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The Understanding

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Aziraphale could mark the creation of the Arrangement down to the hour...but also, he could not have guessed at the beginning of the Arrangement to save his immortal life. Oh, he could recall with fine memory the vintage of the wine, the touch of Crowley’s hand so briefly in his as they’d shook on it and made it all official; that was easy enough. But if asked by prying parties to define the true beginnings of their professional contract, the angel would have only shrugged with a genuine helplessness. The idea of the Arrangement may have started building between them in Rome or at the fall of the Tower of Babel or, perhaps, even, in their first meeting in the Garden itself. Aziraphale really couldn’t say and, in truth, he didn’t care to dwell on it much.

The creation and the beginnings of what Aziraphale privately termed the Understanding were much the same. He knew exactly the date and hour when the plan was made and presented and agreed upon; they had been standing in Crowley’s apartment at the time, surrounded by the stench of decaying flora, Crowley’s fists clenching and unclenching rhythmically at his sides. But if asked by prying parties to define the true beginnings of their personal contract, the angel could have only dared to guess. Perhaps the idea began to build between them when Hastur handed Crowley a basket with a baby in it or when Crowley had slept away an entire century or when Crowley had handed a woman with wide, curious eyes an apple and whispered “go on, then, give it a go.” Aziraphale couldn’t say and, for the sake of his own heart, he didn’t care to dwell on it much.

The date and hour of the creation of the Understanding was on a autumn day in October, a good four years after the Almost Armageddon incident, a little after lunchtime. They’d just returned from another of many forarys at the Ritz, a tradition they had sparked up in earnest after the messiness in Tadfield and kept to faithfully since. In hindsight, Aziraphale would admit that Crowley had seemed a tad out of sorts for ages, long before the Understanding came about. He’d been odd, in fact, since their psuedo standoff against their respective sides. At lunch that day in particular, though, the demon had been in rare form. Aziraphale might have been tempted to brand the other man as twitchy were Crowley anyone else.

As it was, Crowley nervously rubbed his thumb against the head of his unused spoon and tapped the toes of his snakeskin shoes and faltered mid conversation, often going rigid and bristly without warning, hissing something low and doubtlessly derogatory under his breath--at what target, Aziraphale had no earthly idea.

“My dear,” Aziraphale had sighed, going so far as to reach out a hand toward Crowley. Crowley had flinched so sharply that it took a minor miracle (literally) to prevent his flailing elbow from upturning Aziraphale’s pudding.

After that, Aziraphale had decided to drop the issue entirely and, perhaps, attempt to coax his long-time associate and newly-admitted friend back to Crowley’s apartment to take a nap. Aziraphale had never seen the point in sleeping, but Crowley had taken to it quite readily, and a good long nap always seemed to kick the old serpent out of any funk. (Though, Aziraphale did privately hope that Crowley would not take it upon himself to sleep all the way through to the 22nd century, this time; it would get dull without him).

“I tell you, Angel, I’m fine. Let me give you a ride to the ‘shop, instead.” Crowley had conjoled and snapped and all but begged, clearly loathe to take Aziraphale back to his place. Aziraphale, drawing on the patience that only a principality of Heaven could possibly possess, weathered the storm of Crowley’s tantrum and, in the end, won the argument.

As they stood, silent, amidst the wreckage of Crowley’s plants, however, Aziraphale rather regretted being so damned pushy.

“My dear,” he repeated, soft with bafflement and a clawing, unnerving sense of rising doom. “What happened?” Aziraphale avoided Crowley’s shaded gaze, choosing instead to turn in a small circle about the room, staring with wide eyes at the mess of broken pottery and scattered soil and the torn tatters of browning, wilted leaves and splintered stalks.

Crowley let out a long and shaky breath. Aziraphale had not noticed until that moment that the demon had been holding that air in since the moment they’d pulled away from the Ritz. He turned and felt further surprise to see Crowley standing in the middle of the mess, dragging his hands viciously through his hair. The force of his wrists sliding by knocked the sunglasses off his face and across the room with a clatter, but Crowley didn’t seem to even notice it. His eyes were bloodshot, lids puffy and red against the inhuman yellow of his irises. A sense of exhaustion radiated off of him, so overwhelming that Aziraphale felt his own shoulders droop with empathy.

“I can’t do it,” Crowley hissed, quite literally as his tongue flicked out, just vaguely forked.

“‘It’?” Aziraphale repeated, utterly dumbfounded.

Crowley nodded, the motion sharp and so uncoordinated that Aziraphale wondered if Crowley might manage to wrench a muscle in his neck. “Yeah. Yeah. I can’t.”

“I’m afraid I’m not understanding,” Aziraphale admitted, though it pained him to do so. It wasn’t unusual that he and Crowley talk at cross purposes, of course, but in the past fifteen or so years, they had gotten quite adept at communicating. Now, Aziraphale felt the same wrong-footedness he remembered so clearly from their first true conversation in the Garden. For the first time in a long while, the angel could not even begin to guess what his demon counterpart was getting at and, quite frankly, the lack of knowledge was making him nervous. Crowley could do the most awful things when at his most, well...inscrutable.

Aziraphale experienced a sharp sensation of deja vu at that thought. Aziraphale had, indeed, seen Crowley in such a state before. Sometime in the midst of the plague, mere days before the demon had disappeared for a hundred years. Aziraphale drew in his own sharp breath at the memory--the only thing that differed, really, is that in the scene in Aziraphale’s memory, Crowley had been wringing his hands while he’d prattled instead of pulling hard and violently at his own hair. And, of course, they had been standing in the awning of an abandoned tavern at the time and not among the detris of a good dozen once beloved ferns and things.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, his tone sharper than intended. In three long strides he crossed the dirt-strewn stretch of floor between them and grabbed hard at Crowley’s hands, pulling them firmly away from Crowley’s head. “Explain yourself, please.” Aziraphale added, more gently. Crowley stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes, as if amazed that Aziraphale didn’t already know.

“You really don’t feel it, do you?” Crowley asked, voice barely above a whisper. “You aren’t--not even a bit.”

Aziraphale frowned. “I’m still not sure what you mean, dear boy.”

Crowley took a deep breath and then another. It seemed to calm him somewhat. He stood straight up, posture more casually relaxed. Aziraphale did not fail to notice, however, that Crowley didn’t pull away; their hands remained clasped between them, and Crowley’s grip was tight.

“Do you ever think about it, much, what happens to agents whose organizations leave them out in the cold?”

The question left Aziraphale only slightly more illuminated, but he willingly followed the path on which Crowley wished to lead them. “Well, we know they stop appearing in St. James’s, for one.”

Crowley’s expression only slid from barely restrained panic to something grimly resigned, his jaw clenching for a moment before he spoke. “We should have been killed.”

Something about the way Crowley said such a dour phrase left Aziraphale uneasy. It was almost as if--

“It would have been within the rights of our respective sides to punish us accordingly to their respective laws,” Aziraphale agreed, speaking carefully. “But you know what the boy said: No more messing about. They have no choice but to leave us be.”

“For now.”

Aziraphale nodded. Crowley had aired this concern already. A new apocalypse could start again at any moment only with the combined forces of God and Satan against the forces of humanity (most likely with Aziraphale and Crowley among them, though that was another dark place to which Aziraphale’s mind would rather not go). “Crowley--.”

“The other shoe is going to drop,” Crowley interrupted, that familiar frantic tone creeping back into his voice. He stepped back, forcing Aziraphale to let go of him with the motion. They stood with a vast expanse of space between them once more. Aziraphale allowed his abandoned hands to hover at his sides, ready to reach out again at a moment’s notice. Crowley’s own hands clenched and unclenched from fists so tight that his knuckles washed pale. “The other shoe is going to drop, Aziraphale, and it’s going to be a big, heavy boot with lots of tread.”

“We cannot live our days in fear.”

Crowley laughed. It wasn’t one of his more pleasant varieties. Aziraphale grimaced at the raw and angry sound.

“Maybe you can’t. I seem to be doing just fine.”

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said after a few long beats of accusatory silence. “I am so sorry, Crowley. I didn’t realize our circumstances were troubling you so.”

Crowley’s fists went still, palms left unguarded and empty. He blinked slowly, as if stunned. “You--I don’t care about--why aren’t you worried?” Those final words rose up in volume and tenor, landing on something akin to a wail.

Aziraphale remembered that exact tone clearly, now, flooding back with so many other snapshots of memory. Crowley had swooped forward in the tavern awning, backing Aziraphale without force against the stone wall. His face had twisted into a terrible mask of anguish then, too, and he’d demanded, in a similar wail “if it’s not your side making it happen, then make it stop!”

Aziraphale could not have stopped the ravaging spread of the Black Death, of course. Nor could he prevent this metaphorical Sword of Damocles from hanging, close and deadly in its precariousness, over Crowley’s head. What was done was done. They had made their stand and now, in the aftermath, would have to take the consequences as they’d come. It had not, until this moment, occurred to Aziraphale that Crowley had not found a similar peace in this position. To Aziraphale, whatever obstacles might arise before them in the future were obviously surmountable because they were, more now than ever, a united force. They had stood hand in hand in the face of certain destruction and come out with not even so much as a feather out of place. To think that they could not do so again in the future was preposterous to consider. (Aziraphale rather had a habit of screwing his faith to the sticking place; he had decided to trust in the power of the Arrangement and the friendship that had come out of it, and now his loyalty was absolute. Perhaps such bullheaded devotion was a common trait among all angels, but Aziraphale had long ago surpassed them in that regard, at least.)

He could not even begin to put his unshakable faith into words, let alone words that would penetrate the now obvious haze of dread and primal fear around Crowley’s heart and mind.

“You should come sit with me,” Aziraphale said, instead. “You look half dead on your feet.” Aziraphale, with an effort, refrained from making any jokes about the ruffled scales of nervous snakes. He’d once made a half-hearted molting joke at Crowley’s expense a few centuries back and had suffered under Crowley’s pointed silent treatment for years after the fact.

“I don’t want to sit down!” Crowley protested, voice sharp and still bordering on hysteria. “I want to, to, to I don’t know. Make a battle plan, maybe, or start amassing protections or--.”

Aziraphale captured one of Crowley’s vulnerable palms against his own and tugged Crowley over to the kitchenette around the corner. Crowley’s sparsely furnished apartment did not lend itself well to comfort, but at least the kitchen counter boasted two tall bar-stool seats.

Crowley kept arguing, loud and abrasive and nonsensical and often rather mean.

Aziraphale nudged Crowley into one stool and then wiggled himself with effort onto the other. He clasped Crowley’s hand in both of his own, rubbing soft circles into the web between Crowley’s thumb and pointer finger. At the touch, Crowley abruptly went quiet, sitting rigid as steel, his eyes wide with naked anguish as they stared, disbelieving, at Aziraphale’s placid face. Aziraphale moved the soft pressure of his fingers up Crowley’s arm and back down again in soothing, repetitive motions. The silence stretched between them went slowly soft with a soul-deep comfort in each other’s company that could only come after hundreds of years of practicing it.

Finally, Crowley heaved a heavy sigh and abruptly slumped in his seat like a puppet with all strings cut. The only thing keeping him from falling right off onto the floor in a limp heap, it seemed, was the touch of Aziraphale’s fingers still moving in soft circular motions against his.

“There now,” Aziraphale hummed in satisfaction. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Crowley mumbled something unintelligible. A moment later, he cleared his throat and sat up a bit, repeating himself. “Thanks.” His yellow eyes looked askance, staring away from Aziraphale, fixed instead on an empty patch of floor.

“Of course, my dear. Now, then. I think we should have a nice, sensible chat. Don’t you?”

Crowley snorted, sending a brief glare the angel’s way at the minor barb. “All right,” the demon sighed. “I’m listening.”

“Good.” Aziraphale looked around at Crowley’s unhappy kitchen and determined it a waste of his time and effort to go mucking about in the cupboards in search of tea. Instead, the angel lifted his fingers and made a full service--complete with biscuits, of course--appear on the counter between them. He poured Crowley’s cup with easy, practiced motions while also keeping an eye on his friend.

Crowley sat up straighter by inches, the glassy look in his eyes giving way the more seconds that passed. The demon slowly pulled the pieces of himself back together, no longer a boneless heap of peace but no longer a whirling dervish of panic, either. He seemed, at the moment, to be in possession once more of his more typical equilibrium. Aziraphale breathed an internal sigh of relief at the fact--he truly didn’t think he could cope with Crowley at his most manic, long term. Crowley, when distraught, did things like accidentally trip out of Heaven or sleep for generations or try to fly off to the moon. Besides, Aziraphale needed Crowley to be of sound mind for what now, by necessity, had to be said and done.

That was the momen when the Understanding came to him, practically fully formed.

“You need minding, Crowley.”

Crowley, who had started to take a sip of his tea (to pacify the angel more than anything), snorted into his drink. He choked for a moment, settling the cup back down with a clatter. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, I know you’d never admit it. But you quite enjoy having someone or something to answer to, I should think.”

“Angel,” Crowley said, the note of warning in the word immensely clear.

Aziraphale ignored him, breezing right on by and barrelling head long into the Understanding with the same dogged dedication that Crowley himself had once applied to bringing the Arrangement into existence between them. “And, honestly, I can hardly sit about and watch you fall to pieces with every progressing year. What sort of state would you be in after another eleven years, let alone six thousand? I shudder to think.”

“I am not falling to--.”

Aziraphale cupped his tea-warmed hand around the curve of Crowley’s chin, leaving the demon silent once more, though this time in utter shock. They had touched casually over the centuries, certainly, and especially in the four years since the world had failed to end. Even so, the touch of Aziraphale’s palm over Crowley’s jaw and the brush of Crowley’s startled breath over Aziraphale’s wrist was more intimate than anything they’d yet dared.

“I feel responsible for you, you know,” Aziraphale said. “I have since the start. First, as my rival to be observed and thwarted. Then, as my coconspirator to be supported and made secret. Now, as my friend to be cherished and respected. And, in the future? Oh, Crowley, I wouldn’t dare to suppose. But I think maybe, in these dreary days, you need more than my respect and my regard. I think you need a firm hand.”

It was strange, to see Crowley’s split-pupil eyes blow out, dark and vast. Aziraphale felt certain he’d not seen them react so markedly, before. He wasn’t so much a fool to mistake the involuntary alteration now. Aziraphale shifted his hand so that his thumb trailed lightly over Crowley’s slightly parted lips. Crowley gasped and then stopped breathing altogether.

“I won’t let you shatter yourself to pieces,” Aziraphale said, tone brooking no argument (not that Crowley seemed in a position to do so, regardless). “Your penchant for self-destruction is quite alarming. Falling from Heaven and taunting your superiors and the like. I won’t be made an accomplice in any more of it. While it is in my power to do so--and it is a power I plan to possess from now until after the next time the world fails to end, I can tell you that--you will be safe from harm. Do you understand?”

Crowley swallowed hard and nodded. Aziraphale hadn’t seen the demon so dumbstruck in six-thousand years.

“I’d like to hear you say it, my dear,” Aziraphale prompted, gently.

“Y-yeah? Yeah. I understand, ang--Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale sighed softly, closing his eyes for just a minute, desperate for a tiny moment of weakness for himself. He took it greedily and then pushed it aside. He could question his own sanity and second-guess himself to his heart’s content later, much later, when alone in the quiet comfort of his bookshop once more.

“You have something in mind.” It was a statement, not a question. Crowley’s shock was bleeding into something bordering on suspicious, now. Aziraphale didn’t blame him.

“Only if you trust me,” Aziraphale said, speaking haltingly. He felt suddenly unsure of himself. Crowley did need a supportive, caring hand, of course--something he’d been sadly lacking since being violently severed from the grace of God--but was he, Aziraphale, really the best choice? “I know I can be terribly silly, and I know you feel I’m old fashioned and stodgy and--.”

“Angel,” Crowley interrupted. He was smirking, slightly. “Maybe tell me what you’re thinking before you start underselling it, eh?”

Aziraphale blushed. He realized, with a start, that his hand was still holding Crowley’s chin. He hastily pulled his fingers away and curled both of his hands in a vice-tight tangle in his lap. He stared down at those hands, sightlessly taking in his perfectly manicured nails and the soft thickness of each digit.

“You want to help me,” Crowley prompted.

Aziraphale smiled despite the butterflies suddenly doing the gavotte in his insides. He slowly looked up and met Crowley’s eyes again. The blown-out, lustful look was gone, but Crowley’s expression was still open and soft and oddly young. “I have rather made a habit of it, these past several millennia.”

Crowley’s smirk turned into a full grin. “You mean when I wasn’t helping you,” he said, but his tone was light and teasing. They bantered like that, sometimes, though rarely when as stone-cold sober as they were in this moment.

“We helped each other,” Aziraphale conceded. Now wasn’t the time to play at keeping score. He had a mission--self assigned as it might be--and he had to see it through. “You’re feeling out of control, Crowley, and in over your head. It’s entirely warranted, I would think, all things considered. We are in uncharted waters, these days. But you’ve also a nasty habit of getting over your head and promptly allowing yourself to drown in it.”

Crowley opened his mouth, apparently to argue or retort in some way. Slowly, though, he shut his teeth together with a snap. He cleared this throat once, twice, and then nodded, stiffly. “All right. So?” He started to fiddle awkwardly with the handle on the small china tea cup. Aziraphale allowed it.

“You need to find some solid ground. And possibly blow off some steam while you’re at it.”

Crowley nodded again, keeping his gaze on the innards of his tea cup. Aziraphale knew he was listening closely, though.

Aziraphale took a deep breath and prayed to God--who may or may not be listening, these days--for courage as he blurted out, all in the rush: “I’ve heard that, that, ah, well, sex is quite helpful for that sort of thing.”

Crowley’s head snapped up, expression one of pure shock. “You what?”

“Hear me out!” Aziraphale snapped, putting up his palms in defense.

“I am hearing you out,” Crowley replied, clearly agitated. He looked about one heartbeat away from going back to his garden and tearing into the sad remains of his dead plants. “I’m just wondering if you’re hearing you, right now. Aziraphale, have you ever even--I mean, do you even know--?”

Aziraphale sniffed, hands dropping to his lap and then running over his knees and then, fretfully, picking up his tea and putting it back down again before he managed, weakly, “Well, I’ve certainly read up extensively on the subject.”

Crowley buried his face in his hands. A muffled half-laugh escaped his self-made mask before he drug his hands down his face with a loud, breathy sigh. “Angel. I appreciate the offer, I think, but that’s really not what we--.”

“I think you would be an excellent submissive,” Aziraphale broke through, impatiently.

Crowley blinked, very slowly, like a cat. “Pardon?”

“What I’ve in mind doesn’t have to be sexual,” Aziraphale pressed, “I thought you’d prefer it that way, but I also, of course, understand if you don’t find me especially--.”

“That’s not...it’s not like that,” Crowley interrupted, speaking as if the words hurt to say.

Aziraphale waved him off. “Regardless. I think you would find solace in being able to, ah, hand the reins over, so to speak. Not always, of course, but when you start to feel--well, like you felt when you demolished your plants, I suspect.”

Crowley winced at the reminder, his gaze shooting guiltily toward the garden room. “It was a bad day,” he admitted, uncomfortably.

“When was it?” Aziraphale asked. He’d have a better idea of how Crowley had been spiraling, perhaps, knowing when all of Crowley’s frustrations had come to a head. Crowley loved his plants (he tortured them because he cared). To have destroyed them, he must have been pushed to his breaking point and then some. And Aziraphale hadn’t noticed. Well. He’d noticed now, and that was what mattered.

Crowley shrugged. “The first time, I broke an orchid in her pot-- it was a few months ago. She wasn’t taking the unexpected chill well and was starting to droop. Usually, I’d shout the wilt right out of them, but...I don’t know. I just started to think about how useless it would be to waste all that effort in growing the damn things if....”

“We’re still here,” Aziraphale reminded. “The whole of Creation is still here.”

Crowley nodded, but he didn’t actually seem convinced. “I’ve not felt entirely ‘here,’ lately.”

Aziraphale breathed out slowly, refusing to let the casual admission break his resolve. “I’m worried about you,” he said, baldly. “I haven’t been this terrified for you since you first asked me to get you holy water. Crowley, please, you have to promise me--.”

“I told you, that was for insurance. And I needed it, didn’t I?”

“That’s not what this is about. You’re--you looked like this during the plague, Crowley. And the Spanish Inquisition. And the night they gave you the baby to pass along. I’ve seen this in you so many times, and it’s always right in the middle of something terrible, only this time--.”

“--This time nothing’s wrong.” Crowley hissed air through his teeth and ground his palms hard into his eyes until they watered. He didn’t bother to wipe the tears away. “I hear you. I get it. ...Fuck.”

“Trauma works like that, sometimes. According to what I’ve read on the subject, I mean.”

Crowley’s lips twitched up briefly. “Of course.”

“I mean to say, it’s not unexpected that you might be in a, ah, agitated state, even though the immediate danger has passed.”

“I get it, Angel. It’s the part where you apparently intend to shag it out of me that’s got me baffled.”

Aziraphale’s face went hot. “That’s not what I said. Not exactly. What I said was that you’d likely benefit from a...particular type of intimate relationship.”

Crowley apparently decided to throw him a bone, thank goodness. “You don’t seem like the Dom type.”

Aziraphale sniffed. “I am sure I’m quite capable.” He paused and then admitted, a little less defensively. “It feels rather natural, where you’re concerned. I told you. You need a firm hand. And I want you to feel safe. I desperately want that for you.”

“Your tea is gone cold,” Crowley replied, apropos of nothing. He flicked a finger and both of their mugs started gently steaming again. “Drink it. Drink it and...let me think, all right?”

Aziraphale smiled, relaxing slightly at the promising turn of events; at least Crowley hadn’t shut him down with an outright ‘no.’ Then again, Crowley rarely refused to listen to him outright. If he had, they might have never managed to come to the Arrangement in the first place, let alone sustain it for so many years.

Aziraphale mused on that in silence while drinking his tea. That was the crux of it, wasn’t it? While an outsider might have viewed the Arrangement as quintessentially lazy--a pact born out of the desperation of two overworked agents desiring of an easy ride--the work involved in maintaining such a truce had been extensive, if not traditionally so. True, it had been much easier to tempt and thwart and whatnot willingly than fight tooth and nail for the high ground for so many years. But, in the end, preserving a true moral balance and keeping each other happy and supported in their respective work had been a massive undertaking. It had required transparency and compromise and a level of management that would have made Aziraphale’s superiors weep.

It had been like a marriage, in a way. Taking and giving as equally as possible and making up the difference when it was not. Falling into terrible arguments as their values and needs inevitably conflicted only to learn, slowly, how to navigate those quarrels and how to resolve them in a manner that lessened the emotional damages and increased the chances of equitable results. Learning to enjoy the fruits of their labors together, just two faces in the crowds of humanity who they, unnoticed, influenced day after day (to no end, of course, all things being balanced, if they did their tasks right). Aziraphale smiled warmly as he re-filled his tea.

Crowley remained silent and pensive, tapping his fingertips on the kitchen counter for a long time, eyes staring sightlessly out into nothingness as he obviously lost himself deep in thought. At one point, he abruptly stood up from the table (Aziraphale went to follow him but was shushed back) and disappeared only to return a few minutes later with a paper notebook and a pen in hand.

“These things require contracts. Probably not formally, but, well...I miss the paperwork, to be honest.”

Aziraphale stared at his friend, feeling as if he’d missed a crucial step in the conversation. “What?”

Crowley all but rolled his eyes. “We need to talk about boundaries and preferences and things. Keep up.”

“You’re...my word, really?” Aziraphale couldn’t help the beaming grin growing across his face. “Well, I’m quite surprised, honestly. I thought we’d be talking around this for weeks.”

Crowley shook his head. “You’re right. Everything’s been...well, I’d say ‘hellish,’ but…”

Aziraphale offered small laugh at the weak joke. Crowley acknowledged it with a shrug and went on. “I trust you. You’re the only person in the whole of Creation, in fact, whom I do. And that in and of itself ought to be enough to consider it, just ‘cos you asked me. But even then, you’re right. I’m falling to bits. And I don’t want to. And if you think this will help, then I’m willing to give it a go.”

Crowley tapped the lined paper with the head of his pen. “But I want to do it right. I don’t want you to, to--I want this to be beneficial for the both of us. Enjoyable, even.”

Aziraphale nodded. “Yes, of course, my dear; I’d hardly expect less from you.”

