To be entirely honest, Crowley felt cheated. All those millennia, neither Above nor Below could have mustered a single thought on diplomacy, trying not to be total dickheads, not catching the harmless mortals in the big Cold War, all that. Not once, not even at the great flood that had filled their respective halls like nothing before or after had. And now, now that an angel and a demon had been caught while chasing and ultimately leading an 11 years old boy through Amageddon’t, a minor demon who barely deserved the title was called to vomit some Hellish Fire into a ring on the floor?
By Lucifer’s soddy horns, he had every damn right to be angry. But Crowley was Aziraphale now, walked in his body, felt the softness of his skin, his belly, his beating heart. What an unexpected realization, that the ever-present anger at Lucifer’s traitorous questions and his own loud mouth could spike like this, after six thousand years. Dear god, six thousand years, he thought, seething while playing it cool, keeping Aziraphale’s delightful charm up to downright perfection. Every single cell in his demonic body with an angelic overcoat sung and stung at the same time, the overly white light hurt like a bitch, illuminating the seemingly endless stretch of Heaven. This had been his home, once. The itch underneath his skin that very near made him vibrate out of this stupid chair wasn’t pain, but he didn’t feel particularly homesick, either.
Staring into the falsely smiling face of Gabriel, the cold-hearted bastard, accompanied by some unimportant lackeys all neatly dressed up for an execution, Crowley felt himself coming undone. Not to mention the fact that his angel was supposed to burn alive, which, wow, rude, even the mortals had aborted that practice some threehundred years ago; or the disrespect for the one who had saved the goddamn world by giving away his sword all those millennia ago which now had delivered a spectacular end to three of the four riders of the Apocalypse, no, the sheer audacity was what set him off the most. There was a hole so deep inside his wretched soul that most days, he didn’t even feel it anymore, so used to the emptiness where his Grace had once sat, shining, keeping him more than alive, giving him sense and purpose, but this damned place dragged up old memories. Oh, well, at least Aziraphale didn’t have to go through that particular torture downstairs.
Turning to the huge windowfront behind which the entirety of earth’s beauty stretched like sapphires and emeralds polished to their designated shapes, Crowley allowed himself the sentiment of a deep breath that his angel no doubt would have taken the time for. Straightened the stupid bow tie with his hands so perfectly steady, it should have scared him, averted his burning gaze. In the distance, winded pillars carried the ceiling of the world, so far above the clouds that no human eye would ever reach it. God had made sure of that during the disaster of Babylon. And up, up, up, following the sunlight where it paled and gave way to the universe, there lay the stars scattered across velvet black, uncountable, each and every one of them created by himself and the arch angel Michael who was notably absent now.
“Just shut up and die already!” Gabriel hissed, impatient as ever, but still pretending to be your friendly neighbourhood boss. His suit was stiffer than a stick and the gold on his temple didn’t suit his skin tone.
Crowley stepped into the Fire of Hell without further ado, almost surprised that it didn’t send him to his knees screaming. It was hot, uncomfortably so, although it didn’t singe a single one of Aziraphale’s blond curls. Soft, just as everything of his entire being, way too innocent for these incompetent idiots to ever so much as look at him. Heaven and hell be blasted, if a single demon so much as breathed too close to him in this very second, Crowley would tear them all to shreds. Cracking his neck, he sighed, slowly getting as comfortable in the fire as one would do in a soak that was just this side of too hot. The absolute astonishment, mixed with shock and a good deal of fear on the faces of angels that had sneered at him, had cast him out, had rained pain upon his newly manifested body unlike anything else, really was worth the damned memories. Smiling, he breathed in the fire through his very pores just to spit it out again, dragon-like. He was, after all, a snake when it all came down to it.
As quickly as they had abducted him in Aziraphale’s body – and what a fraud it was, oh, this must count as one of their best plays yet – they threw him out again. Not the short way down, sauntering vaguely downwards, but over the long rolling stairway that simply never seemed to end. Of course the damned thing was stuck today of all days, still as stone, and so he walked. Crowley, although he had long ago thought to never be granted this view ever again, took the long way down to earth and felt every step reverberating into his skull. There were voices inside his head, screaming, cursing, having a minor break down, and still he kept his left hand on the rail so as not to fall, not to fall again, without looking back. Somewhere half way down, just as Egypt turned into the sunlight, glowing gold far beneath his feet, he couldn’t take the itch in his back anymore and gave in to temptation. ‘t was a nice hope, that his wings, black as ravens’, now puckered grey on the secondary feathers like a fucking pigeon, could catch him, should he Fall. Capitalized. He half imagined to trip and break every single bone in this body that he was rather fond of, but to so much as tremble he only allowed himself once his leather shoes touched the ground again.
