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Angels Don't Fly Down Here

Chapter Text

Can you hear me screaming for you?

I’m afraid I’m gonna die down here

I can’t save, I can’t save myself,

Get me out!

Get me out of hell!

I’m suffocating, waiting for you,

‘Cause the angels don’t fly down here

I need you because no one else can

Get me out!

Get me out of hell!

                        -Skillet, “Out of Hell” (2016)


 

 It was a rather stormy afternoon on the day of the pancake debacle, before.

Crowley’s kitchen was much more modern than Aziraphale’s, and with a much more open counter space, the angel thought bitterly as he stabbed at the bubbling mass that was ardently refusing to budge with a spatula. He poked his tongue between his teeth and cursed the infernal thing, grunting unhappily.

“Everything okay over there, angel?” Crowley asked from the sink, where he was absentmindedly washing the pan he’d just scrambled eggs in. He peered at Aziraphale from over the rims of his sunglasses, which he wore, even inside his own flat, as it seemed.

“No!” Aziraphale threw his hands in the air. “I can’t get the stupid thing to flip! I’ve nearly broken the damned spatula in half trying to just get it under the thing! And even when I do manage to flip it, I do it much too early, and the batter oozes everywhere I don’t want it to go!” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t believe pancakes are going to be on the menu tonight if this continues, my dear.”

Crowley rolled his eyes, and dried his hands on the apron he had on, the one Aziraphale had brought for him that had “Hot Stuff Coming Through” emblazoned on the front.* (It had been a Christmas gift.**)

(*It was a terrible yellow color, almost fluorescent, and it hurt if you looked at for too long.)

(**This was also the Christmas Aziraphale had taken it upon himself to decorate Crowley’s flat with decorations that even the demon knew to be offensively inaccurate. He’d teased Aziraphale about this fact, but the angel had waved it off, insisting that it was the spirit of the season, the joy of it all, that truly mattered. This was also the year Crowley had walked in and found that Aziraphale had wrapped a string of twinkling colored lights around the large cactus in the corner Crowley had been cultivating for the last 20 years. He’d pretended to be angry, but in actuality, it had really done the flat some good having a little light.)

“Away,” he commanded, waving his hand in a shooing motion. He took the spatula from Aziraphale’s hand, and sat it on the counter before Aziraphale could smite someone*, or use it to assault the offending bubbling mass of pancake batter in the frying pan, or throw it out the window onto any unfortunate passersby below.

(*Crowley could not have Aziraphale smiting in front of his houseplants, least they became more afraid of the angel than they were of Crowley.)

He took hold of the handle of the frying pan, and flicked his wrist. He flipped the pancake into the air, where it somersaulted a few times before falling back towards the earth; Crowley caught it with practiced ease. Aziraphale stared at him.

“How did you get the bloody thing to do that?!” He demanded.

“Simple!” Crowley gave him a wicked grin. “Once you’re threatened to beat it senseless with a wooden spoon in an effort to summon the dead enough times, it usually submits.”*

(*He’d never actually threatened his cookery at all. The more proper terminology would be that he’d rather seduced his various pots and pans by promising loving care and cleaning, and proper aeration should they cooperate, as well as a bimonthly soak in a soapy sink. Cookery, Crowley had found, were much harder to frighten than houseplants.)

Aziraphale crossed his arms haughtily and huffed. Crowley gently deposited the slightly charred pancake onto the plate Aziraphale had set beside the stove. He ladled more batter into the pan, and turned towards Aziraphale.

“Try it.” He said.

Aziraphale, not about to be shown up by the rather incorrigible demon beside him, stepped up and wrapped his fingers around the handle of the frying pan. He watched as the edges of the batter began to bubble, which usually indicated that you should flip it onto the other side, and lifted it off of the burner. He gave it a yank upwards, as Crowley had done, and the pancake flew into the air.

Instead of somersaulting, like Crowley’s had done, however, the pancake instead splattered against the ceiling, where it promptly held fast, and did not fall.

The angel and demon stared up at it for a few moments, blinking. Aziraphale frowned.

“Bugger,” he cursed.

Crowley let out a roar of laughter, clutching his stomach as he doubled over. His sunglasses sank down his nose, nearly falling, and he grabbed the side of the counter to steady himself.

“Oh, that’s too good!” He said, wiping his eyes and resetting his sunglasses.

“It is most certainly not funny, Crowley!” Aziraphale glared at the demon.

“Oh yes it is,” Crowley insisted. He laid a hand on Aziraphale’s arm. “Lighten up, Az, it’s just a pancake.”

“Bugger it all,” Aziraphale grumbled. “I’ll have to scrape it off now.”

“Do it later.” Crowley said, turning back to the stove. He pushed his rolled sleeves further up his arms and poured more batter into the pan. In the time it had taken Aziraphale to attempt to make just one pancake, Crowley managed to make six. He stacked them on the plate, and grinned at Aziraphale, who rolled his eyes.

“Oh, c’mon, ‘s not that bad.” Crowley offered. “Now let’s eat; I’m starving.”

Aziraphale grabbed the two other plates, heaped with scrambled eggs and ham, and followed Crowley out into his dining room, where syrup and butter awaited them. A bottle of wine also sat there, two empty glasses awaiting their arrival, and Crowley wasted no time pouring it between them.

They sat and ate in companionable silence for a few moments, Aziraphale still fuming about the pancake debacle, grumbling about the mess that would result from having to clean it off later.

“You can just miracle it away, if you’re that worried about it.” Crowley drawled.

“It’s the principle of the thing.” Aziraphale insisted.

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Bugging Principality, obsessed with principles.” He took a long sip from his wine. There was no malice in his voice, only mild teasing.

Aziraphale said nothing at the quip, and instead drank his wine, watching the demon across the table from him over the rims of his own glasses. Crowley must have noticed his gaze, because he raised an eyebrow in the angel’s direction.

It had been two years since the Apoca-wasn’t, since the whole mess with Adam Young and the end of the world had happened. In that two years, Aziraphale and Crowley had found themselves spending more and more time together outside of Arrangement detailings. Over time it had evolved past what it had been for the last six millennia – a game of angelic cat and demonic mouse, as it were – from drinking comrades to a much more intimate sort of companionship. Eventually they’d found themselves where they were now, all fond glances and brushing arms as they occupied the same space, quiet words whispered against skin in the dark as they shagged on the small couch in the backroom of Aziraphale’s bookshop*, shared dinners and brunches and bottles of wine. Two lives that had always been entwined, more so now than in any way before.

(*Crowley had expressly forbidden any shagging in the Bentley.)

It was nice, what it was. Whatever definition given to whatever it was they had, it was good.

Neither of them had heard anything from their higher ups Above or Below in the two years since the Apoca-wasn’t, of which they’d had a direct hand in. They could not be entirely sure, but they were sure Adam Young had had something to do with that when he’d put things back to normal. As far as either side was concerned, it seemed, so long as the two of them continued to fill their monthly quotas as dictated by their respective job descriptions, there was little they could do in the way of complaining. And neither angel nor demon were anywhere near brazen enough to bring up the subject.

“See something you like, angel?” Crowley teased.

Aziraphale smiled. “I was just thinking,” he said, slowly. “That this is nice.”

“What’s nice?”

“This.” Aziraphale gestured vaguely between them. “Us. It’s…rather nice, I’d say.”

Crowley hummed in agreement, and he sat down his wine glass.

“I can agree.” He said, and ate another pancake. “Though I have to admit, I keep wondering how long it can last.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it, Az,” Crowley said. He wouldn’t meet Aziraphale’s eyes. “Hell, they don’t much care what we demons do so long as we meet our quotas and don’t do anything overly stupid—”

“Like averting the apocalypse?” Aziraphale interjected.

Crowley ignored him. “—but Heaven, we both know that is a different story. You can’t possibly tell me they’d approve of you seeing me like this?”

“They didn’t much care that you and I have been correspondents and drinking companions for millennia,” Aziraphale pointed out.

“That’s not the point, Az.” Crowley said. “My point is, we’re a bit beyond just friends, now, yeah? So eventually, someone is gonna take notice of that Upstairs, and do you really think they’re going to be too happy about you colluding with a demon? And not just any demon, oh no, but me. I’m the original tempter, Aziraphale. That whole buggering mess with the apple was my fault. I’m the one who delivered the Antichrist unto the world. And you’re here shagging me on a fairly regular basis. Sins of the flesh and all that jazz.” He looked at Aziraphale seriously. “Can you honestly say they’ll like that?”

Aziraphale shrugged. “Crowley, honestly, I don’t know.” He laid a hand on Crowley’s. “But I can honestly say, my dear, that I don’t care.”

“Aziraphale, I don’t want you getting into trouble because of me.” Crowley said softly. “Not for me.”

“And I don’t believe that I will,” Aziraphale assured him. “So stop worrying about it. I won’t worry about it until I have reason to.” He smiled. “Besides, for all we know, it’s ineffable.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Ineffability my ass.” He said. “That an angel and demon should…”

“Should what, dear?”

“Should fall in love, Az.” Crowley said. “Doesn’t seem like it would be possible, a demon loving an angel, and an angel lusting after a demon.”

“It’s hardly lust if the love is returned, Crowley.” Aziraphale said calmly. “Love is not a sin. Not ever. We’ve had this conversation before.”

“I know that, Az,” Crowley said. “But sometimes…sometimes I get so caught up in thinking it can’t possibly get any better than it is that…”

“Hush.” Aziraphale stood and kissed Crowley’s forehead. “Don’t say anything else on the matter. We’ve nothing to worry about, and if we ever do, we’ll take care of one another, yes?”

Crowley opened his mouth to object, but finally just nodded.

Aziraphale smiled, and for moment, everything was alright.

Neither could have predicted what was to come.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale could not sleep.

He and Crowley had gotten spectacularly drunk following dinner, as always. They’d gotten so drunk, in fact, that they’d left the sticky remains of the pancake still plastered to the ceiling of the kitchen, and Aziraphale was decidedly not looking forward to cleaning it off. They’d lounged on Crowley’s couch, watching the summer Olympics in Barcelona, reminiscing about the time they’d both attended the Olympics in Ancient Greece, during which Crowley had somehow found himself participating in the discus throwing competition in which Aziraphale had found himself an unwitting judge. In the end, they’d divulged into sleepy snogging, before eventually stumbling their way down the hall to Crowley’s bedroom, where they’d promptly crashed onto the bed.

And while the demon had fallen asleep almost immediately, Aziraphale had found a much harder time in doing so, especially after miracling away the alcohol from his system.

So instead he laid in the dark of the bedroom, staring at the wall in front of him, thinking about nothing in particular as Crowley snored next to him in the bed.

Crowley was a particularly bad bed partner. He had a tendency to steal the covers more often than not, curling into them like a moth in a cocoon, all the while still cuddling whatever was nearest to him, be it a pillow, or, increasingly often nowadays, the bookish angel he’d called his friend for over 6000 years, but had only called lover for closer to two. Some nights he took up the entire bed by himself, all sprawling limbs, and others he was prone to accidentally rolling over in his sleep and flailing out a hand, thus whacking Aziraphale in the face. His tendency to talk in his sleep was sometimes a bit...off putting, but never necessarily what Aziraphale would consider a deal breaker in sharing a bed with him.

Tonight, however, he was pressed as close to Aziraphale as he could get, reminding him that he had once been a snake, his arms wrapped around the angel’s soft belly, a leg thrown over the angel’s, and his face buried in the middle of Aziraphale’s back. He was mumbling incoherently every once in a while, followed by a faint hiss, and Aziraphale chuckled fondly.

Finally, the insomnia – was it technically insomnia if he didn’t need sleep in the first place? – won out, and Aziraphale disentangled himself from the demon. Crowley hissed quietly in the dark before relinquishing his grip on the angel, rolling over and squeezing himself into the fetal position. Aziraphale covered him with the sheet, brushing Crowley’s disheveled black hair from his eyes.

Aziraphale smiled at the serene face of his demon before he padded his way down the hall into the bathroom, where he splashed cold water onto his face. He ran a hand through his blond curls and leaned against the vanity, thinking maybe if he went out and read on the couch for a little while, he’d be able to fall asleep.

A sudden prickling on the back of his neck caught his attention. There was a distinct change in the energy of the air of the flat, like lightning gathering in the clouds, but the storm outside had long since quieted. He heard rustling from somewhere inside the flat.

Someone was in the apartment. Someone who had not needed a door to enter.

Demons?

Aziraphale felt his instincts kick in, and he silently made his way back towards Crowley’s room, pressing himself against the wall. He very quietly released his wings, and reached into the crack of the door to Crowley’s room to grab the tire iron the demon kept leaning against the doorframe. He considered for a moment waking the demon, but thought better of it when the idea crossed his mind that doing so may alert whoever it was in the flat to their presence. He grasped the tire iron tightly in his fist; it wasn’t his flaming sword, but it would do.

He crept forward, listening intently. He remembered not to breathe as he silently rounded the corner and slipped into the kitchen. He could see a figure standing in the living room through the window of the bar, and he made his way forward, his free hand feeling along the wall for the light switch. He’d left his glasses on the nightstand next to Crowley’s bed, and if he was going to attack whoever it was that had broken into the flat, he wanted to be sure he could see them first.

Just as his hand found the switch, the figure in the living room froze. Aziraphale rippled his wings, raised the tire iron, flipped on the light, and charged—

—into an empty room.

Aziraphale froze. He could still feel the prickling in the air from the energy of whatever being it was that had been standing in front of him, like a ghost, and he could feel the shift as it moved, faster than Aziraphale could blink.

“Hello, Zira.” A voice said behind him.

Aziraphale yelped, and spun around, the tire iron still poised in the air, ready to strike. He flared out his wings.

In front of him stood a petite woman with flowing blonde hair and bright green eyes. Large white wings plumed out behind her, exactly of the same stock as Aziraphale’s own, and she seemed to glow faintly. Aziraphale recognized her immediately, and dropped the tire iron on the floor with a loud thump.

“Astrid,” he said. He remembered to breathe.

The female angel smiled at him.

“Hello, brother.” She said warmly.

Aziraphale moved forward, closing the distance between them to catch her in an embrace.

“Astrid!” He said, joy quickly replacing the apprehension he’d felt just moments before, the adrenaline that had rushed through his veins quickly quieting, and he winched in his wings. “It’s so good to see you!”

Astrid returned the hug, wrapping her arms around Aziraphale’s middle; Aziraphale was not a tall man, or man-shaped creature, but Astrid only came to about the height of his collarbone. After a moment, they stepped apart.

“It’s good to see you, too, Aziraphale.” She said.

“What are you doing here?” Aziraphale asked her.

“I hadn’t heard from you in a while, so I figured I’d stop by.” Astrid said, shrugging. “I went to your bookshop first, but no one was there, so I traced you here.” She cocked her head, taking in the flannel pajamas the other angel was wearing. “Were you sleeping?”

Aziraphale shook his head.

“No, I couldn’t.” He said. “I still don’t sleep most nights.”

Astrid nodded, knowingly. “But Crowley does, I take it?”

Aziraphale started, and Astrid laughed.

“Oh please,” she said. “Don’t tell me you thought I didn’t know, Zira!”

“Well, frankly, my dear, no, I didn’t.” Aziraphale said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Well, this is definitely not your flat above the shop.” Astrid said. “And the décor isn’t exactly what I’d call your taste. Too little tartan, for one thing.”

“Tartan is always in style, thank you,” Aziraphale said reproachfully.

Astrid ignored him. “Not to mention I can smell him all over the place.” She raised an eyebrow. “How is he, anyhow?”

“Fine,” Aziraphale said, unsure if Crowley was a line he was willing to cross with Astrid. He changed the subject. “Would you like some tea?”

“Tea would be fine.” Astrid said. Aziraphale swept past her into the kitchen, where he procured two mugs from one of Crowley’s cabinets. He miracled hot tea into the mugs, and handed one to Astrid.

“So,” he said, somewhat awkwardly. “How’s heaven?”

“Heavenly, as usual.” Astrid replied, taking a sip of her tea. “Actually a bit quiet these days.”

“Oh?”

She nodded. “Not much going on, honestly. What with the Apocalypse that wasn’t and all, I’d say everyone is still trying to figure out what to do next.”

“Ah.” Aziraphale took a log drink of tea. “I’d hoped…well, to be honest, I don’t know what I’d hoped.”

Astrid shrugged. “It’s not so bad. Uriel certainly isn’t complaining about the lack of new paperwork flooding his desk. If anything, it’s given him a chance to get caught up with the backlog.”

“Still working as his assistant, then, I presume?” Aziraphale asked.

“Well, it’s either work with him or work with Michael.” She said, pointedly. “And let’s face it, no one wants to intern under Michael*.”

(*Michael is what one might call "an angelic pain in the ass.")

Aziraphale laughed. “Couldn’t argue with you if I wanted to, dear.”

Astrid grinned. “And how about you? Are things good with you?”

“As well as they can be.” Aziraphale replied, drinking more of his tea. “Not much has changed, really, in regards to things. I still run the shop, read my books, and try to maintain balance.”

“Your quotas are being filled,” she said. “So I’d say you’re doing fine, whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Well, with someone like Crowley in your life, it’s hard not to fill them. He wiles, I thwart. Same old business as it’s always been, I suppose.”

“I’d say you’re good for one another, then.”

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale was suddenly itching with discomfort. “There is some debate between us as to whether or not Heaven would agree.”

Astrid sat down her mug of tea on the counter. She reached out and took her brother angel’s hand.

“Zira,” she said quietly, gently. “It’s been two years since the End that didn’t happen. No one has said anything against you. The general consensus, as far as I can tell, has been relief. No one is really all that interested in going to war against Hell. Everyone knows how it would end, with Heaven winning, so most of us Up There really don’t see a point, you know?”

“It’s ineffable,” Aziraphale supplied.

Astrid nodded. “Ineffable. Exactly.”

“Crowley worries.” Aziraphale explained. “He’s concerned that it is not a peace that can last. As far as Hell is concerned, there isn’t much he can find in the way of retribution against him. He’s been, shall we say, removed from the books. He hasn’t received any orders, nor any correspondence for that matter, these last two years. He worries more for me, that I’ll be punished.”

Astrid shook her head. “Doubtful.”

“The concern is flattering, of course,” Aziraphale said. “If unfounded.”

At that moment, the faint sound of a door being opened pulled their attention away from their conversation. Moments later, Crowley padded into the kitchen, running a hand through his hair, yawning much wider than a human-shaped individual should be able.

“’ziraphale?” He asked sleepily. “What are you—”

He froze as his eyes came into focus, and he noticed the other angelic being standing in his kitchen. Aziraphale could almost hear his heart stop, and he forgot to breathe for several minutes as he stared at Aziraphale and Astrid from the doorway of the kitchen. Aziraphale could see the emotions as they flooded through him: surprise, shock, fear, and finally, defensiveness. His yellow eyes narrowed as he glared at Astrid, who regarded him coolly, unconcerned with anything the demon could say or do.

“Ah, Crowley, dear,” Aziraphale said. “You’re awake.”

Crowley nodded, slowly, moving towards his angel, his eyes never leaving Astrid, as though she were a secretary bird waiting to strike*.

(*Secretary birds are known enemies of snakes, as they stand about four feet tall and have been known to eat the snakes they pummel to death under their incredibly powerful feet. Crowley had encountered one on the plains of Africa once, and it was not an experience he was likely to speak of often.)

“Yeah,” He stood as close to the angel as he dared, still eyeing Astrid warily. “Who’s your friend?”

“Oh, silly me,” Aziraphale scolded himself. “This is Astrid, a fellow angel. Astrid, this is Crowley.”

Astrid held out her hand to the demon.

“Nice to meet you.” She offered cordially, almost friendly.

“Charmed,” Crowley returned, shaking her hand cagily. “Pray tell, what brings you to my flat? In the middle of the night? Without warning?”

“I came to see Aziraphale,” Astrid answered. “But he wasn’t at his bookshop, so I traced him here. I…let myself in, as it were.”

“So you broke in, you mean.”

“Well,” Astrid said guiltily. “When you put it that way…”

“Astrid and I were just catching up is all.” Aziraphale broke in. “We didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t.” Crowley said. “I woke up on my own with a pounding headache and found you gone.”

“I’m sorry.” Aziraphale apologized, smiling at the demon. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“That seems to be a bad habit of yours, not being able to sleep.” Crowley chided.

Aziraphale sighed. “It’s not as though I can help it, my dear.” He said.

“Sure you could,” Crowley countered. “If you really tried.”

Astrid cleared her throat. “Sorry, should I go?”

“No,” Aziraphale said.

“Yes,” Crowley said, at the exact same time.

Astrid raised an eyebrow, and Aziraphale gave Crowley a pointed look.

“What?!” Crowley demanded. “’m still sleepy, and how do I know she’s not here to smite me or something?”

“She’s not.” Aziraphale said.

“Okay, then what is she here for?”

“I told you,” Astrid came to her own defense. “I came to speak to Aziraphale.”

“And what’s so important you had to come in the middle of the night?” Crowley demanded.

“It wasn’t of importance at all.” Astrid said. “I just hadn’t spoken to my brother in a while, and I had some free time on my hands and figured, ‘Eh, why not? My wings could use the exercise anyway.’ That’s it.”

“So you’re not here to smite me? Or to drag Az back to Heaven? Or to bring him a message from Upstairs telling him to stop shagging a demon Or Else?”

Aziraphale turned bright red as Crowley mentioned shagging.*

(*Crowley found it adorable, despite the situation.)

“No.” Astrid spread her hands. “Nothing like that. I just wanted to catch up. That’s all.”

“So Az isn’t in trouble Upstairs?”

“No. Why would he be?”

“Shagging a demon?” Crowley reminded her. Aziraphale’s blush deepened.

“Any efforts Aziraphale gives towards giving into carnal pleasures is his own business.” Astrid said. “Trust me, no one has any interests in hearing about it, as interesting as it may be.”

“Oh really? Because it’s actually—”

“That’s quite enough, dear.” Aziraphale stepped between them, his ears practically glowing with embarrassment.

Astrid couldn’t hide the amused smile.

“I like him.” She said to her brother angel. “He’s got a sense of humor, at least. For a demon.” She added.

Crowley rolled his eyes.

“How’s about this,” Aziraphale said. “You come by the bookshop tomorrow afternoon, Astrid, and we can talk and catch up more there.”

Astrid nodded. “I’ll see if I can get away, sure.” She agreed. “I’m sure I can, if Uriel still isn’t too busy.”

“Excellent.” Aziraphale said. He put his hands on Crowley’s shoulders, turning him around, and began to march him back towards the hallway. He was not about to have Crowley make any more comments about the details of their sex life. “See you then, Astrid.”

“See you then, Zira.” She said. “Oh, and Crowley?” She called after the demon.

“What?” Crowley asked, twisting himself away from Aziraphale’s grasp to poke his head back around the corner.

Astrid smirked.

“Nice pajamas,” she said, and was gone.

Crowley looked down at the boxers and t-shirt he was wearing, and looked back at Aziraphale in horror. He was wearing a pair of Bugs Bunny boxers, and an overly large t-shirt depicting the cast of the Golden Girls. (They were his favorites.)

Oh, great. Now he was going to be the laughing stock of Uriel’s department. Just great.

“Come on, dear.” Aziraphale coaxed him gently, taking his hand and pulling him back towards the bedroom. “I think I’ll be able to sleep now.”

Sleeping, Crowley thought, was the last thing the angel would be doing for a little while yet.*

(*He was wrong. Aziraphale was indeed asleep within three minutes of hitting the pillow.)  

Chapter Text

When he awoke the next morning, Crowley was not in the bed with him. Aziraphale could hear the faint sound of the shower running in the bathroom across the hall, and he figured that Crowley must be taking a hot shower; he was just as enthralled with hot showers as he was with other more human concepts, like sleep and driving cars. Not that Aziraphale could necessarily blame him; he liked to indulge in the odd hot bath every once in a while himself.

He yawned as he sat up in the plush bed, running a hand through his hair and feeling along the bedside table for his glasses. He pushed the spectacles up his nose and stretched his arms over his head before releasing his wings, allowing them to stretch a bit as well.

He heard the sound of the faucet turning off, and the shower curtain being drawn back. After another minute or two, Crowley came into the room, a towel wrapped around his waist, his black hair still dripping wet while the rest of his body was somewhat dry.

“G’morning.” He greeted. “Sleep well?”

Aziraphale nodded. “Quite, thank you.”

“There’s coffee, if you’d like.” Crowley said.

The angel shook his head. “I’d rather have tea, but thank you.”

Crowley smirked fondly. “Tea is at least twenty percent your life blood, I swear.” He teased.

“At least thirty percent, dear.” Aziraphale corrected. “The other seventy is comprised mostly of cocoa, wine, and book print ink.”

“Eh, close enough.” Crowley said, and bent down to retrieve his trousers where he’d left them last night on the floor. He dropped the towel, and with the snap of his fingers, a pair of fresh boxers appeared. He smiled leeringly at the angel still sitting in his bed, and said angel only rolled his eyes.

“Would you mind giving me a ride back to the shop?” Aziraphale asked as he watched the demon pick out a dress shirt from the closet. “I’m meeting Astrid there later.”

“Sure.” Crowley said as he shrugged on a shirt and buttoned it. “I don’t mind.”

“And what are your plans for the day?” Aziraphale ventured.

“Raise some hell, tempt some weak willed realists, plant some seeds of doubt, maybe wile my way into a few lucrative deals. The norm. You?”

“Spread light and love to all of God’s creation, thwart any dastardly wiles I may come across, scare off a few customers, read. The like.”

“All in a day’s work, then.” Crowley smiled. “And after? What are your plans then, angel?”

“I have a bottle of cognac in my cupboard just waiting to be enjoyed among favorite company.” Aziraphale answered honestly, and his blue eyes were shining with affection. “Would you happen to know someone with whom I could enjoy it?”

“I might.” Crowley answered. He leant forward and lightly grasped the lapels of Aziraphale’s pajamas, his lips not quite brushing, not quite not those of the angel. “Now, before we go about our respective businesses…how’s about I tempt you to a few more minutes in my bed?”

Aziraphale grinned. “Who am I to resist that?”

 

...oOo...

 

Hastur, formerly a Duke of Hell, was pissed.

Perhaps pissed wasn’t exactly the operative word, exactly, for what he felt. “Gravitating towards violent tendencies” was a much more accurate statement, and it was, at this precise moment, exactly that Hastur was contemplating.

It had been two years since the Apocalypse that never happened, all thanks to that bloody Crawly and that blasted angel of his. Everything had been going according to plan, despite a few, er, minor mix-ups involving the identity of the Antichrist, but the boy had been found, his powers had been realized, and his hellhound had, well…been chasing cats up trees and buggering about trying to catch his own tail.

Still, had Crawly and his angel – Azirasomething – not intervened, everything would have fallen into place just fine. It wouldn’t have taken much to convince the Antichrist of his full potential eventually, had they just been given more bloody time, but no. Crawly and the angel had gotten involved, had been ready to face down Satan himself, and had walked away in the end with not even a slap to the wrist, whilst Hastur had been forcibly dragged back down into the depths of hell, where he was punished for not carrying out his role before the call had come out that Crowley was officially off the list for punishments. Hastur had been thrown into the pit, tortured, enduring endless misery and suffering for nearly two years. Not only that, he’d been bloody demoted. He’d once held a dukedom in Hell, had been held in high revere and had once been entrusted with the overseeing of millions of demons. And now, he was lower than even a marquis, not even a count; he was barely anything. He was lucky to have kept his existence at all, Dagon had told him, and that he should be thankful for that.

Hastur grumbled as he sloshed his way through the filthy streets of London, his robes reeking of mildew and welt mulch. He’d clawed his way upwards from Hell, and had found himself in the middle of an elderly lady’s garden*. From there, he’d made his way, in the rain, towards lower Mayfield, where he knew Crowley rented a domicile. He didn’t know what, exactly, he planned on doing should he run into the bastard; being on Hell’s list of untouchables put him a rather disadvantage in terms of casting the revenge that had been boiling in his blood for the last two years.

(*He’d hit his head on the bottom of a rather large, cement garden gnome, which now lay in pieces upon the sidewalk.)

So instead, he hung around outside the building where Crowley resided, waiting for a chance to catch a glimpse of the bastard. That bloody car he drove was parked out front, and Hastur knew it was only a matter of time before decided to show himself.

And then what? Hastur growled in frustration. Even just plucking a single hair from his head would see Hastur back in the pits before he could blink, let alone actually try and pull anything against the serpent.

At that moment, the door to Crowley’s domicile opened, and, speak of the devil, there he was. He was dressed as humanly as he always was: dark suit, a red shirt, snakeskin shoes, and dark glasses, and he was tugging at his tie, loosening it attractively. He fumbled in his pocket for the keys to the car, and then, a figure came up behind him.

It was the angel. The angel that had defeated the Apocalypse. Azirasomething…Aziraphill…Aziraphale. That was it. The blessed bastard’s name was Aziraphale, a Principality, Hastur remembered suddenly. He and Crowley had been a bit of business together for millennia, though up until the Apocalypse, no one had really said anything about it.

He watched as Crowley turned to face the angel, and saw the bastard smile at the angel. Aziraphale smiled back, and reached out to straighten the loosened knot of Crowley’s tie and smooth down a lock of hair before kissing him lightly on the forehead.

And Crowley let him.

Oh, now this. This was too bloody good. Crowley had gone and let himself fall in love. With an angel.

Here he was, making googly eyes at a goddamned angel, and not just any angel, but the one he’d faced down the Apocalypse with, the one who had stood next to him and dare defy the forces that be.

Hastur watched as Crowley and the blithering angel climbed into Crowley’s car, and drove off. He watched them go, and an idea suddenly struck him.

It was sick, twisted, and oh so fucking satisfying it made Hastur positively tingle.

 He smiled, wicked and wide, and his eyes danced with malicious mirth.

Hell may have said that Crowley was off-limits, but they hadn’t said a blessed thing about his angel, now had they?

Chapter Text

 

Crowley pulled the Bentley up to the curb outside of Aziraphale’s bookshop, putting it into park. He turned down the radio, which was playing “Another One Bites the Dust,” and smiled at Aziraphale.

“I’ll see you later then?” He asked.

“Oh course, my dear.” Aziraphale leaned across the gear shift to kiss him. “I’ll be waiting. Closing time?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Crowley promised.

“Be good.” Aziraphale reminded him as he climbed out of the Bentley.

“Raise some hell.” Crowley said, and drove off.

Aziraphale waved to him and watched the Bentley round the corner before he turned back to his shop. He fiddled with the key in the keyhole for a moment (it had always been a bit tetchy) and stepped into his shop, the little bell above the door ringing merrily. He turned the closed sign to open, flipped the light switch, and dim lighting flooded the space, casting shadows along the mountains of books. Aziraphale inhaled the scent of book dust and paper deeply before he made his way to the counter, where he found the crossword he’d left the day before right where he’d left it.

Next to the crossword, however, was a folded piece of parchment. It was recognizably of Heaven’s stationary, and it had Aziraphale’s name on the front in an elegant, spidery script. He frowned, and picked it up, opening it with the silver letter opener he kept under the counter*.

(*Next to a much larger replica, which was sharper, engraved with blessed runes, and had a tendency to burst into flame whenever its owner saw the need.)

It read:

To the Principality Aziraphale,

I’m regret to inform that I will have to cancel our rendezvous today, and hope for a raincheck. Uriel received an influx of new paperwork on his desk today, and you and I both know he has a tendency to smite things – and people (mostly me) – without discretion when he’s stressed. So sorry to tell you on such short notice! I’m afraid I just can’t get away this afternoon.

Hope all is well, and we’ll talk again very soon.

Yours,

The Angel Astrid

“Ah.” Aziraphale said to himself. “I do wish she could have made it, but at least she was polite and sent ahead a memo.”

