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The Holy Essence of Experience

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Eden, The Beginning

The Serpent of Eden and the Guardian of the Eastern Gate met on the walls of the great garden. Or, they assumed they met then – if they had known each other Before, those memories were gone now: shadows where friends should be, shattered names and forgotten voices.

There could be no lingering fondness between an angel and a demon.

Yet, Crawly spoke to the angel as if they did know each other, as if he could trust Aziraphale not to turn and smite him. He was right, of course; no angel who was enough of a soft touch to give away a flaming sword and then blush about it was likely to kill a friendly local minion of hell, was he? But if anyone had bothered to ask him later (which they didn't, because the only other person there was Aziraphale and he didn't know why smiting hadn't crossed his mind either) why he’d felt safe with this particular Principality, he wouldn’t be able to provide an explanation.

He’d even anticipated the wing over his head, protecting him from the new water-from-the-sky, had started moving closer to the angel when it was half raised behind his back. The angel’s warmth shone from him, warming the demon so delicately that it could never be compared to the heat and fires of Hell.

It truly never did occur to Aziraphale that, as a Principality, there was a certain expectation that he take a more active role in protecting the earth and her people by killing a fairly low-level demon instead of just thwarting him. But Aziraphale had never killed anyone or anything, not even during the War (the memories a mess of darkness and silver blood and the sounds of screams, but the Fallen were Struck Down and not struck down), and he wasn’t going to start with this demon who didn’t quite feel like a stranger.

They didn’t know, then, all the rules of discorporation, and that the death of these strange new forms wouldn’t necessarily mean the death of their souls. They still weren’t clear on what souls were, in the early days. They knew their essence was somehow different from humans, but just how…

They had so much to learn.

-----

Sumer, 2000 BC

It really was chance when they found each other in Sumer. Crawly arrived first, and was in the new archives when Aziraphale came running in, face flush with excitement. They recognized each other immediately, despite looking quite different from when they last met. Crawly smiled without meaning to. “Angel,” he drawled, “bit dark in here. Pull that flaming sword, would you, and give us some light.”

It took a moment, but Aziraphale’s eyes narrowed and his chin lifted and his expression was so refined and yet completely disgusted that Crawly’s smile widened into a grin. “Why are you here, Crawly?” he asked crisply. He never called Crawly “demon” as other angels would; he used Crawly’s name.

“For the same reason as you are, I believe,” Crawly answered, lifting his hand from the heavy stone tablet he’d been pouring over. “To see who gets credit for this.” He motioned to it.

Aziraphale stepped forward slowly. There was something holy in the way he gazed at the tablet, covered with its odd little marks. He stopped beside Crawly and reached out. His hands trembled as he pressed his fingers to the surface. “It’s true then,” he said breathlessly. “They’re writing.”

Crawly gave him a strange look. “It’s not that exciting,” he said dryly, but then those eyes lifted and looked at him, and for the first time he saw Aziraphale shining from within with excitement and pride.

“Oh but it is! It is, Crawly, think about it! They can keep records, keep their stories, write down laws to apply them fairly, send messages over long distances! It’s amazing!” There were tears in his eyes; tears in the eyes of an angel who frowned with discomfort but didn’t do anything to stop the deaths of thousands of people in the Flood, the angel who closed the door to the ark and watched the rain come down. Here he was, crying over words. “It’s like immortality,” he whispered, tracing the lines in the stone. “A little piece of eternity, when their lives are so short.”

Crawly stared at him, something warm flickering in his chest. “You like them,” he said quietly.

“Who?” Aziraphale frowned down at the tablet, clearly trying to make sense of it. He would need to find someone to teach him the language. Someone should know it, and other angels were sadly disinterested in one of the most amazing accomplishments the humans had ever created.

“The humans.” Crawly watched the angel. “You like them.”

“Mmm. I love them. I’m an angel. Do you think each letter represents a sound, or is it…it must be, or it would be pictures, wouldn’t it?”

