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An Honest Surrender

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 “And when we do find each other again,
we'll cling together so tight
that nothing and no one'll ever tear us apart.
Every atom of me and every atom of you.”
- The Amber Spyglass


 

 

            The bus ride to Crowley's flat was, by and large, the most uneventful Crowley had ever been on. The human passengers ignored them entirely, caught up in the same influence as the driver so that they would not notice the long, strange detour to London. Aziraphale sat beside him, staring glassy-eyed into the middle distance, and Crowley let him because they had both lost so much today. Not everything, not nearly everything, but enough to deserve a little bit of numbness until they had the distance from it to cope.

            It was not until Crowley reached the door of his flat that he remembered he hadn't had the time or inclination to clean up Ligur's messy remains from his doorway. He hadn't expected to come back. He'd expected to apologise to Aziraphale and coax him out to the stars while the world fell to ruin, and none of that had happened. Not only had they both stayed, but Aziraphale had actually come home with him for the first time ever. Crowley halted so abruptly at the realization that Aziraphale walked right into his back with a soft exclamation, and they both stared mutely at the puddle

            "Is that...?" Aziraphale questioned, even though the answer was clear.

            "Ligur," Crowley affirmed, swallowing thickly. The water might or might not still be holy, after stewing in demon goo, but Crowley was not brave enough to find out. "They came to kill me. Him and Hastur."

            Aziraphale looked at him, searching, before realization dawned. "When you answered the phone-"

            "Yeah," Crowley agreed.

            "So, not a friend, then," Aziraphale concluded.

            Crowley gave him a puzzled once-over, and tried not to wonder too much about the naked relief in Aziraphale's tone. "Decidedly not," he said. He hadn't moved at all. He had been in such a rush before that he'd vaulted the potentially deadly puddle on his way out. The thought of stepping over it now sent a spike of cold dread through him.

            Aziraphale noticed. "I suppose that's..." He gestured vaguely. "Well, it looks like you made good use of your insurance policy."

            That again, Crowley thought. "I told you it wasn't for me." He couldn't keep the bitterness from his tone at the memory, even though he didn't want to start a fight.

            "Thank you," Aziraphale said quietly, and Crowley turned to look at him more fully. He hedged, looking away from Crowley, fiddling with his own fingers. "For not using it on yourself, when things got bad. I- I don't know that I could have- that I would have wanted to keep going. Without..." He swallowed, dragging his gaze around like there was some kind of exit from the road he was taking, the road they'd been on six millennia already. "Without you."

            "I didn't," Crowley said, and for the first time that really sank in.

            When he had gone to the bookshop and seen what he thought was hellfire burning it to ash, and Aziraphale nowhere in sight, he had given up. He had picked up the nearest book to remember him by, and taken off for the nearest pub, because he couldn't face the lack of Aziraphale sober. The idea of leaving, of saving himself just so he could live without Aziraphale, had been unbearable. They had lived here together, they would die here together, if he got a say in it.

            "I didn't want to keep going without you," he clarified, and then, because the idea of facing his feelings was much scarier than a little bit of holy water, he began to head for his door again, intent on jumping the puddle.

            Aziraphale grabbed his elbow before he'd made it a whole step. "Don't." His tone left no room for argument. "I absolutely will not have you risking yourself doing what I think you're about to do. I'll get this cleaned up, and we can go inside."

            Crowley conceded, even though he didn't feel like waiting that long to sleep for a week, and watched tiredly as Aziraphale produced a mop and a bucket and began to clean. It was unfair, really, that this kind of mess could not be miracled away- actual holy artifacts like holy water and actual demons like Ligur, regardless of their state, could not be affected by angel or demon magic. It tended to make things a little more fair, if slightly more inconvenient in this situation.

            When the mess was cleaned and the spot was dry, they crossed the threshold into Crowley's flat and he only felt a small electric shock when he stepped on the semi-consecrated ground. With time it should fade, or he would get used to it. He almost wished it would be the latter; it would be a small reminder to stay vigilant, every time he came back here.

