To be honest, Crowley feels as if he’s still reeling from promises of one day to ‘you-go-too-fast-for-me’, to… well, to whatever it is they seem to have now.
Slowly, painstakingly slowly, Aziraphale has started to catch up. He isn’t sure what changed with the angel, but there’s something a little more daring lately, and Crowley can’t possibly refuse it.
So of course, when he offers drinks at the bookshop in a week, Crowley accepts immediately. He wouldn’t miss those hidden carefree nights for anything – even Lord Beelzebub herself. And that night can’t possibly come quick enough. Patience is a virtue, after all, and Crowley figures as a demon, it’d only be natural for him to ignore that one.
And if there were anything more to it, well, no one but him would have to know.
He knocked thrice on the door, vaguely eying the rather confusingly complicated sign displaying opening hours. Aziraphale must’ve changed them again. Before Crowley could consider this further, the door swung open.
“Crowley! Do come in,” Aziraphale stood in the doorway of the bookshop, gesturing for him to go by with a smile. Tension seemed to drop off Crowley’s back as he did; he could always let his guard down just a little bit around the angel.
“Right,” Crowley said, “What drink of choice shall we drown ourselves in unseemly amounts of this time, angel?” He smirked, eyebrow cocked.
Although the intention for the two of them was most definitely to get absolutely pissed (he’d put it more politely when inviting the demon over), Aziraphale still had the audacity to send a judgmental eye at him anyways. He snorted. Of course, the angel would.
Still, Aziraphale grabbed several bottles of an old-looking French wine. “I’ve found a rather lovely few bottles of some Chateau Lafite,” he explained, pouring some into his and Crowley’s glass. He began to ramble about the wine, the good year it was made in and so on. Crowley couldn’t find it in himself to pay much attention.
Aziraphale’s cheeks were flushed. His eyes darted about, and he constantly fiddled with his hand. Clearly, he was nervous about something.
“Angel, what’s wrong?” Crowley cut him off mid-ramble.
Aziraphale froze for a moment, and then sighed, sitting down in the chair across the couch Crowley usually lounged in. “It’s nothing, my dear boy,” he reassured. “At the least, nothing that should concern us now.”
Usually, Crowley would leave well-enough alone. Usually, he’d do the easy thing, and forget about his companion's anxiousness – after all, they’d soon be drunk enough it wouldn’t matter much anyway.
But maybe he had been getting too confident, because this time, he pushed. “C’mon, Aziraphale, spit it out,” he insisted.
The angel gave him a long, thoughtful look, and then an annoyed huff.
“Well. Apparently, heaven views curing anyone that passes the shop from that nasty flu that’s been going around as a ‘frivolous miracle’. Although perhaps combined with the bit I pulled to make sure that sushi restaurant stayed open-you know the one?” Aziraphale looked at him expectantly.
Crowley nodded, although he could think of several that he might be referring to. “So, what, you’re worried about a stern letter from,” Crowley pointed up with a tad more dramatic flair than necessary.
Aziraphale smiled, but it was tight, and not quite genuine. “Something like that,” he said, and the topic was clearly closed for discussion.
As the two of them caught up on each other's lives, Crowley shrugged it off. After all, they so easily slid back into their usual back-and-forth banter, so even if Aziraphale seemed nervous, it mustn’t be that bad.
He was quite drunk now, standing and pacing about the shop as he complained to Aziraphale about the disobedience of one of his plants who had slowed down growing that winter. Aziraphale listens dutifully.
“Really, you must be gentler wi-” There was a ding of a bell in the front of the bookshop. Someone had opened the door. Aziraphale looked to Crowley, eyes wide in horror. “They mustn’t find us here together,” he said in a panicked whisper. “They can’t know about the Arrangement, please!”
Crowley didn’t want to go, but he didn’t want his angel in trouble either. Quickly, he miricaled away the drinks, as well as the alcohol from his own system.
With less than a thought, and a feeling nearly like shrugging off a heavy jacket, Crowley was a snake, smaller than he had been in Eden, and perfectly capable of hiding under Aziraphale’s couch unseen.
Gabriel stepped into the room, Sandalphon and Uriel behind, giving a disapproving sniff. “Really, Aziraphale, why do you keep these kinds of books around?” Crowley watched the Archangel, pupils dilated as if he were about to attack.
Other angels never seemed as harmless to Crowley as his angel did, and anyone that took that tone with Aziraphale was already in his bad books. He just wanted them to get this lecture or whatever over with. Him and the angel had drinks to finish, after all.
Shifting, Aziraphale was careful choosing his words. “It’s easier to blend in with the humans,” He explained, “And their presence puts me off the radar of any… enemy forces.”
