Chapter 1: At The Ritz
The realisation Crowley brings back from Heaven is "No wonder Aziraphale likes touch". He's seen how Aziraphale has made his bookshop into the opposite of Heaven - warm, cozy, and cluttered, where Heaven is cold, bare, and isolating. He just hadn't connected that it was personal as well.
And touch is the one thing he can't offer easily.
He would touch Aziraphale if he could, but it always feels like static electricity sparking and crawling over his skin when he touches anyone, and that in turn kicks in his snake reflexes. Snakes, he's discovered, aren't big fans of touch either. They recoil from it and coil in on themselves defensively.
It's easier when he's the one reaching out. He can brace himself for the sensation, because he's expecting it, he's chosen it for that moment of contact. He's learned to cope with hands touching when he must, for handshakes and the like. He got through holding the Antichrist's hand at the end of the world - though maybe all those years of holding Warlock's hand through gloves helped there, he isn't sure. Maybe it was just the sheer blazing adrenaline surging through his human body after all.
He does, however, know that wearing Aziraphale's body is like being touched all over, all the time and he hates it. Pretending that his skin doesn't feel as if it's about to crawl right off him drains all his energy, and on top of that, he has to pour more effort and energy into acting like his angel too. It's to save his angel's life, he reminds himself, and for that he will do almost anything.
Only afterwards, back in his own body, back in the Ritz again, does he realise quite how drained and exhausted it's left him. He sags into his chair, one arm hooked over the back to keep from sliding off completely, and he's slow to respond when Aziraphale starts talking.
They toast and eat and he tries to listen as Aziraphale rambles happily on and doesn't, thank Someone, try to touch him in any way, doesn't even try to goad him into initiating, only places his hand close on the table like an invitation Crowley doesn't take up. His angel doesn't push and that feels like a balm on his poor skin and heart.
"Oh, go home and sleep for a week," he quips, only half joking, the one time Aziraphale asks what he's going to do next, and that seems to be enough.
At least for now.
The realisation Aziraphale brings back from Hell is "No wonder Crowley hates being touched". He's seen how Crowley has made his flat into the opposite of Hell - open, clean, and stylish, where Hell is damp, cramped, and grimy. He just hadn't connected that it was personal as well.
Because Hell is also a place of constant jabs, pokes, prods, and shoves as the demons move through crowded passages. Every touch must remind Crowley of being down there, in a place that hates him, and that he loathes in return, and Aziraphale will do almost anything not to inflict that on him.
And yet he craves touch so badly that he isn't sure he can ever give it up entirely.
He's learned to soothe it by himself as much as he can, with snug waistcoats that put pressure in just the right places, tight wrapped blankets and one hand clasping the other, but sometimes the ache to be touched by someone else gets too much. Sometimes he can't stop himself from goading Crowley into body-slamming him against a wall or a shelf and just soaking in all the contact of it until Crowley runs out of things to snarl at him. Sometimes he can make do with Gabriel's careless shoulder claps along with human manicures and haircuts.
None of the other angels seem to have this problem with touch, so he ought to be fine. He shouldn't need it. But then again he doesn't need sushi either.
And even now, at the Ritz, giddy on survival, he sees himself reaching out to Crowley, closer than he ever has before, and makes himself lay his hand on the table, not that thin black-clad arm. Crowley does so much for him, it's the least he can do in return. It's enough to touch gazes so openly, he tells himself.
At least for now.
Chapter 2: With The Them
The first time Aziraphale and Crowley meet the Them after everything is over (Adam made all the adults remember them as always having been his godparents) Adam comes charging over to greet them, arms wide, and Aziraphale sees Crowley flinch back in anticipation of the impact. He sticks out his own arm before he thinks, blocking Adam's way.
"My dear boy, ask first."
Adam oofs out a breath and then pivots and hugs Aziraphale instead. "Ask what?"
"You should always ask before touching Crowley," Aziraphale tells him, trying not to blush at the look of relief and gratitude Crowley throws his way. "He's thrown me into walls on occasion, and I should hate the same to happen to you if you startle him." He turns his head to demonstrate, still blocking Adam with his arms. The hug feels awfully good to him, but he can tell Crowley doesn't feel the same way. "Crowley. Hug, handshake, or wave?"
Crowley lets out a breath. "Wave," he says, face softening to a slight smile and waving one hand. "Hi, Adam."
Adam pulls away from Aziraphale and waves back. "That's cool. Hi, Crowley. Hello Aziraphale. Come and meet my friends, properly this time." He bounces off in the right direction looking back at them over his shoulder.
Crowley says, with a crooked grin, "Put your arms down, angel, this isn't the eastern gate, you don't have to block it permanently."
"Oh." Aziraphale realises his arm was still out in front of Crowley and drops it to his side. "So sorry about that."
"S'fine." Crowley shoves his fingers into the pockets of his jeans and saunters after Adam.
Aziraphale paces alongside him, hands clasped behind his back.
"Right," Adam says, when everyone's caught up. He points to each person as he names them. "Pepper, Wensleydale, Brian. This is Crowley, don't touch him without asking, and Aziraphale."
Pepper glares at Crowley. "You wanted Adam dead."
He meets it steadily, eyebrows rising above the rims of his glasses. "Yeah," he says with a sigh. "Couldn't see any other way at the time. 'Course he had the better idea in the end, and I can't say it doesn't have distinct advantages." He glances at Aziraphale, as if reminding himself that the angel was there, in the corporation.
"Why'd you even go there? He's a kid."
"Well," Aziraphale begins.
"Hush, angel." Crowley regards Pepper for a long moment. "You killed War, right?"
"If War looked like a kid, would you kill her?"
"Well, duh, she's War. She's a bitch."
"And Adam's the Antichrist." Crowley looks at her, his head a little on one side and his expression telling her to keep going.
"Oh, all right. Point made. For now."
"Happy to discuss philosophy at length another time." He glances over at Adam. "He's a fine kid though. Human incarnate."
Adam grins back.
Wensleydale asks, "Mr Aziraphale, are you no-touch-without-asking too?"
"It's always polite to ask," Aziraphale tells him, "but I don't mind being touched. And really, it's just Aziraphale, though much of the time I go by 'Mr Fell'."
"Cool," Brian echoes. "Do you like ice-cream?"
Crowley's mouth ticks up at the corner and he offers in a conspiratorial stage whisper, "He loves it." Before long, Aziraphale was deep in a discussion of ice-cream flavours, how many existed, how they tasted, when it had been invented, and what was his favourite one and he'd relaxed enough that his hands were dancing and fluttering in the air as he spoke. Crowley watches with unmistakable indulgent fondness on his face. He never wants to take those hands in his own and trap them into the stillness of twined fingers, not when their dance is so beautiful. He paces instead, circling Aziraphale out of long defensive habit, and observing from all angles.
