Aziraphale had never intended to become a casual herpetologist, it had just happened over the centuries. Crowley was such a needy snake, regardless of the fact that he would never admit to it. He required a rather strict feeding schedule which took ages to acclimate too, and then there was acclimation itself. Aziraphale had spent so much time arranging his bookshop: the sunny space by the window was precisely ninety degrees in full sun but eighty-five without, whereas his reading room was maintained at a cool and comfortable seventy-five degrees. The humidifiers had been tricky because any responsible book owner shrieks at the thought of moisture. He had compromised with this, maintaining an ambient damp in his reading room which, much to his practical woe, caused him to go through afghans like the dickens until it struck him to install an electric blanket on his armchair.
This careful cultivation had not come easy. He couldn’t ask Crowley what he needed, because the answer would have been a caustic ‘bugger off my business, Aziraphale’. Crowley was so sensitive about the S-word. So, as was, it had taken centuries of guesswork and several editions of Natural Geographic to get it right. He had spoken to many professionals and tattoo aficionados to whom the keeping of snakes seemed to be a common hobby. His private collection of resources ranged from Happy Herp Habitats to Breeding Snakes for Fun and Profit, the latter of which he had opened and then slammed shut again, blushing a record-setting red. In time, he learned the importance of climate, feeding, and shedding.
Aziraphale was particularly proud of the shedding schedule. Despite how long it took to recognize the signs, he had become something of an expert on interpreting Crowley’s various moods, one of which was itchy. He would slink into the bookshop, hips fighting over what percentage of knees they owned. Punchy, angry, quick to snap, unable to sit still, his entire personality afoul with some unseen affliction that only a good exfoliation could cure.
“Why don’t you take a nice hot bath dear,” Aziraphale would suggest.
The bathroom—which he didn’t himself need—had been a practical installment. A grande thing; claw-footed as was his aesthetic, but miracled longer and deeper to accommodate a most frequent grumpy guest. Along the wall: every type and texture of loofah, on the shelf; Aziraphale's lifetime collection of hotel soaps and, tucked hidden away where Crowley thought he would never find it, a veterinary-grade prescription for scale mites, which the poor demon tended to pick up whenever he had to cause trouble in Bolivia.
After a good scrub (and a much-needed shed) Crowley was much more manageable and inclined to a glass of good wine. He could have bathed at his own flat, but that was the problem with snakes: they were such foolish, stubborn things. Aziraphale found it advantageous to suggest the immediate solution as opposed to the long-term one.
To keep track, he kept a journal which contained helpful reminders:
Do not feed fish, gives Crowley a terrible stomach ache and he grouches.
Do feed eggs, Crowley likes the little devilled ones with chives from Franny’s.
Important information regarding keeping and schedule:
Winter sleeping schedule: 18 hours and Weekends.
Summer sleeping schedule: 6 hours and Mondays.
As well as an itemized list of general serpentine concerns and worries:
April 16th, 1901 - Mites again. He really must stop going to Bolivia.
August 7th, 1927 - We had a terrible row and it’s thrown off his feeding. I shall tempt him with the duck confit at that little French place. He likes that he doesn’t have to chew.
September 28th, 1942 - Scales in the pipes. I have summoned the plumber, but I should insist that he bathe more often. He’s such a crotchety thing when they build up like that.
Unbeknownst to Crowley, he had been something of a kept thing for several centuries, most certainly the last one. Aziraphale had grown soft; he enjoyed tending to Crowley’s various needs, and if there was an underlying flavour of love colouring his tenderness it was being ignored with firm purpose. If Crowley ever found out that Aziraphale didn’t actually need four dozen loofahs or even a bathtub, or that he didn’t actually have a strange and unrepairable temperature difference room to room, he would be furious. Demons didn’t like angels puttering around changing the light bulbs until the ambient lighting was right enough to insist, “Crowley dear, take off those silly sunglasses we’re indoors.”
Aziraphale was sipping a luke-warm cocoa while reading when he was dragged out of a particularly steamy scene between a wealthy duke and a roguish farmhand by a frantic pounding at the door to his shop. He stuffed the novel under his armchair as the pounding became more insistent, and Aziraphale hesitated. It was half-past midnight in the dead of a London winter, who on earth could be—“Aziraphale, please! I can’t—open the door, I—”
There was a loud thump and Aziraphale, who had recognized the voice immediately, threw open the door to found Crowley badly beaten and wearing no coat. “Oh good lord!”
“Angel…” Crowley looked up at him through two swollen eyes. “Got myself in a little trouble tonight,” he coughed and spat a glob of pink spittle onto the snowy stupe.
“What—how—Crowley, can you stand?” Aziraphale was panicking.