            He trailed to a stop by his elaborate desk, watching Aziraphale drift through his flat as if they were back in the clouds, his fingers ghosting over things he didn't quite touch. In all the years Crowley had been here, Aziraphale had never so much as visited. Crowley had never invited him to. He was perfectly willing to risk his own life, being caught by angels at Aziraphale's bookshop, but he would never have forgiven himself if Aziraphale had been caught out here. Demons like Hastur and Ligur would have given quite a bit for a chance to outnumber an angel.

            But they had each forsaken their sides now, and Heaven and Hell had bigger things to worry about than who was or was not in Crowley's flat at the moment. No one would come for them tonight.

            "It's not like you at all," Aziraphale said, from the next room over. He looked back, catching Crowley staring after him. "This place, I mean. It's so… cold."

            Crowley shrugged a little, grimacing. He didn't live here much. He came here when he had nothing else to do, when Aziraphale had gotten prickly about someone in his space at the shop, when he was between jobs, when he was hiding out. Sometimes he slept in the bed and sometimes he watered the plants and sometimes he watched television, but this was a place he stayed, not a place he lived. It was not a home. His home had crawled out of his own chest a long time ago and taken up residence in someone else's. Someone who earnestly believed the snake of Eden to be warm.

            "It's somewhere to sleep," he said, as if that were any sort of excuse.

            Aziraphale turned away to continue his exploration. "I'd forgotten you sleep. This seems like it would be a good night for it."

            Not while you're here, Crowley thought, following so as not to lose sight of him for even a moment. "I'm not tired," he lied.

            "You're never tired," Aziraphale said. "And that's never stopped you before." He paused at the edge of Crowley's plant room and watched the leaves tremble finely. He made no remark upon it, though he ran a delicate touch over the spine of the nearest leaf and Crowley could have sworn the plant leaned into it like a cat.

            They explored the rest of the house like that, drifting and careful, until Aziraphale came to rest in the empty sitting room. Crowley realized that there really wasn't anywhere to sit in his sitting room, and he flicked a snap at the middle of it to produce a comfortable-looking couch. It didn't fit at all with the rest of the decor, but it did look exactly like something either one of them would appreciate sitting on for a long stretch.

            "Crowley," Aziraphale said softly, staring at the couch as if Crowley had summoned a weapon and not yet turning to face him. "You know this isn't over yet, don't you?"

            Crowley's heart twisted. He didn't want to think about later. He wanted one night, just one , where he didn't have to worry about the apocalypse happening or the repercussions of it not happening, or whether or not angels and demons were going to come for them at any second. "I know."

            "They'll come for us," Aziraphale reiterated, as if he was not getting the point.

            "Yeah," Crowley agreed. Of course they would. They had to. Crowley wouldn't be surprised at all if the way Heaven and Hell got their forces to stand down was to tell them this was all Crowley and Aziraphale's fault, and start a hunt. They'd be lucky to survive it. They'd be lucky to survive the week.

            "They'll take us away from each other." Aziraphale turned then, catching Crowley's gaze with his own. Crowley could hear the echo of do something rattling around between them.

            "...Yeah." There wasn't anything he could do this time. Stopping time only worked so long. They could run, but without the distraction of the apocalypse, without the reasonable doubt that they'd been killed off by the End, they wouldn't get far. It would be obvious that they'd left.

            "And we won't see one another again," Aziraphale continued, voice cracking over the words. "Oh, Crowley, what are we going to do ?"

            Every fiber of his being wanted to close the few steps between them and pull Aziraphale into a hug, but he couldn't seem to convince his feet of the idea. "Make every minute count?" he suggested. "Listen, they're going to come for us, and they're going to get us, and once that happens, you're right, they're going to make sure we never see each other again, even if they do let us live. There's nothing we can do, angel, except maybe," he waved a hand with a little scoff, "put on a brave face and go down with some dignity, I suppose."

