“So, I was thinking of getting some more copies of that book, you know, the one I was telling you about the other day.”
“I thought perhaps I could stock the shelves at the front with it, that way it might keep people from venturing further into the shop and finding more of the older ones.”
“And then I thought I might strip naked and dance the gavotte.”
“Mmm.” Crowley frowns, turning to face Aziraphale, “What did you say?”
Aziraphale sighs, moving over and taking Crowley’s glasses from his face, worry fluttering in his chest as he takes in the way that the demon’s face is pinched, and paler than normal. “Crowley, what on earth is the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” Crowley insists, then winces when his raised voice causes another flash of pain to cross his face, sagging back down into the couch—where he’s been lying since the two of them woke up this morning. “It’s just…a headache, Angel.”
“A headache.” Aziraphale repeats, an eyebrow raised disbelievingly.
“Just—” Crowley makes a vague motion with his hands, “buzzing…in the back of my head. It’s nothing, it’ll go away in a moment.”
“How long have you been waiting for it to go away ‘in a moment’?” Aziraphale asks.
Crowley gives a slight movement of his shoulder, in what Aziraphale assumes is the closest thing to a shrug he can manage right now. “Couple hours or so.”
“Since this morning?” Aziraphale presses, and then sighs again when Crowley answers him with a guilty silence. “You foolish thing, why didn’t you say something?”
Except that’s not what they do, is it? Say things. Six thousand years of actions that whisper the feelings brimming up within the both of them, but never a word, as though to speak it aloud would make it real in a terrifying way that neither of them could take back—like just the words alone would summon the armies of heaven and hell to tear them apart in an instant.
And even now, post-would-be-apocalypse, with no allegiance owed to any side but their own, neither of them has mentioned how Crowley hasn’t spent a night or day in his own apartment since their respective returns from heaven and hell. How his stuff is gradually taking up more and more room in the loft above the bookshop, his bed tucked away in the bedroom that Aziraphale never uses, plants on the kitchen counter and next to the flat-screen TV he’d brought when Aziraphale had confessed to never watching some spy movies or other that Crowley had deemed an unforgiveable crime that must be immediately rectified.
Aziraphale runs his hands through Crowley’s hair, gently feeling for the source of the pain, his heart squeezing when a soft murmur of pain escapes Crowley’s lips.
But then he frowns, because though he can feel the pain knocking at the back of his skull like it is Crowley’s (and describing the pain as ‘a low-buzzing’ is a rather extreme understatement) he can’t seem to locate the source. “Where abouts, exactly, can you feel it, my dear?”
“’S just— “ Crowley lets out a groan of frustration, eyes slipping closed, “everywhere, Angel, I can’t pick one point—it doesn't matter if you can’t find it just—let me…sleep for a while and I’m sure it’ll go away—”
“’A while’ can mean rather a long time when it comes to you and sleep.” Aziraphale says, caught up in memories of looking for a familiar flash of red hair and casual smirk around every corner, of sitting in a bookshop contemplating even trying not to imagine what Crowley would have to say about everything that had happened that year, desperately fighting away the ever present image of his body broken and mangled in a bloody ditch somewhere—his being lost and screaming somewhere far below the earth where he couldn’t follow. The way he had tore out from the bookshop after a particularly vivid day-dream and very nearly flown across London only to find Crowley tumbled up in a mess of blankets, hair askew on the pillow and dead to the world—though thankfully, not quite in the way that Aziraphale had been picturing.
Crowley mumbles something that Aziraphale doesn’t quite catch, bringing him back to the present with a bump. “Sorry, my dear, what did you say?”
“I said, can you really not feel it?” Crowley asks, cracking open his eyes, blearily with pain, for a brief moment before screwing them shut again with another wince. “It’s—it’s not exactly trying to keep a low profile.”
“I can feel it.” Aziraphale tells him, “It’s…sort of like someone’s knocking; rather insistently, I might add.”
