Crowley used to be a snake. It’s a fact that only a few of the beings in all of History have been told directly, but something that every self-respecting demon knows and passes on when they have a chance to. (It spreads in surges - when the gossip slows down too much, or every time the game Telephone becomes popular with children again). He isn’t exactly an unknown reptilian after all.
Aziraphale knows this. Obviously. He has a book about it. Three actually. He’s written all of them. They’re currently in a wall-safe behind one of the heavier bookshelves along with every diary he’s owned since The Beginning. The angel had taken to hiding them all, and had done so since around the Sumerian times when he’d finally convinced Crowley to learn to read. That had proven to be a mistake, seeing as whenever Crowley got his hands on the journals, he annotated them, ‘proofreading and correcting’ the ‘inaccuracies’ as he called it - which entirely consisted of scratching out the parts that were embarrassing for him.
This had become irritating enough for Aziraphale to deny Crowley access to them, and he changed the location every year and a half. Besides - he had to protect The List. Or at least what was left of it.
The List used to be a rather lengthy chapter in Book One of Sed Serpens In Ea, detailing every instance that Crowley had allowed his old nature to slip through, but now it consisted of only five recurring themes that Aziraphale had hastily scrawled inside the back cover as Crowley burned all of the leaves that he had ripped from the volume. That awful night had resulted in an argument that lasted the entirety of 1986, and the book had not changed since.
He probably shouldn’t have been thinking about that horrid year, but Aziraphale’s eyes were currently forcefully focused on his best friend being beaten senseless, so the distraction was nice. Aziraphale listed the five in his head, ticking his fingers against his restraints. Dark liquid splashed onto the worn carpet of the bookshop, punctuating each of the items.
“One,”Aziraphale thought to himself, “Scales.”
Some of the others thought it was a little bit childish - I mean, keeping physical aspects from a life you hadn’t lived for millennia? Talk about a filthy slate - but they were really just jealous of the furfuraceous texture that allegedly made appearances amongst the skin cells of a specific demon. Not that any of them had actually seen these scales of course. It is rumored that in times of slightly less clothing, he could be seen flaunting the discolored patches, but other than that, there was still just the one being that was worthy enough.
There’s a diagram of Crowley in Volume II. A rough sketch by Aziraphale of Crowley’s general human shape with drawn in smudges and shapes depicting the birthmarks.
The largest concentration of the uneven skin rests the in the muscular crease of his right shoulder blade. It goes flush with the pale skin, stretching and moving as the rest of it does, blending together with a mesmerizing gradient. It fades as it curls towards his neck, the color melting away into skin tone and only the slight smooth roughness remaining. On lazy summer mornings, Aziraphale watches Crowley’s lungs fill and shift his shoulders, pulling taut the muscles that rest there, shadows darkening the already black stretch of skin.
The rest of them are smaller and hidden. They exist as mere blots, blemishes of color that never quite evolved away completely. The rarest ones are that of obsidian; deep midnight hues snuggled into creases and curves and clefts - seen in the drunkenness and trust of late hours. They live on the underside of Crowley’s left ankle and down the small valley that runs from behind his earlobe to his jaw and between the space of his middle and ring finger on his right hand and behind his front teeth on the roof of his mouth.
Crowley’s scales were violently and beautifully black in all their glory, and back then, the relieving chalk white that blanched over parts of his body was a matter of shame, but Aziraphale loves these best. They are hidden, and took much longer to find. The achromatic plots flatten against his skin like soldiers in a bomb blast, and can only be discovered through microscopic analyzation. So far, he has discovered those on the corner of his left eye like a poorly chosen tattoo and specks that grow under the hair of neat and ethereal eyebrows. An invisible, unsure dot shows on the awkward inside curve of his wrist that looks more like an old cigarette burn than anything else. In the space where his toes meet his foot on the right side, an inch long line rests, thin like a razorblade scar.
Crowley keeps these camouflaged spots like a monument -or a memorial- to his old self and Aziraphale wouldn’t be surprised if Crowley had his own and more accurate volume of his strange anatomy.
The angel chuckled slightly at this thought, but it must have sounded like a sob, because one of the men holding him gripped a heavy hand in his hair and repositioned his face towards the unholy sight that was unfurling in his home. Well, it was rather holy in the end. He was being held by two, but Crowley was at the mercy of one. There were fingers cutting off the circulation of his own arms, but Crowley just hung limply from one hand, fighting weakly against the painful looking grip. The figure clutching the demon grinned at the misheard sound from Aziraphale, and she drove a blade hilt deep into Crowley’s right shoulder. Crowley screamed and flailed, his eyes blowing wide as the knife sliced through the thick layer of scales and severed knots of coiled muscles. Aziraphale gasped and moaned in helplessness, pulling against the large hands that enclosed his wrists.
“Oh, dear Aziraphale,” the woman said with mock sympathy. “If only you had listened to me the first time, this wouldn’t be necessary.” Aziraphale shook his head, the cracked lens of his glasses obscuring his vision as she twisted the knife 180 degrees, pulling another low groan from Crowley.
“Leave him alone!” Aziraphale cried, his voice begging.
It had been probably only ten minutes since the three had entered the bookstore and dragged Crowley from the table, who had been too inebriated to act in the milliseconds that he could have. One of the large men had gripped Crowley by the shoulders and thrown him into the corner, sending him flying into a shelf and dropping several large encyclopedias onto his head. Before Aziraphale could stand to help, the woman had appeared, seemingly from the air, and leaned over him.
“Aziraphale,” she purred, sounding more menacing than anything that Satan could have put on that earth. “You haven’t changed a bit. Not something I can say for myself unfortunately.” She grinned, perfectly white teeth glinting evilly. The straight-edged smile was sharp like a razor blade, and Aziraphale gulped. This happened in the same way it had once, those many years ago, Aziraphale could recognize her by the pure malice in her voice.
“Atroxi. What do you want?” Aziraphale breathed, eyes nervously flitting to Crowley crumpled in the corner as his features sharpened. What an awful time to sober up.
“Well, dear, if you use that big brain of yours,” she paused, glancing at Crowley in tandem with Aziraphale. “Then I’m sure you’ll remember our last chat.” Aziraphale shivered. It hadn’t exactly been a pleasant time. He gritted his teeth and focused all attention on Atroxi. He could tell that Crowley was staring at him, waiting for answers as adrenaline sped anxiously through his veins.
“I’ve done nothing wrong. I,” he paused, glancing meaningfully at Crowley. “Stopped everything you demanded of me." Aziraphale stared determinedly into her eyes, refusing to break contact. "You have no evidence against me." Crowley stared in shock at the intensity of the normally passive man he knew so well.
"It is true that you did end the blasphemy you were engaged in at the time, but new evidence has arisen against you." Liquid dread ran through Aziraphale's veins. The reality of her words dawned on him, chilling his confidence into a grimace. "The accusations are worse this time. If that's even possible." The angel gulped and flattened his face into a stony expression. A looming, enormous presence stood behind him, warning him against movements. "And here I was thinking that you learned your lesson."