            "A brave face..." Aziraphale said, each word drawn out in thought and Crowley didn't know what he'd done, but he knew whatever came next he wasn't probably going to like very much. "You don't think that's what Agnes meant, do you?"

            "By what, choose our faces?" Crowley asked, face screwing up in distaste. "I don't think acting brave's going to stop them. I don't know about Heaven, but Hell likes nothing better than breaking someone that acts like they can't be."

            "No, you're right, of course," Aziraphale agreed. He sighed, shoulders dropping in defeat, and then a second later he forced a wobbly smile onto his lips. "It really is too bad I can't- erm, possess you. I reckon they wouldn't know what to do if they couldn't get us apart."

            Crowley was on the verge of saying they'd just discorporate us first , when he realized Aziraphale was on to something. Agnes Nutter wasn't wrong, even a little. She had just seen something she couldn't possibly have comprehended, and which Crowley reckoned did look a lot like they could change their faces.

            "Marry me," Crowley said suddenly, on a breath that nearly didn't escape his lungs. He knew, with perfect clarity, what they had to do. He did not know if it would work, or what it would do to either of them if it did not, but he knew it was their only hope.

            "Marry you?" Aziraphale echoed incredulously. "I don't see how that would- oh. Oh. You- you don't mean in the human sense."

            "No," Crowley agreed. "I mean in the real sense. The sort that would let us choose our faces wisely."

            Aziraphale stilled then, searching his face with eyes that Crowley knew weren't seeing what was in front of them. Crowley saw the moment he realized what Crowley meant, what he planned to do. His breath left in a disbelieving rush, his finely-manicured hands coming up to cover his mouth.

            "We can't," Aziraphale protested through his fingers, feeble at best. He had to know Crowley was right. He had to know that there was nothing else the prophecy could possibly have meant. "Well, you- how would that even work between an angel and a demon?"

            "Are we?" Crowley asked. It was not quite begging. He waved a hand to encompass everything they had been through in the last twenty-four hours. "We don't belong to Heaven or Hell. We don't belong to the humans. Do you even know what we are anymore?"

            Aziraphale's hands dropped some. "If you take a fish out of water, it's still a fish," he told him, but Crowley could hear the fear in his voice. They were treading in unknown territory, far from Aziraphale's comfort zone.

            "Not if it climbs out of the water itself," Crowley told him. "We're becoming something else, Aziraphale. I don't-" He stopped, the words lodging in his throat. Aziraphale was already so scared; a push in any direction might cause him to bolt again, but there was no helping it. Crowley swallowed and stepped closer, close enough to touch, though he kept his hands to himself, and waited for Aziraphale to meet his gaze. "If we're going to change anyway, I don't want to wait to somehow Fall again. I want to leap. I want it to be my choice."

            "Like a human," Aziraphale said.

            Crowley risked a smile. "We did choose them."

            "And if you're wrong?" Aziraphale said, not letting Crowley look away. "If we... it will almost certainly hurt you. There's a good chance it could destroy you."

            "Maybe," Crowley said, giving a helpless shrug. "Or maybe it won't." He wanted to hide the shaking of his hands, but there was nowhere to put them. "Or maybe we don't do it and Heaven and Hell come for us and wipe us out anyway. If someone's going to destroy me, I'd rather it be you. And you said it yourself- they won't know what to do if they can't get us apart. It will work."

            Aziraphale's lip wobbled as he shook his head a little and looked down, thinking. When he spoke, his voice trembled nearly as hard as Crowley was. "I won't do this just to escape a punishment, Crowley. If we survive, what then? This isn't something you can take back."

            "Who says I'd want to?" Crowley asked, low and as earnest as he could force his voice to be when he felt like screaming. He was really going to have to say it before the angel understood.

            "What...?" Aziraphale blinked, taken aback, the light of hope in his eyes swiftly shuttered. His mouth moved but no sound came out, his fingers tightening their hold on one another at his belly.

