Disclaimer: I still don't own any of this.
Note: Rated K+ for (very) brief descriptions of violence and even briefer mention of drinking? Seriously, Good Omens has brought out an uncharacteristically family-friendly streak in my writing, and I'm not really sure what to do with it.
Not a Bad Thing to Be
"You! You're late!"
Aziraphale turned, startled at the voice. But 'startled' was certainly an improvement from only a few seconds before, when he'd accidentally stepped into the portal. On the one hand, at least it had been quick. On the other hand, that meant the entire jolt had been compressed into the space of only a few seconds. It had been frightening, intense, and certainly not an experience he cared to repeat any time soon.
"Um…" Aziraphale managed as he caught sight of the line of angels in front of him. "Uh, actually, I — ooh!" His explanation was interrupted as he took a step forward, stumbling as the pain hit him. Not sharp, but deep. And old – very old. Aziraphale's hand flew to his right thigh, gripping tightly. He'd plum forgotten.
Well, not forgotten, exactly. It wasn't the sort of thing one forgot. But after so many millennia, he'd gotten quite good at ignoring the memory, filing it in some dusty corner in the back of his mind. It wasn't a pleasant memory, after all, and there had been no reason to dwell on it. Now, though, it all came rushing back. The sight of his fellow angels gearing up for war. The old pain in his leg. It was all too familiar.
Aziraphale limped forward, stammering out an explanation, trying to ignore the pain. Focus. He removed his hand from his thigh, but it was too late to hope that the other angels hadn't noticed. They probably thought he was weak. Soft. Maybe even a coward trying to weasel his way out of the coming battle by pretending to be injured.
"And then you turn up, late for Armageddon!" the Quartermaster fumed. "No flaming sword! Not even a body! You pathetic excuse for an angel!"
Aziraphale didn't argue.
He agreed, because it didn't matter anymore. All that mattered now was that he had to get back. He had to tell Crowley what he'd found. Crowley would know what to do.
Crowley always knew what to do.
Well, not always. Not immediately. But Crowley would always figure out what to do. He would think of something. He always did. He flailed and fumbled and tried all sorts of different, wonderful, ridiculous things until he found something that worked. He figured it out as he—
Aziraphale gave the globe a tap.
"I'll figure it out as I go."
Playing with fire, indeed.
Crowley held his tongue as the ropes loosened around his wrists. "Up." Uriel's tone was impassive; clearly, she expected him to meekly obey. Grudgingly, he did so. He had to play along. His life depended on it. And more importantly, Aziraphale's life depended on it. Any mistake would cost both of them dearly. He had to be convincing.
So he stretched his arms. He adjusted his coat – well, Aziraphale's coat, anyway. He straightened that ridiculous tartan bow tie. "I don't suppose I can persuade you to reconsider?" he asked, forcing hopefulness into his voice as an anxious smile danced across his face. "We're meant to be the good guys, for Heaven's sake."
"Well, for Heaven's sake," Gabriel replied smugly, "we are meant to make examples out of traitors. So … into the flame."
It was all Crowley could do to keep his mouth shut. Every bit of his mind was bursting with questions, with protests. His angel wasn't a traitor – not to anything that mattered, anyway. As for making an example out of him, that was a joke. There was no one here to make an example to. Just these three. If they really wanted to make an example out of him, they would want an audience – the bigger, the better. He had no doubt that whatever Aziraphale was up to at the moment, there would be quite a crowd. Demons loved a good show.
But this … this was different. They couldn't afford to give him an audience. They were afraid of what he might do. Of what Aziraphale might do. What he might say.
They were afraid of Aziraphale.
There was something oddly satisfying about that. But it also made sense. After all, what if others listened to him? What if they agreed with him? No. No, they couldn't have that. Not after what had happened the last time.
The last time—
But this wasn't like that. Not really. Aziraphale had been trying to stop a war. But that didn't matter. All that mattered was that he had disagreed. He had disobeyed. He had made a choice, and that choice hadn't been Heaven.
