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Crowley was standing in a puddle, soaked to the skin, glaring daggers at Aziraphale, who at least has the good sense to look sheepish, once the shock had worn off.

 

The fight had ended with the revelation that Crowley was still immune to holy water. Somehow.

 

It had started, as these things do, with the End of the World.

 

***

 

Crowley held the bubble of frozen time through sheer force of will, shaped from a memory of the sands outside Eden, cupped in the space between two of his unnecessary heartbeats. Would it be enough? It would have to be.

 

He felt a tingle, like closing a circuit, when he took Adam's hand, Aziraphale on the boy's other side. A shiver ran through him and he arched his wings, popping them back into normal space-time. Then he watched in awe as the boy dismissed Lucifer out of hand, twisting the very fabric of the universe and changing his own fate.

 

The War would not happen.

 

The world would not End.

 

They had won.

 

***

 

After the silent bus ride back to London, after the bodyswap and their trips to Heaven and Hell, after the Ritz, Crowley and Aziraphale went back to the bookshop. Aziraphale wanted to see the additions Adam had made to his collection, and Crowley was unwilling to let the angel out of his sight just yet; the feeling of losing him, even if it had been temporary, was still too fresh in his mind. At least Aziraphale didn't seem to mind Crowley's hovering.

 

"First editions, all of them," Aziraphale was saying, petting one of the books in that way he had that made Crowley a little hot around the collar. "A little bit of foxing on a few of them, and some of the Hardy Boys need some work on their spines, but most of the rest are in mint condition!”

 

Crowley nodded absently, unable to tear his eyes away from the angel in front of him; his best friend, the creature he loved most in the world, the being that functionally had the other half of his whatever-it-was that ethereal and occult beings had instead of a soul. Crowley still had a bit of emotional whiplash from thinking that Aziraphale was dead, and even standing with him in the center of the bookshop wasn’t quite enough to dispel the hazy feeling that Aziraphale would disappear again if he looked away.

 

“Do you think Heaven or Hell will come after us again?” Crowley blurted out, interrupting whatever Aziraphale was saying.

 

“I don’t know, my dear,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley felt a little bad spoiling his good mood. “I would hope that our charade would be enough to keep them off our backs for at least a little while.”

 

“We need additional protection, just in case,” Crowley said, starting to pace in his agitation. “Holy water, hellfire, that sort of thing.”

 

“But that’s too dangerous for us to just keep lying around,” Aziraphale said, clutching the book his was holding to his chest. “I wouldn’t dare risking you getting hurt, not after everything.”

 

“Or you?” Crowley said, and Aziraphale colored slightly, looking away. Crowley pulled something out of the air with a flourish: a black crystal vial-shaped pendant on a tarnished silver chain. “Here, this contains a drop of hellfire, just enough to scare off an angel or two if they come for you. Be careful with it.”

 

Aziraphale gingerly reached out to take it, placing the chain around his neck and tucking pendant and chain under his vest so they weren’t visible. “I’ll get more holy water, both for your flat and the shop. Don’t carry it around with you; even a little would be enough to kill you. I should be able to get you a pendant like this with holy oil instead.”

 

Crowley nodded, relieved. “Thank you, angel. I don’t...you need to keep safe. I don’t think I’d survive it if I lost you again.”

 

Aziraphale seemed at a loss for words, but he reached out and gripped one of Crowley’s hands in his own. “I feel the same,” he said finally, squeezing Crowley’s fingers. “I most certainly feel the same.”

 

***

 

It was weeks before the attack came, and Crowley and Aziraphale had been lulled into, if not a false sense of security, than at least a sense that they had at least a little breathing room. But that illusion was shattered when one day there was an unholy scream and three demons appeared in the middle of the bookshop, weapons held at the ready.

 

Aziraphale, who had been standing at the register poking at a crossword, spotted them first, and cried out for Crowley, reaching under the counter for the magicked bucket of holy water they’d hidden there.

 

“Angel Aziraphale,” the first cried, “face the retribution of Hell!” It ran at him with a rusted-looking spear.

 

Aziraphale grabbed the bucket and dodged, sliding away to one side and out of range. “Crowley!” he called again.

 

“Third rendezvous point!” Crowley called back, and Aziraphale nodded curtly to himself, before tossing the demons a sharp smile and disappearing.

 

He reappeared in an open field in the Scottish Highlands, bucket still held at the ready. They’d agreed when making their backup plans that they wanted to keep any fights away from the shop, both to protect the books, and also the humans in the streets and buildings nearby. Besides, if their attackers had to locate them again, it would buy them time.

 

Crowley appeared a moment later, a leather bandolier of ampoules of holy oil incongruously thrown over his otherwise immaculate black suit. “Anyone yet?” he asked, looking around wildly. This location had the benefit of clear lines of sight for miles, but on the other hand, there was nothing to hide behind. Aziraphale shook his head and Crowley released a deep breath of relief.

 

“I’m sure they’ll be here soon enough,” Aziraphale said. “Do we have a plan?”

 

“Throw things and run like Hell?”