Crawly rolled his eyes, but fondly, and put his hand over the tablet where Aziraphale was looking. The angel frowned at him petulantly.

“I didn’t ask if you love them, angel. I get the whole ‘angels are supposed to love all of God’s creation.’ It hasn’t been that long.” He closed and reopened one eye quickly, a recent human mannerism he’d grown fond of. Aziraphale mirrored it, obviously confused. “I asked if you like them.”

“I . . .” Aziraphale struggled with the question, but Crawly waited with unusual patience. It was true that it hadn’t been that long since he was an angel. He knew how difficult it could be to say something that wasn’t repeating the words of one of the Seraphim, or the Metatron, working with and speaking for God. “They’re…clever. They work so hard to stay alive on a world that is almost designed to destroy them.” He looked away, nervous, but he didn’t give up. Crawly admired that. “They create families, and make choices, and change. They’re always changing. And this…” he put his hand on the tablet. “This will help them connect, and remember. They…deserve that.”

Crawly nodded, and then grinned. “You like them,” he announced. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Aziraphale scoffed, but Crawly caught the little hint of a smile on the angel’s lips, the shy glance under pale lashes.

In the end, they both took credit for the Sumerian’s written language with their head offices. Aziraphale talked about how it could pass down stories, record justice, and make laws fair. Crawly said it could be used to spread misinformation and dissent. They both received commendations in their files.

They met, afterward, for the first time, for drinks.

They spoke of things that were not temptations and miracles, and their hands touched briefly in the darkness of the night, a spark of contact between two like souls.

---

Jerusalem, 33 AD

They left together after the crucifixion, both aching from the sight. Aziraphale could feel the discontentment coming off Crawly-Crowley- and he wondered, not for the first time, if the demon was simply too soft to be an angel. Could he have Fallen because he was too kind?

They walked in the dust back to Jerusalem, neither speaking but not willing to part ways. Finally, Aziraphale asked, “Where are you staying?”

“Nowhere. I just heard rumors your side was going to . . .” Crowley’s voice trailed off. “So I just arrived.”

Aziraphale nodded, but he didn’t offer to let Crowley come and stay with him, nor did he offer comfort. They’d both given the kind young man their respect as he died. That was all he had to give; as he’d said, he didn’t make policy.

They bought food from a vendor, each paying separately, not quite eating together. But their arms brushed when they walked, despite sharp looks from people who thought a being dressed as a man and a being dressed as a woman shouldn’t stand so close together.

“You look lovely,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley’s eyes skittered to him and away again, unused to compliments. “Your hair is always . . . of course but, it’s especially…” he searched for words. There was something softer in Crawly that night, and he wanted to reach for it, even if it was born of grief. “Lovely.”

Crowley he reminded himself as a strong wind lifted strands of burnished red to brush his own short curls.

Crowley didn’t laugh at the awkwardness. Neither of them had any laughter in them that night, but Crowley offered half a smile. “It gets in the way,” she said, but curls fluttered around her eyes as she studied the angel.

“We were the only ones there,” the demon finally said. “Of our kind.”

“Your kind and mine,” Aziraphale corrected automatically, and the soft smile on the demon’s face twisted into a sneer that made him regret the words.

Crowley scowled at him and hissed, “He deserved better from your lot,” and the s slithered from her lips. “But what else is new?”

Aziraphale reached out automatically, wanted to apologize, wanting this one person who understood not to disappear-

And Crowley let him, let his hand close around Crowley’s arm, curve against the black material. “I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said, and he had never apologized to his Adversary before. “I was only sent to watch.”

Crowley looked at the hand. She reached up and brushed her fingertips over it, warm and solid. She sighed. “As was I,” she said, and squeezed Aziraphale’s wrist before she turned and disappeared into Jerusalem’s crowded streets.

------

England, 1023

They walked side by side along the shore of what would one day be Lake Windermere, gazing across the water to the Screes. They’d been brought here for a miracle and a temptation, respectively, no longer surprised to run into each other. “They have to be talking to each other somehow,” Crowley claimed. “That’s the only explanation for why we keep being stuck in the same ratty little towns all over the world.”

