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Sticks and Stones

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It was just after five o’clock, heading towards what would have been a pleasant evening indeed. Aziraphale had been spending what he coined his “forced retirement” over the last few weeks doing as he normally did while on Earth. In truth, he supposed he should have known that he differed from his former colleagues ages ago, when they were most baffled and confused by his happiness and desire to stay down here rather than return home. They always thought he was incompetent, odd, and a coward.

Maybe he was! But he was having a right splendid time going about it. And of course, the angel could certainly not deny that Crowley was most of all, the sole factor that was keeping him from going mad. Keeping him from wandering the streets in a sad, depressed state wondering what in the Lord’s name he was supposed to be doing now. He certainly wasn’t spending time to prevent an apocalypse, or thwart a demon. Instead, he and said demon regularly met to visit cafes and restaurants that Aziraphale most wholeheartedly enjoyed and recommended, even though Crowley, he supposed, humored him most of the time. He was pleased anyway, when he’d begrudgingly take a bit of offered food that he’d give to him with a smile.

Something had fundamentally changed between them, and he wasn’t so much of a fool to not recognize it. It wasn’t a totally strange feeling; he’d often felt flustered and nervous around the demon for more than just the fact that they were supposed to have been enemies. He was his best friend, and… in an unspoken manner, more than his best friend.  Crowley was… the most important person to him in the world, regardless of what anyone said. It had taken him so long to figure out what these feelings meant; at least since Crowley had saved those books back then. He felt.. happy around him, happier than usual anyway, and tonight they were dining at the Ritz again soon, and Aziraphale was most eager to get ready for it. Where … well maybe if the moment was proper, he might as well ask Crowley himself if he felt the same. Heavens, it was so nerve wracking!

But he was excited as well as nervous, and he had closed his shop early, if only to pace out his anxieties and do a bit of personal reading before Crowley would show soon enough if that deathtrap of a car of his. It was as if they were going on a human date or something akin to it! His fond smile ghosted over his face as he continued his book, and Aziraphale could not possible imagine a more perfect day.

It was until, he heard the front door of his shop open, and where he was sitting beyond the shelves blocked his view. “Oh, I’m afraid we’ve closed early for the day!” He called out in a somewhat forced friendly tone to whatever curious person had wandered into his bookshop. Oftentimes, quite the antithesis to owning a bookshop, Aziraphale didn’t actually like to sell most books. He received no response, and if had been Crowley early, he would have likely replied with something cheeky. He glanced up from his book and stood, wandering out towards the front, only to be immediately struck in the stomach, hard.

Aziraphale knew he was not much of a real fighter nowadays; he had given his flaming sword away because he had felt empathy for those who needed it more, for God’s sake! His knees hit the floor and he doubled over, as he let out a wheezing gasp. As soon as he was down, his attacker… attackers, kicked him in the side. It was meant to hurt, as if it was… personal.

“Fuck,” he cursed, and that was twice in one century! It was most certainly Crowley’s influence rubbing off on him. Aziraphale didn’t even have to look up, but he only tried to stand once more. “Be reasonable,” he mumbled under his breath, attempting to deescalate the situation, though he knew he wouldn’t find any easy mercy. He looked up, immediately recognizing them as his own kind, though he did not know them personally. The angels seized him firmly, dragging him back to his feet. “There is no need for this hostility.” They didn’t give him the decency of a response, instead miracling a chair in front of them, shoving him downwards into it none so gently. One of them pulled out rope, and firmly bound his wrists to the chair, much like how Crowley had described his experience wearing his face.

“That will do. You’re free to go.” Came a rather unfortunate, familiar, voice from the doorway, and Aziraphale could not deny that he was anxious. It didn’t take a genius to understand why the archangel Gabriel would be… quite upset with him, but he honestly had not expected him to be back so soon after letting Crowley go. He had figured that both demons and angels would have just let them live in peace far away from themselves. Perhaps it had been a bit naïve, but the feeling of dread and queasiness in his stomach felt all too real.

He reluctantly glanced up, and the look on Gabriel’s face was stern, yet smug. Aziraphale swallowed, watching the other two angels leave them alone. “Good evening, Gabriel.” He tried to say calmly, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing just how much he actually rather quite (and reasonably so) feared him.

The serious look turned to a smirk, and Gabriel approached him in only a few steps. “Ahh Aziraphale. I imagine you and your demon boyfriend,” the word was laced with such hatred and spite that it made him wince. Prior to this whole mess, and what Crowley told him that he didn’t want to believe, he believed with all his heart and soul that angels did not hate. Angels did not seek vengeance, they only ended things for the greater good. It was a lie, wasn’t it? And Aziraphale was still desperately trying to come to terms with it.  “Thought you were so very clever in your little trick, hmm?” He wasn’t even doing anything, but simply leaning over his chair and invading his personal space was enough to make him feel intimidated and trapped.

He moved his hands, though tightly bound by the ropework, attempting to test how firmly they held. Rather well, he thought with a bit of disappointment. “I… Well, I s-suppose it worked well enough,” he stated honestly, and Gabriel’s eyes darkened. “For the time being,” he added, “I was expecting… or perhaps hoping that there would be a little more time anyway.”

