Isle of Iona, Albain Dalriada, 794 A.D.
Strictly speaking, the monastery hadn't needed much watching before – its founder's strict and logical, if deeply eccentric, rules were self-governing enough. Aziraphale had to admit, he had guarded it in the past because he liked to. The stars over the sea here were so bright and lovely, the chill breezes so refreshing…and the library so rich and well-stocked, the artwork and illuminations the monks made so brilliant and clever and full of glory that when he moved among them, gazing over their shoulders, touching and stroking freshly-dried pigments, he even felt sensations that were almost...
Well, it was all for the Glory. He hoped.
As he sat on the rocky hillside watching the moon veiled and unveiled by silver-tinged clouds like Salome herself, on this one particular night he realised with horror why he was here after all, when he heard sounds he should not be hearing: the voices of women, who were strictly banned from the colony. Some were screaming and keening. And one was laughing.
They were in the sky. They were in the air. They were not human at all. They were a distaff Wild Hunt, these Caledonian maenads; a wailing sorority of bean sidhe, a veritable posse of them, and the deeper laughing voice – well, Aziraphale couldn't see her with his mostly-human eyes yet but if he closed them she was clear and sharp and terrible in his mind, a shrieking painted berserker beauty all in red, with tangled auburn hair and a crimson wetness about her mouth and her hands. A flock of ravens over her head and a field of dead men beneath her feet. The unconverted pagans said she had three faces and called her the Morrighan. Aziraphale knew her shorter and simpler Name.
She shouldn't be here. It wasn't right. It was like a polar bear wandering through Rome.
Aziraphale regretted his human body in moments like this, when his stomach twisted and his eyes burned.
The first attack still had no true warning for the monastery's human residents. Aziraphale had tried. They didn't believe. Rather stupid of them, considering that what exactly was their function if not to believe, and believe better than anyone else? Believing was their full-time job — if they expected better benefits than the part-timers, Aziraphale was of the opinion they had better get on the stick.
But for whatever reason, he had not been authorised to deliver the heavy weaponry of belief, the combination of awe and revelation that might in later centuries be called the Clue-By-Four, and so he was forced to almost helplessly watch as the boatload of screaming, huge blond heathens from the North spattered the stone walls in the blood of the unarmed, old men and boys and gentle scholars. Well, for a certain value of "unarmed," that is: a well-timed blow of a scythe or a heavy stone crucifix almost counted as a defense. As the monks fell, they did manage to take a few raiders with them. They got lucky more often than one might expect.
It didn't make Aziraphale feel much better. It was all such a waste on both sides, and as he paced on the hill, sending glimmers of encouragement, of heroism, of hope, of glimpses of Heaven to the besieged holy men below, he wished for a moment here and there for a chance to truly participate.
He got his wish when something slammed into him with supernatural force. He heard wild laughter through his spinning stunnedness, and recovered quickly with his staff, whirling around and whacking the being in Viking leather and armour--who stood out from the average invader for his lean build and black hair, and of course his eyes, but who else would ever get that close?
"I thought Columba banished your kind from here," Aziraphale snarled as his staff made contact with the demon's sword arm.
"You're thinking of Padraig of Eire," laughed Crowley, wincing and parrying.
"Here too," Aziraphale grunted as Crowley's blade drew blood from his shoulder, quickly healing.
"Obviously not," hissed Crowley before Aziraphale's staff almost clipped his neck.
"Aren't you tired of trying to kill me yet?" Aziraphale asked, his staff bouncing off Crowley's hastily-raised shield. Almost five thousand years now, and they hardly ever picked up enough new moves to show off and make it worthwhile. Also, considering how much time they'd spent drinking together and slagging their respective organisations when they were both off the clock in Ur and Memphis and Athens and Rome and Samarkand and Byzantium and countless nameless places, it was stupid to be whacking pointlessly at each other now. But Crowley was rather good at encouraging his latest pack of dreadful human friends from up North and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, even if he did look a little silly in their warrior gear.
"You're so cute when you're discorporated," Crowley smirked, lunging forward. "You always look so surprised."
