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

 

Crowley’s stomach was already roiling with panic at the thought of what he was about to be forced to do, and his master’s sheer rage if he ever found about it. At the sound of Gabriel’s low, furious voice, his stomach plummeted through the floor. 

 

He’d been caught. Gabriel knew, now, what he’d been hiding and lying about. He flinched, braced for brutal punishment, desperately searching his mind for an acceptable answer to the archangel’s question. 

 

Until he realized: Gabriel was not speaking to him. 

 

He kept his eyes down, listening with wondering disbelief as Gabriel directed his fury at the angels who’d been tormenting and threatening Crowley - as he defended Crowley to them, openly acknowledging that Crowley had been trying . That it wasn’t his fault.

 

That Crowley was not the one who was in trouble here. 

 

Not at the moment, anyway. 

 

With a scathing indictment of their arrogance and pride, Gabriel drove the angels off, sending them scampering like small, frightened animals, with promises of dire consequences to come - and then, he turned to Crowley. Crowley tensed as he approached, but Gabriel’s strong hands were gentle as he leaned down, placing one under Crowley’s elbow, the other arm around his waist, and helping him to his feet. 

 

Crowley’s mouth was dry, his heart racing. He swallowed to soothe the ache in his throat, choking out a hoarse whisper. 

 

“Th-thank you, master…”

 

Don’t .” 

 

Gabriel’s tone was sharp and warning, and Crowley felt sick, again, with the suspicion that perhaps he had only evaded Gabriel’s anger thus far because there had been someone else with whom the archangel was angrier

 

Gabriel didn’t let go of Crowley’s arm the entire way back to his office. Once there, he opened the door and guided Crowley in ahead of him with a firm hand low on his back. He let go of Crowley to close and lock the door, then snapped his fingers to fog the windows. A rough hand on Crowley’s arm jerked him around to face his master, though he dared not lift his eyes. 

 

Gabriel’s free hand grasped Crowley’s jaw, tilting his face up a little, and to either side, as if inspecting him for injuries. And then, Gabriel asked a question he had never asked Crowley before, his voice low and stern and guarded, but touched with a note of something that actually resembled genuine concern. 

 

“Are you all right?” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, and nodded, keeping his eyes carefully downcast. “Yes, master,” he replied, releasing a shaky sigh of relief. He hesitated a moment before offering his gratitude again. “Thank you…”

 

The words were broken off abruptly when Gabriel slapped Crowley across the face, hard enough to send him stumbling backward. He was on him before he could either fall, or recover, taking both his arms in a vice-like grip and slamming him into the wall with enough force to drive the breath from his body. The archangel’s voice was a low and furious snarl in Crowley’s ear. 

 

“You filthy little whore .” 

 

Crowley gasped, stunned at the unexpected attack. He stifled the instinctive indignation that rose up within him. It was an unfair condemnation; he hadn’t wanted what the angels had done, he’d tried everything in his power to escape it, time and again.

 

Except telling his master the truth. 

 

He’d lied, and he’d kept secrets, so he was guilty of that much, at least. Not of being a whore. Not of inviting their attentions. But the level of his guilt did not matter, not in the face of the blazing fury he could feel rolling off of Gabriel, barely restrained in the fierce, trembling grip of his fingers biting into Crowley’s arms. 

 

He was guilty. Gabriel was angry. 

 

That was all that mattered. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, desperate, pleading - but Gabriel shook him hard, slamming him into the wall again, and he bit back any further pleas or apologies he might have offered, just closing his eyes and bracing himself for whatever Gabriel decided to do to him. 

 

Gabriel’s grip did not ease, but his voice went soft, falsely gentle. “Just how long has this been going on, sweetheart?” The rage was still there, though, laced through the words, and coming through more clearly with each one. “How long have you been fucking lying to me !” Another forceful shake to emphasize the question. 

 

Limp and utterly unresistant in his master’s bruising grip, Crowley sobbed out a response that was barely coherent... but the truth , this time, as he poured it all out, all of the deception, the secrets he’d been keeping for the past couple weeks. 

 

“I see.” Gabriel’s voice was deceptively calm again, and he nodded slowly. “So you figured you’d… lie to me , your master and their fucking boss …” He bit off the words with such scathing contempt that Crowley flinched. 

 

He’s right, of course he’s right, you’re so stupid, such a stupid little fucking idiot, why didn’t you just tell the truth

 

Gabriel slapped him again, a swift and searing blow that made Crowley’s vision white out for a moment. “... and just let them keep doing whatever they wanted with you, just let them keep putting their hands all over you, letting them touch you any way they wanted…” This time it was his fist that came down across Crowley’s cheek, splitting the skin, and a warm trickle of blood fell to mingle with Crowley’s tears. “You worthless little slut,” Gabriel snapped. “You’re disgusting .” 

 

“Th-they didn’t,” Crowley tried, wincing at the uselessness of his own words before they’d even left his mouth. “I mean… they w-would have, but… they…” 

 

“Didn’t get that far,” Gabriel concluded, nodding. “ Yet . Oh, but they would have, if you’d had your way, wouldn’t they? Back to your old tempting ways, are you?” He stepped back a bit, giving Crowley a contemptuous up and down look before snapping his fingers sharply in the demon’s face. 

 

Crowley flinched, not sure what to expect. All at once his clothing vanished, leaving him completely, humiliatingly exposed. His heart raced with panic as Gabriel’s large hands fell warm and firm at Crowley’s waist and pushed him back against the wall again, his larger body shifting in close, the soft fabric of his expensive suit brushing against Crowley’s skin. 

 

“Why pretend, huh, sweetheart?” he said, the words as soft and cruel as the touch of his hands. One slid down to rest at Crowley’s hip, while the other ventured lower, the backs of Gabriel’s fingers brushing against the crease of Crowley’s thigh and teasing their way inward. “Why even bother making you look like my well-behaved little office assistant … when we both know what you really are.” 

 

Crowley didn’t move, kept as perfectly still as he could under the overwhelming intensity of Gabriel’s looming presence and his gently invasive touch. His body felt as if it was in sensory overload. The blows he’d taken had left him dizzy and disoriented, and the casually possessive slide of Gabriel’s hands against his skin now was a jarring contrast to the pain - but far more deeply terrifying. He was trembling violently with terror and cold, and yet his skin was flushed, hot with shame as Gabriel’s hand shifted back from Crowley’s hip, finally settling, casually possessive, against the curve of his ass - every brush of his fingers an insinuation of inevitable violation to come. 

 

“Just what exactly did you think you were going to get out of that particular temptation, hmm?” Gabriel mused, lifting his hand from between Crowley’s legs to run through his hair instead, before reaching his thumb down to brush a tear from the demon’s cheek. “What was your game?” 

 

“Please,” Crowley sobbed, lowering his head, resisting the overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around his body, to lower his hands to cover himself. 

