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Ego Culpa

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Aziraphale loved scallops. And Crowley loved to watch Aziraphale eat scallops. The way he flaked into them delicately with his fork, the way he balanced each mouthful with other flavors on the plate, the way he closed his eyes and savored every bite. 

 

This restaurant served scallops over risotto, which was a goldmine as far as Crowley was concerned. It was worth the anxiety of leaving the apartment to witness Aziraphale’s nearly indecorous enjoyment. The angel, of course, was exquisite in every context, but Crowley had always found fine dining an exceptional backdrop for Aziraphale’s unabashed expressions of pleasure.

 

In another time, Aziraphale would have commanded the entirety of Crowley’s attention. But this wasn’t another time. It was now. And there was nothing to be done about that. Now, Crowley’s attention was pulled in every direction, a fractal web of alertness, and he was ever-vigilant. He listened to the other patrons chatting, edgily waiting for a raised voice or a harsh command. He felt the coarse linen weave of the tablecloth under his fingertips, his body unable to mute any sensation without serious effort.

 

And he was quite aware of the waiter every time he appeared, a presence towering over the seated Crowley as he leaned in to refill the wine glasses. Close, too close. Crowley did his best to ignore the man and let Aziraphale do most of the talking, but the waiter’s attentions were impossible to evade. In fact, he seemed to be focusing more on Crowley than on his companion, which was frankly annoying, given that it was Aziraphale who would be doing most of the eating, and all of the paying. 

 

“How is that wine treating you?” The waiter was there, again.

 

Do they always come this often?

 

“Wonderful, my dear,” Aziraphale said, beaming back at the waiter. Crowley looked up at him and gave a forced smile as well.

 

“And you?” The waiter was already asking Crowley the instant after Aziraphale finished speaking, which was dangerously close to interrupting. Crowley didn’t like it when people interrupted his angel.

 

Crowley narrowed his eyes. “Good wine, yeah.” 

 

The waiter leaned in conspiratorially. “You know, if you’d like to try something else, another table just ordered a ‘96 Chateau Margaux, but they’re having it by the glass and they look to be wrapping up. Sure no one would notice if I brought you a nip to taste.”

 

Crowley was about to decline, but Aziraphale spoke up immediately. “Oh certainly, if you’re sure no one would mind. We wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble, of course.”

 

The waiter straightened up and grinned. “No trouble at all. Though sometimes a little trouble can be fun, right?” He looked straight into Crowley’s eyes, still grinning. Then he winked.

 

“Charming young man,” Aziraphale said as the waiter retreated, dabbing at his lips with a napkin. “Imagine, a ‘96 Chateau Margaux. What a lovely treat.”

 

“No idea why he’s bringing it,” Crowley said, glancing suspiciously in the direction of the waiter. “Sure hope he’s not trying to squeeze you. We both heard him offer, yeah? Better not show up on the bill.”

 

Of course, money was a non-issue for them, since they could just miracle the right amount whenever it was called for. But it was the principle of the matter. All evening, the waiter had been ignoring Aziraphale in favor of Crowley, and the demon was beginning to feel offended on his angel’s behalf. Sure, Aziraphale might look naive and out of place to some modern humans, but he was no soft mark.

 

Aziraphale did not appear to share his concern and instead appeared highly amused by the whole situation.

 

“What?” Crowley half-snapped. “I swear, if he’s trying to take advantage -”

 

“Dear boy,” Aziraphale interrupted with a knowing smile. “You really mean for me to believe you don’t see what’s happening?”

 

Something in Aziraphale’s tone was suggestive, and one of his eyebrows quirked upwards. Suddenly, it all fell together in Crowley’s mind, and he felt utterly stupid for missing it before. Because if he had noticed it, he might have been able to stop it, to control the damage. Instead he had let it escalate to Aziraphale’s notice. Had let it go on for so long that Aziraphale felt compelled to point it out.

 

He felt sick, disgusted with himself. How could he have done this to Aziraphale? The angel deserved a nice dinner out, and here it was all ruined by Crowley. Just like always.

 

“I - I didn’t, I’m not…” Crowley hated himself for the stammered excuses. He should just apologize now, instead of forcing Aziraphale to say it, to point out what a slut Crowley was, even here, where he should be on his best behavior, making an effort to reflect well on his husband. Not publicly disrespecting him, drawing attention like he always did. 

 

Crowley opened his mouth to speak again, but Aziraphale shushed him. Crowley fell obediently silent, eyes down at the tablecloth. Of course Aziraphale wouldn’t want Crowley saying such things here in public. 

 

Shut up, he scolded himself. Don’t make things worse.

 

But Aziraphale wasn’t paying attention to Crowley, didn’t seem concerned about his lapse in judgment - he was looking just behind him, smiling at the waiter who had approached just as Crowley began to apologize.

 

As the waiter poured their wine, he chattered about how “delicious” it was, and there was a lecherous tone in that word that Crowley hated. Now that Aziraphale had pointed it out, he couldn’t help but notice the man’s smile, how his eyes lingered appreciatively on Crowley. He felt filthy, naked under the man’s gaze. 

 

The waiter was saying something, but Crowley didn’t hear the words. Then there was a hand on his shoulder, a firm and desirous touch, and it felt as if all of Crowley’s thoughts had been replaced by a screeching roar.

 

He bit the inside of his cheek and forced himself to focus, glancing up at the man who was touching him, looking at him, wanting him.

 

“Anything else I can get for you, handsome?”

 

“Erk,” Crowley choked.

 

Aziraphale reached across the table and put his hand on Crowley’s before turning to the waiter. So Aziraphale had grown tired of the nonsense and decided to stake his claim. Crowley didn’t move, letting Aziraphale’s hand rest heavy on his. 

