The amazing observation about Asclepius and Socrates was made by samtalksfunny over on Tumblr. Thanks so much. As though I didn't cry hard enough the first time I read Phaedo.
Archangel Raphael, Demon
Aziraphale fell back into the throne in Crowley's apartment with a crash. He gasped for air. Real air. The air of the here and now, not that of nostalgia laced with the poison of a living nightmare. He shivered with cold sweat and looked down in horror at the feather between his fingers. It trembled, silently and terribly, its secrets all spilled out.
Would Crowley ever forgive him this breach? For that was what it was. Uninvited and unwelcomed, Aziraphale had trespassed on that part of Crowley which, through the whole of Human history, Aziraphale had hardly dared mention, let allow address. Only once… only once did Aziraphale brush his fingers tantalizingly over the subject, as over the nap of Crowley's long neck.
"You were an angel once," he had said quietly at the bandstand, when so many truths – Crowley's – and so many lies – his own – churned in the air between them. Crowley had looked at him, half faltering, half dismissive, and brushed him off with a, "That was a long time ago." Aziraphale remembered the duality of the remark, given with such indifference and yet such bitterness.
And now the horror of that long ago was emblazoned on Aziraphale's soul. A muscle twitched in Aziraphale's jaw, his eyes riveted to the feather. Not merely a dream catcher of Crowley's worst memories, not simply the vessel of all Crowley's most terrible and intimate feelings, but a Revelation from Hell…
You did not Fall. We made you Fall. And now you have nothing but Us.
That was the message Hell had sent Crowley. Hell had sent it, racking up all the worst traumas it could muster, and had boiled them until those traumas were like a fresh sea of sulfur which to burn away all the joy Crowley had discovered… all the happiness…
Aziraphale almost snarled. He could just imagine it. Hell would not have wanted to part with the feather. No. Not this lustrous sliver of divinity, perfectly preserved, not simply from an angel, but from an Archangel of old, when the Universe itself was new and exquisite. They would have wanted to keep it. To hoard it, like a trophy. It would only have been the events of the Armageddidn't, and the botched trial that followed, that could have convinced Hell to part with so precious a theft, all in the greater service of striking Crowley down in whatever way they knew how.
No angel of this day and age could possess such a feather. Aziraphale's own had worn in, like his coat. They had aged and matured with the strength in his wings and the dust of parchment and books. No angel in Heaven either, with the rigamortis that had set in there. No, there the feathers would be stiff, starched on the undiluted morality of centuries.
Gently, hesitantly, still irresistibly drawn, Aziraphale ran his thumb over the bottommost down of the feather, and a knot grew in his throat. As soft and as beautiful as a child's cheek, the feather itself seemed to cry out again the memories it contained.
With that touch, from across the ages, Aziraphale again heard the echo of Raphael's first pronouncement of, "Aziraphale…"
Eyes closed, his memory conjuring the light of stars, shaping the syllables, the angel shuddered.
The angel's eyes flew open and his head snapped to look at the open door. There stood Crowley.
Wonderful, exquisite Crowley. How could he have gone through so much, taken such blows, and yet remained unchanged. For he was the same as he had ever been. The only changes that he bore were the natural ones of growth and age. 6,000 years of it. He carried the strains and disappointments on him, as all who travel life and time needs must. But he was not altered. The Archangel of yesteryear would have recognized the demon of today. And would have felt no shame. Only burning curiosity at the changes brought with immortality, and life after the Fall.
Crowley's hair was the red of fire now, but still every bit of sunset. A deeper sunset, closer now to the dark of twilight. And his eyes… Aziraphale could just see them, over the rim of Crowley's dark glasses. He had always known that Crowley's eyes were a source of pain for the demon. He knew why now. And yet, oh… He wanted to cross the room and rip those glasses off Crowley's face. Break them. Take Crowley's face in his hands as he had been unable to take Raphael's and stare into those eyes and tell him… tell him how beautiful his eyes were… that only Crowley could have such eyes… that no matter what Heaven and Hell had done to him… they might have robbed Crowley's eyes of the stars, but never of their fire. Those eyes…
They were now fixed on the feather in Aziraphale's hand.
Crowley had been carrying a potted plant. A new addition to his Garden. Or… perhaps… a new addition to Aziraphale's bookshop. There were new shelves in Crowley's flat. New plants in Aziraphale's shop. They had never put it into words. Never said how each of their individual spaces was becoming their space, together. Never uttered the phrase "moving in together." But it was there.
