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Playing with Fire

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Aziraphale had always had a strange relationship with fire. Even before the others had Fallen, back at the beginning, back to his very first moments of existence.

Back then, angels had taken great pride in the words She spoke to them as they came into being, the purpose She chose for them, the reason for their existence that determined the rest of their essence. For many, like Gabriel, it was the first thing they told others. Aziraphale had lost track of the number of times he’d heard Gabriel speak of how he’d been told to be an interpreter and guide to others.

For Crowley, he’d learned much, much later, after a night of extremely heavy drinking, that She’d spoken of healing and learning.

But for Aziraphale, his own moment of creation had gone quite differently.

He had no awareness of the instant before. Just the startled realization of suddenly being aware of his own awareness. What elements and words had been used to draw him together, Aziraphale couldn’t say.

But in that first startled moment, he’d tipped sideways from the spot he’d been created. Unaccustomed to having any form at all, he hadn’t caught himself, didn’t even flail. He’d slipped out of Heaven, dipping down into the aether, not realizing this was something he should be afraid of.

Surrounded by that vast space that would later become the universe, he’d marvelled at its inky blackness. It can't be empty, the thought had echoed within him, as he spun aimlessly through the darkness, because I'm here. Curious, he reached out to his surroundings, and the not so empty void answered. The aether coiled up around him, forming into rings at only the slightest of suggestions. He’d watched it dance about his many limbs, delighted.

And then She caught him in one of her hands, and gently drew him back.

Not wanting to leave his discovery behind, he drew the aether close, bringing it with him. It snagged on the edge of Heaven, trying to tumble from his grip. Desperate, he yanked it back and, when it tore loose with a faint ‘pop’, the aether came alight. Deposited back where he had began not moments before, fire, warm and friendly, danced up around his fascinated being, spinning about in ringed chains.

God had only said one thing, a faint, and strangled, “Oh.”

She brushed the flames away.

He made his first sound then, a protest, but She didn’t hear him. Desperate to protect the dancing fire, he drew the flames to nestle inside himself. Hiding them within his own radiance.

She’d let out a relieved sigh as She swept away the remaining smoke, and Aziraphale had half expected Her to notice and call him out. But She had only said one more thing to him, before sending him on his way, a whisper so soft that only he could hear, “Maybe we should just keep this a secret between us.”

And then, he’d been released to introduce himself to his brethren. The others had gathered close, warm and welcoming, but Aziraphale still remembered the first question he’d been asked, “And what purpose were you given?”

And he still remembered the cold feeling he’d felt as he floundered, struggling to find an answer. The fire was still hidden within him, and certain of that, he repeated what She had said, “Secret.”

The flames became his secret, one he never told to another etherial being.

The fire had become a part of him, an extension of his being, one that he treasured. How could he not? The flames danced when he laughed, grew bright and warm with his happiness, and weaved and spun like sunlight around his wings when he flew.

But a secret was still a secret, and even he grew tired of flying alone. Angels were not meant to be solitary, everyone knew that. So he gently tucked the flames away, sheltering them once more inside his grace and sought out the company of his brethren.

It had taken him a lot longer to realize that the others couldn’t do the same. That there was no fire within them to call.

The realization had only really hit when She bestowed him with a gift. A heavenly blade. Aziraphale held the gift awkwardly, uncomfortable, but unwilling to voice the emotion. She hadn’t said what to do with it.

“What’s that?” Sandalphon had leaned in, his multitude of eyes fixating on the sword.

He began to respond, only to remember Her words. His purpose. Was this a secret he was supposed to keep too? He hesitated, uncertain, and lost his chance to speak.

“That,” Gabriel had chimed in, “is a sword.”

Sandalphon drew away. “What’s it for?”

“To add weight to a moral argument.”

Unease rose within Aziraphale and his hidden fire grew restless. “But we’re not arguing with anyone.”

Something passed between Sandalphon and Gabriel, something Aziraphale didn’t understand.

“Well,” Gabriel said at length, “use it for protection then.”

“Protection? But I already– I mean, we already have ways–”

Gabriel cut over him. “Aziraphale, you are the first to hold a heavenly weapon. And, I hope you appreciate this, that’s an honour you’re going to have to live up to.”

“Th–the first?” That couldn’t be right. “Surely someone has had something given to them, like– like another sword? Or a stick? Or– or maybe fire perhaps?” His voice rose with desperation.

“Fi-re?” Aziraphale winced at Gabriel’s pronunciation. “Oh! Yes. Her newest work.”

Newest? But She had created so many things since him–

“Still in progress, I hear. Wants to use it for something called stars. But how did you hear of it?”

“Oh, well– that’s actually– um–” And then a dreadful thought struck him. “Wait, does that– does that mean no one has actually seen fire?”

Gabriel smiled with all his mouths, but the expression on all of them was empty. “The All Mighty is always creating something new. It’s best to just focus on your purpose, Principality Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale floundered. He didn’t understand. He looked at at the other angels, but they didn’t seem to think anything was odd about the exchange. He looked back at Gabriel, really looked, and for the first time realized. Beyond himself, there was no fluttering warm presence of flames from the others. Not even a hint of a spark from the others’ grace.

The fire within him had shuddered, becoming very small as he answered, “Right. Of– of course. My purpose.”

She had told him to keep a secret. And Aziraphale, like all the others, was a good angel. He would keep his silence, just as he’d been told. He just… hadn’t realized until now what that would entail.

