he doesn't know how to fly.
he used to be ashamed of the fact - used to, because convincing himself he’s gotten over it is easier than facing what's grown into a steady, steep cliff of guilt that he teeters off of every night when his thoughts are the only company worth talking to. his wings, well, they give off all the otherworldly appearances they ought to. bright white, with a softly sheening glow. like the reflection of swan wings on pond water, the blurred outlines feasible in their own right. aziraphale stretches his wings out when no one's around to see. no, not even with crowley. the demon had tried to talk him into it once. in rome, in some closed-off, nearly abandoned bar, the restaurant doing so poorly for itself that they were the only two customers there. he’d jeered and caroused, overblissed on the sweet mead, ordering mug after mug. and aziraphale - well, he's always one for indulgence. to say he hadn't enjoyed himself as well would be painting an unfair picture. and lying, to put it simply.
but then - then the topic of wings had come up. and crowley, his dear, darling crowley, sometimes, once he's gotten started, hardly knows how to stop, much less when. he’d ruffled out his own wings, dark and elegant, with feathers like pins. and aziraphale had been too gone to stop him, heaven knows, he's let crowley get away with quite a bit more than he should have. the humans running the place were off in the backrooms, anyways. it had all been just fine, perfectly, entirely fine, until the wings - the blasted wings!
for all of crowley’s pushing and prodding, for all the pestering in the world, aziraphale wouldn’t budge. his wings remained tucked away, heavy like the blush on his cheeks, the sour taste of embarrassment. and crowley had scowled, a tad on the crabby side for the rest of the evening, but eventually let it pass.
aziraphale inhales, deep and grounding, as if trying to steel himself, seal his feet to the ground. he lets his wings rush forth, springing from his back like water over riverstones. it’s a smooth, swift movement, slicker than most things aziraphale does. but as he pulls them down to pet at the feathers, poke the brittle bones underneath, he knows. he knows, and he weathers his disappointment. not like he’d expected them to be any different today. but still, it's just so - it's simply disheartening. the fact is, it's not that he doesn't know how to fly, really, when he admits it to himself. it's that he can't fly.
sickly is what gabriel had called him, the first time they met. just hours after his creation, with his skinny, shaking wings, and feathers so frail it seemed they might wilt at a single touch. soft had been michael’s choice of words, though with her slighting glare, it had stung worse than gabriel’s definition. his halo had glowed the color of yellowed book pages, paper turning thin and crumpled at the corners. nothing like gabriel, or uriel’s, or much less sandalphon’s bright hues. even now, he can still see the pale shade in dappled splotches in his eyes, highlights for the equally murky blue. his eyes are no less worse than the rest of him. like dirty water, shallow and filled with mud, leaves, twigs and filth and everything else unwanted by the world. though always wanted by god, he supposes. such things like twigs and himself cannot be mistakes - the almighty doesn't make mistakes, he’s supposed to exist in his current fashion. he’s made right - just made wrong as his form of right.
but he doesn't want to be wrong anymore.
he shovels the thought away, curls it up in a neat little note, and tables it for later.
crowley tries teaching him.
the first few attempts go about as well as anyone could expect. with crowley’s hands on his own, gripping on tight as he kicks them both into the sky. aziraphale floats easily, considering he is made of magic, an ethereal being. he’s not a particularly difficult feat to carry on crowley’s end. and they walk together, crowley doing the flying, his wings beating heavy as aziraphale traces clouds with his feet, dashing them away as easy as he would bubble bath. but once aziraphale’s wings come out, it all starts going sour. something quiet in him stifles, dulling down from a sparked curiosity into shame, fear. he doesn't know how to do this, he reminds himself. all he knows is that he can't.
with self doubt in mind, it's quite a bit harder to stay alight. and when aziraphale trips, tumbling over nothing, crowley thinks it better to catch him as he falls, and guide them both back down to ground before anything gets too out of hand. it reminds him a little too much of gabriel, of the archangels. how they’d pitied him, babied him, wrapped him up in all the metaphorical cotton and wool imaginable. he was never allowed to go flying with the others - no, sweetheart, why don’t you stay here with me, you can show me how you make those daisy chains you like. and no, sweetheart, just rest for now. look, you’re getting yourself all worked up. you know your heart can’t take that. and no, sweetheart, you’re too delicate, too fragile, don’t get up, let us do this for you, let us help you - you don’t have a choice in the matter.
