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Sauntering Questions

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1349

Plagues. Silent horror, blackening skin, glistening sores, choking up blood, gasping for a mercy that just won’t come-

“I cah- can’t decide wot’s worssse...”

Aziraphale isn’t much for prompting the demon when they’re sloshed like this, but really, the whole year is pressing down on him and as much as he’s trying to suffocate himself with alcohol, his brain’s still whirling, unwilling to let terrible sights be laid to rest. It seems not even wine as fine as this can dull the memories of desperate eyes and the sounds of children sobbing, small frames wracked with coughs and wheezing. So when Crowley fails to elaborate, Aziraphale takes another hearty sip, fills his glass again and tilts back against his armchair and asks, “wot’s worse?”

There’s silence for another minute so Aziraphale pushes himself up in the chair trying to get enough stability back into his corporation to finagle it into twisting around enough to look at Crowley. The demon’s not asleep like he had feared, though there’s something a little heart stopping about the fact that the demon’s eyes are not hidden by the famous glasses.

“Crowley?”

Crowley’s head lolls against the arm of the couch she’s sprawled upon and she rolls her head to look at Aziraphale, eyes brimming with far too many emotions for a drunk Aziraphale to deal with, much less a sober one.

“If She’s letting- If She’s making thisss happen or if She’ssss abandoned usss all.”

Sometimes Aziraphale has problems remembering to actively breathe for this corporation. He likes to think he’s gotten better at it over the thousands of years he’s had the thing, as it tends to remind him in rather rude ways that it’s necessary for it to continue functioning, but right now he forgets the ability as sure as he had never learned the skill at all.

He can’t even blink, locked eyes with those golden serpent eyes so so open and so so unlike Crowley at all. Full of pain and anger and so so hopeless.

His heart pounds furiously against his chest as his lungs constrict, prompting him into action and into breath. “Crowley that’s- that’s blash- blasphem- you can’t say that!” All the air he had sucked in got rushed out into those words, soft and afraid and horrified.

Crowley’s eyes bore into his before they roll up to the ceiling. “Issss it?” she asks, her hiss far more pronounced from more than just the drink she’s drowning in.

“Yes!” Aziraphale asserts, distraught and not wholly convinced, “you could-”

When Aziraphale doesn’t continue Crowley tips her head back further, eyes closing as she barks out a humorless laugh. “I cou-could what, Ahngel? Fall?” She laughs again, a bitter, self-deprecating thing that twists at Aziraphale’s chest and steals his breath.

“I only meant-”

“Sss’okay.”

It obviously isn’t.

Crowley waves away Aziraphale’s concerns with a lazy hand, plucks the bottle from the ground and tips it back, draining the whole thing in one long guzzle.

She tips her head back against the arm again so that she can’t see Aziraphale anymore and says “Jusss forget it.”

Heart still pounding in his chest, thoughts he should not be having whirl in his head, more trying to break free from the dusty chest shoved into the far recess of his mind. Aziraphale tries to forget about it. He tries and fails. But he’s gotten rather good at pretending to do a whole lot of things, so this is just one more thing he expertly pretends he doesn’t have. Feelings, questions, thoughts and all. He shoves them all deep into the chest and pretends none of it exists.

-

Five days into the Rest of Their Lives

Armageddon happens.

And then it doesn’t.

Crowley likes to call it the Armawasn’t.

Aziraphale likes to call Crowley a silly serpent but secretly calls it the Armadidn’t in the safety of his own mind.

Body swaps and cunning theatrics and the Ritz and days spent in giddy freedom and all too soon they’re back drinking. Crowley’s been slightly on edge, and a fool if he thinks Aziraphale doesn’t notice it- he’s just too nice to point it out before Crowley’s ready to talk about it-, and so, what better way to unwind than with some good wine?

When they’re tipsy verging on drunk, when Crowley’s finally finally given up his stiff posture and properly sprawled across the couch as per normal, that’s when Aziraphale strikes. Or rather, asks, “what’s been bothering you my dear?”

