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Inside, In the Dark

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I. 1862

Carriages ambled the streets of London. It was a surprisingly nice day, ducks wandered aimlessly, and the pedestrians of the city were in a strangely good mood. No one would have guessed that an angel in a bookshop was currently so incensed that he didn’t take the time to make tea before plopping into the chair by his desk for a Proper Fuming.

“Unbelievable!” he said to exactly no one. “How could he ask that of me? He really thinks I’m so…so callous as to…to…” he shook his head and put his face in his hands to think. Already, his mind rushed to replay the conversation, going over every intricacy. The way the water had shimmered gold in the waning evening, the women’s petticoats and bonnets and the pigeons squalling overhead, the buggies and horses meandering past.

Most importantly, Crowley – his perfectly upright posture, so unlike him. Avoiding eye contact; not terribly uncommon. The grimace as he spoke low and hard, jaw firm and forward. The audacity to joke about ducks and ears when handing Aziraphale that little slip of paper, two words underlined as though he couple possibly miss them; how it felt well-worn and oft-creased from handling, like Crowley had kept it with him, meaning to ask for a long time.

Sharp words – fraternizing, I don’t need you – seemed blurry to him then, remembering how he tried to toss the paper and the breeze kept it from landing farther than the edge of the water, where he imagined it sinking with saturation and dissolving to nothing within days, hours.

He replayed it over and over. Why? Why would Crowley ask this of him? He couldn’t understand it. After all they’d gone through, all they’d experienced together and helped one another – per the Arrangement – how could he possibly want to potentially just…end it all? As though none of it mattered?

Maybe none of it had mattered to the demon.

After all, he was a demon. He didn’t care about anything but himself. Obviously.

He knew that wasn’t true, but he couldn’t help but reiterate the cold sentiment in his head as though it might be comforting. It wasn’t.

Aziraphale sighed and leaned back, loosening his puffy necktie. He felt strangled and short on breath, and so tired. He didn’t indulge in sleep often as he mostly saw it as a waste of reading time, but right then, he was exhausted with the emotions and realizations of the past couple hours.

He nodded off there in his chair, not caring that he’d wake up with a crick in the neck.

“Here you are,” Aziraphale said, handing Crowley a glass of wine in the bookshop, twilight cast in yellow kerosene lamps, flickering softly. The demon took it, sniffing the air and looking pleased.

“Not bad, angel,” he commented before taking a sip. He wasn’t nearly so critical of liquors as Aziraphale, but appreciated a good red.

That was when it went – ah, pear-shaped, was the phrase.

As the wine turned to water before Aziraphale’s eyes, like the reverse of one of Yeshua’s famous miracles. And miraculous it was, as Aziraphale felt the buzz of a blessing only moments before it touched the demon’s lips. He reached out, a shout in his throat, but it was too late-

Crowley dropped the flute and it shattered against the floor, splinters of glass seeming to shred his pant legs, holy liquid saturating the pine planks and sizzling against fine leather dress shoes. From the demon’s mouth, his flesh dripped like curdled acid, bubbling and frothing, like red vomit, to reveal the outline of rotting, blackened teeth; his jawbone and his cheeks rapidly hollowed to the scent of sulfur and singed skin.

Like a fire it spread, up to his eyes as he shrieked and clawed at his face in a crumple on the floor, formless. His hands melted away, blobs of muscle and tendons like candle wax on the wooden floor, puddling.

The whole scene became blurry as Aziraphale choked on his own tears, pressing fingers against Crowley’s hands, murmuring something and possibly screaming, he couldn’t remember; the feeling below his own flesh was of splintered bones that dissolved to burning ash-

Aziraphale woke up with a start to the sound of sobbing, a shrill echo in his head. It took him a moment to realize he was the source of the sound.

He pressed a hand to his mouth, in shock and to silence the gasps as he steadied himself, keeping his eyes wide open even as they stung with dryness. Anything, anything to keep from seeing that image again, already scorched into his retinas as poignantly as if it happened. He turned slowly to where Crowley had melted in his dream; the floor was perfectly clean, if not the usual amount of dusty for his residence.