He sighed, and sat down at the chair behind the counter, and cracked his knuckles.

That crossword wasn’t going to do itself, now was it?

 

...oOo...

 

Hastur had been plotting all morning, pulling strings and making sure his plan was set for full-swing before he made his way topside again to wait outside the angel’s bookshop for just the right time. He’d hidden himself in an alley across the street, watching the odd customer come and go, and he noted curiously that it was usually empty-handed.

Still, the time was soon approaching. He had to act fast, before the angel could sense him, and he had procured* an amulet from Below that allowed him the ability to mask his demonic essence for a quarter hour. He didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to the shop, and so he waited, his eyes never leaving the shop, until the moment was just right. He knew that the angel would be closing shop soon, and he suspected quite heavily that Crowley wouldn’t be far behind.

(*Stole. It was their own bleeding fault they kept it so loosely guarded.)

He watched as the angel busied himself around the shop through the window, and he clenched the tool in his hand tightly, and pulled the amulet from his robe pocket. He slipped it over his head and chanted a few choice demonic words; the amulet glowed a deep, blood red for a few seconds before fading. He felt his demonic essence – and, by extension, his influence – ebbing at the edges until even he could only sense them at the outer edges of his being, as though it were tingling just below his skin but no further. He didn’t like it one bit, and the sooner he got that blessed angel, the sooner he could take the thing off.

He glanced up and down the street, noting it was empty on all sides. His influence had kept it clear for close to an hour now, but now that the amulet was inhibiting it, it was only a matter of time before people began to meander this way.

It was now or never.

Hastur hefted the iron tool in his hand, stalked across the street, and into the shop.

 

...oOo...

 

Aziraphale had finished over half the crossword, had successfully dissuaded four potential customers, and had blown through four cups of cocoa. He’d stepped across the street to the little deli on the corner to grab himself a sandwich for lunch, and was just finishing it when he noticed that one corner of the shop looked entirely too clean for his liking. A clean corner may attract unwanted attention from potential customers.

Aziraphale tried to ignore it as he finished the last few bites of his sandwich, but he found himself unable to concentrate now that he knew it was there.

“Bugger it all,” he growled in frustration, and sat the last bit of his sandwich down on the paper on the counter, and walked into the corner. He miracled some dust into the space, making sure it coated the corner completely in a thick blanket of grey, and added a few odd cobwebs, and stepped back to admire his work.

“Ah, yes, that should do it.” He said approvingly, wiping his hands together in satisfaction. “If that doesn’t keep people away, nothing will, I’m afraid.”

At that moment, he heard the bell above the door ring. He sighed; of course, it was just his luck, wasn’t it? He straightened, and put on as jovial of a smile as he could muster, and turned around.

“Yes, hello, how can I help yo—”

He froze, stock still, when he realized who it was he was looking at.

A tall, thin man stood across from him in the doorway, dressed in dark robes, a strange amulet hanging from around his neck, and he was brandishing what looked suspiciously like a branding iron, the end twisted into something dark and sinister that Aziraphale couldn’t quite make out. His long, stringy dark hair was greasy, and he smelled of tarnished metal and sulphur.

Aziraphale knew that face.

It was Hastur, a duke of Hell. He’d seen him before, long, long ago, lurking in damp alleyways and behind the doors of darkened brothels. Crowley had explained to him long ago that he was not, exactly, of friendly stock, and was not someone Crowley generally sought out in terms of companionship. Hastur was mean, nasty, and downright cruel when he wanted to be, and Crowley wanted nothing to do with him. His being sent to “collect” Crowley to drag him back to Hell following the buggering business with the Antichrist had certainly done nothing for either of their opinions of him.

Why hadn’t he been able to sense him?! Aziraphale’s gaze fell on the amulet around the demon’s neck; of course, it was a chimera talisman, wasn’t it*?

(*Heaven had their own version, too, often disguised as crucifixes.)

His eyes darted from the dark figure in front of him to his desk, where he knew his sword was hidden just beneath the counter. If he could just get to it, he might have a chance to outsmart Hastur…

Hastur grinned maliciously at him, his teeth dull and rotten.

“Hello, Aziraphale,” he snarled.

“Hastur,” Aziraphale ventured cordially as he slowly itched his way towards his desk. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Hastur watched him, and took a step forward. Aziraphale stopped, and bit his lip. He could feel his wings itching, and he bit back the urge to release them. Doing so might startle Hastur into action. He had to stall him, try to gather his motives. Was he here for Crowley?

Impossible; Crowley was on Hell’s strict no-contact order.  

“I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop by.” Hastur slurred. He took another step towards the angel. “Say hello.”

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m afraid if you’re looking for Crowley, he’s not here at the moment.”

“’m not looking for Crowley,” Hastur said. “I was looking for you.

“Oh?” Aziraphale tried to keep his tone light.

Hastur nodded. “’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to come with me, angel.”

“And I’m afraid I’m going to have to politely refuse.”

Aziraphale released his wings, allowing them to manifest completely, and he dove for his desk. He reached underneath and grabbed the hilt of his sword. He pulled it out from under the counter just as Hastur was on him, and he swung around, his sword finding purchase with a clang against the piece of metal Hastur held.

He pushed Hastur back, and the demon stumbled. Aziraphale inhaled, and flicked his wrist, and the sword in his hand burst into flame. It wasn’t his original sword, but, well, once you learned how to do it, you never really forgot, now did you? It would do just as well.

Hastur let out a cry as he launched himself at the angel again, and he raised the iron to strike. Aziraphale easily parried the attack, and he swung around to catch Hastur’s unguarded side. The demon side stepped it, and went for Aziraphale again. Again Aziraphale countered it.

Sword and iron met, again and again, as they moved about the shop in a sort of dance. Hastur came at him again, and Aziraphale managed to slice into his side, and the demon let out a howl of pain; the holy flame that burned from the sword was as potent as holy water. Hastur stumbled back, his hand on his side, and dark, crimson blood seeped through his fingers. He glared at the angel.

“You’ll pay for that, angel,” he swore.

“We’ll see.” Aziraphale said.

He and Hastur circled one another, like a matador and bull, for several seconds before Hastur lunged. Aziraphale, thinking quickly, raised his foot and met the demon square in the chest, and kicked him back several feet. Hastur arched in the air and slammed into a bookshelf, knocking it over, and books spilled across the floor. Aziraphale ignored them, and advanced towards the felled demon, ready to strike a blow that would end this petty play.

Hastur was faster. He was on his feet before the angel could blink, and barreled into him, catching Aziraphale in the stomach. He fell backwards, his glasses and sword clattering to the floor just out of his reach, the fire going out instantly, and he felt Hastur position himself across his pelvis, wrestling with his arms, pining his wrists above his head in a single large hand. Aziraphale raised a knee and met Hastur in the small of his back, and the demon grunted in pain, and released Aziraphale just enough for him to wrestle one of his wrists free. He raised his fist and punched Hastur as hard as he could in the face.

The demon staggered back a bit, and Aziraphale saw his chance. He twisted around and reached for his sword, but Hastur suddenly threw all of his weight onto the angel’s back, pinning one arm beneath him, and grabbing hold of Aziraphale’s wing. He pulled on the delicate, sensitive feathers, and Aziraphale gasped in pain as he felt them rip from his wing. Hastur let go and grabbed his free arm, twisting it behind his back. Aziraphale struggled, his mind racing, as he tried to free his other arm, thrashing his wings in an attempt to knock Hastur off him, anything, but to no avail. He smelt something burning, something impossibly hot, and realized it was the branding iron as it glowed red hot in the demon’s hands. Hastur pulled aside the torn sweater where his wings had emerged, ripping the fabric easily.

Aziraphale thrashed, desperately praying to God to give him the strength to continue fighting. He didn’t know what the demon was planning on doing, but he knew it couldn’t be good.

For a moment, Aziraphale paused in his prayers to offer another single prayer to someone else, someone who was decidedly not his God, someone he knew couldn’t hear him.

Crowley.

“Nighty night, angel.” Hastur hissed in his ear.

Aziraphale felt blinding, white-hot pain erupt between his shoulder blades. Something slammed into him with the force of a freight train, and he felt his wings winch back in forcefully as other walls went up around his essence. He cried out, and Hastur pressed the branding iron harder into his back, and then, all Aziraphale knew was blackness.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t sure why, exactly, he felt the need to bring more alcohol along with him when he already knew that Aziraphale was more than adequately stocked, but Crowley scarcely cared as he paid the cashier at the store and made his way for the door, a bottle of moscato at hand. It was a brand he and the angel had never tried before, and while familiarity bred comfort, novelty bred adventure, and if there was one thing Crowley felt like doing today, it was be adventurous.

It had been a good day. Not only had he woken up to the serene face of Aziraphale next to him, his legs twined comfortably with the demon’s beneath Crowley’s silk sheets, but he’d also gotten to spend at least half the morning lazily tempting the angel into sloth and lust through thorough kisses and hushed endearments whispered against flushed skin and into tousled blond curls. It had been – dare Crowley even think it – divine.

He remembered feeling so relieved that Aziraphale was still there, after having woken up in the middle of the night from what had been a very nice dream to find another angel in his kitchen, an angel he had never met before, and thus, had no way of knowing whether or not she was friend or foe. There had been a moment when he’d known nothing but blind panic, that whoever this Astrid was, she had come to take Aziraphale back to Heaven, to recall him to a place that Crowley could not follow him. For a moment, he was terrified that this was it, this was Heaven sending an emissary to inform Az of his Fall, that he would be struck down for the relationship he’d developed over the millennia with Crowley, but especially the relationship he’d developed over the last two years.

Crowley did not know many things. He did not know why things happened as they did – call it fate, destiny, even bloody ineffability – and he did not know why humans had to live such short lives while he himself was immortal, and he did not know why, exactly, he and Aziraphale had been drawn together as they had over the millennia.

But he did know one thing, and it was that he was terrified to the core of losing his angel.

The relief he’d felt when Astrid had assured him she wasn’t there to take Aziraphale away had been nearly enough to make Crowley fall to his knees and hug her legs*.

(*Nearly. He had some semblance of dignity, even in a half-conscious stupor.)

He loved that blessed angel. He loved him more than he’d ever felt anything else before.

He contemplated all of this as he drove the speed limit – for once – down the street towards Soho, turning the corner and parking the Bentley in an empty spot across the street of Az’s bookshop that was suddenly no longer illegal.

Crowley grabbed the bottle of wine from the passenger seat of the Bentley and tucked it under his arm before he exited the car, closing the door and locking it with the wave of his hand. He paused to glance across the street before he dashed across. He straightened his sunglasses from where they’d slipped down his nose and walked inside.

The little bell above the door rang out an annoyingly cheerful ding as he entered the shop.

“Aziraphale, I do hope you’ve cleared your schedule for the rest of the night, because I’ve brought wine, and I fully intend to drink all of it and that cognac you promised.” He called when he was not immediately met by Aziraphale’s exuberant smile.

And then he stopped, his blood going cold, reminiscent of his days as a serpent.

The shop was in disarray, more so than usual in that it was decidedly not an organized and meticulously planned disorder that Aziraphale had spent centuries perfecting in an effort to dissuade potential customers. It was an absolute wreck.

A bookcase was toppled over at the far back of the shop, its contents scattered across the floor in a way that made him cringe, let alone the bookish angel, who bordered on obsessive when it came to the condition and treatment of his precious tomes. Crowley followed the mess across the room to a spot on the floor where a series of dark stains dabbled in stark contrast against the work pastels of the rug, and Crowley realized with a start that it was blood.

It wasn’t until he saw the glint of steel and a line of pristine white feathers like an obscene parody of a trail of breadcrumbs did Crowley feel the mortal heart in his immortal chest grind to a screeching halt, and for the first time in a long time, Crowley forgot to breathe.

The bottle of wine shattered on the floor as he rushed forward, dropping to his knees next to the sword and unmistakable feathers. Aziraphale’s plastic framed glasses lay not far from the sword, one of the lenses cracked through the middle, as though they’d been thrown there with some force, and not just simply dropped. Crowley reached out and picked up one of the feathers with a trembling hand.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck!

Something had gone terribly wrong here. Something must have happened that was bad enough that had caused Aziraphale to reach for his sword, which he never did unless he absolutely had to, and now there were feathers and drops of blood and Aziraphale’s broken glasses on the floor, and the angel was nowhere to be seen.

“Aziraphale!” Crowley cried, stumbling to his feet and running into the back room of the shop. Empty. He sped towards the stairs in the corner that would take him to Aziraphale’s flat upstairs, and emerged into the tiny kitchenette and dining room. “Aziraphale!” He called again as he rushed towards the angel’s rarely used bedroom* and the tiny adjacent bathroom, both of which were eerily still and undisturbed.

(*When Aziraphale was apt to sleep, he did so nine times out of ten in Crowley’s bed.)

Aziraphale!” He yelled, panic beginning to rise, mild hysteria seeping its way into his voice. “Aziraphale, answer me!”

No one answered.

Crowley’s hands clenched at his hair, the panic overwhelming and he sat at the edge of the top of the stairs, buried his face in his knees, and did not move for a long time.

It wasn’t until much later he noticed he was still holding Aziraphale’s wing feather.

 

...oOo...

 

Aziraphale wasn’t sure, exactly, what it was that brought him back to consciousness, but he was immediately certain that he wished to return to the comforting embrace that unconsciousness had provided.

First of all, he hurt. There didn’t seem to be a single square inch of his body that didn’t positively ache, radiating deep into the very marrow of his bones. He felt like he’d been hit by a lorry. There was a very sharp, burning sensation from between his shoulder blades where skin met wing, like the bad sunburn he’d once forced himself to endure long ago when he’d absolutely refused to miracle it away. It stung smartly when he moved. His head was throbbing like a metronome, an incessant beat like a drum behind his skull in a rich, warm staccato that reminded him all too much of Bach. He was slightly dizzy, and he blinked against the fuzziness furiously.

As he slowly came back to himself, he became aware that he was somewhat standing in an upright position against a stone wall. He winced as he pulled himself upright, straightening his aching knees, and noticed that he’d been divested of his sweater, shirt, and shoes, leaving him in nothing but his brown corduroy pants. His wrists were encased in metal shackles screwed into the wall on either side of his head. He pulled at them to no effect; they were incredibly strong, and had been sealed with a lock that appeared to have been welded shut. Upon further inspection, he could see that there were crude engravings on the metal that Aziraphale recognized as anti-demon sigils, meant to cause any demon caught within their domain as much pain as possible with minimal effort. He shuddered, grateful that he was not a demon, and turned his bleary gaze to the area surrounding him.

It was uncomfortably hot, for one thing. The room was lit by flaming torches, and in the dim light, Aziraphale could see that he was standing in what he heavily suspected was a dungeon. Empty brackets and shackles adorned the stone walls and floor like some sort of twisted living room décor. A large caldron of fire was blazing in the far corner, dark smoke billowing out from its recesses, and the air was acrid and thick with the smell of something Aziraphale couldn’t quite identify burning. Aziraphale did not know where he was, but knew he did not like it one bit.

Something was very, very wrong. There was something he was forgetting, something just out of his reach behind the strobing pain in his head, at the very precipice of his memory.

And then, it all came crashing back to him.

He remembered Hastur entering the bookshop, his demonic essence camouflaged behind a chimera talisman, wielding a branding iron and an intent to overpower the angel. Aziraphale could remember the blinding pain he’d felt between his wings, the way they’d snapped shut just before he’d—

His wings.

He couldn’t move his wings.

He could still feel them, just below the surface of his aura, like an itch beneath his skin that he couldn’t scratch, but try as he might, Aziraphale could not release his wings from where they were winched in against his body. He grunted with the effort as he tried to focus in on the sensation of them straining against whatever it was holding them back, but to no avail. Nausea boiled through his stomach, threatening to overtake him.

Aziraphale tried to hold down the rising bit of bile he felt building in the back of his throat, and he suppressed the urge to cry out in frustration. Instead, he closed his eyes and tried again. The nausea swelled again.

“That won’ do you any good, so don’t give yourself a hernia, angel,” a gruff voice said.

Aziraphale’s head snapped up to find Hastur leaning against a doorway on the far wall. The angel felt his blood run cold for a moment when he laid eyes on the demon.

“What did you do to me?” He demanded, and he winced at how hoarse his voice sounded. He wondered how long he had been unconscious.

Hastur leered at him as he sauntered forward, and Aziraphale swallowed thickly as he approached, the scent of sulphur nearly overwhelming as the demon came to stand in front of him, and he briefly considered that as far back as he could remember, Crowley had never once smelt of sulphur, and he was grateful.

The former Duke of Hell waved a hand, and the branding iron he’d had back in the angel’s shop materialized in his hand.

“Angel Binding sigil,” he explained. “Right between your wings. Keeps your angelic powers Bound. Right now, you’re as good as human, angel.”

A Binding sigil. Aziraphale felt his breath leave him all at once, and he felt the panic return like a brick to the head. No wonder he felt sick.

“Don’t worry,” Hastur continued. “It won’t kill you. You’re still immortal, but, I promise,” he grinned nastily. “By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be wishing you had been created mortal.”

“What do you want with me?” Aziraphale asked, swallowing down the panic again, trying to stop himself from trembling, but without much success. He was completely at the demon’s mercy, and he knew that Hastur did not possess a merciful cell in his body.

“’S not so much you I want.” Hastur said, noncommittedly. “So much as it’s Crowley I want to watch suffer. But since he’s on Hell’s list of exiles, no one Down Here can bloody touch him. Not unless we want an eternity in the Pits. And I figure, if I can’t make his life a living hell, then…” He lashed out and grabbed a handful of Aziraphale’s curls. He leaned in close to the angel’s face, his putrid breath nearly making Aziraphale gag. “You’ll just have to do instead.”

It made sense now, didn’t it? Capture the one person in the universe Crowley cared about and torture him to make him suffer without actually having to touch him. It was very much a thing a demon like Hastur would do.

“But don’t worry,” Hastur said, releasing Aziraphale’s hair. “I won’t hurt you just yet. Not yet. I’ve got to get Crowley’s attention first. And once he’s where I know he can see or hear us, well, then, then,” he chuckled darkly, and Aziraphale’s blood chilled further. “Then I’ll have some fun.”

Aziraphale swallowed, and he tried to feign as much bravado as he could.

Hastur reached out and patted him on the chest, and Aziraphale felt the faint prickle of claws graze the skin there, but Hastur did not draw blood. No, that would come later.

“Tell me,” Aziraphale heard himself saying. “Just where are we, anyway?”

Hastur threw back his head and laughed darkly.

“Haven’t figured it out yet, angel?” He sneered. “You’re in Hell. And if I have anything to say about it, this is exactly where you’ll stay.”

Aziraphale felt another wave of nausea hit him anew, and he choked back a sob that came out of nowhere from the depths of his chest.

He was in Hell. He was literally in the depths of the farthest reaches of the universe, as far removed from Heaven and its forces as he could be. He was a Bound angel of the Lord in Hell, and there was absolutely nothing he could do. No one in Heaven could hear his cries, even if he screamed into the ether forever, not from down here. Here, he was as good as damned.

Hastur chuckled as he took in the angel’s stunned and heartbroken expression.

“Get some rest, angel,” he said as he stepped back, turning to walk towards the door. “You’ll be needing it soon enough.”

And with that, he left Aziraphale alone.

Only then did Aziraphale break down, and sob.

Chapter Text

Crowley wasn’t sure how long he sat at the top of the stairs. All he knew was that Aziraphale was gone, and it appeared that he had not gone willingly, if the chaos downstairs in the shop was anything to go by. His hands tightened in his hair, twisting painfully, but he didn’t care.

Easy, Crowley, he rational part of his brain thought, trying to calm himself down. Just calm down and think for a moment. Panicking will do you no good.

I beg to differ, the other half of his brain – the much more irrational one, as it seemed – said. Panicking is a completely necessary and appropriate action.

And when has panicking ever done any good? The rational half asked.

Well, it certainly helps in making decisions on the fly. The irrational half answered.

“Shut up!” Crowley said to the voices in his head. “I can’t think!”

The voices did as they were ordered.

Crowley whimpered and buried his face further into his knees, trying to figure out what was happening, and what he was going to do.

Aziraphale was gone. Crowley didn’t know where, but it was blatantly obvious that he had not gone willingly, and he had not gone without a fight.

Aziraphale, as a fairly powerful angel, was the most competent and, frankly, terrifying fighter Crowley knew. “Hell hath no fury like Aziraphale scorned,” he had teased once, in the aftermath of an episode of holy wrath from the angel following an incident involving a duck and a particularly nasty teenaged boy*. Thus, Crowley knew that whoever it was that had taken the angel, they had done so forcefully, and they had had to have been at least somewhat good in order to overpower the Principality.

(*Crowley had it on good authority that the boy didn’t sleep for a good week after the encounter with the righteously pissed off angel.)

And Crowley had no idea how to begin searching for him. He raised his head from his lap, and looked at the feather he still clutched in his hand.

“Az, where are you?” Crowley whispered into the quiet din of the bookshop.

Then he heard it. A faint fwump sound, like feet hitting hardwood after a leap, and there was a whiff of something like cassia, honeysuckle, and incense that wafted up the stairs from the shop below. It was a distinctly angelic smell, but it was not, however, Aziraphale’s personal scent*; Crowley was intimately attuned to it, and he could pick it out of a crowd of angels blindfolded.

(*Aziraphale smelled of old books, aged cotton, tea leaves, and cocoa, with a slight hint of caramel. Crowley loved it.)

Crowley felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand upright, and he clutched the feather in his hand tighter, mussing it more than he already had, and very slowly rose to his feet. He could hear someone shuffling around downstairs in the shop, and for a moment, he considered leaving; his day had already turned to shit, and he was fairly certain that being discorporated or smote would only make it worse in the long run, not to mention hinder his ability to find Aziraphale.

He quietly made his way down the stairs, keeping his steps as light as he possibly could, pressing his back to the wall. Wielding Az’s feather like a knife, he peered into the bookshop.

A petite female-shaped angel with blonde hair stood amidst the chaos, her back to Crowley as she surveyed the destruction in front of her. She crouched down and inspected the blood on the rug before turning her attention to the feathers close by. Crowley saw her hands shake just slightly as she reached out and touched them, almost reverently, as though afraid they’d disintegrate under her fingers.

Crowley recognized her almost instantly. It was the same angel that he’d awoken to find standing uninvited in his kitchen the night before.

Astrid.

The moment she picked up one of the pristine white feathers, Crowley saw red, and he flared out his wings, the black feathers cutting through the air like obsidian knives. He charged.

“You!” He snarled as he advanced on her. Astrid, caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of the demon, jumped to her feet, a moment too late. Crowley’s hand was around her neck in a moment, pushing her backwards into a bookcase. Astrid gasped as her back and head hit the bookcase, her hands flying to her throat to claw helplessly at the inhuman grip that nearly crushed her windpipe.

“What did you do to him?!” Crowley demanded through clenched teeth.

“What?” Astrid demanded, her green eyes wild with fear at the demon before her.

“Aziraphale!” Crowley said. “You lied to me, didn’t you? Told me you weren’t coming to take him back to Heaven, get me to trust you, and then you wait until he’s alone in his shop, where you overpower him and drag him back to Heaven, where you’re doing Someone-knows-what to him! And then you actually have the nerve to come back here!” He leaned forward and hissed in her face, peering over the rims of his sunglasses, his hand tightening, his wings rippling with fury. “Now tell me what you’ve done with him!”

“I haven’t done anything!” Astrid garbled, still struggling against the hand around her neck. “I swear to God, Crowley, I don’t know what you’re on about!”

“Then why the Hell did you come back here?!” Crowley demanded. “To clean up after your dirty work?”

“No!” Astrid gasped out. “I cancelled earlier; I sent Zira a message…Uriel was busy, I couldn’t leave…I just got away…I swear, Crowley, I didn’t do anything…”

Crowley felt the anger boiling in his chest begin to abate. He stared at the female angel in front of him as she continued to claw at his hand, choking for air. Obviously Astrid had never gotten the memo that angels didn’t technically need to breathe.  

“Please, Crowley…” She wheezed. “You’re hurting me.”

Crowley immediately released her. Astrid gasped as normal airflow was returned, and she winced as she brought a hand to her neck.

“You swear?” He whispered, glaring at her, the threat that he would not hesitate to end her should she lie to him unspoken, but very clear.

Astrid nodded. “I swear.” She said. She looked towards Aziraphale’s desk, where the memo still lay. She miracled it into her hand, and held it out to the demon. “Here.”

Crowley took the parchment from her, and read it. He looked back at her, and averted his eyes, guiltily. He winched in his wings.

“I’m sorry.” He said quietly. “I’m…he’s just gone, Astrid, and I don’t know where or what’s happened to him. I saw you here, and I thought…” He huffed. “I’m sorry, okay?”

“It’s alright.” Astrid said, and she sounded sincere. She gestured to the mess around them. “I mean…this speaks for itself.”

Crowley nodded. He walked over to where the sword laid on the ground, and picked it up. He turned it over in his hands. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable sword, and it certainly wasn’t Aziraphale’s original sword, but the angel had assured him it would work just as well. It was still faintly warm, indicating that it had, at some point that day (likely within the last few hours, at least), been ablaze with Aziraphale’s fire. He sat it down on the counter, along with the feather he’d long since ruffled beyond recognition. He felt a lump form in the back of his throat as he looked at it.

And then, the little radio Aziraphale kept on his desk sprang to life.

CROWLEY. A voice said from within the small device. Cosmic static clogged the signal somewhat, making the voice garbled and indistinguishable.

Crowley and Astrid jumped, caught off guard.

“Did that…radio just talk to you?” Astrid whispered.

“It does that sometimes.” Crowley answered, his voice suddenly flat and emotionless. He reached out and turned the dial on the radio that would tune it to a viable radio channel with less static. The voice behind the radio said his name again, and Crowley fiddled with the little needle until the white noise stopped, and the voice was clear.

“Crowley.” It said, and Crowley felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up.

He knew that voice. The last time he’d heard it had been two years ago, but he’d heard it enough over the centuries to recognize it.

“Hastur,” he greeted, somewhat amicably. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I’ve got a little message for you.” Hastur answered, and Crowley could hear something that sounded very much like smugness in his voice.

Leave it to Hastur to butt in on a time like this, when Crowley was in less than a mood.

Crowley sighed, and massaged his temples. Leave it to Hastur to interrupt at a time like this to taunt him, likely about something asinine. “Hastur, I don’t really have time for—”

He was cut off by what sounded like a squeak of pain from the radio, like a mouse being tread upon.

“Or, rather,” Hastur’s voice returned, and there was no denying the arrogance in his tone now. “Someone else has one for you.” There was the sound of movement, and another yelp of pain. “Say hello, angel.”

Crowley felt the blood in his veins turn to ice, freezing him stock still. He felt Astrid do the same from where she had come to stand beside him, her breath catching in her throat. He didn’t dare look at her.

“C-Crowley,” a soft voice, unmistakably Aziraphale’s, said from within the radio. It sounded weak and frightened, and Crowley hated it.

“Aziraphale?” Crowley dared. “Angel, is that you?”

“Would you like me to prove it to you?” Hastur’s voice was back, cutting off any response Aziraphale may have provided. “Find the nearest television. You’ll see for yourself.”

The radio clicked off. Without even a glance at the angel next to him, Crowley made a beeline for the stairs in the back of the shop, up into Aziraphale’s flat, Astrid hot on his heels. He set his sights on the old, rarely used television in the corner of the tiny sitting area. He flicked his wrist, and it burst to life.

Hastur’s nasty, shit eating grin greeted him.

“Hello, Crowley,” he drawled.

Crowley snarled, clenching his teeth so tightly his jaw ached.

“Where is he?!” He demanded of the former Duke of Hell.

Hastur tsked him. “Manners, Crawly,” he said. “All that time on earth has made you forget yourself.”

Crowley clenched his fists. “Cut the ssshit, Hastur,” he hissed venomously. “Where. Is. Aziraphale?!”

“Your little angel fucktoy?” Hastur laughed, and Crowley prickled at the indignant moniker he’d given Az, his blunt nails beginning to dig painfully into his palms.

“Don’t call him that.” Crowley snapped.

Hastur waved a hand dismissively, and said nothing as he stepped aside.

Crowley felt his heart stop, and Astrid gasped.

Aziraphale was shackled against a stone wall, standing in nothing but the brown corduroy pants he’d been wearing when Crowley had dropped him off at the shop that morning. Dark bruises were beginning to dot his bare torso and chest, and angry red welts that looked suspiciously like burns were scattered across the skin as well. His blond hair was matted with what appeared to be dried blood and disheveled, as though it had been yanked at. Even from within the grainy pixels of the television screen, Crowley could see he was trembling.

“Aziraphale!” He said, and he reached out and grasped both sides of the telly, leaning in close.

“H-Hello, dear,” Aziraphale answered, and he smiled, if feebly.

“I’m coming to get you.” Crowley promised. “Just hold on, Az, I’m going to get you, and you’re going to be fine.”

“No, Crowley!” Aziraphale shook his head furiously. “Don’t! Hastur, he’s—”

“Now tha’ll be enough of that.” Hastur interrupted, and with a flick of his wrist, a gag was fitted between the angel’s teeth. “Can’t have you blabbering about my plans, now can we?” He grinned at the angel, and petted his curls. Aziraphale shuddered at the touch.

“Don’t touch him!” Crowley snapped. “Don’t you fucking touch him!”

Hastur chuckled darkly. “A bit late for that.” He said, and Crowley watched as his fingers elongated into razor sharp claws. He raised his hand and slowly dragged the claws down the front of Aziraphale’s chest, leaving trails of blood in their wake. Aziraphale gasped behind the gag, his entire body going taught with the pain, a high, wailing whine escaping him as Hastur dug in a bit deeper.

“My, he is a screamer, isn’t he?” Hastur purred. He traced the claws down to Aziraphale’s stomach. “Though a bit…pudgy, wouldn’t you say, Crowley?”

Crowley growled, seeing red. “Fuck you, Hastur.”

“Nah, that won’t work for me, I’m afraid.” Hastur said. “Not with you anyway. Your precious angel, however…” He gripped Aziraphale’s chin in his hand, stroking one of his claws along his cheek. Aziraphale whimpered. “It’s been centuries since I’ve had a good shag; we’ll see which of the two of us can make him scream louder.”

“I’ll kill you, Hastur.” Crowley snarled, the promise like venom on his lips. “If you lay another hand on him, I’ll fucking gut you.”

“Bit possessive, are we?” Hastur smiled wickedly. He patted Aziraphale’s cheek, almost sweetly. “I always thought you the kinky type, Crowley. Why not share a bit?”

Crowley growled like a predator, and hissed. He felt a hand on his arm, and Astrid pushed herself forward to address the demon on the other side of the screen.

“Capturing and torturing an angel of the LORD is an act of war.” She warned, her usually lilting voice hard with edged malice. “Release him at once, demon, or suffer the consequences.”

Hastur threw his head back and laughed. “And who might you be, darling?” He mocked.

“I am the Angel Astrid.” Astrid answered. “The angel you have captured is the Principality Aziraphale, a field agent of Heaven and Guardian of the Eastern Gate. He is more powerful than even an archangel. How is it you are containing him?”

“Little Binding brand,” Hastur answered, and the branding iron appeared in his hand. He held it up for Crowley and Astrid to see. “Makes even a Principality as meek as a kitten.”

Astrid’s eyes were wide as she turned her head to look at Crowley, who felt his stomach plummet to the floor.

A Binding sigil. Aziraphale was essentially powerless, completely at Hastur’s mercy. He gritted his teeth.

“Let him go, Hastur.” He said. “If it’s me you want, fine. You can have me. I'll show up at your doorstep and willingly throw myself at your feet. Just let him go.”

