Crowley was somewhere dark. Unfamiliar, but it didn't immediately feel dangerous to him. No rustling around of someone lurking around to attack him, no feeling of holiness to burn at him, nothing restraining or hindering him, and there was enough air movement around him that he could be relatively certain he wasn't trapped somewhere. He couldn't detect any immediate threat. There was no obvious sign of danger and yet he was still on edge.
Between being a demon and being the Serpent, he could normally see fairly decently in the dark. But more importantly, he had other senses. His hearing and sense of smell had always been more reliable. And he could hear weeping. Heavy, heartbroken, and familiar weeping. Crowley felt something squeezing tightly in his chest as he hurried through the darkness.
"Aziraphale," he whispered, his throat too tight to manage anything louder.
There was barely any echo. He didn't think that he was in a tunnel, though he wouldn't reject the idea of a very large cave system. One large enough that his footsteps and quiet voice didn't echo much. The ground did seem to be made of rough stone though. Not rough enough to trip him, but it lacked the smoothness of human intervention. The air was cool and a little damp. A large cave seemed more and more likely. Deep underground where the light of day could never reach. The type of place that normal eyes would be useless because it was absolute darkness and even his demonic vision was struggling a little.
He stalked towards the sounds of crying until he spotted a slightly paler shape in the darkness. Some of the tightness in Crowley's chest loosened. Aziraphale . A snap of his fingers and the demon summoned a dim light overhead. Not a strong or bright one because he didn't fancy blinding either of them, but it was enough to make them both flinch.
Aziraphale was sitting on the ground, almost like he'd collapsed there and curled up. His normally perfect posture had given in to something exhausted. His back was to Crowley and he hadn't stopped crying even after the light's appearance. But at least he found him. Crowley took comfort in that fact while ignoring the sense that something was wrong.
The scent was wrong.
"Aziraphale," he called again, hoping that the angel would turn and face him.
His voice rough and ragged, Aziraphale whispered, "This is your fault."
The scent was wrong. He could make out the damp stone and dankness of the cave, along with a few other things that belonged in dark, forgotten, and underground places. But Crowley's attention remained mostly on Aziraphale. He knew the angel's scent better than anyone else's on the entire planet. He knew the scent belonged to Aziraphale, but it didn't seem quite right. Something about the scent kept nagging at the edge of his thoughts. It held traces of something else that Crowley couldn't identify.
Or perhaps his mind refused to identify the change.
Taking a few steps closer, Crowley said, "Angel—"
"Don't call me that!" he snarled, whirling around towards Crowley.
The demon flinched, unable to keep the horrified expression off his face. The wrongness screamed at Crowley everywhere he looked. Aziraphale's clothes were torn and stained. Wet splotches already drying and ruining the fabric where it hadn't been torn or scorched at the edges. Still his preferred pale shades, but even the light-colored stains ensured that the familiar coat was beyond salvaging. His blond hair had lost the soft texture, turning flat, dull, and brittle. Aziraphale's left hand clutched at his arm, as if trying to hold himself together. His nails were torn with dark filth trapped underneath. His face was streaked with soot with tear tracks cutting down his cheeks. And his bright eyes had turned the pale white-yellow of pus. He looked diseased or like a creature meant to lurk only in the darkest of caves.
But the scent was worst. Aziraphale's normal scent had transformed. The hints of books, dust, and cocoa remained, though faint and weak. But the bright, warm, and airy scent that Crowley always associated with Aziraphale's angelic nature was gone. Crowley couldn't detect it. He could, however, smell burnt hair, feathers, and flesh. He could smell burning, sickness, and sulfur.
"No," whispered Crowley. A cold chill washed over him. "No, no, no…"
"It's gone. I can't feel Her. I can't— She's gone, Crowley," he wept, equal amounts fury and pain. "I can't feel any of it."
Crowley stared in horror and guilt. One hand went to clutch his chest while the other covered his mouth. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't look away. Something in him ached sharply inside him and the memory of past pain and grief burned in him. This was wrong. Every part of him rebelled against what was happening.
"You can't— She can't— She can't do this," stammered Crowley, shaking his head. "Angel, I—"
"Stop calling me that!" he shouted.
Aziraphale's wings snapped out, stretching wide. It felt like a punch to the gut. Burnt, twisted, broken, and damaged feathers met his gaze. Brittle and ruined things that no amount of preening would ever fix. They were barely clinging to his wings. A couple more fell out as Crowley stared. The slightest touch would splinter and break them further. Crowley knew how brittle the burning sulfur would leave feathers. He remembered from his own Fall.
Fall. Aziraphale had Fallen. His angel, the best and the only one that seemed truly good, had Fallen.