Obviously. It was just a dream.

Crowley was fine, he reminded himself.

And he would stay that way.

Aziraphale would never let that happen to his friend.

 

II. 1912

He hadn’t meant to fall asleep, the second time.

He’d been distracting himself from the recent disaster by repairing a first edition of Emma and accidentally began reading it instead. Some hours later, tools forgotten, he was just past the initial Harriet and Elton debacle when he slipped into unconsciousness at his table, a comfortable weariness in his bones tugging him down.

It’d been a busy week, month, decade. He needed the sleep as much as he needed to eat – which was to say not at all, but it was much appreciated.

Usually.

The air was salty. He could taste it with each inhalation.

A strong breeze mussed his white curls as he gazed over the horizon, a wavering but steady expanse of dark blue sea extending to the far reaches of his vision. Beside him, Crowley was slouched over the railing – as they had explicitly been told not to do by the guides – gazing into the water. Or Aziraphale assumed he was, as those confounded glasses betrayed little.

The deep maroon of his hair – long like in the Garden – fluttered in the breeze, frizzy and, well, Aziraphale didn’t quite let himself think the word “adorable,” but it was there.

“This isn’t so bad, is it?” Aziraphale asked lightly, feeling smug at the demon’s general aura of peace. Boarding the Titanic’s maiden voyage had been his inspired idea and it had been lovely these past four days. Beside him, Crowley grunted noncommittally, but the relaxation in his usually-tense shoulders said all the angel needed to know.

“What say you we head for the dining hall?” Aziraphale commented after a moment, feeling that he could really do with something involving gouda and possibly pheasant. He didn’t know if this oversized boat had either of those, but in the moment, he rather expected they would, and he was right.

He had taken one step from the railing when it all began. The ship, which had been smoothly gliding the entire journey, suddenly lurched with enough force to knock him and the demon to the ground. The enormous groan of straining, bursting metal and crackling ice filled his ears sharply, and then everything moved far too fast.

There were people, so many people – falling and tripping and screaming, crying out in hysterics, the world’s gravity upended. Everything went sideways, and down, twisting both slow and fast and sinking, sinking…

Aziraphale reached out for Crowley, who struggled for footing by his side, glasses askew. The boat jerked again, flinging Crowley over the railing that Aziraphale managed to grip at the last moment, but it was too late.

Below him, beside him, somewhere, it was hard to say – Crowley’s body plunged into the ocean with a horrifying smack like lightning. The ocean created by Her, the world blessed by Her – he realized in that moment nothing could be done,

His fingers slipping-

A tiny dot far below him,

that black suit and well-known red hair evaporated into nothingness, too far to even hear the bubbling cry for help.

All around him, humans screamed, rescue boats were boarded, already bodies bloated as the ocean grew closer, but Crowley would not be among them.

He would never again be among them, living or dying or breathing or laughing, eyes dancing now left nothing behind but…

memory.

His eyes opened slowly, fluttering into existence in a dragging motion, mind lapping the shore of consciousness before bolting upright, all his senses abuzz. Distantly, he noted he was gripping the copy of Emma so hard, his fingers had torn through most of the pages, leaving four deep indents on the cover no mortal could inflict.

Aziraphale supposed he ought to care, but only one coherent thought filtered through the cacophony of his brain’s horrifying symphony:

“Fuck.”

 

III. 1945

The war was over, as they were wont to do eventually. This one had taken far too long for his taste, even if many before had seen fit to continue for much longer. They hardly call it the Hundred Year War for kicks. Thankfully, after less than a decade, the fighting ended.

Aziraphale spent the day celebrating with the city; people in the streets yelled, not for fear, but in jubilation. Blackout curtains were torn down, newspapers spread and traded and read and reread as London erupted into celebration.

The war was over.

At the end of the day, Aziraphale collapsed into his bed. He felt a little sick, thinking about the things that had yet to become common knowledge regarding this war that his informants had told him about. Many things were kept secret, regarding Germany’s doings. Not too long in the future, the world would have to come to terms with far more than internment camps for Jews, blacks, Arabs, and homosexuals. There were the gas chambers, the experiments.