Yet they hadn't cast him out. He hadn't Fallen. Instead, they had jumped right to trying to destroy him completely. Why? It didn't make any sense. Unless—
Unless it wasn't their choice. Maybe it wasn't up to them to decide who was cast out, and so they were settling for the next best thing. Or the next worst thing. Yes. Yes, maybe that was it. Even after everything he and Aziraphale had done, the angel hadn't Fallen, and they couldn't understand why. So instead of asking the hard questions, they were simply destroying anything that might cause them to ask. To question. To doubt.
But he couldn't say that. Any of it. Because Aziraphale wouldn't. He didn't ask his questions out loud. He kept them tucked away, mulling them over, fussing and fretting over them, but rarely sharing them. At first, Crowley had found this maddening, but it hadn't taken him long to figure out why it was so hard for the angel to put words to his questions. After all, Crowley had asked the wrong questions once, and look what had happened to him.
So what would Aziraphale say? Crowley stared into the fire, and said softly, "Right. Well … lovely knowing you all. May we meet on a better occasion."
"Shut your stupid mouth and die already."
Crowley glared. It was all he could do. If he opened his mouth again, he wouldn't be able to control what came out. So he clenched his jaw, swallowed hard, and looked around one more time.
Then he stepped into the flames.
"Something funny, Angel?"
Aziraphale looked up from the book he'd been chuckling at. "Crowley. I thought you were asleep." The demon had barely moved a muscle in the last half hour.
"Not quite." Crowley finally shifted a little on the couch, his eyes slowly blinking open. He nodded at the book in Aziraphale's hands. "That one of the new ones?"
Aziraphale nodded. "I've read it before, but never actually owned a copy myself. Warlock used to bring it out to the garden and ask me to read it to him." He took a sip of cocoa, then set the mug back on the small end table. Maybe they'd spent eleven years watching over the wrong boy, but he'd quite enjoyed the time they'd spent raising Warlock.
Crowley propped himself up on one arm. "Would you want to…?"
He let the end of the sentence hang in the air, but it didn't take Aziraphale long to sort out the missing words. "You want me to read it to you?"
Crowley shrugged – a rather odd movement in his current position – trying to give the impression that he didn't care one way or the other. Aziraphale smiled warmly and flipped back a few pages to the beginning of the book. He adjusted his reading glasses, cleared his throat, and began. "Chapter One, in which we are introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and some Bees, and the stories begin."
"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin." Grinning, he turned the book to face Crowley so that he could see the picture.
Crowley made a show of squinting in the dim light of the bookshop's back room. "Nope, I think you'll have to bring it closer."
You can see in the dark. But he didn't say it, because Crowley's words hadn't been a request; they were an invitation. He was already scooting over a little more on the couch, making room for Aziraphale. Aziraphale smiled and settled down beside Crowley, holding the book up a little. "Better?"
"Definitely," the demon agreed, his beautiful golden eyes alight with amusement as he leaned in closer, getting a better look at the picture – a boy on some stairs, dragging an old stuffed bear behind him.
Aziraphale continued. "It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it."
That earned an appreciative snort from Crowley, who listened as Aziraphale read. After a few pages, Aziraphale felt something smooth sliding across his shoulders. Slitted eyes peered down at the page from where a snake's head now rested on the angel's shoulder. Aziraphale relaxed as Crowley coiled around him, settling in just the right spot to make both of them comfortable.
As Aziraphale read, Crowley shifted little by little, his head dropping lower until it finally came to rest beside the book in Aziraphale's lap. Aziraphale turned a page, his hand brushing against Crowley's snout as he did. Crowley's tongue flicked out, tickling the angel's wrist as he raised his head again, brushing Aziraphale's fingers.
Aziraphale kept reading, his hand resting lightly on Crowley's head, the demon's scales smooth and lovely and almost shining in the dim light. After a moment, he lowered his voice a little, adopting a tone one might use to lull a fidgety child off to sleep. But Crowley wasn't sleeping. Every so often, he would let out a hiss of amusement or flick out his tongue to turn a page so that Aziraphale wouldn't have to move his hand from Crowley's head. Just enough to let the angel know that he was still awake, that he was still listening.