Trying to stop his shaking, Crowley crouched down to his level. Making himself small and safe. Crowley could freak out about it later. The churning and awful feelings in his chest could wait. Right now, he needed to be there for Aziraphale. He needed to calm him down and help him.
"It's all right," he said, his voice unsteady despite his best effort. Crowley slowly extended a hand towards him. "The feathers will be replaced by your next molt and… and the rest? We'll get through this. And it'll stop hurting as much, not feeling Her love anymore. It feels bad now, but it'll get easier. I promise it gets easier. It's not so bad once you get used to it."
But it would never be the same. It would get easier, but it would never be like how it was. Aziraphale would always be cut off from Her and Her love. Even when Heaven and the other angels turned against him, he still had Her in that distant way. Aziraphale didn't have that anymore and never would. That part of him was severed. He wouldn't sense the love in those around him. Aziraphale wouldn't be able to sense Crowley's love anymore. That would hurt him for a long time.
But he wouldn't be alone. Crowley would be there for him. They would get through this. It would get easier.
When Crowley reached a little too far, Aziraphale snapped, "Don't touch me. You did this to me."
Crowley scrambled backwards, holding his hands up defensively. Trying to give the former angel some space. If Aziraphale didn't want to be touched, he would respect that. Even if ever part of Crowley wanted to pull him close. Even if he wanted to hold Aziraphale until his heartache, grief, and fury eased. Crowley would give him some space. But he wouldn't leave. As much as Aziraphale's Fallen state and his sharp words might hurt, Crowley wouldn't abandon him.
Aziraphale pulled his wings close like a protective shield. Crowley wanted to comfort him, but he wasn't sure how. Everything he said or did seemed to make it worse.
"It's your fault," hissed Aziraphale, glaring at him with those sickeningly-pale eyes. "I Fell because of you. You ruined me."
"Ang— Aziraphale," he said gently. Crowley ignored his burning eyes and the way his throat tightened. "I'm—"
"Don't apologize. You can't fix me. No one can. You… You corrupted me and I Fell. I Fell because I lov…" He choked briefly on the words before turning his head upwards. "No. Not like this. I can't— I can't live like this."
"It won't hurt like this forever. I promise. I'll help you get through this."
Snarling with a fury that felt distinctly demonic, Aziraphale shouted, "I don't want your help. I hate you!"
Crowley flinched, the words cutting deep. He didn't want to believe Aziraphale's snarled screams. He didn't want to consider it. Crowley wished that it was just the result of all that raw pain, heartache, anger, fear, and shock from the Fall. But he could see it. He could see that burning hatred in Aziraphale's pale eyes. Something vital and precious inside him had broken beyond repair.
He didn't mean to make Aziraphale Fall. He never wanted that. It wasn't fair or right. How could all those other angels stay in Heaven when the best one Fell?
"I hate you! You ruined everything. How could you do this to me? I hate you! I hate you, Crowley! I can't live like this. I can't be a demon," he screamed, nearly hidden by his scorched and tattered wings. Only his face was visible, twisted by sorrow and fury. "I can't— I can't do it. I hate you!"
Aziraphale was shaking and sobbing furious tears as he snarled those cruel things. The venomous and sharp words sliced at Crowley, leaving deep invisible wounds. The demon tried to hide how much it hurt. It hurt hearing Aziraphale say that he hated Crowley, far worse than any of his denials of friendship over the millennia. It hurt seeing Aziraphale Fallen, a pale and broken shadow of who he was meant to be. And it hurt knowing that he was the one who dragged Aziraphale down. That Crowley's presence in his life tainted things enough that She finally grew tired of it and cast Her brilliant, kind, clever, and wonderful angel out. It hurt, but this wasn't about Crowley. Aziraphale was the one who lost so much and was suffering now.
His intentions to hide how he felt quickly proved futile. Crowley could feel the wetness running down his face despite his efforts.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I never wanted this to happen. You know that, Aziraphale."
Still shaking and sobbing, Aziraphale snarled, "You still did this to me. You dragged me down. I can't be a demon. I can't— Why did She— I don't understand. I tried to do the right thing. But you ruined everything. You ruined me . I hate you! And I hate what you've made me. I can't feel Her. I can't be like you. I can't be hollow and empty."
Aziraphale was fumbling with something, but his tattered wings hid it from view. Crowley swallowed past the tightness of his throat as he opened and closed his hands at his sides. He wanted to reach for Aziraphale and pull him close. He wanted to reassure and sooth him until Aziraphale stopped sobbing with rage and grief. Crowley wanted to hold him until his guilt stopped hurting. But Aziraphale didn't want him to touch him.
