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I Knew Only Shadows (I Thought They Were Real)

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Aziraphale knows that something about himself is not quite right. That he's an odd sort of angel. Or at least, he knows the other angels think so. He'd given away his sword in the Garden, lied to God about it, when she'd asked (and they didn't even know about that), and failed at guarding the Gate. Or rather, at guarding anything but the Gate itself. But those had been his orders.

He expected Gabriel at Sodom, had known that he had been present there, and it had been Gabriel who had summoned him. But instead, he meets Michael and someone new, called Sandalphon, who strikes him on sight as rather brutish. He finds himself nervous and stammering in front of them. Michael stares. She has always seemed very hard to Aziraphale, had never seemed to approve of him, to regard him as anything more than an insect to be swatted away.

“We have been dishonored here,” she says, loud enough that the surrounding crowds of people can hear her. “Help us to teach these towns a lesson.”

“What lesson?” Aziraphale says, wringing his hands. He hasn’t spent much time here, has heard that there are a great many male couples here, lovers, which wouldn’t have been of interest except that some people seem to have taken an aversion, and he had heard that Gabriel had been approached by someone who didn't know he was an angel… He opens his mouth to explain that this may not be the lesson she intends, but it will be the lesson they teach, but Sandalphon is looking at him like he’s a speck of dirt, and before he can stammer anything, Michael cuts him off.

“Sinners!” she shouts. “Prepare to meet the wrath of God.”

And it’s too late. They’re striking and smiting, and Sandalphon is positively cackling as his blade draws down and down and flashes of light blast as people turn to pillars of salt and fall, crumbling into white crystals.

Aziraphale cannot move.

“Aziraphale! Where is your flaming sword?” Michael shouts.

“I—”

“Use your blade! Foolish Principality!”

Aziraphale does not. Aziraphale does nothing.

***

When they are done, Michael and Sandalphon find him at the edge of the city, his body shaking slightly. For all he had wanted to leave, he had not dared to do so. But no more could he smite these people without cause or weapon.

“You were the Guardian of the Eastern Gate?” Sandalphon says. “That explains a lot,” and he laughs.

Aziraphale has never heard an Archangel laugh like this. He remembers laughter in Heaven; he remembers love there, friendship, and a great, almost unbearable tenderness, but the truth was, it hadn’t been like that at all—they were just feelings he’d had while he was there, back before the War. And it made no sense at all. How could he have felt those things? They didn’t exist. He’d barely existed before the War. And after the War? There had been only bleakness, swirling confusion. He remembers throwing down a bloody blade at Michael’s feet, spent and angry that he’d followed orders and still felt so hollowed out inside at watching angels Fall all around him. He wasn’t like her. He didn’t like it. It was why she’d sent him to Earth, to get rid of him. So he’s not prepared for what she says next.

“You’ll come back with us,” Michael says. “Gabriel will need to address this inaction.”

Aziraphale sighs. But what is there for it? 

***

Gabriel had not been long in Heaven when the War began. His first act was to deliver a message to the Principalities, instructing them in their duties for the War, shortly to be declared, after Lucifer was publicly struck down. He remembered Aziraphale from that night, because he’d been tearful when told what the Principalities would do in the War, which had confused Gabriel. Hadn’t he been created for this role? Why should his responsibilities upset him so? Was he questioning God’s plan?

“Gabriel,” Michael had said, when he asked her. “Don’t. I think there’s something…It’s not his fault.”

“No?”

“We might as well speak about this now,” she said. “I think he’s been corrupted somehow. He won’t Fall,” she added, as Gabriel opened his mouth to ask exactly that. “But he’s spent a lot of time with an angel who...well, who he shouldn’t have. An angel who is going to Fall.”

Gabriel had frowned at the way her lips had stretched across her face in a smile as she said this last.

“There’s still time for them to choose sides,” he said. “Even if...you can’t know that a certain angel is going to Fall. Except for those who were dispatched tonight, of course. Those who have already sinned. Has Aziraphale spent time with Gadreel or Lucifer?” Gabriel could not imagine it.

Michael did not answer him. She brought her fingertips together and said, “Bring me the Power Cadamiel.”

Gabriel had obeyed; finding the angel in the Forest one of the Principalities had made. He’d been confused at first, finding Aziraphale with this angel of the second choir. He had noted with some shock the way the Principality stood in the Power’s arms, pressed against him, both of them weeping, the way he tried to follow Cadamiel when Gabriel led him away. It was odd, but perhaps this oddness was the corruption Michael had meant?

He noted, too, the way Cadamiel shouted Aziraphale’s name before he Fell, not asking why he was Falling, not begging to stay, or to be forgiven, not calling out for Her, or even shouting at Michael or Gabriel with rage, not asking for anything. But no, I can’t just—Aziraphale! Aziraphale!  in that desperate, pleading tone, like the name was being ripped from his lips, like there was something about the Principality that made this unbearable to him. But what did the Principality have to do with anything? Why would a Power even notice a Principality? Shouldn’t he have called out to God, or directed any anger he’d felt at what stood between God and himself? It confused Gabriel.

“Michael?” he said, once it was done, and Cadamiel’s screams had subsided. Gabriel was not sure how to ask a question he couldn’t form. But she seemed to understand.

“Don’t ask me,” she said. “I never want to hear or speak his name again.”

Whatever Cadamiel had done to Aziraphale must have been terrible, Gabriel thought. He thought of them standing in the glade, their arms around each other. It hadn’t looked evil to Gabriel; it had looked like they took comfort from it, even as they wept. Aziraphale was clearly afraid, but he hadn’t tried to pull away from the Power. He hadn’t seemed to want to, by the way he’d tried to follow when he left. But perhaps he’d felt obligated to try to protect him when Gabriel had taken him away. Or perhaps Aziraphale really didn’t know that Cadamiel had corrupted him. Perhaps he thought he wanted to follow the Power. Certainly, he hadn’t known where Gabriel was taking him. But in any case, Cadamiel had Fallen. He must have been very wicked indeed.

He had not understood, then, when after the War had ended, when the wickedness of every one of the Fallen had been made clear to every member of the Host, Aziraphale had thrown down his blade and demanded. “Where is he?” And screamed when silence met him, when the others shuddered when Aziraphale spoke Cadamiel’s name, as if the news of the Power’s Fall was shocking and abhorrent to him. He’d screamed and screamed. There was no silencing Aziraphale and hardly any word at all from the Almighty, who had started then to speak to them less and less. Aziraphale wasn’t the only angel having trouble putting the War behind them, and dealing with this new sense of abandonment from Her, but he was the only one who wouldn’t stop raging, crying, begging, demanding. Even when he was silent, he moved slowly, sometimes quivering, and he always sat alone, never joining his choir for grooming. No one approached him, either. His wings were a sight. Gabriel had never seen anything like it, an angel so undone. So attached, and to one who had Fallen. Surely this was some kind of sin in itself? He thought he began to understand.

“What do we do?” Gabriel asked Michael. “Maybe we should make him Fall, too? He’s still corrupted, I think. It seems like it might be what he wants. He could be with—”

Don’t say that name,” Michael hissed. She paused, and Gabriel waited while her rage subsided. It wasn’t directed at him, he knew. She pursed her lips, then looked up, forcing calm. “ No. I told you. I’ll make him forget all of them,” she said. “You do the others. Not Archangels, but everyone else. Make them forget the Fallen. This is hard on everyone. We’ll...make a new start.”

***

Now, as Aziraphale stands in front of him, not looking at him, Gabriel sighs.

“Help me to understand,” he says. “Did it remind you of the War? I know the War was hard on you, Aziraphale.”

“It was a war,” Aziraphale says. “I rather think that’s part of the deal.”

“Well, especially hard on you, then.”

“I’m sure that what we just did was a great deal harder on the ones below.”

“They earned their fate,” Gabriel says, trying to keep his voice even, but he can’t keep from feeling appalled. "Their greed and rage and lust were a scourge. You see that."

“Oh, yes, of course,” Aziraphale says, absently. "But what is it you think they've learned, exactly—from being smote and turned to pillars, I mean?"

There’s a beat of silence, and Gabriel says. “Do you think you might want to come back home? Have a nice desk job? Something quiet, with no need for fighting.”

“No,” Aziraphale says. “I would much prefer to stay on Earth.”

“Good man,” Gabriel says. “You let me know if anything changes.”

But Aziraphale doesn’t seem to be listening. When he looks up again, his face is scrunched up slightly, like he’s thinking. “I would appreciate a bit more notice about what kind of task I’m being called to participate in. I didn’t even...I didn’t even bring a weapon.”

“You should always keep your weapon about you,” Gabriel says, and now he knows he looks appalled. He tries to tamp it down, tries to look sympathetic. 

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale says. “It isn’t always practical.” 

Gabriel sighs. “All right, Aziraphale. We’ll try to give you a bit more...notice.”

Aziraphale smiles. “Oh, thank you,” he says. “Well, if that’s all?”

“That’s all.”

***

The second time Aziraphale sees the demon, Crawly, it’s just before the Flood. Crawly isn’t what a demon ought to be, Aziraphale thinks, but perhaps that’s what makes him so dangerous. And he starts in again with the Questions; this time they hurt. Aziraphale so hates destruction, but he can’t do anything about it, had no hand in bringing it about. This time, at least. There’s nothing for it but to accept it, to trust that there is purpose. Why must Crawly remind him of his uselessness, of his dispensability? “Oh, not the kids; you can’t kill kids,” Crawly says. He wishes Crawly wouldn’t tease him like this—it isn’t as if he actually cares about children. He couldn’t—he’s a demon. He can’t let a demon see him cry.

And then he’s there at the Crucifixion. Crawly, tall and spare and wrapped in a abaya. Aziraphale thinks it probably wouldn’t do for them to be seen together—a man and woman, not married to one another, not related—but Crawly doesn’t seem bothered, moving in to stand close behind Aziraphale, to talk almost in his ear.  “Come to smirk at the poor bugger, have you?” he says, flippant as ever.

“Smirk? Me?”

“Well, your lot put him on there,” Crawly says, resentfully. What’s it to him? Aziraphale wonders. Here he goes again with this cruel teasing. And does he really imagine that Aziraphale would feel amused by this disgusting spectacle? He, of all angels, has no idea what the Almighty is planning. It’s ineffable. And he has to obey, and not ask questions.

“I’m not consulted on policy decisions, Crawly,” Aziraphale says evenly.

“Oh, I’ve changed it,” Crawly says. “Crowley.” It has a nice sound, Aziraphale thinks. But he doesn’t say this. He shouldn’t compliment a demon. He’d probably selected the name to be more tempting or something, anyway. In other words, he already knows it has a nice sound. Aziraphale shouldn’t admire it.

“Did you ever meet him?” he says, because Crowley is still hovering there, just out of his range of sight, and it makes him uneasy.

“Yes,” Crowley says. “I showed him all the kingdoms of the world.”

“Why?” Aziraphale says. 

“Well, he’s a carpenter from Galilei,” Crowley says. “His travel opportunities are limited...oh, that’s got to hurt.” They had hammered a stake deeper into Jesus’s arm. Aziraphale feels his eyes filling with tears, forces himself to harden. This is Her will. Somehow the demon’s presence comforts him. He holds on to it for a moment, that feeling of not being alone. When it’s certain that the Almighty’s son is dead, Aziraphale chokes back his tears and jerks himself out of it, ashamed. How could he have taken comfort in the presence of a demon? If Crowley didn’t really seem evil, well—that was no excuse. Aziraphale knows better. He turns and walks away, without a word, without a glance at Crowley, even when the demon makes a little surprised noise. When Aziraphale is halfway back to the village, he glances back and sees Crowley facing away from the crowd and the spectacle, watching him.

***

He remembers that feeling, the sense of not being alone. He remembers the way Crowley had looked, standing there there, apart from the others, staring after him, almost forlorn. Could the demon have felt the same thing he had? Just a sense of not being alone? Could demons—did they ever just want to talk? Aziraphale isn’t sure. But he had been horribly rude, and he regrets it.

The first time they’d met, in the Garden, he hadn’t really understood what was happening. First there was a shining, rippling snake, and then there was Crawly, a beautiful, fearsome looking being that Aziraphale had only slowly realized was a demon. Oh, he knew Crawly was a demon, of course, especially after what had happened with Eve and all, but he didn’t know he was a demon. The kind he’d been warned about. At least, not at first. He’d just looked like an angel with strange coloring and and unusual eyes. It didn’t really occur to Aziraphale what that meant. He’d just been a little wary because he’d approached and spoken as if he already knew Aziraphale, who certainly didn’t know him, and something about him had seemed a little sharp, a little cutting, a little less bland than angels usually did, and then there was the whole matter of his introducing sin into the Garden. But when it came down to it, there was nothing monstrous about Crawly. Not the way Aziraphale had been warned about. There were no slimy creatures clinging to his head, nothing dripping off him. He didn’t even smell of brimstone. No, he was quite lovely to look at—his body and face strong, yet delicate, his hair and black wings beautifully groomed and shining in the sun, but best of all were his eyes, wide and bright, with vertical pupils that drew you into them. And he didn’t do anything to Aziraphale. He just stood there next to the angel, smiling like they were friends, and chatting about Adam and Eve. It felt...odd, but easy . Not like talking to Gabriel or Michael, or trying to figure out what to say to the other Principalities. And by the time Aziraphale realized he was a demon demon, it was too late to do anything but continue the conversation, even when Crawly started asking Questions, which he knew was wrong. But he suddenly felt guilty because what if he’d smited Crawly? He had no idea who he’d hurt in the War (but he knew there had been a lot of them, and sometimes he hated himself for it even though it was part of the Plan). And yet here was Crawly, talking to Aziraphale, giving him a chance, reassuring him, even. So when it had rained, he’d put up his wing when Crawly seemed uneasy. In Heaven, they hadn’t ever discussed such a thing as storms before the War. Aziraphale knew that Crawly wouldn’t know what was happening. As he stepped fully under the curve of Aziraphale’s wing, tentative and careful not to get too close, Aziraphale wondered how he was supposed to feel threatened by someone afraid of rain.

It wasn’t until later, when Crawly was gone, that Aziraphale thought about it and realized that he’d been manipulated, tempted, even if it hadn’t felt that way. He shouldn’t protect demons. Even from such a dubious threat as rain. Even bright-eyed, fragile-looking demons who smiled and smelled clean. But he hadn’t wanted to move away when Crawly had stepped closer. It would have felt cruel. But shouldn’t he have felt that disgust, that instinctive desire to repel, the way Gabriel had said he would? Shouldn’t he have wished he had his sword back so he could smite the Foe, as Michael had said he should do? Why was everything so hard for him? What would Gabriel and Michael say if they knew what he’d done? He’d felt his face grow hot all over with shame. (It was odd having a body.) He would have to be more vigilant with demons.

He knows he ought to, anyway, reminds himself of it every time he sees Crawly—Crowley , but...it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel right. Not any more than it feels right to watch people drown, to stand alone and actionless as he’d watched the Almighty allow misguided barbarians to torture her kind, wise son to death.

Chapter Text

He’s so grateful for the assignment in Rome—nothing to do with war or death—and he can pop by Petronius’s new restaurant for oysters while he’s there. He’s already in a good mood when he hears Crowley’s voice. He’s nervous, somehow, to approach him, and his conversation doesn’t seem to stick, exactly. But he’s happy to see the demon, and glad for the opportunity to, if he can, undo the way he left the last time. Crowley seems dour and snippy (which Aziraphale refuses to take personally, but also knows he deserves). Crowley pours him a drink, but after he clinks their mugs together, for Aziraphale’s toast, he turns away as if he’s done with the conversation.

It hurts Aziraphale, for some reason.

“In Rome long?” he says, trying again. The demon’s clothes are a little—well, out of place for this area, which probably indicates that he’s just visiting. “I thought I’d try Petronius’s new restaurant. I hear he does remarkable things to oysters.”

“I’ve never eaten an oyster,” Crowley says.

“Oh!” Aziraphale says, excited at the opportunity that has just presented itself. “Oh, well, let me tempt you to—oh, oh no, that’s your job, isn’t it?” He’s horribly embarrassed, but only for a moment because now Crowley is actually looking at him, appraising him, like he’s something new. It makes Aziraphale feel like he is new.

And then they’re walking to Petronius’s together, the demon smiling as Aziraphale chatters about almost nothing. Crowley, Aziraphale notices for the first time, has an interesting walk, his hips sinuously sliding from side to side, and Aziraphale can see that it attracts the wrong sort of attention, but no one approaches him because Aziraphale is already there. Aziraphale’s face burns. What must they think of him, a stranger walking with this decorated Barbarian with the seductive walk? And what is he doing? Should he really be doing this? But what are they doing, really, that could be so wrong? Crowley is just listening to Aziraphale blather on and nodding, and watching Aziraphale from behind dark glasses with a little smile. Surely this is fine. How could it not be?

The oysters are delicious, and the ale passable. Aziraphale eats until he can’t any more, wondering why his plate never seems to empty until the other patrons start complaining about shrinking portion sizes...literally shrinking, he realizes.

“Crowley!” he says, staring up at him in shock. And the demon laughs. The jovial expression breaks his whole face open, and Aziraphale thinks of Eden. He wishes he could see Crowley’s eyes.

“Been wondering how long you’d take to notice,” he slurs. Then his smile falters, and he looks ever so slightly afraid. Of him? “Oh, listen, I didn’t mean—”

But Aziraphale’s eyes widen. He’s quite drunk now; they both are. “How kind!” Aziraphale says. Crowley blinks at him.

“I’m a demon, I’m not kind, Aziraphale,” Crowley says. He’s still like a snake before it strikes.

“Oh, nonsense,” Aziraphale says. The demon seems kind enough to him; always has, if Aziraphale takes his words at face value. “Thank you, Crowley.”

“Don’t. Don’t do that.” Crowley reaches across and grabs Aziraphale’s mug, pours it full of ale, then gestures at the plate, where a few oysters remain. “More, angel?” he says. Crowley looks like he’s teasing now, but Aziraphale appreciates it. It’s been a long time since anyone teased him so gently. Has anyone ever…? He feels his face grow hot.

“I really have had enough. Do leave some for the other patrons.”

“Anything you say, angel,” Crowley says, resting a hand on his arm. Oh dear. “Wouldn’t want to tempt you into any gluttony, now, would we?” The demon looks at him knowingly, raising his eyebrows. Aziraphale ducks his head and giggles a little, feeling very coy. He ought to be ashamed, but he isn’t. What’s the harm in liking your food? That is, if you’re going to eat. No one’s ever looked at him like this, like they understand and think so, too.

Crowley’s hand is warm on his arm, the touch soft but firm, like he means it to be there. His fingers are long and clean. They’re not filthy claws, like Michael had said. Aziraphale shouldn’t like this, perhaps, should feel it as an attempt at temptation, but Crowley’s hand doesn’t linger. The demon lets go and drains his ale. Well, surely that’s all right then? And it was so nice , wasn’t it, that he’d wanted to communicate that way to Aziraphale? With a kind touch? Aziraphale feels warm all over, his heart racing, and he’s so—so happy , oh, he’s never felt like this.

***

The next day, Aziraphale is alone in Rome. Crowley had told him the night before that he’d planned to head back to Gaul right away, and now he’s gone. Aziraphale isn’t sure what to think about their interaction. It had been nice, he thinks. But there’s no sense in dwelling on it. And if the demon had, perhaps, tried a bit of temptation, well, that was only to be expected. And nothing had happened because of it. What was there to happen from a little socializing and, well, relating ? He hadn’t gotten Aziraphale to eat any more than he wanted or to tell him anything he shouldn’t. He hadn’t even really tried. And Aziraphale had stayed in control. He should be proud, if anything. Should be glad, at least, that they’d had such a nice talk, after the way he’d behaved in Golgotha. But he isn’t proud of himself. And the gladness he’d felt the night before doesn’t linger. No...he’s miserable.

Aziraphale had been excited about the mission before, but now he feels something like a hole in his chest, so hollow and empty he wonders if his corporation has somehow sickened, but that’s supposed to be impossible. He presses his hand to his chest and finds it warm and solid as ever. He tries to put Crowley out of his mind, wonders if the demon had done something undiscernable, after all, to make him feel this way. They’d only had oysters, a bit of drink. What was so significant about that? Why should it make Aziraphale so...so sad?