He stared at the celestial blade in his hands. He wondered why it left him feeling so unhappy.

Things had begun to change.

At first Aziraphale couldn’t directly name how they did, but it was there, in the way God spoke to them less and less. The way She focused more and more upon her creation of the Earth and the Garden upon it. The way the others in Heaven had begun to draw invisible lines that bubbled with tension. And it was in the way that warm hellos had changed to become cold and polite, even though the words themselves remained the same.

Aziraphale tried to carry on like he always had. Kept himself busy with small tasks that no one paid him any attention for. And perhaps that was to be expected. What else was a secret but a thing overlooked by others?

And then Archangel Micheal approached him. “I have a job for you.”

“A job?” He shifted, blocking her view of his wings. He was lucky she hadn’t spotted the flames flittering nervously around his feathers.

Micheal regarded him for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was low, calculating. “You’re good with secrets, Aziraphale. In keeping them. Perhaps you can also ferret them out.”

Aziraphale went very still. “And do what with them exactly?”

“Tell me what you hear.”

He hesitated for a long moment, afraid, before naming where all those invisible lines led to. “You want me to learn what Morningstar and the others are doing.”

“Yes.” The bluntness of her statement only made it worse. “I’m… concerned by what Morningstar is saying. His ideas– well, they’re not something that should ever be taken seriously. And the others, they need to remember what’s important. But we can’t guide them unless we understand what mistakes they’re making. So, I ask, Aziraphale, will you help me?”

He wanted to say no, later he would wish he had said no, but in that moment, pinned under that cold thousand eyed gaze, he suddenly knew with perfect clarity that he was teetering on the edge of something. A line he shouldn’t dare cross.

Micheal had a way of hunting secrets, of exposing them to the light. And Aziraphale was a good angel.

He pressed the fire down, hiding the withering sparks deep within his grace, and said the only answer he was allowed to give, “Of course, Archangel Micheal.”

He never got close to Morningstar. But he did hear things, and as promised, passed along everything to Micheal. It made him feel wretched. But that sharp gleam had never left Micheal’s collection of eyes. A look that left him feeling shaken, even though it was never directed towards him.

Worse, he was good at rooting out secrets.

Tensions were building, and Aziraphale didn’t know what to do. Micheal had told him not to worry, that things would soon be sorted out, but for all the talk of guiding the others back, it seemed like nothing was being done. He just wanted to help.

And then the Rebellion broke out. War, and Aziraphale was there, right in the middle of it.

Chaos reigned all around him. Angel versus Angel, siblings and brethren all clashing, fighting, drawing blood and pain in equal measures.

“Stop!” Aziraphale darted between a fighting cherubim and virtue, flaring his grace and wings as wide as he could, uncertain and uncaring of who stood on who’s side. “For Heaven’s sake–” They simply ducked around him, clashing again and again. “Please stop this!”

But no one listened.

A cry drew his attention. An angel, one he knew by name, had downed another, and stood over them as they sobbed, and begged for mercy. Their wing was bloody and broken, raised above them, trying to protect their flickering core. But the angel who stood over them, was not interested in mercy, raising up their weapon, readying a fatal strike.

Aziraphale rushed forward. “Enough!” He drew his sword, catching the blow as it came down, and knocking it aside. “You’re going too far!”

But that simple act, stopping a blow meant for another, cast him over the invisible lines that started this whole mess.

“Traitor!” Fury like none he’d ever seen before painted the face of the angel he now faced.

“Hastriel–” Aziraphale stuttered, trying to speak. There had to be a way to resolve this. “Please–”

But Hastriel was beyond words. He came at Aziraphale, furious, and Aziraphale had no choice but to meet him blow for blow. The fire within Aziraphale jumped, crawling against the edges of his grace, before leaping to his weapon. The flames rushed into existence, blazing bright, as they danced along the blade of his heavenly sword. A subconscious act to protect himself, but all it did was distract him.

And Hastriel took advantage, weapon striking at the joint of Aziraphale’s wing.

He cried out, and his sword was knocked from his grasp. Hastriel moved to stab at his core, glee written across his face. And terrified, Aziraphale defended himself with the only weapon he had left. Fire exploded from his grace and he lashed out. Hastriel screamed, stumbling away.

There was a faint popping sound, and a radiance that could only come from God Herself bloomed over the battle. It grew blindingly bright, and Aziraphale had to look away. And in that moment, when he looked down, he saw the edge of Heaven. The aether. An empty chasm, yawning before him. The fire rippled within him, warmth spreading through his many limbs and from the way the fire bent and shifted, he knew instinctively where the edge of Heaven rested. And that he teetered, balanced by a hair, on the very edge, and the slightest move would send him over. Aziraphale went still.

The others were not so lucky.

Around him, angels began to Fall. Their wings catching and going ablaze as they tumbled down and down, crying out in agony and fear.

Hastriel, fear written across his face, his wings already aflame, reached out to him, desperate. “Aziraphale, help me!” Aziraphale hesitated, shaking with pain. His wing throbbing behind him. He turned away. Hastriel’s frantic cries filled his ears, as the angel tumbled into the void, falling, until even that disappeared.

The battlefield went quiet.

Down and down the Fallen went, until they were mere pinpricks disappearing into the void. The radiance from above retreated, and the edges closed, leaving Heaven whole and unblemished and so much emptier.

Aziraphale stood alone.

Silence pressed against his senses.

He began to shake, rooted to the spot.

