It was, perhaps, the worst-timed interruption of Aziraphale’s entire life. One moment he was in the bookshop, and the next, the angel found himself unexpectedly dropped onto a wooden floor in the middle of a circle made of sigils in white chalk. He looked around, finding himself in what looked like someone’s parlor, furniture pushed back against the walls.
Aziraphale struggled to his feet and said, in his most commanding voice, “Excuse me.”
Crowley would have laughed at him for being polite about it. Crowley would have—
Well. Crowley had been about to do something, hadn’t he, a moment ago in the shop, with Aziraphale backed against the wall, and Crowley blustering at him, standing so close, his hands on Aziraphale’s lapels and his mouth just inches from…
Alone now, in the summoning circle, Aziraphale adjusted his waistcoat and shirt. His tie was missing. He’d removed it for the evening, opening his collar, and surely he hadn’t he misread how Crowley was staring at him, at the little glimpse of collarbone that Aziraphale so rarely revealed. Crowley had been wearing his sunglasses, but Aziraphale was fairly good at figuring out where Crowley’s gaze went without being able to see his eyes. Aziraphale certainly hadn’t expected to have his lapels seized and to be backed up against a wall in the middle of a rather mild disagreement about which of them had first guessed the murderer in The Mousetrap when they’d attended the play sixty years ago.
Aziraphale had been with Crowley, in one way or another, since they’d met six thousand years ago. And now, six months ago, the world had not ended. The Apocalypse had turned out to be nothing but a mile marker passed along the way. The universe was spinning on with an ease and steadiness that made it seem like it had never been possible that it wouldn’t.
Aziraphale didn’t want it to be like that, not completely. He wanted change. He wanted one thing in particular to change. But nothing had. Aziraphale was near his wit’s end. Removing the bowtie had been a more obvious signal than he’d ever thought he’d have to give, but with Crowley so close and so flustered just a moment ago, he’d dared hope that he had finally been properly interpreted.
“Excuse me!” Aziraphale said again. “I really was in the middle of a very important argument!”
“Angels shouldn’t argue,” a voice said.
Aziraphale turned around to see a man and a woman in white robes walk into the room.
“Perhaps not,” Aziraphale said testily, “but it’s rather a larger misstep for humans to summon an angel. We aren’t genies who will grant you wishes.”
The man smirked at Aziraphale. “We don’t want favors from you, angel. We just want you.” He held up a small jar, painted dark red, with a few very odd golden symbols marked on the outside.
“Oh,” said Aziraphale heavily. “I see.”
The pain started then, as the chalk sigils blazed up around Aziraphale, putting a light smoky haze between him and his captors. The angel sat down carefully on the floor, trying to find the most comfortable position from which to bear the pain as the spell cast by the humans drained him of his angelic essence.
Humans often tried to insert themselves into ethereal and occult magic, to force the universe to speak benedictions to them. But most people were not skilled enough to do something like this. The red jar would function like a battery, storing angelic power for future use in a larger spell. A spell that required killing an angel would be powerful indeed.
“What will you use it for?” Aziraphale asked. “I imagine I have the right to know.”
The humans looked at him as if they were surprised to hear him speak. “A position of power, and the wealth to keep it,” the man said with a sneer.
“Mmm,” Aziraphale said politely. “Original.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t much longer before the humans were interrupted, as Aziraphale knew they would be. In 6000 years, Aziraphale had never been anything but happy to have his day blessed by a flash of fire-bright hair and golden eyes. But he was a little more grateful than usual this time.
Crowley appeared suddenly in the room, and he wasn’t wearing what he’d had on at the bookshop, red shirt, gray trousers. He was dressed all in black now, jeans so tight they must have been miracled on, and a shirt that clung to his body as well. Crowley wore no sunglasses, and as he took in the sight of Aziraphale in the chalk circle, his serpentine eyes glittered with a cold pleasure.
Aziraphale did his very best to pretend to be frightened of this terribly fierce-looking demon.
“Well,” said Crowley, to his surprised hosts, “I see you’ve captured an angel!”
“Who are you?” the man demanded.
Crowley shrugged. “Oh, I go by many names. But this here—” Crowley pointed at Aziraphale. “This one I know. Aziraphale. Guard of the Eastern Gate. We go way back.” Crowley crossed his arms over his chest, smirking at the angel. And then he turned to glare at the humans. “Release him.”
