Freddie’s voice cuts out in the middle of the highest-pitched “Mamma mia”, morphing into a familiar, unpleasant croak, and Crowley jerks the wheel in surprise, swerving into the opposite lane. A fancifully wrapped box of brandy snaps from Aziraphale’s favorite bakery slides across the empty passenger seat, bumping hard against the door.
“The Heaven do you want, Hastur?” he growls, once he gets his steering (and breathing, well, somewhat) back under control.
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” the Duke chuckles, going back to copying the timbre of Freddie’s voice. “Just checking up on you.”
“I don’t need you checking up on me, Hassstur,” he hisses, gripping the steering wheel tighter. “I don’t work for you, guys, anymore, remember? So do me a favor and get the fuck off this channel.”
“Sure, sure,” Hastur agrees easily, and, oh, Crowley doesn’t like how smug the bastard sounds, he doesn’t like it at all. He likes it even less when the Duke adds in a low, perversely gleeful voice, “Say,… Crawly, you ever see what the bite of a hellhound does to an angel? I hear the experience is… charring.” The Duke’s parting cackle of laughter fades away into the final chords of the “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Crowley punches the radio off.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
He floors the pedal, and the Bentley dutifully charges forward, bending a physics-defying overtake of a slower moving Peugeot.
The speedometer needle jumps to the right, straining and shuddering in a futile attempt to indicate a speed that should be far beyond the capabilities of even a Formula 1 Grand Prix contender. The Bentley, however, does not seem to be concerned by such discrepancies – her master needs her to be driving this fast, so she does. And Crowley himself is too busy freaking out over Hastur’s words and over the fact that all of his frantic calls to Aziraphale’s mobile – the one Crowley bought for him last Christmas despite the latter’s reluctance to tackle modern technology – have gone unanswered, to worry about the laws of physics.
And so it is mere moments later that the Bentley tears onto the long gravel drive that leads to the cozy seaside cottage that he and Aziraphale had purchased three blissful years ago. His frantic gaze scans the horizon: the sea awash in the red glow of the setting sun, the cottage huddled in the seaside greenery, and… there! A familiar figure aflame in brilliant, protective white, boxed in by three monstrous raven-black beasts.
Crowley doesn’t hesitate. The Bentley eats up the remaining distance, zooming across the drive like a black shooting star and barreling full-speed into the closest gnarly creature. There is a loud screech of metal, a thump and a sickening crunch as the car comes to an abrupt bone-shattering stop, sprawling Crowley across the steering wheel. The Bentley’s windshield shatters on impact, showering him with glass, and the box of treats that Crowley was so looking forward to giving to Aziraphale flies off the seat and onto the floor, splattering the footwell with bits of cracked pastry casings and whipped cream.
Crowley shakes off the glass and the haze of the impact. Tumbles out of the car, tripping over his own feet in a hurry to get to his angel’s side.
The protective glow of Grace surrounding the angel dims a millisecond before Crowley’s fingers make contact with its searing outer edge, and Crowley grips the angel by the cream-colored lapels, pulling him close.
“Did they touch you?” he growls, all trembling and wild-eyed. “A bite, a scratch, anythin’?”
“N-no.” Aziraphale shakes his head at him, his own eyes a bit too frantic, a bit too wide.
And Crowley can’t blame him really. The prospect of getting mauled by a hellhound can make any self-respecting demon shit their pants. And Aziraphale is an angel. And he had just been attacked by three of them.
When Crowley gets his hands on Hastur, the bastard is gonna wish for a bucket of Holy Water to put him out of his miserable existence. But right now… right now he’s got more pressing matters to attend to. Even the near-overwhelming, knee-weakening relief upon finding Aziraphale whole and unharmed is not something he can give himself the luxury to indulge in. Not now, not yet.
“Get in the house, angel,” he orders, all but shoving Aziraphale toward the door. “Get the wards up, get the sprayer ready with Holy Water. Anything tries to break through, you douse them – no questions, no hesitation. Got it?”
Aziraphale flicks a glance behind them to where the injured hellhound slowly wobbles up off the ground to an unsteady three-legged stance, its black fur matted with machine oil and blood. The other two hounds, having recovered from the momentary shock of Crowley’s explosive arrival, are moving toward them now, their too-sharp and too-numerous fangs bared in predatory anticipation.
The angel pales, his face creasing in worry that Crowley doesn’t think is entirely self-directed.
“Crowley, I don’t think–”
Crowley snaps his fingers and whatever the angel was about to say is cut off by the closed cottage door. He should probably feel bad about this, he thinks fleetingly. Aziraphale will likely be quite upset with him for violating his autonomy like that. Would probably subject Crowley to months of silent treatment and separate sleeping arrangements. But at least he’ll be alive to do so. For Crowley at this moment in time that’s all that matters.
He turns around, snarling at the thrice-damned beasts that dared to threaten his angel, and then charges at them, slipping into his serpent form mid-leap.
He rams head-first into the closest hellhound, sending the beast tumbling away, and pivots instantly toward its companion, his jaws snapping open to sink his venom-dripping fangs into the creature’s neck. The hellhound howls and twists, trying to dislodge him, and Crowley loops himself around the creature’s body, paying no heed to the sharp claws that gouge the length of him. He bites down harder, tenses his muscles, makes the loops of him tighter, tighter, tighter….