 

“My husband and I are just fine, thank you,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley marvelled at the smoothness of his voice. No tremors of rage, no clipped jealousy. So much self control, and here was Crowley, just a sorry mess.Fortunately, Crowley had learned how to tamp down his reactions, and he made sure to keep his distress in check. Aziraphale was acting like an adult, so while they were here in the restaurant, the least Crowley could do was get a grip on himself and avoid ruining the evening any further with a meltdown that Aziraphale would feel obligated to attend to.

 

The waiter, obviously mortified by his mistake, kept a respectful distance from then on. The wine was good, but Crowley couldn’t bear to have more than a taste. He feigned displeasure and insisted on giving Aziraphale his glass. 

 

Throughout the rest of the meal, Aziraphale kept grinning at him, catching Crowley’s eyes whenever he dared to glance up. The message in the grin was clear - Crowley may have been a fool, but he’d learned well how to read such things. 

 

I’ve got you now. I see you. Just wait until I get you alone.

 

*******************************************************************************************

 

His stomach and heart both pleasantly full, Aziraphale held Crowley’s hand as they made their way out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk. The evening air was crisp and cool, but the soft glow from the wine, mingled with Aziraphale’s admiration of his beautiful husband, was a sufficiently warming antidote. 

 

It was a strangely exhilarating rush, watching the way other people reacted to Crowley - a swelling sense of pride in his chest at the admiring glances strangers cast his way on the street, and the knowledge that of all these people that Crowley could have had, at any time that he wanted… Crowley had chosen him

 

“That poor young man,” Aziraphale mused, unable to suppress a smile at the recent memory of the waiter’s flustered reaction when he’d seen their joined hands on the table, and realized that he’d been quite shamelessly flirting with Aziraphale’s husband . “He was quite embarrassed.” 

 

“Yeah...” 

 

Crowley’s voice was soft and a little distant. His mood was a bit off, had been since midway through dinner, but Aziraphale wasn’t picking up on any serious cause for alarm. He wasn’t getting a sense of the overwhelming fear and anguish that he could usually feel flowing off of his husband when he’d been unexpectedly triggered. He wasn’t getting much of anything, in fact, from Crowley, at the moment.

 

It was unfathomable to him, how completely oblivious Crowley seemed to be to the effect he had on other people. He was beautiful, and alluring, and enticing - and appeared to have no idea . Aziraphale had needed to quite directly spell it out for him before he’d realized the reason for the waiter’s focused attention - and when he’d realized, Crowley had seemed quite caught off guard - surprised and flustered in a way that Aziraphale couldn’t help but find impossibly endearing. 

 

And now that the moment had passed, Crowley was just kind of… quiet.  

 

“Ah, well,” Aziraphale continued brightly with a shrug, trying to keep his tone light, and Crowley engaged, as they made their way back toward the bookshop. “I suppose I mustn’t feel too bad for him, after all. I left him quite a generous tip for his trouble.” Ridiculously generous, in fact - but it wasn’t as if the money meant anything to Aziraphale. “Not really his fault, though, I suppose,” Aziraphale went on, squeezing Crowley’s hand and tugging him a little closer to his side, a teasing note in his words as he gave him a playful little nudge with his shoulder. “Can hardly expect a man to restrain himself when faced with such… irresistible attraction, can we?”

 

It wasn’t mere flattery; Crowley was, quite simply, stunning

 

Everywhere they went, he was noticed. His overall look was quite striking to begin with - and then, once one looked a bit closer, it was impossible to miss how handsome he was, the natural grace in his movements. Most of the time people tried to be subtle, and Crowley usually seemed oblivious to it - but Aziraphale always noticed, and it filled him with a sense of pride, to call Crowley his

 

Those appreciative strangers only had their passing, wanting glances. They didn’t get to see Crowley’s beautiful eyes, full of such warmth and wisdom. They didn’t get to touch him, to hold him… to see him with his walls down, trusting and unguarded in low, intimate lighting just before bed. 

 

Aziraphale had no reason for jealousy; Crowley was his

 

He frowned, glancing down at the trembling hand clasped in his own. 

 

Crowley was shivering

 

“Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry, you were right; we should have taken the Bentley,” Aziraphale admitted with dismay, shifting closer to Crowley and wrapping his arm around him. “It’s quite a bit cooler out now than when we left, you must be freezing!” 

 

“‘M all right,” Crowley insisted, quiet and subdued, but his eyes were lowered, his face tilted downward against the brisk autumn wind.

 

It had seemed like a nice evening to walk, and Crowley had voiced little objection. But while Aziraphale was still fairly comfortable, he knew that Crowley got cold far more easily than he did. He drew away from Crowley just long enough to shrug out of his coat, wrapping it around Crowley’s shoulders instead. 

 

“There, that’s better, dear,” he said softly, wrapping his arm around Crowley’s waist and hurrying their pace.

 

“Sorry,” Crowley whispered, a little tremor in his voice, and Aziraphale frowned. 

 

“No need, my dear, it can’t be helped. Let’s just get you home.”

 

Crowley just nodded, his hands clutching Aziraphale’s much-too-large coat closer around himself, and allowed Aziraphale to lead the way. 

 

When they reached the bookshop, Aziraphale let go of Crowley just long enough to open the door, stepping back to hold it open for him, and following him inside with a gentle, firm hand against the small of his back. 

 

“There we are,” he declared, turning to close and lock the door behind them for the evening. “That should be much better, you’ll be warm in no…” 

 

His words trailed off, his smile fading as he turned to look at Crowley in the bright, cheery light of the bookshop - everything about his posture and demeanor setting off alarms in Aziraphale’s mind. 