You?!” Hastur spat. “You’re fucking untouchable. An exile. I even think about coming for you, and I’m as good as dead. But there ain’t nothing saying I can’t touch him.”

"Why are you doing this?" Astrid spoke shakily. She still had a hand on Crowley's arm. 

Hastur's claws had cut a shallow gash into Aziraphale's cheek; blood flowed down his face like crimson tears.

"The way I see it," he said slowly, smoothly. "When you're looking to take bloody revenge on someone who's untouchable, you find the next best thing." He looked pointedly towards Crowley, and his claws bit into Aziraphale's neck, just below his chin; a point Crowley knew intimately well as a place where the angel was extremely sensitive. Aziraphale groaned in pain.   

“I swear, Hastur, when I find you…” Crowley began, nearly shaking with uncontrollable rage. “I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Hastur laughed. “We’ll see about that, Crawly.” He said. He took Aziraphale’s chin in his hand and turned the angel’s head towards Crowley. Crowley could see that his blue eyes were wide and glassy, and huge tears had begun to track down his smudged face, mingling with the blood of the gash. “Say goodbye for now, angel.”

Aziraphale’s pleading eyes bore straight through Crowley’s soul, and he felt his heart break. 

“I’ll come for you, Az.” He promised. “I’ll find you.”

"Fat chance of that." Hastur sneered. "You wouldn't find us here if you bloody tried." 

Crowley's eyes flashed behind his sunglasses. "I'll fucking find you, Hastur." He vowed. "And when I do..."

“If you so much as step a toe in Hell,” Hastur warned. “I’ll send you your angel piece by piece.”

Crowley shut up, swallowing down on the biting remark he felt on his tongue. Whether he liked it or not, Hastur had one up on him, and if he was honest, he was worried that if he made any more threats, it would be Aziraphale that suffered the price. 

Hastur grinned. "That's what I thought." 

“Fuck you.” Crowley growled one last time. “Fuck you, Hastur.”

“We’ll speak again soon, Crowley.” Hastur said. “Until then…”

The screen went dark.

Chapter Text

 

 

“I’ll fucking kill him!” Crowley howled in rage. “I’m going to find him and make him wish he could die! I’ll fucking gut him, and feed his intestines to the hellhounds!” He grabbed the sunglasses off of his face and whirled them across the room, where they shattered against the wall. “He was dead the moment he touched him!”

“Crowley, calm down.” Astrid said, her voice shaking, but her demeanor otherwise composed. “Getting this worked up won’t help you, or Aziraphale.”

Crowley rounded on her. “You saw what that bastard was doing to him!” He said. “And you’re going to sit there and tell me to bloody calm down?!”

“You’re not thinking clearly!” Astrid countered. “And we need to figure out the best course of action from here!”

“The best course of action is me marching into Hell and ripping Hastur’s face off!” Crowley snarled.

Astrid shook her head. “Doing that will only result in getting you killed, Crowley! Maybe Aziraphale too!” She said sternly. “You can’t just rush headlong into this! That’s exactly what Hastur wants! He’s counting on you acting irrationally so he has an excuse to hurt you, and he’s going to do that by hurting Aziraphale!”

Crowley growled in frustration, and he screwed his eyes closed tightly, shaking his head furiously. He knew Astrid was right, but it was hard to hear her over the painful pounding of his heart, and the blood rushing through his ears. The sight of Aziraphale’s terrified eyes haunted him, and he felt something deep in his chest ache.

“I can’t just leave him Down There, Astrid.” He said finally, and he was surprised at how broken his voice sounded. “I can’t just leave him to die.”

“He’s not going to die.” Astrid assured him, and he felt her hand on his shoulder, the touch light and angelically soothing. He felt himself relax, just a bit, at her heavenly touch. “We’re going to get him back.”

“How?” Crowley opened his eyes and looked down at her. “You said it yourself. I can’t very well just barge into Hell.”

“Not alone, we can’t.” Astrid agreed, shaking her head. “But maybe if we had some help, we could manage it.”

“We? Who’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about?” He asked, narrowing his eyes. “You got a mouse in that pocket of yours, sweetheart?”

“I mean ‘we’ as in ‘us,’ Crowley!” Astrid said, crossing her arms across her chest. “The two of us!”

“Oh no,” Crowley said. “There’s no ‘us.’ This is between me, and Hastur. Not you.”

“Look,” Astrid huffed. “Aziraphale is my brother. If you think for a second I’m going to just walk away and leave him – and you! – to this, you’re the stupidest demon I’ve ever met in my life!”

“Not happening, Astrid.” Crowley said.

“I don’t think that’s your decision.” Astrid said.

“I’m not going to let you do this!” Crowley was close to shouting. “I’m not going to let you get yourself killed!”

“I am much more competent than you give me credit for!” Astrid countered hotly. “I’m not a fledgling fresh from the hatchery!”

Crowley growled in frustration, and gripped his hair tightly in his fists before finally pinching the bridge of his nose. He sighed, deeply, trying to get a handle on the raging emotions that were rapidly culminating within his chest and esophagus, battling for dominance.

“Let me help, Crowley,” Astrid said, softly, pleadingly. “I can help you. Let me help you get Zira back. You can’t do this alone. I’m offering freely.”

“Why?” Crowley finally asked, and he was surprised at how flat and drained of energy he sounded. Where was the anger he’d felt boiling beneath the surface not a minute ago? “Why are you so willing to help me? I’m a demon, Astrid.”

It was still there, buzzing beneath his skin like lightning, ready to be unleashed.

Wait for it.

“Because I know you love him.” Astrid said. “I can see it, I can hear it, I can feel it. It’s in your aura, your essence. You couldn’t hide it if you tried, Crowley; you love Aziraphale.”

Crowley felt the lump from earlier return to his throat, painful and constricting, but he refused to allow himself to cry; demons didn’t cry.

“I do,” he admitted. “But this is my burden to bear, Astrid. It’s my fault this is happening. I’m the one Hastur wants to suffer, I’m the one that got Az into this in the first place. If I hadn’t been so goddamn stupid and had just kept my distance like I was supposed to, hadn’t allowed myself to get so fucking emotional…” He trailed off, unsure where to go further.

He felt a hand on his elbow. He opened his eyes to find Astrid’s green ones peering back at him, a look of absolute sincere concern and compassion on her angelic face.

“Let me help you, Crowley.” She said softly. “Don’t feel like you have to do this alone. Aziraphale would do the same, and you know I’m right.”

He did. Aziraphale had stood beside him throughout the last 6000 years, been his friend and confidant, had offered unwaveringly loyalty and comradery even in the darkest of times. He had stood at his side, flaming sword at the ready, wings flaring, two years ago in Lower Tadfield, ready to face down Satan himself, and Crowley would be blessed if he didn’t stand by him now, when he needed him.

Aziraphale would have stormed the gates of Hell a thousand times over if Crowley had been the one taken, ready to fight to the death if he had to, to get him back. He would have done it in a heartbeat, without hesitation.

But he also knew Aziraphale was intelligent, and would do the intelligent thing and call upon help, wherever he could find it. He wouldn’t do this alone, knowing that if he failed, both of them would die.

And Aziraphale would have accepted help, were it offered.

Crowley sighed. He looked at Astrid, his yellow eyes meeting hers.

“Alright.” He consented.

She gave him a thin smile and squeezed his elbow.

“We’re going to get through this.” She promised. “We’re going to get Aziraphale back, Crowley, I promise.”

Crowley swallowed down the doubt, and nodded.

“And?” He asked. “What’s our first course of action?”

“We go straight for our Higher Ups.” Astrid answered. “We need to contact Heaven.”

 

...oOo...

 

Aziraphale was awakened by a swift blow to the ribs. His eyes flew open wide in shock and immediate, sudden pain as it flared through his bruised – and presumably a few broken – ribs, and he doubled over as much as he could with the shackles still binding his wrists, and he let out a low, pitiful moan behind the gag still between his teeth. His head spun from the pain, his vision blurry as he blinked against the unconsciousness that he had been so brutally forced from, the world around him teetering precariously as he struggled to keep a hold on it.

A hand wove into his hair and pulled his head up. The nastily grinning face of Hastur welcomed him.

“Wakey wakey, sunshine.” He sneered.

Aziraphale couldn’t remember all that had happened immediately following the conversation they’d had with Crowley, and he wasn’t sure how long ago that conversation had been. It could have been minutes, hours, days, weeks for all he knew. He had absolutely no concept of the passing of time Down Here; instead he counted the moments between consciousness and unconsciousness; between more pain and less pain; the moments between when he’s praying for it to all end, and the moments that it does.

The angel made a sound caught somewhere between a groan and a small sob at the sight of the former Duke of Hell. The hand in his hair tightened, and Aziraphale winced; he was surprised Hastur hadn't pulled the curls clean from his head by then, the way he had taken to yanking at it.

“Sleep well there, angel?” Hastur asked. Aziraphale mustered up as much of a glare as he could; he was certain the best he could do was merely look a bit petulant, if nothing else. It was hard for him to focus on anything, the way his body ached.

Hastur raised an eyebrow. “What’s the matter?” He questioned, and he pulled Aziraphale’s head back against the stone wall. “Cat got your tongue?”

Aziraphale muttered something around the cloth of the gag that he was usually decidedly against.

Hastur rolled his eyes, and with the snap of his fingers, the gag disappeared. Aziraphale coughed and spat the stale saliva that had accumulated in his mouth onto the floor, rolling his jaw tenderly.

“Not happy to see me, angel?” Hastur said, a dark chuckle in his voice.

“I’d be happier to see a viper at my feet, Hastur.” Aziraphale answered, honestly, his tone as biting as he could make it through the hoarseness.

“’Course you would,” Hastur grunted. “Seeing as you’re the one shagging Crawly. Not much difference, you ask me.”

“I didn’t, but thank you for your input,” Aziraphale snapped, and instantly regretted it when the demon glowered at him.

“Watch it there, angel,” he warned. “I’m not one you wanna piss off.”

Aziraphale swallowed, and regarded the demon in front of him warily. He felt Hastur’s claws brush against the scabs across his chest, and he involuntarily flinched.

“It’d be a shame to reopen these, now wouldn’t it?” Hastur said. “Especially when Crowley’s not around to hear it.”

Aziraphale closed his eyes. He tried to conjure up an image of Crowley's face, his warm and gentle hands; Crowley did not have claws. 

He felt the prickle of the claws just barely breaking the skin on his stomach, and he swallowed against the whimper he felt building in his throat.

“You know,” Hastur said. “I could make all of this stop.”

“You enjoy it far too much,” Aziraphale heard himself saying, against his better judgment. Crowley was beginning to wear off on him.

“Now that’s true,” Hastur agreed. He smiled, showing his rotting teeth. “But what could be better than telling Crowley that his precious angel has Fallen?”

It would kill him. Aziraphale knew that for a fact. He knew, with every molecule in his body, that if he were to Fall, it would devastate Crowley. Despite having had feelings for one another for well on millennia now, Crowley had admitted, shortly after the Apocalypse That Wasn’t, that he refused to be responsible. Falling was something Crowley would never wish on Aziraphale, and the angel knew that his demon would die before he’d allow it to happen.

Which, he supposed, is what Hastur was counting on. He was counting on pushing Crowley’s limits to their breaking point, until such a time came to pass that he could completely and utterly destroy him.

Aziraphale hated that he was being used against the demon in this way. He hated that he was causing him so much pain, even if it wasn't his fault. He hated that the demon loved him that much.

“I won’t Fall,” Aziraphale said. “Not to you.”

“Well, then, you can be assured,” Hastur said, as though he were thinking. “That by the time I’m through with you, you’ll not only be wishing you’d been created mortal, but I’m going to make you wish you’d never laid eyes on that serpent.” He dug his claws into Aziraphale’s side, and the angel gasped. Hastur grinned and leaned in close. “You’ll be cursing the day you ever met him. You’ll curse his name for all eternity.”

“Never.” Aziraphale said coldly. His heart constricted grotesquely in his chest at the thought. “Not ever.”

“Let’s just see, shall we?” Hastur said, and raked his claws across his chest again, crossing against the gouge marks from the last time and making the older marks flare to life in an agonizing fire once more. Aziraphale could feel the blood running down his torso in small rivers, and he gasped, the breath completely stolen from his lungs as Hastur dug into the soft flesh of his belly, twisting his claws just so. He couldn’t even muster up the air to scream.

Hastur could torture him for all of eternity; he would never force Aziraphale to deny Crowley.

“It’s too bad I had to Bind you,” Hastur mused as he removed his claws for a moment, and Aziraphale nearly sobbed in relief. “I really would love to have some fun with those wings of yours.”

Aziraphale felt cold fear sweep through him, and he found himself suddenly glad that indeed, the Binding sigil kept his wings strictly on the metaphysical plane, out of reach of the sadistic demon. His wings were the most sensitive appendages on his being; subjecting them to torture would undoubtedly be beyond agonizing.

“Imagine how upset Crowley would be if I were to send him your wings, feather by feather.” Hastur purred. Aziraphale felt the skin of his upper arm break as Hastur traced a claw against it, and the hand snaked behind him to scratch into his shoulder blade, right where his left wing would be if it were manifested. Hastur dug in deeper, and Aziraphale screamed, unable to stop himself as the claws tore through tendons and sinew, tearing the muscles of his wings that were present on human bodies, right where his pinions would be. He could almost feel the claws scraping the bone.

“I could make all of this stop, you know.” Hastur said as he withdrew his claws from Aziraphale’s shoulder, letting it fall back against the scraping stone of the wall, where Aziraphale could feel the blood pooling against his skin. “Deny Crowley, and I’ll stop all of this.”

Aziraphale, his breath labored, his eyes unfocused and glassy with agony, forced himself to look into the eyes of his torturer.

“Fuck you,” he said, and spat at the demon.

Hastur’s face twisted in rage, and he raised his hand and slapped the angel across the face. Aziraphale’s head snapped to the side, tasting blood, and he cried out as Hastur’s claws gouged three deep marks into his left cheek. A knee came up and found purchase in the angel’s bleeding stomach, completely knocking what little air he had out of him, and then a hand was in his hair, twisting the blond curls viciously as Hastur forced him to look at him.

“You’ll regret that, angel,” he promised, and slammed Aziraphale’s head back against the stone wall, and all Aziraphale knew was darkness once more.

Chapter Text

“So what exactly do we say once we’ve made the connection?” Crowley asked. He grunted as he rolled his end of the heavy Persian rug that concealed the chalk summoning circle in Aziraphale’s back room. Astrid grabbed the other end, and they managed to slowly reveal the circle beneath. Crowley retrieved the box of candles from where Aziraphale kept them (the liquor cabinet) and rustled up a box of matches from the drawer under the counter.

“With any luck,” Astrid said. “I’ll be able to contact Uriel directly.”

“Ah, because he’s always in a good mood,” Crowley muttered.

“Would you rather I contacted Michael?” Astrid raised an eyebrow. “Uriel’s not so bad, you know.”

“Says the angel who’s his intern.” Crowley jabbed as he laid the candles at the strategic points around the chalk circle.

“Uriel’s prickly, yeah, but he’s really not so terrible once you get to know him.” Astrid said, and she took the book of matches from the demon. She glanced at him seriously, a match poised in her hand just over the sandpaper side. “Are you ready?”

“Let’s just get this over with,” Crowley answered. He materialized another pair of sunglasses in his hand, and slipped them onto his nose.

Astrid nodded, and began to light the candles, one by one, chanting the appropriate Words as she did so. She stepped into the circle and finished the incantation, and Crowley was glad he’d put his sunglasses back on; the light that enveloped Astrid in the circle was bright, Heavenly bright, and it stung his eyes even behind the protection of the dark shades. He shuddered as a Heavenly essence, stronger that that or Aziraphale or Astrid by eternity, flowed into the room from the circle.

“Astrid,” a voice said. It was mellow and nondescript, and Crowley recognized it immediately as belonging to the Metatron, the Voice of God.

“Lord,” Astrid answered, lowering her head in respect for a moment before looking back up into the near blinding light. “I have called upon you with great urgency.”

“We know,” said the Metatron. “We can sense it.”

“Then you know what has transpired here?” Astrid asked.

“We are aware, yes.” The Metatron answered, flatly. “The Principality Aziraphale has been taken to Hell by a rogue demon.”

“Yes.” Astrid confirmed. “I have reason to believe he is being tortured, my Lord. I must convene with Uriel immediately.”

“The Archangels are gathering as we speak, Angel Astrid.” The Metatron informed her. “And you will return to Heaven to bear witness as to what you have discovered. We await you.”

“I will return with haste,” Astrid promised.

“Yes.” The Metatron agreed. The voice seemed to shift away from the light of the circle for a moment, filling the room. “And you will join us as well, Crowley.”

“Me?!” Crowley nearly squeaked.

“Yes of course.” The Metatron answered calmly. “Your testimony will be required as well.”

“You seem to be forgetting I’m a demon.” Crowley retorted, somewhat bravely, considering to whom he was addressing. “One step into Heaven and I’ll be incinerated!”

“A common misconception.” Said the Metatron. “You are of angel stock, are you not?”.

“Well, yeah,” Crowley answered.

“And is it not true that you were once an angel, Crowley?”

“Yes.”

“Well then,” the Metatron said coolly. “I don’t believe the trip will be such a bother to you. You will accompany the Angel Astrid to Heaven, where the Archangels await you both.”

It was a statement that dared not be challenged. Crowley swallowed down the rising tightness in his chest and nodded, and said nothing more.

“We await you both.” The Metatron said, and there was a sound like a cork popping free from a bottle of champagne, and the light dimmed just a bit.

“They’re gone.” Astrid said, and she stepped out of the chalk circle. “But they’ve kept the door open for us.”

Crowley nodded, his eyes never leaving the column of light before him.

He hadn’t been to Heaven in millennia. Since before his Fall. To say he was nervous about returning – and facing the council of archangels, no less – was a bit of an understatement.

But he’d do it. He’d do it for Aziraphale, just as Aziraphale would brave Hell for him.

Just as Aziraphale was braving Hell because of him.

“Hold on a tick,” Crowley said, and turned away from the light. He went back into the bookshop, and locked the door with a flick of his wrist, and turned off the lights. He then picked the sword up from the counter where it lay, and hefted it into his grip, his fingers curling tightly against the hilt. He was not as matched in marksmanship with a sword as Aziraphale, but he was competent enough to have bested the angel in battle a handful of times in the past, and he knew he was good enough now to do so again, should the need arise. Crowley tested the weight of the sword carefully before he manifested a scabbard and slipped the blade into it, and looped the strap over his head so that the sword was secure against his back, and it rested snuggly between his shoulder blades.

His gaze fell to the rumpled white feather. He reached out and plucked it from the counter, and gently tucked it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, nestled close to his heart.

He walked back into the backroom, and nodded at Astrid, who awaited him at the edge of the circle. He saw her eyes graze over the strap across his chest, and the hilt of the sword that was visible over his shoulder, but she said nothing, instead nodding once, and held out her hand.

“Ready?” She asked, and her wings flared out behind her.

Crowley rolled his shoulders, and his own wings unfurled from their place tucked against him on the metaphysical plane. The black feathers rippled.

He took Astrid’s hand.

“Yeah. Let’s go.” He said.

I’m coming, Aziraphale. He thought, and he and Astrid stepped into the chalk circle, and disappeared into the column of light, the candles’ flames going out with a breath as they disappeared.

 

...oOo...

 

Heaven, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, had not changed much in the some 6000 years it had been since Crowley had seen it last.

For one thing, it was still bright as fuck.

It was bright enough to create a near instant holy migraine as the brightness assaulted his retinas, despite the sunglasses. Crowley yelped in both surprise and pain as he quickly miracled the sunglasses a shade or two darker, and he rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, hissing angrily.

“Are you alright?” Astrid asked, concern laced in her voice.

Fuck,” Crowley groaned and shook his head, very slowly trying to pry his eyelids open so that he could adjust to the light. “I forgot how bright this place is.”

“Language,” Astrid chided him, and he glared as best he could at her from behind glasses that were so dark they were damn near opaque. “We are in Heaven, you know.”

“It bloody hurts.” Crowley complained. He squinted, slowly becoming more accustomed to the light. He still hissed softly, but he figured it was about as good as it was going to get.

“Better?” Astrid asked him.

“Yeah.” He answered shortly. “Let’s go.”

Astrid gestured for him to follow her. They had appeared at the top of a large set of marble stairs, on the smooth stones of what appeared to be a pantheon of some sort. Gigantic doors loomed in front of them, with words written in Enochian above them, chiseled into the marble*.

(*Crowley rolled his eyes when he realized that they were inscribed in cursive writing; Enochian was already hard enough to read as it was, but putting it in cursive was a fiendish idea he was sure Hell would have been happy to claim.)

BOLAPE CA AAF ELASA A PIAP DE BAEOUIB OD VAOAN .

Be there amongst you the balance of righteousness and truth.” Crowley said softly.

Astrid looked at him, surprise written across her face.

“You can read Enochian?”

Crowley raised an eyebrow. “I was an angel, once.” He reminded her. “It’s not like I just forgot. And then there was that Dee guy in the 16th century…one of yours, I think, though that Kelley guy was definitely one of ours.”

“Ah, yes.” Astrid nodded. “John Dee was never meant to be caught in the crossfires of that exchange, and I’m afraid we drove him quite mad, but we made sure to make it up to him with a lavish afterlife, if nothing else. Mind you, he had the semantics right, but his accent…” She shuddered, and Crowley mused, for a moment, that perhaps behind her somewhat cool exterior, Astrid was a bit of a nerd*. “Well, he spoke it through his nose a bit much.”

(*Or a linguistics snob; it was hard to tell. In any case, it was easy to see why she and Aziraphale got along so well.)

They fell silent once more as Astrid pushed open the larger than life mahogany doors in front of them with a mere thought and a wave of her hand. She ushered Crowley inside, and the doors closed of their own accord behind them.

Inside, the giant building closely resembled that of a corporate office. Off to the left, through floor to ceiling panes of glass, Crowley could see modern and stylish cubicles neatly arranged in rows, and a myriad of angels milled about inside, all dressed in business casual wear, their white wings tucked peacefully against their backs as they worked at their desks. To the right, Crowley could several large conference rooms, also behind floor to ceiling glass, and he saw several groups of angels inside, arranged around a desk, likely discussing Heaven at the corporate level, though as to what that would necessarily entail, exactly, Crowley was not sure. Several angels stopped to stare out through the windows as he and Astrid passed, pointing at him and his black wings and whispering to one another as others leaned back in their chairs or pressed their faces to the glass to get a glimpse of him as he walked by. He ignored them.

Astrid led him through the building, into a long corridor lined with doors. As they passed, Crowley could see that each door had a name engraved on a plaque, designating who the door belonged to. He recognized the names of several archangels, including Gabriel and Michael, but some of the other names were foreign to him. He wondered what lay behind each door, and he could only begin to imagine mundanity.

They turned a corner, and approached a set of double doors at the end of a short hallway. Another female angel with lovely brown skin and dark hair stood outside, her wings fidgeting worriedly.

“Astrid!” She said upon seeing the other angel approach. “Oh thank Heaven, you’re here!”

“Hello, Emily.” Astrid greeted. “Is everyone here?”

The angel known as Emily nodded. “Yes.” She said. “Michael made a huge fuss of it, too, let me tell you. But they’re all here; they’re just waiting for you.”

“We’re here.” Astrid said, and she gestured to Crowley. “Emily, this is Crowley. Crowley, the Angel Emily. She’s Michael’s intern.”

Emily turned her attention to the demon, and her big brown eyes widening. He saw the pristine white feathers of her wings bristle as she took in his form, the dark suit and black wings and sunglasses covering yellow serpentine eyes.

“Y-You’re…” She started.

“A demon, yes.” Crowley said. “Thank you for your astute observation, but we’re in a bit of hurry.”

“Forgive his rudeness,” Astrid glared at him. “But he is right. It’s absolutely essential we meet with the Archangels immediately.”

Emily nodded, her eyes never leaving Crowley. She stepped aside.

Astrid smiled at her. “Don’t worry.” She said. “Everything will be fine.” She pushed open the door, and entered.

They entered into a large conference room, with a long table stretched out in front of them. The Seven Archangels had indeed gathered, each sitting at their respective place at the table, a small nametag in front of each of them. On the left sat Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. On the right, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Zadkiel. At the front of the table sat Michael. They were speaking softly amongst one another, but silence fell like a weight as the two of them entered, their attentions immediately on the two newcomers. Crowley felt fear creep up his spine as he stood before them, all glowing angelic glory, their wings huge and gleaming, their eyes all seeing and laden with a hardened edge that came with millennia of being an emissary of God. Any of these seven being could smite him with a single glance, without so much as a second thought. Here he was, a demon without rank, the Serpent of Eden, a Fallen angel, in a room full of Archangels.

He was seriously craving a cigarette.

“Astrid.” Uriel greeted his intern, rising from his seat. He smiled warmly at her. “Thank you for joining us.”

Astrid nodded. “We came as fast as we could.” She said.

“We appreciate your prompt action.” Michael said from his seat at the head of the table. He looked towards Crowley, and Crowley could see the disdain that crossed his face as he regarded him from across the room. “So kind of you to join us, demon Crowley. Always a pleasure.” He said, and Crowley didn’t miss the sneer in his tone. Crowley bit his tongue to avoid spitting the well-rehearsed retort that begged an audience with the head Archangel. Instead, he nodded.

“Please, sit.” Uriel said, sweeping his hand towards the two empty chairs at the foot of the table. Astrid sat without a word, and Crowley followed suit, slipping the sword from his back and leaning it against the table. He saw Zadkiel nudge Chamuel and nod towards it, but they said nothing.

“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” Michael said. “We’ve all convened to discuss the events that have transpired the past few hours, and where we should proceed from here. As you all know, the Principality Aziraphale, our field agent of earth, has been captured by the demon Hastur, and is currently being held against his will in Hell.” He looked seriously at the other Archangels. “I have brought the Angel Astrid and the demon Crowley before us to offer the information they’ve gathered.” He looked at Astrid and Crowley. “What have you to say?”

“Cut the chitchat, and let’s get to the point!” Crowley growled, his patience for the formality of the situation wearing thin. “We have to save him!”

“Patience is a virtue, Crowley,” said Gabriel, calmly.

“Do I look virtuous to you?!” Crowley demanded. “I’m a fucking demon, in case you’d forgotten!”

“Language, Crowley.” Michael scolded, and Crowley bristled – literally and figuratively – at the chastisement, as though he were a rebellious teenager. Rebellious as he was, Crowley was far from a teenager, and he was not keen on being treated like one.

“I’ll say whatever the hell I want, and I’ll be blessed if you stop me!” He said.

“Crowley,” Astrid said, reaching out and squeezing his arm. “Calm down. Getting this defensive isn’t getting us anywhere, and it’s not getting us any closer to Aziraphale.”

Crowley wanted to argue, but he knew Astrid was right. He huffed and glared at the Archangels, but said nothing further. The truth was, Michael was an angelic pain in his ass, and he was beginning to feel the dregs of dread and panic begin to seep back into his bones the longer they dawdled in Heaven. Every minute here was a minute more Aziraphale spent in Hell, and it made that strange hollow ache return to his chest every time he thought about it.

Michael regarded him with cool green eyes for a moment before he continued.

“Now then,” he said smoothly. “Shall we continue? What information have you brought before us?”

“We have reason to believe that Aziraphale is being tortured,” Astrid said.

“Tortured?!” Raphael gasped. “Are you certain?”

Crowley nodded. “Hell likes to send me messages through technology,” he explained. “In particular the radio, but they know how to patch into televisions, too. Hastur contacted me via radio in Aziraphale’s bookshop on earth, and directed us to the television, where he gave us a live feed of him torturing Aziraphale.”

Raphael looked absolutely horrified. He looked to Michael.

“We must do something!” He insisted.

“Did you witness this as well, Astrid?” Uriel asked his intern.

Astrid nodded. “Yes.” She said, softly. “Hastur is ruthless. He has Bound Aziraphale with a Binding sigil, leaving him nearly defenseless. I fear he will truly harm Aziraphale if we do not act quickly.”

“He’ll kill him, you mean.” Crowley snapped bitterly. “You heard him. If I step a toe into Hell, he’ll kill Aziraphale.”

The Archangels murmured amongst themselves. Jophiel was whispering urgently to Zadkiel, who was nodding slowly and somberly as he stared at Crowley.

“The question becomes,” Gabriel dared. “Why Hastur is using Aziraphale as a pawn against you."

“Because he wants me to suffer.” Crowley answered. “He’s pissed because of what Az and I did two years ago, seeing as it got him demoted from his position as a Duke of Hell.”

“Hastur has been demoted?” Chamuel raised an eyebrow. “To what?”

“Barely a Lord.” Crowley said. “He’s next to nothing, now, compared to what he was. And he’s not too happy about it.”

“That still doesn’t answer the question as to why he’s doing this to make you suffer.” Zadkiel pointed out.

“You can’t tell me you don’t know.” Uriel said, and he rolled his eyes at his fellow Archangels when he was met with blank looks that gave nothing away. “Crowley is in love with Aziraphale.”

“And vise versa.” Astrid added.

“You can’t be serious!” Jophiel exclaimed. He looked almost scandalized. “Demons cannot love!”

“I disagree.” Said Chamuel. “Crowley is not merely a demon. He is a Fallen angel; he was a denizen of Heaven once. Of course he can love.”

“Regardless,” Uriel interjected. “The fact still stands that Hastur has taken Aziraphale because Crowley is in love with him. He wishes to cause Crowley harm, and he has chosen to do so by kidnapping and torturing Aziraphale.”

“He said that since he can’t drag me back down to hell and torture me,” Crowley said. “That Aziraphale will make a good replacement.”

“We have it on good authority that you have been placed on Hell’s list of exiles,” Michael said. “Is this true?”

Crowley nodded. “Though ‘exile’ isn’t exactly the word I’d use. I’m more of an untouchable, an outcast, if you will.”

Jophiel snorted. “Outcast? You have to be the worst demon I’ve ever seen.” He said. “I’ve seen the reports on you, read the paperwork Aziraphale submits. Your wiles are of a much more passive approach than necessarily evil. You don’t like to get your hands dirty.”

“My methods are effective,” Crowley defended. “Whether they’re hands-on or not.”

“We’re getting off topic.” Raphael spoke up. “Focus is critical.”

“Agreed.” Michael said. “We must decide how we proceed from here. We must discuss our options.”

“We have to rescue him!” Crowley insisted. “There is no other option!”

“It’s not as simple as that, Crowley.” Zadkiel spoke next. He shook his head, his brown hair falling into his eyes. “A reconnaissance mission to Hell takes planning, paperwork, gathering resources, execution…” 

“Not to mention there is no guarantee of success.” Gabriel pointed out. “For all we know, Aziraphale is already dead. If that’s the case, we cannot risk sending in any of our other agents to retrieve a corpse.”

“Besides that,” Jophiel added. “Can we truly take a demon’s word for what is happening? This could be a trick.” He looked pointedly at Crowley, the accusation unsaid, but implied heavily enough all the same.

“Back off, angel.” Crowley growled at Jophiel. “I’d never joke about this shit. Not about Aziraphale.”

Jophiel held up a hand in surrender, but not apology.

“We must also consider the consequences should the attempt to rescue the Principality Aziraphale fail.” Zadkiel pointed out. “Should we choose to go ahead with a rescue operation, and said operation fail, the repercussions could be disastrous. We cannot afford to squander any of our current assets in an ultimately fruitless endeavor.”

“Indeed,” agreed Chamuel. “Doing so could result in catastrophic losses.”

“We must also consider the significance of leading a reconnaissance mission into Hell.” Gabriel said. “Even if said mission is one of recovery, it could be misconstrued as an act of provocation. Recent events notwithstanding,” he glanced at Crowley. “We are not within our parameters to meet the demands of such an event should it occur at this time.”

