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Keeping The Wrong Company

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Crowley is a little bored, on the way to his latest mission. But what can you do? It's a job, and someone has to do it. Besides, this one is easy. Perhaps he'll find there's no need to do a single thing, after all, and he can just say mission accomplished and reap the benefits of people's natural blood lust. This whole mess has gone on for decades. Popes and emperors, each trying to secure as much territory as possible in their overarching squabble; little wars between neighbouring towns; plotting and civil unrest inside the cities.

His side has been having the time of their lives. Crowley would rather nap, or have a walk in a garden, or maybe – ah, but that would be hoping too much – come across Aziraphale again. He misses the angel, but it's not like they actually keep track of each other. Too dangerous. Too much – everything, really. If the higher-ups (and lower-downs) caught on... He represses a little shiver.
No point in wishful thinking, really.

So here he is, wandering through Volterra's streets just after sunset, off to meet someone who'll put a stop to the bishop's undoubtedly momentary supremacy. Inquiring about it (hey, he's curious, and might as well know the most if he's supposed to sway people) he's heard voices saying the bishop is nothing more than a front anyway. That the true power in Volterra lies...well, nobody knows. Immortals? Saints? Shadows? All or none of these.

If he's taking the scenic route for his meeting, and skirting the area these hidden lords are said to frequent...It's not like his contact will swan off in a huff if he's five minutes late. Or even a hour. Really, Crowley just needs to encourage the man to follow his own inclinations. Assure him that he's right, and that he'll find support. Said support won't come from him, or even from hell, much less from the emperor's side, which is still unaware of the situation. But confident people win more easily, and if they lose...someone is going to be eager to welcome him anyway. Not that Crowley will, or cares. He tries to stay on earth as much as possible. There are so many delightful things here.

A couple of men, dressed in dark clothes, walk towards him. That...that can't be. His stomach seizes, the glasses he's bought in China falling to the street floor, golden eyes huge with a mix of incredulity and mounting fear. The harder he stares, desperate to be mistaken, the harder it is to deny. That's Aziraphale's corporation. Just...not...

Stumbling into him would make Crowley's day. Perfect excuse to spend some time together. Foil him, or be foiled, or whatever they'd tell everyone else, when it'd actually be shameless flirting and having the best time of the century. But this Aziraphale – this one is straight-haired, strands dark as sin, and that should be enough to know it's just a terrible, twisted likeness, but. What if.

What if Gabriel realized. Or God, even. Keeping the wrong company isn't easily forgiven upstairs. It didn't use to be, and he doubts anything's changed. This might be what falling looks like on his (not his) angel. True, his own hair didn't change, but it was ambiguous since the start. Red. It can be love, it can be blood spilled. Fire can create and destroy. Aziraphale's hair used to be fluffy and white, just like the down on his wings, and – it could stand to reason that it'd darken in consequence. Lose its spring.

Saints. Has...has Aziraphale been pretending? That he's not – that he's still – maybe he did just change his hair. Why would Beelzebub send him here if he had a freshly fallen angel on duty already? (To show you. Teach you a lesson, about aspiring – craving – or maybe explain without a word why you're getting another medal once you'll be back, it's been eons where nobody fell anymore.)

Aziraphale's – if it's really him, and if it's not him, it's a level of coincidence that means someone got involved; and if it's God, then.... Crowley swallows his mounting panic, trying to concentrate on the lookalike (that for sure)'s companion. The man's severe face is frowning, but not afraid of the near-madman with the weird pupils staring at them. He whispers something to his partner, and it'd be so so easy to listen in, but Crowley's actually afraid of what he could hear. Not even from him, but in reply. If this is his fault, Aziraphale could hate him. Should hate him. And if he does.

Before Crowley can decide if it's best to disappear, or if maybe he's just gonna be sick with dread, the lookalike smiles – wide but smarmy – and rushes to him, leaving his companion behind.

"My dear! You have to forgive me, I hadn't noticed you. It must be an age we haven't seen each other, isn't it?"

He's taken one of Crowley's hands between both of his, overly expansive the way people can be in these regions, but that's not what shocks the demon. The sudden, intrusive push at his mind makes him retaliate on instinct, slamming him out. It was one thing if Aziraphale decided to attempt telepathic communication, given the situation. But this wasn't the equivalent of a whisper – or even a yell, if he deserves it. More an attempt at a proprietary walkabout, and for all that he would give, for all he deserves, he won't let his mind be ransacked. Not without an explanation first. A recrimination. Something.