Aziraphale. His soul, his very being, could have worn any suit of flesh and Crowley still would have recognized him in a mass of seven billion people. It rather served the demon well to stumble right there while looking into a mirror in every sense of the word. Goddamn, but he would have gladly plunged into the sooty depths of hell for that idiot. What a reason to fall, he thought, fully aware of the strange mixture of narcissism and utter sadism.
If Aziraphale was in any way surprised by his overly put-on sarcasm and all his unashamed staring during their ensuing date in the Ritz following the second body-swap, he didn’t show it. Fuckin’ chipper, he was, all light-hearted, happy as anything that the world hadn’t gone to shit after all. The image of Michael miracling him a towel out of thin air made Crowley laugh so hard he feared his black heart to spontaneously combust. The lovely bastard, oh, that was his influence right there, and if he thought a bit too hard on why he had not ripped Gabriel’s Grace right out his chicken breast, the wine made him admit to some sentiment himself. They proceeded to become utterly shitfaced in his bleak flat, all black and white, all sharp angles and terrified plants that preened under Aziraphale’s gentle praise. The usual sunglasses were lost somewhere in the kitchen, alongside a bow-tie as blue as the angel’s eyes. Heavenly blue. Bloody hell, but the third bottle may hadn’t been the best of their ideas. The swap, though, that. That. He’d write it into the calendar the next morning, as soon as his head had stopped pounding, because he did not plan on sobering up anytime soon. Too many ugly truths in there, in being sober, nightmares, too. Possibly a trauma or two to deal with. Ha, Crowley thought and laughed himself stupid with the idea of a therapist trying to stitch together the mess of him. It’d have taken more than a human lifetime to recount his entire life. And what business had his Zira to look at him all sappy now, anyway? He had only hung the fucking stars, the moon had been someone else’s business.
“Blue,” he mumbled, completely incoherent, accompanied by a vague gesture with his glass still perched between two delicate fingertips. He could crush a man’s windpipe with those two fingers, no problem.
“No, my dear, the bluest hour of the night has long gone by, I think,” Aziraphale sighed as if that fact broke his heart like a dead bird at his feet would have. Ah, not so good, then. Killing people. Bit not good. Without even savouring the taste, Crowley knocked back the rest of his wine, some 25 years old or something along that lines. Sweet, too. Sweet enough to make him grimace.
“Nooo, no no no, noo. You. Blue. Your eyes. Aura, too. ‘S weird.”
“Yes, well,” his friend sighed and turned the wine bottle upside down just to produce a few drops that stained the white carpet bloodred. When his gaze settled upon Crowley once again, he felt so floored with the intensity that he accidently tried to teleport a pair of sunglasses from next door. A minor miracle that didn’t even deserve the name, really, and it made him gasp from a sharp sting so deep inside his chest, he could have shoved a knife between his own rips all the same. He was at the other side of his ridiculously large living room before Aziraphale could reach him.
“I’m fine!” he barked, supporting himself on the wall while he tried to just breathe through the pain. The love of his life, of course, was having none of his usual bullshit.
“Do not lie to me, Crowley, I don’t like it! You’re not. Of course you’re not. And that’s my fault, isn’t it, cause I’m stupid and too slow all the time-“
“Shut up,” he growled, stumbling, straightening his back despite being way too fucking far gone and pissed off at that too. Aziraphale stared at him like a deer at the headlights and he hated it, hated with a burning passion that he could do that, ignite fear in the one soul he now knew he could simply not exist without. “You,” he started desperately, recovering fast from the shock of overexerting himself. Stopping the sands of time and walking on the grounds of heaven would have killed any lesser demon, but not him. Aziraphale needed him.
“Yes, me, I know-“
“But you don’t, angel, and that’s the problem. Right there. ‘s where we have it.” Drawing another deep breath, one step at a time took him to the couches again where a very soft, very frightened angel stood and watched him talk himself into an early grave. “Not your fault. Upstairs? Arseholes. Bastards. Worse ‘n downstairs, really, and that’s saying som’thing. They would’ve made you walk into the fire of hell, angel. Burning alive. All your pretty feathers ‘n your bow tie and whatever the fuck you’re wearing these days. That the usual treatment?” How someone so crest-fallen could smile this beautifully was beyond him. A slight shake of the angelic head brought on the change from plastered to stone cold sober, but who said Crowley had to follow his example all the damn time?
