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Desperate Ground

Chapter Text

“Get off me,” Crowley snarled, yanking his arm from the grip of the lesser demon holding it. But he was held fast, his hands shackled behind his back, one demon holding each of his arms, as he was led toward Beelzebub’s throne.

They threw Crowley to his knees and he looked up, yellow eyes glaring at the demon who was looking down at him, a satisfied expression on his face.

“What is this?” Crowley demanded. “Where’s the angel?”

“He was captured, same as you,” Beelzebub said. “You two really got sloppy there, down on earth.”

“Let me see him,” Crowley said. “I swear, if you’ve touched him –“

“Ah,” Beelzebub interrupted, “but you should know better. Demons can’t hurt angels. It’s -” he sneered and rolled his eyes - “forbidden.”

“Let him go, then.”

“No,” Beelzebub said, sounding almost bored. “We captured both of you, and we’re keeping you, fair and square. We just can’t do anything to him. That’s where you come in.”

A cold terror knotted in Crowley’s stomach.

“We all have to follow the rules set forth by Heaven and Hell, governing the realms, and keeping everything working. You, on the other hand – you’ve decided you’re not one of us anymore, and not beholden to the way things are done down here.”

“You wouldn’t,” Crowley hissed.

“Well yes,” Beelzebub said, annoyed. “That’s what I just said. We won’t do anything to your precious angel – but you will.”

“And what makes you think that?”

“Let me explain. There’s a certain amount of suffering that Heaven and Hell have decreed is required as penance for these transgressions. All of it must be paid, but it’s up to you how much of the debt you yourself take on.”

Crowley scoffed. He knew there was no way that Heaven or Hell would ever come to him and say alright, your debt is paid, hurry off now, and let him go. Beez was just planting false hope, attempting to manipulate him.

The throned demon ignored Crowley’s dismissal. “You will be provided with any and all of Hell’s torture implements. Any pain you inflict on the angel will be deducted from yours.”

“Fuck you.”

Beelzebub rolled his eyes. “I’ll lay it out simply for you, since you’re stupid enough to think you can get away with betraying us: the more you hurt him, the less we’ll hurt you.”

“I won’t do it.”

“Very well,” said the demon haughtily. “Play the martyr. We’ll see how long that resolve lasts. You’re a demon, Crowley. At your core, you’re selfish. Evil. We'll see how many licks it takes to get down to that core of yours.” He smiled at his own joke.

As the two demons guarding Crowley lifted him to his feet and began to lead him away from the disgusting little throne room where Beelzebub reigned, Crowley kicked and struggled. "Let me see him!" he shouted. No one answered, though one of the demons holding him seemed to be giggling. 

Crowley fought hard, opening his wings and slamming them into the demons at his sides. One of them let go, and he twisted around to fight the other, hurling his elbow into the demon's chest. Free from their grasp, he began to run, awkwardly with his wrists behind his back, down a corridor. He stopped when he reached a dead end and tugged at the chains for a moment before realizing he could escape them by taking his snake form.

He snapped into his serpentine body and began to slither quickly down the hallway when a heavy boot came down on his neck, or rather, the bit of his body just behind his head. "Nowhere to run, Crowley," gloated a familiar voice. Hastur. Great.

Crowley returned to his human form, throwing Hastur off balance. He rolled over and sprang to his feet, ready to strike with his un-manacled hands.

"Now that's going to get real old," said Beelzebub, now standing in the corridor watching the two demons prepare to spar. He flicked his wrist and conjured a long whip blazing with Hellfire, which he shot toward Crowley. 

Crowley went down, his arms wrapped in the excruciating flame. Beelzebub was crouching over him now, a pair of black wrought-iron pliers in his hands. Eyes wide in rage and pain, Crowley watched as Beelzebub forced the pliers into his mouth and took hold of one of his fangs, gripping and yanking until it came out in a mess of blood and tissue. Crowley howled, which only served to make it easier for Beelzebub to grab the other one and remove it as well.

He stood back and coiled the whip back into his hand, leaving Crowley sprawled on the floor, spitting blood. "There," he said, clapping his hands. "No more snake business for you."

Beelzebub turned to leave, then spoke to Hastur. "He shouldn't be able to cause more problems, not like this at least. Put him in his cell."

Hastur hauled Crowley to his feet, one hand on his arm, the other at the back of his neck, and pulled him forward. Crowley put up a bit of a fight, his hands still free, but a hard punch to his newly mutilated jaw sent pain radiating through him and he dropped his hands. Hastur wiped his bloody fist on Crowley's shirt before taking hold of him again.

His cell was dark and empty - just him and cold stone. Crowley reached up to touch the bleeding gaps in his gums where his fangs had been, then withdrew his hand with a hiss of pain. No snake powers. Okay. He still had his wits about him. He still had his wings. And - most importantly - he still had his angel.

Aziraphale. Who was somewhere in Hell, where he had no business being - surely giving these demons a piece of his mind. Crowley smiled at the thought of Aziraphale bossing these assholes around, demanding a softer chair, some strawberry shortcake, threatening the fury of the archangels. Wherever he was, he was surely holding his own. But that thought was a small comfort. 

If Beelzebub was telling the truth, then Aziraphale was safe, for now, as long as Crowley never agreed to torture him. Which he never would. But just because the demons couldn't lay hands on him, it didn't mean that Aziraphale wasn't miserable, and scared, and suffering in other ways. Hell was capable of a lot more than just physically hurting a body. 

He had to find him. He would find him, and he would get them both out of here. And for that, he'd need energy. So, his mouth still throbbing, Crowley lay down on the hard floor, and resolved to sleep until he had a better plan. 

Chapter Text

Crowley’s least favorite tormentor – insofar as he could be said to have favorites – was Corson. The demon was tall, with broad shoulders and long arms, and seemed to move like a praying mantis, all gliding limbs and darting strikes.

Today, he had Crowley laid out flat on a stone slab, wrists and ankles pinned down with shackles bolted directly to the stone. Hell certainly had its preferred aesthetic, one Crowley had always found a bit over the top.

Corson was trailing a long, thin blade down Crowley’s torso, slicing and twisting at random. The pain was red-hot and sharp, pointed. Crowley had begun cataloguing the different types of torture, as if he could detach himself from the pain by taking a more clinical approach. Some tools made grey-silver crackles, others were suffocating and white, still others felt black and deep, ringing out through his body.

When Corson shoved the blade between two of Crowley’s ribs and twisted, Crowley screamed. His back arched up off the slab, which was slick with blood. He couldn’t die down here, and they were careful not to discorporate him, but this demonic body could take far more than a standard human could, and Crowley was far beyond anything earthly, having crossed into a realm of suffering only reachable in Hell.

Corson left the knife where it was, jerking sickeningly as Crowley gasped for breath, and leaned down. “Come on,” Corson cooed as he ran a finger down Crowley’s cheek. “He can’t possibly be worth all this. Can he?”

Crowley turned his head away from Corson, his eyes clenched shut.

“Or is it…that you’re not worth it.” Corson stood, walking slowly around his captive, amusement in his tone. “You think that if you ask him to take some of this for you, he won’t. Here you are, suffering all this just to save him. What if you start in on him, and he begs you to stop? What if he’s willing to let you feel all of Hell’s wrath just to save himself?”

Despite himself, Crowley whimpered. He’d been crying, sobbing, for who knows how long now – but that was just his body’s reaction, wrenched from him by Corson’s knives and whips. He won’t let the demon see him really cry, really give in. Corson can yank as much pain as he wants from Crowley’s body, but he’ll never get his despair. His helplessness. Crowley would never let him.

No, those type of tears belong to no one but Crowley. And he only lets them come when he’s alone, sprawled on the floor of his cell, when the pain has subsided enough to let even crueler thoughts seep in. Thoughts of his angel, of their life together, of all that he’s lost, and all that he can’t bear to lose.

***

Back in his cell for what felt like the millionth time, after the millionth session, wherein the demons tried to tempt him into agreeing to lay hands on Aziraphale, and Crowley refused, Crowley settled his aching body down, wincing as his broken skin met the rough stone.

They kept him shirtless and barefoot, though continued to let him keep his pants, nearly in tatters at this point. Crowley figured this was to provide some of the demons with plausible deniability when it came to certain types of torture. And to allow the rest of them to relish in the fresh spikes of fear whenever someone began to remove them.

No one had today, which was a small mercy. It had been a relatively routine day of torture. Crowley had to almost laugh at the wreck his life had turned into, where being violated in only some ways was considered a mercy; or there was such a thing as a 'routine' torture session.

It was always the same, these days. And he was starting to grow worried. Well, that was a lie. He had been worried since day one. But it was the never ending sameness that was starting to prickle in his mind these days. In the beginning, he had schemed and planned about how to resist them, how to get out from under their plans. Now he had resistance down to a habit at this point, and they didn’t seem to be changing.

He had heard nothing about Aziraphale, only been taunted about his angel’s presence here in Hell. He knew they had him – no, actually, that wasn’t true. He knew that Hell had captured Aziraphale at the same time that they’d taken Crowley. But that had been ages ago.

Maybe he had been given back up to Heaven. Maybe he has escaped. Maybe Hell was hurting him too, having realized they weren’t going to get Crowley to do it for them.

It was the uncertainty that was killing Crowley, driving him mad faster than the agony he endured, though it was a close race. So he resolved that the next time they pulled him from his cell, he’d break. Or pretend to. They’d have to put him in the same room as Aziraphale, if he was to torture him. And then he’d at least be able to see – whether Aziraphale was alive, whether he was here.

They’d be together, at least until the forces of Hell realized Crowley had no intention of harming Aziraphale. He would have to use his time wisely. Be quick, and clever. He smiled to himself as he lay back and began to plan, his tongue absentmindedly probing the scarred-over spots where his fangs had been, a habit he’d picked up during all this time in solitude.

He had to make it convincing, he knew. He couldn’t just meet them in the doorway and ask to be taken to Aziraphale – he had to wait for a believable breaking point, and give them what they wanted.

It was perhaps the first time someone in the depths of Hell hoped that extreme torture was in their near future. Crowley nearly shook with nervous energy, too wounded to pace his cell, his tongue flicking between his teeth, as he lay, and thought, and planned, and waited.

Chapter Text

Crowley was almost sick with anticipation, and dread, and thrill. He had his plan, knew exactly what he’d whisper in his angel’s ear when he held him, pretending to harm him, though it would break his heart even to pantomime.

And if, in fact, he was calling Hell’s bluff, if they did not have Aziraphale, could not provide him his so-called victim, well, he had a plan for that too.

He had thought about nearly every contingency. It was all he did, during those long hours (days? weeks?) when they left him alone in his cell.

And when they came for him, he was ready. It was Corson again – the first and only time Crowley would be glad to see that sadist.

He fought a little as Corson strung his arms up. He always did. Couldn’t help it. And he had to make sure today was no different.

Soon he was bound, his lithe body helpless and vulnerable. It was one of Corson’s favorite positions for his victim – arms chained high up, forcing Crowley to stand on tiptoe or wrench his shoulders out of their sockets.

Crowley smelled sulfur and heard a crackling noise, and knew it was a hellfire whip even before he felt it tear into his flesh. He arched his back, his face turned upward as he screamed. He’d given up on fighting that long ago, gaining nothing from his stubborn stoicism. Better to give the pain some release, better not to fight himself. He was fighting enough already.

Today, though, he had to stay focused. If he let himself fall into the dissociative space of enduring, he might miss his chance, might miss the moment when the pain reached its peak and his surrender would make sense.

So he gritted his teeth and stayed tuned in, instead of trying to block out the pain. Corson never seemed to tire of this toy, which lashed at Crowley, crossing his skin with lines of indescribable pain. It was so hard to control himself, now that he was committed to his plan. Crowley wanted it to stop, knew he could make it stop, but held out, waiting. It would get worse. It always got worse.

And there it was. Corson dropped the whip to the floor and stood behind Crowley, running his hands over the tattered flesh before dropping them to the button of his trousers.

“Wait,” Crowley croaked.

“Oh?”

“Don’t…I can’t.” Crowley hung his head in mock shame, though it felt all too real. “I’ll do it.”

“Do what?” Corson toyed with the fraying waistband of Crowley’s pants. “I want to hear you say it.”

“I’ll…I’ll hurt the angel.”

Corson seemed surprised, though pleasantly so. He stepped back from Crowley and walked to the door of the room, leaned out, and seemed to be talking with someone. Crowley fidgeted in his chains.

Then Corson walked back in and approached Crowley. He didn’t make a move to remove the shackles, though. Instead, he pulled something out of his pocket.

“Open up,” Corson said, cruel glee in his voice.

Crowley’s eyes widened in rage. It was a bit. Metal and leather, some terrible contraption forged in Hell. And it was going in his mouth.

“Aw, you didn’t think we’d just let you in there with your precious angel, all ready to explain the situation and profess your love, did you?” Corson sneered as he grabbed Crowley’s jaw in one hand and squeezed, trying to force the demon’s mouth open.

“Nah, we’re smarter than you give us credit for, you sorry little snake.”

Crowley tried to twist out of Corson’s grasp, but there was no escape.

“The cool thing about this one,” Corson said as he shoved the bit into Crowley’s mouth, “is that it’s invisible once it’s in. See?” He tightened a screw and Crowley felt the metal scrape past his teeth and shove into the roof of his mouth. A bar held his tongue down. He made a muffled noise of protest, but he couldn’t open his mouth, couldn’t move his tongue. Couldn’t speak.

Corson ran his thumb over Crowley’s lips, now closed over the device. “Angel baby in there, he won’t know that you’re gagged. He’ll be begging, asking you all sorts of questions, and you’ll just be silent. For all he knows, you don’t even think he’s worth speaking to anymore. Imagine that. You just come in, beat on him a little, and leave.”

Crowley thrashed and glared at Corson, full of fury. His plan, his whole plan, was falling apart in front of him. He wanted to scream at him, to curse, to tell Corson just what a rotten miserable son of a bitch he really was. But all he could manage was soft, pathetic noises.

A crowd of demons appeared then, raucous and cheering, and he was hauled down from the chains and taken somewhere else, somewhere he would see his angel, which he had hoped for, but not like this, he couldn’t let Aziraphale see him like this, he wouldn’t be able to explain, the angel wouldn’t understand, his poor angel, he wouldn’t be able to tell him how much he loved him, forget the plan, forget it all, he didn’t want to frighten his angel with his battered body, his painful silence.

His thoughts raced, panic and frustration burning hot within him. He didn’t have a plan for this. It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

Crowley struggled and tried to run, but the crowd bore him forward like a wave and then he was standing at a doorway, and he was shoved through, and there was his angel, Aziraphale, so lovely and so strong, and Crowley had never felt more helpless.

Chapter Text

Life in Hell was excruciatingly boring. Which quite surprised Aziraphale, given everything he had heard. Although, he had found Heaven quite boring as well, so it figured.

Still, it seemed strange. Strange that here he was, an angel captured by Hell, and all they seemed to be doing was keeping him stored away in a tiny room. It had a bed – more like a cot, really – with a scratchy brown blanket thrown over it, and a flimsy lamp, which Aziraphale wasn’t able to turn off. And that was it. No table, no chair, no books, no food. No windows. Nothing.

Nothing to do but pace – ten paces down the long end of the room, five down the short – and think. Worry, more like. Mostly about Crowley. Then, worry about himself, and whether he would be trapped in this horrible little cell for the rest of eternity. Worry back over in his mind the days and moments before their capture, about whether they could have prevented it. Whether he could have done something. Protected them.

And so he paced, and he worried, and he paced some more. He occasionally sat down on the bed, but the contrast between the stiff cot and the big, fluffy mattress from home, from back then, from before…it was too much to handle. He had tried to sleep, but it was impossible, though he couldn’t tell whether it was a demonic curse hindering him, his lack of practice, or just the misery of his circumstances that prevented it.

Aziraphale was starting to think that there was nothing worse than this extended boredom, this helpless captivity, trapped without knowing where Crowley was, or what was happening to him.

***

Some interminable time later, Aziraphale was sitting cross-legged on his tiny, stiff bed, wondering just how much time he had missed down on earth, when a demon opened the door to his chamber. His form was humanoid, but only barely. He was huge, with sickly-red skin and boils covering his bulging muscles. His eyes were narrow slits in a swollen-looking face.

“Get up,” he said. His voice was deep and gruff, and it sounded as if he wasn’t too accustomed to speaking.

Aziraphale immediately stood and began to sputter, hundreds of questions about to pour out of him, about Crowley, about what was going on, about –

“Shut up,” the demon snarled. “Take that off.”

“What?”

The demon gestured toward Aziraphale’s coat. “Take it off.”

Aziraphale gingerly removed his coat and set it gently on the bed.

“All of it.”

“My dear fellow,” Aziraphale said, his voice wavering. “I’m not sure that’s entirely –“

The demon took a step toward him, menacingly, and Aziraphale raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay,” he said, slowly unbuttoning his waistcoat, folding and laying it on the bed, followed by his shirt. The air in Hell felt putrid against his skin, and he felt the disgusting gaze of the demon on his chest.

When he was entirely naked from the waist up, the demon pointed down at his feet. “And the shoes.”

Relieved that he would be allowed to keep his pants on, Aziraphale obeyed, though the thought of walking through Hell’s hallways barefoot made him want to retch. He would be strong, compliant, give them no reason to harm him. Or Crowley. He would stay calm, resolved, civilized. Able to negotiate. Demons were always angling for some sort of deal, right? Screaming and pleading was never a good look for someone who wanted a seat at the table.

“Come.” The demon gestured for Aziraphale to follow him. He lifted his head and his hands went to his neck to adjust his bowtie and collar, a nervous habit, before he realized he wasn’t wearing it. Instead he clenched his fists at his side and walked behind the demon.

In a near instant, it seemed, they were in a large room – a dungeon, it seemed, from the chains and torture implements on the walls. Aziraphale swallowed hard. His first thought was for Crowley. What had they done to him? Was he in this terrible place? And what was about to happen now? His lower lip trembled, fear overtaking him.

