Though he did suspect it for quite some time, it wasn’t until Aziraphale first settled himself in Britannia that he confirmed – or, rather, had confirmed for him – that Crowley, following times of overwhelming distress, resorted to the snake form as a means of finding comfort and solitude.
Solitude would likely be easy for him in such a way – humans consistently remained inclined to avoid serpents in all forms, after all. (Excepting some curious adventurers, collectors, and circus staff. They don’t speak of circus staff after one incident in which—well. One incident of which they do not speak.)
He had first seen Crowley as a serpent in the Garden, but the snake, as he ran into him in later years, made himself a bit different. Massive beasts were not exactly discreet in any sense, so there was sense in the change. Crowley’s snake form was of a more common size than those who grew in the depths of rainforests and such, which surely enabled him to move about in shadows and in silence if he so pleased.
Usually, as soon as Aziraphale spotted him, he would move to human form and they’d meet face-to-face, as humans do. But Crowley must have understood that neither form was exactly shocking to Aziraphale and sometimes he just wouldn’t make the shift. They met so often and in passing that it didn’t cross Aziraphale’s mind as strange, really.
Anyway, it was ultimately more a matter of discretion, yes. While any snake at all might kick up a fuss out in public, a talking snake with a now-familiar size and shape wouldn’t be shocking to Aziraphale at all.
The pattern was there. It just wasn’t something the angel picked up on until they’d known one another for a few thousand years.
At one time, Aziraphale was the guest of a house of monks. It was in those days following his arrival on the island that would come to be quite comfortable to him throughout the ages. Thanks to their bookish company and fine stores of jugged wine, he found himself inclined to be happy and settled amongst the illuminated volumes, with great access to fascinating locals and like-minded clergy. The stone building had stood there quite some time and, from their quarters there, the monks were building a church and intending to spread all the glories of God and other such holy aspects. It was no hardship to be assigned to witness this undertaking and Aziraphale set about spending a pleasant summer that would, in fact, turn into a centuries-long stay in the land.
At the height of that season, as he sat quietly in the workroom studying a text, he heard what could only be described as a plodding.
Someone came down the hall, sopping wet, drenched and heavy of cloth, and dumped themselves on a nearby bench. They huffed and flung their hair from their face, spattering the manuscript behind them that a monk had left to dry.
“I say,” Aziraphale had to at least give a token objection. Only the face revealed by the gesture was Crowley’s and he ended up rolling his eyes rather than lecturing.
Crowley patted his pockets and finally shuffled through the cloth sack, a dripping mass at his side. “I hate,” he found what he was looking for and jammed the glasses on his face. “Boats.”
“You hate traveling by boat,” Aziraphale felt bound to correct. “It’s not a boat’s fault that you can’t manage to stay on it.”
When Crowley tossed both hands and dropped them to his knees again, droplets flew from his sleeves. “Well.” Aziraphale sighed. “Why get on the boat if you dislike it so much? An assignment?” he guessed. He also closed his current pages to protect them from the demon’s souvenir seawater.
“No, I just wanted to pop over and see how you were, you know, the usual,” Crowley sneered. “And now I need a place to dry out,” the fight dropped out of him faster than Aziraphale had ever seen. Walking up from the shore so very waterlogged would drain anyone’s strength, to be sure.
Averse as he was to encouraging Crowley’s wiles, he felt bound by propriety to offer some room and, in fact, did. Thankfully Crowley found the monks a boring lot and left on his assignment two days later (without even saying a proper good-bye to anybody).
No loss. Aziraphale went back to his books, helped earn the trust of the locals by aiding in efforts to run the foxes off when some sheep started to go missing, and was pleased to send glowing reports to heaven of three Christian conversions in the nearby village. Good Works were afoot in all corners.
Whatever assignment the Other Side had sent Crowley on, Aziraphale heard no word of it. At least not immediately.
The most he knew of any other goings-on across the island took the shape of a small black serpent, who appeared in Aziraphale’s chamber a few months later. It was almost autumn again. Plenty of time to travel north, have an entire city sacked, and then travel south again. Not likely by boat this time. And he wasn’t sure about the sacked city, considering spotty reports.
All he knew was a small bit of shock at seeing the serpent so suddenly appear in a shallow basin in his room. And he also knew the wide gold of Crowley’s eyes.
“Well,” Aziraphale said, much as he had the first time. But there was no reply. There was no conversation at all. Crowley just curled himself into a circle and made no comment.
There was no hefting the snake out into the nearby wilds. He wasn’t exactly causing trouble and, besides, in this form he wouldn’t take up all the resources of a regular houseguest.
Aziraphale fetched a different vessel to keep water and wash his hands. And moved the first basin closer to the window to catch the warmth of daylight.
He bid the snake good-night when extinguishing his candles. Good-morning when he gathered his books and scrolls at breakfast.
Crowley slept most of those days away. Didn’t move much at all. He’d slither away every now and then, probably for food and water, but mostly he only left the basin when Aziraphale neglected to move it into the best light.
At length, the nights grew. The grain went into storage. The monks had to let the pigs in at night. And the windows were battered by the oncoming winds of winter, no longer serving to keep the serpent comfortable.
It would have been too dangerous to leave things alight in his room. Aziraphale didn’t want to burn down the monks’ home, of course, so he studied from his quarters in order to keep it lit with warmth.
Crowley’s acknowledgement of this change was merely in the form of his arrival on Aziraphale’s table, as he read.
Crowley could very well speak in this form but didn’t until Aziraphale would playfully act as if he was careless, closing the snake’s tale in the pages as he shuffled through his books. And even then, he wouldn’t really speak much. He’d laugh. He’d curse lightly. Sigh, “Really, Angel? Seriously?”
And that was all.
In the week before the first snow, Aziraphale came back to his room to find a brooch in the basin. The one he’d used to clasp his cloak in place had long-ago been deemed “ugly” by the demon, so Lord only knew where Crowley had chucked it before he left. The brooch in the basin was silver, penannular. The pin was a sword and the ring two connected wings.
Crowley didn’t say good-bye, but he had said a kind of thank-you.
Nothing like it happened again for years. The pattern, however, was too recognizable to be mistaken when it did reoccur.
When commended for some catastrophe of which he was no part, Crowley became a completely disconsolate mess, but he still actually handled those occasions better than when he was, in fact, party to such disaster.
If he was blamed, but not actually at fault, Aziraphale may find him on the verge of discorporation due to alcohol poisoning, but at least he would say what was wrong. It was worse when he had an assignment he couldn’t breathe a word of. It was worse when he would smile bitterly and leave silently, haunted beyond expression.
Aziraphale got the distinct impression that Crowley wouldn’t say what it was for fear of real angelic wrath on his part – as a competitor, if not simply as a resident of this lovely planet.
Or perhaps it was more a wish to completely disassociate himself from his job.
Aziraphale decided that they could do that. He didn’t have a problem with it. After all, there were extremes Aziraphale wouldn’t want to be associated with on his side, as well. Missions angels and religious zealots engaged in which he would make himself pointedly unavailable to assist.
Humans didn’t come up with crusades and witch burning all on their own. That kind of thing.
It must be harder – simply must be – to make oneself unavailable to the orders of Hell. Aziraphale’s disobedience would, at worst, result in recall to Heaven and reassignment. He’d heard (though he wouldn’t know the truth of it for a long time, hence) that Hell routinely and recklessly killed their own for similar disobedience, or even the slightest of inconveniences.
Permanent dispatch was far less likely on Aziraphale’s part.
It was an actual threat to Crowley.
If he could bring himself to say what he’d done, what horrors he’d seen or worked towards, Aziraphale wouldn’t actually blame him. He might have a hard time with it, but doubtless the demon was quite able to punish himself in the silence of his own mind with much more dexterity and aplomb than Aziraphale could manage from the outside.
When Aziraphale moved to the settlement on the river, the Romans had left some time ago. It was becoming quite the place to be.
Here, the snake appeared unannounced the second time. Crowley didn’t even show his human face, simply slithered in an open window and down to the floor and up his table and over to his plate, giving him a bit of a shock.
Aziraphale leaned in, wide-eyed.