Aziraphale hated him.
"I hate you," whispered Aziraphale, his voice barely reaching Crowley as he kept his distance. "I hate you and I hate what I've become. I hate it. I can't live like this, Crowley." Then he looked at the demon, his pale eyes holding no hint of their normal light and brightness. "So I won't."
Aziraphale pulled a thermos –the familiar tartan thermos– into view and raised it over his head. Crowley could barely comprehend what it was, but part of him recognized it and tried to kick the demon into action. But he was too slow, too late, and too ignorant. Clear liquid spilled out before Crowley could scramble to his feet. And when it washed over Aziraphale, he screamed in agony and—
No, no, no.
Crowley scrambled over the rough ground, desperate denials falling out of him. But it was already too late. It was already over. Holy water. Aziraphale had—
He had holy water and he—
The demon stared at the damp, discolored mess of stained clothes and—
There was nothing left. Aziraphale was—
Crowley's mind refused to accept it. He couldn't move past the awful sight, the scream still echoing in his thoughts, and the way Aziraphale—
Aziraphale couldn't be… couldn't be…
The heartbroken wail tore out of him. Raw and agonizing. Grief, guilt, and sorrow woven together into a broken sound of misery. And when he couldn't keep going and his rebelling body demanded that he breathe, Crowley collapsed into deep choking sobs.
He should have stopped Aziraphale somehow. There was barely any time, but he should have realized what Aziraphale planned and stopped him. Crowley was supposed to protect him. He was supposed to keep his angel safe, but he failed in every way. He couldn't keep Aziraphale from Falling and he couldn't stop Aziraphale from taking holy water and—
No, worse than that. Crowley didn't just fail his angel. He caused everything. He made his angel Fall, which led to his destruction. Crowley ruined everything and now Aziraphale was gone because of him.
It hurt. Pain stabbed through him, grief and sorrow skewering him like a spear to the heart. He couldn't breathe. Sobs choked him. Crowley curled in on himself, unable to bear it. Something in him had been torn out and left a ragged and gaping wound behind.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to be alone. He wasn't supposed to survive without Aziraphale.
Make it stop. Make the pain stop. Some part of him begged for relief. He couldn't bear the heartache, guilt, loneliness, and grief trying to drown him. He needed to make it stop. He couldn't wait for it to end because there was no apocalypse looming, promising a swift and final release. The pain, sorrow, and solitude would stretch on for eternity.
Crowley clutched his head, nails digging into his scalp. A high-pitching keening escaped through clenched teeth. Aziraphale was gone and it was his fault. Tears rolled freely down his face. He needed his angel back. The pain of his loss would never stop. Crowley deserved that pain. But he couldn't lose him. He couldn't accept that fate.
There was nowhere that Aziraphale could go that Crowley wouldn't follow. And he wanted to go to his angel. He just wanted—
Make it stop. He needed to make everything stop hurting. He needed to escape the awful reality in front of him. Crowley needed— He needed—
Crowley reached blindly for what he needed –an ending, escape, relief from the agony of loss– and the dark and dank cave vanished around him. And just as suddenly—
—Crowley tumbled somewhere new, flailing slightly in order to land on his feet instead of flat on his face. Somewhere that immediately made his bare feet burn like they were on fire, causing the demon to drop roughly to the floor with a surprised gasp. Which didn't help much because he caught himself with his hands. And the knees of the black pajamas that he was wearing offered almost no insulation.
Consecrated ground. It was the burn of consecrated ground, but without the thick soles of his shoes to protect him. Just bare flesh and thin fabric pajamas.
Mind still a little scrambled and confused, he vaguely took in his surroundings. Wooden pews, unlit candles, stained glass, and decorative crosses. A church. That's where he was now. Not the dark cave, but a church. He didn't like transporting himself via miracles since it always seemed unreliable, but he knew that he was at the right place. It had what he needed.
At the far end of the church from him was a small font. An end to his heart-wrenching agony. A way to join his angel.
Sobbing with grief and the promise of relief, Crowley half-stumbled and half-crawled his way forward. Unsteady and painful progress towards the font of holy water. The burning of consecrated ground didn't matter. Let it scorch and hurt. He deserved it.
He killed his angel.
It had been a peaceful couple of weeks since the pair had been rescued from Heaven and Hell respectively and some rather drastic changes concerning their domestic lives had taken place. A new home together and their original godchild to finish raising. Change wasn't always easy, but they were settling in. They'd started to relax.
