He couldn’t remember.
That’s the worst of it. His memories of the battle, the blood, the torn wings and broken halos. And yet, despite that all that, the most important thing to remember was gone.
He stood on the wall, watched Adam and Eve make their way across the sand hand in hand. His own hands he clasped at his waist, letting himself feel the red string tied around his left digitus medicinalis. It was only as long as his arm, and the edge that dangled in the wind was frayed, as though it had been stretched taut and then slashed.
Not many angels had these, he knew. They were already rare when the rumblings of rebellion began, and then many who had them had been killed, either in pairs defending each other or the sorrow of seeing their God-given destined Partner die and the red string shrivel up into stardust and float away.
Or watch them Fall, and see the red string, once a visual, physical, ethereal connection to the other half of themselves slashed in two, and cease to remember their name, soul, or time together.
Why the memories had to go? He couldn’t work up the courage to ask–not Her, not anyone. Not when the whole host were already in a scramble, when eyes had been hardened and scars left on all their dimensions. Aziraphale also didn’t ask why he had been the only one assigned to the Garden. Who else might remember who he was missing. Why Uriel would only glare at him. How he was going to exist with this noose around his finger and not choke.
There was a rasping sound mixing with the wind now, and he banished the string back to the Unseen. The angel could still feel it, always would be able to feel it, and wasn’t sure if the thought brought despair or comfort.
Letting the demon distract him was only halfway an accident.
Aziraphale didn’t know when it was that he realized that Crowley was someone he wanted to pray for.
Oh, he wouldn’t do it. Would never deign to implore God to change her mind, to bring him back to Her side. Would never close his eyes and pray for Crowley to stay with him, to be with him while surrounded by the Host, to have Crowley’s arm tucked into his as they strolled through grace and judgement and love and emptiness. Would never show him the dimension he had a nest started in, never ask God if they had Her blessing.
But oh did want to. He didn’t know when the first time was, but by the time they had departed Petronius’, soft laughter echoing out the door to their backs and the dark sky expansive and soft above them, he looked at Crowley’s short hair and long nose and strong jaw and thought: I wish it could be yours.
Later, he would deny knowing what he was referring to. Surely not his heart. Not his time, his nest, his time, his worries, his love, his thoughts.
He would never admit to his eyes constantly flitting to the ring finger of that elegant left hand, wondering if they could match.
A church exploded and never had Aziraphale, in all his eons of seeking out words and metaphors and symbolism, ever seen a more perfect representation of his feelings.
The water was warm on his fingers. It, the texture on the rag, and the painful hardness beneath his knees were the only things grounding him as he held one slim ankle in his hand, running the rag over those burnt scaled feet. They were beautiful, and he could feel gilded eyes trained on him. It was heady, the conflicting sensations, and he felt lighter than he had in years. Felt stronger than he had in decades.
When he had applied the last of the salve, tucked the last wrap, gently pulled fresh socks back on, Aziraphale leaned back and let himself look at Crowley. Breathing had never been easier, and his hands sparked with the knowledge of how soft Crowley was, how bone and flesh felt against his.
Aziraphale was done with forgetting. He let the moment burn deep within him, let it settle in that secret place that only he and a disinterested God had access to.
He would not forget again.
Crowley took the thermos carefully, trying to brush his fingers against Aziraphale’s.
Aziraphale had planned for that and made sure the demon was unsuccessful.
He was already risking too much, he couldn’t risk breaking down. One clutch would be two, three, a frantic touch of lips and arms clenching tightly to each other and then it would all come spilling out.
No, there would be no more touching, lunching, or nudging. Only the Arrangement and park benches and coded notes.
Six thousand years ago, Aziraphale had hidden the red string from the redhead. If Crowley used the water and the string disappeared forever, Aziraphale would never forget.
“We can’t give up now!”
Blue eyes met gold, and Aziraphale prayed for the first time in five thousand years.
Please, Crowley, come up with something .
Please, my love, don’t make me say goodbye to you.
Crowley took a deep breath and stood.
“So we’ll swap.”
“….Are you sure?”
“It’s the only way.”
“If we do this though…there’s no coming back.”
“If we don’t do it, we won’t be coming back.”
“Not what I meant. We have to…see every dimension of each other.”
“There’s nothing that I could see that would scare me.”
“Comforting. But I meant, you’ve always…”
“What are you doing with your hands? What’s that mean?”
“It’s just, you….value your privacy. Is all.”
“I’m done hiding. Especially from you.”
“…W….What does that mean?”
“I want you to have all of me.”
“So we’ll swap.”
To the world.
Crowley’s easy laughter made him giddy. The conversation and wine flowed throughout dinner, and then throughout the car ride back to the bookshop, and turned into drunken ranting and the vintage from the cellar.
Night was blending with morning when Crowley finally dropped back onto the couch in what could not possibly be a sitting position for any other entity in the universe. Aziraphale handed him a topped off glass, this time deliberately making sure that when Crowley grabbed it, the pads of his fingers would have to rest on his own.
His demon reached for it, and froze, leaning forward. Lovely eyes darted from the fingers, to Aziraphale’s face, and back. His very biteable throat worked hard. “Aziraphale. You know it’s not me, right?”
They had swapped, and Crowley had felt his heart break even as understanding flooded over him.
They had swapped, and Aziraphale had known he had decided correctly.
The angel stood and drew Crowley closer to him. “What I know is…” He waved a hand and their glasses kindly moved to the table. “Someone who was picked for me chose to leave, and I chose not to follow. Or, I chose to stay and they chose not to follow.” As he had on the airfield, the bus, the bedroom, and the bench, Aziraphale entwined their fingers, palm to palm. “What I know, is that you came to me, and you stayed with me.” Crowley leaned their foreheads together, and Aziraphale closed his eyes. “What I know, my dear, is that I forgot them. What I know, Crowley, is that I have never, ever, even when I wanted to, been able to forget you.”
Crowley whined and pressed their lips together, and Aziraphale wrapped his arms around him, bearing his weight even as Crowley crashed and crashed and crashed over him.
Someone else had been made for Aziraphale, but Crowley was the only one for him.