Chapter 1: Mistletoe
He’d been so happy when Crowley first discovered audiobooks. Not that he’d ever minded reading to the demon – some of his fondest memories involved an entirely still, forgetting to breath Crowley perched in an almost human attitude, wanting to know what happened next while Aziraphale turned the pages one handed, the other resting on Crowley’s arm. But he was excited at the thought of his friend finally being able to enjoy more of his favourite stories.
He should have, on reflection, been a little less hopeful.
Crowley had opinions on authors.
'I don’t like Oscar Wilde,’ had been the first one.
‘I know. You’ve been complaining about him for as long as you’ve known about him.’
‘That was because you kissed you, angel. This is because he’s boring.’
A text that came through at 1.30 am and startled Aziraphale into knocking over his tea cup: Is Odysseus always this stupid?
Followed a while later by: Seriously, he makes Gabriel look smart.
Followed at almost 3.00am with Angel, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was so late. Why didn’t you say?
His sudden and intense love affair with Christine had been evident enough for the Bentley to get jealous and refuse to start until the demon spent a good while apologising to her, promising her that no hell possessed American muscle car would ever match up.
On everything he’d read so far, really, and with that in mind, Aziraphale had made sure the copy of The Book Thief went missing early on. He didn’t want Crowley to recall 1930’s Berlin.
But in general, Crowley’s reactions to this new world of stories were wonderful and beautiful, and honestly his heart had leapt when Crowley had come in, brandishing a copy of his newest acquisition – a retelling of the Norse Myths. Had leapt even more Crowley had muttered something about ‘don’t you like these as well? I thought we both could –’
An hour later, they were on the couch, wine glasses in hand and the man’s soft voice cutting through the silence of the shop. Crowley, mostly under a blanket, was ranting about the unfaithfulness of mistletoe.
‘It’s just a plant, dear. You can’t blame it.’
‘My plants know better than to go around murdering people. They’ve got manners.’ A gulp of wine. ‘Anyway, it’s not even a plant. I’’s a weed with good publicity, is all. You know, Baldur must love that. “Here’s that weed that assassinated you, don’t mind us, we’re just gonna shag under it for the next five thousand years.”’
Aziraphale made no effort to stifle his laughter; just snagged the glass away from Crowley and put it out of flailing limb reach. ‘I think it’s kissing.’
‘Huh. Like the weed knows. Can we listen to this bit again?’
Aziraphale wanted to say something about it being Crowley’s rant that meant they’d missed it, but his heart was too full for even a jokey retort. Instead, he asked the machine go back to the start of this tale, thanked it politely, and settled a bit closer to Crowley.
Allowed the man’s voice to draw him and his demon back across the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
Chapter 2: Snow
The first snow fall on Earth, through the eyes of a scared and lonely demon.
Crawly is afraid the first time he sees snow. It looks holy and beautiful and terrifying. It looks like angel wings. He’s learnt in a few short years that rain isn’t holy, nor the sun, but this…anything so beautiful must be sacred.
It will burn him.
But he’s trying very hard to pass as human, and that currently involves hiding out in a small group of them in something that they’re calling the Promised Land. They’ve got shelters, and he’s in one of them now, hardly tall enough for him to stand upright. Everyone else has gone out into the strange whiteness.
He wishes the angel was here. The quiet, friendly one who he’d met in the Garden, who had raised a wing over his head in the only gesture of unthinking kindness he can remember receiving, Above, Below and Here. He’s learnt that humans are less afraid if they’re together. He thinks, hopes, it might work like that for demons.
Eventually, he can find no other reason to stay inside. A heart he doesn’t need is painful in his chest, a mockery of life. Which, Crawly thinks as he stands by the scraps of wood that mark the door, is about right for him. Mockery for a mockery of a being. Perhaps this will end him.
He kicks the wood aside and runs, expecting to die. Expecting to burn and feel and hurt, to end alone in this strange world that’s losing colour in front of his eyes.
Later, he’ll blame that fear for how long it took him to realise that it didn’t hurt. It’s bitingly cold; he’s a serpent, he knows about biting, and it stings against his face, but Heaven hasn’t touched this. He senses only earth power.
He takes himself higher in the mountains. The stuff whirls in front of his eyes, scrubs part of the world from his view if not existence. It’ll be 6,000 years before Crawly – wearing a different name – will learn what a kiss feels like (and it’s not from Aziraphale; the first person who ever kisses Crawly is a 4 year boy named Warlock) but he’ll immediately remember this day in the foothills of a place far away.
Realise that the snow had touched him like a kiss.
There’s a rock outcrop that he lowers himself onto, to sit and watch. He’s aware of the cold but more aware of the shapes in the snow. He has Maker’s eyes still; can see that each tiny flicker of cold and white is different.
One lands on his hand and doesn’t melt against his coldness.
He raises it and looks. Others land next to it and he looks. Looks like he hasn’t since before he Fell.
Wonders why his eyes are hot, why his throat hurts.
Wonders if the angel would like these beautiful, frozen things, and if he could ever show him. If the angel would want to see them or him, or these replicas of his past.
On his fingers, he can see stars, perfect and in miniature. Cold instead of heat, but burning still. Some of them look like his.
The first time the Serpent of Eden cries is at seeing his stars again on Earth.
Bonus cookie for anyone who spots the Thomas Covenant reference in there.
Chapter 3: The Nutcracker
Crowley buys Aziraphale a present.
There’s a distinct thud on the desk downstairs, and Aziraphale hurries down to the shop. It sounds like someone being careless with a book, and given that he’s fairly sure the shop’s locked, that’s a bit worrying.
Crowley’s leaning against one of the shelves, grinning. He’s wearing a different pair of sunglasses, and his jacket – a new brown one – is sung over his right shoulder. A box that hadn’t been there last night is laying on the desk, just in front of him.
‘Angel, I brought you a book,’ as though they’re carrying on a recent conversation, instead of after a three year gap.
‘Ah. Hello, Crowley,’ and he manages to damp down his welcome to acceptable levels, bite back what he most wants to say. ‘You look good.’ ‘I’ve missed you.’ ‘Are you okay?’ Instead he settles for ‘Come through. Drink?’
‘Open the book first,’ and Crowley is smiling. Open, honest smiling; his face as uncontrolled as his hair.
So he picks up the box and opens it. For all that Crowley likes to tease him about being overly careful with his books, he’s clearly learnt something over the years. The book’s wrapped exactly as Aziraphale would have done it.
He can sense now that Crowley’s trying very hard not to look at him.
They very rarely buy each other gifts. Food, yes, and wine, things that are gone soon and leave no trace. He’s always worried that if he buys Crowley anything long lasting, it’ll become something Hell can use against him, and he knows Crowley thinks Heaven might be the same.
Maybe a book, when he can hide it in a shop full of books, might be different.
Crowley starts babbling before he’s lifted the book from the acid free paper wrapping.
‘I was in Germany and it was for sale in a shop and I know you took me to the ballet thing about it, and you really enjoyed it, so I thought you might like this, but I’m sorry it’s in really bad condition, I just thought maybe –'
He lets go of the book and its poor separate cover long enough to touch a hand to Crowley’s wrist. There’s a surprised noise that isn’t quite a hiss.
‘It’s beautiful.’ And it is: a wonderfully old, brightly coloured copy of The Nutcracker. It’s in two pieces as well as the cover, but he’s prepared to bet it’s a first edition and to bet even more that he can repair it.
Crowley fidgets, awkward with the praise but still smiling.
‘It is lovely, dearest. Quite wonderful. Thank you.’
They spend the rest of the evening talking, and a few hours the next day starting the restoration work; Aziraphale working on the spine to start with a very interested demon peering over his shoulder. Both of them smiling.
Chapter 4: Cranberries
Crowley only has so much control over the Bentley's radio. Sometimes, a song can hurt like a weapon.
Crowley worked out an agreement with the Bentley and its radio as soon as he realised cars were starting to have such things. One, the radio would exist. Two, the radio would not hiss or crackle or any other similar nonsense, no matter how many hills, high rises or other things were in the way of perfect reception. Three (and this was years before there was a group called Queen) it will remember his blacklist songs and turn itself off whenever any of them dare to start.
Crowley has just enough self reflection left to be vaguely aware that causing songs to cease to exist just because he finds them uncomfortably relevant to his situation is taking things a step too far.
Avoiding them, though, that’s fine. That’s allowed.
And it’s actually worked pretty well for years. Except that, unless he’s been reading NME or something, he doesn’t actually know what songs are going on that blacklist before he hears them. (He’d read it a lot in the 70s. Aziraphale had had a lot to say about it, but less about the makeup.)
Which means there’s times, like today, when he’s been keeping carefully away from London because he knows Aziraphale was hauled upstairs not long ago, and maybe it was because they’d spent a week together on the coast earlier this year, so he’s being careful, he has to be careful even when it hurts like nothing else he can imagine, and then the radio attacks him.
The words feel like a punch to the gut. Sometimes there’s days when anything romantic reminds him of the angel, but this just hurts.
He stabs at the off button before even thinking to miracle it off, but he’s not quick enough to avoid another line. ‘And it’s making me sad because I can’t be with you.’
There’s a few minutes of silence before it occurs to him that he doesn’t know the song or singer, so making the radio avoid it in the future might be difficult. But he can’t bring himself to listen again, so the radio stays off.
He hurts from the words for a week; a week in which he stays out of London still. Avoids Aziraphale for another month and tries to convince himself that he doesn’t really want to go and see his angel again anyway. It doesn’t work.
He never mentions the song to Aziraphale, but the angel does raise an eyebrow years later, when the Bentley’s CD player immediately breaks a new disc that Crowley puts in. The demon miracles it back, tries again with the same result and then shrugs, knowing better than to argue with his car.
She finally lets them listen to the song one winter’s evening in 2019, and Crowley finds that having his lover sitting alongside him makes all the difference in the world.
The song referenced is The Cranberries 1993 track 'I can't be with you,' which starts off 'Lying in my bed again /and I cry 'cause you're not here / Crying in my head again/ And I know that it's not clear / Put your hands inside my face and see that it's just you / But it's bad and it's mad / And it's making me sad / Because I can't be with you.'
And Crowley went through a glam rock stage in the 1970s, and you can't convince me otherwise. He used to buy the NME to look at the clothes.
Chapter 5: Fire
Aziraphale invites Crawly in for the first time. Firelight, a sleepy demon and the beginnings of a dance they'll be practicing for another 6,000 years.
‘Where are you staying?’ he asks the demon, as though it’s a matter of no real concern. As though he really hasn’t noticed how cold Crawly was, how miserable the demon had seemed for the past hour. Alright, maybe demons are meant to be miserable but this is the seventh time they’ve met each other, including on the wall at Eden, and Crawly’s never been like this before.
He shrugs, one shoulder levelling with the other for a second. ‘Out that way,’ and he gestures wildly. ‘There’s a…a…well, it’s plenty sheltered. Don’t worry, it’s far enough away that I won’t be troubling you. Thanks for the food.’
The ‘food’ had been a piece of bread and some milk; Aziraphale was planning on eating when he got back to his room. There wasn’t anything spare in this settlement; his meal hadn’t been enough but Crawly looked so hungry, he’d torn the bread in two before thinking. He looks at the demon again; still sitting on the damp ground, still hunched, hair rainwater slick, eyes downcast as they’ve been all day today.
‘You’re welcome, but it’s hardly a meal, is it?’
There’s a low muttered noise in reply that he can’t translate, but he can sense gratitude. An almost overwhelming amount of it.
Every particle of angelic knowledge shouts ‘this is a very bad idea.’ He does it anyway.
Reaches a hand out to the hell creature who’s sat opposite him in the lee of the wall for the past hour; reaches out to someone who he really can’t see as an enemy at the moment and says ‘will you come back with me? I have a place…you can stay there.’
Yellow eyes seem to pulse, losing any trace of humanity for a second or two, and he can sense fear rising behind the gratitude. Fear of being lured into a trap maybe? ‘It’s indoors,’ he hastens to add. ‘I can light a fire.’
That seems a weak offering. What would a demon want with a fire? They’re beasts of hellfire and heat after all, they should be immune to cold. Should be unfeeling. Should be all sorts of things he’s beginning to think Crawly isn’t.
The smile he’s getting is as fake as the ones Gabriel sometimes gives, but in an entirely different way. He wonders if demons can feel shame. ‘That’s alright, angel, I’d only be in your way. The shelter up there is fine. I’ll be fine.’
‘It’s already raining,’ he protests.
‘So? I’ll just get wet. It’s fine.’
Aziraphale is still learning about lying and dissembling, but he can tell the different between what Crawly’s eyes and Crawly’s mouth are saying.‘Please? It would be pleasant to have someone to talk to. I’d like that.’ He stands up from the damp ground; he’s cold and wet and uncomfortable already. No point miracling it until he’s indoors again. ‘It’ll be warm,’ and it’s not until Crawly stands that Aziraphale realises why he’s been thinking about warmth. The demon is freezing; must have been focussing on that.
He also sees the exact second Crawly decides not to fight; the yellow of his eyes flares once and then dies down. He stands hunched, shifting his weight and tugging at his hair. ‘If you’re sure.’
They’ve done this already, walking together, although it’s odd that Crawly falls a couple of paces behind him and tries to stay there. The rain gets heavier as they walk, mud splashing up their bare legs and Aziraphale wishes his place wasn’t so far away. Eventually, he pauses by a mud built hut and says ‘this is where I’m staying,’ and then shakes his head at how clumsy that sounded.
It’s a tiny place, one room, a fire and some chairs and blankets on a pallet in the corner. Some food in the corner. No divisions or partitions between anything, but it’s warm. The fire is still banked and glowing; a miracle, but only a minor one.
Crawly stands in the doorway, uncertain.
‘Come in,’ and there’s another hesitation, as though Crawly wants this but is too afraid to take it, and then he drags his way across the threshold.
Aziraphale isn’t sure what he’s meant to do now. He’s never invited anyone else in to his rooms, wherever and whatever they’ve been, aside from a couple of injured people where it was easier to hide miraculous healing if they were alone. There’s already been a thing about teaching people to be kind and offer hospitality to strangers, in case any of them are angels in disguise – he really hopes not, because coming up against Gabriel unsuspectingly isn’t something he’d wish on anyone – but he doesn’t think there’s any guidance about hosting demons.
But Crawly’s cold. Perhaps he can fix that first, before thinking about everything else he’s meant to do. The fire springs to wakefulness in front of them and he watches the demon watching the flames watches the tension spill out of him, shoulders easing from their hunched position. His eyes are changing, white edging in around the sides, and the breathing he doesn’t need to do but does anyway is slowing down. Relaxing, is the word that comes to Aziraphale.
‘That’s nice,’ Crawly said. ‘I like that.’
‘The fire? Sit down, find somewhere comfortable.’
Crawley drops onto the nearest chair. Aziraphale has three, scattered around so he can follow the warmth around the room as the sun moves. It does look odd to see someone else in the room, but not unpleasant, not really. And Crawly undoubtedly looks happier.
‘Would you like a drink?’
Crawly nods. Aziraphale finds the spices and boils the water over the fire, while Crawly watches. ‘You could miracle that, you know.’
‘Tastes better this way. Try,’ and he pushes the cup into Crawly’s hands.
There’s a pleased noise in response. ‘That’s warm,’ and he wraps his fingers around it.
And suddenly it’s easy. Easy to sit and talk, to watch Crawly taste a hot drink for the first time, watch his movements become more fluid and graceful, and eventually, the trace of a smile appearing. It feels right. Horribly, horribly right.