It takes a few prompts, a few nudges, though far less than it would have taken prior to, well, prior to the Armadidn’t and their own confessions, before it finally comes out. Crowley is worried they’ll still be hunted, that they might even be being hunted now.

“My dear, we’ve clearly tricked them.”

“Yeh. That’s what’s bothering me.”

“How so?”

“Well. S’one thing to trick a wank like Gabriel and even Beelzebub but...”

“But?”

“... She made us so-so...so She’d have known. Know. I-” A quick breath then the words all rushed out tangled together “I mean She has to know, to be able to sssee through it, and it’s really only a matter of time before She comesss after us or sssends them after usss and I mean I’m already Fallen but you’re not and-” his continued panicked rambling was only rilling himself up more and more till it ratchets near explosion. He hasn’t breathed in quite some time, turning a concerning shade of blue in the face and Aziraphale attempted to interrupt him.

“My dear- love- Crowley!”

Wide eyed Crowley stopped abruptly, head turned to Aziraphale but eyes unfocused.

Breathe Crowley. C’mon, that’s it love, breathe.”

A shuddering breath dragged in and then smaller broken hitches of breathing in and out.

“There you go my boy,” a gentle hand on his arm, and when had Aziraphale gotten so close? Wasn’t he on the armchair just a moment ago? Now he’s kneeling in front of Crowley with that concerned expression and-

“I said breathe Crowley,” came the admonishment.

“M’fine.”

“You are not,” firmly, then gently, “now breathe with me.”

Sulkily he matches Aziraphale’s breaths until the buzzing in his head and the jitters beneath his skin slow to a crawl. Until he realizes his hands are shaking and then until they stop shaking.

Slowly, thoughtfully, Aziraphale considers it. “I suppose you’re right. She would be able to see through it all.”

Crowley tenses and Aziraphale rubs his hand soothingly across his demon’s back before standing up and sitting beside him on the couch, wrapping his arms around him and drawing Crowley to him in a loose embrace. Loose enough to not be constricting, caging, and tight enough to be present and comforting. His hands soothingly traced meandering patterns and the letters of long dead languages across his back.

“I think if anything were to be done, She’d have done it already. Not really one to wait about.”

Crowley cringes at the memories of the Flood, of Salt pillars, of plagues and- “Ssssupose not”

“Which,” Aziraphale starts, chipper, as if anything about this miserable train-wreck of a thought was anything to be even remotely happy about at all, “which must mean she approves! Or, I suppose, at the very least she doesn’t not approve.” A hum of thought as if Crowley hasn’t gone totally tense and still in his arms, “though I do wonder if those mean the same thing?” A pause as he finally notices, “Crowley?”

“A-approves?” His voice absolutely does not crack. It doesn’t.

“Well, why else would we not have been, err, smited- smote, or-” Aziraphale stumbles, ever worried about bringing up that particular trigger even when it was brought up by Crowley first, “or however else She would see fit to punish us.”

Crowley is silent and when Aziraphale looks closer it seems his gaze is unfocused and his skin paler than normal. He’s just about to prompt him again when he mumbles, “maybe She really did abandon us.

For a moment he’s back in 1349 and the stench of rotting and burning flesh is enough to make him choke. He remembers drunken words and rambled fears and a chest shoved into the back recesses of his mind filled with things he shouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t want to think about. Then Crowley shifts on the sofa, lip caught between his teeth and eyes vacant. The lost tone and the words themselves unsettle Aziraphale greatly on their own and, in an effort to not have to think about chests and reasons behind why he’s unsettled, he responds with what he’d just begun to think before the terrible memory trip, “Maybe it’s ineffable.”

That brings Crowley back to him, eyes cutting to his as his lips curl in that familiar sneer at the word, “ineffable?”

Primly Aziraphale nods, “ineffable.”