So Aziraphale kept reading.
Gradually, Aziraphale stopped reading.
It happened so slowly, it took Crowley a while to realize it, and even longer to be certain. Aziraphale's voice never changed, but his eyes drifted away from the book more and more, resting on Crowley instead. The words kept coming, and Crowley finally realized it had been quite a while since he'd turned a page. Aziraphale wasn't reading anymore.
He was reciting.
Crowley closed his eyes, content. Aziraphale would probably keep going like this until the end of the story, as long as nothing interrupted him, and Crowley intended to make sure that nothing did. There was such fondness, such warmth in the angel's voice. Was this what it felt like to feel love, the way Aziraphale had said he could in Tadfield? Maybe. Crowley wrapped himself a little tighter around Aziraphale, who was warm and soft and so relaxed beneath his coils.
He would happily have stayed that way forever, with Aziraphale's hand resting gently on his head, the angel's voice spinning story after story about a small, stuffed bear and his friends. Finally, though, Winnie-the-Pooh was going "bump, bump, bump" up the stairs behind Christopher Robin, and Aziraphale shifted a little as he finally looked down at the book. "Oh, my. I believe I forgot to turn a few pages."
Crowley's eyes blinked open. "More than a few, I'd say. How many times did Warlock ask you to read that?"
"Oh, I never kept track," Aziraphale admitted. "But he did so enjoy it. He'd usually only stay still for a chapter or so, but it never felt right – just reading part of it. So I'd just … keep reading. At any rate, the plants seemed to enjoy it."
"Well, I was a gardener at the time, and I read somewhere that talking to plants helps them grow better." The angel hesitated. "Is something wrong?"
For a long moment, there was silence. "Talking to them," Crowley repeated. "Right. Good idea. Wouldn't have thought of that."
If Aziraphale could tell it was a lie, he decided not to press the matter. Instead, he stretched his arms a little, finally setting the book down lovingly on the end of the couch. "What would you say to some fresh air? I know it can get a bit musty in here."
Crowley flicked his tongue out, tasting the air. "I like the smell. You should try it sometime, like this. Well, with whatever animal yours is, I mean."
It was Aziraphale's turn to fall silent, growing suddenly tense in Crowley's coils. "I … I don't know if that would be a good idea."
"Why not?" Crowley asked without thinking. Come to think of it, in more than six thousand years, he'd never seen the angel take on another form. Not that there was anything wrong with human form, of course, but a little variety never hurt anyone. "Would it be too big for the shop or something?" Crowley asked when no answer was forthcoming.
Aziraphale fidgeted with his bow tie. "Oh, no. Nothing – nothing like that. It's just … It's just that I haven't … not for quite some time. And I'm not entirely sure what would happen."
Crowley slithered off Aziraphale's shoulders and shifted back to human form. He had so many questions – questions he almost asked out loud – but the look on Aziraphale's face stopped him. He knew that look, and he knew better than to press the matter. Whatever was bothering Aziraphale, he would share it when he was ready. Instead, Crowley reached for his sunglasses.
"Some fresh air sounds nice."
"It happened during the War."
Crowley looked up from the bread he'd been about to toss to a particularly vocal duck. Officially, St. James's Park was closed for the night, but as far as he and Aziraphale were concerned, all that meant was that it was less busy than usual. They'd walked the first three laps around the lake in silence, and even now that Aziraphale's words had broken that silence, his voice was hesitant, unsure.
Crowley understood why. Whatever the reason behind Aziraphale's reluctance to take on a different form, it had something to do with the War – the First War, the Great War. And that meant it had something to do with the Fall. To say that the Fall was a sensitive subject for Crowley would be putting it mildly, so Aziraphale let the silence return. The angel was giving him a chance to back out, to say that he'd rather carry on with feeding the ducks and then go back home and forget he'd ever asked.
But he had asked. And if he was being honest with himself, he had wondered from time to time what part Aziraphale had played in the War. But that was quite a personal question, even for him, and he'd never been sure how to ask without making the question sound like an accusation, as if Aziraphale had personally been the one to cast Crowley out.