In the end, he completes the assignment, carries out his instructions to the letter, if not in quite the correct spirit, and decides he needs to make some changes. Needs to go somewhere else, perhaps, do something else. He spends some time in the North, and when Heaven directs him to the Kingdom of Wessex, to join Arthur’s Round Table, he’s sick at the thought of it, armor and swords and battles and all that. But it’s not the way he expected it to be. He doesn’t put Crowley out of his mind. Instead, he meets him again. And, temptation or not, he can’t say no to him.


Chapter Text

“Michael, is this just because they’re in the same city?” Gabriel asks. He has just returned from Earth, where he has witnessed a stunning display of Aziraphale thwarting the demon Crowley, simply, it seems, by existing. He also had gotten two new suits in the latest Earth fashions, sure to be useful for the next time he visits. He had felt, even though he and Sandalphon had not accomplished what they had set out to do—withdrawing Aziraphale—that the mission had gone well. But when he got back, it was to find Michael...like this.

She rages and paces, and Gabriel is nervous because, well, she’s not acting like an Archangel should. She seems positively fixated, obsessed. Yes, Crowley had once been Cadamiel. But he’s Crowley now. A demon. And Michael is suggesting that Aziraphale might...what? Love him? A demon? That the demon might somehow tempt him (to what, exactly?) in order to spite her? More likely the demon just tries to stay out of his way, if what he’s seen is any indication.  Gabriel wonders if she can hear herself. No, her naked desire to run down to Earth just to smite some low-ranking demon is the real issue here. But Gabriel can’t seem to bring himself to just say it. Not when she’s like this, her edges positively glowing with holiness. No one does holy fury like Michael. Gabriel rather struggles with the knowledge that he would never be her match, could never challenge her.

It doesn’t stop him, later, from reflecting that Aziraphale hadn’t seemed very honored to receive his commendation. Had seemed very attached, indeed, to the bookshop he claimed to be opening only as a cover. Gabriel sighs. He likes for things to be black and white, clear cut. But Aziraphale refuses to fall in line with that vision. He does his duty...and he seems to do other things that Gabriel doesn’t understand. Perhaps Michael is right. Perhaps it’s best not to think too much about the Principality, not to try too hard to understand him. He was, after all, made to serve on Earth. It is right that he should find something there to sustain him.

***

Aziraphale watches Crowley’s face turn red as he tells him about the pantomime he’d put on outside of Gabriel’s tailor’s shop. Crowley feigns nonchalance, forces laughter, but Aziraphale feels embarrassed on behalf of the demon. And at the same time, he feels something he’s been holding back start to give way.

“Oh, Crowley,” he says, moved. He wants to give the demon something, something from inside of himself. He doesn’t know how to express this. He’s been grateful to Crowley before, of course. Just a few years ago in the Bastille, he had dithered about, trying to figure out the smallest miracle he could use to free himself, and then Crowley had been there, looking both ridiculous and dashing (as he increasingly did, over the ages), making fun of Aziraphale’s clothes even as he miracled off his manacles and swept him away, filling him up with the unexplainable giddiness Aziraphale always felt when they were together. They’d eaten the most delicious crepes—better somehow, than ever before, because Crowley tried them and agreed that they were wonderful. Crowley had seen him back to London, explaining that he clearly couldn’t be left to his own devices, and Aziraphale had complained about condescending demons, but he’d been moved that Crowley had cared, glad for the additional time in his company. And now this, which somehow felt so much more personal, so much more work. And hadn’t it been an awful risk to let Archangels see him? Something hurts inside Aziraphale at the thought of what might have happened if Sandalphon had been in the wrong mood. He blinks into Crowley’s face, wishing he’d remove those terrible glasses. The demon is leaning across the counter, snake-still, looking at him, too. There’s a terrible silence Aziraphale can’t figure out how to fill.

“Excuse me, are you Mr. Fell?” says a serious looking man in spectacles.

“I’m so sorry, sir, I’m unavailable to help you right now. I’m with this gentleman,” Aziraphale says quickly, casting his eyes over the stack of books the man is holding. Oh, no, no. Not the first folios. That will not do at all. “If you’ll just leave those here on the counter, perhaps…” he says, trying to suggest solicitousness despite having no intention of it at all.

“I can return for them tomorrow?” the gentleman supplies, frowning at Crowley, who is watching the whole interaction with the gentle amusement Aziraphale thinks of as his customary expression.

Aziraphale takes the books from him and places them on a shelf behind the counter. “As you like,” he says. Which might have been a bit rude, so Aziraphale smiles brightly. The man frowns, shaking his head, and leaves the store.

“Oh, angel,” Crowley says, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “That’s hardly the way to make a sale, is it?”

Aziraphale scoffs. “Presumptuous man.”

“Right,” Crowley says. “How dare he assume the books are for sale?”

Aziraphale ignores this, recognizing it for an attempt to get a rise out of him. He stalks to the door and flips the sign to closed, simultaneously ensuring that the attempted customer has urgent business that will take him out of London the next day. “Let’s go out for dinner,” he says.

“Angel! It’s your opening day!” Crowley says. “After all that!”

“I don’t care.” Aziraphale smiles at the demon, hoping he understands—it wasn’t all about the bookstore.

***

It’s not enough. For more than sixty years, Aziraphale finds himself returning to the demon’s company with a new frequency, barely letting half a year go by without seeking him out if the needs of the Arrangement don’t bring them together first. The demon always accepts his invitations, which he is always careful to couch in terms of a need to discuss current events, to stay abreast of things for the sake of the Arrangement. But Crowley always looks at him like he understands. And even though they see other gentlemen walking arm in arm, he never takes Aziraphale’s arm when they walk at St. James. No, Crowley understands. Crowley is careful. And it’s all right because they are only acquaintances, Aziraphale tells himself, when he thinks of the demon. One sees acquaintances a few times a year. One has occasional drinks or dinner or walks in the park with acquaintances. And if one thinks of an acquaintance more than anyone else, more than anything else, well, that is only because one has known the acquaintance longer than anyone else, because, well, the acquaintance is the only other immortal being on earth. It’s nothing personal. 

When he sends notes to Crowley, asking him to meet, he doesn’t think before writing them, just decides, and does it. If he thinks...no. He can’t. He drafts them, of course. He is careful. The first, unthinking, draft inevitably too revealing, too chatty. He burns them without even rereading. The second draft is clearer, more cogent, more to the point. The third confused, because why does there need to be a third?, why does it always feel like his polite, restrained notes don’t say what they ought? But of course they do. They have to. They can’t say what they ought not, certainly. So Aziraphale burns the third, and redrafts the second draft, making it shorter still. More professional. That is the one he sends. 

It’s around the end of 1860 that Aziraphale meets William, a kind, jovial young man who only ever tries to buy new books of fiction of which Aziraphale generally has multiple copies. Consequently, William is one of the few customers who is able to buy books at A.Z. Fell’s without difficulty, and does not understand why the shop and its proprietor have such an irregular reputation among his more intellectual associates. He invites Aziraphale to tea at his club, and Aziraphale accompanies him. The gentlemen are numerous and so welcoming and friendly; they clasp hands and kiss in greeting, but no one thinks it odd when they splinter off for more private conversation. And indeed, once he’s met the others, William leads him to a table alone. He thinks immediately of coming here with Crowley.

He mentions the club to Crowley, one day in 1861, as they walk in the park, suggesting that they might meet there some time, if he were to join, as William had urged.

“The other gentlemen did seem very welcoming,” he adds. “And they’re willing to give members a bit of privacy, so no one would think it odd if we went off to speak in confidence.”

Crowley coughs, which is odd, because he can’t have needed to cough. “Aziraphale,” Crowley says. “Stop there. You actually went to this place?”

“Oh, yes. William asked. And he has been such a good customer, you know. Exactly the right sort. So I thought I’d go along just to see.”

Crowley stops, faces him on the path, ignoring it when a couple actually has to separate to step around them.

“And, so...what did you do at this club with William?” Crowley says, his voice low and careful.

“Just had tea? Crowley, what—?”

Crowley snaps out of his stillness and throws back his head, roaring with laughter, loud and defiant. Aziraphale feels his face turning pink. He has no idea what is so amusing, but he does not like being laughed at. He does not like Crowley like this.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says, voice careful now, but still full of mirth. “You do not want me to come with you to a place like that. You have to see what kind of attention it would attract?”

“It’s very discreet!”

“Aziraphale,” Crowley repeats. He waits until Aziraphale looks at him, then lowers his glasses, giving him a significant look. “I mean attention from Above,” he says. “And Below. You know what those places are, don’t you? Surely you—?”

Aziraphale’s mind races. What—? Then oh . He presses a hand to his mouth. Oh, how could he have been so dense ? And how had he thought that he and Crowley…?

Crowley is laughing again, but quietly now. Oh, no. Oh, no no.

“I didn’t mean—” Aziraphale begins. “Oh, dear. Forgive me, I didn’t—”

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says, smiling. “I know you’re not trying to proposition me.”

Aziraphale closes his eyes tight. He wishes he were not immortal because he wants to die. He might just...jump into the water and lie there until his body dissolved and the ducks consumed him. The world seems to have narrowed to a point where there are only Aziraphale and Crowley, and it’s awful, the feeling of being all there is to see. And Crowley doesn’t look away.

“Angel,” he says. “Listen. It’s...it’s all right. It’s all right, Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale can barely hear him, but he registers that the demon is no longer laughing. He looks up at him. Crowley’s face is a picture of calm concern. He has the look of someone waiting for something.

“I only went for tea,” Aziraphale says. He feels suddenly desperate to be understood. He waves his hands. “William is just a customer, Crowley. A human. I wouldn’t—”

“I know, angel. But I’m sure they were very welcoming to you.” Now why does Crowley sound sad?

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says, inexplicably. Why is he still apologizing? But it feels so important. “Really, Crowley—”

“Angel, it’s fine. I just don’t think you want to invite those sorts of questions from Heaven about us, do you? Not a lot of room for plausible deniability in a set-up like that. Me, I’d be all right. But you—”

“No. No, no. Not at all. Do forgive me. I just thought...since we’ve been seeing so much of each other, it might be good to branch out, so to speak. Oh! I mean in terms of location!” Aziraphale says this last too loudly, realizing what he might have seemed to mean. He forces a laugh, and Crowley gives him a half smile, a soft, kind thing, and holds up a hand as if to show he’d taken no other meaning. But there was something... Us?, Aziraphale thinks. Crowley had said us (emphasis original). Oh God. He’d accidentally propositioned the demon—twice—and now the demon was saying us? He’s letting this get out of hand. “Oh, I’ve been so foolish,” he says.

“Angel. No harm done. Feed the ducks?” Crowley says, inclining his head toward the duck pond. No, no. Aziraphale thinks he really ought to go home this instant. But he looks up and catches Crowley’s eye over his sunglasses. Perhaps he can smooth this over. At any rate, he should try to calm himself. He likes feeding the ducks. And he likes feeding them with Crowley. There’s no reason he shouldn’t. So he nods.


Chapter Text

It’s a little longer before he sees Crowley again socially. They meet for the Arrangement six months after Aziraphale’s...invitation. It’s just a quick meeting over drinks about who will perform a temptation and miracle in Lancashire and the surrounding area (Crowley). And, now almost a year later, it’s Crowley who wants to meet. Aziraphale knows he’d let his guard down too much before, and for sixty years at that, and he feels vigilant, on edge. Distance is the thing. He’ll have to remember that. Crowley is a demon, he tells himself, as he sees his acquaintance standing by the guardrail at the pond, oddly still and alert. He has to repeat it over and over because it doesn’t stick, doesn’t make him feel what the other angels had always seemed to think it would. A demon. Not to be trusted. A...foe.

Do not hesitate to smite the foe,” Michael had said to him once. Aziraphale ignores the sick twist in his belly at the thought, and he presses a hand to his mouth. No, it’s too terrible. He couldn’t, even if he had to. He never could. 

He knows the meeting won’t go well. Knows that everything he’s saying is born out of his own insecurity, out of the itchy annoyance he feels at the oddly twitchy way Crowley is acting, but he still can’t understand it when he opens the note Crowley hands him and reads holy water. Oh, this is worse than anything he could have imagined. And it’s his fault, on some level, because he should never have let it get this far, should never have let the demon think he could ask Aziraphale for--Aziraphale is an angel. What can Crowley mean by this? Is it some kind of test? He ends up storming off in a huff, already replaying the conversation in his mind, sorting through it, even as the fury and sting of Crowley’s words sear through him.

He practically spit at Aziraphale just for saying he couldn’t be caught fraternizing. But wasn’t that just what Crowley had said the last time they met? And what is he supposed to call it if not fraternizing? That’s what it is! They are on opposite sides! Crowley is a demon. It would cause trouble on a cosmic scale if Heaven or Hell found out he’d given something holy to a demon. If he wants to hurt himself, Aziraphale can’t be part of it. Wouldn’t want to be part of it, and surely Crowley would know that by now? And why should Crowley want to hurt himself? Was he really so afraid that he’d be found keeping company with Aziraphale? Aziraphale remembers the way he’d said “Us,” the last time they met. The way he’d looked so inexplicably sad. Oh, no, no. Perhaps...perhaps Aziraphale should have asked him? Should have stayed? Could he really have been the reason for Crowley to feel as bad as all that? Then couldn’t they simply...cease their association? But then, they had, hadn’t they? He’d made sure of that. Well, it’s true that he doesn’t need the demon. As he’d said. As it should be. The way it had been before. Aziraphale thinks of the days before Rome, waiting for assignments from Heaven, trying to glean some sense of connection from the smiles of humans he helped, from seeing if he might blend in with them, from trying their pleasures, always alone and closing himself off so they wouldn’t feel his difference and ask too many questions. It had been so different then, and he hadn’t even known how empty he’d felt, with nothing to compare it to except a vague memory of some unanchored feeling from Heaven, from the short time before the War.

Aziraphale closes the bookshop for the rest of the day. He thinks about going to Crowley, thinks about sending him another note, but this time, four drafts isn’t enough. They’re all too long, too revealing, even when they’re stilted and short. When he reads them, he doesn’t recognize the words or their writer, because what they say can’t be right. He burns them all. No. No. At the very least, Crowley does owe him an apology. Crowley, a demon, who had finally acted like what he was, and here Aziraphale is worrying about him? No. It won’t do. It’s wrong. The whole thing was wrong. There was no telling what Crowley wanted with that holy water. Perhaps he’d wanted the angel found out, perhaps he wanted to take it to Hell and show them what Aziraphale had done. Or—what if he wanted to kill other demons? Or—

How dare he attempt to manipulate Aziraphale? Was that what it had all been? All the saving him? All the playacting for Gabriel, just to keep an angel on earth who was so easy to sway? Crowley had seemed bothered when Aziraphale had mentioned Michael.

“I’ll sort you out,” Crowley had said, in that cajoling voice he always used. (How sweet, Aziraphale had thought at the time, even then pushing the thought away as soon as it came, along with the little thrill that flitted through him. Now he reflects that it was probably the same voice he used to tempt humans, that little frisson just a sign of Crowley’s demonic influence.) “Better this than I get stuck down here with one of them, anyway.”

Oh, how could Aziraphale have been such a fool as to think the demon liked him? Cared about him? That they might be friends? Why had he thought that? What did that even mean, for a demon to care about you? It should be an impossiblity. Especially if you’re an angel. The very statement is absurd. Aziraphale is absurd. He doesn’t have friends. He’s never had friends. Of course he doesn’t. How could he? Who would want to be his friend? To listen to his fussy, inane chattering and tolerate his foolishness and indulge his extraordinary penchant for luxury and fine dining? Oh, what a fool he is! He has nothing at all whatever in common with the louche demon. How on Earth could he have thought Crowley liked spending time with him? He’d probably laughed in secret when Aziraphale had agreed to the Arrangement, performed those little temptations for him, and lied to Heaven about who was performing certain miracles. He’d probably received commendations from Hell for corrupting an angel. They probably all knew what a failure of an angel he was, and it was only a matter of time before Heaven found out, too. Doubtless, Crowley had been laughing at him the whole time, watching him eat and eat and beg for the demon’s attention like some petulant, needy human child, and then, when at this last, crucial moment, he refused to give the demon what he wanted, Crowley had turned on him, lashed him with that sharp tongue he’d never turned on Aziraphale before. Because of course he had. They weren’t friends, and Crowley had no further use for him. Aziraphale supposes he should be grateful (to God, not Crowley) that the demon hadn’t done worse. It would have been so easy with Aziraphale trusting him like an idiot. But there’s still a part of him that hopes Crowley will come back, and apologize, and speak to him in that tone again, the one he shouldn’t allow to make him feel better.

Crowley doesn’t come the next day, or the day after that, and then it’s been weeks, months, even though Aziraphale can tell, when he searches for his aura, that he’s still there in London. He wonders about Crowley; feels the loneliness creeping back, the sense of wrongness he feels when he thinks he’s hurt the demon, but he reminds himself that this is best, that the loneliness was never really gone, that Crowley doesn’t hurt for him, because Crowley is a demon, which means that none of the last sixty years, none of the last thousand, had been anything real. And that is what evil means. (Right? It has to be, if Crowley is evil, because otherwise, he’s not, and then...) The next time he sees William, he asks about the club. He is careful, using a light miracle to make sure William doesn’t get the wrong idea about the nature of his interest, but he seems like someone who could use protecting.

“Only too happy to have you accompany me again,” William says, grinning.

Aziraphale joins the club. And until the Labouchere Amendment makes everyone doubly nervous, it’s great fun. Aziraphale extends what protection he can, but he can’t understand the source of the hatred and prejudice that dogs these people, who simply want to be allowed to love each other, so he can’t always anticipate every threat in time. They’re sad years he spends watching over the people he meets. Over William, such a dear boy, and a great many other delightful men and women. But Aziraphale doesn’t allow himself to become close to any of them, and though they all seem comfortable with him, though they tell him about their lives and come to him with their problems that he tries to find little ways to fix, they always seem to understand that they shouldn’t press Mr. Fell for any more than that.

And when Aziraphale goes home in the evenings, he’s always alone, the wine stores in the back growing dustier and dustier. He can’t imagine sharing them with anyone but Crowley. But that’s all over now. It has to be. He doesn’t check for Crowley’s aura because it’s not his concern. And when he doesn’t hear from the demon even after decades, he tries not to worry. Tries not think about what it was like not to feel alone. Tries not to imagine Crowley, off in Brazil or Japan, perhaps, or maybe even Egypt or America, doing...temptations...and drinking, or whatever it is he does when Aziraphale’s not there to boss him around and get in his way. He tries not to imagine that perhaps he’s been discorporated and is back in Hell. Crowley hates it there, Aziraphale knows, and surely it’s not too much to admit, even to Heaven, that he doesn’t want to get stuck up here with another demon, one who smells and oozes and might give him much worse than a tongue lashing. But Heaven hasn’t sent him word that Crowley has been replaced. And really, it’s not his concern. He shouldn’t worry for demons. Not even...Crowley. This is just the inevitable playing out, just the world getting itself in proper order. Aziraphale must follow suit.

 

Chapter Text

It’s in the spirit of reconciliation that Gabriel decides to approach Michael with the new assignment he has in mind for Aziraphale. He hopes she’ll like it. It has to do with wars and stuff, which she always likes. He just hopes she doesn’t try to step in and micromanage. She can get like that sometimes, especially when she thinks Crowley is involved. But there’s no reason the demon should be involved here.

“Sandalphon,” he says, glancing across the room at his officemate. “Would you see if Michael is available for a meeting?”

“When would you want to meet with her?” Sandalphon says. He scratches his head. It must be some old human habit. Gabriel will have to ask him about it.

“As soon as possible. ASAP. Immediately.”

“Well, you know she’s on vacation,” Sandalphon says slowly.

It’s been a long time since Gabriel has seen Michael. He’d assumed she’d just shut herself up in her corner like she always did.

“Where did she go on...vacation?” Gabriel asks.

“Nowhere I know of. Just...off duty.”

“Michael has been off duty since the War ended,” Gabriel snaps. Then he catches himself. Sandalphon is staring at him with something close to glee. “Forgive me,” Gabriel says. “That was ungracious. And untrue.”

“I have heard about what she was like before,” Sandalphon says. “Did you know her then?”

“Briefly,” Gabriel says. “But she’s still...quite valuable to the work we do.”

“I should say she is. You should have seen her at Sodom,” Sandalphon says. Almost three thousand years ago, Gabriel thinks. “Trained me proper, she did. Really avenged you . But still, I don’t see as she makes your job any easier now.”