How? How had it come to this?

Hell came into being, and Heaven was never the same. The cold politeness became the norm. The invisible line had merely shifted. And those that had seen him hanging around those who had Fallen, avoided him, whispering where they thought he couldn’t hear.

He barely spoke. Who would listen anyway? He felt like a shadow creeping from place to place, uncertain now of his own standing. He knew that he was retreating from the other angels. It hurt, much like his still healing wing did. So few… so few of them were left. The host was easily half its number now. And those he’d personally known by name were gone. Fallen…

No one left bothered to reach out to him.

But he was a good angel. He was still here.

So it didn’t matter. And solitude wasn’t so bad. He enjoyed the quiet, tucking himself away in unused spots. It meat he could call forth the flames within him, letting them flit about his limbs. It made him feel… less alone.

And then Micheal found him. She froze, staring at him and the flames circling his hands. Aziraphale froze too, watching as the expression on her main face shifted, and all he could think of was invisible lines and the name they now called their lost brethren.

He brushed the flames away, hiding them, panicked, and scrambling to will the smoke to dissipate, as he dipped into a bow that was lower than what was required of his station. He prayed it would be enough, even if She had stopped answering.

Micheal continued to stare, that dangerous light now in all her faces and all her eyes, which she now focused solely upon him. “And what, exactly, was that just now?”

Aziraphale said nothing.

Michael’s tone became dangerous. “Answer me, Principality.”

He flinched, voice shaking from disuse. “A secret.”

“Did you learn that from Morningstar?”

He shook his head, not daring to look at her.

“Did you teach that to them?” There was a rumble in her tone, almost like thunder.

He shook his head harder, a terrible aching feeling of pain filling his being.

“Then what was that– abomination?”


She thought it was Hellfire.

He went still, no longer shaking, hiding his fear away with everything else, everything Micheal couldn’t see. He touched the heavenly sword at his side, the first one ever bestowed, the same one he’d used in the rebellion. “It’s a flaming sword.” His smile was tight, voice quiet. “Sometimes the fire doesn’t like to stay put.” It wasn’t a lie. Simply two true statements with a secret strung hidden between them.

And Micheal let it go.

But he knew how this would end. He’d seen it first hand. A Fall no one returned from. He couldn’t stay.

So he volunteered to become the Guardian of the Eastern Gate, anything as long as it wasn’t here. Even if it meant being placed under Gabriel’s command. Even though it meant being confined to a human body. A body that left him feeling constricted and weighed down, even as he struggled with the concept of having such a small number of limbs. It was worth it. It had to be.

Micheal hadn’t been sorry to see him go. And that only confirmed his fears.

No one… really was reaching out for him.

Aziraphale remained silent through the whole affair. Even as Gabriel spoke at length about the rules of the Garden, the apple tree, and the roles they were all supposed to follow. He’d changed since the Rebellion. They all had.

No one spoke of their purpose with open joy. That way lay bragging and the sin of pride. A taboo that couldn’t be broken. Another line that couldn’t be crossed. So Gabriel chose to guide, by leading with no regard for others thoughts. And so Aziraphale simply listened, until he was sent on his way to guard a gate and a garden.

He didn’t speak again until, upon the garden’s wall, a demon with charcoal wings stood beside him, commenting about lead balloons.

And he’d surprised himself by responding, letting a secret slip out.

And the demon surprised him in turn, by speaking to him not with contempt or fear, but as though they were equals. With no secrets to hide.

It made Aziraphale feel warm. A new start, even as the first rain cloud rolled in.

As for the fate of the flaming sword, well, that was a secret, one shared just between the two of them.

Their meetings continued like that. Crowley would pop up randomly, a cheery greeting, and a random tidbit of what he’d been up to. It became a thing, and Aziraphale hadn’t even realized, until he spotted Crowley in an establishment in Rome, that he enjoyed their meetings.

That he enjoyed the demon’s company.

Unsettled by his own revelation, his tongue had slipped on him and he embarrassed himself several times through the conversation. Aardvarks and tempting. He wasn’t going to forget the humiliation anytime soon.

That and the fact he was happy to see a demon, compared to– to, well… perhaps it would be best if he left Rome for a while.

The first winter Aziraphale had experienced was both beautiful and terrible. The first time it snowed, he’d simply stood there, watching in amazement. Snowflakes fell all around him, changing the world to something new. It left him breathless, giddy with delight.

He’d been ordered by Gabriel to head toward the north. Away from the lands he’d grown used to, and its harsh warm sun.

Aziraphale wasn’t sure what lay out there. It was exciting, exploring more of this strange new world he’d been stationed on. There was always something new to see. Something new to experience. Like this, the snow falling all around him. It was beautiful.

He reached out a hand, letting a snowflake settle there, and melt against his skin. The cold didn’t bother him. Heaven was colder. Temperature wise, he amended quickly, snatching his hand away, as he stole a nervous glance up.

But all remained still and quiet, snow continuing to flutter down as it turned the world white.

He let out a cloud of breath, letting his fire melt away the snow that had gathered on his shoulders and hair. He had better continue on his way. Last thing he wanted was another note from Head Office admonishing him. He didn’t think he could stomach it, not after–

They were rolling out a new thing, a limit on how many miracles he could perform.

He shuddered. The fire within him spiked, jumping up into the air above his head, obligating snowflakes until he reigned it back in. He pressed the flames down as hard as he could. Eyes squeezed shut, he drew a deep breath, and then another. It helped. Gave him something to focus on.