A weak snort at his confirmation is better than nothing and Crowley seems to be mulling over his words, rolling them around in his mouth to determine the taste and feel of them. To see if they measure up.

Aziraphale doesn’t want to think about God abandoning them. Doesn’t want to think about the archangels having no contact with Her, simply continuing on and saying what they were doing was a part of the great plan, of the ineffable plan, of Her plan and yet knowing nothing of the sort. Of all the things committed in Her name and none of them coming from Her mouth, Her will, Her.

He’s had a great deal of practice in shoving down “un-angelic” thoughts and blasphemous thoughts and things that bordered on treason perhaps, because how was one to know? The angels did not know what questions were asked to make the Fallen Fall, deeds were mostly known, but some angels had simply, just, Fallen one day and no one quite knew why. There had to be a good reason otherwise they wouldn’t have Fallen but it made it a great deal more difficult to police one’s own thoughts when you didn’t know quite where the line was drawn.

This is all to say that he’s had a great deal of experience and was really quite good at pushing these thoughts and feelings away, despite knowing now he didn’t need to, and so these were easily pushed aside for later, if later should occur at all. He wasn’t particularly eager to find out.

However. Crowley was still distraught and Aziraphale hated that quite tremendously so he searched around for an answer that might better feel right to his demon without causing that box of “un-angelic” thoughts to crack back open again.

“Perhaps,” he started gently, feeling the way the words came to him as precisely as he could feel Crowley surface back out of his thoughts to turn his head towards him again, “perhaps it’s free-will.”

Crowley was silent, chewing on it much the same way Aziraphale was, surprised at how not unpleasantly it sat on his tongue.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Crowley carefully ventured a “free-will? Like humans?”

“We’ve been around them a rather long time. Since the beginning in fact. We’ve picked up a beautiful lot of things from them. Wine, for one.”

“Mm. Food for another,” Crowley said with a dash of a tease.

“Bentleys.”

“Manicures.”

“See? What’s to say we haven’t picked up free-will?”

Crowley was still not convinced. “Not exactly a thing you just pick up, angel. We listed things you can buy or get done, not-not a thing intrinsic to your very being.”

Aziraphale hummed in thought, reaching up to brush hair out of Crowley’s eyes, smiling as he scowled at the act and yet leaned into Aziraphale’s palm when he cupped the side of his face with it.

“Maybe She gave it to us.”

Crowley’s laugh was sharp and short before he sarcastically said, “oh yes, reward a Fallen. What the heav-he- augh!- What on Earth would She reward us for? For ‘our services rendered here on Earth for 6,000 years’?!”

Growing more confident in this answer, Azirphale serenely said “maybe.”

Crowley searched his eyes for a moment, a wild, deep flickering of golden eyes from one of his to the next. Then he slumped back into Aziraphale’s hold, rather exhausted looking if Aziraphale did say so himself.

“Certainly couldn’t have had it from the beginning,” he muttered petulantly, not liking this train of thought but not disliking it enough to give it up. He was a firm believer of asking questions and trying to get answers. He didn’t like the question of “did She really grant us free-will?” but he wasn’t going to not try to answer it.

Aziraphale seemed to have given Crowley’s statement some thought while Crowley was ruminating and broke the silence with a challenge. “Well, why not?”

“Wot?”

“Well,” Aziraphale started quite calmly, “why should we say we haven’t had free-will all this time? From before the beginning?”

Crowley really really didn’t like this train at all. Crowley was also immensely curious to know what its cargo was and if that meant stowing away on it and riffling through all the cars then he supposed that was just exactly what he was going to do.

“Fallen, remember? Only ever asked questions.” That stung more than he cared to think about but maybe if he just shoved past it fast enough, rambled quick enough, then maybe, “if we had free-will then what was all that mess about? That was proving that if you didn’t do exactly as told, if you even so much as thought about wondering why things were the way they were, you’d Fall. If we had free-will then why have us Fall?”