He hadn't. It had all happened so fast, but he remembered that much. He'd only learned later that there had been some who'd had time to fight back, to make a War out of it, rather than simply being thrown down. Personally, he'd barely had time to register what was happening before he'd found himself hurtling down, down, down, for what had seemed like an eternity, landing as far away from Heaven and everything he had ever known as it was possible to be.
The silence lingered until they were about halfway around the lake. Aziraphale did nothing to break it; he simply held Crowley's hand a little tighter, warmth and love and acceptance flowing through the touch. Whatever Crowley decided to answer, he had no doubt that Aziraphale would respect his choice. Crowley took a deep breath. He didn't want to hear about the War, about the Fall. But he was curious.
He had always been curious.
"What happened, Angel?"
Aziraphale squeezed Crowley's hand a little tighter, fighting back the urge to ask if he was sure he wanted to know. Crowley wouldn't have asked a second time – wouldn't have waited so long to ask – if he wasn't certain. Aziraphale nodded to a nearby bench, and they both sat down, Crowley's fingers still curled protectively around Aziraphale's.
"I didn't understand what was happening at first," Aziraphale began. "I don't think any of us did. There had never been a war before – not even so much as a scuffle. One moment I was minding my own business, and the next I was being handed a sword and told to fight, to cast out the rebels, to kill if I had to. And even though I'd never heard any of those words before, I … I immediately knew what they meant, and I also knew, deep down, that I didn't want to do any of those things.
"But I had to do what I was told. I had to, or … well, to be honest, I was afraid that if I didn't, I might be cast out, too. So I charged in along with all the rest. I fought. Mostly, it was a matter of trying not to get killed myself. Everything was so … so messy, so chaotic, it was hard to tell what was going on. But I knew, deep down, somehow, that we were winning. That it was all but over, and that if the … the other side had any sense, they would turn tail and retreat while they still could.
"They didn't. Not all of them, at least. They fought. So we fought. Then one of them saw me. I'd been doing what I thought was a good job of looking like I was doing something while avoiding … well, doing any actual fighting. I'd dodged blows, ducked around other fights, but hadn't actually … well, fought. But then she charged at me. Maybe I looked like an easy target; I don't know. Maybe I was, and I just got lucky, but I managed to knock her down, and I raised my sword, and … and I just couldn't, Crowley. She looked so … so afraid. Afraid of me. No one had ever been afraid of me before. At least, I don't think they had.
"Anyway, it was only a moment. That was all it took. I was distracted – distracted by my own hesitation, my own doubts. The blow came from behind me; I never saw them coming, never even saw who it was. Doesn't matter, really, I suppose. Whoever it was, they probably thought I was about to kill her. She could have killed me, in that moment, but she ran off. I don't know what happened to her, but I like to think that she survived.
"It's all a bit of a blur after that. A blur, and a lot of pain. The weapon went clean through." He rubbed his right thigh, even though no one had had a body at the time, so there wasn't really a good human word for where the weapon had run him through. He shook his head. "It hurt for a long while, even after the wound had healed. But taking this form, this human form … it helps, somehow. It masks the pain, or filters it, or … or something. To be honest, I'm not sure how it works; I'm just grateful that it does."
Crowley nodded. At some point, the demon had scooted closer to Aziraphale on the bench, and now had an arm around the angel's shoulders, his other hand still grasping Aziraphale's. "And you're worried that it might not … if you take another form, that is. Have you tried…?"
Aziraphale shook his head. "No. It seemed better that way."
"Better," Crowley repeated, clearly having no success in processing how being confined to one form out of fear of the alternative could possibly be better.
"Safer, then," Aziraphale amended. "It's not so bad, really. After all, I do like this form. But I do sometimes miss…" He trailed off. "Oh, it's not important."
"It's not. After all, it could be a lot worse. Plenty of others who did have it worse, after the War – after the Fall."
"And it's all part of the—"
"Angel, if you say Ineffable Plan—"
"Well, what if it is? What if that's the reason I was chosen to guard the Eastern Gate in the first place? Because then I could take human form as much as I liked and not have to worry about doing any actual fighting with that flaming sword? Maybe She felt sorry for me and … and decided to put me somewhere being a coward wouldn't do any harm."