An angel in the library of their new cottage, fully engaged by an intriguing book while the radio played, could not be expected to hear the sounds of distress from a demon trapped in a nightmare on the upper floor. But the human boy in the bedroom across the hall was a light enough sleeper that it woke him up. Which led to Warlock calling to the tossing and turning demon, leaning over the bed while growing more and more concerned. But he didn't try grabbing Crowley's shoulder and shaking him. The teenager didn't know if waking a serpentine demon from an obvious nightmare would result in him being bitten or something, but he was bright enough not to risk it.
Which was why Aziraphale's comfortable reading session was interrupted at 3:27 AM by Warlock stumbling into the library, mildly panicked as he told the angel that something was wrong with Crowley. And that unexpected announcement sent a chill through the angel. He spared a brief moment to assure Warlock that he would handle it and then he was moving, book left abandoned in his armchair.
As Aziraphale hurried for the stairs, he instinctively reached for the bright and warm feeling of Crowley's affection. Not really think, only needing the reassuring sensation to combat the sparked panic. And even with the thick layer of love that engulfed Tadfield, Aziraphale easily found the demon's familiar love. But that love was saturated by pain and grief. Almost choking amounts of heartache consumed his love.
The angel tried to move faster.
Aziraphale reached the door just as he felt a flare of demonic energy and the feeling of hurting love fled. Not faded, weakened, or disappeared from existence. Fled somewhere. Even as it set off his panic further, Aziraphale was not surprised when he opened the door to an empty bedroom, the bed a tangled mess of sheets and blankets twisted together.
Worry and dread churned. Something was wrong and Crowley was missing. Not in Heaven or Hell. Still on Earth. Aziraphale could still feel it if he stretched his senses. He clung to the sensation of Crowley's love firmly, refusing to let it slip through his metaphorical fingers. He needed to find him. A desperate feeling warned that he needed to follow. That he needed to reach Crowley immediately or else he never would. Aziraphale couldn't explain the feeling, but he knew it was true without question.
"Please let this work," he whispered.
And, clinging to the sensation of his demon's love, Aziraphale vanished from their cozy cottage. He chased that feeling using it to serve as a beacon for his destination. A foolhardy plan, but the only one that he had.
Aziraphale would follow Crowley and his love anywhere.
The angel found himself standing in a church. A well-loved church. One that immediately felt almost soothing to his frazzled nerves. The people who attended during the day truly believed and their love had soaked into every corner of the building. But a church wasn't where Aziraphale expected the demon's trail to lead.
Then he turned.
Time seemed to stop. Aziraphale saw Crowley in his black silk pajamas, on his knees in front of a small font of holy water. His back was to the angel and his hands were gripping the edges, pulling himself up to it. Barely not touching the deadly substance. Trying to reach it.
Terror gripped Aziraphale at the sight of his worst fear unfurling before his eyes and something in him shrieked in horrified protest. He dove, tackling Crowley away from the holy water and back towards the floor. There was a hiss of pain and a broken sob. Then Crowley was scrambling across the ground desperately, unconcerned by how the consecrated ground must have hurt. The flesh on his bare feet was already red and burned. Wide and barely coherent eyes remained locked on the font as he scurried back towards destruction. Which forced Aziraphale to jump on top of the crawling demon again, trying to pin him in place.
Angelic strength should have been enough to hold most opponents. But not only was Crowley fairly strong in his own right, he was also extremely flexible and agile. He twisted and fought against Aziraphale's grip, trying desperately to wiggle free. The demon struggled aggressively even as he sobbed. The choking and gasping sounds of sorrow never eased. He never looked away from the font of holy water. And his eyes never turned towards the angel trying to grab the flailing limbs. And Aziraphale was certainly struggling to keep a hold of him. The demon wasn't making it easy.
Crowley sobbed roughly as he fought to break free and reach the holy water, but it wasn't just tears. There were words mixed in. Nothing that he said made much sense to Aziraphale, but everything that he said was filled with enough pain and distress to break the angel's heart.
"Let go… My fault… Hurts… Gone… He's gone," wailed Crowley, trying to claw his way to the holy water. "Stop… Gone… Aziraphale… It hurts… My fault… He's gone…"
"Please stop this," he begged. "You can't do this. I won't let you destroy yourself."
Crowley didn't seem to hear or comprehend the words. He kept twisting and fighting desperately to break free. Completely focused on reaching certain destruction. Aziraphale couldn't let that happen. He did his best to keep Crowley restrained while also trying to gather the frantic demon into his arms. He wanted Crowley off the consecrated ground before it could do any further damage.
"Calm down," he soothed. "Please calm down. Tell me how to help."
"He's gone," whimpered Crowley, abruptly going limp. All the fight and life suddenly drained from the demon, his voice going numb and empty. "It's my fault. I killed him. Aziraphale…"
He didn't move again. No more struggling. No more attempting to wiggle free. Just a limp and heavy weight. A complete surrender. Somehow, Aziraphale didn't like that any better.