He shuddered, remembering the chemical warfare, the mustard gas, of the Great War not twenty years hence. It had looked far too much like his nightmares for his taste.

But now, humanity was done with it, and he could only hope they’d take a break from their horrific deeds for some time. Take a century off the war-making, perhaps. It was too much to ask, he knew, but an angel could hope.

He snapped, miracling his suit into some soft flannel. He had not slept purposefully since the first nightmare, but as years of tense exhaustion swept over his corporation, he let himself believe that he would not dream.

He would wake up having dreamt of whatever he liked best.

He dreamt of Crowley. This was not surprising.

Crowley laughing, that rare, genuine laugh when his mouth spread to reveal tiny fangs for canines. When wrinkles creased the corners of his eyes in glee, eyebrows not knotted but lifted in honest joy. His laughter filling the echoing hall that formed around him, for him, his absurd expression as he hissed, “Just didn’t want to see you embarrassed!”

Aziraphale laughed, even as the demon clung to his arm, stepping quickly between his poor feet. His kind, gentle demon, walking across consecrated ground to help him. Aziraphale allowed himself a small smile at the delight of seeing him again, so many years apart. He would be certain the demon’s feet did not hurt after they were finished here.

And after a bomb destroyed the church – somewhere, he knew he was supposed to be upset with the demon for wrecking a holy place of worship, but he paid it no mind – they stood together in the rubble. Crowley stalked past him, and Aziraphale watched, bag in hand, as Crowley tripped and fell against a fallen bénitier, holy water split over the rocks and unaffected by the explosion due to Her blessing.

Before the hoarse shouts could tear the sky, before the skin of his partner could dissolve into the puddle that quickly soaked his suit, surging and scorching and blistering his chest-

Aziraphale woke up.

He sat up quickly, panting as though he had run a thousand miles across the city. This was too much. It was too much. Not even his own powers could stop it from haunting him, wrecking him, destroying his sanity. The images flashed through his head without discourse, without pause, without permission. He gasped for breath, hands holding his head like it might burst, knowing he didn’t need it but forgetting, forgetting, feeling like he did. Tears poured from his eyes as he struggled to process it all.

Crowley’s alive, it’s fine, it wasn’t real it’s not real it’s not realit’snotreal

Distantly, he knew he was blubbering, muttering, saying something about something, but he was hardly aware of it. His limbs shook, his hands tingled with numbness as a core of heat centered around his torso. His throat felt twisted, the esophagus gripped with claws and tangled in knots. He felt hollow, empty, distant, empty, so empty, and Crowley was gone, gone, melting.

Hours later, when he had calmed down enough to right himself, he removed the bedroom from his flat with a snap. He would never sleep again.

 

IV. 1969

He lived in Soho. He heard things.

Crowley was going to put himself in harm’s way to acquire holy water himself, damn the consequences, damn the rules, damn Aziraphale for refusing over a century ago. Crowley had not let it go. He had still been thinking and now he was scheming.

Aziraphale thought.

It was too dangerous for Crowley to do this. He would get killed; he was sure of it. Maybe, surely, Aziraphale could talk to him, talk him out of it. Convince him it was unnecessary.

But Crowley wanted it. He didn’t understand why, but Crowley needed this precaution, even after all these years. Maybe…

No. I shan’t.

But Crowley had said it wasn’t a suicide pill. I ought to trust him.

He’s a demon.

But he’s also my friend.

He thought of his dreams, and he knew if anything would steel his resolve, it was that.

Aziraphale, hands twisted together, spread himself out on his couch with a groan, feeling hesitant and frightened. Small, but the decision was made. Yes, he would go to sleep, and he would have the usual nightmare, and his resolution would stay strong. He would protect Crowley from himself. Afterward, he would find Crowley and convince him to call it off.

He drifted off sometime later, apprehension keeping him awake. Eventually, the dust of weariness accepted him, hesitant.

It came, as it always did.