When he opened his eyes again, he kept his gaze fixed on the snow building up around his feet.

He needed to get going. There was still so much distance to cover. He took a step and then another, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground, no longer taking in the breathtaking snowflakes that danced around him.

He hadn’t seen another soul for several days now, and so it was quite a surprise when he turned the corner of a large rock face, and there, on the ground, a figure, wrapped up in heavy clothing, was face down in a snowdrift. Alarmed, he rushed forward, turning the person over.

He gasped. “Craw– Crowley!”

The demon was almost blue with cold.

He looked about, almost desperate, but there was nothing and no one for miles.

Just him and a snake demon who wasn’t dealing well with this new weather.

He hesitated, hands fluttering over Crowley, not quite touching. What should he do? They hadn’t seen each other since that disastrous conversation about oysters. He couldn’t just leave him here. Surely, surely helping couldn’t be considered too much.

No, no he couldn’t. He was a good angel, and helping the enemy–

But– but to turn away from suffering–

Deep old shame rushed through him, and for a moment, all Aziraphale could hear was the anguished cries of falling angels. Their voices, a haunting echo in his ears, begging for help as they tumbled down and down, becoming small pinpricks, tiny stars that disappeared into the void. And he’d turned away. Why shouldn’t he just turn away now?

Because he wanted to help.

His hand shook as he pressed it against Crowley’s chest. The demon was still there. His human heart sluggish and slow. If that stopped, his whole body could discorporate.

He wouldn’t let that happen.

Aziraphale plunked down in the snow, drawing Crowley closer to his chest. “Right.” He tried to settle his frayed nerves. “They can’t complain if I’m just taking a break. I do have human feet. And human bodies can be very temperamental sometimes.” Nodding to himself, he studied the demon in his arms. “Besides, who knows what kind of retribution your lot might inflict if you– if you’re–” He swallowed hard.

Crowley was completely limp in his arms.

And with all this snow, well, one small miracle couldn’t hurt. He snapped his fingers, producing a heavy blanket. He winced as he felt the power drain, grimacing as he drew the blanket around them both. He had maybe enough left for one, maybe two more miracles before he hit his new imposed limit. He was going to have to choose them wisely.

He checked on the demon again. Crowley was limp against him, and his skin was still far too cold.

That wasn’t going to do at all.

He needed to get Crowley warm. Miracles weren’t going to cut it, which left…

Aziraphale eyed their surroundings, ignoring his own bubbling unease. The world around them was empty. They were completely alone. Just the two of them. But he had to be sure. He shut his eyes, concentrating, stretching out his senses as far as they would go. Nothing pinged. Not one single other soul save for the one already in his arms.

He drew a shaky breath, asking himself if he really wanted to do this. He chewed his lip, uncertain. His eyes danced to the limp demon resting against him. “You can keep a secret, can’t you, Crowley?”

Silence and the howl of the biting wind were his only answer.

Slowly he reached around the demon, leaning a trembling hand out of the blanket. He pressed his fingers against the unmarked snow. Did he really want to do this? Aziraphale still wasn’t sure. But the alternative was unthinkable.

Calling forth his wings, he drew them close, using them to create a shelter from the falling snow. He shivered as a snowflake touched the one bald patch his wing had. A blemish just at the joint of his right wing, the only visible mark now left of the wound he’d received during the Rebellion. An unsightly thing for an angel. He adjusted his wing, tilting it more so the edge was no longer visible to the snow. Safely hidden inside the makeshift tent of white feathers, he called forth his fire to his hand. Then with careful movements, he set it down in the snow before them.

The flames danced, burning merrily even as it melted the snow beneath it. He watched the fire, feeling skittish, hands fidgeting with a corner of the blanket. He looked once more at the unconscious demon. Now… now all he could do was wait. He settled back, trying not to worry, but only worrying more as he let the day pass him by.

He didn’t mean to doze off, but he must have, because the next thing he heard was a soft, “Azira…?”

The fire jumped as he jerked awake. He blinked, looking down to find two half lidded yellow eyes gazing back at him. “Crowley!” The flames grew brighter with his relief, continuing to warm their small shelter. “How do you feel?”

“It’ssss warm.”

Aziraphale nodded once, twice, too many times. “Yes that would be… uh, the, the fire.” He waited with bated breath, for what, he wasn’t quite sure.

Crowley didn’t even look. Just shut his eyes, relaxing against Aziraphale’s chest.

The fire stuttered. Aziraphale tried to swallow down the sudden sharp feeling in his chest. He wasn’t sure what he expected. Nor what he’d been looking for. But… this hadn’t been it.

When Crowley finally woke up again, warm, and slightly startled to find the angel so close, there hadn’t been any fire to see. Aziraphale kept his silence. He didn’t, in fact, speak a single word as Crowley stumbled to his feet, taking the extra blanket that Aziraphale had conjured. What was there to say? The demon had pulled the blanket tight, before retreating without saying goodbye, probably embarrassed about being caught by the enemy in such a state.

Aziraphale was fine with letting it all go. He was.

The snow had stopped, and a new day was starting. Watching Crowley head off back the way Aziraphale had come, the angel let out a sigh. He turned and started off on his own way.

He hadn’t made it more than four steps, before Crowley’s voice chased after him. “Oi angel! Which way is it to Sevekesham?”