To see the tell-tale gold and then relax again. “It’s you,” he breathed. “Goodness, my dear.” He was all set to say something about manners and sending word ahead and-
The snake wrapped around his drinking cup and simply seemed to rest.
It was a gesture that felt familiar.
It had been an ink pot, last time, as winter set in near the coast.
Aziraphale hesitated on saying something several times. But gave up and finished his breakfast quietly.
This second time was different. He knew his windows were poorly situated for good daylight and great gusts would come off the river, keeping the town cool. He would find Crowley all over his small home, under this window and that, in drawers and atop shelves. Aziraphale figured out that Crowley had been searching for someplace both protected and warm. Someplace to brood and be left alone and somehow avoid too much cold.
He didn’t listen when Aziraphale said the nice basket he’d placed directly next to the hearth was where he’d find most comfort. He kept trying to get in the drawers. So at some point Aziraphale finally. Well.
Picked him up.
He scooped up the snake and got a surprised hiss for it.
“I have an associate coming over, dear boy,” Aziraphale chided, careful to coil Crowley around his hand entirely before moving him very far. “And I don’t mean for you to be uncomfortable, but I am at my wit’s end attempting to guess where you’ll pop out next. No- no popping while I’ve got visitors. If you would be so kind,” he stooped next to the basket and helped Crowley in.
He seemed to assess the space once he’d been set down. Aziraphale had chosen a rather large basket and lined it with a folded cloth.
Crowley looked up at him. “Thought it would be ssscratchy.”
“That’s why you wouldn’t go- did you honestly think I was-” he was lost for words, annoyed.
He sighed. “You are welcome, of course. I’m putting a lid on. No popping,” he pointed.
Crowley put his tail up as if pledging his honor. “No popping.”
The basket, it turned out, would topple to the side each time Crowley tried to crawl in or out by himself. So when Aziraphale offered his hand the next time, he slithered up and let himself be placed in the soft space.
It was something like a month. One month and then he walked into the room on two legs and took Aziraphale to dinner. And he was off again.
The lid was on the basket when Aziraphale went home. He didn’t think to check inside until the next morning. A new quill sat there with an inkpot, perfect for writing. He didn’t actually give so much thought to the color of the feather. So many used for writing were black, after all.
The next time it happened, he was alerted to Crowley’s presence by a scream.
Not Crowley’s scream. A lady’s scream.
Clearly Crowley was trying to stay well out of the way, tight against the baseboard of the far wall, but it sent the whole tea party into an uproar, anyway.
The woman’s gentleman suitor pulled her away with haste and made to move on the snake with his cane.
Aziraphale stepped in the way instantly, pleading a case for “All God’s Creatures” in effort to prevent the killing.
Indeed for Crowley to show up at such a time and in such a manner, being discorporated and forced to slog through the process of regaining his body would be more torture than the usual for him. Aziraphale’s theory regarding the snake form was proven, in his own estimation, and enduring Hell while he was in such a mental state could only be agony. Aziraphale wouldn’t wish that on him.
He made a show of ‘capturing’ the creature (who did not help, what with his nearly sarcastic attempt to let himself be cornered with feigned fuss) and ‘releasing’ the snake into the back garden.
“I am not going in your pocket!!” Crowley hissed at the back door.
“Then you’re going in the street!” Aziraphale whispered. “Get back on your own two legs and find proper lodgings, for goodness’ sake!”
He slumped in Aziraphale’s hand and then down over his wrist, inspecting the small flower patch.
Rejecting it, he moved back up over Aziraphale’s sleeve.
A passing couple stared and balked, moving to the opposite side of the road. Aziraphale flashed them what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “My guests will think I’ve been bitten and follow in a moment,” he warned in a hushed tone. “Into the garden, now-”
“What about under your hat?”
“You won’t go in my pocket, but you’ll go in my hat?” the mind boggled.
“’S warm. Topss of headssss.”
“Crowley, it would be rude of me to keep my hat on while-” he heard someone coming behind him, within the room. “You must go.”
It turned out the real problem with the inner pocket of Aziraphale’s coat wasn’t the indignity of the location, but the sway of the material as its wearer moved about the room and walked about the house.
Once all the guests were waved off and the place was empty again, he had to dig Crowley out and, if he wasn’t quite mistaken, there was a bit of a green tinge to his black scales.
“Oh my. I’ll get you a dish of water,” he decided at once. There was no basket anymore so he set Crowley down on the plush armchair and that’s actually where he mostly stayed for the next week.
Crowley would curl up at the top of the chair and read over his shoulder. Until he eventually moved to the arm and draped himself there in a comfortable zig-zag.
One evening Aziraphale found himself idly skimming a thumb over Crowley’s sleek head, both of them drowsy and barely moving, book fallen to the side.
These days were different than those in which they met as two beings who very much appeared to be human. These were muffled times. They hardly talked. If Crowley appeared as a man and sat on his couch and drank with him, there’d be food and conversation and trading information and all manner of regular, well. Interaction.
But these times weren’t even spoken of between them when it was back to the arrangement as usual.
Crowley was very nearly bashed to death. Something was so wrong about that.
This is the time and place when he shouldn’t have to worry about such things. It even made Aziraphale feel almost cross with his party guest, though he knew very well the man was only reacting on instinct and in the protection of others.
Aziraphale had to protect someone in that moment, too. Not just another creature in creation, but someone he knows, from experience, is in a great deal of unnamable distress.
And all Crowley needs in order to be able to get a handle on it is this: quiet and warmth in a form that takes up the least amount of room possible.
It made Aziraphale’s heart ache to think that Crowley made himself so small. Yes, naturally he would be more inconspicuous as less of a giant anaconda and more of a common garden snake, but Aziraphale built on his theories with a new one: that Crowley’s form hadn’t changed so much for ill intent and concealment as to go unnoticed. After all, another demon might lust for the fear that a giant snake might inspire. Or covet the power inherent in such a large, agile, muscular form. At this size no one would cower from him. Maybe flinch. But he was, as recently proven, a smushable size. So small he might not even register to humans, sensitives, or his demonic superiors.
On impulse, in this close and quiet moment, Aziraphale scooped him up off the arm of the chair and into both hands where Crowley curved and curled over his fingers, rested in the cradle of his palms, tongue flicking out against his thumb on occasion.
He dare not ever say so, but in a private place, very much shielded and hidden away in his own mind, Aziraphale suspected even more: either Crowley had a limited ability to endure the horrific abuse of his superiors, or he was too unfortunately connected to this world and its inhabitants to watch terror inflicted upon them without some mental and emotional repercussion.
Never would he breathe aloud his assumptions or his knowledge. It would be cruelty beyond Aziraphale’s capabilities to watch Crowley flinch from an acknowledgement that he’s somewhat sensitive or that he needs these quiet and comfortable moments.
Some things are just better off not being said.
And such declarations would surely result in a decades-long disappearance. A tongue-lashing, first, to be sure. To prove that he wasn’t so sensitive as he was cross, and then Crowley would take any assignment he could get his hands on so long as it kept at least an entire ocean between them.
Surely he shouldn’t know the shape of things quite so well. But Aziraphale did. This could be a sharper weapon than he’d ever had his hands on or, as he preferred instead, a private matter shared between two.
It thrilled him a little to even have private matters. To imagine he was one of two. Their acquaintance – or partnership or friendship or whatever this was – had become important to Aziraphale. As technologies would only shrink this world and bring the two of them into closer orbit, he actually fancied there wasn’t anyone he would be more content to either stand in opposition to or prop up on the way home from an inadvisable amount of drinking.
Mindful that Crowley liked most to be left alone, he only handled the snake for a short while and then carefully unwound him back onto the chair’s arm.
Except Crowley followed his warm hand as he pulled away and reached and reached and reached too far and landed in a drowsy-confused flop upon Aziraphale’s knee.
He only laughed a little at the snake’s baffled look and helped him back up before he could cast a hurt look on his companion. It would only make Aziraphale want to handle and coddle him even more.
The visit was cut quite short as orders arrived the next day for Aziraphale to make his way to the Caribbean, of all places.
“Well,” he tossed himself back into the chair, reading the letter again. “I know you’re not fond of travel by water. Though I’ve heard it’s quite warm in the islands. What do you think?” He wouldn’t hope too much for it, but company would be nice on a journey that long.