The demon put a rough hand in between Aziraphale’s shoulder blades and shoved him forward. With a soft noise of indignance, he walked as he was guided until he was under two long chains, hanging from the ceiling. “Stand still,” the demon commanded, as he stopped behind Aziraphale and removed his hand from the angel’s back.

Aziraphale’s resolve was beginning to waver. It seemed that no one was going to engage him in conversation, provide any explanation, or give him the opportunity to strike a deal. “Good sir,” he began, turning around to face the demon.

“Still,” the demon hissed through gritted teeth, grabbing Aziraphale’s shoulder and wrenching him roughly around. “Wings,” he demanded.

“Is that quite necessary?” Loathe to let his wings out in Hell, Aziraphale felt that this might be a point worth pushing back on.

The demon placed a heavy, clawed hand around Aziraphale’s neck and leaned in close to his ear. “Wings,” he said, “or it gets bad for your friend.”

Aziraphale felt his eyes well with tears at the first mention of Crowley. In an instant he unfurled his wings, the feathery whoosh of their opening concealing a small and stifled sob.

He hated how easy it was to control him, how clear it was to everyone here that as long as they had Crowley, they had all the power. All the leverage.

Aziraphale stood still, then felt cold chains wrap around the base of his left wing. The demon wrapped it tightly, then locked it. Aziraphale could feel his feathers cracking and bending under the chains, and the muscles of his wings began to ache in protest.

He closed his eyes and bit his lip as the demon did the same to his right wing. Once he was done, Aziraphale would be able to extend his wings from the second joint, but he was locked in place where he stood, tethered at his back. The demon walked around to his front and cuffed his wrists in metal shackles, hooking them to yet more chains, forcing the angel’s arms up above his head. Aziraphale made no moves or noises to protest this, not knowing what might possibly be worth saying or doing at this point.

The demon stepped back and looked Aziraphale’s bound body up and down, then smiled a garish smile, clearly pleased with his handiwork. Aziraphale felt himself trembling, sure that what came next would not be pleasant.

Then, the demon turned and walked out of the room. Aziraphale heard the door shut behind him. A few moments passed, the air around him deathly still. Then another door opened, this one facing him, and there in the doorway, a familiar silouette.

Crowley.

His demon looked a fright. Shirtless and shoeless, just like Aziraphale, his bare skin was marred by dozens – no, hundreds – of burns, cuts, and bruises. His lovely red hair was lank and greasy, hanging around his face, which was bowed down toward the floor. Through the open doorway, Aziraphale could hear hooting and hollering.

“My love,” Aziraphale cried out, forgetting his chains and taking a step forward. The bindings on his wings yanked him back, and he struggled for a moment to get his feet back under him.

Crowley said, nothing. He limped toward Aziraphale and fell into his chest, his head burrowed into the crook of the angel’s shoulder.

Aziraphale wanted nothing more than to hold Crowley, to run his hands through the demon’s hair, to caress his battered face. But he couldn’t. Instead, he wrapped his wings around Crowley’s body. It hurt, straining his chained wings like this, but it didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered.

“It’s okay,” Aziraphale murmured, ducking his chin down to nuzzle Crowley. The demon gave no response, only clung tighter, his arms around the angel’s neck. Aziraphale’s shoulders groaned with the extra weight hanging on them. Aziraphale pushed the pain to the very back of his mind – not a difficult task, given that he had Crowley to focus on.

The raucous noise from the demons outside the doorway grew louder. Aziraphale heard laughter and jeers, but ignored it all. “What have they done to you, love?” Aziraphale asked.

Crowley only shook his head feebly.

“It’s okay, dear,” Aziraphale cooed. “You don’t have to talk. You’re here. I’m here. It’s okay.”

It wasn’t okay, of course. Aziraphale desperately wanted Crowley to lift his head and talk to him. He wanted to know what had happened, what was going on. He wanted to make a plan, to know what his clever demon knew. But it seemed Crowley needed something else. And so they clung to each other in soft silence, Aziraphale brushing against Crowley’s torn skin with his gentle wings, Crowley clutching the angel’s hanging body like a raft in a storm.

Until two demons came in, laughing, and shoved Aziraphale’s wings aside to grab Crowley. He made a low whine of protest, a sound so helpless and pathetic that it broke Aziraphale’s heart more than even the sight of the beaten demon.

“Couldn’t do it, huh?” one of the demons taunted, pulling Crowley’s hair so that he was looking into Aziraphale’s face. “Pity. You could have earned yourself a little break. Looks like it’s just gotta be double for you tonight.”

Crowley seemed to collapse, his lanky body crumpling toward the floor, caught only by the two demons holding him. He still hadn’t looked at Aziraphale, hadn’t said a word to him. The demons took him by his arms and dragged him from the room.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale cried after him. The chains above him rattled as he fought them, fresh pain shooting through his wings and shoulders. Then the door shut, and he was left with the cold silence of the dungeon.

Eventually the big demon returned, and without a word, began to unwrap the chains. “What was that about?” Aziraphale demanded. “What did they mean, double for him? What have you done to Crowley?”

“Quiet,” the demon said, wrenching Aziraphale’s wing roughly as he removed the chains.

“I shan’t, I don’t take orders from you,” Aziraphale said impetuously. The demon ignored him, impassively removing the chains from his wrists while Aziraphale talked. “I’ve been cooped up here for who knows how long – me, an angel! In Hell! And no one has been to speak with me, no one will tell me anything. I demand a line up to Heaven, or an audience with Beelzebub, or, or, or – someone!”

The massive demon only grabbed Aziraphale’s shoulder and began walking him toward the door they’d come in through. He didn’t say anything

But they had let them see each other. Had let them hold each other, for a time. Why? What was it all about? And why was Crowley so obviously being tortured, when Aziraphale had done nothing to resist or refuse an order?

He had plenty to think about. He barely noticed the indignity of the demon shoving him back into his cell and locking it without a word. Aziraphale gingerly put his wings away, wincing at the pain, then slowly put his clothes back on, relieved to see that they were still folded neatly on his cot. He sat down, his head in his hands, and tried to make sense of it all.

Chapter Text

Thinking back over what he had just seen, Aziraphale could barely contain the rage and frustration that swelled up in him. He stood up and pounded his fist on the door, knowing it would accomplish nothing beyond aggravating the pain in his arms and shoulders. 

He paced the room, fiddling with the buttons on his waistcoat, which had grown baggy on him lately. His captors never provided him any food, and though he didn’t technically need food to live, this sudden new diet had done a number on his frame. 

Forgetting himself for a moment, he attempted a miracle, focusing his the power of his angelic fury on the heavy stone door that closed off his cell. The blast had nowhere to go, slamming back into him with enough force to knock the breath out of him. He panted, sinking back down onto his cot.

Grotesque sigils flared along the door, lit up in red and white flames. It did that every time he tried to perform any kind of miracle. He was trapped in here, trapped by demonic magic, and he knew that - had known that since the first days of his captivity, when he tried anything and everything to escape, and was endlessly rebuffed by that accursed door.

This angry fretting wasn’t going to help anyone, he scolded himself, taking a few deep breaths to steady his rattling heart. Think, Aziraphale. Slow down, and think.

What did he know? He wished he had a notebook in front of him, to collect the meager set of facts he had to work with. 

One, he knew that he was in Hell, trapped behind a door that didn’t allow him any of his angelic powers. He knew that he was being left alone entirely. He knew that he had been here for quite some time.

Two, he knew that Hell also had Crowley. And that they were torturing him. Aziraphale clenched his fists, rage rising back up through him. Steady, steady. Melting down won’t help. 

If they were hurting Crowley, but not him, there must be a reason. The simplest explanation was that they couldn’t hurt Aziraphale, for whatever reason. Probably because he was an angel. Still under some sort of protection. 

But they could keep him here. Rob him of his power, starve him, let him go slowly mad in solitude, deprive him of everything. 

Three, he knew there was more going on with Crowley than standard Hellish punishment. Why hadn’t he spoken to Aziraphale? And what had they said to Crowley, as they dragged him away? Couldn't do it, huh? Guess that means double for you tonight. What did it mean? Couldn't do what? 

Aziraphale had his theories, but none of them were clear enough to be considered facts. Nothing he could act on, at least. 

One thing he knew for sure, though: he needed to get out of this room. Even if it was back to that dungeon where he’d seen Crowley, even if it was somewhere even more terrible and bizarre. He could do absolutely nothing in here, alone. He would rather take his chances. He had to get someone, anyone, to come speak with him.

But how? He had tried everything he could think of in those early days, physical and ethereal, from brute force to cleverness. All that had happened was that the door burned to life, mocking him with the twisted symbols that arose, wafting a hideous sulphuric scent into his tiny room.

Sulphur. Brimstone. The door was inscribed with actual hellfire. 

Maybe that was something. 

He didn’t have access to any angelic magic, but he did have some hellfire, right here under his fingertips. It was beneath the stone somehow, such that it never actually burned him, even when he was throwing his entire body against the door with enough force to leave himself bruised for days afterwards.

But it was there.

A plan started to form in Aziraphale’s mind. It seemed to click together from the facts he had been running over and over in his mind.

It was a terrible, foolish plan, one that rested on a dozen assumptions, any of which, if proven false, would be the end of the angel.

But it was a plan. Something new to try. And he was desperate. 

Aziraphale closed his eyes and slowed his thoughts as much as possible, trying to be strategic and cool-headed as he went through it all again.

Fact: Hell seemed unwilling, or unable, to actually harm Aziraphale. Conclusion: Aziraphale was still under some sort of Heavenly protection.

Hell had something to lose, here.

Demons couldn’t heal angels. If something happened to Aziraphale, they’d need to call Heaven for help, lest they end up with a destroyed angel on their watch. Aziraphale doubted that Hell would enjoy the consequences of his death.

And here he was, alone with a hellfire-enchanted door.

But what else could he do but watch it flame and flare, enduring its acrid odor? He couldn’t do anything to affect the door, and any miracle he tried just bounced back into him, thwarted and deadened.

He looked around. He had nothing in here but that stupid lamp, and a cot, with one scratchy blanket.

No. That wasn’t all he had. He had his clothing. A shirt, tie, waistcoat, jacket, trousers, and shoes.

Aziraphale couldn’t perform miracles in here, not anymore, but he had done plenty of miraculous work on his clothing. Centuries of wear meant that the only reason they weren’t absolutely threadbare was Aziraphale’s ongoing love, angelic grace literally woven in between the strands of the fabric.

So, he might not have his Heavenly powers here, but he had some objects absolutely infused with them. He took his coat off and laid it down gently, then removed his beloved waistcoat. Aziraphale carefully inspected it, thinking of all the joy and pleasures he’d experienced while wearing it. He bowed his head and said a short eulogy for his well-worn friend, loyal through hundreds of years.

The buttons were metal, covered over in leather, which he deftly picked off, leaving flat little brass disks with looped backs. He pulled one off, feeling the sadness of the threads as they snapped. Held close to his face, the little button back seemed to almost hum. 

Now, to work. In only his shirt now, Aziraphale knelt on the floor and, holding the button by its back, rubbed the edge of the metal against the rough stone. It scraped and sparked, making a noise that set Aziraphale’s teeth on edge. It was a tough little bugger. You’re doing so well, he thought to the button, welling up with gratitude for all its faithful service, knowing its final task will be the hardest. Thank you. I know it hurts. Just a bit more. 

He kept at this task, frequently catching his knuckles on the floor and knocking the skin off, leaving them red and raw. The button slowly, slowly ground down, making it sharp where it had once been curved and smooth. He inspected it, running his finger over the new edge. 

Now for the next step. 

He glanced around the room, wondering for the millionth time whether some agent of Hell was watching him. Surely he couldn’t have been left so completely alone, ignored, forgotten? 

But, he reminded himself, even if someone did realize what he was doing and come in to stop him, his plan would have succeeded anyway. All he intended to do was force Hell’s hand a bit, get himself out of here. Wherever he ended up next, well, he hoped he’d have more to work with, and he’d figure it out from there.

Aziraphale held the button tightly between his thumb and forefinger and approached the door. He leaned his forehead against the hard, unforgiving stone. And he conjured up all his angelic strength, directing a miracle directly into the door.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale gritted his teeth as the force of the miracle rebounded from the door. The sigils burned brightly, searing his eyes, but he kept them open, scanning for what looked like a weak point. He blinked, shaking his head in quick bursts to try and clear his blurred vision, but kept searching.

There, in the crux of a malformed X.

He continued attempting the miracle, though it was draining him with a miserable ache, most noticeable in his arms and shoulders. And as he did, he shoved the sharpened bit of button into the segment of stone he’d identified, where it seemed to be straining a bit to contain the hellfire encased within it.

A regular old bit of metal would have had no chance against such demonic resistance. But this was a charmed button, covered in hundreds of years of angelic love and little strengthening miracles. Aziraphale twisted it, feeling its edge press painfully into his fingers, not letting up. He leaned with all his might into the little button, his head throbbing with the rebounding miracle, the door flaring its resistance.

Suddenly, the stink of sulphur went from faint to nearly overpowering. Aziraphale felt his fingers burn, and yanked his hand away. A crumbled bit of stone fell to the floor, its edges running wild with hellfire like a coal fresh from a fireplace. 

Dropping to his knees, Aziraphale took hold of the button and held it against his inner forearm. He didn’t know how much time he had; whether the fire would burn itself out. His eyes streamed from the stench and the smoke, his lungs and throat felt as if he’d swallowed acid. Focus, he told himself, thinking of Crowley. He twisted the button’s jagged point into his skin, wincing as it dug out a small cut.

And then, without giving himself any more time to think, he grabbed the bit of brimstone and pressed it into the cut. 

The pain was indescribable. Aziraphale fell backwards, hitting his back hard against the floor, his eyes closed, crying out in anguish. His feet, kicking wildly, caught the lamp and toppled it over. Unthinking, Aziraphale clawed at his arm as if to remove the stone, then caught himself and pounded his fists against the floor. He brought his uninjured hand up to his mouth and bit down, unsure if he could take another second, knowing that he must.

If someone was watching him, surely they’d be here in a moment.

But no one came.

On the door above him, the symbols faded into a soft glow, then disappeared into the stone entirely. The smell faded, leaving only the faint odor of smoke and burnt flesh. Aziraphale did not know how long he spent twisted on the floor, eyes squeezed shut, jaw locked tight, enduring the unendurable. Slowly, slowly, the pain receded from an excruciating explosion through him into a terrible throb. 

His eyes were closed. He did not want to look at his arm. He took a shaky breath. He opened his eyes, and after a few abortive attempts, managed to glance down.

The site where he’d pressed the stone into himself was blackened and the skin seemed to smolder. Surrounding it was an angry red-grey coloration, which seemed to be spreading out like the tendrils of a fungus across his skin.

That couldn’t be good.

Which meant it was exactly what he had hoped for.

 

***

 

Aziraphale did not know how long he’d been suffering like this, but he had become convinced that no one was coming to help him.

He lay curled up on his cot, the sad brown blanket pulled tightly around him, his soft coat wadded under his head. It was covered in sweat, and tears. He was shivering, but so so hot, too hot, feverish, but so cold, too, somehow, colder than he’d ever been. Freezing, he pulled the blanket more tightly around him, but the trembling did not stop, and it only stuck to his sweat-drenched skin.

Aziraphale had always known this was a possibility, that his plan would fail. He would die here, miserable and alone. Entirely alone. Without Crowley.

He would die without Crowley.

He would die for Crowley. But in vain.

He had tried this, done this awful thing to himself, in a desperate shot to make it out of this room. Because wherever Crowley was, he wasn’t here, and Aziraphale couldn’t get to him in here, and he had to get out, had to leave, had to give himself some kind of chance to find the demon.

But he was still here. And Crowley still wasn’t.

And he was dying.

Aziraphale cradled his now entirely blackened arm with his other one, drawing his knees even tighter to himself, crying softly. He had done this for Crowley, and it hadn’t worked, and now Crowley would be alone too, without his angel fighting for him. He wouldn’t even know that Aziraphale had died in a foolish attempt to get back to him.

He tried to think about Crowley. If he was going to die, he wanted to die awash in memories of the good times, wrapped in the certainty of his love for the demon. He dragged his foggy mind through visions of the Ritz, of sun-drenched mornings in the bookshop, of rides in the Bentley, of…of...

...he was too tired to keep fighting his mind for more good memories. All he kept thinking of was the last time he’d seen Crowley, mute and destroyed, hanging on him. The smell of his body, filth and fear. Aziraphale’s failure to comfort him, his failure to do anything, the failure of this stupid plan, his failure…

He felt drowsy. Lately, he felt tired all the time, unable to move off his cot, but sleep was nearly impossible to come by. His eyelids were heavy, dropping closed, and he couldn’t open them, stopped bothering to try. Maybe this was it.

So this is how an angel disappears forever, he thought bitterly, hellfire coursing through his veins, alone, with only his own failures and regrets for company . It was his last clear thought before a darkness began to overtake him, not the sweet darkness of sleep, but a sickly, clawing darkness, one he tried to resist, pushing images of Crowley’s sweet, clever face to the forefront of his mind, before he couldn’t fight anymore, and he slipped down below the surface.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was first aware of a voice speaking. Not to him...no, there were two voices, talking to each other. 

His next sensation was that of floating, as if he were lying face up on a bed, but there was no bed. It made no sense.

He tried to open his eyes, but they wouldn’t move. He couldn’t move. Aziraphale tried to wiggle his toes, tried to turn his head. Nothing.

It then occurred to him that he was no longer in pain. He didn’t feel feverish, or cold. He didn’t feel, well...anything.

It was as if every muscle, every nerve, every inch of his body was numb. It felt like everything was asleep, except for his mind.

His mind. Awake.

Alive.

Focus.

The voices.

“You really ought to have called us sooner,” one was saying. The answer that came was mumbled, and Aziraphale couldn’t make it out.

“You lot aren’t even supposed to touch him,” the voice scolded. “How did this even happen?”

Aziraphale recognized that voice. He was straining so hard to place it that again he missed the reply.

“To himself, hm? Well, don’t let it happen again.”

The voice was haughty, but not domineering. Feminine, and stern, almost…

Michael.

It was the archangel Michael. 

