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Repossession

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Parked on the side of a crowded SoHo street on a dark night in 1967, the demon Crowley made the agonizing decision to disappear - utterly and permanently - from the life of the angel Aziraphale. 

 

“You go too fast for me, Crowley…”

 

The words had stung, yeah - but it wasn’t the words but the eyes that made Crowley drive away that night with every intention of never interacting with Aziraphale again. 

 

Crowley knew a little bit about a lot of things, but there were two things in which he considered himself to be expert. The first was of course, temptation - his responsibility and, officially on the record, reason for existence. 

 

The second was Aziraphale.

 

And while Aziraphale’s words had warned him away, the angel’s eyes had told Crowley something completely different. There was a depth of longing there, a sorrowful ache that told Crowley if he’d pushed just a little more - perhaps offered dinner at that new little restaurant that had made him think of Aziraphale the moment he saw their new sign in the window - perhaps just reached out and caught the angel’s sleeve as he was about to get out of the Bentley and asked him not to go

 

Aziraphale would have stayed. 

 

He wanted to, Crowley knew it. Temptation expert and all - it was impossible to miss the temptation he himself had created in the angel’s eyes, the slowly building desperation of desire, mingled with the fear and shame of knowing that he should not be desiring. 

 

It struck Crowley’s heart through with terror. 

 

He thought of Aziraphale, all soft colors and softer eyes and a loving warmth that drew Crowley in, enticed by the faintest taste of the Heaven he’d lost - he thought of the first time he’d seen Aziraphale’s pure white wings, and moments after that, the purity of love and generosity in the angel’s heart. In all of Heaven and Hell and Earth, Aziraphale was the one truly good person Crowley knew to be in existence. 

 

And then he thought of flames, and agony, and the acrid scent of burning flesh and feathers when he’d plummeted from the heavens, the painful impact followed by unspeakable agony as molten sulphur dragged him under… and the way it felt when even that unspeakable agony was utterly obliterated by the breathtaking devastation of realizing all that he’d lost. 

 

He knew in that moment, the certainty like a bullet to the heart - he had to stay away from Aziraphale.

 

He’d give himself to me if I asked. Crowley knew it to be true. And in so doing he’d damn his own soul… he’d Fall. 

 

No matter what it meant he had to do - or stop doing - Crowley could not let that happen. 

 

So for the next couple of decades, Crowley threw himself into whatever distractions he could find. Every now and then, something fun would show up in the cinema. Technology became increasingly advanced, and full of new and intriguing possibilities for temptation. Music became exceedingly awesome - and then went to utter shit.

 

There was always alcohol - exceedingly ridiculous quantities of alcohol. 

 

And there was work. 

 

Hell would historically look back on these few years in Crowley’s existence as the time when he “actually tried”. He performed more temptations in a single week than he’d done in a month before, and he did try, really, to make them a bit more destructive than had been his tendency for the last few millennia. Some humans actually even got hurt as a result of his antics - and in two cases, he actually managed to restrain himself from going back and secretly doing what he could to un-hurt them.

 

Of course, in one of those cases, the human was a child abuser - in the other, a corrupt politician.

 

He did his job, if not to perfection, better than he’d done it for most of his career - and he tried to ignore the soft voice in the back of his head that sounded too much like Aziraphale even after all this time, and never said anything more than, “Oh, Crowley ,” in a tone that wasn’t quite angry with him, but rather just … hurt and disappointed .

 

Hell, on the other hand, became increasingly angry with how frequently someone seemed to be thwarting his wiles at every turn. It was harder than ever to forget about Aziraphale, when every other conversation or so Crowley was blaming him for the failure of his latest job. 

 

“He’s a clever one, that angel, always seems to be a step ahead of me…”

 

“I don’t know how he knew what I was planning, I’ll try to keep it secret next time…” 

 

The thought that perhaps word might get back to the proper authorities and at least Aziraphale might get some Heavenly credit or a promotion out of all of it was a slight comfort. 

 

And then one cold night in the winter of 1986, with Hell breathing down his neck and a temptation that had gone a little better than he’d hoped for - all his good intentions went straight to Heaven, and the demon Crowley found himself knocking on Aziraphale’s door. 

 

*******************************************************************************

 

Bumping into it repeatedly and with no particular rhythm might have been a more accurate way of putting it. Aziraphale wasn’t quite sure that anyone was properly knocking at his door at all, but thought it best that he check anyway. 

 

And there was Crowley, leaning against the door and stumbling inside when Aziraphale opened it. 

 

“Crowley! What are you - what’s wrong?” He frowned, his heart sinking at the strong scent of alcohol pouring off the demon, which would not have been all that troubling if not in combination with the tracks of dried tears that streaked his face. “What’s happened?” 

 

He nudged Crowley away from the door, turning to lock it behind them, before leading him to the sofa and helping him to sit down.

 

“‘S nothing,” Crowley insisted, shaking his head too slowly and too emphatically as Aziraphale sat down beside him. “Nothing, ‘m just a little drunk…”

 

Crowley .” Aziraphale reached out one hand to steady Crowley’s shoulder, the other reaching up to carefully take his glasses from his face and set them aside, against his incoherent protests. “Please, my dear, just talk to me… look at me, Crowley...” 

 

When Crowley reluctantly complied, the anguish and guilt was clear all over his face - and so strong that Aziraphale could feel it, rolling off of him in waves. All angels and demons were naturally empathic to a certain extent, but Aziraphale more so than most angels. He was usually far more attuned to positive emotions than he was to negative ones - which only spoke to the intensity of the devastation that Crowley was currently experiencing, that Aziraphale could feel it so strongly.

 

But then, Aziraphale supposed it was not all that surprising. He’d always been far more attuned to Crowley than he was to anyone else, as well. 

 

“Oh, Crowley,” he said softly, watching him with worried eyes, biting his lip a little to keep from spilling out the gentle accusation that echoed only in his mind.

 

What have you done?  

 

Crowley’s reaction was such that Aziraphale immediately wondered with dismay if he’d accidentally spoken aloud. The demon’s face crumpled. His usual shield taken from him, he hid his eyes behind his hand as his tears began to flow again.

 

“‘M sorry,” he whispered, “I’m so sorry…”

 

Aziraphale knew quite a lot about a lot of things, but there were two things in which he considered himself to be expert. The first was human emotion, as it was something that he was frequently surrounded by, and often held the responsibility to influence it in various ways for the better. 

 

The second was Crowley.

 

And while he knew that demonic emotion wasn’t quite the same as human emotion, generally speaking - in all their long history of knowing each other, Aziraphale had found Crowley to be the exception that proved the rule. He’d always been a bit … soft , for a demon, his emotions close enough to the surface to be easily read despite the mask he wore for the world.

 

And that was the troubling thing at the moment, wasn’t it? How the mask seemed to have fallen away entirely. 

 

With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, Aziraphale was increasingly certain that whatever it was Crowley was feeling such guilt for, it was far worse than the usual temptations and minor annoyances for which he was often responsible. 

 

His sinking feeling was completely correct. 

 

In disjointed, slurred, barely coherent sentences, Crowley told Aziraphale that he’d been sent to tempt a young father of two - not even tempt, really, his superiors had shrugged it off. More like just sowing a bit of discord in the young man’s family. All Crowley had to do was just sidle up to the man at the party, hand him another drink and whisper in his ear, just a bit of suspicion, while the young man watched his wife laughing with a male friend across the room. 

 

There was no way that Crowley could have known that the man already had a tendency toward violent anger, especially when he’d been drinking - no way he could possibly have known that that night, when the couple arrived home, the drunk, angry young man would take the pistol from the safe under his bed and slaughter his entire family.

 

“They’re just kids …” Crowley was distraught, despondent. “I didn’t know he’d… they didn’t do anything wrong… she didn’t do anything wrong, it was lies , it was me, I did this …” 

 

Crowley .” Aziraphale made his tone sharp enough to cut through Crowley’s rapid downward spiral, reaching out to grip his shoulders and shake him just slightly, just enough to regain his attention. “Where are they? Where do they live?” 

 

Crowley met his eyes again, confusion giving way to understanding, and then to hope, as he hurriedly blurted out the address - local, and not far. 

 

“Wait here,” Aziraphale instructed, holding Crowley’s gaze with a somewhat severe, expectant look until Crowley nodded. Satisfied that he would find the demon where he’d left him when he returned, Aziraphale vanished from the room, reappearing an instant later across town, in the home Crowley had indicated. 

 

The cacophony of anguish and dread that permeated the place was overwhelming, even before Aziraphale saw the bodies of the slain family - four bodies, not the three Crowley had indicated, because apparently once the father had realized what he’d done to his family, he’d turned his weapon on himself and taken his own life. 

 

Aziraphale wasted no time, going first to the youngest child, a girl of about three. and touching her head, closing his eyes as the healing warmth of his grace flowed into her, bringing her back to life. A second touch placed the child in her own bed down the hall, sleeping peacefully with no memory of what had transpired that evening. Aziraphale repeated the procedure with the older child, and then the mother. 

 

He stopped, standing over the body of the father, staring down at him, his natural tendency toward compassion for humanity warring with the cold disgust he felt. The pain in this house was deep, and old, and went far further than the events of a single night. Aziraphale knew that this was a man who had terrorized and abused his family, long before he ever lost control enough to take their lives. 

 

Aziraphale touched the man, but did not restore his life - only moved his body to an alley just outside a bar he’d been known to frequent, so that his family would not awaken to find him there. He wasn’t killing the man, he reasoned. The man had already done that himself. He was simply being… selective with his use of miracles.

 

He returned to find Crowley dozing sitting up on the sofa, the copious amounts of alcohol he’d consumed working in tandem with his emotional exhaustion. Aziraphale sat down close beside Crowley and reached out to take his hand, offering him a reassuring smile when the demon startled to wakefulness. 

 

“Angel…” Crowley’s voice was hoarse, anxious. “Did you… they’re…”

 

“Alive,” Aziraphale assured him with a nod. “As if it never happened.” 

 

Crowley’s shoulders fell with relief, and he let out a shaky sigh. “Thwarted by you again,” he remarked with a weak, brittle smile. “There’ll be consequences, of course, for my failure… but at least I’ll be able to live with myself for the next few centuries.” 

 

Aziraphale frowned, slightly confused at the “again”, as he hadn’t had any contact whatsoever with Crowley for nearly twenty years. He let it pass, though, and instead replied mildly, “I wouldn’t call it a failure, exactly.”

 

The mother and children lived - but Hell would still see some results from Crowley’s interactions with his target. Could Crowley be blamed if there was only one casualty from his temptation, as opposed to four? 

 

Crowley looked confused, shaking his head a little as he studied Aziraphale’s face, and Aziraphale was struck by how open he looked, how vulnerable, without his sunglasses, his face tear-streaked, eyes wide and worried. 

 

“I’ve handled it, Crowley,” he insisted firmly. “You needn’t worry. The family is safe - and the father will never harm them again.” 

 

Understanding dawned in Crowley’s eyes, and he nodded slowly, lowering his head, sighing with relief. “Thank you,” he breathed out. “Thanks, angel…”

 

Without thinking about what he was doing - a little alarmed when he realized he’d done it - Aziraphale reached out a hand to gently cup Crowley’s cheek, his heart stuttering a bit when Crowley’s eyes drifted shut and he leaned into the touch - momentarily stopping altogether when Crowley opened his eyes again and looked up at Aziraphale, unspeakable depths of emotion in his gaze. 

 

“I’ve missed you,” Aziraphale found himself confessing, unaware he was going to speak the words until he’d spoken them.

 

Fresh tears welled in Crowley’s eyes, and Aziraphale could feel his yearning, a desperate ache to express something for which he hadn’t the words - even before Crowley unexpectedly moved forward, closing the distance between them, one trembling hand rising to still Aziraphale’s face as he pressed his mouth to Aziraphale’s in a kiss that was somehow hungry and hesitant at the same time. 

 

Stunned, Aziraphale did not respond, though his heart was racing and something long buried was stirring deep within him, a hunger to match Crowley’s, though he’d tried to suppress it for centuries. 

 

Crowley drew back after a moment, lowering his head, shaking it sadly, his words a barely audible, sibilant whisper. “Sorry… sorry, angel, I don’t know what…” 

 

Aziraphale silenced him with a kiss of his own, one hand threaded through the hair at the back of Crowley’s neck, drawing him in and kissing him deeply. After a startled moment, Crowley responded, his hands sliding around Aziraphale’s waist and drinking in the contact as if he’d been dying of thirst. 

 

He has , Aziraphale realized with a pang of regret. For how long? Decades? Centuries? 

 

But Crowley was drunk, and overwrought, and exhausted, so Aziraphale broke the kiss after a few moments, hushing Crowley’s stammered uncertainties with gentle fingertips against his soft, trembling lips. 

 

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” he promised, pulling Crowley’s head down against his shoulder. “Rest now, dear. Tomorrow .” 

 

When morning came, Crowley tried to disappear from Aziraphale’s life once more - but Aziraphale was having none of it. He caught him at the door, slipping his sunglasses onto his face and preparing to walk out - and stopped both with a single hand tangling in Crowley’s sleeve and bringing him up short, turning him around. Pulling Crowley back into his arms, Aziraphale promised him that it was not a mistake, not a moment of weakness that he’d regret. He wanted Crowley, had wanted him as long as he could remember - and he wasn’t going to let him slip away so easily this time. 

 

“You’ll fall,” Crowley whispered, eyes closed, forehead tilted down against Aziraphale’s, his words choked with fear and shame. “Being with me… like that… you’ll fall , angel…”

 

“Perhaps I would,” Aziraphale conceded softly, his arms around Crowley holding him fast, refusing his retreat. “If what I felt for you was simply… fleshly desire. And I do,” he admitted with a self-conscious little chuckle. “I do feel that for you, Crowley, but… it’s more.” He placed a gentle hand at Crowley’s chin, tilting his head up until the demon reluctantly met his eyes. “Surely you know that it’s more?” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, hesitation in his eyes before he confessed, quiet, aching, “It is for me.” 

 

Aziraphale had once wondered if it was possible for demons to love. At every turn, Crowley had challenged his prejudices, and made him question all he’d thought he’d known about the fallen ones. Crowley loved , with a depth of intensity to rival the love of any human. Surrounded by his colleagues who expected him to do his worst, Crowley tried at every turn to do as little damage as possible. His tender, passionate heart laid out on display for Aziraphale the previous evening, there had been no way for Aziraphale to deny it any further. 

 

Crowley had a conscience. Crowley had a heart, so full of love and tenderness - and for at least the past few decades, Aziraphale had been repeatedly breaking it open and leaving it to bleed.

 

No more. 

 

Aziraphale had not been ready in 1967. In the winter of 1986… he was. 

 

“I love you,” he said, looking Crowley directly in the eye, meeting Crowley’s doubtful gaze by repeating insistently, “ I love you .”

 

He could feel Crowley’s body shaking against him, watched as the dam broke in his eyes and Crowley kissed him again, intense and desperate, not pulling away until they both were breathless. 

 

“Aziraphale,” Crowley gasped out against his lips. “Love you, love you, angel, love you …” 

 

It was the beginning of a new chapter for the two of them. They spent more time together than they ever had allowed themselves to before, as they came to know each other in ways neither of them had ever imagined would be possible. They tried to be careful, aware that neither of their respective sides would be happy to learn of their relationship - but it was hard to hold back after waiting for so many years. They shared each other’s homes, shared intimate moments, shared memorable dates in locations both familiar and cherished, and new and exciting. 

 

Aziraphale was happier than he’d ever been in his existence, and certain that it was going to last, quite literally, forever. 

 

Until a warm summer day in the year 2000… when Crowley vanished from his life once more.

Chapter Text

On a particularly fateful morning in the summer of the year 2000, Crowley woke up in Aziraphale’s bed, as he had done on more mornings than not over the course of the past 14 years. They knew better than to spend every night together. They had to keep up appearances, after all, couldn’t have Heaven or Hell catching onto the true nature of their relationship - or the fact that there was a relationship to speak of, at all. 

 

Some nights they spent at Crowley’s apartment, but Aziraphale’s bed was softer than Crowley’s, and, on summer mornings like this with the sun streaming through the window across Crowley’s bare skin, warmer, too. He stretched a little, relishing the feeling of the warm rays across his chest - but it wasn’t the heat of the sun that had awakened him, but the far more intense heat of Aziraphale’s mouth against his throat, Aziraphale’s hand sliding up his side as his angel settled onto the bed beside him. 

 

“Good morning.”

 

Crowley didn’t even try to suppress the lazy smile that rose to his lips as Aziraphale whispered the words against his neck, the soft puff of breath tickling his skin and making him shift a little - but only to allow Aziraphale to settle in closer. 

 

“Morning, angel,” Crowley replied, voice hoarse with sleep, pressing a kiss to the disheveled curls at the top of Aziraphale’s head. “Now come back to bed…”

 

Aziraphale laughed softly, rising up on one arm to meet Crowley’s sleepy eyes, a regretful smile on his face. “I wish I could, my dear, but we really must be getting up and about. Both of us.” 

 

Crowley frowned, raising a single brow. “That’s your way of convincing me to leave this bed?” He scoffed lightly, rolling his eyes and settling in more comfortably against the downy pillows under his head, reaching out with both arms to pull Aziraphale’s annoyingly fully clothed body down on top of him. “‘S what we call counter-productive…”

 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale objected, the slight sharpness of his tone making Crowley sigh and release him, already aware that he was going to lose. “I’ve got to open up the shop…”

 

“Right, you do that, then,” Crowley conceded, turning onto his side and snuggling deeper under the covers. “I’ll just sleep a bit longer…”

 

Aziraphale’s silence was weighted with his anxiety, and Crowley turned back toward him, opening his eyes and studying the angel’s face. “What? What is it?” he asked, sitting up. 

 

“Well, it’s just that… Gabriel told me he’d be stopping by this morning. We haven’t spoken in some time, and he said he wanted to pick up my report in person this time…” 

 

“Right.” Crowley sat up the rest of the way, swinging his legs off the side of the bed and dejectedly tossing the blanket back. “And can’t have your mistress here when your wife gets home, can you?” 

 

He was joking. Mostly. 

 

Aziraphale scooted across the bed to sit beside him, mirroring his pose, and Crowley closed his eyes as Aziraphale placed a gentle arm around him. “Crowley, dear, you know that’s not it at all. It’s just that they can’t find you here, you know that. You know what could happen.” 

 

“Satan forbid, you might receive a strongly worded note.” 

 

“Yes, and you might receive a death sentence.” Aziraphale’s tone was sharp, his voice trembling a little, rising in pitch with his worries as he went along. “If they found you here, they would try to kill you! Or at the very least, report your presence here back to your own authorities, so that they could then try to kill you! And Heaven knows that I would fight and I would fall before I’d let that happen, but if there’s several of them, if I’m not fast enough or skilled enough, Crowley, I just can’t …”

 

“All right, angel, I know,” Crowley relented with a sigh, reaching a hand down to catch Aziraphale’s hand where it rested at his waist. “I get it, I do. I’ll go. I’m just - tired of hiding, ‘s all.” 

 

He moved as if to stand, but Aziraphale’s arm held him fast. Crowley looked up at him, and the arresting intensity of Aziraphale’s gaze - the mingled love and worry it held - nearly took his breath. Aziraphale leaned in, his hand rising from Crowley’s waist to instead cup the back of his head and draw him into a fierce kiss to which Crowley could only surrender. When he finally drew back for air, Crowley let out a soft, breathless laugh, shivers of want still coursing through his body. 

 

“Like I said, angel… if you want me to go, that’s not exactly…”

 

“I don’t.” Aziraphale’s quiet, certain tone stopped Crowley’s words. “I’d have you with me always, Crowley. I do hope you know that.” 

 

“I do.”

 

“I do hope that’s… enough. For now.” 

 

Crowley felt Aziraphale’s uncertainty, the vulnerability behind the words, and he leaned in to kiss him again - lighter this time, reassuring. “S’pose it’ll have to be,” he replied with a warm smile. “You go on and open up the shop. I’ll get out of here as quickly as I can.” 

 

Aziraphale’s expression softened with relief, and he ran a hand tenderly through Crowley’s hair. Crowley closed his eyes at the sensation, leaning into the touch, as Aziraphale reluctantly rose to his feet. 

 

“See you at lunch?” he reminded Crowley.

 

Crowley nodded as he stood up and reached for his trousers. “Yeah.” 

 

They had plans to meet for lunch at a new little restaurant that had just opened up, just outside of London. It wasn’t very well known or busy yet, though it had gotten several ravingly positive reviews, and it was unlikely that either of their respective camps would think to come looking for them there. 

 

Crowley got dressed quickly and slipped down the stairs and out the back door, taking a couple of back alleys before making his way back out to the main road where he’d parked the Bentley - two blocks away from the bookstore. As he unlocked the car and got in, he felt a familiar crackling of celestial energy, a soft, warm buzzing in his head that he knew was Aziraphale, reaching out to him with his very soul.

 

“I love you…” 

 

Warmed as he was by the words, Crowley felt an uneasy sensation in the pit of his stomach. This sort of spiritual psychic communication was nothing new to him and Aziraphale. A few whispered affectionate words, or perhaps, “ Come here, darling, I need to show you something ,” passed through the air instead of shouted across rooms, held little risk. It was a lot like a radio wavelength - only those within range could hear. 

 

For Aziraphale to reach out to Crowley over the distance of a couple of city blocks carried quite a bit more risk - especially when he knew Gabriel might be on his way to visit, and therefore within range. Crowley knew that was why Aziraphale hadn’t actually used his name - plausible deniability, he could have reasonably been talking to anyone - but he also knew better than to respond, though he returned the sentiment with all of his heart. 

 

I’ll tell him when I see him, he told himself as he drove across town to his flat. It’ll only be a few hours…

 

Crowley had barely set foot through the door of his apartment, tossing his keys down in the bowl by the door and reaching for his phone, when someone crashed into him from behind, knocking him to the ground, sending his phone sliding across the floor to rest under his desk. Crowley tried to push the weight of his attacker off of him, tried to get up, but strong hands grabbed his own and pinned them behind his back, a heavy foot pressed against the back of his neck, holding him down. 

 

He was immediately aware by the feeling of their presence that these were angels, rather than demons attacking him - and his stomach dropped with fear at that realization. It was not mere coincidence, he was sure, that he was being attacked by angels in his apartment, at the very same time that Aziraphale was expecting a visit from angels in the bookstore. 

 

They’re onto us…

 

“Let go of me! Get off, what the Heaven do you think you’re doing?” he shouted, struggling harder, creating any distraction he could as he snapped his fingers, and under the edge of his desk, his cell phone vanished into non-existence.

 

“Silence,” a female angel spoke from a distance a bit too far to be one of the two pinning him down. “Your struggles are useless, demon. Cooperation would serve you better.” 

 

Crowley laughed, derisive and defiant, even as she moved closer to him, her hands bringing something slim and round and metal close to his neck. “Have you met me?” he sneered. “Not likely that I’ll-”

 

His words broke off abruptly as the encircling object clicked shut around his throat, not tight enough to stop his breath but flush against his skin - and immediately a searing agony tore through his head, down through every limb, the whole of his body, overwhelming every thought with a wave of white static - just before everything went dark. 

 

*****************************************************************************************

 

When Crowley awakened this time, his surroundings were far less pleasant. 

 

His head was throbbing, for one thing - but at least it wasn’t the overwhelming, fiery agony that had sent him into unconsciousness. Just the dull after-effects, he reckoned, thudding in the back of his skull. 

 

He was lying on cold, rough stone, and he blinked his eyes a few times to clear his vision as he sat up, realizing with irritation and an unsettled feeling that his sunglasses were nowhere to be found. On the upside, though - hands free, feet free, they’d apparently seen no reason to bind him. 

 

Their mistake...

 

The metal device was still locked tight around his neck, and attached to it now was the weight of a heavy chain, connected at the other end to the center of the stone floor. The room was empty of any other furnishings, save only a light fixture against one wall. There was a door on one side of the room - wide open - but the chain barely allowed Crowley enough room to stand, let alone to get anywhere near it. 

 

There was no one within sight - and that just wasn’t going to cut it. 

 

Not if he was going to find out what had happened to Aziraphale. 

 

“Hey!” he yelled out. “Whose idea of a bloody joke is this? Come on, now, somebody come here and talk to me!” 

 

No one answered - but he could hear whispering voices in the hall outside the cell. He waited, quiet, listening, but unable to make any of it out - and then a few moments later, two angels entered the room, one male and one female, both looking tense and anxious. He grinned at them, offering them a cheeky wink. 

 

“Come on, then,” he said. “Secrets don’t make friends.”

 

The male angel glared at him, his mouth twisting in anger and disgust as he moved in swiftly and struck Crowley across the face with the back of a closed fist. “ No one here is your friend , demon,” he snarled. 

 

Crowley steadied himself from the blow and swung out to return it, his own fist just barely connecting with the angel’s jaw as the angel hastily stepped back, nearly out of Crowley’s reach. He almost hadn’t connected at all. 

 

And oh, how he wished he hadn’t. 

 

The instant the blow landed, a searing jolt of agony like the one he’d felt before consumed Crowley’s body, like burning up from the inside, stealing his breath and his strength and leaving him on his knees on the cold stone. He barely even felt the vicious kick aimed at his ribcage by the angel he’d struck, heard his furious words as a muffled sound, like from underwater. 

 

The angel grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, his words slowly coming into focus as the pain and static slowly subsided. “... think you’ve got the right to touch me, you disgusting …” 

 

“Let him go.” 

 

The new voice was met with instant obedience, Crowley’s hair released as the angel took a couple of hasty steps back - Crowley noticed with some measure of satisfaction, well out of his reach. Crowley saw a pair of stylish black dress shoes moving toward him with slow, measured steps, and looked up into the face of the angel who’d spoken. Immediately his mouth went dry, and he swallowed back the knot that rose in the back of his throat. 

 

Gabriel. 

 

This was serious, then, if the archangel was involved. 

 

How much time had passed while he’d been unconscious? Time enough for Gabriel to have paid Aziraphale a visit, too? 

 

Trying to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Crowley rose, a little unsteadily, to his feet again. Some instinct, deeply ingrained in him from his own creation, recognized the power of this being, and a part of him wanted to look away from the blinding white of Gabriel’s grace. Not willing to give any of these wanker angels the satisfaction of looking away, even if the archangel’s presence was a bit intimidating, Crowley forced himself to maintain eye contact, reaching up a hand to gingerly touch his lower lip, bleeding now from the blow he’d been struck.

 

“Yeah, that punch was a bad idea,” Gabriel remarked with a falsely sympathetic grimace. “I wouldn’t suggest trying it again.” 

 

“Seems I won’t have the chance, your man there’s too bloody scared to come near a second time.” 

 

The angel seethed with anger, moving forward again and Crowley braced himself for another round; but Gabriel held up a hand in a halting gesture, not even looking at the furious angel - and he immediately backed down. 

 

“No.” Gabriel smiled, and it was a deeply unpleasant smile, touched with cruel amusement. “He’s got no reason to be afraid of you, Crowley. No one has. It’s just that we need you conscious . For the moment. And one more hit from that collar you’re wearing, and you won’t be.” 

 

Crowley instinctively reached up a hand to touch it, frowning. 

 

“I wouldn’t try to take it off, either, unless you want another shock like the last one,” Gabriel advised. “You try to hurt anyone… try to teleport… try to take the collar off, and it will take you down.”

 

A cold, empty feeling settled in the pit of his stomach as he began to understand just exactly why they hadn’t bothered to bind him with anything besides the collar and chain attached to it. 

 

“Why?” he demanded, hating the faint tremor in his voice, putting a little more force into his words so they’d hopefully attribute it not to fear - no, none of that - but to blinding rage , which he was most definitely beginning to feel. “What have I done that’s so bloody awful you think you’ve got the right to step in? You take care of yours, Hell takes care of ours, that’s the way it’s always been! This is a bloody war crime , ‘s what it is!”

 

Gabriel laughed softly. “That might matter,” he conceded with a little shrug. “If one single person from your side knew you were here.” 

 

“Well, you’d better hope they don’t find out!” Crowley retorted, moving as close to Gabriel as the chain would allow him. “Thought you lot were all about following the rules, yeah? This is about as far from that as you can get, it’s bloody well unheard of! Chaining a guy up, binding his powers, without so much as a trial, or even telling him what he’s done! When Hell finds out what you’ve done, you’ll regret it.” He defiantly glared up at Gabriel, a sneer twisting his lips as he declared, “Stupidest move you ever made.” 

 

Gabriel’s expression didn’t change, as he lashed out with his fist and struck Crowley in the side of the head, hard enough to knock him back down onto his knees. His warnings about the collar were just about a half second behind Crowley’s outrage, as the demon started to rise again, ready to fight. 

 

He was brought up short, sharply, as Gabriel stepped down on the chain close to Crowley’s side, not leaving him enough slack to rise, and effectively jerking him back down onto his knees when he tried. He crouched down next to Crowley so that they were at eye level, and Crowley braced himself for another attack, for another shock from the collar, glaring at Gabriel and waiting, every muscle tense and ready. 

 

“You know, at the moment that collar’s set pretty low,” Gabriel observed, casually thoughtful. “I bet you can barely feel it, right? It just kinda - makes you tired. I mean, when you’re not doing something colossally stupid.” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, considering. No, he couldn’t really feel the collar right at that moment, beyond a slight staticky buzz in the back of his head, a certain feeling of weakness and exhaustion that he’d mostly attributed to being attacked in his own home and taking multiple blows to the head in the process. But - perhaps it was more than that. 

 

“We set it low on purpose, for now,” Gabriel explained. His lip curled in an expression of contempt as he continued, “You’re not a person , Crowley. You don’t get a trial .” His tone softened. “But - we are going to talk about what it is that you’ve done. And we do want you… coherent… for that conversation. So, for now, we’ve got it set on low. Binds your powers. Can’t fight. Can’t run. Maybe if you really focused all your energy, you could access enough of your power to perform a minor miracle or two - as long as it wasn’t intended to hurt anyone. But - you’re definitely not going anywhere.” 

 

Gabriel reached into his pocket, and took out a slim, silver device that matched the metal of the collar, and looked a bit like a remote control. 

 

Crowley managed to hold his gaze, despite the anxious tightening in his chest. 

 

“There are higher settings, though,” Gabriel remarked, sounding almost bored as he flipped the tiny device over and over in his hand. “And - the things that happen at the higher settings…” He winced a little, shaking his head. “... it can get pretty ugly.” He paused, holding Crowley’s gaze, his smile fading completely. “Wanna see?”

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, glancing down at the device for a moment before meeting Gabriel’s eyes again. He kept his voice carefully low and controlled. “What do you want?” 

 

Gabriel studied him for a moment, speculative, before apparently deciding he approved of the question and pocketing the remote control again without using it. Crowley allowed himself to relax just a little with the thing, for the moment, out of play.

 

Gabriel reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and took out several pieces of paper, which he tossed down onto the floor in front of Crowley. Crowley was acutely aware that Gabriel was watching for his reaction, so he did his best to offer none as he gazed down at the pictures in front of him. Even though it felt like a very small, localized earthquake was taking place in his stomach. Even though he suddenly felt as if he couldn’t breathe. 

 

The pictures were of him and Aziraphale. 

 

On the street, walking together, a few feet of space carefully between them so that the casual observer might not even realize they were together. A rather more incriminating one taken through the window of a restaurant, showing the two of them seated at the same table, having lunch. A third picture, of the two of them seated together on a park bench. 

 

Crowley swallowed hard, tried to steady his voice and school it into something resembling boredom. “Yeah, so?” He shrugged slightly. “We met up a time or two, when there were matters of importance to both our sides to discuss. That’s all.” 

 

Gabriel was quiet for a moment, acknowledging Crowley’s explanation with a single nod, before reaching into his jacket and taking out another picture. “This closeup of the park bench… this one’s really interesting.” 

 

Crowley’s heart clenched in his chest as he took in the image, focused not on him and Aziraphale specifically, but on the space between them - the space on the middle of the bench where their hands rested, fingers just barely brushing against each other in a way that they’d thought was so fucking subtle , thought they were so bloody clever

 

But the contact could not even remotely be mistaken for accidental.

 

“Where is he?” Crowley asked, quiet and careful. 

 

“I wouldn’t worry about him right now,” Gabriel advised, rising to his feet again, leaving the pictures spread out on the floor in front of Crowley. “This is about you. ” His voice was calm, but angry, laced with hate. “ You dared to target one of Heaven’s finest soldiers for corruption. Who knows how long you’ve been plotting this… doing everything in your power to tempt him over to the side of evil… to bring about his Fall …”

 

Crowley couldn’t mask his horror at the thought. He looked up at Gabriel, shaking his head. “What? No, I didn’t… wouldn’t …”

 

Gabriel’s mouth twisted with vindictive disgust, and he drew back his fist, delivering a brutal, silencing blow across Crowley’s face. He followed it up with a vicious kick to Crowley’s ribs that drove the breath from his body and left him gasping, one arm protectively wrapped across his stomach. Gabriel roughly caught a handful of Crowley’s hair and yanked his head back, hard, leaning in close with a malicious smile. 

 

“You’ll speak when spoken to, demon,” he declared, cold and menacing. “And you will learn what happens when a low, foul thing such as you… dares to put its hands on what is holy.” 

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was only mildly concerned when Crowley didn’t show up for their lunch date. 

 

It was not uncommon for either of them to get unexpectedly called away by their respective home offices, and when that happened, sometimes it wasn’t safe to contact the other for some time. Crowley was probably off somewhere being briefed by his demonic supervisors on the details of his next assigned temptation. 

 

It happened, from time to time. 

 

On the way home, Aziraphale took out his cell phone and checked the screen. It was relatively new technology - to him, anyway - but Crowley had insisted that he should have one, for just such situations as this. Given the secretive nature of their relationship, he had reasoned that there would likely be times when it would be necessary to let each other know what was going on from a distance - and Aziraphale had reluctantly agreed. There were plenty of circumstances he could imagine in which it might be far safer to send a text message than to call on a landline. 

 

But all the way home, no matter how many times Aziraphale checked the screen, it remained quiet and blank, and his own nagging sense of anxiety grew stronger and stronger. If Crowley was in a situation where it wasn’t safe to send a message, then it might be equally dangerous for him to receive one. Aziraphale resisted the impulse to call him or text him, unwilling to risk getting him into trouble.

 

When nightfall came, with still no word from Crowley, Aziraphale began to worry in earnest. 

 

For most of their long relationship, they’d gone years, occasionally even centuries, without seeing each other, and Aziraphale had rarely worried, certain that sooner or later, Crowley would turn up again. But for the past fourteen years, they hadn’t gone more than a few days apart. Around eight o’clock that evening, Aziraphale sent a quick text to Crowley’s phone. 

 

Everything all right? 

 

He’d barely sent it when a response came through, far too quickly. 

 

Message not delivered.

 

Aziraphale frowned. He hesitated a moment before dialing Crowley’s number.

 

If it’s not safe, he just won’t answer, but I can leave him a message to call me, he’ll know that I’m concerned…

 

“This number is no longer in service… please check the number and try your call again…”

 

Aziraphale stared at his phone in confusion. That wasn’t possible. Crowley had had this same phone number for a decade now. He dialed the number again, twice more… with the same result. 

 

At this point, he was starting to feel genuinely frightened. Keeping an eye out in case he was being watched, just in case, but seeing no signs of trouble, Aziraphale hailed a cab and made his way across town to Crowley’s apartment. A momentary flood of relief came over him when he saw the Bentley, parked at the curb in its usual spot. He hurried up the stairs to Crowley’s door - and relief was replaced with an icy cold fist of fear clenched in his chest when he saw that it was standing open. 

 

“Crowley?” he called out, the tremor in his voice more prominent as it echoed through the empty hall. He noted Crowley’s keys in their usual spot just inside the door. As he cautiously made his way through the apartment, he saw no signs of a struggle - but then, there was little in Crowley’s apartment to be disturbed. 

 

Aziraphale thought back to that morning, when he’d reached out to Crowley across their mental connection, telling him he loved him - and received no response. He knew at the time that it was foolish and risky, and Crowley was wise not to respond, not to give any confirmation to any listeners-in that Crowley was the one Aziraphale was speaking to. But now, he had to wonder - had Crowley been unable to respond? Hurt, or captured, or… worse? 

 

He remembered their conversation that morning, Crowley’s unhappiness, his quiet confession of how much he hated feeling like Aziraphale’s “dirty little secret” - and the deeply unpleasant idea crossed his mind, for just a moment, that Crowley might have left on his own. Perhaps he was so very tired of hiding, tired of the danger and risk of it all, that he’d needed a break, needed to take off and be away from Aziraphale for a while? 

 

But Aziraphale could still feel the affection and tenderness of Crowley’s kiss that morning, the warmth in his eyes, and he knew that couldn’t be true. Crowley would never have left him for long without at least telling him he was going, at least saying goodbye. 

 

And even if he would have left Aziraphale - he’d never have left the Bentley. 

 

As upsetting as the thought of Crowley leaving him was, it was far less troubling than the more likely possibilities. He stood there in the dark silence of Crowley’s apartment and closed his eyes, reaching out with his mind, reaching out as far as he could. His mouth was dry, his heart racing; he knew this was very dangerous, but he didn’t know what else to try. 

 

Crowley… are you there? I need a word with you, you… you foul fiend. I - I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’m going to figure it out. Just - come out here and face me, you… evil thing…

 

He winced at his own utter lack of creativity, but it was difficult to apply any more insulting terms to Crowley, who was without question the least evil “evil thing” Aziraphale had ever met. He only hoped that the wording would throw off any suspicions the message might raise with any angel or demon who might overhear it, while also possibly allowing Crowley to safely respond without arousing suspicions on his end. He stood there a moment longer, waiting, hoping, to hear Crowley’s voice coming back to him, taunting and sarcastic. 

 

You’re just going to have to wait, featherface, some of us have lives, you know? 

 

or 

 

Wouldn’t you like to know what I’m up to, halo head… good luck figuring it out. 

 

Generally speaking, Crowley was about as good at fake-insulting Aziraphale as Aziraphale was at fake-insulting Crowley. 

 

But no insults, however weak - or anything else, for that matter - came across their connection. 

 

Only bleak, terrifying silence. 

 

******************************************************************************************

 

Days passed, with still no word, and Aziraphale had no idea how to even look for Crowley in a way that would not draw unwanted attention from either of their respective sides. He was torn between staying at the bookshop as much as possible in case Crowley should return in need of help, and keeping the shop closed so that he could go looking for him. 

 

He checked all of their usual secret meeting spots, repeatedly - every restaurant they frequented, the park. Anywhere he could ever remember meeting with Crowley, Aziraphale checked - with no success. 

 

His demon seemed to have quite literally vanished without a trace. 

 

When Crowley had been gone for two weeks, Aziraphale got an idea. It wasn’t a particularly good idea, he knew, but he was utterly at a loss, and could think of nothing else. He spent the greater part of a week, late after the shop was closed, seated on the floor with several opened boxes of books, piles of them strewn around him. 

 

These were not books that he’d ever allow to touch his shelves, mind. Not books he’d ever allow to come anywhere close to the hands of his all too human customers. 

 

These days, Aziraphale was aware with some mild alarm, the occult was wildly popular among humans. As a matter of principle, he generally didn’t stock the sorts of young adult series’ that flew off the shelves of other shops so quickly - not because he felt they were evil or sinful, but simply because there was so very much they got wrong

 

These books, the ones scattered around him on the floor amongst various sheets of loose leaf paper on which he’d scribbled notes incomprehensible to anyone but himself - these books were the ones that got it right - and therefore far too dangerous to ever be allowed to fall into human hands. 

 

He carefully studied these books, taking notes and marking the places that held the information he needed, until he had found several spells and rituals, magic of the sort that he needed. 

 

Magic to summon a demon. 

 

Nearly a week of study yielded a half dozen different reasonably reliable spells that Aziraphale could use; another day or two to gather the supplies he would need, and Aziraphale was ready. If he couldn’t reach Crowley by phone, or by way of their psychic connection, he would have to resort to magic - and just hope that Heaven did not find out about it. 

 

Demon-summoning was generally frowned upon by Heaven. And humanity, for that matter. Really, it was pretty much frowned upon by everyone, even demons. Especially demons.

 

But Crowley had been gone for three weeks. 

 

Aziraphale was left with little choice. 

 

Over the course of several days, Aziraphale tried each ritual in turn - with no success. Then he pored over the texts and rechecked his notes, and tried them all again. Still, nothing. Aziraphale’s hopes sank a little more with each failed attempt; these spells were supposed to summon a demon from anywhere… from the four corners of the earth… from the very pits of Hell. 

 

And still… no Crowley. 

 

I must have done it wrong, Aziraphale told himself. All… twelve times…

 

Yes, I just did it wrong. That’s what happened.  

 

Because the alternative - that Crowley was just not on earth or in Hell, no longer in existence at all - well, that didn’t even bear thinking about. 

 

He gathered a couple of additional supplies and created a demon-trapping sigil on the floor of the bookshop, before trying the first spell again - only this time, substituting in the name of a lower level demon lackey Crowley had mentioned in passing recently. His heart sank a little, and he tried not to think of the implications for Crowley, when this time… the spell worked. 

 

“You? Really?” the demon sneered at him, glancing down in disgust at the trap that held him there before glaring up at Aziraphale. “What do you want?” 

 

Aziraphale met the demon’s unnaturally glittering gaze with a cold, stern expression. “Information. What do you know about the whereabouts of the demon Crowley?” 

 

The demon studied Aziraphale’s face for a long moment, something knowing in his gaze, and a slow smile spread across his face. An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of Aziraphale’s stomach as the demon laughed. “Oh, Satan, it’s true !” 

 

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Aziraphale lied, looking away. “What’s true?” 

 

“You and Crowley!” the demon exulted. “I mean, there’s been rumors, but - this just confirms it. You, going so far as to summon one of us in order to find him!” 

 

Rumors? There’ve been rumors? 

 

Aziraphale felt sick. Any such rumors were probably exactly the reason that Crowley was nowhere to be found. 

 

“I only wish to have a - a very strong word with him,” Aziraphale insisted. “He is my lifelong nemesis, after all…”

 

“Oh, is that what we’re calling it these days...” 

 

“Do you know where I can find him or not?” Aziraphale’s voice was terse, barely masking a slight tremor, and he could feel a heated flush spread across his face. He forced himself to meet the demon’s eyes. 

 

“Like I’d tell you , anyway.” 

 

Aziraphale nodded; he’d expected that response. That was why he’d come prepared for this conversation. He turned to the small table where he’d arranged his spell-casting supplies, selecting an empty, label-less water bottle before turning to face the demon again, unscrewing the cap. 

 

“I believe it’d be in your best interest to do so.” 

 

The demon’s taunting grin fell away, beady eyes locked onto the bottle in Aziraphale’s hand. He rolled his eyes with a put upon sigh. “Look, I don’t know where Crowley is, okay? None of us do. Believe me… we’ve been looking. He must have made a break for it, dude. Sorry. He’s in the wind.” 

 

Aziraphale found himself desperately hoping that was true - but not quite believing it. The spell he’d just used was functional - which meant that if Crowley had simply made the choice to run off, it should have brought him back. And it hadn’t. He was increasingly certain that something terrible had happened to Crowley - he just had no idea what. 

 

“I’m telling you the truth, man,” the demon insisted, watching Aziraphale with wary eyes, and Aziraphale wondered vaguely how much of what he was feeling was showing on his face. “I swear, okay? He’s Hell’s most wanted right now, but - we can’t find him either.” 

 

“I believe you,” Aziraphale assured the demon, quiet and calm as he stepped closer to the circle, his foot a bare inch or so from it, poised to break it and open the trap. “Thank you. You’ve been most helpful.” Aziraphale hesitated a moment, letting out a regretful sigh before meeting the demon’s eyes and continuing, “Unfortunately, I’m afraid I can’t allow you to be so helpful to your superiors.”

 

The demon stared at him in horrified understanding as Aziraphale stepped back without breaking the trap. “Hey, wait! Not cool, man, I told you everything I know!” 

 

Aziraphale thought it best not to engage in any further conversation with the demon; it would only prolong the inevitable. 

 

He poured the bottle of holy water out along the circle’s edge. It might as well have been gasoline, the way it traced the outer and interior lines of the sigil and lit the whole thing up with flames. Aziraphale turned away from the demon’s screams of agony, the scent of its swiftly melting flesh, and left the room. He knew that the trap would keep the fire contained until it went out, taking with it the remains of the demon captive - and everything he’d been unfortunate enough to know about Aziraphale’s relationship with Crowley.

 

*************************************************************************************************

 

Less than a week after Aziraphale summoned a demon to his bookshop - two angels showed up at his door. 

 

“Gabriel would like a word with you.” 

 

“Yes, yes, of course,” Aziraphale replied agreeably with a cheerful smile, though his stomach was quaking. “I’ll be right along shortly, I just need to close up the shop.” 

 

Now , Aziraphale,” one of the angels intoned, impatient. 

 

The other smiled - a cold, unpleasant thing. “We’ll wait.”

 

Aziraphale stalled as much as he dared, counting out the money in the register - which was no more than had been there the previous evening - straightening shelves which had been in disarray for years. When his angelic escort began to clear their throats and shoot him warning glares, he sighed and took his coat from the rack by the door and put it on.

 

All along the way, Aziraphale tried to come up with a valid explanation for his demon-summoning. It helped that said demon was now dead, he supposed. He could say that he’d heard of some wrongdoing, and this demon had been involved? He could say that the demon had attacked him - no, no, that wouldn’t do, as he’d clearly initiated contact first…

 

Aziraphale’s mind raced with a dozen weak excuses, as he ascended the escalator that led to Heaven, the two angels at his back. 

 

Gabriel was waiting at the top with a shark-like smile and a firm handshake. 

 

“Aziraphale, hey! Glad you could make it.” 

 

Aziraphale glanced at the two angels sent to collect him before responding, “Yes, well… I’m sure you’ll be wanting my report of the last few weeks…”

 

“No, no, that can wait.” Gabriel waved a hand dismissively, putting an arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders and turning to walk with him down the long, white hallway. “There’s something I really want to show you first.”

 

Once Gabriel moved out of the way, Aziraphale could see two more angels waiting at the end of the hall - standing shoulder to shoulder, at attention as if they were on guard. And behind them, there was something on the floor. Aziraphale frowned, unable to really make out the shape of it with the two angelic soldiers standing in the way. The width of it was far greater than the two angels, however, and he could see what looked like a sheet of black on the floor behind them, extending out to either side like… like angel’s wings, only… 

 

Aziraphale’s stomach clenched, as he thought of the summoning spells he’d cast, to call a demon from anywhere on Earth… or anywhere in Hell. Not a single one had mentioned summoning a demon from the Heavenly realm… because they weren’t supposed to be there. 

 

And yet…

 

At a wave of Gabriel’s hand, the two angel soldiers stepped to either side, and all at once Aziraphale’s view was unobstructed. His breath caught in his throat as he took in the sight of the demon who knelt behind them, head bowed, face bruised, wings stretched out tight to either side and chained to the floor. He was visibly battered, trembling, with his hands bound behind his back - but he was alive

 

Aziraphale’s breath left him in a rush of mingled relief and dread, as his mind filled with words he desperately wanted to speak, or at least send out as a mental message across the connection that he hadn’t been able to feel for more than a month. But he didn’t dare - not if he wanted those words to be true. 

 

Oh, Crowley, my dear Crowley, I’ve found you, and I’m going to get you out of here. I’m going to take you home, I promise, and everything’s going to be all right…

 

If only Aziraphale had even the first idea of how

Chapter Text

It hurt Aziraphale just to look at Crowley, and the ruthless amount of damage that had been done to him over the course of the past few weeks. 

 

The demon was on his knees, his hands shackled tightly behind his back. There was a silver collar locked around his neck, Aziraphale supposed for the purpose of restraining his powers so that he couldn’t simply miracle his way out of all this. His wings were stretched out to either side, and Aziraphale winced when he realized how exactly they had been restrained. Metal rings had been wedged tightly into the joints of Crowley’s wings, and those rings attached to cruelly short chains which kept them pulled tight and low to the ground, so low that Crowley couldn’t even kneel upright. 

 

Certainly, Aziraphale had felt anger before, many times, when bearing witness to some of the worst humanity could do to each other - but he had never quite felt it like this: a swelling, dark heat that rose up in his chest as he took in the vast array of injuries that had been inflicted on Crowley’s helpless wings - cuts and burns in various stages of healing. There were several places where the once glossy black feathers had been charred until nothing was left but ash and bone.

 

That Crowley was a demon didn’t matter in the slightest. The idea that any angel could do this to another living being filled Aziraphale with a sense of outrage that he found difficult to control - not surprisingly, as he’d had precious little experience with it. 

 

Crowley had yet to look up at him - had thus far given no indication that he even realized Aziraphale was in the room. His sunglasses were nowhere to be found - a detail which only served to fuel Aziraphale’s rising fury. Of course they’d taken his glasses away, first thing probably, and Crowley had to hate that… here surrounded by enemies with his shield stolen from him. Crowley’s eyes were closed, his head bowed, but Aziraphale could still see the bruises around his eyes and high on his cheek, the small cut on Crowley’s lower lip. 

 

He could just imagine how that might have happened; Crowley certainly hadn’t gone quietly, of that he was sure. He had a sharp tongue and a way of easily pissing people off, even when wisdom and self-preservation would have told him to exercise caution. But the thought of some angel, any angel, bringing his fist down across Crowley’s mouth, with him chained and helpless like this, had Aziraphale’s hand clenching into a useless fist at his side. 

 

Useless - because he couldn’t give in to the impulse to attack. Not yet. 

 

If he fought, right now, surrounded by at least five other angels - he’d lose. And Crowley would lose. 

 

And he’d lose Crowley

 

Aziraphale knew that it was going to be next to impossible to get out of here with Crowley as it was, but if he stood any chance whatsoever of doing so, he was going to have to pull off the best acting of his entire existence, and pretend not to care

 

“See?” Gabriel crowed, his tone almost gleeful. “We’ve taken care of a major problem for you, as you can see. You’re welcome.” 

 

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, keeping his tone mild, calm. “Well, this explains the quiet lately.” 

 

The moment he spoke, Crowley’s eyes shot wide open and he looked up at Aziraphale, stunned. Aziraphale allowed himself only a moment to hold Crowley’s gaze, because he could see the desperation there, could feel his panic in the air around them… and it was all he could do not to lose control to the overwhelming impulse to go to Crowley and hold him and comfort him. 

 

He couldn’t, not now - not unless he wanted it to be for the very last time. 

 

With an effort he tore his gaze away from Crowley and smiled coolly at Gabriel. “I’d been wondering what he’s been up to, since there’s been no sign of his sinful works of late.” 

 

“What he’s been up to?” Gabriel grinned. “Well, see, that’s the interesting bit. He’s been filling us in on that…”

 

“It should have worked,” Crowley spoke up suddenly, his voice hoarse and shaky, words spilling out quickly as his gaze darted toward Gabriel for a moment before meeting Aziraphale’s eyes with desperation in his own. “Seduction’s sort of my thing, isn’t it? If you weren’t such a bloody prude… this lot were way quicker on the uptake than you, stupid oblivious angel...”

 

Gabriel’s face twisted with fury, his smile gone in an instant as he swiftly turned on Crowley, stomping down hard on his right wing. A choked scream escaped Crowley’s lips, but was broken off sharply when Gabriel grabbed his hair and jerked his head back, hard. Aziraphale watched in horror as Gabriel cruelly ground his heel down into Crowley’s wing, leaning in close to speak quietly next to his ear. 

 

Aziraphale could not hear what he said, but whatever it was made Crowley go completely silent. A visible shudder passed through him, his face falling as he shook his head a little, biting back a cry of pain. 

 

It was his utter lack of resistance that was most disturbing. Crowley didn’t even try to pull away, didn’t offer defiant insults or threats. If there was any trace of what would have been truly justified anger at this cruel treatment, Aziraphale couldn’t detect it beneath the overwhelming sense of sheer terror rolling off of Crowley as Gabriel held him fast, no doubt spilling poison into his ear.

Aziraphale wanted to stop Gabriel. He wanted to fight, to drag the archangel away, to do something to stop what was happening to Crowley - but he knew it would only make things worse. Instead, he focused on the urgent words that had cost Crowley so much added pain. 

 

The message was clear. 

 

Crowley had told Gabriel and the others that he’d attempted - and failed - to seduce Aziraphale. It was deeply unfair in a way that cut at Aziraphale’s heart, for Crowley to willingly take all the blame onto his own shoulders in order to, hopefully, leave Aziraphale in the clear. But he didn’t have time to focus on his own guilt; he had to take Crowley’s sacrifice and use it as a means of getting him out of here. 

 

First… he had to get Gabriel’s attention back onto himself, and off of Crowley. 

 

“Really, Crowley,” he sneered, pouring all the contempt he could muster into his voice, waiting until Gabriel stood up straight again and looked at him to roll his eyes. “Did you think I didn’t know? You’ve always been so obvious.” He forced a cold laugh. “Oblivious is not the same thing as simply not interested .” 

 

Gabriel let go of Crowley, stepping away from his wings and back toward Aziraphale, and Aziraphale tried to focus on this small but significant victory… tried not to focus on the way Crowley flinched a little at his words. 

 

“So you knew he was trying to seduce you, make you fall?” Gabriel sounded surprised. He raised his eyebrows, his tone dry and suspicious. “And you just… failed to mention it.” 

 

“Didn’t seem worth mentioning, as I was never even remotely tempted.” Aziraphale shrugged, then sighed, waving a hand vaguely in Crowley’s general direction. “I do wish you’d mentioned this to me, however. I’ve been at a loss, wondering what horrible thing he was planning. He’s never so quiet for so long. And the whole time, he’s been right here, while my worries have been rather wasted.” He paused a moment, allowing his words to sink in before he ventured a couple of slow steps in Crowley’s direction. “Earth is my jurisdiction, after all. If punishment is due this foul creature... it should have been mine to mete out.”

 

“You’d like that?” Gabriel seemed surprised, studying Aziraphale as if he was beginning to think he might have misread him. “That’s… something you’d want to do?” 

 

“Oh, most definitely,” Aziraphale said softly, crouching down in front of Crowley, careful to avoid any contact with his abused wings as he reached out to brush the back of his hand down the side of Crowley’s face. Crowley jerked away, his breath quickening, eyes wide and focused on the floor between them. 

 

Good, that’s good, my love, keep him believing it…

 

He didn’t dare do more than think the words, aware that anything he tried to actually share with Crowley at the moment would certainly be overheard by Gabriel and the others as well. Instead, Aziraphale schooled his expression into a cruel smile, kept his tone soft and faintly mocking, as he spoke aloud. 

 

“Your ridiculous flirtations… your pathetic overtures of ‘romance’... how could you have ever thought I’d fall, for you ? I only tolerated it at all because I felt it kept you occupied. As long as you were focusing your repulsive attentions on me … then you weren’t doing your actual job .” He was quiet a moment, adding finally, thoughtfully, “How I’d love the opportunity to show you how I really feel about you, Crowley. Truly, I would.”

 

“Would you?” 

 

Aziraphale looked up at Gabriel, who was regarding him with a contemplative expression, eyes narrowed slightly. Aziraphale stood up straight again and turned his back toward Crowley, placing himself between him and Gabriel. 

 

“Yes,” he replied. “I do feel it’s only fair, after all. I’ve been dealing with Crowley for all these centuries. I’m the one who’s suffered most from his vile deceptions and evil wiles. He’s under my jurisdiction - my own personal adversary, if you will. As I said, things have been… quiet, of late. Peaceful. I now understand why.” He met Gabriel’s gaze, willing Gabriel to see the cold fury he couldn’t quite hide, and believe it to be aimed at Crowley rather than at himself. “If you’ll let me take him… handle his punishment… I can assure you that things will continue to be quiet and peaceful.” 

 

Gabriel tilted his head a little, considering. “You haven’t really done this kind of work before, Aziraphale.” 

 

“All the more reason for me to gain some experience, yes?” Aziraphale pointed out with a cruel smirk. “With my adversary bound, regardless of where he is… I’m going to need something to occupy my time.” 

 

“Well… why not?” Gabriel relented at last. “I suppose we can give it a try. You’re right about one thing, Aziraphale… he is under your jurisdiction, which makes him rightfully yours to punish.” He smiled, clapping Aziraphale on the shoulder. “And I think you should get… absolutely everything you deserve.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Of course, there was a considerable amount of paperwork. 

 

Aziraphale dutifully filled it out while sitting at a pristine white desk that Gabriel had miracled out of thin air, watching out of the corner of his eye as the other angels stood around whispering amongst themselves, occasionally casting dubious glances in his direction. Aziraphale’s mind went back uneasily to his conversation with the demon he’d summoned. If rumors were being passed about in Hell about him and Crowley, the same thing was almost certainly happening in Heaven. 

 

There was only one reason for the angels to have taken Crowley at all, only one reason why Crowley would have felt his best option was to confess to attempting to seduce Aziraphale. Somehow he had come under suspicion, his relationship with Crowley called into question - and that led Aziraphale to a troubling conclusion. 

 

There was no way in Creation that Gabriel would actually trust him with Crowley.

 

That was a problem for another time, however. At the moment he simply had to focus on getting Crowley home. Everything else could be figured out once he was safe. 

 

Aziraphale was relieved to see that the angels in the room more or less ignored Crowley, who was still kneeling on the stark white floor, his body trembling with pain. Every now and then his wing would jerk a little against the bonds, and Aziraphale’s heart ached to think of how much it must hurt. He had distinctly heard something crack when Gabriel had stepped down on Crowley’s wing. 

 

At one point two angels did approach Crowley from either side - but all they did was to unfasten the chains that held his wings to the floor. Immediately Crowley drew them in close to his body. He did not rise from his knees, did not straighten his posture, but rather huddled further down, as if trying to present the smallest possible target.

 

Aziraphale tensed when he saw Gabriel heading purposefully toward Crowley, resisting the urge to get up, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand, as Gabriel grabbed Crowley by the collar around his neck, dragging him to his feet. The sick feeling in the pit of Aziraphale’s stomach intensified at the way Crowley moved with Gabriel, submissive and obedient, hurrying to comply with what Gabriel wanted as Gabriel turned him around and shoved his face up against the wall. 

 

Of course, Aziraphale was relieved, to a certain extent, that Crowley wasn’t fighting, wasn’t insulting Gabriel or cursing him or doing anything that might convince Gabriel to change his mind about letting Aziraphale take him. For a brief moment, Aziraphale allowed himself to hope that maybe, just maybe , Crowley was simply playing along - as Aziraphale was doing, simply doing what he had to do so they could get home. 

 

But as Gabriel moved in close behind Crowley, a heavy hand at the back of his neck, speaking too quietly against his ear for Aziraphale to make out the words - the feeling of Crowley’s absolute panic swept over Aziraphale in an overwhelming wave, and he knew that this was no act. Crowley was genuinely terrified of Gabriel - which was disconcerting and a little confusing. Aziraphale had never thought of Gabriel as particularly frightening. Intimidating, yes, but in that stuffy bureaucratic sort of way that didn’t speak of any real danger.

 

But now, Gabriel seemed to be enjoying the power he held over Crowley. As Aziraphale watched while trying to pretend he wasn’t watching, Gabriel ran a hand slowly down the middle of Crowley’s back, and Crowley shivered, though Aziraphale wasn’t sure if it was Gabriel’s words or his touch that caused it. But Gabriel’s hand stopped at Crowley’s bound wrists, unlocking the shackles and snapping them out of existence. He said something else to Crowley, who responded with a hurried nod, before grabbing the collar again and leading Crowley none too gently across the room to Aziraphale’s side, just as Aziraphale finished signing the last sheet of paper. 

 

Aziraphale ventured a glance at Crowley, and his heart clenched painfully when Crowley started to kneel in front of him. Gabriel roughly jerked him back upright by the collar without even looking at him, with a sharp, “ No .” 

 

Crowley flinched, but stood there, miserably obedient, rubbing anxiously at his sore wrists. His wings were drawn in low against his back, rustling slightly with the tremors that shook his whole body. His eyes were on the floor at Aziraphale’s feet, and Aziraphale wished that he would look at him, wished that he could offer some kind of reassurance - but it was probably best if that waited until they were alone. 

 

He wasn’t quite sure he’d be able to control his own emotions if Crowley were to look him in the eye right then. 

 

“Now let me show you how this works…” 

 

Gabriel was talking, and Aziraphale made himself focus on what he was saying, keeping his expression impassive as Gabriel took hold of the collar again and jerked Crowley closer to Aziraphale, so that Aziraphale could see the collar’s edge more clearly. Crowley remained utterly quiet and compliant, though his eyes were tightly shut, his expression taut with fear. His breath was rapid and uneven through his nose, teeth digging into the cut on his lip until he drew fresh blood in his desperation to keep silent. 

 

“You can control the settings with this right here, take them up or down…” Gabriel indicated a dial on the outer edge of the collar, right next to a tiny digital screen that read 05 . “Or you can use this.” Gabriel let go of the collar and took a step back from Crowley as he retrieved a small remote control from his pocket, holding it in his palm for Aziraphale to see. “Right now it’s set around the middle… tends to keep him nice and quiet. Most of the time.” 

 

Aziraphale did not miss the dark, accusing tone of his voice, or the way Crowley shivered, his shoulders pulling in as he wrapped his arms around his torso, visibly braced for more pain.

 

Gabriel smiled, cold and vindictive. 

 

“But if it’s ever not enough … if he just keeps running his stupid mouth , and you need to teach him a lesson…” 

 

Gabriel abruptly pressed and held a button on the remote, and to Aziraphale’s horror, the numbers on the digital display went up - one, two, three levels until it read 08 . Gabriel watched with grim satisfaction as Crowley’s legs gave out and he crumpled to the ground, his entire body curled in on itself with pain. And even through the visible agony that shook his body, Crowley remained disturbingly quiet, not allowing more than the faintest whimper to escape his lips. 

 

Aziraphale wanted to snatch the thing out of Gabriel’s hand, to tear the collar off of Crowley’s throat, to hold him and comfort him and heal him. 

 

He wanted to kill Gabriel. He couldn’t remember another moment in his entire existence when he’d wanted to kill anything - but he wanted to kill Gabriel

 

Instead he kept his expression calm, eyeing Crowley with a single raised brow, as if the suffering of the demon at his feet meant nothing to him. 

 

“Ten is the highest,” Gabriel explained. “But you don’t ever wanna leave it there too long. He’ll discorporate if you do.” 

 

Aziraphale felt sick. He didn’t want to know how Gabriel knew that. He hesitated, steeling himself because he had to ask. “And… how long is too long?” 

 

Gabriel shrugged, his cool gaze never leaving Crowley’s trembling form at his feet. “A few hours. Two’s okay, for sure. After that - I can’t make any guarantees, and if he ends up back in Hell, we’ve lost him and we’ll never get him back.” 

 

Two hours. Two hours , for certain, that Crowley had been forced to endure this level of agony, and worse. Aziraphale fought to maintain a mildly bored demeanor, although rage coiled in his chest and he longed to strike. 

 

“Isn’t there a manual or something I can see? I don’t think I really need the full demonstration.” 

 

“Sure.” Gabriel smiled, snapping his fingers, and a slim white book appeared in his hand. He passed it over to Aziraphale, who tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket. 

 

The very first thing he was going to look up when they got home was how to take the blasted thing off

 

“It’s… continuous?” Aziraphale allowed himself a small frown of disapproval, though inwardly he was horrified as Crowley continued to shake, struggling even to breathe through the pain that still seemed to be consuming his body. 

 

“Yeah.” Gabriel grinned, nudging Crowley with his foot. “Until you turn the setting back down. Lowest setting, he doesn’t feel much at all. Middle setting’s just kind of… a constant warning. The kind of pain that says, ‘yeah, this sucks, but you just know you’re gonna find a way to screw up again and make it so much worse .’ Right, Crowley?”

 

Crowley didn’t respond, probably couldn’t even hear Gabriel through the agony that racked his body. Gabriel was not at all sympathetic. His grin faded as he gripped Crowley’s throat in one strong hand, leaning into his face. 

 

Right ?” 

 

“Right,” Crowley gasped out, eyes closed, though tears slid past his lashes to streak his face. “‘S-s my fault. S-sorry…” 

 

Gabriel released him with a rough shove. Crowley lowered his face against his knees, his shoulders shaking as he wept silently.

 

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale interrupted, not quite able to look at Gabriel for fear of what the archangel would see on his face. “I do need him capable of walking under his own power…” 

 

“Yeah, of course.” 

 

Gabriel nodded agreeably, leaning in so that Aziraphale could see which buttons he pressed on the remote in order to turn the setting back down to 05 , before placing the remote in Aziraphale’s open palm and, to Aziraphale’s dismay, crouching down in front of Crowley. He grabbed Crowley’s chin and forced his head up, and Crowley cooperated, but kept his eyes carefully down. His entire body was shaking with exhaustion, tears still streaming down his face.

 

Gabriel’s voice was low and leading, almost patient. “Lesson learned?” 

 

Crowley nodded, then closed his eyes and swallowed hard, forcing out a choked, “Y-yes. Sorry… ‘m sorry...” 

 

Gabriel studied him for a moment before nodding once in approval. To Aziraphale’s surprise and relief, his hand softened on Crowley’s face for a moment before he moved it to the dial on the collar, turning it down even further until it read 02 . Immediately Crowley let out his breath in a rush, gasping, his shoulders falling, his body visibly relaxing as the pain faded.

 

Gabriel stayed where he was for a long moment, inexplicably expectant. 

 

All at once Crowley opened his eyes wide, alarmed, as if just remembering something he’d forgotten. “Thank you,” he whispered in a breathless rush, closing his eyes again and lowering his head. “Thank you.” 

 

“Better,” Gabriel said softly, approvingly, running an almost gentle hand through Crowley’s hair as he rose to his feet again, then turning toward Aziraphale with a bright smile as if nothing had happened. “Got it?” 

 

“I believe I do.” 

 

Aziraphale did not get it. Aziraphale was deeply confused and disturbed by the behavior he had just witnessed - from both Gabriel and Crowley. 

 

He cleared his throat, a bit awkwardly. “So, then, if there’s nothing else…” he ventured. 

 

“Nothing else,” Gabriel assured him. “Just - be certain you’re not letting him off too easy, Aziraphale. He needs to be an example to Hell - an example of just what happens when they come at us in such a... disturbingly personal way. You know?” 

 

Aziraphale gave a curt nod of agreement, looking down at Crowley, who was still drawing in deep, shaky breaths as his body recovered. He resisted the urge to reach down and help him up, instead keeping his tone cool and detached. 

 

“Stand up, Crowley.” 

 

Crowley nodded to indicate his intention to obey, struggling for a minute or so to get to his feet. Aziraphale forced himself not to look at Gabriel, not to look at either of them as he reached out a hand to take Crowley’s arm, just above the elbow - not too tight, don’t hurt him… not too gentle, Gabriel will know - and led him toward the exit. 

 

“Hang on, Aziraphale.”

 

Aziraphale tensed at Gabriel’s words, forcing an expectant smile as he turned back toward him. 

 

“You don’t want to walk him through London with those wings on display,” Gabriel pointed out. “Ride home, on me.” 

 

He placed one hand on Aziraphale’s arm, and Aziraphale resisted the urge to recoil in disgust. He placed the other hand on Crowley’s arm, and Crowley remained still and quiet. An instant later, the two of them were standing in the dim, dusty light of the bookshop… finally, mercifully alone. 

 

Crowley stumbled a little, off balance, his breath coming in short, rapid gasps as he blinked around the room in confusion and disbelief, as if he couldn’t quite place where he was. 

 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale was careful, reaching out a hand to steady him. “Crowley, my dear…”

 

Crowley looked up at Aziraphale for just a moment, eyes wide and lost… before immediately lowering his gaze, holding up an arm in front of his face and flinching away. 

 

“S-sorry, sorry…” Crowley whispered, the words a breathless, frightened hiss. 

 

Aziraphale stared at him in confused dismay as Crowley sank to his knees on the dusty wooden floor and let out a quiet, desperate sob.

 

Please… please, don’t …” 

Chapter Text

“Please… please, don’t…”

 

Crowley’s voice broke over the words, desolate and pleading without any real hope of mercy. He immediately flinched as he spoke them, as if he expected to be punished for speaking. Given Gabriel’s reaction to Crowley’s speaking without permission, Aziraphale wouldn’t have found it all that surprising - if it were Gabriel that Crowley was kneeling in front of, softly weeping. 

 

But it wasn’t. And the realization, the very idea that Crowley might actually think that Aziraphale would hurt him… 

 

It was a shattering blow to Aziraphale’s heart. 

 

He flinched when you touched him… he acted afraid of you then… 

 

Aziraphale remembered, but he’d been certain at the time that Crowley was simply playing along. If they were going to convince Gabriel to let him leave with Crowley, Crowley couldn’t very well appear to be happy to go with him, could he? His fearful reaction to Aziraphale’s touch - it had been an act, hadn’t it? Intended to back up Aziraphale’s own cruel words and false threats? 

 

Hadn’t it?

 

Carefully, Aziraphale took a couple of steps nearer to Crowley. Crowley flinched, and it felt like a blade through Aziraphale’s chest. “Easy, dear, it’s all right now,” he murmured, crouching down a couple of feet away from Crowley, reaching out a cautious hand as he might to some skittish, injured wild animal, if he were trying to convince it to let him near enough to heal it. 

 

Let me, Crowley… please, my love, just let me…

 

Crowley lowered the arm that was protecting his face - and that had to be promising, right? No longer defending himself from an expected blow? But Aziraphale’s heart sank when Crowley wrapped his arm tight around his ribs, shrinking away a little, shaking his head and whispering, barely audible, his sibilant consonants drawn out as they only were when he was angry or exhausted or … or scared. Scared to death. 

 

“Please… please… please…”

 

“Please?” Aziraphale echoed gently, sadly, edging just a little nearer with his hand still outstretched, palm up and unthreatening. “Please what, my dear?” He waited a moment; when Crowley didn’t speak, he urged him quietly, “Tell me, Crowley. What do you need?” 

 

“Forgive me,” Crowley choked out, “I-I didn’t mean it, I swear it, angel, I’m s-sorry. I - I never wanted, I’m so, so sorry…”

 

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for,” Aziraphale insisted, frowning, deeply confused by Crowley’s rambling, increasingly frantic words. “There’s nothing to forgive, my dear, you’ve done nothing wrong.” 

 

“You could have fallen because of me,” Crowley insisted, voice trembling with frustration and disgusted anger. “‘S what I do, isn’t it? I’m a deceiver and a seducer and I nearly destroyed you, but I never wanted to, never , no matter what I said.” Fresh tears streaked Crowley’s face as he bowed his head, closing his eyes. “I know I deserve it, all of it… I know you’ve every right, angel, but please… please don’t…” His voice broke, the rest a hoarse, barely distinguishable whisper. “I - I can’t bear it if it’s you…”  

 

It was those last few words that did it - that finally made the pieces come together in Aziraphale’s mind. Suddenly, he understood - and suddenly, he couldn’t breathe. He knew what Crowley was afraid of now. 

 

He was afraid that Aziraphale would do exactly what he’d said he would do

 

Urgency, desperation for Crowley to understand, drove Aziraphale to move a little closer to Crowley, folding his own knees under him and settling down in the least imposing position he could think of and reaching out to carefully, carefully take Crowley’s hand from where it wrapped protectively around his side. He reached his other hand up to cup Crowley’s cheek, wincing when Crowley flinched, but allowed Aziraphale to tilt his face up a little. 

 

Aziraphale swallowed hard, his mouth dry, his stomach rolling weakly at the way Crowley easily surrendered, allowing Aziraphale to manipulate his hand, his face, in whatever way he chose without the slightest trace of resistance. It made him feel guilty for touching Crowley at all - but he had to make him understand.

 

“Look at me, Crowley.” He kept his voice hushed and gentle. 

 

Crowley immediately obeyed, and the anguish and dread in his eyes made Aziraphale’s chest hurt. Aziraphale held his gaze, leaning in just a little closer, willing him to see the truth, to feel it from his heart. 

 

“I will never hurt you,” Aziraphale promised. “Do you understand? Never . I only said that I would so that he’d let me take you. I had to get you out of there… get you home . I said it to save you, my love, but I never meant it. I’m not going to hurt you, Crowley, I wouldn’t. Not ever.” 

 

Confusion warred with the terror in Crowley’s eyes, and he glanced down for a moment, uncertain, but calmer, so much calmer, and Aziraphale took that as a small victory. Crowley swallowed slowly, then looked up at him again, concluding softly, “You - you lied. To the archangel.” 

 

Aziraphale bit his lip, frowning a little, an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. When Crowley put it like that...

 

“Yes, I suppose I did,” he sighed. “But there truly wasn’t any other choice, my dear.” His frown deepened, indignation in his tone as he continued, “At any rate, he’s hardly holier than anyone , is he? I can’t believe for a moment that the Almighty would condone his actions…” He hesitated, his troubled thoughts spilling slowly from his lips before he realized he was even going to speak aloud. “And… if She would … I - I don’t know if I…”

 

“You’re going to fall.” 

 

Crowley’s quiet, despairing words stopped Aziraphale’s thoughts in their tracks. 

 

“What?” he whispered, unable to keep the dismay from his voice. 

 

“You’re going to fall,” Crowley repeated, a heartbroken whisper. “And it’s going to be my fault. I’ve corrupted you. Stained your soul with my… filth .” 

 

Anger swiftly overwhelmed any rising fears Aziraphale was feeling. He was very confused by all of this. He couldn’t understand why Heaven would cross the lines they had crossed and take Crowley and hurt him so badly. He couldn’t understand how, even after a month of such treatment, Crowley could be so thoroughly broken as to have seemingly forgotten how much Aziraphale loved him, that he was safe here, in their home. But one thing he knew for certain, with complete clarity. 

 

Those were not Crowley’s own words coming out of his mouth.

 

“Is that what he told you?” Crowley cringed away from the anger in Aziraphale’s voice, and he immediately swallowed it back, softening his tone. “ Lies , Crowley. Look at me.” Crowley did, his agonizingly expressive eyes filled with sorrow and regret. “Those are hateful, wicked lies . You have never in any way harmed me, and I know that you never would. You can’t force me to do anything, even if you wanted to. My choices are my own, and I alone am responsible for them. If I were to fall, it would be my own choice. Not your fault, my love, never your fault. I love you. This is not a temptation, not some … dark, secret, shameful affair. I love you. I’ve always loved you… and I’m still here . Because it’s not a sin… to simply love .” He paused a moment, pushing as much conviction into his voice as he could as he promised, “I’m not going to fall, Crowley.” 

 

Crowley was silent, his gaze dropping again to the floor between them, the place where their hands connected. He seemed much calmer now. His tears seemed to have stopped; the violent shaking of his sobs had subsided to a sort of fine tremor of exhaustion. He swallowed slowly, blinking as he seemed to be taking in Aziraphale’s words. Hesitantly, his thumb traced the inner edge of Aziraphale’s wrist - and Aziraphale’s heart fairly soared. 

 

Still, a heavy feeling settled in the pit of his stomach… because he knew it was far from over. They were not even close to safe. 

 

“They know about us, don’t they?” he concluded with resignation. 

 

Crowley said nothing, but his eyes darted back up to Aziraphale’s face for a moment before he looked down again, swallowing slowly. 

 

“That’s why you told them you’d seduced me. You said it to protect me.” Aziraphale ached with gratitude, with sorrow for what Crowley had endured in order to save him. He closed his eyes, unthinkingly raised Crowley’s hand in his and brushed his lips across his knuckles, still trembling slightly in his grasp. “My love, you shouldn’t have… you shouldn’t have taken such a burden…” Frustration rose up in him and he sighed heavily. “We were so careful! How did they know?”

 

Crowley’s lips parted as if to speak, his gaze locked onto their joined hands, just short of making eye contact. He closed his mouth again, swallowed slowly. Aziraphale waited, unwilling to push, and finally, Crowley tried again, his words carefully even and quiet. 

 

“You - you didn’t tell them.” 

 

The words struck Aziraphale like a slap in the face. He stared at Crowley, aghast, forgetting to control his tone as he replied, “ Me , tell them? Did they say that I…?” It crossed his mind to worry about frightening Crowley, but for the first time since he’d found him, Crowley held his gaze - intent, unflinching, searching for answers he desperately needed in Aziraphale’s face. “Crowley, of course not! No, I did not. I would never …”

 

His words fell away… as Crowley abruptly fell apart. He broke down again, deep, painful sobs torn from his throat. But this time, it was clear that his tears were born of overwhelming relief. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he gasped out, shaking his head. “Sorry, should have known… shouldn’t have believed it, I…” He couldn’t seem to draw enough breath to go on, clasping Aziraphale’s hand tighter and pulling him closer. “Please… please, angel, I - I need…” 

 

What he needed was exactly what Aziraphale needed, what he’d been desperate for since the moment he saw Crowley. He’d only been holding back for want of an invitation. 

 

Aziraphale eagerly, gratefully closed the remaining distance between them, wrapping his arms around Crowley and pulling him in against his chest. His body shuddering with the release of the horrible uncertainty he’d been holding onto, Crowley clung to Aziraphale, clutching at his waist, his shoulder, as he buried his face in the angel’s neck and wept. 

 

“I’ve got you,” Aziraphale whispered, one hand rising to cradle Crowley’s head as his own eyes burned with tears. “I’ve got you, my darling, you’re safe. You’re safe now…”

 

He knew it wasn’t quite true, not yet, and that was a problem they were going to have to find a way to handle. But for so long he’d feared that Crowley was lost to him forever, was dead , and now he was here , in Aziraphale’s arms, loving him, trusting him… and in that moment, Aziraphale could only be thankful. 

 

They weren’t safe. Not really. But here in the quiet solitude of the bookshop, so close that there wasn’t even the space of a breath between them… Aziraphale knew how to make Crowley feel safe. 

 

He closed his eyes and reached out across the connection they shared … such a slight distance that there was no chance of intrusion by any passing angels or demons outside. It was only him and Crowley, in all of existence, that mattered as Aziraphale focused and surrounded Crowley with the warmth of the love he felt for him. He knew when Crowley felt it, his grip on Aziraphale tightening as he gasped, nestling in even closer to the angel - and a moment later Aziraphale felt Crowley’s love for him flowing back over him as well, covering them both - hot and urgent, breaking over Aziraphale in waves - but it was touched with electric streaks of fear and confusion and pain, so much pain…

 

Acting on deep-seated protective instinct, Aziraphale manifested his wings, taking a moment to let them expand and stretch, nearly filling the room, before he brought them down around himself and Crowley, wrapping them close around his wounded demon. Pure white feathers brushed against the charred wreckage of Crowley’s wings, and Crowley let out a sharp whimper, gasping against Aziraphale’s neck. 

 

Too much? 

 

Aziraphale sent the words across their connection, his hand gently stroking through Crowley’s damp, messy hair, kissing his temple. 

 

Crowley shook his head against Aziraphale’s shoulder, clinging to him. 

 

It’s not… not too much, just enough. Need you, angel, needed you for so long...

 

Aziraphale’s heart ached with the broken confession, the guilt of Crowley’s suffering while he had failed to find him. 