Crowley's mouth opened. Then closed again. When it opened a second time, two words came out, slowly, thickly, as if the demon was choking on them.
"Well, yes, what else would you call it?"
Crowley's mouth was still hanging open, so Aziraphale plunged ahead. "What else would you call someone who won't fight for what they believe? What else do you call an angel who refuses to fight for the Almighty? What else do you call an angel who disobeys Her orders?"
"A demon, usually," Crowley quipped, and instantly regretted it. Aziraphale froze, a pained expression passing over his face despite a valiant effort to smile about something that had clearly been meant as a joke, but had hit a little too close to home. "I'm sorry, Angel," Crowley immediately apologized. "I didn't mean—"
"No, it's all right," Aziraphale insisted, drawing a steadying breath, his grip tightening around Crowley's fingers. "You're not … well, you're not saying anything I hadn't thought myself, on occasion. Nothing I haven't wondered myself. After what happened during the War, after giving away that flaming sword, after lying about what happened to it – well, maybe not lying, exactly, but certainly not being entirely truthful – and after everything we've done over the millennia, and especially recently … Why haven't I Fallen?"
"I don't know," Crowley admitted. Then, to lighten the mood, "And I don't think the other angels know, either."
That got Aziraphale's attention. "What do you mean?"
"When we swapped places, when they tried to kill us – there wasn't any sort of trial. Not even for show. There was no audience, no crowd, no witnesses. Just the three of them, and the fire – like it was something they wanted to get out of the way as quickly as possible and never think about again. And not because they weren't enjoying it, but because they didn't understand it. They didn't understand you, Angel." He squeezed Aziraphale's hand. "Not like I do."
"You're not a coward, Angel. And you're not a traitor. You're just—"
"Soft," Aziraphale finished heavily.
Crowley let that sink in for a moment, then echoed Aziraphale's words to Adam not all that long ago. "That's not a bad thing to be." When Aziraphale said nothing, Crowley continued. "Maybe you are soft. Soft enough to defy an order when it meant sparing a life – even the life of a demon. Soft enough to give away a flaming sword not because it was the right thing, but because it was the kind thing. Soft enough to help bring a war to a stop because you couldn't stand the thought of eternity without old bookshops and sushi restaurants and—"
"—and you," Aziraphale finished, pulling Crowley closer – so close that, for a moment, Crowley thought they might melt into one. Crowley let go of the angel's hand, wrapping both his arms tightly around Aziraphale, drawing him closer. Closer.
Crowley ran his fingers through Aziraphale's curls. "Maybe you're not a perfect angel. But you're my Angel. Soft and kind and beautiful, just the way you are."
Crowley could hear the tears in Aziraphale's voice, and held on even tighter, wrapping himself protectively around his angel. For a long while, they simply sat there, silent, holding each other. Finally, Aziraphale took a long, trembling breath. "Thank you."
Don't thank me. Crowley fought back the old habitual reply. There was a time when being thanked by an angel would have gotten him deep into trouble. When doing anything that might be perceived as kindness could have put him in danger. But those days were over. He was safe now – safe in Aziraphale's arms. And he wasn't any more of a model demon than Aziraphale was a perfect angel. Crowley drew back long enough to take off his sunglasses and meet Aziraphale's gaze. "You're welcome."
Aziraphale's grin practically lit up the whole park. Tears still shone in the angel's eyes, warm and bright and honest. Crowley opened his mouth, and before he could stop himself, the words came out.
"There's something I need to show you."
He'd never seen Crowley drive so slow.
Aziraphale hazarded a glance at the speedometer as the Bentley rumbled down the street. Sure, Crowley was still going five mph over the speed limit, but that was slow for Crowley. Whatever it was he wanted to show Aziraphale, he wasn't in much of a hurry. Or maybe he was having second thoughts. "We Will Rock You" blasted from the Bentley's speakers as Crowley pulled up to his own flat. It had been more than a fortnight since the almost-geddon, and the car's music was back to normal.