Crowley smirked softly, shaking his head in wonder. “You’re always doing that, lately. Giving me the benefit of the doubt like I’m not the capital-E Enemy.”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale admonished, quite taken aback. “But you aren’t the Enemy. You certainly aren’t now, and even long before this whole venture, you know that I--.”

“Sure. But you didn’t used to trust me. Not entirely. You knew what I was and what you were and--.”

Aziraphale sighed and interrupted Crowley by yanking the notebook and pen out of his hands. “You have horrific handwriting. You may dictate. I will keep the record.”

“Angel--.”

“--Things are different, now,” Aziraphale said, firmly, his eyes hard. “Crowley, I refuse to make a single step forward into this Understanding until you tell me, genuinely, that you know that things are different, now, and we are, unequivocally, on the same side. Heaven and Hell be, be, d-damned.” Aziraphale winced and reflexively glanced fretfully upwards. No lightning struck him immediately down, however, so he relaxed.

Crowley guffawed quietly and pushed the plate of biscuits closer to Aziraphale’s reach. He waited for the angel to take one of the sweets and nibble on it a bit before speaking. His yellow eyes matched Aziraphale’s, entirely unwavering. “I know things are different now. I know we’re on the same side. Our side. And no one else’s. I know.”

Aziraphale, mollified, swallowed the last crumbs of the biscuit. “Good. Now then. Let’s start with expectations overall, shall we?” And Aziraphale, in a hand so clear and precise it was practically calligraphy, deftly wrote “The Understanding” in an elegant loop across the top of the page.

--

It’s a dense document (and a living one; one can hardly account for all eventualities one afternoon over tea, even if one is technically ancient and forever and slightly more all-knowing than most) when done. Crowley insists on their both signing it, and Aziraphale can’t shake the suspicion that he just wants to see their names written out together side by side.

“When do we start?” Crowley asks, his tone carefully neutral.

Aziraphale pokes the tip of the pen at a few choice lines. “Well, based on this bit, we won’t ever really stop.”

Crowley shakes his head. “You’ve always been bossy; that won’t change anything.”

Aziraphale snorts. He doesn’t take exception to the statement; he’s sure from the demon’s perspective it’s true--working as an agent of Heaven did require a certain level of righteousness, after all. He couldn’t have let Crowley slither over the top of him all the time! Aziraphale catches himself in the thought and blushes.

They’d decided, in the course of working on the documentation, not to rule out the possibility of sex.

“If you feel that way about it, I’m not sure we were clear enough in the language use,” Aziraphale pretends to fret, already pulling forth a clean sheet of paper as if intending to start a new draft.

Crowley groans. “No, stop. Stop, it’s fine, it’s fine. I understand the rules. I know it’s not just you being your usual holier-than-thou self.”

Aziraphale smiles, letting the pretense fall. He sets the notebook aside and places the pen carefully on top of it. “My only objective, my dear, in all of this, is to make sure that you feel secure. We’ve decided that means bullying you a bit through the difficult things.”

Difficult things like not sleeping his eternity away and not drinking himself to oblivion and not destroying the fragile, living things he has taken under his care in a fit of pique. Difficult things like finding his place in a world that no longer wants or needs his influence to continue spinning; neither Hell nor Heaven have sent them a directive of any kind in four years, and they’ve stopped performing miracles and temptations accordingly. Aziraphale had simply doubled his focus on his beloved simple pleasures, delving with guiltless fervor into his books and foods and material things; he had not minded the forced retirement a bit. Crowley, however, is different. Crowley is always different.

“I understand,” Crowley repeats, with emphasis.

“That’s because you’re so clever,” Aziraphale says, without even thinking about it. Crowley is clever, after all. It’s just that usually he’d applied that whizbang brain to pranks and evilness, and Aziraphale had rarely had the chance to express his admiration when that was the case, for obvious reasons related to professionalism and common decency.

Which is why, perhaps, Crowley goes still with surprise at the errant compliment. His eyes have that same blown-out, achingly vulnerable look to them as they’d had when Aziraphale had touched his lips. Aziraphale takes in the sight for a long beat and then slowly turns to the document and the discarded pen. “Well, that’s something to put at the top of the preferences bit, I’d think.”

Crowley, at his words, blinks out of his state of brain-shorted surprise. “Hm? What?”

“Praise, Crowley. Genuine, earned praise. Not route commendations for actions you’ve lied about. I think you might need more of it.” (By which he meant “I think you get off on it,” but Aziraphale, for all that the document of their Understanding did not shirk on the vulgar details, wasn’t about to say such a thing out loud, especially not to Crowley’s face.)

“It’s getting late,” Aziraphale remarks, getting to his feet and stretching the kinks from his back. Crowley follows suit. It’s well past dinner time, but he doesn’t suppose either of them are hungry; it’s been a trying, if productive, day. “You should get some sleep.”

Crowley smirks. “Is that an order, Angel?”

Aziraphale sighs. “Have I any hope whatsoever of you taking this seriously?”

Crowley shrugs. “You know how I am. I’ve been under a so-called ‘firm hand’ for six thousand years; I didn’t make it easy on them.”

Aziraphale purses his lips. He doesn’t care at all to be blatantly compared to Crowley’s superiors. “This is not like that.”

Crowley holds up his hands in defense. “I know. I really do. It’s just...I’m already chafing a bit, that’s all.”

Aziraphale approaches Crowley, a distance of a few short steps, and once more cups his hand around Crowley’s jaw. Crowley breathes out slowly and closes his eyes, reflexively leaning into the tender touch. “Your superiors wanted you to do their bidding for their own purposes. I have no desire to follow their lead. What I tell you to do, my dear, I will do always with your interests in mind. And if you are uncomfortable at any time, you know what you do.”

Crowley opens his eyes the barest slit and closes them again. Presumptively, he leans more of his weight into Aziraphale’s palm and nuzzles the flesh there with soft lips. Aziraphale holds his ground, though it’s a near thing. “I remember. ‘Red, yellow, green.’ Right now is ‘green,’ in case you missed it.”

Aziraphale laughs, in part because it’s amusing and in part because Crowley’s tongue against his thumb is soft and ticklish. “Thank you for clarifying, all the same.” Aziraphale gently pulls his hand away, steadying Crowley’s shoulder with the other to keep the man from leaning himself right onto his face. “We can experiment more together tomorrow. I want you to get some sleep. You’re so tired, dear; I hate to see it.”

Crowley’s shoulders lift toward his ears defensively. “You don’t have to….” he trails off.

“Do what?”

Crowley shrugs, looking away for a moment before forcing himself to meet Aziraphale’s eyes. “You’re so soft about it, Aziraphale. Is it supposed to be like that?”

Aziraphale hurumphs and grabs the Understanding off the kitchen counter, waving it in front of Crowley’s eyes. “It is supposed to be whatever we decided it would be, Crowley. Honestly, I hardly--” Aziraphale’s vaguely irritated expression suddenly falls, his hand dropping low, the paper rustling. “Crowley. ...Crowley, do you--that is to say, would you prefer if I were to be...more, ah, uhm--?” ‘Aggressive’ is the only word that comes to his mind, and he knows it’s not what either of them means.

Crowley closes his eyes as if in pain. “Dammit, Aziraphale. Don’t...don’t ask me that, all right? I don’t want to know what I’d answer.” Crowley paused, working his mouth, obviously struggling to put together the words. “Hell has a tendency to seep into you. Maybe they’ve made me...I don’t know.”

Aziraphale remembers a dead dove springing back to life under Crowley’s gentle fingertips. He remembers Adam’s small hand and how Crowley’s had dwarfed it, how Crowley had given that tiny hand a slow squeeze and promised that everything would be ok, again, if Adam would only try. He remembers a thousand smaller and larger moments scattered throughout thousands of years. Crowley, scooping books of prophecy from the hands of men who would use the words to build the world in their own tainted image. Crowley, handing a grieving mother a newly breathing baby while Aziraphale stood by and pretended not to notice. Crowley, performing Hamlet to make Shakespeare’s story soar (and make Aziraphale smile, in the process). Crowley, his eyes absolutely haunted, health utterly shattered, clinging to Aziraphale’s shoulders and begging him to please, Angel, please stop letting them die.

“There’d be no shame in it, if you’d prefer something less...soft,” Aziraphale reminds him. “But, my dear, I’ve known you a long time. I don’t think harshness and pain are what you desire. I rather think you’ve had quite enough of it already, in fact, and you never took any pleasure in it that I could ever see.”

Crowley’s shoulders drop, as do his eyes. His hands start to shake and Aziraphale immediately grasps them in his own, weathering the tremors, rubbing the chilly fingers between his palms until they warm again. “I didn’t mean to Fall,” he says. Aziraphale knows this. Crowley always says as much when he drinks a bit more than he can reasonably handle. But he doesn’t interrupt, all the same. “I really didn’t. I loved Him. As much as anybody else, I swear. I just wanted to know--.” Crowley’s voice breaks on a pained sound. Aziraphale winces sympathetically and pulls him into an embrace. They’ve never hugged, before. Aziraphale tightens the hold at the thought. Six thousand years, and he’s never given the poor demon so much as a hug.

Perhaps cruelty toward Crowley comes more easily to Aziraphale than he’d like to admit.

But not anymore. That’s not what the Understanding is about. Aziraphale is the first to pull away from the hug, and he has to try it twice before Crowley’s clenching fingers release him and he is willing to let go.

“Go to sleep, Crowley. Tomorrow morning I shall expect you to pick me up at the bookshop first thing.”

Crowley opens his mouth and Aziraphale can clearly see the ‘why?’ form on his lips. Abruptly, Crowley switches tracks. “All right.”

“Good boy,” Aziraphale murmurs, and he means it. Crowley shudders bodily at the simple words and Aziraphale’s heart aches with it all the long walk back to his ‘shop.

--

Alone in the comfort and safety of the ‘shop, Aziraphale lives up to the promise he had made to himself. He curls up on a soft loveseat in the back of the ‘shop and hugs a pillow to his chest, staring off into space, ignoring the way his eyes keep welling up with unwanted tears. He doesn’t regret his decision, the ensuing conversation, or the Understanding as much as he’d expected at first. Regardless, he feels more than a bit shaken in the aftermath. He had no idea how viscerally Crowley would react to those first few, tentative overtures. He had had no idea how much Crowley needed. Even more surprisingly, how much Aziraphale needed in return. Crowley’s lips against his fingertips, the way his eyes had gone so soft and wide, the way he’d trembled from head to toe at the simplest expression of regard--it all filled Aziraphale up with a dizzying mix of awe and pride and sorrow. He imagines the sorrow will ease the longer the enact the Understanding between them--the more Crowley acclimates to being cared for, to being relieved of the burdens he has been amassing on his shoulders for thousands of years. Even so, now, in the moment, it hurts Aziraphale terribly, most especially because he’d been so oblivious of it before.

“Of course,” Aziraphale reasons to himself out loud, “There’s not much either of us could have done, before. An Arrangement is one thing, but fraternization is quite another.”

But was it, truly? Would his superiors have noticed or cared? Would have been so much worse, really, to have allowed Crowley the barest of affection along with his wary trust? Certainly, they were friendly. And, obviously, Aziraphale had harbored certain tender emotions toward the demon for a long time--since the Blitz, at the least, and likely even before. And, yet, he had often pushed the demon aside. He had judged him harshly for so many minor crimes, over the years, subjecting him to the righteous indignation of Heaven for simply doing his job, and not even doing it very well, to be honest. Crowley always took the loophole to complete his missions; when ordered to cause widespread devastation and mayhem, Crowley tangled up roadways and caused accounting errors instead of inciting riots and encouraging violence. His hands were not entirely free of blood, of course, but neither were Aziraphale’s by any stretch--the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the fundamentalists calling for the heads of their enemies on a silver plate. None of it had been Aziraphale’s influence, exactly, but he’d been there, and he hadn’t stopped it. Heaven hadn’t wished him to waste his time.

Aziraphale leans his head back into the soft cushion behind it and sighs out long and low. He’s trailing his thoughts around in useless circles, and there’s nothing to be done about the past. It’s done. He can only hope to remedy his errors and do better by his friend in the future. And to do that, he must learn more. With a barely smothered yawn--which startles Aziraphale right out of his skin, he does it so rarely--the angel scrambles to his feet and goes off in search of the proper books.

--

“Did you sleep?” Aziraphale demands the very minute he settles into the Bentley’s passenger seat and gets Crowley in his line of sight. The demon is wearing his glasses, hiding his eyes, but Aziraphale doesn’t need to see them to know the answer to his question. Crowley looks as keyed up this morning as he had the day before, if not more so. Despite his agitation, however--exhibited in twitchy fingers and the unsettled set of his jaw--his shoulders slump forward as if burdened by boulders, and his reaction time to Aziraphale’s arrival and subsequent demand is sluggish at best.

Crowley clenches the steering wheel in his hands and looks away toward the road, starting the car and pulling away from the curb in lieu of answering.

Aziraphale’s exasperated cry of “Crowley!” builds in his brain but dies on his lips. That’s the reaction he might of had before, certainly. The last four years especially had been almost nothing but having Crowley neatly sidestep his advice and inquiries only to slip away with nothing more than Aziraphale’s mild disapproval at his back. But that was before the Understanding. Aziraphale clears his throat and sits back silently, instead. If Crowley is surprised by the lack of dismayed cry, he doesn’t let on.

Aziraphale patiently waits for Crowley to park until he says anything. Crowley’s turning to depart the vehicle and step inside the restaurant at which Aziraphale wishes to break their fast when Aziraphale reaches out and stops him with a gentle touch of his hand on Crowley’s arm. “You didn’t do what I told you to do,” Aziraphale says. He keeps his tone careful and neutral. The Understanding isn’t about punishment, exactly. Punishment is the kind of thing that happens to agents of Hell who aren’t so good at loopholes; Crowley has been living with the low level fear of that punishment for his whole existence--Aziraphale has no desire to kindle that fear between them, as well. The Understanding does not, however, allow for misbehavior to go unremarked. “Why didn’t you sleep when I told you to, Crowley?”

Crowley lets out a shaky breath and slowly turns so that he is once more sitting properly in his seat. His posture screams ‘relief’ in every line, and Aziraphale has to close his eyes for a moment against it. Crowley is, as ever, testing the limits. Trust is meant to go both ways, but it seems that Crowley had not quite trusted Aziraphale to follow the document, even though he’d promised and signed the blasted thing. Aziraphale allows the throb of anger in him to dissipate and drift away. It’s Crowley’s nature to be suspicious. It’s not his fault he felt he had to break the rule in order to prove the consequences are real. If anything, this gives them an opportunity to explore the ‘retributions’ part of the document. It’s earlier than Aziraphale wants, but he’s not unprepared.

“I...decided my time was better spent cleaning up after the plants, instead,” Crowley says, so hollowly that Aziraphale knows he’s not entirely lying. The plants are probably in the bin as they speak. But that’s not the real reason why. Aziraphale decides, in that moment, not to press the issue. This is going to be new and difficult enough for them both without digging into Crowley’s deliberate attempts to poke holes in Aziraphale’s resolve.

“A logical choice,” Aziraphale admits. “But it’s not what I told you to do.”

“Am I in trouble?” Crowley asks, and he shoots a weak, false version of his usual smirk the angel’s way. Aziraphale doesn’t flinch under the sight of it, as much as he wants to. Things are so much worse than he’d even thought yesterday. Oh, dear Lord, what if Crowley isn’t the only one over his head, here? What if Aziraphale isn’t as prepared as he thinks? Books are all well and good, but no one’s ever written the book on the inside of Crowley’s wily brain or the even more precious inside of his tender, bruised heart and--.

“Angel?” Crowley presses, and his exhausted demeanor goes sharp and ridgid with concern.

“Red,” Aziraphale blurts out, and then flushes immediately. Dammit.

Crowley’s concern doesn’t soften, but he does lift his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Whoa, hey. I thought those words were mine?”

“The document is clear that the safe words are to be used by anyone in need at any time. We chose that wordage for a reason,” Aziraphale says. His voice sounds tight and prissy even to his own ears. His fists clench against his knees.

“All right,” Crowley agrees, voice low. “All right, Angel. I know you don’t need to, but I’d feel better if you breathed a few times, anyway.”

Aziraphale does, slowly, and it does help.

“What happened?” Crowley asks.

They are still sitting in the car. They are hogging up valuable parking space in ever-busy London, right outside of one of the most popular dining venues in the city. Aziraphale finds his brain fretting at those details in lieu of focusing on the real, more worrisome concerns he should be thinking about.

“I don’t want to hurt you, my dear,” Aziraphale finally says, breaking the silence.

Crowley frowns. “Yeah. The contract says that pretty clearly. Have you changed your mind? Are you going to hurt me for not sleeping?”

“No! No. Absolutely not. I mean that I am afraid of hurting you accidentally. Emotionally or mentally. Maybe physically, although honestly I hadn’t even considered that, yet.”

“I understand the document, Angel. I fucked up. You get to follow through. I’m not scared.”

“I know. I just...I feel out of my depth. I’m working on book knowledge alone, Crowley. And while I would typically put a large amount of faith in that, it’s an entirely different matter when my objective so thoroughly involves the state of your well being. I am dismally unqualified for this.”

Crowley smirks slightly. He reaches out, grabs Aziraphale’s hand. Aziraphale jumps a bit. It’s not usual for Crowley to instigate these awkward, newborn physical intimacies between them. Crowley interlocks their fingers. The pressure is marvelous. Aziraphale smiles down at the sight and then meets Crowley’s eyes when the demon clears his throat. “We have been running around being ‘dismally unqualified’ for years, Aziraphale. We still had a not so minor part in saving the world, recently. If we can do that, I think we can do this and get out on the other side all right, if not better than when we went in.”

“Are you certain? Because, truly, we can light the damn thing on fire for all I care and--.”

Crowley doesn’t kiss him. The Understanding is pretty clear about consent--largely, that it’s to be at the forefront of their minds at all times, especially for gestures and actions that humanity has largely deemed more sexual and romantic than entirely platonic when enacted between two adult-man-shaped beings. He does, however, lean his face so close to Aziraphale’s that their breathe mingles between them and Aziraphale can see the tiny hints of Crowley’s eyes through the lenses of his shades. “I want this. I think I need it. And if you think you can handle it, I think you need it, too.”

Aziraphale blinks slowly, taking that in. “All right, then. We’ll get back to our discussion in a moment. Can I kiss you, first?”

Crowley smirks again. Aziraphale used to hate that smug, smarmy look. Now it makes warmth unfurl in his chest. “Kiss me before you spank me, Angel?”

Aziraphale rolls his eyes. “Spanking was in the ‘uncertain’ list; we’re certainly not starting there for your first time.”

“Our first time,” Crowley points out. “You can, though.”

“Hm?” Aziraphale has quite lost the train of this conversation. Crowley’s eyes so close to his own are distracting.

“Kiss me, Aziraphale. For G-for S--...just do it.”

Aziraphale kisses him. He knows it’s not much of a kiss, in terms of passion. It’s downright chaste compared to most of the necking Aziraphale has caught various humans engaging in at St. James’s Park. But Crowley’s lips are soft and warm and they fit perfectly against Aziraphale’s own even as Aziraphale parts his lips and Crowley does the same and they alter the angle of their chins and oh.

“I see the appeal, I think,” Aziraphale murmurs, as he pulls back.

Crowley’s grin is...goofy. Aziraphale has never seen the like of it before. He likes it, though the expression itself is sadly brief; it melts into Crowley’s usual, softer smugness. “Can we eat breakfast first before we talk about my puni--.”

No punishments,” Aziraphale reminds him, sharply.

“Fine. The ‘consequences,’ then. Can we talk about it after breakfast? This body is starved, Angel. I’m going to fall away to nothingness.”

Crowley rarely partakes of meals with Aziraphale. Even when he orders things, he mostly pushes it around his plate. He’s obviously buying himself time, but Aziraphale does mind. He needs the reprieve, too.

“You old serpent,” Aziraphale sighs. “You’ll never stop tempting me.”

“I really consider this to be more of a ‘thwarting’ situation,” Crowley argues as they step out of the Bentley and into the restaurant.

Aziraphale has crepes with chocolate sauce and Crowley doesn’t order anything but coffee, though he does rub a spot of sauce off of the corner of Aziraphale’s mouth, at the end, and licks it off the pad of his own thumb.

Aziraphale may make an undignified noise.

Now that sex is on the metaphorical table and a kiss has been shared, Crowley has become infuriating and frustrating in entirely new (and exciting) ways.

--

Crowley stumbles not once but twice from the Bentley to Crowley’s apartment door. Aziraphale would typically shrug it off as the effect of alcohol, but neither of them drank anything stronger than coffee and an orange juice at breakfast. Crowley is stumbling because his body and mind are used to consistent rest, and he has been denying his vessel the opportunity for far too long. He’s exhausted and suffering for it, and it only serves to remind Aziraphale of how blatantly Crowley had disregarded his orders the night before.

“Kneel down,” Aziraphale says the moment they’ve passed the threshold and the door to Crowley’s uninhabitable apartment has shut behind them. (It occurs to Aziraphale that, should this continue, he would quite like to find a different venue for their sessions together; Crowley’s apartment fills Aziraphale with dread, and the bookshop is hardly the place. He makes a mental note to talk to Crowley about it later. After.)

“W--,” Crowley visibly forces himself to stop before the question leaves his lips. He knows ‘why.’ Instead, he bites his bottom lip in an uncharacteristic expression of uncertainty. “Here?”

Aziraphale has to admit he has a point. The foyer seems hardly the place. “Go into the living room. In the middle of the room.”

Crowley looks tense.

“Color, my dear?” Aziraphale, purposefully shifting his tone to be less authoritative.

“Yellow. I just. What if I fuck up the puni--the consequences? Do I get in trouble twice as badly?”

Aziraphale makes a concentrated effort not to let the questions put him into a spiral of self-doubt. The Understanding doesn’t cover this, but they can add it to the document later. Right now, they can talk about it.

“Let’s sit down in the kitchen and chat, for a minute.”

They sit. They sit on the awful, tall bar stools and Aziraphale longs for the soft and squishy loveseat from the ‘shop. They definitely need a new place to share time together.

Crowley hands Aziraphale the Understanding and also the pen. “So?”

“Well, first off, I don’t think we should consider any of this ‘fucking up,’” Aziraphale quotes dryly. “As far as I’m concerned, last night you simply made a choice not to follow a directive. You’re going to experience consequences as a result. But you didn’t fail, Crowley. It wasn’t a test. You do know that, don’t you?”

Crowley winces. “I didn’t get caught up in cleaning up the plants,” he admits, unhappiness in every line of his posture. “I wanted to do it wrong. I wanted to see firsthand what would happen.”

“I know, dear.”

“Oh.”

Crowley looks like he desperately wants to fidget with something, so Aziraphale miracles them up some tea--just the cups and the pot full of black tea, this time. Crowley relaxes as Aziraphale hands him a cup. He fiddles with it but doesn’t drink.

“This isn’t about giving you opportunities to feel ashamed or...or unforgiveable,” Aziraphale reminds him, gently. He hasn’t started writing, yet, but he wonders if there are some areas in the existing Understanding that should be underlined. Maybe twice. “I’m trying to build you something stable. Something you can rely on.”

“So, what happens if I do something wrong during the consequences?”

“Improvisation on my part, I imagine,” Aziraphale replies, with a small smile. “But, remember, I won’t hurt you. And your safe words are always going to be available, and I will always listen to them and respond immediately. The moment you say ‘yellow,’ we pause and talk it out. The moment you say ‘red,’ we stop.”

“What’s to prevent me from saying ‘red’ and ducking out of the pu--the consequences completely?”

Aziraphale pinches the bridge of his nose.

Crowley makes a pained noise. “I’m not trying to be difficult.”

Aziraphale waves at his cup of tea. “Just drink for a moment, please. I need to think about how to get this through your charming but also thick skull.”

Crowley snorts a soft huff of laughter and obligingly drinks his tea while Aziraphale puts words together in his mind.

Finally, Aziraphale takes a deep drink from his own cup and then puts it down. “How do you feel about the fact that I told you to do something--out of care and concern for your well being, I might add--and you ignored it?”

Crowley doesn’t seem to have expected such a question. He grimaces and reaches up, pulling off his glasses and setting them aside. His eyes are worse than Aziraphale had feared, now sporting dark circles in addition to being bloodshot. “I feel guilty.” Crowley doesn’t expand on that. It’s enough of a concession to get the demon to admit he feels anything so undemonic as guilt at all.

