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Infra-Black (And Other Colours)

Chapter Text





“The Devil,” Aziraphale said simply.

Shadwell nodded, threw the gun down and pulled off his hat. “Ah reckoned so. In that case, I'm gonna use ma haid.”

Crowley wasn't listening. He was staring at the tire iron and wondering if he could get it to flame.

He felt eyes on him and looked up. Aziraphale was watching him, looking oddly serene in the bright white light of the sword. But then, he would be.

“Right,” Crowley said with a brittle smile. “Let's do this.”

Aziraphale nodded.

It was a good coat. Crowley felt a pang of regret as he let his wings unfold to the sky. Aziraphale's were fluffed up and messy in the way that came from being tucked in too long.

Despite himself, Crowley glanced back briefly at the Antichrist. The boy was standing still, blank-faced and terrified.

So much for a last-minute miracle, then.

Crowley stepped gingerly to stand beside Aziraphale. “Your wings are a mess,” he muttered.

Aziraphale smiled at him.

There was thunder, the way thunder might have sounded in the first days of Creation, amidst boiling seas and screaming winds. The cracks in the earth flared wide open. A pillar of yellow smoke rose, burning overwhelmingly hot and somehow dark at the same time, turning the air too acrid to breathe.

What might distantly be called a figure was standing in it.

“Right then,” Aziraphale was saying to himself, and suddenly he was moving, sword outstretched and wings flaring out – against all common sense, toward the figure. Suddenly Crowley wanted to scream at him, Aziraphale, you great bloody idiot, wait for me. He wondered if the angel hadn't bothered to coordinate because he'd assumed Crowley would follow.

He wondered why that was exactly what he was doing.

The figure swept them with an indifferent gaze.

There were no words, only a power lashing forth that burned the ground black beneath it, to clash against the thin, improbably puny arc of light in Aziraphale's hand. The angel's wings flashed gold from the strain, but against all odds, he held.

Crowley attacked from another angle. The blasted tire iron made a screeching sound as it tore through the flaming surface of the figure.

Lucifer swatted at him.

This must be what infra-black looks like, Crowley thought numbly some very blank moments later. He blinked up at the stormy sky. There were chips of pavement digging in against his sides and something wet running down his chest. His wings felt like a hot, splintering mess.

Bright movement caught his eye and he turned his head. Aziraphale more closely resembled a small fireball with wings by this point, tiny next to the pillar of incarnate yellow evil.

The angel's sword bit into Lucifer's side with a keening sound. Lucifer howled like a forest fire and lashed out and Crowley felt more than heard the angel's cry. Feathers went flying into the air.

So much for the wings, then.

Lucifer spun and the sword was wrenched free, went flying dozens of feet, out of reach.

“Shit,” Crowley hissed, grappling with the pavement that didn't seem to want to let him go. He struggled to his knees. He was too far away.

He'd never felt a more urgent need to be closer to death in his life.

As he stumbled towards the Adversary, he watched with a horrible sinking feeling as Aziraphale was yanked to the ground, pressed flat against it.

It occurred to him that his earlier assessment of having nothing more to lose had been a tad premature.

Aziraphale, you stupid goodie two-shoes bastard, he thought, mostly to give his mind something to do besides mute screaming. You didn't need to do this. It's not like you personally lost the Antichrist. You could've gotten away from all this, scot-free.

The Adversary readied the final blow, a lance of scorching energy gathering in his grasp. Crowley laughed shakily to himself.

This is it, then, he thought.

He broke into a shuffling run.

At the last moment, he stumbled to his knees, covered Aziraphale's body with his own, raised what was left of his mangled wings. It wouldn't be enough to stop the blow. It wouldn't even slow it down. But that wasn't the point, not really.

He caught Aziraphale's eyes, all serenity gone from them. But no surprise.

Good. He'd have been mightily pissed if he'd seen surprise in there.

Crowley closed his eyes against the angel's, even as he felt the incoming blow scorch away the last of his feathers.

My dear, the angel said.

Crowley smiled.

Yes.

Infra-black.

 




































Crowley gasped, limbs flailing.

Or they would be, if there wasn't a warm, leaden weight settled across them.

He blinked up at the ceiling. Still plaster. Good. He blinked again and squinted. There seemed to be a tartan shirt hanging off the ceiling lamp. Oh well.

His heart was hammering. He considered getting it to stop, then shuddered.

“Hmblfffmmrf,” Aziraphale mumbled, and the heavy grasp across Crowley's waist tightened considerably. Feathers crawled against his mouth.

Right. Because they'd... and then... Okay.

Sunday.

Not the end of the world, then. Well, not for most of the world at any rate. They were likely still just hours away from some heavy comeuppance from Above and Below, respectively. You didn't mouth off to the big bosses and expect to get away with it. Unless you trusted what the boy had said, and were willing to take a leap of faith for the attention span of an eleven-year-old.

That said, his frantic we'll-probably-all-die-soon rationale had quite unexpectedly moved continents last night, even after he'd discovered the clean spot of carpet where Ligur's stain should be and wondered aloud if they really didn't need to worry about it and the angel had said Sod this, my dear, let's do this anyway and yeah, now that Crowley looked again, there really was a tartan shirt hanging off the ceiling lamp.

In retrospect, he suspected the angel had simply been trying to get him to calm down, and had discovered an innovative, exceedingly manipulative method of doing so.

Crowley peeked sideways at the face roughly two inches away. The angel seemed to be catching up on several thousand years of unwavering vigilance. His hair sticking out every which way, his cheeks and neck flushed and his mouth slightly open, he looked utterly dishevelled and somewhat debauched as well.

Crowley caught himself blushing and looked away hurriedly.

He looked at the ceiling lamp again – it figures it would take the end of the world for the angel to infect his flat with tartan – and shifted, snuggling against the cocoon of warm flesh and soft feathers. He could get used to this.

With a slow, horrifying feeling, he realised he already was.

He spent ten seconds of careful not-breathing, considering this possibility.

Then he shrugged and turned his face to Aziraphale's, burying his cheek against the cushion of soft hair. The angel didn't even stir.

'Ever-vigilant', my ass, Crowley thought, and went back to sleep.

It was a new day.

Chapter Text

A quality associated with wordy, trivial conversation

Fourteen letters, Aziraphale thought furiously, rubbing the butt of the pen against his temple. Right on the tip of his tongue, he was sure of it...

For a well-read person, he tended to meet his match in newspaper crosswords. The trouble with words was that humans tended to change the spelling as the whim struck them every few years or so. Keeping up with all that made for a difficult and irritating endeavour, but on the upside it did present a challenge.

He slowly became aware of a scuffling from the stairway. Without lifting his eyes from the crossword, he rose from the armchair, wandered over into the kitchenette and turned the kettle on.

“Bffffl. Mrf. Pfffft,” came from upstairs, and he raised a silent eyebrow.

He did discard the crossword a minute later, when the kettle boiled, and after another minute he was making his way up the steps, tray with scones and two cups of tea held in a careful grip.

“You're up early,” he observed, as he entered the little bedroom with the formerly-seldom-used bed.

Crowley looked up at him in bewilderment. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, quite pleasantly naked save for the endearing drapery of paisley-and-tartan blankets he'd cocooned himself in.

“Blfffff,” Crowley said, sticking out his tongue, and then “Mffffft. Pfffftt. Blargh. Bleh. Mffpffft.”

Aziraphale carefully set the tray on the end table and sat down beside him.

“Speech impediment, my dear?” he asked mildly.

“Very funny,” Crowley glowered at him, then coughed and gagged like a cat struggling with a hairball. He stuck out his tongue and raised a finger to pick at it with surgical precision. Then he held it out for Aziraphale to see.

Pinched between the tips of his thumb and index fingers was a very fine downy feather roughly the length of a fingernail.

“See?” Crowley said furiously, then made another dry hacking sound.

Aziraphale silently handed him the teacup.

“Thanksss,” Crowley gulped and downed half the steaming cup in one go, then sipped on the rest and swished it around in his mouth for a bit. He swallowed. “Great,” he sighed. “Feathers for breakfast.” He turned to look at Aziraphale accusingly. “'Sss your fault, you know. You keep sticking them in my mouth during all the...” he made vague, haphazard gestures, reddening a little.

“There's scones,” Aziraphale pointed out, reaching for the tray.

Crowley caught his wrist, then flushed with embarrassment. “Don't want ssscones,” he whined and pulled Aziraphale down flat onto the bed, draping himself over him. “You're bloody well right it'sss too early,” he mumbled, tucking his chin against Aziraphale's shoulder, his breath warm and soft against his ear.

Crowley wrapped himself around him, arms and legs and all, then stilled.

A minute later, he started making soft little hissing sounds.

Aziraphale looked down to the demon curled around him and considered slipping away. He did have things to do, after all. In theory.

He thought on the number of times he'd politely shooed the demon out of his shop (and how he had, on at least one occasion, caught him lingering outside a full hour later, in the rain, no less), and felt a brief pang of guilt.

He pressed a gentle kiss into the demon's hair, then held out his hand. The pen and crossword found themselves on an impromptu trip through space-time.

Aziraphale maneuvered his arms to rest comfortably on the mass of blankets across Crowley's back and looked sternly at the unfilled row.

Aha! Loquaciousness, he thought and smiled.

Chapter Text

Dawn found them in a tent in an abandoned fortress, two winged figures huddled together under a phantom light.

Gliss hissed in pain, his hands tightening on Azariel's wrists.

“Almost done now, pet,” the angel murmured, eyes flickering under his lashes. He splayed his palm against the demon's belly one last time and concentrated, persuading the flesh to knit back together, even as he trembled with exhaustion. It had been a very long night.

Gliss screwed his eyes shut and twisted against his hand with a keening sound. The angel's healing touch hurt him almost as much as the wound itself, but it did the job. Azariel was thankful for that, at least.

He removed the hand and surveyed the wound – still there, but shallow and no longer life-threatening. It might even heal on its own, now. One could only hope.

Gliss lay flat on his back, his chest bare and the remains of the shirt spattered with blood, breathing great, shuddering gasps of relief.

Azariel leaned forward and caught one such gasp with his lips.

“Mmf,” the demon said. Red eyes flickered open, drinking him in before drifting shut again.

“Gliss,” the angel said in a tired, quiet voice, kissing him again, slumping down alongside him. He felt the demon's fingers claw fiercely into his hair, then come to a rest, even as the demon breathed him in silently.

Azariel clung to him, content to let his mind go blank. Gliss's hands ghosted through his hair, down his neck, fingertips massaging the arteries on the sides. He sighed and stretched his neck out against the touch. Then Gliss was tracing the curve of it with his lips and even now – after all this time – he had to fight back a shiver.

“Don't,” Gliss mouthed against him.

“Mmm? Don't what, pet?” Azariel murmured absently.

He felt the demon smile against his jawline. “Don't hide it. I like it when you respond.”

Azariel smiled back, eyes shut, and let himself relax. “Sorry, pet, force of habit,” he breathed more than said. When the demon's hand parted his robe and slid down, knuckles grazing lightly over his ribs, he didn't try to suppress the way his breath sped up, or the quivering of his muscles in response to the touch.

“Much better. You're too high-strung,” the demon murmured approvingly somewhere in the vicinity of his stomach.

Azariel smiled weakly. “Well, to be frank, we have been chased by archangels over half the planet, my pet.”

“True,” Gliss said and the tone made Azariel open his eyes; meet the demon's gem-like, entirely too solemn gaze.

Then Gliss pushed him over to his back, shifting his own body to straddle him in a nearly smooth movement, limbs shaking slightly from the strain. The demon's lithe hands pinned his wrists in a comfortable grip and his head dipped down, his lips somewhere on his jugular again.

“You're feeling better,” Azariel observed idly, content to let himself be manhandled.