Now that pot crashed to the floor and shattered.
"Crowley," Aziraphale saw his demon stumbled back. Without thinking, he launched out of the throne and followed. He caught Crowley by the wrist as he had been unable to catch Raphael. Crowley shrunk from his grasp. No. Not from his grasp. From the feather in his other hand. He stared at it in horror.
"What… what is…"
Aziraphale realized with a surge of terror what would happen if Crowley touched the feather. What he would relive. What he would see and feel, as Aziraphale had seen and felt it. No. So much worse. Infinitely worse. Aziraphale had only been a spectator. His wings remained unbroken on his back. Hastily yet carefully, the angel tucked the feather into his breast pocket, against his heart. He had invented the breast pocket to hold the trinkets of affection between human. At least, that was what he'd told Crowley. He had certainly not invented it after that one time Crowley passed him his dark silk handkerchief to wipe the crumbs from his face.
And now the pocket closed around the feather. Out of sight but far from out of mind.
Both his hands free now, Aziraphale reached out to grip the demon. "Crowley, my dear, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I thought it was a trap. It was a trap. And I didn't want you to face it so I–"
Crowley wasn't hearing a word. Not a single word. He, who never blinked much, was blinking, looking from Aziraphale, to his breast pocket, to the other room where Aziraphale had just been.
"Crowley, listen to me. I've got you. I've…"
"But that was mine." When he finally spoke, the voice was broken as it came from his demon, and Aziraphale felt him tremble in his grip. Tears streamed out from behind the dark glasses. Confusion… and total understanding. "That was mine." His voice cracked. He scanned the desk. He saw the wrapping paper baring his infernal name. They had dared to brand such a package, with what it contained, with his infernal name.
This is who you are. We know, because look. We're the ones who stripped you of who you were.
And Crowley understood. Understood what must have been taken from him in the eons when he had lost all reason. No longer Raphael. Not yet Crawly. Only the serpent. The fallen snake.
"And you are not theirs." Now Aziraphale did take Crowley's face between his hands. "You are not theirs anymore. They cannot hurt you. Neither of them. Heaven and Hell cannot hurt you. Because you are not theirs." He was kissing Crowley's forehead. Kissing away his tears. He was asking to take Crowley's glasses off, and was now doing so with nodded but mute consent. As Aziraphale had never dared to presume before, he was kissing Crowley's beautiful eyes. His eyelids were damp and paper-think beneath Aziraphale's lips.
"You are mine," he said, fiercely, defiantly, allowing his voice to bleed with all the power he had not possessed when Raphael had fallen to Gabriel. He would not be useless anymore. He would never be useless again. "Remember what you said…" he brought Crowley's chin up a little, pulling him from his daze, "that night on the bench, waiting for the bus. My dear, please… remember what you said…"
"We're on our own side," Crowley said quietly. "We have to choose our faces wisely."
"And we did," Aziraphale said, cutting through the stupor, on the brink of which Crowley teetered, not allowing him to fall. Never, never, never again allowing him to fall. "We did, remember? That night, before they took us to our executions? And we promised for all the nights thereafter… No one can hurt us. No one can own us. Make us what we are not. Everything we are. Every unfathomable depth… belongs to one another."
How long has Crowley tried to tell him exactly this? All of this? Now it was Aziraphale's turn. He had been a deaf student, but he would now pour 6,000 years of learning back into the pitcher from whence it came. He felt himself glowing with it. Felt the feather against his chest glowing. This feather might hold the memories of Raphael, but he had been Crowley for infinitely longer.
And Aziraphale, Aziraphale with his two wings full of celestial feathers, was the carrier of all those memories. With a role of his shoulders, he spread his wings now and wrapped them around Crowley, willing him to understand. Crowley gasped at the sudden burst of air and light. Sensing that Crowley might not stay upright much longer, Aziraphale carefully guided him to the floor, where they kneeled together, Aziraphale's wings wrapped around them, their pantlegs smearing in the dirt of the fallen houseplant.