Aziraphale’s hold tightened a bit around Crowley and that was when he realized he was shaking. Ridiculous that, but Crowley didn’t seem able to stop it, instead he was searching Aziraphale’s eyes, looking for answers he wasn’t sure were there, or that he even really wanted.

“But,” softly as if he was afraid to spook Crowley and didn’t that just send all the alarms blazing, “that was a choice.”

Crowley jerked backwards, ripping out of Aziraphale’s hold, fangs bared and hissing, “ Falling wasssss not a choice.

Trying to soothe the pain, hating the look of utter betrayal on his love’s face, Aziraphale held out his hands placatingly, making no move to touch Crowley after the warning hiss, “I do not mean the Falling my love,-”

“-Then what do you mean?” Crowley spit, shoved up against the far end of the couch, fingers tipped in claws buried deep in the cushions and hurt radiating from his eyes.

Softly, gently, earnestly, “I mean the questioning.”

There was a faint noise in the room, it sounded like the pressured air in a boiling pot shoving it’s way free through a hole in the lid, a crack in the pot, a sharp, soft, hiss. It was coming from Crowley and despite realizing it was him, he couldn’t quite get it to stop.

“If we didn’t have free-will, then it wouldn’t be possible to- to disobey Her, or question Her.” Falling had just been the consequence.

Brokenly, “ ...I didn’t question Her .” A ragged intake of breath, a slow retraction of claws from cushion, a loosening of tremor laden tensed muscles, a shaky exhale. A full body shake. “Alright.”

Cautiously, unsure, “alright?”

“...yeah. So. Free-will.” A shadow of a grin tossed his way, “couldn’t have Fallen without it.”

It was his train of thought and still Aziraphale wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“Ole’ ex-boss couldn’t have done what he did without it. Hell, none of us could do anything really, we’d be just puppets, slaves to Her will if we didn’t have it.” A pause then a cautiously delighted “huh.” as the idea settled in. “Thought it was a human thing.” Crowley rather liked human things.

“Perhaps it’s an ‘all of Her creations’ thing.”

Crowley’s mouth slanted at that and he unfolded his limbs enough to relax on the couch as he leveled an unimpressed look at Aziraphale, “you trying to say plants n’ shit have free-will?”

“They can choose to let down specific chemicals into the ground to alert nearby plants of predators when they’re eaten.”

Crowley often forgot to blink. This time, it was deliberate and slow. “Ex cuse me?! Where- when on earth did you pick that up?”

“I’m not only knowledgeable about food, my dear,” he stated primly, ignoring that he had been picking up plant books for the last decade for reasons not to be discussed. He also ignored the mutter of ‘could have fooled me’ tossed his way .

“And anyways, that’s like, an automatic thingy!”

“Thingy.” Aziraphale repeated blandly.

“Yes, thingy. Oh fine, it’s an automatic response. Plant gets eaten, plant sends out chemicals with dying energy, boom, automatic.”

“Fine. Your Bentley.”

Crowley, shocked, spluttered indignantly for a moment, grappling for words and failing utterly at keeping a good enough grip on them to be even somewhat comprehensible. “My-my- Bentley ?! Okay- first off, Cars don’t have a consciousness es and secondly -”

“Oh please don’t try that one on me my dear, whatever else would you call all your tapes and CD’s converting to that King band after a fortnight?”

Queen, Aziraphale, their name is Queen.

“Oh for- you know what I mean .”

“And-and anyways that’s not- I don’t- it’s probably just a side effect of too many demonic miracles or something!”

“Oh?” Aziraphale leaned back slightly as he turned on the couch to face Crowley fully, one eyebrow raising as he donned his smug I’m right and you’re going to have to admit it and it’s going to be so sweet face that Crowley absolutely loved right up until it was used on him. “And what would you call that entire three months of playing nothing but love songs no matter how frantically or repeatedly you tuned the off knob until we finally got together?”