 

He wasn’t allowed. His body was Gabriel’s, now, and any attempt to conceal or protect it from the archangel would surely be met with a brutal reminder of his ownership. Gabriel would force his hands away, would replace them with his own, grasping, forceful, reinforcing with vicious certainty that Crowley had no right to keep anything he wanted from him - whether it was the feel of Crowley’s vulnerable body under his hands, or just Crowley’s humiliation itself. 

 

None of it was really Crowley’s, at all. 

 

“I wasn’t,” Crowley insisted in a hoarse, desperate whisper, keeping his damp, trembling hands pressed against the glass behind him. “Wasn’t trying to t-tempt them… I d-didn’t want them to, I didn’t, please…” 

 

“Oh, no, you don’t even have to try, do you?” Gabriel pointed out. His quiet, even words were edged with anger and disgust. “It’s just in your nature. All you have to do is exist near them to corrupt them. You think those angels have ever done a thing like that before? No, of course they haven’t.” He paused a moment, running gentle fingers through Crowley’s hair as he added with a soft, cruel smile, “Not until you … little serpent .”  

 

Crowley blinked, startled by the implication. Gabriel’s knowing tone, the unexpected but clear accusation - a vicious two-edged blade of shame, sliding slowly into his heart. Crowley felt too hot, his stomach sick with it, and despite his desire to be good, the sudden, intense desperation to hide won out, and he lowered his face, lifting his hands to cover it. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “I didn’t mean to… I didn’t mean to, I - I wanted them to stop. I just - I couldn’t…” 

 

Gabriel didn’t immediately react to Crowley’s pitiful attempt at concealing his shame. “You know, sweetheart,” he cut him off, his words razor sharp as his bitter, sarcastic smile. His tone was calm at first, but rose in volume and fury as he went on with clipped, measured words. “If you really wanted them to stop… you know who could have stopped them? Me. I could have stopped them. If you hadn’t fucking lied to me!” He punctuated the last words by slamming his fist hard into the glass next to Crowley’s head. 

 

Crowley flinched violently at the impact. “I’m sorry, I’m s-s-sorry…” 

 

Hot tears streaked his face as he hissed out desperate, broken apologies. He was so confused. Had he tempted them? He hadn’t meant to tempt them. He certainly hadn’t wanted those angels to assault him, to threaten and degrade him. Surely Gabriel hadn’t expected him to try to fight them off , had he? Physically, he couldn’t. He wasn’t supposed to - was he? 

 

He’d been a subject of Hell for six millennia. Gabriel was by no means the first to find him… irresistible , in this way. Again and again, he’d been harassed and assaulted, had demons and occasionally even humans - and now, angels - attempt to claim him, to force their way with him. 

 

Most times, he’d been able to fight them off. Every time, he’d made it very clear that he did not want it. 

 

And yet… it kept happening. Again and again.

 

Was it really just him ? Was his very nature alone the reason that this kept happening to him? 

 

Was it really his fault

 

Crowley’s stomach lurched, his heart thudding against his ribs as Gabriel’s strong hands, trembling with restrained rage, wrapped firmly around his wrists and drew his hands down away from his face. Crowley yielded to his touch, obediently lowering his hands, his every nerve frayed raw, braced for punishment. For a long, tense moment, the silence was broken only by the desperate, aching sound of Crowley’s sobs. 

 

Then at last, the archangel drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, making a visible effort to calm himself. Relenting, he released Crowley’s wrists and allowed his arms to fall. Not quite sure what he was allowed to do with them, Crowley wrapped one awkwardly around his waist, the other hand, clutching, trembling, at his wrist. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered again, having lost count of how many times he’d said it by this point… endlessly, always sorry . But he was, he really was. His heart ached with the shame and despair of yet another failure - this one so profoundly personal, so impossible to overcome. “Please, master,” he choked out, his shoulders falling, quaking. “ I’m so sorry .” 

 

Gabriel stood there for a moment, watching him, silent and impassive - before at last he moved in close again. But this time, his approach was cautious, gentle, as he wrapped one arm around Crowley’s shoulders, the other hand cupping the back of his head as he drew him into a firm, almost protective embrace. 

 

Crowley shivered at the contact, resisting the urge to pull away… resisting the urge to surrender in grateful relief... as Gabriel ran gentle fingers through his hair and kissed his brow. 

 

“You should have come to me,” Gabriel insisted, his anger now softened to regretful frustration. “Should have told me what was going on. I would have taken care of it, just like that.” He snapped his fingers next to Crowley’s head, and Crowley flinched - but nothing happened. Gabriel chuckled a little at his reaction, shrugging a bit as he drew back. “Maybe exactly , ‘just like that’,” he said, speculative. “Still haven’t decided exactly what to do to those three. But what I have decided…” He tilted Crowley’s face up with a hand at his chin, and Crowley obediently met his gaze with tear-filled eyes. “... is that they will never touch you again.” Gabriel gave him a sad smile that was tolerant, almost affectionate. “Now, you see how easy that was?” 

 

Crowley knew that Gabriel would keep this promise; the angels who’d been tormenting him would not be bothering him anymore. He let out a shuddering sigh of relief, and nodded quickly, eager to please his master. 

 

“Y-yes, master, I sh-should have told you sooner,” he replied in a voice choked with tearful gratitude, lowering his gaze to the floor once more. “Thank you, master…”

 

He tensed the moment the words left his lips, belatedly remembering the way Gabriel had reacted to them the last two times he’d spoken them - but Gabriel accepted them, this time, giving Crowley’s bare shoulder a gentle squeeze before sliding his hand down the demon’s back, to rest just over his mark. 

 

Crowley trembled, but didn’t dare move, kept still and pliant under his master’s touch. He didn’t have any idea what to expect at this point - comfort, or punishment. And when Gabriel’s palm finally pressed flat against the scarred sigil at the base of Crowley’s spine… it wasn’t exactly either. 

 

“Look at me,” Gabriel ordered, and Crowley instantly obeyed. 

 

His breath caught in his throat at the intensity in the archangel’s eyes - bright violet had darkened to rich, royal purple, and an overwhelming sense of fierce, possessive desire flowed over Crowley from the point of contact. 

 

Gabriel’s desire. As much as it terrified him, as much as it suffocated and oppressed him - there was a certain reassurance there, a certain relief in its very inevitability - and Crowley could do nothing but surrender to it. 

 

“You’re mine,” Gabriel declared, low and intent. 

 

Crowley nodded, drawing in a halting, uneven breath. “Yes, master.” 

 

“You belong to me, and no one else.” 

 

The intensity of Gabriel’s gaze seemed to scorch him, and Crowley lowered his head, nodding in submissive acceptance. “Yes, master.” 

 

Gabriel gripped his jaw and jerked his head back up, insisting on the eye contact he’d already ordered. Crowley swallowed convulsively against the panic that choked him at the furious jealousy, the subtle menace in the archangel’s unyielding gaze. 

 

“You will never … allow anyone to touch you like that again. Only me. You are only mine .” 

 

The place where Gabriel touched him, the sigil that proved his claim, burned like fire. The pain of it, and the crushing, stifling intensity of Gabriel’s power over him stole Crowley’s breath. Tears slid down his face as he tried to shake his head, his response coming out slightly slurred by Gabriel’s grip. 

