"Look," Crowley says, "do we really need to do this?"
"You won't get away from us, Crawly," one of the demons hisses.
"It's Crowley," Crowley corrects, looking at the demons. They're rather pathetic, actually, and clearly very stupid. The problem is that there are five of them and only one of him.
The other problem is that they're dangerously close to a portal to Hell, and if the demons manage to drag Crowley into that, he'll be quite irredeemably and unequivocally screwed.
Crowley is mere inches from the portal when the door to the warehouse basement that houses it flies open. "Crowley!" Aziraphale gasps, throwing himself inside, and Crowley begins to curse every single thing he can think of, starting with that absolute bastard of an Almighty.
"Oh, so we've caught an angel too!" one of the demons crows. "Didn't think you'd come running after a demon."
"That demon," Aziraphale says, straightening up, "is my demon, and I would thank you to let him go."
"He'd thank us to let him go," a demon mocks. "What do you think, boys, will we let the traitor go?"
"Aziraphale, run!" Crowley yells. He can get out of this himself - he always manages to get out of bad situations - but if Aziraphale is dragged down to Hell… No, no, it isn't even an option. Aziraphale has to leave.
"I will not run," Aziraphale huffs. "I am giving you one final warning. Let Crowley go."
The demons look at each other, then they start to grin. "Nah," one of them says. "What're you going to do about it, angel?"
And in response, Aziraphale begins to glow.
"Oh, shit," Crowley breathes. "Shit, shit- Aziraphale, maybe-"
"Close your eyes, Crowley," Aziraphale says, his voice echoing oddly, and Crowley does as he's told an instant before the entire basement is flooded with light. He hears screams, and then there's no one holding onto him anymore, and the room goes quiet.
The light is pleasantly warm, and it doesn't hurt. Crowley hadn't expected that.
"You can open your eyes now," Aziraphale says, his voice still weirdly echo-y, and Crowley opens his eyes to see-
"You're a fucking Cherub."
Aziraphale… blinks? Crowley thinks it qualifies as blinking, at least. He's got four heads - four heads? - and Crowley can really only see the eyes of the vaguely-humanoid one. Those eyes blink, but the other eyes that are scattered all over his wings - why are there so many eyes? - don't seem to blink at all.
Oh, and when Crowley says "wings," he means two sets of wings, because somewhere along the line, Aziraphale's gone and acquired another set. How? Crowley has no. Goddamn. Idea.
"I'm a Cherub?" Aziraphale repeats, looking down at his body. At least, the human head looks down, while the others just sort of- You know, Crowley's going to focus on the human head, he doesn't have it in him to focus on all four. "I'm a Cherub!"
"How did you not know?" Crowley demands. "How are you a Cherub in the first place? You're a Principality!"
"Well, I used to be a Cherub," Aziraphale counters. "Come now, you know the Cherubim were chosen to guard the Gates of Eden. How was I supposed to be the Guardian of the Eastern Gate if I weren't a Cherub as well?"
"But- But-" Crowley waves vaguely. "You always said you were a Principality!"
"Yes," Aziraphale agrees. "I was demoted."
"You were what? How does that even- Angels can't be demoted! Not unless they-"
The word Fall is heavily implied, even if Crowley doesn't say it aloud.
"Mmm, not quite," Aziraphale corrects. "Although, as far as I know, I'm the only angel to have ever been demoted. It makes sense that you'd think it's impossible."
Let us interject a brief note, before we continue, on the rankings of angels. Angels are divided into three Spheres, and within each Sphere are three different types of angels. Principalities are the highest rank in the Third Sphere, just above archangels (little-a archangels, not to be confused with big-A Archangels like Gabriel and Michael and Uriel, who are at the top of the whole system). Cherubim, on the other hand, are part of the First Sphere, with Seraphim above them and Thrones below. Not including Archangels, that puts Cherubim as the second highest rank, while Principalities are the seventh.
Thus, a demotion from a Cherub to a Principality was a pretty big (if you'll pardon the word) fall.
"So you were demoted," Crowley says, still sounding a tad doubtful. "How does that work?"
"Gabriel bound me," Aziraphale says, making a face. It's a bit hard to see it, given all the Heavenly Light he's emanating. Crowley squints a little. "He- Oh, dear, is this too bright for you?"
"'S fine," Crowley lies. "Gabriel bound you?"
"Oh, let me see if I can turn it down a little," Aziraphale says. He screws up his eyes in concentration (at least, the ones on his human face, not the ones on his wings, which seem to be lidless), and then the light dims slightly. "There we are. Is this better?"
It is, actually. "Thanks," Crowley says. "So, Gabriel?"
"Yes," Aziraphale says. This time, Crowley can see the face he makes much more clearly. "You see, he couldn't… make me not a Cherub, not really. But he could bind my true form and limit my powers. Ooh! That reminds me…" Aziraphale's eagle head tilts to the side until its neck cracks. "Lovely," Aziraphale's human head sighs. "I've been wanting to do that for three hundred years."
Crowley stares at the eagle head for a moment, then remembers that he was only going to look at the human head and refocuses on that. "So what exactly does that mean? Binding your true form?"
"Hmm. Well. Imagine that a part of your body were… frozen. Almost like it's trapped in stone. And you can only sort of feel it, but you can't move it at all, and even though you know it's there, you can't do anything with it. It was sort of like that, with my second set of wings and my other three heads."