“Adrenaline,” Gliss said, then bit down hard on the angel's throat, making him gasp. “Mmm. No offense to your healing prowess, see, but probably adrenaline.” He shifted to a one-handed grip on the angel's wrists, letting his free hand drift down, and nuzzled Azariel again, mouthing softly, “You just sit back and relax, feathers. Consider this a token of gratitude.”

Azariel smiled. “Isn't that a bit... archaic... oh...”

“Oh what, feathers?” Gliss grinned. Down below, his fingers relaxed, teasing at the sensitive skin and the curly hairs around it, then tightened again, gripping hard.

Azariel actually moaned and arched his back, his eyes squeezing shut. Somehow, he managed to keep speaking. “You... really like it fair,” he ground out in shuddering gasps. “Proud silly serpent. Can't... stand owing anyone a thing. Not even... ah.... me... Gliss, Gliss...”

“Don't be sssilly, feathersss,” Gliss breathed into his ear, his hand moving in firm, maddeningly slow strokes, the other hand holding the angel down even as he writhed. “If we ssstarted counting what we owe each other, we'd never be done.”

“...True,” Azariel gasped, blinking away the stars in his vision. “Ah... speaking of... ngh... being done, you... oh, that is... cruel, Gliss...”

“Yep. You'll thank me for it later, feathers,” the demon hissed, low and thrumming, and the sound alone was almost enough to push him over the edge. Almost.

Not even when the demon kissed him suddenly, without warning, mouths crashing together even as his hand started to move again, slow, oh so slow. Azariel tried to kiss him back, but could hardly manage more than ragged gasps, eyes squeezed shut against the rush, his face twisting and contorting into surely ridiculous expressions.

Gliss always wanted to see it, precious thing. He felt the burning weight of red eyes on him even now, shaking and unravelling further and further under every slow touch, waiting to burst apart at the seams.

“Gliss... Gliss,” he gasped, pleaded, and then his breath hitched, stolen from him as the demon's hand increased its pace, rubbing and kneading non-too-gently.

A heady, harsh haze was sweeping over his body, and he was shaking, crying out and thrusting back violently, and then slumping down, spent and quite unable to catch his breath.

Eventually, he opened his eyes. Gliss was watching him, his face mere inches away. His eyes were dark and red and velvety and the softest smile played at the corners of his mouth.

He held Azariel's gaze for a moment, then broke out in a grin and ducked his head to hide it, nuzzling his ear softly.

Azariel raised a leaden hand to brush against the demon's stomach, the remains of the shallow wound. To his relief, it didn't seem to have opened again. Gliss tensed at the feather-light touch, then relaxed.

“You...” Azariel started, voice hoarse. His eyelids felt heavy. “...I should...”

“Don't worry about it,” Gliss said softly, stretching himself out across him, face buried against his hair. “Next time: your treat,” he added with an audible smile.

“That... seems fair,” Azariel admitted, sweeping an arm over Gliss's waist and pulling him close. “I shall have to... return it with a vengeance,” he said, going for a voice that might sounded menacing if he weren't half-asleep.

“I'll hold you to that,” said the demon, and the last thing Azariel felt before slipping into oblivion was the smooth warmth of lips against his.

The forces of Heaven and Hell could wait.

Chapter Text

“Yeee-ouch,” said Crowley, squirming in his seat.

“Hold still, my dear,” Aziraphale muttered patiently as his fingers traced the muscles. He grasped and gently pulled, making Crowley stretch out his wing with a scowl.

The angel pinched down on the more delicate part of the limb, stroking aside soft dark feathers, then looked to Crowley for confirmation. “And here?”

Crowley shifted and winced. “A little. Not as much as higher up.”

“I see.” The angel gave a soft sigh.”On second thought, no, I don't believe I do. How do you say this happened?”

Crowley gritted his teeth. “Flying, how else d'you think?”

“I didn't think you were that out of practice, my dear, for it to sprain so easily...”

“Oh yeah, and when was the last time you spread 'em out for a quick toss'n tumble with gravity?”

“Even so...”

It was a duck, okay?” Crowley snapped, his shoulders tensing instinctively against the eloquent silence that followed. He was still wearing the expensive shirt he'd been in when he found himself standing on the top of a skyscraper and struck with the sudden urge to do something spontaneous. The shirt was immaculate in front and split across the back. He was still torn over whether to miracle it fixed or take it to a tailor, proper-like.

He became aware that the eloquent silence persisted. “Well?” he challenged uncomfortably. “Aren't you going to say something?”

“Nonsense, my dear,” the angel cooed, sitting down behind him on the edge of the bed, “I'm sure the duck had it coming.”

Crowley hissed. “Hey, it's not like I make it a habit to get into fights with ducks or anything-”

“That is reassuring to hear, my dear...” Aziraphale muttered, absent-mindedly running a hand along the curve of the wing.

“That's not what happened, okay? It just... appeared out of nowhere. No bloody ressspect for aerial supremacy at all. I was just... caught by surprise and... y'know... flailed, or something.”

“I see. And the duck?”

“Uh.” Crowley floundered a bit, staring at the wall. “What about it?”

“Did the duck survive?”

Crowley glowered, though without much energy.

“....Yes,” he admitted. He'd seen it just moments later, in fact, after his crash landing – cuddling with some obscenely fluffy yellow ducklings with whom it had at last been reunited. He was so not going to mention that.

It wasn't such a big deal, really. Ducks... well, ducks flew. Well-known fact. Even the ones in St. James's. Despite the bread. Note to self: Feed ducks more to discourage them from aerial competition. White grain equals higher calorie count. Useful.

Yes, he really didn't hold it against the duck. Even if there had been a conflict of interest. He was sure it was a nice duck, really. Dedicated mother, and all that.

The ducklings had been rather cute, though. Cute, and... and fluffy... tiny enough to... fit... into his... palm...

“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa,” Crowley exclaimed, and was alarmed when it came out as a drowsy mumble. It abruptly dawned on him that Aziraphale was...

“Yes, my dear?” the angel replied mildly, but didn't stop fondling his wings.

“What are you...” Crowley started, blinking against the wall. He tried to twist around but realised he'd more or less sagged into the kind of slouch not possible for people with normal spines.

Aziraphale rubbed a hand across the heavy muscled part and Crowley's eyes closed of their own volition.

“Don't be silly now,” the angel said reasonably. “You were hardly going to bring this little injury to my attention if you weren't planning on manipulating me into kissing it all better.”

Crowley laughed breathlessly, sagging even more, than shook himself and tried to straighten up.

“'Sss not little,” he protested weakly. “I was... threat of death, I was... with the duck...”

“I am pleased to see you survived, then,” the angel replied good-naturedly and grasped the wing with both hands, fingers kneading insistently into the muscles.

Things got very tingly, very quickly.

Crowley felt a brief burst of bewilderment. Angels weren't supposed to do things like that, really – you didn't associate them with the kind of fingers that could drive you wild and make you beg for mercy twice. And yes, truth be told, Aziraphale wasn't like that, either. But he was currently massaging the muscles and the sensitive roots of the feathers with the kind of loving diligence he normally reserved for turning the pages of old books, gentle and feather-light and yet perfectly, single-mindedly focused – and it might have been demeaning to be compared to the way a book was treated - unless you actually knew Aziraphale, which Crowley did.

“Gah,” Crowley jumped a little, startled at the burst of sensation as some nerve centre or another was hit.

“Alright, my dear?”

Yesssss,” Crowley hissed, letting himself relax once more. It did feel nice.

It felt more than nice – suspiciously more than nice, in fact – and as Aziraphale's fingers buried into a knot of muscles just so and then trailed lovingly along the bone to the very tip of the wing – yes, nice – and against all pride and dignity he was actually groaning.

“Does that make you feel better, then?”

Crowley shut his eyes against the rush of blood to his face and sagged forward, struggling to control his breathing. “Yesss,” he ground out. “...Though probably not for the reason you intended.”

There was a pause, and then Aziraphale said, “Now why would you assume that?”

His voice was soft and unassuming and just on the wrong side of innocent.

Crowley's eyes flew open.

“Y-you devious-” he sputtered, then twisted, finally wrenching his wing out of the angel's grasp, folding them both against this back. “Oh, sneaky, angel, very sneaky. You almosssst had me there.”

“I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about,” Aziraphale smiled up at him.

“I'm sure you don't,” Crowley hissed, then grabbed Aziraphale by the shoulders and threw him face-down onto the bed. The angel yelped in protest but Crowley held him down, crawling forward to straddle his thighs, pinning him down with his weight. He leaned in to whisper into his ear, “I'm the demon, remember? I'm the one who's supposed to use people,” he added with a grin.

Aziraphale huffed. “Crowley, dear, what are you doing?”

“Restoring balance to the universe,” Crowley said solemnly, then grabbed a handful of the angel's shirt and tore a chunk of it clean off.

Aziraphale sputtered.

“I'll buy you a new one,” Crowley muttered, before he could say anything.

“With fake money?”

“Deal with it.”

“But it was-”

Tartan.”

“Crowley-”

“Sssshhhhhhhhh.” Crowley smiled and shifted to settle himself in more comfortably, then leaned down again, kissing the angel's back, just above his shoulder. “Now, where would they be? Here, maybe?” His lips migrated lower, trailing along the dip of the shoulder blade, across the ribs. “Or maybe here. Guess I'll just have to keep looking until I find them.”

“...Crowley...” the angel mumbled somewhere into the pillow.

“Just tell me if we're getting warmer here, angel,” Crowley murmured into the nape of his neck.

“Mmnnghh..”

“I'll take that as a yes. Let's see...” he sighed theatrically, slipping his hands past the tear in the shirt and down to caress Aziraphale's sensitive sides, even as he ran his tongue down the crest of his back. The angel shifted against him, bucking slightly in discomfort.

Crowley raised his head again. “Can't seem to find them,” he said cheerfully. “Are we quite sure that's an angel we've got here? Could be just a duck. A wingless one.”

“M'dear, you are making no sense at all,” Aziraphale said breathlessly, then thwacked him across the face with newly-manifested wings.

Crowley recovered quickly, bursting forward to tackle the angel even as Aziraphale scrambled to his knees, feet caught in the twisting sheets.

“Not sssso fasssst,” Crowley grinned, pushing the angel flat onto his back and stretching across him, which turned out to be quite the informative experience. His hands found Aziraphale's, fingers interlacing even as he shifted his weight, pinning them down against the bed. His own wings spread around him in a dark tent, pinions running over the angel's face.

“Crowley...”

“Yes, what?” Crowley asked impatiently. He dipped his head to kiss the angel's belly through the blasted tartan shirt, fully aware that the cloth was likely muffling most of the sensation. Aziraphale squirmed against him in annoyance.

“You are just full-set on being insufferable today, aren't you?” Aziraphale said primly, which was quite the accomplishment for someone in that particular horizontal position.

“Methinks the lady... doth... protest too much,” Crowley said, in-between further kisses up the angel's shirt. The cloth deserved some attention too, after all. It was tartan. Pity for the less fortunate, and all that.

“That's... wrong,” Aziraphale gasped, squirming against him with slightly more vigor. His wings flapped uselessly as he slapped them against Crowley's sides, without much effect - save that the brush of another's wings against his did sort of drive him wild.

What's wrong, angel?” Crowley mumbled, nuzzling Aziraphale's neck just on the wrong side of his collar and grinning at his sound of indignation as bare skin was neglected once again.

“The... the quote,” Aziraphale said seriously, even as he shivered in impatience. “It is quite commonly misquoted and misinterpreted nowadays. The correct phrasing is 'the lady doth protest too much, methinks' and expresses a much greater breadth of meaning than the misquoted version, conveying the dryness and irony of Queen Gertrude's tone as she comments upon her in-story counterpart's emphatic proclamation that she would never remarry, made doubly meaningful, despite Hamlet's intent, by the reality that Gertrude herself has, in fact, remarried. The word 'protest', too, is misapplied now, seeing as its current meaning of 'denial' or 'objection' only came to pass after William's time - although it is still somewhat reserved in our use of the word 'protestation' - and the contemporary meaning of it was in fact closer to 'vow' or 'declare'. Whereas now one assumes that the 'lady' in question loses credibility because she denies too much, the correct interpretation is that she loses credibility due to affirming too much, in a too artful, elaborate, overwrought fashion. You were there at the time, my dear, the least you could do is get it right.”