Pulling and manipulating the shivering figure in his arms until he could hold Crowley in a bridal carry, Aziraphale lifted and moved the demon over to the closest wooden pew. A sturdy place to sit where there was no risk of Crowley burning himself further on consecrated ground. And it would put some distance between the demon and the holy water. Just in case.
Aziraphale closed his eyes tightly, resisting the frightened tears that tried to fall. A few seconds later… A few seconds slower… That's all it would have taken. He came so close to losing Crowley. The demon was nearly touching the holy water when he arrived. If he'd been a moment later slowing him, Crowley would be gone. Aziraphale's deepest fear, the one that stalked him from the moment that Crowley asked for holy water in 1862 and continued until their failed executions, nearly played out before his eyes. It was too much and far too terrifying for the angel to consider.
Taking a shaking breath, Aziraphale did his best to settle his frayed nerves and opened his eyes again. He wasn't too late. That's all that mattered.
Sitting on the pew and settling the demon comfortably in his lap. Aziraphale risked loosening his tight grip enough to free up one of his hands. Thankfully Crowley didn't use the opportunity to break free and sprint for the holy water. Aziraphale gently reached over and tilted Crowley's chin up a little.
The demon remained just as limp and pliant as before. No sign of the earlier frantic energy or desperation. Even with his eyes pressed shut, the resignation was clear on Crowley's tear-streaked face. The only sign of life was the weak and silent sobs that barely shook him.
Aziraphale cupped his face, his thumb brushing back and forth along Crowley's cheekbone. The demon shuddered at the gentle touch. As if he didn't want the kindness. Or thought he didn't deserve it.
"It's all right," he coaxed softly, holding the demon close. "I've got you. I promise it isn't as you think. Please open your eyes and look at me, my dearest."
Golden eyes without a sliver of humanity slowly slid open. Grief and sorrow filled them until they met Aziraphale's gaze. Confusion, denial, mistrust, timid hope, and then relief beyond measure followed. Aziraphale nearly sighed from the warm wave of love washing over him.
"Angel?" asked Crowley, a shaky hand reaching for Aziraphale's face. "What… Are you…?"
Aziraphale gave him a weak smile as he brushed back his tousled hair with his hand. The lingering pain and heartache were fading from the feeling of Crowley's love. But now that he had a moment to remember, the whole thing felt familiar. It reminded him of when they rescued Crowley from Hell.
He remembered how Crowley described it. Nightmares that felt real. And while Crowley never explained in detail what he saw, Aziraphale could put together the clues enough to guess.
"It was a nightmare. That's all," said Aziraphale. "It was only a bad dream. None of what you saw was real."
Crowley stared firmly as Aziraphale spoke, as if soaking in the words. And when the angel finished, he lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Aziraphale. Crowley clung to him. He hugged the angel tightly as he buried his face, breathing in the scent. Originally, he tucked his head right under Aziraphale's chin. Which felt rather nice and comforting to the angel as well. But a moment later, he shifted slightly until his face was nestled where Aziraphale's neck met his shoulder. Since Crowley seemed satisfied with that spot, Aziraphale moved his hand until he was cradling the back of the demon's head.
It would be all right. Aziraphale reassured himself that everything was fine now, even if the instinctive urge to manifest his wings and mantle them over Crowley was a little distracting. But the important thing was that they were safe. Everything was all right and they could sort everything out in a moment.
After Aziraphale stopped thinking about how close Crowley was to the holy water…
Crowley breathed in deeply. Inhaling the soothing scent. No sulfur, sickness, or burnt feathers. Only old books, cocoa, the latest recommendation from his barber, and the bright angelic scent. Aziraphale. He kept his face buried in the comfortable hollow by the angel's neck. He kept breathing in the familiar scent and letting it ease away his earlier grief.
It wasn't real. None of it happened. Aziraphale didn't Fall. And he wasn't gone.
He didn't cause his angel's demise.
Crowley's breathing hitched briefly. It had felt so real. Too real. So real that he hadn't been able to tell when the nightmare ended and reality asserted itself properly. So real that Crowley still expected Aziraphale to disappear. It made him tighten his arms a little more and he inhaled the reassuring scent.
Aziraphale's hand was buried in the demon's hair, perfectly manicured nails scraping gently along this scalp in a rhythmic pattern. One hand cradled the back of Crowley's head while the other curled around his body to hold him close. It felt good. Comforting, safe, and warm. Grounding.
