicking their eyes up at their caller. The boils on their face glowed dimly and Crowley found himself fervently hoping that the next plague would not make him have to look at those everywhere.
“Demon Crowley,” Beelzebub said, in a grating voice. “What do you want?”
Pulling off a successful temptation was a bit like trying to tie a complicated knot, except you could never know how to twist the next piece of rope until you got there. It worked partly by strategy and partly by feel, using lies or the truth as they became advantageous along the way, seeming to lead or follow, to get lost or to work things out as the situation demanded it. Spinning layer after layer of illusion until your mark gave up trying to count them and picked one that seemed enough like truth for them to follow. Tempting was an act of creation and of destruction all in one. And Crowley absolutely loved it.
Crowley and Aziraphale had once taken bets on which demons and angels Crowley might be able to tempt. Crowley had boasted that he could tempt anyone. Aziraphale had been more skeptical, possibly because of his own track record with Crowley. Aziraphale had always been quite skilled at saying no to the small temptations Crowley performed on him. In fact, the angel only ever gave in, Crowley had learned, when he decided to give in. He was never helpless in Crowley’s hands, despite the fact that they both liked to pretend that the extra dessert, the late-night drunken discussions were Crowley’s doing.
But no one else in the universe was as strong and clever as Aziraphale. Certainly not Beelzebub.
Crowley forced himself to saunter closer to the TV as if he had all the time and self-confidence in the world. He leaned a hip against the sofa, giving Beelzebub a toothy smile. “Is Hastur enjoying the frogs? Pleasant surprise or too much of a good thing?”
Beelzebub smirked. “You didn’t know it was coming, did you? You’re out of the loop.”
Crowley laughed. “You did ! I knew it, I knew you did. Heaven didn’t have a clue, idiots, how would they? But you’ve got an in with Pestilence, he was always your sort.” He took a moment, letting Beelzebub’s skepticism grow.
“What do you want, Crowley?”
“Well, you know...we were just thinking...” He shrugged. “Would be nice if we knew what the next couple of plagues would be.” He watched Beelzebub’s eyes as they perked up a little at the word we . Crowley knew how to turn the rope now.
“You and the angel are trying to stop them?”
“Eh, can’t be stopped, probably. Unless you might happen to know a way.”
“Why in Hell do you think I would help you? Why do you think I would care about what happens to humanity?”
“All right.” Crowley said, dropping the smile. “What do you want, Beelz?” As if they hadn’t already told him.
“I want you to have died in the holy water.”
Crowley pouted. “Oh, that’s harsh. We were always friends, weren’t we? Or maybe not. Anyway, sorry, afraid my death’s off the table.” He turned the rope again. “And I won’t give you any information about Aziraphale.” He looked at Beelzebub with a little menace, which was definitely not difficult to manufacture.
They tried to play it cool. “What kind of information do you have on the angel that I might want?”
Crowley just gazed back, letting the demon entangle themself.
Beelzebub scowled at him. “I do know what the next plague is. But Pestilence is too closed-mouthed on the third one. The one from the extra Bible.”
“Oh, yes! That Bible.” Crowley concentrated on not laughing, but he couldn’t resist asking, “You wouldn’t happen to have a copy of that, would you?”
Beelzebub frowned. “You know there are no Bibles in Hell. Too dangerous.”
“Right, of course.”
“So what will you give me in exchange?”
“What do you want?”
“The only thing anybody down here wants right now.”
“Aziraphale.” This was the tricky part of the temptation. Crowley was going to have to decide which was worse—giving Hell information about the angel or sending Aziraphale unprepared into the next plague. He spread his hands in invitation. “Shoot.”
Beelzebub actually leaned forward. “You’re his enemy. What did you do to him to make him trust you?”
Ah. This was a safe question, because not only did Crowley not care if he gave Hell an advantage against other angels, but Crowley had actually never had an answer to it. Crowley shrugged. “That’s just the way Aziraphale is made. He doesn’t have enemies unless somebody tries really hard.”
“Even if Heaven tells him otherwise?”
“Aziraphale has his own moral compass. Makes him a terrible angel.”
“But what did you do, Crowley? How did your temptation work?” Beelzebub’s fingers twitched at the end of their hands.
Next turn of the rope. “Oh, you know how angels are, they want to Save everybody. They don’t care if people live or die, they just want them on their side so they can count up their little tallies. Same as Hell.”
Beelzebub nodded in agreement.
“Well, Aziraphale’s like that too, but he’s more kind-hearted than most, he casts his net a little wider. Angel of Compassion, you know. I let him see something in me that he wanted to see. That deep down I was nice. ”
Crowley grinned. “Oh, demons can’t be nice, can they? But I was. It was such a mystery, and he became obsessed with it. The temptation was easy then. He wanted to believe that he could help me, and so I let him.”
“But you became friends.”
“Aziraphale was so fucking lonely and I’m the only other immortal on earth. A couple of fond looks from me and he stumbled right into my path.”
Beelzebub’s voice grew sharper. “But you didn’t have to go along with him to stop the apocalypse, Crowley. You risked everything for him.”
That one was a little close to home. Crowley answered carefully. “If you could choose between Hell and life on Earth with an angel who would be kind to you, what would you do? I’m not a prince or a duke, Beelzebub, there was never anything for me in Hell. What did I risk? Pain’s just pain, doesn’t matter how much of it there is. But not being in pain—even for a moment—it can feel endless.” Crowley waved a hand casually. “Besides, you know I’m no good at following orders. Got started rebelling, never really quit.”
Beelzebub was trying to figure out how much of what Crowley had told him was true. They narrowed their eyes at him. Crowley smiled mildly, letting them choose whatever they wanted.
Then he saw a spark in Beelzebub’s eyes. “How did you go native?”
This was the question that Crowley had expected, and he had prepared for it. He’d turned it over in his head until he thought he’d found a way to answer it without putting Aziraphale in danger. Crowley wouldn’t realize how wrong he was about that until it was too late. Maybe if he’d had more time, he could have come up with a better answer. Or maybe it was just that Crowley’s greatest fear was true. No matter how much he wanted to, how strongly he tried, the demon was never going to be able to keep Aziraphale safe from everything.
Crowley gave his carefully rehearsed answer. “Well, as it turns out, the Angel of Compassion can actually touch demons without making them burst into flames. I don’t think that’s meant to happen. Not natural. But since we can touch, the holy water/Hellfire resistance must have just transferred over time.”
“He touches you?”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Aziraphale touches everybody. Just a thing he does.”
“Does it hurt?”
Crowley made a face. “A little. Kind of burns, but no actual flames.”
“How—how much does he touch you?”
And that was quite enough, thank you. “I’ve answered your questions, Beelz. Your turn."
The demon frowned, but kept their end of the bargain. “The next plague is water into blood.”
No wasted words now. “When?”
“Nine tomorrow morning.”
“All of England.”
“So the frogs were St. James Park, the blood is England. Is the third for Europe and the human plague will be the world?”
“Going to be a right mess if it is. We’ll be backed up for years.” Beelzebub leaned forward a little. “So did you two ever—”
Crowley switched off the TV with a growl.
And then he was surprised to catch a little motion out of the corner of his eye. Crowley stood frozen for a second as he realized that his jacket was moving on the back of the sofa. He gingerly lifted it. The movement was coming from the pocket. And inside the pocket, blinking up at him, was a little blue frog.
And behind the frog was a note, in Aziraphale’s ridiculously elegant handwriting.
Don’t you dare eat him.
“Fuck, Aziraphale,” Crowley hissed. The angel hadn’t missed the conversation with Hell at all. Crowley’s mind whirled. What had he said—Aziraphale was lonely, Crowley had lied, it was all a temptation. Oh, Satan—
But the horror at the angel’s spying paled suddenly beneath the unease Crowley was still feeling about Aziraphale. Something was happening. Something was wrong.
Crowley did take time to set the little frog in a dish, miracling it full whatever kind of amphibian-safe water was needed. He assumed the frog would know.
It was certainly never Aziraphale’s intention to put himself in danger. It was just that when something drastic needed to be done, the angel would just forget about things like his own safety, because they became less important to him. And besides, there was always Crowley, wasn’t there?
Speaking of...Aziraphale quickly checked in with the little blue frog. Crowley was talking with Beelzebub, his temptation underway.
Would be nice if we knew what the next couple of plagues would be.
He was just fine . He didn’t need Aziraphale right now.
But the angel feared that other people very much did. As Crowley was leaving the park, Aziraphale had realized that he seemed to be experiencing another angelic overdue book notice, as it were. But it wasn’t a book this time. Just a sense of something about to happen, and it was definitely centered around the park.
So rather than follow Crowley, Aziraphale had remained on the bench, quite covered with the pretty little frogs. (Was he glowing inwardly? He didn’t think so, but maybe he was, animals always did seem to like him, though not usually to this extent, but he could feel that the poor frogs were frightened after their experience.)
Aziraphale could feel their tiny hearts beating, their life force surrounding him. They were all so beautiful. Different shades of green and brown and gray like tree bark, little hands with four little fingers. Aziraphale could always feel the beauty of the things around him, other creatures, flowers, children on swings, lovers holding hands. It was a gift God had given him along with his compassion, and it brought the angel a great deal of pleasure. It made him feel connected to the Earth that he loved so much. Maybe that was a kind of inward glow?
Anyway, right now, the angel needed to use that connection. He gently reached out to the tiny frogs on his lap, letting his angelic aura surround them and pull a little energy from them. The frogs helped Aziraphale the way Crowley had in the bookshop, their added life force allowing the angel to reach deeper into the ethereal plane and try to catch a glimpse of whatever was trying to get his attention.
Aziraphale was suddenly somewhere else—well, no, not some where else, some time else. Still in the park, but at some point in the future, Aziraphale rose from his bench, the frogs leaping up to his shoulder or down to his shoes. But they made little trilling noises, obviously concerned about something, and it quickly became apparent what it was. The river in front of the bench started to surge forward, then pulled back into itself, sending gulps of water into the air, startling ducks and fish alike. The strange wobbling spread to the ground next, the grass beneath Aziraphale’s feet shifting, sending frogs leaping up his body or into nearby trees. There was screaming, dogs barking, people falling....
Aziraphale opened his eyes and found himself back in the park, back on steady ground, back in the present.
In all the years Aziraphale had been on Earth, he’d often sensed that something bad was happening and followed that intuition to places where he’d been needed—battles, outbreaks of disease, hurricanes. But that perception had never been so targeted before, so clear, and it had never been premonitions of the future, just a sense that in a certain place, there were a lot of people in pain. Certainly Aziraphale had never been guided to a written prophecy on a church wall before, nor had it ever occurred to him to join his powers with the life forces of adorable animals in order to help him pick up ethereal messages.
Aziraphale wasn’t sure what had changed. If he had to guess—and he was certainly learning to follow his guesses now, wasn’t he?—then he’d say he was somehow listening better. Hearing more clearly. And he also had a theory about why that was. He was no longer listening to Heaven.
It was nice in a way, because Aziraphale, being an angel, certainly knew what guilt felt like, and he did feel guilt for having forsaken (in a way) Heaven, or for Heaven having forsaken (in a much more violent way) him. But it was hard to feel guilty about doing something that seemed to be helping the world. It felt right to free up his mind to listen to voices that were more important to him, to a place that was more important, and honestly, if he was being really candid, the Earth always had been more important to Aziraphale than anything else.
But the world needed the angel now. An earthquake . There was going to be an earthquake in London.
Eyes wide, Aziraphale regarded the frogs in his lap. “I think you’d best be getting on,” he murmured, and they concurred, leaping down and crossing the grass to nearby trees. Aziraphale stood up slowly, turning in a circle, taking in the buildings that skirted the edge of the park. Dear God, Buckingham Palace. And everywhere people. Chasing frogs, ignoring frogs, filming frogs, laughing, eating ice cream, kissing, arguing, finding shapes in the clouds. And so many more people out of sight, crowded into the nearby buildings.
Aziraphale’s hands shook like an unintended earthquake omen of their own. The angel tuned in briefly to the blue frog in Crowley’s flat.
The next plague is water into blood.
Nine tomorrow morning.
All of England.
Oh, well done, Crowley! The temptation was over, and Crowley was still safe.
So, then. Back to the present situation. Aziraphale was tempted to take a moment to try to figure out a reason that there might be an earthquake in London—it wasn’t one of the plagues of Egypt—but there really wasn’t time. It would have been an even better idea to take a moment to think about how to stop an earthquake, but as it turned out, there wasn’t quite enough time for that either.
Because underneath Aziraphale’s feet, there was a little jolt of movement.
Well, it had been a timely premonition, anyway.
Aziraphale floated himself off the ground just enough that the rolling of the earth—fairly gentle so far—could not affect him. His frightened eyes scanned the park. The river was manifesting gentle waves. A couple of children had lost their balance. Dogs were barking, and the frogs were quite vocal. Trees had started to sway in a wind that rocked their roots instead of their branches. But the buildings around the park remained steady.
Was it just the park? Well, thank God for any possible blessings.
Sometimes at moments of crisis humans imagined that they saw apparitions in the sky—the Virgin Mother, the Hand of God, angels. Oftentimes the images originated in a bottle of whisky or intense religious fervor.
Sometimes those visions were real.
Aziraphale stopped pretending that he wasn’t what he was, and let his angelic glow manifest as he lifted himself higher into the air. People turned to look at him. The angel commanded their attention gently, appearing closer to the edge of their minds than before their eyes, enough for them to hear him, not enough for them to feel uncomfortable with the intrusion. They saw him in a form they would understand, white robe and sandals, heavy ivory wings, although Aziraphale didn’t bother with manifesting any of that in the real world.
Angelic apparitions were all supposed to start the same way, although Aziraphale wasn’t sure any other angels followed the rule. Aziraphale always did, though, and he meant it, speaking the words as command, with promise.
Do not be afraid.
Aziraphale let that sink in for as long as he dared, with the earth jolting more strongly beneath him.
Evacuate the park. Don’t run, just walk calmly.
Oh, and do mind the frogs, please.
It seemed to go fairly well. Most people gathered up their things and started to leave the park. The ones near the edges reached safety. Others started to stumble as the earthquake grew in power. The river surged over its bank and the ground jerked strongly to the east and back to the west.
People were screaming now and Aziraphale rose up a little higher so that he could see better. He couldn’t be everywhere, but he tried, miracling one group of people after another to safe ground.
Was it still safe ground? It was, the buildings outside the park were still standing steady...thank God...a family there, watch the dog...two girls on roller skates...oh, the ice cream cart was toppling now....a falling tree, move it out of the way...group of frogs...bicyclist...
So much screaming. So much fear.
Aziraphale found himself getting tired, but he didn’t have time to care about that either. Why did it have to be such a beautiful afternoon? It seemed half of London had come out to the park today. Aziraphale gasped as he realized his feet had almost touched ground again, and the bench he’d been sitting on leaped up to meet him as if it wanted to knock him out of the sky. Aziraphale pushed himself back up, scanning the park again.
A homeless man with his cart...pregnant woman with her two children...loose dog...policeman...news crew...
It was endless, and the earthquake only grew more violent. Pathways cracked and the earth opened itself into chasms. Fences fell. The few remaining people fell and couldn’t manage to get back to their feet. And Aziraphale was drifting down again, but he didn’t have time to realize it.
And then there was a tree falling like it was aiming directly for him, and Aziraphale was too low to the ground to avoid it, and much too tired to react—
And then he was high above the tree, and oddly, Crowley was there. Aziraphale looked up into his face in confusion. Yes, it was Crowley, there were his eyes, golden as the stars, without those stupid glasses, and his—and his wings, glowing black in the sun, flexing as they caught the wind . And Crowley’s arms were wrapped around Aziraphale, one beneath his knees, one at his back, and Aziraphale had his arm around Crowley’s neck. Aziraphale dimly added all of those things together.
Crowley had come back to him, and when the tree had started to fall, the demon had manifested his wings in broad daylight over St. James Park, London, and had quite literally flown to Aziraphale’s rescue, plucking him out of the air, and now Crowley was flying over the earthquake, with Aziraphale in his arms.
And then there was Crowley’s voice, of course. “ANGEL, DO YOU THINK YOU COULD POSSIBLY STAY OUT OF TROUBLE FOR FIVE FUCKING MINUTES?!”
Aziraphale had a very inappropriate thought, and that thought was Well, if you’re going to do this , I’m going to jump off a building next.
Crowley pulled back, flapping his wings in rhythm, hovering in the air, with Aziraphale caught tightly against his chest. The angel spared a glance at the ground, but Crowley snapped at him about that, too. “Everyone’s safe, I got the last few out of the park. Earthquake’s over.”
Aziraphale looked up at Crowley, his face so close, and still could not think of one sensical thing to say. Unfortunately, Crowley seemed to grasp that, and that apparently made him think he should land. Despite Aziraphale’s protesting noises, Crowley brought them down on the top of a building a little ways from the park. They landed gently, because Crowley was a very talented flyer, strong and controlled. He was pure force of grace in the air, Aziraphale had always thought so. Not that Aziraphale had ever witnessed Crowley flying from quite this angle before, not from this close.
Aziraphale hadn’t been in his arms since Frankfurt.
Crowley’s arms were strong beneath Aziraphale’s body, holding him without much effort. Aziraphale’s free hand rested on Crowley’s shoulder, and the angel couldn’t help it, he ran his fingers lightly over Crowley’s black shirt. The material was thin and had warmed with the sun and the demon’s exertion in flying. It was rare to feel Crowley being warm. It was rare to feel Crowley at all, and the nearness of the demon was making Aziraphale feel quite a few different temperatures all at once.
If Aziraphale had wanted, he could have rested his head on Crowley’s shoulder, bringing the embrace even closer, but he didn’t want to do that, he wanted to look up at Crowley’s startlingly beautiful face. His skin was slightly flushed, the wind-kissed rose of his cheeks a lighter shade than the fiery red of his hair.
Aziraphale still couldn’t quite talk, but he knew there was gratitude on his face. He wasn’t sure what else was on his face, but he had no energy to fix that. Crowley’s own expression seemed guarded, despite the fact that his eyes were visible. They were mostly golden, hardly any white, the black pupils very thin and sharp.
Aziraphale had spent the last few hours listening to a lot of different voices—frogs, dogs, people, Beelzebub, Crowley, not to mention an ethereal message giving him previews of an upcoming disaster. It had all been so overwhelming that Aziraphale wasn’t really hearing his own internal monologue at this point, and his external voice had vanished completely. So he just looked at Crowley’s face, and his wings, his eyes, his mouth, and didn’t hear anyone telling him not to.
Slowly, Crowley bent and set Aziraphale’s feet on the ground. Aziraphale didn’t care whether he needed Crowley to steady him or not, he grasped onto the demon’s arms anyway. But Crowley didn’t pull away. They stood together, demon and angel, with Aziraphale clutching at him, with Crowley’s wings glowing in the sunlight, all dark and light at the same time, sheltering them from the wind as it pushed over the top of the building.
Operating on instinct alone, Aziraphale closed his eyes. It was a different world then, without the sight of Crowley that Aziraphale had been relishing for the last few minutes, and now the angel’s other senses sparked into life. Aziraphale could feel the unusual heat of Crowley’s body as he stood so close. He could breathe in the scent of him, campfire smoke and right now some sort of biting spice. He could luxuriate in the smooth, sweet feel of Crowley’s arms underneath Aziraphale’s hands, their touch separated only by the thin fabric of Crowley’s shirt.
And then Aziraphale could sense the demon taking that last step toward him, bringing his head in close, every centimeter seeming to take an hour to cross until at last Aziraphale felt Crowley breathe against his mouth. The angel tilted his head, his lips parting.
But Crowley suddenly moved away, with a stilted, almost angry sound, pulling his arms from Aziraphale’s grasp, and when Aziraphale opened his eyes again he was met with the sight of the demon with his arms folded and those sunglasses instead of the golden eyes.
Aziraphale found his voice. “Thank you.”
Crowley was making a quite obvious effort not to yell. “Did you know that was coming, angel? Because if so, we are going to have a discussion .”
“Oh!” Aziraphale exclaimed, his memory coming back to him. “The conversation with Hell! I didn’t have a chance to hear to the whole thing. Just let me listen into what the frog—”
Crowley’s eyebrows shot up. “You haven’t? Wait, Aziraphale—”
But Aziraphale had accessed the frog’s memory by then, and he knew that a huge smile was spreading across his face. “Crowley, you really are so clever. Brilliant. The holy water explanation. Fantastic.”
Crowley’s body had grown very still, but Aziraphale could feel his eyes moving ceaselessly. His voice was pained and breathless. “You understand that I was lying, angel. You do, right? Not—not to you. Never to you. To Beelzebub.”
Aziraphale looked at him, puzzled. “I am aware of how temptations work. Besides, I was there, love,” he reminded him. “I know how it happened, you and me. I won’t call you nice ,” he added with a smile, “but you know what I think about that.”
Crowley’s voice fell even quieter. “Did you just call me—“ He took in a breath. “I don’t mean nice , did you just call me—”
“What? Brilliant? Yes, I believe so.”
To Aziraphale’s great disappointment, Crowley folded his wings away. Without the feathery shield, the sun caught them fully, and the wind tugged at their clothes and hair. Crowley stepped back a couple of paces, rolling his shoulders without the weight of the wings. “You, uh—you realize you are complimenting a demon on his demonic talents.”
“Well, where would we be without them? The world needs temptations, Crowley.”
Crowley opened his mouth to answer that, but then he frowned. “Okay, Aziraphale, you’ve had a busy day, let’s take a little bit of a break here.” He guided Aziraphale to sit down on the roof.
“I suppose I have,” the angel said. “We both have.” He smiled at Crowley as the demon sat down beside him. Their legs dangled into space over the edge of the roof. “Thank you so much for saving me. And all those people.”
Crowley was frowning at him, though. “I know you saw this coming. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, you were busy. You had to do your thing and I had to do mine.”
Crowley tipped his head back, training his gaze at the sky. “Yeah, angel, it can’t work like that.”
“But you didn’t want me to come with you.”
Crowley groaned. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Aziraphale wanted to reach out to him, to lay a hand on his arm again. Partly out of compassion, and partly out of something quite a bit stronger. He resisted. “So am I,” he said.
Crowley turned his gaze to him again. “From now on, we have to do this together. Every part of this together.”
Aziraphale smiled. “That was pretty badass, with you flying and all.”
Crowley made a face. “No, don’t swear, please. It’s weird.”
“All right. It was bad-derriere.”
“ Jesus, Mary, and Joseph , angel.”
Sorry, boys, I couldn’t let you kiss on the roof, or you’d spoil the ending. This one has to be thus far and no farther. (I didn’t realize that was a Bible verse, but it’s strangely appropriate that it is. Job 38:11.)