“Jerusalem was hardly a ratty little town,” Aziraphale said mildly. He tripped over a stone and caught Crowley’s offered arm. Then he slipped his through Crowley’s elbow. The demon startled and stared at him. “Nor were Rome, Athens, Pi-Ramesses-”

Crowley cleared his throat, but didn’t pull away as they kept their slow pace around the lake. “Yes, yes, point made, but that doesn’t negate my belief that my lot and your lot are comparing notes and literally sending us to cancel each other out.” He huffed.

Aziraphale smiled. He’d changed his corporal form over the last century, softening the edges. He no longer looked at all like a warrior. He’d allowed his carefully maintained kindness to show more and more in his face, in round cheeks and a soft waist. Crowley thought he was beautiful, and damned himself as a fool for it. “I don’t mind if they do,” he said, his voice carrying the shy sweetness Crowley remembered from that day in Rome, when they went for oysters. That had been the first time they’d truly chosen to spend time together; it had become a bit of a tradition after that: wiles, thwarting and dinner. “I enjoy seeing you. You’re the only other person who’s been here so long. You understand what it’s like.”

Crowley looked down at him. “I’m not sure I should be accepting compliments from angels. Isn’t that automatically an insult, somehow?” He grinned. Aziraphale was warm and solid against his arm.

Aziraphale tsked at him, giving him one of those Long Suffering Angel looks that were just this side of inexcusably bitchy. “Unless you’re reporting it to your Head Office, I’m certain it’s sufficiently innocuous. Besides . . .” His voice trailed off.

“Besides?” Crowley prompted. The air smelled of wildflowers and fresh water, and the angel of sunshine and tea. This was dangerous. This whole meeting, being here, being happy, he was liable to give himself away, and then-

No more dinners, lunches, or conversations by the lakes.

Aziraphale stopped walking, turning them to the lake and looking across at the Screes building to the low mountains. He wasn’t breathing – unusual, both of them had developed the habit these days and rarely had to think about keeping up the appearance. Crowley started to worry, though he tried to deny it to himself. “Besides what, Aziraphale?”

“Besides,” the angel said, his voice even, “I can sense love. Even from you.”

Crowley went unnaturally still.

“You love Earth, like I do. And you love people, more than I do.” He laughed, a sad little sound not suited to someone who lived life with such joy. “And you love-”

“Stop.” Crowley’s voice came out as a croak, confidence gone and replaced with something like fear.

Aziraphale did. But he tucked himself just a little closer to the demon’s side. “I could Fall,” he said, as if the statement had nothing to do with their conversation, “but they would destroy you. Wouldn’t they?”

I know how you feel. I feel it too.

Crowley swallowed. Something in his chest hurt, even if he didn’t quite understand it. Love, the angel said. Was it? Was that what all of…this…was? This warmth? “Yes,” he said, voice strengthening, “but I’d-”

“Your idea. The one where we could help each other out,” Aziraphale interrupted smoothly. “We should discuss it. Perhaps…set up a schedule, for seeing each other to see where we could save time.” He looked up finally, his eyes tender but his expression business like. “An Arrangement.”

There was something coming off the angel. An ache, a joy, all mingled together. Surely it wasn’t-

“Yes,” Crowley said aloud, “an Arrangement.”

-----

Spain, 1543 AD

Aziraphale found Crowley, after days of following his particular demonic aura, in a fairly disgusting inn and pub on the Alboran coast. His Adversary was unconscious, face down on a table in the back corner, surrounded by bottles and bottles of wines and heavier spirits. There was, judging by the smell because Aziraphale wasn’t planning on looking any closer, vomit somewhere in the vicinity of the demon’s feet.