You’ve got me, I’m here, Aziraphale promised, because it was one promise he knew he could keep. I’m here now, and I’ve got you, and I’m not going to let anyone hurt you again, my love… not ever...

Chapter Text

They stayed there on the floor of the bookshop, wrapped up in each other with the rest of the world completely shut out, for a very long time - until Aziraphale’s knees ached a bit, and until Crowley’s breathing had slowed, his tears had stopped, and the sharper-edged, painful emotions that Aziraphale had felt coming from him did not disappear, but at least became… quiet.  

 

“You shouldn’t be doing this…” Crowley whispered, hoarse and harsh in the stillness. “‘S too dangerous, angel. They do know about us, ‘s why they took me. They were hoping I’d turn on you and they’d get us both.”

 

“But you didn’t.” Aziraphale felt a mingled sense of regret, and awe for what Crowley had endured to save him. He smiled, a little sadly, as he brushed Crowley’s hair back from his face with gentle fingers. “Instead you told them I was innocent of any wrongdoing…”

 

“He didn’t believe me,” Crowley insisted with urgency. “I tried, but he knows I was lying. So… the only reason he’d ever let you take me…”

 

“It’s a trap, of course.” Aziraphale nodded, grim and unsurprised. He’d already reached the same conclusion mere minutes after Gabriel had granted his request - but it didn’t change anything. Leaving Crowley there, to assuage Gabriel’s suspicions - that was never an option. “I’m aware, my dear. But there’s nothing for it, is there? Nothing but to play along and… and buy some time while we figure out what to do.” 

 

“You’ve got to be careful,” Crowley insisted, anxious tension creeping back in around the edges of his aura as he adjusted his position, sitting up a little straighter - and then grimaced with pain as the motion shifted his ravaged wings. 

 

Aziraphale felt awful; he should have already thought to sort out Crowley’s injuries, rather than letting him sit there and suffer with them. He withdrew his wings, tucking them away as he said, “Here, let me help…” and reached out a hand toward Crowley’s broken wing. 

 

Crowley jerked it away, and Aziraphale’s momentary hurt feelings were swiftly eclipsed by concern when Crowley immediately gasped at the agonizing motion, but still held up a hand between them as if to keep Aziraphale at a distance. 

 

“You can’t,” he explained, his voice rough, harrowed with pain. “You’re meant to be punishing me, remember? Not wasting miracles on me. If you heal me, he’ll know.”

 

Dismayed, Aziraphale opened his mouth to object, his hand still extended toward Crowley’s wing. He couldn’t bear the idea of simply leaving Crowley suffering, when he could so easily help him. But his heart sank as he realized, as much as he hated it - Crowley was right. 

 

“Heaven always seems to know, every time I perform a miracle of any kind,” he admitted, lowering his hand in defeat. “He’ll be just waiting for me to do exactly that, won’t he?”

 

Crowley nodded, his eyes downcast. “He’s looking to trap you. That’d be the way.” 

 

“Well, then… we’ll just have to resort to more human means of treating your injuries,” Aziraphale concluded, resigned. He frowned as he looked Crowley over, trying to assess the damage. 

 

His wings were covered in cuts and burns, cracked and ashen feathers mingled with more healthy ones, barely hanging on in some places. Other places were completely bare, showing through to burned, blackened flesh and bone. The wing Gabriel had crushed beneath his foot appeared to be broken. Aziraphale frowned at the greater expanse of Crowley’s body covered by what appeared to be the same clothes he’d left the bookshop in a month earlier, wondering as to the extent of the injuries they most certainly covered. 

 

His eyes fell finally on the collar at Crowley’s throat, set to 02 at the moment. He reached out a hand, carefully. When his fingers brushed the edge of the metal, Crowley tensed, but didn’t pull away.

 

“Is it hurting you, right now?” Aziraphale asked. 

 

Crowley shook his head, gave a dismissive little shrug. “‘S not bad, just a little… tingly in my head… like a little static electricity shock, only…” He swallowed hard, looking away. “... all the time.” 

 

Anger and indignation rose up in Aziraphale as he gently turned the collar, trying to get a better look at its controls. “No, that’s… completely unacceptable. Here, they might not be aware of any change, if I leave the settings as they are but just take it off…”

 

“No, no, you can’t!” Crowley flinched, raising a hand to catch Aziraphale’s wrist and stop him, a touch of panic in his voice. His eyes widened on the place where he’d grabbed Aziraphale, and he abruptly let go, holding his hand up between them, placating or pleading, Aziraphale wasn’t sure. Probably both. “S-sorry,” Crowley whispered, quick and anxious. “Sorry, angel, it’s just… it won’t come off. If you try…” He swallowed, looking away. 

 

Aziraphale felt that increasingly familiar white hot blaze of anger coiled in his stomach. “It hurts you?” 

 

Crowley nodded, dropping the arm that had just stayed Aziraphale’s hand, and wrapping it around his stomach, visibly nervous and uncomfortable. 

 

Aziraphale frowned, considering. There had to be a way. 

 

“If you try,” he quietly corrected Crowley’s words. “There has to be a way, for - for whoever controls the bloody thing, yes? Perhaps if I…”

 

“Please don’t.” Crowley’s voice was shaking, his eyes closed. “Angel, just… don’t. Please .” 

 

The sharp edge of desperation in Crowley’s voice brought Aziraphale up short, and he immediately relented, taking his hand off the collar. “All right, I’m sorry, my dear, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said softly. “Perhaps we can just… turn it down to the lowest setting? I - I won’t even touch it if you don’t want me to, you can…”

 

Crowley was quiet for a moment before glancing up at Aziraphale again uncertainly. “I can’t,” he replied, when he realized what Aziraphale expected. “Can’t turn it down. Can’t touch it.” 

 

“Or… it hurts you.” Aziraphale kept his voice as calm and steady as he could, wrestling with his anger, all too aware that Crowley was already edging toward panic. 

 

“Yes,” Crowley whispered with a single, downcast nod. “I’m sorry.” 

 

“No need, darling,” Aziraphale said softly, shifting nearer to Crowley and gently, carefully, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Come here, Crowley, yes, that’s it…” he soothed him as Crowley leaned into his embrace, turning his face toward Aziraphale’s shoulder. “I’ll turn it down, all right? Take away… as much of the pain as I can.” 

 

Crowley nodded, letting out a soft, shaky breath against Aziraphale’s neck, and Aziraphale reached across to carefully turn the dial down to 01 . Crowley didn’t move his head, but he did settle a little closer to Aziraphale, his arm sliding around the angel’s waist and holding onto him tightly, a slow swallow visible in his throat, before a hoarse whisper. 

 

Thank you .”

 

Aziraphale just kissed his head, holding him there on the floor for a few minutes more, giving him time to calm down, and making an effort to calm himself as well. Because he was beginning to notice a pattern. While he was grateful for the spiritual connection they shared, grateful that they could communicate without words, that he could reassure Crowley by simply allowing him to feel how much Aziraphale loved him - he was beginning to see how it could potentially be harmful as well. 

 

It was not lost on him how Crowley’s near-retreat back into himself, the return of his fearful trembling and pleading words, had directly followed in the wake of the violent anger Aziraphale was feeling. Crowley was clearly feeling it, too - and reacting to it as he’d apparently learned to react to Heavenly wrath. 

 

He didn’t say anything about it, just held Crowley and soothed him until his breathing seemed to have evened out again, and the trembling of his body, pressed in close to Aziraphale’s, had subsided. Then Aziraphale gently pushed Crowley back a little, running a hand through his hair and silently coaxing him to look up. Crowley hesitantly did, and Aziraphale offered a warm, reassuring smile. 

 

“Come on, then, darling,” he said softly. “Let’s get off this floor and get you all patched up, shall we?”

 

Aziraphale stood up, dusting off his trousers a bit before reaching out both hands toward Crowley. Crowley glanced up at him for a moment before hesitantly taking them and allowing Aziraphale to help him to his feet. He immediately stumbled a little, biting back a cry of pain. 

 

Aziraphale had noticed, it was something Crowley did almost every time he was hurt. 

 

He frowned as he steadied Crowley, that hot, angry darkness rising up within him again. If Gabriel had tortured Crowley so brutally, for hours at a time, all the while demanding his silence in the face of it…

 

He’s going to pay…

 

The thought and its vicious intensity startled him. He swallowed hard, shaking his head a little and trying to focus his thoughts. 

 

Vengeance is mine, that’s what She said… focus on Crowley, on what he needs right now… and it’s not to feel any trace of this violence growing in your heart…

 

“Come now,” Aziraphale said softly, “Let’s go upstairs.” 

 

He wrapped a strong, steadying arm around Crowley’s back, under his wings, and helped him get up the stairs to the cluttered little apartment where he lived, over the bookshop. He stopped next to the sofa and carefully drew back a little, making sure Crowley had his footing before letting go entirely. 

 

“Wait here,” he instructed. “I’ll be right back.” 

 

He was fairly certain he did own a first aid kit, tucked away under the sink in his tiny bathroom - but he’d never used either, so he wasn’t quite sure. Relieved when he found what he was looking for, Aziraphale stopped by the closet and gathered a couple of clean towels, then went on to the kitchen where he filled a bowl with clean warm water, and took the meter stick from its place hanging on the wall. Carefully balancing his supplies, he made his way back to the living room where Crowley waited. 

 

On his knees beside the sofa, his head resting against the arm of it, eyes closed, body slumped in sleep.

 

Aziraphale put down his supplies on the coffee table and crouched down in front of Crowley, filled with sorrow as he took in his battered, weary form. He had to be so exhausted, just from the events of the past hour, let alone the last month. Aziraphale hated to wake him, but knew he couldn’t leave Crowley there on the floor. 

 

And why was he on the floor, anyway? Had he simply collapsed there? Or, perhaps he thought he shouldn’t sit on the sofa? 

 

Or isn’t allowed to sit there… The nasty, creeping thought made Aziraphale’s blood run cold. A thousand times he’s sat there, slept there, comfortable, this is our home… A month captive to Heaven, and he’s this utterly broken? How? What did they do to him?

 

He reached out a careful hand to gently cup Crowley’s shoulder. “Crowley, my dear…”

 

He expected the startled reaction, as Crowley gasped and opened his eyes wide - averting them the moment they met Aziraphale’s gaze. “Sorry…” He winced as he sat up straighter. “Didn’t mean to…”

 

“Don’t blame you a bit, darling. Come now, I’ll help you…” Aziraphale helped Crowley get up and sit down on the sofa instead, angled to the side so that his back was turned to Aziraphale when he carefully sat down next to him. “This may hurt a bit, I’m sorry.” Aziraphale winced, apologetic. “I’ll try my best not to…” 

 

“‘S all right,” Crowley murmured, his arms wrapped around his torso, a little shiver passing through him as Aziraphale ran a cautiously exploratory hand down the length of his broken wing until he found the exact spot where it was cracked and bleeding. “Needs doing.” 

 

“This would be so much easier if I could simply heal you…”

 

No .” It was as forceful as Aziraphale had heard Crowley since he’d found him, and he momentarily thrilled to it, until Crowley flinched, amending softly, “Sorry, ‘s just… you’ve got to be careful, angel. He’s looking to trap you. Was trying to trap you just now… hoping your reactions would give you away.” 

 

“But you warned me,” Aziraphale reminded him with admiration, one hand brushing down affectionately through an undamaged patch on Crowley’s unbroken wing. “You let me know what you’d told them, so I could play along with it. You saved me, Crowley. Yet again.” 

 

Crowley was very quiet and still, as Aziraphale carefully removed a few dead, ashen feathers, and washed over the bruised skin beneath. Aziraphale worked in silence for a little while, cleaning away dried blood and ash. He was relieved to find that most of Crowley’s injuries seemed to be well along in the process of healing. To the few open wounds he found, he applied soothing ointment and wrapped them in soft, clean bandages, allowing his mind to wander through the silence as he worked. 

 

And it brought him to a point of confusion. 

 

“You warned me,” he repeated, thoughtful. Crowley lifted his head, turning it slightly toward Aziraphale to indicate he was listening. Aziraphale closed the first aid kit and began tearing one of the old, soft towels he’d collected into long, thin strips. “And yet… you believed I’d told them about us?” 

 

Crowley turned his head away again, his shoulders rising and falling in a sharp sigh, his head bowed - even from behind him, it was a clear reaction of shame. “I didn’t believe it, not really,” he insisted, soft, uncertain. He was quiet a moment before amending, “Not - not all the time.” 

 

Aziraphale couldn’t help feeling a little hurt. But then, he thought of how Crowley had responded to Gabriel, the way he’d submitted so completely. Somehow - in a single month, how is that possible? - Gabriel had managed to achieve a frightening level of control over Crowley. The misery of sorrow and regret in Crowley’s words drove away the remnants of offense, Aziraphale’s heart aching at the lost, broken sound of his voice. 

 

“‘M sorry, I - I was… confused …”

 

“You believed I’d betrayed you,” Aziraphale continued, his words thoughtful and measured. Crowley flinched. 

 

No. No, this won’t do…

 

Aziraphale rose from the sofa and moved around so that he could kneel in front of Crowley, facing him on the same level, leaving no more room for misinterpretation. He reached out to take Crowley’s hands and pull them away from where they were wrapped protectively around his body, holding them in his own, his thumbs stroking slowly over the backs of them and soothing away their trembling. 

 

“You believed I’d betrayed you,” he repeated gently. “And yet… you protected me. You defied your captors in doing so, and had your wing broken for it. But you protected me… while believing I was the reason you were there.” 

 

Crowley shook his head quickly, anxiety rising in his voice. “I don’t believe that, not anymore, angel, I’m so…” 

 

Crowley .” Aziraphale stopped him, releasing one of his hands to tilt his head up again, meeting his guilty gaze with warmth and something akin to awe as he cupped his bruised cheek. “My dear, beloved boy… you must stop apologizing to me, because what I owe you is my gratitude, and nothing less. That you could believe me to have hurt you so… and love me still.” 

 

Crowley stared at Aziraphale for a long moment, the worry in his eyes slowly fading as he took in the actual words Aziraphale was speaking. His voice was hoarse, weighted with the certainty of his devotion when at last he replied, bewildered, as if Aziraphale simply should have known

 

Always , angel.”

 

And Aziraphale just melted . His hand slid around to the back of Crowley’s head to run through his hair as he rose up on his knees, closing the distance between them and kissing Crowley… gently, so gently, at the corner of his mouth that wasn’t bruised and bleeding. Crowley turned his head, following the contact, seeking more, one hesitant, shaking hand rising to touch Aziraphale’s face.

 

“Wait, wait, love…” Aziraphale gasped out. He closed his eyes, forcing back his own desire even as the wave of Crowley’s want crashed into him. “Your wing, it’s broken, I have to… have to fix it.” 

 

Crowley frowned, resting his forehead against Aziraphale’s, lips parted to protest, and as much as he could feel Crowley’s desire for contact and closeness, he knew him well enough to know, even before he could speak aloud, that his objection was to something more than Aziraphale’s pulling away.

 

“The human way,” Aziraphale promised. “As much as I’d love to just heal it away. I understand, you’re right.” 

 

Crowley bit his lip, nodded against Aziraphale, drew back reluctantly. Just as reluctantly, Aziraphale got up and moved back to his spot behind Crowley. He carefully ran a hand down Crowley’s good wing, unable to suppress an affectionate smile when Crowley shivered under his touch. He leaned in and pressed a tender kiss to Crowley’s shoulder. 

 

“Soon, love,” he promised. “But not just yet.” 

 

Crowley nodded, his voice broken and breathless. “Yeah… all right.” 

 

“This… is going to hurt.” Aziraphale grimaced. “I’m sorry.” 

 

Crowley nodded again. “Do it.” He folded his arms on the armrest in front of him, leaning forward and resting his head in them so that his voice was muffled. “Do it quickly .” 

 

“Right. Yes.” 

 

Swiftly Aziraphale snapped the cracked bone back into place. Crowley’s entire body jerked reflexively, and Aziraphale heard him gasp for breath - but he did not cry out, barely made a sound. 

 

It made Aziraphale furious - but not with Crowley. 

 

“There, love,” he breathed out, relieved. “All done now. Worst is over.” 

 

Crowley nodded into his folded arms, his body still shivering with the pain. 

 

Aziraphale continued speaking softly to Crowley as he worked, telling him what he was about to do before he did it as he lined up the meter stick with the broken bone and then carefully wrapped and tied it into place with the strips of towel. Crowley remained in the same position the entire time, but as Aziraphale worked, he noticed his body gradually relaxing, his breathing evening out, slowing. Aziraphale allowed his steady stream of quiet words to fade out, and by the time he was finished, he was quite certain that Crowley had fallen asleep. 

 

Aziraphale hesitated. He wanted nothing more than to just let Crowley sleep, hating to inflict any further discomfort on him after all that he’d been through - but he knew they weren’t finished yet. 

 

“Crowley, dear…” he kept his voice hushed and cautious, reaching out to touch Crowley’s shoulder, and was gratified when Crowley didn’t flinch away this time, just sleepily lifted his head, turning it toward Aziraphale’s hand. “Can you turn around?” 

 

Crowley obeyed, his movements slow and weary. Carefully he turned to face Aziraphale, gingerly resting his wings across the arm of the sofa behind him. 

 

“There we are, feeling a little better?” 

 

Crowley nodded again, his head heavy with exhaustion. “Pain’s fading,” he confirmed, his voice raspy with sleep. “Better now it’s set. It’ll heal, just… a bit slower than without…” He gestured vaguely toward the collar. 

 

Aziraphale glared at it. He was determined that it would not be a problem for long. 

 

“Very good.” He nodded, unwilling to start an argument for which Crowley was far too tired. “Wings sorted, then. Now that just leaves… everything else.” Aziraphale sighed with an apologetic little grimace. “We’d best get it done so you can sleep. Would you please remove your shirt, dear?” 

 

Crowley froze. His eyes were wide, focused somewhere around Aziraphale’s waist. “There’s not much to see there,” he insisted. “Mostly… mostly he focused on my wings…”

 

Aziraphale frowned, aware that there was something Crowley wasn’t saying, something he was missing.

 

“Perhaps I should take a look, just to be certain?” 

 

Please .” Crowley’s voice was low and subdued, but urgent, wobbling dangerously, his eyes welling with fresh tears. “C-can I just rest? Just… not tonight, angel, please ?”

 

Aziraphale couldn’t possibly have refused him. “Of course, darling,” he relented, shifting closer to Crowley and sliding an arm around his waist. “You needn’t even ask, I only wish to help you.” 

 

Relief pushed the edges of Crowley’s control, and the tears he was barely controlling slid silently down his face, just in time for Aziraphale to see before he leaned forward, burying his face against Aziraphale’s shoulder. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispered. 

 

“No need,” Aziraphale assured him, raising a hand to rest at the back of his head, wrapping his other arm around him carefully. “It’s all right, whatever else there is, we’ll figure it out in the morning.” 

 

Crowley raised his head to look at Aziraphale through troubled eyes, his lips parted as if there was something he wanted to say - but he said nothing, lowering his head again, trembling hands reaching out and grasping at Aziraphale’s sides, pulling him closer, his shoulders quaking as he gave in to his tears and cried silently. 

 

A hollow, empty ache settled in the pit of Aziraphale’s stomach - a certainty that there was much of this situation that he knew nothing about.

 

But there’d be time. Time enough to move at Crowley’s pace and let him share what he would as he was ready.

 

Aziraphale settled down into the sofa so that he was half-lying, half-sitting, pulling Crowley down with him so that he was resting on Aziraphale’s chest. He hesitated a moment before snapping his fingers and miracling the soft blanket from his bedroom into the living room and settling it comfortably over them both. 

 

Gabriel had no way of knowing that he hadn’t performed that one for himself alone. 

 

“There we are,” he said in a hushed, soothing tone, his fingers stroking slowly, rhythmically through Crowley’s hair. “Just rest, my dear, you’re safe… hush now, I’ve got you, you’re all right now…”

 

And Crowley slowly relaxed against him, his tears giving way to his exhaustion, until he drifted off to sleep at last. For once in his long existence, Aziraphale was actually quite tired, too. Sleep sounded good. 

 

But Aziraphale would not be able to sleep for a very long time.

Chapter Text

Crowley was drifting, comfortable and quiet, warm and safe. 

 

He could feel the comforting weight of the blanket draped over him, velvety fabric brushing against his wings. He could feel the familiar softness of Aziraphale’s body beneath him, his angel’s arms wrapped around him, one at his waist and the other gently carding through his hair.  The ever-present pain in his body was muted… distant. 

 

But… still there. 

 

Getting a bit stronger, actually. He shifted a little, settling in closer to Aziraphale’s warmth, and... yes, there it was, a searing stab of pain that shot down the length of his wing with the movement. The pain was a signal - a warning that reality would soon be closing in again. 

 

No, no, I don’t want to wake up, not yet… please, just a little longer… 

 

Crowley loved sleep. But sleep was a privilege he was rarely permitted, an escape into the healing balm of memory. And waking - waking meant burning and breaking and hoarse screams and cruel hands tearing at him until there was nothing left but tattered, worthless remnants. 

 

“Worthless… nothing… why would he come for you?”  

 

He trembled, wings aching, body burning, like holy water streaks against his skin. He closed his eyes tight, tried to fall back into sleep, clung to the memory of Aziraphale as if he could hold onto it and keep it there with him, despite the pain. 

 

“You’re nothing… nothing but mine …”

 

“Crowley… Crowley, love, wake up, it’s all right…” Aziraphale’s voice was hushed but urgent, his breath warm and soft in Crowley’s hair - so real, but can’t be, not here - “You’re safe, we’re home, you’re here with me, love, wake up… wake up …”

 

Crowley opened his eyes, blinking in the dusty sunlight that filtered through the window high overhead. He was in Aziraphale’s living room, on Aziraphale’s couch, limbs tangled all up with Aziraphale’s. Aziraphale was touching his hair, touching his face, trying to get him to lift his head.

 

Can’t be real, can’t be...

 

“Look at me, Crowley… look at me a moment…” 

 

No, no, not supposed to, please don’t make me…

 

“Eyes on the ground where they belong, you worthless demon filth… don’t you dare look at me!” 

 

Crowley . Darling, please… just look at me.”

 

Not supposed to, but he’s telling me to, I have to, quick, he’ll be angry, just do it, you stupid little nothing, do it now, do it now

 

Crowley forced his gaze up toward the sound of Aziraphale’s voice. His breath caught in his throat as his eyes met brilliant blue, Aziraphale’s face filled with concern, his hand on Crowley’s face, thumb brushing across his cheekbone. 

 

“You’re all right,” Aziraphale murmured, reassuring. “You’re all right, you’re home now and you’re safe.” 

 

Crowley just stared at him for a long moment, drinking in the familiar curves and lines of his face, then glanced around at the familiar room - too accurately detailed to be a dream. All at once he could breathe again, and he gasped, lowering his head to rest against Aziraphale’s shoulder, grasping at his sides and pulling himself in closer to his angel. 

 

“It’s real,” he breathed out. “It’s real, it’s real…”

 

Yes .” There was a sort of fierce reassurance to Aziraphale’s tone, though his voice trembled a little as he cradled Crowley’s head against him, his free hand resting, low and cautiously light against Crowley’s back. “Yes, my love, it’s real. You’re home.” 

 

After a few moments, Aziraphale shifted a bit under Crowley, moving to sit up, and Crowley reluctantly backed off enough to allow it. But Aziraphale did not seem in any hurry to sever their contact, reaching out to take Crowley’s hand while carefully placing his other arm around Crowley’s shoulders. 

 

“I’m sorry, my dear,” he said with a little grimace. “I’m… not quite sure where it’s safe to touch you, without having seen…”

 

Crowley reached up and caught Aziraphale’s hand, firmly moving it downward until it was wrapped squarely around the middle of his back. He didn’t even wince, despite the fact that Aziraphale’s arm scraping down over a half-healed burn felt as if it’d set it freshly aflame. He made himself hold Aziraphale’s gaze, despite the cold clutching fear that filled his chest every time he made eye contact - because he knew that nothing less would convince Aziraphale that he was telling the truth. 

 

He wasn’t. 

 

“Told you, I’m fine, angel. It’s just my wings. Nothing else that needs attention. Give me a few days, I’ll be right as rain.”

 

Aziraphale studied him for a long moment, and it was all Crowley could do not to look away under the scrutinous intensity of his piercing gaze. But at last, Aziraphale’s expression softened, and if he was less than convinced that Crowley was telling the truth, he had at least been convinced to pretend that he was. 

 

“All right, my dear,” he said mildly, rising up a bit in his seat to press a kiss high on Crowley’s cheek, and Crowley finally closed his eyes, lowering his head and resting it in the crook of Aziraphale’s neck. 

 

“Don’t care where you touch me,” he insisted, voice low and muffled against Aziraphale’s shirt. “As long as you do .” 

 

Aziraphale laughed softly, a sound achingly familiar and so long missed, and the gentle vibrations of it went all through Crowley, warming him and easing his fears. Aziraphale brushed a kiss into his hair, his voice a low, private murmur. 

 

“I believe I can manage that.” 

 

Crowley shivered a little, wriggling a bit until he’d managed to somehow, impossibly, get even closer to Aziraphale. They remained in comfortable quiet for a little while, Aziraphale’s arms around Crowley, one hand gently stroking up and down his back. It stung a bit, his fingers brushing lightly over the few injuries that remained there - but Crowley wasn’t entirely lying. Most of his injuries were well on their way to healing, and if the price of Aziraphale’s arms around him, Aziraphale’s hands on him, was a tiny bit of mild pain, well…

 

It was a small price to pay. He’d suffered far worse. 

 

After a while, Aziraphale let out a contented little hum, shifting a little and sitting up, and Crowley reluctantly moved away a little. 

 

“If we stay here like this much longer, I believe we’ll be sleeping again,” Aziraphale remarked lightly. 

 

Crowley saw no problem with that whatsoever. 

 

“Breakfast?” Aziraphale offered. 

 

“Not hungry,” Crowley replied, tugging just a little at Aziraphale’s hand, swallowing back the pleading words that rose in his throat. 

 

Stay with me…

 

“Nonsense,” Aziraphale breezed, rising to his feet. “You’re going to have to heal like a human, that means you need to eat. Lots of protein, my dear boy.” Aziraphale squeezed Crowley’s hand affectionately before gently pulling his hand away. “I can’t heal you, but I can do this. Let me take care of you.” 

 

Crowley couldn’t think of a way to refuse such a request. He sat there in the peaceful stillness and allowed his eyes to drift shut again, relishing the warmth of the sun through the window, listening to the comforting sounds of Aziraphale bustling about the kitchen, and in spite of himself, enjoying the tempting smells that began to fill the small area. 

 

He didn’t feel much like eating; food had never been as pleasurable for him as it was for Aziraphale. In fact, as they sat at Aziraphale’s tiny, crowded dining table, Crowley found himself rather casting longing looks toward Aziraphale’s liquor cabinet instead. 

 

Bad idea, that, he reminded himself. Human power levels might just mean human tolerance, as well. In a way that didn’t sound all that bad - obliterating every trace of memory he had in a haze of alcohol. But, without his usual demonic constitution, he couldn’t be sure how he’d respond. That way leads to losing control… letting things slip… spilling secrets that most definitely need to stay unspilled...

 

No. Very bad idea.

 

He averted his gaze and took another bite of the admittedly quite well-prepared eggs on his plate, glancing up at Aziraphale as he did - and the beaming smile on Aziraphale’s face made it a small sacrifice indeed. 

 

As they finished their meal, Aziraphale leaned across the table a bit, enough to reach out and take Crowley’s hand. Crowley glanced up at his face, and swiftly looked away at the solemn, searching expression he found there. An uneasy feeling settled in his stomach as he focused instead on their joined hands on the table, Aziraphale’s thumb stroking slowly, soothingly, across his palm. 

 

“Do you feel like you could… could tell me what happened?” Aziraphale asked after a weighted silence. 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, with an effort steadying his voice before he ventured to speak in quiet, measured words. “I got home that day, and… they were waiting for me. Three of them. Overpowered me, got this thing on,” he gestured with disgust at the collar. “And… and that was that. Couldn’t fight ‘em after that. One punch, and… well, it’d go off, same as if I tried to take it off.” 

 

Aziraphale’s hand stilled, and when Crowley glanced up at him his mouth was tight and angry. Crowley suppressed a shiver, forcing himself to go on. 

 

“They’d been watching us for a while. Had pictures. I denied everything, for - for a long time. But - he didn’t believe me. Wouldn’t stop, so… I figured… they’d already got me, yeah? Weren’t letting me go, no matter what I said, so… didn’t mean they had to get you, too.” 

 

He stopped, unable to think of anything else to say that didn’t hurt too damn much. The memories were already flooding his mind, his heart thudding too quick, his mouth dry and his breath shallow and useless. 

 

“It’s all right, dear, you don’t have to go on,” Aziraphale reassured him, rising from his seat and swiftly moving to stand beside him and embrace him. 

 

Gratefully, Crowley turned his face against Aziraphale’s stomach, reaching up a hand to rest at Aziraphale’s waist, just breathing in deeply of his warm, familiar scent and trying to calm his racing thoughts, breath, pulse. 

 

“I’m so sorry, Crowley,” Aziraphale continued, his voice guilty and aggrieved. “I really did look everywhere for you. It never occurred to me that you might be in Heaven, I mean, Heaven and Hell have always simply dealt with their own. I did think perhaps Hell had taken you. I even summoned a demon to ask after you, but they knew nothing. And this whole month you’ve been locked away, suffering unspeakably, when I could have found you so easily had I only known…”

 

Crowley was admittedly only half-listening, just letting the sound of Aziraphale’s voice wash over him without really focusing on the words, as he slowly calmed down - just in time to catch the last bit. And his stomach dropped, his muddled thoughts stuttering to a stop. He frowned, pulling back a little and looking up at Aziraphale. 

 

“Wait, what ? How - how long have I been gone?” 

 

“It’s been a month,” Aziraphale grimaced, apologetic. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t quicker…” His voice trailed off as he finally seemed to register Crowley’s expression, and he frowned, troubled. “Why? How long did you think it had been?” 

 

Crowley’s mouth felt dry. He felt sick with confusion, a strange creeping sensation of dread crawling up his spine as he thought back over the time he’d been away, thought over the endless hours of torment and degradation, trying to focus on the timing and not the vivid, visceral memory of blood and heat and pain. 

 

Because… it simply didn’t make sense. He shook his head a little, his voice haunted and ragged as he finally managed to answer Aziraphale’s question. 

 

“... Longer .”

 

****************************************************************************************

 

Crowley might have been a bit more concerned about the angels’ intention to interrogate him for information about his relationship with Aziraphale - if they hadn’t been so laughably bad at it. 

 

He wasn’t going to tell them anything, not ever. That was a certainty, no matter what they did to him. 

 

But thus far, what they had done to him was pretty thoroughly unimpressive. 

 

Three or four different angels had come into his tiny stone cell, for a few hours at a time, all demanding details as to the nature of his relationship with Aziraphale, the reasons for their meetings, details of their discussions. When he refused to answer their questions, they’d hit him with their fists, or kick him, or knock his head into the stone wall behind him - but he hadn’t seen so much as a single weapon thus far. 

 

They hadn’t even touched the collar. 

 

“Look, I know Heaven’s a bit limited in the torment department,” he conceded, smirking at the angel standing over him with a decidedly not-all-that-menacing glare. “But this is just sad , isn’t it? You think a bit of one-sided fisticuffs is going to leave me weeping and pleading at your feet for a chance to confess my sins and seal my fate?” He scoffed, running his tongue across his teeth, tasting copper - smiling anyway. “Ever hear of a bloody rack ?”

 

“You want me to go find one?” the frustrated angel snarled, the fist curled at his side raised threateningly. 

 

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Just thought you could use some assistance. Not exactly the most creative of torturers, are you? I’ve plenty of helpful suggestions.” 

 

“He’s right, you know. You suck at this.” 

 

Crowley looked up at the sound of Gabriel’s voice, suddenly uneasy. He hadn’t seen Gabriel since that first day when they’d taken him. Instinct told him to get up, to get ready to fight. He glanced uneasily at the chains that bound his wrists to the wall behind him, positioned low enough to keep him on his knees. 

 

“What?” the angel sputtered, eyes wide, clearly offended. “I’m doing my…”

 

“He’s experienced the worst Hell has to offer,” Gabriel pointed out. “You think this child’s play is going to get the job done?”

 

“We’re angels,” the underling pointed out, a little sullen, resentful. “We’re not supposed to be the best at torture.”

 

“We’re supposed to be the best at everything,” Gabriel countered, meeting Crowley’s eyes as he spoke. He hadn’t once actually looked at the angel he was berating. Still, he somehow knew when the angel opened his mouth to protest again, and cut him off before he could speak. “ Leave .” 

 

The angel obeyed… and Crowley was alone with Gabriel. 

 

“All right, then,” Gabriel said, crouching down in front of Crowley so that they were face to face, reaching out a hand to brush through Crowley’s hair in a gesture that was patronizingly affectionate. “Let’s talk, shall we?” 

 

Crowley instinctively jerked away from Gabriel’s hand, glaring at him. 

 

Immediately Gabriel’s smile faded away as his hand darted out to grab a handful of Crowley’s hair and yank, hard, simultaneously jerking his head back and pulling Crowley closer to him so that his wrists strained against the chains that bound them to the wall. Gabriel’s voice was calm, commanding. 

 

Do not... pull away from me.” 

 

Crowley couldn’t break his grip, knew better than to fight too hard lest the collar around his throat punish him for fighting. He kept still, glaring up at Gabriel in silent defiance. 

 

Slowly, Gabriel smiled. Then he snapped his fingers, and instantly Crowley’s shirt and jacket vanished, leaving the upper half of his body fully exposed. Alarmed, Crowley tried again to pull away. Gabriel pulled hard on his hair, forcing Crowley’s head back until he felt he was genuinely in danger of having his neck snapped. Gabriel leaned in close to Crowley’s ear, his voice soft, breath warm against Crowley’s skin. 

 

I said… don’t .” 

 

He snapped his fingers again, and there was a wickedly sharp, gleaming silver dagger in his hand. He watched Crowley’s face as he brought it close to his parted, softly panting lips. Crowley could feel the heat pouring off the weapon, knew immediately that the blade was blessed. He swallowed hard, his mouth dry, his heart racing. 

 

Gabriel’s mouth twitched up at the corner in amusement as he moved the blade lower, bringing it just almost into contact with Crowley’s very exposed throat, holding Crowley’s gaze. His voice was quiet, almost intimate. 

 

“You and I both know… this is gonna hurt a hell of a lot worse than anything those idiots have tried so far. Right?” 

 

Crowley didn’t respond, his eyes drifting from Gabriel’s face to follow the blade as Gabriel continued to move it lower, down the front of his chest. 

 

“It doesn’t have to, though,” Gabriel continued, casual. “You can just - confess. Right now. Tell me about you and Aziraphale, tell me everything - and I won’t even have to use it.” He allowed the side of the blade to drag across the base of Crowley’s ribcage, and Crowley drew in a sharp little hiss at the searing heat of it. Gabriel gave a falsely sympathetic wince, shrugged a little. “Up to you.” 

 

“Already told you,” Crowley whispered, breath shallow with anticipation of pain, but still calm and level as he met Gabriel’s eyes again. “I’ve nothing to confess.” 

 

“Yeah, see… I don’t buy that.” Gabriel shook his head. “We’ve got the pictures, Crowley. We already know what they mean. I just need you to confirm what we already know.” 

 

Crowley considered that for a moment - and a slow smile spread across his face. 

 

He understood, now. 

 

If this had been Hell, armed with such evidence against him, he couldn’t have possibly hoped for any sort of a fair trial. As a demon, clearly, he couldn’t expect that here in Heaven, either. 

 

But Aziraphale could. 

 

Heaven needed more than a few blurry snapshots before they could consider it enough evidence to actually hurt one of their own. In order to truly punish Aziraphale, they needed more proof, such as perhaps, someone to bear witness against him. 

 

They wanted Crowley to bear witness against him. 

 

Which was, in a way, a tremendous relief - because he could be absolutely certain, that was one thing they would never get. 

 

Whatever happened to him - Aziraphale would be safe. 

 

“You both crossed the line,” Gabriel was still talking, clearly in love with the sound of his own voice. “Betrayed your own sides. Why should you be the only one getting punished for it? Why don’t you just tell me how it really happened. Tell me everything. You do that…” Gabriel moved the blade away a little, giving Crowley a bright smile, “... and we’ll let you go. Take care of our own, and… let Hell take care of you. Unless you can skip town fast enough. And I bet you could. You could still come out on top here, Crowley. More or less.” 

 

Crowley remained silent, his eyes on the blade as Gabriel brought it close again, close enough to Crowley’s face that the burn of it made his eyes water.

 

“So what do you think?” Gabriel offered again, softly. “Is there anything you’d like to say? Before I get started?” 

 

“All right, yeah… yeah, there is,” Crowley relented at last, a little breathless, dragging his gaze away from the blade with an effort and meeting Gabriel’s eyes again - and then grinning up at him defiantly. “Fuck you.”

 

Gabriel’s smile faded into fury, his jaw twitching, his eyes blazing, and Crowley braced himself as Gabriel’s fist clenched around the blade - but then the archangel looked down, shaking his head ruefully at his own reaction, laughing softly. 

 

“All right, then,” he said - patient, indulgent, his hand softening in Crowley’s hair, and then releasing him entirely as he leaned back a little. “We’ll do this your way.” 

 

And with a softly malicious smile, he sliced the blade down across Crowley’s chest.

Chapter Text

Gabriel was right about one thing. 

 

Things became much, much worse for Crowley the moment Gabriel took over his interrogation. 

 

With a snap of his fingers, Crowley’s chains were rearranged, so that he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists, the balls of his feet barely touching the cold stone beneath them - which he could feel now, as well as every chilly draft and every teasing, threatening brush of the blessed blade over some new part of his body… because Gabriel had immediately miracled away all of Crowley’s clothing. 

 

“What can I say?” Gabriel grinned, pacing slowly around Crowley and tapping the blade idly, harmlessly into the palm of his hand. “I like to have options.” 

 

Gabriel was far more imaginative than Crowley’s previous torturers had been. 

 

He took his time, experimentally applying the blade in various places, with varying intensity. Sometimes he’d use it to draw blood, slicing into parts of Crowley’s body he thought would be most sensitive. Other times, he’d simply lay the flat of the blade against Crowley’s skin and hold it there for a while. Every time, after giving Crowley a few moments to catch his breath from the pain, he’d ask the same questions again. 

 

“Why were you meeting with Aziraphale? What is the nature of your relationship? How long has it been going on?” 

 

Crowley was considerably less creative than Gabriel in his responses. Generally speaking, Gabriel just got the same two words, over and over again. Oh, once in a while Crowley would mix it up a bit, with a “Fuck off,” or “Go fuck yourself,” or on one occasion, “Burn in hellfire, you fuckwit wanker.”

 

There always seemed to be a “fuck” involved. 

 

But mostly, Crowley kept it classic, if not exactly classy, giving Gabriel the same answer, regardless of the question, regardless of how many times it was asked or how much pain preceded it. 

 

“Fuck you.” 

 

Crowley tried to guess at the length of time he’d been here, but it was nearly impossible to keep track in a tiny, windowless room with no trace of outside light. He was also aware that the pain was surely distorting his perception of time. What felt like hours might have been minutes. What felt like weeks might have been days. 

 

It felt like an eternity, so… Crowley really had no bloody idea how much time had passed. 

 

He tried counting Gabriel’s visits. Surely Gabriel had other things to do besides just torturing him. He was a bleeding archangel, wasn’t he? He had a large portion of Heaven to run. Maybe he was coming once a day? Once every couple of days? It was impossible for Crowley to gauge how much time passed between visits. 

 

Largely, because of the collar. 

 

When Gabriel’s first visit was over, the archangel calmly wiping down his blade on a pure white cloth he’d magicked out of nowhere and putting it away, Crowley’d felt a rush of relief. It was short-lived, though, because Gabriel immediately closed in on him, catching a handful of Crowley’s hair to hold him still and smiling as he reached for the collar and turned it up to 05. 

 

It was bearable - but only just. Enough pain to steal his focus, to make stringing together any sort of coherent thought extremely difficult. It was enough pain to make sleep impossible - not that Crowley could have slept in the position Gabriel had left him in - a position which swiftly became agonizing. 

 

Finally, after what was certainly hours, if not days, Gabriel returned and turned the collar down, snapping his fingers to allow Crowley’s weary body to drop to the floor. Crowley gasped for breath as the pain swiftly receded, and the feeling slowly returned to his limbs. 

 

And Gabriel leaned in close to ask his questions.

 

Crowley looked up at him with a weary smile, and gave his answer. 

 

And Gabriel smiled, too, as he took out his blade. 

 

When he left hours later, still without the answers he sought, he turned the collar up to 05 again. 

 

Time was meaningless, passing back and forth between one means of suffering to the next, the only thought that Crowley could hold onto being that he could not betray Aziraphale, could not confess, no matter what Gabriel did. 

 

And then, even that thought was gradually driven from his mind until all he could focus on, all he could be aware of was the white-hot wave of pain that consumed his body - from the collar, from hundreds of burns and cuts, until he couldn’t even comprehend Gabriel’s questions any longer, much less answer them. 

 

So Gabriel put the blade away, knelt down next to Crowley and passed a gentle hand across his brow, down over his huddled body, shivering on the cold stone - and every trace of damage, every bit of pain faded away into nothingness. Crowley blinked up at him, head clear at last, but utterly bewildered - heart sinking at the cruel smile on Gabriel’s face as he took out his blade again. 

 

Over and over, Gabriel would torture Crowley until he was beyond even feeling it, then heal him and offer him the chance to confess - before starting in all over again. And with each time, his frustration became clearer, his actions more brutal, his cool smile more brittle and forced. 

 

“I don’t know, Crowley, I’m getting really tired of repeating myself,” he remarked, casual, almost friendly - but with blazing resentment in his eyes. “Aren’t you?” 

 

Crowley grinned up at him, flippant and careless, though he felt sick with dread. “Nah.” He shook his head, dismissive. “I’ll never get tired of telling you to go get fucked.” 

 

Gabriel’s mouth twisted into an ugly, angry expression and he backhanded Crowley with his fist, knocking his head into the wall. A wave of darkness momentarily clouded Crowley’s vision and he thought he might have the reprieve of unconsciousness - but he wasn’t that lucky, not here, not ever. 

 

“Fine.” Gabriel snarled. With a snap of his fingers, Crowley found himself once again suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. “You don’t wanna talk? We won’t talk.” 

 

He snapped his fingers again, and a small table appeared next to him. On it was a clean white cloth, a long, white strip of fabric, and a white bowl filled with water. 

 

Crowley could smell that it was holy. 

 

“Don’t worry,” Gabriel assured him with a cruel smile. “It’s diluted. It won’t kill you.” He grabbed Crowley’s hair again, moving in very close to him, vindictive satisfaction in his low, furious voice. “It’ll sure fuck you up, though. You’ll wish it’d killed you.” 

 

He stepped away from Crowley for a moment, picking up the white cloth and dipping it into the bowl, soaking the fabric with the water. As he moved back toward Crowley, he wrung it out onto the floor, chuckling a little as a few drops hit Crowley’s bare legs, and he hissed in pain and tried uselessly to pull away, only succeeding in wrenching his arms as they were briefly forced to support his weight. 

 

As soon as Crowley realized what Gabriel intended, he tried to stop him, but Gabriel was much stronger, and Crowley could only move so much, restrained as he was. Panic choked him as Gabriel caught hold of his jaw and forced his mouth open, cramming the wet cloth inside. Crowley tried to pull away from Gabriel’s grasp, tried to spit it out, unable to hold back the strangled cry of pain that rose up in his throat - but Gabriel took the strip of cloth from the table and tied it tightly into Crowley’s mouth so that he couldn’t be rid of it.

 

Searing agony consumed Crowley’s mouth, the caustic liquid burning a trickling trail down the back of his throat. He gagged and struggled and uselessly tried to expel it, while Gabriel watched for a few moments with undisguised amusement. 

 

“There,” he remarked, satisfied. “That’ll teach you to run your mouth.” 

 

And with that, he turned and left the room. He didn’t come back for a very long time. 

 

********************************************************************************

 

“Longer?” Aziraphale echoed Crowley’s words, confusion on his face. “How much longer?” 

 

Crowley shook his head, at an utter loss. He felt shaken… lost. “ Longer ,” he repeated helplessly. “I don’t know. I don’t understand how it could… Does - does time work differently in Heaven?”

 

“No,” Aziraphale said. “Not generally.” He was quiet for a moment, considering. Then he bit his lip, visibly hesitating before he spoke. “Angels do have power to alter memories and perceptions. Perhaps… not all of what you remember was real?” 

 

Crowley felt as if he’d been slapped, a heated flash of anger and resentment passing through him. “It was real,” he snapped, insulted, jerking away from Aziraphale’s arm around him, his hand in his hair.

 

“All right,” Aziraphale swiftly relented, holding up his hands in an appeasing gesture, a worried, guilty look in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Crowley, I believe you.” 

 

Crowley rose from his seat, moving away from the table - away from Aziraphale. He didn’t want to be close right now. He felt trapped, suffocated, his breath coming with an effort as he paced the floor, raking a hand back through his hair. 

 

“I don’t understand,” he repeated, hating the desperation in his own shaking voice. “I don’t understand…”

 

“Crowley, it’s all right,” Aziraphale insisted, his voice so soft and cautious that Crowley hated him for it… just a little bit. “What does it matter how long it was, really? You’re safe now . There’s no need to worry about details that don’t make any difference to what’s over and done.” 

 

“It’s not over and done,” Crowley muttered, sitting down on the sofa and lowering his head into his hands. “It’s not, not even close...” 

 

Aziraphale sat down beside him - too gentle, too careful, and Crowley resisted the impulse to stand up and start pacing again - resisted the urge to pull away from the light hand Aziraphale placed against the middle of his back.

 

“I know,” Aziraphale agreed with a little sigh. “We’re still at risk, Gabriel will be watching for us to slip up. We’ve knowingly walked into his trap, and until we can find a way out of it… but we will find a way out of it, I promise you!” 

 

That wasn’t what Crowley had meant. At least, it wasn’t all that he’d meant. 

 

“I just… don’t understand,” he repeated, turning toward Aziraphale, glancing up at him to gauge his reaction. “It doesn’t make sense, I know it doesn’t, but angel, I’m telling you… it wasn’t a month. It wasn’t .” 

 

He could feel Aziraphale’s sadness and uncertainty, saw the hesitation on his face. His silence spoke volumes. Crowley knew that at this point, Aziraphale was doubting his perception, rather than truly trying to help him figure out what the bloody hell was going on . He pushed back his frustration, turning away again and burying his face in his hands.

 

He didn’t want to push Aziraphale away. What he wanted was to make him understand

 

Azirahpale was a being of light and love - but he was also a scholar, who placed great importance on facts . For all his powers of perception when it came to human emotion, he could occasionally be frustratingly focused on the logical. He didn’t know what Crowley knew about the power of imagination - that every once in a while, the “facts” simply didn’t matter. That the force of sheer imagination could make a thing reality, if you wanted it badly enough. Or, if someone wanted it badly enough. 

 

Crowley had never wanted any of it. 

 

“Well, I don’t know how to explain it,” Aziraphale said at last, gently, soothingly rubbing Crowley’s back. “But we’ll figure it out, love. We will.” After a moment he added, his tone a little too bright, “I know what might make you feel better!” 

 

Distraction , nothing but a distraction, whatever he was going to offer, and Crowley didn’t want to be distracted, he wanted to know what they’d done to him, how he’d somehow lost so much time. 

 

“Would you like to go by your place today?” Aziraphale suggested. “Get a few of your things, since you’ll be staying here for a while?” 

 

Crowley glanced up at him again, grudgingly interested in spite of himself. He thought of his flat, empty for… well, he hadn’t any bloody idea how long now, did he? Thought of the plants, most of them probably long since dead, or well on their way to it, even if it had been only a month.

 

But it hasn’t… so much longer...

 

Aziraphale was smiling, hopeful and enticing, infuriatingly aware that he had Crowley when he added, all innocence, “Pick up the car ?” 

 

Crowley let out a sharp, frustrated breath. 

 

Okay, he was officially distracted. 

 

“Yeah,” he replied at last. “Yeah, all right, fine.”

 

“Good, very good.” 

 

Satisfied, Aziraphale rose to his feet and bustled about, getting ready to leave. Crowley just sat there, feeling a little dazed, and very, very lost. After a few minutes, Aziraphale stopped in front of him, reaching out to take his hand. 

 

“Ready to go?” 

 

Crowley nodded, automatically allowing himself to be led down the stairs and toward the door. As they neared it, however, Aziraphale slowed, glancing at him with an anxious, oddly self-conscious frown before speaking, hesitant and apologetic. 

 

“My dear, I’m sorry, but… don’t you think you ought to conceal your wings, before we step out into the street?” 

 

Crowley thought of the state of his wings - broken and shredded, dull and ashen where they’d once been beautiful glossy black - felt his face heat with humiliation and disgust. He could feel Aziraphale’s pity, and it burned in his chest, made him feel sick and ashamed. His wings were destroyed... he was a broken, weepy wreck... and Crowley was fairly certain that Aziraphale was fairly certain that he was losing his bloody mind.

 

And maybe he was. 

 

There wasn’t exactly another reasonable explanation for the discrepancy between the time that Crowley believed to have passed during his captivity, and the time that Aziraphale insisted had actually passed. 

 

All at once Crowley felt incredibly exposed, incredibly vulnerable - and utterly furious with the entire situation. 

 

And, just a little bit, with Aziraphale. 

 

“Uh, yeah , I do think I should, I’m not a bloody moron,” he snapped. “Don’t you think I would if I could? Blessed collar won’t allow it!” 

 

He’d tried. Oh, how he’d tried, again and again, but Gabriel had the collar set to prevent him from hiding his own wings - the better to torture them that way, of course. Gabriel had wanted to always have easy access. 

 

Abruptly, Crowley’s own seething anger and frustration was overwhelmed by a wave of such intense fury from Aziraphale that it nearly took his breath. Hot and thick and overwhelming, violent in a way that he’d never felt from Aziraphale, not in 6000 years - it swept over Crowley and made his heart race, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

 

Stupid, disrespectful little piece of shit, should have just kept your mouth shut, how dare you speak to him like that…

 

Aziraphale’s hand reached out to grasp Crowley’s shoulder, and Crowley instinctively shied away, raising his hands in front of him, head lowered in submission. 

 

“Sorry,” he said quietly, closing his eyes as his voice broke over the word. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

 

“Shouldn’t have what?” Aziraphale’s voice was surprisingly soft, rueful, as he tried again, reaching out to take Crowley’s hand this time. Crowley let him. “Snapped at me for behaving like a thoughtless ass? Of course you did, and I don’t blame you.” 

 

Crowley looked up at Aziraphale sharply, surprised. “You - you don’t?” 

 

Aziraphale’s hand was firm and warm against his - utterly unthreatening - but Crowley couldn’t help watching him warily. He’d yelled at Aziraphale, talked to him as if he was an idiot, and that could not be tolerated, he knew better, he shouldn’t ever have...

 

“It’s perfectly all right for you to be angry, Crowley - to be bloody furious. Even with me. Lord knows I’m angry, and I’m not even the one who…” Aziraphale’s voice trailed off, realization dawning in his eyes as he took in the expression on Crowley’s face. “Oh, no, no, my dear, I’m not angry with you ,” he said, hushed and horrified at the thought. “I’m angry that this was done to you, and that I can’t seem to do much of anything to help you.” Aziraphale edged nearer to Crowley, reaching out to take his other hand as well. “I’d never hurt you, Crowley. No matter how frustrated or angry I get - or you get,” he amended with a soft, sad smile. 

 

Confronted with Aziraphale’s ever-present gentleness and warmth, Crowley suddenly felt small and foolish. How could he have actually thought that Aziraphale was so violently angry with him - angry enough to even hurt him? He allowed Aziraphale to move closer, further into his space, to slip his arms around him and lean up to kiss him, soft and chaste against his parted lips. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley whispered, dejected, face hot with shame. “I’m… not really angry with you , either,” he admitted. “‘S just… frustrating, ‘s all. I’m sorry.” 

 

“You needn’t be,” Aziraphale assured him. He looked away, frowning a little, thoughtfully. “Perhaps I could miracle them out of sight of the public, just for while we’re out,” he mused. “Gabriel said himself that I wouldn’t want humans seeing them. How could he object?” 

 

“But then he’d ask you where you were taking me… why you needed to do it, and… and what would you tell him?” 

 

Aziraphale grimaced. “True…”

 

Crowley hesitated. He felt terrible for snapping at Aziraphale when he was only trying to help… for making Aziraphale feel bad just for being protective of him. He could do this. He couldn’t do much right now, but he could do this one thing. 

 

“I-I could do it,” he offered, hesitant. “With the collar set this low, I - I think I can.” 

 

Aziraphale’s frown deepened, concerned. “Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah.” Crowley nodded, though he wasn’t at all. “I - I want to try. I think I’m ready.” 

 

He wasn’t.

 

By the time Aziraphale had managed to hail a cab, Crowley was feeling lightheaded and dizzy from the effort of diverting the attention of all the many passersby who would have otherwise noticed his wings. In the cab, he had to maintain the illusion for the driver. It was considerably less effort than out on the street, but still made his head ache and limbs feel heavy and numb. Aziraphale put his arm around Crowley in a silent show of support, and Crowley gratefully rested his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder, breathing deeply, trying to keep steady. 

 

By the time they’d reached the front door of his flat and Crowley could finally let go of the illusion, Aziraphale was supporting him almost completely as Crowley leaned into him, on the verge of collapse. Very concerned, Aziraphale led Crowley to the nearest seat - the chair behind his desk - and helped him to sit down. 

 

“It’s all right, dear, just rest,” he said softly, kissing the top of Crowley’s head. “I’ll go pack a bag for you. Just let me know if there’s anything in particular you want to be sure I don’t miss.” 

 

Crowley nodded wearily, before leaning forward and folding his arms on the desk, resting his head in them. At the moment he couldn’t have cared less which items Aziraphale picked out for him. He just needed to catch his breath, needed to wait and rest until the dizziness faded. He was vaguely aware of the sounds of Aziraphale in his bedroom, opening and closing drawers and cabinets. 

 

After a few minutes, the dizziness and heaviness began to fade, and Crowley raised his head, blinking sleepily as he looked around the familiar room he hadn’t seen in so long. He winced as he took in the sight of his plants, most of them withered and browned in places. And as poor a job as they were doing growing - not a single one was trembling, or seemed the slightest bit afraid. 

 

That’s how pathetic you are, mate, his subconscious supplied helpfully. Nothing even slightly intimidating about you, not anymore…

 

Crowley looked back down at his desk with a heavy sigh. 

 

Weak, pathetic… and losing your bloody mind.

 

He glanced toward his bedroom, where Aziraphale was busily packing his bag - a small, simple task Crowley should have been able to manage easily. 

 

He’ll tire of it before long - this helplessness, this… burden. He’ll tire of it, but he’ll keep giving, because he’s Aziraphale. He’ll keep being kind and warm and generous... keep taking care of you…

 

Until he hates you for it.   

 

Crowley blinked away the tears that rose to his eyes at the sickening downward spiral of his thoughts. 

 

See? Weak. Worthless and pathetic. What use will he have for you? 

 

Crowley took a few deep breaths, tried to steady himself, swiped angrily at his tears. It didn’t matter, he knew. Aziraphale knew him too well. Aziraphale would see that he’d been crying when he came out of his bedroom. He’d see, and he’d be so very gentle it hurt , so very patient that Crowley wouldn’t be able to stand it. 

 

All at once, Crowley remembered something - and he quickly reached down and opened the narrow drawer on the top right side of his desk, taking in its contents with a deep sigh of relief. 

 

About half a dozen pairs of black Valentino sunglasses, in his favorite style.

 

He swallowed hard as he carefully took out a pair, looking them over for a moment, soaking in every one of the tiny details that he knew by heart, before sliding them on. Immediately the world took on a shaded perspective that was as familiar to him as breathing. He let out a soft, shuddering breath at the overwhelming sense of relief he felt, the immediate sense of rightness that came with the simple act of putting them on. 

 

And for the first time in… well, he literally had no idea how long… Crowley didn’t exactly feel like himself again. But he remembered what it used to feel like... to feel like himself. 

 

At the very least, he could imagine that he was himself again. 

 

You can do this, he told himself, squaring his shoulders, drawing in a shaky breath. You can do this, you’ve done it a thousand times. And if you can’t do it… you can fake it. 

 

You’ve done that a thousand times, too.

 

It was a start. 

 

And for the moment, it would have to do. Because it was all that he had to hold onto. 

Chapter Text

For the last fourteen years, Aziraphale and Crowley had spent far more time in Aziraphale’s home than they had at Crowley’s, for several reasons. For one, Aziraphale’s place was simply more comfortable. But the largest and most important reason felt bitterly laughable now - Aziraphale had worried far more about Crowley’s side catching them together than he had about his own. 

 

“Demons are by nature cruel and violent,” he’d reminded Crowley, delivering the rote information he’d been taught with the utmost concern. 

 

“Oh, are we?” 

 

Crowley’s single raised brow, the slight tightening of his mouth, made it clear that Aziraphale was being offensive, although that had not been his intention. Flustered, embarrassed, he had hurried to retract, or at the very least amend, his judgment. 

 

“Not you , Crowley, them ,” he insisted. “If Heaven catches us, it won’t be pleasant, but I’d far rather I face their judgment than have you face Hell’s.” 

 

Now, that line of reasoning felt ridiculous. He’d been so wrong. 

 

You’re getting quite a few things ridiculously wrong just now, aren’t you? 

 

Aziraphale blinked back angry tears as he packed the small black satchel he’d found at the back of Crowley’s closet with several of his favorite shirts and trousers, closing the bureau drawers with a fair bit more force than was strictly necessary. He opened the drawer that held Crowley’s sleepwear, and took out a couple of sets of luxurious silk pajamas - one black, one blood red - and then reached to the back of the drawer until he found what he was looking for. Something a bit more comfortable. A plain black t-shirt and soft gray pajama pants that were so well-worn as to be threadbare in places… and thus impossibly soft. He tucked them into the bag as well, and zipped it shut. 

 

He stood at the door of Crowley’s bedroom for a moment, drawing in a slow, steadying breath and wiping the tears from his eyes, before making his way back toward Crowley’s office, where he’d left him. 

 

Crowley was no longer sitting at his desk. 

 

Aziraphale frowned, his heart lurching with fear for just a moment, before he heard a soft sound from outside Crowley’s office. To his surprise, he found Crowley standing near the window, holding a plant mister in one hand, and a small pot containing a particularly browned and withering plant in the other. As Aziraphale watched, the leaves slowly, slowly uncurled and became green and vibrant again. 

 

And then Crowley wobbled a bit on his feet, dropping the plant mister. 

 

Aziraphale was at his side in an instant, one arm around Crowley, steadying him, his other hand taking the potted plant from Crowley before it could crash to the floor as well. Crowley caught himself on Ariraphale’s arm, looking up at him, a little dizzy and disoriented. 

 

Aziraphale’s heart lurched when he saw the familiar sunglasses back in place on Crowley’s face. A pang of something like loss went through him, at the thought of Crowley’s eyes being hidden from him - especially just now when he seemed to be having such a difficult time reading him. But at the same time, Crowley was actually smiling , albeit a sleepy, distant sort of smile, and Aziraphale had to admit that the glasses made Crowley look a bit more like himself again. 

 

It’s about what he needs, not what I need, Aziraphale reminded himself. 

 

Although, he was fairly certain that passing out in the middle of his flat from exerting himself to save a dead houseplant was hardly what Crowley needed. 

 

“Darling, what are you doing?” he asked with gentle exasperation. 

 

“Just… testing my limits,” Crowley explained, mildly defensive. “Haven’t done any miracles in a long time…”

 

“So you’re going to do a dozen of them today, is that it?” Aziraphale sighed. 

 

Crowley leaned heavily into Aziraphale’s arms around him, stumbling a little as he allowed Aziraphale to lead him across the room to his sofa - far less comfortable and more pristine than the one in Aziraphale’s living room. He let out a low, self-effacing laugh. 

 

“Apparently not,” he observed. 

 

“Remember, you’ve got to disguise your wings again on the way to the car…. And then again when we return to the shop,” Aziraphale reminded him, gently reproving as he sat down beside him on the sofa. 

 

“‘S not that far.” Crowley shrugged. “I can do it for a couple minutes.” 

 

Aziraphale didn’t contradict him, though he had his doubts, the way Crowley seemed to be just about passing out on his feet. They sat there in silence for a couple of minutes, Crowley catching his breath, as Aziraphale just sat there beside him, soothingly rubbing his back. 

 

“I’m sorry, angel,” Crowley said after a few quiet moments, but this time his tone was not the frantic, desperate plea it had been before. Much calmer now, Crowley continued, “Shouldn’t have got angry with you when you were just trying to help.” 

 

“It’s quite all right, Crowley, I should say you’ve got good reason to be angry with anyone you wish at the moment!” 

 

“All the same, I… don’t wish. Not with you.” Crowley was quiet for a moment, looking away. “Maybe I did get it wrong. Pain like that, it - it can make time seem to move slower. Maybe… it was just a month. I was confused.” 

 

Crowley’s easy acquiescence was unsettling to Aziraphale. He wished that he could still see Crowley’s eyes, behind his glasses. He nodded slowly, cautious. “Perhaps. At any rate… I should be more careful. With my words, with…” 

 

“I think you should be less careful.” Crowley’s words brought Aziraphale up short. He waited in surprise as Crowley continued, “I’m going to be fine, angel. I promise. I just need some time, and - I think I need things to be how they were. Before. As - as normal as they can be? And… you’re treating me like I’m… you know. Fragile.”

 

But Crowley was fragile. He had been broken

 

Aziraphale bit his lip, an anxious frown on his face, before forcing the words out. “I’m sorry. If - if that’s what you need…”

 

“It is.” 

 

Aziraphale wanted to argue. He was by no means convinced. But Crowley was smiling at him, a tired smile, but still a welcome sight that Aziraphale had missed for the past month. And even if every instinct he had, every shred of emotional perception he possessed, was telling him otherwise - Crowley was telling him what he wanted, and Aziraphale had to respect that. 

 

“All right,” he replied simply at last. “I shall do my best.” 

 

Crowley nodded, reaching out to take Aziraphale’s hand. Initiating contact. A small step, but hopefully one in the right direction. “Ready to go, angel?” Crowley said softly, rising wearily to his feet. “We probably oughtn’t stay here too much longer. In case they come checking up on you.” 

 

“Right,” Aziraphale agreed, rising beside Crowley and picking up the satchel he’d set at his feet - and, after a moment’s thought, the plant Crowley had miracled back to health. “If you’re ready.”.

 

“Are you kidding?” Crowley reached into his pocket and took out the keys to the Bentley. He must have retrieved them before tending to his plants. “What do you think?” 

 

And now, his smile was truly genuine, excited, and a bit contagious. Despite his apprehension, Aziraphale couldn’t help but return it. 

 

They made their way to the Bentley as quickly as possible, reaching it and closing the doors behind them in just a couple of minutes. Even keeping up the illusion for so short a time, Crowley still was breathing heavily as he leaned forward for a moment to rest his head against the top of the steering wheel. Aziraphale tried not to fuss over him too much, just sat beside him and gently stroked his back. 

 

After a few minutes Crowley raised his head, flashing Aziraphale a tired grin before putting the keys in the ignition. He checked various gauges and knobs and buttons which he typically didn’t bother with when he was driving with miraculous assistance - all equally mysterious and meaningless to Aziraphale, who never had seen any reason to learn to drive himself - and then pulled out into the street. 

 

At first, he drove far more slowly than Aziraphale was used to, and Aziraphale was a bit surprised at the wistful feeling it gave him. But gradually, Crowley built up speed, his smile widening, his shoulders relaxing, as he settled back into the familiar seat and familiar habit of driving.

 

“That’s my girl, feels just the same. How I’ve missed her!” he laughed. 

 

Aziraphale just couldn’t take his eyes off Crowley, actually happy and enjoying himself. Before he knew it, the words had slipped past his lips, hushed and wanting. 

 

“How I’ve missed you .” 

 

Crowley glanced over at him sharply, though Aziraphale sorely wished he could have actually seen the expression in his eyes. Then his mouth curled into a smile that was a little smug and a little shy at the same time, and he reached out to take Aziraphale’s hand. Returning his gaze to the road, he raised Aziraphale’s hand to his lips and kissed it gently before bringing it back down and holding it on the seat between them. 

 

When they reached the bookshop, Crowley had to hide his wings one more time. When the doors closed behind them, he barely made it up the stairs - wouldn’t have, without Aziraphale’s supportive arm around him. 

 

“Think I need a nap, angel,” Crowley murmured, his voice low and a little slurred. “Right worn out.” 

 

“Can’t imagine why,” Aziraphale remarked dryly. 

 

“Oh, shut it,” Crowley retorted, but it was soft and affectionate.

 

Aziraphale helped him to the bedroom, where Crowley sat down on the side of the bed, and Aziraphale placed the satchel with his belongings on the mattress beside him. He opened it and laid out the soft set of pajamas he’d selected, but Crowley reached out and tugged Aziraphale closer to him until he was standing between Crowley’s legs, Crowley’s head resting against his stomach. A sense of soft, fond delight suffused Aziraphale’s being as he put his arms around Crowley, one hand sliding through his hair, and Crowley let out a contented little hum. 

 

“Well, much as I do like this,” Aziraphale admitted, his voice hushed in the stillness of the room. “You can’t very well sleep like this, dear. Here, let me help you get into something more comfortable.” 

 

“Mmm, I think… you want to ‘slip into something more comfortable’,” Crowley teased, a soft, suggestive hiss to his words, deliberately shifting the tone of the phrase and making it sound positively filthy. 

 

Crowley .” Aziraphale’s gently reproachful tone might have been a bit more effective if his voice hadn’t been shaking so. 

 

“What?” Crowley was all innocence, reaching up to cover Aziraphale’s hand in his hair with his own, stroking it lightly, then trailing his fingers down Ariraphale’s arm, and such a simple, innocent touch simply had no right at all to feel so slow and sensuous. Crowley’s voice was low and enticing. “You said you missed me.” 

 

“I did.” Aziraphale couldn’t disguise the hunger in the hoarse confession, as he brought his hand down from Crowley’s hair to touch his face, and Crowley turned into the touch, softly kissing Aziraphale’s palm. “ So much .”

 

He drew in a deep, shaky breath, trying to slow his racing heart. Crowley needed to rest. He’d had a difficult, exhausting day. He’d practically fallen asleep on his feet on the way to this room. The last thing Aziraphale should have been thinking about was the one thing he couldn’t push out of his mind. 

 

He tilted Crowley’s head up a little, bending down to kiss his lips… tender, slow, savoring the moment, the heady rush when Crowley eagerly returned his kiss, raising one hand to needily grasp at Aziraphale’s hair and pull him down closer. Aziraphale’s trembling hands slid over Crowley’s shoulders and reached for the buttons of his shirt, fumbling slightly in his urgent haste. 

 

And all at once - everything changed. 

 

Crowley’s hands shot up to catch Aziraphale’s wrists, holding them still against his chest. Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s heartbeat under his hand - racing; his emotions rushing over Aziraphale like a wave, a tumultuous confusion of desperation and need and a dozen other emotions, with one more prominent than the rest - panic . All at once Aziraphale remembered Crowley’s reaction the previous night when he’d suggested he take off his shirt. 

 

Crowley was looking up at him through his sunglasses, his lips parted, breath tremulous and too fast, and Aziraphale once again desperately wished that he could see Crowley’s eyes.

 

“We don’t have to,” Aziraphale whispered, even as his heart sank with disappointment. “If you’re - hurt, or…”

 

“I-I want to,” Crowley insisted, and Aziraphale could feel that, whatever else Crowley was feeling, it was the truth. “I’m not hurt. It’s… just…” Crowley swallowed slowly, bit his lip, then whispered, hushed and hesitant, “... close your eyes?”

 

Aziraphale’s heart ached with the overwhelming feeling of Crowley’s shame. He had no idea what Crowley thought he had to be ashamed of, dearly wished that Crowley felt safe enough to show him. It hurt to think that Crowley felt he had to hide from him - but Aziraphale could not deny him anything that he needed. 

 

“Yes,” he agreed, “yes, of course, my dear,” closing his eyes and waiting with bated breath for Crowley to make the next move. 

 

Crowley was quiet and still for a long, tense moment - and then Aziraphale felt his hands, gently guiding Aziraphale’s toward the buttons of his shirt again. Aziraphale’s mouth was dry, his heart racing, as he carefully unbuttoned the first one, and Crowley’s hands hesitated just a moment before letting go of his wrists completely and allowing him to slide his hands down to the next button, and the one after that.

 

The buttons conquered, Aziraphale slid his hands up under the shirt and pushed it carefully back over Crowley’s shoulders, then raised a hand to the back of Crowley’s neck, pulling him in to kiss him again. Crowley lifted a hand between them, pressing gently against Aziraphale’s chest, and Aziraphale immediately backed off. 

 

“Just a minute,” Crowley whispered, breathless, rushed, “just a minute…”

 

Aziraphale waited, heard the sound of Crowley’s belt unfastening and sliding free of his jeans, followed by soft rustling. Then, Crowley’s hands were pulling him close, Crowley’s mouth found his, and Aziraphale reached out to touch again - his hands brushing against the soft cotton of the pajamas he’d picked out for Crowley.

 

Crowley broke the kiss with a soft gasp, his breath cool and trembling against Aziraphale’s lips as he whispered, “You can open your eyes now, angel…”

 

Aziraphale blinked a couple of times, his eyes adjusting, and softening as they settled on Crowley, now half-sitting, half-leaning on the edge of the bed in his pajamas - sunglasses still as frustratingly in place as ever. Aziraphale suppressed his feelings of desire and disappointment, moving in close between Crowley’s parted legs and settling his hands, still and soft against Crowley’s sides.

 

“There you are,” he said, smiling with soft affection. “You’ll be much more comfortable sleeping like this.” 

 

Crowley gave Aziraphale a little smirk, raised his arms to wrap around the back of Ariraphale’s neck, tugging him down a little. “Thought I made it clear,” he murmured, low and suggestive. “I don’t want to sleep.” 

 

Aziraphale allowed himself to be pulled down into a slow, lazy kiss. He couldn’t imagine how Crowley could possibly have the energy for anything more at the moment. 

 

Aziraphale had the energy for quite a bit more. 

 

He said don’t treat him like he’s fragile… don’t be so careful…

 

The thought felt like a temptation. 

 

Aziraphale wanted to surrender. He wanted to put his hands on Crowley’s body, nearly as familiar as his own, wanted to push him down on the bed and reacquaint himself with every angle, every secret place he’d long ago learned to make his demon quiver with need and fall apart in his arms. 

 

He had his permission; Crowley was insisting that he wanted it.

 

But... he was clearly unwilling to undress in front of Aziraphale. And while that wasn’t strictly necessary, it wasn’t the only hindrance. Aziraphale knew that if he pushed Crowley down, it would crush his damaged wings. Even as they slid under the hem of Aziraphale’s waistcoat, Crowley’s hands were shaking with exhaustion - he hoped it was with exhaustion, and nothing worse - and despite his sultry invitation, he seemed barely able to keep his eyes open. 

 

Wrestling with his own desire, Aziraphale made a decision, and snapped his fingers, instantly changing out of his clothes and into his own set of soft, comfortable pajamas. 

 

“Then I’ll just lie down here,” Aziraphale replied at last, gently pushing Crowley down to lie on his side on the bed, careful of his wings. “And not sleep, with you.” 

 

Crowley scooted back a little on the mattress to make room for Aziraphale to join him, and Aziraphale lay down facing him. Crowley immediately reached for Aziraphale, his hands sliding under the angel’s shirt. Aziraphale gently caught his hands and pulled them back up, holding them between them for a moment. 

 

“Slowly, darling,” he whispered, leaning over their joined hands to kiss the corner of Crowley’s mouth. “There’s no rush.” 

 

He drew back a little… trying, and failing, to read Crowley’s expression. Aziraphale bit his lip in hesitation, but then carefully reached to take Crowley’s sunglasses from his face. Crowley tensed a little as Aziraphale’s hand neared his face, but allowed him to take them and set them on the nightstand behind him. 

 

“Just… let me see you,” Aziraphale whispered, releasing Crowley’s hands and reaching out to cup Crowley’s cheek, his thumb gently tracing his jawline. 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, closing his eyes, but leaning into the touch, his breath catching in his throat as he shifted in closer to Aziraphale, sliding one trembling hand along the angel’s waist. Aziraphale leaned in, following the path of his thumb with soft, slow kisses as he slid his hand around to rest lightly at the side of Crowley’s throat. Crowley pulled him in closer, tilting his head back a little to allow Aziraphale better access, and Aziraphale ran his fingers through Crowley’s hair in soothing, repetitive strokes, kisses feather-light against Crowley’s skin. 

 

And slowly, as Aziraphale continued his gentle ministrations, Crowley’s hand at his waist gradually ceased its trembling. His body relaxed, his eyes drifted closed… and stayed closed. His breathing slowed. 

 

Aziraphale drew back slowly, careful not to disturb him... stole a moment to just look at him, taking him in - at peace like this, asleep. 

 

He had known it would not take long. 

 

Aziraphale rose carefully from the bed, trying not to shift the mattress too much, then went to the living room to get the blanket from the sofa and brought it back, laying it over Crowley’s still form and tucking it comfortably around him. He glanced back one more time, just drinking in the sight of Crowley - home and safe and more himself than he’d been since he’d found him - before turning out the light and closing the bedroom door. 

 

Aziraphale returned to his living room, where he picked up the manual Gabriel had given him for the collar and settled in on his sofa. He wanted to take advantage of the time while Crowley was resting, to see what he could find out about how the blasted thing worked, and hopefully, how he could get it off. 

 

The book wasn’t really a book , per se, so much as a cover that read, “Device #777034-D - Behavioral Modification Collar - Classification: Demon” - with a single blank template page inside. Aziraphale had used such manuals before, for other Heavenly technology, so he knew what to do. Opening to the blank page, glowing white with a low, expectant hum in his hands, Aziraphale spoke his request aloud, closing his eyes. 

 

“How do I remove the device?” 

 

He opened his eyes and looked down at the page, his hopes sinking when the response was a single phrase, in bold type and all capitals. 

 

YOU DON’T.

 

Aziraphale frowned, glaring at it. 

 

“Who can take it off?” he tried again. 

 

After a moment, the response faded into place on the page. 

 

Archangel approval required. 

 

Aziraphale let out a frustrated breath, closing his eyes. He shook his head, thinking about it for a moment before trying something else. 

 

“The demon’s wings appear to be… locked onto the earthly plane. How do I… allow them to return to the spiritual plane?” 

 

Archangel approval required. 

 

Aziraphale wanted to scream. If the thing had had actual pages, he might have ripped it to shreds in his frustration. He took a couple of calming breaths, trying to focus his thoughts enough to think of what other questions he should ask, what other things about the collar he should know. After a moment, he tilted his head, thoughtful, as an idea occurred to him. 

 

“Does the device in any way alter the demon’s perception of reality, or… or time?” 

 

Question unclear. Please rephrase and try again. 

 

Aziraphale sighed, defeated, and set the manual aside for the moment, opting instead for another book he’d started a month earlier. It had stayed on his coffee table, ignored, from the moment Crowley had gone missing - and Aziraphale found it just as impossible to focus on reading it now. His thoughts kept drifting back to Crowley, and all of his unanswered questions, all of the things he didn’t know about what he’d gone through. 

 

It was only a month, Aziraphale told himself. I know it was. Perhaps they gave him… some kind of drug, or performed some cruel miracle to make it seem longer… 

 

Evening fell, and the sky outside his window went dark, and Aziraphale didn’t notice, too caught up in his troubled thoughts. He got up and went to the kitchen, made tea and put together a simple bite to eat - but found that for once, he had little appetite. With a heavy sigh, he returned to the living room and picked up the manual again, running his fingers along its edges as he contemplated what to ask. He glanced down, his gaze falling on the beautiful, vibrant little plant that had been nearly dead a few hours earlier. 

 

“Does the device allow the demon to heal himself?” 

 

Surely Crowley would need a little time, first, he was exhausted, but if Crowley could do the miracle instead of Aziraphale, then…

 

All self-healing and/or shape-shifting abilities are inhibited by the device.

 

Disappointed, Aziraphale sighed. Not surprising, really, he thought bitterly. What point was there in brutally torturing someone if they could simply miracle away the damage as they pleased? 

 

“Can the device be temporarily turned off for any reason?” 

 

Archangel approval required.  

 

It seemed that the only one who could do anything about the collar was the last person who would be willing to do so - the very last person Aziraphale could ever even think of asking. 

 

There has to be a way. There just has to, some… some human technology, maybe, or perhaps a spell…

 

Aziraphale’s thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a loud thump from the bedroom, followed by a pained, frightened cry. He was on his feet in an instant, hurrying to the bedroom. 

 

“Crowley?” He blinked, his eyes adjusting until he could see that Crowley was sitting up in the bed, his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them. His wings were tucked protectively around his body, the dim glow of the hall light reflected in his wide, golden eyes. Aziraphale approached him cautiously, climbing onto the bed beside him. “Crowley, my love, are you all right?” 

 

He sat against the headboard next to Crowley, mirroring his pose, and reached out to put his arm around him. Crowley flinched away from him with a shaky gasp. 

 

“Please… no, please don’t…” 

 

“It’s just me, love,” Aziraphale assured him, trying again, and this time succeeding in getting his arm around Crowley, across his back beneath his wings. “You’re all right, you’re safe. It’s just me…” 

 

“Aziraphale,” Crowley gasped out, his body quaking under Aziraphale’s touch, still blinking into the darkness. “I-I can’t see you…”

 

Aziraphale frowned. Crowley’s serpentine nature had always provided him with excellent night vision. “You can’t?” 

 

“It’s too dark,” Crowley whimpered, his body curling into Aziraphale’s embrace, turning into his side and pressing his face against the angel’s shoulder. “It’s too dark, I can’t see, please, angel…” 

 

Aziraphale didn’t hesitate, snapping the fingers of his free hand. “Let there be light!”

 

A soft glow surrounded them both, but Crowley’s face was still buried against Aziraphale, his fists clenched in the fabric of Aziraphale’s nightshirt. 

 

“Look,” Aziraphale instructed softly, soothing Crowley with gentle fingers in his hair. “Look, Crowley, it isn’t dark anymore, you’re all right, you’re safe, look , darling…”

 

Crowley finally raised his head, blinking up at Aziraphale as his vision came into focus. His eyes were swimming with tears, the lost, terrified look in them stealing Aziraphale’s breath and breaking his heart. 

 

“I… was dreaming, and I woke up, and I-I couldn’t see, and… and I thought…” Crowley swallowed hard, shaking his head, lowering his gaze. 

 

“You thought what?” Aziraphale prompted him. “What is it, love, tell me…”

 

Crowley just continued to shake his head in refusal, hiding his face against Aziraphale again. 

 

“Why couldn’t you see in the dark, Crowley? What happened to your eyes?” Aziraphale persisted.