“I know it has been quite some time, my dear, but don’t you remember the concept of absolution?” Aziraphale questions, voice soft, eyes gentle.

Crowley flinches bodily at the question, gasping in a shaky breath. “Nobody can give me that, Angel.”

“I can, though. I can, for this. In my own way, I can absolve you of the troublesome sin of failing to take care of something I hold precious and dear. Don’t you see that?”

Crowley’s eyes rapidly well up with tears. He ducks his head, hiding them away. “Fuck. Fuck, Aziraphale, this isn’t--you’re not being fair.”

“You can say ‘red,’ and we’ll call off the whole thing. I’ll even go home right now, if you wish, and leave you to whatever you please.”

“Don’t leave,” Crowley says, immediately. He looks up in fear, in fact, at the suggestion, and wraps a hand around Aziraphale’s wrist. “Not right now. I can’t--.”

“Of course, my dear. I can stay, if you’d prefer.” He pauses. “Do you want to say ‘red’?”

Crowley rubs at his eyes with his free hand. “No.”

“All right,” Aziraphale agrees. He would have agreed in the exact same tone in the exact same words either way. “Are you ready now or do you need a moment?”

“I want--can you write what you need to in the document while I finish my tea, first?”

Aziraphale agrees and does just that.

By the time Crowley has finished his tea, he looks a bit damp about the cheeks but otherwise composed. When Aziraphale reaches out for his hands, he takes them. Aziraphale leads them both into the living room.

“Kneel, please,” Aziraphale says again.

Crowley does, this time with no words between them.

“Good boy,” Aziraphale praises, gently. He runs a hand through Crowley’s hair with the words and Crowley shudders as he had the night before.

Aziraphale steps back. He needs a second to get his head in the right space. He takes the opportunity to divest himself of his suit jacket and to roll up his sleeves. He should probably do this in Crowley’s line of sight, next time--Crowley is looking tenser by the minute with Aziraphale moving, unseen, behind him. “It’s all right, Crowley. I’m just removing my jacket. It might get warm. Do you want me to take off your jacket, too?”

Crowley hesitates.

“There’s not a right or wrong answer, dear,” Aziraphale says, faintly amused.

Crowley sighs and relaxes a bit with the assurance. “Yes.”

Aziraphale takes wide steps around the bare floor (honestly, Crowley’s flat is so spartan) and sinks to his own knees in front of the demon. Gently, he unbuttons the button of Crowley’s dark suit jacket and ghosts his hands under the open sides. His palms pass lightly around Crowley’s ribs and the demon shivers at even that small touch. Aziraphale makes a mental note; for all that these sessions are important, the most important thing is to start engaging in regular physical affection with his friend. Crowley needs it in a way that Aziraphale has never experienced himself or even considered. Aziraphale knows what happens to touch starved humans. He can’t imagine that strange, uniquely human demons are much different.

“Color?”

Crowley blinks, likely surprised to be asked. “Green?”

Aziraphale snorts softly. “That doesn’t assure me, oddly enough. Color?”

Crowley smirks at him. He leans forward and gets up in Aziraphale’s face. “Green.”

Aziraphale blows a huff of air in Crowley’s eyes, forcing him to pull back. “Take this seriously.”

Crowley’s expression goes uncertain at that. “Yellow.”

Aziraphale immediately stills his hands, not touching Crowley but also not pulling entirely out of his coat, either. “Go ahead,” he prompts.

“How seriously is not seriously enough? Am I supposed to play act or something?”

Aziraphale bites back the compulsive desire to groan in exasperation. Crowley isn’t baiting him, he knows. He’s legitimately confused and, as always, full of questions. Aziraphale can’t possibly fault him for that. No one should have ever faulted him for that. (The fact that this thought alone is terribly blasphemous does not even occur Aziraphale; he’s quite past blasphemy where Crowley is concerned.)

“Not right now. We can certainly talk about, ah, roleplaying, if you’d want to, sometime.”

Crowley’s expression goes very wicked very fast. “We used to do that all the time, you know. All those pseudonyms throughout the years. Meeting at local watering holes, pretending to be just more of the common people. Mhm. I’d like that.”

Aziraphale’s face goes hot. He clears his throat twice in a row and can still only manage a small “shall we continue?”

Crowley shakes his head. “I don’t understand how I’m supposed to act, right now.”

“You don’t have to act. Be yourself. Only slightly quieter and vastly more obedient.”

“You’re going to--look, can I say ‘punish’? It’s impossible to talk around it like this, and I’m not made of glass; I can’t handle the p-word, Angel.”

Aziraphale gives into the temptation and lets his palms rest solidly on Crowley’s ribs. His skin is warm under the fabric of his button up. Aziraphale tries to hold Crowley’s gaze but he cannot. He stares at the buttons, instead. “I’m not sure I can.”

“Oh.” Crowley says. “Hey, can we just ‘red’ out of this, for a minute?”

Aziraphale nods. He goes to move back, but Crowley’s arms loop around him and hold him in place. “No, that’s fine. Stay put. Hell, stay more put, if you want.” Crowley gently puts a hand on the back of Aziraphale’s head and guides him toward Crowley’s chest. Aziraphale makes a soft sound but allows the motion, resting his forehead against Crowley’s sternum. He closes his eyes, and it’s warm and dark under Crowley’s jacket.

“This really is giving you the screaming heebies, isn’t it?” Crowley presses.

Aziraphale makes a noise of disgust. “I wouldn’t put it like that.” He pauses. “But yes, a bit.”

“Hell has never hurt me. I’m far too slippery for them. I’ve been teased a fair bit, I suppose, but no one ever laid a hand on me. Do you know that?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale admits.

“If I wouldn’t let the hordes of Hell hurt me, does it seem likely that I’d let you? I know you’re scared of doing something wrong. I am, too, honestly--obviously. But I trust you. I wouldn’t be spending as much time trying to figure this out with you if I didn’t.”

“I want you to feel safe. Not scared,” Aziraphale argues. “‘Punishment’ is very alarming.”

“Torture is very alarming. Punishment is earned. Especially by you. I know you aren’t power hungry. I know you’re not getting your kicks off of seeing me on my knees--which is a shame, actually, ‘cos I bet I look a dish.”

Aziraphale laughs against Crowley’s chest.

“So, if I’m being punished, here, should I be acting scared?”

“Are you scared?” Aziraphale asks, sitting up. He’s worried.

Crowley bites back a sigh. He hesitates but then, gently, mimics the position Aziraphale had put him in before. His hand cups Aziraphale’s soft jaw. His thumb ghosts over the angel’s full lips. “I’m nervous. But that’s a constant state of being for me, these days. And that’s why you wanted to do this, right? To help me calm down?”

Aziraphale can’t bring himself to talk when Crowley’s thumb is pressed over his mouth, so he nods. His eyes are serious, solemn.

“Then okay. I’m wound up, and you want to unwind me. I’m not taking care of myself, and you asked me to, and I didn’t even try. If that had happened any time before our Understanding, you’d have been pissed off, right?”

Aziraphale would like to argue about the semantics, but Crowley is correct. Aziraphale does get angry when Crowley ignores his good advice and does himself harm. He nods again.

“So this is just like then. You’re angry at me for negligence. But now, you get to do something about it. That’s okay. I’m not scared of that. And you shouldn’t be, either. So...can we call it the p-word, please?”

Aziraphale sighs but nods. Crowley, perhaps only just realizing that he has been effectively muzzling Aziraphale for the last several minutes, removes his hand. “All right. I’ll have to change the wording in the document later. Color?”

Crowley licks his lips. “I don’t have to be scared?”

“You don’t need to pretend to be scared. And I don’t want you to be scared. If you become scared, you should say ‘red,’ please, so that I know, and we can stop.”

Crowley nods. He’s getting it, bit by bit. Aziraphale is, too.

“All right, Angel. Green.”

--

It goes easily, after that, at least for a bit.

Aziraphale removes Crowley’s jacket and sets it aside. He keeps his eyes on the demon as he miracles up a length of soft rope. Crowley doesn’t say anything or appear alarmed, so Aziraphale feels confident as he steps around and ties Crowley’s hands behind his back. The knot is tight but the loops around Crowley’s wrists are loose. Either way, Crowley can more than easily get out of the bounds with a mere thought; it’s the concept that counts. The ropes say ‘don’t move,’ so Crowley won’t.

“You’re terribly tired, Crowley, and I want you to sleep. But I asked you to, and you didn’t. Is that all correct?”

Crowley nods. They hadn’t talked about communication in sessions, much, but Crowley seems to prefer to treat their encounters like a church--or, perhaps, more appropriately, a library. Well, perhaps not. Regardless, he keeps his words to a minimum and speaks softly. Aziraphale finds this comforting; it makes bossing Crowley about a little easier to stomach knowing that he’s not inviting an opportunity for the old snake’s usual banter and subterfuge. Aziraphale has never seen him so quiet and compliant except right here, with him, on his knees, and the realization fills Aziraphale with a fierce joy and something else he cannot yet puzzle out.

“It hurts me when you don’t do what I tell you, my dear. It hurts me to see you hurting. Do you know that?”

Crowley’s eyebrows draw together like they do whenever he has a question, but he doesn’t tap out to ask it. He nods again, though the puzzled look lingers.

“It’s true,” Aziraphale assures him. He runs his fingers through Crowley’s hair and continues to do so, taking his time, until the tightness in Crowley’s brows eases away and the demon’s yellow eyes start to droop. “That’s it. Good boy. Just like that.”

Crowley jerks back suddenly, perhaps having caught himself on the border of falling asleep. He grimaces and sends an apologetic look toward Aziraphale. Aziraphale smiles and resumes stroking his hand with gentle pressure through Crowley’s hair. “It’s fine, my dear. It’s all right if you fall asleep.”

Crowley raises a brow at him in obvious incredulity. Falling asleep isn’t exactly the punishment he’d expected.

“You don’t want to fall asleep,” Aziraphale reminds him, speaking gently. “I’m not sure why, and I won’t ask you to explain it to me. But I know that you wouldn’t be fighting it so hard if you wanted to rest. So that’s the consequence, Crowley. You’re going to sleep, today.”

Crowley flinches back again. “Red.”

Aziraphale immediately backs off, hands lifted a bit, eyes trained on Crowley’s face, seeking signs of further distress. But Crowley just looks haunted and frustrated, like he had yesterday after the Ritz, like he did in the 14 century, like he did the night that Adam Young was brought to his unwilling arms.

“This is bullshit, Angel,” Crowley hisses. He’s angry. His anger radiates off of him almost as fully as his exhaustion had moments before.

Aziraphale finds himself scrambling backwards on the floor, back hitting up against the wall. It’s a strange, instinctive impulse he hasn’t had to act on...well, perhaps never. Not since the big black snake had first slithered up to his place at the gate, at least.

At the sight of it, all of the spitting rage leaves Crowley in a rush. “I’m sorry,” he says, choking on the words, his eyes wide. “I scared you.”

“You did,” Aziraphale agrees. His voice is higher and tighter than he’d like, betraying his fear. Having control of one’s corporal form never comes more in handy than in the face of surging adrenaline. Aziraphale struggles with it but eventually manages to convince his body’s intrinsic fight-or-flight system to put a sock in it, thank you very much.

Crowley falls back on his haunche. The ropes disappear. He rubs his hands over his face. He is the picture of bone-weariness coupled with something like defeat. “You’re just trying to help me,” Crowley mutters, but Aziraphale feels like he’s talking more to himself, at the moment.

“Do you want some tea?” Aziraphale asks, after a beat. Crowley shoots him an incredulous look again. “Ah. Yes. Perhaps later.”

“It’s nightmares,” Crowley admits, voice faintly muffled. He’s pulled his long legs up to his chest and buried his face between his knees. “I’ve been having them since Almost Armageddon. But the last few months, it’s like...like someone wants me to see something.”

“Someone?”

Crowley makes a soft, uncertain noise.

Aziraphale doesn’t know if it’s typical for their sort to dream. Crowley is the only being, ethereal or occult, he’s ever met who bothered with sleeping at all. And Crowley had, as far as Aziraphale can recall, mostly used sleep to escape, in the past. He can’t imagine Crowley would have kept the practice up as he has if he were prone to nightmares, before.

“You’ve trained your body to it,” Aziraphale says. He keeps his voice soft. It seems like a moment for softness. “You need to rest.”

“I can train my body out of it.”

“Not likely. It’s making you ill, already. You might kill your body outright. And there--my dear, there will be no more bodies issued for the likes of you and me.”

Crowley hisses out a breath. “I know. I’ve already thought about that. Extensively. I think about all of it, Angel, all the time. We’re as good as mortal, now, even if we are generally more hardy than they are. One accident with some holy water for me or infernal flame for you and that’s it. And that’s not even getting at the things that aren’t fatal but still can’t be miracled away by the likes of you and me. What if they come and grab us, eh? What if my side--or your side, for that matter; I don’t think they feel especially picky, anymore--come about and take you right under my nose? What if they rip off your wings, Angel? I can’t miracle that away. You’d be--.”

“--Stop. Crowley--.”

“--crippled and hurting and there’d be nothing I could do for you, anymore. We’re on our own side, all right, and that means there’s you and me and no one else, and--.”

“--Crowley, please--.”

“--that doesn’t even touch on what happens when they decide it’s war time again. You don’t have your sword. You gave it back. I haven’t got a weapon at all. And who knows who humanity will have to represent them otherwise--because you saw that Adam kid, he’s hardly got enough power in him now to light a match, now. So how can we possibly hope to--”

RED.”

Crowley’s jaws snap shut mid word. He blinks, as if shocked by his own immediate response, and then has the grace to look ashamed. He swallows thickly and nods. He’ll stop.

“Please. You’re making me feel rather anxious, now, old boy.”

Crowley’s shoulders go up to his ears with the guilt of that. Aziraphale gets to his feet and walks to the demon, sitting down beside him. Without further word, he pulls Crowley into a side hug, pressing his lips to Crowley’s temple. He strokes his hand over Crowley’s back and rocks them together as one a bit, back and forth and back again. They stay like that for a while, Crowley’s rigidity slowly melting out of him bit by bit.

“You can’t go on like this,” Aziraphale eventually says. “I cannot say your concern isn’t valid. It certainly is. Any or all of those terrible things make truly come to pass. But you can’t let it fester, my love. You can’t let it eat into you so. Please.”

Crowley’s hand creeps up to Aziraphale’s chest. His fingers clench into the fabric of Aziraphale’s waistcoat. “You called me something different, just then.”

“Did I?” Aziraphale hums, though he knows it. He shifts a bit to better cradle Crowley to him. He strokes the demon’s hair.

“Called m’my love,” Crowley says, voice broken by a jaw-cracking yawn.

“Hm. Well,” Aziraphale replies, non-commital. They keep rocking gently. Crowley’s head slumps, resting against Aziraphale’s chest, his grasping fingers falling to curl around his waist, instead.

“Am I?” Crowley asks a while later, question broken by deep breaths. Aziraphale suspects Crowley is smelling him. He doesn’t mind.

“Are you what?”

“Y’love,” Crowley replies, barely managing to get the word out and muffling it all the more in the fabric of Aziraphale’s clothes.

“Without doubt,” Aziraphale replies.

The only answer he gets to that is Crowley’s deep, even breaths.

Aziraphale sighs, careful not to move too much with the motion. He holds himself still and resigns himself to spending the next God only knew how many hours sitting rigid and unsupported in the middle of the sparsely furnished floor with a long, lanky demon wrapped around him like a snake, sleeping like the dead.

Definitely without doubt.”

--

Aziraphale must fall asleep. He hasn’t slept in decades, if not centuries, so coming to in such a way is disorienting, to say the least. Coming to wakefulness with a body screaming in agony is a further trial. Embarrassingly, Aziraphale whimpers as tries to wiggle his foot, which is completely asleep. His muscles burn from sitting up so long in such a terrible position, and where they don’t burn, they ache for being pressed against the hard floor for hours on end.

“‘Zira’?” Crowley hums. Aziraphale would curse himself for waking the demon up, but, honestly, if he doesn’t get out of this confounded pretzel shape immediately, he’ll--.

Crowley groans a bit, pulling himself away from Aziraphale’s body. He stretches and then rolls up onto his feet as if it is nothing whatsoever. Aziraphale glares at him, absolutely seething with unangelic envy and maybe a touch of wrath.

Crowley blinks down at him. He’s still a bit hazy from sleep, perhaps. On seeing Aziraphale (and the look on his face, no doubt), the demon grimaces. “C’mere,” he offers, and leans over Aziraphale. Crowley loops his arms under the angel’s and pulls him to his feet in one fluid motion. Aziraphale yelps and hisses through his teeth as his body protests such awful, horrible, ill treatment.

“Did a number on you, huh, Angel?” Crowley asks. And in the past such a question would be dripping with amusement at Aziraphale’s expense, taking a bit of gleeful pleasure in his minor pains. Now, though, Crowley just seems worried. He loops his hand around Aziraphale’s wrist and gives him a tug. “C’mon.”

It takes Aziraphale a long time to realize that they are heading to Crowley’s bedroom. He’s never been in it, before.

“Lie down,” Crowley says, giving Aziraphale a push.

Too grumpy and too pained to argue, Aziraphale lets himself fall face first into the made bed, fully clothed as he is. Crowley makes a soft sound of amusement and deftly miracles Aziraphale’s outer layers away, leaving him in his modest boxers and undershirt. It’s not the first time Aziraphale has been clothed in such a manner in front of the demon (a lot can happen in six-thousand years), so he can’t find it in himself to complain. Besides, it is far more comfortable.

“Budge over,” Crowley says, poking Aziraphale’s arm. The angel groans and grumbles but does as told. The bed dips a bit as Crowley sits next to him on it. “I want to touch you. Can I do that?”

Aziraphale blinks into the pillow. It’s not a usual kind of request, but it’s more typical of their current relationship all the time, so he shrugs (and then whimpers as the motion pulls at the tight muscles in his neck) and manages a muffled “green.”

Crowley hums in response. A moment later, his thumbs dig hard into the muscles on either side of Aziraphale’s spine, right at the base of his skull, and Aziraphale practically melts into the bed for the relief the pressure sends all down his aching back. “Yeah. Really did a number on you. Next time you want to tempt me into a nap, Angel, start on a mattress, eh?”

Aziraphale is beyond responding. He just moans softly as Crowley takes his clever fingers from his head to shoulders and down his arms. He moves to his legs and rubs the feeling gently back into his feet.

“All good, now?”

Aziraphale manages something that he’s almost certain sounds like a noise of agreement.

Crowley laughs--a good variety, warm and genuine and not at all raw. The mattress dips again as he spreads himself out beside Aziraphale on the bed. “I’m going back to sleep. Please stay?”

Aziraphale is in no position to move even if he wanted to, but he doesn’t want to. Crowley needs someone with him incase he has bad dreams. Aziraphale can do that. He can literally do that in his sleep.

“Hey. C’mere?”

Crowley pulls Aziraphale into him, resting the angel’s head on his chest, looping his arm over the angel’s back. It’s nice, and Aziraphale says as much by pressing a kiss against Crowley’s neck. He didn’t ask first, but Crowley seems okay. Maybe neck kisses are okay in general after someone’s slept on top of you for half a night.

“Angel?”

“Mm?”

“Thank you. For your help. I know I’ve been difficult.”

Aziraphale is too tired to say something like ‘my dear, difficult is your default setting; I’m hardly unused to it,’ so he hums a softly positive sound as Crowley kisses his temple and sleep-- enticing, really; Aziraphale is starting to understand why Crowley usually likes it--pulls him under again.

--

Aziraphale wakes up overly warm and more than slightly smothered. There is a snake in his bed. Which would be alarming for most people, but Aziraphale is familiar with the snake in question, even if he’s not entirely familiar with the situation itself. He hasn’t seen Crowley in his serpent form since...well, so far back that he can’t remember the year. Regardless, the big, black beastie with its shiny scales and flat, puggish nose is hard to forget.

A spark of worry pings in Aziraphale’s memory. He does not associate this form with good things. Crowley had only ever taken on his animal form under protest, only when the assignment absolutely required it. It made him feel especially demonic, perhaps--angels have no form but what God gives them; they do not change their skins beyond what God has dictated is right and true.

“My dear, I am loathe to wake you, I’m sure you know, but I also am distinctly uncomfortable at the moment,” Aziraphale says, though he speaks far too softly to possibly rouse the demon in the bed.

Instead, he continues to lie there and stare up at the gray slate wall of Crowley’s apartment. The only defining feature of this entire room is the bed, and even that--while comfortable--is dressed in a dismal and intimidating black. Aziraphale has always hated Crowley’s style--flash bastard trendiness mixed up with sinister demonic overtones--and hates it all the more now for the knowledge that it is a performance being put on for an audience who no longer watches the show. Crowley’s superiors are in no position to question his choices, any longer. He could so easily buy a comfortable couch or miracle up some cheerful wallpaper. And, yet, for years now, he has malingered here in this same depressing monument to all that he should, by rights, leave far behind.

For all that they had bickered continuously about their respective agencies, Crowley has always been bullied by his superiors in a way that Aziraphale himself cannot hope to understand. So much of acting as an agent for Heaven was about behaviors--he had to be good and righteous and compassionate and wise; beyond that, Heaven cared little about how he dressed or what he did on his off hours. Conversely, it seems to Aziraphale that being an agent for Hell is all about the artifice. Crowley could get away with so many of his precious loopholes entirely because he played the part on the outside, all wrath and greed and imposing attire. As long as he looked the part, the suspicion skated on by. As long as Aziraphale acted the part, likewise. And here we are, now, exactly as we’ve always been. Crowley isn’t the only one afraid to make a change.

The snake lifts its head, eyes opening, inner eyelids blink a few times. Well, I suppose not everything is exactly the same, anymore.

Aziraphale smiles at the demon. “Good morning.”

Crowley blinks as a snake and opens his eyes in his humanoid shape. “I didn’t mean to do that. Did I squish you?”

“Only a bit. I’m warm. Can we get up?”

Crowley laughs--a good one, again, soft with a good night’s rest--and sprawls on top of Aziraphale once more, burying his face in the crook of Aziraphale’s neck. Aziraphale would worry that they are moving rather fast, but, then again, it’s been several millennia, up ‘til now.

“Make me,” Crowley tempts.

“Oh, get over yourself,” Aziraphale thwarts.

Crowley laughs again. “Can I kiss you?” he asks, muffled against Aziraphale’s neck where, honestly, he’s practically kissing the skin already.

“Yes,” Aziraphale replies, without hesitation.

Crowley’s mouth tastes stale, which is strange, but perhaps not as strange as being in a position to taste his mouth at all. Aziraphale makes a strangled noise, pushing Crowley’s chest a bit. Crowley immediately pulls back, looking sheepish. It’s a terribly endearing look on him. “Too much?”

“Just...more slowly, please? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do back.”

Crowley grins and, obligingly, instigates the deep kiss but more slowly, taking his time. Aziraphale picks up the idea quickly and soon they are kissing in earnest, mouths parted and teeth only scraping uncomfortably on occasion.

Crowley shifts his weight a bit, likely to get a better angle on Aziraphale’s mouth, and Aziraphale nearly headbutts the demon in the face when he registers the feeling of Crowley’s hardening length brush against his leg. Crowley pulls back, definitely sheepish now. “I can--.”

“Tell me how to do that,” Aziraphale demands, then rolls his eyes at himself. “I understand the biology, I mean how do you let your body do it?”

Crowley sits back a bit on his knees (not fair, Aziraphale can’t help but hyperfocus on the obvious bulge in his pants, now), looking thoughtful. “Dunno. Never thought about it. I’ve been seducing and wiling around practically since the start. It just happens.”

Aziraphale clicks his tongue. “Yes, well, some of us are not so naturally inclined. Help me.”

Crowley grins at him. His hair is standing all on end. It’s absolutely delightful. “You’re so bossy, Angel.”

“And you’re so stubborn,” Aziraphale snips back. “Do you want this or not?”

Crowley shrugs. “I don’t particularly have feelings on it either way. I’d like to get, uh, carnal with you, Angel, but if you’re not comfortable, I don’t mind.”

“How reasonable of you,” Aziraphale drawls. He knows he’s being unfairly snappish about the situation. In his defense, he’s feeling a bit, well… “I feel rather at a disadvantage.”

Crowley’s amusement fades. He crawls forward on his knees and straddles one of Aziraphale’s legs, hovering above him. “You’re a quick study. I’m a decent teacher. I can fix that. C’mere, sweetheart.”

Aziraphale relaxes at the unexpected new pet name. “I like that,” he says.