 

“N-no, I won’t, master.” He choked out the words that still felt like an unforgivable betrayal. “Only you, I’m - I’m only yours…” 

 

At last, Gabriel lifted his hand, and the intensity of sensation began to slowly fade away. Gabriel released his grip on Crowley’s jaw, and he lowered his head, gasping for breath, tears of relief flowing unchecked down his face. Gabriel’s hand rose to stroke slowly through Crowley’s hair, and Crowley closed his eyes, swallowed against the ache in his throat, and hating himself for leaning into the gentle reassurance of the touch. 

 

“You think I would have let them put one hand on you if I’d known?” 

 

Crowley shook his head. “No, master…”

 

“You need me,” the archangel declared, but his voice had gone soft, almost tender. “I am the only one who can protect you, Crowley, The only one who gives a damn enough to even try. But I cannot protect you… when you lie to me.” 

 

“They - they said - they were going to say they caught me - caught me spying,” Crowley tried to explain through his tears. “I - didn’t think you’d believe me…” 

 

“Please,” Gabriel scoffed quietly with a dismissive wave of his hand. There was something dark and warning in his eyes, the barest beginnings of a cold smile at the corner of his mouth that belied the gentleness of his tone. “I know better than that. I know you wouldn’t dare.” 

 

Crowley shivered, and looked away. 

 

“Crowley. Sweetheart .” Gabriel leaned in close, taking Crowley’s arms again, gentler this time, but still tight and restrictive enough to make Crowley’s heart race with renewed alarm, as he leaned in to whisper, “I knew you were lying. The whole time . Remember?” He paused a moment before adding, low and warning in Crowley’s ear, “I always know… when you are lying to me.” 

 

A quiver of dread began in the pit of Crowley’s stomach, and he was suddenly certain that Gabriel was talking about more than this situation at hand, now. He was talking about the big lie, the one he’d been maintaining since he got here. 

 

Aziraphale. 

 

“It’s all right,” Gabriel said softly, drawing back enough to touch Crowley’s face, running his fingers up through his hair in a gesture of twisted affection. “I know what you are, Crowley. I know you can’t help it. You are… the very embodiment of temptation. Of sin .” he ran a hand slowly, possessively, down Crowley’s side. “We’ve got all kinds of names for you… tempter, serpent of Eden… but really, what it comes down to is just this.” He lifted Crowley’s face toward his again, cruelty in his smile when he spoke, cold and certain. 

 

“You’re a filthy little slut who corrupts the desires of anyone who comes near you. It’s just what you are, and what you do - without even trying. Whether or not you want it. I mean… I know very well you don’t want this …” He slid his hand down to grope roughly between Crowley’s legs, smiling cruelly against Crowley’s ear at the way he choked back a whimper and struggled to keep still, his body clenching with pain. “... but that doesn’t really matter, does it? Because I want it. I want you , sweetheart.” Crowley shivered at the sound of his voice, a low rumble that went all through him, settling a pit of dread in his stomach. “I’m an archangel … who can’t keep his hands off a dirty little demon whore.” 

 

Hot tears of mingled pain and shame streaked Crowley’s face, as Gabriel pressed him up against the glass, his greedy fingers and grasping hands violating Crowley while his angelic colleagues mingled, none the wiser, just past the shaded glass. A particularly vicious twist of Gabriel’s hand drew a low, stifled moan from Crowley’s lips, and the archangel let out a soft, cruel laugh. 

 

“It’s just your nature, sweetheart ,” Gabriel whispered, the words colored dark with his twisted affection. “To ruin and corrupt every single thing you touch.” He tilted Crowley’s head back with one hand at his throat, squeezing just to feel it constrict as Crowley sobbed, before whispering inescapable condemnation in the demon’s ear. “Just look how you’ve corrupted me .” 

 

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

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley whispered. 

 

He couldn’t even look at Aziraphale, couldn’t bear the thought of the disgust he’d see on his face - but he did reach up with a trembling hand to take the sunglasses from his face, tucking them into the pocket of Aziraphale’s coat. 

 

You don’t get to hide from me, sweetheart… every single part of you is mine. 

 

Crowley suppressed a shiver, trying, and failing, to find the will to meet his husband’s gaze. “I’m so sorry, angel...” 

 

He could feel the tension emanating from Aziraphale’s aura, could see it in the clenching and unclenching of his fists at his sides as he hesitated, remaining where he was, just a few steps past the bookshop’s front door. He heard a soft intake of breath as Aziraphale prepared to speak, and braced himself.

 

Here it comes ….

 

Aziraphale’s voice was soft with concern. “My darling, whatever are you sorry for?”

 

He sounded bewildered, as if at an utter loss - but Crowley knew better. Aziraphale had seen it all… pointed it out, even, in the restaurant. Gabriel had also feigned confusion, acted like he didn’t know what was going on, sometimes. Tested Crowley to see if he would lie.

 

He wouldn’t lie. Not to Aziraphale. 

 

His angel didn’t deserve that. Honestly, he didn’t deserve any of this. Didn’t deserve the constant stress and drama and emotional upheaval that life with Crowley had become. Didn’t deserve a whore for a husband who would flaunt and tempt and humiliate them both every time they went out - and then crumble into a weeping, helpless mess as soon as they were alone again.

 

Crowley was beginning to feel too warm and stifled, caught in the spotlight of Aziraphale’s focused attention, his piercing gaze that missed nothing locked onto Crowley and nothing else. Crowley fidgeted anxiously with the buttons of Aziraphale’s coat - beginning to feel heavy and uncomfortable, now. 

 

It wasn’t even close to the first time he’d borrowed it, and the warm weight of it usually made Crowley feel protected and secure - an outward symbol to anyone who might have observed them that they were more than just a couple of good friends out for a walk… a comforting reminder that, like the coat, he was Aziraphale’s, as well. 

 

Now, it was an oppressive weight upon him, pressing him down - a reminder that he was a burden, a weight around his angel’s neck. He didn’t deserve to wear it… any more than he deserved the angel it belonged to.  

 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice was soft and cautious, drawing his focus back from the brink of distraction. 

 

I asked you a question, you worthless little slut… 

 

That’s okay, I know just how to make you pay attention… 

 

Crowley shuddered, swallowing and struggling to choke out the answer to Aziraphale’s question. 

 

“For...for letting him touch me. For tempting. For being such a… Uh, for making you deal with my…”

 

Crowley cursed himself for his stupid stuttering. He twisted the coat’s buttons between his fingers. It was heavy, and he was warm, the flush of humiliation making him sweat, but he dared not remove it. Aziraphale had put it on him, Aziraphale was reminding him, making a point, and what would it say to his angel if he took it off and cast it aside? 

 

Aziraphale tilted his head, shaking his head slowly with a troubled frown of confusion. “Crowley, what are you talking about?”

 

Fine. If Aziraphale wanted to hear him say it, well, best to just take responsibility. Least he could do. 