 

“I can’t,” Crowley whispered, clutching Aziraphale close to him, shaking his head against him. “Please, I can’t, angel, just… please don’t… m-make me…”

 

“No, no, that’s all right, dear, you needn’t talk about it if you don’t want to,” Aziraphale hushed him gently, kissing his temple, stroking his hair. “It’s all right, I’m here, I’ve got you…” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley choked out, and the desolate, defeated sound of it tore at Aziraphale’s heart. “I tried,” he sobbed. “I really tried…”

 

Aziraphale was confused for a moment - but then he thought about the events of the day. Crowley’s insistence on performing miracles he didn’t quite have the strength for… his sunglasses, his driving, his relentless, determined happiness that evening as he’d flirted and teased and seemed so much more himself, hadn’t he? All at once

 

“Crowley…” Aziraphale drew back a little, taking Crowley’s face in his hands and tilting it up toward his own. “You don’t have to .” 

 

Crowley shook his head, eyes closed, his hands raised to catch Aziraphale’s wrists, in just the slightest instinctive resistance to his touch. His breath was sharp and shallow, too fast, tears streaking his face. 

 

“You don’t have to be all right, not yet, not after everything you’ve been through…” Aziraphale insisted. “You don’t have to do anything at all you’re not ready for. It’s okay…”

 

“I’m not,” Crowley sobbed out at last, a broken confession. “I’m not, I’m not…”

 

Not ready… not all right...

 

“Of course you’re not,” Aziraphale whispered, fiercely reassuring, protective, wrapping both arms around Crowley and holding him tight, allowing Crowley to hide his face against him once more. “And that’s fine , Crowley, really it is… I’m here , I’ve got you…”

 

He held Crowley a while longer while the demon wept in his arms, clinging to Aziraphale as if he were drowning, and the angel was his only lifeline. Gradually, his tears subsided, his breathing slowed, and Crowley’s death grip on Aziraphale eased, perhaps from sheer exhaustion. Through it all, Aziraphale just held him close, soothing him with slow, rhythmic touches up and down his back, through his hair, soft kisses to his temple, his face, whispered words of reassurance. 

 

“Do you think you can sleep now, love?” Aziraphale ventured to ask at long last, once Crowley rested still and quiet in his arms. 

 

Crowley didn’t answer for a few moments, but Aziraphale could feel his fingers tighten in his shirt, heard the slow convulsive swallow in his throat - knew he was still awake. When Crowley finally replied, his voice was a hoarse, aching whisper. 

 

“Will you… will you stay?” 

 

“Of course,” Aziraphale replied without hesitation. 

 

He let go of Crowley with one hand, raising it in preparation to snap his fingers and turn out the miraculous light he’d used to surround them. Abruptly, Crowley reached up and caught his sleeve, pulling his arm back down. Aziraphale looked at him, puzzled, heart twisting painfully in his chest at the pleading, lost look in Crowley’s eyes. 

 

“Can you leave it?” Crowley whispered, desperate. “Please? Just… leave it be?” 

 

Aziraphale studied him for a long moment, deeply troubled. 

 

“Of course, my dear,” he promised. “Whatever you need.” 

 

A cold, dreadful feeling settled in Aziraphale’s chest as he tried to make sense of what had just happened. What had happened to Crowley’s night vision? Some cruel torture that had permanently injured him, stolen it away? 

 

But even in the absence of his night vision, for Crowley to be so utterly terrified of the darkness… 

 

Since when had any demon, ever , been afraid of the dark

 

“I believe you,” Aziraphale whispered. He wasn’t even sure of it until the words left his lips… but once they did, he was filled with the surety of conviction. “I - I don’t understand it, don’t know… how it’s possible, but… I believe you, Crowley. I know. It was longer.” 

 

It had to have been, to have so utterly broken his dear demon, ripped every last shred of confidence and security out of him and left him so shattered, so filled with fear and shame that there was barely even room enough left for the memory of Aziraphale’s love for him, the memory of the home they shared.

 

It had to have been longer. 

 

Crowley let out a choked, near silent sob, clutching Aziraphale closer to him, and Aziraphale could feel the grateful relief that flooded Crowley with his words, the validation and reassurance that came of simply being believed

 

“Rest now, love,” Aziraphale urged him gently. “We’ll figure it out.” He had no idea how to even begin to keep that promise - only knew that he would keep it, somehow. “We’ll figure it out.” 

Chapter Text

Gabriel didn’t return to Crowley’s cell for days.

 

Crowley was fairly certain it was days. It felt like an eternity. His entire face felt as if it had been set aflame, the searing holy water ravaging his flesh, burning away at his tongue. It trickled down his throat, setting his whole body on fire with agony until he couldn’t think, couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. He was only vaguely aware of Gabriel’s heavy footsteps when the archangel entered the room.

 

“Oh, Crowley…” Gabriel made a sympathetic little sound, sucking his breath in through his teeth. “That looks like it really hurts.” 

 

He moved in so close in front of Crowley that he could feel the fabric of the angel’s ridiculously expensive suit as it brushed against his bare skin. A moment later, Gabriel’s hand came to rest at the back of his head, fingers sliding up through his hair. Crowley jerked his head away from the unwelcome touch, and Gabriel retaliated by grabbing the knot where the gag was tied behind his head and using it to wrench Crowley’s head back, his words a low, angry snarl. 

 

“Or maybe not. Maybe I’m mistaken. Maybe you’d like to keep it a while longer, is that it?” 

 

Crowley’s stomach dropped, seized with panic at the idea. Too far gone with pain to even attempt to hide it, he shook his head desperately, as much as he could against Gabriel’s strong grip.

 

“Then maybe you should stop fucking fighting me !” 

 

Gabriel twisted the cloth a little in his hand, forcing it further into Crowley’s mouth and aggravating the burns. A convulsive swallow drove more of the holy water down Crowley’s throat, and he shuddered with the fresh wave of pain that went through him. He nodded as best he could. He had to be rid of the gag. Whatever came next, he could worry about then, but he had to be rid of it. 

 

“Yeah?” Gabriel’s tone softened, taking on a note of cautious surprise, and Crowley nodded again. 

 

Gabriel let go of the knot, his fingers gently running through Crowley’s hair again, and Crowley resisted the urge to pull away, stayed perfectly still, even as Gabriel shifted in a little closer to him, his free hand sliding along the bare skin above Crowley’s hip. 

 

“Good,” Gabriel said, quietly approving. “Much better. Now, if I take it out... are you just gonna keep cursing me? Or are you ready to behave yourself now?” 

 

Crowley nodded hurriedly, and Gabriel smiled. “Good,” he said softly, still stroking Crowley’s hair. “Good boy. And you’re going to answer my questions? Tell me what I need to know?” 

 

Crowley nodded again, his head falling forward with exhaustion. 

 

He had no intention of telling Gabriel anything. 

 

He’d have rather let Gabriel torture him for an eternity than to allow him to get his hands on Aziraphale and torture and kill him , instead. He was just stalling, desperately trying to get Gabriel to take the gag out - even if it was just for a little while. 

 

Just need a break… can keep going, keep fighting, if I can just get a break…

 

“Good,” Gabriel repeated, pleased, triumphant. 

 

His hands were uncharacteristically careful as he untied the cloth behind Crowley’s head and gingerly removed the gag from Crowley’s mouth, his face contorted with disgust at the bloody, blackened color of it as he let go of it, and it vanished out of existence before it could hit the floor. Gabriel snapped his fingers, and the chains at Crowley’s wrists fell open, allowing him to collapse to the floor - the sharp impact of the fall a more than fair exchange for the relief in his painfully stretched limbs. 

 

Gabriel crouched down in front of him, and Crowley let out a choked little yelp of pained surprise as Gabriel’s hand grabbed his jaw, tilting his badly burned face up towards him. 

 

“Now.” Gabriel’s voice was low, expectantly warning. “Something you’d like to tell me?” 

 

Crowley drew in a slow, shuddering breath, wincing as he swallowed to try to soothe his badly damaged mouth. Acutely aware of Gabriel’s swiftly rising impatience, he struggled to speak, but couldn’t make his mangled lips and tongue form any actual words. Gabriel was surprisingly sympathetic, a little grimace twisting his mouth. 

 

“Yeah, that’s not gonna work, is it? Here, let me help you with that…” 

 

Gabriel let go of Crowley’s face and instead passed his hand just over it, hovering without touching. A soothing heat passed Crowley’s lips and moved down his throat, and in its wake the pain completely vanished, his burns completely healed. 

 

“There now, that’s better.” Gabriel’s tone was encouraging, almost friendly. “Go ahead, Crowley. Tell me about you and Aziraphale. Just tell the truth.” He shook his head, a falsely sad little smile on his lips. “And this can all be over.” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, closing his eyes and relishing the utter absence of pain - the few moments he was going to get without it. His heart was racing, his stomach sick at the thought that in just a few moments, Gabriel was going to start in on him again. If it wasn’t another holy water gag, it would be something else - something worse. 

 

No matter what, he couldn’t give up Aziraphale. 

 

Perhaps his best option was to push the archangel into losing his temper completely and utterly destroying him.

 

It had to be preferable to this. 

 

Crowley lowered his head, wrapping one arm around his chest, settling more comfortably onto his knees - taking his time, before replying in a whisper, barely audible. 

 

Gabriel moved in closer, his voice hushed and gentle. “What was that?” 

 

Crowley took a couple of deep, steadying breaths - and then looked up at Gabriel with a cold, defiant smile. “I said fuck you . You absolute wanker .” 

 

Gabriel’s eyes went wide, his lips parted in shock, but before he could properly respond, Crowley leaned forward and spit venom in his face. Gabriel let out a howl of rage and pain, staggering to his feet and turning away - just as the collar around Crowley’s neck fired with violent force, and he collapsed, consumed with pain. He barely even felt the kick that Gabriel aimed at his face, through the fiery flare that passed from his head through his entire body. But as it passed, he grinned up at Gabriel, tongue darting out to lick the blood from his teeth. 

 

Worth it ,” he hissed at the angel in defiant satisfaction. 

 

Enraged, Gabriel drew back his fist and hit Crowley hard across the face, then grabbed his hair and yanked him up higher on his knees, holding his head back and leaning in so close that Crowley could feel his breath on his face, even as he closed his eyes and braced himself for the punishment that Gabriel’s grim smile promised. 

 

“Was it?” Gabriel challenged, his voice trembling with fury, and Crowley’s stomach lurched when he felt Gabriel’s hand on the collar, the pain swiftly increasing as he turned the dial higher and higher. “Was it really? Don’t be so sure of that, demon. When I’m through with you, you won’t even dare to look at me, let alone…” 

 

Gabriel’s words trailed off in outraged disbelief as through the overwhelming pain, Crowley very deliberately turned his face back toward Gabriel and glared up at him with fully golden serpent’s eyes. The collar was delivering a steady flow of overwhelming pain at a level that Crowley had not yet experienced, but he fought through it, defiantly maintaining eye contact, even while struggling to get his words out past trembling lips and lungs that could barely draw breath. 

 

“F-f…” He couldn’t quite manage it, the pain too intense and overpowering. 

 

Gabriel got the message, anyway.

 

For a moment, Crowley thought he’d succeeded. Gabriel’s violet eyes took on a brilliant glow, a vindictive curl to his lips, one trembling hand raised in Crowley’s direction - and Crowley prepared to be smote. At least the pain would be over. At least Gabriel would never get the evidence he needed to condemn Crowley’s angel. 

 

At least Aziraphale would be safe

 

But Gabriel didn’t smite him. Visibly wrestling with his own rage, Gabriel closed his hand with an effort into a controlled fist, lowering it slowly. He drew in a breath and let it out slowly, closing his eyes for a moment - and when he opened them, they were their usual color again. Crowley couldn’t quite suppress a flinch as Gabriel reached toward the collar again - but only to turn it back down to the usual middle setting where he most often left it. 

 

Crowley frowned, catching his breath and watching in confusion as Gabriel smiled, shaking his head in amusement as he reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and took out a white handkerchief, which he used to wipe the remnants of Crowley’s venom from his face - and then turned and left the cell without another word. 

 

Crowley supposed a couple of hours had passed when the door to his cell opened again, and two angels entered. Without a word of explanation, despite his protests, they took him by the arms and led him down a dismal gray hallway to another room, one he hadn’t seen before. Where his cell was grimy, gray stone, this room was mostly tile and stainless steel, sterile and cold. 

 

In one corner of the room was a small table laden with various vaguely medical-looking items, and beside it a narrow metal examination table, fit with a thin mattress, and all manner of restraints along its edges. 

 

Gabriel stood patiently waiting at the head of the table, a satisfied smile on his lips.

 

Oh, Heaven , no…

 

Crowley did not know what exactly was intended for him here, but he knew that it had to be a step beyond what he’d already experienced, and he fought, frantically struggling to free himself from the iron grip of the angels on either side of him. His struggles ceased when he managed to kick one of them in the shin, and the collar’s punishment stole his breath and made his legs collapse out from under him. By the time he’d recovered, his vision fading back into focus, he’d been strapped down to the table at his wrists and ankles, and one of the angels was fastening another strap tightly across his forehead so that he couldn’t move his head at all, while the other examined the items on the small metal table beside him. 

 

“Let me go!” Crowley yelled, uselessly straining against his bonds. “Let me up, stop…” 

 

His words trailed off, everything in him freezing up in horror as out of the corner of his eye, he saw the second angel turn away from the supply table with an eyedropper filled with clear liquid in his hand. Crowley tried to protest, but couldn’t draw breath, let alone speak, as the angel carefully passed the eye dropper to Gabriel.

 

Gabriel smiled down at Crowley, serene and satisfied, informing him matter-of-factly, “It’s not diluted this time. Pure. One hundred percent.” 

 

Panicked, Crowley tried to turn his head away, closed his eyes tight. He heard Gabriel snap his fingers - and all at once, Crowley’s eyes were open again, and he couldn’t close them, no matter how hard he tried. 

 

“Please!” he choked out as Gabriel held the eyedropper over his face, a tiny droplet beginning to form at its tip. His face flushed with shame, but the desperation of sheer, unadulterated terror drove his words. “Don’t, please !” 

 

Gabriel’s free hand reached down to cup Crowley’s cheek, his expression filled with false regret. “I told you,” he reminded Crowley patiently. “When I’m done… you won’t even look at me.” 

 

“No… NO!” Crowley gasped out, panicked.

 

And then, the first drop fell into his wide-open, vulnerable eye. There was a flash of all-consuming, searing agony unlike anything he’d ever felt before, and he heard himself screaming, felt his body convulse with the pain - until the second drop fell in his other eye. And all was darkness, and pain beyond Crowley’s comprehension, until the mercy of unconsciousness pulled him under, and he was aware of nothing at all. 

 

************************************************************************************

 

Crowley awakened, alone, in Aziraphale’s bedroom, to the soft glow of sunlight streaming through the window. He was warm and comfortable, and all was still and quiet - but as he sat up in the bed and blinked into the light, he gradually became aware of the quiet sounds of Aziraphale moving about the kitchen, just beyond the bedroom door. 

 

Crowley slid to the edge of the bed and sat up, immediately reaching for his sunglasses where Aziraphale had left them on the nightstand. And then, as he put them on, memories of the night before flooded his mind - Aziraphale’s gentle hands sliding over his skin, Aziraphale’s mouth against his throat. Embarrassment swept over him as he realized that he didn’t remember anything else after that; he must have fallen asleep before they’d gotten very far. 

 

Humiliation swiftly took the place of embarrassment, when Crowley did remember waking up , in the pitch dark room, alone - in tears, terrified, clinging like a child to the angel he’d left frustrated and wanting only hours earlier. 

 

What is wrong with you, you pathetic waste? His inner voice viciously demanded. You’re a demon, you can’t be afraid of the bloody dark! 

 

Crowley closed his eyes, drawing in a few breaths, trying to ease the heat in his face, trying to calm himself. Crowley focused on little reassuring details - the inviting scent of fresh coffee... the sounds of Aziraphale comfortably bustling about, no doubt preparing an elaborate breakfast… the pleasant warmth of the sun on his face. 

 

After a moment, Crowley got up and went to the door, making sure it was shut before returning to the bedside to take a fresh shirt and trousers from his satchel. He exchanged his pajama pants for the clean trousers, then stripped off his soft black t-shirt and picked up a deep green button down shirt to replace it.

 

He took a moment in front of the mirror to examine his few remaining injuries. Most of the injuries on his wings were healing well, almost gone, in fact. The rings they had wedged into the joints still ached, and would continue to, until they could be removed - but besides that, Crowley’s wings were starting to look a little healthier. Uneasily, he shifted his gaze to the scattered small cuts and burns on his stomach, sides, back. Much like his wings, they were looking much better, nothing in need of treatment. 

 

Crowley’s mouth went a little dry, his heartbeat picking up a bit as he tried - and failed - to ignore the numerous scars that covered his torso. Dozens of them, white and raised in various shapes and sizes and patterns - they should have been impossible. There was only one thing that could leave actual scars on a demon.

 

Pity that one thing was something to which Gabriel had ready access, and had taken great pleasure in using.

 

Hesitantly, Crowley turned in front of the mirror, looking over his shoulder at the one scar that stood out among the dozens that marred his flesh - a small, intricate Enochian symbol at the base of his spine. Shame flooded over him, and his eyes burned with tears. 

 

Now you’ll never forget… what it means… what you are...

 

Crowley shivered, fighting back the sick feeling that swept over him, hurriedly putting on his shirt and fastening the buttons with trembling fingers. He took a few more minutes to finish getting dressed - a process he could have completed with a snap of his fingers, a minor miracle… if he didn’t mind starting off his day feeling exhausted. 

 

Once he was ready, Crowley hesitated a moment at the bedroom door - drew in a deep breath, and slipped out into the kitchen. 

 

Aziraphale didn’t notice him, his back turned to Crowley, busily stirring something on the stove. Whatever it was smelled delicious; Aziraphale was really very good at cooking. Food was something he enjoyed, and he’d found he had an instinct for it. It was something he appreciated, and so for the past fourteen years, it’d been something he’d tried his best to share with Crowley. Generally speaking, Crowley didn’t appreciate food all that much. 

 

But he did appreciate Aziraphale

 

Aziraphale wanted to heal Crowley, wanted to help him; and with his options limited at the moment, this was something he could do - so he would do it, faithfully and with all the love in his heart. Watching him, Crowley was abruptly overwhelmed with such a tremendous rush of affection and gratitude that he could scarcely contain it. 

 

He moved in close behind Aziraphale, hesitating just a moment before slipping his arms around his angel’s waist, tucking his face in against Aziraphale’s neck. Aziraphale went still for a moment, then reached up a hand to touch Crowley’s face, turned to kiss his brow. 

 

Crowley’s heart ached with how much Aziraphale loved him - and how little he deserved it.

 

“I’m sorry,” he breathed out against Aziraphale’s skin. 

 

No .” Aziraphale’s tone was firm and sharp, as he emphatically turned off the stove and turned in Crowley’s arms to face him. “Darling, look at me.” 

 

Crowley obediently lifted his head, his sunglasses at least making eye contact, even if his eyes were averted behind them. But then, Aziraphale’s hands were carefully removing them from his face, and Crowley’s heart lurched painfully.

 

“I am looking,” he protested weakly, “I am,” his gaze following his glasses uneasily as Aziraphale set them aside on the counter beside the stove, then reached up to take Crowley’s face in his hands. 

 

He was waiting, and Crowley knew he wouldn’t be satisfied until he complied, so he reluctantly lifted his gaze to meet Aziraphale’s - breathtakingly earnest, fiercely protective. 

 

Stop being sorry for something over which you had no control ,” Aziraphale commanded, stern yet tender. “You did nothing wrong, Crowley. Nothing to deserve this. You have no reason to be sorry.” 

 

Crowley thought of the incriminating mark on his back, and looked away, swallowing hard. 

 

“They tortured you for… well, for God knows how long, really, and you didn’t let them break you.”

 

Crowley grimaced, shaking his head, lips parted to protest. 

 

“You didn’t give them what they wanted,” Aziraphale clarified. “Didn’t surrender. I’m in awe of your strength, Crowley, of your courage . Of all the things you may be feeling about what’s happened… my darling, shame should never be one of them.” 

 

Aziraphale’s hands still gently framing Crowley’s face, he rose up a bit to kiss Crowley, sweet and warm, and despite his misgivings, despite his certainty that he did not deserve it - Crowley could not refuse it. He slipped his arms around Aziraphale, drinking in the kiss he’d thirsted for, for so long. When they parted, Aziraphale looked up into Crowley’s eyes, and Crowley reluctantly met his gaze.

 

I love you .” 

 

Aziraphale’s words were fierce in their certainty, a promise Crowley knew he would keep - and Crowley wanted to return that promise. There was no question that he returned the sentiment with a desperate intensity. He’d never loved anyone like he loved Aziraphale - and in the past fourteen years, he’d never had any trouble speaking it aloud. The trouble wasn’t that he couldn’t return those words

 

It was that he couldn’t speak at all , his throat aching, his eyes burning with tears.  Helplessly he lowered his head again, pulling free of Aziraphale’s hands and hiding his face against Aziraphale’s shoulder. After a moment, Aziraphale’s arms wrapped around Crowley, drawing him in close, one at his waist, and the other resting at the back of his neck, his thumb rubbing gently through his hair. 

 

“Crowley, my love…” Aziraphale’s voice was hushed, cautious, close against Crowley’s ear. “If you - if you wish to talk about… anything that happened, while you were there…”

 

Don’t ,” Crowley choked out, shaking his head, his words thick and desperate. “Please don’t…” 

 

Aziraphale went quiet, pressing a tender kiss to Crowley’s temple and just holding him close, while their breakfast went cold.

Chapter Text

As days passed in relative peace, Aziraphale and Crowley fell into a bit of a routine, but Aziraphale’s mind was never far from the impending threat he knew hung over them. Sending Crowley home with him had certainly been a trap for Aziraphale… which meant that very soon, Gabriel would be coming by to check up on them, hoping to catch them out. 

 

Aziraphale was only surprised that nearly a week had passed… and still he hadn’t. Yet.

 

On the afternoon of the sixth day, Crowley emerged in sunglasses and disheveled pajamas from Aziraphale’s bedroom after a nap, to find Aziraphale practically nested on the sofa with a cup of lukewarm cocoa on the coffee table and numerous books piled on and around both sofa and table. 

 

“What’s all this?” Crowley asked, his voice a little husky with sleep as he settled down on the floor in front of the sofa, half-sitting, half-kneeling, leaning into Aziraphale’s legs. 

 

“I can move these, just a moment…” Aziraphale reached for the pile of books on the sofa beside him. 

 

But Crowley wrapped one arm around his calf, stroking lightly, smiling up at him easily. “I’m good, really. Just… what are you working on?” 

 

Aziraphale frowned a little. He remembered that first day when Crowley had come home, and hadn’t dared to touch the sofa. Something about the idea of Crowley sitting at his feet like this was upsetting in a way that reignited the smoldering fury in the pit of his stomach - because it wouldn’t have been upsetting, before. It would have been easy and natural and just something Crowley did - wrapping himself around his angel in the oddest of ways that were for him simply comfortable. 

 

“I’m fine , angel,” Crowley insisted, and Aziraphale could practically feel him rolling his eyes behind his sunglasses. “‘S nice here.” He pushed his foot across the floor, nudging at the vent. “Warm,” he pointed out, then kissed Aziraphale’s knee and nestled in a little closer, giving him a cheeky grin. “Soft.” 

 

Filled with a rush of warm affection, Aziraphale reached down one hand to run his fingers through Crowley’s hair, and Crowley closed his eyes, resting his head against Aziraphale’s knee with a happy little hum. After a moment he seemed to remember his own curiosity, repeating without lifting his head. 

 

“What are you working on?” 

 

“Well, I’ve been thinking,” Aziraphale explained, already regretting bringing up something that would spoil Crowley’s mood - continuing to stroke his hair slowly, preemptively soothing. “We should be ready. When Gabriel does eventually come by. We should have… some sort of a warning.” 

 

Crowley’s shoulders tensed just a little at the mention of the archangel’s name, and he was quiet for a moment. But when he spoke, his tone was calm, thoughtful. “That would be a little suspicious, wouldn’t it?” 

 

“If he knew about it,” Aziraphale pointed out. “If I used a miracle to do it.” 

 

Crowley lifted his head, just far enough to turn and peer up at Aziraphale, not far enough to shift Aziraphale’s gentle fingers from his hair. “What would you use?” 

 

Aziraphale felt his face color a bit, and grimaced as he admitted, “ Human magic? Of the… natural sort?” 

 

Crowley let out a soft, exaggerated gasp. “Angels casting spells. What is this world coming to?” His smile faded a little as he speculated, “Is it risky? Your lot disapprove, yeah?” 

 

“If they knew of it, they would,” Aziraphale agreed. “But they can’t sense it like they can angelic miracles. Gabriel would have no way of knowing such a spell was in place, it’d just… give us a bit of warning that he was on his way, so that we could be prepared.” 

 

Crowley shifted his body up a little higher, a little closer, resting against the sofa behind him, turning so that the back of his neck lay against Aziraphale’s thigh. At the angle he was leaning, Aziraphale could clearly see most of his face, including his troubled eyes behind his glasses. A small part of him felt that he should let Crowley know that, or at least look away - but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do so. 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, his voice still admirably calm when he spoke again. “How much warning would it give us?” 

 

“A minute.” Aziraphale set down his book in his lap and placed his hand on Crowley’s shoulder instead, hopefully reassuring. “Possibly less.” 

 

After a moment, Crowley spoke again, gesturing vaguely toward his face. “I should have a bit more bruising, probably.” 

 

Aziraphale frowned, puzzled. “Your bruises are healing up quite nicely,” he observed. “Quicker than I’d have thought, yes, but I suppose the collar just isn’t inhibiting your healing as much as we’d expected…”

 

“No.” Crowley sat up, turning so that he could face Aziraphale rather than leaning against him, bringing his thoroughly mussed hair regrettably out of Aziraphale’s reach. “I mean, I ought to have bruises. If Gabriel comes by.” 

 

Aziraphale blinked. He supposed his mind’s slow processing of Crowley’s meaning was mostly due to his utter hatred for the very suggestion.

 

“You’re expected to be punishing me,” Crowley reminded Aziraphale with a sigh. “Well, not expected, exactly,” he amended. “I don’t suppose he actually expects that at all. He’s fairly certain you won’t - which is part of his plan. How he intends to catch you.” Crowley paused a moment. “And why you have to.”

 

“No.” Aziraphale was adamant, looking back down at his book. “I won’t hurt you, Crowley.” 

 

“Who’s talking about hurting?” Crowley’s tone held a painfully deliberate lightness. He shook his head a little, dismissive. “I’m talking about just a couple bruises - a mark or two, enough to be convincing if he walks in…”

 

“I won’t .” 

 

“Come on, angel, how hard is it to imagine I…” Crowley gestured with his hand, as if searching in the air for the words he wanted, “... did something to get under your skin, or… smarted off in a way that makes you just want to…” He made a loud, sharp smacking motion with the back of one hand against the other.

 

Stop .” Aziraphale’s voice was trembling. In spite of his own distress, he felt a pang of guilt when Crowley flinched a little at his tone, his forced playful demeanor falling away. “Just… don’t, Crowley. I won’t. I can’t .” 

 

“Even to keep him from doing it?” Crowley’s words broke a little, all humor gone from them, and Aziraphale knew that Crowley was looking at him, even behind the glasses. “Because that’s what’ll happen, if he catches us. If you’re not up for - all this requires. He’ll take you away, and he’ll punish you. And he’ll take me…” Crowley’s voice trailed off for a moment before he concluded flatly, “He’ll take me. Is that what you want?” 

 

“Of course it isn’t, Crowley, but I didn’t bring you home so that you could continue to be hurt, I just…”

 

“A couple of bruises isn’t ‘hurt’, angel. Trust me.” 

 

Crowley’s sobering words pressed them both into silence for a long moment, as Aziraphale, very reluctantly, considered Crowley’s point. 

 

“I’m not going to bruise you deliberately in the hopes that Gabriel may or may not show up to see it,” he concluded finally, ignoring Crowley’s heavy sigh and ready protest as he continued quickly, “I believe Gabriel would be far more likely to believe I’d use the collar, anyway, than to think I’d… ‘get my hands dirty’, so to speak.”

 

Crowley winced a little at the phrase, and Aziraphale felt the need to clarify his meaning, but Crowley was already responding. 

 

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s probably better. You ought to be leaving it a bit higher, just in case…”

 

“I won’t leave it higher,” Aziraphale stated, leaving no room for argument. “This warding spell I’ve found should take… half an hour... to perform, and then we’ll have a minute’s warning. I can turn it up when and if we have to, and that’s all.” 

 

Crowley was quiet for a moment, then nodded his somewhat grudging acceptance. 

 

“What do you think would be convincing, perhaps the 03 level?” 

 

“At least 05,” Crowley countered grimly. “That’s where it was when you took me. Can’t give him reason to think you’re going easy on me.” 

 

Aziraphale’s heart ached at the memory of Crowley, trembling and terrified and hurting on the pristine floor in Heaven, and at the easy, matter-of-fact way Crowley discussed his own bloody torture - torture he now wanted Aziraphale to inflict again . Aziraphale ran his hands down over his face, pressing them over his eyes for a moment and letting out a shaky breath. 

 

“Can I simply state for the record,” he said slowly, shakily, “how very much I hate this plan?” 

 

Crowley rose from his place at Aziraphale’s feet, and Aziraphale was vaguely aware as the large stack of books beside him was shifted to the floor, and then his demon was pressed into his side, one arm wrapped comfortingly around his shoulders, as if Aziraphale was the one who was about to get hurt… the one willingly accepting abuse from the one he loved. 

 

“I know,” Crowley said softly, taking Aziraphale’s hand nearest him and kissing it before pressing it to his own cheek, resting his chin on Aziraphale’s shoulder. “It’s why I trust you to do it.”

 

Aziraphale slid his hand up from Crowley’s cheek into his hair, closing his eyes and letting out a heavy sigh as he turned his face toward him a little. “If Gabriel is coming,” he relented at last. “Only then. I’ll turn the collar up to 05.” 

 

“You’ll have to be quick…” 

 

“I have the remote control for the bloody thing,” Aziraphale reminded him, disgust in his voice. “That should be quick enough.” 

 

Crowley was quiet, and a part of Aziraphale really wished he could see his face - though he supposed Crowley wouldn’t have been nearly so calm about all of this, or as open, if he could. 

 

“Where is it?” Crowley asked at last. 

 

“In a drawer in the bedroom…” 

 

“Needs to be on you.” 

 

Aziraphale drew back to look at Crowley then, a protest on his lips. 

 

“At all times.” Crowley was firm. “Can’t take a chance that you can’t get to it, or me, in time, if you find out he’s coming.” 

 

Aziraphale didn’t have an argument, though he despised the idea of carrying that thing around, a constant threat against Crowley, a constant reminder of the disparity of power between them at the moment - however much Aziraphale did not want said power. 

 

“I’m going to find a way to get it off,” he promised. 

 

Crowley nodded, but remained quiet, looking away. 

 

“I will,” he insisted quietly. “I’ll find a way to make sure you’re safe . For good.”

 

“I know, angel,” Crowley said softly, but Aziraphale didn’t miss the uncertainty in his forced smile. 

 

Aziraphale performed the spell he’d found, designed to alert them to the presence of any supernatural entity within a block of the bookshop - besides themselves, of course, as they’d both been present in the building when the spell was performed. Armed with at least a marginal sense of security from that point, Aziraphale continued researching, looking for some means of removing or disabling the collar - sometimes on the sofa with Crowley curled up close to his side; sometimes at his desk, while Crowley napped in the middle of the day. 

 

And at night, Aziraphale would hold Crowley until he slept, and then bring his books to the bed, staying close and leaving the light on, to guard against Crowley’s nightmares.

 

Occasionally, he would reach for the manual, as a new question would occur to him. 

 

“What would happen if the collar was… let’s say, accidentally damaged and just… fell off?”  

 

He was beginning to consider physically breaking the thing off of Crowley and making a run for it, before Gabriel could make his move.

 

Such an “accident” would immediately alert home office, and the demon would be immediately retrieved. 

 

Not if we’re quick enough… not if we’re gone before they even know it’s off…

 

But… if I try, and fail, to remove it…

 

“What level of punishment is inflicted for an attempt to remove the collar?” he asked it, frowning. 

 

Level 08 punishment.

 

Aziraphale frowned, remembering Crowley suffering, shaking and in tears under the force of a level 08 punishment. He closed his eyes, shaking his head slowly, hating that these were the kinds of options he had to think about - that he had to actually consider whether such a punishment might be worth it, if it meant getting Crowley to safety.

 

“For… for how long?” 

 

Under such conditions, punishment would be sustained until archangel override. 

 

Sustained. Continuous punishment, enough to debilitate Crowley completely - and prevent any further attempt at escape, Aziraphale supposed was the official, reasonable explanation. He was becoming increasingly certain that the real reason was nothing more than Gabriel’s own cruelty. He imagined Crowley suffering under the force of that collar, waiting for Gabriel to show up and turn it down - if he chose to turn it down at all. 

 

A brief image flashed through Aziraphale’s mind, the image of Gabriel forced to wear the detestable thing instead, Gabriel shaking, kneeling on the floor and begging for nonexistent mercy. 

 

It was an intensely satisfying image.

 

With an effort, Aziraphale pushed it from his mind, drawing in a deep breath and closing his eyes. It didn’t help to think this way. Fantasies of vengeance were useless as long as Crowley was still under Gabriel’s power. He needed to focus on Crowley, on helping Crowley - not avenging him.

 

Not yet. 

 

He found Crowley in the kitchen, near the windowsill, where his resurrected little plant had found a home, mostly because it was the single spot in the apartment with the best access to natural light. Crowley had taken the plant from the sill and was holding it in his hand. Aziraphale was pleasantly surprised to see that for once, Crowley’s gorgeous golden eyes were exposed, his glasses sitting on the counter beside him. As Aziraphale approached, Crowley leaned in close to the plant, gently handling and examining its leaves while he whispered to it.

 

Aziraphale cleared his throat, not wanting to startle Crowley - who startled anyway, jumping a little before turning to face Aziraphale. He shifted self-consciously on his feet, not quite making eye contact. 

 

“You’re s’posed to talk to them,” he pointed out, a little defensive. “Helps.” 

 

“Well, yes, of course it does,” Aziraphale agreed, pleased. “All living things need connection to thrive.” He paused a moment, his smile fading a little as he reached out to take Crowley’s hand. “Can you come with me into the living room for a bit, dear? I need to ask you about something.” 

 

“All right…” Crowley’s tone was guarded, cautious. Worry crept into his expression as he reached for his glasses on the counter. Aziraphale couldn’t bear it, especially now when he really needed to know that Crowley was being honest with him. He caught Crowley’s other hand before it could collect the sunglasses, gently tugging him away from the counter. 

 

“Come on, love, come with me…”

 

Crowley opened his mouth to protest, looking over his shoulder toward his glasses, but Aziraphale slid his arm around his waist, guiding him away and into the other room. He sat down on the sofa, still holding Crowley’s hand, and Crowley slowly, reluctantly sat down beside him. 

 

“What?” he asked, defensive. 

 

Right, then. Off to a fantastic start…

 

“It’s just… I have some questions. About the collar. You know I’m attempting to find a way to get rid of it, but… until I can… we may end up having to use it, should Gabriel come round to check on us…”

 

“Yes, angel, we’ve been through all this…”

 

“I can’t use it, though, Crowley. I can’t, in good conscience, not - not unless I know what it’s really like.”

 

Crowley frowned. “Don’t see how that’s possible.” 

 

Tell me .” Crowley looked up at Aziraphale sharply, and Aziraphale gently squeezed his hand. “I can’t inflict any amount of pain on you, my dear, no matter how small, without knowing what it is I’m doing to you. Please . Just… walk me through it? What each level is like?”

 

Crowley looked away, swallowing slowly.

 

“Right now,” Aziraphale prompted softly. “It’s at the lowest level, right now. What does it feel like, for you?” 

 

“Not bad.” Crowley shrugged a little, his gaze focused on the messy pile of books and papers that covered the coffee table. “It’s - white noise, basically. Static, in my head. Not even aware of it most of the time, anymore.”

 

“So… it doesn’t hurt,” Aziraphale concluded, though it hardly sounded pleasant. 

 

“No,” Crowley confirmed, shaking his head once. “Just… sort of like the feeling you get… just before a headache? All - tight and tension-y, but… doesn’t hurt.” He paused a moment, considering, before adding, “Makes me tired. Makes miracles… challenging.” 

 

Aziraphale nodded slowly. “You said before, 02 feels like… a consistent static electricity shock…” 

 

Crowley nodded. 

 

“And… beyond that?” 

 

Crowley drew in a deep breath, letting it out in a shaky rush. “Right. If 01 is just before a headache, 03 is like… a fairly mild all-over migraine. Head, body, wings, everything aches, but… I can still function. Miracles, out of the question, but… after a bit, I get used to it… can ignore it. Not so bad.” 

 

It didn’t sound “not so bad” to Aziraphale. He frowned. “Then what’s a 05 like?” It was where Crowley expected him to leave it if Gabriel were to show up. Aziraphale had to know

 

“It’s, uh… worse.” Crowley closed his eyes, swallowing hard. “Debilitating. Distracting. Keeps me from being able to… to focus, or… concentrate on anything for long at all.” He wrapped his arms around his body, lowering his head and blinking rapidly. 

 

Aziraphale hesitated. It didn’t sound as if it was something he’d be willing to inflict on Crowley. But… they did have a way to be sure. 

 

“Can you - can you show me?” Crowley looked up at him quickly, frowning, but Aziraphale pressed on. “Show me the memory of it?” 

 

Through the connection they shared, if he chose to, Crowley could access the memory, could share it with Aziraphale as if it was his own. Aziraphale would feel his pain as he’d felt it, know for certain exactly what he’d be putting Crowley through if he set the collar to that level. 

 

“No.” Crowley’s voice was sharp, certain. 

 

“Just for a moment… if you’re going to have to feel it…”

 

I said no! ” Crowley raised his voice, the words trembling with fury. “I didn’t go through all that so that you could feel it, too, angel, I did it so that you wouldn’t !”

 

Aziraphale’s heart ached with such overwhelming love that he couldn’t contain it . “Oh, I’m sorry… oh, Crowley ,” he said softly, and watched as the tenderness and gratitude in his voice undid his demon, his face crumpling before he dropped it into his shaking hands.

 

“Angel, I-I don’t think I can…” He drew in a sharp breath, shaking his head. 

 

“Come here, darling.” 

 

Aziraphale spoke softly, turning sideways on the sofa and holding out his arms to Crowley. He didn’t hesitate, just scooted across the sofa, leaning back against Aziraphale’s chest and resting his head on his shoulder. Aziraphale wrapped his arms around Crowley, resting his hands over Crowley’s, kissing his temple. 

 

“You’re safe,” he whispered. “You’re safe, here with me, and you’re not going to feel that pain again, I promise.” 

 

Crowley was quiet, but a shudder passed through him, as he turned his face in toward Aziraphale’s. “I’m sorry, I’m so… such a bloody wreck, angel…” 

 

“Hush,” Aziraphale gently rebuked him. “You’re not. It’s difficult, I can’t possibly begin to understand how much. But… I want to.”

 

“Not like that.” Even through his tears, Crowley’s voice was steely and unyielding. 

 

“Not like that,” Aziraphale conceded. It was Crowley’s choice to make, his memory, his pain to deal with as he would. 

 

Crowley nodded slowly, relaxing a little at Aziraphale’s acceptance. 

 

“When you’re ready, my dear,” Aziraphale whispered, raising one hand to brush his fingers through Crowley’s hair, across his brow. “Just take your time.” 

 

“Right.” After a moment, Crowley cleared his throat, drew in a shaky breath. “05 was… where he left it most of the time, when he wasn’t… wasn’t there. 06 and 07 were more or less the same as each other, just… far more intense. Like… a muscle cramp you can’t walk off, can’t work out, just… everywhere. Coming in waves, over and over… He’d save that for punishment, if I...” 

 

He stopped abruptly. His shoulders were shaking. 

 

“And he set it higher than that. That first day, when I found you.” Aziraphale fought back the rage building in his chest - the last thing Crowley needed to feel from him. “He set it at 08.” 

 

Crowley nodded, continuing in a halting, tearful voice. “Saved that for when he was really pissed off. 08 and 09, both, they’re - unbearable. Relentless, overwhelming pain. Just - rips through you again and again, ‘til you can’t - can’t breathe, can’t move, just… just want it to be over. Anything for it to be over, just… after a few minutes…”

 

Aziraphale was horrified, remembering Gabriel’s words that day. 

 

“He said he’d left it on 10 for hours at a time.” 

 

Crowley nodded slowly, silent, pressing in closer to Aziraphale, pulling his arm tighter around him. 

 

“If - if that’s an 08 or a 09…” Aziraphale could barely bring himself to ask, afraid of the answer. “... then what’s 10 feel like?” 

 

Crowley was quiet, trembling in Aziraphale’s arms, quiet for so long that Aziraphale began to think he wasn’t going to answer at all. And then he did, his voice a hoarse and haunted whisper in the stillness. 

 

Falling .” 

 

Aziraphale felt as if all the air had been sucked from the room, his heart shattering at the realization of the absolute cruelty of the suffering that had been inflicted on Crowley, who had done literally nothing to deserve it. He wrapped his arms tighter around his broken demon, tears falling from his eyes as he closed them, pressing his cheek against the top of Crowley’s head. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, my darling…”

 

Crowley’s response was to turn in his arms, pressing his face against Aziraphale’s chest, holding onto him tight. “I can’t,” he whispered at last, shaking his head, and Aziraphale could feel the heat of Crowley’s tears soaking through his shirt. “Not again, I can’t…” 

 

“You won’t ,” Aziraphale promised, fiercely. “I won’t ever let that happen.” 

 

***************************************************************************************

 

When Crowley awakened on the cold stone floor of his cell, there was only darkness. 

 

And pain. 

 

His head felt as if it was on fire, the searing agony centered around his eyes. His heart raced, his stomach lurching at the memory of what Gabriel had done. His hands trembled as he raised them toward his face, afraid to touch, afraid to know - but he had to. He thought he would vomit when he felt the mangled, melted flesh where his eyes used to be. 

 

Panic threatened to overwhelm him. Burns from pure holy water never fully healed on their own. His horribly damaged eyes would never heal themselves. 

 

He stood up, carefully, holding out his arms and slowly circling around, trying to gauge exactly where in the room he was.

 

“Morning, gorgeous.”

 

Gabriel’s voice close behind him was taunting, viciously amused with himself, and in spite of himself Crowley felt a rush of shame, imagining what he must look like now, hideously deformed, disgusting. 

 

He spun around toward the sound of Gabriel’s voice, his hands hitting Gabriel’s chest. He tried to push the archangel away, but Gabriel easily caught his arms and pinned him up against the wall, despite his futile, aimless struggles. 

 

“Stop fighting, Crowley,” Gabriel ordered. He sighed when Crowley kept trying to twist out of his grasp, pulling him away from the wall and then slamming him into it hard enough to take his breath. “Think about it for a second. You manage to actually hit me , and that collar will punish you.” He leaned in close, pinning Crowley’s arms across his chest with one hand and reaching up to brush Crowley’s hair back from his face with the other, his voice hushed and private. “And then, I’ll punish you.” His voice dropped to a whisper, laced with menace and hushed against Crowley’s ear. “One guess which will be worse.” 

 

Crowley was still, his racing heart thudding in his ears, panic clawing its way through his chest and telling him to fight, fight, fight … but he knew it was useless. He was at an utterly hopeless disadvantage. 

 

“That’s it.” Gabriel’s voice was gentle, soothing. “That’s better... You know, this didn’t have to happen to you, Crowley. All I asked of you was a little bit of respect.” His hand dropped from Crowley’s hair to tilt his head up a little before he spoke again, quiet and expectant. “Are you going to show me respect now?” 

 

Crowley jerked his head away, stubbornly closing his mouth and refusing to answer - bracing himself for the blow he fully expected in retaliation. 

 

It didn’t come. 

 

“Well.” Gabriel sounded surprisingly satisfied. “I suppose that’s progress, anyway.” 

 

Crowley frowned, confused. It took him a moment to understand what Gabriel was talking about. Gabriel apparently found his silence more satisfactory than his constant cursing retorts. That realization made Crowley want to speak up, to curse Gabriel again - to not let him win. 

 

He found that he didn’t have the strength of will to do so. It felt so very pointless, now. 

 

“Tell me about you and your boyfriend Aziraphale.” Gabriel’s voice was quiet, touched with a hint of mockery. 

 

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Crowley replied, hating the tremor, the weakness of his voice. “We’re not even friends, we’re not anything . I barely even know him.” 

 

Gabriel touched Crowley’s cheek, and Crowley flinched a little from the unexpected contact. Without warning, it was followed by a breathtaking backhand blow, and Gabriel stepped back to allow Crowley to fall to the floor, gasping at the overwhelming wave of agony that consumed his ravaged face. After a moment Gabriel’s hand roughly grasped the collar and dragged Crowley up again, shoving him against the wall and then letting go of him.  

 

Instinctively Crowley held out his hands, defensive - but he didn’t even know where to strike, if he’d wanted to - couldn’t tell just exactly where Gabriel was, in the room. He heard a soft, sliding sort of sound, and then Gabriel was close to him again, one hand gripping his arm to hold him in place. 

 

“It’s probably best if you just tell me the truth at this point, Crowley,” Gabriel said matter-of-factly, leaning in closer, secretive, falsely sympathetic. “Because, honestly? I’m not sure how much more you can take.”

 

Crowley’s breath was quick, now, his heart racing, but he mustered up every last trace of courage and defiance he had, turning his sightless face in the direction of Gabriel’s smug, taunting voice. 

 

“However much you’ve got,” he replied, soft and certain, with a forced smile.

 

Gabriel laughed, low and appreciative. “You sure are making me work for it, aren’t you?” he remarked. Then he moved in closer, close enough for Crowley to feel the heat of his body, the brush of fabric against his skin. Then he felt something else, against his chest - smooth and leather - as Gabriel leaned in to whisper in his ear. “That’s just gonna make it so much sweeter .” 

 

As he spoke, the leather thing against Crowley’s skin - some sort of whip, Crowley knew; he’d been through Hell’s training program, hadn’t he? - began to singe his skin, and his heart sank as he realized: the weapon had been blessed. Gabriel let it linger against him for a moment longer before removing it, stepping back away from Crowley, and repeating his question, his tone calm and even. 

 

“Tell me about you and Aziraphale.”

 

Crowley swallowed, steadying himself. “There’s nothing to tell.” 

 

The pain that bloomed across his chest took his breath - the twin fires of the whip itself slicing into his flesh, and the burn that followed in the wake of the lash. He collapsed after the second blow, gasping, uselessly trying to get away from it. 

 

Gabriel had not bothered with restraining him; there was no point. Crowley couldn’t very well avoid the blows when he couldn’t tell where they were coming from, or where they’d land next. There was no move he could make that Gabriel couldn’t easily anticipate and counter. Again and again, Gabriel asked the same question. Again and again, Crowley denied knowing the answer. 

 

And again and again, the lash fell, until his entire body was aflame with agony and the floor was slick with his blood. 

 

The whip curled around Crowley’s shoulder, the end of it tearing into the side of his throat, and he choked and coughed, holding up a pleading hand, and gasping out, “Stop! I’m telling you the truth, please …” 

 

All at once… Gabriel did stop. 

 

He went quiet for a long moment. Crowley flinched when he heard the slide of the whip through Gabriel’s hands, but it did not fall again. And then Gabriel’s footsteps, slow and measured, drew nearer to him. Crowley could only hold up his hands, a pathetically useless defensive gesture, as Gabriel grabbed him by the throat and shoved his shredded back into the rough stone. Crowley’s cry of agony was choked off by the archangel’s hand as he leaned in close, whispering against his ear. 

 

“I don’t believe you.” 

 

Crowley’s heart sank, and he tried to prepare himself for more - but his entire body was quaking with pain and exhaustion, and a slow creeping despair at the thought of even one more blow

 

He’s right, you can’t take it, can’t handle any more, pathetic coward... 

 

But then, Gabriel let him go, allowing him to sink back down to the floor as his footsteps slowly walked away. Crowley was stunned when he heard the sound of the door closing behind Gabriel as he left. He hadn’t bothered to turn up the collar this time. Perhaps because he wanted Crowley’s focus on the agony he’d just inflicted. 

 

The pain of the collar would have been a relief, compared to this.

 

Blind and helpless, his entire body screaming its outrage at the damage it had taken, Crowley huddled there with his face to the floor, shivering with cold and shock, and praying for the mercy of death to take him. 

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, sir... “ 

 

The Archangel Gabriel looked up from his laptop expectantly at the nervous angel standing in the doorway of his office, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere else. His new assistant, for only the last hundred years or so, and a pathetic excuse for one at that. Still, Gabriel supposed it was about time he learned the useless little angel’s name.

 

“Yes?” 

 

“The Principality Aziraphale is here to see you.” 

 

Gabriel sat back in his seat a little, blinking.

 

Well. That was unexpected. 

 

And intriguing. 

 

“Is the demon with him?” 

 

“No, sir, I don’t believe so.” 

 

Hmm. Disappointing. 

 

Still, Gabriel wondered at the purpose for Aziraphale’s visit, and what he might be able to get out of it. He’d have thought that Aziraphale would be keeping his distance for as long as possible. If he was here, seeking Gabriel out, well - he probably had a reason that was, at the very least, interesting

 

“Go back to your desk and wait for twenty minutes,” Gabriel instructed. “Then tell him he can come in.” 

 

Gabriel didn’t need twenty minutes. He didn’t need any time at all, really. He had all the time he could ever want.

 

And what he wanted right now was simply to make Aziraphale wait. To make him sit out there, fidgeting and uncomfortable and worrying over whatever request he was certainly about to make… all the while being reminded of his utter insignificance in the grand scheme of the archangel’s day. 

 

While he waited, Gabriel looked back at his laptop, opening the tab that showed him the data feed from the demon’s collar. He’d already seen it twice that day. He checked it quite frequently, in fact, just wanted to refresh his memory before meeting with Aziraphale. 

 

He smiled grimly at the screen, simultaneously satisfied and annoyed. 

 

It wasn’t the least bit surprising to him that the collar had been set to level 01 since practically the minute he’d sent Aziraphale and Crowley back to that dusty little bookshop. It also was not surprising that they’d made a trip to the demon’s apartment. Aziraphale was really ridiculously obvious. If he thought he was fooling anyone, well - “anyone” most certainly did not include Gabriel. 

 

It wasn’t solid evidence, of course. All purely circumstantial, incapable of really proving anything. Aziraphale could always argue that he’d lowered the collar’s setting because he wanted to put the demon to work, and therefore didn’t want it too incapacitated. It made sense that he’d want clean clothes for it occasionally, and didn’t want to leave it alone while he went to get them. There were perfectly valid excuses Aziraphale could offer for the information Gabriel had thus far. 

 

Still… Gabriel knew better. 

 

Perhaps he could use this information to trap Aziraphale in a lie. That would certainly be helpful - but still not enough. 

 

He wanted to bust Aziraphale for a lot worse than simply lying to his superiors. 

 

And I will. In time. Just have to be patient. Because the real goal is a lot bigger and more important than one soft, foolish little angel. Gotta keep your eye on the prize…

 

Give Crowley a little while longer. Let him feel safe and comfortable in that stupid little shop. 

 

So much more satisfying that way, when it’s time to go and yank the rug out from under him. 

 

When Aziraphale knocked on the glass door to his office, Gabriel waved him in with a cheery, toothy smile. “Hey, Aziraphale. How’s it going with your new pet… project?” He put just the slightest pause between the two words, barely suppressing a smirk. 

 

Aziraphale was just as fussy and prim as ever, hands folded neatly across his stomach as he replied politely. “It’s going quite well, thank you. He’s given me very little trouble.” 

 

Gabriel allowed himself a smirk, then watched Aziraphale for his reaction as he said in a smug, pointed tone, “You’re welcome.”

 

Aziraphale’s reaction did not disappoint. Gabriel didn’t miss the flare in his eyes, the tightness around his mouth as he barely managed to rein in his anger and hide it behind his polite facade. It was almost as much fun as it had been torturing his pet demon in front of him, watching his frustration and knowing that he was helpless to do anything about it. Gabriel waited for Aziraphale’s response, wondering if he’d actually get a “thank you” out of it. 

 

Wouldn’t that just be delicious...

 

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale replied at last, his tone cool. “He was never that much of a challenge to begin with.” 

 

Gabriel shrugged a little. “Point taken. What can I do for you, Aziraphale?” 

 

“Well, you see, I’ve run into a slight issue,” Aziraphale explained. “And I was hoping you could help.” 

 

Gabriel waited, eyebrows raised expectantly. 

 

“It’s… the demon’s wings,” he continued, his words cautiously measured. “I understand from the manual that the device is currently set so that he can’t control them himself. They’re locked onto the physical plane, and only you have the authority to… unlock them, as it were.” 

 

“That’s correct.” Gabriel watched Aziraphale appraisingly, wondering how far he would dare, just where he was going with this. 

 

“The problem is, well… as you know, I have other work I must attend to besides just looking after the demon,” Aziraphale explained. “I can’t very well leave him unattended for long periods of time. Which is not a problem, he is quite obedient and I have no issue with taking him with me on my various errands. It’s just that, as it stands now, well… that involves at least a minor miracle, every time, so that the humans don’t…”

 

“He’s unattended now, though,” Gabriel pointed out with clear disapproval, suppressing a smile as Aziraphale squirmed a little under his glare. 

 

“Yes, but I did leave the collar set at a higher level than usual in order to ensure he’d be too debilitated to cause any trouble.” 

 

Gabriel glanced at the continuous, up-to-the-minute readings on his laptop - unchanged from minutes earlier - and smiled up at Aziraphale, nodding.

 

“Good thinking.” 

 

Gabriel considered for a moment, schooling his expression into something casually speculative, before suggesting slowly, watching Aziraphale’s face, “We could always… remove the demon’s wings. Then it wouldn’t be a problem.” He paused a moment, his voice deceptively mild, almost bored as he reminded Aziraphale, “It’s just a demon.” 

 

The shock and horror on Aziraphale’s face was absolutely hilarious. His flustered reaction as he tried to come up with a response that would counter Gabriel’s point without showing too much concern for the demon he was supposed to be punishing - the demon he was supposed to hate - well, Gabriel had a very difficult time concealing his amusement. 

 

“Surely that’s not - not necessary, I mean, I can work at the shop more often, I can…” 

 

“I’m kidding, Aziraphale,” Gabriel relented, rolling his eyes and giving the angel a tolerant grin. He held up his hands, a mildly offended expression on his face. “What do you think I am, a monster?”

 

The fact that Aziraphale didn’t actually answer the question, only offered an anxious, forced little laugh, was not lost on Gabriel. But the fact was, Aziraphale’s request actually made sense. And the idea of him taking Crowley out in public just opened up so many new possibilities. Gabriel smiled a little to himself at the thought of the interesting opportunities it might afford him to toy with his little pet a bit more. 

 

“Okay, I’ll change the settings so that he can put his wings away, or take them out. I’ll leave it to you to tell him when to do which,” Gabriel conceded, almost laughing aloud at Aziraphale’s very visible relief. “Give me just a second.” He turned toward his laptop, accessing the collar’s operating system settings, keeping his expression serious and concerned as he continued, “There’s just… one more thing, though. If we’re going to make this change, then I think we also need to take a little bit of extra… precaution.” 

 

********************************************************************************

 

While Aziraphale was off visiting Heaven, Crowley passed the time first looking over the books and notes Aziraphale had been so diligently studying lately; and then when he proved far too anxious and fidgety to sit still for long, he set about cleaning the apartment, trying his best to keep busy and not think about the fact that Aziraphale was alone, in Heaven, with Gabriel, and there wasn’t a blessed thing he could do about it. 

 

Mostly, he was just trying his best to not fucking panic

 

What if it’s some kind of trap? What if he lets something slip by accident that gives Gabriel the proof he wants? What if Gabriel doesn’t let him come back at all? 

 

He cursed his own fears, shutting out the dark thoughts and focusing on the task in front of him - scrubbing down the kitchen counters. The living area was already spotless by this point - the wood polished until it gleamed, the carpets vacuumed, the books and papers stacked as neatly as Crowley could manage without risking mixing up all of Aziraphale’s hard work.

 

Now, Crowley had already finished washing the breakfast dishes and cleaning out the cupboards. The sink was running full blast, filling the basin up with fresh hot water, while he scrubbed furiously at the counters, just trying to work out the manic, frustrated energy he felt at being so helpless to do anything to assist Aziraphale, to protect him. 

 

Please come home, angel, please come home…

 

A firm hand on his shoulder startled Crowley out of his internal mantra, his heart lurching with panic. 

 

They’ve taken him, they’ve taken Aziraphale prisoner and now they’ve come for me…

 

Crowley spun around in a defensive pose, one arm raised to strike - and abruptly the collar fired, sending sparks of agony down his spine throughout his body and driving him to his knees. He gasped for breath, his head swimming, heart pounding as the figure who’d touched him crouched down in front of him, reaching out a cautious hand toward him. 

 

He blinked, his vision slowly clearing and revealing that it was Aziraphale, staring at him with wide, worried eyes and speaking to him, though he couldn’t make out the words through the ringing in his ears. Aziraphale reached out to touch him again, and Crowley flinched away, confused and afraid and feeling utterly, irrationally betrayed. 

 

He hadn’t even done anything.

 

The rules appeared to have abruptly changed. 

 

“... so sorry, my dear, I didn’t expect you to be so startled, and I should have, I really should have, I’m so sorry…” As the blood rush in Crowley’s head faded away, Aziraphale’s words slowly came into focus, and when Aziraphale reached out again, this time to take Crowley’s hands in his, Crowley allowed it. “It was an exchange, you see, and I thought there’d be time to warn you, oh my dear, oh goodness, I’m so sorry…” 

 

Crowley just blinked up at him in confusion - not really catching any of it. 

 

Aziraphale bit his lip, his brow furrowed with anxious concern, before he shook his head with a sigh, giving up and scooting in close to Crowley on the floor. 

 

“Oh, just… come here, my darling, come here…” 

 

Crowley gratefully sank into his arms, holding onto him tight as the remaining tremors in his no longer spasming muscles faded away. 

 

He’d been so afraid he’d lost him.

 

Aziraphale just sat there with Crowley, gently rubbing his back and softly soothing him, until the pain had completely passed and Crowley had gone still in his arms. Finally, he spoke, quiet and careful. 

 

“You should be able to put away your wings, now, dear. Go ahead, try.” 

 

Crowley hesitated, somewhat irrationally afraid of more unexpected, undeserved punishment - but he trusted Aziraphale, and Aziraphale seemed convinced that the purpose of his mission to Heaven had been fulfilled. Cautiously, he tried to put his wings away - and they slid easily, painlessly, back into the spiritual dimension where they usually resided. 

 

“That’s better.” Aziraphale was pleased, relieved. “That break will heal so much faster now. Do they feel better?” 

 

Crowley nodded. They did, already, a little. Still sore, and Crowley could still feel the metal rings wedged into his joints, more strongly now, as they were in a place where they most certainly did not belong.

 

As if he’d read his mind, Aziraphale winced apologetically and informed him. “I asked about the rings, removing them. He said he couldn’t allow it, especially now that your wings are under your own control. He said… I need to have a means of… of restraining them if necessary. I’m sorry, Crowley.” 

 

Crowley just took it in, still a little slow in processing from the haze of pain that had just passed. He was still a little confused, too. 

 

“Why… why did the collar…? I - I didn’t even…” 

 

“It was a trade-off,” Aziraphale explained, apologetic. “We all know that our wings can be weapons, and - Gabriel was quick to point that out. He agreed to change the settings on the collar, to allow you to hide or reveal your wings at will. But, in exchange, he reset the boundaries on the collar to respond to any attempt at violence - not only if said attempt... actually succeeds.” Aziraphale’s tone, his face, were colored with guilt, as he gently stroked the backs of Crowley’s hands. “I didn’t think it’d be a problem, as you’re… never violent at all, not with me. I thought I’d have time to tell you, so you’d have… warning, I… didn’t think I’d walk in to you… trying to take my head off.” 

 

He clearly wasn’t angry. There was a sort of rueful amusement in his words, and a heavy sense of regret. It was quite obvious to Crowley that Aziraphale did not blame him for what had happened. 

 

It was equally obvious to Crowley that he should

 

You tried to hit him. The voice in his head was vicious, accusing. You useless, ungrateful little piece of shit, you tried to hurt Aziraphale, who has done nothing but help you, who just risked his life for you, and he comes back to his home, and you attack him, you worthless, stupid little demon filth, you deserve it, that’s why it went off, because you deserve it...

 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice was achingly concerned, attentive, his hand on Crowley’s face devastatingly gentle. “Are you all right, my love?” 

 

It left him with a cold, scared feeling in the pit of his stomach - this kindness and affection that he did not deserve. What he deserved was to be slapped down like the ungrateful creature he was, to be punished for what he’d done - and it left him feeling confused and off-balance and waiting, just endlessly waiting… because Aziraphale wouldn’t. He knew that much. Not ever, no matter how much his behavior merited it. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, clutching at Aziraphale’s hands, lowering his head. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” 

 

“You didn’t know it was me,” Aziraphale reminded him, warm and reassuring. “Darling, it’s all right…” 

 

It wasn’t all right, he didn’t deserve this kindness and mercy, didn’t deserve even to be here. The rules had all changed, more than once now, and Crowley felt desperately confused. He needed the consequences of his actions, he needed just to know that it was over, that he was forgiven, needed to somehow make it all make sense in his muddled, overwhelmed head. 

 

He needed to make it up to Aziraphale - to earn the forgiveness his angel offered him so easily. 

 

“Crowley, darling,” Aziraphale murmured, kissing the top of his head. “Look at me, love…”

 

Crowley lifted his head, but only high enough to press into Aziraphale’s neck, kissing him, pulling his hands free of Aziraphale’s and sliding them around the angel’s waist, tugging at the hem of his shirt. Aziraphale drew in a sharp, shaky gasp, and swiftly caught Crowley’s wrists, pulling them up a little, pushing him back and trying to make eye contact. 

 

“What are you doing?” he asked softly, studying Crowley’s face with concern. “My dear, is this… really the time…?” 

 

Crowley had never been so grateful for his sunglasses. He looked up, not quite into Aziraphale’s eyes, twisting his hands free, and placing one on Aziraphale’s shoulder and the other back at his waist. 

 

“I just… just thought I’d lost you,” he confessed, his voice thick with emotion as he buried his face in Aziraphale’s neck again, his next words slightly muffled. “Don’t ever want to lose you…” 

 

It was the truth. 

 

Crowley had started the day afraid of losing Aziraphale to Gabriel. Now, he was afraid of something else - afraid that Aziraphale would grow impatient with Crowley’s useless, broken state… afraid that he would grow tired of waiting for Crowley to be ready… afraid that he would become angry with Crowley’s stupid, ungrateful behavior and, rather than lash out and retaliate… he’d simply walk away and not come back. 

 

“I love you, angel,” Crowley whispered, punctuating the word with a slow, open-mouthed kiss against Aziraphale’s throat. “Love you so much…” 

 

Aziraphale’s breath stuttered a little, his hands shifting to pull Crowley closer, rather than to hold him at a distance. Encouraged, Crowley rose up on his knees, straddling Aziraphale’s lap and taking his face in his hands to kiss his mouth. Aziraphale was tentative, uncertain for just a moment before returning the kiss, pushing forward, one hand grasping the back of Crowley’s head and the other cupping his hip. He drew back abruptly. 

 

“Are you sure?” he asked, his breath harsh and gasping, his forehead resting against Crowley’s. “Darling, are you sure?” 

 

Yes,” Crowley hissed, impatient. “Yes, I’m sure… I need you, need you now, angel…” 

 

Aziraphale stared at him for a moment through eyes hazy with desire, before nodding his acceptance. “All right,” he whispered. “All right.” 

 

He still seemed a little uncertain, vaguely suspicious, but Crowley could feel the intensity of the angel’s want, and this - this he could do. Damaged as he was, he was good at this. He could make Aziraphale forget his mistake, could make him feel good, make it worth it for him to deal with Crowley’s brokenness and unworthiness.

 

He could make his angel happy. 

 

“Come on,” he said, low and husky against Aziraphale’s neck, before rising to his feet. He took Aziraphale’s hand and helped him to stand as well, and Aziraphale immediately moved in for another kiss, his arms wrapping Crowley up and pulling him in tight, stealing his breath and making his heart beat faster with both fear and desire. 

 

You can do this, you can do this for him, he deserves it…

 

Breaking the kiss to gasp for breath, Crowley forced his trembling lips into some semblance of an enticing smile, breathing out a whispered invitation. 

 

“Let’s go to bed, angel…”

Chapter Text

Crowley had to hand it to Gabriel - taking his eyes had been a stroke of brutal, sadistic genius. 

 

He wasn’t sure he knew of anyone, even in Hell, who could have come up with something so effective. 

 

It was nearly impossible to pretend that you weren’t afraid, when you couldn’t tell where the next attack was going to come from or what it was going to be - when you didn’t even know if you were alone or not from one moment to the next, or if your tormentor might instantly materialize behind you or beside you, literally out of thin air. 

 

It was impossible to maintain a facade of defiance… impossible to throw witty retorts in the face of your captor, when you couldn’t even see his face, couldn’t see what he was going to throw back in brutal retaliation. 

 

And Gabriel just loved to surprise him. 

 

He’d enter the cell not via the door, but would rather simply appear directly behind Crowley, usually not even making his presence known until touching Crowley - usually someplace he’d left particularly sore and painful during their last session. At first, Crowley would instinctively shove his hands away, quickly attempting to put some distance between them. 

 

He swiftly learned not to do that. 

 

The one time he actually managed to hurt Gabriel, just a little, with an ill-aimed fist to his stomach - it was just as Gabriel had promised. The collar had fired, taking his breath and driving him to his knees. 

 

And then, Gabriel had snapped his wrist, leaving it in agony throughout that day’s session, and throughout the long, painful hours until he returned to the cell again. 

 

Of course, he healed it when he returned. Every time, he’d heal Crowley’s injuries from the previous session, before starting in on him again. 

 

Gabriel liked to start with a clean canvas.

 

The routine was the same every time - a few cherished moments free of pain, every lash, every bruise, every break, healed - and then the questions. Questions Crowley could never, ever answer to Gabriel’s satisfaction. Gabriel’s fury and frustration became increasingly obvious with every fruitless session, and Crowley found himself shaking at the sound of his footsteps, hating himself for the tears, for the pleas, that came more easily all the time. 

 

Slowly, Gabriel was stripping him of his defiance… his pride… his dignity. 

 

Gabriel could have all that. What he couldn’t have, ever, was Aziraphale.

 

The routine was the same, every single time. 

 

Until it wasn’t. 

 

Crowley was drifting in and out of consciousness on his feet, leaning against the wall of his cell. Gabriel hadn’t set the collar higher than 02 in a while; the injuries he inflicted were far worse than its punishment. Real sleep was impossible when Crowley’s whole body felt as if it were burning, but the exhaustion of blood loss and constant pain drove his eyes to close, his body to relax.

 

He didn’t hear Gabriel come in. 

 

All at once, firm hands touched his hips - intimate, invasive. Crowley’s heart lurched and he instinctively tried to push the hands away. Gabriel grabbed his arms and pinned them roughly over his head against the wall, one strong hand grasping his wrist and twisting until Crowley let out a hoarse, pleading whimper. 

 

Gabriel’s breath was hot and harsh against his ear as he snarled, “I wouldn’t suggest trying that again.” 

 

Crowley shook his head to indicate that he wouldn’t, letting out a stuttering breath as Gabriel abruptly released his wrists. He stayed still as he felt the heat of Gabriel’s healing hand passing over him, erasing the previous day’s damage and leaving his body, for the moment, whole. 

 

And then, Gabriel was touching him again. His large, warm hands traced the base of Crowley’s ribs, sliding down to his hips. Crowley’s heart raced, and he fought the impulse to pull away, to push Gabriel away. 

 

“I wonder what he sees in you,” Gabriel mused, his voice low and thoughtful, and Crowley felt sick when he realized what Gabriel meant. “What could possibly be worth… lowering himself to your level? I mean, not that his level’s ever been all that impressive to begin with,” Gabriel scoffed. “But… even with those… disgusting demonic monstrosities burned out of your head…” One hand brushed against the side of Crowley’s face, and he flinched away, his heart leaping up into his throat. “... you’re still nothing special,” Gabriel concluded, for the moment choosing to ignore Crowley’s instinctive resistance. “Not even close to worth it. Why would he do it?” 

 

“He didn’t,” Crowley insisted, his voice coming out choked and desperate. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m telling you that never happened …” 

 

The fierce backhand blow came out of nowhere - as all the blows did, anymore - knocking Crowley to the floor. Before he could even crawl back onto his knees, Gabriel’s hand was at his throat, dragging him up and slamming him back into the wall with breathtaking force. Immediately he was in Crowley’s face, biting out a low, menacing threat. 

 

“Do I need to gag you again?”

 

No, please no, don’t do that...

 

Crowley shook his head, biting his lip, fighting back the panicked impulse to plead, certain that in this case, more words would only make matters worse. Gabriel wanted his silence. At least that was one point on which Crowley could comply. But Gabriel was hardly satisfied with Crowley’s silence alone. He kept one hand on Crowley’s throat, pinning him against the wall, while his other hand explored the expanse of Crowley’s skin. One flat palm lay against Crowley’s heaving stomach, then slid its way slowly downward. 

 

Crowley reacted in instinctive alarm, reaching out one hand to rest on Gabriel’s arm - not really trying to stop him, no, he knew better than that by now. It was simply instinct to attempt to protect himself from this unfamiliar intrusion. Gabriel’s hand stilled low on his abdomen, his other hand squeezing tighter around Crowley’s throat, and Crowley struggled desperately to breathe - forgetting that he didn’t have to. 

 

“Take that filthy hand off me, demon,” Gabriel commanded, quiet and cold. “Before I take it off you .” 

 

Crowley obeyed, holding it up between them, defensive and pleading at once. He knew he couldn’t resist, but he couldn’t simply do nothing , either. Confused, scared, unable to gauge Gabriel’s intentions by anything other than his touch, he swallowed hard to make his dry mouth form words. 

 

“Wh-what… what are you doing?” he whispered desperately. 

 

Gabriel didn’t punish him for the question. He just answered, callus and cruel, sliding a hand down to trace the line of Crowley’s bare hip. 

 

“Whatever I want.” 

 

“Don’t,” Crowley tried again, hating the way his voice shook. “No, don’t…” 

 

Gabriel’s thumb pressed into the hollow of Crowley’s throat, choking him, silencing him, and Gabriel leaned in close, his breath hot against Crowley’s ear. “You don’t get to say no, demon.” 

 

Gabriel’s strong hand at his throat slid around to the back of his neck, dragged him away from the wall and forced him to his knees in the middle of the floor. When his heavy hand on Crowley’s neck shoved his face forward against the rough stone, his much larger body covering Crowley’s from behind, there was no more mistaking his intentions - no matter how desperately Crowley wanted to be wrong. 

 

“No,” he pleaded, trying to rise back up onto his knees, trying to pull away. “Please, don’t… no, don’t do this…” 

 

Gabriel responded to his weak struggle and desperate words with a vicious punch to the side of Crowley’s ribs, followed by another in swift succession. As Crowley fought for breath, Gabriel yanked him up against his body, long enough to growl in his ear, “Keep fighting me, Crowley. See what happens.” 

 

When he shoved him down again, deliberately slamming his head into the floor, Crowley stayed there, shaking violently, tears of fear and pain and humiliation streaking his face. 

 

“Please,” he repeated, desperate, but with fading hope of mercy. “Please, don’t…” 

 

“Come on, what’s the big deal?” Gabriel laughed, and Crowley shuddered at the sound of his zipper going down. “You must have done this hundreds of times. Everyone knows all demons are whores.” 

 

Whatever could be said of other demons, or vile rapist angels, for that matter - Crowley wasn’t. 

 

He’d loved Aziraphale for 6000 years. And although only for the past fourteen of those years had he dared to believe Aziraphale would ever love him back - he’d never wanted anyone else, never been with anyone else.

 

He’d only ever “done this” with Aziraphale. 

 

Though, in actuality - not this. Not even close to this.

 

Aziraphale, with his gentle hands and searching eyes… Aziraphale, who was careful and attentive and asked him, “Is this all right, dear?” and “Are you comfortable?” and “Do you like this?” Aziraphale was always so focused on Crowley, and what he needed and wanted and how it felt for him. With Aziraphale, “this” was intimate and beautiful, and made Crowley feel cherished and loved.

 

Now, all Crowley felt was broken

 

Gabriel was violent and selfish, pinning Crowley’s arms behind his back and slamming his face into the floor, agonizing his cracked ribs, with every thrust as he forced his way in, brutalizing Crowley and violating him in a way that even Hell had never done. Through the haze of his pain and humiliation, Crowley could hear someone sobbing, pleading… and only realized as Gabriel finally, finally pulled out and stopped touching him, that it was him

 

Crowley lay there for a few moments, trying to catch his breath, before weakly managing to climb up onto his knees. His own blood and Gabriel’s come slid down his thighs, and he felt like he was going to be sick. Gabriel’s hand touched his head, fingers sliding through his hair, and Crowley jerked away, instinctively. 

 

Abruptly Gabriel grabbed a handful of his hair, yanking him closer to him. Breathless, terrified, Crowley went still and pliant as Gabriel leaned into his face, his voice hard and merciless. 

 

“Eventually, you’re going to learn to stop fighting me .” 

 

“S-sorry, sorry,” Crowley hissed out, his hands up, pleading. 

 

Gabriel laughed softly, cruelly amused. “You really are a little serpent, aren’t you?” he teased. “Just when you get… s-s-scared?” He paused. “Or when you’re spitting venom in my face.” Icy terror trickled down Crowley’s spine as Gabriel’s thumb traced slowly across his trembling lips, his voice deadly, deceptively soft. “You feel like trying that trick again, little serpent?”

 

“N-no,” Crowley whispered, shaking his head, hot tears searing the burned remnants of his ruined eyes. His heart raced with panic. “No, please, I’m s-sorry…” 

 

There was a tense, silent moment while Crowley waited for further punishment… before Gabriel finally let go of him with a rough shove, allowing him to collapse back down onto his knees. The vindictive satisfaction, the quiet disgust in his voice made Crowley flinch. 

 

“Yeah. I didn’t think so.” 

 

A deep, aching sob rose in Crowley’s throat, choking him, and he gasped for breath as he fought to suppress it. He shivered as Gabriel’s hand ran idly, possessively through his hair, but he managed to resist his instinct to pull away… stayed still and submissive to the contact, though the archangel’s touch made his skin crawl. He was at risk of being sick at any moment, and terrified to think of what Gabriel would do if Crowley vomited on him. He tried to take deep breaths, tried his best to keep still. 

 

“That’s better… much better,” Gabriel said quietly after a few moments. “You know, I do get it now. Your… appeal. Shame on Aziraphale for keeping you all to himself all this time.” Crowley tensed as he felt Gabriel lean in close, but dared not try to move away. “Doesn’t matter,” Gabriel whispered. "You’re mine now .” 

 

Crowley shuddered at the dark promise of those words, and stayed where he was as Gabriel rose to his feet, his footsteps walking slowly away, the door of the cell closing behind him. He raised his head, but stayed where he was still, on his knees, his arms wrapped around his shivering, shocked body as he struggled to catch his breath. 

 

Abruptly - magically - Gabriel was back, his hand at Crowley’s throat pulling him back against the silken fabric of his suit, which Crowley thought absently must certainly be soiled beyond repair at this point. 

 

“One more little thing, I almost forgot,” Gabriel said softly, almost casually. “If you breathe a word of this… to anyone… ever…” He ran one hand across Crowley’s bruised stomach, his other hand tilting Crowley’s head to the side and exposing his throat as he leaned in, so close that his lips brushed Crowley’s ear as he whispered a cruel promise. “I’ll give you your eyes back. Just long enough for you to watch . While I burn Aziraphale alive .”

 

The horrifying threat broke what was left of Crowley’s desperate attempt to hold himself together. He forgot that Gabriel couldn’t do that , not as long as he kept his silence; he forgot that he was supposed to be pretending not to care what happened to Aziraphale. Crowley knew what it was to burn, and all he could imagine was his angel, suffering and burning and dying because of him .

 

“Please don’t,” he sobbed. “Don’t, don’t hurt him… I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything you want, please …”

 

Gabriel laughed against his neck, low and dark. “Yes, you will, sweetheart,” he whispered. “Yes, you will.” 

 

**********************************************************************************

 

As it so often seemed to be… everything was moving just a little too fast for Aziraphale.

 

He stumbled backward as Crowley eagerly pushed him into the bedroom, his mouth on Aziraphale’s mouth, his hands… well, everywhere . And it wasn’t as if it was the first time, just the first time in forever , and Aziraphale could feel the fever of his own desire building up inside of him. He’d wanted this for so long, desperately yearned for it since Crowley had disappeared. In a way, it felt right and perfect and too damn long coming. 

 

And in another way… it felt terribly wrong. 

 

Just minutes earlier, Crowley had been having an utter meltdown on Aziraphale’s kitchen floor. 

 

Breathless, Aziraphale managed to pull away from Crowley’s kiss long enough to offer a weak protest. “This is… rather sudden, love, are you sure …?” 

 

His words broke off in a little hiccup as Crowley pushed him onto the bed, and he sat down hard. Crowley stood in front of him for a moment, before slowly, deliberately removing his glasses and setting them aside on the nightstand, looking into Aziraphale’s eyes, his own wide and pleading. 

 

“Don’t you want me?” 

 

And well, that was just cheating , wasn’t it? 

 

Aziraphale swallowed hard, his heart racing, his internal protests dying a swift death. 

 

“Of course I do,” Aziraphale couldn’t help but reply. “You know I do.” 

 

Crowley needed no further encouragement. He made quick work of Aziraphale’s jacket, waistcoat, and shirt, then pushed him down onto his back on the bed, straddling his hips before leaning down to kiss him again. It was exhilarating, enticing, how surprisingly aggressive Crowley was being. And it had to be a good thing, right? That his timid, traumatized demon was feeling safe enough and strong enough to do this? 

 

Except… he wasn’t, was he? 

 

Aziraphale’s worries stirred to life again, because Crowley had been trembling and crying, near panic, in the kitchen just minutes earlier. Pleading and apologizing for nothing more than raising his hand to defend himself. 

 

And he had yet to make any effort to remove his own clothing. 

 

Tentative, more testing than anything, Aziraphale lifted a single hand to run down the length of Crowley’s sleeve, his fingers toying with the button. Immediately Crowley caught his wrist, pinning it to the bed and whispering, “Not yet, not yet…” before leaning down to kiss Aziraphale again. 

 

Aziraphale’s concerns were stronger than ever now. 

 

“Slow down, love,” he urged Crowley, reaching up to touch his face and gently push him back a little, breaking the kiss. 