“Lo-love so-songs- wa- wait a minute, you- you knew?!

Crowley was turning a really rather fetching shade of red. “Of course dear. One can only hear “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” so many times before absorbing what the words are and what they’re saying.”

An embarrassed whine started in the back of Crowley’s throat and he succumbed to the desire to melt into the ground by sinking into the couch further, hands covering his face, and trying to imagine himself invisible.

“Some of the songs were rather on the nose as well,” Aziraphale continued cruelly, absolutely loving every moment of the adorable, satisfying embarrassment he could drag from Crowley. “Why, I do believe one of its favorites was-”

Crowley lept up, flinging himself across the length of the couch wild eyed and frantic as he covered Aziraphale’s mouth with his hand, “pleassssse angel, have some mercccey.” Crowley could feel Azriaphale’s lips curl into a satisfied smile against his skin and imagined his face very normal, very not red .

Aziraphale considered his request before relenting in a show of genuine mercy, “alright, but only if you come here.”

His words were muffled but received if not completely comprehended. Cautiously Crowley pulled his hand back, shifting to a more stable kneeling position now that he was no longer leaning forward braced on one hand and his knees across the couch to reach Aziraphale’s mouth. “Okay,” he agreed despite not knowing exactly how he wants him.

Seeing the brief confusion, Aziraphale makes the most of his pause and shifts around on the couch so that his back is against the arm of the couch and he spreads his legs a little with an encouraging smile. The smile melts into true delight when Crowley crawls up and settles between his legs, arms wrapped loosely around his middle, and face pressed against his chest. Aziraphale reaches up and wraps one arm around Crowley’s waist and lets the other comb through his soft hair.

At the warm comfortable embrace, and the soothing fingers running through his hair, Crowley seems to let go of the fight and sink into bonelessness. Or, at least mostly. “Still don’t think everything has it. My Bentley’s the only one like it, the rest are all dumb cars.”

A huff of a laugh and then indulgently, “of course my dear, your Bentley is special.”

Aziraphale had found a particularly good rhythm and just the right pressure for gently dragging his nails across Crowley’s scalp and the demon was practically teetering on the edge of utter contentment and only hummed back at him in response.

“Still, we can debate that later.”

A token protest noise was quickly and effectively shushed away when Aziraphale’s other hand slipped beneath his shirt and began tracing soothing patterns across his back.

“I rather think we answered your original question.”

“Mm?”

Aziraphale couldn’t help the fond smile.

“I rather do believe that we’re safe. If She was going to do something, it would have been done by now. We’ve rather scared off our old bosses from messing with us, and I agree that they’ll continue to leave us alone as you said until the next big one. Furthermore, it’s going to take quite at lot of time for them to build up that kind of power again. So I do believe we’ve got quite a lot of time on our hands without anyone coming to get us.” Aziraphale breathed in, letting the feeling of Crowley pressed against him comfortably settle in and soothe him. “You can relax now, my dear.”

It seemed not all the fight or anxiety had left him because Crowley still turned his head and shuffled up enough to hide his face in Aziraphale’s neck with a mumbled, “they’re still gonna come after us.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed, in no mood to lie to him, “but this time we’ll fight them together. I’m not going to let them take you from me Crowley.”

“Oh.” Finally, finally Crowley relaxed fully, the tension and anxiety wound up all through him seeping out, leaving him lax and with a faint air of relief and joy. “Same here,” he mumbled into Aziraphale’s neck, his lips moving against the delicate skin there, the words soft but with iron hidden in them, “I wont let them take you from me.”

Aziraphale no more wanted to stop the smile from blooming across his face than he could stop it. He couldn’t kiss Crowley’s head from this position so he just tightened his arm around his waist in a hug and scratched that particular spot at the base of Crowley’s skull that always seemed to make him hiss with pleasure.

They didn’t need to say I love you because it was written in the love pouring out of both of them, but they’d have an eternity to say it anyways.