 

Crowley was standing, facing him, in the open center of the bookshop’s main floor. His arms were crossed over his torso, eyes wide and focused on the floor at Aziraphale’s feet. He was still clutching Aziraphale’s coat close around himself, trembling fingers anxiously twisting the fabric between them. His lips parted, drawing in a sharp, unsteady breath, as if he wanted to speak - but then he bit his lip, swallowing slowly. 

 

The dark had masked it, on their way home, but now it was clear - Crowley was the very picture of sheer misery. 

 

“Darling, what’s the matter?” 

 

Aziraphale kept his words soft and cautious, as he began to move closer to his husband, worrying at what might have triggered this response, and why he hadn’t felt it coming. He hadn’t picked up on the usual cues through their connection, had received no warning of this before this moment - but now, Crowley’s impending panic was evident in the darting of his eyes, the hasty, halting backward step he took as Aziraphale advanced on him. 

 

Immediately Crowley winced at his own reaction, closing his eyes and swallowing hard. 

 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said softly, imploringly, though his footsteps stilled where he was; he was unwilling to frighten Crowley any further. “What is it, love? What’s wrong?” 

 

“Sorry,” Crowley choked out, a hoarse, desperate whisper. “Angel, I’m s-so… so s-sorry, please …”

 

*********************************************************************************************

 

Crowley missed his cell. 

 

Despite the fact that he missed it… despite the bed, and the sink, and the small comforts his master allowed him within its walls… he insisted on calling it what it was, in his mind. It wasn’t his room. Wasn’t his , really, at all. It was still a place where he was kept against his will, still a cell , even if it was significantly more comfortable than the previous one. 

 

But at least he knew what to expect, there.

 

Gabriel would show up, and Crowley would do what he knew was expected of him. Fall to his knees. Keep his eyes down. Be as still and pliant and cooperative as he could possibly manage, no matter what Gabriel did to him, no matter how scared he was… no matter how much it hurt. And then, depending on the success or failure of his efforts, and how merciful his master was or was not feeling at that particular moment - there would be punishment. Or there would not. 

 

Usually… there would be punishment. 

 

But at least Crowley knew what to expect - and he knew what was expected of him. 

 

This new routine, spending time in Gabriel’s office, carrying out the menial tasks that were given to him, was at least a little less boring than the endless hours of solitude. But it carried with it a whole host of new things to worry about. 

 

New opportunities to fail.

 

Most of the work was simple and difficult to get wrong. Crowley spent most of the time on his knees or seated on the floor next to Gabriel’s desk, sorting through files. Sometimes he’d be ordered to clean Gabriel’s office. 

 

Most days, at some point, Gabriel would send Crowley on an errand. 

 

“Take this and drop it off” or “Go to the records room and get me a complete history of this subject,” or “Deliver this message to this specific angel’s office. Don’t open it.” 

 

Crowley wouldn’t have dreamt of it. 

 

Every time he left, he felt a sick, anxious knot in the pit of his stomach that didn’t ease until he walked back through the door to Gabriel’s office. 

 

What if he forgot something? 

 

What if he was late getting back? 

 

What if he made a mistake?

 

Crowley rarely did. He was carefully attentive, listening closely to every detail and doing his best to avoid failing his master in any way. 

 

Gabriel was always swift to let him know, if he did. 

 

Crowley tried so hard to get it right, every time. He really did. He kept his attention focused on the task he’d been given, his eyes down, most times repeating the instructions over and over again under his breath as he made his way through Heaven’s halls. He tried to ignore the way the angels he passed would stare at him, or their rude stage whispers as he went by. Most of them didn’t bother to stop talking about him when he was near enough to hear. 

 

Why should they? What did it matter what he thought, anyway? 

 

All of the whispered words, everything he barely heard them say about him, was true. 

 

Serpent… tempter… slave… demon filth…

 

At first, they’d barely dared to acknowledge him at all. As bitterly laughable as it seemed, they’d actually been afraid of him. At that time, the murmurs as he’d passed - always in Gabriel’s company, back then - had been more along the lines of, “Don’t get too close to it!” and “Should a demon really be allowed in here?” and “Is it safe?”  

 

Visibly annoyed, Gabriel had stopped in the middle of a busy area filled with angelic work cubicles and called everyone’s attention to himself, before turning to Crowley... and ordering the demon to hit him. Crowley had, naturally, hesitated. The command was contrary to every brutal lesson that had been beaten into him over the past months. The thought of daring to raise a hand to Gabriel made his blood run cold. 

 

He’d shaken his head, more in denial of the reality of this demand, than in refusal to obey it. “I...” he choked out. “Please…”

 

Gabriel had slapped him in the face, then, and grabbed him and yanked him in closer, his voice low, measured and warning. “Do as you are told.” 

 

Crowley had obeyed... because in the end, didn’t he always? He had learned well: disobedience was always worse. 

 

And the purpose for the order became clear, as a great number of the Heavenly host watched a vivid demonstration of just exactly what would happen if Crowley attempted to hurt them... watched the collar take him to his knees and steal his breath and make him sob in agony… while Gabriel made a sodding speech

 

“See?” he reassured them, palms up, arms extended in front of him, before gesturing with one hand toward the kneeling, weeping demon at his feet. “The demon is not any threat to any of you. He has been rendered completely harmless. He’s here for a reason, and it’s all under control, and frankly…” He gave them all a bright, toothy smile. “... not really any of your concern. Keep your focus on your jobs, not on idle gossip… and not on him .” 

 

At least the other angels didn’t view Crowley with the same fearful suspicion they once had - and Crowley was all right with that. It meant they wouldn’t be observing him so closely, wouldn’t be just watching and waiting for him to do something wrong. 

 

It meant that he was just a little bit less likely to get into trouble, and be punished. 

 

Crowley wondered what it said about him, and how deeply he had changed, that he was more relieved than humiliated that the angels were utterly unafraid of him. 

 

He tried not to think about it too much. Tried to just focus on completing the task he’d been given, and getting back to his place at his master’s feet. 