Crowley came down from the top of the chair to his shoulder and read along with him. Sighed. “Boatssss.”
“Indeed,” he agreed.
“Sssuppose I’ll be on my way,” Crowley tried to make the declaration breezy and carefree and Aziraphale didn’t believe it even a bit, not least of all because Crowley didn’t move from his shoulder. It’s likely they were both sat there puzzling the same thing: was it something that could be accomplished by letter or even by human chance, without leaving the comfort of home?
But there was really nothing for it. Some orders were ironclad.
He worried. He did.
They’d only had a few days of quiet in the aftermath of the tea party – and the aftermath of whatever it was that Crowley had endured which sent him to seek the peace of Aziraphale’s plush chair, in the first place.
Settling in on the ship, he found a book in his trunk that he knew he hadn’t put there. Some great contemporary study of new-world natives that he’d heard of but not yet been able to lay his hands on. The knowledge would come in handy on his assignment and the reading helped him pass his time quite well on board.
But the warmth of the islands never did put him to ease.
Crowley wouldn’t settle in London until some years after Aziraphale had established the bookshop. But he would live there for short periods of time and quiet often in his serpent form.
He left Aziraphale another book. A letter-opener with a beautiful, detailed engraving. A bookmark in the shape of a letter “A” that clipped into place. A new chain for his pocket watch when he needed one.
In the 1960s there was a rather bad episode. He saw neither hide nor hair of Crowley for about a month, only to discover a snake sleeping in the unused bedroom upstairs.
Eventually he coaxed Crowley down to the shop, but he seemed to agree to the move more out of annoyance for how often Aziraphale cracked open the creaky old door than out of interest in any of the goings-on there.
One particular morning, Aziraphale made himself a nice, hot cup of tea and Crowley would hiss annoyance every time he dared raise it to have a sip, as he’d curled round the base, warm and snug.
Much as Aziraphale had high hopes that a snake openly lounging about the countertops would run away any persistent customers, one such gentleman, seeming to deliberately miss the point, had the audacity to suggest that it was “Best to keep such fellows as that in a great large tank or sumfink.”
The snake looked up at the man who remained oblivious to his glare.
Aziraphale stabbed the register keys and overcharged for the book he insisted on buying by about eighty percent.
“A tank indeed,” he huffed as the man finally left the shop.
“Do I look like a fucking fish??” Crowley’s tail twitched irritably.
He didn’t suggest it aloud, but Aziraphale rather uncharitably thought Crowley should feel free to give any such bothers as that a bit of a (non-venomous) nip if his form alone wasn’t enough to run off such an insensible git.
Instead of encouraging violence, he returned to the apartment upstairs to fetch a neat little pillow and gathered Crowley up, delivering him right to the center of it, as if he were a prize specimen on prominent display. “There, now.”
“A tank,” Crowley still wondered, coiling tight (and sort of wriggling adorably) into place. “Sssay, aren’t businesss hours quite over for the day?”
“Nearly,” Aziraphale yawned.
“Yes,” he decided. “Yes, nearly enough.” He shut the till and found his keys. Marched up to lock the door.
“Like a common goldfish. A tank!” Crowley sneered.
Neither of them scoffed at the implication that the serpent was a pet, however, and Aziraphale only knew that, for his part, it was because idly petting Crowley’s sleek head was a lovely sort of way to pass a quiet evening as they both read from the same book and lounged in the plush chair.
A memorandum arrived, some weeks later, sealed from Hell and requiring the proper magic to open. Crowley languished long and long-suffering on the table in the backroom, occasionally circling the envelope. He rarely unspooled himself to full length and the way he spanned out several feet across the furniture that day spoke of disquiet and anxiety, even if he wouldn’t express such aloud.
“I can attempt to open it, if you’d like,” Aziraphale had offered. He knew fingers were necessary to perform the action and Crowley was still loathe to have any additional limbs for the moment.
“Ngh,” he eventually said and managed to slither up on the pillow again to be taken out to the shop along with the afternoon tea.
He fidgeted and squirmed too much. It distracted Aziraphale from his reading. Made them both laugh when it successfully ran a young lad from the shop, though.
“I have to open it,” Crowley finally sighed.
Aziraphale marked his page and placed his book aside. “I don’t want you to,” he confessed.
“So many wilesss to thwart, sso little time, eh?”
They both knew it wasn’t that. Aziraphale didn’t even dignify this with a response. “It’s been about two months,” he commented, propping his head on his hand. “That doesn’t seem like enough time.”
“’Nuff for what?” Crowley left his pillow to go nose at some of the other books lying around. He liked to flip the covers open and leave them that way. When he got round to annoying Aziraphale and talking more than usual, true enough, it often meant that he felt so well (or bored enough) that he may soon move on from whatever had made him seek out the safety of his serpentine form.
But. “For a holiday.”
“Humans don’t even have holidays that last that long anymore.”
“They ought to. Poor things. They’ll start working themselves ragged, the way all this progress nonsense is going. But two months in the whole scheme of things? For us? No, not nearly enough, I say.”
Crowley was quiet for a while, swaying high on his belly while reading a page and then moving on to flip open another book. “Doubt Hell will agree. That’s just how it is.” He considered another book for a moment and then flipped open a fifth with his tail. The hardcover was heavy and it took him two tries. “I’ll open the memo tomorrow.”
Aziraphale watched him for another moment and then moved to snap the books closed. He scooped Crowley up faster than he could protest and draped the snake around his collar.
He flinched a little when Crowley’s tongue flicked against his ear. “Oh, hush.” He locked the shop up and decided to head out for a nice dinner. “If this really is the end of your holiday, we best make the most of it. Veeraswamy or the Townhouse, my dear, what will it be?”
“Sssomething with ssseafood, I should think,” he finally sighed as Aziraphale turned to pull on his coat. “Alright. Let me down. I ought to have feet for thisss.”
In the great dining room (which a private club had strangely and inexplicably opened to just these two non-members for the night), a confused fellow with a few too many drinks in him approached their table and attempted to remove Crowley’s eyewear.
Aziraphale stayed the man’s hand with enough force to break it.
It was on instinct and, even a few minutes later, he couldn’t articulate a proper excuse for his behavior.
Crowley wasn’t small or vulnerable, but something within Aziraphale simply felt as if he still was. Other hands reaching out to take something from him – let alone something that made him feel unseen and normal and secure out in public – were just, without question, a threat.
It had been an overreaction, yes, but he didn’t miracle away the fracture in the man’s hand before he stumbled away, clutching his arm tight to himself.
Still behind his glasses, Crowley only stared at him a moment. Before signaling for the sommelier.
They chose to take their own drinking back to the bookshop, and Crowley made no comment on the situation, though he must have said something to the staff because Aziraphale spotted the drunken intruder being whisked away as they rose to leave.
The angel found himself on the backroom table, in the morning, surrounded by their empty wine bottles, head rested on the snake’s pillow, memo and demon nowhere to be found.
A delightful wing-handled mug sat steaming on the counter, still piping hot, tea sugared to perfection and exactly what he needed to banish the last of the hangover he wasn’t able to wish away, himself.
It was later that same year Aziraphale finally delivered the thermos of holy water to his friend.
He’d rather not have, of course. But if Hell caught wind of—
If he harmed himself in retrieving the—
Frankly, Crowley asked for nothing.
And he should never have had to beg for help. Aziraphale could hope that he’d simply continue to show up to the shop in snake form and take the time to work through whatever was vexing him. Aziraphale could shut up and be a good friend and hope against hope that he would, one day, actually ask for more than just this... foul, drastic measure. This method of assured self-destruction.
In the meantime, he could also hope that it wasn’t the suicide aid he feared it was.
After everything, the boy, the horsepersons, lunch and the whole lot, it does feel unreal to see the bookshop again, though Aziraphale had never seen it destroyed.
“There! Isn’t that wonderful?” he exclaims, stepping out of the Bentley. He takes a moment to breathe in the clean summer air and appreciate the long-awaited sight of home.
Crowley rounds the car to close his door and nods, tight-lipped. Behind his glasses he squints into the sun-soaked vision before him. Elbows Aziraphale lightly before offering his arm. “Allow me?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you,” he beams, threads their arms together and they move forward as one. Crowley retrieves the key from his pocket and hands it over.
