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My Guardian Dear

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Crawly reared up out of the forest, his gigantic serpentine body towering over the two demons below him. The woods went silent around them. The injured angel lying on the ground did not stir. 

Crawly slithered closer, running a wide circle around the angel, blocking him off from the demons. “I claim this prey as mine,” Crawly hissed. 

The two demons stared up at him. Crawly didn’t know them personally, but he hoped they weren’t any tougher than they seemed. After all, they were fighting two against one.

One of the demons snarled at him. “We had him first!” 

“And I appreciate you catching him for me,” Crawly said, as mockingly as he could. “But this territory is mine, which means the angel is mine, and you are trespassing.”

The demons had swords, and they raised them threateningly. But Crawly had two weapons, too: bright sharp fangs. Crawly lunged toward them, jaw unhinged and ready to bite. The demons fled. Thank G— well, thank Somebody.

Ten minutes earlier, Crawly had been on his way to cause unspecified mischief in a nearby town when he’d heard a cry echoing through the forest. It had been hard not to hear it. An angelic scream was a form of self-defense, painful to any demon unlucky enough to be close to it. For that reason, Crawly had been about to turn and head in the other direction. Some angel getting discorporated— or worse— by another demon was not any of his concern. (This forest did not actually happen to be Crawly’s personal territory, despite what he’d claimed.)

But then Crawly’s brain reminded him that there really was only the one angel that Crawly knew of on Earth. It might have been another angel who’d screamed. And it might have been Aziraphale. Angel of the Eastern Gate. The only being in all creation who’d been remotely kind to Crawly since his Fall, who had looked on his serpentine form and hadn’t flinched away. 

Crawly ran on two legs, and when he got closer, he changed his form to the one that had no legs, the immense Serpent of Eden, large and dark and as frightening as he could manage to be. He poked his head up out of the undergrowth of the forest to see the demons with their prize. Feathers drifted through the air and the smell of blood was sharp against Crawly’s tongue.

The angel was lying on the ground. Crawly couldn’t see his face, but he knew it was Aziraphale. He recognized the white curly hair, and the empty, weaponless hand of a guard who had given away his sword. 

Now, with the other demons gone, Crawly slithered closer around Aziraphale and flicked his tongue out, tasting the air, trying to sense his wounds. Aziraphale’s wings were out, and his feathers hung raggedly. He still hadn’t moved, but Crawly could hear that he was breathing, although it sounded harsh and painful. 

Crawly hissed in frustration. Had Aziraphale attempted to be kind to these demons, too? Had they been unimpressed with the gift, throwing it back in Aziraphale’s face? Aziraphale was so trusting, so friendly— 

Oh, no. Aziraphale was awake.

Aziraphale’s blue eyes widened as he took in the black coils arranged around his body. He tried to push himself up, to scramble away, but there was nowhere for him to go. And then his gaze fell on Crawly’s face.

“Oh,” Aziraphale breathed, in clear relief. “It’s you.”

“Just me,” Crawly said softly, trying to ignore how stupidly good it felt to have some of that irrational angelic trust turned his way. “From Eden, yes? We talked on the wall in the rain. And after that in Egypt, right? And Mesopotamia? We had lunch. Well, you had lunch. I just kind of sat there.”

Aziraphale took a moment to process the scene, looking at himself, at their surroundings. His pale robe stood out plainly against the dark forest. He didn’t belong here, Crawly thought. Not surrounded by shadows that could hide enemies, not stationed on Earth where enemies abounded. Aziraphale ought to be in Heaven, safe and clean and in no need of his long-lost sword.

And yet, Crawly had to admit, in some ways, Aziraphale had always seemed like he very much did belong here. Crawly couldn’t quite imagine Aziraphale being happy in Heaven, where everything was white and bright. Aziraphale was too colorful for that. He’d looked so at home in Eden. He’d smiled beautifully at the sight of birds and butterflies, at the taste of peaches and honey. Even here, in the shadowed forest, Crawly was sure Aziraphale had been admiring the violets that ringed the trees. Foolish angel. 

And Crawly was a foolish demon.

“You fought those demons for me,” Aziraphale said.

“Scared them off,” Crawly amended, as if that was somehow better.

Aziraphale looked at him curiously, but Crawly didn’t have to answer any more questions, because Aziraphale lay back down and passed out again.

Crawly took human form to lift the angel into his arms. Aziraphale was so soft, even softer than Crawly had imagined. Dirty and a little bloody, but still sweet-smelling. Crawly didn’t really remember being an angel, so he didn’t know if all angels were like that or if it was just Aziraphale.