Adam keeps pace beside him, curly hair ruffled by the breeze. "Should I have asked before I took your hand the first time?" he asks quietly.
Crowley glances at him, the movement scarcely noticible through his dark glasses. "I seem to remember I offered and you accepted. That's kind of an ask in itself, isn't it?"
"My choice," Crowley says, turning his head so Adam can see his face, and the tighter line of his mouth. "Wouldn't have reached out if I wasn't prepared to be touched, ok? S'fine, kid. S'just - I'm a demon, Adam. A demon and a snake. Touch in Hell is more about pain and control than anything else, and snakes aren't much for touching anyway." He looks away, and a muscle clamps down in his jaw. "I prefer to do it on my own terms, is all."
"You know he needs it?"
"Yeah," Crowley says, following Adam's gaze to Aziraphale. "I know. We'll figure it out, he and I. We always do. Eventually."
Chapter 3: In the Bookshop
The first time it happened, Aziraphale was reading at his desk. Crowley sauntered up, announced, "Your cocoa, angel," leaned past him to set it on the desk beside him, and rested one hand lightly on Aziraphale's shoulder as he did so. Aziraphale went utterly, completely, totally still under that touch, not even daring to breathe, as the warmth of it sank through his layers of clothing and laid a balm as light as the touch itself over an itch he hadn't even realised was building to a familiar ache.
Crowley straightened all too soon, pulled his hand away, and came to perch on the other end of the desk. Back at his usual distance, he sipped his own mug of coffee. "Breathe, angel, it's only cocoa," he teased, grinning. Aziraphale made himself look up and smile back as though he couldn't trace every precise millimetre of where Crowley's hand had rested on his shoulder.
It had to be accidental, surely. Crowley never ever touched anyone casually, not that Aziraphale had noticed over 6,000 years. He didn't think wall-slams counted, or patching each other up, or the occasional mutual drunken assistance. Even with Warlock, she'd been deliberate about touch, not casual, and she'd worn gloves to reduce the amount of actual contact she'd had with the boy.
But then it happened a second time. And then a third. Always a light contact. Always on his shoulder or upper back, where there were the most layers of clothing. And never with any consistancy except that it was just in time to soothe a building discomfort that he hadn't consciously registered. Then, finally, he managed to turn soon enough to catch Crowley reaching out with jaw gritted. "Crowley!" he got out, full of exasperated affection. "You don't have to touch me if you don't want to. I know you hate touch."
Crowley paused, hand half extended, and then drew it back to his side. He brought his other hand up, pulled off his sunglasses and met Aziraphale's gaze without any barrier between them. "Is it enough?"
Aziraphale swallowed at the nakedness of the stare engulfing him and clasped his own hands tightly so that he didn't accidently reach out himself. He was not, he told himself, going to impose on Crowley for this. But neither, under that stare, could he bring himself to lie. "I- I don't know," he said at last.
Crowley looked him over, yellow eyes lingering on his clasped hands, and then lifting to his face again. He sighed. "Obviously not. I'll get my gloves."
"I mean it, Crowley. You don't have to do this."
"What, you'd rather wait until we end up with me having to slam you up against a wall?" He slithered past and pulled a pair of thin, tough, black gloves from the pockets of his jacket. "Pity's sake, angel, you know as well as I do that you can't get by on just human touch forever. Some of that touch has to come from those of our own stock. Angel or demon, doesn't matter. Downstairs even uses it as a torture method sometimes."
"It does? They do?"
"Usually when Sandalphon or Michael want to get in some smiting practice. Chain you up for a decade or two until you're desperate, then stake you out someplace neutral and tell the angels where to find you. Got to say, smiting's a hel- heav- lousy - way to get your touch in, even though it works."
"Oh, Crowley. When?"
He turned away, staring up at the ceiling. "14th century," he muttered. "Too many 'frivolous' miracles and my lot don't send rude notes."
Crowley yanked the gloves into place and wrapped the wrist fastenings snugly against his thin arms. "Worse, angel. Nice. Healed some kids, if you must know. Plague and all that."
"Oh my dear."
"Shut up!" Crowley grumbled, but there was no bite in the words. "We're on our own side now. Let me do this on my own terms. As a gift. If it's too much. For either of us. I'll stop. Fair?"
"What about Adam?" Aziraphale asked.
"What about him?"
"Is he going to need touch from us? To get by?"
Crowley grimaced, then turned with a shrug. "He's got Dog. That'll help. But yeah, I have no idea how much he's still - either of them are still - occult. Won't hurt to keep in touch, either way."
Chapter 4: At his desk
Crowley flexed his gloved fingers, satisfied by the fit and suppleness. They had been made for humans to safely handle pet birds, so they shouldn't harm anyone's wings if it came to that. Not that there was room for wings to come out in the bookshop but the option was there if this worked. He circled Aziraphale until he stood behind him, took a slow, careful breath, and laid his gloved hands on his angel's shoulders. They tingled where they touched, even with the gloves, but it didn't hurt and it wasn't anywhere as bad as touching barehanded, so he released the breath he didn't need.
Aziraphale froze almost immediately at his touch, fingers tangled together, as he sank into his desk chair. Crowley always paid close attention to those hands. The way they moved, and fretted, and danced to the rhythm of Aziraphale's thoughts could and did tell him a lot about how his angel was feeling, if not the actual thoughts themselves.
He tented his hands so that only his fingertips touched Aziraphale rather than his whole hand, and began to gently knead small circles over his angel's shoulders and upper back. Aziraphale positively melted under his hands, basking in the touch the way that Crowley basked in pools of sunlight. How anyone could enjoy the crawling sensation of touch was beyond Crowley, but Aziraphale clearly did, so he didn't need to understand it, but only acknowledge that it was a fact.
He worked his fingertips across Aziraphale's back a little more, then as the tingle strengthened closer to uncomfortable, he curled his fingers close to his palm, and dug a lower finger joint into the knotted muscles instead. They had been having a rest from touch, and meant it was back to an unpleasant but bearable tingle. He passed lightly over the spot where the attachment for the angel's wings would phase into being, not wanting to push too hard on what was almost universally a sensitive spot, but Aziraphale made little murmurs of pleasure anyway and leaned into his hand.
Crowley pulled back instantly. "You all right there, angel?"
Aziraphale made a small, blissful, sound usually reserved for a really good crepe and nodded.
"Good, because I'm about done." He flexed and shook out his hands, smoothed his palms briefly over the muscles, and stepped away. "That's your lot." He dropped onto the old sofa, and let his limbs sprawl across the space there, reclaiming his distance.