Aziraphale paused, hesitating, before he looked back, “I do believe it’s this way.” He pointed the way he was going. A smile was pulling at his lips, maybe… maybe a little company wouldn’t be remiss. Even if it was a demon.

Aziraphale huffed, annoyance bleeding into every movement. It had only been a couple of months since his encounter with the Black Knight, who’d just turned out to be Crowley, and he was still irritated about the whole thing. Canceling each other out. The nerve!

King Arthur had sent him out to deal with a dragon. The beastly thing was wreaking havoc on some outlying villages, burning everything to the ground.

Noah had had the right idea leaving them behind, but seeing as how they could fly, the flood hadn’t bothered them in the slightest. And now Aziraphale had to go and deal with one.

He was still grumbling to himself when he approached the cave that the dragon was said to have made its home in. He announced himself like a proper knight and angel should, marching inside, and was met with a blast of flames that were clearly meant to end him.

That was the last straw. Aziraphale caught the flames, twisting them around his body, and letting them splash harmless against the wall beside him. The dragon had been dumbstruck, staring at him with yellow snake like eyes that reminded him far too much of a certain irritating meddling demon.

Aziraphale breathed fire right back in its face.

Needless to say, the dragon had packed up, and headed off in the direction of Greenland, trailing smoke behind it the whole way. He never did hear from it again, and the villagers had been ever so grateful.

Aziraphale’s irritated mood, however, had stubbornly remained for several more months.

Winter was setting in again, and Camelot was getting drafty. Aziraphale didn’t like the cold. Sure he wasn't affected by it, but the way the chill got into everything. Sucking away all the warmth, everyone's cheer... He huddled closer to the fire in the empty banquet hall, staring the flames, expression pained. King Arthur was dead, and unrest was brewing. The knights, they were trying to hold everything together, the kingdom, Arthur’s dream, but–

The high pitch whine, too high for humans to hear, was the only warning Aziraphale got before Gabriel materialized on the empty bench beside him. The fire in the hearth jumped, before the flames sank down, hiding among the timber and logs.

Aziraphale almost wished he could do that same, even as he sat straight, and deliberately did not looking toward the fireplace. “Gabriel, what a– this– this really, that is, perhaps not exactly the best–”

“We have an assignment for you, Aziraphale.” The expectant look Gabriel gave him said he was supposed to be grateful.

Instead, there was a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. The fire in the hearth snapped, breaking a log in two. “That’s– well, I’m right in the middle of something, you see. King Arthur,” his voice wobbled, “he’s–”

“Oh that’s not important.”

“Not–” his voice rose.

Gabriel huffed. “Don’t be like that. You can come back after your assignment is done, and continue playing knight.” He frowned, eyes shifting to the growing fire in the hearth. “Or whatever it is you’re doing.”

Unease crept over Aziraphale. “And this… assignment what does it entail exactly?”

There was something different in Gabriel’s eyes when he looked at him again. A look that didn’t match up with the smile on his face. “Just some reports Micheal needs checked out for some outlying village. Should be easy enough assignment for an angel like you.” He gave one last polite smile, getting up. “I expect a favourable report.”

“Of course.” He accepted the parchment Gabriel offered him, noting that the seal on it was an angelic sigil. Aziraphale frowned as he broke it. That was–

“Huh.” He looked up. Gabriel clapped his hands, showing off teeth. “Well, it’s been great. Don’t forget to send in a report when you’re done.” And then he was gone.

Aziraphale bit his lip. He unfolded the parchment, looking over his assignment as laid out in Micheal’s neat flowing script. He was missing something again. It left him with the same unease he’d felt before the rebellion. His fire shuddered, growing wild in the grate until he snatched it away, burying both it and the feeling in his grace.

He rubbed at his face.

How was he going to excuse his absence to the knights?

How… how had it come to this?

A village stood before him. Burning.

Another piece of the King’s dream, of a peaceful land, going up in flames.

And this time, it was entirely Aziraphale’s fault.

His hands shook, fingers still covered in soot. He shut his eyes, but that did nothing to block out the roar of the flames before him. Smoke hung heavily in the air, and even now, Aziraphale could taste ash on his tongue. It was too much. He sagged, a human sword, its blade melted and burnt beyond use, slipping from his grasp. It crashed into the dirt at his feet. He was so tired.

A low whistle behind him. Aziraphale jumped. He whirled, ready to– But it was only Crowley. They stared at each other for a long moment. Aziraphale’s posture eased, drawing a shaky uneven breath. But there was a caution to Crowley’s swagger as he finally sauntered up beside him, surveying the damage. “Smiting humans? Didn’t think you had it in you, angel.”

He stiffened, hands shaking. Was that what it looked like? That he– “I–” His voice shook. “I didn’t smite anyone.”

Crowley gave him an incredulous look, before very pointedly looking at the fire. Shame left Aziraphale feeling sick, and the flames in the burning village began to twist, wild and uncontrolled, spreading further and further, no matter how he struggled to draw his fire back. Why wasn’t it listening? Why?!

His breath shuddered. He swallowed down ash and smoke, eyes fixed on the ground. “I tried to get them out, truly I did, but…” Not all the villagers had escaped, and he’d– if only he’d been better– if only his miracle limit were higher– if only this whole encounter hadn’t happened.

But those were just excuses. He was supposed to be a good angel.

But he was so tired. Drained. Shaken to his very core.

He brushed a trembling hand over his eyes. “But I was preoccupied.”

Crowley regarded him for a long moment. “What sort of job was it anyway?”

