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When I’m ready to die from these wounds

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It was a crisp, Autumn day -- a Thursday -- and Aziraphale was just starting to catalogue the new shipment of supposedly fourteenth century books he'd received from a close associate when he felt it.

It zinged over his senses like a shockwave, raising the fine hairs on the back of his neck and his forearms.

It felt demonic, dark, and alien in ways nothing human could ever feel. It wasn’t Heaven; whatever it was felt dark, the way Crowley’s powers sometimes felt when he was uniquely attuned to his, uh, Head Office. It was...deeply unsettling.

Aziraphale looked into the mostly-full box, books tucked into every nook and cranny, some more protected than others, yellowed pages and cracked leather bindings beckoning him with the siren song of the unknown, and found that he couldn’t actually make himself reach for one.

He looked at the phone resting on the small table nested between the overstacked cabinet and the much larger glass table, both of them groaning under the weight of the books Aziraphale was going to move to their proper places. Just as soon as he finished rereading them.

He looked back into the box, at one particular volume.

The green leather binding was cracked along the spine, distorting the faded gold and red lettering that looked like it spelled the word ‘Tristan.’ He felt a shudder of excitement at the thought of maybe finding a rare version of the Tristan and Isolde legends.

He looked at the phone again. Maybe a quick call, just to see if Crowley had been the one causing the disturbance. He thought they'd agreed to take things slow and stay under the radar for the next century or five. After all, averting the Apocalypse seemed like a good enough job to earn them both some peace and quiet.

But the Arrangement was no longer in power, so instead of hiding who did what, they were free to just live, enjoy the world and maybe even each other’s company. Crowley might be a demon, but he was so full of life. Aziraphale couldn’t help but feel that any dinner he had in the demon’s company tasted a hundred times better than one eaten alone, no matter how fine the chef.

He deliberated for a few more minutes, looking from the books to the phone and back again.

Calling would only take a moment, as Crowley was the kind to carry his cellphone wherever he went. Aziraphale never felt the need, but had to admit that the ease with which he could reach the demon was truly satisfying.

With a sigh Aziraphale got up from his desk and reached for the phone. He dialed Crowley’s number, not realizing it was the only number he ever bothered to memorise. The phone went to voicemail immediately, without a single ringtone.

Aziraphale stared at the phone as if it had bitten him. This never happened. Well, once. When demons were trying to kill Crowley. But other than that, in the whole history of telecommunication, Crowley had always made sure to answer Aziraphale’s phone calls, few as they were.

Aziraphale blushed and cleared his throat at the lengths Crowley would go to answer his phone, or the situations he might be in when he picked up. That never seemed to bother the demon, but Aziraphale didn’t feel comfortable with all the, uh, gasps and groans he could sometimes hear in the background.

He tried calling again, only to once again be pushed to voicemail immediately, not a single ringtone in between the connection and the recording.

Maybe… maybe Crowley really was too busy to answer, or maybe he forgot his phone? Surely it couldn’t be anything more nefarious than that.

He ended the call, put the phone down, and went back to his desk, carefully extracting the green-bound book and gently putting it on his desk.

---

Days passed and Aziraphale forgot about the world outside as he fell under the spell of the books he'd been shipped, all of them rare and very early editions -- in the case of the Tristan and Isolde legend, a first one even!

He was careful in repairing the bindings, using no powers, just patience and the knowledge gained through centuries of loving books. They came to him ragged and cracked, leather peeling, pages brittle and falling out in places. By the time he put each one onto the little pile of finished works, the leather was no longer as cracked, bindings were tight, pages were even and no longer threatening to fall apart at a single glance.

Well, all right, he did use some power, but not much; certainly nothing one would call a miracle, and that was only because he didn’t have the space in his shop for proper equipment.

He tried calling Crowley again from time to time, but got the same result. The voice mail was starting to worry him.

Eventually he decided to take a break from work and go to Crowley’s apartment. He hadn’t opened the bookstore in days so he didn’t have to worry about chasing unwanted customers away. He caught a cab and directed it to the luxurious building Crowley had chosen as his home.

Aziraphale had never been there before, yet the doorman smiled at him, greeted him by his human last name, and ushered him towards the richly decorated elevator.

The doorman helpfully pushed the button for the sixth floor and directed him to apartment number six. Aziraphale couldn’t help a small smile at this: of course Crowley would choose that apartment. It hadn't escaped Aziraphale that the building's number was also six.

He was smiling even as he pressed the head of the little snake-shaped doorbell for Apartment 6.

It rang and rang, but nobody opened the door.

Aziraphale frowned, waited a few moments and tried again, then again, unwilling to burst into Crowley’s private space without sufficient reason.

Ten minutes later there was still no answer. Aziraphale glanced around to make sure nobody was looking, decided that a tiny miracle probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone Above, and pushed on the door.

He could feel it resisting, whatever wards Crowley had put on the place, but he could also feel them give. Not break, not shatter under his angelic power, but grumpily and reluctantly give in.

The door swung open and Aziraphale stepped in.

The space, for all its ultra-modern look, felt uniquely like Crowley, soaked with his power, his presence, the dark burning embers of his scent.

The angel checked over the luxurious bedroom, the spacious sitting room with its wall-to-wall glass windows, butter-soft leather couches, and entertainment set that felt vaguely intimidating.

The statue was… Aziraphale felt his cheeks warm and made sure to not look too closely at it. He guessed that’s what he got for snooping through a demon’s apartment. Marble statues of angels and demons doing… entirely human things.

The not-so-secret office made him smile, the threatening, shiny black desk and the chair, all gold-painted wood and red velvet upholstery. Such a Crowley thing. He paused to admire the sketch of Mona Lisa on the wall, the hand of the master clear in every stroke. Crowley always did have an eye for beauty. Aziraphale stepped closer, running his fingers over the old wood, feeling more than seeing the patterns carved into the wood. People would only call it a chair because they'd forgotten how thrones used to look. Somehow, the outrageous opulence and subtle threat of the room made Aziraphale think that this, out of all the apartment, was Crowley’s real home.

The empty apartment didn’t truly worry him, not until he reached the collection of lush plants that Crowley was so proud of and saw them drooping, leaves sagging, clearly struggling not to just wilt and die. Lord knows Aziraphale had heard enough bragging from Crowley about how he put the fear of himself into the poor plants. He touched the soil in the pots and found it utterly dry. He rubbed his fingers together, watching the fine dust fall away from his fingers, and felt his worry skyrocket.

Crowley might be careless and irresponsible, but he would never forget to water his plants.

Aziraphale filled a pitcher in the kitchen and watered them, making sure to add a touch of power to the water to make sure the poor things survived until the return of their owner. And the owner himself.

Then it was time to leave the deserted apartment and find the source of the disturbance he'd sensed almost two weeks ago.

---

It wasn’t difficult. He navigated slowly but confidently towards it, the low-level darkness emanating from it feeling like an irritating buzz against his teeth.

He went west, until somewhere between Tilshead and Enford, where there were no buildings, not even any farmland. Just a great expanse of empty land being slowly reclaimed by forest.

In the middle of the field was a small area of recently disturbed earth, chunks of dirt yellowed and dry despite the recent rains. Some of the bigger rocks were blackened, the heat of hellfire still radiating from them even though the fire itself had clearly been extinguished days ago.

Aziraphale stepped from the thick grass onto the disturbed earth, making his way carefully around the exposed rocks.

It hurt, the way the ground was changed, cursed by the hellfire that had burned there recently. The earth gave, making his feet sink deep into the loose soil, burning his skin where it crawled under the hem of his pants.

Aziraphale clenched his teeth and forged on, refusing to let the agony crawling up his legs stop him. Abruptly, he remembered the war and how Crowley had ventured onto consecrated ground to save him from being discorporated. It must have hurt too, then.

There was nothing for human eyes to see, nothing but a slight dip in the earth, some loose rocks and sandy soil. To his angelic senses, however, the place was all but boiling with power. He could feel the dark core of it just under the ground, its tendrils slowly burrowing deeper into this world, this reality.

Something huge and dark was trying to gain traction in this world, trying to root itself in the very core of this reality.

In the thick, alien darkness, Aziraphale could sense the faint remnants of Crowley’s power, the flaming tinge of it. He could tell that Crowley had found the same thing he had, felt the roots growing into this world, their world, and tried to burn it out.

Something must have gone wrong, terribly wrong, for there was no sign of Crowley anywhere that Aziraphale could sense. It scared him, even more than the darkness that was growing underground. The thought that there might no longer be a Crowley in this world, that his existence had been erased by this alien power, snuffed out so quickly that Aziraphale hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye, froze something inside of him.

It was hard to breathe, even harder to make himself blink and stop the sting of tears coming to his eyes at the thought he might never again see Crowley, never speak to him, never share a meal.

His legs burned, blisters forming and breaking on his feet and shins as he walked a circle around the magical centre of the thing growing into the world, looking at the ground, looking for any traces of his friend. He walked in a slowly widening spiral, jaw clenched against the agony of every step, feeling almost vindicated at how much it hurt. Such pain was only fitting, if this was the place Crowley had ceased to be. Aziraphale owed him that much, for all that they'd been through.

It was several yards back, just on the edge of the disturbed soil, that he found them: a pair of fancy dark glasses, the metal frames mostly melted, just the one lens remaining.

He stopped, the sight making him forget the agony for a moment, then bent down and picked up the destroyed thing, his fingers immediately blistering from contact with the cursed ground.

He didn’t need the glasses to be whole to recognize them as the same ones he'd seen on Crowley's face so many times.

His knees weren’t going to hold him, he realized, eyes fixed on the half-melted glasses. He was going to fall into the cursed ground and he didn’t even care.

Then he heard a rustle.

A few meters to the right, under a scraggly and half-burned bush, was a long dark shape curled up onto itself with many coils. It was at least twenty feet in length and probably three around and its thickest point, the sheer size of it painfully familiar.

“Oh, God be praised,” Aziraphale breathed, throwing himself towards the dark shape. He didn’t care about the blisters that tore open or the trousers he destroyed as he landed on his knees beside the huge black snake coiled up under the bush.

“Crowley,” he sobbed, “Oh God, Crowley, I was so afraid!”

The snake was black, its scales dirty with soot and flaking in a way Aziraphale instinctively knew was wrong somehow. Its eyes were covered with a white film and when he gently cupped the triangular head in two hands and lifted it up to look into its eyes, the snake's body felt cold to the touch.

For a moment Aziraphale was suffused with terrible, terrible fear that this was merely an empty shell, that Crowley was dead and he was looking at nothing more than his remains. Then there was a small movement as the tip of a forked tongue sneaked out to taste the air.

Aziraphale sagged as unbearable relief filled him, pushing out anything else. He dragged as much of the snake as he could into his lap and hugged it tightly, finally letting the tears fall.

“Crowley, oh, my friend, I was so afraid. So very afraid.” He couldn’t stop, emotions were spilling out of his heart, choking him, relief as overpowering as the fear had been only moments before. “It’s alright now, I'm here. You can turn back. I will help you,” he promised, wishing for the first time in his very long life that angels could heal demons.

But they couldn’t.

Any miracle that Aziraphale might perform would only harm, if not outright kill, his friend. By design, their powers were each other's greatest weakness.

He looked down at the snake he held clutched to his chest, really looked at him with all his senses, and realized, in one heart-stopping moment that he couldn’t sense Crowley inside the creature he was holding. No matter how hard he looked, how tightly he focused his senses, all he could see was a snake.

An out of place snake, sure. Something this large had no right to live anywhere in England, much less in the middle of a field in late autumn. The scales on the top were black, if faded and dirty now, but the bottom was a warm golden-red color so reminiscent of Crowley’s hair it made Aziraphale’s chest seize up again.

No. It didn’t matter what his eyes told him, what his senses told him, this couldn’t just be a huge snake randomly appearing in this exact place for no reason at all. It wouldn’t have survived the night, much less be living wild in a place like this.

It had to be Crowley. There was no other way.

There could be no other way.

Aziraphale gathered the cold, sluggish snake into his arms, looping the listless coils around his arm and shoulder until he was sure he had a good grip, and stood up.