Crowley stared at him for a while.

“D'you want me to pop down to the bookshop and ask the first editions if any of them feel like joining in, then?” he said finally, and the angel frowned and writhed against him, with more force than before. Crowley writhed back, fighting to keep his own trembling limbs under control.

“Oh, just shut up and get on with it, dear boy,” Aziraphale gasped.

“Whatever rocks your boat, angel,” Crowley grinned and dipped his head again. He let his breath ghost over the sensitive, impatient skin of Aziraphale's throat... then passed over it completely, slithering forward and stretching past the angel's shoulder to bite sharply into his wing.

Aziraphale gasped harshly.

“My... my dear..” he stammered, then cut himself off with another keening gasp as Crowley dragged his teeth through the feathers, his hair tickling the angel's ear.

“We really should do the wing thing more often,” Crowley mused, as he surfaced for a moment to spit out the down in his mouth.

“Mmm-ghhhhh...” said Aziraphale, blinking furiously.

“Yeah, I thought so. That'll take your mind off books for a while,” Crowley smiled. He turned his attention to the other trembling wing, exploring the curves and dips of the thick, muscled part of the wing close to the base, so powerful and yet so sensitive and so very, very underappreciated over the course of the millennia. The occasional feather sticking to the roof of his mouth was worth it to feel Aziraphale's body turning to jelly beneath him – well, except for the parts of him that weren't.

Finally he turned his lips to the long-suffering, touch-deprived skin of Aziraphale's throat, nuzzling along his softly-defined collarbones and up the jugular and into that sensitive little dip at the base of his jaw. Aziraphale stopped breathing and shuddered against him.

He released the angel's hands, then, to thoroughly burrow his own fingers into the angel's wings.

This, as it turned out, had been the strategically unwise thing to do.

Aziraphale grabbed onto his shoulders and pushed, easily rolling them around and straddling Crowley in a startling turning of tables. The golden-white feathers fanned out triumphantly.

Crowley stared, momentarily taken aback. Aziraphale was wearing the closest he'd seen in a while to what he considered the smitey expression. It was not, at the moment, particularly wrathful or otherwise reminiscent of an avenging angel of Heaven, but it was utterly focused, determined even, in a way that was most unnerving – or currently, thrilling – for the otherwise scatterbrained angel.

“Oh, snap, now I'm really in for it,” Crowley managed to gasp, before Aziraphale kissed him. It was sudden and intense and insistent, almost forceful, and he found himself hungrily kissing back, even as his own hands raked over the angel's back and his ruffled feathers.

Aziraphale made a sharp noise into his mouth, then pulled away. He gathered the rumpled shirt over Crowley's chest in his hand, tightening his fist. He looked Crowley in the eye.

Oh no you don't,” Crowley hissed. “That's ssssilk, that is-”

Aziraphale pulled sharply, tearing it clean off the demon's body with a decidedly far too much vindictive glee. Buttons went flying. The angel spitefully balled the shredded, unsalvageable mess in one fist, then tossed it forcefully away.

Crowley twisted his head sideways to watch mournfully as it hit the floor.

“You will be avenged,” he said solemnly to the shirt.

Then there were hands cradling his face and Aziraphale's mouth reclaimed his, making further protestations – in either century's meaning of it – somewhat more difficult.

“We should feed the ducks,” Crowley gasped, struggling to kick off his trousers before the angel could savage those, as well. “As... gratitude, and stuff. For... argh... indirectly... causing...” he trailed off, rendered quite helpless by what the angel's hand was doing further south.

Aziraphale smiled into his lips.

“As you say, my dear... whatever rocks your boat.”

Things got rather hazy after that.

The ducks feasted for days.

Chapter Text

A person is defined by the roles they play.

It is a common misconception to assume that the fulfillment of a role depends on the nature of the active party.

It may be true, momentarily, should a person, or a person-like being, find themselves in a new role of some sort.

But that is until the role takes hold of them.

The role is something that arises from a very particular niche among the order of things, a set of necessities and duties interwoven with the most intuitive way to go about them. The role is, largely, unchanging.

A person, on the other hand, is so very malleable.

And so, when Hell triumphs over Heaven in one final battle, the role does not care who or what is there to satisfy it; it sinks its claws into the soft, clay-like belly of its new match with all the leaden inevitability of fate. The story, after all, must always continue.

It is simple - at first.

You kill it, you own it – that's how the saying goes. And now that you own it – well, it is only natural that you take the time to dust it off once in a while. Give it a fresh coat of paint. Try to keep the grass green, and then some. Not that you are trying to fill anyone's shoes. Not that you have anything to prove.

And yes, some may grumble and some may adjust to their new role better than others, but the role always triumphs, in the end. You may not take to it like a fish to water, no. But eventually, familiarity will settle in.

And then habit.

And then you begin to take it for granted.

Until you forget that there has ever been anything else.








“Don't see what's so special about this place,” the angel Ligael did not grumble, because angels do not grumble. He glowered in irritation at something entirely too earthly stuck to his sandal. He scuffed his foot against a nearby rock, then straightened up again into a slouch that made him look shorter than he really was.

“Smells too sweet,” Hassiel nodded in agreement. He stared suspiciously at a predatory-looking flower hanging down from a vine near him and swatted it away. Bees buzzed angrily after him.

“'N there. Whassup with that?” Ligael pointed at a one-horned, dainty-looking animal that was plucking grass with determination. It raised its head, gave them a knowledgeable once-over, then huffed in derision and trotted away.

“Freak birth, maybe,” Hassiel shrugged indifferently.

“Can't believe he spends time here on purpose,” Ligael not-grumbled again. “My head's already goin' dizzy jus' from the fumes. Can't wait to get back.” Tiny birds were trying to land on his shoulder and trill high-pitched little melodies into his ear. He shook his wings, sending them fluttering away.

Hassiel grunted in agreement once again. They were both Dominions, which meant that the activities of lesser-ranking angels were, at least occasionally, up to them to keep an eye on. And the entire Heavenly Host between them did not number enough eyes for this one, as far as he was concerned.

They reached a clearing in the dense forest, radiant light bearing down on a meadow that looked as if it were sprinkled with tiny gems, swaying faintly in the gentle breeze. In the center of the meadow, the soil had been dug up and scattered in little rich black mounds. A muttering figure was sprawled belly-down across it, facing away from them so that all they could see was a pair of legs and wings spread open and trailing in the dirt, little crumbs of black soil caught in the pinions.

Hassiel made a disgusted noise. Ligael shook his head and leaned close to him. “Lookit 'im, crawling on his belly in the dirt all day. 'N a Virtue, no less,” he said. “Shouldn't they be, like, watching the stars and all?”

“He does that,” Hassiel answered quietly. “Downright neurotic about it, too, not much to complain about. It's just his free time thing that's a problem. He volunteered, if you c'n believe it.”

As they came closer, the angel glanced back at them and then rose to his feet in an entirely too sinuously graceful motion. He turned to face them. His hands and knees and the front of his robes were black with soil. Dirt was smudged across his face and layered thick under his fingernails.

“Hi, guys,” he waved at them with a grin. “What's up?”

“Hello, Crawiel,” Hassiel said dryly. “Working hard, I see.”

The Virtue's grin widened. He spread his hands, indicating the Garden around them.

Ligael sniffed. “A bit too heavy on the flowers, 'f you ask me.”

Crawiel's smile faded a bit. “The higher-ups seem happy enough,” he said more seriously. “And it's seasonal. The flowers, I mean. It's not always like that. You just need to get used to it.”

“I believe we shall have to pass,” Hassiel said condescendingly. “Now, who was it you were talking to?”

Crawiel's expression did something of a embarrassed shuffle.

“We 'eard you,” Ligael said pointedly.

Crawiel laughed nervously, then carefully extended a balled fist. He opened his fingers.

A tiny brown seed lay nestled in his palm among the flecks of soil.

“Wassat, then?” Ligael peered at it suspiciously.

“The newest project. I was just laying out its situation for it,” Crawiel explained. “The terms, that sort of thing.”

Ligael gave him a stunned look. “What are you, nuts? It's a plant. Not even that, come to think of it. It's just a seed.”

“Ah, but it's a very special seed,” Crawiel grinned triumphantly, then turned back to the soil and continued to rake his free hand through it, loosening it.

“Meaning what, precisely?” Hassiel asked, looking down at the seed past Crawiel's hunched back.

“It's gonna be a Tree,” Crawiel said meaningfully.

The two Dominions paused at the very audible capital letter.

“What sort of Tree?” Ligael asked.

“Dunno. They just said, Get down there and plant that Tree, and what else do I need to know, really?”

“Got that one right, at least,” Ligael muttered approvingly. “Best not question them, I always say.”

Crawiel's hunched back went still. He started to turn his head as if to say something, then paused. Finally he nodded.

“Right then,” he said.

He carefully placed the seed at the bottom of the little hole he'd made, then leaned down and whispered menacingly, “And don't think I won't dig you up if I have to.”

The he scooped the soil to fill out the little hole, gently patted it down and stood, brushing himself off. He gave the Dominions a bright grin. “That's done with, then. Oh wait, forgot something.”

He looked up at the clear sky and snapped his fingers. A very small, very shy-looking raincloud gathered unobtrusively above them, seeming very determined not to disturb the nice weather. Droplets rained down on them in a gentle shower. The Dominions took several steps back in distaste, out of the rain, but Crawiel stayed where he was, allowing the droplets to trickle down his upturned face.

“Very well,” Hassiel said in a final tone, making the Virtue turn to look at him. “I believe we've seen enough. Carry on, et cetera. Don't forget about your real duties.”

Crawiel smiled. “Laterz,” he called after them as they strolled out of the meadow.

“Wassat mean?” Ligael bent close, folding his wings to him, away from the intrusive flora and fauna eager to get its tendrils into him.

“Not a clue,” Hassiel hissed. “Don't know where he comes up with that stuff.”

Crawiel watched them until they disappeared from sight. His smile slowly faded. He looked back to the little spot of dirt where a great Tree would grow, then down at his own clasped hands, stained with blood where rocks and weeds had cut in.

He sighed and shook his head.



“This is rich,” Crawiel said, much later. He glowered at the storm clouds gathering over the Garden.

“What's rich?” Ligael muttered in a bored tone.

This,” Crawiel gestured in exasperation. “Half the herbs are too fragile for this kind of abuse. The hail will devastate them.”

Ligael couldn't find it in himself to act displeased with that notion.

“And that's not even the worst of it. I mean, what's the big idea, anyway? No reason He couldn't have, I dunno, just roped it off. I had half a mind to do it myself, you know, back when it was a sapling. To keep away animals and the like,” Crawiel continued, distractedly waving a hand at the guard as they passed the gate. The guard saluted him. Something about the glowing sword made him look twice, but the strange feeling was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

“Yeah, well, y'now how it is,” Ligael shrugged. “His ways are not for the ken of.... of... You know.”

“Yeah,” Crawiel said, deflating a little. He stared miserably at a flower with a knick down its long stem and sunk to his knees to try and arrange it in a more stable position.

“Nah, nah, they've a word for it, I know,” Ligael was struggling. “Not for the ken of... Beyond... Comprehension? I guess. Not to be questioned, is my point.”

“Sure,” Crawiel said stiffly. “I just wish He wouldn't take it out on the plants. Well then. Say hello to your buddy for me, or sssomething.”

“Will do,” Ligael said. “Keep up the work, and all that.”

He turned to leave.

Several paces away, he stopped and turned back to Crawiel, who had carefully dug out the flower and was cradling it to his chest.