A lump built in his throat. “An easy one.”

For an angel like you. Gabriel’s so sincere and fake smile mocked him from his memory.

His hands shook and the fire roared, growing taller. A raging inferno in the making.

“Your Head Office clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Aziraphale couldn’t help verbal barb that shot out, “And how would you know better?”

Crowley shrugged. “We are on the front lines.”

Front lines. He stared at the flames. Was that what Earth was? Just another place to use as a battlefield? His human body ached. Exhausted.

“So,” Crowley rolled on the balls of his feet. “What did happen then?”

He stared at Crowley. But there was no malicious glint in his eyes. No sneer curling at his lips. He didn’t know. Aziraphale drew a shuddering breath. “A… demon attacked me.”

If he hadn’t been looking for it, he would have missed the way Crowley tensed. “Oh,” Crowley tried to affect a casual voice, even as he scanned their empty surroundings, “did you, uh, win?”

“Yes,” the word tasted like ash on his tongue.

He didn’t say more. He didn’t say that he’d been outclassed. That somewhere during the fight he’d lost control of his own fire. That as he grew desperate, it had grown wild, swallowing the village. That it had raged through buildings, destroying homes, devouring the church from the inside and that he’d been cornered just outside its sanctuary. That he’d been shaking, exhausted, barely standing on his own two human legs. That the demon had advanced on him, sneering, gloating, ready to end him, until dumb luck had graced Aziraphale with victory, when the gutted belfry collapsed, crushing his opponent.
But he didn’t say any of that.

And now a demon was discorporated, even if by Aziraphale’s indirect hand.

This… hadn’t happened before. And now he could read the tension building in Crowley’s frame. Exhausted, he waited for the other’s judgement.

Crowley let out a low whistle. He kicked a rock loose, sending it skipping into the fire. “I’m not sure what it’s like Upstairs these days, but down there, we’re not all on a friendly-friendly first name basis. Doubt I’ll know the guy, so don’t expect me to come seeking revenge. That’s entirely your guys stick with the supposed ‘cosmic harmony’.” He spat the words.

Something within Aziraphale eased at that. Something he didn’t want to name. But then, he was overwhelmed already. Too many things had happened. And–

“I–” Tears burned in his eyes. “I knew him.” He still remembered the fear on Hastriel’s face as the aether sucked him down. The shame, the memory, the fight, it made everything hurt all over again. “The demon, I knew him from before…” Fire in a gutted building popped, spraying sparks, as the structure collapsed in on itself, devoured to nothing.

Crowley looked uncomfortable. “Wasn’t interested in being friends, then.”


Everything was burning. The fire cracked, spitting his twisting emotions, as it clawed at the air. It was out of control, feeding on his anguish, and he couldn’t

A sob escaped him. “I didn’t want to fight.” But it hadn’t stopped him either. It never had.

A cool hand touched his shoulder, startling him. Crowley looked at him, sympathy visible in his serpent eyes. “You have every right to be upset, angel.”

He stood frozen, staring. The fire, for moment, stilled. And then he began to sob.

His shaky knees gave out, and Crowley swore, catching him. They both sank to the ground. They sat there in the dust, far too close to the burning village, as Aziraphale cried his eyes out, and Crowley didn’t pull away. He just sat beside him, maybe a little stiff and awkward, but his hands never left Aziraphale, and if the angel was honest, he clung on just as tightly.

He couldn’t say how long they stayed like that, unmoving as time carried on its way. Crowley never complained. Just stayed where he was, until Aziraphale’s tears took their course, before finally petering out.

He felt calmer, weary, but emptier in a good way. The fire had calmed as well, no longer raging through the village, but now resting, nestled amongst the blackened timbers. Content to stay put, burrowed among the ashes.

Slowly, he uncoiled his fingers from Crowley dark tunic. The demon let him pull away, but neither one of them moved to get up.

Aziraphale swallowed, giving a weak, shaky laugh. “You must think I’m weak.”

“No, never.”

He looked up, surprised.

Crowley was steadfastly looking ahead at the ruined village.

Aziraphale felt his cheeks colour, and had to look away as well.

“Angel, if the idiots up there think that you’re weak because you save humans and don’t like fighting someone you knew, then they’re even more moronic then I’ve given them credit for.”

What if they’re scared of me? What if they think I’m something else? The words fluttered on the tip of his tongue, almost spilling out. But that would be the same as admitting to his secret, the reason they were scared of him.

The reason they’d decided this was the perfect way to test him.

To see if he was–

He watched the fire, the way it curled, bouncing from one charred timber to another. Like a bird, flitting nervously from place to place, trying to find a spot to hide among the ruins.

He shut his eyes. He wasn’t ready to face this. Not yet, not now.

With a deep breath, he looked at Crowley again, voice low and quiet. “The archangels are not moronic.”

Crowley just snorted.

Aziraphale couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips. But for the kindness Crowley had just shown him, he needed to impart this warning. “Please don’t take them lightly. They’ll make you suffer for it.”

Crowley gave him sharp look, expression shifting to sudden grim understanding. The knowledge burned bright in his eyes, as he regarded Aziraphale and then the remains of the charred village. It made Aziraphale uneasy. Had he said too much?

Sparks popped, scattering nervously in the air.

Crowley dipped his head, nodding once. “I’ll be careful.”

Aziraphale let out a breath. “Thank you.”