“Well they’d better hurry up and piss off.” Crowley mutters, “Cause I’m not in the mood for a house call—”
His eyes go wide, and he sits up, grabbing at Aziraphale’s jacket.
“Angel, draw a holding circle.”
“A holding circle—what—no.” Aziraphale’s gut wrenches sickeningly at the idea of Crowley confined within a circular barrier, unable to move, his very being tethered to the floor. “I would never—why on earth would you ask me to do such a thing—?”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley clutches tighter at Aziraphale’s jacket, hissing the words between his teeth, and the slightly hysterical edge to his voice makes the angel’s entire body flood with sheer panic.
“Someone’s summoning me.”
The words take a moment to fully register, but when they do Aziraphale grasps Crowley’s shoulders, as though with that alone he can hold him here. “Who? Who is it? Heaven—Hell—?”
“Neither it’s—” Crowley’s body is pulled taut like a bow string, trembling with the strain, and the slightly pinched look from before has devolved into open agony, “human magic—old human magic—’s why it took so long to figure out—been ages since anyone---”
His body convulses, violently, and for a moment it flickers out of view.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale’s grip tightens further. “Just hold on, I’ll—”
“’s too late, Angel, they’ve got me—” His body disappears again, taking longer to reform this time, “—to go, magic’s too strong, but I don’t want you to come looking for me. I’ll find my way back to the shop, I promise, but don’t come looking for me, Aziraphale—do you understand? Don’t look.”
With a final shudder, Crowley disappears, and Aziraphale is left with empty hands in an empty bookshop, throat raw from a mangled scream.
He comes to in a dark basement, lit by black candles spread around a red circle with spiraling designs on the floor that smells a lot like it was drawn in snake’s blood.
It’s all nauseatingly clichéd. For Hell’s sake, the prick that summoned him here is even dressed in a black robe—granted, they look more like sheet covers that he’s wrapped around himself in a particularly clever way—but he’s not sure whether that actually makes it worse or not.
His head is pounding, mouth dry, and he feels exhausted, drained by how much he’d spent fighting the summons—but most of all he’s pissed off.
“If you know what’s good for you,” Crowley says, keeping his voice low and even, “you’ll let me go right now, before I decide that I like the look of your insides on the outside.”
The man just stares at him as though he can’t quite believe that he’s pulled this whole dark magic lark off.
“Deaf, are you?”
“No.” The man hits a light the wall behind him and suddenly the whole room is flooded with bright, fluorescent light; Crowley raises a hand to try and cover his eyes from the sudden onslaught, hissing in pain. “You’re a demon, then?”
“No, I’m a leprechaun.” Crowley rolls his eyes despite the throb of agony it sends through him—wishing like hell that he still had his glasses. “Of course I’m a demon, what else am I going to be?”
The man shrugs. “Just seems a bit stereotypical is all, what with the whole red hair, yellow eyes, wearing all black.”
“Well, bit of truth in every story and all that.” Crowley drawls, leaning back and feeling his hand connect with the invisible barrier around the edge of the circle. Summoning rites and a holding circle, how bloody brilliant. “Right, now that you’ve had your little taste of the occult, why don’t we go our separate ways while I’m still in a reasonably good mood?”
“I don’t think so.” The man shrugs off the robe and places it on the back of a seat tucked into a desk, the surface of which is covered with what looks like the remains of whatever materials he used to construct Crowley’s cage. “I need you to find someone for me.”
“Should’ve called a detective then.” Crowley says, but he can feel his power just under the surface of his skin reacting to the man’s words, like electricity just waiting for a circuit to charge down.
“I tried that; this was the next step.” The man picks up a photograph from the desk and moves over to Crowley, holding it in front of him. “I need you to find this woman.”
Crowley regards the man and the photograph with an arched eyebrow. “Why?”
“That’s none of your business.” The man snaps, tapping the photo insistently as though he can kick start Crowley into action by treating him like an electrical device that’s playing up. “This woman, where is she?”
