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I Feel a Fire (In the Back of My Throat)

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The plan goes off without a hitch which is Crowley’s first hint that there must be a catch. Too good to be true, as the humans say; waiting for the other shoe to fall and there is always another shoe. Usually something large and steel toed, clunky and entirely unfashionable.

In his long deployment on Earth he’s seen it countless times: armies celebrating too early, victors lowering their guard before the coast is clear. Humans have a funny way of letting their triumph overcome all rational thought. Luckily, demons aren’t so susceptible to that same blunder.

Aziraphale has been discussing the Ritz’s fall dessert selection for the last forty-six minutes. Crowley’s not sure when his attention began straying, scanning the dining room for anyone regarding them with too much interest. He’s usually rather adept at adding thoughtful interjections and quiet agreements at the correct intervals, even when his attention is divided. Evidently, he’s a bit off his game this afternoon.

“And you know, I was worried about the Grand Marnier coming through too strong in the souffle, but it really is delightful, and… dear boy, you seem rather preoccupied.”

“Hm? Oh, sorry, angel,” he says, feigning indifference with a shrug. “You know desserts aren’t my fancy. Besides, even you can’t tell the difference between Grand Marnier and Cointreau once it’s baked into a souffle.”

It’s low hanging fruit. Aziraphale’s feathers are easy to ruffle when the precision of his palate is in question and quips like that are a sure-fire way to launch him into a lengthy tirade with the benefit of extending Crowley’s company with him. It’s worked for thousands of years, just not this time it seems.

Aziraphale doesn’t rise to the bait, tilting his head slightly as he sets down his spoon and gives the demon a contemplative look. “I know a deflection when I hear one. Is everything alright?” The angel’s attempts at subtlety fall flat as his gaze darts suspiciously about the room. “Are we being… tailed?”

Crowley rolls his eyes behind his sunglasses. “You usually have to be moving for someone to tail you, angel, but no, not that I can tell. Just a bit on edge I suppose.”

There’s the barest pout to Aziraphale’s frown and Crowley tries not to think about catching that jutting lower lip between his teeth to see if he can taste the orange liqueur.[1]

“I thought you said they’d leave us alone for a bit?”

“I know what I said, angel,” he snaps back. “That doesn’t mean I’m right. We can’t go assuming everything will be tickety-boo until the next turn of the century.”

He says it with enough venom that it gives the angel pause, but slowly Aziraphale’s expression settles into something fond and it churns his stomach, so much so that Crowley’s champagne turns to scotch as he downs the last of it.

His brooding is cut short when Aziraphale places a hand over his. The unexpectedness of it almost makes him pull away, but the soft, understanding smile that Aziraphale is giving him settles the unrest humming under his skin.

“Crowley, my dear, I know you’re right. Heaven knows I would have been discorporated many times over if it wasn’t for your impeccable instincts, but I’d like to think we’re safe for a least a little while, don’t you?”

He’s not sure how Aziraphale does it. How he always seems to know the exact right thing to say to pacify the troubles of others. His hand still sits warm atop Crowley’s, thumb idly brushing along his knuckle. The angelic tranquility that constantly seems to radiate from his being feels all the more potent with his touch and Crowley wonders if Aziraphale can feel his opposing demonic influence.

Instead of replying he reaches over with his free hand, as though he intends to cover Aziraphale’s, but instead darts viper-fast to snatch the last macaron from the angel’s plate and pop it into his mouth.

Aziraphale’s expression teeters between outrage and betrayal. “Crowley! I was saving that for last!” He snatches back his hand but not before swatting the demon’s arm.

Swallowing down the morsel, Crowley grins fiendishly. “That’s what happens when you let your guard down, angel,” he taunts.

Before the angel gets too pouty, Crowley snaps his fingers and a waiter with a small plate of macarons destined for table twenty-three makes a course correction for theirs instead. Aziraphale gives him an admonishing look but when the plate arrives he still sees fit to help himself.

Mollified for now, Crowley lounges in his seat as he scrutinizes the macarons. “I saw a sign in that pretentious little bakery near Stratford, said they've got vegan macarons,” he needles, prompting another good-natured argument.

“Vegan macarons? But how can they possibly…? This is your doing, isn’t it?”

“I’ve told you, angel, the keto diet was one of mine, not vegan.”

“Well it’s still beastly,” the angel admonishes.[2] “You simply cannot make a proper meringue without eggs.”

