It wasn’t unusual for the angel and the demon to go some time without meeting one another. They could go weeks, years, or even decades without speaking face-to-face. But it had never hindered their Arrangement, not between two entities that found it easy to pick up a conversation thread and simply continue as if there hadn’t been a pause of thirty years between one sentence and the next, and often did.
What was unusual, however, was that Crowley had missed three wine tastings in a row. It wasn’t like the demon to pass up a chance to sample alcohol, snobbery, and snobbery about alcohol, all at the same time.
Perhaps Aziraphale’s choice in wine school was to blame. Or maybe it was the company.
Aziraphale hadn’t realized he’d been letting his mind wander until an awkward silence descended.
“So sorry,” he said, dredging up a smile, “Could you repeat that?’
Ms. Vine wrung her hands. “Of-of course! Yes, um, what I meant to say is—”
They were not very good forgers, Aziraphale had come to find. Frankly, at this point, he was less interested in their shoddily-forged manuscript they claimed was a lost Heyer, and more interested in the rival buyer they kept claiming was on the verge of outbidding him.
“—making his final offer tonight!” She finished breathlessly, almost leaning forward to hear his reply. Mr. Amy, her companion, gave a little flourish with his hands for emphasis.
“Oh, well, that’s certainly—” Aziraphale thought fast. “—urgent-sounding. I’m sure we could come to an agreement, this mysterious buyer of yours. If we could meet face to face—”
“Of course!” said Ms. Vine, and then looked appalled at herself for interrupting him. “I mean, right this way, Mr. Fell, I’m sure Mr. Amy can have us there in a hurry.”
Aziraphale, as he had come to learn through multiple quarterly (quarter of a millennium, that is) evaluations, was rather mistrustful for an angel. Still, as they found their way out of the book shop, Aziraphale found himself wondering if this seemed too good to be true. “That is too kind of you. Would you need time to make arrangements with your other contact?”
“Oh no,” said Ms. Vine, opening the door for Aziraphale to a car that had screeched to a halt before them. “For you, he has nothing but time, I’m sure.”
Aziraphale wished he could remember the car ride*, but it was all rather a blur.
*That would be a lie.
He was embarrassed to find that he needed a moment after climbing out of the car. Catching his breath, Aziraphale found himself looking up at a carved gargoyle, its face twisted grotesquely. He could commiserate.
“We’re meeting at a church?” said Aziraphale.
Ms. Vine nodded. “After you,” she said, making no move towards the door.
The first thing Aziraphale noticed was the smell of old books. The next was that there were rather a lot of them, stretching in a line from the door all the way to—
“Who’s there?” said a voice that could only belong to Crowley.
The doors clanged shut. A plume of hellfire burst into flame too close to Aziraphale, forcing him a step back, luckily on the same side as the demon.
Aziraphale picked his way over to the pulpit, on which Crowley had been chained rather dramatically. The demon looked rather wan in the ghastly flicker of hellfire, his hair flattened out of what Aziraphale was only now realizing was carefully-curated disarray, his glasses nowhere to be seen. Aziraphale had rarely seen naked panic on the demon’s face, but he wasn’t keen on seeing any more of it.
“Only me,” said Aziraphale.
The result wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. “You!” said Crowley, struggling weakly against his bonds. “Get out of here! They’ll be back any minute—”
“They,” said Ms. Vine, stepping through the hellfire as if it weren’t there, “are here already.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, as Mr. Amy followed, lion-headed. “But why wasn’t I able to detect you before?”
Ms. Vine tossed aside the false Heyer, where it turned into a very familiar Bible. The Wicked Bible. Aziraphale squinted at the line of dusty tomes at his feet. The Discharge bible, the Treacle Bible, the Standing Fishes Bible—
“All from your place of merchandise,” growled Mr. Amy, balanced on a misprinted bible. They both were, Aziraphale realized, protected from the consecrated ground by a cushion of unholy errata.
“We waved them right in your face, and you didn’t even notice,” said Ms. Vine, her demonic aura much stronger now. “Now,” she said, turning dismissively from Aziraphale, “about the agreement—”
Somehow, the chains holding Crowley down found themselves in Aziraphale hand. Crowley shifted, pulling the links through Aziraphale’s hands, snarling “I never made any agreements.”
They were nothing but solid steel, something Crowley could miracle away himself.
“You said, in your very own words, ‘if the angel isn’t brought here, I shan’t say a word’.”
Or he could be, if he weren’t standing on consecrated ground.
“Which still isn’t any kind of agreement, innit?”
It had to be sapping his energy just keeping upright, much less performing any miracles.
“Well, we’ve brought the angel anyway, so you may as well go ahead and spill the beans. Or else—”
Crowley hissed. Aziraphale looked down at his tightening hand, in case he’d hurt the demon, but Crowley was straining to reach Ms. Vine, hissing, “If you so much as touch a hair on his head, I’ll—”
Ms. Vine laughed. “You’ll what? Flop like a worm? Make empty promises? Discorporate on the spot?”