And anyway, there has already been some demonic (and maybe angelic) intervention on the plot of this chapter. I wanted to show a rescue, so I had planned to have Crowley use a miracle to save Aziraphale from being hit by a car during the confusion of the frog plague. I was informed by the boys that instead they wanted a BAMF Crowley flying about London in broad daylight with his wings out, physically rescuing Aziraphale from an earthquake. Admittedly, yes, much more romantic and exciting. However there was no room for a earthquake in this plot—4 plagues is really quite enough action already. And if Crowley was going to show up unexpectedly, that required the boys to split up for a while, with Aziraphale staying in the park instead of accompaning Crowley to his chat with Hell, which definitely was not going to be in character for Aziraphale. But the boys had a point. So I did some heavy re-plotting, and we ended up with the frog spy, who is adorable, and the demonic wings, and the earthquake, so I hope you enjoyed it. (I do know that it's weird that I talk to my characters, but that's always been part of my writing process.)
And if anyone would like to DRAW the earthquake rescue, I would be extremely grateful.
Froggos are modeled on Cope’s gray tree frog
Chapter 5: Somewhere in space I hang suspended, until I know there’s a chance that you care
Somewhere in space I hang suspended
Until I know there’s a chance that you care
Night was falling. Crowley had a glass of scotch in his hand, but he wasn’t drinking it. He didn’t really trust himself to be drunk around Aziraphale right now. Besides, his head hurt enough without it. Over the last hour or so, he had developed some sort of strange sharp pain behind his eyes, but either he was imagining it or else he was hiding it well enough, because Aziraphale hadn’t sensed it yet and offered the demon his healing touch.
The angel was a little tipsy. His blue eyes were bright, his hair a wind-driven mess, which somehow only made it look even softer than it was before. “Water into blood, oh dear. Awful mess. And what a health hazard.”
Crowley shifted on the couch—they were in the living room of the bookshop—but he still couldn’t quite get comfortable. His shoulders ached too. But Crowley had six thousand years’ experience with acting like everything was fine, so he leaned back and let his legs loll about gracelessly. “We have another problem,” he said.
Aziraphale put down his glass of scotch on the end table. Without a coaster, Aziraphale didn’t own any. “I know,” the angel answered.
“Where exactly did the—”
“—earthquake come from.”
Aziraphale shrugged inelegantly. “Heck if I know.”
Crowley leaned forward suddenly, and the angel’s eyes widened a little. “Not good enough, Aziraphale.”
Crowley could tell by the way Aziraphale regarded him then—his iris-blue eyes a little less glazed—that the angel wasn’t actually as tipsy as he seemed. But apparently they both wanted to pretend things, for whatever stupid reasons they always did, or maybe a new reason, he didn’t even know anymore.
“I don’t know where it came from,” Aziraphale repeated.
Crowley didn’t let up. “And if we try to stop the next plague, is it going to happen again?”
Aziraphale followed his reasoning easily, although that didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t intoxicated. Aziraphale was usually the cleverest person in most any room, and alcohol couldn’t dull that completely. “He’s Pestilence, not Poseidon.” 1
“Angel, I’ve seen earthquakes. You’ve seen earthquakes. They don’t stop at park boundaries.”
Aziraphale wouldn’t look at him, which was a tactic the angel tended to use if he wanted Crowley to miss the fact that he was lying. Crowley didn’t, of course. “Optical illusion,” the angel told the end table.
“Earthquakes don’t target angels, either.”
“Crowley, you are being ridic—”
Crowley growled and stood up from the couch. To his surprise, Aziraphale was suddenly in front of him, speaking gently. “I’m sorry. You’re right. You are. I’m just...I don’t even know. Sit back down, please.”
Crowley blinked at the angel from behind his glasses, but he followed instructions. Aziraphale sat back down as well, this time next to Crowley on the couch. Their legs came near to each other, white linen, black denim, but they didn’t touch.
“Pestilence has a motive,” Crowley said.
“Yes. But—” Aziraphale broke off as Crowley frowned at him. “I’m not arguing,” the angel said quietly, “just thinking. Sickness often follows natural disasters. Contaminated water, injuries, lack of shelter. I’ve never really thought about it that way, but I suppose it’s possible that Pestilence didn’t just come around after events like that.”
“Maybe he can cause them.”
Aziraphale gave a reluctant nod.
“So can he—what else—” Crowley had to start that over, his voice shaky. “What else can he do to you?”
But Aziraphale wasn’t looking compassionately at him now. He was all Guard of the fucking Eastern Gate, radiating strength. “Regardless, Crowley, water into blood isn’t like a fall of frogs. People will die. Lots of people, and lots of animals. Like they did in Egypt. Even if it won’t keep the next plagues from coming, we have to try to stop this one.”
“ You have to try.”
“Yes. It’s my calling.”
“God is calling you.”
To his surprise, Aziraphale hesitated. “It’s possible I...may be calling myself.”
There was a silence for a moment. “But that’s your decision?” Crowley asked.
And that was that.
Well, Crowley did have options, of course. Crowley could close the short distance between them now, either slowly, so as not to spook Aziraphale, or maybe striking at him with a snake-like quickness. Either way, Crowley would have the pretty angel on his back on the couch before he knew what was happening.
Aziraphale would blink up at him with those blue eyes—a little surprised, a little heated—and he would make a sound as Crowley leaned over him. It would be a quiet little sound, like Aziraphale would make at an antique fair when he discovered an old book he didn’t yet own, just a little spark of unexpected pleasure. And then Crowley would lean closer and press his mouth gently against the angel’s neck, just under his jaw, and Aziraphale would make another sound, this one a little louder, the kind he would make when the long-awaited food was brought out at a restaurant. And then when Crowley licked at the angel’s mouth, sampling Aziraphale’s intoxicating flavor, Aziraphale would close his eyes and Crowley would get to hear the sounds that the angel had made in Frankfurt. By the time Crowley was finally satisfied that he’d kissed Aziraphale properly, the plagues would be years in the past.
Or Crowley could just spread his wings out, pick Aziraphale up, and fly them into the sunset, because that had been a wonderful idea, hadn’t it? That had been exactly what Crowley needed to do, something to fan his lust for the angel to a point where Aziraphale was more in danger right now sitting on a couch next to Crowley than he had been during the earthquake.
God, to see Aziraphale like that, his power radiating around him, a fucking angelic apparition over London, his golden glow arching over the world like a loving hand. That kind of thing had the power to make a demon feel smited just for looking at it. And then the tree had been falling, and suddenly the apparition was in Crowley’s arms, the glow of him still so bright that it had almost burned Crowley’s skin. It should have. Crowley should have been struck down. Because it should never have happened that all the power and glory that was the Principality Aziraphale should look so pleased to be caught up in the embrace of a demon with black wings and serpent’s eyes.
Well. Aziraphale had been looking a bit more than pleased .
Crowley could read human souls for what desires they held. He’d never quite been able to read Aziraphale like that, but creating an apparition and fighting an earthquake had clearly taken a lot out of the angel. Aziraphale had put all his power and concentration into protecting humanity, leaving nothing to protect himself, not his life or his secrets.
And the glimpse Crowley had gotten of those secrets was burning into him right now, more painfully than any angelic glow.
Oh dear God, Satan, anybody, oh fuck.
What if he’d been wrong all this time? What if Aziraphale actually wanted him, seriously wanted him with a desire that rivaled Crowley’s own? Wanted Crowley to lower him down on the couch right this very minute and kiss him for the next five years? What if Frankfurt hadn’t been a fluke, and every other time Aziraphale had touched him, smiled, blushed, what if Aziraphale wasn’t as clueless as Crowley thought, never quite as oblivious, never quite so tipsy , as it were, what if the angel had been awash in un-angelic feelings for a demon for a very long time?
There was a reason that Crowley had never let himself see it, never let himself admit the possibility that this desire was not one-sided. Because if Aziraphale wanted him, then it was going to happen. It would. Crowley’s resistance to Aziraphale’s requests, his needs, his wishes had always been shit, and if the angel asked him to right now, Crowley would fall down before him and offer worship to the only Heavenly being that Crowley had ever believed deserved it.
That was the thing about temptation. No one was immune. Crowley didn’t have many triggers, but there were a few—the need to feel his car hurtling down the road at breakneck speeds, almost like flying. The need to actually fly, to stretch his wings in sun and sky and feel himself weightless, free. Suspended in space like he had been once, so long ago, before the Fall, with stardust sparkling in his hands. The staggering, destructive desire for the angel he loved was the strongest of all Crowley’s lusts. Crowley was pretty much always this close to acting on it, and right now, he was closer.
With a groan, his headache pounding behind his skull, Crowley stood up again, pacing the small book-free space that had been cleared around the living room furniture. “Water into blood,” he hissed.
“Oh. Yes, quite.” Aziraphale seemed a little startled, and he took another drink of scotch. Crowley wondered if the angel’s thoughts just now had been nearly as heated and horrified as his own. Was Aziraphale thinking about it this moment? That almost-kiss on the roof? What it would have been like to make love up there under the sun and the wind and the endless sky?
Or was it the wings? Crowley had realized a long while ago that the angel had a bit of a thing—maybe an admiration—for his wings. Unbecoming of an angel, but who knew, Crowley himself thought they were fairly attractive.
Yeah, no. It wasn’t admiration. It was lust. The angel had a full-on wing kink. For demonic wings.
“What are we going to do?” Crowley managed to ask.
“Well...” Aziraphale smoothed his shirt and bowtie and Crowley’s gaze closely followed the motion of his fingers. “My first thought was that we might try counteracting the blood somehow. Miracle in some bleach—”
“That will kill everything in the water.”
“Yes, that was my conclusion, too. But then I thought, what if the problem weren’t so much the blood?”
“What if the problem were the water?”
“Yes!” Aziraphale grinned at him now. “Maybe we could replace it with something.”
Crowley allowed himself a slightly mocking smile. “Like what, scotch?”
“Well, something less deadly?”
Aziraphale gave him an irritated look as if it were quite reasonable of him to expect the demon to have come up with a solution by this point.
Crowley settled into a chair opposite the couch. “The thing about that, Aziraphale, is that both scotch and milk are mostly water.”
“Oh. You think they would still turn to blood? I mean, in Egypt, no one’s drinks changed, not even water. Just the river and all.”
“I have no idea. It’s not like this has happened before. Well, no one’s tried to stop it before, anyway.” He made that last bit a little pointed, but Aziraphale gave him a look that said I am ignoring you. Which was an odd thing to put across while looking directly at someone. “Besides, anything that’s not water will still kill all the fish and frogs and plants....”
“You know what we could do?” Aziraphale asked. “We could move the water.”
“All of England’s water?”
“Move it where?”
The angel shrugged. “Anywhere.”
“France? The moon? The bookshop?”
“Yes, I heard that. But—”
“Because if it’s in France, then it’s not England’s water, is it?”
“And we’d replace it with France’s water.”
Crowley spread out his hands in a slow down gesture. “Okay, following this logic—as far as that’s possible—wouldn’t that then make France’s water—” He cupped his hands by his left knee, and then moved them to his right knee—“England’s water?”
Aziraphale was watching the hands move water across the Channel. “Would it?”
“I think it would have to. And then England would still have water, even though it used to be France’s water.”
“Oh.” The angel frowned. “Well, what if it didn’t?”
“What if England had no water?”
Crowley waved a hand. “Just miracle it all away.”
“For long enough to avoid the blood plague, then bring it back.”
“And how long is that?” Crowley asked.
“Well, until Pestilence gives up trying, I guess.”
“Assuming he does.”
The angel twisted his mouth a little. “How long did it take in Egypt?”
“To turn the water? It was instantaneous.”
“And how long was our plague of frogs?”
“That’s not too bad, then.”
Crowley nodded. “Okay. So from nine a.m. tomorrow to nine-twenty—”
“Let’s say nine-thirty, to be safe.”
“...to nine-thirty, you and I will somehow manage to miracle away all of England’s water.”
Aziraphale looked determined. “Yes.”
Crowley tilted his head, evaluating him for a second. “Are you strong enough to do that? Because I’m fairly certain that I’m not.” Especially with this fucking headache.
“Well, with the two of us together...” Aziraphale shrugged. “I have been feeling somehow—stronger lately.”
Crowley shrugged. “All right, sure. But Aziraphale, you do know this isn’t going to work. It’s ridiculous. Biggest underdog win ever if it does.”
Aziraphale didn’t argue. “But what other choice do we have?”
“I guess none.”
“I guess not.” The angel was looking at him more softly now. “Crowley, I was wondering if you might—”
Crowley cut him off completely, because there was no way in Hell that he was strong enough right now to listen to Aziraphale ask for anything, not even if it was How many p’s are there in ‘apparition’? Crowley didn’t even fucking know how many there were. “We need,” Crowley started, unsure of how to finish that sentence, but pressing on bravely, ”we need to, ah, also, um, figure out exactly what is England’s water.”
Aziraphale blinked. “What?”
“You know, what water belongs to England?”
“Oh, you mean like, what is international waters and all that? The sea.”
“Precisely.” Which was an Aziraphale-type of thing to say and they looked curiously at each other for a second.
“Well—” the angel started.
“Because there’s the Channel and everything, isn’t there?”
“Some of that water really is France’s, you know.”
“But some is England’s.”
“You know what, I think I’m going to go do some research.”
Crowley stood up, and when he did the pain in his head reeled back and forth like the ground in an earthquake. It took a great deal of strength not to cry out, to please, please, not let Aziraphale sense it, because if the angel could tell it was there, he’d try to help, and Crowley was—he wanted to be, he needed to be—right now, quite beyond angelic help.
“You don’t have a computer,” Crowley informed him, as if Aziraphale would somehow be ignorant of that fact, “so I’m going to mine and I’ll figure it all out. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Aziraphale was standing then, his eyes wide, his expression partly bewildered but partly compassionate. And then his gaze fell to Crowley’s mouth.
Crowley didn’t even bother with the door, he blinked himself into the Bentley and was gone.
Of course, it didn’t work, miracling away England’s water. Had Aziraphale expected it to? He wasn’t sure. It had been a Hail-Mary, so to speak, and those were dicey.
However, it wasn’t a complete failure either. They had actually managed to protect most of England’s water, their combined strength somehow up to the task. After thirty minutes, the country’s waterways had returned clear, with fish, ducks, and extra frogs, all of them fine, and though Aziraphale and Crowley were quite worn out from the tremendous effort, they had at least saved most of what they’d meant to save.
But of course, they’d missed something.
Crowley had shown up at the bookshop at eight, looking his usual irritatingly attractive self, black pants that hugged his, uh, well, those parts of the body that pants hugged, and a dark red t-shirt that made the scarlet of his hair seem sharper. Black blazer over that and black boots, and though Aziraphale had spent the night not thinking of Crowley and his golden eyes and his obsidian wings, the angel was most definitely thinking of them again as soon as the demon strolled into the bookshop, carrying two cups of coffee and a blueberry muffin.
In order to keep from thinking about Crowley overnight, Aziraphale had busied himself with his books, reading up on maritime law as it applied to national and international waters. That morning, over coffee and Aziraphale’s muffin, they’d discussed what the angel had read versus what Crowley had looked up on his computer overnight, and they were mostly in agreement. Where they weren’t, they took the larger measure, just to be sure.
And then they’d had to figure out how to amass enough power to remove the water, and at that point, before he reached for the demon’s hands to combine powers, Aziraphale had needed to confront an anxious feeling that he was having. It wasn’t another overdue book. It was a far more specific, immediate thing. There was something wrong with Crowley.
Aziraphale had noticed it the night before, not before Crowley had left, but immediately afterward. There had been some sort of darkness between the angel and the demon all night, and Aziraphale had put it down to lingering animosity about the earthquake, plus the angel’s own attempts to stop himself from thinking very heated but melancholy things about the beautiful demon beside him on the couch. But when Crowley left, most of the feeling vanished with him, and Aziraphale realized that the darkness had been coming from Crowley.
It was back this morning. Aziraphale couldn’t quite decipher what it was, though. At first he’d assumed that it was something physical. Crowley’s body could be injured, it could feel pain, and it could even get sick, though that was quite rare, as the demon soul inside of it made an environment too harsh for many microbes to take root. Infection from injury was more common than something like the flu, but it could happen.
But Aziraphale’s efforts were complicated by the fact that Crowley was being very standoffish. When Aziraphale had reached out a hand to him earlier, wanting to gauge what was causing him such pain, Crowley had drawn back as if Aziraphale were the source of the pain himself.
Which made Aziraphale realize that he probably was. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d caused it. Maybe it had been the angel being overcome with love and trying to kiss Crowley on the roof. Maybe it had been the angel being overcome with righteousness and refusing to give up on the Guardian-Angel-of-the-Earth thing, or it could have been both, or something else besides that. Aziraphale and Crowley were not in a good place at the moment, and that hurt Aziraphale so much that he could easily understand if it was hurting Crowley too.
So when it came time to try combining powers to empty England’s waterways, Aziraphale had not attempted to touch the demon. The grateful look on Crowley’s face had broken Aziraphale’s heart. But Aziraphale had swallowed that pain back.
Maybe it wasn’t surprising that they had missed something about the blood plague with how distracted they were, or maybe it was just fated that something about this was going to go wrong, no matter what.
What they really should have done was to miracle away all the water in the Channel, right down to the shore of France. What they had actually done was to trust the internet and Aziraphale’s books, because they agreed that the part of the Channel that was England’s extended out twelve miles from the coast. But when nine a.m. rolled around and England had gone quite dry, Aziraphale had felt immediately that it hadn’t worked. Crowley seemed to sense it too, although he was still quite closed off and the angel couldn’t read him very well.
At nine-thirty, when England’s water returned, Aziraphale had turned on his television and they had watched the news about the freak weather event that had evaporated all of England’s water and then rained it back again in an instant, or perhaps the seismic event that had drawn it all away and then sent it flowing back again. Aziraphale had expected someone to opine that it was a miracle like the parting of the Red Sea, but ironically, the explanation that was closest to the truth seemed to occur to no one. Eventually a newscaster had mentioned that there was a strip of about twelve miles in the Channel that had apparently turned to blood. Probably a mass die-off of sea life there or something.
Crowley had pulled his smart phone from his pocket—well, he’d clearly miracled it up because there was no way those pants could fit anything in a pocket—and started growling at the internet about having failed them. As it turned out, some sources said that England’s portion of the Channel extended twenty-four miles from shore, not twelve.
Crowley found a message board or two and busied himself writing scathing posts about incompetency in marine law, and Aziraphale just sat and looked at him. The demon occupied the chair opposite the couch, not spread out over it like usual, but hunched into a small space. Clearly in pain. Emotional pain, yes, but there was a physical element to it too that Aziraphale was starting to get a better sense of.
Eventually, Crowley left his internet arguments long enough to look up and realize that Aziraphale was watching him. With a frustrated growl, Crowley blinked away his phone.
“So. Third plague,” Aziraphale said. “You know, the one they’ve got lying around in case we got tired of the first two.”
A brief flash of a smile crossed Crowley’s face. “Right.”
“But we can’t ask Heaven or Hell now. No one left to ask, I guess.”
“No. Except—” The demon frowned down at his hands, as if he expected to see his phone.
“Well, we could look. You know, like we did for the overdue book . We did okay combining our powers this morning. Could probably do it again.”
It was a more wonderful answer than Aziraphale had hoped for, but it begged another question. Maybe the angel shouldn’t have asked it, but he was quite terrible at not sharing what was on his mind. Assuming it wasn’t X-rated or rude, of course. “Are you strong enough for that?”
Crowley gingerly lifted his head up and met Aziraphale’s gaze, and damn those dark glasses, but the demon didn’t look annoyed, he didn’t look offended, he looked scared. Aziraphale drew in a little breath and Crowley scowled at him. “I’m fine.”
“You’re really not.”
“I’m just tired.”
“You have a headache.”
“But I can help with that.” He reached toward Crowley. “Let me—”
Aziraphale went still, realizing that his eyes were probably quite wide, and trying very hard not to take in the shuddering breath he could feel pressing at him. And he expected Crowley to soften then, like he always did, the demon could never stay angry at Aziraphale, and when he realized he’d snapped, he’d apologize.
Aziraphale let the air run out of him and he sat back on the couch, folding his empty hands together. “All right,” he said, very softly, trying not to sound too hurt, because if Crowley didn’t want to apologize, that was his right, and the angel didn’t want to guilt him into it. It wasn’t Crowley’s fault anyway. The apology should really go the other way. But when Aziraphale opened his mouth to start it, Crowley interrupted him.
“We’ll do it just like this morning.” Crowley moved to the couch, but didn’t touch Aziraphale or look at him.
“Oh. Yes. All right.” Of course. The no-touching way.
Combining powers with Crowley unfortunately didn’t entail getting a good look inside his head. It was just the simple pleasure of feeling that piece of Crowley that wasn’t human, that didn’t quite belong in that overly attractive body, no matter how well Crowley wore it. The part of him that had wings. It was always so beautiful to feel Crowley’s energy, which, naturally, was a dark, luxurious red in color, swirling around Aziraphale’s lighter, golden angelic essence.
Crowley was in pain. There was no hiding that now. But Aziraphale was so frightened that if he reached out to try to clear it away that Crowley would feel invaded and that the attempt at healing would cause more hurt to Crowley than the headache and sore shoulders and scratchy throat that he was feeling now.
So the Angel of Compassion left his best friend, the being he loved more than all of creation, in pain, as they walked together on the ethereal plane, searching for anything the universe might give them.
They were brought back this time by a very physical sensation. Something hit Aziraphale in the leg. He gasped and opened his eyes, and there, standing half in his lap and half in Crowley’s, was a cat. It was a quite dapper looking grey shorthair with a perfect set of four white mittens and a white tip to his tail.
Aziraphale and Crowley stared at the cat, and it stared back at them with deep green eyes, turning itself about to sniff Aziraphale and then Crowley, before sitting down on the demon’s leg. Aziraphale wondered briefly if the cat choosing Crowley meant that Aziraphale was not glowing internally at the moment, or if the cat just had enough sense to choose the far more attractive demon over the quite ordinary-looking angel. Cats had a sense of style, didn’t they? Definitely would lead him to Crowley, then.
“You know,” said Crowley, casually petting the cat, as if the universe answering questions via some sort of ethereal express-mail animal had been exactly what he’d expected, “you know, the Egyptians, they rather liked cats, didn’t they?”
“Oh yes,” Aziraphale agreed. “Cats everywhere.”
The demon cocked his head to one side. “So...just thinking out loud here...if there had been, say, a plague of cats visited on Egypt...”
Aziraphale reached over to give the cat a skritch behind its ears. “It’s possible...no one would have noticed.”
“And if nobody noticed it...”
“Nobody would have written it down in the Bible, now would they?”
They exchanged a brief glance before the demon turned his attention back to the cat. “No, I can’t imagine they would’ve,” he said.