Crawly doesn’t talk much, but Aziraphale gets the gist of it. The humans have started to notice his eyes, started to react when he comes near. Not they can do anything to him, but Crawly won’t do anything to them either. Just accepts it as his due and moves away; except that it can be days and weeks of not talking to anyone.
He’s spent the past week sleeping in the lee of a fallen tree on the higher ground to the north of the settlement, staying out of the way. Being alone.
‘Why did you come down today then?’
Crawly shrugs. ‘I could – I thought – I could sense you there. I thought you might,’ and he trails off into a stream of non-word based noises.
‘Well, I’m glad you did.’
Crawly falls back into silence, learning forward with his head hanging and hands clasped between his legs. He seems fascinated by the flames. Aziraphale leaves him there and makes some food, mostly miracled because there really isn’t much here at the moment. He glances across to him a few times, sees nothing other than the demon moving his chair closer to the hearth.
He eats with evident hunger, and Aziraphale wonders when his last meal was. Of course, demons don’t need to eat, but he thinks Crawly’s fallen pretty heavily into human habits.
‘Are you sure you don’t mind me staying here?’ Crawly asks suddenly. ‘I’m warm now. I can-’
‘Of course not. I’d like you to stay.’
‘Won’t be much company I’m afraid, angel. ‘’M tired.’ He can hardly look away from the fire. ‘Never had anyone ask me to stay before. Never had a fire like this before,’ and there’s gratitude shining through his voice.
He feels unworthy of that; he hasn’t offered anything special. Food. Warmth. Company, which was as much for his own sake as Crawly’s.
They talk for a while longer; Crawly wants to talk about the trees he’s found, and a waterfall, and the way he’d seen the sky turn green at sunset near the sea once. Little miracles. Aziraphale tells him about some new inventions, new things the humans are doing.
And it’s easy.
It’s well past dark when Crawly eventually says ‘Aziraphale, would you mind if I went to sleep?’ It’s the first time Crawly’s ever asked him for something, another milestone that he barely notices at the time.
‘Of course not,’ he replies as swiftly as he can, worried that any hesitation might seem like a denial. ‘Have the blankets. They’re warm.’
Crawly blinks, hands flexing in his lap. ‘What about you?’
‘Oh, I don’t really sleep. That’s for when I’m cold or want to think, or whatever…’
‘Never slept with anyone else close by before. Dunno if…look, angel, I’m probably not great company when I’m asleep. I scream sometimes. Dreams. If it bothers you, I can –’ and he doesn’t think he’s ever realised before how much Crawly hates himself; how he offers to change or apologise for things he apparently can’t control. Aziraphale only has a basic understanding of nightmares, but he doesn’t think anyone would choose to experience them.
The demon strides across to the blankets and throws himself down as though afraid of losing his courage if he hesitates.
‘Crawly, it’ll be fine. I promise you won’t disturb me.’ He prods at the fire, sends it spluttering into full life, and sees Crawly offering him a doubtful smile in the firelight.
The demon is laying with his back to the wall, facing Aziraphale, facing the fire. He’s never seen anything look quite so vulnerable, quite so trusting.
‘You can go to sleep, Crawly. It’ll be alright.’
His eyes close. The fire stays wakeful, throwing his red hair into glorious shades of copper, gold, bronze. His face is stained the same way. A creature of stars and fire.
For the first time, Aziraphale watches a demon sleep; begins to lay down patterns they’ll still be following in London, thousands of years in the future.
And one day, there will be another first night. It will be in a cottage that belongs to both of them, and they will repeat the steps of this first night, except that the bed will be for both of them.
The lack of historical research in this one hurts me greatly. I really wanted to spend a fortnight researching cool facts about ancient houses, but that wouldn't have done much for getting the other pieces written!
I have a lot of unpleasant headcanons about how Crawly views himself early on, and how he sees himself in regard to others, especially with not wanting to cause trouble or upset anyone. He did that once and he Fell. He's been offered something here, and he's terrified one wrong thing will lead to it being taken away.
Aziraphale's just beginning to see all that here.
Chapter 6: Sleigh Bells
'I'll be able to tell you the stories one day, angel. I promise.' Crowley still can't talk about all the things he's done.
It strikes Aziraphale as odd at the time, or least a couple of weeks later, which is about as fast as human news reporting works in the 1920s. Sled dogs shouldn’t really be able to run that far or fast; all the things that needed to happen for the serum to be delivered safely shouldn’t have lined up quite so neatly. That many people shouldn’t have lived.
It all feels faintly miraculous, but seeing as no-one from Upstairs was persuaded to help all the way through the Great War, or in the flu epidemic afterwards, he thinks that’s unlikely. But humans…as much as humans can horrify and sicken him, they can sometimes manage a level of bravery and mercy that astonishes him. Crowley had told him about such things, things that he’d seen in the trenches.
So yes, perhaps it was just humans.
It slides out of his mind for almost a hundred years; not something that he ever mentions to anyone or even recalls, until a lazy morning in 2020.
Crowley told him – laughing but stern – ‘to just go downstairs and fetch one, angel, then we’ll try,’ and told him in great detail what drawer he wanted.
He’d discovered, over the past few months, that Crowley did actually keep things in his flat. Unlike Aziraphale though, he’d kept almost everything he actually loved hidden away, in a mixture of fear and shame that other people, meaning Hell, as they’d been the only ones who ever came here, might have seen them.
‘Well, it would have gone one of two ways, wouldn’t it?’ he’d explained one evening, pacing around the front room so Aziraphale could never see his face. ‘Either they’d have known I cared about things and that would have given them something to destroy next time I pissed them off, or they’d have been pissed off with me anyone and destroyed them and given me a bollocking there and then. I wouldn’t have been allowed to keep them.’
He’d taken Crowley to bed then, and held him close, promising that Crowley had him, that he was allowed to keep his angel. Clutched him tightly for the rest of the evening.
A few days after, he’d noticed that Crowley had put a couple of things on display: a fragment of sea glass and a piece of stone from a pillar, both laid out on a windowsill.
Over the next few weeks, he’d seen more of Crowley’s memories placed on careful display. He’d also learnt that the demon was uncomfortable in discussing them; that he had to be content with praising how good the items looked – and they always did look good, Crowley had a knack for showing things off to their best advantage – and hoping that Crowley would share their stories in due course.
Allowing Aziraphale to go through his belongings had been another new step, only a couple of weeks ago. It had worked the other way around for centuries; Crowley had learnt the layout of his shop perfectly, if only to put books back in exactly the worst place, and had several times left notes explaining that he’d needed to take something of Aziraphale’s and was sorry for the inconvenience. (He’d seen that same phrase in a book centuries later, and wondered about his friend’s influence.)
This trust was new.
The drawer was hard to find, even though he knew what he looking for – a triple lock of sliding mechanisms that would have been far beyond most demons’ ability to find. He’d never realised Crowley had so many hiding places.
It eventually slid open, revealing an inkwell – that would hopefully settle the argument about using wing-feathers as quills – and setting a pair of sleigh bells ringing. Aziraphale reached out to silence them and was immediately aware of their past.
Cold. Tired. Exhaustion. Hurry. And behind all that, the faintest trace of a miracle.
He knew Crowley as well by that sense as by any other; the feeling of his lover reshaping reality. The star-maker bit of him remaking something on Earth by saying ‘this will be so.’ Here, threaded through Crowley’s essence was simply the command ‘keep going.’
That was enough of an invasion; he stilled them and was aware of Crowley’s memory of them, just a town name. ‘Nome.’
Holding the inkwell, that obviously had a story all of its own, he went back upstairs.
‘One day, angel.’ Crowley was sprawled under the quilt, looking up at him. His read hair was a fan against the pillows. ‘I’ll be able to tell you all the stories one day, I promise.’
He swung himself onto the bed, in his normal spot. ‘You don’t have to, you know that.’
Crowley rubbed a hand across his face. ‘Yes, but you’d like the sleigh bells one.’ He sighed. ‘One day.’
Aziraphale gathered him into his arms. ‘One day, then, dearest. Whatever day you’d like.’
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1925_serum_run_to_Nome For more details about what Crowley was involved with, although I have no idea what he was doing in 1920s Alaska.
This is one of the short pieces here I'd love to turn into a longer fic.
Chapter 7: Silent Night
A distraught Crowley turns up at the bookshop. Aziraphale picks up the pieces.
Swearing and angst in this one, not a happy read.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley appears in the shop with a couple of bottles of scotch clutched to his chest, no sunglasses and his hair wildly tangled. Aziraphale notices all that in a split second, before they both realise there’s customers here, and Crowley says roughly ‘get them the fuck out of here.’
He does as he’s asked, a couple of minor miracles and some memory work, locking the door and flipping the closed signs, all without moving away from his friend. Crowley’s swaying on his feet.
He steps a bit closer. ‘What’s happened?’
Crowley shakes his head wildly. ‘Not talking about it, angel. Not fucking doing this.’
Oh, this is a familiar script. It’s played out a couple of dozen times over their lives so far, and it’s OK, if this is what Crowley needs from him tonight. He raises one arm, slowly, and gets the faintest nod in return before wrapping it around Crowley and pulls him close.
It’s a fierce hug, protective and possessive, and he tries to ensure Crowley feels all of that. It’s a few minutes before he feels Crowley’s face against his shoulder, the demon asking without words.
He takes the scotch bottles away, and uses both arms then, holding hard enough to almost hard. Hard enough to push some of his presence through the walls of panic and disgust that Crowley’s trapped behind.
It’s Crowley who breaks it; has to be, because Aziraphale can only follow him and offer what he thinks will help. Just a leaning back of his weight, a tilt of his head towards the back rooms. He’s swallowing hard, again and again.
‘Of course,’ Aziraphale says softly, catching hold of his hand. ‘Come on, my dear.’
He leads Crowley to the couch, pulls the demon down with him and then just holds. Lets touch and pressure say things that Crowley might be able to understand, however lost he is right now. Lets his presence stand in for the scotch, because Crowley won’t let him go to drink it.
Aziraphale holds him, one hand tangled in his hair, the other grasping his arm. He doesn’t try to talk, even when an hour’s passed, when the moon’s risen, when the stars come out. He’s never been able to fix this, isn’t even trying. It’s just a survival thing.
Eventually, Crowley moves, pushing his face against Aziraphale’s chest. He cries.
The angel holds him, holding him together, holding on through the silent night. Not letting go.
I'm not sure what happened to Crowley to cause this particular meltdown; whether it was something Hell did to him, something he had to do, or just a bad day in his head, which I doubt is ever a great place to be. Any suggestions welcome.
Chapter 8: Choirs
Aziraphale has a confession to make to his lover. A very un-angelic one.
‘So what do you want to listen to?’ Crowley looked up from the floor, where he’d been sprawled on a sheepskin rug for the past few hours. Near his head, Aziraphale’s record player was still contemplating its sudden transformation into a top of the range sound system.
Not that he’d ever tell Crowley of course, but this had made it a lot easier to hear all the lyrics. ‘I don’t mind, dear. You choose.’
‘Angel, I chose the last three. Isn’t this meant to be a shared thing?’
He smiled down at Crowley. ‘I’ve liked the all the ones you’ve played for me so far.’
‘OK, so how about you tell me what you really don’t like, and I’ll start from there? Cross things off the list.’
Six weeks into this, and the look Crowley gave him – the sheer adoration and focus of his expression, the way his sunglasses were laying discarded alongside him – still threatened to overwhelm him. ‘Ok. Um. Music,’ and he paused, biting down on his lip to keep from laughing.
‘What’s so funny?’ Crowley grinned up at him. He was laying flat out now, a jagged heap of colour and fabric against the white rug.
‘Choirs. I really bloody hate choirs.’ There, he’d said it. Not a blasphemy, as such, but surely close.
‘Choirs? You don’t like choirs?’
‘No, I don’t. Hate them.’
Of all the noises he’d gotten Crowley to make recently, totally unrestrained laughter was one of his favourites, if only because it was so rare. The demon laughed as though he’d never known pain or fear, laughed so that he actually rolled on the floor.
It was a good minute and a half – not that Aziraphale started counting – before he could even make an effort at speech. ‘Angel, I mean this with the greatest of respect, how can you not like choirs? Isn’t that part of the job description or something?’
Aziraphale nudged him with one foot, trying to glare but suspecting it was more of a smile instead. ‘They’re so boring. And you can never hear yourself sing, and besides, Michael loves them.’
Crowley rocked himself back up to a sitting position, red hair a tangled mess over one shoulder. He waved a hand at the sound system. ‘In that case, I’m putting ‘no choral music’ as step one of trying to figure out what you’ll actually enjoy listening to, and giving up for now, because every time I think about you and music for the next few days, I’m not going to get past you pouting about how you don’t like choirs.’
‘I wasn’t –’
‘Yes you were, angel,’ and he flowed back onto the couch, looking for a kiss that only lasted a few seconds before he was laughing again. ‘How have I got an angel who doesn’t like choirs?’
I actually like choirs. I had a few happy Christmas seasons singing in one with my best friend, despite being tone deaf and unable to read music. Choirs don't deserve Aziraphale's feelings about them.
Chapter 9: Chestnuts
Aziraphale finds Crowley during the early days of the Spanish Inquisition and tries to get him to safety.
CW Warning - Non sexual related consent issues all through this one; basically angelic mind control power used on an entirely unaware and unable to agree demon, in the interests of getting them the Hell out of there but still. If loss of agency / control / free will are an issue for you, this IS NOT the thing to read.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was guilt more than anything that drove Aziraphale to stand up and leave Crowley in the end; to pace restlessly though the almost empty house where the demon had been living for the past two years. Guilt that he’d finally crossed – broken – a line, even if it was for his friend’s sake.
The kitchen was a blank space, apparently only used for the hearth there. He walked a lap of the room and went back to check on Crowley. Still an unmoving, undreaming shape under every scrap of fabric he’d managed to find in the house. How could he be anything else?
He didn’t need to go in to the room to see that his Command was still in place; the faint taste of angelic power hanging in the air. Whispered orders: Go to sleep. Stay asleep. Don’t dream. Be quiet.' Each suggestion very slightly different, and edged with enough authority to make sure that Crowley had to obey.
He tried upstairs now, the two tiny bedrooms he’d already ransacked for sheets. Both more or less empty, a sheaf of writing paper and letters in Crowley’s handwriting in one, some clothes. Nothing that he would allow himself to look at in detail, even if he was sure the letter would have been for him anyway.
Another check on the sleeping demon. Aziraphale found himself pulling at his jacket sleeves as he stood and looked down at him, hating everything about it. Hating the fact he could still see tear tracks down Crowley’s face, see the dribble of dried blood where he’d chewed on his lips, and that he didn’t dare miracle them away
This time, he let himself into the back garden, the scent of flowers sharp under the evening sun. There was a horse there as well, standing quietly over the last wisps of some dusty hay.
‘What are you doing here?’
The mare laid her ears back at him, and his immediate reaction was ‘Oh, I can see why Crowley likes you.’ He tried a brief angelic greeting that got him a stamped foreleg in response, as though demonic influence had already affected her.
‘Oh, don’t be like that. It’s not his fault that you’re hungry. Here, how about some water?’ He found a bucket and willed it full. He went back indoors again, checking as though anything could possibly have changed. He knew it was really distraction seeking, before he had to start making arrangements and sorting things out; knew as much as he wanted to feel useful to Crowley at the moment, there was nothing he could do.