 

This time, he was running late. 

 

He’d had to wait a bit while the angel he’d been sent to see retrieved the documents Gabriel wanted, and he was afraid that already too much time had passed. Gabriel wasn’t in the best mood today, anyway, and he was going to be furious if Crowley didn’t get back in time. At a hurried pace, he turned a corner and started down a long empty hallway. At the other end of the hallway, he could see three angels walking together, talking casually amongst themselves. 

 

He swiftly lowered his gaze, quickening his footsteps as he heard them go quiet when they saw him, their voices lowered to conspiratorial whispers. He did his best to ignore them; he had far greater concerns than whatever they might be saying about him. 

 

But just as he would have passed them, he found himself brought up short as one of them stepped directly into his path, cutting him off. Crowley glanced up for just a moment into the face of the angel who had blocked his way. The handsome features of his rather youthful corporation were twisted into a cold smirk. 

 

“Look, it’s Gabriel’s little pet,” he addressed his friends, who snickered appreciatively in response. “What’s it doing off-leash?” 

 

“He sent me on an errand,” Crowley explained, his voice low and terse with his rising anxiety, his eyes focused somewhere around the middle of the crisp, neat tie the angel wore. “I need to get these documents back to his office.” 

 

“Well… how do we know that?” the angel demanded, and Crowley could hear the cruel amusement in his voice, knew that they were just harassing him because they could, not because they actually suspected him of wrong-doing. “ Maybe Gabriel sent you for those documents.”

 

“Or maybe he stole them,” one of his buddies suggested. 

 

“Maybe he stole them,” the ringleader agreed. “Maybe you’re out here all alone, getting up to no good.”

 

“Yeah,” the third angel chimed in, not to be left out of the moment’s chosen entertainment. “Sneaking a peek at those documents before he gives them to Gabriel. Stealing Heavenly secrets to pass on to Hell.” 

 

“How?” Crowley demanded quietly, an edge of frustration in his voice, though he tried to guard his tone. “I’ll never be going back to Hell. I’m not stealing anything.” He glanced up again, noting with alarm that the three angels had him surrounded, now, hemmed in so that there was no place for him to slip past them. He swallowed slowly, gathering his courage before venturing, “Look, I - I’ve been given a job to do, and… and you’re preventing me from doing it…”

 

“Yeah, we can’t really be sure about that,” the leader insisted, shaking his head with a falsely apologetic little grimace. “You really should be better supervised.” 

 

Crowley highly doubted that he would have made such a remark if Gabriel had been around to hear it. His mind raced, trying to think of a quick way out of this. He needed to get back. Now

 

He needed to remind them that it wasn’t just a lowly demon slave they were inconveniencing. 

 

He lowered his gaze again and nodded, clutching the folder of documents against his chest, his tone low and deferent, but carrying just the barest trace of a warning edge. 

 

“I’ll be sure to let the archangel know you said so.”

 

At Crowley’s words, the teasing smirk on the face of the angel blocking him vanished into cold anger. Crowley’s stomach dropped, and he tried to slip past him, between him and his friend and on down the hall - but the angel swiftly moved in closer, a hard hand shoving Crowley back against the wall, and then settling firm at his hip to hold him there. Crowley tried to shift away, resisting the impulse to just shove the angel away from him - and then froze, a cold fist of terror clenching in his chest when the angel lifted his free hand to trace slowly along the collar’s edge. 

 

“Demon’s got a mouth on it,” he remarked with quiet menace, his eyes locked onto Crowley’s face as he addressed his friends. “Doesn’t it?” 

 

Crowley closed his eyes, his heart racing, his mouth dry with fear. “No, I - I’m sorry,” he swiftly tried to backtrack, his voice soft and submissive, and faintly trembling. “Don’t…” 

 

The angel shook his head. “Nah, it’s too late for that,” he said. “Since you decided to threaten us with that smart mouth of yours.” 

 

Shit. Crowley swallowed hard. Yeah, that was stupid.  

 

“I won’t,” he hurriedly insisted, the words catching in his throat. He tried again, struggling to get them out. “I won’t s-say anything, I’m sorry, I sh-shouldn’t have said that, please …” 

 

“And begging now, too.” The angel lifted his hand from the collar to run the soft pad of his thumb across Crowley’s trembling lower lip, and the hand at Crowley’s hip tightened as he shifted nearer. “Wonder what else that pretty mouth can do?” He gave Crowley a slow, suggestive up and down look, smiling at him, but directing his observations toward his friends, “It is … really pretty for a demon, isn’t it?” 

 

Crowley’s stomach lurched. 

 

So that’s where this was going, then. 

 

Just where it always seemed to go. 

 

One of the other angels seemed to become a bit nervous at this turn of events. “I don’t know, Remuel,” they spoke up, glancing uncertainly down the hall in the direction that Crowley really wanted to be going right now. “If it really is supposed to be taking that to Gabriel, then - maybe we shouldn’t - I mean, what if it’s important, and Gabriel doesn’t get it in time?” 

 

“Right,” Crowley choked out, nodding in agreement. “Clever angel, ought to listen to them…” 

 

Remuel gripped the collar with one hand, and used both hands to shove Crowley into the wall, hard enough to silence him. 

 

“Oh, but you’re the clever one, aren’t you?” he sneered softly. “Clever demon with that clever mouth…”

 

Crowley shivered, his heart thudding against his ribs as Remuel’s thumb rubbed a slow circle into the bone of his hip. 

 

“If Gabriel’s angry, well… that’s your problem to figure out, isn’t it? You know… without dragging our names into it. Right?” 

 

Crowley thought it unwise, under the circumstances, to point out that Remuel’s was technically the only name he actually knew. He just nodded, keeping his eyes down. 