“Hurts to be a person,” Crowley said in a dizzy, far-away voice. “Not sure I can be one for much longer. Didn’t know where else to go. Need to… need to get—”
But Crowley couldn’t answer; his mortal shell had been replaced by a giant black snake that looked inches from a shallow, cold-blooded grave. Aziraphale wrung his hands like a fretful wife and then, since there was nothing else he could do, picked Crowley up.
Taking him into the house, Aziraphale’s first instinct was decimation. It had been a long time since he had felt the white-hot tingle of angelic wrath filling his limbs with the power to smite legions, but there it was. He could feel the glow of it turning his blood to gold and his bones to incorruptible iron; he wanted vengeance, old and holy. But, his second instinct was the one that kept him planted firmly on earth: Crowley was freezing and he needed help.
“Must get him warm… must…” Aziraphale staggered under the weight of Crowley’s limp form, tripping over his tail. “Can’t put him in the bath, the wounds…”
The bed! Of course the bed. And the heated blanket. And the space-heater. His mind was spinning two-hundred miles per second; he didn’t even have a bed! Aziraphale made a frazzled gesture towards his upstairs and the entire commercial block moved fourteen feet to the left to accommodate the room he had created; plain and beige with soft white bedding.
“You mustn’t discorporate!” He deposited Crowley’s serpent self on the bed in a lump, gathering every heat source he had with a wave of his hand. “You mustn’t get too hot,” he muttered to himself, “But you must get warm, you must get warm.”
For the first two hours, Aziraphale wasn’t convinced that Crowley was even alive so he checked, religiously, every minute, terrified. At the first tick of the third hour, Aziraphale stripped down to his briefs and tugged the entire twelve-foot length of a freezing black reptile tight to his body. At hour six, Crowley stirred. At hour eight, he slithered. At hour ten he coiled tight into the heat of Aziraphale’s chest and his was how they stayed, angel and snake, until dawn, throughout the day, and until dusk the next night. There was still the issue of how bad his wounds might be, but temperature now stabilized, Aziraphale could think again.
He extricated himself, turning the heated blanket up a few degrees in his absence so he could consult his books. None of them seemed to offer any first aid tips beyond don’t let your snake freeze to death. There was no ‘what if’ scenario that could offer any practical advice in the event the first bit failed, and so Aziraphale made an Earl Grey tea out of habit and took inventory of the wounds he had seen: two black eyes, presumably bruised ribs, unknown status organs. Crowley was in bad shape, but without knowing how bad that shape was, the only thing Aziraphale could do was let time do what time does best.
Hell was a stark, ugly place. Overcrowded and damp, but not in the warm way that Crowley craved. He avoided it as much as possible, but damnation was damnation and every now and again he had to check-in for routine punishment. There was a bureaucratic flavour to the whole thing; sure, they will still burn you with hot irons and flog the skin off your back, but it was never personal. Commendations cut down on the general frequency of the inevitable, but sooner or later a demon must do what a demon must do. Crowley was, by last count, a little overdue for his bi-centurial, and that meant he was in for an ugly beating.
He didn’t mind, which was an odd thing to not mind, but nobody—aside from demons—understood how torture in Hell actually worked. Agony, in a word. Brief, in another. He was still expected to report for duty the next day, which meant as soon as the whole thing was over he’d been able to snap his fingers and mend the damage, and then it would be another fifty years or so, assuming he kept up with his paperwork, before he’d have to trudge back for another go. What he hadn’t expected was how much trouble he was actually in.
“Demon Crowley,” said the demon lord Beezlebub, “Do you have anything to say in defense of the following transgressions: failing to file Motion 9, Subcontract A; Permission to Tempt on the following occasions—” he listed several dozen “—and one count of fraternizing with the enemy while failing to file Motion 11, Subcontract H: Permission to Prostrate?”
Crowley panicked. “Prostrate? Nawww, it was more of a dinner situation.”
“Aziraphale?” Crowley woke up mortal and instantly tried to curl in on himself to escape the way his entire body hurt. “Feels like I’ve been hit by a… hitting... thing.”
“I’m here,” Aziraphale had untangled himself the second he felt Crowley stir, sure that he wouldn’t want to know he’d been cuddled by an angel for nearly a week’s time. “You had me worried, Crowley. I wasn’t sure you’d—are you okay? What parts hurt the most?”
“Everything,” he groaned.
“Can you breathe okay?”
“Don’t need to breathe.”
“Yes, but you like to,” Aziraphale sighed. “Does it hurt when you do?”
“Do you feel dry?”
“Are you hungry?”
“Can you stay in this shape?”
“Maybe if I—” but, he couldn’t.