Packing the things that Crowley might want took less than an hour, and it was still almost light. Alone, he might have tried leaving this evening, going somewhere while he could still see and people – those who weren’t huddled indoors – wouldn’t be disturbed by seeing others on the road, but he wanted Crowley to have some kind of rest.
And, as he admitted to himself when he was back in the garden and talking to the mare again, he was afraid as well. Afraid of the human evil out there, that had driven Crowley to the state he’d been in when Azirpahle found him, mostly delirious and almost incoherent; afraid of the other demons he could sense all around, afraid that Crowley will hate him for using brute force because he’s too stupid to think of any other solution.
She was blood red chestnut in the twilight, with a thin white stripe and a mane that couldn’t decide which side to fall on. She also laid her ears back every time he went near her, even with a handful of the dry, tattered grass that he’d pulled. Still, she was evidently Crowley’s, and as such, he did everything he could for her.
The morning arrived too late and too early, and he knew they had to leave. Crowley’s belongings made a small bundle; apparently, he was still in the habit of miracling up clothes and there were hardly in the house. Nothing personal aside from the letters and a tiny leather bound book, that he didn’t look at. A saddle and bridle for the mare, all completely ostentatious and covered in metal work; he put them on and tied the pack to her before he even tried to wake Crowley.
A couple of days ago, another person’s screaming might not have been noticed in amongst the auto-de-fe. Not that Crowley had described it to him; not that Crowley had even
spoken to him as though he was consciously aware of the angel being there, but it had taken him two days to track the demon down, and that was long enough to pick out some memories from the people in the town.
He didn’t want to see Crowley like that again.
Instead, he half woke him. Just enough that he was vaguely conscious, perhaps thinking that he was dreaming; awake enough to help instead of fighting as Aziraphale put a coat on him, awake enough that he got to his feet and walked out the house with him. No awareness in his eyes, which were still almost entirely yellow. Not awake enough to feel.
Aziraphale took the mare’s reins in one hand and Crowley’s hand in the other and started them on their way. It was cold, colder than it ought to be in Castille in May, although it might be the draining effects of everything around them. The pack bounced on the mare’s loins, making the leather ties squeak.
How far away could they get in a day? He didn’t dare use a miracle here, not around so many demons. Not if they knew Crowley’s around, not if Crowley was going to panic or fight him. Heaven would want to know what he’s doing as well.
He wasn’t sure Crowley could walk for a day. Wasn’t sure he could; it had been far too long since they’d done anything the mortal way. He just wanted to take Crowley away from there, and everything he’d seen, as though distances could fix memories.
All he dared for the rest of that first day was a vague screen of illusion around them; something that would make them look boring. Insignificant.
That night, he tried to let Crowley sleep normally for a while, hating the taste and feel of the Command he was holding over his friend. Had to force his will against the demon’s, slamming him into silence when a scream threatened to give away their location. Thought he might be sick when Crowley immediately fell back against him, face vacant. Aziraphale could hardly feel his presence, despite the way they were touching.
Late in the night, he could smell burning.
The second day, the mare was restive and tired, lunging for grass and still ignoring any hint of angelic commands, unlike her owner who stumbled along in a haze. He wasn’t used to travelling with things with mortal needs.
She slowed them down, needing to rest and eat. He would have sold her, left her, a hundred times over in the four days they spent stumbling out of this new human made Hell, except that she was Crowley’s and therefore inviolate. Sacred. He brushed her the human way when they stopped, fed her what he could find and pressed his head against hers, trying to convince himself there was one thing here still alive and moving fully in this world.
He checked his wings every night, horrified that this was leading into Possession, that this was where he'd Fall. Protecting his friend, unable to find a kinder way of doing it.
The fourth night, he sensed nothing occult at all. Even the human caused stain is dying away behind them now, although he’s sure they’re still burning people. For the first time, he wasn’t feeling like he ought to go back and try to change things; he’s saved his part of the world. It might be safe enough now.
First, he washed away the mare’s tiredness with a thought. Second, he allowed Crowley to wake up.
It was as awful as he’d expected it might be. It ended with him kneeling behind the demon, rubbing his back below his wings, offering whatever comfort he could while Crowley remembered. Realised it wasn’t a nightmare.
It was light before Crowley actually spoke, his voice wrecked. ‘You found the mare?’
Aziraphale recognised the conversation dodge and went with it. ‘Yes. I didn’t think you liked horses.’
‘Don’t. Has she bitten you yet?’
He laughed, the noise shockingly out of place in the cold air of morning. ‘No more than you ever have, dear.’
‘Her name’s Lady.’
They fell into their walking routine as though Crowley remembered it; he was shocked when Crowley’s hand took his. Less surprised when Crowley took the mare a few hours later and she bent to nuzzle him, red velvet muzzle against red silk hair.
‘She’s a nightmare to ride,’ Crowley said softly. It was the first time he’d spoken. ‘Fast though. Fast like flying.’
Aziraphale squeezed his hand in reply. If Lady was what his friend was holding on to at the moment, he’d walk them all the way back to England if he had to. Crowley stumbled on between them.
This wanted, so badly, to be a 10k angst fest with historical research. I told it I haven't got time for that sort of nonsense this side of Christmas, but I may write the full thing next year.
And Lady was a real horse, blood red chestnut coat and all. She was Welsh cross Arab, not Spanish, and she didn't normally snap too much at strangers, but she was a nightmare to ride, just very fast and loved to jump. Not mine, but I competed her for a year or two. Her full name was 'Saturday Night Lady.'
Chapter 10: Silver and Gold
A Midsummer's Day afternoon in the park. Sunshine, magpies and love.
Crowley shifted against his legs, hair clouding against Aziraphale’s knees as the demon moved and flicked a peanut across to the waiting squirrel.
‘Do you remember Warlock and the squirrels?’ He asked softly.
Crowley laughed. ‘I thought you were going to strangle him, that day he climbed into the beech tree and got stuck because he wanted to see where they lived. Shame they weren’t as skittish as this one, he wouldn’t have got so enamoured of them.’
He threw another nut and waited.
Aziraphale was fairly sure that the squirrel was (correctly) sensing ‘big snake thing’ as well as ‘food’ and wouldn’t come any nearer. ‘I don’t think it’s hungry.’
‘Huh. I’ll feed the magpies, then. Ungrateful rodent.’
He turned another page, feeling Crowley lean back against him. Relaxed. At ease. They’d probably had more involved Midsummer’s Days, but he couldn’t remember any as pleasant as this first one after the world hadn’t ended.
He might have half dozed himself, lured by a full stomach and the quietness of the park, the warmth of the sun on the wood of the old bench with Crowley sprawled on the grass in front of him.
‘You’d better not be thinking about braiding my hair, angel.’
‘Needed something to keep myself occupied while you lazed the day away, you serpent.’
‘Oh, don’t say that. That squirrel’s never gonna come anyway close if it thinks I’m a snake, is it?’
He laughed, wound his fingers through Crowley’s hair. ‘It didn’t come closer even when you were asleep. The magpies did though.’
‘Oh? How many?’ Crowley leant back a bit more. ‘That’s…yeah. That.’
Aziraphale grinned to himself and moved his hand slightly, not pulling at Crowley’s hair, just stroking it. ‘Five, I think.’
‘That’s silver, isn’t…mmm… it? Five for silver?’
‘I think so. Six for gold.’
‘Always…wondered where they got that…Aziraphale, if you keep doing that, we’re going home. Where they got that from.’
He fussed with the hair at the back of Crowley’s neck, twisting it around his finger. ‘Humans like poetry and things.’
‘I…meant…yeah, don’t stop…I meant the birds. Do they carry the gold around with them or something?’
He loved Crowley like this. Well, he loved Crowley any way, but this daydreaming, rambling, totally open version was one of his favourites. ‘I don’t think the birds know anything about it.’
The only reply was a wordless noise and Crowley reaching up to wrap a hand around Azriaphale’s. They sat like that for a while.
‘Shame there wasn’t nine,’ Crowley said suddenly.
‘Nine’s a kiss.’ His hand tightened around Aziraphale’s. ‘Wouldn’t have wanted to make them liars, would you?’
‘You can have a kiss anytime. You know that.’
‘But this would have been an endorsed by supernatural superstitions one,’ and Crowley was grinning; he could hear it in his voice even if he couldn’t see his face.
‘Oh, come here, you ridiculous serpent,’ and he went to pull Crowley up onto the bench; a mistake as Crowley promptly took advantage of him being unbalanced and pulled him down on to the grass.
‘Come here yourself,’ and Crowley reached out for him. Kissed him.
The version of the rhyme I was taught was 'one for sorrow / two for joy / three for a girl / four for a boy / five for silver / six for gold / seven is a secret / never to be told / eight's a wish / nine's a kiss / ten is a thing / you must not miss.'
Chapter 11: Pine
Canon divergence in 1908 - A first meeting since the Holy Water incident. 'I thought I was your friend,' Crowley yells.
This is not a happy chapter; Crowley is not in a good head space and seeing his angel again isn't helping. There's a lot of swearing, a lot of angst and unpleasant accusations thrown around. After all, no-one can hurt us quite like the people we love.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘Why the fuck do you always think it’s me when something goes wrong, angel?’ It comes out louder than he’d intended, as though volume could cover everything else.
‘I didn’t say that! I asked if your side had had anything to do with it. I didn’t mean you.’
‘My side, me, it’s all the same bloody thing to you, isn’t it?’ and bless it all, his voice is breaking. This isn’t how he’d imagined their reunion going (I never thought about you, you self-righteous bastard, is what he wants to say, but that would be the biggest lie he’s ever conceived of, including everything he’s ever said to Heaven and Hell.)
‘You only wanted to see me cos you thought I’d done something awful. Not bad enough that you think I’m gonna kill myself, you think I’m just going around blowing things up now? Is that all you really think of me?’ and the shouted words are spilling from his mouth as fast as the tears from his eyes.
It’s not meant to be like this. It isn’t meant to be like this. He’s imagined this meeting every day, every night since their last one, and none of them have involved him standing in Aziraphale’s shop screaming at him.
‘You’re saying that you can’t see any difference between me and the rest of them? I may as well be Hastur or Ligur for all that you can see, is that it? May as well fucking smite me then, that’s what you’re meant to do to all of them, isn’t it?’
Oh, this is too far. They’ve argued and fought before but this is too far, he should never have said it, just accepted, just taken, after all. He knows demons don’t get to ask for things.
‘No,’ Aziraphale says softly, after an eternity.
He knows what eternity is. Lived through it while he Fell.
And this is the same, he’s falling again. Falling from Aziraphale’s Grace, because what he’s just said is unforgivable and Aziraphale will turn away from him now, if there was any chance he hadn’t already done that when Crowely had had the affront to ask for what he needed and broke the terms of their friendship.
How dare he talk to the angel like this? How dare he ask and then scream like this?
‘No, Crowley,’ and he still stands there, one hand raised as though in command. ‘All I wanted to do was – talk to you.’
‘You’ve had fifty fucking years to talk to me,’ because he doesn’t want Aziraphale knowing that he knows how many days, hours, seconds it’s been since they last spoke. ‘Good enough to talk to when you want someone to blame, though, aren’t I?’
He can’t tell what he’s feeling now, swirls of anger and regret and fear and relief – at least he knows where they stand now. He’s made sure of that, at least he won’t have to live that unbearable hope tomorrow. He just wishes he wasn’t crying. Wishes he hadn’t come here when Aziraphale asked.
‘I thought – I thought, oh you’re quick enough to want to find out when a bloody pine forest explodes in Siberia, but you – you never asked why I needed that, you just assumed and – I thought…I thought I was your friend.’
‘I am,’ and Aziraphale says it with such authority that Crowley pauses. ‘I am. Always. Forever. You are – I just –’
There’s a moment when he thinks everything might be alright. That he’ll be able to choke down the feelings and listen to what Aziraphale has to say for just long enough to shut down some of the hurt. That he’ll be able to live with the fact that he’d just wanted some protection, something that would stop him being so afraid, and that Aziraphale hadn’t even noticed, hadn’t asked why.
He can’t do it.
He left you alone, a voice is screaming in his head. He wouldn’t help you and he left you alone and he never asked.
‘Well, you’re a pretty shit friend, aren’t you?’ and he manages to stumble across the shop floor, shove the doors open.
A faint part of him is aware that, if he goes out now, he’ll never come back.
The rest of him is saying ‘he doesn’t want you around either, of course he didn’t want to help you. Why would he?’
That part is overwhelmingly loud. He’s been listening to it since Eden, after all. Why would anyone want to help a demon? It’s just taken Aziraphale longer than all the others to realise that. It sweeps him through the door, spitting ‘you don’t even care about me,’ as he steps outside.
He manages two steps before Aziraphale is in front of him.
‘Leave me alone.’
‘Crowley, my dear. My dearest,’ and Azirphale’s hands are grasping his. ‘Please…I’m so sorry. Please.’
He sees double for a moment then, two visions overlapping in his already blurred vision. One of himself yanking away; one of himself frozen in place. Aziraphale’s voice in both of them saying ‘Crowley, I’m so sorry, but it’s different. In one of them, it’s a farewell, in the other it’s a promise to try and do better.
Of course Aziraphale doesn’t care, he hears.
‘My dearest Crowley. My dearest demon,’ he hears.
Too tear blinded to see, too afraid to move, Crowley makes his choice.
This was meant to be a little X-Files type mystery piece about the Tunguska Event and if Heaven / Hell had anything to do with it - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunguska_event but I realised the timings didn't quite work, so I'm sorry, there's a shouting match instead.
And thanks as ever to DayDreamingofDragons, who didn't murder me for the premise of this one and helped with the 'I thought I was your friend' line, as with so many other lines.
Chapter 12: Wrapping Paper
'Anthony J Crowley, how is turning into a snake going to help with the wrapping?'
‘Your side had something to do with this,’ Aziraphale growled. If Crowley hadn’t been struggling to hold three pieces of paper with two hands, he would have quite enjoyed the tone of voice.
‘We did not!’
‘Oh, don’t lie to me. This has got your lot written all over it. Hold still.’
‘Aziraphale, you’ve taped my hand to the paper. I couldn’t move if I wanted to.’
‘Ah, sorry. Let me –’
‘Ow!’ Crowley waved his hand around far more dramatically than the brief sting actually warranted and tried to grab the offending paper. ‘You know, Beelzebub blames your lot for this.’
‘Did ze?’ Aziraphale blinked over his glasses. ‘Why did Beelzebub have wrapping paper, anyway?’
‘You tell me. But it wasn’t our idea, so…’
Aiziraphale finished taping the last corner down. ‘Humans, then. Well, that one’s done. Do you think we could miracle the rest?’
Crowley grabbed Warlock’s next present. ‘You’re the one who said birthday presents ought to be done the human way, you tell me.’
Aziraphale glared at the nearest roll of paper, which got the hint and laid itself flat. ‘Hold that end down, would – Anthony J Crowley, how is turning into a snake going to help with the wrapping?’
He crawled forward, laid his body along the entire edge of the paper and gazed up his angel.
‘Oh, I see. Thank you, dear.’
He stayed snake while they finished Warlock’s and Adam’s presents, ignored Aziraphale threatening him with a sparkly bow and eventually flicked back to human as he finished the last gift tag. He made sure he sat out of sparkly bow range though.
‘Do you think this is too many presents?’
‘Nah. We’re Godfathers, we’re meant to spoil them. Besides, you know Adam’s gonna share all those biscuits with his mates, right?’