But he knew that the peaceful and calm moment couldn't last forever. They couldn't just stay curled up quietly for the next few decades. They would have to address the issue looming over them. They would have to talk about what brought them there. Communication might not always be their strong suit, but they'd gotten better in the years since Aren't-mageddon and this wasn't something that the angel could ignore.
His fingers still buried in the demon's hair, Aziraphale murmured, "Feeling calmer now?"
"Do you want to talk about what happened?"
Cringing as he reluctantly pulled his face away from the comforting spot against the angel's neck, Crowley asked, "Do we have to? 'S just a nightmare. They happen."
"Well, this nightmare apparently caused you enough distress that you teleported to a church in your sleep and then tried your best to reach the holy water," said Aziraphale, his voice cracking on the last few words.
Cringing further, he muttered, "'M sorry, angel."
He did regret upsetting Aziraphale like that. After seeing holy water destroying him in that nightmare, Crowley knew exactly how badly it would have scared the angel to stumble onto that. It would have torn him up inside if the demon succeeded in his barely coherent attempt. And to be honest, it wasn't exactly comforting for Crowley either. Trying to destroy himself made sense when he was groggy and drowning in loneliness, misery, and guilt. It made sense when he thought Aziraphale was gone forever and it was his own fault. But in general, Crowley was a huge fan of not dying horribly.
"You almost left me," said Aziraphale quietly. "What was so bad that it would make you almost…? What happened? Can you tell me?"
He'd never had much luck denying the angel anything. Crowley closed his eyes and leaned back into Aziraphale's chest. He concentrated on the soothing scent and the soft texture of the angel's waistcoat. He let the sensations ground him. He needed the reminders if he intended to face that nightmare again.
"You were gone," he whispered shakily. "In the nightmare, you Fell because you lov… You Fell because of me and you couldn't… You refused to be a demon and there was holy water…"
Crowley shivered, unable to keep talking. Not when the words were bringing back the feeling of grief and guilt. Aziraphale squeezed him tighter in an attempt to reassure. His angel was fine. Crowley clung to that knowledge. It wasn't real. And when Aziraphale pressed a small kiss to the top of his head, Crowley felt some of the tension drain away again.
"Oh, my dearest." Aziraphale took a deep breath and leaned his head against him. "I'm sorry. I promise that will never happen. I wouldn't leave you like that. Never." He shifted his hold on the demon slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position for them both. "Besides, I disrupted the Great Plan, I disobeyed Heaven, and I directly lied to Her about what happened to my flaming sword. And if none of that caused me to Fall, then I certainly won't Fall because of my feelings concerning you."
Crowley smiled weakly in response. He knew that he should pull himself together. He was fine. He should focus on reassuring his angel. It was the middle of the night and he'd managed to scare Aziraphale with his stunt. The angel had a far more legitimate reason to be upset. Aziraphale had been worried about Crowley actually being in danger; the demon's fears were only a dream. Crowley should be the one comforting him. Aziraphale was the one that actually needed and deserved reassurance right now.
But Crowley couldn't quite bring himself to do anything other than soak in his scent and warmth. Not yet. It felt selfish. He knew that he should be taking care of his angel. That's what he always did. Crowley could always push aside his own issues by focusing on what Aziraphale needed. It was a reliable way to ignore his problems, which were usually beyond his ability to fix anyway. Helping Aziraphale was something that was within his power and that's what he should be doing now.
And yet he still couldn't pull himself together and shake off the remnants of that nightmare. He wanted… He needed something to drive away the memories. The memory of Aziraphale Fallen, completely shattered and broken by the experience. The memory of Aziraphale melting away in an instant.
And one other memory. One that he desperately needed to be erased with reality. Because while curled up in Aziraphale's arms and breathing in his angelic scent proved the rest of the nightmare to be false, there was one part that could still be true. A painful part of the nightmare, where vicious and cruel words left behind deep wounds. Maybe it was selfish, but Crowley needed something to help sooth that pain and prove that it wasn't true.
"Aziraphale," he said quietly. "Could you… could you say…?"
The words weren't coming. Crowley wanted to ask for what he needed, but the nightmare kept playing in his head. He kept seeing the furious and heartbroken Aziraphale shrieking I hate you with tears in his eyes. He knew it wasn't real, but he couldn't bring himself to finish the request. He couldn't risk it becoming reality. He couldn't bury the irrational fear.
But his angel knew what he was asking regardless.
Turning his face slightly to press a kiss to Crowley's temple, he said gently, "I love you. My dearest, precious, and beloved Crowley." Another soft kiss, this one to his forehead. "I love you dearly. I hope that you know how much I treasure you, Crowley. And that's why this scared me so badly. It would break my heart to lose you because I love you so much. I never want to risk any of this happening again."