Several of the Archangels murmured in agreement. Crowley balled his hands into fists, his fingernails digging into his palms. He was beginning to grow antsy with all this back and forth, and his cravings for a cigarette were reaching astronomical heights by the second. Why did angels have to overcomplicate everything?!

“If such a situation were to occur,” Uriel pressed. “It is safe to say that we would be put in a position in which we would face not just one, but likely several emissaries of Heaven in Hell’s clutches.”

“One emissary is one thing,” said Chamuel. “But the possibility of countless more is another entirely.”

“The casualties could be devastating.” Raphael agreed.

“So we must ask ourselves,” Michael said, slowly. “If the cons outweigh the pros.”

The other Archangels nodded, collectively.

Crowley could not believe what he was hearing. He felt a sense of dread begin to rise in stomach, pure and heavy, and his heart began to pound, the blood ringing in his ears.

“Wait a minute!” He said, cutting the Archangels off from their somewhat one-sided conversation. “You aren’t saying you’re not going to save him, are you?”

The Archangels all exchanged glances, and Crowley felt the weight in his stomach increase.

“You are.” He accused. He felt rage begin to boil in his blood. “You’re just going to leave Aziraphale Down There, aren’t you?!”

“Crowley, please try to understand.” Raphael said, gently, and somewhat sadly. “We care about Aziraphale. He is our fellow angel, and he has been nothing but loyal to Heaven throughout the millennia. He has proven himself time and time again competent in battle and camaraderie, and his service as a field agent on earth has proven to be a great asset.” His grey eyes were sad. “But you must understand that we would be taking a huge risk in rescuing him. Despite the fact that Hastur is no longer a high ranking demon, that is not to say that he still does not have influences planted throughout Hell, and the loyalties presented therein. Storming Hell with a battalion of Heavenly hosts for the sake of one angel could give off the wrong idea.”

“We cannot afford to risk provoking a war.” Michael said.

“Not to sound insensitive,” said Zadkiel, casually. “But we must also consider that the Principality Aziraphale is not necessarily indispensable.”

A wave of rage swept over Crowley. How dare this feathered asshole imply that Aziraphale was expendable?! That he was anything less than Crowley’s entire fucking world, that he could mean nothing to even his own kind?

He was done with this back and forth shit. Crowley stood to his feet, his wings rippling dangerously behind him. He clenched his fists and slammed them on the table, causing Jophiel and Raphael to jump. Michael looked at him, a peevish look on his face.

“So that’s it, then?” He demanded of them, his voice rising, his feathers fluffing outwards in barely constrained rage. “You’re just going to let Aziraphale die Down There?! You’re just going to leave him for Hastur to torture?!” He laughed, mirthlessly, darkly. “When he’d risk his life to save any of you. And you all call yourselves Archangels? You call yourselves Warriors of the LORD when you won’t even fight for your own brother. I’ve known worms with a better sense of loyalty than you lot!”

“Be still, Crowley.” Michael warned.  

“Fuck you!” Crowley hissed. “Fuck the lot of you! You bloody bastards! You’d leave him down there to die?!”  

“Crowley, calm down.” Astrid stood in front of the demon, her hands on his forearms. “Just let them…”

Crowley pulled himself from her grasp violently, rounding on her.

“You’re siding with them?!” He demanded. “After everything, you’re going to just leave him Down There?! You promised you’d help me, but as soon as these featherheaded pricks say anything against it, you tuck your tail and run!” He snarled at her. “You never cared about Aziraphale. You don’t give two shits if he dies, do you?!”

Astrid’s green eyes flashed. “Don’t you dare accuse me of not caring about him!” She shouted. “Zira is my brother!”

Crowley pushed her. “If you cared about him, you wouldn’t give a ssshit what they say! You’d ssstand up for him! And instead you’re jussst going to let them leave him down there!”

Gabriel pressed a button on the wall. “Security, I have a disturbance.” He said into the intercom

“Enough!” Michael wedged himself between Crowley and Astrid.

Crowley hissed at the Archangel. “Fuck you!” He pushed Michael in the chest, but the larger Archangel didn’t budge. “You’re a fucking coward, Michael! Leaving a fellow angel to die in Hell because you’re afraid of getting your fucking hands dirty?! Because you’re not about to ruffle your perfect feathers for a field agent when he’s so readily replaceable! You never cared about Aziraphale either, none of you did!” He felt tears pricking at the edge of his eyes for the first time in millennia. He stared down the Archangel in front of him, daring him to make the first move, daring him to provoke the demon further than he already had. He shoved Michael again. “If you aren’t going to help me, I’m going on my own!”

“The hell you are.” Michael growled. He raised his hand, as though beaconing, just as the doors to the conference room burst open, and three angels dressed in armor rushed into the room. “Take this demon to a holding cell until he can learn to behave!”

Several pairs of hands reached out and grabbed Crowley, by the arms, by the shoulders, by his wings. They wrenched him backwards, away from Michael and the other angels, forcibly dragging him as he twisted and screamed in their grips, hissing and spitting like the serpent he used to be, digging his heels into the floor.

“You’re all fucking cowards!” He screeched. He tried once more to free himself from their vice-like grips. “Let go of me!”

He was rewarded with a swift blow to the back of the head. He gasped, seeing stars for a brief moment as pain thrummed through his skull. His arms were twisted behind his back, thick, heavy iron manacles slapped onto his wrists, and from the way they burned, Crowley could tell they were engraved with sigils to keep his demonic essence restrained. He thought briefly about the shackles that kept Aziraphale prisoner in Hell and at Hastur’s mercy, and the Binding sigil the former Duke had burned into the angel’s flesh, and he felt his heart twist in his chest, the air completely knocking out of him, as the realization that Aziraphale was going to be left there to die hit him. He thought of Az’s frightened eyes, the tears that had mingled with the blood on his face, as he’d stared at Crowley through the television screen, begging him to save him. The angel’s gagged cries as Hastur had carved his claws into his soft, pudgy stomach echoed through Crowley’s mind.

And his heart broke.

“You can’t just leave him!” He pleaded. “Please, don’t do this!”

“Silence, demon!” One of the angelic guards spat, grabbing a fistful of Crowley’s feathers and twisting. “You will speak no more!”

 “Please!” Crowley struggled harder. “Please! You have to save him! Don’t leave him there!”

A hand reached out and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and a kick to the back of his legs sent him forward onto his knees. He felt the tip of something sharp poking at his back, between his wings, and he realized it was a sword.

“Get up.” The voice said. “And go quietly or I’ll skewer you like the scum you are.”

Crowley was hauled to his feet, the sword still at his back, and he was pushed forwards, towards the door. He felt despair and defeat wash over him like a bucket of holy water, chilling him to his very core, numbing every single nerve ending along the way. He allowed the angelic guards to manhandle him back down the hall. He walked, his head hung, along with the angels as they escorted him out of the building and into the streets of Heaven, where he was paraded towards a small, gloomy looking building on the corner.

Inside the building resembled a rather old fashioned jailhouse from Earth. It was small, with only four barred cells lining the wall, and a small desk in the corner with an old computer monitor and clock radio, and Crowley mused that Heaven must not have a high demand for prisons. And of course, why would they? Heaven was big on its “take no prisoners” philosophy. Call it ineffable mercy, or a particular disdain for dealing with the mess, it didn’t matter, in the end.

Crowley felt the manacles fall away from his wrists, and a hand shoved him roughly inside. The door to the cell clanged shut, and Crowley heard the angels chanting something into the lock, and Crowley distantly recognized it as an incantation for subjugating demons, keeping them bound but not Bound. He felt walls rise around him, trapping him within their invisible barriers, and he knew he was as good as powerless.

“Rot ye well, demon.” One of the angels spat, and the others snickered. “You’re lucky Michael didn’t smite you where you stood. Why he didn’t, I’ll never know.”

Smiting would have been merciful compared to this, being trapped here in a cell, unable to leave and destroy all of Hell to rescue the angel he loved so much it fucking hurt. At least then he wouldn’t have to be suffocated with the knowledge that Aziraphale was going to suffer, and continue to suffer, until Hastur grew bored of him and killed him, all because of Crowley. All because he had loved that angel too much.

The angelic guards stared expectantly at the demon through the bars of the cell, but if it was a sardonic remark or an empty threat they were waiting for, Crowley did not have an ounce of energy, nor a single fuck left to give. After a few moments, the guards gave up, and left without another word, leaving Crowley alone.

After they were out of sight, Crowley swallowed thickly as he removed his suit jacket, and found Aziraphale’s feather still tucked in the inside breast pocket. He took it and held it reverently in his hands for a moment, feeling the lump in his throat and the stone in his stomach growing larger and larger, until finally, he could hold it back no longer.

Crowley sank to his knees on the cold stone floor of his prison cell, clutching the feather tightly against his chest. He wrapped his obsidian black wings around himself, and wept. 

Chapter Text

Astrid could not rest that night. Every time she attempted to seek out the refuge of repose, the image of Crowley, kicking and screaming, begging the Council of Archangels to hear him as he was dragged from the room haunted her. She tossed and turned in her nest, unable to get comfortable, trying to get Crowley’s cries out of her head.

The next morning, she got up and made her way to her office. She threw herself into her work, completing every single piece of paperwork Uriel put in front of her with proficiency, and with stunningly accurate precision.

“You’re quiet today.” Uriel remarked from his desk as she brought him his afternoon coffee. He raised an eyebrow at the thick manila envelope full of completely paperwork she pulled from her bag and placed in front of him. “And productive, I see.”

“I’m always productive, Uriel.” She said, somewhat flatly.

“But not usually this quiet.” Uriel said, mildly. His grey eyes were soft when he looked at her. “What’s wrong, Astrid?”

“Nothing,” Astrid lied, and inwardly cringed; lying was against angelic nature, and doing so always made her wings itch. “I’m just tired is all.” At least that part wasn’t a lie; she was exhausted. Angels didn’t need sleep, per se, but they needed rest, and having been denied that the night before, on top of the dull ache in her chest when she thought about Crowley in Heaven’s prisons, and Aziraphale, suffering at the hands of Hastur in Hell…she was most definitely not her usual self.

“This is about Aziraphale, isn’t it.” It as a statement and not a question. She looked at her boss, trying to keep her face as flat and free of emotion as possible. Uriel’s eyes, deep and almost omniscient, timeless, stared back at her. She looked away. “And Crowley, too, I suspect.”

“Yes.” She said softly.

“I’m sorry.” Uriel’s voice was gentle. “I know that what happened yesterday was…less than ideal. No one wants to save Aziraphale more than me, Astrid, believe me. He’s one of us, he’s our brother angel. And I know you cared about him.”

“He’s my brother angel, like you said.” Astrid said. “And he’s always understood me.” She smiled, remembering the nights spent reading by candlelight in Aziraphale's shop when she'd been a young teenage fledgling. She still had the letters they’d exchanged after she'd left, and several of her favorite editions still lined the shelves of her domicile.

“I am sorry.” Uriel repeated. He reached out and patted her hand. “If there were a way…”

He trailed off.

“What about Crowley?” Astrid asked. “Are we just going to keep him prisoner here? For how long? Until…something happens?” Until Aziraphale is dead?

Uriel shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know.” He admitted. “Michael wishes to keep him under lock and key for the foreseeable future, to make sure he doesn’t retaliate against us. It is possible he could be detained indefinitely, if no other options are presented. But at this time, no decisions have been made regarding the matter.”

So Crowley was just going to sit there, rotting away in a prison of Heaven, until a decision could be made on what to do with him*. And in the meantime, he was forced to contend with the knowledge that Aziraphale – the one person Astrid knew Crowley cared about, the one he was willing to risk everything for – was going to suffer in the bowels of Hell, and there wasn’t a blessed thing he could do about it. Astrid’s heart broke for the both of them.

(*And knowing Michael, smiting was likely high on his list of selections.)

And the demon hadn’t done anything wrong, except love an angel just a little too much.

“Tell me something,” Uriel ventured, when the silence between them had grown too loud. “You’ve been my intern for close to 100 years now, correct?”

“Give or take the odd leap year.” Astrid replied, nodding.

“It just occurred to me that in all that time, I have never once taken the time to ask you what I believe to be a very important question.”

“And that is…?”

Uriel’s grey eyes sparkled just slightly as he leaned forward. “Well, what is it that you hope to be when your internship with me has ended, and you move on to take your own angelic duties?”

Astrid frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Uriel sat back again. “What do you want to do? Most humans phrase it as “what do you want to be when you grow up?” when proposing the question to their children. What is it that you want to do, Astrid? Surely it’s not work in an office.”

“Office work doesn’t bother me that much,” Astrid said. “But no, I don’t want to work in a cubicle for the rest of eternity.”

“Then what is it?”

Astrid was quiet. She had never admitted this to anyone, except Aziraphale, once, when she’d first accepted the internship in Uriel’s office and had gone to tell him the news. She remembered the way his blue eyes had shone in the dim candle light of his bookshop, and the way he’d hugged her and told her he believed in her.

“I want to be a guardian.” She answered finally. She met Uriel’s eyes, and smiled, if sadly. “I want to be a guardian angel.”

“A guardian.” Uriel smiled fondly, nodding his head in agreement. “Such a position would suit you, Astrid. Especially with your attention to detail.”

“Thank you.”

"A very rewarding way to serve. Not everyone has such a calling."

"I'd like to think so." Astrid said.

“Being a guardian comes with caveats, however,” Uriel warned, and there was a strange edge to his voice, almost as if he were alluding to something Astrid couldn’t quite pinpoint. “Sometimes you will be faced with difficult decisions. There will be those who tell you that you must do one thing, but you must trust your instincts, your morals, and your faith to do what is right. You must trust your heart.”

Astrid nodded, and her eyes never left her boss as she studied him, and he met her stare unfailingly. She felt her feathers curl just slightly beneath his gaze.

“Even if what is right is…unorthodox?” She asked.

Uriel smiled at her. “Oh yes.” He said. “Especially then. Guardian angels must remember that the right path may not necessarily be the easiest, but it is always best. And they must guide their charges accordingly by also guiding themselves.” He leaned over and patted her hand again. “And I believe you’d do very well with that, Astrid.”

Astrid was quiet.

“But what if I don’t know what to do, Uriel?” She sighed, and looked at her hands. “What if I make the wrong choice?”

“Well,” Uriel leaned back and steepled his fingers. “I’m not sure I have an answer for that. I think only you can answer that question. And it’s how you come to finding your answer that will reveal what’s most important, Astrid.”

Somehow, this didn’t make Astrid feel any better. In fact, it was only making her feel worse. She wasn’t any less confused now than she was earlier, and it did nothing for the sinking feeling she had broiling in her stomach.

“If it’s alright with you,” Astrid said slowly, and she averted her gaze. “I think I might take the afternoon off.”

“I think that might be best.” He agreed. “Go home. Get some rest. Perhaps eat something.”

“We don’t need to eat.” Astrid reminded him.

Uriel shrugged. “And technically I don’t need coffee,” he took a sip from the cup on his desk and grinned. “But that doesn’t stop me from drinking it, now does it?”

Astrid forced a chuckle. “Good point.” She grabbed her messenger bag from where she’d sat it on the floor. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Uriel.”

“Have a blessed day,” Uriel said.

“You, too.” She turned to leave, and had made it nearly to the door when Uriel called back to her.

“Oh, and Astrid?”

She turned. “Yes?”

Uriel reached underneath his desk and pulled something out. Astrid blinked at it, recognizing it immediately.

It was Aziraphale’s sword, the one Crowley had brought with him, that he’d been forced to leave behind when they’d forcibly removed him. It was still in its scabbard, and Uriel laid it on his desk gingerly.

“Please do something with this.” He said, pleasantly. “I keep banging my knee on it.”

Astrid walked over and picked up the sword. It felt heavy in her hands, but also mighty, balanced, and full of power. It wasn’t Aziraphale’s original flaming sword, but it was still his. Holding it made something inside of her twist just slightly, and she shivered.

“What should I do with it?” She asked.

Uriel shook his head. “That’s up to you.” He said, somewhat cryptically. He waved his hand. “Off you go.”

Astrid pulled the strap around her, nestling the sword between her wings snuggly, as Crowley had done. The sword was heavy, pressing into her spine, and somehow, Astrid felt grounded by its presence. It was as if somehow, the sword were giving her a renewed sense of gravity.

She left without another word, and began the trek back to her domicile. She walked the familiar streets on autopilot, her hand absentmindedly playing with the strap of the sword’s scabbard, twisting and tightening her fingers around it compulsively. She adjusted it across her chest as the weight began to dig into her collarbone and shoulder, hefting it a bit higher onto her back. Her thoughts strayed to the owner of the sword, and she thought about the training that went into mastering swordsmanship. Aziraphale had been known as one of the most competent and skilled swordsmen of his day, rivaled only by the Archangels themselves, which was one of the reasons why he had been given the position as Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden.

She wondered if Crowley had ever been a swordsman, whether before his Fall or after. She contemplated who Crowley had been, when he’d been an angel. What had his True Name been? (Surely it hadn’t been Crawly.) What had his rank been? What were his duties, his responsibilities? She wondered if Aziraphale had known, if Crowley even remembered.

Astrid stopped, and looked to her right. The prison’s squat building was just around the corner ahead of her, directly in her path towards home. She had never given the structure much thought before, and it had gone largely ignored. Heaven did not have much use for a prison, after all, hence its removal from her usual sphere of consciousness. But now that it housed not only someone, but someone she knew, someone she had begun to consider her friend, she couldn’t tear her thoughts away from it.

She wondered how Crowley was faring (she assumed not well), and she wondered if he’d eaten. Astrid was not privy to the interworkings of prisoner treatment, but she figured that it was likely they had forgotten to feed him, whether on accident, or deliberately, she couldn’t know, but she knew that over the millennia on earth, Crowley and Aziraphale both had cultivated a habit and fondness for the practice. Astrid waved her hand, and miracled a cardboard takeout container and chopsticks, which was warm to the touch. A peek inside revealed it to be curry rice pilaf, one of Astrid’s personal favorites. She supposed it would do.

Astrid squared her shoulders as the prison came into view, and made her way towards the door.

She entered the prison, and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. There were no windows in the small building, and the air was a bit stale and stuffy, and smelled strongly of dust, like an office that had gone unused for a few hundred years. It reminded Astrid of Aziraphale’s bookshop, and she felt a stab of pain in her heart as the thought about it.

There were only four cells, attesting to the fact that Heaven had very little use of a prison. In the corner next to the door was a desk, where a computer monitor had been set up, but was not on, and a clock radio proudly announced that it was 2:23 PM in bold green neon. At the desk, a young male-shaped angel dressed in a simple tunic and floral printed combat boots sat idly flipping through the pages of a magazine, the title of which was lost to Astrid. She cleared her throat, and he jumped, his wings flaring out defensively.

“Sorry!” She said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s alright,” he said. The feathers of his wings began to settle. “I wasn’t expecting anybody for a few hours yet, when my shift ends.” He eyed her, a bit suspiciously. “Can I help you?”

“I’m here to see, er…” She chewed on the word in her mouth, finding it distasteful. “The prisoner? The demon Crowley. He was brought here yesterday?”

The guard rolled his eyes, and Astrid huffed quietly; how rude. He pointed across the room.

“He’s right there.” He said, and he stood to his feet, stretching his arms and wings. “But if you’re here for an interrogation, you’re going to be disappointed. He hasn’t spoken a word since they brought him in here.”

Astrid felt the by now familiar stab of pain in her heart. She nodded her thanks at the guard, who had decided to take this time to step outside, and strode forward towards the cell directly across from the desk, where a shadowy figure was huddled in the corner.

“Crowley?” She whispered softly as she neared the bars of the cell. She peered inside.

Crowley was sitting on the stone floor, with his back to her, his face buried in arms that rested on his knees. His wings were tucked against his back, the black feathers disheveled and quite unlike how she’d seen them thus far; Crowley was the type that kept his wings immaculately groomed. He had removed his suit jacket and tie, and they were laying, discarded, on the ground next to Crowley, and Astrid could see that his red shirt was wrinkled and untucked from his trousers. His sunglasses were lying next to the jacket and tie, forgotten.

He didn’t seem to have noticed her entrance.

“Crowley,” she repeated.

The demon turned his head and glanced over his shoulder.

“Go away.” He said, very quietly, and Astrid was taken aback by how defeated and free of inflection his voice was.

“I brought you something to eat.” Astrid informed him. She stooped down, reached between the bars, and placed the takeout and chopsticks inside the cell. “It’s not much, but I was worried they may forget to feed you.”

Crowley made no effort to turn to look at her, nor to move into the light. He simply ignored her.

Astrid sighed at the demon’s back. She shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Crowley.” She said quietly. “I never meant for this to happen. I didn’t think…I didn’t think the Archangels would turn against us like this. I truly thought they would help us get him back. I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t see you doing much in the way of trying to convince them otherwise.” Crowley muttered bitterly. “All I see is a perfect little angel, following orders.”

“Don’t try to bait me.” Astrid said, a bit tritely.

Crowley turned around to face her, and she could see the way the skin around his eyes were puffy; had he possessed human irises, Astrid was certain they would be bloodshot. He glared fiercely at her.

“That’s all you’re ever going to be good for!” He spat, his wings bristling slightly, but not moving from where they were tucked against his back. “Sweet little Astrid, just following orders for the rest of her pathetic existence! Always doing as she’s told! Never having a single thought of free will because Heaven forbid she possess the ability to think for herself!”

“Stop it!” Astrid was beginning to feel angry at the demon. She tried to reason with herself that this was what Crowley wanted, and that, more importantly, he didn’t mean any of it; he was tired, and angry, and suffering, and she could hardly blame him for lashing out at her. But she still couldn’t stop the indignant swell of pain in her chest as each biting word pierced through her like an arrow.

“Leaving her own brother to die!” Crowley growled. “Letting him rot in Hell like he’s nothing!”

“STOP!” Astrid screamed. She was seething, her hands routed into fists, and had the bars not separated them, she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t have charged the demon. She took a few steadying breaths, and let her hands relax. She blinked away the tears that had formed, unbidden, in her eyes. “Please, Crowley, stop.”

“Strike a nerve, did I?” Crowley snarled.

“I’m sorry!” Astrid said, exasperated. “I’m sorry, Crowley! There’s nothing I can do to fix this! I’m sorry I’m just an Angel, that I can’t get you out of here, that I’m forced to live with the knowledge that I’m letting Aziraphale be tortured in Hell, letting his blood stain my hands! I’m sorry!”

“If you were sorry,” Crowley said. “You’d do something about it. You wouldn’t just sit on your arse and let this happen.”

“What choice do I have?!” Astrid demanded, and tears flooded her vision, momentarily blinding her. “What in Heaven’s name do you propose I do, Crowley?! Storm the gates of Hell myself?! Throw myself at Michael’s feet and beg him to let you go, to reconsider?! None of that will change anything! None of that will save Aziraphale, and I’m sorry!

“You always have a choice, Astrid.” Crowley turned away from her, and tucked himself into the protective embrace of his black wings.  

She watched the demon curl in on himself, drawing his wings around him like a blanket, like a shield. Her own wings had flared out defensively behind her, and she relaxed them. For a moment, she was struck with the impulse to reach through the bars of the cell out to Crowley, to try and lay her hand on him and offer him comfort. She wasn’t sure why; she chalked it up to angelic instincts. But she doubted, highly, that her gesture would be met with gratitude; in fact, she as certain that, at this point, it was much more likely to be met with a hiss and perhaps bared fangs (did Crowley still have fangs? she wondered) or violent recoil. So instead she just stared at the despondent form of the demon in front of her, the demon that loved her brother more than she ever could have imagined him capable of doing so.

With a pang, she realized that, in her compliance to do as was the biding of Council of Archangels, she had not only condemned Aziraphale to death, but Crowley, too. The question of whose death was more torturous was debatable, and arbitrary.  

Coming here was a mistake, she thought to herself. It didn’t solve anything.

“Please, Crowley,” she whispered softly. “I’m so sorry.”

“G’way.” Came the muffled reply from behind the curtain of feathers. “Just…g’way.”

Astrid, accepting defeat like a knife to the gut, tears streaming down her face, turned, and briskly walked out of the prison, pushing her way past the guard as he was coming back inside. He watched her as she retreated, noticing the sword against her back for the first time, and wondered what she was on about, carrying something like that around, before he walked back inside and resumed his magazine at his desk.

The little clock radio turned on with a click.

The guard didn’t notice.

 

...oOo...

 

Aziraphale winced as he very slowly began to perform the task of moving his aching limbs, starting with his toes. He wiggled the appendages, curling them in on his feet for a few moments before releasing them, the stiffness slowly receding. From his toes he moved upwards, bending his legs at the knee, rolling his ankles until the bones popped.

He bit his lip to stifle a cry of pain as he slowly bowed his back, the gashes on his torso pulling taut, a few of the scabs tearing, and his bruised and broken ribs screamed in protest. He swallowed against the terrible, all-consuming pain that flared throughout his beaten body, fighting against the blackness that edged his vision with every new wave of agony. He suspected, quite heavily, that he had at least one concussion, judging from the way his vision swam. He rolled his shoulders, the right one first, and then the left one, and he gasped as the deep cuts Hastur had left there sent jolts of pain like lightning shooting down his spine, and nausea boiled in his stomach, and he swallowed the bile at the back of his throat. The sigil between his shoulder blades still stung sharply, even as he let his shoulders relax.

He wiggled his fingers, clenching and unclenching his hands, and he wished he could roll his wrists, still stiff and locked tight in the shackles, pinned against the wall. He rolled his neck, and he sighed in relief as it popped in several places, relieving some of the tension there, and across his shoulders. He gradually relaxed again, making sure his breaths were slow and even. Everything still hurt, but standing still in an upright position for as long as he had – however long that was, exactly – was beginning to take its toll as well, and it certainly wasn’t helping matters.

He hadn’t seen Hastur in what he estimated was several hours, perhaps a day’s time. The demon had not been there when he’d awoke after their last encounter, and for that, Aziraphale was grateful. The mere thought of the demon’s leering grin and malicious eyes were enough to send chills down his spine, and panic to begin seeping back into his bones.

Every fiber in his being positively ached for Crowley. There had been moments, during and between the sessions, that Aziraphale had closed his eyes and tried to conjure an image of his demon’s face, the edges and lines, the smooth olive skin and dark hair, in an effort to block out the agony, if only for a single moment. He tried to remember Crowley’s soft voice and gentle hands, the way he smiled, his laugh. It had held him together, in the moments when the pain was almost too much to bear.

He thought of Crowley’s voice, promising to find him, to come for him.

Aziraphale would be lying if he said that with each time he awoke, he didn’t hope to look up and find Crowley standing in the doorway, come to save him. With each time unconsciousness overpowered him, cradling him into the arms of the void, there was a part of him that prayed that he would wake to find that it had all been a terrible nightmare, and that Crowley would be snoring peacefully beside him in the demon’s bed, his back warm against the angel’s.

But every time, Aziraphale was disappointed, and he longed that much more.

Aziraphale wanted to go home.

He closed his eyes, leaning his head against the wall. He swallowed, his throat raw and sore from screaming, and began to pray. To his Father, to Crowley, to anyone who would listen, who would hear him.

“Please,” he whispered. “Please let him find me. Please. Let me see him again.”

He felt tears begin to trek slowly down his bruised and cut face, washing away grime and blood as they trailed along the claw marks in his left cheek. It stung. He didn’t care.

“Please, please, let him find me. I just want to see him again. Even if it’s just once, please, let me live to see him again.” Aziraphale’s voice hitched. “I don’t want to die without seeing him again.”

He swallowed, the tears coming unabashed now. They rolled down Aziraphale’s face and onto his neck, pooling in the hollow of his throat, along his collarbone.

“Crowley,” he said, very softly. “Please, my dear, help me.

“Well, now,” a voice drawled. “Isn’t this just charming?”

Aziraphale felt his blood turn ice cold in his veins at the sound of the voice, and he opened his eyes to find Hastur standing in the doorway, eyeing the angel with a cruel, bemused smirk. His hard eyes danced with malicious glee as he sauntered towards the angel, who could not quite bite down on the whimper that escaped him as the former Duke of Hell stepped closer.

“Awww, don’t stop on my account.” Hastur said, holding up his hands. “By all means, please, continue.”

Words died in Aziraphale’s throat, his breath hitching, and he shied away from the demon as Hastur reached out to stroke the cuts on his cheek, unable to stop himself from trembling at his touch.

“Ain’t it sweet?” Hastur mocked. “Praying to your Crawly to come save you, are you, angel?”

“Please,” Aziraphale whispered.

“You know he can’t hear you.” Hastur taunted. “He can’t hear you, and even if he could, do you really think he’d answer? Are you that delusional, to think that someone like Crowley could give a single fuck about what happens to you, cloud scum?”

“He would.” Aziraphale answered, despite himself. He would not allow Hastur the satisfaction of knowing he was goading him. “He will.”

Hastur laughed, and Aziraphale cringed. “You really do think he’s coming for you, don’t you?” He scorned. “You actually think he cares about you. If he cares about you so much, then where is he?”

Aziraphale didn’t think; he knew. There wasn’t a single thing Hastur could possibly to do him that would make him believe Crowley didn’t care about him.

His mind went back to that sunny place, where he remembered soft words whispered against flushed skin: “I love you, angel,” as though that were the most sanctified sentence in all of creation, a proclamation of faith strong enough to move mountains, the truest statement either had ever heard, had ever dare utter in the safety of each other’s arms.

Hastur regarded him with cool, calculating and cruel eyes. His gaze fell on the slash marks like a Pollock painting across Aziraphale’s chest and stomach, along his shoulder blade and face, under his chin. Slowly, he grinned, showing his rotting teeth like trophies lined in a case, and Aziraphale felt another chill race down his spine.

“You know, angel,” he said, languidly, as though he were speaking a proposition before a courtroom of jurymen. “I have always wondered something. Perhaps you could…enlighten me?”

“About?” Aziraphale asked. He was afraid to ask.

“Tell me,” Hastur waved a hand, and a dagger with a jagged blade appeared in his hand. He walked over to the cauldron in the corner, where flames licked at the edges like waves on a shore. He held the knife over the fire, and after a few moments, the metal began to glow red hot. He grinned as he pulled the dagger away, and held it in front of his face, examining it closely. “Does hellfire have the same effect on angels as holy water does on demons?”

Aziraphale gulped, his heart beginning to race, panic rising unbidden in his chest, impossible to impede. His breaths were ragged as Hastur stepped towards him again, holding the dagger just inches from Aziraphale’s prone form. He was trembling again, violently, enough to make the shackles on the wall rattle as he shuddered away from the demon’s presence. He whined, terrified, and screwed his eyes closed tightly as he felt the heat radiate from the dagger onto his bare skin, just below his collarbone.

The truth was, Aziraphale didn’t know the answer to Hastur’s question. But he had the sickening feeling that he was about to find out, personally. And painfully.

“Please,” he heard himself sob. “Don’t.”

“You want to pray to your serpent, angel?” Hastur purred in his ear. “Well, then, let’s see if he really can hear you, shall we?”

He pressed the sharp tip of the dagger against Aziraphale’s collarbone, and the angel’s screams could be heard echoing through the halls of the dungeons of Hell for close to a mile.

He was screaming for Crowley.

 

...oOo...

 

At first, all that was audible was static. It began as a whisper, not loud enough for the demon in the cell across the way to hear it at all beneath the sounds of his own self-pity. It gradually grew louder, and the static began to separate into tangible sounds and not just intelligible ethereal white noise. It began to morph itself into something that sounded very much like the timbre of a tenor voice, screaming.

Crowley!” The radio garbled.

Crowley lifted his head at the faint sound of his name being called. He blinked for a moment, unsure if he’d actually heard it, or if his mind was beginning to play tricks on him. He parted the feathers of his wings, listening intently, and he heard it again.