“Good,” Crowley replies. He gets closer to Aziraphale, still on his knees, and gently skirts his hand down Aziraphale’s chest and torso a few times and then up and down again. It’s a soothing, enticing sensation, and Aziraphale relaxes readily into it. Somewhere, in the midst of feeling lulled by the repetition and Crowley’s soft breaths, he feels his corporeal form start to take the hint.

“Oh, my word,” Aziraphale breaths, his eyes closing of their own volition.

“There you are. Simple,” Crowley says, grinning again.

“Well, that is certainly worth exploring,” Aziraphale states, with determination.

“Now?” Crowley asks, clearly hopeful.

Aziraphale shakes his head. “No. I told you, I’m warm. And you may be better rested now--thank you, by the way--but you reek. And so do I. We need to get cleaned up.”

Crowley shrugs and goes to miracle them both tidy. Aziraphale puts a hand over his, stilling the snap.

“How are you feeling?”

Crowley looks like he might just sail right past the question, at first, but then he remembers the Understanding and that the seemingly idle question has true weight to it, now. “Better than last night.”

“Did you dream?”

“No,” Crowley says, and his relief is more than clear.

“Good. I’m glad to hear it.” Aziraphale runs his hands through Crowley’s messy bedhead. “Does this awful flat have a working bath?”

Crowley blinks and then smirks a bit. “It does now. A big one, in fact.”

“Then I think I owe you a reward.”

“For sleeping?” Crowley asks, skeptical. But they both know how hard won that sleep was, and they both understand how lucky they are that it was a good and easy rest at that.

“We deserve a calm bath for taking care of ourselves and having a nice rest. Are you feeling shy? It wouldn’t be our first time.”

“That was in a bathhouse. We weren’t alone. And the bath was more like a swimming pool.”

Aziraphale smiles slightly. “Crowley--.”

“--I’m explaining that this is different.”

“I know it’s different.”

“I just don’t want you to--.”

“Crowley.” Aziraphale shifts them both onto their sides and rocks his hips forward, grinding himself against Crowley’s thigh. He’s not very aroused, yet, but he understands the mechanics, now, so it won’t be any trouble. “I’m not shy.”

“No,” Crowley says, and he seems to be marveling, a bit. “You really aren’t.”

“So come take a bath with me, you snake. Your scales are looking dull.” Aziraphale rolls off the bed and leaves to go find the bathroom, which he reasons can’t be too terribly far.

“I--they! Aziraphale! They are not! Take that back!”

--

In the bath, Aziraphale miracles a soft floral scarf into existence and ties it with deft hands around Crowley’s eyes.

The tub, as promised, is perfectly suited for two. It’s also black, like so much of the apartment, and has evil looking clawed feet. Aziraphale wrinkles his nose at it as they strip off what remains of their clothes and sink into the perfectly warm water. The moment the blindfold is secured, Aziraphale miracles the tub into a soft mint color with reasonable legs. He toys with making it tartan out of pure spite, but it seems a step too far. Besides, he has more important things to focus on, in the moment.

“I’m proud of you, dear. I know it wasn’t easy for you to rest last night. Do you feel better, truly?”

Crowley nods. Blinded as he is, his self-imposed quiet is especially effecting.

“Are you doing all right? Color?”

Crowley licks his lips (flickering, like a snake tasting the air) but nods. “Green.”

Aziraphale relaxes. He had been a bit worried about how the blindfold might go over, if only because he himself is so uncomfortable in the dark.

Aziraphale picks up a loofah that appears handily on the edge of the tub. He lathers it up with a sweet-smelling soap as he talks. “So, of course, we’ve already discussed it, but it’s always good reiterate--BDSM is largely about sensation. For many people that involves pain, but that’s not something we want to focus on. Luckily, the human body--or, rather, bodies that are human-ish enough to count, yours included--is susceptible to an expansive variety of sensual triggers. Many people engage in sensation play using water or hot wax or cubes of ice or--.”

“Angel?” Crowley interrupts. “Color?”

Aziraphale blushes. “Green. I’m fine. I’m merely...sharing.” He’s sharing because he’s more than a tad nervous. Crowley had tried to warn him, of course. Bathhouses really were quite different. For one, Aziraphale had never been a position to wash Crowley’s body for him before. Not even his back.

Aziraphale stares at Crowley, sitting patiently in the tub, eyes and brows hidden away by the wide scarf. His mouth is pulled up in an uncertain smile, at the moment. He looks...he looks like something precious, worth protecting. He looks like he needs someone to take care of him. And that someone is Aziraphale. No one else can have him. Aziraphale is starting to feel strongly about that, in fact. Crowley jerks a bit in surprise as Aziraphale rubs the soapy loofah down across his clavicles. He scrubs thoroughly, just enough to leave the skin red. It’s likely a bit prickly, but nothing overtly painful. The Understanding had been quite clear; Crowley is not adverse to being marked. Aziraphale moves his attentions over the demon’s chest and down first one arm and then the other. He’s careful to keep the motions relatively similar--long scraping motions from top down and back up. The repetition and predictable rhythm can go a long way into tricking the brain to find a pattern and focus in on it, leading to a sense of calm. It’s the same small trick Aziraphale had used on Crowley the day they wrote the Understanding, rubbing his hands and arms up and down in tiny circles.

Aziraphale is running the loofa over Crawley’s clavicles for the third time when the demon abruptly goes fully lax, slumping in the bath with his head hanging down and his breathing soft and even. Aziraphale shifts his weight so that he can straddle Crowley’s outstretched legs and keep him upright enough to stay above the water. Then he moves his attentions down from the demon’s chest and over Crowley’s stomach and sides. Crowley makes a small sound--the first noise he’s made since asking Aziraphale for his color--the lower Aziraphale’s strokes fall. Aziraphale isn’t at all surprised when Crowley’s cock stirs beneath the water, only slightly obscured by the soapy white surface. Aziraphale bypasses the demon’s groin and instead rubs his way up and down his legs a few times.

“Crowley?” he questions. He has to say the demon’s name twice before he comes around enough to respond. Aziraphale smiles at the knowledge, feeling warm. That soft, hazy space is exactly where he wants Crowley to be. But not completely. It’s hard to get good consent if Crowley is too out of reach.

“M’here,” Crowley mumbles. He works his mouth a bit, perhaps negotiating around a loose and relaxed jaw, for once.

“Hello, my dear. I have a few choices for you to pick from. Are you listening?”

“Yeah,” Crowley replies, a bit more alert.

“Good. Now. I’ve washed your front side. Do you want me to scrub the back next? Or, you seem...well, ahm. There is another interested part of your anatomy I could attend to. Or you can stay where you are and I’ll keep doing what I have been. What sounds nicest?”

Crowley’s lips twitch up at the earnest manner in which Aziraphale says ‘nicest’. “You green for all of ‘em?” he says, only slurring a bit.

“Yes, Crowley. I wouldn’t offer, otherwise. Are you?”

Crowley nods. “Feels good, right now. Gonna lose that, do something different?”

Aziraphale can’t help but stroke his hand through the demon’s hair at the question. “No, you don’t have to. I think I can keep you where you are, regardless. Though you will have to wake up enough to turn over, if you want your back done.”

Crowley considers all this for a long beat. “Can you...do two?”

Aziraphale smothers his grin in his loofah-free hand. Leave it to a demon to immediately pounce on the sin of greed. “I suppose, dear. If you’d like. Which?”

And that is how Crowley ends up resting on his haunches in the bath, his forehead braced on a smooth, waterproof pillow that happens to appear the minute his head goes toward the back ledge of the tub. His elbows prop up against the slight incline of the tub’s back, too. It doesn’t look completely comfortable, but it’s as comfortable as they can make it. And, soon enough, Aziraphale will work Crowley back into a place where the slight discomfort of the position won’t even register.

Aziraphale listens to the steady sounds of Crowley’s breathing--reflexive, calm--and proceeds to tend to his back just as he had the demon’s front. He starts with the nape of Crowley’s neck and drags the loofah in heavy, long scrapes from nape to the base of his spine. Then the backs of his arms, then the soft curve of his arse, then down over as much of the demon’s folded legs as he can reach.

“With me, Crowley?”

Crowley manages a small, positive hum.

“I’m going to, uhm. Is that all right?” Aziraphale sighs internally. If he’s going to commit to being a good Dom to his nervy demon friend, he needs to be able to speak his directives clearly. “I’m going to stroke your c-cock now, my dear. All right?”

“Green,” Crowley sighs out, slow and easy.

Aziraphale gently rests some of his weight against Crowley’s back, surrounding him rather like a living blanket. He braces himself on his non-dominant hand against the back of the pool, his fingers splayed right next to Crowley’s--and then loops his other arm around Crowley’s narrow hip. It’s not hard to tease his fingertips over Crowley’s groin (the demon’s breath hitches in such a way as to make Aziraphale’s heart skip a beat) and find the demon’s erection. He’s fully hard and more than ready, stoked by Aziraphale’s firm and purposeful strokes over all the rest of his body. Aziraphale gently nudges Crowley’s knees until the demon takes the hint and rocks forward, pulling his lower body just up over the surface of the still-warm bath water. Aziraphale’s knuckles skim the water as he wraps his thick fingers around the base of Crowley’s cock and starts to stroke from the root to the base of the head and back. Aziraphale’s hand is naturally slick against Crowley’s flesh (minor miracles all through this simple bath; how angry his superiors would be, if they cared about such things anymore) and he keeps the pressure of his fist firm but not too tight. Crowley starts to make plenty of noises, soft moans and sharp keens that--by the grace of God, perhaps--sometimes even resolve themselves into the sound of Aziraphale’s name ground out reverently through Crowley’s lips.

It’s not difficult, making Crowley come. Aziraphale’s book learning is truly thorough, and he isn’t entirely naive, even if he is a novice. As the demon approaches his orgasm, however, his soft noises of pleasure take on a wild edge. “Yellow,” he whines out, frantic, definitely no longer in the soft and hazy space Aziraphale had promised him.

Aziraphale goes still. He keeps his hand on the demon’s cock. If he’d said ‘red,’ Aziraphale would be on the other side of the tub and gently encouraging Crowley to turn onto his back again so they could assess. But Crowley has said ‘yellow,’ and that only means to go slow and talk it out. “Dear heart,” Aziraphale murmurs, the new endearment falling from his lips without thought. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t--not like this. I want--fuck. Aziraphale, I need to see you. Just this time. It’s the--it’s the first, and I--.”

Aziraphale shushes him, a painful warmth flooding through his chest and making him too choked up to do much more than push air soothingly through his teeth and gently grip Crowley’s arm, keeping the demon steady as he turns onto his back and throws his legs over the rim of the pool on either side. Aziraphale isn’t watching his legs, however, or even the enticing length of his arousal. His eyes are on Crowley’s face, on which an expression of mixed desperation and relief is clear.

“My apologies,” Aziraphale manages, his voice breathy and weak, squeezed by the lump of feeling in his throat. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“I do,” Crowley says, eyes wide. His pupils are entirely round, making him look soft and full of yearning. “I definitely do. G-S-Dammit. Will you please kiss me?”

Aziraphale surges forward, displacing the water all around them and getting more than a fair share all over the floor. He kisses Crowley hard, parting the demon’s lips with his tongue, invading his mouth with a fever that, later, he could not even begin to parse. In the moment, though, it is natural and all-encompassing. He doesn’t even realize that, between softer, fervent kisses he whispers a staccato mantra of “Mine, mine, mine.” At least, not until Crowley gently eases him back and makes a crack about the avarice of angels. Even then, Aziraphale can only blink at him, more than slightly dazed.

He remembers, slowly, tricklingly, that he has a goal. “I should...give me a moment. I would like to put you back into subspace before we try again. Is that all right?”

Crowley’s expression is complicated. Aziraphale can’t read it. Crowley reaches a wet hand up and brushes Aziraphale’s hair from where it has curled too close to one of his eyes, threatening to get in the way. “This isn’t absolution,” Crowley manages. He’s obviously alert, now, but still speaking slowly and with care. “This isn’t atonement for sins. What is this, Angel?”

Aziraphale’s brows draw together. “This is...redemption, I suppose, my dear.”

“I don’t deserve that.”

Aziraphale would dismiss that out of hand if not for the pain that lurks in the demon’s eyes. They’re still blown wide and dark and it makes the demon’s anguish all the clearer.

“Perhaps not,” Aziraphale hedges. “But do I?”

Crowley makes a face. “That’s a ridiculous question. You’re an angel. You haven’t--.”

“I told you we should kill him,” Aziraphale breaks in, sharply. It’s not the time for this conversation, but it’s exactly like Crowley to bring the most difficult conversations into a place from which neither of them can easily escape. “I wanted a child to die, Crowley, for the sake of the world.”

“That’s not--.”

“I stood against Heaven. Crowley, my dear. Haven’t you considered it?”

Crowley’s expression goes guarded, suspicious. He doesn’t like this, doesn’t like the way his questions are taking him. But he had asked, and he now he has to listen. “Considered what?”

“Angels who defy Heaven Fall.”

Crowley sits up sharply, all previous calm forgotten. His eyes revert to wicked-looking slits. “That’s fucking stupid, Angel. That’s absolutely barmy. That’s ridiculous. You’re being ridiculous.”

Aziraphale’s lips purse. He swallows thickly. “I know it’s not a comfortable thing to consider--.”

Crowley grips Aziraphale by the arms, wrapping around his biceps, clinging so tightly that Aziraphale knows the skin will bruise. “No. It’s the ineffable plan. That’s what we said.”

“We were bluffing, you might recall.”

“Defying Heaven is nothing. It’s nothing, Angel. It’s G-it’s...fuck. It’s God who makes those decisions. And you’ve never once defied Him. You couldn’t. You never could.”

Aziraphale sighs and leans his weight forward, resting his forehead against Crowley’s. Crowley is in a panic, again. His breathing is rapid and shallow, his hands shaking even as they hold on to Aziraphale like a vice, as if afraid he’ll suddenly fly away. “We can’t know. We can’t.”

“You know when you Fall,” Crowley growls back. It’s not intimidating, considering the demon looks about one second from bursting into tears. He gives Aziraphale a gentle shake. Aziraphale allows it. “You’d know.”

“I’ve done wrongs, my dear. That’s the point I have been trying to make. If you won’t accept these stolen, precious moments of peace for your sake, then by the Lord who made us, will you not for me?”

Crowley’s breath hisses out, shaky and soft. “I don’t feel well.”

“You’re having a panic attack, I think,” Aziraphale says, agreeably.

“Ruined all your hard work,” Crowley says, unhappily. It’s an attempt at a joke, but his misery soils it from the start.

Aziraphale makes a non-committal noise. “You deserve kindness. I don’t know how to convince you of it except to keep giving it to you. I don’t mind. I’m willing to try again later. I’m sorry you’re upset, however. I know it’s frightening.” He pauses, running his hand gently up and down Crowley’s chest. If he’s lucky, he might be able to cause the same switch of calm in Crowley’s brain. But he doesn’t expect it, and he certainly won’t force it.

They could try to miracle Crowley’s anxieties away, perhaps, but Aziraphale doesn’t like to think about the long term repercussions. Magic--for that’s what it is, if they’re being honest about it--is not an infinite and unquestioning resource. The big ones always come back, somehow. And this feels like something they are meant to work through together, on their own.

“The bath’s gone cold,” Crowley remarks. It hasn’t, but Aziraphale wouldn’t be surprised if the demon is feeling chilled. His breathing is more normal, now, at least.

“Come along, dear boy. I think it’s time we vacated. I shall get pruny.”

Crowley makes a derisive noise. Aziraphale won’t get pruny unless Aziraphale allows it, which he won’t. Still, the demon accepts the lame excuse readily enough. Together, they ease each other’s dripping bodies out of the tub. Crowley seems to barely have the energy to stay on his feet, so Aziraphale miracles them dry and into comfortable pajamas. He doubts either of them are up to going out, today.

--

They end up wrapped up in each other on the bed. Crowley shivers and twitches with dread and Aziraphale curls up around him, a barrier between the wrecked demon and the rest of the world. His situation is truly much more serious than Aziraphale had reckoned. It’s a terrible privilege to be in the heart of Crowley’s defenses, watching him rattle into bits.

“It’s all right, love,” Aziraphale murmurs, over and over, losing himself in the sound of the syllables. He strokes a hand over Crowley’s curved spine with each word, his touch firm and steady. “It’s quite all right.”

“I’d take care of you,” Crowley murmurs a long while later, after he’s relaxed and breathing easy again. Aziraphale had thought him asleep.

“Hm?” Aziraphale prompts, confused and unwilling to start up another long conversation.

“If y’Fell,” Crowley yawns. He burrows deeper into the blankets, presses himself closer into Aziraphale’s embrace. “I’d keep you out of Hell.”

“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale sighs. He tightens his hold on the demon for a moment. “I am well aware.”

Crowley does ease into sleep, then--Aziraphale is starting to recognize the difference in the pattern of his breathing, and he files that information away for later use. Aziraphale stays vigilant, eyes on the ceiling. He feels like he had back in the Garden, for a moment, guarding something sacred and dangerous from being disturbed.

--

It’s nearly two days later when Crowley finally wakes. Aziraphale had disentangled himself from the demon’s embrace after the first evening and has been occupying himself ever since. A jaunt to the bookshop to retrieve some light reading, another quick walk to a shop to pick up a current newspaper, and, most recently, a dash to the diner down the street for something to nibble. He’s just setting the sandwiches out on a platter when Crowley shuffles into the kitchen. His miracled pajamas are wrinkled beyond saving and his hair stands up on end in the silliest of places. He seems foggy and detached from their surroundings, but his eyes are clear and the heavy circles are finally gone.

“M’ing?” Crowley manages, questioning. Aziraphale makes an affirmative noise.

“Closer to noon, dear.”

“Hmph,” Crowley replies. He pulls himself up on the barstool and doesn’t hesitate when Aziraphale obligingly conjures him a large mug of coffee. He drains it in a few gulps, despite the heat, and blinks a bit. “How long d’I sleep?”

Aziraphale makes a show of looking at a watch he doesn’t wear. “A bit over 48-hours, I believe.”

Crowley rolls his eyes at the implied ‘I told you so’ tone of the angel’s voice. He reaches across the counter, instead, and snags two of the small, crustless sandwiches from the plate. Aziraphale watches the demon devour them, his eyebrows raised.

“Always hungry after a nap,” Crowley reminds him, over a full mouth. Aziraphale grimaces but doesn’t scold him over it.

“I’m glad you’re up. I want to talk to you about something rather important.”

Crowley swallows his sandwich down thickly and makes a face. “Am I--?”

“You’re not in trouble. I do wish you’d stop asking that. You’d know if you were in trouble, with me.”

Crowley smirks. “Too right.”

Aziraphale ignores him and pushes the newspaper toward him, instead. “What do you think of that?”

Crowley peers at the newspaper, frowning. “S’real estate?”

“Yes. I think I’d like to invest in a second home, as it were.”

Crowley picks up the paper properly and reads the few circled columns of text. “It’s outside London. Much out.”

“South Downs,” Aziraphale replies, speaking carefully. “I know we’ve been in London a long while, now, and we’ve enjoyed our days here immensely but--.”

“Why?”

Aziraphale wrings his hands. He only stops when Crowley leans forward and tugs at them, pulling his fingers between the demon’s own. “It’s only an idea,” Aziraphale assures him, fretfully, “And I know it will be a change. And it might be too quiet for you, and--.”

“Underselling,” Crowley reminds him.

Aziraphale takes a steadying breath. “I want us to have a place that’s ours.”

Crowley blinks. His eyes dart for a moment about his apartment. “You have always hated it here,” he agrees, distantly.

“And you’re hardly comfortable in the ‘shop,” Aziraphale reminds him.

“But...why?”

Aziraphale nods over to where the Understanding sits on the counter across the way. “We have a contract, now. A new type of Arrangement. I’d like to have someplace new and comfortable in which to explore it.”

“And we’d leave the city?”

“Not forever! We can retain our current properties and drive up whenever we like; it’s not so long a trip, really, if we can avoid the traffic.”

Crowley looks thoughtful. “This won’t keep our respective superiors from finding us, if they choose to.”

Aziraphale makes an impatient noise. “I know, and I don’t care about that. I’ve told you, Crowley, I’m not worried about them.”

“I am,” Crowley reminds him, though Aziraphale hardly needs reminding of all the things that Crowley is worrying over, as of late.

“It’s a lovely little cottage. It’s not far from the water. The woman I called is going to e-mail you the pictures to your phone, she said.”

Crowley rolls his eyes at the angel’s insistent aversion to current technologies. Obligingly, though, Crowley gets up from the table and goes off in search of his mobile. He finds it tossed near the bed. He unlocks the screen and, sure enough, finds that he has seven new e-mails, most of which is junk excepting for one with the subject line of “South Downs Property.” Crowley flicks the message open and hums softly, scrolling through the photos as he pads back into the kitchen and sits down.

Aziraphale comes to stand over his shoulder and peek at the screen.

“Oh, lovely, look at that,” Aziraphale coo’s, pointing at a photo of the back lawn and accidentally causing the file to zoom in. “You could grow plants there.”

Crowley looks uncertain, but he keeps scrolling through the photos until there’s no more. And then he starts from the beginning again.

The cottage is roomy, and it would be a literal snap to make any adjustments they might need. It’s a space that is quite ready to adapt to the needs of two.

“Seems like a big step,” Crowley remarks as he puts the phone aside and picks up another half of a sandwich.

Aziraphale goes to stand on the other side of the counter. He leans his weight against it and peers at Crowley with speculative eyes. “We’re hardly rushing in, my dear.”

“I know that.”

“Well?”

Crowley sighs, looking around his apartment. He knows it isn’t to Aziraphale’s tastes. He often questions if it is to his own.

“I do like the seaside,” Crowley admits.

Aziraphale beams at him. “I’ll call the nice lady back.”

--

It takes a fair bit of time to manage the move. Aziraphale wants to transport far too much of his personal library, for one. And Crowley keeps dragging his feet, remembering that old and favorite haunts of his--places good for tempting, but also places good for wooing angels--are about to be made far away indeed.

In the end, they manage it. Crowley puts a cap on the number of books he’ll snap away into boxes. Aziraphale tuts to Crowley about the importance of change of environment for one’s mental health.

They get each other through it and, after a few weeks of toil, are left to their own devices in a comfortable, whitewashed cottage that smells strongly of the sea.

Crowley paces the perimeter of the property several times. He says he’s planning the oft mentioned garden, but Aziraphale knows he’s worried about the possibility of unexpected visitors. This is the largest change they’ve made to their old routines since the Almost Armageddon. If their superiors are watching at all, they will notice it. But they might not care to try for years, if not decades or even centuries. Aziraphale refuses to watch the demon pace for that long.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale calls out to him from the back door. “Come inside.”

Crowley does. He’s getting better about answering directives all the time, especially when he recognizes a certain tone in Aziraphale’s voice. It is a tone the angel is using quite purposefully, now.

Crowley barely steps into the living area before Aziraphale intercepts him. The angel holds up two lengths of soft, wide ribbon. They’re green and pink tartan, which makes Crowley smirk. “The bed,” Aziraphale says, lightly, “has a sturdy wooden headboard.”

Crowley nods, clearly already slipping into the quieter headspace of their sessions. It’s getting easier, even if they’ve yet to have a meeting together that didn’t end up painful conversation and, more than once, an emotional outburst on Crowley’s part. It’s been nearly a month since the incident in the bathtub, and Aziraphale is adamant that this time will go more smoothly.

Aziraphale tucks the lengths of ribbon around his neck for safe keeping as he undresses Crowley with quick fingers. He walks backwards toward the bedroom all the while, Crowley tagging along close like a lost duckling. By the time they cross the threshold of the single bedroom, Crowley is only his pants and socks, his jacket, button down, and trousers lost to the hallway behind him. Aziraphale smiles at the sight. Last, he plucks the sunglasses from the bridge of Crowley’s nose and places them gently on the nightstand.

The furnishings are perfect, quibbled out by the two of them. Everything is dark wood (Crowley’s preference), but soft and comfortable to both touch and look at (Aziraphale’s input). It’s an acceptable melding of their combined tastes, and Aziraphale loves it. Especially the big, soft bed and its thick suede comforter.

“Lie down on your back. Sit up against the headboard a bit, please.”

Crowley does so. Aziraphale mindfully plops a few thick pillows behind Crowley’s back so that the slats of the headboard won’t dig painfully into his shoulder blades and arms. “Good?”

