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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.

Chapter Text

“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.”