“And if that’s the case,” Aziraphale continued, “then we’ve been living with a plague of cats for last four thousand years.”
“You know,” Aziraphale said, “that’s probably why everyone’s so confused about how many bug plagues there were. They’ve always been trying to make nine plagues add up to ten.”
Crowley was tickling the cat under its chin. “Would explain a lot.”
“But no chance to stop this one, then.”
“No. Far too late.”
The cat stood up and rubbed against Crowley’s face, and Aziraphale was astonished to see Crowley push his glasses up on his forehead and regard the animal with his serpentine eyes.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale warned, “if you try to eat a cat—”
Crowley snapped his head up with angry surprise. “What kind of monster do you think I am?” He mocked Aziraphale’s voice, more animated than the angel had seen him all morning. “Don’t eat a cat. Snakes don’t eat cats, why would I eat a cat?”
“I’m sorry!” the angel exclaimed, fighting to keep his smile suppressed lest it give the joke away. “I was just checking.”
Crowley wasn’t done. “Eat a cat. I couldn’t eat you,” he assured the little animal, massaging along its back. “Look at you, you’re bloody adorable.” At some point Crowley realized that Aziraphale was looking at him fondly, and made a face, replacing his dark glasses. “We’re not keeping him,” he informed the angel curtly.
“No,” Aziraphale answered. “Of course not.”
After that, Crowley, who was quite clearly exhausted, took a nap on the couch with the grey cat curled on his chest, shedding light-colored fur onto the demon’s dark clothes. Aziraphale very gently reached out to investigate Crowley’s pain and found it had lessened a little. At least the demon had accepted someone’s touch.
Then Aziraphale had busied himself with puttering about the shop filing things or arranging them or whatever, but mostly forming a plan in his head.
No one left to ask.
Well, last night Aziraphale had come up with one person who might have information on the final plague, the one that would wipe out so many human lives. Aziraphale shouldn’t think of asking this particular person, because Crowley wouldn’t like it. But the angel was considering it, planning it anyway.
They needed him, humanity did. Aziraphale was all they had, he understood that now better than he ever had, after Heaven had left humanity defenseless at Armageddon. It wasn’t like the angel didn’t realize that he was also all Crowley had, no Heaven for him, and now no Hell either, and well, really, Aziraphale had always been the only thing that Crowley had. The angel did know this.
But that really only made it harder. It was fine for humanity not to love Aziraphale in return for what he gave them. But it was far too heartbreaking to try to give his love to Crowley and have Crowley reject it, to know he would never reciprocate it. Aziraphale was not strong enough for that.
Aziraphale drew the sigils on the floor in black chalk while Crowley slept, and then covered them with a rug when he heard the demon stir. He walked back into the living room to find the cat perched on a shelf, eating something savory from a bowl that Aziraphale did not own.
“There you go, you’ll like that, Butterscotch,” Crowley said fondly.
Aziraphale blinked at him. “You’ve named the cat Butterscotch?”
Crowley gave him a surprised look. “No, of course I haven’t.”
“Crowley, he’s not even a yellow cat, he’s grey.”
“Take that up with him. Why would I name the cat when he’s got his own name already?”
The angel attempted to introduce logic into the conversation. “You can’t talk to cats.”
Crowley scratched the cat behind its ears as it ate. “Seems that of the two of us here, angel, you are the one who clearly can’t talk to cats.”
The demon might have been joking.
Blast it, Aziraphale could never tell.
Crowley is joking. Probably. And yes, the talking to cats joke is in here because the Doctor speaks horse (wrong Doctor, I know, but the rest of my family are Whooligans so I picked up this knowledge somewhere).
Due to the demonic intervention on the last chapter, I had to come up with some reason for Pestilence to cause earthquakes. Hope it seems plausible (as plausible as anything in fantasy writing needs to be, at least).
The plague of cats is my favorite joke in this whole fic, and it's not even mine. When I was plotting this chapter, I texted my 18-year-old son at work and asked him to help me think of the funniest Egyptian/Biblical-style plague possible. So the unnoticed 4000-year-old plague of cats was conceived during a shift at the drive-thru of a McDonalds, and it’s way better than anything I had.
Chapter 6: Won't you answer the fervent prayer of a stranger in paradise?
Please note that this chapter is rated M.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Won't you answer the fervent prayer
of a stranger in paradise?
Crowley had accepted Aziraphale’s offer to stay the night in the bedroom of the bookshop, after he’d slept most of the rest of the day on the couch. It had passed unspoken between them that the angel would not investigate Crowley’s dreams or attempt to show the demon compassion in any way. Of course, that made Aziraphale angry at the both of them, but that was good, in a way, because he could use that anger to fuel his actions. It was easier to do something Crowley would be furious about if they were already upset with one another.
It would, of course, have been much wiser not to have Crowley nearby when Aziraphale attempted to carry out his plan, but the angel was so worried about the stupid demon that he couldn’t bear to have him farther away. If the pain got worse, Aziraphale would notice, and well—they’d cross that bridge when they came to it.
So Crowley had fallen asleep in the bedroom with Butterscotch the possibly-self-misnamed cat keeping watch over him and Aziraphale sort of keeping watch over him as well, but mostly working downstairs, uncovering the sigils he’d drawn in black. Sigils that would summon Death.
Aziraphale had never summoned a Horseperson before. It was not the type of thing that one normally did, because for one thing, Horsepeople were quite large. Not so much physically, but they took up quite a lot of room in the ethereal plane, and that did tend to cause problems when they were summoned, especially indoors. Aziraphale had tried to clear out a metaphysical space within the bookshop to accommodate that after Crowley had gone to bed.
Another reason that it was a bad idea to summon a Horseperson was, of course, that they could kill you. Whether you be a Principality, a Duke of Hell, or anyone higher or lower, no one was safe. And even if that hadn’t been well known, Aziraphale had learned it from experience. He had met Death before, many times. The black-shrouded entity wasn’t very chatty, so they’d never really spoken, but they’d seen each other at battlefields and plague hospitals and in the aftermath of tornadoes, and so on, through the ages.
Aziraphale was not stronger than Death. It was Aziraphale’s job to comfort the souls who were leaving the mortal plane and then pass them on to Death, not to try to fight Death, not even to plead with him to spare people. If the angel had ever tried to battle Death for human lives, it would have come to nothing. It was pointless. So of course, Aziraphale wasn’t planning to try to fight Death now. He just wanted to ask some questions.
So Aziraphale prepared to invite Death into his parlour, as it were. Bookshelves removed themselves to far walls and a space cleared around the sigils. Aziraphale had learned not to light any candles.
The angel thought that when he finally had it all ready, everything arranged, sigils, physical space, metaphysical space, that he would hesitate and perhaps think better of what he was about to do. Aziraphale wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad thing that he did not.
The angel stretched out his hand and coaxed the sigils to life. They blazed up with a reddish-black, wavery mist that wasn’t quite Hellfire and wasn’t quite not Hellfire either. Aziraphale took a couple of prudent steps backwards.
It wasn’t long before his efforts paid off, and something began materializing in the circle. Some thing became some one and then Aziraphale was standing in his shop, looking Death in the face. Well, sort of in the face, because Death didn’t seem to have a face, just a vaguely not-empty hood in the black cloak that shrouded most of his figure. The only visible body parts he had were hands, which were simply bones.
Of course, something within the process—Hellfire, sigils, manifestation of a Horseperson indoors—woke Crowley up. There was a terrible racket on the stairs and then a somewhat disheveled demon—with no shirt on, or shoes, or sunglasses, good Heavens, just those jeans —burst into the room and skidded to a stop just outside the circle.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to address one or the other of his visitors, but Crowley cut him off. “AZIRAPHALE, YOU DO NOT INVITE DEATH INTO THE BOOKSHOP, THAT’S LITERALLY CALLED HAVING A DEATH WISH, BLOODY HELL, ANGEL, WHAT THE FUCK?”
Aziraphale frowned severely at him. “Please calm down, I know what I’m doing.” He must have put on some sort of Guard of the Eastern Gate look because Crowley actually closed his mouth.
The angel turned to Death, and he could somehow feel the entity’s gaze on him despite not being able to see his eyes. Perhaps Aziraphale had had enough experience with Crowley and his sunglasses.
Of course, Aziraphale had been prepared to address Death without having a gloriously handsome, nearly naked demon in the room, and so he could hardly be blamed if his prepared remarks had gone quite out of his head.
“Uh, I’m terribly sorry about that,” he started. “Um, but thank you for coming. Yes. Well. I wanted to talk to you about the plague. That is, the coming plague on humans. I was rather hoping—you see, the world didn’t end. Well, you know that, you were there. And so this plague, you know, was supposed to be part of the end times and well, it’s not the end times, is it? So it’s really quite unnecessary, and frankly, smacks of disorganization on someone’s part, um, certainly not yours, though, of course, and well. So you see.”
There was a pause, and then Death spoke up in his strangely noisy-soft, grating-smooth voice. “You want me to cancel the plague.”
Aziraphale smiled, grateful that he’d been understood. “Oh, yes. Precisely.”
“It’s too late, Principality.”
“Well, I realize that the other plagues have already—I mean, we tried to stop them, but nothing really went to plan, and—”
“It’s too late. Pestilence is riding, it cannot be stopped.”
Aziraphale realized that he was attempting not to cry only when Crowley put a hand on his shoulder and the angel almost felt the tears break through. “There’s nothing?” Aziraphale asked. “I mean, maybe we could—” He knew better, though, and broke off. “Right. Yes, of course. Well, thank you very much for coming, I do appreciate it. Very sorry to have bothered you.”
Death turned his head a little and it really would have been nicer if he had a face for Aziraphale to focus on, but you could still kind of tell when his expression was changing. “Principality,” he said in that unsettling voice, “we’ve never really talked before, but since I’m here, I did want to say that I was impressed by how you and your demon side-stepped Armageddon.”
Aziraphale stared at him in surprise, “Oh, you didn’t want Armageddon either? I would have thought—”
“I had no stake in it. Everyone dies. It doesn’t really matter to me when.”
The angel’s voice got a little higher. “Oh. Well. Quite.”
“And on a personal note,” Death continued, “may I just add that I’ve always thought you and Crowley make a nice couple. You do work very well together.”
Aziraphale had a stock reaction to that comment because it had been made now and then in the six thousand years that the angel and demon had been friends, although certainly never by a Horseperson before, but apparently that didn’t matter, because here it came: an embarrassed smile, and the protest “Oh, no no no, we’re not—” Aziraphale managed to get that far before Crowley started shouting again, turning himself about and waving his arms, as he was wont to do. He really was such a drama queen, Aziraphale thought with irritation.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, did DEATH just say we make a nice COUPLE? What the bloody Hell, angel, you summon Death and I’m over here having a heart attack—” he pointed at Death— “I’m not having a heart attack, leave me alone—” and back to Aziraphale— “and I’m ready to argue and fight and face down Mortality itself for the protection of you and the whole bloody human race besides, but you two are just going to have a CONVERSATION about it like you’re old friends or something, like it’s the most normal thing in the world?!”
“Well,” said Aziraphale. “Yes.”
Crowley continued waving his hands, but his voice got a little quieter. “All right then! Carry on!”
Aziraphale frowned apologetically at Death. “I’m so sorry, it’s been quite a difficult few days for us. And, um, thank you. Also. For the—compliments.”
Death nodded. “It’s a matter of hours now, Principality. Near daybreak.”
Aziraphale’s spirits fell even lower. “That soon. Oh.”
Crowley spoke up again, his voice calmer now, although he still was pacing about in agitation. “Uh, look, uh— Death —how bad is this final plague going to be? The frogs were the park, the blood the whole country, the cats are everywhere by this point, but this is the big one, right? Three out of every four dead? What’s it going to be, all of Europe? The whole world?”
“Just London,” Crowley echoed. “Well, that’s—awfully specific.”
Death seemed to shrug his shoulders. “I think it was supposed to be more, but Pestilence is kind of rusty, coming out of retirement. Frogs and blood took a lot out of him. But he’s really got a grudge against Edward Jenner for the smallpox vaccination. So, London.”
“Oh, oh, yes,” Crowley said, “smallpox, that was a good one. Only disease ever completely eradicated from the world, isn’t it? Can’t even have the anti-vax movement bring it back because it’s just nowhere, is it? Yeah, I’d carry a grudge too.”
Death nodded his hood. “I’ll see you soon, Principality.”
“Well,” opined Crowley, getting louder again, “if that isn’t the creepiest possible thing to hear from Death.”
Aziraphale shot him a look, but Death was fading by that point, and then he was gone. The sigils blinked and fell dark.
Aziraphale looked at Crowley and very softly breathed, “I’m sorry.”
But Crowley wasn’t flinging his arms about now. He’d stopped pacing. Aziraphale felt the demon begin to focus all of his overwrought attention on Aziraphale, and the angel felt a little something in his heart. A large range of emotions distilled into an uneasy fluttering feeling.
“Are you?” Crowley asked.
Aziraphale wasn’t sure how to answer that. “Well, yes and no, I guess.”
Aziraphale realized that for some reason, he was stepping backwards, away from the sigils on the floor, but that when he did that, Crowley started walking— sauntering forwards, so that the angel never really got any farther away from him.
“You know,” Crowley said, “I lost you here once. In the bookshop. When it burned.”
“Yes,” said Aziraphale, much too quickly. “Did you see I didn’t use any candles this time?”
“That is not the point, Aziraphale.”
It was at this moment that Aziraphale’s back hit a bookshelf and he had to stop backing up. But Crowley stopped moving as well, leaving a little space between them. Which was really a good thing, because dear Heaven , what a picture Crowley made. Wearing a pair of low-slung black jeans that clung to his hips only because the jeans were so ungodly tight, and not another stitch of clothing on him. So much pale skin visible, the light muscular lines of Crowley’s shoulders and abdomen, dear Lord, the crests of his hip bones , hair the color of the fiery sigils, and golden eyes bright in the dim light. Eyes that did not leave Aziraphale’s face for a second, even while Crowley had been moving.
“They need me,” Aziraphale whispered.
Crowley tipped his head back with a groan, running his hands through his hair. And when he leaned forward to make eye contact again, his hair all mussed, Aziraphale was—well. He certainly was . Dear Somebody, he’d be damned if that wasn’t the sexiest thing the poor angel had ever seen in his life.
“I need to know why,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale was concentrating on not saying that word he’d been not-saying from the beginning. Yes. To whatever, wherever, whenever but preferably now . “Why what?” he gasped.
“Why did you ever agree to do temptations?" Crowley shook his head, softly bewildered. “I’ve never understood it. You’re the only good angel ever created, you give humanity everything you have, but you let yourself be tempted by me to the Agreement. Why ?”
Aziraphale’s voice was trembling harshly. He tried to sound like himself, a stuffy, uptight angel who read books and paid taxes and most certainly did not feel like he would sob if the demon in front of him did not take his pants off. “I wanted to help you. And to spend time with you.”
“No,” Crowley said, immediately. “No, angel, you never needed to help me with my homework to be my friend. You—” Crowley’s voice faded and became softer, slower. “You are the sun over the Garden, Aziraphale. Without you, everything is cold.”
“What?” Aziraphale breathed.
Crowley said it more simply, as if Aziraphale had really not understood. “I could never resist the temptation of you.”
Aziraphale felt fevered and freezing in quick succession. “Me? Tempting you to what?”
Crowley didn’t answer, and Aziraphale knew that meant the demon thought the angel ought to already know the answer. Aziraphale wasn’t sure that he did. But he also wasn’t sure that he didn’t . So he decided to get it wrong. “Tempting you to miracles? That was never hard.”
Smoke from the summoning circle had crossed the room to where Crowley was now, and it twisted in the air, making mesmerizing patterns over the sharp planes of his face. Aziraphale bit his lip and it hurt.
“I did miracles because you asked me to,” Crowley said softly. “I’d do anything you asked, you know that.”
Oh, wasn’t that just such a lovely thing to say? Because now Aziraphale had to concentrate on not asking the demon to take his pants off. “Well, I did the temptations for the same reason,” he said, rushed and in a high-pitched voice.
Crowley raised his eyebrows in surprise, but then he huffed an angry laugh. “No. The Principality Aziraphale never does anything he doesn’t want to, and temptations are not angelic work. You had some other motivation, and I want to know what it was!”
Aziraphale bristled. “The Agreement was your bloody idea! You didn’t want to do miracles, you didn’t want to try to help save the human race from Armageddon?”
“Aziraphale, the only one I’ve ever cared about saving is you. And you have no idea what that feels like.”
“What? I’ve rescued you from trouble.”
“Yeah. Because you’re kind.”
Aziraphale growled at him in frustration. “So are you! You’ve always cared about humanity! Your temptations aren’t the same ones the other demons do. That’s why I do them. They’re yours .”
“ What?" Crowley stared at him. “No. No. You are the one always reminding me that I am a demon , Aziraphale! You’re the angel, I’m the—I’m not kind! You know that. Why the Hell would you— ”
“Crowley, you can’t just keep asking questions!” Aziraphale blurted out, and it did what he intended, it stopped the demon in his tracks.
“Oh, right,” Crowley said, slowly, coldly. “Right. You can Fall for that, can’t you? Thanks for the reminder." He closed his eyes with a soft groan. “I don’t know why I ever thought this could be enough for you.”
“This. Not this. Us.” He pointed a finger at Aziraphale and back at himself. “When it’s good. You and me. I’m not enough for you. You don’t want to just sit with me and breathe and leave everything else behind, because we’re finally—”
“But we’re not!” Aziraphale surprised even himself with the outcry.
And suddenly Crowley was right in front of him, smelling of campfire smoke and something dark and green and shady and alive. The Garden. Aziraphale breathed in the scent of Crowley and was taken back to the first time Aziraphale had ever seen him, those shining black scales on his back that brightened so gradually into an underbody the color of Garden roses.
“We’re not, are we?” Crowley whispered, still beside him now, always beside him. “But we—” He closed his eyes, looking like he was almost—almost praying. He wavered backwards, but didn’t actually step away. “Aziraphale, I am not strong enough for this. Please. I need you to—please, tell me that I go too fast.”
Aziraphale stilled with shock. But he was silent, because if he was going to say anything, it was not going to be No.
Crowley took in a halting sob. “I never ask you for anything, angel, please— ”
Aziraphale brushed a hand over Crowley’s shoulder, just barely touching him, unable to do more or less. “Then don’t ask me to hurt you again.”
Crowley gave a tiny cry, and then his mouth was on Aziraphale’s neck, soft, hot, and wet, licking a deep open-mouth kiss against the angel’s skin. His hand slid behind Aziraphale’s head to hold him steady, gently but firmly.
Aziraphale’s knees quite gave out. Crowley must have expected it, because he caught the angel easily, an arm around his chest, lifting him back up and against the bookshelf, without ever breaking the contact of his mouth against the angel’s throat.
It was the most beautifully painful thing that Aziraphale could imagine. He’d wanted this from the first sight of the Serpent’s dark shape transforming into the most alluring human form Aziraphale had ever seen. He’d wanted it since he first saw the golden eyes, the ebony wings. He’d wanted it from the first time Crowley had tried to reassure him, standing there on the Garden wall— Oh, you’re an angel, I don’t think you can do the wrong thing. They had both known it was a lie then, but it was the gesture of it—like Aziraphale extending his wing to shelter Crowley from the rain, the reassuring words were Crowley’s gentle way of protecting the angel he’d just met.
And so this—finally feeling Crowley offer him something like this—it was beautiful.
But it hurt so terribly as well because Aziraphale couldn’t help but wonder if this was just another comforting lie, told by a person who was terrified of being left alone.
Of course, it didn’t matter. Aziraphale was in love. To be near Crowley and still not have Crowley always made the angel feel painfully, hopelessly empty. If Crowley was going to give himself to the angel, even just for a few minutes, Aziraphale would not be able to do anything except to pull him in as strongly as he could.
Crowley was moving his mouth down, tugging aside Aziraphale’s collar to kiss him, taste him, and Aziraphale wove a hand into the demon’s fiery hair to hold him there, never wanting Crowley to breathe again, never wanting him to do anything but show Aziraphale what it was to be kissed by the one he loved.
The angel gave in to temptation.
There was nothing in the entire universe anymore but the scent of Aziraphale, the heat of him, the feel of him, and Crowley was completely lost. Forget the noises he’d wanted to hear the angel make, Crowley was making quite enough noises for the both of them. A moan against Aziraphale’s throat as Crowley licked against his skin, reveling in the flavor of him. Of course, it was sweet somehow, like the angel had been dusted in powdered sugar, and wasn’t that an image that quickly took root in Crowley’s mind.
Crowley groaned as his hands slid down Aziraphale’s arms, the angel no longer being gently pushed against the bookshelf, but holding onto Crowley of his own volition. Crowley uttered mild oaths as he tugged against Aziraphale’s bow tie, yanking it away and then unbuttoning the first few inches of the angel’s shirt. He whined as his kisses spread lower on Aziraphale’s body, his mouth licking against the skin of the angel’s pale, soft chest, and starting to wander slowly, vaguely downward.
Aziraphale wasn’t quiet either, of course. His cries as Crowley worked a wet, heated path across his skin were like nothing Crowley had ever heard him make, not for lemon cake or crepes, not for books, not for sunsets over the ocean or meeting dogs in the park or anything else Aziraphale had ever enjoyed. The angel sounded both fulfilled and hungry at the same time, in pain and in bliss, and those sounds were caused by Crowley. They were only for him. Nothing else on Earth or in Heaven had ever given the angel a pleasure like this.
Aziraphale’s hands roamed over the demon’s bare shoulders, digging into his flesh, constantly pulling him closer. Crowley shoved at Aziraphale’s coat, but it was stuck against the bookshelf, and so Crowley miracled it away, along with the angel’s vest, leaving him only in his soft white shirt. And then Crowley slowly unbuttoned that shirt, pushed it aside, and pulled Aziraphale against him, pressing their bare skin together.
It was perfect and it was perfectly overwhelming. Angelic and demonic heat meeting, making a sting of little lightning strikes all across Crowley’s skin. It was so explosive as to be painful, but it was also so gentle, the feeling of being invited, allowed to press yourself naked against someone else, to feel that they wanted it too.
And it made the angel give off a noise that was better than anything that had come before. A sound of extreme delight rose wantonly out of the angel, but it was also a plea. A plea from his angel, but this time not for something Crowley could do for him or find for him. For Crowley himself.
Crowley bent lower, leaving tender, gentle dampened spots across Aziraphale’s ribs. The angel still tasted sweet, but it was starting to be a darker flavor now, maybe more like maple sugar. Crowley suddenly understood now what joy Aziraphale found in desserts. A few moments of feasting on an angel and Crowley was absolutely addicted.