Crowley sighs. “How the heaven should I know?”
He can see her, in his mind’s eye, sitting on a bench while the sun lights up her red hair, watching her dog run around with some other ones and smiling fondly when it inevitably does something silly, like all dogs do. She looks calm, at peace, and the park bench makes him think of Aziraphale, back at his shop and he hopes to somebody that he’s staying put until Crowley can make his way out of this. Until he can make his way home.
“You’re a demon.” The man stresses the word, as though reminding Crowley of something he’s forgotten, “A demon that I summoned, so that means you have to do what I say, and I am telling you to find this woman. Her name is Sarah McCray, she’s 29 years old, and she was born on August 1st.”
The thing with compulsions, with any old magic like this, written and bound in blood and desire, is wording. You have to be precise, clear-cut, otherwise any clever bugger with half a wit of imagination can think his way through the loopholes in your words. And Crowley has significantly more than half a wit; when it comes to imagination at least.
The man had told him to find the woman, but he hadn’t told him to reveal where she was.
Crowley shrugs. “Well, I’m afraid you drew the short straw when it comes to demons. I haven’t got a clue where she is.”
The man turns on his heel with a snarl, storming back over to the desk and slamming the photograph down on the desk. “I can send you to hell, you know.”
“Oh, really?” Crowley gives him a wide grin that’s all teeth. “Why don’t you give it your best shot.”
For a moment it looks like the man might try, but then he regains control of himself with a couple of deep breaths, letting his hand slowly relax from the tight fist he had made with it.
“Well, hopefully, for your sake, you’ll change your mind soon.” The man sneers at Crowley, drawn up self-righteously as though he is anything more than an ant compared to him. “I have all the time in the world.”
“I assure you,” Crowley says, shifting slightly so he’s reclining lazily, spread out as much as he can be, and aiming a confident smirk in the man’s direction, “I have more.”
He’s searching, extending his being out frantically and trying to find any trace of him but there’s nothing, whoever is—whoever has him must have used some sort of spell that completely contains his being, effectively hiding it from the world at large—hiding it from him.
Crowley, Aziraphale thinks, hand gripping his kitchen table so hard that it creaks and groans under the pressure, where are you?
And then he feels it—a pulse of energy that’s sheer Crowley reaching out into the world, tendrils of his power seeking out something—and he rushes to grasp it, to try and locate its source and he feels himself being pulled north—
But then in an instant it’s gone, slipping through his fingers, withdrawn back to the limits of whatever cage is confining it—confining him—and the table snaps in half.
He slumps into the chair next to it, hands shaking violently as he struggles to remember how to breathe through the overwhelming frustration coursing through him.
Aziraphale will find him, there’s no other alternative, no other option remotely available, not one single possible scenario existing where he just sits and waits like some sort of useless dithering lump for Crowley to fight his way back to their home, back to him.
The source of the power had come from the north, so that’s where Aziraphale will go.
As he leaves the shop, locking and warding it with a snap of his fingers, Crowley’s last—Crowley’s words come to mind, yellow eyes wide and desperate before vanishing right before Aziraphale’s.
Strange, that Crowley had known him for six thousand years, and still thought that there was any chance of that.
He pretends not to see the way that the man watches him, staring off into the ceiling and thinking about all the restaurants that Aziraphale had wanted to take them to and trying to decide which one he’ll be in the mood for once he leaves this place. The headache and dry mouth feeling had subsided sometime around noon on the second day and he had attempted to blow out the barrier surrounding him and keeping him pinned in place; but it had made his being writhe like it was being bathed in holy water so he gave up after a few minutes and acquiesced to nursing yet another headache.
Now though, the man has graduated from merely watching him from afar, moving his chair over to just outside of the circle, and is asking him questions.
“What’s your name, then? If you have one, that is.”
