Notes: I was content originally to leave this at one chapter, but this part kept eating at me, and I had to write it. Also bear in mind that I know this isn't a healthy way necessarily for these guys to handle this situation, but I see this as a rock-and-a-hard place. You don't know how you would actually react unless you were in their shoes. Warning for implied non-con/rape, heavy angst, and memory erasing.
"I … I can't see anything." Aziraphale's eyes shift in their sockets, blindly searching the confines of the dark room. "They did something to my eyes, but I … I don't know what."
Crowley puts a hand over them, unearthing the particulars of the magic, and sighing with relief when he identifies it. "Don't worry, angel. It's temporary." There's nothing new in this one. It's common – a parlor trick used to frighten humans. Crowley didn't know it would work on angels. Then again, he never thought to try. "It should wear off once you leave here."
"I was in my shop …" Aziraphale explains, the act of making casual conversation with a friend reassuring to him. Crowley hears the chains above him jingle as Aziraphale tries to fold his wings, hears him hiss when the damnation on the chains singes him.
"Don't move," Crowley says. "Those chains … they'll tear your wings apart if you move too much."
Aziraphale nods stiffly, his shoulders and back becoming rigid with that knowledge. "It was after hours, a-and I heard a knock at the door. I felt demon energy, but I was preoccupied. I was unboxing a shipment of Hawthorne first editions I purchased from an estate in Norfolk. I'd been waiting weeks for them to arrive. I thought the demon at the door was you so I opened it." He chuckles nervously. "Why wouldn't it be you? You're the only demon who's ever been by my shop. I didn't think Hell even knew where I was."
Crowley curls his hands into fists, digs claw nails into the palms of his hands to keep from cursing out loud and frightening Aziraphale. No, Hell shouldn't have. And even if they did know an angel owned a bookshop in Soho, that information shouldn't have concerned them, not to this degree.
The only reason it does is because of Crowley.
Crowley is why Aziraphale is down here.
Aziraphale turns his head left and right, sniffs the damp air. "Where … where are we anyway? I thought they were taking me to Hell, but this doesn't feel like Hell."
"It's not," Crowley says. "But I don't want to tell you where you are."
"Why not?" From somewhere above their heads, a whimper and a cry ring out. Aziraphale gasps, clenching his teeth tight around his tongue, trying his best not to move.
"Because you shouldn't be here!" Crowley growls. "If there's one place on earth you shouldn't be …" He stops, grinds his teeth, fights his anger at himself to regain his focus. "Look, I don't have the time to explain. I need to get you out of here now. Right now."
"Great!" Aziraphale flashes a soft smile and Crowley knows he's trying to make him feel better. He wishes Aziraphale wouldn't considering what has to happen next. "Capital idea! Let's do that! These chains are beginning to chafe unmentionably."
"It's not … it's not that easy."
"Measures have been taken. Precautions specifically to keep you here. And in order to break them, we need to … I have to …" Crowley's hands find his own hair and pull hard as he tries to explain.
Tries to come to terms with the next step, and how he's going to accomplish it without hurting Aziraphale emotionally or physically.
Those Godforsaken chains!
Those were a bitch move if ever there was one.
"Have to … what?" Aziraphale sounds scared. Calm but scared, and he should be. He put his trust in the wrong person. They have that in common. It's what got Crowley into the position he's in - hanging out with the wrong crowd. The difference is, in Aziraphale's life, there is no right crowd. Everyone around him sucks.
The blue light surrounding Aziraphale fades a hair. It's subtle, but Crowley doesn't just see it. He feels it, as if the sands of Aziraphale's existence are slipping through his fingers – a tangible object he's doing a shit job holding on to.
"I'm going to try something …" Crowley goes as slowly as he can for Aziraphale even with an eight ball staring him straight in the face "… and if it works, I'm going to have to keep going. You may not like it …"
"It's … it's all right," Aziraphale says, resolve making his voice thick. "Go ahead. I trust you."
'Urgh! Please don't say that!' Crowley thinks, moving closer. Hearing Aziraphale say that doesn't make this any easier.
In many ways, it makes this harder.
Crowley sees a spattering of marks on the angel's cheek – grotesque symbols made up of dagger-sharp edges that look punched-on. He chooses one that looks particularly harsh, embedded so deeply it has started to bleed. Carefully, he kisses Aziraphale on the cheek over that mark. Not a peck, but nothing too suggestive. He hears Aziraphale make a small noise of surprise. When he pulls away, the mark is gone. Crowley tries again – another kiss, the same way, over a different mark. 'It can't be this easy,' he thinks, heart racing. 'Please tell me it's this easy!'
