The drink fell from his hand. Long before it shattered, long before a single drop of liquid touched the floor, Crowley was gone. Out the door, around the corner, down the road faster than any human was meant to move. A trail of fire scorched the earth in his wake, the humans he passed screaming and scrambling to put it out. Crowley welcomed the chaos as a distraction. It let him unfurl his wings and take to the skies as he hadn’t for thousands of years, unseen and unheeded by the masses below.
Miles and miles gone with every beat of his wings, panic and fury and confusion pushing him faster, faster, faster while his thoughts hung in useless limbo. Paralyzed, petrified, struggling to process what this meant.
Aziraphale did not ask for help. Never had, never would, not even after six thousand years of their little truce-slash-friendship. Not even when he most needed it, when he had a blade to his neck and was being threatened with discorporation for the five hundredth time in as many years. It didn’t matter if said help came from on high or down below, if it came with a price or was offered as a gift, still Aziraphale would not submit to the mortification of asking. No, ever he would hold his head high, scoff and turn away, cling to his morals and superiority with all the noble, holier-than-thou, ineffable, idiocy one could expect of an angel.
It was a funny thing, Crowley always mused, watching an angel battle with his inner demons. To see that little glimmer of relief and joy be stamped out and smothered, eyes darting away and lips pressed together, reminding himself once again that they were not on the same side. That he shouldn’t be happy to see Crowley slither in and rescue him from the latest mess he had waltzed into.
What the hell are you doing here? he had demanded in 1941 AD, as if the gun-toting Nazi spies had ceased to exist the moment Crowley hop-skipped down the aisle of that church.
Well, I suppose I should say thank you, he had huffed in 1793 AD, as if he hadn't lit up like the blessed sun at the sight of Crowley appearing in the Bastille beside him.
I had that perfectly handled without your interference, he had insisted in 79 AD, as if Crowley hadn't just pulled him out of the ruins of Pompeii and saved him from agonizing death by suffocation.
He never once asked why Crowley saved him and kept saving him over the years, though. There was no need to ask, really. Aziraphale knew why, and so did Crowley, and he was endlessly grateful that it was never brought up, never acknowledged out loud. If pressed for an answer, Crowley would roll his eyes and make some excuse about how boring it was to wait the years it would take for Aziraphale to shuffle the paperwork and piece himself back together in a new body. It could take decades, and he was an impatient demon. The only thing worse than being stuck on Earth was being stuck alone.
The whisper in his ear grew louder. His wings beat harder, probably stirring up hurricanes halfway around the globe, but Crowley didn’t care. When the whisper was right below him, he looked down and saw ocean, thick fog covering a sandy shore. He was very far north, he knew that much, though where exactly, he had no idea. There was thunder in the distance, yet no clouds or lightning. Only the stars overhead.
“AZIRAPHALE!” Crowley bellowed. He landed in a spray of damp sand and kept moving, heedless of the rocks and strands of kelp that tried their damndest to trip him up.
But then there were no more rocks or kelp. Only feathers. Thousands upon thousands of white feathers lying broken and scattered along the shore.
Crowley hissed, a cold that had nothing to do with the fog crawling up his spine, coiling in his gut. The thunder in the distance took on a whole new meaning. The overwhelming power of it, the irrefutable judgement. The stench of burned feathers, the static and crackle that clung to his skin and made his hair stand on end. All of it sickening and familiar.
“…no, no, no,” Crowley said as he stumbled forward. He found Aziraphale collapsed in the sand with the water lapping at his legs. Paler than usual, barely conscious and shaking like a leaf. Clothes torched beyond saving, skin and hair both smeared with ash. Wings bereft of feathers, now blackened and shriveled and looking one breath away from crumbling to dust. If they recovered at all, Crowley knew from bitter experience, the feathers that grew in would never be white again.
“No,” Crowley said one last time, hitting the sand on his knees and heaving Aziraphale up. “Aziraphale…”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed without opening his eyes. But his hands clutched at the arm cradling him in a silent plea.
Crowley looked at the feathers all around, then at the stars in the sky, helpless rage making his breaths come harsh and fast. He would have screamed and cursed and ranted, if it would have done any good. Instead he curled his wings around Aziraphale and sobbed.
“Oh angel, what have you done?”
Aziraphale chuckled humorlessly and buried his face in Crowley’s shoulder. He was still shaking. “I’m afraid that’s… a bit of a misnomer… now…”
“Don’t,” Crowley said, and it sounded harsh even to his own ears. More quietly, he forced himself to ask the thing that mattered. “Was this my fault? Did they do this because of me?”
Aziraphale didn’t speak. Granted, he was unconscious now, but Crowley knew the answer regardless. Carefully, with as much gentleness as he could manage, he scooped up his friend and took flight. He didn’t give the stars a passing glance, nor did he particularly care what his associates would say if any of them spotted him right then.
There were no rules against helping a fellow demon.