He was too miserable to notice the changes at first. The pain of Falling was too sharp, the heat and ash and sullen shadows of Hell too frightening for one more bit of strangeness to penetrate. He might have lain where he'd landed for much longer, wallowing in the novelty of despair, had a monster not heaved itself out of the darkness and slithered determinedly toward him.
It was big, an ugly sort of red he'd later identify as the shade of blood after it'd been scabbing over for an hour or two, and it was dragging a pair of broken wings behind it that seemed to be made out of some sort of tough skin, not feathers. Crawley hadn't had much to do with the Animals project, wouldn't have recognized a bat if it'd bitten him on the neck, but he didn't have to understand the wings to feel like he had a handle on the claws, the scales, the impossibly long teeth in those awful-looking jaws.
He tried to yelp, meant to follow it up with a round of curses and threats, a warning for the thing to stay far, far away from him. He got about as far as jumping to his feet--all four of them--and letting out a sharp hiss before the world sort of...wobbled around him. Or maybe that was just him.
He tipped his head down slowly, eyes wide, and craned his neck around, and around, and...snapped his eyes shut with a whimper. The events of the day before were still a bit fuzzy--he remembered the fighting, and how hard he'd tried to avoid it--but he was pretty sure he'd remember having scales before this, black as pitch under a dusting of ash and char. And four legs, and claws of his own, and a tail that even now was twitching and curling helplessly, mirroring his inner panic. His wings felt naked without their pelt of feathers, and he pulled them in self-consciously, even the one that hung a little askew, wrenched if not outright broken.
"Yesss, yesss," snapped the monster before him in a voice he recognized. "Pull yourssself together, worm. There'sss work to be done."
"Dagon?" he blurted. Not long ago he wouldn't have dreamed of addressing the other so familiarly, but shock ran away with his tongue. "But--what'sss happened to you? To usss!"
He almost missed Dagon's reply, he was so busy working his jaw and trying to puzzle out where the hissing was coming from: his tongue, he suspected, which felt decidedly odd at the tip.
Dagon made a sound like a steaming fissure cracking open, baring wicked teeth in a snarl. "The Most High," he growled, "decreed that if we chossse to take the Morningssstar asss our god, then we might asss well be made in hisss image while we were at it."
Lucifer. Who, in the final hours of the battle, had taken on a terrible form and laid many angels low. It'd been beautiful--silver as starlight, massive, awe-inspiring--and he remembered vaguely being told that it was Lucifer's masterpiece, the culmination of the long-awaited Dragons.
"Isss that what we are now?" he asked, bewildered.
"We're demonsss," Dagon replied firmly, narrowing eyes like coals. "What we look like isss immaterial. Underssstood?"
He wouldn't go so far as to say he understood, no, but he had a pretty good idea when it was time to stop arguing and do what he was told.
"Uh, sssure. Ssso. What now?"
He'd only seen a dragon once before, on that last terrible day before the Hosts were divided from their former brethren for good, but he recognized what was crushed to Eve's bosom despite it being the wrong color, the wrong size, and flailing rather desperately.
One gold eye rolled helplessly towards him as Aziraphale, scowling mightily, descended upon them.
"Dragon!" he accused. "Unhand that woman!"
"The hands," the demon protested breathlessly, "are all on her side. Help?"
Well. Now that he took a better look at things, the demon did seem to be telling the truth.
"Ah...my dear," Aziraphale addressed the First Woman with an embarrassed cough, "I, er...don't think he can breathe."
It was a rather bedraggled-looking dragon who stood before them at last, released from Eve's clutches but not yet safe from her cooing or her admiring gaze. The dragon--or rather, the dragon-shaped demon--was on the small side, black-scaled back barely as tall as Aziraphale's hip, with a face that seemed mostly eyes above a slender, tapering snout. All curled up in the hunch of a nervous cat, the demon looked harmless and...what was the word? The angels who'd collaborated on Cats and Babies had thrown it about often, something about big eyes in round faces and rounded bodies that made things irresistible to Woman.
Oh, yes. That was it. Cute.
"Has he been named yet?" asked Eve, who clearly had something in mind.
"Ah, my name's Crawley, miss, nicetomeetyou," the demon said with a nervous smile. That his attempt at friendliness exposed a mouthful of fangs was lost on Eve, who cuddled tigers on a regular basis. "Er, I'm a dragon."
"Demon," Aziraphale corrected stiffly, only to have Crawly roll his eyes again, much more sarcastically than the first time.
"Yes, but I look like a dragon at the moment, thank you. How would you like it if I came upon you impersonating an elk and said, 'Watch out, you other elk; this guy here's an angel, and he's up to no good!'"
Aziraphale sniffed. "First of all, I cannot conceive of a situation where I would need to impersonate an elk. Second of all, the likelihood of my being up to no good is, I dare say, nonexistent, whereas you--"
"Do you know each other?" Eve asked innocently, startling Aziraphale silent.
"No," angel and demon replied emphatically and in unison.
"Only it's just that you sound like Adam and I," said Eve, beaming at them both.
"Well, that's just lovely," Crawly mourned later, once they'd finally gotten away by distracting Eve with the crocodiles (which weren't nearly as cute, but which were much more blasé about being cuddled to strange breasts). "She's never going to take me seriously now."