‘I hope you’re right,’ and Aziraphale moved over to him, rested his chin on Crowley’s shoulder. ‘I didn’t think we’d get this a year ago…’
Crowley had been trying to avoid any thoughts about dates or anniversaries. ‘We did,’ and if his voice came out hoarse, rough with things he didn’t want to remember, Aziraphale understood. ‘We got here, angel.’
He cut across something he was sure was going to be a ‘what if?’ He’d run through enough of them himself in the last year. ‘We’re here. And we’ll be here next year and the year after, and all the years after that. Promise. Unless you keep making me wrap presents by hand.’
He felt Aziraphale’s huff of laughter ruffle his hair. ‘I’ll get you a tartan bow next time.’
Crowley slipped an arm around his shoulders. ‘Now, that’s too low even for Hell. Next year, I’ll buy the paper.’
Ok, so I've skipped the caroling one for now, because the fill I want to write, aside from the following two lines of dialogue: 'How would you de-consecrate a church, Crowley?' 'You could have sex with me in it, I guess?' is proving long, complex and requiring research! May post as an individual fic when written.
Chapter 13: Eggnog
"It wasn't the first time he’d felt these waves of doubt; this assurance that he isn’t good enough, that he’ll ruin this thing that doesn’t even have a name, that he’ll do something to make Aziraphale angry.
He’d do something wrong. "
Crowley has a bad day.
Again, this isn't a happy chapter. We're in Crowley's head, with all his self loathing, abandonment issues and fear of upsetting others in case that gets him kicked out again. If you're feeling that might be a bit close to home, you're probably better skipping this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘Was that alright?’ Crowley looked across at Aziraphale, trying to look as though the hamper delivery hadn’t been anything to do with him. ‘I’m sorry, it was meant to be here a couple of days ago.’
‘When you weren’t around, you mean? It’s lovely. Thank you.’
He could just about accept Aziraphale’s thanks now; he often wondered if the angel remembered the first time, somewhere in Mesopotamia, that he’d said thank you to Crawly and suddenly found himself staring at a snake. He’d certainly never mentioned it again.
But it still made him feel awkward. Undeserving. Worried; what if he’d got it wrong this time about what Aziraphale liked? Or got him something that he liked more than the angel did?
It had been much easier in earlier centuries. He’d travelled a lot more than Aziraphale, had the opportunity to try things and see food and drink that he might not like – he rarely tasted any of it - but his sense of smell was good and he could normally guess what Aziraphale would enjoy. And anyway, it was often months before the parcel got there and even longer before they saw each other. It had felt almost dreamlike, an action without direct consequence.
This, seeing the frustration on Azirphale’s face when he’d had to get up and answer the door, sitting and worrying as he looked at everything, was too intimate. Left too much room for Aziraphale not liking it, and him being there.
Abruptly, he got to his feet and looked around the familiar room. It felt too small.
‘’M sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Shouldn’t…’ He began to pace, careful to not look at Aziraphale or the hamper.
‘Crowley… Crowley, come and sit back with me. Please.’
Obeying took a physical effort. He folded his hands against his jeans and hoped the white lines of his knuckles weren’t too obvious.
Instead of asking questions, Aziraphale laid a hand on his forearm. Gently. ‘Thank you for the hamper, dearest. It’s lovely. Would you like to share some of the apricot brandy with me later?’
‘It’s yours,’ came out as a muttered protest. Like all the gifts he’d brought for Aziraphale over the years, it was full of things that were too good for Crowley.
‘Yes, I know. Which is why I’d like to share it with you.’ Aziraphale stroked down his arm and laced their fingers together. It was something that he’d been doing a lot lately.
It made Crowley feel anchored.
‘Would you tell me what’s bothering you?’
He didn’t know where to start; how there could anything about buying his friend a present that would bother anyone? Humans manage it every day. It wasn't the first time he’d felt these waves of doubt; this assurance that he isn’t good enough, that he’ll ruin this thing that doesn’t even have a name, that he’ll do something to make Aziraphale angry.
He’d do something wrong.
‘I can’t,’ and the words shocked him, more for the fact he was able to speak at all than for what he’d said.
‘OK,’ and Aziraphale squeezed their linked hands. ‘You don’t have to.’
He felt a tremble of relief in his limbs, something that he tried to choke down instantly. Settled for something near to what he was feeling, because speech, whatever he said, would be less shameful than tears. ‘I just wanted to get you something nice.’
‘I know that, dear. All the centuries you’ve been doing that, when you used to send me things from all around the world. It’s lovely. You get me such thoughtful things. Is this alright?’
‘This’ was his other hand resting on Crowley’s leg, something else that had become fairly commonplace recently.
He shook his head, once. The contact, normally overwhelming in a good way, was crushing. Aziraphale’s hand darted away.
‘Don’t be. Crowley, you don’t need to apologise to me about anything like this. Never. You have nothing to apologise for.’
‘And if, if I get it wrong?’ He wasn’t sure how much of that was audible. ‘I try and do the right things for you, angel, but what if I get it wrong?’ Upstairs kicked me out, Downstairs kicked me out, what would you do, where would I go when I get it wrong with you? But thank someone, he managed to keep those words silent.
‘My dearest, you could never do anything wrong for me. Or do something I don’t like. And if you did, we could fix it. I wouldn’t be angry at you.’
The tremor was a full body shudder now, and he yanked his thoughts away from the conversation with an almost physical effort. ‘Aziraphale, talk to me,’ and his voice was too high pitched, too breathless and it was a stupid request anyway, Aziraphale had been talking to him all along.
‘Of course, dear. What would you like to me to talk about?’
He shook his head wildly, brushing his head against Aziraphale’s chest. That contact didn’t feel so overwhelming. Too much choice, too much scope for saying the wrong thing.
‘You know that lovely brandy you brought me? Do you remember that year you said we ought to try all the alcoholic drinks in existence? And every time you came around, we had a different drink and you were wearing out your miracles trying to get the different flavours just right?’
He sat and listened, slowly leaning against Aziraphale who not only allowed the touch but gently, checking every time he moved his hands, pulled him closer. Allowed him to rest against his shoulder.
‘And somehow between the two of us, when we got to eggnog, we didn’t realise that the eggs weren’t meant to be cooked, and it was a complete disaster?’
He did remember; the pair of them creased up laughing, Aziraphale with cream splashed on the back of his hands, the spirit bottles jumbled on the worktops. Everything had gone wrong and nothing bad had happened.
He thought for a moment that Aziraphale might labour the point, try and make him say something, but the angel just squeezed his shoulder and carried on talking.
Maybe Aziraphale was right. Maybe it would be OK, even when he did, inevitably, screw up. Maybe he wouldn’t be sent away.
Thank you, as ever to DayDreamingofDragons, who, when we were talking about how Crowley deals with gratitude, sent me the following lines:
Aziraphale (for the first time): Thank you
Crowley: (Is suddenly snake)
And if anyone's feeling like this one's a bit too close, you're loved alright? You're allowed to screw things up and make mistakes as long as you try. Honest.
Chapter 14: Laughter
She has developed quite a few non-car-like pieces of knowledge over the years. The first of which, of course, is the ability to be aware of herself as a car, and the things she can do as ‘not car-like.’
The second was an awareness of her partner. (She does not think of Crowley as an owner, nor herself as a possession. They are partners. The Bentley can’t go fast without her partner.)
Third was knowing of the other one. Crowley hadn’t been much fun in the years they’d first known each other; before he’d rescued the other one from a shining building. They normally stayed away from shining buildings, because they hurt, but rescuing the other was more important than any pain, than anything, as he’d told her on the dash over. So, they’d gone that time, even though it was dark and the air raid sirens were wailing.
She’d taken to calling the other one ‘Angel.’ Crowley’s thoughts always called him ‘mine’ but since Crowley was actually hers, the whole possessive thing got a bit confusing at times. ‘Angel’ was easier.
Crowley had been different after that.
Over the next few years, she’d gained a good knowledge of London and the surrounding areas. Crowley tended to take her out more, sometimes for no reason at all, and other times to pick up Angel and drive either to a park or somewhere with a bookshop.
It was in those years that she learnt about self-preservation. Some of it was done for her, in the careful wards Crowley and Angel laid across her paintwork and engine, but a lot of it came from carefully observing street fights and learning when a well-timed opened door or rolling backwards into someone’s legs might help.
It didn’t tend to work against Crowley’s enemies, of which he seemed to have a great deal, but it did make her a lot happier about staying outside in Soho overnight. That seemed to happen a lot more often as the years passed.
She also learnt a lot about driving; something that every other car she’d ever met normally left up to their owner. It had taken her a couple of months to realise that it wouldn’t be a good idea with Crowley; he was too often distracted or assuming that gravity and physics, such as stopping distances on a wet road, didn’t apply to him. Well, they didn’t, but everyone else on the roads assumed they did and panicked, and it was just easier to do everything herself.
Cars aren’t meant to be prideful, but she was proud to be able to drive all around London and never miss a gear change, never over-rev, never forget to turn her windscreen wipers on in the rain that never actually touched her.
And Crowley had taught her laughter. A lot of it in the early years hadn’t been very pleasant. Fringed with tears or anger, other human things he’d taught her. She’d still come to enjoy it.
She loved Crowley’s joy; his dark, delighted laughter when he was watching someone trying to pick up glued coins from the pavement, or wildcat Tube strokes, or grousing workers heading into the City the morning after the clocks change, but Crowley’s genuine happiness when he and Angel were together was her favourite thing in the world.
‘Look at you, you ridiculous serpent.’
‘Look at yourself, you’ve got candyfloss on your wings. You look like a flamingo.’
And she’d learnt the noise adjacent to laughter; a kiss between two beings who loved each other so deeply.
The Bentley couldn’t laugh. But it didn’t mean she couldn’t flick her lights on and off, while her partner and Angel hold hands, the three of them frozen beneath the streetlights on the Soho road, loved and loving and together.
Chapter 15: Ice Storm
Direct sequel to chapter 2, 'Snow' - 'I thought maybe you could drive over to the shop and spend the next few days with me?' Crawly and Crowley have very different experiences of blizzards.
It keeps snowing; snowing for three days after Crawly drags himself back down to the settlement and into his hut. Three days which begin with the joy of watching his stars in miniature and swerve up into panic when the snow keeps falling. And then there’s a night when the wind screams and howls around the mountains, and he’s sure he can hear voices in it.
The soft flakes turn into projectiles. They hurt. The cold grows teeth. They rend. Crawly loses track of the world; ceases to interact with it except where it wounds him. He aches with, is torn apart by, the cold.
He doesn’t learn the word ‘blizzard’ for years, but when he does, it’s with a rush of fear and sickness, the remembrance of laying there as the world erased itself. Of shaking and trembling, unable to manage a miracle to warm himself. He’ll know by then that it was his snake form, shutting down with the cold. He’ll have a different terror of it then; the terror of familiarity and realisation of what could happen to him and somehow, that won’t be as bad as the first time.
All he learns of snow and ice storms in that first night is that there is no help or comfort for the Fallen; no-one who cares or would come to him. That this is what demons deserve. The second time he cries, the tears are desolation.
His phone shrieks while he’s almost asleep, and he stifles a growl as he struggles back to wakefulness. Grabs it and stabs at the screen without looking, half prepared to curse out whoever was disturbing him at…oh, its not even 7.00pm yet.
‘Evening, love,’ and he can hear Aziraphale smiling at him.
‘Is everything alright?’ Because Aziraphale was meant to be away book buying for another day at least, not calling from the shop like this.
‘Of course! It’s just…darling, have you seen the weather forecast?’
He mutters assent, decides not to mention that he was planning to sleep through it all. Aziraphale doesn’t need to know just how much he hates blizzards.
‘Well, I thought…it looks like the trains won’t be running because it’s going to be so bad so I left early, and I thought maybe you could drive over to the shop tonight and stay with me for a few days?’
He stands in silence, not quite understanding what he’s been offered. The physical side of their relationship has been easy for him to accept; the ease with which Aziraphale wants him there all the time, in every aspect of his life, the fact that he can’t push too much anymore, is difficult beyond words.
Sometimes, he doesn’t know what to do with Aziraphale’s love.
‘Come on, dear. You’ve got plenty of time to get over here before the weather gets really bad, and we’ll get takeaway for tonight, and we don’t even have to get up tomorrow if it’s a proper blizzard.’
He stutters something that sounds like ‘are you sure?’ and knows what the answer will be even as he’s saying it. The angel is so sure of everything in their relationship. ‘I’ll be half an hour, angel.’
The blizzard isn’t the first one he’s seen on Earth, but it’s the first one they’ve seen together. He points out the shapes of stars in the snow to Aziraphale, who is delighted with them and begs to see more, hear more about Crowley’s stars. There are blankets, shared (with minor bickering) in front of the heater, and a takeaway Chinese that Crowley actually eats some of, and although the outside world fades away, his world is sitting alongside him, smiling as they talk through some ancient story.
And later, it is only his voice and Aziraphale’s, joined as tightly as their bodies, which scream in the wind, and his shouting is ecstasy.
Chapter 16: Ornament
‘I don’t mean to break the rules – I don’t, I promise I don’t hurt anyone, I just…Aziraphale, it’s just sometimes I can’t stop myself and fuck – it makes me happy and I know I shouldn’t…’
When Crowley Fell, they took away everything that made him an angel. Creation, making things, even if they're not stars, is only for angels. He knows that, but it doesn't mean he has to listen to it.
Of all the unhappy chapters to date, this is probably the unhappiest. Just a warning for swearing, panic / anxiety attacks, Crowley expecting punishment, Crowley being ashamed of himself and what he enjoys doing, and Crowley's relationship with Heaven being somewhat similar in tone to an abusive parental set up.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley jumped, physically jumped, when the door opened. Adrenaline jolted through him, a wave of clarity and terror edged in ice, until he realised it had to be Aziraphale. Hell wouldn’t pause after unlocking the door; wouldn’t unlock it in the first place, probably.
Shit. He’d almost prefer Hell.
His heart thumped, an un-needed song of guilt played out on his own corporation. Counterpoint to the refrain of his thoughts for the past few hours: ‘You’re not allowed to be doing this. A demon shouldn’t be doing this.’
No. Aziraphale would sense it; would want to know why he was sending things away.
‘Crowley? Can I come in?’
Normally, he found some crude retort for that, or hurried through the flat to meet his lover and welcome him in. Today, he only managed ‘Of course, I’m in here.’
Thank someone that he’d only been using his small tools. Stupid, stupid. Should have stayed in his work room, but he’d thought, dared to hope, that maybe things were different now, maybe he’d be able to…
Just because the world hadn’t ended, didn’t mean that he wasn’t still being punished. Should have known that. He settled for curving an arm protectively around the tools, and forcing himself to look up. The weight of the expected judgement threatened to crush him.
‘My dear – Oh, Crowley, what’s wrong?’
He swallowed twice. Hard. ‘Nothing’s wrong.’ Forced himself to sit there, trying to see Aziraphale his lover, not Aziraphale the representative of Heaven and all their power. Not that Aziraphale ever acted like that, he told himself.
‘Something is, Crowley, my dear. You look…’
Guilty? Sick? Scared? He guessed he was looking all of them and more. ‘’M fine. Good to see you, love.’
That word didn’t distract Aziraphale like it normally did. He shut the door firmly and strode across the room.
‘You look terrible. What were you doing?’
He’d been expecting that question for centuries; wasn’t sure whether to be glad or horrified that it was only Aziraphale who’d finally found him out. Aziraphale who…Aziraphale who won’t, surely.