"What do you want from me?" he asked quietly.
"Well I want you to learn it. The lesson I mean. I'm just doing my job, Aziraphale."
Just doing her job. Aziraphale cursed in every language he knew, running them off in his head. Atroxi laughed at his expression, dropping Crowley to the floor in a heap of limbs. She strided towards him, bending and spitting in his face.
“It’s disgusting you know. I mean, it’s literally the worst blasphemy an angel can commit. Your highest commander spoke against this, you nihilist!” Aziraphale could see Crowley in his peripheral vision, lolling on the floor as he attempted to heal himself of the wound in his shoulder. But Aziraphale could see that the stained knife she held was blessed, and Crowley could do nothing about the blood he shed because of it. Heaven’s punishments were not what they used to be; no help would come to him here. He stared into the deep brown of Atroxi’s eyes, ticking off the next.
Aziraphale loved his name. It was a name worthy of an angel - elegant and unique and existing with the air of something meant to survive for all of Eternity and more. It used to sound best ringing over hills and carried along breezes that ran through ancient forests, skipping over babbling brooks and swinging through whispering leaves. But nowadays, Aziraphale loved his name best in the mouth of Crowley. Although...
Crowley had not quite grown out of hissing. It was endearing, really, and Aziraphale loved it. The sound came through in S’s and Z’s, but Crowley kept it hidden most of the time. He only lost control of it in situations of extreme emotion; Aziraphale heard it a record number of times in 1986. But mostly it was in times of bellowing laughter and shouting matches too horrid to think of and nights glazed over with an embarrassing amount of alcohol.
When he did let it slip through in conversation, Aziraphale watched blush slide up Crowley’s cheeks as he sped through the rest of his sentence, hoping the other had not noticed the sound, words tumbling over one another like pebbles down a hill. Aziraphale generally ignored the slip ups because that was what Crowley wanted him to do, but every so often a grin wouldn’t be hidden behind a glass fast enough, and Aziraphale would find himself with a face full of Embarrassed Crowley Hair.
“It’s all about science, Zira. Doctors and Lawyers and Scientissssstsss,” he had said distractedly, speaking of something inconsequential. Aziraphale licked his lips secretively, pulling his smile off his countenance. He looked out the window of Crowley’s stylish home and bit his cheek, cursing his lack of control. Aziraphale was almost expecting it when was tackled to the nearest flat surface and smothered with laughter and half kisses and red flushed cheeks.
“What? What did I do!” Aziraphale breathily shouted between ticklish fingers.
“Rudenessss is not tolerated here!” Crowley would reply mightily, dancing his hands down the angel’s sides.
These times are, unfortunately, far and in between, for Crowley has the speech impediment stomped almost completely out of existence. Aziraphale is sure that it occurs much more often when they allow themselves to black out drunk, but honestly, who takes the time to remember all of that?
But in the tiny spaces of the night, in those early hours of suspended existence, when half the world sleeps and a few pinpricks of light still dance in their darkness, Crowley speaks. He says these things surrounded by bottles usually, but sometimes only their silence. They sit under blankets and sheets, unnecessary breath filling the tiny place and enveloping them with heat. He can hear the words now, repeated too many times now to be as special as the first, but still beautiful, echoing through their important worlds.
His name in Crowley’s voice is art, four syllables strung together like popcorn ‘round a tree and as powerful as waves shattering onto a silent beach. His name sounds more perfect and dynamic than all of the speeches in the history of time. The four small notes, pulled into a harmony and lifted as a melody resonate through Aziraphale’s head every time Crowley says it in that tone he reserves for only this. The tone that confesses and screams and whispers and breaks and scares and talks says:
“Azzziraphale. I want you to stay here.”
“Azzzzziraphale, please, forgive me.”
“Zzzira, you are the greatessst thing to happen to me.”
“Azssssiraphale, I don’t care WHERE you go! Just LEAVE. NOW!”
“Azszsziraphale. I really love you.”
And when he says this he says it like something that should be inscribed on every page of every book of every world in all of the stars of the sky because it is the most true and important thing that anyone on Earth shall ever say. And Aziraphale believes him. He believes him with all of the pain that surges through his heart upon hearing the voice now.
“Azszsziraphale,” it calls, the word mixing with a scream of pain and a sob. At the sound of the name, Atroxi’s malevolent grin falters into a grimace, and then one of fury. Aziraphale can see her grit her teeth from here as she twists the blade again, veins in her hands creating topography as she holds too hard to the knife. She rips the blade from the wound that leaks black, shoving him to the ground and driving the high heel of her boot into it. The sound of agony that Crowley makes drives an icepick into Aziraphale’s chest, sending spider webbing cracks through his heart.
“Crowley,” he barely manages to whisper. He pulls against the hands that hold him down, his shoulders aching with the strain. That voice has said so many things, but this one hurts the most, and he notices not when Atroxi grips him by the collar and shouts into his face,
“HE IS GOING TO DIE. AND IT WILL BE AT YOUR HAND, AZIRAPHALE.”
He doesn’t hear this.
"There's no way you can b- hic -beat me at this, you little.... thing," Aziraphale said in a language that was not English, but will be for the sake of the story. He rubbed at his eyes with four or eight fingers and slammed his deadweight arms onto the table. The year was 3152 BCE, and as predicted, Crowley and Aziraphale were absolutely sloshed.
Mostly the latter though. Hell had, as with many things, figured stuff out much earlier than the humans. And since the little earthworms had just discovered alcohol, Aziraphale had also. Heaven wasn't too keen on a substance that could give their angels bad reputations, but the ones stationed on the planet had a rather good excuse. (It is worth mentioning that Crowley’s tolerance for the stuff went about as far as Egyptians had gotten, so the playing field leveled around Italy’s discovery of spirits in the early AD’s).
"Really? You, an Angel Of The Lord and all that jazz, think that you're going to win? I'd love to see you try." Crowley grinned, taking a long swig from the clay bottle.
“I-... I am going to win.” Aziraphale said sternly, settling himself into the stool “First- hic -first one to blink. They lose.”
“They do indeed. They is you, Zira. You’re gonna lose.”
“Am not. ‘M gonna win.”
“Alright, pretty boy. Let’s do it. First one to blink loses.” Crowley pulled the shaded veil from his forehead, blinking yellow eyes in the new light. He had to wear eye coverings these days - locals either called him a god or a devil, and neither of those were very convenient for time sensitive situations. “Call it when you’d like.”
“Okay…. NOW!” Aziraphale crowed messily, opening his eyes wide, too wide. Crowley stared back, as that was the nature of the game, and at this distance he allowed his eyes to take in every detail of Aziraphale’s. His irises were metallic gray, winding down towards his pupils before exploding back out in a tight ring of pure blue that held strong against the dilated black circles. Cerulean specks flickered in the candlelight like gold flakes in a riverbed, half-hidden amongst the gray stardust that filled the rest of the space. The small dots of color clung to the slate of his eyes like survivors in a maelstrom, wedged in places that had no right to be.
