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the commendation

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Aziraphale has nice hands.

Crowley’s always thought so. It was so obvious that hardly seemed worth denying, even in the very beginning. They’ve always been clean and soft, strong and warm, steady and prone to holding on. Crowley likes that, in a pair of hands: the holding on.

They hold on to Crowley, sometimes.

With Crowley tucked up close to him in bed, they do some combination of holding and steadying, with Crowley under one hand and a book under the other. Crowley likes it that way, really: stretching out on his belly while Aziraphale strokes smoothly down the skin of his arm, or over his shoulder, down his back, the familiar sounds of pages turning filling up the air. It makes him feel soft and sleepy and protected, to be touched like this, without any real purpose, without any real intention. He likes being touched with intention too, of course, but this—this is something softer, something simpler.

Crowley is beginning to know something about love.

Every time Aziraphale touches him like this, as though he’s doing it just because he can, as though he’s doing it just because the. y’re close and they’re safe and they’re together, Crowley knows a little bit something more about it.

Aziraphale’s hand tonight is smoothing over the skin of Crowley’s arm, in that back-and-forth, back-and-forth. The ring on Aziraphale’s pinky finger is warm from both their bodies, and Crowley’s still sleep-soft and blurry when he reaches over to take the hand from his forearm and tap the ring curiously.

“You’ve always worn this, haven’t you?” he asks, rubbing a fingertip over it, feeling out the heraldic lion, the carved feathers. “You had it as far back as the garden.”

Aziraphale doesn’t answer right away, but the pages stop turning, and Crowley knows he’s heard the question. A bit of tension seeps into the bed between them, though, and he wonders if maybe he shouldn’t have asked it. He never had been terribly good at knowing which questions he should or shouldn’t ask.

“Mm,” Aziraphale finally acknowledges. He turns his hand, catching one of Crowley’s in his own, pressing his lips absently to Crowley’s knuckles. “Bit longer than that.”

But the tension doesn’t ease, and the room around them shifts into something stilted and strange. The night outside the windows is cool and dark; the hazy glow of the street lamps filtering in casts a sickly, artificial glow over Aziraphale’s face, turning him gaunt. His thumb strokes gently over Crowley’s hand, but his eyes are far away.

“Where did it come from?” Crowley asks. “Why do you wear it?”

He does not ask, are you all right, because Aziraphale always answers that one with a sudden smile and yes, of course, as if the question works as a reminder that he ought to be all right rather than a gentle reminder that there’s someone here to catch him if he isn’t. Crowley’s learnt to ask around it, these days, learnt to coax bits of Aziraphale out of hiding, to guide pieces of him out of their shadows.

He knows Aziraphale doesn’t do it on purpose, not really—but old habits are hard to break, and they’ve had six thousand years to wear their habits in. It’s all right. Crowley’s always known that patience is the heart of love.

“It was given to the principalities who led platoons in the War,” Aziraphale recites a little blankly. His eyes don’t blink; he isn’t seeing the faint blue-violet outlines of their bedroom anymore. “A commendation for our acts of service in defence of Heaven.”

Crowley watches him for another long moment, then grimaces, a whole-body shudder that resonates like a dooming bell in his chest. “Ugh,” he says, loudly. He squeezes Aziraphale’s hand, then shimmies the ring out of its place, holding it up in the weak streetlight. It glints, sharp and already going cold, keeping none of the heat from Aziraphale’s body. “Heaven always did have poor taste.”

Aziraphale huffs, half-laugh and half-something painful, but his eyes come back to the room. “I was proud of it, when I first got it. I was so proud.”

“You’re not anymore,” Crowley tells him. It’s not a question.

“No. But I was then.” He takes the ring back from Crowley, looking at it as though he’s studied it a million times. He probably has. “It was you, you know. I had been so proud of it, and then I met you and I thought, is this really what I was rewarded for? Am I really so proud to have raised my sword against you?”

“It’s not that simple, angel,” Crowley says quietly. “You know it wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t it?” He puts the ring in the palm of his hand, looks at it from all sides. The weight of it is visible in his palm, a penance as heavy as a talent. “You helped me see it for what it really was, but not right away. It was years, Crowley. Thousands of years that I thought you must have deserved your Fall. That we were different, and what made me different from you made me better.” He closes his fingers over the ring, holding it in his fist, and it turns Crowley’s stomach, to see that gift for holding on used like this. “I thought that I was prepared to fight because I had been made to, and I thought I was better for not questioning it. For doing as I was told. Do you know, I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t fight in the war, at Armageddon? That I wouldn’t take up my sword again in the name of Heaven? Not until I was discorporated and my platoon was waiting for me. I wasn’t sure.”

“Angel,” Crowley says, terribly softly, closing his hands over Aziraphale’s fist, holding onto him, “Aziraphale. Yes, you were.”

“How can you know?” Aziraphale asks. “How can you be sure, when even I’m not? That was the fate I was made for, wasn’t it? I haven’t your conviction, Crowley. I really thought that Heaven would want to avoid Armageddon, that everyone would want to avoid destroying the world and everything else. I really thought that, and when it wasn’t true—”

“When it wasn’t true, you called me,” Crowley reminds him. “You told me you knew where the Antichrist was, and you came back to help me find him. You came back, Aziraphale, at the moment it was most important, and you chose to be something different. Nothing else matters but that.”

Crowley leans in, and he breathes warm and slow over their combined hands. When he draws back, he uncurls his hands, cradling Aziraphale’s, and Aziraphale’s opens as well to see that the ring inside has been changed. Still the crest, yes, and still the winged prongs—but instead of the heraldic lion, the animal on the field is the curl of a snake.

“To remind you of the choice you made,” Crowley says softly. “Not the fate you were made for.”

Aziraphale looks at the ring for a long, long time, brow furrowed, muscles tight. Then he blinks, once, and clears his throat, and slips the ring back onto his finger. The snake on the crest shivers, and splits as they both watch; it finally settles with two snakes, one curled around the other, reminiscent of an ouroboros but twined around each other, rather than standing alone.

“The choice we made,” Aziraphale says shakily, and then the ring is altogether insignificant: no longer a reminder of the marks they bear, of the guilt they carry, of the pasts they’ve risen from. Aziraphale doesn’t really need it to remind him of the choice, and the happiness, and the things he’s free now to hold onto.

Crowley is kissing him, and that is reminder enough.