Crowley rose to his feet and offered him a hand. “I think we’ve seen enough of this place.”  Aziraphale accepted the offered hand, allowing himself to be drawn up. It was only then, he noticed that all his scratches and injuries were gone as well. Crowley grinned. “I say we go some place. Get drunk.”

Aziraphale marvelled at the demon for a moment.

It’d been thirty years since they’d last spoken, when Crowley had made that fool comment about cancelling each other out. His suggestion shouldn’t have been so tempting. He shouldn’t have been still thinking about it. But he was.

And Aziraphale felt so tired. So very tired of trying to be a good angel all the time. The words leapt from his tongue. “Were you serious?”

“About what?” A lazy roll of the demon’s head as though he didn’t know exactly what Aziraphale was referring to.

“About–” He wavered, eyes going to the ruins. He squared his shoulders. “About starting an arrangement.”

A slow smile crept across Crowley’s lips. “Let’s talk about it over lunch and drinks. I know a place near by. My treat.”

He brightened, fire springing up onto one of the timbers. Ah. He should do something about that. “Just give me one moment, there’s– something I need to retrieve.”

Crowley gave him a puzzled look. “From that? You think it survived?”

Aziraphale smile became enigmatic. “Just one moment.” He hurried off, going only so far as to be out of sight of Crowley.

He took a breath and stared out at what had once been a village, before raising his hand. It took only the smallest of tugs, and, this time, the fire listened, abandoning the burnt timber to return back where it came from, back to Aziraphale.

He shut his eyes, drawing a breath. Hand resting on his chest, he took a moment just to feel it there, the warmth resting inside him. He would have to be far more careful with his secret from now on. Especially if he was going to be spending more time with Crowley. He straightened, taking another deep breath. Shouldn’t be that hard.

He smiled to himself, turning away from the destroyed village, and hurried back to Crowley’s side.

Despite his own conviction, Aziraphale’s secret almost did get exposed.

The year was 1862, the Arrangement had become a well worn and comfortable thing, and they’d met up in St. Jame’s Park, talking as they fed the ducks. A delightful warm day, until Crowley presented him that terrible message. A two word death wish written on paper. A request for the one thing that would utterly destroy the demon.

The note had left Aziraphale’s hand as he threw it, flames biting at his finger tips.

The note caught, burning up. And Aziraphale had fled, too angry, and, some part, too scared to turn back and look. He didn’t want to see Crowley’s face when he connected the dots.

Crowley hadn’t chased him. And the next he’d heard, his friend had gone for a century long nap. They didn’t see each other again until the church. By that point, too happy to see the other, neither of them mentioned the note.

And then Armageddon came, until it didn’t.

The rest of their lives had begun, and they were celebrating.

They were a few bottles in, happily tipsy, and Crowley in an unusual turn, was cuddled up against him. “You know,” Crowley said, pausing to make a popping sound with his mouth. Aziraphale giggled, which drew a pleased grin from the demon. “You run a lot warmer than other angels do.”

Aziraphale snorted. “And since when do you cuddle with other angels?”

Crowley huffed, but didn’t give up on his spot against Aziraphale’s side. “Couldn’t help but notice when they dragged me off for your punishment.”

Despite himself, Aziraphale tensed. Crowley hadn’t wanted to tell him about his trial in Heaven, or rather his utter lack of one. That they’d simply commanded him to die.

Crowley stared at him with a searching look. “You know, they said something strange just as I was leaving. About you, and the Hellfire. Said… you’d always carried its taint.”

Aziraphale shut his eyes. So, Gabriel had known as well.

Crowley took his hand, voice soft. “Angel, what’s going on? Was it… something I did?”

“No.” He twined their fingers together, drawing strength. “No, not you, my dear. I suppose I… We’re on our own side, now, aren’t we?”

He tried to smile, but it must have been a poor imitation because Crowley reached out, brushing a thumb against his cheek. “Of course we are, angel.”

Aziraphale leaned into the touch. “You have to understand, this is… difficult for me to talk about and– and part of that is, I don’t want to upset you.”

There was a flicker of fear. “Are you Falling?”

“NO! Goodness, no.” He swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, I’m going about this all wrong. I just–” He fidgeted, toying with the wine glass that was still in his free hand. Finally he sighed, shoulders slumping. “How do I explain this?”

“Usually by finding a place to start.”

He blinked. “Start. Yes, of course.” He straightened. “So, in the Beginning,” he half expected Crowley to groan, and complain, but the demon did no such thing, a testament to how worried he was, “when we were created, we were each given a purpose. The one She bestowed us with.”

There was no helping the tension that jumped into Crowley’s frame. Any mention of Her did that. It made Aziraphale feel awful. His voice died in his throat.

“No, no,” Crowley squeezed his hand. “I’m listening. Keep going.”

He took a deep breath, voice quiet. “You once told me that She spoke to you about healing and learning.”

There was a stiff nod. Their hands were still tangled together, and all he could see was open concern on his dear demon’s face.

And perhaps that was what gave him the courage to finally start untangling all the long threads that were wrapped around his secret, things he’d kept silent about, things like the reason why his fire had become so important to him. “She never gave me a purpose.”

Crowley’s eyes went wide. “But you– Eden’s Gate–”

“I volunteered. To get away.” Aziraphale’s smile was brittle. “And before that I was a spy, because Micheal heard I was good with secrets.”

Crowley made a strangled sound.