And then it was like he could breathe again. The warm and happy feeling from his reassuring words seeped into him, all the way down to coil around his true form. The nightmare held no strength in the face of Aziraphale's love. Though it was still overwhelming to be the target of his concentrated affection like that. He wasn't certain that he would ever get used to it.
In the face of so much concentrated love and attention, Crowley couldn't help squirming slightly in Aziraphale's arms. And immediately flinched at the brief spike of pain it caused.
Oh, right… Consecrated ground. Now that he wasn't drowning in emotional distress, Crowley could actually pay attention to his physical pain. Anywhere that touched the floor was burned. His silk pajamas gave him enough protection that it was mostly the equivalent of a sunburn, but his bare hands and feet were a shiny red with a few blisters already forming. Demonic miracles wouldn't heal injuries from holy sources and even if he let Aziraphale try to help, angelic powers would only make them worse. They'd figured that out during his last visit to a church. No, Crowley was stuck with them healing the slow way.
He wasn't going to be walking back home.
Grimacing slightly, Crowley reluctantly shifted around until he was no longer sitting in Aziraphale's lap and ended up curled up on the pew next to him instead. He avoided letting his legs dangle off though. No reason to risk accidentally letting them touch the consecrated ground again. He could leave them resting on the pew, half-curled against him. The angel's arm wrapped around Crowley in his new position. Keeping him close and letting Aziraphale pull Crowley's head onto his shoulder to rest.
"Do you think," asked Aziraphale slowly, "there's a chance of this happening again?"
Crowley opened his mouth to deny the possibility, to reassure the angel that this was just a one-time event from a bad dream. But the words wouldn't come. He couldn't make that promise. When nightmares struck the night immediately after his rescue from Hell, would he have tried something similar if he hadn't been exhausted and weak? Would he have teleported in his sleep or tried something self-destructive over imaginary guilt and grief? Crowley didn't know. He didn't know what he would have done then if he had the energy and he couldn't predict what a bad enough nightmare might cause in the future. If he'd tried this once, he might try again before rational thought could stop him.
He should be better than that. Crowley knew that he shouldn't let a few bad dreams do this to him. But his subconscious apparently refused to be reasonable, which meant it was very possible that he could end up in the exact same situation again.
"Remember… when you found me in the kitchen of your flat? The night after… The night after we made it back to Earth," said Aziraphale after a moment. "You pulled me out of it. Then, when we figured out that it bothered me when I was somewhere too quiet and too white, we figured out ways to avoid that. Remember? We found ways to help me. You did." His hand rubbed up and down Crowley's arm gently, the faint burns twinging even if the demon appreciated the reassuring gesture. "Tell me what you need to help you. What causes them? What do we need to change?"
Swallowing hard, Crowley said, "Nothing really sets off my nightmares. They just happen. I don't know if… Ngk. If they happen again, I don't know how I'll react. Never had this happen before and I don't know if I'd do it again. I just… reacted. Hard to think during a nightmare. And after what happened last time in Hell, my nightmares apparently got a bit of a boost. I don't know what could cause the next one or if it'll happen all by itself again."
"Then if you don't know what makes it worse, what would make things better?"
"Can't have nightmares if I don't sleep," he said, shoulders slumping already at the idea. "Don't really need it, right? Demon and everything."
"But you like sleep. And this doesn't happen all the time. You shouldn't have to give it up completely." Aziraphale shifted enough to look him in the face. "What if I stay with you at night? I can wake you up if a nightmare gets too bad or at least grab you if you try to disappear."
"So… you plan to stand guard every night? I can't ask you to do that, angel."
Smiling reassuringly, Aziraphale said, "I can read in bed next to you just as easily as I can anywhere else. And if it means that I never have to see you reach for holy water again, I will happily keep watch over you for the next six thousand years." One hand reached up to cup Crowley's face again. "But let's get you home first. It's the middle of the night and… honestly, I have no idea where we are. Let's hope this is a local church or else it will be a long trip back."
And with that, Aziraphale carefully scooped him back up in a bridal carry. Then he carried his demon towards the door.
Warlock tried to not be surprised when he made it back upstairs and didn't find the angel or demon. He was a little initially because there was only one set of stairs and there was nowhere else that anyone could go other than out the window. But he reminded himself that they weren't human and that they had powers, so disappearing into thin air shouldn't be that shocking.
Though he had no idea why they would disappear like that. Or where they would go.
For the first little bit, he ended up hanging around the empty master bedroom awkwardly. As if they would reappear like it was a magic show. But Aziraphale's magic tricks and slight-of-hand weren't nearly as impressive. And when it became clear that it would take a while for them to come back, Warlock wandered back towards his own bedroom.