Crowley nods. Aziraphale takes one of the demon’s hands and loops an end of the ribbon snug around his wrist. He ties the knot so that it will give way if tugged just right, but the pressure that Crowley will apply to it won’t make it so much as budge. Learning the knot had taken several hours of Aziraphale’s time, but it’d been worth the hassle, for Crowley’s soft, amused gaze as he demonstrates it, if nothing else.

Aziraphale ties both of Crowley’s wrists high on the headboard, his wrists crossed over each other a few inches. It puts a definite strain on the ribbons, but Crowley’s arms have enough room in which to bend and relax into the tug of gravity. It should be relatively comfortable for the few hours or so that Aziraphale as planned for them.

Demon properly trussed up, Aziraphale sits back on the bed and admires the view. Crowley’s expression is curious and wanting. His bare chest and torso stretch long down the length of the bed. His cock appears soft under the line of his pants, but Aziraphale is confident that won’t be for long.

Azirphale stands up off the bed for a moment and removes his suit jacket and, after a beat of thought, his waistcoat. He rolls up the sleeves of his button down, and Crowley makes a soft noise of what Aziraphale reads--delightedly--as appreciation. Aziraphale reaches into his trouser pockets and pulls forth what he needs as he plops back down on the bed. The mattress bounces with the motion, and the ribbons jerk against Crowley’s wrists. The soft moan Crowley makes at the sensation causes Aziraphale to blink in slight surprise. He hadn’t anticipated Crowley to take so well to the restraints. All for the better.

“Color, dear?”

“Very green,” Crowley says, grinning.

Aziraphale smiles widely back but tempers his reaction. They have business to conduct, after all. Aziraphale holds up the small trinket he’d miracled from his pocket. “Are you familiar with this?”

Crowley’s eyes widen, but his brows draw, as if he doubts his own certainty.

“Last time we were together, we didn’t quite get to finish.” Aziraphale holds up a hand as if to forestall an argument. Crowley, though, doesn’t even open his mouth. Aziraphale continues, “You did nothing wrong. This isn’t a punishment. But I do think what happened is a lesson for us both. A lesson I wish to explore for the next few hours.”

Crowley mouths ‘hours?’, eyebrows raising high, but he doesn’t press the issue.

“What we’ve done together so far seems to dredge up the most dreadful topics. And while I think it’s important we communicate, my dear, there’s a time and place. I don’t want you to start associating our sessions together with dramatic outbursts and the like. I want this to be a refuge for you, remember?”

Crowley nods agreeably, but his eyes are on the item in Aziraphale’s hand. He seems confused.

“Unless you need to ‘red’ out, today--and, remember, I will honor that immediately, always--I want us to commit to this session. I want you to just relax and feel at peace, dear. No distractions, like last time. If you need to discuss something unrelated with me or vice versa, it can wait until after you’ve been taken care of. You understand? As much as I enjoy conversing with you about the nature of morality and our position in it, Crowley, I’d really much rather do so when you aren’t...otherwise occupied.”

Crowley works his mouth a bit before simply nodding.

Aziraphale relaxes at the agreement. He’d been expecting resistance, though he couldn’t guess at why. Surely Crowley wanted to finish a session properly without ending it more anxious and untethered than when they’d started.

Aziraphale holds up the harness between them for inspection. It’s made of soft material with a flexible plastic ring attached at the front. Aziraphale had spent hours reading up on the subject--the toy itself, the safety precautions, and, most importantly, checking and double checking it was safe for extended use.

“It goes around the testicles with the ring bit around the base of your cock,” Aziraphale explains. Part of the safety procedures had been clear communication about the toy and its purpose, after all. “The ring is adjustable, so it can be worn far longer than a standard ring. The pressure of the harness and ring conspire to restrict blood flow at the point of--.”

Crowley makes a soft noise of amusement.

“Yes, well. I suppose you get the idea. The point is, I should like very much to bring you erect and leave you on the brink for a good, long while. Is that all right? I promise this session will end with an orgasm; I won’t leave you trussed up or deny you or anything.”

Crowley’s amused expression has gone warm and lustful, instead. He shifts his hips on the bed and Aziraphale rolls his eyes. The toy is meant to be applied when the recipient is entirely flaccid.

Crowley nods his agreement. Aziraphale hums and explains that Crowley will need to calm down a bit, first. Crowley sighs dramatically but listens attentively to Aziraphale prattle on about a new acquisition about idolatry which he knows will bore the demon nearly to tears. Finally, Aziraphale judges the time is right. He checks in that Crowley is still ‘green’ (he is) and then tugs down the demon’s pants just enough to deftly attach the ring and harness to him. He then pulls the soft waistband of Crowley’s pants back up. Crowley raises an eyebrow at him, and Aziraphale shrugs.

“I enjoy the strain it puts on the fabric, dear.”

Crowley’s cheeks redden before Aziraphale’s eyes and he shifts his hips again in a telling manner. Aziraphale beams at him. This is going very well, so far.

--

By the ten minute mark or so, Crowley pants beneath Aziraphale’s ministrations, his bolstered erection jutting painfully against the soft cotton of his pants, his eyes blown dark, his bared skin warm and damp with sweat. He groans bodily as Aziraphale sucks determinedly at the demon’s neck, not letting go of the salty skin until it is dark with a hickey that--miracles aside--will last for days. There’s already a matching mark on the other side of the demon’s neck. It was putting it there that had largely contributed to the demon’s straining arousal in the first place.

By the thirty minute mark or so, Aziraphale has made note of the way the ribbons are cutting raw lines into Crowley’s wrists. He touches his fingertips to the pinked stripes and kisses them gently as he murmurs a light “Color?”

Crowley’s answer takes a moment to come about--he’s not in subspace, but he is overwhelmed with sensation, at the moment, and likely a bit sluggish in the head--but he swears it’s a fervent green.

“If they cut the skin,” Aziraphale tells him, emphatically, “We’ll have to ‘red out’ for my sake, if not yours. There’s a clear position on blood play in the Understanding, Crowley. I’m not for it.”

Crowley’s answering smile is the same, goofy grin he’d briefly sported after their first kiss. Aziraphale sighs. He knows Crowley is listening. He’s a bit too high on the natural rush to take Aziraphale’s position seriously.

By the hour mark or so, Crowley whimpers and pleas in soft, broken whispers for release. Aziraphale has caressed and kissed and suckled and licked every inch of him, but he hasn’t so much as looked at the damp and straining presence of Crowley’s weeping cock between them. Not so much as a brush of his breath has touched there.

“Color?” Aziraphale asks for the fifth or so time, ever since Crowley started to vocally beg.

“Green,” Crowley replies, though the sound of the ‘n’ gets lost in a high keen as he lifts his hips off the bed, trying to chase sensation any way he can get it. He bucks a bit in the air, trying to rub the fabric of his pants against himself at the very least, but it does him little good and he falls back, frustrated and tense. Aziraphale lifts his head up from the studious lapping of his tongue over Crowley’s nipple to gauge the state of his wrists. He’s certainly putting Aziraphale’s knots through their paces, by now. The ribbons around his wrists are soaked dark with sweat, and the skin there bears deep, red-raw imprints and puffing skin, but there’s no blood and the skin remains unbroken. Aziraphale sighs in relief and goes back to his teasing even as Crowley stubbornly tries to twist his body to the side and rut himself up against Aziraphale’s still fully-clothed body. Aziraphale pulls away out of reach until the demon settles again.

“Color?”

“Fucking green, you arse,” Crowley pants out. Aziraphale hides his smile by kissing the man senseless for a bit.

By the hour-and-a-half or so mark, Crowley has gone unearthly still on the bed. He’s soaked through with sweat and warm as a racing horse fresh off the track. His yellow eyes are round in the pupils and utterly glazed over, staring sightlessly at the far wall. His breathing is slow and steady and deep. He doesn’t react when Aziraphale kisses his jaw and over his lips except to breath a faint, distant sigh of contentment. He’s only been this way for a few minutes, but for Aziraphale if feels like an eternity. Such a deep level of relaxation is not unexpected. It is, in fact, rather the point of the endeavor. Still, Aziraphale feels the full weight of his responsibility, now. Subspace can be dangerous, in large part because it renders a submissive unable to consent. Aziraphale has tried to ask the demon to report on his current color, but Crowley had barely twitched at the sound of his voice.

“All right, my love,” Aziraphale murmurs, after about five minutes or so have passed. “I’m sorry, but I think it’s time to bring you back out a bit.”

Gently, Aziraphale positions himself over Crowley’s legs. He braces his body weight on the headboard over Crowley’s shoulder with one hand and then strokes the fingertips of his other gently over Crowley’s sadly neglected cock. He’s as rock hard and straining now as he’d been within the first ten minutes, and the whole front of Crowley’s pants are soaked with pre-come. Crowley’s steady breathing gives a small hitch, but otherwise he remains insensible.

Aziraphale cups the full breadth of his palm over the damp fabric and he rubs hard against the prominent bulge. Once, twice, three times and Crowley’s breath stops for a beat, a rough shudder taking him from head to toe, rattling the bed in its frame. His eyes blink slowly, recognition coming back to him in faint trickles. He lips his dry lips and meets Aziraphale’s gaze. “Green?” he offers, so uncertain of his reality that the color comes out as a question more than a statement. He blinks again, taking in his surroundings and verifying them to be real. He even gives his restraints a light tug. “Green,” he repeats, with more feeling.

Aziraphale smiles at him and presses a few gently kisses against his thighs. “Hello, my dear,” he greets, warmly, in between.

“Hey,” Crowley replies in a low croak. He sounds utterly wrecked, and it delights Aziraphale to know that he has yet so much more to come.

Aziraphale gently mouths over the fabric of Crowley’s pants, sucking the salty, musky taste between his rounded, questing lips. Crowley swallows so hard the sound clicks in his throat.

“Hey, Angel? Yellow.”

Aziraphale pulls back a bit and looks up at Crowley. “Are you all right?” he murmurs, his words spoken so closely to Crowley’s straining erection that his lips nearly brush the heated flesh. Crowley shivers.

“Can I,” Crowley swallows again. “Get some water?”

Aziraphale tries not to smile too widely. He doesn’t want Crowley to think he’s laughing at him. In truth, he’s inordinately pleased that Crowley has just prioritized his health over his pleasure. “Of course. I should have thought of that before.” Aziraphale nearly miracles the man up a glass but then goes still. No, better to leave him to wait, isn’t it?

Crowley must notice the mischief in his eye because his eyebrows go high with surprise. “Angel--” he starts in his low croak, but Aziraphale merely rolls himself off the bed.

“I’ll be back soon,” he says, airy and without a care as he walks out of the bedroom. He can feel Crowley’s frustration follow him all the way to the kitchen.

He takes his time filling a tall glass with water from the tap. Then, thoughtfully, he miracles up a small pitcher and fills it up, as well, for later.

He laughs outright when Crowley calls “Aziraphale,” in a mournful cry.

“I’m so sorry, dear, I’ll be right back,” he calls back. He returns to the bedroom with a full pitcher and glass, both of which he sets on the nightstand near Crowley’s glasses. Aziraphale’s warm, amused feeling only grows as he catches the demon grinding his backside against the mattress, trying to rub the waistband of his pants down over his cock to no avail at all.

“Cheeky,” Aziraphale says. “I suppose I ought to deny you water, for that nonsense.”

The way Crowley’s eyes go wide and pained makes Aziraphale’s heart clench.

“But I won’t. It’s understandable that you’re feeling impatient, after all.” He takes up the glass and brings it to Crowley’s mouth, tilting it careful so the demon doesn’t choke. The arrangement means that he can only get a few sips at a time, but Crowley is wise enough not to complain about it, all things considered. He drinks about half the glass that way before he pulls back, satisfied.

“Thanks,” Crowley says, voice considerably less croaky, though still low. “Now, please, angel. Please.”

It’s nearing the two-hour mark, and Aziraphale knows that the toy isn’t meant for use much past that. He hardly wants to hurt Crowley, and, besides, the demon isn’t the only man-shaped being on the bed who is feeling rather impatient to see Crowley come.

Aziraphale situates himself back on the bed, hovering over Crowley’s leg. Gently, he loops his fingers over the waistband of the sodden pants and eases them slowly over the demon’s cock. “Easy, dear,” Aziraphale murmurs reflexively as Crowley starts to whimper at even that small sensation. “Easy, pet.”

Crowley moans a little louder at the unconscious nickname. Aziraphale bites the inside of his cheek to prevent his own knowing smile. He tucks the knowledge away for later use and keeps his focus on Crowley’s erection as it settles against the demon’s torso, rigid and slick and likely aching for touch.

Aziraphale hesitates for a moment, but says what he means to say, even though the words make his face hot with a heady blush. “It’s important that you be thoroughly milked, you know,” he says, forcing the words to come off as casual instead of heated. “After being denied for so long, I shall have to work you very thoroughly.”

The words have the desired affect. Crowley’s breathing goes rapid and staggering and he whimpers softly, writhing against the restraints as if he badly wants to touch Aziraphale immediately. Likely to physically force the angel into action, already. Azirphale smiles as serenely as he can at the demon.

“I think I would have gotten quite a commendation for this in the old days, you know. ‘Have trussed up demon and left him unsatisfied for hours.’”

Crowley growls softly, no longer breathing as much as panting wetly, his lips begging to be kissed. So, Aziraphale does. He kisses Crowley until his eyes are going a bit glazed again and his lips are left red and swollen and a bit damp. Crowley attempts to grind his erection against Aziraphale’s body, but the angel puts a solid hand on his hips and pushes him down so hard that he cannot so much as twitch. The touch will leave a bruise, later, but likely not a deep one.

“Patience is a virtue, my dear,” Aziraphale intones, far more carelessly than he feels. His chest is tight and his head is spinning with a strange mix of pride and, admittedly, a fair bit of lust. For the first time, he allows his body to react, and his own cock is stirring with a fervor. Aziraphale badly wants to take off his own clothes, but he knows that would spoil the scene.

With time against them, Aziraphale softens his kisses and finally wraps his free hand around Crowley’s cock. Just that soft touch makes the demon choke on a breath, his hips bucking hard into the loose fist. Aziraphale obligingly allows the demon to set a rhythm. As the demon frantically bucks his hips, Aziraphale matches the steady glide of his hand in counterpoint. The miracled lube along his digits is likely excessive--it drips from his fingertips and palm and drips thickly down the length of Crowley’s cock, pooling against his balls and soaking the soft material of the harness. But Aziraphale doesn’t want to risk anything in these final moments. Crowley must only feel pleasure and no discomfort at all.

“S’not enough,” Crowley moans, “Please.”

Aziraphale hums in acknowledgement. He changes the angle of his body and tightens his fist. Crowley’s answering low, sustained groan of satisfaction speaks highly of the adjustment, so Aziraphale maintains it and also picks up the pace of his strokes. Crowley is determined, but he’s also been at this for hours, and he’s obviously tiring fast. The thrusts of his hips are losing momentum and force. Aziraphale compensates, murmuring gentle encouragement against Crowley’s skin as he kisses whatever happens to be within his reach.

The headboard gives an ominous creak in the seconds before Crowley’s orgasm hits. Crowley’s head throws back with a thud against the wood, a wordless shout escaping his throat--no doubt leaving it ravaged from the strain--as his whole body arches upward with the momentum. True to his word, Aziraphale continues to stroke him through it long after Crowley’s body has fallen back to the bed, completely, limp. He strokes until Crowley’s body ceases to spend and his cock goes steadily soft. Crowley whimpers and twitches, hypersensitive, but in the end he is too disconnected from himself to offer any real complaint. Aziraphale gently detaches the now thoroughly damp and slippery toy and miracles it out of existence. The angel then goes to check on his demon, but not before making a moue of distaste at the mess on the bedding. He blinks it all away--and the damp of Crowley’s sweat in the threads along with it--before crawling up the bed and lying down alongside Crowley’s lax and lolling form.

“Are you with me?”

Crowley takes a long time to answer. His eyes are closed, his mouth parted over deep, hitching breaths that are already starting to calm. He tries to lift a hand, it seems like, but his fingers barely twitch. “M’here. S’good.” His words are barely even a slur of sound, but Aziraphale knows him well enough to make out the paltry words.

“You did immensely well,” Aziraphale tells him, earnestly. He strokes his fingers through the demon’s sweaty hair. “I’m so proud of you, dear. You are so very good.”

Crowley hums in response and leans into the touch. “M’Like that,” he manages. His voice is a low, debauched whisper, and Aziraphale fancies he’ll sound that way for about as long as the marks on his skin will last, if Crowley lets them. (And, the angel is quite convinced, Crowley will.)

“I know,” Aziraphale agrees, scratching Crowley’s scalp gingerly with his perfectly tended fingernails. “Are you going to sleep?”

Crowley nods against the pillows under his head. His hand twitches again, fruitlessly. “C’m?”

Aziraphale wiggles closer to the demon and wraps his arms around Crowley, pulling him close. “Of course.”

Crowley makes a soft “Hnk” noise that may or may not have been intended as proper speech. He presses his naked, fucked out (there is truly no other phrase for it that Aziraphale can imagine) body up against Aziraphale’s fully clothed one and mumbles something ininteligible before falling into sleep.

Aziraphale, basking in a strange but wondrous sense of a job well done, closes his own eyes and focuses in on the demon’s breath as he settles in for a long afternoon in comfortable silence.

--

Aziraphale has utterly lost track of time, lost in a not-quite daze with his friend and lover and pet gathered up in his embrace. It takes the angel a moment to ascertain what has roused him. Crowley’s second jarring, full-body twitch gives him a good idea. Aziraphale’s lips purse in concern. He’s read up on nightmares almost as extensively as he has kink and sex, by this point. Even so, the twisted expression of fear on Crowley’s sleeping face leaves Aziraphale’s mind momentarily emptied of all thought.

It’s the low, pained noise that Crowley makes that causes Aziraphale to shake himself back into reality. “Crowley,” Aziraphale says, keeping his tone firm and loud enough to hear even over the increasingly frantic ruckus Crowley is making.

Crowley,” Aziraphale repeats, sharper.

Crowley’s eyes snap open, his slit pupils so tight that they are the barest line of black in a pool of gold. He breathes in hitching, swallow gulps of air. Fresh sweat has broken out on his skin. His fists have found their way to the front of Aziraphale’s button up, and he clenches them against the fabric so hard that the buttons must certainly be digging into his skin. “‘Zira’?” the demon manages, his sex-wrecked voice made awful with a tremor of obvious, lingering terror. “What’s h’penned? Where--?”

“We’re in our bed,” Aziraphale tells him, enunciating carefully. “We’re in our bed in our cottage in the South Downs. We were taking a nap. You had a bad dream.”

Crowley blinks at him, long and slow. Apparently unnoticed, his whole body begins to tremble as if rocked by a minor quake. Aziraphale shushes him gently, pulling him close and closing his arms around the vulnerable, bared demon against him. “Easy, love. Easy.”

“I,” Crowley croaks out against Aziraphale’s neck. He swallows heavily and tries again. “I dreamed about the Garden. It was just as it was. Excepting I gave Eve the apple, and she made me eat a piece of it. And I s-saw. I saw--,” Crowley’s explanation breaks on a terrible, overwhelming sob. He presses his face hard against Aziraphale’s neck and the angel closes his eyes, pained, as his skin feels suddenly awash with the warmth of the demon’s tears.

“It’s all right,” Aziraphale soothes, petting his back in slow strokes. “I promise, Crowley, it was just a dream.”

“Something terrible is coming,” Crowley argues, muffled but understood. “Worse than, than--worse than the absolute worst we’ve ever seen, Angel. Even worse.”

Aziraphale’s hand goes still. It’s hard to imagine anything quite that bad. Together, they’ve seen flood and fire and murder and the most terrible of sins. Even more horribly, they’ve seen innocent blood spilled in buckets in the name of their respective superiors, Aziraphale’s especially. War, famine, pestilence and death. Everywhere they have gone, the Horsemen have been there, even if they themselves could not be seen at the time. In way, every day they’ve spent on the earth has held the barest touch of Armageddon at its core.

Aziraphale can’t bring himself to tell Crowley that his vision isn’t true. He doesn’t know that it’s not. He can’t promise that it will be all right. It might be all right, for a while, but it won’t be forever--and they have nothing but forever to look forward to.

“I am so sorry you saw such an awful thing,” Aziraphale settles on, after a while. Because he is. He is full to brimming with pain and pity in equal measure, and it’s so cosmically unfair that Crowley should be treated to something that scares him so.

This paltry offering seems enough to bring Crowley a tremulous sense of calm. Slowly, his tremors ease and go still. His breathing regains composure. He doesn’t move from his frantic burrowing against Aziraphale’s body, but the tight clench of his fists abate. Aziraphale would almost assume he’s fallen back asleep except that his breathing is all wrong. And, of course, the angel doubts that the demon will be coaxed into rest again any time soon.

“I could use a bit of lunch, couldn’t you?” Aziraphale asks probing, after a few minutes of calm silence have passed between them.

Crowley pulls back slowly. He looks exhausted by his nightmare, true, but underneath the strain of that, he also appears thoroughly and delightfully debauched. His lips are still red and swollen. The love bites all over his skin are deeply dark, now, and impossible to miss. His sweaty hair has dried in endearing peaks, and he moves slowly as if his limbs retain a deep, burning ache. Aziraphale picks up the demon’s hands in his and studies his wrists, first one side and the other. They are striped with raw-looking circlets and even bruising a bit, but the skin is whole. Aziraphale gently kisses his lips over the abused flesh and Crowley shudders and hums a low, animal sound.

“You’re insatiable,” the angel accuses him, but Aziraphale knows that his delight is clear all across his face.

“You started it,” Crowley replies, with a slow smile that only grows when the angel goes back to kissing his wrists with reverence. And then the love bites on his neck. And over his chest and down his sides. Crowley lies back on the bed, arms tossed easily over his head, as Aziraphale remarks the boundaries of his claimed territory with soft lips.

“Insatiable,” Aziraphale sing-songs softly as he re-addresses the dark bites along Crowley’s inner thighs and finds the demon’s well-used cock stirring with faint interest.

“Again, Angel, pretty clearly: You started it.”

Aziraphale laughs softly. He can’t deny it.

“You’re still in all your clothes,” Crowley remarks, with some surprise. “I thought I remembered that, but it seemed unlikely. ‘Zira’, did you fuck my brains out my head without so much as loosening your flies?”

Aziraphale looks up and sits back a bit. He’s a bit stunned. Crowley has never called him that soft, easy nickname before without being exhausted or drunk beyond his limits. He’s neither, now, but seems to mean it all the same. Aziraphale smiles, warmed by the thought. “It seemed like a waste of precious time.”

Crowley’s expression goes soft and concerned. “What about you, though? The Understanding isn’t so one-sided, is it?”

Aziraphale shrugs and applies the same gentle kisses he’d used to mark Crowley’s love bites to the stirring line of his cock. “No, I suppose not,” he answers between soft presses of his lips. “But I’m not bothered, my dear. That session was entirely for you.”

“What about this session?” Crowley purrs, lifting his hips toward Aziraphale’s mouth meaningfully.

Aziraphale pulls away entirely, sitting back on the bed. “This is simply a bit of comfort,” the angel replies, archly. “I told you, I want lunch.”

Crowley groans and sits up on his elbows. “And after lunch?”

“After lunch, I want to go walk the beach.”

“And after that?” the demon demands, relentless.

Aziraphale smiles with all the openness of the Mona Lisa. “We’ll see.”

--

After lunch and the beach, Aziraphale insists on having time to peruse his newest acquisitions. Crowley grumbles for a good half hour but eventually gives in. While Aziraphale reads, Crowley wanders out into the back yard and starts the early preparation for the garden he will plant there once the winter season has passed. The days are already going so cold that the salt water in the air stings against the skin.

After a few hours spent in their respective leisure time, Aziraphale demands tea, and they decide to venture into the nearest small hamlet to get it. The restaurant is more aged and tiny than any of their usual London haunts, but the food is acceptable and the waitstaff efficient. They spend several hours there, talking about everything and nothing with centuries of practice behind them. They’ve spoken such for lifetimes and, yet, never seen to run out of things to say to each other--though, admittedly, many of the arguments simply loop around every decade or so.

By the time they leave the restaurant, the sun is setting on the horizon. They pull into the small drive in front of the cottage and step out under a night sky simply awash with stars. After so many years spent in London, both angel and demon had quite forgotten the sheer beauty of an unencumbered sky.