“Tha's right,” Ligael called out excitedly. “I got it now.”

“Yeah?” Crawiel replied disinterestedly.

“Yeah, yeah. The word. Was right at the tip of my tongue. Ineffable, that's what it is.”

He looked at the Virtue eagerly and watched in fascination as Crawiel's face turned a very interesting shade of grey.

“Weirdo,” Ligael shrugged, then hurried to get out of the rain.

Down at the gate, the guard saluted him again. He passed by without heed.

Standing drenched in the rain, a heap of soil and plants clutched tight to his chest, Crawiel watched the sword flicker.

After a very long time, he looked down at the flowers.

This is rich,” he said finally, his voice hollow and bitter.


The stars went unsupervised that night.

Chapter Text

Crowley was drunk, and aiming to get even drunker by the end of the evening. The only reason he was still in Spain was that you needed to be sober to get on a horse or board a ship, and he had no plans of doing that just yet.

He did, however, sober up very quickly when the cantina door shattered, giving way to a vision that sent the other patrons scrambling for cover. He took one look at the figure and with a sudden, horrifying clarity, knew precisely what this was about.

“Angel, no-“

“Be silent, demon.” Aziraphale’s hand was painfully tight around his throat as he was dragged bodily outside, and into the square. There Aziraphale paused, staring at the corpses spread out there, the people gingerly moving around them without letting their eyes linger too long. The newest addition, the broken body of a woman with her joints twisted every which way, was only just beginning to smell.

“Angel- Aziraphale-” Crowley choked as the fingers around his neck tightened, and Aziraphale turned to look back at him, eyes utterly blank.

“There is such a thing as crossing a line, you know,” Aziraphale told him, almost gently, as he dragged the struggling demon into a smithy, past its startled attendants. “The bit about not breaking skin was an imaginative touch,” he added distantly.

“Do-you-ghhhh. Do you honestly think I-“

“My sources indicate quite clearly that there was a demonic influence here, and here you are. I have to say I didn’t see this coming, however.” Aziraphale shoved him against a wall and reached the other one into a furnace. Crowley blinked, the sight not fully registering with him.

“The-… the Arrangement-“

“Was a mistake,” the angel said sharply. “I should have known better than expect any different,” he added quietly, looking away for a moment. The fire around his hand flared white, and then whiter.

Peering sideways at it in desperation, Crowley hissed, his eyes widening, “What- no, you’ve got to be- Aziraphale, please, listen to me-“

Aziraphale’s fingers bit into his throat, cutting off his speech quite effectively. The angel looked back at him, the impenetrable veneer in his eyes almost crackling. “No more temptation from you, demon,” he said quietly. “You’ve had me fooled long enough.”

“Azsssssiraphale-” Crowley gasped, limbs flailing, but it was no use. He’d forgotten what it was like to fight the angel when he was truly, righteously angry, and a month of inebriation was not improving his chances.

He could feel the fire, just inches away from him, the blinding whiteness pulsating and reaching out hungrily. He tried to struggle, unfurl his wings, anything, but the angel’s hold on him was like an iron clamp, pressing down on every shred of his power. Aziraphale wouldn’t be able to keep this up, but he’d hardly need to.

The angel’s face was golden-white in the light of the fire, his eyes almost translucent as he stared into it, his hand working in complex motions. Crowley could feel the flames grow in heat, both mundane and frighteningly, dangerously ethereal. He clawed at the angel’s hand, leaving deep scratches, but to no avail.

“Nonononononopleaaassee-“

“Goodbye, Crowley.” Aziraphale looked him in the eyes for a split second, his own gaze as hard and as frail as diamonds…

Then he closed his eyes.

He didn’t look as he shoved the demon into the furnace, the fire searing his eyelids as it burst like a star, growing hot around his hand as it mixed with the fires of Hell.

He could do nothing, however, for the screams.

Moments passed, melting into minutes before he withdrew his hand and opened his eyes. The fire belched and guttered out into heaps of ash.

His entire arm was charred black, almost to the shoulder, smoking remains of skin hanging off it in sheets of burst tissue. He wondered if it would ever heal.

Aziraphale shuddered, cradled the arm against his chest and staggered outside, shouldering his way past the horrified workers. A man was screaming for guards.

He looked at him once, and the man fell silent.

Aziraphale walked until he was out of sight, then kept walking. He had a vague notion of finding water to bless and douse his arm in, but his eyes refused to keep a look-out for it.

He wondered what the replacement would be like.




Chapter Text


There came a third moment, many centuries later, when Crowley was not proud at all.

"Defianzzzzzzzzz," Beelzebub was saying, his voice crowding into every corner of the chamber like a swarm of vicious flies. "Very promizzzzzzzing, zzzat. Not many have zzzzze nerve to defy God, even zzose of zzze Original Fallen."

"He's a field ange- agent," Crowley swallowed, mouth dry. "Lotssss of... field experience, I mean, he's been up there sssince the Beginning, you know, very useful, lots of knowledge of humans, he wouldn't be happ- I mean he doesn't have the prerequisites for, y'know, Down Here..."

"Do szzztop rambling, Crawly. Zzzzt, prerequizzites. Nobody hazz zose, at firzzzt," Beelzebub said dismissively, but looked thoughtful, insomuch as the word can be applied to a flaming apparition of Hell. "But perhapzzzz he izzz better suited to working topside, after so long. Crawly, I muszzzt say, I have had my doubts about you, but zis here haz been exzellently done."

".....T-thanks." Crowley choked. "I'll, er, we'd best get going back to the surface, then? I'll show him the ropes, maybe ease him into a bit, before we start on any major proje-"

"Don't be ridiculouzzzz," Beelzebub interrupted with a buzzing sweep of a limb. "We cannot have two permanent agentzz on ze surface at once, it izzz expressly in violation of zzze Covenant. We'll find you a nizzze, zat iz to say horrible, desk job somewhere in Dis, perhapzz, plenty of soulzzz to torment. Wizhin a span  or two you might even make Duke, how doezz zat sound?"

Crowley stared. At any other time he might have been distracted by the fact that Beelzebub, a Prince of Hell, was currently trying to be something close to pleasant.

"But... but... I mean, we're pretty much into the whole working together thing, you know, over the years, well-oiled machine and all-"

"Ze Covenant, Crawly! Zis is not a subject for dizzcussion, unless you wish to forfeit my already dwindling favour."

"I could ssstill introduce him to the work! It's not what he'sss used to, surely it won't be a problem if I just pop up with him for a decade or alright maybe just a few months-"

"In ze interezzt of giving him professional experience, we will be sending someone elzzze to do that. Crawly, you are dizmizzed."

Before his human body could've blinked, he was back in the waiting chamber, just like that. Crowley shuddered and look to where a huddled figure sat, stiff and motionless.

He gingerly crept close.

"Did you... I mean, did you hear what he-"

Aziraphale nodded - only they wouldn't be calling him that soon, after the paperwork went through. For now, at least, the name was still Crowley's to use.

He knelt and laid a trembling hand on a cold shoulder. Behind the curtain of mussed hair, Aziraphale was staring into space. He'd folded the remains of his wings around him; charred, naked bone and the spiky shafts of burnt feathers curling into his lap.

Crowley found himself swallowing again, his essence flailing to emulate the painful cramp of the heart he didn't have here. Not caring who else was watching, he pulled the angel close, breathed once, and began whispering frantically into his ear.

"You'll be al- You'll do alright, angel, just keep your head down and don't piss anybody off if you can help it, but don't let them walk all over you either. You'll be spending most of your time on the surface, just like old days. There's technically a bi-century meeting but you can weasel out of it every now and then if you're thorough with your reports, which I know you are, so keep up with that whole stickler for detail thing, they'll love it, and they'll never dare get rid of you if you can actually do accounting, we don't have many people who enjoy that sort of thing, so just... just... do your best to keep up appearances and keep an, keep an eye on the humans, y-you can still read books, you know, no rules against that, and maybe we can still, er, run into each other if I'm.. when you're... fuck..."

Crowley shook as the blasted angel - even now, he had to be so bloody sensitive - tightened an arm around him, silently pressing closer. He laughed helplessly, blinking away tears.

"This would be easier if you hated me, you know," he added quietly when he got his breath back.

Aziraphale did almost make a sound then, his chest jerking, convulsing as he echoed Crowley's laughter. But during that beautiful span of time, from the moment when they'd held hands in Lower Tadfield, ready to meet their fate, to that single, shattering heartbeat when Michael had screamed, blood spraying from a wound, and Aziraphale had only raised the bloodied sword higher and proclaimed for all to hear, So help me, if you touch another hair on his head, I will fight all of Heaven and God Himself to keep him safe... Crowley had learned something then, learned something miraculous and very important... and the fact of the matter was that Aziraphale would never regret anything when it came to him.

He'd seen it play out in humans, time after time - the way affection grew from a smile or gesture or a friendly word under a gate and a stormcloud, grew into a titanic, vicious thing that drowned out everything else, before crumbling to disaster. He should have known better than expect them to be any different.

You could fall in love, or fall off a building, or Fall. The destination was always the same.

He wondered if this was the moment for a confession, then remembered they'd done this part already - over and over in words and gestures and touches and smiles, over the course of centuries. One way or another, nothing had been left unsaid.

So instead, he said, "They will grow back. I promise," and Aziraphale twitched the painful stubs of his wings before nodding against Crowley's shoulder, the gentle hands burrowing in his hair like on countless afternoons before.

Then there was a heavy presence behind him and hands were pulling him away. He made no effort to cooperate, letting himself be dragged while he stared at Aziraphale, a painfully small figure huddled in the suffocating shroud of the chamber.

The angel nodded once and gave him an echo of a brave smile.



Chapter Text

 

Dust motes danced in the afternoon gloom, warm and sheltering among bookshelves.

Aziraphale looked up in startlement as his shop door banged open.

“How may I… help…” he began, but trailed off very quickly.

Two figures stood in the doorway, peering at him imposingly. The bell above the door jingled their announcement. The taller one flicked a finger, and the bell’s chime was cut off abruptly in a screech of twisting metal. Then the shorter one proceeded to slam the door shut.

Aziraphale slowly stood from behind his desk and straightened, smoothing out the wrinkles in his cardigan.

"Very well, then,” he said sternly. “I suppose we might as well get to it, shall we?” he added with a flick of the wrist, and the shop’s blinds slid shut, impenetrable.

“Hastur, Duke of Hell. Pleased to meet you,” the taller one grinned at him, all glinting eyes and too many teeth. “And this here’s Ligur. We know what you are.” That said, they stalked forward, but in a not altogether uncautious manner.

Aziraphale slowly moved from around the desk. “Perhaps you do, but there’s no need to be rude about it.”

 He considered calling Crowley, but the dear demon had a tendency to make situations escalate.

“What is it you want, then?” he asked, cautiously moving toward them a few steps, the floorboards creaking beneath his feet.

“Weeeell, that here’s the question, ain’t it?” Ligur smiled, slow and greasy.

Aziraphale looked at them expectantly.

The two demons huddled together, reluctant to admit that they’d imagined this encounter somewhat differently - with more dramatic aplomb and fire and splintering shelves and tattered wings, as it were.

“Well?” he prodded. “I imagine you have orders to, er… present me with a long-term inconvenience of some sort? Perhaps attempt to discourage me from operating in this particular area?”

Hastur slunk forward, his coat falling open to reveal a series of wicked-looking knives sheathed in leather straps across his chest.

“Why don’t you take a wild guess, angel,” he leered, his hand moving to one of the knives.

Aziraphale glanced down at them and tsk’d. “Oh my, bladed weapons, no less. They did rather go out of style a few centuries ago, as far as mainstream violence goes. I do have to admire your dedication, though.”

He looked back up at Hastur, unnervingly nonchalant. “I find it interesting you’d want me out of the area. Have something planned for it, do you? Well, no matter.”