 

“I don’t need to, I’m fine,” Crowley insisted, breathless. “It’s fine, I’m fine…” 

 

Aziraphale didn’t want Crowley to be “fine”. He wanted Crowley to want this - enthusiastically and eagerly, and with the ability to go slowly and enjoy it with Aziraphale. And that was not what he was feeling from Crowley right now, not this - panicked, manic desperation. 

 

“Crowley… Crowley, darling…” Aziraphale gently protested. 

 

“I can do this,” Crowley muttered - and that had to be the single most disturbing thing he could possibly have said. Aziraphale’s heart sank. “It’s all right, it’s fine…” 

 

He let go of Aziraphale’s wrist as he slid down the bed, one hand on Aziraphale’s hip, the other reaching for his zipper. And now every instinct Aziraphale possessed was screaming at him that this was wrong , this was not a thing that needed to happen, not now. Aziraphale didn’t want what Crowley was offering, not like this. He wanted to hold him, to take his time making love to him, reminding him what it felt like to be held and loved and cherished. 

 

He did not want Crowley pushing himself to do something he wasn’t ready for, out of some twisted sense of… of duty , or obligation. 

 

“Crowley… wait, love, no…”

 

Just as Crowley’s hand slipped into the front of Aziraphale’s trousers, Aziraphale caught his wrist and pulled him back up close to him. Crowley came willingly, his gaze wide open and searching Aziraphale’s face for a sign of what he wanted. When Aziraphale swiftly reversed their positions, firmly but gently pinning Crowley down to the bed, Crowley let out a startled little laugh. He grinned up at Aziraphale, playfully twisting his wrists in the angel’s grasp without really trying to pull away. 

 

“So that’s how you want it, is it?” he teased, but his words were too fast, desperate, and his eyes were lit with panic and pain. “Yeah, that’s fine, that’s it, angel, do it, take me …” 

 

Enough , Crowley!” Aziraphale snapped, horrified, appalled, tightening his grip on Crowley’s wrists just a little and shaking him once, just enough to stop him. 

 

Crowley flinched, going very still and closing his eyes for a moment before glancing back up at Aziraphale fearfully - and Aziraphale had never felt so low and guilty and ashamed in his entire existence. He immediately eased his grip, rising up a little so that he could really look at Crowley - who, now, despite his tempting little trick with his sunglasses, refused to make eye contact at all. 

 

“Y-you can,” he insisted, a breathless whisper, though a little calmer now - and that actually only made it all the more upsetting. “You can do whatever you like, angel, I can do anything you want…” 

 

“What I want is for you to stop this and talk to me,” Aziraphale said softly. “Crowley, my dear… where is this coming from, why now ? What are you hoping to accomplish?” Crowley was silent, and Aziraphale pressed, gentle but stern, “Look at me.” 

 

Crowley immediately obeyed, and his eyes were brimming with tears, desperation in his naked, honest words. 

 

“I just want to make you happy . ” 

 

And in that moment, Aziraphale loved him so dearly that it hurt , and he ached for the hurt that Crowley was feeling, wishing desperately that he could make Crowley understand. 

 

“You do,” he assured him, fiercely intent. “My darling, you do !”

 

Crowley’s expression was anguished, uncertain. When he tried to pull one wrist free, Aziraphale let him, and he reached up a trembling hand to touch Aziraphale’s face. 

 

“I tried to hurt you,” he said. “I almost hit you. And… I’ve denied you…” Abruptly he looked down at his own shirt, his free hand reaching down and fumbling with the buttons. “Here, I’ll take it off if you like, I’ll let you…” 

 

No .” Aziraphale caught his trembling hand, pulling it between them and holding it, and wrapped his other arm around Crowley, holding him close, too close for him to move or try anything else. “That’s not what I want, not if you don’t want to, and I know you don’t want to !” Aziraphale’s voice shook as his frustration and confusion poured out of him. “I just want you to talk to me, Crowley, because there’s so much I don’t know. I know they’ve hurt you and scared you and I know you can’t see in the dark anymore and I know you’re hiding so much from me, and it’s all right for you to hide if you need to, I just wish I knew how to help you... I just wish I knew why...

 

He took my eyes .” 

 

Aziraphale’s eruption of frustrated emotion broke off abruptly at the sound of Crowley’s hoarse, desperate whisper. His head was bowed, eyes down between them, haunted and focused on distant memory. His body trembled in Aziraphale’s arms, still and unresistant to their gentle restraint. 

 

“What?” Aziraphale shook his head slowly in horrified denial. “No, your eyes are fine, you…”

 

“Burned them out with holy water...” Crowley continued, quiet and carefully calm. “He… he healed them after, but… I reckon only my human eyesight ever came back. Like… the holy water scarred my… my demonic self, but not…” He shook his head, blinking away tears. 

 

“But… they still look …”

 

Crowley flinched, closing his eyes, and Aziraphale felt the hot rush of Crowley’s utter shame washing over him. He desperately regretted his unfinished statement, parted his lips to swiftly finish it before Crowley could supply his own ending for it. 

 

Breathtaking, stunning, they’re beautiful , you’re beautiful, my love...

 

But Crowley was already speaking again, his words shaky and tumbling over each other in a steadily rising rush. “He made sure they… s-stayed the same… s-so I wouldn’t ever forget… what I am. Wouldn’t ever forget, and… and look him in the eye, again, not supposed to, d-don’t have the right...”

 

Aziraphale felt the increasingly familiar hot tremor in the pit of his stomach, protective fury rising up within him at the realization of what Gabriel had done. Crowley shivered, huddling in on himself a little, and Aziraphale closed his eyes for a moment, forced it back with an effort, softening his grip on his demon and stroking a hand gently up and down his arm.

 

“Crowley, that’s not true, you have every right, you shouldn’t be ashamed of your eyes, my darling, they’re…”

 

“I can’t see in the dark anymore,” Crowley continued, deliberately raising his voice to stop Aziraphale’s unwelcome words of reassurance, as his own came out in an increasingly anxious, desperate rush. “And… in the dark, all I can see is… is what he did, just like he was… d-doing it all over again, and… and I’m weak and useless and sh-shouldn’t be s-so s-scared, but I can’t help it, and I’m covered with scars, angel, all over, they’re hideous, I d-don’t want you to… didn’t want to sh-show you, but…” His hand tugged against Aziraphale’s a little, his eyes darting down toward his shirt buttons again. 

 

No .” 

 

Aziraphale firmly held his hand, using his free hand to carefully tilt Crowley’s face up toward him. Crowley’s gaze faltered a couple of times before he managed to meet Aziraphale’s eyes, and Aziraphale had the sinking realization that it was only because he knew that was what Aziraphale expected, what he wanted

 

How many times have I pushed him… no, forced him to look at me, to reveal his eyes? Forced him, because he doesn’t understand that he can say no? He wasn’t allowed to make eye contact, was punished for it, was blinded for it… and I demand it of him at every turn. 

 

God, no wonder he’s bloody terrified.

 

He felt sick with horrified understanding that he’d asked for, hadn’t he? But now it hurt so much he wasn’t sure he wanted it after all.

 

Aziraphale shook his head a little at his own unintentionally cruel mistake, removing his hand from Crowley’s face and instead placing it at the back of his head, gently encouraging him to rest his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder, to hide his eyes if he wanted to - and he knew he’d made the right choice when Crowley gratefully complied, putting his free arm around Aziraphale and nestling in closer to him. 

 

“Crowley... this is all I want, just you and me together. That’s all,” Aziraphale assured him, soft and certain. “There doesn’t have to be anything else. I only want you to do what you want to do.” Crowley was silent, but Aziraphale could feel him listening, so he continued, “I have always found your eyes… simply stunning, my darling. And I always will. And your scars cannot change how beautiful I find you. The only one who should bear shame for those scars is the one who inflicted them.” 

 

Crowley shivered a little, and Aziraphale took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment and with an effort steadying his focus on his fragile demon in his arms, and not the dark, vengeful thoughts pressing in around the edges of his consciousness. 

 

“If you want to show me… I want to see,” Aziraphale continued. Crowley tensed a little, so he quickly went on, quietly emphatic, “And if you need to hide them … I want you to have what you need . I do not want you to do anything that you’re not comfortable with, darling. I do not want you to show me until… until you want to show me.”

 

They were so close, so still, that Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s heart racing, thudding against his own bare chest, could feel the heat of each shaky, panicked breath… could feel when those breaths began to slow, when Crowley gradually began to relax against him. When he tried again to free his hand, Aziraphale tensed - but all Crowley did was to wrap his arm around Aziraphale’s neck, desperately pulling him closer.

 

“That’s it, love,” Aziraphale breathed out, relieved. “You’re all right… you don’t have to do anything. I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here, and you don’t have to do anything at all but just be here with me…” 

 

Crowley just held on, fiercely, desperately tight. Finally, he lifted his face just enough to speak, without raising his head, his words hoarse and broken. 

 

“I didn’t want to lose you.” 

 

“You won’t,” Aziraphale promised. 

 

Crowley hesitated, his words hushed and uncertain. “You… sh-shouldn’t have to wait…”

 

Aziraphale’s heart ached for him. “I’d wait forever for you, Crowley.” He smiled sadly, kissing the top of the demon’s head and reminding him softly, “You waited for me.” 

 

“I don’t want to wait forever, either,” Crowley admitted, sniffling. “And you shouldn’t have to, but if I can’t even take my bloody clothes off…”

 

“You don’t necessarily have to,” Aziraphale pointed out, his tone lightly thoughtful. “Or you could, and I could, oh, I don’t know… make love to you blindfolded,” he suggested, cautiously teasing.

 

He was rewarded with a soft puff of breath, Crowley’s near-silent laughter against his skin. And then, the laugh faded into a heart-rending, equally quiet sob. Aziraphale’s smile faded, his own eyes burning with tears as he just held Crowley close, allowing him to feel what he felt and for once not trying to fix it. And at last he was rewarded as Crowley willingly raised his head, meeting Aziraphale’s gaze with tearful golden eyes. 

 

“I’d do anything you ask of me, angel,” he whispered, fierce and desperate, a promise filled with so much trust it took Aziraphale’s breath. “ Anything .” 

 

Aziraphale brushed his hair back from his face, kissed him softly on the cheek, kissing away his tears, and internally promising never to violate that promise, never to abuse that trust. He’d take whatever Crowley wanted to give him, and not ask for anything more. And if Crowley needed to hide… then he could hide himself in Aziraphale. 

 

“I know you would, darling,” he murmured, settling in and holding his demon close as Crowley tucked his head down against his shoulder with a shuddering sigh of relief. “I know.” 

Chapter Text

After that first time, Gabriel didn’t force himself on Crowley every time he returned to the cell. 

 

At least half the time, he brought out the blade, or the whip, and asked his same, repetitive questions. But he did it in a tone that suggested he was only going through the motions at this point, and just supremely bored by the whole thing. 

 

When he’d had a little while to regain his composure, after that first time - Crowley had utterly lost that composure again, panicked once he realized how much he’d given away. In his desperate pleading for Aziraphale’s life, Crowley had accidentally confirmed to Gabriel that there was a relationship between them, that they were far more than adversaries. 

 

Crowley felt a ridiculous amount of relief the next time Gabriel came into the cell… pulling out the blessed whip and demanding once again that he confess. 

 

Apparently, Crowley’s tears and pleas on the angel’s behalf were still not quite enough evidence to convict him. Perhaps Gabriel needed more than just proof that Crowley cared about Aziraphale. Perhaps he also needed confirmation that Aziraphale cared about Crowley

 

Perhaps Crowley’s broken, desperate words were simply useless to the archangel - inadmissible, somehow - given the circumstances under which he’d heard them. He didn’t seem to want anyone to know what he’d done, so perhaps he couldn’t risk reporting Crowley’s desperate half-confession, without also having to explain the circumstances under which he’d obtained it. 

 

Crowley didn’t know. 

 

But he knew that Gabriel knew now. 

 

Beyond all doubt. 

 

And they both already knew how it was going to end, every time - with Gabriel leaving, unsatisfied, and Crowley lying broken and bleeding on the floor.

 

It was when Gabriel didn’t ask his questions… didn’t even mention Aziraphale’s name… that Crowley knew what was coming. 

 

These visits… Gabriel had no intention of leaving unsatisfied. 

 

Gabriel’s strong hands slid over Crowley’s bare skin, exploring his body with a leisured, unhurried touch, manipulating him into whatever position Gabriel wanted him. Gabriel took his time. Crowley was utterly at his mercy - and the archangel was merciless. It didn’t matter if he fought, or cried, or pleaded. His tears, his pleas only seemed to fuel Gabriel’s pleasure - except for when they pissed him off, and earned the demon a sharp slap, or worse. His blind, weak attempts to defend himself were useless, and only resulted in Gabriel becoming angry and vindictively violent, making Crowley pay for every desperate, instinctive effort.

 

So bit by bit, disheartened and defeated, Crowley stopped fighting. Nothing about this was easy , but it was easier to do as Gabriel said, give him what he wanted so he’d finish sooner and be gone… until the next time. He couldn’t stop his tears, couldn’t always hold back the pleading words that rose to his trembling lips - but Crowley tried to follow Gabriel’s commands. 

 

“Turn around.”  

 

“On your knees.” 

 

“Face to the floor, you worthless demon slut.” 

 

And then, one time - soft, almost gentle. “Show me your wings, sweetheart…” 

 

Crowley was on his knees, shivering, waiting, as Gabriel circled him, predatory, taking his time deciding what to do with him this time. His choice made Crowley’s stomach clench, a cold knot of dread coiling in his chest. The entire time he’d been here, his wings had remained hidden. He’d assumed that was a line that even Gabriel was unwilling to cross - but it was becoming increasingly clear. 

 

Such a line did not exist.

 

“What?” He shook his head in horrified indignation. “No!” 

 

The back of Gabriel’s hand across his face stole Crowley’s breath, and was followed by searing pain in his scalp as Gabriel grabbed his hair and wrenched his head back, snarling into his ear, low and dangerous. “What did you just say to me?” 

 

“I’m s-sorry,” Crowley gasped out, his heart racing. “Please, just… please don’t…”

 

“I can make you.” Gabriel’s voice was cold, unyielding. “And if I have to make you, Crowley, you know it’s gonna be so much worse .” 

 

Crowley knew that it was the truth. In this room, Crowley was powerless. Gabriel could do just about anything he wanted to do to him. He could have him bound in painful, humiliating positions with a simple snap of his fingers. He’d had no trouble forcing him to keep his eyes open, or forcing him not to move. Crowley had little doubt that the archangel could force his wings to manifest, drag them out of the spiritual realm and into their physical form.

 

Gabriel was going to get his hands on Crowley’s wings, one way or another. 

 

Crowley would rather Gabriel not be supremely pissed off with him when he did. 

 

Choked with panic already, Crowley obeyed and manifested his wings. 

 

“Please,” he whispered immediately, cold dread settling in his chest. “Please, d-don’t…” 

 

His words broke off abruptly in a startled yelp as Gabriel grabbed the back of his neck hard, holding him still while he pressed a series of buttons on the collar. Alarmed, Crowley braced himself for pain, feeling a sense of betrayal. 

 

But I did what you said, I did it! 

 

No pain came. 

 

At least - not from the collar. 

 

Gabriel’s hands were cruel and greedy and grasping, yanking at Crowley’s wings while he violated him, twisting viciously, handfuls of feathers ripping loose between his fingers as Gabriel pounded into Crowley’s weary, bruised body. 

 

“Please,” Crowley cried out in anguish. “Please…” 

 

“Shut up.” 

 

Gabriel punctuated the breathless, muttered command with a hard blow from his fist at the base of Crowley’s left wing, hard enough to drive the breath from his lungs and send electric streaks of agony all down the length of the abused limb. Moments before he reached his completion, Gabriel pulled out of Crowley, stood up - and released it across Crowley’s wings instead. Humiliated, Crowley lowered his face into his hands, struggling to stifle the sobs that rose up in his throat. Gabriel moved around to crouch in front of him, slapping Crowley’s hands away from his face and grabbing his jaw, forcing his head back up. 

 

“Now you look like exactly what you are,” he informed Crowley softly, reaching a hand over the demon’s shoulder to run gently down the upper edge of his wing, and Crowley shivered, resisting the urge to pull away. “A disgusting, filthy little demon whore.” His grip tightened around the ridge of bone that ran down the length of Crowley’s wing, and he pulled Crowley closer to him, leaning in to speak quietly next to his ear. “But you’re my little demon whore, Crowley. Your wings stay out. Until I put them away again. Because I fucking own you. And I decide what happens to you. Right?” 

 

Crowley’s heart sank. Despite the agony and shame of the assault, he hadn’t dared attempt to hide his wings - but now he understood what Gabriel had done to the collar. He knew that if he tried to hide them, now, he would find it impossible. 

 

“Answer me.” 

 

Gabriel’s voice was warning, impatient, and Crowley’s mind raced to remember the question. At last he nodded, tears spilling from his eyes, tears of shame and defeat. “Right,” he whispered, the word muffled by Gabriel’s painful grip on his jaw. 

 

Gabriel released him roughly and stalked out of the cell without another word, leaving Crowley surrounded by Gabriel’s scent, the stain soaking into his aching wings. 

 

The next time Gabriel entered the cell - he used the door. Crowley heard it close behind him, and his heart stuttered in his chest, a cold, sick sensation of fear settling over him. 

 

Gabriel stayed near the door. “Come here,” he commanded.  

 

Crowley struggled to his feet, wincing with the pain of his ravaged and torn body and wings. He hesitated, unsure of Gabriel’s intentions. 

 

“I said come here.” Gabriel’s voice was quiet and cold. “You don’t want me to say it again.” 

 

Crowley closed most of the distance between them swiftly, and flinched but managed to not resist when Gabriel grabbed his arm and jerked him the rest of the way. Gabriel said nothing, but after a moment he let go of him, and Crowley stood there trembling, braced for whatever awful thing was in store for him next. He tensed when he felt Gabriel’s hand come near his face, almost but not quite touching - and then, felt the healing warmth of his grace as it passed from the archangel into Crowley’s body, his wings, his eyes….

 

His eyes

 

Crowley’s breath caught in his throat as his vision returned all at once - bright and intense and momentarily overwhelming. He blinked as his newly formed eyes adjusted, and he steadied himself, his vision coming into focus on Gabriel. For a long moment Crowley stared up at the archangel in bewildered disbelief, searching his face for some explanation. 

 

Gabriel glared at him, his mouth tight with angry disapproval - and all at once Crowley remembered why his sight had been taken from him in the first place. 

 

He instantly lowered his gaze, taking a hasty step backward - but Gabriel moved with him, caught his arm and jerked him forward, roughly halting his retreat. He laughed softly, his free hand running through Crowley’s hair before gripping it tight, holding him immobile in his grasp. 

 

“You actually think you can get away , sweetheart?” 

 

“No,” Crowley whispered, closing his eyes, shaking his head as best he could. “No, I kn-know I can’t…”

 

“Good.” Gabriel’s tone was patronizingly patient. “Now, remind me, Crowley… why was it that I took your eyes in the first place?” 

 

“I’m s-sorry,” Crowley whispered, the words broken and quaking, panic stealing his breath, his eyes tightly shut. “I didn’t mean to, it was an accident, please …” 

 

The last word broke off sharply as Gabriel abruptly turned and shoved Crowley back against the wall beside the door. His wings crushed against the cold stone, Gabriel’s body close in front of him, Crowley felt suffocated. He kept his eyes closed the entire time. If he didn’t open his eyes, he couldn’t risk further pissing off the archangel by accidentally making eye contact again.

 

Gabriel apparently had other ideas. 

 

“Open your eyes,” he demanded. 

 

Keeping his gaze desperately downcast, Crowley forced himself to obey - and his heart clenched painfully in his chest when he saw the tip of Gabriel’s blessed blade, an inch from his eye. He choked back a whimper at the hot sting of it as it brushed his cheek, bit down on his lip to stifle the pleas that rose in his throat. 

 

“I’ve only just given you your eyes back , Crowley,” Gabriel pointed out, soft and mocking. “Am I gonna have to take them again already? I don’t need holy water to take them.” 

 

“No,” Crowley whispered. A tear slid slowly down his face, stopping when it hit the blade. “No, please… I didn’t mean to…” 

 

“You’ve had them back for five seconds, and you’re already breaking the rules.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley sobbed. “I’m sorry…”

 

“Speaking without permission. Trying to get away from me. Looking me in the eye, like you’re my fucking equal…” Gabriel spat out his accusations, the blade tighter against Crowley’s burning skin. “What do you think I ought to do about that?” 

 

Before Crowley could answer, he abruptly removed the blade, taking a step back as he released Crowley’s arm, and the demon stumbled a little, gasping, bracing himself with his hands flat against the wall behind him. 

 

Soft, leading, Gabriel amended his words. “What do you think you ought to do?” 

 

Crowley instantly dropped to his knees on the cold stone. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, over and over, shaking, desperate. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” 

 

Gabriel crouched down facing him, at his level, and Crowley kept his eyes carefully focused on his perfect leather shoes. “I’ve just given you a gift, Crowley,” he reminded him. “You want to keep it?” 

 

Crowley nodded frantically. “Y-yes, yes, please…” 

 

“Then what do you say?” 

 

It took Crowley a moment, but then he caught on. “Th-thank you?” he whispered, then again with more certainty. “Thank you. For… for letting me see again. For my eyes.” 

 

Gabriel just watched him for a long moment, and Crowley’s heart raced with panic. Surely he hadn’t already fucked up so badly that he was going to lose his vision again after just getting it back. 

 

Stupid, worthless little slut, it’s all your fault, can’t do anything right…

 

And then, Gabriel carefully put away the blade, regarding Crowley in silence for a moment before reaching out with a gentle hand to cup his cheek. Crowley kept still, unresisting, as Gabriel’s thumb traced across his face, wiping the tears from beneath his perfectly restored, golden eyes. 

 

“See, that’s so much better, sweetheart,” he said, approving, almost warm. “Now you’re starting to learn. And I don’t have to hurt you.” Crowley nearly collapsed with relief as Gabriel stood, remaining there a moment over him, stroking his hair like one might pet an obedient dog. “We’re going to get along so much better now... aren’t we?” 

 

*****************************************************************************************

 

Crowley wasn’t sure it was a good idea to begin with. 

 

“I’m supposed to be your prisoner,” he reminded Aziraphale as he sat on the edge of the bed, watching the angel get dressed in his favorite dinner jacket. “You’re not even supposed to like me. We can’t be seen going out on dates !” 

 

“It’s not a date,” Aziraphale insisted, slightly flustered. “At least, not from their perspective. It’s - a meal. Of the sort that I often enjoy completely on my own,” he pointed out, turning away from the mirror and closing the distance between them. “You just… happen to be coming along with me for this one. I can’t very well leave you unattended at home while I go, can I? If anyone questions it, it’s a perfectly valid explanation.” Aziraphale sat down on the edge of the bed next to Crowley, slipping his arm around his waist and leaning in to kiss him lightly, his eyes twinkling as he confessed in a stage whisper, “But it’s absolutely a date.”

 

His excitement was infectious, and Crowley rolled his eyes with a sigh. “Oh, all right. Fine. Can’t say I’ll mind spending time within four walls that aren’t… these four walls.”

 

“Or getting to drive,” Aziraphale pointed out. 

 

“There’s that,” Crowley agreed with a grudging grin. 

 

This time he wasn’t worn out from too many miracles, and Crowley did enjoy the drive to a quiet, romantically lit little Italian restaurant on the other side of the city. It was a place they had never been before, but Aziraphale had read positive reviews, which turned out to be reasonably accurate. 

 

The food was good, the wine was better, and the romantic setting was far more enticing than Crowley would have ever admitted. His wings were finally safely tucked away… the low lighting meant that no one seemed to notice the collar around his neck… and Aziraphale was positively relishing the first meal he’d had in a couple of weeks that he hadn’t prepared himself.

 

“I’m so glad we did this.” 

 

Aziraphale’s voice was soft, as he reached out across the table with one hand - stopping a few inches short of Crowley’s hand where it rested, but biting his lip and giving Crowley a warm, mischievous smile. Crowley returned it, glancing ruefully down at the space between their fingers. He understood; this date could not appear to be a date, just in case. If he couldn’t exactly reach out across the table and hold his angel’s hand, well… the sparkling promise in Aziraphale’s eyes was enough for the moment.

 

He could wait. 

 

They lingered over the meal for about an hour. Aziraphale was just finishing his entree, and Crowley was halfway through his second glass of wine. He found that his suspicions about his human-ish constitution had been correct, as even on such a small amount, he felt a pleasant thrum of warmth and relaxation. He felt calm and happy, just enjoying a perfect evening out with his angel. 

 

And then, in an instant it all fell to pieces. 

 

“Hey, Aziraphale.”

 

Gabriel appeared directly between them at their table, snapping his fingers and miracling himself up a chair and sitting down. Immediately Crowley’s pleasant little buzz vanished, swallowed up in a cold wash of fear. 

 

“You are a hard angel to track down, you know that?” Gabriel remarked to Aziraphale, casual, more good-natured teasing than genuinely put out. “Stopped by your shop and you weren’t there.” His gaze turned on Crowley, and Crowley’s heart stopped for a moment, his eyes instantly locked onto the small floral arrangement in the middle of the table. Still, he could see the disapproving look Gabriel gave him. “You’re feeding it, now?” 

 

“Well, I do occasionally have to eat,” Aziraphale pointed out, his tone remarkably calm. 

 

“No.” Gabriel gave him a pointed look. “You really don’t.” 

 

“I like to,” Aziraphale amended. “And I can’t exactly leave my charge alone, now, can I? According to human customs, it would be found very odd if I were to purchase a meal for myself, and not one for my… dinner companion; therefore, he eats when I do.” 

 

Gabriel frowned as if the concept was a difficult one, before finally nodding slowly. “I guess that makes sense, in a weird, stupid, human-ish way.” He waved a dismissive hand, rolling his eyes. “You should know, you spend way more time around humans than I ever do, thank God.”

 

The archangel’s presence - just a couple of feet away from Crowley, well within reach - made Crowley feel sick. And when he felt Gabriel’s hand slip under the tablecloth, out of Aziraphale’s eye line, and close firmly around his leg - Crowley deeply regretted the wine and the few bits of food he’d ingested, as they abruptly threatened to make a reappearance. 

 

He kept perfectly still, knew better than to pull away or show any response at all. He was desperately grateful for his sunglasses, because he was sure the overwhelming panic he was feeling had to be spilling over in his eyes. He bit the inside of his lip, fighting back the wave of nausea as Gabriel slowly slid his hand a little higher, his thumb brushing the inside of Crowley’s thigh, while he continued to speak calmly with Aziraphale as if nothing was happening. 

 

“So, still going well? Any problems with the new collar settings?” 

 

“No, none at all,” Aziraphale assured him. “It’s gone quite smoothly.” Aziraphale glanced at Crowley, and Crowley could see the concern in his eyes, behind his cool demeanor for Gabriel’s benefit. He was trying to gauge how Crowley was handling this intrusion, wanted to know if he was all right. 

 

Crowley just stayed quiet and still, praying the conversation would end. 

 

He’d only be all right once Gabriel was gone

 

But then, Gabriel was looking at him again frowning, critical. 

 

“Collar’s set a little low, isn’t it?” 

 

“Not for a public setting,” Aziraphale insisted. “I don’t want the wretched thing racked with pain all through dinner. He’d draw attention. Anyway, he’s behaving himself. He knows if he doesn’t, that could change in an instant, don’t you, Crowley?” He patted the pocket of his jacket meaningfully.

 

“Yes,” Crowley whispered, barely audible, not lifting his gaze.

 

He was fairly certain the remote control for the collar wasn’t anywhere on Aziraphale’s person. 

 

Gabriel’s expression remained skeptical and disapproving as he looked back at Crowley again. Crowley’s heart raced, and he kept his head lowered, eyes down. His entire body felt as if it would vibrate apart with nerves, and his stomach plummeted when Gabriel reached toward his face and removed his glasses, setting them down on the table in front of Aziraphale. 

 

“Aziraphale, you indulge it too much,” he remarked. “There’s no need for these, indoors, at night. It’s not as if the humans can see what it is, anyway, and if it’s ashamed of those creepy demon eyes, well - it should be.” 

 

Crowley kept his gaze focused on the centerpiece, afraid to look up at all. Looking at Gabriel was completely out of the question, for obvious reasons. Looking at Aziraphale was also risky; he wasn’t sure what Gabriel might catch between them, even in a wordless exchange.

 

He wasn’t sure what Aziraphale might see in his eyes. 

 

Aziraphale’s tone was taut, clipped - the way Crowley knew he sounded when he was very angry, but trying hard not to show it. His words were carefully measured when he responded to Gabriel’s criticism. 

 

“Shame of his demonic nature should be encouraged, should it not?” he pointed out. “If he’s ashamed and wants to attempt to appear more human…”

 

“But he’s not human,” Gabriel cut him off, his eyes locked onto Crowley, disgust coloring his words, even as his hand slid up higher between Crowley’s legs. “He should never be allowed to forget… what he is .”

 

Crowley couldn’t bear it. He closed his eyes, fighting back tears. 

 

“Well, I certainly don’t need the constant reminder,” Aziraphale snapped. “Maybe the humans can’t see it, but I can - and I’d rather not. I prefer to keep my appetite for my meal, thank you.” 

 

The words were cruel, but Crowley knew better than to believe them. He knew how Aziraphale really felt about his eyes; couldn’t possibly miss it, as frequently as Aziraphale made considerable effort to catch a glimpse of them. Aziraphale had to say these things, had to try to throw Gabriel off track. He had to say things that would shock him, things he would never think Aziraphale would say to someone he loved. He had to convince the archangel that he didn’t care about Crowley’s comfort or his shame - much less his feelings

 

Crowley understood. 

 

He’d accept all manner of cruel words from Aziraphale, if it just meant that Gabriel would go away

 

“At any rate, he’s my charge. It’s my choice, isn’t it? Leave him be.” 

 

Crowley cringed inwardly, panic edging in, his mouth dry, heart racing. 

 

No, don’t, don’t do that, don’t tell him what to do, don’t give him orders, he doesn’t like that, he’ll be angry…

 

“Fine,” Gabriel sighed. “Have it your way.” He shrugged. 

 

Then he leaned a little closer to Crowley, taking the opportunity to properly grope him under the tablecloth as he studied him for a moment. Crowley bit down on his lower lip, struggling to maintain his composure, forcing his expression to stillness even as Gabriel’s hand squeezed roughly between his legs. Finally, Gabriel removed his hand from Crowley’s lap, picking up the sunglasses as he rose from the table and leaned in a little more than was necessary to place them carefully back on Crowley’s face. 

 

His voice was quiet, private, just outside of Aziraphale’s hearing. 

 

I miss your wings, sweetheart …”

 

That was it. A shudder passed through Crowley; he wasn’t going to be able to keep it together. And then in an instant, Gabriel was gone, chair and all - and Crowley’s composure broke. He let out his breath in a rush, gasping, hiding his face in one hand, choking back a sob. He flinched when Aziraphale reached across the table toward his free hand, but then let him take it. 

 

“What did he say to you?” Aziraphale demanded, all protective fury, glaring at the spot where Gabriel had just been. 

 

Crowley couldn’t speak, only shook his head, struggling just to draw breath. Aziraphale scooted his own chair closer to Crowley’s so that they were side by side, and slid his arm around him. 

 

No ,” Crowley gasped, shaking his head, unable to bring himself to look up at Aziraphale. “Not - not here…” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a moment, and then Crowley heard him speak, though not to him. 

 

“Please cancel our dessert order, my dear, terribly sorry,” he said, his tone tense enough to border on impolite. “Just the check, please.” 

 

They were in the Bentley in minutes, though Crowley didn’t think he could have made it there if not for Aziraphale’s steadying arm around him, supporting him. As soon as the car doors closed behind them, Crowley rested his head on the steering wheel, gasping for breath. He could barely think. All he could hear was the pounding of his own blood in his ears. All he could focus on was the feeling of Gabriel’s hands on him again, freely touching as if he owned him, as if Crowley was a possession that he could play with as he chose.

 

He does. You are. 

 

“Take your time, darling...” Aziraphale’s voice reached him, muffled and distorted as if from underwater, and the angel reached out a tentative hand to rest on Crowley’s thigh.  

 

Crowley’s stomach rebelled, and he barely managed to get the car door open before throwing up into the street. 

 

Aziraphale rubbed his back, making soothing, sympathetic sounds, until Crowley had caught his breath and closed the door again, leaning his head back against the headrest and closing his eyes. 

 

“I’m sorry, angel,” he gasped. “Sorry…”

 

“No, my dear, I’m sorry,” Aziraphale sighed. “It was not my wish to have you cross paths with Gabriel again like this. We should have stayed home.” 

 

“Can’t stay home forever,” Crowley pointed out, despondent. “Can’t hide forever. Can’t hide at all. He said he stopped by the bookshop.” 

 

“What did he say to you, Crowley?” Aziraphale repeated, and Crowley could feel his careful, searching gaze on him. 

 

Crowley just shook his head, looking out the window. “I-I don’t want to... “ 

 

“All right,” Aziraphale conceded easily, reaching out to take Crowley’s shaking hand. “It’s all right, Crowley, he’s gone. You’re safe…” 

 

Crowley choked back a bitter laugh, blinking back tears. 

 

“I’m sorry for those things I said, darling. I hope you know I didn’t mean them at all. I just wanted to hurry him on his way. You know that, right? I don’t ever wish you to hide your eyes - certainly not in shame of their natural quality. They’re beautiful , my love. You’re beautiful.”

 

It actually took Crowley a moment to remember what Aziraphale was talking about. His fake insults for Gabriel’s benefit were the least of Crowley’s concerns. He was far more concerned with the phantom touch of Gabriel’s hand he could still feel between his legs… the memory of cruel hands, pinning him down, tearing at his body… at his wings…

 

He looked down at Aziraphale’s hand, still resting innocently on his thigh. He swallowed back a fresh wave of nausea. He could still feel Gabriel’s hand there… could still feel the sick corruption of his touch. And now Aziraphale was touching him there, and it wasn’t the same, didn’t feel the same... except in the ways that it did , and Crowley did not want to associate Aziraphale’s touch with Gabriel’s. 

 

“I must tell you, Crowley,” Aziraphale was speaking again, soft and earnest. “When he took your glasses from you tonight, how desperately I wanted to snatch them away from him and give them back to you. Among… other things I also wanted to do.” He cleared his throat, a little self-conscious. “At any rate… I think I’m beginning to understand what they mean to you, why that - is not in any way an acceptable thing to do. And yet, I have done it. Several times.” 

 

He reached up to turn Crowley’s face toward him, but carefully did not touch his glasses. Crowley reluctantly looked up at him behind the dark lenses, but was surprised to see that Aziraphale’s eyes were averted slightly, his expression cautious and respectful. He wanted Crowley to see him, but he was not demanding the right to see Crowley.

 

“I need you to know, I promise you, darling… I won’t ever do that to you again, not ever.” 

 

And Crowley felt a tremendous rush of relief, tears springing to his eyes. Aziraphale’s hand at his cheek was careful to the point of reverence, not forcing, not insisting - a promise of patience and respect. 

 

It wasn’t the same. 

 

Crowley reached up and took off the glasses, and Aziraphale startled a little at seeing them in Crowley’s hand, looking up to meet Crowley’s eyes, his own wide and wondering.

 

“Thank you,” Crowley whispered, turning in his seat and leaning forward into Aziraphale, who put his arms around him and held him close. “Thanks, angel.” 

 

Soft, warm arms that didn’t grab and wrench and force him into whatever position they desired - that simply waited for Crowley to come to him, and then wrapped around him, strong but gentle, protective not possessive. Aziraphale’s lips against his face were soft and chaste, not hungry and demanding. 

 

It wasn’t the same at all

 

They stayed there for as long as they dared, still and quiet in the darkness as Crowley’s racing heartbeat slowed back to normal, and he began to feel calm enough to drive them home. But the sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach and stayed there - the cold, creeping fear, the persistent thought in the back of his head…

 

He could be there when we get home…

 

He could be anywhere, anytime.

 

Crowley swallowed hard, closing his eyes for a moment, and shuddering at the slow, predatory smile he saw behind them. 

 

You’ll never… ever … get away from me…

Chapter Text

Over the days that followed, Crowley couldn’t seem to shake the slowly creeping sense of dread that rose up in him, in the wake of Gabriel’s intrusion. 

 

While Aziraphale redoubled his studies, more determined than ever to find something that would help, poring over his books and consulting the manual every half hour or so when a new question would occur to him - Crowley couldn’t seem to make himself focus on anything. He sat with Aziraphale on the sofa for a little while, until his incessant fidgeting pulled a very small, very soft little sigh from his angel, and he got up and left him to it.

 

The time had been when Crowley would have rather enjoyed getting under Aziraphale’s skin, irritating him for the pleasure of it and - well, if he was really honest with himself, for the attention. Now, the idea of being an annoyance to Aziraphale made him feel cold and uneasy. 

 

He was enough of a burden as it was, without adding to it. Best not to press his luck. 

 

Crowley spent a little time tending to his plant in the kitchen. It wasn’t really doing very well. It had once had small purple flowers, but now its leaves were unadorned, and browning a little at the edges again. Crowley took his glasses off and set them on the counter, peering at it with an accusing frown.

 

“Useless thing,” he muttered. 

 

But he sprayed it down generously anyway, and then after turning to leave the room, turned back around instead with a put-upon sigh. He touched its fragile leaves and closed his eyes and focused his energy, and gave it a grudging half-smile as the wilted leaves turned fresh and vibrant again. 

 

A crash, the sound of shattering glass from the next room, made Crowley’s heart seize up as he spun toward it, and the sound of Aziraphale’s soft voice, cursing quietly before trailing off.  

 

“Bloody…” 

 

Crowley went to the doorway, relief flooding him when he saw that Aziraphale was alone in the room, and the breaking sound was nothing more than a ruined teacup, surrounded by its former contents, on the floor next to the coffee table. 

 

“I’ll get it,” Crowley offered hurriedly, swiftly crossing the room to the mess and crouching down on the floor to pick up the shattered pieces and collect them in one hand. 

 

“No, no, that’s all right…” 

 

“I’ve got it,” Crowley insisted. “Here, I’ll just toss this out and get a towel…” But as he rose to his feet, his head spun and he stumbled a little, his hand closing a little too tightly around the bits of broken cup. 

 

Crowley !” Aziraphale’s tone was one of mingled concern and reproach. “Your hand , dear!” 

 

Crowley blinked down at it, feeling a little hazy, vaguely surprised to see his blood mingled with the tea that stained the white porcelain. 

 

“Come here, darling,” Aziraphale instructed, putting an arm around Crowley and swiftly leading him into the kitchen, where he disposed of the glass and ran Crowley’s hand under the tap, rinsing away the tiny remaining shards and blood and tea alike. “Ah, that’s not so bad,” he remarked, examining the cut now that he could see it clearly. “Not bad at all, just hold this on it for a moment, there we are…” He pressed a clean towel to the wound and gently placed Crowley’s hand over it. 

 

Crowley complied with Aziraphale’s instructions, glaring at his little plant, green and shining in the window. 

 

“This is all your fault.” 

 

Aziraphale looked up at him, startled, and then a little hurt. “Yes, I suppose it is,” he sighed. “Clumsy of me, and I might have saved it if I wasn’t so concerned with keeping it from spilling on my book, and… oh. Oh, you’re not speaking to me , are you?” He noticed at last where Crowley’s resentful gaze was focused, and then the condition of the formerly failing plant. He let out an exasperated, affectionate little huff. “Crowley, my dear, whatever healing energy you have at the moment should be directed toward yourself, not toward a plant!” 

 

“I agree.” Crowley glared one more time at the plant for good measure, as Aziraphale steered him back toward the living area. “ Unworthy …” he hissed at it over his shoulder.

 

When they returned to the sofa, Aziraphale moved the scattered books and made a place for Crowley to sit down. Then he pulled the towel away to look at the cut again - not too deep, still bleeding sluggishly. A human might have debated whether or not it needed stitches. Aziraphale glanced around a little guiltily, as if someone might be watching, before quickly running his hand across the cut, which swiftly vanished in its wake. 

 

Aziraphale !” Crowley yanked his hand out of Aziraphale’s gentle grasp, horrified. “You can’t!”

 

“Certainly I can, and have done. Too late now,” Aziraphale argued, defensive. “It’s such a tiny little miracle, it’ll barely register on Heaven’s radar at all…” 

 

“We’re on his radar,” Crowley snapped. “In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s most definitely paying attention.” 

 

“So I did it for my own convenience,” Aziraphale suggested, putting his arm around Crowley’s stiff shoulders and pulling him back with him against the sofa as he settled in. “I can hardly have you bleeding all over my books, now, can I?” 

 

Reluctant, still feeling very unsettled and anxious, Crowley settled back against Aziraphale’s chest. “We can’t afford to draw any more of his attention,” he whispered. “ Please , angel, just… we’ve got to be careful .” 

 

“I’m sorry.” Aziraphale’s voice was soft, repentant, as he took Crowley’s hand and lifted it to his lips, brushing a kiss across his knuckles. “I didn’t mean to alarm you, my dear. But - he can’t do what he did - just, show up like that - here. You know that, right? Our alarm system is in place. The spell recognizes us both as residents here, as belonging here, and if any angel or demon comes within a block, we’ll both instantly know. He can’t catch us by surprise, here .” 

 

Crowley nodded, silent. Aziraphale had said as much repeatedly over the past few days, offering near-constant reassurance of Crowley’s safety here in the bookshop - but Crowley wasn’t so sure. 

 

It seemed to him that whatever Gabriel wanted, he somehow found a way to get it. 

 

“He showed up to scare you,” Aziraphale said, leaning forward and resting his chin on Crowley’s shoulder, his fingers interlaced with Crowley’s and resting on Crowley’s chest. “To make you feel… unsafe. But he didn’t actually do anything.”

 

Crowley swallowed slowly against the ache in the back of his throat, and didn’t correct him. 

 

“I don’t think he dares, right now, since he’s publicly agreed that you’re my responsibility,” Aziraphale guessed. “And if you noticed, he did seem to accept my explanation about the collar being set so low. I think perhaps we should spend a bit more time down in the shop for a while. If he does turn up, and you’re working about the shop, well, that’s a perfectly good reason for the collar to be turned down, isn’t it?” 

 

Crowley couldn’t shake the image of Gabriel, glaring at him in disgust across the table. 

 

“He’s not going to like it,” he whispered. 

 

Aziraphale pressed a soft kiss against Crowley’s jawline, his voice low and measured, with an unmistakable edge to it. 

 

“I don’t give a damn what he likes.”

 

Crowley shivered a little, though he wasn’t exactly sure why. It was a little frightening, yeah, to hear Aziraphale talk that way about Gabriel. Gabriel was dangerous, more than Aziraphale realized. He was powerful . But when Aziraphale spoke like this - his loyalty to Heaven, his obedience, overpowered by the quiet ferocity of his protective, righteous anger - it reminded Crowley of something that was easy to forget when surrounded with his angel’s softness and warmth. 

 

Aziraphale was powerful, too.

 

In his arms like this, it was easy to forget about the threat of the archangel looming over them. 

 

It was easy to feel safe

 

“You’re busy,” Crowley murmured, reluctant to move, but not wanting to further annoy Aziraphale with his neediness. “You’ve been working. Got better things to do.” 

 

“There is nothing I’d rather do than you, dear,” Aziraphale replied, squeezing his hand gently. 

 

Crowley couldn’t suppress a smirk. “That so,” he drawled, turning to look at Aziraphale, eagerly anticipating his adorable embarrassment when he realized what he’d said. “Nothing you’d rather do … than me ?” 

 

Aziraphale’s eyes widened in momentary surprised understanding - but he did not blush or stammer. Rather, his smile became warmer, and he took the opportunity to lean in and kiss Crowley’s lips softly, before drawing back to meet his eyes. 

 

“Nothing on this earth, or any other,” he declared. 

 

If Crowley hadn’t already felt lightheaded and dizzy, he would have been now. He fairly melted in Aziraphale’s arms, reaching up a hand to cup his cheek and return his kiss. Aziraphale let out a little hum of pleasure, his free hand sliding along Crowley’s side, and Crowley was sure, quite by accident, under the hem of his shirt. The sensation of Aziraphale’s warm, soft hand against his skin made him shiver, and he pushed in closer, deepening the kiss - just as Aziraphale broke it with a little gasp, drawing his hand back. 

 

“Sorry, sorry, my dear,” he whispered. 

 

But Crowley caught his hand and firmly placed it right back where it’d been. He swallowed slowly, his lip caught between his teeth for a moment before he whispered back. 

 

“Don’t be.” 

 

And he leaned in to kiss his angel again. 

 

*******************************************************************************************

 

Crowley parked the Bentley at the curb outside his building, glancing around a little anxiously as he got out and closed the door. Aziraphale’s expression was sympathetic, and he quickly fell into pace at Crowley’s side, though he didn’t take his hand. He moved in close enough that their shoulders brushed against each other, though, and leaned in to speak quietly. 

 

“We’ll be as quick as we can, and then back to the shop. It’ll be all right, love.” 

 

Crowley nodded curtly, his mouth a taut line. This trip was his idea, anyway - but now he was rethinking the idea of stepping outside of the relatively safe walls of the bookshop, where at least they would have a warning if Gabriel decided to pay them a visit. But he was out of clean shirts, and it wasn’t as if Aziraphale either owned the equipment necessary to do laundry, or could be seen to be paying for the laundry of his demon captive to be professionally done.

 

He needed more clothes, and if he were truly honest about it, he wanted a new pair of sunglasses - a pair that Gabriel hadn’t handled. He could hardly put this pair on without remembering the brush of Gabriel’s fingers against his cheek as he’d placed them back on his face in the restaurant. 

 

They worked quickly, Crowley packing a box full of various gardening supplies, extra misters, soil, fertilizer and plant food. He glanced regretfully at his abandoned plants, mostly dead by this point. He considered taking them with him, but who was he kidding, really? He barely had the energy and ability to care for his one, single little rescued plant. He sighed as he passed the box to Aziraphale, who smiled and kissed his cheek before heading to the door. 

 

Crowley picked up his empty black satchel and headed for his bedroom, where he filled it up with whatever items of clothing remained in his dresser and cupboards. That done, he carried the bag back out to his office, where he took the sunglasses from his face and crushed them in his hand before tossing their remains into the empty wastebasket next to the desk. He heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs outside his door, as he opened the small drawer with his extra pairs, tucking all but one into the side pocket of his satchel, and putting the remaining pair on.

 

“Think I’m ready, angel,” he said, as he turned toward the sound of footsteps that had just stopped at the doorway to his office - and froze. 

 

“No one’s called me ‘angel’ in millennia,” Hastur sneered as he slowly walked into the room, hands in his pockets, giving Crowley a slow, derisive once-over. “A lot of demons have been spending a lot of valuable demon-hours looking for you lately,” he informed him. 

 

“Yeah, well, can’t say Hell’s been my priority,” Crowley breezed, glancing uneasily toward the doorway, wondering if he could get to it - wondering when Aziraphale would reappear there. “Been a bit busy.” 

 

He took a side-step away from the desk, closer to the door - but Hastur moved with him, blocking his path. “I can see that,” he remarked, his black eyes darting between the collar, and Crowley’s face. He grinned, maliciously gleeful. “Busy becoming Heaven’s bitch, looks like.” 

 

Crowley swallowed hard. “Let me pass, Hastur,” he demanded quietly. “You’ve no business here.” 

 

You’re my business here,” Hastur countered, still blocking Crowley’s path when he tried again to leave. “Wonder what that pretty piece of jewelry will do when we pass the gates of Hell?” His grin widened. “Can’t wait to find out.” He reached out and grabbed Crowley’s arm. 

 

Crowley jerked away from Hastur, and then moved his arm to shove him away. Immediately, the collar halted the attempt, firing with enough force to drive him to his knees. Gasping for breath, his head spinning, Crowley closed his eyes and leaned back against the side of his desk. 

 

“Oh, this is interesting,” Hastur remarked, his eyes widening, his smile taking on a leering quality. “Looks like you’re more of everyone’s bitch, aren’t you? Well, isn’t that fun.” 

 

His tone sparked a deep-seated panic in Crowley, and he hastily tried to get his feet under him, his heart racing when Hastur easily pushed him back down with a hand on his shoulder. 

 

“No, no, no, don’t get up,” he said, false concern fading into malicious intent as he caught Crowley’s shirt in his bony fingers and dragged him closer, Crowley’s face uncomfortably close to his crotch. “I think you’re fine right where you are…” 

 

Crowley’s pulse was pounding, a crushing weight of panic in his chest suffocating him, as Hastur loomed over him, cruelly relishing his fear. And then in an instant, Hastur was gone, flung across the room and into the far wall, the picture that hung there falling off on top of him as he hit it with a spectacular crash. And Aziraphale was standing there in his place, breathing hard, staring down at Crowley for just long enough to apparently be satisfied that he was all right, before refocusing his attention on the demon sprawled on the floor across the room. 

 

His pace was unhurried as he closed in on the demon, his eyes blazing, fiery power glowing just under the surface of his palms. His voice was low and authoritative, and made Crowley shiver. 

 

“You will not touch him.” 

 

“Oh, all right,” Hastur sneered, clambering awkwardly in an attempt to get his feet back under him. “So, yours, then.” 

 

“Yes, mine , then!” Aziraphale snapped, fiercely protective. 

 

“Your what, exactly?” Hastur demanded in disgust, his derisive glare finding Crowley over Aziraphale’s shoulder as Crowley used the desk to get back onto his feet. 

 

But Crowley wasn’t the least bit afraid anymore. Not with his angel - his fierce, powerful, awesome in the truest sense of the word angel - angel of the eastern gate, guardian of Eden, holy warrior - standing between him and anyone who sought to harm him. 

 

“My prisoner.” 

 

Aziraphale declared his answer to Hastur’s question, and Crowley wasn’t bothered. He knew Aziraphale was protecting him. To confirm Hell’s suspicions about their relationship would only double the power of the target that was already firmly on Crowley’s back. At least if Hell thought Crowley was imprisoned by Heaven, their side at least would leave him alone for a while. 

 

“Yeah,” Hastur observed, disbelieving. “He really looks like he’s here, in his own bloody flat, against his will. If he’s a prisoner, I’m…”

 

“Whatever he is, he’s mine !” Aziraphale snarled, swiftly closing the remaining distance between himself and Hastur, who stumbled hastily backward into the wall, eyes wide and panicked. “And you will not touch him .” 

 

Holy golden light poured from Aziraphale’s mouth with his words, glowed all around his hands, shone from his eyes. He was all power and fire and wrath ready to be poured out - but Crowley was unafraid. 

 

Crowley was entranced. 

 

Hastur’s hands scrabbled against the wall as he tried to shift towards the door, and he let out a pathetic, terrified squeak when Aziraphale blocked his path with a hand that glowed with Heavenly power. Aziraphale grabbed his sleeve and yanked him back against the wall, and Hastur yelped, flinching with both hands up in front of his face. Aziraphale edged in closer to him, his voice quiet but inescapable, commanding and intent. 

 

“You will not come back here,” he declared. “Or anywhere near my bookshop. Or anywhere near Crowley. Ever again. If I see you… or he sees you… I will end you. Is that clear...ah …” He glanced over his shoulder at Crowley, questioningly. 

 

“Oh, uh… Hastur,” Crowley helpfully supplied, grinning broadly. 

 

Aziraphale turned back toward the demon with a smile. “ Hastur ?” he echoed, pointed, knowing. 

 

Hastur was shaking, visibly petrified. He nodded frantically. “Yes,” he whimpered. “Yes, yes, it’s clear!” 

 

“All right then,” Aziraphale said, releasing Hastur’s sleeve and leaning back a little, waiting a few moments longer before concluding softly, “ Now you may leave.” He stepped back, removing his hand from the wall next to Hastur and allowing him to make his panicked, frankly embarrassing retreat.

 

Crowley couldn’t remember enjoying anything more.

 

And then Aziraphale turned to face him - the glow slowly fading under his skin, his eyes fading back to their usual brilliant blue - and Crowley’s heart thudded in his chest, his mouth dry, desire stirring low in his abdomen. Every nerve in his body was thrumming with energy in response to Aziraphale’s power, but in response to more than that. This angel, this awe-inspiring, incredible being… was his . His warrior, his protector, his angel, his love, his

 

And Crowley had never wanted him more. 

 

***************************************************************************************************

 

The moment Aziraphale turned to face Crowley, the overwhelming conviction he’d felt faded away, and he was filled with concern, instantly regretting his rather bold display. Crowley was staring at him, lips parted, still and stunned. 

 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale began carefully, taking a step toward him but stopping there with a little grimace. Oh, he’d been simply dreadful , hadn’t he? Staking his claim like some utter Neanderthal. “When I said, ‘ mine ’, I only meant… well, I just mean that you’re…”

 

Yours .” The hushed, appreciative note in Crowley’s soft words halted Aziraphale’s words in their tracks. His mouth went dry as Crowley moved toward him, slow and fluid, hunger in his husky voice as he wrapped his arms around Aziraphale’s neck and rested his head against the angel’s forehead. “ I am .” 

 

Aziraphale’s lips parted in surprise, and he blinked. This was not the reaction he had expected. 

 

Crowley was quick to take advantage, tilting his head back to capture Aziraphale’s mouth in a slow, searching kiss. He drew back after a moment, and this close, Aziraphale could see his eyes through the glasses, wide and wondering as he studied Aziraphale for a moment before swallowing hard, and leaning in for another kiss. 

 

Aziraphale only had a few moments to wonder and worry - Is this real? Is he ready? Should I stop him? - before the full force of what Crowley was feeling hit him, and he knew - oh, he knew , Crowley needed this, needed him , so much . There was a slight shyness, the faintest uncertainty, but the overwhelming desire he felt from Crowley crested over those lesser hesitations in waves that drowned them, carrying them away until all Aziraphale could feel was how deeply Crowley wanted him. 

 

Still, Aziraphale had to be sure. He couldn’t risk hurting Crowley, and he’d come so close to hurting him, so recently. 

 

He ran his hand through Crowley’s hair, gentle, soothing, and pressed his head against Crowley’s enough to break the kiss, gasping, catching his breath for a moment before speaking. 

 

“Are you sure?” His voice was soft, careful. “Crowley, love… I won’t… if you’re not…” 

 

“Oh, bloody…” Crowley sputtered, agitated and impatient, his hands tugging at Aziraphale’s clothing. “ Yes, angel, if you’d have just seen yourself…” Abruptly he jerked the angel closer to him, and Aziraphale let out a startled little yelp that was instantly swallowed up in another kiss. 

 

“Wait,” Aziraphale gasped out when he could manage to think again, even for a moment, pressing a hand against Crowley’s chest. “Wait, wait…” 

 

Crowley let out a frustrated little sound that was almost a growl, almost a whine. “ Please , angel…” 

 

And, oh , that was almost more than Aziraphale could resist. “Yes, yes,” he promised, “we will, just… take me home first?” 

 

Crowley drew back, his eyes hazy, letting out a soft sigh - because he knew what Aziraphale did. They needed the safety of the bookshop, the privacy that came with knowing they’d have warning before any demon or angel could possibly walk in on them. Aziraphale grabbed Crowley’s satchel off the floor and they made it to the Bentley in record time - by human standards, anyway. And the only reason Aziraphale didn’t miracle them there was that he definitely did not want to have to explain the reason for that miracle later.  

 

On the way home, Crowley couldn’t seem to keep his hands off Aziraphale, who most certainly returned the sentiment, but thought they’d have a much better time if they both made it home without being discorporated on the way. He gently took Crowley’s hand and placed it back on the steering wheel, then smiled a little to himself as he placed his own hand high on Crowley’s thigh and slid it inward, just a bit, his smile widening when the demon groaned, his head rolling back against the headrest and his eyes falling closed. 

 

“Angel, fuck, why …?” 

 

“Watch the road, darling,” Aziraphale innocently instructed. “Almost home.”

 

The moment they reached the stairs, and therefore were out of sight of the bookshop windows, Aziraphale grabbed Crowley’s shirt, shoving him up against the wall and kissing him hard. Any lingering doubts Aziraphale might have had faded away as the wave of Crowley’s intense arousal hit him, a choked, needy little cry escaping the demon’s lips as Aziraphale reached down to palm the front of his jeans. 

 

He could feel it, how much Crowley needed this, and it was real , it was total , untouched with the underlying fear Aziraphale had felt from him before. 

 

Somehow they made it up the stairs, and Aziraphale pushed his own jacket off his shoulders, allowing it to fall to the floor, fingers that trembled slightly tugging at his tie as Crowley continued to kiss him, arms tight around his neck, breaking away for just a moment for a breathless whisper. 

 

“Lights on.” 

 

Aziraphale ran his fingers through his hair, reassuring. “Yes, of course.” 

 

Shirt on.” 

 

“Yes, yes, darling,” Aziraphale agreed without hesitation, anything, anything Crowley needed. But - he needed, too, he needed to know, if it went wrong, if he went wrong in some vital way he might miss. He bit his lip, hesitating a moment before asking. 

 

“Glasses?” 

 

Crowley hesitated just a moment, pulling back a little, breathless. Then he smiled, slow and shy, as he removed the sunglasses from his face and tossed them in the general direction of the nightstand. They didn’t quite make it, landing on the floor beside it. Aziraphale could barely suppress the little growl of desire that rose up in his throat at the sight of Crowley’s fully serpentine eyes, raking slowly over Aziraphale’s body with naked need. 

 

The angel lay his demon down on the bed, covering his face, his throat, with kisses, moaning a little when he felt Crowley’s hands unfastening his trousers and sliding them down. Aziraphale pulled back for a moment, meeting Crowley’s eyes, suddenly serious. 

 

“Where can I not touch you, darling?” he asked, hushed and careful, though his entire body was trembling with impatience, with desperation, because it had been so long

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, briefly hesitating, but Aziraphale knew it was over the question, not over the act. At last he replied, soft but certain. “Just… need to see you, angel. Need to see your face, and you can… anywhere, anywhere you like…”

 

Aziraphale leaned in close, cupping his face, kissing him until he felt the slight tension ease from Crowley’s shoulders, until he relaxed back onto the bed. “ You’ll like it, too,” Aziraphale whispered a promise into his ear, thrilled at the little shiver that ran through Crowley’s body beneath him, the way Crowley eagerly tugged him closer. 

 

Aziraphale was fully undressed by this point, but Crowley still wore his trousers and shirt. His hands slid between them to unfasten the trousers, but then he hesitated, frowning a little. His lips parted, but he looked up at Aziraphale, helplessly, before glancing toward the light. 

 

All at once Aziraphale understood.

 

He snapped his fingers, and the blankets that had been beneath them were over them instead, concealing Crowley from his sight, from his shoulders down. 

 

“Will that do, darling?” Aziraphale asked, hushed, seeking his pleasure in his eyes. 

 

Crowley let out a tremulous breath in relief, nodding gratefully and pressing his head against Aziraphale’s shoulder as his hands went back to work between them, undressing himself from the waist down. Aziraphale had just a moment’s regretful wishing as he glanced toward the light, thinking that if they could do without it, Crowley could probably fully undress - but it was only a moment. 

 

This was enough, this that he was allowed to have right here and now with Crowley.

 

He reached down under the blankets, cupping Crowley, stroking gently, rewarded with a soft, stuttering gasp from trembling lips as Crowley tipped his head back and closed his eyes, his hand covering Aziraphale’s and moving with it. Aziraphale couldn’t take his eyes from his demon’s face, and after a few moments, Crowley’s eyes drifted open again to meet Aziraphale’s in a soft smile. 

 

“Missed you, angel,” he whispered. “Missed this.” 

 

Aziraphale blinked away tears, unwilling to spoil this moment. “Gorgeous,” he whispered back, in awe, brushing Crowley’s hair back from his face with his free hand. “Gorgeous you are, my darling…”

 

He held Crowley’s gaze a moment longer before slipping down under the blankets, feeling his way in the dark as he pressed slow kisses to Crowley’s hips, to the soft, silken skin of his stomach where his shirt had ridden up. Crowley’s hand on his head just pressed him closer, encouraging, so he continued on a tortuously slow path downward until he could take Crowley into his mouth. Crowley’s hands trembled, both in Aziraphale’s hair now, but gentle, so gentle and careful, stroking through it but not pulling, although Aziraphale could feel his whole body shaking, knew he was coming undone. 

 

But not yet, not like this…

 

Aziraphale rose back up from under the blankets, smiling a little at the soft needy protest that left Crowley’s lips at the loss of contact. He kissed the sound from his mouth, kissed his throat, gently pushing at his shoulder to get him to turn over on his side. 

 

Crowley drew away from him abruptly with a shuddering breath, eyes wide. 

 

“Need to see you, angel,” he reminded him, gasping, with the first faint note of fear Aziraphale had felt from him. “Please, just… need to be…” 

 

“Face to face,” Aziraphale agreed, his hand cupping Crowley’s face, pressing light kisses to his temples, his eyes, his cheeks, until he felt the fear fade away, and Crowley was pulling him closer again. Aziraphale shifted downward a little in the bed, carefully reaching between them. He hesitated a moment. Crowley was so close , and he was ready, longing

 

Just the tiniest little miracle, and Crowley was ready for him. The demon gasped, staring at him with reproachful eyes for just a moment, lips parted to correct him for the risk. But Aziraphale swiftly distracted him, taking him in a firm but gentle hand, sliding into him at the same moment, and Crowley let out a strangled, desperate cry, long, elegant fingers clutching at Aziraphale’s arms and pulling him closer. 

 

It took no time at all to find the familiar rhythm, to fall back into the place that was simply theirs , and no one else’s, where nothing and no one else mattered but just the two of them - every touch electric, every breath in sync, as Aziraphale moved in Crowley, and Crowley moved with him, and both angel and demon dropped over the edge and found their completion as one. 

 

Crowley collapsed in Aziraphale’s arms, shuddering through his release, his damp brow pressed into Aziraphale’s shoulder, soft breath warm against Aziraphale’s skin. He was spent and sated, and Aziraphale could feel his relief, the sense of wholeness he felt at having this returned to him, after so long, so very long away that they didn’t even know. 

 

And yet somehow, Aziraphale felt as if he was the one who had only just made it home. 

Chapter Text

Crowley’s very existence had become a never-ending nightmare of suffering and degradation. 

 

There was no hope of rescue - no hope of mercy. 

 

His only hope was to find a way to bring it to an end. 

 

He waited, anxious and pacing, until Gabriel walked into his cell again. Gabriel had taken to using the door again, now that he’d given Crowley his eyes back. The demon supposed it just wasn’t as much fun materializing out of nowhere, when his captive could see him coming. Now, Gabriel would come in through the door, close it behind him, and stand there near it. He’d snap his fingers and gesture to the floor at his feet - and Crowley knew what was expected of him. 

 

His mouth dry, his heart racing, he obeyed the command and closed the distance between himself and the archangel, dropping to his knees in front of him, head bowed, eyes downcast. Gabriel reached out a hand toward Crowley’s hair, and Crowley kept still, unresistant. Usually he kept silent as well - but today, he spoke, his voice as strong as he could manage. 

 

“I-I want to confess.” 

 

Gabriel’s hand stilled an inch from Crowley’s head, and he stood there for a moment, silent, before crouching down to face Crowley, an indulgent smile on his lips. 

 

“This I’ve got to hear,” he said with quiet amusement. “Go ahead.” 

 

Crowley took a deep breath, keeping his eyes focused on Gabriel’s shoes. “Yeah, all right. So… I did try to seduce Aziraphale. I did. I tried. I - I wanted him to betray Heaven, and - and fall. But - it didn’t work. I failed. He’s - he’s too loyal to Heaven to fall for it.”

 

Gabriel was quiet for a moment, pensive. “Is that so.” 

 

“Yes,” Crowley insisted, his voice trembling a little as he continued, “I - I hung around his shop, tried to get him to - to spend time with me, tried to - make him want me, and - and he tolerated me, yeah. S’pose he thinks an angel’s got to try to be kind to everyone, but - he didn’t want anything to do with me.” 

 

Gabriel seemed to consider his words for a moment, before asking, “And the pictures? That one on the park bench?” 

 

“I reached for his hand, yeah,” Crowley admitted, nodding, swallowing hard. “But apparently they didn’t get a picture of the moment after that - when he jerked his hand away like mine was on fire.” He paused a moment, resisting the urge to look up at Gabriel, to try to better gauge how he was receiving this information. “I tried to seduce him, but - that’s as far as it went. Me… trying .” He was quiet for a moment, before concluding, “I’m guilty. He’s not.” 

 

“Hmm.” Gabriel nodded slowly. “Yeah, see… that’s what he said, too. But I didn’t believe him , either.” 

 

Stunned, Crowley forgot his caution and raised wide, startled eyes to meet Gabriel’s gaze. The archangel’s expression was something between pity and amusement. “No, he - he wouldn’t…”

 

“He did.” Gabriel shrugged. “The minute we started to question that soft, weak little angel, he turned on you in five seconds, Crowley. He said - basically what you just said. That you’ve been attempting to tempt him for years, and he never gave in to you.” He leaned in a little closer, holding Crowley’s gaze, his smile fading a little as he continued, “But I don’t believe that’s the truth. I think he did give in. I think the two of you have been fucking for decades, maybe longer. And I think somewhere along the way, you came to actually care for him - but you were never more than a piece of ass to him. A dirty, shameful little secret to be hidden away… and then thrown away when you got too risky. When they brought him in, he sold you out. They let him go. And now, you’re the one sitting here paying for everything that both of you did, together . Does that seem fair to you? Because to me... it just doesn’t.” 

 

Crowley searched Gabriel’s face, but the familiar vindictive satisfaction and false sympathy he found there told him nothing. “You’re lying ,” he whispered, but even he could hear the desperation, the agonizing uncertainty in his voice. 

 

“Nope.” Gabriel’s tone was light. He raised his eyebrows, shaking his head a little before meeting Crowley’s eyes again with an apologetic little grimace. “Okay, then. You think I’m lying, ask yourself this… when was the last time I even asked you about Aziraphale?” 

 

A cold, uneasy feeling settled in the pit of Crowley’s stomach as he considered the question. It had been a while. He couldn’t quite remember how long. But for many visits now, Gabriel had raped him, and taunted him, and hurt him for his own pleasure - but he hadn’t mentioned Aziraphale’s name. 

 

Because… they already talked to him? Got his explanation? Because he’s been cleared? 

 

“Are you… no longer investigating him?” Crowley asked cautiously. “If that’s so, then… why am I still here? What do you want from me? Why haven’t you either… either killed me, or let me go?” 

 

Gabriel’s smile became cold, predatory, and he placed a hand at the back of Crowley’s head, fingers playing idly through his hair. “Don’t be silly,” he said, his voice hushed and private. His hand tightened in Crowley’s hair and he pulled him closer to whisper into his ear. “I’m never letting you go.” 

 

Crowley shivered, but barely had time to react before Gabriel abruptly used his grip on his hair to shove his head down, so far that his chin met his chest. His tone became quietly threatening as he continued, without pausing, perfectly calm.  

 

“And since when is it okay for you to put those revolting demon eyes on me, little serpent?”

 

Crowley felt sick when he realized his mistake. His mouth went dry, his heart racing. He tried to shake his head, but couldn’t with Gabriel’s tight grip on his hair, forcing his head down. Instead he closed his eyes and whispered, “I’m sorry. I - I forgot, I’m sorry. Please.” 

 

“Next time you forget,” Gabriel promised, his hand softening in Crowley’s hair, but still pressing his head down, “I’ll find a way to help you remember.” 

 

As Gabriel let him go and stood up, Crowley nodded hurriedly. “I’m sorry,” he repeated in a breathless whisper.

 

Gabriel stood over him for a few moments longer, as if debating whether or not to do anything else to him, before turning and heading for the door without another word. It closed behind him with a loud echo in the quiet, empty room. He didn’t turn up the collar, barely even touched Crowley - just left him alone with the agony of his own thoughts, and the creeping tendrils of the doubts he was desperately trying to quell. 

 

He loves me, he told himself, again and again, a desperate mantra. He loves me, he wouldn’t, he loves me, he’d never…

 

But he couldn’t help wondering and worrying… and Gabriel didn’t ask him about Aziraphale again. 

 

***********************************************************************************

 

They were following Aziraphale’s plan, and “working” in the bookshop when the magical alarm went off in both their heads at precisely the same time. A supernatural entity of some kind was near the shop. Crowley stood up from the stool he’d been sitting on, behind the old-fashioned cash register near the door, turning toward Aziraphale with panicked eyes. 

 

“It’s all right,” Aziraphale assured him, moving swiftly forward, taking the demon’s face in both his hands, holding his gaze and promising him, “It’s going to be fine , love. Stay calm.” He grimaced, glancing at the collar. “I’m so sorry,” he said softly, regretfully, as he reached for the dial and turned it up to 02. 

 

“‘S all right,” Crowley whispered, closing his eyes for a moment, drawing in a deep shaky breath. “It’s all right, you’ve got to.” He opened his eyes wide after a moment, biting his lip, fighting back panic. “Maybe you should turn it higher,” he suggested, desperate. “05, so he doesn’t…”

 

No .” Aziraphale’s voice was firm. “This will work. We have an excuse, you’re working for me. I can’t very well have you in visible agony while I have customers in and out, can I?” 

 

Gabriel didn’t have to know that actual live human customers in Aziraphale’s shop were relatively few and far between. 

 

“Over here,” Aziraphale instructed firmly, a hand at Crowley’s back guiding him toward a shelf within sight of the front door, with a packing crate filled with books on the floor beside it. “Start shelving those, look busy. If it’s him, I’ll get rid of him as quickly as I can.” 

 

It was indeed Gabriel, who entered the shop a few moments later with a wide, fake smile. “Hey, Aziraphale,” he said, light and casual. “Just checking in.” 

 

At the sound of his voice, Crowley’s heart stuttered in his chest, his hands shook, and he dropped a heavy book to the floor with a loud thump. Aziraphale let out a put upon sigh, his tone terse and impatient as he addressed Gabriel. “Will you give me just a moment, please?” 

 

He turned toward Crowley, advancing on him angrily. “Not there, I said these books go back there ,” he snapped, gesturing toward a section of shelving that was well away from the front of the shop, and quite conveniently out of sight of where Gabriel was standing. “Honestly, you’re useless at this,” Aziraphale huffed impatiently. “Do you think some motivation might be helpful for you to get this right , this time?” As he spoke, he took the remote control for the collar from his pocket and held it up quite obviously in view of both Crowley and Gabriel. 

 

Crowley was not afraid - not of Aziraphale, at any rate. He knew exactly what his angel was doing. 

 

“No,” he answered, keeping his tone soft and deferent. “No, I - I’ve got it, I’m sorry.” 

 

“Then take those books off that shelf, put them back in the box, and get back there !” 

 

Crowley nodded, keeping his head down, and quickly began loading the few books he’d shelved back into the crate, as Aziraphale turned back toward Gabriel, holding up the remote between two fingers with a tolerant sigh of exasperation. 

 

“Do these ever require new batteries? Because I must say this one’s getting its fair share of use.”  

 

Gabriel did not answer Aziraphale. Instead, he started toward Crowley abruptly. Crowley was frozen in place, a wave of panic crashing down on him, his heart thudding in his ears. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Aziraphale move with Gabriel toward him, alarm in his voice. 

 

“Wait, what are you-?” 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers without even turning to look at Aziraphale - and all at once, Aziraphale was the one who was frozen, in mid-step, one foot hovering several inches off the ground, one arm reached out toward Gabriel, unmistakable fear in his wide eyes over his indignantly parted lips. 

 

And it wasn’t just Aziraphale, Crowley realized. 

 

In his rush to stop Gabriel, Aziraphale had knocked a small stack of papers off the counter. Several of them had hit the floor - but several more of them remained still and motionless in mid-air, exactly where they’d been at the moment when Gabriel snapped his fingers. Everything was still; everything was silent - even to the cars and the passersby outside the shop windows. 

 

Everything - except for Crowley and Gabriel. 

 

And Crowley knew - on some visceral level, even before his mind had time to process it, he knew what Gabriel had done. Because he’d done it himself, many times, and he could feel it. 

 

He knew what it felt like when time had stopped

 

All at once, the pieces began to fall into place. 

 

“You’ve stopped time,” he stated, unnecessarily, looking up at Gabriel in disbelief. “You stopped it - when I was there. In Heaven.” He glanced down, drawing in a shaky breath, slowly processing the weight of the realization, before looking up at Gabriel again. “How many times?” he demanded, his voice trembling. “How much - how much time? How can you…?” 

 

“You think you can do what archangels cannot?” Gabriel scoffed, but he was a little distracted, walking back a few steps toward Aziraphale’s frozen form. “I mean, I’ll admit it didn’t occur to me.” He turned and pointed back at Crowley with an appreciative grin. “That was all you, and that amazing imagination I kept reading about. But once I realized it was possible - like, at all - that was all it took.” 

 

Crowley shook his head, confused. “Reading about - where? What are you talking about?” 

 

“Shut up.” Gabriel’s tone was light, easy, subtly threatening. 

 

Crowley shut up.

 

Gabriel examined Aziraphale with clear amusement, waving a hand in front of his frozen face, adjusting his bow tie. He took one finger in an exaggerated motion and pushed at Aziraphale, as if to tip him over. 

 

“Really convenient little trick,” Gabriel mused, glancing over his shoulder and giving Crowley a knowing nod, before looking back at Aziraphale, his expression going cold and resentful. “Really fucking tempting, too. I could eliminate this particular thorn in my side like that .” He snapped his fingers again, and Crowley’s stomach dropped - but nothing happened.

 

Nothing that Crowley could see , anyway. Concern for Aziraphale overwhelmed his own fear. 

 

“Leave him alone,” Crowley demanded, though his voice wasn’t quite as strong as he’d willed it to be. “Get away from him!” 

 

Gabriel turned toward him all at once, eyes narrowed. Crowley took an abrupt, stumbling step backward toward the shelf behind him, dropping the book he hadn’t even realized he was still holding and gripping the shelf behind him as Gabriel swiftly closed in on him. The archangel braced himself with his hands on the shelf on either side of Crowley’s head - hemming him in, without touching. Yet. 

 

“If you wanted my attention, sweetheart,” he said softly, leaning in so his face was a bare inch from Crowley’s, “all you had to do was ask.” 

 

Crowley did not want Gabriel’s attention. 

 

In fact, the only thing in the entire universe he wanted less than Gabriel’s attention - was Gabriel’s attention on Aziraphale

 

Gabriel lowered one hand from the bookshelf to slide it along Crowley’s waist, fingers edging under the hem of his shirt. Crowley shivered, but kept his hands on the shelf, resisting the urge to shove Gabriel away from him. Gabriel smiled, his other hand moving to the side of Crowley’s neck, his thumb gently, teasingly stroking up the line of Crowley’s throat as he leaned in closer. 

 

“See, he can’t do a damn thing to protect you,” he pointed out, nodding over his shoulder toward Aziraphale. “Not from me. So why are you still protecting him? You should just tell the truth.” 

 

“I did,” Crowley quietly insisted, his eyes down. “I told you. He was too strong to fall for my temptation. He’s driven by his loyalty to Heaven, not by his own lusts… for sex, or power, or blood, or… any of it.” 

 

He couldn’t quite keep the edge of disgust from his voice, for the greedy, violent, lustful archangel who had surrendered to all of those things. He closed his eyes, the vision of Aziraphale facing down Hastur, all fearsome power and light, filling his mind’s eye. His angel was strong, and loyal, and holy .

 

The archangel couldn’t begin to compare. 

 

“That so,” Gabriel remarked, his tone even and calm, but his eyes glittering with resentful anger. “He sounds pretty special. So special, in fact, that I think you may have just forgotten who you belong to…”

 

Crowley was shocked out of his thoughts by the feeling of Gabriel’s hand at his waist sliding around behind him, rough, probing fingers searching until he found the mark at the base of Crowley’s spine, sending electric sparks of pain all through Crowley’s body. But it wasn’t the pain that instantly deflated Crowley’s subtle defiance. 

 

He shuddered, head lowered in shame, reaching one hand down to catch Gabriel’s wrist. “Don’t, please don’t,” he whispered desperately. 

 

“Shut your fucking mouth,” Gabriel snarled, low and menacing, “and take your hand off me.” 

 

Crowley flinched, taking his hand away, nodding hurriedly. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” With his head bowed, his glasses started to slip a bit, and Crowley reached up instinctively with a shaking hand to push them back up on his face where they belonged. 

 

Gabriel snatched them away before he could, dropping them to the floor and grinding his heel into them, destroying them. Crowley cringed at the sound, one hand rising, trembling, in front of his face.

 

“You’ve been away a little too long, haven’t you?” Gabriel observed, quietly, maliciously threatening. “Getting mouthy again… forgetting your training. I think you might need a little refresher course.” 

 

“No, no, I’m sorry,” Crowley pleaded, tears burning in his eyes. “Please, I remember, I remember…” 

 

Gabriel ignored his words. “I’ve got all the time I need to remind you of your place, little serpent,” he sneered. “Down in the dirt at my feet.” He snapped his fingers, gesturing toward the floor, and Crowley immediately tried to kneel. Gabriel laughed, low and pleased, but gripped Crowley’s arms and held him upright, not allowing it. “No, no, no, stay right here,” he said, hushed and suggestive as he pressed in close, his lips finding Crowley’s throat and kissing, then biting lightly. “I want you right here, sweetheart…” 

 

Crowley wanted desperately to be anywhere else. He didn’t dare try to fight or try to push Gabriel away. Gabriel’s hand once again found the mark on Crowley’s back, rubbing a slow circle into the scarred, raised flesh, and Crowley choked back a pained whimper. Gabriel’s other hand rose to grip the back of Crowley’s head, grasping a handful of his hair and tugging his head back as he leaned in close to whisper a single word, a word that made Crowley’s stomach plummet with dread. 

 

Wings .” 

 

“No, please,” Crowley begged him, tears spilling down over his cheeks. 

 

Now .” Gabriel’s whisper was still hard as stone. 

 

Crowley could only obey him, and Gabriel laughed softly as he moved in closer, grasping Crowley’s wings with both hands, pulling cruelly at the dark, silky feathers, tugging at the nearly mended broken bone until Crowley cried out in pain. 

 

Shut up ,” Gabriel demanded again, abruptly turning and pulling Crowley around with him so that they were standing face to face with Aziraphale - still frozen, utterly helpless and unaware. Gabriel put his arm around Crowley’s neck, holding him in place as he toyed with his wing with his other hand, his mouth close enough to spill his dark poison into Crowley’s ear. 

 

“I can take all the time I want with you… all the time in the world… anytime I want. You are mine , Crowley. And nothing is going to change that. Certainly not him .” 

 

The resentful menace in his voice chilled Crowley’s blood. All at once, he was far more scared for Aziraphale than he was for himself. He closed his eyes, steeling himself, and reached a hand back between himself and Gabriel, palming the front of Gabriel’s suit pants, gratified when he felt the soft, surprised intake of breath from the archangel’s lips. 