Aziraphale followed Crowley inside, and lights immediately flickered on. Aziraphale glanced around, taking everything in. He'd been inside Crowley's flat once before, when they'd swapped places. He'd spent the night trying his best to do what he imagined Crowley would have done – a lot of meandering all over the various rooms and a little of trying to sleep in the bed. That hadn't lasted long before Aziraphale had decided to get up and settled into a little more pacing to try to clear his head.
But something felt different this time. Aziraphale turned to see Crowley watching him expectantly, as if waiting for him to put his finger on it. Somewhere nearby was the 'something' that Crowley had wanted to show him. Had needed to show him. But what—
Then they caught his eye, lined up against one wall, green and shining and beautiful and—
Aziraphale blinked, taking a few steps closer, getting a better look. How could he have missed something like that last time? Sure, he'd been a bit distracted, but it was glaringly obvious – almost overwhelming – now that he'd put his finger on it. He wandered into the next room, only to be met with more plants, which practically started shaking the moment Crowley followed him through the door.
So that was it. That was why he hadn't noticed last time. "Funny, isn't it," Crowley remarked, without a trace of humor in his voice. "That they'd be able to pick up on what all of Heaven and Hell couldn't. I think they could tell – that you weren't me, that is."
And why are they afraid of you? He didn't ask the question aloud, but he couldn't help wondering. After all, he couldn't remember ever being afraid of Crowley. Startled, yes. Surprised. Occasionally irritated, frustrated, certainly perplexed … but afraid? Aziraphale absently stroked a leaf, remembering what had made Crowley go quiet in the bookshop earlier. "You do talk to them, don't you."
It wasn't really a question, but Crowley nodded anyway. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."
"And I'm guessing you don't read books to them, or tell them how absolutely stunning they are, or how well they're growing, or how tall they're going to be if they just work a little harder, or things like that."
Crowley rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "How'd you guess?"
It wasn't hard. Just look at the poor things. They're scared out of their wits. But he didn't say it. Instead, he crossed the room to Crowley, giving his hand a gentle squeeze as he met the demon's gaze.
"Because no one ever told you."
He hadn't expected that.
Crowley didn't breathe for a long while. Not that he needed to, of course, but even if he had, breathing would probably have been the last thing on his mind. Part of him had expected the angel to be upset, to be disappointed, maybe even angry. The last thing he had expected was … this.
Maybe he should have known better by now. Aziraphale's eyes stared right into him, and for a moment Crowley forgot that he was wearing his sunglasses, because it felt like he wasn't. It felt like the angel could see right through the shades and into his eyes and deeper. Aziraphale's voice was impossibly gentle as he continued. "Crowley, your plants are beautiful."
"But they're not…"
"Not perfect." He gestured vaguely at one. "I mean, look at them. That one's growing crooked. That one can't decide what size its leaves are supposed to be. It's like they've all got a mind of their own, and they're all so … flawed."
Aziraphale grasped Crowley's hand, pressing it between both of his. "That's not a bad thing to be."
"How can you say that, Angel?"
One of Aziraphale's hands left Crowley's, coming to rest on the demon's cheek, instead. "How can I not? I mean, can you imagine what it would be like if they were all perfect? Do you know how boring that would be? All those perfect plants, lined up in perfect, neat little rows, growing perfectly in tall, straight lines." He shook his head, then chuckled. "Why, it'd be like … It'd be like watching The Sound of Music over and over and over."
"You really believe that?"
"Do you really need to ask?"
"Yes, Crowley." His fingers brushed across the demon's cheek, fluttering through Crowley's hair. "Those little flaws – growing a little crooked or a little too short or with funny-looking leaves – that's what keeps things interesting. It's what makes love mean something."
"Yes. Love. And anyone can love a thing because. Because it's perfect, because it does what it's told, because it never asks the wrong questions. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them, too. That is rare and pure and perfect."
"You got that from one of your books, didn't you."