Aziraphale looked tenderly at the pile shiny black scales. Crowley was too weak to maintain humanity for long but he was healing, meaning it was getting riskier and riskier for Aziraphale to climb into bed and let him burrow in the warmth of his chest. One morning—or evening, perhaps—Crowley was going to wake up and ask what in the lord’s blasphemed name he was doing, and in truth… he didn’t have an answer that wasn’t ‘I love you’.
Russian roulette is a simple game. One bullet, six spins of the chamber, six pulls of the trigger. Angels were built for constant vigilance, but Aziraphale was built for cake. On day six, he fell asleep and had the most wonderful dream. Crowley was there, smiling up at him in the sunshine of some beautiful garden while he lounged basking in the heat. There were so many flowers, the cicadas were buzzing and then suddenly there was a grand four-poster bed in a washed-white clapboard bedroom obscured by gauzy curtains swaying in the breeze. They were in it, together, Aziraphale spooned around Crowley’s slender frame, keeping him warm and safe as the rains came, pressing slow, lazy kisses against the back of his neck.
Running his fingers through Crowley’s thick, curling hair he drew him close enough to feel what Crowley’s mortal frame did to his body. Hard and wanting, pumping against the gape of his snaky thighs. Crowley moaned and said, ‘Aziraphale I need—’
“Whatcha doin’ angel?”
Aziraphale jerked awake so fast that it felt like his stomach had dropped out the bottom, the warm fuzzy feeling that he had moments before was replaced by icy dread. He was indeed spooning Crowley, he was indeed hard and wanting in his briefs, and Crowley’s entire body was indeed pressed against his. There was no explaining this. Crowley had been injured! And he had taken advantage of the closeness. Oh, horrible angel. Terrible, rotten angel.
“Crowley, I’m so sorry—you were—and then I—I fell asleep,” he mumbled as if that excused anything as he peeled himself away. “Involuntarily, I assure you.”
Dizzy, Crowley tried to sit up and hissed in pain. “Do you always cuddle your house guests, or was this a sssspecial occassssssion?” Aziraphale blinked. Of course he’d make a joke of it, the irksome serpent! Aziraphale was equal parts relieved and irritated.
“Quite special. You almost discorporated.”
“What in the hell happened?”
“What did they…?” Aziraphale hesitated, not sure he wanted to know the answer, heart still pounding in his chest, the fuzzy memory of his dream coating his reality in pathetic wonder while his guilt ate away at it like a disease. “You were bleeding everywhere.”
“Ahhh, fuck—” Crowley dragged himself to a near-sitting position, eyes rolling back as the ache in his muscles burned behind his eyelids. His left eye was still swollen, but the right was open enough to peer blearily out of. “Gonna need your help, angel.”
“Anything, what do you need? I can get—”
“Need you to put my hips back in.”
“Your hips back... what?”
“Hips, sockets, back in,” he made a crude shoving gesture.
“What?!” Aziraphale was horrified. Angels and demons had very different concepts of pain, this he knew, but he couldn’t believe the nonchalance. Crowley had been tortured!
“I wasn’t tortured,” Crowley had always had the uncanny ability to know when Aziraphale was fussing. “Well, I was tortured a little. Would’ve been par for a bi-centurial, but things went a bit sideways. It was a bad review. It’s Hell, Aziraphale. It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine!” Aziraphale conjured a large tumbler of whisky, encouraging Crowley to sip on it like proper medicine. “Regardless of if you can’t feel it the way a mortal might doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, Crowley. A dislocation, of all things! Those cruel, awful—”
“Calm yourself. I can’t even feel half of it,” Crowley sucked down the entire glass, so Aziraphale conjured him another. “All those natty nerve endings don’t apply.”
“You can’t feel anything?”
“Nawww, I can. Only not the hip bits. Or the knee bits. Or the feet.”
“Snakes don’t walk upright.”
“Only because I’m stubborn.”
“Crowley, this is… they hurt you so much and you... and you’re being so—so—” Aziraphale struggled, finally conjuring a third glass for his own nerves, “—nonchalant about it!”
“I told you, Hell, par for the course. It’s not like upstairs. Eternal damnation doesn’t stop because you’ve got a commendation or two, there’s check-ins, mandatory flagellation. It’d’ve been your standard flog’n’battery, but I… forgot some paperwork.”
“That doesn’t sound at all like you,” Aziraphale said dryly.
“Anyway,” Crowley didn’t look at him. “Thanks for patching me up, I wouldn’t have made it back to my flat in the snow. Once my walking bits are all sorted out, I’ll be off.”
“You’ll be off once you’re better,” Aziraphale said with absolute authority.
Aziraphale was a worrier and it had been like pulling hens' teeth to get him to let alone for a few minutes. He had fluffed Crowley's pillow about a hundred times before leaving, insisting that he’d only be going around the corner to the shops. Crowley tried not to imagine the trouble he’d have been in if Hell knew anything beyond a misfiled dinner. According to the rules, you could eat with an angel, you could talk to an angel, you could prostrate at one, whatever that meant. But you couldn’t do that other thing.