Aziraphale turned, and his mouth held a fond smile beneath pink cheeks. "You didn't have to," he said, "but since you did, allow me to thank you with a decent wine."
Crowley felt the muscles in his own back unknotting as the crawling sensation ebbed from his fingers. "Wouldn't say no," he allowed. "Want to try for wings next time?"
Chapter 5: At Crowley's Flat
Crowley smoothed the last of Aziraphale's feathers into place, and lifted his gloved hands clear. "There, done."
Aziraphale flexed his released wings lightly. The breeze he made stirred the small pile of shed feathers on the floor of Crowley's flat, and he beamed, before folding his wings back out of sight. "Splendid, my dear. Much appreciated."
"Any time, angel." Crowley picked up one of the longer feathers out of the pile, twirled it in his fingers for a moment, and then leaned in to brandish it under Aziraphale's nose with a wicked grin. "Now....have at thee, Sir Aziraphale!" he hissed, somewhere between teasing and fondness.
Aziraphale looked at him for a long moment, then stooped for a shed feather of his own. For a breath, Crowley was thrown back to the memory of the airbase. Aziraphale stooping for his old sword and fear flashing through the demon as he knelt, his only instinct to protect the kids behind him from the angel rather than protect himself.
Then Aziraphale charged at him, feather in hand, crying, "Sirrah, Black Knight. Thou shalt not stand unopposed!"
Crowley leaped back, and they were sparring for real with harmless angelic feathers.
Aziraphale's style consisted almost entirely of Heaven's moves, with just a smattering of Arthurian knight, but he moved like an expert.
Crowley's style was flashier and more amatuerish, a ragged mixture of Roman and Saxon and stage fighting, with oddments of backstreet alley fighting thrown in.
They circled the desk and dodged around the throne, feathers crossing and recrossing in mock blows. It was less a real fight and more of a dance as they leapt back and forth in the space previously cleared for wing-grooming.
It ended when Crowley put his foot on one of the other feathers and slipped. He fell to his knees with a startled squawk, then recovered enough to spread his arms dramatically and look up at Aziraphale. "I surrender to your mercy, oh great knight of the dessert menu!"
Aziraphale leaned in, breathless, feather-sword ruffled but secure in his hand. "Foul fiend! For this, I shall.... tickle you most mercilessly!" He made the epithet sound as tender as a beloved pet name.
Crowley gasped, scrambled back to his feet, and backed away, eyes wide. "You wouldn't," he tempted, his own grin as wide and breathless as his angel's.
"I most certainly," Aziraphale replied, advancing on him like the Principality he was (though his extra eyes, wings, and halo were all firmly tucked away) "shall." And with that, he lunged, flicking the tip of the feather across Crowley's neck and up along his jawline to his tattoo. If they had been using sharp blades, the wound would have been somewhere between serious and lethal. Crowley flinched from it instinctively and Aziraphale pulled back at once. "I'm sorry, I got carried away. Are you all right, dearheart?"
"Ngk," Crowley said eloquently. He touched his fingers to the track of the feather, but there was no pain and no blood. "Fine. Reflex." It hadn't hurt, he realised. It hadn't felt like someone else touching him, only an object. Which of course it was, but... "What did you call me?"
"Dear?" Aziraphale said, blinking just a little. His cheeks were flushed, either from the playfight or the endearment.
"I think it was a bit more than that," Crowley said. He leaned in again, not too close, and added just for the delight of seeing Aziraphale blush harder, "Sweetheart."
Chapter 6: At Jasmine Cottage
He felt the horseshoe ward before he got within three paces, he was that raw and sensitive from last night's nightmare. "You go on, angel," he said, masking with a grin. "Sun's out, I'm going to make the most of it and bask for a while." He backed up and threw himself down in a clear patch of grass near the bench. He'd dreamed of Falling again, but this time he'd had the all-over crawl of wearing Aziraphale's body, and instead of sulphur, he'd landed in the burning bookshop. He tipped his head up to the sun and closed his eyes, focusing on the earth beneath him, and the smell of greenery and flowers and warm soil. Not smoke. Not flames. Not the chill of Heaven and the echoes of touch crawling all over his body.
He opened his eyes again when the Them arrived and propped their bikes against Anathema's fence.
"Crowley! Hi! Hug, handshake, or wave?" came Adam's voice. "Is Aziraphale around?"
Crowley propped himself on one elbow and waved. "He's inside. Give him a hug for me, if you like."
"Will do!" Adam barreled in through the door, clearly human enough that the ward against demons didn't bother him. The rest of the Them followed close behind.
They were out again soon enough, dragging Aziraphale and Anathema behind them and chattering about knights and King Arthur and dragons. Anathema dropped down to sit on the bench near Crowley, though from there she could only see him if she twisted round.
"I wouldn't have thought he was the type to know sword fighting," Anathema said, as she watched Aziraphale demonstrating sword techniques to the delighted Them. "He's such a soft, sweet, guy."
"He's a Principality," Crowley pointed out, "he was practically made for battle. He chooses to be soft."
"And you? What were you made for?"
Something very complicated and old and painful flickered across Crowley's face, and then he turned away, staring up at the sky. "Nothing I have access to anymore, book-girl."
She waited, not looking at him. When his answer came, it was as close to a whisper as a hiss could get.
"Sssstars. I was made to create and build starssss..." Left unsaid was the eternal irony that the star builder was, as a demon, expected to destroy things, and the destructive warrior was, as an angel, expected to build things up.
"The stars are beautiful," Anathema agreed, and then made the mistake of looking down. Where Crowley had been, a large black and red snake lay coiled in the sun. She yelped and snatched her feet away from it and up onto the bench.
The snake hissed in irritation and grumbled in Crowley's voice. "For Somebody's sake, he told you I was a 'wily old serpent'. What part of that did you not grasp?"
"I thought he was being metaphorical!"
"Yeah right. About as metaphorical as me calling him 'angel'." The snake shimmered and turned back into Crowley, scowling at her.
"I thought that was a petname. Aren't you together?"
"Ngk. Urk. Yes, well, it is, and I only get away with it because he is one. Angel, I mean. I thought you knew all this, book-girl?"
"Well, you thought wrong, car-man."
Aziraphale left the Them to their mock battle and came to sit on the other end of the bench. "Now then, dear," he said warmly to his wily serpent, "no need to have a hissy fit over it."
Crowley spluttered, then huffily shifted back to a smaller snake form and curled tighter in the patch of sunlight. "Ngh. Wake me up when you're ready to go. And don't touch me."