An hour later they were in a cave, as far away as Crawly dared carry an angel. Crawly lit a miraculously smokeless fire— Earth fire, not Hellfire— and magicked the cave entrance invisible. And then he started going over Aziraphale’s wounds with careful hands, keeping a sort of triage in his mind: which injuries might prove fatal? Which were the most painful? Which were the ones that a fussy angel would want fixed first? Fortunately, the answer to that last one was probably just Aziraphale’s robe, and it was quick work to miracle that clean and whole again. Crawly took all the dirt out of the angel’s white curls for good measure.

Some of the injuries were severe, though, and Crawly was glad that Aziraphale showed no sign of waking, because the feeling of being poked and prodded and then subjected to the type of healing a demon could provide would certainly have been very painful.

Of course, things were only going to get harder when Aziraphale did wake up. He was going to ask questions, and questions, in Crawly’s experience, sometimes should not be asked. 

Crawly was imagining the conversation. What would happen if the demons that had attacked Aziraphale noticed that he was walking about on Earth again, healed and healthy? What if they figured out who Crawly was and then told Hell about it? Worst of all, what was Crawly going to say to Aziraphale when the angel asked him why he was doing this?

All the activity and the healing exhausted Crawly. He needed sleep, but he had to be sure Aziraphale was protected, so shifted back into his serpentine form in all its (hopefully) demon-scaring glory. Which was why when the angel did wake, he found himself tucked up neatly between two enormous black coils of a giant snake.

Crawly woke when Aziraphale did, because the angel’s wings moved and tickled against his scales. He turned to show Aziraphale his face, since the angel had recognized him before, and hopefully would do it again, and hopefully wouldn’t struggle enough to re-injure himself, and really really hopefully wouldn’t do that angelic screaming inside of a cave— 

Aziraphale was not trying to escape. He was examining one of his wings, the one Crawly had spent the most time with. “You healed my broken bone,” Aziraphale said, without looking up. He ran his fingers down the feathers. “I’ll probably even fly again.”

Then his eyes found Crawly and the look he gave him was fond and sad and beautiful. Aziraphale did not ask why. He also did not say thank you. The words hung over them like icicles melting above the fire, but Aziraphale seemed just as willing to ignore them as Crawly was. 

“What happened?” Crawly asked. “With the demons. Did you try to make friends?”

Aziraphale frowned and shifted slightly. Crawly quickly rearranged himself to make a better seat out of his coils. It looked rather odd, of course, to see an angel resting comfortably while encircled by a demonic serpent. It was such a clear sign that the two of them were not the enemies they were supposed to be. But somehow it didn’t really look wrong.

“I got in their way,” Aziraphale said. “They were harassing some humans.”

“So you just figured you’d take them both on?”

Aziraphale looked affronted. “It’s my job, Crawly, I’m a Guardian. It’s what I do.”

“You were a Guardian in Eden. Eden is long gone. You can’t go about risking your life—”

“Yes,” Aziraphale said, raising an eyebrow. “I certainly can’t. In quite the same way that demons can’t go about rescuing angels.”

Crawly set his head on his coils and hissed.

Aziraphale did not look impressed. “How long have we been here?” he asked.

“Two days. Do you want to— I’m not—” Crawly tried again. “I’m not holding you here.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows and looked down at Crawly’s serpentine body where it wound around him. “You’re not holding me?”

Crawly let out a hiss of embarrassment. “I mean you can go,” he snapped. “If you want to. You— you should probably go back up to Heaven so they can heal you.”

To Crawly’s partial surprise, Aziraphale looked displeased with that option. Crawly laughed. “Wandering about where you weren’t supposed to, were you?”

“Well, look, it’s not as if I’m not getting my assignments done,” Aziraphale protested. “I’ve handed in my paperwork. But the world is so big, and I’ve seen so very little of it.”

“And what Heaven doesn’t know can’t hurt them?”

“Don’t say it like that,” Aziraphale ordered. “Anyway,” he said, more softly, “I would quite understand if you need to be moving on. I think I can heal myself well enough in a couple of days.”

Crawly said casually, “Don’t really have anywhere to be for the next couple of days.”

Aziraphale smiled at that, and it was just as warm and sweet as Crawly remembered. The flames were casting moving shadows all through the cave, and while they didn’t do much to Crawly’s scales, Aziraphale’s pale form grew light and dark in sequence as the firelight danced over him. Sometimes Aziraphale was so shadowed as to almost blend in with Crawly’s body, and sometimes he shone brightly, as an angel should.