But it's not.
The second kiss has no effect.
That's what he was afraid of.
It only escalates from here.
'Dammit! God fucking dammit!'
"Oh my goodness!" Aziraphale mutters, a giddy blush rising to his cheeks. "That was … wh-hy did you do that?"
"In order to get you out of here, I have to get rid of these marks you have on your body. They're demonic marks. They lock you down here."
"And they go away when you kiss them?" Aziraphale's smile after that breaks Crowley's heart. "That's oddly … sweet."
"It only worked the once, I'm afraid."
"So what do we do now?"
"Like I said, I have to keep going."
"But I thought you said it didn't …"
Crowley kisses Aziraphale on the lips. He doesn't warn him. He's running out of time. He can't put this off any longer.
But, selfishly, he needs to shut him up.
Every word out of Aziraphale's mouth, every expression on his face, is slowly and painfully discorporating him.
Crowley feels Aziraphale's body thrum as he deepens the kiss, but when the angel's mouth begins to move against his, he shakes his head.
"Don't … don't kiss me back."
"I have a theory. A way to break these locks and keep you from falling in the process."
"And that is …?"
"You … you can't be a willing participant in this." Crowley can't bring himself to tell him what this is, so he alludes to it – puts a hand on Aziraphale's cheek, slides it down his neck, drags it down his chest towards his stomach, creeping lower …
Aziraphale's brow crinkles as he struggles to understand. But when Crowley's hand reaches the junction of his hip where it touches his upper thigh, his eyes widen with fear. "Crowley, you're not suggesting …"
"Yes," Crowley says with a hard swallow. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting."
Aziraphale's body begins to shake, the chains above him shuddering with this movement he can't control. The smell of burning flesh fills the room and a few white feathers rain down around them, but he doesn't seem fazed.
His wings burning off their bones is the least devastating thing going on at this moment.
"Don't," Aziraphale begs. "Please? I … I …"
"You what, angel?" Crowley asks, so beyond defeated he doesn't feel real anymore. Nothing about him is real, therefore nothing about this is real. That should help, shouldn't it?
Whether it should or it shouldn't, it doesn't.
"I … I love you."
Crowley's head drops to his hands, his body sinking so low onto his heels he might as well be one with the ground beneath him. "I love you, too, angel."
Aziraphale's eyes brighten, sparking with hope. "You do?"
"Yes, I do. I have for the longest time. Which is why I have to do this."
"No, you don't! You don't have to! There has to be another way!"
"There isn't any other way, angel! If we don't get you out of here soon, there won't be any saving you."
As if to prove a point, his aura dials down a bit more. Crowley zeros in on it, pushing his disgust at himself aside and uses that dying light to force his hand. He grabs the frayed edge of Aziraphale's neckline and pulls, ripping it straight down the middle. Aziraphale jerks back, shivering when the moist air hits his skin. He scoots a foot away and Crowley warns, "Don't!" but those chains above him tighten, having no intention of letting him go. The only way he could remove himself from their hold would be to tear his wings off at the shoulder joints.
In the heat of this moment, it's something he considers.
"One lassst thing …" Crowley says, his hands returning to Aziraphale's shoulder, his demon warmth cruelly comforting against goose-prickled flesh.
"Wh-what's that?" Aziraphale's voice trembles – those wobbly edges cutting Crowley like razor blades.
"It might help …" Crowley's head hangs from his shoulders, the weight of the next three words too heavy to bear. He closes his eyes against them, tries to swallow them down … but they just won't go "… if you scream."
"Here ya go. Chamomile. Your favorite. I even remembered the honey this time," Crowley says, setting the tea service on the table in front of Aziraphale. He does his best to make his voice soothing, his volume low and pleasing, his movements smooth and predictable. But regardless, Aziraphale - eyes glued to a book he's not even pretending to read - slides away from him, huddling so close to the wall on his left he's about to become a pattern in the wallpaper.
Crowley looks at him, hunched over one of those Hawthorne books he'd been so excited to receive, still as a stone statue. He debates letting Aziraphale prepare his own cup but decides in the end to do it for him, to prove that he knows him, that they're still friends.
That he's still the same old Crowley, despite what he's done.