If snakes could laugh, Crowley would have. Even surrounded by the most filthy books, it would be easy to sense Aziraphale. If Crowley tried hard enough, he could find him anywhere he might be on earth, but it wasn’t something he did often.
Just when they hadn’t seen each other in a few years, is all.
Gabriel considered the explanation and found that he didn’t really care. It made enough sense, and that was that. “You know you aren’t to be giving such careless miracles.” It wasn’t a question.
Aziraphale stared at the ground, purposefully keeping his gaze away from Crowley’s form under the couch. “I was just trying to help them,” He defended softly.
Gabriel's stare was cold. “And who said you could do that? I never asked you. She certainly didn’t.”
“They could have been sick and died!” That little stubborn, defiant look was in Aziraphale’s eyes. Crowley loved seeing it. But.
Before the Beginning, that would have been more than reason to fall. And as much as Crowley loved encouraging that little spark in his angel… falling wasn’t something he would wish on anyone.
“Yes,” Sandalphon agreed. “But without someone telling you, how do you know it’s not in the Plan?” Behind him, Uriel raised a smug eyebrow, daring for any disagreement.
Aziraphale opened his mouth and for one exhilarating, terrifying moment, Crowley thought that he might question it. The Plan. Instead, Aziraphale hung his head in shame.
“Right,” Gabriel clapped his hands together. “Great talk,” he said, in the tone of someone who was clearly glad to stop speaking to whoever it was they were talking to. Gabriel nodded to Uriel and Sandalphon.
When he left, Crowley was certain that the other two Angels would follow. After all, that was a proper reminder, and about all he would expect from heaven. So when they stayed, he wasn’t sure what to think.
The air was tense.
Crowley couldn’t remember seeing Aziraphale look quite as scared as he did now, and he felt something cold run through his veins.
“You know how many times we’ve had to speak with you of this conduct?” Uriel asked.
“Yes,” Aziraphale all but whispered.
“Too many times if you ask me,” Sandalphon said. Looking almost bored, he snaps his fingers. Suddenly, Aziraphale is stripped of all of his top layers, torso bare. Another wave of the hand and he is suspended inches off the floor, arms held outwards, like a cross.
The cold feeling in his veins is dread, Crowley realized. He has no clue what they’re doing, and he can’t catch Aziraphale’s eyes for even a bit of reassurance. He can’t even do anything, because he couldn’t alert the Angels to his presence.
All Crowley could do was watch.
What Uriel pulled out wasn’t quite a rod, in the traditional sense. It was rather rod-shaped, but it was made out of glowing, holy light. It hurt his eyes just to look at for long, but he forced himself to anyways.
Uriel draws her hand back and lashes Aziraphale. He writhes in pain but holds back the noise that threatens to spill from his lips.
Crowley couldn’t breathe (and was, at that moment, grateful he didn’t need too). What they were doing… if it were to a demon, it would be smiting. But to do it to an angel?
He wouldn’t have thought Heaven would even try.
Clearly, he was wrong.
Uriel didn’t stop after her first lash. Her pace was slow, intentional. Aziraphale’s lip bled as he tried to hold back the noises of pain. But the wounds extended to his very being, and his soul was screaming with the agony.
Crowley could hear it.
He wanted nothing more than to jump out and attack, fighting Uriel and Sandalphon, destroying them. Anything to get them away from Aziraphale.
A hit. Blood. Screaming.
No matter what Crowley wanted to do, or how much he couldn’t stand it, he would have to bare it. Smiting could kill him at worst, and at best he’d be sent to the depths of hell with little chance of being able to crawl his way out to help his angel any time soon.
Another lash. “If you’d listened last time, it wouldn’t have come to this, you know,” said Sandalphon matter-of-factly.
Last time? Crowley’s stomach flipped. Had they done this before? How many times?
It seemed endless. There couldn’t have been more than around twenty lashes, each carried out with brutal, smug impersonalism, but with the taunting reminders, it seemed to drag for an eternity.
“Please,” croaked Aziraphale. His voice was barely recognizable, through the thick distortion of pain. That one word felt like shards right into Crowley’s chest, and silently, his tail flicked.
They had to be done soon, they had to.
“Haven’t you learned your lesson, this time?” asked Uriel, the rod raised, but pausing.
Slowly, almost mechanically, Aziraphale nodded. “Ineffable,” he managed to sputter out, although it seemed like he had originally planned on more words to go with it.
Still, for the moment it seemed to be enough for Uriel. She nodded to Sandalphon, who lowered his hand, letting Aziraphale collapse to the floor. The angel didn’t even try to catch himself. In less than a blink, the two were gone, leaving Crowley and Aziraphale alone.