Aziraphale launches into a spiel about the delicate chemistry of baking and Crowley makes sure to give him his full attention this time. The first of the dinner reservations have begun to trickle in before they finally settle the bill and the doubt that was holding his muscles tense has waned to almost nothing.

Perhaps Crowley is letting his own suspicion get the best of him. Recalling the looks on the Archangels’ faces as they watched a Principality soak up Hellfire like a warm summer day, it will surely take some time for them to grow bold enough to seek vengeance. And since that wanker Michael witnessed a demon taking a pleasant dip in Holy water, Heaven should be doubly cautious about crossing them. Crowley has far more fear of Heaven’s retaliation than Hell’s. They say demons are prideful creatures, but Heaven’s justice is swift. Crowley would know. It’s called Divine wrath for a reason, but he won’t be facing it alone.

Aziraphale flashes him a smile as he climbs into the passenger seat of the Bentley and buckles himself in.

On their own side, come Heaven or hellfire, they’ll face it together. So Crowley lets himself relax into his seat, humming along to something that couldn’t possibly be described as bebop, as he weaves through central London.

Aziraphale doesn’t comment on his speed even once.

No, the paranoia doesn’t resurface until they’re back at the bookshop polishing off a well deserved 1947 Cheval Blanc. His sunglasses have slipped somewhere between the couch cushions and a pleasant buzz stirs in the back of Crowley’s skull. An easy grin spreads across his lips as Aziraphale trips over his words for the umpteenth time.

“I mean, your side might be able to take credit for differench- differ- differential equations of all things, but trigonometry is certainly not demonic!”

Divine Maths. It’s been 6000 years and somehow there are still arguments that an angel and a demon can debate while getting comfortably drunk.

“Ah, ah, I think you’re forgetting that bit in the 17th century when your lot put that Italian in prison for saying the universe doesn’t revolve around the Earth,” he needles, even if it’s a weak argument. “Used all kinds of maths to figure that one out.”

Aziraphale huffs. “You know very well I’ve never had any say in the policies of the Roman Catholic Church and he wasn’t thrown in prison. It was just house arrest.”

“For heresssy,” Crowley counters.

“Look, I’ve told you just because the church condemns something that doesn’t mean it’s a Sin. Not in the eyes of the Almighty.” Aziraphale takes a long drink from his glass, wincing slightly before waving a dismissive hand. “Oh, humans are always misinterpreting Her will.”

The demon smirks. “Don’t let your friends at the Vatican hear that.”

Aziraphale reclines back in his chair as he sighs. “I’m afraid it’s been ages since I’ve visited the Holy See in any official capacity. Oh, I do miss the Sistine Chapel, but those clever humans and their photography. Makes it quite difficult to hide one’s immortality, even if you skip two generations of cardinals.”

Crowley raises an eyebrow. “You know, if you ever changed up your look from time to time it might be easier.”

The angel looks momentarily abashed, wine flushed and slightly mortified. “What- what’s wrong with my look?” he dismays. “I thought- well it’s classic. Oh, what do they call it? Vintage! It’s vintage, my dear boy.”

Crowley doesn’t let him sputter for long, hissing a laugh. “There’s nothing wrong with your look, angel,” he placates. “It suits you. Wouldn’t change a blessed thing.” And shit, that wasn’t meant to come out, but the delicate blush that colours the angel’s cheeks is well worth the slip.

“You mind that silver tongue of yours, you old serpent,” Aziraphale scolds with no real heat to it. “I will admit I’m rather envious of your-” he gestures vaguely at the entirety of the demon’s corporation, “versatility; you always make the best of the fashion in any era.”

Crowley knows it’s true, but the unexpected compliment nearly brings a flush to his cheeks, if it weren’t for his careful control over his corporation. “It’s not a talent, angel. Anyone can make anything look good as long as you wear it with confidence. Except maybe jorts.”

“Jorts?” Aziraphale frowns, draining the last of his wine.

“Denim cut offs.” It’s one of the few things that Crowley truly feels guilty about unleashing upon humanity. “Anyway, my point is: a person looks best when they feel good about what they’re wearing. Could be a potato sack, a powdered wig or a tasteless tartan bowtie.”

The angel sighs in exasperation. “You really are dreadful,” he says primly as he stands from his chair, swaying noticeably. “Oh dear, I do believe that’s enough wine for me. If I put the kettle on will you have a cuppa?”