 

“I’m sorry for being such a whore… dragging my filth with us wherever we go.” 

 

Rather than seeming satisfied with Crowley’s confession, Aziraphale looked stunned. 

 

“Crowley, what? ” 

 

The words were hushed with horrified disbelief. A bright flash of anger flared out from Aziraphale’s aura as he took a quick step toward Crowley.

 

Crowley flinched away in a swift backward step.

 

Aziraphale froze where he was. Crowley felt the anger recede with a recognizable effort, as Aziraphale steadied himself, got his reactions under control, for Crowley’s sake - and Crowley hated himself for it. 

 

Useless. See how hard he has to work, just to manage you? Pathetic. Not worth the effort. You’re lucky he even bothers.

 

Aziraphale drew in a breath, and let it out slowly, closing his eyes for a moment, relaxing his stance with a visible effort. “All right,” he said at last, calm and composed. “I think… that this is not the place for this conversation.” He didn’t move any closer to Crowley, but he extended his hand, palm up, as if for Crowley to take it. “Let’s go upstairs, yes? Where we can relax, and be comfortable, and… and really talk?” 

 

Crowley hesitated, staring at Aziraphale’s hand for a long moment. He thought of the warm, inviting apartment over the bookshop. The tiny, cozy kitchen where they shared tea and breakfast… the bed they shared, where their bond had been eternally sealed by a Power far greater than their own… the well-worn sofa, strewn with soft blankets where countless difficult conversations had taken place.

 

It was home. It was safe

 

Nothing bad would happen to him there.

 

It occurred to Crowley in that moment that maybe, just maybe … he had drastically misjudged Aziraphale’s reaction to the incident at the restaurant. He’d expected, once the bookshop door closed behind them and shut out any potential prying eyes, for Aziraphale to vent his jealous anger - at least with words, if not with hands. He’d expected to get some kind of… correction, for his embarrassing behavior. 

 

Instead, he received the warmth of concern in his angel’s eyes, and the open invitation of his extended hand.

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, then nodded, taking a couple of halting steps to close the distance between and reach out to clasp it in his own.. Aziraphale gave him a warm, encouraging smile, and then turned to lead him toward the stairs. 

 

It was a brief distance between where they stood, and home. It took perhaps thirty seconds to get from the main lobby of the bookshop, to the apartment entrance at the top of the stairs. But during that brief space of time, through the soft, firm grip of Aziraphale’s hand wrapped around his… through the bond that connected them… Crowley came to understand just how much he’d misunderstood. 

 

He felt Aziraphale open himself up to him, allowing the emotions he was feeling to well up and wash over Crowley - and those emotions were nothing like Crowley had expected. There was warmth and reassurance… an edge of worry and concern, and yes, there was anger there, too, but Crowley could tell now that it was not aimed at him, or even at the young man who’d made him the center of his attention. The anger was deeper and darker than that, and tinged with a familiar thrumming frustration that told Crowley its object was no longer in any way within Aziraphale’s reach - and never would be again. 

 

But underlying it was an all-encompassing, overwhelming reassurance of love. Aziraphale’s worry, his confusion, and yes, even his anger, were all born of his love for Crowley. 

 

Crowley felt tremendously relieved - and utterly humiliated. 

 

Stupid. You’re so stupid, you ridiculous, weak little waste...

 

Aziraphale led Crowley to the sofa, turning to take both his hands before gently tugging him down to sit beside him. Once they were seated, he let go of Crowley’s hands and folded his own on his knees, settling into the sofa a bit, drawing in a steadying breath before looking up to meet Crowley’s eyes. 

 

“Now, my dear,” he began, quiet and even, “can you tell me what you think happened tonight?” 

 

Crowley ran a hand through his hair, working to calm himself. It was clear enough by this point that Aziraphale wasn’t angry, even though he had every right to be. He just seemed concerned. 

 

Impressive, sweetheart, how completely you’ve blinded him to your wiles. He doesn’t have any idea what you really are, does he? That’s how deeply you’ve corrupted him.

 

Aziraphale was looking up at him with such worry and pain in his eyes. Crowley couldn’t bear it. It wasn’t fair to Aziraphale, to have to keep cleaning up these messes that Crowley couldn’t help but make. But it was his very nature, wasn’t it? To defile and ruin every beautiful thing he touched. 

 

And that was before he’d been so utterly broken, beyond repair. 

 

Aziraphale didn’t deserve this - this burden, this overwhelming task of trying to put back together some semblance of a whole husband, from the shattered, jagged pieces that had been left of Crowley. 

 

He forced a smile, shaking his head a little in dismissal. “‘S nothing, just overreacted.” He shifted in to sit closer to Aziraphale on the sofa, knowing it would make his angel happy. Well aware that the best hiding place for anything was often in plain sight, Crowley kept his tone as light and casual as possible as he continued, “What about you? Did you fancy that waiter? I didn’t like him much myself. Never was one for the freckles, and he was a bit too pushy for my tastes...” 

 

Aziraphale was having none of it. 

 

“Crowley,” he persisted, softly reproving, “what I don’t like is hearing you say such things about yourself.” He paused a moment before stating firmly, “You’ve done nothing wrong , tonight, my love. I’ve only enjoyed your company.”

 

“Mm-hmm. Thank you, angel.” Crowley leaned into Aziraphale, pressing his face into his angel’s neck, brushing a soft kiss against the skin just above his collar. 

 

Unfortunately, Aziraphale was not so easily put off as to be distracted by a bit of nuzzling. He let out a soft, appreciative little hum, but gently took Crowley’s shoulders and pushed him back a bit. He paused for an affectionate kiss to Crowley’s temple to ease any accompanying sting as he pushed him back a bit further. 

 

Crowley still couldn’t meet Aziraphale’s eyes. But at least he was past the point of flinching, expecting the worst, when Aziraphale’s gentle hand brushed his hair back from his face, still close enough that Crowley could feel the soft warmth of his breath when he spoke again, hushed and cautious. 

 

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask. What is it you think you’ve done that’s so very...offensive?”

 

Crowley sighed and rubbed his eyes. He could feel the rough wool of Aziraphale’s coat collar against the back of his neck, a lingering irritation like the one in the back of his mind, while he tried to somehow find words to explain to Aziraphale how he’d insulted him, disrespected him, at the restaurant. 

 

Aziraphale… just didn’t get it. Didn’t understand that he was getting the raw end of the deal here. Over and over again, Aziraphale told him how happy he was with him, how much he loved him, how thrilled he was to be spending the rest of eternity bound to him - and Crowley just couldn’t fathom it. 

 

He deserves better, whispered the derisive voice in the back of his mind. Deserves someone who’s his equal… not a broken demon that’s constantly causing him trouble and stress, constantly humiliating him, always needing to be kept in line… 

 

But Aziraphale didn’t seem to feel any need to keep Crowley “in line.” Didn’t seem to notice the things that Crowley had learned were so deeply shameful, didn’t see the blatant, indisputable evidence that he was not good enough, not worthy, too damaged to bother trying to salvage…

 

Crowley finally ventured a glance up into his angel’s eyes - and the fierce, bright intensity of the love shining there was enough to burn

 

He looked away, blinking away the suspicious sting in his own eyes, shaking his head a little. “Forget it, angel. Really.”