Crowley swirled his tongue around one of Aziraphale’s nipples and the angel made a high-pitched keening noise, and now he wasn’t waiting for Crowley to grant his plea anymore, he was thrusting his hips forward, trying to make contact with Crowley’s body. Crowley knew that Aziraphale had made an effort several hundred years ago, although the demon was never sure quite what had intrigued the angel enough about the idea to make him try it. And now Crowley could feel the angel’s hardness rubbing against his thigh, and the overwhelming pleasure of the touch almost made him choke.
Crowley dropped his hands to Aziraphale’s hips, and the angel made a grateful sound, but Crowley wasn’t about to be kind. He pushed Aziraphale’s body back against the bookshelf again, denying them both the contact they so desperately craved. Crowley had been dreaming of this—endless variations of this—for nearly six thousand years. It wasn’t going to be over that soon.
His extremely rare denial of something that Aziraphale wanted brought on the best noise possible—the angel moaning, but not wordlessly anymore. He groaned out Crowley’s name like it was an angry, disappointed prayer, and slid his hands down to Crowley’s hips, trying to pull him closer again. It was all the demon could do to resist, even if it was for the sake of Aziraphale’s own pleasure.
Eventually Aziraphale seemed to realize that Crowley would not be won over, and for one moment, Crowley thought his hands might descend lower than Crowley’s hips, running over his ass, and his heart lurched. But instead Aziraphale’s hands crept higher over the demon’s bare skin. Of course they did. His fingers started to massage into Crowley’s back, right where the demon’s wings would manifest, and Crowley felt an answering flicker there as Aziraphale tempted Crowley’s wings to stretch out into this world.
Oh, no . No, no. If Crowley let his wings manifest now, if he finally let Aziraphale get his hands into them, felt his fingers among the feathers, stroking down the bones, caressing Crowley from edge to edge, it would be all over. Crowley would be a whimpering mess and end up completely at the angel’s mercy. Crowley reached behind himself, grasped Aziraphale’s hands, and pushed them away, flush against the bookshelf.
They stood there for a second, facing each other, breathing in gasps. Aziraphale’s shirt clung loosely to his shoulders and arms, gaping open to reveal that the angel’s pale skin was now flushed pink and accented by light strawberry-red marks where Crowley had kissed him. Aziraphale’s mouth was open, his eyes unfocused. The erection straining his trousers was the most delicious thing Crowley had ever seen. The whole picture was. Crowley’s angel, undone by desire for him.
Crowley loosened his hold on Aziraphale’s wrists, not that he’d been holding them very tightly, and not that the angel had resisted any of the man-handling Crowley had been doing. They both knew that Aziraphale was strong enough to easily overpower Crowley if he’d wanted to. Hell, the Principality had always been capable of smiting Crowley down where he stood. But now Aziraphale let his hands rest easily against the shelf where Crowley had set them, not taking the opportunity to slip from Crowley’s lighter grip. The angel trusted him.
It was the shock of cold, unpleasant, biting reality that Crowley needed.
Aziraphale trusted him.
With a terrible, blessed curse, Crowley pushed away from the angel, staggering back several steps. Aziraphale blinked at him, confused and distressed. That look almost broke Crowley, because what had the demon ever done but try to keep those darker emotions off of Aziraphale’s face, to keep him happy?
Aziraphale slowly lowered his hands, but his eyes didn’t leave Crowley’s face. “Crowley,” he whispered. “Crowley, please.”
Crowley didn’t trust himself to speak. He took another step backwards and saw the shock ripple over Aziraphale’s face.
“Crowley, no. Don’t go. Please.”
All that bickering between them for six thousand years about how good a tempter Crowley was. He was better than either of them thought. He’d bewitched the angel into a lust so strong that it could destroy him, and Aziraphale didn’t want to be saved from it.
“Crowley, please,” Aziraphale whispered again, and he reached out a hand to him. “Please, come here, my love. Come and kiss me.”
Crowley made a sound but couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a yes or a no.
Aziraphale took a step toward him. “Please, Crowley. I just need you to kiss me." His voice broke. “I’ve always, always needed you to—”
Of course Crowley did. Three steps and he’d closed the distance between them and his mouth was pressed against Aziraphale’s, his hands framing the angel’s sweet, beautiful face. After a moment he slipped one hand behind Aziraphale’s head, into his white curls, and the other around his shoulders, pulling Aziraphale against him. And then Crowley was kissing the angel as deeply as anyone had ever kissed a lover, with all the passion and desperation of someone making an unforgivable mistake.
Aziraphale did not know how to kiss. That knowledge sent the wildest, most possessive relief through Crowley. He’d never asked Aziraphale to perform a temptation to lust, because Crowley had never been able to stomach the idea of anyone else getting close enough to the angel to do this to him. And now it was clear the angel had never sought out a lover on his own.
Crowley’s human partners had been few and far between, and none of them had ever looked remotely like Aziraphale, never soft, never blond, never lovely, because Crowley had gone to bed with them to scratch an itch, not to torture himself. But now here was the real thing in his arms. The body Crowley actually craved, the partner he’d saved his heart for, white curls, rounded stomach, kinder, sweeter, and more beautiful than any other being in creation. Aziraphale . Fucking Guard of the Eastern Gate. The subject of so many of the demon’s heated dreams, so many unwise fantasies. There were a million things that Crowley wanted to do with him, to him, and he hardly knew where to start. But he had to go slowly, because Aziraphale had never before trusted anyone to—
No. Crowley couldn’t think about that. Not about trust. He would only think about Aziraphale in this moment, now.
The sudden deep kissing had thrown the angel a little, but Aziraphale was doing his best to respond to it. Crowley slowed things down, focusing on one part of Aziraphale’s mouth at a time. He ran his tongue against Aziraphale’s upper lip, sucking it gently into his mouth, rolling it between his teeth. Aziraphale’s breath hitched, and his hands gripped Crowley a little harder, as if Crowley were the only solid thing in a new and confusing world. Then the demon moved to Aziraphale’s lower lip and repeated the treatment, except that this time, he bit down a little more sharply. Aziraphale startled in his arms, and Crowley whispered apologies against his mouth, sucking the angel’s lip gently, massaging away the pain, swallowing up the pleasure-filled moans that the angel gave him in response.
Starving for more, Crowley licked his tongue into the angel’s mouth, exploring, leaving no surface untouched, no piece of Aziraphale unhallowed. After a few moments, the angel tentatively met Crowley’s tongue with his own, and then, then , dear Somebody , were they kissing, because the angel’s hedonistic, demanding nature started to come through. Aziraphale pulled Crowley’s tongue into his mouth, sucking at it, and then letting go, leaving a very worked-up demon to seek out the angel’s tongue and try to get him to repeat the gesture, desperate for the contact the angel had just taken away from him. And all the while Aziraphale moaning at what Crowley did to try to convince him.
A few more minutes of that, and Crowley ended up with his own hands against the bookshelf, braced on either side of Aziraphale’s head, just trying to catch his breath against the angel’s mouth.
Aziraphale pulled back just a touch and broke their contact. He started to say something, but it took him a couple of tries. “Crowley—you—oh, I never realized—Crowley, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so much as I want you.”
Crowley rested his forehead against Aziraphale’s brow. “Angel,” he breathed. “Angel, you're so beautiful, you're just—” He was babbling but he couldn’t stop it, because his thoughts themselves were jumbled. "You are everything, Aziraphale. Just let me, just let me show you.”
And Aziraphale was answering him in words that Crowley had been dreaming of for millennia. “Yes, Crowley, sweetheart, anything, please, anything you want.”
Crowley fell to his knees in front of the angel. Worshiping, offering up an imperfect love of a perfect creature, and without even realizing it, sending up a prayer for the first time in six thousand years. I love him. Don’t let me hurt him.
Maybe Someone heard him. Maybe even Aziraphale himself. Because one moment they were in the bookshop, with Crowley’s fingers starting to work against the button of Aziraphale’s trousers, and in the next, the shop had become a garden. Flowers twined themselves everywhere, around the shelves, along the floor, with books caught up in their stems and vines, ancient volumes rising within waves of blossoms. Roses, iris, gardenias, daisies, lilies, orchids studded with novels, plays, illuminated manuscripts. Perfume filled the air and petals brushed softly against Crowley’s bare feet.
In this moment Crowley at last understood what it meant to make love to an angel.
The demon pushed away from the only being he’d ever loved and staggered to his feet. Aziraphale looked at him with sudden alarm, his blue eyes losing some of their glaze, growing sharp again, strained with worry. The headache that Crowley had been ignoring for the last few hours was suddenly screaming at him again, pounding behind his eyes.
Aziraphale reached for him. Crowley backed away from him so quickly that he almost lost his balance and fell into a tangle of violets and marigolds and Irish poetry. His mouth was working, and it just kept repeating the most important thing Crowley had ever said.
“No. Angel, no. Angel, no.”
Yes, I pulled them apart and then ended the chapter. I’m so sorry. I promise the final chapter (# 9) is pretty much smut with feelings. But no dessert until we’ve finished our veggies.
Chapter 7: Don't send me in dark despair from all that I hunger for
Please note that although this fic never gets terribly violent, there is a physical fight and a little blood in this chapter. (And just to be absolutely clear, in case anyone was worried, although Aziraphale and Crowley are arguing right now, they would never be violent with each other. It's a different fight.)
Don't send me in dark despair
from all that I hunger for
Aziraphale could not catch his breath. Crowley was across the room again, and if he would just come closer, then maybe Aziraphale could figure out how to breathe again. But Crowley wouldn’t. He just stood there, clad only in black trousers so tight that Aziraphale could see his arousal from half a room away, with flowers blossoming around his legs, caressing his bare feet, touching him everywhere, and Aziraphale was touching him nowhere.
“Please,” the angel begged. But he knew it was too late. Crowley was not going to come back to him this time. Aziraphale could hear the pain in his own voice. “Why?”
Crowley stood up straighter, and suddenly he was dressed again, shirt, boots, sunglasses, his scarlet hair no longer mussed from Aziraphale’s fingers. Aziraphale felt like he’d been struck by a loud noise, like Crowley had slammed a door in his face. Only the demon’s shaking voice betrayed what had just passed between them. “Just another temptation, angel.”
“What? No, please. Please, Crowley, listen, you have to know, how can you not know? I—”
“Don’t say it!” the demon shouted, and it was terribly loud. Aziraphale took a startled step backwards, hitting the bookshelf once more.
That was the thing about being old, old friends. They knew each other so damn well that it was always an option to coax different moods out—happiness, gratitude, mirth, nostalgia, anger. Aziraphale could see that Crowley was desperate to keep Azriaphale at a distance, and he knew exactly how to make it happen. It helped that they had both been angry to begin with.
“Don’t you dare say it,” Crowley hissed at him. “You love everyone, Aziraphale, you are the Angel of Compassion, it’s your job, it’s your purpose, you can’t help it.”
“Not like this.”
“Not like this?” Crowley exclaimed, throwing his arms out, his black blazer swinging against his waist. “What, not with an enemy? Not with someone on the opposite side?”
“What? We’re on our side!”
Crowley started laughing. Oh, God. The hurt burning inside the demon was so hot, so sharp, Aziraphale could feel it, and he longed to pull it out of him, to press it all into himself, because he knew, they both knew, that Aziraphale was the guilty party.
“Really?” Crowley scoffed. “Our side? Okay, sure, right, but see, to me , that means that we are together , Aziraphale, and that you actually give a damn about being with me. And you, you have responsibilities to the world, I understand. But you don’t include me in that, do you? You contact Horsepeople on your own, fight earthquakes on your own. Because that’s work for an angel, and I am just—what? Your friend? Your dinner date? I’m a distraction, a good book, a piece of music to listen to when you want a break from the real world. I’m a demon, Aziraphale. You’ve said it a million times, and that doesn’t matter, but sometimes, sometimes you really make me feel it.”
“Crowley—“ Aziraphale heard himself sounding sensible , as if they were discussing something free of emotion, like what movie to watch. “Crowley, I need you to tell me—you couldn’t have, if you didn’t—you do, don’t you?" His courage was faltering, but he managed to finally get the question out. “You do love me?”
Crowley threw up his hands in exasperation. “What does that even mean to you? The love of a demon?”
Aziraphale reached out to him, manifesting some of his healing glow. “Crowley! Please—”
Crowley stepped back from him, almost vibrating with pain. “Don’t you dare, don’t you dare reach out to me with compassion!”
The greatest sadness of Aziraphale’s life broke around him, then, weighing him down, smothering the glow right out of the angel.
Crowley flung out a hand, pointing at Aziraphale. “You could have Fallen tonight. Fallen, like me. You would have lost it all. If I did love you I would never see you again.”
He snapped his fingers and then Aziraphale was alone in a room full of withered, dying flowers.
There had to be, Aziraphale thought finally, after he’d been standing there a while—he wasn’t sure how long, but at least the night was still dark, no daylight yet—there had to be something he could do. There were things that needed fixing, that needed his help, and surely there were ways, if he could just find them.
Which problem first? Crowley—no. Aziraphale couldn’t get close to that one, not yet. What what the other thing? Oh, humans. The plague. London. Well, the obvious thing to do was to get people to leave London. Assuming that when they left, it made them no longer Londoners, like if they were water and you moved them to France, they’d no longer be London’s water. Uh, London’s people. Right?
Well, regardless, it was worth a try. Aziraphale realized his hands were twitching at the ends of his arms, trying to start up his of angelic glow. An apparition, he’d have to be an apparition again. Was he strong enough for that? To appear to all of London? He looked down at his hands, and they were as dark as shadows.
With a sob, Aziraphale sank down to the floor. Brown flower petals cushioned his fall, and it was a fall, wasn’t it? Just like Crowley had warned, except the demon somehow thought, bizarrely, that this couldn’t be Aziraphale’s fault. But that was what it was to Fall, to love and then to have that love ripped away from you through your own doing, your own heartless mistakes. To know you’d spend the rest of eternity wondering how you’d managed to fuck things up so badly, wondering why, if you were stupid enough to fuck it up, why it hadn’t happened sooner, why it hadn’t all gone up in a blaze right away. Why had you ever been allowed to find love?
Because that was the punishment. Finding love only to lose it. But that wasn’t even the worst of it. There was also the unrelenting, hopeless pain of knowing that you’d doomed the one person that you loved to live without what you wanted so desperately to give him.
Being the Angel of Compassion had always felt to Aziraphale like a gift. To have the ability to love, and to be able to easily give that love to just about anyone in the world. Aziraphale could love good people and bad ones. He could love humans when they responded to a miracle by sharing their happiness with the world, when they succumbed to temptation and made the wrong choice, when they learned something from the experience, and even when they didn’t. He could love angels, no matter how he was tempted not to, and he could certainly love demons.
He could love God. They were close in their own way, after all this time, amid their disagreements, beyond the blame that Aziraphale laid on Her for Crowley’s Fall, for forsaking him. But Aziraphale understood that, didn’t he? He’d done exactly the same thing to Crowley himself.
And now, finally, sitting in a dying garden, Aziraphale began to ask questions.
He asked them of himself, to start. How could the Angel of Compassion have been so cruel to someone who’d only ever been kind to him? To a being who had never allied himself with darkness and pain, but only with reality, with the world as it was?
How could Aziraphale, a healer, have caused so much pain? And have caused it in a being who’d already known a greater pain than Aziraphale could imagine, but who could never think of allowing even the smallest bit of discomfort to cross Aziraphale’s face before he was trying to soothe it away, to smile, to joke, to materialize chocolates, to tease, to reassure?
But. Aziraphale had the same questions for God.
He questioned Her now.
And in doing so he realized that honestly he had been doing it from the beginning. From the Flood, from before the Flood, from the time that Aziraphale and the other angels had felt the pain of the Fall strike down so many of their number. From the time that Aziraphale realized that God might not love everyone unconditionally.
But for some ineffable reason, She had created a being who could love endlessly. God had formed the Angel of Compassion and sent him to Earth, the one place where Aziraphale had never felt like a stranger. She’d sent him to help and soothe and reassure, and Aziraphale wasn’t perfect. He hadn’t always gotten it right. He hadn’t even loved Crowley unconditionally, the one being he loved above all others. Azirphale had charged a price for that love, he’d wanted to be loved in return, and had denied where he had been denied.
Aziraphale had been questioning all along, because he had been seeing things as they were, just like Crowley did, no matter how much Aziraphale had tried to resist the knowledge of what was good and evil. Every hurt that Aziraphale soothed on Earth had been a question. Why did humans cause each other pain? Why did God give them free will if that was what they would do with it? Every hurt Aziraphale himself caused blossomed into uncomfortable, undeniable questions. Why was the Angel of Compassion allowed to hurt as well as heal? To love in a way that could perform miracles but also fail in the face of his own temptations?
There were no answers to questions asked of God, of course, the truth was ineffable. But the questions had to be asked, nonetheless. They had to be asked by anyone who had ever wanted to be good.
Aziraphale stood up, and he let his wings manifest amid the sickly-sweet smell of rotting flowers.
The Angel of Compassion, Guard of the Eastern Gate of Eden, the Principality Aziraphale, opened himself up to the Fall. Accepted it, understood it, confessed that he deserved it. He didn’t ask forgiveness. He didn’t repent. He didn’t promise to stop his questions, to try to be blind again.
Aziraphale let go of everything he had, except for the one piece of creation in which he did still have an unshakable faith.
He loved. As he was made to, as he wanted to. He loved God, humanity, Crowley, even as he was allowing himself to be separated from them because he couldn’t love them perfectly. He loved them anyway.
And oh. It did burn.
It burned everywhere.
With white, holy, beautiful angelic light.
With a hard-won, painful clarity of thought that Crowley hadn’t enjoyed in a while, the demon sat in his kitchen and thought back over the recent past. Aziraphale was the topic, of course. But at the moment, Crowley’s thoughts were at least able to linger not so much on the last few hours as on the last few days.
There was Aziraphale, lovely in his white suit, in the bookshop with the overdue book notice. Aziraphale, even lovelier, suspended on his white wings in the church, gathering information about the plagues, openly wanting to oppose them. Aziraphale searching for books, puzzling over the mystery, laughing at him—as if Crowley couldn’t tell—and then cutting his hand on something he couldn’t see. The cut being infected.
Pestilence wasn’t Death. He needed something specific to kill Aziraphale, he couldn’t just wipe out his immortal soul. But the Horseperson must not have realized that the Angel of Compassion couldn’t get sick. So when it hadn’t worked to infect Aziraphale with some deadly pathogen through the cut on his hand, it was time for step two: the earthquake. That falling tree would probably have killed the angel, immortal soul and all, because that earthquake was no natural natural disaster. But Crowley had saved him.
Crowley, who was not a healer, whose mortal body could get sick, whose immortal soul could also get sick, and if that was the case, the Angel of Compassion wouldn’t be able to cure it. Even if Crowley hadn’t been losing his mind, even if he’d been less angry and stubborn and had allowed Aziraphale to try to magic away the sickness inside of Crowley, it had probably wouldn’t have worked. It was the attack of a Horseperson. It had always been too late.
Crowley had thought, once he realized that he was likely dying, that he would get drunk and wallow in self-pity1. But he hadn’t. He was sitting in his kitchen with a snifter of liquid advil, watching about thirty little green and brown frogs—and one blue one—explore his kitchen counter, hopping about in pools he’d miracled for them, hiding in the leaves of plants that Crowley had brought out from the greenhouse. They chirped and chattered. Ate crickets. Adorable little things. When Crowley brought Butterscotch over, he’d have to make sure the cat understood not to chase—
Well. Never mind that now.
Maybe it was because Crowley had been prepared to die a couple of weeks ago, at Armageddon, maybe that’s why it didn’t really scare him. Maybe it was just that having nearly caused Aziraphale to Fall and then having lost him was worse than death could possibly be, because death was just going to be an end to pain, not the next eternity living with it.
Or maybe it was because Crowley still had some hope. Why in holy Hell it was there, Crowley had no idea. But there it was. It always was.
Crowley was in more pain than he had been in a long time, both physical and emotional, but actually, comparatively, it wasn’t really that bad. It wasn’t as bad as the Fall. The Fall had happened before Crowley had met Aziraphale, and now that Crowley knew that a creature as beautiful as Aziraphale existed, that someone was out there actually, seriously giving compassion to even the damned, well—that was different. That was hope.
No matter what happened, the end of the world, or the end of their relationship, or the end of Crowley, there was not going to be a single second of Crowley’s life that he was not drawn to the angel. No matter what he’d said— I’m leaving you and going to Alpha Centauri, If I loved you I’d never see you again— he’d meant those things. That didn’t make them true.
What mattered was that Crowley loved Aziraphale, apparently without end, unconditionally, like some sort of unwavering faith. It was the reason that Crowley understood what it was for Aziraphale to be an angel, to need to be an angel, to need to be the kind of being who had faith in something.
Pestilence wanted to kill Crowley so that the Horseperson could strike at Aziraphale again. Crowley wasn’t terribly keen on that idea. In fact, Crowley would die before he let—
And now, a word from our narrator, to catch us up on some off-screen developments, as this fic is long enough as it is:
Two days ago, when Crowley called Hell, Beelzebub had answered and had been deftly tempted into giving Crowley information about the water-into-blood plague, at what Crowley had thought was very little cost. Crowley had been wrong, of course, and it was ironic now, for those keeping track, which Crowley unfortunately, ridiculously, was not, that what Crowley had done in trying to protect Aziraphale had actually put Aziraphale in danger, even though this sort of thing happened regularly, and really one of them ought to have noticed by now.
Crowley had tried to give Aziraphale some space after the Frankfurt fiasco and the angel had considered murdering Jack the Ripper. He’d tried to give the angel some room after that, and Aziraphale had gotten himself in trouble with the Nazis. Crowley had made the angel stay alone in the park so that he wouldn’t be in on the conversation with Hell and Aziraphale had been targeted by an earthquake. Crowley had now left Aziraphale alone in the bookshop overnight instead of making love to him—should we be surprised to find that this is going to lead to Aziraphale being attacked by a demon?
It was almost as if perhaps Crowley wasn’t meant to be leaving Aziraphale alone all the time, but it was also true that it was unlikely the two of them would realize that, because in some ways Crowley and Aziraphale were as dumb as a box of rocks. Well, they weren’t dumb, exactly. They were blind. The love that they had for each other was so large and unwieldy and overwhelming that they couldn’t see it, even when it was in their way and actively blocking their ability to see other things, even when those things were extremely dangerous.
For example, the conversation with Hell. What Crowley had told Beelzebub was that Crowley had managed to become immune to holy water as an unintended consequence of touching the one angel who could have physical contact with demons without burning them up. (And, if Crowley were still upset about not knowing about the whole bursting-into-flames thing, which he was not, of course, he might, having had more time now to think about it, have pointed out that it really wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know about it, what with all the time he spent on Earth and not in Hell. Missed a few meetings. So not ridiculous at all that he didn’t know. But he didn’t care about that, really.)