Crowley polishes off his glass, stalking after the angel as he heads to the kitchen. “Depends on whether you’re going to make me drink one of those revolting herbal teas you’ve taken a liking to.”

Of the two of them most people would guess Crowley to be the adventurous tea drinker but even he has his limits. Far be it from a demon to discourage gluttony and grandeur, but Crowley feels it’s a heresy of its own when the contents of your tea are so motley that it could be confused for potpourri. Ever the connoisseur, Aziraphale has sampled many of these blends as they’ve gained popularity with the younger generation. Crowley told him that the British government would revoke his citizenship if he had one.

He doesn’t need to see Aziraphale's face to know he’s rolling his eyes. “I suppose a Darjeeling will suffice,” he laments, as though burdened with so much.

The angel shuffles about the kitchen, bypassing the electric kettle Crowley got for him ages ago, and fills a copper one instead, placing it on the burner. Spinning one of the rickety dining chairs around, Crowley straddles the back while Aziraphale spoons a generous heap of tea leaves into an antique teapot.

“You know, angel, if you didn’t want that kettle you could have just said so,” he badgers.

Aziraphale doesn’t turn to look at him, busying himself with retrieving teacups and neatly arranging them. “I use it sometimes,” he lies. “For cocoa mostly. It gives the tea a funny taste, I find.”

Even if the angel was an expert liar, Crowley can easily spot a bit of folded paper through the translucent window in the never-once-used kettle. “Might taste better if you removed the manual and put water in it.”

The angel’s ears turn pink and he fusses with the cups a moment longer before facing Crowley at last. “I do like it,” he tries. “I just get nervous about leaving implements with heat elements plugged in. The wiring in these old buildings can be so finicky. You know, Mrs. Jenkins from the library said her nephew’s family lost their house to an electrical fire, the poor dears. No one was home, mind you, but it seems such a silly little thing to cause so much destruction.”

Crowley has to suppresses an unpleasant shiver at the thought of the bookshop in flames, keeping his focus on the ridiculousness at hand. “And what started that fire then, hmm? Surely, they know. A hotplate? A toaster oven?”

Aziraphale worries the hem of his waistcoat. “Well… they said it could have been a mouse chewing the wires.”

“Did they?” he shoots back, with mock surprise. “Seems like a likelier culprit, especially for a shop full of musty old books. I take it there hasn’t been any mice problems lately, then?”[3]

“No. Not since 1870, if I recall.”

“Right, right. So what, if it’s not the mice the kettle is the next likely suspect? Not a gas leak or an untended candle, the kettle.”

Aziraphale starts to look flustered. “Now, Crowley-”

The demon cuts him off. “Did you know I researched that particular brand? Made sure it came with an automatic shut-off, even read bloody product reviews for Satan’s sake. I did a lot of homework, angel, the least you can do is plug it in and-”

“It doesn’t whistle!” he exclaims suddenly.

Crowley can only blink, stunned as the angel fidgets with the ring on his pinky finger. He’s gone rather red, eyes downcast with embarrassment.

“Electric kettles don’t whistle,” he says again, quieter. “I-I know it might seem inane, but there’s something about it all.” Aziraphale looks wistful and to Crowley the rest of the world feels like a distant, colourless thing as the angel’s passions overflow, staining everything they touch like vivid Roman dyes. Saffron yellow, kermes red and Tyrian purple all swirling together across a canvass of Byzantine silk woven with Aziraphale’s words.

“You can hear the difference you know, when you set a cup in its saucer, whether it’s plain porcelain or proper bone china. And as much as I enjoy inventive, new blends, nothing quite compares to the aroma when you open a fresh tin of lapsang souchong. The whole ritual just… well I suppose it relaxes me. I don’t know how to explain it, my dear, but the sound of a kettle whistling is just so peaceful, and you know even an angel needs a little serenity now and then.”

Crowley is positively captivated by the angel’s words, that is until he notices the corner of Aziraphale’s quilted tea cozy, lingering far too close to the gas burner, surreptitiously catch fire. The slight smile Crowley was sporting[4] slowly tapers into a smirk so wicked it could Damn a Saint.

The angel’s eyes narrow to a glare. “I don’t think that’s such an absurd notion, so please stop giving me that look!”