He’d wanted to be brave when someone finally demanded that of him, as the sham of bravery was all he had left.
‘’M sorry, I’ll throw it away if you want me to. I didn’t mean, I just wanted…’
‘Crowley, darling, whatever is the matter?’ He was at Crowley’s side now, an arm going around his shoulders, gazing down at the litter of tools and gems in the crook of Crowley’s arm. ‘Of course I don’t want you to throw anything away.’
‘It’s nothing, they’re nothing, I can throw them away now, I, I won’t do it again, I’m sorry,’ and it wasn’t Aziraphale he was apologising to, but all the Host and Her in front of them, and all he could manage was enough focus to knock the star moulding down onto the floor. ‘It’s gone, I’m sorry, it’s gone look. I’ll stop, I promise.’
Aziraphale held him, even when Crowley pulled out of his chair and sunk down onto the floor, hoping that the desk towering over him would provide some semblance of safety. Aziraphale sat next to him on the floor and held him. Miracled up a glass of water and held it for him and didn’t say anything when most of it got spilt because he was shaking.
Crowley run himself into silence fairly quickly. Words had never changed any of it before; he’d had 6,000 years of begging and pleading and raging to have learnt that. He’d broken the rules again and this time, he’d been caught. What words had the power to make that not have happened?
‘Crowley, dear, can we talk?’
He nodded into the angel’s shoulder. Talking sounded like a reprieve; talking would delay everything. Aziraphale looked uncomfortable, hunched on the floor with him, but standing seemed impossibly dangerous.
‘Ok. I scared you – I made you uncomfortable coming in to your flat like that. Do you want me to leave?’
He choked on an attempt to say ‘no.’ In that instant, he couldn’t think of anything he’d ever wanted less than for Aziraphale to leave. He managed to get enough control over his tongue to say something like ‘please don’t go.’
‘Of course.’ Aziraphale slid one hand down his arm, a gesture that almost coincidentally brought him closer to the tools Crowley had dragged down with him and hadn’t managed to conceal.
‘Are all these things yours?’
‘Nnn…’ He didn’t lie to his angel. That would be a betrayal to match this one. ‘Yes, they’re all mine. I’m sorry.’
The hand drifted up to the back of his neck. ‘Crowley, dear, you’re allowed to have things. It’s ok,’ and he could hear the bafflement in Aziraphale’s voice, the complete absence of understanding and the desire to make sense of it all. He was being kind. Bless it all, he shouldn’t be so kind.
He shuddered, a horrible full body movement that he knew meant he was a feather’s edge from losing control entirely. ‘’m sorry, angel.’
‘Dearest, you’ve said that already. You don’t need to be but…why? Tell me what’s wrong.’
Helpless, he shoved his hand across the carpet and thrusts the tools towards Aziraphale. The half-made gem was somewhere near his feet, impossibly far away, even if he could bring himself to stand on it. He’d always destroyed his things with fire before.
‘I was making something, alright?’ The confession spilled from him. ‘Not a star, I wouldn’t do that, I promise, it’s just a stupid bit of jewellery or something, nothing important I won’t –’
‘Crowley, shush a minute.’ The direct command, something that Aziraphale so rarely does, cut through the hurricane of his thoughts. An almost instinctive level of his brain, over the past 6,000 years, had rewired itself into something like ‘please the angel,’ and he can’t disobey that. He went quiet.
He stroked Crowley’s hair, gentle, implacable. Kind.
‘You’re making jewellery? What’s wrong with that?’
‘Not allowed to. Not ‘llowed to make things, am I? You should know that, demons aren’t allowed to,’ and there was a desperate note to his voice, something that was almost a keen. A grief cry.
‘Why not?’ Aziraphale was still stroking his hair. It was one of the kindest and most futile gestures he remembered receiving, making everything else that had to come seem worse in contrast.
‘Ah, shit. Aziraphale, stop it. Please stop it.’
The contact ended immediately, the angel pulling away in a heartbeat.
‘They told me, when I Fell, this was part of it. I was a Maker, wasn’t I? Made the stars. Made loads of stuff. That’s for angels, that is, making stuff. Not us. Not meant to make things any more but it’s…’
‘Oh, my darling.’
‘I don’t mean to break the rules – I don’t, I promise I don’t hurt anyone, I just…Aziraphale, it’s just sometimes I can’t stop myself and fuck – it makes me happy and I know I shouldn’t…’
He wished he hadn’t asked Aziraphale to stop touching him. Wished he was better at following orders, at not allowing himself to take what he wanted. Wished…
Aziraphale moved closer, as physically close as he could be without touching. He understood rules, even ones Crowley set in a panic a few minutes ago. His face was pure concern.
‘Don’t hate me,’ came out as a whisper.
‘I could never,’ came the instant response. ‘Not for anything and especially not for something like this.’ He reached his hand out, the same gesture that Crowley remembered from the Ritz. ‘I love you.’
He sagged against Aziraphale, suddenly too weary to care. He’d had 6,000 years of friendship and three months of love and if it ended now, it might be enough. Would be more than he’d deserved.
Aziraphale wraps an arm around him again before thinking to check. ‘Can I?’
They spent another long while in silence. Crowley could feel himself falling apart; tried to keep his silence and not cling too desperately to Aziraphale’s jacket.
‘What are you making?’
‘Nothing. An ornament, I guess. A little star thing. Not a star. I’ve stopped, I-’
‘No, dearest. Don’t. This – this is all wrong. What they told you, it’s wrong.’ Aziraphale sounded so convinced that Crowley found himself believing it for a minute.
The angel leant down and picked up his half-finished fragment of metals, although he didn’t look at it. Folded his hand closed around it, and held it.
‘I will make this alright, Crowley. Are you listening? I swear on my Grace, we will make this alright.’
Crowley tried to believe. Let Aziraphale hold him.
‘I will fix this.’ Aziraphale pushed the star into his hand. ‘There’s nothing wrong. Nothing wrong with this, my dear.’
He wanted to believe, to trust. He couldn’t.
Some of this is culled from a part draft from a much longer fic around this subject, with the central idea that Crowley sometimes (much to his shame and upset) tries to comfort himself by creating things in glass and metal, even though demons aren't allowed to create.
Because I love the idea of artist / creator Crowley; he sounded so proud of his stars.
Hopefully, I'll get it finished eventually.
Chapter 17: Cookies
Sometimes, Nanny forgets who Warlock actually is. Baking cookies together is one of those times, until it isn't.
Warlock, kneeling on the floor by the oven, calls her across. ‘Nanny, I think they’re ready.’
She glances at the timer but gets up anyway. Doesn’t hurt to let Warlock get what he wants, and besides, it’s just possible he’s starting to come into his powers and make things happen. They smell done.
It was Aziraphale’s cookbook anyway. That was probably enough reason for it to be wrong.
‘Let me open the door, dear. It’ll be hot.’
She'd had to play up the heat and start using a glove for it, after Warlock had seen her using bare hands to get a roasting tray out and assumed that ‘hot’ in this case meant the same as ‘hot water bottle.’ The angel had known better than to mention anything about the resultant miracle.
‘Are they ready? Can we eat them now?’
There was a distinctly Aziraphale-ish tone to the words, and she had to bite down a smile. Seeing traces of her angel in the Antichrist was like finding roses on a battlefield.
‘Not yet, love. They’ll need to cool down first.’
She wraps her hands around Warlock’s and the tea-towel – they haven’t brought him any oven gloves, even though she’d offered to pay for them out of her wages – and helps him turn the cookies onto the cooling rack.
She’ll eat one, for once, and Aziraphale will want some when he comes in, and maybe she can find a box so Warlock can take the rest to school tomorrow.
‘Ten minutes, you can count that on the clock, can’t you? And then we’ll eat one. A practice one. Make sure they’re all good.’
He smiled up at her, trusting and happy. ‘Ten minutes is when that hand gets to there. I’ll watch them until then.’
‘What, in case someone steals them?’
The Antichrist nods enthusiastically. ‘In case anyone tries to steal them and I have to stop them.’
He keeps his promise and calls her at exactly ten minutes. They crowd, as much as two people can, around the cookies until Nanny hands him one. ‘There you go, kid. Don’t touch the Bentley until you’ve washed your hands.’
He prods it, suddenly doubtful. ‘How comes the chocolate isn’t melted? Is it fake chocolate?’
‘Chocolate chips don’t melt. They’re… magic.’ She pauses, swallows at the weight of that word in her mouth. They might be, for all she knows. If any foodstuff was likely to be on the receiving end of an angelic miracle, it’d be chocolate.
‘Can we do some more magic tomorrow then? Is there other magic stuff we can do?’
She never does know how she gets through the rest of that conversation; how she shoos Warlock back into the main house for dinner and waits until Aziraphale comes in. One day, she tells the angel who already knows, ‘he’ll be able to use all the magic in the world and we won’t be able to stop him.'
She tries to keep her distance from Warlock after that. Fails.
I am old enough to know better, but I am still not convinced about the non-magical nature of chocolate chips and the way they don't melt when baked.
Chapter 18: Wish
Aziraphale and Crowley, star gazing. A drabble.
‘What did you wish for?’ Aziraphale asks, breath warm against his face.
He shrugs, twitches the picnic blanket over himself. Stargazing has its drawbacks. ‘Mustn’t tell you.’
‘Can’t make it come true if you don’t.’ There is something lewd about his smile.
‘Angel, you know you can’t wish on them. I made them, for Somebody’s sake.’
He finds Crowley’s hand, laces their fingers together. ‘What would you wish for if you could, then?’
He half-turns, rolling onto his side and wondering if he can face take his glasses off. ‘Darling, I wouldn’t…you already gave me everything I could wish for.’
Happy New Year to you all, and may it be full of bright and wonderful things.
Looks like I'll be posting advent fics to mid January at this rate!
Chapter 19: Gift
Here are some gifts Aziraphale has given Crowley:
Here are some gifts Aziraphale has given Crowley:
A curving wing in the rain. Call it protection, call it safety, call it love. An act of unthinking grace: I have this thing; this is all I have; I offer it to you. Call it the thing Crowley remembers every day for 6,000 years; the thing that becomes the foundation and the building blocks and the crowning glory of his life. Call it the thing Aziraphale judges his every action against, afterwards.
The careful pronunciation of his names. Acknowledgement of who Crowley wants to be, which is a different kind of grace. Understanding even when he forgets and has to check himself.
A knitted jumper for a snake. (It’s bright red and the stitches don’t match. He made it himself.) It’s not a joke, it’s a message. ‘Yes, its alright. I love that part of you too. Let me keep it safe and warm.’
Stories read aloud. Ones Aziraphale might not like; ones that he thinks Crowley will. Ones that he knows Crowley will pretend to hate but will secretly enjoy. He’s told him stories since before there was writing, reading them from memory and imagination instead. He doesn’t intend to ever stop.
Water on a hot day.
Fires on cold nights.
Electric heat and a blanket when the fires are no longer an option.
Company to watch stars with.
Theatre tickets, but only the funny ones. (And a newly commissioned rewrite of Romeo and Juliet where everyone lives, although Romeo elopes with Mercutio.)
Holy Water. Suicide pill and armour rolled into one; ‘don’t ever risk yourself,’ and an open door into oblivion together; wrapped in his own tartan to announce ‘let us be outcasts together, you and I.’ (Crowley didn’t understand that until years later; missed the significance of it until Aziraphale explains it. He never explains to Warlock why Nanny breaks down in tears at the ‘We be of one blood scene’ in the Jungle Book, but he does ask Aziraphale to skip that scene when he’s reading.)
A bunch of flowers delivered to the last 11 places Crowley’s lived in, including the two he never told the angel about and the three moves that happened when they weren’t talking.
A constant nagging sense of his own presence, every second of every day from Eden onwards, aside from a fraction over an hour. (He didn’t know about that presence, or that absence, until Crowley tells him.)
A home. A place that Crowley calls a lair, a bolthole, a paper filled dust trap, because what he really wants to call it is ‘home.’ A place for his belongings, a place for everything he could want; a place where Crowley can shape his own fragments of the universe. A place that Crowley smiles at every time he comes near.
A hand to hold in the dark. His heart. Everything he could offer to the demon.
(There’s a ring. That’s the gift Crowley doesn’t know about yet.)
I stole a few bits from various sources here:
'A hand to hold in the dark' is from Neil Gaiman's poem type thing, 'All I know about Love,' which he wrote as a wedding blessing.
The 'we be of one blood, you and I' is from Kipling's Jungle Book but I first read it in Mary O' Hara's 'My Friend Flicka,' and it's haunted me ever since.
I wrote this listening to Rod Stewart singing 'What Am I Gonna Do? (I'm so in love with you)' which, as well as containing a line about a nightingale in Berkerly Square, is basically a list format of what his love reminds him of and while I didn't borrow the lyrics, the structure comes solely from that.
Chapter 20: Ghosts
Sequel to Chapter 1, 'Mistletoe.' Aziraphale helps Crowley find some more audiobooks to listen to. Sharing stories is a gift.
Minor warning for mentions of Crowley's self esteem and inability to ask for things issues, but nothing too heavy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘Angel, how does your shelving system even work?’ Crowley shouted from the depths of the shop. Aziraphale laid the latest repair project on the bench, patted the newly fixed spine and headed over.
Crowley searching for books wasn’t exactly uncommon now; he seemed to enjoy using the shop as a browsing library and then seeing if whatever he wanted was available as an audiobook somewhere. (It always was. Aziraphale wasn’t about to let small things like reality, copyright laws and profit margins get in the way of Crowley having whatever books he wanted.)
‘What are you looking for, dearest?’
Aside from the noise, it made him the perfect customer.
‘A sense of method and sanity would be a good start.’
He found Crowley staring at a shelf of post-restoration plays, and put both arms around his waist, holding on to the shelving. The demon huffed between his teeth.
‘Stop trying to distract me from the fact that your shop organisation is a disaster,’ but he stood still. Hands reached out to rest on Aziraphale's.
‘It is not a disaster. Tell me what you want and I’ll find it for you.’
Crowley shifted his weight and Aziraphale pulled one arm away, giving Crowley space as quickly as he could. Bad choice of words; Crowley, despite everything, struggled to find words for wanting, struggled to believe her was allowed to have preferences and desires when they involved anyone else. He hoped he hadn’t ruined the mood.
But Crowley just turned so they were face to face, and smiled. ‘Ghost stories. Thought I might look for some. But your system…’ and he very deliberately made eye contact. ‘Your system is, I repeat, a disaster.’
Ghost stories? Well, he’d thought he was getting a handle on Crowley’s reading taste over the past year – he was still going through myths and sagas of all kinds, with the Icelandic ones being his favourite so far. He’d found a taste for 1940s and 50s pulp sci fi stories, which had basically involved Aziraphale creating a new publishing company to get them produced in a form Crowley could access, and for crime and spy thrillers, especially all the original Ian Fleming ones. Aziraphale had enjoyed them quite a lot more than he’d ever admit.
‘Ghost stories? Over here, look. Behind the maps.’ He led Crowley by the hand and stood alongside him as they started browsing.
‘Strange, the lights are never normally this bright when there’s actual customers looking for books,’ and Crowley grinned at him. ‘C’mon, angel. There’s hundreds here. What will I like?’
I wish I knew all that you liked, dearest, but he doesn’t say it. Nothing too horrific – he’d learnt from watching Crowley react to films and TV shows over the years that the demon had lived with too much horror to find any pleasure in reading about it. Fast paced.