Everybody in Hell had been wondering about the holy water thing, but nobody had been brave enough to ask about it. If Crowley volunteered the information, though, that was fair game. The really weird part was that for some reason, Hell believed Crowley’s story. Crowley was a demon. He lied. He lied well. He had clearly been performing a temptation when feeding them the story. Maybe it was just too sweet of a prize, immunity to holy water, or maybe it was that Crowley had really sold it, but Hell believed him. Hell was under the impression that a demon could actually become immune to holy water, and that the way to obtain this get-out-of-death-free-card was to touch the Angel of Compassion.
Now, you might say that that wasn’t really such a big problem, because the Angel of Compassion could touch demons, after all. And if Aziraphale couldn’t burn up a demon, then it stood to reason that a demon, even of higher rank, couldn’t burn him up either, so it would probably all lead to nothing more than a little awkward violation of personal space.
In that, you would be wrong. But don’t feel bad. This was, in fact, a point about which everyone was wrong, Aziraphale, Crowley, and the entire population of Hell (and now Heaven, through the grapevine, although it didn’t matter much to them, as they thought it was unlikely that any angels other than Aziraphale could safely touch Crowley, and so the Hellfire immunity thing was off the table).
This is how the mixup happened: when Crowley had touched Aziraphale on the hand in the early 3500’s BC (the angel was just so fucking pretty that he couldn’t help it) and (to Aziraphale’s great delight) had not gone up in flames, Aziraphale had made an assumption, one that he later passed on to Crowley, and which Crowley had thus passed on to Hell. The assumption was that it made more sense that Aziraphale, as the Angel of Compassion, being a creature of nearly pure love, could safely touch demons, rather than the idea that Aziraphale, being a creature of nearly pure love, was already in love with Crowley (yes, 2800 years before he realized it in Athens), so deeply in love that he had in fact unknowingly rewritten the ethereal/occult rules to allow one angel in the entire universe to be able to touch one, and only one demon, because Aziraphale simply could not accept the idea that when Crowley touched him on the hand that Aziraphale might hurt him.
(Aziraphale had further amended the rules two years later in Crete when Crowley had broken his wrist and Aziraphale had believed with all his heart that he could safely heal the being that he unknowingly loved more than everything in creation put together. Crowley had made his own change to the rules fourteen years after that in Sumer when the demon, willfully ignorant of being in love, but at the time drunk enough to be brave and rather forward about things, had decided that he could heal a cut on Aziraphale’s arm from a broken pot. Although the both of them did seem to think that demonic healing would sting, and therefore it did.)
The assumption about the Angel-of-Compassion-can-touch-demons thing had lasted all this time because Aziraphale had never actually tried to touch another demon. And because it wasn’t a common thing for angels and demons to risk being wrong about their opponent’s relative rank and status and thus chance the flames, no other demon had ever tried to touch Aziraphale.
If Crowley had asked Aziraphale for help, could they have come up with a better story to give Hell? Possibly. They might have at least seen a little more clearly where the consequences of this story were leading. But they didn’t, even up to this morning, as day was about to break. They didn’t see it coming. Not any of it.
Dumb as a box of rocks, unfortunately.
Aziraphale was in the bookshop. Crowley could sense him there as he stood across the street, mostly deserted at this hour of the morning. Something must have been a little wonky about Crowley’s powers, though, because Aziraphale felt different. Like he'd changed somehow. Well, no doubt Crowley's illness was messing with his demonic senses as much as his human ones.
Crowley didn't intend to go into the bookshop, of course. There was so much pain right now in between himself and the angel that seeing Aziraphale again was going to be more difficult than Crowley could stand. Crowley had just planned to loiter about until the plague started or Pestilence attacked, or whatever and just—never actually let Aziraphale know that he was there.
And maybe just die without saying goodbye, and all manner of other not-well-thought-out plans.
As with all their plans, well-thought-out or not, there was no chance of it working. After about two minutes, Aziraphale materialized on the corner beside him.
He was fully dressed. Thank Somebody. Lovely as always. White curls, cream-colored suit jacket, almost seeming to glow in the darkness of the street. He looked up at Crowley, and Crowley slipped his glasses off, unable to resist looking at the angel with his own eyes, trying to re-memorize him, now that he had learned so many new things about him—how it felt to touch the skin beneath Aziraphale’s collar, the way the angel’s voice sounded when it was muffled by a kiss, how soft his hair felt against Crowley’s fingers.
Aziraphale gave him a tentative smile. It was still enchanting. “Made a mess of things,” the angel said quietly.
“We are good at that.”
Aziraphale’s voice was shaking. “Crowley, I’m so glad you came back. I’m just so very sorry. I said some terrible things to you, and then there were some things that I should have said but I didn’t, and—”
Crowley wanted to answer that, he wanted to put a reassuring hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder, but he held himself still. Aziraphale seemed—harsher, brighter somehow. He didn’t physically look any different. It was more that his aura had changed. His ethereal essence was in some hard-to-name way not the same as it was when Crowley had left him, and that fact was filling the demon with a growing dread, because Crowley had left the angel half-naked and in the throes of lust, about to lose his virginity to a demon.
Surely he couldn’t have lost anything else.
Oh, God, please, no.
Aziraphale was still talking. “And I’ve been saying the same terrible things to you for six thousand years, and I always knew they were horrible, hurtful things to say—”
Crowley cut him off. “You—you didn’t. Please tell me—tell me you didn’t.”
“What?" But Crowley could read it the angel’s face, Aziraphale knew what the question was.
“ Fall .”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, and that was all it took. Crowley knew that voice, the one Aziraphale used when he had something unpleasant to say, when he was fairly distressed but trying to pretend he was only mildly annoyed. Oh , this first edition of Emily Dickinson has a ripped page. How irritating.
A few hours earlier, Crowley had fallen to his knees in front of Aziraphale, desperately wanting to show the angel what he’d hoped could have been the most beautiful thing they had ever shared. But Crowley was a demon. Nothing under his touch could ever remain beautiful, uncorrupted.
Crowley fell to his knees again now. And this time he watched as Aziraphale, his eyes still somehow filled with compassion, knelt as well. Putting himself on Crowley’s level.
Crowley sobbed, and Aziraphale tried to put his arms around him, but the demon yanked himself away. Aziraphale let him go, but he leaned forward until their foreheads were nearly touching, hands hovering just above his arms, and whispered to him. “My love, don’t worry. I’m all right. And oh, Crowley, none of this was ever your fault. Please know that I—” Aziraphale stopped talking all of a sudden, and Crowley forced his head up, forced himself to try to look Aziraphale in the face. Aziraphale wasn’t looking at him, though. His head was turned away.
Crowley pushed himself to his feet. Something was wrong. Someone else was—
Oh, no. Please, no.
The street was now empty of humans. They’d felt it too, and they’d fled. Because there stood Hastur, in front of the bookshop across the street, staring at them, gray clothing, oily white hair, menace on his face, a scratchy, dirty aura creeping toward them. Crowley had not had the displeasure of being this close to Hastur since the demon had stood in Crowley’s flat, screaming his head off as he watched Ligur being dissolved in holy water. And now he had come to take Aziraphale to Hell.
Crowley was probably dying. And now that he’d caused the Fall of the one Heavenly being who had actually ever deserved to be Heavenly, he was really, really looking forward to it. But there was no way that Hastur was going to touch Aziraphale while Crowley was still alive. With a growl, he stepped in front of Aziraphale, forcing the ang—forcing Aziraphale to back up against the wall of the coffee shop behind them.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale protested.
Crowley ignored him. “Get out of here, Hastur! You can’t have him.”
Hastur bared his teeth at them. “You can’t keep him all for yourself, Crowley. The rest of us want a taste.”
Crowley shuddered at the image. “Over my dead body!”
Aziraphale clucked his tongue. “Crowley, you really are such a drama queen." He stepped out from behind Crowley, putting a hand on his arm as he did. And then he paused. “Crowley, you still have a headache. And—and you—”
Crowley yanked his arm away before Aziraphale could sense anything further, and attempted to move in front of him again. But Aziraphale, frowning mightily at him, elbowed him aside, and then gave Hastur the same displeased look, as if the both of them might have eaten the last two slices of cake in the house. “I’m not sure what you want, Hastur, but we’re really quite busy at the moment, so if you could please—”
“No way!” Hastur hissed, stalking across the street toward them. “I’m not going to go down like Ligur did. You are going to give me immunity to holy water too!”
Aziraphale said, “What?” and a couple of seconds later, Crowley, who was used to sorting through several levels of lies, had the holy-water-story-mixup figured out, but he was still a little thrown because he had been expecting Hastur to be there to take Aziraphale to Hell, (although maybe he was also there to do that), so he too, said, “What?”
Hastur looked from one to the other of them in confusion, but he wasn’t deterred. He closed the last few steps between them, and reached out for Aziraphale’s hand. Then Hastur said, “What?” because the grimy demon was suddenly back across the street.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley observed, “that’s a nice magic trick, and I’m not entirely sure where you learned to blink a Duke of Hell across the street, but you do realize that you didn’t actually hurt him?”
Aziraphale nodded with a bit of a frown. “Yes, I see that.”
Crowley tried for some reassurance. “Well, you know, Hastur’s not so bad, just as long as he doesn’t do the—”
They watched Hastur’s form shift, crumbling into itself and then scattering across the pavement in tiny white crawling pieces.
“—maggot thing,” Crowley finished. “Oh, that’s disgusting.”
Aziraphale turned to him, his mouth wrinkled in distaste. “You don’t do that, do you?”
“I don’t—” Crowley gave him an incredulous look. “I am a snake ! A serpent ! For fuck’s sake, Aziraphale, I am not inwardly a pile of nasty bug-worms—” He broke off as he realized Aziraphale was smiling at him. “You are making jokes,” he said in disbelief.
“Certainly not,” Aziraphale answered, but he was still smiling faintly and Crowley could almost— almost still see a hint of angelic glow around him.
It had to be his shell-shocked imagination. A hallucination of the dying.
The Hastur-maggots were still scuttling across the street, looming up into piles. Crowley looked down at his boots. “I really don’t want to try to stomp on all those things,” he said with a groan.
Aziraphale shuddered. “No, I don’t either. Situation calls for something else." He waved his hand, and the maggots leapt from the pavement and swirled around themselves, becoming a very surprised demon once again. And then Hastur was flying back, hitting the wall of the bookshop, with a crack loud enough to break a human’s skull.
Crowley stared at Aziraphale, who was, at this point, very clearly glowing. He pointed a finger at him, as if Aziraphale might be otherwise confused about to whom he was talking. “You are still an angel.”
Aziraphale spared him a glance, still concentrating on Hastur, who was getting to his feet. “Ah. Well. It’s complicated.”
“It’s—no. Azir— angel —these things aren’t complicated,” Crowley explained, quite calmly, as if Aziraphale might have gotten an answer wrong on an exam. “If you Fall, you become a demon, not a super-powered angel who can magic around a Duke of Hell.”
“I don’t know who makes up these ridiculous rules,” Aziraphale murmured, smiling again.
Crowley decided it would be a good time to elaborate on everyone’s earlier question. “What the absolute blessed bloody fuck is going on?”
Hastur looked as if he might still have the same question, but he didn’t say it this time. He just growled and took a leap, clearing the street in one bound, and when he landed he had a giant black knife in his hands. Crowley grabbed hold of Hastur’s arm before he could swing the knife at Aziraphale, but the arm Crowley was holding dissolved into maggots, and the knife appeared in Hastur’s other hand.
Crowley yelped with disgust, shaking maggots off his hand frantically, as he tried to reach for the knife again. But Aziraphale was closer and he caught Hastur’s arm by the sleeve. Of course, it was the same thing, maggots everywhere, and Hastur’s other hand reformed holding the knife, and Crowley was too slow. Hastur stabbed Aziraphale in the stomach.
“No!” Crowley screamed. Hastur had this nasty, oily smile on his face and Aziraphale was making this little gasping noise. Crowley lunged for him, but Hastur skipped backwards a couple of steps, laughing.
“Aziraphale!” Crowley cried, and he grasped the angel gently by the arms. “No, please—” He looked desperately into the angel’s face.
Aziraphale still looked only mildly annoyed.
Crowley said “Uh,” because that was all he could come up with.
Hastor was still laughing, and Aziraphale gave him a severe, if somewhat pained look. “Hastur, I do understand that it was very traumatic seeing Ligur killed, but really, I don’t have much sympathy for you if you are going to do things this way. It’s not even going to help, touching me." The angel must have figured out the story now too. “Crowley lied to you, I’m afraid. He’s a demon. Quite good at it." Aziraphale flashed Crowley a warm smile, and Crowley gestured gently to Aziraphale’s stomach.
“You’ve been stabbed,” he reminded him.
Aziraphale placed a hand over the wound, where blood had started to soak his shirt. He winced. “Working on it.”
“Want some help?” Crowley asked, forgetting that he probably wasn’t strong enough to do anything, or maybe he was, maybe everything was perfectly fine, tickety-boo, dying and all, because somehow Aziraphale was still an angel.
Even if it was somehow complicated . Especially since at no time in his life had Aziraphale ever not been complicated .
“I’d be glad for some help in a moment,” Aziraphale said, watching Hastur. The maggoty demon was still standing in the middle of the street, grinning at them, playing with his knife, watching the way Aziraphale’s blood ran on the blade.
Crowley groaned. “Can he possibly be any more disgusting?”
“Crowley, don’t jinx us,” the angel chided.
Crowley was torn between giving Aziraphale a look of concern, giving Aziraphale a look of disbelief, and watching Hastur isolate a drop of Aziraphale’s blood. “A touch is a touch,” the demon told them triumphantly. “You didn’t deserve it, Crowley. You’re a nobody.”
Aziraphale scoffed quietly. “Isn’t that just the way? Here you’ve got me always reminding you you’re a demon, and other demons telling you you’re not a very good one. You’re just damned if you do and damned if you don’t, aren’t you?” he asked, a sly smile tracing over his lips.
Crowley went with the look of disbelief, staring at Aziraphale with his mouth open. “ How are you making jokes ?! Since when— since when do you joke about me being a—”
He was cut off by the sound of Hastur screaming. The demon’s finger was in Aziraphale’s blood and the rest of his body was in flames, blazing up blue-white with Heavenfire. He turned in a circle, lighting up the street, that unearthly howl rattling windows.
Crowley cocked his head at the angel. “I thought you could touch demons.”
“Huh,” said Aziraphale. “I guess not.”
“And, AND , even if you can’t touch them, you still can’t do that —” Crowley pointed at the Hastur-bottle-rocket— “because Hastur outranks you! He’s a Duke of Hell. Was.”
Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “Yes. I believe I may have been given a promotion.”
Hastur gradually stopped screaming, of course, as in general one has to exist in order to scream. The flame poofed itself out and all trace of Hastur vanished, except for a small stain on the pavement, and the smell.
“Ooh,” Aziraphale said quietly, and Crowley recognized it for a sound of pain. He turned and pulled Aziraphale gently into his arms. It hadn’t been that long ago that Crowley had touched Aziraphale’s bare stomach, and it made him dizzy with anger to see an injury where Crowley’s soft kisses had been.
“Let me help you?” Crowley asked, because he knew it would sting if he did. But Aziraphale nodded, as always, and Crowley pressed his hand over Azirphale’s and focused his energy, what there was of it. Aziraphale drew in a little breath at the burn of the demonic healing, but then relaxed against Crowley’s arm. After a moment, Aziraphale moved their hands, and Crowley saw the wound closed. He didn’t care how much power he had left, he used some to clean and repair Aziraphale’s clothes. The angel looked up at him and gave him one of those smiles.
But it wasn’t long before the smile was fading. Crowley knew why. With the angel’s own wound healed, he would certainly be able to sense Crowley’s.
“Oh, please, no,” Aziraphale breathed, and then his knees buckled and he crumpled to the sidewalk, with Crowley holding him all the way down.
1 I absolutely promise that Crowley does not die in this fic. We’re just going to get a bit dramatic. back
Chapter 8: But open your angel's arms to a stranger in paradise
There is another fight in this chapter, and Pestilence looks gross. I didn’t think it was enough for a graphic violence warning, but just be aware.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
But open your angel's arms
to a stranger in paradise
None of it mattered. Not a bit of it, not Aziraphale’s Fall, Hastur, the plague, humanity, any of it, because Crowley was dying. Aziraphale felt it as he held his beloved demon in his arms, curled together with him on the sidewalk. Aziraphale rolled his shoulders, and when his wings unfurled, he brought them forward to wrap around himself and Crowley.
Crowley lifted his head to glance at the wings. “White.”
“That’s good, angel, because you look weird in black.”
Aziraphale huffed out a laugh as he spread his hands across the demon’s chest. Crowley was so cold. Aziraphale’s hands glowed warmly, easily, and he watched the angelic essence steal into Crowley, sinking down through his flesh and swirling around his dark red aura. “There,” he whispered. “No more pain. I have you.”
After a few seconds, Crowley let out a sigh, and some of the tension in his body melted away. He came to rest against Aziraphale, and it was almost, almost like they had gotten it right again, just for a moment.
Except that Crowley was dying. Aziraphale could sense it, could hear it and see it and feel it. The sickness was stronger than anything he’d experienced before with humans, and far beyond any sprained ankle or scald of holy water or frostbitten fingers that he’d ever healed for Crowley. The poison was in his soul, and it was stunning in its strength. It was Pestilence.
And soon it would be Death.
The demon shifted, sitting up a bit, and Aziraphale used his thumb to wipe away a stray tear from his cheek. Crowley’s skin was ivory in the darkness of the street, his hair a shadowed scarlet. Those golden eyes—Aziraphale felt a shivering through him that was more painful than anything he’d felt in a long, long time. Oh, dear God, he was going to lose those eyes. He was going to lose his best friend.
Crowley could undoubtedly see the pain on Aziraphale’s face, and of course, the demon would never let it last, he would do what he always did, to reassure. Crowley gave Aziraphale a cheerful smile, warm and beautiful. “Trust you to get the Fall wrong, angel. You’re supposed to land, you know, downstairs . Not that I recommend that, course, it’s awful down there.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Aziraphale told him.
Crowley looked away and Aziraphale put a hand under his chin to draw him gently back. “I don’t belong in Heaven,” the angel said.
“Never did." Crowley’s reply was easy, sincere, grateful , and Aziraphale was struck, again, by the magnitude of his own sin, by having been the only one in the universe who loved Crowley, the only Heavenly creation who would ever have had compassion for this beautiful demon, and having kept that love from him.
“Course, neither did I,” the demon admitted.
“No. But Crowley, you don’t belong in Hell, either. You Fell not because you hated God but because you loved humanity and questioned Her treatment of them. And you were right to. You and I both—our Falls ended right here, on Earth. This is where we have always belonged.”
Aziraphale slid a hand behind Crowley’s neck, into the soft red strands of his hair. Aziraphale could feel how pained the demon still was, how guilty, how horrified, how sorry. “Shh,” the angel whispered. “My beloved Serpent. You are the only one who has never deceived me." He pressed a kiss to Crowley’s forehead. “To be here on Earth with you, I needed to understand that the world is both good and evil. That you, a demon, are good and evil, that I, an angel, am exactly the same.”
Crowley grasped Azirphale’s hands, pulling them together between them. “No. You’re so good. You should only ever know good, angel.”
“Oh, my love, but the Earth needs temptations and miracles both. It needs an angel who wants people to have a chance to make the wrong choice. It needs a demon who won’t test anyone to destruction. Guardian and tempter are two sides of the same coin. We’re all mixed up, we’re each both sides, but we’re still just halves. We need to be together to make a whole." Aziraphale pressed another kiss to Crowley’s forehead, weeping now. “Crowley, you can’t leave me. Please.”
“Believe me, angel, I don’t want to." Crowley wouldn’t lie to him, even now. “But we may be out of choices." Aziraphale let his head come to rest on Crowley’s shoulder. The demon smelled of campfire smoke and pine. Crowley whispered against his hair. “It’s almost dawn.”
Aziraphale took in a shuddering breath. “This is all my fault. I never stopped to think that I might be risking you. I only thought about myself. You always had more faith in us than I did.”
Crowley laughed a little. “Aziraphale, you don’t know how easy you make that." He ran his hands gently over Aziraphale’s back, beneath the wings. “It’s impossible not to have hope and faith around you. And the greatest of these is love . That’s you, you idiot.”
“Are you really quoting First Corinthians at me right now?” 1
“If you can make rude jokes then I can quote the Bible,” Crowley said, quite logically, although it was not a sentence Aziraphale had ever thought the demon would have reason to say. Crowley tipped Aziraphale’s head up to look into his face, and he smiled. “Come on, angel, let’s save the world again. It’s starting to seem like that’s our job.”
Aziraphale pressed his lips together uncertainly. “Yes. We’re not terribly competent, is the thing.”
Crowley gave him an easy, gorgeous smile. “Well, maybe if we actually worked together like we said we were going to do.”
“I suppose that is the only thing we haven’t tried.”
The sun was rising and the demon and the angel stood up on the street corner, with Aziraphale’s wings spread out behind them.
Crowley took Aziraphale’s hand. “Angel—in the Garden—” He turned those golden eyes on Aziraphale, and they were filled both with pain and with something beautiful. “I should never have talked to you. I don’t know why I did, I thought you might smite me on sight. It was my fault that they got cast out, that you had to give them your sword.”
Aziraphale squeezed his hand. “It was not.”
“Yes, it was. But the thing is—you didn’t care that it was. You were just completely, genuinely kind to me anyway and it’s been six thousand years and I have never been able to get over it.”
Aziraphale closed his eyes briefly and found that it made tears fall onto his cheeks. “I couldn’t believe that anyone so beautiful as you would even want to talk to me.”
Crowley snorted with laughter. “You are a shit angel.”
Aziraphale laughed so hard he had to lean his head on Crowley’s shoulder. “I know. It’s not my fault, what am I supposed to do when first you’re this gorgeous serpent, oh my God, with all those scales sparkling in the sunlight, and then you change and you look—” He pulled back to gesture at Crowley. “Well, you look like this . And with those black wings ? And how can you never in all these years have mastered the art of wearing trousers , Crowley, your hips are meant to go inside them.”
Crowley smirked. “I think it’s quite obvious that I know exactly how to wear trousers.”
Aziraphale gave a groan of exasperation. “And, AND , I know it was you that Christmas.”
“Oh you know . I was exhausted, I even fell asleep, trying to see if I could restore some of my healing powers that way." Aziraphale put a hand on Crowley’s chest, feeling heavier tears now. “You have no idea, Crowley. I never sleep, and it was so disorienting to me. I woke up and I couldn’t hear anything and I was so sure that I’d slept too long and the children had all—but the reason I couldn’t hear them was because they were all breathing quietly. You came in and miracled the whole group of them free of diphtheria when I didn’t have the strength.”