Aziraphale’s eyes existed as black holes, pulling their own color into the centers with almighty and ancient force. They pulled Crowley forward with the same attraction, desire rushing through his stomach. He pressed his fingernails into the table, leaving indentations; boozed to death and half-asleep wasn’t the right time. Not quite yet. He grinned to himself, fanning away the thoughts and replacing them with amusement at how troubled Aziraphale looked.
Aziraphale’s neatly pink-tinged whites were shaking now, twenty or thirty seconds having passed. They quivered like mercury on a subwoofer, wavering under pale lids. Crowley chuckled slightly at the grimace that was spreading over Aziraphale’s face, his own eyes feeling as they did every day.
“How do you exist?” Aziraphale hissed, pressing his chin onto his hands and scowling at the uncontrollable spasming of his eyelids whilst watching Crowley be unaffected.
“With much pain and suffering. Just give up, angel. It was actually pretty impressive for someone so boring. Buy the next round of drinks and I’ll reveal my secrets.” Crowley had yet to even slightly tic yet, and his cavalier smile was too much for Aziraphale to bear. He groaned and slammed his head onto the table, blinking down hard over aching eyes.
“I hate you.”
“And I you, Shezmu.” Aziraphale stumbled up and retrieved a slave boy that had been doing rounds through the expensive ballroom. When he sat down again, Crowley snatched the bottle from his hand and downed the majority of it before cracking it down onto the table, waving dismissively at the liquid that was leaking out and dripping onto the floor. Before he could protest, Crowley stood, refitting his eye-covering and pulling Aziraphale away from the table. “Care to dance?”
It was several thousand years later when Aziraphale bolted upwards with flailing arms, upsetting Crowley’s use of his torso as a pillow and bringing forth a grumbling groan from the disturbed one. “You cheated!” Aziraphale scream-whispered into the night, gleeful in his discovery.
“Mm?” Crowley hummed in reply, arms slung around the rowdy angel’s waist pulling him to a more horizontally useful position.
“The staring contest! I was just thinking about it. In Egypt - Pharaoh Amenho… something. You bloody cheated!”
“Mm,” Crowley answered, settling against Aziraphale’s ribs. “How?” he asked drowsily, deciding that silence wasn’t going to get him more sleep.
“You had just gotten eyelids then. Right after the chariots - in China. You were so bothered by all the dust that you gave in and grew a pair! Ha! And I bought alcohol for you.” Aziraphale chuckled, relaxing back into the bed and running fingers down Crowley’s back.
“How do you remember all of this?” Crowley slurred, snuggling into the touch.
“Unlike yourself, dear boy, it’s a bit more difficult for me to forget that you weren’t always so humanly shaped. You couldn’t imagine the amount of snide comments I receive from angels on my choice of companionship.” Aziraphale scoffed, muttering something about minding one’s own business.
Crowley was quiet, and the angel decided he must have fallen asleep again. He sighed. “It’s worth it though, right?” asked a small voice, soft in its sleepiness.
“What? My choice of companionship?”
Aziraphale laughed quietly, resting his hand flat against Crowley’s spine. “Yes, of course, you old serpent. Those toads can say what they wish, but they know nothing of you - of us, rather.” Crowley made a satisfied type noise and closed his eyes carefully, consciously feeling each muscle’s movement. Occasionally, Crowley woke up with open eyes too dry to keep blinking (he usually woke up to Aziraphale yelling and hitting him with a pillow because ‘it was creepy’ and ‘one of these days,’ he’d ‘really be dead and I won’t even look twice’), and spent the next hour or so dousing himself with water until he could again. Eyelids were something that took more than a few millennia to get used to.
Aziraphale may have believed it was easy for Crowley to ignore his past, but it was constantly there, itching at his back and reminding him that he didn’t deserve the literal angel he had somehow acquired. Most of his snakelike traits had been wicked away with slowly developing demonic trades, but Crowley couldn’t ever quite shake his yellow eyes. He always questioned whether it was a physical inability or just a case of severe nostalgia. Either way, Aziraphale seemed to like them plenty well, so that was worth the occasional stake burning. (And that had happened several times. Aziraphale knew about approximately four of the times he’d been roped to a wooden stick and set ablaze, and Crowley planned to keep it that way. He’d decided long ago that a cuff to the side of the head and a ‘you can’t just keep disappearing like this’ was better than the years of fretting he got otherwise. Crowley always made sure to open his eyes extra wide and look abashed at the mild treatment while his heart thundered with hope that Aziraphale wouldn’t notice the ash that stuck to his shoes and the singed edges of his coat sleeves.)
The Eyes thing had always worked, and it did to this day. Aziraphale noticed similarly blown pupils and faked puppy innocence as Crowley looked up at him from under a hairline dripping with dark crimson, skin swelling.
His gruesome expression was only slightly more accusational than usual.
The tawny hand in Crowley’s hair tightened, and she dragged him painfully to his knees. They were at eye level now, only a few feet away from one another, but still much too far.
“Do you see what your disregard for the rules has done?” She asked, spitting the word like poison. Aziraphale could indeed see, and he put every ounce of apology he could muster into his gaze. Crowley looked as though Death itself had hit him over the head with a crowbar.
Crowley’s right eye was closed over completely, bloated and turning purple, his left temple leaking with the near-black that constituted Crowley’s blood. The dark fluid had run onto the translucent patch of scales by his eye, and Aziraphale could see the pattern flushed out like some sort of sadistic reverse stamp. The other eye was close to that point, the acid yellow of his iris gone and instead flooded with the grisly sight of several broken blood vessels.
“You should never have gotten this close to a forbidden being, Aziraphale,” Atroxi said bitterly. “Especially knowing this would happen! All this pain for your own selfishness!” She laughed, waving her arms in the air and whacking her fist into Crowley’s temple on the down-swing. Aziraphale looked at her with a cocktail of contempt and guilt, but when he looked at Crowley, a vague expression of understanding was dawning.
“I didn’t know this would be happening,” Aziraphale ground out between gritted teeth.
“Oh? Is that right? So when I came to you all those years ago and told you that if you kept up this… relationship, I’d have to kill the thing and make you watch it bleed out on the ground, I wasn’t completely clear?”
Crowley stared out at him as best he could with the cracks of vision he still possessed. Aziraphale shook his head slightly. Crowley couldn’t possibly think that he had meant for this to happen.
“ANSWER ME,” she shouted, pulling Crowley away by his shirt collar and planting a strong kick into his ribs. Aziraphale watched the air go out of him as two of his ribs snapped in half. The action created a resounding crack that hitched the breath in Aziraphale’s chest.
“No,” Aziraphale sobbed, watching as the horns Crowley did so well to hide sprouted from his black hair.