"Yes, dear," Aziraphale said, folding smug, soft, hands, and turning to Anathema. "I suppose we should introduce ourselves properly, before there's any more confusion. Are you sure you don't want to put your feet on the ground? He won't hurt you."
"He's a snake!"
"How observant of you, dear girl. Now, I am the Angel Aziraphale, Principality and Guardian of the Eastern gate of Eden, sometimes called Mr A.Z. Fell. And that 'snake' is my husband, the Demon Crowley, the Serpent of Eden, sometimes called Mr Anthony J. Crowley. We have known each other for 6,000 years. We are no longer controlled by our respective Head Offices, but we remain a literal angel and demon." He smiled at her with a kind of prim English politeness that nevertheless held that touch of the bastard that Crowley adored. "Do you have any questions?"
"What sort of demon makes stars?" she blurted.
Aziraphale pursed his lips. "That would have been before he Fell from Heaven and became a demon. It's a sensitive subject. We don't discuss it."
"Eden is real? And the rest of the Bible?"
"For the most part, though it depends on the version. Some of the translations and misprints are-"
"Hey!" Wensleydale yelled, having lost his swordfight with Pepper long enough to look around. "There's a snake over there."
Aziraphale raised his voice just a little. "That snake is Crowley's other form. Same rules apply."
The Them grinned and chorused in unison, "No touching without asking!"
Crowley raised his head a little, revealing his red belly. "Correct."
Brian asked, "What about questions?"
Crowley's hiss sounded as close to a grumpy sigh as a snake could get. "Fffine, jusst sstay out of my ssunlight."
Chapter 7: In Vino Veritas (1)
"Nothing touches anything in space. Not unless it's to destroy. 'S all about finding the balance point between the push and pull so things circle close around each other without hurting each other." Crowley waved his hands around each other in demonstration, and his wine stayed determinedly inside his wine glass rather than spilling.
Several empty bottles sat on the table between them, and Aziraphale nursed his own glass, even as his eyes took in everything about Crowley. The dark glasses that lay abandoned on a pile of books and the eyes that shone almost gold with the memory. The expression on his face - an odd mixture of remembered joy and old grief. The way his black clothes blended into the shadows of the dimly lit back room, leaving his face and hands alight as if they hovered in the corners of space that he was discussing.
Crowley went on, his voice soft and aching and rambling in the best way of these kinds of evenings, "S'like you and me, circling and circling around each other like you're my sun and I'm your dark-sided moon, all reflection and no light of my own. Any brightness is all from you, and anytime we shift closer it near destroys everything, 'cause I'm going too fast for you to get outta my way, an' we don't, shouldn't touch 'cause what else is the sun going to do but swallow me up forever..." He broke off abruptly and drained his glass. It refilled itself immediately and he downed it almost as fast. Shadows veiled his face as he ducked his head and finished almost inaudibly, "...or vanish, and let the black hole that's left drag me in after."
To go from that openness and joy to cramped Hell, just as full of destruction and overfull of touch - Aziraphale's heart ached at the thought. "I won't vanish," he promised, leaning forward over his own glass. "I won't. Truly."
Crowley didn't move and the shadows deepened around him. "You did."
Aziraphale straightened indignantly and drained his glass. "When?" he demanded, stretching his own memory, forcing himself to look at all the times he had forced himself to pull back from Crowley. Each was like a burn along his ribs, but he hadn't outright vanished - had he?
Crowley started to reach for his glasses, then paused and sucked in a ragged breath before lifting his head. His eyes had gone fully yellow, and they shone as if lit from behind with flames. "The fire," he ground out. "Here. When it all burned. You were gone! I - I couldn't feel you."
Oh. Oh...Fuck. Aziraphale's instincts screamed at him to reach out and comfort his beloved, his friend, his best friend. He dragged them back, not wanting to impose touch on Crowley, now of all times. He picked up the latest bottle instead, and offered him a manual refill. "I'm sorry," he managed, the words spilling out as unsteadily as the wine. "I won't - it won't - not again. I promise."
Crowley cradled his filled glass in both hands, as once he must have cradled stars, and offered a shaky smile. "See that you don't, angel of mine. See that you don't."
Chapter 8: In Vino Veritas (2)
"Everyone got so scared after the Fall happened." Aziraphale's eyes stared straight through Crowley and his voice was eerily quiet. "Each one thinking we would be next. That we could Fall for a wrong word, or look, or having the wrong friend. Everyone pulled away into themselves, and dropped every connection that couldn't be justified as essential business, just in case they found themselves in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, with the wrong people, when someone Fell. Just in case they might get pulled down by association." His hands were locked tight and almost painfully still around his glass of wine. "And nobody knew what was the wrong things and what the right things. Didn't know what had to be done to avoid Falling, so the rule became 'avoid everything'. We walked on eggshells, too scared to act or question or connect. Too scared to reach out in anyway. So scared that we forgot we were supposed to love others and settled on protecting ourselves instead."
Crowley closed his own eyes for a moment, recalling every painful time that Aziraphale had pushed him away and forced barriers between them, and then emptied his glass with a grimace that the wine didn't deserve. He didn't recall a great deal about Heaven from before his Fall, but he remembered enough to know that it hadn't been as coldly clinical as he'd seen when he'd been dragged up there in Aziraphale's body. He opened his mouth, searching for words of comfort and didn't find any, so he closed it with a snap and refilled his glass.
Aziraphale went on, like some lost and distant recording, "No more fighting and drilling shoulder to shoulder under shared spread of wings. No more wrestling or fist fighting. Nothing that involved warmth or touch in any way. Nothing that might evoke memories of the friends we'd lost or those we hadn't yet lost but might at any time. No brightness, only whiteness that would show every mark and change." His oddly flat voice didn't waver, but with each statement about what he'd lost, a tear welled up in each eye and rolled down his face, merging at the hollow of his double chin and falling silently onto his shirt.
Crowley lifted his own gaze from his wine to his angel's face and caught the faint glimmer of his own reflection in the merging tears. "Aziraphale," he breathed, but the angel didn't respond. "Angel!" he tried again, louder, with as little effect. He put his glass down hastily and clumsily on the table and scrambled around it to Aziraphale's side. "Hey, angel, come back to me!"
"When they invalided me out of my platoon and sent me to Eden, it was almost overwhelming," Aziraphale went on blankly, not even blinking when Crowley waved his hand in front of his eyes. "It was so bright. There was so much more than that cold whiteness. I was still alone, still scared, still worried, but there was colour again, and there were objects to touch even if no people and a corporation wrapping me round like an eternal hug."