“No, no!” Crowley assures him. “It’s not ridiculous at all. Very reasonable. I was only thinking that the whole fire hazard excuse doesn’t exactly hold its water, all things considered.” He says this as he points toward the stovetop where the cozy is just starting to smoulder.

Aziraphale wheels around and lets out an alarmed squeak. He rushes to smother the miniscule flame, almost throwing a tea towel over the whole burner before reconsidering. The angel frantically shuffles the cups aside, struggling to move them quickly and delicately at the same time. Once they’re safely aside, he tries to yank the cozy out of the fire, hand darting away as though it might turn around and bite him. This all ensues as the kettle starts a low whistle, growing in pitch, and the hilarity of it all has Crowley fit to burst with laughter.

At least until the smoke hits his nose.

In an instant his mirth evaporates as panic ignites in his veins; epinephrine and glycogenolysis and all those physiological functions a human shaped corporation is equipped with. They’re quite clever, really. Mankind wouldn’t have made it as far as they have without them. However, for a demon or an angel they’re rather superfluous and don’t serve much strategic purpose. They can actually be rather confounding at times. For example: Crowley knows the bookshop isn’t currently in flames, that his best friend is safe, and the world isn’t crashing down around him. And yet…

“Oh, I did so like that cozy. That quilting was a hundred and forty years old and- Crowley? What’s the matter?”

The fire is out, the burner is off and Aziraphale wears a worried frown now that his attention has shifted from the charred cozy, but still Crowley’s pulse (another unnecessary function) races beneath his skin. He grips the sides of the chair and forces out a reply. “Nothing.”

Oh, but opening his mouth is a mistake. He can taste it now and his heart hammers against his ribs like the crusaders’ war drums as Constantinople burned. Standing alone in Aziraphale’s flaming bookshop, Crowley never felt so empty in all his existence. That light in the corner of his mind, the angelic blip on his demonic radar, a constant thing for 6000 years on Earth, gone.

“It’s just, you look rather pale and your eyes… well your eyes have gone a bit more reptilian than usual, my dear.”

Crowley thought he was alone, and it hurt. Worse than when his Grace was carved from his soul or the bloody rift it left behind. It was worse because over the years Aziraphale’s very aura seemed to percolate through those hollow depths, and further still, wending its way into every facet of his being more and more with each clandestine meeting and candid lunch.

That’s Crowley’s fault; it’s not like he couldn’t feel it happening. How could he not? No respectable demon goes around basking in angelic influence but it’s not just any angel who could wrap the Serpent of Eden around their little finger. Aziraphale has been special since the beginning. He gave away his God granted flaming sword because he thought it was the right thing to do. And so Crowley pursued him through the centuries, a snake chasing the heat of the sun. He couldn’t resist back then and still can’t now. Probably never will.

So, when he found the literal light of his life missing, he thought surely this must be payback: his punishment for believing that something could ever fill the void left by Her. Because after everything that’s happened, Crowley knows he wasn’t just imagining it.

He doesn’t remember much about his life before the Fall but what he is certain of is that he’s never cared about anything in this world the way he cares for Aziraphale. Demons can’t love; not when there’s a gaping chasm torn through their being where everything warm and benevolent was gouged out, but over the millennia those vacant spaces seemed to close, spanned by something fragile and beautiful, glinting with light like dew drops caught in a web. If it isn’t love, it’s damn close.

In retrospect, Crowley should have known better; this bond they share is anything but fragile. For all their bickering and disagreements, it’s not something so easily destroyed and he might have realized eventually that his angel wasn’t truly gone. Aziraphale’s discorporation dampened his presence but it was never absent. In a particularly dark moment in a bar, promoted by far too much alcohol, Crowley rather regretted killing his fellow demon. Not that he particularly missed Ligur: it was just such a waste of his Holy water.

The angel hedges closer, looking fretful. “Crowley, you’re scaring me!”

Scared doesn’t even begin to cover it. They might be safe for now but when Heaven and Hell come for them, they won’t be so careless. They will take great pains to destroy both of them and if Crowley loses Aziraphale for real-

There’s a crack like a clap of thunder, and it is in fact storming outside all of a sudden, but that’s not what made the sound. Crowley looks down to realize he’s broken the backing of the dining chair, both sides snapped in his clenched hands.