“Yes, well. Is she ever planning to...not be on vacation?”

“Last I heard, she said don’t bother her unless there’s word about—”

“The demon Crowley?”

“The very one,” Sandalphon says.

Gabriel sighs.

In the end, he draws up the plan himself, with some help from Sandalphon, who mostly just suggests over and over that Aziraphale should keep a firearm on his person at all times.

“I don’t think Aziraphale will agree to that,” Gabriel says.

“I don’t see as he’s got much of a choice if we tell him he has to,” Sandalphon says. “In the right hands, a firearm can give weight to a moral argument.”

“Is that...Michael?”

“What she told me, yes,” Sandalphon says. “I think she’s quite right. But if you don’t think so, then maybe you want to ask yourself if Aziraphale’s are the right hands.”

***

Aziraphale has been working quietly to help parents send their children to America, wandering the streets at night since the Blitz started, looking for people trapped and hurt, and performing miracles to free them. He ought to be stronger, he thinks. Ought to go out to Germany or Poland where he might be able to intervene at a higher level, but he doesn’t dare without the approval of Heaven. He’d find himself sanctioned or even recalled.

Sometimes he wonders if that would be so bad. He feels so empty now, the dust swirling around London, the news of so much hatred and destruction pressing in on him along with the memories of his last friends, humans. It had not been so terribly long, and yet they were all gone. Human lives, transient as raindrops. And the friendships. Well, they might have called them that, but Aziraphale had never felt—oh, he’d cared for them very much, had loved them, certainly, but they seemed so young always, so naive, so...simple. He’d never been able to share anything of himself with them, and invariably, their confidences, their kindnesses were met with what seemed to them like withholding, and he had to keep a certain distance to avoid questions in the first place, and of course there was so much of him that they’d never be able to understand. The end result was that the whole of it just felt like entanglement, and when they’d passed away, he hadn’t found more friends, hadn’t wanted to. He’d tried friendship with humans. It was a failed experiment. And Heaven hadn’t even given him a proper assignment for ages. He watched the Great War come to pass, helpless, and now...this.

Of course his thoughts went to Crowley. He wondered if the demon was safe before he snapped himself out of it. The demon had probably started all of this. Had probably convinced Hitler that Germany had been mistreated after the Great War. Had probably set it all in motion.

Aziraphale weeps when he thinks of it. He can’t help it. He’s touch-and-go these days, and the idea of it is too much. Crowley had always seemed so kind. He’d made Aziraphale feel happy, whole. Even when he teased, or offered Aziraphale little things he knew he shouldn’t accept, he’d done it gently. Chocolates. Other peoples’ oysters. It was harmless, really. It had always amused Aziraphale, if he was honest about it. And Crowley never told Aziraphale no. He listened to him when he talked. He was unexpectedly gentle and thoughtful. He remembered what Aziraphale liked and offered it to him. He’d understood things...and he’d made Aziraphale feel...well, he’d made him feel real. But had any of it been real? Had he really fooled Aziraphale for so long? It wouldn’t be hard, he thought. Fooling me. But there were so many things Crowley hadn’t had to do that he’d done. Things he couldn’t see how the demon would benefit from. And until that awful day, he’d never asked Aziraphale for anything for himself. Well, except the Arrangement. But that was essentially mutual, even if it had been Crowley’s idea. Did that make it a temptation? (Was it really temptation if you wanted, as Aziraphale had, to be tempted? If you’d practically begged for it, the way Aziraphale had, riding out alone and unprompted, to find the Black Knight again one foggy evening, directing him to send his men away as the two of them huddled close to the fire. And Aziraphale thinking, saying, “I shouldn’t,” even as everything he did, everything he felt, screamed anything, to keep this conversation going; anything to stay near you, because you’re like me, you understand.  Oh, Crowley had known what Aziraphale wanted, even as Aziraphale refused to admit it to himself. Aziraphale could see his own nakedness, his own need, reflected in the demon’s smirk, but Crowley had said even then, “We can just try it, angel, an even trade. Tit for tat. And if you don’t want to do any more after we try one, then we’ll stop. Simple enough, right?” He’d meant it, Aziraphale had believed him even then. It was what made him nervous about Crowley—his own inability to distrust him. He’d hesitated a long time because of what it would mean to agree, but he’d agreed. And they’d never stopped. They hadn’t had to. Crowley did well with the miracles, almost like he wanted Aziraphale to be pleased with him, almost like he cared about humans himself, and he never asked Aziraphale to do anything truly terrible. Until the holy water. But that had been...different.) Aziraphale gulps. No. Aziraphale knew he did things for Hell that he didn’t always talk about, but he understood that; Crowley didn’t seem to relish those things, just as Aziraphale didn’t always relish his role in Heaven’s plans. And with him Crowley had always seemed kind. Good. He really had. Even if it had all been some sort of ruse, Aziraphale can’t believe that Crowley would do this. Crowley would hate this. He doesn’t have to care about the demon to know that. There is even that line in human scripture about knowing a person by their fruits. Surely the sentiment applies here. Surely he can be allowed to take some small comfort in that.

When he returns to his bookshop, the missive from Heaven is waiting for him. He blinks his tears away and picks it up, slumping in a chair to open it.

***

Aziraphale meets Captain Montgomery only once before the mission. British intelligence sends her to his shop after Heaven makes sure they knows about Glozier and Harmony’s visit to his bookshop, which had happened as they’d said it would, the day after he’d received the missive.

Captain Montgomery takes his hand in greeting and allows him to serve her a cup of tea in the back room, where he seldom takes anyone. She tells him to call her Rose, and she seems quite a nice, accomplished young woman. Not to be trifled with, he thinks. Good. He agrees to help with the mission as long as they meet somewhere other than his shop. He doesn’t want to draw too much attention in case they decide to blow it up too.

It’s only days later that he’s to meet the two Nazi officials again. He sighs, trying to put aside the fatigue that surrounds him. This is a real plan. This is a contribution he is best placed to make. He wants to thank Gabriel for it; the intervention feels almost thoughtful, as if Gabriel had tried to create a plan Aziraphale would like. But it’s hard, still, to feel truly motivated. He stacks and binds the books of prophecy, excepting, of course, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, which simply no longer exist. As the bombs go off, he makes his way to the appointed church. Rose is standing outside in the shadows, and she nods at him. He enters. And then it all goes pear-shaped.

***

Er ist sehr leichtgläubig,” Rose—or Greta says. How true, how true, Aziraphale thinks. He’s stunned; he can’t believe Heaven would send him into something like this. And he has, of course, disregarded Sandalphon’s addendum to bring a firearm. Which he’d never have used on a human, of course. But these do seem the sort of people to respond to a show of power. If they discorporate him...the paperwork would be awful. And the way he’s been feeling lately, he’s not even sure he’d bother to complete it.

It is, of course, Crowley who saves him. It has never been anyone else.

“That was very kind of you,” he says, stiffly, when the church has crumbled around them. Crowley cleans off his glasses.

“Shut up,” he says.

“Well, it was. No paperwork for a start,” he says. He’ll need to—oh no. “Oh, the books!” he says. “Oh, I forgot all the books. Oh, they’ll all be blown—”

Crowley moves toward him, steps behind him just slightly, then holds something out to him. At first Aziraphale doesn’t understand what’s happening. He takes the suitcase, registering the brush of the demon’s hand, as Crowley says, “Little demonic miracle of my own.” And gives him a small smile. Oh. “Lift home?” Crowley places the words there, like he knows they’re precarious, like he knows Aziraphale will barely hear them.

And Aziraphale can’t move for a moment. Crowley saved the books. He’d saved the books. He’d remembered to save them, even in all of that. Even after everything. He’d come for Aziraphale, like nothing had changed, he’d walked into a church, and he’d remembered about... oh. Oh. Aziraphale watches him as he walks away through the rubble. He’d been so wrong. So, so wrong. No one would do that, would think that way, if they were motivated by evil. It wouldn’t be possible. No, Crowley cared. He still does, apparently. He is Aziraphale’s friend. He really is. And all that time they’d spent apart...was just time spent apart. It didn’t have to mean anything. It didn’t to Crowley. Aziraphale gulps. This is...sudden and new, this certainty. But it’s real: he knows he’ll never truly doubt the demon again. He just doesn’t know what to do with that knowledge.

In the car, a sleek black thing that reminds him of the demon, he’s quiet. He can’t figure out how to apologize, what to say. So he says nothing, except a stammered, teary-eyed “thank you,” when he first gets in, sinking into soft leather seats. Crowley seems so at ease here, that it makes Aziraphale wonder what all he has missed from the last eighty years, but he can’t open his mouth to ask, can’t find the words. 

Crowley’s driving is erratic and, frankly, terrifying, but Aziraphale doesn’t pay much attention to it except to hold on to the door and, without realizing he’s doing it, to press his eyes closed.

“Angel,” Crowley says. Oh, how he’s missed that.

Aziraphale looks around at him, at that face, that expression, the gentle, teasing smile. Oh. So lovely. Always so lovely. Aziraphale’s eyes are full, his chest is full—he can’t breathe; he feels as if he might burst.

“We’re here, angel. Your bookshop.”

Aziraphale nods at him. He wants to reach for him, take Crowley’s hands and press them to his heart. He wants to see his eyes. He wants to kiss him. Kiss Crowley. Kiss a demon. He blinks rapidly, coming back to himself, but the feeling is still there, loud and bright and clear. It’s been there a long time, he realizes, it’s just that now he sees it. So why can’t he put it back, put it away, where it belongs? This is too much. He fumbles with the car door, desperate to get away. 

“Oh, let me,” Crowley says, still with that indulgent tone, like he knows what effect he’s having, and instead of a miracle, he springs out and runs around, opens it, holds it for Aziraphale. Oh, God. Aziraphale ducks around him, not looking at him, afraid they might touch, of what might happen if he feels the skin of his hand again, or even brushes against that ridiculously cut suit. He moves past Crowley to stand at a safe arm’s distance.

“Thank you,” he says, again, stiffly.

“Anytime, angel,” Crowley says. And now Aziraphale does look at him; Aziraphale stares. Because this is the kind of thing Crowley says, but it’s the first time Aziraphale lets himself think he might not be teasing, might not ever have been teasing. Again he suppresses the urge to reach out and grab his friend.

“Good—good night,” he says. Ought he to invite—? No, clearly not. He’s in no fit state.

“Night, angel.” Crowley does sound disappointed. Aziraphale turns at the door and watches as Crowley makes his way back to the driver’s seat. The suit is so heavy and voluminous that Aziraphale can barely detect his sinuous walk, but it’s there, so different from that awful hopping he’d been doing in the church. Oh, his feet! Oh, he’s been so selfish not to have even considered!

“Crowley, are you...all right? Should I see to your feet?”

“My feet are fine, angel. Don’t fuss,” Crowley says. They stand there, Aziraphale at the door, and Crowley leaning over the top of the car. Finally, Aziraphale waves, a nervous, jerky little motion, and Crowley takes his hat off and gives him an affected little bow, but Aziraphale doesn’t even smile at him before turning away and letting himself into the bookshop.

Inside, Aziraphale makes cocoa and attempts to draft an angry report to Heaven. He cannot think about Crowley. He cannot. He’ll discorporate spontaneously if he even tries. And Crowley couldn’t save him from that.

***

“What is this?” Sandalphon says, his tone somewhere between belligerent and amused.

Gabriel looks up. “Hmm?” he says.

“Aziraphale’s latest report. Haven’t you read it?”

Gabriel has not. He walks over to Sandalphon’s desk, peers over his shoulder. Sandalphon hands it to him. He looks greedy and eager.

Gabriel takes it back to his desk and sinks into his chair. “Oh Lord,” he says, reading. Aziraphale’s contact a double agent. The Nazis they’d wanted Britain to capture for information killed. A church destroyed. Inexplicably, Aziraphale had mentioned that the books had been saved. Gabriel would have to go over with him what kind of information was considered relevant. He did not need details about Aziraphale’s material possessions. “Do you think this is on us?” he says. “Do you think we should have done a little more vetting? This was why I wanted to talk to Michael.”

“Absolutely not,” Sandalphon says. “We did everything we could have. He’s just bungled it again.”

Gabriel studies him. He doesn’t understand Sandalphon sometimes. It seems like he makes no effort to give people a chance. It might not have been on them, exact lol , what with free will and all, but there was no real way they could blame Aziraphale here—all he’d done was follow instructions. “Come on, Sandalphon,” Gabriel says. “We’re the ones who sent him in there.”

Sandalphon shrugs. “Well, if you want a dressing down, Michael is back. But leave me out of it.”

Gabriel gasps a little. He hadn’t expected her back yet...No, he’d better keep this one to himself.

Chapter Text

It’s almost thirty years later when Aziraphale hears that Crowley is robbing a church. Or rather, when someone tells him about a plan to rob a church, and Aziraphale puts it together with something he’s heard from a new associate who just got out of prison and came into the bookshop offering Witchfinding services, which was odd but perhaps useful...well, it can only be Crowley that the man means. Aziraphale sighs. This is a little brazen, a little obvious. A little desperate, even. Yes, it’s his move now, and if Crowley is impatient, well, that’s to be understood. But he’s not surprised, and he can’t deny that as a test, it’s a good one.  If he lets Crowley go through with this, he’d deserve the demon’s permanent silence. If this Shadwell is the caliber of person involved, there will almost certainly be accidents. Spills. And he can’t let that happen. He’s perhaps not as flashy as Crowley; he won’t sweep into a church at the last minute and save him, but he can do something. And this time, what he can do is show Crowley that he trusts him. Even if he doesn’t—it’s better than letting him risk his life with humans who won’t understand the danger. Perhaps it’s foolish, but it’s been thirty years, and he hates himself every moment already for his inaction. The thought of Crowley gone...he has to do something.

“After everything you said?” Crowley says, holding the thermos, his fingers light against it, tentative, as if he can’t believe it’s there, in his own hands, something that could kill him. Something Aziraphale put there. Aziraphale knows that he’ll cry tonight, can already feel it swelling inside of him as Crowley studies it. It’s Aziraphale’s own tartan, which might have been too much, but, well, whatever it meant, it was the truth...he’d miracled the thermos just for Crowley, just for this. He hadn’t wanted to risk any spills or leaks or stray droplets.

He doesn’t say any of this. He just nods.

“Should I say thank you?” Crowley asks.

“Better not.”

“Can I...nngh..drop you anywhere?”

“No. Thank you.” Crowley seems to almost pout. But Aziraphale can’t do this. It’s hard enough just sitting here, looking at him in the pink lights of Soho. Fashion now suits him more than it had at their last meeting, accentuating the long, clean lines of him, his bright hair framing his face.

“Oh, don’t look so disappointed,” he says. “Perhaps one day we could—oh, I don’t know. Go for a picnic. Dine at the Ritz.” He feels too warm. He shouldn’t say these things, he knows. But he can’t not say them after all this time, can’t let Crowley think he doesn’t want...

“I’ll give you a lift, anywhere you want to go,” Crowley says, and there’s something frantic in his tone, insistent, even though Aziraphale can tell he’s trying to sound casual. Aziraphale swallows, blinks. No. No. Perhaps this had been a mistake; perhaps he should have just sent the holy water, because this hurts. More than he’d thought, more than he thinks he can stand, because it’s hurting Crowley, too, and he can see now, that he’s hurt Crowley before, over and over again, because it had all been real, everything he had believed and told himself not to, even if he hadn’t understood it then, and now...Aziraphale needs...time. Needs to figure out what they can get back, now that Aziraphale understands what it is he feels for the demon, what the demon feels for him. Right now he doesn’t see how they could get anything back. Not if it hurts like this—but that can’t be right. Not if he’s here, handing Crowley a thermos of holy water in his own tartan. No, to have nothing with Crowley is the worst thing he could imagine. So he swallows and forces himself to say something, something true, because Crowley deserves the truth, even if Aziraphale can’t give it all to him.

“You go too fast for me, Crowley,” he says. And he doesn’t wait, he miracles the door open and steps out into the night, because if he sits there any longer he won’t be able to put an end to it, may just launch himself across the seat at Crowley, and wrap his arms around him and never let go, and then where would they be?


Chapter Text

When Crowley contacts him about the Antichrist, he’s ready for it. Gabriel has told him what’s coming, that Crowley is involved, and Aziraphale is all set to tell him no, to double down on what he’s had to do, because he’s had to do it, because the Arrangement had been wrong to begin with, and he’s not about to rekindle that. Because if Armageddon is coming, and they’re on opposite sides, then now is not the time for them to get their loyalties twisted. Because none of it feels quite real if he can just keep things the way they are, the two of them not seeing each other, not exchanging those knowing smiles, not hurting each other over and over again without meaning to because there’s nothing else they can do.

But then Crowley, master of temptation that he is, asks him to lunch. And suddenly, Aziraphale is eating cake that tastes better because Crowley first took a bite, and they’re back in the bookshop with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape he’d gotten in 1921 when he’d thought maybe Crowley would come back after the Great War had ended—not that he’d wanted him to, not that he’d bought the wine for Crowley, but he’d just thought, one day, that it might happen, and had bought more than he might have otherwise. And—well, now the world is ending, but Crowley is back. So he feels it again: happy.

***

He agreed to help with Warlock Dowling, the young Antichrist, because it seemed like a way to keep going. Which, all things considered, he’d much prefer to Armageddon. It was maybe one last chance at...Aziraphale doesn’t quite know what. Stasis, perhaps? Crowley had been very kind, trying to couch it in terms of thwarting a demon’s wiles, though they hadn’t done that properly for years. He appreciated what Crowley was doing. He knew the demon could see that he’d wanted to say yes. That he wanted to stay on Earth as much as Crowley did.

But Aziraphale hadn’t expected it to lead to this: Now, more evenings than not, he and Crowley talk. They always call it “checking in,” but they talk about almost everything as they drink in Aziraphale’s cottage on the grounds, dropping their disguises, or stroll around the Dowlings’ gardens, Crowley looking lovely and rather severe as Nanny Ashtoreth, and Aziraphale feeling ridiculous in the disguise he’d miracled for himself when he’d realized at the last minute what was expected from him for this task. He prefers the cottage evenings. And even though they call it checking in, even though Aziraphale knows now, that he has to be careful—not only with Crowley but with himself—he forgets. Just for moments at a time, but that’s enough.

“Warlock made papier-mache,” Crowley says. “Figured that’d keep him occupied and messy enough to get his parents’ attention.” He laughs. “Didn’t figure on getting it all over myself.” He’s not as drunk as Aziraphale. For once, he’s been doing the talking, Aziraphale mostly listening and sipping.

Aziraphale watches him. There’s a kind of light in his face when he speaks about Warlock. A kind of tenderness and hope he doesn’t always succeed at hiding.

“You’re ever so good with him,” Aziraphale says, his voice slurring. He’s smiling at Crowley, a bit dreamily, he knows, but what does it matter? They both know. Crowley smiles back; sure, he rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. He liked the praise, even if he shouldn’t recognize it as such. He’s a little drunk, a little too relaxed. And Aziraphale should stop, but he doesn’t, because he’s quite drunk and he can see it now, something he doesn’t usually let himself picture: Crowley as an angel, what he might have been like without all the jaded sharpness, all the attempts to hide his goodness. A Guardian, perhaps, with all his care for humanity? A beautiful, stern Dominion? And then the words come out, “What were you, Crowley? In Heaven, I mean?”

Crowley goes still. His whole body freezes, and Aziraphale remembers the last time he saw that happen, when they’d been in the park and he’d mentioned the gentlemen’s club, and he winces, but Crowley isn’t even looking at him anymore and he doesn’t blame him, but they can’t do this again, they can’t pull away from each other, not when they’re both here for at least another six or seven years. Aziraphale miracles himself sober. He doesn’t bother to flinch at the sensation, just reaches out for Crowley, because maybe if Crowley will just look at him—

But Crowley doesn’t. “Crowley—” Aziraphale says, his hand brushing the fingers he’d tried to grab, but Crowley pulls away, and now he does look, his mouth twisted, eyes staring, like the sight of Aziraphale horrifies him. It’s just a moment, but then he’s gone before Aziraphale can say anything else. The look is frozen in his mind, and he never wants Crowley to look at him that way again.

After that, they only meet in the pub. Crowley says it’s because they have to be more careful. Aziraphale knows he’s right. Heaven and Hell will want updates. They might even be monitoring them now. He never asks Crowley again, vows in silence that he won’t. But he thinks of it sometimes, and he has more trouble than before shutting out the fears he’d had back in Eden about Crowley’s Fall, about what Aziraphale might have done to him in the War.