He was beautiful through all of it, and Crawly had told himself every time they met that he was not to notice how lovely the angel was. Not to get caught in those sky-blue eyes, not to let his thoughts linger on the soft, graceful hands. Crawly had made up his mind in Eden that he was never going to touch Aziraphale, because the angel was the most confusing temptation he’d ever come across. Angels were dangerous, and Crawly didn’t like them. Aziraphale was dangerous too, and fear was the last thing Crawly felt for him. He wasn’t about to make things harder on himself, so there was going to be no touching. No brush of wings, no helping hand coming down the stairs from the Eastern Wall. He’d even moved away the one time that Aziraphale had reached for him, wanting to heal a scratch on Crawly’s arm. The angel had looked so sad then, folding his hands back together. 

But now this. Crawly didn’t know what it meant, couldn't tell quite how much his world had shifted. Was Aziraphale staying curled up with him because he was injured, or was this going to be their new normal? Crawly wasn’t sure if he would survive if it was, if he’d be sharing constant touches with this angel. But if it wasn’t, would that be worse? Now that Crawly had learned what it was to touch Aziraphale, what if he was never able to do it again?

Crawly woke the next morning to the sight of Aziraphale passing golden-glowing hands over his ankle. “Almost have it, I think,” Aziraphale said, again without looking up. Crawly wasn’t sure how Aziraphale knew he was awake. Unless maybe Crawly snored. Did he snore? He hoped not, especially not in a cave.

Aziraphale was oblivious to Crawly’s anxiety. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “that I might have some information. About Heaven, I mean.” He flicked his eyes up to Crawly. “Information Hell would like to have. Information that perhaps could be gotten out of me over a period of days inside a cave…in case anyone were to ask.”

“Suppose so,” Crawly said slowly.

“I’ll have to escape your clutches, though. I, um— I will either need to outsmart you—” 

“Oi!”

“Or fight you. And win.” Aziraphale seemed satisfied with his ankle then, and folded his leg up under his robe. And then one of the questions finally fell between them. “Are you ever going to ask me why I didn’t smite you on the wall of Eden?”

Crawly laid his head on his coils, watching Aziraphale carefully. He’d certainly spent some time with that question himself, and he gave the answer he’d come up with: “You were lonely.”

“You were different.”

Crawly hissed suddenly, and he reared up until he towered over the angel. “I’m a demon, Aziraphale. That’s never going to change.”

Aziraphale did not do him the courtesy of looking afraid. Instead he watched Crawly’s posturing with a curious eye. “Wait,” he said. “Do you have venom?”

Crawly hissed again. “Excuse me?” 

“You aren’t poisonous?”

“It’s venomous,” Crawly corrected him with a weary sigh. “Look, if you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous. If it bites you and you die, it’s venomous.”

He could see Aziraphale putting that together. “So if you bite...” he murmured to himself, “Or if I… but if we bite each other…”

Crawly dropped his head back down onto his coils. “Oh, we are not going there. Anyway. Yes, I have venom.”

“What does it do?” Aziraphale inquired, his interest piqued. “Does it perhaps make people suggestible?”

“No, it does not, and I just bloody said we’re not going there.”

Aziraphale blinked. “Going where?”

“Nowhere.

Aziraphale gave him an irritated look. “Well, I was just thinking that it might be a reason to let me go, without my having to best you in a fight. If I’m a source of information to you, under ah, certain circumstances…”

“Hell would know why I kept you here and let you leave alive. Might even—” Crawly tried not to shiver. “Might even get you protected status among other demons. If you’re useful to me.”

For some reason, Aziraphale blushed a little at that, but he just said, “Precisely. And as for Heaven, of course, I’ll tell them your venom doesn’t work on me, but I pretend it does and then I feed you false information.”

“How do you come up with that but you don’t understand the poison thing— Never mind. It’s very clever.”

Aziraphale looked down at the fire, and said, in a light voice, “And it— it would give us a reason to meet up, now and then. You and me.”

The cave grew still in the same way that the forest had when Crawly had shown himself.

“I know why you saved my life,” Aziraphale said. “You’re lonely, too.”

“And you’re different.”

“I shouldn’t be.”

Crawly didn’t know if Aziraphale meant that other angels should be kind to demons or that Aziraphale himself ought to be cruel, and his heart ached for him. “What’s that word you like?” Crawly asked. “The one you think explains everything.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “You think that this — that you and I— are ineffable?”

“Didn’t say I thought it, I just said you liked the word.”

Aziraphale looked up at him with that same sort of sad fondness, but this time, there was just a hint of hope. “Actually, my dear,” he said, “I’m fairly certain that there is a better word. But until we can use it, I think ineffable will have to do.”