He sighed and stepped forward, placing a hand carefully on Crowley’s matted red hair. The stench of alcoholic sweat and dirt and vomit was overwhelming, so Aziraphale simply stopped breathing. Sensing Crowley’s health wasn’t the same as sensing a human – it was difficult, like trying to read through a layer of cheesecloth. His demonic essence didn’t welcome ethereal nosiness. But he gathered enough to know that Crowley was quite close to killing his corporeal form with alcohol poisoning.

Officially, of course, what did or didn’t happen to his Adversary’s body wasn’t any of Aziraphale’s business. Truthfully, he should probably just pour more alcohol down his throat and righteously kill him off; if Crowley was to be believed, it took years to get a request for corporation through Hell. Surely clearing the Serpent from the earth for a while was the properly angelic thing to do. But…

Well.

He didn’t want to do that.

So instead, he rested one hand on Crowley’s back and did what he could to buck up his internal human organs. Then he looked up at the inn’s disreputable owner and asked, “Does this man have a room here?”

The owner leered at him in a way that made Aziraphale’s stomach turn. “You want him in that state? You are desperate.”

The angel sighed. Humans were so predictably disgusting at times. “He’s a friend, and he’s ill. Does he have a room, or not?” Perhaps he Pushed a little for the answer, but it was for the good cause of helping his personal Adversary (Was that a good cause? Probably not. He decided not to think about it.).

“Aye. He’s in the second room upstairs,” the owner answered, looking mildly surprised at his sudden burst of helpfulness when he’d almost certainly been planning to make Aziraphale pay for his own room in which to take advantage of an insensate man.

“I’ll need hot water sent up,” Aziraphale said, and because he expected it to be done even in this place, it would be. Crowley needed a proper bath, but he didn’t want him in a deep tub in this state. It could wait.

With great tenderness, Aziraphale lifted the demon in his arms. Crowley was long but light, and even his dead weight was nothing for a being who only appeared human. The demon moaned softly, ending on a low hiss that made Aziraphale smile sadly.

He knew why Crowley was here. He could sense the demon’s pain, his guilt, his horror, even under the numbing effects of the alcohol. “How long has he been here?” he asked the barman.

The big man shrugged. “A fortnight, thereabouts. In that state most of it.”

Aziraphale nodded and crossed to the rickety stairs. They creaked as he carefully climbed them and let himself into the second door with a minor miracle and a kick of his foot.

The room was a mess. The chamber pot hadn’t been changed, and the fact that Crowley had even had to use it said a great deal about how ill the demon was. Aziraphale miracled the bed and the pot clean, but determined to do the rest himself; he needed to keep miracles at a minimum, no matter how much his heart ached at seeing Crowley in this state. The Arrangement was dangerous; more so to Crowley than to him; he didn’t need his superiors figuring out he was helping his Adversary.

He settled Crowley on the bed and went about stripping his clothes off. They were dirty and out of fashion – not like Crowley at all – and they disappeared as he tossed them aside. Crowley usually miracled his clothes, and Aziraphale saw no reason to keep them solid in their current state. He cleaned the underthings with another minor miracle, then perched on the edge of the bed and waited for the hot water.

“Oh, Crowley,” he said softly, “I heard a rumor you were in Spain. Why did you go? Didn’t you know how bad it’s getting?”

Crowley had been in Germania for most of the last century. Only Aziraphale had seen the uprising of the Inquisition, and the lives being destroyed in the name of religion. It turned his stomach, and he knew it had nothing to do with his side – even the Archangels were aware enough to be disgusted at what the humans were doing. It felt like the Crusades all over again. But Crowley-

Of course he’d taken it worse. Crowley was, though he refused to believe it, kinder than Aziraphale sometimes.

The water came, and Crowley muttered and thrashed as Aziraphale wiped him down with gentle hands. He’d never done anything like this for anyone who wasn’t human – for someone he knew, and cared about, and-

He shook the thought away and tucked Crowley into the bed. The demon would have to clean out his own system, which Aziraphale figured would take about 12 hours. Tired, but not interested in sleeping, the angel rounded the bed and sat on the small space left on the other side, tucking his legs up and pulling a pile of pages carefully wrapped in oilskin from his pack.