"Aziraphale…" As realization dawned on Crowley, Aziraphale braced himself for the look of betrayal. "You… you saw…"
"I'm sorry my dear," he whispered urgently, instinctively tightening his grip around his demon. "I'm so, so sorry for having invaded your privacy. Nothing but the greatest fear for you could ever have driven me to cross such a line. But I thought… I hoped…"
"What did you see… exactly?" Crowley's snake eyes darted across Aziraphale's face, searching, questioning. There was no betrayal there. No resentment. But there was vulnerability, and Aziraphale did not like how it sat on Crowley's face. He would assuage it, if he could.
Aziraphale took a steadying breath. He had always been a peculiarity among the ethereals. Perhaps he now knew why… He had been created to be the companion to an Archangel who Fell. In Heaven, there were the angels who stood with God and lived as celestial beings. In Hell, there were demons who were smote down with Satan, contorting into cruel and unnatural shapes.
But Aziraphale had not fallen for Satan. Through that feather, he had fallen for Raphael. And through all the centuries of Earth's existence, he had fallen for Crowley. It was Crowley by whom he had been smitten. And there had never been a sweeter smiting. Aziraphale was a fallen angel living in celestial bliss. And he would be damned a thousand times if he did not share that grace with Crowley.
He parted his lips. "Aid to… Raphael…" Aziraphale whispered the name that Crowley had not heard in over 6,000 years. And the angel poured into it all the reverence that he had not infused into a single prayer in all that time. He would do that name the same honor that the Archangel had once done his.
A shudder went through Crowley so violent and so total, he was certain that if he'd still had a soul, it would have cracked in two. To hear that name… his name… from Aziraphale's lips. It was a fantasy he had never dreamed to entertain, not in his darkest hours. It was an ecstasy that burned too near to unspeakable agony. He couldn't stop shaking.
He gaped at Aziraphale, his hand reaching up and gripping at his arm, his lips moving but still unable so speak. But Aziraphale seemed to understand.
Again, Aziraphale took Crowley's face in his hands. The angel seemed to be thinking hard, choosing his words carefully, and Crowley loved him for it. "I am Aziraphale," he began, "Principality, Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden," he took a breath, "and aid to Archangel Raphael," he swallowed, his face resolute, "Demon, the Serpent Anthony J Crowley. My soul's other half."
The waves of words tumbled over Crowley like a storm. No sooner did the shock of hearing the Archangel's name course though his veins, than Aziraphale was pushing forward. Demon. Serpent. Anthony J. Crowley. All his titles on display. His head was swimming. He had never imagined hearing them all together, as Aziraphale recited his own titles together. He had always seen them as separate beings. Separate entities. There had been Raphael. And then there had been the demon that grew out of the Fall. How was it that it felt as though Crowley was drowning and yet had never breathed so freely?
He searched Aziraphale's eyes for answers. And he found the simplest one. The one that had never occurred to him. Not once. To Aziraphale… there was no distinction. What Crowley was now, he had always been. By which logic followed… Aziraphale thought that the Archangel he had been… Crowley still was.
Crowley replayed the titles in his mind, allowing the words to curve with every lilt of Aziraphale's soft voice.
Aziraphale, Principality, Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden.
Archangel Raphael, Demon, the Serpent Anthony J. Crowley.
Just like that. Was it really so simple? Just like that Aziraphale knit together the identities that Heaven and Hell had so ruthlessly pulled asunder?
Again Crowley chanced a glance to the other room and to the discarded packaging. Aziraphale had seen everything. That much was clear. Those bastards Downstairs. It had been a trap laid for him, Crowley. And Aziraphale had rolled up those perfectly pressed French cuffs and had dived into it headfirst.
"Are you alright?" he finally asked, his eyes flitting over Aziraphale to see if there had been any lasting damage. Crowley knew firsthand how overwhelming it could be when Hell played havoc with someone's mind. The thought of that alone sent a residual shudder through him, even as the shaking began to peter off.
Aziraphale steadied him. "Of course I'm alright. Never mind me, dear. Are you… Are you alright…"
Crowley glanced back down to Aziraphale's breast pocket, where he knew that feather to be. That feather. His mind reeled, trying to force back the realization he had come to at its sighting. No. It was impossible. Nothing could have survived the Fall. Perhaps he had lost it during the rebellion. Perhaps Gabriel had ripped apart more than his bones. But then… that did not explain how the feather had come to be in Hell.