***

“Gabriel.” Gabriel sighs. Michael has become completely fixated, and he’s getting tired of spending so much of their time talking about a demon. “Please tell me you have a plan to deal with the demon—with Aziraphale.”

“If Aziraphale is working with Crowley,” Gabriel snaps. “Then we ought to cast him out. He should Fall.”

“No, Gabriel! Don’t you understand even the most basic—?” Michael tugs at her collar as if it’s choking her. When she speaks again, her voice is coiled tight, quiet and explosive. “Even if he went to Hell, it would only reward the demon. The demon Crowley loves—”

“Michael! For the last time: Demons. Cannot. Love.” This is simple—it isn’t about the demon. The demon is not their responsibility. If he’s happy to see Aziraphale cast down, then, well, of course he is. He’s a demon! They’re all happy to see any angel Fall to their level. It’s nothing to do with anyone being in love, or seeking revenge on some, well, frankly, washed-up Archangel.

But then Michael tips her head to the side, studying Gabriel and says, “Hell wouldn’t even have Aziraphale. Not now.And that actually is an interesting thought, one Gabriel hasn’t considered. He frowns a little. What would that mean, to belong to neither Heaven nor Hell? 

“If we cast him out,” Michael adds. “Hell will kill him. It’s the same, then, as if we just did it ourselves. But without the same kind of reward. This way, Hell will owe us.”

Oh. Can she really be suggesting a literal deal with the devil? That is out of the question. But when he goes to protest, she starts nodding and smiling, like he’s agreed to something, and then she says it again, and for the second time since they’d realized there really was something there with the demon and Aziraphale:

“Back channels, Gabriel.”

***

Michael, Uriel, and Sandalphon are the last to arrive, and when they do, Gabriel sucks in a breath of relief. This is starting now, and Michael leads the entire Army of Heaven—they can’t have a War without her. Uriel and Sandalphon take their places, and then there’s something, like interference in Gabriel’s head, something that hums, something...He holds up his hand, closing his eyes, concentrating.

Oh, what the actual fuck?

“Stand down,” he says. When Michael twitches, gripping her sword tighter in indignation, he turns to her. “Wait,” he says.

He concentrates, and he’s there, where it’s happening, and Gabriel can’t believe his eyes. It’s worse than he’d imagined. There’s a demon to his left, coming up from Below, and in front of them, Aziraphale. The demon Crowley. A bunch of humans, one of them the Antichrist. Gabriel sighs and shakes his head. This is not at all how this was planned. Beelzebub seems almost as displeased with Crowley as Michael is, and Gabriel studies Aziraphale without the chance to even speak until Crowley points out the Antichrist. He tries to talk some sense into the child, but he’s so human, nothing seems to sink in. Gabriel much prefers the administrative side of his work to the whole message-delivering thing.

“You both want to end the world just to see whose gang is best?” Adam says.

“Obviously!” Gabriel says. “It’s the Great Plan. It’s the entire reason for the creation of Earth. You can’t just refuse to be who you are.”

And then Aziraphale is there. “Um, excuse me. Ahem” he says, primly. As if he gets to be prim, standing there beside That Demon (OK, maybe he sounds a bit like Michael), when they all know what they’ve been doing, that he’s been lying this whole time and for who knows how long, exactly? “Excuse me,” Aziraphale repeats. “You keep talking about the Great Plan."

“Aziraphale, maybe you should just keep your mouth shut,” Gabriel snaps.

“One thing I’m not clear on—” And Gabriel wonders when this angel has ever been clear on anything. Has he ever just done what he was asked to do? Has he ever kept his mouth shut? “Is that the Ineffable Plan?” Aziraphale finishes.

Beelzebub recites what is Written. Gabriel finds himself nodding along with them. “They’re the same thing,” he says, but maybe he doesn’t say it forcefully enough, because then That Demon starts looking all manic and rushes forward and says, “You don’t know! Well, it’d be a pity if you thought you were doing what the Great Plan said, but you were actually going against God’s Ineffable Plan.”

Gabriel hates him. He’s got this sharp, silvertongued thing going that he can see how Aziraphale would be powerless to resist, but in that moment, he hates Aziraphale too, because this is Aziraphale’s fault. If he’d just... not consorted with That Demon, none of them would be here, doing this, and yet...well, the real problem is that Crowley seems to have given everyone pause. Even Gabriel.

‘God does not play games with the Universe,” Gabriel says, finally, looking around. Surely this will resonate. 

But the demon scoffs at him. “Where have you been?” he says, giving Aziraphale a sideways look, like they know something he doesn’t. Like they know something together. And Aziraphale nods at him, as if that look wasn’t out of place. Gabriel feels his stomach churn, and though he has never eaten, he begins to feel as if he will vomit. This is unholy—more than that, it shouldn’t be possible. It’s some sort of abomination, right here in front of him. And Aziraphale is just as scornful as the demon, but maybe with a little pity thrown in. Aziraphale. Looking at a demon like they’re on the same side, and looking at Gabriel with scorn. With pity.

He pulls Beelzebub aside because they’re on the same side now. Oh, geez—well only sort of. Not like Aziraphale and That Demon. Ugh. Just a temporary alliance, the side of order. But in the end, they agree—they’ll have to call it off. It’s over.

“Well, at least we know whose fault it is,” he says. And he looks at them. The two of them, and he wonders how this can have happened, how it can have come this far, and how it’s only now that they see it. Only now, when it’s too late. Aziraphale and Crowley together smile and wave like the whole thing is a joke to them, and Gabriel feels like he’s never seen this angel clearly before, not really, not if he’s capable of this. And Michael is going to kill him when he tells them to stand down. She’s been waiting and waiting for this. And when she finds out why, there will be no calming her.

 

Chapter Text

He’s right. So was she, really: They’re going to have to do away with Aziraphale. Hell will do away with Crowley. Gabriel still can’t believe what he saw, the way they’d stood there together, bold as anything, as if it wasn’t disgusting, as if their association—whatever the nature of it—wasn’t an abomination. Aziraphale hadn’t even had the decency to apologize before questioning him in front of two agents of Hell. Even That Demon had had enough sense to greet Beelzebub with respect.

Gabriel ignores it when Michael gleefully gets in touch with Hell. Or more accurately, he encourages it. Someone has to set things up. It isn’t as if they routinely keep substances in either place that could do away with most of their inhabitants.

They take them from the park, having watched them stroll around together, help themselves to frozen confections as if they are humans who need to eat something in order to celebrate their ill-advised stunt—or however that whole connection between nourishment and celebration works. (Gabriel doesn’t ingest material substances, he can’t be expected to know.) The corruption is painful to see, it really is. Gabriel watches from a distance, letting Uriel and Sandalphon do the physical stuff. Michael is already in Hell, having arranged things so that she herself delivers the holy water.

They gag Aziraphale on Gabriel’s orders. He doesn’t want a repeat of the day before. And when he’s finally in Heaven before them, they remove the gag and tie him to his chair, which, well, Gabriel hadn’t ordered, but he can see the logic in it.

Aziraphale doesn’t seem scared. He just seems like he’s waiting. And it makes Gabriel so angry, because he really doesn’t like doing this, all this manhandling —it’s vulgar, it’s—well, it’s punishment for the lack of repentance, and what he really wants is repentance, but Aziraphale just keeps sitting there, waiting, implicitly refusing. So they bring a demon in, and he opens the case, letting the hellfire plume into Heaven. And Aziraphale looks sad, a little, but not really—he barely looks interested. It makes no sense. Nothing about him does, nothing about him ever has. How hard can it really be for him to see that he should apologize, should weep and repent and renounce the demon Crowley?

“So, with one act of treason, you averted the War,” Gabriel says.

“Well, I think the greater good—” begins the odious Principality, and the anger surges in Gabriel like the hellfire.

“Don’t talk to me about the greater good, sunshine. I’m the Archangel fucking Gabriel,” he says.

Aziraphale’s face twitches, like he’s trying not to smile. Gabriel wants him gone. Uriel strides forward and unties him, and Aziraphale stands, tugging at his waistcoat, at his bowtie, as if any of that even matters.

“I don’t suppose I can persuade you to reconsider?” Aziraphale says. The gall. That they’re the ones who need to reconsider?

“Into the flame,” Gabriel says.

Aziraphale steps forward. He looks hesistant for the first time. He stops in front of the fire and says, “Lovely knowing you all. May we meet on a better occasion.”

What the actual fuck is wrong with him? Is he actually mad or something?

“Shut your stupid mouth, and die already,” Gabriel snaps. And he’s not looking forward to this, he’s really not, but that doesn’t change the horror he feels when Aziraphale pushes his shoulders back and strides into the fire, and doesn’t even fucking die.

They all jump back when he exhales a plume of hellfire at them, the expression on his face something truly demonic. 

“What is he?” Uriel says. And it’s a good point, it’s really a good point, because Gabriel isn’t even angry anymore, he’s afraid, and he just wants Aziraphale , whatever that name even refers to anymore, gone. If not eliminated, then just...nowhere near him, thanks.

***

When it’s all over, they meet back in the park, Aziraphale in Crowley’s lovely body, which feels loose and lithe, and which he now knows entirely too much about. Not that he had done anything improper, of course, with that treasured body, but, well, there had been that whole matter of the bathtub and a certain incumbent disrobing. But he felt he’d done Crowley proud. He hadn’t attempted to walk the way Crowley did—the idea of swinging his hips felt positively lewd—but he’d stayed calm and collected. He’d even gotten in a nice taunt at Michael, which he shares with Crowley, after they swap back. Crowley laughs, full-throated, even though he  seems a little tenser than Aziraphale had expected. Aziraphale is still feeling the adrenaline, still feeling the sense of foreboding finally abated. He’d decided just yesterday that he didn’t care about meeting Heaven’s expectations anymore. And now he doesn’t have to.

He doesn’t ask Crowley how it went in Heaven. It seems like dangerous ground, and Crowley would tell him, if he wanted to.

At the Ritz, Aziraphale watches him carefully, even as he enjoys his meal. Crowley relaxes into their old dynamic, even if there is a new softness to him. Aziraphale feels a pang of something. Something almost like fear—no, it’s urgency, but that makes no sense. Any reason for urgency is in the past. He knows that, but still.

Days ago, Crowley had begged Aziraphale to run away with him. He’d cried when he thought Aziraphale was gone, had been completely despondent. Yesterday, he’d stopped time because Aziraphale had threatened not to speak to him again (an easy threat to make good on if neither of them existed). Last night, they’d drunk on a bench while they waited for a bus and Crowley had offered him a place to stay, had reminded him that they weren’t on separate sides anymore. On the bus, Crowley had taken his hand and pulled him into the seat beside him like he was claiming him.

But he hadn’t held on to Aziraphale’s hand. And now he seems languid, as if he’d never done any of those things. He doesn’t even reach for Aziraphale’s hand on the table, just inches from his own. It’s OK, Aziraphale tells himself, because it doesn’t mean anything. At least he’s here, and they’re talking—or rather, Aziraphale is, and Crowley is listening—and it’s good, and easy. That’s something. But...perhaps Aziraphale ought to try something new. Ought to branch out a bit. And not in terms of location.

When they leave, Crowley walks with him back, and neither of them mention it. Inside the bookshop, Aziraphale looks for the wine, pours it, and turns, holding the two wine glasses. He watches Crowley carefully. The demon scowls and takes off his sunglasses, leaning forward to stare at Aziraphale.

“Angel?” Crowley says. “Angel—?”

Aziraphale sets the glasses down on his desk and faces him.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says. He forces himself to smile so Crowley won’t think something’s wrong, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. Crowley’s eyes go wide, and there’s no white to be seen in them. Oh no. “Crowley, my dear. I really don’t know how to begin. It’s just—I want to apologize to you.”

“Angel, let’s just drink,” Crowley says. He sounds desperate, almost panicked. “I’m sorted.”

“No. No, I really think I need to say this because...there’s something I…”Aziraphale doesn’t realizes he’s wringing his hands until Crowley gulps and reaches out and grabs them, holds them still. Aziraphale pulls his hands away, too embarassed at his distress to reflect on what Crowley has just done. Then it dawns on him, the significance of that, so much more than he deserves, and yet he’s about to ask for more. “Oh, my,” he whispers. Well, in for a penny... He sits down on the couch next to Crowley and takes a deep breath.

“Aziraphale, what?”

Aziraphale talks without looking at him. His chest feels full. He has that feeling again, of wanting to share something with Crowley, something from inside of him, and, well, he has an idea, but he’s not sure if it’s quite the thing.

“It’s just that you’re always so...you’re so...well, you’re lovely. And brave, and perhaps you’re not nice, but, well, whatever you say, you’re kind , and good , and oh, Crowley, I have nothing but the highest regard for you, and there’s something I want to try, but only if you’re sure you’re not angry at me, because—” And this is not it at all, this is what he feels but it sounds like so much foolish babble. He winces as Crowley cuts him off.

“I’m not angry at you,” Crowley says, but he looks completely appalled, which...fair enough. “But if you don’t bring the wine—”

Please, Crowley,” he says. “There’s something I’d like to try. With you, I mean. A kind of experiment.”

There’s a slight pause. Aziraphale thinks he’ll probably need to explain, but then Crowley says, “All right.” He’s watching Aziraphale, face turned toward him, more relaxed now, humoring him. Aziraphale bites his lip. He doesn’t know how to begin something like this. He reaches out and traces the line of Crowley’s jaw. It feels strong and solid, the skin slightly rough with stubble. His hand shakes. Crowley gives him an odd, knowing look, and Aziraphale thinks the demon might laugh. He pulls his hand away, looking down, hurt.

“Well,” Crowley says, sounding disappointed. “Was that it?”

“Not to your liking then, I expect. Ah. I’m so sorry, Crowley,” Aziraphale says. This is worse, he thinks, than the invitation to the club. Why had he thought Crowley would want to do things the human way? What had he thought—that Crowley would lean into his touch, when he’d pulled away from Crowley’s affection again and again? ( Go off together? Listen to yourself , he’d said, cruelly, when Crowley had said it for the first time at the bandstand. He’d wanted to say yes. He’d wanted to tell Crowley what it meant that he’d even asked.)  He presses his lips together. “I don’t really know how one does these things. And of course you probably don’t want—” he starts to stand, but he feels Crowley’s hand close around his arm, just above his elbow, tugging at him, and he’s crashing into the demon, Crowley’s bones pressing up into the flesh of Aziraphale’s thighs, and somehow, even though Crowley had pulled him down, what Aziraphale feels isn’t the sensation of falling, but of being caught. Crowley’s lips press into his, the demon groans with pleasure, and Aziraphale is gone, licking into his mouth and completely lost to all sense until Crowley’s hand caresses his head, his touch careful and gentle, reminding Aziraphale to slow down. They have time. Crowley breaks the kiss and looks at him, a question: Is that what you wanted? Is that what you meant?

Oh, yes. You’ve saved me again.

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale breathes. “And I’ve been just awful.”

“No, angel,” Crowley says. “You were never anything but good.”

***

In hindsight, there may have been some mismanagement on Heaven’s part, Gabriel thinks. He still can’t get over Aziraphale, standing there, exhaling a plume of hellfire at himself, Uriel, and Sandalphon, laughing. It was almost as if he’d known the execution wouldn’t work. Gabriel tried to tell Michael about it, but she’d stormed up from Hell, smelling foul and raving about the demon who hadn’t died either, and she’d absolutely shrieked when he told her they’d let Aziraphale go back to Earth. All right, fair enough, he thought. Obviously the demon had corrupted Aziraphale. Badly. Again. And apparently had gotten something out of the deal, if he was immune to holy water now. So Michael had been right, in a way. Right about the photos and what they meant, right even, about why Aziraphale never smote the Black Knight. But did she really think it was about revenge? Because that was the part that didn’t make since to Gabriel. If you examined what had actually happened, it didn’t seem like any of it was directed at Michael. And anyway, what was it she had done that would merit that kind of vengeance, even from a demon, after so many thousands of years?

Gabriel makes up his mind to ask her. He writes up a list of questions and starts to convert them into an agenda for a meeting he’ll ask Sandalphon to schedule.

But Michael doesn’t wait for the meeting. She shows up, days later, still in the same rancid, Hell-smelling white blouse and glowers at him.

“Can I help you, Michael?” Gabriel says, trying not to wrinkle his nose. Michael sighs and she’s wearing a fresh suit now, all cream and frills. Her hair is still a little bedraggled, Gabriel notes, the notes of brimstone still there, but fainter now.

“Excuse me?” she snaps. Jesus Christ.

“Is there something I can do for you?”

“Get me the hellfire.” Gabriel frowns. OK, she cannot expect him to read her mind, but she’s looking at him like he’d better not ask any questions. The fury is glowing off of her.

“I don’t know what you mean, Michael,” Gabriel says, channeling Uriel’s stoicism. “Explain.”

“Gabriel,” Michael says, and she sounds like she thinks he’s stupid. “ What I mean is that I want the hellfire. The exact hellfire, all right? That you used on Aziraphale. I want that hellfire. Get it for me.”

“Well, I can’t get you the exact hellfire, Michael,” Gabriel says. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

Michael’s hands clench. “Never mind,” she says. “I’m going to Hell anyway. I’ll pick it up.”

Gabriel thinks he ought to stop her. Ought to remind her that she has no authorized business in Hell, and hasn’t she been corresponding with demons an awful lot lately, anyway? But when he opens his mouth, Michael glares at him, so white hot, it singes. He nods, looks away.

***

“Gabriel,” Uriel says. He flinches before he realizes it’s her. Still, though, does no one schedule meetings anymore? “I need a word.”

“Yes?”

“It’s about Michael. I think you’re going to have to reign that in. Or get someone who can. She’s got hellfire in here. And she’s gone to Earth, you know. To deal with the demon herself, I can only assume.”

What?

Uriel enters and glares at Sandalphon. 

“Sandalphon stays,” Gabriel says. Sandalphon gives Uriel an angry little wave and smile.

“Tell me something,” Gabriel says. “Why does Michael think Crowley wants revenge? I wasn’t here for very long before the War. Was Cadamiel... very wicked? Did they have some kind of rivalry?”

Uriel sniffs. “Cadamiel was just a Power,” she says, shrugging. “Nothing special, so not very wicked, no. Not that I noticed. He was kind and he liked to laugh, but he paid no attention to anyone’s status. Some of the other angels thought he was especially beautiful. He did nice things with the stars.”

“Right, but—”

Michael...didn’t like it that Lucifer thought he was beautiful. Lucifer lusted for him, I think. I mean, we didn’t have that word then. Didn’t have the concept, really, but Lucifer felt it all the same, I think. He was always ahead of the crowd with sin. Paid attention to him. And Michael blamed Cadamiel for that.”

Gabriel frowns at her. “Really? And the whole thing about Aziraphale? He corrupted him and that’s why he Fell?”

“No, I don’t think he corrupted the Principality,” Uriel says. “They were friends. They had a...strong attachment. It was odd and probably unwise, but I don’t think they broke any rules. Michael didn’t like it because they were different choirs. And because it was Cadamiel—she already hated him because of Lucifer. No one else really cared what they did. They were both a little odd to begin with, so it made a kind of sense.”

So, there hadn’t been any corruption? Michael had just had a personal hatred for another angel, who had Fallen—

“So he Fell for no reason?”

“No, the records say that he Fell because he questioned the Almighty,” Uriel says. “Not even Michael could make that happen if he didn’t deserve it. But there’s no other reason listed.”

“So she’s gone to smite a demon now,” Sandalphon says.

“A demon we ought to leave well alone,” Uriel says. “If what happened in Hell is any indication. He’s basically their version of Aziraphale. She has no idea how to get rid of him. Smiting might not even work.”

“We ought to leave them both alone,” Gabriel says. “Aziraphale isn’t one of us anymore. I think that means Crowley isn’t one of them.”

“I think that’s what I just said. But see, Michael can’t ignore them, not if it means they’re together,” Uriel says.

“Who says that they—?”

“Does anyone really need to spell it out, Gabriel?” Uriel says. “We underestimated them. Do you know Cadamiel took Aziraphale up to make the stars? A Principality, up in the nothingness like that! Coming back with stardust all over him, just in case there had been any doubts. And Cadamiel wore Aziraphale’s creations in his hair. It was almost like they...worshipped each other. They were like nothing Heaven had ever seen, the way they were with each other.  And you can’t just say Crowley’s a demon, like that means anything to Aziraphale, even if it seems, well…” Uriel makes a face. “We really don’t know what either of them is anymore. They’re both of the Earth now, I think. No other allegiances. So what is it you think would keep them apart?”