Aziraphale wanted desperately to say something to her, to lift his head and speak, but he couldn’t. He put every bit of effort and strength he had into doing so, but all he accomplished was a weak groan.

“He’s waking up,” Michael said.

“Yes,” said the other voice, sounding a bit nervous. This voice was softer, more whining, almost a buzz... Beelzebub ?

“You know,” Aziraphale heard Michael say, “it doesn’t seem as if your plan, so to speak, has succeeded. I wonder if perhaps it wouldn’t be best for you to remand him into our custody, to handle the sentence ourselves. He is, after all, under our jurisdiction.”

“I understand that,” Beelzebub said, and Aziraphale could almost hear the sneer on the demon’s face. “But since we are the ones who captured him, he remains ours, and we intend to claim our spoils. As is our right,” Beelzebub finished, sounding a bit uncomfortable with the legalese.

Michael made a small scoffing noise. “If you insist. But know that a debt is owed, and if your lot is unable to extract appropriate penance, our patience will grow thin.” Michael paused, then amended, “ Thinner .”

“Yes,” said Beelzebub almost dismissively, as if to hurry the conversation to its end. “Heaven will get its ‘pound of flesh,’ I promise. Now, since the healing is done, you shouldn’t have any more business down here.”

Aziraphale didn’t catch Michael’s reply, since something was moving him away, his immobilized body floating in some unknown direction. He heard another demon’s voice, casual and annoyed.

“That prick of an archangel is right, boss. We don’t find a way to make this one start suffering, things’ll get bad, quick.”

“I know,” Beelzebub snapped, and Aziraphale felt a jerking motion as someone shoved his body forward. “Don’t worry. We’ll get him, and we’ll keep them. Both.”

Aziraphale’s body dropped with a hard landing on the floor, the hard stone rough under his skin. It was then that he realized he was entirely nude. He hadn’t been able to feel much before, but now, his skin was waking up. He could barely move his fingertips, too, and his toes. A good sign.

“Sleeping beauty doesn’t know what’s comin’.”

With that, the demons shut him back in his cell, and left him to continue the process of coming back to life.

 

***

 

Aziraphale stood up and stretched. His muscles felt a bit tight, but otherwise, he was "tickety-boo." He stretched his wings out, happy to see that they remained fine as well. Rarely did he show his wings down here, but it was good to give them some air. And to wrap them around himself in a pointless show of modesty.

He felt so exposed, naked like this. His clothes were all gone. He looked around on the floor for any stray threads, or buttons, but his cell was as bare as his own - well, as bare as him. The lamp was missing, too, replaced by a sconce embedded high in the cell wall. The cot was gone, leaving only the stupid blanket in a pile on the floor.

So he hadn’t died. He also hadn’t gotten a chance to, well, try anything. The only thing he had was a bit more information.

One: that the archangel Michael, and presumably the rest of Heaven, knew that Aziraphale was down here.

Two: that Aziraphale had been right in his assumption that Hell couldn’t actually torture him.

The rest was still a bit unclear, but it started to fall into place. Heaven clearly wanted Aziraphale back under their banner, but not to save him from whatever fate awaited here. Someone - well, everyone - wanted Aziraphale to suffer, and it seemed the squabble was over who got to do it.

This was one popularity contest Aziraphale would be happy to lose.

He folded his wings and put them away, then sat back down on the floor, pulling the awful blanket around himself. 

Crowley clearly had a part in all this, too. Michael had mentioned that Hell had a “plan,” which wasn’t working. Likely because Crowley was so stubborn. Aziraphale smiled at the thought of his precious demon, resolutely defying any intentions Hell had for him. But what was it costing him?

Aziraphale thought back to the last time he’d seen Crowley. They’d chained him up, sent Crowley in...Aziraphale’s throat tightened as a possibility he’d considered earlier, but dismissed as too unthinkable, bubbled up again.

Were they trying to force Crowley to hurt Aziraphale?

Surely that would be more tortuous than anything Heaven or Hell could do to either of them independently. Aziraphale knew Crowley would never do it. Stupid, stubborn, lovely demon.

So here they all were, locked in an endless stalemate, one that kept Aziraphale in this holding pattern, adrift and helpless, and one that doomed Crowley to infinite torture. 

Wasn’t this suffering enough? Was Heaven not happy with this - this isolation, this deprivation, this distance from his beloved, this useless existence - as his so-called penance?

Aziraphale couldn’t bear it. The failure of his escape attempt, the knowledge that Heaven condoned this treatment, the separation from Crowley, the prospect of an eternity in this cursed tomb, naked and forgotten. 

He almost dissolved into tears, then balled his hands into fists and stood again, flaring his wings out, reminding himself of who he was. “ I am a principality ,” he said out loud, nearly a shout, listening to his voice echo in the small cell. “ I am the Guardian of the Eastern Gate!”

This would not be his future. He would not abandon Crowley. 

“Think,” he commanded himself, still speaking out loud. “What did you hear? What else is there?” And he ran through, in painstaking detail, everything he had heard, everything that had happened. 

“Sleeping beauty doesn’t know what’s comin’.”

A strange hope flickered in Aziraphale’s chest, then. It seemed that the powers of Hell were also growing impatient with this situation. Beelzebub intimated that he had other plans for the captives. Perhaps something was about to change. And though Aziraphale doubted it would change for the better, he gathered all his anger and strength and began to prepare. He would not fail again.

Chapter Text

He had been right - it was a much shorter time before someone returned for him, and he didn’t have to resort to anything dramatic. There were two demons in the doorway - the massive red one who had taken him the first time, and a shorter, squatter one, with huge black eyes and a tiny nose, wearing what looked like silver chainmail.

Hell was such an odd place, Aziraphale thought.

“Come with us,” said the smaller demon.

“Could I have some clothing, please.”

The demon rolled her eyes, which was an exaggerated gesture with her extra large features. “Let’s go.”

Aziraphale stood, grabbing the brown blanket and wrapping it around himself. “Where are we going?”

“Talks much,” remarked the red demon to his companion.

“I’m not here to answer your questions.”

The larger demon took Aziraphale by one arm, and the three began to head down a narrow hallway. Aziraphale kept one hand clutching the blanket around his naked body, which was not easy to do with the big demon holding onto his arm and the smaller demon setting a brisk pace.

“Where’s Crowley? What have you done to him?”

The demon just shrugged. She looked like she was enjoying herself.

They arrived at a strange little structure that reminded Aziraphale of a phone booth. He wondered if the demons had ever seen one, had ever been to earth. 

“What is this?”

“So curious,” said the demon with a sinister grin. Then she shoved Aziraphale inside and slid the door shut with a liquid glide. 

The walls were black, but seemed translucent somehow, as if they were made of obsidian, letting some soft gray light through. 

Aziraphale was not one for claustrophobia, being perfectly content in his cozy, cluttered bookshop and all of its dusty nooks and tucked-away reading spots. But this space left barely enough room for him to turn around, and an anxious tightness began to form in his chest.

He pressed one hand against the side of this strange prison, still holding his blanket with the other hand. It was cool and smooth to the touch. Dread settled on his mind like a thick fog. Was this his new cell? He thought endless hours in his old room were miserable - this would be so much worse.

“Hello?” He banged on the wall, doubting that anything would happen. He tried a miracle, but of course it didn’t work. 

Aziraphale had run out of things to try when the grey-black walls turned suddenly disappeared. He was in a dungeon room, similar to the one he’d seen Crowley in. A demon entered his field of vision, dragging a limp looking Crowley behind him by a pair of nasty looking manacles.

“CROWLEY!” Aziraphale cried, and made to run toward his demon - but he slammed directly into something hard and unyielding.

“What the -” Aziraphale slammed the invisible wall with his hands. The tiny, phone-booth sized cell had not disappeared, it had just gone invisible. He looked up and saw Crowley being thrown face-first onto a stone slab, hating the way his ribs were visible through his pale skin, the way his nude form shook with the force of the impact.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale screamed, his own voice echoing sharply back into his ears. He pounded on the wall. Neither of the figures looked up, or indicated that they could hear him in any way. “CROWLEY!”

Then the other demon, who looked to be a bit taller than Crowley, with long arms and glittering green eyes, fastened Crowley’s manacles to a ring on the stone slab, then began to walk around his prone captive, looking like a predator examining its prey.

“Don’t you touch him!” Aziraphale screamed, watching helplessly as the demon produced a length of chain, its edges laced with hellfire. He raised it above Crowley’s bound body.

“NO!” 

Aziraphale heard the clanging of the chain through the air, heard the heavy impact as it landed its first blow against Crowley’s back, and then he heard a low and anguished moan.

It was the worst sound he had ever heard.

“STOP! YOU CAN’T! STOP !” Aziraphale continued to beat on the walls, shouting and pleading, but the demon continued to bring the chain down onto Crowley’s back. 

“Crowley, darling!” Aziraphale tried to get Crowley’s attention, but it was clear that no one could see him, or hear him.

Crowley had been lying relatively still, his body apparently surrendered to the agony. Until the tormentor paused and looped the chain once in his hand, halving its length. He brought the doubled down chain down onto Crowley’s bare feet, and Crowley lifted his head from the slab, his neck stiff, his back arched, and wailed.

Aziraphale hadn’t been able to see Crowley’s face, but now he was forced to witness every instant, every line, every millimeter of pain Crowley was enduring. Tears streamed down the angel’s face as he pressed himself against the barrier between them, sobbing for his beloved.

When Crowley lay his head back on the slab, he was looking toward Aziraphale, who saw the deadened, glassy look in his eyes, his split and bitten lip twisted in anguish. It was too much. Aziraphale thrust his wings out, but they had nowhere to go, and filled up the tiny space, beating against the walls. He couldn’t even see Crowley anymore through the suffocating mess of his own feathers and limbs.

Then he heard a voice, and immediately stilled. The demon who’d been torturing Crowley was talking. Aziraphale put his wings away and watched, listening intently.

“...can make it all stop,” the demon was cooing, stroking his fingers down Crowley’s back. “You know what to do. You don’t have to feel this anymore. All it takes is one simple choice.” He twirled a finger in Crowley’s hair even as Crowley jerked away from his touch.

“Never.”

“Now, be reasonable,” the tall demon said, continuing to toy with Crowley’s curls. “You shouldn’t have to bear all this alone. It takes two, as the humans like to say. Didn’t your lover boy get you into this mess? Shouldn’t he share some of the consequences?”

Crowley turned his face down, pressing it into the stone slab. “Fuck off,” he mumbled.

The tormentor, as Aziraphale was now calling him in his mind, seemed like he was getting annoyed.

“Come on. You’re a demon, for anyone’s sake. You were meant to be the one up here, wielding the whips. Not suffering like this.” He rattled the chain in his hands as if to punctuate his statement. “You might be surprised how much you like it. How good it’ll feel, having some power back.”

The tormentor ran his hand down Crowley’s back. Aziraphale watched in horror as Crowley stiffened when the hand brushed over his backside and dipped between his thighs.

The tormentor leaned in close to speak into Crowley’s ear.

“Wouldn’t you like to be back on top, hmm? You can always pretend he likes it. Surely you’ve made that stupid angel scream before. I bet he begs real pretty.”

“You shut your mouth,” Crowley spat, his tone nothing but hatred. 

So that was it, Aziraphale realized. They were trying to force Crowley to hurt him, the way they were hurting Crowley. His eyes ran with fresh tears. His poor demon. Crowley would never give in, no matter what they did to him. The thought gave Aziraphale no comfort. 

“Please, darling,” he pleaded softly, knowing Crowley couldn’t hear him. “It’s okay. Please…”

Crowley’s cries faded out as the walls turned dark again, and Aziraphale was alone for a moment before there was another wet sliding noise, and the two demons who’d taken him here were standing there.

“Let me see him,” Aziraphale demanded.

“Didn’t you just?” said the smaller one, in mock confusion.

The bigger one just reached in and grabbed Aziraphale, who barely had time to snatch the blanket back from where it had fallen to the floor.

Aziraphale started to fight in earnest now, trying to yank himself out of the demon’s grip. He thrust his wings out, but they only beat helplessly against the walls. The demon held him tightly, looking unconcerned.

“Let me go! You have to let me see him - speak to him! Please, you must!”

Both demons ignored his pleas and struggles, apparently prepared to wait for the angel to exhaust himself or realize the futility of his actions.

And he did, eventually, surrendering in body if not in mind, allowing himself to be bodily carried back to his cell, tossed in with his ragged blanket. It was almost a relief to be back here, without the awful images of Crowley, the crushing helplessness of the tiny booth.

So this was how Hell had decided to torture Aziraphale, without ever laying a hand on him. Clever. Aziraphale would rather take eons of hellfire against his flesh than have to see Crowley suffer, suffer for him , and Aziraphale unable to comfort him, unable to stop it.

The next time they came to get him, Aziraphale wanted nothing more than to refuse. He didn’t know if he could take another minute of it. But he had no choice, and he felt an obligation to Crowley to be there if he could, to bear witness. Even if Crowley didn’t know his angel was there, trying in vain to send healing, love, peace, anything to signal his presence, through the barrier to him. He would still be there. It was something. It had to be something.

He wore the blanket tied around his waist these days, or occasionally around his shoulders. He missed his trousers. His shirt. His tie. He missed Crowley. He missed...everything.

Sometimes, Aziraphale kept quiet, holding a silent and invisible vigil for Crowley as he writhed and moaned under the lash, the chain, the fire, whatever other demonic implements Hell had come up with. Other times, he couldn’t contain his fury and hurled himself against the barrier, screaming unheard pleas for mercy, offerings to take Crowley’s place, begging the demon to just give in, to let Aziraphale take some of this from him.

And then there were the things Aziraphale simply could not watch. He told himself it was for Crowley’s dignity, that there were some types of violation Crowley would never want the angel to see. Aziraphale would force his wings into the tight space, smothering his face with feathers, eyes shut, hands held over his ears, though they didn’t block out all the sounds, sounds that couldn’t possibly be Crowley, though they were, his precious demon sounding so broken, the depth of his pain shattering Aziraphale’s heart over and over.

It was far worse than whatever bodily torture that Heaven’s bureaucratic rigidity was supposedly protecting him from.

And every time they came to get him, Aziraphale tried to negotiate, tried to explain to the two stupid guards that he had a bargain for them, that if he could only speak with Beelzebub he could help Hell solve their problem, that he could give them what they wanted. He tried cajoling, he tried providing logical explanations, he tried tempting them with the glory of being the one who cracked the captives, but he might as well have been talking to the walls of his cell. Which he did, as well, mostly to keep himself from losing the last shreds of his sanity.

Chapter Text

In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, things got a lot worse for Crowley after his stunt. Corson and his implements of suffering seemed to be as ever-present as Crowley’s own damned skin, the demon endlessly expressing his disappointment , which was not quite as convincing as his obvious malicious glee at having a reason to take things to an ever more sadistic place.

In fact, it seemed lately that Corson was playing things up more. He was more talkative, taunting and teasing Crowley. He swaggered around the dungeon, acting showy, almost as if he were performing for an audience. Probably angling for a promotion, Crowley thought. Figures as much that this asshole is an ambitious sonofabitch. 

This went on for a while, though Crowley had no way of telling just how long. All this time, Corson and the occasional other tormentors stuck to the standard Hellish punishments, wrenching his body through all manner of torment. And Crowley could handle that. He told himself this over and over, as they beat him, as they broke his body. He could handle this. He must. For Aziraphale.

It seemed, unfortunately, that Hell eventually realized this as well. No amount of torture, in this form, would convince Crowley to harm his angel. 

And so they decided to try something else.

Hastur was the one who opened Crowley’s cell door, which struck him as odd. Transporting Crowley from one torture chamber to another was usually the job of a much lower demon, given that Crowley liked to make it as unpleasant as possible, and still had plenty of fight and bite in him. 

Then Crowley saw what Hastur had in his hand.

“No…” he gasped, without thinking. 

Crowley regretted his outburst immediately when he saw a satisfied grin spread over Hastur’s face. “Oh, yes,” he said, clearly relishing in the sight of a new level of fear on the captive’s face.

Crowley crawled away from Hastur, pulling himself into a cower in the far corner of his cell. “Come on, man,” he said, trying to sound casual, and failing. “Let’s talk about this. You don’t need to –“

“No talk,” Hastur said, nearly gleeful as he walked toward Crowley. 

“You – you wanna be the one who finally breaks me? I’ll do it. Hurt him – Aziraphale. Go back to your bosses, tell them you put the fear of Satan into me, and I’ve cracked. Take all the credit. I’ll say you’re the best torture artist this side of the Styx.”

Hastur only shook his head. He knew – and Crowley knew that he knew – that Crowley didn’t mean a word of what he was saying. He was only trying to delay, to sweet-talk his way out of this specific punishment. 

Hastur taunted Crowley, holding out the object, dangling it in front of the terrified demon. 

Crowley knew exactly what that thing was. A retinet.

On its own, it didn’t look all that frightening. It was a metal plate, about six inches by three inches, bordered on all sides by a fringe of spindly claws. Retinets had always reminded Crowley somewhat of spiders.

That was, if spiders had the capacity to burrow into one’s consciousness and identify the most painful memories, moments of deepest shame, terror, and grief. And then yank them to the surface so that the victim’s experience was only of those moments, excruciating and unending. Amplified, even, by the twisted magic of Hell.

Retinets were a mainstay of Hell’s torture, but only ever used on humans who had the misfortune of arriving there through their own waywardness. Crowley had seen these things reduce the strongest and most stubborn souls to blithering wrecks, and had seen humans endure, even perform, absolute horrors to avoid the threat of retinet torture.

It didn’t make sense to use a retinet on a demon, since they didn’t experience feelings like regret, guilt, self-hatred, or rock-bottom despair. They enjoyed their demonic existences, and psychic suffering wasn’t really in their wheelhouse.

Except for Crowley. And he was pretty sure he knew what past experience the retinet would conjure up and drag him through.

“Listen,” Crowley said, holding a hand up as Hastur advanced on him. 