Three sets of eyes swiveled to looked at Aziraphale. He realized he’d spoken out loud. Well, there was no help for it. Aziraphale straightened and squared his shoulders. “I’ll not have you threaten others in a church. This is holy ground.”
“And what’s that to you, former angel?” said Mr. Amy.
Aziraphale opened his mouth, and found he had nothing to say. His hand tightened further on the chain.
“That’s right,” said Ms. Vine. “We’ve heard all about your fall from Heaven. All alone here on Earth, with nothing but a demon’s protection.”
“Maybe you don’t want this demon’s protection,” said Mr. Amy. “Maybe you want someone better.”
“That’s right.” Ms. Vine stretched out a hand, “Why don’t you come to us, pet?”
Aziraphale’s hand tightened yet further, and something in the chain popped.
“Oops, would you look at that,” said Aziraphale. He popped another chain, and Crowley sagged against his shoulder, too exhausted to stand up under his own power. “No demon protection needed.”
He ripped off another chain, and another. “In fact, you’ve got the relationship backwards there. What’s that lovely term? Guardian angels. I like the sound of that.” He touched the hateful manacles chafing Crowley’s thin wrists raw, and tried to channel just the right amount of power to turn them to ash.
It had been thousands of years since he’d done it, but some things were just like riding a velocipede—drawing upon his celestial raiment, he looked down upon the hapless demons as an Angel of the Lord, and said, “Do be afraid. I may not be an agent of Heaven any longer, but I am still an angel. Get up, and never darken my path again.”
The doors of the church clanged shut, leaving them in darkness.
“Lot of loopholes there,” said Crowley, in the ensuing silence. “They could darken your alley, for once. Lanes—they’ve got those now too.”
Aziraphale miracled himself a light so he could heal some of Crowley’s injuries. “Oh, hush. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll obey the spirit of it, not the word. Putting you in danger like that, honestly.”
Crowley snapped his fingers, plunging them into darkness again.
“Really, my dear, I do need the light to work.”
“‘S fine really,” mumbled the demon, “We could just go back and—” He choked on thin air.
Aziraphale drew back, where’d he’d placed a benediction on Crowley’s wrist. “Sorry, did that hurt?” He rubbed a thumb over the newly healed skin, fragile and thin.
“Ngk,” said Crowley.
“Sorry, I’ll just—” Aziraphale froze as Crowley’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. For reasons he couldn’t name, he flushed hot all over. “All right,” he said, “But I can’t see. You’ll have to show me where you’re hurt.”
Crowley hesitated, for long enough that Aziraphale thought of just calling the whole thing off. They could each go back to their own places, venture out for lunch dates or maybe a play. Could he invite Crowley to a wine tasting, or would that be a bridge too—
A gentle tug, and Aziraphale let his hand be guided until it wrapped around a second thin wrist. Aziraphale bent his head and caught a trace of the last of Crowley’s expensive perfume before his lip touched skin. They both shivered. Aziraphale breathed an invocation, and felt the involuntary flinch before he pulled away.
“It does hurt,” said Aziraphale. “You should have—”
“There’s—” Crowley gasped, “There’s more. Please.”
“I see,” said Aziraphale, and let the demon guide him to the next injury, where it seemed Crowley’s thin shirt rode up over his sharp hipbones. Aziraphale tried to brush the briefest touch to skin, only for Crowley to grasp the back of his neck until he could feel the skin heal warm and clean under his lips.
Here the demon paused.
“Too much?” said Aziraphale, and reached up to tangle the demon’s hands with his.
“It’s,” said the demon, and swallowed, “You’re not going to like it.”
“My dear,” said Aziraphale, “If you think there’s an inch of you I’m not going to like—”
His hand was tugged downward until it wrapped around a shapely ankle. “Oh,” he said, and tightened his grip when Crowley tried to pull away, “It’s just—I thought you wore shoes.”
Crowley mumbled something that sounded like ‘couldn’t find the right snakeskin pattern’.
“Well,” said Aziraphale, stroking sleek, warm scales and thinking of a certain night in 1941, “I suppose we must all make sacrifices in the name of fashion.”
And with that, he knelt and placed a kiss right on the sole of Crowley’s foot.
The demon swayed dangerously, and Aziraphale realized he never placed the benediction. He pressed his lips again to Crowley’s foot again, placing it on what he hoped was an infamous bible, and barely repeated the process with the other foot, when Crowley was tugging him up again.
“Have I missed a spot?” said Aziraphale, wondering what else the demons had been doing to Crowley before he showed up.
“Oh yes, the biggest spot of all,” said Crowley, and sealed his lips over Aziraphale’s.
The bottom dropped out of Aziraphale’s world, and the warmth in him threatened to burst right out. He lost himself for a moment in the tangle of warm, wet tongue, before remembering himself and pulling back with a gasp.
“Wait, wait, my mouth—”
Crowley’s glare was tangible even in the darkness. “If you think I care where your mouth has been—”
“No, no,” said Aziraphale, rather breathless for someone who technically didn’t need to breathe, “It hurts, doesn’t it? My mouth.”
Crowley leaned in and stole a quick kiss. “Well, if it hurts, you’ll just have to kiss it better, won’t you?”