“What?” the man asked.
“I said release him. I’ve been working on him 6000 years and I won’t lose my prize to a group of humans. Release him now or I’ll see you both dead and then do it myself.”
The man gave him a cold look. “That’s not happening, demon. I’ve cast a protection spell over us.” He pointed at Aziraphale. “That circle doesn’t break until either he’s drained of power or I decide to let him out. And we’ve put too much planning into this, sacrificed too much. So you might as well just enjoy watching him die.”
Crowley made a motion with his hands, testing the protection spell. Aziraphale could read the tension in his shoulders. The spell was clearly a powerful one, which made sense, if these people were skilled enough to build this circle.
Crowley’s eyes flicked to Aziraphale, and his left eyebrow raised a bit, which was rather rude, really. Aziraphale was the injured one, after all, it wasn’t fair for Crowley to pass this off to him already. But needs must, he supposed. Aziraphale struggled to his feet, despite the pain that caused. “That’s right!” he said triumphantly, pointing at Crowley. “You can’t get to me now, demon.”
The corner of Crowley’s mouth twitched. Again, Aziraphale thought it was rather impolite of him to be so judgmental about Aziraphale’s acting skills. He was in pain. He glared back. “It’s an easy death for me. No more tortures, fighting, nightmares. I’d rather go like this than at your hand any day. Why, if you’d ever thought this up, trying to steal my essence, you’d be enhancing the circle at this point!”
“Enhancing the circle,” Crowley echoed, with a smile stealing onto his lips. “Right.” He laughed. “You think these humans will be more merciful to you than I would? I don’t know, angel. I’m pretty good at tempting. I think I could talk them into it.”
“They won’t do it,” Aziraphale protested. “They aren’t demons.”
“Do what?” the man asked, looking at Aziraphale, all hunger without a trace of guilt.
Crowley shrugged. “Oh, it’s just a way for you to get more power out of him. Of course, it would hurt him worse, but you don’t seem the type to care about that. At least, I’m hoping.”
“No,” the man said hastily.
To Aziraphale’s eyes, Crowley was quite clearly blustering, but the humans seemed to believe him well enough. “Yes, it’s a spell known only to demons,” he said, waving his hands about. “We do our share of angel draining, you know. Takes demonic power to make it work. But I could help you. For a price.”
The humans started whispering to each other. Their attention diverted, Crowley gave Aziraphale a softer look. “Go ahead and sit down, angel,” he urged quietly. “Looks like you’re about to fall over. You’ll need your strength to withstand this, won’t you?”
Aziraphale sat down once more, marking how Crowley winced a little to watch it. “The pain’s not as bad as you might hope, demon,” he offered.
“That’s too bad,” Crowley said gently.
When the humans had finished their conference, they looked up at Aziraphale with greedy eyes. “I think we’ll take you up on that plan, demon,” the man said with a cruel smile.
“And my price?” Crowley asked.
Crowley pretended to consider, a hand to his chin. Aziraphale raised his eyebrows in such a way as to suggest what he thought of Crowley’s acting skills. Crowley scowled at him, no need to hide that. “This your house?” he asked the humans. They nodded. “What’s in your kitchen?” Crowley asked. “Got any dessert?”
The humans looked confused. Crowley folded his arms over his chest, looking quite menacing, until he said, “Demons are fond of sweets.”
Aziraphale put a hand to his mouth to mask his laugh.
“We have biscuits,” the woman spoke up. “Made them last night.”
“I’ll accept it.” He stole a look at Aziraphale then. “Something for me to look forward to, when all this is done.” Aziraphale gave him a very well-practiced look that was stern in the mouth but happy in the eyes.
As the man returned with the biscuits, Crowley clapped his hands together with a bit of a real smile. “All right, where’s your spell book? I’ll show you how it’s done.”
The humans produced a thick book with a red cover, and pointed out a particular page. Crowley looked at it for a moment, and then he strolled closer to the circle, crouching down so that he was on Aziraphale’s level. “Get a good look at this, angel,” he said. “The spell that will finally put an end to you. Looks fool-proof to me.”