“Nope,” Hastur said, still clearly thrilling in Crowley’s desperate groveling. He knelt down next to Crowley, who tried to scramble away from him, but he was weakened by the torture, and Hastur easily grabbed the hair at the base of Crowley’s neck, yanking it up and pinning Crowley to the floor, face down. He dropped the retinet right at the point where Crowley’s spine met his skull, and the metal claws dug in, piercing and gripping the demon’s flesh.

***

For a moment, there was nothing. Then Crowley was enveloped in – what was that feeling? Grace. Love. Peace. Where was he? He thought, insanely, that maybe he had died. What was this? It was such a relief after all the misery he’d recently endured. Tears of joy began to fill his eyes.

Then, it was all wrenched away. In an instant there was the sickening sensation of something breaking, like a bone snapping, but it wasn’t a bone, it wasn’t in his body, it was in his soul, but he didn’t have a soul? Not anymore. Loss flooded him, grief like a gaping wound, and still there was that tearing away, the pain of something broken, something mutilated. 

And then he was falling. Cast out, the chill of isolation wrapped around him. He had no one. He was no one. All was lost, all was gone, and there was nothing for him, nothing to him. He heard a wail escaping from his crushed lungs, but it was a sound unheard by any merciful ear.

And then he landed hard, on a stone floor. There was a demon standing over him. Hastur. He looked up, his gaze swimming with tears. “No…” he pleaded. “Not again…”

And then that peace washed over him again, and he screamed in despair. He couldn’t feel that again. Couldn’t experience the ripping away, the fall from love into nothing, into darkness. But he did. It was the same this time, not dulled by time, not a memory weakened by soft returnings and the work of healing. It was happening again, just as powerfully as it had so long ago.

If there was any mercy to a Fall, it was that it could only happen once. He had endured that unbearable thing, and then he began to mend. He made a way for himself. The humans had a saying – time heals all wounds – and though no amount of time could ever give Crowley back all that he had lost, it had, as promised, made its absence easier to bear. 

But now, here he was, reliving that moment, again and again, as Hastur laughed distantly above him. Crowley hunched at his feet, hands holding his head, as if he could rip the dreaded memory from himself. He knew better. There was no freedom from a retinet, not until the entity that had placed it chose to remove it.

Again he returned to his cell, to the realization that he was doomed to continue Falling, and again he looked up at Hastur and begged. And again there was a moment of horrible reprieve as his last moments of angelic grace covered him with hope and joy, and then he was sucked into torment like he’d never known before, except he had. 

Finally, Hastur reached down and pulled the retinet off Crowley’s neck, leaving a raw, bloodied patch of skin. He said nothing, only continued chuckling to himself as he left Crowley huddled face down on the floor.

***

He spent the next stretch of time sprawled out on the floor, trying to calm himself, though it seemed there was nothing for it. Memories of Aziraphale, his usual strategy to soothe himself, seemed weak and fuzzy compared to the strength of his memories of Falling. 

Next time, it wasn’t Hastur, but a demon Crowley didn’t recognize. She walked into his cell and knelt down next to him, holding the retinet where his glassy eyes could see it.

“Please…” he rasped.

“Of course,” she said, her tone friendly, and she pocketed the object. “I don’t have to do this. You don’t have to endure this. You know what will make this stop. It’s easy.”

Crowley said nothing. He felt the cruel metal of the retinet attach to the base of his skull, and he wished more than anything that demons could die.

When the first memory loop ended and he found himself back on the floor, gasping for breath and clawing at his neck, he tried again to think of Aziraphale, but all he could think of was the way out that he’d been offered. You know what will make this stop. You can make it all stop.  

Then the memory began to rise again, the terrible existence of this moment being replaced by a far worse one.

He tried to picture himself hurting his angel, tried to imagine his own hands holding Aziraphale down, taking some Hellish implement to his perfect flesh. The thought made him sick.

He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.

But he needed to try something. Anything. He couldn’t endure this much longer. He’d already failed to torture Aziraphale once, and it hadn’t gone well. But this time he knew what was coming. He’d take his chances. He had no other choice.

So when she returned, after what felt like an eternity spent reliving his greatest pain, punctuated by periods of clarity in which he could think only of Aziraphale, Crowley stood up on wobbly legs and looked her in the eye, trying to sound resolute. “No more,” he said. “I’ll do it. Bring me to – give him to me.”

She smiled, glistening fangs behind red lips, and lifted him from the floor.

Chapter Text

“Open up,” she said, and Crowley did, no fight this time, as she settled the gag in. She did not remove the retinet. Crowley felt disoriented, still trying to shake the minutes-old experience of his ancient Fall and readjust to the world around him.

He allowed himself to be hauled to his feet and followed dumbly, finding himself in another chamber, just like all the ones he’d found himself in before, all dark stone and dread-filled air, chains and various torture implements hung on the wall or draped over racks.

The difference was that against one of the walls, his hair and skin bright against the surroundings, was Aziraphale. He was facing the wall, arms chained up above him, and he was nude, just like Crowley. Seems Hell has given up on clothing for everyone, then. Some kind of metal ring inscribed with Hellish script was set tight around Aziraphale’s chest, preventing him from showing, let alone spreading, his wings.

Crowley stood frozen, taking in the terrible sight of his angel, strung up and vulnerable. Then the retinet started up its threat, the memory of his fall once again clouding around the edges of his consciousness.

He took a step forward and it faded.

Aziraphale, hearing the footstep, turned his head. “Crowley!” he shouted, sounding thrilled. “Oh, darling,” the angel continued. “Come here. It’s so good to see you.”

How is he still able to sound so chipper, so...friendly? Doesn’t he know what we’re here for?

Crowley walked toward Aziraphale and felt the retinet silence entirely. Aziraphale leaned back as far as the chains will allow him, turning to look at Crowley, his eyes full of love and pity.

“Crowley, love,” he said. “It’s okay. I know - I know what they’re doing to you. I - I’ve seen it. They make me watch. Oh, Crowley.”

He’s seen it? Shame and humiliation flooded into Crowley. They make him watch? He thought back over what had been done to him, and the thought of Aziraphale somehow witnessing those moments of absolute degradation, his total breakdown, it’s too much.

He closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands, no longer looking at Aziraphale, no longer moving toward him. The retinet began to whisper again. Crowley did his best to ignore it.

“Crowley, please.” Aziraphale sounded pained, desperate. “Crowley, I know what they’re trying to make you do. And I know that you won’t do it. You’re so strong, you’ve been so strong. I know.”

Crowley’s breath hitched in his chest and he roughly wiped tears from his eyes. 

“I want to tell you, Crowley, my dear, I want - it’s okay. Please, I want you to do it. It’s okay. I want you to. Please.”

Horrified, Crowley took a step back from Aziraphale, which only sped up his pleading.

“It’s okay, darling. I can take it. Take some of it. Please, let me take it for you. From you. It’s not fair. I want to. You don’t have to do this alone. Let me share this. Please. It’s alright.”

Crowley shook his head and continued to back away. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to run to Aziraphale, to hold him, to touch him, but shame and fear kept him back. He didn’t trust himself. Didn’t know whether this was a demonic trick. 

But as he refused, the retinet strengthened its assault on his mind. Crowley felt the first few moments of the memory begin to take shape in his reality. No, not again. Not here. Not now.

Reaching blindly, he grabbed a tool from a shelf on the wall behind him. Some kind of strap, tinged with hellfire. As soon as his hand closed around it, the retinet stilled, its visions hovering at the edges of his awareness.

He took a stumbling, hesitant step toward Aziraphale. The memory began to recede.

Aziraphale, seeing Crowley approach with the strap, started to speak again. This time it was the sort of patient coo one might use to tempt a frightened dog out of wherever it had backed itself into. 

“That’s it, darling. You can do it. It’s okay. It’s okay. Come on, love. For me. Please.”

The strap felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. He couldn’t do it. Could he? It would end all this pain , said a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Corson. He’s asking for it. Take a break. You’ve taken all this for him. Let him take some for you.

No. 

NO.

Crowley turned and hurled the strap against the wall with all the force his battered body could muster. As he did so, he let out a roar of rage and fury, which erupted from him with such strength that he felt parts of the gag snap inside his mouth. He tasted blood as the mangled device stabbed and sliced into him.

And then he wasn’t aware of any of that. He no longer felt the pain in his face, he didn’t hear Aziraphale’s voice calling out to him, he couldn’t feel the dungeon floor under his knees as he collapsed. Because he wasn’t there anymore. He was back in Heaven, instants before his exile, and then he was Falling, again, wretched and worthless, alone and unloved.

 

***

 

When Crowley came to, again, Aziraphale was gone, his tongue and lips felt shredded, his neck was bloody and raw where the retinet had been, and there was a very unhappy Corson standing over him.

He’s seen it. They make him watch.

“Aziraphale!” Crowley called. He looked around frantically. “Where are you?”

He’s here, somewhere. He can see me .

Corson was saying something. He sounded angry. Crowley paid him no attention.

“ANGEL!” Crowley tried to stand, scrabbling about as if he could find Aziraphale near him, somewhere just beyond his reach.

Corson landed a brutal kick to Crowley’s ribs, and he curled in on himself before remembering. 

He sees this. I can’t do this to him. I can’t let him see how bad it hurts.

Crowley looked up and forced a smile. “Feels good, mate,” he coughed. 

“I’m so tired of your games,” Corson spat. He pulled Crowley up from the floor and threw him onto the stone slab, advancing on him with a nasty looking blade in his hand.

“Yes, games. We’re having fun, aren’t we?” Crowley sounded almost manic, still searching the room for where Aziraphale might be watching from. “Love it here, really stellar. Good times.”

“Shut up.” Corson went for Crowley’s face with the knife. Crowley, unshackled for now, dodged away from the blow, taking it in his shoulder instead. 

He gritted his teeth, which hurt terribly - he didn’t even want to think about how much damage that bit had done. For Aziraphale. Face going white, he grinned wildly up at Corson. “Think that hurts, do you?”

Provoked, Corson wrestled Crowley into submission, finally chaining him down, then grabbed his favorite hellfire whip and lit into him with more ferocity than ever before. Crowley willed himself to stay silent. He kept his eyes closed and his face pressed down. Don’t let him see. Don’t let him hear. 

Crowley’s commitment to silence only challenged Corson, who brought the whip down as if his life depended on drawing a scream out of his victim. Crowley almost - almost - would have preferred the retinet over this agony. Eventually he could not keep his promise to himself; his ravaged body could not hold on. But the first sound that erupted was not a wordless howl, though it soon melted into one.

“I LOVE YOU!”

It was a plea, a sacrifice, a terrible cry of anguish, wrenched not from his tongue but from his very soul.

It was the first time Crowley had said it.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale didn’t entirely understand what he had just witnessed, but he knew that he hated it. Now, Crowley was curled on the floor, whimpering and holding his head, where it seemed Hell had attached some kind of infernal device.

The door opened, and in walked a demon that Aziraphale recognized immediately. Intimately. Though he didn’t know his name.

“You!” 

The demon turned and looked at the chained angel.

“I - I mean,” Aziraphale said, trying to get a handle on his tone. It was his first opportunity to speak with someone who might understand, and he didn’t have much time to snatch his attention. “I have a proposition for you. A suggestion, if you will. An offer.”

“Oh?” The demon took a step toward him, head cocked skeptically. “And what could you possibly have to offer me?”

“He’s never going to - well, to do what you want him to.” Aziraphale gestured with his neck toward Crowley. “And I know Heaven is getting rather impatient for your plan to succeed. Or fail, more like.”

“Think you know what’s going on, do you?” The demon sneered, but Aziraphale could tell he was interested.

“I know plenty,” Aziraphale said, lifting his chin and holding the demon’s gaze, though his neck was getting rather tired of being twisted around. “More about Crowley than you ever will. And I’m telling you that you need me, if you want to get anywhere with him.”

“Interesting.” The demon appeared to consider him for a bit, then turned toward Crowley’s prone form and lifted him easily. He left without another word to Aziraphale.

When his ever-silent guards came to remove the wing band and take him back to his cell, Aziraphale felt thoroughly defeated.

But then, some brief time later (though ‘brief’ had taken on something of a stretched meaning during all this time in confinement), there was that demon again, Crowley’s tormentor, all broad shoulders and gleaming green eyes, standing in Aziraphale’s doorway.

“Come with me.”

Aziraphale rose, and though he wore only a thin blanket tied around his waist, held himself as if he were dressed in his finest. Straight-backed and trying to suppress a smile of satisfaction, he followed the demon down a hallway, which looked entirely different than the one he was usually taken down.

Then they were in a room, brightly lit - almost fluorescent - with a table in the center. It looked as though everything in the room was made of cheap laminate. Beelzebub was sitting at one end of the table.

“Sit,” buzzed Beelzebub, and both sat down. 

“My colleague Corson tells me you have something you wish to offer us?” Beelzebub sounded skeptical, but curious.

“Yes, er -” Aziraphale paused to clear his throat, then blinked and began again. The lights in the room seared his eyes after so long in the dimness of his cell. “Yes. I’ve gathered the impression that Heaven wishes to see me punished, but only by the hand of the demon Crowley. Is that correct?”

Beelzebub nodded. “Yeah.”

“And I can also conclude, based on the fact that Crowley has done no such thing, that you have not been successful in, shall we say, convincing him to do so?”

“That’s right.” Beelzebub shot a glare across the table to Corson. Both looked annoyed.

“Well then,” Aziraphale said, trying not to respond to their attitudes, and to instead present himself as an utterly reasonable and cooperative negotiator. “I would humbly offer my own services. Surely you realize the depth of...care...that Crowley and I have for one another. If this is a matter of gaining his agreement, perhaps it is I who is best equipped.”

“But,” snapped Corson, “if you get in there and ask him to, then it doesn’t really count, does it? That’s not really the point of what we’ve been trying to do here.”

“Indeed,” said Aziraphale, having expected this counterclaim, “but the cat’s out of the bag now, isn’t it? I know everything - you won’t have me believing that Crowley has freely chosen to harm me. Whatever ‘suffering’ was intended for me by that route, I believe, is a ship that’s passed.” 

Aziraphale could have kicked himself for the overuse of human metaphor, but he had collected so many of them into his idiolect during his millenia on earth, and they slipped out when he was stressed or flustered. 

“Heaven wouldn’t need to know,” grumbled Beelzebub.

“Exactly! I can assure you, I’ve been known to put on quite the show.” Aziraphale smiled now. “If you want enough evidence of success to get Heaven off your back, I’m sure we can work something out.”

Corson’s eyes were narrowed, glaring at Aziraphale with suspicion. “Why, though? Why come to us and offer to help us, against your own kind?”

Aziraphale made a loud derisive noise. “My own kind? No, I don’t consider those in Heaven my kind , not anymore. Surely you’re aware that my relation to them is much the same as Crowley’s has been to yours, since, you know.” Aziraphale fluttered his hands. “The whole armageddon thing.”

“Still, though,” Beelzebub said, sounding thoughtful. “Why offer yourself up like this?”

“For him,” Aziraphale said simply. “For a chance to speak with him. Freely. To ease some of his burden.” He’s worth making a deal with the devil , Aziraphale wanted to say. Nothing else matters.

Corson rolled his eyes.

Beelzebub seemed convinced, though, and leaned forward to question Aziraphale further. “What if he still won’t?”

“Oh, I’m sure that once I get to talk to him -”

“I don’t want to sit around watching you two blather at each other,” Beelzebub said. “If it doesn’t work, and quickly, I’m calling it quits on this whole blessed enterprise and sending you back up to Heaven. They can deal with you.”

Dread gripped Aziraphale, but he maintained his outward nonchalance. “Thank you, and I can assure you -”

Beelzebub was no longer listening. He got up from the chair and waved his hand at Corson. “Toss ‘em in together and let me know if anything happens. I wanna watch. Oh, and turn the bindings down on Crowley. Doubt he could give a slug a papercut in the state he’s in.”

Figuring that things had gone about as well as they could have, Aziraphale was feeling pretty good. Corson did not share Aziraphale’s joy. “This better work,” he snarled as he grabbed the angel’s arm and yanked him out of the room. Aziraphale did not think it wise to respond, and just hurried to keep up with the much taller demon without having to be dragged.

Corson took him back to that same awful room, or at least one just like it. And there was Crowley, lying on the floor near the far wall. 

“Crowley!” Aziraphale rushed toward him, fully ignoring Corson, who stayed long enough to fiddle with something on the door before slamming it shut. 

“Angel?” Crowley lifted his head, his yellow eyes wide with astonishment. “You...you’re…”

“Hush, darling.” Aziraphale sat down beside Crowley and pulled him into his lap.

Crowley turned his face and nuzzled into Aziraphale’s hand. “You...you were there...you saw…”

Aziraphale stroked Crowley’s face, gently tucking the demon’s red curls behind his ear. “Sssh,” he whispered. “It’s okay. I’m here, I’m here. I have you.”

Crowley’s eyes fell shut, and soon Aziraphale felt the familiar rise and fall of his chest that meant the demon was asleep. He didn’t dare shift or move for fear of disturbing Crowley.

Aziraphale didn’t know how long Crowley slept. He didn’t care. All Aziraphale wanted to do was watch Crowley sleep. And this was the first time in who knew how long that Aziraphale was getting everything he wanted.

Corson had clearly changed something about the bindings in the room, because Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s body growing stronger, bit by bit, as he slept. Occasionally the demon shifted in his sleep, curling more tightly against Aziraphale, who just sat and held him, gazing down at the wonder of Crowley’s form.

He traced the shape of Crowley’s lips, slack with sleep. He ran a gentle thumb over the soft seashell of Crowley’s ear. He set his hand inside Crowley’s and felt the demon’s fingers close in tightly around his own. He wrapped his arms around Crowley, leaned down and rested his forehead against Crowley’s skin. The warmth and stillness was perfect. Aziraphale could have held him like that forever. 

Chapter Text

Crowley awoke with a strange taste in his mouth. As he tried to place it, he realized it was not a taste, exactly, but the absence of one. This was the first waking in ages that didn’t bring with it the thick, sludgy taste of his own blood.

He opened his eyes. Looking down at him was his beloved, his angel. Aziraphale.

