“Perhaps Gabriel had a point,” Aziraphale mutters, “about the gut, at least.”
Aziraphale’s standing in front of a mirror when he says it, fingers meticulously twisting gleaming buttons into fabric.
Crowley thinks he must have misheard.
“Sorry - he what?”
Glancing up, Aziraphale catches sight of Crowley in the mirror.
“Crowley! You’re early,” the angel says, looking pleased, and does up the remaining buttons with an eager flourish. “I’m excited to try this new restaurant. It’s in a conservatory, yes? What a novel idea!”
“M’yeah - Clos Maggiore - got a nice big garden,” Crowley answers, distracted. “But what was that you were saying? About…Gabriel.” Crowley grimaces, his lips curling around the name.
“Oh it was nothing, dear.” When Aziraphale waves, it is dismissive. “It’s just - archangels. You know how they can be.”
Turning away from the mirror, Aziraphale’s hands flit about his front, and Crowley watches him give the bottom of his vest a little tug.
“A tad bit preoccupied with perfection, is all,” Aziraphale mutters, and reaches for his coat.
“Perfection?” Crowley stares after Aziraphale, feeling as though he’s somehow missed the critical point which connects the two points of conversation “And what’s that got to do with you and guts?”
Aziraphale stops, closing his eyes.
“My gut, Crowley. It’s-” he says, touching a hand to his stomach. “Well it’s not. You know, perfect.”
The angel’s lips twist up in a thin, sad mimicry of a smile.
“What?” Crowley’s glasses have slipped a bit down his nose, and he stares at the angel, flabbergasted.
“Oh for - Gabriel told me to lose weight, alright?”
The demon Crowley, if you’ll believe it, once owned a laptop. A very nice one, at that. (How else was he supposed to start hour long debates via the youtube comment section?) He’d spilled a latte on said laptop, and before he could miracle the hot liquid away, the poor computer had buzzed once before the screen flickered, flashed blue, and then went permanently dark.
As he stands in the angel’s bookshop, trying vainly to process the words which have just spilled out of the angel’s mouth, Crowley feels suddenly quite a lot like a water - er, latte-logged laptop.
“It was before the apocalypse - or, I suppose, the not-apocalypse. So it’s in the past, of course. And I don’t really think about it - well, not really. But I do wonder if my, er, shape is - oh, it doesn’t matter-” Aziraphale frets, distractedly adjusting his coat.
By now, Crowley has finally managed to process the content of the angel’s declaration - and the knowledge of what Gabriel had said, of the words the archangel had undoubtedly cruelly wielded against his angel -
It makes the demon burn.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley says.
He doesn’t mean for it to come out like it does - quiet and dangerous; the whispered promise a dagger makes when pulled loose of its sheath.
The angel goes still. Blue eyes - glowing with the untapped holy aura which waits, untouched within his deceptively human shell - are unnaturally bright in the dim shop.
Distracted with the rage coiling like a serpent in his gut, Crowley does not have the presence of mind to dissect the angel’s reaction. If he did, he might have grasped the reason for the angel’s hesitation.
The reason is this:
In six thousand years, Crowley had rarely used his voice to imply anything really and truly dangerous. And Crowley had certainly never said Aziraphale’s name in such a tone. Sure - perhaps occasionally in exasperation. But not like this. Never like this.
Much later, when Crowley is calm, he will reflect on the exchange - and with profound relief, realize that of the complicated set of emotions which crossed the angel’s face, not a single one of them was fear.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley hisses, “You’re telling me that Gabriel, that-,” and he rocks back on his feet, his hand clenching at his side. “-that bastard, said that? To you.”
It’s Aziraphale’s turn to blink. “If you recall, he also planned to have me killed,” the angel says spreading his hands. “Crowley, I don’t understand why you’re fixating on-”
“No you see, that - that,” Crowley interrupts, lifting a shaking finger, “that’s precisely the fucking point.”
And then he’s moving, leather shoes pacing smartly over the shop’s scuffed floor.
Because it is the point, Crowley thinks, dragging a hand through his hair.
Gabriel tried to kill Aziraphale.
Gabriel tried to kill Aziraphale.
Aziraphale - who delights in simple magic tricks, in Sunday brunches, in feeding the ducks, and dancing the Gavotte; who looks forward to chatting with their new human friends when they call up every few weeks, just to catch up.
Aziraphale, who Gabriel looked at and saw frivolity, uselessness, emotion and weakness, all wrapped in an imperfect body.
Gabriel had dared look upon Aziraphale and had the gall, the audacity to miss everything that mattered.
Gabriel had never understood Aziraphale. So he’d hurt, demeaned, and belittled him. And when Aziraphale remained, still outside of his grasp - too far outside of his influence, Gabriel had resorted to destruction.