“‘NO’ WHAT?” she screamed, kicking Crowley onto his back and pounding her foot onto his sternum, sending another blood-curdling sound jolting through his bones. The demon couldn’t scream for the oxygen being kicked out of him, and he made a strangled type noise as his fingernails grew out into claws. He wasn't exactly fond of the sensation. Aziraphale could see the pain in Crowley’s body as the heavy leather boot slammed into his sides and back and neck and head over and over and over again.
Aziraphale had seen these physical changes once before - during one of the most terrifying moments of his life, and seeing them again at his own hand was about as much as he could take. His neck went limp and his head fell forwards. The man still holding his arms gripped his head and held it up to face the Holy sight that lay before him. A demon being beaten by a high-level angel for charges of blasphemy. Charges placed on the wrong shoulders.
Aziraphale let his eyes watch as Crowley became more angular and true to the stereotypes, curling in on himself as a deranged foot snapped bones like twigs and created bruises like inkblots that leaked out onto the canvas. It shocked out purples that would become yellows before fading out entirely and allowing the owner to try to forget.
“No.” The guilty angel says this with exhaustion, and he feels his heart clench with every inch that Crowley pulls himself closer, trying to provide any protection he could from the destruction he faced. “Four. Sleeping.”
He yawns like a hungry python, his jaw opening more than probably physically possible as he manages to let out to most contented sound that would ever be uttered on that earth. Crowley generally seems overly content with most things, and Aziraphale finds that it’s a calming presence to be around. He says ‘Mornin’ with such mussed, sleepy, casual adorableness that it implies he is not the most irritating sleeper on the face of God’s great earth.
Aziraphale has since forced him out of old habits, only to create new and usually worse problems that remind him strangulation is not pleasant for either party. The first time that they shared a bed - or The Ground as it was in those back-problem laden days - Aziraphale shivered the entire night, as the dirt under a tree wasn’t exactly the most cozy of resting places. Crowley used to sleep as snakes do, curled into a pile of fleshy bits and warmth. Though his version was a bit more like a fetal position - if that particular fetus had dabbled in contortionism.
Encased in his own personal block of ice, Aziraphale would watch as Crowley went through the complicated process of getting ‘comfortable’ and prepared to sleep. With his back in a corner, Crowley would hook his ankles around each other, tucking his legs together and pulling his knees up to his chin. His arms would twist once and fold under themselves, his fingers intertwining. Crowley’s face would disappear into his own little cave while leaving Aziraphale mildly horrified and completely confused.
It got only worse after he had fallen asleep, for when the demon woke up, presumably from scary devil pain, he stretched. But when Crowley stretched, he pushed every single muscle and joint and ligament in his body to the absolute breaking point. He’d reach arms and legs all the way over Aziraphale before returning to himself and folding up again. This would happen three or four times a night. ‘Irritating’ was a mild word for it.
Nowadays, Crowley slept much more than Aziraphale, for the angel found no comfort in wasting away hours that could be used for other, more productive things and thoughts (Crowley described this philosophy as ‘stop being deep, I’m trying to sleep’ in which he found much more amusement in than he should have). But Aziraphale insisted Crowley grow out of the habit of using every single muscle he had evolved into just to sleep with a pillow made of nostalgia, so he did.
Crowley went to sleep stick-straight, and probably wouldn’t have looked more uncomfortable if the old springs in the mattress were replaced with knives. Aziraphale never said anything, because it was better than a square foot of radiating heat at his hip on the other side of the bed. About halfway through the night, like a wind up toy that had run out of time, he’d refold into the small boulder that Aziraphale was grumpily accustomed to.
The angel had resigned to accepting this, and it continued this way for about seven years until one fateful occasion. Crowley had appeared in Aziraphale’s residence in the middle of the night, hoping to receive a solution (and in this case, alcohol was one) for a bad case of frustratingly persistent insomnia, and instead found the angel dead asleep on top of an ancient looking text, a pen still tucked into his hand and his glasses pushed into wavy hair. Careful to keep any of his drool from staining the pages, Crowley lifted Aziraphale from his workbench and hefted him into a bridal carry. Aziraphale murmured something sleepily, wrapping his fingers under Crowley’s suit jacket so the backs of his fingers were against his heart. Crowley smiled and whispered something about ‘Zira turning him into a wimp’ as he mounted the old wooden stairs that led to the loft.
Crowley entered Aziraphale’s classically messy room, pushing the chipped door open with his foot. There were books towering and stuffed with notes here too, piled in corners and used as furniture; several as stands for lamps. He looked around the room fondly, adjusting Aziraphale in his arms. When he tried to set him down on the old bed, Crowley found that Aziraphale’s fingers were still latched around his lapel, holding him there.
“You gotta let me leave, angel, I’ve got Hell to raise,” Crowley whispered, enclosing Aziraphale’s hand in his own and gently trying to extricate himself from the grip.
“Why are you here?” he asked, tone heavy with slight consciousness.
“Well I’m trying not to be, but you’re not quite letting me,” Crowley replied, still holding Aziraphale’s hand in his own.
“No,” the angel said, flopping his hand on his head until he reached his glasses and slamming them down onto the nightstand with practiced ease. He slapped at his pillow a little bit, pressing his head more comfortably into the fabric. “No, you needed something. What was it?” he slurred, torpid. He let his hand slip from Crowley’s jacket, but held onto Crowley’s fingers.
“You really shouldn’t be this concerned about me, Zira. It just makes me look bad.”
“Hmph. You should… stay here”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“‘Cos you look tired.” The insomniac looked up from the linked fingers he had been watching for the conversation, meeting Aziraphale's eyes.
“Fine,” Crowley sighed, as though it were a Herculean chore - and what a douche that guy had been. Like, we get it, two heads grow when you cut off one, get over yourself. He ambled over to the other side of the bed, sliding out of his shoes and jacket, and placing sunglasses on a nearby stack of books. He crawled into the bed and lay straight out, arms at his side like a soldier.
Sleeping like this made him feel exposed and vulnerable, but Aziraphale would kick him out if he didn’t, so he endured. He lay there in the quiet sort of peace that came with hearing someone else's breathing, wishing to every power in the universe that he could just sleep. But with every attempt at clearing the thoughts that flushed his mind, Crowley found himself further and further from the bliss that the angel seemed to find so easily.
Aziraphale always seemed to be able to read his thoughts at inconvenient times, and this was no different. Right as he had decided to slip out and maybe get some work done, Aziraphale rolled over so that he was directly against Crowley’s side. His arm stretched over Crowley’s waist, pinning him there in the same way that a comfortable kitten could. Aziraphale made a gratified sort of noise and nestled into Crowley’s torso.
It was like a total reboot of his brain. Worries fell away like cracked eggshells each time Aziraphale’s chest expanded into his body. Like a metronome of peace, Aziraphale steadied Crowley into silence, reminding him to breathe and keeping his heart beating. It brought him back, for some reason, to Pompeii. Crowley can still hear the pure panic and fear that reverberated through the city on that day echoing through his mind, never quite forgotten. He’d been searching for Aziraphale of course, and found him half trapped trying to save a family from a collapsing temple. He remembered the panic in Aziraphale’s face as the stone archway he held up with sheer force of will began to fall, crumbling in his fingers.