Crowley looked wary and uncomfortable and Aziraphale took his other hand, curling the demon’s fingers against his own. “1613, Spain. The hospital smelled like lilies and campfire smoke after. I knew you’d never want me to say anything, so I never did, although I really should have. I didn’t know you were even in Spain.”
Crowley was quiet a minute, and then he huffed a sigh. “I wasn’t. It’s just, when you’re in trouble, when you’re sad, or you need something, or you’re hurt—I just know. Always have.”
“I’ve wondered about that." He squeezed Crowley’s hand a little. “You never ignored it, did you? Not once in six thousand years.”
“I need you now.”
Crowley’s eyes were pure gold, and steady on his. “You have me. I’ll protect you as long as I can. And you protect humanity.”
“You have me, too,” Aziraphale whispered.
The atmosphere shifted slightly, and with a quiet whump the street was a garden, just as the bookshop had been. Roses of every kind and color bloomed riotously from every crack in the street, twining around the lamp posts, covering the windows of the surrounding buildings, filling the air with perfume.
Crowley smiled. “Roses. I like the white ones best, you know.”
“I like the red ones.”
“Course you do." Crowley glanced around and then got a puzzled look on his face. “There weren’t—that’s weird, isn’t it? There weren’t any flowers at Mons.”
“When you were with all those soldiers in the square.”
“I knew you were at Mons.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Course I was. You were there. But why weren’t there flowers? I could feel the love pouring off of you.”
Aziraphale laughed. “Oh, my love, no. No. That was the love I have for humankind, for the world. It’s nothing compared to what I feel for you. My love for you could fill all the universe. It tries to, it flows out of me and—” He pointed to indicate the new Garden of Soho.
Crowley was staring at him, his mouth looking like it was trying to work out whether to smile or fall open. “The flowers were for me?”
“Only for you. Every time. Every last one." Aziraphale put a hand to Crowley’s cheek, and for the first time, he said it out loud. “I love you, Crowley.”
Crowley blinked away tears. “I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted in all my life.”
“And I kept it from you." Aziraphale felt a trembling in his words. “I’ll understand if you can’t forgive me.”
Crowley blew out a shaky breath. “You don’t know how it looks for you to stand there with your white wings and ask a demon for forgiveness." He pulled Aziraphale roughly into his arms. “You’re being ridiculous. Anyway, our side forgives. Your side and my side might not, but—”
Aziraphale leaned his face against Crowley’s shoulder, his eyes closed. “Our side does.”
“I love you, Aziraphale. My God, I love you so much. And I’m so sorry, for everything." He rested his face against Aziraphale’s hair, and the angel whispered words of kindness and love to him, just as he had in Frankfurt.
It had to end, of course.
Aziraphale felt the change in the air, and lifted his head to look. Crowley’s arms tightened around him as they watched a pale horse and rider progress slowly down the street, trampling the flowers in their path.
If Hastur had been disgusting, Pestilence was horrific. His face—it wasn’t much of a face to begin with, mostly skeletal—was covered in boils. His arms, where they poked out of his gray tunic, were red with spots. One bandaged foot dragged behind its stirrup, oozing some sort of liquid. Pestilence must have retired before the Horsepeople had made the switch to motorcycles, because he still had his horse, and it was ill as well, pockmarked with sores, thin as a skeleton.
“Sorry to break up an intimate moment,” the Horseperson sneered. His voice was weak and still somehow loud, almost like you could hear him more with your mind than your ear.
Aziraphale moved out of Crowley’s embrace and stepped forward, letting his angelic glow come out, lifting his wings to flutter lightly in the air. It felt right to let his clothes shift into a white robe and sandals, pale as the clothes Pestilence wore, but thank Heaven, much cleaner.
“Pestilence,” Aziraphale said, trying not to sound as irate as he was, “the last couple days have been extremely unpleasant and seeing as it’s all your fault, do you have anything you’d like to say or shall I just smite you now?”
Crowley have a surprised laugh. Pestilence looked at Aziraphale like he’d lost his mind. “You can’t smite me, angel. I’m a Horseperson.”
Aziraphale sighed. “Yes. This again. Honestly, I really should think I would be well aware of what I can and cannot do." He put on a courteous smile. “Now, if you could please remove your infection from my friend here and then take your disgusting arse out of London, I would very much appreciate it.”
Pestilence bared his teeth. They were, of course, yellowed and loose. Aziraphale shuddered, but he also felt a pang of sympathy. Sometimes it was quite irritating to be the Angel of Compassion. Of course, that wasn’t all he was. Not anymore.
Aziraphale stepped from the sidewalk down onto the street. Flowers eased away from his sandals to clear him a path, returning to caress the back of his legs as he passed. His right arm grew heavy as a flaming sword materialized itself in his hand.
Overdue book notices and premonitions. Strangely heightened powers and new instincts. The Fall, the change, had been calling to Aziraphale for weeks. Once he’d accepted it, everything had become mercifully clear.
“I am the Guardian Angel of the Earth,” Aziraphale said, and the words seemed to echo profoundly along the street. “And I won’t allow you to do this.”
Pestilence looked a little surprised, although unfortunately, not overly impressed. The Horseperson swung a palsied leg over his saddle, lurching toward the ground. His horse nearly stumbled, and Aziraphale felt an urge to reach out and steady the poor animal.
Pestilence stretched out his hand and a black cross bow materialized there, loaded with a red-tipped arrow. Aziraphale could feel the infection oozing from the arrow’s tip and wondered what diseases it carried. Pestilence took several steps back, aiming his bow. Aziraphale raised his sword.
It happened faster than Aziraphale expected, but the first arrow went wild, careening over Aziraphale’s head as Crowley materialized in between them and tackled Pestilence to the ground.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale cried. Pestilence immediately vanished, leaving Crowley on his hands and knees on the pavement, shuddering. Aziraphale went toward him, but another arrow came from his right and it was all the angel could do to sidestep it in time. He turned to see Pestilence in front of him again, crossbow aimed.
“Oh! This is quite ridiculous!” Aziraphale snapped. The angel reached forward, ripped the arrow from the crossbow, and stabbed it into his own shoulder. Crowley, still on the ground, made a little gasping noise, but Aziraphale put a hand up to reassure him. As the three of them watched, the black arrow and the reddened wound it had caused blazed white and melted away.
“I can’t get sick!” Aziraphale reminded them, exasperated.
The angel had the fleeting hope that maybe the arrow thing would impress Pestilence, but of course, it didn’t. The Horseperson just made some sort of unpleasant growling noise, and Aziraphale quickly took his sword in two shaking hands. He wasn’t a skilled fighter, of course, Guard of the Eastern Gate or not. He’d never actually used the sword. He’d never actually wanted to.
Well, it couldn’t be that hard, could it?
Aziraphale swung the sword, and of course Pestilence moved back and wasn’t hit. Aziraphale nearly fell over from the weight shifting. He decided to try using just one hand with the sword, and made a pretty good lunge, but Pestilence blocked him with his crossbow, and then in one quick move, the Horseperson turned Aziraphale’s momentum against him and knocked the angel off of his feet.
Aziraphale let go of the sword as he fell, bringing his hands up to protect himself, but Pestilence’s strike was blocked as Crowley, suddenly beside Aziraphale, grasped the sword and countered the blow.
“Crowley, that’s Heavenfire!” Aziraphale cried, and then the angel watched in amazement as the blue-white flames danced harmlessly over Crowley’s fingers.
“Had a feeling you’d be able to turn it off now,” Crowley said with a grin.
Except that Aziraphale hadn't. But there really wasn’t time to dwell on it.
Crowley got to his feet and advanced on the Horseperson, who dropped his bow and materialized his own sword. As Crowley lunged at him, Pestilence parried, and the clang of their swords rang through the street.
It was not a sight Aziraphale had ever expected to see, even in the most heated daydreams in which the angel had secretly, almost helplessly indulged while thinking of his best friend. There was the Pale Rider of the Apocalypse holding a gritty silver sword, and Crowley, Crowley, the dashing hero in black if there had ever been one. Glorious ebony wings unfurled behind him, flexing against the air as he moved, golden eyes shining, skillfully wielding a blazing sword of Heavenfire. And wearing really, really tight pants.
Aziraphale tried to say a couple of things. None of them were audible. That was very lucky. He finally managed to demand, “Where did you learn how to do that?”
Crowley spared him a quick glance as he blocked a blow. “Pretty sure I never did. I just kind of know.”
“Well, it’s my sword,” Aziraphale complained. “How come I don’t know how to use it?”
“You did give it away. Maybe it doesn’t like you." The demon slashed at Pestilence, cutting the Horseperson’s gray tunic and slicing into his flesh, leaving a burnt mark. Crowley gave a triumphant cry.
“I suppose,” Aziraphale grumbled to himself.
Crowley lunged in again, and Aziraphale gave a gasp, thinking for sure that the demon had run Pestilence through the chest. But the Horseperson had vanished once more.
“That’s cheating!” Crowley growled, as he leaned over to catch his breath. He was shaking terribly, and Aziraphale could feel how much the fighting had taken out of him. The angel ran to him and put a hand on his shoulder, at least able to ease the pain.
Pestilence reappeared where they had seen him first, standing in front of his horse. He had no sword this time, or bow. Instead he stretched out a wavering pockmarked hand and the street beneath Aziraphale’s feet lurched.
Aziraphale felt his angelic glow burst out around him like he’d just gone up in flames. His wings beat against the air, lifting him up, and he threw out his arms, sending a fiery burst of angelic energy against Pestilence. His voice was like a thunderclap. “You will not cause an earthquake next to my bookshop!”
The burst of energy caught Pestilence in the chest and knocked him flat. Unfortunately, it also caught his horse, who had been standing behind him, and the animal stumbled, losing its footing.
“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale cried, and he flew right over the Horseperson and landed on the street behind him. Pestilence was lying unmoving on the pavement, but the horse struggled feebly to get up. Aziraphale spoke to it soothingly and it quieted. The angel laid a hand on the animal’s neck, and as his angelic aura crept into the horse, its black eyes closed and its frantic breathing eased. “There,” Aziraphale said quietly, feeling his energy flow through the animal, healing sores, burning away infections, mending broken bones, easing hunger. The horse that stood up a moment later was a beautiful creature, pure white, with smooth flesh and a shimmering black mane and tail, healthy muscles rippling beneath its skin.
Aziraphale smiled affectionately at the animal and it nuzzled his hand.
Crowley had come up behind him, still holding his sword. “Soon as I saw that horse I knew you were going to do that,” the demon groused, but his voice was fond.
“I think we won!” Aziraphale said delightedly.
Crowley groaned. “Angel, we are going to have a serious talk about not jinxing things.”
Sure enough, Pestilence began struggling to his feet beside them.
“Well,” Aziraphale said with a reluctant sigh, “Let me try something.”
When Aziraphale had Fallen, he really had expected to become a demon, and part of him had wondered what animal form would house his soul. Crowley was a serpent, Beelzebub flies, and so on. Aziraphale had hoped that whatever it was, it might at least have some beauty to it, although little blue tree frog was probably too much to ask for.
When Aziraphale had awoken on the floor of his bookshop, newly Fallen, he’d thought that Whoever—he wasn’t sure if God or Satan chose the animal familiars—must have felt that Aziraphale was suited to something avian. There were feathers everywhere, white, gold, and silver. They were actually quite pretty.
Falling meant metaphorically eating from the tree of knowledge, and this helped a great deal when souls were trying to understand their Falls. It was why Crowley knew that he’d been cast out for simply asking questions, rather than wanting to be part of an evil rebellion. It was how Aziraphale had almost immediately realized that he was still an angel. Of course, that meant that the extra feathers puzzled him even more. Finally, he miracled up a mirror and took a look at his new appearance, and understood what had happened.
Guardian Angel of the Earth was a real posting. Whether Aziraphale had invented it, or Crowley, or it had always been Aziraphale’s destiny, it was now who Aziraphale was. But looking into the mirror, Aziraphale was very glad that his new form wasn’t any more present on the Earthly plane than his usual angel wings, (which he had later noted, with gratitude, still existed), so he was able to quickly un-manifest it.
At this point, though, standing on the street in front of a Horseperson, Aziraphale knew it was time. He glanced at Crowley with what was probably a mix of nervousness and apology. “You’re going to want to back up.”
Crowley did as he was told, but he looked amused and waved a hand, beckoning Aziraphale to continue.
Aziraphale did, rising into the air and letting his new form manifest. And this time, Pestilence was impressed. Aziraphale could see the Horseperson’s bloodshot, infected eyes widen.
Giant, sweeping wings erupted from Aziraphale’s shoulders and back, white primary feathers at the top giving over to silver and gold secondaries near the bottom. The wings were easily twice Aziraphale’s size. His normal golden angel’s glow became a brighter, blinding pure white, except for the halo of gold surrounding his head in a shining circle. Aziraphale’s eyes were were literally sparks of Heavenfire, glowing blue-white in his face. How he could still see, Aziraphale had no idea.
When Aziraphale had looked at himself in the mirror in the bookshop, he’d immediately thought that his Fallen form resembled something that he and Crowley might have made up for the Odyssey, if they had needed another monster. The size of the wings compared to his body made it seem like his animal familiar, (if he had one, he was a little unclear on that), might be a moth. Which wasn’t as bad as Aziraphale had feared, but it was still a little bit embarrassing. And all the bright lights and flames—he’d been very grateful that he hadn’t accidentally burned down his bookshop again.
But when Aziraphale nervously looked down at Crowley to see his reaction, the angel was so very wonderfully surprised. Crowley looked absolutely delighted. He gazed up at Aziraphale with a rapturous expression, like a penitent having a religious vision. Well, maybe not quite, because penitants didn’t tend to use profanity in their elation, and Crowley was making use of his rather large vulgar vocabulary in expressing his admiration.
It was, of course, exactly what Aziraphale needed to hear, the Guardian Angel of the Earth being reassured about the appearance of his Fallen form via irreverent blasphemies uttered by his best friend, a demon who was able to wield a sword blazing with Heavenfire. Aziraphale had never witnessed a better definition of the word ineffable in all his life.
Pestilence was indeed impressed. But this time when Aziraphale released a blow of angelic energy at him, the Horseperson flung out some sort of black and green oozing energy of his own and blocked it. And then he used that energy to counter-attack.
It went on that way for a while, the two of them striking out at each other with bursts of ethereal power before Aziraphale started to feel tired and found himself sinking toward the ground. Pestilence seemed to be flagging too, though, so Aziraphale extinguished (for lack of a better word) his new eyes and shot a look to Crowley. The demon caught it and nodded.
Aziraphale hit Pestilence with a very strong blow and as the Horseperson staggered back, Crowley surged forward and impaled him with the flaming sword. Pestilence screamed, which seemed good, because that hadn’t happened before, but he also flung Crowley away from him. The demon flew through the air to land on what should have been the pavement but was instead Aziraphale’s arms. The angel doused his glow and folded in his wings.
Crowley coughed and Aziraphale helped him sit up a little, and together they watched Pestilence draw the sword from his body and throw it down onto the street. He weaved about and fell to his knees. But he did not collapse.
“We’re not making any progress,” Crowley breathed.
Aziraphale tried to smile at him. “Neither is he.”
It was a lie, though, and Crowley voiced it. “Yeah, he is, Aziraphale, because pretty soon there’s only going to be one of us fighting him. We’ve got to do something. I can’t leave you alone to face him.”
Aziraphale blinked tears out of his eyes, watching as Pestilence slowly gathered strength and feeling Crowley lose it. Aziraphale could feel the spark of life inside his beloved demon grow colder and colder.
Oh, please, God, he prayed. Don’t let him go.
Crowley huffed an improbable laugh and Aziraphale looked up. “Glowing internally, told you so,” Crowley said, nodding over Aziraphale’s shoulder, and the angel looked to see that Pestilence’s horse had come near and was leaning its head in to nuzzle at Aziraphale’s forehead.
Aziraphale smiled at the animal. “I’m not glowing,” he argued gently. “He likes me because I healed him.”
Crowley sat up suddenly. “Fuck, angel, that’s it.”
“Frankfurt. We were in Frankfurt, and—”
Aziraphale’s heart lurched. “Crowley, that was a long time ago. We’re in London now.”
Crowley gave him an exasperated look. “I know we’re in bloody London, I’ve not gone senile yet. Shut the Hell up and listen to me. Look, in Frankfurt, you made food, right? I’ve seen you do it a thousand times, feeding the hungry. And you kept the riots from getting dangerous. Saw you do that in France too, after the Crusades. And in the park, you cleaned up the water for the frogs. Saw you do it to the River Ganges a few times, didn’t I?”
“Crowley, I’m very much afraid that either you are senile or I am.”
“For Heaven’s sake, angel." He put up his fingers, counting them off as he talked. “Food, peace, cleanliness. Famine, War, Pollution. You’ve been opposing the Horsepeople your whole life. And rather successfully, I might add.”
Aziraphale gasped. “The horse.”
Crowley let out an overly dramatic sigh. “ Now you’re with me. You are still the Angel of Compassion, right?”
Aziraphale grinned and kissed Crowley’s beautiful mouth. “I most certainly am.”
Crowley was smiling up at him. “Go fuck him up, angel.”
Aziraphale let Crowley gently down onto the street. Roses quickly came to rest softly against him, and Pestilence’s horse gave the demon a reassuring snuffle.
Aziraphale turned to Pestilence, who had regained his feet by now. The angel sized him up, reading the pain coming from him. The sword wound hadn’t helped, but it was hardly the worst of his complaints. Scurvy, that explained the teeth. Measles, arthritis, influenza, pneumonia. Cancer of the bowel, good heavens. On some level Aziraphale did feel quite sorry for him.
Aziraphale reignited his Fallen glow and the brightness of it stunned Pestilence a little. His nasty case of conjunctivitis didn’t help. Aziraphale picked up his sword—all right, Crowley’s sword—and this time a wild attack was exactly what was called for. Aziraphale swung the sword inelegantly at Pestilence’s right side, and when the Horseperson dodged left, Aziraphale grasped onto his arm with his empty hand.
Oh . He was in so much pain. It shuddered through Aziraphale like electricity. Pestilence let out a gasp and tried to pull free, but Aziraphale dropped the sword and grabbed him tightly with his other hand as well. The angel closed his eyes, and his healing aura flowed into the Horseperson.
After a moment, they both fell to their knees. Aziraphale felt tears on his face. It wasn’t just Pestilence’s corporation he could feel now, but age after age of disease, winding through group after group of humans, family after family falling to infection, the bites of rats and fleas, the sting of hopeless medical treatments, the despair of watching a lover die. Aziraphale was sobbing now, and he opened his eyes to find a Horseperson gathered into his arms, gaping up at him with clear eyes in a healthy face and looking absolutely terrified.
Aziraphale let go of him, and Pestilence scrambled back on all fours, like a crab. Aziraphale put his hands down to brace himself, panting heavily. Pestilence made a little screeching noise and rose unsteadily to his feet. His horse trotted over, nuzzling at his rider’s ear, and Pestilence screeched at him too before scrambling into the saddle and kicking the poor horse into a run. After a couple of seconds, they had disappeared entirely.
But when Aziraphale turned he saw that the street was not cleared of Horsepeople after all. Crowley lay on the pavement and Death stood behind him.
Aziraphale held himself still, willed himself strong. “Please,” he said. “Please, you can’t. I mean I know that you can, but I'm asking you, please, don’t take him." Crowley shifted a little and Aziraphale ran to embrace him, falling to his knees on the street and pulling the demon into his arms. As he did so, black feathers fell from Crowley’s wings to litter the street along with the rose petals.
Aziraphale looked up at Death and spoke the simple truth. “I can’t do this without him. I need him. He's—he's my guardian angel.”
Crowley looked up at him, confused, but quiet, and Aziraphale tried to smile at him. “Do you know how many times I would have been discorporated or worse in the last 6000 years without him? It’s quite ridiculous. I’m always getting myself into dangerous situations. And he always knows when I do, he always knows where I am. He always comes to the rescue. I’ve trusted him to keep me safe since the moment we met. Plus, the flaming sword rather likes him.” He looked up at Death. “I can hardly serve as Guardian Angel of the Earth without him keeping me out of trouble.”
Death was silent.
Aziraphale pressed on desperately. “You were right, you know, we—we are a couple. Have been for at least a thousand years.”
Crowley finally made a noise, a little snort of laughter, and Aziraphale looked down to see the demon giving him an admonishing look. “Oh, angel, it’s been longer than that.”
Aziraphale frowned down at him. “No, the Newfoundland trip was 957.”
“Oh, yes, Newfoundland ,” Crowley grumbled, sitting up a little, with Aziraphale’s help. “The Vikings. Way too cold for snakes, Newfoundland. Last time I let you pick a vacation spot.”
“It was summer !” Aziraphale protested. “It was seventy-five degrees! Anyway, you liked the Inuit dogs.”
“The dogs were nice, yeah." The demon pointed a chiding finger at the angel. “But you’re forgetting about Valencia. Roman Hispana. That was in 350.”
“Valencia was not a date.”
“Course it was a date , why would we go somewhere you want to go and I don’t if it’s not a date?”
“You wanted to see those musicians!”
“No, you wanted lemon cake and I said, Oh, I’ve never had lemon cake , and I still didn’t get to have any because you ate it all while I was too busy staring at you to eat. The musicians just happened to be there.”
Aziraphale clicked his tongue suddenly. “You know, we’re forgetting about Syria.”
“Oh, Syria." Crowley twisted his mouth, thinking. “What was that, first century BC? Yeah, it was like sixty-five.”
“No, Syria fell to Rome in sixty-four, and that hadn’t happened yet.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Fine. Whenever. We sat by the ocean.”
Crowley smiled. “All night. First time we ever did that, just sitting and not talking. I hadn’t really known peace like that since I Fell.”
Aziraphale took his hand and squeezed it, and finally, Death spoke up. “ And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord .”
Crowley looked from the Horseperson to Aziraphale and whispered, “Is Death...quoting the Bible at us...sarcastically?”
“Psalm 89,” Aziraphale confirmed. “King James version, I believe. Always a favorite of mine.”
“Yeah." Crowley gave Aziraphale a brave look. “Angel, I guess this is—”
Death cut him off with a scoffing noise. “No, it’s not, I’m not going to break you two up right when you’ve finally gotten your shit together after 6000 years.”
Aziraphale gasped and tightened his hands on Crowley so much that Crowley gasped.
“Honestly,” Death said, with what might have been a roll of his eyes, if he had eyes, “you two have got to be some of the densest people I’ve ever met. How in Hell do you think you can touch each other? Of course you can heal him. Just change the rules again. For Heaven’s sake, you do know you two were meant to get together in Eden.”
Aziraphale gaped at him. “No, no, Heaven and Hell would not have approved of that.”
Death shrugged. “So?”
Crowley looked to Aziraphale, and neither of them was able to come up with much to say to that.