Crowley hissed in frustration, swear words spilling off his serpent's tongue. His gloves were out of reach and he was not, no way, going to leave Aziraphale like this. "One last shot," he mumbled to himself, "then I'm getting drastic." He miracled up a clean hanky, knelt beside Aziraphale's chair, gritted his teeth, and began to gently wipe away the angel's tears, as he once had wiped away a small Warlock's tears. The hanky protected him from direct skin to skin touch, but little else. It was almost as direct a contact as he could bear.
Aziraphale drew a shuddery breath, then another, and blinked. "And then you came," he told Crowley softly, as his eyes softened back into focus, "and you reached out to me. You were kind."
Crowley drew a shuddery breath of his own, full of relief, and pulled a face at Aziraphale in order to bury his fear beneath banter. "I don't know. Using four letter words about me again, are you? Didn't you learn from last time?"
Aziraphale came out with a small, shaky, laugh. "There you go again," he said. "Coming to rescue me when I need it." He gulped his wine and took the hanky from Crowley's unresisting fingers to finish drying his face. "I don't - I don't want to push you away any more. I was just, well, scared. So so scared. Still am a little, it's worn so deep a groove in me that I don't know how not to be afraid. Not any more. Not after being expected to hold myself apart for 6,000 years." He swallowed, and his glass refilled itself. "But," he went on, his face setting harder, making him look briefly more like the warrior Principality and less like a soft bookshop owner, "I should like to learn. And Crowley?"
"Yes, angel?" Crowley settled into a sprawl across the floor at Aziraphale's feet.
"I should like to learn with and from you. If you'll have me."
"'Course," Crowley said, a genuine smile curving his mouth to have his angel back with him once more. "Of course I'll have you, you blessed - angel." He grabbed his glass off the table and raised it. "To the future. Ngk. No. To our future."
Aziraphale stooped to clink glasses, and his voice was warm again, grounded again, him again, as he responded, "To us."
Chapter 9: With Anathema
"Is there something wrong with my cottage?" Anathema asked, sweeping her long skirt under her as she took her seat in one of the old armchairs.
"You wanted to talk to both of us, you said." Crowley turned his head to look pointedly at the autumn rain streaking down the bookshop windows. "Not the weather for sitting in your garden, so it'll have to be here."
"You don't have to sit outside. You could come in with Aziraphale."
Crowley spluttered a laugh. "With the wards you keep up? Good craftsmanship on those by the way, simple, strong, and solid, even if they are inconvenient for me."
Anathema blinked at him.
Crowley sprawled down onto the battered sofa, dark glasses firmly in place. "Hello? Demon. Remember?"
Aziraphale chose that moment to bustle back in with the tea tray and set it on the table between them. "What did you want to talk about, dear girl?" He poured, and took a seat in another armchair.
Anathema looked from one to the other. "I want to know everything."
"That's rather a large subject, my dear. Could you be a little more specific?"
"Weeelll..." Anathema picked up her cup and took a sip of tea while she tried to boil a million questions down to a handful. "If you're real, are Heaven and Hell real too? What are they like? What do I need to know in order not to make silly mistakes when I'm dealing with either of you?"
Crowley leaned forward long enough to scoop up his mug, then leaned back again, one leg hooked over the arm of the sofa. "Yes, they're real. Neither of them serves a decent drink or has decent heating, and what do you already know about us?"
"Crowley! That is not the point of 'what are they like' and you know it!" Aziraphale gave Crowley an exasperated look that was nevertheless rather fond. "Heaven, my dear, is not a matter of clouds and harps. Rather, it is a very open, white, space."
"Like a used car salesroom, as I recall," Crowley put in, "only without the cars and with more obnoxious people. Doubt it's changed much. Heaven doesn't, in general."
Anathema blinked. "You've been to Heaven?"
Crowley flicked a glance at Aziraphale, shrugged, and took a slurp of tea. "Demons, my sort anyway, started off as angels in Heaven. Then we got kicked out and became fallen angels instead. There are some demons, lesser ones, who were created after the Fall and only know Hell."
"And Hell is?"
"Hell's idea of central heating is miles of cold, damp, slimy basement with a pool of boiling sulphur somewhere in the middle. Only grimier, and with more paperwork."
"No flames? No pitchforks?"
"Correct," Crowley told her, an uneasy edge creeping into his voice. "Change of subject before they get wind of being talked about?"
Aziraphale flicked a glance at him, set his cup back in its saucer, and took over. "Neither side is exactly pleased with us at present. And no, the common visuals of both are exceedingly inaccurate, as befits propaganda."
"Oh. Uh," Anathema scrambled for another question. "What exactly is a Principality? You both say it like I ought to know it."
"Help yourself to biscuits," Aziraphale said absently, waving a hand at the plate of cookies on the table. "A Principality is, well, began as, a platoon leader in, uh, Up There's host. Army." He jabbed a finger at the ceiling. "These days, we're considered more defenders or guardians of a particular group or place."
"And yours is?"
Crowley waved an idle hand at Aziraphale's blue-green-brown eyes, and declared with a teasing smirk, "Ah, he's got the whole world in his eyes."
"Really, Crowley!" Aziraphale rolled the eyes in question, whose irises did look surprisingly like a globe of Earth, now blue as the oceans, now green as the forests, now brown as parched desert, always turning and changing. "I'm officially still the Guardian of the Eastern Gate. Of Eden. Nobody ever changed the paperwork."
"I, on the other hand," Crowley said, the smirk hardening just a little at the corners, "will remain the Serpent whatever paperwork gets filed." He set his empty mug down and slid his glasses down his nose just long enough for Anathema to get a good look at slit pupils in sulphur-yellow irises in a normal white sclera before he hid them again. "I was a wily old serpent when he was technically on apple tree duty, and the rest is history. The whole of history, really. Not being metaphorical here."
Anathema gave Aziraphale another long look, but he still didn't look anything like a warrior or a soldier, let alone a leader of warriors. He looked like a soft, mild-mannered, slightly fussy, middle-aged man who had never had to fight a day in his life.
Crowley followed her gaze, and his mouth softened into indulgent fondness. He shifted around on the sofa, arms now stretched out along the back and claiming the space for himself. "Do you know what angels have to say more often than anything else?"
Anathema blinked again. "Uh. Hello?"
"Nope. 'Don't be scared. Fear not. Be not afraid.' Aziraphale just saves himself a lot of time and repetition by doing it non-verbally. Didn't start out entirely that way of course. Guardian of the Eastern Gate and all that. Expected to be a bit scary. But after he had to revive the shepherds, what was it, angel? Eight times?"
Aziraphale wrinkled his nose at the memory. "Six times."
"Yeah, after he had to revive the shepherds ten times-"
"Six times," Aziraphale huffed.