Crowley had been doing the other thing for a very, very long time.
There was something about Aziraphale that was comfortable and constant, always set to the exact right emotional temperature, even if he was a stuffy difficult fusspot. He was, in point of fact, Crowley’s stuffy difficult fusspot, regardless of if he knew it or not. The phantom weight of Aziraphale’s arm slung over his aching body, the way all his bony bits had fit so naturally against those well-fed curves… all of that was eclipsed by the fact that he had shown up broken in the dead of the night and Aziraphale had taken care of him.
Tired of being stuck in bed and certain he wouldn’t be allowed to get up if he tried later, Crowley swung himself out of bed and planted his feet on the floor. Walking when, strictly speaking, you didn’t have actual legs was an invention that Crowley had more or less perfected. He could feel the heft of them pulling on the muscles in his abdomen, so the rest was about convincing his brain that he didn’t need human nerve endings to make human legs go, provided he was determined enough to get somewhere. If forced to describe the sensation, he’d have said a bit like pins and needles but a lot more like piloting two stacks of pudding.
Making his way downstairs, ignoring the ache in every part of his body above the thighs, he headed straight for the sunny window where it was hottest. Passing Aziraphale’s writing desk something caught his eye: a book on snakes. Several books, he discovered, as he flipped through the pile. He chuckled. Aziraphale must have had kittens when he’d shown up and turned all snaky, probably ran out and bought the lot to take care of him.
A warm wanted feeling was blooming in his chest until he reached the end of the pile where a worn diary was open to a list of zoological instructions. He scanned the page, expression going dark, and then he started at the beginning with a hurt, hateful grimace.
Putting Crowley’s bones back where they belonged was a memory Aziraphale wouldn’t soon forget. Any mortal would have needed a team of doctors and a qualified surgeon, but Crowley was a demon so the brute strength of an angel had been enough. The dull fleshy popping sound reminded him of hand-jointing a chicken wing, and the feeling of it squirmed residually in his palms. He had blessed the area after, ghosting a shaking hand over Crowley’s skinny legs. He couldn’t risk healing anything by miracle, but once Crowley was stable, he had excused himself to go to the shops, by which he meant five of Crowley’s six favourite restaurants. He needed to eat and Aziraphale needed something to do because all of the angelic wrath that had abated had done so temporarily. He wanted to storm the gates of Hell, flaming sword in hand, and destroy any being who had ever dared touch Crowley’s body with cruel intentions. He swallowed down the rage knowing it would only lead to trouble.
Plodding through the slushy streets, Aziraphale distracted himself with the conundrum that was Crowley. He had taught himself to walk! He supposed it made sense, having little sensation in his lower extremities; apart from the tail bit, snakes more or less stopped after the bottom. He hadn’t thought about it, in all the time they’d been companions, that maybe the way Crowley seemed to saunter pelvis-first and by the grace of sheer momentum was just that. Aziraphale thought of the dozens of midnight strolls and park explorations throughout the years, Crowley keeping pace with him despite all odds for the pleasure of shared company. It took on new meaning, knowing it didn’t come naturally for him. If he had known he would never have insisted that Crowley hurry up or be left behind.
Slipping back in his bookshop food in hand, Aziraphale stopped dead.
By some miracle, demonic or otherwise, Crowley had made it down the stairs and was standing at his reading desk holding… oh no. “Please, let me explain.”
“My feeding schedule?! You’ve—this—I’m a bloody pet.”
“No! No, it’s not—”
“What’s in the basket, Aziraphale.” Crowley gestured at the groceries he was holding, voice low and dangerous.
“It’s nothing… lunch. I thought you might—”
“Is it eggs?”
“Let me guess, duck?”
“You like them both so much,” he defended himself.
“I can’t believe you.”
“Crowley I was only trying to—”
Aziraphale blinked, “What?”
“It’s so like you, isn’t it? The food, the baths, the—the blasted ambient temperature, trying to make me something I’m not.” He didn’t say ‘I trusted you’ but it was there anyway.
“That’s the exact opposite of what I was trying to do!”
“Oh, and what were you trying to do?” Crowley snarled. “Here I am, thinking that all the ways I can be here were—and you—joke’s always on the bloody demon, isn’t it?”
“You don’t understand!” Aziraphale pleaded.
“Bugger off, Aziraphale.” All the warm, affectionate feelings he had ever felt in Aziraphale’s presence had been created with heat lamps and humidifiers.
“I—” it was now or never, Aziraphale needed to tell him, he needed him to know , but he couldn’t say it, the useless coward that he was “—I care about you,” he tried.