“Not good enough,” Gabriel reiterated with a frown. “Was it Crowley’s idea? You’re certainly not clever enough to think up a scheme like that.”

Gabriel had a very special talent at looking at one as if they were as insignificant as a flea. As if they did not matter at all. Aziraphale didn’t say a word for a moment, eyes dropping to the ground in non-confrontation. He didn’t answer, but instead he said, “How did you discover it?”

“Quality assurance,” Gabriel replied. “Had our best researchers come up with theories on how you could simply walk through hellfire and emerge unscathed. Turns out, your demon survived the holy water too. News from downstairs. Michael had a chat with Beelzebub. Reluctantly, but it was worth it. It wasn’t difficult piecing together the rest.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale simply replied. It was over. They had been discovered for their swap out. And surely, Gabriel would take him back upstairs and make him do it for real this time. And for one thing, he would never be able to tell Crowley that he truly and utterly… “That’s… unfortunate.” And the word unfortunate here, meaning completely terrifying and a disaster. He tried to not panic. “I… I do assume that you’re here to make me attend my punishment this time?”

Gabriel did not answer his question. He held his hands clasped in front of him, gazing down at him on a day that felt like judgment. “I’m still trying to process how you were able to trick us.” His voice was a snarl now. “You, of any angel possible. You humiliated and made fools out of us.”

“I just want to be left alone,” he quickly said. “I’ve no intention of coming back, o-or interfering.” Which was a lie. He knew that if the angels and the demons would attempt another war, he would be on the side of the humans, Crowley with him. “Gabriel, please. Consider mercy. I just… I want to be left in peace, that’s all.”

He sneered cruelly. “Uriel and Michael thought the same.” His mouth felt dry. “They thought it’d be best to just forget the whole incident, and never welcome you back. Most angels are already unnerved by the rumors they’ve heard. They think you’re cursed, or that you have some special power.”

“I… If they said that, why is it that you’re here?”

"Well, they’re not here, are they?” His heart dropped. “And no, I can’t exactly force you to walk into fire now, though let me tell you, I had been waiting for that for a long time.” It hurt him deeply, that someone hated him apparently as much as Gabriel. “Do you know what you are, Aziraphale?”

“A coward?” He voiced hollowly.  

"Well duh,” Gabriel said with a cruel laugh, a harsh one that was by no means, friendly. “But no. Try again?”

"A traitor?” He didn’t feel like one. He just would not stand by and watch the place he had come to love most be destroyed by petty quarrels! Earth, at the risk of blasphemy, forgive him Lord, was more of his home than Heaven!

“Yeah, definitely that,” he replied, and it happened so fast that he barely had time to register it. Gabriel in one motion had raised his hand and brought it down, slapping him across the face so harshly, his head jerked to the side. He gasped out in shock, and he gripped his face between his fingers, “Look at me!” He snapped, and Aziraphale’s wide eyes flickered up. “I know what you are. You’re nothing,” he snapped. “Absolutely fucking nothing. How dare you have free will?! We were supposed to WIN!” His voice was loud, and Aziraphale was too shocked to say a word. “You’ve spent too much time down here reading your fucking books, sunshine!”

With that, he wrenched his hand away and turned to the shelves of his bookshop, examining his desk. Aziraphale stared, wondering how he had ever thought Gabriel prior to be an interesting and competent employer. “Winning wasn’t worth the cost of what you were about to pay,” he said softly. “I wasn’t… I wasn’t trying to betray anyone,” he answered firmly, “I was doing what I believed to be right! Their lives are important, humans are-”

“You believe?” He asked him in a cold voice, pulling out a few random books and carelessly leafed through them. Aziraphale winced, resisting the urge to politely inform him that those were first edition, and that he really needed to be more careful. He had a feeling if he did, they’d be destroyed instantly, so he wisely held his tongue. “Since when is it up to you to decide what’s right? You follow the Lord! You don’t question what you’re told!”

“The Lord wouldn’t have wanted that!” He finally exclaimed, “The Lord would have wanted goodness, compassion, empathy. The Armageddon would have been a disaster, Gabriel. You must see that!” He tried, very hard, to make him see his point of view. “Humans would have died. Life on Earth would have come to an end. That’s just not… It’s not at all right! They deserve to live, there are sinners among them, yes. But even they deserve understanding. They deserve mercy! A-And there are good and righteous people. And-”

“Oh shut uppp,” he groaned, “You wonder why you are disliked by everyone.” And Aziraphale swallowed his words. “You really never stop talking do you?” He did know that “Do you know what I think, Aziraphale?” He didn’t answer. “Fuck the humans,” He said, and he felt ice in his soul. He was still trying to defend him in his mind; he was angry, he truly did not mean those things. Angels were supposed to be the good ones! The defenders! It felt like a weak claim now when he thought it, after what he’d seen. “It was never about them. They’ve sinned from their inception.” He then carelessly tossed the books violently across the shop, his only reaction being a pained whimper of concern. “This was about finally obliterating the enemy. Smiting them for their wickedness and their sin.” His anger faded somewhat, as he leaned against a bookcase, offering him a friendly smile, “But you’d know all about the wickedness of demons, wouldn’t you?’