"And she'll hardly listen to any warning about you, either," muttered Aziraphale, who was just the teensiest bit disgruntled at the suspicion he'd been cast as the wife in this farce. "Especially not while you're altering your shape like that. Go on, then--what do you really look like?"
"Just like this," Crawly snapped, "only bigger."
Aziraphale folded his arms and tapped his foot.
"Oh, all right," grumbled Crawly. "But it's rather cramped around here, so don't blame me if you lose any trees."
And with that, Crawly arched his back and stretched, and stretched, stout branches of oak and fir bending and then cracking as the dragon's bulk forced them out of the way, the demon's wary curl becoming a looming crouch as Aziraphale watched. Jet scales gleamed in the sun, the 'cute' effect well and truly banished as the dragon's limbs grew, spine spooling out in a lean arch as the short muzzle lengthened and lost its seahorse fineness, blunt claws sharpening to scythes that sank into the soft earth. Crawly had been presenting himself as a very young dragon, Aziraphale decided, but not counting the tail, the reality was something over thirty feet of muscle and armor plating, with horns and teeth and talons to match.
"Crawly, that's terrible," Aziraphale accused, frowning as the dragon--the demon--stiffened before him. "I know Babies haven't come into play yet, but the instincts are still there, you know. Playing on the poor thing's weaknesses like that--"
"What are you babbling about?" Crawly demanded, cocking his head to peer at Aziraphale through one enormous golden eye. Though he'd reared his head back in confusion, he appeared to have relaxed again all the same, which Aziraphale was absently grateful for. Somehow, a tense demon seemed in no way a positive thing, and the droop of those bat-like wings had been positively piteous.
"Your...well, the smaller you. With the eyes and the...er...you really didn't know?"
"Know what? Look at me, angel--I'd have stepped on her and never realized it until I wondered what nasty thing I'd gotten my--er--paw stuck in."
"Ah." Now that he mentioned it, the demon did have a point. "Then I apologize. I assumed you had nefarious purposes in mind when you chose your form."
"Apology accepted," the demon replied graciously, neck curling as he lowered his head to get a better look at Aziraphale. It was a little odd for the angel to look up at the creature, to be having a conversation with something whose head was longer than he was tall, but the strangeness didn't last, not with Crawly looking just as curious about him as he was about the demon.
"I'm Aziraphale, by the way," he offered, remembering his manners at last.
"Crawly," the demon replied, then seemed to frown. "Although I'm thinking of changing it. I mean...seems rather silly to call myself Crawly when I've got these," he added, fanning a wing that nearly blotted out the sun, metaphorically speaking. The thin flight membranes were as black as the rest of him, but with the light shining through, Aziraphale could see the delicate tracery of veins just beneath.
"Mm." They weren't proper angel's wings, no. But they fit the rather distracting creature Crawly had become. "Well, do let me know what to call you when you decide."
"Oh, certainly," the demon replied, managing a toothy sort of smile. "After all, I expect we'll be seeing quite a bit of each other from now on."
While he could wish that Hell would come up with a means of communication that would negate the need for travel or scribes entirely, personally Crowley was placing his bets on the humans. They'd already come up with agriculture, writing and the fermentation process; surely instantaneous communication was just on the horizon.
"Sszo," hissed Beelzebub, staring down his snout at Crowley. His accent was as strong as ever despite how far he'd risen in the ranks, and he made for a fairly disturbing dragon, what with the chitinous plates, the raspy insect wings. "What hasszt thou to report, Crawly?"
"Er...actually, I'm going by 'Crowley' now," he offered, crooking his long neck in when Beelzebub only stared. "That is, uh...I've convinced several kings that I'm either a god or a wise and ancient advisor, and I've been fomenting political unrest in Babylon and Mesopotamia these days."
"Uh, killing, raping and looting," Crowley translated for his superior. "Wrath, Lust and Covetousness for all."
"I like to spread the effort around. More efficient that way," he added modestly. He wasn't going to bring up their reaction to him in China. That was just embarrassing.
"Very good," Beelzebub said at last, but Crowley knew better than to think they were finished. "And yet, I sszee here that thou hasszt more than fulfilled thy quota for persszonal temptationssz," the demon added, tapping a claw against an oversized and hastily-carved clay tablet. So perhaps he'd been wrong about the secretaries, or else this lot had finally figured out what else their talons were for. "In fact, it issz rumored that thou hasszt pulled ahead of the annual betting pool in the matter of Lusszt, the Inszcitement Thereof. Thessze sszacrificessz made to thee, for inssztanszce...."
"Well, I do try to encourage idolatry whenever I can."
He slumped awkwardly, sharpening his talons on the volcanic floor of Beelzebub's office. "Well, it's not like I asked for them. I'd much rather a fatted calf, believe me."
He'd never understand it, but as a demon, his one main skill seemed to be in the temptation department. Temptation to anything, really; the humans were easy.
Trust Hell to focus on the artisan approach rather than put to bad use his personal savvy, his political acumen, his silver tongue.
Oh, and that was not a good thought to have in Beelzebub's presence.
What he didn't expect was to find Crowley arched practically to his talontips, wings and tail held fastidiously away as he craned his neck far back, staring down in helpless perplexity at a young human fairly reeking with Lust and spouting poetry. Badly. The discarded spears on the ground argued strongly that this was the hero who'd set out just that morning to slay the monster before it could attack the villages clustered around these hills, and Aziraphale felt a righteous fury ignite in his breast over the use of such an underhanded trick.