Crowley was cold, and probably hungry. He must have spent most of his energy trying to survive the blast Aziraphale had felt two weeks ago. He needed to get warm, get fed and have somebody look him over with human equipment to make sure he wasn’t hurt physically.

As he cast his power out to take them both away from this place, curling his wings around his precious cargo, Aziraphale didn’t stop to think whether such a miracle was allowed. He couldn’t think about anything other than making sure Crowley was safe.

---

Getting the snake home, procuring it appropriate food and drink, and researching basic herpetology took Aziraphale’s mind off the fact that the creature didn’t seem too well, nor did it feel like Crowley at all.

The snake lay coiled where Aziraphale had put it, not even raising its head to watch what was happening. It ignored the mug of warm water Aziraphale placed near it, as it did the stunned mouse.

Aziraphale made it a bed in front of his fireplace, the warmest spot in the house, and moved the endless coils of the snake there. He sat in a chair nearby and read whatever he could find on snakes, how to take care of them, how to treat common health problems.

The real problem, of course, was that Crowley wasn’t a snake. He was a demon, a fallen angel, in the shape of a snake.

Or at least, he should be.

---

The warmth of the fireplace didn’t seem to help.

Two days later the snake was still unmoving, still curled in the same position Aziraphale had left him.

The angel continued to wait. Maybe time was different when one was a snake. It surely couldn’t be anything else. Crowley was a powerful demon, a true one, a member of the fallen host, not one of the half-breeds that had popped up after, a lowly succubus or an imp. He had more power at his disposal than most of those put together.

It was one of the many things that baffled Aziraphale about the Ineffable Plan. Why cast the fallen angels out of Heaven, but let them keep their power? That seemed like asking for trouble. Nonetheless, Crowley was in Aziraphale’s home, warm and safe and with a fresh mouse presented to him every day. He would get better in time, and once he turned back Aziraphale was going to seriously tell him off for being stupid and getting himself into trouble.

---

Crowley did not get better.

Five weeks passed and the snake, other than eating one lousy mouse, hadn't bothered to so much as change position. It lay there in the basket, motionless, mocking him. Aziraphale was sure of it. Crowley was mocking him, his awkward attempts at taking care of him, his worry and naivete. He could almost hear the mocking laughter. He could imagine years later, centuries later, Crowley randomly bringing it up: “Remember how you fed me a mouse?” There would be mouse-shaped toys, he was sure. And paintings of mice. Probably songs, too, if he knew the demon at all.

“Then turn back into your proper self, you foul beast, and leave!” Aziraphale found himself shouting one evening, the winged cup shattered against the brickwork of his fireplace, the snake looking at him unmoving from its bedding.

The silence after his sudden outburst rang in his ears. His hands were shaking and his heart was beating so hard in his chest it felt like it was going to bruise his ribs.

His mouth was dry and his eyes burned.

He hated this, he hated this so much.

---

By the time Christmas came and went, Aziraphale forced himself to admit that things were not going to get better on their own. He apologized over and over to the snake for not being a better friend, for not keeping a better eye on him, for ignoring the signs of something happening for weeks. If he'd just come earlier he might have helped, might have saved Crowley.

He was struck by the memory of Crowley driving up to him and apologizing.

“It’s me apologizing,” Crowley had said, apologizing for everything and anything if only Aziraphale would get into the car with him and go. Aziraphale had said he forgave him, but he hadn't gone with him all the same.

He wondered if this was payback, Crowley's way of showing him what it felt like to be ignored and rejected.

Well, he'd learned his lesson. Learned it well and good, and now it was time for it to end.

Aziraphale started promising Crowley things.

He promised small things at first, trying to tempt him into changing, into accepting. Lunches, dinners, as many as Crowley would ever wish. Wines, as rare and expensive as Aziraphale could find. When that didn’t work he found himself bargaining more and more, promising favors and miracles, promising things not even in his power, if Crowley would just give him a sign, a single sign that he was still there, inside the wretched creature slowly dying in front of his fireplace.

But the snake only lay there, motionless, refusing the mice he brought it, and Aziraphale was left with a mouthful of burning promises and an empty handful of wishes.

---

When the snow melted under the spring rains, the snake was still alive but Aziraphale stopped bargaining. He sat in his chair, pretending to read a book but in reality just staring at the barely-moving black coils on the bedding in front of the ever-burning fireplace.

He kept remembering Crowley, the way the demon would pop out of nowhere to save him from inconvenient discorporation. That time during the French Revolution, when he'd saved him from beheading and another strongly worded letter from Head Office. Or the times he would invite himself over to Aziraphale’s to drink his best reds. He always dragged Aziraphale somewhere new and exciting, and Aziraphale had to admit that in Crowley's company the food tasted better, the wines brighter, even the air fresher, as it never did without him.

He sat there in his bedroom, watching the snake slowly waste away, and thought of all the ways he missed Crowley, of the aching loneliness that made it impossible to sleep or eat. Not meeting up with Crowley for decades wasn't a problem, because he knew the demon was out there being wily and alive. Knowing they would never meet again, that his best friend, his only friend, the only person in the whole world who not only liked him but challenged him, was gone... that felt so wrong, so wretched, like something was clawing at his ribs from the inside.

There would be no more lunches together, no more miraculous saves, no friends and no laughter.

Aziraphale hadn't opened the shop in months now, hadn’t even bothered to go down to pick up the post piling up on the mat. He heard the postman at the door every day, but like the snake he couldn't muster the energy to move.

Night fell, casting the room in dancing shadows, hiding the black snake amongst them. The miracle fire burned merrily, warming the room but doing nothing to save the creature he believed was his friend slowly wasting away in front of it.

Aziraphale closed his eyes, letting the fire that had burned steadily for six months finally flicker and die.

There was no use, it was no use, none of Aziraphale’s power was of any use whatsoever.

He stood up, aching from his long vigil, letting the book fall from his lap to the carpet, and went to the motionless snake. It lived still, if barely, ever cold to the touch and sluggish. He picked it up gently, slowly coiling the long body over his arm until he could stand up with it cradled tightly to his chest.

He couldn’t have Crowley, but he could at least have this pitiful imitation of him.

He went to his bed, the snake curled up close to his chest, and lay down and closed his eyes, willing sleep to take away the pain of reality. What did he need with the world, when there was nobody to share it with?

---

A shift in weight woke him. He blinked his eyes open, squinting at the golden light of the single lamp in the corner of the room.

A figure sat hunched at the end of his bed, curled down into itself, still not fully realized. It took him a stupidly long time to comprehend what he was witnessing, and when at last he did his heart skipped and stopped as he jerked upright, reaching his hands towards the unfolding black wings. He stopped mid-move when he met the golden slit-pupiled eyes, staring at him warily, without any recognition at all.

Crowley, because it was Crowley, it had to be Crowley, looked both the same and so very different than Aziraphale ever seen him. His wings were scraggly and damaged, feathers thin and missing completely in some places. His hair was long, longer than even the curly mane Aziraphale remembered from the Garden of Eden. It flowed down his shoulders and back, hiding most of his naked, skinny body and spread out on the bed, strands of it trailing even onto the floor.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale whispered, already knowing it wasn’t, not really.

The demon in front of him didn’t feel like Crowley, with his endless amounts of energy and power, so thick it would skitter over Aziraphale's skin like a static charge.

This was different. From the weak emanation, to the lack of striking clothes and careful haircut, to the eyes that watched him without a shred of recognition.

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered, his heart resuming its slow thump, bitterness thick on his tongue. “What happened to you?”

The demon was watching his every move, body tense and eyes wary. It hurt. Crowley never watched him this coldly, was never a stranger, not even when they argued.

Aziraphale had no idea what to do. Crowley seemed… damaged somehow, in ways Aziraphale didn’t understand.

And yet Aziraphale couldn’t stop looking at him, at the skinny long frame obscured by the rich red hair. The curls were still shiny, falling down in heavy waves. He wanted to reach out and touch them, struck by an impossible yearning to feel how soft they must be.

But he didn’t. The wariness in Crowley’s eyes was chilling enough, the lack of recognition like a punch to the gut.

They sat there, Aziraphale frozen, the demon bathed in the golden light of the lamp, watching him, equally still. He didn’t make a sound, not a single rustle, not a single groan or one of the many other pointless sounds Crowley used to express himself. But he followed Aziraphale’s every twitch, his nostrils flaring every so often.

“I know what you smell like,” said Crowley once upon a time, casually admitting he remembered even such obscure things about Aziraphale.

Oh Lord, Aziraphale would give anything to have that Crowley back with him.

The demon looked down, where Aziraphale’s foot stuck out from under the covers. Aziraphale looked down too, wondering what had caught the demon's attention.

The demon looked to him and to his foot and back again, then slowly extended his hand, fingers long and tipped with wicked black claws.

There was a sense of hunger in this version of Crowley; pain, too, though Aziraphale couldn’t place exactly why that was. His skin was stretched a little too tightly over his sharp cheekbones and his lips were a little too dark. Aziraphale was struck by the idea that this might have been how Crowley looked after his Fall, after he was cast out of Heaven and cut off from the light and warmth of it forever.

It must have hurt so much, to be suddenly cast into darkness after only ever knowing light. Aziraphale had never wondered until now how many of the cast out angels survived the fall. The ones he knew were among the strongest, the highest ranked in power.

But that couldn’t be right. When the host rebelled there were angels of all ranks amongst the cast out. It occured to Aziraphale that he'd never seen a low-ranking fallen angel. Demons were either high-ranking fallen angels or the new generation that came into being after Hell was already created.

He wondered, with a heavy heart, just what kind of strength it took to survive the Fall at all. And why had Crowley turned out so different from the rest of the bitterly angry demons?

The demon moved, eyes fixed firmly now on Aziraphale, his hand reaching for the foot he had been staring at.

Aziraphale kept still, barely daring to breathe so as not to startle the demon.

The claws were the first thing that grazed his skin, almost ticklish in their careful touch. Then the cool fingertips, the hand slowly curling around his foot.

A tingle of power skidded over his skin, sliding off like water off a duck, and oh God, the memory of Crowley drunk and sprawled on his couch talking about ducks of all things was like being hit in the chest, pain blooming in his heart.

The power fizzled out, nowhere near reaching the level needed to push through his natural defences. A perk of his rank, he supposed. No low-level demon could touch him, much less pull energy from him.

Which was what this demon had just tried to do, Aziraphale realized.

He closed his eyes, facts suddenly aligning themselves with dizzying speed. Why the warmth wouldn’t help, why the food didn't help. Crowley was low on power, so very low he couldn’t even keep up the pretense of an animal.

If Aziraphale got too low, his natural connection to Heaven would restore his strength in short order, but it seemed that Hell didn’t grant those kinds of favors to its inhabitants. Only the strongest could survive; the weaklings were killed by their own brethren.

Crowley was old, one of the first demons, and his powers were many and varied. Not like the lesser ones -- familiars or cacodemons -- who were limited to a specific skill. Crowley… he was capable of many feats, everything the lower levels could do, including succubi. Succubi and incubi were incredibly weak, of course, with barely any power to call their own... but they could steal energy from others. Through Lust and physical contact, they could do what most other demons were incapable of: they could take energy, power, from other beings and make it their own.

The only other way such a feat could be achieved was through… consumption. Few and far between were the stories told among angels of those of the celestial host that were overwhelmed by demons. Each story was more gruesome and horrifying than the last, describing how the demons cut the living flesh away from the captured angels and consumed it, desperate for the celestial power they could no longer access.

Crowley, or whatever shadow of him it was in Aziraphale’s bed, pulled back, a slight frown on his face. He could not push through Aziraphale’s natural defences. They were not equals, not this time.

Aziraphale licked his lips.

There was still a chance, a way to give Crowley what he needed. When he'd fallen asleep cuddling the snake, he must have unconsciously lowered his barriers enough that Crowley managed to siphon off enough energy to shift form.

Into a form more suited to utilizing the only skill he was capable of while this low on energy.

“Try again,” Aziraphale said slowly, quietly. His heart was beating frantically at the very thought of what he was offering.