And does a being like that, ever truly stop seeking control? Crowley can’t help the thought, which slithers in, slipping around the edges of his rage.
His and Aziraphale’s body-swapping stunt bought them time, Crowley knows.
But eternity rewards the patient.
And Heaven had played the long game before.
Will Gabriel ever truly leave Aziraphale alone?
It’s a sobering thought. One that has Crowley’s molten rage cooling into something hard, sharp, and pointed.
Crowley’s steps slow - then stop.
“Crowley-” Aziraphale tries, but Crowley isn’t listening.
One of the bookshop’s upper windows is slightly ajar, and a stream of pale sunlight pours into the shop, lighting a narrow path to the floor.
Awash in light, Crowley looks up, thinking.
He’s never killed before. Not like that anyway.
But for Aziraphale’s sake - for his safety…
“Will I have to kill Gabriel?” Crowley muses, blinking up at the light.
The moment the words leave his mouth, the room surges with a white, humming energy - and then Aziraphale is on him, shoving Crowley back.
Crowley doesn’t lift a hand - even as he’s thrust against the nearest shelf.
Hard spines dig into his back as he stares into Aziraphale’s clear blue eyes. Within them, holy light churns, waiting to be called forth.
Aziraphale’s wings have manifested, and they flare out as the angel presses a staying hand against the demon. Fingers splayed across Crowley’s chest, Aziraphale half turns, angling his body to face the open shop. His free hand is raised, palm open and ready. And as the heavy silence sinks over them, Aziraphale stills, tensing.
Crowley doesn’t need to breathe, but sometimes he forgets - and so after a minute has passed, the demon draws in a slow, careful breath.
“Angel,” Crowley says, brushing a hand over the fingers so effortlessly pressing him into the shelf.
And then those over-bright eyes are on Crowley, and he is not afraid. Not when Aziraphale blinks and the air hums. Not when Aziraphale’s wings shudder and stretch, and Aziraphale presses into him.
The wings lift and fold, and Crowley is ensconced in a shelter of white.
Aziraphale’s breath is soft and shuddering, and the fingers digging into Crowley’s chest tremble as the angel leans into him. “We’re lucky. He wasn’t listening - or if he was, he didn’t hear. Crowley, what were you thinking? Including an archangels name in a statement like that?”
It was a dangerous mistake - Crowley knows. One he won’t make again.
“Honestly Crowley, all this over one stupid comment?”
Crowley shakes his head, suddenly adamant that Aziraphale understand.
“No. No. Gab- he doesn’t value you, angel. Doesn’t value your person. Your life,” he says, swallowing. “And hearing what he’s said to you, angel. Well okay, yeah, it did piss me off - but it made me realize. It’s personal for him,” Crowley says, squeezing Aziraphale’s hand. “He wasn’t concerned with maintaining order - he wanted to kill you, angel. You.”
“Yes, Crowley. I know.”
The admission is soft and certain, and it is painful - agonizing to hear his angel admit in that gentle voice that he knows the angels he’s worked with for centuries were eager to be rid of him.
Groaning, Crowley reaches for Aziraphale. His hands brush the angel’s face, caressing his cheeks, over his ears, and then Crowley’s fingers are weaving through, tangling in his hair.
Dragging the angel closer still, he leans into him, pressing their foreheads together.
“They’ve never deserved you, angel.”
Aziraphale shudders and there’s a hitch in his voice. “Crowley.”
Crowley shakes his head, nose brushing Aziraphale’s. “No. Fuck them. You’re perfect. From your toes to your stomach-” and here he reaches down, brushing a reverent touch over the angel’s soft belly.
He feels Aziraphale shiver beneath him as his touch traces up, over his chest, then along the curve of the angel’s neck.
“-to your face, your head-” and Crowley cradles Aziraphale’s face, caressing his cheeks with his thumbs, “and everything within. Your wants, your selflessness, your selfishness, and even your love of stupid fake magic. It’s perfect. Every damn bit of it,” he hisses, defiant.
The wings around them are trembling, and Aziraphale, pressing his lips against Crowley’s cheek, whispers. “Crowley, you’re-”
“Don’t say I’m lying, angel. And yeah sure, demons lie and whatever. But I’ve never lied to you.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley closes his eyes at the touch of another soft kiss against his skin. “I know that.” Another kiss.
And then, he starts again, “Crowley, you’re so good to me.” Another kiss, followed by a soft breath and then - “No that’s - what I mean is - Crowley, you are so good.” Aziraphale kisses him again, this time at the corner of his lips and says, “Don’t be angry.”