"Crowley!" he shouted, storming up as his aura went sharp and steely. "Whatever you're doing to that poor boy, I suggest you rethink it!"
"Oh, of course," Crowley groaned, "it's always the dragon, is it? Look, would you do something before I die of embarrassment, here?"
If the young hero thought anything of the panic in Crowley's voice, it didn't seem to penetrate the fog of desire that had him in its grip. The fact that the angel and demon were speaking a language Methuselah might have recognized in his younger days might have helped.
"May I point out," Aziraphale said stiffly, "that I'm an angel. If you expect me to vanquish your enemies--"
"Forget vanquish--put him to sleep, send him home, I don't care! Just get him away from me!"
Sighing, and much against his better judgment, Aziraphale sidled close enough to touch the boy and dropped him to a soft-looking patch of grass, murmuring, "Sleep, now, and dream of whatever you like best--"
"As long as it doesn't involve dragons," Crowley put in hastily, peering over Aziraphale's shoulder.
"Really, now," Aziraphale huffed, turning back to the demon with his fists planted on his hips. "What on earth were you thinking? Tampering with his natural urges like that--"
"Oh, no. Don't try to pin this on me!" Crowley protested, drawing himself up with all the offended dignity one dragon was capable of--and there was a lot of dragon to go around. "Look. When confronted with something like me, there are only two kinds of humans. The ones that lose their tiny little minds and reach for the nearest sharp object, and the ones that lose their tiny little minds and reach for me."
Aziraphale sniffed. "You can't expect me to believe that. You're not even the same species. Much less...well, the size differences, my dear--"
Crowley gave him a bitter, pitying look that had his mouth snapping shut.
"You're not making an effort, are you?" the demon asked, in a tone that suggested he already knew the answer.
Crowley sighed. "Just do it. You won't understand until you've been in their shoes. Go on, make yourself as human as you can."
It wasn't something Aziraphale did often. Point of fact, the few times he did make a rough sketch at an effort usually involved a few vats of date wine, a roasted goat or three, and the very demon who'd just made the suggestion he take it a step further. All the same, he had to confess that he was curious as to what could make an innocent human look upon a treacherous dragon with the lovelight fairly burning in his eyes.
He closed his eyes to concentrate on his mortal--if not exactly standard-issue--flesh, opening all the paths he'd turned off for his own convenience over the years, turning on all the optional features his body had come with that he'd never touched. Scents suddenly seemed sharper, sounds fuzzier but more immediate, and he had the strangest urge to adjust his trousers, which he'd just realized didn't fit quite as well as they could have.
Then he opened his eyes and looked up...and up...at something huge and menacing and magnificent, and realized with stunning, awful suddenness that he was very small and soft and not nearly fast enough to escape.
"Well?" Crowley murmured, eyeing him warily.
Aziraphale strangled a whimper. Had Crowley's voice always been that deep, that rich and low? "I...."
It wasn't just the sheer size of him, though that didn't help. He suspected it was what the humans felt when addressed by an angel in full regalia, that profound terror and awe that reached right down into the most basic of instincts and gave them a good shaking. But Crowley wasn't only terrifying. He was beautiful, gleaming and glorious, sleek as a finely-bred hound. The other demons Aziraphale had seen hadn't looked like this; they tended to run to spines and spikes, to thick, twisted juggernauts and stumpy imps with wings that could barely be called vestigial, skeletal serpents and corpulent wyrms. Carved as he was from onyx and jet, Crowley outshone them all.
"So, no swords then?" the demon asked, still regarding him skeptically. "Flaming or otherwise?"
"Right. So you're the other type. Still want to complain about the scales?"
Blushing so deep a red it hurt, Aziraphale hastily cut off even the temptation to make an effort, resuming his comfortable, sexless existence with a huge sigh of relief.
"Goodness," he said, unable to meet Crowley's eyes. "That...I see."
Aziraphale found a nice rock to stare at. Crowley studiously watched the clouds. Long minutes passed before Aziraphale coughed, unable to help himself, and asked, "Er...but your collection of virgins?"
"They can all cook," Crowley ground out through gritted fangs. "And read and write. Parchment, angel, does not mix well with claws. And if people would just stop giving them to me--"
"Well...I think you're supposed to be...er, you know...."
Crowley groaned. "Yes, I know. I've been informed. By Beelzebub, no less. Honestly, why do you think I was out here in the first place? If I don't do this every now and then, my bosses get tetchy. At least with these hero types, I don't actually have to go through with it; apparently they're usually so traumatized by lusting after the enemy that they go home to raise chickens afterwards. Don't ask me why that's good enough to pass."
"Don't be obtuse," Aziraphale scolded, glaring at the demon in disappointment. "Tarnishing a hero, letting him live with his shame--of course they let you get away with it. Really, it'd be kinder if you would eat them."
To his surprise, Crowley reared back his head again to stare at him, wide-eyed. "Eat them?" the demon demanded.
Aziraphale got the sinking feeling he'd misunderstood the demon's orders entirely.
"Uh...I mean, right. Eat them. Of course, angel. What else would I do to them?"
Aziraphale opened his mouth, shut it again. "Oh," he said. "Oh, dear."
It didn't hurt that most sacrifices tended to be incurably intelligent and irredeemably fond of speaking their own minds. So long as the roasted goats kept coming, Crowley just left them to it.