It feels as if Aziraphale can’t stop smiling.
He lets them in and Crowley wordlessly points out the few changes he noticed when he was last here, in the angel’s place (in the angel’s face).
Aziraphale can’t seem to shut up, either.
Yes, there are new things Adam left around the shop, but he feels most grateful and excited over the familiar ones. He exclaims to find his winged mug. His letter opener. All his favorite books, pristine and in place. His reading glasses. His snake’s pillow. His kettle. The silly ‘Face of an Angel, Mouth of a Sailor’ fabric patch that Crowley knew damn well he’d had no use for. His plush armchair.
All the parts of the two of them here in the shop, just as they ought to be.
He takes another deep, appreciative breath.
“Well, my dear!” he circles the small backroom, skidding his fingers over things one more time. “Wine? Or should you like to change?”
Oh, really. He gives Crowley a knowing look. The stress of this entire situation has been profound. He wouldn’t think he’d need to say so for the poor boy to understand what he was getting at. He’s held it together through their ride back to London, their missions to Headquarters, and their leisurely meals, today, but Crowley’s playing the fool if he thinks Aziraphale can’t see how tense and quiet he is.
Aziraphale swings by to move the pillow from the couch to the table. Pats it twice, the tell-tale dip settling into the cushion where Crowley’s occupied it, off and on, for over half a century, now.
“Tea first, I suppose,” he decides, and moves to put the kettle on. “Then a nice evening of-”
He stops, doing a double-take at Crowley’s expression.
His crossed arms have dropped to his sides. His mild cheer and otherwise concentrated stoicism are rapidly melting away.
He looks like the drowned creature who showed up at the monks’ sanctuary after a poor landing on the island’s shore (or a spot of spirited mutiny – Aziraphale never did figure which one it was). For all the world, in fact, he looks as if he could almost weep from exhaustion.
“Oh, come now,” Aziraphale drops the other spoon back into the drawer and sets aside his own mug. He crosses to Crowley. Goes right to him. Touches his jaw. “May I?”
He shrugs. As if utterly lost.
Hmm. Aziraphale puts his hands to the glasses and waits.
Crowley nods slightly and only then does Aziraphale take them.
His gold eyes are wide and sad and bewildered when relieved of the frames.
It is well beyond time for this. Eleven years of fright and the threat of destruction. And surely what must have been a less-than-ideal return trip to Heaven for a report and reprimand at Gabriel’s unkind hands.
After his own tribunal with Hell’s leadership, Aziraphale can only imagine how threatened Crowley must have felt at the prospect of returning to his old ‘team’ of demons, as it were, to fight beside or be condemned by them.
Though he didn’t tell Aziraphale all the details of the visit yet, Heaven was a trial, Hell was a threat – and the Earth wasn’t even that merciful, though Crowley was focused on trying to save the blessed place.
Not even Aziraphale was especially kind to him. Disbelieving him. Going so far as to disavow their partnership! And then disappearing on him.
He pets Crowley’s hair back. It will be different for a bit, while he’s got none but scales. Though when he has this human face, again, it will be less marred with fear, less tired. And no less dear.
“No tea then,” Aziraphale soothes. “How about a tank?”
Crowley’s expression collapses into utter disgust and Aziraphale laughs. Kisses his cheek. “Alright. Then?”
He sighs and practically collapses, falling forward into Aziraphale, wrapping arms around his neck and hugging him close. As the kettle’s threating to whistle, Crowley takes a deep breath and hangs on and transforms, staying curved about Aziraphale’s shoulders until he’s just a slight weight; wriggling, then resting, draped across him.
Aziraphale takes the tea and the pillow, a packet of biscuits he knows weren’t in his cupboard before, but are not unwelcome. Settles into his chair, and curves Crowley onto the pillow once he’s finally asleep.
His darling snake is in a bad way. The first few days, as Aziraphale resettles into a routine somewhat waylaid by the events of the last decade, Crowley does keep him company in the shop, but more often sits under his pillow than atop it.
Aziraphale hustles a dawdling customer out the door of an afternoon and at last lifts said pillow from the countertop. “Really, Crowley. You’ll smother yourself and then where will I be? We mustn’t hasten to return to our respective offices too soon, lest they take the opportunity to reassign us.”
He sticks his tongue out in what could be seen as a cheeky way, but is more likely just the natural state of things for a serpent. “Worried about me dissssappearing, now, angel?”
If his confrontational stance isn’t quite enough to make that clear he reports an emphatic, “Ah. Yes. Yes I do think so. Rather.”
He decides to make two cups of tea this time. One for Crowley to crowd like a thermal sleeve and the other to actually drink for himself.
“You always do,” he adds, bustling about the stove. “It would give me much more confidence in our still-quite-precarious situation if I knew you were only going home to your flat after this instead of—whatever it is. Off on assignment to Lord-knows-where.”
He clacks the mugs down when he returns to his stool at the counter and Crowley rears back, hissing at the sugarpot where it’s dropped.
“Apologies,” Aziraphale mutters. “Didn’t mean to cause a fright. There were-”
“It wasn’t intentional,” Crowley considers the mugs, swaying over them for a moment. “Er. Or rather I thought. Well. Thingssssort of-”
“You don’t owe me an explanation,” Aziraphale waves him off and moves his black mug closer. The handle is low and serves as a handy headrest. “What I didn’t figure out myself is your own business to- well. I mean.” He searches for the right words for a moment. “You don’t owe anyone an explanation. We see a great deal in our line of work. One copes however they can.” They have, after all, spent a lot of time not talking about this.
Crowley stops, mid-slither. Goes very still. “Well. You um. You help me cope.”
“Oh, thank you.” He smiles. “I do try.”
Aziraphale returns to reading and tries not to think about how steadily Crowley continues to stare at him, tasting the air around them and thinking, thinking, thinking.
Once he gives up his mug, after the tea’s gone cold, it’s only to slip over Aziraphale’s arm to intrude upon his reading. Crowley inches so far into the way of the pages turning that it seems to be intentionally distracting. “You wouldn’t make the best bookmark. You’re long enough, but too weighty for the health of the binding.”
“I’ve read thiss one before, I think.”
“I read it to you, oh, ages ago.”
“My Greek’s a fair bit russsty,” he uses his tail to peek under the previous page.
Aziraphale stares at him until he looks up. “Can I help you?”
“I.” Crowley doesn’t finish the thought. “No.” He doesn’t seem so sure about that.
It feels like things aren’t resolved. Not by a long shot. Aziraphale can practically feel the confusion of Heaven above him, and knows personally the disturbed mutterings of Hell as he left the realm unscathed.
He is sure, at +5 days and counting, that Crowley feels this tension even better than he does. He’s being stretched by it. Like a calm before a storm when the sky actually has not even the slightest bit of appropriate pressure to produce so much as a change in humidity, let alone a flood. But they’re both still waiting for the rug to get pulled out and go toppling.
Still, Crowley says no.
Aziraphale shuts the book. Does what he never has before: “Tell me.”
Crowley sighs and tucks up against his arm where he leans. “Not very demonic of me to ssit here and cower is it?”
“As if cowering were what either of us was doing. And please do not trifle with my understanding, Crowley. I’m perfectly aware of how anxious you are,” he sits up a little to come scoop him up against his chest with both hands. “Throwing it back on your demonic-well-whatever? Is entirely contrary to our new reality. Not your side or my side.”
Our side. It goes unsaid.
So this much must not go unsaid:
“If they do decide to try their luck again so soon and venture up here to find you, you do know that I’ll defend you. You know this by now. Am I right?”
The snake turns in his palms and moves to press against his front, like he’s trying to climb, get up and out of sight, but can’t find traction. It’s a half-hearted kind of avoidance.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Aziraphale presses.
More distressed, Crowley attempts an escape over his elbow but gets caught up easily enough.
Here, on the verge of both terror and joy, to deny himself openness and vulnerability is folly. It would only send them backwards, straight past the thermos, the quill and the monks’ manuscript room.