He tried to breath calmly. Keep down his panic. Aziraphale shifted closer, rubbing a firm hand along Crowley's back, keeping time to Crowley's breathing. How had it happened? He remembered so much. And yet at times the pain had been so much…
His eyes flickered back up to Aziraphale's face. The angel was no longer looking at him, seemingly lost in thought, content to keep up the steady rubbing of Crowley's back. What had… Aziraphale thought of it all? Of Heaven in the days before the rebellion? Of the ignominy of Crawly's fall? The serpentine shapes he twisted into? The Trial of the Archangels? Of… Raphael himself? Of me?
Oh, and how Crowley had tried to reclaim himself throughout the course of Human history. Had cast aside Crawly. Become Crowley. His own name. His own choice. Even the poor Serpent, he had tried to redeem. The snake had, for a time, become known as the companion of Asclepius, the ancient Greek god of healing. The philosopher Socrates, condemned to death by the city of Athens, had died with Asclepius's name on his lips. Socrates… who was condemned… for asking too many questions. Then the old Greek myths had died away, and again Crowley was alone... with only She as his Almighty.
Crowley had never told Aziraphale any of this. Had never dared. Even now… it had only been a month since Aziraphale had, for the last time, declared them on opposite sides. That had all changed. The Apocalypse had happened. Or hadn't. They were on the same side now. But for all the thousands of years they had known one another, Crowley had not dared tell Aziraphale of his Fall. Because… because how could he be certain that, even in the face of what had been done to him, Aziraphale would not still try to justify Heaven?
"I am not consulted on matters of policy." Isn't that what the angel had said at Christ's crucifixion? Hadn't he tried to factor the Flood in as part of God's Plan? Crowley did not think… he would not have been able to endure it if, faced with the truth of his Fall, Aziraphale had shrugged and pointed it out as a regrettable but necessary part of the machinations of the Lord.
Even now… were Aziraphale's old loyalties truly smothered and gone? The feather that had been meant to remind Crowley of his loyalty to his former masters… had it instead reawoken those loyalties in Aziraphale? Doubt and fear began to gnaw at Crowley as though he were nothing but a bone, cracked open with the marrow dripping out.
He wanted to know. Wanted to ask, but did not believe he would get a straight answer. It would be a tender answer. A kind answer. It would be every bit Aziraphale. But Aziraphale's track record did not speak to his giving direct answers or being forthcoming.
Now Crowley's eyes stayed on Aziraphale's breast pocket and did not flicker away. He swallowed. He had to see what Aziraphale had seen. And, which was more, he had to see how Aziraphale had seen it. For that was the nature of memory. It could change. Could alter. Crowley knew. He was a demon. How many times had had tempted someone into forgetting a promise, telling them that it was alright for memory to slip. The feather was a fragile, ancient thing. How much pressure, unwittingly given, would it have taken for Aziraphale to be emblazoned on the ribbing of that down for all of time? Would he find the angel's hands all over the hours of his own creation? His own destruction?
Crowley needed to see Aziraphale… seeing it. Seeing him. He needed to see the imprint of Aziraphale's fingerprints on his heart. Even if the touch would break his heart. He knew the feather would have his answers.
"Give it to me," he whispered.
Aziraphale was already shaking his head. "Crowley, dearest, no. Please. It's what they want. Don't you see, it's what they-"
"Give it to…" Crowley took another steadying breath, determined not to lose his nerve, even as he could feel himself again shaking under Aziraphale's touch. He raised his hand… and pressed his long fingers into the fabric over Aziraphale's breast pocket, over the feather, over Aziraphale's heart. Crowley raised his eyes to meet his angel's. "Please. It won't hurt… if it's you."
With that, Crowley unfurled his black wings. The arches that they formed were more jagged than Aziraphale's. They would never be able to fully extend like the angel's. Crowley's wings were like the hands of a boxer, taught and rigid with sinew from too many fights. Too many falls.
He watched as Aziraphale took them in. No fear. No revulsion. No pity. Just as there had been no pity when he said the Archangel's name. Only warmth. Suddenly… a small sad smile played across Aziraphale's lips… "Like the cosmos," he said, "before you bedecked it with stars." Crowley's grip on the angel's wrists tightened. He shuddered.