Until he hears the bones crack. Until the creature grows limp within his grasp.
And in the next instant sharp tearing pain lances through his side.
He releases his hold on the now dead hellhound. Twists his head back, trying to snap his jaws at the newest threat. But the hellhound growls and clamps down harder, and Crowley’s vision whitens momentarily as those jagged, razor-sharp teeth seem to tear into his very essence, rending the core of him apart.
Panicked and in agony, he does the only thing he can think of – lets go of his demonic form, shifting back into his human corporation. They collapse side by side onto the pavement, the sudden, drastic change in Crowley’s shape and size causing the hellhound’s viselike grip to loosen. Crowley doesn’t wait to press his advantage. He grabs the creature by the scruff of its neck and rips it all the way off of him, choking back a howl of pain as the hound’s fangs shred through flesh and skin on their way out. And then, before the beast has time to reorient itself, he clamps his free hand around the front of its neck, lets his claws out, sinking them deep into the fur-covered flesh. And then he tears its throat out.
The hellhound twitches one last time within his grasp, its left paw swiping convulsively at Crowley’s forearm. And stills.
Crowley remains where he is, half-collapsed on his side on the blood-stained pavement, panting for air he doesn’t really need. His body feels heavy, so very, very heavy. And he would like nothing better than to just stay here for a little while longer, take a much needed rest. Sleep. Sleep sounds very good right about now.
But there’s something else. Something he’s forgetting. Something….
A low, bone-chilling growl vies for his waning attention, and he turns his head toward the noise, wincing unhappily at the sight of the third, forgotten hellhound that hobbles toward him on trembling legs.
Groaning, he pushes himself up, attempting to roll to his knees. And nearly topples face-first right back onto the pavement as the world flickers and spins around him, tilting at a dangerous angle. He blinks furiously against the spots of black that fill his vision. Plants a trembling hand down on the ground before him, unfurls his wings behind him to give his failing form some modicum of balance.
“Get outta here, ya mangy mutt,” he snarls at the crippled beast, his fangs and claws on full display. “Get out before I rip what’s left of ya to shreds.”
The beast halts its stumbling walk. Stares at him, head cocked to the side, its red eyes dull with pain. A moment passes, where Crowley holds his breath, one arm clamped against his throbbing side. And then, in a blink, the hellhound is gone.
Crowley stares numbly at the empty space where the beast stood mere seconds ago, not quite ready to trust that it’s over, that the danger has passed. What if it was just a trick? What if it comes back the moment Crowley dares to relax his guard? What if it goes after the angel, while he lazes around here twiddling his thumbs?
He squints at the space before him, trying to rally what little reserves he has left, to be ready for a potential threat. But his body is done, and his vision dims, all colors bleeding out until nothing but black remains. And he collapses helplessly into that blackness, only faintly aware of a pair of strong gentle arms that wrap around him, softening his fall.
Crowley dreams. His are not pleasant dreams. His are the dreams filled with darkness and pain and flashes of razor-sharp fangs dripping blood. In his dreams he fails. In his dreams it is the angel’s blood that seeps into the cracks in the pavement in front of their house. It is the darkness of the angel’s light having been forever snuffed out. It is the pain of loss of the one being he truly ever loved.
It is a torment worse than any he had ever endured. Worse than the punishments of Hell. Worse than the Fall. And he writhes and moans, caught in the throes of his worst nightmare like a fly in a spider web, his every desperate attempt to escape causing that web to tighten around him, pulling him deeper and deeper into the unrelenting horrors of his fevered mind. In his head he pleads, screams until his throat is raw for God, for Satan, for SOMEONE to hear him, to free him from the prison of this nightmare. But his pleas go unanswered, just as they did millennia ago, and he sobs in mounting despair, silent tears making slow, steady tracks down his cheeks.
He isn’t aware of another presence beside him. Doesn’t feel the soft, trembling fingers that gently wipe his tears away, the healing glow of Grace lingering on his skin after their careful touch. Doesn’t hear the quiet murmurs of encouragement and love whispered into his ear.
But eventually the nightmares stop, the darkness recedes, and other sensations begin to filter through. He becomes aware of the dull ache in his shoulder and side, of the silky smoothness of bed sheets against his skin, of the quiet rustle of pages somewhere beside him, of the achingly familiar smell of cocoa and old books….
He peels open his eyes, dares to steal a glance behind him.
“I fixed the Bentley.”
The angel sits ramrod straight on the other side of the bed, his mouth pinched in an unhappy line. He pointedly does not look at Crowley. There’s a barely restrained anger in the angel’s voice, the vibrations of it manifesting in an oddly hitched tremble of it, in the near imperceptible shaking of the hands that hold the book.
“The poor thing was barely recognizable after all that damage. All the scratches, the dents, the… the oil leaking all over the place. She lost so much of it, I didn’t know if she would… if she’d….”