“Crowley!”

The voice was distant, warped with pain, but Crowley knew that voice. Knew it better than he knew any other voice in the universe.

Aziraphale.

Crowley felt his heart stop in his chest as the voice of his angel burst forward again, followed by bloodcurdling screams of pure agony. The sound diminished slightly, and heaving sobs could be heard for a brief moment before the screams resumed, cold and sharp, cutting through Crowley like a knife.

“Crowley!”

Aziraphale was screaming. Aziraphale was screaming for him.

“Crowley, please!”

“Aziraphale!” Crowley called, in the hopes that perhaps the angel could hear him, but as Aziraphale’s cries echoed against the walls of the prison, Crowley knew he couldn’t. “Aziraphale!”

Another voice broke through the angel’s sobs. “That’s right,” it said, and Crowley immediately recognized it as Hastur. “Scream for Crowley all you want, angel, but he won’t come. He doesn’t care.”

Aziraphale’s sobs sliced straight into Crowley’s heart, stealing his breath away, and he felt his blood run cold in his veins. Another gasp of pain, another sob, another wail; another cry of Crowley’s name.

He was screaming for Crowley, and Crowley could do nothing to help him.

“Crowley…” Aziraphale’s voice was growing hoarse and heaving, exhaustion shadowing the torment. “Crowley, please…

“Crowley can’t hear you, angel,” Hastur sneered. “He’s abandoned you. You thought he loved you?” He spat the word contemptuously. “You, a blithering, fat, pathetic excuse of an angel, who is just stupid enough to fall for it?!” Hastur laughed cruelly.

Aziraphale whimpered, and Crowley felt the tears that had breached his eyes begin to fall, hard and fast, down his face, and his heart twisted in his chest as though Hastur had reached into his ribcage and squeezed it in his hands. He wanted to shout, to yell at the sky in the hopes that Aziraphale could hear him that Hastur was wrong, he was lying, that Crowley loved him with everything he was, that he loved every little imperfection Hastur was trying to use against him.

“Are you ready to curse his name yet, angel?” Hastur mocked. “Do you still think he’s worth all of this? I offered before and I’ll offer again: denounce Crowley and all this will stop.”

“N-No.” Aziraphale moaned, breathlessly. “Never.”

Oh. Oh, God, Hastur was trying to get the angel to deny him.

And Aziraphale – his stupid, stubborn, loyal, wonderful angel – refused. It simultaneously elated and broke the demon’s heart.

“So be it, then.” Hastur said, and Aziraphale’s screams resumed anew.

Crowley could take no more. He scrambled to his feet, and threw himself against the bars of his cell.

“Turn off the radio!” He yelled at the guard, who was lazily flipping through what appeared to be a magazine, his combat booted feet propped up on the desk, seemingly unfazed by the terrible sounds of torture emanating from the little grey box next to him, and Crowley realized with a start that he was the only one of the two of them that could hear the torment.

The guard looked up, and fixed Crowley with a bored look of annoyance.

“Shut up over there.” He snapped sternly.

“Please!” Crowley begged, his knuckles turning white as they tightened around the metal cell bars. “Can you not hear it?!”

“Hear what?” The angelic guard raised an eyebrow at him. “What are you going on about now, demon?”

“The radio!” Crowley said desperately. “Please, just unplug it! Please, please, just get rid of it!”

“Is this some kind of demonic ploy to distract me?” The guard demanded. “Because if it is, it isn’t going to work!”

“It’s not a trick!” Crowley hissed through gritted teeth. “He’s torturing him, please, just fucking unplug the goddamn radio!”

The guard was at his feet in a moment, his hand on his hit, grasping at whatever weapon it was he had concealed there. “Do not speak the name of the LORD in vain, you vile creature!”

Crowley choked on a sob as Aziraphale continued to cry out from the other side of the little radio.

“Turn. It. OFF!” He bellowed. “I don’t give a fuck whose name it is, just turn off fucking the radio!”

The angel had walked out from behind the desk, and was stalking towards Crowley menacingly, his eyes blazing.

“Shut up, demon.” He spat. “I don’t know what you’re trying to play here, but that radio hasn’t been on all day, and I’m certainly not hearing anything now. Now be still, or you’ll be wishing you were back in Hell!”

But this was hell, wasn’t it? In a way? Having to stand here and bear auditory witness to this unholy torture of a being that was so undeserving, so loved, if only by the very demon who had condemned him to it in the first place by loving him back.

Crowley tried one last time.

“Please!” He begged. “Please, just—”

He never finished his sentence, for at that very moment, the guard lashed out a hand between the bars of the cell, and grabbed Crowley by the throat. He said something Crowley couldn’t quite make out in Enochian, and then everything around him swirled into spiraling darkness.

And, mercifully, Crowley slipped to the floor, unconscious, and the radio in the corner clicked off.

Chapter Text

The cup of tea in front of her was piping hot, steam curling delicately into the air, and Astrid wrapped her hands around the warm ceramic mug, letting its heat seep into her skin as she stared into the golden brown liquid inside, and listened to the sound of silence that permeated the air of her domicile.

She felt, in a word, haunted.

Astrid had come straight home after her confrontation with Crowley in the prison, and she hadn’t looked back once, even when she’d shouldered her way through a crowded commons square where a group had gathered. She’d heard her name called several times by friends and acquaintances, but she’d ignored them, and had finally found her way back to her domicile, where she’d slammed the door and leaned back against it, sinking down to the floor where she proceeded to cry into her knees for a good quarter of an hour.

She felt so conflicted, emotions, each grappling for dominance, swirling down through her entire being, coalescing in a single, stabbing pain at the center of her chest. It took hold of her heart like a vice, squeezing, twisting, as though it were a rag being wrung of tears.

She felt so lost. Astrid was an angel of the LORD, first and foremost, and never before had she felt so very, very lost, unsure of where to go, what to do, who to turn to.

She had leant her head back against the door, and had started to pray.

She’d prayed and prayed and prayed. She’d begged God to show her the way, tell her what it was He wanted her to do, to take the pain and loss away from her. She had trusted Him her entire life, from the moment she had come into existence, and she trusted Him still, to show her the way, the path down which she should follow. But as the moments stretched out in front of her, she received no answer.

It seemed this was a problem she was meant to figure out for herself.

Astrid brought the steaming cup of tea to her lips, and tentatively sipped it, wincing as it burned her tongue, and immediately miracled it better. She swallowed, reflecting on the lingering taste of lavender and honey, and her eyes fell on the sword in the corner of the kitchen, next to the door, where she’d dropped it.

She stared at it for a minute, and she what Uriel had said to her earlier that day came flooding back to her.

“Sometimes you will be faced with difficult decisions. There will be those who tell you that you must do one thing, but you must trust your instincts, your morals, and your faith to do what is right. You must trust your heart.”

And she remembered what Crowley had said to her, as he turned away from her in dejection, in heartbreaking resignation: “You always have a choice, Astrid.”

And then, like a bolt from the blue, Astrid knew exactly what she had to do. It was all there, right in front of her, as though she had known it all along, and was only just now recognizing it for what it was.

She offered a single prayer of thanks before she grabbed the sword in her hand, stepped out into the night, spread her wings, and flew.

In his office, not very far away, Uriel smiled, knowingly, leaned back in his chair, and waited.

 

...oOo...

 

It did not take her long to reach her destination. As soon as her feet touched the ground, Astrid, her hand poised and ready to draw the sword at her back should the need arise, rushed towards the door.

She didn’t know what she expected to find behind the door as she entered – a guard with a flaming sword waiting for her, or perhaps a garrison of angels come to arrest her, somehow knowing exactly what it was she was about to do – but she certainly wasn’t expecting to find the desk in the corner empty, completely devoid of life.

Astrid frowned. Where was the guard from earlier? Surely they wouldn’t have just left their post, would they? Surely not when they were supposed to be guarding a demon…

She walked over to the desk, and found a note written in a cheerful cursive on a legal pad propped against the dark computer screen.

 

Cameron –

Had to use the lavatory. If I’m not back by the time you get here, this note is to let you know where I’ve gone. The demon is still asleep. He shouldn’t give you any trouble. Be back ASAP!

~ Lemuel

 

Astrid knew she had limited time. She didn’t know when it was that Lemuel had left his post, nor did she know when he, or Cameron, would return. She needed to get Crowley out of here, and she needed to do it now.

She rushed across the room to Crowley’s cell, and peered inside. Just as the note had said, he was fast asleep, slumped in an ungraceful heap of limbs and wings across the floor, almost as though he had fallen there and had not moved. Astrid pushed aside the suspicious nature of Crowley’s sprawl, and instead crouched down to shake the unconscious demon’s shoulder, which was just within her reach beyond the bars.

“Crowley!” She whispered urgently. “Crowley, wake up!”

The demon didn’t move. She shook harder.

“Crowley!” She said, louder. “Crowley, please, we don’t have much time! I need you to wake up!”

This time, the demon moaned, and he very slowly turned his head to look at her, his yellow eyes groggy. He sat up, rather quickly, as though suddenly remembering something important, and yelped, grabbing his head.

“What the hell?!” He demanded, rubbing his temples. “Shit, that hurts…”

“Are you okay?” Astrid asked him.

“No I bloody well am not! That bastard you have guarding this place knocked me out! But not before Hastur decided to transmit the sound of Aziraphale screaming through the radio!” Crowley snarled, rubbing the heel of his hand into his serpentine eyes, and Astrid felt a new wave of pity wash over her. She could not imagine what hearing Aziraphale screaming must have done to the demon.

After a moment Crowley dropped his hand to his neck, where Astrid could see faint bruises, and he winced as his fingers brushed against them. He glared at her. “And what the hell do you want?” He demanded.

“I’ve come to get you out of here.” Astrid answered, simply. “But we don’t have much time. I don’t know when the guard is coming back, and—”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Crowley cut her off. “Are you…breaking me out of prison?”

She sighed, exasperatedly. “Yes.” She said.

Crowley stared at her, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?” He asked finally.

“Because I thought a lot about what you said,” she answered before she could stop herself. “About always having a choice. And Uriel said something to me earlier, about being a guardian angel, that it will sometimes require me to make hard decisions. And you’re right; I can’t let Aziraphale die Down There. Not without at least trying to do something. I can’t just sit back and watch you waste away in here, knowing that I could have done something, done anything, but I didn’t. So. This is me, making my choice. And I may get into some serious trouble for it, but if it saves Aziraphale…it will be worth it.”

She unsheathed the sword, and held it in front of her awkwardly in both hands. “Stand back.”

“You can’t use that!” Crowley cried as she leveled it against the hinges of the cell door. “Astrid, wait!”

But Astrid was done waiting. She’d dithered long enough, explaining herself, and it was time to go. She took a deep breath, and Willed what she was about to do to work, and raised the sword. It was heavy in her hands, and for a moment, she was worried she’d overthought this, that it would be too heavy, that she’d topple backwards from the weight of it…

She pushed the thoughts of doubt aside, closed her eyes, focused her energy, had faith, and brought the sword down in a single, mighty stroke.

There was the sound of metal hitting metal, and a sharp, metallic smell like blood as the iron hinges broke clean in half. Crowley, who’d retreated backwards and had covered his head with his arms, blinked in astonishment at the smoking, melted hinges. Astrid snapped out of her momentary shock and let out a triumphant shout; it had worked! She sheathed the sword, and reached out to try and dislodge the door. Crowley immediately stepped in to help her, and together they managed to move it just enough that Crowley could slip his slim frame through.

“I can’t believe that worked!” Astrid said, grinning.

“Me, neither.” Crowley muttered. He rubbed the back of his neck, averting his gaze for a minute. “Listen, Astrid, what I said earlier…I’m sorry.”

“Later.” Astrid said, reaching out and grabbing his wrist. “Right now, we need to get to Aziraphale.”

She pulled him towards the door, where they both paused for a moment to make sure no one was around to see them before they slipped out into the night. They both spread their wings, and flew up and into the sky, above the buildings and streets, where they were much less likely to be spotted.

“So what’s the plan?” Crowley asked, turning his head to look at Astrid.

“I’m not sure, honestly,” Astrid said. “I’m sort of…making it up as I go along.”

“Whoa, hang on a tick!” Crowley sputtered, coming to a halt in the air. “What the hell do you mean, ‘making it up as you go along’?!”

“I mean,” Astrid answered. “That I’m handling things as they come.”

Crowley stared at her. “Astrid, you just broke me out of prison. An angelic prison, mind you, and now that we’re both essentially on the run, you’re going to stand there and tell me you don’t have a fucking plan?!”

Astrid could definitely see the logic in Crowley’s reaction. It was true, it was definitely a long shot, flying by the seat of her pants, as it were, but she couldn’t help but get an overall sense that everything was going to be alright, that she would know exactly what to do when whatever happened next happened.

“Astrid,” Crowley broke her out of her contemplative reverie by taking her shoulders. “We need to have a plan. They are gonna be hot on our wings as soon as they find me missing, and I don’t think they’re going to be very pleased to find out you’re the one who broke me out. We need to figure something out.”

Astrid knew Crowley was right. Every moment they dithered in the skies was another moment closer to detection, and another moment Aziraphale spent at Hastur’s mercy. This, she decided, was not the time for anything that even closely resembled dithering.

“We can hide in my office.” Astrid offered. “And talk things over there. It’s closed for the night; no one will find us there.”

Crowley considered this. “Is it far from here?”

Astrid shook her head. “No, it’s just ahead.”

Crowley, without any other options but to follow her lead, nodded. They flew back towards the large, pantheon-like building from which Crowley had been dragged the day before, and again he let his eyes fall on the Enochian engraved above the huge doors as Astrid led him back inside.

Be there amongst you the balance of righteousness and truth.

He felt a shiver run down his spine at the sight of the words, and he hurried through the doors, unsure what the shiver meant. It made his feathers prickle in a way it hadn’t before, as the Enochian echoed in his mind. It had been millennia since he’d spoken it, but even now, it still managed to leave him feeling very small.

He followed Astrid down the labyrinth of hallways, until she paused at a nondescript wooden door just around the corner of a corridor. She produced a key from her pocket, and unlocked the door, ushering the demon inside.

Astrid’s office was simple, clean, and mainstream, with not much in the way of decoration, though Crowley recognized several titles on the spines of books in a bookcase against the wall, some of them rather old, and he swallowed when he realized they must have come from Aziraphale. He wondered how his angel and Astrid knew each other, especially considering Astrid was much younger than they were, but he didn’t allow himself to dwell on the subject. Astrid left the door open just a crack behind them, and flipped on the small lamp on the desk beside her computer screen. The tiny bulb illuminated the little office with a soft light. Astrid took the sword from her back and sat it across her desk.

“We need a plan.” Crowley said again, finally, after the silence between them stretched on for several more seconds. "And it needs to be a pretty damn solid one at that.”

“We’re going to need to get back to earth, and then find a way to a gate of Hell. I figured you could get us there easily.” Astrid looked at him. “I mean, I know you don’t frequent Hell all that much, from what Zira has told me, but…”

Crowley nodded. “There’s a portal not far from my flat in Mayfair.” He confirmed. “It’s tucked away in an alley near an old cemetery. I can get us there no problem.”

 “Once we’re in Hell, what do we do from there?” Astrid asked, and she wrung her hands in her lap; the very idea of going into Hell, whether it was to save Zira or not, was somewhat unnerving to her.

“Hastur is keeping Aziraphale in one of the dungeons.” Crowley explained. “My guess is, he’s probably still using the one he had before he was demoted. If that’s the case, he’s in Sublevel A, Floor 7.”

“Can you get us there?”

Crowley nodded. “The good news is,” he said. “Is that the dungeons don’t typically have a lot of traffic or security. We’ll have to get to the elevator to take us down, but once we’re down there, we shouldn’t run into any trouble.”

Astrid chewed her bottom lip.

“And what if we do run into trouble?” She dared. She nodded at the sword. “Is that what you plan on using for protection?”

“Most of the denizens of Hell are comprised of 14th century minds.” Crowley said, dryly. “So we aren’t likely to be met with weapons of extreme sophistication, if at all, honestly; it would most likely be swords or crossbows. But…now that you mention it, it wouldn’t hurt to have something else.” His yellow eyes met hers. “We’re also going to need a couple chimera talismans. No offense, sweetheart, but you will stick out like a sore thumb in Hell. That aura of yours will attract demons for miles around.”

“Why do you need one?”

“I don’t,” Crowley said. “But it might not hurt to have one, just in case.”

Astrid shivered, and rubbed her arms. “Well, I know that we keep our chimera talismans in the armory.” She informed him. “And, if you’re looking for better weapons, that would be the place to find them.”

 “Great!” Crowley crossed his arms across his chest, and Astrid noticed for the first time that he had not grabbed his jacket and tie before they’d left the prison. “So how do we get in?”

“We’ll need a key.” Astrid said. She growled in frustration. “Emily used to have one, but she lost it recently, and Michael hasn’t gotten around to getting her a new one yet. Bugger!”

“Well, then,” Crowley drawled. “I ask again: how are we going to get in?”

“You could try saying ‘please.’”   

Both of them jumped, and Crowley’s wings flared out defensively, nearly clocking Astrid in the face. They both spun to face the door, which was now wide open, a tall figure standing in the doorway, partly obscured by the shadows of the abandoned hallway. The figure strode forward into the dim light of the tiny office, and huge white wings appeared.

“Uriel!” Astrid gasped.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Uriel!”

Crowley felt his blood run cold in his veins as the Archangel stepped through the doorway into the small office, his features calm, but Crowley could feel the power prickling in the air, and it made his feathers twitch. Astrid had gone stock still beside him, her face completely drained of color, her green eyes wide with terror as her employer gazed at them both. She looked so stricken that, had he not been frozen himself, he would have taken her hand.

Shit, he thought. We’re fucking sunk. Down like the bloody Titanic.

They had been so close. And now, his heart sinking in his chest, Crowley began to weigh the possibility that it was all over. Uriel would call for more angelic guards, and they’d drag him back to prison, where he’d rot while Aziraphale suffered. Astrid would lose her job, she could be banished from Heaven, she could Fall— all because of him.

Uriel regarded them both calmly.

“Astrid.” He nodded at his intern. His grey eyes turned to Crowley. “Crowley.”

“Uriel, I can explain—” Astrid began desperately. She stepped forward a step.

Uriel held up a hand, silencing her. “I don’t believe there to be time for that, Astrid.” He said, his voice still unsettlingly calm, by Crowley’s standards, considering the circumstances. “And I think you’ll find that I already know a great deal more than you think.”

The Archangel dropped his hand, and regarded them both. “I know what you’re planning,” he said. “And I would like to offer my assistance in whatever way that I can.”

“How do you know?” Crowley asked, skeptically eyeing the Archangel. The last time he’d seen Uriel, he’d been complacent in allowing Aziraphale to rot in Hell right alongside Michael, Gabriel, and the other members of the Council. Why had he suddenly changed his mind? “How did you know we were here*?”

(*Last he’d checked, Heaven had no need of security cameras.)

“Call it ineffability, if you must.” Uriel replied, cryptically. “Or an enhanced sense of intuition, whichever you prefer.”

Crowley glared, and crossed his arms. “I’m not buying it.” He spat. “You seemed all too keen to let Aziraphale die just yesterday, and now you expect me to believe you want to help? How do we know this isn’t a trap?”

“I assure you,” Uriel said. “This is not a trap. And I understand your hesitance in trusting me and my offer of assistance, but I assure you it is genuine.”

“Why?” Crowley demanded. “Why the sudden change of heart?”

“Because I understand what you’re going through.” Uriel answered. “And you are right: perhaps we are cowards in our complacency, in our resignation. Perhaps we are all too willing to allow one of our own to suffer at the hands of Hell, if only to save face, to prevent the “ruffling of feathers,” as you put it. Aziraphale deserves better than brothers like us.” His grey eyes burned. “And I believe that’s why he has you.”

Crowley swallowed against the lump at the back of his throat. A part of him triumphed at having had the upper hand, at having made an Archangel admit that he was wrong, but overall, Crowley felt agitated, testy, and anxious. He could celebrate and wallow in self-congratulations later; right now, Aziraphale needed him.

“I still don’t understand.” Astrid said, shaking her head.

“Perhaps you are not meant to.” Uriel said. “At least right now. Perhaps it will all make sense in retrospect. Perhaps it can all be chalked up to ineffability.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. He was beginning to really, really hate that word and its connotations.

“Alright, enough of the cryptics.” He said, testily. “If you’re so keen on helping us, how, exactly, do you plan to do so?”

“You said that you needed a key into the armory.” Uriel said. “I can get you in.”

“And what’s the catch?” Crowley dared. “Any fine print we should be aware of?”

Uriel shook his head. “No catch, no fine print.” He promised. “Just bring Aziraphale back to us. Get him out of there.”

That had never been in question.” Crowley assured him. He turned and looked at Astrid, whose green eyes were still as wide as saucers as she watched the interaction between the demon and the Archangel who just so happened to be her employer. “If he’s willing to help, I think we’d ought to take him up on it.”

Astrid nodded. “It’s certainly a better plan than we could have come up with.”

Crowley gave her a wry grin. “I was going to suggest we crawl through the air vents.” He said. “Y’know, like in those human spy movies. Bit of a cliché, but if it works, it works.”

Astrid shrugged. “Never seen one.” She admitted. She looked back at Uriel. “What happens when the other Archangels find out about this?” There was a hint of fear in her voice, and Crowley knew what was on her mind: was she going to Fall for this?  

Uriel smiled, and reached out and took one of her wringing hands between his palms. “I’ll take care of it.” He promised. “Neither of you will be punished for this. Should you succeed, you will be heralded as heroes.”

“And if we don’t?” Astrid’s voice wavered. Crowley bit his lip, refusing to think about the alternative.

He couldn’t bear the thought of failing, the image of Aziraphale’s lifeless body in his arms.

He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

A look of sadness passed over Uriel’s face. He smiled at Astrid again, encouragingly. “You will.” He insisted. “Have faith, Astrid.” He looked at Crowley. “Both of you; have faith.”

Astrid’s green eyes were wide and misty as she turned and looked at Crowley. She gave a ghost of a smile, and nodded, and Crowley found himself thinking, Oh, to hell with it*. If there was even the faintest chance that faith could help them get Aziraphale back, then he’d roll with it. He was still, despite everything, an optimist at heart.

(*Literally.)

Uriel let go of Astrid’s hand, and straightened the lapels of his suit.

“Now then,” he said. “If you’ll both follow me, I’ll take you to the armory.”

With a final glance at Astrid, Crowley snapped his fingers and a new pair of sunglasses materialized in his hand. He slipped them onto his nose, and without a word, he followed the angels out of Astrid’s office, and down the hall.

The walk was shorter than he anticipated. Uriel led them through the winding labyrinth of hallways before leading them down a short flight of stairs. He paused outside of a rather nondescript door, and waved his hand in a complicated motion. A large, wrought iron key appeared in his hand, and Crowley noticed with interest that it appeared to have been engraved with swirling sigils and indecipherable Enochian, all of which seemed to glow faintly as Uriel slipped it into the keyhole, and turned.

The Archangel pulled the door, and held it open as he ushered Crowley and Astrid inside.

“Here we are,” he said, snapping his fingers. Lights flared to life above them, illuminating the room.

Or, rather, room was a bit of an understatement. A more appropriate term would have been ‘bunker.’

Rows upon rows of various weapons filled the room. Swords in scabbards, guns lined neatly on pegs, bows and crossbows with quivers of arrows, spears, maces, truncheons, daggers, claymores, axes...

Along the walls, gleaming armor stood proud and ready, and Crowley distantly remembered having his own, thought he could not remember having ever needed it, in much the same way that he could not remember other aspects of his former life as an angel. But what he could remember, vivid and bright against some of the rather foggy recesses of his memory, was Aziraphale, proud and strong, flaming sword at his side, standing at the Eastern Gate of Eden, his armor shining in the perfect sunlight. He felt his throat tighten, and he immediately set his sights on several of the guns along one row, if only to dispel the memory.

“What, exactly, should we take?” Astrid asked, somewhat sheepishly, and Crowley realized that before tonight and her stunt with the sword in the prison, it was unlikely Astrid had ever held a weapon of any sort in her entire life.  

“Only what we need.” Crowley answered. He perused the guns in front of him carefully. “I’m taking Az’s sword, but I’m not about to go on a rescue mission to Hell without a Plan B.” He carefully picked up a small 9mm from the shelf and weighed it in his hand for a moment. “As for you, you’re going to need something small and easy to use.”

“Why not something like this?” Astrid gestured to a small gun with a long barrel. “Aren’t all of them basically the same?”

“That’s a Winchester .22, and it is not going anywhere near your hands. It kicks like a horse.” Crowley said, shaking his head. He took her wrist and carefully curled her hand around the grip of the 9mm. “A 9-mil is more your speed, I think. Not as much kickback, semi-automatic, thirteen rounds.” He stood behind her, and took her other hand, positioning it to cup under the butt of the gun and the heel of her other hand, and aligned her thumbs along the left side of the barrel, just above the trigger. “Keep your thumbs there, like that.” He instructed. “And make sure you bend your elbows, and lean forward when you shoot.”

Astrid nodded, and Crowley let his hands fall from hers. She did as he instructed, and leaned forward, closing one eye and aiming. “Like this?”

Crowley nodded. “Never lean back and lock your arms,” he said. He corrected her stance a bit. “Keep your feet shoulder width apart and firmly planted, preferably with one in front of the other.” He gently lowered her forearms, so that her elbows bent. “Elbows bent, Astrid. Otherwise the kick, no matter how small, will force your arms upwards, and you’re more likely to miss your target.”

“How do you know so much about this?” She asked, looking at him. His sunglasses had slid down his nose, and she could see that his yellow eyes were deep and somewhat haunted.

“I’ve been on Earth for over 6000 years.” He said. “You pick up a thing or two.”

There was something in his voice that suggested that Crowley had seen some things, some truly terrible things, in those 6000 years that he was not about to disclose, and Astrid took the hint and didn’t press the issue further.

“What about you?” She asked.

Crowley turned and walked down the row for a few moments, until finally he very carefully selected an older looking model revolver. He spun the cylinder before snapping it back into place, and closed one eye, taking mock aim. “Colt Peacemaker, 4 ¾ barrel, .45 caliber.” He said, brandishing the weapon proudly, and spun it around his finger once, grinning salaciously. “Really big in the American Old West, 1870’s. Not that I’d know; I slept through most of the 19th century.”

Uriel looked a bit perplexed at this, but Crowley ignored it. He grabbed a box of ammunition from just below where the Colt had sat, and carefully extracted six bullets, which he slipped into the cylinder. He spun the cylinder shut again, and slipped the gun into the waistband of his trousers at the small of his back, safely hidden behind the scabbard of the sword and the primary feathers of his relaxed wings.

“Are you not going to take any extra bullets?” Uriel asked.

Crowley shook his head. “It would take too long to reload. If it gets rough, that’s what the sword is for.” He looked at Astrid, and held out his hand for the 9mm. She passed it over to him without a word, and he grabbed a full magazine from below the 9mm’s designated spot on the wall, and slammed it into the butt of the gun. He cocked back the barrel, and he saw a bullet slide itself into place in the chamber. He made sure to flip the safety on, and handed the gun back to Astrid, pointing at the safety and the hammer.

“If you have to use this, make sure the safety is down, and you cock the hammer back towards you. Then fire away. Pray that thirteen is really a lucky number, because that’s the only number of rounds you’ve got, so use them wisely. Got it?”

Astrid nodded, but her green eyes were huge as she took the gun gingerly in her hands.

Crowley turned back to Uriel. “We need chimera talismans, if you have any to spare. Can you get us a few?”

Uriel nodded. “This way.”

He waved them towards the back wall of the bunker, where a glass case stood. Inside were several talismans; most were in the shapes of crucifixes, but a few were more obscure, and plain. Uriel produced another key from his pocket – this one much smaller – and fitted it into the lock on the case. He opened the glass door, and nodded to Crowley.

“Take your pick.” He said.

Crowley didn’t hesitate to grab two of the more plain shaped talismans; to any general observer, they would not appear to be anything out of ordinary jewelry adornment. One was oval shaped, and fit neatly into the palm of his hand; the other was more rectangular, with the corners and edges smoothed so that it bowed slightly, as though it were made to fit around a wrist. He handed this one to Astrid.

“Once we get to the portal to Hell, we’ll activate it.” He said. He looked at Uriel. “How long do these things last?”

“A little less than an hour.” Uriel answered. “Can you get in and get out in that time?”

Crowley nodded. He was sure of it. If Hastur was as predictable as his history suggested, he’d be exactly where Crowley suspected in the dungeons.

“I think so, yeah.” He said.

Uriel nodded. “Good. Because I highly suspect that Michael is going to get wind that you’ve escaped prison, sooner rather than later. And he’s not going to be pleased. The sooner you can get into Hell, get Aziraphale, and get back to Heaven, the better.” His grey eyes were serious. “Do you understand?”

“We understand.” Astrid said. Crowley felt something small and warm slip against his palm, and he realized it was Astrid’s hand.

Uriel waved his hand, and a chalk circle appeared on the floor in front of them. Light filled with circle, heavenly dust particles swaying within it, suddenly disturbed from their slumber.

“This will take you back to Aziraphale’s bookshop.” Uriel explained. “I’ll leave the door open for you.” He stepped back, spreading his wings. “Good luck.”

And with that, he was gone.

Crowley let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding as soon as the Archangel disappeared. He turned his head and looked at Astrid, who looked similarly relieved.

“Are you ready?” She asked. Her green eyes were wide, almost glassy, with unshed tears.

“I am.” He said.

Crowley thought about Aziraphale, screaming his name, and he offered up a silent prayer as he and Astrid stretched out their wings, and stepped, hand in hand, into the light, in a single moment of hope that Aziraphale might be able to hear him. It was a long shot, he knew, but he offered it anyway.

I’m coming, Az. He said. Please, hold on. I’m coming.

Chapter Text

 

 

They materialized back in the backroom of Aziraphale’s bookshop, just as Uriel had promised. The light from the chalk circle illuminated the dark room, casting eerily holy shadows across the stacks of books and floorboards, and Crowley snapped his fingers, and the lamp in the corner switched on. He felt another lump form in the back of his throat as he became aware of the familiar surroundings, usually so comfortable with the angel’s presence, and now disquieting and stagnant without him there. Crowley could still smell Aziraphale’s scent as it lingered in the air, and he rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, dislodging his sunglasses.

“Are you okay?” Astrid asked, laying her hand on his shoulder.

“Yeah.” Crowley answered quickly. “Just…dust, you know?” He tried to give her a somewhat watery grin. “Aziraphale has the placement of dust down to an art form.”

Astrid smiled gently at him.

“We’re going to get him back, Crowley.” She said gently. “Don’t worry.”

“Me? I’m not worried.” Crowley assured her, straightening his sunglasses. “I’m bloody pissed off.” He adjusted the strap of the scabbard across his chest, and tucked the Colt more firmly into his waistband. “Let’s go.”

He led her through the bookshop, both of them carefully stepping over the still upturned bookshelves and scattered tomes across the floor. Crowley’s eyes lingered on the dark stain on the rug for a moment, before he finally forced himself to look away, and back towards the door in front of him.

The Bentley was where he’d left it on the street, and the clamps on the wheels disappeared with another snap of his fingers. He looked both ways before he and Astrid dashed across the street, and Crowley fished the keys from his trouser pocket. He unlocked the door and slipped inside. He sat the sword and Colt on the seat next to him before leaning across the seat to unlock the passenger door; Astrid slid in beside him, and she laid the 9mm next to his own weapons.

“How far is this portal, exactly?” She asked.