Hesitantly, falteringly, Aziraphale slipped his hand out from behind Crowley's back. He still rested his other hand on Crowley's upper arm. Still kept the touch unbroken. But Crowley followed that hand as it trailed between them, to the front of Aziraphale's coat. He could not help it. At the sight of it again, at the sight of the feather as it came back into view, unruffled and pristine, so unlike its once-owner, Crowley had to bend his head to choke down a sob.
To see it once more… Sometimes, when the sulfur again rose above his head, it was almost easier to believe that Crowley had never been an angel. That… what he remembered… that life… forging eternal stars in the beauty of the stratosphere… that it was all a dream. But now… seeing this feather… concrete proof from the life he had tried so hard to forget and yet clung to so desperately in his weakest moments… How could he have never noticed the feather was gone? But he had been so altered in the Fall. So shattered. So empty. His body had been twisted, inverted, become so alien to him. What was one more space in the chasm of his being when he awoke?
"Crowley," Aziraphale had guided the point of the feather to Crowley's black wing. "Crowley, I can still stop this..."
Crowley closed his eyes. "It won't hurt… if it's you," he echoed. "Just do it." He needed to know.
In the instant that Aziraphale pressed the white celestial feather back into Crowley's ink black wings, the angel pressed a kiss to the demon's lips. It was Heaven and Hell, torment and benediction, and Crowley could no longer tell the one from the other. But it was more than that. It was a love such as could only exist on this Earth that they had helped save.
"Aziraphale," he whispered against that mouth.
"Aziraphale," he heard himself whisper for the first time in all of time. Crowley opened his eyes and looked around him. Heaven. Gabriel. The days before days.
Gabriel was talking at his side. It was all as Crowley remembered it. And, for some reason… it wasn't bothering him. Why wasn't it bothering him? Crowley looked down at his hands, glittering from the hours and eons of loving craft, then glanced past Gabriel at his beloved stars. And there… in a vibration in the air… as from a heatwave… he saw him. The imprint of Aziraphale's visit through the halls of Crowley's memories. Crowley could not help the smile that pulled at the corner of his mouth at the look on Aziraphale's face.
I don't feel alone, Crowley thought with wonder. That was the difference.
With a lurch and a stumble, he was prostrate on marble floor now. It was the Trial of the Archangels. So like the Trial of Aziraphale that he had survived one month ago. One month ago... how boring Heaven had become in its modernity. All of that infinite space, and they had turned it into a world of glass and metal. And that was all. He had been right when he said it was a mercy the rest of them never got their hands on the cosmos. Crowley had then looked from Gabriel to Uriel with wrath so quiet and so deadly, it might have been a snake's venom.
If he had been himself, he might have laughed in their faces. Said hello to his fellow Archangels, and told them they had not broken him after all. It was he who had broken them. Them, and their stupid Apocalypse. But he had not been himself. He had been Aziraphale. Kind, brave, stalwart Aziraphale.
...Whom Gabriel had tormented for 6,000 years. And where was Michael? As Crowley saw the demon bring in the hellfire, saw how Heaven intended to execute the angel, his angel, he understood where Michael must be. He swallowed, his mind flickering to Ligur, melting. He had no regrets. Ligur had been a prick, like Michael, and if Crowley found out that Michael'd harmed a hair on Aziraphale's head Downstairs, he would burn Heaven and flood Hell himself. If the humans had been forced to endure Sodom and Gomorrah and the Great Flood, then perhaps it was time for divinity to have a taste as well.
Be brave. Be noble. Be greater than those around you. Be Aziraphale.
"Shut your stupid mouth and die already." That smile. Gabriel had once flashed Crowley that same smile. Crowley's lips twitched. He suppressed the sneer. He stepped into the fire. If he had been himself, he might have done something drastic. But he was Aziraphale, so he smiled that beautiful bastard smile of Aziraphale's, and breathed out all the Hellfire that the Archangels had once rammed down his throat.
Now in the distance past, as Raphael, Crowley looked up from the floor. He saw whom he expected to see. Michael. Uriel. Gabriel. It was amazing how immortal lives could be so lifeless. No change. No growth. No concept of existence at all.
But as Crowley watched, he saw that the memory had altered. The 'file' on which it was stored had been corrupted. As a lilypond, once waded through, could never be the same pond again, Crowley now saw the imprint of Aziraphale's visit. Felt his angel wrap his arms around him. He… he hardly noticed the trial. And when Gabriel lifted him into that vice grip that had tormented so many of his nightmares, broken so much of him… all he felt was the firm grasp of Aziraphale's hands, holding his face, the angel looking into his eyes.