Aziraphale’s voice hitches again – a vulnerable sort of sound that makes Crowley strangely uncomfortable, makes him want to say something – anything, really – to make the angel not sound like that.
“S’just a car, angel,” he tries, his voice low and gravelly from disuse.
Aziraphale looks at him for the first time, pale blue eyes flaming with an emotion Crowley can’t quite understand.
“It could have been gone, Crowley. Gone forever. And I never would have–”
The angel cuts off mid-sentence, lips pressing together into a pale trembling line. There’s a suspicious wetness in his eyes that Crowley doesn’t like at all.
He frowns, trying to shake off the cobwebs that seem to have taken over his mind.
“Are… are we still talking about the car?”
The angel spears him with a furious gaze, throws (throws!) his book on the bed and storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
He remains where he is for a very long time, staring at the closed door in confusion and worry. Eventually he moves, slowly, laboriously, pulling himself up into a sitting position and swinging his feet carefully over the side of the bed. He stays there a moment, waiting for a sudden wave of dizziness to pass. Then he stands with a grunt, throwing an arm out to catch himself on the nearest wall as his knees buckle instantly under his weight, threatening to undo all of his hard work.
He gives himself a moment to breathe, leaning into the wall with his eyes closed against the unsteady wobble of the room. Then with one hand still using the wall for support, he begins to shuffle forward, out of the bedroom and toward the kitchen, to where he can feel the pulsating screaming aura of his angel’s pain.
He finds him standing by the window, his back toward him, his gaze lost somewhere in the chalk-white mountains that stand in the distance, rising high above the sea.
“Angel?” he calls out cautiously, wincing when he notices him tense in response.
He snaps his fingers, his breath hitching as that miniscule use of magic drains what little energy he has, making his vision darken. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it because now he has a box of freshly baked brandy snaps in his shaking hand – almost the same as it was before.
“I got you these.” He steps closer when he feels steady enough to do so, the box with pastries held out for the angel to take. He waits a beat, and when Aziraphale makes no move to take the box from him, places it gently on the table beside the angel. “The original ones got ruined when I… well, they were in the car, so…. But these are good… should… should be good.”
“I don’t care about the pastries, Crowley,” Aziraphale responds with a sigh, sounding as tired and broken as Crowley feels.
The corner of Crowley’s mouth twitches downward. “And I don’t care about the bloody car,” he insists with a near snarl.
“Or yourself, apparently.”
Aziraphale turns to face him finally, an expression of such anguish in his tear-bright blue eyes that Crowley feels his metaphorical heart break.
“Do you have any idea how badly that creature wounded you, Crowley?” Aziraphale cuts him off with tear-soaked anger. “You have any idea how close I came to… to….”
Aziraphale’s lip wobbles, and he presses his mouth together, blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay. Looks away from Crowley again, choosing to focus on the damned pastries box instead. Strained silence settles between them, as Crowley vacillates between wanting to comfort his angel and wondering whether his touch right now would be welcome.
He settles on trying once again to explain.
“M’a demon. The worst a hellhound could do to me is send me back to Hell. Maybe a bit worse for wear,” he acknowledges with a careful shrug, “but I’d have recovered eventually. Made my way back up. But angels?” He takes a step closer, dares to reach out, gently grasping the angel’s chin to turn his face toward him. “Those things are deadly to angels, Aziraphale. Even a tiny scratch could destroy you. Not kill, not discorporate. Destroy. And I couldn’t let that happen, angel. You understand? I couldn’t.”
Aziraphale gives him a watery little smile. A single tear slips off his trembling eyelashes, trailing slowly down the pale cheek, and he closes his eyes when Crowley reaches up to wipe the tear away.
“I can’t lose you, Crowley.”
“You won’t,” he insists hotly. “Wherever you are, I’ll always come back to you. As long as I have you to come back to.”
Aziraphale makes a choked sort of noise that sounds suspiciously like a sob. Closes the distance between them in a swift, desperate lunge, and Crowley grunts in surprise as Aziraphale’s arms wrap fervently tight around his middle, the angel’s face pressing into the bandaged lines on his chest.
He swallows down the pain brought on by this desperately needed contact, the relief of Aziraphale’s forgiveness making him dizzy.
Or perhaps he’s just been standing too long, he thinks faintly as the room around him gives another sickening lurch and his legs tremble in warning.
He raises his good arm, grips the back of the angel’s waistcoat for support.
“D’you… you think we can take this back to the bedroom?” he murmurs, resting his hopelessly spinning head on the angel’s shoulder. “I may need to sit down.”
Wordlessly, Aziraphale snaps his fingers, and Crowley finds himself back on the bed, curled against the angel’s side. Aziraphale’s beautiful wings unfurl, cocooning them both in their soft, protective warmth.
Crowley reaches for Aziraphale’s hand, captures it in his own – an anchor. “Love you,” he murmurs, closing his eyes as he feels a gentle press of lips against the top of his head.
“I love you, too, you ridiculous creature.” And there’s that suspicious wetness in the angel’s voice again. “So, so much. Now, sleep.”
And Crowley does.
And if Aziraphale’s arms hold him just a bit tighter than usual, well… Crowley finds he doesn’t mind that at all.