It didn’t matter though. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to save Crowley.

He could, if he tried hard enough, lower his barriers deliberately. He'd taught himself how to do it many centuries ago, never stopping to think why such a skill would ever be useful to him.

The demon didn’t move, his unblinking eyes fixed on Aziraphale -- as if the angel could ever be a threat to him, no matter his state or form.

Aziraphale swallowed, his throat clicking, and shifted his foot the barest inch towards the demon.

“I will make it easier,” he promised, trying to sound as gentle and sincere as he possibly could. Crowley remained motionless, looking at him distrustfully. “Please. Trust me. I will help. I will always help you if you need it.”

He nudged the foot closer to the demon, desperately taking down every barrier he could feel, tearing at his own being because Crowley fearing him, in any incarnation, was unbearable.

The clawed fingers were back, their tips trailing a tiny pattern on top of his ankle, following the visibly pulsing vein until the hand opened and Aziraphale felt it close around his foot. The tingle of Crowley’s power was soft, thick in a way it usually wasn’t. But it felt good, too. The touch felt incredibly good, actually, much better than anything of the sort should.

Dizzily, Aziraphale realized that it made sense. It was probably much easier for succubi if they could persuade their victim to willingly allow, or even actively desire, the contact.

The pleasure pulsed out in gentle waves, enveloping his lower leg and creeping higher, the gentle touch of the demon’s fingers sending stronger zings of pleasure through his body.

Distracted by the pleasurable sensation, it took a while for Aziraphale to notice the gentle tug of his energy being siphoned off through that small point of contact. Skin to skin, he thought vaguely, that was what Crowley needed. And Aziraphale had denied him that for months and months.

Time became a liquid thing, sometimes flowing fast, sometimes slowing down unbearably. Later, he remembered how Crowley’s slim body looked as the demon crawled above him on all fours, his gold eyes with their slit pupils watching carefully, warily, as his hands pushed under the fabric of Aziraphale’s pajamas to find more skin. His sharp cheekbones and the shadows on his face only served to make him look more angular and suddenly, unexpectedly, beautiful.

Aziraphale had never thought of Crowley as beautiful. Attractive, yes, always perfectly put together, flashy and with an eye-catching style. But Aziraphale had never looked at him as a beautiful creature. Now, he couldn’t look away from the rich red hair spilling over the bed as the demon crawled up him, the pale skin of his limbs and the tempting shadows gathering at the hollow of his throat. The hair, though, the hair was the best. Or worst. It was lush and smooth, the red curls trailing after the demon like a cloak. Aziraphale wanted to touch it so badly, wanted to gather fistfulls of it and press it to his face. He wanted to smell it, wanted to know how Crowley’s skin felt through the curtain of hair.

It was Lust, he would know later, the full impact of it pulsing towards him through the unguarded connection he'd allowed. His heart was pounding, his skin felt heated and sensitive, little hairs all over his body standing up. He was breathing deeply, he realized, trying to catch the demon’s scent. The damage was done. Now that his eyes were opened to the beauty of his companion, to the sheer sensuality of his existence, he doubted he would ever be able to ignore it again.

When he reached for the demon's face, wanting to touch the unbelievable sharpness of his cheekbone, the demon shifted away from him, wary gaze flickering from his eyes to his hand and back again. Then the demon reached for Aziraphale’s upraised arm and took hold of it, carefully pushing it down and pinning it to the bed.

Apparently, Aziraphale was not allowed to touch.

It stung, the rejection unreasonably painful, even if the Lust was quickly obscuring anything else but the too-slim body moving over him.

Things went faster then, once the demon had more skin to press himself against. Smooth and cool, he felt amazingly good against Aziraphale’s body. He remembered twisting, writhing, wishing he could touch the demon in any way, squirming under talented fingers and even more talented mouth.

Everything was heat and pleasure, pounding heart and dry mouth. His nose was full of the scent of his own sweat, of demonic power, and somewhere under all that, a faint echo of Crowley. His sight blurred as pleasure burst through his body over and over again, until the blur became blackness and he remembered no more.

---

He woke slowly, his body heavy and mind groggy. Some little part of him was surprised tto wake up at all. Some of the heaviness of his body was a strange satiety he hadn’t experienced before, the result of the orgasms the demon had pulled out of him. Most of it was simple exhaustion, though. The demon had taken a lot of energy. Maybe enough to heal him?

Aziraphale forced his eyes to open fully and focus on the bright room. There was nobody in the bed with him, not a human-shaped body anyway, and the realization was like another punch to the gut, his tentative hope squashed flat.

The room wasn’t empty, though.

Beside him, half on the bedside table and half on the floor, was the snake, its black scales no longer dull and filmy but glossy and shining, reddish belly scales gleaming softly in the early morning light. The snake was coiled over the table, its head pushed firmly into Aziraphale’s forgotten cup of tea. Its throat worked as it drank down the liquid. Aziraphale stared, struck by how… cute that looked. Then the snake pulled its head out of the cup and did the snakey equivalent of licking its chops.

It was, by far, the most adorable thing he'd ever seen.

“Crowley?” he tried, but in his heart he already knew it was not his friend. The snake still felt like mostly an animal, only a little demonic tingle to it.

The snake did look at him, briefly, before pushing its head back into the cup and carrying on drinking. In the quiet of the room Aziraphale could hear the little slurping sounds it made.

He tried to take comfort in the fact the snake was more lively this morning, moving and drinking. Compared to the listless, motionless creature of the last seven months this was an amazing improvement. Maybe Crowley just needed more time, more energy to get out of the basic survival state he seemed stuck in.

Aziraphale refused to even consider the alternative: that something in Crowley’s mind was damaged, that this half-sane, running-only-on-instinct creature might be the only thing left of his best friend.

---

It turned out that living with a snake was much more challenging than Aziraphale ever expected.

The first thing he learned was never to close a door, or -- if he really had to close one -- to do it very slowly. The snake was very long and it took quite a bit of time for him to slither all the way through a doorway.

An unfortunate accident brought that home, along with an incredible amount of guilt for Aziraphale for hurting the snake, who spent the next few hours pointedly curled in the corner furthest away from Aziraphale refusing to acknowledge his presence. It took four mice and a cup of cocoa to be forgiven for that one.

The second thing he learned was that the snake would eat anything and everything Aziraphale himself ate, including the luscious raspberry layer cake from the bakery down the street. Aziraphale bought himself a nice little slice to enjoy one evening, set it out on a plate, and went to get a cup of the new green tea blend he'd purchased a while back but never gotten to try.

When he came back, he found the snake with its snout covered in whipped cream and raspberry mousse slithering off the table, and an empty plate with just a few crumbs remaining.

The third thing he learned was that washing a large, unruly snake against its will definitely required at least six arms and a healthy dose of miracles to boot.

The last thing he learned was that, as much as it looked like a snake, it was still a demon. After it tired of wandering the shop and getting all up in Aziraphale's business, it would go back to his bedroom and crawl onto the bed where it would bury itself under the covers to pointedly wait for Aziraphale to join it.

 

---

After the third night, Aziraphale stopped bothering with the pretense that going to bed meant going to sleep. The pajamas were more of an impediment than anything else.

The moment Aziraphale turned the lights off the snake transformed, wings rustling in the darkness and sure hands reaching for Aziraphale’s skin without any hesitation.

He would not let Aziraphale touch him, nothing but occasional stolen touches to the flaming red hair spilling over them both. The pleasure was as deep, as sweet as the first night, even as it became harder and harder to wake up every morning, the drain on his energy going from heavy sleep to his joints stiff and hurting when he woke up later and later.

The echoes of pleasure the demon gave him were thick in his mind, coming to him unexpectedly throughout the day, setting his skin aflame and his heart pounding. The power was truly demonic; like an addict, he knew it was bad for him yet did it anyway because it felt so good. He was an angel, he could shake the desire off if he chose to, but he could understand now why human addicts came back for more and more until it killed them. The sweetness of giving in was worth the cost, or at least that was what his addled mind told him.

He wondered, as he stood beside his bed staring down at the gleaming black scales of the demon snake curled in the middle of it, if this would kill him too, eventually. His hands worked the buttons of his shirt slowly, jacket and vest long discarded. He tried to avoid using too many miracles these days, the strain on his powers too high for frivolous use now.

He guessed it didn’t matter. Not really. Either the demon would absorb enough power to return to himself, or Aziraphale would cease to exist. Either way, he couldn’t really see a problem. A world where he was the only one left wasn't one he wanted to live in, anyway.

---

Waking up was hard, so much harder than ever before. He kept drifting up into awareness and then fading out again, body heavy and unresponsive, so tired that even opening his eyes was an effort.

Something was pulling at his attention, something out of the ordinary that his tired brain kept trying to bring to his notice, but the exhaustion was casting a hazy blanket of apathy over everything.

Eventually the oddness penetrated deep enough for him to realize that what was disturbing his utterly exhausted sleep was sound. There were sounds, unexpected and strange sounds in a room that has been absolutely quiet for months on end.

He managed to force his eyes open, the light from the windows stabbing into them and awaking a sharp headache.

“The Hell...” a rough and gravelly voice was muttering somewhere close. “Fu… oh damn… ah, that hurts...shit, this such a pile of… gah ...Lord, it hurts like a...” the words trailed off into an unintelligible and painfully familiar cacophony of meaningless noises.

Aziraphale turned his head so sharply his vision swam, and struggled to focus his eyes on his skinny companion.

Crowley was sitting in the bed beside him, bent over, spine curved and head lowered, face hidden in his hands as he muttered curses about what, Aziraphale grasped, was a monumental headache.

The demon that took him to bed every night and gave him pleasure (while yes, slowly killing him) didn’t make any noises. It didn’t speak, didn’t mutter or even move loudly enough for Aziraphale’s ears to catch a sound. This, however… these pointless little noises, these were something Aziraphale associated with Crowley, with the expressive demon who always had an opinion about everything.

Aziraphale stared at the only part of him he had in clear view, the skinny spine and the knobs of his vertebrae poking out from under pale skin, the mass of flaming red hair falling over the naked body in a river of waves and ringlets.

He opened his mouth, wanting to call Crowley, but no sound came out, the words dying under the memory of all the mornings he had opened his eyes thinking Crowley would be back and he never was.

Instead of speaking, he reached out and flattened his hand against the curved spine he kept looking at. Maybe if he could reassure himself this wasn’t a dream, it would be easier to believe.

Crowley shrieked and all but levitated off the bed at the touch, sending Aziraphale’s heart skittering in startlement.

They ended up at opposite ends of the bed, staring at each other with wide eyes, Crowley’s gold with vertical pupils flicking over Aziraphale with obvious and clear recognition.

Aziraphale felt as if his heart was going to explode right there in his chest, ripping it apart with all that he felt in that moment.

Crowley.

Crowley was back, was there, staring at him as if he'd grown another head and maybe a set of tentacles along the way, his mouth unattractively open and eyes showing whites around those serpentine, unblinking eyes.

It was the most beautiful sight Aziraphale had ever seen and his eyes stung with the sheer, unadulterated, impossible beauty of the moment.

“Aziraphale?” Crowley said slowly, his voice carrying that edge of sibilant hiss that he only showed when upset or thoroughly distracted.

“Hello, Crowley,” Aziraphale managed to squeeze out through a throat tight with emotion. “Welcome back.”

Crowley stared at him, his eyes flicking ever faster over the angel's body, clearly taking in the absence of clothes on both of them and the fairly damning issue of them both being in bed together.

“Why...” the demon began, his voice trailing off as his eyes grew even wider, something like horror creeping in. “Why are your defences so low?” Crowley reached out one clawed finger to touch Aziraphale’s arm, the tingle of his power familiar and painful at the same time, interfering with Aziraphale more than it should, or ever had.

Since tearing down all his barriers to enable the demon to feed off of him, he'd never actually raised them back up. There was no point, not while the snake -- his friend -- still needed his energy.

Aziraphale cast about for words, ones good enough to explain the enormity of the situation, his consuming need to save Crowley.