Fear no longer spikes in him, acknowledging his love for Crowley. There might have been cause to be silent about it when he thought his superiors were the be-all-end-all of authorities, but rules change and the two of them wouldn’t have survived six thousand years down here if they couldn’t roll with the times (if not take a firm handle on the colloquialisms, of which Aziraphale always admitted he was quite often sixty or so years behind on).
Crowley tangles in his hands almost fretfully. “War’s sssstill coming. Years off, maybe but ssstill. It’ll happen, Angel.”
“It will,” he admits quietly, stroking under Crowley’s chin with a thumb, carefully and warmly handling his sleek body in a way he hopes is gentle and comforting. “We smothered it with no planning and eleven years of... half-baked schemes to counter one another. Imagine how much faster the whole thing will go next time when we’re armed and ready for them.”
“Oh, I don’t want to be armed,” Crowley finally admits, slumping, the dam breaking. “Aziraphale, I’m exhausted.”
“Yes. Yes you are,” he can’t help but laugh just a little. “Which is why you’ll stay on your pillow and come to me when you’re bored and very well tell me for once in your life that you’re freezing so I don’t have to guess at it!”
One last attempt to avoid eye contact but it’s as simple as raising his hands and turning the bloody snake around his wrist to stare him down.
“You’ll tell me. And you’ll let me make it alright. And for he-a. For whoever’s sake? You can just. Not go. Don’t go at the end of it. Two legs or not, be here. If Hell expects operations as usual, we’ll go back to submitting our paperwork but-”
Crowley slips away, winds up his left arm and tucks against his collar, looping around him.
“Are you listening to me on this?”
“Yessss. I hear you. I’m lisstening.”
“Now, where should you like your pillow to be set for the evening? It’ll be bright out here; I’ll be journaling.”
“Journaling,” Crowley flicks his tail. “Under the far window, I suppose. It won’t be cold tonight.”
Aziraphale doesn’t sleep much. That’s more a habit of Crowley's. He especially avoids the activity when Crowley is here in order to remain vigilant over the snake. The monks kept a cat that inspired in him a lasting paranoia which was not unfounded. Indeed, he did return to his rooms one evening to find the cat hissing at his bedclothes and Crowley tangled and cornered in a sheet.
Reading until it’s time to open up the shop again is his usual way of passing the time (when he’s not on assignments, anyway), and though there are some tasks he’d like to get up to outside the house, he’s willing to wait this week and see if Crowley might be up to joining him.
He unlocks the door as late as possible, coming to the window once the sign is flipped. He pets Crowley’s head, until he wriggles to awareness, then offers his hand. “Oh.” He yawns.
“Very good morning to you.”
Crowley climbs up for a ride to the backroom and scales from his shoulder to the cabinet to poke through the tea.
He pushes a box of orange spice Assam out and climbs to the next shelf inquisitively.
“Joining me?” Aziraphale turns the box over with a frown.
“Make me a mug, again. I like having my own.”
“Didn’t I have a nice jasmine green in there somewhere?”
“Uh. Hang on,” he sounds muffled, deep in the shelf. Another box falls out. “Oh, not that one.”
“I’ll put it back,” he tends to the kettle before it can make a racket.
“I can’t find it in here,” Crowley peeks out at him. “Next one up?”
“Wouldn’t be that high, I’d think. Come down from there. You haven’t eaten in days, don’t you want breakfast?”
He certainly doesn’t need it. Neither of them do. But it’s awfully nice to have a meal and someone to share it with.
Crowley makes a non-committal noise. So it’s not likely he’ll be changing form today. “Come sit with your tea, anyway,” he moves the mugs to the table and goes to make some toast for himself, fancying some cinnamon butter this morning. Crowley manages to meander his way down the shelves to the counter to the chairs and thence to the table.
He climbs his mug and sways over it, smelling with flicks of his tongue. “Quite like thisss one.”
“None for me. Can I um. Assssk you ssomething?”
“Of course, my dear.”
He dawdles over his tea but Aziraphale suspects he doesn’t want special focus or eye contact for what he’s decided to ask, so his own attention remains on the toaster.
“Was there always – that isss to say, er- the um. Angels. The others. They completely had it out for you. Did you know that?”
Ah. They finally get to it.
Aziraphale had wondered what, exactly, Crowley’s visit to Gabriel’s office had been like. “The honest answer is: more or less. I’m not positive what kind of interrogation you endured at their hands, but an... unhappy welcome would not have surprised me. Or some fiery reprimands and impugning of my character. Well, you know how management can be. I assume they were surprised to hear the mouth on you. Or me, rather,” he laughed a bit at the thought of Crowley cursing them up and down with his own voice.
When he sat down with his toast he was surprised to have Crowley immediately climb his arm to his shoulder and settle there. Maybe the experience hadn’t been quite so amusing as all that.
“They weren’t trying to purge your sins with holy light or something. They weren’t just gonna fire you. They seriously wanted to fuck you up, Aziraphale. Pleassse tell me you understand that. We’re both in real danger from them,” agitated, he shifts to the other shoulder. “It isssn't as if we can wait for their next move. It’s not gonna end. The kind of things I’ve been assssigned in the past-” he moves from Aziraphale's shoulder to his neck. He can’t seem to get the words out and that only drives home the point, really.
After something so manipulative and potentially catastrophic as an encounter with the endtimes via the actual Antichrist, Crowley really believes he’s utterly doomed to a series of new assignments more damaging and horrific than those that have driven him to near-silence in his snake form on all those previous occasions.
What’s really worst about it is how Crowley can’t even conceal his agitation at the idea. He’s more talkative than he usually is as a serpent – and therefore really quite distressed. It makes Aziraphale’s chest tight with sympathy.
“Now, Crowley, really. I told them to leave me-er you alone and they seemed so very much out of their depth. I sincerely doubt they’ll even know what to do with you! I say we simply fabricate some more of your reports,” he aims a bit of a playful glare at the snake, “as per usual, as if nothing were amiss, and let them think you’re perfectly able to perform all manner of evils on your own, without intervention. Let them make of it what they will,” he tosses a hand and goes about buttering his toast.
“What about you?? We just trust that thossse corruptible bastards aren’t up there peeking out of their perfect clouds and watching you go about your business? Angel, they tried to have you killed. I’d thought they’d bloody sssucceeded, before, then—” He can’t seem to bring his thoughts together.
Aziraphale tries to phrase this both sensibly and delicately, “But my orders hardly ever result in matters so diabolical as to traumatize anybody-”
“No, nothing traumatizing about putting townsss to death by plague or wiping them out in sssudden floods so long as it’s part of the righteoussss plan, eh?” Crowley spits.
“My dear, I’m certain at this point that such matters lay far above my paygrade.”
“As we lately reestablished,” Crowley points out. “If they reassss-erghk. If they move you back to a position upstairss,” he bites out, frustrated, “or have you bouncing all over the world for the most out-of-the-way and inconvenient minor miracles, what then? I mean it, Aziraphale, do you really think they’ll leave you in peace?!”
His butter knife clangs a bit harder than expected when he puts it down. “What should we do, then? I mean, what are you suggesting? I told them to back off and I’m quite sure they will. What did they say to you? Was it just threats to disavow me? Sack me?”
“No! It was attempted fucking murder, Angel! Agnes’ prophecy wasn’t about having you fired, it was quite literally about you avoiding a death sentence! Almighty wrath and not a twitch of hesitation or sssympathy! At best they think you’re... I donno, maybe protected or sssomesuch, but that’s hardly gonna stop them trying their best to make life damned inconvenient for you, if not tediousss and downright degrading.”
With that he seems to give up. He slithers down to the table, the chair again, and towards the floor.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m jussst... going.”
Aziraphale watches him head to the door and under it where he’ll probably disappear up the stairs to the apartment.
He purses his lips and considers things for a moment. Finishes buttering his toast and thinks, while taking his time with each delicious corner of bread.
Murder. He’s heard office rumor of the most paramount punishments in Heaven and had thought he had at least some idea what that must have entailed, but none of it involved murder.
Then again. If Hell contracted Michael down to provide holy water, Heaven must have-
Oh dear. It wasn’t his intention to shrug off what Crowley was saying.
To turn a phrase, just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean there’s no one out to get them.
Hell was quick to punish their own. Quick, too, to put demons to death even when not party to any of the goings-on.