 

“Right,” he whispered. 

 

“Because… if you go running to Gabriel giving him a bunch of shitty excuses… telling him we were causing trouble, when we all know that’s your department, well… we’ll just have to tell him how we found you, hiding out in this deserted hallway… with that folder open in front of you. Just searching through it to see if you could find any classified information. Like a dirty demon spy. Won’t we?” 

 

Of course, his loyal little lackies backed him up, readily agreeing to his plan. 

 

Crowley felt sick. 

 

He shook his head, closing his eyes against the humiliating tears that burned there. “No, I won’t,” he promised. “I won’t, won’t say anything. Please… please don’t do that…” 

 

Remuel was quiet for a moment, studying Crowley with cold eyes - and then he smiled, one hand roughly grasping at Crowley’s hair and shoving his head down into a more submissive position. 

 

“Now, see,” he said with quiet approval. “That’s much better. A much more appropriate tone for a demon slave to take with its betters. Isn’t it?” 

 

Crowley nodded miserably, swallowing back the knot in the back of his throat. 

 

He just wanted to get out of there, to try to somehow make it back in time - although there was no doubt by now, it was impossible. 

 

He was definitely going to be late. 

 

Remuel used his grip on Crowley’s hair to pull him away from the wall, and his friends moved out of his way as he shoved Crowley back out into the middle of the hall, and a few staggering steps in the right direction. 

 

“Go on, then,” he ordered. “Get out of here.” 

 

Crowley ran the rest of the way back to Gabriel’s office, bursting through the closed door and laying the folder on Gabriel’s desk, then immediately sinking to his knees, his breath coming in deep, shuddering gasps as he struggled to catch it. Gabriel was standing near the bookshelf behind his desk. He turned toward Crowley, glancing out the door for a moment before shutting it with a wave of his hand. 

 

His footsteps were measured and even as he closed the distance between himself and Crowley, and Crowley felt his panic swelling up in his chest, resisted the impulse to plead and make excuses. Gabriel’s hand was firm on his jaw, lifting his head, and Crowley obediently met his gaze, every trace of courage remaining within him quailing at the cold, angry look in his eyes. Gabriel raised a single, expectant brow, his voice low and threatening. 

 

“Explain.” 

 

Crowley froze for just a moment. He couldn’t tell the truth. If he told the truth, then Remuel and his friends would tell Gabriel their lies, and Gabriel would surely believe the false witness of angels over the honest word of a demon slave. 

 

“I-I’m sorry, master,” he began, his mind racing to come up with an explanation that would be even remotely convincing, his words tumbling out in an increasingly panicked rush. “I - misunderstood your instructions. I went to the wrong office first, and they told me I was in the wrong place and where I needed to go. I tried to be fast, to get back in time, but it was too late.” He swallowed hard, instinctively averting his gaze from the cold steely anger in his master’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I… I wasn’t listening properly when you first told me what to do. I’m sorry, master.” He drew in a shaky gasp. “I’m so sorry, master, please…” 

 

Gabriel nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “Sounds like just the sort of stupid mistake you would make,” he remarked with quiet disgust. 

 

Crowley flinched a little, his eyes locked onto Gabriel’s shoes. “I’m sorry, master,” he repeated helplessly. 

 

Gabriel’s fingers brushed Crowley’s jaw again, tilting his head up, and Crowley obediently moved with the gesture, though he couldn’t make himself meet the archangel’s eyes again - not with his lie hanging in the tension-thick air between them. 

 

And then, the back of Gabriel’s hand came down across Crowley’s cheek with breathtaking force, knocking him off his knees and onto his side on the floor. Searing pain bloomed across his face, tears springing to his eyes, as panic choked off the pleas and apologies, the desperate confession, that filled his thoughts. 

 

Stupid, so stupid, to lie. Of course Gabriel knew he was lying. Now he was going to be punished, it was going to be so much worse…

 

Gabriel crouched down beside him and grabbed the side of the collar, and Crowley closed his eyes, braced for pain - but the archangel did not touch the dial to activate a punishment. He just dragged Crowley back up onto his knees, jerking him close so that their faces were inches apart. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley choked out, pleading. “I’m sorry…” 

 

The backs of Gabriel’s fingers touched Crowley’s cheek again, now gentle across the hot, red mark he’d just left, before trailing up into Crowley’s hair… still gentle, until the moment he grasped a handful, twisting viciously and dragging his head back to snarl, low and warning into his ear. 

 

Do not … let it happen again.” 

 

He released Crowley as abruptly as he’d attacked him, rising to his feet and turning away to peruse his books again, leaving Crowley to crawl as swiftly as he could on trembling limbs back to his place beside Gabriel’s desk, back to his assigned work for the day. 

 

“Yes, master,” Crowley whispered, breathless with relief.

 

*********************************************************************************************

 

One mistake was understandable. Mistakes were to be expected, Gabriel knew, when one was dealing with demons. It was in their nature, after all, to be bad. To fail. At their core, that’s what they were: mistakes.

 

But Gabriel also knew that Crowley had been trained well. That he knew better than to offer anything but perfection, or as close to it as something like him could get. 

 

So the second time Crowley was late, Gabriel took note. Something was going on. Crowley was sneaking, hiding something. And that was far less tolerable than a simple mistake borne out of the demon’s inherent inability to truly be good.

 

Crowley’s weak explanation for his tardiness was that there was a long line at the records room, and he’d had to wait for the records Gabriel had requested.

 

There was never a line. This was Heaven.

 

And Crowley would have known that, if he had actually belonged here. But his stupid, obvious excuse reeked of Hell, where annoying inconveniences like long lines were standard.

 

Gabriel’s first impulse was to smack the little liar down, make it clear that no falsehood would ever get past him. But he had time to play a longer game, one that might yield even better results. 