Crowley had wasted a precious second staring at the compromised rock, thinking of what would happen if he just left, saved himself, and abandoned Aziraphale in pain and amongst death. The expression on his face was the most Human he’d ever seen - all emotion and conflicted feelings and instinct. He thought of the rest of Eternity that he would spend without that awful presence to interrupt his work and general existence and the ease of living he’d experience. He thought of this for a second before he leapt forward and seized the angel around the waist, falling backwards into the street and cursing himself for the hairbreadth of time that he’d even considered it. Aziraphale had pulled the stunned demon from the dirt and ash, breathlessly staring and shaking his head. There were proper no words for the situation that they were in. They ran. They ran to the hills, clutching to one another the whole way.
Crowley remembers this as Aziraphale presses unconscious fingers into his hip, pulling him to sleep as he pulled him to safety those many years ago. He slept.
He woke up with a warm body next to him, lightly snoring with no intention to move. Something changed during that night.
After that time, Crowley spent the dark hours of days fitted against Aziraphale’s side while one of them stayed awake, listening to the breathing of the other and wishing for nothing else in the world. There was no question to it - he would appear in Aziraphale’s house in the middle of the night, bloody or crying or just plain tired - and he’d sleep. Sometimes they both would.
Aziraphale doesn’t know why Crowley suddenly began to sleep so comfortably - he remembers that night in the same way we remember our infancy; not very well - but he gives thanks every night that he spends as a cushion for the demonic head he’s known for so long. He can still see Crowley moving in his memory, graceful and sure as he wrapped himself up in his own arms, an aura of protection surrounding him.
Aziraphale remembers not the running, but the authentically relieved soot-blackened face of Crowley as he looked over the Fall of Pompeii from the mountains, watching the buildings burn and hearing the sounds of life come to an end with agonizing leisure. He recalls the yellow of his eyes like a flame against blackened skin, terrified with realization. He still feels the tightness of the grip that Crowley held his hand with through that entire first night, his arm extended from the knot of his body like life support, a breathing tube at the bottom the ocean.
Aziraphale feels this grip on his heart like a table vice, pulsing it for him and sending red hot fury through his body. He can’t see Crowley’s eyes but he knows that that same fear is harbored there as he is beaten. No more. He has made his decision. He will be executed for this - every possible clue that he had existed will be erased from history like chalk on a slate. He doesn’t care. He may not be a God-fearing Guardian Angel, but he is an Angel, Goddamnit, and this will be ending right. now.
Aziraphale knew how to fight. It wasn’t particularly shocking in the long run - every culture has its techniques, and when you’ve been around for all of them, you pick a few things up. Not to mention the fact that angels were created as warriors. An army has to be able to defend. Aziraphale knew how to fight because the style came with general knowledge, and it was in the very structures that kept all of his internal soft things from falling everywhere.
Crowley knew how to fight because it was in his blood. He had been a snake for what was probably quite a long time before Time was really invented, and one does not snap out of that easily. Many millennia layered atop one another encouraged a bit of society, and society usually did not take kindly to spitting venom and or strangling people so hard that they die.
But it was still there - that instinctual urge to tear at the weak and unfit, to rid them of their right to live on. Crowley was long ago a creator of Natural Selection, and it didn’t fade easy. Despite the sunglasses and the classy suits and jackets and scarves, Crowley was a cold-blooded predator, and he lived his life as fiercely as a dragon.
Aziraphale thought of one of the few times he’d been actually, really, scared of his friend. The scenes imprinted onto mind, and channeled the fire he’d seen in those desert-sun yellow eyes into his movements now. He counted his steps like he had in Louis XIV’s grand ballroom the first time he learned the gavotte.
One. Scales. He thought, stomping down onto the foot of his captor with practiced aim. When his hands were released in shock, Aziraphale swung his elbow back, hard, slamming into the nose of the man.
Two. Hissing. He grunted, and as the second man, who had been passively observing the process, made a move for him, Aziraphale snapped his fingers and promptly made a vanishing act of the brute. The Angel’s wings flared out from his back in all their glory, reaching to one of the walls. They were gray like stormclouds, darkening as they travelled away from his body. The tips of the largest feathers black like scorched wood, a warning in themselves.
Three. Blinking. Atroxi was braced for the coming attack, her boot on Crowley’s back like a planted flag, the blessed blade in her hand, and a challenging smirk on her face. Aziraphale flicked one of his wings and knocked over the clerk desk that sat dejectedly in the corner of the storefront, for it was rarely used.
Four. Sleeping. From the mess, he pulled a silver letter opener, scored with runes and symbols of language older than lexicon itself. It had been a gift. He held the shiny object in his hand like the flaming sword he once possessed. Aziraphale chanted the list to himself like a tattoo in his mind; forever there, forever reminding. He would not let Crowley suffer any more.
Five. Predator. Aziraphale charged.
Aziraphale’s bare feet ached as they pounded up the stone stairs, and he squealed with laughter and glee, a peal echoing through the cavernous hall as he swung around the banister onto the next floor. He fell backwards into the wall when the staircase around the corner showed to be full very much of the man he was running from. Or being chased by, rather.
“You are not very good at this game,” Crowley remarked, ticking an eyebrow and stepping down to the next stair. His feet were bare as well, and Aziraphale grinned with exertion, his eyes wide and breath panting.
“I just think that you’re too good at this game.” Aziraphale said, feeling that the wall behind him curved, a rope bolted into it - another staircase. “Weren’t you behind me?” he inched along the wall, hoping he was inconspicuous. Crowley took another step down, grinning his devil smile.
“You have something that belongs to me,” he singsonged.
“Technically, it should belong to me, so therefore I am keeping it, dear boy. You shall never see it again! Unless you can catch me of course,” Aziraphale called, his foot slipping on the first step. Crowley’s cat eyes shrunk at the sound, flicking to the movement with scary accuracy. Aziraphale nervously thumbed at the sharp object concealed in his sleeve.
“Are you proposing a challenge?” Crowley asked mysteriously, his pupils tightening and his head tilting, arms folded behind him as he moved down another step, only two from the landing now.
“I… am,” Aziraphale replied, something in his stomach turning at the tone of Crowley’s voice.
“Then you should run, little mouse,” Crowley cried jubilantly, lunging over the last two steps and reaching for the other. Aziraphale screeched, and he stumbled down the flight of stairs, Crowley’s fingers ghosting over his back as he took them three or four at a time, his legs struggling to keep up with the plan. Aziraphale screamed once, grasping at the wall when he slipped, leaving a shallow gash across the palm of his left hand. He swallowed his curse and continued, ignoring that in his peripheral vision, Crowley had frozen completely at Aziraphale’s sound of pain, going stock still in the manner of a doe in front of a truck.