Maybe something with decent prose. Crowley had muttered something early on about ‘I don’t always understand all of it, angel, but I like the way it feels.’ They’d eventually agreed he meant the rhythm of some of the sentences, which was probably why they’d settled on the epic poems so quickly.
Ghost stories had never been his area of expertise, so once he’d found a few likely candidates and Crowley had found a dozen or so, and blocked a couple of others ‘No, I’m not having any by Dickens, angel, I didn’t like him the first time around,’ they had a large pile of possible books.
‘Can I read some of them for you?’
‘Mmm, please. Sit with me?’
Aziraphale smiled as they sat down, glad to hear Crowley asking for something. ‘Of course.’ He reminded the shop floor to be soft and dust free, and leant against the shelf, waiting to see how Crowley would sit. Sometimes, his lover wanted to be close; other times, especially when he was uneasy, he preferred distance.
A cool body pushed against his, shoulder and hip touching, legs pulled up to Crowley’s chest. He was wearing his hair longer now – ‘well, it’s not like you’re going to tear it out…much’ – and quite a lot of it was laid across Aziraphale’s shoulder.
‘Any preference which one we start with?’
A head shake in response, tendrils of fire red hair tickling Aziraphale’s face. He simply grabbed the closest book and started to read aloud. He was only a few sentences in when Crowley shook his head; a pattern that repeated for the next couple of books.
‘’m sorry, angel, I’m being a nuisance. Didn’t mean all those ones are bad, the ones you chose,’ and he could hear the doubt threading through Crowley’s voice.
He smiled across at him; reached to squeeze his hand. The longer they’re together, the more he’s realised just how much damage Crowley hides behind that smile; how the fierce gold of his eyes is filtered through so many cracks. ‘Never a nuisance. Never that, dearest.’
He read another few books; he liked one of them and Crowley two. They went on to a smaller pile, and at one stage, they move so Crowley was sitting between Aziraphale’s legs, head resting on his chest.
The pile of acceptable books grew steadily higher. Crowley twined his fingers with Aziraphale’s, and the angel thought he’d never known such contentment.
A week later, they listened to the first audio; sprawled in bed together in a tangle of limbs and quilts. It took about 15 minutes before Crowley was totally lost in the story, eyes half shut and breathing stilled. Aziraphale wrapped an arm around him.
‘Why? WHY are you splitting up, you indescribable idiots?’ Crowley howled at the leads a few minutes later, and Aziraphale fell just a little bit more in love with his demon.
In the spirit of sharing stories, I read a lot of novels last year and would like to put in a rec for Susan Hill's 'Strange Meeting,' a beautiful and profound almost love story between two men in the First World War.
I've never really read ghost stories, so I haven't got any to recommend here, but if any of you do, please feel free to share them.
Chapter 21: Warmth
Aziraphale peers down at him as though he’s expected to find an extra snake, tucked away in the grave-dark, shit stinking bowels of the Ark. ‘Crawly, is that you?’
Sometimes, the best a demon can manage isn't enough. Aziraphale offers what comfort he can.
Warning for child death (although not described in detail) and Crawly-as-snake struggling to cope with what's happening.
Crawly jerks the whole of his body up defensively, a hiss escaping before he can help himself; a pathetic, pointless gesture that he loathes even as he does it.
Aziraphale peers down at him as though he’s expected to find an extra snake, tucked away in the grave dark, shit stinking bowels of the Ark.
‘Crawly, is that you?’
He doesn’t understand how the angel’s voice isn’t shaking with cold. That’s all it’s been so far, cold and dark and a lurching movement that never stops.
He bares fangs as though he could use them against anyone, let alone the angel. ‘Leave me alone,’ he hisses.
‘Crawly? I can’t understand you.’ His voice is everything Crawly doesn’t deserve.
He crouches down; all the light and grace available on this wretched ship seeming to concentrate on him. Power thrums through him, around him, touches the air in a way that reminds Crawly of stars just before they catch light and start to burn.
He doesn’t want to burn again.
Threatened snakes have another defence. He drops his body back to the floor, covered in whatever vileness has soaked through from above and whatever floodwater has risen
upwards, and feels Aziraphale’s gaze following his movement. He eases his head to the floor as well and lays there prostrated, lidless eyes open when he dearly wishes they could be closed in surrender.
His human body would kneel now; kneel in submission and shame, hair a captured tangle across his face. His snake form can’t convey what he wants to show.
Be kind, Aziraphale, is what he wants to say. Don’t drag this out, smite me and let it be over. I offer myself to you.
A demon in God’s sanctuary. A demon nestled close to two dead bodies. He knows the price.
‘Crawly, it’s far too cold for you. Come here.’
And the angel kneels in front of him. ‘I heard…I thought I heard you calling, so I came to see and…’
He probably had. He’d called and raged and begged and pleaded; he’s fairly sure he did some damage to an angel as he’s tried to drag the three children he’d been able to get away on to the Ark. There’d been a couple of demons, and he can’t remember who it was, but he’d heard laughter when the rains wouldn’t stop, laughter when the waters rose.
Perhaps it had been his own, half edged with madness.
He’d screamed at every side he’d known about, and none of them had listened. One of the children had been dead before he’d got hold of them. The other two…he thinks Death had their names before it started. They hadn’t been meant to live on the Ark. That hadn’t made it any easier, down here alone in the dark last night, when the second one had stopped living.
Quite likely he’d shouted out to Aziraphale in his mind then, because who else was there to shout for?
He curls against the floor, an apology.
A hand reaches out to him; ghost mimicry of how he’d kept reaching out his hand to the children. He doesn’t know how to respond. No-one has ever reached out to this form before.
‘Please. The floor is no good for you, it’s cold and wet. All the other snakes are upstairs. If, if you don’t want to change yet – if you want to stay like this a while – I can carry you up there if you like? You’d be warm.’
It’s said so gently that Crawly finds himself moving forwards.
‘I can’t leave you here in the dark and the cold, Crawly. Let me help you.’
He wants to promise that it wasn’t dark over the previous few days and nights; that he’d made lights shine even though he was a demon. That he hadn’t let it be cold and dark until there was no-one left for it to matter.
A shiver runs the length of his body. A human body response that seems ill suited to this form, but it happens anyway. No-one’s spoken words like that to him since before the Fall.
‘Are you ill, my dear? I know you tried to help them, it’s OK. It was very brave.’
The hand is a little nearer now. He wouldn’t let their forms touch normally; this seems less intimate or is it that he’s too tired? He lets his head brush against Aziraphale’s finger.
The angel should smite him. The universe should just burn him away and be done with him; his whole contribution to this has been to not save three children. That’s all demons bring, isn’t it? Death and ruin, and here he is, rubbing the poison of himself onto an angel.
He shivers in to the touch. Three fingers curve around the blunt shape of his skull.
He doesn’t deserve this. They should have had an angel to comfort them, not a demon with black ruined wings. Taking things meant for dead children, that’s how low he is.
‘Crawly, I’ve got you.’
Again, the echoing of his own words, as though a snake demon is worthy of comfort.
‘You’re very cold. I thought snakes were meant to be warm? Come and sit…’ and he finds himself on Aziraphale’s lap, although he’s not sure he moved his form. Light flickers into existence as he settles.
He is as small as he can be, but aware he is still a very large snake, curling around the angel’s chest as though something stronger than his mind says ‘get warm.’
‘You’re freezing,’ Aziraphale says softly. ‘You shouldn’t be cold, my dear. It won’t bring them back.’
He tries to stop thinking of everything except the warmth. He’s never been held in any form; doesn’t know how he’s meant to react or feel; knows nothing except that he doesn’t deserve this – he failed – but Aziraphale never listens or cares about things like that.
He wants it to stop. He wants it to be like this forever, because his stupid body thinks everything will be alright because Aziraphale is holding him.
He flicks his tongue out a couple of times, trying to say something like ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Is this warmer? You don’t need to change back, if you get warm. It’s alright if you need to stay like this for a while.’ Aziraphale is stroking the back of his neck, softly. The star heat feel is still there, but safe, comfortable; it’s the first thing he’s felt in days that isn’t abject misery.
He jerks his head again, a nod this time rather than a threat, and he sees Aziraphale recognise the gesture.
‘That’s warmer? This is alright?’ and he strokes his neck, down onto his back.
He isn’t sure how he begins to feel tired, but he can’t fight it.
‘You can sleep now. I’ll keep you warm.’
He does. For the first time, Crawly leaves himself entirely at the angel’s mercy; wakes to find himself still cradled under a light coming from everywhere.
‘I'm glad you called me, my dear. I’ll keep you warm,’ and a hand runs down the length of his scales, and he doesn't have to apologise or beg or plead, just hang on to his existence. As though he's worthy. As though Aziraphale cares about him.
Chapter 22: Holiday Card
‘You stayed,’ and Crowley sounded so grateful that his heart ached. ‘I didn’t think…I thought you’d left?’
Crowley wakes up worried after their first night together.
Crowley woke up suddenly; Aziraphale felt the tension spike in the demon’s body and quickly laid his book down on the quilt. Reached a hand out.
Wondered about a good morning kiss, although that seemed a lot more of a risk to take in the soft dawn than in the euphoria of a not-ended world last night.
‘You stayed,’ and Crowley sounded so grateful that his heart ached. ‘I didn’t think…I thought you’d left?’
Without his glasses, without his hair brushed and styled, without any of his defences, Crowley looked so…human. Almost lost. As though he didn’t belong here, buried under two quilts that hadn’t existed when they’d fallen into bed last night.
‘Of course I stayed. I went and got a different book earlier. Was that what you felt? Why wouldn’t I stay?’
Crowley shrugged, a movement that he saw mostly as a movement of white bedclothes. ‘Dunno? I thought…Thought maybe it’d be different this morning, that it was, a thing?’
He knew he wasn’t always very observant – it had taken him far, far too long to realise that Crowley loved him – but he saw the sudden, aborted gesture. A hand reached out and then snatched back; a mimicry of something Crowley had done last night, when his reaching hand had found Aziraphale’s face, the back of his neck and pulled him down.
He found Crowley’s hand with his, and heard the harsh indrawn breath that wasn’t quite a sob. Felt fingers clench around his.
‘Do you want it to be different?’
‘Not from last night, no. No. Last night was…’ He looked away. ‘Perfect. I just thought you might not have…’
‘Here,’ and if that came out as more of a command than a suggestion, he hadn’t meant it to. He leant over and kissed Crowley, stopping words with his lips and tongue. Tried to say words of his own. ‘Forever. Not going anywhere now. Won’t leave you here alone. Not ever.’
Crowley sighed underneath him. Reached up and wrapped his arms around Aziraphale’s back to pull him close, rocking their bodies together.
Kissing and holding was enough for now; each shared moment making a bulwark against the future, against their own thoughts.
Eventually, he pulled away from Crowley a little and said ‘Breakfast. What do you want?’
He could see the demon thinking, the way he often did; trying to guess what the answer should be, what the outcome would be of saying the wrong thing.
‘Dearest, I’m making breakfast for myself. I would like to make you some. What would you like?’
‘Some coffee? Please…I’ll come and help you.’
Aziraphale kissed his forehead, kissed soft skin and a disobedient lock of hair. ‘No, darling. I want to come back to bed with you in a minute.’
Crowley could blush, then. He’d thought about that more than any angel should.
It took him a few minutes to make tea, coffee and toast and take the whole lot back upstairs; to surprise Crowley who’d found his black t-shirt again somewhere and shrugged it back on. He was pacing around the room looking at things.
‘Sorry. I was just –’
‘It’s fine. Breakfast. Come here.’
Crowley came and sat on the edge of the bed with him, hitching the shirt down over his bare hips. ‘You shouldn’t have.’
He touched Crowley’s shoulder, rubbing his fingers along the seam of his shirt. Grounding. They ate and drunk in silence, Crowley leaning against him, although he still looked uneasy.
Finally, he had to ask. ‘What’s wrong, dear?’
Crowley put his coffee mug down on the floor and then appeared to regret it, snatching it up so he had something to do with his hands. ‘I know I shouldn’t have been looking around, I’m sorry, I won’t…’
He closed his hands and Crowley’s and the mug, hoping the demon could still feel the residual heat of the drink. ‘Of course you can look around, dear. I’ve no secrets up here, not from you.’
Crowley hung his head. ‘I found your card. The one I sent you.’
Oh, it made sense now. He glanced across the bed at the scrap of folded card in its wooden frame, displayed to show the handwritten note inside. “Angel, I hope the shop is everything you want.” Unsigned, of course, as though he could ever have doubted who sent it.
‘You kept it. You kept that stupid little card I sent you, and you wasted a miracle on it so it wouldn’t fade, and you’ve kept it up here for 200 years…and I was worried that you wouldn’t be here when I woke up.’
He slipped his arm around Crowley’s shoulders, pulled him around so they were facing each other. ‘Of course I kept it.’
‘’Ziraphale,’ he said hoarsely, at last, slurring his name in the way he only normally did when he was drunk.
‘You’ve been calling me that since the park yesterday.’
‘Don’t you like it? I’ll stop if you don’t.’
Crowley’s head came to rest on his shoulder. ‘Love it. Never thought you’d call me anything like that, thought it was just me…didn’t realise you’d kept my card. All this time?’
He nodded, realised Crowley might not be able to see. ‘Longer. Since France, at least.’
There was a barking sort of laugh in response. ‘Since Eden, me. Loved you all since then. Shoulda known you would have stayed. Sorry for thinking –’
Aziraphale cut him off with a kiss, and then a stern ‘Crowley, don’t apologise. Just…come back to bed with me?’
‘We’re sitting on the bed, angel.’
‘You know what I mean,’ and he pulled Crowley down. ‘Stay with me. Here. Not going to leave you.'
OK, so a good luck for the opening of your bookshop card isn't technically a holiday card...
(I am considering the idea that Crowley invented Valentine's Day cards, and now he's dating Aziraphale, this is going to come back and haunt him. Hard. But that's a fic for another day.)
Chapter 23: Cider
An angel, a demon and a peaceful evening on a clifftop after the world didn't end.
The next chapter, Champagne, is a companion piece to this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It is late summer. The sky is the careless colour of bonfires, streaking carmine and vermillion across the endless blue sea, and birds are stitching patterns through the clouds. The gang of model aeroplane flyers have packed up and left; the rocky outcrops are fading in the twilight. A Bentley, night black and mud splashed, waits patiently in an unsurfaced carpark.
The day is ending.
The world is not.
An angel and a demon lay together on a patch of soft grass, a clearing amongst the heather. The demon’s hair is glinting in the sunset, a long curve of it resting lightly on the grass. His sunglasses are next to him. The angel is watching the birds.
Both of them are listening to the sea.
Earlier, they had eaten a picnic and talked to the flyers and walkers and watched the beach across the bay disappear under the rising tide. They have time, all the time in the world, and they have each other, although they check on that almost constantly: a hand brushing a wrist, touch of a foot against calf, eye contact. It is new, although the feeling is old.
Then the demon had amused them by scattering crumbs for the gulls and vanishing them just as they landed. He’d repeated this several times, watching the huge birds become incensed. When the angel had taken over bread dispensing duties, he’d hissed at them as they landed which was almost as much fun.
And then they’d just been still, and together, and close. A pile of limbs and jackets, even though its summer, and mingled breath. The two of them making one form for the sun to sculpt into shadows. No miracles, except that of the world still being here.
Far below them, the sea meets the granite and tin rocks of the cliff and sings a song of coming home at last; of finding peace and stillness after thousands of miles of movement.