 

“A line, really?” He moved in close, backing Crowley up into the smoky glass wall of his office. “There’s never a line when I go.” 

 

“I...I tried to tell them I was working for you, but…” Crowley soon gave up on his explanation, shrinking back from Gabriel into the glass wall. His head was turned away slightly, and there was a wincing tension around his eyes, like he anticipated a blow any second. “I’m sorry, I tried.”

 

Gabriel narrowed his eyes and leaned in closer, his lips nearly touching Crowley’s forehead. The demon had his head angled down, as always, and he stood still, taking Gabriel’s scolding without even a flicker of resistance. 

 

“My sweet… deceptive … little serpent,” he said softly, stroking Crowley’s hair. A fine tremor ran through Crowley’s body, but he stayed where he was.

 

“As easy as it is to believe that you fucked up, again , I don’t really think that’s the whole story.” Gabriel ran a slow finger down Crowley’s jawline, feeling the demon clench and tense under the touch. “And when I find out exactly what you’re hiding from me…” Gabriel turned Crowley’s head further to the side so that he could whisper directly into the demon’s ear. “You’re going to be so very sorry.” He punctuated his sentence with a kiss to Crowley’s temple, relishing the well-controlled shiver he elicited. 

 

“So you might as well tell me the truth now,” he said, stepping back to cross his arms and look sternly down at Crowley. “Spare yourself the future trouble.”

 

Crowley always obeyed. Gabriel was quite proud of the progress he’d made in that respect. So he fully expected Crowley to tell the truth then, and own up to whatever had been going on.

 

Instead, the little slave just wrapped his arms around himself and stuck to his pathetic story. “I s-swear I’m not lying, please, master, I’m sorry, I really am t-trying, I just… I made a mistake. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” 

 

Gabriel was annoyed. He didn’t like being lied to. Or disobeyed. He didn’t like wasting his time trying to get Crowley to do something, when he really ought to just do what he was told. 

 

He did slap Crowley then, knocking the back of his head hard against the glass wall. His irritation lessened somewhat when the demon crumpled to the floor, curled on his side. He pressed one shoe against Crowley’s throat, pinning him to the floor, towering over him in anger and disappointment.

 

“You’ve been making a lot of mistakes lately, sweetheart.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley gasped, making no move to get out from under Gabriel, tears darkening the carpet beneath his face. “I’m sorry.” 

 

Unwilling to spend any more time on this, Gabriel returned to his desk. He would let this mystery go, for the moment.

 

But the next time he sent Crowley out on an errand, he decided to find out for himself. He waited a few moments as Crowley padded barefoot down the hall, then faded into invisibility and followed him. 

 

For most of the errand, Crowley performed excellently. Gabriel would have been proud, any other day. Today, he was just frustrated that he hadn’t caught Crowley out. What was the serpent playing at?

 

Gabriel was getting bored, and maintaining his invisibility was starting to grow uncomfortable. Crowley had retrieved the file and was heading back. Nothing seemed out of order as Gabriel followed a few meters behind - but now Crowley was acting strange. Skittish, and hurried. Gabriel’s interest was piqued.

 

There, in the hallway ahead of them, were three angels. Gabriel knew their names, but little else about them. They were low enough on the angelic hierarchy that, as an archangel, he rarely had reason to speak to them. 

 

Remuel, Sarik, and Tenneh. Crowley stopped short at the sight of them, clutching the files to his chest. 

 

“Well, look who it is,” said Remuel, as the three stood shoulder to shoulder to block the hallway.

 

Crowley said nothing, standing as if he were waiting for permission to pass. 

 

“Haven’t gotten a reprimand from your keeper, so it seems you’ve kept your promise,” Remuel said. 

 

Now what did that mean, Gabriel wondered? What promises was Crowley making to other angels? Rage and betrayal swelled in him, his invisible hands clenched into fists. 

 

“Guess that means we’ve got to keep ours,” said Sarik, taking a step forward. “But that means now we know you’ll keep your mouth shut.” Her smile was predatory, self-satisfied. 

 

Crowley cringed backwards, his shoulders curling in on himself. Even from behind him, Gabriel could see how cowed the demon’s posture was. 

 

“Please...just let me pass.” 

 

Now Remuel had stepped forward, and was reaching out to touch Crowley’s hair, tugging on one of his curls. “Why would we do that? If you’re not going to tell Gabriel about our little games, we might as well play some, hm?”

 

“I need to get these back to Gabriel, please...I was late last time, and he was angry. Please.”

 

“Aww, did puppy get kicked?” Remuel shoved Crowley in the chest, hard enough to make him stumble backwards. “Well I personally wouldn’t want to piss off the archangel. But he’s not going to be angry with me , now is he?”

 

Crowley twisted his body away, protecting the files, his eyes darting around the hallway. Gabriel noted how desperate he seemed to get back, to complete his errand. It pleased him, in a way. But it was all tainted by Crowley’s apparent willingness to keep secrets from him.

 

“What do you want?” Crowley mumbled.

 

“Look at that, it’s learning,” Remuel said, turning to the other two angels. “You’d do anything we told you to, right? You’re Heaven’s slave?”

 

Crowley nodded at the floor. 

 

“And if you don’t, we get to use this.” Remuel reached out and touched the collar. 

 

“Wait,” said Tenneh. “Wouldn’t the archangels get a report?”

 

“We’ll just tell them he got in our way.” Remuel shrugged. 

 

“I wonder what it does,” Sarik said. “I never got to see.”

 

Gabriel watched the familiar terror take hold of Crowley. 

 

“Please...don’t do that.”

 

Remuel smacked Crowley, not hard enough to leave a mark, but hard enough that Gabriel could hear the sharp impact from his vantage point. It was odd, hearing the sound without the accompanying sting to his own hand.