“This isn’t care,” he tossed the book down, “It’s animal husbandry.”
Aziraphale was fretting. He had tried calling, he had gone twice to Crowley’s flat but the Bentley was gone and so was he. He had begged Crowley to stay, even though he was mad, promising they wouldn’t even so much as talk to one another if that’s what he wanted, at least until he was better… but he had left, and now what was a besotted angel to do? He had leafed through his diary a hundred times, trying to see it the way Crowley had, but he couldn’t see anything but decades of careful consideration and gentle affection on each line.
“He wasn’t a pet!” he said to no one. “He was…”
A friend. A confident. A silly stubborn snake who never took care of himself and who Aziraphale had doted on for quiet centuries because he was allergic to confessing his feelings. Except for the part where he had almost confessed, and that had gone about as sideways as one could expect. Aziraphale groaned, reclining into his armchair—which was uncomfortably cold without his electric blanket—he had never actually… asked. He had assumed, hadn’t he? Assumed that Crowley liked him, even loved him quietly and in his own way. It never actually crossed his mind that his affections were one-sided. But, perhaps they were.
The more he considered this scenario, the more it made sense. Crowley and he tended to cross paths as was the nature of good versus evil. Aziraphale’s growing infatuation had been exactly thus, and what they had was a strict working friendship. Humans did it all the time: dinners, lunches, brunches, a little talk-shop and go home. Crowley did tend to end up in his bookshop at odd hours, but… did he not always extend him the invitation?
Companionship blooms in all manner of necessity, but fine wine doth not a romance make. The fact that his heart ached for Crowley, longed for Crowley, brightened when he was present, gloomed when he was away, it meant nothing aside from that Aziraphale had found an outlet for eons of immortal loneliness and in doing so, chased away his only friend.
Guilt heavy in his heart, Aziraphale knew what he had to do. He gathered his wits about him and started by turning off the humidifier and unbreaking the unbreakable temperature gage in each room. From there, he undid all the careful adjustments to Crowley’s habi— to his bookshop . His bathtub returned to a normal length and depth, and the food he had bought for Crowley, still untouched, went directly into the trash. When he was done, his living space felt so foreign and strange he couldn’t stand it; he had lived for Crowley’s comfort for so long.
Last, he trudged up to the bedroom he had made. He could have redacted it and returned to the original city plan. But instead, he stared at it for a long time before replacing the beige walls with crisp white clapboard. The bed he transformed into a grand four-poster bed, like the one from his dream, complete and accurate right down to the gauze curtains, but this only made him feel emptier than he had before. He missed Crowley. He was sorry.
Crowley stormed around his hotel room. He hadn’t even gone back to his flat, because he knew Aziraphale would try to explain himself or apologize, but he didn’t want to listen. He had trusted him… so much, and it burned deep inside. Aziraphale was the one being in existence who had never treated him like a thing . He was an angel, of course, so there was the occasional ‘foul fiend’ tossed at him on the aside, but there was never any venom in it. But this? This had fangs. Aziraphale thought he was… some kind of animal to be tended.
For one beautiful, blissful morning he’d woken up in Aziraphale’s arms and as sore and tender as he’d been, it was the best thing he’d ever felt. But he didn’t need an owner, and he didn’t want a lover that only existed in his head. Lonelier than he had ever felt before, Crowley curled up in a sunny patch on the hotel carpet holding tight to his mortal body.
After the first month, Aziraphale stopped looking up in desperation whenever his shop bell jangled. After the second, Crowley blocked his number. After the third, he had no choice but to carry on with the rest of his immortality with unresolved apologies. At present, he was writing in his diary, a five-hundred-year habit, and his only comfort when there was no one else to talk with. Where the logbook had been used to keep track of Crowley’s various ailments and schedules, his diaries contained every thought and feeling Aziraphale had ever had in exhaustive detail. What mortal historians would give for even a glimpse; some of them actually predated paper. Pity Crowley hadn’t seen those instead, then he would—oh!
Aziraphale felt cold and hot all at once. If Crowley had seen them, that would change everything! Surely there were corresponding entries? He was a very habitual writer, and if Crowley only understood… he would be willing to talk again, wouldn’t he? If he could prove that there was a second book for the other parts of their lives together, he could fix everything. Or, fix everything up until his terrible ill-placed feelings, but one house fire at a time.
Crowley was hungover. He had been drunk as solidly as he could manage for the better part of three months. This was why when he was roused by a special-delivery postman seconds after sunup he signed without asking too many questions, accepting a heavy cardboard box postmarked from a Mr. A. Z. Fell. Against his better judgement, Crowley opened the box. He hissed. That bloody zoo diary was on the top, and the knee-jerk impulse to hurl it against the wall was stalled only by the note on top: ‘Before you throw it away, I want you to know that there were other books. - A.Z.’ Of course the buggering angel would know him well enough to know he’d chuck to damn thing the second he laid eyes on it.