“I’ll be here when you wake up, my dear,” he said quietly, tangling his fingers in the sweaty curls. And since there was no one else there, no one to hear, not even Crowley himself, he whispered, “I’ll be here, love.”

------

London, 2008

The end of the world was coming, and Aziraphale was opening the first bottle of wine.

“He just looked like a baby,” Crowley said, standing too close, so that Aziraphale’s elbow brushed his jacket with each movement. “The nun kept saying she expected him to have hooves or something, but he just looked like a baby.”

“He’d have to,” the angel said, “or everyone would know him from the beginning.”

He turned and would have held out the glass, but there was no room. They were so close that Aziraphale could smell woodsmoke and charcoal with a chaser of Old Spice. Crowley was watching him, only a hint of his eyes visible through the designer glasses. “Crowley-”

“It’s the end of the world, Angel.”

There was something in Crowley’s voice, a delicate longing that hurt. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go,” he’d said decades ago, messy hair and round glasses, a thermos of holy water in his hands.

Aziraphale closed his eyes. He had to-it always had to be him. Crowley would throw caution to the wind and bring about his own ruin, and Aziraphale would be the reason his dearest friend was killed by his own people. “You said,” he forced his eyes open. “You said you had an idea to stop it.”

“It might not work.” Crowley’s voice was so soft, so open. He took the glass from Aziraphale’s hand and set it back on the counter by the bottle. “Eleven years. It’s been millennia, Aziraphale, it’s been-”

“I know how long it’s been!” Aziraphale snapped, but there were tears in his eyes and he couldn’t pull away as one slender hand rose and hovered so close to his jaw that the fine hairs there prickled in response.

He tilted his head, just enough. He couldn’t help it. Didn’t his fool serpent know how hard it was for him, a being of love, to keep them at a safe distance? Didn’t Crowley see how much Aziraphale loved him, even if he couldn’t sense it like the angel did in the demon?

Crowley’s breath caught, a thoroughly human reaction. Aziraphale’s skin was warm and so soft, even with the fair brows drawn together in pain. Go-Sat-someone- something - the stars, his nebulae- he loved this angel so much that it ached, and it broke his heart to see the same pain in Aziraphale’s face.

He stroked his thumb, gently, along the soft line of Aziraphale’s jaw.

“I always tell myself I won’t tempt you,” he whispered.

Aziraphale’s laugh was more pain than pleasure, but he lifted his hand to cup it over Crowley’s. “You don’t mean to,” he said, forgiveness on his tongue. “But, my dearest, if there are only eleven years left, I don’t want to spend them without you. And if we act-if they find out how I- how we feel-”

“Take a chance,” Crowley begged. “Take a chance, this once, with me.”

Aziraphale closed his hand over Crowley’s and pulled it down, holding it gently between them. “I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t.”

I can’t be left here without you.

Crowley snarled and ripped his hand away, stepped back. He snatched up the glass of wine and drained it before grabbing the entire bottle.

“Fine,” he said. “Fine. Have it your way, angel.” The words and the tone were sharp, and he didn’t mean them that way, not really. He hated himself for the carefully pleasant expression that fell over Aziraphale’s face, hiding the angel away more neatly than Crowley’s glasses ever did. “Let’s get drunk.”

Aziraphale reached for the other glass, a delicate tremor in his hand, and drank it down just as quickly. “Yes,” he said primly, because he didn’t want to feel everything anymore. “Let’s.”

------

London, 2019

They’re exhausted in a way neither has been before, a bone-deep ache like humans complain about. The world hasn’t ended. They defied Heaven and Hell to stand behind a child who chose to save everything. There were explanations, and concerns, and an angel and a demon standing hand in hand, trying to understand it all.

Crowley steps back and motions Aziraphale into his flat. There’s a small gasp, then the warmth of a heavenly miracle as holy water and the remains of a demon’s clothes disappear. Crowley had almost forgotten what would be there in his entryway when he reached home. “My dear-”

“It saved my life,” Crowley said, taking Aziraphale’s coat and hanging it by the door on a hook that existed only for that purpose. “’S what I always wanted it for.”