 

“Hear that? It thinks it gets to tell us what to do.”

 

“Are we allowed to hit him?” Tenneh asked, sounding nervous. 

 

“Of course.” Remuel put both hands on Crowley’s shoulders and leaned in, menacing. “And even if we’re not, it’s not like anyone’s going to find out, right?”

 

Crowley shook his head.

 

Gabriel watched silently as Remuel ran a hand down the front of Crowley’s shirt, stopping just over his navel. Crowley shivered, but he didn’t resist, didn’t pull away, and didn’t offer any further protest.

 

“There’s a good boy. Shame we can’t send Gabriel our compliments on how much fun you are.”

 

Crowley just stood there in silent resignation, just waiting - now Gabriel knew for certain, he was waiting for permission to leave. 

 

“Well, go ahead,” Remuel sighed at last, his hand sliding around Crowley’s waist to give his back a little push. “Go on. Wouldn’t want to keep the big man waiting much longer, would we?” 

 

“No,” Crowley whispered, letting out a shaky sigh of relief. “Th-thank you.” 

 

A dark, unpleasant heat settled low in Gabriel’s stomach, a jealous anger that made him clench his fists, at the sight and sound of his very well-trained little slave, behaving with such sweet, desperate submission… for someone else . He resisted the impulse to reveal his presence and call an abrupt end to this insult, instead waiting there in the hallway until Crowley and the other angels had all disappeared, in opposite directions. 

 

He snapped his fingers, and was instantly back in his office, visible again, and waiting for Crowley’s return. 

 

The next time he sent Crowley on an errand, he was once again accosted by the same pack of bullying angels. And the next time. And the time after that. Each time, Crowley tried to appease them as swiftly as possible, to get them to let him go about Gabriel’s business unhindered. It was reassuringly clear that Crowley truly wanted nothing more than to be allowed to obey his master. 

 

But Remuel, Sarik, and Tenneh wanted nothing more than to take pleasure in Crowley’s helplessness, to enjoy the power afforded them over him, simply because of who and what they were… and what he was. 

 

Repeatedly… understandably… Crowley was late. 

 

Gabriel knew now that it wasn’t really Crowley’s fault. But that didn’t keep him from punishing his slave for his failure. For being late. For being “careless” or “forgetful” or whatever false flaw Crowley claimed had led to his lateness this time. On one occasion, for allowing the file he’d been carrying to be damaged - although Gabriel had observed quite clearly the way Crowley had tried everything in his power to protect the items in his charge, even at the expense of his own body. When they’d noticed that , Remuel and his friends had played a rather juvenile game of keep-away with the file that had resulted in its being torn, and Crowley in tears. 

 

It really wasn’t his fault. 

 

Gabriel punished him anyway. 

 

There was an important lesson in this, a lesson Crowley needed to learn. 

 

Eventually, Crowley tried going a different route. Clever, Gabriel thought with a sense of pride in his slave. The bullies were successfully evaded, and Crowley returned from his errand on time. Gabriel smiled at him, brushed a gentle hand through his hair and offered faint praise. 

 

“Maybe you’re finally learning your lesson.” 

 

He wasn’t. Not yet. But he would. 

 

Crowley’s reprieve from his tormentors was brief. They caught him the very next time, cornering him in a deserted spot along his new route. 

 

“Think you’re clever, do you?” Remuel sneered at him, eyes glittering with malicious anger. “Thought you could shake us?” His mouth twisted with contempt. “We know these halls better than you ever could.” 

 

Crowley took a hurried backward step, and Gabriel moved out of the way to allow him his retreat, if he would take it. He tried, backpedaling a few more steps before turning as if to try to run.

 

But Remuel reached him before he could escape, grasping his arms and pushing his back against the wall beside him. “No, no, no,” he said, his voice hushed and falsely soothing as Crowley struggled to break his grip. “You’re not going anywhere, little demon, not just yet…” 

 

“Please, please just let me go,” Crowley begged him tearfully, distraught. “I’m trying to - to obey…” 

 

“Really?” Remuel snapped. “‘Cause it looks to me like you’re trying really fucking hard to disobey .” 

 

“I - I need to get back to the archangel, he’s my - he - he gave me this task.”

 

Gabriel felt his teeth grind against each other as Crowley almost let it slip. 

 

“You’re here to serve Heaven, right?” Sarik spoke now, mimicking Remuel’s malice. “And that includes us.”

 

“I think it’s time we took advantage of this little workplace benefit,” Remuel said. “Everyone knows what you’re really for. And it’s not running stupid errands.”

 

Gabriel watched as Remuel glanced around, checking for witnesses. 

 

“Get on your knees,” he hissed.

 

Gabriel’s eyebrows raised at the direction this was going. Certainly these angels weren’t about to try and despoil what was his.

 

“No, please, I can’t, I…” 

 

Crowley squirmed against the wall, looking up and down the hallway desperately. He never did that when Gabriel was the one who had him scared and trembling, the one shoving him to his knees. What was he searching for?

 

Rescue , Gabriel realized. Crowley was hoping someone would show up and help him. 

 

But - not just anyone. At this point, most of Heaven’s angels ignored Crowley - and Gabriel had no doubt that they would ignore his distress as easily as they ignored his basic presence. If he ever had, Crowley no longer hoped that some random passing angel might notice his plight and offer their assistance. He wasn’t looking for rescue from some passerby, because Crowley knew by now that no randomly passing angel would care what happened to him. 

 

But there was one angel in Heaven that Crowley knew spent quite a lot of time and focused attention on him. One angel he knew would be furious, outraged by the scene unfolding in this deserted hallway. 

 

One angel who wouldn’t tolerate other angels putting their hands on him. 

 

Crowley wasn’t looking for “someone” to help him. 