"-he started really cultivating this 'I am totally harmless and not scary at all' look."
"Angels really say it that much?"
Aziraphale nodded. "365 times in the bible, my dear, according to the common translations."
Chapter 10: On Spreading Wings
Crowley was trying, fairly carefully, to get at a particularly itchy feather when his loose wing-shoulder joint decided that enough was too much thank you, and dislocated itself in a bolt of white-hot pain. He hissed out a handful of swear words in assorted languages and manoeuvred himself onto his blocky sofa. It may have looked uncomfortable for human corporeal forms, but the low square back was just the right height and angle to support his wings when they did this. About half the time he could even use that support and judicious pressure to pop it back into place.
This seemed to be one of the times he couldn't, which left him two options. First, take a quick trip to the strictly neutral grooming grounds in Hell and get one of the other demons there to pop it back in - but even in neutrality he doubted he'd be welcome right now, which meant cashing in even more precious favours than usual. Second... he sighed and raised his voice to address his phone. "Call Aziraphale." When Aziraphale duly picked up, Crowley gritted the pain out of his voice and managed an almost casual, "Uh, hi, angel. Could you, ah, drop round to mine? I... need a hand."
"My dear boy, you only had to ask. Is something the matter?"
Crowley shifted slightly, the wing spasmed, and a hiss of pain escaped before he could bite it back. "Tickety boo, as you usually put it."
"I'll be right over." Aziraphale hung up. A minute later, he tapped at the door, clearly worried enough to miracle himself there.
Crowley snapped his fingers to let him in and endured the worried tutting at the sight of his wing. "S'nothing major, angel, just needs popping back in. It'll be fine. I'd do it myself, but the angles are wrong."
Aziraphale's hands twisted round each other, betraying confusion and anxiety. "I've never seen a wing look like that before. How does one 'pop back in' it?"
Crowley stared back for a long moment with matching confusion, because in the grooming grounds of Hell, dislocating wings were, if not routine, at least commonplace. Then it hit him. Demons' wings, those that hadn't been torn off completely in the Fall, had almost universally been damaged by it, with weak points where bones had once snapped and wing joints prone to dislocate. Once wrenched forcefully from its socket, always likely to pop out of the socket again. Angels, well, angels hadn't Fallen and didn't deal with that sort of damage, did they? Aloud he said, "I'll walk you through it. You'll need to grip pretty firmly."
"Are you sure, dearest?"
"Rather you than some demon," Crowley admitted, his breath thin under the pain. He set his chin on his shoulder in order to squint at the process. "Please, angel. Before I...lose my nerve."
Aziraphale squared plump shoulders and took up the task, following Crowley's terse instructions on lifting, pulling, and twisting. Crowley for his part stamped down on the internal voice screaming stoptouchingmestoptouchingmestoptouchingme and tried not to fight his own orders, because giving in to that voice and that fight would just prolong things. The pain overrode the usual crawling sensation of touch anyway. Finally, the joint dropped back into place, taking most of the pain with it.
"Done," Crowley said with relief. "Hands off. Please." He leaned forward, flexed the wing cautiously, and then tucked them both out of sight and reach.
Aziraphale, who had let go almost the moment the words emerged from Crowley's mouth, came round to perch uncomfortably on the far end of the sofa. "How on Earth did you manage to dislocate it in the first place, dear?"
Crowley folded his arms against himself, shaky from the aftermath of pain- and touch- fuelled adrenaline, and ducked his head down. "This time? Just preening, moved wrong."
"But it isn't normal, surely?"
"Is for demons, angel." He shoved back against the incipient shock. Not the time, he told his body. Not here. Not now. "Falling that long and hard is Hell on wings. Pun intended. S'why most of us don't fly very high or far. Want some tea, angel, since you're here?"
Crowley rested his elbows on his knees and looked across at the Them squashed together on the other milk crate. Aziraphale had stayed behind to give Jasmine Cottage's wards a stern talking to, in the hopes he could make them more like the bookshop wards (which let Crowley through without being open to demons in general).
The Them shot glances back at him, between whispered discussions. Crowley tugged his coat a bit tighter around him. It was dry at least but, being November, somewhat chilly.
Pepper finally straightened and said, "Is now a suitable time to talk philosophy? You said you would be happy to, later."
Crowley considered for a moment, then shrugged. He had said that hadn't he? "Sure," he said aloud.
"Cool." Pepper leaned forward, also resting her elbows on her knees. "What's the difference between good and evil?"
"The uniform," Crowley quipped.
She scowled at him, and the rest of the Them sat up and paid attention too. "I'm serious."
"And you don't go for easy questions either." Crowley looked her square in the eye. "I wasn't exactly joking. It's long, and complicated, and gets very fuzzy around the edges."
Crowley felt Adam's eyes on him too, and grimaced, lips parting instinctively to taste the air for danger, snake-fashion. "S'how you look at something that defines whether you consider it good or evil. Doesn't matter if the coin comes down heads or tails, still got the same value. Different times have different values and consider different things evil. Not much stays the same there, given long enough. The only thing that does really, is if you treat people as people with all the free will that implies, or if you treat people as things." He smelt/tasted dead leaves, and human, and damp dog with the faintest whiff of sulphur-undertone, and distant cowpat, and damp tree, and damp stone. No danger there that he could sense.
Adam sighed. "Why would someone make people and then get angry when they act like people anyhow?"
"Aziraphale would tell you that it's ineffable." Crowley shifted, stretching out one leg, then the other. "Personally? Likely because they think of people as things. Good has to persuade people to choose it, Evil is happy to force things into line. S'why it's easier to slide to Evil than to climb to Good. Life's never really about being wholly good or evil anyway, not for humans. It's about finding the balance point between the push and pull of them that works for you."
"What about the Horsepeople?" Wensleydale asked, looking rather as if he was taking serious notes about all of this. "We dressed as them for Halloween, by the way. That was fun!"
"Yeah, well, they aren't human no matter how they look. They're - not exactly forces of Nature - more metaphysical representations of beliefs held since very early on." War had been born when Lucifer's army first turned on Michael's. She'd been golden haired then, as golden as angelic blood. Human wars had reshaped her into being red as their blood in the end, and he was grateful for the way it muted that old reminder. Death, he remembered all too well, had coalesced out of the shadows beneath the Tree as Adam and Eve finished their Apples. Famine had danced out of Cain's footsteps, following the curse that nothing would grow where the
boy man stayed or worked. Pestilence and Pollution, parent and child, born out of health corrupted. The older from the health of creatures, the younger from the health of the land and water.
Pepper was frowning. Adam just looked thoughtful. Brian and Wensleydale looked thoroughly out of their depth.