“Angel,” Crowley all but hissed, his eyes narrowing into thin slits, the gold unusually bright between the dark lashes. “What did you do?” The tingle became more intense, the flow of Aziraphale's energy sluggishly rising to meet the pull.

He watched, feeling himself growing weaker, as Crowley’s eyes widened again, white all around them, and then the demon's head whipped down and up again, finally connecting the dots.

“No,” he breathed so quietly it was barely a sound at all.

“You needed energy,” Aziraphale defended weakly. “You--”

“You could have died!” Crowley’s face paled and then turned red, so red that Aziraphale started to worry about him again. His hands clutched Aziraphale’s shoulders, claws pressing into the skin but not breaking it, even as he did his best to shake the angel. “I could have drained you dry! That’s what demons do!” he roared, even redder in the face. “They take and take… until they take everything!” One more shake. “You could have ceased to be!”

Aziraphale didn’t really mind the shaking. The tight grip on his shoulders only served to bring home the truth that Crowley was really here, now, with him. The warm skin of his hands and the rough sound of his voice, all of it made Aziraphale want to pray, want to send thanks to the Lord because it was nothing short of a miracle.

“Crowley,” he said, voice as gentle as if he was talking to a small, frightened creature. In a way he was, only this creature was clawed and rather powerful, yet frightened nonetheless. “It was you. What was I supposed to do? Wait for you to exhaust yourself into extinction?” Aziraphale swallowed hard, through a throat that was tight and dry again. “It’s been almost eight months.”

Crowley stilled, his grip on Aziraphale’s shoulders slacking and his eyes, reptilian and strange but so beautiful, darkened with an emotion Aziraphale could not understand.

He let go of Aziraphale and rose from the bed in one of his slithery, sharp movements that his human body should be quite incapable of. Aziraphale couldn’t help but watch the too-thin form and the endless mass of hair obscuring details of Crowley’s naked body as he paced the room, muttering curses under his breath.

“How could you be so smart and so absolutely, utterly stupid!” he finally yelled. “What good would it have been if you'd died to save me?” Crowley whirled to glare at Aziraphale but it was hard to make any sudden moves with hair longer than he was tall. The hair tugged him back, making him tilt his head, exposing the long throat even as the red strands caught the sunlight from the window, reflecting it in a thousand fiery flickers.

Their eyes met and Crowley suddenly seemed to realize he was naked. He looked down at himself, pale and long and gorgeous, then to Aziraphale still on the bed, mostly wrapped in the covers and he snapped his fingers.

His clothes manifested on him, the black, slightly shiny jacket with red collar, the shirt a slightly lighter shade of black and the silvery scarf, completed by the black jeans and the belt with its ornamental buckle. There it was: the fancy (and slightly intimidating) look that Aziraphale always associated with the demon. Unlike Aziraphale, Crowley changed his outfit as needed, so as to always be the height of fashion in any given decade.

The magic was too much for him, in his barely restored state. The moment the clothes finished coming into existence Crowley let out a choked sound and staggered, falling to one knee before managing to regain control over his body. He stayed there, kneeling on the floor, one hand keeping him from falling face-first into the soft carpet, the other pressed to his head.

“Great, blasted, mangled bollocks,” he muttered, the pain clearly ravaging him. “Ow.”

“I really don’t think you should be using your powers just yet,” Aziraphale said, cautiously trying to sit up. The migraine spiked, making his vision swim for a second.

“This is not my day,” Crowley groaned from the floor. He attempted to get up but got tangled in his hair. It took him a moment to extract himself, his movements jerky and agitated. Once he'd gotten himself vaguely upright he staggered to the bookcase on the right side of the room, groping among the few items displayed there that weren’t books. One was a set of three fancy silver letter openers shaped like the Hermes wand, a pair of snakes twisted around a winged staff that extended into a blade, set in a beautifully polished mahogany box. Aziraphale never actually used them, but he liked looking at them. The snakes were exquisitely carved, each tiny scale delicate and beautiful, their eyes inset with tiny red stones. Even the wings of the Hermes wand were beautifully made, each individual feather lovingly detailed and so polished it sparkled in the light. The three pieces completely failed to match the decor of his bedroom, the gleaming silver and wickedly sharp edges of the blade, but they were such a Crowley thing, he liked having them in his room.

He watched, not truly understanding what the demon was doing as Crowley opened the box and riffled through the set, pulling out the biggest knife. He was briefly distracted by the gleam of the silver blade against long fingers tipped with black claws, distracted enough that he only realized what was happening when Crowley had caught a fistful of his own hair and was pressing the blade to it, muttering half-audible curses about evil tentacles out to get him.

Aziraphale had a flash of recollection, of watching the demon as he crawled over him on the bed, his hair trailing over the white sheets and how much he'd wanted to touch it then.

“No!” he yelled without stopping to think what he was doing.

Crowley froze, the blade still pressed to his hair. His eyes turned to Aziraphale, mutely questioning.

Aziraphale exhaled, eyes fixed on the mass of gorgeous, flame-red hair in Crowley’s fist.

Crowley’s eyebrows rose, making a bid for his hairline, eyes flicking from Aziraphale to his hair and back again.

The quiet that stretched between them was almost painful with the sensation of demonic smugness rising up in the room as Crowley’s lips stretched in a slow, satisfied grin.

“Really, angel,” he purred, his smugness reaching radioactive levels in a matter of seconds. “Hair?”

“No!” Aziraphale protested instinctively. “I mean, yes.” He shook his head, heart suddenly beating double-time. “It’s just that it looks...” He wrung his hands together, feeling utterly wrongfooted. “It’s... just... you look good. With longer hair, that is.” He gestured vaguely towards Crowley’s fist still clenched in the hair just above his neck. The serpentine eyes followed his every move with glowing intensity and Aziraphale let his hands fall to his lap. “If you want.”

“It can’t stay this long,” Crowley motioned at the loops of his hair curled on the floor, despite the fact he was holding up a considerable part of it. The red looked gorgeous against Aziraphale’s cream-colored carpet.

“No no, I know. I understand, of course,” he nodded meekly, already ashamed of his interference into how Crowley chose to present himself.

“But it doesn’t have to be completely short,” Crowley purred, smugness like a living being wrapped around him. He loosened his fist and slid it down, letting hair slip through the grip, until it rested just below his shoulders.

Aziraphale’s eyes widened and his breath caught at the implication. Crowley never took his eyes away from Aziraphale's, a half-smile playing around his thin lips, eyes almost luminous in their serpentine focus.

“Like this?” He moved the blade close to the russet strands, and Aziraphale felt his mouth go completely dry again.

He couldn’t make himself say anything, too occupied with staring at the shining mass of hair in Crowley’s tight grip, the way the light was reflected in it, and Crowley’s eyes watching him with singular focus.

He did manage one tiny sound. Barely a gasp, really.

“More?” The way Crowley said it -- slowly, suggestively -- made Aziraphale blush. It sounded like pure sin and all the forbidden things Aziraphale should not know.

“Yes,” Aziraphale whispered, barely louder than the whisper of his breath. “Please.”

Crowley’s smile turned different then, less obviously smug, less wide, but somehow more enticing at the same time. Smaller, deeper, hiding secrets only he could know.

Aziraphale was reminded suddenly of the fact that this was the Serpent of Eden, the Architect of Sin, the first tempter. Aziraphale had never truly understood just why it was Crowley, not any of the other demons. He definitely understood it now.

When he did eventually stop, his hand now in the middle of his chest, the heavy mass of hair pulled over his shoulder, his grin was as wide as it was smug. “So demanding, angel,” he purred, before sliding the knife across the silky strands and chopping off the excess.

Aziraphale couldn’t stop himself from making a soft sound of dismay as the heavy coils hit the floor. What was left flowed in waves to the middle of Crowley's back, waves that immediately started curling up now that the heavy weight dragging it down was gone.

Crowley tossed his head, the hair falling over his shoulders and back, the curls already picture-perfect.

It made sense, Aziraphale thought faintly, a tempter wouldn’t accomplish much if he looked like Hastor.

He looked so very put together, in his fancy jacket and sparkly accessories. He even had his watch back on his wrist. The only thing missing were his glasses, which was an odd thing to forget when miracling one's clothes on.

Aziraphale suddenly remembered that he himself was completely naked, and even though the covers were keeping things modest, he definitely felt inadequate in comparison to the demon.

He lowered his legs to the floor, keeping the covers firmly over his middle. His joints ached and his protesting muscles reacted slowly, his energy levels beyond low. Having learned from Crowley’s mistake, he decided to go for the human way of dressing.

Slowly he got to his feet, dragging the covers with him, and stumbled towards the pajamas he'd abandoned on the nearest chair some days ago.

His fingers were just reaching for the top when he realized that Crowley was watching him. He looked back at the demon, who was leaning on the bookshelf, arms crossed, watching Aziraphale with a heavy frown between his brows.

“Aziraphale…” Crowley began, then trailed off, licking his lips. “How…” he started, and stopped again. “I don’t feel... I mean, if I… did I take that much from you?” He tightened his arms, as if to prevent himself from reaching out. “Why didn’t you stop me? Would you have really just let me kill you?!” Crowley's voice rose, agitation pouring off of him in waves.

Aziraphale hated to see him so upset. He couldn't find it in himself to feel any guilt, or even any regret about what had happened. He'd let Crowley feed and Crowley came back to him because of it. His only regret was that it had taken him so damn long to figure out what his friend needed.

“You never took too much,” he said reassuringly, trying to figure out how to get dressed without dropping the sheet that covered him.

The quiet that followed his response was so absolute he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat.

“'Never',” Crowley repeated slowly, dangerously, pushing away from the bookcase in a strangely fluid way that no spine but his seemed capable of. “'Never' implies that you... that I... that it was more than once,” he finished, his voice dropping rapidly as he advanced on Aziraphale.

“Oh,” Aziraphale stared at him, frozen, like a mouse faced with a snake. Which was rather amusing, when one considered all the mice he'd put in front of a snake over the past few months. "Well..." He instinctively felt that there was no safe answer to the question he knew was coming.

“Tell me, Aziraphale, just how many times did you let this,” Crowley gestured sharply at the mussed bed, his silver watch catching the light, his voice tight with emotions Aziraphale couldn’t unpack, “happen?

Aziraphale swallowed, knowing there was no way around this moment of truth. “There was no other way,” he said, trying to ease Crowley into it. “You were fading, right in front of my eyes.”

How many times?” Crowley hissed, his eyes luminescent with emotion, whether anger, disgust, fear, or something else, the angel couldn't tell.

Aziraphale swallowed twice, his fingers clenching in the covers wrapped around him.“Ten,” he admitted helplessly. "Ten times. Ten… nights."

They were close enough that Aziraphale could see the way all color left Crowley’s face, the skin becoming ashen then reddening rapidly.

Ten,” Crowley said in the way other people cursed their very existence. “Ten..” he seemed to choke on his own tongue. “Have you any idea how dangerous that was? Even once! One night with your defences down could have weakened you enough that any sodding demon could tear you apart!” Crowley was shouting now, radiating heat and so many conflicting emotions that all Aziraphale could do was stand there in the maelstrom of his fury and take it. He certainly wasn’t going to apologize. Yes, he knew that, had known it from the start. He knew he could have died, was frankly astonished at the demon's self control and the fact he himself was still alive. “And to let me do it again, and again!” Crowley threw his arms in the air. “I have no words. That’s more than playing with fire: that was begging for death!”

“I won’t apologize,” Aziraphale said quietly, standing steady in the torrent of emotions, sure of himself in a way he hadn’t been in a very long time. “I would not see you die and this was the only way.” He shook his head. “I’m an angel, it’s not like I can heal a demon. My power was useless, utterly and completely. But you found a way around that.”

Crowley was panting with anger, his teeth bared like a snarling animal. He flinched at Aziraphale’s last words, hands going to his face and rubbing sharply.

“I need alcohol, a whole lot of it.” He turned on his heel and disappeared down the hall, his steps thundering down the stairs, followed by the sounds of cupboards being riffled through and glass clinking.