“Wha?” Crowley startled, jerking himself into a sitting position. His body moved quicker, easier, than it had in a long time. “You - how - Aziraphale!”

Aziraphale pulled him into a tight hug. “Oh, Crowley.”

“What are you doing here?” Crowley asked into the softness of the angel’s chest.

“They let me stay with you,” Aziraphale said. “I convinced them.”

“What?” Crowley pulled away from Aziraphale, holding him by the shoulders, looking at him with fear and concern. Getting anything from Hell meant giving up something in return. Crowley knew full well how shrewd and cruel demons were with their deals. If Aziraphale had sweet-talked his way to Crowley, surely he had done so at a great loss. “How?”

“Well,” Aziraphale said, growing fidgety and looking around the dungeon room. “They want you to do something -”

“Something I absolutely will not do, ” growled Crowley.

“Yes. About that. Well, it seems that it’s very important to them that - that this task, as it were, gets done. I told them that if anyone could get you to do it, it would be me.”

Crowley felt sick. Surely the angel knew he had Crowley wrapped around his divine little finger. Crowley would do anything Aziraphale asked him. So how could he ask this of him?

“Angel,” Crowley began, but the rest of the words stuck in his throat. He didn’t even know what he meant to say.

“I know, love,” Aziraphale said, rubbing Crowley’s back. “I know.”

Crowley could feel the agreement form between them to drop the issue, despite Aziraphale’s agitation to have it resolved. He closed his eyes and leaned into Aziraphale, and slowly the two settled down together onto the floor, wrapped up in each other, all limbs and love and longing finally fulfilled.

They were both naked, and it occurred to him that this was the first time they had touched like this. The angel was always so maddeningly, so delightfully, covered up in all his fussy layers. And now here they were, stripped of everything but each other.

There was more to the deal, Crowley knew. Some threat hanging over his angel, unspoken for now. His demonic powers were back, muted but present, and he could feel Aziraphale’s energy, humming around him like an aura. There was something there that Crowley knew Aziraphale was not ready to name and which Crowley was not ready to hear; some fear, some urgency, some unshared knowledge.

Aziraphale had risked everything to get back to Crowley. Crowley had endured everything to protect Aziraphale. What had it all been for? Where did they go from here?

Crowley was reminded of a story the humans told, about a husband and wife who sacrificed their prized possessions to get each other gifts, but the gifts had become worthless after the sacrifices. It had never made sense to him. Humans and their things, their secrets.

But he had his own secrets. His own precious things. His own sacrifices.

Perhaps it all made more sense than he had been willing to admit.

A sharp pain yanked Crowley out of his brooding as Aziraphale’s fingers brushed over the back of his neck, where the retinet’s patch had not fully healed. 

“Ow,” he said with a soft hiss, and Aziraphale pulled his hand away.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Crowley mumbled, reaching up to grab the angel’s hand and set it on the crown of his head. “Just...just there, angel.”

He felt the angel’s fingers rest, tangled in his hair. There was a tension in them, the coiled spring of questions unasked. Crowley just pulled Aziraphale closer and lifted his head, looking into those blue eyes. It was a vision that had sustained him through countless hours of torment. He never wanted to see those eyes creased with pain. Never. He’d do whatever it took. Even if he didn’t know what that meant anymore.

“Angel,” Crowley said, hating the way his voice broke the tender silence between them. “What was the deal?”

“Hm?”

“What did you say to the demons? To let you in here?”

“Ah, that. Well. If...if I don’t succeed, if you don’t - if we don’t - if they don’t get what they want, they’ll send me back to Heaven as their prisoner.”

Crowley felt his guts twist in horror. Sweet angel, what have you done?

Surely this was all part of Hell’s plot. He wouldn’t torture Aziraphale, so they sent Aziraphale in to torture him. Without his knowledge, of course. Aziraphale didn’t know better. All Aziraphale was trying to do was rescue Crowley, not knowing how pointless it was to try and negotiate with the powers of Hell. Stubborn, stupid, lovely angel. Didn’t he realize...but it didn’t matter.

What mattered is that the screws were tightening. Crowley had been unwilling to hurt Aziraphale when the alternative was taking the hurt himself. But now, threatened with losing Aziraphale forever, sentencing him to an eternity at the hands of vindictive angels? What choice did he have?

If he’d been between a rock and a hard place before, well, this was so much worse. Between a retinet and a pool of boiling sulphur, maybe. Or two even awfuller things. How stupid had the humans been, making up that phrase, that they couldn’t even think of two bad things? A rock and a hard place ? Made no sense.

Aziraphale’s voice interrupted Crowley’s inner ramblings. It sounded timid, hesitant. Apologetic. Crowley hated to hear that tone from his angel. “I’m so sorry, Crowley,” he was saying. “I know this puts you in a terrible position -”

“Please, angel,” Crowley interrupted, not able to hear another word. He clung tightly to Aziraphale but would not look at him. “Please, just...don’t.”

Aziraphale rolled one shoulder off the floor, jostling Crowley slightly, and then let loose his wings. Those white, resplendent wings. He wrapped them around Crowley, encasing them both in feathers and dim filtered light.

“I can’t,” Crowley cried, pressing his face into Aziraphale, his tears falling on radiant wings, where they rested as tiny globes, their edges precise, their centers clear. “I can’t, angel, please.”

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale whispered. “I’m so sorry, Crowley.”

Chapter Text

They spent the next few hours in soft silence, snuggled up together. Crowley dozed. Aziraphale thought. But no matter how many different ways he turned the problem over in his mind, he just felt stuck. More trapped than he’d felt in his cell. Pressure, the pressure to figure a way out, came at him on all sides. Beelzebub could come storming in at any minute and rip him away from Crowley. They had to come up with a plan before then.

 

He wanted to talk things out, but Crowley seemed content to ignore the imminent threat they faced, of their eternal separation and Aziraphale’s condemnation to Heaven’s grasp.

 

No, that wasn’t fair. He wasn’t ignoring it, and he certainly wasn’t content. More like...he couldn’t force himself to approach the topic. Like touching a hot stove.

 

Like he knew that more pain was coming, and he was desperate to make the most of this tiny pocket of respite he had. Like that was all he could do. Like he had given up on trying to figure a way out of any future suffering and was just trying to rest and heal whenever he could.

 

Aziraphale felt terrible. 

 

It had all seemed like the right call, sitting across from Beelzebub and Corson, saying whatever he needed to say to get into the room with Crowley. To talk to him. Hold him. Help him.

 

Well, he wasn’t so sure about that last bit. 

 

Crowley stirred, sitting up and stretching his wings out. “Feel loads better,” he mumbled, sounding confused.

 

“Yes,” Aziraphale said, “I’d suppose so. Beelzebub told them to lighten the bindings on you.”

 

“Still doubt I can miracle us out of here,” he said flatly.

 

“I wouldn’t advise you try.” Aziraphale shifted upright, so he and Crowley were sitting face to face. “But we can’t just...we have to try something.”

 

Crowley sighed and rubbed his eyes. Aziraphale hated how defeated the demon seemed. 

 

Aziraphale did have some ideas, but Crowley was worried about discussing them here. He worried that Hell had eyes and ears everywhere. Having experienced the near-death consequences of his failed escape, Aziraphale was quite sure that they were not being monitored, but he had no desire to tell Crowley about his ill-advised attempt to solve the problem by application of Hellfire to the problem. So far, the demon had not noticed the raised black scar on Aziraphale’s forearm, and he had carefully arranged himself to keep things that way for as long as possible.

 

So Crowley and Aziraphale curled their wings around each other, creating a cozy little sphere of feathers and limbs, inside which they could put their heads together and whisper. It reminded Aziraphale of the blanket forts young Warlock used to build, spending nights huddled with his flashlight and toys, spinning stories.

 

Eventually, they emerged with a plan. It was Aziraphale’s plan, and Crowley had stated his objections loud and clear. “You shouldn’t make deals with demons,” he warned, over and over. “It’s too dangerous.”

 

Aziraphale, however, felt confident that he was better read and a bit more clever than those he intended to negotiate with. 

 

“Besides,” he’d said, “it’s the best we’ve come up with, and we can’t wait much longer.”

 

Reluctantly, Crowley agreed. So they both folded their wings away and stood. For a minute, they looked at each other, eons of love and sorrow hanging between them. 

 

“Now we have to get their attention,” Aziraphale said, by way of a gentle nudge. Crowley rubbed his temples, looking healthier than he the angel had seen him in a while, but just as miserable.

 

“I hate this,” Crowley said.

 

“I know, love.” And Aziraphale held out his wrists.

 

Crowley set manacles around them, his slender fingers shaking. Aziraphale gripped his hand with a friendly strength and, looking into Crowley’s eyes, nodded.

 

Crowley led him to a large stone in the center of the room and attached the manacles to it. Aziraphale bent over, never letting - no, never forcing Crowley to actually move him, always anticipating the demon’s next move. 

 

The stone was rough, and cool. Crowley’s touch was impossibly soft. Aziraphale suppressed an insane urge to giggle. How on earth had they gotten themselves into this? In his six thousand years on earth, he could never have imagined that he’d be naked, chained to a rock in Hell, as Crowley wandered slowly off to find a whip. Certainly it was odder than odd, this life he’d found himself living. Lines of poetry swirled in his mind. Existing’s tricky but to live’s a gift. How strange it is to be anything at all. At lunchtime I bought a huge orange.  

 

Aziraphale’s powers were entirely muted, but he figured there must be an energy building around the room - Beelzebub had told Corson to call him when things got going, and Crowley’s performance had gotten more antsy as he circled the room. Surely there were plenty of demons watching them now. Aziraphale remembered his many hours spent watching Crowley, an unwilling voyeur to his pain. 

 

Somewhere behind him, a whip cracked loudly, and the smell of brimstone brought him back to the room. Crowley was staying out of Aziraphale’s line of sight, far away from the stone where he’d chained the angel, but making plenty of fuss. Aziraphale could hear his footfalls, quick and jittery and entirely Crowley.

 

Another sharp whip noise, and then Crowley’s voice, shouting.

 

Oi! You listening? You better be! We want to talk! Get in here, Beelzebub, you flea-bitten son of a nun’s pus!”

 

Aziraphale fought back another inappropriate smile. He would have preferred a slightly more diplomatic invitation, given the delicacy of the plan, but tact wasn’t ever Crowley’s strength. 

 

Crowley kept yelling until the door to the dungeon slammed open, and there was Beelzebub, looking exasperated and livid in equal measure. Behind them, at least two dozen rowdy, cheering demons were pressing in. 

 

“What?”

 

“Oh, hi,” Crowley said, affecting casual surprise. “We were hoping we could have a little chat.”

 

Aziraphale lifted his head and looked over at Beelzebub. “I think,” he said calmly, “that we’ve found something to offer that gets everyone out of this predicament. You especially.”

 

Beelzebub narrowed their dark eyes. Aziraphale watched as the diminutive demon weighed the offer. 

 

“Alright,” they said, with a roll of their neck and a wave of their hand. “Come with me.”

Chapter Text

Once again, Aziraphale found himself seated in an uncomfortable room, naked, facing Beelzebub and Corson, plus a handful of other demons who stood behind them them. Spectators, he figured. But this time, Crowley was beside him. And that, he told himself, would make all the difference.

Beelzebub rubbed their eyes and glared at Aziraphale and Crowley. “This had better be good.”

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale began, shifting in his seat and trying to seem at ease. His nudity still bothered him, as did the high stakes of this meeting. “I shall get right to the point. I am prepared to forfeit the protection of Heaven and sign myself into the custody of Hell.”

At this point, a murmur ran through the demons gathered. Crowley stiffened. Aziraphale did his best to ignore it all. 

“If,” he continued, “certain conditions are met.”

Corson laughed dismissively, but Beelzebub held up their hand. “What conditions?”

Aziraphale swallowed. He’d rehearsed these over and over in his head, and aloud a few times with Crowley back in the cell.

“First, the demon Crowley is to be restored all his rights and powers, and freed from captivity. Second, the demon Crowley shall be placed in charge of my own captivity. And third -” Aziraphale cleared his throat and lifted his chin, summoning all his remaining dignity “- I would like some clothing.”

Laughter roared through the room, most notably from Corson. “Why the fuck,” he sneered, “would we do any of that? What’s the point of having an angel if we can’t torture it?”

Aziraphale opened his mouth to speak, but Crowley beat him to it. “Way I see it, right now, you can’t touch him, and you have Heaven breathing down your scaly necks. Why not switch to an arrangement where you still can’t touch him, but you get Heaven off your back, save yourselves the embarrassment.”

“It would really piss off the guys upstairs,” Beelzebub said, tenting their fingers in thought, “if we got him. They don’t need to know the other terms.”

“You’re not seriously considering this?” Corson seemed ready to rip someone’s throat out, and it didn’t appear he’d be choosy about whose. “Might as well just send him upstairs!”

“Sending me back is a bit like admitting defeat, isn’t it?” Aziraphale tried to sound pleasant, placating. “I know Gabriel and his crew, and trust me, losing rights to me would do their heads in.”

“Fine feather for your cap, your very own angel,” Crowley teased. “I’d keep it nice and shiny for ya.”

“Shut up,” Beelzebub told him.

Aziraphale was glad to see that Crowley did, in fact, shut his mouth. He glanced at the angel, and Aziraphale tried to convey reassurance in a tiny nod.

Beelzebub was now ignoring Crowley and addressing Aziraphale exclusively. “Corson has a point, though. It’s a hard sell, you losing protection but still out of our reach.”

Corson cut in. “Plus, wouldn’t it really seal the deal if we could send Heaven a few clips of you in our power?” He licked his lips and looked Aziraphale up and down as he emphasized the last few words.

Aziraphale slid his hand onto Crowley’s, under the table. He had expected to have to negotiate down from his starting offer. He just hadn’t discussed his points of flexibility with Crowley. Aziraphale gripped Crowley’s hand, hard, before speaking. 

“If I were to forfeit my Heavenly protection, I do understand that I would be leaving myself vulnerable to everything that it means to be a prisoner of Hell. We should discuss the precise terms of my surrender.”

Crowley squeezed his hand back, even tighter. Aziraphale silently willed him to stay quiet, knowing it was taking every ounce of Crowley’s self control.

“I think we should just have him, no strings attached,” said Corson, leering at the angel.

“Well then I’m not inclined to sign myself over,” Aziraphale said with a feigned shrug. “You’re welcome to admit defeat and give me up to Heaven.”

To Aziraphale’s relief, Beelzebub did not look willing to call his bluff. 

“Let’s say we put Crowley in charge of you,” Beelzebub said, sounding as if they very much wanted this conversation to be over. “But once a day, someone else gets to-”

Crowley made a strangled, rage-filled noise, and Aziraphale cut in. “With my angelic powers bound as they are, here, daily torture would be difficult to sustain.” It felt bizarre, using the word torture so casually when referring to himself, to his own plans and expectations. Everything about this was so surreal. He held tightly to Crowley’s hand, trying to keep himself anchored and calm.

“Weekly, then,” Corson said, impatient. The gallery of demons standing behind him started to chatter, offering their preferences and suggestions.

“Annually?” Aziraphale asked, hopefully.

The room was buzzing now, demons trying to talk over each other, Corson shouting, Beelzebub miserably trying to get control of the conversation.

Crowley was squirming next to Aziraphale, and he knew it was absolutely destroying Crowley to have to listen as demons worked through a matter-of-fact determination of Aziraphale’s torture. It broke his heart, knowing how much Crowley had endured to protect Aziraphale from Hell’s cruelty, and now he was placing himself at their mercy despite it all.

Of course, Aziraphale didn’t share Crowley’s perspective, didn’t see this deal as invalidating Crowley’s fight. Not at all. Crowley had saved him from so much, had given everything for him, and that was not erased by this bargain they had to make. It would be worth it, so worth it, if it meant Crowley was no longer suffering, if it meant they could be together, even as prisoners of Hell. 

Beelzebub raised both their hands, silencing the room. “The deal is this: You give yourself up to us, and in exchange, we give Crowley back his freedom and powers, but he can’t go back to earth. He’ll be in charge of you as our prisoner. We’ll give you some clothes. And Corson, or whoever else, gets a go at you once a month.”

At this, Corson scowled, Crowley grimaced, and the room dissolved into chaos again, until Beelzebub shouted for quiet. “That’s the deal,” they said, once the other demons had settled down.

Aziraphale nodded. Beelzebub snapped their fingers and a sheet of paper appeared, with the contract written on it in thick black lettering. They slid it across the table.

Crowley leaned in closely, examining the document with suspicion. Back when they discussed this plan, he had warned Aziraphale that demons made deals that included loopholes or tricks, and emphasized that he should be the one to make the final review. 

It was Aziraphale’s turn to stay mute, letting Crowley take up the reins. He watched as Crowley read over the contract, chewing his lip, until he finally looked up. “Says here once a month, but doesn’t say for how long.”

“All day, seems fair,” said Corson, to a chorus of demonic agreement.

Crowley looked ready to lunge across the table at him.

Beelzebub took the contract back and waved their fingers over it. “Three hours. Thirty days. Three being a 'holy number,' and all that.” For the first time, Beelzebub began to appear pleased. They handed it to Aziraphale with a grin. “Sign here.”

Aziraphale held the document with his fingertips. I, the undersigned, Principality Aziraphale, do hereby surrender myself to the custody of Hell and forfeit any rights or claims that Heaven may have to my entity. This is what Heaven would see; obviously Beelzebub couldn’t let them know about the rather generous terms under which Aziraphale had signed himself out from under their power. 

Beelzebub held out a fountain pen made of glossy black stone, its dagger-sharp tip dripping with ink. Fear and relief rippled through Aziraphale as he took the pen. His plan had worked, after all. The worst part was that he wouldn’t get to see Michael or Gabriel’s faces when they received this. Boy, this is really going to ruffle their feathers . It was a nice thought. 

Crowley was staring at him with apprehension. He found the idea of Aziraphale putting himself at the mercy of Hell in exchange for Crowley’s freedom hateful, but he’d eventually agreed to the plan. Aziraphale felt a wave of sorrow mixed with gratitude at the sight of Crowley’s clenched jaw. He had sacrificed so much, and continued to do so. Aziraphale wished for a brief moment that he was strong enough to simply give himself up to Heaven and set Crowley free, rather than forcing them both into such a painful situation for the sake of each other. Would that be better? It didn’t matter. That wasn’t even an option.

