Crowley sloped his way down the long hallway, halfheartedly tilting a picture frame askew as he went. Warlock had barely even acknowledged the blood and terror of the Crusades; entirely caught up in the battles and knights and armor. A somewhat dispirited Mr. Harrison had assigned homework of sketching out the siege maps of some of the more vicious battle strategies, and promised if he did well, they could built a catapult in the backyard.
The boy should have been panting at the idea of leading others towards his grand purpose, and crushing all who opposed him into paste, but he was instead coloring flags and talking about being a knight rescuing people from dragons.
It was the angel’s fault, and Crowley stomped over the threshold into what looked like the other schoolroom, and his fantastically polished snakeskin loafers (Mr. Harrison always dressed sharp enough to cut, with perfect black-on-black suits and a very modern and hip curriculum. Mrs. Dowling was a big fan of his...educational assets) stepped down onto a worn, pricelessly old rug at the back of a worn, comforting bookshop many miles away from the ambassador’s home.
Crowley cracked his neck and threw himself onto his couch. So what if it was technically the angel’s? It was his by right of possession. No one ever had, nor ever would, sit in it but himself. “Angel,” he called out irritably. “I’m going to start drinking now. I have had the worst day, because my coworker, Mr. Cortese, is a massive, throbbing-”
“You can choose any bottle you like,” Aziraphale responded quietly from his desk. Crowley hadn’t even seen him, he had been sitting so still.
Something about how the angel was hunched over, his usual prim posture gone, pinged Crowley’s instincts, but he wasn’t about to let Aziraphale off now. “You taught Warlock about chivalry? You knew that I was about to cover the Crusades. Why didn’t you go into the religious tolerance angle? He was babbling about honor and fighting for what’s right and protecting the innocent. I almost got hives,” he whined.
“You are right, of course,” Aziraphale agreed dully. “Very foolish of me.”
Well, that just took all the wind out of his sails. He gave a put-upon sigh and got up, rattling around with unnecessary vigor as he selected one of the better vintages. After a moment, he poured for both of them, instead of keeping the bottle for himself. The clink of the crystal by Aziraphale’s elbow made him twitch, but it was a long moment before he reached for it with a little murmur of polite gratitude.
Now feeling decidedly off-balance, Crowley coaxed the angel over to his usual armchair. He settled into the cushion heavily, seeming as if he was dragging every moment of the last six millenia like links on a chain. He took a sip of his wine without seeming to taste it. Crowley was offended on his behalf. The angel had excellent standards in his wines, and any oenophile would have felt privileged to even scent the cork of this 80-year-old vintage.
They drank in silence for several minutes. Crowley watched, serpent-still. Finally, once the dregs of the bottle were a distant memory, the angel spoke. “I received another note from Heaven today,” he told his empty glass. “Just a small assignment to bless a particular young woman with health. That’s why I was distracted, I’m afraid. The post-script was that they were aware that I was entertaining myself with my pointless projects, but it would not do to forget to obtain as many souls into Heaven’s keeping as possible, before the inevitable War.”
Crowley was quiet. The angel cleared his throat. “They made it exceedingly clear that they are indulging me. Nothing I do outside of Heavens’ orders matters, as they felt the need to remind me, but I can at the very minimum ensure that I don’t screw those up with my endless ineptitude.” he quoted bitterly.
Crowley opened his mouth, closed it, then tried again. “Angel.”
Aziraphale winced, twisting his ring endlessly. “Barely, my dear,” he whispered. “And not through any merit of mine, I suspect. Just not enough of me that would weigh me down enough to fall.”
And there it was. Crowley’s mouth went dry and he rose to his feet, swaying with no real destination. “No. Angel, no. You’ve told me often enough, yeah? You’re literally ‘holier than thou’, and me certainly.”
Aziraphale slowly lifted his face to meet his eyes for the first time. His face was a rictus; as if he had only once heard a smile described to him. “Ah yes. My endless cruelty to you. Flailing about as if putting you down would raise me higher,” his lip trembled. “All of this, all of our hope, all of our desperate hope of averting the destruction of everything beautiful, is because of you. I am nothing but dead weight.”
Crowley hissed and struck.
Aziraphale had always been the stronger of the two of them, but he had never raised a hand in anger against Crowley, and did not fight back now, as the demon wrapped his arms around him tight enough to suffocate a mortal man, crushing him against the cushions of the roomy old chair. “Shut up!” he snarled. “You are nothing of the kind. You are the best thing that Heaven has ever produced, and this whole plan is nothing without you. The Son of Satan is dreaming about being Sir Lancelot himself because of you. I am…” he swallowed thickly, aggression draining away. “I am myself because of you. I can be myself because of you. When I changed my name, you asked what it was now, not that my name couldn’t be changed. You argue with me, but you are willing to argue with me, about things we will never agree on, and you will still pour me another glass while telling me how wrong you think I am, when any other self-righteous wankwings would be flinging around sanctified weapons and refusing to listen to anything a demon would say.”
He refused to look down, because if he did, he might be forced to acknowledge that he was essentially sitting in the angel’s lap. “Don’t give up on this now. Don’t leave me alone,” he pleaded.
Aziraphale’s eyes overflowed, but his smile was beautiful through the rain. Strong arms wrapped around the demon and he held him tightly in turn. “I won’t. I promise.”
The Serpent of Eden wriggled until they were both wrapped up in a tight tangle of mismatched limbs, without losing a single centimetre of warm comforting contact. “This isn’t cuddling,” he warned. “This is skin-to-skin reconnaissance.”
The Guardian of Eden nodded and sniffed. “I am holding fast to the great Tempter himself, lest he sally forth to do harm unto the people of Earth,” he agreed.
Crowley nodded and lay his head on warm angelic curls. They were as soft as he had always dreamed. “Don’t let go.”