He slammed the box shut. Opened it again. Slammed it shut. Kicked it across the room and then looked heavenward: ‘This is your bloody fault. You made him.’ But, then he knelt down and selected the first volume. There were pastel post-it tabs marking certain pages, and he opened to the first one revealing a loopy note that read ‘no fish’ above a diary entry.
Crowley looked a sight today! Run ragged by this industrial revolution business, so many bankers and investors to ruin, I’m certain. I suppose Hell doesn’t offer time off, but he did agree to come along to this charming little restaurant along the bayside. It was run by a woman, fancy that. I truly am enjoying the changing times for women in these new centuries, she was such a colourful character. I had the salmon, Crowley had the cod. I feel terribly guilty for pressing him to order it, he looked positively green after and he was quite the testy fellow. I suggested a nightcap and he threw up in the town fountain. I shall make a point not to suggest fish in future, I don’t suppose it agrees with his physiology. A shame, the dill sauce was lovely, and I will be returning to try the bouillabaisse at my earliest opportunity.
He flipped to the next tab, which read ‘eggs’.
Gabriel stopped by today, and it was most inopportune. I was sorting my collection of biblical fiction and he selected the only untoward volume in the entire lot. There were illustrations and I am certain it will end in a formal reprimand. The archangel Michael was in that one, and the artist was quite liberal with the… effort. Blessed be that Crowley arrived after he left, as I’m certain that would have gone very badly. We went to a quaint little diner that my barber recommended. I have never seen such a contented demon—he ate an entire platter of devilled eggs, so I ordered a second, and he ate those as well! I barely managed to get a lick of the filling—which was quite scrummy I must say—but I ordered a second dessert for myself to round out the corners. It’s so unlike him to have an appetite like that.
Heart slamming against his breast, Crowley read on to ‘tub’.
I have contacted no less than twenty artisans and none of them are willing to cast a tub to my specifications. I do hate to use a miracle for such a thing, but I suppose if there is no way around it I shall. All of the books suggest a gentle scrub with a damp towel if Crowley hasn’t shed by the end of the week—could you imagine me offering! I bought several proper sponges, though. I am sure one of the textures will please him. I also sold a book today. It was under some duress as they simply wouldn’t go away without promise of a back-order. Thankfully it wasn’t one I was attached to, but all the same. I am considering stocking some pulp fiction, loathe as I am to sully the storefront, to keep people away from the literature.
As the sun rose then fell, Crowley continued on, pausing only to turn on a lamp. He felt a mild pang of guilt for reading entries that Aziraphale hadn’t marked, and for running a reverent finger over the rare sketch or poem. When he arrived at the final volume his eyes were wet but he wasn’t crying, just blinking back the shadow of memories which had run parallel to Aziraphale's for an immortal lifetime, weaving in and out, keeping pace or surging ahead like dolphins crossing one another in the same shared bay. When he reached the final volume and entry, it spanned one page but six days and when was finished, he got his coat.
Crowley arrived beaten black and blue. He couldn’t even hold his mortality together and I have never been so angry. He’s sleeping now… but, I could feel it—I haven’t felt it since the Great War—the call to arms; I wanted my weapon, glorious wrath filled my veins. But, the fear came. I was so afraid. I know demons are resilient, I know that by nature he must have been punished before now, but seeing it is... different. What a thought, all those times that he was hurt but never came to me. I can barely write, faced with the ache of it; each time he was… alone.
Worse still is what I have done. I laid with him, drew him against me, cradled him. He was so cold, but the weight of him felt so natural to me; his scales were so smooth. If he knew… he would be furious, I’m sure, but I cannot seem to quell this flicker of hope that whispers the contrary. I’m realizing, day by day, or perhaps century by century if I were called to honesty, that I’m not a very good angel. So often for appearances I have been forced to thwart him, call him names, belittle his devilish ways… but even as a serpent, he calls me to tenderness, fitting against the bare of my chest like a piece missing from a lonely puzzle.
Five days, now. Crowley has slept for almost all, which is why I am writing this bit in retrospect. Strange how I have written in good faith every day, through every human war, every global catastrophe, but the world stopped when he collapsed on my doorstep. I haven’t opened the shop, but I did post a sign to discourage pesterers. Crowley woke for a spell and confirmed my suspicion: punished for insubordination. He says that he forgot paperwork, but never once has he failed to file anything demonic before now. Glory hound is the term, I think. So, I can only assume that he was caught with, well, me. I don’t know when, but I am certain that I’m to blame. The dinners I insist upon are so posh, and the walks? Public as well. He never declines, and I dare to hope why that is, but now… now I suppose that I must stop asking.