He pours the steaming water from the teapot into Aziraphale's favorite cup, then drops a tea bag in. During the course of adding the honey, Crowley's hand brushes Aziraphale's. The angel yelps, leaping so violently out of his skin he nearly upends his cup.
"Oh … oh God. I … I didn't mean to touch you," Crowley says, putting his hands up and backing away. "I'm sorry, I … I'll let you finish … by yourself."
"Thank you," Aziraphale answers voicelessly but he doesn't acknowledge the tea. He leaves the cup to cool, content to let it waste away and become unpalatable.
It took over two hours for Crowley to unlock all the locks, make the marks disappear. Two hours of kisses and touches that should have been romantic, should have been sensual, should have been a consensual act of love and affection.
That's how they started.
It's not where they finished.
In order to pick the harder locks, Crowley had to delve into areas he and Aziraphale had discussed a long time ago - acts Aziraphale said he could never see himself doing.
But the more Crowley explored the taboo, the faster the locks unraveled.
When all was said and done, the chains evaporated, their spell extinguished, and Crowley didn't hesitate. With a snap of his fingers he was able to transport the angel back to his bookshop, locking the door and every window with his sigil so that no one – demon or angel – could come inside. They materialized on the floor of Aziraphale's back room, a shivering Aziraphale cradled in Crowley's arms. When Aziraphale opened his eyes, they were no longer red and he could see. He gasped with joy and surprise at being free, but when he saw Crowley …
… Crowley will never forget the look of horror on Aziraphale's face, not for as long as he exists. Aziraphale pushed away from him, hard enough to send Crowley flying backward. He scrambled to his feet and ran to his bathroom. Crowley didn't move, rooted to the spot on the floor where Aziraphale had shoved him, but he could hear the angel's muffled wailing through the locked door. Aziraphale didn't emerge till close to sunrise and when he did, he was clean and healed, dressed from head to toe, clutching the book he's been staring at to his chest like a talisman against Evil.
A talisman against Crowley.
Aziraphale's bookshop is no longer the place of safety it once was. It won't matter how many protections Aziraphale sets up, how many blessings. Crowley knows he won't ever feel safe here again. Not the way he used to. Crowley chose to stay with his angel even though his body begged for sleep in the hopes of helping Aziraphale feel safe, be there for him if he needed him, but he can't dodge the feeling he's making things worse.
Worst of all, he doesn't think their relationship will ever be what it was again.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Crowley asks, backing away till his legs hit the arm of the sofa across the room. "Anything else I can get you? Just name it and I'll do it."
Aziraphale closes his book, not bothering with a bookmark since there's nothing to save. "I … I think … maybe you should leave."
Crowley drops his hands to his sides. He was afraid Aziraphale would say that. "Is that really what you want?"
Crowley nods but he doesn't move. He can't make his feet go. He's not ready to leave yet. Aziraphale may need space, may need time, but Crowley needs Aziraphale.
"There was no other way, angel. I couldn't think of another way. We had no time …"
"I know that." Aziraphale tries to smile. "But I can't … I can't look at you right now without remembering …" He wraps his arms around his torso and squeezes, the rest of his sentence a messy jumble in his throat. He doesn't want to say it, because if he doesn't say it, maybe it didn't happen. It's foolish and childish and irrational, but it's all he's got to keep him from disintegrating into a ball of white light. "And I don't know how to forget." Aziraphale hugs himself tight, makes himself small, his voice no more than a hiccup of sound. "That wasn't the way it was supposed to be, Crowley. That wasn't how we were … supposed to be together."
"You're right. It wasn't. And I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. I wish I could fix it for you."
"I know you do."
"Would it make you feel better if I …" Crowley scrambles for an idea, any idea, anyway to make this better, even a tiny bit "… let you hurt me?"
"Hurt you?" Aziraphale's brows pull together. "How?"
"I don't know. Whatever you want … short of Holy Water, that is."
Aziraphale pauses like he's considering it, but shakes his head. "I can't … I can't do that to you. I can't hurt you. You did nothing wrong."
"That's not true. Not if you're asking me to leave."
"It is true! And I swear that I understand that! I just … I need some time. I need to find a way to wash this from my brain if I can, and I think that might be easier if you're not around."
Crowley sighs. "Okay. I'll go. But can I ask for one favor?"
"Sleep," Crowley commands and snaps his fingers.
Aziraphale's eyes close obediently, and Crowley immediately hates himself.
It's a dirty trick. A dirty, rotten, filthy trick.
He's not using Hastur's ploy against him. He's using his own unique brand of demonic power.