“Oh, bugger,” Aziraphale said as he lurched down the last few stairs. The flight had ended in a sort of basement, a single torch on the far wall taking place of the sunlight that had enveloped the upper halls. When he turned to call for a truce, he shrieked and fell backwards, his tailbone landing against the cold floor with the sort of unique pain reserved for that act.
Crowley didn’t say anything, just slid forward to make up for the space that Aziraphale had vacated. His toes were ice cold against the heat that radiated from the soles of Aziraphale’s feet. The fallen one stood clumsily, brushing himself off and wincing when his forgotten scrape pressed against his pants. Crowley only stared at the sign of discomfort, his eyes blown wide, black pupils stretching to fill the entire span of yellow. Aziraphale chalked it up to the poor lighting.
“It’s a bit dark down here. Shall we?” Aziraphale motioned up to the stairs with his bloodied hand. Before he could even think of lowering it, Crowley’s fingers were enclosed tightly around his hand, squeezing at the slight gash. Aziraphale gasped a bit in surprise, giving the demon a hard look. “Crowley,” he said, scolding. He tilted his head in reply. Aziraphale sighed. “I’m not sitting in a dark room with you while you’re being so brazen and all.”
I must have endless patience, Aziraphale thought as Crowley’s silence continued. He tried to pull his hand away, mildly irritated, but Crowley just latched his hand more securely around Aziraphale’s entire wrist, tilting his head as he looked at him unblinkingly. “You’re hurting me, dear,” the angel said carefully, not sure what the game was at this point.
“Okay, now. Let go, Crowley,” Aziraphale says rigidly, pulling against the hand. He remained in the same angled position, hand clasped around Aziraphale’s. “Crow- AH!”
Aziraphale’s knees gave out slightly when he slammed into the wall, white spots clouding his vision. He blinked them away, about to start shouting about boundaries when a sound echoed through the room, sending an icy lightning strike down his spine.
“You ssssssmell like fear,” Crowley drawled, his voice unrecognizable.
“Let go of me,” Aziraphale stated sternly, warily keeping the fear from his voice.
“I do not fear you, ‘O Great Heaven Henchman. I never have. You couldn’t scare me even if you used those supposed wings of yours,” he purred. Crowley grinned, showing off slightly sharp canines as he wrapped his other hand around Aziraphale’s throat. He did it gently, like a caress, but his nails had grown to claws, and the needle sharp ivory left white lines under his jawline.
“Crowley, this is not who you are,” Aziraphale said, getting desperate.
“Oh, but isn’t it though,” he replied easily, tongue flicking into the air. “I can already taste your blood.”
Aziraphale couldn’t die like this. Not like this. Not without even an attempt at defense at the hand of an old comrade. No. He could save Crowley once he was back to himself. Once he returned, Aziraphale could heal him. He assured himself of this as he slid the letter opener into his hand, thrusting it up towards Crowley’s throat with as much force as he could muster at the bad angle. Sorry, love, he thought as he swung the blade towards the neck of his companion.
His wrist was caught in cold fingers about four inches from his target.
He’s glared at by a tilted head and a stance unfamiliar to him. Crowley’s eyes had gone completely black, the pupils expanding like a black hole and sucking away all life. All of Aziraphale’s universe had been deprived of sunlight, sucked away as a new galaxy formed. In that second, he found a galaxy without carefree laughter and friendship too old to be reasonable. Aziraphale was terrified at how quickly he created these new nebulas. He was satisfied with the speed in which he brushed them away, falling to shreds like long dead cobwebs.
Crowley blinked. It was not necessary, but he blinked as though trying to clear his vision. Crowley stared at Aziraphale as though he wasn’t sure of the scene he was watching. He stared at Aziraphale incredulously, taking in the sight before him, deliberating. He made a decision.
Crowley tightened his grip around the other’s wrist, and both of the bones in Aziraphale’s left forearm shattered, splintering as they cracked, fragments screaming under pressure. Over the awful sound, he vaguely acknowledged the sound of the letter opener clatter to the floor.
Aziraphale screamed, but a hand pressed over his mouth, muffling his pain. “How dare you,” Crowley growled, tightening his hand around Aziraphale’s throat. Horns grew out of his hair, separating the strands like fast growing trees, taking root as Crowley’s cheekbones became more defined, his bones more pointed with each second.
“You cloud scum! You think that you’re better than me?” Crowley sneered, chuckling to himself as he lifted Aziraphale off the ground. His shirts caught on the uneven stone walls as his feet left the ground. “I’m going to watch you die, Aziraphale,” he said calmly, ignoring the nails scratching at his wrist.
Aziraphale sucked in breath as well as he could, slapping at the hand that held him as he stared down into the face that he used to know. He used that as a last comfort. This is not Crowley, he thinks as black smudges begin to overtake his vision like slowly drawn curtains. This is not Crowley. This is not Crowley. This is not Crow-
“‘-ley, p-lease,” Aziraphale begged with his last air, no longer fighting against the hand, but just hanging his off of it. He clutched at the wrist, nails digging into flesh. His vision gets darker, and he prayed with all of his soul.
He felt the oxygen rush when he was dropped to the floor, falling forward and wheezing air through a crushed trachea like a pathetically asthmatic human. After a few seconds of confused information flooding, he propped himself onto his knees, on all fours as he scrambled for the sharp thing that had fallen near him, holding it in front of him with the other hand to his aching throat. Crowley stands about five feet away from him, looking down at the stormy eyes of a man whose entire premise of existence has been destroyed.
Crowley looked confused, staring around himself as Aziraphale just had, retrieving his bearings.
“Aziraphale?” he asked, his deep voice asked, concern dripping from the sounds like acid. “Oh Hell, Zira, are you alright?” He moved forward, reaching out towards the angel, but fell backwards immediately. The angel’s eyes raged with the force of a typhoon, daring Crowley to move forwards as he jabbed the blood-stained knife into the air. His right arm propped him up, but his left hung in the air, at the wrong angle but hand still gripping to the metal, knuckles white with pain.
Aziraphale thrusted the cutlass further in front of him, breath still wheezing as his hand shook. The silver thing clattered to the ground again, Aziraphale falling with it, crumpling to the floor completely and coughing in discomfort as his lungs punished him for the starvation. Angels didn’t technically need air, but after a couple thousand years breathing it, it wasn’t very pleasant to suddenly stop for a minute and then be tossed back into it like a fish into water.
“Hey, angel, what happened?” He moved towards Aziraphale again, sitting next to him and reaching out. And his voice was so painfully informal and familiar that Aziraphale’s blood boiled, heat surging through his mind and he hated Crowley with every bit of his being. He swung himself upwards, hurling his left arm at Crowley. Aziraphale screamed at the pain when his half closed fist connected with the demon’s face. Need to heal, he thought brokenly, his mind pulsing in misery.