---

Aziraphale followed Crowley down as soon as he was dressed, donning armor of soft cotton and cream linen. He wasn’t sure of the best thing to do, but he knew he couldn’t leave Crowley alone in this state. He remembered the argument they'd had over Holy Water and how they didn't talk for a hundred and five years after that.

Aziraphale watched Crowley pace the small room, long legs crossing the distance in just a few steps before he had to turn sharply, the wine from his glass splashing. Honestly, one would think it was the Apocalypse.

“There’s really no need for all this,” Aziraphale said, glancing at the rapidly draining bottles. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world again.”

Crowley snorted, tossing his head back, the red hair falling in an arc and catching golden highlights from the lamp in the corner. Aziraphale was so distracted watching it, he almost missed the words the demon spoke under his breath.

“The Hell it isn’t,” Crowley muttered, draining his glass in one go and walking over to the table to pour himself another one, filling the glass to the brim.

That… that was much more than Aziraphale expected. He knew it wasn’t a usual situation; he even liked to think Crowley was a decent enough person he would hate causing harm to Aziraphale, but he hadn't expected Crowley to treat it as if it were as serious as the end of the world. He hadn't expected the demon to… care so much.

“Well,” he said, uncertain how to help his friend but instinctively knowing he shouldn’t leave him alone right now. “If you are going to drink my best reds, you could at least share.”

He got himself a glass and went to Crowley, extending the empty glass.

Lacking his customary dark glasses, the demon's face was fully visible and Aziraphale could see every emotion that flickered through those snake eyes, almost too fast to catalog.

Crowley raised the glass to his lips and drained it in two swallows. Aziraphale watched his adam’s apple go up and down and was again reminded that he hadn't been permitted to touch him, not much, even while they…

Crowley continued to cast him suspicious looks even as he poured them both a glass of Chateau Lafite Bordeaux. Aziraphale couldn’t help but smile at how, even in his perturbed state, the demon properly filled the angel's glass to one third while his own was all but overflowing.

“I owe you an apology,” Aziraphale said quietly, the sweet, tart taste of the wine sliding thickly down his throat and warming his belly. Just one glass and he was already feeling a little buzzed.

Crowley’s eyebrows shot up, the vertical pupils expanding a little in his surprise. “You?” he sputtered, “You? Apolo--what?!”

“Back when I was discorporated,” Aziraphale nudged, taking another swallow.

Crowley’s face did a strange thing then, lips curling down and twisting as if tasting something bad. Aziraphale hadn't realized what was happening then, what it had meant that Crowley was drinking alone in a bar, why he didn’t go to, say, Alpha Centauri. Aziraphale had been ignorant then, he recognized that now; he'd seen distress and said he was sorry but he hadn't known what it felt like to be faced with loneliness for the rest of eternity, what it must have felt like for Crowley to be the only one left. He remembered his words now, and cringed at how shallow they were, how utterly inadequate to heal the pain. He remembered staring at a slowly dying snake in a darkening room and realizing there was nothing waiting for him, that every day from then on, every meal he would ever have would taste like ashes.

“You already apologized to me, angel,” Crowley said, brows furrowed.

And this too, this hurt. The way Crowley never expected his pain to be acknowledged in any way. It wasn’t right, Aziraphale thought. Not right at all.

“My apology wasn’t good enough,” he said quietly, feeling his throat go tight. “I didn’t understand then,” he added, as Crowley still stared at him with furrowed brows.

Aziraphale thought about Crowley apologizing in the middle of a busy London street. He was a demon, for God’s sake, but he'd gone and apologized to a celestial being. It must have been hard, so hard for him. It was hard for Aziraphale, now, even with the memory of Crowley's example.

“You had other things on your mind then, angel,” Crowley shrugged, dismissing any fault there might have been on Aziraphale’s part.

Aziraphale watched the sharp line of Crowley’s cheekbones as he drained another glass in just a couple of swallows, the way his adam’s apple moved and the way he licked his lips afterwards. They were stained slightly with purple, from the wine. He wondered how they would taste.

“I didn’t know what it was like to lose someone you love, then,” he said finally, heart pounding and palms sweating.

Crowley… froze.

He stopped pacing, stopped fidgeting and gesticulating, stopped making those small annoyed sounds he usually let out when irritated or overwhelmed or both at once. To be completely truthful, Aziraphale thought Crowley might even have stopped breathing.

“You…” Crowley's voice trailed off uncertainly.

“Yes,” Aziraphale knew his voice was trembling, the words the hardest he ever said. “Yes,” he repeated, stronger this time. “I am so sorry it took me so long to catch up to you, Crowley.”

Crowley let the glass fall from his fingers but neither of them paid attention. Nothing on this earth or beyond could have forced Aziraphale to tear his eyes away from Crowley in that moment.

“Oh, angel,” Crowley said, his voice low and rough, striking a chord deep in Aziraphale and stealing his remaining breath away.

Then Crowley’s clawed fingers were on his cheeks, framing his face, the tips of the claws tickling the skin gently as he leaned in to kiss Aziraphale.

The kiss was soft, so much softer than Aziraphale had expected. It tasted of the wine Crowley had been drinking with abandon just moments ago, sweet and tart, with a complex, dark finish.

Aziraphale didn’t close his eyes, he couldn’t bear to deny himself the sight of those shining auburn curls falling down over them both. The touch of Crowley’s lips was soft and sweet. He was always gentle with Aziraphale, the angel realized, always at his softest when they were together.

He sighed into the kiss, opening up to the caress, then lifted his hands, finally free to touch those amazing fiery tresses, and if it happened to pull Crowley closer, well, that was all for the best.

And it felt right.

Not like a sin at all. In fact, it felt so good and so right that Aziraphale couldn’t remember why he'd fought against this for so long, why he thought that denying Crowley was in any way good or even necessary. He could understand even less how he could have failed to see this for what it was.

Crowley’s lips were soft, his tongue even softer, and he was shaking, Aziraphale realized. They were both shaking.

“I need to sober up for this,” Crowley murmured against his lips, breaking the kiss.

“No!” Aziraphale protested, thinking of how Crowley had already spent his energy miracling himself his clothes, and how he himself still felt diminished and weaker than usual.

“But-” Crowley tried again to pull back.

“No.” Aziraphale grabbed his hands and held them still, pressed against his face, unwilling to lose the contact and at the same time feeling an urge to keep track of Crowley, keep him close. And stop him from snapping his fingers unnecessarily.

“Just the--”

“No!” Aziraphale snapped. “I’m not watching you spend whatever energy you've managed to regain for something as stupid as sobering up! You can just go about it in a human way.”

“Human way?” Crowley’s eyebrows made a bid for freedom again.

“I will order lunch. Sushi maybe?”

---

Apparently Aziraphale’s disappearance from the world for months on end hadn't gone unnoticed. When he called his favorite sushi restaurant, hoping to persuade them to deliver just this one time, the waitress passed him immediately to the chef who in turn nearly cried into the phone. They'd been so worried about Aziraphale, the man said, afraid something bad had happened to him. His shop was closed for months, nobody saw him in any of his favorite spots. Chef Zhao promised to make him something special and send it to him by taxi immediately.

When Aziraphale came back into the room with the free sushi (which smelled amazing even through the paper wrappings), he found Crowley lounging on the sofa, looking about ten seconds away from sliding off of it. His head was tilted back, his hair spread out on the tan upholstery, and his sharp jacket and silver buttons contrasted very well with the otherwise rather dull piece of furniture. Aziraphale forgot himself for a moment and simply stood there, admiring the serpent in his parlor and thinking of the soft, shaky kiss they shared just moments ago.

“You keep looking at me,” Crowley said quietly, turning to face Aziraphale.

“So do you. At me,” Aziraphale answered softly, breathlessly, remembering all the lunches and dinners when Crowley would spend most of the meal leaning towards him and just… staring, taking Aziraphale in as if he was the most fascinating thing in the world.

Crowley slid an inch lower on the couch, his legs in a loose sprawl that suddenly seemed… very inviting.

“Yes,” Crowley admitted, shameless as only a demon could be. “I found you fascinating from the day we met.” He lifted the tall glass of water he was holding in loose fingers, toasted Aziraphale with a half-smile, and drank a good half of it in one go. Apparently he really was trying to sober up the human way. “You've never returned the favor before, though.”

"Er..." Aziraphale suddenly remembered the sushi he was holding. He lowered his gaze and focused on setting out the delicate, colorful arrangements of fish and rice on the low coffee table. He couldn’t bear to face Crowley’s scrutiny for so long, didn’t feel brave enough to show him everything yet.

But no, that was cowardly. Crowley hid very little from him, always answering his questions in as honest a manner as a demon could manage. Aziraphale owed him the same openness, the same vulnerability.

“You wouldn’t let me touch you,” he admitted finally, casting a look at Crowley from under lowered lids. “When we… when you...” He made a vague upward motion with his hand towards his bedroom. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was that they'd done together, but he knew it had not been a simple thing. “You wouldn’t let me touch you at all.”

“Do you want to touch me?” Crowley took a curly strand of red hair between two fingers and wiggled the end of it at Aziraphale. His voice was low, seductive, tempting. “This, maybe?”

Aziraphale flushed and looked away, then straightened, forcing himself to look into Crowley’s golden eyes. “I only like it because it’s such a part of you,” he said, wanting to make Crowley understand that it wasn’t about hair, any hair. It was about Crowley.

Crowley was quiet for a moment, drinking from his glass, not looking at Aziraphale. “I don’t remember,” he said finally, into his glass. “Nothing from…” His voice trailed off and a shudder wracked his long, slender frame. “Until I woke up in your bed. Naked,” he added, casting a cheeky grin at Aziraphale, “and with a killer headache,” he finished with a wince.

Aziraphale looked at the couch where Crowley was slouching, at the table set with delicious-looking rolls, at the chair opposite the couch, and tried to decide where to sit. Crowley said nothing, watching him with those amazing eyes of his, waiting for him to make the choice.

Running a finger inside the suddenly tight fit of his collar, Aziraphale sat carefully beside the demon, making sure to keep a respectable distance between them. Crowley continued to watch him, turning his head without lifting it from where it rested on the back of the couch, his red hair spilling over the light fabric of the upholstery. Aziraphale was uncomfortably aware of how close the two of them were. He was also dealing with the unsettling knowledge that Crowley was amenable to any possible touch. The demon shifted his position, slithering even lower, the loose sprawl of his legs making the black jeans go snug against his thighs. Not for the first time, Aziraphale thought the demon was too thin and should definitely eat more.

“We should eat,” Aziraphale said, his voice remarkably unsteady. “We need the energy,” he pointed out, gesturing towards the sushi rolls.

Uncharacteristically, Crowley reached for the chopsticks with his left hand. Aziraphale raised his eyebrows, but Crowley didn’t seem in any way disadvantaged by having to use his non-dominant hand. He picked up the glossy lacquered chopsticks correctly between his fingers, tapped the tips on the table to even them up, and took hold of the first maki roll, the one with the spicy salmon tartare and small bits of chili on top, and popped it whole into his mouth. A lock of hair slithered forward over his shoulders as he leaned forward. It was the same color as the chili.

Aziraphale was intensely aware of the demon's right hand, resting on the couch just beside his thigh, the black claws still very much present.

His mouth was dry, so he reached for his water and took a long drink before taking up his own chopsticks. He felt unusually clumsy, the lacquered wood slip-sliding through his fingers and not obeying as it should. It took some graceless fumbling, which he hoped Crowley didn't notice, before he was ready to make his own choice.

He paused with his chopsticks halfway to the plates. Crowley was carefully removing the chili from half of the salmon rolls, the tips of his chopsticks gently picking up the peppers and transferring them to the other half of the dish. Crowley didn't look at Aziraphale as he did it, but the angel couldn't help but feel a swell of emotion at the sight.

Crowley remembered that Aziraphale didn’t like chilli.

“Thank you,” he murmured quietly, and reached for the salmon rolls stripped of peppers.

Crowley didn’t answer, but the corner of his lips was definitely curled upwards as he put a slice of the tender roll into his mouth.