Quite unexpectedly, he turned his back on them. Hastur was so caught off guard by such reckless stupidity that it took him a moment to recognise the opportunity  he’d just missed.

Aziraphale, meanwhile, had disappeared into the kitchenette, and emerged mere seconds later with a tray bearing biscuits and a teapot.

He set them carefully down on the desk, taking care to sweep the books out of the way.

Hastur and Ligur stared.

Aziraphale looked up at them in something like indignation. “Come now,” he said. “Surely even you must know what tea is, and what purpose it serves.”

He started pouring the tea into the tiny porcelain cups. “Um,” said Ligur in a low voice. “Aren’t we supposed to be…. er, you know.”

Hastur gritted his teeth, finally snapping out of it. He crossed the distance to the angel in one sweeping, tiger-like stride, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and shoved him against the wall.

The tray went clattering to the floor, tea seeping in rivulets along the floorboards. Aziraphale glanced down at it in irritation.

“There was no need for that,” he said calmly to the face glowering above his.

Ligur lurked close, feeling that he ought to be doing something. He tried picking up a book and tossing it to the floor but felt the angel’s eyes on him and looked up. Quite oddly, he found himself guiltily flushing and setting it back down.

“Thank you,” Aziraphale said haughtily. “It is a relief to see that, even in the throes of millenia-old cosmic struggles, some basic respect for knowledge and enlightenment can still be exercised.”

The angel looked up to see Hastur toying with a knife. The truth was, Hastur was well aware of what an angel could do to defend themselves, and what somewhat unsettled by the fact that the expected script, as it were, was being not so much ignored as set aside, buried under a mountain of encyclopedias, and then tossed out to become scrap paper.

“Now then,” Aziraphale said. ”It appears to me that the crux of the matter is, in fact, not our conflict of interest, but rather the root of it.”

Hastur and Ligur stared at him with a hellish sort of thickness. “You’re demons,” Aziraphale said succintly.

“Damned creatures of Hell. Discarded by God, only marginally accepted by your own Lord. Hated and held in eternal jealousy and contempt by your own compatriots. Cursed to wander the Earth, performing misdeeds that never stick to it, no matter how hard you try - all of it pointless, fruitless - pardon the choice of words - in the grand, ineffable scheme of things.”

Aziraphale, in fact, knew better than most that such sweeping generalisations about demons were more than a little inaccurate, but that was hardly relevant right now.

He was pleased, in a guilty sort of way, to notice that Hastur’s eyes had taken a forlorn sort of sheen, the demon’s fiery gaze turning slightly dull and blank where it had been focused before.

“It must be a terribly lonely existence,” he muttered, his voice growing softer.

He gently raised a hand to rest against Hastur’s stubbled cheek.

 ”What would you give to experience Love again, I wonder?” he mused quietly.

Hastur looked at him. Ligur, to his side, was also looking, and being slightly less lurky about it than usual.

“You’re a bloody nutter, you are,” Hastur hissed, eyes wide. “You’re a— an angel, for crying out loud. We… we’re demons-“

“And demons cannot give, is that what you mean to tell me?” Aziraphale asked gently. His hand was slowly stroking through Hastur’s matted hair, in a comforting sort of manner.

 ”Look around you,” he said. “Here we are in a booshop, one amongst thousands, in a city built by human hands, thousands of years of history, of beauty, of success, despite all your efforts. All because a demon gave humanity free will - the greatest gift that can ever be given, and only then if it is taken as well?”

“And now you tell me a demon cannot give? Cannot do good, come up with truly wondrous things, like the best of humans? Cannot love, and be loved?”

 His hand fluttered to slip the heavy coat off Hastur’s shoulders and it fell to the floor in a heap. The motion felt as final as the sharp whip-sound of a pistol to send athletes sprinting.

Then, one by one, he grasped at at each of the knives sheathed in the leather strap and slid them out, letting them clatter to the floor, each metallic beat counting down to something irrevocable.

 Approximately ten knives in, Hastur shuddered, hissed in frustration, and tugged the entire leather strap off, flinging it into the corner of the room. Aziraphale briefly adjusted its trajectory so that it didn’t hit anything important.

“Just get on with it,” Hastur growled, his body stiff. He had no idea what was happening.

”There’s no need to be selfish about it,” Aziraphale chided and brushed past him, coming to a stand in front of Ligur, who gaped at the sudden attention.

 ”There,” Aziraphale said softly, trailing a soft hand along Ligur’s chin and letting it rest on the lapels of the coat. He glanced down at the countless buttons, gave a mental shrug and ran his finger down the line of them, making them pop off down to the wooden floor like a heavy metallic hail.

“What the Hell do you think you’re doing?” Ligur gaped. He was a bit slow that way, but then again, ‘what to do when angels start trying to take off your clothes’ was not a frequently offered curriculum during demonic training.

Aziraphale looked up at him with an expression that was at once annoyed and infinitely patient. Then he leaned down to press his soft mouth against the Duke’s.

Ligur sputtered, but it didn’t necessarily feel bad, per se - although he was fairly certain that it was supposed to be bad, in order for it to be good, from Hell’s perspective - but things tended to get very confusing whenever he tried to pursue that trail of thought.

Aziraphale’s mouth moved gently against his - almost chastly - and the hand threading oh-so-softly through his short-cropped hair felt entirely too reminiscent of different times than he was comfortable with.

 Behind Aziraphale, Hastur twitched at being neglected like this. He wasn’t sure whether anger at being passed over by  an angel would be a more demonically appropriate reaction or not.

Not breaking away from where he was nuzzling Ligur’s gaping mouth, Aziraphale reached behind him to grasp Hastur’s arm and pull him close. One of his hands drifted away from its resting place on Ligur’s chest and sideways, groping blindly until it found Hastur’s neck and then stroking gently along that line.

Aziraphale pulled Hastur close until the three of them were huddled together, like football teammates in a much more interesting country. He gave Ligur another deep, affectionate kiss, pecked gently at his jaw, then turned his face to Hastur’s. There was a brief moment of eye contact, serene stormy-blue into hellish hazel, then he raised the hand that had been kneading Hastur’s neck muscles to grasp at the nape of his neck, and pull his head down sharply. Aziraphale crushed Hastur’s mouth against his own, allowing their tongues to meet in a manner that coddled the taller demon’s more assertive nature.

“Hnfff,” blurted Hastur in surprise, although it was quite lost against the angel’s unexpectedly insistent lips.

The angel steered both of them to the edge of the desk, backing the taller demon against it, elbows braced among stacks of books. He continued to kiss him even as his hands stroked and caressed  whichever of the demons they could reach. Ligur’s arms closed around him from behind in an unexpected, but quite pleasantly firm embrace, and Ligur’s mouth began trailing a wet line along the back of his own neck. Aziraphale pulled the three of them closer together still, all three pairs of hands - some of them awkwardly at first - adopting a rhythm, brushing and stroking and pulling ineffectively at clothes.

There was a mash of lips against lips, and another mouth against skin, and clothes rustling as embraces tightened, and at one point Hastur found himself grasping at Ligur’s clothes instead of the angel’s, but somehow it didn't seem terribly important. Aziraphale smiled against the skin of one demon or another. They were terribly warm, the three of them, like a mating tangle of snakes - although that was perhaps not the best creature to think about at the moment.

Nevertheless, the demons were preoccupied enough. He had, after all, studied as a magician, and at one point or another it was a simple enough sleight of hand to wriggle out of the way and leave the demons to each other.

Aziraphale caught his breath, straightened his clothes and miraculously produced a napkin to wipe his mouth dry. He looked speculatively at the two demons slowly fumbling to have their way with each other against his counter.

Finally he stepped close again and gently steered the tangled duo towards the door. “You seem to have got the hang of it well enough by now,” he said cheerfully and a tinge breathlessly.

The demons surfaced briefly from what, by people not engaged in the study of animal behaviours, could be called a kiss, and blinked at each other and Aziraphale in numbed but lust-veiled confusion.They were out of breath, skin flush and bodies dishevelled, only half-dressed, but getting certain matters over and done with seemed more important than whatever higher or lower mission they’d once had in mind.

Aziraphale picked up both their coats off the floor, patted the dust off of them, and added the knife strap on top as an afterthought. He pressed both into their - someone’s - hands, unlocked the door and gently coaxed them out.

“I’d recommend renting a hotel room, although the park nearby may do just as well in a pinch,” he said helpfully, “but please do make sure there are no minors about, will you?”

The demons found themselves stuttering in agreement and took off down the street.

Through his blinds, Aziraphale watched them amble away, then sighed. He patted at his clothes once again, then stumbled over a knife. “Oh dear,” he said, glancing down at the handful or so still scattered along the floor. He knelt and started gathering them, then stopped. He manifested a leather case and began sliding each of the knives inside.

The shop door banged open. Aziraphale made a mental note to replace the bell.

“Angel! Azira… phale… what the…”

Crowley stood in the doorway, eyes wide. He glanced over Aziraphale once, twice, then slumped slightly in relief.

“Huh,” he said. “I just… What. I saw… they were… I mean, WHAT?” Finally, he settled on, “Are you okay?”

Aziraphale gave him a long-suffering look. “Certainly, my dear. Why don’t you help me with these?” he gestured at the knives.

Crowley shuffled toward him on wooden legs. He blinked at the knives. “What did you do to them?” he asked, voice unsteady.

“My duty, Crowley, what else?” Aziraphale huffed, then looked up at him imploringly. “Come now, it’s hardly the first time I’ve had to deal with demons.”

Crowley blinked again. “I… do not want to think about that.”

“You needn’t get jealous, my dear,” Aziraphale said reasonably, gesturing at him to kneel beside him. “After all, there’s universal love for all the God’s creations, and then there’s you”.

Crowley started reaching for the knives, but chose to huddle close to him instead, slumping down and burying his head against Aziraphale’s shoulder. “‘Sss not really what I was worried about,” he said tersely.

Aziraphale wrapped his free arm around Crowley and absentmindedly stroked his back. “I do imagine they’ll be happier like this, though. “It never hurts to have a more positive outlet for all that… frustration and anger, don’t you think?”

Crowley laughed - a harsh, hissing sound against his ear. “You’re bloody bonkers, angel,” he said accusingly.

”Needs must, my dear,” Aziraphale hummed. He discovered his blood was still rushing slightly from the… encounter, pounding faintly against his skin. A stilling in Crowley suggested he’d noticed it, too.

Crowley flicked his wrist and all the knives vanished.

“Come on, angel,” he hissed, pulling both of them to their feet. “Let me tempt you to sssome lunch.”

 Aziraphale smiled. “Anything else you’d like to tempt me to, my dear?”

Crowley smiled and took his hand.

”Angel,” he breathed, “we’re just getting started.”



Later that day, they did go to the Ritz.

And if an average observer strolled nearby, through Berkeley Square, and was paying above-average attention…

 ….They might notice the place had a hell of a lot more nightingales than it should have.

 

Chapter Text

"You've... you've got to be kidding me, angel," Crowley managed to hiss in-between bouts of laughter. "You just... How did you... How did thissss happen?"

Aziraphale blinked up at him, silent and impassive. Not surprising, given that his current body was not altogether blessed with distinguished vocal cords.

He opened his mouth, showing two long incisors, and made a dignified 'wheeek' sound.

Crowley doubled over and nearly fell from the chair. He gripped at the back of it, struggling to pull himself upright through his laughter.

The curly-haired ginger guinea pig watched him scathingly from the floor.

"Wheeek," it said again.

"God-Ssssomeone, stop doing that," Crowley gasped. "Can't you use... telepathy? No? Rrright." He leaned forward, hands on his knees, struggling to control his breathing. "Rrright," he hissed again, swallowing a chuckle. "Ssso what, I guess that experimental body-morphing thing they were talking about didn't go all that swell, did it?" he said nastily to the guinea pig.

"Wheeek," the guinea pig said.