That hit something, it made it seem all the more uncomfortable for him. He frowned, “I know no such thing, for Crowley is not wicked.” If this had been him, even a mere month ago, he might have stammered out an excuse that he hadn’t been fraternizing or associating himself with any demon! But… he was quick to jump to his defense now, and Gabriel picked up on this.

“Oh, Aziraphale. I pity you, I really do.” He shook his head as if he was disappointed. “So stupid, so simple. Every demon is wicked, it’s why they’re in Hell in the first place!” he snapped. “As for wickedness, you’d know that personally. It’s a wonder you haven’t fallen yet.”

“I… I would never fall. The Lord understands that I…” He had not fallen when he cast Adam and Eve his sword, he had not fallen when he associated with Crowley for 6000 years largely behind his associates’ backs, he had not fallen when he defied his kind and stopped the Armageddon. “It is the ineffable plan. All of it must have been for a particular reason.”

Gabriel approached him again, to intimidate, to scare him, to move in close and either make him have to crane his neck up to see, or keep his eyes downwards in submission. He chose the latter for now. “No. You are wicked, you are broken. Death would have been the one thing to fix you,” he said with a hint of longing. “Now nothing can.”

“I’m not broken!” Aziraphale exclaimed suddenly, with a raise in his voice, hint of agitation there. “I just didn’t want to be a murderer!” And he really hadn’t meant to say it, but it slipped out easily, for even his duty of having to shoot the Antichrist child had been wrought with reluctance and guilt.

"You think your demon’s hands are blood-free? You picked the wrong side, Aziraphale,” he said coldly. “Tell me. Has he fucked you yet? Or maybe shared you with any other demons?”

It was such a personal question, one so jarring and intimate that he struggled to find words, his mouth most likely doing a bunch of odd motions. His nose crinkled in disgust at the implication, especially of… others.  He never expected him to ask something like that, and he had never voiced it to anyone, except in the privacy of his own mind. Wondering perhaps once or twice or many times how it would feel. If he kissed him. And did more to him. His face heated at the mere thought of it, suddenly really not liking the direction this was taking at all. “That is… a highly inappropriate question! And I really think-!”

He slapped him again, for the second time, and Aziraphale felt… well, very degraded. Humiliated. And injured; his prim and prideful self, and his cheek that flushed dark red and bruised. “I don’t care what you think!” He shouted, “I think you’re a filthy sinner. I think you’d like it, wouldn’t you? Lusting after a demon. Pathetic. You’re fucking pathetic. Such an idiot.”

He gave no response, and was most certainly wishing with all his heart that Crowley would come crashing through the door and rescue him as he oftentimes did. He so dashing; he was no longer in denial about his own feelings and freely thought them without repressing them.

"Oh…” Gabriel murmured as if sensing something. He sneered, “You love him. You love him very much.” Aziraphale decided right there and then that this had to be the worst moment of his entire life, possibly even more so than having to witness the burning of the library in Alexandria with his own two eyes. The first to say those words out loud, and it was not even him, nor Crowley. It nearly felt like a violation of sorts. “Adorable, but misguided.” Gabriel continued, “He certainly doesn’t love you. Will never love you. I mean…” His nose scrunched up in disgust, “How could anyone? Look at you. You aren’t desirable by human standards.”

It hurt. It hurt very much even though Aziraphale knew what he was trying to do. It made his heart feel like it was coiling painfully in his chest. “He does,” he said, his voice a bit weaker, more strained. “I-I know he cares for me deeply. If not.. we are best friends.”

“Aziraphale” his voice came, judging and so… oh, how did Crowley describe it? ‘With his head stuffed up his own arse, dripping with self-righteousness and holier-than-thou overtones.’ Goodness, he hoped that he hadn’t sounded like that to Crowley over the years. “Crowley is a demon, for the thousandth time. He cannot love, he cannot feel. Lust, pride, envy, those are the only things he does feel.” He sounded so sure of himself, didn’t he? “And when he is done with you, when you have given him what he wants, he will leave and you shall never see sign of him again.”

The logical part of his brain reminded him that Crowley had been around for thousands of years and they always ended up being somewhere together. But his words were really beginning to affect him. He felt sweaty (if he could sweat), he felt his throat so tight it was a wonder he could speak. “That isn’t true,” he shook his head.

“Mm. Afraid it is. Once he fucks you, makes you fall for laying with him, because that’s a pride thing for those demons. They desire us, they desire to tempt us into sinning.” He felt like he could barely breathe. Was that true? He’d never heard that in all of his time, most likely because angels and demons spent so little time together anyway outside of important occasions. He and Crowley were the outliers. “They’re patient when it counts for them. Part of their selfishness and all. It’s a honor for them to ruin our holy light. It has nothing to do with you, personally.”

“You’re lying!” Aziraphale finally shouted, finally summoning a bit courage to look right up at him. “Crowley would never do a thing like that!” And if… well. He didn’t want to get too ahead of himself there, but if they ever touched like… that. How could being in love make one fall? It didn’t seem logical.