Once Aziraphale started eating he realized just how hungry he was, and briefly forgot everything but the tantalizing food in front of him: the panko fried shrimp with avocado and spicy mayo, the rich slices of fatty tuna, the fried squid with crab salad on top, the butter fish with crunchy salad and pickled radish.

His mind, along with his chewing, screeched to a halt when he felt a touch on his fingers. His use of his right hand, which meant his left rested on the couch beside his thigh, was as uncharacteristic of him as Crowley’s use of his left hand. Aziraphale looked down, a slice of rainbow roll halfway to his mouth. Crowley’s hand had inched its way across the space between them, and was now very close to his own fingers. Close enough that Crowley’s pinky was now touching his own little finger, the black claw gleaming and smooth at the end of the pale digit. Even as he watched it moved to rest atop his own and then, slowly, as if afraid of meeting resistance, slid between his fingers and rested there.

Other than the motion of his hand, Crowley gave no hint that anything unusual had happened, and simply carried on eating. Aziraphale looked at his profile, the way his jaw moved as he ate, the snake tattoo just below his temples, the way his dark lashes lowered in pleasure at the exquisite taste of the food Chef Zhao had prepared for them.

Aziraphale returned his attention to the rapidly diminishing spread, making sure to leave his hand where it was, relishing the warmth of Crowley’s touch the whole time.

---

After they finished, Aziraphale went to the kitchen to make a pot of cheery green tea, the subtle sour cherrystone flavor of the blend matching the sushi wonderfully.

He stood in the small kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, hyper-aware of the small sounds Crowley was making in the other room as he picked through Aziraphale’s things. He always did that, always touched and moved and generally poked his nose into Aziraphale’s business.

Aziraphale watched the steam begin to rise from the old kettle and couldn’t decide if the demon's endless curiosity was more irritating or endearing. Both, maybe, but with endearing winning over by a wide margin.

As he poured the hot water into the warmed-up teapot, he became aware of Crowley in the doorway. He put the lid onto the kettle and the cozy (white, with tiny wings and a gold halo embroidered on it) on top of the clay teapot, to make sure it wouldn’t cool too fast. Finally he looked up.

Crowley was leaning one shoulder against the door frame, his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, his long hair flowing over his right shoulder, the flaming mass of curls a striking contrast against the black of his jacket.

He was still missing his glasses, eyes luminous and unblinking, focused on Aziraphale, watching his every move.

He looked… attractive.

Suddenly, Aziraphale realized that Crowley looked attractive whatever he did. It didn’t matter whether he was pacing angrily and swigging down Aziraphale’s best reds with abandon, or slouching on his couch like the living embodiment of Sloth, or -- like now -- making himself into a long, lean line of contrasting colors and temptation. Whatever he did, Aziraphale wanted to watch him.

“What happened, Aziraphale?” Crowley asked, uncharacteristically hesitant. “When I… wasn't myself. What did I do?”

Aziraphale exhaled, long and slow, and waited until his hands were steady before he poured the hot tea into the small, handmade cups.

“Nothing, for months,” The tea splashed onto the countertop as he remembered how it had torn at his heart to watch the slowly-fading snake for months on end, helpless. “I kept… you were a snake. That’s how I found you. In that place cursed by hellfire.” Aziraphale put the teapot down, his hands shaking.

“You went there?!” Crowley sounded alarmed, straightening from his artful slouch.

“You were gone!” Aziraphale turned on him. “I looked for you and you were gone. Gone! I couldn’t even sense you anymore!” His voice was rising but he couldn't help it. “Of course I went to look for you, you... you demon!” Aziraphale clenched his fists, angry and terrified all over again. “I could sense that you fought it there, the hellfire. It…” He shuddered, remembering the agony of his skin blistering and peeling as he walked through the cursed ground.

“Yes, I fought. And I lost,” Crowley said shortly. “It was like trying to fight Satan with a stick. I didn’t even make an impression.”

“What happened?” Aziraphale asked, struggling to shake off the emotions that the memory had brought up.

Crowley looked away, but remained where he was, within Aziraphale’s reach.

“I felt the darkness enter this world, felt it grow. Day by day, it became just a little bit stronger.” Crowley shook his head, as if in denial of something. “It called to me. Whispered to me in my dreams. Day and night, stronger with every passing hour.” He shifted, pushing his hands deeper into his pockets. “I didn’t go there because I wanted to. I… I don’t remember how I got to that place at all, but the darkness… Aziraphale, it was…” Crowley trailed off and shook himself sharply, like a dog shaking off water. “Seductive. Terrifying. It wanted to consume me, take me, change me, make me into something else, something stronger. Something that belonged to it.” Crowley looked at Aziraphale, letting him see how shaken he was. “I only fought because I was terrified. Scared shitless of how much I wanted to give in.

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale stepped closer, raising his arms and then lowering them. He wanted to touch the demon, comfort him, but he had no idea how to do it -- and really, Crowley wasn’t the most accessible of beings when it came to asking for comfort.

“It didn’t help much. Whatever power I threw at the thing growing down there, it made no difference.” He shrugged, trying to hide how much his failure had obviously disturbed him.

“I felt it when I was there,” Aziraphale said, coming even closer, so that their bodies were separated by bare inches of space. “I could tell it was you, the explosion of power… I knew.”

Crowley closed his eyes, visibly struggling to regain his composure. “When fighting failed, I did the next best thing I could think of. I hid.”

Aziraphale blinked at him. “Hid?” But Crowley had been right there, barely a few meters away from the epicentre of the darkness. He’d been, quite literally, in plain sight.

“Yeah. It was... speaking, attacking my conscious mind, so I thought, what if there was nothing for it to attack? What if I was no longer a person, but just an animal?”

Aziraphale blinked at him, and replayed in his mind what he remembered of finding Crowley. The snake - it had felt like an ordinary animal, no higher consciousness to it at all. Even he would have passed it by as a simple snake, if not for the fact that he knew what Crowley's snake form looked like, and that snakes of that size were definitely not native to England nor capable of surviving in the climate.

And yet he had known, had believed that Crowley was still there, somewhere deep inside the snake.

“You did it on purpose,” Aziraphale breathed, his mind reeling at the sheer audacity of the move. If you can't win the battle, then deny it completely. “Brilliant,” he said, spinning through the logistics of something so daring.

Crowley smiled at him, smugness coming back until it fairly poured off him. Aziraphale thought he looked rather lovely when he was pleased with himself and happy.

But the smile slid off his face in the next heartbeat, and his shoulders hunched defensively. “I don’t remember anything from that moment, until I woke up in your bed.”

Aziraphale did his best not to roll his eyes at the ridiculous emphasis Crowley put on the last two words. He looked down, not wanting Crowley to see how the story and the memory had affected him, the heartbreaking suspicion that Crowley might have died, his guilt at not reacting sooner, keeping in touch better.

He reached out and touched one of the silver-edged buttons on the sleeve of Crowley’s jacket, tracing the pattern there. Crowley was very still under his touch, as miniscule as it was. “It took me almost two weeks to go looking,” Aziraphale confessed, his heart heavy with guilt. He didn’t dare look up into the demon’s eyes.

“You shouldn’t have gone at all,” Crowley said tightly. “This thing… you should keep as far away from it as possible.”

“I found you… the snake, I mean, not far from the site. I… couldn’t sense you at all. But how many snakes that look like you could there be in this world?” he said shakily.

“Only the one, I would think,” Crowley sounded out of sorts, but he kept very still under Aziraphale’s touch.

“I took you home. Tried to give you food and warmth. Hoped you would turn back.” Aziraphale lowered his hand and curled his fingers into a fist, trying to hide how much they shook at the memory of the endless months where nothing happened and hope faded.

“Aziraphale--”

But Aziraphale didn’t want to hear it. Suddenly, he needed to let it out, needed to tell Crowley everything that had happened, how much it had hurt to stare at the slowly fading snake, to watch his friend slide towards death.

“Nothing worked,” he said tightly. “You wouldn’t eat. You wouldn’t drink. You… you were fading away. Right there. In front of my eyes.” Overwhelmed by the memories, he couldn’t stand doing nothing. He reached out and grabbed Crowley’s lapels, the thick smooth material crumpling in his grip. “I couldn’t use my powers on you. A miracle could have killed you. And I couldn’t sense you at all, could barely get a whiff of demon from the snake once in a great while.” He was shaking, himself or Crowley, he couldn’t tell. “I was useless and terrified and you were dying, do you understand? Dying!”

“Aziraphale…” Crowley sounded shaken, unnerved in a way Aziraphale couldn’t remember him being before.

“I took you to bed with me because I didn’t want to do this anymore, couldn’t just sit there uselessly staring as you slowly wasted away. It had been over seven months. I'd pretty much lost all hope by that point.” He lowered his head, letting his face rest against Crowley’s chest. “I thought that if I had to watch you die, then I didn’t want to be here at all.” He heard Crowley suck in a deep breath of air, felt the bony chest under his forehead expand sharply. “I wanted to sleep and… just sleep. I couldn’t… I just couldn’t, Crowley.”

“Aziraphale…” Hands clasped his shoulders, warm and alive and very much whole again. Crowley’s voice sounded as shaky as Aziraphale felt.

“You turned, that night,” Aziraphale whispered into the jacket. “At least… you changed shape, but you didn’t recognize me. You didn’t speak. You were… wary of me at best, terrified at worst.”

“I wasn’t in my right mind,” Crowley said tightly. “There’s no telling what I could have done to you.”

Aziraphale shook his head, refusing to be stopped. “I finally figured out that what you needed wasn't food or warmth, but energy,” he rushed on, not giving Crowley time to say anything. “But you were so weak. I felt you try to pull energy from me but… you couldn't. So I… I let you.”

The hands on his shoulders tightened for a long moment, and then Crowley relaxed his grip. “I’m… I’m very glad I didn’t drain you dry,” he said eventually. From his reluctant tone, the angel could tell that Crowley was clearly absolutely in no way fine with the possibility of harming him.

Aziraphale pulled back and straightened his own jacket, feeling wrongfooted again. This new urge to touch Crowley, to seek comfort in the proof of his life, was more than a little unsettling.

“I’m sorry,” Crowley said, watching Aziraphale intently. “I didn’t think… I didn’t think this would -- I would -- matter so much to you.” His golden eyes were open, pained, a window into his emotions. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

Aziraphale closed his eyes and exhaled a shaky breath. He managed to muster a small smile to reassure his friend. “I’m so glad you are back, Crowley,” he whispered. “I can’t imagine going on without you in this world.”

Crowley, unexpectedly, blushed. Just a light dusting of pink on his cheeks and an uncomfortable squirm, before he remembered to be cool and seductive and rearranged his body into the casual lean again, one hand going back into the pocket of his jeans and making the already tight denim stretch even tighter over his hips, drawing the eye.

Aziraphale looked -- as, he suspected, he was supposed to.

Crowley smirked at him, smugness again oozing from him.

Aziraphale couldn’t help but smile at Crowley’s pleasure. “Tea?” he asked, rather at a loss what to do with the demon now that (apparently) he actually had him.

“Yes,” Crowley nodded, then looked over his shoulder into the sitting room. “But not there.”

“What? Why?”

“I feel like we really should be having a drink or ten right now, and all the bottles in that room are tempting me.”

“And what, you can’t resist a temptation?”

Crowley spread his hands as if weighing something. He looked at his left hand. “Temptation,” he declared. Then he looked at his right hand. “Demon,” he said, as if that explained everything. “It’s basically a lost cause, angel.”

Well, it probably was. There was nothing better for a demon than a temptation accomplished, after all.

Aziraphale looked at his tiny kitchen, with its even tinier table half taken up by books and the two chairs framing it. It was going to be a tight squeeze.

“Take a seat then,” he motioned towards the chairs. “Tea is ready.”

---

There was tea. There was also lovely lemon cake that came with the sushi, because Chef Zhao really knew Aziraphale.

They sat opposite each other, sharing the single slice of cake that Aziraphale put on a little plate between them.

Crowley merely nibbled, his spoon mostly scraping the whipped cream off the top, leaving the cake for Aziraphale. His free arm was thrown over the back of the chair, the heavy watch glinting in the light every so often. One of his legs was stretched out under the table, his shin pressed warm and firm against Aziraphale.