Aziraphale blushed. "Doesn't make it any less true. Maybe you are flawed. Flawed enough to ask all sorts of annoying questions when things don't make sense. Flawed enough to start up a conversation with someone who's supposed to be the enemy. Flawed and fearless and crazy enough to drive a burning car through hellfire and to stop time in defiance of Satan himself because—"
"Because I couldn't stand the thought of never talking to you again," Crowley finished, sliding his sunglasses off.
"I know. Because that's who you are, Crowley. And I love you because and despite and everything in between."
Then Aziraphale's arms were around him, holding him close, wrapping him in so much warmth and affection and love that he almost forgot how the conversation had started. Almost. Crowley buried his face in Aziraphale's shoulder. "When did we stop talking about plants?"
Aziraphale chuckled. "We were never talking about plants, my dear."
"Hmm," Crowley mumbled into the angel's coat. "Maybe we weren't."
Nothing happened overnight.
Nothing monumental, anyway. The pair of them made their way from one room to another, Aziraphale cooing and gushing over the plants, telling them how beautiful and strong and vibrant they were, and how excited he was to see what they would grow into. Crowley followed him around with the plant mister, soaking up the angel's words as his plants soaked up the water. He didn't say much, but he also didn't scowl at them quite as much as he normally would have.
When dawn came, Crowley offered Aziraphale a ride back to the bookshop, which the angel accepted. It was a while before they talked about plants again, but a few weeks later, Crowley dropped by the bookshop with a very confused fern that couldn't quite understand why it hadn't been shoved down the nearest garbage disposal after Crowley had remarked that it was growing rather crookedly.
Crowley held the plant out to Aziraphale. "Thought you might like a little something to liven up the place," he mumbled. Aziraphale beamed back, assuring Crowley that of course he would, and the plant relaxed instantly at the angel's touch.
By the time the fourth plant came around, it didn't seem quite so apprehensive about being removed from the flat. Aziraphale beamed and cooed but was quietly wondering where he was going to put any more plants. Around the eighth plant, customers began to assume that along with not selling any books, the strange little bookshop owner had decided to open a plant shop that didn't actually sell any plants.
About eight months after their little ritual started, the fifteenth plant arrived, and after sitting up all night with a lot of hot cocoa, Aziraphale called Crowley with an idea. "There's this little plot of land a few blocks down that's miraculously just come up for sale – at quite a reasonable price, too. What do you think about moving some of the plants there, setting up a nice, outdoor garden? Plant a few vegetables, maybe a couple trees?"
Aziraphale could practically see Crowley's smirk through the phone. "Maybe a big apple tree in the middle?"
"If you like."
They spent the next few days planting some of the plants from Crowley's flat, as well as most of the specimens he'd brought to the bookshop. A few children stopped to watch, and Crowley took the opportunity to spray them with his plant mister. Giggling, the kids offered to help. And, well, Crowley never could say no to kids.
The plants grew – lush and strong and beautiful. Every so often, Crowley would catch Aziraphale reading to them, usually with a few children in tow. He'd noticed that the angel's book collection seemed to contain a few more books with pictures nowadays. Once, seeing them coming, Crowley ducked behind a particularly large bush, which fluffed itself out a little more as he drew closer. After a moment, he emerged, and a few of the kids gasped when they saw a large, black snake slithering towards them.
One of the kids made a move to run, but Aziraphale quickly settled them down. "No need to worry. Nothing to fret about. I'm sure he just wanted to hear the story, too." That seemed to satisfy the youngsters, who were still at the age where a snake wanting to be read to seemed perfectly reasonable. So Crowley slithered in among the children and listened to the story, which seemed to be about a pirate who was also a detective. They admired his scales, and he tickled them with his tongue.
That was a good day.
There were days that weren't quite so good, but they were growing fewer and farther between. Things weren't perfect, but they were good. And he was happy – happier than he'd been in a long time. But there was still something…
He caught a glimpse of it now and then, whenever he appeared to the children as a snake. A look on his angel's face that was almost jealousy – quickly replaced by a habitual guilty expression because angels weren't supposed to be jealous. But he was. He couldn't help it.
They were sitting under the apple tree one night – an apple tree that really shouldn't have grown quite so quickly, but which had, nevertheless, and was already ripe with fruit – when Aziraphale finally said, in a shaky voice, "I think … I think I'm ready to give it a try."