Day six. I have told Crowley that I’m going to the shop, and I suspect that he was relieved. I have been fussing, and he ordered me out after I fluffed his pillow for the dozenth time and I obeyed. I had to adjust his—well, adjust is too gentle. I forced his hips back into socket and the sensation will never leave me. I know he can’t feel it, barely grunted, really, but. Hell is… he doesn’t deserve Hell. He doesn’t deserve it! How can he, when he’s so honest and thoughtful; he likes children, and ducks; puddles after rain, the smell of bread even though he won’t eat it. Too gummy, he snips. I’ve said before that I am not a very good angel, but Crowley is a worse demon. He isn’t mean, or cruel. Cantankerous, but kind.
I had a dream today… a wonderful dream, until I woke. I suppose I have spent too much time among the humans—I’ve ‘gone native’ as Gabriel accuses—because for a moment, I felt as lovers are written in all those dime novels I’m guilty of reading. I don’t sleep often. I don’t know even how I fell asleep today but in my dream… oh, it feels scandalous to even write it here, the way Crowley looked at me as we woke up in it, limbs tangled, bodies wanting. He caught me holding him. He made a joke. I don’t think he understood. I suppose it’s better if he doesn’t, because now, more than ever, I do.
I tend to Crowley because I can’t not. I care for him because I can’t not. I have revolved around him like the planets around the—no, not like that. He isn’t my sun, but perhaps my earth. Interesting and unpredictable and teeming with life. Colour, when all my life is white; chaos, when all I have is scripture. I love him. I love him, and now I am off now to pick up all his favourite nibbles because I can’t tell him. But, I can take care of him.
“Angel!” Crowley was pounding the door of Aziraphale’s bookshop, unconcerned with the hour or with who might see him. “Angel, I know you’re home, let me in!”
“Crowley!” It opened, Aziraphale’s face relieved and hopeful, “Shush, you’ll wake the neighbours. Come in, quickly now, you’ve gone and drawn attention to yourself.”
“Blast the neighbours,” he strolled in, brandishing the diary like a weapon. “Blast heaven while we’re at it. Bugger Hell, too.” He wrenched off his sunglasses, yellow eyes wide and searching for something in Aziraphale’s face without knowing what it was.
“I take it you’ve read them.”
“I bloody well did.”
“And!” Crowley turned as if to an invisible crowd, “He asks me ‘and?’ the absolute bastard.” He turned back to Aziraphale, “You don’t get to ask me ‘and?’ about this.”
“There you go again, ‘oh’, like that explains your—explains this!” Crowley thrust the volume at him wildly but didn’t let it go. “You said you love me. You wrote it. In words.”
“Yes, well… I can quite understand that we will need to address that. I’m sorry, for what it’s worth, it wasn’t exactly planned as it were. I am certain I will get over it in time.”
“Get over—? What?!”
“I’m so glad you’re speaking to me again, is what I mean. As for my affections, consider the matter closed. I should never have—well, I assumed, which was terribly unfair.”
Crowley stared at him, dumbfounded.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said levelly, “I apologize that my attempts to… to care for you were unwelcome. I know you’re sensitive about your—that part of you, and—”
“Please, let me finish.” Aziraphale had to atone. He had to fix things! An eternity with Crowley was better than an eternity without, even if the cost was his heart and the sleeve it lived on. “It was unfeeling of me to… diarize your preferences, but… well, there are so very many particulars, you see. I was so determined to do it all properly that I didn’t consider how inappropriate it was of me to do it at all because I thought—mistakenly, of course—that perhaps our—” he paused, swallowing hard “—associateship held hidden significance.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. What?”
“Oh, well, I—” Aziraphale smoothed his already impeccably smooth waistcoat “—I suppose that’s a fair assessment. I only hope we can—or that you would—well, forgive me.”
“So, so stupid.” Crowley was pacing with an awkward slink, raking his free hand through his hair. “I wasn’t angry because you were taking care of me, Aziraphale.”
“Oh. Oh!” Aziraphale beamed, “Well, that’s all the better!”
“I love you.”
“I… see.” He hadn’t been prepared for that.
“A lot.” Crowley threw his head back and damned the Almighty one more time for creating such a perfect, ridiculous, plump pampered angel. “A lot a lot.”
“That’s—I think—well, I didn’t practice this part!”
“Of course you didn’t,” he sighed. “Get us some wine—the good stuff, I mean it—and turn up the heat in here, I’m freezing my bollocks off. Didn’t this room used to be warm?”
“It did,” Aziraphale confirmed sadly. “But, then you left.”
“You love me,” Crowley said.
“Yes,” Aziraphale replied.