Crowley sat tense with held breath as Aziraphale put the pen to the paper and signed his celestial symbol with a steady, resolute hand. 

“That’s it, then.” Aziraphale passed it back. Next to him, Crowley seemed ready to burst out of his skin with anxious energy.

Beelzebub pocketed the contract and then gestured at Crowley, whose clothing suddenly reappeared. “He’s all yours,” they said as they rose from their chair and began to leave. 

Aziraphale stood too, intending to follow Crowley out of the room.

“See you in a month,” Corson said through a predatory smirk. Crowley turned toward the demon with violence in his posture, but Aziraphale took his arm and steered him away.

“It’s done,” he whispered. “It’s done.” And then he fell into Crowley’s arms, deaf to the noise in the room as demons jockeyed for a look at him and lobbed taunts. All he knew was the familiar softness of Crowley’s shirt, and the embrace that covered him as the strength returned to the demon’s fully restored body.

Chapter Text

It was just as Crowley had feared - there was a loophole in the contract, after all. He had been so careful about every line that referred to Aziraphale, had been so focused on protecting the angel from Hell’s machinations, that he had let his own safety slip through the lines of the agreement.

Crowley shall be restored to his rights and powers . Aziraphale had demanded that Beelzebub provide Crowley with the same status he’d had before he was captured as a traitor, and Beelzebub had certainly done that, thus fulfilling the condition.

But there was nothing that prevented Beelzebub from turning around and promoting every other demon in their corner of Hell, which he did immediately. This ensured that Crowley’s “rights and powers” were utterly useless and he was left vulnerable, lower in status and ability than anyone else he came in contact with. And every denizen of the underworld took great glee in this arrangement, reminding Crowley that he was still a prisoner, still at their mercy. Never safe.

Crowley hadn’t said anything to Aziraphale about this development, not wanting to worry the angel. He would feel so guilty, Crowley knew, if he thought his plan had failed by leaving Crowley unprotected. No, Crowley would manage this on his own.

That’s not to say he didn’t hate it, every time he had to leave the little room he kept for Aziraphale. He would have preferred to stay there for the rest of eternity, carving out some kind of life with his angel and the comforts they’d collected there. Since he was in charge of Aziraphale’s captivity, he'd done his best to care for the angel with the limited means Hell offered. This arrangement, whereby Aziraphale was technically his prisoner, was a fact he was carefully avoiding, as if it ran like an electric rail through his brain, through his every interaction with Aziraphale. Neither of them had mentioned it in the seven days since the contract had been signed. Nor did they discuss the other terms under which they were both living, though the ticking clock, counting down to a time when Aziraphale was no longer Crowley's to protect, rang loudly in Crowley's brain no matter how hard he tried to ignore it.

Regardless, he’d been able to set up a facsimile of coziness for Aziraphale. There was a chair Crowley had scrounged from an abandoned office and fluffed up as best as he could. It would have looked a fright in the bookstore, but it was the best he could find, given that it had any upholstery at all. A rug, ripped from some rotting carpet and set upside down so that its rougher-but-cleaner side faced up. Little touches like that. Aziraphale thanked him for each one, making quite a show of enjoying them.

Though Crowley loathed the room and everything it represented, at least he was safe there, and he was with Aziraphale, and that was enough, these days. He spent as much time there as possible, cuddled up with Aziraphale in the too-small chair, or lying on the floor together, limbs tangled, fingers tracing secret symbols on each other’s skin. Crowley told himself that these nonsense swoops and swirls of love stood in opposition to the hateful sigils on the door which kept Aziraphale powerless and trapped. 

But Aziraphale was not willing to settle for “at least it’s better than eternal separation and torture” and continued to insist that more was possible, that there was something to be done, an escape hatch to be found. He had far more hope than Crowley. And he had a plan. Or, at least, the beginnings of one. 

Leave it to Aziraphale to place all his faith (the irony of such existing in his circumstances was not lost on Crowley, though he never pointed it out) in books. He was convinced that somewhere in the annals of Hell there was some clue, some breadcrumb they could follow to freedom. Crowley was skeptical. But since Aziraphale couldn’t leave his room (Crowley would not, could not, call it a cell), it was up to the demon to stalk the halls of Hell, scouring for forgotten, molded-over books that had been shoved into dank corners and forgotten.

Because, of course, Hell didn’t exactly have a library. Crowley imagined that up in Heaven, there was some gaudy, gilded, high-ceilinged monstrosity of shelves stretching to the sky. Everything would be painstakingly organized, and it would be a simple matter of searching for “angels in Hell,” or whatever, and finding everything ever written on the subject. No doubt this was what Aziraphale pictured when he sent Crowley on this wild goose chase. As it stood, Crowley had encountered far more geese than books, the former being quite beloved and welcome in Hell; the latter, not so much. 

Today, he was slinking down an empty hallway, where he believed there were a handful of cavernous rooms being used for storage. If his memory was correct, there were some desks crammed in there, where he hoped to find a book or two rotting away. Crowley cringed at how he must look, creeping like a mouse between holes, checking each corner before he turned. The nervous, darting motions of a prey creature. Which was what he was. 

Not that it mattered, anyway. Even if he saw someone, he couldn’t usually do much about it. His best bet was going unseen. Crowley did his best to stay hidden, to lurk around in shadows, to stick to less trafficked areas. Because once he got caught, escape was unlikely, and defense a complete nonstarter. So when he stepped into a wider section of the corridor that led to the storage and found Hastur, his heart fell into his gut.

“Long time, haven’t seen ya,” Hastur said, advancing on Crowley. “Heard you been sniffing around, looking for treats to bring your pet.”

“You jealous?” Crowley stepped backwards, a useless maneuver. “I could always lock you up too, if you like. But I prefer my pets less sin-ugly.”

Hastur was within reach, now, and he jumped at Crowley. Startled, Crowley reverted to a habit formed over millennia. He opened his mouth to hiss and bite, intending to transform into a giant snake - but, of course, he couldn’t. Pain shot through his skull where his missing fangs would be and his head jerked backwards as if he’d been struck in the mouth. Hastur was laughing. 

“Always wanted a pet snake,” Hastur said, putting his hand on Crowley’s shoulder and forcing him to his knees. Weakened from the reverberating failure of his transformation, all he could do was follow the pressure and collapse.

Hastur shoved a finger in Crowley’s mouth, poking at the scarred-over tissue and the gnarled remnants of fangs. “Can’t even do that anymore, though, can ya?” Hastur’s hand was rough, possessive. “Bet that hurt, too.”

Crowley yanked his head away, but Hastur held him fast with a hand firmly on the back of his head. Crowley had cut his hair as short as possible - just too short to make a fistful - as soon as he could, and kept it that way, but it didn’t do much, now that everyone here was so much stronger than him. 

“Nothing you can do now,” Hastur said. “Not since Beez promoted everyone. Real nice of you and your boyfriend, getting me that lordship.”

Crowley glared up at Hastur, not bothering to reply. He didn’t think he could stand to hear his own voice gagging around Hastur’s nasty fingers. 

“You’ve been Corson’s pet for a while,” Hastur said. He withdrew his hand. Crowley spat theatrically. “Think it’s my turn, yeah?”

Hastur’s hand went to the zipper on his pants, and Crowley clenched his jaw, teeth grinding together. There was nothing for it, though, and Hastur forced his mouth open, shoving himself down Crowley’s throat as the weaker demon choked and beat vainly against Hastur’s legs. Crowley closed his eyes and commanded himself to endure. Easier said than done, that. Resistance would only tire him out and give Hastur what he wanted, but between the stench and the humiliation and his body’s insistence on air despite not technically needing it, Crowley couldn’t help but fight, which only added to the misery as his knees bruised against the floor and Hastur sniggered down at him.

Finally, Hastur finished and let go, leaving Crowley on his hands and knees, shaking and retching. He buttoned his trousers and delivered a few kicks to Crowley’s ribs before apparently becoming satisfied enough to wander off. 

Crowley let himself lay on the floor for a bit, curled behind a desk, drowning in self-pity.

Slowly, he set himself back together. He would not bring this to Aziraphale. Crowley stood up, taking silent inventory of his injuries - mostly bruised ribs and a sore jaw. He could heal himself, but it was draining, given that every wound was inflicted by demons much stronger than him. His mouth throbbed where Hastur had abused the tender stumps. For a while, he had hoped that once his powers were restored, his fangs would grow back, or he’d otherwise be able to return to his snake form, but it seemed that ability had been taken forever.

Glancing around, Crowley began to open the desk drawers, as silently as possible, rubbing his cheek with his other hand. Might as well get what he came for. In one, he found a handful of soggy pamphlets endorsing a 100-hour workweek, and one chewed up pencil, which he dropped on the floor with a disgusted noise. He stuck the pamphlets in his pocket. They were completely irrelevant, but he couldn’t go back empty handed. Not after all that. Aziraphale could use them to write on. Or he’d find some other way to use them. Seemed he cherished anything Crowley brought him these days. Crowley couldn’t tell whether the angel was humoring him, or whether his time spent in Hell had reduced him to genuine excitement over anything even resembling a book.

It was a balancing act, staying out long enough to get himself plausibly healed in body and spirit, but not so long that he risked another encounter. Crowley waited until he could no longer stand it, then snuck back along a trusted route. Clearly, he still looked haggard, because Aziraphale’s bright smile at the demon’s reappearance was quickly replaced by a look of concern and an “Oh, dear.”

“S’fine,” Crowley said, doing his best to sound chipper. Aziraphale was sitting in his chair, as he almost always was, looking like he hadn’t moved since Crowley left him. He wore a white Oxford shirt and plain brown trousers; the compromise Hell had made when providing the clothing called for by the contract.

Crowley strode over to straddle Aziraphale’s lap, wrapping his legs around him in the chair. Draped over Aziraphale like this, Crowley ensured that the angel couldn’t see the dark circles under his eyes, the pale sheen of fear he hadn’t been able to shake during his walk home.

“Look what I found for you,” he said, leaning back so he could reach inside his pocket and smiling as he produced a handful of pamphlets.

Aziraphale took them and his expression lit up again as he felt the heavy cardstock, made even plusher by the moisture they’d absorbed. “Lovely,” he said, and Crowley marvelled at the total absence of sarcasm in his voice. 

“Not as lovely as you,” Crowley murmured, kissing the top of Aziraphale’s head, losing himself in the softness of the curls. Here, he was safe. Here, nothing could touch him. Here, in this tiny world they’d made together, it was all okay. He repeated these assurances to himself, willing them to be true.

Aziraphale dropped the pamphlets to the floor and held Crowley, rocking their bodies back and forth. Crowley buried his face in Aziraphale’s hair and soaked in the scent of him, trying to forget the storage room, the foul taste of Hastur in his mouth, the suffocating shame and helplessness. 

“Thank you, Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered, rubbing Crowley’s back. “I know you hate it, going out there. But I do think we’ll find something. We’ll get out of here, I promise.”

Crowley wished he could believe Aziraphale. But for now, the angel would have to hold hope for both of them. All he could do was nod and let himself be held.

Chapter Text

Crowley took some pride in remaining the most clever denizen of Hell, though he had to admit that wasn’t a very high bar to clear. Despite the fact that every single demon was now more powerful than Crowley, they were still as dense as ever. 

Which is why it took the entirety of Beelzebub’s dominion over two weeks to figure out how to make their next move. 

Since there was no bed in Aziraphale’s new living quarters, Crowley had taken to sleeping stretched out on the floor, his head in Aziraphale’s lap, as the angel read. When he woke on the morning of the fifteenth day, he noticed a new tension in the room, in Aziraphale.

“Dear,” Aziraphale said apprehensively as Crowley began to stir.

“What? What is it?” Crowley was fully awake now, coiled and alert. 

“It’s nothing, really,” Aziraphale said, laying a hand on Crowley’s chest. “It’s fine.”

“What, angel?” Sensing that Aziraphale was trying to keep him from seeing something made Crowley absolutely determined to see it. He slid out from under Aziraphale’s hand and stood up.

There, on the door, was a giant countdown clock, made of what looked like black plastic flaps like those in old train stations. It read 15:06 - six hours into the fifteenth day. 

“No,” growled Crowley, and he strode to the door, slamming his hand into the clock. Nothing happened. It wasn’t real; wasn’t physical, at least. “They can’t - they can’t do this.”

“Please, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, standing up and moving to embrace him. “Don’t pay it any mind.”

“It’s MY room!” Crowley screamed, not liking the way Aziraphale stepped back from him, but unable to control himself. He pounded on the clock again. “Mine - ours! They can’t!”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale was saying, but the demon ignored him and flung open the door, snarling in rage. 

There he saw it: the clock was visible on every door, and even some stretches of the wall. At that moment, it flipped over to 15:07, and the clacking noise echoed through the halls. A tittering laugh came from somewhere. Surely everyone was appreciating this fun little countdown to the day they got their filthy hands on a genuine angel. 

Of course. Crowley had authority over Aziraphale’s captivity, but he had no real power over the rest of Hell. Anything Beelzebub and his minions did or decreed for Hell in general also impacted Crowley. So they could influence Aziraphale’s room by doing the same to the whole damned place.

Corson, having heard the commotion, appeared in the hallway looking very pleased. “Like the new decor?” 

Crowley slammed the door shut and returned to Aziraphale, shaking with fury. “I hate this,” he cried as the angel pulled him into a tight hug. 

“We’ll be alright,” Aziraphale said. “It doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change anything.”

Crowley supposed he was right - the clock was ticking, whether or not he managed to put it out of his mind. But this intrusion into their space just felt so cruel, so unfair. Because it was, he reminded himself. That’s the whole blasted point.

“We’ve got to get you out of here,” Crowley mumbled into Aziraphale’s shoulder.

“We will. We’ll get out of here. We’ll make it through.”

Crowley did not leave the room that day, and Aziraphale didn’t press the matter. They tried to fashion some kind of poster from their collection of various pamphlets and moldy papers, but nothing would hold to the wall. 

They passed the day distracting each other, telling stories from their time on earth, Aziraphale running through a variety of songs he half-knew, Crowley trying shadow puppets on the walls. They rearranged the chair so that it faced away from the door, which made the room look even odder than it already did, but they weren’t exactly going for an interior design award. 

Finally it was evening, and Crowley craved nothing more than sleep. Truth be told, he would have liked to sleep through everything, to escape into dreams and darkness. That felt too much like abandoning Aziraphale, however, so he had forced himself into a routine whereby he spent the days awake and only permitted himself sleep a few hours every night. 

“Would you like to lay down?” Aziraphale had guessed at Crowley’s desire and was settling himself against the wall, furthest from the door, patting his thighs invitingly.

“Don’t have to,” Crowley said, sitting down next to him. “Could stay up and talk more, if you want.”

Aziraphale pulled Crowley into his lap. “I think you ought to sleep,” he said, stroking Crowley’s head.

Crowley missed his longer curls, missed the way Aziraphale ran his fingers through them. He’d left his hair as long as possible when he cut it, but it wasn’t the same. He hated how much they’d taken from him, right down to the simple pleasure of hands in his hair. He closed his eyes, letting mind and body relax into sweet sleep.

But then, just as he was falling asleep, there it was: the clack noise that marked the hourly turnover of the clock.

“Fuck!” Tension gripped him and his eyes shot open.

Aziraphale made shushing noises and resumed his gentle touches. “It’s alright, Crowley.”

“It’s not!” Crowley rubbed tight fists into his eyes, as if he could force the anguish out with enough pressure. “It’s not!”

“I know.” Aziraphale’s words had the tone of an apology.

“I don’t know how you can act like this is all something I can ignore. They’re - they’re going to torture you, and there’s nothing I can do about it!” Crowley was crying now, his face buried in Aziraphale’s lap.

Aziraphale didn’t say anything. Crowley heard him sniffle softly.

“I’m sorry, angel.” Crowley sat up, wiping his eyes. “Here you are, the one about to be hurt, and I’m crying over how hard it is on me.”

Aziraphale smiled as if Crowley had just said something foolish. “We’re both being hurt,” he said. “I’m sorry, Crowley, that I’ve made you feel as if you needed to ignore or deny the misery of this all. Perhaps I’ve asked too much of you.”

Crowley shook his head. “No, no, angel. I’m sorry I’ve been such a prat about it all. Here’s you, trying to keep a stiff upper lip and focus on escape, and all I can do is mope.”

“I’d say you have as much a right as anyone,” Aziraphale said. “You’ve certainly been through - well, been through Hell, as it were.”

Crowley looked down at the floor, suddenly shy. They hadn’t actually discussed his own torture since their reunion, having avoided that topic as delicately as the myriad of other ones Crowley had refused to go near. 

“You saw all that, did you?”

Aziraphale took Crowley’s hands in his, but didn’t angle for eye contact the way he usually did when Crowley got evasive like this. “Not all, no. But...plenty.”

Horrible memories piled up in Crowley’s mind as he wondered which specific acts, which incidents of brutality and degradation, Aziraphale had witnessed. The tears started to fall again and Crowley did nothing to hold them back. He looked up at Aziraphale, blinking. 

“Aren’t you scared?”

“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale held Crowley’s hands tightly and leaned in so that their foreheads touched. “I saw what they did, and of course it was dreadful. But I also saw how brave you were. What you did for me. For us.”

Aziraphale paused, taking a shaky breath, running his thumb over Crowley’s hand.

“You made it through, for me. I’ll make it through, for you. And at the end, I’ll have you to come home to.”

Crowley had no response but more tears. He hated that he was the reason Aziraphale had to ‘make it through’ anything. He hated that Aziraphale called this awful cell “home.” But he loved Aziraphale. And that would have to be enough.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was happier than he’d been in a long time. He reminded himself of this often, since it was an easy fact to forget. So he had written down a list of good things: He had Crowley. He had clothing. He had some books. 