Crowley was lounging in his flat. Aziraphale had been over just once, as they usually met at the bookshop or a secondary location, but its brutalist minimalism was sharp in his dream. These were usually so hazy, but everything felt amplified and too bright, like existing under a magnifying glass, wallowing in a petri dish. Sunlight illuminated the slate walls, verdant green plants, and black-clad demon, who was sprawled without glasses on his ridiculous throne.

Suddenly, Crowley stood, his face lacking details. Aziraphale tried to say something, but realized he wasn’t really there, just watching.

In horror, the angel observed two shadowy figures enter the room. Their visages were dark and incomplete, like a lost memory, or a memory not yet gained, or a memory of someone else’s. They leapt forward and seized Crowley, exclaiming in detail all that awaited Crowley in Hell. Every torture device known to man – well, Hell was a fan. One of the figures cackled as he imagined thrashing Crowley’s bare back with a nail-ridden whip, tearing out flesh in strips.

Crowley was taken, shouting for Aziraphale, shouting for the angel’s help.

Aziraphale knew. He knew that Crowley would suffer for eons at the hands of these demons - as they seemed to be – and it was Aziraphale’s fault. If he had given Crowley the holy water, Crowley could’ve escaped that painful fate.

He would have died, but…

He could’ve been saved so much hurt.

Hurt he could never escape.

Surely death was a better fate than this.

Now, he had no recourse. Already, Aziraphale could see Crowley peeling of flesh, veins and tendons exposed, blood wrought from him, eking from the craters of his corporation.

Aziraphale.

Aziraphale.

That’s enough.

Wake up.

He did not open his eyes even as awareness of his surroundings filtered back. The plushness of his sofa, the itchiness of his tight collar. He took a deep, steady breath. No tears threatened.

He felt steady, and real, and he knew what came next. There could be no doubt of it.

He miracled a thermos into his hand as he stood and went to fill and bless it.

 

V. 2008

After Crowley left, plans to become godfathers thoroughly set, Aziraphale poured himself another glass.

Armageddon. Of course, he had known it was coming. Even the humans knew, to some degree. But it felt so soon. Suddenly, six thousand years were like a blink of the eye. Humans had only just begun; they had so much more to do and learn and discover and create. So much potential that was to be destroyed just to win a war.

And, of course, Heaven would win, if it came down to that. Angels were simply superior to demons, right? Heaven believed they would win, and they had faith. Demons did not, and the angels would be merciless.

Still. Hopefully, none of that would happen.

He loved the Earth too much to want it. His lips quirked before taking a long sip of wine as he recalled Crowley’s airy, “Celestial harmonies,” earlier in the day. Films on the budding romance between a nun and a sea captain who escape from Nazis was all fun and good, yes, but even that was an every-few-years deal. One can only do-re-mi so much.

As he let his mind wander, he continued to drink. He had been drinking solidly with Crowley for hours now, but, sober, his thoughts itched irritatingly. Drunk, he could ignore it as his brain sloshed uncomprehendingly.

He wanted to save the Earth from destruction. He wanted more days with books and local cafes and ducks and, well, specific demonic acquaintanceship. Er, friendship. Best friendship. Something. He wanted more of Crowley in this world, in this world, so he needed to keep both safe.

The alcohol buzzed through him, but rather than feeling lighter as he had earlier, his corporation settled low into the cushions of his chair uncomfortably.

Eyes unfocused, his imagination flew through all the ways he was putting Crowley in danger by agreeing to this New Arrangement. Not the least of which being that damned – not technically – tartan thermos.

Crowley held it aloft, unscrewed the lid – expression of stone – and let the water pour over his head. It soaked his shoulder-length ruddy locks, trailed down his brow, and caught his eyelashes. Smoke simmered from his face as the skin dissolved, tearing away in rivulets the streams of his cheeks and cartilage and hair, smoking and burning away.

One tear escaped his eye, like a drop of rain that sizzled over heated pavement in the summer, before they no longer functioned, then no longer existed, crumbling inward and leaving his face potholed.

Blackness for eyes and mouth, the sharp edges of rough bone jutting from his chin and eye sockets, blood pumping too slowly to mingle with the holy water that infested his wounds and gaped them red

red

red blackblack-

Stop. It’s not real. It was a dream.