Aziraphale hastily scanned the page as Crowley angled it toward him. “You might be right about that,” he said softly. “Enhancing is possible, like I—like you suggested, but as to breaking it—” He looked up to meet Crowley’s eyes.
“It only breaks when you’re out of power. Or if they say so.” The demon’s fingers slid over the page, and Aziraphale’s fingers found themselves tracing a similar path on his own forearm. It felt nearly as calming as if it had actually been Crowley’s touch.
Crowley stood up and started conferring with the humans and then leading them in a little chanting and waving of hands in order to enhance the circle. It all looked ridiculous to Aziraphale, but the humans seemed to buy into it.
Illustration by Phantomstardemon
Enhancing the circle wasn’t actually possible, of course. What Crowley did, following the idea that Aziraphale had given him, was to “enhance” the chalk sigils with a little demonic energy, making them blaze up brightly. They didn’t actually do anything, but they did look rather pretty. The point of it was that by putting all that occult power into the outside of the circle, the flow of Aziraphale’s energy into the jar was cut off. Demonic power was, by definition, chaotic, and its presence in the room should mask the fact that there was no longer any angelic energy moving about.
Aziraphale gave a tiny sigh as the pain ended, and Crowley’s eyes fixed on him. There was a slight lessening of the tension in his shoulders that showed his relief. But he was sure to say, “This is going to hurt, angel.”
“Yes, I did catch that part, thank you,” Aziraphale reminded him crossly, and he made a good show of it, at least enough for the humans, groaning and crying out as if he was in even worse pain. Crowley ignored it, giving his attention back to the spell book.
The angel’s torment had ceased now, but Crowley was clearly still suffering. Aziraphale could see it in every movement, the fluttering of his fingers against the pages of the book, the way his walk had lost its usual obscene sway as he paced the floor.
“I’ll still win,” Aziraphale told him quietly. “I’ll get out of here somehow.”
Crowley met Aziraphale’s eyes above where the sigils flared with demonic energy. “Awfully confident,” he said, in a voice that wavered just a touch.
“You underestimate me,” Aziraphale said, in a polite tone that Crowley knew full well was quite rude.
Crowley snorted. “Oh, do I? I think it’s you, angel, who—” Aziraphale saw when a solution came to him, Crowley’s eyes widening a little, shoulders squaring off. Crowley slammed the spell book shut with a clap. “You underestimate me,” he growled, but Aziraphale heard the relief in his voice.
Crowley started pacing again, but with his saunter restored. That sight alone gave Aziraphale hope. And, um, other feelings best not named at the moment.
“So,” the demon said, grandstanding again for the humans, who were only too happy to watch the demon taunt their captive. “How does it feel to know you’re about to die, angel?”
Aziraphale gave him a bit of a weary look, but played along. “It feels just peachy, demon. How do you think it feels?”
It was probably not a good thing that both of them instantly heard, in Aziraphale’s voice, I like peaches, because they nearly both laughed at it.
Crowley trained his eyes elsewhere for a moment as he got himself under control. “It’s a shame, though,” he said. “I had a whole plan for when I was finally going to do you in, you know. After 6000 years, I was finally going to get to tell you my secret. I could tell you now,” he teased.
“Why the hell should I care what your secret is?”
Crowley shot a look at the humans, making sure he was holding their interest. “Oh, but you’ll like this, angel. We’ve been enemies for 6000 years, and yet you never quite managed to smite me, did you?”
“Aren’t you wily?” Aziraphale snipped.
Crowley grinned. “That I am. But didn’t you ever wonder about all those miraculous escapes I had? Every time I was injured, somehow I was healed? Every time I was in danger, I was rescued? Demons don’t do that for each other, you know.”
Aziraphale was proud of the way he delivered the line, “Demons don’t rescue people?”
Crowley huffed at him in a way that suggested he was unappreciative of Aziraphale’s ill-timed attempt at humor. “Of course not,” he snapped. “Clearly I’ve had some help, though. And do you want to guess who it was? Healing me?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Oh, go on.”
“Please, just enlighten me.”
“It was an angel.”
Aziraphale blinked at him. “Um—”
Crowley grinned. “Course, angels don’t heal demons either, do they?”