Crowley hissed a sigh through his teeth and then produced an apple in his hand. Maybe metaphor would work where direct explanation didn't. "There is nothing of this Earth that is entirely one or the other. Look. Apple. Considered good, sweet, healthy, yes? Also represents original sin - the stolen Knowledge of Good and Evil. Couldn't have one without the other." He split it neatly into top and bottom halves, revealing the star shape in its centre and a dark pip. Even Fallen, the thing the once-maker of stars was best known for was, at heart, a star. Probably part of that ineffable divine sense of humour. "And the pips here? Well, they're a source of poison. Cyanide. Killed lots of people in its more pure form. One pip alone isn't going to hurt, mind you, but you eat a couple pounds of pips at once and you're in trouble." He split the halves again and passed over the four apple pieces to be eaten by the kids.
They bit in cheerfully, and watched him.
He shrugged. "Same goes for people. I've met people responsible for mass-murders - millions of deaths, minimum - who loved their families and painted pretty pictures. I've met people that humans generally consider good that did some very nasty things behind everyone's backs. And I've had far too many commendations from Hell about Evil being done by people convinced they're doing Good, to take people's word for what they are."
Adam sighed too. "The vicar here says Heaven is all Good and Hell is all Evil."
"That's a very popular way of looking at things," Crowley said dryly, "both here and in those places. Like I said before, the difference is the uniform." He looked up suddenly, sensing "angel approaching", and spotted Aziraphale picking his way down the slope. "Uniforms are black and white. The people wearing them - not so much. Hi, angel."
Aziraphale beamed round at them all. "Anathema's making cocoa and biscuits, if you'd like to come and get them."
The Them perked up, finished their apple, and ran off, proving food was more interesting than philosophy any day of the week. Crowley climbed to his feet, a little stiff and sluggish in this cold. He and Aziraphale followed more slowly, sauntering side by side in their old black and white uniforms, not quite touching but together nonetheless.
Crowley asked, "Any luck?" and waved his hand in the general direction of Jasmine cottage.
Aziraphale smiled. "We think so, dear boy."
"Good. I could do with someplace warm."
If you thought you spotted a Discworld reference, you were correct.
Mrs Young chattered over tea about how lovely it was that Adam's godfathers liked to be so much involved in his life, and how nice it was that they'd managed to come visit for New Year.
Crowley managed a thin smile, even as the mention of godfathers threw him back almost 12 years to that session in the bookshop backroom where he had tried with hidden, aching, desperation, to persuade a stubborn angel to help him prevent the end of the world. Right family, wrong boy though it had been in the end, he'd still cared for the boy long enough and deep enough to miss him.
Aziraphale flicked a brief glance at Crowley, took in the look on his face, and then proceeded to smile and nod at all the right points and keep the Youngs' attention on him.
After a while, Crowley slipped out while everyone's attention was elsewhere.
Adam found him outside, leaning against the Bentley, hands stuffed in too-small pockets and a wistful twist to his mouth. "You ok?"
"Just wondering how Warlock's doing," Crowley murmured, looking up at the moon, which was about the only thing guaranteed to be shining down on Warlock too.
"I sent him to America... I meant it as a gift, but... Is he family to you?"
Crowley gave Adam a sideways look from behind his glasses. "No blood relation, if that's what you mean. We - we thought he was you for eleven years."
Adam shook his head. "Family's not about blood. It's the people who're there for you and care for you," said the boy who had chosen his adopted human father as his real father.
"Maybe we were family to him. Never in name though. Just his nanny and a gardener. He'll be growing up, maybe doesn't need us making things worse than we already have."
"You let me choose what family I wanted to be around," Adam opined. "Least you could do is give him the same choice."
The Demon Crowley, Serpent of Eden, Tempter of Eve, dropped his gaze from the moon to the Antichrist, the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness, regarded the boy's very human eyes for a long moment, then nodded. "I'll send him a card, make sure he's got my number if he wants to get in touch. Thanks, Adam."
"You're welcome. You going to be out here long? Dad got worried."
"Poured himself another cup of tea and said you'd be back when you were ready." Adam looked up Crowley. "Something about the stars?"
"Sounds about right."
"And are you ready?"
Crowley drew a deep breath he didn't need and looked up into the clear sky for a long moment. Then he pulled his hands from his pockets, flexed them, and they were suddenly wearing gloves. "Might as well, I suppose. Can't see Alpha Centauri from here anyway. Wrong part of Earth."
"What's Alpha Centauri?"
"Binary star system. Next closest star to this one. Part of a Southern Hemisphere constellation." Crowley let his breath out slowly. His hands clenched, then opened again. "I offered to take Aziraphale there a couple of times. He - preferred to stay on Earth." He considered, then offered Adam a gloved hand. "Drag me back in if you like. Reassure your dad."
Adam cocked his head on one side, looking oddly old for his age. "There are stories behind that, aren't there?"
"None that I'm up to telling you." It was as good as an admission.
"Ok." Adam took his hand gently and cautiously, nothing like Warlock's grip, or even the hold he'd taken at the apocalapse, and led the demon back inside, declaring, "Found him, Dad!"
Crowley met the looks he got with an unapologetic shrug. "Went to get my gloves from the car and got side-tracked into stargazing," was all he said.
Warlock getting those cards can be read over here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/20774177
Chapter 13: Of Blanket Cocoons
Outside the (closed) bookshop, snowflakes skittered this way and that through the air before finally joining the grimy slush smeared all over the pavement.
Inside, Crowley was nothing more than a bundle of blankets curled up on a blocky dark-grey chair he'd miracled over from his flat, and set close to the fireplace. It wasn't even upholstered, Aziraphale thought plaintively. It looked like it had been carved out of a slab of stone, all hard angles and no visible softness, rather like Crowley himself.
Aziraphale himself was settled in his own favourite chair, one that had shaped its stuffing to cradle him perfectly over the last century or so, and was discovering that the new corporeal form Adam had given him did, in fact, have a few downsides compared to his old one. His old injury was bothering him for almost the first time in 6000 years. It didn't like the cold in this form anymore than Crowley did, and he was now wondering if and how he could get away without reminding Crowley of that particular war and its eventual outcome. Maybe if he moved carefully enough, the limp wouldn't show? He set his book down neatly on the nearest stack and braced himself. "Cocoa, Crowley?" he offered
"Mmph. 'Kay," came the drowsy reply from inside the blanket cocoon.
Aziraphale pushed himself to his feet and managed to walk steadily, if a little slowly, into the tiny kitchen and start making the cocoa. The problem came when he forgot, and took too quick a step as he gathered the ingredients. His injured leg didn't bother to hurt, it just buckled a little, and he stumbled sideways before he could counter it.