 

He was looking for Gabriel

 

A strange feeling arose in the archangel, then, as he watched Crowley battle his own rising panic, as he saw the helpless tears in his eyes. 

 

Gabriel could stop it. He could step in, be Crowley’s savior.

 

He wanted to. It wasn’t affection he felt for the demon, not exactly. But neither was it simple territoriality. It was something he rarely experienced with Crowley - a desire to provide, to protect … be something more to Crowley than a terrible omnipotence.

 

Gabriel did not step in, not then, though he could sense that the situation was escalating and prepared to make his presence known. For the moment, he only watched as Remuel tried to force Crowley down with a hard shove. 

 

Crowley tried to twist his body away, out of Remuel’s grasp, but in the process he managed to accidentally twist Remuel’s arm as well. The angel let out an indignant hiss of pain, pulling away and shaking out his arm - as Crowley dropped to the floor, instantly overcome with the agony of a level 08 punishment. He was trembling violently. Impeccably trained, he bit back the keening cry that rose to his lips as his body folded over. 

 

The entire time, he kept the folder he’d been sent to retrieve clasped protectively against his chest. 

 

“Well…” Remuel regarded Crowley with disgruntled contempt, breathing hard with the slight exertion of the struggle. A slow, cruel smile spread across his lips. “More than one way to get you on your knees, huh, bitch?” 

 

The pain was beginning to fade, and Crowley slowly rose back up into a proper kneeling position, gasping for breath. He let out a startled yelp when Remuel grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head back, crouching down to face him. 

 

“You know,” he addressed his little pack of followers, “I think it just tried to hit me.” 

 

“That’s what it looked like,” Sarik agreed. 

 

“Collar only does that when he tries to hurt you, yeah?” Tenneh, as usual, sounded a bit anxious. 

 

“Yeah.” Remuel grinned, jerking harder on Crowley’s hair so that he bit his lip to silence a cry of pain. The angel’s voice was deceptively soft. “Did you just try to hit me, demon?” 

 

Crowley tried to shake his head, though he could barely move with Remuel’s fist tangled so tightly in his hair. He held up one shaking, pleading hand, the other arm still wrapped tight around the folder. “N-no, no, I didn’t. Please, I didn’t m-mean to…”

 

“Teach it a lesson,” Sarik hissed vicious encouragement to Remuel, who glanced back up at her, eyes alight with interest when he saw the bloodlust on her face. 

 

He turned back toward Crowley. “She thinks you need to be taught a lesson.” He smirked, letting go of Crowley’s hair as he stood up straight, towering over him, and reached for his own zipper instead. 

 

Crowley shrank back against the wall as far as he could, shaking his head. “No,” he choked out, pleading, struggling as Remuel grabbed for his hair again, forcing his face closer. “No, don’t …”

 

Gabriel had seen enough. Had had enough. He dropped the invisibility and stepped forward, using his booming archangel voice.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

All four heads snapped up toward the sound. One of them fell back immediately, Crowley keeping his eyes trained on the floor near Gabriel’s feet, but still turned toward him.

 

The three angels immediately started talking at once, interrupting each other with various excuses.

 

“We caught him sneaking!”

 

“He came at us!”

 

“We think he’s spying for Hell!”

 

Remuel spoke most clearly, insisting that “the demon tried to hit me!”

 

Gabriel knew that wasn’t true. And he didn’t appreciate being lied to.

 

“No,” the archangel said, loud enough to silence the protestations of the angels. “He tried to obey me .”

 

Gabriel stepped between Crowley and the angels, his back to Crowley, standing like a shield between him and his tormentors.

 

“We - we didn’t do anything,” Remuel said, with an accusing glance around Gabriel toward Crowley as if to blame the demon for the trouble he was now in. “Didn’t actually, you know…”

 

Fury flared through Gabriel and he squared his shoulders, forcing Remuel back with an authoritative posture. “No, you just decided to threaten and harass him, disrupting my work for no reason. I suppose your little gang is the reason he’s been coming back late, with my files damaged?”

 

“Was just messing around,” Remuel mumbled. He kept his neck stiff but avoided Gabriel’s eyes. Gabriel remembered when Crowley would get like this, defensive and petulant. It had been a while since anyone gave him lip like that. He knew just how to silence that sort of back talk. Though he couldn’t exactly use the same methods with angels, it wasn’t like Crowley was the first being to wither under Gabriel’s wrath.

 

“How highly do you think of yourselves, that you would interrupt the work of an archangel for your own amusement?”

 

“We’re sorry,” Tenneh whimpered.

 

“Yes, I’ll make sure of that,” Gabriel said, enjoying the twitches of fear that came in response.  

 

The three angels stared at him, stunned. Remuel’s mouth opened, but he closed it without saying anything. Tenneh looked as if they might cry.

 

“This demon is the property of Heaven, and he is here for a purpose. Not to be a plaything for you three.”

 

“Yes, Sir,” Sarik said. 

 

Tenneh sniffled. Remuel had his arms crossed, less sorry than angry at having been caught. Gabriel would change that in short order. But for now, he had another matter to attend to.

 

“Get out of here,” Gabriel growled. “I’ll deal with you three later. Go.”

 

They fled. Gabriel turned his attention to Crowley, still kneeling on the floor, eyes down, catching his breath. He had flinched in his usual fearful way when Gabriel first appeared, but now, there was relief in his posture. When he glanced up at Gabriel, there was gratitude in his eyes.

 

Gabriel liked that. It wasn’t often that Crowley was so glad to see him. Sure, Crowley often thanked him for a healing, or for ending a punishment - but that was an automatic, trained response that he’d taught Crowley to perform. Crowley said “thank you” because he knew it was what he was supposed to do. 

 

This silent, unmistakable gratitude was new, and different. Sincere. 

 

Real.

 

And Gabriel knew just how to use it.