Crowley snorted, then reached down to pick it up, fingers closing easily around its still squishy sides - some things never changed. He deposited it into his lap, and it stared back at him with a solemnity not at all at home on a furry little face.

The guinea pig chattered its teeth at him, then squeaked again.

"Ugh, no," Crowley said. "I can't understand you, but I can guess what you're getting at, and I really don't think I can contact Heaven for you. They'd roast me to bits."

"Wheeek," Aziraphale said persuasively.

"Can you even understand me?" Crowley shook his head and leaned closer, peering at the animal in suspicion. "Or have your brains turned to mush?"

He studied the guinea pig, locking his threatening gaze with its own. "For all I know, you've just been screaming for me to give you grass or... or carrots or whatever it is you things eat."

This time, the guinea pig huffed, with an insinuation and a stuffy arrogance that was quite unmistakeable.

"...I"ll take that as a yes," Crowley said slowly.

"Wheek."

Crowley sighed. "Yes, we've established that."

Then he grinned. "But why should I help you? That's not what snakes do to small fluffy animals, you know," he added with a wide show of fangs. "I used to live in South America for a while. That's where these animals come from. They eat them there, for your information."

Aziraphale's beady eyes stared back, unimpressed.

"Thasssright," Crowley nodded. "They roast them and eat them. Fact is, the only reason they got to Europe is because they breed so fast, so people started keeping them as food on the ships By the time they got to England, they cost a guinea each," he said thoughtfully. "'Sss where the name comes from. 'Ss true. Saw it on BBC. Always thought your lot was behind it, somehow."

Aziraphale managed to express in a furry, skeptical stare that Crowley watched entirely too many nature shows than he considered professional of his long-term demonic counterpart.

"Don't you judge me," Crowley said stiffly. "Might still just drop you off at a petshop, you know. Or a zoo. Have you fed to the snakes."

Aziraphale made a stuffy humming sound again and crept closer, tiny feet scratching at Crowley's trousers.

He made a soft warbling noise, and Crowley nodded, struck with an idea. Perhaps the telepathy thing was in working order after all.

Several minutes later, a teenager in Lower Tadfield picked up a phone.

"Yes, of course you can come over," he said before the speaker could utter a word.

At the other end of the line, Crowley caught himself, then said stiffly, "Right. See you then."

He looked to Aziraphale and patted him absently on his back, ruffling through soft locks. "Well, at least that was over quickly. Nothing worse than awkward phone convesations, let me tell you."

Aziraphale chirped at him.

"What does it matter if he sends a card every Christmas?" he protested. "He's still the Anti-christ who could un-wish us all into.. un-reality. That automatically makes things... awkward."

"Well, come on then," he said to the guinea pig and gathered it into his arms again. Aziraphale nipped at his tie and settled happily into the crook of his arm.

"This will be over soon, and then we are never speaking of it again," Crowley promised him.

The drive to Lower Tadfield was uneventful. Crowley had been forced to procure an emergency cardboard box filled with torn tissue paper and stuff Aziraphale into it, securing it in the passenger seat.

He'd started listening to Queen, but immediately felt guilty about exposing the animal's tender ears to such noise, and turned it off again. Aziraphale kept making plaintive squeaking noises (most likely complaining about his lack of view) but eventually dozed off.

At long last, he veered the Bentley to the side of a road lined with obscenely lush and healthy grass, and promptly got out of the car.

"Let's get this over with," he said to the big mournful eyes looking up at him from the box, before holding onto it securely and marching up to the door.

Adam was waiting on the steps, sitting hunched and with his legs stretched out in a territorial, ownership-exuding manner. Crowley was forced to note, with alarm, that puberty was treating him well.

"This 'ere's him, then?" Adam glanced down into the box with a grin, then exploded into laughter. He didn't even sound malicious about it. That was the worst thing.

"You knew what this was about before we came in," Crowley hissed. "It's not funny."

"It is," Adam insisted. "Pepper's sister wants 'un of those, y'know. Maybe we should give 'im t' her."

Aziraphale squeaked, loud and threatening as only an agitated three-pound furry animal could be.

"Fine, fine," Adam rolled his eyes. "Dunt' be a spoilsport or an'thing."

He looked at them in expectation. Something changed.

Crowley blinked and glanced down as the box grew suddenly lighter, and much emptier.

Beside him, Aziraphale was swaying on his feet. Crowley gave him a long look, then reached out to steady him.

"Oh dear," the angel said, looking down in amazement at his body. Then he flushed, guiltily meeting Adam's eyes.

"Let's not make this into a habit," Adam said sagely. Aziraphale flushed again and fiddled nervously with the folds of his cardigan.

Three minutes and one pained Christmas invitation acceptance later, they managed to extract themselves from the clutches of civility and make it back to the car.

Crowley sank back into his seat, hands on the steering wheel, not yet hitting the ignition while Aziraphale conscientiously strapped himself in.

Crowley looked sideways at him. "All's well that ends well, eh?"

Aziraphale stared squarely ahead and primly avoided his gaze. "Yes, well, ah, thank you, dear boy...you've been a tremendous help, I really don't know who I would have turned to otherwise..."

"You'd have died," Crowley said suddenly, and Aziraphale flinched. "Er, been inconveniently discorporated," he cringed, suddenly feeling much less light about it.

Aziraphale looked at him, startled.

"Yesss, well, it's true , isn't it?" Crowley protested. "You couldn't get in touch with Heaven to fix it while stuck like that, and there's nothing you could eat in the bookshop that you could reach. Well, unless you're willing to chew on books..." he trailed off meaningfully, enjoying Aziraphale's shudder.

"Well then, it's just as well it didnt' come to that," said the angel lightly. "Again, thank you, dear boy..."

Suddenly Crowley grinned, sharp-toothed from ear to ear.

"Sure thing, angel," the demon drawled and reached a hand to ruffle Aziraphale's sandy curls.

Aziraphale blushed, stiffened in mortification, and tried his damnedest to pretend that he wasn't enjoying it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Crowley's flat had the unlived-in look that came from not being lived in. This was not a coincidence.

"Angel," he said with a broad grin as he pushed the door open. Sure enough, Aziraphale was sitting stiffly on the white leather couch. He looked up at him with a stern glare.

Crowley raised his eyebrows. "Whoa there. What'd I do?"

"You haven't been home in four days," the angel said curtly.

"Should I have been?" Crowley asked. He couldn't be sure he hadn't forgotten something, strictly speaking. Had he forgotten something?

Crowley shut the door, threatened the dust and mud away from the soles of his shoes, and made his way across the furry white carpet. He picked up the sprinkler and headed for the plants, then stopped.

"You've been watering them?" he asked incredulously. He turned to look at the angel again and was startled by the fuming anger there. "Whoa there, what's this about?"

"I repeat, you have not been home in four days. I have been trying to get in touch with you, but could not find even a trace," Aziraphale said humourlessly. "And yes, I watered the plants. I had no way of knowing when you might be back. Or if ever, for that matter," he added in a snap.

Crowley raised his hands in placation. "I don't see what the big deal is, angel. It's not like you scheduled an appointment or anything-"

"You were gone-"

"I'm usually 'gone', angel! I don't exactly spend a lot of time here!"

Aziraphale blinked at him. "You don't?"

Crowley rolled his eyes. "Not exactly a fat lot to do around here, is there?"

"What have you been doing, then?"

"I was... you know. Out and about. In the city. Cafes. Nightclubs. Museums. Movies. That sort of thing. I only dropped in to water the plants, which you've... already taken care of, I see - good grief, the cacti are soaked," he muttered to himself quietly.

Then he looked up at the angel again. Aziraphale was still fuming, but a tiny bit of guilt and self-doubt was starting to creep in.

"It's never been a problem before..." Crowley said suspiciously. “As I recall, you... needed some time to yourself, was it?" He quoted with a vague gesture. "Sort out all the new books, that sort of thing?

"I reconsidered," Aziraphale said quickly. "Soon after... well, as I have said, I tried to get in touch with you, but couldn't. Considering we still don't know when, if ever, our respective superiors may get around to organising more substantial consequences for us..." he shrugged helplessly.

Crowley sighed. "Have you tried ringing me?"

"I did, you weren't at home," Aziraphale bristled.

"I meant on my mobile phone," Crowley hissed. He dug into his coat pocket for the bulky device and waved it in front of him. "This newfangled thing, remember?" I gave you the number just the other week.

Aziraphale blinked at it silently, and Crowley sighed. "Right," he said. "Well, now that that little mystery has been solved, what now? Do you want to go and have lunch, or something?"

"It's eight o'clock in the evening," Aziraphale huffed.

"Dinner, then. Or better yet..." Crowley grinned, stepping close, "Let me take you out to one of those nightclubs I mentioned."

Aziraphale nodded. "Fair enough."

Crowley blinked. "Wait, what?”

"Well, it only seems fair that I get to see what you get up to when when not in my company, don't you think, dear boy?" Aziraphale's voice was full of reason and with just a tinge of that self-conscious defiance one has when aware that they are trying something foolishly reckless and likely to be regretted.

"Alright," Crowley said hesitantly. "Wasn't really expecting you to agree, mind, but alright."

"Let us go, then," Aziraphale said stiffly and collected his coat off the hanger. The nights were growing chilly.

They ended up skipping the Ritz, which, unprecedentedly, turned out to be completely full, supernatural perks notwithstanding.

Instead, nine o'clock found them on a walk through the dark park; ten o'clock found them ducking in and out of various overly noisy pubs, and eleven o'clock shyly witnessed them edging into a disco.

"Oh my, this is rather too loud," Aziraphale gasped, eyes wide against the overwhelming cacophony of garbled sound and flashing neon lights.

The fact that Crowley understood him at all was more a benefit of partial telepathy than auditory organs.

"I know!" Crowley yelled into his ear. "Try tuning it out!"

Aziraphale winced and nodded, concentrating on adjusting his hearing to accommodate for the blaring noise. People kept shoving and shuffling them in their overly warm, sweaty sway of bodies.

"You find this... enjoyable?" he said helplessly, clinging on to Crowley's arm for dear life as the demon steered him God knew where.

"It's humans," Crowley hissed back at him, still pulling him somewhere. "Loud and unsubtle has pretty much been their m.o. since the beginning, haven't you noticed?"

"But they... I'm sure half of them will have hearing damage before they're forty, and that being a generous estimate!" Aziraphale protested, wincing as the music turned into a sort of prolonged, bass-heavy screech that he could feel vibrating in his insides.

Crowley shrugged again. "Yeah, well, it's their choice to live with, so what are you gonna do?" he grinned at him over his shoulder, and Aziraphale was suddenly struck by how unexpectedly happy he looked.

"Here we are," Crowley smiled and stopped suddenly. They were in the middle of the mass of bodies that seemed to be moving rhythmically to the, er, music.

"Come on, angel. Dance," Crowley all but leered at him, mischievious spark glowing right through the sunglasses.

"Oh, is that what 's going on here?" Aziraphale said in disdain. He could not, he decided, for the life of him call this 'dancing'.

Crowley only smiled and stepped back. He started moving, then stopped with a sudden self-consciousness. "Er," he hesitated, glancing at Aziraphale again. Then his face brightened again.

"Watch this," he said, and flicked his wrist. Suddenly the cacophonous jumble of sound faded and was replaced by a tune Aziraphale found irritatingly familiar.

"Er... is this..."

"'Another One Bites the Dust,' yeah," Crowley grinned, obviously much more at ease now. He was already swaying and hopping back and forth in time with the music, and the other people there were also starting to adjust. "They don't play it anywhere near often enough," Crowley added defensively.

Aziraphale was startled to find himself tapping his toe.

Seconds later, Crowley jerked to a stop and grabbed Aziraphale's shoulder. "I can't do this if you're just standing there, staring at me. It's making me twitchy. You gotta live the beat, angel."