“You stole my raspberry cake, you know,” Aziraphale said, smiling, as he watched Crowley drink the tea, holding the tiny cup carefully. “When you were a snake.”

Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “Did I?”

Aziraphale knew Crowley’s tastes ran more towards the savory than the sweet; past dinners had often ended with Aziraphale having something rich and decadent while Crowley lingered over coffee. No sugar. Or cream.

“You did. The moment my back was turned you swallowed it whole and tried to slither away.” Aziraphale couldn’t help but smile at the memory.

“What did you do?” Crowley leaned closer, red hair falling over his shoulder, tendrils trailing over the tabletop distractingly.

“Dragged you to the bathroom by force and washed you. You were covered in whipped cream and raspberry mousse.”

“I don’t believe you,” Crowley said flatly.

“I'm an angel! Are you calling me a liar?” Aziraphale said, pretending to be shocked at the claim.

“You're an angel, and I don’t believe you would ever be so forward with an unsuspecting me that you would put your hands all over my slick, soaped-up body,” Crowley said matter of factly.

Aziraphale almost dropped his spoon as he took in a breath to defend himself. He didn’t manage more than a bit of spluttering before Crowley’s composure broke and he was grinning, wide and happy, at Aziraphale across the table.

“Got you,” he said, shifting his leg to nudge Aziraphale.

“That was evil,” Aziraphale complained, but without heat. Put in those terms, Crowley was right. Considering the snake wasn’t a snake but Crowley in a different shape, the whole context of Aziraphale washing him changed. And now Aziraphale was blushing like mad, lifting his hands to hide the red he could feel flaming across his face.

By the time he regained control over himself, Crowley had abandoned the cake completely in favor of resting his elbow on the table with his chin on his hand and watching Aziraphale with a small smile and hooded eyes. Strands of fire framed his face with curls that Aziraphale knew would be soft as silk against his fingertips.

“What?” Aziraphale asked, feeling something change between them.

“Take me to bed, Aziraphale,” Crowley said, his voice low and seductive, his leg hot against Aziraphale’s own.

---

It felt strange, walking up the spiral staircase with Crowley so close behind him he could feel the heat of his body. It was even stranger knowing that his express purpose in doing so was to willingly share his body with the demon. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Crowley didn’t touch him when they left the kitchen, or on the way up, but Aziraphale could sense him there, undeniable and alive, his focus a hundred times more intense than any touch.

Afternoon light flooded the bedroom with warm gold, making Crowley’s hair look incandescently inviting.

“I… really wanted to touch you,” Aziraphale said, stopping beside the bed and turning to face Crowley. “All those nights... But you wouldn’t let me.”

It was so awkward, standing there just inches away from Crowley but not touching. It was ridiculous to feel like this, especially after their previous nights together, but it felt different now, more purposeful, with Crowley’s knowing eyes gazing into him.

“You can touch me now,” Crowley said, his voice low and full of honey-sweet temptation. “You can do anything you want.”

The low rumble of his voice stroked heat in the angel's belly. He could understand having this reaction when Crowley was pushing Lust at him, was addling his mind and trailing wickedly talented lips over his body. He was completely befuddled at how it was still happening, when Crowley did nothing more than look at him.

“What did I do?” Crowley asked quietly, reaching out and catching one clawed finger on Aziraphale’s belt loop. "When we were...together?" He pulled him closer, close enough that their hips were touching. Definitely touching. Crowley never took his eyes off of Aziraphale’s, the serpentine gaze hypnotizing.

Aziraphale took a deep breath, trying to chase away the sudden onset of nerves. This was ridiculous. They’d known each other for six thousand years. There was nothing to worry about here. At least there shouldn’t be. But his racing pulse and dizzy brain didn’t seem to be getting the message.

“You used your lips,” Aziraphale said shakily. He touched Crowley’s lips with his fingertips, marveling at how thin and soft they were. They parted gently under his touch, enough that he could feel the heat and moisture of Crowley’s breath on his skin. “And your fingers,” he whispered, letting his hand fall, fingers skimming the soft fabric of Crowley’s jacket until he found his wrist, bony and vulnerable. He slid his fingers just barely under the sleeve, the small hairs of Crowley's wrist tickling his fingertips.

Their difference in height had irritated him through the ages because it allowed Crowley to grin down at him from his lofty superiority of four additional inches. Now, however… now it meant Crowley had to lean down towards him, which in turn meant that all that amazing hair fell around them like a curtain, the curls brushing Aziraphale’s skin, snaking down his cheeks and neck.

“Did you like it?” Crowley whispered, lips so close that they nearly brushed Aziraphale's own, his breath ghosting over them tantalizingly. His hand shifted and turned, his palm sliding against Aziraphale’s and his fingers closing over Aziraphale’s wrist.

“Yes,” Aziraphale breathed, swaying closer, until their lips touched. The kiss started slow, just a gentle slide of lips against lips. The air seemed full of Crowley’s scent, power and smoke and a whiff of his usual cologne -- and oh, what a non-surprise it was to realize he knew what Crowley’s usual cologne smelled like.

The kiss turned deeper, Crowley's tongue flicking carefully into him, whispers of red tickling Aziraphale’s face. He couldn’t hold out any longer, the temptation was too strong. He raised both hands and tangled his fingers in those amazing red locks, feeling their smooth coolness. He fisted his hands, oh so gently, tugging lightly at Crowley’s scalp. That provoked a groan and the demon surged against Aziraphale, his body undulating in one long sinuous movement, pressing against Aziraphale’s own and stealing his breath away.

They kissed long and slow, Aziraphale learning the ebb and flow of it from Crowley and putting what he learned to good use, judging by the small sounds the demon was making.

Crowley’s hands roamed, sliding down the line of Aziraphale’s back, over his arms, his hips, tangling in the short curls at the back of Aziraphale’s head and cradling his skull to pull him deeper into the kiss.

Aziraphle couldn’t make himself let go of Crowley's hair. He let the gleaming tresses slide through his fingers, gathered them into thick cables and flattened them against Crowley’s neck, feeling how the heat of his skin penetrated. They were so close he could feel Crowley breathing, the rise and fall of his chest. He was hard, his body more than willing to cooperate with the proceedings, his cock rubbing gently against Crowley’s thigh. The demon was obviously in a similar state, firm and hot under the denim jeans as he pressed tightly to Aziraphale’s stomach. Aziraphale wondered how it would feel in his hand, what kind of sounds Crowley would make when Aziraphale wrapped his fingers around him. He hadn't had the chance to learn that before, when Crowley was not himself, and he was ridiculously, absolutely grateful for that. He wanted to discover those things now, with Crowley fully himself and aware -- the Crowley he knew, the one he loved and the only one he wanted to share his body with in this way.

He could feel the Lust pouring off of Crowley; it sluiced off of his newly shored-up defences, leaving behind barely a tingle, and he regretted it. He wanted to feel it as completely as Crowley did, wanted to experience the abandon, the unquestionable physicality of this act, to its full extent.

He tangled his hands in the thick auburn hair and pulled Crowley closer still, until there was no space to get any closer, and let his defences fall, just a little, just enough to let Crowley’s power affect him.

“Angel,” Crowley whispered against his swollen and sensitive lips. “What are you doing?”

Aziraphale had thought he was hot before, but it was nothing to the inferno burning in him now. Every breath against his skin was an amazing caress, every brush of lips a symphony of sensation.

“Is this how you experience it?” he whispered, trailing his thumbs down the long neck and hard tendons, feeling the rapid pulse of Crowley’s blood under his fingertips. “This fire and heat, this absolute awareness of the other being?”

Aziraphale felt Crowley close his eyes, the long eyelashes ghosting over his hypersensitized skin, the ragged breath Crowley let out echoing like a shockwave in his own chest.

“If I let myself,” Crowley said roughly, his hand sliding lower to cup Aziraphale’s arse and force their hips even closer together, the tips of his claws punching tiny holes in the fabric. “You are driving me to distraction,” he murmured, nudging Aziraphale’s head up and lowering his mouth to the angel’s neck. His lips traced a slow, hot line down the tendon there, sending sharp little zings of pleasure down Aziraphale’s back.

Crowley groaned and pulled his claws out of the punctured fabric. He looked at his hand and shook his head at the claws. “I need to get rid of those,” he muttered.

Aziraphale wasn’t about to let that happen. He grabbed Crowley’s wrist. “Not yet,” he breathed, looking at the shiny, black talons and remembering how they had looked against his skin.

Crowley laughed softly, his eyebrows going up. “Oh angel, really?” he breathed out on another short laugh. “First the hair, now the claws?”

Distantly, it occurred to Aziraphale that perhaps he should be a bit embarrassed at how much he coveted every part of Crowley, but he couldn’t quite find it in himself to be. Everything about Crowley was fascinating; his hair, his eyes, his lips, his claws. Aziraphale wanted everything, all of Crowley.

“It’s you,” he said, twining their fingers together and lifting them to his lips. “I want you,” he whispered, ghosting his lips over the sharp little claws. “I want all of you.”

Crowley groaned, closing his eyes. “Why are there so many clothes between us,” he complained, looking from his stylish outfit to Aziraphale’s rather Victorian one.

Aziraphale licked his lips, head full of images of that pale skin and how it would feel against his hands. “I could...” His courage abandoned him for a second, then he shored it up and finished his thought. “I have one more miracle in me, I think.”

Aziraphale concentrated.

It didn’t drive him to his knees, the way it had Crowley, but then again making things disappear was much easier than bringing them into existence. And he'd had some food. Plus, unlike Crowley, he was still connected to the Heavens, which meant his energy was being steadily replenished, especially now that his defences were mostly up. And of course Lust was a great rejuvenator...

Throughout it all, Crowley never once took his eyes off Aziraphale.

Their bodies had been close before, but the absence of a few layers of fabric made a stunning difference. Now, Aziraphale could truly feel the heat radiating from Crowley. He could see the smattering of hair on his naked chest, so close, and was shocked how naked it made Crowley look. It shouldn’t be anything new, he'd always known there was flesh under the clothes, skin and bone and muscle. He'd seen him naked, had him in his bed. And yet. And yet. Now, everything was different.

He let go of Crowley's hand and pressed his palm flat against the skinny chest. He could feel the bones close under the skin, the short, coarse hair that tickled his palm, the way Crowley took a ragged breath under his touch.

He could also feel other things, things that sent heat spreading over his face and neck. His cock, no longer restrained by the soft cotton of his pants, was sliding against the hot, smooth skin of Crowley’s thigh and on his belly he could feel Crowley’s answering hardness.

“Oh,” he managed, because there were no words to describe how it felt. This closeness, this intimacy, was beyond anything he knew how to deal with.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley rasped out, eyes burning yellow, and then the demon grabbed him by his arse and was pulling him up, his grip hard as he hoisted Aziraphale into the air. “There’s a perfectly good bed right over here,” he said tightly, almost angrily. “And if you think my knees can hold out under all of this, you are clearly overestimating me, angel.”

Then Aziraphale’s back was hitting the bed, Crowley’s slender frame on top of him, his weight an absolute delight pressing him down. His hair was everywhere, sliding over his shoulders to snake down onto Aziraphale’s face, tangling around his neck, even sneaking into his mouth. He smiled, breathlessly, and gathered all the fiery red tresses, pushing them back to look into Crowley’s eyes.

“You like this?” Crowley asked quietly, shaking his head so the red waterfall went every which way again, tendrils slithering over Aziraphale’s hands and forearms. Sensation skittered through him, delight, pleasure, love. Everything curled tightly together into one indistinguishable sensation.

Crowley shifted, aligning their bodies together, their naked cocks touching for the first time. Aziraphale gasped at the sensation, his hands clenching involuntarily in the amazing hair before he dragged them down Crowley’s back, feeling the sharp jut of his shoulder blades, the tantalizing dip of his spine and then the almost nonexistent swell of his buttocks. The demon arched into the touch as if it was the best thing he'd ever felt.