Aziraphale stopped by every now and then to see if any of them wanted saving from the ferocious dragon, but after he'd been laughed off of various islands and out of various forests a few times, he learned to ask instead how the grapes were doing, and to compliment the fineness of their weaving, and talked no few of them out of joining nunneries when it became clear their benefactor simply wasn't interested in humans.
Crowley was grateful for it, even if Aziraphale's assumptions weren't strictly true. Humans were interesting; he quite liked them, when they could keep themselves rational. Luckily, prolonged exposure tended to lessen the effects of his presence, or he'd never get any work done. It was hard enough as it was, considering that he couldn't really move amongst them without starting a panic or a riot.
And then there was Asia, but he didn't want to think about Asia. It was just too embarrassing.
Still, when it came to Lust and humans, he strongly suspected that being surrounded by beautiful, charming, and all-too-willing females was wasted on him. There was really just one human he was curious about, or rather, one human-shaped being, and to the best of his recollection, Aziraphale had only ever occupied male incarnations. Aziraphale was also an angel and something of a prude when it came to matters of the body, but funnily enough, Crowley strongly suspected only that last thing was really a problem.
In the end, embarrassing as it was, he was in China when he finally hit upon a solution. He'd been hiding out in one of the current Emperor's smallest palaces when he'd heard a whisper of a rumor that made no sense at all to him at first. "Oh, yes," one servant had breathed in another servant's ear, "it's such an honor, the Emperor's illustrious ancestor visiting us here."
"But...then he really is descended from...that is...how?"
A rustle of cloth seemed to indicate a shrug. Crowley, curious himself, cocked his head and strained his ears. "Well...it is said that the oldest of dragons can change their shapes. When you consider what else they can do...."
Scratching at his muzzle with a thoughtful claw, Crowley wound his tail more tightly around himself and settled down for a good think. Humans were imaginative creatures, no doubt about it, but he did wonder. Most demons visited Earth only briefly, for a quick summon or sent up on missions, and were all too happy to return to Hell afterwards. They weren't comfortable here, didn't know the lingo and never really got in step with the local customs. Of course, considering that they were usually laying waste to a village or tempting some would-be dictator with powers and riches beyond his imagination, that wasn't terribly surprising.
But what if there was a glimmer of fact behind the folktale? What if a demon had actually managed it, changed the form he'd been cursed with to something better able to fit in with the humans around him? Crowley had honestly never tried; as accustomed as he was to making his own rules this far from the Home Office, he'd just assumed God's decree was absolute and had never thought twice about it.
Perhaps it was time to rethink that assumption.
When the servants carried in his dinner that evening--six roasted geese, a young boar in plum sauce, and venison with a side of seasonal fruit--they were understandably shocked to find a naked man trying out his new legs in place of a dragon. But one look at the man's eyes--yellow as new gold and slitted like a cat's--had them dropping to their knees, faces pressed to the floor.
"You know," Crowley said after they finally fell quiet, "I think I'll eat out tonight."
He did let them find him clothing first. He wasn't that out of touch with the world.
Tall and pale, the man had a fine mop of tousled black hair and the upright, confident carriage of someone who'd never toiled a single day in his life. He also possessed good cheekbones, a wicked grin, and a keen sense of the dramatic as he paused and struck a pose, apparently for Aziraphale's benefit.
"Well?" the stranger said expectantly. "What do you think?"
"Er," said Aziraphale. Oddly enough, the man seemed to be dressed for the Chinese court; he couldn't begin to imagine why.
"Oh, for--Aziraphale," the stranger said patiently, ignoring Aziraphale's startled jerk. "It's me."
Staring, dumbstruck, the impossible thought that he might recognize his visitor after all became stunned recognition as he took a closer look at the man's eyes.
"In the flesh!" the demon crowed, coming closer to the counter where Aziraphale had been poring over his newest manuscript purchase and where he leaned now, his knees wanting to buckle in shock. "Can you believe it? All this time--I mean, who knows how long I've been able to do this!"
"But...I thought...weren't you all...?"
"It's a loophole, near as I can figure it," Crowley said with a shrug, holding out his arm and pushing back his loose sleeves. "You see? It's still the same body. I've just changed it around a little."
If he looked closely, he could see what Crowley meant: it wasn't skin the demon bared but dragon hide still, only each individual scale had been rendered so tiny as to be nearly invisible. Changing one's pigment was easy enough, though Aziraphale wondered why the demon had settled on such a light shade; it was probably the novelty of it, he suspected. Or perhaps it was the way he remembered himself before he'd...well, Before.
The eyes were still the same, though, wide and golden, striated with flecks of sandstone and orange that looked metallic when the light struck them, the pupils still vertical slits gone fat in the dim candlelight. If he'd been paying attention, he'd have known Crowley from his eyes at first glance.
A loophole. Trust Crowley to have found a loophole in the Ineffable Plan.
"I...I see," he murmured, wondering whether congratulations would be wholly appropriate or whether he could bring himself to hold them back with Crowley looking so very pleased with himself. "Er...should I ask...that is...."
"You haven't already set up business here," he asked desperately, "have you?" Guilty as it made him feel whenever the notion occurred to him, he'd rather gotten used to the relative peace of Damascus. If Crowley intended to turn the city on its ear--
"What? No," Crowley protested, hurt. "Not yet. Why?"
"Well, I only wondered why you were here, that's all."