            "For six thousand years, we've been an angel and a demon," Crowley said slowly, letting each word sink in as he went. "And for the first time, maybe we're neither anymore. You possessed a human. I stopped time, really stopped it. We faced down the horsemen, and the ruler of hell, and the leaders of two different armies each ten million strong. We've forsaken sides, made one of our own."

            "I was there," Aziraphale told him.

            "For six thousand years," Crowley said, voice cracking, "I have wanted something I couldn't have, because I asked the wrong questions. But I'm asking the right one now. The only one that matters. And I don't want to take it back, not now, not ever. Do you understand?"

Aziraphale searched his eyes. "I think I do," he said, so small and uncertain. "But I should like to hear you say it."

            Crowley's heart gave a solid thud, and he swallowed down every bit of apprehension threatening to choke him. "I love you," he confessed.

            The sound Aziraphale made, just as broken open as Crowley felt, shattered the last ounce of self control Crowley had. He closed the distance between them, hands coming up to slide along Aziraphale's jaw, holding him steady as Crowley touched their lips together.

            Warm, he thought, eyes closed. Aziraphale was so warm.

            They didn't move, the scant few seconds stretching out around them like a languid cat, until Aziraphale finally brought one hand up to circle his fingers around Crowley's wrist. He did not push or pull, simply held on until Crowley broke the kiss, pulling back only enough to shift and press their foreheads together gently.

            "You love me?" Aziraphale said, breathless.

            "Unconditionally," Crowley said, still so close he could steal another kiss. He had never been more sure of anything in his life. Sides be damned, he wanted this. "Marry me, Aziraphale."

            "And if it destroys you and leaves me here alone?" Aziraphale asked, pulling away enough he could see Crowley's face.

            "I won't let it," Crowley swore, a little sharper than intended. He would stop it before it got to that. "You're stuck with me."

            Aziraphale let out a breath, just staring at Crowley like he'd break if he looked away. "You truly want this, too?" he asked at last, fragile as finely spun glass.

            Crowley knew how it felt to be afraid of getting what one had always wanted, but he could feel capitulation wrapped around Aziraphale's words. "Please," Crowley murmured, pressing forward to touch his lips to Aziraphale's again and again and again, the word a whisper in every between. "Please."

            And then he felt the first slide of Aziraphale's essence along his own, the will of a celestial being, burning and blinding and holy in a way Crowley was not sure he'd ever been, even before the Fall. It seared across the coil of his existence, incoherently painful, threatening to take him apart, to subsume him, consume him, leave no trace of him in any universe. Its mere presence demanded surrender or destruction. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to, and for one terrifying, infinite moment, Crowley feared he had lied to Aziraphale, after all.

            In that one moment, Crowley surrendered.

            He stripped away every barrier, every wall he had ever built to keep others out, and laid his own essence open, bare and honest, before Aziraphale's. The scorching pain of divinity ebbed. Crowley chased after it, raw and wanting and desperate not to be left without it ever again, and where Aziraphale turned to meet him in the middle, their marriage began.

            Humans, a very long time ago, had overheard the term marriage and took it to mean an arrangement between lovers to remain close and in love. They had spread this idea, in all of its many, watered-down iterations, across almost every one of their cultures. The idea of it had been so sullied, so diminished by their interaction with it, that it was unrecognizable compared to its angelic origin.

            In fact, they had invented an entirely separate word, one which called much more accurately to what occurred when Aziraphale's essence hollowed out spaces for Crowley, tendrils of darkness curling through swirls of light, seeping into one another until they could not be told apart.

            Soulmates. Soul-bond.

            The term soul was meant for an object uniquely human, something that neither angels nor demons possessed- but what was a soul anyway, Crowley thought, except an accumulation of love, like a dune in the sands of time. As they married, Crowley found that it didn't really matter which grains of love belonged to which of them; they had shared so many of them over the millennia that any he traded away now were only going home again.

            And he did. He traded and traded, surrendered all the bits of himself that had belonged to Aziraphale already and gathered up every piece of Aziraphale he'd had all along, and when they finished there was no part of either of them that was not a part of both of them, regardless of where it settled.