"I always am," said Aziraphale, dodging his thrust, starting to feel short of breath, "when you manage to beat me. It's rare."
"Eat my iron!" the demon yelled, hurling himself forward with a reasonable approximation of the terror-striking Norse berserker cry. His sword bit deep into the wood of Aziraphale's staff, and the force of the angel's counterswing disarmed them both. Momentum still going, Crowley flew at Aziraphale and knocked him to the ground; they rolled entangled down a hill, punching and grabbing at each other all the way. The large rocks embedded in the bumpy ground did them both more harm than they were managing to do to one another.
(Aziraphale had the uncomfortable feeling that if either monks or Vikings could witness this, it might put a pause to the bloody dealings below as both sides stopped paralyzed with laughter. Little had the ancient prophets realised when demons and angels wrestled how much rather girly slapping and scratching and hair-pulling was involved.)
They came to a painful stop against a pagan standing stone, and Aziraphale had the luck to have Crowley beneath him, and he was slightly shocked to find his own hands around the demon's neck and squeezing. Crowley struggled beneath him, kicking and shoving as Aziraphale mashed him into the ground.
"I'm cute when I'm discorporated, huh?" Aziraphale yelled. "Well, you're pretty when you're dead. I want to see it again!" He hoped Crowley would indulge him this time and not remember that strangling a creature who didn't strictly speaking need to breathe wasn't very efficient.
But Crowley instead bared his teeth and did something very unexpected, taking advantage of his free hands to grasp Aziraphale's straddling thighs, pushing his hips up between them. The glint in his eyes was strange indeed.
Was he hiding something dangerous there under his tunic? Aziraphale wondered for a brief, blank moment before his eyes widened at his own stupidity. Oh. That's…OH.
First there was one set of shocking implications. And then there was another.
Crowley wasn't sexless any more, of course, he'd known that for millennia. He'd thought at first it had something to do with Falling, but of course it didn't. It was just something to do with really being in the world, with real nitty-gritty empathy, with using all the tools…so to speak. Or so Crowley had said once over honey wine in Nineveh, smiling licentiously and hinting at all the things he'd done, things he might do, who he'd do them with… To Aziraphale, it was all very interesting, intriguing, almost exotic, to hear about in such a theoretical way. At the time.
Now Aziraphale was dumbstruck long enough to land flat on his back with Crowley over him, pinning his wrists in the damp grass. Crowley was laughing at his surprise, just a little, hissing softly and leaning close. Aziraphale instinctively twisted, trying to keep his throat away from the demon's teeth, but was being distracted by that…object that Crowley kept lightly pushing against his thigh, refusing to let him forget it was there.
It was not theoretical now. And for the first time in a very long time, Aziraphale was genuinely just a little bit frightened, his familiar counterpart become some kind of sincere threat, a wild look on his face, an unusual scent, an emotion Aziraphale could read clearly – a desire. Aziraphale flailed. He only succeeded at getting Crowley to pin him harder, flush up against him on the ground, and something deep within his own core that by all rights really shouldn't be there starting to swim up slowly like some vast leviathan.
"D-does that always happen when you're fighting?" Aziraphale finally asked.
"Sometimes," Crowley smiled. "But I think it's you. You're both strong and soft, and you smell wonderful."
His honesty—or his flattery--was disarming. "We've been fighting so long," Aziraphale said, as if it were a habit he ought to give up for his health.
"Yesss," Crowley sighed. "I think we're starting to get halfway good at it."
"I'm bored with it," Aziraphale sighed.
"We should try something else," the demon insinuated, leaning close to Aziraphale's cheek. The angel turned his head away, and Crowley nipped his earlobe with a very startling gentleness.
"Oh!" Aziraphale cried. "Is that…?"
"There's an art to it, you know. It's not just the crude bestial stuff. Although…that is certainly…" Crowley's smiling eyes were slightly dilated, oddly glazed. He bent low again and his tongue flicked below Aziraphale's ear, down his neck. It was terrifying to have those sharp teeth so close, that just a few short centuries — or maybe minutes — ago might have ripped his throat out as soon as look at him…
It was horrifyingly thrilling. Aziraphale had no frame of reference at all for these sensations except…well, he'd watched. And it felt like tickling, but not quite. Or like hugging, but not quite. Or like being drunk, a little, but not quite. It was less debilitating and more overwhelming at once.