“Oh.” The sound is small. Aziraphale steps forward, and Crowley follows him.

The angel glances around. He’s never felt truly comfortable in Crowley’s apartment, though he thinks he understands why it’s so open and impersonal. He’s never been to hell, but Crowley has described it a few times: crowded, dirty, stinking: the opposite of the empty pristine halls of Heaven.

Crowley steps around him. “Drink?” he asks, though they split a bottle of wine just hours ago, and they both know there’s danger coming that they need to plan for.

“Do you have the tea I left here?” Aziraphale asks, and Crowley laughs a little.

“Sure, Angel. Come on.”

The angel trails him to the sleek, modern kitchen and watches as the demon fills the electric kettle with water and sets it to boil. Tea is never quite the same if not made the human way. He can see how tired Crowley is, and no wonder, after the miracle with the Bentley, and stopping time, and just…being Crowley, demonic hero and savior of mankind.

Aziraphale smiles proudly.

“What’s that face about?” Crowley asks, mildly suspicious.

“You,” Aziraphale answers honestly. “You were amazing today.” He leans carefully against the counter, their arms and thighs touching. “Not that you aren’t usually,” he teases. He slips his arm through Crowley’s, as if it's 1820 again, and such things are accepted as platonic.

Crowley sighs. “Angel-”

“I wanted to say yes. I wanted to go with you.” Aziraphale lets his head rest on the hard line of Crowley’s upper arm. “I was foolish to believe in Heaven as long as I did. But in the end, I’d rather be here with you, than up there. And you’d regret it, letting them die.”

Crowley grinds his teeth, jaw tight. “Three times. Three times you said no.”

“A fool, not deserving of forgiveness. Yet here we are.” He turns his face, and his lips brush cloth that smells of burning metal and plastic.

Crowley goes still. “What are you doing?” he asks, his voice rough.

Aziraphale smiles. The glow of his happiness is soft and warm. “Being in love,” he says. “I have been for centuries, you know that.”

“But you-”

“Are a fool? A coward? A-”

Crowley finally turns, thin lips pulled into frown. “Don’t talk that way about my angel,” he growls, and he means it so completely that Aziraphale can’t help but beam at him, sunshine personified. Crowley sighs more for appearance than anything else. “Maybe a bit of a fool, but you wanted to believe. I,” Crowley's voice softens again, achingly tender, “I wish you still could. I wish they were worthy of it.”

Aziraphale reaches up boldly and gently lifts the sunglasses from Crowley’s nose. He folds them and sets them on the counter with a soft click. “What is worthy of my devotion and trust is, and has always been, right here in front of me,” he says, and finally there’s no fear or uncertainty in his eyes, the curve of his mouth. He rests his free hand on Crowley’s chest. “We are going to figure out what Agnes means for us to do, and we’re going to survive, and we’re going to thrive,” he says, and his voice rings with something that feels like prophecy.

This time, when Crowley cradles that beloved face in his hands, there is no hesitation. He lowers his head, because they’ve lived far too long among humans, and he’s wanted-he’s dreamed of-

Their lips meet, strange and tender and sweet.

Beyond the touch, something curls within them, around them, what they can only call souls, intertwining and loving and dancing along every nerve of their human bodies, tracing their wings and into every dimension in which they exist. For the first time, Crowley can feel love, the way Aziraphale does, and he has doubted. Every time Aziraphale pushed him away, said no. That terrible moment at the bandstand: It’s over, Crowley. But this is incandescent, so powerful he wavers on his feet even as he pulls away.

“Oh,” he says, and Aziraphale clings to him, just as overwhelmed.

The kettle starts to sing. The angel reaches out and turns it off.

He smiles.

“Choose your faces wisely,” he quotes. “I think I have an idea.” And pulls his demon down to kiss him again.