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a moment. His hand dropped from Crowley’s hair to gently clasp his hand. “You called yourself a whore , my love.” The slight hitch of hesitation over the word, the ache of sorrow in Aziraphale’s voice when he spoke it, was impossible to miss. “That’s a difficult thing to forget.”

 

Don’t I know it.

 

“What did you mean?”

 

“I dunno, really.” Crowley shrugged, trying with everything in his power to just dismiss the whole incident. It was better if they didn’t talk about it. Attempting to explain to his husband just why he was a whore was certainly not going to end well. “Guess not every joke can land, eh?” Crowley flashed a bashful grin, one he well knew Aziraphale was weak for.

 

“Crowley.” Aziraphale’s voice was firm. “This is not a joke.”

 

“I know.” Crowley dropped his gaze again. His skin was too hot, damp with sweat. He felt trapped, pinned under the thick coat and the relentless scrutiny of Aziraphale’s gaze. He rubbed his knees, trying to dispel some of his nervous energy, his words a trembling, anxious whisper, as he looked away. “I know, I know…”

 

“Oh, darling.” Aziraphale’s voice was soft with affection now. “You must be so warm. Here, let me take your coat.”

 

It’s your coat, angel. Not mine.

 

Aziraphale, in his gentle, fussy way, carefully took the coat as Crowley shrugged out of it. Crowley straightened his back and rolled his shoulders, feeling lighter already. 

 

“Thanks,” he mumbled. 

 

“Of course.”

 

Aziraphale rose to take the coat and hang it on the coat rack. When he returned and sat back down, Crowley’s sunglasses were in his hand. With prim precision meant to draw Crowley’s attention to the motion, he carefully placed them on the coffee table between them. 

 

“These are yours, darling,” he said softly, and Crowley knew that it was more than a simple unnecessary statement of fact, even before he continued. “You needn’t have taken them off if you didn’t want to.” 

 

Crowley frowned, opening his mouth to protest. 

 

“And don’t tell me that you wanted to, Crowley.” The soft, anguished plea brought Crowley up short, and he closed his mouth again, swallowing slowly. “You can’t even look at me.”

 

There was no accusation in the words, just that inexplicable longing … as if Aziraphale was being denied access to something precious, and not spared the endless, exhausting parade of one dramatic, emotional meltdown after another that was living with Crowley

 

Crowley closed his eyes, shaking his head slowly. “Don’t know why you’d want me to,” he whispered. 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a long moment, and Crowley reached out to pick up his sunglasses, though he didn’t put them on. He just turned them over in his hands, again and again, while he waited for Aziraphale to speak. 

 

“I must confess… I’m lost , Crowley,” he said at last. “It seems that something happened tonight that’s deeply upset you, and I’ve either grossly misunderstood, or just… missed it entirely.” There was a faint note of accusation in Aziraphale’s voice, now, but it was aimed at himself. “I didn’t even feel it…”

 

“I - didn’t want you to,” Crowley confessed softly. “I covered it. I didn’t want to… to spoil your evening.” The last few words came out in a bitter breath of laughter, as Crowley turned his head away, shaking it in self-directed disgust. “Bang up job I’ve done of that, yeah?”

 

Aziraphale leaned forward onto the edge of the sofa, unconsciously shifting nearer as Crowley shifted away, reaching out to still his husband’s anxious fidgeting with the gentle warmth of his hand. His words were measured and earnest, and Crowley didn’t doubt them for an instant. 

 

All I wanted from this evening, my darling… was time spent with you. ” 

 

“Glutton for punishment, are you?” Crowley retorted darkly, refusing to turn his head toward Aziraphale, but relenting enough to set aside the glasses and clasp Aziraphale’s offered hand instead. 

 

“What happened ?” he asked again, with quiet, urgent concern. 

 

At last, Crowley managed to lift his gaze, to meet Aziraphale’s eyes - searching, uncertain. “You - you saw it,” he reminded him, voice low and weighted with shame. “Saw it for yourself, pointed it out, you…” He hesitated, softly incredulous, “... you really didn’t mind ?” 

 

Aziraphale shook his head. “Mind what ?”

 

Crowley swallowed hard, glancing down for a moment, gathering his courage, before searching his angel’s face as he ventured to respond. “The… the waiter, tonight. The way he - noticed me.” 

 

Aziraphale blinked, appearing more confused than ever. “Why would I mind that?” 

 

Crowley blinked, at an utter loss. If Aziraphale didn’t know why he should mind, how could Crowley possibly explain it? For a single panicked moment, it crossed his mind to wonder whether or not it might be a trap. 

 

He wants you to say it. To admit it. Wants to make sure you know what you are, what you’ve done…

 

But Crowley couldn’t possibly believe that for more than a fleeting second - not with the truly bewildered expression on his angel’s face, and the warmth of concern and compassion in his eyes. A moment’s clarity cut through Crowley’s uncertainty, drowning out the poisonous echoes in the back of his mind with undeniable truth. 

 

Aziraphale wouldn’t try to trap me. Would never. 

 

He worked so hard, gave so much… to set me free. 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, trying to find the words. “He - he kept… touching me, and - and talking just to me, and - I thought you’d be…” 

 

He allowed the words to trail off, shaking his head slowly, because all the things he’d thought in that moment that Aziraphale might be or do felt ridiculous now. He thought back on the restaurant, the things he’d thought were such ominous warning signs. 

 

“You - you put your hand on mine… and - and your coat...” 

 

A soft, surprised intake of breath indicated the moment when understanding dawned on Aziraphale. Crowley stared down at their joined hands, unable to look at him, the heat of embarrassment flushing his face.

 

“My dear, it wasn’t a gesture of - of possession , that was not at all what I intended,” Aziraphale explained, though Crowley was beginning to understand that, without being told. “You just looked so very uncomfortable.” There was a rueful note to Aziraphale’s words that might have been amusement, given any other circumstances. “I tried to… redirect that young man, only because, in the moment, you - well, you seemed in need of rescue.” 

 

“Aren’t I always?” Crowley muttered, turning his head away, rolling his eyes at himself. 

 

Aziraphale either didn’t hear or didn’t acknowledge the sharp self-deprecation, in favor of continuing his by now entirely unnecessary explanation. “And, the coat, Crowley, it wasn’t meant to be some sort of… juvenile marking of my territory, as it were.” The distaste in his tone was clear, and he shook his head before concluding, “I simply offered it because…”

 

“Because I was cold .” Crowley sighed, his heart aching with the simplicity of it, closing his eyes against the burn of frustrated tears. 

 

So stupid. Pitiful, useless thing, and he’s so good to you, why’s he even bother? 

 

Not even close to worth the trouble...