Quickly, Crowley slithered out from underneath the couch, slowly approaching Aziraphale. “Angel,” he hissed softly. How could he believe that all Aziraphale had to deal with was a stern talking to? This was something that would have better-suited hell, and Crowley should know. He’d been on the receiving end of it more than he wanted to remember. So how could he have missed this? Had it always been like this for Aziraphale? When did it start?
Too many questions blundered about Crowley’s head. Aziraphale was still unresponsive as he approached, and when he shifted to a more humanlike form, his brow creased with worry.
There was only a weak groan in response. Crowley could sense the angel – his soul’s presence was weak, cold, and blisteringly pure. Even he could tell that it had practically been torn apart by what they did to him.
Slowly, he reached out to Aziraphale, keeping his movements slow and smooth. He didn’t know if he’d even be welcome, but Crowley couldn’t leave him like this. When he reached out, carefully placing his hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder, the angel leaned into his touch.
He was freezing. Almost as if his body was lifeless, and if it weren’t for the struggling little breaths and the way he was almost desperately leaning into Crowley’s hand, he might fear the worst. “How many times?” His voice broke. He could barely manage a full sentence.
The angel’s eyes shut tighter as he almost imperceivably shook his head, a sort of sob wracking his body. Crowley couldn’t stand it.
Gingerly, he tugged Aziraphale so he way laying on his lap. So that he could cradle his face in his arms and let his angel’s tears soak into his jacket. They stung as only something holy would, but Crowley couldn’t bring himself to care. All he wanted to do was to think of a way to make this better for Aziraphale, to stop the violent shudders that had begun to shake his body. “Please, angel, how many times,” he begged, although Aziraphale wasn’t able to answer him.
He tried to heal the wounds on Aziraphale’s back, but the moment he touched the red swollen skin, Aziraphale flinched away with a yelp. He couldn’t do a thing about them, he realized in horror. Only an angel could cure wounds like those, and a flash of self-hatred rammed into Crowley.
He pushed it down. Now wasn’t the time.
He couldn’t heal his body, but he could stop it from hurting physically. Concentrating, Crowley miracled away the pain of the wounds, deadening the nerves of Aziraphale’s human body to it. There was some relief, but Crowley could still sense the agony from the angel’s true form, his essence damaged in a way that wasn’t controlled by his corporeal form.
His soul felt cold, blisteringly pure, and… empty. All the love that was there, gone. Smote out of him by the Angels. The wounds to his essence were deep and ragged.
Of course. What better way to torture an angel? He thought bitterly.
But dammit, if love was what he was missing… he didn’t have ethereal Love, maybe, but he had love. And it was the angel’s anyways, really.
Crowley curled around Aziraphale, properly cradling – even cuddling – the principality, and he hoped desperately that once this was over, Aziraphale could forgive him for these feelings. He reached his hand to cup Aziraphale cheek and poured every bit of love he could into the angel.
He loved him. He loved his voice, his body, his fluffy white hair, his eyes. He loved how he could be so unsure one moment, and so cocky the next. He loved his love for food, for humanity. He loved him. His bookshop. His smile. His laugh, his hands, the way his eyes would find his face and dart away as soon as Crowley noticed. He doesn’t say all of it – not the things that are too romantic, even though Aziraphale must feel it, but the more innocent things he murmured in a voice so soft, he hardly recognized it as his own.
He let himself feel every bit of it, the love he’d done his best to control, suppress, and it burned like hellfire through his chest. Crowley must’ve been crying too, at the point, but all he could hope to do was hold Aziraphale tighter and let himself love. “It will be okay,” he whispers, rocking back and forth slightly.
Aziraphale’s sobs grew louder. It hurt Crowley to hear. He keened and cried and his breaths were unsteady, erratic and catching on each exhale.
The angel grabbed weakly at Crowley’s jacket, clutching onto it as if it were a lifeline. Holding Crowley there, stopping him from moving away (not that he would even think of such a thing). Slowly his ethereal form healed, putting the broken pieces back together again, helped along by the love Crowley provided.
Hours past, and although Aziraphale’s tears ran out, his chest still shook as he cried. It took longer for that to quiet, turning into just the occasional bout, to just tremors, shaking softly in Crowley’s arms, which still held him tight.
The sun had finished setting, and at some point, it came up again. Crowley didn’t move unless it was to pull Aziraphale closer. It was bright outside by the time he quieted completely.
He wasn’t sure if Aziraphale was asleep or not. His eyes had closed, and his breathing was slow. He didn’t dare disturb him, so he waited with more patience than really should be allowed for a demon.
Crowley had almost drifted off as well, as awkward as the position was for him when he felt Aziraphale stir.
“Crowley,” he said in a rough voice. He pushed himself up and off of the demon, not meeting his eye.
Crowley leaned back. “Aziraphale…” For a moment, neither of them could find the words to speak.