Crowley scowled, peeling his lips back from his teeth in a way that suddenly looked all too familiar and not the least bit like a smile. "Well, that makes two of us, then."
Oh, dear. He was handling this rather badly, wasn't he?
"Wait," he said as Crowley turned for the door. "I'm sorry. You just startled me, is all. It's very good to see you, Crowley, and...congratulations on your new body?"
"Same old body," Crowley grumbled, but he stopped well short of the door. "Just taught it some new tricks."
"Ah. Well." He wasn't sure that was something he wanted to delve into or not. "Have you eaten yet?" he asked instead, at a loss for anything else to say. "There's a very good wine shop just around the corner, and...well, if you're not busy...."
Now Crowley was smiling again. It was a surprisingly good look for him, even it did resemble a draconian smirk a little too closely.
"I could eat," he said and let Aziraphale lead him out into the city streets, the crowds loud and close, the myriad humans all around who treated him just like one of them and ignored him completely.
Aziraphale doubted Crowley's infatuation with his own anonymity would last, but he resolved to enjoy it while he could.
Loophole or not, the one thing he absolutely didn't intend to do was flaunt this new talent Downstairs. If Crowley could do it, it stood to reason that every demon could do it, but it didn't follow that every demon would have the patience to get it right. The last thing he wanted was to be taken apart by sterling wits like Dagon while they tried to figure out how it worked.
There was just one problem that stood between him and a bless--curs--er, perfectly content existence: apparently whatever Lust generator he'd had as a dragon-shaped demon was still in full working order as a human-shaped, dragon-bodied being. And it still didn't work on Aziraphale.
"Listen," he said as he came barreling through the door of the bookshop, "I'm flattered, really--"
"But my love--" the boy trailing him sputtered, wringing his hands. Though Crowley was positively itching to flex his power--wiping the human's mind and sending him home to his books would have been the work of a second--the boy had Aziraphale's fingerprints all over him. Well, not literally, of course. If that had been the case, Crowley wouldn't have bothered tampering with the kid's thoughts; he'd have been shedding his hard-won human form and investigating which wine went best with Interloper.
If the kid was Aziraphale's, then Aziraphale could fix him. It'd worked before on any number of would-be saints with swords. How much trouble could one bookish scholar be?
Crowley stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed the angel glaring at him from over the counter, eyes narrowed and fierce.
"Crowley," Aziraphale said coldly. "What exactly are you doing with that boy?"
The boy coughed, dark honey skin flushing shyly. "Er...al-Azir--"
Crowley glanced back and forth between them and threw his arms wide. "Darling!" he cried.
He'd crossed the distance between him and the angel before Aziraphale could do more than start in surprise, leaning across the counter to wrap both hands around Aziraphale's face and kiss him senseless.
"But--my love!" the boy cried, heartbroken.
"Ngk!" Aziraphale said, too shocked to flail or push him away.
Crowley didn't let up until he heard the door slam behind him and running footsteps pelting away, and then he let Aziraphale go with a disappointed sigh he covered up with a grin of relief.
"You're a lifesaver, angel," he said while Aziraphale was still staring at him open-mouthed, eyes glazed. "But what's one of yours doing hanging around Hamid's shop? Den of iniquity like that's no place for an elect soul."
Aziraphale's blank look sharpened into a frown. "You mean that charming little place on the corner?"
"With the lovely coffee and those little cakes?"
"Where the local poets and scholars meet to share their work and good conversation?"
Crowley scratched his nose. "Well, I won't say they're not still composing poetry, but it's not the sort you can recite in public."
The year was 1020, and for the very first time, Crowley suspected that the left hand really might need to know what the right hand was doing. His operations in the past had always been big by necessity; when you couldn't move freely amongst the humans, you had to make the most of the few points of contact you had. It'd been easy enough for Aziraphale to spot his influence, try to counter what he could. If that hadn't gone both ways, well, it hadn't needed to, had it?
"Look," he said later--weeks later, when Aziraphale was speaking to him again. "Maybe we should go about this more efficiently. Try something new."
He hadn't honestly expected Aziraphale to go for the arrangement he suggested--or the Arrangement, as it came to be known after a few decades of use--but the angel had been oddly distracted at the time, watching him sidelong instead of glaring at him directly. There was an indefinable air of guilt and nervousness hanging over the angel as well, and while Crowley could speculate, he wouldn't want to assume.
He was just glad it had taken the angel a few weeks to calm down. It was just long enough for Crowley to get his own unlooked-for hormones under control and be able to smile naturally at Aziraphale, even after spending the entire night dwelling on that kiss as his clever human hands did what clever humans everywhere did at night in the privacy of their own homes.
And sometimes during the day, as well.
He got used to meeting Crowley's eyes without straining his neck, to sharing a table and a bottle of wine rather than a clearing and flame-roasted wildlife. He learned to read the demon's new range of expressions and eventually stopped jumping when that warm, rich voice--softer and not quite as deep, coming as it did from a smaller chest--purred into his ear from behind on a crowded street. Some years it seemed Crowley was everywhere, and hiding from him did as much good as locking his door; the demon always found him and made himself at home, wherever Aziraphale was.
He tried to tell himself Crowley was just following the terms of their Arrangement, keeping Aziraphale informed of his plans, making sure the balance didn't tip too far in any direction. It might even have been true.