“I suppose not, no. Normally, they just…” In a mockery of the cross, Crowley spread his arms and then mimicked a push, slow, soft, way too gentle for the greatest agony imaginable.
“Cast out their lost little sheep and make them fly. Bye-bye, have fun in that sooty shithole! See you on doomsday!” Only his plants trembled at the mighty cry with which he threw the wine glass at a wall. It shattered very satisfyingly, going down as a rain of sharp edges where smooth planes had existed only a second prior.
Aziraphale, miraculously, relaxed, the naïve idiot, and took him by the elbow so gently that he wanted to sob.
“I should have anticipated this before becoming all excited over fooling our respective superiors. Oh, my dear boy, I cannot tell you how sorry I am. For all that we have both survived, which makes me all the more convinced that She has some greater plans still with us, my long life should have given me the experience to see this coming from miles ahead.” And carefully, as if Crowley was breakable, he guided him down onto the sofa. There was so much good will in him, so much hope that things would take a turn for the better even with a wicked creature like Crowley, former arch angel, now a broken, piss-drunk mess clinging to a grey jumper that smelled of old books for dear life, thank you very much. “Now, I believe we’re quite done with the wine for tonight, tea will make you rest easier.”
He was not letting go. Nope. Not happening.
“You’re babbling. Tea ain’t helping me anymore, angel, I’m beyond salvation.” Aziraphale stopped in mid-motion, his ever present smile seemed to just slide off his face before he caught and dropped it in a kiss onto Crowley’s orange locks. On a better day, this probably would have finally made him snap out of his thrice damned pining and tuck the oblivious angel down into a bruising kiss at his lapels.
“Poppycock! Nobody is, dear, and guess what? Upstairs doesn’t decide that. Neither Michael nor Gabriel are gods, for which we can only thank the almighty Herself, we would both be quite dead otherwise.” Somehow, Aziraphale’s hands had found their way into his flaming hair and there was such adoration, such faith in his baby blues that Crowley practically felt himself withering in the face of so much perfection. He was a snake, and Aziraphale was a literal ray of sunshine. It made him all the bitterer, for all his scorching love could not conceal the fact how utterly unworthy of kindness he was, of trust and care and hope.
“See, the thing is,” he tried, scowling when his tongue didn’t quite want to obey his racing thoughts. “Your faith is admirable, a real fuckin’ example for the average Christian.” Dragging air into his lungs hurt. Not silencing his heart and dropping into a well-deserved coma right then and there hurt. Witnessing the sting of his own poisoned words in the way Aziraphale’s smile dimmed to the sad, worried blue glow from earlier, however, hurt like a bitch. But the ugly words kept coming forcefully, hard as stone, and Crowley was too drunk to reign himself in anymore. “I once thought I couldn’t fall deeper than into my creator’s hand. Turns out, I did. Oh, I did.”
In six thousand years he had seldom felt so pitiful, and that was without the nagging question how he could have possibly missed the fact that his favourite angel of all times – his angel, period – rather was a bit of a protestant. So he did the only sensible thing, which, of course, was to turn away from the very same, curl into himself as much as possible in human form on a sofa too small and too hard for comfort and refuse to speak any further until the sun would come up again. He pressed his face into the only cushion, wishing himself to be a better creature, which in a sober state would have pulled the rug right out under him badly, to say the least. But as it was, he cherished the last gentle strokes of Aziraphale’s warm fingers through the tangled hair over his nape hopefully without making a sound. If he stopped long enough in his laboured breathing, he could feel his entire body shake with the effort of keeping in his wings. Emotional turmoil, all that. A special brand of pain only reserved for the Blessed and the Fallen.
“My dearest, I had no idea – no, perhaps that is a lie, I rather feared that this would happen at some point, but the combination of being that drunk and exhausted from overuse of your powers are worsening your state of mind, I think. If you just sobered up…”
“Mh-mh. Nope. Back hurts, though. Hurtssssss.” Instantly, the caressing hand moved down to the back of his black jacket where two slits let in the cooler air of the living room without the fabric ever being ripped or broken. It simply had been designed this way, now. Two long, convenient slits half-way down parallel to his spine, perfect for fitting through his enormous wings. Crowley was so entirely covered by gooseflesh that a skilled eye would have had to be blind to miss the signs of his rapidly dissolving self-control.