He sobered up, allowing a few tears to fall before taking a deep breath and expelling it carefully. He had never daydreamed before. The knowledge that his nightmares could follow him into his walking hours frightened him nearly as much as the nightmares themselves.

He could escape them as much as Crowley could his fate, if Aziraphale did not do everything in his power to stop it from happening.

He never wanted to see Crowley die again.

 

+I. 2019

It was over, for real this time. Not just a human war, but the real war. The one that had not come to be.

And more than that, they’d escaped execution, and, well, hadn’t that been quite the Thing to deal with. Aziraphale was almost dizzy on the adrenaline, flooded to his toes with relief. He’d spared Crowley his painful death, and likewise, and they were safe now.

Not just safe, they were free, however that translated.

It’d been weeks; they’d settled into it, or at least had begun to fully grasp what this meant for them – individually and together. There was so much to figure out, and, suddenly, all the time in the world for just that.

Optimistic, running on fumes, one evening, Aziraphale laid down to sleep.

He thought the nightmares might leave him alone now, with everything done, and he was wrong.

Though there as a new feature.

A grimy bathtub, paint chipping. Smudged plexiglass separated him from the moaning, crowding expanses of Hell’s subordinates, pressing forward for a better look at the traitor. The buzzing of flies was incessant; the stench of swamp and brimstone created an unpleasant impression of rot mixed with algae.

A red-haired demon stepped forward, his cocky front slipping as the moment stretched, and he could wait no longer. It would be worse to wait, he knew. He stood at the foot of it and, taking one last breath and exhaling it, wishing it tasted different, he fell in backward all at once, creating a splash; one final middle finger to those present and those Above.

His grainy screams ripped from his throat, high and low and loud, a groan and murmur and explosion of pain,

 the agony was unimaginable,

It hurt, it singed-

he felt his own bones exposing themselves as fat and muscle and ligaments, beautiful eyes and gentle facial features became one silent tinge to the water in the tub.

He could still hear the screaming.

scrEAming

screaMIng

SCreami-

Aziraphale!

Angel! Angel, wake up! What’s going on?

Are you hurt?!

Yes, yes, because you’re gonegonegonedeadI’malone-

The room was too bright.

It took him a few moments to catalog his surroundings. His bedroom, which he had brought back for the occasion. His pajamas, well-worn but vaguely unfamiliar from decades of disuse. Tears streaming out of his eyes, his throat tight as though he had been shouting for hours. The scent of sulfur and cayenne, a hint of sweet woodsmoke.

He knew that smell. It was his favorite in the world, from his favorite person. His demon.

It was then that he finally noticed he was being held by said demon.

He drew back quite suddenly, realizing his arms had been drawn tight enough around Crowley’s center to be cracking ribs if they were mortal. They were half reclined on Aziraphale’s bed, Crowley tense in front of him, quilted covers betwixt their jumbled legs. The demon’s concerned expression entered his field of view, and the gentle kindness in his eyes was almost too much to bear. Aziraphale fought the instinct to close his eyes.

“Hey, hey,” Crowley murmured as he might to a child – as he had to Warlock, Aziraphale remembered, recalling a sobbing not-Antichrist with a scraped knee and his suddenly soft nanny – keeping his arms steady around Aziraphale’s shaking shoulders. “Hey, angel. It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m here.” Crowley took an obvious, deep breath, maintaining eye contact. Aziraphale tried to mimic the pace, allowing his heartrate to slow bit by bit.

After a few moments of silence, breathing, allowing Crowley to thumb away his tears with a handkerchief he’d likely found on Aziraphale’s nightstand, Aziraphale finally spoke. “I’m…sorry, Crowley. Thank you.”

Crowley shook his head. “Don’t thank me, we don’t do that. Are you alright, angel? I came by to see if you wanted to go by St. James and heard you screaming from upstairs.” He paused. “Thought you were being attacked.”

Aziraphale grimaced. “I’m so sorry for frightening you. It was just a dream.”

The demon’s eyebrows knotted, and the angel felt his heart leap unhelpfully at the obvious worry and care in his countenance. “You get nightmares? Can’t you just miracle them away? You did that for humans during the plagues and such.”