“Anthony.” Crowley replies, not looking away from the ceiling.
“Anthony?” The man’s nose wrinkles. “Seems an odd name for a demon…did you choose it or was it assigned to you?”
“Doesn’t work like that for us, nobody gives us a name like your lot do.”
“So, did you choose it then?”
Crowley’s fingers twitch briefly from the slight tug on his being that results from pushing back against the compulsion to answer. “Yes, I chose it—don’t you have anything more important to do?”
“No.” The man says, his eyes never once leaving Crowley, “Not until you find Sarah for me.”
Crowley sighs, seeing the woman, Sarah, reading a book with her dog curled up by her feet. “I told you already, I can’t find her—are you sure she isn’t dead?”
“Yes.” The man replies, and his conviction would be rather alarming if Crowley were anything less than what he is. “What about your eyes, then, do all demons have eyes like yours?”
Crowley thinks of Aziraphale commenting on his eyes one night, both of them drunk on so much wine it was astounding, whispering softly about how enthralling they were and if Crowley had made them that way to be able to better…tempt people.
“No, be rather hard to tell us apart otherwise.”
“Right.” The man nods, as if this makes sense, as if any part of divinity or the supernatural could ever remotely make any sense to any human. “So, what are you then? A corrupted human soul, a fallen angel, how does this stuff work?”
“What does it matter?” Crowley snaps, heart beating rapidly in his chest.
“It matters because I say so.” The man replies. “Are you a corrupted human soul, or a fallen angel—tell me.”
Crowley’s back arches, hands scrabbling against the concrete floor and drawing blood, every nerve fibre in his body burning as he fights against the words bubbling up in his throat.
“Fallen…Angel.” He hisses between his teeth, the words practically ripped out of him, and in an instant the pain disappears, and he drops forward, barely managing to brace his fall with his forearms.
The man is fascinated, drinking in his pain with a familiar look in his eyes—it’s one that Crowley has seen in every brutal dictator or rebel leader gone mad—the same look on every psychopath’s face as they tear an animal apart to see what makes it scream best.
“It hurts you.” The man says, captain of the obvious, “To try and lie to me…to try and fight me.”
“You,” Crowley snarls, his body still trembling from the aftershocks of agony, “are rapidly approaching the point where, when I get free, I will no longer be in any kind of good mood.”
Aziraphale’s spent the last day and a half travelling north, investigating all the spikes of evil that he can feel, and though each time he sends the perpetrators packing, not once do any of them lead him any closer to Crowley.
And then, ten miles from the Scottish border, he feels it again—that sudden surge of pure Crowley, stronger now—closer—and his heart leaps into his throat because he knows surer than anything that he’s almost there—that he’s almost to him.
Hold on, my dear, Aziraphale entreats, as the power fades once more, I’m coming for you.
“What are you doing—Stop.”
Crowley’s fingers freeze where they’re adding to the sigils surrounding the circle, blood from where he’d bitten his wrist earlier mingling with the blood from whatever poor unfortunate snake this man had used.
“Are you trying to escape?” The man sounds incredulous, outraged, as though he’s the most gracious host in the whole universe and Crowley is being incredibly rude by trying to leave.
“Is it that surprising?” Crowley drawls, cursing inwardly, the hold on him has weakened somewhat thanks to his ministrations, but it’s not enough for him to tear himself free—not yet. “Look, we've already established that I can’t help you—what’s the point in keeping me here?”
“I summoned you.” The man snaps, striding forward to stand in front of circle again, “I’ll decide when, or if, to let you go.”
Ah, Crowley thinks, he’s one of those.
“Just—don’t move until I say so.” The man says.
Crowley sighs, long suffering, and leans back—because the bastard already said ‘so’, hadn’t he? “I really think it would be better for all of us if you just—”
“I said,” The man growls, and then realization hits him, eyes widening, and Crowley feels sheer unbridled panic stop his heart.