This was ridiculous. There were people dying down there, and all Crowley could think about were his stupid human body tricks.
"Are your people done yet?" Aziraphale said peevishly, glancing down the hill.
Crowley's eyes narrowed. "Bored, angel?" He was trying to hide just how offended he was, and that was enough opportunity for Aziraphale to shove him off, to roll away, to crouch on the ground looking warily at him, to try not to notice that forked tongue darting across Crowley's lips, so contemplatively, so horribly…patiently.
"I'll have you yet," the demon said, so quietly Aziraphale wasn't sure it was aloud.
"I think you've lost your sword this time," Aziraphale said.
"Oh no," Crowley leered. "It's always with me."
And he was gone.
The monks were horrified, weeping, burying the dead, blubbering incomprehensible prayers. Aziraphale was surprised to note the Norsemen hadn't destroyed everything. They'd only killed enough to make their way to the treasury, to the collection of gifts from the rich pilgrims who left coins, crowns, and gold in exchange for the sea air, the breath of holiness, the chance to confess their sins in this sanctified place.
(There was something about that that wasn't completely on, but Aziraphale had not quite put his finger on it yet).
When they came back the next year, the monks were a little more ready. Well, at least there were swords and spears and clubs hidden about, even if they didn't know how to use them terribly well. So the battle was a little longer and a little bloodier and a little more of a battle and less of a flat-out mugging.
And Aziraphale was readier than he'd been in a long time. Crowley didn't have the element of surprise in his favour. Aziraphale had got round behind him, held his arms immobile, held him fast with a dagger to his throat and a tone in his voice that meant business. "Why did they come back? And why didn't they just burn everything last time?"
"Don't you get it?" Crowley laughed, and Aziraphale pressed the blade in a little closer. Crowley's eyes widened and his body trembled, and Aziraphale had to wonder if what was going on there wasn't exactly fear. "They don't want to kill the goose – they want the eggs. As long as the pilgrims keep coming and leaving the gold, they'll keep taking it. And your livestock. And anything else you've got. Just be glad you don't have women. Or good-looking boys."
"And if we did--?"
"Would you watch that thing? You're scratching-" There was a fine trickle of red on the side of Crowley's neck. Aziraphale thought he couldn't have done that, it must have been when he was struggling…but it held the angel's eye deadly fast. "It tickles," Crowley complained.
He couldn't move his hands, and Aziraphale wasn't about to move his. So Aziraphale inclined his head just an inch or two, and mopped up the tiny stream, tentatively, with his tongue. It tasted a little…meaty. Not unpleasant. And Crowley writhed against him, pushing his arse against the angel's hips, making an incomparable noise. He was panting harder than he should be, they hadn't fought that long. And Aziraphale was, for lack of a better term, tempted. Crowley knew something he didn't, and that had been bothering him for centuries.
He decided to risk lowering the arm that held Crowley's waist fast, dipping the hand just there, a little cautiously, knowing what he would find. Crowley bit his lip and threw his head back when Aziraphale touched it.
It was then that Aziraphale realised that he had power in this matter beyond his wildest dreams. The slightest movement of his hand, a constriction of his fingers, and Crowley was moaning softly as if in terrible pain, yet the truth was quite the opposite of pain – every fiber of the demon's being was begging. Aziraphale had to admit he liked that. Liked that an awful lot. As much as he told himself it was mere curiosity that sent his hand digging beneath Crowley's clothes, to find that the hot skin over that mysterious hardness was incredibly soft and sensitive…Oh, he liked feeling Crowley's knees buckle a little, liked feeling his Adversary slump against him, moving involuntarily. He'd even drop the dagger business altogether if he didn't think that Crowley probably liked that too. He kept the flat of it there, cool metal held harmlessly against soft skin, still reminding.