 

“I’ll do anything,” Crowley whispered, tilting his head in toward Gabriel, closing his eyes. “Anything you want…”

 

After a moment, Gabriel seemed to recover, and let out a low chuckle, reaching up to run the back of his hand lightly, almost affectionately, down the side of Crowley’s face. “Well, yeah ,” he said softly, as if it was painfully obvious. “You’ll do that anyway.” 

 

He dropped his arm from around Crowley’s neck and turned around, pushing Crowley back against the shelf, back into the same position he’d found him in. And then, he gripped the hair at the back of Crowley’s neck, holding him still as he leaned in to kiss the demon’s parted, trembling lips. 

 

Crowley froze, cold, creeping horror sliding down his spine. He didn’t respond to the kiss - but he didn’t dare pull away from it either as Gabriel slowly, deliberately plundered his mouth with lips and tongue. 

 

In all the time he’d spent in Heaven, at Gabriel’s mercy - the archangel had never done this

 

Gabriel drew back, meeting Crowley’s wide, shell-shocked eyes, a soft smile on his lips at his captive’s horrified, helpless expression. 

 

“You’re not safe,” he stated quietly, resting his hand at the side of Crowley’s throat. “You’re not free. You’re not his . You’re mine . Right?” 

 

Crowley lowered his head, nodding numbly, tears streaking his face. “Right,” he whispered. 

 

Gabriel smiled, sympathetic and affectionate, as he reached up a hand toward Crowley’s eyes. Crowley froze, his breath catching in his throat, memories of burning agony and the razor sharp tip of a blade filling his mind. But all Gabriel did was to gently brush his tears away. 

 

“Put your wings away, sweetheart,” he softly commanded. 

 

Crowley immediately, gratefully obeyed, as Gabriel snapped his fingers, and Crowley’s mangled sunglasses reappeared in his hand. As Crowley watched, they reformed into their original shape again. Gabriel put them back onto his face - careful, attentive, looking Crowley over. He frowned critically, then bent down to pick up the book Crowley had dropped and placed it back in his hands.

 

He placed a finger against Crowley’s trembling lips, meeting his eyes meaningfully.

 

A warning to silence. 

 

“Until next time,” he said softly, the words chilling Crowley’s blood. 

 

And then Gabriel took a step back away from Crowley, and snapped his fingers again - and time restarted. 

 

“- doing ?” Aziraphale completed the step he’d been in the middle of, indignantly moving toward Gabriel. “Leave him alone, he’s doing what I’ve told him to do!” 

 

“Relax, Aziraphale,” Gabriel sighed, annoyed, as he reached for Crowley’s collar, frowning critically at it for a moment before stepping back. “Just checking the collar to make sure it’s still functioning properly.” He turned and abruptly took the remote from Aziraphale’s hand, tossing it up and catching it as he remarked, “You know, maybe he’d have less trouble getting the work right around here if you kept it up a little higher. Once again - you’ve got it set way too low.” 

 

He turned and aimed the remote at Crowley, a vindictive smile twisting his mouth as he turned it very quickly up to 08. Crowley crumpled to the floor, gasping through the searing pain that consumed his body and stole his breath. 

 

And just like that, Gabriel was gone. 

 

Aziraphale fell to his knees at Crowley’s side, immediately turning the collar back down to 01. Crowley was curled on the floor, his body folded over his knees, arms wrapped around his chest, but when Aziraphale reached out to him, he buried his face in the angel’s lap, weeping as Aziraphale wrapped his arms around him. 

 

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, you were right.” Crowley noticed with a distant sense of surprise that Aziraphale was crying too. “This is my fault, you told me, and I thought I knew better. I should have set it a little higher, I could have spared you this, I’m so sorry , darling.” 

 

Crowley didn’t have the energy to let him know that two or three seconds at a level 08 wasn’t even close to enough to reduce him to this. The collar and its settings seemed meaningless to Crowley, utterly irrelevant. 

 

It was so much worse than Aziraphale knew - so much worse than Crowley could ever let him know. 

 

He let Aziraphale hold him, clinging to his angel and stealing what meager comfort he could from the shelter of his arms. Because he knew, now - it would not last. 

 

Gabriel had the power to stop time. 

 

He’d stopped time in Heaven, repeatedly, to torment Crowley and violate him and play his little games that Heaven likely knew nothing about. 

 

And he could do it again. Any time he wanted. 

 

Crowley knew the truth now, and Aziraphale could not protect him from it. 

 

He wasn’t safe. 

 

He never would be.

Chapter Text

Gabriel didn’t ask about Aziraphale again. 

 

And that realization was a greater torment to Crowley than almost anything the archangel had done to him. 

 

Gabriel had to be lying. Crowley knew there was no way that his angel would ever betray him, ever turn him over to this kind of suffering in order to save his own skin. But if Gabriel was no longer interested in gaining information from Crowley that he could use to damn Aziraphale, then… why wasn’t he? 

 

Maybe Aziraphale got away… maybe he escaped and he’s somewhere far from here, where they can’t find him… 

 

Maybe they got tired of waiting for my confession, maybe they’ve killed him already…  

 

The thought was a dark pit in the center of Crowley’s soul, a slow creeping dread that he tried his best to shove down and ignore. Because that thought - that possibility was simply unthinkable. 

 

Not that I’d put it past them. Not at this point… 

 

Not after seeing what they were truly capable of. Crowley had never imagined the kind of cruelty he’d experienced at Heaven’s hands. And the torture continued, relentless, though with a few of the details changed. 

 

Gabriel never asked about Aziraphale. He never asked him anything, anymore. He made demands. Gave orders. Insisted on absolute obedience, every moment. And if Crowley failed, even in some very small way - made a sound after Gabriel had ordered his silence; shifted slightly from a painful position Gabriel had ordered him to take, even after hours of agony - punishment was swift and brutal. 

 

Crowley didn’t know what the purpose was of all this suffering, why Gabriel was doing this to him. 

 

What he did know was that, whatever this was - it was no longer an interrogation. 

 

Couldn’t possibly be, when Gabriel no longer seemed at all interested in hearing Crowley’s voice, so much as he loved the sound of his own. 

 

“You deserve this,” he’d tell Crowley, while backhanding him to the floor, “for being a lying, disobedient little snake!” 

 

“Maybe this will help you remember to do as you’re told next time!” as he’d yank handfuls of feathers from Crowley’s damaged wings. 

 

“This is all you’re good for,” whispered in his ear as Gabriel tore into his body and devastated his soul, “worthless little demon whore…”

 

Gabriel hardly ever set the collar to any higher than 02 anymore - but by the same token, he rarely healed the injuries he inflicted, either, preferring to leave Crowley with them and allow them to heal the slow, human way. That is, when he didn’t end up reinjuring Crowley before they’d had a chance to heal. Crowley was covered in layers of bruises by this point. Sometimes the bleeding would barely have stopped from Gabriel’s last violation of his body, before Gabriel would be back to violate him again. 

 

Gabriel said he was leaving the bruises as a reminder. “It’s punishment. You’re supposed to feel it,” he said. “It’s supposed to help you remember not to be such a useless little fuck-up next time.”

 

But Crowley knew that Gabriel got off on it - seeing the marks he’d made on Crowley’s body when he came to hurt him again. He’d deliberately dig his fingers into dark bruises, press his teeth into the spot on Crowley’s neck where they’d already left their imprint, laughing, low and satisfied, when Crowley would choke back a whimper of pain. 

 

Gabriel took particular interest in Crowley’s wings. 

 

He came in one night - or morning, or afternoon, Crowley had no way of knowing; it always felt like night in the gloom of his little cell - and Crowley automatically went to his knees. Gabriel smiled, pleased - and then ordered Crowley to spread out his wings to either side, to lay them out flat and vulnerable on the cold stone. Crowley obeyed, though he knew whatever Gabriel had planned was going to hurt. 

 

Disobedience hurt worse. 

 

Crowley’s heart sank when Gabriel reached into his coat and pulled out his blessed whip, coiled and clean. It had been a very long time since he’d used it - certainly, not since before Crowley’s wings had been exposed. Gabriel pressed the hilt of it up under Crowley’s chin, tilting his head back, and Crowley swallowed convulsively against its pressure, making sure to keep his eyes as downcast as possible. 

 

“You’re going to do exactly as you’re told.” Gabriel’s voice was low and warning, sending shivers of dreadful anticipation down Crowley’s spine. “Right?” 

 

Crowley nodded, closing his eyes. “Y-yes,” he whispered. “Yes.” 

 

Gabriel put the whip away again, but it was little relief as he circled Crowley, slow and lazy, like a predator that had already wounded its prey, and knew it couldn’t possibly escape. 

 

Kind of exactly like that. 

 

“Straighter,” Gabriel instructed, putting a hand on Crowley’s shoulder and pushing it back until he approved of his posture. Two fingers pushed at the back of Crowley’s head, pressing it into a lower, more submissive position. “Hands behind your back,” Gabriel ordered, and Crowley obeyed. “Cross them.” Crowley could hear the satisfied smile in Gabriel’s voice. “There. Just like that.” 

 

Crowley tensed, but didn’t so much as flinch when Gabriel crouched in front of him, reaching out a hand to run his fingers idly through Crowley’s hair. 

 

“If you move an inch from this position,” Gabriel said softly. “If you make a single sound… I’m going to use that whip to reduce your wings to shreds . You’ll beg me to just cut them the fuck off before I’m done. Is that clear?”

 

Crowley nodded, closing his eyes. “Yes,” he whispered. 

 

For what felt like hours, but was probably not nearly so long - Crowley doubted Gabriel would have had the patience for that - he was forced to maintain that position. And Gabriel didn’t make it easy for him, every now and then poking and prodding at his bruised, battered body, trying to catch him off guard and make him disobey. 

 

When the sadistic test was over, Gabriel knelt down behind Crowley, large hands covering his hips and pulling him back onto the archangel’s knees. Crowley let out a startled cry of alarm, his heart stuttering in his chest. No, he’d tried so hard , and now he was going to be punished. 

 

“Please, I’m sorry, please don’t…”

 

“Shhh,” Gabriel whispered, hushed and soothing, running a hand through Crowley’s hair and pulling his head back onto his shoulder. “You did just fine… it’s over now, you can move... “ He laughed, a dark malicious sound that chilled Crowley’s blood. “I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna be able to help it.”

 

His hand slid down to brush across the curve of Crowley’s ass, and the demon shuddered, his heart sinking. The bleeding had barely stopped from the last time. Gabriel drew in a soft hiss of breath, making a sympathetic tutting sound. 

 

“You’re still pretty sore, aren’t you?” he observed. “I could heal you first.” 

 

Crowley remained silent and still, expressing no preference. Healing him first wasn’t necessarily a mercy, as every time Gabriel healed him, he made his body virginally tight again - for his own maximum pleasure, and maximum suffering for Crowley. 

 

“Or...” Gabriel suggested, the teasing expectation in his voice terrifying. “... we could try something else today.” 

 

His touch was as gentle as it ever was, as he pushed Crowley forward off of his lap so that he could stand. Crowley righted himself on his knees, one arm wrapped protectively around his stomach, shivering with cold and with fear as Gabriel slowly paced around to stand facing him. He stepped closer… closer… until Crowley’s face was level with the zipper of his expensive suit pants. 

 

Crowley hesitated. He didn’t want to, of course he didn’t, but… perhaps it was better than the alternative. He raised a tentative hand, then withdrew it with alarm, glancing up toward, not at, Gabriel’s face. “D-do you want me to…?

 

“Yes. Go ahead.” 

 

Crowley’s hands trembled as he pulled Gabriel’s zipper down and took his rather intimidating cock out of the front of his pants. 

 

He’d done this before, of course, with Aziraphale, many times. He rather enjoyed it. He loved how it felt to be on his knees for Aziraphale - the way his angel would look at him, crystal blue eyes darkened and hazy with desire, gentle hands in his hair, soft body quivering under his ministrations. He loved the little thrill of satisfaction he felt at making his angel come apart with pleasure. 

 

He knew this was not going to be anywhere near so pleasant. He took a deep breath and steeled himself to proceed. 

 

Abruptly Gabriel grabbed his jaw, forcing his head up, and Crowley instinctively closed his eyes as Gabriel leaned down close, his words hostile, his breath hot against Crowley’s face. “And if I feel your teeth, or even just a trace of that venom of yours… I’ll carve them right out of your head.” 

 

Crowley nodded, swallowing hard; his mouth felt like sandpaper, his heart was racing. 

 

“Do you think I’m bluffing? Exaggerating?” 

 

“N-no,” Crowley whispered. “No, I-I know you’ll do it.” 

 

Gabriel released him roughly, and Crowley raised a hand to gingerly work his jaw for a moment, swallowing slowly, before trying again, taking Gabriel in his hand, and then into his mouth. In the end, he had very little control over the whole encounter. It was only a few moments before Gabriel’s fist locked into his hair, holding him still as he fucked Crowley’s mouth. It was suffocating and painful and humiliating - but nowhere near as bad as it could have been. 

 

When he was finished, Gabriel let Crowley go as he zipped up his pants and righted himself. 

 

“Not bad,” he remarked, appreciative. “Might have to let you do that more often.” His smile faded as he crouched down to face Crowley again, his words carrying a leading, expectant edge. “I figured this would be less painful for you than the alternative.” 

 

Crowley recognized the prompt for what it was, and nodded, bowing his head. “Yes,” he agreed. “Th-thank you.” 

 

“There it is,” Gabriel said softly, patting Crowley’s cheek with something resembling affection. “Exactly what I was hoping you’d say. You’re learning. Look at me.” 

 

Crowley’s stomach dropped. Every now and then, Gabriel would order him to make eye contact, and even though it was an order, even though he knew he couldn’t refuse - by this point, the very act of meeting the archangel’s eyes just felt wrong . It felt like he was breaking the rules, he was going to be struck down, brutally punished at any moment. It was terrifying. 

 

Gabriel’s violet eyes were almost warm, his smile genuine and approving. “You’ve done very well today, sweetheart. I’m very pleased with you.” 

 

Relief flooded through Crowley as Gabriel removed his hand and rose to his feet. He let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding, bracing himself with one hand on the floor as he drew in a few deep, steadying breaths. When he glanced up at the archangel in front of him - his stomach plummeted through the floor. 

 

Gabriel was holding the whip in his hand. 

 

“Lay your wings out again.” 

 

Crowley looked up at him, hurt and betrayal in his eyes. “ Why ?” he demanded, unable to help his protest, even as he automatically - if a bit slowly - obeyed the command. “I did what you said! You said you were pleased !” 

 

“Pay attention, Crowley, because this is an important lesson.” 

 

Gabriel’s voice was calm, patient, as he circled Crowley. He didn’t sound the least bit angry - and that somehow made it infinitely worse when he drew back the whip and let the first lash fly across Crowley’s left wing. Crowley couldn’t help jerking it in for just a moment, biting back a choked cry of pain, but he immediately extended the shaking limb again, drawing in shallow, shuddering breaths as he tried to keep it together. 

 

“You need to understand a few fundamental things about your existence - now, and from now on. You want to know why ?” The lash fell again. “Because I can .” Another blow. “Because I feel like it.” Again. “Because you’re mine .” 

 

The next one hit Crowley across the top edge of the same wing, glancing off to catch the side of his face, and he gasped, turning away. Gabriel grabbed his face and forced his head back up, forced him back into position, crouching down to speak to him face to face, each word measured and emphatic and impossible to miss. 

 

“You have no rights. You are entitled to nothing . You could do everything right, every single time … and I can still do this to you. I can do anything to you. Because you belong to me .” 

 

He stood up, releasing his grip on Crowley in favor of delivering several more brutal blows. 

 

“You’re my slave,” Gabriel declared, only slightly breathless with exertion. “I’m your master.” After a weighted pause, he ordered quietly, “Say it.” 

 

Crowley stayed there in silence for a moment, struggling to catch his breath; every nerve in his brutalized wings felt as if it was on fire. And amidst all the pain and fear and confusion… a slow-burning anger began to rise. 

 

He didn’t know what the truth was, about Aziraphale, about why he was here. All he knew was that Gabriel had been lying to him and manipulating him from the beginning - although to what precise end, he couldn’t guess. He’d done exactly as he was told, accepting violence and degradation, allowed himself to be violated without offering even the slightest resistance - and this was his reward? 

 

The overwhelming frustration, the utter unfairness of it all, was suddenly just too much .

 

He swallowed hard, squaring his jaw - and then squaring his shoulders, straightening his posture. His eyes remained respectfully downcast - but he kept silent. Gabriel was still for a moment, waiting, before he moved around to crouch down in front of Crowley again. 

 

“You know,” he pointed out, his voice taut with anger, falsely light, “if this is what I’m doing to you when I’m happy with you… it’s probably not a great idea to piss me off .” 

 

Crowley flinched a little; couldn’t deny the logic of that. 

 

“What are you, Crowley? What am I to you?” 

 

Crowley was quiet for a moment, carefully considering his answer. Finally he spoke, a note of quiet defiance in his words. 

 

“I’m your prisoner. You’re my captor.” 

 

“No.” Gabriel’s tone was sharp, and Crowley flinched in spite of himself. “Prisoners get exchanged. Captivity eventually ends. You’re my slave. I’m your master. Say it .” 

 

Crowley remained stubbornly silent. 

 

And by the time Gabriel was finished - and only due to his own exhaustion and frustration, rather than any mercy or temperance on his part - Crowley’s wings were fairly shredded, blood flowing freely from them to soak into the stone floor. Crowley lay face down, folded over his own knees, barely conscious, his body quivering, spasming with pain. And still, he’d kept his silence. 

 

Gabriel stepped over him, then deliberately ground his heel into the upper portion of Crowley’s left wing, grim satisfaction twisting his mouth when Crowley let out a strangled, agonized cry. 

 

“You’ll say it,” Gabriel declared, a dark promise. “Trust me, you will.” 

 

And he stalked out, leaving Crowley alone with his suffering - and with a steadily rising certainty. 

 

He had to find a way out of here. 

 

He had to find Aziraphale. 

 

He had to know.  

 

***************************************************************************************************

 

The day after Gabriel’s visit to the bookshop, Aziraphale decided. 

 

He would not rest until he had found a way to neutralize that damned - because devised in Heaven or not, the evil thing was damnable - collar, and to free Crowley from Heaven’s, and more specifically Gabriel’s control. 

 

The manual was only slightly better than useless - which was probably why Gabriel had been so comfortable simply handing it over to Aziraphale, he surmised with bitter frustration. But the angel found that if he phrased his questions very carefully, he could manage to pry some bits of useful information from its infernal pages. 

 

“Can the device cause permanent damage to the wearer?” he asked, frowning down at the manual with concern, glancing toward the partially open bedroom door where Crowley was in the midst of a much needed nap. 

 

Most punishment levels are safe for long-term use.  

 

Safe !” Azirpahale huffed, indignant. “How is it safe if it’s…?” He broke off his building tirade abruptly. 

 

The manual in no way cared what he thought about it. 

 

Aziraphale considered his next question, and then, through gritted teeth, asked again, “Which punishment levels are capable of causing permanent damage?” 

 

Levels 08, 09, and 10 are capable of causing permanent damage or even discorporation if left for too long.  

 

Aziraphale felt sick as he remembered what Gabriel had said about the level 10 punishment he’d inflicted on Crowley for hours. 

 

“At what point does a level 10 punishment cause discorporation?” 

 

He knew he was just torturing himself now; knowing this wouldn’t change anything, as he had no intention of ever allowing Crowley to endure another level 10 punishment of any duration. Still, for some reason, he just felt he had to know

 

Unclear. Maximum length of time for which this device has been set at level 10 punishment is two hours, 37 minutes. Discorporation did not occur.  

 

Cold fury began to swell up in Aziraphale’s chest. Gabriel had used such a cruel punishment on Crowley - without even having the faintest idea what it would do to him.

 

He wanted to take the collar from Crowley’s neck and lock it onto Gabriel’s. Of course, in order to subdue Gabriel in the first place, he would need some kind of a weapon that would work on an archangel - or at the very least, an airtight ruse. The bookshop had a cellar. It was musty and disused, but it would still be suitable for the purposes of keeping a captive angel…

 

Aziraphale blinked, abruptly aghast at the direction of his thoughts. 

 

No, no, it’s not my place to think such things, and certainly doesn’t do Crowley any good. I’m to bring down all of Heaven on his head because of my own thirst for vengeance? No, no, that’s no good at all...

 

Aziraphale shut out his dark, spiraling thoughts, and brought his attention back to the manual. He frowned, thoughtful, as an intriguing idea occurred to him. 

 

“Can you show me the total number of days for which this individual device has been worn by the demon Crowley?” 

 

This device has been worn by the demon Crowley for 57 days. 

 

37 days before I found him… nearly three weeks since then…

 

Aziraphale’s heart sank with disappointment. 

 

He thought for a moment, unwilling to give up just yet. The collar had shown him the longest duration that Crowley had experienced at a certain level. Perhaps it could tell him… how long it had been set to that level in total . Perhaps, it could tell him how long it had been set to each level, in total. 

 

And perhaps… just perhaps… those totals might equal more than 57 days’ worth of time. 

 

“Can you show me the internal data logs for the device? Details of how long the device has been run at each individual punishment level?” 

 

Aziraphale was almost certain he’d get back an answer that amounted to “access denied” or “archangel approval necessary”. 

 

What he received was a detailed, day-by-day report of every time the collar’s level had been changed, and how long it had been left there - beginning with the day that Crowley had disappeared. Aziraphale tried not to get his hopes up too high. It was quite likely that the details in this log would match time as he had experienced it, not as Crowley had. And in fact, the first several days’ records did indeed total 24 hours - Aziraphale noted with relief, almost entirely set at level 01, only very brief times when it had gone any higher than that. 

 

But as Aziraphale continued working through the daily records, he found that after the first few days, the numbers ceased to match up. On Day 7, for example, the collar had been left on level 06 for four hours, and then lowered to level 02 and left there for 10 hours, before being brought back up to level 06 for 33 hours. Aziraphale tried not to think about Crowley, left on such a severe punishment for such a cruel length of time. He was on the verge of a breakthrough here, something that might give Crowley some of the answers he craved. 

 

If these numbers were at all accurate, then somehow, Day 7 had contained 47 hours. 

 

Day 9 appeared to have contained 58. 

 

With eager anticipation, Aziraphale took out a blank notebook and a pencil, and began furiously writing, working the maths. 

 

*********************************************************************************

 

Crowley emerged from the bedroom a little before dusk - still exhausted.

 

The collar didn’t help, even at the lowest setting, sapping his energy and leaving him feeling weak and tired most of the time. His sleep was restless, plagued with dark dreams, and he kept waking, startled, his body broken out in a cold sweat, heart pounding. At last he gave up and ventured out into the living area, where Aziraphale was sitting at his desk, scribbling furiously in a notebook. He didn’t notice as Crowley approached, so the demon draped his arms around his angel’s shoulders. 

 

“Hi,” he said softly. 

 

“Hello, darling, did you have a restful nap?” Aziraphale’s tone was pleasant, but distracted. 

 

“Not really,” Crowley admitted, voice hoarse with sleep as he leaned in to kiss Aziraphale’s neck. “Can’t sleep without you… don’t have to sleep, though. We could… not sleep…” 

 

“Not now, darling, all right?” Aziraphale’s tone was one of barely reined impatience. “I’m really quite in the middle of something, and I must finish this. I’ll come find you in a bit, yes?” 

 

“Yeah. Yeah, ‘s fine.” Crowley withdrew his arms from around Aziraphale, trying not to feel too rejected. “I’ll just… make us some tea.”

 

“Yes, that would be lovely, darling,” Aziraphale said, in a tone that suggested he’d have said the same exact thing if Crowley had suggested he was about to go count how many pedestrians he could mow down in a single London rush hour.

 

Crowley sighed and headed for the kitchen, flipping on the light and opening the cupboard where the tea was kept - right next to his little plant, which was sporting several brand new spots on its once again browning leaves, tiny, fragile purple petals scattered in the dirt beneath its stems. 

 

More spots?” Crowley snapped at it, raising his voice. “What is bloody wrong with you?” 

 

“Crowley, love, please !” Aziraphale called from the other room, agitated. “I’m trying to concentrate!”

 

Crowley cast a resentful glare back toward the living room before returning his attention to the plant - albeit with a considerably lower volume. 

 

“You’re bloody useless, you know that? I can’t help you if you won’t help yourself, you know. It’s like you’re not even trying to get any better! Might as well toss you out if this is all the better you’re going to get, and I’m beginning to think that maybe it is!” 

 

And as Crowley spoke, the little plant’s leaves began to shiver and shake a little. Crowley frowned, tilting his head at it suspiciously. Perhaps it was just a draught, or maybe wishful thinking on his part, because none of his plants had shown any fear of him since his return. But no - there it was again, a faint tremor that passed through the damaged little thing as it awaited his threatened judgment. 

 

A brief image flashed through his mind - staring at a perfectly polished pair of brown leather dress shoes, while a menacing figure loomed over him, berating him for his failings while he waited… just waited , heart in his throat… helpless… trembling … 

 

To his own surprise, Crowley felt no satisfaction in the plant’s reaction. 

 

All at once, he was just unbearably sad

 

He let out an exasperated sigh, reaching out to touch the imperfect leaves, stroking gently across them as they shook harder at the contact. He closed his eyes and focused on healing the damage once again. The brown spots faded away… the wilting leaves became strong and thick again… and the tiny purple petals floated back into their places to form full, vibrant flowers. The trembling in the little plant’s leaves subsided as Crowley opened his eyes again, examining his work with a satisfied little nod and then leaning in close. 

 

“You can do better,” he whispered, with all the faint sternness he could muster. “ Do better .”

 

He felt suddenly exhausted from the miracle, and the lack of any genuine rest in his nap, so he made his way back to the bedroom, leaving it half-open behind him.

 

He was fairly certain Aziraphale wouldn’t even remember the promise of tea. 

 

Crowley lay down in the bed, glancing up toward the window, the purple glow of twilight barely cutting into the dusky dimness of the room. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but Crowley did not want to wake up in the darkness a couple of hours from now. He reached for the lamp on the nightstand - just as the bedroom door opened the rest of the way, and Aziraphale stepped inside. 

 

“Are you going back to sleep, dear?” he asked softly, his face shadowed in the light from the hall beyond the room. 

 

“Yeah. Trying,” Crowley muttered, turning on the light, taking off his sunglasses, and laying his head down on the pillow. 

 

“Ah, good. Because, well… I made you something.” 

 

Curious despite his exhaustion and his mood, Crowley lifted his head again, rising up on one elbow as Aziraphale approached and carefully sat down on the edge of the bed. He turned away a little, reaching under his jacket and pulling something out, presenting it to Crowley with a hopeful, earnest smile. 

 

It was a little larger than an orange - vaguely round and glowing and pleasantly warm when Aziraphale placed it in Crowley’s hands. The light it gave off was warm as well - soothing and cozy and only bright enough to keep the shadows at bay. 

 

“I made it myself,” Aziraphale said with the self-conscious tone of a confession. “Literally, it’s… myself. Made from - from my grace. I thought it’d be a less jarring light source than the bedside lamp, and - and you can safely put it right into the bed with you if you like, for - for added warmth, and if you wake up - well - perhaps you won’t wake up, until you’re rested, if…”

 

His voice trailed off… but Crowley understood. 

 

The tiny glowing thing felt like Aziraphale felt - warm and safe and comforting. Crowley couldn’t quite bring himself to look away from it, lost in its light. He laid his head down on the pillow again, hugging the little light to his chest, and it felt like a heating pad nestled in a soft, downy pillow. 

 

“I’m sorry I have to continue working, for now,” Aziraphale said softly. “But… trust when I tell you that it’s for you, my darling. And it will be worth it.” 

 

Crowley felt his insecurities and resentment melt away, and he reached out a hand toward Aziraphale, who gratefully took it, raising it to his lips and kissing it softly. Crowley smiled - a slow, sleepy smile, because he was beginning to feel like drifting off to sleep, and staying asleep this time, would be easier, with his angel’s gift nestled in his arms - as if Aziraphale was still watching over him, even if he wasn’t there. 

 

“Thanks, angel,” he whispered, already hazy with sleep. “Love you.” 

 

The last thing he was aware of before drifting off was the gentle press of Aziraphale’s lips to his brow, the lamp on the nightstand being turned out, and the soft sound of the bedroom door closing. 

 

****************************************************************************************

 

Aziraphale worked for several hours, poring over the numbers the manual had provided. From any sort of logical, realistic standpoint… they simply did not make sense. 

 

There were far too many hours. 

 

Aziraphale found that almost all of the days Crowley had been gone, according to the collar’s data, had held at least 30 hours. Many of them held as much as two weeks’ worth of time, in what was recorded as a single day. 

 

He was vaguely relieved to see that the total time the collar had spent at level 10 was limited to that one specific instance he’d already asked about. The other higher settings had been used with disturbing frequency, but it was the very low settings where the greatest time discrepancy existed. Days’ worth of time spent, in what should have been hours, with minimal suffering inflicted by the collar. 

 

Aziraphale couldn’t make sense of it at first - and then a dark realization occurred to him, bringing in its wake that familiar, smoldering fury. 

 

Of course he’d have the collar turned down… if he wanted Crowley’s attention focused on something else. 

 

Something worse. 

 

These very long periods were the times when Gabriel had personally tortured Crowley. 

 

Aziraphale forced himself to focus on his task, until finally, he had all of the numbers totaled as best he could. His notebook held a record of the number of hours in each day that had passed on Earth… of the time spent at each individual setting, and then the total time spent, on a reasonably clean sheet at the back of his notebook. 

 

Dawn was just breaking, the high window showing shades of gold and pink, as Aziraphale returned to his bedroom, where Crowley was just stirring to wakefulness after a long rest. He blinked at the sound of the door closing, sitting up in the bed, his eyes sleepy, his voice hoarse, but touched with unmistakeable concern as he took in Aziraphale’s demeanor and expression. 

 

“Angel, what is it?” 

 

Aziraphale stared at Crowley for a long moment, so vulnerable and uncertain… wide serpentine eyes trustingly bared to his view… and he couldn’t imagine how anyone could inflict such cruelty on him…

 

For so long

 

Crowley was sitting up in the bed completely now, the angelic night-light Aziraphale had given him sitting unnoticed at his side. The angel fell to his knees beside the bed, reaching out to take both of Crowley’s hands in his, as the demon’s brow furrowed with worry. 

 

“Angel, what? You’re scaring me.” 

 

Aziraphale gave him what might have been a much more reassuring, warm smile, if not for the tears that blurred his vision. He took in a deep, shaky breath, before answering, his words deliberate and measured.

 

“367 days, 14 hours, and 27 minutes.” 

 

Crowley just blinked at him, shaking his head a little in confusion - and then his eyes slowly widened with realization, his lips parting with surprise as Aziraphale explained. 

 

“That’s how long you were actually gone, Crowley. More than a year.” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, glancing down at the bed between them for a moment, visibly processing, before looking up to meet Aziraphale’s eyes again. His voice was halting, hesitant, as he asked, “How - how do you know this?” 

 

“The data log from the manual. I accessed it today, and the hours didn’t add up. The collar records the actual extent of the time you were gone, Crowley - and you were right. You were right .” 

 

Crowley looked down at the bed again, drawing in and letting out a deep, shuddering breath, visibly overwhelmed. 

 

“I don’t know how they did it, or why,” Aziraphale continued. “But we have proof now, proof positive that time was manipulated. I know that now, beyond all doubt.” Aziraphale leaned across the mattress, looking up into Crowley’s lowered eyes, squeezing his hands gently, and Crowley met his gaze, his own lost and haunted. 

 

“And I know something else, my darling,” Aziraphale said softly, reverently. “I know that you’re so very, incredibly strong … to have borne up under it for that long. To have protected me for that long, Crowley. My very, very brave, darling boy…”

 

Aziraphale hesitated just a moment before pulling himself up onto the bed beside Crowley, who immediately hid his face against Aziraphale’s shoulder, trembling hands clutching at the angel’s shirt. Aziraphale frowned, concerned. 

 

“Crowley?” 

 

Crowley resisted his very gentle, very careful attempt to get him to sit up, pressing his head into Aziraphale’s shoulder so hard it very nearly hurt. And after a few moments, Aziraphale could feel the wet heat of his tears, could hear the soft hitch of his breath… could feel the overwhelming sense of sorrow emanating from him. 

 

With a wave of his hand, Aziraphale shifted the glowing light to the nightstand and left it there. He gently dislodged Crowley, only long enough to pull back the covers and slide under them beside him, pulling him down into his arms and holding him while he silently wept.

Chapter Text

Crowley spent what felt like days alone in his dark cell, his torn wings aching and burning as his body struggled, against the restraint of the collar, to heal itself, with nothing but his own thoughts for company. 

 

He thought about the pain, of course, and desperately willed it to end, wished for death as an alternative to this endless suffering. He thought about Gabriel, and wondered with dread when he’d return, and what new torment he’d have devised as a means of convincing Crowley to give him the admission he desired. 

 

And he thought about Aziraphale. 

 

He wondered if he was alive… if he was looking for him… if he’d been called into Heaven and questioned, as Gabriel had said. 

 

He wondered if Aziraphale had betrayed him. 

 

He wouldn’t, he told himself over and over again, sometimes only in his head, other times in fevered whispers into the stillness of the cell. “He wouldn’t, he loves me, he wouldn’t…”

 

He almost wished for the punishment of the collar, to obliterate his thoughts with sparks of electric pain and keep him from tormenting himself this way, keep his worries and doubts at bay - but Gabriel had known what he was doing, leaving Crowley to a worse suffering, one of his own mind’s devising. All the collar offered was the ever-present background static that wasn’t nearly loud enough to drown out Crowley’s fears. 

 

And then, all at once - that was gone, too. 

 

Crowley blinked into the dim light that came from the open door to his cell, the eerie, complete silence almost overwhelming. He’d been sure that Gabriel had closed the cell door behind him - and there it was, standing wide open. Of course, he’d been a bit out of it the past several days. 

 

Or weeks. He couldn’t quite be sure. 

 

But the door was indeed standing open, as it had never been when he was not chained to the floor at the center of the room. It was open - and the collar was silent. 

 

Crowley reached up a tentative hand, braced for a nasty shock, as he touched it. 

 

Nothing. 

 

He tried again, sliding his fingertips between the metal and his neck, wincing at the brush of his own hand against his abraded skin - but the collar still did not punish him for touching it. Crowley felt his heart rate accelerate, as he reached up with both hands, hastily searching for a latch or a buckle or some way to unfasten the thing and get it off … 

 

But there was nothing. The collar was smooth all the way around, except for the tiny readout screen and the buttons that controlled it. 

 

Crowley carefully rose to his feet, wincing as the shifting of his weight agitated his still-painful wings. They weren’t bleeding anymore as far as he could tell, but still burned as the air hit them. Crowley edged toward the door, every nerve taut and braced for the worst as he worked up every remaining ounce of courage he had and looked outside. 

 

The last thing he wanted, here, was to draw attention to himself. 

 

Apparently, there was no one’s attention to be had. 

 

The hallway outside his cell was silent and deserted. There were several desks with chairs beside them - empty. The lights were off, though the white walls and large windows still gave the area a bright appearance. There was no sign of any angels around - not the sounds of anyone working, or walking, or talking. Nothing. 

 

It was like Heaven was currently closed for business. 

 

Crowley’s heart raced, his stomach churning with anxiety - and maybe the slightest stirring of hope. 

 

Was it possible that he could actually get out

 

He edged out into the hallway, glancing around nervously. If someone stopped him, he reasoned, he could say that he’d just wanted to see what was going on, why the door was open, where everyone was. He wasn’t actually trying to leave , that’d be foolhardy. But no one stopped him, no one appeared at all, as he made his way down the long hallway, not allowing himself to be distracted by the spectacular view through the large glass wall at his right. 

 

He made it to the escalator - and still, no one stopped him. 

 

The only sound in the entire place seemed to be the escalator’s quiet, electric hum - eerie in the silence. Crowley glanced around one more time, before taking a deep breath and stepping on. He resisted the urge to run down its length, unwilling to make any unnecessary sound or draw any attention to himself - though he still had yet to see any sign of anyone. 

 

As he neared the base of the escalator, he could see the windows leading to the outside - the cars, the people walking by. His heart leapt in his chest, he had almost made it! He was almost free! He stepped off the escalator and hurried toward the revolving door, his thoughts racing… just one name, over and over, ready to cry it out across their connection the moment he stepped outside. 

 

Aziraphale! 

 

He touched the door, pushed it open - and all at once, the collar sparked back to life. There was a bare instant of white static as a warning, before it fired hard, sending cruel electric jolts of agony all through his body, pain that set his ravaged wings aflame again as he collapsed to the floor. 

 

And it didn’t end. 

 

The punishment continued, relentless waves cresting over him, drowning him. He couldn’t breathe, gasping uselessly and clawing at the collar in a desperate attempt to make it stop. He was vaguely aware as strong, familiar hands dragged his hands away from the collar and pulled him up. And then, he was being carried, back up the escalator, back down the long, white hallway. 

 

Back to his cell. 

 

He cried out at the painful jolt as he was dumped roughly onto the floor. He flinched away from the hands that reached for his neck, and received a sharp slap to his face for his efforts, followed by a harsh shake. 

 

“Stop fighting me! I’m trying to help you, you little idiot!” Gabriel snarled. 

 

Despite the pain, Crowley’s training kicked in, and he went still, unresistant even as his body shook with agony, as Gabriel reached for the buttons on the collar and pressed a few in sequence - and the level 08 agony he’d been experiencing swiftly faded out, leaving Crowley to ride out the sharp, tingling after-shocks. He was vaguely aware of Gabriel rising to his feet, looming over him. 

 

“You’re really disappointing me, here, lately, Crowley.” Gabriel’s voice was cold and angry. “This - and your behavior last time I was here. I thought we were finally getting somewhere. Making progress. But no , you’ve just got to start regressing, right back to where we started. I guess that’s what you’re good at, though, isn’t it? Rebelling.” Gabriel was quiet for a moment. “ Apologize .” The order was hard as steel, the threat behind it unmistakable. 

 

Crowley just lay there, trying to catch his breath, his heart aching with the loss of what had been so close , almost within his grasp. He was just so tired , so fucking sick and tired of the pain and the humiliation and the mind games. He wanted to go home. He wanted his angel. He’d had enough

 

He remained stubbornly silent. 

 

Gabriel responded by grabbing the upper ridge of Crowley’s wing, his fingers ripping into the ashen, blood-caked feathers and tearing them out as he twisted the bone viciously backward. Crowley cried out in pain, tried to pull away, but Gabriel’s hold was too tight. In vindictive retaliation, he just twisted harder. 

 

“I’m sorry!” Crowley gasped out at last, surrendering. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…

 

Gabriel eased his grip, but did not let go. “What are you, Crowley?” he asked yet again, wearily, as if he already expected the answer, already expected what he’d be doing next. “What am I to you?” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly. 

 

On this point, he was not willing to surrender. 

 

He steeled himself for the pain he knew was coming, squared his shoulders, his jaw locked stubbornly. He kept his gaze focused somewhere around Gabriel’s knees - and he said nothing. 

 

Gabriel laughed, low, a little sad. “All right then,” he sighed. “You want to behave like the rebellious, fallen angel that you are - that’s how I’ll treat you.” 

 

His hand on Crowley’s wing softened into an incongruous caress, before he let go entirely and took a few steps away, toward the door. Then he turned, and Crowley’s stomach clenched when he saw the metallic glint of the remote control in Gabriel’s hand. 

 

In seconds, the pain had reached an unspeakable level - a level Crowley had never experienced from the collar before. All-consuming agony that made him feel like he was on fire, burning from the inside out. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move, every muscle rigid and clenched against relentless torment. 

 

“Level 10,” Gabriel explained, his voice fading in and out over the rush of Crowley’s blood pounding in his ears. “Closest it gets to Hell, without being… you know, Hell .” 

 

If Crowley could have spoken, he would have argued Gabriel’s assumptions. The archangel really had no way of knowing. He’d never been to Hell, and he’d never experienced the collar for himself. But Crowley had experienced both, and he knew. 

 

Hell had nothing on this. 

 

Gabriel ran a hand down the bare skin of Crowley’s back, trembling and sweat-soaked already, a cruel smile on his lips as the helpless demon sank deeper into unspeakable suffering. 

 

“Welcome home,” he smirked.

 

Then he got up and walked away, closing the door behind him. He didn’t come back for hours. 

 

**************************************************************************************************

 

Five days had passed since Gabriel’s visit to the bookshop - and Aziraphale hadn’t stopped studying. 

 

He was determined to find answers, to find some way of freeing Crowley from Gabriel’s influence. The information he’d discovered about the time discrepancy had at least allowed him to climb into bed with Crowley and rest for a while that night - but before Crowley awakened the next morning, Aziraphale had already left the bed and was hard at work again in the living room. 

 

Crowley understood why he was doing it. He just also understood that it was pointless. 

 

Gabriel could not be stopped. 

 

Aziraphale sat on the sofa in the living room, with a very old, very heavy book spread out on his lap, and Crowley curled up against his side. For the last several days, it had been the only way for Crowley to get any of his angel’s attention. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of Aziraphale’s fingertips, lightly curling Crowley’s hair around them, drifting down every once in a while to gently stroke his arm or his shoulder. 

 

It only made Crowley want more. 

 

After all - he wasn’t going to have this at all . Not for much longer.

 

Crowley turned his face into Aziraphale’s chest, kissing it lightly, his arm across Aziraphale’s stomach slipping a little lower so that he could toy with the waist of Aziraphale’s trousers. He slid his fingers just under the edge, teasingly back and forth. Aziraphale let out a soft little chuckle, his hand reaching out to catch Crowley’s fingers and pull them back. 

 

“Now, love,” he said, gently reproving, “you keep this up and I’ll never get this done.” 

 

“You’ll never get this done anyway,” Crowley pouted. “You’re going to be researching and ignoring me until the bloody end of time.” 

 

Aziraphale closed the book and carefully set it aside, turning to face Crowley more fully, one hand cupping his cheek. “How’s this, then?” he said, hushed and enticing, leaning in to kiss Crowley’s lips, soft and slow and searching. He drew back just a little, eyes sparkling as he assured Crowley, “You have my full-” 

 

His voice broke off abruptly, his starry eyes frozen in an expression of warmth and affection, his hand unnaturally still against Crowley’s face. 

 

Crowley’s stomach clenched painfully, a cold sweat breaking out across his brow, his heart racing, as instantly he knew , a few moments before the magical alarm went off in his head with the instinctive knowledge that something supernatural was near the bookshop. 

 

Gabriel was coming. 

 

Five days had passed since Gabriel had visited the bookshop - to Aziraphale’s knowledge, anyway. 

 

Crowley knew that Gabriel had been to the bookshop twice since then, this being the third time. 

 

The last time, Crowley hadn’t seen it coming. He had been in the bedroom, Aziraphale in the living room. The alarm had gone off, and he’d rushed out to make sure Aziraphale had felt it as well. 

 

He hadn’t. 

 

And Gabriel had been sitting right next to him, lounging on the sofa as if he owned it. 

 

This time, Crowley had a little more warning.

 

He carefully extricated himself from Aziraphale’s frozen embrace, removed his sunglasses and placed them on the coffee table, and then made his way swiftly toward the stairs. If this had to happen, he’d much rather it happen in the bookshop, safely away from Aziraphale, than here in the supposedly safe space that they shared. 

 

He was halfway down the stairs when Gabriel appeared at the base of them, smiling up at him. He made a little circular turning motion with his hand, and Crowley turned, numbly, to go back up. By the time Gabriel reached the top, Crowley had already turned to face him - already sank to his knees, waiting. 

 

Gabriel gave him a tolerant smile, before grabbing him roughly by his shirt in one hand and his hair in the other and dragging him up and into the living area, shoving him back down onto his knees just a few feet in front of Aziraphale. 

 

“This is better,” Gabriel declared, bright and confident. “Give Aziraphale a better view, right? If only he was looking the right way.” Gabriel frowned, teasingly critical. “Wonder what he was looking at? And, you know… making out with.” He smirked down at Crowley with a single raised eyebrow. 

 

Crowley resisted the urge to look at Aziraphale. He knew the position he’d been left in was rather incriminating. 

 

He wanted Gabriel’s attention to stay focused on him

 

“What do you want from me?” he asked, quiet and resigned. 

 

Gabriel’s lips pursed in annoyance at Crowley’s demeanor, and he crouched down facing him, a tight, malicious smile on his lips. “I want you to show me those gorgeous wings, sweetheart.” 

 

A shiver went through Crowley, and his heart sank, despairing tears already burning in his eyes. 

 

Please ,” he whispered, shaking his bowed head. 

 

His wings still hurt so much from the last time. 

 

Gabriel stood up, his expression losing all trace of humor and becoming hard and menacing as he stalked purposefully toward Aziraphale.

 

Wait !” Crowley cried out, revealing his wings and choking back a cry of pain as they sprang into earthly existence. 

 

Gabriel smiled, satisfied, and made his leisurely way back across the room to stand behind Crowley. The demon lowered his head, closing his eyes. He knew his wings were a nightmare now - far worse than they’d been when Aziraphale had brought him home. Huge patches of feathers had been ripped out, many of those that remained cracked and broken. The bare skin where the feathers had been was bruised and battered. From behind him, Gabriel grabbed Crowley’s left wing, and Crowley couldn’t stifle a plaintive moan of pain. 

 

“You think you have any say whatsoever in what happens here, Crowley?” Gabriel snarled, yanking hard and eliciting another pained, pleading yelp from his captive. “You don’t. We do this when I want, and where I want, for as long as I want. And there is nothing anyone can do to stop me. Not you. Certainly not him .” 

 

Gabriel moved around in front of Crowley, without letting go of his wing, twisting it cruelly as he crouched down to face him, ignoring his increasingly desperate, gasping cries. 

 

“What the hell are you still holding out for, sweetheart?” Gabriel demanded softly, shaking his head slowly with false sympathy, his free hand gentle against Crowley’s trembling lips, jarring in contrast with the vicious pain his other hand was causing. “He’s useless ! He can’t help you. Or himself. Or anyone. What’s the point of all this? Just tell me the truth so we can all get on with things and you can stop suffering like this.” 

 

Crowley shook his head, tears dripping from his lowered eyes against the wooden floor. “But - I won’t,” he whispered. 

 

“What’s that?” Gabriel leaned in, frowning, and Crowley desperately regretted speaking aloud - but it was too late now. 

 

“I won’t,” he repeated, barely louder. “You’ll keep doing this. Keep - keep hurting me.”

 

Gabriel nodded slowly, letting go of Crowley’s wing at last as he took in his words. “Probably,” he acknowledged with a little shrug. “Hmm.” He frowned pensively, tapping a finger against his lips as if mulling it over, before clapping his hands once in front of Crowley’s face with a beaming smile, as Crowley flinched. 

 

“I know!” Gabriel declared. “Maybe you don’t need to bother confessing at all. Maybe that’s just - completely unnecessary at this point. Maybe - I just leave time stopped for a while and go pick up some Hellfire, right from under Beelzebub’s frozen nose. Maybe I bring it back here, and… your precious angel never has to stand trial.” He grabbed the back of Crowley’s neck and yanked him in close, biting off his remaining words, hard and menacing, in his ear. “Maybe this bookshop goes up in flames tonight - with Aziraphale in it. And his little illicit demon lover goes back to Heaven with me.” 

 

“No…” Crowley shook his head desperately, tears flowing freely now. “No, don’t…” 

 

Gabriel let him go with a harsh shove as he rose to his feet and started back toward Aziraphale. Crowley didn’t think, just reacted, reaching out to grab at Gabriel’s wrist and pull him back away from his angel. But he hadn’t even made contact when the collar fired, shooting sparks of pain all through him and stopping his attempt. 

 

As the punishment passed, Crowley slowly lifted his head from his shaking hands, gasping. And his blood turned to ice in his veins when he saw Gabriel crouched in front of him again, a cruel smile on his lips and pure, cold rage in his eyes. 

 

“You were trying to hurt me,” he observed with mild surprise overlaying his anger. 

 

“No,” Crowley insisted, pleading. “I j-just… didn’t want you to hurt him …”

 

“Oh, but you intended it to hurt. You wanted it to.” Gabriel pointed an accusing finger at Crowley. “Or the collar wouldn’t have gone off. You wanted to protect him so bad… that you actually just tried to hurt me.” 

 

He stood up slowly, towering over the trembling, terrified demon. He was still for a moment, staring down at him in disgust and anger - before drawing back his fist and bringing it down, hard, across Crowley’s face. He followed the blow with several more, until Crowley was slumped on his side on the floor, his face already swelling, already bruising from the force of the beating. His head felt fuzzy, black spots dancing before his eyes, when Gabriel dragged him back up onto his knees again.

 

“You want to protect him so bad? How about this?” Gabriel suggested, soft and enticing. “You confess… tell me everything … and I grant him a pardon.” 

 

Crowley just blinked at him, his thoughts still muddled, not quite sure he was hearing right. 

 

“Yeah,” Gabriel confirmed with an encouraging nod. “Temptation’s your thing, right? And he’s fairly naive. So he slipped up.” His tone was one of sympathetic understanding. “Doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You tell me the truth - and I don’t punish Aziraphale. I punish you ,” he amended with a little half-shrug and a grimace. “But then… eventually… I let you die.” It scared Crowley how appealing the offer still sounded. “How’s that for a deal?” His used-car-salesman grin faded a little as he added, “Best one you’re gonna get.” 

 

Crowley stayed quiet for a few moments, willing the aching haze in his head to pass. His wings hurt. His face hurt. He wanted it all to be over. He wanted Aziraphale to be safe. His head was a little hazy from too many blows - but he still knew better than to accept. 

 

“No,” he whispered, his words a little slurred, a little distorted, half of his face badly swollen. “You - you won’t keep a promise to me.” 

 

Gabriel raised his eyebrows. “I won’t? Why not?”

 

Crowley looked up at him, bitter resentment in his eyes as he echoed Gabriel’s own words back to him. “Because I’m a slave. I’m entitled to nothing . You can tell me what you want, to get what you want - but you’d never grant him mercy.” 

 

Gabriel seemed surprised - impressed, even. He moved in, close and swift, crouching down next to Crowley, and Crowley flinched away from the hand that cupped the less-bruised side of his face, pulling him in so that Gabriel could kiss his temple… then his cheek… then his throat. Crowley shivered, desperately trying to turn his head away, but Gabriel held him fast. 

 

“You know me well, sweetheart,” he whispered. He gripped Crowley’s hair with his hand, jerking hard and smiling against Crowley’s cheek when he bit back a whimper. His voice went hard and menacing as he added, “So you’d think you’d know better by now than to look me in the eye.”

 

Crowley closed his eyes, tried to lower his head, but Gabriel had him too close, too tight. “I’m s-sorry,” he whispered. “Please, I’m sorry…” 

 

Gabriel ignored his pleas, sliding his free hand under the back of Crowley’s shirt. Crowley winced and shook his head pleadingly, but Gabriel’s hand on his face just tightened, refusing to let him pull away as he pressed his thumb into the mark on Crowley’s back, smiling against his throat when he broke down, sobbing. 

 

“You know what this means, sweetheart?” Gabriel asked, his voice hushed and private. “It means that whatever pathetic thing you two have going? Whatever it is you think you’re protecting ?” He fairly spat out the word in Crowley’s face, and he flinched. “It’s nothing . It’s meaningless. Because you are mine . Forever. That’s what it means.” He shook Crowley a little, his thumb digging in hard to the spot at the base of his spine, and Crowley could feel the smoldering heat of his rage, the menace behind his words. “ Say it ,” he demanded. 

 

“Yours,” Crowley choked out, tears spilling from his closed eyes. “I’m yours… please …” 

 

“Damn right,” Gabriel snapped. 

 

He ignored the demon’s tears, his desperate plea, and turned him so that he was facing Aziraphale again. And Crowley knew what came next. Gabriel made a point of this, every time. Before Aziraphale’s frozen, unseeing eyes, he kissed Crowley’s mouth, slow and deliberate and possessive, forcing his way in and holding Crowley too tight to allow him to pull away. 

 

Not that he would have dared to try, at this point. 

 

When Gabriel withdrew at last, Crowley was utterly wrecked - shaking, sobbing, his face streaked with blood and tears, bruised and swollen. He couldn’t help flinching when Gabriel reached for his face again - but it was only to run a gentle hand across his cheek, healing the bruises and the swelling he’d left there with his fist. He then passed his hand over the stretch of floor where they’d been, and any trace of blood or scrap of torn feathers vanished as well. 

 

Crowley’s wings, he left as they were. They both knew Aziraphale wasn’t going to see them. 

 

Crowley knew better than to let that happen. 

 

Gabriel ran his hand along Crowley’s wing one more time, almost wistfully, and Crowley tried - and failed - to suppress his shudder as Gabriel leaned in over his shoulder. 

 

“You can put them away now, sweetheart.” He stood up straight. “I’ll give you a few minutes to get back into - whatever the Hell that was.” He waved a disgusted hand toward Aziraphale. “Then I’ll start time back up.” He headed toward the door, calling over his shoulder, not even looking back at Crowley, “Until next time.” 

 

He was gone as quickly as he’d arrived. 

 

Feeling cold and numb and bereft, Crowley rose slowly to his feet. His wings throbbed, and he felt sick, and his eyes burned with fresh tears - but he knew he didn’t have much time. He went to the living area and retrieved his sunglasses, putting them back on his face, and then carefully climbed back into his angel’s arms, wrapping his arm across Aziraphale’s stomach as it had been, doing his best to stifle his tears. 

 

He tilted his face up toward his angel, as it had been in the moment after Aziraphale had kissed him. Crowley’s heart ached at the oblivious joy and warmth he saw on his love’s face. 

 

He was so very, very alone. 

 

“-attention.” Aziraphale’s warm eyes came to life, and he kissed Crowley again, his lips soft and gentle as he tilted his head against Crowley’s brow with a regretful sigh. “But not for long, I’m afraid, darling. I could take a little time, but… I really must keep working if I’m going to get us out of this.” 

 

“I understand.” Crowley nodded, lowering his head against Aziraphale’s chest, eyes angled downward. It was a relief, really. He no longer wanted Aziraphale’s focused attention, not now - not when he didn’t think he could keep it together much longer. He really should have gone to the bedroom, he thought - but he couldn’t bear the idea of being away from Aziraphale right now. He needed to hold him, to feel his warmth, to know that he was still here and alive and all right. 

 

“You always do, my darling, and I love you for it,” Aziraphale said with soft affection, his hand running tenderly through Crowley’s hair, soothing the ghost of the ache from Gabriel’s rough, dominating grip, as he reached with his other hand to retrieve his book, and laid it open on his lap. “One day this will be over, and we’ll have all the time in the world.” 

 

Crowley was thankful for his glasses, that hid the tears welling up in his eyes, as much at Aziraphale’s naive optimism as at his breathtaking tenderness. In the wake of Gabriel’s brutality, it was more than he could bear. He clung to his angel in silence, blinking back his tears, trying to stop their falling, but one escaped and caught on the lower edge of the right lens of his glasses. He watched with dismay as it slid slowly down the edge of the lens, and then fell onto the page of Aziraphale’s book. 

 

Aziraphale went very still, though this time Crowley could feel that it was a natural sort of stillness - could hear the soft intake of his breath, could feel his heartbeat under his hand. 

 

“Crowley.” Aziraphale’s voice was very soft, very cautious. “Darling, are you all right?” 

 

Crowley didn’t know how he was supposed to pretend that he was. He couldn’t. 

 

He turned his face to bury it against Aziraphale’s chest, shaking his head and clinging to his angel. 

 

“What’s wrong?” Aziraphale’s arms wrapped around Crowley, one cupping the back of his head, the other around his shoulders, his voice, his touch, unbearably gentle. “Tell me, love, what is it? What can I do?” 

 

“I don’t know.” Crowley’s words were broken, like every other part of him. “I don’t know,” he cried helplessly. 

 

It wasn’t exactly a lie, and he couldn’t possibly tell Aziraphale any more than that. 

 

Aziraphale in his infinite optimism and naive trust, accepted it as a perfectly valid answer. 

 

“That’s all right,” he assured Crowley in hushed, soothing tones, as he pressed Crowley to sit up a little, just enough so that he could turn and pull both legs up onto the sofa. “There we are, come this way a little… yes, there, that’s better…” He gently maneuvered them until Crowley was lying between his legs, his head resting on Aziraphale’s chest. 

 

“It’s all right not to know,” he told Crowley, running his fingers through his hair, stroking his back. “We don’t always know why, and that’s fine. I’m here, Crowley. I’m right here, my darling.” 

 

And for a few brief moments, the only ones he knew he had, Crowley allowed himself to focus on the feeling of Aziraphale’s fingers gently scratching against his scalp, the warmth of Aziraphale’s arms around him, and tried to shut out the dark torment of memories that weren’t even yet old enough to be called memories at all. 

Chapter Text

There was only one other time that Crowley could remember experiencing such pure and utter suffering.

 

He was lost in it, consumed completely. 

 

Every part of him, from his flesh to his wings to his very soul, was burning with an intensity that overwhelmed him, bright and sharp and brittle, flames ripping through him and roaring all around him. He could feel his skin crackling and peeling away, his blood boiling under his skin, sulfurous smoke filling his lungs and choking him. 

 

He had been cast out. 

 

Guilty, unworthy, he’d been utterly and eternally rejected. He’d been thrown away like so much vile refuse, by the family he loved, by… by… 

 

“Aziraphale?” he cried out, desperately confused. “Angel, please, where are you?”

 

Aziraphale didn’t answer… and he didn’t come. 

 

He’s given up on you, too… gave you up… told you. 

 

And why wouldn’t he? Filthy thing, fallen and unworthy and evil…

 

Crowley’s heart shattered at the realization of the loss of the last and only one he held dear, deep, rending sobs torn from his chest as the pain overwhelmed him - the heat, the flames, the depth of darkness of being separated, alone - forever. But it was for the best, for Aziraphale’s best. 

 

How could he even touch his angel without corrupting him, when the corruption was pouring, molten and living, through his veins? 

 

He didn’t know how long he’d been suffering here - folded over his knees on the floor, face against the stone that didn’t feel cool anymore, but rather searing hot. Every muscle was taut with pain, every breath raw agony, like inhaling shattered glass. He was burning, burning, but never consumed. It felt like eternity - and perhaps it was. Perhaps this was it, his never-ending punishment for being what he was… 

 

Filthy seducer… liar… ungrateful, defiant little slave who doesn’t know his place, can’t do anything right…

 

“Admit it, Crowley…” Gabriel’s voice whispered, and Crowley shivered, withdrawing instinctively from the sound. “Say it. Accept it.” 

 

Gabriel’s voice sounded surprisingly low and close, like he was right down on the floor with Crowley. He didn’t know how long Gabriel had been there, how long he’d been talking to him, sometimes quietly leading, sometimes urgently pushing. He didn’t even know which words were his own.

 

He wasn’t quite sure that mattered, anymore. 

 

He cringed when Gabriel grabbed his arms and pulled him up, leaning into his face. His nerves were raw agony where Gabriel touched him, and he could barely focus as the archangel leaned in close to his ear.

 

“Say it,” Gabriel repeated, urgent, almost pleading. “Come on, Crowley. Accept what you are - what I am to you.” His hands became gentler, one running through Crowley’s hair - softer, soothing, but still leaving streaks of fire in its wake. His voice was encouraging, almost kind. “Say it, and this can stop. I can stop it, and I will. Just surrender, sweetheart…”

 

Crowley stayed silent. He knew he needed to stay silent. 

 

He couldn’t begin to remember why. 

 

Gabriel sighed - and then let go of Crowley, letting him fall to the floor again. His hand rested against Crowley’s sweat-soaked head, still gentle, regretful, before he rose to his feet and headed for the door. And with every step he took away from Crowley, panic took hold of the demon. He couldn’t bear another moment of the heat, the shame, the suffocating alone-ness. He heard the creak of the cell door opening, and choked out the single word in desperation. 

 

“M-Master!” 

 

All was still and silent for a long moment - and then the door creaked closed again, and Gabriel’s footsteps returned, heavy and slow. He knelt down on the floor facing Crowley and took hold of his shoulders, pulling his head down against Gabriel’s knees - firm and insistent, not giving him a choice about it, but not seeking to hurt him, either. 

 

Gabriel’s hand reached out to touch the collar - and the pain swiftly receded. It wasn’t gone in an instant; it faded out gradually, leaving in its wake violent tremors that shook Crowley’s body, shook him until he felt he’d be shaken apart. The sobs that had been lodged in his chest forced their way out, choking him as he hid his face against Gabriel’s knees. 

 

“Thank you…” Broken words torn from his lips between his sobs. “I-I’m s-s-sorry, thank you, I’m sorry…” 

 

Gabriel’s hands were soft in his hair, on the bare skin of his back, sliding across the upper reaches of his wings - gentle and reassuring, shockingly comforting. 

 

“That’s it, sweetheart,” he soothed him, hushed and affectionate. “That’s better. That’s all I wanted.” 

 

He let Crowley stay there until the tremors had faded and the pain had passed. Then his hand in Crowley’s hair became firm again, dragging him up so that they were face to face. His voice hardened, stern and warning. 

 

“Say it again,” he commanded. “What are you, Crowley?” 

 

The deep, wrenching sobs had passed, but Crowley was still weeping softly. “Y-your slave,” he cried. “Yours.” 

 

Gabriel smiled, letting out a deep sigh of relief. His tone softened as he asked, “And what does that make me?” 

 

“Master,” Crowley choked out. “You’re - you’re my master.” 

 

“Very good.” Gabriel released his grip on Crowley’s hair, sliding his hand down to touch his face, almost tender as he brushed his tears away. 

 

There’d been nothing but pain for so long - nothing but endless agony and degradation, and the darkness of Crowley’s own memories, memories of shame and loneliness and loss. He was vile and evil and unworthy… but Gabriel’s hand was gentle and comforting - the first gentle touch he’d felt in a long, long time - and Crowley found himself leaning gratefully into it, like the fragile tendrils of a plant seeking the sunlight… even as Gabriel pulled his hand away. 

 

Crowley bowed his head against Gabriel’s knees again, his trembling hands reaching out to touch. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed softly, again and again. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

 

“I know you are.” Gabriel’s voice was low and patient, as he stroked Crowley’s hair again. “You can’t help being what you are. You’re just a demon, Crowley. Eventually, even Aziraphale saw that.” 

 

Crowley flinched, but didn’t pull away, even as what was left of his heart shattered into agonizing shards in his chest. 

 

My angel, he’s better off without me, better off far away from this, far away from my corruption and filth…

 

“He decided you weren’t worthy of all that he’d be giving up. And… you’re not .” Gabriel spoke the words with sympathy and affection. “You’re not worthy, Crowley. You never could be. That’s why he threw you away.” He was quiet for a moment, before continuing, a promise in his words. “But I won’t throw you away. I’m going to keep you. I’m going to help you. Help you learn your place. Help you have a purpose. Are you going to let me? Are you going to let me help you, sweetheart?” 

 

Crowley nodded against Gabriel’s knees, sobbing out, broken and desperate, “Yes, Master…”

 

************************************************************************************

 

Something was terribly wrong with Crowley. 

 

It’d started with Gabriel’s visit to the bookshop, and gotten progressively worse from there. Crowley was increasingly withdrawn - quieter, more nervous and skittish. At first, Aziraphale had wondered if Crowley was angry with him, for not listening to his advice about setting the collar a little higher, for putting him in a position to be hurt by Gabriel again. 

 

But he’d insisted that he wasn’t, he didn’t blame Aziraphale, and not to worry about it. 

 

“It was just for a few seconds, angel, I’ve had loads worse.” 

 

There was nothing about that statement that made Aziraphale feel even the least bit better. 

 

But Crowley would come and sit with Aziraphale on the sofa and cuddle up to him, seeking warmth and comfort. He would curl around him in the bed at night and hold onto him and kiss him in the mornings… and afternoons, and evenings, and pretty much all the time … so despite his own guilt over the bookshop incident, it was impossible for Aziraphale to hold onto the idea that Crowley was angry with him. 

 

He’d just… stopped talking. 

 

Just when it seemed that he’d finally started to open up a little bit, to talk to Aziraphale about some of what he’d been through in Heaven - Crowley had abruptly stopped, promptly shutting down any time Aziraphale tried to ask him what was wrong, or why he was so quiet, or what was he thinking about? 

 

Crowley just insisted that he was fine, Aziraphale was overreacting, everything was fine

 

Aziraphale didn’t want to push him - so he accepted it on the outside, while worrying away at it in his head. 

 

One afternoon, Aziraphale made his way down to the shop to retrieve a few books he wanted - ancient texts he’d hidden away in a dark, deserted corner of the shop where no one ever looked, books on angelic law and customs. 

 

For the moment, the collar appeared to be a dead end. Aziraphale had decided instead to look for some sort of Heavenly legal precedent that might protect Crowley, or at least offer him some recourse from the type of abuse Gabriel had inflicted. Perhaps there might be some sort of means for Aziraphale to take responsibility for Crowley - to take him under his protection, somehow. 

 

With a heavy stack of books in tow, Aziraphale made his way carefully back up the stairs. 

 

Before he even reached the top, he could hear Crowley yelling. No, not yelling. Screaming , furious, angrier than Aziraphale had ever heard him. 

 

Alarmed, Aziraphale set the books down as quickly as he could and headed toward the sound of Crowley’s raised, enraged voice - coming from the kitchen. 

 

That was where he found him, standing near the window, his back to Aziraphale, holding his little plant - once again withered and fading - in his hand, and berating it. 

 

“You utterly useless little piece of shit !” he screamed at it, shaking it. “I’ve given you everything you need! Why do you keep doing this? I try and I try and I take care of you, and all you do is fail me at every turn! I’m sick to death of your pathetic wilting and spots and lies ! Why can’t you just be better ?” 

 

All at once Crowley spun around and hurled the potted plant across the room, where it shattered against the wall just behind Aziraphale’s head. Crowley’s eyes went wide when he saw Aziraphale, and he took a step backward, lowering his gaze as he reached for his sunglasses on the counter and picked them up. 

 

Aziraphale did his best to keep his reaction easy and casual. “Your plant’s been lying to you, has it?” he remarked, his tone mild. “Sneaky little bugger.” 

 

Crowley didn’t laugh, didn’t even smile - just rolled his eyes at Aziraphale with the sort of vicious disgust usually reserved for Aziraphale’s magic act, before pointedly putting his sunglasses on and turning away. If it had been under any other circumstances, Aziraphale would have been pleased to see a bit of the old Crowley return. As it was, he approached cautiously, feeling more and more uncertain as Crowley visibly tensed, the nearer he got. Still, he reached out a careful hand, his fingers brushing against Crowley’s in an invitation. 

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” 

 

Crowley jerked away from him, rounding on him and snarling, “Do I ever want to talk about it? No ! Just leave me the fuck alone !” And Crowley slid past him without touching him at all and stormed off to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him hard enough that the walls rattled, and the top book on the admittedly hastily made stack Aziraphale had just set on the coffee table fell off onto the floor. 

 

*********************************************************************************

 

Crowley had barely closed the door behind him when the panic set in. 

 

He sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, clutching at his hair and trying to catch his breath, his pulse pounding in his ears. 

 

No, no, no, what is wrong with you? Why would you do that? 

 

Aziraphale literally hadn’t done anything , but to walk into the room. 

 

And to bloody care about you. Don’t forget that. What an unforgivable offense. 

 

You absolute fucking monster. 

 

Aziraphale was only trying to help. He’d walked in on Crowley absolutely fucking losing it, and naturally had tried to reach out - and Crowley had screamed at him and insulted him and locked him out of his own bedroom. Aziraphale hadn’t done anything wrong. 

 

Crowley was the one who was a complete failure. 

 

Useless little fuck-up, you don’t deserve him. All the effort he’s putting into you, ’s not worth it.

 

He got up, paced toward the door - and then back again - and then back to the door, his hand hovering over the handle for a moment, before he withdrew it. He bit his lip, frowning for a moment, before he reached over and unlocked the door, at least. If Aziraphale wanted in, he had the right. 

 

If Aziraphale wanted to slap him down for his utterly unacceptable behavior… he had that right, too. 

 

Crowley wanted to go out there and apologize, and attempt to offer some explanation that would soothe his angel and make it clear that this was on Crowley , not Aziraphale. But not the truth. No, he couldn’t lay that on Aziraphale, not when it would put him in even greater danger, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Crowley couldn’t do that - not to his dear, sweet angel who’d given everything for him, to help him. 

 

His cowardice won out, and Crowley returned to the bed, lying down on his stomach on top of the blankets, slamming his face down into the pillow - a move which was slightly painful, given the placement of his sunglasses. He rose up just enough to snatch them off of his face and hurl them off the side of the bed, before lying down again, his fists clenched in either side of the pillow as he buried his face in it and released a hoarse, muffled scream of frustration.

 

He lay there for a while, agonizing - until there was a soft knock on the door. Aziraphale opened it just a little, just enough to peek inside. His voice was soft, almost timid. 

 

“May I come in?” 

 

“Your room, isn’t it?” Crowley retorted, sullen, angry. 

 

Why? Why are you doing this? Aziraphale doesn’t deserve this, what is wrong with you?  

 

He should just throw you against the wall, throw you away…

 

He looked up as Aziraphale approached, too ashamed to meet his angel’s eyes - and was surprised to see what Aziraphale was carrying in his hands. His little plant with its brilliantly blooming tiny purple flowers, its leaves vibrant and green, carefully repotted in a dark green clay pot. His gaze followed it as Aziraphale crossed the room and set it down on the nightstand, in place of the softly glowing angelic night-light that rested there. Without a word, he turned to Crowley, sitting down on the edge of the bed and placing the light in Crowley’s hands.

 

He tried to comfort you, and you wouldn’t let him touch you, Crowley realized, his throat closing up, tears in his eyes. So he’s offering you comfort anyway. Completely touching-free. Crowley swallowed against the ache in his throat, closed his eyes and lowered his head, holding the light close against his chest. 

 

“You should be a little more patient with it.” Aziraphale’s voice was soft and mild. “And… forgive it, for its… weakness.” 

 

Crowley looked up, a little confused, and Aziraphale offered him a warm smile, nodding toward the plant on the nightstand, focusing his gaze on it as he spoke. 

 

“What you see as weakness, I should say,” he amended. “If you were to ask me, I’d say it’s actually… extraordinarily strong. It’s been through an awful lot, you know.” He was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again, his voice was hushed and thick with emotion. “It was… so very alone. For so very long. It very nearly didn’t make it at all. And - now it’s trying, dear. I know it is. It just needs… a little more time. A little more love and patience. The chance to rest, and get well, and know that its suffering is over.” 

 

Crowley bit his lip, stifling a sob, his shoulders trembling as he let go of Aziraphale’s light with one hand, to extend that hand toward the angel himself. Aziraphale didn’t even look at him as he reached his own hand out and took it, stroking his thumb slowly, soothingly, across the back of Crowley’s hand.

 

“If it’s just… not in you to offer that at the moment, love,” Aziraphale continued softly. “That patience, that… forgiveness - I understand. I’ll offer it for you. Until you can.” He finally, cautiously, turned to meet Crowley’s eyes, such a depth of warmth and compassion in his own that at last Crowley’s tears spilled over, as Aziraphale whispered, “ You’ve been through an awful lot, too.” 

 

Crowley couldn’t speak, couldn’t even begin to find words. His tears flowed thick and fast down his face, his emotions swiftly overwhelming him. He tossed the little glowy nightlight down onto the floor, somewhere in the general vicinity of where his glasses had landed, before turning and burying his face in his angel’s lap. 

 

“We’re doing our fair share of tossing things about today, aren’t we?” Aziraphale’s tone was mild, affectionate. “You aren’t going to hug me for a bit, then toss me out of the bed too, are you?” 

 

Crowley’s response was to wrap his arms around Aziraphale’s waist, holding onto him tight as he wept. Aziraphale put his arm around Crowley’s shoulders, his embrace firm and supportive, his fingers sliding soothingly through Crowley’s hair. He was quiet for a long time before he spoke again, hushed and patient. 

 

“What can I do, my dear?” he asked. “Please tell me.” 

 

Crowley just shook his head for a few moments before lifting it just a little, just enough to speak. “Just this,” he whispered, clutching Aziraphale tighter. “Please, angel, just… just this.” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a moment. “All right,” he agreed at last, settling in a bit more comfortably on the bed and just holding his demon close, until his tears subsided and he drifted off into a troubled, restless sleep. 

Chapter Text

The sound of measured, heavy footsteps approaching the cell door drew Crowley from a fitful, restless sleep. 

 

Any sleep at all was a rare mercy, but far more likely the past few days, since Gabriel had turned the collar down from level 10 to level 01 - and left it there. He still came into Crowley’s cell to use his body, to test his obedience - but when he left, he left only quiet static in his wake, in place of the relentless pain he’d always set the collar to inflict before. 

 

At the sound of the archangel’s approach, Crowley moved closer to the door, to the place he knew Gabriel would want to find him. He slid to his knees, lowered his head, hands crossed behind his back. His heart lurched as the door opened and Gabriel stepped inside - silent, just watching him for a long moment. 

 

Then he closed the distance between them, crouching down to face Crowley and reaching out a hand to touch his face. Crowley closed his eyes, swallowed hard, but didn’t move, didn’t flinch - utterly submissive to the contact. Gabriel’s thumb stroked gently across his cheek, and he could hear the smile in the archangel’s voice, as he instinctively leaned just slightly into the touch. 

 

“Very good, Crowley. I’m very pleased with you.” 

 

Crowley allowed himself to feel a tentative sense of relief. He knew well that just because Gabriel was pleased didn’t mean he wouldn’t be hurt. But these past few days, he’d tried so hard - hadn’t talked back, hadn’t resisted anything Gabriel had tried to do to him, hadn’t broken any of Gabriel’s rules. He’d been a perfectly obedient little slave. 

 

And Gabriel had not hurt him. 

 

Well, not enough to count, really. There was the testing, of course. Gabriel would do something to cause him pain, just to see if he would stay in position, to see if he would dare try to resist - which he didn’t, not anymore. Gabriel also seemed to have an unhealthy preoccupation with pulling Crowley’s hair, or tugging at his wings while he fucked him. 

 

And of course that usually hurt, too. The fucking. 

 

But Crowley hadn’t been punished again since the level 10 punishment. Gabriel was pleased with him - and that had to be better than the alternative.

 

“You’ve been so good, sweetheart,” Gabriel said, soft, reassuring. “I have a reward for you.” 

 

Crowley’s mouth went dry. His heart raced with alarm. Gabriel had never offered him a reward of any kind before. There was only more pain, or less pain. Whatever this “reward” was, he was sure it was at least equally likely to be something terrible, as to be anything he would even remotely enjoy.

 

“Stand.” Gabriel rose and stepped back, giving Crowley room to obey. 

 

It felt… strange. 

 

His body was slighter than Gabriel’s but they were about the same height, and it felt… wrong , to be standing eye to eye with the archangel. Crowley felt deeply unsettled; he’d become accustomed to being on the floor, on his knees. His stomach lurched when Gabriel moved close to him, a heavy hand gripping the back of his neck, his voice a low, menacing growl in Crowley’s ear. 

 

“You will continue to behave yourself.” It was a statement, not a request. “You will not run, or try to fight. You will keep your eyes on the floor, and come with me.” 

 

Crowley nodded hurriedly, his eyes carefully turned down. “Yes, master.” 

 

Gabriel smiled, using his grip to pull Crowley in closer and kiss his temple, before releasing his neck to brush an affectionate hand through his hair. 

 

“You have no idea how much I love the sound of that.” 

 

Gabriel took a firm hold on Crowley’s arm and led him from the cell into the brightly lit hallway beyond it. Crowley didn’t look up, but noticed that it still appeared empty, as empty as the day when Crowley had attempted his escape. Perhaps this particular area of Heaven was usually unoccupied. It made sense that Gabriel would keep him far away from the more populated areas.

 

He wouldn’t have wanted anyone to be bothered by Crowley’s screams - back when he had still dared to scream.

 

They turned a corner, and the bright white light gave way to a softer glow, white tile to beige carpet. Gabriel led Crowley down a long hallway with doors on either side, until he stopped at the last one on the left, and took out a key to unlock the door before pushing Crowley, not too roughly, inside. 

 

The room was softly lit with several fixed lamps. There was a sink against one wall, with a mirror behind it, and a few clean towels stacked on a shelf beneath it. There was soft, thick carpet under Crowley’s bare feet. A full sized bed was against the wall to his left, dressed with thick blankets and several pillows. The air in the room was warm, a sharp contrast to the ever-present chill of his stone cell. 

 

As Gabriel let go of him and turned to close and lock the door behind them, Crowley sank to his knees, waiting, his heart in his throat. He had no idea why they were here, what Gabriel intended. 

 

He glanced uneasily toward the bed. It was probably a strong clue as to the answer. 

 

He suppressed a shiver when Gabriel’s strong hands came to rest on his bare shoulders, his thumbs massaging lightly. “Well?” he asked, his voice soft, expectant. “What do you think?” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, desperately afraid of getting the answer wrong. At last he admitted, “I - I don’t know.” He hesitated a moment before venturing to ask, “What do you want me to do?” 

 

Gabriel laughed a little, his hands squeezing Crowley’s shoulders a little harder, but not enough to cause any pain. “I want you to relax, for one…”

 

Crowley didn’t think that was possible.

 

“And… maybe show a little appreciation?” Gabriel suggested, deceptively mild. “This is yours. Your new room.” 

 

Crowley blinked, bewildered, as he looked around the room again. It was far too comfortable, more like a bedroom than a cell. But - Gabriel had said he was getting a reward. His voice was hesitant, uncertain.

 

“From now on?”

 

“Until you do something to deserve a different one.” The slight edge to Gabriel’s voice told Crowley that he meant the statement to be interpreted both ways - as if perhaps Crowley might earn an even greater reward, if he continued to please his master - or be slammed back into his dark, cold cell, if he didn’t. 

 

The silence was weighted, expectant, and Crowley’s heart clenched when he realized, in his surprise, he’d nearly forgotten Gabriel’s veiled command. 

 

Right. Appreciation…

 

“Thank you, master,” he said softly, bowing his head. 

 

He waited for Gabriel to move around to face him - to demand some more physical expression of his appreciation - but Gabriel just stroked his hair again, soothing and gentle, before turning to the door and leaving him alone in the room. The sound of the key in the lock was loud in the stillness.

 

Crowley tested the sink - actual running water, both hot and cold. He had not been provided with a glass to drink from - angels and demons didn’t strictly require sustenance, after all - but Crowley used his cupped hands to drink cold water from the tap, relishing the soothing coolness on his dry, aching throat. He examined his reflection in the mirror, startled by how thin and pale he looked, by the dull, messy state of his hair - short when he’d been taken, now hanging to his shoulders. He took a few minutes to wash up as best he could with a warm, wet towel. He walked the small perimeter of the room, becoming acquainted with it. 

 

He didn’t go near the bed. 

 

As warm and inviting as it looked, as much as he would have loved the comfort of a soft bed after so long attempting to rest on hard stone, Crowley was fairly certain that the bed was a trap - just another means for Gabriel to hurt him. When he grew tired, Crowley slept on the floor, as he’d become accustomed to doing. The carpet was far softer than what he was used to, anyway, and it was easy to drift off in the warm air that surrounded him. 