It didn't explain why Aziraphale had to devote half his concentration each time they met to not staring at Crowley's mouth, or why, for those embarrassing few minutes in a bookstore in Damascus, the complete lack of effort on his part had meant absolutely nothing when challenged by the temptation that was Crowley at close range.
They drank together often, talked well into the night and didn't always part again the next morning, but Aziraphale made certain they never touched. Whether or not he could trust the demon, he wasn't certain he could trust himself.
Aziraphale. Who kept things ever so friendly between them, but never anything more than that.
It was a combination of frustration, curiosity, and three bottles of a very good wine that led Crowley to follow an incitement of Lust to its natural conclusion for the very first time. Lust as a human, he already knew, was a sticky, sweaty, mostly satisfying affair; Lust with a human was mainly sweaty and sticky. He kept worrying he'd forget himself in the middle and lose control of his body, which wouldn't have been pleasant for anyone. It did silence something, though, some vague craving he hadn't realized he'd been ignoring, and so he did it again, then once more for comparison's sake.
And then a lot more, because Aziraphale was sulking at him over that thing with Henry and his wives, and he was bored, and the angel wouldn't even drink with him. 'Because I'll say something I'll regret,' Aziraphale claimed, which was a steaming pile of manure. There were plenty of things Aziraphale ought to have said by now, plenty of regrets he could have been indulging, but had he?
"Good work, Crowley," Beelzebub congratulated him on his next trip Below, back in his old, familiar form to keep up appearances. "It sszeemssz thou hasszt finally massztered the conszcept of Lusszt. Congratulationssz."
"I try," he mumbled, glaring at the floor.
He told himself it was because anyplace was better than Hell, but he just wanted to be back in England, really. The angel couldn't stay mad forever; it wasn't in his nature.
They made up of course. They always did. And Aziraphale didn't mention it if he saw Crowley now and then in a crowd, leading away some impressionable thing with a hand at the small of their back, and Crowley didn't mention it if he noticed Aziraphale watching, often before he'd settled on his mark, or that he only took humans anywhere if Aziraphale was there to see it.
They went drinking more often, talked shop, watched each other out of the corners of their eyes.
Crowley began to think they'd be circling each other nervously until the end of time and surprised himself by realizing he didn't mind so much. It gave them something to do on slow days when the humans had the wiles and the thwarting well in hand, which happened more often than you'd think.
As they added trips to the Ritz and afternoons in St. James' Park, it slowly became comfortable. Normal.
Though he would rather have been boiled in oil than admit it, of all the things he'd miss if the world ended tomorrow, Aziraphale was probably at the top of the list.
The bigger dragon, Hastur, was not only a Duke of Hell but a Great Wyrm as well. His scales were a ghastly sort of pale, and he was mostly tail and teeth and stomach, his legs and wings stuck on primarily for show. Ligur, by contrast, was very nearly a gargoyle: short and squat, snaggle-toothed, with a warty green hide straight out of the more sensational class of fairytales.
Hastur belched a cloud of sulphurous smoke and lashed his tail.
"Bugger thisss for a lark," he snarled. "He ssshould of been here hoursss ago."
Just as he spoke, something blotted out a small patch of stars, still far-off but closing fast. The shape was black, winged, very big.
"What's this Crrrowley like?" Ligur asked, glancing up at his larger companion. Though his short tongue was more of an embarrassment to him than his diminutive size, he was justifiably proud of his growl and showed it off whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Hastur looked briefly jealous before he ruffled his tiny wings and drew his great bulk up with a knowledgeable air. It was also a disgusted one. "He'sss been up here too long," he hissed. "Right from the Ssstart. Gone native, if you asssk me. Goesss around collecting virginsss and doesssn't even eat them."
Ligur looked surprised. Other than a thousand and one uses for their blood, he hadn't been aware there was much use for virgins except as hors d'oeuvres. Or, for that matter, that there were enough of them on the ground to start up a decent collection.
"And he looksss like sssomething off a possster," Hastur sneered, "in a little girlsss' room."
Ligur, who hadn't visited the Earth in the better part of a century and whose concept of the arts was still hopelessly mired a few hundred years earlier than that, found himself thinking of woodcuts, that fussy fellow Dürer.
The dragon that touched down with fastidious care for the fallen tombstones underfoot was something altogether different.
"Hi," said Crowley, flicking his wings neatly back against his sleek sides. He looked like a bloody racehorse, he did, pretty as a picture, and now Ligur got what Hastur was going on about. "Sorry I'm late, but I had to fly pretty low to keep under the radar, and you know how it is over the A40 at Denham--"
"All hail Sssatan," Hastur interrupted sharply, and Ligur echoed him quick enough, though he shook his head inwardly. Imagine leaving such an important job to a flash bastard like this.
He probably polished his scales once a week, even when he didn't need to.
As they turned onto his street and found nothing but quiet storefronts, streets clear of fire trucks or debris, Crowley's foot eased off the pedal in stunned amazement, no less obvious than Aziraphale's. From the outside, the shop looked unchanged, its windows obscured by dust, not soot, the store sign still flipped to "CLOSED," the walk outside still neatly-swept.
"I don't believe it," Crowley muttered as Aziraphale said, "That dear boy," and they traded half-guilty smiles, allowing themselves to relax at last, just a little. If consequences like this could be erased, then perhaps they didn't have quite so much to worry about after all.