“I tried, once,” Aziraphale admitted with a sad smile. “But the happy dream didn’t last.”

Crowley nodded in understanding. “That’s bullshit, that is.”

The angel let out a strangled laugh at that simple declaration, looking away and trying – failing – to keep the shame from bubbling up inside him for making Crowley worry over something like this. “Quite. But I’m fine now, I promise. It wasn’t exactly anything I haven’t seen before. I’m sorry.”

“Stop bloody apologizing, Aziraphale,” the demon said sternly, lifting an eyebrow as he leaned over to catch the angel’s eye; his spine stretched in a distinctly serpentine fashion for the maneuver. “Why in the world would you apologize for that?” he asked. “You know, angel, for someone so clever-“

“Yes, yes, so you’ve said.” He tried to sound petulant but fell short at exhausted.

“Right.”

“Yes.”

Crowley blinked, suddenly looking down between them as he righted himself. “Um. Er. Should I, uh, move away?”

Aziraphale recalled then the pressure of arms around him, hand splayed over his back, knees and thighs and calves in a tangle formed by the demon essentially sitting in his lap. When the angel took too long to reply, Crowley made to withdraw, and Aziraphale quickly reached out to wrap his own arms – much more gently than before – around Crowley’s waist.

“This okay?” Aziraphale asked softly.

Crowley nodded, blinking rapidly. The yellows of his eyes were fully extended, as they usually were when they were alone, but the pink cheeks were new. “So. Do you want to talk about it?” he asked eventually, seemingly gathering his wits. “I’ve heard that can help with this sort of thing.”

Aziraphale hesitated. He couldn’t possibly tell him about these dreams. “Well, it’s…I don’t…”

“You don’t have to,” Crowley rushed to amend. “Just. If you think it would help.”

“It’s just…silly,” the angel admitted, casting his eyes down to hover over the demon’s collarbone rather than his genuine expression. “Not important.”

“Angel.” His tone was of forced levity, but the angel heard the more honest worry behind it. “Angel, you were screaming my name when I arrived here, and you clutched at me like you didn’t believe I was there. Whatever you were dreaming about, don’t feel embarrassed by it. If it makes you feel like that, there’s no way it isn’t a big deal, yeah?”

Aziraphale pressed his lips together, processing, fretting at the imagery his words spawned. “I suppose. But I’ve been handling this on my own for so long. I’ll be fine. I always am, dear, though I appreciate your offer very much.”

Crowley nodded, though he held Aziraphale tighter, leaning a sharp chin into the angel’s shoulder. All the physical contact was so new, something they hadn’t really had since it was the social norm of a Victorian Europe, and even then, it was fleeting. But this was deliberate and intimate. Crowley was solid and real and there for him in more ways than one.

Aziraphale took a deep breath.

I want to trust him with this.

He felt suddenly like he had to.

“I dream about…dying,” he said vaguely, after weighing each word in his head and gently expelling them.

Crowley went still. “Like…Hellfire? In general?”

“Not me.” Aziraphale took another deep, unnecessary breath. How human, for such a thing to feel so centering, even though it ached like honesty. “I dream about you dying. By…by holy water, usually.”

Crowley took in a sharp breath, leaning back enough to catch Aziraphale’s eye. “Holy water? You – oh.”

The angel stayed quiet.

“How…how long have you been having these dreams, angel?” he breathed carefully.

Aziraphale looked away. “Awhile.”

“Angel. Look at me.”

He did.

“How long?”

“Since…you asked for it.”

Crowley’s face twisted and Aziraphale suddenly found his head pillowed against Crowley’s chest in a tight, all-encompassing embrace. His body felt warm against the demon’s chest, his narrow frame a heavy comfort as Aziraphale leaned into the hug, allowing the last of his tears to escape and soak into a soft black jacket.

“I’m so sorry, angel,” Crowley whispered, voice warped and taut. “I…I had no idea. I didn’t know it would hurt you so bad.”