Chapter Text

Aziraphale feels an angelic presence even before he hears the door to his shop rattle and snap, peeks his head out from the back room and finds the night air flowing in. “Hello!” he calls. “Hello, Gabriel, is that you?” But it doesn’t feel like Gabriel, doesn’t feel like his slight irritation, overbearingness, that undercurrent of denseness and drive. He’s come to Earth often enough, and this is different. This time there’s a wave of fury, incandescent and holy—and it’s not directed at Aziraphale. His thoughts go to Crowley, as they often do, but this time, when he think of the demon, he knows. He’s the target. He tries the phone, but there’s no answer. He runs out of the shop, looks around, and miracles himself to Crowley’s side, wherever Crowley is. 

Crowley is in his flat, sleeping, so Aziraphale finds himself perched on the bed, sitting atop a thick black satin duvet. He runs his fingers over it absently, watching Crowley’s face a few moments. He’s never seen Crowley asleep, and he looks different like this, innocent, unguarded. And he’s safe; he’s fine. Aziraphale wants to protect him, to touch him, to wake him and be with him, but he doesn’t want to distress him, and he knows something is about to happen. Something he’s almost certainly better placed to deal with than Crowley is.

When he hears a sound at the door, he miracles himself out of the bedroom and there: It’s Michael. In one hand she’s got a vial of water—holy water—and in the other, her infamous blade. Inside Aziraphale winces, but he doesn’t let her see him flinch.

Michael shoves him, pushes past him, as if he’s barely there, as if he’s just some inanimate obstacle, and he grabs her hand, forcing the vial to the floor, where it breaks, holy water running all over the demon’s smooth floor. “All right,” she says, looking down at the water. “I’ll just lure him out here. I know he’s here. Sleeping. Wake him up, Principality.”

“You won’t touch him,” Aziraphale says, and she shakes her head, looking at him as if he’s pathetic, and lifts the blade. “I won’t smite you, Aziraphale,” she says. “No one wants you in Hell. Oh, no. I’d rather leave you out of it entirely, but if you get in my way, I’m going to discorporate you, in front of the demon. And then I’m going to exterminate him. One way or the other.” Aziraphale doesn’t stop because it doesn’t matter. She has the blade over his head; she’s an Archangel. In strength, in power, she’s more than his match, so he just reaches for her, shoves her, because it’s all he can do, because it doesn’t even matter, and he knows that doesn’t mean he can give up. Michael staggers backward and knocks into that obscene statue in Crowley’s hall, and the blade clatters to the floor. And before he can think, he picks up her sword, longer and heavier than his ever was, and holds it over her. For some reason—perhaps it thinks it ought to in his hands, it flames. Her eyes grow wide.

“You wouldn’t,” she says. And there’s a moment when Aziraphale has to remind himself not to think, to let his body do what it still remembers how to do. The hot, heavy blade thuds a terrible blow against her head, the sensation familiar and terrible. He doesn’t realize he’s screamed until he hears the sounds of Crowley trying to get out of the bedroom, he’d miracled locked, the whoosh of Crowley miracling the door open, and Aziraphale shouts so he doesn’t step in the holy water even as Aziraphale miracles it away, the sword clanging to the floor as he runs at him, keeping him safe as Michael’s body disappears, pushing him back until they both collapse onto his bed.

Aziraphale is shaking, he presses his face into Crowley’s neck and breathes him in. He’s here, he’s safe. Crowley cups his head carefully, rubs his back.

“What happened, angel, what’s happening?”

“Michael,” Aziraphale says. “She was...she had holy water and the blade she had at Gomorrah. I...had to attack her, Crowley. I had to.”  Crowley tightens his grip. He doesn’t seem surprised; he seems more worried about Aziraphale than his own life. The thought hurts.

“Shh. Angel, it’s all right,” Crowley says. “It’s all right.”

“I don’t like doing it,” Aziraphale whispers. “Hurting other angels. Smiting them.”

“Angel, it’s all right. You just did it to save me.” As if that argument would work on anyone in Heaven, Aziraphale thinks. But he understands what Crowley meant. And he’d do anything to save Crowley, would smite all the Archangels in Heaven.

***

When Crowley is asleep again, holding tight to Aziraphale, Aziraphale watches him, the way he breathes, the sound of it, the way it moves his body. Aziraphale is still dressed, mostly—has taken off only his sweater, waistcoat, and bowtie—but Crowley is half-naked, his slim shoulders peeking out from under the covers, and his skin is warm and soft and lightly fragrant, like sandalwood or vetiver. Aziraphale wants to taste him, to devour him, to take the whole of Crowley’s body inside of his own. When Crowley shifts against him, Aziraphale gasps, feeling his own body stirring in response, lengthening, hardening. Oh dear. He holds himself very still, then tries to roll over and away, slowly, without waking Crowley.

What had Crowley meant about a history with Michael? Why would she want him dead? Besides his being a demon, of course? Was it because of what Aziraphale had done in Hell, the whole business with the rubber duck and the towel and the not dying? Surely not. Crowley hadn’t even seemed surprised, really, more amused. And now he’s asleep again, apparently feeling quite safe. Although for the time being, at least, Aziraphale supposes he is. Whether or not Michael has been sent to Hell (unlikely), she’s almost certainly discorporated, which means it will be a long while before she’s able to bother them again, at least in that way. He closes his own eyes. Perhaps he ought to try sleeping.

Next to him, Crowley stirs again, “I can’t stand,” he says. “I can’t...I can’t just... Aziraphale, Aziraphale!”

“I’m here,” Aziraphale says, at once, sitting up, alarmed. But Crowley is still asleep, dreaming. He’s thrashing a little. Aziraphale grabs his arms, “I’m here, my darling,” he whispers. Crowley grows still, and Aziraphale pulls him back into his arms. “I’m here,” he says.

“I know what you are,” Crowley whispers. “Don’t—Aziraphale?”

Aziraphale presses his lips to Crowley’s face. It seems to still him.

“Oh,” Crowley says, eyes still closed. “I made it for us. Let’s go. Let’s go there together. I don’t ever want to leave you. I’ll keep you safe.”

***

“Gabriel? It’s her,” says Uriel, when he comes out of his office, Sandalphon on his heels.

“You checked?” Gabriel says. The Archangels had all heard the bell. A sound that hasn’t been heard since before the Creation of time, since the last of the angels Fell.

“I did. She’s on the back stairs. Only halfway down. Unconscious, I think. I was afraid to move her.”

“Can’t see as it makes any difference now,” Sandalphon says, laughing.

Uriel looks at him with extreme distaste. “I think we ought to meet her when she wakes.”

“Yes,” Gabriel says. “We’ll make sure she goes in the right direction.”

“Or the wrong one,” Sandalphon says, grinning.

“Oh, good one,” Gabriel says, forcing a smile. “But do you really think now is the time?”

Sandalphon sighs, grumbling about sentimentality. He strides out ahead of the other two, and shoves the door to the stairwell open. Gabriel steps in after Uriel, and there she is, Michael, in all her glory: hair singed and rumpled, clothes wet and dirty.

“Are you sure she didn’t Fall already?” Gabriel says. Sandalphon snickers, but he’d meant it. Uriel ignores him.

Michael is starting to stir. Gabriel sighs. He hasn’t pushed anyone down these stairs since Cadamiel. And Michael...she’d been troubled lately, yes, but she’d trained Gabriel, had been a leader in Heaven even before he’d existed. Michael rises to her feet now, looking around. Uriel descends, stops in front of her and touches her singed hair tenderly, pressing her lips to Michael’s forehead. Gabriel bites a lip. He wants to weep, but he can’t show it to Michael. Or to Sandalphon for that matter. He steps aside to let Uriel pass as she reascends. Michael sets her jaw and starts to follow her, but Gabriel knows what he has to do. He and Sandalphon shoulder in, jostling each other in their attempt to provide a unified front.

“Out of my way,” Michael says. The two younger Archangels both hesitate. They can’t help it. For so long, her word had been their law. Gabriel gulps. Then he says, “Michael.” He tries to make his voice as gentle as possible. “You know we can’t do that. We told you to leave them alone. You didn’t. You’ve been wrathful, and prideful, and jealous, and greedy—you must have seen what was happening. You understand why we have to do this.”

“What are you talking about?” she shrieks. “I’m Michael.”

You’re not, though, Gabriel thinks. Michael, the fierce angel who had introduced him to everything, who had the structure of Heaven and all of its bureaucracy commited to memory, whose word had been law before she’d retreated into a corner made of energy and her own anger and bitterness, would never have shrieked like this, would never have stood here, with her hair smoking, weaponless and drenched and defiled with the dirt of Earth, with only the attempted destruction of a demon (who still lived) to justify it.

“I know who you are,” Gabriel says. “I believe I just said your name. This isn’t a matter of confusion about your identity. Please understand that this comes from a place of love. Love for all of God’s creation.”

“I am the highest of the angels,” she screeches. Her voice hurts to hear. Gabriel and Sandalphon both wince. “You can’t do this to me. I am the Goddamned Archangel Michael.”

She raises her hands, but no, this can’t go any further.

“Oddly apt,” Gabriel says. He looks at Sandalphon, and they raise their hands in unison, rest them on her strong, slim shoulders, and push. When it’s over, and her screams have subsided, Gabriel leaves in a hurry, sweeps off to some forgotten corner where Sandalphon will leave him in peace, and he does weep now. He weeps and weeps. She had been so wrong, but he had loved her. They all had.

“Was the Archangel Michael very wicked, then?” he imagines some new angel asking him someday. He doesn’t know how he will answer. Doesn’t know what the truth would be.

***

Aziraphale worries after. Crowley has no idea about the nightmare Michael had obviously given him, has no idea how he’d called out for Aziraphale, as if someone had tried to wrench them apart. And hadn’t that been exactly what Michael had done?

“What if we take a trip,” Aziraphale said. “What if I make good on a promise I made you a while ago?”

“And what promise would that be, angel?” Crowley said. But Aziraphale hadn’t answered him, and now they’re sitting here, in a glade, Crowley’s long fingers brushing against Aziraphale’s lips as he presses macarons and bites of mille feuille into his mouth. Crowley is enjoying it, Aziraphale thinks, his pupils blown wide, eyes almost black, a shudder moving through his sinuous body when Aziraphale darts his tongue out, and licks a dollop of cream from Crowley’s fingertip. Good.

“You’re quiet, my dear,” he says, a kind of prelude.

“Am I?” Crowley says. 

Aziraphale nods. He frowns slightly at Crowley, who hadn’t really responded the way he’d hoped, has gone all thoughtful instead of pushing forward and kissing him to make him quiet too. In the car, he’d all but asked Aziraphale to stop clutching his thigh, hand inching higher and higher. But that was probably just...common sense not to do while driving? Aziraphale isn’t sure how well he’s reading this. “Do you know what I have in mind?” he says. “Is it...do you...want to?”

“I want to, angel.” Crowley smiles, licking his lips; it’s a very amorous look, one that means he’s thought about this, that Aziraphale has not caught him off guard.

“Oh, good,” Aziraphale breathes. “Do you—no, of course...all right.” He places a hand on Crowley’s sylphlike chest. “Lie back.”

Crowley smirks, but he obeys. Aziraphale takes off Crowley’s glasses and sets them aside carefully. He looks so beautiful like this. Aziraphale plucks a flower from the grass, winds it through Crowley’s hair. So, so lovely always. He leans forward and kisses him, slipping his tongue deep into Crowley’s mouth, feeling Crowley’s tongue swirl agains his. He tastes of champagne and the salt and caramel from the two macarons he’d eaten, and the flavor suits him, it’s exactly as he ought to taste. He slides his hands under Crowley’s shirt, miracles the buttons open and pushes it back off his shoulders, along with his scarf. He doesn’t touch the chain, doesn’t want to pull away long enough to lift it over the demon’s head.

Crowley’s hands stutter at Aziraphale’s waistcoat, and Aziraphale stills them, finds them shaking.

“Why do you wear this stuff?” Crowley says. But it seems like a distraction, like a half-hearted joke, and he doesn’t even smile as he says it.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Aziraphale says. He’s about to tell Crowley they don’t have to, that they can stop, but Crowley growls, “Course I do,” and his voice is so sultry that Aziraphale knows he means it, and just in case there were any other doubts, Crowley holds him close, pressing his whole body up into him, showing him how much he wants it. Aziraphale gasps, grabs at his hips, feeling the hardness between those sinewy thighs, licking down his neck, to his chest until Crowley whimpers with it. It’s a contented sound, Aziraphale is sure of that. Crowley’s hips roll beneath him. Oh. His hands fumble a little, make their way to the front of Crowley’s trousers, and he takes his mouth away from his skin just far enough to whisper, “On top. I want you inside of me,” as he reaches for Crowley’s belt.

But then suddenly Crowley gasps, stills, his face almost blank, and he says, “Angel, angel, stop,” but Aziraphale had already stopped because he couldn’t very well not stop when Crowley’d looked like that, and now he moves back, and off of him. Oh, no, had he hurt him somehow—but Crowley sits, turns to the side, turning his back to Aziraphale, and he suddenly looks very small. Oh, no.

“I’m so sorry, angel,” he says, gulping, his voice catching on the s s. He sounds terrified. “I can’t, I can’t.” And he’s crying, his body shaking with it.

Aziraphale feels like he’s shattered into a thousand shards. Oh, God, what has he done? He reaches for him without thinking, his fingers falling on Crowley’s bare shoulder. No, no, that was what had started this whole mess. He pulls away. He has to hold himself together. Whatever has happened, he can’t make this about his own comfort.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, my dear. Crowley? Please, can you look at me? You don’t have to, of course. Crowley, I didn’t mean—”

But Crowley just turns toward him, reaching out and pulling him in, holding him like he’s the one who’d been crying.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he says, sobbing. “’Ss all me, angel. I’m sssorry.”

“No, no. It’s all right,” Aziraphale says. He’d wanted to please Crowley. Had wanted them to do something new together, something they’d find fun, something he hadn’t even realized until recently that he could want. But not like this. Not if Crowley didn’t want it. Couldn’t want it, perhaps? Had Crowley only been responding to him, trying to give him what he wanted? Why didn’t Crowley know he didn’t have to force himself, just to please Aziraphale? “We don’t have to do that,” he says.  “It’s really not necessary. I shouldn’t have pushed.”

You didn’t pussh. I...thought I wanted to. I did want to. It’s jusst...”

“But I was too excited,” Aziraphale whispers, humiliated. He curves his hand around the back of Crowley’s head, stroking his hair, hoping Crowley knows how much he treasures him, treasures even the smallest contact, the simplest interactions. He should have gone slower, then. Crowley had probably thought he, of all people would understand that.

No! ” Crowley says. Aziraphale winces at the shout, but it’s a relief. And Crowley stills himself, shakes his head, and when he speaks, his voice is gentler. “No, it’s just… Aziraphale, there’s sssomething you don’t know.”

Aziraphale frowns. He thinks of Michael, of what could have driven her to come after Crowley, even now, probably in response to Aziraphale’s foolish taunts. He miracles them back into their clothes, and Crowley casts around and finds his sunglasses, shoves them back on his face and stares straight ahead.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale says, his tone gentle. He reaches to run his hand over Crowley’s back, the way Crowley had calmed him after Michael’s attack.

“We knew each other in Heaven,” Crowley says.


Chapter Text

They drive back to London after. Aziraphale feels foolish, as he so often does. He’d tried everything he could to make this feel like something small, something that didn’t have to change everything. At first he’d thought what he’d long feared was true, that he smote Crowley in the War; then when he found out he hadn’t hurt Crowley, he’d clung to that, to his knowledge that he couldn’t have been in Heaven at the same time as Crowley for long. Crowley had been vague about the details of his Fall, but Aziraphale had gotten the impression that he’d fallen early, hadn’t seen much of the actual battle. But then Crowley had said that. That they’d been there together a while, that he’d loved Aziraphale then, more than anything. More than Her, that he’d Fallen because…

Aziraphale remembers the War, remembers the way it had felt, his searing blade coming down again and again on those who dared to oppose the Almighty. He’d hated every moment of it, had wanted to ask why he was doing it, but he hadn’t let himself. Somehow he’d known there was no point questioning, had known it more deeply than he remembered knowing anything else at that point. It was like he’d fought because of...love, even though he’d hated it, had raged, even at the Almighty, as the angels fell at his feet. But what had that had to do with Crowley? He doesn’t remember what happened after, only the emptiness, the way the other angels avoided him, the way Michael wouldn’t meet his eyes anymore, her admonishment to stop his grief. But why had his grief been wrong? They’d all grieved. Had his been different? Had it all been because of Crowley, somehow?

Aziraphale wishes Crowley had told him sooner, because it feels like being lied to. But he knows Crowley couldn’t have, knows it would have made no difference, or worse—that if Crowley had told him at the wrong moment, Eden, say, or Rome (and what, really was the right moment?) he would have told the demon in no uncertain terms to leave, not to return, and Crowley, if his expressions today were anything to go by, might have given up entirely, might have never approached him again.

Crowley pulls up to the bookshop, walks him to the door.

“Good night, angel,” Crowley says, dully.

Aziraphale feels slow and stuck, so he nods and watches Crowley’s face tighten, resolute, as he heads back to the car and drives away, not looking at him. He doesn’t want Crowley to leave. But he doesn’t want to stop him, if it’s what he needs. How could he let himself take any more from the demon than he already has?

(“I’m sorry, Crowley,” he tried, as they sat on the blanket, the day beautiful and still and already a memory of a hope that couldn’t be. The apology wasn’t enough, of course. But Crowley wouldn’t take even that.

“You have to see that it wasn’t your fault, angel,” his voice was ragged, pleading. But Aziraphale couldn’t see that at all. It must have been. What had he done in Heaven, to make Crowley sacrifice everything for him? He wouldn’t do it again, not if he knew. It couldn’t have been worth it. He couldn’t be worth that. He would apologize, really, if he could remember, so he could really mean it.

“Did I...love you that way? More than anything?” he asked, afraid of the answer.

“I always thought you did. But I never would have asked. I never would have wanted you to risk yourself.”

The only thing, Aziraphale thought, would be to remember, to tell Crowley that he’d felt just the same, that he would have done the same for him. But he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t give him even that. And still, after all the hurt he’s caused, Crowley reached for him, held him close like he needed him there. Had they been close like this in Heaven? Oh, certainly not with all the bodily pleasures he’d attempted (foolish)—but had they embraced, taken each others’ hands, cocooned within each others wings?

I didn’t want you to worry about it,” Crowley pleaded. “That’s all; that’s the only reason I never said.)

It almost hurts being loved that way; it’s something Aziraphale could never deserve, even if it hadn’t brought Crowley down already, and now he knows it has, knows Crowley had come back to him again and again, even after…

But though he worries, Aziraphale does not wallow in sadness; he is not a being given to despair. And Crowley, well, he is Crowley, which means that he comes back. This time, the very next day, in the bookshop with pastries, a soft touch to Aziraphale’s hand, a question. Is this OK? Do you still want me here? Aziraphale strokes his hand with his thumb, smiling at him. Always. Crowley gives only a sardonic tilt of his lips, but it does nothing to hide the gladness of his fingers curling around Aziraphale’s.

They don’t try it again. Even when Aziraphale starts to come home with Crowley again at night, even when they again lie beside each other and kiss. He can’t ask it. He keeps his hands on Crowley’s clothes, on Crowley’s face, hands, on whatever skin Crowley has chosen to reveal in whatever he’s wearing. He doesn’t ask him to share any more of himself than that. But it doesn’t stop him from thinking about it. It doesn’t stop him, either, from thinking about Heaven, about what it might have been like to love Crowley there, before the pleasures and demands of bodies, before sin and fear. Aziraphale doesn’t remember loving anyone in Heaven, except the Almighty herself, in anything but a general sort of way. There had been nothing personal, nothing directed. No friends, no mentors, like some others had. He remembers the others keeping their distance from him, remembers being accustomed to apologizing, to being ridiculed. The other Principalities accepted him, more or less, but were not particularly interested in his chatter, his experiments, his—there was something else they had looked at him askance for. And Michael hadn’t liked him. Not ever. Even though he’d been obedient, had been woefully good with his sword, and there was really nothing, strictly speaking, she could have objected to. Was there? (Crowley? Oh, he can’t remember. If there is this much, then, this much that he can’t remember, then they must have been very significant to each other.) The Guardians and other Principalities had groomed him in their third choir circle, of course, and he’d returned the favor, but sometimes he’d seen other angels, in other, larger choirs, the way they groomed each other in pairs, and though it hadn’t seemed like there was anything much personal in it, it had seemed sweet and gentle, and he remembers wanting it. Had they tried it together in Heaven, even against Michael’s strictures? He can’t imagine that he would have been so bold, can’t imagine that Crowley would have allowed it, not if he’d worried for Aziraphale’s safety the way he’d said. He wonders if Crowley would let him now. He wouldn’t deserve it, of course, that vulnerability, that trust, but perhaps it might feel nice for both of them, might feel less threatening somehow than the other thing; less human, more natural for them. After all, they ought to do this for each other when there’s no one else to do so. And perhaps...it might help Aziraphale remember.