            Crowley opened his eyes at the same time as Aziraphale, and Crowley had stopped time on several deserving occasions throughout history, but they all paled in comparison to the pause his heart gave just then.

            "Oh," Aziraphale said, small and big and nothing at all likely to cover what he felt about the situation if he felt remotely the same as Crowley. He let out a shaky breath that feathered across Crowley's lips. "I didn't think it would be like that."

            Crowley puffed out a strangled laugh, the smallest thing and wet with tears. "You'd thought about what it would be like?"

            "More often than I'd care to admit," Aziraphale said, and Crowley made a broken noise and kissed him again for saying such things.

            After that, very little in the way of words passed between them. Crowley took Aziraphale's hand and led him back to the bedroom Aziraphale had given only a cursory glance to earlier. Aziraphale toed off his shoes by the door, and folded his coat over the footboard, and Crowley shed his jacket and his trousers like a second skin, leaving him in his stockings and undergarments.

            He watched Aziraphale pull back the unrumpled covers and climb into his bed and for a moment Crowley stood by the dresser utterly blinded by rage. Gabriel and Michael and Beelzebub, or any of the others, had no business taking this from him. They had no business ruining what he had spent six millennia forging. They had no business even trying, and he'd show them exactly how damned he was, if it came down to fighting for it.

            "Crowley," Aziraphale said, almost an admonishment, and Crowley's rage evaporated in an instant. He did not want to waste a minute, not a second, of whatever time he had left with Aziraphale.

            He jerked into motion, managing to get to the bed and then into it, where Aziraphale drew a sheet up over them both and Crowley did a very good impression of a snake, twining himself around every bit of Aziraphale he could reach. It was clingy and vulnerable and there was no one there to see them, and even if there had been, there was no one left for whom Crowley had to save face.

            There were, he decided, worse reputations to have than loving Aziraphale.

            "Will you sleep?" he asked, listening to the beat of Aziraphale's heart under his ear.

            "I don't know," Aziraphale said. "I've hardly ever done. But I think I could, here. If you do, I know I will."

            Crowley hummed instead of responding. That was one of the consequences of marriage- it was very, very easy to get wrapped up in the things your other did or felt. When Crowley slept, Aziraphale would feel fatigue. When Crowley hurt, Aziraphale would feel pain. If either of them were destroyed in the coming days, the other would feel like they were dying, if it did not actually kill them outright, too.

            Eyes closing, Crowley relaxed into Aziraphale's side, reaching out with his essence to find Aziraphale already waiting. Where they touched, dark and light had no meaning, energy trading the way water swirled when poured from one glass to another. Their minds shared the same way, turning over ideas and emotions as one for as long as they stayed in contact.

            They would need to know how to use this by morning. When it was time for them to part, they would need to trade their appearances. Trading bodies would never have worked; it would still have been Crowley's essence within Aziraphale's vessel. The angels would have known, just as the demons would have recognized Aziraphale in Crowley's vessel.

            But faces? Agnes had been very specific.

            With enough of Crowley's shadows to hide his light, Aziraphale could wear his face and pass as him, immune to most of the things Hell could throw at a demon. With enough of Aziraphale to brighten his core, Crowley could pass well enough to withstand any of Heaven's wrath meant for an angel. They couldn't cast him down or burn him.

            They could be discorporated still, but what then? Married angels were forces to be reckoned with in the first place- Crowley had no idea what they could and could not do anymore. They would have to start with this, with trading places and faces and trying to trick both Heaven and Hell into believing it was best to leave them alone.

            And if they were very brave and very clever and just a little bit reckless and lucky, they might even get away with it.

            But that, Crowley decided with a stifled yawn, was a worry for tomorrow. Tonight, he wanted nothing more than to coil close to Aziraphale's warmth, safe and whole and mixed up together in life and limb, and sleep until morning.

            Which was exactly what they did.