Crowley's face was gorgeous like this, eyes closed, lips parted…Aziraphale had watched enough to know some of the things you were supposed to do, so he leaned in again and carefully, experimentally, tasted Crowley's mouth. The serpentine tongue rose up and slid against his own, and Aziraphale felt a strange flutter in his own body, something reaching out. He kissed Crowley harder and made a strange sound himself. And this business with his hand, and what it was doing to him…Aziraphale closed his own eyes tight and held his own breath when Crowley went rigid, crying out ferally and covering Aziraphale's hand in rich wetness.
There were still people dying out there, for Hea – someplace's sake. But maybe it would've been worse if he hadn't been distracting the demon so thoroughly. It was a real weakness, that sex thing of his. Or so Aziraphale told himself as he held Crowley close, taking note of everything about his body's lightness, its looseness, its breath returning to normal.
"You win this one, angel," Crowley sighed softly.
It did seem the damage wasn't quite so bad this time. There was a good deal of finely-wrought silver the Vikings hadn't found. And there were not nearly so many dead.
The terrible music of the bean sidhe snapped Aziraphale out from his rapturous contemplation of the stars. He hadn't thought they'd come in winter! With regret he left his dance among the shimmers of the aurora borealis, and turned his wings toward the Isle. He touched down on mossy stone, remembering the last time the raiders had come.
He thought the monastery had got off easy, honestly, considering the horrors he'd heard about from the mainland – not so much of burning and killing and stealing alone, but of the creative cruelties these men could wreak on their own kind without even a moment of remorse. It made him wonder if maybe…
No, he couldn't imagine Crowley participating in anything like that, really. He wasn't a very demonic demon, when you got right down to it. Memory dragged Aziraphale into it kicking and screaming, a glimpse of Crowley's face close to his, in that strange kind of helpless rapture that he was capable of and Aziraphale wasn't, dam – er, drat it! Er, wait, it was sin, yes? No? Maybe? Whatever it was, that look on his face when he was overcome by pleasure – Aziraphale saw the angelic in there still. Transformed.
He shivered when he remembered how he'd seen the advantage and taken it, without hesitation.
Maybe he wasn't a very angelic angel sometimes.
His mind was ready to move on from this recollection, but his body wasn't.
It was supposed be an effort! It wasn't supposed to just happen!
(In later reflection, Aziraphale would indeed realise he'd made the bloody effort quite some time before – the reaction was just delayed, having little motivation most of the time in what was, after all, an isolated monastery. And later too he would recognise that the act of caressing the illuminated parchments as he was wont to do daily had laid the groundwork long ago.)
The timing couldn't be worse.
There were three longboats this time, on the horizon at dawn.
And it was bad, this time. Aziraphale was stumbling and comforting and sometimes even whacking, slipping in the mess of split skulls and wrecked farm equipment, searching out his rightful opponent amid all these smelly and animalistic humans. To his horror, they were in the library this time, and he was just about to lunge in after them, do something verboten and heroic in defense of the manuscripts, the monks' life work--such reverence and delight, crushed under ignorant heels like a butterfly…
When Crowley found him, it was to yank him away. The demon was lithe and fast this time for all he was draped in a winter mantle of absurd and fragrant furs. They raged up and down the hillside above the abbey while the looting picked up pace (and Aziraphale noted with disapproval the demon's own gathered bundles tossed aside beside them — really, how petty) and bursts of divine and diabolic competitiveness surged respective fighters below to greater heights. Although the invaders had the advantage, and so did Crowley, when Aziraphale lay beneath him with his chest heaving and clothes torn, he didn't feel entirely defeated just yet. When Crowley pressed against him to gloat, for just one exquisite moment, the demon's face froze in complete startled surprise.
"You—" Crowley gasped, wiggling against that spot…oh yes, just like that, please. "You're…"
"Oh yes," Aziraphale whispered. "Yes."
"For me?" Crowley smiled, dangerously joyous, moving his thigh just so, making Aziraphale bend and arch as if caught in a wind.
"If you want," Aziraphale breathed, baring his throat in offering.