Crowley moves to stand beside Aziraphale--whose neck is craned back, eyes fixated on the vision of God’s beauty above them--and takes the angel’s hand in his. “Come to bed with me,” the demon says, whispering it against Aziraphale’s ear.

Aziraphale looks down at meets his gaze, his eyes soft. Then, a smile curves its way over his cheek. “No, I don’t think so, dear. Maybe later.” And he pats Crowley’s cheek lightly as he passes him by.

Angel,” Crowley all but wails after him. “You can’t be serious!”

--

They fall into a routine of sorts. They start their mornings together with breakfast and reading over the local papers. They take a walk along the beach for hours at a time. Crowley fusses about in the back yard while Aziraphale pours over his books. They start to do more and more of their daily tasks by hand, with as few miracles as possible, simply to better fill the time. Aziraphale finds that a tea steeped by his own hand is infinitely more satisfying than one miracled out of thin air, anyway.

At night, Aziraphale pulls Crowley to the bedroom and utterly fails, time and again, to convince the demon to sleep.

As days and then weeks pass, the demon grows progressively more difficult to manage. The lack of sleep leaves him mercurial, wildly swinging from sullen to manic and all emotions between without warning or pause. His anxiety becomes ever more apparent, exhibiting itself at first in minor gestures--the tapping of his fingertips against the table at breakfast, the scraping of his teeth against his bottom lip while he half-heartedly peruses one of Aziraphale’s books. As the days past, Crowley starts to spend long minutes pacing back and forth in nearly every room of the house. He again picks up the habit of mindlessly circling the perimeter of their property, muttering to himself all the while. When Aziraphale approaches him, no matter with how much warning, Crowley startles. When Aziraphale dares to touch him, Crowley flinches away and then, horrifyingly, breaks down in an anguished, unending string of apology, as if expecting Aziraphale to react with anger instead of concern and alarm.

“That’s it,” Aziraphale announces one midday. They’ve just finished breakfast--Aziraphale tucking into eggs and rashers and toast, Crowley trying and failing to focus long enough to drink his cup of coffee--and Aziraphale can take it no longer.

“I want you to sleep,” Aziraphale began, holding up a hand as Crowley, predictably, starting to argue with him. “But I know it isn’t any use. I know you’ve tried. I know you can’t bring yourself to it. And I’ve tried to be patient, my dear. I honestly thought you might wear yourself out, eventually. But that’s not working, either, and I’m--well, I really must insist.”

Crowley frowns, confused. He pulls at his fingers of his left hand with his right hand. It’s a relatively new anxious tic, and Aziraphale is half afraid the demon is going to forget himself, one day, and dislocate a finger. “Insist on what?”

Aziraphale miracles what he wants and places them on the table where Crowley’s empty breakfast plate used to be. Crowley blinks at the items very slowly. “Some of this is in the ‘uncertain’ column,” he reminds Aziraphale, as if the angel could have possibly forgotten.

“Which is why you are perfectly within your rights, in this moment, to throw them out. But we’ll be doing something with you, today, Crowley. I shall go quite mad, otherwise.”

“And I already am,” the demon joked, dully. He reached out and brushed his fingertips over the ‘uncertain’ items. “You know these hurt, right?”

Aziraphale bites back on his reflexively irritation. Crowley isn’t trying to wind him up. He’s curious, perhaps a bit wary. “Yes, I am aware. That’s why they are listed as they are in the document. You said you weren’t entirely adverse to it. But if you are, today, I’ll put them aside.”

“You really think you might need something like this?” Crowley asks. He’s progressed from scraping his teeth against his bottom lip to chewing the flesh. He has a split lip, and if he keeps toying with it as he is now, it will split again and bleed. That’s a definite rule; Aziraphale will allow no bleeding. And he’d prefer not to see it outside of their sessions, either. Bruises and things are acceptable--the hurt that puts them there is brief. Cutting into Crowley’s flesh, however, seeing the essence of the life in him (or, the life of his corporeal form, at last) pouring out...it isn’t acceptable.

“Stop that,” Aziraphale demands, grabbing Crowley’s chin in his hand and squeezing lightly until the demon stops ravaging his lips with his teeth.

Crowley’s stares at him with rapidly widening pupils. “Uhm.”

“I can’t have you like this anymore, dear,” Aziraphale presses. “I won’t force your decision, but at least make one, and quickly.”

Crowley’s eyes flicker over to the items on the table. “Okay.”

“To all of it?”

“Yeah. Green. But I--.”

“--If you change your mind at any time, use the words. You can trust me.”

Crowley smiles slightly. “Yeah. I know.”

--

The restraints this time are proper manacles, formed of thick leather and padded thoroughly with a soft synthetic fiber on the inside. The chain link that attaches them to each other has an especially large, thick loop of chain attached at the middle of the line. It’s meant to be secured to a hook, and that’s exactly what Aziraphale plans to do with it.

The floor directly under the hook has been sunken so that Aziraphale won’t have trouble reaching Crowley even while he is hanging. Crowley blinks up at the lowered square of the bedroom ceiling and big, imposing hook hanging from it. “This...looks serious.”

For the first time ever, Aziraphale realizes what this set up reminds him of. “Color, dear?” Aziraphale asks, and he’s so convinced that Crowley is seeing what he is seeing that Aziraphale puts his hands on the buckles of the manacles, ready to release them.

“Green,” Crowley says, with a shrug.

Ah. Well, better safe than sorry: “This isn’t going to upset you, dearest, is it? I hadn’t realized before, but the setup is rather reminiscent of Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign.”

Crowley blinks and looks from the manacles to the hook and then meets Aziraphale’s eyes. “This is paper dolls compared to what the Inquisition favored, ‘Zira’. I’m fine.”

“All right,” Aziraphale replies, slowly. “But if that changes--.”

“--Red, yellow, I know the words. These are heavy, Angel. Hoist me up.”

Aziraphale nods and does as bidden. The chain is short enough that Crowley will have to brace his weight carefully or feel a tight pull on his arms. He’s not hanging, by any means, but the pull draws his body down in a lean, long line of activated muscles. Over time, they’ll develop quite an ache. “Good?”

“Good,” Crowley agrees. He’s got his eyes on the other ‘uncertain’ item in Aziraphale’s hands, though. His expression is titillated more than wary, but Aziraphale still checks in (and gets a solid ‘green’) as he first buckles the collar--heavy and padded, matching the manacles--around Crowley’s neck. Then he grasps the loose end of the thinner chain link hanging off of it and attaches it to the base of a new harness. “Hold still, please. I have to fit it right.”

Crowley hums in agreement and barely does so much as breathe as Aziraphale kneels at his feet and gently spreads his thighs. Attaching the harness just so is important, and Aziraphale takes his sweet time. The many bands loop multiple times around Crowley’s balls, forming a tight cage, and then the multiple cock rings slide over the shaft, one at the base, one in the middle, and one just under the flare of the head. Crowley’s cock stirs and fills slightly as Aziraphale works, but it doesn’t impede his goal. If anything, it helps the angel ensure the fit is good. He nods to himself, satisfied, and then deftly pulls up the bits of harness that are looped through with heavy metal rings. Each ring corresponds to a thicker band, and then the far end of that band is pulled up--Crowley hisses out a slow breath at the tug--and clasped to the thick ring in the collar around Crowley’s neck. Even with Crowley standing in the perfect, stationary position, the chain is so short that it pulls his restrained cock and testicles unnaturally high. Aziraphale is rather surprised to see that Crowley’s erection isn’t flagging from the discomfort. Even despite physical reaction, he’s careful to draw Crowley’s eyes to his and ask, “Color?”

Crowley breathes for a moment, assessing. “Green. Weird, though.”

Aziraphale smiles. “All right. Now, you understand how it works, yes? If you move, you’re going to pull the chains.”

Crowley nods. “I get it. Try to hold still or suffer the consequences. Angel, your messages are not subtle.”

Aziraphale blushes faintly. Well, Crowley had been so restless, lately.

The next item is not on the ‘uncertain’ list, but all things considered, even though they’ve used it before, Aziraphale checks in.

Crowley nods and ‘greens’ the floral scarf and Aziraphale is careful to tie it securely enough that it won’t slip down over the bridge of Crowley’s nose should he move about too much.

“All right,” Aziraphale says, more to himself than to his pet. He had thought long and hard on the elements of this session--the restraints to hold him still, the blindfold to heighten his tactile senses and leave him guessing--but not as much the action itself. He doesn’t imagine this will be a long session; merely looking at Crowley’s stretched out form makes Aziraphale tired. Still, he doesn’t care to rush and miss his mark. Crowley is going to sleep after this scene, and sleep deeply at that, even if Aziraphale has to exhaust him into it himself.

In the weeks since their last session, none of the markings of Aziraphale’s lips remain. He decides to rectify that, first. Crowley flinches in surprise at the first touch, unable to see it coming, but then he hums happily as Aziraphale attaches himself to Crowley’s clavicle and sucks hard. Crowley reflexively arches his neck to the side to give Aziraphale more room and then he yelps sharply as the motion tugs hard at his caged cock and balls. “Fuck,” Crowley breathes.

“Color?”

“Green,” Crowley answers, immediately. “But I’m a dumbarse,” he adds in a low mutter. Aziraphale, piqued, bites the length of bone beneath his lips, causing Crowley to flinch but not jerk his head.

“No self-effacing, or I’ll pull your head back myself. By the hair, I should think.”

Crowley groans lowly at the thought but doesn’t test the theory. “Sorry.”

Aziraphale doesn’t leave Crowley’s clavicle until the whole sharp line of flesh is purpled beyond recognition. He then circles around the small circular divot in the floor and turns the exact same attention to Crowley’s other side. Crowley breathes through it, holding preternaturally still.

Humming softly, Aziraphale breaks from the expected routine and abruptly leans forward, running his tongue, flat and wet, over Crowley’s nipple. Crowley hisses at the totally unexpected contact, jerking bodily back. The chains on his arms pull them taut and the chain down his front jingles merrily even as it tugs his tender privates high and subjects them to a tight, strangling squeeze. Crowley makes a panicked, pained sound, suddenly up on his toes and thrashing.

Aziraphale backs away, not keen to get hit in the frenzy. “Color! Crowley! Calm down! Put your feet flat under you and keep your head still. Crowley!”

Crowley does as ordered. Feet flat with weight balanced slightly more on the balls of his feet. Head lifted just so and set still over his shoulders. He hangs there for several long beats, panting through it. Aziraphale imagines his eyes are wide with anxiety under the scarf. The angel strides forward in one step, already moving to remove the blindfold, first, and then all the rest.

“Green,” Crowley says, voice strangled. “Green, green, green, don’t stop.”

Aziraphale hesitates. Gently, he rests his fingertips over the bone of Crowley’s temple, pressing his fingers against the soft floral fabric. “You’re sure?”

“Green,” Crowley repeats. “I forgot where I was, for a second.”

Aziraphale closes his eyes, pained. Crowley’s panicked, violent reaction had not been what Aziraphale had wanted from this session. Crowley was meant to tire himself out by standing still, not hurt himself and ramp up his own anxiety.

“‘Zira’,” Crowley presses. “Please.”

“Yellow,” Aziraphale grounds out. “Just...give me a moment. That was...I did not anticipate or enjoy that.”

Aziraphale wants to remove the blindfold, wants to see the certainty in Crowley’s eyes himself--but Crowley had said green, and if he said it, then he meant it.

“I’ll hold still,” Crowley whispers, after a few beats of uneasy silence. “I won’t move a muscle. I’ll be so good, and I won’t move even a little bit, because you don’t want me to move and if I do you’ll be upset, and I don’t want to upset you. I promise. I promise.”

Aziraphale sighs, long and low. He nods once, sharply, even though Crowley can’t see it. “Green,” he says. Then he gently strokes his fingers through Crowley’s hair. “I know. You’re such a grave, good boy, my dear. I trust you to be very, very obedient.”

Crowley presses into the touch as much as he dares and purrs out a low hum of recognition and appreciation at the praise.

The next time Aziraphale laps unexpectedly at Crowley’s nipple, the demon goes tense all over but doesn’t move. That tension remains in his muscles for the rest of the session, forcing his body to constant inaction, the strain clear in every line of his body. Aziraphale kisses and carrasses and laps at Crowley’s body, avoiding the cage and its inhabitants, though Crowley’s erection makes quite a sight pressed up tight as it is against Crowley’s clenched and likely burning abdominals.

About twenty minutes in since Crowley’s panic, the demon releases a small sob of effort as Aziraphale calmly kisses against his spine. Crowley’s back is so tense that his scapulas stand out in sharp relief. A faint, unconscious tremor of muscles strain started to thrum through Crowley’s body about five minutes ago, and it’s rapidly getting more pronounced.

“Don’t move,” Aziraphale warns him softly. “I shall be very cross if you do.”

Crowley whimpers out a small noise of agreement, knowing far better than to try and nod. Aziraphale trails his fingers over Crowley’s sides, having learned in recent weeks that he is ticklish, there. Crowley gasps in a deep breath and catches himself in time, his center of gravity nearly compromised but saved at the last moment as the demon instead holds his breath and pulls his torso long and lean, away from Aziraphale’s touch.

Aziraphale goes back to the safer territory of leaving dark love bites on the curve of Crowley’s arse. The demon’s legs are quaking, now, his knees obviously mere minutes from giving out. Aziraphale ignores them.

“‘Zira,’” Crowley moans, “I can’t anymore. I can’t.”

“If you move,” Aziraphale says, imperiously, “I will be angry with you.”

Crowley can’t even work up the energy to whimper in response. He just continues to stand, body buckling under the strain.

Aziraphale moves in front of the demon and, as his penultimate act, rubs his knuckles against the underside of Crowley’s weeping cock, between the ring at the base and in the middle. Crowley, unable to see it coming, shouts. He swings forward on the restraints around his wrists, pulling his arms so hard the joints creak, but that’s all. He is left hanging that way for a long beat, too afraid to try and rock back onto his heels to relieve the strain for fear that--blinded as he is--he will overcompensate and move more than he is allowed.

A low keen of pain starts up in Crowley’s throat and seems unlikely to stop. His legs shudder compulsively, all of his body weight now resting on the fragile foundation of the balls and toes of his feet and, of course, the long pull of his stretched and aching arms.

“Color?”

Crowley breathes in a few, hiccuping gulps. “Green. Green, but I c-can’t much--.”

“Shush,” Aziraphale snaps, and Crowley does stop speaking, but the small keen comes back and remains between them.

Slowly, Aziraphale reaches up and unclasps the thin chain down Crowley’s front. The demon gasps and sobs in relief as the painful pull against his privates disappears. Aziraphale unclapses the entire harness with a few deft twists and it falls to the floor between Crowley’s painfully bent feet. The cock rings remain and for a moment Aziraphale allows the erection to bob between them, allows Crowley to adjust to the sudden lack of tight, insistent pull. Crowley continues to hang forward in the untenable position. Shudders of pure muscle exhaustion thrum through him, threatening to send him to the ground at any moment. That would put an awful strain on his arms. The restraints are built to snap under too much sudden weight, so Crowley will be reasonably safe, but the fall itself would hurt terribly. And, besides, if he falls, he will break his promise. And that’s not allowed.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says, casually, as if he is saying the demon’s name over a mean at the Ritz.

Crowley moans softly in response, a mangled mess of Aziraphale’s name. His voice is tight with pain and raw with strain.

“I’m going to get you off, now. Right where you stand. But if you fall down before you’ve come, I will be very cross and you will be in terrible trouble. Do you hear me?”

Crowley swallows thickly. Because he can, now, he nods.

“Good boy. I knew I could count on you.”

Crowley makes a small, touched noise at the words.

“I am going to touch you, now, dearest. Stay still.”

Crowley’s hips twitch minutely as Aziraphale wraps his hand around his erection, but that’s the extent of it. The rest of his body stays taut and coiled hard as stone, the only sign that Crowley’s body is indeed living that of the agonized tremors that wrack through his every muscle.

It only takes a few firm strokes before Crowley comes. The moment he does, Aziraphale backs away and miracles the restraints to release and Crowley falls hard to his knees on the sunken floor. The demon curls reflexively over himself, sobbing harshly into the carpet.

“Easy, love,” Aziraphale murmurs. He miracles the sunken floor to rise up to the same level as the rest of it and sinks to his knees beside the demon. He goes to rub his hand soothingly over the curve of the demon’s spine, but even the softest of pressure against Crowley’s skin makes him whimper in pain.

“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale says, honestly stricken. He had known the effort would be strenuous and exhausting, but he hadn’t thought it would cause Crowley any pain once he was loose and could adjust. “Oh, my love, I’m so terribly sorry.”

“Green,” Crowley says. His voice is battered and reed-thin, but understood. “Help...help me to t-the bed?”

Aziraphale gamely, gently pulls Crowley’s arms up, intending to support him the few steps to the bed. Crowley yowls at the motion, however, rendering Aziraphale frozen in horror in response. “Nevermind, nevermind. What have I done? Oh, Crowley.”

The demon huffs softly. “Green, Angel. Jus’miracle.”

Aziraphale swallows thickly and nods, too upset to speak. He miracles Crowley’s body onto the bed in the exact position he’s curled up in on the floor. With a groan, Crowley slowly and carefully unfolds himself from the tight curl he’s in so that his abdomen lays on the mattress. Then, grimacing and cursing softly, he stretches out one leg and the other and, finally, tries to pull his protesting arms so that they lay parallel at his sides. “Fuck,” Crowley grinds out into the pillow under his face. “Can’t.”

“Let...let me try, dear,” Aziraphale offers, voice trembling almost as much as the length of Crowley’s still quaking muscles. With gentle fingers, Aziraphale pulls Crowley’s arms straight and down at his sides. Crowley whimpers and curses up a blue streak all the while, but once he’s laid out flat he goes abrupting silent.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale asks, choked by concern.

The demon turns his head a bit in his sleep so as to breathe easier and then falls totally under. Half-an-hour or so later, the tremors in his muscles ease. Aziraphale sits stone still, fretting to himself, for long minutes before realizing, with a wince, that his duty to Crowley is far from complete. While the demon sleeps like the dead, Aziraphale miracles a mint-y smelling ointment into existence and spends the next hour or so rubbing the stuff into every inch of Crowley’s back and nape and his lax, unmoving limbs. He pays special attention to the arms, rubbing his thumbs hard up long, up and down sweeps. By the time he is done, the scent of mint is pervasive and Aziraphale’s hands and shoulders ache from the effort--though not even close to how badly Crowley’s arms must feel.

Aziraphale sniffles softly and curls up on the bed. He’d like to pull Crowley close, but he feels distinctly unworthy in the moment, all things considered. Instead, he keeps carefully to his side of the bed and watches the slow rise and fall of Crowley’s back as he sleeps. There are no nightmares. Crowley sleeps for three days straight, and Aziraphale keeps a wide-eyed watch for every minute of it.

--

“You look like hell,” Crowley greets upon waking. He goes to stretch, as is his typical habit after a nap, only to regret it immediately. His muscles burn and ache all over and, as he tries to rescind the action, the muscle of his right calf clenches up and refuses to release. Crowley hisses, flailing away from the pain of it even as Aziraphale suddenly scoots himself rapid-fire to the end of the bed and diligently begins to massage and flex the charlie horse away.

“I am so sorry,” Aziraphale babbles the whole time. “Truly, my dear, what I’ve done is quite unconscionable. I cannot believe my own arrogance and foolhardiness. If I’d had a lick of sense whatsoever, I never would have--.”

“‘Zira’?” Crowley says, baffled. He gently pulls his leg--no longer cramping--from the angels grasp and--very carefully-- reaches out a hand to tug him back to his side. “What’re you talking about?”

“The session. I had no idea how difficult it would be on you, truly. I hadn’t thought it was hurt so terribly, especially afterward, and you were so afraid, and I--.”

Crowley tugs hard at Aziraphale’s wrist, pulling the angel bodily on top of him. “You’re still wearing all your clothes,” Crowley remarks, amused. His expression is soft as he trails trembling fingers over Aziraphale’s lapel.

Aziraphale opens his mouth again, to keep apologizing. Crowley shakes his head, interrupting him.

“You did fine, sweetheart. It was good. I’m a bit sore, right enough, but I haven’t slept so well in ages. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but--.”

“Can I kiss you?”

Aziraphale, dumbstruck, nods.

Crowley’s kiss is chaste and warm. “M’pretty hardy, Angel. I’m fine. Could probably miracle it all away, even, if I wanted to. But I don’t want to.” He pauses, approaching his words with obvious care. “I feel used. Well used. And I like it.”

Aziraphale blushes. “Oh.”

Crowley grins. “I am awful stiff, though, I admit. Could probably use a good warming up to get the blood flowing.” He lifts his hips a bit, grinding them suggestively against Aziraphale’s own. The angel just sputters at him.

“You can’t be serious. You’ll get another cramp.”

“C’mon, ‘Zira’. I’ll be gentle.”

Aziraphale huffs. He kisses Crowley’s lips in a small peck and rolls off the bed. “Stay there,” he orders. “I’m bringing us breakfast.”

Crowley sighs.

--

Weeks afterward, Crowley starts fidgeting over lunch at the local restaurant. Aziraphale watches with equal parts concern and confusion. Crowley, to his knowledge, has been sleeping regularly and without incident since their last session. Yes, he appears to be falling back into his anxiety spiral, complete with tapping fingernails.

Aziraphale covers the twitching fingers with his hand. “Is everything all right?”

Crowley starts to speak, stops himself, works his mouth a bit, and then says, flatly: “No.”

“No?” Aziraphale is surprised by the direct response. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Can we go home?”

Aziraphale warms at Crowley calling the little cottage ‘home’ even as he nods. “Of course, my dear. Let me get the cheque.”

Crowley is waiting for him in the Bentley. The drive back is tense and silent; not even Queen is playing on the tape deck.

They make a similarly silent way into the cottage. Aziraphale tugs off his gloves, winter hat, and coat. The moment he’s divested of them, Crowley grabs his wrist and tugs him along behind him toward the bedroom.

“Crowley? What is going on?”

Crowley pushes Aziraphale lightly so that he loses his balance and falls backward onto the recently-tidied mattress. Aziraphale’s breath leaves him all in a rush and he stares up at Crowley in obvious confusion. “While not entirely unpleasant, my dear, this bit of silent treatment is quite alarming.”

Crowley’s predatory manner falls off him like a slush of snow off a rooftop in the spring. He groans in frustration and flops down beside Aziraphale on the bed, landing face-first. “You’re killing me, Angel.”

“Oh, dear, really?”

Crowley shoots Aziraphale a wry look. “Not literally.” With a sigh, the demon rolls onto his side and grabs Aziraphale by the hand, giving his fingers a squeeze. “Why won’t you have sex with me?”

Aziraphale blinks at him a few times, startled. “I thought I had.”

“We’ve had lots of sessions,” Crowley agrees. “And I think we can argue with a clear case that sex is happening. But I haven’t hardly touched you. And I want to.”

Aziraphale could not look more startled than if someone had just informed him that Moses had arrived in a yhat instead of a woven basket. “Do you really? My word.”

‘Zira’, for good--for ba--for my sake. Why wouldn’t I want to?”

“It hadn’t occurred to me,” Aziraphale replied, thoughtfully.

“I helped you learn how to get a stiffy,” Crowley replies, deadpan, “That wasn’t a clue?”

Aziraphale goes hot and red with a fervent blush. “Well, when you put it that way.”

Crowley pulls Aziraphale toward him so that their foreheads rest against each other and they share breath. “I want to make you feel good, like you do me. I want to see you naked. Properly, not in a bath. Is that allowed?”

The Understanding doesn’t exactly specify, being mostly centered on keeping Crowley’s racing terrors in check and making sure he takes care of himself. Aziraphale is not much featured beyond being the instigator of that. Perhaps the document needs revising.

“I think we could pencil it,” Aziraphale replies, breathily, just as Crowley draws him into a kiss.

--

Later, after the editing is all done and dusted, Aziraphale sits on the edge of the bed and tries not to fiddle overmuch with the tie he’s loosened from around his neck.

Crowley’s hand descends and plucks the bit of fabric away, tossing it aside. “C’mon, Angel. Work with me, here.”

“Oh, yes. I suppose. Of course.”

“Are you even listening?” Crowley asks, amused and fond.

“No,” Aziraphale admits, watching with some dismay as Crowley tugs off his waistcoat and tosses it to the floor. “Oh, now wait a moment--.”

“Color?” Crowley purrs, hands on the buttons of his shirt.