 

Aziraphale shifted closer to him on the sofa, bringing his side flush against Crowley’s and wrapping a firm, reassuring arm around his shoulders without letting go of his hand. Rather, he lifted it to his lips, brushing a soft kiss across Crowley’s knuckles before settling their hands together on his knee. 

 

“So that’s what you thought, that I was… jealous ?” The hand cupping Crowley’s shoulder lifted a little to run through his hair, gentle and affectionate. “That I’d be angry with you… because you caught the eye of some human?” 

 

“Always catching someone’s eye, yeah?” Crowley pointed out, shame coloring his words, and he swallowed, shrugging a little. “Wouldn’t blame you. Must get tiresome.”

 

“It does happen with some frequency. Well… everywhere we go, in fact,” Aziraphale admitted with no trace of irritation, but a note of mild surprise in his voice. “I rather thought you didn’t notice.” 

 

Crowley tried very hard not to notice - but he seldom succeeded. The waiter tonight had been an exception, for a while, his advances fading into the midst of the rest of the nerve-wracking noise and chatter that had so set Crowley’s anxiety off in the first place. Generally, he was all too aware of the way people looked at him… the things he saw in their eyes that they wanted to do with him…

 

“Please know that I don’t mind in the least,” Aziraphale continued, his tone light and appreciative. “In fact, I actually quite enjoy it.”

 

Crowley looked up at him sharply, aghast. “ What? ” 

 

Aziraphale tilted his head a little, as if puzzled at Crowley’s shock. “Well, it’s flattering, isn’t it? Seeing other people notice you… appreciate how handsome you are. It makes me feel… well, proud .” 

 

“Proud?” Crowley echoed faintly. 

 

He remembered pride… on Gabriel’s face, as they’d walked the halls of Heaven. Crowley always a few paces behind, head subserviently bowed, focused on Gabriel’s every movement, listening for his master’s voice - never daring to lift his eyes toward the other angels, but still acutely aware of their whispers and their staring eyes. 

 

He remembered Gabriel’s secretive half-smiles, the satisfaction he couldn’t quite suppress at the attention and the flawless behavior of the perfectly trained slave that was the focus of so much curious attention, but that only he ever got to touch. 

 

A cold, sick feeling crept its way up the back of Crowley’s throat, an uneasy tremor in the pit of his stomach. A fresh wave of shame and confusion swept over him as he tried to make sense of Aziraphale’s words. His angel was proud when people looked at him like that, when others wanted him? 

 

Gabriel had been proud, too

 

No .” 

 

Aziraphale’s voice was firm, and Crowley flinched just a little, too lost in memory to not be caught off guard by it - but Aziraphale’s touch remained gentle, fingers firm and slow and soothing against his scalp. The angel ducked his head a little, bowing it low and close to Crowley’s. 

 

Crowley .” 

 

There was an unspoken request in Aziraphale’s voice, softer now, but no less urgent, and Crowley reluctantly lifted his eyes, just for a moment, to meet his angel’s gaze before looking down again. But in that moment, he saw sorrow and compassion on Aziraphale’s face, though the set of his jaw betrayed a familiar, protective anger that didn’t frighten Crowley, not anymore, but rather made him feel safe

 

“No, darling, not like that,” Aziraphale clarified. “Not like… you’re some prize I’ve conquered. Never that.”

 

Crowley marveled for a moment at his perception. Were Crowley’s own expressions, his reactions, so easily read? And then he realized all at once that he’d been broadcasting his emotions quite clearly to Aziraphale - his shame and confusion, the painful past associations with Aziraphale’s words. At some point in the last few minutes, the barrier he’d so carefully tried to maintain since the restaurant had fallen away.

 

Without even realizing, he’d let his angel in again. 

 

He couldn’t possibly bring himself to mind , though - not with the soothing, insistent pulses of love and concern and reassurance emanating from his angel, directly into his damaged soul. He let them wash over him, soaking them in as he leaned into the cautious, nearly reverent brush of Aziraphale’s fingers against his face, gently coaxing, never forcing, until Crowley raised his eyes again, and held his gaze this time as Aziraphale spoke, firm and earnest and with love so full and fierce that it ached in Crowley’s chest. 

 

“I’m proud to know that you’re mine, yes,” he conceded with a nod. “My husband. My love. I’m so very proud to get to be with you, my darling. To know that… they may all want you, but at the end of the night, you’ll be going home with me. Not because I’ve… won you somehow, in some victorious conquest. But because, again and again, day after day… you choose me.” 

 

He leaned in, slow and cautious, waiting until Crowley tilted his face in toward him to close the rest of the distance between them and kiss him softly. He drew back with a warm smile on his lips. 

 

“They can look all they want,” he remarked, teasing. “I’m the only one who gets to touch .” 

 

Crowley’s stomach clenched painfully, as the vivid memories passed through his mind in a twisted, split-second montage of all the brutal evidence to the contrary. He shivered, drawing his shoulders in, dropping his gaze once more. Before he did, he saw the moment when Aziraphale’s face abruptly fell, his smile slipping away in an instant. 

 

“Oh, Crowley.” Crowley turned his face into Aziraphale’s shoulder, drawing in a soft, shuddering breath. “I’m sorry,” Aziraphale breathed out, the words heavy with regret for his well-intentioned words. “Sorry, I’m so sorry…”

 

Crowley was quiet for a long moment, as he disentangled his hand from Aziraphale’s, just to wrap it around the back of his angel’s neck, nestling in closer to him, hiding his face as he whispered a broken, anguished question. 

 

“What’s wrong with me?” 

 

Nothing !” Aziraphale declared, fiercely, taking Crowley’s shoulders in his hands and holding him out so that he could look at him again, and Crowley noted with dismay that there were tears shimmering in his eyes. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, my love, it is not your fault that he-”

 

“You said it yourself!” Crowley countered, laughing bitterly through his tears. As he spoke, he pulled free of Aziraphale’s embrace and rose to his feet, pacing a few steps away. “ Everywhere we go . If that doesn’t prove that the problem is me , then-”

 

“It doesn’t make you - dirty , or bad, that others notice you, that they’re attracted to you, Crowley,” Aziraphale insisted, rising to his feet as well, his eyes bright with pain, his features taut with desperation to prove a case that Crowley already knew to be lost. After a moment, Aziraphale tried again. “You find me attractive, don’t you?” 

 

“Well, of course I do, what the Heaven kind of a question is that?” Crowley snapped, spinning back around to face his angel. “You’re bloody gorgeous, and you know it!” 

 

“Well, then,” Aziraphale lifted his hands in front of him, nodding sharply once, as if his point was already proven. “I suppose that means it’d be my fault, if someone were to decide to…”

 

No .” 

 

Crowley cut him off sharply, furious at the very thought, glaring at Aziraphale for even suggesting it - and then softening at the sincere, stubborn determination on his angel’s face. Aziraphale was only trying to help, only trying to make this better, but… he just didn’t get it. 

 

There was no making it better. 

 

Deflated, defeated, Crowley sat back down on the edge of the sofa, running both hands back through his hair and then leaving them there, fingers flexing with frustration. 