“Anyhow,” Death said, “I’ll leave you to it. Once again, impressive job, Guardians.”
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said politely, and then Death was gone. And Crowley remained.
1 1 Corinthians 13:13: So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (back)
If anybody wants to draw Crowley sword fighting and/or Aziraphale's Fallen form, I would be so very grateful!
And now, lots of end-notes that absolutely no one asked for about the writing process of this baby romance novel:
First, I had not plotted for Aziraphale to Fall. We were going to stay the heck away from that and just make the point to Crowley at the end that you can’t Fall for loving someone (which other writers have done and I am totally on board with it). But in hindsight, this particular fic was clearly leading up to a climax like this, with Crowley’s fear of Aziraphale Falling being the main thing keeping them apart. Aziraphale becoming the Guardian Angel of the Earth (and Crowley being Aziraphale’s guardian angel) had been planned from the beginning, but having Aziraphale Fall to get his promotion dovetailed so nicely with Crowley’s character arc, and so I’m really happy about how this worked out. Of course, I had to go back and rewrite some earlier stuff to make Falling be a fear of Aziraphale’s as well, because as originally plotted, he was never really concerned about it.
This is also not what I had planned for the big final fight. I put in the poor suffering horse just as a bit of description, but then I realized that Aziraphale would want to heal it, and that sounded cool. But then I was writing Crowley’s dialogue and all of a sudden, he seemed to realize that Aziraphale could heal Pestilence, and boy, I was not expecting that, but it was perfect! Aziraphale saving the day by being what he’s always been, the Angel of Compassion? I’m so happy that it worked out this way.
And on a much smaller scale, I thought the diphtheria thing was just a cute Christmas anecdote when they started it, and then it went in a rather dramatic direction. I'm not going to give links on diphtheria stuff because it's not pleasant, you can look up Spain in 1613 if you'd like. I will link to the 1925 Serum Run to Nome , which inspired the Iditarod dog-sled race, because it's a diphtheria success story. Just please vaccinate your kids!
Chapter 9: And tell him that he need be a stranger no more
Let’s earn our E rating, shall we, friends?
Also, please enjoy a bonus epilogue that I could not resist writing, showing what might have happened in the Garden if our boys hadn’t been quite so dense. <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
And tell him that he need be a stranger no more
They’d been here in the living room of the bookshop the night before, Aziraphale and Crowley, going through what were probably the most blissful and most painful moments of their entire lives. Now they were here again, and the only thing left around them in this space was the first thing they had ever shared, the one thing they had always shared.
Aziraphale was sitting in his armchair in the bookshop, and Crowley was on his knees in front of him. It seemed a natural position for them, at least in Crowley’s opinion, Aziraphale above and Crowley below, not because Crowley was a demon, but because Aziraphale was an angel.
Crowley was down to just wearing his jeans again—Aziraphale had insisted on that with a heart-stopping heat in his blue eyes—and Aziraphale’s chest was also bare, but his trousers and pants were still around one ankle. Crowley was licking the flat of his tongue slowly up the length of Aziraphale’s cock and the angel was shivering and making little cries.
Crowley was lost in the taste of him. He had guessed the angel’s essence would be overwhelmingly sweet, like cotton candy or caramels. He was wrong. Aziraphale had a deeper, heartier flavor. The Guardian Angel of the Earth, the biggest temptation in the universe, tasted like apples.
Crowley took a moment to tug the last of Aziraphale’s clothes off of his leg and then he came back up on his knees, gently spreading Aziraphale’s thighs and moving in between them. “Shhh,” he whispered, his mouth against Aziraphale’s erection again, and the angel gasped.
Crowley looked up to make eye contact. “Is this all right? For me to have you this way? With my mouth?" He knew the answer, had known it for the last thirty minutes, since he’d started kissing Aziraphale. During the kissing, Crowley had been able to feel the angel’s arousal pressing against his thigh, and it had awakened in him a desperate desire to explore exactly how much Azirphale wanted him without so many layers of clothing in the way. Crowley had slipped a hand down between them to the zipper of Aziraphale’s trousers, and the angel had blurted out a verbal answer to the unspoken question.
That word was the most delicious thing Crowley had ever heard. It almost sounded like Aziraphale had been wanting to say it for thousands of years. Crowley was desperate to hear it again, and so he asked questions over and over, and Aziraphale moaned it, gasped it, whispered it. Yes, yes, yes. Crowley was very much looking forward to hearing Aziraphale scream it.
Aziraphale said yes again now and Crowley took the angel into his mouth for the first time. Slowly. Gently. Aziraphale still bucked up in the chair, his hands clutching at the upholstered arms, and Crowley put a gentle pressure on his thighs to keep him in place. Starting at the top, Crowley paid very careful, very thorough attention to each inch of Aziraphale’s cock.
Aziraphale was making the most lovely sounds, and then he abruptly started talking. “Oh, Crowley. Oh, my—oh, dear, oh—I didn’t—it was never like this.”
Crowley pulled off of the angel, smoothly, so as not to shock him, and tried to very casually ask, “ What was never like this?”
Aziraphale had been blushing for about the last thirty minutes, but apparently he could still get more red, because he did. “Ah, well. I—I mean, there wasn’t anybody—”
“I know that.”
“Yes, well. Obvious, I suppose. But um, there was, ah,” Aziraphale laughed a little to himself and found his voice. “There was you. Not really you, but—as much of you as I could imagine.”
Crowley knelt on the floor in a tangle of daylilies—the whole bookshop had again become a garden as soon as Crowley had celebrated not dying by pressing the angel against a bookcase and worshiping at his mouth, although the flowers had the good sense to leave the books alone this time—and tried not to sound too fantastically, delightedly, joyfully shocked. “Angel, are you saying that you made an effort so that you could masturbate to thoughts of me?”
Aziraphale somehow looked quite prim. “Who else would I masturbate to?”
Now Crowley found himself without an answer. He blew out a breath, adjusting himself a little in his tight jeans, and managed to growl out the word fuck .
“Ah,” Aziraphale said, with a smile. “If you would, please.”
Crowley groaned up at him. “No, no, no. None of that. None of these new jokes. I want you too much. You’ve got to go easy on me, please, or I will lose control of this, and I really don’t want to. All right?”
Aziraphale looked just slightly disappointed, but Crowley didn’t give in, and the angel nodded.
Crowley bent his head and blew lightly on Aziraphale’s swollen flesh, and Azirphale was promptly too busy gasping and moaning to make more sly comments. Crowley hungrily took him back into his mouth, tasting him, teasing him, adoring him.
Aziraphale’s hands drifted off of the chair and into Crowley’s hair, gentle at first, but then they tightened. Crowley bit back a groan and Aziraphale loosened his grip again, whispering, “Sorry.”
Of course, it kept happening, as Crowley knew it would, he knew the angel would lose himself in the pleasure of what Crowley was doing and try to heighten it, to thrust into Crowley’s mouth, to take everything he could conceivably get. But then, of course, he would immediately apologize.
It wasn’t that Crowley would object to the angel fucking his mouth. It was just that it was the most Aziraphale thing possible to be both gluttonous and polite, and Crowley loved it. Plus it was clear that Aziraphale enjoyed the sensation of Crowley laughing around his cock.
Crowley was trying to slow Aziraphale’s first time by being tender, keeping his attentions delicate, but soon enough Aziraphale started babbling again. “Oh, Crowley, I’m—it’s—do you want me to—”
Crowley gently pulled off long enough to make eye contact again. “I do, angel." The words came out very roughly. “I want you to come in my mouth. Very much." He squeezed Aziraphale’s thigh. “Just let go.”
Aziraphale’s breath hitched, but he nodded. And he did come, beautifully, about twenty seconds later, as Crowley sucked him very smoothly, strongly, deeply into his throat. Aziraphale cried out when it happened, but it wasn’t so much the word yes as it was just a gorgeous sound of overwhelmed desire, accompanied by desperate clutching at Crowley’s hair, which felt painfully beautiful.
Crowley was suddenly, fiercely grateful that Aziraphale had never let anyone else get so close to him. Crowley still wasn’t entirely sure that it was right for a demon to be allowed to make love to an angel, but he knew in that moment that it would have been even more wrong for anyone else to do it, because no one else could ever love Aziraphale more powerfully than Crowley did.
Crowley rested his head against Aziraphale’s knee and tried to catch his breath.
Aziraphale gasped, slowly releasing his hold on Crowley’s hair. “That was— oh ." A little surprise tinged his voice. “Oh, dear.”
Crowley raised his head to see that the ceiling of the bookshop had become a bower of roses of all colors, twined around every light fixture and falling over the tops of the bookshelves.
With a heady pride stronger than Crowley had ever felt for any accomplishment, he stood up and gathered the angel into his arms, crossing the room and then sinking down on the couch with Aziraphale on his lap. The angel sighed and tucked his face under Crowley’s chin as the demon tugged a blanket over them, as if Aziraphale might need it to keep his bare flesh warm. In reality, of course, the angel was the one bringing heat to their embrace, and the demon’s body soaked it in, chest to chest, skin to skin. Aziraphale’s thigh rested against Crowley’s neglected erection but the angel was kind enough—or bastard enough—to keep his leg still instead of rubbing against it.
Crowley smirked although Aziraphale couldn’t see it. “So was that one of your fantasies about me?”
The angel laughed. “Oh, my. Yes. Had a whole book in my head just about that, you with your mouth, all the different places you might su—uh, well, where we might do that . There’s quite a large chapter on the bookshop.”
Crowley put a slightly shaking hand under Aziraphale’s chin to make the angel look up at him. “How long ago did you make an effort, exactly?”
The angel flicked his eyes away, still a little embarrassed. “It’s been a while.”
“Are you going to be any more specific than that?”
A low laugh and Aziraphale snuggled his head against Crowley’s chest again. “I can tell you the exact day. I knew—I thought —it would never happen between us, and so imagining it would just make things worse,” the angel said softly, rubbing a hand against Crowley’s bare chest with a kind of wonder in his voice. “But that time that we were in Tenochtitlan, do you remember? You just—you loved it there, you looked so happy. We went to the zoo and toured all the temples. From the outside, of course. The weather was beautiful, and the art, and the music, and the food, well. We were together a week, and when you left, I just wasn’t ready to let you go.”
“Tenochtitlan...angel, that was over six hundred years ago.”
“1398. September the twentieth.”
Crowley cleared his throat, because that was about all he was capable of doing at that moment.
“I have other fantasies,” Aziraphale said softly, raising his head.
Crowley looked down into his eyes and their voices overlapped.
“Yes, fuck, wings.”
Crowley laughed, feeling prideful again, trying to keep his cock from swelling uncomfortably inside his too-tight pants.
“And, um,” the angel said, possibly oblivious to what Crowley was going through physically and quite possibly, wickedly, not, “do you remember Salem?” Aziraphale’s voice was darkening, deepening a bit, arousal clearly rising from whatever memory he was accessing now. Crowley felt a perverse desire to draw this conversation out.
“I got a commendation for Salem, you know,” the demon murmured.
Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “I thought Hell didn’t want the witchcraft craze.”
“Well, seeing an actual demon did inspire a few souls to dedicate themselves to Hell, even if the wankers were confused on the details. Anyway, I had to tell Hell that was why I did what I did. Rescuing humans and an angel—”
“I didn’t need rescuing!” Aziraphale objected.
Crowley scoffed. “You would have been discorporated within the week. Were you going to let them execute Mary?”
“Well,” said the angel. “No.”
“Lucky I was in the area,” Crowley breathed against Aziraphale’s hair and the angel gave a delightful shiver. “I also remember the fight we had,” Crowley said.
“Wasn’t a fight.”
“I know it was a fight because I won.”
Aziraphale huffed, but he didn’t argue, and that made desire rise sharply in Crowley, realizing that the angel was giving up trying to score points because it was a distraction from what he really wanted.
“Do you remember what I did to you?” Aziraphale asked, his gaze climbing as far as Crowley’s mouth and then getting stuck. The angel licked his lips.
“Um." Crowley’s thoughts wavered in a rush of heat. “I remember horns.”
“Oh. Those were a bit much, sorry. I know you’ve never had horns, you’re a serpent. But do you remember—when I made you glow? Your skin pale as ice, your hair a moving flame. It was—well, if you didn’t like it, I’ll understand, but I thought it made you look—” The angel sighed, cupping Crowley’s cheek, directing the demon’s gaze to meet his own. Crowley quickly grasped the angel’s free hand to try to soothe away the sadness he saw there.
Aziraphale squeezed his hand with clear gratitude. “I know it’s a sore subject between us, and that’s completely my fault. It’s just that you have always been, Crowley, the most impossibly attractive being in all Creation, you must know that. And then in Salem—I never imagined anyone could be so glorious as you were in that moment, with your black wings spread out, and your demonic glow making you as radiant on the outside as you are on the inside. It’s how you should always look, really, I mean, you designed the stars , my love . And then you went on and designed yourself, no matter what Heaven and Hell wanted you to be and how they tried to force you.”
“My demonic glow,” Crowley repeated in shock.
Crowley could see tears rise into the angel’s eyes. “I love you for what you are, Crowley. Always have. I just was too cruel to tell you.”
Crowley clutched at him with both hands. “You were scared.”
“Doesn’t matter. I should have put you first. Always ahead of my fears, ahead of Heaven.”
“No. No. Aziraphale—”
The angel raised a hand and pressed it against Crowley’s lips. “Listen to me. What you and I have here, what we have always had—an angel’s love for a demon, a demon’s love for an angel—love in the midst of what should be a war between us, that is paradise . My love, look around you. We’ve made a Garden together. This, you and me, is love the way it's supposed to be, love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." He smiled. “First Corinthians again, I’m afraid. Crowley, you and I grew love where there should have been hate and fear and flames. How could I not have had faith in that?” 1
Crowley was crying silently and he was pretending that he wasn’t, and Aziraphale also pretended that Crowley wasn’t, understanding that the demon didn’t want to be comforted, not now, he didn’t want the floodgates to open yet, not in this moment. So the angel just smiled at him, and when Crowley tangled his fingers in Aziraphale’s white curls and tugged his mouth close for a kiss, Aziraphale gave a delighted little gasp and accepted all the hunger Crowley was feeling.
As soon as he could, Crowley got that hunger under some sort of shaky control and pulled back. “Go ahead,” he whispered darkly.
A smile crept over Aziraphale’s face. He slid off of Crowley’s lap, and for once, Crowley still felt extremely heated without the angel in his arms.
“How—how do you want this?” Crowley asked. “Should I—”
In a blink, Aziraphale was wearing a white silk robe, and a wanton smile. “If you don’t mind, my love, since this is my fantasy, I’ll drive for a while.”
Crowley was not able to verbally answer that, but he nodded, and his body language must have also conveyed his yes , because Aziraphale’s smile deepened and he drew closer, taking Crowley’s hands and pulling him up. A chair from Aziraphale’s kitchen table appeared and Crowley’s shaking hand found the back of it, ready to sit down.
But Aziraphale stopped him. “Just a moment." The angel stepped forward and pressed his hands against Crowley’s bare chest, slowly sliding them up and over his shoulders. Crowley’s eyes drifted closed and he felt the angelic magic dance over him as it had in Salem, felt himself begin to glow . He opened his eyes to see Aziraphale staring at him in a kind of awe. Holding the angel’s gaze, Crowley rolled his shoulders and let his wings erupt into the space around them, stretching them out with a satisfied groan.
But Aziraphale’s expression quickly passed from stunned to overwhelmed. “Um,” he said in a quavering voice, “I know I said that I would lead, but—if you maybe—just for a moment, I—”
Crowley stepped forward and pulled the angel into his arms, pressing their mouths together gently, Crowley’s hands framing the angel’s face. Crowley kissed him deeply, but very slowly, very sweetly, and he felt the tension start to bleed out of the angel, Aziraphale’s body melting against his. He drew back a few moments later and asked, “Better?”
Aziraphale let out a sigh. “Oh, yes. Thank you.”
“Do you want to drive now?”
He got a happy smile in response. “I do. Yes.”
“Lead on then, angel.”
“Sit down, if you please. Wait!" The smile got a little more heated. “Trousers, please. I’m sorry I’ve made you stay so long with them on, you must be very uncomfortable.”
Crowley made a little huffing noise, but he very gratefully slid his zipper down, freeing himself with a groan of relief. And then deciding that it might ruin the picture if he did what it actually took to get out of a pair of skinny jeans, he snapped his fingers and miracled them away.
Aziraphale was staring again, and Crowley let him for a moment, before reminding him, in a very amused voice, “Chair?”
“Oh!” said the angel, dragging his gaze up to Crowley’s face. “Yes. Chair. Backwards, please.”
Crowley gave him a puzzled look, but flipped the chair around and sat on it, legs spread around the seat, arms resting on the back. He stretched out his wings again. “I might be facing the wrong way round,” he suggested, but Aziraphale, behind him, gave a little laugh. “Yes, well, we may eventually change that. But for now, this is what I imagined. Well, not the only thing I imagined, but it’s my favorite."
Crowley felt the ghosting of the angel’s hand over the top bone of his wing. “Thank you for giving me this,” Aziraphale whispered. Crowley drew in his breath sharply as Aziraphale’s fingers danced over his other wing. “Tell me if I hurt you.”
Crowley cleared his throat. “That doesn’t hurt, angel.”
He could hear the pleasure in Aziraphale’s voice. “Oh. Well, then." The angel’s hands traveled a little less lightly, slipping in among the feathers to gently smooth anything that had twisted out of place while making the journey from the ethereal plane to Earth.
Crowley made a strangled noise and dropped his head down to rest on the back of the chair.
“Your wings are so beautiful,” Aziraphale breathed. “You keep them so well preened. I used to imagine that maybe you’d want my help with that sometime.”
Crowley choked back another moan, and then he felt the angel’s hand sliding through his hair, gently tracing over his scalp. “My love, in this fantasy, you let me hear you,” Aziraphale informed him.
Crowley’s voice squeaked a little. “Oh. Okay.”
“They don’t really need preening, but will you let me?”
“Yes. Aziraphale, fuck, yes.”
He knew the angel so well that he could hear the delighted smile on his face. Aziraphale’s hands slipped over to his back and started to massage the area of his skin just above where the wings erupted. Crowley felt like moaning again, and he did. And it just got louder from there.
Aziraphale used a very gentle touch, but he took his blessed time moving across Crowley’s wings, inspecting each feather for any discomfort or ruffling, smoothing each barb as needed. He worked along the bones at the top of the wings, at Crowley’s back where his skin met feathers, down to the very tips of the longest secondaries as they brushed the floor.
The angel’s hands were so strong and yet light that they felt like the wind moving against Crowley’s feathers. The angelic warmth in his touch was like sunlight.
Being preened by Aziraphale was like flying.
Of course, the angel wasn’t just preening. He was indulging himself. Stroking the feathers shamelessly, making hungered noises, bringing his mouth closer to blow gently on them. Occasionally, to Crowley’s unrestrained moans, Aziraphale smoothed feathers by lightly licking at them. Crowley couldn’t even raise his head from the back of the chair now, and his cock was swollen against the unforgiving seat. He fought the urge to reach for it, not wanting to interrupt the angel and also desperately wanting to interrupt the angel. Maybe he communicated that a little better than he’d thought, because Crowley felt one of Aziraphale’s hands leave his wing and slide along his shoulder, slipping between his chest and the chair back, and at the first touch of the angel’s hand to his cock, Crowley jumped, his feathers all rustling.
“Is this okay?” the angel whispered.
Crowley tipped his head back to rest against Aziraphale’s shoulder, giving the angel more room to work. He mumbled either yes or please or both, and fortunately the angel was able to recognize the consent.
Aziraphale slid one finger down Crowley’s shaft, spreading the pre-come along it, and Crowley gasped. “This is exactly my fantasy,” the angel whispered, and Crowley realized that the angel was coming down to his knees beside him, reaching under the wing now to take Crowley’s cock in hand and stroke him. “I imagined that if I preened your wings then maybe you would want me to touch you here, too."
Crowley clutched at the chair back, bucking up into the angel’s hand. He groaned loudly and grabbed at Aziraphale’s wrist. “Angel—if you keep doing that, I will—”
Aziraphale let Crowley keep his hand mostly still, but he flicked a distracting, hungry fingertip against Crowley’s shaft. “Do you want to?”
Crowley struggled to find words. “Well, it’s just that if you had other plans—”
“Of course I have other plans,” the angel said, sounding amused. “But I can wait. Because I am definitely not ready to stop doing this.”
“Oh,” said Crowley in a high pitched voice. “Okay.”
“Turn around,” the angel ordered and Crowley did, swinging his legs around to sit forwards in the chair, lifting his wings out of the way, and then Aziraphale was between his legs and taking him into his mouth.
Crowley had been gentle when he was on his knees for the angel. Aziraphale’s desires could never be described as gentle. The angel really was a hedonist, especially with things that he could put into his mouth, and he sucked eagerly at Crowley, licking all of the pre-come away, cleaning Crowley’s shaft down to the base and then wrapping his tongue around him, tasting the whole length of him. It was more pleasure than Crowley thought existed in the world. Just for a few minutes to be the very center of Aziraphale’s world.
And it was perfect that Aziraphale was doing this for the first time, because it was incredible to be the subject of the angel's experimenting. His tongue, lips, fingers, and teeth gently explored Crowley's body, noting when the demon caught his breath or groaned, reading Crowley's signals with the ease of a very, very old friend. Eventually Crowley brought his wings forward to wrap around Aziraphale’s back, tracing feathers across the angel’s skin, and Aziraphale gave an intense moan with Crowley in his mouth.
Crowley wanted desperately to drag out the sensations, but sooner than he’d meant to, the ministrations of the angel pulled him over the edge. With a cry, he spilled into Aziraphale’s mouth, not needing to ask first, understanding that it was what Aziraphale wanted. He watched as the angel swallowed him down, sighing in his own pleasure, as if Crowley were the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted. And of course, Aziraphale kept up the tasting, sucking at Crowley’s softened shaft, until the demon had to press him away, the overstimulation too much.
“Sorry,” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley made some sort of noise in response.
Aziraphale leaned his head against Crowley’s thigh. “ Oh, my . Thank you." He laughed a little. “We’ve got amaryllis in the windows now.”
Crowley slipped his fingers into the angel’s white curls. “That was your fantasy, getting me off?”
Aziraphale looked slightly uncertain. “It was a fantasy to think that you would want me to.”
Crowley gave a shaky laugh. “Aziraphale, you could have offered to blow me on the Garden wall the day we met and I would have gladly accepted. And that was even before I’d seen you eat anything.”
“ Really ,” Aziraphale chided him, blushing prettily.
“That was always my number-one fantasy, angel.” Crowley put a hand under Aziraphale’s jaw to tilt his head up. “You and your mouth . Treating me like I was some delicacy.”