but he knows crowley means well, so he bites down the bitter remainders of heaven’s coddling. he isn’t a child - he’s grown, he doesn’t have to convince himself of this. he’s seen countless wars, helped inumerable humans. the guardian of eden, angel of the eastern gate. and, perhaps, that’s part of why he likes it down here so much. to a human, he’s extraordinary. blasted be any thoughts of flying, a simple burst of his wings, glowing white enough to make dark shadows of everything else in comparison, and they’d be on the floor, praying to him like an altar. he doesn’t want that, of course, all he wants is to be equal. not above, or below. simply, on the same level as the rest of his kind. made of the same stock, the same golden ether that lights up gabriel’s violet brilliance, or michael’s deep blue. they’re all so - so colorful. and aziraphale is nothing but the same greying palette that he’s always been.
but that night, after two and a half glasses of wine, precisely, and plenty of crowley’s encouraging - his compliments, and bribery, (here, angel, i’ll find you that book you keep squabbling about being lost, if you just do this for me) and even his love, born in its purest form - aziraphale lets his wings out. they’ve never looked as beautiful as they do reflected in crowley’s mesmerized eyes, his marvel a testament to how deeply this love runs, this thing that they share. it has aziraphale shaking, dizzy, lightheaded, and his chest pitter patters in that too familiar way, his footing catches off balance. crowley sits him down, tells him to fold them back up if he’s getting anxious, there we are, that’s a dear, it’s alright now.
and aziraphale crumples into that miserable, helpless state once more.
the next day, crowley tries again. this time, at a small stream just down the road from their cottage. walking there would be a bore, if not for all the sights and sounds, the gorgeous, pastel watercolor symphony of scenery around him. there's water lilies in full bloom by the edge of the bank, and crowley picks one for him, (you shouldn't pick flowers, gabriel had once told him, you shouldn't love something if your love makes it die) settling it betwixt his curls, on the side of his head. aziraphale blushes, and tries not to linger for too long on the exaggerated romance of the gesture, as if he's trying to make up for last night. instead, aziraphale lets crowley lead him by his hand, all the way to the water softly washing up against muddied dirt, green and blue in the light of the sun. there’s rocks to line a crooked path across the water, and crowley hops across them with ease. he leaves aziraphale feeling rather lonely, isolated on his side of the stream.
“your turn, angel.” crowley says, skipping stones with a small pebble, and watching it skim along to aziraphale, who takes it, and cradles it in his hands as he would a fledgling bird.
“must i, really?” he grouses, already stepping forwards, despite his protests. crowley doesn't say anything else, just waits for him, patiently. there's nothing of judgement in crowley’s eyes, but there isn't pity, either, and that's all aziraphale truly cares about. with a breath, he takes his first little jump. the rocks are just too far apart to step from one to one - hopping is much preferred, though aziraphale finds it a needless practice. how in heaven's name could this possibly help him fly?
“look at me,” crowley tells him. “don’t look down, just at me.”
“i do believe,” one hop. ”that is a marvelously,” a second, he's got this. ”counterproductive idea.” oh, fuck.
true to his word, he’d been watching crowley - which, as expected, had led to him tripping, his foot catching in the same way it had yesterday, slipping on hard stone instead of sky, this time. and he curses himself, he curses above and below, he curses crowley - though he feels rather poorly for it not more than one second later - and as he slips, he realizes he's falling, falling . . .
his wings bloom out on their own accord, flapping as hard as a bird in heavy winds. they keep him from planting face forwards, jolting him, until he hovers with clambering feet over to the next stone, landing unscathed. panting, his nerves frayed for all the physical damage he hasn't received, aziraphale can hear crowley clapping. clapping, and laughing, that is. his eyes are crinkled in that beloved, twinkling way that makes it quite impossible to stay blistering for long. even so, aziraphale still gruffs, his arms crossed as he pouts at him.
“that wasn't very kind of you!” he says, resisting the urge to stomp his foot - he’s not a child, he is grown.
“but it worked!” crowley cheers. “i knew it’d work! proved my point, see?”
“i can't possibly understand what you're rambling on about, i didn't fly at all.”
“but you did.” crowley says, miracling the stones to gather in one mass, and drift aziraphale across. he takes his hand once more, and helps him onto even land, his eyes apologetic, despite his few lasting snickers that just won't die away. “you flew as much as you could, for as much as you needed to. and i bet you could fly even more, put in the right circumstance. but - “
and he smiles then, patting at aziraphale’s shoulder, and kissing the spot on his temple just below the lily flower.
“you shouldn't have to press your limits so that they line up with somebody else's. your best is good enough, yeah?”
aziraphale flushes a deeper shade, nodding quietly, bashful for crowley’s intense, loving stare. “i suppose so,” he finally says. that's right, then. over and done with. he believes him.
“good. and, angel?” crowley asks, his hand cupping aziraphale’s cheek, thumb tracing the firm bone beneath soft skin.
“your eyes are the most lovely shade of blue i’ve ever seen.”