“About a twenty minute drive from here, if I speed.” Crowley said. “Otherwise, around thirty.” He turned the key in the ignition, and the Bentley roared to life, and Queen’s “Killer Queen” erupted. Crowley turned it down with a thought; he wasn’t in the mood for Freddie Mercury right now.

“Heaven got him, you know.” Astrid said offhandedly.

Crowley raised an eyebrow. “What, Freddie Mercury? Not a chance.”

“No, I’m serious.” Astrid assured him. “And I’m just as surprised as you are, but our side definitely got him.”

“Never would have guessed that would happen.” Crowley mused, turning left towards Mayfair. “Here’s hoping he gives Elgar and Liszt a run for their bloody money. Eternity in Heaven might be bearable, so long as you’ve got Queen.”

He saw Astrid turn to look at him.

“What do you remember of Heaven?” She asked.

“It’s boring as fuck, you can’t get a decent drink, and most everyone has their heads up their arses.” Crowley answered without missing a beat.

“Is that why you left?” She asked. She cocked her head to the side, curiously.

Crowley was quiet, for a moment. “I never meant to.” He said quietly. “It just…sort of happened. I just was in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time.”

“What was your name? Your True Name? And your rank?” Astrid probed.

“I don’t remember.” Crowley said, a bit testily. “They strip you of your angelic True Name and your rank when you Fall, Astrid. You leave your name and your rank at the door on your way out.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I mean, sure, I remember what it was like to be angel, but do I remember who I was as one?” He shook his head. “No. Not all of it, anyway. I remember my True Name started with a crah sound, so when I showed up in Hell, they thought I was trying to say Crawly, and well, the rest is self-explanatory.”  

Astrid was silent, and Crowley couldn’t stand the pity he saw in her green eyes.

“What does it feel like?” She asked, very softly. “To Fall?”

Crowley didn’t answer her.

How do you describe such pain, such isolation, such helplessness, such absolute and utter despair? How do you even begin to tell of such suffering? Of losing everything? Everything you’ve ever known and loved?

Finally, Crowley said, “I didn’t so much as Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards, thank you very much.” It was a half-arsed attempt at imbuing the topic with dry sarcasm, and Crowley knew it, but he was not too keen on going into the details. Not right now. Not with what he had standing in front of them.

Not when, frankly, it still hurt to think about, even after 6000 years of denial.  

Astrid sighed. She reached out and laid a gentle hand on Crowley’s shoulder.

“For what it’s worth,” she said, cautiously. “I think you’re still much more angel than you’ve ever been demon.”

Crowley swallowed, and said nothing. Astrid let her hand drop back into her lap, and they didn’t speak again until Crowley pulled the Bentley up to a curb in front of a narrow, darkened alley nestled between two buildings, right across the street from a quiet cemetery. He clamped the wheels, and grabbed the Colt, double checking that the safety was on before he tucked it back into the waistband of his trousers. He checked the safety on Astrid’s 9mm before handing it back to her, and the female angel slipped the gun into her pants pocket, where it was hidden by her long shirt.

“Alright,” Crowley said, and they made their way into the dim light of the alley, away from the prying eyes of the humans on the street, who, honestly, were not paying them any attention to begin with. He turned to look at Astrid, who had pulled a hair tie from somewhere, and was using it to tie back her long blonde hair into a messy braid. “A few things first. Ground rules.”

Astrid nodded at him to continue, the hair tie between her teeth.

“First things first, keep your wings winched in at all times, unless it’s absolutely necessary.” Crowley instructed sternly. “Your wings are the most sensitive appendages on your body and believe me, you never turn your wings to a demon. You don’t want to give anyone that advantage over you, got it?”

He saw Astrid pale a bit as she took the hair tie from her mouth and use it to secure the end of the braid. She shuddered, and from the way she crossed her arms around herself, he could tell that had her wings been manifested, she’d have wrapped them around her.

“Two, stay next to me at all times.” He said. “I’m a demon of no rank whatsoever, so it’s not likely I’ll be noticed. With that chimera talisman, you shouldn’t garner any attention either, but better safe than sorry should anyone ask any questions. Better yet, let me do the talking should it come to that, alright?”

“Okay.” Astrid agreed.

“Third, let me handle Hastur.” Crowley could feel the heat at the center of his chest rising to near suffocating levels, the rage burning under his skin. “I don’t think I need to make that clear, but Hastur is mine.”

Astrid didn’t say anything, but her wide eyes told Crowley that she understood what he meant without him having to say it. Hastur had condemned himself to death at Crowley’s hand the moment he touched Aziraphale. Crowley had every intention of making him regret the day he was created.

“Fourth, we get in, we get out. The chimera talisman will only work for just under an hour, then we need to book it. We go in, get down to the dungeons, find Aziraphale, and get out. The less we’re here, the better.

“Fifth, should the need arise to use that gun, use it, but don’t be a hero. Don’t do anything stupid to get yourself hurt or killed, okay?” He looked at her seriously over the rim of his glasses. Her green eyes met his. She gave him a half grin.

“Does this mean you care about me, Crowley?” She said, a teasing edge to her voice.

“You’ve grown on me, kid.” Crowley said, trying to return the humor, knowing it would die as soon as they stepped foot into Hell. “You’ve done nothing but help me, and I’ll be blessed if I let you get hurt because of me.”

“Anything else I should know?” Astrid asked.

Crowley sighed and shook his head. “Everything else is self-explanatory.” He locked the Bentley, and slipped his keys into his trouser pocket. He faced the alleyway, squared his shoulders, and led the way. “Let’s go.”

He led the way into the shadows of the alley. They walked towards the back, where a dumpster had been pushed against the wall of one of the buildings. Crowley pointed at it, and the dumpster moved aside to reveal what appeared to be a painting of a door on the wall behind it. He walked up to it, and pressed his palm against it, and chanted a few ancient words under his breath. The wall beneath his hand grew hot, and when he pulled his hand away, he could see a glowing outline of where it had been. Very slowly, the edges of the door began to glow as well, becoming more three-dimensional and distinct, as though they were growing out of and separating from the wall it was painted onto. After a few moments, the glow faded, and the door settled into the plane of existence as though it had every right to be there.

“Alright.” Crowley said, reaching for the handle. It was hot, but did not burn him. He twisted it carefully, and the door swung open inwards, revealing a long, winding descending staircase, dimly lit by flickering torches in brackets on the wall.

“It’s a long way down, and we’ve got to be fast.” Crowley instructed. He held out his hand. “Give me the chimera talisman.”

Astrid slipped it from around her neck, and handed it to the demon. Crowley lightly traced over the pendant with his fingertips, whispering the Latin incantation that would activate it.

 “Nam et si ambulavero in valle umbrae mortis, non timebo mala.”

The talisman in his hand began to pulse a light blue color, indicating it had been activated, and had accepted the incantation.

Astrid smiled and raised an eyebrow. “The 23rd Psalm?” She asked.

Crowley shrugged and looped the cord of the talisman around her neck. She tucked it into her t-shirt. Crowley extended his hand again, and she took it.

Crowley led them down the stairs, quietly, his yellow eyes wide and focused on each step as they descended further into the abyss that he hadn’t set foot into in, well, a few hundred years. Hell had never been a place Crowley hung around if he could absolutely help it, and the last time he’d been here, it had been for a mandatory meeting addressing the advent of the printing press, and how they should thusly use their skills as field agents of Hell to make sure that a profit could be turned from it all.

“More and more people are becoming educated,” the instructor had said. “And it’s your job to make sure the Other Side doesn’t muck it all up. Just don’t muck it up for our side in the process.”

As they descended further, the air became thick and hot, and faint screams could be heard permeating through the stone walls. Crowley felt Astrid’s hand in his tighten when there was a loud bang, like something very, very large hitting something very, very solid, and the staircase shook, dirt, cobwebs, and loose stones rattling free as something from somewhere deep in the pits continued its tirade. Crowley pulled Astrid against his side as an entire brick dislodged, and fell past them, barely missing the angel in the process. Astrid pressed her face against his shoulder.

“It’s okay.” Crowley whispered, curling his arm around her shoulder to keep her pressed against his side. “Just stay close to me.”

They made their way further down, Crowley stopping every few steps to listen carefully before continuing on. Eventually, they emerged at level area of ground, and Crowley led them both away from the stairs towards the arched doorway. He pressed them against the wall for a second, and his hand went to the gun in the waistband of his trousers, ready to pull it out at a moment’s notice. Astrid mirrored his actions, her hand hovering just above the 9mm in her pocket.

“I don’t hear anything,” she whispered.

Crowley shushed her. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t lurkers about.” He said quietly. He flicked his head towards the room beyond the doorway. “Stay close and let’s go. We need to get down the hall and make a left, then find the stairs that lead down to sublevel A. We’ll find Hastur’s dungeons there.”

Astrid nodded, absorbing the information. She wrapped her hand around the butt of her gun, finding comfort in its solidity.

“I’m going to scout ahead, make sure no one is around the corner.” Crowley said. He slipped the scabbard from his back, and pulled the Colt from his waistband, handing both to Astrid, along with the sunglasses from his face. “Hold onto these for me.”

“What? Why can’t you—”

Astrid’s never got to finish. In a blink, Crowley was gone, and instead, a large, black snake with shining, almost iridescent scales laid at her feet, his tongue flicking out, tasting the air. Had it not been for the familiar yellow eyes, Astrid would have screamed.

“Ssstay here.” Crowley hissed.

Astrid watched as he slithered down the hall, pausing intermittently to taste the air before continuing on, rounding the corner. She didn’t dare move, barely dared to breathe; the air around her was thick and hot, and sweat had begun to bead along her hairline and the nape of her neck. Her mind went to Aziraphale, and how he’d been here for nigh on three days now, suffering unimaginable pain and torture in such a dismal place as this. Every second she spent here, the more the anxiety Astrid was barely keeping at bay crept closer and closer forward. She closed her eyes and pressed her back against the wall, holding the sword and Colt tight against her chest. She took in a shaky breath.

Please hurry, Crowley.

After what seemed like hours, but couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, Astrid heard the faint sound of hissing. She opened her eyes to find Crowley just slithering back towards her. Within a second, he had changed back into his preferred shape, shaking his head as thought to clear it.

“I hate doing that.” He admitted, giving her a shaky grin. “I’m always worried I’ll forget how to change back.”

“It’s amazing!” Astrid said as she handed him his sunglasses first, then the scabbard and Colt.

Crowley shrugged. “Eh, you learn a few things as a demon.” He said, somewhat snarkily. “The coast is clear. We need to hurry.”

Astrid nodded, and followed close at his heels as he led the way down the hall, and rounded the corner. As they ran farther and farther, noises began to permeate the hot hair around them. Astrid heard shrieks of unadulterated agony filter through the stone walls, and she shuddered, sprinting just a little bit faster behind Crowley. The sooner they found Zira and got out of here, the better.

Crowley came to an abrupt stop, and Astrid nearly crashed into his back.

“What the—” She asked, but Crowley clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Shh!” He hissed. “Listen.”

Astrid couldn’t hear anything over the sounds of the muffled screams around her. Crowley’s eyes were blown wide, his head cocked slightly to the side as he listened intently.

“Hastur’s dungeons are this way!” He said, dropping his hand from Astrid’s mouth to grab her wrist. “I can hear Aziraphale!”

“How do you know it’s him?” Astrid asked.

“I just do!” Crowley said.

They two of them rounded the corner.

And came face to face with four demons.

 

...oOo...

 

“Oh, fuck.” Crowley swore. He pressed Astrid behind him, trying to shield her, hoping – even damn near bloody praying – that her chimera talisman was enough to hide her. The four demons had turned to look at them, and were regarding him with cool detachment, their eyes appraising him in such a way that he suddenly felt very much like a snake in the grass being stared down by a secretary bird*.

(*Dammit; he hated that feeling.)

The demons before them weren’t high ranking; they were barely even imps, if Crowley could parse enough from looking at them alone. They were humanoid in shape with a male outline, skulking around the corridors aimlessly. It was obvious they were newer recruits; they all reeked of sulphur and brimstone, probably impish interns newly drafted from the Pits.

“Hey, fellas,” Crowley said, trying for nonchalance. “What’s up?”

The demons regarded him with cool indifference as they started forward, slowly making their way towards him. Crowley backed up, pressing Astrid between the wall and his back, and he felt her fist routing in his red shirt. He silently begged her not to make a sound, to not even breathe if she could possibly help it.

“Not a group of talkers, then.” Crowley chuckled nervously as the four demons continued to advance towards in slow, somewhat smug strides.

“We know who you are, Anthony Crowley,” one of the demons said, its voice grating and faintly garbled. "And we know why you’re here.”

“Oh, really now?” Crowley said. “And can’t a gent pop back home for a cup of tea every now and then?”

Another of the demons laughed, harsh and without humor. “You’re here for the angel Aziraphale.” It said. Another scream lit through the air, and Crowley’s blood chilled when he recognized it as Aziraphale’s. He advanced closer. “And we’ve been trusted to make sure you don’t find him.”

“Aww, Hastur sent a little welcome party for me?” Crowley tried to grin. “I’m touched.”

“Hastur figured you’d show up sooner or later.” Another one of the demons said. “So he put us up to making sure if you did decide to step a toe into Hell, you wouldn’t make it past the hallway.”

“And,” the final demon ground. “If you think that little chimera talisman is enough to mask the stench of that pretty little angel behind you, you’re dumber than Hastur said you are. We may not be able to see her, but we can smell her fear.”

Astrid whimpered behind him, and he pressed himself more firmly against her. If they wanted Astrid, they’d have to go through him first.

His wings itched from where he kept them on the metaphysical plane, and he ignored the urge to release them, if only to provide a moment of distraction to the demons in front of him. These weren’t members of the Fallen, that much he could parse; these were human demons, demons who had been made from the most rotten and dark of souls to be found within the bowels of the Pits, handpicked for their nastiness; they wouldn’t have wings.

“Alright, alright,” Crowley said, trying to feign calm as the anxiety began to build in the back of his throat. The demons advanced even closer, barely an arm’s length away now. “We can talk about this.”

“There’s nothing to discuss, Crowley.” One of the demons said, flashing him a sharp smile that sent chills down Crowley’s spine. “Our orders are simple. Should you show your face here, we’re to make sure you don’t get very far.”

“Hastur’s having a bang up time with that angel of yours, by the way,” Another demon sneered. “He’s been screaming for you for hours.”

The demons charged.

Crowley’s hand flew to the Colt in the back of his waistband, and he whipped it out, using the butt end to pistol whip the nearest demon in the temple, knocking it to the ground. He clicked off the safety, knocked back the hammer, and aimed the gun at the next demon nearest him, and fired, hitting it square in the chest.

The demon recoiled from the impact of the bullet, and fell to the ground. Crowley did not know the capabilities of Heaven’s weapons against demons, even human demons, within Hell’s parameters, but he was not about to question the effectiveness as the demon at his feet twitched and then fell still. Whether it was dead or just momentarily stunned, he didn’t care; it was dealt with for the moment, and that’s all he needed.

He aimed the gun at the next nearest demon, and fired. It missed, the demon sidestepping it in a split second, and Crowley cursed. He fired again, this time clipping the demon in the shoulder. It cried out in pain, and Crowley raised his leg to kick it square in the chest, using all of his strength to send it flying backwards. It hit the wall with a crack, and fell to the floor limply, blood slowly spreading in a pool around it. He stepped forward towards the third demon, and fired another bullet, but missed, the bullet firing into the air as the demon lunged towards him. It tackled him to the ground, baring sharp teeth as it went for his throat. Crowley hissed angrily as he flipped the imp off and over his shoulder, rolling back onto his feet. He aimed, fired, and hit the demon between the eyes.

Crowley heard Astrid scream, and he spun around, the Colt already raised and ready, to see the fourth demon slap the 9mm out of Astrid’s trembling hands, grinning salaciously at her as it cornered her. Astrid tried to make a break for it, only to have the demon reach out and grab her by her braid, yanking her back violently into a chokehold.

“Let her go!” Crowley hissed, pointing the Colt (and the final bullet) at the demon’s head.

The demon grinned. “Oh, I don’t think so.” It said. It gently caressed a claw against Astrid’s jugular, and the female angel winced as it grazed the skin there. Crowley could see the barely contained panic cross her face as the demon pressed a bit harder at the skin, just barely breaking it. “I think I’m going to slit her pretty little throat, and watch as she bleeds out on the floor.”

“I said let her go!” Crowley demanded. “Or so help me, I’ll fucking shoot you!”

The imp laughed. “You think I won’t just move at the last second, so that she’s directly in your path?! Guess again!”

“Hurting her won’t stop me!” Crowley said. “It’ll only succeed in royally pissing me off, so I’d suggest you let the angel go.”

“Crowley, go.” Astrid said, her voice shaking. “Leave me, and get to Aziraphale.”

“Not happening, sweetheart.” Crowley said. He snarled at the demon holding her captive. “Not a chance in Heaven, Hell, or anywhere in between.”

“Crowley,” Astrid snapped. Her voice was a bit louder, more biting. “Leave me and get. To. Zira!”

“I’m not leaving you.” He bit out. “I already told you that. I’m not leaving here without you.” He cocked back the hammer of the Colt, and took a step closer to the demon. “Now let. Her. GO!”

“Maybe I’ll just keep her,” the demon taunted, leaning in close to Astrid’s face to sniff her hair. Astrid bit her lip and screwed her eyes closed, trying to remain as calm as possible. “She does smell delicious, all angelic and terrified. Not much different from your angel, as I’ve heard.”

“Shut up.” Crowley snapped.

“Yeah, that’s right.” The demon continued. “I’d heard he’s absolutely delicious, and if his screams are anything to go by, whooo, I can understand why you’ve been bending that one over for the last couple years.”

“I said, shut up!” Crowley shouted, and pulled the trigger.

The bullet hit the demon right in the middle of the forehead. It staggered for a moment, its eyes glazing over, before it released its hold on Astrid, and fell forward, and didn’t move. Crowley tucked the Colt, now ammo-less, back into the waistband of his trousers, and hurried over to Astrid, putting an arm around her trembling shoulders.

“Are you okay?” He asked, tipping her chin up so he could inspect her neck, where the demon had pressed its claws. The skin was untouched.

“I’m fine.” Astrid said, struggling to find her breath. “Let’s just get to Aziraphale!”

Crowley nodded, and grabbed her hand, pulling her down the hallway, past the bodies of the four demons. Screams – now more muffled than before – could still be heard as they rounded the corner, reverberating off the walls, and Crowley felt his palms begin to sweat.

“There!” He said, pointing ahead. “That’s the door to Hastur’s dungeons!”

He let go of Astrid’s hand, and pressed them both against the wall. The door was cracked open, and Crowley put a finger to his lips to indicate quiet. Astrid nodded.

Crowley very slowly peeked through the crack in the door.

Aziraphale was as he had been when Hastur had sent them a message via the telly, shackled against a wall, his legs barely holding him up as Hastur carved a white hot knife slowly down his ribs, his blond curls matted with blood, and soaked with sweat. His entire torso was littered with bruises, burns, and gashes of every shape and size, blood staining every inch of his skin like a perverse jumper. A gag had been forced between his teeth, cutting off his cries of pain as Hastur pressed just a little harder with the knife into his skin, slipping it inwards below a rib. Crowley’s heart broke at the broken sound his angel made as the glowing blade left his body.

“You know, this is all getting just a bit…boring, if I’m being honest.” Hastur ground out as he slipped the knife, just as slowly as he’d inserted it, from Aziraphale’s body. Aziraphale slumped with relief, his entire body shaking violently as he wheezed for breath. He glared at the former Duke weakly, unable to speak due to the gag.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” Hastur said, regarding the knife for a moment before he tossed it aside. “It’s been fun, testing the effects of hellfire on the corporation of an angel, but, you see, there’s not much room left.” He grinned and wound a hand in Aziraphale’s matted curls, pulling the angel’s head up, pressing it back against the stone wall. Even from where he was standing, peering through the crack in the door, Crowley could see how hard of a time Aziraphale was having staying conscious. He swallowed, his fingernails cutting perfect crescent shapes into the palms of his hands as they fisted tightly at his sides, and he gritted his teeth. Despite every nerve in his body telling him to go, to get to Aziraphale, he willed himself to remain where he was, if only until Hastur was distracted.

“But, you know,” Hastur said, leaning in close to Aziraphale’s ear, and Crowley growled when he saw him nip at the skin of Az’s neck. The angel shuddered, trying to turn his head away from the former Duke, but the hand in his hair stopped him from getting far. “There’s still room elsewhere.”

Hastur trailed his hand down the angel’s bleeding chest, his fingers smearing the blood in nearly obscene lines downwards, until his hand rested at Aziraphale’s hip.

“Let’s see what has Crawly so whipped, shall we?” Hastur purred, and then his hands were at Aziraphale’s waistband, fumbling with his belt. Aziraphale whimpered, the sound high and tinny, desperate and frightened, and that’s when Crowley saw red.

Abandoning all logic thought and any notion of strategy, Crowley charged into the room, and barreled into Hastur, knocking the other demon to the ground heavily.

Get your fucking hands off of him!” He snarled, hands going for Hastur’s throat. Hastur, only momentarily caught off guard, unsheathed his claws and grabbed for Crowley’s wrists, wrestling him back. Both demons vied for control for several seconds before Hastur raised a knee and thrust it into Crowley’s ribs. Crowley gasped in pain as he felt one crack, and Hastur used this moment to kick him back and off of him. Crowley scrambled to his feet, his cracked rib knitting itself back together as he planted himself firmly between Hastur and Aziraphale, his wings manifested and flared out protectively. He pulled the sword from the scabbard over his shoulder, and held it in front of him.

“Always were a killjoy, Crawly,” Hastur drawled, grinning devilishly at Crowley. “Sure you don’t want to watch? I was just getting to the fun part.”

Crowley hissed, baring his teeth in a snarl not unlike a serpent’s.

“I told you I’d kill you if you put your hands on him,” he snapped. “And I fucking meant it!”

Hastur tsked him. “And I promised you that if you stepped a foot in Hell, I’d kill your angelic fucktoy. Such a waste, too. He’s been such fun to play with.”

“Never call him that!” Crowley’s hands tightened around the hilt of the sword. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Astrid had snuck into the dungeon, her chimera talisman enough to mask her from Hastur’s attention. She was slowly slinking her way towards her brother, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

“Oh, strike a nerve there, did I?” Hastur chuckled darkly. “Oh, but I forgot. You love this blithering bastard. You love him so much you went to Heaven for him. I can smell it all over you. Tell me, Crowley, is it still just as infernal as I remember it?”

“Stop talking.” Crowley commanded. He took a step forward, towards the former Duke of Hell.

“He prayed to you, you know.” Hastur said, nonchalantly. “Screamed for you. For hours on end. Get the little message I sent all the way up in Heaven, did you?”

Crowley froze, and swallowed around the lump in his throat at the memory of the sounds of Aziraphale’s cries of agony, screaming for Crowley to help him, to save him. Hastur must have noticed this momentary pause, because he grinned toothily.

“Oh, you did, didn’t you?” He mused.

“Shut up, Hastur.” Crowley took a step forward. “I’m not leaving here without him, and if you want him, you’ll have to go through me. Which, if I recall, you won’t, seeing as I’m untouchable.”

“You were until you crossed into my domain, you bloody idiot. I may not be a Duke of Hell anymore, thanks to you and all that bugger-all with the Apocalypse, but I’ve still got territory. Way I see it? You’ve gone and attacked me on my own turf. ‘S far as I’m aware, that’s grounds to defend what’s mine.” Hastur narrowed his eyes. “So here’s what’s gonna happen, Crawly. I’m going to kill you, but not before I make you watch as I rip your precious Aziraphale in half, make you watch as he dies right in front of you. And then, I’m going to catch that pretty little Astrid and kill her, too. I know she’s here; I can smell that angelic stench a mile away. And then, after I’m done with those two, I’ll take you apart, just like I did your angel, nice and slow, and make you beg for death.”

Hastur slowly began to circle around Crowley, who followed his movements, taking a step backwards to keep him from getting any closer to Aziraphale and Astrid. He could hear Astrid whispering softly to Aziraphale, telling him it was going to be okay, and he hoped he was able to fend Hastur off long enough for her to free Az, and get them both of out there, and back to Heaven, where they’d be safe. Even if it meant his death, he’d do it.

He rolled his shoulders, and squared his footing, gripping the sword just a bit tighter. His wings rippled behind him, powerful and lean, and at the ready. He’d never been much of a soldier – much more likely to avoid the conflict out right, him – but he knew enough. Moreover, he was willing to do whatever it took to get. Aziraphale. Out.

“You wanna fight, Hastur?” He drawled. “Fine. You and me. Let’s make a deal.”

“A deal?” Hastur raised an eyebrow. “Alright, Crawly, I’ll play. What’re your rules?”

“I win, you let Aziraphale go, and you don’t touch Astrid. You let us walk out of here, and you never bother us again.”

“And if I win?”

“You still let them go. You give them safe passage out of Hell, and you can have me. You can do whatever you want with me, you just let them go. I’ll give myself over to you.”

Hastur seemed to ponder this for a moment, eyeing Crowley, as though gauging whether or not the wager was worth it. Crowley knew the whole reason Hastur had kidnapped Aziraphale, had tortured his angel in the first place, was to get back at Crowley, to make him pay, make him suffer, because as far as Hell was concerned, Crowley was a liability, and was not to be touched. But, if he gave himself to Hastur willingly, the rules that applied to him as an exile were null and void.

After a moment, Hastur grinned and cracked his neck, his fingers elongating into claws. A long metal rod appeared in his hand, and Crowley recognized it as the branding iron he’d used to burn the Binding sigil into Aziraphale. He felt a wave of hatred wash over his being, pure and as hot as any hellfire.

He would make Hastur pay.

“Prepare to be destroyed, Crawly.” Hastur sneered, and charged.

Crowley raised his sword in record time, as Hastur brought the branding iron over his head and brought it down upon Crowley with terrifying force. It clanged against the metal of the sword, and Crowley pushed the bar back, only to have Hastur swing again, this time from a different angle. Crowley parried the attack, using his wings to help his balance as Hastur gave a hard shove backwards when their weapons clashed again, pressing against one another. Crowley pressed back, and was able to get a firm enough footing to gain the upper hand. He used one his wings to momentarily distract Hastur, before he kicked upwards, and flew into the air.

Hastur let out a furious snarl, and Crowley grinned triumphantly. He knew for a fact that Hastur, despite being a Fallen angel himself, had lost his wings some millennia ago in a rather nasty altercation with Michael, sometime around the time of Sodom, though Hastur was never clear on the details. Which meant that Crowley had an advantage that Hastur did not: flight.

“What’s wrong, Hastur?” He taunted. “Lose your wings?”

“Get down here, you bastard!” Hastur howled. “You know bloody well I can’t fly! You want to fight me, you fight me on the ground!”

“All’s fair in love and war, Hastur. And as far as I’m concerned…” Crowley said, and flew just a bit higher to avoid Hastur’s jump for his ankles. He pointed the sword down at the other demon. “You declared war the moment you laid a finger on Aziraphale.”

Hastur howled, and made another leap for Crowley, who dodged it easily, and swept the sword through the air. Hastur raised the branding iron and caught the strike, and struck back. As Hastur began to circle beneath him, obviously calculating his next move, Crowley dared a glance at the two angels near the wall. Astrid had taken the gag from Aziraphale’s mouth, and was still talking to her brother as Az slumped against her, his wrists still encased in the manacles, and Astrid's hands were pressing against where Hastur had stabbed him, blood covering her hands. Aziraphale had dropped his head to her shoulder, and Crowley could hear him moaning in pain as Astrid pressed harder, offering a litany of apologies as she did so.

Hastur must have noticed his momentary deficit in attention, and used it to his advantage. He jumped up and grasped Crowley by the ankle, using all of his weight to bring Crowley down. Crowley let out a gasp of surprise, and flapped his wings, thwarting Hastur’s move. Still, Hastur held on, sinking his claws into the skin of Crowley’s leg where his trousers had ridden up, into the meat of his calf. Crowley bit back a yelp of pain, and kicked, trying to dislodge Hastur’s grip from his ankle, sending a wave of air downwards as he flapped his wings, and Hastur let go. Crowley could feel blood running down his calf, pooling into the fabric of his socks, and he hissed angrily as he swooped down to retaliate. Hastur anticipated this, and in a flash, struck out with his claws again, this time catching Crowley in the thigh. The claws tore through his trousers, leaving bloody gashes in the skin beneath, but they weren’t deep, and Crowley focused on healing them as he flew back up and tried to calculate his next move. Hastur grinned nastily at him.

“Still think you can win, Crowley?” He asked.

“Do you?” Crowley bit out as he felt his skin knit back together, agonizingly slowly. Shit that stung!

Hastur’s only reply was another filthy grin, and he snapped his fingers. Crowley watched as the branding iron disappeared, and in its place, Hastur had manifested a crossbow. He fired, and Crowley swept to the side, just barely dodging the arrow as it soared through the air, feeling it nick a primary feather. Hastur fired again, and Crowley dove aside. The former Duke howled in rage when yet another arrow missed. He began to fire arrow after arrow, never seeming to have to reload the crossbow as he did so. His aim began to become erratic as he missed, Crowley expertly diving to avoid each fire, and Crowley could tell he was losing focus. He fired without preamble, without pause or strategy.

It was only a matter of time before he hit the mark. Crowley’s wingspan was well over twelve feet, the ceilings were only so high, and Crowley’s energy was fading fast, the adrenaline pulsating through his human corporation like thunder. The arrow lodged itself in the arch of his right wing, burying itself in his marginal coverts. Crowley cried out as another arrow launched through his scapulars, the pain paralyzing as it surged through him like a lightning bolt*. His wing collapsed beneath him, sending him spiraling down to the ground. He landed heavily, his entire body screaming in pain as he impacted with the cobblestone floor. Hastur let out a triumphant shout, and he heard Astrid scream his name behind him, yelling for him to get up. His vision was swimming with the pain in his wing, and he gasped as he pushed himself onto his side; his right shoulder felt wrong somehow, and Crowley knew it was probably dislocated. Crowley grasped the arrow in his scapular with a shaking hand, and ripped it from his wing with a cry of agony, blood gushing sluggishly from the wound. Trembling fingers pressed against it, and he hissed as he tried to focus healing energy towards it, but his mind was hazy, his motions jerky with pain, and he found he could not muster the energy needed to do the job properly, and he dropped his hand, leaving the job half finished; at the very least, it had stopped bleeding. He grasped the other arrow, pulling it out with a swift yank, whimpering. He fell back, grasping at his dislocated shoulder with his free hand, nausea rising in the back of his throat, choking him, doubling him over.

Fuck it hurt.

(*Crowley had been struck by lightning once, in 1587. He still had the vine-like scars it left down his spine and the back of his left leg.)

He’d lost the sword somewhere in his descent, and as he looked up, he saw Hastur stoop to pick it up from the ground, hefting it in his hands for a moment with a wicked smile. He started towards Crowley, and all Crowley could do was stumble back helplessly. There was nowhere he could go, no weapon he could grab to defend himself with. This was it. This was the end.

“I believe,” Hastur sneered. “That this means I’ve won.”

Crowley swallowed, his breath shallow, as Hastur came closer.

“Any last words, Crowley?” He asked.

“Fuck you, Hassstur.” Crowley spat.

Hastur laughed, and raised the sword, ready to deliver the killing blow. Crowley raised his arm, and closed his eyes, and waited for it to come.

I love you, Aziraphale. He thought, even though he knew the angel couldn't hear him. If he was going to die - for real this time - he wanted his last thoughts to be about the one being that had made his existence worth having. He wanted to hold onto his angel for just that much longer. 