"Urgh," Crowley groaned as they pulled in to the curb, the Jeep idling noisily as he threw the brake. Aziraphale cast him a sympathetic look, knowing the demon had to be missing his Bentley more than he let on. The Jeep might do for a war zone or two, but it just hadn't been made to handle the sort of stress Crowley put on his vehicles.
Then the demon sniffed at the back of his hand with a grimace, for all the world like a disgruntled cat.
"I'm never going to get the smell of flaming dashboard out of my scales," he complained, though he didn't sound too very upset. Relieved that he was still alive to complain, most likely; Aziraphale knew how he felt.
"I'm sure you'll feel better after a hot shower," he offered, swallowing a small lump of disappointment. If Crowley was that concerned over grooming, he'd hardly want to step inside for a drink. In fact, it was almost as if Crowley was already making excuses to avoid the bookshop entirely.
"Hn. I think my flat probably smells worse," Crowley said with a strained little laugh, his gaze out the windscreen gone suddenly distant.
"Ah," said Aziraphale. And then, in a rush, "You could borrow mine."
Crowley looked over at him, brows arching. "You have a shower?"
"It came with the shop."
Crowley made no move to get out of the Jeep or even turn off the ignition, and Aziraphale felt his face go hot, then cold. He still wasn't certain this was the best idea. But for the first time in his long existence, he felt like he had nothing to lose. He, an angel, had risked betraying God had the Apocalypse really been what He wanted. He'd hoped otherwise, but he hadn't been sure. He'd only trusted.
If he couldn't Fall for that, then there was no possible way he could Fall for this.
"Crowley," he said, reaching over and laying a hand against the cool, soft scales of the demon's cheek, invisible to all but an angel's sight. Crowley shivered, but he reached for the key, turned off the motor and sat in silence while Aziraphale gathered his courage. "Come upstairs."
Crowley smirked, almost convincingly enough to hide the nervousness beneath. "Thought you'd never ask."
They didn't turn the lights on in the shop, though Aziraphale would have liked to linger just a moment, just to make sure the shelves were still as they should be. They didn't detour to the kitchen for tea or to the backroom for a bottle to fortify their courage. They simply headed upstairs, Aziraphale in the lead, Crowley hard on his heels, their footsteps and the faint creak of the stairs the only sounds in the evening stillness. Even the low hum of traffic from outside was absent, the streets all but deserted, as if the rest of London had decided to crawl back into bed and sleep through what they couldn't explain away.
As they reached the bedroom he never used, Aziraphale hesitated before switching on a lamp that only worked because he expected it to. It cast a cheery yellow glow over a bed that was still as neatly-made as the day Aziraphale had tucked its hospital corners the first time, sporting a thick layer of dust he hastily miracled away. Crowley's smirk had gone draconian again, but Aziraphale ignored that, managed a smile of his own that was only slightly shaky, and reached out a hand.
Crowley was there before he had to stretch his courage any further, arms sliding around him as Crowley pulled him into a kiss. It was exactly the same as the first time, a jolting rush as his heart went frantic and his breath stilled completely, every nerve coming alive as want unfolded inside him for the second time he could remember. Well, the third, really. Funny how each time had involved Crowley in some form or another.
He whimpered when Crowley pulled just as suddenly away, glancing down and then up again, a shocked question peering over the rims of his sunglasses. "You...you're not...."
He blushed, realizing suddenly what it must look like to Crowley but far more embarrassed by what it looked like on his end. "I forgot," he admitted, hastily making the effort before Crowley could scold him to keep up.
Crowley stared for a long moment. And then he laughed, relieved and oddly pleased, with a disbelieving little grin that made Aziraphale want to smite him...just not very hard. "You're telling me that even without the proper equipment--"
"You're very tempting," Aziraphale admitted, which only stretched Crowley's smile wider.
"Show me how much," Crowley murmured, pulling him close again.
Oh. Oh, now that felt...entirely different.
Crowley was hard against him, solid and strong and lithe as a serpent, though that missed the truth by several orders of magnitude. The demon growled, very quietly, as he kissed Aziraphale again, and Aziraphale felt more than heard it as he pressed his hands closer to Crowley's back, fingers hooking in the hastily-mended suit Crowley had shredded as they'd prepared to make their final stand. Crowley's own hands were busier, pushing Aziraphale's coat off his shoulders and starting on the buttons of his shirt. He was tempted to tell Crowley to miracle it all away, but Crowley's mouth on his throat distracted him, left him little breath for anything but open-mouthed moans and Crowley's name.
He let himself be steered onto the bed, watched in a daze as Crowley shed his clothes in a rush--even his sunglasses--and made short work of the rest of Aziraphale's own. In the soft glow of the lamp, the demon's scales were barely noticeable at all, but the skin under Aziraphale's reaching hands was too soft, too smooth, to be anything remotely human. It felt incredible as Crowley lowered himself down, covering Aziraphale and pinning him with his weight, lining up their cocks with a teasing roll of his hips.
Aziraphale gasped something too muddled to be a curse, fingers curling hard around Crowley's shoulder blades. The demon did it again, nuzzling hungrily at Aziraphale's throat, and the first bite made him rock up helplessly even as his head was tipping back. He could hear Crowley's growl now, soft but possessive, and he shifted, brought his knees up and curled his legs around Crowley, closing his eyes with a smile as Crowley's growl became a groan.