Crowley flinched against the attempted blow, confused and helpless. He watched his angel fall back, clutching at his forearm in agony. He shook himself, squaring his body and focusing his energy on knitting the bones back together, fitting the splinters painfully back into one another. He could see the bone straightening out and could hear Aziraphale’s teeth grind in pain.
“Zira…” Crowley said, reaching out to the angel. Only then did he see the claws that had not quite faded away yet, emotion still running too high for them to recede without a conscious effort. “Oh Hell. Oh fuck. Zira?” The other looked up with such evident accusation that Crowley winced away. “Did I-? Oh no, I’m so sorry, Aziraphale. This isn’t supposed to be happening anymore. I’m so sorry.” Crowley ran fingers anxiously through his hair and gulped. Wanting to do something to help, he reached out for Aziraphale’s arm, planning on healing it himself - he’d always been better at it than the angel. “Here, let me -” but Crowley faltered back immediately when Aziraphale flinched away, latching his fingers protectively around his injury.
This was bad. Crowley stood. “I,” he began. His hand twitched, and he winced at the claws that scraped against his palms. “I’m so sorry, Aziraphale.” And he vanished.
Aziraphale tries not to remember acts of violence - it’s harder to be punished for them that way - and the same goes for the most gratifying one he’s ever committed. If anyone had asked, he would have denied all suggestions of the instance, because sometimes being underestimated is a very good thing to be.
But Aziraphale does remember. He remembers the way he charged at Atroxi and tackled her off of Crowley, screaming as he slammed her head into a shelf. He cries out long dead languages and curses so powerful that the foundations of the bookshop shake, glass rattling and car alarms going off several blocks away.
He can remember the ecstatic expression of an Angel gone mad long ago, her eyes dancing with the adrenaline. He remembers the unadulterated revenge that courses through his veins, thudding through his chest as he bellows phrases of Angelic power, light glowing through his eyes and gray wings flaring out, twitching in synchronization with his words. Aziraphale chants, rageful in the most terrifying nature. He says the words with the weight and sovereignty that come with immortality. Atroxi fights against his hold, his glare, but she cannot. Aziraphale does not take kindly to rudeness.
“Aut caput amici dedero non nocere.
Qui in medio vestri sunt, et ingens.
Mundi sunt oculi tui, ut spero, in aeternum scabrosus.
Ut putes te nescio mori.”
“No,” Atroxi whispers, clawing at Aziraphale in an effort to escape.
He says it again, “Aut caput amici dedero non nocere.
Qui in medio vestri sunt, et ingens.
Mundi sunt oculi tui, ut spero, in aeternum scabrosus.
Ut putes te nescio mori."
Her eyes roll back, only whites showing. He will kill her in the most agonizing way a member of Heaven can kill another. He repeats the phrases, watching as Atroxi's very Angelic Essence boils away, clinging to her soul with razor sharp talons as it is ripped from the surface.
She screams, thrashing in her own body. Aziraphale lets fly a war cry that he has not uttered in a very long time, and he drives the blade through her throat longways, parallel to her ears. It severs her jugular, and he yanks it forward, ripping through muscle and cartilage and a trachea and an esophagus. She will not breathe again before she dies. He remembers the way her face contorts as both her Grace and her body betray her. She does not have time to bleed. He remembers the fear in her eyes as he chants the passage a last time; how they are the last things to crumble when she falls to dust. It starts at her fingers and works up her appendages, brown skin blanching to gray dirt as she disappears. She falls to dead earth like ash that spreads out into a hearth. Crowley may have been born a predator, but Aziraphale is a fast learner.
The angel remembers the gratification he feels in the marrow of his bones as the glowing fades and the feathers settle against his skin.
Aziraphale remembers the intense and utter dread that chills him to the tips of his fingernails when he sees Crowley’s body. His unmoving body.
“No, no, no,” he says, because it is the only thing that he is thinking as he dives towards the motionless man. “Crowley, Crowley, dear, please,” Aziraphale whispers, perched on the carpet, hands unsure. He presses two fingers to his throat. Even in his natural form, he has a pulse, but Aziraphale’s fingers do not move. Crowley is not breathing.
There is a dent on the side of his head, just behind his temple. It declines, a valley for about two inches before raising up again, surging into mountain peaks of rounded protrusions, tumor shapes like golf balls that rise from his body. Crowley’s face is bloated and bruised, and one of his cheeks is flattened, the bone snapped messily in half. The skin is discolored, and it sags like he is growing into his age, flesh dragged by gravity. Aziraphale can see the jagged edge of the bone pushing against his skin, the texture barely visible under the swelled purple flesh. He does not recognize the altered face. It only makes it worse.
“Oh, dear God, help me,” he murmurs. It is ironic, but he has seen Crowley do this more times than he has himself. It was always with small things - bananas gone too ripe, in secret for a plant that the angel had failed in supporting, and once, a magician’s dove. But never another person, never a friend.
Aziraphale takes a deep breath, wishing away the blood that stains his hands. He places his palms gingerly on the sides of Crowley’s still face, and leans down. He presses their lips together and Breathes. Light like sunshine blooms from his mouth and swirls into Crowley’s. The light continues to flow, spiraling out of the angel’s chest like air from a balloon. Aziraphale pulls away and breathes shallowly for a moment, regaining his composure. Crowley has yet to return.
Aziraphale leans down again, praying with every word that he dares give to this supposed enemy. He exhales more Life into Crowley, hands tightening ever so slightly against his taut skin. Still no response.
The angel doesn’t know how much more of his Divinity he can safely spare. If Crowley does not come back soon, there will be nothing left to be done. Aziraphale’s head is spinning as though he’s been underwater for hours. Still, he leans down again, breathing from somewhere other than his lungs, deep in his chest. It hurts in a distant sort of way, an old soreness of muscles creaking awake. Glowing light shines slightly through the spaces and cracks in Crowley’s lips. Aziraphale is dizzy, his vision vaguely blurry, but he doesn’t bother sitting back up.
His lips hover a centimeter from Crowley’s, and he hopes with all of his heart that this works. That he will bring his only friend back to life when he is so far gone. That the bits of his own life he’s giving are enough to pull what’s left of Crowley’s back into existence. That he will not be left alone. That his life will not become solitary confinement on a world too full for its own good, too small and moving too fast. That he will not face the rest of All Time alone - an empty seat and a full bottle next to him. A silent life. He hopes with all of his soul.
He forces a half puff of air from his breast. Aziraphale’s arms are close to giving out, and he sucks in oxygen like a drowning man, his mouth wavering above Crowley’s, barely touching and barely not. His chest is empty, nearly concave, but he places his lips to the demon’s, just to do something.
Please, hear me. Please, dear God, let him come back. Aziraphale is crying now, and he lets his chest burn, scratching at his insides like vicious creature. He is going to be devoured.
It is in this instant, solar plexus crawling with taloned millipedes, that Aziraphale thinks:
Snakes do not have valiant deaths.