Aziraphale sighs, sparing one last glance at his poor, mistreated waistcoat before meeting Crowley’s eyes. “Green.”

It’s odd, to be laid out on the bed on his back with Crowley hovering over him. Crowley’s hand skims over Aziraphale’s bared thigh and the angel flinches and whimpers. Crowley’s hand goes abruptly still. “Color?”

“Green,” Aziraphale replies, fretfully.

Crowley pulls back a bit. “Maybe you should just let me know how you’re doing every little bit without prompting. Otherwise, we’re going to be at this a long time.”

“Oh. Well. All right.”

Crowley smiles and nuzzles against Aziraphale’s neck, kissing and nibbling at the same spot for a long while. Aziraphale breathes a soft sigh of ‘green’ and starts to relax.

Crowley hums and kisses his way over Aziraphale’s face and neck, keeping one hand braced on the bed and the other slowly stroking high on Aziraphale’s thigh. “Do you remember how it works?”

Aziraphale hums a positive sound and closes his eyes, thinking about the process a bit, allowing his human-shaped vessel to react as it wished to. “Its, ahm, online.”

Crowley snorts a rough laugh against Aziraphale’s sternum, kissing it in apology after. “All right. Can I move lower?”

“Green.”

Crowley and Aziraphale had both agreed that the angel and demon would both be entirely naked. Aziraphale wishes he’d at least asked to keep his pants on, for a while. He feels dreadfully exposed, especially as Crowley starts to kiss down from his chest to his abdomen. Crowley spends a long while nuzzling into the soft, rounded surface of Aziraphale’s stomach and sides. Centuries of fine wines and delicacies had caused all of his bodies to take on a bit of weight, and his current model--the only model left to him, most likely--was especially susceptible. Crowley hums with satisfaction, leaving love bites all along the curve of Aziraphale’s love handles. Aziraphale, more than a tad ticklish there, squirms. “Perfect,” Crowley sighs easily against his skin, and Aziraphale blushes happily at the simple compliment.

Crowley makes his way from Aziraphale’s soft sides down to his thighs, nibbling with more force, there. Aziraphale flinches.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” Crowley mumbles, licking the sting away. “No more of that,” he promises. Crowley can take a bit of pain, it seems, but Aziraphale takes no pleasure from it at all.

“Color?”

“Green,” Aziraphale says, watching as Crowley’s head pulls away from his thighs. The demon studies Aziraphale’s groin with obvious interest.

“You’re circumcised.”

“Oh, yes. The Quartermaster rather insists upon it.”

Crowley hums with vague interest. “You sure you’re doing all right? You’re not very aroused.”

“Oh. I’m afraid I’m not skilled at, at that bit, yet.”

Crowley grins at him, the expression absolutely sinful when accompanied with half-lidded eyes. “I can help,” he assures and then proceeds to take Aziraphale’s rather soft cock in his mouth, entire.

Aziraphale yelps, his heels digging into the mattresses, his eyes fluttering upward toward the ceiling. He shouts out a quick “Green, dear!” for fear that Crowley might stop.

Crowley hums in acknowledgement, and the rumble of it sparks all through Aziraphale’s length. The angel gasps in several quick bursts of air and does his best not to wriggle right off the bed as the demon lavishes attention on him with his mouth. Under such care, Aziraphale’s cock rapidly fills and hardens in Crowley’s mouth. The demon adjusts his angle to keep from getting choked and then proceeds to bob his head a bit up and down, hollowing out his cheeks like a pro. (Seduction is a common trick among Hell’s agents; Crowley has, very literally, learned from the best that humanity had had to offer to hone the skill.)

“Oh, I think--I’m--.”

Crowley leaves off of Aziraphale’s cock with a wet and vulgar pop of noise. He rubs spittle off his lips with the back of his hand and grins at the angel. “Too much, eh?”

“Just a bit slower, if you please. Or I believe this encounter will be short lived.”

Crowley’s grin remains and he clambors up the bed and kisses his way up the angel’s body, instead. “Sorry. Got overexcited.”

“Yes. So did I,” the angel replies, wryly. He hums, pleased, as the demon instigates a deep, open-mouthed kiss.

They kiss until Aziraphale starts to squirm, lifting his hips and grinding his length against Crowley’s thigh. Crowley laughs into the kiss, murmuring a low, mocking “‘Patience is a virtue, Crowley,’” as he shifts his weight and cants his hips so that his own hard erection rubs along the length of Aziraphale’s, the both of them trapped between their bodies.

“Cheeky,” Aziraphale accuses, but the complaint loses itself in a low and heady groan of pleasure. “Oh, dear, do please keep doing that. Only slower.”

“I go much slower, Angel, we’ll both be holding still.”

Aziraphale, well--he pouts, really, for lack of a better word. “But it feels so nice. I don’t want to stop.”

Crowley snorts another short laugh. “Greedy,” he accuses. “Gonna put the cock ring on you, next.”

Aziraphale goes red and also mewls softly at the thought. Crowley’s teasing expression goes soft and heated all at once. “Mmhm, or maybe right now. They can go on erect, right?”

Aziraphale breathes out a slow breath, getting his bearings. “Some, yes. Pick something flexible.”

“You mean it?” Crowley says, eyebrows high. He has, in fact, stopped moving his hips. Aziraphale may kill him. It won’t be a sin. Crowley is the Enemy, after all.

Crowley.

“It’s not vanilla. This is your first time, technically.”

Crowley.”

The demon grins. “All right, I hear you. No more thwarting. Or is it tempting? It’s hard to tell, just now.”

Crowley miracles the toy into his hands and sits back in order to put it on. It’s a bit of a rough go, but the demon applies more than a fair share of lubricant and, eventually, the toy settles beautifully at Aziraphale’s base. “What a sight.”

Aziraphale makes a dismissive noise, but Crowley presses the issue. He sits back on his haunches at stares at Aziraphale with something so bordering on true reverence that it makes Aziraphale worried think about false idols.

Then again. He is a demon, Aziraphale reminds himself. So that’s probably all right, for him.

Crowley repositions himself and they start to rock against each other in earnest. With the toy restraining him, Aziraphale feels less on the teetering edge before he’s ready to do so, and the angel relaxes into the steady sensation of pleasure that spikes with every practiced roll of Crowley’s hips.

Crowley comes long before the angel does and he spends several long minutes licking Aziraphale clean, which the angel finds both disgusting and arousing, a state of internal conflict he could never previously have imagined. Crowley tastes salty and musky when they kiss again, and the mixed emotion persists, only to give way to a purer pleasure as Crowley moans loudly into Aziraphale’s mouth, apparently spurred to it simply by the thrusting of Aziraphale’s tongue between his teeth. Aziraphale orgasms while they are kissing, and the sensation is so raw and harsh that he feels hollowed out like a pumpkin in the aftermath. Crowley keeps kissing him through the aftershocks and then murmurs sweet, vile temptations and words of piercing endearment in the angel’s ear as Aziraphale comes down.

Aziraphale whimpers and writhes away when Crowley tries to remove the cock ring, so the demon shrugs and leaves it there for the time being. Crowley miracles the mess and sweat away--bless him--and then they wrap about each other as Crowley drifts to sleep.

“No nightmares,” he mumbles to himself, a recent mantra that has become something akin to a demon’s prayer. Aziraphale hums in soft agreement and kisses Crowley’s temple, stroking his hair as he falls under.

--

The ring is still around Aziraphale’s cock when he wakes up a few hours later. He goes to remove it, but is stymied by the fact that he’s half-hard from sleeping, making the blasted thing much more difficult to wiggle off.

Crowley watches him with eyes so yellow and with pupils so rounded that he looks more like a hungry cat than the reptile he is. He looks sleep-tousled but untroubled by dreams. He watches Aziraphale for a while as the angel prods at his erection--which does not help the situation--and gives it up for a loss.

“You could leave it on,” Crowley purrs, suggestively.

“You take far too much enjoyment from this.”

“I take enjoyment out of you, Angel,” Crowley corrects. “I quite fancy the idea of prepping you up and sending you out all day, actually.”

Aziraphale goes still with thought. “That’s not typical of the dynamic.”

Crowley waves a hand, dismissive. “So we’re a bit switchy. So what?” He pauses, tilting his head in a way that reminds Aziraphale viscerally of a thousand small and thwarted temptations over the years. “Are you interested?”

Aziraphale clears his throat a few times.

“I’m doing well, lately,” Crowley says, which is true. “I don’t think I need a come down today, at least. It wouldn’t hurt anything.”

Aziraphale considers. “What are you planning?”

Crowley’s grin is sharp and predatory and makes Aziraphale swallow heavily. He grimaces at the suddenly strangling sensation of the ring--Crowley’s sharp-edged glee is making him embarrassingly hard. And, based on the way the demon’s eyes flicker down, he knows it.

“Let me put a toy in you. Something remote controlled.”

Aziraphale’s jaw opens a bit of its own volition. “Oh, my dear, I’m not sure--.”

“I would be very discerning with it,” Crowley promises, looking every single inch the flash-bastard demon.

Aziraphale flinches back from that look. Crowley frowns, brows drawn in confusion, but then it seems to click. He rubs a hand over his face and, once free of it, looks more like the being Aziraphale has come to know and love. “You can say no,” Crowley says, gently. “It wouldn’t be any fun, if you weren’t interested.”

Aziraphale licks his lips. “Just for today,” he decides, slowly, “And I don’t want to leave the cottage.”

“The beach?”

Aziraphale thinks about walking down the beach, minding his own business, leaning down to admire a tide pool and--he swallows, thickly. “Yes, that would be fine.”

Crowley nods agreeably. He miracles a toy into existence. It looks less terrifying than Aziraphale had expected--big, but not so much as to be terrifying. It’s black (of course) and has enough curve to its shape for Aziraphale to guess what it’s supposed to fit up against. Crowley holds the remote in his other hand. He shows it to the angel. It has three settings of low, medium, and high and an off/on switch. Simple, efficient. Also not too terribly intimidating.

“I wish to keep the cock ring on,” Aziraphale tells him, shrugging at the mystified look on the demon’s face in response.

“You aren’t shy,” Crowley reminds himself, with a smirk.

“Not always,” Aziraphale agrees. He rolls over onto his front and gets up on his hands and knees. “All right, my dear. I’m ready.”

Crowley mumbles a curse, tone soft with wonderment and maybe gratitude. His hands are warm and wide against Aziraphale’s hips.

--

Later, much later, Aziraphale lies naked and sprawling on the bed as Crowley kisses reverently up the angel’s back and over one side of his jaw. “Good day?” the demon probes. He’s asked many times, but Aziraphale doesn’t mind. He understands the writhing ball of worry and pride and adoration that the demon feels in his chest. Aziraphale feels it too.

“An immensely good day,” Aziraphale hums. He’s bone-weary in a way he hasn’t been in a long while, sore inside and out, though the burn is pleasant. He shifts his hips a bit just to twinge the lingering ache. Crowley had used his fingers to prep him, first, before inserting the hard, uncompromising girth of the toy. It had been pleasant.

“Tomorrow, I think we should get out of the house. The people in the village are going to start spreading nasty rumors about those two young men in the cottage and what they must be getting up to.”

Aziraphale grimaces into his pillow, only mollified by the trail of Crowley’s fingers stroking in firm strokes up and down his back. “Please don’t joke about that. Gossips can be so vicious. I’d rather think more kindly of the townsfolk than that.”

“Idealist,” Crowley accuses.

“You know that isn’t true,” Aziraphale yawns back.

Crowley’s hands go still between his shoulder blades, where his wings would be if they were on the physical plane. “I know, ‘Zira’.” Soft lips replace his hands, following the line of his non-existent wings exactly.

“You know they’re sensitive,” Aziraphale scolds, hissing a bit.

“Mmhm. We should pull them out sometime. You want to see sensitive, Angel, I know all of the right zones.”

Aziraphale snorts. “You’re lying.”

“Lying and tempting,” Crowley agrees, easily.

“M’very tired, my dear. May we sleep?”

Crowley flops down on top of Aziraphale like a demonic blanket. “If you insist,” he whispers against Aziraphale’s ear, making it tickle. The angel groans and tries to kick the demon off but, in the end, gives it up as a lost cause.

He falls asleep half-smothered by the weight of a needy demon. It’s quite nice.

--

That night, Aziraphale has a nightmare.

Eve, in the Garden, with her Adam behind him. She has a quarter piece of an apple in her hands and keeps trying to force it, rather violently, between his clamped and unwilling teeth.

“If we must know, you must know!” she yells at him, eyes wild and frantic, hands clawing viciously against his chin. His lip splits under the force of her fingers and he cries out without thinking. The apple is pushed between his teeth and down his throat and he’s choking on it, hacking and coughing to no avail when suddenly it dislodges from his throat and slides down his esophagus. It leaves the familiar tang of Crowley’s seed on his tongue.

Then, he knows.

--

Aziraphale sits up with a painful gasp, his mouth and throat aching, his hands trembling as he draws them twice down the length of his face. He’s soaked through with sweat and has to push back against the persistent impulse to cry.

“Hey! Hey, it’s all right. Angel, breathe. Breathe, baby. There you go. All right. In and out, easy as you please.”

Aziraphale sobs, unable to keep the rising flood of emotion back any longer. He can’t quite remember the details of the dream after swallowing the jagged piece of apple, but it doesn’t matter. He can feel the memory of it, too horrible to name.

“Oh, God,” Aziraphale moans. “Oh, Lord, what have I done to deserve such torment?”

The soothing hands on his shoulders go still. “Fuck.” Crowley draws him back, eyes searching Aziraphale’s own in the darkness of their bedroom. “Hey, that’s--what happened? Are you all right?”

“The dream,” Aziraphale manages. He’s started to shiver and his teeth keep chattering. It’s annoying. Crowley curses again and pulls at the comforter, wrapping it tight around Aziraphale’s shoulders. “Your nightmare. I believe I j-just had it.”

Crowley’s crestfallen expression can be read even in the too-dim light. “Oh.” Crowley clears his throat and gently wipes some of the still-streaming tears off of Aziraphale’s cheeks. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Something is coming,” Aziraphale intones, hollowly. “Just as you said.”

--

They sit in a back corner of the local restaurant and try to pretend that the platter of small sandwiches they share between them tastes like anything more than ash in their mouths.

“What shall we do?” Aziraphale asks.

“Whether it together, I suspect,” Crowley replies.

Silence stretches between them for a long while, after that.

“Perhaps we should call upon Adam Young.”

Crowley’s incredulity stings. “And do what with him? I told you, he got all snuffed out after the Almost Armageddon.”

“No. You said he had enough power left to light a match. There’s a difference. Why would the Almighty see fit to leave him with anything, after, if not for a purpose?”

Crowley blinks. “Do you really think so?”

“My dear, I am terrified to think of anything else.”

Crowley covers his hands with his own. “So. We go to Tadfield.”

Aziraphale nods. “We go to Tadfield.”

--

Tadfield no longer overwhelms Aziraphale with a pervasive aura of love. He rather misses it, in all honesty, especially as its lack only proves what neither he nor Crowley are willing to currently acknowledge: the Antichrist is only a child, now, and unlikely to be able help them defeat whatever unknown terror is on the rise.

Crowley touches him constantly all during the journey. Brushing his hand over Aziraphale’s hair, fiddling with his fingers, rubbing his knee. It would normally alarm Aziraphale to no end to see Crowley driving down the road with his usual speed committing only one hand to the wheel, but under the circumstances, Aziraphale doesn’t care.

There are worse things than fire-y crashes in their future.

It’s Mr. Young the senior who answers the door. Crowley turns up the charm and Aziraphale tries to be as affable as possible and between their combined demeanors and a few lies (told by Crowley of course), they manage to get an audience with the boy who would once have been king.

“Hello,” Adam says. He’s polite and friendly, on the surface, but Aziraphale can read the boy’s suspicion underneath. A suspicion of strangers only or something deeper?

“I’m off to mow the lawn. You be good and answer all the nice mens’ questions, eh, Adam?”

Crowley shoots Aziraphale a lidded, amused look. Perhaps they had laid the charm and whammy on a bit too thick.

Adam sits on a overstuffed chair across from the loveseat on which the angel and demon perch. “Suspect you’ve been having the dreams, too, then,” the young boy says, thoughtfully, and Aziraphale closes his eyes and thanks the Lord God with all his might.

--

It’s Adam Young (fifteen, now, and gangly, and far more smirky than Aziraphale remembers) and Anathema Device who domineer the conversation that follows. Jasmine cottage smells faintly of its namesake, and Ms. Device makes a wonderful tea.

“Unfortunately,” Anathema sighs, “I can’t imagine how much help I can be. Agnes sent me the sequel to her book, after it was all said and done, but Newt and I burnt it up.”

Crowley nods. “Destiny. It chafes, a bit.”

“Yes,” Anathema agrees. “But it’d be damn useful to have a book of prophecy on hand about now, wouldn’t it?”

The doorbell rings.

Aziraphale hides his smile in his tea cup. Crowley shoots him a dirty look.

“Ineffable,” Aziraphale sing-songs, which only makes Crowley glare at him harder.

“Oh my God,” Anathema breathes as she opens the manilla envelope she’s recieved. It’s not an entire book. It’s more like a pamphlet, if anything. And on the title page it says, in a craggy script, The Nice and Accurate Etc., Etc.,: Appendices for the Next End of the World.

Adam levels all the adults in the room a serious look. “Best get to reading it, then.”

And they do.

--

“Seems too easy,” Crowley comments a long while later, long after the tea pot is emptied and the biscuits have run out (except for the ones with the pink frosting, which no one will touch).

“Don’t be a jinx, dear,” Aziraphale tutts. He has one of the newly-drafted note cards in hand and is making notations in the margins.

“It is only a very tiny apocalypse,” Adam reminds them. The first prophecy had assured them as such. Adam waves the transcribed and translated note card about: When dreams find three and bring together, Heaven, Hell, and Humanity defeat a terror of small domain.

“I don’t think that’s what it means,” Anathema argues. She has the most experience decoding Agnes, so for the most part they’ve been taking her lead. “A small domain sounds more like they are rulers of something not large. Like how a king rules a whole kingdom, but a duchy is ruled over by a--.”

“--Duke,” Crowley interrupts, going so pale that Aziraphale reflexively grasps his hands.

“My dear?”

“Hastur. He’s the Duke of Hell. And none too happy with me since the Armageddonot. I killed Ligur, you see, and they were--.”

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale interjects, nodding his understanding. Aziraphale himself would be prone to vengeance, should anyone dare douse Crowley with holy water.

“All right, so you made one of your demon friends angry,” Anathema sums up. “But you three said your dreams were about Eve and the apple. You said it made you see something, something you can’t remember now. What does that have to do with Hastur?”

Crowley shook his head. “Nothing that I can think of. Hastur had no connection to the Garden assignment. He thought the whole thing was beneath his notice, in fact. He’d never liked humans from the start, and he thought it was a waste of time to tempt them, even if it would put a bug up You Know Who’s nose.”

Aziraphale frowns in thought and then goes tense with understanding. “Crowley, are we quite certain the woman in the dream was Eve?”

Crowley frowns right back at him. “I couldn’t see her face clearly, but who else could it be?”

Lilith, my dear.”

Crowley’s expression goes blank and stony. His hands, still in Aziraphale’s, clench into fists. “Lilith isn’t canonical,” he says, deadpan. It’s an old joke among beings of their ilk, but it falls flat when coming from the Serpent of Eden himself.

“I’m sorry, are you talking about Lilith as in ‘First Wife of Adam’ Lilith? Isn’t she a myth?”

“My dear,” Aziraphale murmurs, gently. “Such is the nature of belief. Humans are much more powerful than they realize. Do you remember how the Horsemen were defeated by Adam and his small friends?”

Anathema’s eyes widen. She takes off her glasses and pinches the bridge of her nose. “I’m getting a headache,” she complains. Adam pats her hand sympathetically. He’s grown up to be a nice young man. “

“This one,” Crowley says, reading from a prophecy card: “A demon knows a demon upon sight. Both did not fall so much as wander from God’s attention. Lilith was a human woman, at first. But she defied Adam and therefore defied God, and Lucifer got to her next. When I Fell, it was much the same. Lucifer and his friends had interesting ideas. I didn’t much care for the vibe in Heaven among Michael and the others. So...off I popped, to speak.”

Anathema makes a face. Adam looks intrigued. Aziraphale winces.

“So, you think you’ll be able to find Lilith?” Anathema asks.

“I think she’s more likely to find me. But, yeah. According to Agnes, sounds like I’ll know her when I see her.”

From the rest of the small list of prophecies, they can determine the following:

Lilith has been conscripted by Hastur, Duke of Hell, to cause some meddling on earth and, in the process, take revenge on Crowley in his name.

Lilith is hidden, but Crowley can suss her out.

In order to defeat Lilith, Adam must touch her. When he does, his ‘no mucking about’ rule will be reinforced, Lilith will return to Hell, and what remains of Adam’s influence will disappear.

“Bloody Hastur,” Crowley complains. “It’s not like Ligur didn’t deserve it. It was self defense.”

Aziraphale ignores him. He’s too busy staring at the cards, all lined up neatly in a row. “This doesn’t make sense,” he mutters. Only Adam hears him. “The dream was quite clear of the magnitude of the dangers ahead. From this, Lilith seems a minor inconvenience at most.”

Adam looks about the room. Everything goes still. Everything except himself and Aziraphale. Aziraphale looks worriedly at Crowley’s form, frozen mid gesture as he spoke, but Adam draws his attention away with his words.

“D’you know what happens, when a principality goes bad?”

Aziraphale stares at him, flummoxed. “I have no idea what--.”

“You didn’t read the last card right,” Adam scolds. He picks it up and puts it in Aziraphale’s hand. It reads: And with the touch of the First Man’s hand, the demon goes to dust and takes with her the might of the one who was to bring destruction and brought only free will.

“I did,” Aziraphale argues. “You, Adam, First Man, touch the demon, Lilith. She is destroyed. When she is destroyed, so goes the power of the one who brought free will--that’s you. In the Almost Armageddon, you saved the world by imposing your free will against the forces of Heaven and Hell.”

Adam tilts his head at him. It’s so akin to that particular cant of Crowley’s head when he’s trying to tempt Aziraphale to something sinister that it dislodges the confusion from the angel’s mind. The truth hits him like a kick to the chest.

“No,” he says, unhappily. “You weren’t the only one to do such a thing, were you? Crowley was tasked to give the apple to Eve and Adam under the assumption that eating it would kill them. But it didn’t bring them death. It brought them knowledge--the knowledge required to act against the dictates of God.”

“When I destroy Lilith,” Adam says, nodding, “Crowley’s gonna go, too.”

Aziraphale shudders as a terrible sense of cold despair squeezes around his heart.

“And what do you think is a terror more awful than any other horror the world has ever seen?” Adam shrugs, pointing at Aziraphale with an idle finger. “Me, I figure it’s a principality--a warrior of Heaven--who’s just had his whole world taken away. Don’t you think?”

--

Crowley keeps shooting nervous glances Aziraphale’s way all the long drive back to the cottage. “You should be happy, Angel. We figured out the problem and it’s an easy fix. Lilith will show up, I’ll call Adam, Adam will take her out. Done.”

Aziraphale leans his head harder against the windshield, not even alarmed as the glass gives a pained creak.

Crowley falls silent. They get out of the Bentley and walk into the cottage. Crowley has to tug Aziraphale back to the front door to make sure the distracted angel remembers to take off his coat.

“Honestly, what’s eating you?” Crowley presses. He pulls the angel to their rarely-used sofa and pushes him into it, kneeling at his feet, staring up at him with wide eyes.

Aziraphale sighs out long and low and tells him the truth, start to finish.

Crowley blinks at him. “Well, sweetheart. I have good news and also very bad news for you; which do you want first?”

Aziraphale frowns. “Can’t you take anything seriously?”

“I am. Serious as a judge. Which do you want?”

“Good, of course.”

Crowley nods. He rests his hands on Aziraphale’s knees. “Good news: Our little Adam is not an experienced decoder of prophecy. He’s right about the line, I reckon. ‘Destroy the might of the one meant to bring destruction and brought only free will.’ But, er, that wasn’t me.”

“What?”

“‘Zira’, all I did was deliver an apple. You want to point fingers at the true maker of free will, it wasn’t me.”

Aziraphale’s eyes go wide in horror. “Oh, the bad news,” he breathes. “Oh, Crowley, do you really think?”

“I do.” Crowley sighs, rubbing a hand over his face as if abruptly tired.

“So, Angel,” he says. “What can we do to prepare for the death of God?”