The man regards Crowley cautiously, turning his words over in his mind. “I said, don’t move until I say…”
He trails off, but he must finish the compulsion in his mind because suddenly Crowley is paralyzed—every feature set into place like he was no longer made of flesh but carved into stone.
The man circles Crowley slowly, a smile that lights up his eyes with that familiar mad glint spreading across his face. “Tilt your head back, and hold it there until I say…”
Crowley feels his body acting on its own, and no matter how he tries to fight against it the agony that the compulsion bathes him in makes it impossible to resist—but he does try, and a wretched, chocked kind of gasp falls unbidden past his lips when he finally gives in to the pain.
The man runs his hand through Crowley’s hair, stroking it gently at first, before gripping it tightly and tugging his head backwards; exposing his neck further and meeting Crowley’s glare with an utterly fascinated gaze.
“You said you’re a fallen angel.” The man says, and Crowley feels his insides freeze at the contemplative tone, “Does that mean you used to have wings?”
Crowley doesn’t answer and the man tightens his grip in his hair. “Tell me whether you had wings or not.”
“Yes.” Crowley hisses, and oh somebody, when he finally gets free, he is going to tear this pathetic human to pieces.
The man drinks in the rage burning bright in Crowley’s eyes. “What happened to them? Did they burn when you fell, or do you still have them?”
“Get fucked.” Crowley snarls, and gets another yank on his hair for his trouble.
“Still have them.” Crowley hates the tremor in his voice as he speaks.
His wings manifest, curling around him as they meet the barrier of the holding circle—unable to properly stretch out—and he struggles to pull them back in as quick as he can, but the man gives another vicious jerk of his hair that makes Crowley’s eyes water.
“Keep them there until I say.”
The man lets go of Crowley’s hair and starts to trace his fingers over his feathers instead, Crowley shaking from the effort to try and break free, his grip gentle at first until he grabs hold of one of his feathers the same way he had his hair—
--and yanks it out.
Crowley tries to bite back the cry of pain that the action rips from his lips, but he can’t quite manage it, gasping and shuddering pitifully as the first tears fall from his eyes.
“Beg me to stop and I will.” The man says, when he already has a fistful of Crowley’s feathers and it still pulling out more, choosing them at random and Crowley is caught between two pains, the fight against the compulsion, and this lunatic tearing his wings apart.
“Stop, you bloody stupid—” He’s cut off by his own ragged gasp as the man takes hold of several of his feathers at once and rips them from his wings.
“That’s not begging.”
Crowley is going to salt the earth with his flesh.
“Please,” he snarls, but despite his best efforts to hold back the pain’s influence, it gets the better of him and the word turns into a desperate plea, tears running freely down his face. And thank whoever that Aziraphale isn’t here to see this; to see him brought low like this, forced to beg this—human—for mercy. “Stop—”
He can’t move to look at the owner of the voice, frozen in position with his head thrown back and eyes locked onto the ceiling, but he knows who it belongs to like he knows who his heart belongs to, and the dizzying rush of relief it sends through him is quickly overcome by the sickening lurch of panic.
There’s a reason for the concept of Divine Wrath.
While Aziraphale himself has never exercised it before, he’s aware that the potential for it exists in him, as it does with all the other angels. After all, what use would a warrior of anything, never mind of God herself, be if they couldn’t be a little wrathful from time to time?
And when he arrives in that thrice damned basement, pain and darkness so thick in the air it almost chokes him, and smells Crowley’s blood on the floor and dripping from the bite mark on his wrist, sees the way his whole body is trembling from the effort of holding itself in place, head thrown back as tears fall down his face, and his wings—God in heaven—his wings—
The human that summoned him has bunches of Crowley’s feathers in his grimy hands, as though they’re nothing more than pieces of shiny candy to hoard, a few of them slipping through his fingers to the floor below.