It would have been funny under different circumstances, instead Aziraphale found himself studying their clasped hands as he rambled. “I’ve been a lot of things over the years, some of it, I hope never to be again. Others, I simply found and discovered the joy for myself. But I suppose never having… a purpose, has always made me a little different from the others, that, and– and–” He couldn’t say it. The words stuck in his throat.

“Angel?” He wasn’t quite sure how to read the question in Crowley’s tone, there were so many emotions swimming in it. “Angel, how did you not get a purpose?”

A puffy laugh escaped him. “It’s funny, I suppose. My experience wasn’t… typical, and that, well, that distracted Her.” Beside him, Crowley began to tense up, and Aziraphale was quick to head him off. “It’s not what you think. It’s– well it’s–  You see, when the All Mighty created me, She told me to keep a secret, though, it really was phrased more like a suggestion, and– and when I went to introduce myself to the other angels, well, you know how important first impressions are, I mean, could you imagine saying to Gabriel, ‘I don’t have a purpose, because awareness startled me so much’? Quite embarrassing, really, tipping into the aether like that, though She caught me again–”

“Wait– wait, she dropped you!?” Crowley sounded horrified.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest, only to find he couldn’t really argue the point.

Crowley began to spit curses, before he tilted his head back and yelled at the ceiling, “For bloody sake, take some bloody parenting classes!”

Aziraphale tensed, almost expecting a bolt of lighting to come down and smite them both. Nothing happened.

Crowley began to rub soothing circles on his back, as he leaned back into Aziraphale’s side. “I’m not mad at you, angel.”

He huffed. “Of course I know that. It’s just–” he trailed out, hesitating.

“Just?” Crowley prompted, voice quiet.

Aziraphale eyes flickered up to the ceiling. But it remained the same. Silent. Unchanging. He decided to take that as permission. “There’s a reason She was distracted.”

“Ah yes, as though dropping a new born angel, and not giving him a goal in life wasn’t bad enough.”

He gave the demon an admonishing look. “Crowley.”

“It’s the truth!”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should–”

“Demon.” Crowley pointed at himself. “I can say what I bloody well like.”

Irritation built within him. “Just because you’re having a snit–”

“A snit!” He surged to his feet. “She dropped you! She’s supposed to look after angels, not– not–” He wiped a hand down his face. “Ugh!” He threw himself back onto the couch. “This is upsetting.” He stole Aziraphale’s wine glass and chugged it.

Aziraphale huffed, remaining silent. They sat like that for a long time. The silence was heavy, uncomfortable.

Finally Crowley sighed, setting the empty wine glass aside. “You keep mentioning secrets. That Micheal thought, heaven knows why, that you’re good with them.”

He nodded. “Not surprising really, I told everyone my purpose was secret. Most took it to mean my purpose was ineffable.”

Crowley snorted. “So that’s where you got it from.”

A tight smile graced Aziraphale’s face. “Aren’t you going to ask what distracted Her?”

There was a long pause. “Should I?”

Aziraphale felt fond affection at that. He reached out his hand, and smiled when Crowley took it once more. “I think I’m ready this time.”

Crowley blinked, giving a slight nod. “Alright.” He drew a breath. “So what did you manage to do that distracted Her so much?”

“I brought something back with me from my dip into the aether.”

Now Crowley was frowning. “Brought? Angel, there was nothing there.”

“You’re wrong.” He loosened his hand, not letting go, but not keeping Crowley chained to his hold should he wish to pull away. Then fisting his free hand, he brought it before them, “I found this,” and opened his hand. Flames danced about his skin, bright and fluttering shyly.

Crowley sucked in a sharp breath. “Angel, that’s–” He leaned in, eyes mesmerized, “beautiful.”

Aziraphale blinked, caught off guard. His mouth slipped open, only to find himself speechless.

“It’s like a mini star.” Wonder danced in Crowley’s voice. He reached out–

“Don’t!” Aziraphale jerked his hand away. Crowley froze, looking at him. “I– I’ve–” He swallowed hard. “Others, they’ve been burned. By this. I don’t–”

“I’ve handled stars before, angel. I’ll be careful.” He reached out, touching Aziraphale’s wrist, before his fingers slid up, cupping the flames just like the angel, letting it spin around his hand. “See?”

Aziraphale’s eyes darted from the flames to Crowley’s hand, and then, after a hesitant moment, he turned his searching gaze to Crowley. “You’re not–” His voiced cracked. “Scared of me?”

Crowley’s fingers curled around Aziraphale hand, even as he continued to cup the flames. “No, angel, never.” He leaned in, kissing the angel’s cheek.

A rush of warmth went through Aziraphale and the fire leapt in delight, escaping his hand. Aziraphale squawked. But Crowley caught it deftly, pinching it between his thumb and finger, before returning it to Aziraphale’s hands.

The amused smirk he gave Aziraphale was a promise that he was never going to live this down any time soon.

And, surprisingly, he was okay with that.

They both grinned, leaning in together. Stars, Crowley had said. Not Hellfire, not something monstrous or demonic. Aziraphale rolled the flame within his hand, testing it, before he breathed over the fire. The flames split into tiny little lights, dancing up like fireflies until they hung in the air above their heads like stars.

Crowley stared at them with awe. Raising a hand, and with gentle fingers, he guided them around, placing them until they formed a constellation.

Aziraphale smiled, leaning back into the demon’s side.

He’d always had a strange relationship with fire.

And as Crowley took his hand again, Aziraphale didn’t think that was such a bad thing.