It is a variant of their song, the song of Aziraphale-and-Crowley, distance changed for time, although the demon, the starmaker, says that these can be the same thing and therefore this can be their own song if they want it to be.
The sky is slipping towards purple, draining colour from the sea. The heat slides away from the heather, which the angel is plaiting into braids and the hazy salt smell is being replaced by the emptiness of night. Fingers touch faces, pulling in for a kiss which tastes of the cider from earlier, and freedom and home and love.
Above the refrain of the sea, which sounds like the purring of a cat now, stilled to rest, is the murmuring of voices. The words are only important for them; the actual vowels and syllables not producing anything coherent. The meaning is just this: ‘I love you. I love you, too.’
The moon rises and holds them in golden light.
‘It was worth it,’ the angel says, ‘for this.’
‘It was,’ the demon agrees.
I stole a few pieces for this one:
The song of the sea at the cliffs is take from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson, where sea and stone are sacred to the giants. 'Permanence at rest and permanence at motion' as one line of a poem describes it.
The sea purring like a cat is from The Mousehole Cat, a children's story book about the legend of Tom Bowcock who took his fishing boat out in a great storm to save his village. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mousehole_Cat
This clifftop is real, model airplane club, heather, seagulls and all. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-agnes-head
(You can probably tell where in the world I grew up from those two bits)
Chapter 24: Champagne
An angel, a demon and an evening at a black tie event after the world didn't end.
Companion piece to previous chapter, 'Cider'
There's some implied rough sex in this. Nothing explicit though.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It is late January and the city sky is colourless. A demon stands at the window of a penthouse suite and stares across Kensington. An angel lays across the double bed and stares at the demon.
Music is still spilling up from the ballroom, several stories below. Black cabs and limousines are passing in the street down below; jagged flashes of people in bright dresses and sober dinner jackets, kisses exchanged in parting. The night is young, but a lot of them have other places to be.
The angel and the demon do not, although earlier they had each asked if the other wanted to go back downstairs and rejoin the party.
They ate, earlier, after a round of introductions. Food that neither of them noticed; champagne that neither of them tasted. Conversations with strangers where they tried to be polite. Neither of them had looked away from each other for a second. (They have all the time in the world. That doesn’t mean they want to waste the barest fragment of it.)
A world of glistening, decadent lust, beauty, temptation. (The invitation had been issued to the demon, although the humans involved hadn’t known that. He still has contacts, in places where he’d worked before. He’s just never taken advantage of them before. The angel had insisted, once he'd heard about it.)
Other people had noticed them, smiled at how obviously in love they were. Neither of them had noticed this; neither of them would have cared if they had done so.
They had danced. Unafraid of it now; the strange intimacy of holding hands, of touching in public. Of being themselves and being together. Slow dancing and close, holding at each other, taking turns to lead that didn’t matter because neither of them knew the steps; knew anything except how to hold each other.
They had been human for the evening. Two lovers, delighting in each other’s company. Had excused themselves and slipped away; both claiming that it was the other’s idea, both wanting, needing. Stopping as they stumbled upstairs, kissing the taste of champagne from each other’s mouths.
Sated now, they are still. The streetlights are far below them; the room lighting is dim. The angel is naked aside from a necklace of kisses fading to bruises. The demon is still wearing most of a black tie outfit. It is torn in places. His sunglasses are on the floor and his long red hair is a slash of sunlight down his back.
They are, both of them, so very content.
‘It was worth it,’ the demon says, ‘for this.’
‘It was,’ the angel agrees.
Yes, alright, I'm still not over that episode of Doctor Who where David Tennant wore black tie.
Aziraphale's sole motivation in going to this party was to see his demon dressed up, and Crowley turned up with his hair halfway down his back and wearing lipstick just to make it clear he wasn't following the rules entirely. Aziraphale didn't manage a coherent sentence all night.
Chapter 25: Auld Lang Syne
'Do you miss them?' Crowley asks. Aziraphale sighs and lays the photograph down.
This chapter is about grief, remembering, and that lurching feeling of thinking you've seen someone in a busy place when you know they're dead. No named characters die, but if you're feeling raw about it, this isn't the thing to read (I don't know if it was the thing to write, either.)
And some swearing.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘Do you miss them?’ Crowley asks softly. He’s careful to stay stood in the doorway, well away from the desk and whatever photograph Aziraphale is looking at. He recognises the expression; it’s why he doesn’t keep any mementoes like that.
‘There was a man in the market earlier. He turned across, and the sun hit him just right, and for a moment, I thought…’ Aziraphale sighs and turns the photograph face down.
Crowley doesn’t ask who’s in the photo, or who he’d thought he’d seen. He has his own ghosts, after all, and Aziraphale is kind enough not to push the subject.
‘I miss mine,’ he confesses, taking his coat off and setting the bags down.
‘I know, dearest.’ Aziraphale pushes himself up from the chair and comes over, standing near without touch. He understands why; kindness now would be too much to face.
‘Gabriel always said we should forget them,’ he mutters a few minutes later. ‘That it doesn’t matter.’
Crowley thinks to himself that at least Hell never pretended to be anything other than bastards. ‘I don’t think it works like that, angel,’ he says and half turns away. ‘It really fucking doesn’t work like that.’
He remembers all the times he’s thought he’d heard the voice of someone who’s been dead for longer than most countries have existed. He knows exactly what Aziraphale’s feeling.
‘C’mon,’ and he blinks rapidly a few times, careful not to look across at his angel. ‘C’mon, angel, let’s go for a walk.’
‘You only just got here.’
‘I know.’ He reaches out, still without looking, not wanting his feelings to intrude on Aziraphale’s, and feels the angel’s soft hand closing around his. ‘I’ve got the Bentley. I’ll drive us out to Kew for a while.’
They’re sitting in bed later that evening, Aziraphale reading and Crowley sketching a bracelet that he wants to try making, when Aziraphale asks suddenly ‘how long do you think it lasts for?’
Crowley lays his pad of paper down and turns to look directly at him. ‘What bit of it?’
‘You know.’ The angel waves a hand. ‘The missing them bit.’
He thinks, again, of the humans he’s loved. He’d loved none of them like Aziraphale, but he’d loved some of them regardless; kind, funny, great hearted, disorganised, scruffily dressed, story telling, music making, laughing humans who’d come into his life in a myriad of ways and left scars that are still tender after all these years. ‘Dunno. Longer than either of us’ll have, I guess.’
Aziraphale appears to consider his words for a while and then says ‘good. I don’t want to forget them.’
‘We don’t have to,’ Crowley tells him. ‘Not now.’
He’s not sure which of them reach for the other first, and although nothing can make that dull ache any better, he thinks it might be a bit easier to carry together. They hold each other and remember.
The man in the market experience was from a couple of days ago, so... Here's a hug to anyone who's been there or is still there.
Chapter 26: Caroling
'Do you know how to de-consecrate a church?'
'Dunno...You could have sex with me in it.'
Nanny wants to go to Warlock's carol service. Aziraphale wants to help.
Crowley changes pronouns and names quite a bit in this one. Aziraphale is just very much in love, even though he doesn't dare say it.
Couple of brief conversations about scars as a result of consecrated ground, but nothing detailed.
Nanny is morose, Aziraphale notices. She’s been quiet all day; some of the traits that he recognises as ‘Crowley having a bad day’ ones bleeding over into this disguise. A stillness in the way she sits, a blankness in her face behind the glasses.
He walks across to her room once enough of the staff are asleep, wishing for the old easy way of their meetings. He’d like to take her out to London again, and the anonymity of a restaurant where they can talk in private and not be overheard, where they can wander through the city together afterwards and he can pretend everything’s alright. He’s never sure if Crowley spent as much as of their time together as he has done.
He knocks as well. There’s different rules they have to live by here, after all, and he gets a formal greeting rather than a muttered ‘Angel.’
Nanny is sitting quietly at her desk, staring at nothing. He’s seen Crowley in that same pose over the centuries too many times.
He shivers under the weight of the name he so rarely hears now. At least he can sit without asking when they’re alone together; it’s one part of the act that they can let drop.
They’ve got better over the past year at not dissembling, the almost daily contact forcing them to discuss Warlock in conversation if nothing else.
‘Warlock has a carol service this year. They want me to go but…it’s in a church.’
All he can see is London standing darkly under searchlights and air raid sirens; the night he realised that he loved Crowley. The moment that he realised there and never could be anything that could stop him loving the demon. It’s a memory he holds sacred and dear, replaying when he thinks he can’t hold on any longer, when he needs to convince himself that they still have a chance at this.
‘Well, you don’t have to go. Whatever day it is, we can make sure something happens so you don’t have to go.’
A heaved sigh. ‘Warlock wants me to go.’ And then, head dropping as though she was ashamed. ‘I want to go.’
That shocks him; he’s so used to the demon mocking anything to do with Christmas, but he’s in no doubt that she’s telling the truth. ‘Oh, Crowley.’ The name comes out by accident; it’s one of the names he calls the demon in his thoughts.
A smile that he remembers from Eden flickers back at him. ‘Angel?’
‘I’ll sort something out,’ he promises, unthinking of anything except that smile.
Crowley comes back to visit him a few days later, and it is Crowley – there’s something Aziraphale’s learnt to tell over the years, the faintest changes when he’s switching things around. He’s off duty, and although he’s still wearing most of Nanny’s clothes, his whole bearing and attitude is different.
‘Evening, angel,’ he mutters and throws himself mostly lengthways on to the sofa.
‘Evening, dear. Night off?’
Crowley rolls his shoulders, bumping his face against the back of the seat. ‘It was starting to chafe a bit, yeah. Good to be free a while.’
Aziraphale makes tea and they chat about nothing for a while, both of them relaxing. He knows, of all the things in the world, sitting and talking with Crowley will be the thing he misses most if this doesn’t work out. He’s never mentioned it.
‘I was being stupid the other day, angel. Don’t worry about it. I know I can’t go in a church. It’s fine. Just don’t want you worrying when I go sick on the day, alright?’
Crowley looks so saddened that Aziraphale reaches out to him. Touching is something he always wants to do and never allows himself to. ‘There has to be some way.’
Crowley lets their hands brush for a second. ‘Honestly, I don’t mind. It’s consecrated ground, isn’t it?’
He catches Aziraphale’s eyes and smiles sadly. ‘I don’t exactly love Warlock all that much, and I’ve still got all the scars from the last time I thought it was a good idea,
‘Scars? Crowley, you never told me you had scars from that.’ Aziraphale feels sick suddenly.
‘Yeah…well, it’s fine. They don’t hurt. Nothing to worry about, it’s not like anyone can see them….Oh, please, angel, don’t make it a thing. I didn’t mention it for that. I knew it was a church. I’d do it again, just not for this.’
‘You wanted to.’
Crowley pushes the flat of his hand against his eyes. ‘Yeah. Well. Doesn’t matter does it? Doesn’t hurt.’
The demon really is bad at lying.
It’s much later that night, when Crowley is half asleep and stretched out, that something occurs to Aziraphale. ‘You don’t have trouble with ground that used to be consecrated, do you? Like that theatre that used to be a church, you’ve been there with me and that was alright, wasn’t it?’
Crowley yawns and stretches his way back to full consciousness. ‘Good job too. Half of London’s built on bloody churches.’
He pauses. ‘Don’t you even think of moving the service. There’s about 150 kids and their parents and everything. Not worth you using a frivolous miracle on something like that, just so I can go.’
‘Why wouldn’t it be?’ he protests.
Crowley’s expression makes his heart ache. He looks like how Heaven always make Aziraphale feel. Not good enough. Not worth someone troubling themselves with.
‘Alright, I won’t. What about if I just deconsecrate the church then?’
‘What? If I deconsecrate it first, then it’ll be fine. Then I can fix it afterwards. No-one will notice.’
‘That’s…no. You can’t.’
‘Why not? Humans do it all the time and they don’t redo it again afterwards. Do you know how to do it?’
Crowley runs his hands through his hair, red strands easing through pale fingers. ‘Dunno. You could have sex with me in there? That should do it.’
A smile in return. ‘It was only an idea. Your side thinks sex is a sin, don’t they? Should work pretty well, and it’ll be less messy than sacrificing someone.’
‘Which wouldn’t solve the problem of getting you in there in the first place, Crowley. I am not having sex with you in a church.’ He thinks, a fraction of a second too late, that he’d do a lot to be able to take back the last part of that sentence.
There’s a choking noise from Crowley, who’s gone almost as red as his hair.
‘No. Haven’t you got any other ideas?’
Crowley hasn’t, and the mood has changed too much to allow either of them to be comfortable now, so he isn’t surprised when Crowley takes his leave a bit later.
The next morning, he wastes a miracle to convince the Dowlings that he’d booked some leave and heads back to London, the shop and a few hours spent studying books that he doesn’t allow the humans to see.
There’s a couple of rituals that he rules out immediately; some of them are in books Crowley’s brought him over the years from Hell, others are too unpleasant or are ones that he even he can tell won’t work. He does see that Crowley’s idea probably wouldn’t have worked, at least not on his part; it’s too tied up with love.
He very careful doesn’t think about loving his demon, in any sense.
He takes two books and a bag of supplies back on the train with him.
‘No. Absolutely not, Aziraphale. You – you could Fall for something like that. I thought you were joking.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. No-one’s going to notice, it’ll only be for a few hours at most. It’s not even really a miracle, just a human ritual and I’ll put a bit of power behind it to make sure it works properly.’
Nanny grabs the book and frowns as she reads. ‘It says you have to be a church official for this to work.’
‘It may have slipped your mind, dear, but I am an angel. I think that makes me a de facto church official.’
‘And if it doesn’t? If you get hurt for – this?’
Aziraphale abandons his no touching rule for the second time in a week, and grabs the flailing arm closest to him. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to me, I promise. I’m going down there tomorrow to do a practice run.’
A sigh. ‘You’re determined to do this, aren’t you?’
He thinks to himself: this is the first thing you’ve really asked me for since the Holy Water. This is the first time since they shoved Warlock into your hands that you’ve said there was something you wanted to do. This is…this is because of the way you look at me sometimes. He realises, after a moment, that at least some of this must have shown on his face.
‘I’ll come with you, then. I’ll drive.’
It’s Nanny who accompanies him off the estate the next evening, when the October moon is laying low and heavy against the night sky and an owl is hooting fitfully in the distance. The Bentley purrs as they drive, and sit in silence, because speaking would involve acknowledging their nerves.
Warlock’s school is a long way away. They both hate that; it feels like banishment.
The church is further away still and the churchyard is empty, staring back at them under the stars. He feels Nanny shudder. ‘I need to go in for this to work,’ he says softly.
‘I know, angel. I’ll sit here and wait.’
‘Promise…promise you won’t come running in again, won’t you?’
‘Only if you promise to go easy on the sage. Makes me sneeze.’
‘No sage involved.’ He gives her hand the faintest touch, and walks in with his bag before he has a chance to waver. Deliberately doesn’t look back, for flame red hair under the moonlight or the glint of golden eyes in the black.
The actual ritual he’s chosen is fairly long winded, complex but not especially difficult. He just needs to hope there aren’t any other angels nearby, or even a sensitive human.
It feels rebellious, using a thread of his divine power to wash away the holiness from this place. Traitorous. But he thinks of Crowley, back when they weren’t even talking, back when Aziraphale had hurt him so badly, rushing into the church to save him. Burning with pain as he scarred his beautiful form, and still worrying about the books, about making Aziraphale happy, and he doesn’t see how anything built around that love could possibly be wrong.