"Crowley," he said, voice catching as teeth left his neck, Crowley's mouth soothing bitemarks away. "If you like, we could...can we...?" He couldn't quite bring himself to say it, would end up squirming with embarrassment if Crowley pressed the issue, the habits of six thousand years dying hard.
"Nn," Crowley moaned, shuddering against him...and shook his head. "Can't," he said raggedly. "It's...hard enough with humans," he added, lifting his head even as he continued to move, thrusting against Aziraphale until the angel nearly lost the thread of the conversation. "There's no way I could...keep my form with...with you--"
He wanted to say that he didn't mind, he didn't mind at all, but it was too late for that with Crowley writhing into him, arching over him, great golden eyes holding his the entire time as they seized and shook.
Afterwards, not used to sleep, he remained awake as Crowley napped against him, still holding him close. Stroking oddly-human hair, he found himself thinking again of scales, of featherless wings that could blot out the sun, and realized with a pang that he missed all that. As much as he enjoyed the company of Crowley the man, he also missed the spectacle of Crowley the dragon. And it seemed terrible to him that Crowley could never really relax, never let himself go like Aziraphale had just done, no matter how much he trusted the one he was with.
He wondered what Beelzebub's orders to Crowley had actually been, once upon a time, and blushed to the tips of his winched-away wings.
Crowley groaned in his sleep, pressing his half-hard prick against Aziraphale's hip, as if the surge of nearby Lust had reached even into his dreams. Well...yes; Aziraphale supposed it would. And since he couldn't stop thinking about it, it was bound to wake Crowley eventually.
But he'd deal with that when it happened. For now he was content to hold the demon more tightly and bury his mortified flush in dark hair.
"Oh, look," Aziraphale enthused from the passenger seat, buried in tourist brochures and paying no attention at all to the road. Taking advantage of his distraction, Crowley sped around two compacts with full bike racks and a family van before nipping back in as a logging truck turned the tight corner up ahead. Brakes squealed somewhere behind him, but he made an absent gesture over his shoulder and everyone stayed on the road.
American drivers. Hair-trigger, the lot of them.
"Look at what?"
"We really must stop in Portland before we leave," Aziraphale said. "They have a shop they call the City of Books!"
Crowley shuddered and tightened his hands on the wheel. He might have known the angel would drag him into a bookstore before they were done.
"Oh! Here we are," Aziraphale said suddenly, pointing at what looked like an old logging road wending its way up the mountain. "Turn here."
"Here," Aziraphale said, so confidently Crowley shrugged and turned the wheel over hard.
There was more honking from the peanut gallery, and Aziraphale's brochures went flying as the angel clutched at the dashboard, but the rental car did what he told it and shot onto the unpaved road with a rattle and a thump. It didn't take long for Crowley to ease off the gas, scowling as the pitted, rocky path jolted him around in his seat. "So what's up here that's so important?" he asked, glancing over at Aziraphale expectantly.
"You'll see when we--deer, watch the deer!--get there," Aziraphale told him, white-faced but worryingly smug.
It was hard to tell exactly how far they drove, wending their way through dense woods and lazy turns of what he suspected now was an actual road, not a firebreak, no matter how disused it looked. There'd been a few side-branchings further down, and he saw a house once far below as they came around the side of the mountain, but they met no other vehicles coming or going, only a few suicidal representatives of the local fauna intent on giving Aziraphale fits.
When the road dead-ended at last at a ramshackle little house in the middle of the woods, he almost shot the angel a disbelieving look. If Aziraphale had wanted to shack up in a cozy little love-nest, they could have gone to Venice, or Florence, or back to the bookshop. He bit his tongue, though, pulled up at the front, and tried not to think too much on how many miracles it was going to take to render the place livable. He had standards, after all, and if he couldn't have the angel in all the ways he wanted him, he at least required a king size bed and a hot tub built for two for all the ways he could.
Pausing to stretch as he climbed out of the car, he rolled his neck and decided to look on the bright side. After all, with their closest neighbors half a mountain away, no one was likely to complain about the noise. And there'd be no scandalized bystanders if he miracled that hot tub out back for a night under the stars. And--
"Crowley," Aziraphale said, sounding oddly self-conscious for the first time in weeks, echoey in a way that felt strangely familiar, and Crowley turned to look over the hood of the car--
And froze, staring, at a dragon that hadn't been there just moments before.
It wasn't a picture-perfect specimen like Crowley himself, though it was miles better than anything you usually saw in Hell. It was white, for one thing, with a pearly sort of sheen to it, and the wings were all wrong: feathered when they should have been leathery. It didn't have his sinewy leanness, either--in fact, it was rather stocky around the middle, like it'd dined on one too many virgins--but he'd know those eyes, a round-pupiled and infinite blue, anywhere.
"Aziraphale?" he asked anyway, just to be sure, one brief spike of panic assuaged by another glance at those ridiculous wings, the warm scent of angel wafting unchanged from the counterfeit dragon.
"Well?" Aziraphale asked, tail tip twitching with anticipation. "What do you think?"
"I think you'd better get flying, angel," he purred. "Because when I catch you, I'm going to fuck you silly."
Maybe it wasn't the declaration of undying affection Aziraphale might have preferred, but the angel was laughing himself breathless as he launched himself into the air, like he didn't mind at all, or like he understood Crowley perfectly.
Either way, it meant the same thing.