“Lying is a sin,” he responded primly, straightening the lapels of his coat. God, was he really like this most of the time? “He’s seducing you, and you’re falling right for it. God in Heaven, you’re thick,” he said, giving him a pointed look. “I imagine the rest of his kind are enjoying this immensely. Maybe they’re even in on it,” He suggested, “Maybe Crowley used to share a good laugh with damn Beelzebub, or Hastur, or anyone that wanted a good story. Of an idiot angel thinking he’s loved.” The imagery was horrible; multitudes of demons laughing at his expense, laughing because Crowley was really causing some mayhem now.

“Please, just stop,” he tried.

“They told us,” he hissed, “When Michael spoke with them. They thought the silly, doomed case of the angel and the demon who had been just trying to…” he thought for a second, “What’s that human expression? ‘Get in one’s pants?’ Because that’s what he’s for, he lusts for the thrill of degrading an angel. That’s it.”

“Stop it!” Aziraphale exclaimed.

“Go ahead then.” Gabriel relented. “Tell me what qualities you possess that would inspire any desire towards you at all.” He glanced down at him, unimpressed with what he saw. Aziraphale felt his own fear when his mind went blank for the moment at trying to come up with said positive aspects of himself that was worth even a bit of attention. He could, currently, name nothing that he thought to be a good trait. Only his words echoed in his mind. Idiot, stupid, gullible, stuck in your ways. How was it that Crowley, so different from he, could stand to be around him?

“You know nothing about me or him.” But what if did?

“Now, honestly, I don’t understand human desire, but I can see why you might fall for him. Truly, I do. He’s the first to ever act interested in you. He’s aesthetically appealing, by all means. Opposites, all that. Do you want me to list why he doesn’t love you?”

“Gabriel, I apologize,” Aziraphale said, “I never meant to humiliate you. I truly didn’t.”

But he went for the throat anyway. “For one, you’re snobbish. Think yourself highly when you’ve haven’t a brain in your head, or done anything of note to earn it.” That wasn’t true, Aziraphale thought, I guarded the gate, albeit perhaps not as well as intended, but I guarded it nonetheless. I preserved literature, I’ve transcribed it, recorded history, I’ve tried to help the humans, and I’ve learned much about their customs. He couldn’t stop his shudder of breath. “You’re boring as all fuck.” He said next. That wasn’t true either! He quite liked several hobbies; dancing (only one dance, but he could learn more, truly), reading, science, music, talking with humans, eating, it was all grand! He simply like to indulge in life itself.

“Please…” If this was his punishment, that he wondered how hellfire would compare to his biting words at the moment.

“You talk too much, and you definitely eat too much for no reason.” He couldn’t stop the subtle glance downwards at his plump middle, shame suddenly burning his face. Of course, Gabriel jumped on that one. “Ah. Yes…” He said, and he struck him in the stomach this time, and he felt the wind positively knocked out of him. Being hit by an archangel was actually not much fun at all. He wouldn’t recommend it. “Really now, any body you wish, any miracles you can conjure, and you still look like that. You disrespect us by keeping your vessel in this condition. How dare you? Gluttony is also a sin, you know?”

“…Yes.” He said rather weakly, his voice soft and reserved, positively hoping he wouldn’t hit him again. His words were bad enough.

“You make a terrible angel,” Gabriel continued, “And a terrible human. You have the competency of a monkey. You might as well just go find that hellfire yourself and step into it.” Every sentence felt like another strike to his face, to his stomach. Aziraphale had never even really noticed that he was… unattractive. By human standards. It had never even crossed his mind. He just enjoyed doing what made him happy. Cuisine was one of them, and, of course he’d noticed that he was softer than some. But he’d never been upset over it, it was his body, and he enjoyed it. It made him think twice about that.  “Demons do covet pretty things sometimes I’ve heard,” he relented. “Shame it won’t be you for your Crowley. But it is your own fault, maybe he’d truly desire you if you kept yourself in better shape.” He commented with a disappointed shake of his head.

The shame, the fear, the worry that perhaps Crowley would be doing just that and it made wetness in his eyes, something he felt he hadn’t done for a very long time. “No, I…” He didn’t even know what to say.

“He’ll laugh,” he nearly hissed, “When you tell him you love him. Or he’ll lie, tell you that he loves you back. Likely the latter so it hurts you more when it ends,” Gabriel knelt down by his chair. “You’re ugly, you’ve no personality. So… you can imagine of course, I don’t like demons. But…” he gave him a friendly squeeze on his shoulder, “I don’t blame the demon for this. He’ll destroy you. And you know… you’ll deserve every moment of it for thinking otherwise. Thinking you were special.”  

“You’re cruel. You’re cruel and you’re vicious, and he was…” He was right, all along, wasn’t he? He could feel forced tears making their way down his face, down his cheeks. Terror was there; that Crowley was using him for some reason, and he wasn’t thinking very logically anymore.

Gabriel seized his face again, fingers digging into his cheeks, “Say it!” he commanded, “This is your punishment, this is how you’ll repent. Say that you’re worthless. Now!”

“I… I’m not…” But he was. Crowley was all action, and he moved fast, and he did things. When was the last time he had left his bookshop since the apocalypse to go somewhere other than the ice cream stand in the park, or a café? Then he thought back to the dig at his body’s appearance and he felt queasy.

“Aziraphale!” His voice boomed, leaving no room for argument.