It will be alright…Raphael. You'll see. It will be alright. Not then. Not in this time. But later. Now. It is… all alright now… isn't it, Crowley? Now… in the present… after the Apocalypse… with me…
Crowley blinked back. He was taken out of himself. Out of the memory. His bones splintered and he screamed, but there was Aziraphale. Holding him. Trying so desperately to hold him. Yes, Crowley's mind churned numbly as Gabriel discarded his broken body into the abyss. It will all be alright.
Crowley closed his eyes. He had seen all that he wanted to see. Now would come the Fall. What idiots they were down in Hell. As though he really needed a feather to remember every burning lash across his soul as he hurtled from the silver city. As if he could ever forget a single moment of the agony–
He gasped as something slapped into him. He blinked. Opened his eyes and, through the hurtling world of broken wings, blackness and fire… there was Aziraphale.
Take my hand! the angel cried out, riding the burning currents of air as best he could. For pity's sake, dearest, take my hand!
Crowley's jaw went slack. He wanted to yell at him. Scream. What are you doing here? What in Hell's name–
But why? Aziraphale was safe, wasn't he? These were not the angel's memories. No. That was not the point. The point was… the point was… Aziraphale had dived after him. It had been one thing when Aziraphale had seen Raphael. Crowley had been pleased at the imprint of wonder on the angel's face. And the compassion at the trial. It had given Crowley relief beyond measure. Knowing, seeing Aziraphale take his side, kneel by him, try and defend him against his once beloved Heaven… it had helped overwrite the old pains.
But Crowley had never expected… could never have imagined… that Aziraphale would have followed him into the fall. Crowley gasped as Aziraphale banished his wings and, in a free dive, took Crowley in his arms and clamped him to his body. Crowley was on fire. His body was scourged with the falling and his mind… he was sure it would have gone blank by now, as he remembered it going black. Blank in the face of his soul's obliteration. But now… all he felt was Aziraphale. Aziraphale clutching to him. Crying for him. Crying with him. Feeling his pain. His outrage. There was none of the self-loathing that Crowley had felt in his fall. It was all overwhelmed and deafened by the rage in Aziraphale's soul that such a thing could be done to him… to him.
This… was how Aziraphale had seen it all? Crowley quaked in his arms. What Aziraphale felt… it felt like a brazen sacrilege the likes of which Crowley had never contemplated. Crowley had cried out against his fall. But he had never cursed creation and God herself as Aziraphale now did, clutching Crowley in his arms. It made the soon-to-be demon tremble.
Then they crashed into the sulfur.
It came… and it went. Crowley had felt it so many times. So many times in dreams, in nightmare. It hurt differently now. More...accurately. Whether worse or better... Crowley couldn't say anymore. After all, he did have such vivid dreams. It would have seemed more natural to simply give up sleep. But Crowley refused to let them take one more thing from him. One more thing that he enjoyed. So he braved the nightmares for the sleep. And now, once more, be braved the sulfur. And, once more, it broke him.
It was then that he felt it. Or rather, he heard it. Aziraphale's guttural screaming roused him from the darkness. If Crowley really concentrated, through the seared flesh, torn muscles, snapped ligaments and shattered body, he could just feel his broken wing pop a joint as it was stretched beyond its limit.
Ah… there it was… The feather was plucked. No wonder he had not felt it. There had been so little of him left, how could he be blamed when the last of it slipped between his fingers like sand. He wanted to cry. He would have liked to laugh. He did not have the strength for either.
To think… He had not truly Fallen. That was a kick in the teeth. Did he have teeth anymore? Who knew. He had not truly Fallen. Had held on to his divinity. And then, when the beatings were over, divinity had been plucked from him as insignificantly as a feather from a putrid bird's carcass.
So, this had been the point of the package from Hell.
Oh. But it did hurt, after all. So much worse than he could have imagined. Perhaps Gabriel had been right about that, eons ago. There were some things beyond his imagination after all.
Crowley closed his eyes. Ah. There were the tears. How could the tears be hotter than his flesh. He was done. He had seen all. Now he just wanted to feel Aziraphale's arms around him. Wanted to be back in his apartment. He wanted whiskey and laughter and none of the pain.
No more pain, please.