The blow never came.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Crowley’s eyes shot open at the sound, and he lowered his arm to see Hastur had gone stock still, his eyes wide with shock. Three spots of black, oozing blood slowly crept over his front, and Hastur gurgled as he slowly looked down at them. The sword slipped from his grip, falling to the stone floor with a metallic clang, and Hastur raised a shaking hand to touch the blood on his chest. He looked back at Crowley, his eyes still wide; he slumped down to his knees, and then collapsed completely, his body completely still. Crowley forced his eyes away from the holes in the former Duke’s back upwards, and found Astrid standing behind Hastur’s body, the 9mm raised and aimed just as Crowley had taught her. She was breathing hard, the gun still poised in the air as though ready to fire again, as she glared at Hastur’s body.

“Get the fuck away from him.” She spat, and Crowley felt a wave of relief (and pride, at the use of profanity) rush through him. Astrid lowered the 9mm, tucking it back into her pocket, and rushed forward. Crowley gasped as she bent down to grab his arm, trying to help him up.

“Sorry!” She let go of Crowley as though he’d burned her. “I’m so sorry!”

“It’s fine.” Crowley said. He gritted his teeth and shut his eyes, hissing as the energy he needed rushed towards the wounds in his wing. He cried out as he felt his shoulder pop back into place, and he rolled it tenderly for a moment, groaning in pain. He waved her off when she tried to help him to his feet, stumbling a bit as he did so, and he shakily took a step towards the fallen body of Hastur. He stooped down to pick up the sword, and he prodded Hastur’s still back with it. The former Duke didn’t move, didn’t make a sound.

“Did I…?” Astrid asked in a tiny voice.

Crowley nodded, slowly. He sheathed the sword into the scabbard at his back. “He’s dead.”

Astrid’s green eyes were huge, and he gave her a shaky smile as he rushed towards the slumped body of his angel against the wall, Astrid not far behind him. He reached out and took Aziraphale’s face in his hands, and gently raised the angel’s head, healing the oozing cuts on Aziraphale’s cheek without a second thought.

“Aziraphale!” Crowley said, urgently, stroking back Aziraphale’s soaked curls. “Hey, I'm here. I'm here, Az, I'm here." 

Aziraphale moaned, and his eyes fluttered open. His blue eyes were glassy with pain, unable to focus. His head lolled in Crowley’s hands.

“Aziraphale!” Crowley cried again. He shook the angel gently, and tipped his chin up, peering into the glazed eyes of the angel. “Az, look at me, please! I need you to look at me!”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale’s voice was rough, like knives, likely from the screaming. His eyes seemed to clear for a second, and he smiled feebly. His breath was shallow, and Crowley could hear him wheezing. “You came.”

“Of course I came, you prat.” Crowley said gently, leaning forward to press his forehead to Aziraphale’s. “I promised I would.”

“I was…worried you wouldn’t…” Aziraphale sagged against Crowley, breathing heavily. 

“I’ll always come for you, angel.” Crowley said, pressing a kiss to Az's forehead as he pulled away to look up at the manacles pinning Aziraphale’s wrists to the wall. He frowned at them.

“I couldn’t get them to budge.” Astrid said. “Every time I tried, the symbols on the metal made my head swim, and they burned my hands.”

“That’s because those are anti-angel sigils,” Crowley said. He let go of Aziraphale’s face, and ran a hand across the metal. His hands tingled curiously as he did so, but the sigils burned bright for a moment before the clicked open. Aziraphale’s blistered wrists were released, and, without the manacles holding him up, the Principality slumped forward. Crowley caught him, gingerly lowering him to the ground to cradle him in his arms. Aziraphale moaned piteously.

“Shhh, angel, I’ve got you.” Crowley soothed, wrapping his wings around them like a blanket. “You’re safe, Az. I’ve got you.”

Aziraphale’s shaking hands grasped weakly at Crowley’s now bloodstained red shirt. He coughed, the motion wracking his entire body violently.

“Hurts…” He whimpered, curling into Crowley.

“I know.” Crowley cooed. “I know it does, angel. We’re going to get you out of here.”

He did a quick inventory of Aziraphale’s wounds. Burns and deep gashes crisscrossed like arcane symbols across the bruised flesh of the angel’s torso and chest, and the wound where Hastur had stabbed him still gushed blood whenever Aziraphale took in another ragged breath. Crowley pressed his hand against it, and Aziraphale gasped. The wound glowed beneath Crowley’s touch for a moment, and when Crowley pulled his hand away, he could see that the wound had stopped bleeding, but the wound had not closed; his healing powers were still weak from healing himself. Az’s blond curls were matted with blood, no doubt from the cut on the back of his head Crowley found as he soothingly grazed his fingernails along Aziraphale's scalp, and Crowley felt another wave of hate course through him as he imagined Hastur fisting Aziraphale’s hair and slamming his head back against the wall. His gaze fell to the three deep claw marks along Aziraphale’s left arm and shoulder, right where his wing would connect to the flesh of his back. Carefully positioning the angel more firmly in a half slump against his chest, he winced when he saw the raised flesh of the Binding sigil between Aziraphale’s shoulder blades, rendering him just a tick up from mortal, and he ached with the desire to heal it, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to; a Binding sigil that strong required a lot more healing power than he had even at full power.

Aziraphale needed to get back to Heaven, where he could be taken to Raphael, and he needed to get there fast.

“We need to get him to Raphael.” Crowley adjusted Aziraphale more firmly against his chest. The angel whimpered, and Crowley felt his heart seize at the helpless sound. He pressed a kiss to Aziraphale’s forehead comfortingly. Aziraphale opened his mouth, as if to speak, but Crowley shook his head. “No, don’t—don’t try to talk. We’re going to get you out of here.” He slipped one arm beneath Aziraphale’s shoulders, and the other behind his knees. “This might hurt, angel.”

As gently as possible, with a good bit of difficulty, he lifted the supine form of his angel into his arms. Aziraphale gasped in pain and tucked his face against the skin of Crowley’s neck, whimpering as Crowley adjusted his weight in his arms.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Crowley crooned, tightening his hold on the angel. Once he was sure that Aziraphale was secure in his arms, he wrapped his wings around him, as though shielding him, and nodded to Astrid. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

They left Hastur where he lay.

The trek back down the hall was slower that it had been when they’d first arrived, now that they had Aziraphale – injured, in pain, but alive – but they made their way back the way they’d come, slowly but surely. They stepped around the bodies of the four demons that had attacked them silently, not even giving them a second glance. They finally emerged back at the winding staircase, and paused for a moment to catch their breaths. Crowley lifted one of his wings to peer down at the burden in his arms, to see that Aziraphale was unconscious, slumped against him, his ragged breath warm and heavy against Crowley’s neck, his face still twisted with agony.

“The fastest way back up is to fly.” Crowley said after a moment, surveying the winding staircase warily. He grunted as he repositioned Aziraphale more securely against him. The angel was bloody heavy. “I don’t think I can hold onto him much longer.”

Astrid, who’d been hitherto silent, nodded, and her pristine white wings manifested. Crowley stretched his to their full span, focusing intently on making sure he got enough thrust off of the ground to get him airborne with the added weight in his arms. He and Astrid kicked off the ground, and flew upwards. Crowley’s right wing was slightly stiff with phantom aches from where Hastur had shot him with the crossbow, but he pushed past it. Astrid flew close to his heels, her face hard and worried, the wind whipping stray wisps of blonde hair from her braid as they ascended, and Crowley hoped she’d be okay. Not only had she disobeyed direct orders, broken him out of prison, and journeyed into Hell and back, but she’d also killed for the first time in her existence today. Even if it had been to save his life, he knew how hard it was to kill, especially that first time. It was enough to wear anyone down.

Finally, they reached the top of the staircase, they touched down just outside the door, which was still ajar just slightly, and winched in their wings. Crowley pushed it open with his foot and ushered Astrid through it quickly before he slammed it behind him. He muttered the incantation to seal the door once more, and the door melted back into the stone wall of the alleyway, the dumpster moving back where it had been in front of it as though it had never been moved in the first place. Crowley and Astrid hurried back towards the Bentley, which was sitting serenely at the curb in the evening sunlight, waiting patiently for their return. Crowley opened the doors with a thought, and wasted no time bundling Aziraphale into the backseat, very carefully arranging him so that his head was in Crowley’s lap. Astrid slid into the passenger seat in the front, and she looked back at Crowley expectantly.

“Crowley, I don’t know how to drive.” She said, somewhat desperately.

Crowley waved a hand in the direction of the steering wheel, and the Bentley purred to life. With another flick of his wrist, the car shifted into gear, pulled away from the curb, and began driving itself down the street, very quickly gaining speed.

They sped through the streets of Mayfair, back towards Soho, and any pedestrians they encountered along the way were suddenly overcome with the very urgent feeling that it would be best if they got out of the way, thought they weren’t sure why.

“Won’t someone see us?!” Astrid demanded, clutching the seat as the Bentley took a corner just a bit too fast. Crowley gritted his teeth, trying to focus enough energy on driving the car without actually driving it while at the same time stroking his hands through Aziraphale’s hair, his serpentine eyes glowing a faint red from the strain.

“No.” He said. “And if anyone does, they’ll conveniently forget after a few seconds or so.”

The Bentley didn’t come to a stop until they reached Soho, and parked neatly on the curb in front of Aziraphale’s bookshop. Crowley gathered his angel back into his arms and hurriedly pushed open the door, rushing into the still upheaved shop with Astrid close behind. They made a beeline for the backroom, where the chalk circle still glowed. Uriel had stayed true to his promise, and had kept the back door open for them.

“Crowley…” Aziraphale croaked from his arms, his hand fisting tightly in Crowley’s shirt once more.

“Shhh, angel, we’re almost there.” Crowley cooed. “Just a little longer and we’ll get you to Raphael, and he’ll make you good as new.”

“Crowley, the shop…” Aziraphale protested weakly. Crowley huffed disbelievingly.

“Aziraphale, you’re damn near bleeding to death, and you’re worried about the bloody shop?!” He demanded, shaking his head. “Worry about that later, angel. Right now, I need you to focus on staying awake for me. Can you do that?”

Aziraphale nodded, laying his head back against Crowley’s shoulder again.

“Good. That’s good, Az, just stay awake for me.” Crowley whispered as he stepped into the chalk circle. The light glowed brightly around them, and Crowley realized for the first time that he had no idea where his sunglasses were. Somewhere in his fight with Hastur, they’d been knocked from his face, and he was only just now realizing they were missing as Heaven’s brightness momentarily blinded him. He blinked furiously against it, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes.

Despite having opened the door in the armory, the portal back to Heaven had deposited them neatly back in the hallway of the main office building. Astrid tugged on Crowley’s sleeve, pointing down the hall.

“Raphael’s infirmary is this way!” She said. “Follow me!”

She led the way down the labyrinth of hallways. The building was just beginning to come to life as angels began to trickle in to begin their work day, and Crowley wondered just how long they’d been gone. When they’d left, it had still been night, the building deserted save for the two of them and Uriel.

Astrid stopped outside of a set of large double doors. She raised her fist and pounded on the door as hard as she could.

“Raphael!” She yelled the Archangel’s name desperately. “Raphael, we need help!”

Almost immediately, one of the doors swung open to reveal a slightly rumpled Archangel, his eyes wide and worried. He took one look at the bleeding form of Az in Crowley’s arms, and stepped aside to let them in.

“Come in, come in!” He said. “Bring him inside! Quickly now!”

Raphael immediately called over his shoulder for help, and two angels in grey scrubs were at his side almost instantly. He ushered them over to an empty examination table, and one of his assistants grabbed a pillow from underneath.

“Lay him there!” Raphael instructed, and Crowley very gently eased Aziraphale from his arms onto the cool steel. His angel moaned, gasping as the cold metal of the table touched his feverish skin. His blue eyes burned into Crowley’s as he grabbed his hand.

“Crowley,” he whimpered.

“It’s okay, angel.” Crowley whispered, stroking Aziraphale’s hair, his eyes never leaving the angel’s. “They’re going to heal you. It’s going to be okay.”

Raphael was busy giving orders to his assistants, asking them to prepare salves and sanitize his instruments. His hands hovered over Aziraphale’s wounds, especially the deep gashes carved into his ribcage, and along the soft, pudgy skin of his stomach, never touching him.

“These have been inflicted with hellfire.” He said, gravely. “They’re already infected, and it’s spreading fast.”

“But you can heal him, right?” Crowley asked, tightening his hold on Az’s hand.

Raphael dropped his hands to his side, nodding. “Yes, but it will not be painless.” He said. He looked at Crowley. “You said when we met two days ago that Hastur used a Binding sigil on him?”

Crowley nodded. “Between his shoulder blades.”

“I need to remove it before I can go any further. Aziraphale’s grace is severely diminished, having been Bound and tortured as he has, and it’s why he cannot heal himself. I need to remove it so that it can begin to replenish and help speed up the healing process.”

Raphael gestured to his assistants, who rushed over to help him.

“Get him into a sitting position.” He instructed, and each of his nurses very gently took hold of Aziraphale’s arms to help him up. Az gasped and went deathly pale, and he cried out as the cuts on his torso pulled as he sat up. He squeezed Crowley’s hand so hard, he felt the bones in his hand shift. He winced, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m so sorry.” Raphael said. “But this isn’t going to be pleasant, Aziraphale.”

Raphael held out his hand over the brand on Aziraphale’s back, but he didn’t touch it. The Archangel closed his eyes, and a bright blue light began to build in his palm. The brand began to glow as well, before it literally began to sizzle, melting from his skin. Aziraphale cried out in pain, and he grasped Crowley’s hand even tighter, his back arching under the brand as it burned away. Crowley bit his lip.

After a few seconds, the brand was gone, and Raphael dropped his hand. He nodded to the assistants, who helped lower Aziraphale back onto the table as the Principality gasped for breath, tears running down his face.

“There now,” Raphael soothed. “Now we can get started.” He looked at Crowley, his eyes sympathetic. “I’m afraid you’re going to have leave, Crowley.”

Crowley hissed. “Not a chance.” He said vehemently, cradling Aziraphale’s hand to his chest. “I’m not leaving him.”

“You’ll only be in the way,” Raphael reasoned. “And I need to be able to work as quickly and as unheeded as I can before the infection sets in too deeply. You must leave, Crowley.”

“No!” Crowley snapped. “I’m not leaving him!”

“Crowley,” he felt a hand on his arm, and he turned his head to find Astrid, who he’d completely forgotten was in the room at all. “Crowley, let Raphael do what he has to.”

I’m not leaving him!” Crowley said again.

“Then I’m afraid I have no choice but to force you.” Raphael said, regret at the edge of his voice. He nodded to his assistants. “Hannah, Lukas, see Mr. Crowley out of the room, please.”

“No!” Crowley yelled as Hannah and Lukas stepped forward, gently but firmly pulling him away from Aziraphale. His hand was pulled from Az’s, and Az whimpered at the loss of contact, his blue eyes never leaving Crowley as he was dragged back towards the door. “Aziraphale!

“Crowley, please,” Astrid pleaded. “Please, just let them do their jobs!”

“I’m not leaving him!” Crowley twisted in the grips of the two nurse angels, his arm reaching for the angel on the table. “Aziraphale!”

“He’ll be fine, Crowley!” Astrid said, trying to placate him. “Please, don’t fight them!”

“Please don’t make this any harder than it needs to be, Crowley,” Raphael said from his place next to Aziraphale. He was pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. “Aziraphale will be fine, I assure you.”

“I don’t bloody well care, I’m not leaving him!” Crowley tried to pull himself from Hannah and Lukas’ grasps again. “Please, let me stay!”

Hannah and Lukas managed to drag the struggling demon to the door, and push him through into the hallway.

“He’ll be fine.” Lukas assured him with a gentle smile. “Just let us work.”

With that, he shut the door. Crowley immediately grabbed for the handle, and jiggling it violently, but it wouldn’t budge; Raphael had locked it from the inside. Crowley banged on the door, screaming for Raphael to open it, but no one answered him. 

After a few minutes, Crowley gave up, and pressed his forehead against the wood of the door. From inside, he could hear Aziraphale’s cries of pain as Raphael began to heal him, and he felt tears begin to trek down his face in rivers. He turned and pressed his back against the wall next to the door, and slipped down onto the floor, his face contorted with grief.

Astrid watched him, her own heart breaking for the demon on the floor. Crowley’s eyes were distant as he stared at nothing, and Astrid winced as she heard Zira’s pained whimpers from in the room. She heard something that sounded like Crowley’s name being sobbed, and she knew it was not lost to the demon.

After a moment, Crowley spoke, still staring straight ahead.

“You asked me earlier,” he said softly, “What it feels like to Fall.”

Astrid nodded.

Crowley swallowed.

“It feels like this.” He whispered.

Astrid felt her heart stop in her chest, and she pressed her hand to her mouth as she choked back a sob. She sank down next to Crowley on the floor, and put her head on his shoulder.

Neither of them said anything for a very long time.

Chapter Text

He didn’t know how long they sat there, on the floor in the hallway outside of Raphael’s infirmary. He didn’t know when the sounds of Aziraphale’s muffled screams dissipated from behind the locked door, or if he’d simply blocked them out, but the world around them was silent now, piercing and cold.

Astrid still sat beside him, her head still on his shoulder, though at some point her hand had found his, and she held it comfortingly. He felt a surge of appreciation for the female angel, glad for her companionship and compassion, even for him, the demon who was directly responsible for all of this.

“I’m so sorry, Crowley,” Astrid said finally, breaking the silence that had begun to become suffocating.

“It’s not your fault, Astrid.” Crowley replied, and winced slightly at how haggard his voice sounded. He cleared his throat.

“I’m still sorry.” Astrid raised her head from his shoulder, and Crowley rolled it; it had gone numb. “And I’m sorry that I killed Hastur. I know you…” She swallowed, and looked away. “I know you wanted to deal with him yourself.”

“You saved my life, kid.” Crowley said. “And by extension, Aziraphale, too. Hard to be mad about that. I should be thanking you.”

“You would have done the same for me, for Zira.” Astrid said sternly. “I couldn’t stand by and watch him kill you.”

“Hastur was dead the moment he touched Az,” Crowley said, bitterly tasting the former Duke’s name on his tongue. He squeezed Astrid’s hand. “In the end it doesn’t matter how he died or who did it. He got what he deserved.” He looked at her. “Thank you. For, er…saving me.”

Astrid smiled at him, and squeezed back.

The silence resumed, this time much more companionable than it had been previously, until finally, after what felt like centuries, the doors to the infirmary opened, and Raphael stepped out into the hallway, clicking the door closed behind him. He looked around the hallway for a moment before his eyes fell on the two of them on the ground, and he started towards them.

Crowley was at his feet in a moment, his heart in his throat as he studied Raphael’s inscrutable facial expression as the Archangel neared them.

“Aziraphale…?” Crowley dared in a small voice, barely above a whisper.

“Alive,” sighed the Archangel. He smiled gently at the demon. “Exhausted, in pain, but alive.”

Crowley let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding until that very moment, and felt the panic in his chest exhale with it. His knees felt weak with relief, his heart pounding in his ribcage.

Alive, alive, alive. The words echoed in his mind with every pulse of blood through his veins. Aziraphale, Aziraphale, Aziraphale. Alive, alive, alive.

“As I said before, Aziraphale’s grace has been diminished to almost nothing due to the Binding sigil Hastur branded him with, after being tortured as he was.” Raphael said. “It will take some time for it to replenish fully. I healed his wounds as best I could, in particular the internal bleeding, but unfortunately, the most severe ones were inflicted with hellfire, and were much more extensive than I previously thought. Hellfire acts as a slow acting poison to angels, but especially when their grace is as diminished as Aziraphale’s. It counteracts with angelic essence; I cannot heal him any more than I already have without risking harming him further, or causing him a great deal of pain. His body will have to flush it from his system on its own, I’m afraid.

“Without the use of his grace to aid him, Aziraphale will have to heal much more slowly than he usually would. I stitched up the wounds I could not heal completely, and I’m afraid they may scar, in the end. On top of the hellfire, he also has several broken ribs, a nasty concussion, lacerations to his wrists and the back of his head, extensive bruising, severe cuts to his torso and shoulder, and he lost quite a bit of blood. He’s going to be quite weak and in quite a deal of pain for a while, but I have every reason to believe that, in time, he will make a full recovery. After he awakens, and is able to walk, regular soaks in our healing springs will help aid in relieving his pain and speed up the healing process a bit. Until then, I think it’s best he remain in Heaven, where I can tend to him regularly and oversee his progress.”

Crowley let out his breath in a quiet whoosh, and he noticed that he was wringing his hands.

“How long do you think it will take?”

“Hard to tell,” Raphael said honestly. “I’d say he’ll likely sleep for a few days, and then it all depends on how fast he can expel the poison. I’d say a week, two tops.”

“Is there anything I can do?”  

The Archangel smiled, if a bit sadly, and set his hand on Crowley’s shoulder.

“Have patience.” Raphael said. “He will need a lot of love and care.”

Crowley nodded, licking his lips, his mouth suddenly completely dry. He looked at Raphael hopefully.

“Can I see him?” He asked.

Raphael nodded. “Of course.” He answered. He gestured down the hall. “Hannah and Lukas have taken him to a room where he can rest. I’ll show you.”

Crowley turned to Astrid, and held out his hand to help her to her feet. She gratefully took it, and hoisted her up. She gave him a small smile and put her hand on his forearm.

“You go.” She said. “I think I’ll wait.”

“Astrid…” Crowley started. “He’s your brother.”

“I’ll see him soon, I promise.” Astrid assured him. “But I think you should go on without me. I don’t want him to be too overwhelmed if he wakes up. Besides,” she made a face. “I think I should probably go update my resume. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be an intern here after all of this.”

“Uriel said you wouldn’t be punished.” Crowley reminded her. “He won’t fire you.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Astrid said. “I think…I think it may be time for a change.” Her green eyes glittered with a life and vigor Crowley couldn’t place. There was yet a lot about the female angel he didn’t understand.

Crowley nodded. “See you later, then.” He said.

Astrid stood to her tiptoes and kissed his cheek chastely before she turned and walked down the hall, back towards the offices. Crowley turned back to Raphael, who gestured for him to follow.

Raphael led him down the hall, to a nondescript door. He laid a hand on the doorknob and opened it, ushering Crowley inside.

The room was nothing fancy, with blank walls painted a shade of custard, a comforting change from the stark white that seemed to be standard issue here in Heaven. There were curtains on the window, the shades pulled down to block out the light, and there was a withering potted zinnia on the sill; had Crowley’s attentions not been elsewhere, he’d have rolled his eyes at angelic negligence, but, as it were, his eyes were only on one thing, and it was most definitely not the zinnia.

Aziraphale lay in the middle of what looked to be a very comfortable bed, the plain sheets pulled to cover the lower half of his body. Raphael had cleared him of the blood that had covered him, his hair unmated once more. Tight bandages crisscrossed his abdomen and chest, up along his left shoulder. Crowley could see that several of the bandages covered what he knew to be the deeper cuts along his soft stomach sported bright red patches, and Crowley’s throat clenched at the memory of how absolutely drenched in blood the angel had been when they’d first arrived, when Crowley had first seen him, pinned against the wall of Hastur’s dungeon. Aziraphale appeared to be sleeping, his face contorted with pain, even in sleep, and Crowley ached to curl around the angel, soothe away the pain with words of comfort and love, to never let the angel go again. His hands were shaking as he made his way to Aziraphale’s bedside, and reached for the angel’s hand.

He could feel tears stinging his eyes, and he squeezed Aziraphale’s hand, smoothing his thumb along the rough, blistered skin of his wrists where the manacles had burned him with anti-angel sigils. Aziraphale moaned faintly, and Crowley swallowed against the lump in his throat that tasted faintly of bile, and bit his lip.

Raphael strode forward, and gently smoothed his hand across Aziraphale’s forehead, and the lines of pain smoothed.

“There now,” he said softly. “He’ll rest peacefully.”

“Thank you.” Crowley choked. “For…”

Raphael smiled at him, and patted his shoulder.

“I’ll leave you alone.” He said. “If you need anything, do not hesitate to let me or any of my assistants know.”

Crowley nodded, but said nothing. His eyes were focused on the face of his angel, unable to look away. He barely noticed as Raphael made his exit, the door closing behind him with a soft click.

Hesitantly, timidly, Crowley sat down on the edge of Aziraphale’s bed, slowly stretching himself out along the bed next to the comatose angel, not daring to touch him for fear of waking him, or jostling his injuries. He placed a hand against the angel’s chest, found his heartbeat underneath the bloodstained bandages, thrumming beneath his fingers steadily, like a drum in battle. He pressed the hand still holding Aziraphale’s against his own, and leant his forehead against Aziraphale’s shoulder.

“I’m so sorry, angel,” he whispered, and finally allowed the tears to fall.

 

...oOo...

 

Astrid chewed her lip nervously as she watched Uriel read over the file in his hands, his eyes flicking over the page with intense consideration, his face unreadable. He hadn’t said a word to her in the ten minutes that had passed since she’d slipped the folder onto his desk, and she was beginning to grow anxious with anticipation.

What if Uriel refused her, dismissed her? What would she do then? She’d been meticulous in her wording, had tried to communicate as clearly as possible how grateful she was for the opportunities Uriel had provided her with, and had detailed and outlined her plans methodically. But unless Uriel was willing to give his approval, Astrid wasn’t sure she could go any further.

Finally, Uriel lowered the document, and folded his hands, leaning back in his chair as he regarded her. He smiled gently at her.

“I always knew you were destined to do great things, Astrid,” he said. “You seem to have it all worked out.”

Astrid nodded.

“Yes, sir.” She said. “This is something I’ve wanted for a long time.”

“I told you just yesterday that I think it’s something you’d excel in,” Uriel reminded her. “And I meant it. If nothing else, the rescue mission you conducted with Crowley to get Aziraphale out of Hell only proves to me further how well suited you are to the position of Guardian.”

Astrid’s feathers vibrated with pride, and she couldn’t contain the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Thank you, Uriel.” She said.

“I’d be happy to give you a recommendation, Astrid.” Uriel said. “Though I admit, I will miss having you as an intern. I’ll be hard pressed to find a replacement as good as you.”

“I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me.” Astrid said. “I’ve learned so much, and I’ll miss it here.”

Uriel nodded. “But, again, you’ll do just fine.” He took a pen from his desk drawer, and scribbled a note on the top of the file. “I’ll be sending my recommendation to the Guardian Guild within the next day. You should hear from them within the week, at most.” He sat his pen down and stood, placing both hands on Astrid’s shoulders. “I’m proud of you, Astrid.”

Astrid couldn’t stop the wave of emotion that swept through her, and she surged forward, wrapping her arms around her – now former – employer, and hugged him. Uriel chuckled fondly and wrapped his arms around her in return.

“You’re going to be a great guardian, Astrid.” Uriel said as they pulled apart.

“Thank you, Uriel.” Astrid wiped a stray tear from her eye, and smiled. “Thank you so much.”

Uriel returned her smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with the other Archangels.”

“Of course,” Astrid gathered her shoulder bag. “I’m sorry if I’ve kept you.”

“Actually, I’m glad you’re here.” Uriel said. “Could you do me a favor and send Crowley to the board room? There is a matter of business we must discuss.”

Astrid blinked. “He isn’t…in trouble, is he?”

“Quite the contrary.” Uriel assured her. “I can’t discuss the details just yet, but he is not in trouble.”

She nodded, slowly. “Sure, I’ll send him in.”

“Thank you.” She watched as Uriel gathered a manila folder from the drawer of his desk.

With a final nod, she took her leave, and slowly made her way down the hall towards the infirmary ward, where she knew they’d given Aziraphale a room. She had no doubt in her mind that was where Crowley was.

She stopped a pretty brown skinned female angel with a name tag that read “Layla” in yellow scrubs where she could find Aziraphale’s room. Layla pointed her down the hall, telling her to it was the fourth door from the left. Astrid thanked her, and slowly made her way down the hall, clutching tight to the strap of her shoulder bag.

She hadn’t seen Aziraphale since they’d returned to Heaven the day before, when he’d been damn near lifeless in Crowley’s arms, covered head to toe in blood. She wasn’t sure what condition he’d be in now, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to face it, regardless. She wasn’t sure she could face the image of her brother, covered in bandages, comatose in a bed, looking so unlike the brother she knew. Aziraphale, despite his unassuming, pudgy corporation with the fondness for tartan and sweets and a demon named Crowley, was one of the strongest angels Astrid had ever met. He hadn’t been the Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden for nothing, after all. He was more than just a part of the reason Astrid wanted to be a guardian angel herself.

She took a deep breath as she finally reached the fourth door on the left, and very quietly knocked on the door.

“Hello?” She whispered as she turned the handle and pushed inside. “Crowley?”

Crowley was laying on the bed next to Aziraphale, who looked the worse for wear, covered in bandages, several of which had brown spots of dried blood, and deep bruises adorned the exposed flesh, but he was nowhere near as bad off as he’d been yesterday. Still, she swallowed against the lump that formed at the back of her throat at the sight of him lying there as he was, and she tried not to think about what he must have endured to earn those marks.

Crowley, now dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a worn t-shirt instead of the torn and bloodstained clothes from the day before, looked so small, curled in the bed against Aziraphale, not daring to wrap himself, snake-like, around his bruised and broken body, instead clinging to Aziraphale’s hand, his lips pressed against the skin of the angel’s palm, his eyes clenched shut. As she drew closer, Astrid could see the dried tear tracks on his cheek, and her heart ached at the sight.

Crowley really did love Aziraphale; there wasn’t an angel in Heaven who could deny that. Not now.

She debated for a moment about turning and leaving them in peace, but she remembered Uriel’s request, and she knew she couldn’t; either she could follow through with her task, or someone else would be sent to collect Crowley after Michael had gotten impatient enough.

She reached out and laid a gentle hand on Crowley’s shoulder. He startled, jerking to attention instantly, his yellow eyes wide with alarm, his grip on Aziraphale’s hand tightening. Aziraphale made a soft sound at the sudden jerk against his hand, and shifted slightly in the bed, his face constricting just a bit, but did not awaken.     

“It’s just me,” Astrid whispered.

Crowley let out a breath of relief as he realized who he was looking at.

“Don’t scare me like that, kid.” He groaned.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Crowley ran a hand over his face, rubbing the heel of his palm into his left eye.

Astrid’s gaze fell on the supine form of her brother in the bed next to the demon. She swallowed.

“How is he?” She dared to ask.

“He’s…peaceful.” Crowley answered. “Raphael made sure of that. Made sure he wouldn’t have nightmares.”

“Good,” Astrid said, nodding. “He deserves a peaceful rest.”

Crowley hummed in agreement, and reached out to run his fingers through the curls of hair over Aziraphale’s forehead.

“Where did you go?” Crowley asked after a moment of silence. “Yesterday?”

“I needed to get a couple things together.” Astrid explained. “I turned in my resignation as Uriel’s intern today, and asked him for a referral to the Guardian Guild.”

Crowley blinked owlishly at her for a moment, his serpentine eyes still a bit bleary with sleep. “I didn’t know you wanted to be a guardian.” He said, finally.

“Aziraphale knew.” Astrid said. “I never told anyone, other than him, until a few days ago, when I told Uriel, and…I don’t know, something about what happened yesterday, and something Uriel said, about following my instincts, and my heart…I just had to go for it, you know?”

Crowley looked at her knowingly, before he gave her a half grin.

“Congrats, then, Astrid.” He said.

“Thanks, Crowley.” She smiled back.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, and Crowley rubbed Aziraphale’s hand between his own mindlessly. Astrid hated that she had to pull him away from him.

“The Archangels have summoned you.” She said finally, quietly.

Crowley’s head snapped to her. “Now?!” He squeaked. “I can’t leave him!”

“I’ll stay with him,” Astrid offered. “I’ll stay with him, in case he wakes up. If he does, I’ll send for you.”