Crowley stares at Aziraphale for a moment, then he nods sharply. "Right. I'm going up to Heaven to kill Gabriel, be back in a bit."
"Crowley," Aziraphale scolds. He reaches out for him, then stops right before his fingers touch Crowley's arm. "Oh. Hmm. Perhaps I shouldn't touch you like this. Heavenly Light, you know. I'm doing my best to keep it from affecting you, but I'm not sure that'll last if there's physical contact."
"Probably better not to risk it," Crowley agrees. "And why the Hell can't I go kill Gabriel? After what he did to you-" Crowley frowns. "Wait. When did he do it? You just said you were a Cherub in Eden, but after that I remember you saying you were a Principality, so-"
"Well, the demotion was because of the whole Eden mess, of course," Aziraphale replies. "It's a good thing they didn't know about the flaming sword. No, see, you came in at the easternmost side of the Garden, and Adam and Eve were over there too, so I ended up with the lion's share of the blame. The other Guardians got a bit too, but it was mostly me." He shrugs. "I was supposed to protect humanity, and I did rather fail at that, didn't I?"
"So your demotion was my fault," Crowley says flatly.
"Oh, no, dear!" Aziraphale cries immediately. "No, it's not your fault, and I don't blame you in the slightest. I never did. Well, perhaps I did a bit, at the beginning, but there was nothing else you could have done. Hell told you to go up to Eden and make some trouble, and if you hadn't I don't even want to think about what they would have done to you, so it's alright. No hard feelings."
Crowley huffs, but drops it. "So you've been a Cherub this whole time? Sort of?"
"Sort of," Aziraphale agrees. "But I couldn't assume my true form, and I didn't have all the powers that a Cherub is supposed to. Theoretically, I was supposed to have the same amount of power as a Principality, but I think Gabriel limited me even more than one of them. Oh, and that's part of the reason they kept such a close eye on my miracles up in Heaven, to make sure I wasn't somehow accessing any of my old power." He looks down at his hands. "I suppose they'll be very angry about this."
"How do you think this" - Crowley flaps a hand in Aziraphale's general direction - "happened?"
"Perhaps the binding came undone after I turned away from Heaven?" Aziraphale suggests. "Or perhaps it was only ever meant to last until the Apocalypse, so after six thousand years it died away?"
Crowley shrugs. "Both seem as likely as anything."
"It will be helpful, having some of those old powers back," Aziraphale muses. "And it's lovely to be able to move my other heads and my other wings again. Goodness, I hadn't even realized how stiff they were."
"You're sure I can't kill Gabriel?" Crowley grumbles.
"Can I at least punch him a few times?"
Aziraphale ruffles his wings slightly. "I suppose I should probably go back into my corporation," he says ruefully. "We're still awfully close to that portal to Hell, and while those other demons won't be bothering us anymore, others might show up."
"Did you smite them?" Crowley asks. "The other demons?"
Aziraphale looks a little flustered. "They were going to drag you back down to Hell!"
Crowley grins. "And I'm your demon, yeah?"
This only serves to make Aziraphale look more flustered. "Yes, well…" he stammers. "I- I should go back to my corporation! So we can get out of here."
"We can stay a while longer," Crowley offers, even though he wants nothing more than to get away from the portal to Hell as fast as possible. "If you don't want to go back to your corporation yet."
It's been six thousand years since Aziraphale was able to assume this form, after all, and Crowley wouldn't blame him if he wanted to bask in it a little. Of course, it would probably be smarter to bask somewhere where there wasn't an open door to Hell, but sometimes, needs must.
"Oh, that's very sweet of you, my dear," Aziraphale says, beaming. "But we ought to get out of here. Come now, let's go."
The eyes on Aziraphale's human face screw shut, and then, there's sort of the feeling of… Well, it's hard to describe to anyone who hasn't experienced it, a group that includes almost every human on Earth, but it sort of feels like being on the edges of a vacuum, where something is being sucked away and you're just barely far enough so as not to be sucked away along with it. When the feeling dissipates, Aziraphale's extra heads are gone, and so are all of his extra eyes, although his two sets of wings still extend from his back. Crowley can see them much better now that they're not quite as suffused with Heavenly Light, and he makes an offended noise.
"Angel, your wings look awful!"
Aziraphale's wings fluff out in agitation. "I haven't been able to groom them in six thousand years!"
"It's not like the other two look any better!" Crowley retorts. "When was the last time you groomed those?"
Aziraphale makes a face. "Well-"
"That settles it," Crowley says firmly. "When we get back to the bookshop, I'm sitting you down and grooming your wings. Honestly, it's shameful."
"I don't see why you need to make such a fuss over it," Aziraphale huffs. He's nowhere near as affronted as he's pretending to be, though, and it only takes a moment for him to relent with a, "But, if you insist…"
Crowley grins. "You'll love it."
"Oh, you are so dreadfully good at tempting me, you old serpent," Aziraphale says, but Crowley doesn't believe for an instant that he's actually annoyed by it. He folds his wings in, rolls his shoulders, and then offers Crowley a smile. "Shall we go home, then?"
"Home," Crowley agrees. "Let's go."
Aziraphale heads out of the basement, and Crowley only stops long enough to pick up the single long, white feather that's fallen onto the floor, right where he was standing a moment ago. He looks at it for a moment with a faint smile, then he tucks it into his pocket and follows Aziraphale out.
He has a promised wing-grooming session to get to, after all.