Crowley winces - not out of anger - but because his insides feel soft and fluttery and warm - and Aziraphale’s touch is gentle - nearly unbearably so. So much that Crowley distantly wonders if he might die from it.
“M’not,” he manages.
Aziraphale leans back to look him fully in the face.
“You’re not,” he marvels.
How can he be? If Aziraphale is a terrible angel, then Crowley is a worse demon.
He’s chosen his side now. No use defending old titles.
The thought of sides, however, does make some of the warmth bleed from him because - “I think we need a plan, Aziraphale - to deal with Gabr - you know, him. Or any of the others who might decide to cause us trouble.”
Aziraphale is watching him, his lips pressed in a concerned line. “A plan?”
Crowley swallows and nods. “For if they come for us. We couldn’t take them in a fight. Not all at once. But if we had to - even just getting rid of Gabr - him would give us some breathing room. You know the rest of them would back off.”
Frown lines etch the skin between Aziraphale’s brows.
“If we had to, we could split up. You could play decoy and lead the others away. Distract them long enough for me to face Gabriel. Against just him, I might be able to-”
Aziraphale’s wings snap back. The cold air of the shop rushes in - and Crowley winces at the light.
Aziraphale has him by the jacket, and the angel’s gaze is cold and blue and Crowley can’t look away.
“You will not.”
And it is more than a request. More than a demand. The air whines as the fabric of existence strains to reshape itself - to placate, to please -
“Angel,” Crowley whispers, wrapping his fingers around one of the angel’s hands.
The air settles.
And then Aziraphale’s brows are lifting, his expression pained and breaking.
“Crowley, he would destroy you.”
“I wouldn’t let him,” Crowley says, and believes it.
“Crowley, please,” Aziraphale says.
And really, that’s all it takes.
“Alright, angel,” Crowley says, pulling him close, “Consider that plan scrapped.”
Aziraphale’s wings disappear, folding into another plane of existence as Aziraphale wraps around Cowley in a relieved embrace.
“We surely have some time, right?” Aziraphale says against Crowley’s shoulder.
“Yeah. You’re probably right,” Crowley agrees, and savors the feeling of Aziraphale’s rigid figure softening, relaxing against him. “We have time,” Crowley says, and looking over Aziraphale’s shoulder, closes his eyes.
It’s not a lie, he tells himself. They might very well have time.
“And you won’t fight him? Not even to protect me.” Aziraphale’s voice is soft, pleading.
It is at ten fifteen in the morning, on a beautiful Sunday in April that Crowley, after six thousand years, tells the angel his very first reallie.
“No, angel. I won’t fight the archangel.”
“I’m serious,” Aziraphale says, stern.
“Me too, angel.”
Something in Aziraphale’s expression relaxes, and he smiles, small.
It doesn’t feel good - lying. Crowley never particularly liked lying, generally speaking. But here, now, it’s infinitely worse.
He tries to rationalize it - because he won’t, of course, fight the archangel unless he’s got a plan. And a good one, at that. Unless - and here’s the heart of the lie - Aziraphale is in danger. Crowley would fight an army of archangels if they threatened Aziraphale harm.
And his angel was a bastard for thinking he could guilt Crowley into promising otherwise - perfect in every way, mind you - but a bastard all the same.
And so Crowley leans back, cupping the angel’s face, and smiles.
“So how about brunch? I wanted to take you to that new place, remember? With the garden.”
“Right! Brunch!” Aziraphale says, bouncing up on his toes - as if they hadn’t just been discussing the murder of archangels. “Do you think they have crepes?”
“Angel,” Crowley says, giving him a look. “I suggested it precisely because they serve crepes.”
And then Aziraphale is grinning and it looks so bright and lovely on the angel’s face that Crowley decides they won’t talk about Heaven or Hell or bloody archangels - for the day. Or for weeks. Months. Years. Decades. Whatever it takes to keep that smile there, unobstructed.
The archangel Gabriel is a problem.
And his hatred of Aziraphale is dangerous, no doubt.
But Crowley will deal with it, in much the same way as he dealt with the other, albeit smaller dangers that cropped up throughout the past six thousand years.
He’ll just need to be more clever this time, that’s all.
“Shall we, angel?” he says, and holds out a hand.
“Please,” Aziraphale says, and takes his hand with a small, pleased grin.
Their fingers twist together, and when Crowley squeezes, Aziraphale’s fingers squeeze back.
For now, all is well.
Someday, it might not be.
But, well, he’ll come up with a plan - something particularly clever, to deal with that.
For now, Crowley listens to Aziraphale chat as they walk - the angel is talking about Anathema, Newt, Madame Tracy, and Adam and their latest telephone conversations. Running his thumb across the back of Aziraphale’s hand, Crowley savors the touch.