Crowley chewed his lip, and his yellow eyes looked back at Aziraphale’s sleeping face, and wrung his hands, and Astrid felt the pang in her heart again at the lost look on the demon’s face.

“He’ll be fine.” She assured. “You’d better go before Michael gets impatient.”

Crowley winced.

“Promise me you won’t leave him alone, even for a second.” He demanded.

“I promise.” She said.

Crowley eyed her for a moment before he finally nodded, slowly.

“Okay.” He conceded. He leant over to kiss Aziraphale on the forehead. “I’ll be back, angel.” He whispered.

He pulled away, and stepped back from the hospital bed. He snapped his fingers, and the sweatshirt and t-shirt transformed into a suit with a blue button down shirt and black silk tie. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his breast pocket, and slipped them on his nose. He manifested his black wings, allowing them to fluff out slightly, as though stretching, before he tucked them against his back. He gave Astrid a nod. If he was going to go into a room full of Archangels (again), he was gonna go in style.

As he slipped out the door, Astrid could have sworn she saw a few white down feathers peeking out from underneath the midnight black marginal coverts of his wings.

 

...oOo...

 

Crowley took a deep breath as he pushed open the doors of the conference room, holding his head high and puffing out his feathers, trying to appear larger than he both felt and actually was. He plastered on as cocky of a grin as he could muster, and sauntered inside, letting the doors slam behind him.

The seven Archangels were seated at the long table, much as they had been when Crowley had first stormed in here three days before, with Michael once again at the head. He was reading something in a manila folder, which he closed and handed to Uriel when he took notice of Crowley’s entry.

“Ah, Crowley,” he greeted, strangely amicably, considering the last interaction they’d had. “Thank you for joining us.” He gestured to the chair nearest Crowley. “Please have a seat.”

Crowley eyed the Archangels warily as he sank into the chair. Anxiety was boiling deep in the pit of his stomach, and he could feel his wings twitching minutely against his back.

“Can we make this quick?” He asked, willing himself not to fidget or squirm under their gaze, trying* to squelch the anxiety gnawing away at his stomach with snark. “I’ve got somewhere I need to be.”

(*And ultimately failing.)

“Aziraphale will be fine without you,” Raphael assured him calmly. “He’ll sleep for another day yet.”

Crowley looked from one Archangel to another. They all regarded him calmly from their places at the table, and he wasn’t able to detect any animosity from them, but he wasn’t able to garnish anything else, either. It made him twitchy, and the craving for a cigarette was coming back with a vengeance once again.

“What is this about?” Crowley finally dared.

“We’ve brought you here for a sort of…performance review, as it is.” Gabriel spoke, spreading his hands on the table. “While your attitude three days ago was less than exemplary, your actions have proven you worthy of…reconsideration.”

Crowley swallowed. Something wasn’t right here.

“Alright, I’ll bite.” He said. “For what?”

“A commendation.” Jophiel said. “For bravery, and selfless altruism.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow. “You do remember I’m not exactly on Heaven’s payroll, right? Haven’t been for about 6000 years?”

“That’s what we’d like to discuss with you.” Uriel said. He pushed the manila folder across the table to Crowley, who caught it by slapping a hand down on top of it. He frowned at it.

“Do you know the angel in this file?” Uriel asked him patiently.

Crowley grabbed the folder, and flipped through the thin dossier inside. The angel detailed inside was a Virtue, charged with the care of flora in Eden. He was, if his lengthy list of commendations were anything to go by, held in high esteem among his peers. He was proficient at healing, and was, according to the comments in the margins, able to hold his own with a sword.  

Overall, he sounded every inch like a prat.

“Why am I looking at this?” Crowley asked, finally.

“Look at the last page,” Michael instructed.

Crowley looked at him for a moment before he flipped to the last page in the dossier. It was of newer paper stock, thicker and more archival than the others.

On the top of the page, the word FALLEN was stamped in red ink.

Crowley’s eyes fell on the name beneath the stamp.

 

Current Fallen Name: Crawly; rank unknown

Former True Name: Cráliel; Virtue

 

“Cráliel…” Crowley whispered to himself, and suddenly, just like that, he remembered. Everything he’d forgotten after his Fall, everything that had slowly slipped from his memory of the course of 6000 years came crashing back. It was very much akin to being struck by a lorry, and it made Crowley’s head spin from the weight of it all.

“This…is me.” He said, breathlessly. “That’s me…”

“We are offering you something that has never been seen or heard of before, Crowley.” Chamuel said, gently, pulling his attention away from the manila folder in his shaking hands. “You’ll do well to listen to our proposal.”

“I-I don’t understand…” Crowley croaked, shaking his head. “W-Wha—”

“Crowley,” Michael said, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table. “We are offering you the chance to Rise.” He smirked and shook his head, amused. “The likes of which have never been seen before in the history of Heaven.”

Crowley felt like he was underwater.

“But…how?!” He demanded. “I thought that…” He shook his head furiously in an attempt to get it to stop reeling so violently, the name on the dossier ringing through his very being like the reverberations of the bells of Notre Dame.

Cráliel, Cráliel, Cráliel.

Him, him, him.

“Nowhere does it say that a demon cannot Rise as an angel can Fall,” Zadkiel explained. “It is…unorthodox, to say the least, but given the circumstances…”

“And the fact that it appears to adhere to His ‘ineffable plan,’” Raphael cut in. “You were never supposed to fall in the first place, Crowley. You and I both know it was never your intention.”

Crowley rubbed his temples. “You do remember that that whole mess in the Garden was my fault. I’m the Original Tempter, and you’re offering me redemption?”

“We have deemed it a worthy endeavor, a worthy forgiveness.” Michael finished. “You have earned this, Crowley.”  

“After all,” Jophiel smiled. “Greater love hath no man – or angel, or demon – than to lay down his life for a friend.”

“Or beloved one.” Raphael said.

Crowley sat back heavily in his seat, allowing everything rushing towards him to sink in. After a moment, he crossed his arms and glared at the Archangels.

“And what, pray tell, does ‘Rising’ entail for me?” He asked. “I mean, an eternity with you seven sounds great and all, but white wings would mean a complete wardrobe overhaul, so unless you sweeten the pot here, I’m afraid it’s a no-go.”

“I advise you to not take this lightly, Crowley.” Gabriel said. “It is no joking matter.”

“Do I sound like I’m joking?” Crowley growled. He was beginning to get impatient.

“Rising would entail much for you, which we’ve outlined in the paperwork you’ll sign, should you take us up on our offer. It would mean a matched salary to what Hell currently pays you, with performance based bonuses and centennial reviews.” Zadkiel explained.

“You would also receive the full protection of Heaven,” Chamuel added.

“You will also be reinstated with your former rank, and your True Name will be returned to you.” Michael said.

“And,” Raphael smiled. “You would never have to worry about being separated from Aziraphale.”

Crowley swallowed, worrying his lip between his teeth, his wings twitching apprehensively as he weighed the options just presented to him.

“Cráliel,” Michael said, breaking the silence. “I encourage you to take our offer. We will not offer again.”

Crowley removed his sunglasses, and looked the head Archangel in the eye. Michael met his gaze evenly.

“I’ll get to stay with Aziraphale?” He asked. “On Earth?”

“If that is what you choose.” Michael answered.

Crowley looked at Raphael. “And…Rising…” He hated the way he knew his voice quivered. “Will it hurt?”

“I expect,” Raphael said gently. “That it should feel the opposite of Falling.”

Crowley swallowed, his eyes flicking between the Archangels, his mind reeling.

Could he really pass up an opportunity like this? To Rise, to return to Heaven’s graces, to be an angel again? To never have to worry about being separated from Aziraphale for eternity, should another bloody apocalypse come up one day? What reason did he have to pass up something like this, other than his pride?

He knew he couldn’t.

“I’ll do it.” He said.

Michael nodded.

“Very good.” He said. He nodded to Uriel. “Uriel is the angel of transmogrification. He will see to your Rising, Crowley.”

Uriel nodded, and stood, offering a hand to Crowley.

“Crowley, if you would stand up, please.”

Crowley, somewhat unsteadily, complied.

“Go easy on the suit,” he joked.

“I’ll try.” Uriel chuckled.

He held up a hand, which began to glow. For a moment, Crowley thought that maybe this had all been an elaborate trick to smite him; honestly, having been smote a few times in his lifetime, in particular by angels, he wouldn’t put it past them, either. The light grew brighter in Uriel’s palm, and it began to hurt Crowley’s eyes, and he wished he had kept his sunglasses. But then Uriel reached out and touched Crowley’s forehead with two fingers, and all Crowley knew was bliss.

Every part of him was on fire, but he did not burn. He felt consumed, cradled, in an overwhelming love and light. He recognized it as the Presence, which he had not felt, despite his searching, since his Fall, and he cried out as he felt it permeate the reaches of his being that had long thirsted for its healing touch. His wings rippled as though caressed, and he felt them flare out to their full breadth. His eyes flooded with tears, and he fell to his knees, his hands curling on the tile as he sobbed with joy. He felt the ecstasy rush outwards, his halo – which was now whole once more – pulsating with it all, until finally, it began to ebb away, leaving one Anthony James Crowley breathless where he knelt.

“Welcome back, Cráliel.” Michael said, his voice uncharacteristically warm. He reached out a hand and placed it on Crowley’s shoulder. Crowley opened his eyes, only to be nearly blinded by the brightness, and he yelped in pain. He rubbed the heels of his hands into the sockets, materializing a new pair of sunglasses in his hand. He brought his wings over his head in an attempt to shield himself, tears blurring his vision. As his eyes slowly adjusted, he saw that his feathers – which had been black for nearly 6000 years – were pristine white. He reached out and carded the tips of his fingers through the down. The feathers shivered, fresh and new, and he wrapped the appendages around himself completely.

“Are you alright, Cráliel?” Uriel asked.

Crowley, his head still spinning, his eyes still aching, his body still shaking with the overwhelming sensation of it all, nodded, slowly.

“I think so.” He managed.

“We know you are eager to return to Aziraphale’s side,” Gabriel cut in. “So we’ll wait to have you fill out the necessary paperwork form later. I’ll expect them on my desk within two weeks.”

“Nkg.” Crowley grunted. He very carefully stood to his feet, staggering slightly. He wrapped his wings tighter around his body, like a security blanket.

White. They were white.

“We hope you will not regret this decision, Cráliel.” Jophiel said. “And we welcome you home.”

“Home.” Crowley muttered. “Yeah.”

He shuddered.

“I think I need to lie down,” he said, lamely, as he felt nausea begin to boil deep in his stomach, bile sharp at the back of his throat.

“You may feel a bit off balance for the next few days or so,” Raphael advised. “Try to take it easy.”

“Ngk.” Crowley answered.

“This is all likely quite overwhelming.” Chamuel said. “Go back to Aziraphale, try to get some rest. You’ll feel much better.”

Crowley tried to nod, but the wooziness threatened to overtake him, so he squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed down the bile. “’Kay.”

“Would you like some help?” Raphael asked gently. “You look a big green.”

“No, ‘m fine.” Crowley shook his head, regretting it immediately. Chills ran down his spine, and he wondered distantly if he were spiking a fever. “I can get back on my own, thanks.”

He stumbled out of the room without another word, and made his way down the hall, his vision swimming and blurry, his head spinning.

He shouldered his way into the first bathroom he came across, and made a beeline for the toilet, falling to his knees once more, and emptied his stomach of its meager contents. He groaned, leaning his head against the porcelain rim for a few minutes until the nausea passed, and he fumbled for the handle.

Setting his sunglasses on the counter, Crowley ran water in the sink, and cupped his hand, washing out his mouth and spitting. He leant forward and splashed water onto his face and neck, relishing in the cool drops as they dampened his shirt collar, collecting in the dip of his collarbone, and dripping from his face and nose into the sink as he leant against the counter.

As he raised his head, he caught sight of his face in the mirror, and he started, pushing himself away from the counter and mirror as if they’d burned him, gasping in surprise.

It was still his face. Same good cheekbones, same dark hair, same olive skin.

But where yellow serpentine eyes had been for six millennia, slate grey human eyes peered back at him.

Crowley promptly puked again.

Chapter Text

 

It took him the better part of half an hour before his roiling stomach finally settled, his breaths even and not gripped with panic. He’d stared at himself in the mirror, those grey eyes blinking back at him from his face.

Same cheekbones. Same dark hair. Same olive skin.

Grey eyes.

Crowley had never seen his eyes before his Fall. Mirrors hadn’t been invented, because neither had vanity, and he’d been far too concerned with tending to the Garden to care much about how he looked. After millennia of the eyes he’d had, everything was suddenly very different, the light even brighter than before, and it made his head throb. His – white! – wings twitched nervously, curling around his shoulders, the feathers in atrocious disarray, but with the way his head was still spinning, Crowley could hardly find it in him to focus on the floor in front of him, never mind his feathers. He felt completely overwhelmed with the onslaught of all that had just happened, coupled with everything had had happened in the last few days alone.

He was not used to feeling out of his element, and it was making him rather cranky.

He slowly made his way back to Aziraphale’s room and stumbled inside. Astrid, who had been sitting in the chair he’d left behind and holding her brother’s hand, jumped at his abrupt entry.

“Crowley?” She stood to her feet, starting as she noticed his wings billowing out from his back. “Your wings!” She gasped. “They’re white!”

“I noticed,” Crowley grumbled, rubbing his eyes again as they tried to adjust to the dimness of the room, black spots dancing in his vision. “Got new eyes, too. Whole new package deal.”

“What happened?!” Astrid demanded as she crossed the room to take Crowley by the elbow, helping him sway towards the chair at Aziraphale’s bedside.

“I Rose.” Crowley answered with a grunt as he dropped into the chair.

Astrid blinked at him. “You what?”

“Rose, Astrid. Sauntered Vaguely Upwards. Back in Heaven’s good graces. Rehired. Reinstated.” Crowley said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. “Take your pick.”

“I don’t understand.” Astrid said, shaking her head.

“They made me an angel again.” Crowley explained. “Gave me my True Name back, white wings, the whole shebang.”

Astrid’s eyes widened with understanding, and she grinned widely as she threw her arms around Crowley’s neck as the former demon gave an indignant squeak of surprise.

“Crowley, that’s wonderful!” She cried. “I knew you were more angel than demon.” She teased.

“Gerroff.” Crowley said irritably, pushing Astrid away. She let him go, but she didn’t stop grinning. “Don’t rub it in. My ego can’t take it.”

“Aziraphale always said there was a spark of goodness in you.” Astrid continued. “I wonder what he’ll say when he finds out…”

“Ego, taking on water. Sinking fast.”

“You’ll make a great angel. White looks good on you.”

Crowley groaned. “Full submersion, no survivors.”

Astrid cuffed one of his wings with hers. “Smartass,” she admonished with a laugh. Her green eyes imploringly met his grey for the first time, leaning forward to inspect the irises closer. “Grey. It suits you.” She smiled.

They were quiet for a moment, as was normal for the two of them when met with transitionary conversation, and Crowley took Az’s hand in his once more. The angel hadn’t stirred since he’d left for the boardroom, but Astrid had drawn the sheets up to his collarbone, so the bandages were hidden beneath the linen. Crowley was grateful.

“Crowley?” Astrid asked softly. “Can I ask…?”

“Cráliel.” Crowley answered, knowing what she was going to ask. “My Name is Cráliel. I’m a Virtue.”

Astrid snorted. “And here you said you weren’t virtuous the other day.”

The former demon rolled his eyes, but said nothing; his head continued to throb dully.

Astrid pondered for a moment. “Cráliel…” She was quiet for a moment. “Is…that what you’re going to go by, now? Again?”

Crowley shrugged. “I happen to like Crowley,” he said. “Chose it myself. It’s been mine for millennia.” He waved a hand. “But whatever you wanna call me, I don’t care, so long as it’s not fucking Crawly.”

“Cráliel.” Astrid weighed the name on her tongue for a moment, then she huffed. "Huh."

Crowley raised an eyebrow.

“What?” He growled.

“Your Name!” Astrid said.

“What about my Name?”

"Its meaning." Astrid explained. "It means 'The Plan of God.' So if you ask me, all of this - your Rising - seems awfully..."

"Don't say it," Crowley bemoaned.

"Ineffable." Astrid finished, smirking.

Crowley rolled his eyes.

“Astrid means ‘godly strength,’” he pointed out. “And no offense, sweetheart, but you’re no Hercules. I knew Hercules. He wasn’t actually the son of Zeus, but he did have muscles the size of your head. Make a steroid junkie jealous.”

“Ha ha,” Astrid drawled. She shifted to stand next to him, her wings fluffing, pleased. “But seriously, congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Crowley mumbled.

“What happened, exactly?” Astrid’s curiosity was getting the better of her, and Crowley sighed, knowing he couldn’t snap at her, not when she was just genuinely curious.

“The Archangels offered to Raise me,” Crowley said. “And I said yes.”

“But why?” Astrid asked. “You seemed to like being a demon. You weren’t particularly demonic, but you seemed to enjoy yourself, anyway.”  

Crowley was quiet, and he raised Aziraphale’s limp hand to press his lips against his palm, his eyes never leaving the angel’s bruised face.

“You did it for Aziraphale,” Astrid said, realization soft but stark in her voice.

Crowley didn’t look at her. “If you were promised the chance to be with the person you love more than anything else in Creation,” He said softly, “What would you do, Astrid?”

“I suspect,” Astrid answered slowly. “That I’d Fall, Saunter, Rise, do whatever I had to, if I loved someone that much.”

“What more can I say, then?”

Astrid pecked him on the cheek. “You don’t need to say anything.” She said.

Crowley gave her a half grin, partially obscured against the back of Aziraphale’s hand.

“I’ll let you rest.” She said. “You look exhausted.”

“My eyes hurt.” Crowley complained. “Not used to these retinas. And my feathers are itchy.”

Astrid laughed. “See you later, Crowley.”

“Bye, Astrid.”

Astrid gathered her shoulder bag, and slipped it over her head and wings, and very quietly made her way to the door.

“Hey, Astrid?” Crowley called after her.

“Yes?”

“I’m proud of you, kid.” He said. And meant it.

She smiled. “Thank you, Cráliel.”

With that, she turned and walked from the room, clicking the door closed behind her.

Crowley absentmindedly rubbed Aziraphale’s hand between his own, feeling the bones and sinew and skin shift as he did so, and he pressed another kiss to his palm.

“Please wake up soon, angel.” He said softly. “I can’t do this without you.”

 

...oOo...

 

True to Raphael’s word, Aziraphale slept peacefully for the rest of the next day, and all through the next night, moving intermittently throughout. Crowley held his hand the whole time, never letting the slumbering form of his angel out of his sight. At one point, he nodded off, but he was plagued with nightmares of him holding Aziraphale’s bloody, lifeless body as Hastur laughed, and he woke in a cold sweat, resolving not to sleep until all of…this was over.

Raphael and his assistant Lukas had come in to check and change the bandages around Aziraphale’s torso, and Crowley could not stop the terrible pain behind his ribs at the sight of the terrible lesions that covered the angel’s flesh, of the rows of neat black stitches that crisscrossed his skin back together from where it had been torn asunder by Hastur’s claws and knife, at the deep purple bruises that made Crowley ache as though they were his own wounds. He couldn’t bear to watch as Raphael gently swapped the old bandages, soiled with dried blood, with fresh, clean ones, instead turning away and starring at the pathetic form of the zinnia on the windowsill.

“He is healing quite nicely.” Raphael assured him. “And I can feel his grace growing stronger. He is still in quite a bit of pain, but I believe he’ll be alright, in the end.”

“When will he wake up?” Crowley asked, his wings twitching. His eyeteeth had been transformed into ordinary human canines with his Rising, and somehow, he found this incredibly annoying when he worried his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Any time now.” Raphael said, patting his shoulder. “Don’t let him try and do anything hasty, alright?” He cocked his head to the side, scrutinizing Crowley carefully. “And what about you, Cráliel?”

“What about me?” Crowley asked.

“How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine.” Crowley answered. “Why?”

“You’ve been through quite a lot these last few days,” Raphael said pleasantly. “I only wish to make sure you’re faring well.” He tipped his head towards the sunglasses perched on Crowley’s nose. “I note with interest that you’re wearing sunglasses once more.”

“Still getting used to these retinas,” Crowley explained. He shrugged noncommittedly. “Habit.”

Raphael hummed. “It will take a few days to become accustomed to them, I’m sure.”

“Doesn’t help that this place is so bloody bright,” Crowley complained. “Seriously, can’t you turn it down a notch?”

“This is Heaven, Cráliel.” Raphael said. “It would hardly due for us to lower the lights, especially during the day.”

“I’m fine, Raphael.” Crowley assured him. “Really. I’ll be better once Aziraphale wakes up and we can put this behind us.”

“All in due time.” Raphael said, smiling. He patted Crowley’s shoulder as he passed him. “Call for me when Aziraphale awakens, yes?”

Crowley nodded. He pulled the blankets up from where they’d settled at Az’s hips to his collarbone, tucking the majority of the bandages out of sight once more. At least the new ones weren’t bloodstained.

He took Aziraphale’s limp hand in his again, and rubbed it soothingly, though who he was trying to comfort – himself, or the comatose angel – he didn’t know. He tucked his wings away into the ether, content to ignore their itching for just a little while. He’d changed out of his suit back into his sweatpants and t-shirt hours ago, but even then, the soft cotton of his shirt bothered his pinions. He’d have to groom them before too much longer; the feathers really were a sight, all skewed and unkempt, as though he were recovering from a molt. And he was still getting used to their new color.

Crowley leaned against the side of the bed, his chin on his arm as he watched the face of his angel sleeping. Aziraphale’s breaths were even and deep, the very picture of angelic serenity, his blond curls tousled. If it weren’t for the bandages around his wrists where the manacles had pinched and burned him, and the ones that peeked out from underneath the blanket where they wrapped around Aziraphale’s left shoulder and bicep, Crowley could almost imagine they were back at home, in his flat, and he was watching the angel sleep after a night of drinking and sushi take-out. The fantasy was comforting.

He hoped it would be reality again soon.

The former demon swallowed heavily as his eyes grew heavier. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t sleep, not until this was over and Aziraphale was awake, but the events of the last several days were weighing heavily on him, settling into his cranium like a lead brick, and he found it harder and harder to fight off the call, the silence of the room like a lullaby.

A few minutes couldn’t possibly hurt…

 

...oOo...

 

The first thing that registered when Aziraphale first began to come back to himself was that he was stiff. His entire body positively ached, his bones singing of the horrors he’d endured the past few days, of Hastur’s tortures like a perverse rendition of Handel. His limbs felt heavy, but not as they had before, when he’d been shackled to the wall of the dungeon. His back was to something soft, not stone, and when he forced his eyelids to crack open, he saw that he was lying in a bed, a sheet covering his body. He could see bandages along his collarbone, and onto his left bicep and shoulder, where Hastur had dug his claws into his flesh, right where his wings would be.

He struggled to recall the last thing he remembered. He remembered Crowley laying him out on a cold metal table, and the searing, excruciating pain of the Binding sigil being burned away beneath Raphael’s hands. He remembered Crowley’s voice desperately calling his name as he was ripped away and dragged from the room by Raphael’s assistants. He remembered the way Lukas had held him down, pressing his arms and shoulders against the table as Raphael began to heal him, the way the wounds had burned, the poison of the hellfire reacting to the angelic healing. He remembered sobbing Crowley’s name, wishing desperately for the demon, wanting to feel his gentle hands on him, instead of Lukas’s clinically stern and hard ones. He wanted to hear Crowley croon that it would be alright, that it was almost over, wanted to hear him call him ‘angel’ in his ear, like he did at home, when it was just the two of them, lying in bed.

He remembered screaming, and he realized they must have been his.

Aziraphale deduced that he must has passed out, then, or that Raphael had sedated him. Either way, Aziraphale had no way of knowing how much time had passed between then and his awakening.

Aziraphale groaned as he forced himself to blink open his eyes, if only a crack. The room was dim, the shades drawn in the window across the room. Everything was slightly fuzzy; Aziraphale had been without his glasses for quite a few days now. He didn’t technically need them, but his corporation had gotten used to them over the years, and his eyesight now reflected this preference in the way the potted plant on the windowsill was out of focus, and he didn’t have anywhere near the energy to care enough to try and correct it. His grace was still drained, then, but at least he could feel it; under the Binding sigil, he’d been cut off from being able to feel his grace completely, and he never wished to know that kind of helplessness again. His grace was weak, like a candle wick just barely aflame, but it was alive, and slowly regenerating, all the same.

There was something warm pressed against his right arm. Aziraphale glanced down and saw a dark head of hair buried in the crook of an elbow, whose hand had its fingers tightly entwined with Aziraphale’s, and the angel smiled, weakly, as he heard the soft snoring emanating from the being next to him. As gently as possible, he extracted his arm from beneath Crowley’s head, and sank his tingling fingers into his soft dark hair. The feeling of Crowley at his side relaxed him, made him feel much more at ease, knowing that the demon was near, and that he’d awaken soon.

He didn’t have to wait long. Crowley moaned softly as Aziraphale continued his ministrations, and slowly raised his head, his sunglasses askew on his nose. After a moment to gather his bearings, Crowley sat up as though he’d been doused with ice water, his body going ramrod straight against the back of the chair. Aziraphale smiled softly at him, love bubbling in his chest.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley breathed. He grabbed Aziraphale’s hands and held them tightly.

“Hello, my dear.” Aziraphale croaked, and winced at how cracked his voice sounded. He supposed a week of near dehydration and screaming would do that to you.

Crowley was on his feet in a second, leaning over the bed, pressing messy half kisses against the bruised skin of his face. Aziraphale closed his eyes, could feel tears trekking down his cheeks, but he wasn’t sure if they were his, or Crowley’s, and he didn’t give a damn. Both of them had their hands in each other’s hair, foreheads pressed together, lips barely touching, and Crowley’s sunglasses were fogged from their warm breaths. Crowley pulled back to push them into his hair, and Aziraphale felt his heart stutter in his chest at the sight.

Where he was used to the golden yellow slitted pupils Crowley had sported for nigh on six millennia, grey eyes like storm clouds, rimmed with red and watery with tears, looked back at him.

Something had happened while he’d been sleeping. Something amazing.  

“Crowley,” he said softly. “Your eyes…”

Crowley smiled, somewhat feebly, and sniffed. “You should see the wings.” He said.

Huge, pristine white wings manifested from the back of Crowley’s t-shirt, and settled against them. Aziraphale felt his breath leave him.

“You’re an angel,” he whispered. He reached out and gently brushed his fingers against the white down of Crowley’s left wing. The wing shuddered in pleasure, the feathers fluffing out, and Aziraphale smiled.

“Yeah,” Crowley confirmed quietly. “I am.”

“They’re incredible,” Aziraphale sank his fingers deeper into Crowley’s plumage, and Crowley shivered. He turned his eyes back to the demon – well, former demon now. “But, I don’t understand…”

Crowley grinned. “I guess you could say I Sauntered Vaguely Upwards. The Archangels offered, and I said yes.” He said. He looked sheepish. “Are…you okay with that?”

Aziraphale hated the hesitancy in Crowley’s voice, the way his hands fidgeted in his lap, the way he worried his bottom lip with his teeth. How could he, for one moment, think that Aziraphale would be anything but absolutely in awe of him?

“Demon or not,” Aziraphale said, as sternly as he could muster, “Angel or not. Black feathers or white, yellow eyes or grey, I don’t care, Crowley. As long as you’re you…” He smiled and squeezed Crowley’s hand. “I did say I always knew there was a spark of goodness in you, didn’t I?”

“Astrid said the same thing, when she found out.” Crowley rolled his eyes, but smiled, nonetheless.

“Astrid,” Aziraphale felt a pang of worry hit his heart at the mention of his younger sister. Last he’d seen her, she had been at Crowley’s side in Raphael’s infirmary, blood staining her clothes and hair. “Is she alright?”

“She’s fine. A bit shaken up, but she’s alright.” Crowley assured him. “She’s…actually got something to tell you, next time you see her.”

Aziraphale frowned. “What is it?”

Crowley shook his head. “Not my news to tell,” he said. “But it’s good, I promise.”

“It was…” Aziraphale swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat. “It was wrong, seeing her in Hell. I was so relieved, but I was so worried about her.”

“She wouldn’t let me go alone.” Crowley explained. “She’s the one who killed Hastur, you know. She saved my life. Saved both of our lives. If she hadn’t…if she hadn’t been there, Az…”  

Something caught in the former demon’s voice, and Aziraphale’s heart clenched at it; Crowley was crying again, freely, something Aziraphale had so rarely seen him do over the millennia, as he leaned forward to press his lips against Aziraphale’s, gently, and Aziraphale could feel him trembling. The Principality wound his hand into Crowley’s hair again, and kissed him back.

“I love you,” Crowley said when they pulled apart. “Az, I’m so sorry—”

“Don’t apologize.” Aziraphale said as sternly as he could muster with his parched voice. “You’ve nothing to apologize for.”

“It’s my fault Hastur was after you.” Crowley insisted. “If I’d just gotten to you faster…”

“You came for me, and that’s what matters, my dear.” Aziraphale assured him. “I knew you would.”

“I’d rather die than leave you Down There with him.” Crowley said, and Aziraphale could hear the way the words Down There twisted in his mouth.

“You came for me,” Aziraphale repeated. “And it’s over now.”

Crowley sniffed, those storm grey eyes shining as he looked back at him. “I’ll always come for you, angel.” He said softly. The conviction in his voice made Aziraphale’s heart swell.

“I know.” Aziraphale touched Crowley’s face reverently. He surveyed his former demon, cataloguing him to memory. Aside from the grey eyes and white wings, Crowley looked exactly the same as he always had. Not that it mattered; he’d meant it when he said that he would love Crowley no matter what he was, no matter what he looked like, so long as he was still Crowley.

“What happens now?” He asked softly.  

Crowley shrugged. “I have some paperwork I have to fill out for Gabriel.” He said. “But they assured me I can return to Earth with you, once you’re well enough.”

Aziraphale smiled. “Won’t you miss causing trouble for the humans?” He asked.

“Nah, I’ll still be causing trouble.” Crowley said, and he smiled mischievously. “I’ll just be doing for the other side now.”

Aziraphale tried to laugh, but it caught in his throat, and he coughed, his entire body flaring with pain as he came down from it. Crowley pressed his shoulders back onto the sheets of the bed.

“Easy there, angel,” he said gently. “You rip those stitches and Raphael will rip me. I let you overdo it and he might just kick me out.”

“Can’t have that, now can we?” Aziraphale swallowed against the stinging pain at his ribs, exhaustion pulling at every fiber of his corporation, his breaths short and labored. His grace flickered at his essence, calling him back to rest, to replenish his strength. Still, he managed a smile. “Don't want you Sauntering Downwards again so quickly.”

 “You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.” Crowley pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Sleep, angel.”

Aziraphale groped for one of Crowley’s hands, finally finding it and squeezing it tightly. “You’ll be here when I wake, yes?”

“Angel, you’ll be lucky if I let you out of my sight for the next few centuries,” Crowley chuckled, and Aziraphale knew he was only half joking. He kissed Aziraphale’s knuckles. “Of course I’ll be here.”

Aziraphale smiled weakly, feeling what little strength he’d gathered from his last rest leech from him steadily, his eyes heavy.

“Sleep.” Crowley commanded softly.

Aziraphale nodded sluggishly, and allowed his eyes to close.

“I love you,” he slurred.

“Love you, too, angel.” Crowley said back. “Sleep. You’ll feel better.”

“Okay,” Aziraphale consented. He swallowed. “Crowley?”

“Yeah?”

“I never did ask…” He closed his eyes. “What your Name is…”

Just as he was nodding off, he felt Crowley lean in close to his ear.

“Cráliel,” Crowley whispered. “You can call me Cráliel.”