Crowley’s correct, as well, in that they could send him on more and more torturous assignments until he breaks completely or falls in line with the company culture. But that’s a lot less likely on Aziraphale’s part.
Perhaps he has too much blind faith in Crowley’s ability to shock his own critics but-
Well, that’s just it, really. He doesn’t even have to know what Crowley did in response to Gabriel’s actions to know it was more than Heaven could really compute.
He trusts Crowley. He does. After all this, were he not to, it would make him too stupid for words.
There are, in fact, no words beyond his grasp, thank you very much.
Yes, after the near-miss, he can’t play obtuse in any manner. If it had been Heaven that burned the bookshop and Aziraphale really was gone, Crowley’s clever enough and scary enough (if not expressly mean enough) to have torn the whole of management down given the opportunity. He may have surrendered to hopelessness a little when faced with the prospect of countering the apocalypse on his own, but with Aziraphale on one side with him, now, he was certainly at his leisure to instill real Fear in their hearts. Without knowledge of the particulars, Aziraphale is still quite positive that Crowley left them rattled.
He must have been a baffling surprise.
He must have shown them Rage like they’d never known.
All at once, Aziraphale feels quiet admiration for Crowley’s goodness and self-restraint, trying not to distress him too much with particulars of the ordeal – and he also finds a dark little corner of himself (the bastard coiled within him) deeply satisfied at the thought that Crowley might not have restrained himself in reaction to Heaven’s hostilities.
The bell rings and someone enters the shop.
He rolls his eyes. Pats crumbs from his lips.
After denying the customer any real help, he retrieves his snake’s pillow from the windowsill and brings all and their tea to the front counter.
He sips and considers.
No one will disturb them for a while. Management above and below are scrambling for direction, now, and it will take years and years for Hell to concentrate the kind of power required to produce another of Satan’s offspring.
At present, Aziraphale has one immediate concern in his best friend, who is so very shaken by the near-miss that, this time, he can’t even find comfort in the simple form he used to.
After washing his mug, he re-heats the other cup of tea with a thought and goes upstairs.
Crowley is huddled in a tangle on the windowsill, faced away. His scales have an absolutely striking red tinge to them in the high light. So very beautiful.
Aziraphale knows his present state is one of annoyance, not brooding, and has no interest in humoring it. He simply scoops Crowley up, squirming and protesting, holds him tight against his front so that his minor attempts at escape all fail, and takes Crowley back down to his pillow. Right beside him, where he ought to be.
“I’m going to fucking bite you,” he hisses once he’s put down.
“Of course you are.”
“I’m going to fucking rip apart your first-edition Hopkinsss,” he knots himself up into a tight ball.
“Thank you for defending me, Crowley. I know I didn’t say it before. But even if I didn’t know what had gone on, I should have known enough of my best friend to give you my thanks.”
Crowley grumbles and hides his head under his body.
“Do you want me to move your pillow to a sunnier spot?”
“Like there’s sun coming in any of these dusssty windows.” He lifts his tail to glare. “I want my tea.”
Aziraphale pushes the mug closer and decides to settle in to one of the books about space travel that Adam saw fit to stock on his shelf.
At lunch time, he finds Crowley’s mobile phone where he’d hung up his coat and asks for instructions on how to use an application so he may order something for delivery.
Crowley comes to crowd between his hands again and taps through the options with him. The screen isn’t always responsive to his scales so Aziraphale helps.
He has a mind to order from Crowley’s favorite Chinese restaurant to tempt him into changing form, but isn’t too fussed when they discover they’re outside the delivery range for the place. It wouldn’t have been very kind of him to do so, anyway, and instead Crowley convinces him to try a banh mi from the posh fusion place they tried a few months ago.
When he tries to change the payment method to one of his own cards, Crowley tells him not to be silly (“ssssi-er-sssi-eh—ridiculous”) and taps through to complete the order for him. “Twenty-five minutes,” he reads on the screen. “Well, I guess I’ll be minding the register while you’re on a meal break,” Crowley curves round to flick his tongue at him.
“I’d be delighted to have you work the front for me sometimes, my dear, but so very cross if you actually managed to sell anything.”
“Just as likely be crushed by one of these tomesss,” he muses. He can’t quite smile in this form but Aziraphale can somehow tell from his eyes if he is.
He smiles back for no reason in particular and catches up Crowley’s little head to pet down his chin to his sleek belly.
It seems he likes it, curling toward his hand and swaying with the up-down motion as Aziraphale’s fingers sweep over his body. Inquisitive tongue and pleased eyes.
Really Aziraphale wishes he’d had the patience to formulate some kind of conversation about this – Crowley may be alright with being caught up by him on occasion, but they haven’t discussed how he really feels about being handled all the time. He tries to keep it to a minimum. He really does. But Crowley’s so small and silky, his scales cool and clean. And he’s responsive to Aziraphale’s touch.
It’s not fair. Aziraphale has the power in this form. Crowley wouldn’t likely bite at him if he were uncomfortable, and not just because he’s bigger, but because he wouldn’t. Probably wouldn’t even snap at him verbally. But even before, when Aziraphale brought him downstairs, he didn’t seem to be entirely angry about being scooped up without asking. Just in a strop over Aziraphale’s inclination to think well of other parties even if Crowley knew other parties would, it seems, literally set him on fire.
He could ask now. They could get it out of the way, because who knows how long Crowley will stay here, huddled in this form until he finally feels in control of life again.
Or he could offer his hands and let Crowley slither into them. Draw him up and run his cheek along the silken scales of his body, delight in feeling Crowley nose at his nose and come to curl up around his neck and press against his cheek.
He’s very good at being a snake. He’s a very good sort of creature, in general, no matter how he presents himself to the world. But when he lives in this form, he is so close and trusting that Aziraphale has never felt it strange to think that, yes, they are more than just associates. This is someone he wants to care for and protect and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
They should be left alone to have this, in whatever form it may take. However Crowley may let him into his life, Aziraphale will never turn away the offer again.
When the fellow from the delivery service arrives, Aziraphale doesn’t ask Crowley to move, just makes sure not to shrug him out of place when he accepts the container. They get a bit of a wary look, but Aziraphale doesn’t even chatter away, convincing the man this is his harmless pet.
Crowley is not harmless, not his pet, and, really, Aziraphale will never again care what anyone thinks of them. Not even the Powers That Be.
Crowley sleeps through dinner and Aziraphale doesn’t want to risk tipping him by moving the pillow towards moonlight, so he settles in the armchair where the lamp won’t be so glaring and reads from there for the evening.
In the very early morning, his snake comes to find him. He sets aside his spectacles as Crowley climbs the chair and over to his lap and.
Materializes in his human form.
Aziraphale would say he has lap enough to spare, but Crowley marks his page for him and sets his book aside and crowds there all on his own, tosses his legs over the chair arm and loops both arms round his neck.
He sighs and presses his head to Aziraphale’s.
He’s frightened, still. One supposes eleven years of fear for the end of the world won’t dissipate in the matter of a week.
That’s quite alright. Aziraphale has protected his snake for longer than this.
He strokes Crowley’s arm, his back. “You can stay small, if you’d like. Much as I’d enjoy breakfast and lunch and all manner of things, I don’t mind if you take some time to feel better, Crowley.”
“All manner of things?” he tries to fill it with implication only to find, as Aziraphale did at the Tadfield Airbase, that the implications were already brimming over between them.
“Hell will not send you to another killing field,” Aziraphale reaches up and pets his hair back. “Another war. Another massacre. That’s quite enough of all that. If meddling forces emerge, we’ll handle it as they come.”
“We’re meddling forces, technically, I think,” he fiddles with Aziraphale’s bowtie until it’s quite a crooked mess. His boot nearly knocks over the side table but he stills it with a glare.
“I put your glasses in your coat,” he mentions, if he should like them back.
Crowley shrugs. Presses in to kiss his mouth.
And that finally, finally seems to leech most of the confusion and tension out of him, at last.
“My dear,” Aziraphale smiles.
“Ugh, don’t be so...”
“So me? Someone has to be.”
He avoids Aziraphale’s eyes, fussing with his tie again. Cocks his head and tugs at it. Changes it into a different style entirely. A paisley necktie of whites and reds, tucked neatly into his vest. Crowley presses it down flat and straightens the knot. Crosses his ankles over the side of the chair.