 

“‘S not the same,” he muttered, rocking a bit on his heels. “Not the same at all.” 

 

Because he’s not the same as you, is he, sweetheart? 

 

People don’t look at him and crave the sight of those pretty lips, all bitten up and trembling…

 

Nothing about him says, “Come on, you know you want to take me, hurt me, bet I look so fucking pretty when i cry…” 

 

But you … you know just exactly what everyone likes to do with you. What you’re good for. All you’re good for… 

 

What sins you inspire…

 

Aziraphale stood where he was for a long, tense moment, before he sat down again, slowly and carefully. He left a bit of space between them, but he reached up to gently take Crowley’s hand from his hair, enveloping it in both of his own. Crowley did not resist, and reluctantly turned his face toward Aziraphale, though he kept his eyes on the coffee table. Aziraphale’s words were quiet and measured when he ventured to break the silence. 

 

“Why isn’t it the same?” 

 

Crowley shook his head, swallowing back the sob that choked him, blinking tears from his eyes. 

 

“Because you’re a demon?” Aziraphale persisted cautiously. 

 

“Yeah,” Crowley admitted with a short nod. “Yeah, but… it’s more than that.” 

 

Aziraphale said nothing, just sat there still and quiet, holding Crowley’s hand and patiently waiting for him to go on. 

 

“I’m not saying these things… happened to me because I’m attractive,” Crowley explained at last, his voice low in a rather failed attempt to hide the tremor in his words. “I’m not… attractive , angel.” He looked up to meet Aziraphale’s eyes… loved him dearly for the indignant frown, the parted lips instantly ready to leap to his defense. He quickly went on before Aziraphale could protest. “I’m attraction .”

 

A bitter smile rose to Crowley’s lips, and it perversely widened as Aziraphale’s eyes went wide and startled. “I’m temptation. Sin itself. They want to do those things to me - can’t help doing those things to me. If it happened to you , no. It wouldn’t be your fault.” He looked away at last from the rising horror on his angel’s face, staring ahead at the coffee table again. “‘S mine, though.” He was quiet for a moment, swallowing slowly. “ Everything is.” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a moment, considering. He shifted slightly nearer to Crowley on the sofa, settling his own hands more comfortably around Crowley’s. 

 

“Crowley, my love,” he began, his words careful and measured. “If I may be so bold as to say so... “ He drew in a breath, and concluded calmly, “That’s horseshit.” 

 

Grk .” Crowley nearly choked on nothing, his head swiveling back around to face Aziraphale with wide, startled eyes. 

 

“And not only horseshit,” Aziraphale continued, perfectly composed, “but a particular brand of horseshit that I believe you’d recognize as well, if you thought about it for a moment.” 

 

Crowley just blinked at him for a moment. “How many times are you going to say ‘horseshit’?” 

 

Aziraphale considered for a moment, head tilted slightly. “I believe I’m done.” He paused. “It is, though,” he insisted quietly. “A… completely false perspective. A lie that you were told some time ago…” 

 

“It’s not.” There was a leaden weight in Crowley’s chest. He desperately wished he could believe Aziraphale, but it wasn’t that simple. “Just ‘cause he said it… doesn’t make it a lie.” 

 

Aziraphale frowned, but waited for Crowley to go on. 

 

“I ruined them… the humans. Brought sin into this world.” He was quiet for a moment, blinking back fresh tears, his voice thick with them as he confessed, “Brought it to you , I think. Corrupted you.”

 

Crowley !” Aziraphale was indignant. “Nonsense, you haven’t corrupted me…”

 

“There’s… things you’ve done…” Aziraphale went still at his side, and Crowley willed himself to stop, because the last thing he wanted was to hurt his angel - but he couldn’t do anything else, could he? Wasn’t that the whole point? “... you’d never have done, if it wasn’t for me.” 

 

After a moment, Aziraphale spoke, his words filled with quiet conviction. “I’d do anything for you.” 

 

Crowley nodded emphatically, lips parted, ready to point out how Aziraphale’s words were evidence for the point he was making, but he went still and silent when Aziraphale pressed a firm, gentle hand to his chest - directly over the seal of their bond. 

 

“But… what I would or would not do is not your responsibility, Crowley,” Aziraphale continued. “My actions are mine to own. You must know, after so many years, that I am stubborn as a mule, and let no outside entity command me. Would you disrespect me so, as to assume that I was simply… powerless in your thrall?” 

 

Crowley frowned. “No…” he admitted slowly, warily. 

 

“You’re quite impressive, my darling, but you haven’t that level of power, I’m afraid.” Aziraphale’s smile was sly and affectionate at once. Crowley attempted a glare in return, but couldn’t quite manage it. “You’ve never been one to control others, though, have you? You’ve always stood for free will. You even gave it to them - the humans. Because… She wanted them to have it. She told you that, and then you told me.” 

 

He was quiet for a moment, and Crowley closed his eyes, unsure if the heat he felt was emanating from the mark on his chest, or his husband’s warm, soft hand covering it. Either way, he lifted his own hand and covered Aziraphale’s, leaning his head in to rest it against Aziraphale’s brow. 

 

“You didn’t force anyone to do anything, darling,” Aziraphale insisted, barely over a whisper. “What the humans do is not your fault. The things I’ve done are not your fault. What - what he did, to you, Crowley…” 

 

 Hot tears slipped from Crowley’s eyes, and he drew in a shaky breath, his grip tightening around Aziraphale’s hand. 

 

“It was not your fault . The only choices that you are responsible for are your own. And… what was the word that She used, again?” Crowley could hear the soft smile in Aziraphale’s voice, felt his free hand gently brush away tears from his cheek, and leaned into the touch. “Oh, yes,” Aziraphale whispered, raising his head to kiss Crowley’s brow. “ Beautiful. ” 

 

Crowley couldn’t speak for a while, his throat constricted, a deep ache in his chest that made it hard even to breathe. He just stayed where he was, as Aziraphale wrapped his arm around him and held him there, close and quiet. 

 

“I remember,” he said at last, his words hushed and heavy. “What She said. Couldn’t forget. But… it doesn’t do away with… it’s not so easy to just… turn off …” 

 

“I know,” Aziraphale assured him gently. “I’m not saying you have to, I’m just saying that… the things that have happened to you don’t say anything about who you are ...” 

 

“Don’t they?” Crowley sniffled, sitting up a little. “You’ve gotta admit, there’s a pattern, yeah? He - wasn’t the first, you know. It’s always been that way. Folks see me and just seem to automatically go, ‘Oh, he must just be gagging for it, right? Time for a bit of sport.’ Up there. In Hell, before. And - even down here, sometimes. It happens, and it happens, and it happens , and the only thing it all has in common... is me . It’s not even anything I do , it’s just what I am . They can’t help it, maybe you can’t even…” 

 

The unbidden avalanche of words stopped as abruptly as it had started, as Crowley realized that he’d perhaps said too much. The words had simply come rushing out, tumbling over each other in a breathless tumult. Things he hadn’t known how to express, even to himself, just poured from his lips… with Aziraphale listening. And now Crowley was silent, sitting in the midst of the rubble of everything he hadn’t meant to say, but somehow had. 