This was the party line, and Aziraphale was used to it, it practically delivered itself. “No, of course not. Angels hate demons.”
“Right. So what’s your conclusion?”
“That you are very playing a very tedious game and I’m not interested.”
“Wrong!” Crowley said, rather triumphantly, looking right at the humans now. “The proper answer is, of course, that I am an angel.”
Aziraphale was taken by an unexpected coughing fit. When he could breathe again, he said, “You most certainly are not.”
“Oh, ye of little faith,” Crowley countered, looking extremely pleased. “I saw you in Heaven, ages ago, so sweet, so pretty, so good. I couldn’t stand you. So I’ve spent the last 6000 years tormenting you. You see, I’m much more powerful than you, O lowly Principality. Powerful enough that I can take on the guise of a demon.”
Ah, so that was the plan. Aziraphale could see it now. The only problem was that it was a rather brilliant plan and Crowley was going to be boasting about it for the next few centuries.
Aziraphale couldn’t help asking, “So what you’re saying is that we’re on the same side?”
Crowley’s smile almost broke through to where the humans would notice it. “Always have been.”
Aziraphale got to his feet, wincing with unfeigned soreness. “You talk a good game, demon. But I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”
“Oh, dear. Feet of clay, have you? Someone as mighty as you, stronger even than a Principality like me, a member of the angelic royalty? What are you claiming to be, an Archangel? Higher still? A Throne, perhaps? Or a Seraphim?” Aziraphale watched the eyes of the humans widen at this. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, wouldn’t you agree?”
Crowley gave him a withering look that was full of appreciation for Aziraphale’s contributions to the plan. “Fine,” he snapped. “It’s easy to prove it.” He nodded at the red jar that held Aziraphale’s stolen essence. “Bring that over here.”
The woman gaped at him. “That’s angelic power! It will burn you! Unless…” Aziraphale could see the humans’ minds turning it over now, running from surprise to disbelief and finally over into what seemed the default setting for these two: greed.
Crowley smiled. “It won’t hurt me a bit.”
It had started over five millennia ago on a beach in Japan, when Crowley (Crawley then) had cut his foot on a seashell. Aziraphale had reached for him, this interesting demon who was ever ready to engage Aziraphale in mostly-friendly conversation and to give him what the angel would later recognize as loving looks. Aziraphale had brought Crawley close and used angelic magic to heal his foot quite before either of them had realized that it shouldn’t have worked. They also shouldn’t have been able to form some sort of psychic link between them, but anytime Crowley had been injured, Aziraphale had easily found him, just as Crowley could always locate the angel when he was in trouble.
It had just come naturally, neither of them purposefully creating this unorthodox bond between them, but more importantly, neither of them ever wanting to curtail it. It was, perhaps, ineffable.
The humans brought the red jar to Crowley with a haste that betrayed their ever-growing excitement. Crowley held it easily in his hands. “See?” he asked. “Angelic essence doesn’t hurt me.”
Unfortunately, it was going to take more, Aziraphale could tell. “Open the jar,” he ordered. “There’s no way a demon can withstand that.”
Crowley cracked the lid just for a second, and the tiny bit of Aziraphale’s power that escaped the jar washed over Crowley in the same way that it always had, covering him for a few seconds in a gentle, loving glow.
Ironically, Aziraphale could see it that feeling Aziraphale’s essence did hurt Crowley this time. Not physically. But it was hard for him to feel a part Aziraphale and not be able to reach the angel himself. Aziraphale marked it the slumping of his shoulders, the way the demon’s golden eyes grew overly bright.
The humans were looking from Crowley to Aziraphale, calculating. But unfortunately, it still wasn’t quite enough. A bird in the hand was nearly always worth two in the bush.
“You don’t look like a Seraphim,” Aziraphale said mockingly.
Crowley met his eyes sharply, and Aziraphale gazed back, letting him see the answer in the tilt of his head, the way he clasped his hands together. It was the only way.
Crowley tipped the jar away from the humans, a little sleight of hand, and then cracked open the lid enough to let all of Aziraphale’s stolen power free. And the demon drew it all into himself.
There was a burst of light and when it cleared, something stood there, as near a Seraphim as Crowley could make himself look—six wings, a great deal of fire, eyes everywhere. The rush of angelic power in the room made everything glow and snap with static electricity.