“Thank you. But usually you only gift me things when you’re on your way out the door,” he reaches to tug Crowley in securely by the thigh. Then he waits. Watching him decide to glance up. Then look up. Unblinking gold eyes finally holding his own.
“Do have a flat of my own and all that.”
Crowley sniffs and pulls the tie to loosen it back up. “Can’t live in your pocket for the rest of history.”
“Mm. Motion sickness,” Aziraphale agrees.
Crowley uses his new tie as a handle to pull him in and kiss him deeply.
When they separate, he stares at Aziraphale.
Who tries not to avoid the gaze or the gravity of the moment.
And then fails, utterly, at continuing to pretend it isn’t the softest, most tender, most beautiful thing he’s experienced.
“Shut up. Really-really just shut the hell up.”
“I didn’t say anything!” it’s almost hard to speak through this smile, honestly!
“You died on me!” Crowley despairs, sad-angry and mixed up about it.
“I know! Oh, I know, my love. It won’t happen again. I promise,” he waves it all away with a hand.
“I really do!”
Crowley rattles him by the tie.
Aziraphale could just spend an uninterrupted fortnight with him curled up on his lap. “My dear,” he sighs.
“Six thousand years and you-!!”
“It was a bad bit of luck, that’s all! We’re alright now. Both of us,” he tries to soothe Crowley anywhere he can reach and Crowley tries not to sway into the touch, wide-eyed and worried.
Then just crashes his head into Aziraphale’s shoulder and folds in close to him. It’s worth the small miracle required to keep the chair from tipping over backwards. Crowley nearly kicks the lamp to the floor like he forgets he’s no longer small enough to wriggle safely into Aziraphale’s hands.
“Shall I read to you?” he asks into Crowley’s hair.
“It has to be breakfast by now, somewhere, doesn’t it?”
“I’m sure it is. Finished with all the mice in the shop, then?”
Predictably, he makes a silly noise into the fabric of Aziraphale’s jacket.
Humans have a fantastic knack for circling back to their roots. The artesian bakers, specialty baristas, and farmers-market types are already out and about as they stroll just before sunrise. Crowley’s threaded their fingers and leans into his side as they walk. It’s been long enough, their time together, that Aziraphale never wonders what’s going on behind the glasses. He always feels Crowley’s eyes and, in truth, he knows they’re on him a great deal of the time.
Coffee first, for Crowley’s sake. While in line, he presses to Aziraphale’s shoulder again and kisses there.
Aziraphale doesn’t look away when stepping forward in the queue.
“Just checking,” Crowley shrugs, still staring.
“Checking heavenly agents don’t drop out of the sky and run us through for continuing to dare to exist,” he smiles some.
“Imagine that, though?” he cocks his head. “You throwing boiling tea in one of their faces. Delivering a stern lecture on manners to the other.”
“And waste my tea?” he finally steps ahead to order.
Crowley pays again, ever the gentleman. And purchases every bread roll and pastry Aziraphale points to, even when he protests it’s far too much for one meal.
They venture to one of the parks they rarely visit and choose a bench a ways away from the majority of joggers and dog-walkers.
Crowley waits for him to sit at the opposite end from him so that he may toss his legs over Aziraphale’s lap and lounge back more casually than ever before.
His knees are not so knobby that he wouldn’t make a workable table. Crowley scoffs when Aziraphale opens his bag of pastries and spreads out a napkin, balances his beverage, but he doesn’t move. Just watches him proceed and accepts the raspberry danish Aziraphale chose for him.
He wants nothing so much as to go walking some more. Yes, he loves his bookshop, but now that he feels secure in knowing it will be there once he returns, he wants to experience ever more of the world than he did before. It all could have been gone so easily. He’s sure to get sick of travel again – he does, off and on, fifty years or so at a time – but there’s a new shine on every possibility in front of him.
Mostly because of who is beside him.
One must endeavor, even in such fine weather and good company and at the beginning of a bright new day, to still be somewhat of a realist, however.
Crowley still feels stalked and watched. He feels that there’s a great deal of danger for them and that might be true.
But if he reaches his hand out like so-
Crowley finishes chewing and takes the pastry in his other hand. Grabs Aziraphale’s to press a sticky kiss to his knuckles.
That is how he knows it will all work out, given some patience.
They enjoy a full day out at shops and markets.
(Well, Aziraphale considers it a full day as soon as Crowley starts going too still and too quiet. That means the day is done, even if it’s early in the afternoon. He has no desire to press him beyond his limits.)
They start in to a nice bottle of wine once they’re back at the bookshop.
And then, with the summer day still bright and promising, proceed to consume several more, fine, rare bottles and bottled bottles.
Crowley takes the glass he’s offered and does circuits of the shop and the backroom while he sips. Aziraphale sits in the armchair and watches, nursing his own at the same pace.
He wants so many things right now. Today and over all the days to come. There’s so very much more to experience. Couscous, new bestsellers, junk food, rosés, rocket launches- Crowley said that the next time he takes a long trip he ought to try an audiobook, which sounds... novel, if not personally thrilling.
He should like to have more new acquaintances. New hobbies. Try foods from all over the world.
And he wants Crowley to stay.
He wants that in the most wistful way of all. Because Crowley never does stay.
Or hasn’t before, not really. He only stays the night if he doesn’t get sober after a lovely long evening of drinks. And he stays when he’s the snake.
Seems like, this time, he’s given up early on that. Aziraphale almost wonders if he should coax him back into it for his own well-being. He’s looked so lost and yet he can’t seem to settle as a serpent this time.
He hopes it isn’t his own fancy but... Crowley did seem to relax amazingly fast when they kissed. When Aziraphale held him.
So he drains his wine simply to get up and refill it from the bottle and... move to the couch. Yes. Well. Here we are.
His theory is that this will draw Crowley near.
Curious, he does indeed wander back by.
And perches at the far end, on the armrest.
“What are your plans?” Aziraphale asks.
“Plans?” he mumbles. “S’about mm... plans,” he says into his glass taking a sip.
“Immediate plans will suffice,” he offers.
Crowley sniffs. Finishes his glass. “Think I’ll have another one of these,” he reaches and clinks it to Aziraphale’s when he gets up for a refill.
This time to sit on the couch properly. (Except for all his limbs falling practically everywhere. Which is still proper, in a manner of speaking, but proper only for Crowley.)
Aziraphale may have to speak for the both of them. He is a man of letters and knowledge and all manner of literature, so he should be able to do this some way that isn’t mortifying to Crowley’s sense of himself.
Or he could turn too fast and catch Crowley staring at him with a soft look that he’s too slow to cover.
He puts his eyes firmly back to his wine. “I have a prediction.”
Already tipsy enough to forget to think before he formulates words. Alright:
“Of what you’ll do,” he clarifies, looking up.
“I’m all ears, Madam Nutter,” Crowley crosses his ankles and leans long across the back of the couch.
“You’ll sit with me and get properly muddled.”
“Like a true prophet,” Crowley raises his glass to salute him.
“And then at some point you’ll tell me what’s wrong as if I don’t already know.”
“Because you’re a prophet and a mind-reader.”
Aziraphale tosses back the rest of his wine and sits forward. Sets the glass on the table. “And then you’ll sneak back to your flat.”
“My faith has been utterly misplaced, you charlatan.”
Ah. “I’m wrong then?”
Crowley gulps down his wine, too. Sits similarly forward but hangs on to his empty glass. “If I left and if I came back and you weren’t here, this body would have a complete heart attack from my sheer panic and I’d die and discorporate and then where would you be, eh?”
“So I’m actually the one who disappears in this vision of the future?”
“You’re the one who disappears every time I go to sleep or bother to blink, Angel. Am I ‘posed to infer at some point that you’ll shuffle me out the door? Because I was,” he frowns, starting to get blurry, “mm, you know, just a bit, going on the theory that you might let me stay even if I’m not a more, er, portable size.”
“Or I could, oh- I. I don’t know. Go to yours,” he accidentally summons the next wine bottle with a hand flutter and that’s... convenient, so he offers it out first and fills them both up again.