 

When Gabriel returned to the room, Crowley was certain: this was it, the real reason for this room. 

 

Gabriel wanted to rape his slave in comfort. 

 

But Gabriel didn’t go near the bed, either. He pushed Crowley up against the wall, his strong hands as greedy and grasping as ever, mouth claiming Crowley’s throat, marking his skin, as he lifted him up, pressed between his own body and the wall, and fucked him. Crowley was confused when he left again - without really hurting him. He’d been nowhere near as rough or violent as usual. 

 

That night, Crowley fell asleep on the floor again, but this time with his back against the side of the bed, allowing his head to rest on the mattress, which was every bit as soft and inviting as he’d thought it would be. So warm… so tempting. 

 

He wanted it. 

 

The next time, Gabriel took him on the floor. Then against the wall, again. He’d come to Crowley’s room, again and again, and take what he wanted from him - force him to endure his rigorous tests of obedience and submission - but he wasn’t so brutal as before. He didn’t hurt him as much. 

 

And he never went near Crowley’s bed. 

 

It was his . It was really his. 

 

When Crowley dared to sit on it for a little while - then to cautiously pull back the blankets and nestle down inside of it - he half-expected Gabriel to slam the door open and come barging in to triumphantly take this from him, as he’d taken everything else. 

 

But he didn’t. Nothing bad happened. 

 

And Crowley slept

 

Better than he’d slept since that last night in Aziraphale’s apartment, Crowley slept. His badly injured wings began to heal more quickly, now that he could rest, and Crowley’s situation became more tolerable than it had been since his capture. Gabriel still came into his room on a regular basis, still used him as he chose - but he left the bed to Crowley. It was a safe place, a haven in the midst of his own personal hell. He could rest, he could forget, he could dream

 

He dreamed of Aziraphale - and not only when he was asleep. 

 

He closed his eyes and imagined that it was Aziraphale’s bed, back in the apartment over the bookshop. He remembered the sunlight filtering through the window onto his face, the smell of tea and old books, the heat of Aziraphale’s arms wrapped around him. If he really lost himself in the memories, really focused on the sensations, he could almost pretend that it was reality - almost.

 

How he ached for home - for his angel. 

 

But… this was not as horrible as it had been. This was better, he told himself, until he almost believed it. This was better.

 

Then one day, the floor dropped out from beneath his feet, when Gabriel whispered in his ear, low and enticing as he pressed his body up against the wall, 

 

“Don’t you think you’d be a little more comfortable in the bed?” 

 

Crowley felt sick. The bed was his . The only safe place he had left. 

 

“Th-this is okay,” he replied, very, very careful and quiet. “I-I’m okay…”

 

“Yeah, but… wouldn’t you rather be in the nice, soft bed than here?” Gabriel persisted, his words carrying a false note of concern. 

 

Crowley’s heart raced. Gabriel’s phrasing was odd - making it about Crowley’s comfort, about what Crowley wanted. He swallowed slowly, against the ache in his throat, closing his eyes as he whispered, “D-do I have a choice?” He braced himself for punishment, flinching a little when Gabriel’s hand rose - but only to brush through his hair, soothing. 

 

“Sure you do,” he said, deceptively soft. “It was a gift. It’s yours.” 

 

Crowley was absolutely terrified. It was a trap, it was definitely some kind of a trap. But - he couldn’t bring himself to hand over that safe space, his little corner, to Gabriel of his own volition.

 

“Then… no,” he whispered at last, flinching as the word left his lips - a word he wasn’t allowed to voice. “Not there.” He closed his eyes, adding a soft, desperate, “ Please .” 

 

Gabriel was quiet for a moment, his hand leaving Crowley’s hair, both hands pressing him up against the wall. Crowley didn’t dare look at the archangel, but could feel the tension in his grip, felt his rising fury.

 

“Fine,” he snapped, terse and cold. 

 

Crowley bit back an apology - because an apology would lead to a surrender, and if he had a choice, if he could possibly hold onto the bed and what it had come to mean to him - he would. 

 

Gabriel’s hands were harsh and biting, his pace more violent than it had been in weeks. Crowley knew there’d be bruises later - on his arms, on his back where it hit the wall, on his thighs. Gabriel kept up a punishing, forceful rhythm until he finished, and then slammed Crowley into the wall with breathtaking force as he finally let him go. 

 

Crowley crumpled to the floor with a gasp of pain, as Gabriel zipped his pants up and stalked angrily toward the door. He stopped before he reached it, turning to face Crowley again. Crowley flinched as Gabriel crouched in front of him, trapping him between the wall behind him and Gabriel’s cold, barely restrained fury.

 

“It’s not as if he’s ever going to share it with you,” he pointed out, quietly vicious. “Your precious Aziraphale.”

 

Crowley winced, closing his eyes, nodding slowly. “I know.” 

 

“He doesn’t want you ,” Gabriel snarled. “He never did.” 

 

“I know,” Crowley repeated, tears sliding down his face. 

 

He didn’t want to think about Aziraphale, not now, not with Gabriel looming over him in furious menace, not with Gabriel’s come drying on his thighs. He stayed there, quiet and still and submissive to Gabriel’s cruel words, until the archangel finally left, slamming the door and locking it behind him.

 

Feeling numb and empty and scared, Crowley finally pulled himself to his feet and limped across the room to the sink, where he wet a towel and carefully began to clean himself up. He looked down at the towel, his heart sinking with a slowly creeping sense of dread - the sense that something had just started, that could only end badly. 

 

It was the first time since giving him this room that Gabriel had left him bleeding. 

 

It would not be the last. 

 

***********************************************************************************************

 

Crowley was in the kitchen tending to his plant when the warning alarm went off. 

 

He turned and hurried toward the living room, expecting to find Aziraphale frozen in his seat at his desk where he’d been studying. Instead, Aziraphale met him in the kitchen doorway, fully aware, catching Crowley by the arms and looking him in the eye with immediate, intent reassurance. 

 

“It’s going to be all right,” he told him firmly. 

 

The words were meaningless. Crowley nodded anyway.

 

Aziraphale’s regretful gaze fell on the collar, before he sadly met Crowley’s eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he said softly, his hand on the dial. 

 

Crowley shook his head, dismissive, accepting. “If you have to hurt me so he doesn’t, it’s all right,” he insisted, calm and reassuring. “It’s better if it’s you.” 

 

Crowley was fairly certain it wasn’t going to be a matter of choice between the two. Gabriel was going to hurt him, either way. 

 

They went into the living area, where Aziraphale sat on the sofa, and Crowley knelt on the floor at his feet, while he took a book from the coffee table - a perfectly innocent novel that had nothing at all to do with angels or electronics of any kind. The books he’d been researching were in a messy stack under the coffee table, blending in too well with the other messy stacks of books scattered around the room to be of any interest to Gabriel.

 

Crowley removed his glasses and set them on the coffee table, as he’d become accustomed to doing when Gabriel came. It was better than allowing Gabriel to handle them. He glanced up, feeling self-conscious and a little “caught” when he saw the troubled frown on Aziraphale’s face. Before the angel could question his actions, however, they heard the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. 

 

“Excuse me!” Aziraphale protested when Gabriel entered the living room. “There’s a doorbell, and this is my home!” 

 

“Heaven is your home.” Gabriel’s smile was wide and bright and false. “And this is important, Aziraphale. It can’t wait. There’s something you need to know.” 

 

His piercing gaze turned on Crowley, who immediately looked away, instinctively pressing back against the sofa beside him in response to the vindictive anticipation he saw on the archangel’s face. If the collar would have allowed it, Crowley would have altered his form and hidden beneath it. 

 

“Seems you’ve been sleeping - or some other stupid, pointless, human activity - on the job,” Gabriel accused Aziraphale, reaching into his inside coat pocket. “Because your little demon prisoner here’s been getting all around London lately.” 

 

He handed Aziraphale two photographs, and the angel took them with a suspicious frown. 

 

“Just what are you going to do about that?” Gabriel demanded. 

 

Crowley couldn’t see the pictures from where he was kneeling, but he guessed they were of him, out and about near recognizable London landmarks. He hadn’t been anywhere without Aziraphale - they all three knew it. But Crowley also knew how easy it would be for someone with Gabriel’s power to create false photographs - false evidence in order to force Aziraphale’s hand.

 

He could feel a slight tremor in Aziraphale’s leg where he was pressed up against it, could hear the tension in his voice. 

 

“That is completely impossible,” the angel declared. “He couldn’t have gone anywhere unattended. He’s been with me the entire time.” 

 

“The entire time, huh?”

 

Gabriel’s tone was as blatantly nasty and accusing as Crowley had ever heard it when Aziraphale was conscious and aware enough to recognize it. Crowley’s heart pounded in his chest. He knew what Gabriel was after, now. He was trying to trap Aziraphale, trying to force him to punish Crowley - certain that he wouldn’t.

 

And Aziraphale - sweet, devoted, loyal Aziraphale - was already defending Crowley, arguing his innocence. 

 

Walking right into Gabriel’s trap. 

 

Crowley couldn’t let that happen. He had to make sure that Aziraphale had no choice but to follow through. 

 

“I did it,” Crowley said quietly, and the room fell silent. He took a deep breath, then raised his voice a little, forcing a little defiance into his words, making his tone careless and vaguely challenging. “Got a bit stir crazy, cooped up in this musty old shop all the time. Waited ‘til you were busy. Wasn’t hard to slip away, way your nose is always buried in a book.” He let out a dismissive little huff of breath, rolling his eyes before leaving them downcast. “‘S not like I did anything,” he added defensively. “Just wanted to get out for a bit.” 

 

He could feel Aziraphale’s shocked gaze on him, though he kept his face turned away from him. He risked an instantaneous glance up at Gabriel, his stomach dropping when the archangel met his eyes, an expression of amused surprise on his face. His eyes narrowed, calculating, as if trying to decide how to proceed. He almost certainly had not expected Crowley to back up his false accusations. 

 

Finally, Gabriel broke the tense silence. 

 

“Well, there you have it,” he said quietly, waving a hand toward Crowley and fixing Aziraphale with an expectant look. “Your prisoner needs discipline. What are you going to do about it?” 

 

“Well, I - I’m quite sorry, I - I assure you I had no idea whatsoever...” Aziraphale began, his words an anxious rush, and Crowley felt guilty for putting him on the spot in such a way. 

 

It was the only way to protect him. 

 

“I suppose I’ll - I’ll have a firm discussion with him about why such behavior is not allowed, and then I’ll... administer… discipline…” Aziraphale rose to his feet, taking a step toward the door. “So, if you’ll excuse me, Gabriel, I quite clearly have important matters to attend to…”

 

“Not later, Aziraphale.” Gabriel’s voice was quiet but hard. “No. This needs to happen now .” 

 

Please, angel… please just do it, just do what you have to so he’ll go… and leave you alone. Please...

 

Crowley didn’t dare actually share the words with Aziraphale across their connection. It was all too likely that Gabriel would be able to hear them as well. 

 

“Yes, well… yes, I suppose you’re right,” Aziraphale agreed at last, and Crowley felt a rush of relief. “All right, then.” 

 

Crowley glanced up at him, watching as he took the remote control for the collar from his pocket. His movements were slow, overly precise - as if by moving more slowly he could somehow prevent what had to happen. Crowley could feel how much he hated this, everything about this - but he had to do it, there was no choice. And the collar was likely the least terrible option, even if he set it to one of the higher settings. 

 

Crowley doubted Aziraphale could bring himself to go any higher than 07. 

 

“No, not that way.” Gabriel stopped him, and Crowley’s heart leapt up into his throat. “Not this time.” Aziraphale gave him a frown of alarm and confusion, and he continued with a smile, “You said yourself you didn’t have much experience in this area, right? And that’s obvious by the demon’s bad behavior. Time to get some experience, Aziraphale.” 

 

So that was the archangel’s game, then. He was going to force Aziraphale to hurt Crowley with his own hands. Diabolically brilliant, really, Crowley had to admit. The collar was at least… distant . Hands off. It would be far more difficult for Aziraphale to inflict pain on Crowley in some other, more personal way. 

 

Crowley glanced up at him, trying to gauge from his expression what he was thinking, if he was going to be able to bring himself to do what had to be done. As he watched, Aziraphale’s jaw set, and his eyes went cold. A chill went down Crowley’s spine at the carefully bridled anger he could feel coming off his angel. He knew that Aziraphale loved him. Aziraphale knew he was actually innocent of Gabriel’s accusations. Still, the very thought of that cold anger being aimed at him was a little terrifying. 

 

Aziraphale nodded once, curtly, and put the remote control away, crossing the room with purposeful steps and then turning to face Crowley once he’d reached an empty space. 

 

A space with room to work. 

 

His tone was stern, controlled. “Come here, Crowley.” 

 

Crowley shivered, his heart racing. He nodded, biting his lip as he rose and crossed the room, swiftly going back to his knees facing Aziraphale, head bowed in deference, eyes closed. 

 

Warring fears filled Crowley’s thoughts, as he knelt there, waiting - the irrational fear of his angel hurting him... far outweighed by the greater fear that he wouldn’t hurt him enough . He wasn’t sure Aziraphale had it in him - and if Gabriel wasn’t convinced, he could take Crowley away to Heaven again. He could have Aziraphale punished. He couldn’t imagine anything his angel could do or say that would be enough. 

 

Until Aziraphale spoke, his voice composed and quietly commanding - and Crowley’s stomach plummeted through the floor. 

 

“Present your wings.”

Chapter Text

 “It’s better if it’s you…”

 

Crowley’s words echoed in Aziraphale’s head, like a mantra he had to keep repeating to remind himself:

 

He had to do this. 

 

It was better if he did it, than if Gabriel punished Crowley - for something that all three knew full well Crowley hadn’t done , but the seething, righteous fury that rose up in Aziraphale when he thought about that was not a helpful emotion at the moment. He needed to fight it down - needed to remain calm and composed and get through this, with as minimal pain for his dear demon as possible.

 

If he was in control of the punishment, not Gabriel - then he could make sure it wasn’t too bad. 

 

That was why he’d decided on Crowley’s wings. They’d been hidden away for weeks now, healing faster than the rest of his body on the earthly plane. By this point, they had to be nearly, if not completely, healed. And by the same token, once Gabriel left, whatever damage Aziraphale was forced to inflict would heal faster if it was on Crowley’s wings, which would be safely on the spiritual plane, and further from the influence of the collar that inhibited his healing abilities. 

 

If he had to hurt Crowley anywhere … his wings were the best place for it. 

 

Aziraphale had wanted to avoid hurting Crowley at all - but Crowley had forced his hand. And when he truly thought about it, he had to admit that he understood why Crowley had done it. They both knew he was far too soft to go through with this unless there’d been no other choice - and that was what Gabriel was counting on. 

 

Aziraphale’s failure to punish his “prisoner” would only have resulted in worse punishment, for both of them. 

 

Crowley had known this, and wisely saved Aziraphale from his own reticence.

 

But now, Crowley was trembling violently, staring up at Aziraphale with wide, panicked eyes - and all at once, Aziraphale’s heart sank as he realized - he’d made a very bad call. A memory came back to him of the first night he’d brought Crowley home... Crowley’s hoarse, haunted whisper as he’d told Aziraphale that there weren’t many injuries on his human form that needed tending, because Gabriel had always focused on his wings

 

Oh, Aziraphale, you supreme idiot, what have you done?  

 

“Please,” Crowley whispered, shaking his head, his eyes welling with tears. “Not that…” 

 

Gabriel smirked for a moment before barely concealing his malicious amusement, glancing down at the floor for a moment before looking back at Crowley with a little grimace of false regret. Aziraphale wasn’t sure which of them he was speaking to when he said quietly, “You realize, of course, that now it has to be... that .” He gave an insincerely apologetic little shrug as he looked at Aziraphale. “Can’t let him think he’s calling the shots.” 

 

Dismayed, Aziraphale turned back toward Crowley, taking a couple of careful steps forward and crouching down in front of him to meet his eyes. Crowley’s expression was pure panic, and Aziraphale’s heart broke to see it. He couldn’t risk reassuring him via their spiritual connection; Gabriel could easily overhear. He touched a gentle hand to Crowley’s chin, tilting his head up a little and desperately willing Crowley to understand what he couldn’t say. 

 

It’s just for show, darling, I won’t hurt you, no more than I can help it, I promise I won’t…

 

“I can’t,” Crowley whispered, and Aziraphale could feel him trembling under his hand. “You don’t understand, I can’t …”

 

Aziraphale steeled himself. He could not yield to his own compassion here, any more than he could have in the halls of Heaven that day when he’d convinced Gabriel to let him take his demon home. Now as then, he had to get through this in order to keep Crowley safe. 

 

“What you mean is that you won’t ,” Aziraphale corrected him, soft but stern. “But you will. Right now, Crowley. Do as I’ve told you.” 

 

Crowley looked at him for another long moment, imploring, before his shoulders fell, and he closed his eyes, crestfallen. Aziraphale’s heart ached as Crowley lowered his head, and tears spilled down onto his face. 

 

Crowley obeyed Aziraphale’s command, presenting his wings, and Aziraphale stood up straight, keeping his pace measured and even as he walked around behind him. 

 

He froze. His breath caught in his throat, and he tried not to let his horrified disbelief show on his face. 

 

Crowley’s wings were destroyed

 

Large areas of them were bare, feathers ripped out leaving bloody wounds in their place - wounds which had scabbed over, though dried blood still streaked the remaining black feathers, many of which were broken and barely attached. Bare skin where feathers had once been was now covered in layers of bruises. 

 

Aziraphale was at a total loss, unable to comprehend how this could have happened. His first furious thought was of course, Gabriel - but how was that possible? Aziraphale had been with Crowley constantly , aware of his location at all times. 

 

Perhaps they were worse off than I realized to begin with? He desperately searched for an explanation. Perhaps something’s preventing the original injuries from healing? 

 

Damn , Aziraphale.” Gabriel let out a slow whistle, giving Aziraphale an impressed grin. “I thought I was gonna have to teach you how to do this. But you don’t play around, do you? What’d he do to deserve this ?” The very clear amusement in his gaze aroused a fierce rage in Aziraphale - but Gabriel was watching him very closely with pointed interest in his answer, so he wrestled it into submission, and tried to think of one. 

 

Crowley turned his head slightly, sharply, toward Aziraphale, drawing his attention. He was shaking so violently that his wings rustled with it, visibly overwhelmed with panic. He shook his head just a little, almost imperceptibly, but Aziraphale couldn’t see his face, had no idea what message he was trying to get across. Helplessly, he tried to come up with an explanation to give Gabriel. 

 

Crowley spoke up before he could. 

 

“I ran into some demons while I was out,” he blurted out in a breathless rush. “Got in a fight.” 

 

“No…” Gabriel shook his head, moving slowly closer to where Crowley knelt, and Aziraphale couldn’t miss the way Crowley shrank away from him, bracing himself. “No, that’s not what happened. I can tell by the bruises. This wasn’t just one incident. Besides,” he scoffed, derisive. “You can’t fight.” He smirked. “Sorry, Crowley, but you’re fresh out of ‘street cred’.” 

 

The last phrase was marked with mocking finger quotes, before he reached out a hand to run along the length of Crowley’s battered left wing. Aziraphale’s hands curled into fists behind Crowley’s back, out of Gabriel’s line of vision, and he fought the urge to knock the archangel back, out of reach of his demon. 

 

“I guess you don’t want me to know how badly you’ve been behaving for Aziraphale, huh?” Gabriel mused. “Guess you’re scared I might just take you back to Heaven.” 

 

Aziraphale’s stomach clenched painfully, and he willed himself to maintain control. A choked little whimper escaped Crowley’s lips, and he shook his head, silently pleading. Gabriel visibly savored his terror for a moment, before relenting, letting go of Crowley’s wing and stepping back again. 

 

“Nah. Looks to me like he’s got everything well in hand.” He nodded toward Aziraphale with grudging appreciation. “Can’t say you’re not trying, anyway.” 

 

Aziraphale knew there was something here he was missing - something vitally important. Whatever had happened to Crowley’s wings - he’d deliberately hidden it from Aziraphale. Aziraphale knew, now - his terror at exposing his wings had not been fear that Aziraphale would hurt them, but fear that Aziraphale would see them. Gabriel’s sheer pleasure in Crowley’s suffering lent weight to Aziraphale’s feeling that the archangel had to somehow be responsible - but Gabriel was behaving as if he thought Aziraphale had done it. 

 

And how could Gabriel have gotten to Crowley, anyway? Aziraphale was always with him. 

 

Aziraphale just couldn’t figure it out. 

 

He needed to get Gabriel out of there, as quickly as possible, so that he could. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley whispered into the tense silence, his voice thin and brittle with panic. “I’m sorry…”

 

“I’m sorry, too, Crowley,” he sighed, reaching out to touch Crowley’s shoulder, hoping to be reassuring - but Crowley’s flinch away from him was all too convincing. There was nothing for it at the moment, nothing Aziraphale could do but to play along with Gabriel’s assumptions, and claim credit for the horrifying state of Crowley’s wings. “I’m sorry it has to keep coming to this. And I’m hopeful that you’ll learn to behave yourself properly, and we can avoid this in the future.” 

 

He ran a hand down Crowley’s wing, careful to avoid his injuries, until he found a place that seemed relatively untouched. Shorter feathers, their roots not as deep, without much bruising around the area. It would sting, he knew, but it wouldn’t do as much damage as if he pulled out larger feathers, with deeper roots. A temporary pain, relatively minor in comparison to what Crowley had already been through - to get rid of Gabriel and protect him from anything worse. 

 

Aziraphale clenched his hand in the soft, downy feathers - and all his rationalizations did nothing to ease the utter disgust he felt toward himself at the sweeping wave of overwhelming panic he felt from Crowley, the full-body tremors that overtook him at the threatening touch. Lost in his terror, Crowley buried his face in his hands, openly weeping. 

 

“Please, don’t,” he sobbed, plaintive, imploring. “Please, master, don’t…” 

 

And Aziraphale froze - all of his careful control shattering in an instant, swallowed up in rage, at the implications of the word that he couldn’t quite believe he had actually just heard. 

 

*************************************************************************************

 

Crowley froze, too, the moment the word slipped from his lips. 

 

He hadn’t meant to say it. 

 

He was just so confused, so overwhelmed, so scared, and before he’d realized what he’d said, it was out there, the sound of it sucking all the air from the room and leaving all three of its occupants in shock. 

 

Crowley hadn’t worried about Aziraphale punishing him, except to worry that he might not punish him enough . After everything he’d experienced at Gabriel’s hands, Crowley wasn’t afraid of whatever temporary pain Aziraphale might be able to force himself to inflict, in order to be convincing. 

 

No, that wasn’t why he was terrified

 

Gabriel knew Aziraphale hadn’t hurt his wings, he knew because he’d done it himself - and Aziraphale was pretending he had - incriminating himself further with every word. Crowley had tried to speak up and offer an explanation, to give Aziraphale an out, but Gabriel had easily shot that down. He’d tried to warn Aziraphale, but couldn’t with Gabriel so close, watching every move either of them made. And Aziraphale didn’t even know it yet, but he was caught , caught in his lies, and Gabriel knew

 

Of course Gabriel knew; he’d known about them for a very long time. While he still, always, guarded his words against anything the archangel could actually use against Aziraphale, Crowley hardly bothered to pretend that he didn’t care about his angel anymore. 

 

Gabriel knew

 

But there was a vast difference between Gabriel knowing , for himself - and Aziraphale’s own words condemning him. 

 

He was scared for Aziraphale; he wasn’t scared of Aziraphale, he wasn’t, he wasn’t - but Aziraphale was so angry , he could feel it pouring over him the moment he exposed his wings - pure blind rage, overpowering, overwhelming, making everything inside him freeze up in terror… because he deserved that anger.

 

Because you’re a liar, that dark, familiar voice hissed in his mind, viciously accusing. Because you’ve been keeping secrets and lying to him and now he knows it and now he’s done with you, stupid, worthless little serpent. You never deserved him and he knows it now. He’s going to throw you out, he’s going to give you back, but he’s going to make it hurt first, because you have this coming. Your own fault. You brought this on yourself…

 

And before he knew it, he was pleading, with words that just fell off his tongue with such easy familiarity, words that usually served to placate Gabriel, at least a little. 

 

But he hadn’t spoken that word to Gabriel … not this time. 

 

Aziraphale stood very still behind him, his hand still clutching Crowley’s wing - tight, but not tight enough to hurt. Gabriel stood in front of him, silent, and Crowley glanced up… and instantly regretted it, dread clenching around his heart in an icy fist. He swiftly looked away from the dark, murderous rage in the archangel’s eyes, but even in an instant, his expression was easy to read. 

 

He was purely furious that Crowley had dared to speak that word - to Aziraphale.

 

Crowley’s heart raced as Gabriel slowly advanced on him, crouching down in front of him. He forced himself to keep still as Gabriel tilted his head up, his eyes darting anxiously up to meet Gabriel’s gaze for just an instant - and oh , that was a mistake , because once captured by the archangel’s cold, arresting gaze, Crowley found that he couldn’t look away. 

 

“You know what, Aziraphale?” Gabriel said softly, a cool smile on his lips, never breaking eye contact with Crowley. “I think I’ve seen enough.” 

 

Crowley’s heart sank. 

 

He’s seen enough. He has enough. He’s got Aziraphale, now, trapped in his own words, and he’s going to make him pay for your little slip-up, stupid whore, your angel’s going to suffer because you couldn’t keep your fucking mouth shut… 

 

He shook his head a little, barely breathing out a desperate plea. “No, no, don’t… please …”

 

Gabriel let go of him and rose slowly to his feet, glaring down at him for a moment in disgust… before abruptly turning toward the door. “Keep a better eye on him from now on,” he ordered Aziraphale in a forcedly careless tone that did not conceal his anger… not from Crowley, anyway. 

 

This was it, Crowley knew. One tiny, fatal mistake, and Gabriel was done playing his game. He was certainly going away right now to make his preparations to come back and arrest Aziraphale, and take them both away. His angel was trapped, doomed to death and perhaps even damnation - and it was all Crowley’s fault. 

 

Crowley shivered a little when Aziraphale finally seemed to come out of his shock, his hand still clenched in Crowley’s wing finally easing off and letting go. Slowly, Aziraphale moved around in front of him, kneeling down on the floor to face him. His voice was too calm, his composure barely skating over the surface of a boiling rage that Crowley could feel, rolling off of him in stifling waves. 

 

“Will you look at me, Crowley?” 

 

It wasn’t a command, Crowley knew his angel well enough to know that no punishment would follow if he refused - but he couldn’t refuse, forcing his gaze up to meet Aziraphale’s eyes - and then immediately looking away from the fury he saw there. 

 

“I’m s-s-sorry,” he hissed out, desperate, broken words spilling from his lips. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, angel, please, I’m sorry…” 

 

“What are you sorry for?” Aziraphale’s words were quiet and even. “Unless you did this to your wings, I don’t see what you’d have to…”

 

Lying ,” Crowley blurted out, his shame choking him as he hid his face in his hands. 

 

Aziraphale’s hands were as gentle as ever as he took Crowley’s hands and pulled them down, holding them in one of his own as he raised the other to touch Crowley’s face, brushing his tears away. Crowley shivered, unsettled by the contrast between the soft warm tenderness of Aziraphale’s touch - and the icy fury he could feel , thrumming just under the surface of his angel’s skin. 

 

“What have you lied about?” Aziraphale persisted softly. When Crowley couldn’t bring himself to answer, he concluded, his voice low and faintly trembling, “He did this to you. Didn’t he?” After a moment, Aziraphale amended, “ How did he do this to you?” 

 

He couldn’t keep it back anymore, everything was coming to light whether he wanted it to or not, and the secret was crushing him, had been for as long as he’d held it. Crowley’s words poured out in a desperate rush. 

 

“He stops time, he said he learned it from me, I d-don’t know how. He did it in Heaven, it’s why the time was off, why I was there for so long, he did it so he could... “ He gestured vaguely, helplessly, toward his ruined wings. 

 

Aziraphale blinked, momentarily caught off guard, processing - and then his anger flared hot again, suffocating, overpowering. He rose to his feet, and Crowley instinctively shied away from him, heart lurching. But Aziraphale just reached down and took his arms, steadying him as he helped him to get to his feet as well. Crowley stood there, helplessly guilty and ashamed as Aziraphale’s agitation overpowered him, and he began pacing the floor as he tried to work it out. 

 

“He stops time ,” he echoed, glancing at Crowley, who nodded once in miserable confirmation. “So, he’s been… when did he… but no, I suppose that’s the wrong question isn’t it? It would have been between the ‘when’, of course. He’s been doing this for… for how long , Crowley?” 

 

“Since… that first time he came. To the shop,” Crowley admitted, cringing when Aziraphale froze in disbelief. 

 

For how long he’d been lying to his angel, how could Aziraphale possibly forgive him? 

 

“How many times?” Aziraphale asked. 

 

“F-four now,” Crowley confessed, his words hushed by his shame. “No… no, five.” 

 

“And you didn’t tell me…” Aziraphale resumed his pacing, his tone not angry, exactly. More thoughtful, contemplative. 

 

Crowley flinched. The words didn’t sound like an accusation - but they certainly felt like one. 

 

Didn’t tell him, kept it secret, kept him in danger, worthless, stupid, useless...

 

“No, I suppose he told you not to, didn’t he?” Aziraphale continued, so lost in his own thought process that he didn’t seem to notice Crowley’s reaction, or lack of a response. “So of course you kept your silence… you couldn’t have gone against him, not after everything…” He sat down on the edge of the sofa, drawing in a deep shaky breath and letting it out slowly, raking both hands through his hair. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley cried softly, overwhelmed by his own guilt and shame, and the confusing, cacophonic tumult of fearsome emotions he felt coming off Aziraphale. “I sh-should have, I’m s-so sorry, mas--” He choked off the word in horror before he could finish it, gasping out, “-- angel , sorry… sorry…” 

 

Aziraphale looked up at Crowley sharply, dismayed and disbelieving. 

 

Crowley wanted to sink to his knees again, to sink through the floor. Instead he just wrapped his arms around himself, his shoulders shaking as he cried, anxious eyes locked onto Aziraphale, watching with dread for his reaction. 

 

“Master,” Aziraphale whispered under his breath, staring at Crowley, aghast. He looked away again, shaking his head slowly as he repeated it with disgust and disbelief. “ Master ...” 

 

His eyes were wide, distant, staring but not seeing the items on the coffee table in front of him - a couple of random, unsuspicious books, an unlit cinnamon-scented candle, Crowley’s sunglasses. In a sudden fury that overwhelmed him and Crowley at the exact same moment, Aziraphale let out a frustrated, furious roar, sweeping his arm out and knocking it all off onto the floor as he rose to his feet. 

 

Crowley stumbled back away from him, until his back hit the wall near the bedroom door. 

 

Aziraphale was pacing again, his steps carrying him away from Crowley as he wrestled with his reaction to emotions that Crowley knew on some level, his angel had never experienced before. Aziraphale was above all a being of love and light and warmth… and quite unfamiliar with the depths of furious rage he was feeling right now. On some level, Crowley could understand why Aziraphale was having a very difficult time controlling himself. 

 

That didn’t stop his panic when Aziraphale’s pacing steps turned him around and brought him back toward Crowley. 

 

At the exact same moment, several things happened. Aziraphale’s eyes lit on his demon’s pale, terrified face, and he froze, instant regret shining from his eyes.

 

“Crowley,” he began, soft, sorrowful, and moved toward him. 

 

And Crowley bolted for the bedroom door, slamming it shut and locking it behind him. 

Chapter Text

Aziraphale had just enough time to realize his mistake, before the bedroom door slammed in his face. 

 

Everything he was feeling - the confusion, the shock, the overwhelming rage - it was all about Crowley … his dear Crowley , who had been abused and manipulated and terrorized right here in his own home … and rather than care for him as he needed, rather than reassure and comfort him - Aziraphale had allowed his blind fury to frighten him away. 

 

He felt completely out of control, drowning in a wave of emotions he’d never in all his existence experienced. He’d felt righteous anger before, and the desire to avenge those who’d been unfairly hurt, but… this was different. This was Crowley . The tumult of emotions Aziraphale was feeling had become a powerfully swirling vortex sucking him in, consuming him. His thoughts were still spinning out of control, racing and tumbling over each other as he tried to make sense of it all. 

 

Gabriel could stop time

 

He’d apparently, somehow, learned it from Crowley - and then taken it and used it to extend his captivity in Heaven, to give himself enough time to torture him and terrorize him and break him, to the point where his brave, defiant, sharp-tongued demon would cower on his knees before him and call him fucking master

 

And, there was the consuming rage again.

 

From the other side of the bedroom door, Aziraphale heard a heartrendingly soft, broken little sound - and he closed his eyes, resting his head against the door, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. 

 

He had to get it together, at once , because he was still frightening Crowley, from the other side of the door - and his broken demon needed him to keep control right now. 

 

“Crowley?” he called softly, trying the handle. He winced when he found it locked. 

 

How much damage has your thoughtless rage already done?  

 

“May I please come in, love?” 

 

After a long, heavy silence, Aziraphale heard the soft click of the lock turning. He opened the door, slowly and carefully. He immediately knew that Crowley must have used a minor miracle to unlock the door, because there was no way he could have gotten to the door and back into his current position so quickly. 

 

Crowley was huddled in the bed, his knees pulled up in front of him, his angelic night-light cradled in his arms, folded against his chest. His damaged wings were wrapped around in front of him, shielding most of him from view. His golden eyes were wide and wary as he looked up at Aziraphale, watching him closely as he softly closed the door and cautiously approached the bed. 

 

“I’m not angry,” he said quietly, as he sat down on the edge, leaving a couple of feet between himself and Crowley. 

 

Crowley lowered his face toward the night-light, its soft glow shining in his tear-filled eyes. “You’re lying.” 

 

“I’m not angry with you ,” Aziraphale amended, truthfully. 

 

Crowley closed his eyes with a shaky, weary sigh. Aziraphale frowned, noting the fine tremor in his limbs, his state of utter exhaustion. His eyes fell on the tiny screen along the edge of the collar, which still read 04. 

 

Well , that certainly wasn’t helping anything. 

 

“May I?” he asked, reaching a cautious hand toward it, but not venturing any nearer than the protective shield of Crowley’s wings. 

 

Crowley’s eyes darted nervously toward the angel’s fingers, and he swallowed slowly, but then nodded, granting access. He tensed when Aziraphale touched the collar, his jaw taut, eyes closed - but then visibly relaxed a bit as the pain receded. Aziraphale allowed his gaze to drift over Crowley’s ravaged wings as they shifted, and a sense of sorrow fell over him. His voice was hushed and heavy. 

 

“Your poor wings, my darling.” 

 

Crowley’s voice was low and small, and shook a little. “C-can I put them away?” 

 

The question broke Aziraphale’s heart. Had Crowley truly been sitting here, waiting for someone to give him permission ? He reached out a careful hand to take one of Crowley’s , pulling it down a little so that both their hands rested against Crowley’s knees. 

 

“They’re yours, my love,” he reminded him gently. “You never need ask my permission. Although…” He gently squeezed Crowley’s hand, his words very cautious. “I do wish that you would wait just a bit… and let me see? Perhaps I can help…”

 

“You can’t heal them,” Crowley cut him off, looking away. “He’ll be coming back, angel, he will, sooner rather than later, and it’s just more evidence, just more proof for him to use against you.” 

 

“Not that he needs any more at this point, I’ve made certain of that,” Aziraphale pointed out, frowning, puzzled. “What do you suppose he’s waiting for?” 

 

“He’s known for a long time.” Crowley’s tone was grim, troubled. “Just couldn’t prove it. But… now…” 

 

“Now that I’ve openly claimed responsibility for something he knows he’s done?” Aziraphale grimaced, a sick feeling building in the pit of his stomach. “Now that he’s caught me in at least one significant lie?” He considered for a moment. “Of course, he may not be able to admit to having done this,” he amended, the realization taking shape in his mind as he spoke. “Stopping time - that’s a rather extravagant miracle. A bold misuse of power, most would say, no matter for what purpose, and when he’s using it for such… brutality…”

 

Crowley flinched a little, his hand tightening around Aziraphale’s, and Aziraphale closed his eyes for a moment, pushing down on his anger. 

 

It could wait. Crowley couldn’t. 

 

“Perhaps he does not wish his superiors to know he’s done it,” he concluded, hoping his words would offer Crowley some reassurance. “Perhaps that’s why we’re both still sitting here. I believe the term is ‘mutually assured destruction’?” 

 

“I don’t know.” Crowley’s voice was low and hoarse, wobbly with exhaustion, and he buried his face in his arms, without letting go of Aziraphale’s hand. “I just don’t know.” He pulled his wings in a little tighter around himself, and as he did, let out an unhappy little groan of pain. 

 

“May I see?” Aziraphale asked again, softly. Crowley lifted his head just enough to give him a dubious, suspicious look, and he sighed, adding reluctantly, “I won’t do any miracles. I promise. Just - human remedies, perhaps, to ease the pain before you put them away and let them heal?” He reached out his free hand to cautiously touch the edge of Crowley’s wing. 

 

Crowley jerked the wing away with a frightened little gasp, and Aziraphale felt a fresh wave of overwhelmed emotion from him - suffocating terror and confusion. 

 

Aziraphale hesitated a moment... then decided

 

He moved in closer to Crowley, freeing his hand from Crowley’s grasp and reaching out to place both hands on either side of Crowley’s face. Crowley jerked in his grasp, and Aziraphale felt a fresh jolt of alarm from him, but he held on. What Crowley needed right now was to know for himself what Aziraphale was thinking, what he was feeling - to be reassured that the fury Aziraphale was incapable of stifling was not at him, but for him. In the wake of all that had just come to light, it was impossible for Crowley not to feel the angel’s wrath. 

 

Aziraphale just needed to make sure he could feel his love , as well. 

 

He leaned in close, pressing his forehead to Crowley’s, and closed his eyes, focusing on sending out a powerful pulse of energy over his love, surrounding him, covering him. He felt the raw agony, the terror emanating from Crowley, felt his panic… and allowed the fierce, consuming love he felt for him to go to war with it.

 

Crowley shook in his grasp, but no longer tried to escape it. His hands rose to cover the angel’s, pressing his head against Aziraphale’s as if trying to bury himself in his angel’s warmth and love, and Aziraphale felt it - the moment when the tension, the resistance, just snapped like a rubber band… and all he felt from Crowley was sheer, utter relief

 

Crowley let go of Aziraphale’s hands and reached down to toss his little Aziraphale-substitute night light to the side, in favor of embracing the real thing. He wrapped his arms around his angel and clung to him, burying his face against Aziraphale’s shoulder.

 

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed, gasping. “I’m sorry, angel, I should have told you… shouldn’t have lied to you…”

 

“You didn’t lie,” Aziraphale reassured him, kissing his hair, cupping the back of his head, warm and steadying. “You simply chose not to tell me. And how could you possibly have?” The angel shook his head a little, closing his eyes against the hot tears threatening to spill over. “My darling, you must have been so very frightened… I missed the signs, I’ve been so busy…”

 

“Helping me ,” Crowley reminded him, his voice muffled and tearful. “You’ve been busy helping me .”

 

“I’ve been unavailable .” Aziraphale’s voice was firm. He was not about to let himself off the hook for this one. “I’m sorry, Crowley. I’m so sorry.” 

 

He held Crowley for a few moments, gently stroking his back, laying soft kisses along his brow, running his fingers through his hair, until he felt Crowley grow calmer. At last he drew back a little, meeting Crowley’s eyes and gently touching the edge of his wing, his words soft and coaxing.  

 

“Let me see, darling.” 

 

Crowley’s wings were almost entirely in front of him, which Aziraphale thought was probably quite fortunate. Crowley would be less frightened if he could see what Aziraphale was doing. He carefully examined the damaged wings, smoothing through the feathers and carefully removing ones that were broken or falling out, soothing the sting out with gentle caresses after. As he worked, however, Aziraphale realized that there really wasn’t a lot he could do to help, short of a miracle. 

 

There were many bruises and places that had once been bleeding, but were now scabbed over, already in the process of healing. On their own, they would continue to ache, continue to hurt , until they slowly healed through the natural process. And once Crowley hid them away again, they would heal more quickly, certainly, but…

 

Aziraphale wanted so badly to just heal them. 

 

“You can’t,” Crowley whispered, as if reading his mind, and Aziraphale realized a little guiltily that he’d been just sitting there, holding Crowley’s wing and staring at it for a minute or so. “Gabriel…”

 

“I won’t.” Aziraphale sighed, resigned if not accepting. He resumed gently stroking through the feathers, smoothing them, as he reminded Crowley softly, “They’re yours, love. I’ll only do as you wish.” 

 

Crowley’s eyes drifted shut as he let out a soft little hum of pleasure. “You can keep doing that ,” he offered with a sleepy little smile. 

 

Aziraphale smiled, and continued, careful to avoid Crowley’s injuries. His smile faded a little as he looked more closely. In the places where feathers had been yanked out and now there was only bare skin, he could clearly see the layers of bruises - from multiple attacks, as Gabriel had so helpfully pointed out. 

 

And he could see scars - countless scars, all over Crowley’s wings. 

 

His heart ached, and yet was so full, with an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude, as he took in the weight of what Crowley had endured. 

 

Crowley had received these scars… for protecting him

 

Impulsively, Aziraphale leaned forward and pressed a light kiss against one of the scars nearest to him. Crowley shivered a little, his breath catching in his throat, but his eyes stayed closed and he stayed still. Aziraphale hesitated, watching his face closely as his fingertips carefully traced the line he’d just kissed. 

 

“Y-you don’t have to,” Crowley whispered, turning his face away a little, and Aziraphale ached to see the shame, the pain in the taut lines of his mouth. “I - I know they’re…”

 

Breathtaking .” 

 

Crowley opened his eyes then, looking up at Aziraphale in disbelief. Aziraphale gave him a warm smile, hoping the awe he felt showed through in his eyes. 

 

“Literally, darling,” he insisted against the doubt in Crowley’s eyes. “I think of what you suffered for me… the sacrifices you’ve made to protect me, and… and I can scarcely breathe. It’s… deeply humbling. And - and it’s my great honor that you allow me to touch you.” 

 

Completely caught off guard, Crowley blinked his wide eyes rapidly, lowering his face before fresh tears could fall. Aziraphale gently cradled his face in one hand, aching for him when Crowley closed his eyes again and leaned into the touch, a slow swallow visible in his throat. 

 

Aziraphale shifted in closer, gently, cautiously running his hand along Crowley’s wing, pressing a soft, reverent kiss to another scar, earning another little shiver from his demon - so he continued, gentle lips following careful fingers as he discovered the history detailed in Crowley’s scars - the record of the demon’s love for him, etched into his skin.

 

It felt like an offering - felt like worship - and Aziraphale supposed he should have felt guilty for that. But he didn’t. And perhaps that was a little something like rebellion, and perhaps that should have scared him - but he wasn’t feeling a lot of loyalty to Heaven right at the moment, or to any Being who might have had the power to prevent these scars, and hadn’t. 

 

Crowley had his complete devotion. 

 

Crowley had earned it - bled and burned for it.

 

Aziraphale moved from Crowley’s wings back to his face, gentle fingers brushing beneath his lashes, brushing away tears… his mouth kissing the soft, stuttering breath from Crowley’s lips, as he willed Crowley to feel it , to feel his offering, in every touch, if not in the woefully inadequate words that sang through their connection with the soaring tones of a hymn.

 

I love you, I love you, I love you… more than my own life, I love you...

 

Crowley kissed Aziraphale back, with yearning, with quiet desperation - and then abruptly pulled away, breathless, hesitant. Aziraphale frowned, ducking his head to study his face. Catching his breath, Crowley closed his eyes and put his wings away. Aziraphale worried that he might have crossed a line, might have done something wrong, but before he could voice it, his breath caught in his throat, his eyes going wide - as Crowley’s steady, purposeful hands began to unbutton his shirt. 

 

Aziraphale reached out to stay his hands, covering them with his own and waiting until Crowley looked up at him. 

 

“You don’t have to,” he stated firmly. 

 

“I know.” Crowley’s voice was soft but certain, and he held Aziraphale’s gaze, unflinching. “I want to. I’m ready.”

 

Aziraphale studied him, concerned. He knew Crowley was in a very vulnerable place at the moment. “I don’t wish you to feel… pressure , to do anything,” he persisted. “If you’re not sure it’s… the right time…” 

 

“Could be the only time.” Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest, but held his tongue when he realized that Crowley wasn’t panicking, wasn’t frantic - just quiet and solemn. Just honest . “He’ll be back. Don’t know when, but he will be. And - if all I’ve got with you is tonight… if it’s just… the next few moments…” 

 

Dismayed, Aziraphale found the words to protest. 

 

Crowley kissed them from his mouth. 

 

And Aziraphale could feel it, the message Crowley was sending across their connection - the intensity of his need, because he did , he needed this - needed to just lose himself in Aziraphale for a little while, and forget all of the fear and the pain and the trauma of his memories that Gabriel kept dragging back to the surface. If it was all going to fall apart, in a few minutes, a few hours, before morning - he needed to feel Aziraphale loving him, now - and have it to carry with him into whatever came after. 

 

Aziraphale couldn’t possibly have denied him. 

 

They took their time - tender and slow, Aziraphale’s hands reverently re-learning Crowley’s body, tracing every evidence of his devotion with first his fingers, and then his mouth. He kissed his throat, kissed down the line of his neck to his shoulder, mouth trailing around to his back - and Crowley stopped him, pulling him back around to face him. 

 

He didn’t have to voice his need - Aziraphale remembered, and he would give Crowley what he needed. 

 

Every last moment of this would be face to face. 

 

The last time - their first time since their reunion - had been desperate and urgent. Now, Aziraphale took his time. He kissed and caressed Crowley until he was relaxed and pliant in his arms. Only then did he reach down beneath the blankets, careful fingers pressing inside, one at a time, relishing every gasp, every little sound of pleasure and need, until Crowley was ready for him. 

 

Crowley’s hands clutched at him, pulling him closer, deeper, as Aziraphale moved slowly inside him. The demon’s mouth kissed his angel’s throat, his lips, breaking away with a gasp when Aziraphale’s hand dropped between them to grip his cock and slowly work it in time with the rhythm he’d already set. No miracle was required this time, for them to reach their climax at the same time, Crowley gasping for breath in Aziraphale’s arms. 

 

He was asleep within minutes - a blessed mercy, Aziraphale thought, given the dark direction in which his thoughts could have gone, stealing sleep from him. He smiled affectionately as he kissed his sleeping love’s damp hair, and held him closer. If the best gift he could offer him was blissful exhaustion in place of dread, he was happy to give it. 

 

Aziraphale rarely slept, and he didn’t feel that he should, now. He should be working. Getting ready. Doing something

 

But he couldn’t bring himself to leave Crowley, to give up the comfort of simply feeling him in his arms. He settled in close, willing his body to relax - because this was what he needed to be doing right now, he realized. Just being here for Crowley, holding him and cherishing every moment he had with him, because as much as he hated to admit it, Crowley was right. 

 

It was a distinct possibility that they might not have many more left.  

 

****************************************************************************************

 

Wakefulness came slowly to Crowley, with the warmth of morning sunlight on his face, and the press of soft, sleepy kisses against his throat. He smiled, humming happily at the sensation, and tilting his head, allowing his angel better access. 

 

“Morning, love,” Aziraphale whispered from over his shoulder, and Crowley nestled back against him a little, as Aziraphale’s mouth drifted down from his throat to his shoulder. “Morning has indeed arrived,” Aziraphale informed him, warm and light. “And we’re still here…”

 

Something about those reassuring words sparked something in Crowley - a deep, unnamed stirring of unease - but he was still too sleepy to process it, too lost in the soft pleasure of sensation - Aziraphale’s hand smoothing down the bare skin of his arm, pressing another kiss to his shoulder… then just below his shoulder, a little lower down his back. He frowned, more unsettled now. 

 

Something wrong, something wrong about this… oh, angel, feels so nice, but shouldn’t be enjoying this, shouldn’t be... allowing…

 

He felt the brush of cool air against his skin, as Aziraphale drew back the blankets a little, his warm hands a sharp, pleasurable contrast as they rested against Crowley’s side, his mouth drifting lower down Crowley’s spine, down to the middle of his back now - and all at once, Crowley’s eyes opened wide, with the shock of horrified remembrance. 

 

They’d fallen asleep, and somewhere during the night, he must have turned in his sleep, and Aziraphale - innocent, well-meaning Aziraphale was simply kissing him awake as he’d done countless times over the past fourteen years, but Crowley had to stop him, had to stop him now , before he found…

 

He reacted, the instant that it was too late. 

 

“Angel, wait, no!

 

He felt Aziraphale go very still, felt the wave of shock washing over him, just as he scrambled up and turned around, his back to the headboard, facing his angel, who was staring at him, aghast, eyes wide and disbelieving. 

 

“Crowley…” Aziraphale’s voice was hushed, horrified. “What is that?” 

 

Crowley knew by Aziraphale’s tone that he already had a very good idea of what it was. He’d tried so hard to hide it, but it was too late now. Everything - even the most damning of details, even the parts that would take his angel from him forever - was coming to light. Awash with shame, Crowley buried his face in his hands. With perhaps the most forceful touch he’d employed since he’d found him in Heaven, Aziraphale caught his wrists and pulled his hands down, moving closer to him. 

 

Crowley could feel the angel’s anger resurfacing, surges of it cresting over him in waves. 

 

What is that ?” 

 

It felt like an accusation. All of Crowley’s shame, all of his guilt, everything he’d tried to hide came washing over him, crushing him. He was drowning in it. 

 

He’s going to know now, know what you are, what you’ve done, and he’ll never be able to see you the same way again. 

 

Whether Gabriel comes for you, or whether he doesn’t… last night was the last time, because he’s going to know what an unfaithful, disgusting little slut you are, and he won’t ever want to touch you again…

 

“He did that to you?” Aziraphale’s voice shook with incredulous fury. “Crowley, why - when did he - did he do that here ?” There was a dangerous edge to his voice, a tone that was frighteningly, familiarly possessive - or perhaps protective. It was difficult for Crowley to tell the difference between the two these days. 

 

He shivered regardless, a sick feeling washing over him at the sound of it. He didn’t dare to pull his hands away, even as he pressed back against the headboard, trying to put a little distance between himself and the furious angel, panic sweeping over him as he rushed to explain. 

 

“It wasn’t here, no, it was in Heaven, I’m sorry…” he gasped out. “Please, angel, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please …” 

 

Aziraphale closed his eyes for a moment, drawing in a deep breath, visibly struggling to control his reaction, and Crowley felt his anger ease off a bit - at the very least, the intensity with which he was projecting it. It was still there, though, he could still feel it, pulsing under the surface, barely under control. 

 

“Crowley, you needn’t be sorry, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Aziraphale assured him, releasing his grip on Crowley’s hands and holding his own up between them in a very deliberately non-threatening gesture. But his voice was still trembling with fury, his eyes blazing with it. “This is not your fault , it’s just… I had no idea he’d done such a thing to you, my love, what it means …”

 

You’re a slave… you belong to me… I fucking own you, you little whore…

 

Crowley shuddered, wrapping his arms around his knees, hiding his face. He heard Aziraphale sigh, but this time he didn’t try to make Crowley look at him. After a moment, Crowley felt his hand rest against his knees, his fingers trembling but gentle as they stroked slow, reassuring circles against his skin. 

 

“I’m sorry, my darling, I don’t mean to frighten you,” Aziraphale said softly. “The last thing you need is…” His voice broke off, and Crowley heard a quiet, broken little intake of breath, before Aziraphale continued, tears in his voice. “I thought I knew… thought I understood, what happened… why they took you, but this …” Aziraphale was quiet for a moment before continuing, “Crowley, please, love… please talk to me …”

 

“I can’t, I can’t,” Crowley whispered, raising his head just a little as despairing tears streaked his face. “I’m s-sorry, angel, I’m so sorry …”

 

He’d feared he’d lose Aziraphale to Gabriel - but he hadn’t thought it would happen like this.  

 

But it’s better this way, the little voice in his head whispered. All the other ways, Aziraphale gets hurt… but this way, he’ll be safe. It’s better for him to see you for what you are… to finally give up on you like he should have long ago. If he stops trying to protect you, trying to love you when you don’t deserve it… he’ll turn you back over to Heaven, to Gabriel… 

 

He shivered at the thought, icy fingers of dread creeping their way around his heart. 

 

It’s better this way. Whether it’s because he’s sinning against Heaven by loving you, or whether it’s because of Gabriel’s jealousy - either way, you’re the reason he’s a target

 

If he just leaves you behind - he’ll be safe. 

 

“Please talk to me, love,” Aziraphale repeated, a whisper filled with such tender concern, such devotion that it broke Crowley’s heart. “Please look at me. I’m not angry with you, I couldn’t be… I’m just trying to understand. Can you talk to me?” 

 

Crowley shook his head, unable to speak past the swelling ache in his heart, the ache of all he knew he was about to lose. He couldn’t tell Aziraphale what had happened - couldn’t even begin to find the words. But he could make him understand - how filthy and defiled and worthless he was… why he shouldn’t even be wasting his time. 

 

He closed his eyes, summoning every last shred of courage he had, struggling to find the will to go through with this - because once he did it, he knew his angel would be lost to him forever. 

 

“I’ll - I’ll show you,” he choked out in a whisper, lifting his head to finally meet Aziraphale’s worried, love-filled eyes. He reached out with trembling hands toward Aziraphale’s head, hesitating, waiting for permission. 

 

Aziraphale’s eyes went wide as he understood what Crowley was offering - what he’d asked for weeks ago, and Crowley had refused. He bit his lip, uncertain, then nodded slowly, taking Crowley’s hands gently in his and holding them for a moment, before pressing them to either side of his own head, covering them with his own. He leaned in close, closing his eyes - and Crowley had to force himself to close the rest of the distance, pressing his head to Aziraphale’s and readying himself to share the worst of his memories. 

 

Unexpectedly, Aziraphale’s wings sprang forth, wrapping around them both, and Crowley’s resolve nearly broke under the force of the love and reassurance he felt flowing out of his angel, surrounding him, overwhelming him.

 

You’re safe with me… Aziraphale whispered into his mind, into his broken spirit. I love you, and this will be all right… I’m going to love you, no matter what...

 

Crowley only allowed himself a moment to let his heart soak it in - only a moment, because he knew if he allowed himself a moment longer, he’d never be able to give it up. 

 

Aziraphale only meant those sweet promises because he didn’t know what Crowley had done. 

 

His tears flowed freely as he closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath, and opened his mind and his memories up to his angel… 

 

… for the very last time...

Chapter Text

The bed was Crowley’s. 

 

Gabriel had promised… and it was a promise he actually kept.

 

Technically. 

 

It was a safe space for Crowley - a place where he could rest and hide away during the hours when Gabriel was off doing his actual job … a place where he could close his eyes and dream of his angel, and pretend that he was here with him, holding him, comforting him… or better yet, pretend that he wasn’t here at all, but home and safe with Aziraphale. The bed was Crowley’s, and Gabriel didn’t touch it. 

 

But he clearly wanted to. 

 

Every time he came to Crowley’s room, Gabriel violated him. Once in a while, he was satisfied with just the demon’s mouth. Most times, he fucked him - up against the wall or down on the floor. He especially liked to bend Crowley over the sink, so he could watch the expressions on his face in the mirror. 

 

But he never took him in the bed. 

 

He’d ask, though. Not command, not order - just ask, in a way that made it sound as if it was Crowley’s comfort he was thinking about. As if it would just be so much easier for Crowley in the bed. 

 

And when Crowley said no, each and every time, he’d become increasingly violent, leaving Crowley bleeding and bruised and in so much pain that it was difficult even to move once he’d left. Still, Crowley would clean himself up and crawl into the bed - his bed, an oasis in the midst of his suffering that he was unwilling to give up. 

 

“You know, this is kind of ridiculous,” Gabriel pointed out after weeks of this routine, sighing as if extremely put out. “Perfectly nice, comfortable bed right across the room… I don’t think I want to fuck you at all, if it’s not there.” 

 

Perfect. Works for both of us, then. Be seeing you, Crowley wanted to say.

 

He also wanted to not be beaten unconscious, so instead he just shook his head, cautiously submissive, eyes downcast. “Not there. Please, you promised… not there…”

 

“I did, didn’t I?” Gabriel’s jaw tightened, his words clipped with barely restrained frustration. “Fine. I won’t.” His grip on Crowley’s arms became bruising, as he visibly struggled to rein in his anger.

 

He failed. 

 

He didn’t drag Crowley to the bed, didn’t force him down and take what he wanted despite his promise. He just slammed him into the wall with enough force to drive the breath from his lungs… just beat him with his fists until he’d collapsed, bleeding into the soft carpet… just kicked his stomach, his ribs until Crowley felt something crack. 

 

He left him there, only nearly unconscious, in breathtaking pain... and terrified. 

 

Crowley somehow managed to get one of his clean towels under the tap and wet enough to wash the blood from his face, and then crawled to his bed. 

 

Huddled under the warm blankets, his eyes closed, his bruised face pressed into the downy pillows, Crowley envisioned his angel, lying next to him… a gentle hand brushing his hair back from his face… soft lips kissing away the pain… warm words whispering that it was going to be all right, they were going to be together again soon, he was strong enough to somehow survive this…

 

When Gabriel returned to his room, Crowley thought he was braced for the worst. 

 

He would not give Gabriel what he wanted. He needed it, needed to hold onto it, because he was going to be punished. If it wasn’t for this, for refusing Gabriel… it would be for something else. And he needed this one little thing, this tiny corner that he could cling to, where he could indulge in his memories and cling to that last tiny shred of hope. 

 

The one constant was this: Gabriel was going to hurt him. 

 

Crowley needed a place that he could go, after. 

 

“Come here,” Gabriel ordered from just inside the door. 

 

Crowley watched him with dread for a long moment, trying to work up the will to leave the bed and obey the command. 

 

Gabriel smiled, deceptively patient. “I could always come over there.” 

 

Crowley was on his knees before his master in a matter of moments. 

 

Gabriel frowned, making a sympathetic little sound as he crouched in front of Crowley, reaching out a gentle hand to turn his face and examine the dark bruises he’d left there. “Oh, man, just look at you, sweetheart,” he said with soft regret. “I really hate seeing you like this… let me help.” 

 

He lowered his hand to rest over the deep purple bruise under Crowley’s ribs, and the demon drew in a sharp breath, biting his lip to stifle a whimper, keeping as still as he possibly could. But Gabriel didn’t hurt him, just healed the damage before raising his hand and passing it over Crowley’s face, until every last injury from the brutal beating was undone. 

 

This… was not particularly reassuring. 

 

In Crowley’s experience, Gabriel only ever healed him when his intention was to inflict something much, much worse. 

 

Gabriel’s hand cupped Crowley’s cheek, tilting his head up a little before shifting to run, soothing and affectionate, through his hair. 

 

“I shouldn’t have overreacted,” the archangel admitted. “I told you it was your choice. And it is.” 

 

It was as close to an apology as Crowley had ever heard from him. 

 

It felt like a trap. 

 

“I-I’m your slave,” he whispered, cautious, scared. “You - you can do whatever you want.” 

 

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Gabriel smiled, and the bitter note in his mild words sent a shiver down Crowley’s spine. 

 

He flinched a little, feeling irrationally guilty. He opened his mouth to speak, a desperate apology on the tip of his tongue. 

 

“Shhh, it’s all right,” Gabriel reassured him, tolerant and soothing. “I told you it was your choice, and I meant it. And you know… there’s still just so many options . I don’t have to fuck you at all. I can find much more interesting ways to pass the time.” 

 

Crowley’s stomach clenched, cold dread crawling up his spine. 

 

Gabriel leaned in close, smiling against his ear. “I’ve got an idea…”

 

He stood up and moved aside, snapped his fingers, and suddenly there was a table in front of Crowley, about level with his shoulders where he knelt. It was slightly longer than the reach of his arms, with shackles positioned near either end, wide enough apart to make him spread his arms out, but not so far apart that it’d be painful - or really even all that uncomfortable. 

 

Crowley was fairly certain that was by design. Gabriel never liked Crowley to be too distracted from whatever it was he was doing to him. 

 

Gabriel stepped forward, lightly tapping the left shackle with two fingers. Crowley’s mouth went dry, his pulse pounding in his ears - but he obeyed the unspoken command, extending his hands - first one, then the other - for Gabriel to bind him to the table. 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers again - and all at once there was an ornately carved golden bowl on the table. Panic sparked in Crowley’s heart when he heard the soft splash of water, smelled the familiar holy scent of it. Frantic instinct overrode his training, and he struggled to pull away, but the shackles held firm. For one desperate moment, he thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if he could just tip the bowl over, let it wash over him. 

 

A few moments of agony - and then it’d be over. 

 

The table was bolted down, and despite his best efforts, the bowl resting on it didn’t shift an inch, though the sharp edge of the shackles was already tearing the skin at his wrists.

 

“Easy, shhh, stop it now…” Gabriel’s voice was hushed, falsely gentle, as he knelt behind Crowley, his hands resting at his hips, stilling him. “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”

 

His presence was suffocating; his touch sickening. Despair overwhelmed Crowley, and he sagged against the bonds, his head bowed against the edge of the table in defeat. Anguished, he pleaded, “ Why ?” 

 

“See… see, that right there… that’s the problem, Crowley.” Gabriel’s tone was a bit sharper then, with an edge of anger to it that made Crowley shiver. “You still seem to think I need a reason. The reason is I don’t need a reason . You’re mine .”

 

“I’m yours,” Crowley echoed, desperate to appease him - certain it was already too late. “I know, I’m yours, I know…”

 

“You are,” Gabriel confirmed, reaching one hand up, over Crowley’s bowed head and cupping a handful of the water, allowing it to spill back into the bowl a time or two as he continued. “Everywhere except in that little corner of yours, is that it?” He shook the excess water from his hand, carefully in the opposite direction of Crowley, before bringing his hand down, terrifyingly beyond Crowley’s line of vision. “Not in that safe little space you’ve made for yourself…”

 

He brushed a single wet finger down Crowley’s side, and Crowley instinctively, uselessly tried to pull his arm down to cover it, arched away from it with a choked cry of agony - but Gabriel’s hand was firm and dry against his other side, holding him in place and not allowing him to escape. 

 

“For you and your delusions,” Gabriel continued, his quiet words touched with disgust. “A place where you can pretend that he didn’t leave you, to this …” He spread his fingers and drew his damp hand across Crowley’s stomach, and there was nowhere for Crowley to retreat except to push back against Gabriel’s chest, gasping at the searing pain left in the wake of his touch. Gabriel took advantage of the opportunity to whisper into his ear, vicious, “... pretend that he ever loved you the way you love him…”

 

Crowley wasn’t sure which hurt worse - the burn of the holy water, eating into his flesh, or the cruel words his heart half-believed.

 

“This right here,” Gabriel went on, dipping his hand into the water again, and then leaning back, away from Crowley, so that he could shake the searing droplets off his hand onto Crowley’s back. “This is proof positive of why. Because you’re not worthy, Crowley. If you were…” He shook his hand again, and Crowley shuddered with the inescapable pain, unable to stifle a strangled groan. “... then this wouldn’t hurt you, would it? But it does - because you’re fallen . You’re an evil, fallen creature who could never be worthy of an angel’s love.” 

 

He moved in close again, wrapping his arm around Crowley and burning a trail with his fingers from Crowley’s shoulder, diagonally across his chest, his laugh against Crowley’s ear low and taunting. 

 

“What the hell were you thinking? He was always gonna give you up.” 

 

The pain stole Crowley’s breath, hot tears streaming down his face. 

 

“Just what exactly are you holding onto?” Gabriel’s tone was sympathetic. “You’re making this so much harder on yourself than it has to be. You’re never gonna see him again. He doesn’t want to see you again. He gave you to me …” 

 

Gabriel’s hand found Crowley’s hip, trailing streaks of fire down his thigh. The pain was so intense, Crowley’s legs shook with it; he thought he might collapse. Gabriel’s dry hand rose to touch his forehead, pulling his head back against Gabriel’s shoulder. 

 

“... and now, I’m all you’ve got.”

 

Gabriel rose to his feet then, moving away from Crowley, and he gasped, struggling to catch his breath in the momentary reprieve. Crowley couldn’t see the archangel, but he could hear him as he went to the sink and rinsed his hands. When he returned to Crowley’s eye line, he was drying them on a towel, which he then set down on the table next to the bowl. He crouched down beside Crowley again, taking his face in both his hands and turning it toward him. 

 

Crowley’d seen him dry the water from his hands, but still he flinched hard at the touch, braced for more pain. 

 

“Look at me.” 

 

Crowley obeyed, his heart racing, eyes wide with panic. Gabriel’s expression was serious, almost imploring. 

 

“At least I actually want you .” He shook his head sadly. “No one else ever will.” 

 

It hurt, it hurt more than Crowley could stand. He tried to pull away from the archangel’s hands, shaking his head. “Please stop,” he rasped. “Please…”

 

Gabriel let go of him in disgust, standing up and dipping his hand into the water again. Crowley cringed away from the sound as it splashed back into the bowl.

 

“You ungrateful little whore.” Gabriel’s voice was a soft, calm contrast to his cruel words - but it rose with his frustration as he went on. “I take you out of that cell… give you a little bit of relief from your punishment… which you deserve , by the way!” he snapped. “You’re a demon! Your existence is supposed to be Hell! And I give you something… so much better than that. And you don’t appreciate it even a little bit, do you?” 

 

“I do,” Crowley insisted, trembling, desperate. “I do, th-thank you. Thank you, master…”

 

“See…” Gabriel shook his head, crouching down again beside Crowley and placing a finger against his captive’s lips. The demon flinched, his heart lurching before he realized that the touch was dry. “... that word… on your lips… is a lie, isn’t it, Crowley? Because you still don’t really believe it. You’re still holding out on me.” 

 

As he spoke, he tapped his fingers between Crowley’s shoulder blades, sending a single drop of holy water trickling very slowly down Crowley’s spine. Crowley cried out in agony, struggling to pull away. Gabriel just grabbed the back of his neck and held him down against the table.

 

“How?” Crowley desperately demanded, his voice hoarse and breaking. “How am I holding back anything? You have everything !” 

 

“Not everything.” Gabriel shook his head, his mouth twisted into something jealous and ugly. “No, not yet. But I will have everything.” He leaned in close, biting the words off next to Crowley’s ear as his damp fingers slowly trailed up the demon’s back. “And whatever’s left after that, too.”

 

“There’s nothing,” Crowley whispered, desolate - though he knew it was a lie. “There’s nothing left…”

 

He knew what Gabriel wanted from him, even before the archangel hissed it in his ear. 

 

“Give him up,” he whispered. “You’re holding onto a fantasy, sweetheart. It was never real. He only ever used you.” His words were trembling with frustration. “Can’t you see I want more than that? I want you for my own .” 

 

He didn’t, he wouldn’t have, Crowley repeated to himself over and over desperately, though his heart sank with fear at the thought that it might be true. Did he? He’s right, you never deserved him, not for a second. And Aziraphale’s not stupid. He was bound to see it, wasn’t he? Why should he let himself be punished, let himself suffer, for you? 

 

Between the relentless pain, and Gabriel’s insidious whisper in his ear, Crowley’s doubts slowly infiltrated the hope he was clinging to, and his thoughts became muddled. The lessons Gabriel had taught him joined forces with the millennia-old lessons learned in his own Fall... and the warm light of his memories of Aziraphale began to pale, going in and out like a fading radio signal. 

 

“Worthless, ungrateful, disobedient little serpent… you deserve this...” 

 

Maybe he was. Maybe he did. 

 

Gabriel had given him this room, taken him from the cold darkness of his cell and given him far more privileges than he’d had in what felt like forever - and even then, Crowley just had to go and fuck it up, didn’t he? Provoke him, make him angry…

 

What was wrong with him? Why did he always end up bringing this on himself? 

 

“Please, I’m sorry,” Crowley sobbed out at last. “Please, stop…”

 

“We can stop.” Gabriel’s voice was hushed, reassuring, a warm, dry hand, cupping Crowley’s cheek, thumb tracing his quivering mouth as he kissed his neck. “We can do something else. Up to you.” He kissed him again, just below his ear. “It was always up to you.” 

 

Crowley shook his head. He didn’t want to give up that last safe place, that last shred of hope. 

 

He was going to need it so much when this was over. 

 

He shivered when he felt Gabriel’s mouth against his skin go taut and angry, felt his hand tighten on his waist, as the fingers left his lips and reached up into the bowl again. The soft splash set Crowley’s every frayed nerve on end, and he couldn’t hold back the despairing sobs that rose in his chest. 

 

“Please… no more, please…”

 

“There doesn’t have to be any more,” Gabriel insisted, imploring, patient, as if he was explaining something very obvious to someone who was just not getting it. “I can get rid of this holy water just like that .” He snapped his fingers, but the holy water stayed where it was. “We can just go to the bed right now, and forget all of this.” He cupped Crowley’s face with his dry hand, kissed his jawline before pulling back a little.

 

“I’ll be gentle,” he promised. “Hell, I’ll even make it good for you, sweetheart.” He met Crowley’s eyes, piercing and intent. “All you have to do is ask.” 

 

“Please,” Crowley whispered, dropping his gaze. “Please, you said I could choose…”

 

Gabriel’s encouraging expression fell away, his eyes hard. “You’re choosing,” he said. “Right now.” 

 

And then, he started in on Crowley’s wings. 

 

Torturous touches, followed by gentle, soothing caresses… promises of relief and comfort, mingled with his cruel, degrading words. All of it tumbled together into a confusing, delirious mix, as the fever of Crowley’s agony overwhelmed him. Between the pain and the shame and the utter desperation, he couldn’t focus. Couldn’t think. Tried to take himself back to Aziraphale’s memory, back to the safety of the bed… to remember what he was trying so hard to hold onto. 

 

It all felt distant and faded, like something from another life. 

 

All there was, was Gabriel. Gabriel’s hands, fingers wide and trailing slow, fiery streaks along both sides of his ribs. Gabriel’s voice, whispering vicious condemnation in his ear. 

 

“Please stop,” Crowley whispered, hopeless. “Please…”

 

 “Do you really want me to stop?” Gabriel’s voice was hushed, his hands going still. 

 

“Yes,” Crowley sobbed. 

 

Gabriel was quiet for a moment, before asking a heavily weighted question.

“What do you want me to do instead?” 

 

Anything would be better than this. Crowley knew what Gabriel wanted. He hesitated. He didn’t want it, he didn’t, but he simply couldn’t take another moment of this. Shame heated his face, broke his words, as he whispered, “Fuck me.” 

 

Gabriel leaned back away from Crowley, reaching over Crowley’s shoulder for the towel and carefully drying his hands. He wrapped one arm around Crowley, pulling him back against him, dragging his head back onto his shoulder and stroking gently through his hair. 

 

“Where?” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, let out a shuddering breath, struggling with it - though he couldn’t really remember why. He knew it was important - it had been important - that he not give in. But it didn’t feel important anymore… not as he watched Gabriel’s free hand trail across the edge of the table, teasingly close to the bowl of holy water. 

 

“In the bed.” Crowley felt something crack apart inside him - that last tiny piece he’d been holding onto. It was gone just like that, with just a few whispered words - shattered into dust. 

 

“You’re inviting me,” Gabriel clarified, and Crowley noted distantly that it seemed an odd choice of words. “Into your bed.” 

 

Crowley nodded, tears falling from his eyes. Tears of relief, tears of shame, of loss… what was the difference? He couldn’t seem to find it anymore.

 

He could feel Gabriel’s smile against his skin, the moment before he kissed him just below his temple and whispered, “That’s a good little whore.”

 

All at once, Aziraphale’s memory in Crowley’s mind was crystal clear again - and the horror and disgust on his angel’s face, the sheer betrayal - it was crushing. Crowley broke down completely, tears of shame streaking his face as Gabriel snapped his fingers, and the shackles fell away from his aching wrists. He choked back a cry of pain as Gabriel lifted him into his arms and carried him across the room to the bed. 

 

Gabriel lay Crowley down on the soft mattress, half on his stomach, half on his side, and then snapped his fingers. Crowley shuddered when he felt Gabriel’s bare skin against his back, closing his eyes and fighting back a wave of nausea. He was still in so much pain, overwhelmed with a tumult of emotions, and it didn’t help that for once, for the very first time, Gabriel was gentle … so gentle, his hands tracing over Crowley’s skin, deliberately avoiding the holy water burns he’d just inflicted. 

 

When Crowley felt Gabriel’s hand slide around from his hip to reach between his legs, his stomach lurched, and he reached his own hand down to weakly push it away. Gabriel had promised to “make it good” for him, but Crowley did not want it to feel good. 

 

Gabriel didn’t care what Crowley wanted. 

 

His grip became rough and forceful as he caught Crowley’s sore wrist and jerked it up by his head, pinning it down to the mattress, squeezing until Crowley whimpered. 

 

Do not fight me,” he growled in Crowley’s ear. “I’ll touch you where I want… and when I want. This body…” He let go of Crowley’s wrist, and Crowley left it where he’d placed it, fighting back fresh tears as Gabriel allowed his own hand to drift idly down Crowley’s stomach. “This body… is mine . Isn’t it?” Crowley nodded numbly, eyes closed. Gabriel’s hand cupped between his legs, his voice still soft but warning as he repeated, “ Isn’t it ?” 

 

“Yes,” Crowley whispered. 

 

“Say it.” Gabriel’s voice was hard, demanding. 

 

“M-my body is yours.” Crowley had never felt so empty, so desolate. 

 

Master .” 

 

“M-master,” Crowley whispered, the required response falling from his lips automatically. “My body is yours, master.” 

 

“But… not just … your body. Right, Crowley? Everything . Every part of you.” 

 

Crowley nodded numbly, closing his eyes. 

 

Gabriel’s fingers found the burns he’d traced into Crowley’s ribs, and he squeezed viciously, the pain stealing Crowley’s breath. 

 

“E-every part of me,” Crowley echoed, breathless, desperate, tears of pain falling from his eyes. “Yes, e-everything, please …”

 

“Is mine .”

 

“Is yours,” Crowley sobbed. “Every part of me, ‘s yours, master, please…”

 

Satisfied, Gabriel’s touch eased, his hand soothing down Crowley’s side for a moment as he kissed his neck before murmuring, “Very good.” 

 

And he continued touching Crowley as he pleased - but his touch became more careful, gentler. Never once had he been concerned with Crowley’s pleasure or comfort, not really - but this time, as he prepared to fuck his slave, he took care not to hurt him - any more than could be helped with his body covered in burns, anyway. His hands were cautious, attentive, as he stroked Crowley until to the demon’s utter shame, he felt himself beginning to harden under the archangel’s attentions. 

 

This was worse. Worse than anything Gabriel had done to him so far. Worse than the feeling of the archangel’s body moving inside him, against him, aggravating the holy water burns. When Crowley came, he cried, burying his face in his arm, overcome with shame. 

 

Gabriel came a few moments later, but stayed where he was, buried in Crowley’s body, and took a little time to catch his breath, leaning down to kiss the back of Crowley’s neck, as Crowley wept into the pillow. He was so distraught that he almost didn’t notice when Gabriel snapped his fingers again. 

 

He did notice the soft splashing sound near to the bed, and his heart seized up in panic. He raised his eyes to see a much smaller table that had materialized right beside the bed - the bowl of holy water sitting on it. 

 

“No, no,” he cried out, pushing away from it - which only pushed him closer to Gabriel. 

 

Gabriel wrapped a strong arm tight around his shoulders, stilling him, stifling him, speaking low and warning against his ear. 

 

“You don’t tell me no.” 

 

“Please, you promised,” Crowley sobbed, but gave up physically resisting as Gabriel pressed him back down onto his stomach, face down - his back fully exposed. “I did what you wanted, I did it…” Crowley desperately pleaded, though the words were muffled against the pillow. 

 

“Shut up,” Gabriel instructed him, his tone hushed and mild. “The less you move, the less this will hurt. You wouldn’t want me to have to start all over.” 

 

Crowley didn’t know what that meant, but it was not in the least reassuring. Even so, he kept as still as he could, aided by the weight of Gabriel’s body, still buried in him and pressing down on his thighs, holding his lower half down, and Gabriel’s free hand firmly holding the back of his neck. He was completely pinned, helpless. 

 

And then he felt the searing heat of the holy water against the base of his spine. It was just the slightest tip of Gabriel’s finger, slow and careful, tracing an intricate pattern - but it was agonizing, and Crowley found himself trying uselessly to pull away, desperate, choked cries escaping his lips. Gabriel didn’t seem bothered by his weak struggles, and easily held him down until he was finished. 

 

Finally, Gabriel’s hand at his neck softened, stroking his hair soothingly, and he shuddered when he felt Gabriel’s lips press a kiss to the bare skin right next to the mark he had made. 

 

“Shh, that’s it,” he soothed Crowley. “It’s done. You want to see it?” 

 

Crowley couldn’t bring himself to respond. 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers, and a mirror appeared in his hand. He held it up to the mark he’d made, and snapped his fingers again. The image lingered in the mirror when he brought it up to show Crowley, who found himself compelled to look, despite himself. As much as he dreaded it, he had to know

 

His chest constricted, a cold, hollow sensation washing over him as he took it in. The symbol for his own Enochian name, overlaid with Gabriel’s - Gabriel’s name darker, oppressive somehow, the edges winding around the edges of his symbol as if binding it in place. And interwoven with both symbols was a third Enochian word. 

 

The symbol for “slave”. 

 

“This makes you mine,” Gabriel informed him, snapping the mirror out of existence and finally pulling out of Crowley’s body, shifting over on the mattress so that he was lying half on top of him. He kissed his neck, stroked his hand slowly over his shoulder and down his arm. “Forever. No one can ever take you away from me now.” 

 

“No,” Crowley whispered, horrified, shaking his head as he turned his face into the pillow. 

 

Gabriel laughed softly. "Too late,” he teased, a hushed whisper in his ear. “You already asked for it.”

 

******************************************************************************************

 

It was over. 

 

Aziraphale had seen everything. What Crowley had done, how he’d betrayed him. He knew , now - why Crowley wasn’t worth the risk, why he shouldn’t even be bothering with the broken fucking mess that was left of him.

 

And it was over. 

 

Crowley drew his hands away from Aziraphale’s head and broke their connection, wrapping his arms around his own body instead - no longer daring to touch. He kept his eyes down, awash in his shame, heart racing with a steadily rising fear that matched the swiftly swelling fury he could feel coming from Aziraphale, as the angel’s shock was slowly swallowed up in blinding rage .

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley whispered, shaking his head, tears cooling on his face. “I’m so sorry…”

 

Crowley …”

 

He didn’t register the desperately gentle sound of the angel’s voice at first - just the hand that reached toward him, and he flinched away, holding up a pleading hand between them. He closed his eyes, anticipating the outraged slap that he deserved. 

 

Disgusting whore…

 

“Crowley… look at me, darling…” 

 

A soft, warm hand grasped his and pulled it down. Aziraphale clasped his other hand as well, and Crowley reluctantly opened his eyes to find the angel on his knees on the bed facing him. Aziraphale ducked his head a little, seeking eye contact, and Crowley could refuse him nothing. 