He kept this list in the pocket of the trousers Hell had given him, and ran his fingers over the folded edges constantly. It was not the only list Aziraphale had made, ever since Crowley brought him a pen. The pen wrote in a horrid dark red color, and it made his hand feel heavy and tired when he used it for too long, but it was a pen. He could write.

Mostly, he wrote lists. They helped. Helped him organize the thoughts that often threatened to get away from him. Helped him pass the endless hours. Aziraphale had written hundreds of lists, in neat, tiny letters down the margins of whatever Hellish publications Crowley could find. He even had a list of the lists he had made.

They included: Things I Will Do When We Return To Earth; All Of The Curse Words Crowley Says When The Clock Ticks Every Hour; Pastries I Enjoyed Eating; Naps Crowley Has Taken; Demonic Names I’ve Overheard; and Books That Would Likely Help, If I Had Them.

But those were just the frivolous lists, created for their own sake. Aziraphale had a few other lists, more important lists. 

Lists like: Facts That May Aid In An Escape . He kept this one secret, partly so Hell didn’t find it, and partly so Crowley didn’t find it. Because there were a few facts on that list that Crowley didn’t know yet.

Facts like: I have a small piece of cursed brimstone embedded in a dark scar on my left forearm.

Crowley hadn’t seen the scar. The time they spent naked together, he was distracted by his own recovery, and then the negotiations with Beelzebub. And then Aziraphale had gotten this shirt, and he had kept his sleeves rolled down, and that was that. 

It wasn’t that Aziraphale didn’t want Crowley to know. But the demon was so agitated lately, between the clock on the door and the stress of his book-seeking excursions. Aziraphale figured he just didn’t need to added angst of knowing that Aziraphale had almost died by his own hand and spent who-knows-how-long alone and riddled with fever.

When he came up with a way this might help, he’d tell Crowley. He thought that maybe this tiny fragment of Hell was a key, something that could enable him to slip past Hell’s defenses or through a loophole in their labyrinthine bureaucracy. But so far this had been mostly wishful thinking. His powers were entirely shut off by the bindings on him as a prisoner, and as far as Hell was concerned, he was 100% an angel. 

The seventeenth hour of the twenty-first day found Aziraphale staring down at one of his lists, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. He missed his glasses. 

And he missed Crowley. Every 60 minutes, when the clacking noise of the clock rang out, Crowley reacted. These days, usually a subtle tension, a clenched jaw, fidgeting hands - he’d calmed down with the verbal outbursts after a while. So when it clicked to 21:17, Aziraphale looked up, instinctively moving to calm Crowley. But he still hadn’t returned from his day’s mission, and Aziraphale felt his absence like a ringing gong.

In a futile attempt to distract himself, Aziraphale put down the list he had been poring over- one titled Biblical Prophecies That May Be Relevant To Our Unfortunate Situation - and picked up one of the books stacked in the room. Most of them were utterly useless, but he kept every single one. Their presence was soothing, even if they contained zero information. He certainly would have appreciated a book called Rights Prisoners Under Hell’s Contracts or, perhaps, How To Outwit Demons And Escape From Hell In 13 Easy Steps . No such luck.

Aziraphale flipped through a thick, leather-bound volume entitled Fallen Follicles: Temptation Opportunities Afforded By Male-Pattern Baldness , but failed to find anything worth reading. If he’d wanted to seduce a self-conscious middle aged man away from his marriage vows, perhaps he’d be more interested. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall - he did all his work sitting on the floor, since there was no desk. A few deep breaths, and then the thoughts started to press in again, threatening to drag him somewhere he didn’t intend to go, and so he opened his eyes and picked up the list of Biblical prophecies, scanning it for what felt like the billionth time.

His boredom was interrupted moments later by Crowley, who crashed into the room, pale-faced and wild-eyed.

Aziraphale was on his feet in an instant. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Bastards,” Crowley spat. “Nasty fuckers - think that’s funny, do they? Wish it on the lot of them. Would be a sight.”

“Crowley, dear,” Aziraphale said. Crowley wasn’t making any sense. “What is it?”

Crowley pointed a shaking finger out at the hallway. Aziraphale couldn’t leave the room, but he could see out when the door was open. He followed Crowley’s gesture. On the floor, just outside Aziraphale’s cell, was a little mat that said “WELCOME TO PARADISE” in looping script, and for some reason, had an image of two flip-flop sandals. Set on top of the mat was an odd metal object.

“I’m sorry, darling,” Aziraphale said, “but I don’t understand.”

Crowley was pacing around the room, too agitated to answer, occasionally unleashing a string of curses and waving in the general direction of the thing. 

Aziraphale walked over and closed the door. “See? It’s gone now. You’re alright, Crowley.” 

Crowley collapsed into the chair, breathing hard and rubbing the back of his neck. Aziraphale knelt next to him. “What was that? Crowley, what did it mean?”

Crowley shook his head, but Aziraphale pressed, and eventually the story came tumbling out. Once Crowley started to explain, about the retinet and what it had done, it became clear to Aziraphale that he wasn’t the only one who had kept some secrets about his time in Hell. 

Would they do that to him? Aziraphale had never seen Crowley so frightened of anything. The idea that whatever could reduce Crowley to this might be in his own future was perhaps the scariest thing Aziraphale had ever faced. He tried to push that worry out of his mind, though. Right now, Crowley needed him to be brave. He pulled the demon to the floor and held him tightly, willing the shock of the cruel prank, and the pain of revisited memories, to fade.

Crowley eventually lifted his head and smiled. “Did find you this, though,” he said, and reached into his pocket to produce a wrinkled catalog of shoes designed to help demonic wearers resist consecrated ground. “Not sure it’ll help here, but good to know for the next time you get yourself into trouble in a church.”

Aziraphale grinned at the reminder of their old life. He added the catalog to one of the neat stacks piled around the edge of the room, filing it with other pieces of information about Hellish inventions and technology.

And then it hit him. 

“Crowley,” he said. “I think - I’m so sorry, Crowley, but - you should take it.”

“What?”

“The retinet,” Aziraphale said, trying to pretend he didn’t see the way Crowley flinched just at the word. “I think we should keep it.”

“They don’t work on demons,” Crowley said. “I just told you -”

“It would be one less in their inventory,” Aziraphale said, knowing his argument was unconvincing. “Them the fools, handing it to us.”

“Where would we keep it?”

“In here, somewhere.” Aziraphale made a face he hoped looked placating, but felt more like a grimace.

Crowley very clearly hated that idea. Aziraphale hated asking him to do it - to touch the retinet, to bring it into the only safe space the two of them had down here. But it was the first thing approximating a weapon that they’d come across.

“At least you wouldn’t have to step over it again?”

Crowley ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, an anxious habit that only reminded Aziraphale of how much he missed Crowley’s red curls. “They’re dangerous, angel.”

“I know. That’s why I want it.”

Crowley looked at him then, really looked at him, and in those golden eyes Aziraphale saw love, and concern, but now there was also a sheen of awe. I’m going to get us out of here , Aziraphale tried to communicate with his own eyes. I promise. Please trust me.

“Alright.” Crowley stood. It only took him a few long strides to get to the door. He squared his shoulders and pushed it open, then looked up and down the hallway, confirming that they were alone. Then he snatched the retinet, yanking it back into the room and letting it drop to the floor.

Aziraphale picked it up gingerly, held between two fingertips, and inspected it. Crowley shuddered. 

They spent the next few hours constructing a tower of books in the corner that looked inconspicuous enough, but concealed the retinet behind a few stacks, and covered it with a layer of books balanced on top. Aziraphale loved the way the time flew by as they worked on this project together, arranging the books just so. 

Finally, it was fully ensconced, and no one would ever guess that the books had been placed to hide something. Crowley seemed to relax now that it was trapped in a little fortress. He took his nightly position, stretched out with his head in Aziraphale’s lap. Once he was asleep, Aziraphale took out his most important list, the one titled Facts That May Aid In An Escape, and added one more fact: 

We have a retinet.

Chapter Text

On the 29th day, the clock gained two more digits, now counting down minutes as well as hours and days. Crowley was, at this point, more annoyed than angry. It felt like the nerves that carried anger through his brain and body were worn out, like he had fully exhausted his ability to feel rage. 

Now he was just tired. And sad. And on edge. He’d been making more and more runs into the depths of Hell, searching for anything that might help get Aziraphale out from under the looming threat. Which meant more encounters with demons. He tried to see it all as a routine, a series of steps each required for the rescue: wake up, snuggle Aziraphale, work up some courage. Step over the garish welcome mat, slip down a hallway, look for books, for tools, for clues. Get assaulted, shake it off, keep going. Find something, smuggle it back to Aziraphale. 

This morning, though, he had no intention of leaving. He would spend every second of the final twenty-four hours here, with Aziraphale. 

Not that it would make any difference. It wasn’t like bodies could bank up comfort and protect themselves from coming pain. Still, he wasn’t going anywhere. They were curled up together on the floor, Aziraphale nuzzled into Crowley, wrapped in the demon’s willowy arms. The clock read 29:09:23. Crowley closed his eyes and waited for the click he knew was coming when it struck 29:09:24. 

Eventually, Aziraphale roused from his embrace and sat up, rolling his shoulders. “It really is a spectacular opportunity,” he said.

“What?” Lately, it felt to Crowley like Aziraphale was constantly having conversations inside his own head, and when he did speak out loud, he just dropped Crowley into an already existing train of thought, leaving the demon scrambling to catch up to whatever context Aziraphale hadn’t remembered to share. Captivity was not being kind to the angel. He had the energy of a tiger circling its too-small cage. He read the same book chapters over and over. He spent hours writing down bizarre lists. He had developed an odd nervous tic, rubbing his left forearm so often and so hard that the fabric on the sleeve was beginning to grow sheer. 

“Today - tomorrow - whenever it happens. You know every demon down here’s going to be there.”

“I suppose.” Crowley did not want to think about all the citizens of Hell crowded around to watch Aziraphale be tortured.

“Which means you’ll have free rein of the place.”

“Angel, I -”

“We’ve talked about this, Crowley. It’s not wise for you to be there. Not even sure they’d allow it.”

Aziraphale was right - they had talked about it, at length. Crowley wanted to leverage his position as Aziraphale’s jailer to ensure he was present. He had visions of himself holding Aziraphale, coaching and comforting him through the ordeal. It was unthinkable that he would leave Aziraphale alone to endure.

Aziraphale believed that the contract suspended Crowley’s rights to him for those three hours. He’d insisted that it would do more harm than good, were Crowley to attend. 

Aziraphale continued, “There will be places left unguarded, I’m sure. If there’s anything that can help us, it’s probably in Beelzebub’s office, or somewhere like that. It’s silly, really, not to take advantage.”

Crowley had to admit that the angel was right. As usual. For all his chosen softness, he was created to be a warrior. Strategy over sentiment. Not like Crowley, who fell apart so easily, who felt always at the mercy of his passions. 

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll get you anything I can. But as soon as the three hours are up, I’ll be back here. For you.”

“I know,” Aziraphale said, and his voice was full of relief, of trust, of apprehension, of love.

They did not discuss it again, passing the rest of the day with distractions as best they could. Crowley folded a pamphlet into a crane, though Aziraphale said it looked more like the fat old rooster that had lived in the Dowling’s garden. They played some silly human games with pieces made of crumpled paper, but neither could focus long enough to determine a winner. They lay for a while in heavy silence, broken only by the hard plastic sound that marked every sixty seconds. 

At 30:00:00, the clock switched from black and white to glowing red. An awful energy seemed to fill the place, the ravenous glee of Hell’s citizenry, so long denied.

Aziraphale stood and reached a hand down to lift Crowley from the floor. 

“It’s time,” he said, pointlessly.

Crowley rose and took Aziraphale’s face in his hands, kissing him deeply, dreading the moment he’d have to pull away. 

“I love you,” Crowley said at last.

“I love you,” Aziraphale replied. And then there was a clamoring noise outside the door. Aziraphale locked eyes with Crowley and gave him a small nod. His eyes glimmered with tears, but his jaw was set, resolute. 

Crowley returned the nod, though he was sure his expression was far less stoic. He slipped outside just before the crowd surged down the hallway, led by Corson and Hastur. When he glanced back, Aziraphale was facing the crowd, standing with his shoulders square, hands clasped behind his back, looking for all the world like a soldier of Heaven. 

Chapter Text

Crowley raced down the halls, heart pounding, skin clammy with sweat. The whole place glowed red as the clock, now counting down 3 hours, flashed on nearly every surface. He did his best to ignore the awful lighting and scanned furiously for the way to the main offices. He hadn’t been this way for a while, since he avoided the more heavily trafficked areas, and everything looked different drenched in neon red.

He found it, though, following a wide hallway plastered with scolding posters. He’d never seen Hell this empty - normally this was a bustling thoroughfare of demons heading to and from Earth and going about other infernal business. The eerie sense of abandonment only reminded him where everyone was. Crowley felt an overwhelming urge to run in the other direction, to run to Aziraphale. How could he be here, looking for books of all things, when he knew what they were doing to his angel? Everything in him screamed that he should be there, fighting, clawing, defending. 

Everything but that small part of him that spoke with Aziraphale’s voice. It pressed him on toward hope, toward action, toward trust. This is fighting , he told himself.

He skidded to a stop outside an office he thought was Hastur’s and dashed inside. It was a mess. Hanging on a hook - no, it was a rotted piece of the wall that was hanging down at a 90 degree angle - was a leather satchel, one he thought had belonged to Ligur. He grabbed it and threw it over his shoulder, then slammed through the office, frantically looking for something helpful. 

Nothing in Hastur’s office that Aziraphale would appreciate, though Crowley did steal a little stone carving of a disfigured lizard he knew Hastur prized, having received it as an offering sometime in the 12th century.

He ran next door, not knowing or caring who that room belonged to. The clock told him he had about two hours remaining. He was getting a headache from the glaring red light. In this room, he found two books on the demonic caste system, which he shoved into the satchel. Could be relevant to his predicament, at least. 

He flew through a few more rooms, trying to balance his time-limited search with the need to leave things mostly the way he’d found them. No sense in getting everyone riled up and suspicious. Returning to the hallway, Crowley was about to break into a run again when he ran into a squat, toadish demon. 

“Hey!” the demon shouted, advancing on Crowley, who in that moment had less patience for demonic harassment than he’d ever had in his millennia of existence.

“Oh, get fucked.” Crowley swung the satchel and caught it hard in one bulgy eye. The toad-demon stumbled backwards, croaking indignant curses. Crowley sprinted off, ducking into the first doorway he found, which led to a staircase he scrambled down. At the bottom, he paused, listening for footsteps. Didn’t seem like that demon was following him, though he did hear something else.

Flies.

Was this Beelzebub’s chambers? 

Crowley crept forward. It all certainly looked like his style. Yes, there was the throne Aziraphale had described from his visit. A shudder ran through him, thinking about what had happened here, and what almost happened. 

The clock, which down here was visible everywhere - the stairs and railings of the stairs, the black leather of the throne - marked two hours down. Over halfway done, he thought, wishing more than anything that he could be there to say the words. Be strong, angel.

He spun around wildly, looking for anything that could be a library, an office. Surely as the reigning prince here, Beelzebub would have documentation that described arrangements with Heaven, the rights of prisoners, something.

Crowley pushed through a heavy metal door, its paint peeling. A room that looked like a butcher’s shop held torture implements, hanging from chains and hooks all over. Disgusted, Crowley ran for another door, yanking it open to find a chamber piled with the foulest smelling garbage he’d ever come across, covered in squirming ivory colored maggots. Fighting the urge to vomit, he stumbled back into the main corridor. 

All the red light made his head throb, his eyes burn. His chest heaved with adrenaline. He had to find something. Couldn’t go back empty handed. Not after getting this far. This close. He pressed his hands against his temples, internally commanding himself to get it together!

There, behind the throne. A narrower door, plainer. He pulled it open. Looked like a storage closet. With file cabinets inside. File cabinets ! He opened one beige metal drawer and steadied his hand enough to rifle through the tabs. One said DEALINGS WITH HEAVEN. Another said ARCH/ANGELS IN HELL. Thrilling at his luck, Crowley grabbed everything he could and shoved the files into his satchel. He ransacked every cabinet in there, stuffing the satchel with anything and everything he could find. 

The red numbers flashing inside the closet read 00:22:34. He had less than half an hour to get back. Crowley slammed all the cabinet drawers shut and closed the closet, hoping it would be awhile before anyone noticed the mess he’d left the files in. He took the metal stairs two at a time, checking that the hallway was clear before hurrying back to the room, nearly leaping over the welcome mat. He crammed the satchel under the chair cushion, which didn’t do much to hide it, and only looked lumpy and absurd. Hopefully when they came to return Aziraphale, they’d be too distracted to notice.

When they came to return him. Aziraphale. The clock read 00:12:14. Crowley had absolutely no idea what to do with himself for the next twelve minutes and fourteen seconds. He stood. He sat. He paced. He opened the door and peeked out. He poked at a stack of books with his toe. He closed his eyes and tried to see how long he could go without checking the time. (His record was about seven seconds.)

Aziraphale’s clothing was sitting neatly on a tall stack of books in the corner. Crowley wanted to touch it, to bury his face in it. But the angel had left it all so primly folded, and Crowley knew he’d never get those creases back the right way. He stood and looked at them for a bit, marveling at Aziraphale’s ability to take such care with these things, even in the face of Hell’s worst. 

After what felt like an eternity, he saw the minute section tick to 00, and then there were only sixty seconds left. He balled his fists and willed himself to be still. They’ll take every last second , he told himself. It’s not like that door’s going to open in one minute exactly. But soon. Soon they would be hauling Aziraphale back down that cursed hallway. 

The clock read 00:00:00, and its red glow faded. Everything went still. Tense. Crowley’s entire body felt like one giant knot. He twisted his fingers together and ground his teeth, staring at the door.

And then, finally, there he was. His angel. When the door opened Crowley barely heard the shouts and jeers of the crowd because there was Aziraphale. Someone dumped him inside and he crumpled on the floor, naked and bloodied, a pile of tattered wings and broken limbs. Crowley was at his side in an instant. 

“Angel, angel, I’m here,” Crowley said, gingerly taking Aziraphale into his lap.