"AH!" Crowley yelped against the blinding flash of light. Or rather, it had felt blinding after the darkness of the eternal pit. Really, it was just sunlight. He blinked at it, then looked around him, confused. He was in Mesopotamia, with Aziraphale. What was he saying? He was ranting. Ranging about the Flood.
"Not the kids," he was hissing, not so much disbelieving as willing himself to disbelieve. "They're not gonna kill kids?"
And he saw himself… as Aziraphale saw him. Felt, not his own indignation, but what Aziraphale was feeling. The regret at Heaven's actions. The deep respect for Crowley's outrage. The assent.
As though by a single feather between the shoulder blades, Crowley was wrenched away from the scene. Now he was at Golgotha. When Crowley had said he had nothing to do with the crucifixion, and Aziraphale had believed him, and had been glad. Crowley could feel the relief wafting off the angel. The… affection.
Another painful wrench between the shoulders. The French Revolution. Crowley felt how Aziraphale's heart surged to see him, and the demon clutched at his chest. By god he felt that. How was he feeling this? Again, relief and pleasure came off Aziraphale upon hearing that Crowley had nothing to do with the Revolution. And he believed the demon without a second through. Crowley's breath was coming in ragged now at all of these compounded moments. If not in action, then in thought, it seemed that Aziraphale had been willing to follow Crowley as surely as he would one day fall after Raphael.
The Second World War, London. Crowley tried to catch his breath. He was rather enjoying this. Crashing through time. Watching as Aziraphale first accused him of wrong doing and then instantly took him on faith when he said otherwise. It's funny, Crowley thought as he hopped in place, gesticulating at idiot Nazis – I'd never considered that Aziraphale, despite all protestations, really, truly took me, a demon, on faith. Words echoed in his mind:
Archangel Raphael, Demon, the Serpent Anthony J. Crowley.
And then the bomb came down. Crowley handed Aziraphale his books. He turned with an offer of "Lift home?" and had just begun picking his way through the rubble, when a tidal wave broke over his back and he almost pitched forward. Was there a delayed shock from the bomb? he thought with a daze.
No. Again, he was feeling Aziraphale's thoughts and emotions. Again he wondered, why was he feeling Aziraphale's thoughts and emotions? And this was a wave… of love. Crowley's breathing hitched. The sensation was pooling against his back, raw and unfettered, coursing through Crowley with the clarity of hellfire and the destructive force of holy water. He wanted to turn around and see Aziraphale's face. But he couldn't turn around. Because this was a memory.
Aziraphale's memory. Of Crowley.
Somehow, in the short moments Aziraphale had pressed the feather to his heart, in his breast pocket… the angel had infused the feather so it now contained, not only the memories of when the demon had been the Archangel Raphael… but all the time thereafter... all the little moments in which Aziraphale had not seen him as a demon at all.
Finally, the memory of Crowley turned to open the door of the Bentley for Aziraphale to get it. As Crowley had watched his own fall from Heaven, now he watched Aziraphale's fall… for him. Here. In the wreckage of this church.
Crowley gasped and blinked up at Aziraphale.
They were still holding one another on the floor of Crowley's apartment. Crowley looked at him in wonder. Aziraphale had tears rolling down his cheeks. But they were happy tears. He was smiling. Crowley reached up a hand and touched the angel's cheek. A tear rolled onto his finger, shimmering. Like a star. "Why are you crying, angel?"
"Oh, my dear..." With a timid nod, Aziraphale indicated behind Crowley. "Look."
The demon turned, and stopped time at the sight. His black wings still spread out above him, the single white feather now fixed in place. Only… the wings were no longer black. Not exactly. Spanning out from Raphael's feather, in an expanse across the midnight plumage, were stars. Each and every constellation that Raphael had ever created, every nebula, every solar system, shimmered in deep violets and heavy blues against the blackness. All of Raphael's works were now reflected against the dark sheen of Crowley's wings. A dark vastness of churning, breathing universe, spilling free from a single origin of light. All that was Crowley, born from what had once been Raphael.
Crowley opened his mouth. No words came out. What words could encompass what he felt. Slowly, hesitantly, as though the shining celestial bodies might fall from him as he had once fallen from them, he brought his wings around them both. What words could equal the sensation of Aziraphale's beautiful hands, so tender from centuries of handling ancient tombs, running down his plumage, the galaxies therein, coming to rest his palm… at Alpha Centauri.