"Oh, you have no idea…" Crowley groaned, leaning in, licking, kissing, biting.
"Oh yes. Yes, I do," the angel said, gripping the back of the demon's neck hard enough to bruise.
They were grateful for those ridiculous furs, and for the distraction of battle far away, and for their abilities to not be seen or heard. When it came down to it neither was allowed to directly intervene anyway, and all the tempting and inspiring that could be done by now already had been, and they were instead supercharging the cold, damp atmosphere by looting and pillaging each other. It still had the choreography of a battle about it, for they dared and challenged and tried to subdue each other, just with a more conspiratorial method than ever. They even sometimes looked at each other and laughed knowingly as fingertips brought a reaction, as one of them tried something amazing with his mouth, as they laid each other bare and compared notes on this and that.
"Do you like…do you want…?" This? This? Oh, oh, THAT.
"I want everything."
This tide turned differently from the previous; Aziraphale felt which way history was bending at last as he was pinned back amid the fur mantle, wrapping his legs around Crowley in invitation, the sky spinning in his closed eyes as he was taken. He clenched, he held, he bit, he writhed, on the edge of climactic revelation almost immediately, balanced on a swordpoint between ecstasies of one kind and another. And Crowley was almost soothing, his motions like a sea only a little bit stormy, his ancient eyes strangely warm.
After all, Crowley knew the match could go entirely differently next time — probably would, to keep the balance. And that there most certainly would be a next time. And that he was more free than Aziraphale to entertain the blasphemous thought that just maybe Heaven and Hell striving together on Earth were greater than the sum of all their parts.
"I can't hold time anymore," said Aziraphale sadly, sweating under the fur and against Crowley, even in the cold. Their breath steamed softly blue between them.
"Me neither. Look, this place is falling, you know that."
"I do know that. I wish they'd let me – well, never mind," Aziraphale sighed. It was useless to try to get any reasons out of the bureaucracy anyway. Crowley looked almost apologetic. He probably was.
"Truce?" the demon asked, a little nervously, running a finger down the center of the angel's chest.
"I thought we – well, yes," Aziraphale smiled. "I suppose so. At least for now."
"At least for now," Crowley nodded, and suddenly bounded to his feet, gloriously naked for a moment before his fierce-Norseman costume reappeared, repaired and flashy. "You'll have to leave here soon too."
"Afraid so," Aziraphale said, putting his monk's tunic and scratchy wool breeches back on the old-fashioned way.
"I have something for you," Crowley said with a grin.
Aziraphale blinked as the demon rooted in his bundle of ill-gotten booty, and drew out something heavy and wrapped hastily in a bloody monk's frock. Crowley winced and lifted his slightly-burned fingertips to his mouth as bits of parchment poked out.
Aziraphale gasped. It was the most beautiful of all the manuscripts, an exquisitely-worked gospel in the most heavenly colours that could be touched by a human hand. Unfinished, but all the more glorious for that, perhaps. He almost wept as his fingers lightly traced the exotic pigments and remembered the monks who had inked them. This elaborate flourish of goldleaf, from the eloquent dark man from Southern parts…this delicate vinework, from the quiet boy from Eire who loved animals…
"Take it out of here," Crowley said. "Take it to Eire, nice and far inland please, away from these thugs. Really, I don't like them either anymore. You see one Blood Eagle, you've seen them all. And Valkyries are real harridans. I hope you never have to meet one."
"I..I will," Aziraphale said, a little breathless for entirely different reasons. "They're rebuilding at Kells, I'll take it there. But…why?"
Crowley shrugged. "It's pretty. I thought you would like it. I thought maybe I'd have to give it to you before you'd let me lay you. But you're easier than that."
"Yes, me. Truce, remember?"
"There will be Heaven to pay, foul serpent," Aziraphale intoned sternly, but he knew the effect was diminished a great deal by the goofy afterglow smile he hadn't quite figured out how to get rid of yet. He'd have to work on that. He figured there'd be plenty of time.
Author's notes: Title is from "Iona" by William Wordsworth. Some current scholarship holds that the Book of Kells was most likely begun at Iona and finished at Kells.