Aziraphale shook his head minutely, not enough to break the contact. “You tried to tell me,” he murmured. “I’m the one who should have trusted you from the start.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Crowley bit back, not unkindly but firmly. “I should have made a better effort. Talked to you and explained it all, rather than just yell at you and lie to you.”

Aziraphale hesitated before gathering a bit of courage. “I lied to you, too, then. Of course, I need you, Crowley. I hope you know that.”

“I do. I’ve always known.” He lingered over his next words, like they were clawed from somewhere deep and hidden, locked away and dragged through the tar of denial. “I didn’t always want to acknowledge that I knew. Because I knew I needed you too – need you too – and that’s, well. Demons aren’t supposed to need angels.”

Aziraphale found himself smiling, despite everything. “Likewise,” he agreed, pulling away enough to face his demon, who looked pained and sympathetic and self-loathing all at once.

“I’m sorry, Aziraphale,” he repeated, slightly manic. “If I’d had any idea how much asking for that would hurt you, I wouldn’t’ve asked for it. You know I wouldn’t have. I would never hurt you, angel; not on purpose.”

“If you hadn’t asked, and if I hadn’t done as you said, you would be dead right now,” Aziraphale pointed out, shivering slightly at the thought. Best not linger there. He gentled his expression, still smiling, feeling the creases on his forehead relax for the first time in many, many hours. “But you’re here now, and I’m here, and it doesn’t matter.”

“It does!” Crowley insisted, pained. “You’ve been hurting all this time, and I’ve just been, what – dicking around, being an arsehole, convincing myself you hated me-“

“I’ve never hated you. Not once,” Aziraphale interrupted boldly, shaking his head and meeting Crowley’s eyes. He suddenly couldn’t bite back his words anymore; the confession dropped as easily as if its truth hadn’t been repressed for six millennia. “It’s, well…quite the opposite, dear.”

Crowley paused, searching Aziraphale’s expression for some trace of doubt. He found none, eyes widened minutely, and the moment meandered. Finally, he said in a rush, “I know. I know you do. And, and…you know I. I feel the same, right?”

“Of course,” Aziraphale replied breezily, enamored. “You’re even less subtle than I am.”

“Bastard.” Crowley cracked a slightly nervous grin before relaxing completely and letting his forehead lean against the angel’s, eyes closing as he did so. “Tell me when you have a nightmare again, okay? I’ll be here just to…remind you that I am, or whatever.”

Aziraphale blinked back a new wave of tears, smiling softly as he reached up to wind his arms around Crowley’s neck and kiss him properly. By the wetness on his face, he knew he’d failed to hold them at bay, and he didn’t care.

He couldn’t spare a thought to much of anything else in that moment, not when he was finally kissing his love for the first time, after six millennia of forced distance and dreaming of many kinds. Of hoping and knowing it was pointless, yet never quite able to let go.

The kiss was sweet and short, but even when gently aborted, they lingered close together, sharing breath and holding one another.

Existence felt like a comfort, and comfort felt like a demon’s love.

“Will you stay?” Aziraphale breathed eventually.

“As long as you want. Always,” he replied quickly, automatically, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Perhaps it was.

“Always,” the angel echoed. “I’ll never let anyone hurt you, love. I promise.”

“We’ll protect each other,” Crowley responded, placing a feathery kiss on the corner of Aziraphale’s mouth, like he couldn’t resist now that he had permission. “Like we always have. Forever. For eternity, angel.”

“For eternity,” he echoed again.

Eternity. It didn’t seem so bad, to spend it this way.

That night, Aziraphale did not dream. There was no holy water, no visions of darkness and terror. And, for the second time in his existence, he did not wake up alone.

Somehow, he had the distinct impression – knowledge – that he never would again. At best, his demon might be in the room over, if he managed to wake up first for once; he would probably be making tea just the way the angel likes it, carrying it back with a saucer and tiny spoon, kissing Aziraphale’s forehead while making some teasing remark to greet the dawn.

This was their eternity.

They were both broken, but they were both healing. They healed each other in the ways they could, and they kissed the scars that would never go away. They embraced the aching parts, comforted the sorrows, and consoled the hurts.

And they loved. Always.