***

Crowley’s wings are lovely, almost as lovely as his eyes, and Aziraphale, lying there wrapped in them after their grooming session, feels nothing so much as a very Earthly desire. He is shirtless, pressed against Crowley’s bare chest, feeling the demon’s light, sinewy body pressing down into him. Crowley buries his face in the space between Aziraphale’s head and his shoulder, pressing his lips and nose to his neck. He arches his body up and away, and slides a hand between them, running it down Aziraphale’s chest to the waist of his trousers. It sends a shiver through Aziraphale, something almost like an electric impulse. “Mmm,” he groans, his body convulsing slightly. To his surprise, he feels Crowley’s penis stiffen, a pressure against his leg. Crowley gasps and presses his forehead against Aziraphale’s. Oh, so sweet. So delicious. Unthinking, Aziraphale trails a hand down Crowley’s spine, feeling the articulation of each of the bones. He wants to count them all, wants to press his fingers into each part of the body that holds this miraculous being, so good and strong and whole even after everything. He slides his hand up and down, pressing lightly into the joints where the wings attach. Crowley’s body tightens, and he groans. Something breaks open in Aziraphale and he feels his own length stir. Crowley pulls back a little and looks at him. A question. The hope in his face hurts. No. Not yet.

“I’m not going to remember,” Aziraphale says.

“It’s OK, angel,” Crowley says. “It’s OK with me.”

“I do love you, Crowley,” Aziraphale says. “It’s just that...I can only love you as you are now. But perhaps that’s enough?”

“Of course that’s enough. That’s the only thing…” Crowley shakes his head, frowning. “Oh, angel. That’s the only thing that matters.”

***

Crowley fairly preens for Aziraphale while Aziraphale is dressing, stretching his whole lithe body out on the couch in nothing but those trousers, studying the angel’s reaction before he sits up and puts away his own wings, miracles his own clothes back into place. He laughs when Aziraphale praises his wings, his eyes, as if he can’t believe the angel would admire them. The things he says about himself, Aziraphale thinks. Despite his obvious vanity, he seems to have no idea just how beautiful he really is, how comprehensive Aziraphale’s appreciation is. He thinks his eyes are a warning, the color of his wings a mark of Hell? Aziraphale has always admired both, right from the very beginning—at least, the beginning that he remembers. Perhaps Crowley just needs to hear more of his own praises, perhaps he needs Aziraphale to tell him over and over, in more and more detail.

“I was so honored,” Aziraphale says. “That you trusted me the way you did, right after Armageddon. I was horrible to you, and then, I needed to borrow your body, and you just...let me.”

“Oh, angel—” Crowley is still frowning, like he’s about to protest, to mention that Aziraphale had also given Crowley his body, which is entirely irrelevant, so Aziraphale cuts him off.

“And what a beautiful body it is. I enjoyed wearing it very much. Though the same cannot be said of your attire.” Those trousers...he likes Crowley in them, but they had not given him at all the range of movement that he’d come to expect, and and he starts to explain that to Crowley, to tell him that he appreciates his general aesthetic, but cannot bring himself to appreciate the feel of constrictive trousers. But then Crowley is looking past him, shouting his name, and he turns just in time to see a flame rise from within the bookshelf, and a tiny, winged bullet of it, hurtling toward him. It’s a demon, that much he knows, and there’s something familiar about it, an aura he recognizes. Michael? But then...Crowley steps in front of him so close he’s knocked back, slightly, pushed into the desk by one narrow hip.

“Aziraphale, get out of here!” Crowley shouts, his back to Aziraphale.

“My books!” he says, looking at the flame licking hungrily at the row of books, the side of the shelf.

“It’s hellfire. Forget about the books. Go!”

Aziraphale goes. Crowley had seemed to have it under control, and perhaps he should go further, but he doesn’t know what’s happening, so he doesn’t move past the shop, just stands out on the street, watching the light from the back room flicker and die, wisps of smoke floating into the showroom. There’s no more flickering light, just the steady orange glow of the lamps they’d been using, and Aziraphale shoves the door back open and runs inside, thinking only of Crowley. He’d have been powerless against hellfire, but that doesn’t mean he wants Crowley left to something that can produce it. The other demons, he knows, don’t care much for him, and he’s not entirely sure what he’ll find. But Crowley is there, sitting on the floor, hands holding his head, elbows on his knees.

“Crowley?”

He stands and holds out his arms, Aziraphale steps into them, gathers him, the lanky limbs, lets the demon wrap around the weight of him.

“I’m sorry,” Crowley says. “I’m so sorry, angel.”

But that doesn’t make sense. Crowley had saved him. “What happened?”

“Michael. She Fell. And she’s after us again. I’m so sorry I didn’t—”

“Oh. Oh, my.” Aziraphale blinks at Crowley. Had he, Aziraphale, had done this, then? Was this his own doing?

“I guess you really do have the power to smite,” Crowley says. He forces a grin. Aziraphale swallows and takes a step back, wringing his hands. He had done this.

“She must have been acting without authorization,” Aziraphale says.

“Well, I told you that.”

“And she’ll try again,” Aziraphale says, the realization dawning.

“She’s never going to leave us alone,” Crowley says. “I didn’t think she’d go after you. I didn’t think—”

He’d barely reacted when she had attempted to kill him, and now this, this discomposure, this forced bravery? Not because she was back, but because of her new target? “You expected her to come back?” Aziraphale snaps.

Crowley doesn’t look at him. “I—didn’t want her to get in our way. We couldn’t let her—”

“But now, because it’s me she tried to kill—” Aziraphale’s eyes grow wide. Sometimes it seems that Crowley doesn’t care about himself at all, that he’d do anything to save Aziraphale, even if it meant leaving him to a life alone, a life without Crowley.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says. “She’s a demon now. There’s nothing stopping her from doing what she wants. Hell’d be glad if anything happened to either of us. The only thing stopping them from ordering it is fear. But if she heard what we were saying...if she tells them…”

Aziraphale presses his hand to his mouth and closes his eyes. “If she heard what I was saying, you mean.”

“I have to go back to Hell,” Crowley says. And there it is again.

“No,” Aziraphale says, letting a note of steel into his voice. “She’s there. No. You know what she’ll do.”

“I’ll talk to them; they might stop her if they still think there’s a threat from me. You took care of that—they agreed to leave us alone. She’s still...acting without authorization.”

No, Crowley. You can’t. They might change their minds, or lie to you. Or she could just kill you while you’re there. Any of them could. This has always been fragile. It’s like you said before. It’s best we don’t draw attention.”

“Then what, Aziraphale?”

“I don’t know. I…”

“She’s never going to stop,” Crowley repeats, and it’s like a warning, a threat. Let me do this, let me save you, or we’ll never have peace. “She’s never going to stop.”

But Aziraphale doesn’t want any peace that doesn’t include Crowley. So he just reaches for Crowley, presses the demon’s head to his shoulder, and cradles it there, hoping he understands.

***

Crowley doesn’t go. Sometimes Aziraphale thinks he wants to, that he wants Aziraphale to give him permission, or ask him to, but he must know that Aziraphale would not give it, would never ask the demon to risk his life. And Michael doesn’t come back. They don’t know why, but when they look for her, she’s never there. When they hesitate before they speak, when they reach for each other at night, or walk together in the park, no one bothers them, no one interrupts, no one touches them.

But Crowley is still on edge; Aziraphale is still afraid. They don’t let each other out of their sight for more than a few hours at a time. Aziraphale stays with Crowley almost every night now; at first they hold each other and sleep, Aziraphale stroking Crowley’s hair and kissing him so he doesn’t have the nightmare again, and then later, the two of them clinging to each other, kisses and touches growing ever more frantic and passionate, until they force themselves to pull away, breathless because they don’t want it to be like this, a distraction, a temporary respite from the anxiety. When that happens, Aziraphale stands and offers to leave. Crowley always says no, always asks him to stay. And Aziraphale sits by the side of the bed and reads until Crowley is asleep again, and then he...well, sometimes he reads, but mostly he watches Crowley and listens. But the demon Michael has become doesn’t return.

How has it become this?, Aziraphale wonders, one day, months later, as he grudgingly accepts money in return for a book, then closes the shop in a fit of pique. It had all been so lovely, and now everything they do is touched by it, by fear, all because Michael had switched targets. Because she’d tried to take him away from Crowley, instead of Crowley away from him? And how can he reconcile this with himself, with Crowley? Does Crowley think he should have been angrier when she’d gone for Crowley? Should have gone back to Heaven to make certain she’d been dealt with appropriately? But he’d tried to model his response on Crowley’s that night, had tried to do what he had to ensure they both moved on from the ugly incident, and that had proven the wrong approach because she’d come back again and done worse, by Crowley’s standards. It was too late, at any rate, for any of that now. Perhaps the only thing left was to move on from this as well. Perhaps he should speak to Crowley, should tell him that he should do what he feels he must. Perhaps. Even if the conversation is the hardest thing he’s ever done.

He does not expect Crowley to suggest, that night, that they return to the South Downs. Does not expect the sense of relief he feels at the words. They drink scotch that night, and fall asleep on the couch, holding each other with a kind of tentative joy. The next day, Aziraphale books the same cottage he’d booked the first time on an application on Crowley’s mobile (“Apps,” Crowley had said the first time Aziraphale had asked him about the bright little squares that lit up the screen). Already, he feels better.

***

Aziraphale is almost giddy when they arrive. It’s dark, and he flings on all the lights, room by room, showing Crowley the modern interior, the big windows that open to face the cliffs over the sea. Crowley leans in to kiss him, quiet, but calm, Aziraphale can feel it, the warmth and contentment radiating from him even as he shivers against the cold. He pulls the window back down again, letting his hand linger in Crowley’s cold one. Crowley is so slight, and he doesn’t wear as many layers as Aziraphale. And it’s probably best not to even ask about the whole snake thing. In any case, of course he gets cold. The last gust of fresh air hits them, and there are the stars and the smell of it, and the abating warmth at Crowley’s just-relinquished embrace reminding him of something.

“I think I’ll try the shower,” Crowley says, smiling, closing his eyes. And oh. (A forest, quiet except for the sounds of tears, of weeping, Aziraphale pleading, “Do you know? Did you? What I’m to...be?”

“I know what you are.” The other angel smells of light, and he is close, so close, his arms around Aziraphale gentle and secure. The other angel…) Oh. He lets go of Crowley’s hand and steps back. He has to...he has to...

“Or I could stay with you,” Crowley says. “Bed? Aziraphale?”

“I’m going to take a walk, I think,” he says, his voice sounds off, too loud. “Just—along the cliffs.”

“You—you think that’s safe?”

“What’s that? Oh, yes. I’ll be fine, my dear.” He has to go. Whatever this is...it’s as if it’s bubbling up inside of him, uncontrolled, and he can’t tell Crowley, not if it’s what he thinks. Not if it isn’t.

“Don’t lie to me, Aziraphale,” Crowley says. He sighs, looks at the ground. When he speaks again, he sounds resigned, “Do you want to...go back to London?”

“Of course not! No. Listen, everything is...tickety-boo. But I really must pop off now. Enjoy your...ablutions.” Aziraphale backs away, trots down the stairs and out the door, pulling his coat closed against the wind.

Good lord, he’d sounded like an idiot. Crowley probably thought he was ready to go down to Hell himself with some ill-conceived gambit in mind. Aziraphale steadies himself. Crowley doesn’t come after him, doesn’t try to stop him. Crowley trusts him more than that, he hopes. He paces, feels the rest of it come back to him, the beginning of the conversation that night in the glade, after Gabriel had spoken with the Principalities, made their duties clear. The beautiful angel who had loved him, the angel Crowley had been. That love, the way it filled him, before there was much of anything else inside him. But how...And before that, they’d all watched Lucifer fall, but then...Oh. Perhaps he ought to try now, perhaps he ought to start at the beginning, and just try to remember. If the rest is there, it will all fall into place.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale is created with four other Principalities. At first, they simply exist, not as beings, exactly, not as distinct, and they are in communion with Her. Gradually, they become distinct, separated. A beautiful being dressed in white with burnished hair meets them, takes each of their hands in turn and asks them their names, which they know instinctively. Then she tells them hers, Michael, and draws them out into a light-filled area where they stand together, not quite used to the separation. Aziraphale feels cold and afraid. He shakes with it, even when Michael tells them to stand still to receive their orders.

There are others. Angels. They move about, none of them too close to the Principalities, glancing at them with flickers of curiosity. Mostly they move in groups, but a few of them move alone, and one of these glimmers in a way most of the others do not, as if light clings to him, sprayed across his hands and wings. He draws Aziraphale’s eye with his steady look and his beauty, his hair streaming down his back, shining like bright copper, his wings so sleek they shine. Aziraphale had not seen very much, but this angel is more beautiful than any of it. He watches the Principalities with open curiosity, but he seems to single out Aziraphale before smiling, a dazzling thing not like Michael’s had been, terrible and beautiful, but something else, something warm and soft and sweet. When Aziraphale sees it, it almost feels like it had felt when the Almighty had told them that they were all special, that Heaven would welcome them. Welcome, Aziraphale thinks when he sees it, feeling it for the first time. His own face wobbles, and he realizes that he is smiling back. He wants the other angel to feel it, too, that he is special, too, that he, too, is welcome.

“Aziraphale, your attention, please!” Michael shouts. She looks around at the beautiful angel and scowls, her face horribly pinched even when she turns back to face them. The other angel shrugs and moves away, and Aziraphale is sorry to see him go, does not understand how he could provoke such a response.

“Do not approach or acknowledge other angels,” Michael says. “If an angel of higher rank addresses you, kneel before them, and do as they say. I will refine these instructions later, but for now, these are your orders.”

Aziraphale opens his mouth to ask how they will know if another angel is of higher rank, but the other Principalities have already fallen to their knees. Michael waits.

“Good,” she says. “It is very important that you display respect for rank and learn to follow orders. The Almighty wishes it for you, and She has left it to me to see to your training. If you do well, you may be assigned to lead new angels later, when Guardians are made for the Earth. One of you will be sent to Earth as well.”

Aziraphale feels something sinking within him. He doubts that he will do well; he doubts that he can earn her favor. And to be sent alone to Earth sounds terrifying. Now her glance falls on him. “Be still,” she says. He had not realized that he was still quivering.

***

“How are we to know...” Aziraphale says, when Michael has shown them where they are to congregate, and left them alone. “How are we to know if another angel is of higher rank?”

“They are all of higher rank,” says Garael. She frowns at him. 

“Oh,” Aziraphale says. He feels embarrassed. The others seem to have realized this already, but no one had said. Not in certain terms. And the realization makes him feel a kind of cold dread as he looks around at the cold, haughty figures of the other angels.

They have been given scrolls, been told to use them in their experiments, minor creations they are to make for the world to come. Aziraphale writes his ideas. The others draw, and they view his script with a kind of disdainful confusion. They can read it, but they don’t understand why he prefers to express himself this way, why he documents the nuances of his ideas, his creations. He looks at the other Principalities—they’re all similar, he thinks, all about the same height, all with vibrant eyes and long, dark, curling hair, except him. His eyes are a pale, grayish blue, his hair short and nearly white, his body a little plumper than all but Fariel’s. He doesn’t fit with them, he thinks. Perhaps something has gone wrong with him, and they can all see it.

When they make their experiments, Aziraphale puts the first of his ideas aside and tries again, tries to make something that fits. The walls of minerals they have made, pools of water, the enormous trees, don’t seem to make sense, and so he creates something to balance them, something to hold them, dirt, and he understands that by itself it isn’t particularly impressive, just a kind of pulverized mineral powder, but the point isn’t for it to be by itself, he tries to explain. They nod, but when they go to groom each others’ wings, he’s on the end of the line, and has to walk around to have Garael see to him when he’s done with Fariel. No one had wanted to groom him; no one had wanted him to groom them...it isn’t right to think this way, he knows; it’s prideful. But it hurts. He is different, yes, but he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t mean to be. He tries to fit, tries to make up for it when he doesn’t: He is always kind; he never shames the others, even when they have terrible ideas, like Paradiel’s idea of giant lizards with sharp teeth that is so terrible the Almighty herself roars with laughter at it, and declares it a joke. He tries not to let his difference stop him from sharing with the others so he doesn’t shut them out, but it’s hard. He begins to spend more time alone, trying out the dirt, the way it holds up with new creations. It works. It helps with the grass, for example, which he makes in the shade between two trees, beneath Paradiel’s sky, illuminated by one of the stars.

He remembers the way the whole host had looked when they’d presented his dirt, the quiet hush of embarrassment that one of their number could bring forth such idiocy, the hum of surprise when the Almighty had declared herself pleased with his creation. He is standing there, studying the grass, thinking perhaps it is too much like the dirt, too insignificant. And then he looks up at a coppery flash and sees the angel there, the glorious Dominion from when he’d just arrived, the one who’d smiled. At first he simply stands there, not moving, as if he is interested in the grass, and then he is approaching. Surely he is observing the experiment. They do that sometimes, though they don’t usually come this close...The Dominion is not looking around him; he is looking at Aziraphale. Aziraphale feels something cold steal through him. For some reason, the thought of this angel’s scorn is worse than the actual scorn he’s felt from the others. He’d seemed so kind that first day, but then so had Heaven. Aziraphale falls to his knees and waits. The Dominion walks to him, stopping only when he is so close they could touch, and says, “Rise.” Aziraphale looks up at him in shock. He had been given an order, but—

The Dominion places his hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder. “Please?” he says. His eyes are kind. Even now. Aziraphale stares at them, a shifting green-gold that makes a stunning contrast with his hair. He stands.

“Is this your creation?” His voice is careful, curious. He does not speak with authority.

“It is, Dominion…”

“Cadamiel,” he says. “But I’m not a Dominion.” He holds his hands out, and Aziraphale sees that they’re dappled with stardust, as he had been, Aziraphale remembers now, the first time he’d seen him. “And you are the Principality Aziraphale.”

“A Power,” Aziraphale says. This is worse, then. “I’m so terribly sorry. Will you be my supervisor? The head of my battalion? No—that’s Dominions, I think. My platoon, then, perhaps? Is the creation not to your liking, Power Cadamiel?”

He feels the urge to drop to his knees again, to show that he is sorry, to head off some punishment that he must be about to receive. Michael had told them not to ask questions, not to speak to the other angels, and here this Power had barely addressed him, and already he’d—

But the Power’s face has done something odd, the eyes are still kind, the mouth still smiling, but somehow, he looks sad. He reaches up, slowly, and touches the tips of his fingers to the very ends of Aziraphale’s short hair. Aziraphale feels embarrassed. The other Principalities don’t have hair like this; sometimes they groom each other’s hair, and shoot him sideways glances, as if daring him to attempt to join them. But the Power seems almost admiring, and his touch is careful, reverent.

“Don’t fear me,” he says. His smile deepens, tentatively, as if he doesn’t want to frighten Aziraphale with it. Aziraphale shudders, uncertain, but he doesn’t fear him; and now he feels himself still under the gentle touch. Cadamiel’s hand strokes his hair again, just once more, and he leans forward, speaking to Aziraphale as if they are friends, equals.

“Tell me about the grass,” Cadamiel says. “And what in all of Heaven is a platoon ?”