 

He was stunned by the compassion, the sorrow in his eyes. 

 

“You didn’t do anything wrong.” 

 

It was ludicrous. “I accepted him,” Crowley argued, disbelieving. “I invited him. I - I asked him for it!” 

 

He felt a fresh wave of anger from the angel, Aziraphale’s hands tightening around his for just a moment. Maybe he got it , now. Aziraphale drew in a deep, shaky breath. He was going to scream at Crowley, to slap him, to make him sorry for his betrayal. For being such an unfaithful little slut. 

 

And then, he was going to throw him out.

 

If Crowley was lucky. If he didn’t march him right back through the gates of Heaven himself. 

 

A vivid image filled his mind of Aziraphale throwing him down at Gabriel’s feet in disgust. 

 

“Here, I believe this belongs to you…”

 

Aziraphale reached toward Crowley’s face again, and he flinched - but his touch was gentle, firm and reassuring as he insistently turned Crowley’s face up toward his. “My dear, if you think you consented to that, you couldn’t be more wrong. I saw it. It was not your fault .” 

 

A lump began to form in Crowley’s throat; his eyes felt hot and prickly. 

 

“He - he gave me a choice…”

 

“That was no choice.” Aziraphale’s voice was emphatic, almost severe, as he stroked one hand up from Crowley’s cheek into his hair, his other hand gripping Crowley’s shoulder as he held his gaze, arresting and unyielding. “There was no choice , my darling. This was not your fault. It was not .”

 

Crowley kept very still. He felt fragile, on the verge of losing control completely - like everything inside him was a breath away from shaking apart. The barest inkling of hope stirred, warm in his chest, a chance he barely dared to cling to… that he might be forgiven .

 

There was still a smoldering anger alight in Aziraphale’s eyes, but it didn’t match the aching tenderness of his touch as he shifted cautiously closer to Crowley and wrapped strong, gentle arms around him, pulling him half into his lap and holding him tight. Crowley bowed his head against the angel’s shoulder, letting out a shuddering breath, as relief overwhelmed him and the tears escaped his eyes. 

 

“I saw it, Crowley, and it was something that was forced upon you.” Aziraphale’s voice was calm but fierce, filled with righteous anger, and a surprising sort of stillness. “I could never, ever blame you for that. It was forced upon you. It was brutal, and immoral and - and illegitimate , and it will not stand. It will not .”

 

The emotions pouring off of Aziraphale at that moment were strong, but more than a little confusing to Crowley. Unmistakably, there was anger, bordering on rage , even - and an aching depth of heartbreak that Crowley knew was for him, however unworthy of it he knew himself to be. But overlaying it all was a strange sense of calm. Not a forced, controlled sort of calm, but actual serenity. 

 

It was actually a little frightening.

 

He swallowed slowly, lifting his head and drawing back a little from their embrace, in order to try to see Aziraphale’s face, to read his expression - but he’d never seen such a look on his angel’s face before, and that - well, that was also a little frightening. 

 

“Aziraphale,” he began cautiously, his words coming out low and hoarse. “Are - are you…?” 

 

“I’m quite all right, darling,” Aziraphale assured him, reaching for his clothes where he’d left them hanging off the side of the bed. “It’s just that… things are much clearer now. Now that I understand what’s actually been done to you. What Gabriel did . And I know what we have to do. What I’m going to do.” 

 

Crowley blinked at him, startled, as Aziraphale kissed his cheek and rose from the bed, beginning to get dressed. He couldn’t even begin to imagine how they could get out of the mess they were in - but Aziraphale’s certainty sparked the faintest trace of hope in his heart. 

 

“You do?” 

 

“Oh, yes.” Aziraphale gave him a bright smile, though Crowley had to take a moment to remind himself that the cold anger glittering in his eyes was not directed at him. “You see, I’ve decided.”

 

His shirt and trousers on, Aziraphale stopped for a moment, taking in Crowley’s expression - and his own softened at the alarm he must have seen there - the alarm that was steadily building in Crowley’s chest. Aziraphale took a breath, then reached out to touch Crowley’s face again - tender, his eyes softening and filling with the familiar, reassuring warmth and love Crowley was used to seeing there - in sharp contrast to his cold, precise words. 

 

“Gabriel is going to die.”

Chapter Text

Crowley & Gabriel

GAH, this just gives me shivers. The emotion on Crowley's face, the cold control and certainty of his power on Gabriel's - intensely powerful and moving!! 

 

Crowley & Gabriel whipping

This one just has such a sense of motion to it, the positioning of Crowley's wings and his arms and just... again, leaves me with that hollow ache and is so true to the emotions of the story <3 <3 <3 

 

 

Aziraphale/Crowley comfort

 

THIS ONE. <3 OMG, this one is my HEART for this story. The image in the top left is EXACTLY how I imagined the scene where Aziraphale brings in Crowley's little plant all healed and talks to him about being patient and kind with it/himself. And Crowley throws down his nightlight and embraces Aziraphale instead JUST LIKE THIS. And that's not even mentioning the other images, which are stunningly gorgeous. 

 

I have seriously spent WAY too much time in the last 24 hours just staring at these <3 <3 <3 

 

Thank you, SO MUCH, lovely artist ColorfulFlowersToo!!! *huge hugs* 

 

And now... on with the story :) 

 

 

 

 

Discorporation was Crowley’s last, best hope. 

 

It wasn’t as if he liked the idea of going back to Hell - of losing the familiar body in which he’d spent the last 6000 years, of being stuck Below until his superiors got around to issuing him another one. 

 

That was, if they were willing to issue him another one at all. 

 

He wasn’t sure exactly how long he’d been gone, but he was certain it was long enough for his disappearance to have been noticed. Best case scenario, Hell had no idea that he’d been captured by Heaven, or at least no idea why he’d been captured, and he’d only be punished for either his unexplained absence, or for his weakness in letting himself get caught. Worst case, Hell did know why Heaven had taken him, and he’d be punished for “fraternizing with the enemy”. 

 

In any case, Crowley was now certain - nothing Hell could do to him would be even close to what Gabriel had done to him.

 

There was only one thing that had kept Crowley from trying it thus far. 

 

Aziraphale.

 

Discorporation was a messy affair. It could take a millennium to get a new body - and that was for a demon who wasn’t in Hell’s bad books, wasn’t deemed worthy of punishment. Given Crowley’s circumstances, it was quite likely he’d never make it back to Earth at all. 

 

Never make it back to Aziraphale. 

 

A detail that had carried far more importance for Crowley while he’d still believed that Aziraphale might actually want him back. 

 

He didn’t believe Gabriel when he told him that Aziraphale had turned him over to Heaven, had condemned Crowley and exonerated himself in the same breath. He didn’t believe it - not all of the time. He held out the thinnest fiber of hope that Aziraphale had not betrayed him, that he was out there somewhere searching for him. Eventually, maybe, he’d find him, rescue him, take him home. 

 

And then - he’d find out what Crowley had done. He’d learn how Crowley had been unfaithful to him. 

 

How he’d chosen Gabriel over him. 

 

And Aziraphale wouldn’t want him anymore. 

 

For all the relative comfort of his new room, Crowley had still been left with no way to gauge the passage of time. So he waited until just after Gabriel had left… waited a little longer, just to be sure the archangel wouldn’t be coming back right away… and then took the mirror down from behind the sink, and shattered it on the floor. He found a piece of the broken glass with a clean, sharp edge - and then put that edge to his wrist. 

 

An icy rush of pain flared up as the blood welled from the cut, dripping down his arm to stain the pristine carpet - and then a searing jolt of agony from the collar that seized every muscle in Crowley’s body, dropping him to his knees and jarring the makeshift blade from his hand. It seemed that Crowley wasn’t allowed to commit any act of violence - even against his own body. 

 

But it wasn’t his own, was it? Not anymore. 

 

The pain was intense, perhaps a level 09 punishment, at least 08. It made it impossible to think, impossible to pick up his makeshift weapon again - impossible to do anything but simply surrender to his suffering. 

 

It lasted for hours that felt like days, before Gabriel finally showed up. 

 

Crowley raised red-rimmed, shadowed eyes and stretched out a pleading hand toward the archangel, who just silently took in the scene - the pain-ravaged demon collapsed over his folded legs amidst the shattered shards on the blood-stiffened carpet. 

 

“Please,” Crowley gasped out, desperate. “Help me, please…”

 

Gabriel looked down on him a moment longer, impassive, before raising his hand and snapping his fingers. The mess of blood and broken glass disappeared from the floor. 

 

Crowley’s pain continued. 

 

Without a word, Gabriel turned and walked out again, leaving Crowley to the fever of his suffering. 

 

“No,” Crowley whispered, weak and breathless as he dropped his head against the floor, helpless tears leaking from his eyes. “No, come back…” 

 

Gabriel didn’t, not for several interminable hours. When at last he did return, he once again stood over his suffering, shaking slave, glaring down at him in silent contempt. 

 

“Please,” Crowley choked out, crawling across the brief distance that lay between them, pressing his head against the smooth leather of Gabriel’s shoe, trembling fingers barely daring to brush against his ankle. “Please, master. Please, I’m sorry…” 

 

Gabriel crouched down, running his hand through Crowley’s hair, but not touching the collar. Abruptly he caught Crowley’s injured wrist and jerked him back up onto his knees, his voice dangerously soft as he held the wound up clearly within Crowley’s sight, shaking him a little. 

 

This was very, very stupid.” 

 

Crowley nodded, desperate tears streaking his face, utterly pliant in his master’s grasp. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed, breathless. “Please, master, please help me…” 

 

Gabriel passed his free hand across Crowley’s wrist, leaving smooth, healthy skin in its wake. Then he sighed, as if just so very tired of Crowley’s mistakes, and Crowley lowered his head, shame burning in his face. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, despondent. “I’m sorry…”

 

“I know.” 

 

Gabriel relented at last, his tone going gentle, and Crowley felt a rush of premature relief, even before the archangel touched the dial on the collar and turned it back down to 02. Still holding Crowley’s wrist, Gabriel rose to stand over him again, watching and waiting patiently until the pain had passed and Crowley had caught his breath. Residual tremors shaking his body, Crowley lowered his brow against Gabriel’s hand, gasping. 

 

“Th-thank you… thank you…” 

 

Gabriel jerked his hand away, and Crowley flinched, feeling oddly hurt and bereft.

 

“Look at me,” Gabriel commanded, cold and angry. 

 

It took Crowley a couple of hesitant tries before he could lift his gaze as high as the archangel’s eyes. When at last he managed it, Gabriel backhanded him sharply, knocking him back down to the floor. Crowley stayed where he’d fallen, shaking as Gabriel moved in closer, his shoes mere inches from Crowley’s face. 

 

I decide if you live or die,” Gabriel snapped. “No one else. Least of all you.” 

 

Crowley nodded against the soft carpet, eyes closed, braced for more punishment. “Yes, master,” he said softly. 

 

He flinched away as Gabriel crouched next to him, dragging him up and pushing him back against the wall. He held him there with a hand at his throat, not tight enough to restrict his breathing, but tight enough that he couldn’t move. 

 

“But… you weren’t really trying to die , were you, sweetheart?” Gabriel’s voice had gone deadly soft again, a cruel smile on his lips, his breath hot and close against Crowley’s face. “You were trying to escape. Again . Do you remember what happened last time you tried to escape me?”

 

A shiver ran down Crowley’s spine, and he was unable to suppress a pleading whimper as he nodded, eyes closed. 

 

He remembered. 

 

“Let’s say you did. Let’s say your little emo self-destructive act here actually worked, and you managed to escape back down to the Basement.” Gabriel’s voice was falsely light, almost amused, and Crowley’s heart raced with rising panic. He didn’t know where Gabriel was going with this, and he was terrified to find out. “What do you think happens then?” 

 

“Th-they punish me,” Crowley concluded, confused, desperately hoping he was answering correctly. “I - wouldn’t be able to leave…”

 

“What if you could?” Gabriel pressed, his tone speculative. “What if they let you go? Let you go right back to that moldy little bookshop and your pathetic excuse for an angel, in a brand new body?” 

 

“Y-you’d find me?” Crowley guessed weakly, at a loss. 

 

“Well, yeah.” Gabriel conceded with a little sideways nod, rolling his eyes as if that was just so obvious . “Not my point.”

 

He shifted in closer to Crowley, his free hand reaching behind him to find the barely healed sigil he’d burned into Crowley’s flesh. Crowley flinched, letting out a choked, pleading little cry as Gabriel’s finger traced the lines of the symbol there. 

 

“That brand new body…” Gabriel continued, his voice hushed, measured. “No matter what it looked like… no matter what you try to do about it… it’d still have this mark . Still belong to me .” 

 

Crowley’s blood turned to ice in his veins, panic clutching his chest as he looked up at Gabriel, too startled to remember not to. 

 

Gabriel laughed. “What, you think a bond like the one we made only lasts as long as your earthly body? It’s eternal , Crowley. You’re mine forever …” His hand spread out, his palm covering the mark, and his gaze darkened with anger. Crowley gasped, as a searing pain flowed through him from the point of contact, and along with it, a dark, heavy, suffocating sense of the archangel’s possessive rage at his offense. Gabriel bit off his words in Crowley’s ear, cold and menacing. 

 

“And I don’t like it , when you try to leave.” 

 

Terrified by the overwhelming menace he felt from Gabriel, Crowley shivered, lowering his head, trying to make his posture as low and small as possible. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry…” 

 

Gabriel let go of Crowley’s throat to run the backs of his fingers down Crowley’s face, and Crowley flinched so hard that his head smacked painfully into the wall behind him. Gabriel dug his thumb into the mark on Crowley’s back until he moaned with pain, his hand sliding around to grasp Crowley’s hair and pull him in close so he could speak softly next to his ear. 

 

“Oh, sweetheart… you will be.”

 

For weeks, Gabriel was cold and ruthless in his demands on Crowley - punishing him at every turn for his mistake, showing no mercy as he resumed his rigorous tests, hurting Crowley any time he made even the slightest error - using the newly formed mark on Crowley’s back to overwhelm Crowley with the heat of his displeasure, until he’d tremble and cry and plead for another chance. 

 

Crowley desperately sought to please him, to anticipate his desires, to follow through his every command to perfection - and managed to succeed, mostly, in doing so. He would be ready and waiting when he’d hear the lock turn and his cell door open, head bowed, kneeling in Gabriel’s favorite position of subservience, desperately hoping that he could do enough, could obey perfectly enough, to cause the archangel’s wrath to be abated. 

 

And gradually… eventually… it was. 

 

The day finally came that Gabriel crouched down in front of him, tilting his head up with a light touch, instructing him to meet his eyes. “You’re doing very well, Crowley,” he said. “I’m very pleased.” He was gentle with Crowley that day when he fucked him, and left him with an affectionate hand through his hair, a warm smile, and a cryptic statement. 

 

“Maybe you’re ready for a little bit more freedom.” 

 

Crowley pondered those words with mingled alarm and hope, all during the long hours until Gabriel returned. To Crowley’s surprise, he snapped his fingers - and all at once, Crowley was dressed in the same black shirt and trousers he’d worn when he’d been taken. He barely had time to adjust to the now foreign sensation, the welcome warmth of the fabric brushing over his skin, before Gabriel turned and walked back out the door, calling instruction over his shoulder. 

 

“Come on.” 

 

Crowley scrambled to his feet, his head low and his pace quick to keep up with his master as they passed down several hallways, enough corners and doorways that Crowley knew he’d never have been able to find his way back. Gabriel stopped at a narrow doorway, taking a step back and extending a hand to usher Crowley in. 

 

Crowley froze as he took in the cold, white-tiled room - exactly like the one where his eyes had been taken from him. He turned swiftly, instinctively - running directly into Gabriel’s broad chest. The archangel caught his wrists, jerking them up in front of him, a cold, warning edge to his voice as he used his grip to back Crowley up into the center of the empty room. 

 

“You weren’t thinking of running, were you?” 

 

“No,” Crowley gasped, breathless, shaking his head. He wasn’t sure if it was a lie or not. He fell to his knees, bowing his head against his wrists, still held tightly in Gabriel’s grasp. “Please, master… please , master…” was all he could manage, his heart racing. 

 

Gabriel’s hands went gentle on his arms, and the archangel crouched down to face him. His voice was low and intent, leading. “You belong to me.” 

 

“I-I belong to you,” Crowley echoed, desperate, pleading. 

 

“I want this to happen… so it’s going to . Do you understand me, Crowley?” 

 

Crowley could barely hear him over the rush of his own blood in his ears, sick with panic. He nodded, tears falling from his eyes. He didn’t know what “this” was... but he did understand. 

 

If Gabriel wanted it, it would be. It was that simple. Fighting it could only make things worse. 

 

Gabriel released Crowley’s wrists, and he dropped his hands to the floor, drawing in several deep, shaky breaths as he tried to steady himself. Gabriel’s fingers carded through Crowley’s hair, soothing and reassuring to match the tone of his voice. 

 

“You’re going to stay on your knees. You won’t move. You won’t make a sound.”

 

Crowley nodded, biting his lip, struggling to stifle his overwhelming terror. 

 

“I’m not gonna lie to you,” Gabriel said, his voice not without sympathy. “This is gonna hurt.” He tilted Crowley’s head up, and Crowley obeyed the unspoken command, turning wide, panicked eyes up toward the archangel. “But you know what would hurt worse?” His voice was soft, patient. 

 

“Disobeying you,” Crowley whispered, swallowing slowly. 

 

“That’s right.” Gabriel granted him a smile and a nod of approval. His smile faded, his expression solemn as he stated, “I can trust you to behave for this - to be good for me. I know I can.” His hand on Crowley’s jaw tightened warningly, his tone going cold as he leaned in close. “Prove me wrong and we go right back to the beginning. All the way.”

 

Crowley’s heart lurched, and he nodded as much as he could within Gabriel’s grasp, eyes closed. “Yes, master.”

 

Gabriel released him, and moved back to stand near the wall, as the door opened and four angels filed into the room. The archangel simply observed, his slave shivering on the floor as the nameless angels took hold of his wings and stretched them out across the cold tile. Panic was a crushing weight in his chest as one angel knelt on either side of him, bracing their knees against the upper bone of each wing and pinning them in place, forcing his body to fold lower over his knees. 

 

Then the other two angels took hold of his right wing, on either side of the upper joint, and pulled - and agonizing pain shot through the restrained limb. Crowley couldn’t help it, the wing fairly moved of its own volition, weakly struggling to escape the pain, a choked cry escaping his lips despite his best efforts to keep silent. Impassive, unbothered by his reaction, the angels just pressed him down harder as cold metal was jammed into the space they’d made, stretching tendon and compressing bone and settling a sharp ache deep in the abused wing. 

 

But they weren’t finished. 

 

In similar fashion, a slightly smaller ring was forced into the second joint of the same wing, before they finally released their hold on it, leaving it weakly spasming with pain - as they pitilessly moved on to his left wing. 

 

It took all four of them to do the second wing. Keeping still was harder, now that his body was anticipating the pain, knew how bad it was going to be. Crowley tried hard to obey, but it just hurt so much . When the first ring went into his left wing, a second choked, desperate cry escaped his lips, and his heart sank as he glanced fearfully up at Gabriel. 

 

The archangel was just observing - his expression calm, his violet eyes merciless as he watched Crowley fail his instructions. 

 

He was going to be punished. 

 

It was over fairly quickly, but the sharp ache in his joints, in his bones, remained, his wings shuddering at the painful intrusion. Their task completed, the four angels left the room, and Gabriel’s slow, measured footsteps echoed against the tile walls as he drew nearer to Crowley. 

 

“I-I’m s-s-sorry,” Crowley hissed through the pain and terror, bowing his head low, one hand held up pleadingly in front of him as Gabriel knelt down facing him. “I-I’m so sorry, master, I tried…” 

 

“Shhh.” Gabriel’s hands were surprisingly gentle as he guided Crowley’s head down against his knees, fingers running soothingly through his hair. “It’s all right. You did well.” 

 

He snapped his fingers, the normally quiet sound sharp and echoing in the room, and Crowley flinched as the clothes Gabriel had given him vanished in an instant. He shivered with the cold air and the cold ache in his chest, the fear as Gabriel’s free hand stroked down his back until it found his mark. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley sobbed softly. “I didn’t mean to, I couldn’t help it.” 

 

He cringed, braced for the overwhelming onslaught of mental and physical pain as Gabriel accessed their connection, prepared for the feeling of vindictive fury - but that wasn’t what he felt, not even close. Instead, a sensation of warmth and reassurance washed over Crowley as Gabriel’s hand gently covered his mark. He felt his fear give way, and he trembled with relief, grateful, unsteady hands reaching up to touch the archangel’s knees. 

 

“I said it was all right. I meant it.” Gabriel’s tone was stern, but warm, his fingers careful and gentle in Crowley’s hair. “I know that was very difficult. I know it hurt. You did your best. You’ve pleased me.” He was quiet for a moment, before adding, a darker note to his words, “Sometimes… pleasing me will hurt. And sometimes, you won’t be able to help it.” 

 

His hand left Crowley’s hair for a moment to touch the cold metal ring nearest his hand, and a twinge of pain passed through the violated limb. With an effort, Crowley managed to keep still, despite the chill that passed through him with Gabriel’s softly ominous words. 

 

“That’s what these are there for. For when you can’t help it.”

 

Crowley swallowed with difficulty, his mouth dry, heart racing. He lifted his head a little, enough to respond in a hoarse whisper. “Y-yes, master.” 

 

With an approving little hum, Gabriel put his hand back in Crowley’s hair, and the demon’s taut, trembling shoulders dropped with relief, his face falling back against his master’s knees. Gabriel gave him a little time to recover, then actually helped him to stand. He kept a hand on his shoulder as he walked him back to his room - a hand that actually felt supportive, reassuring, as opposed to oppressive. 

 

Crowley couldn’t shake his fears, as he thought about what Gabriel had said, and wondered what dark purpose he might have had in disfiguring his wings this way. He wondered if he was about to find out, when they reached the privacy of his room. But Gabriel didn’t hurt him any further, simply let him go to his bed and rest, and left him alone. 

 

And the next day was the first one since his capture that Crowley did not spend locked in a cell. 

 

**********************************************************************************

 

Aziraphale’s mind was made up, the instant he saw what Gabriel had done to Crowley. 

 

It was sick, and sadistic, and a violation of things that were sacred and intimate and intended for purposes far above the archangel’s base, depraved pleasure - taken at the expense of the one who was dearest to Aziraphale in all the universe. 

 

His dear Crowley, broken and pleading under the force of Gabriel’s soft brutality. 

 

Aziraphale pushed down the searing heat of his own wrath - with ease, this time. His fury was no longer frustrated. He knew what he had to do. A perversion of Heaven’s light and power, a monster like Gabriel, could not be allowed the opportunity to hurt Crowley - or anyone, for that matter - ever again. 

 

He could not be allowed to live. 

 

Aziraphale had a plan - a plan that he’d considered before, but reluctantly dismissed. Because it would reveal the doubts he held for Heaven and the archangel. Because it would place him at odds with his family and his faith. Because it would reveal, once and for all, to everyone, that he loved Crowley . That Crowley was his - and he was Crowley’s. 

 

There was no room or reason for hesitation now. 

 

Aziraphale’s need to be aligned with Heaven was swiftly fading, in favor of his need to protect his love from further abuse. He had to ensure that Gabriel couldn’t get near enough to hurt Crowley again. 

 

And he knew just how to do it. 

 

Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s rising alarm as he moved swiftly, purposefully around the room, completing his daily process of getting dressed. Shirt, trousers, socks - all sorted. He sat in the chair next to his bed to slip into his shoes, then stood up. The demon rose from the bed behind him, his voice hushed and horrified as he tracked Aziraphale’s movements. 

 

“Aziraphale, what are you talking about? You can’t kill Gabriel . He’s an archangel, he’s way more powerful than you are! He’s a fucking archangel … angel.” 

 

Aziraphale glanced up at him with a smile, hoping to lighten the mood. “See, there? Too many angels in that sentence. No one will mind if I eliminate one of them.”

 

Crowley was utterly unamused. 

 

Everyone will mind!” he insisted, raising his voice, following Aziraphale across the room to his closet where he retrieved his vest. “He’s got a position, authority, you do this and they’ll kill you… you do this and you’ll fall !”

 

The thought wasn’t nearly as frightening to Aziraphale as it once would have been. Perhaps he no longer wanted to be an angel, if angels could go around so freely behaving as Gabriel had done. Perhaps he no longer wanted to be aligned with the side that would condemn him for protecting Crowley, while defending the sadistic monster who had abused him. 

 

“I have to keep you safe,” he stated, terse and quiet. “That’s all , Crowley. I’m not going to argue about this.” 

 

“Oh, well, I am ,” Crowley declared, standing directly in Aziraphale’s path when he turned away from the closet, his golden eyes wide and worried. Aziraphale stifled a sigh and stepped past him, taking his bow tie from the nightstand and running it under his collar. Crowley persisted, following him and moving to stand in front of him again. “Angel, you’re not being rational about this. I know you’re angry, and I know it’s for me and I love you for it, but you’re just not thinking. You need to stop and think , about what’s important, about what matters …”

 

Offended at Crowley on Crowley’s own behalf, Aziraphale turned to face him at last and gave him a severe look. “I am thinking about what matters!” he snapped. 

 

All the fear in Crowley’s eyes was for Aziraphale, not of him. He didn’t flinch, just stood there staring at Aziraphale, searching his face with wide, solemn eyes. 

 

Aziraphale softened, his shoulders falling as he took a step closer to Crowley, his hands gently cradling Crowley’s face as he held his gaze. “ You , Crowley,” he said, with quiet, fierce intensity. “ You are what matters .” 

 

The demon’s lips parted, and he ducked his head, closed his eyes, tears slipping through lowered lashes. He swallowed back a sob, drawing in a breath to steady his voice before he looked back up at Aziraphale. 

 

“I can’t lose you .” 

 

Aziraphale’s hand stroked back through his hair, and he leaned in to kiss his tears away, then kissed his brow, gently shushing him. 

 

“You won’t,” he promised, drawing back again to meet Crowley’s eyes, serious and intent. “If he hasn’t fallen yet for what he’s done to you… then I can’t believe I’d fall for what I’m going to do to him .”

 

Aziraphale saw the protest in Crowley’s eyes, the slow shake of his head as he opened his mouth to argue. Aziraphale pressed his fingertips gently to Crowley’s lips, because he knew the argument, and he knew where it came from. It both broke his heart and ignited his fury that Crowley should believe his suffering less meaningful, crimes against him less costly - simply because of what he was. 

 

“You did not deserve it, Crowley,” he insisted fiercely. “What he did was evil. What you deserve is this, with me, what we have. He was as wrong to hurt you as if you were an angel, or a human, or anyone else. You did not deserve it.” 

 

Crowley relented a little, closing his eyes, turning his face into Aziraphale’s hand, and Aziraphale cupped his cheek, blinking back tears of his own. 

 

“Will you trust me?” he asked softly. “Trust me to save us, love?” 

 

Crowley drew in a shaky breath, let it out sharply - but he nodded, and allowed Aziraphale to pull him into his arms, lowering his head onto his shoulder, allowing himself to be reassured. 

 

Aziraphale drew back after a few moments, stroking his hand gently across Crowley’s shoulder, glancing down in momentary hesitation before meeting Crowley’s eyes again and speaking, softly entreating. 

 

“Please, darling… will you let me see your wings?” 

 

Crowley bit his lip, a slight frown creasing his brow - but he did trust Aziraphale. He brought forth his wings, his eyes darting to Aziraphale’s hand as he raised it, the glow of his grace shining in his palm. He looked back at Aziraphale sharply - and Aziraphale just held his gaze and waited... waited for his word. Crowley swallowed slowly, his voice hushed and haunted. 

 

“He’ll be angry.” 

 

Aziraphale’s gaze didn’t waver, his words quietly certain. “Doesn’t matter. He’ll never touch you again.” 

 

He watched the war in Crowley’s eyes… watched with relief when his trust won out, and he nodded shortly, bowing his head, pulling his wings forward a bit. Aziraphale passed his hand over them, from the tip of one to its root, stopping long enough to protectively, affectionately cup the back of Crowley’s head and kiss him softly, before moving on to the other wing and healing it as well. 

 

Once every cut, every bruise, had vanished and beautiful, gleaming black feathers had grown back, lush and full, Aziraphale focused his attention on the detestable rings wedged into Crowley’s joints - one vanished, and then the next, and then the next, until all were gone, and his worn, stretched tendons regained their original shape, dislocated bones knitting back into place where they were supposed to be. 

 

Crowley nearly collapsed with relief, his arms falling on Aziraphale’s shoulders, as he drew in a couple of deep, sobbing breaths. Aziraphale put his arms around Crowley’s waist and carefully sat him down on the edge of the bed, holding him through the shock of his healing. As he did, he glanced over the rest of Crowley’s body, healing away any remaining trace of injury he found. 

 

He looked down, over Crowley’s shoulder, his eyes falling with revulsion on the only remaining blemish - Gabriel’s hateful mark. 

 

He wrapped one arm a little tighter around Crowley’s waist, steadying him as he slid his other hand back, a wordless warning as to his intention. Crowley lowered his head onto Aziraphale’s shoulder, tensing, braced for it, but not telling him to stop. 

 

“Hold on, love,” Aziraphale said softly, cupping his hand lightly over the mark. 

 

To his relief, his efforts didn’t seem to cause Crowley any pain - but neither did the mark go away. Aziraphale frowned, and felt a little rankling at the relief he felt from Crowley at the failure of his attempt. Crowley seemed to catch his reaction, giving him a sad, guilty little smile. 

 

“He’d be so angry,” he explained, halting and fearful. “To find it gone.” 

 

“It doesn’t matter if he gets angry,” Aziraphale assured him, kissing him gently. “I told you. He will never touch you again.” 

 

Crowley didn’t look convinced - and Aziraphale could hardly blame him for it. 

 

But this was a promise he meant to keep. 

 

And he knew how he was going to go about it. He had everything he needed in his shop - and what he didn’t have, he knew how to get. He was not only determined, but certain

 

Gabriel would die. 

 

Crowley would be safe. 

 

If it cost him all of Heaven to accomplish it.

Chapter Text

Silent, anxious, Crowley sat on the edge of the sofa and watched as Aziraphale busily arranged his supplies on the living room floor. The coffee table had been pushed out of the way to leave room for a chalk circle about three feet across, marked with various Enochian sigils around its outer and inner edges. When the circle was finished, Aziraphale placed a candle on either side, and one in the middle, carefully lighting them before backing off to survey his work. 

 

Crowley didn’t really understand what it was Aziraphale was doing. 

 

He hadn’t exactly slowed down enough to say much of anything from the moment they’d left the bedroom. 

 

“There isn’t any time, Crowley, I’ll explain everything after, I promise.” 

 

And he had asked Crowley to trust him , so… Crowley did. 

 

Seeming satisfied that all was in order, Aziraphale sat down on the side of the circle farthest from Crowley, his legs crossed under him. He looked up to meet Crowley’s eyes with a bright, anxious smile, reaching out a beckoning hand toward him, though he was too far away to reach him. 

 

“Come, join me, darling.” 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, giving the circle a suspicious look before conceding, “... All right.” 

 

Aziraphale indicated the space opposite him, and Crowley carefully mirrored his position on the other side of the circle. When Aziraphale reached out for his hands, Crowley let him hold them, and closed his eyes when Aziraphale closed his. His eyes opened again sharply when Aziraphale began to speak - in the language of the angels, older than time itself. 

 

This was no human magic. The angels would know that Aziraphale had performed this - whatever this was. It would not be hidden to them. 

 

It seemed Aziraphale was no longer interested in hiding. 

 

Crowley closed his eyes again and listened, with a vague understanding building as to what Aziraphale was doing, as the angel went on in the tongue that was native to both angels and demons. 

 

After all, they’d once been one and the same. 

 

In English, roughly, it translated to, “Facing threat of attack, fearing accusation and punishment, I claim this place, my home, my own, as sanctuary. Allow none to enter here without my consent. Within these walls, none shall harm me, and I shall harm none. Outside these walls, I accept my fate. Inside them, I am safe for as long as I shall remain.”  

 

The word “sanctuary” was mildly alarming. Crowley deeply hoped that Aziraphale wasn’t accidentally consecrating the floor of his flat - but he trusted him. He was intelligent, he was thoughtful, he’d no doubt done his research and knew what he was doing. 

 

When Aziraphale had finished speaking, he let go of Crowley’s hands and picked up a sharp, silver blade he had laid next to him. With careful precision, he sliced a neat line across his own palm, from which golden blood flowed. He looked at Crowley with a regretful wince, his uninjured hand extended, palm up, for Crowley’s. Crowley sighed, suppressing a somewhat dark smile, and gave his angel his hand. 

 

It was laughable that Aziraphale thought a tiny cut across his hand merited an apology.

 

Aziraphale clasped their bleeding hands together over the center of the circle until wet drops fell into the candle, extinguishing it, and a swirl of light, mingled gold and blood red, rose around their joined hands. A moment later, a flare of blue-white light rushed up along the edges of the circle and passed up through the ceiling - gone as quickly as it had appeared. 

 

The candles had gone out, and all was quiet, and Crowley wasn’t burning where he sat, so he allowed himself to relax a little. Aziraphale seemed relieved as well, releasing a deep sigh and giving Crowley a smile that was no longer anxious. 

 

“It was supposed to do that, then, I take it , ” Crowley concluded, still feeling quite dubious about the whole thing. 

 

Aziraphale nodded, appearing supremely satisfied, as he turned Crowley’s hand palm up in his own. The angel’s hand - bleeding only moments ago, but now whole - hovered over Crowley’s cut palm until the small wound had vanished. Once that task was finished, Aziraphale rose from the dusty carpet, brushing off his trousers with both hands. 

 

“Want to tell me what this is all about now?” Crowley persisted, an eyebrow raised as he took the hand the angel offered him and allowed him to pull him to his feet. 

 

“Of course. Just a moment, love.” 

 

With a wave of Aziraphale’s free hand, every trace of their ritual vanished, the coffee table shifted back into place, and the living area was - well, as tidy as it ever was. Crowley noticed, a bit uneasily, that Aziraphale was being rather liberal with his miracles at the moment. Satisfied that all was back in place, Aziraphale turned toward the sofa, leading Crowley with him as he sat down. 

 

“Just… one more thing.” 

 

He met Crowley’s eyes with a worried little frown, then reached toward the collar, but stopped and waited without actually touching it. Crowley frowned and drew back a little, alarmed. It was already set to 01; he couldn’t imagine what Aziraphale might want to do to it.  

 

The angel’s voice was soft and even as he held his gaze and reminded him with quiet certainty, “I won’t harm you, darling.”

 

Crowley’s mouth was dry, and his pulse quickened a bit, but he nodded once, bracing himself as Aziraphale pressed a couple of buttons on the side of the device. Nothing happened, but the angel sat back a little with a sigh. 

 

Crowley frowned. “What did you just do?” 

 

“According to that blasted handbook, hopefully, just activated the ‘manual override’ option,” Aziraphale explained, seeming unsettlingly uncertain about it. He took the remote from his pocket, and Crowley’s stomach did an uncomfortable little somersault. “If I did it correctly, then - this should no longer be functional.” He gave Crowley an apologetic little grimace. “We ought to test it, to be sure. The worst it will do is to go one level higher...”  

 

Crowley swallowed, staring at the remote for a moment, before nodding slowly. 

 

Aziraphale leaned in closer to Crowley, allowing him to see exactly what he was doing as he pressed the button to take the setting up - just once. The remote flashed 02 a couple of times before reading 01 again. 

 

The number on the collar’s readout screen never changed, and Crowley felt no pain. 

 

Aziraphale smiled. 

 

“What did you just do ?” Crowley repeated, a little confused. 

 

“I’ve locked this remote control device out of the system.” Aziraphale was beaming now, quite pleased with himself. “As well as any alternate controllers Gabriel might have lying about.” 

 

A little shiver went down Crowley’s spine. The idea of Gabriel having his own controller that he could use at a distance was not a new one to him; it was still quite unsettling to think about it. Aziraphale studied his face, his expression softening with compassion, and then shifted closer to Crowley on the sofa, wrapping a reassuring arm around his shoulders and reaching out to take his hand after putting the remote away. 

 

“Now the setting can only be changed by the controls on the collar itself.” His voice had gone soft and serious, and he waited a moment for Crowley to process the implications, before reminding him, “And he can’t get in .”

 

Crowley blinked, feeling a little overwhelmed at the realization. 

 

Gabriel no longer had access to the collar. At all

 

“How…” His voice broke over the word, and he stopped, composing himself before he continued, hushed and wondering, “How did you know to do that?” 

 

“I’ve known for a little while that it was possible,” Aziraphale admitted with a rueful little smile. “It’s amazing the things you can learn when you obsessively study one single thing for weeks on end - with a frustrating lack of success, I might add.” He shook his head a little, mouth pursed in distaste at the residue of that frustration. “But I did discover this. I was amazed that it didn’t require archangel approval like any other potentially useful features in that damned manual all seemed to. I suppose he may have overlooked it, or may never have realized the capability was there to begin with.” He hesitated a moment, his arm around Crowley gently squeezing, before he explained. “I wanted to use it as soon as I discovered it, but - I couldn’t. If I had...”

 

“He’d have taken me back.” There wasn’t a shred of doubt in Crowley’s mind. He looked up to meet Aziraphale’s eyes, gently squeezing his hand. “You were right not to use it.” He frowned, feeling a little sick at the thought of Gabriel’s reaction when he discovered what Aziraphale had done. “Angel… even now, are you sure …?” 

 

“I’m sure.” Aziraphale was quietly emphatic, holding Crowley’s gaze. “Before, I feared bringing retaliation on you, if he discovered I’d altered the settings. But now…”

 

“Now you fear nothing, apparently.” Crowley gave his angel an appraising look, just slightly less impressed than he was worried by Aziraphale’s nerve. 

 

Aziraphale’s crystal blue eyes were serene and certain. “Now I fear nothing,” he confirmed softly. 

 

It was a frightening, bordering on foolish , statement. 

 

But Crowley knew that Aziraphale was anything but foolish. 

 

He had simply made up his mind. He was ready to act. Whatever his plan was, he had set aside any fear of the potential consequences. He was determined to free Crowley from Gabriel’s influence, to end Gabriel, period … and not in the slightest dissuaded by the very real possibility that it might be the last thing he ever did - that it might cost him everything

 

Crowley hated it. He knew it was far too dangerous, Aziraphale making plans to take on a fucking archangel.  

 

He also knew his angel well enough to know that there was nothing he could do to change his mind.

 

Now I fear nothing…

 

Crowley suppressed a shiver. “Because of that?” He waved a hand vaguely toward the spot where they’d just performed the ritual. Aziraphale nodded once. Crowley sighed, and asked yet again, a third time, “So… what did you just do?” 

 

“I’ve claimed sanctuary,” Aziraphale explained. “It’s an old angelic practice, but there is precedent for demons using it as well. I’m fairly certain it hasn’t been used by anyone in quite some time. It was originally designed to be used by any angel or demon who believes themselves to be in danger from their own kind…”

 

“You sound like a textbook,” Crowley pointed out dryly. 

 

“Thank you.” Aziraphale beamed.

 

Crowley didn’t have the heart to draw attention to the idea that it had been, possibly, not a compliment - most likely because he realized after saying it that it sort of was, and his heart was simply consumed with a sense of warm fondness for his bookish angel.

 

“Perhaps an angel perceives that they’re about to be accused of wrongdoing and brought to trial,” Aziraphale suggested. “Or perhaps for some personal reason, another angel wants to hurt them. They may do this ritual and claim sanctuary in their own space. Then no other angel can come into their home without an invitation, and once allowed in, no one can perform any miracles intended to do harm within that space.” He gently squeezed Crowley’s hand, his eyes warm and eager, searching Crowley’s face for the delight and excitement he obviously felt in what he was revealing. “And, as the two of us just completed it together , this home should be safe from both angels and demons. The bookshop - the flat - a completely safe space. No one can harm us here.” 

 

“Unless I’ve just ruined it,” Crowley suggested unhappily, his worries creeping in again. “This might be the first time an angel and a demon have ever tried it together. What if it doesn’t work for you... because you did it with me ?” 

 

Crowley .” Aziraphale’s warm, soft hand found Crowley’s cheek, turning his face gently toward his, his eyes and tone stern but loving. “ Stop . Any angel or demon can perform it. You have as much right to it as anyone.” His eyes were solemn as he stated firmly, “He can’t come in. He can’t hurt you. He can’t touch you.” 

 

Crowley wanted to stop. He really did. But now that he’d started, he couldn’t seem to shake the nagging fears playing around the edges of his thoughts. 

 

“What if while we’re here, hiding … he’s off rallying Heaven against us? What if he convinces them to come after us, and they find a way to reverse it?” 

 

“There is no way to reverse it,” Aziraphale reassured him. “It was never considered necessary. You see, as long as we’re within the walls of the sanctuary barrier - we can’t perform any harmful miracles, either. Think of it like… placing oneself on house arrest, in order to avoid a much worse penalty. No one will come after us, because we won’t be a threat to anyone.” He was quiet for a moment before adding, “ She designed it Herself, Crowley. And even She has never violated it. You’re safe . You can rest… take a break…”

 

Crowley bit his lip, uncertain. “What if he stops time again?” 

 

Aziraphale smiled. “Then I suppose you’ll get a break from me as well, for a bit. Doesn’t matter. He can’t come in .” 

 

Crowley wanted to believe it. It was incredibly tempting to believe it, and… Aziraphale usually knew what he was talking about. 

 

“We can’t just… stay here forever, though…”

 

“The sanctuary barrier will last forever, if necessary.” 

 

Crowley gave Aziraphale a look . “I love you, angel, but…”

 

Aziraphale laughed. “Yes, yes, and I’d like very much to keep it that way,” he agreed. “I know that’s… untenable, long-term. Lord knows we’d both go mad in… a decade or two.” The teasing sparkle in his eyes was infectious, and Crowley felt the slightest bit of his worries melt away. “At any rate, I do have a plan. I just need to double-check a few things, but in the meantime...” 

 

“We’re safe,” Crowley concluded, blinking in disbelief. “Until we figure out what to do next.” 

 

He found himself not quite able to process it. Gabriel couldn’t get in. It’d been over a year since he’d been in a place where Gabriel couldn’t get in . In the back of his mind, a dark little voice whispered that he’d likely never been in a place where Gabriel couldn’t get in; he could get in anywhere, he’d find a way, he’s probably working on it right now…

 

“Right.” Crowley tried to suppress the rising anxiety in his voice, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. “So… now that we’re safe, what do we do next?”

 

“What’s next… now that we’re safe…” Aziraphale shifted a little closer to Crowley on the sofa, sliding an arm around his shoulders, his voice soft and soothing, “... is that we stop for a moment. Breathe. Rest.” He hesitated a moment, then ventured, “Perhaps… talk?” 

 

Suddenly, Aziraphale’s searching gaze felt a little too intense… a little too close. Crowley’s mouth went dry, and he dropped his gaze, all at once feeling more exposed, more… seen , than he’d felt since coming home. Too much had been happening all at once for Crowley to stop and think , but… now that he could… 

 

All he could think about was the images he’d shared with Aziraphale - because of the sharing, vivid and real as the day they’d happened, nightmare memories coursing through his mind. He could feel Gabriel’s cruel, grasping hands… hear his insidious whisper in his ear… smell the acrid scent of the holy water. 

 

He could see it all, as it was when it had happened.

 

And… Aziraphale had seen, too. 

 

Everything

 

Well… not everything, exactly, but… enough . Enough that Crowley didn’t even want to think about “talking” right now. His shame was a weight in his chest, crushing in on him again, like Gabriel’s body heavy on his, pressing him down into the mattress, holding him there, suffocating. He couldn’t breathe, felt a cold sweat break out across his brow.

 

Aziraphale had insisted that it wasn’t his fault, he hadn’t had a choice, but he remembered choosing . He remembered repeating after Gabriel, saying words he hadn’t meant, such treacherous, unfaithful words that had spilled from his lips so easily.

 

It was only pain… you had a choice… unfaithful little slut…

 

Crowley shut his eyes, trying to shut it all out. 

 

“I-I can’t talk about that…” His words were halting, broken, and he hated the little catch in his voice. 

 

“You needn’t, my love.” Aziraphale’s voice was hushed, soothing, and he turned Crowley’s face toward him. “Crowley, my dear, would you look at me, please?” 

 

Crowley obeyed, blinking, trying to clear his head and focus on the warmth and concern on Aziraphale’s face. 

 

Aziraphale was concerned because he knew

 

Knows what he did to you, knows what you did, so disgusting! How can he even touch you now? Worthless little demon whore...

 

Crowley felt himself being sucked down again, into the darkly spinning vortex of his own thoughts. 

 

Crowley .” Aziraphale’s voice was sharp, and Crowley looked up at him again, wide-eyed and a little panicked. Aziraphale softened a little, watching him closely. The concern in his eyes had morphed into worry, now. “It’s all right. You’re safe. You’re safe here with me, and you don’t have to do a single thing or say a single thing you don’t want to. You don’t have to talk. All right?” 

 

Crowley nodded gratefully, swallowing back the sick feeling in the back of his throat and leaning his head forward on Aziraphale’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around him. 

 

“That’s it,” Aziraphale encouraged him, soft and cautious. “You’re not there anymore, my darling. Just be here with me…” 

 

Aziraphale snapped his fingers, and suddenly the rather stiff feel of his usual attire gave way to soft cotton, and Crowley realized he had miracled himself into his pajamas. 

 

Crowley was still wearing his. 

 

“Come here, yes, that’s it,” Aziraphale coaxed him, settling into the corner of the sofa and adjusting his position so that Crowley could lie against his chest, between his legs. “Just rest, love… I know it’s overwhelming, but I promise you that you’re safe. You’re safe , now. And you can rest.” 

 

The soft words had a hushed, hypnotic quality, and Crowley gradually found himself closing his eyes, settling in against the warmth and softness of his angel. Everything was moving so quickly, and he didn’t understand what Aziraphale’s plan was, and it could all go so terribly wrong, and there was every reason to be scared, but all at once…he simply didn’t have the energy to panic anymore. 

 

Being scared all the time was bloody exhausting

 

Aziraphale’s hand stroked slow and rhythmic, back and forth across his shoulders, once in a while brushing up and down his back, and Crowley, against his better judgment, begin to relax. Aziraphale stayed quiet for a long while, and then broke the silence, his hushed tones still clear in the stillness. 

 

“I know you don’t wish to talk about what you showed me, Crowley…” 

 

The demon’s hands clenched a little at his angel’s sides, his heart leaping up into his throat, and Aziraphale’s hand at his back rose to slide gentle fingers through his hair. 

 

“You don’t have to,” Aziraphale hurried to assure him. “You don’t have to, my love…” Crowley could feel his hesitation crackling in the air between them, heavy and waiting. “... but… would it be all right if I talked about it, a little?” 

 

Crowley felt sick. 

 

He should have known it was coming. Aziraphale had been running at full steam since he’d seen Crowley’s memories, determined to protect him, determined to avenge him - and now, he’d sat here in the quiet, actually thinking about what it was he’d seen. Of course he was upset about it. Of course he was hurt, and angry, and needed to talk about it. 

 

Crowley couldn’t deny him that. 

 

He nodded slowly against Aziraphale’s chest. Aziraphale kept gently stroking his hair, as he began to speak into the quiet. 

 

“First, my dear… thank you for showing me. I - I thought I understood, but - I really had no idea . How bad it really was for you. The things you went through. It was so brave of you to show me, and I’m glad you did, because… I do think now I understand a little bit better. And - there are some things you need to understand as well…”

 

Here it comes… Crowley braced himself for deserved judgment.

 

“I would never, ever have betrayed you to him. Never .” 

 

All right, well… it wasn’t what Crowley had expected Aziraphale to start with… but it still made his face flush hot, his eyes sting with guilty tears. 

 

“I-I’m sorry…”

 

Don’t .” Aziraphale cut him off in a tone that somehow managed to be both sharp and gentle at the same time. “Crowley, I understand exactly why you’d have had to wonder. I couldn’t possibly blame you for that. You were isolated - from me, from anyone , for so long, with no communication, no information at all besides his wicked lies whispered in your ear. Of course you couldn’t be sure.” 

 

A wave of relief washed over Crowley at the understanding in Aziraphale’s voice, though he wasn’t sure he deserved it. 

 

“I’d never have given you to him. I had no idea of the things he was capable of, but even so - I’d have never . I’d have died first. I’d have fallen first.” 

 

A cold quiver of fear started in the pit of Crowley’s stomach. “ Don’t …” 

 

“I won’t,” Aziraphale promised, hesitating just a moment before admitting in a voice barely over a whisper, “But I would. To spare you a single moment of that… I would .” 

 

The clear, simple devotion in Aziraphale’s words made Crowley’s chest ache, and he turned his face in against the softness of Aziraphale’s body, drawing in a shaky gasp. 

 

“It wasn’t your fault, Crowley. And - you showed me more than just what happened to you, love, so - I know you feel that it was. But it wasn’t. Not any of it. You were powerless , my darling. You couldn’t so much as raise your hand to defend yourself - in that room, and for so very, very long before.” Aziraphale paused, and when he spoke again his words were measured and clear, “Had you done as he asked at once , without a single touch of the holy water… you still would not be at fault. No one can consent when under such duress. It was not your fault, and I could never blame you. No matter how much he tried to twist it to make you believe you were responsible - you were not .” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a moment before repeating, aghast, “ Holy water … as if that’s evidence of anything, besides his own sadism!” He went on with indignation and quiet outrage in his voice, “As if it proves you’re somehow… evil, or - or less . You are not .” 

 

Aziraphale shifted his position a little bit, pushing at Crowley’s shoulder so that he’d sit up a little, tilting his chin up to meet his eyes. Crowley was surprised to see that his angel’s eyes were wet with tears, his gaze earnest and sure, as he spoke a blessing over his demon with such pure, honest devotion that it made Crowley ache

 

“You are worthy . You are good . You are not what he made of you.” 

 

Overwhelmed, disbelieving, Crowley bit his lip, blinking back tears as he looked away. Aziraphale insistently turned his face back up, a touch of fiercely protective anger glittering in his eyes as he declared, “ You are not his . That wretched mark - I won’t go so far as to say it’s meaningless ; that would be an insult to you and all that you suffered, but - it is not what he thinks it is. It is not eternal.” 

 

Crowley stared up at him, feeling hollow and vulnerable, barely daring to hope. His own voice sounded very small and scared to his own ears, a soft, faltering question. 

 

“It - it’s not?” 

 

“No, my love,” Aziraphale assured him, a gentle hand caressing his cheek, the pad of his thumb catching a tear and wiping it away. “And very soon, it won’t be anything at all.” 

 

Crowley frowned a little, studying him, trying to read his expression. “What are you going to do?” 

 

Aziraphale smiled. “I have an idea. It bears a bit more research first, I’m afraid.” His smile was touched with regret. “I suppose I’ll have to brush up on a bit of angelic history to be sure, but… it’s not a legitimate bond… and that means it can be broken.” He ran his hand through Crowley’s hair, very tender and gentle. “Even if it was performed in a legitimate manner - and it wasn’t - such things require consent , Crowley. And you did not consent.” 

 

Crowley lowered his head, stifled by his shame. “I gave in to him,” he reminded Aziraphale, words hushed and broken. “I - asked him to fuck me, instead of hurting me. I was weak, I - I s-surrendered…” 

 

“You are strong .” Aziraphale’s tone brooked no argument. “You held out for so long, my darling, that it’s simply awe-inspiring . I’m not at all sure I could have held out for so long under such abuse.”

 

A sense of horror came over Crowley at the very thought of Aziraphale, forced into captivity and suffering the way he had over the past year. Crowley looked up at his angel, worried and wondering just how much Aziraphale had seen - how much he’d felt

 

“You thought about it,” the angel explained gently. “About the weeks before he… marked you. And about the time before that, in - in the other cell. You - remembered those things, while it was happening. Because I was in your memory, I - I saw and heard them, too. The things you remembered him doing and saying to you. So - I know that this was not the first time. This was not even the tenth time. Countless times he hurt you, violated you… and you remained strong. You kept telling him no. I’m in awe of you, Crowley.” 

 

“Well, I’m in disgust of me,” Crowley whispered, lowering his head against Aziraphale’s chest again, swallowing against the ache in his throat. “I betrayed you.” 

 

“You did not.” Aziraphale’s protest was immediate and indignant. 

 

“He told me to forget you and invite him in. And I did it.” 

 

“You did not betray me, Crowley,” Aziraphale insisted. “And you never forgot me. Not once .” 

 

He sat up then, pushing Crowley back and shifting their positions until they were both sitting up, and he was facing Crowley, one arm low around his waist, the other hand gently cupping the back of his head and stroking through his hair. Crowley’s head was downturned, his hands trembling a little where they rested against Aziraphale’s chest. 

 

“Listen to me, Crowley,” Aziraphale urged him gently, his voice hushed, low and thick with emotion. “I saw you… in that soft, warm little corner of your own personal Hell… that secret place where your every thought was of me. Where you longed for me.” 

 

He touched Crowley’s face, then, tenderly, where bruises had been, just like Crowley had dreamed of being touched, when there had been nothing but pain. Crowley closed his eyes against the tears, the swelling ache in his chest, his hands sliding down to cling to Aziraphale’s waist. Aziraphale’s touch was near reverent as he stroked Crowley’s hair, just as he’d imagined when he was all alone and always waiting, waiting in the midst of a faded dream, for the nightmare to return. 

 

“You need to know,” Aziraphale continued, his words slow, measured, and adoring. “You must know... that I was longing for you too. Not nearly for so long as you had to, but I was longing for you. Missing you. Trying to find a way to bring you home to me.” 

 

“You did bring me home,” Crowley reminded him, his voice choked with his gratitude. 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a long moment, and Crowley could feel his hesitation as he touched his hair, gently kissed the corner of his mouth, then finally ducked his head to meet Crowley’s eyes - his own anguished and desperate. 

 

“Please,” he whispered at last, “please don’t leave again. Not - not of your own choice.”

 

Crowley stared at him a moment, trying to work out what he meant. He hadn’t left of his own choice, he’d been taken. What did he mean, don’t leave of your own …? 

 

And then, he felt the chill of Aziraphale’s fear, saw the helpless, lost look in his eyes - and he understood, even before Aziraphale went on. 

 

A vivid image flashed through Crowley’s mind - a golden bowl filled with holy water… a table bolted down too tightly for him to shift it...

 

“I - I understand why, given your circumstances. Why - you were tempted to. But - I know that… that things are not always going to be good, even - even once this is over. Even once he’s…” A rush of vengeful anger washed over the angel for just a moment, just the barest instant before he closed his eyes and swiftly tamped it down. He looked at Crowley again, solemn and sorrowful. “These things will be a part of you, and they will hurt, and - and you’ll want them not to hurt. You’ll want them to end .” 

 

Aziraphale’s words were desperately loving, hushed, and tender. 

 

Please stay with me .”

 

Tears burned in Crowley’s eyes, and he looked away, awed and humbled by the depth of devotion he felt behind Aziraphale’s words. He didn’t know why he loved him so much, after everything he’d seen, everything Crowley was putting him through, even now. 

 

But he did know that he could never break his angel’s heart like that - never leave him that way, after everything he’d sacrificed, was still sacrificing, to save him. 

 

“I will, angel,” Crowley promised. He’d only ever thought of ending it because he couldn’t be with his angel. As long as Aziraphale wanted him... he couldn’t possibly leave. He hesitated before amending softly, “As - as long as it’s up to me… I will.” 

 

“It will be up to you,” Aziraphale stated firmly. “I’m going to make sure of it. No one will ever take you again. You’ll be safe, my darling. No one can harm you now.” 

 

And Crowley realized, quite suddenly and with a shock, that he knew it was true. 

 

For this moment, in this place - it was true. He wasn’t sure about tomorrow, or the day after that - wasn’t sure what would happen when Heaven or Hell inevitably came for them. But for now, he was safe... in this house where Gabriel could not enter. The archangel could not intrude on them, could not come storming in to wrest him from his angel’s arms. 

 

For now … he was safe.

 

And it was more than he’d had in as long as he could remember. 

 

Trust me, Aziraphale had pleaded. Trust me to save us…

 

And Crowley realized with a soft, still sense of peace stealing over him, that for now … he did.

Chapter Text

Following the procedure, Gabriel gave Crowley a few days for his wings to heal a bit - although true healing was impossible with the cold, intrusive metal, pushing his bones apart, stretching tendons to their limits, making his wings throb with every movement. A few days of rest did help a little, though; the sharp, overwhelming pain gradually faded into a dull ache that remained, but with less intensity. 

 

Crowley could almost forget it was there. Some of the time. He’d had worse. 

 

At the sound of the key in the door, Crowley left his bed and knelt in the center of the room, waiting with his eyes on the floor. Gabriel entered without a word, standing there for a moment looking at him, before slowly circling him. Crowley kept carefully still, even as his heart raced with fearful anticipation - even when Gabriel’s hand caught hold of the top ring in his right wing, lifting it up to inspect the work he’d had done. 

 

“Does this hurt?” Gabriel asked in a tone of mild, dispassionate interest. 

 

“No, master,” Crowley answered, before amending with a little wince. “A-A little, master.” 

 

It didn’t hurt any worse because Gabriel was touching it. The metal was set tightly into the joints, not shifting when Crowley would move his wings. 

 

Gabriel tugged a little harder, experimental, and Crowley closed his eyes, braced for worse - but there was nothing more than the same dull ache he was becoming used to feeling. Finally, to Crowley’s relief, Gabriel released his grip on the ring and instead stroked a gentle hand down the ridge of the wing instead. 

 

“Good,” he said, quietly satisfied. 

 

Crowley flinched a little when Gabriel snapped his fingers behind his back - then blinked down in surprise at his own body, as it was suddenly clothed again. He swallowed slowly. The last - and only - time Gabriel had given him clothes to wear had been for the placement of the rings. He hesitated, sick with fear, before venturing to softly speak. 

 

“M-master…”

 

“Shut up,” Gabriel replied, his tone mild. “ Get up. Come with me.”

 

Crowley followed him from the room, his steps quick to keep pace with the archangel, as once again they moved through a series of hallways, though along a different route than before. This time, Crowley noticed other angels around. Standing in small groups having serious-sounding discussions that fell into silence as they passed. Sitting at desks and abruptly ignoring whatever they were working on in favor of turning their heads to stare at him. 

 

He kept his eyes focused on the clean white floor ahead of him. 

 

Crowley only dared to raise his eyes once Gabriel had led him through a glass door, into a spacious room with all glass walls as well. It was apparently sound-proof, as the chatter from outside the door disappeared the moment it closed behind them. There was an impressive, polished wood desk with a comfortable chair, several filing cabinets, a couple of book shelves laden with volumes whose apparent age and titles would have had Aziraphale drooling. 

 

A pang went through Crowley’s chest, and he closed his eyes, shut out the memories of a dusty old bookshop, morning light streaming through the windows, the scent of tea and old books familiar and inviting. Aziraphale’s expression of delight when some treasured, new-but-very-old volume he’d been waiting for arrived in the post. 

 

Don’t think about him. He’s done with you. Won’t see him again. 

 

Gabriel’s hand closed around the same ring he’d examined earlier, and Crowley’s chest clenched, but Gabriel just led him around to the side of his desk before letting go of the ring in favor of pressing down lightly on his shoulder. Crowley folded to his knees where he was directed. His eyes were drawn to a sturdy iron ring that had been bolted to the floor, as Gabriel picked up the chain that was attached to it, and attached the other end of the chain to the ring in Crowley’s wing. The chain weighed heavy on Crowley’s wing, dragging it down a little lower than the other, but it didn’t hurt, exactly. 

 

Gabriel sat down at his desk and began to work - making phone calls, going through the papers that had been left on his desk since the last time he’d been there - and for a while, Crowley was mostly ignored. Every once in a while, an angel would knock on the door, and Gabriel would beckon them in. Crowley kept his eyes carefully focused on the front left leg of Gabriel’s impressively expensive desk. 

 

A couple of the angels sounded a little distracted as they spoke, and Gabriel’s impatient sighs and terse tone raised a slowly building tight anxiety in Crowley’s chest. 

 

At one point, a nervous angelic underling standing in his doorway, Gabriel snapped, “Focus! Up here!” 

 

Crowley swiftly looked up at him, eyes wide with panic, wondering what instruction he had missed. Gabriel didn’t turn his head to look at him, kept listening to his employee. The only indication that he had even noticed Crowley’s movement was an instant’s glancing eye contact, and a slightly amused, upward quirk of his mouth. After a moment, Crowley realized that he had been speaking to the angel in the doorway - who had almost certainly been staring at Crowley , and not paying attention to her boss. 

 

Once she had left, Gabriel reached down and grasped a handful of Crowley’s hair, slowly, deliberately, shoving his head down low against his chest. Crowley’s mouth went dry. His breath caught in his throat. 

 

“I’m sorry, master,” he whispered, quick, instinctive, his heart racing.  

 

“What was she talking about, Crowley?” Gabriel asked, deceptively soft. 

 

“I-I don’t know,” Crowley stammered. “I wasn’t.” He swallowed convulsively, struggling to maintain his composure. “I wasn’t listening.” 

 

Gabriel smiled, his hand sliding lower to rub the back of Crowley’s neck, a gesture that  might have been reassuring if he wasn’t still pressing Crowley’s head insistently downward. His voice was a low, menacing rumble in Crowley’s ear. “Good. Keep doing that. The affairs of Heaven are none of your business .” 

 

“Yes, master.” 

 

“You looked me in the eye,” Gabriel continued, his tone still level and perfectly, chillingly calm. “In front of my subordinate. As if you have the right.” 

 

“S-sorry,” Crowley gasped out, tears springing to his eyes, fighting his rising panic. “I’m sorry, I thought…” Gabriel’s hand tightened slightly in warning, and Crowley bit back the rest of the excuse, closing his eyes. “Doesn’t matter what I thought,” he amended. “I’m sorry. Won’t let it happen again.”

 

Gabriel smiled. “If necessary, I can help make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

 

A mental image of the archangel’s cruel smile over him while he lay restrained, unable to move his head… an eyedropper filled with holy water, carefully positioned inches away… 

 

Crowley struggled to keep it together, to find the right words to appease his master. 

 

“No…” He flinched, trying again, “I-I mean… it won’t be. Necessary. I - I won’t do it again, master.” 

 

He shook his head a little, desperately emphatic, against Gabriel’s tight grip on his neck… and at last it eased. Gabriel silently returned to his work, and Crowley’s panic gradually faded away until he was able to allow himself to relax a little bit. 

 

After some time had passed, Gabriel rose from his seat and unfastened the chain binding Crowley to the floor, and led him from his office. The minute he was back in his room, Gabriel snapped his fingers, and the clothing vanished, leaving Crowley completely exposed again. Crowley started to go to his knees, but Gabriel caught his hair and backed him toward the bed instead, pushing him down on the mattress. 

 

It became a routine - Crowley kneeling at Gabriel’s feet while he worked. On the second day, Gabriel miracled a file cabinet and a stack of files in front of Crowley and had him work, as well. From that point on, he would find jobs for Crowley to do - menial busywork to keep him occupied - while he went through his own daily tasks. 

 

At one point, the Archangel Michael stopped by Gabriel’s office, a brusque, quick tone to her voice as she delivered a message that Crowley made a very careful point of Not Listening to. Her words broke off abruptly when she noticed Crowley, and with an effort, he managed not to look up at her... not to cast a nervous glance at Gabriel, either. 

 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she said, a note of disapproval in her voice. “Can you trust him to handle those without… sneaking a peek every now and then?” 

 

“Yes.” Gabriel’s response was simple and certain. “He knows better.”

 

Michael said nothing else, but Crowley could still feel her critical stare. 

 

“He’s a slave,” Gabriel pointed out, with a matter-of-fact shrug. “He should be serving.” 

 

Crowley didn’t really mind. He wasn’t being beaten, or tortured, and it was better than the mindless boredom of nothing for hours on end. It was better than when Gabriel was finished with his work, and he would take Crowley back to his room - and Crowley would serve him there, as well.

 

Michael let out a vaguely offended little huff of breath. “Surely there’s a better term…”

 

“Not really, no,” Gabriel cut her off, a finality in his tone that seemed to end the conversation - at least for the moment. 

 

“I’ll speak with you later,” she said with a resigned sigh. “Privately.”

 

Gabriel continued his work after she left, but his mood seemed to have shifted. After just a short time, he rose from his desk, smacking the papers in his hands down with irritation. Crowley resisted the desire to cringe away when Gabriel reached for his wing, well aware that it would only fuel the archangel’s anger. 

 

When they got back to Crowley’s room, Gabriel was rough and violent, pinning Crowley down by his wrists, by his wings, squeezing until they throbbed... leaving blood on the sheets and a cold ache of fear in Crowley’s chest. 

 

Sometimes, on particularly stressful days for Gabriel, he wouldn’t even wait to get back to Crowley’s room. 

 

Crowley would know it was coming, when the archangel would snap his fingers, and suddenly a faint blue-white light would trace the edge of the glass walls. He knew after the first time, and Gabriel’s self-satisfied explanation - they had become mirrored glass on the outside; Crowley and Gabriel could see out - but no one could see in.

 

Gabriel always made it hurt, these times, when the goal was not so much physical pleasure as it was simply to vent his frustrations. He would slam Crowley’s head down on the desk as he bent his body over it, or even shove him up against the glass, where he could watch the oblivious angels going about their business outside the room. 

 

“Do you think they’d help you?” Gabriel whispered, vicious and taunting between angry, punishing thrusts. “If they knew? Think any of them would dare to try to stop me?” 

 

Crowley didn’t think that, no. From what he’d seen, they all seemed just a little bit scared of Gabriel, too. Not nearly as scared as Crowley was, of course - and Michael, probably not at all, when he thought about it. 

 

But Michael had seen the chains locked through his grotesquely disfigured wings… she had to have noticed the bruises on his face from Gabriel’s most recent fit of rage… 

 

She’d heard Gabriel call him “slave”. 

 

She’d done nothing

 

The questions in the back of Crowley’s mind… the ones he’d barely dared consider for fear of the dangerous path they could lead to… were silenced by the knowledge: whatever Gabriel’s personal motives in doing all that he’d done to him… Heaven allowed it. 

 

Heaven condoned it. 

 

Nothing was going to change it.

 

Eventually, Gabriel stopped bothering with the chains. He still required Crowley to stay on the floor, though he allowed him to sit rather than kneel when he’d work for long periods - always the same mundane, simple tasks, which were barely better than the total boredom of nothing.

 

Then, Gabriel starting sending Crowley to run small errands for him. The first time he pulled Crowley to his feet and placed a file in his hand, instructing him sharply, “ Don’t open it ,” and “ Be back here in ten minutes ” … Crowley was terrified. 

 

It was a trap of some kind. He was meant to fail, meant to be caught somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and punished. It didn’t matter, though, in the end. He had to do as he was told. 

 

If Gabriel wanted to punish him... he’d be punished. Period. 

 

The angel at the desk where he’d been sent refused to take the file from him at first, just eyed him suspiciously, and told him to wait while she called her superior. Increasingly anxious, Crowley paced a bit until she snapped at him to sit down. He swiftly obeyed, trying and failing not to fidget as he waited and wondered with a sinking heart how much time had passed since he’d left Gabriel’s office… how many minutes were ticking by as he sat here helplessly doing nothing. 

 

Finally, finally , he was called back to the desk. The angel took the file from his hand with two fingers, as if he’d contaminated it, eyeing first it, and then him with distaste. Crowley hurried back to Gabriel’s office, near panic, dropping like a stone to his knees at the archangel’s feet, breathless, stammered apologies spilling from his lips. 

 

“Shhh, it’s all right,” Gabriel assured him, a reassuring hand at the back of his head. “You did well.” 

 

A rush of relief swept over Crowley; he nearly cried with it. He leaned into Gabriel’s hand, grateful, as the archangel stroked his fingers through his hair for just a moment, before giving him a gentle push between his shoulders, directing him back toward his place, and his work. 

 

Gabriel wasn’t always so understanding, though. Some days, he seemed to be just looking for a reason to smack Crowley down. He’d try to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, tried to be invisible, helplessly watching as the archangel’s mood grew darker and darker. And then someone would come in with a bad report, or an excuse as to why they’d failed in a task he’d assigned them - and Crowley could feel the tipping point, the moment when he knew Gabriel was going to find an excuse to hurt him. He’d always snap his fingers and miracle the glass to hide them from view. 

 

Crowley wasn’t sure why he bothered; the bruises after were always obvious, and no one seemed to mind. 

 

“Can’t you do anything right?” Gabriel snarled at him, with a breathtaking slap across his face. 

 

Crowley knew he had done it right. He also knew he couldn’t possibly say so.

 

“I’m sorry,” Crowley pleaded, but his heart sank, because he already knew how this went. 

 

Somehow, something was always out of place on Gabriel’s desk, or a file that Crowley knew he’d put away correctly was mysteriously out of place. It wasn’t about Crowley’s mistakes - non-existent mistakes that he was far too terrified to allow himself to make. It was about Gabriel’s rage, and the excuses he made for himself to vent it. 

 

Gabriel ignored his apology, snatching a handful of Crowley’s hair and jerking him away from his work, still on his knees. Crowley bit back a cry at the searing pain, resisting the instinct to reach a hand up to try to ease it. Crowley knew that would only make him more furious than ever. There was little chance of appeasing the archangel at this point. 

 

But… perhaps Crowley could distract him. 

 

Heart thudding in his chest at the very risky move he was about to make, Crowley took a deep breath… and reached up a cautious, trembling hand to palm the front of Gabriel’s suit pants. Gabriel froze, staring down at him in surprise. 

 

“Please, master,” Crowley forced the words out in a breathless rush. “I’m sorry I’ve displeased you, I didn’t mean to, please let me show you I’m sorry, let me please you, let me help m-make it right…” 

 

After a tense moment in which Crowley was terribly afraid that he might have just made everything so much worse … Gabriel’s hand in his hair eased, and he sat down slowly in his chair with a slow nod, leaning back, elbows on the armrests and fingers steepled in front of him. His tone was one of soft, intrigued amusement. 

 

“You can try.” 

 

Crowley let out his breath in a shaky rush, relieved, as he reached for Gabriel’s zipper and slid it down, reaching in to take him out, ducking down so that his mouth was low enough to take him in…

 

Abruptly Gabriel grabbed his hair and jerked his head back again, a cold smile on his face, his words cruel, his tone soft, knowing. 

 

“And then… I’m gonna beat the shit out of you. For thinking for two seconds that you could manipulate me, you stupid. Little. Fucking. Whore .”

 

Gabriel let go of his hair, and Crowley gasped for breath. His lips parted to form an apology, but his heart sank. He knew it was pointless. He was guilty. Guilty of the attempted manipulation… guilty of giving himself to Gabriel in exchange for nothing more than a few minutes longer without pain. 

 

God. You are a stupid little fucking whore. 

 

“Well?” Gabriel smirked at him, one hand lazily, expectantly stroking down his own length. The soft contempt in his voice made Crowley flinch. “Go ahead. At least you’re good for something.” 

 

**************************************************************************************

 

Crowley couldn’t begin to imagine what Aziraphale’s plan to kill Gabriel might be. 

 

There were very few things in existence that could permanently destroy an archangel. 

 

Discorporation was quite another story. An archangel could be discorporated in very much the same ways that any ordinary angel could be discorporated. The difference was in status. While most angels could wait for years, or even decades, to get a new body, a discorporated archangel could expect to receive a new body almost immediately when they needed it - and if they so chose, they could make their new body as much like their old one as they liked. 

 

Discorporation, for an archangel, was a temporary inconvenience at worst - and Crowley knew that Aziraphale was not going to settle for anything so small. He had the tender, passionate heart Crowley was so desperately in love with set on Gabriel’s permanent, utter destruction. 

 

But permanent, utter destruction would be difficult to achieve. 

 

Crowley had slept better the past two nights. Despite his lingering doubts, the sanctuary ritual did make him feel safer. Gabriel could show up, Gabriel could stop time, Gabriel could be utterly furious with him. 

 

But he couldn’t touch him. 

 

He awoke from a very pleasant nap, nightmares chased away by the warm glow of his little Aziraphale-light, to find his angel curled up on the sofa with a very heavy, very old book open across his lap, a cup of tea, still steaming, on the end table to his right. Crowley crawled onto the couch and cuddled up against his side, feeling a soft glow of affection when Aziraphale lifted his arm to wrap it around Crowley’s shoulders, warm and reassuring, turning his face to kiss Crowley’s cheek without lifting his eyes from the book. 

 

Crowley glanced at the page that had Aziraphale so fascinated, and felt a little chill pass through him when he saw the article heading halfway down the first column - Hellfire . The words beneath it - all in Enochian, the language of the angels - went into detail about the effects of Hellfire on angels and archangels under various conditions, in various forms of contact.

 

It came complete with several rather disturbing illustrations. 

 

Cold dread settled in the pit of Crowley’s stomach. It was not lost on him that such a weapon was difficult to control - and just as dangerous for Aziraphale as it was for Gabriel. He lowered his head to press a tender kiss to Aziraphale’s shoulder, then closed his eyes and rested his brow against the spot he’d just kissed. His voice was hushed, trembling a little. 

 

“I don’t want you to do this.”

 

Aziraphale’s hand rose from his shoulder to card slowly, soothingly through his hair. “I know you don’t,” he admitted softly. “But it’s the only way to ensure your safety.” He paused, pressing a tender kiss into Crowley’s hair. “Only way we get to be together.” 

 

“Until they come and take you away, for the murder of an archangel,” Crowley mumbled unhappily. “Until you fall.” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a long moment, and when he spoke, his words were carefully measured. 

 

“We’d… still be together. If I fall.”

 

Crowley lifted his head to stare at his angel in horror, his heart giving a painful lurch at the thought. 

 

“I won’t,” Aziraphale reassured him quickly. 

 

But he didn’t sound as certain of it as he had before. And he didn’t sound upset about it, either. Almost as if he was getting used to the idea of falling - a realization that Crowley found more than a little terrifying. Aziraphale continued with a little more confidence, clarifying. 

 

“I believe I can avoid consequences of that magnitude…” Aziraphale paused to take a sip of his tea. “... if we can prove that Gabriel’s death was justified. That it was - our only option.” 

 

Crowley considered that for a moment. “And how are we going to prove that?” he asked, doubtful. “I’m a demon, they’re not going to take my word.”  

 

“No,” Aziraphale agreed with a sigh. His mouth was a tight, grim line as he turned the page, revealing another illustration, this one of a particularly wicked-looking blade. “But they’ll take his.” 

 

Crowley blinked, confused. “He’d never confess.” Of that he was certain. “Not to all of it. Not to - the stuff that would matter to Heaven.” 

 

Manipulating time… threatening to murder another angel… forcing… 

 

Crowley shook his head, drew in a deep, settling breath, trying to still his churning stomach. He wasn’t so sure Heaven would care about any of the things Gabriel had done to him. Not for his sake, anyway. 

 

… Fucking a demon. 

 

Crowley was uncomfortably aware that two out of the three things he’d thought of, were things of which Aziraphale was also guilty.

 

“He will confess.” Aziraphale was calm, certain. “I will - obtain his confession. And then I’ll kill him.” 

 

“How?” Crowley asked, frowning. “Hellfire? I’m not exactly in Hell’s not-as-bad books, and neither of us can safely leave here, anyway. Hard to get.” 

 

“No, not Hellfire.” Aziraphale tapped the picture on the page in front of him. “This.” He gave Crowley a wry, sideways smile. “ Harder to get.” 

 

Crowley looked more closely at the picture, his eyes going wide as he slowly realized what he was seeing. He looked up at Aziraphale, staring at him as if seeing him for the first time - or at least, in a brand new light. 

 

A slightly terrifying new light. 

 

Crowley knew what that weapon was, one of a bare handful of things that could actually permanently kill an archangel. 

 

A blade forged in Hellfire. 

 

It was a nasty way to go, for an angel. Just one cut - even the slightest little cut, would do it. It didn’t matter if it was the size and location of a papercut to the fingertip, or a slit throat - either one meant inescapable death. In this case, actually, a cut to the fingertip was worse ; it meant a slow, agonizing death as the fire forged into the blade made its way through the angel’s body. A slit throat would at least be quick. Looking into Aziraphale’s eyes, filled with the same familiar warmth and love that was always there when he looked at Crowley - the demon knew with chilling certainty: 

 

His angel did not intend to slit Gabriel’s throat.

 

Can you, though?” Crowley frowned. “The sanctuary…”

 

“Prevents harmful miracles ,” Aziraphale clarified with a little smile. “Bit of a celestial loophole, I suppose. It was created before humanity - before angels had human forms with teeth and feet and fists to strike. So… it prevents harm done by miraculous means. It does not prevent violence that is simply physical.” 

 

Crowley took that in for a moment, swallowed slowly before nodding toward the picture. “But… this way?” 

 

“Even this death is a mercy, love.” Aziraphale’s voice was calm and quiet. “Compared to what he did to you.” 

 

“There’s nothing merciful about that .” Crowley nodded toward the picture.  

 

Aziraphale frowned down at the picture, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out in a slow, heavy sigh. Crowley knew him well enough to know - he was bothered that Crowley was bothered. He couldn’t possibly have cared any less about the suffering his chosen method would cause Gabriel. But he did care how it affected Crowley. He looked up at him after a moment, his expression solemn and appraising.

 

“How would you like to see him die?” 

 

Crowley considered the question, lips parted to answer - but he didn’t really know what he wanted. The idea of vengeance of course carried a measure of satisfaction, but the thought of the potential consequences, for himself and for his angel, brought with it a fear that far outweighed it. Crowley would have been perfectly happy if Gabriel could simply cease to exist , and he never had to see him or think about him ever again. 

 

No risk. No consequences for his angel. 

 

Just... gone

 

He took a breath, prepared to put his answer into words, though he knew he had nothing helpful to offer. His wishful thinking was not about to dissuade Aziraphale from his plan. Aziraphale watched him with interest, lifting his teacup to his lips to take another sip with one hand as he closed the book with the other. 

 

But before Crowley could speak, the angel froze - cup halfway to his lips, book half-closed with his fingers still between the pages. The slight wisp of steam still rising from the cup had frozen in place as well, hovering just between the cup and Aziraphale’s lips.

 

A cold, queasy feeling of terror came over Crowley. 

 

Time had stopped. 

 

Gabriel was on his way.

Chapter Text

Hey, guys... 

 

Have some more beautiful art!! :) 

 

Today's selections are by the lovely and talented Whiteley Foster, who made two gorgeous pieces, and then two more that I specifically asked her for... and all four are absolutely stunning!! One of them is a little violent although if you're reading this story, you probably won't find it too upsetting...

 

The first was this one...

Crowley and his sweet little Aziraphale-light <3 <3 <3

Love the use of light and shadow in this one <3 

 

Then she made this one... 

So painful, but such a gorgeous sense of movement and emotion to it... makes me just HURT for poor Crowley... but so beautifully done <3 

 

And then, I asked her to do something for the moment when Aziraphale and Crowley first saw each other in Heaven... and she MORE than delivered!! <3 

 

These are both so lovely, but I especially love the picture of Crowley - his EYES, y'all <3 <3 <3 *melts* 

 

Anyway, hope you enjoy these lovely companion pieces to the story!! 