“I’m so sorry you had to see that, my dear boy,” Aziraphale said eventually. He placed his hand over Crowley’s his blue eyes meeting Crowley’s slitted yellow ones.
Crowley frowned. “Don’t,” he said. “I can’t… I couldn’t stand for you to be alone through something like that, angel. You shouldn’t have been hurt like that, to begin with.”
Aziraphale looked away, not disagreeing with him, but still looking guilty anyways.
“How many times has this happened?” Crowley blurted quickly before he could lose his nerve.
Aziraphale considered this, his eyebrows creasing his forehead, looking troubled. “It wasn’t like this at first,” he reassured quickly. “But, well…. After the revolution in France, they were already frustrated with me. And it. Well. It escalated. So maybe a dozen.”
His voice was small and shaky as he finished the sentence, and Crowley felt as if the air had been punched right out of his lungs.
Part of him was relieved, at least, that Aziraphale had only been lying about this for a portion of their time together on earth. But there were so many instances that Crowley could think of where Aziraphale had mentioned being reprimanded, and the thought that this is what had happened, and the angel had just been left to heal all alone was just too much.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Aziraphale glanced away.
“I didn’t think it was that important,” he admitted meekly.
Crowley gritted his teeth. “What the fuck, angel!” he hissed. He was given a disapproving look at the language but carried on despite it. “Of course it is! You’re important!”
Aziraphale looked at him softly, sadly. “But you couldn’t have done anything, my dear boy.”
Anger bloomed in his chest. The bastards, hurting his angel. “It won’t happen again,” he said with conviction.
“Dear, you can’t... you can’t know that,” Aziraphale looked panicked.
Crowley shook his head. “I don’t care, I won’t let them. And hell doesn’t keep track of my miracles anyways.” If he had to take on more in their Arrangement, he would gladly do it.
Still looking worried, Aziraphale nodded. “I would… greatly appreciate that, Crowley. It’s very-“ the angel stopped himself. “Well, anyway, as long as you don’t try, to, I don’t know, fight them or anything silly.”
Crowley snorted. “No promises, angel.”
Aziraphale looked alarmed. “Crowley!” His voice was raised a few octaves, and his eyes pleaded with him.
Sighing, he conceded, “Fine, yeah, whatever.” If it ever came to it… Well, no one would blame a demon for lying, Crowley thought darkly,
The angel didn’t look quite convinced, but he let it go anyways. They lapsed into a comfortable silence for several minutes, processing.
“Would you mind terribly staying awhile?” Aziraphale asked softly. “I’m afraid I’m rather tired and I… I don’t want to be alone.” Crowley blinked in surprise.
He hadn’t planned on leaving soon, of course, but Aziraphale so rarely asked for something as bold as that so directly. “Of courssse,” he agreed, managing to both stutter and hiss. Damn.
Smiling softly, Aziraphale stood, offering Crowley a hand. He took it, bones creaking and cracking as he stood, and pointedly ignored the sympathetic look the angel shot him. His own aches didn’t matter, not right now.
Aziraphale led them to the flat above his bookshop (which Crowley was very much certain hadn’t existed when the angel bought the blessed thing) which held a bed covered in cozy quilts and a rather absurd number of pillows.
Aziraphale changed into nightclothes the long way, the ritual soothing. Crowley watched (and it’s not like he was making an Effort, or they hadn’t seen each other before). He slid under the covers, the old bed creaking under his weight. When he settled, he looked at Crowley, who was still standing there, looking exceedingly awkward, unsure of what to do with himself.
“You can join me, you know,” Aziraphale said, an eyebrow raised. “After all, you enjoy sleeping much more than me.”
Crowley choked, letting out a few surprised coughs. He couldn’t deny Aziraphale when he looked like he wanted Crowley to lie next to him. With a snap of his fingers, he was clad in black silk pajamas. Forgetting how to move like a normal human, Crowley managed to stammer his way under the covers next to Aziraphale.
The bed was a bit dusty, but it was warm sharing it with his angel. “You know,” Aziraphale murmured, “I never thought a demon could give so much love. Or anyone else, for that matter.” He turned around to look at Crowley. There was recognition in his eyes, even if he couldn’t say it.
“Nngh. Well. Uh. It’s for you,” Crowley replied weakly. Aziraphale smiled and scooted just a bit closer to him.
They didn’t say anything else. Couldn’t, really, not now. Not when they had to be on opposite sides. But when they both drifted into sleep, their bodies entangled, seeking each other’s warmth.
When they woke, they would be holding each other, going just a little faster than before, even if they couldn’t put words to it. And Crowley wouldn’t stop sending his love to Aziraphale in waves throughout the whole night until eventually, they would have to part again.