The fear doesn’t abate, but Crowley comes back to himself enough to manage a quick miracle and mend the chair. Plastering on a smile, he makes a weak attempt at nonchalance. “Sssorry, angel, I’m not sssure what-”

His words stutter to a halt as he sees Aziraphale’s expression.

The angel’s face has always been an honest and open thing, far easier to read than any of the books he covets. Crowley couldn’t give a toss about what humanity’s best writers have to offer, not with the poetry that Aziraphale creates with each quirk of his lips or crease of his brow. He meant it when he said he doesn’t like Shakespeare’s tragedies. Miserable endings don’t move him in unpleasant ways (he is a demon after all) but they make Aziraphale look a bit like he does now.

Except this is far worse.

It’s a terrible mix of anguish and dread wrapped up in panic so raw it feels like a punch to the gut. They stopped Armageddon but seeing Aziraphale’s face, so reminiscent of the other day, Crowley isn’t positive that it isn’t happening all over again.

All of his easy deflections and calm excuses go out the window as Crowley springs to his feet, crossing the room in three long strides to do… he’s not sure what. His mouth opens and closes as he flounders, aborting his move to touch, to console. You go too fast for me, Crowley.

To his infinite surprise, however, Aziraphale meets him halfway. The angel’s hands come up to cradle Crowley’s face, feather light and wretchedly gentle as he searches the demon’s eyes.

“My dear boy,” his voice is almost a whisper, “are you alright?”

Aziraphale’s touch is instantly calming, a balm to the rampaging terror that came very close to consuming him. It takes a great, conscious effort for Crowley to keep from swaying on his feet, to press further into that touch. It’s almost sinful for how good it is and the temptation sways his restraint like a bough in a breeze. It’s why his hands slowly come up and wrap around Aziraphale’s wrists to lower them so he can think straight for a moment.

“Yeah, yeah… uh no but- I am now.” The angel’s concern doesn’t wane, and Crowley forces a bit of honesty.[5] He owes Aziraphale that much at least. “The erm, smoke got to me a bit… I think.”

The narrative of his thoughts plays out across the angel’s face, confusion, contemplation and a lightning strike of understanding as his eyebrows shoot upward. “Oh! Oh my dear, I hadn’t even considered-”

His hands pull out of Crowley’s grasp as he turns towards the stove, snapping his fingers and instantly dissipating the lingering traces of smoke. When he turns back, he wrings his hands as a guilty look darkens his expression. “I’m so sorry.”

Crowley, indignant and insulted on the angel’s behalf, slaps his hands apart. “Don’t apologize, you blasted idiot! Don’t you dare! You didn’t do anything wrong; I was just having a moment.”

The angel almost brings his hands back together before thinking better of it, smoothing them down his waistcoat instead. “Well,” he sighs, “It’s not your fault either.”

Crowley’s not sure if he believes him, but the look on Aziraphale’s face is enough to dissuade him from arguing.

They’re still standing rather close. Crowley has since jammed his hands in his pockets but Aziraphale seems unsure what to do with his.

Rolling his eyes, Crowley reaches out and snatches the angel’s left hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “For Somebody’s sake, angel, I’ll be alright. You know these human corporations and their fear responses.”

“Indeed,” he replies, squeezing back.

Crowley lets his gaze drop, rallying in the contact and the soothing sound of rolling thunder above them. His heart has slowed to something resembling normal and the memory doesn’t rattle his grasp on reality anymore. The paranoia still paces at the back of his thoughts but he can worry about that later.

Aziraphale seems just as content in the moment as he does, his kettle well and truly forgotten, but the longer Crowley stays the more difficult it will be to pry himself away. Besides, he has business to attend to.

“I should get going. Could use some air.”

Panic flashes across the angel’s features and his grip on Crowley’s hand tightens ever so slightly. “Are- are you sure? I could come with you. A walk around the block perhaps.”

A genuine smile spreads across the demon’s face. “Nah. I could uh…use a nap, I think. You enjoy your tea, angel.” With a snap of his fingers the kettle is boiling anew, whistling joyfully.[6] “Dinner tomorrow?”

Aziraphale still seems a reluctant but at the mention of dinner his trepidation softens into an understanding smile. “I’d love to; that is assuming you don’t sleep for the rest of the century,” he teases.

Crowley scoffs. “A century without Heaven or Hell breathing down our necks? On our own side?” He lifts the angel’s hand to his lips, a promise pressed against his skin.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”