“I’m worthless!” He nearly squeaked, and he had forgotten how painful it was to cry for real. Tears shed during a particularly moving play or novel was one thing, crying openly because your ex-boss degraded you was quite another. It wasn’t the first time Gabriel had intimidated him, but it was the first to drive him to tears.

“Say that you’re remarkably stupid.”

“I-I’m remarkably stupid!”

“Say that he will never love someone like you.” At his hesitation, his heart feeling like it had been, how some romantic novels described it, torn in half, he pressed, “Now!”

“He will never love someone like me.” He admitted in a subdued voice, one of acceptance. Piled on top of each other, everything Gabriel had brought up; his appearance, the conversations with the demons n Hell, it all.. it all seemed to add up. His breathing was unsteady, and he did not even have to breathe. He cried silently, eyes finally dropping away again, mortified.        

Gabriel seemed pleased, patting his cheek roughly, before he stood again, one of his friendly-but-not smile plastered on his face. “And don’t you think of coming crawling back to us, traitor, when he dooms you to damnation. Might just be a fitting punishment after all for you.  You-”

Suddenly, Gabriel stopped talking entirely for the first time since he arrived. In fact, he ceased to move altogether, and it took a few moments for Aziraphale to notice, reluctantly lifting his head. The archangel was frozen in place, as still as a statue, expression locked on his face, mouth open in mid-speech. Oh no. No please don’t let him be here now, Lord. While he had yearned that he might show up in the beginning, he knew he was the last person he wanted to see right now.

“You can hold your applause for your next timely rescue. It’s alright. Let’s go, angel,” his strikingly wonderful… unreal voice came from the doorway. Right. The dinner. He was supposed to coming, wasn’t he? Crowley himself, his jaw set firmly, sunglasses rendering his eyes to be unreadable, but if anything, Aziraphale assumed he was looking warily in Gabriel’s direction. But it was too late, and the way Crowley’s facial muscles shifted and his mouth slightly moved (not that he paid close attention), he knew he had seen his face, and he quickly looked away in mortification. “…What has he said to you?!” Crowley growled, his voice laced with serious anger, quickly now striding over to him, as he snapped his fingers, the ropes unraveling by themselves.

“N-Nothing,” Aziraphale replied, desperately willing the tear tracks down his pale face away. Get it together, old boy! This is unacceptable! “Let’s just…”

“Has he hit you?” He asked, “I’ll kill him thisss time, I mean it,” he truly hissed, and turned towards the still-frozen Gabriel.

“No, Crowley!” He exclaimed, cursing himself that he hadn’t gotten rid of the marks on his face. So he did so, miracling them off his face once his hands were free, rubbing them, as he stood. “You mustn’t, they’ll just certainly come for us.” Not to mention he wasn’t sure, shy of bringing hellfire itself, how the archangel could be killed here anyway.

Crowley groaned in annoyance, “But he’s such a right prick,” he complained dramatically, walking over to flick him across the nose for good measure. “Heaven really does have the worst bastards in charge, eh?” It wasn’t fair how fond he made him feel of him, and he would have normally given a shake of his head in fake exasperation, all while trying to cover up tiny smiles. But he felt… It’s an act, a voice that sounded like Gabriel’s in his head told him. He didn’t really care, he truly didn’t, how could he? Why in God’s name would Crowley love him? Gabriel was right. He was nothing special, he wasn’t anything worth pursuing for real.

“Mm.” he simply voiced noncommittally. “I think you should just leave.” He was much too dependent on him, and that was pathetic.

With that, Crowley turned to look at him in confusion. “Huh?” He voiced, “Angel, I’m not going to leave you here, what did-?”

“I have a name,” he interrupted sadly, “Aziraphale, if you please.”

“…Right. Aziraphale.” There was silence for a moment, as he looked over him again, and why did he have to look at him like that? “I’m not going to let him hurt you.” Much too late dear. “Did he threaten you?”

“No. He struck me, about the same that you had suffered before,” he explained. What did it matter if he had? “I don’t think he intends to bring me back. He just came to… gloat, I suppose. If you’d call it that.” Because angels didn’t seek vengeance, no. Not at all.

“Ohhhh, I hate him,” he said with disgust, “At least my kind has the decency to be upfront about when they hate you.” He couldn’t stop the wince from those words. Disliked by everyone. Oh Heavens, he felt like crying again, and he was not about to weep in front of Crowley. “Tell you what, go wait in the car, I’ll sort this out.”

"I hardly think that’s a good idea,” Aziraphale replied quickly, glancing worriedly between the demon and the archangel, still with that frozen look on his face. Even when he knew, when he doubted what this all meant, it was terrible and so very sad that his heart leapt and he wanted to smile.

“I swear to you,” he said with what had to be a roll of his eyes behind those glasses. “I won’t kill him, or maim, or anything like that. Who do you take me for?” It was obviously meant to be teasing, but Aziraphale didn’t even crack a smile. And Crowley frowned, stepping closer to him. “I imagine something’s happened, ange-Aziraphale,” he said softly, so softly and gently that it made his eyes water again. “I wish you’d tell me, I just want to help. I’ll do what I can to protect you.” Oh, dear. He was going to break again. And then, the bastard had to undo his black jacket, which he gently draped over his shoulders with such care that he felt like he was going to burst.