 

Aziraphale glared at him, but before he could speak the three demons appeared, disoriented but weapons still held at the ready. One was carrying two fistfulls of hellfire, which made it by far the most dangerous. “You don’t have to do this,” Aziraphale said, though he didn’t expect it would help much. “We won’t try to track you down if you just leave us alone.”

 

The one with the hellfire bared its teeth and lunged toward Aziraphale, but Crowley got there first, hitting it squarely in the chest with one of his holy oil bombs. The thin glass exploded, dousing the flames and coating the demon in a thin sheen of sweet-smelling oil. The demon fell to the ground, writhing in agony, and Aziraphale winced despite himself. He’d been a soldier, once upon a time, but that didn’t mean he liked violence.

 

The demon with the spear shrieked and ran at Crowley, who dodged and flickered out of existence, appearing behind it with a jeering noise. The third demon, which was armed with some kind of spiky weapon Aziraphale couldn’t identify, sidestepped neatly to avoid its fallen companion and came at Aziraphale, a dangerous, too-toothy grin on its rotting face. Crowley gave a shout and followed it.

 

Aziraphale readied the bucket to toss it at the oncoming demon, but it disappeared at the last moment, so when the water flew, it hit Crowley full in the chest. Aziraphale screamed, reaching out helplessly.

 

And nothing happened.

 

Crowley looked down at his damp clothes, then up at the angel, expression absolutely shocked.

 

“How is that possible?” the third demon yelled, appearing by its fallen compatriot. “We thought it was some kind of trick!” It grabbed the still-screaming demon from the ground, and all three disappeared.

 

Crowley was standing in a puddle, soaked to the skin, glaring daggers at Aziraphale, who at least has the good sense to look sheepish, once the shock had worn off. “I liked this suit, angel,” he said, plucking at the damp fabric. “Also, what the Hell is going on?”

 

***

 

They went back to the shop and Crowley miracled himself dry, then settled in to watch while Aziraphale buried himself in books of angelology and prophecy, trying to figure out what was going on. He’d taken a brief break at one point, at Crowley’s request, to check his own immunity, declaring that the hellfire just tickled a little when he held his hand in its infernal flames.

 

It took three days for the angel to resurface, with an unreadable expression on his face. Crowley looked up from his phone quizzically when Aziraphale made a noise, then put the device down when the angel stared at him pointedly, and folded his hands into his lap. “I think I know what happened.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yes,” Aziraphale said slowly, clearly preparing to choose his words carefully. “When we held hands at the end of the world, we became something else. Something beyond Heaven and Hell. Something I don’t think has ever truly existed before.”

 

That felt right, deep in the empty place where Crowley knew his grace had once been. In a way, it wasn’t empty anymore; it felt like it was filled with Aziraphale. “Does this new thing have a name?”

 

“Old thing,” Aziraphale corrected gently. “Well, old idea. I think we’re shedim .”

 

“Guardian spirits, I like that,” Crowley said, smiling. “I’d rather protect humans than hang out with demons or angels any day. You still look troubled,” he added, taking in Aziraphale’s expression.

 

“I almost killed you,” Aziraphale said, fiddling with his pinky ring before purposefully pressing his hands to this thighs to still them. “I would have, had we not changed.”

 

“We would have died when we were kidnapped, if we hadn’t changed,” Crowley pointed out.

 

“That’s not the same!” Aziraphale said with an exasperated noise. “I love you more than anything in the world, and I was almost the source of your destruction.”

 

“You love me?” Crowley said, thoughts skittering to a halt.

 

Aziraphale paled, clearly not intending to say that aloud. He took a breath, then seemed to square his shoulders defiantly. “Yes, I do. It’s alright if you don’t feel the same way, but I suppose I’m glad you know now, after all these years.”

 

“How long?” Crowley asked, sitting up and leaning his elbows on his knees.

 

“Oh, ages,” Aziraphale said with a sigh. “It was never safe to tell you, and we were such good friends, so I wasn’t sure there was a point.”

 

“Oh, there is,” Crowley said with a low growling note to his words. He stood, pacing over to Aziraphale, who didn’t even flinch when Crowley stepped up into his space and wrapped his arms around the angel’s waist. “I’m not good at saying things like this,” he said, before nuzzling into Aziraphale’s cheek.

 

“Oh, my darling,” Aziraphale said, arms coming up to loop around Crowley’s shoulders. “Really?”

 

“Really,” Crowley said, flicking out his tongue to take in Aziraphale’s scent: vanilla and citrus and musk from his cologne, then below that the petrichor and ozone of an angel. His angel. “Since the Beginning, practically.”

 

“We have a lot to talk about,” Aziraphale said, tilting his head to press a gentle kiss to Crowley’s lips. Crowley growled and immediately deepened the kiss, tightening his grip.

 

“Later,” Crowley said, when he’d pulled back for unnecessary air. “All of that later. Now, bed.”

 

Aziraphale, grinned, bright as the sun, and took Crowley’s hand, starting to lead him to the stairs to the flat above them. “I thought you’d never ask.”