"Angel?" Crowley's voice sharpened, losing the drowsiness. "You ok?"
"Fine, fine. Absolutely tickety boo." He braced one hand on the kitchen counter to steady himself as he poured the hot milk.
Crowley made wordless grumbly noises, finishing with, "Ugh, s'cold out here." He leaned in the doorway, arms wrapped around himself instead of blankets, worried eyes bare of their usual dark glasses. "Angel, you never sssay that 'less you're not ok. Unless you're - scared and trying to hide something. What's'matter?"
"It's nothing," Aziraphale said, stirring the cocoa briskly. Crowley frowned at him and he wilted. "Nothing new," he amended. "This body Adam gave me, um. I think it's tied tighter to my ethereal one. The cold's getting to it." He straightened and tried to put more weight on his leg, with mixed success.
Crowley hissed at the look on his face, snapped his fingers, and sent the cocoa to sit by their respective chairs. "Best warm you up then, hadn't we. C'mon." He headed back to the fire, leaving Aziraphale to limp cautiously along behind him.
When Aziraphale got back to the chairs, he found that Crowley's stone slabby thing had stretched out into something more like a sofa than a chair.
Crowley patted the extra space invitingly, then crawled back into his blanket cocoon, lifting the cocoa in after him and wrapping exposed hands round it. "S'just the thing for warming cold legs, you'll like it."
Aziraphale collected his own cocoa and tentatively lowered himself onto the hard surface, trying not to touch Crowley. There wasn't a lot of space between them. To his surprise the chair/sofa radiated warmth all over, and he wiggled as the cold-stiffened muscles loosened up under its influence. "What is this?"
"S'soapstone, angel. Humans have been using it to warm stuff up for centuries. Once you get it hot, it holds the heat for ages, hardly have to miracle it at all." Crowley slurped at his cocoa, then licked the foam mustache from his lips with a forked tongue. "Won't damage your books, neither. Pad it with a few blankets if itss too hard..."
Aziraphale settled for a single lap blanket and his book, and sat back into the warmth. It was like sinking into a hot bath, only without the water and the mess. No wonder Crowley had brought this over if it was such a source of heat.
Crowley watched him, and finally set his empty mug down. "Sso, angel, you going to be dealing with - whatever this is - all winter?" He waved a vague hand, then used it to pull his blankets higher around him. "This 'nothing new'."
"I - don't know." He hoped not. He'd rather liked that his corporation saved him from dealing with the old wound. "Never came up with the old one. I didn't know ethereal - changes - carried over to bodies."
"'Course they do, angel, that's why I always have these eyes," Crowley scoffed. "And my mark too. They follow from one corporation to the next, because they're attached to my occult form." He coiled himself into what could loosely be called a humanish ball, and Aziraphale forgot to slide out of reach in time. Their hips brushed, but Crowley didn't seem to notice.
At least, not until Aziraphale began to apologise and move. Then he looked surprised. "Can't feel it," he breathed. "Must be - the layers." He uncoiled a bit, brushing Aziraphale again, considering. "Well. That'sssss new." He smiled, slow and wicked and tempting. "Looks like this may be one answer to sitting together. Enough blanket layers and... well... it..." He hesitated, eyes darting to Aziraphale's face. "It's not so bad. Touching through them."
A small smile of delight blossomed on Aziraphale's face, and he sensed as much as saw Crowley relax under it. "Well, my dear boy, my dearest, if you're comfortable, I will hardly complain. Shall I read to us?"
A look told him that Crowley hadn't forgotten the matter of his leg, but he let it drop. "Go on then," he said, cocoon edging cautiously up against Aziraphale's side, in a gentle touch almost as warming as the seat itself. "Let's hear it."
Chapter 14: In His Hold
Crowley snapped the bookshop door open and saintered in, calling, "Angel? You here?" A murmur from the back room made him turn his steps in that direction and he stuck his head through the doorway to see Aziraphale with his wings wrapped tight around him.
Aziraphale looked up at Crowley's entrance and promptly folded his wings away. "Yes, dear?" he responded, but his cheer cracked a little as he twisted his hands together.
Crowley leaned on the doorframe, watching, "Ok. What is it?"
"Nothing." Aziraphale busied himself tidying up a few shed feathers.
Crowley fixed him with his best glare and raised an eyebrow.
"Nothing you can help with."
"Angel," Crowley said very gently, "You wanted to learn not to be scared. I can't help you with that unless you talk to me."
Aziraphale mumbled something. Crowley waited, unmoving, eyebrow still patiently raised, looking as if he could wait there for centuries.
"I just want to be held!" It came out like an ancient wail, swallowed down for millenia.
Crowley stared, openmouthed, for a moment that felt like years, in an ancient echo of how they met. Then his mouth softened into a grin and he miracled a pile of tartan blankets from the bed upstairs into his arms. "Well then, bundle up, sweetheart. Let's see if the reverse of that time you read to us works as well."
Aziraphale's mouth fell open in shock and he just stared.
Crowley sighed, shook out a blanket, and draped it round his angel's shoulders. "C'mon, angel. Blanket cocoon, remember?"
"But..." Aziraphale shrugged out of the blanket in order to peel off his coat and hang it up. "I thought... you don't like touch. Why..."
"You're not making sense, angel." Crowley replaced the blanket and added another.
Aziraphale let himself be bundled up, although the spring day wasn't that cold. "Neither are you." Then Crowley wrapped tentative arms around his cocooned body. "Oh. Oh! I had forgotten."
Crowley rested his chin on a blanketed shoulder. It felt very odd to have contact without the crawling sensation, but enough blankets seemed to do the trick - though layers had always helped, now he thought about it. "Well?"
Aziraphale swallowed and sniffled a bit, then whispered, "Tighter?"
Crowley took a breath and tightened his grip, watching Aziraphale's face for clues, but it didn't seem to be enough, at least with arms. He let go, wincing at his angel's muted whine of protest, and shifted form. A huge black and red snake wound its way up Aziraphale's blanketed body like a second, outer, cocoon, rested its head on his shoulder, and began to tighten its coils slowly and gently. Crowley knew he'd gotten it right when tears of release began to trickle down his angel's cheeks and he relaxed into his wily serpent's hold, closing his eyes.
They stayed like that for a while, until Aziraphale finally drew a deep breath and opened his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered, turning his head towards Crowley's snake head. "I think - I think you can let me out now."
The snake slithered off him and reformed into a lanky human. "Better?" Crowley asked.
Aziraphale just nodded, and dug out a hanky to dry his face.
"Great. How about some crepes? That little cafe you like should be open by now."