The angel's wings are so fragile beneath his hands. So frail, glass bones spun from grace, hot layers of light patterned as pale flesh, eddies of a Father's love feathered to a thousand soft points to brush against his fingers. So fragile, breakable in a hundred thousand ways. So vulnerable, beneath his hard, sly touch. Beneath a demon's hands. So very, very fragile.
It shakes something inside him, how frail they are. It tears something open in his heart, how easy they are to break, these wings that have weathered six thousand years of war, that have stood six thousand years of trials. It seizes hold of him, shakes him until he cannot breathe. How breakable they are, beneath his hands. How fragile before his strength, laid open for his treachery without a qualm. Time after time, for him alone, and every time it shatters him all over again. Every time it breaks him open, as it had the first.
Not in trust, then. Not in love, then. In anguish. In challenge. In bright, desperate defiance. An angel shattered by this latest war, broken open by this latest, useless suffering. An angel, kneeling in Jerusalem's blood, stained to his knees, spreading wide his wings before a demon in mute, shaking rage. Daring a betrayal, begging some source of pain beyond the breaking of his heart. Begging a demon to tear him open, until he could not feel the tearing of his pity, the battering of his love. This angel, his angel, on his knees.
It had torn Crowley open. It had torn him, then as now, and for the first time, in that moment as Aziraphale begged him for cruelty, in that moment as he refused, heartsick and gentle, and curled his hands instead in the angel's hair, cradled him and offered what scant comfort he could ... for the first time he had understood the horror of mercy. The cruelty of a kindness, as the angel flinched from his gentle touch, and begged instead for a brutality Crowley could not bear to give. The angel had bared his wings, opened them willingly to the cruelty of Crowley's touch, and there had been nothing, never, so terrible. It had shaken him to his knees.
It shakes him still. It shakes him still, though now those wings are opened in love, though now they are offered up with a faint smile and a depth of trust on which you could founder a world. Now, Aziraphale presses the frailty of them into his hands knowing, trusting, believing with all his heart, that Crowley will not hurt him, that even if he asks, Crowley will not hurt him, and there is still nothing in this or any world as terrible.
He touches them. Lets the softness of feathers slip beneath his palm, knowing how easy they would be to crush. Draws his nails across tender skin, knowing how easy it would be to tear. Curls his fingers along the curve of bone, knowing how easy it would be to break. Knowing, knowing. Knowing it shows in his eyes, knowing it shows in the darkness of his heart and the harsh, quick touch of his hands. Knowing Aziraphale must see, must know, must understand how terrible it is, that he should be a demon, and never move to harm.
It tears him open. It seizes hold upon his heart, every time, shakes him and breaks him, and brings him to his knees. It tears him open, curls his hands to fists above the frailty of an angel's wings, and every time Aziraphale catches him. Every time, the angel holds him as he breaks, curls his hands in Crowley's hair, cradles him and offers what scant comfort he may. And every time, every time, it is terrible.
Because that is what it is, to love. That is what it is, to trust. And Heaven, Hell, God Himself may never know that, but Crowley does. Aziraphale does. They know, with the press of wings into a demon's hands, and the curl of an angel's fingers in his hair. Though it shakes them, and breaks them, and tears them open, though there is nothing in this or any world as terrible ... they know what it is to love.