“You love me,” Crowley said again.
“Good lord Crowley, yes. You’ve asked twenty times,” Aziraphale was perched on his armchair, finding it too dry and too tepid for comfort. “The answer hasn’t changed.”
“Well, when were you bloody going to tell me?”
“Never, to be fair.”
“It was for the best,” Aziraphale paused, “Or, so I thought.”
“But what does it mean , angel? If you do, and I do, and we do—what now?”
“I was rather hoping you might know.”
“Of course you were,” Crowley sighed, draining a glass of the very fine red Aziraphale had scrounged up at his request. “Well, I don’t know. This isn’t in the handbook.”
“They gave you a handbook?” Aziraphale asked and promptly wilted under Crowley’s stony glare. “Well, I suppose we could… do as the mortals do, in these situations.”
“What, bump uglies?”
“Don’t be crass.”
“Hold my little red bonnet and make tender at me, then.”
“Crowley,” he said warningly.
“Angel, I’m exhausted. This is too much. I don’t know what comes next and I don’t want to deal with it before sunup. But we could—” Crowley felt too vulnerable to ask.
“Dunno, have a sleep.”
“I might not sleep.”
“I might read a bit if I can’t.”
“It’s all fine. All of it. All fine.” Crowley groaned, exasperated.
“Okay,” said Aziraphale, realizing for once in six-thousand years when was the proper time to shut up. “Lead on,” he gestured to his upstairs with an after-you bow.
Dawn was lazy, the sun taking its time hatching over the earth like a runny egg. True to his word, Aziraphale hadn’t slept. Instead, he’d watched Crowley inch closer and closer to his side, eventually burrowing his forehead into the plush of it. Neither said anything, but when Aziraphale rested his arm across Crowley’s shoulders he could feel him sigh contentedly. He was asleep within minutes after, having taken hours to steal comfort that he could have had for free. Combing through his hair and thumbing circles in the exposed strip of skin between his shirt and trousers, Aziraphale considered what would happen when he woke.
He supposed perhaps, if he wanted, he could kiss Crowley. Maybe hold his gaze as he meandered down his body, worshipping the way his skin felt as silky as his scale. He could love him, openly, if he wanted. The problem was, he didn’t know how to do that. He had spent so long cultivating care in other tangible ways that he was unprepared for the actual stuff.
Crowley stirred, his yellow eyes blinking up at him sleepily, as he woke up and clung a little tighter. Aziraphale felt a warm, glad, happy, useless feeling.
“I love you,” said Aziraphale, looking down. “But, not just that. I want to put the bathtub right. I want my reading room cold and damp and I want my front window unbearably warm. I want to learn to make those eggs you like and I want you to stop hiding your mite dip; I know about Bolivia. I want to draw you a bath when it’s time for a shed, and I want to scrub you down until you feel soft. I want to walk through the park, as slow as you please, and for only as long as you enjoy it. And when it’s time for your next flagellation, I want you to let me tend to you because you don’t deserve it, Crowley. You don’t.”
“Angel—” Crowley’s voice cracked.
“I’m going to kiss you, now.”
“I might be very bad at it.”
“I thought it might be.”
It was a soft, gentle brush of warm-dry lips against cool-smooth ones. Crowley was arched upward, Aziraphale angled downward; chaste, pretty, short-lived but promising. There was some shuffling until they were nose to nose, kissing in short, searching bursts of curiosity. Crowley’s forked tongue darted out to taste the potential crackling between them and Aziraphale groaned. What was warm and tender was becoming hot and fervent, and the first wet connection of tongue against tongue like electricity, but the pace remained.
Squirming closer, snakish in the way they moved together, undulating against one another’s warmth Aziraphale was hard and blessedly, so was Crowley. As Aziraphale’s hands roamed over Crowley’s skinny frame he skimmed his ribs, arms, chest, torso, thumbing his collar bones with greedy intentions. He didn’t bother with the thighs, as errantly as he loved the look of them, because he wanted Crowley to feel everything he touched. Pressing tighter, locked in a pocket of mutual warmth, they both hissed at the first drag of friction. They were still dressed, but it didn’t matter cock to cock, black jeans and tailored slacks, fitting together like puzzle pieces. They rutted against one another in an easy rhythm, dragging out the pleasure as they pushed one another higher and higher, rebreathing the same panted air as they kissed. Crowley stiffened first, shuddered, and Aziraphale came tumbling after, the milky wet darkening his pants the most luxurious, messy, deviant feeling in the world.
“My word,” Aziraphale said, panting. “That was quite nice, I must say.”
Crowley snorted. Of course he would call the best thing either of them had ever shared ‘quite nice’ because he was… well, Aziraphale. “Yeah, angel,” he said. “It really was.”