The man lets him go, and sways for a moment. His companion is at his side, supporting him, quicker than normal humans could. Definitely not normal people. But, despite everything, Crowley is starting to think they might not be from his side – or the opposite – either. Something feels off.

The fake Aziraphale is looking at him with something like fear, and with the emotional peak and valleys he just went through because of him, Crowley appreciates it.

"Catch you later," he says, slinking towards his appointment. But this time his ears are alert. Have to see if these pretend saints are worth crushing – or even just leaving a message for Aziraphale so his side can deal with them. They might not come from hell or heaven directly, but such a talent needs time to be refined. Immortals of some breed? It wouldn't surprise Crowley, at all.

"What happened, Aro?" the second one mumbles.

"I was almost inside. And then he kicked me out," Aro – apparently – replies.

"I don't understand. I've never read people wrongly, you know. He was devoted to you. Loved you. I swear."

"If he does, he has a weird way to show it. And more power than – oh, I want him, but..."

Crowley turns back, warning aloud, "Sstay the fuck away from me." He's not going to consort with weird, immortal, power-hungry fuckers. If he wanted to, there are enough partners in hell for him to spend eternity with.

The way Aro jumps, and then looks around, as if hoping nobody noticed his being rattled by the sudden intrusion, makes Crowley grin. Maybe destroying him would be an overreaction. Maybe he could just pop round and unnerve him every time Aziraphale is taking too long to cross his path. Oh well. He has all the time to decide.

"You're late," his actual goal remarks, welcoming him in.

Crowley shrugs. It's not even that much past the hour he was expected.

"I was concerned," his host mentions, realising he might have taken the wrong approach with the emissary of a powerful organization.

"I was too. About dinner." That voice... No, he's not going to turn. It can't be, can it? After the evening he's had, coming across Aziraphale here and now. Too big a twist of fate. An undeserved treat. Then again, is it so improbable? Foiling him. Like any good angel should.

"Hare in three wines – white, red and santo." It is Aziraphale, and he smiles at the way these people call their dessert wine holy. It's definitely not blessed, and Crowley can't really see Gabriel or Michael indulging.

"No one does it quite like our friend's chef, but – timing is everything with meat," his angel continues.

Crowley mentally scoffs at himself. His angel. Right. As if he didn't just receive a warning. Maybe that's what it was. Orchestrated by mummy herself. Not a word, just a little hint. It's her style. "Apologies," he mumbles.

He fleetingly considers finding an excuse to leave. Bow out and say downstairs that their target has already been snatched by angels. But dammit, he needs Aziraphale now more than ever. Needs to see him, pure white and soft and sweeter than vin santo. Safe, and gentle, and discussing the way poets are starting to leave Latin behind, and it's a bit of a pity, true, but what they write is beautiful, too. So much love in it. Faith, sometimes, but mostly love.

His host tries to bring the conversation back to politics, more than once. But frankly, Crowley doesn't care about that. With who is this town going to side? What does it matter? It's not as if it's not going to change again in ten years, if it looks convenient. Maybe even five.

Aziraphale on a roll, talking about something he's passionate about... now, that is important. It's perfect. And Crowley's going to have to store every second of this to keep him going for who knows how long.

When their host is bored with the literary talk, and – as politely as possible – sends them on their way (after they've had a very nice dinner, the hare definitely wasn't ruined), Aziraphale takes his hand, unprompted. Crowley squeezes it, heart beating hard, praying-challenging-warning a general upstairs (mummy; just mummy, if this is all hers) that anyone who wants to fight against this better take their grievances – and related retribution – to him. If Aziraphale is harmed, in any way, they won't like the result.

"Something wrong, my dear?" There's so much concern in Aziraphale's voice, and it's only then that he realises his angel (fuck, yes, his) is petting Crowley's finger, in a soothing pattern.

"How could it be, when you're here?" And it's true. His fears and frustrations are melting with every step (where to? He's letting Aziraphale lead).

The grin he receives is brighter than the sun, but wanes all too soon. "I can't stay long. But, Crowley...You're too good at tempting."

It's a nameless dark corner in Volterra, and Aziraphale's kissing him. Crowley's gasp is swallowed by his beloved's mouth, and then – he might have accidentally stopped time. Can't stay long – and won't – but...that doesn't count, does it? If he could get away with it, he'd keep them outside of the stream of time for a few thousands years. But someone would notice.

Still, if that instantaneous peck, before Aziraphale wanes to report his success and, hopefully, receive a commendation, actually lasts a couple hours of teasing, then needy, then hungry kissing...Everyone is so busy, these days. Who's going to check?They don't actually need to breathe, and it'd be a pity to waste that.