“Alright then, let them out, the table is out of the way. I’m right here and neither heaven nor hell will move me from your side.”
That was it. That was why he had fallen so hard and fast for that loyal, totally oblivious angel who had given away his flaming sword to protect the first two humans in existence just as he was protecting Crowley like second nature.
“You’re impossible,” he mumbled into the sofa and, with a groan, let go of the control. First there was pain, followed by a relief so great that he fluttered a few times which made feathers rain down on the wine-stained carpet.
“Oh dear.” Don’t look up, his insides screamed, stay, stay, stay! Don’t. An apology burned on his tongue, unspoken, as Aziraphale’s hands halted inches above his wings. Without even lifting his head, instead keeping very still, to feel wherever that angel was precisely in relation to himself was instinct by now. He knew how stupid they looked now, gone was the intimidating black of coals just to be replaced by something akin to ash flakes. Eventually the silence grew too much to bear, shame prickled behind his eyelids, hot where it dampened the cushion’s silken slip.
“’S stupid, I know”, he hickuped, leaning back the slightest bit so as not to disturb the root of his left wing. “I look like a fuckin’ pigeon.” Self-depreciation had never earned him anything but stern gazes and worry with Aziraphale to which this time wasn’t an exception. A certain tension to his shoulders made the words all the harder, brows drawn tightly downwards, unease so obvious it might have as well poured off him in waves.
“Now don’t by ridiculous, although doves are perfectly happy creatures, of course, but you, my dear, simply have the appearance of someone that has been through hell and back.”
Yes, well. Point taken. With a huff that bordered on childish, Crowley dropped back into his hiding space, trying to muffle his hitching breaths to no avail. How Aziraphale still managed to push all his buttons without even meaning to was beyond him, all he knew was that he didn’t even think about resisting when he was pulled upwards ever so gently. Now unable to press his entire front into the hard sofa anymore, he saw himself confronted with deep sorrow in his angel’s familiar features. A frowning forehead spoke of all the ways that this could end very badly; it would have been so easy to give in to the urge to smooth it out, to swallow his stupid tears and press his nose into the crook of Aziraphale’s pale neck, to inhale deeply, to fill his lungs with the very essence of him. To be cleansed and tarnish him in turn. It all flashed before his eyes in the stretch of a second while his wings turned with his movements to brush over the sofa’s back rest, and his last attempts to conceal these wishes as old as life on earth changed the angel’s entire demeanour. A blink, a smile and the entire living room was filled by white, blinding wings that hadn’t escaped the trip downstairs entirely unaffected. The lower edges were singed black, as if someone had held a candle underneath the feathers to set them on fire and didn’t succeed.
“Through hell and back,” Crowley rasped, itching to touch, not brave enough to lift his gaze once more.
What he had assumed to end in a well-deserved stern talking-to became a hug instead, a tentative, careful envelope of arms and wings that made him feel like a fledgling again. Young and naïve and free. Damn it all, Heaven had never deserved the soul that was Aziraphale. A soul with a body made up of softness, of warmth and understanding.
“That’s it. We’re back on earth, our respective superiors aren’t prone to bother us anytime soon and if they do, I’ll kindly tell them to bugger off. In the meantime, you need rest. Will that do?” It took him a second to swallow and make up his mind, snake-like poison planting doubt and the urge to flee deep in his gut, but this once, Crowley stayed. Fuck them all, he thought, he’d show them all whom not to trifle with as soon as he was sober and not quite so heavy anymore in the morning. So he replied quietly, not well enough yet to muster a smile but nodding:
He'd show them. Shall God herself see what they had done to him, shall they burn in shame for their cruelty and their cold-hearted carelessness; at least he had passion, a thumping heart and a one true north that was unwavering, an anchor to tie himself to. When he flopped down on his stomach again, the sofa suddenly decided to be a comfortable bed now, angel-sized and certainly not made for one person only. At least it was black. And very, undeniably empty as the most oblivious being under the sun awkwardly perched himself on the edge, visibly uncertain.
“Might I… I mean, not to press or anything, I know you’re a restless sleeper, I just –“
“Now don’t be stupid,” Crowley huffed and pulled his arms out under him so that the entire weight of Aziraphale dipping forward fell down right next to him. Where the many cushions had come from, the bed itself had no idea, but it trembled and shook with the quiet laughter of an angel who only played at being affronted. After such a long, horrible week, no-one could have entirely faulted them from falling asleep on the spot, covered in feathers.