He doesn't know whether or not that's worse.
Crowley raises a hand and rests it gingerly on Aziraphale's head.
"Forget," he whispers. "Please. Forget all about it. Erase it from your mind. Keep it under lock and key and then toss that key away. For Heaven's sake just forget. And please … please … don't push me away …"
During the time he and Aziraphale spent underground, Crowley figured out how Hastur managed to trap Aziraphale. They incapacitated Aziraphale with a poison Crowley had never seen before. One he couldn't identify.
But he could taste its bitter tang on Aziraphale's skin.
The substance they used, Crowley feels it beneath his fingers now. And as he touches his angel, he purges it from Aziraphale's system and replaces it, regretfully, with a bit of his own power, in the hopes that it will make Aziraphale immune. It should. Demons can't enslave other demons this same way, not that he's aware of. Of course, he doesn't spend much time in Hell. Things could be going south down there and he might not know about it until it's too late.
Like tonight, for instance.
But as soon as he can, he intends on popping back down there and going on the hunt for it, eliminate every vial of the stuff he can find, or at least taint it so it won't be effective. He has to keep Hastur and any other demon from doing this again, especially to his angel.
With the poison gone, Crowley siphons through Aziraphale's most recent memories, looking for any remnant of the time they spent underground, all the way back to the arrival of the demon (fucking Ligur! Crowley will have to remember that …) at his bookshop door. When he finds no trace of it, he removes his hand and snaps his fingers. "Wake."
Aziraphale's eyes open. He looks up into the face of the solemn demon standing before him and startles.
Then he smiles.
"Oh! My dear boy! Have you been here the whole time?"
"Yes," Crowley says, all semblance of emotion gone from his voice. He just doesn't have the strength for it. "Yes, I have."
"When did you get here?"
"I've been here all night."
Aziraphale's eyebrows bounce up. "Have you? That's funny."
"What's funny about it?"
"Well I … I can't seem to remember what we were doing a moment ago." He taps a finger to his chin and thinks on it hard, but from his scrunched nose and pensive expression, Crowley knows he's drawing a blank.
"I've just been hanging out in a corner. You've been doing paperwork or something," Crowley lies. "I never know. But you don't seem anywhere near done so I should leave you to it. Don't want to be a distraction."
Aziraphale laughs. That should make Crowley glad, but it pierces his heart something fierce. "Since when do you not want to be a distraction?"
"Oh." Aziraphale finally catches on to the demon's seriousness and looks at him with concern. "Are you sure? I was hoping that we could talk a little more about this antichrist bother over a drink or two … or seven? But I'll understand if you want to go."
Crowley didn't want to leave before, but now it's all he wants - go back to his flat, climb beneath the covers of his bed with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and pass out for a year. Maybe two. But what if Aziraphale relapses? What if his magic doesn't do its job?
Wouldn't be the first time one of his plans went pear shaped … obviously.
He has a responsibility to Aziraphale – one that didn't end when he erased his memory.
After last night, it may never end.
"Sure, angel." Crowley runs a hand through his hair, taming down the red locks he's been tugging in frustration. His hand comes close to Aziraphale's face when he raises it but he doesn't flinch. It worked. Crowley's magic worked. But that doesn't absolve any of his sins. Not a single one. Because as clever as he thinks he is, he wasn't clever enough to come up with an alternative solution. "Why not? I could use a drink."
"Great!" Aziraphale says, happily patting the tabletop, then gesturing to the seat across from him. "I have a brand spanking new bottle of cognac with your name on it, my dear!"
That my dear nearly does him in. As it is, it sprouts barbs, wraps around his heart, and pulls taut. "Brilliant."
The thunderous rapping of a fist on wood wakes Aziraphale from a restless sleep, and he jars upright in his seat on the sofa.
"Is it open then?" a muffled voice asks as curious green eyes peek in through the window.
"I don't think so," a different muffled voice responds. "It's impossible to see anything through these grimy windows. Has A. Z. Fell never heard of Windex?"
"Dang it! I was really hoping to see if they had that new Donner novel. It's sold out everywhere!"
"Yeah, that's a drag," the second voice says, followed by, "They never seem to be open, though, do they? He doesn't even post his hours up."
"I'm beginning to think it's not a proper bookshop at all."
"You're right. It's probably just a front for drugs and prostitution."
"Don't tell me you weren't thinking the same thing, Jillian!"