He couldn't possibly go back to sleep after that. So he listened to some classical music on his iPod, letting the violins and flutes sooth him. And he watched Brother Hamster run around his wheel in his cage. But mostly, Warlock tried his best not to think. He could already tell that if he started thinking, he wouldn't like the things that his brain would come up with.
It helped a little. But it didn't keep all the worry from gnawing at him.
Finally, when he was starting to seriously consider if he needed to head down the road to Anathema or Adam for help or if he needed to grab his water guns again just in case some things happened to them, he heard the front door open. Warlock was already scrambling down the stairs before he even realized that he'd moved.
He nearly ran into them on his way down. Thankfully, Warlock had relatively good reflexes and Aziraphale had even better ones. The fact that the angel was carrying Crowley in his arms was concerning. But the faintly bemused expression on the demon's face kept the boy from worrying too much about him.
"Are you all right, Nanny?" asked Warlock.
Smiling gently, Aziraphale said, "He'll be fine. He wandered somewhere that didn't agree with him, so he's not going to be walking around much tomorrow— or rather today, I suppose. It is after midnight. Regardless, we'll bandage up his hands and feet and they'll be healed up before you know it. No real harm done other than having to walk halfway across Tadfield to make it back."
There was a feeling that the angel wasn't tell him everything. Warlock was familiar with the feeling of being excluded or brushed off. But it didn't feel like he was lying. Maybe just not telling him the whole story. He turned his attention to the demon.
"I'm fine, Hellspawn," said Crowley, his voice wavering a bit between his normal tone and something that sounded more like the boy's nanny. "Just a… Well, you know how humans sometimes sleepwalk? Same idea, only with demonic powers. Aziraphale's right. Ended up somewhere I shouldn't have and burnt myself a bit. Didn't mean to get the whole household worked up over it."
"But I am thankful you went and got me, Warlock." Aziraphale gave him another smile, though this one was a bit more tense. "If you see him acting like that again sometime, let me know immediately."
"It was a nightmare, wasn't it?" he asked.
Crowley nodded, golden eyes flickering back up to Aziraphale. And it almost looked like the angel pulled him a little closer in his arms.
"Go on back to bed, Warlock. You need your sleep. I'll take care of Crowley and keep an eye on things for now," said Aziraphale. "You both must be tired."
Warlock would like to argue that he wasn't that tired, but the yawn that slipped out would have proven that he was a liar. He probably should go back up to his room. He could always eavesdrop outside the master bedroom later as long as he didn't get caught.
1 While it was simple to send something or someone away with a miracle, there was almost no way to guarantee the destination. It was sending them away, not towards. It was nearly impossible to aim by that method. Not without a line of sight for short-distant transport or something to serve as a beacon for longer distance. Some of the more powerful angels and demons had better control and could occasionally pull it off reliably if they were familiar with where they wished to go. But most wouldn't risk it as a method of travel unless there was no other choice. It was embarrassing to discorporate due to teleporting inside a wall. [ ↑ ]
2 Warlock had a surprising amount of common sense sometimes considering who was in charge of his upbringing. [ ↑ ]
3 Not truly. Aziraphale knew what it felt like when Crowley halted the inevitable flow of time. He'd experienced enough times that he could recognize the sensation. No, time hadn't truly stopped. It was metaphorical this time around. [ ↑ ]
4 Aziraphale knew that he couldn't actually hear the demon sizzling and he knew that he couldn't smell his skin burning like bacon. But fear and imagination could be powerful things. Regardless, Aziraphale's stomach turned, his appetite fled, and all plans concerning breakfast in a few hours evaporated. [ ↑ ]
5 Not that Aziraphale knew how realistic nightmares normally seemed. He didn't sleep enough to have much experience with dreams. As far as he understood the concept, dreams were like going to watch a picture at the theater without the benefit of popcorn. [ ↑ ]
6 Too many thousands of years where they couldn't risk saying things directly and where plausible deniability was a survival strategy. They'd spent a long time where they depended on implying and inferring meanings rather than using the actual words to get the message across. Sometimes it worked out well, but other times it led to a certain demon sleep-sulking through a few decades because a certain angel misinterpreted the concept of "insurance." [ ↑ ]
7 Angels and demons didn't technically need to breathe, just like they didn't need to eat or sleep. But corporeal bodies tended to come with a standard set of instincts. And after six thousand years, it was easier to put certain aspects on autopilot and that meant their bodies complained less when they were allowed to follow those instincts. [ ↑ ]
8 Which was still faster than humans could heal from similar injuries. Crowley was a demon, after all. Even without miracles, demons and angels tended to bounce back more quickly. [ ↑ ]