And they do not. He thinks of the predators that the reptiles have, and how the sheer amount of them is rather shocking upon first impression. He thinks of the birds and the boars and the bigger snakes that take the life of their own. He thinks of the average decade that snakes survive in the wild and the extra one they have in captivity. He thinks of the ones that die in smudged glass tanks under heat lamps, dreaming of the sun. He thinks of Crowley in his arms, stabbed or shot or sleeping, and imagines him dead. He thinks of the books behind the shelf in the safe; of the words that were never spoken aloud. He thinks of all the ways that Crowley is still a snake.
He thinks that ‘is’ may soon become ‘was’.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale says, more of a sob than a word, and he kisses cooling lips, wanting nothing more than to feel something in response. He wishes for more Life to give, wishes for nothing more than a word, a sound, a breath.
There are five documented ways in which Crowley is a snake. Scales, Hissing, Blinking, Sleeping, and Fighting. There may be a sixth.
In another universe, the galaxy of an angel with a heavier heart than that of this one, there is another smudged word in the back of a thick volume under the known list. That universe's chickens have antlers. But on this spinning globe, there are but five.
There are not six. And as a result, that one is not Death. Snakes do not have valiant deaths, but Crowley is not a snake. Not anymore.
And because of this, Aziraphale gets all three of his wishes. Simultaneously.
“Ngk. What-?” Cough.
“Oh my god!”
“Wha- Ow, ow, ow.”
“Crowley! Oh God, you’re alive! It worked! Oh thank God, it worked! Crowley!” He trills the name like a hymn, pressing messy kisses to Crowley’s face in between words. Aziraphale wraps arms around Crowley and lifts him from the floor and into his arms, twisting him to the side and pulling a loud string of curses from the demon, his eyes blowing wide.
“Oh, sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Aziraphale says quickly, setting Crowley down with the utmost care, unwrapping his latched fingers from his injured shoulder like an uncoiling wire. “You’re not dead. You’re alive,” he repeats, sliding fingers along the injured side of his face and into his hair, marvelling at the Existence that Crowley is emitting. The Life had healed Crowley’s face almost completely; his eyes are blackened with bruises but their normal lightning shock of color has returned, his cheeks propped up again like replaced scaffolding. He has a demon’s aura, all black-chrome and auburn gold, fingers spiraling out like a flaming galaxy. Aziraphale can see it easily now, the life new enough to mingle with his normal senses.
“I’m not… dead - yet. Hell, it hurts. Fuck, did you shoot me again?” Crowley holds his hand in front of his face, the talons evident. “Ah. Right,” he murmurs, flexing his fingers. Aziraphale grimaces and begins pulling at the fabric that lays wrinkled against Crowley’s right shoulder. “Is she dead?”
Aziraphale freezes at the question, and pretends to have not heard it. “Don’t shift to human form. Not having lungs is better for the… the broken ribs.” Crowley looks away, but turns back when the angel rips the sleeve off of his shirt at the seams.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, angel, I just got back,” he says, pain straining the sarcasm. Aziraphale gives him a humored look and rips the rest of the shirt open, exposing the flesh. Aziraphale gasps, breathing the air out through puffed cheeks.
“What?” Crowley asks, skin prickling with a wave of anxiety at the statement.
“It’s - the blade. It was enchanted. More so than I thought. I can heal it… I think.” Aziraphale sounds unsure, and he bites his lip. Crowley’s entire shoulder is the sickly gray of dead skin, cold to the touch and flaky at the crest of his arm. The wound and the immediate area around it is hard, unyielding to the touch. The blade is killing him from the inside, turning him into his own headstone, becoming his gravesite.
Crowley stares at Aziraphale’s calculating face, and finds it older than he last saw. Angels were immortal, but they kept their image through force of will. And Aziraphale must have used quite a lot of it to bring him back. He looked exhausted.
Aziraphale’s eye color had faded. And Crowley hated himself for it.
“Are you okay?” he asks, ignoring the fact that his arm is getting cold enough to induce unauthorized shivers. Aziraphale’s eyes zap down towards him, eyebrows furrowing and further pleating his face.
“You were dead a minute ago, Crowley,” Aziraphale says sternly,
“I know. And you brought me back.” Crowley breathes hard, and forces himself into a sitting position. The pain from moving makes his eyes blur, and Aziraphale is making protesting noises, but he ignores it. Crowley grabs at Aziraphale’s hand, holding both of theirs against his chest as proof of the statement. “And you killed her. Atroxi. And-” Aziraphale interrupted, his voice defensive and hurried,
“She was going to kill you, Crowley. She was going to make me watch you suffer and I couldn’t anymore. I had to kill her.”
“I know. I know. Hell knows that I know. But listen,” Aziraphale stops breathing, his heart angrily hammering in anticipation of the sentence. “Aren’t you tired?” Crowley asks, his voice acutely serious and his eyes narrowed.
“What?” Aziraphale replies, almost laughing.
“Well,” he begins, his voice lightening as he heals the many fractures in his ribs secretly, the brittle bones that his demon form contains fitting together neatly and effortlessly. “You look tired. Old. Elderly. Ancient. Decrepit.”
Aziraphale laughs, ringing out with actual integrity. “We’re the same age, you git,” he says, touching careful fingers to his shoulder, sending spindles of light into the solid surface that coats his skin. The demon grabs the offending hand so that all twenty of their fingers are twisted between them.
“I’ll be fine you know. I heal fast,” Crowley says, rolling his shoulder and ignoring the scraping twinge that catches Aziraphale’s attention. “Who needs a right arm anyway?”
“I’ll just need to commit a few extra sins to boost the process,” he purrs, his eyes dilating. Aziraphale gulps, his eyes twitching like a flighty animal’s as he attempts to take in the situation. Crowley unhooks their hands, placing his own on Aziraphale’s torso. He leans in close enough to see the permanent book dust that rests in the fine hairs of Aziraphale’s cheeks. Their foreheads are gently pressed together, and Crowley hums. Aziraphale lets his eyes close.
In one swift motion, Crowley tackles him backwards and rolls over him, his fingers frisking up Aziraphale’s sides like feather dusters, forcing choked laughs from him as he struggles to get air.
“You - horrible - tease,” he shouts with gulps of air, his hands unsuccessfully flailing to fight of Crowley’s. Crowley grins, and feels the stiffness of his arm receding. In the case of Deities, laughter was actually a medicine. And also Aziraphale’s ears went brick red when he laughed, so that was a bonus.
Crowley halted his tickling fingers, but kept his knees locked at Aziraphale’s hips and wrapped his hands around Aziraphale’s face, kissing the still grinning lips. “You okay?” Crowley asks again, flicking a misplaced blonde lock to the correct side of the part.
Aziraphale scans him, and Crowley can see that the glimmering ocean pearls have returned full force, flickering as if under a strobe light. “You shouldn’t worry about me so much, dear boy, it just makes me look bad,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley simpers, narrowing his eyes.
“I thought that was my line,” he replies, quickly deciding that snogging was a much better way to get rid of confusion than talking.