"I should think so. They're quite ripe," Crowley remarked, tossing an apple in his hand.
"That's not what I meant. I—"
"I know, Angel. Are you sure?"
"No. No, but I don't think I ever will be. And I can't think of a better place to try."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Just … just don't leave."
Crowley snorted. That one went without saying. "Wouldn't dream of it, Angel." He laid a hand on Aziraphale's shoulder. "Just take your time."
Aziraphale nodded as Crowley's fingers gave a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Okay. He could still back out. Suggest they go back to the bookshop and get drunk instead. A part of him wanted to.
But only a small part.
Only the part that was still afraid.
Aziraphale let out a slow breath, one hand resting on Crowley's knee, bracing himself. For a moment, he thought about closing his eyes, but decided against it. Instead, he met Crowley's gaze and focused. He didn't remember it requiring much concentration, but it had been quite a while.
The pain wasn't as bad as he'd imagined, and it only lasted for a moment as everything shifted. He could feel his fingers sinking into Crowley's leg, but the demon didn't even flinch. Gradually, the pain dulled, and Aziraphale relaxed and shifted and shrank.
Crowley watched in fascination, barely registering a little pain in his leg where Aziraphale's hand still gripped tightly. No, not a hand anymore. A talon. There, resting on Crowley's knee and slowly loosening his grip, was a beautiful, snowy owl.
Aziraphale fluffed his feathers, then slowly stretched his wings. He gave a hesitant little flap, testing everything. It had been so long…
Crowley shifted a little, bringing his arm over for Aziraphale to step on. Aziraphale obliged, and Crowley stood up, holding his arm towards the sky. "Go on. You know you want to."
He did. He did want to. Aziraphale stretched his wings one more time, then lifted off with an enormous flap into the night air. It was exactly like he remembered. No. No, it was better.
Watching from below, Crowley smiled. No wonder Aziraphale had missed this. The owl circled the garden, flapping and hooting and finally coming to rest on Crowley's shoulder. Aziraphale nuzzled up against Crowley's cheek, and Crowley ran his fingers gingerly along the soft, white feathers. "It's a good look for you."
"It feels good," Aziraphale agreed. There was still a twinge of an ache, somewhere deep in the owl's bones, but this … this was worth it. Together, they strolled through the garden, inspecting the plants, picking a few apples, and enjoying the night.
As dawn began to creep over the horizon, Aziraphale fluffed his feathers and hopped down from Crowley's shoulder. Shifting back to his familiar human shape was a bit easier, and he only stumbled a little as Crowley helped him to his feet. But Crowley used the momentary dizziness as an excuse to draw Aziraphale into a hug. "You all right, Angel?"
Aziraphale nodded. "Yes. Yes, I think I am." After a moment, Crowley let go, and Aziraphale adjusted his coat, straightened his bow tie, and grinned up at the demon. "What would you say to breakfast? It shouldn't take long to make these into some lovely apple crepes." He nodded at the basket they'd filled.
Crowley smirked. "Lead the way, Angel." Then, after one more look around, he gathered up the basket of apples and followed Aziraphale out of the garden.
A warm thank you to...
- Tumblr user hallsofstone2941 for this observation/speculation about Aziraphale's injury: tinyurl dot com /y2324qxw
- Tumblr user ariaste for this analysis of Crowley's plants: tinyurl dot com /y5vlw68u
- Tumblr user wikigiuli for planting the idea of Aziraphale as an owl: tinyurl dot com /yy8dws8b
- Twitter user tervaneula for this cozy "snuggling up with a good book" image: tinyurl dot com /y6q5jj9h
Also, the "Aziraphale has Winnie the Pooh memorized" thing is 100% canon, courtesy of Neil Gaiman himself. tinyurl dot com /y5aoqqfr
On that note, all Winnie the Pooh quotes are (shockingly) from Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.
The line Aziraphale quotes about loving "because" and "despite" is from The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.
Replace the "dot" with a dot and get rid of the spaces to follow the links.