 

Aziraphale’s face was a palimpsest, concern papered over anger papered over frustration papered over guilt. It took him a few moments to settle the tempest, and when he finally spoke, his voice was low and certain. 

 

“It was not your fault .” He paused a moment, weighing his words, before continuing. “People are drawn to you, Crowley, yes. But - it’s not because of some darkness in you, some evil thing that’s pulling them to destruction. She said it, remember? She said… all of your choices, your actions… were born of love . There is love in you, Crowley, love pure and strong enough to save Heaven and Hell - to avert the Apocalypse. That’s why people are drawn to you. Why they want to be close to you.”

 

He was quiet for a moment, and when he went on, his words had taken on a heavy, darker quality. “But… there are those who don’t understand it, can’t feel it - they aren’t capable of it. They know there’s something different, but they can’t comprehend what it is - because there is no love in them. No kindness. No mercy. And - they see this thing that they can never understand, never have - and if they can’t have it, they will crush it, destroy it, rather than allow it to flourish.” 

 

Crowley was listening, taking in Aziraphale’s words - remembering how his devotion to Aziraphale had infuriated Gabriel, how more than anything that love had drawn his rage. 

 

“I’m attracted to you, Crowley,” Aziraphale continued, practical, making a point. “But I’ve never harbored any desire to harm you. That young waiter tonight - do you suppose he meant you harm?” 

 

Crowley considered a moment, then shook his head slowly. “No, don’t reckon so.” 

 

“The strangers we pass on the street… they look, and… appreciate …” Aziraphale smiled, but Crowley couldn’t manage to return it. “But I dare say the vast majority of them never have any… untoward intentions. You didn’t give them any… irresistible temptation to harm you, did you?” 

 

“He said… said I did,” Crowley blurted out, without realizing he was going to speak. “And… in Heaven, there were others, and he said… he’s an archangel , should be holier than thou and me and all of us, right? But… he said… with me …” Crowley swiped the back of his hand roughly across his eyes, frustrated at the incoherency of his attempts to explain, and his own apparent inability to finish a sentence. 

 

“Crowley…” Aziraphale’s voice was firm and sharp. “... what he did to you reflects on him. Not on you. When he hurt you, he made himself into someone who hurts . It did not make you someone who deserves to be hurt.” Aziraphale’s expression was solemn, and he touched Crowley’s face, waiting until Crowley met his eyes to continue with quiet, inarguable conviction. “Gabriel… the ones who’ve hurt you… you did not corrupt them, Crowley.” He shook his head slowly. “They were already corrupt .” 

 

Crowley stared at Aziraphale, aching to believe him. Something in the words felt true. They were awash with a sense of relief, of clarity, of absolution . And Crowley did remember what that felt like; he just didn’t remember all the time - not in the moments of doubt and shame, when the echoes of a ghost in the back of his mind were screaming to be heard, forcefully drowning it out. 

 

He didn’t want to feel like this anymore - feeling guilt for acknowledging any trace of goodness he might find in himself, forced by habit to argue against his own worth. 

 

He was angry

 

Angry at himself for feeling so twisted up and confused all the time - angry at Aziraphale for pressing, pressing, always pressing deeper until he found these wounds inside of Crowley that he could point out, could draw his attention to - but could not heal. 

 

And he was angry, so very angry , at the archangel. 

 

Gabriel had violated parts of him that Crowley hadn’t even realized existed, until the broken shards of them were lying shattered and strewn in the dirt, trampled under the archangel’s feet. 

 

How dare he. 

 

How dare he take Crowley from the happiness of the home he’d shared with his angel, and tear into him with words and fists and blind suffocating terror until even the love of his husband, and the grace of his Creator, felt just out of reach, or just not quite enough

 

How was he ever supposed to come back from this? 

 

Weary, Crowley lowered his head. His eyes fell closed as he let out a heavy, shaky breath that was only not a sob because Crowley was too exhausted to weep. Aziraphale wrapped his arms around him and drew him in close, encouraging him to rest with soft, shushing sounds, and a gentle hand running slow and firm, up and down his back. 

 

All Crowley could do was to cling to his angel, fists clenched in the sides of his shirt, face buried in his neck, silent tears escaping his eyes and soaking into the soft fabric as Aziraphale held him and rocked him and brushed his hair back to kiss his face. 

 

I love you ,” he whispered fiercely. Crowley could only nod, but Aziraphale insisted, “I do, Crowley. I love you. And it’s not some… artificial product of your…” He paused, choosing his words carefully. “... natural skill in the art of temptation.” 

 

Crowley let out a broken little huff of laughter at Aziraphale’s prim phrasing. What Aziraphale called “natural skill in the art of temptation,” Crowley himself might have called “the ugliness inside me that draws evil and cruelty.”

 

Aziraphale kissed him, shushing him as if he’d heard the words aloud, and Crowley supposed he’d felt the sentiment behind them, at any rate. 

 

“You think it’s just your nature… people want you, and therefore cannot help themselves…” He leaned in close, the words a breath away from Crowley’s ear. 

 

“But I loved you, first.” 

 

Crowley went still, mesmerized by the hushed, heartfelt ache of memory in the words. Aziraphale went on, and Crowley could hear the tears in his voice. 

 

“I was confused, and guilty, and desperately afraid that I’d just done the wrong thing, and you… you were kind ...” 

 

Crowley snorted rudely into the angel’s neck. He couldn’t really help it; it was millennia-ingrained habit at this point. 

 

“‘M not kind,” he muttered tearfully, the words utterly obliterated in the soft fabric of Aziraphale’s shirt collar - but Aziraphale knew exactly what he’d said, anyway. 

 

“... and so very charming,” Aziraphale went on dryly, and Crowley couldn’t miss the gently sarcastic note - but the humor faded from the angel’s voice, into something more solid, more earnestly admiring, as he went on - and Crowley listened, letting the soothing sound of his angel’s perfect, warm, story-teller’s voice wash over him. 

 

For all Aziraphale’s playful compliments, this was truth - their shared memories, the history of them that had been long before Gabriel, and would continue on, eternally now that he was gone. 

 

All at once - at least for now - the lies were much easier to ignore.

 

“And you were clever. And brave . And perceptive, and thoughtful. You noticed the things that mattered to me - and then, they mattered to you , too.” He was quiet for a moment. “You became my friend. And it was only after all that… all that goodness, and thoughtfulness, and friendship, and love … that I began to realize how… well, truly beautiful you were. How… breathtaking, really. That’s when I first began to feel the slightest traces of… temptation. ” 

 

Crowley heard the affectionate humor in the word, and it took from it any sting of accusation. He knew what Aziraphale meant. 

 

“What I mean to say, is,” Aziraphale explained anyway, “I wasn’t somehow… deceived by desire and attraction into believing I loved you. You - loved me into loving you. And I’ll always want you, yes, but - I loved you, first.”