Before Aziraphale could protest, he was being whirled and jostled around by an overenthusiastic demon, and was struggling to keep up. "Oh dear, this isn't.. anything like the gavotte..." he stammered, struggling to keep up. Crowley barked a laugh into his ear, his hand warm where it was grasping Aziraphale's.

In a sort of twitching, swaying amble, Aziraphale lasted two minutes before pulling at Crowley's sleeve and demanding a reprieve.

"This is really not my type of thing, dear boy," Aziraphale pleaded, gasping giddily for breath as they made their way to a wall. Crowley laughed, all flashing white teeth glowing green in the unnatural light.

"Hey, I can't let you miss out on half of humanity, angel," the demon said, huddling close to him as they tried to escape the dancers and couples pressing past them.

"Dancing's just part of it,' Crowley smiled, then leaned closer. "Among other things."

Aziraphale paused. He was detecting a faint change in this conversation's dark undercurrent, and was not quite certain whether he liked it.

He looked up to find the demon's eyes glowing gold unnervingly close to his. That was also when he discovered the sunglasses that had somehow made their way into his hand during all the dancing, and had stayed there for at least the past few minutes or so.

"Goodness," he said.

Whatever he had been meaning to follow up with quickly became academical, as Crowley had leaned in a crucial few inches and pressed his hot and startlingly wet mouth against Aziraphale's.

For an unaccountable period of time, all Aziraphale could think was that an armful of demon was an unexpectedly pleasant thing to have, and that his legs by no means should be going all weak and tingly from something that was happening way up north.

Crowley pulled back suddenly, eyes wide and shocked in the dim lighting.

"Ssooo... you're fine with this?" the demon asked incredulously.

Aziraphale tried to catch his breath. Finally he found himself nodding. "You are right, my dear. I have been missing out on some of the more fundamental human experiences, I suppose." Then he blinked. "Oh dear. Is this, then, the kind of thing you indulge in when... out and about, as you put it?"

Crowley shook his head wildly. "No, actually. No, that's... that's new. I mean, with humans, it's a bit... doesn't seem quite right, you know, when they don't know what they're dealing with..."

"Ah, yes, I understand," Aziraphale said distantly. Then he gripped Crowley's hand and rearranged matters so that they were scrambling for a way outside.

"What.. what are you doing?" Crowley stammered, as they squirmed through the throng of people toward progressively fresher air.

"I'd say we've learned all we could from them, my dear," Aziraphale said in a collected way that surprised him. Finally they were free. Still not releasing Crowley, he pulled both of them to where the Bentley was parked.

Crowley reflexively gestured the door open and was startled when Aziraphale shoved him into the backseat, instead.

He was even more surprised when the angel climbed in after him and shut the door.

"W-wha..." Crowley stammered, but was cut off when the angel pressed him against the back of the seat, kissing him to an inch of his life once again. This was really much more comfortable.

"Wait," Crowley gasped, pushing him away. "I just... I'm not doing anything that'll mess up the upholstery in here, you got it?" he stammered, his face furiously red.

Aziraphale pushed him gently back against the leather. "It's quite alright, my dear. Whatever you're comfortable with - there's certainly no need to rush this sort of thing."

Crowley nodded, golden eyes flitting furiously across Aziraphale's dishevelled figure.

"That's alright, then," Crowley breathed, and let Aziraphale pull him in for another deep, thorough kiss.

Later on, when dawn came creeping over the murky London sky, they had still not returned to the flat.

A home, after all, was something you could carry with you.


 

 

Chapter Text



"Careful, sir, don't want to risk pushing the glass in," a young voice said, and Aziraphale nodded absently to himself. He took a hesitant step backward, but his eyes didn't waver from the glass exhibit and its sole occupant.

The serpent inside was unlike any other in the world. He was, as best as the experts could tell, closely related to the Asian reticulated python, a non-venomous constrictor with more weight than malice. His long and powerful body glistened with fine scales, mottled patterns of black, green and pale red. His eyes were the brightest gold, and his pupils like slits.

Aziraphale watched him for a while.

Soon after, there were people bustling past him, and a sudden unified direction in the crowd's flow, but he paid them no heed.

"Sir? Sir, we're closing. I'm going to have to ask you to leave," the same young voice said, and a hand touched his shoulder.

"I intend to stay a while longer," Aziraphale said softly, his eyes not leaving the creature behind the glass.

"Um, I'm afraid that's not an option. Rules are rules. Closing time's for everyone-"

Aziraphale looked at him - young boy, messy brown hair, likely an intern. The boy looked back, straight into his eyes.

A moment passed, then another.

The boy shuddered.

"...Okay," he said in a dazed voice, his eyes unfocusing.

He turned and walked slowly out of the room.

Aziraphale watched him leave.

Then he took a deep breath and pressed his hand to the glass. The glass vanished.

Months ago, his mouth would have quirked in a smile at this, but he'd long passed the point of finding humour in literary references.

He looked at the serpent again, nothing but air between them now. The serpent looked back with disinterest, not bothering to rouse from his leisurely coiled sprawl across the thick branches. His golden eyes were empty.

"Good afternoon, my dear," Aziraphale said softly. He leaned carefully against the edge of the exhibit, half-sitting on top of it and shifting closer. "The, er, the African violets wilted, I'm afraid. I thought you might like to know that. On the bright side, the two begonias with the reddish leaves are flourishing quite nicely. I may even have to procure new pots for them soon... truth be told, I'll likely make a mess of it somehow," he sighed, glancing again at the snake, who regarded him with detached interest.

He leaned closer. "What else, what else... Ah, yes. Do you remember the little pig-tailed girl who blundered in that one time, during Halloween? it was, I believe, ten years ago, and you were... like this..." he swallowed painfully, "and you gave her quite a fright. At any rate, she passed by the other day - I recognised her because of the eyes, you see, heterochromia like that is difficult to miss - anyway, I don't think she strictly knows she's been there before. She was more keen on wandering around than buying anything, so I don't mind that much - I think she enjoys it because it feels familiar. It's just not often we rediscover someone like that again. Quite a lovely young girl by now, you know. I talked to her, she's a Major in comparative religion - of all the useless subjects to choose. But she's a nice enough girl."

He took a deep breath again, not quite daring to look at the serpent, who he had a feeling was starting to doze off. "I invested in a private storage space for the Bentley," he said in a low voice. "I'm not quite certain if it's time to take it for maintenance yet - there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with, and it's not like you have been... using it...."

Aziraphale trailed off, strangely out of breath. He turned to look at the serpent again, who was rubbing lazily against a stretch of rough bark.

Aziraphale reached out to touch him, gently running a hand along the cool, slippery scales. The python slowly swivelled around to flick his tongue at Aziraphale's wrist. Then his body came snaking upward, reaching for an overhanging branch and draping over it.

Aziraphale watched his motions, fingers rubbing over his wrist, where could still feel the touch.

"My probation period is nearly over," he said eventually. "Just another twenty-five months. I'll be able to take you home, then. Keep you in the shop, not this awful noisy place... I'm sure it will all come back to you then. You could scare the customers," he added with a faint smile.

His heart seized as he watched the python crawl slowly over the branch, coiling himself around it in powerful, sinuous curves.

It never failed to remind him of Eden. He'd reached a hand toward the branches - unspeakably ill-advised, of course, when faced with the Enemy, but he'd had the most ridiculous notion that a demon couldn't be a threat to him in a body without limbs, and anyway, it had worked out well enough - he'd reached his hand up, and the Serpent had come reaching back, tongue tasting the air and coils looping curiously around his wrist.

"Crowley, my dear..." Aziraphale swallowed, but forced himself to continue. "If you can understand me, please.. bob your head, dear boy, or make some shape with your coils, or something equally conspicuous... do something, dammit..."

But that was the problem, wasn't it? Crowley was already damned. Aziraphale had never found out if it was Hell's particularly creative idea of a punishment, or if the dear boy really had forgotten how to change back one day, after taking the transformation too far, and losing too much. The more time passed, the less it seemed to matter.

Aziraphale looked at the serpent, and waited. Every time, he never failed to hope.

The serpent coiled himself tighter around its branch, not even looking at him. He may as well not have heard it at all...

Aziraphale froze, breath stuttering. He couldn't believe himself, to have been such a fool. He was hardly the most well-versed in the study of the Lord's creatures - dolphins and gorillas and nests and all - but even he knew snakes were possessed of little to no sense of hearing. It had simply... never come up, when Crowley had been as he'd been before, unburdened by traditional limitations.

Not daring to breathe, Aziraphale reached for the branch the serpent was on and rapped on it, repeating his request in Morse.

He waited. He did not blink, and he did not breathe, and the only muscle that moved was his heart, rapid and heavy and painful.

It took him a while to acknowledge that nothing was happening.

Aziraphale choked on a sob, but quickly collected himself. He pulled a crumpled handkerchief out of a pocket - tartan, Crowley had always mocked him for it - and dabbed haphazardly at his face.

"I need to be going," he said quietly, his voice off-key and far too loud in the empty room. "It wouldn't do to let Gabriel get suspicious."

He looked once more at the serpent, who'd coiled into a knot and was fast asleep.

"Goodbye, Crowley. I'll do my best to stop by next week," Aziraphale said, and walked out of the room.

He might have looked back, to see if the serpent had reacted to his departure. He would have been disappointed.




Aziraphale had felt confident that he could stretch the rules for a bit. Angels, after all, are creatures of Will, and their beliefs can shape mountains.

But desire is not the same thing as belief.

Pythons have a life expectancy of twenty to thirty years.

Aziraphale discovered this early one morning. It had been a warm summer night, and he'd dozed off in the wicker chair on the cottage porch, watching the ocean.

It had been a warm summer night, but the coils draped around him were very cold indeed.

 

 

Chapter Text

Possessing devices was both easier and more difficult than possessing people - there was less of another’s Will to struggle with, but on the other hand, people came with the advantage of already having a mouth to actually make sounds with.

Crowley gritted his proverbial teeth, steeled himself and reached out.

Buzzing in a faint current through the lines, he could feel the outline of familiarly-placed lamps, and an odd, electronic doorbell - the kind that played an elaborate, irritating melody, no doubt - the silhouette of a cashier and oddly sleek table lamp. There was also the antique radio, still in the corner. That would have to do.

Several planes away, in a bookshop in Soho, the shopkeeper flinched when the radio suddenly switched itself on.

“-Sunny with a chance of HELLO? ANGEL? ARE YOU THERE?”

The man dropped the book he was holding, staring at the radio with wide eyes.

“YOU HAD DAMN WELL BETTER BE THERE, AZIRAPHALE, YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO DO THIS SORT OF THING FROM DOWN HERE.”

“Oh my,” the bookshop owner said, because, when it came down to it, bookshops tended to be owned by the same kinds of people with the same mannerisms, no matter their occult status. “Who are you? Where are you? Do you need any help?” He perked up, enthused by the vague idea of rescuing a stranded pirate or an island castaway, and showing up on telly.”

“I’M IN HELL, YOU MORON,” the voice in the radio hissed, sounding faintly puzzled, and sure enough, in the static behind it the man could now distinguish a cacophony of screams. He shuddered and started backing away, tracing a shaky cross in the air.

“Begone, demon,” the man said with no small amount of disbelief. You rarely really heard about demons anymore. “Or I shall, er. Or I shall call a… a priest… to exorcise you!”

There was a pregnant pause from the radio.

“WHERE IS AZIRAPHALE?” the voice asked, but it was breaking up. “WHAT HAPPENED? WHY ARE YOU IN HIS SHOP?”

“I bought it,” the man said defensively, just before the radio crackled and died.

Soon later, he had a friend in factory work toss it into the incinerator.



Crowley got out, eventually. Beelzebub had sounded very miffed about it, but there’d been something about the humans jumping in leaps and bounds through technological progress, and none of the replacements they’d tried for him managing to keep up with them.

Crowley stood on the doorstep of a familiar yet strange bookshop, curling and uncurling his fingers and trying to get used to the feeling of toes again. There was a young girl behind the counter who smiled brightly at him, and an older woman sorting books into shelves.