Without saying a word, Aziraphale gripped the jacket and hurried out to his parked Bentley in the street, noting with reluctance that the jacket wouldn’t even likely fit around his own shoulders if he had the fancy to put it on. Better shape… He sniffled, feeling so weak, perhaps slamming the car door more roughly than he intended (Crowley would have likely hissed in indignation had he saw), and settled into the passenger side. “Come now, get it together,” he tried to inspire himself.

He straightened his bow-tie with slightly trembling hands; his clothes were out of order and dusty from falling from the floor, and he honestly felt like such a mess. “You… Oh, you foppish, vain, twit!” He snarled nearly at himself, gripping the material of the jacket close to his face. He doesn’t mean it, he’ll leave you… he’s using you, Beelzebub and Hastur were laughing when he started hanging around you… Who could love you?

And his foolish self could no longer restrain it any longer, and the tears came rapidly, and as time around him started up again from the brief halt it had been placed in, he couldn’t help but sob. He moved Crowley’s jacket slightly out of the way, still keeping it somewhat over himself, but he wouldn’t want to ruin it, as he wept into his hands.

And that was how Crowley found him, as he quickly hurried back to the Bentley, crossing the street and climbing in the driver’s seat. Whatever he was about to say died on his lips when he saw the state he was in. “Angel!” He exclaimed, forgetting himself, and he glanced with a concerned look towards the bookshop. “Oh… I really should have risked a trip to Hell to get fire,” he vowed, reaching out a hand to touch him, perhaps comfort him as if he meant it, but Aziraphale moved himself closer to the window, and Crowley immediately retracted his hand like it had been burnt. “Okay, we need to talk,” he said, with little room for argument, “But.. allow me to do a bit of driving, yeah? Don’t really want to be around here for much longer at the moment. Otherwise I will fight him. Personally.”

And he’d either lose horribly, or win and then get likely destroyed in the fallout. “Yes, I… of course,” he managed to stumble out in between his stupid tears. He was so weak, and Crowley had to be disgusted with him. No one had ever truly yelled at him like that before; he’d been reprimanded several times, but no one had ever strapped him to a chair and listed his perceived issues like they were on a menu. He tried to keep his sobs quiet, but every so often, Crowley would glance over, hands tight on the steering wheel.

He spoke again after a few minutes. “Hey, I know, angel,” he commented, “Why don’t we go to that restaurant, get you some dinner, and then we can talk about-”

He had been wiping his eyes, and his response was suddenly so vehement that he surprised it came from his own mouth. “No,” he said sternly, eyes likely red from his tears, “No, I don’t want to eat. I don’t even need to eat.”

Crowley paused, obviously puzzled, “But you enjoy it.” They were going fast, but he didn’t really want to raise a fuss over his terrible driving this time. What did that matter with everything he was doubting?

“I shouldn’t,” he replied, “It’s not good for me. I indulge far too often in it.”

“Not good for you?” Crowley repeated like he was shocked by it, before he straightened his posture, jaw set again. “Aziraphale… what exactly did Gabriel say to you?”

That you only want to… He took a shuddering breath, attempting to steady himself and save at least some of his dignity, forcing a formality to his phrasing, “By his words, he so kindly explained to me that I partake in too much food and that it effects the sanctity of my body. It is disrespectful and shameful.”

“What the fuck?” he so eloquently stated, sounding so affronted on his behalf, “What? Why? That’s not true.” He felt just so sad. “There’s… nothing wrong with your body at all.” And it was almost as if he wanted to say more, but he held off.

It was like floodgates opened, and he closed his eyes to pretend he was just reciting a quote or a fact. “He in detail, explained that I am incompetent, unfit to being an angel. That I am a coward, that I am stupid, naïve, and gullible. And…” He didn’t wish to tell him, his worst fears pulled from his imagination of when he told him, it would be a moment where Crowley would drop his long-lived act, sneer, and tell him it took the aftermath an apocalypse for him to realize he was just trying to mess with him.

The demon was deathly silent, gaze directed towards the road. “And…?” he prompted in confusion.

His formality broke once more and Aziraphale even sounded distressed, his words laced with his hurt, “He said that I’m undesirable.” Part of him wanted to throw caution towards the wind and tell him now that he loved him, and please, tell me you haven’t been lying to me, but he did not think his heart could handle it if it turned out to be true. “He said… nobody would ever find me desirable enough to have feelings for me.”   

In an instant, Crowley had swerved violently to the right in the car, and Aziraphale yelped in surprise, gripping whatever he could manage to hold onto from his reckless driving. His Bentley’s tires screeched against the road as he most certainly did one of those illegal turns, several people out and about on the street calling and shouting at him. “Crowley!” He exclaimed, as the car whirled around and sped off back in the direction they had come from. “What are you doing?!”

“If he’s still there,” he said, completely serious, “I’m doing it, I’m killing him. Never killed an angel before,” he wondered, perhaps a bit wistfully, “Should be interesting, to say the least.” He spoke with a forced restraint.

"You’re not!” Aziraphale shouted, putting his foot down, he would not be tread over anymore. “I haven’t the faintest what’s come over you, but you need to stop it!” He said. “Stop the car! You don’t care anyhow!”