Crowley undulated against him, his cock sliding hot and firm against Aziraphale’s, making it hard for the angel to breathe. Crowley’s lips on his were even better, taking away what was left of his rational mind and leaving nothing but touch and taste, the soft teasing of another tongue against his and the strong, too slim body undulating above him.

Aziraphale was the one to spread his legs, to draw Crowley closer, desperate to feel him between his thighs, the life and strength of him. Aziraphale gasped at the way Crowley fit in the cradle of his thighs, the heat that spiked between them, Aziraphale's skin tingling wherever they touched, and heard Crowley moan in response.

His hands roved up and down, from the silky hair to the tight arse, pulling Crowley closer and doing his best to share breath with him even as the heat and pleasure built inside him with every slow undulation.

There was so much, too much almost, but yet not enough at the same time. His nose full of their mingled scent, the tingle of Crowley’s demonic power, the sizzle of Lust in his body, the salty tang of sweat rising up between them and the bliss of their skin sliding together.

He managed to let go of that glorious hair long enough to slide one hand between their bodies and wrap it around Crowley’s cock, thrilling at the heft and heat of it. Crowley shuddered, hips jerking hard, losing the sinuous rhythm and groaning, breaking the kiss to rest his forehead on Aziraphale’s shoulder.

He tightened his grip, giving Crowley something more substantial to thrust against and watched as his body moved, drank in the sounds the demon made, the ecstatic expression on his face, the red flush going down to his collarbones.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley gasped, his voice ragged and thready. “What are you doing to me?”

“Touching you,” Aziraphale said, arching to press his lips to the long neck so delightfully exposed. He licked the tendons there, putting his teeth against them just to feel how tight they were. Crowley groaned again, hips pumping hard into Aziraphale’s fist, eyes closed. He looked divine, beautiful and inviting. Aziraphale wanted to eat him, consume him, get him as close as possible.

“I…” Crowley’s voice broke off as he stilled, closing his eyes tightly as if in pain. Aziraphale surged up, pressing his lips to Crowley’s, to his cheek, trying to convey all that was now inside him, the love and the desire, the happiness of being there, with him, vulnerable in front of each other.

He could taste the curve of Crowley’s smile with his lips, small and tender and somehow utterly fragile.

“I love you,” Crowley whispered against his lips, barely a sound carried on a ragged breath. “So much.” His hands were tight on Aziraphale's skin, the claws leaving light scratches that only made the moment better.

“I want you closer,” Aziraphale said into the kiss, into the hunger of it. “I want you as close as I can possibly get you.” Crowley’s hair was over them, falling in a burning wave and locking them in a tiny intimate space of their scent and desire. “I want you inside me.”

Crowley shuddered hard at the words, his clawed fingers scoring Aziraphale’s thigh, warning without words.

“Those fingers are rubbish for this,” he muttered more to himself than to Aziraphale, and then he slid down the angel’s body, the move serpentine and smooth. His hair followed behind, dragging in a warm blanket as Crowley kissed a straight line down Aziraphale’s chest to his belly, bit gently around his belly button, then lower to the hard cock waiting there. He locked his lips over the tip, tight and hot, and Aziraphale shouted, the pleasure almost numbing in its intensity. Crowley didn’t linger, he dragged his wet, soft lips down the shaft to the tight testicles and then grabbed Aziraphale’s hips, claws scratching lightly at his skin, and lifted.

His hair spread out over Aziraphale’s chest, lovely red curls, and his head pushed between the angel's legs until he could put his mouth on Aziraphale’s hole. He licked there, pushed his tongue in and Aziraphale choked on a scream because this. This was soft and intimate and so painfully good he could barely deal with it. He flailed, his hands finding Crowley’s head and he fisted his fingers in the red curls. It only seemed to spur the demon on, his tongue going deeper and faster, opening him up and breaking his mind at the same time.

“Please,” he gasped, pulling harder at the sweaty hair he was clutching, squirming and panting against the fire suffusing his body. “Please, now, Crowley, I can’t take much more.” He was begging and he didn’t even care. “Please.”

The sound Crowley made defied description, all heat and want, desperation even, as he surged up, heedless of the harsh grip Aziraphale had on him. The kiss was hungry, desperate, as if Crowley wanted to devour him, eat him whole, burning the last shreds of control right out of him. His grip on Aziraphale’s hips tightened and then he was between the angel's legs again, hips bony as he pushed in, there, where Aziraphale was wet and open.

Aziraphale had no idea if this was how it worked with humans, but their bodies were not fully human, merely built to look like them. They were beings of power first and foremost, and sometimes if they wanted it, if they made an effort, the bodies reflected it.

Crowley entered him slowly, hard and hot, and Aziraphale's body gave in. The pressure, the presence of him made the angel whine and cling to him. It felt like nothing and everything he'd expected, closeness, presence, love and desire all rolled into one amazing sensation, the pleasure all but blinding him. His body took over, borrowed instincts driving him as he lifted up to match every thrust, every push of those wicked hips even as he grew dizzy from lack of breath. Crowley never stopped kissing him, one clawed hand cupped carefully around the back of Aziraphale’s head, keeping him steady, keeping the kiss going through it all, making them share their very breath.

When the tension broke, when the orgasm came, it was almost otherworldly; for one white-hot moment in time it erased everything but the pleasure. They were not an angel and a demon, they were not two separate bodies, the were one entity sharing body and power, energy flowing through the open connection even as their bodies spent themselves, their hearts beating painfully hard.

---

They didn’t sleep.

Not for hours. Aziraphale was tired, the weeks of being drained of energy night after night, and then what they'd just done, it was almost too much but he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes. He couldn’t stand the thought of ending this moment, this remarkable night.

They lay together in Aziraphale’s messy bed, Crowley stretched out on top of the angel, his head tucked just under Aziraphale’s chin, the red curls spread like a fiery blanket over them both. Aziraphale was idly combing through the curls, fingertips brushing over the soft skin of Crowley’s back. The demon’s chest hair tickled his own chest where they were pressed together, and his soft cock lay against Aziraphale’s thigh under the rumpled covers they'd finally pulled over themselves when the drying sweat began to chill them.

Crowley traced tiny, gentle figures over Aziraphale’s skin with his claws, seemingly perfectly content to just lay there and touch.

“So, angel,” Crowley murmured, slow and sleepy. “Care to repeat the experience, only with you being the one to get inside me?”

Aziraphale froze, the thought of that stealing his breath. The idea of being the one to open Crowley up, to see his hair spread out on the white sheets as he pushed inside him. Watching his face, his eyes. Yes, it was a delightful idea.

Aziraphale had to clear his throat twice before he got control over his voice.

“Yes,” he said, helpless in the face of his desire for this particular demon, the love he felt for him. “I would love that. I would love anything you want to do together,” he said, wishing he knew the words to express himself better, to explain how much he enjoyed this. Closeness, intimacy, the way they were curled up together now, the warmth and weight of Crowley’s body against his.

“I’m tired,” Crowley admitted, cautiously, as if testing the waters. It stunned Aziraphale, how the demon was willing to expose his vulnerability now. How willing he was to risk being hurt, how much courage lived in that too-slim body.

“It has been… a long day,” Aziraphale said, his fingers still combing gently through long curls. “You can sleep now. Rest.”

Crowley hummed something, an agreement maybe, his breathing slower now as he hovered on the edge of sleep. “Don’t go away without waking me up first,” he murmured, words slurring together into something approaching a quiet hiss.

Aziraphale closed his eyes, fighting the sting of tears. “I’m not the one that disappears,” he whispered, but Crowley didn’t hear him, his body limp in sleep already.

---

He woke up to tiny snores.

It took a while to fully rouse himself, pleasant exhaustion and unfamiliar aches making it difficult to leave the land of dreams. The sounds were intriguing, though. Tiny little snores, that didn’t sound like they were made by a human throat. Finally, curiosity made him open his eyes and blink in the bright morning sun. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the glare and turned towards the small sounds, and the familiar presence cheerfully radiating demonic power.

Crowley was there. Not the human-shaped one, but the Snake of Eden.

This time the sight of the snake didn’t cause a surge of fear, Crowley was radiating so much demonic aura that it was impossible to mistake him for anything but his friend. Lover. Crowley was significantly more than a friend now.

The snake lay stretched out all along the bed, half of his body twisted belly up, red scales gleaming in the morning sun. His belly rose and fell in his sleep, each exhale bringing that tiny snore that had woken the angel. His head was also upside down, resting very close to Aziraphale's, and his mouth was slightly open, the tip of a forked tongue lolling out.

Despite his limited knowledge of snakes, Aziraphale was fairly confident this was not how regular snakes usually slept.

He turned onto his side, rested his head on his fist, and just watched Crowley sleep for a while, listening to the adorable snores and wishing he had one of those mobile phones that Crowley preferred. He would have loved to take a picture right now, maybe even record the sounds, because he was fairly sure that, once awake, Crowley would not admit to any snoring whatsoever, much less tiny adorable ones done in snake form.

He looked healthy, as a snake. His scales were fire-red in the sunlight, his body one long lean muscle. More importantly, he felt healthy. Still weakened, his power levels nowhere near normal, but strong enough that he registered to Aziraphale’s senses as the Crowley he'd known for millennia. Time would fix the rest, Aziraphale was sure. And if not, he could always share some of his own energy with the demon.

They had time now, no deadline to rush towards, just life to try and live to the fullest.

He reached out his hand and laid it on the moving belly, wanting to feel Crowley breathe under his hand.

The snake jerked, snorting adorably in surprise, and shifted rapidly into Crowley. Seconds later the demon, naked and clearly still mostly asleep, was blinking up at Aziraphale with confused eyes, his hair all over the place.

Aziraphale’s chest felt heavy, filled with too many emotions to name, love chief amongst them. He had no words, so he reached for Crowley’s face and framed it with his hands, leaning down to kiss the demon’s eyes, feeling his eyelids flutter closed under the touch. He kissed Crowley’s nose, his cheeks and finally the half-open lips, licking gently and curiously into him, trying to remember all the delightful things Crowley had taught him the night before.

That woke the serpent up, his arms coming up to pull Aziraphale closer.

They kissed long and slow, until their lips were swollen and sensitive and the morning passed by unnoticed.

“I guess this is what I get for taking a serpent to bed,” Aziraphale said sometime later as they lay in the disordered bed, limbs tangled together and Crowley’s long hair spread out on the pillows for Aziraphale to touch to his heart’s content.

Crowley made a series of endearing sounds at that, half offended, half amused. “At least you can’t say I’m hogging the bed,” he said finally.

Aziraphale laughed and shifted, enjoying the weight of Crowley’s arm around his ribs.

“For a being without arms or legs, you take up a lot of bed. And you snore,” he teased.

“Blasphemy!” Crowley protested. “I do not, nor have I ever, snored! In any way, shape or form!”

Aziraphale only snickered, thinking of getting himself a camera and recording proof of that one day.

“I should go home and see if there’s anything left of my plants,” Crowley mused, without much hope in his voice. It’s been months after all. Teaching new plants to fear me properly will take ages,” he grumped.

Aziraphale's heart sank as he recalled the plants. He knew Crowley’s tastes as well as how ruthless he was towards his poor plants. Beautiful and terrorized. That was how Crowley liked them. He made a guilty noise, and Crowley raised an eyebrow.

“Angel?” Crowley asked, the faintest touch of a growl in his voice.

“I’m quite sure they are alright,” Aziraphale said cautiously. “I watered them for you while you were gone.” Well, he had. He'd also added some power to the water to make sure they grew well. And maybe a miracle or two. And really, it wasn’t his fault he knew nothing about gardening. It was never his area of expertise. How was he supposed to know what a healthy plant should look like? Or a frightened one, for that matter?

“You did?” Crowley seemed touched. “Thank you, angel!” Aziraphale did his best not to meet Crowley’s eyes. “I'll just pop over to check on them, and then maybe we could get a nice lunch? The Ritz?”

Aziraphale licked his lips, thinking he might be the one on the menu after Crowley saw the current state of his plants. But if he was quick about it, he might get Crowley something to sweeten his mood.

“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “Lunch sounds good.”

 

The End.