“Who are you?” The man asks, staring at Aziraphale like he’s some sort of roach that crawled out from under the carpet. “And how did you get in? The door was locked—”
He snaps his fingers and the man freezes in place, and with another snap the circle surrounding Crowley disappears instantly, the demon slumping down to the floor as though he were a marionette whose strings had finally been severed.
“Crowley.” He rushes forward, taking the demon in his arms. “Oh, my dear—”
“Aziraphale.” Crowley mutters into Aziraphale’s chest, and he has the gall to sound angry beneath all the exhaustion practically drowning him. “Thought I told you to stay put and wait—”
“And do what? Put the kettle on and leave you to—to this?” Aziraphale cuts him off sharply, running his hands over Crowley’s body, finding the painful parts and healing them before turning his attention to his wings, feathers re-growing under his fingertips. Crowley leans into the slight touches, breathing in and out slowly as Aziraphale knits his being back together.
“‘S what I said.” He mumbles, but there’s no heat in it, and he winces for some reason that Aziraphale can’t quite discern.
“You know, my dear,” Aziraphale says, stroking a gentle hand over Crowley’s face as the demon’s wings retract and his yellow eyes slip closed, “I’ve found that sometimes, only on rare occasions mind you, it’s best to ignore what you say.”
Crowley huffs out a sigh. “’S what I tried to tell him, Angel, but—” he jerks a thumb towards where the man is still frozen, “—he wasn’t having any of it.”
Aziraphale’s grip on Crowley tightens, and he gently pulls his lax body further into his arms, tucking his other arm under Crowley’s legs to support them and pushing to his feet.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley murmurs insistently, lips brushing against the skin in the crook of the angel’s neck as he offers one last stand against the exhaustion pulling him down into sleep, “He’s got some of my feathers…we have to make sure—”
“Don’t worry, my darling,” Aziraphale soothes, as the concrete floor beneath them turns to wood, piles of straw gathering in the corners of the room, and the man’s eyes glisten with very real panic as the feathers in his still frozen hand begin to smoulder.
“I’ll take care of it.”
Crowley wakes up in his bed back in the bookshop, blankets wrapped around him, and Aziraphale lying next to him, reading a book.
“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Aziraphale says, putting down the book and tucking a stray hair out of Crowley’s eyes, his hand lingering for a moment longer than necessary. “How are you feeling?”
Crowley groans, stretching out and relishing the feeling. “A damn sight better than I was.”
“I’m sorry,” Crowley stops, shooting Aziraphale a confused look, “that I wasn’t able to get to you faster—I tried but, well, whatever it was he used it—it confined you so completely that I—I wasn’t able to—”
“Angel.” Crowley reaches out, heart swelling in his chest, taking Aziraphale’s hand in his own. “Don’t be an idiot, you’re too clever for that.”
Aziraphale swallows, visibly, squeezing Crowley’s hand back, before grabbing the side of his face and crashing their lips together and—oh—oh it’s like—it’s so—right.
Crowley kisses back, hands coming up to slide around Aziraphale’s neck and deepen the kiss, tilting his head and slipping his tongue past Aziraphale’s lips to taste his mouth, groaning when Aziraphale meets him just as fervently, clutching their bodies together.
“Never again,” Aziraphale murmurs, as their lips part, lungs aching for air, “that will never happen again.”
“Angel,” Crowley breaths, heart seizing in his chest, rubbing a thumb against his love’s cheek as his other hand strokes his arm, “I can’t promise you—”
“I’m not asking you to.” Aziraphale tells him, thinking of all the books that he had struck Crowley’s name from while he slept beside him, breaths coming slow and sure and steady as the morning sun cast a soft glow over his face. “I’m promising you.”
He brings their lips together in another kiss, deep but not as urgent, because they have all the time in the world to do this, now and forever. And as Crowley meets him, hands so gentle on his skin, he feels their love encompass them like a blanket—warm and soft and he wants nothing more than to lay under it for the rest of time.
And Somebody help anyone who tries to stop them.