Still behind the sunglasses, Crowley pins him with a stare, tips it back, and gulps the whole thing in a few swallows.
Done filling his own, Aziraphale offers the bottle again and watches Crowley repeat the action.
“Oh. You were working up to asking,” he realizes out loud (and a little too loud), doing a bit of catching up with another glass of his own.
Crowley finally puts his glass down and stands. Steps over. Sits, almost no air between them whatsoever. Sits almost on Aziraphale’s knee. Turns and presses all his bony angles into him.
“You are.” He starts and stops. He takes Aziraphale’s empty glass and the bottle and leans over to put them down. “The only one I can stand being around. And then I realized I was one, single, entire moment too late to so much as tell you that, in fact, you’re the only one I fucking want to be around. I tried. Whatever. Saying it in ways that were whatever!! I tried and it was right there and now listen. Listen. Now, ‘Ziraphale, I am not a stupid person,” he shakes his fist at himself far too violently, “so you must reav-reaviz-realize that waking up to that fact. Here. In a literal column of burning,” he tosses his hand, “books and whats-its and wah- ALL the fucking things that made. Made you.” He stops. He grabs the tie again. “Angel, all Aziraphale was gone. My entire and only best—egnh! Do you realize how gutted-” he gasps and, quite visibly, cannot go on, crumbling under the weight of a sadness remembered.
Aziraphale gently pries his hand from the tie and draws it around himself.
Crowley obviously shouldn’t be in agony every damn time he reaches for him and Aziraphale reaches back.
So. He’s pretty sure they have that cleared up.
Crowley melts into him, wraps around him. Nearly climbs him. Aziraphale would almost be surprised if the Mayfair flat even still existed. Crowley may have blinked it entirely from his mind.
He had no intention of going home. Theirs is a shared life, now. Not only are they the sole representatives of their own side, they are the only defenders of their own world.
Frankly it’s enough to start to make him drunkenly emotional and he either wants to keep imbibing or play with Crowley’s hair until they both fall asleep.
“My darling,” he gushes like a romance novel, clutching his best friend to him.
Crowley only shakes him off a little and scrambles back against the couch and wordlessly asks to be held.
Wouldn’t it be strange if, that whole time, what Crowley really needed was to be picked up and handled just like when Aziraphale would deliver him to his pillow? Stranger, indeed, if what he’d actually needed was for it to happen in this way. He moves down and wedges in next to him. “I think I’m getting the shape of things,” he hums and tucks Crowley’s limbs closer to himself.
“How’zat?” Crowley asks quietly into Aziraphale’s neck.
Just another theory. But he doesn’t say so aloud.
He wants to be held in this way. The way he is. The way they are together. The way he can’t as a snake and couldn’t as an adversary and wouldn’t dream of before the end of the world almost ended them.
“I didn’t want Heaven to go to war. I only wanted things to stay the same,” Aziraphale suddenly pleads. “It’s not that I didn’t want to go with you. I am so very sorry you were dragged through all this, Crowley, and thinking I wouldn’t be beside you for it. I should never have let you feel so alone.” He thinks he’s probably always wanted to go with Crowley. But that other bit was the problem, wasn’t it? If things did stay the same, nothing would have led them here, now. They couldn’t have had one change without the other.
He certainly wanted to pick up the snake and wrap him around his arm and fly across the world with him, at some point. When his first theory was confirmed – when he figured out they were sending Crowley to supervise atrocities that would scar his heart and mind. Hell is very lucky he only went down there to protect Crowley’s name and not to seek the vengeance he feels right now. But Aziraphale is the one with the most luck, here. That he would have a friend so smart and earnest and dear who would not just ask that they run off together, not just mourn him when he was gone, but move into his hands for peace and comfort and return to them with patience. Kiss him and let him figure this all out.
The more Aziraphale says and the more he squeezes tight, the deeper Crowley’s relaxation. Like the wires have been cut.
Like his snake who would sway into his palms for warmth.
“Will you just,” Crowley turns Aziraphale’s head with both hands. Fumbles his glasses up his head and looks up, eyes pleading, hoping he doesn’t have to say the words. Hoping it can just be without having to parse out what it took to arrive here. “Like this?”
There’s no reward for making someone you love desperate for what it is they need. Aziraphale knows precisely what he means and nods immediately. “Any time at all. All the time,” he insists into the sleeve of Crowley’s shirt, kissing there, drawing him closer, toes to nose.
Oh, Lord, so mercifully does he finally let go. All his long limbs as loose as he was when a slumbering serpent.
“I’ll go where you go. Don’... don’t go without me. ‘N th’ morning,” he pleads with the last of his consciousness.
“Hush now,” Aziraphale presses in to kiss him and he sleeps.
He’s in a jumble beneath Crowley when he wakes.
It occurs to him dully that beds are for this sort of thing. Crowley sleeps in beds all the time and he’ll probably want to be held in a bed.
Another morning for things. A whole new breakfast and a whole new car ride and a whole new set of hours in a new day.
Mornings have been happening to him for thousands of years but he’s never had chance to begin one with the person dearest to him in existence simply wrapped around him in knots.
Actually wanting to lie in a bed and stare at and cling to Crowley is a brand new reality, but not one that he can’t reconcile in under a half minute.
No one knows him better. Crowley tried to get him to understand they were not two sides of a coin or enemies or rival workers.
He curls his arms around his snake.
They were not on opposing sides. There was no opposition. They are down here and they have this life to enjoy.
On waking (and he cares not a whit how much later that happens) Crowley yawns and moves to let him go.
Only Aziraphale doesn’t let go.
Crowley laughs at him in a strangled way. “This wasn’t my idea. This was unintentional and I want that noted.”
“Yes, you were quite content to fret yourself to pieces in silence.” He sighs. “Several detailed inquiries will be made on my part as to who and what to blame for all this, exactly, but with no flaming sword to brandish at our enemies, you’ll just have to stay under my protection from now on.”
“I’m swooning,” he relaxes into the cushions, into Aziraphale’s body. “Lookit me, I’ve swooned all over the place. I’m absolutely swan. You’d have Hastur pissing himself from fear. You’re the antichrist’s godfather. I could have sold tickets to my own trial. A rubber duck. A fucking rubber duck.” He looks wild and baffled and-
Yanks Aziraphale’s head down for a desperate kiss. One that honestly brings the sharpest, most painful pages of poetry to mind.
It is vivid and consuming.
“Do not let me go,” Crowley breathes between their mouths. “No one touches me but you. And then you-”
Yes. All at once. And only him.
“Both of us. Godfathers, that is,” Aziraphale gets in when he can, slipping over and pressing Crowley beneath himself.
“You died on me,” Crowley says for the last time. Because he’s been in pain so long it’s hard to let go of. Aziraphale can hardly blame him.
“You kept on living. That’s far more significant, my dear.”
He hides his face under Aziraphale’s chin. “I’m going to keep riding on your shoulders,” he says muffled.
“You may prove a bit unwieldy with these limbs, but I’ll do my best to carry you,” he reaches for one of Crowley’s hands and kisses it and pulls it round his neck. “Now for breakfast, my love. I really must insist. We have so much to do.”
“As long as you hum.”
Aziraphale tips his chin up and smiles at meeting his eyes. “Hum?”
“You hum when you’re busy. I just... like it, is all. You hum. And feed me. And make sure I laugh when I don’t even want to,” he looks and sounds so confused about that. “Is it- sorry, but is it possible that you could actually love me as much as I’m utterly gone on you?”
Irresponsible of him, really, as a protector and a friend, to make Crowley wait so long to hear it. “Just as much. Maybe more.”
A hand skids up to the back of his head. Crowley touches him carefully. Touches his hair and his ear. “Oh.”
“Let me do the worrying for a while,” he kisses Crowley, sinking into him until he moans and sighs and relaxes like he did yesterday.
“Mm,” Crowley nods when he leans up again. “Alright. You wear it better, anyway.”
Considering how it makes Crowley shrink himself to the smallest amount of space possible, Aziraphale would have to agree.
“So much to do, eh? What are we doing then?”
“Everything,” Aziraphale cheerfully reports. “More of this,” he leans in for another kiss, for more of Crowley’s soft, adoring touches. “This and Everything.”