"And so darling… it seems you are once more bathed in starlight," Aziraphale finally broke the silence, his voice flooding with devotion. Crowley's wings, and the cosmos they contained, quavered under the angel's touch. "Goodness," he mused. "I cannot believe I'm saying this, but I am happy that I signed for that package."
Crowley's mind paused. He blinked. He tore his gaze away from his wings and looked back to Aziraphale. "You what?"
"I had to sign for the– Well dear, you remember the Delivery Man, from the end of the Apocalypse?" Absentmindedly, Aziraphale was stroking the demon's wings, lights flickering in and out between his fingers, the universe at the Principality's touch, just as Raphael had once long ago dreamed it would be. "Yes, well he was the one who–"
"Angel," Crowley said politely, doing his utmost to keep any and all emotion out of his voice. "Angel, you signed for it with your own name."
"Well yes, of course with my own name! Who else's name would I–"
"For a package, to my address, you signed your name on the receipt that the Delivery Man, as proof of task completion, will send along to…"
There was a moment of silence and Crowley waited for Aziraphale to finish the thought. Realization struck Aziraphale like a silent thunderbolt."Hell," he said blankly. "Hell is going to get a copy of the memo, and they're going to see that I– that you– in your flat!–"
It was too much. Filled to the brim with all the emotions a being could contain, with joy, bitter sweetness, relief, and so much more, Crowley broke down in a fit of laughter. It was that little bit of scandal that Aziraphale had managed to lace in at the end, as though even he was himself shocked at the statues of their relationship. Hell preserve me. Relationship. The best part was that, while both Hell and Heaven surely knew about the angel and demon's shifting living arrangements, Aziraphale actually signing for Hell's attempted means of revenge and then sending it back with the Delivery Man was the most amazing and unintentional middle finger in the entire universe. Crowley couldn't stop laughing. It was too much. His ribs hurt. Tears were running down his face. And now Aziraphale was giggling. His cheeks were pink and he was burying his face in his hands. Crowley was having none of it. He was pulling Aziraphale's hands away from his face. Their faces intermingling with laughter. Their wings beating in time with the hiccups.
"Oh, they are going to be miserable when they realize how badly this backfired," Aziraphale gasped for air, gentling pressing a knuckle to the corner of his eyes.
"It couldn't have backfired harder if we'd planned it ourselves!" Crowley was giddy with laughter. So, Aziraphale knew who he was now. A humble demon who had fallen so much further than almost all the rest. Once an Archangel. And yet… Aziraphale was pulling him upward now, back on his feet. They were brushing themselves down. The angel was miracleing the broken pot fixed again while Crowley was rolling up his sleeves to try and salvage the half trampled, thoroughly traumatized plant.
Crowley was opening his mouth to yell at it that it should stop being such a drama queen and suck it up, when he felt the weight of Aziraphale's chest against his back. He had allowed his wings to fade back into the aether, but he could still feel them there, Aizraphale comfortably wedged between them. The angel then leaned in against Crowley and, oh so gently, brushing his lips against Crowley's ear, he whispered playfully, "Love and reverence for all of God's creatures, great and small."
Crowley blessed, even as he shivered against the touch. "Oh, you are never letting me live that down, are you?" He shrugged Aziraphale off more affectionately than intended as he made a great show of finding a flat surface on which to put the plant.
As he walked from the room, however, on his way to follow Aziraphale to the kitchen and the much needed bottle of whiskey, Crowley looked back at his Garden. Perhaps… Perhaps he would allow Aziraphale to coddle them. Just a little. His shoulders relaxed a little, the weight of his wings settling into place, the stars at last aligned against the back of the Archangel Raphael, Demon, the Serpent Anthony J. Crowley.
"Wait up, angel!" He called after Aziraphale, his Principality, Aid to Raphael.
Let it be clear that, while it is Very Bad to open anyone else's mail, and Crowley and Aziraphale are early enough in their domestic bliss that this should absolutely give Aziraphale serious pause, these two will 100% become That Old Couple we all know who just have one email between the two of them.
Illustrations for this story can be found on my Tumblr, username: Waifines, hashtag: #Witness the Fall
Stunningly acted and rendered Podfic to this story by Anath_Tsurugi is available on Archive of Our Own.