He wandered idly through the shop, clean and uncannily well-lit. As far as he could tell, nothing of the old collection remained. The unique Bibles were certainly nowhere to be seen, and the back room had been turned into storage space.

Crowley paced around it for an hour and tried not to worry.

He later found a family of three living in his old flat, not a speck of green in it.

He spent the rest of the day ducking in and out of restaurants and cafes, most of them new. What few he could recognise had degenerated into cheap commercial hubs, or now offered the most abysmal selection of food that consisted at least to 95% of artificial sweeteners.

At night, he came back to the shop, and dug through the filing cabinets and the old cardboard boxes until he found a badly wrinkled deed, certifying the sale of the bookshop, from one Mr. A. Ziraphale to a Mr. D. Nebukovich, by now doubtlessly deceased.

There was a telephone number scribbled on the back that he could only guess to be Aziraphale’s, in faded pencil he had trouble reading. He dug out his own newfangled phone (he’d had to shop for an hour before finding one that wasn’t tiny enough to swallow) and steeled himself for a long, frustrating guessing-game.

The first three numbers he tried had been wrong ones, the next two didn’t exist.

Crowley stopped, decided that the sevens in the number were actually incredibly flamboyant ones, and tried again.

It was out of service.

Crowley stood with the phone to his ear, his heart hammering.

He didn’t waste time wondering how he knew This Was It.

He dialled the number again, set the phone on the counter and dived in.

It shouldn’t have been possible, by all rights. If the network could not locate the phone, what hope did he have, hopping through it? But he could trace, if not pinpoint, the general direction, an echo of signals old and new, like the faintest trails worn into the ground by the footsteps of ants.

The number would have been seldom-used. He knew that, too, and it helped.

He came swearing and staggering out of a phone booth, shaking and desperately smoothing back his hair. His hands felt large and awkward to him, after so long.

Crowley took one look around him, and froze.

The junkyard near him could not disguise the salty tang of the sea, carried through him, around him, by gusts of wind, nor the familiar glare of cloud-swept sunshine on fields and small cottage roofs.

He didn’t realise he’d been expecting someone to rush out and welcome him until it didn’t happen.

It wasn’t difficult, then, to find the cottage, recognise by sight what he had only known by vibration and touch. The smell of the poppies helped, stronger here than anywhere else.

The wicker chair was nowhere to be seen, and a different family lived inside.

Crowley shifted his feet and pressed anxiously at the doorbell button.

“What do you mean, too old?” Crowley demanded, completely off-balance after two excruciating minutes of awkward pleasantries that made him want to curl up and vanish.

“We’ve always been on fairly good terms, even if he was a bit distant,” the woman was explaining patiently. “We needed more space for the family, eventually, and he grew too old to mind the house, so he agreed to sell it to us. Never knew what he did with the profits, to be honest, he didn’t seem to have any family…”

Crowley left another minute later, holding a scrap of paper with an address on his hand. He did his best to look at the directions and nothing else.

It was at this point that he remembered about the Bentley, and wondered if he oughtn’t have looked for it first. Then he mentally shrugged, climbed into the first car he saw, and did his best to remember to drive on the right side of the road now.

He drove through East Sussex and paused neatly under the sign that said ‘St. Leonards-on-the-Sea’.

He walked the rest of the way.

The girl that greeted him in the lobby of the nursing home was dark-haired and pleasant and most likely there for the extra credit.

“Are you looking to visit a relative, then?”

Crowley nodded. Not trusting himself to speak, he handed her the slip of paper.

She glanced at the name, and her smile slipped.

He left a minute later with yet another address, and enough sympathetic smiles sent his way to make him want to puke.

It wasn’t far away, so he walked. It was a nice enough area, really - the air was fresh with flowers and the coarse tang of the sea. London was nice and busy, but he wouldn’t have minded living here, in a different life.

He walked through a gate and past slabs of grey stone looming up like phantoms, some of them grotesquely bright with the speckled hues of plastic flowers. He had to look at the slip of paper twice before he found the right spot.

The grave was still fresh, the grass only just beginning to creep over it. The soil smelled of rain.

The headstone was a light, nonsensical grey. Someone had laid lilies on top of it. Crowley wondered who it had been.

The name was wrong. The birth date was wrong.

The date of death wasn’t.

“Right then,” Crowley said, and sat down in front of it. The tips of his shoes sank into the moist soil, and the grass prickled against his palms.

“Ssooo….” he tried. He couldn’t stop staring at the date of death. It was the same year he’d seen in the newspapers earlier.

Then he stopped looking, and tried to look up at the sky, but that seemed wrong, too, so in the end he just closed his eyes, screwed them tightly shut.

“Couldn’t wait for me, huh? Ssstupid basstard,” he said, his voice hollow. He wanted to laugh, but he’d probably throw up if he tried.

Aziraphale had had something of a crush on Shakespeare, he remembered. Had never even dared to talk to him in person - worried about upsetting the ineffable destiny for him, or somesuch. He’d sent him a long, flowery letter of praise in the end, which Crowley had secretly been the one to deliver because he also wanted a closer look at the man, and didn’t have such scruples. He’d teased the angel about it for the rest of the century.

Aziraphale had never liked Romeo and Juliet, though. He remembered that. Too much melodrama, he’d said. Gratuitous pathos because the heroes could not show a bit of patience, he’d said.

Crowley wished now he’d stuck to that mindset, instead of bloody re-enacting the other one.

“What am I supposed to do now, huh?” Crowley mused at the empty air. It was rhetorical. Even he wasn’t ready to actually start thinking about.

You, demon, are supposed to leave,” a sharp voice said, and the air shook like in the wake of a falling comet.

Crowley hissed and scrambled to his feet, but could not dodge the figure that came speeding at him, quick strikes at his chest and belly knocking the wind out of him, sending him sprawling back.

He spitting out blades of grass as he found himself pinned face-down into the ground, a heavy weight pressing into his back and his arms pulled back painfully.

“The Hell?” he hissed, trying to squirm free, but the hold on him only tightened. “Who are you? How did you- ghh - find me?”

“You have been less than dedicated to disguising your presence, demon,” the cold voice continued. “One would almost assume you wanted to be found. What are you doing here?”

“Nothing,” Crowley ground out, truthfully. It didn’t sound truthful. He knew that.

His arms were pulled further back, nearly out of their sockets, and he hissed with pain. He’d forgotten what pain felt like in a human body.

“Tell me what you were trying to do.”

“Who wantsss to know?” he snapped.

“I am Calaphiel, and I watch over this Earth.”

Bullshit, Aziraphale is-“

“Aziraphale gave up his divinity and has now passed into oblivion as befits all of our kind, when we outlive our purpose. He will not be watching this place any longer.”

What?”

Too late, Crowley remembered what he was, as well, sent his great dark wings screaming out of his back, leading edges pulled together to strike hard and sharp at a face, sweep up and around, break free.

He hurled himself sideways and rolled to his feet in a crouch, wingtips trembling in the air.

The angel, too, regained his footing, raising a hand to a bleeding gash on his face in disbelief. He was wearing nondescript clothing on a nondescript body, hair long and dark, eyes cold and blazing.

They stared at each other.

“You’re the Serpent,” the angel said with some disbelief, and Crowley flinched at the empty space where his shades had been knocked free.

“Yessss.” He didn’t know what else to say. “And you’re the…. replacement, I take it.”

The angel nodded, straightening up.

“I’m not looking for a fight,” Crowley swallowed.

“I find that difficult to believe,” the angel said, circling him.

“I’ll leave,” Crowley said. “Get out of your hair, and all that.”

“The only departure I will tolerate is one straight to Hell,” the angel said,and lunged.

It wasn’t difficult, this time around. Crowley had surprise on his side, after all. They had each other in a grapple, but what the angel didn’t expect was for his opponent to come twisting free, uncoiling, fangs sinking sharp into a vulnerable neck.

Crowley shifted back - with some relief - a distance away, and watched the angel gasp and shudder to his knees, clutching at the wound. It wouldn’t be fatal, if the angel knew what he was doing, but it would be debilitating.

Crowley could kill him now, but it wouldn’t solve anything.

He beat into the air, his wings taking him higher and higher until East Sussex, the South Downs, Great Britain herself looked like they could fit into the palm of his hand.

There was nowhere he could go, but that was fine, in a way. He’d wait.

He flew into the salty wind until his wings grew numb.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You’re vicious, angel. I like that,” Alastair breathed, bloodied teeth leering up, undeterred by the holy metal spikes pinning his body into the concrete, or the foot planted firmly in his stomach. “You’d be right at home with us, maybe I could give you the grand tour-“

Agent Ae placed a hand against his brow, and light shifted.

The demon screamed, pouring out of the body despite Ae’s best efforts to keep him contained and sear him inside it. A pillar of smoke and he was gone.

Breathing heavily, Ae wiped the blood off his brow, only getting it smeared in his mousy blond curls. He pushed himself up to an upright position and lowered his trembling wings, winching them in.

Aziraphale looked at the charred body at his feet. It really was a shame about the poor chap.

He raised his hand to the mic in his ear. “Alastair escaped, but should be unable to return to this plane for the time being. Over.”

Agent Cee was swearing under his breath, backing away toward him, the crowds from the mall gathering around them. “Everyone, would you please look over here,” he called loudly. “Everything will become clear in a minute.”

His hand rose to the shades on his nose, making sure they were still there. Then he stepped close to Ae, digging a spare pair out of his pocket. Ae blinked and stood still while Cee hooked them carefully over his eyes, gloved fingertips brushing stray curls out of the way. “One of these daysss you’re gonna forget to put them on, angel, and it’ll cossst the department a fortune,” he hissed in a low voice, then turned back to face the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, would you please look over here,” he said nonchalantly, pulling a small nondescript rod out of his chest pocket and fiddling with the controls.

Without warning, a light flashed, as he gathered his own power around him and sent it channeling through, focusing and spreading with more precision than he could ever have dreamed of achieving by himself. The people in the crowd blinked back at him in a daze.

“I’m going to tell you what happened here,” Cee was saying. “You were all on yet another pointless, consumerism-driven stroll through the mall, looking for junk. This giant crack in the floor and the wreck all around it have been here all day, and are the result of structural damage. Feel free to go ahead with your petty and shallow day now and shop for porn or nail polish or whatever it is you were looking for.”

Ae sighed, pulling his own device out and flashing it at them almost before Cee was finished. “You all had a peasant day so far and are determined to continue making it pleasant, for yourself and all around you. You are going to buy perfect, thoughtful Christmas gifts for your loved ones instead of investing in shampoo baskets or gift certificates again, and then you’ll go on to spend some time with them to show them how much you appreciate them. This day has been a positive experience for you and you will remember it fondly. And, oh yes, quite right, the crack in the floor has been here all day, pay it no heed.”

He then waved for the crowds to disperse, and pulled Cee away.

“Really, my dear,” he cooed at the demon, and Cee grinned, edging closer.

“Right back at you. ‘Thoughtful gifts’, huh?”

“I was only trying to make it up to them-“

“Sure thing, angel. Not bad for a day’s work, though, is it?”

“Perhaps, my dear,” Ae smiled sadly, remembering Alastair’s unfortunate choice of vessel.

Cee sighed. “Come on, then. Let’s do the Ritz.”

It was hard, by all rights, to get a table at the Ritz without advance reservation.

But you can’t be denied a table if you don’t technically exist.

Chapter Text




The first time Crowley let someone touch his wings, it had been in Heaven. He couldn’t remember much else.

The second time was over six thousand years later, and the world had recently failed to end. It was, one could even argue, only just beginning - beginning in new and alarming ways - and when Aziraphale’s jumper had finally made it over his shoulders to reveal a startling sweep of wings, arching forward to be touched, and an unexpectedly serious expression… well, it was all he could do to reciprocate.