--

“Ya know,” Crowley slurs. He’s about six bottles of wine in, two bottles behind Aziraphale, and very, very drunk. “Ya knoow. An argument could--could be made that it won’t make much diff’rence, overall. All things being equal. And that.”

“The death of God would. Yes. It. Crowley, yes it would.”

“Why? Most m’humans think He’s dead already.”

Crowley.

--

Crowley’s hands are shaking.

They’ve been sobered up for not even fifteen whole minutes, yet, and Crowley is already falling apart before Aziraphale’s eyes.

“Come with me,” the angel says, tugging him to the bedroom.

“We--is now the time, really?”

“We haven’t a timeline at all,” Aziraphale replies. “Lilith may be here tomorrow or ten years from now. We don’t have any time, and we have all the time left in the world, quite literally. Come with me.”

--

“I don’t want to kill God,” Crowley whines as Aziraphale divests him of his shirt. “Fuck, Aziraphale. This is the worst way Hell could ever win and they aren’t even trying to do it.”

Aziraphale hums softly, pushing his demon onto the bed.

“And what’s so special about Lilith, d’ya think? Why would Adam touching her kill God? What does that mean?”

Aziraphale sighs. He miracles something up into his hands and drops it so that it hangs right in Crowley’s line of sight. “Tell me your color now. Afterward, three taps in a row means stop, and I’ll be checking in frequently.”

“You’re going to gag me?”

Aziraphale raises a brow at him.

Crowley props himself up against the headboard. “You thought it was you. You thought that I’d get destroyed--really gone--and that you’d go mad and tear the universe apart. Would you truly do that?”

Aziraphale tilts his head. The cool emptiness of his gaze makes Crowley’s stomach roll and his cock go hard. “My dear. A color, please.”

Crowley shudders. “Erk. Okay. Green. But, just, can you...talk, instead? Please. I can’t be alone with my own thoughts right now, Angel.”

Aziraphale smiles. He has no intention of letting Crowley think for much longer, but he nods. “Of course, my dear. I’ll tell you about how much I enjoy playing you like a harp, shall I?”

“You can’t play the harp,” Crowley argues, snarkily. Aziraphale fits the ball of the gag between his teeth. It’s small, so it won’t stretch his lips or cause any real discomfort, but it does press his tongue down flat and prevents the demon from speaking in more than a muffle. Aziraphale buckles the gag behind his head and then sits back.

“What a sight,” he teases, echoing Crowley from a few days back.

--

Aziraphale spends the better part of three days keeping Crowley under, only helping him to resurface long enough to check his status and give him something to quickly drink and eat. It’s exhausting, mind, body, and soul. Yet, he persists. He guides Crowley into subspace with his words and his touch and his tongue. He strokes the demon’s hair while he drifts and takes those few, stolen moments of true calm to think about the nature of God.

--

“You look like hell,” Crowley says, when he’s cognizant enough to say it. He squints in the light of the bedroom. The sun is high and streaming light in. “Wasn’t it dark when we started?”

Aziraphale’s lips twitch into something that wants to be a smile and can’t. He truly looks awful, scrummy and unkempt with a perpetually tired slump to his usually perfect posture and a sheen of pure exhaustion over his eyes. “It was.”

Crowley takes stock. He’s in restraints. And he wasn’t, when they started. The gag is long gone. His body is an absolute battlefield. There are scratches, bordering on lacerations, and Crowley knows how Aziraphale feels about anything that might accidentally cause the spillage of his blood. Memories start tricking back, hazy but numerous. Stolen moments of lucidity wherein all he could do was answer Aziraphale’s one and only question (“Color?”) and consume whatever Aziraphale prompted him to eat and drink. Suddenly, Aziraphale’s manner makes perfect sense. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“You were terrified. Sometimes, even just coming out of it long enough to--you were terrified.”

“How long?”

Aziraphale scrubs a hand over his chin. He’s got stubble. The world’s gone mad. “Three days. And now, we need to plan.”

--

Aziraphale scrapes his fingernails against Crowley’s neck as he passes him by, leaning around the demon’s shoulder to set a cup of tea--made by hands and not miracles--in front of him. Crowley leans into the touch.

He’s relaxed and at ease. Aziraphale hasn’t seen him so entirely settled for years, not since before Noah’s Ark, most likely (that had been the first time, as far as Aziraphale can recall--the first time that Crowley had looked upon the horrors of God and man and said, disbelieving, “it’s not just my side, is it?”).

“I think it’s a good idea,” Crowley says. He’s said that three times, already, but that makes Aziraphale believe his sincerity.

“It’s all about belief,” Aziraphale agrees. “And, assuming we are now correct in how we read Agnes’s words, Adam will have the power.”

“Just enough power to light a match,” Crowley says, smirking.

“Or resurrect God,” Aziraphale agrees, with his own small smile.

--

Crowley rubs his palm on his knees, leaving a sheen of sweat behind him. Aziraphale aches to do something about the demon’s anxiety, but there’s no time. Besides, the reaction is more than logical. Aziraphale is also more than a bit wound up. And also tied up. Quite literally.

Chains forged in the heart of a star have properties unlike any other binding. They can hold anything and are immune to even the highest of miracles. Aziraphale makes a mental note to try and steal the links after everything is over. They could come in handy.

Crowley wiggles against the impenetrable bindings. The chain is wrapped only once around their chests, but that’s more than enough to prevent their escape. “You’d think this would get me excited, all things considered.”

Aziraphale rolls his eyes. “That’s not funny.”

“It’s a little funny,” Crowley argues, and then he proceeds to hum “S&M” by Rhianna, which Aziraphale is sadly more than slightly familiar with, as of late, because it’s not the first time the demon has made a similar joke.

Lilith has Eve’s face and a demon’s claws and teeth. Looking at her fills Aziraphale with a complicated emotion. She’s terrifying but, more truthfully, she is pitiable. The story goes that Adam had tried to force her into submission, convinced of his own stronger might. Aziraphale isn’t sure what’s true about Lilith and what is sheer fabrication, but it doesn’t matter. The minds of men have put her in Hell, and now she walks the earth with only one objective: Destroy Crowley and make it slow.

The ‘slow’ part, at least, is to their advantage.

Adam is breathtaking when he arrives, even if he does so in that Newt person’s horrible, wobbly car. Anathema stands behind Adam Young, a recipe card holder full of the future in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Aziraphale wonders, a bit giddily, if Anathema uses personalized ringtones and, if so, what she’s picked for Crowley.

--

Lilith screeches with rage as Adam gets between her and her target. The young teen merely holds out a hand and brushes it, almost gently, over her cheek. Aziraphale imagines she might have looked sad as she fell away into dust.

“Now, Adam!” Crowley shouts. The moment Lilith’s dust falls on the wild, the cottage--and all of South Downs, and all of Britain, and all of the world, and all of the universe perhaps--starts to quake. Aziraphale screams in agony. There is a horrific sound in his head. Crowley looks over at him, wide eyes betraying that he cannot hear the cacophony that floods the angel’s mind. It’s the sound of ten-million angels, made low with fright and grief at the fall of a parent.

“Adam!” Crowley demands. “ADAM!”

The teenger stands in the middle of their living room, hands still gritty with the dust of Lilith’s corpse, his eyes glowing a bright and evil-looking red.

“Let there be Life,” Adam says, barely a whisper, but it Resonates (with a capital-R, certainly) and fills the whole of the cottage and the whole of the Downs and the whole of Britain and the whole of the world and the whole of the universe and--.

Silence. Stillness. Everything absolutely usual in every way.

Adam’s shoulders slump for a moment. He closes his lids on glowing red eyes and opens them on eyes of a clear and human hue. He blinks, looking around a room in a stranger’s house. “Uh, hello,” he says to the woman with the recipe box and the two men on the floor. (Aziraphale is both pleased and sad to note that the star-heart chains have disappeared with Adam’s pronouncement). “Where am I, exactly?”

--

“No more nightmares,” Crowley toasts.

“No more nightmares,” Aziraphale agrees.

Their wine glasses make a soft clink.

“You know, I’ve still got plenty I’m worried about,” Crowley says, suggestively.

Aziraphale kisses him. “Don’t be obvious, dear.”

--

They stay in the South Downs all through the winter and into the spring. Crowley starts to build his wee kingdom of flora in earnest. Aziraphale painstakingly parts with some of his old stock to make room for new books.

Things are simple and easy and calm, except for when they’re not.

Aziraphale finds Crowley one late afternoon curled up against the garden wall, hyperventilating.

“It’s all right. Easy, love, easy.”

“I k-killed it,” Crowley hisses out, trembling all through. He has his hands wrapped around something, and Aziraphale gently pries his fingers apart. There’s a small bird, featherless and broken and, indeed, quite dead.

“What happened?” Aziraphale asks. He strokes his fingers over Crowley’s wrists, reminding Crowley’s hands what they can do, if only Crowley wasn’t too panicked to think of it.

“I was tearing out the bit of lawn to plant the flowers in. It was in the grass. I stepped on it.”

Aziraphale leans forward and rests his forehead on Crowley’s. “My dear boy,” Aziraphale says, gently. “It fell out of its nest, and it’s far too small to survive such a fall. It was dead long before you walked across its path. I promise.”

Crowley doesn’t answer. He stares down at the broken thing in his hands. Aziraphale continues to stroke his fingers over Crowley’s wrists. The demon’s fingers give a tiny twitch.

“My dear,” Aziraphale hums, softly. “It’s truly not your fault. But the nest is still up. I hear the parent birds just this morning. They’re missing one of their babies and likely quite upset about it.”

Crowley stares at him. His eyes are unfocused.

Crowley,” Aziraphale says, exasperated. “Take a page from the book of Adam Young, will you, please?”

Crowley’s eyes find his. “Oh,” Crowley says, blinking rapidly. He looks down at the corpse in his hands and nods. “Let there be life,” he mimics, drawing forth on a miracle much more than minor. The baby bird rouses and makes a tiny chirping trill.

“Well done. Let’s put it closer to the nest, this time. I’ll make sure the mother finds it.”

--

Aziraphale doesn’t think that Crowley needs punished for a murder he didn’t commit, but there are times--frequently--when the Understanding is not about what Aziraphale thinks.

Crowley hisses softly as Aziraphale tightens the knots. They’ll dig into his wrists and ankles and leave sizable welts, but Crowley had assured him over and over again that it was ‘green.’

Working Crowley open is an interesting task. He’s gentle about it, but slow. Crowley bucks against the touch, from time to time, but is prevented from moving much by the ropes that bound him hand and feet to the bottom frame of the bed. Aziraphale continues, pressing his fingers inside of Crowley’s warm and scissoring them wide again and again. He’s been excessive with the lubricant, again, but it’s only logical of him considering the next step.

The plug is much, much larger than the vibrating toy that Crowley had used on Aziraphale before. It tapers smaller at the head--otherwise, it’d never go in--but not by much. Aziraphale eyes it suspiciously and summons up another warm rush of lubricant. Crowley groans, his voice muffled by the pillow he’s biting.

Angel.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale responds, only slightly mocking. “I told you, I’m going to be very thorough.”

Killing me.”

“Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Aziraphale may or not choose to rub his fingers over Crowley’s prostate just then entirely for spite. He’ll never tell.

Crowley yelps and tries to flee but gets yanked back by the short, tight ropes. Crowley groans and thrusts into the bed. Aziraphale has allowed it and continues to do so. If Crowley wants to get himself off, that’s fine. Aziraphale has other objectives.

“You realize that you’ll only make yourself more sensitive, if you come,” Aziraphale says, scolding.

Crowley mutters something unintelligible, but Azirapahle assumes it’s not complimentary. Crowley has not much liked being slowly, painstakingly stretched. He won’t like the large plug, either. And he certainly won’t enjoy wearing the thing for as long as Aziraphale sees fit. But that’s rather the idea of a punishment.

Aziraphale deems Crowley open and ready on the inside. He spends a while longer making sure the waiting ring of muscle isn’t too tight--Aziraphale will not stand for the possibility of tearing--and then, with a shrug, miracles to the plug to be dripping with lube. (‘Patience is a virtue’ has its limits, especially when one’s demon lover is making raw, pleading noises and rutting like an animal into the bedding).

“All right, pet. Color?”

“G-green,” Crowley manages.

Aziraphale hums in recognition of the positive response. The plug gets stuck at its widest part as he pushes it in. Crowley moans and tries to writhe but is stymied by the ropes. “Just a moment, dear,” Aziraphale soothes, tugging the plug a tiny bit out and then giving it a good push. It slips through, gushing excess lube in its way. Crowley shouts at the initial thrust of the plug’s textured surface against his prostate. Then he falls silent and still, panting for air and damp with sweat.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Aziraphale offers, cheerfully.

Crowley very likely suggests he fuck off, but Aziraphale isn’t sure.

“There, now. Don’t be cross. You should take your punishment like a good boy.”

Crowley shudders at the words ‘good boy,’ and keeps shuddering as Aziraphale methodically loosens his bounds one by one and then slides back onto the bed, gripping Crowley by the hips and tugging him up on his hands and knees. Crowley mewls as the plug adjust itself inside of him, but he’s nice and pliant after that. Aziraphale curls himself--fully clothed; it always seems to give Crowley a bit of pleasant jolt when he’s all bared and Aziraphale is nearly completely unruffled--around Crowley and takes his unadorned cock in hand. Aziraphale moves his body in a thrusting motion, forcing the body tucked under his to do the same. Aziraphale’s abdomen knocks against the rounded, exposed end of the plug with every forward rock of their bodies. Crowley says many absolutely obscene things with every thrust. It’s been hard for him to be properly quiet, today. Aziraphale doesn’t blame him in the least.

Crowley comes in a few strokes, thanks to the relentless pressure of the plug against his prostate. He falls forward in an ungainly heap, after, and Aziraphale rolls off the bed.

“Angel?” Crowley calls after him. The real, tight uncertainty in his voice makes Aziraphale pause.

“Color?” the angel asks.

Crowley buries his face into the pillow, silent a moment. “Green.”

“You’re sure?”

“Green.”

So, Aziraphale leaves him, trussed up like a turkey and pierced through.

--

Aziraphale keeps himself busy with books, as is his usual. But the weighty presence of his sub left alone to fester in the bedroom is oppressive and distracting in turn. Aziraphale, then, makes himself a cup of tea and goes out to the garden. He’s relieved to find that the baby bird has found itself way back to its nest, after all. It would be a shame for Crowley to have suffered so for an unhappy ending.

It’s beyond strange to think that this may well be their lives, now. After the death of Lilith and the resurrection of God, the nightmares had ceased. Crowley’s anxiety remained, but without a major trigger over their heads at all times, it was more moderate and less detrimental to his health. He could sleep, again.

Aziraphale had tried to do his due diligence and determine what exactly had come to pass. How had the death of Lilith at the hands of the Antichrist led to the sudden demise (however briefly) of the Creator of All? But his reading led to nothing but dead ends. Lilith is a story. God is ineffable. And Adam Young is truly, thoroughly human, now. The trail has gone cold and Aziraphale is, in truth, far too comfortable with his current affairs to care about it overly much.

They have a reprieve, at the least. Eventually, Heaven and Hell may very well band together and lash out at human kind. But probably not tomorrow, and certainly not today.

Aziraphale finishes his tea and returns to the cottage, at peace.

--

Aziraphale leaves Crowley in the bedroom until the next morning. He checks in, subtle, from time to time, but doesn’t interfere. He finds the demon in many states during those brief check ins--growling with frustration, made aroused by the plug, thrusting uselessly against the soft mattress; twisting in the loose ropes, trying and failing to get a hand down to his cock to get himself off; moaning low into the pillow, perched on his knees for lack of anything better to do. Finally, in the hour or so before dawn, Aziraphale finds Crowley lying flat on his front, his head turned on the pillow, eyes toward the door. Aziraphale can tell just by that glazed blown-out gaze that Crowley has finally worked himself into the gentle, detached haze of subspace. He leaves them there long enough to make two cups of tea and a plate of toast and put it on a tray.

He sets the tray on the nightstand and then leans forward, pressing his lips against Crowley’s own lax and slightly drooling mouth. As he kisses, slow and deep, Crowley eases back to reality, seeping back into it like a stain through cloth. “Z’i?” he mumbles wetly in between kisses.

Aziraphale pulls back and fondly musses Crowley’s already mussy hair. “You went out,” he says, gently.

Crowley squints at him. “M’member. Couldn’t get off. Kept trying. Got overwhelmed.”

“Was it all right?”

Crowley hums. “S’good. Feel like a noodle, still.” Crowley’s dazed countenance goes a bit sharper. Experimentally, he digs his hips into the mattress and groans. He glares, though all the heat of it is smothered. “Still need to come.”

Aziraphale mocks up an astonished look. “Well, my dear, whatever do you want me to do about it?”

Crowley growls.

Aziraphale decides, just for that, he can stay tied up until Aziraphale finishes his breakfast.

--

Crowley rubs full feeling back into his wrists and then tackles the toast with such fervor that Aziraphale goes and makes more. Coming back with a full plate of bread, the angel lingers in the doorway, amused by what he finds.

Crowley has backed himself up against the headboard and has his cock in a fist. He barely strokes even once before he comes hard, shuddering through it with gasping breath. Aziraphale sets the new plate of toast on the tray.

“You couldn’t wait?”

“‘You couldn’t wait?’” Crowley mimics, voice a low snarl.

Aziraphale laughs at him, laughing even harder when he--and Crowley, too--both realize that the effort of getting himself off has only served to stimulate his prostate. His cock is already starting to stir. “Ah, the perils of being on human shaped beings of world, I suppose. An entirely too efficient refactory period.”

Crowley snarls at him again, with actual teeth, and viciously steals all four pieces of toast from the plate and devours them. He leaves crumbs absolutely everywhere, obviously on purpose. Aziraphale miracles them away with a brush of a hand.

“Honestly, dearest. Color?”

Crowley sighs very heavily. “Green. But also please tell me I’m not going to spend the rest of this day constantly horny and rubbing off on everything in sight.”

Aziraphale snorts into his tea. “Good Lord. For the sake of my library, you’d bloody well better not.”

--

They compromise. The plug stays in as long as Aziraphale pleases--which, the angel admits, will be a long while. Crowley is not to get off expect by Aziraphale. And Aziraphale promises, with a smile that really might be called a smirk if one were feeling uncharitable (which Crowley is), that Crowley won’t be left unsatisfied...for ‘too terribly long, my dear,’ whatever that might mean.

Crowley haunts the cottage wrapped up in a loosely tied robe and a miracled skirt with his pants underneath. All of his typical fashion choices are unforgivingly tight and hardly suitable for his current situation. Even his pants prove unbearable, at times, even more so because he’s been strictly forbidden to touch himself, even to make adjustments.

He makes it barely half an hour after breakfast before seeking Aziraphale out. The angel is in the living area, organizing his collected works. He takes one look at Crowley and makes a pitying noise. He nudges the demon over the couch, sits him down in it, and summarily sucks him off until he comes. The angel even swallows, which is, frankly, terrifying.

Crowley is careful, after that, not to move too much. If he can stay properly still, the plug won’t move, he won’t be stimulated, and he can avoid the utter humiliation of needing to go to Aziraphale for release like a dog needing a walk.

The problem, of course, is that staying still is not one of Crowley’s strong points. Even perched on the couch, he fidgets and shifts his weight in ways that make the plug thrust. At one point, he moves enough that the damn thing grinds right into him, flooding him with pleasure. He must moan, and loudly, because Aziraphale pops his head out from the kitchen with an airy “All right, dear boy?”

Crowley tries to take a nap to no avail. He has dreams--not nightmares, thank Whatever, just normal, fevered illusions conjured by an overly taxed mind. His dreams are filthy and vicious and when Crowley wakes up his cock is hard and leaking and his arse throbs around the toy as if he’d been rubbing against it in his sleep.

“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale hums when he shuffles, trembling and sleepy, into the kitchen. Crowley can hear the raw amusement in Aziraphale’s voice, but he doesn’t rise to it. He’s too tired to snarl much, by that point.

Aziraphale pulls him out into the garden and takes him in hand from behind until he shoots out over the future flower beds. “Very Roman of you,” Aziraphale coos, kissing his temple. And then, Aziraphale, the heavenly bastard, rocks his hips against Crowley’s behind in a few hard jerks. Crowley ends up on his knees in the grass, head spinning with a pleasure that’s starting to feel more than a bit painful, and sporting a slowly stirring cock.

“You’re a menace to society!” Crowley shouts at the angel’s retreating back.

“Oh, surely not,” Aziraphale replies, mildly

--

Crowley comes five more times that day alone, christening practically every room of their small cottage in the meanwhile. The fifth time finds him curled over himself on the bed, eyes tearing up in frustration, a low, animal sound of woundedness grinding out from his throat.

Aziraphale finds him there when he comes to ask if the demon is interested in dinner, and the question gets caught in his throat.

Crowley is hovering on the edge of subspace, so overwhelmed that his mind is willing to float away, but so physically titillated and thoroughly raw that he can’t find the proper peace.

“Color,” Aziraphale snaps out more than asks.

Crowley lifts his head and lets it drop again. “I don’t know,” he replies, distantly.

“Might as well be a ‘red,’ dear,” Aziraphale says, gently. He sits on the edge of the bed and grimances--the motion causes Crowley’s body to jostle, and it makes him shudder and curl even further in on himself.

“All right. Dearest, I’m going to take it out. But it will be rather unpleasant.”

“Already is,” Crowley says, still sounding more than a bit distracted. His eyes are unfocused, wide-pupiled and dark. He hardly seems to realize it when Aziraphale reaches out and positions him carefully on his front. He guides the half-senseless demon to his hands and knees and rocks him forward, letting his weight rest on the crown of his head against the mattress.

“Easy, love, easy,” Aziraphale all but chants as he grasps the end of the plug and slowly, gently pulls. Crowley gasps into the mattress and immediately breaks out into a heavy sweat, his thighs trembling. Aziraphale talks him through it, stroking his back and thighs gently when necessary. Eventually, the plug comes out. Crowley falls hard onto his side. His half-hard cock goes rapidly limp without the invasive stimulation. Aziraphale miracles everything tidy and then stretches out alongside Crowley on the bed.

“With me?”

Crowley’s sightless eyes and steady breathing prove he is not.

“Well. I suppose dinner can wait.”

--

“The bird is fine. Its back in its nest, now, safe as houses.”

Crowley nods his understanding of the simple statement and then closes his eyes in a proper sleep.

Aziraphale prays for resilience in the face of anxious, guilty demons. Still, even without divine intervention, he thinks they’ll be all right.

--

“Is this necessary?”

Aziraphale pushes the plate of biscuits closer to Crowley’s hand. “Eat. And, yes, it is. The old documents getting terribly natty, and it’d be nice to tidy up the content while we’re at it.”

“Well, if we’re doing massive rewrites, I want to retitle the thing.”

“The Understanding isn’t good enough for you?” Aziraphale asks, voice warm with an amusement that has become more and more familiar since they moved into their cottage home.

Crowley shrugs and chomps down on a chocolate digestive. He stares out into the garden. It’s coming on summer, now, and the plants are doing well. (As they should do; he threatens them soundly at least twice a day). “I just think the document’s evolved, and so have we, and it ought to reflect that. We’re not about Arrangements and Understandings anymore, Angel. We’ve grown.”

“Oh, yes, practically flourished,” Aziraphale says, dryly. He drinks his tea in slow, sure sips but then puts it down. Tempting, wily old snake. “All right, then, what do you want to call it?”

Crowley filches the paper and pen and scrawls at the top--in decidedly less tidy handwriting than his angel’s--A Contract on the Care of Angels and Demons.

Aziraphale snorts a soft, fond laugh. “Oh, fine. That’s all right, I suppose.”

Crowley grins, sure and smug.

“Thank you very much. Now, c’mere, Angel. You look in need of a bit of care right this minute, in point of fact.”

Aziraphale allows himself to be tugged into Crowley’s lap. He eases into the embrace with a sound of resigned contentment. “Cheeky,” he complains.

“Only on days that end in ‘y’s.”

“What’s that frightful chestnut, dear? ‘Til the end of the world’?”

“Twice over,” Crowley snickers, but he nuzzles his lips against Aziraphale’s temple and kisses him close. “And then some, I suspect.”

Aziraphale would not have it any other way.

If asked about the creation of their relationship, Aziraphale knows the exact date and time (a bit after lunch time, on an autumn day, after dining at the Ritz). But the beginning of it, really?

God only knows.

Fin