Aziraphale smiles as the two women laugh, their voices fading as they pass the shop by on their way to the bus stop, another potential sale thwarted.
'Yes, ladies. Spread the word,' he thinks as he raises his arms over his head for a stretch. 'A. Z. Fell is a façade for organized crime. No need to be back.'
Regardless of how he woke up, this might actually turn out to be a good day.
He arches his back and stretches some more, glancing across the sofa at the sleeping demon, arms folded over his chest, stoic in sleep, his closed eyes aimed at the front door as if he'd fallen asleep standing guard. He's amazed Crowley didn't wake up when those two women tried to break down his front door. That's what it sounded like inside his hungover brain anyway. Poor dear must be exhausted.
It was quite a long night.
Aziraphale grabs an afghan from the back of the sofa and pulls it over Crowley's body. He relaxes the moment its warmth sweeps over him, sliding down on the cushion and resting his head against the arm.
"Sleep," Aziraphale whispers, tucking the blanket in around him, "for as long as you'd like. And dream about whatever you like best."
Crowley doesn't smile after Aziraphale says this but he looks more at peace, falling deeply under and snoring softly. Aziraphale pats his arm, then rises from his seat. His back through his hips and straight down to his rear feels stiff as a board, a sure sign that he's sat plenty.
Time to get on his feet.
Aziraphale pads, lock-kneed, across the floor, sneaking away to his bathroom to splash water on his face. He has paperwork to finish – a whole day of logging in the new Hawthorne books he got in, as well as a few other odds and ends. He stands in front of the sink and takes a long look at himself in the mirror - from his wine-flushed cheeks to his hair sticking out in all directions, the fine lines across his forehead and at the corners of his mouth. Worry lines he's heard them called, and even though he's not human, he thoroughly agrees with that assessment.
He's been worrying a lot these past couple of weeks, and even though he controls his human visage, he wouldn't be surprised if a whole new crop of lines sprouted overnight.
He washes his hands, then scrubs his face, paying close attention to his skin and his eyes, examining the pale blue irises with particular care.
No red eyes.
No demon locks.
No ligature marks.
Only a trace of pale pink burns from Crowley's kisses left on his skin.
He runs light fingertips over them, trying a second time to heal them, but they refuse to magic away.
They're stubborn, like their bullheaded maker.
His memories came back sometime before he woke, and they came back with a vengeance – the demon at his doorstep, grinning at him with dark, chapped lips, a bizarre lizard creature resting atop their head; having a burlap sack thrown over his head; being dragged kicking and screaming underground, then injected with a substance that burned through his body like acid.
He remembered Crowley finding him, trying to comfort him, his voice leading him out of the dark haze he'd been locked in.
He remembered Crowley's plan.
Crowley had been right about one thing – the way they went about it, Aziraphale didn't fall.
He made it out in one piece, and he was still an angel.
When Crowley transported them back, between the time he snapped his fingers and they arrived on his bookshop floor, Aziraphale had wondered if God had seen. Had She seen what they'd done, what they'd had to do to make it out?
To save him?
Had She been there?
Aziraphale usually feels God's presence all around him no matter where he is, watching over him, embracing him with Her love. Even when it's difficult to sense Her, he knows She's there. But he can't recall whether he did in that place or not. She wouldn't abandon him, would She? Ineffable plan or no, he's still Her servant. She wouldn't leave him to the wolves, let him purposelessly be devoured.
Of course, and he's pondered this several times before, perhaps that's why Crowley was there, why he's always able to find him whenever Aziraphale is in trouble. Maybe there's something more divine behind those grand rescues of his, something more than simply being in the area.
But those are questions he'll have to save for another time, when his brain isn't screaming inside his skull.
He doesn't know how he's going to overcome this. For the few hours he didn't have to think about it, he was fine. Effervescent really. He didn't have a care in the world. He would ask Crowley to give him that again, help him forget, but he doesn't want Crowley to know his magic wore off.
He doesn't want to burden Crowley with more guilt than he already feels.
Aziraphale doesn't like lying to Crowley, but like he said, this isn't Crowley's fault. It may not have sounded like he meant it at the time, but he did. Aziraphale didn't want this, but there was nothing else they could do. And as much as he hates remembering, he can't leave Crowley to bear the burden alone. It's a punishment Crowley doesn't deserve.
And Aziraphale, standing alone in his bathroom, clutching the sides of the sink to keep from crumbling to the floor and crying his eyes out, has discovered over the past 6000 years that he loves Crowley too much to hurt him that way.