***

Aziraphale tells him that there are to be Powers heading platoons and Dominions heading batallions, but no one knows what the words mean. It’s not a secret. At least, he doesn’t think, it is, but Cadamiel says he will not repeat it anyway. When he stands, he offers Aziraphale his hand, and then they take a meal together. Aziraphale does not want the Power to leave, and it’s a while before the Power finally retreats to his second choir grooming circle, and Aziraphale returns to the Principalities. Aziraphale tries to put him out of his mind; he knows they will probably never speak again, and it isn’t Cadamiel’s fault, after all, that Aziraphale is so isolated that he attaches himself to the first angel to speak to him gently and with interest. He knows he will not approach the Power. Michael has forbidden them to approach any other angels, and of course the Power would not approach him again. Once was strange enough, even if he’d only wanted to know about the grass, to tell him that he had thought dirt was a good idea, thoughtful, kind even, because it made other ideas better, made other things possible. Yes, he’d thought, when Cadamiel said this, exactly. But that was pride.

But Cadamiel finds him again. As the Principalities are preparing to return to their experiments, he comes to their little corner, “Aziraphale,” he says. Aziraphale thrills even as the other Principalities stare. They are helping each other with their hair, while Aziraphale waits. He turns to Cadamiel and cannot stop his smile when he sees Cadamiel’s. “Would you come with me?” Cadamiel says. “Only if you want to.”

Aziraphale does not answer him, he simply follows. Cadamiel shows him all of Heaven, all the things the other angels already know that many of the Principalities probably do not (though Aziraphale can’t be sure, as they don’t always tell him things), and when he talks to him, Cadamiel leans close. Once he brushes his fingers through Aziraphale’s hair again, and Aziraphale sighs, stopping himself from nuzzling his head against Cadamiel’s hand.

Cadamiel seems to notice. He smiles like they have a secret. And even though there’s nothing about this that needs to be kept secret, that smile makes Aziraphale feel happy. But he does not understand.

“Why did you do this?” he says, when Cadamiel tells him he has to go back to the stars.

“Do what?” Cadamiel says. “Show you around?”

“Yes. Why have you...why did you ask just me?”

“I liked our time together before. I thought you’d like to see everything. I wanted to welcome you. Why—is there someone you’d like to join us?” Cadamiel says. “The other Principalities?”

“No,” Aziraphale says, feeling bold. “I like that it’s just us.”

“You’re different,” Cadamiel says, after a moment. Aziraphale presses his lips together, looks down and away. Cadamiel’s fingers brush against his chin, lifting it up. “No,” Cadamiel says. “I mean that you’re special. Brave and kind. You think. You see.”

***

When Cadamiel takes him up to the stars, it’s without preamble. He doesn’t approach him in front of the others this time, but waits until Aziraphale is walking inside for manna after making flowers, a new creation, and then he’s there.

“I’d like to show you what I do,” he says. “Come with me?”

He takes the hand Cadamiel offers, and then they’re gone, no longer in Heaven. It’s cold and dark, and there are spheres of light and energy, beautiful, but far away, and Aziraphale would be afraid, but Cadamiel is there, his hand on Aziraphale’s, and it’s impossible to feel anything but wonder.

“It’s lovely,” Aziraphale says. Like you are.

Cadamiel says, “Would you...like to try making one with me?”

Aziraphale can’t speak. He knows this is beyond anything. A Principality, in the stars? A Principality, making the stars?

“Is it allowed?” he says.

“There’s no rule against it,” Cadamiel says. He watches Aziraphale patiently, as if any response would be all right with him. Aziraphale nods. Cadamiel takes both of his hands, and Aziraphale feels his power move through both of them, feels the way the energy gathers between his hands. Cadamiel lets go and lets him shape the matter, lets him add color, determine the size, the shape. When he’s done, Cadamiel slides his hand into the space between Aziraphale’s and the star, and pushes it up, and away. He smiles and he seems like a beacon, his face open, hair and eyes glowing in the light of their new-made star. Aziraphale moves toward him, not knowing what he’s doing, even as he reaches for him, wraps his arms around him, pulling him closer, closer. It’s frightening, it’s not like anything he’s ever done or felt before, and Aziraphale suddenly remembers how different they are, that Cadamiel is a Power, second choir, who has never done more than take his hand like anyone might, show him a few unearned kindnesses, and now he has just grabbed him, greedy for more even after Cadamiel has given him this wonderful experience. What is wrong with him? He mustn’t take this for granted, he mustn’t assume that his displays will be tolerated. He twists away, out of the other angel’s careful hold.

“Oh, Cadamiel,” he says. “I forget myself when I’m with you. Please forgive me.”

But Cadamiel throws his head back, laughing, his expression still open and joyful. “You don’t have to apologize to me,” he says. “Not ever.”

They watch each other a moment longer. Without the steadying touch of Cadamiel or his power, the nothingness seems to penetrate Aziraphale; he feels his edges waver.

“It’s uncomfortable for you here,” Cadamiel says, his eyes growing wide in realization.

“I’d rather be with you,” Aziraphale says, quickly. Cadamiel’s face is serious, he doesn’t look at Aziraphale.

“Even so,” the Power says. He wraps his arms around Aziraphale, and it’s a deliberate motion, slower and more careful than Aziraphale’s had been. “Come,” he says, speaking almost in Aziraphale’s ear. “Show me something you made.”

Aziraphale sighs with relief—the Power isn’t sending him away.

He takes Cadamiel back to the grassy glade, shows him the flowers he’d made, and Cadamiel steps forward, looking around, his body tight with wonder. Aziraphale can’t tamp down his pride, can’t stop the way it feels to have someone look at what he’s made with this kind of admiration. The light hits Cadamiel differently here, more uniformly, and it illuminates his hair, the lines of his face in a way that makes Aziraphale want to look more closely, to be closer, and he steps forward, reaching toward him again, trailing a finger over his jaw. Cadamiel turns to look at him. Aziraphale doesn’t know why he’s done it.

“I do forget myself with you,” Aziraphale says again, but now he has a feeling Cadamiel doesn’t mind.

“I like you forgetting yourself,” Cadamiel says. His sleek wings spread, wrapping around both of them, making a world for just the two of them. He steps even closer and wraps his arms around Aziraphale again, but Aziraphale leaps at him, pulling him in faster, closer, tighter, and they fall together, laughing. Aziraphale’s hand is on Cadamiel’s wing, and he moves his fingers between the silky feathers absently, remembering Michael’s rule only as Cadamiel gasps, whispering, “Better not.” Of course not. No. Oh, no. Now, it’s done, he thinks. Cadamiel will want no more of him. He presses his lips together and goes to stand, quickly so the other angel doesn't see him weep, but Cadamiel grasps his hand now and pulls him back in.

“It’s all right,” he says. Then he says, almost as if the words are forced from him, “I wish we could.

Aziraphale stares. What is this—what is happening? Other angels have friends, but this isn’t quite like that, is it? They’re friends, yes, after today, there can’t be any doubt. But there’s something else happening here. Cadamiel looks scared, too. The realization makes Aziraphale so frightened he almost wants to run. But he doesn’t want to leave Cadamiel, not with that expression on his face, so full of love and anguish.

“Yours look so soft,” Cadamiel says, not looking at him. They did? The other Principalities certainly thought them nothing special, complaining that they were too thick, the feathers packed too close. Not like the others. But more even than that is the thought that Cadamiel would groom him, would want to show him, a Principality, such care and devotion. Aziraphale thinks he understands something then, that they’re equal, The two of them. That they’re the same. Maybe not to the others, but to each other, in some important, essential way. Cadamiel doesn't see him as less. And perhaps he isn't.

“I could put them around us?” Aziraphale suggests, nervously. “It was lovely when you did.”

Cadamiel smiles now, the kind smile Aziraphale has grown so attached to, and Aziraphale can’t be afraid anymore.

“I think that would be nice,” Cadamiel says. He moves closer as Aziraphale spreads his wings, pulling the Principality in to rest his head on his shoulder, to breathe in the smell of him, of light and Aziraphale’s flowers. Aziraphale threads a hand through his hair, twisting the curling ends gently around his hand. It’s so long he’s not sure Cadamiel even notices. He feels, with Cadamiel there, that he would do anything to protect him. But of course it’s a ridiculous notion. Protect him from what? And surely, Cadamiel, a Power, would never need his protection.

Chapter Text

It had been too much, Aziraphale sees that now. His fault. It hasn’t been long, exactly, since he’s spent time with Cadamiel, but after that second time in the glade, just after they’d made the star together, there have been changes.

When they came back into the main congregation, Cadamiel had worn Aziraphale’s flowers all over him, threaded through his beautiful hair. Aziraphale had felt so proud and happy, but Michael was waiting for them. Aziraphale fell to his knees, alarmed when he felt Cadamiel’s hand on him, as if he were going to ask him to rise the way he had that first day. His hand was gentle as ever, but Aziraphale worried Cadamiel would provoke Michael—there was a kind of fire in the Power he hadn’t seen before. And then Michael had whisked him away, impatient as she always was where Aziraphale was concerned. Aziraphale had eventually wandered back to the other Principalities, not knowing where Michael had taken Cadamiel.

And Cadamiel has not sought him out again. Had Michael told him something about Aziraphale? Something that had made him turn away? Aziraphale looks for him, but he is always off in the stars. And what is more, Aziraphale noticed Lucifer, of all the angels, Lucifer, the Morningstar, staring at him, studying him quite openly. When it happened, he kept his eyes down, pretended not to see, but when he stole another quick glance, there it was again: Lucifer’s eyes on him, traveling over his whole being, examining him down to the essence. Had Cadamiel said something about him? Aziraphale can’t bear the idea that Cadamiel would hate him so.

The other Principalities have started to form their circle without him. He is afraid to ask them why. But then they do it right in front of him, circling up without a word as if there is some unspoken agreement that it is to happen now, and not include him. He feels a prickle like the sensation before weeping, but he cannot weep for himself; that would be wrong.

“I’d like to...join,” he says, trying not to seem affronted. He forces a smile, tries to make himself nonthreatening, as they all tense, though he doesn’t know why they would be threatened by him at all.

“Oh,” Garael says, after a long pause. “We thought…” Then another pause.

And so he says, “You thought what, exactly?”

“You...and that Power…we saw you. We thought you were...”

“He’s a Power,” Aziraphale had said. “Of course we don’t groom each other!” His voice came out sharper than he meant it to, because he hadn’t spoken to Cadamiel for longer than he’d have liked, because he still remembered the way his wings had felt, smoother and sleeker than any other wings he’d felt, and he still remembered Cadamiel’s “Better not,” and his confusing “I wish we could,” and most of all, the choked-out, treasured, “Yours look so soft.” (“You’re special. Brave and kind.” ) He can’t keep the strangled expression off his face. Will Cadamiel never seek him again? Will they never hold each other or shelter each other in the circle of their wings again? Will Aziraphale never see that kind smile directed at him? The others exchange glances. Aziraphale presses his lips together against the tears and feels as if he would melt through the floor. But they widen the circle for him. And he joins, trying not to imagine how Cadamiel’s gentle, starkissed hands might feel in his wings.

***

The whole host congregates not long after. Aziraphale stands with the other Principalities, looking around as the Guardians file in—new angels, led by a new Archangel he doesn’t know. The Guardians sit near the Principalities; they’re all third choir. These will be the angels Michael will have them lead, if they do well with their training. Lucifer stands on a dais, not far away from where Aziraphale sits. He catches Aziraphale’s eye and smiles slowly, but there’s something wrong in the expression, and Aziraphale looks away, casting around the ranks of the second choir until he sees him: Cadamiel. He’s watching Aziraphale, his eyes trained on him, as if he’s been waiting for this, and his expression is sweet and gentle and sure. Aziraphale feels warm. Aziraphale smiles back and watches Cadamiel’s eyes brighten. For him. Because of him. It’s so beautiful it almost hurts. They’ll find each other afterward, he knows. It really hasn't been so terribly long. It only feels that way.

And then Michael is there, striding forward on the dais, holding a long blade, swinging it up and up, Lucifer bends forward, ready. And the blade is over him, through him. He falls to the floor and somehow through it, into an abyss that forms as he falls into it. There are shouts, cries. Aziraphale looks for Cadamiel and finds him running toward the dais, Virtues and Dominions and Powers holding him back as he shouts for Lucifer, tears streaming down his face. Aziraphale had not known Lucifer, had found him...offputting, but Cadamiel and Lucifer had known each other, had been friends, Aziraphale knows. Aziraphale is weeping, too, an ugly, breathless thing not like the solemn tears of the other angels who are showing any emotion at all. Only a few had surged forth in sympathy with Lucifer, only a few had cried out. Aziraphale cannot stop weeping, Cadamiel’s tears searing his mind even as the next three angels fall, the three of them all, unlike Lucifer, struggling against it.

When the host is dismissed, Michael summons the third choir, and Aziraphale trembles as they approach her. But she puts her sword away and introduces the new Archangel, Gabriel, and says that they will now answer to him.

“I will return to you when it is time to begin your battle training,” she says. “I will teach you to use a blade.”

Aziraphale’s stomach twists. His tears have not stopped. He has no desire to learn. He can only think of Cadamiel, his face, the way it had clenched, the way he’d shouted for Lucifer, the way he’d cried. He wants to go to him, but how can he now? How could Cadamiel want him anywhere near, if this is what he’s to do? His purpose?

“Angels!” Gabriel says, his voice bland and flat. “You will learn to wield a blade, to cast evil angels down into Hell after Satan and his ilk.”

“Sorry— Satan?” Aziraphale says. “I don’t understand.”

Gabriel frowns. “He’s no longer Lucifer,” he explains. “Now his name is Satan. He’s the Devil.”

Aziraphale blinks at him. The words—evil, Hell, Devil—have meanings, though he had not known them before that moment, and they fill him with horror. Across the way he sees Garael, looking at him and shaking her head, nudging Fariel.

When they are dismissed, Aziraphale finds Cadamiel. He’s standing in a forest clearing, somewhere they’ve never been together, and Aziraphale is somehow glad that a place where they’d been so happy won’t be tainted with the memory of this time. It’s dark here now. Paradiel had made a cycle. Night , he remembers.

He approaches Cadamiel carefully, not wanting to frighten him if he already knows, but Cadamiel reaches for him, pulls him in, holds him tight, and they weep, but it’s better, somehow, because they’re together.

“I know now,” Aziraphale says, hesitant. “Do you know? Did you? What I’m to...be?”

“I know what you are,” Cadamiel says. His voice is ardent, as if something will burst from him, but when he speaks, he doesn’t say the kind words Aziraphale craves. “Aziraphale, listen. Your orders...obey them. I know it’s not what you...what you are. It’s not. But whatever the Almighty asks, don’t question, don’t—”

“Cadamiel.” It’s Gabriel. A look of confusion crosses Cadamiel’s face when he doesn’t recognize the other angel, so Aziraphale explains, even as Cadamiel pulls away from him under the Archangel’s gaze.

“Michael wants you to come to her,” Gabriel says. “She sent me to bring you to her.” He turns to Aziraphale and sweeps his eyes over him, confused, clearly remembering him from the meeting they’d both just left. Like everyone else, Aziraphale thinks, Gabriel is wondering why the Power acknowledges him. “You are the Power Cadamiel, aren’t you?” Gabriel says.

“I am,” Cadamiel’s voice cracks. He’s afraid, Aziraphale thinks, and he steps forward, closer to him. Gabriel’s eyes flicker to him again, and then back to Cadamiel.

“I see,” Gabriel says, in a tone that suggests that he doesn’t really. “Well, come with me, please.” Cadamiel does, Aziraphale following, reaching out to take his hand to comfort him, but Gabriel stops him before he touches the Power with a look.

“Stay where you are, Principality,” he adds. And Cadamiel doesn’t look around at him. So perhaps he’s not worried, then. Aziraphale stills. He doesn’t want to cause trouble, so he waits. But what if they tell Cadamiel he can’t speak to Aziraphale again? No, that won’t happen. It must be something else, perhaps they want to comfort him about the Fall of his friend. Perhaps...they wouldn’t hurt him? Cadamiel hasn’t done anything wrong, Aziraphale knows that. He couldn’t. And surely no one one would in Heaven would hurt a blameless angel. The Fallen angels had sinned. They were evil. Cadamiel wasn’t like that. He would be fine. He would come back to Aziraphale, and take him in his arms, and they would laugh together, and wrap each other in their wings and Aziraphale would tell him he never wanted them to be parted again, and Cadamiel would agree. He would, Aziraphale knows it.

So he waits. He undergoes the training, learns how to wield a sword. Cadamiel had said to do this, Cadamiel had said it didn’t mean it was who he was. He had been right. He had to have been right.

He battles. He strikes down angels. Angels who have sinned, angels who take the side of those who have sinned. It never gets easier. He screams and cries each time his blade makes contact, the fire of his sword sizzling against their hair. His aim is good, and he is careful. He never misses. He never kills. Every angel he smites Falls. At times it seems he has always fought, has always wept, constantly. Sometimes he thinks of Cadamiel, but he doesn’t see him. He doesn’t dare to look for him. When he is struck in the leg and has to wait to recover, he thinks of the other angel, hopes that he will come to him, but he does not. Aziraphale does not let himself wonder, only lets himself remember.

When the battle is finally over, he throws his blade down at Michael’s feet at the sound of her trumpet, the flame fading as it strikes. He is still weeping, the last of the evil angels still Falling. It’s over now, it’s over. He has done what he had to, and now he can rest. Well, now he can wonder. His eyes ravage the decimated ranks of the angels, sorting through them and finding only one category of being: not Cadamiel. “Where is he?” he demands. There is only silence, which Aziraphale pierces with a scream. He had known, he realizes now. It’s not clear when, but at some point before now, he had known, but he hadn’t let himself understand. He had known, but he hadn’t let himself think. Hadn’t let himself see. Kind and brave, Cadamiel had called him. He was neither. He was nothing. And Cadamiel was gone.

Aziraphale will never remember much of what happened after that. It’s confused, there are more screams, more times he asks Michael and Gabriel why. They don’t answer him. None of the other angels approaches him. There is weeping from most quarters, but no one returns his look of desperation with one of understanding. Garael has Fallen, and Paradiel was killed in the War, he learns, and the knowledge buries him where he’s already crushed. If anyone would have treated him with sympathy, it might have been Paradiel, and of course it hurts to lose the other angels he’d been created with. But Cadamiel , Cadamiel . Kind, gentle Cadamiel—Fallen? Killed would be unbearable, but he would understand it, at least. This...makes no sense at all, because Cadamiel wasn’t evil. He wasn’t . And who else, then, had Fallen at Aziraphale’s hand who wasn’t evil? And they won’t explain it to him, none of it, and inside of him there is something he doesn’t want to acknowledge, something pulling at him. He remembers the way Gabriel had looked when he’d found them together, the way Michael had looked when she’d found them after their time in the glade together, covered in the stuff of each other’s creations, the way the other Principalites had looked at him, had ostracized him, the way Lucifer had scrutinized him that day, and smiled at him before he’d Fallen, an ugly expression, not like Cadamiel’s kind ones. Had Cadamiel Fallen because of their association? Because of him? If that was it, then he should have Fallen, not Cadamiel. If anyone had done anything wrong, it was him. He was the one who didn’t fit, he was the one who’d touched the other angel’s wing, the one who had wanted more always, who had needed what he wasn’t supposed to. Aziraphale can’t bear it. He doesn’t know how long he rages and cries and begs that they bring him back, even if it means Aziraphale must Fall in his place.

Instead, he finds himself in Michael’s little corner, a place she has carved out for herself since the War. Her expression is angry, determined. And when she turns to him, her hand cupping his face, her hand is wet with his tears.

“Aziraphale,” she says, her voice calmer than usual, more detached. “Look at me.”

He forces himself to. She is his commander. “Aziraphale,” she says. “You will not Fall. You are not wicked.”

“Cadamiel was never wicked,” Aziraphale says. It hurts to say the name. Aziraphale says it over and over every day.

“He is now,” she says. “He’s a demon. Let go of this guilt.”

“He didn’t do anything but befriend me!” Aziraphale says. “If that’s wicked, then I must be. How else could it be wrong?”

Michael smiles, shaking her head. “Do you imagine yourself so important? Do you think you knew everything about your friend? I will tell you this now, and never again: You are not the reason he Fell. He fell because he questioned the Almighty. He dared to criticize her Great Plan. You would do well to remember that and hold your tongue. I don’t decide who Falls. She does.”