And then the car screeched to a halt, coming down from insane speeds as he pulled over and came to an abrupt stop, Aziraphale having a death grip on the handle. Perhaps this was a sign that he really ought to wear a seatbelt. But when he turned to look at Crowley, the demon had removed his glasses, angrily tossing them below the seat and he glared at him, his eyes alight with fury and passion, and it momentarily stunned him into silence. “I don’t care? I don’t care?!” He shouted, “What are you on about?!” He was frustrated, and … hurt, by his words. He didn’t understand what he was asking. That or… perhaps he was just very good at lying. He so badly wanted to believe the former. “I care more about you than any other fucking thing in the world! Azzziraphale! What. Did. He say?!”

“That you’re a liar!” He finally admitted, “That I love you with all my heart, but that you only wish to… seduce me in the grand scheme of all things!” The anger instantly vanished from his eyes, and they widened in surprise.

“Angel…”

He really could not contain himself today, and it was to his injured pride, but not to his surprise, that his tears weren’t quite finished yet. “That you and the other demons had a laugh at my expense for thinking we were true friends or more!” He tearfully exclaimed, “That you were just trying to…”

“Angel.”

“That I’m simple and plain, and I could never hold your interest truly. That you don’t love me a-and would lie about it in order to solely tempt me!”

“Angel!” He exclaimed suddenly, causing him to look up, reluctantly ready for whatever he would tell him, when he reached across the car and gripped him by the collar of the jacket he still had draped over himself and tugged him close into… a hug. An embrace. One that felt so natural and grand it was a wonder they had never done it before, one that he wanted to melt into and return so ardently. “You really think that of me?! I… I thought you knew me better by now?”

“I… I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I suppose I’m not thinking very clearly right now,” he said with an unsteady breath, just simply savoring the feeling of being comforted by Crowley.

“Oh,” he said, and he had to be nearly out of his seat by this moment, his face pressed into the crook of his neck, softened by the press of his jacket and the always-present labels of Aziraphale’s jacket. “You’re so very clever, but you don’t always see what’s in front of you.” Clever? “Do you want me to spell it out for you, love?”

Love. It just was so unfair. But he nodded once anyway, “If you must.” Voice still filled with reluctance, but with also hopeful yearning.

“For one thing, before I get into anything else. You really think I’d act for thousands of years if I truly didn’t desire you?” It was odd, and nearly refreshing to get a logic lesson from Crowley. “With that, why the fuck would demons that, hate me too now, might I add, be involved in any of this? I’d be dead if I went to Hell right now, wouldn’t be sharing any… alleged stories of seducing an angel for fun.” He voiced with a bit of humor, attempting to lighten the discussion.

He sniffed, suddenly feeling like such an idiot that he wouldn’t completely mind if he was to discorporate right now. “I… if we were thinking logically, I’d imagine no. It seems unlikely.” And of course, the thought back to his books, the books that Crowley had saved with no prompting. The favors he did him, the deals, the shared goals. It did seem pretty difficult to fake that.

“Mm,” Crowley voiced in acknowledgement, his hand reaching up and lightly, soothingly, rubbing his back. “And moving on. You’re the smartest bastard in the whole world. You read, you always solve problems, as well as win Jeopardy all the time.” He voiced with a bit of sour grapes on the last part. Aziraphale didn’t watch very much television, but Jeopardy was an exception at times, and he usually swept each game much to his smugness when Crowley lost each round. “Why would you doubt that?” He asked him.

“Because… well,” he felt flustered, and began to pull back from their embrace, Crowley immediately letting go, starting intently at his face. “I didn’t feel… very intelligent or capable then,” he admitted, setting his hands in his lap to hide the fact he wanted to fidget.

“Well you are,” he replied, with an expression that said ‘are you serious, right now?’ “You’ve done so many things. You devote yourself to learning and doing what you like.” He shrugged, “It’s what caught my eye, I thought. Now there’s an angel that’s different. Not like the rest of ‘em, yeah? And that’s a good thing,” he insisted. He leaned back in his chair finally, leaving Aziraphale to his contemplation. Crowley gave a laugh, “And for another thing, I love you. I desire you too, of course, but I love you more than anything. I would never lie about that.”  

“You what?!” He exclaimed, as if he had possibly misheard. Oh dear, this really was an eventful night.

“Dove,” he groaned, “I’ve loved you for thousands of years. I thought it might have been… clearer?”

Aziraphale knew he was staring, his mouth possibly agape, “No, it was most certainly not clear!” He exclaimed, affronted. Oh God, this was happening, this was happening in the complete opposite direction that he had feared. That should have made him feel all the more relieved, but he was only feeling more anxious. “How was I to know?! You’d take off one century, sleep through the next,” sleeping was such a dreadful human experience, so much time wasted! “Then come rushing into save me, but be all dashing and collected and distant all the same time! Then I knew I was in love with you, and I had no idea it was apparently requited!” Perhaps it was also just a tiny bit due to his struggles with previously having even friendly feelings towards a demon, but the apocalypse had thrown all preconceived notions out the proverbial window.

Crowley took an intake of breath, before his brilliant, warm… how could anyone think they were sinful… eyes fixed on him with such unrelenting love and affection that it felt like a lightning strike to his chest. “You meant it when you said you loved me?”