Aziraphale looked up at him through swollen eyes and smiled weakly. “I knew,” he said. He raised one hand as if to touch Crowley, but it wavered in the air, missing the strength to make it to Crowley’s chest. Crowley reached out and took Aziraphale’s hand, which felt cool and shaky, and held it tight. “I knew you would be.”

Chapter Text

Crowley’s joy at having Aziraphale back in his arms was tempered by the sight of the angel so battered. He wished he could simply miracle a big fluffy bed and a warm bath. But the strength of the bindings on this room weighed on him too - one unfortunate side effect of his lovelorn defection. Besides, he had to save his strength for whatever healing he could provide. 

“Oh, angel, what have they done to you?” Crowley murmured, running a gentle hand through Aziraphale’s sweat-soaked hair. The angel started to form a response, but Crowley shushed him. “Was rhetorical, love.” 

“Now,” Crowley said, trying to hold back a flood of tears, “let’s get you sorted.” He remembered all too well how this felt, the hours that dragged on after a session, when everything hurt and there wasn’t even the promise of an end. They were memories Crowley preferred not to revisit, but now he was glad for them, guiding him toward a terrible empathy.

The face. It was always his face that pained him the most. He laid his hands on either side of Aziraphale’s, holding firmly as the angel winced away. “Sorry, sorry,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and focused all of his energy into his fingertips. Healing angels wasn’t exactly in the demon playbook, but since they were Hell-inflicted wounds, Crowley had some jurisdiction. His ears rang and his muscles ached as he forced his muted powers to do something they were never meant for. But it worked. The swelling went down, and a particularly nasty cut along Aziraphale’s brow stopped bleeding. He saw a rush of relief relax Aziraphale’s shoulders. 

“A little better?”

“Yeh,” Aziraphale said. He did not sound convincing. It wasn’t at all like the angel to resort to such casual speech, and Crowley knew he was still in plenty of pain. 

Crowley shifted, trying to get a better look at the rest of Aziraphale’s injuries. Between the blood everywhere and the wings strewn where he’d fallen, it wasn’t easy. “Do you think you could put your wings away for now?” 

Aziraphale groaned, and one of his wings twitched. Crowley noticed it sat at an odd angle, and it seemed Aziraphale couldn’t fold it in. 

“Hold on,” Crowley said, gently setting Aziraphale back on the floor and standing up. He took the wing in his hand and slowly, tenderly, bent it into a more natural position. Aziraphale whined and gripped the rough carpet. “Almost there,” Crowley soothed, moving more quickly now, knowing it was better to get it over with. Once he got the wing in place against Aziraphale’s back, the angel shuddered, pulled his other wing in, and then they disappeared.

“Good, good, that’s good.” Crowley knelt down, cradling Aziraphale, who was crying now. Crowley placed a hand flat on his back and directed the last bit of his healing powers toward broken ribs and deeply rent skin. The rest he’d have to handle the old-fashioned way. 

Crowley stood up again and looked around the room for something he could use to patch Aziraphale up. He picked up the leather satchel and dumped out all of its contents, then reached inside. It was lined with some soft fabric - Ligur must have taken this from Earth, demons didn’t make things like this. Crowley ripped the fabric out, ending up with a nice big square of it.

When he looked up from that project, he saw that Aziraphale had used the new burst of strength from Crowley’s healing work to start dragging himself toward the stack of books he was using as a wardrobe, reaching one arm out for his shirt.

“Angel, hey.” Crowley returned to Aziraphale’s side. He took his arm gently and brought it back down, pulling Aziraphale into a more comfortable position. “Try and relax.”

“My...my…” Aziraphale continued to try and reach his clothing. Crowley doubted Aziraphale could even physically get dressed in this state, given the damage to his body. 

“You don’t need your clothes,” Crowley said. “It’s alright. It’s just us here.” Again he took Aziraphale’s hand and drew it back, holding it still. He didn’t want Aziraphale to keep wasting his strength struggling to get to his shirt.

Aziraphale did not seem happy about this. Crowley couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t hard to understand that Aziraphale felt exposed, that he wanted the semblance of safety his clothing provided. But though Crowley’s general instinct was to give Aziraphale anything he wanted, it didn’t seem prudent to give in to whatever pain-addled delusions were driving him. 

“Please, love, just be still.”Aziraphale squirmed, clearly uncomfortable, eyes alternating between unfocused and glaring. Crowley thought back to his darkest moments, wondered how he would have behaved if Aziraphale had been there. Wondering what Aziraphale could have done to ease his suffering. If that was possible. 

“I know. I know. I’m sorry.” Crowley picked up the piece of fabric he’d torn from the satchel and ripped it in two, setting one half aside. “But you’ll get your nice shirt all bloody. Can’t have that. Let’s get you cleaned up, okay?” 

The chatter was calming, or at least distracting, because Aziraphale stopped fussing. Crowley started dabbing at his back with the cloth. The angel hissed through his teeth at every touch, but he tolerated it. Crowley kept talking, a steady patter of reassuring phrases, as he tended to Aziraphale. 

“That’s it, there you go. Gonna be right as rain, soon. I know it hurts. My brave angel. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, I’m here. Sshhh.”

After a bit, Crowley stopped and looked over his work. Now that the blood was mostly cleared, he could see that Aziraphale’s skin was a mess of cuts, burns, and bruises. Every muscle was tight and twisted with pain. And Crowley knew from experience that he felt even worse than he looked. Their bodies could take a lot more than a standard human one. The fact that his body wasn’t actively dying didn’t mean much. 

One shoulder looked especially bad, and hadn’t responded to the miracle Crowley focused on any broken bones. He took the remaining fabric and tore it into a few wide strips. Then he took a deep breath. This was not going to be fun.

Crowley leaned over so his head was nearly on the floor. He would have been looking straight into Aziraphale’s eyes, if they weren’t clenched shut. “Angel. Aziraphale. Can you listen?”

Aziraphale opened his eyes. “Crowley…”

“Yes, yes. No need to talk. Just listen, can you do that?”

“Uh huh.”

“I need to set your arm. It’s - it’s going to hurt. I’m so sorry, Aziraphale. I don’t want to hurt you. But it’ll help. I promise. Okay?”

Aziraphale blinked at him. He looked scared. Crowley wondered if it might be better to just leave it alone until Aziraphale was a bit more alert. He wasn’t sure either of them could survive it if Aziraphale’s dazed mind associated Crowley with the torture he’d just endured.

But then that soldier’s blaze returned to Aziraphale’s expression. He suddenly looked a lot more like the angel Crowley knew than he had a moment ago. His mouth was still twisted in agony, but his voice was clear. “Okay.”

Crowley repositioned himself so that he kneeling over Aziraphale, wrapped the fabric strips around his hands, and paused. “It’ll be over real quick,” he said. “I promise.”

Aziraphale said nothing, lying rigid under his touch. Crowley steeled himself. And then he wrenched the abused muscle into place, forcing the bone back where it belonged. Aziraphale screamed, a low moaning sound. If heartbreak could kill, Crowley would have discorporated then and there. 

“There, you did it, you’re done, it’s done,” Crowley whispered as he tied the fabric around Aziraphale’s shoulder and arm as a makeshift brace. Then he lay down beside Aziraphale, who was whimpering and biting down on one of his fingers. “I’m so sorry. You were so brave. It’s over. I’ve got you.” 

There was nothing more Crowley could do, not the way things were. All there was for it now was to give it time. Aziraphale would heal on his own powers, though much more slowly than he would without the bindings. Crowley could try another miracle after some sleep.

So he just held on, stroking Aziraphale wherever there was enough unbroken skin, kissing him softly, telling him over and over how incredible he was, how strong, how lovely, how loved. Aziraphale clung to him, and eventually his ragged breathing slowed and started to match Crowley’s. He dozed through the day, though his sleep was restless and fitful. Occasionally he mumbled something, but Crowley never caught what it was.

Crowley spent every moment on the floor making sure Aziraphale was nestled comfortably against him, providing constant reminders of his presence with words and touch. He kept an eye on that shoulder, subtly repositioning the angel’s body as he slept. Though he was glad for the rest Aziraphale was getting, it did worry him a bit, since he knew Aziraphale was never much one for sleep. 

Finally, toward the evening hours, Aziraphale awoke and made to sit up. 

“Whoah, there.” Crowley stopped Aziraphale from putting any weight on his bad arm. “Let me, angel.” He half-lifted Aziraphale into the chair. They looked at each other for a long moment. 

Unable to abide the heavy silence hanging between them, Crowley asked perhaps the stupidest question he’d ever posed. 

“How’re you feeling?”

Aziraphale paused, as if he were carefully considering his answer. 

Then he said, “I’d rather like to get dressed.”

Chapter Text

It took both of them the better part of a half hour to get Aziraphale into his clothing. It seemed that no matter how careful he was, even the slightest movement tugged sickeningly on a fresh cut or whip-lash. He had always taken his corporation for granted, never noticed how complicated it was just to bend his arms back and slide them into shirtsleeves. Now, though, his body protested any motion, and the previously simple action of putting on a shirt felt impossible.

But between Aziraphale’s determination and Crowley’s patience, they made it. It seemed almost as if Crowley had more than two hands as he flitted around, attending to every part of Aziraphale, anticipating every small need. Together, tugging the fabric inch by inch, they got him dressed. Aziraphale slumped in the chair, out of breath and exhausted. Though he was more comfortable now that he was clothed, everything still hurt. Badly.

Crowley stood in front of him, hands in his pockets. “It gets better,” he said with a shrug that indicated he knew his words were useless in the comfort department.

Aziraphale wanted to reply, but no words came. Crowley was speaking from experience - referring to his own knowledge in an attempt to guide Aziraphale through this awful thing. Crowley had endured this, and so much worse. Aziraphale was only at the mercy of the demons for three hours, and he knew his Crowley would be waiting for him after it ended.

Crowley had felt all this, but he had been alone, and with no end in sight. Aziraphale took an account of how much pain he was still in. He couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be taken again, in this state, everything still raw.

Aziraphale looked up at Crowley. He could see the way Crowley’s recent ordeal still hung on him, in the new gaunt hollows of his face, the anxious darting of his eyes, the cautious movements that had replaced his casual swagger. The thought of Crowley in the same place he had just been - Aziraphale couldn’t stand it.

“Oh, Crowley,” was all he could say. 

Crowley straightened his spine and smiled, a bit too brightly for it to be genuine. “No, angel, I didn’t mean - it’s fine, I’m fine.” He knelt by Aziraphale, tentatively draping one arm over his legs. Aziraphale wanted Crowley to sit in the chair with him, cuddled up the way they used to, but he had to admit that Crowley was wise not to try, given the state Aziraphale was in.

Aziraphale rested a hand on Crowley’s shoulder, gazing down at him. Their eyes met, and Crowley’s false smile faded into a more natural one. They sat together, basking in each other’s company.

And then the clock flipped, with a harsh plastic sound. 

Aziraphale jumped. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. It felt as if someone else was there, some demonic presence, come to take him away, to hurt him again. He felt the words more than he heard it, snapping forth from his tongue. “No!”

Then Crowley was standing next to him, drawing him back with soft touches and whispered words. “It’s okay, it’s okay, Aziraphale. I’m here.”

Aziraphale looked around the room, as if he didn’t believe he and Crowley were alone. “What?”

“Nothing’s happening, angel,” Crowley said. “You’re safe.”

Aziraphale shook his head, disoriented. 

Crowley shot the clock a blazingly hateful glance. “Blasted thing.”

Aziraphale stared at the clock. “Fourteen hours and zero minutes,” he said flatly.

“Yes,” Crowley said. “That’s, er, how long it’s been. But you’re safe now, I promise. You’ve - we’ve got time. Plenty of time.”

“Right.” Aziraphale was coming back to himself. The clock ticked every hour. He knew that. No reason to lose his head. He told himself to feel silly. “Right.”

Crowley was looking at him with concern. Aziraphale sighed. “I’m sorry. I thought - I was startled, is all.”

“S’alright,” Crowley said with a wave of his hand. Silence hung between them, weighty and sorrowful, until he spoke again. “Do you...want to talk about it?”

Aziraphale considered the question. Did he? Perhaps it was prudent. That’s what the humans always said, anyway. That one should talk about things like this. But the thought of it made him feel sick. How would he even find the words? Were there any words for this thing, these things that had happened to him, and to Crowley, and to them, together?

Maybe later. Right now, he didn’t think he could bring himself to revisit any of it, let alone speak it out loud. 

“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course.” Crowley seemed relieved. Aziraphale clearly wasn’t the only one who didn’t feel up to a conversation that required them to acknowledge and name their own torture.

As his nerves calmed more, the room came back into focus around him. Loose papers and dusty folders were scattered around on the floor near a torn up leather bag. 

“What’s all this?”

Crowley followed Aziraphale’s gaze. “Oh!” he said, sounding happier than he had in a while. “I got you something.”

Chapter Text

Crowley held his breath while Aziraphale looked through the loose papers, glancing over their titles.

“Crowley,” he finally said, looking up. “These are magnificent.”

“I don’t know about that,” Crowley said. “I wouldn’t call anything down here magnificent, really.”

Aziraphale smiled, something twinkling in his eyes. “You’re down here.”

“Uh, well.” Crowley picked up one of the folders and pretended to examine it. “That’s not - you know - augh.”

He didn’t know why Aziraphale insisted on saying things like that. After all, wasn’t Crowley the reason he was down here? He was a demon, and now Azirpahale had seen what demons truly were. Where Crowley was from. And hadn’t Aziraphale seen him at his absolute worst, destroyed and degraded, pathetic? How could he still say Crowley was magnificent after so much evidence otherwise?

But he didn’t have energy to argue, and Aziraphale was just smiling at him, no trace of irony in his eyes, and all Crowley could do was flail under the enormity of Aziraphale’s love.

Desperate to change the subject, he asked, “so, think there’s anything in there that can help us?”

“I’ll have to see, dear,” Aziraphale said. “But I’m sure there will be. You’ve been so clever, finding this. You did amazing. I know it wasn’t easy.”

Yeah, right, Crowley thought. W hile you were under the lash and the chain and the fire and Satan knows what all else, I was running around grabbing paperwork. I’m the real hero here for sure. 

He didn’t say any of that, though. Just swallowed hard, mumbled “I’ll let you read, then,” and settled himself on the floor.

Aziraphale usually preferred to read without distraction, and back in the bookshop, Crowley did his best to stay out of the angel’s way - taking long walks, tending to the plants, napping. But the room here was so tiny that all he could do was try not to fidget and pace too much. There was no way he was stepping outside, not today.

So he watched Aziraphale read. It seemed to take him much longer than usual to get through a page. Crowley knew Aziraphale liked to read things carefully, deeply - but he looked like he was struggling to get through every line. His brow wrinkled with concentration in a way Crowley had never seen before. Maybe he really does need those reading glasses?

Then Crowley noticed the way Aziraphale’s hand quivered as he held the paper in front of his face. He can see just fine. He just can’t focus through all the pain.

Crowley perched himself on the thin arm of the chair and tried to sound nonchalant. “Want me to read some to you?”

“Oh!” Aziraphale looked up at Crowley. “But you’ve never really been one for-”

“Nah,” Crowley waved his hand. “Just said that.” He reached for the paper in Aziraphale’s hand and the angel gave it up without protest. “Lemme see.”

Crowley squinted at the page. Dense legalese in tiny print. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.  

But he read it, slowly, and Aziraphale seemed amenable to the pace. He got through three paragraphs about the bureaucratic intricacies regarding prisoner transfer between different dominions of Hell before Aziraphale started rubbing his head and shifting around in his seat.

“You alright?” Crowley asked.

“Yes, yes,” Aziraphale said, dropping his hands. “Just lost you for a moment. Sorry. What was the last sentence?”

Crowley didn’t like that choice of language. Just lost you for a moment . He tried to find his place on the page. What was the last sentence he read? He picked a spot at random and started again. Aziraphale didn’t say anything, so he figured he was close.

When he finished, he dropped the paper to the floor. “Shall we call it a night?” 

Aziraphale frowned. His eyes looked tired. He sagged in the chair. “We ought to keep reading, I think.” 

Crowley glanced at the clock, trying to hide the motion. “We have plenty of time, angel. You need some rest.”

Aziraphale bent down to pick another sheet of paper off the floor, then collapsed onto his hands and knees. Bloodstains bloomed on the back of his shirt as freshly healed cuts reopened with the movement.

“Angel!” Crowley tried to lift him up as Aziraphale grabbed some papers, wrinkling them in his fist.

“Oh, bother,” Aziraphale said. “It’s all such a mess, isn’t it?”

“It’s - no - it’s fine - just sit back, angel, please.” Crowley eased Aziraphale down into the chair as the angel fussed with the papers, reaching for one that had fallen from his lap. “I’ll get them, stop, just let me.” 

“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” Aziraphale said, once Crowley got him situated and handed him all the papers he’d dropped. 

“What? No,” Crowley said. “You didn’t frighten me. I’m not - it’s this whole place, this situation.” He ran a hand over his face in exasperation. 

“Which is why I’m trying to find us a way out.” Aziraphale sounded frustrated. Crowley tried to calm himself down.

“I know, I know, angel. But you need to heal. It’s no good if we find a way out if you don’t - if we can’t make it.”

Aziraphale’s voice was as hard and cool as Crowley’s was stuttering and flustered. 

“We will make it.”

Crowley sighed. It wasn’t exactly an argument he wanted to lose. 

“Just take it easy with yourself, please.” 

Aziraphale reached out a hand, inviting Crowley back onto the chair with him. “Of course.”

Crowley held Aziraphale’s hand and focused on a tiny healing miracle, all he could manage. Aziraphale exhaled with relief, his hand relaxing in Crowley’s.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Aziraphale said, but even he didn’t sound convinced. Crowley drank in the way the angel’s eyes had softened at the edges, the way his voice sounded less strained. He wished he could do more, so much more, but being able to provide this small bit of comfort was more joy than Crowley had felt in a long time.

“Alright,” Crowley said, grabbing a sheet of paper. “Let’s figure out how to beat these bastards at their own game.”