This will make Crowley happy.
That is worth any possible damnation; surely he can match that selfless courage?
He thinks of Heaven and he thinks of Crowley and he chooses, again and again, in each word he pronounces, each gesture he makes.
It works; he knows the second he does because a yell floats across the churchyard. ‘Angel, I felt that!’
He walks around the whole building, senses that humans haven’t got words for straining. There doesn’t seem to be anything consecrated left. He thinks of scars twining across Crowley’s pale skin and checks again.
‘I think it’s done,’ he says.
‘Mmm, felt like,’ Nanny agrees, unfolding herself from the car. ‘You coming in with me?’
‘I need to go in,’ and he sees nervousness on her face. ‘Just to – I trust you, but…’ Her hand brushes against Aziraphale’s as they walk up to the gate. They go in together, side by side, and he remembers the Ark and smiles into the darkness. He’d found Crawly there, the first time they’d really sat and talked together. Two steps, and then Nanny laughs, and then it’s Crowley’s laughter.
Proper, full, head shaking laughter, and then he throws both arms around Aziraphale’s waist and pulls him close. It’s too frantic and fast a movement to be called a hug. ‘Thank you.’
They walk a careful lap of the churchyard, an even more careful lap of the church itself and then sit on the pews. Nanny mutters that the bare wood is uncomfortable, but nothing more than that. They’re still holding hands when they arrive back at the Bentley and Aziraphale blinks in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed.
With a snap, he undoes the ritual.
Warlock bounces with excitement over the next few weeks, running up to them to practice his lines, complaining that he doesn’t get to dress up as an angel this year (they both choke a bit on hearing him declare that he wants to be Gabriel), spilling stories about their rehearsals. Nanny love it, and Aziraphale does too, but he loves the quiet joy on her face more.
The day of, he slopes off early and performs the ritual before it gets light in the morning. Better safe that sorry, he thinks, and besides, this way he’s home before Nanny and Warlock leave – his parents have gone to some fancy dinner in London – and he can see the expression on her face.
It is, he thinks, much the same expression as he’d had at the blitzed church.
‘Thanks, angel,’ and then she’s gone in a whirlwind of excited child, promising to record everything.
It’s Crowley who comes to his room late that night; Crowley smiling, shorn of any hint of pretence or front, as open as Aziraphale as ever seen him.
‘Did it go alright?’ he asks redundantly.
Crowley glances around the room, and then…Pulls Aziraphale close and plants his lips against Aziraphale’s forehead. ‘Thank you.’
He doesn’t reply, not with words. There are, however, actions that work just as well.
Chapter 27: Snowball
A third and final part to 'Snow' and 'Ice Storm.' Crowley watches the snow from Aziraphale's bed.
They don’t talk about the snow or the blizzard afterwards; hardly talk at all aside from Aziraphale’s muttered ‘I love you, you know,’ directed somewhere in to the curve of Crowley’s spine, and a few minutes later, Crowley’s ‘angel, that tickles, move a bit.’ What else would they need to say?
Crowley finds himself still awake a few minutes later, Aziraphale sleeping against him. The angel always flatly denies falling asleep afterwards, and Crowley hasn’t yet had the presence of mind to photograph him like this. Besides, he’d hate to make him self conscious, and for it to stop.
In a hurry, they hadn’t closed the curtains earlier. He can see snow still drifting down, lit by the streetlights below. White, ivory, argent, flashed through with gold and cream. He doubts human eyes could pick out the individual flakes now.
A universe’s worth of stars, falling on their enclave in Soho.
He can still feel the panic from earlier today; the desire to lock himself away and sleep through this, so the cold can’t reach him. Muted, like a memory of a dream.
He can feel Aziraphale, the heat of him lessened from earlier, but still lifeblood warm. An arm flung across his shoulders, a leg pushed between his legs. Hair tickling at the back of Crowley’s neck. A shield against any snow borne cold.
He turns on to his back a bit more, the angel shifting alongside him, and the window fills less of his vision now. Perhaps the snow will ease out of his consciousness like this?
Crowley lays there, thinking of the cold and how Aziraphale, unknowing, had come back early to make sure he wasn’t alone. How it wasn’t cold here, despite the burning cold of the flakes throwing themselves against the glass.
He waits for the post sex daze to fade towards the tension snow always brings; waits for the shadows to darken. Waits for everything to come back and claim him again.
There is no way he will be sent out into the cold. There is no way Aziraphale will allow the cold into the shop or the flat, or near him at all.
He is safe. Perfectly and completely safe, and the snow is just something to watch and admire. His mind and corporation both agree on that, for once. Another gift Aziraphale has given him.
There are jewels and gemstones and star fragments in the twisting whiteness, and Crowley is not afraid. He watches in delight, pulling a blanket around himself, sitting cross-legged on the bed and staring out into the night. Aziraphale rests a sleepy hand on his back, a gesture that says ‘yes, I am here.’
London is silent, and a wakeful demon watches his stars again, and is healed.
(This story ends there. Theirs doesn’t. There are other blizzards after that, where Crowley finds the howling wind and blowing whiteness suffocating again, because healing doesn’t work all in one go. There are walks in mountains in spring, drinking hot chocolate, with soft powdery snow under their feet and Crowley almost invisible behind his scarves. There is snow one December morning, that dusts Crowley’s red hair like a crown. There is ice that frames the trees in the park with white, and Aziraphale’s white hair shines brightly amongst it. There are grey clouds that blanket a cottage in the South Downs one rare year, and Crowley’s heart constricts in memory, but Aziraphale holds his hand in their kitchen, and in the morning, it’s Crowley who sneaks indoors and throws a handful of snow at the still yawning angel. They have a hundred thousand more stories to write in the snowfalls of the future, but this is the end of this one.)
Chapter 28: Resolutions
'I was only...'
'Being kind. Yeah, I know. Kind enough to make a demon fall in love with you.'
Crowley actually fell in love with Aziraphale in Rome. A few thousand years later, he takes his lover there on holiday.
Crowley's self esteem issues crop up again in this fic, and there's a suggestion that he was having a very bad day in Rome before Aziraphale found him, but nothing detailed.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In Rome, there is a fountain that people throw coins into. The Tevi Fountain. You turn your back, and throw a coin right handed over your left shoulder, and if it lands in the pool of water guarded by vast stone horses, you’ll come back to Rome. Crowley’s been throwing coins in there for mellenia.
It causes foot-traffic jams, he says to Hell when they ask. It’s always surrounded by pushing, complaining tourists, in a bad mood because someone’s elbowed them in the stomach. The nearby shops all use it as an excuse to double their prices. People try and steal the coins, and nowadays there’s always armed soldiers standing guard anyway.
It’s an awful thing and a terrible tradition. They gave him a medal for it somewhere along the way.
None of which stopped him from going there every time he finds himself in Italy, and throwing a coin in. One for himself, to come back here, and a wish with it, which isn’t a prayer – he’s a demon, he knows the difference and he doesn’t pray – ‘let me bring Aziraphale here with me one day.’
Which is why, in the autumn after the world didn’t end, he’s sprawled against Aziraphale in bed and trying to convince the angel they should go to Rome.
‘Why?’ he asks.
He should have thought this through, should have had a convincing lie to tell. Because you saved me for the first time in Rome, and you took me out for dinner there and I’ve always wanted, always promised to take you back there, sounds pathetically needy.
‘I just thought…you know, we could go on holiday. Book into a hotel, have dinner together every day?’ and he’s aware that he’s blushing, aware that he’s just taken things very fast indeed, and it’s something he wants, not something that’s about making Aziraphale feel good, it’s too…
‘You want us to go to Rome together?’
Oh shit, he has overstepped the mark this time; he’s been waiting a few thousand years, he could have waited another century or two. ‘Only if, I didn’t mean that we had to, just –’
Aziraphale grabs his hands in the gesture they’ve come to use for ‘shut up and let me get a word in edgeways.’ His hands are warm, kind.
‘Crowley, dearest, I would love to go on holiday with you. It sounds so exciting, the idea that that we could just go and look at everything, eat, be together. Almost like it used to be, but this time, no-one can stop us.’
Crowley nods, feels some of his muscles relaxing. Stupid corporations, always trying to run the show. Aziraphale lets go of one hand and traces down the curve of his jaw, the angle of his neck and across his shoulder blade. It’s a wonderfully comforting gesture.
He’s smiling, and Aziraphale’s smile, this close, is warm beyond any reason or description. ‘I asked ‘why?’ earlier because I wondered why you wanted to go to Rome specially. We’ve got all the world to go to, why Rome? And don’t start saying it doesn’t matter, or we can go wherever I like; of course we'll go to Rome. I’m just wondering why there?’
The memories are too much to articulate. He pushes his face against Azriaphale’s chest; another non-verbal cue they’ve worked out. Crowley uses it to mean ‘too much, please don’t make me talk right now,’ and Aziraphale translates it as a cue to hold him, push kisses against his hair and generally be protective until Crowley can find his way out of his thoughts again. He doesn’t mind that translation in the slightest.
It’s a long while later when Aziraphale says ‘So, Rome. When shall we go?’
Crowley half turns towards him. ‘Next week? I’ll book tickets.’
He actually does, no miracles involved. Hardly any, anyway.
To Crowley’s delight, they spend the first four days just wandering. He finds streets that he half remembers, and has time to walk them all instead of hurrying on with his assignments. When he sees people who look disconcertingly like their great-great-grandparents, it’s ok if he does a double take and stares – Aziraphale asks for the stories, and laughs in all the right places, and just squeezes his hand gently if he explains it’s not one he wants to remember. There’s not even any comebacks when he gets the language wrong; Aziraphale can read ancient Latin fluently which makes him not entirely useless when it comes to written stuff (and he knows enough food related Italian words that they never, ever get the wrong meal) but it’s fine.
He can’t get anything wrong, because there’s nothing to get right.
It’s a bewildering sensation, and he feels a bit lost with it. Grabs Aziraphale’s hand a bit tighter, and listens to the angel say ‘You’re OK, dearest,’ as though he knows exactly what’s going on in Crowley’s head.
The fourth night, they come close to talking about why they’re here, and Crowley manages to deflect it into a sparring match about oysters, all the while hoping Aziraphale doesn’t remember the state he was in that night.
‘Aziraphale, we’re not eating oysters tonight. You can eat oysters all night long, and I’ll watch you, but honestly, once in 6,00 years is enough.’
‘Are you sure? They do some wonderful things with the sauces now.’
‘Angel, if that’s the best you can do with a temptation, I’m amazed you ever managed any of mine.’
But he lets Aziraphale lead him to an oyster bar, and he sits and drinks coffee and watches his partner enjoying his meal, and the memories are good ones. They hold hands in the starshine, afterwards.
The next day is hot, uncomfortable for people and a delight for Crowley, who ends up sprawling on the Spanish Steps alongside the sign asking people not to sit on them. Aziraphale allows him to bask for an hour or so, sitting next to him and eating gelato, before suggesting they go and look at some of the ancient ruins.
Crowley finds himself laughing as they explore; laughing as he tells Aziraphale about who lived in certain houses, about the temples and the palaces, the time he’d been part of a victory march, the times he’d sat and watched the chariot racing, the memories. Aziraphale smiles in delight, only tutting mildly when Crowley stumbles his way through an account of tempting three rival senators at the same time.
The angel argues with the translations on some of the plaques. Crowley argues with Aziraphale’s translations, just to be awkward.
Crowley takes him to the Coliseum, long after it’s closed for the night, and finds the stone seat that he once had a season ticket to. Pulls Aziraphale down next to him, and doesn’t comment when a tartan blanket appears from nowhere to wrap around the both of them.
‘You loved this, didn’t you? Being here.’
Crowley looks up at the stars and finds one of his. He’d watched it from here before, watching gladiators fight it out on the sands below. ‘Guess I did. Was the first time I ever stayed anywhere…But…’ He twists his fingers in the blanket, wondering if he ought to explain.
‘You’re allowed just to have favourite places, you know.’ Aziraphale covers his hand with both of his. ‘You don’t need to justify having things.’
He wants to say, you saved me in Rome for the first time. Wants to say, I was scared and I was lonely and I was hurting and you just appeared in that shitty little tavern where I was trying to get drunk, and you fixed it. You made it stop hurting. Wants to say, I crawled into bed that night and thought about you and there was this feeling in my heart and it never went away, not one day from then to now.
Wants to say, I wanted to chase away some ghosts by bringing you here, angel. Wants to say, I brought you here to finally prove to myself that dreams come true.
Settles for, ‘Thanks. Thanks for not making me…’
‘Say stuff? I’m just glad you brought me here.’
Aziraphale brings his wings out, white banners in the moonlight. Crowley’s seen white banners flying here before, but none have ever been for him. He sinks into the embrace. He watches the sunrise filter through them, Aziraphale’s head rested against his shoulder. They’ve talked the night away.
He takes Aziraphale to the fountain the next day, after lunch, telling him the story of how he’d claimed credit for it and explaining the coin throwing.
‘And you’ve thrown a coin in, of course.’
He nods, although it wasn’t a question. ‘Yeah. Of course. I wanted to – remember.’
Aziraphale smiles at him, and reaches up, fumbling a coin from somewhere near Crowley’s ear in a display of stage magic that he, even as in love as he is, won’t describe as anything other than ‘pretty terrible.’
He rolls his eyes at the angel, for the sake of it. It’s a gesture that’s lost behind his glasses but Aziraphale knows what he thinks of magic tricks by now.
‘Come on, then. Let’s make sure we both come back here.’
There’s a momentary break in the crowds, a chance for them to step close and turn their backs to the water, right hands raised over left shoulders. Aziraphale counts down and Crowley cheats, only they’re both expecting it and Aziraphale throws his coin on ‘two’ as well.
Crowley feels a brief flash of power; angelic and demonic clashing together and there’s a ricocheting noise as the coins throw themselves against the ancient stone work. He can hear them steaming as they start to cool from near molten.
‘Guess we both wanted to be sure, eh?’ Azirpahale’s laughter is like springwater, like moonlight, like everything Crowley needs. ‘Shall we try it again? The human way?’
They do, and it works. Two coins sink gently into the blue. Aziraphale pulls Crowley close, holds him as they stand together and watch.
‘I love you, my dear,’ he says clearly, pressing his thumb against the back of Crowley’s hand.
‘I love you. Loved you since well…’ and he waves his free hand at the city around them. ‘Since here, the first time round. You were kind to me. Again.’
He sees the remembrance in Aziraphale’s face suddenly. ‘Oh, my dear boy. I never knew that was a bad day. I was only…’
‘Being kind, yeah. I know. Kind enough to make a demon fall in love with you.’
Aziraphale holds him closer. ‘In that case, it was the best thing I ever done. And I’ll bring you back here again.’
(The next time they visit Rome, things are different. All that’s changed is an addition to the name above the bookshop, an addition to Crowley’s signature, rings on their hands. All that’s changed is everything. And this time, they mess up the miracles for their throws even worse, and laugh about it even harder.)
The Trevi fountain is real, beautiful and old. I'm sure Crowley never had anything to do with it, beyond throwing coins in.
The Spanish Steps do have signs forbidding people to sit on them, but hey...Demon.
A lot of Roman arenas did sell numbered tickets, season tickets, and all sorts of wonderful things that we think are modern. I doubt Crowley liked the fighting all that much, but I can see him enjoying the general chaos and party atmosphere. He totally would have had a reserved seat!