It was truly the moment, wasn’t it. He was no longer crying, thankfully, unsure of when he had stopped. Rather human-like, he took a moment to wipe his eyes. “I do,” he answered, “I love you so. I was so… fearful by the possibility of what Gabriel was saying. I’d rather walk through fire than… I was afraid he was right. My worst imaging of it. And that I was fool for even daring to hope.”

“You’re such a fool,” he admitted with a teasing smile, drawing a smaller one to his own face, “But not for that reason. Never that reason,” he insisted, offering his hand, setting it, but not demanding that he take it. And Aziraphale really would be fool if he chose not to. He took it, their hands joining in soft reassurance. “I adore you. You’re lovely and beautiful, how could I not be absolutely tempted every single moment?” Crowley asked him.               

“Stop it,” he admonished, though the grin was larger and his cheeks were warm, but not from humiliation.

“Oh, I definitely won’t now,” he said with a playful smirk, “Because Gabriel must be fucking stupid or blind.” He said, giving his hand a squeeze. “Nothing that he said to you was true. Your body is perfect.”

“It really isn’t, dear,” he said, with a shake of his head, “You, on the other hand are perfection, so it’s rather unfair that you’re making these compliments,” Aziraphale said in a rush of words, before he’d lose the nerve to say them.

“Angel, if you’d seen what I think about you and your body,” it was either a trick of the light or Crowley’s gaze had momentarily dipped, first to his lips and then further downwards to the rest of his body seated in the car. “Well, you’d be scandalized,” he spoke, his voice a low timbre, “You tempt me. You’re always so warm,” he said, moving closer to whisper in his ear, Aziraphale’s face, “You’re warm, and soft. Lovely. Don’t be ashamed, my love. Don’t stop doing things you enjoy when there’s nothing wrong with you in the first place.”

“Who knew you had such a way with words?” He joked, in an attempt to cover the stupid grin on his face and the elation he felt that made him want to combust, in all honesty.

“I’d refresh on my poetry, and recite to you. A song, a poem, whatever you’d like,” Crowley insisted, sounding so serious about it, even if the overtones were humorous, “If it would convince you that I truly love you and that I won’t leave or disappear. That now, nothing could possibly wish or dare take me away from you now.”

“I love you,” Aziraphale said in a rush of emotion, and closed the rapidly shrinking distance between them, which is to say, he nearly threw himself, rather awkwardly, across the gap separating the driver’s and passenger’s seat and kissed Crowley to the best of his ability, hands wrapping around his shoulders as he pulled him close. “I’m sorry, I never wished to hurt you by any of those implications,” he said shortly after, their lips still pressing together, chaste, but passionate. “I never wanted to make you…”

“Kiss me again and we’ll call it even.” Crowley responded cheekily, and Aziraphale huffed, but obliged him. They kissed for no discernible amount of time, growing steadily more intimate as they learned the shape of the other’s mouth.

Only when they pulled apart, their clothes slightly ruffled, Aziraphale’s lips feeling swollen from sneaky nibbles that Crowley had snuck in there (which he did not mind, and returned enthusiastically), did they speak again after a slight recovery, because truly, his car was small after all, no matter what, and it was no good place for proper human snogging.  

“You look much too good in my jacket,” Crowley said.

“You should try one of my jumpers, or my jacket,” Aziraphale responded, and he chuckled slightly at the demon’s hesitant face.

“Sorry darling, but never. That went out of style near 200 or so years ago. You won’t catch me dead in those. But they do look fetching on you,” he murmured, leaning over for one last peck on the lips, before he gripped the steering wheel, “If you’d like, we still might go for dinner,” he offered him.

Aziraphale felt light and happy, intertwining his hand with his, because he’d seen him drive with one hand before, and he could very well do it again. “Sounds lovely.” He paused for a moment, as Crowley started up his car again. “Oh! My dear, what about Gabriel? What did you do?” He asked, worries undoubtedly coming back to the forefront of Aziraphale’s mind once the magic and pleasure of their kiss wore off.

“I didn’t hurt him,” he promised, but Aziraphale raised a skeptical eyebrow. “I didn’t!” he defended, “I know the importance of laying low. I just left him a note is all.”

“A note?”

“A passive-aggressive memo! Like the ones you said you got from the higher ups for years! I figured, if angels used the notes so often,  a strongly-worded one might come quite in handy.”

There was a pause, before the two of them joined in laughter, their smiles wide, “Well. Very well then. He’s gotten his message across, he likely won’t be back soon,” Aziraphale said.

“Mm. Well that, and I directly told him to fuck off.”

“…”

“Would you want the steak, dearest?”


 

The Archangel Gabriel, following the few seconds where time had literally stopped found himself as Crowley started time anew, with a piece of paper quite literally stapled into his forehead.

Dear Archangel Fucking Gabriel,

The next time you bother him, speak with him, touch him, or even approach him, I’ll rip you limb from limb, wing from wing. I don’t have demons on my side now, but I have humans that can help me make it painful. Not that I’ll need that, but it’s just for show really. We won’t be bothered any longer, we belong to Earth now. Leave us be.  

XOXO Crowley.

PS  Pornography is fantasy, often nasty, graphic sex between humans. Pick up a book once in a while, you absolute cock.

PSS Fuck off.