Aziraphale frowns. This is the only time she has answered him, and it helps, but it’s not enough, he opens his mouth to speak again, but suddenly his mind goes blessedly blank. Michael is standing across from him, withdrawing her hand from his face, but he does not know how or why he’s there, except that he’d been upset, and now he can’t remember why, only Michael’s last admonishment, to hold his tongue, not to criticize the Great Plan. And he can’t remember why he would have.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale stands at the edge of the cliff, gasping. Crowley, he thinks, the name holding too much, too many associations: the beautiful angel Cadamiel, his lovely, precious demon. The innocent, thrilling love, the awful pain, the hardwon intimacy they now share after six thousand years of careful, unacknowledged courtship and repression, an intimacy that still brings them both pain even alongside transcendent joy. He stills himself, clutching at his chest, falling to his knees. Oh, Crowley. Crowley. He weeps.

It makes a kind of sense now, the way the demon had looked at him all those years ago in Eden, like he wasn’t sure if he was a stranger, the way he’d come to Aziraphale for protection from the storm, the way he’d smiled when he heard about the sword Aziraphale had given away. The way Crowley had always approached him, had even touched his arm in Rome, with that oddly hopeful expression, and smiled to see him eat the oysters he’d squirreled away from the others. Oh, how he must have ached. What had it been like for him, truly, after that first night in Heaven when Gabriel had taken him away? He’d been brave then, had acted like he wasn’t worried, but Aziraphale wonders now if he’d known then, what was happening, and hadn’t wanted to show it for Aziraphale’s sake.

He turns and makes his way back to the house; he’s walked further than he’d realized, and the night is cold. Inside, it’s quiet, and Crowley is sleeping, though a small lamp is on in the bedroom—left there for him, Aziraphale knows—shining his red hair bright against the dark gray of the pillowcase. Aziraphale watches him for a while, the relaxed face, almost, but not quite, the face of Cadamiel. How could he have forgotten, even for a moment, that angel? How could he have seen Crowley’s tenderness, Crowley’s kindness—Crowley’s mischief, even—and not recognized him? How could he have looked at Crowley and not known, not seen the one reason he’d ever had to believe in the goodness of Heaven, to miss his time there? (And they had cast it out.) It was no wonder his time there had seemed so short, so terrible, with so many of his memories missing, because for him Crowley had always been there, until he wasn’t. But they’d found each other again. It’s too much to believe that there’s been anything of a coincidence about it. Maybe this is why he remembers, Aziraphale thinks, maybe this is Her way of showing that this is what She wants, that they’re safe now, finally.

He closes the window, turns off the light, and wrenches himself away from Crowley so he doesn’t wake him, so he can try to still his own nerves. He makes cocoa and takes it into the library and stands and looks around at the books, sipping the warm drink and trying desperately to steady himself, even as his mind floods with Crowley, his chest filling up so full he gives up the effort, sets down the drink and returns to the warm, dark bedroom. He sits in the window seat and waits.

***

Gabriel’s phone chimes. It hasn’t been long since they’ve come from Hell, since they’ve seen what’s become of Michael, and he can’t scrub the sight from his mind. The walls, oozing, cluttered with notices. Demons everywhere (well, that should have been a given, but there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself to feel how awful it is). And Michael, hair and eyes like mud, oozing, even, her skin damp and cold-looking. He’d never forget the way Uriel had looked at her when her hand had closed around Uriel’s arm as they tried to leave. There’s a reason, he thinks, that angels shouldn’t go to Hell, even for a visit, and he, for one, will never repeat the experience.

It’s a demon calling: Beelzebub. He sighs. It’s always something with these people, he thinks. But then, it’s too much to expect efficiency or competence from Hell.

“Did one of you raving idiots give Surga holy water?” comes the buzzing voice, by way of a greeting. Gabriel goes still.

“What? Of course not.” At Gabriel’s tone of indignation, Sandalphon sets down his tablet and faces Gabriel, looking alert.

“Right. So I’m to believe that a demon summoned it? Holy water?” An impossibility. Gabriel frowns.

“Maybe you should just start at the beginning,” Gabriel says. “ What happened?”

It’s hard to listen to Beelzebub, but nothing they say shocks him, except for the bit about the holy water. Heaven had lost Michael long ago, really. Perhaps this had been inevitable. But...

“Well?” Sandalphon says, when Gabriel hangs up.

Gabriel takes a deep breath. “She’s gone. Exterminated.” It was, perhaps, not the best way to deliver a message, and Gabriel would know about that, but he doesn’t always feel up to his official function. Sandalphon presses a hand to his mouth. Then he stands up and runs from the room. OK, it hadn’t been right to tell him that way. But Gabriel doesn’t really care. It’s hard to care, hard to know what to do. He wants to shout to Sandalphon to bring him Uriel, but Sandalphon is gone. He rubs his temples, blinks away tears. 

Uriel is in Michael’s corner. She’s managed to move the walls of energy Michael had favored down into something smaller, compressing the hellfire into a smaller, manageable configuration that can fit into the case Michael had brought up from Hell. Gabriel doesn’t want to tell her good work. Not now. She hands him the case and waits.

“What is it?” she says, when he doesn’t move.

“Michael. Surga.” Uriel looks down, won’t meet his eye.

“You gave it to her?” he says, because surely she knows that even he can figure that out. “Then you can give them this yourself.” He thrusts the case at her.

Uriel nods. Tears stream down her face, and for a moment, Gabriel feels pity.

“I didn’t know,” Uriel says. “Is that what she did with it? I didn’t know.”

“They don’t know either,” Gabriel admits. “But it’s better that it happened this way than some other way. How could you put us in this position? Hell could retaliate if they view this as a threat. And you can’t even predict what might have happened if she’d gone to Earth and—”

Uriel winces. “I know,” she says. “And I do think we probably ought to leave them alone, but...I couldn’t stand it; I couldn’t stand to see her suffer. To me, if it would bring her some relief, it’s worth it to get rid of an abomination.”

“No,” Gabriel says. “Don’t speak that way about them. This isn’t about them. We don’t know what they are. We don’t get to decide.

Uriel blinks at him. “We never do,” she says.

Chapter Text

The sun has begun to rise. Aziraphale is sitting in the window seat, staring out at the cliffs and the waves and the sun, just begining to tinge everything with its rosy glow.

“Aziraphale?” comes the blessed voice. Cadamiel’s had been smoother, more musical, perhaps, but no more beautiful. Aziraphale turns, takes him in, his hair mussed, but arranged—Aziraphale knows he will have miracled it into place before anything. Crowley is so beautiful. He’d always thought so, but it’s as if he hasn’t known beauty before, because this… Without even thinking, he’s risen, gone to Crowley’s side.

“Angel?” Crowley sounds afraid. Oh, that won’t do at all.

“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale says, settling himself on the bed, pressing the side of his hip into Crowley’s body beneath the covers. “Crowley—Cadamiel, last night, it started to come to me. My dearest—I remember.”

Crowley blinks. 

Aziraphale is aware that he’s not thinking as clearly as he might—the experience is a heady one, seeing these two beings as one, his love for Cadamiel feeding the love he’d felt for so long for Crowley, enlarging it, then realizing that this was how it had been for Crowley for much, much longer. “Cadamiel,” Aziraphale says again. He presses his lips to the bone of his jaw, where he’d touched him that first time in the glade, where he’d touched him that first time they’d kissed in the bookshop. “My beautiful angel.”

Crowley has frozen. “No,” he says, his voice careful, soft, as if he think it might frighten Aziraphale.  “Just Crowley. J-jusst me, angel.” He says it almost like he’s sorry, like he thinks maybe it’s not enough. The poor sweet thing. 

“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale says. “I didn’t mean...I know who you are. And now I know who you were. What we were.” He kisses Crowley again in the same spot, then, very deliberately, he presses his lips to the snake sigil on his face, to each of his eyelids, and finally lifts his strong, lovely, starkissed hands to his lips. Crowley’s eyes don’t leave Aziraphale’s, and now they overflow. Aziraphale leans forward and kisses the tears, the shining paths they make down his face in the early morning light. His hands are tight on Aziraphale’s, but he’s so still he’s almost shaking. Aziraphale smiles at him. “Do you know,” he says, in what he hopes is a comforting tone, “for a long time, I think I missed you. Even before I knew. I think I missed Cadamiel until Rome,” he says.“But after that, when we were apart, I started to miss Crowley.”

It has the desired effect. Crowley twitches, like he’s waking up, scurries into a seated position, and reaches for Aziraphale, brushing away tears Aziraphale hadn’t realized were there.

“What happened?” Crowley says. “Why do you—?”

“I don’t know. But I’m so glad. Oh, Crowley. Oh.” Aziraphale laughs at himself, and kisses Crowley, and Crowley lets him, nuzzles against his neck, and there’s something there that Aziraphale hadn’t seen from him for too long: Crowley feels it, too, that they’re safe. But then Crowley pulls back, just a little, studying him.

“I’m not him, angel,” he says, finally. “Not anymore.” But Aziraphale is already shaking his head, against the adamancy Crowley seems to feel, the certainty that Aziraphale’s happiness is misplaced, that this new relief it’s granted will be shortlived and devastating. But he’s wrong about that. So wrong.

“I know, my dear,” Aziraphale says. “I don’t want him. Not now. Don’t you see? I want you. Just as I always did. But now I can...I can want all of you. Everything we were and are.” Crowley does shake now, a horrible quaking thing that moves through him and then lets him go, and even though he’s still now, he can’t seem to look at Aziraphale, but Aziraphale wants him to, he wants Crowley to show him his eyes, to show him all of him, let him see everything forever, to never again not have that sight before him. He turns Crowley’s face toward his, fingers gentle. When Crowley doesn’t pull away, he leans forward and kisses Crowley’s mouth, sliding his tongue against Crowley’s. Crowley’s body does a kind of spasm, and then his tongue is deeper inside Aziraphale’s mouth than it has ever been, reminding Aziraphale of the Serpent he’d once been, and Crowley groans as his long arms wrap around Aziraphale, tight, pulling him down.

“Ah,” Aziraphale says. Crowley presses his face and hands into Aziraphale’s neck, smelling him, kissing him, licking him there until Aziraphale squirms and then Crowley is taking off the bow-tie, unbuttoning the collar. Yes.

“Aziraphale, really,” Crowley says, fondly. He complains about the layers, but he’s so careful, always, with Aziraphale’s things; he knows how old they are, how Aziraphale treasures them. Aziraphale likes it, savors the way the usually impatient demon is so gentle, so careful, just for him.

“I like it like this,” he says, ducking his head. 

“You what ?” Crowley dives in and bites at Aziraphale’s neck, just lightly, a reminder, perhaps, of their supposed rivalry. He draws back to look at Aziraphale with false, teasing menace.

Aziraphale smiles and runs his fingers through the hair of Crowley’s chest, down to the waist of his silk trousers.

“Ridiculous bastard,” Crowley growls. But he slows down even more, peppering Aziraphale with more kisses, running his hands over ever piece of skin he exposes before uncovering anything else. Aziraphale is gasping with it before he’s even out of his trousers, finally lowering himself over Crowley, pressing a hand into the tented silk of his trousers and wrapping his hand around him. Crowley hisses, pushes his hips up and into the touch. Aziraphale lets go and slides his hand beneath the single layer.

“See how easy I make it for you?” Crowley says, his voice hissing, cracking. His body looks melted, poured into the bed, twisted and broken with his desire. There are still tears on his face.

“You do, my dear. You always do,” Aziraphale whispers into his ear. He keeps his hand where it is and uses the other to push Crowley’s hair away from his face, to wipe the tears from his eyes.

Then he moves his other hand, stroking the finger over the tip, and Crowley lets out a low whine. “I want to...kiss you here,” Aziraphale says, “All right?”

“Angel, anything. Anything.”

Aziraphale has only read books. He knows how, in theory, to take Crowley into his mouth, to move his tongue and lips and head to bring him the kind of pleasure he deserves, but he cannot have imagined the way it feels, to taste him, to have him there, hissing and gasping and crying out with it, with his delight in Aziraphale, something he can’t push out of his face or hide, and Aziraphale can tell that he’s trying to keep still, trying to be gentle, to keep his thighs apart and his hips stable, and the thought almost undoes him, even though Crowley doesn’t touch him, except to place a hand on his shoulder, and then he looks up, and Crowley is watching him, blinking as if to clear his vision, and when their eyes meet, Crowley seems to shatter.

“Oh, God,” he says. “Come here.” His hand moves from Aziraphale’s shoulder to his arm, and he doesn’t pull, exactly, but Aziraphale moves up and into his arms and lets Crowley hold him, tell him that he loves him, words he’s never spoken like this, so simply, so steadily: I love you, Aziraphale. I love you, I love you. He can’t seem to stop saying it, and Aziraphale doesn’t want him to, but he’s kissing the demon almost without realizing it, burrowing into his evergreen-smelling neck, caressing the sides of his slim body, finding the bones of his spine again as Crowley moves on top of him, sliding down his body with kisses, fingers touching the tips of the hair there like it’s something to be admired.

Crowley unbuttons his trousers, the movements causing tiny brushes of fabric against his skin and driving groans out of Aziraphale.

“Aziraphale?” Crowley says, voice heavy, a question, a plea.

“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “Yes, please, Crowley.”

Crowley bends his head, his hands sliding around the base of Aziraphale’s penis as he licks the tip and slides his hot mouth over and down to the base, his hands coming to rest on his hips, his inner thighs. It’s too much, it’s so good, it’s the most human thing he’s ever felt.

And it’s never happened to Aziraphale before. He thinks you’re supposed to say, so he asks, but Crowley nods, keeps the pressure of his mouth there, keeps his tongue working until it’s over. Aziraphale is shaking, but it’s still not enough, and Crowley understands. He slides his whole body up Aziraphale’s, holds him, pressing them together. They thrust and kiss and Aziraphale concentrates for a moment, when Crowley lifts himself away and reaches between them. Aziraphale pushes against his hand, taking the touch into his body, and Crowley shudders, withdraws his hand. Aziraphale cries out with the loss, but then he’s there, warm and filling up Aziraphale and he wraps his arms and legs around the demon, his beautiful demon, and tries, against all reason, to bring their bodies closer, closer, closer.

***

It’s a few days later when they’re out walking that Aziraphale finds a way to say it. They’re holding hands, leaning against each other, wrapped up against the cold, and they stop on the cliff, the one where Aziraphale had stood and gasped out Crowley’s name as his memories of their time together in Heaven had flooded back.

“I saw you out here, you know,” Crowley says. “I didn’t know why you’d left. I saw you standing here on this cliff. Aziraphale...for a minute I thought…”

No,” Aziraphale says. “I’m so very happy now. And I would never make the choice to leave you. I love you more than anything, Crowley. I always, always have. And now...I love you more, even, than that.”

He’d tried to explain it earlier, tried to explain how his love for Cadamiel had made his love for Crowley stronger, a love already so strong he hadn’t thought it could grow any more. But he wasn’t sure it had worked, wasn’t sure Crowley had understood. Aziraphale had dropped it, then, afraid, so soon after discussing Crowley’s Fall, that he might be a bit sensitive, might worry again that Aziraphale expected him to be the angel he’d once been. But now, Crowley’s face seems to spasm, a thing that Aziraphale knows is the result of trying to hold back intense emotion. And it’s very clear what emotion that is, as he pulls Aziraphale close, buries his face in his hair and holds him, then, long and slow, kisses him.

“What if we stayed here?” Crowley says. “A while longer, I mean. Not forever.”

“I think that would be lovely.”

“I mean, you could go up and see to your bookshop. If you want. I’m just...not anxious to get back to all that. You know?” 

Aziraphale studies him, sees the ghosts of flames licking the walls of his shop, once with him in it, and once with only Crowley there, just before Aziraphale had found him drunk and mourning him, swords clanging in his flat, where demons had come...where Crowley had killed one, during Armageddon. There had even been screams in St. James Park as the two of them were dragged away from each other for what could have easily been the last time ever, if they’d been found out, if something had just gone...differently. He understands. London has been their home for hundreds of years, but it’s also something else now.

“Crowley, I think staying here with you would be perfectly lovely. A while longer. Forever, whatever you like. As long as I’m with you.”

They kiss again, and turn to walk back up the path to the house.

But there is someone waiting there. 

***

“Oh, fuck no,” the demon says, letting go of Aziraphale and starting forward, but Aziraphale grasps his shoulders as Gabriel steps forward, holding out his hands. He hopes they’ll see that he doesn’t mean them any harm. Even if it is rather...disconcerting watching them kiss each other like humans. An angel and a demon. It is, then, just like Uriel had said, Gabriel sighs. Well, he is not here to judge.

“Go inside,” Aziraphale says to the demon. The demon scoffs and folds his arms. He narrows his eyes at Gabriel.

“I’m not leaving you alone with him,” the demon says. Gabriel frowns. He’d only come because of Michael, had only come because he thought they ought to know she was gone, ought to know that what she had done hadn’t been sanctioned, not by Heaven or Hell. Because he was starting to question everything he had done to them on Michael’s orders and guidance. Now that she was gone, it was easier to see clearly. Easier to see that he’d been uncertain his whole life, hiding behind the necessity of following orders, respecting rank and seniority. Easier to see that they all made questionable decisions, that they didn’t always understand the ones other people made.

And if he could see that, then maybe it was easier to see that they were different from him, that they would make different decisions, and he didn’t have the right to say what they deserved at all. But it was obvious that Michael’s death was something they should know about. Something that might give them some peace. And telling them was, maybe, a way that he could gain some kind of redemption.

“I just want to talk,” he says. “Please.”

Crowley still looks like he wants to attack, and Gabriel really has no experience with this sort of thing. He flinches instinctively. Just because the demon is... domesticated for Aziraphale…Perhaps he should have brought a weapon? No. No. Gabriel sighs. He had tried to kill Aziraphale. He deserves this suspicion.

Now Aziraphale cups the back of demon’s head, leans close, whispers something to him. Crowley goes still and nods, starts walking toward Gabriel, and then, to his surprise, passes him, slamming the door of the little cottage behind him. Gabriel stares after him, sees him in the window, glaring out at the two of them. Aziraphale waits. Gabriel gulps, tries to find the words. He has always hated bearing messages.

***

“You’re really doing, this, then?” Gabriel says, nodding toward the house, where Crowley is glowering from the window.

“What do you want, Gabriel?” Aziraphale says, feeling guilty for leaving Crowley, annoyed with Gabriel for putting him in this position yet again, even now.

“Michael,” Gabriel says. Aziraphale freezes, feels his voice catch in his throat.

“She—she’s gone,” Gabriel says. There’s no emotion in his voice. “I wanted to tell you. Thought you might be...wondering. If maybe you got some memories back? 

Aziraphale gave a little huff. “Indeed.”

“She Fell for what she did to you and…” Gabriel jerks his head in the direction of the house. “and now she’s gone for good. Exterminated. Possibly by her own hand. Well, almost certainly by her own hand. Though we think it must have been an accident. She was getting...careless in her rage. I felt you should know. You’re safe. She won’t be coming back.”

“And you?”

Gabriel opens his mouth and closes it. He nods, “I am...of the opinion that you both should be left alone. But obviously I don’t make all of the decisions. I’ve told everyone to leave you alone. For now.”

“Until…?”

“Until the Almighty says otherwise. I don’t see that Heaven has any jurisdiction over you.”

Aziraphale blinks.

“Just don’t...make too much trouble,” Gabriel says. He turns and starts to walk away. Then he turns again, facing Aziraphale, looking conflicted, nervous, like he knows whatever he’s about to say is a risk. “Aziraphale? You and...did you always remember him from before from when he was an angel? Is that...why? Is that how you can...” Gabriel waves his hand vaguely. “With a demon? Or is it because of something else? Something...Earthly? Or does he have some kind of demonic hold over you?”

Aziraphale stares at him. He closes his eyes for a moment and shakes his head. All he can feel is pity. And he knows he could never explain, the way Crowley fills him up, the way that Crowley and love for him has preserved him all these years, even before he’d acknowledged it, seen it for what it was. He knows that Gabriel wouldn’t really understand.

“I love him,” he says. “But I came to love him, a demon, here on Earth, a long time before Michael’s death allowed me to remember Cadamiel.”

Gabriel winces, but he nods. 

“Perhaps it is Earthly, but it is very real. Crowley is very easy to love,” Aziraphale adds. “And he is a demon, Gabriel. As uncomfortable as that makes you. But he loves me in return, and if anything, with greater constancy than Heaven has allowed me to offer him.”

“I—”

Goodbye, Gabriel,” Aziraphale says, already heading back inside. He gestures upward. “And do be careful of asking too many questions.”