Aziraphale looked so pleased that Crowley drew him up a little farther and kissed him.
“I have another fantasy,” the angel said softly.
Crowley couldn’t contain his laughter. “Of course you do.”
Aziraphale smiled, and Crowley watched his eyes traveling happily over Crowley’s naked form, his black wings, the fiery demonic glow of his hair. Crowley had never felt so wonderfully warm .
“This one’s a little different, though,” the angel warned, with his cheeks coloring slightly, and Crowley’s mind whirled, imagining all kinds of different things that the angel might have been fantasizing about for the last six hundred years. He felt the desire rush to his cock, readying him to provide the angel with whatever he asked for, and never mind the waiting.
“When I would fantasize about you,” Aziraphale said, his voice low, “there was one thing I could never imagine, because I didn’t know what it was. I’m always asking you to do things for me, have been for six thousand years, and you always provide. So for once, I just want to ask you, Crowley. What do you want?”
Crowley blinked at him. “I want you.”
“Yes. If you could possibly be more specific.”
“I want whatever you want.”
Aziraphale frowned disapprovingly. “For Hell’s sake, Crowley.”
“I—” Crowley put his hands on Aziraphale’s arms, brushing over them softly beneath the white silk. “What if I ask for something you don’t want?”
“Then I’ll say no.”
“But you’ve asked me to tell you something that I desire. Are you sure you would feel comfortable saying no?”
Aziraphale let out a weary sigh. “I really should think that I would be well aware—”
“—of what you can and cannot do,” Crowley finished, laughing. “All right." He took Aziraphale’s hand and looked into his eyes. “I just want to love you, angel. I want to make love to you. I want to be inside you, and take you with me as we go somewhere beautiful. Together.”
Aziraphale closed his eyes, and whispered, “Oh, my, yes. A million times yes.”
Crowley drew him up to kiss him. “So do you want me to drive?”
“Yes." Aziraphale gave him a commanding look. “Slowly.”
“Always slowly, for you, angel.”
“Until I tell you to speed up.”
“I thought I was driving.”
Crowley spread his legs and pulled Aziraphale into an embrace, just holding him, feeling the wondrous heat of him, the way the angel melted against him, the way Aziraphale trusted him.
“Come with me,” Crowley whispered, and in a blink they found themselves upstairs on Aziraphale’s bed, Crowley lying on his back, Aziraphale curled against him. The white silk robe had quite disappeared, and so had Crowley’s wings, but he left the demonic glow.
Aziraphale gave a happy sigh and pressed his head against Crowley’s shoulder as the demon ran his hands over the angel’s body, reveling in being able to touch him. In finally having Aziraphale in this very bed, no longer downstairs, miracling Crowley’s nightmares away from afar, but here in his arms, giving him something more beautiful than the most pleasant dream could ever devise.
Aziraphale moved up and started kissing Crowley, and Crowley put a gentle but insistent hand behind the angel’s head to hold him there while Crowley made a thorough tasting of his mouth. Of course, Aziraphale took that idea and ran with it, sucking at Crowley’s lips, biting against him, exploring all of the new sensations. When the angel finally seemed to want to pull away, Crowley, who was shaking by that point, let him, but he grasped Aziraphale’s arms and rolled them, coming to rest on top of the angel.
The bedroom was chilly and Crowley shivered a little as the air caressed his bare skin. Aziraphale smiled up at him and let his angelic glow begin to manifest. Crowley was enraptured, watching the beauty of the ethereal creature in his arms become more exquisitely defined, actually holding Aziraphale in that glow, feeling it sharp against his skin. The angel pressed a hand against Crowley’s chest to let the heat of his aura seep into the demon, starting just above his heart and then moving all through him.
Violets crept over the bedposts, and after a deep sigh of pleasure, Crowley nodded to them. “See what you’ve done now.”
Aziraphale frowned at him. “I thought I made it clear that the flowers are your fault.”
“I’m not the angel here.”
“Yes, but after the frog plague you said you had a way with plants.”
Aziraphale was looking very pleased with himself and Crowley narrowed his eyes and then kissed him very roughly, clenching a hand in Aziraphale’s white curls.
When he pulled back Aziraphale said, “Oh,” very lightly.
Crowley gave him a predatory grin and the angel made a little sort-of-delighted-sort-of-anxious noise as Crowley started to kiss down his neck. Very slowly. But not gently.
Aziraphale was hard again, and Crowley was too, and their erections brushed against each other as Crowley moved, causing the angel to start moaning again. The demon took his time, lavishing attentions across the angel’s chest, his stomach, his hips.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale gasped. “Is that—are you going to leave a mark?”
Crowley lifted his head and frowned at the angel. “Of course not." And then, watching the angel’s expression, he asked, “Did you...want me to?”
“Well, I just—maybe one or two? It’s kind of a nice idea.”
Crowley groaned to himself and bit the angel on the hip. Aziraphale gasped and bucked up against him, moaning when Crowley sucked at the bite, soothing it, but making sure it was going to bruise. Aziraphale did the same thing when Crowley bit him on the thigh and then the demon pressed light kisses all along the lines of his stomach. When Crowley took the angel’s cock in his mouth, he had to hold Aziraphale’s hips down again. Crowley pulled off after a moment to move his ministrations lower, sliding one of the angel’s legs up to give him access to his entrance.
Aziraphale gasped as Crowley kissed him there. Crowley miracled a little lube onto his finger and gently pressed inside. Aziraphale gasped, clenching down around Crowley’s finger.
“Shhh,” the demon whispered. “Relax, angel." He lifted Aziraphale’s leg to rest comfortably on Crowley’s shoulder and licked at the angel’s cock again.
“Oh, Crowley,” the angel gasped. “Could you—”
“Shhh,” Crowley ordered again. “We’re getting there.” He slipped a second finger inside, gently stretching the angel’s body.
“Crowley, that feels amazing. If you could just—”
The demon grinned. “Patience. You can’t tell me to go faster yet or it will hurt to have me inside you.”
“I could miracle myself ready.”
Crowley gave a short, dark laugh. “Guess we’re about to find out who’s driving.”
After a second, Aziraphale huffed. “Fine. You drive.”
The demon smiled as he kissed along Aziraphale’s thigh. “Almost ready, angel. Just a little longer." He slipped a third finger in and scissored it against the other two, causing Aziraphale to gasp. “Besides, there’s the little matter of—” He knew he’d found Aziraphale’s touch point when the angel made a high-pitched noise and his body thrust itself upward. Crowley licked lazily at Aziraphale’s hip bone. “Like that, did you?”
“Oh, Crowley, for Somebody’s sake!”
Fortunately for the both of them, Crowley was done waiting. He grasped Aziraphale by the hips and rolled them back over, so that Aziraphale was straddling him. “Here,” Crowley said, as he gently maneuvered the angel over him, helping him to sink down onto Crowley’s cock.
Aziraphale cried out very becomingly and for some endless moments this was all their minds could focus on. The gentle thrusting of Crowley’s body against Aziraphale’s, the sounds they made, their labored breathing, the feeling of being joined.
Having Aziraphale above him and around him like this, Crowley could actually start to believe it—that they were meant to be together, that they should never have been afraid of it, that if they’d been braver they could have had this from the start. That in some unspoken but undeniable way they had been lovers since the Garden.
That Crowley could be—that he had always been—Aziraphale’s Guardian Angel.
Crowley slid his hand around the angel’s erection, moving gently, and the angel shuddered against him, clenching around Crowley’s cock so tightly that the demon let out a groan of his own.
“Crowley,” the angel breathed, scratching his fingers lightly against Crowley’s chest. Crowley opened his eyes, stunned to see his lover glowing both angelically and carnally. “Can I—now can I tell you to go faster?”
With a growl, Crowley flipped them one last time, folding Aziraphale’s legs up toward his shoulders. Crowley rolled his hips and then started a faster rhythm, thrusting into the angel hard enough to move the bed against the wall.
“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale moaned, and when Crowley shifted his angle and drove into Aziraphale’s prostate, the angel cried out in pleasure. Crowley kept up the pace, his hand stroking the angel’s cock with the same rhythm as his thrusts.
Aziraphale was gasping, and, of course, chattering. “Please, Crowley, just there, please don’t stop— yes. Yes, yes, yes. ” With a beautiful cry, Aziraphale came, spurting over Crowley’s hand. And Crowley let himself go. His hips worked frantically as he neared his own end, finally exploding into the angel’s body, groaning deeply, leaning over the angel, keeping him close as Crowley’s body thrust weakly against him.
“Oh, dear God ,” Aziraphale breathed. “That was—oh, fuck .”
Crowley might have said something, he wasn’t sure, but he did laugh as he gently pulled out of the angel and collapsed onto the bed beside him. He miracled away the mess and pulled a cover over them. Aziraphale made a happy little noise and then Crowley was holding a warm, soft, loving angel in his arms.
After a few moments, Butterscotch the cat jumped onto the bed and started exploring for places to sleep.
Crowley’s body was ready to fall instantly into sleep, but of course, Aziraphale was still going on about something, although his voice was muffled against Crowley’s shoulder. “I know you can’t talk to cats.”
“Is that so?” Crowley asked idly, tracing a fingertip against Aziraphale’s arm.
“Yes. Beatrice told me.”
“Who the Hell is Beatrice?” Aziraphale lifted his head to smile at Crowley and nodded to indicate the cat.
“That’s not funny,” Crowley groaned.
Aziraphale gave him a look of surprise. “I’m serious. Being Guardian Angel of the Earth means I can talk to animals.”
There was a silence in which neither was quite laughing or quite growling at each other and finally Crowley just tugged Aziraphale back down against him. “Not sure about you and this new sense of humor, angel.”
“It’s not new, really. My mind always comes up with things to say, I just always used keep my mouth shut. Guess I’m saying a lot of those things now.” He brushed a hand against Crowley’s chest. “ You are everything to me, Crowley .”
The demon just pulled his angel closer.
“We’re going to have adventures,” Aziraphale whispered drowsily.
“Like the Odyssey, you remember. All the adventures to have along the way .”
Crowley pressed a kiss to Aziraphale’s white curls. “As long as we have them together.”
“Oh,” said the angel softly. “My love, we are together.”
How God had actually intended it to go!
Not -Strangers in Paradise
A demon stood beside an angel on the Eastern wall of Eden and the angel felt unsettled in a way that he never had before. The wall was white, and Aziraphale was dressed in white, and his wings were white, and the sand was white, and then suddenly there had been this enormous black serpent on the wall. When the serpent transformed into a demon with a charcoal robe and raven wings and scarlet hair, Aziraphale was left wondering, if all good, angelic things were bleached pure and colorless, how was it that a demon could be so darkly beautiful? 2
Aziraphale and the demon struck up a conversation as if they had no reason not to. They discussed the Garden. The weather. The humans. Politics and religion, naturally, but Aziraphale was struck by how little they argued. They disagreed, certainly, how could Aziraphale do anything else but disagree with a demon? But they didn’t argue. They just danced around each other’s words without ever making the other person trip. And Crawley—that was the demon’s name—kept looking the angel over with the most arresting pair of golden eyes, and smiling at him.
Now, it wasn’t as if Aziraphale was unaware that this was the demon who had tempted Eve to eat the apple. Crawley had confessed as much. Actually, as far as Aziraphale could tell, the demon hadn’t told him a single lie yet. Which was odd, yes, but of course, all it really meant was that Crawley was unashamed of his evil deeds. (Although Aziraphale wasn’t sure that Crawley should be ashamed. After all, tempting Eve had been his assignment, and the demon had simply followed orders.)
In any case, the point was that Aziraphale was not sure whether or not the demon’s next orders included him . Specifically, tempting him , the Principality Aziraphale, Guard of the Eastern Gate, to whatever sort of soft, slow, heated things had been drifting unbidden through the angel for the last couple of hours whenever he looked at the demon, and when the demon looked at him.
It wasn’t the sort of thing you could ask. Well, you could, but it would be rather embarrassing. Are you making me want to kiss you, or is this one on me? And of course, if it were a temptation, there probably wasn’t much chance of getting an honest answer anyway, even from a demon who didn’t seem to make a habit of lying.
Aziraphale had never kissed anyone. He’d never really wanted to before. The only people he knew were the other angels, and that was definitely not an urge that Aziraphale had ever felt around them. He respected them because they were angels , they were beings of light and goodness and so on. But there also was this hard edge to them that Crawley didn’t seem to have. The demon seemed softer, kinder, warmer—
Oh, dear. This had to be a temptation, because demons were definitely not kind. And worse, this demon was Questioning. Aziraphale was deftly countering all of the demon’s illogical conclusions, of course, but surely Aziraphale should leave rather than stand there and listen to Questions?
And then Aziraphale asked a question. He didn’t really mean to, it wasn’t even phrased like a question, and thankfully, it wasn’t about kissing, but there it was, a question about having given away the flaming sword. “I hope I didn’t do the wrong thing.”
If Aziraphale had said that to another angel—well, he would never say that to another angel, expressing a worry like that, you could never really let your guard down in Heaven. And Aziraphale certainly could not have confessed to any of them that he had given away his sword. So why did the angel feel so comfortable talking about these things to Crawley? How was it possible that Aziraphale trusted him? He’d literally just met him, and he was a demon, and therefore untrustworthy, but Aziraphale had this crazy feeling that if he needed something, the demon would happily provide.
And so he did. “Oh,” said Crawley, gently, with a genuine smile on his beautiful mouth, “you’re an angel. I don’t think you can do the wrong thing.”
Aziraphale stood there blinking at him for a moment. Crawley looked back, his smile broadening a little, like he was glad that he’d been able to bring the angel a little reassurance.
What was this temptation to?
Aziraphale could understand if it was to lust, because the angel definitely felt that. He saw the way the black robe gaped open at the bottom to reveal the bare curves of Crawley’s calves. He watched the demon’s ebony wings flex, their longest feathers trailing gracefully against the stone wall as the wind moved them. And Aziraphale could see the pupils of Crawley’s golden eyes dilate when he let his gaze travel over the angel in a way Aziraphale could most definitely feel.
But he also saw the the fond smiles on Crawley’s mouth, heard the softness of his voice, and noticed the way the demon kept a gentle distance between them, as if not to spook the angel. That wasn’t lust.
When it started to rain, Crawley stepped a little closer and it felt quite natural for Aziraphale to extend a wing to shelter him, reassuring the demon with his actions the way Crawley had reassured Aziraphale with his words. They stood through the storm together, Aziraphale listening to Crawley’s kind, warm, friendly chatter, and Crawley’s laughter, and the angel’s own laughter, and of course, Crawley’s endless Questions. And when the storm was over, Crawley gave Aziraphale a look that said many more things than their words had, things that were still kind and friendly, but not warm so much as hot , and Aziraphale was pretty sure Crawley could see the same things in the angel’s eyes, even if Aziraphale was certain he’d never given anyone a look like that in his whole life. After a moment Crawley transformed into a snake, and slithered back into the Garden.
The following day, Aziraphale sat under an oak tree, where the grass had dried already. There wasn’t much in Eden to guard anymore, and Aziraphale wondered how much longer the Garden would exist. Even now, it seemed that some of the plant life was wilting. He could still hear the insects and birds, though, and smell the greenery, and feel the sun warm the grass. Aziraphale was pleasantly not-terribly-surprised when Crawley walked up and sat down beside him.
It was wonderful to see him again. Aziraphale had seen little else than Crawley yesterday because after the demon had left, his image had lingered in Aziraphale’s mind for the rest of the night. Today the demon somehow managed to look even more handsome than he had the day before, which could have been a purposeful temptation but was more likely just the inadequacy of Aziraphale’s memory to do Crawley justice. Aziraphale was grateful that he could watch the way the sun kissed his pale skin this morning, the way the wind moved lightly against his wings.
It was also wonderful to talk to Crawley again. He was so clever and charming and witty, and eventually, the angel asked the demon another question. Aziraphale didn’t ask questions often, so he could hardly be blamed for it being mostly the same question from the day before.
“Are you sure?” Aziraphale asked quietly, nervously, seriously. “Angels can’t do the wrong thing? Even the wrong thing for the right reasons? Or would it be the right thing for the wrong reasons? Because—”
Aziraphale broke off when he noticed that Crawley was just smiling at him. The angel knew he sounded foolish, but Crawley didn’t take the opportunity to tease him. Crawley wanted to, Aziraphale could see it in his golden eyes, and he had definitely (gently) teased Aziraphale about things the day before, but he seemed to realize that Aziraphale did not want that response to this question. And so he said nothing, which was, in fact, an answer.
Aziraphale reached out and very gently brushed his fingers against Crawley’s hand.
If the touch had sent Heavenfire racing up the demon’s fingers, Aziraphale would have quenched it immediately and healed him. He was the Angel of Compassion, so that would be easy for him to do. And it should have, of course, their touch should have resulted in some sign that it was misguided, dangerous, forbidden.
But the angel, sitting there in the Garden of Eden, didn’t want his touch to hurt this demon. It felt wrong that it would. And so it didn’t.
Crawley’s eyes had gone wide, and they grew wider a moment later when Aziraphale slid his hand against Crawley’s again, more confidently this time, weaving their fingers together. The demon’s breathing picked up and he stared down at their hands. “Does that feel like the right thing to you?” Crawley asked.
“It does." Aziraphale smiled. “Does it feel like the wrong thing to you?" A demon could get into trouble for not doing the wrong thing.
“It really rather does." Crawley raised their hands, holding tightly to Aziraphale as he examined the way their fingers were entwined.
Aziraphale wanted to let go—well, no, he really didn’t. Other people would want him to let go and for the first time in his life, Aziraphale could hear the voice of reason, of rules, of order, and he simply didn’t listen.
And because he didn’t, he got to experience the most beautiful night of his life so far. As evening fell and the stars came out, Crawley grew quiet and contemplative. When Aziraphale gently pressed him about it, the demon raised their joined hands and pointed at the stars. “I helped make those, you know. Designed them, hung them.”
Aziraphale stared at him, once more not-terribly-surprised. He’d sensed something in the demon, some fascinating spark of creativity in his beautiful soul, although he hadn’t thought it would be as grand as that. “You made the stars?” he breathed.
Crawley must have learned Aziraphale’s tones of voice already because he recognized that the angel wasn’t being rudely skeptical. The demon taught Aziraphale the names of the stars, describing for the angel beautiful creations that couldn’t be seen from Earth. “Happiest time of my life,” Crawley said. “Then.”
Crawley got a reluctant look on his face. Aziraphale squeezed his hand and the look fell away. “Asked questions,” the demon said. “I thought She was wrong. Guess that can’t happen, so it had to be me who was wrong.”
“Questions about what?”
Crawley smiled sadly. “She designed them—the humans. Beautiful things. Intelligent. In Her own image, even. Gave them the Garden and then was going to kick them out. I wanted to know how She could do such a thing. And why." Crawley huffed an unhappy laugh. “It was my punishment to be the one who made that happen, tempting Eve to the apple." He looked into Aziraphale’s face with a harsh gratitude. "You gave them your sword.”
Crawley slept under the tree that night, with Aziraphale keeping watch over him. The crickets sang, and the moon crossed the sky while clouds crossed the moon. It felt strangely appropriate and familiar for the angel to still be guarding someone in Eden, even if Aziraphale was technically supposed to be smiting Crawley instead. But how could he? Someone so kind and lovely? The architect of the stars who’d Fallen for doing little more than what Aziraphale himself had done? Crawley had Questioned for reasons of love and mercy, and then the Fall had denied him those very things. Aziraphale wanted to guard Crawley for the rest of his life.
When Crawley woke and they were still holding hands, he gazed into Aziraphale’s face with a relief that almost broke the angel’s heart. “I don’t think your side would like it,” Crawley cautioned. “Or my side.”
“Well,” said Aziraphale, “maybe we’ll just have to be on our side, then.”
“Don’t if you don’t want to,” Crawley pleaded. “Seriously, I don’t need more than one Fallen angel on my conscience.”
Aziraphale just held his hand, and now Crawley understood what wasn’t said. The demon leaned in to press his mouth softly against the angel’s, breathing against his lips, warm and so sweet. After a second, Aziraphale brought up his free hand to frame Crawley’s face and when he opened his mouth below the demon’s, Crawley made a little noise and Aziraphale found himself lying on his back in the grass of Eden, smiling up at the most beautiful creature in creation.
Crawley kissed him again, more deeply this time, and Aziraphale finally dropped the demon’s hand so that he could run his fingers through Crawley’s fire-bright hair and smoke-dark feathers. Being able to show someone the depth of love that Aziraphale could feel was more pleasure than Aziraphale knew existed in all of Heaven or Eden. It didn’t feel wrong to love like that, and the angel could tell by the way that Crawley was kissing him, so gently, so tenderly, so carefully, that it no doubt felt very wrong to Crawley, not a temptation to lust but something that a demon was definitely not supposed to be feeling.
When they finally broke apart, Crawley settled onto his elbow beside Aziraphale, watching him with a beautiful kind of worry. “Is this really what you want?”
“I think you’re meant to be rather more forceful with your temptations,” Aziraphale answered with a grin.
Crawley did not return the smile. “Not a temptation, and I don’t care. Is this what you want, angel?”
Aziraphale brushed his hand against Crawley’s cheek. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have joked. Yes, this is what I want. Is it what you want?”
A shiver went through Crawley’s body and Aziraphale pulled him close, wrapping his arms around him. Crawley de-materialized his wings so that Aziraphale could hold him tighter, and for endless minutes they lay like that, their whole bodies clasped together like their hands had been the day before. A demon enclosed in a warm, protective angelic aura. An angel who had found a treasure more precious than anything he’d ever dreamed of. Someone who loved him back.
Eventually Crawley murmured something against Aziraphale’s shoulder. “I don’t know why this is happening.”
“It’s all right. We’ll figure it out together.”
“I just—I can’t have this and then lose it." Crawley pulled back to look at him. “This is—”
“Look around,” Aziraphale said gently, and Crawley did, his golden eyes widening as he realized that what had been dying greenery around them had now erupted into cascades of flowers in every color of creation.
Aziraphale traced a hand through Crawley’s hair, guiding the demon to look into Aziraphale’s eyes and see the truth there. “I don’t know why it’s happened either, but I do know that you have made me more happy in the last two days than I’ve ever been. You are so important to me. You’re—you are everything." He brought Crawley’s hand up and brushed his lips against it. “I promise, I won’t hurt you.”
Crawley made a little sniffing noise that sounded like he was keeping tears at bay. “I think the demon is supposed to say that to the angel.”
“Don’t care." Aziraphale kissed him lightly. “My love. Do not be afraid.”
1 1 Corinthians 13:7: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (back)
2 I truly believe that Aziraphale’s look and sudden lookaway at the Serpent/demon on the wall is the poor angel trying to deal with a very awkward rush of lust. And it happens every time he sees Crowley unexpectedly. (back)