Illustration by Phantomstardemon
The illusion held until Crowley found himself seized by the humans, thinking they’d taken him by surprise. Thinking the words they chanted weakened him. He let it all play out until he was in the circle and Aziraphale lay on the floor outside of it.
It had been a while since Aziraphale had felt this weak, and there was nothing left in the red jar now for him to reclaim. But he was alive, and he was free, and his essence would repair itself eventually, with time and rest. Aziraphale drew himself up to sitting and for the first time since Crowley had appeared, looked upon his best friend and gave him a full smile.
Crowley smiled back. It turned into a smirk when he looked at the humans. “Oh, you’ve caught me,” he said with mock horror. “Whatever shall I do now? A seraphim in an angel trap.”
The humans were fumbling with the red jar and starting to chant again. Nothing happened with the sigils now, though. The white chalk remained cold and quiet.
“So what do you think a protection spell actually does?” Aziraphale asked him, rubbing one of his sore shoulders.
Crowley shrugged. “Dunno. Can’t kill them, I suppose.”
“Could we move them, do you think? Deserted island, perhaps?”
“Why not the moon?”
“I think that would count as killing them, dear.”
The chanting had started to break off now and the humans were staring at them. The woman examined the red jar carefully, and then gingerly removed the lid. She gasped.
“Looking for my power?” Aziraphale asked. “I’m afraid it’s been used. As have you. Crowley, my dear, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Anything for you, angel.” Crowley strolled out of the circle with a grin on his face, fingers stuck lazily in his pockets. “These sigils don’t hold demons,” he explained helpfully to the terrified humans. “You know, there are some very cold deserted islands up near Canada,” he mused to Aziraphale.
The angel shrugged. “As you like.”
Crowley snapped and the humans disappeared. And then Crowley was on the floor, kneeling by Aziraphale. “Are you all right?” he demanded, checking over the angel as if he might have physical wounds.
Aziraphale grasped Crowley’s hands in his own. “You made a lovely angel, my dear.”
Crowley laughed. “I never did, Aziraphale, believe me.”
“Well, you really do make quite a wonderful demon.”
Aziraphale had thought that this suggestion might earn him another push against the wall, but Crowley didn’t seem to want to be rough with him now. He just rolled his eyes. “Shut it.”
All right, then, Plan B. Aziraphale caught Crowley’s gaze and then let his attention drift to Crowley’s mouth.
Crowley sat back, releasing his hold on the angel.
“What are you doing?” Aziraphale asked in surprise.
“Taking you home.” But Crowley looked aside as he said it, grabbing the plate of biscuits. “You know, these don’t look half bad—”
Aziraphale, for once, ignored the treats. “But aren’t you going to—”
“Going to what?” Crowley asked slowly.
“What I have been giving you signals about for six months!” Aziraphale snapped.
Crowley growled at him. “I can’t function on signals, Aziraphale!”
Aziraphale stared at him in disbelief. “We just hatched and carried out a very complex rescue plan without discussing it once! I tacitly gave you permission to use my essence, which I cannot get back, may I remind you, to make a Seraphim glamour, and now you can’t even follow when I take off my bow tie and—”
“Because I can’t afford to be wrong about this!” Crowley exclaimed. He met Aziraphale’s eyes with a look that was half angry and half terrified. “Aziraphale—that night, in the Bentley, when you gave me the holy water—I wanted to kiss you then. And not just then, I wanted to kiss you when we fought about it a hundred and five years earlier. I have wanted to kiss you every time I’ve seen you for thousands of years, you know that, and you’ve wanted the same thing, I’ve seen it so clearly. But you said it, that night in 1967, you said it with words. That you weren’t ready. That I was going too fast.”
Crowley ran his hands through his hair, mussing it. “I cannot lose you, not now, not after everything. We didn’t survive holy water and hellfire and angel traps just to have you pull away from me again.” His voice broke. “I’m not going to kiss you until you tell me, with words, that you want me to. I have to hear it, angel.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale breathed. “Well.” He tried a smile. “I suppose that would be much simpler, wouldn’t it?” And then he put a hand to Crowley’s cheek. “Crowley, my love. Please. Will you kiss me?”