 

Aaaaaaaand... here's the story ;) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Archangel Gabriel was having a very bad day. Or rather, a series of bad days. 

 

Things were not going according to plan. 

 

It had been such a good plan, too.

 

Give Crowley a safe place. Make him think Aziraphale could protect him, that maybe everything was going to be okay - and then yank it all out from under him. Remind his little demon slave that his pathetic hopes were futile - that his master could get to him anywhere

 

So far, so good. 

 

Crowley was fucking terrified every time Gabriel showed up at the bookshop - beautifully submissive, sinking to his knees at Gabriel’s slightest unspoken command, presenting his wings and desperately trying to keep still no matter how much it hurt, while Gabriel proved to him that he could still do whatever the fuck he wanted to him. He would tremble and weep and resist every trace of protective survival instinct he had ever possessed, in favor of obeying Gabriel’s commands. 

 

Except, of course... always and fucking forever … when it came to Aziraphale. 

 

Crowley did as he was told - an almost perfectly trained little slave. But for Aziraphale , Crowley would still dare to raise his hand to Gabriel, to try to physically stop him before he’d let him harm that pathetic principality. 

 

So Gabriel had come up with his next move. 

 

Aziraphale was simply useless. Easily cowed, clueless about the reality of the situation - Gabriel had had little doubt that, when backed into a corner,  Aziraphale would do as he was told. Aziraphale was unable to protect Crowley from Gabriel’s continued, regular visits - and unable to disobey Gabriel when he gave the order for Aziraphale to hurt Crowley himself. 

 

Aziraphale choosing to hurt Crowley’s wings - well, that had been an unexpected… complication

 

But not an unwelcome one. 

 

Worst case scenario, Aziraphale would realize what Gabriel had been doing to Crowley behind his back, lose his temper and attack… and then Gabriel could beat the shit out of that pathetic little angel, and take him and Crowley both back to Heaven - Aziraphale to be tried for attacking him, and Crowley to return to his training - his purpose

 

Best case - Aziraphale would not realize what he was seeing, would follow through with the punishment as ordered… and in so doing prove to Crowley once and for all that his trust and loyalty were misplaced. Crowley had suffered countless hours of misery, spilled buckets of blood and tears, to protect Aziraphale. To learn that Aziraphale would so easily hurt him on command would certainly be a crushing blow. 

 

His illusions shattered, Crowley would turn on Aziraphale. Confess to Gabriel the truth about their relationship. 

 

Aziraphale would be punished. Heaven would be happy.

 

Crowley would be his

 

It was such a solid plan. It should have worked.

 

Instead, it had all fallen apart as he’d found himself standing there, listening to his treacherous little slave call pathetic, useless Aziraphale fucking master

 

He’d wanted to kill Aziraphale. Right then and there. The bloodier the better, just fucking rip him apart right in front of Crowley, and be done with it - and then drag Crowley back to Heaven, back to his cell, and spend a good, long amount of not-time reminding that little demon whore just exactly who his master really was . Since he seemed to have so quickly forgotten. 

 

Which was exactly why Gabriel had had to leave Aziraphale’s home so quickly, and stay away for a while, calm himself down - before he did anything stupid. 

 

All Gabriel’s incredibly effective, immensely satisfying “I’ll burn your angel boyfriend alive” threats aside - he knew very well that he couldn’t kill Aziraphale. Not yet. Aziraphale’s death would actually serve to ruin some carefully laid plans that had been in the works for quite some time now. 

 

Heaven’s plans. 

 

His plans. 

 

Both agendas could still be fulfilled - but only if Crowley turned on Aziraphale.

 

That’s the only way this works…

 

One thing Gabriel was sure of - his admittedly experimental tactic of temporarily returning Crowley to Aziraphale had failed. Crowley’s time spent with Aziraphale was only bringing the two of them closer, not coming between them the way he had hoped. He needed to go get Crowley and bring him back… hopefully without utterly fucking losing it and killing Aziraphale in the process, however satisfying that thought might be. 

 

Michael unexpectedly entered his office - without knocking. 

 

Rude. 

 

A cool smile on her face, she said, “Hello, Gabriel. Just here for an update on the current phase of the project.” 

 

“Oh, everything’s fine, fine, coming along nicely,” he lied. Once Crowley was safely back under his own personal lock and key in Heaven, he’d find a way to explain the change in plans to the project lead - but for now, what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. “It’s taking a little longer than I’d anticipated, but it’s going well.” 

 

“Is it really?” Abruptly Michael’s tone went from calm and friendly to angry and suspicious, as she slapped a sheet of paper down in front of him on his desk. “Then would you care to explain this ?” 

 

Gabriel stared at the brief memo - addressed to all of the archangels - and read through it quickly, with rising alarm and fury. 

 

Oh, no. No way was he going to allow this to happen. 

 

“I’ll take care of it,” he said, rising to his feet and heading for the door, leaving the memo on his desk. 

 

Michael turned toward him as he passed her. 

 

How ?” she demanded with clear annoyance and frustration. 

 

“I’ll handle it!” he snapped, slamming the door as he stormed out of his office. 

 

Behind him, he heard the glass shatter. Without turning or breaking his pace, he snapped his fingers behind him, and heard the soft tinkling sound as the broken glass came back together and the door became whole again. 

 

Gabriel was going to handle it, all right. He was going right down to that stupid bookshop to collect his property

 

And his deceptive, disloyal little serpent was going to wish he was dead - for the rest of his very long life. 

 

******************************************************************************************

 

He can’t get in… he can’t get in… he can’t get in… 

 

Crowley’s heart raced as he reminded himself over and over of what Aziraphale had promised him was true. The sanctuary ritual had placed a barrier around the bookshop and the flat. Gabriel could come to the door, could stop time, but he couldn’t get in .

 

They had talked about this - planned for this moment. 

 

Just stay upstairs… wait it out… don’t give him an inch of space to work with… 

 

God, he must be so angry! Is he here yet, already trying to get in? Still on his way? Has he just now realized what we did? Oh, he’s got to be bloody furious… 

 

Crowley felt like he couldn’t breathe, panic closing in, suffocating and hot. He turned wide, fearful eyes toward Aziraphale - frozen with time, and utterly unaware of what was happening. 

 

He could just leave him frozen, endlessly… could keep us in here forever if he wanted… keep me here, alone and locked in and God, no, I can’t, I can’t … 

 

The bell over the bookshop door rang. Someone had opened the door. 

 

Crowley’s heart plummeted to his feet.

 

He can’t get in, he can’t, he can’t…

 

His panic consuming him, Crowley knew only one thing - that he had to know . He couldn’t just stay up here, indefinitely waiting for Gabriel to come up those stairs, not knowing if he was waiting for him in the shop, not knowing whether or not he’d somehow made it inside. His footsteps heavy with dread, Crowley made his way downstairs and a little ways into the shop, far enough to see the front door. 

 

It was open. Gabriel was standing just outside it, on the sidewalk amongst the frozen passersby, a street filled with motionless vehicles just beyond him. He smiled when he saw Crowley. 

 

“There you are.”

 

His voice was soft, desirous, and Crowley shivered. He could almost feel the phantom touch of Gabriel’s hands, sliding over his body… roughly forcing him into whatever position he wanted him… pressing him down into the bed or against the wall… 

 

“We need to have a very serious conversation about your recent behavior.” 

 

Crowley glanced up at the archangel’s face. His smile had faded, his violet eyes dark with malice. Crowley couldn’t maintain eye contact, dropping his gaze to somewhere around Gabriel’s knees as he backed away a little. 

 

“We’ve claimed sanctuary,” he informed Gabriel, who gave a slow, exaggerated nod, as if that was the most stupid, obvious observation Crowley could possibly have made. Clearly, Gabriel already knew. “You can’t enter.” Crowley steadied himself, summoning all of his courage to add, “You - you should just go.” 

 

Gabriel shifted on his feet outside the door, his fist clenching at his side, though his voice remained deadly soft. 

 

“So... you’re telling me what to do now. Is that how it is?” 

 

“No, no…” Crowley hurried to deny it, icy fear clutching at his heart as he backed a little further away, a little further, until he felt his foot hit the bottom stair. “That’s - that’s not…” He spun around and took the first step. 

 

“Don’t you dare walk away from me.” 

 

Gabriel’s voice was sharp and vicious, and it stopped him in his tracks - then softened, taking on a quietly reasonable, almost coaxing tone.

 

“You said it yourself. I can’t get in. Come back here and talk to me.” 

 

Crowley closed his eyes, swallowed slowly, his knuckles white around the banister, one foot on the floor and the other on the bottom step.

 

Gabriel’s voice held a warning edge when he repeated, “ Come back here .” 

 

His mouth dry, heart pounding in his chest, Crowley turned and obeyed, stopping a good, safe distance away from the doorway. 

 

Gabriel was quiet for a moment before asking, curious and speculative, “You think this will last forever?” 

 

“The sanctuary lasts as long as we feel there’s a threat,” Crowley said. “It is forever, if we need it to be…”

 

“No, not that.” Gabriel’s tone was dismissive, mildly derisive. “ This .” He waved his hand in a vaguely circular motion that indicated Crowley, the shop, the upstairs apartment, Aziraphale… “He knows now, doesn’t he?” 

 

Crowley didn’t speak. He couldn’t find the nerve… and Gabriel already knew the answer anyway. 

 

Gabriel glanced toward the stairs with a look of mild surprise. “ Everything ?” 

 

“Yes,” Crowley whispered, eyes downcast. Suddenly, Gabriel’s surprised amusement at the idea that he might have dared to confide in his angel ignited a spark of anger inside him. The words Gabriel had repeatedly told him, over and over, until his shattered heart and mind had almost believed them - he’ll never forgive you, he doesn’t want you, only I want you - echoed in his mind. 

 

“You lied to me.” The words were out before Crowley knew he was going to speak at all. “He never betrayed me. Never would have. Loves me even now, so there’s no way he would have given me to you. Never .” 

 

Gabriel blinked, taken aback a little. His mouth twisted up into a slow, cruel smile. “Even… after what you did?” 

 

“What… what you did,” Crowley corrected him, though he stumbled a little over the words Aziraphale kept telling him. “I - I didn’t - it wasn’t my - my choice…” It was difficult to make them come out right, when he wasn’t quite sure he believed them himself, yet. 

 

“That’s what he told you, right?” Gabriel correctly surmised, his smile nasty, malicious. “Like he memorized it. Straight out of the ‘perfect angel boyfriend’ handbook. Bet he was all righteous, protective wrath… ready to march into Heaven and take me out.” 

 

“Yeah, actually.” Crowley looked up at him then, defiant even through his fear and uncertainty. “Yeah, he was.”

 

Gabriel laughed. “ That I would pay to see,” he declared. “I don’t imagine all that anger and hate is a flattering color on Aziraphale.” His smile faded, but the cruel amusement remained in his eyes as he held Crowley’s gaze. “Wonder how long before he realizes… it’s not all aimed at me .” 

 

Stop it .” 

 

Crowley dropped his gaze, feeling the edges of his suffocating panic creeping back in again - and suddenly he realized that his back was to the wall next to the stairs. When did that happen? He didn’t recall moving. All he knew was that he wanted to escape the vicious onslaught of Gabriel’s precision-aimed attack.

 

“He knows what he’s supposed to say. To feel. But deep down - he knows better. You’re never supposed to blame the victim, right?” Crowley flinched a little at that word, shaking his head, trying to shut it out. “Even if they did deserve it.” 

 

Your existence is supposed to be hell, you’re a demon!

 

“Even if they did bring it on themselves.” 

 

You just had to fuck up again, didn’t you? We’re gonna keep doing this until you learn to behave…

 

Gabriel leaned in as close as he could to the invisible barrier, his voice dropping to a hushed tone, cruelly intimate, his mouth twisted into a regretful, sympathetic grimace. 

 

“Does he know you begged for it?” 

 

“Stop,” Crowley repeated, tears welling in his eyes, as he slid down the wall at his back, his knees drawn up in front of him. “Just - just leave . You can’t get in. Just go.” He buried his head in his folded arms, gasping for breath, fighting for control of the emotions, the memories that overwhelmed him. 

 

“No, I don’t think I will.” Gabriel smirked. “I have literally all the time in the world, sweetheart. Guaranteed I can wait you out.” He paused, his words taking on an enticing note, “Or… you could just… invite me in. I promise I won’t even go upstairs. You and I, go back to Heaven. I’ll leave Aziraphale out of it.” 

 

Crowley didn’t lift his head, didn’t respond. He knew it was a lie.

 

“Or, if you don’t trust me,” Gabriel continued, “you could always just step outside.” 

 

What truly terrified Crowley was that there was a tiny little part of him, deep down, that wanted to do it. If allowed in, Gabriel would most certainly hurt or kill Aziraphale, while he was helpless and unable to defend himself. But - if Crowley went outside , then… Aziraphale would be safe. 

 

From Gabriel - and from Crowley’s own demonic influence. 

 

You knew it all those years ago, should have just stayed away… it’s not happening exactly like you imagined it, but it’s happening. He’s about to defy Heaven. He’s about to Fall.

 

And it’s because of you. 

 

But, despite his guilty fears, although it was nearly impossible for him to comprehend why , Crowley knew without a trace of doubt in his heart - Aziraphale loved him . Dearly and desperately. He knew better than to think that allowing Gabriel to take him would in any way quell Aziraphale’s need to protect him. Aziraphale would still storm Heaven to find him, to save him - and probably get killed or Fall in the process. 

 

“Please don’t leave again… not of your own choice…”

 

Crowley had promised

 

He shook his head slowly, without lifting it.

 

He flinched when Gabriel slammed his fist against the invisible barrier in an abrupt fit of frustration, a loud crack like thunder echoing through the air at the unseen impact.

 

Invite me in !” the archangel roared.

 

Crowley looked up, but not quite at Gabriel. “I can’t ,” he said at last. He hesitated, then continued, “Aziraphale’s house. Aziraphale’s sanctuary.” Finally, he lifted his gaze to the archangel’s eyes, clarifying just in case Gabriel didn’t understand yet. “ Aziraphale is the only one who can invite you in. So - as long as he’s sitting up there frozen in time - you won’t be getting what you want.” 

 

Gabriel turned away from the door for a moment with a frustrated little growl before turning back to glare at Crowley again, snapping his fingers in the air. Crowley flinched a little in spite of himself, in spite of his knowledge that, if the barrier was effective enough to keep Gabriel out, it would certainly also be effective enough to prevent him from using a miracle to hurt them. 

 

Outside the shop, the people resumed walking, the cars in the street began to move again. 

 

“Call him down here,” Gabriel commanded. 

 

Crowley shook his head, looking down at his folded arms. He wouldn’t.

 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s worried voice could be heard, muffled from upstairs. 

 

A moment later, Crowley heard his hurried footsteps, headed toward the stairs. 

 

Gabriel grinned. “That didn’t take long. He’s getting quicker.” 

 

Aziraphale was down the stairs in moments, looking between the archangel at the open door, and Crowley, huddled on the floor next to the stairs. Immediately he went to Crowley - strong, gentle hands taking hold of his arms on either side and helping him to rise. He turned cold, furious eyes on Gabriel. 

 

“You are not welcome here.” 

 

Gabriel scoffed. “This is ridiculous, Aziraphale. You should just let me in. We’ll talk through it…”

 

“There is nothing to talk through,” Aziraphale insisted, cold and certain. “There is nothing for you here.” 

 

Aziraphale pulled Crowley in close to his side, protective, and Crowley gratefully wrapped an arm around his angel’s waist, leaning into him with a tremendous sense of relief. With Aziraphale’s arm around him, he found the courage to look at Gabriel again - and immediately wished he hadn’t. Gabriel’s eyes were blazing with jealous rage, his malicious intent clear even before he spoke. 

 

“I’ll kill him in front of you,” Gabriel addressed Aziraphale, without taking his eyes off Crowley. “With holy water.” Finally he met Aziraphale’s gaze with a smile. “ Slowly .”

 

Aziraphale’s arm around him tightened, and Crowley felt the little hitch in his breath, felt the rush of fear that momentarily washed over his angel - abruptly followed up with protective fury. But Aziraphale didn’t say anything in response to the threat - just turned Crowley toward the stairs, prepared to lead him away from it.

 

Suddenly, Crowley stopped, resisting Aziraphale’s leading embrace, and turning to face the archangel again. He had to blink away tears to see him clearly. His breath was a little ragged, a little rushed… but he was onto him , now. He saw through Gabriel’s tactics, because he’d seen them before. 

 

“So… which of us are you going to murder in front of the other, exactly ?” he asked, a spark of anger in his slightly trembling voice. “Because you can hardly do both.”

 

Aziraphale frowned, looking between them in confusion, and Crowley knew he’d have to explain a bit later. For now, he was focused on Gabriel’s answer. 

 

The archangel’s seething anger was obvious. He stepped as close as the barrier would allow him to the door, smiling as he made a show of considering for a moment before meeting Crowley’s eyes. 

 

“Him,” he stated, decisive, and Crowley’s stomach rolled dangerously. “Definitely him.” He smiled in sadistic anticipation. “Because I am not even close to done with you, sweetheart.” 

 

Crowley shuddered, practically wilting, his rush of anger-driven courage fading as swiftly as it had arisen. Aziraphale’s strong hands gently pushed Crowley behind him, as he took a slow, deliberate step toward the archangel. His voice was cool and certain, a quiet challenge.

 

“You’ll never touch him again.” 

 

“Oh, because he’s yours now?” Gabriel gave Crowley a meaningful look, and Crowley felt a hot rush of shame wash over him at the reminder. “I don’t think so,” Gabriel sneered, directing his words toward Crowley. “Does he know about that , little…?”

 

“Because I’m going to end you .” Aziraphale’s words cut him off sharply, and Gabriel blinked, staring at him in surprise. “Precisely because I do know about… that .” Aziraphale spat the words out at Gabriel. He took his arms from around Crowley, long enough to go to the door. 

 

“There is nothing for you here,” he repeated with an icy, threatening smile. “Nothing that I’d expect you’re in any hurry to receive, anyway.”

 

Gabriel rolled his eyes, contemptuous, lips parted to speak - but Aziraphale simply closed the door in his face, locking it firmly, before placing a solid, gentle arm around Crowley and leading him back upstairs. 

 

*********************************************************************************************

 

Aziraphale didn’t say a word to Crowley about not following through with their plan, about going downstairs and giving Gabriel access to him - however limited that access might have been. For all their careful decisions of how to handle it when Gabriel inevitably showed up… Aziraphale had seen inside the wreckage the archangel had left of Crowley’s sense of free will. He’d seen Gabriel through Crowley’s eyes, as he saw him - as a malevolent and nearly omnipotent force, whose violent, vindictive fury was to be avoided at any cost. 

 

Just the very idea of Gabriel’s rage at being ignored would have certainly been enough to drive Crowley down the stairs and to the door - and Aziraphale could never blame Crowley for that. 

 

Aziraphale’s mind went back to the image he’d been studying, the weapon that would slay the archangel. 

 

Because, it would . He’d decided, now. 

 

Gabriel would receive no quarter in this place - not even that of a swift death.

 

But that was a matter for another time. For now, Aziraphale focused his attention on Crowley. By the time they reached the top of the stairs, the demon’s legs were quaking dangerously, most of his weight supported by Aziraphale, his face turned and pressed into the angel’s shoulder as he drew in deep, sobbing breaths. 

 

Aziraphale soothed him with soft, comforting sounds, holding him close as he led him into the living room and sat him down on the sofa. He miracled Crowley’s favorite blanket from the bedroom and wrapped it around him, miracled up a cup of sweet, steaming tea, and then pulled Crowley into his arms. 

 

“You’re safe,” he whispered, kissing his sweat-damp brow, feeling the demon shiver against his chest. “You see, my darling? He couldn’t get in.” 

 

“He almost did.” Crowley’s hushed words sounded haunted, terrified at his own weakness more than at Gabriel’s rage. He raised wide, horrified eyes to meet Aziraphale’s gaze as he confessed, “I almost let him.” 

 

Aziraphale offered Crowley a warm smile as he smoothed his hair back from his face, trying to suppress how very deeply Crowley’s words scared him, too.

 

“But you didn’t,” he pointed out, encouraging. 

 

Crowley stared down at Aziraphale’s chest, caught in the fear of the moment, his words rushed and panicked. “I - I didn’t want to, but - this little part, it - it was like it was saying I had to, and…”

 

“And you told that little part of you to kindly shut up , and you didn’t invite him in .” Aziraphale was firm, insisting that Crowley recognize his own strength. “And he gave up, didn’t he? He started time again…” 

 

“I - I told him only you could invite him in. Your sanctuary.” 

 

Aziraphale’s smile broadened, as he felt a rush of affection and admiration for Crowley. On some level he felt that perhaps he shouldn’t be feeling such a swell of pride at his demon’s ability to fight through his own fears enough to form a convincing lie

 

On all levels, he felt that he no longer gave a damn what he shouldn’t be feeling.

 

“Yes, see?” he said softly. “There’s a brave, clever boy.” Aziraphale kissed Crowley softly before settling him down against his chest again, soothing hands running through his hair and down his back. “You kept your wits about you. You didn’t let him get in your head.” 

 

Crowley sighed deeply, shakily, his hands resting at Aziraphale’s waist. He turned his face to the side so that he could speak and be heard clearly, and his words - hushed and broken, and spoken like a confession of some guilt or failing - made Aziraphale’s chest ache. 

 

“Angel, he - he’s already there.” 

 

Aziraphale wanted to cry. But… it wasn’t exactly a surprise. He was silent for a few moments, petting Crowley’s hair and holding him close as he regained his own composure. 

 

“I know,” he admitted at last, when his voice was steady and soothing again. “I know it’s so hard, love. I know it’s frightening. But - please just trust me. I will stop him . I will end him .”

 

Crowley raised his head to look up at Aziraphale, and the trusting, open expression in his eyes nearly took the angel’s breath. Crowley nodded slowly, accepting Aziraphale’s promise, and Aziraphale gave him a warm, reassuring smile, stroking the side of his face, fingers brushing against his temple in a tender caress as he made his demon another promise. 

 

“And then… we’ll find a way to uninvite him from here , too.”

Chapter Text

“We’re going to try something new this time…”

 

Crowley couldn’t imagine any set of words that could have possibly been more terrifying coming from the archangel’s lips.

 

They were standing just inside the doorway of a large, empty room. Cold tile floor beneath his bare feet, just a little light from a couple of wall lamps on either end of the room, no furniture of any kind. The only item of any significance in the room - and of great, overwhelming, terrifying significance - was a pair of long chains, each with a thick, sturdy metal clip on its end. They extended toward either side of the room, each connected to a winch mounted to the wall, well above the level of Crowley’s head. 

 

Gabriel gave Crowley a firm push between his shoulders, toward the center of the room - toward the chains. 

 

“Put them on,” he ordered. 

 

Crowley turned to glance at him, uncertain. 

 

“On your wings,” Gabriel clarified, impatient. “Through there…” He indicated the smaller ring in the second joint of Crowley’s wing. “... and then attach it to there.” The larger ring, in the first joint. 

 

Crowley stared down at the chains for a long moment, well aware that every second that ticked by without his obedience brought him that much closer to the archangel’s wrath. He swallowed thickly against the sandpaper feeling in the back of his throat, before crouching down to pick up the end of one of the chains. 

 

The cool metal seared his skin, and he dropped it abruptly with a startled hiss of pain, his heart rate accelerating with alarm.

 

The chains were blessed. 

 

He turned plaintive eyes toward his master, lips parted - to plead, or protest, or something , because surely Gabriel didn’t really expect him to…

 

But of course he did. 

 

Whatever desperate words he might have spoken died in his throat at the expression on Gabriel’s face - coolly expectant, impassive. 

 

“I know it hurts,” Gabriel assured him, his voice quiet and not without sympathy. “I told you it would, sometimes, didn’t I?” His eyes were hard as he ordered again, “Put them on.” 

 

Crowley steeled himself against the pain, and forced himself to pick up the chain again, though the searing heat of it was nearly unbearable against the sensitive skin of his fingers. He somehow managed to thread the chain through the smaller ring, and then attach the clip to the larger ring... on first one wing, and then the other. His cruel task completed, he stood there, trembling, miserably waiting as Gabriel approached him. Already, the blessed iron was burning where it ran along the upper ridges of Crowley’s wings. 

 

The archangel inspected Crowley’s work, running his hand along the length of the chains, deliberately catching them and dragging them into closer contact with Crowley’s wings as he moved. Crowley shuddered with pain, but managed not to pull away. Even the slightest resistance would only infuriate his master, and bring further suffering. Gabriel tugged hard on the chains as he moved around to face Crowley again, smiling and nodding in satisfaction when he found them to be secure. 

 

Gabriel stopped directly in front of him, standing very close… just watching him. Crowley’s heart raced. Gabriel’s very nearness was overwhelming, intimidating. All at once Crowley was certain that he shouldn’t be standing. What right did he have, in the archangel’s presence? He tried to sink to his knees, but Gabriel caught his arms and stopped him, holding him on his feet, before reaching one hand back to toy with the chain, observing Crowley’s distress with a cool smile as he did. 

 

Crowley knew he should just be quiet, but his panic was nearly overwhelming. He couldn’t keep his silence, desperate, trembling words spilling from his lips. “Please, I - have I done something wrong, master? I’m sorry, I’m sorry if I’ve displeased you, please…” 

 

“No, no,” Gabriel said softly, releasing his arm to run a gentle hand through his hair, then down the side of his face - a stark contrast to the sharp pain his other hand caused as it twisted in the chain. “You’re pleasing me very much. Right now.” 

 

Crowley’s heart sank with despairing realization. This wasn’t a punishment. Gabriel wasn’t displeased with him. There could be no appeasing him, if he wasn’t even angry.

 

He just wanted to hurt him. Period. 

 

Gabriel took a step back at last, his hands leaving Crowley’s body, and Crowley felt an irrational sense of relief. He knew better, didn’t he? Than to think that the archangel would be satisfied with simply chaining his wings and watching him burn for a while. He kept his eyes carefully downcast, his breath caught in his throat as he waited, while Gabriel circled him slowly, looking him over appraisingly. 

 

From behind him, Crowley heard the archangel snap his fingers… and the winches on the walls began to wind themselves, pulling the chains tighter, until they were not quite taut, but stretching Crowley’s wings out to either side, far enough that he couldn’t have knelt anymore if he’d tried. Gabriel tilted his head with a critical frown as he came back around into Crowley’s view, before snapping his fingers again. The chains moved a second time, pulling tighter until they were completely taut. 

 

Crowley’s heart raced with panic. He was completely pinned in place, his wings helplessly spread out on display, hanging on the blessed chains. 

 

“Please,” he gasped out, his eyes locked onto Gabriel’s fingers - poised to snap again. “Please, master… please don’t…”

 

Gabriel closed in on him swiftly, silencing him by grabbing his jaw and jerking his head up sharply. “Be quiet,” he snapped, his voice low and menacing. “And be good. You know this could always get worse, if you piss me off. And we both know you’re so good at that.”

 

Crowley shook his head rapidly to indicate that he wouldn’t, and didn’t dare speak again. Gabriel released him with a rough shove that caused the chains to shift against the upper ridges of his wings. Crowley bit back a choked cry of pain, turning his face toward his shoulder and closing his eyes as Gabriel circled him again at a slow, predatory pace. 

 

He stopped at Crowley’s back, his hand tugging experimentally at one of the chains.

 

“Why do you even have them?” he mused, running his fingers slowly down through the feathers of Crowley’s right wing in a way that made him shiver with dread and revulsion. “Other demons don’t. You all lost them in the Fall, which means… this is a choice . Something you decided to have, when you chose your form…” 

 

Crowley lowered his head, inexplicably ashamed, even before Gabriel’s low, taunting laugh, his dark whisper in his ear. “Silly little serpent. Snakes don’t have wings. Why do you?” 

 

Crowley didn’t realize he expected an answer, until he abruptly snapped his fingers again, and the chains pulled tighter, straining his wings painfully. 

 

“I-I don’t know!” he stammered out, desperate. “I don’t know…”

 

“Sure you do,” Gabriel persisted, his voice soft and coaxing. “There must have been a reason.” 

 

Crowley was still trying to catch his breath, trying to adjust to the painful tension in his already badly damaged limbs. He didn’t want to think about those early days after his Fall - when the charred remnants of his original, snow white wings had fallen away, too. Didn’t want to think about the soul-deep ache of grief and loss he’d felt at their absence. 

 

He swallowed back the sob in the back of his throat, and said nothing. 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers again, and the chains drew in another foot against the wall on either side. 

 

Crowley yelped at the sharp, searing pain, instinctively reaching up a hand toward his wing - forcing himself to withdraw it before he touched it. Gabriel wanted to hurt him. Attempting to do anything to ease the pain he was inflicting would only inspire him to try harder.  

 

“I-I missed them,” he confessed, his face flushed with shame, the hot pinprick of tears in his eyes. “W-wanted them back.” 

 

Gabriel moved back around to face him with a laugh that was harsh and cruel. “Pretty sure that ship has sailed, sweetheart. You do realize you can’t un-Fall, right?” he softly taunted. “Can’t be saved. Not ever. You’re irredeemable. Worthless. God says you are.” He pointed a finger up toward the ceiling to emphasize his point, and Crowley flinched. “So why bother with this… cheap imitation?” 

 

Crowley just shook his head, the tears slipping down his face. He didn’t know, anymore, why he’d bothered giving himself the raven-black wings that had once seemed so striking, so beautiful, to his own eyes. Another sin, pride or envy - a ridiculous notion, it seemed now, that he could in any way hold onto some slight piece of what he’d lost when he’d Fallen. 

 

Now, he wished them gone. Wished it more when Gabriel snapped his fingers again, and the chains grew even shorter, the tension in his wings unbearable. He couldn’t help it, he reached up to try to ease the stretch a bit, to try to gain some relief. Gabriel roughly grabbed his wrists and jerked them up in front of him - in the process yanking him forward and pulling painfully against the chains. 

 

Crowley stifled a cry of agony as Gabriel leaned in close to his ear, his voice low and warning. 

 

Don’t. Touch .” 

 

“I’m s-s-sorry, I’m trying, please….” Crowley whispered, desperate tears streaking his face. 

 

Gabriel’s voice softened a little… a trace of sympathy, a genuine question. 

 

“Would it help you if I restrained your hands?” 

 

Crowley hesitated. He didn’t exactly want to be any further restrained than he already was. But regardless of any restraints, he knew better than to think he could do anything to change what was happening to him - except if he managed to piss Gabriel off further, to annoy him with his continued disobedience. 

 

At least having his hands bound would serve to prevent that

 

He lowered his head, closed his eyes, and nodded. “Yes, please, master.” 

 

He didn’t flinch when Gabriel touched his face, almost tenderly, approval evident in his quiet words. “Good boy.” 

 

Another snap of his fingers, and Crowley did flinch a little, expecting the chains to contract once more - but instead, a smaller set of chains appeared to bind his wrists, his arms crossed over his torso, the chains fastened behind him. He was relieved and grateful to note that the new chains were not blessed, just simple cool iron against his skin. 

 

“Th-thank you, master,” Crowley murmured, his breath ragged with mingled pain and relief. 

 

Gabriel’s tone was soft, apparently genuine. “You’re welcome, sweetheart.” 

 

Then he snapped his fingers again. 

 

He hungrily watched Crowley’s face as it twisted in agony, his back arching helplessly against the pain as the chains stretched his wings yet further, to what Crowley was sure had to be their absolute limit. The pain was excruciating, and Crowley choked back a scream, struggling to keep still, struggling to keep quiet, to obey. 

 

Gabriel’s cryptic, chilling words echoed in his mind. 

 

“They’re for when you can’t help it…” 

 

“Well, that just won’t do,” Gabriel declared with clear dissatisfaction. “Those chains are barely even touching your wings anymore.”

 

Crowley would have disagreed, if he’d dared to speak. He could still feel the searing burn of the chains where they ran along the upper edges of his wings, a pain that competed for his attention with the increasingly agonizing stretch as the weight of his body dragged against them.

 

It wasn’t enough for Gabriel.

 

He snapped his fingers yet again, and thin, fine chains suddenly wrapped themselves around Crowley’s wings in various places, connected at both ends to the clamps in the rings. Immediately Crowley knew that they were blessed, as a sensation like fire licked at his wings everywhere they touched him. A strangled, anguished cry escaped his lips, as he struggled desperately to escape the contact... but it was impossible. 

 

Gabriel smiled, satisfied. “That’s better.” 

 

He moved close again, walking slowly around Crowley, his fingers tracing the chains… closing into a fist around the fine strands and drawing them into closer contact with Crowley’s wings. He snapped his fingers again, and the chains contracted again, stretching the demon’s wings impossibly further. Crowley didn’t know exactly when he’d started openly weeping, but great, wrenching sobs tore their way out of his throat. It was excruciating, unbearable agony. Gabriel’s whisper in his ear from behind him cut through his suffering like a razor, and Crowley’s heart seemed to stop for a moment. 

 

“Maybe I should just take them.” 

 

Crowley’s shivers turned into full-body tremors of cold and shock, terror and agony - aggravating the burn of the blessed chains, the pull against his overly taxed muscles and tendons. 

 

“Yeah,” Gabriel continued, picking up steam as he considered his horrifying idea. “Keep pulling until I just pull them right off. That could work.” He ran a hand through Crowley’s wing, grasping fingers clenching around a handful of feathers and pulling, just a little, not quite enough to pull them out, but enough to draw a pleading, wordless whimper from Crowley’s lips. 

 

“You shouldn’t have them anyway,” Gabriel argued. He considered a moment before pointing out, darkly enticing, “They wouldn’t hurt anymore, then, would they? Maybe you’d even die if they came off… like a butterfly.” He leaned in close, his fingers easing their grip in Crowley’s wing but continuing to tease, to caress, as he whispered against his ear, “I think maybe you’d like that. Would you like that, little serpent?” 

 

Crowley was beginning to think that maybe he’d like that, too. He couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be a threat, or a temptation. 

 

Somehow, it felt like both. 

 

He didn’t know what he wanted or how to answer. At this point, he wasn’t sure that losing his wings could be any worse than the brutal agony that was being inflicted upon them now. 

 

He was sure that death would be a relief.

 

But the idea of Gabriel taking his wings - using the vicious, biting chains to simply wrench them from his body - was utterly horrifying. He didn’t know what he wanted. But even if he did, if he told Gabriel what he wanted, wouldn’t he just do the opposite, anyway? It was too hopelessly confusing to even process amidst his suffering. He could barely breathe, let alone focus enough to figure it out. His mind surrendered to the only simple fact he still knew, the only thing he could cling to. 

 

Breathless, he choked out, “Y-you can do what you will with me, master.” 

 

Crowley heard the slight catch in Gabriel’s breath behind him - the way his greedy hands clutched a little tighter at Crowley’s wings - the slight pressure through the archangel’s suit pants that betrayed his arousal. 

 

Yes… Gabriel most certainly was pleased with that response. 

 

“Yes, I can,” he breathed out against Crowley’s throat, lustful, satisfied, grabbing a handful of Crowley’s hair and pulling his head back against his shoulder to mouth at his throat with lips and tongue and teeth, his free hand tangled in Crowley’s wing once more, pulling at it viciously. The desperate, pained little cries Crowley couldn’t quite suppress only seemed to increase his hunger.

 

He drew back after a moment, his breath harsh and heavy. “No,” he sighed. “No, I don’t think I will take them. God help me, maybe it’s weakness, maybe it’s sin… but I like them. How you look… like this …” 

 

Crowley trembled under the archangel’s roving hands, sliding through his feathers and across his skin. He desperately wanted to hide his wings, not only from the pain, but from the overwhelming sense of shame as well. He felt disgusting, dirty, as if Gabriel’s familiar fingers were leaving trails of filth in their wake, indelibly staining his wings forever. 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers once more, and Crowley stopped breathing for a moment with sheer terror. He knew his wings couldn’t take anymore, he knew he’d be pulled apart if Gabriel tightened the chains any further. But the chains didn’t move, and a moment later, he felt bare skin against his own, in place of the silken slide of Gabriel’s suit. He sobbed softly in anguish, knowing what was coming next - not knowing how he was going to be able to bear it, in this position, in this much pain. 

 

“Shh, easy…” 

 

Gabriel soothed him, running his hands over Crowley’s torso, stroking gently over his bound hands at his sides, before returning his attention to Crowley’s wings - bracing himself by grasping them as he forced his way into Crowley’s body and began to move, seemingly spurred on by Crowley’s agonized sobs. 

 

At least, at this rate, it’d be over quickly.

 

“Almost done,” Gabriel gasped, biting at Crowley’s shoulder. “You’ve been… so good for me, sweetheart… but I think you can take… just a little bit more…” 

 

And the chains yanked at Crowley’s wings one more time when Gabriel snapped his fingers again. 

 

************************************************************************************

 

“So… how exactly are we going to go about getting this Hellfire-forged blade?” 

 

Aziraphale winced a little. He was sure that Crowley wasn’t going to like the answer to that question. 

 

He was right. 

 

Seriously ?” Crowley complained. “What good is a supernaturally secure sanctuary, if you’re going to just turn right around and start inviting demons into it?” 

 

“He’ll be in a trap,” Aziraphale pointed out. “And even if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be able to hurt us, not as long as the sanctuary is in place.” 

 

Crowley let out a heavy, put upon sigh, the slightest trace of a whine in his voice. “Does it have to be Hastur ?”

 

“He is a duke,” Aziraphale reminded him, “which means he has some authority to actually make a deal.” He paused, giving Crowley a little smirk. “Also he’s the only demon I know for certain is quite scared of me.” 

 

He received just the barest inkling of a grudging smile from Crowley at that, though the demon’s worry swiftly overwhelmed it. “I don’t like it,” he repeated for about the fifth time since hearing Aziraphale’s plan. “No one should have that kind of power - not over anyone. I - I don’t want them to have it.” 

 

Aziraphale understood. 

 

He also felt there was little other choice. 

 

He tried again to make Crowley understand. “Heaven already has it. It’s already… in existence. All this does is - even the playing field a bit.” 

 

It was clear that Crowley still didn’t like the idea much, but he didn’t argue about it any further. Aziraphale realized wistfully that he missed the days when Crowley would argue back endlessly about the smallest, most insignificant points - when his biting, sarcastic wit… his cleverly thought out arguments… would both infuriate and fascinate Aziraphale in equal measure. He almost wished that Crowley would argue with him now - and he couldn’t help but worry about why he wasn’t. He made himself put it out of his mind, for the moment. 

 

They could deal with that later. 

 

Once Gabriel was dead. 

 

Hastur was most unhappy to find himself in the center of a summoning circle, and to Aziraphale’s satisfaction and relief, still clearly quite frightened of Aziraphale. He took one look at the circle at his feet, and then at the bottle of holy water on the floor next to it, and immediately began to protest, outrage bordering on panic in his voice. 

 

“I’ve stayed away like you asked! This isn’t fair!” 

 

“I’ve no intention of harming you,” Aziraphale assured him. “I’ve called you here because I wish to make a deal.” 

 

Grudgingly calmed by Aziraphale’s words, Hastur listened as Aziraphale outlined his conditions. 

 

In exchange for Hastur’s providing him with a Hellfire-forged blade, Aziraphale promised to use said blade to kill the Archangel Gabriel - and, once the collar was removed from Crowley’s neck, to hand it over to Hastur. 

 

“Best case scenario,” Aziraphale pointed out, “you get credit for the death of an archangel, and a very important piece of Heavenly technology which could be quite damaging to your side. Worst case,” he concluded with a wry smile, “I’m dead, and you no longer have to worry about me.” 

 

Hastur’s beetle-black eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Deal sounds a bit too good to be trusted.”

 

Aziraphale conceded with a slight nod. “There is one more thing I will require,” he admitted. He carefully did not look at Crowley, though he was acutely aware of his sharply questioning gaze. They had not discussed this bit of the deal beforehand. “I understand your side has been looking for Crowley lately.” 

 

Hastur shrugged. “Guy disappears for a month or two, his superiors get curious as to where he’s been.” 

 

“Ah, but you’ve been looking for him for a bit longer than that.” Aziraphale met his gaze sharply. 

 

“Look, I just do my job,” Hastur insisted, beginning to sound anxious again, holding up both hands in front of him in an appeasing gesture. 

 

“So you’re the one who’s been in charge of the investigation, I take it?” Aziraphale had figured as much, after Hastur’s “random” appearance at Crowley’s flat, the day after he’d returned to Earth. 

 

“Yeah,” Hastur admitted with some hesitation, repeating emphatically, “ Just my job .” 

 

“Well, clearly you can consider your investigation closed at this point,” Aziraphale informed him, his tone pointed and warning. “You have your explanation. He’s been a prisoner of Heaven for some time now - a circumstance which is most certainly not his fault. He’s done nothing to betray your side or shirk his infernal duties. In fact, wily serpent that he is, he’s actually been working undercover all this time.” 

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Aziraphale caught a slight flinch from Crowley, and suppressed a frown. 

 

It was something else to worry about after the deal was struck. 

 

“It’s only due to his sacrifice of his freedom that Hell is going to be victorious in this case,” he continued. “I’d certainly consider a dead archangel and an acquired piece of clandestine technology a win… wouldn’t you?” 

 

Hastur considered for a moment, before responding with a slow, cautious nod. 

 

“Your report to your superiors will reflect all of this, and will recommend that the investigation into Crowley’s activities be closed. And that he be allowed some time to - recover , and adjust following his extended captivity. A couple of centuries should do it.” 

 

It wasn’t as if Hell had never ignored Crowley’s absence for a century or so before

 

Hastur let out a reluctant sigh, but his eyes darted toward the holy water on the floor for a moment, and Aziraphale suppressed a smile. They both knew who had the upper hand, here. 

 

“I think I can make that happen,” Hastur agreed at last. 

 

“See that you do. As you can see, I can quite easily find you if I need to,” Aziraphale reminded him in a tone that was mild, if not quite friendly. 

 

The deal struck, Aziraphale broke the edge of the summoning circle to allow Hastur to leave. As Hastur stepped out of the circle, he looked between Aziraphale and Crowley for a moment, his gaze lingering on the collar with a bit more interest than Aziraphale liked. Silently, he reached down and picked up the bottle of holy water, stepping between the demon and his demon, directly into Hastur’s eyeline. 

 

When Hastur’s gaze darted up to his, Aziraphale met it with a cool smile, his voice deadly soft. 

 

“If you even so much as look as if you’d like to touch him…”

 

Hastur had vanished before he could finish his threat. 

 

Aziraphale turned his attention to Crowley, who was watching him with a frown - still concerned, but grudgingly impressed. 

 

“Well… that could have gone worse.” 

 

“Yes, I dare say.” Aziraphale couldn’t suppress his own grin, quite pleased with himself. 

 

Crowley was quiet for a moment. “What will they do with it?” he asked at last. “Once they have it. Who else will get hurt?” 

 

“Who else will get hurt if they don’t have access to it, and Heaven does?” Aziraphale countered gently. “This way they can - analyze it. Understand it. Perhaps devise a means of - of undoing it. It’s terribly cruel in anyone’s hands, love. We’ve seen for ourselves what Heaven has chosen to do with it.” He paused a moment, hesitating before meeting Crowley’s eyes and pointing out, “You don’t suppose the one you’re wearing is the only one, do you?” 

 

Crowley blinked, a little startled. He clearly hadn’t considered that possibility. 

 

“They’re demons,” he pointed out anyway, subdued but stubborn. “They’ll hurt each other, or they’ll devise a way to use it against angels, or - I don’t know, maybe even humans.” 

 

“They already have Hell.” Aziraphale smiled sadly. “Why would they need yet another new way to hurt humans?” 

 

“You can’t trust them,” Crowley insisted, leaning against the door jamb, his arms crossed over his chest. “They’re - evil by nature. Low and vile and treacherous.” His gaze was averted as he spoke, and the vicious note of disgust in his voice made Aziraphale’s heart sink as he abruptly realized what this was, and where it was coming from. “They’re liars. Killers. Evil . They don’t deserve …”

 

They are … as angels, and humans, and every other creature…” Aziraphale cut him off firmly, moving to stand with him in the doorway, his hands gently resting against Crowley’s arms. “... exactly what they choose to be.” 

 

Crowley didn’t move away, didn’t resist Aziraphale’s touch, but he drew his head back a little, giving his angel an appraising look. His voice was quiet, a bit ominous. 

 

“What are you choosing to be, angel?” 

 

Yours .” Aziraphale held Crowley’s gaze intently, earnestly, and watched as the single word eased his demon’s stance, the tight, unhappy line of his mouth softening with his eyes. “On your side. Behind you, beside you, with you. Always . No matter the cost.” He ran his hands gently up and down Crowley’s arms, relieved to feel the tension fade out of them as Crowley released a shaky breath. “If this means that you’re free of him - that he’s gone , and can’t ever hurt you again - then I’ll take that deal, my darling. In a heartbeat, I will.” 

 

Crowley dropped his gaze, letting out a slow, soft sigh. When at last he spoke, his voice was low and hoarse, a little broken. “I’m afraid you’re getting the lesser end of this deal, angel.” 

 

“I most certainly am not!” Aziraphale was offended on Crowley’s behalf. “You stop that!” he chided him gently, raising a hand to cup the back of Crowley’s neck, drawing him in to kiss his lips softly before drawing back a little. “No one gets to talk about my dear Crowley that way,” he declared with a sad, tender smile. “Not even you, my darling.” 

 

He was rewarded with the faintest of smiles in return, and he shifted in closer, slipping his arm around Crowley’s waist, kissing his lips again. 

 

“You are good,” he repeated words he’d been reiterating quite frequently lately. “I love you. And you are worthy of it, Crowley. You did not deserve what he did to you.” 

 

“Unless I did,” Crowley whispered, eyes downcast, welling with tears. “Unless it’s - judgment. I’ve - I’ve always been cursed, haven’t I? Since Eden.” 

 

“Those are his words,” Aziraphale reminded Crowley, gentle but firm as he tilted Crowley’s face back up to meet his warm, encouraging smile, searching Crowley’s eyes with concern. “Are you going to listen to him, or are you going to listen to me?” 

 

Crowley stared at him for a long moment, serious. His words came out quiet and halting. “I - think the answer might be both … for a while.”

 

Aziraphale’s voice was very soft. “Then I suppose I’ll just have to work a bit harder… at drowning him out.” 

 

Aziraphale kissed Crowley again, running a hand through his hair, insistently drawing him closer, and at last Crowley raised his arms to wrap them around Aziraphale in return. He kissed back, tentative at first, then drinking it in with a desperate thirst. His hands clutched at Aziraphale’s clothes, a hot, shaky gasp escaping his lips as he drew back a little, breathless. 

 

“Angel,” he whispered, “just… one thing. Could you… could you not call me… ‘serpent’, anymore? Please?” 

 

The deep ache in his words, the unmistakable shame in the way he bowed his head, closing his eyes against Aziraphale’s reaction to the request - it made Aziraphale’s heart hurt. He was a bit caught off guard by it, and a little sad. As long as he could remember, he’d affectionately called Crowley a “wily old serpent” or occasionally “ my wily serpent”. He was quite certain he was going to miss it. Quite a lot.

 

But he was learning, in new and heartbreaking ways every day, that in addition to the large, unmistakable things - countless tiny things had changed for Crowley. Innocent words, miniscule movements that now held entirely different meanings than they once had. Something Gabriel had said to Crowley had caused him to connect a sense of shame to his serpent self, and that realization breathed fresh life into the flame of Aziraphale’s protective anger. 

 

But that was a problem for another time. 

 

Right now - Crowley needed him, needed his reassurance that he could give him what he needed. That he could accept him as he was now , without complaining about all that they’d both lost when Gabriel had stripped away so many pieces of Crowley, bit by bit. It was a small sacrifice to make, really, if it would help to rid Crowley’s mind of the dark, whispering voice of the archangel. 

 

The last thing Aziraphale wanted was for Crowley to hear Gabriel’s words on his lips.

 

“Of course, my love,” Aziraphale assured him with a warm smile, between soft kisses. “When there are so many other lovely things I can call you…” He kissed him again. “Beautiful…” He pressed light kisses down Crowley’s jaw toward the sensitive skin at his throat, whispering affirmations into his skin. “Clever… gorgeous… darling…” 

 

Crowley groaned. “You’re ridiculous ,” but a low, soft laugh escaped his lips as he tipped his head back to grant his angel better access.

 

Aziraphale could have cried with joy and relief to hear it - and he knew that he’d do anything just to hear it again, just to drive the ghosts from Crowley’s mind and drive away the terror and tears and make him happy and safe again. 

 

He’d do anything for Crowley. Full stop. 

 

And he was going to

 

No matter what it cost him. 

Chapter Text

Hastur returned a couple of days later. 

 

Crowley was relieved to learn that he had to be invited in again. Apparently, the initial invitation wasn’t a permanent welcome mat. Hastur had to knock on the door and ring the bell repeatedly like any ordinary, if obnoxiously aggressive, person. Under his arm he carried the blade wrapped carefully in a cloth. It was a filthy, smelly cloth stained with what Crowley didn’t even want to think about - but it wasn’t as if there were a lot of more sanitary options in Hell. 

 

Crowley fixed Hastur with a suspicious frown as he stepped back to allow him entrance. “That was easy.” 

 

“It’s not as if they’re hard to come by.” Hastur shrugged. “No one should even miss it, really. We just - don’t use them all that much. Most cases, seems a bit of… overkill.” 

 

“Not in this case,” Aziraphale declared quietly as he took the package from Hastur and carefully unwrapped a small, sharp, bronze dagger. The sunlight reflected off it with a reddish-gold tint that made Crowley think of the hellfire that had forged it. 

 

His stomach was in knots. He stared at the small, rather harmless looking weapon as Aziraphale held it up for a moment to examine it. 

 

“Careful,” Crowley whispered, the single word cloaked in dread. 

 

Aziraphale nodded slowly as he set the dagger down on the counter. 

 

“How do we know it’s legit?” Crowley asked Hastur. 

 

Aziraphale answered, matter of fact. “According to the text, there’s one… non-lethal way.” He reached out his hand toward the blade, and Crowley felt as if his heart had just stopped - but Aziraphale did not touch the sharp edge, just the flat of the blade with a single fingertip... which he immediately pulled away with a little pained hiss through his teeth as he shook his fingers out. He was beaming like a fucking madman as he held up the singed, reddened finger for Crowley to see.

 

“It’s real!” 

 

Crowley was utterly horrified. “You knew it would do that?” he demanded, aghast. 

 

“Well, yes , how else would we know it was real?” Aziraphale did not seem to see the problem - but after a moment staring obliviously back at Crowley, his expression softened, becoming apologetic. “It’s only fatal if it cuts me, love.” 

 

“What if you’d slipped and touched the edge?” Crowley couldn’t keep the anger from his trembling voice. “What if the book was wrong?” 

 

“Darling, it wasn’t, it’s fine,” Aziraphale assured him, moving in close, touching his arm. 

 

Crowley did not want to be soothed. He jerked his arm away, glaring at his angel. 

 

Hastur gave the two of them a knowing once-over. “You can contact me once it’s done. I think I’ll just leave you to work this out with your… prisoner .”

 

“Yes, you do that,” Aziraphale replied, more than a little absently, his brow furrowed into a worried frown, his attention was fully focused on Crowley. He persisted in moving closer to him, reaching up a careful hand to touch his hair, and Crowley let out a frustrated little growl, but didn’t pull away. “And do not return unless we call for you.” 

 

Hastur vanished in an instant. Aziraphale didn’t seem to notice. 

 

“It’s all right, I’m fine,” he insisted softly, his mouth falling with regret as Crowley finally relented, turning his face into Aziraphale’s hand with a shaky little gasp. His heart was still racing, his stomach rolling with residual panic.  

 

That was just too bloody close

 

“It’s just a tiny little burn,” Aziraphale said, holding up his hand to show Crowley, who realized with grudging relief that it looked as if it had already started to heal on its own. “It won’t spread. It won’t do any further harm. That only happens if it breaks the skin.” 

 

“I - I fucking hate this,” Crowley growled, raising his hands to clutch at his hair in frustration. 

 

“I know.” Aziraphale was maddeningly impassive - sympathetic, regretful, but clearly not even considering changing his course. 

 

“It’s too much,” Crowley insisted. “Too risky, it’s not worth - I’m not…”

 

Stop .” Aziraphale’s tender tone took on a stern note. “You are . You always have been. Crowley, I love you.”

 

“I-I love you too, angel, that’s why you can’t - you can’t take chances with…” Crowley swallowed hard, struggling to regain control. “... can’t leave me, please …” 

 

Aziraphale caught Crowley’s face in his hands, and Crowley surrendered to the warmth and reassurance in his eyes, raising his hands to cover Aziraphale’s hands, soft against his skin, drinking in the angel’s promise. 

 

“I never will.” 

 

*********************************************************************************************

 

Crowley’s little plant was beginning to fare much better than it had in the beginning. 

 

It was still a bit touch and go. A few of its leaves still had a tendency to wilt, and to carry a bit of brown around the edges - but for the most part, it was stronger and healthier, its delicate purple flowers vibrant and thriving. 

 

Crowley grudgingly had to admit, if only in the secret places of his mind, that perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he was no longer screaming at it on a regular basis. 

 

He closed his eyes and focused his energy to heal what few defects remained, and smiled at the result. He had noticed that it was beginning to take a bit less effort, and it didn’t seem to exhaust him as much as it once had. He wasn’t quite sure if that meant the plant was getting stronger and healthier, or that he was.

 

He carefully watered it, added a bit of plant food to the soil, all the while talking quietly to it. Speaking to it kindly had felt a bit awkward at first, but it was becoming more and more comfortable all the time. 

 

“You’re doing so much better, aren’t you?” he said softly. “Doing so well… stronger every day, yeah? You’ll get there…”

 

“Hello, darling.”

 

The sound of Aziraphale’s footsteps had preceded him, and his voice was hushed and calm from the kitchen doorway. He’d begun to change his habits as well - making a point of being heard in his approach, speaking before he was anywhere near close enough to touch. 

 

Crowley turned toward him with a warm smile - which faded a little as he read his angel’s expression. Aziraphale seemed… not exactly troubled , but perhaps… preoccupied? Something was clearly on his mind, something he wanted to discuss. 

 

“Will you come and talk with me a bit?” he asked, confirming Crowley’s conclusion. “It’s… rather important, but… also rather sensitive, and… well, are you feeling quite all right at the moment, dear?” 

 

Crowley frowned suspiciously at Aziraphale’s anxiously fidgeting hands. “I was ,” he replied, dubious. “Worse by the second. Spit it out, angel.” 

 

Aziraphale bit his lip with a little grimace, then held out his hand for Crowley to take. Warily, Crowley complied, following him to the living room sofa - a place that had become home to many important conversations lately. Crowley’s uncertainty grew as Aziraphale went through what had become his little ritual: miraculous cups of steaming tea for both of them, a soft blanket - which Crowley promptly tossed aside. 

 

Still, he had to admit that he felt a bit calmer, just sitting here next to his angel. It was like reverse conditioning, he realized, fighting back a slightly panicked, somewhat bittersweet impulse to laugh. 

 

Gabriel had trained him to be terrified. 

 

Aziraphale was teaching him how to feel safe again.  

 

“You see, it’s just that… well, I’ve been studying, and… and what I’ve discovered… well, it’s this:” Aziraphale drew in a deep breath, then let the rest out in a rush, “What do you know about the - the ritual that Gabriel performed? The one that you... showed me?” 

 

Crowley’s stomach lurched, a cold sweat breaking out across his brow. 

 

Whatever he had expected that Aziraphale might want to talk about - it wasn’t this. 

 

He swallowed back the knot in his throat, his voice catching over the words. “I-I don’t really want to - to talk about…”

 

“I know, my love, and I’m so sorry.” Aziraphale was warm and genuinely apologetic, reaching out to cover Crowley’s trembling hand with his own. “You must know I wouldn’t ask, but - it’s so that we can undo it. Please .” 

 

Crowley felt sick, trying to block out the memories associated with that incident, with the mark that suddenly seemed to be burning at his back. He knew it wasn’t, couldn’t be, that wasn’t how it worked , but it was , and he was going to be sick. He fought back the sense of impending panic, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. 

 

“It - it made me a slave,” he whispered at last, closing his eyes. “Made me - his. Means I - I belong to him. Forever.” 

 

His eyes were burning, his vision blurred with tears. Wretchedly, he reached for the blanket he had cast aside, pulling it around his shoulders. Aziraphale immediately moved in closer to him, squeezing his hand gently. With his free hand, he fussed a bit with the blanket until it was settled comfortably, and then wrapped his arm around Crowley, warm and steady and supportive.

 

“It doesn’t ,” he insisted fiercely. “ You don’t . I’ve found the ritual he - he meant to use. And he used it wrong , Crowley. It was never intended to enslave anyone. No such thing has ever existed among angels, or even among demons. What he did was - to take an ancient angelic ritual, pre-dating even the Fall, and to - to twist it for his own vile purposes.” 

 

Crowley frowned, a little confused - but with the beginnings of hope stirring in his chest. It was beginning to sound like maybe what Gabriel had done was invalid - could be broken

 

“What - what was it meant for?” he asked, cautious and quiet. 

 

Aziraphale didn’t answer directly, his response suspiciously evasive. “The ritual he used, it - it requires - an invitation. Like the invitation he - coerced you into making. Inviting him…”

 

“Into my bed.” Crowley closed his eyes, the weight of his shame bearing down on his shoulders, the heat of it flushing his face. 

 

The bed that Gabriel had given him - that was never a gift, but a trick from the very start. It all made sense now. The room, the bed... the illusion of a tiny scrap of freedom, of privilege, after so long with nothing. As Crowley began to put the pieces together, to understand how Gabriel had put it all together… the intricate pieces of an elaborate entrapment… he felt foolish and weak and utterly disgusted with himself. 

 

He had to make sure you had something, right? Something left to give? Otherwise how could you hand it over to him?

 

You stupid little slut.

 

Aziraphale squeezed his hand gently. “Yes,” he agreed, regretful. “It requires - specific words, which he forced you to repeat back to him.” 

 

“My body is yours… every part of me is yours…”

 

“It requires sexual consummation,” Aziraphale continued, his voice halting, visibly uncomfortable. “Which… both parties must physically… complete .” 

 

Crowley pulled his hand free of Aziraphale’s gentle grasp in order to hide his face in his hands, shaking his head. His shame was thick and heavy in his throat, choking him. 

 

“I didn’t want it,” he whispered desperately, hot tears escaping his eyes. “I didn’t want it, angel, I swear I didn’t…”

 

“I know you didn’t, darling,” Aziraphale assured him, hushed and tender, a gentle hand carding through his hair, then sliding down to rest at the back of his neck, his thumb stroking slow, soothing circles. “I’m so sorry, my love. I didn’t want to dredge all this up again for you, it’s just… so very important that you understand. What he did. How it can be… undone.” 

 

Crowley nodded. He gulped in a deep rush of air, then let it out in a slow, shaky breath, trying to steady himself. “Right.” He swiped at his eyes, made himself look at Aziraphale. “Yeah, got it. Go on.” 

 

Aziraphale frowned at him, looking fretful and concerned, but he picked up a book from the coffee table and opened it to a page he had marked. He held it away from Crowley for a moment, hesitating. 

 

“This is - this is the sort of mark that appears when the ritual is done properly - with full consent from both parties - with its original meaning and intention.” 

 

He held out the book, placing it across Crowley’s lap, then settled in a little nearer on the sofa, his arm around Crowley holding him just a little closer - as if braced for his reaction. Crowley stared down at the picture in front of him, taking it in, slowly processing exactly what it was he was seeing. It was a pattern of sigils, similar to the one Gabriel had branded onto him - but very different in very significant ways. Like Gabriel’s mark, it was made up of three Enochian sigils - two of them angelic names. 

 

But the two names in the picture were interwoven so intricately and evenly that neither one could be said to be on top of or overpowering the other. They were a perfectly equal combination. And intertwined with the two of them was a third Enochian word - but it wasn’t the word for slave. 

 

In the ancient language of the angels, it meant, “eternal companion” or “lifetime partner”. 

 

Its closest English equivalent would have been… “spouse”

 

Crowley’s heart was racing again, thudding in his ears. His hands shook too hard to hold onto the book - but he didn’t want to anymore, anyway. He shoved it off his lap onto the floor in disgust. Aziraphale gave it a brief, dismayed look, but then ignored it. And even through his shock and panic, Crowley was just the slightest bit impressed by that. 

 

Aziraphale, ignoring a no doubt priceless book, in favor of focusing on Crowley. 

 

He must have looked exactly as wrecked as he felt. 

 

“You - you’re telling me I’m married to him?” Crowley nearly choked on the words. 

 

“No, no, no,” Aziraphale insisted hurriedly. “I’m telling you you’re not ! But of course, you had never even considered the possibility that you might be married to him before now, until I just threw it out there so carelessly.” He winced. “I - I’m sorry, I’m making rather a mess of this…” He took a breath, then tried again. “Gabriel based his ritual on this one. But - he altered it. He made it a one-way bond, for one thing. His intention was that… you would be bound to him, but he would not be bound to you. Reflecting a... master/slave dynamic. Which has never existed, among angels.”

 

“But marriage does?” Crowley was incredulous, horrified. “How have I never heard of this?” 

 

Aziraphale smiled sadly. “Because… I rather imagine it’s been a very, very long time since any angels have used it.” He was quiet for a moment, before he began to explain. “It’s not exactly marriage, marriage is - such a very human concept, but - it’s very similar. It’s a lifelong spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical bond, between - two angels who feel a deeper… connection with each other than with all others. Enough that they would choose each other, for all eternity. It was… admittedly rather rare, but - it happened. On occasion. And it was ordained of Her. Validated by Her.” He paused, his tone bittersweet when he continued, “There was actually a time when Heaven really was about love above all else.” 

 

His expression darkened, his tone taking on an angry note. “But this - this was never something she would have condoned. This is something for which there is no precedent .” He squeezed Crowley’s hand, leaned in closer, and Crowley reluctantly met his gaze. “If it had been in any way legitimate - in any way recognized by Her … then the mark would have appeared on its own. Miraculously.” 

 

Crowley thought about that for a moment… but that led his mind to exactly how the mark had been made, and then all at once he swiftly found himself spiraling down into his memories - the scent of holy water, the searing sting of it on his skin, the feeling of Gabriel’s fingers sliding down his spine. 

 

“Crowley, love… look at me .” Aziraphale’s tone was intent, almost severe, and Crowley looked up at him, blinking, feeling a little lost. “It was wrong , on every possible level. He had to brand it into you - had to force it - because it did not happen miraculously once he carried out the ritual. And it would have, if She had accepted it. It is illegitimate , because it was non-consensual , and it is in no way... eternal.” 

 

As Aziraphale spoke, Crowley gradually managed to focus, and the words slowly sunk in. As his shell-shocked mind processed the impact of Aziraphale’s discovery, Crowley wasn’t really sure what he was feeling. 

 

Relief. Horror. Shock - yes, definitely. 

 

Overwhelmed just about covered it. 

 

He absently reached a hand back behind him, close to the mark, but not quite touching it. He felt a deep sense of sorrow wash over him. It was a holy water scar, whatever else it was. 

 

It wasn’t just going to disappear. 

 

“Oh, angel,” he said, hushed and sorrowful, with a faint little smile. “I’m afraid it’s as eternal as I am.” 

 

Aziraphale’s face fell with sympathy, and he gently pulled Crowley into his arms. Crowley surrendered willingly, gratefully, resting his head against the angel’s shoulder and allowing himself to be held. Aziraphale soothed Crowley’s trembling with firm, rhythmic touches up and down his back, soft fingers in his hair, gentle kisses against his brow, his temple. They were quiet for a while, before Aziraphale broke the silence, his voice hushed and cautious, his words weighted. 

 

“Perhaps - perhaps not.” 

 

Crowley slowly sat up to look at him, studying him with wary eyes. There was something Aziraphale was very distinctly not saying. 

 

Crowley’s words came out in a hoarse, tearful croak. “What are you talking about?” 

 

“I - I think I may know of a way in which it could be - wiped out entirely,” Aziraphale offered, hesitant, but then hurried to qualify it. “But it’s not without consequence, and it’s not to be entered into lightly. I’m not sure it’s a thing you’d want to do at all…”

 

“Angel, just tell me.” Crowley stared up at him, trying to contain the hope rising within him, trying to focus on his angel’s warnings instead. “What is it?” 

 

Aziraphale didn’t - not yet. He looked away, his warm blue eyes troubled and strangely vulnerable as he reached out to take Crowley’s hand again. “Crowley…” he began, cautious. “... you are with me… here with me now… why? I hope you don’t feel like - like you must be, or like you haven’t a choice…”

 

Oh, his dear, silly angel. 

 

Crowley didn’t know how Aziraphale could possibly even wonder. There was something reassuring about it, though - the realization that it wasn’t only Crowley who held insecurities and uncertainty in his heart. 

 

“Well,” he began, “magical sanctuary spell aside…” Aziraphale winced a little, and Crowley sighed, sliding in a little closer to his angel and wrapping his free arm around him. “Angel, I love you. You know that’s why I’m here.” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet, staring down at their joined hands. His voice was so very careful, even and measured. “Do you suspect there could… ever come a time when you might… change your mind?” 

 

Crowley let go of Aziraphale’s hand in order to tilt his face up to look at him, aghast at the suggestion, needing Aziraphale to understand how utterly ridiculous it was. 

 

“Of course not!” he declared, with complete certainty, and no trace of doubt. “Angel, I’ve always loved you. For six millennia . Long before I ever became this…” He hesitated, grimacing and waving his hand as he searched for the right words. He rolled his eyes at himself as he concluded, “... helpless, wilting flower in need of your care and protection.” 

 

Aziraphale frowned, visibly offended, and the fact that he was offended at Crowley, for Crowley, only made Crowley love him more dearly. The angel’s lips parted for an indignant protest. 

 

Crowley went on before he could utter it.

 

“There is nowhere and no one else for me. Nor will there ever be.”

 

Aziraphale’s expression softened, tears shining in his eyes - visibly, desperately relieved. “Oh, my darling, I was so hoping you’d say that!” He turned his entire body to face Crowley more fully, taking his arm from around Crowley in order to take both of his hands instead. “I believe I know what can wipe out that ill-formed, half-complete bond - wipe all traces of it from existence. Including that hateful mark.” 

 

He swallowed slowly, closing his eyes for a moment and drawing in a deep breath. Then, he slid off the couch and to his knees in front of Crowley, facing him. His blue eyes were wide and earnest, searching Crowley’s gaze as he spoke, hushed in the stillness. 

 

“If we make a new one . Replace his false claim with - with a legitimate one. If you’ll - if you’ll marry me, Crowley.” 

 

He laughed a little over the word - and Crowley knew why. It seemed so simple a thing, so human and ridiculous, but - it meant so much

 

Too much. 

 

Crowley was at a loss. He didn’t know what to say. He was overwhelmed by the onslaught of new information, his mind still busily rearranging everything he’d thought he’d known about what Gabriel had done to him. It was a lot to process, in the space of a few minutes’ time. 

 

And he was utterly stunned by his angel’s proposal. 

 

Why would Aziraphale want to attach himself to Crowley… for all eternity ? No divorce if he changed his mind, no take-backs once he realized how he’d been swindled - just forever , permanently saddled with Crowley and his issues. 

 

How - how could he possibly want that?

 

“Say yes,” Aziraphale whispered, love and hope shining eagerly from his eyes - along with a few tears. His eyes had never looked so crystal blue, his pure, perfect heart openly on display and held out in his hands - and Crowley had never in 6000 years loved him more. “Please, darling,” Aziraphale brushed his thumbs across the backs of Crowley’s hands, lifted them together to his lips, bowed his head and closed his eyes, murmuring the words like a prayer against his skin. “Please say yes… please say yes …”

 

Crowley stared at him, stared at their joined hands, then looked back up into Aziraphale’s wide, earnest eyes, and whispered, 

 

“... No .”

Chapter Text

“Very good… you’ve done so well for me, sweetheart…” 

 

Crowley shivered as the archangel’s fingers swept his hair out of the way to press a possessive kiss to the back of his neck. He choked back an agonized cry as Gabriel withdrew from him and allowed his body to drop, the searing chains stopping his fall abruptly with a jerk that sent a fresh spasm of pain through his torn, tormented wings.

 

“Shhh…” Gabriel ran a hand gently along the length of Crowley’s shuddering wing, soothing him. “... we’re all done now… it’s over…” 

 

Then he snapped his fingers again, and Crowley’s heart clenched with terror. 

 

Please no more, please I can’t, I can’t…

 

But no more pain was inflicted than the impact of his body against the cold tile floor, as the chains all disappeared. It took Crowley a moment to realize that Gabriel had told the truth: it was over, he was finished - for now, at least. An aching sob of relief rose up in Crowley’s throat, as he collapsed with his face to the floor, his body and soul devastated and exhausted.

 

“Thank you,” he gasped out, breathless, choked with tears. “Th-thank you, master…” 

 

“It’s all right…” Gabriel’s voice was hushed, sympathetic, as he crouched down next to Crowley, his touch unusually gentle as he put his arms around him and pulled him up onto his knees. “All done now, you did so well, sweetheart… you’ve been so good for me…” 

 

Gabriel ran soothing fingers through Crowley’s hair, encouraging him to rest his head against his chest - and Crowley readily complied. It was the comforting touch, the soft praise that finally just shattered him, and he wept with relief in the arms of his tormentor. 

 

Gabriel gave him a few minutes to calm down, just stroking his hair, speaking softly to him - and then he lifted Crowley’s arm, weak and limp with exhaustion, to wrap it around his shoulders. 

 

“Hold on,” he quietly instructed, cradling Crowley in his arms as he rose effortlessly to his feet. Crowley whimpered with pain at the movement, and Gabriel just curled his hand around to brush his hair back from his forehead, pressing a soft kiss to Crowley’s temple. “It’s all right now… you’re all right, you’ve done well… I’m very pleased with you.” 

 

Crowley turned his face into the archangel’s chest, sobbing harder, his arm around Gabriel’s shoulders instinctively holding on tighter. He felt the damp spot beneath his cheek, and felt a moment’s cold terror at the realization that he was staining Gabriel’s freshly miracled shirt, with blood and tears and everything. But Gabriel just cupped the back of his head with his hand - affectionate, encouraging - and pressed him in closer. 

 

He carried Crowley to his room, where he laid him down on the bed on his stomach, his hand stroking slowly up and down Crowley’s back. Crowley shivered, his heart sinking at the easy, intimate slide of Gabriel’s fingertips over his skin. 

 

Perhaps the archangel wasn’t done with him, after all. 

 

Stupid mistake, allowing himself to fall apart like that, weeping and shaking and breaking in just the way he knew Gabriel liked him best - when he was just too far gone, too delirious with pain and terror to hold it together at all. If Gabriel raped him again , now, after everything, it was his own damn fault for tempting him into it. He hadn’t even meant to; was he that evil, that mired in wickedness, that he could tempt an angel to sin without even trying? 

 

But Gabriel made no move to hurt Crowley any further. He just ran his hands slowly, gently, down Crowley’s back. And when he did reach for Crowley’s wings, he didn’t grasp or pull or twist his fingers into the bloody, sweat-soaked feathers. He just ran a hand gently over the surface of each wing in turn, the healing warmth of his grace doing its work to ease the pain. 

 

Just a little. 

 

Crowley was more surprised that Gabriel was healing him at all , than he was that he didn’t heal him completely. He knew Gabriel liked leaving marks on him - bruises and burns all signs of his ownership, reminders to Crowley in the hours he spent alone in this room, of all the things that Gabriel had done to him, and would do again - just because he could. 

 

But he did ease the pain, and cleaned up the burnt feathers and the bloody places where the blessed chains had eaten through the demon’s flesh. He brushed Crowley’s hair back from his face, continually whispering reassurance and affirmation. 

 

“That’s a good boy… so good for me, Crowley… so happy with you, sweetheart…”

 

Crowley couldn’t help leaning into the comforting touch, hot tears of gratitude springing to his eyes. It’d just been so long since anyone had touched him with anything resembling kindness. Usually when Gabriel touched him gently, it was a deception, an instant before pain and punishment. 

 

But this time - this felt different. 

 

This felt real

 

It wasn’t, he reminded himself through the pleasant haze of soft comfort and the warm afterglow of the angel’s healing touch. It wasn’t real. It was another trick, it had to be. It wasn’t real. 

 

But it felt real. 

 

Wasn’t it? 

 

“You’d do anything I told you to do, wouldn’t you, Crowley?” 

 

Crowley nodded, automatically, honestly. “Yes, master,” he whispered, barely a breath in his exhaustion. 

 

“No matter how much it hurts. No matter how bad it gets.” 

 

Crowley shivered a little. He couldn’t imagine it getting any worse than it had this time. He didn’t want to think about what things Gabriel might yet be capable of imagining. 

 

“Yes, master,” he promised, a slight tremor in his voice. 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers, and Crowley flinched - just a little, he couldn’t help it. 

 

Stupid, keep still, don’t move, he’s pleased with you, you useless idiot, don’t fuck it up, don’t...

 

But no pain followed the sound. Instead, Crowley found that the sheets and blankets on his bed were instantly clean of all traces of blood and ash - sweetly scented and fresh and comfortably warm. Gabriel ran his hand down Crowley’s back one more time, stopping to press his palm lightly against his mark there - and Crowley let out a soft gasp, abruptly overwhelmed with a sense of calm and reassurance, driving out the fear and pain and replacing it with peace. 

 

It was as fleeting as the touch of Gabriel’s hand. When he withdrew it, the loss was a cold, empty ache in Crowley’s chest. 

 

Gabriel smoothed Crowley’s hair once more, then pulled the clean, soft blankets up around him, pressing a kiss to his forehead. 

 

“You’ve made me very happy tonight, sweetheart,” he said, low and almost tender, close to his ear, gentle fingers reaching to stroke through Crowley’s wing. “Rest now…”

 

It felt good.

 

It felt like Crowley was good. He’d pleased his master. The pain could be over for now. 

 

When Gabriel finally got up and walked toward the door, something broke inside Crowley - something he hadn’t even realized was left to be broken - because, Satan help him, he ached for that gentle touch to return. And when the door closed behind his master, a cold ache settled in Crowley’s chest… an overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness… as for the very first time, he found himself desperately wishing for the archangel to return. 

 

******************************************************************************************

 

“Please, darling… please say yes…” Aziraphale could scarcely breathe, his heart racing as he waited for Crowley’s response. 

 

“... No .” 

 

That was… not the response Aziraphale had hoped for. 

 

His face fell, as he looked up at Crowley in confusion, echoing softly, “No?”

 

Crowley blinked, eyes going wide as if he’d only just realized what he said. “I mean… not no , I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

 

Aziraphale’s heart sank at the unmistakable note of panic building in Crowley’s voice. He closed his eyes for a moment, took a breath, and steadied himself to focus on Crowley’s feelings rather than his own - however hurt they might have been at the moment. 

 

Crowley ,” he said firmly, reaching up to touch his demon’s face - grimly realizing that his worries were well-founded when Crowley actually flinched a little. “It’s all right if it’s no. You… have every right to say no, if that’s what you mean.” 

 

Crowley frowned, closing his eyes for a moment and drawing in a sharp, shaky breath. “But - it isn’t,” he protested, shaking his head a little, agitated and uncertain. “What I mean is… no, I can’t say yes . Now. Yet . I mean…” He opened his eyes to meet Aziraphale’s gaze. “I need a little time, angel, yeah? This is… it’s a lot.” 

 

His golden eyes were wide and imploring and just a little lost - and Aziraphale could completely understand why he’d said it. He could. He’d just unloaded a lot of information on Crowley, and then, without giving him time to process it, followed it up by asking for a monumental, eternal commitment from him, and of course Crowley needed time. 

 

That didn’t stop it from still stinging a bit. 

 

“Of course it is, darling,” he said softly, lifting himself up on his knees to press a light kiss to the corner of Crowley’s stunned, slack mouth, before rising to his feet. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have laid it on you so abruptly. Take all the time you need, really…” 

 

As he spoke, he turned to move away, to give Crowley the space he needed - but Crowley held on tight to his hand, tugging him back a little. Aziraphale turned to look at him, surprised and wondering - and then simply melting when, eyes closed, Crowley pressed his brow to the back of Aziraphale’s hand with a shaky little gasp. There was a sense of yearning to the gesture, a wordless plea, and Aziraphale realized all at once that while Crowley had asked for time ... he had not actually asked for space

 

Aziraphale sat back down on the sofa, pulling Crowley gently into his arms, gratified when Crowley easily settled in against him, his forehead pressed into Aziraphale’s shoulder. Gratified - and deeply relieved, really, that he hadn’t frightened his love away completely with his rash proposal. 

 

“It’s a lot to process,” Aziraphale acknowledged, keeping his voice hushed and even, fingers trailing slowly through Crowley’s hair to calm him. “I know it is, love. And there isn’t any rush.” 

 

They stayed there in silence for quite a while, long enough that Aziraphale actually thought that Crowley had fallen asleep, and was a little startled when his hoarse, hesitant voice broke the silence.

 

“What would it mean, if - if one of us did change his mind? Later on? Would we have the option to… to separate?” 

 

Aziraphale wasn’t hurt by the words - just deeply saddened. Because he knew better than to think that Crowley was implying that he himself might change his mind. No, Crowley was afraid that Aziraphale might come to regret their union. He closed his eyes for a moment, resisting the urge to simply reassure Crowley, to pour out promises that that would never happen, not ever . He was fairly certain that Crowley wouldn’t accept it anyway, right now, with his fears and insecurities so close to the surface. 

 

At any rate… Crowley was owed the truth. 

 

“It isn’t as if it’d… physically hurt to be separated, or anything like that,” he explained. “But, in the eyes of God… we’d be one. Sexual congress with - with others, without the consent of one another, would be… a sin.” 

 

Crowley let out a little scoffing sound, his soft hair brushing against Aziraphale’s chin as he turned his head so that he could speak clearly. “Demon, here,” he reminded his angel. “I’m practically made of sin, what’s one more?” 

 

Aziraphale smiled, brushing an affectionate kiss against the top of Crowley’s head. He could recall quite a few moments between the two of them when he’d had very much the same thought about Crowley - but in a vastly different context.

 

But that was hardly relevant at the moment. 

 

“If… one of us wanted to leave the relationship,” he clarified, swallowing against the ache in his throat, “we could feasibly do so. If you decided you wanted to be… somewhere else, to be… with someone else… if that was what you wanted, I wouldn’t make it difficult for you.” He paused for a moment before adding fervently, “But I won’t want to, darling, not ever.” 

 

Crowley’s hand at his waist squeezed gently, and he fell silent again for a little while. When he spoke again, his voice was touched with a note of insecurity, halting and unsure. 

 

“You want to do this, to - to save me. From Gabriel. But…”

 

No .” Aziraphale cut him off firmly, reaching down to tilt Crowley’s face up toward him. “Darling, no, I - I’ve wanted this for longer than I can remember. I simply - never had the courage to say anything,” he explained with a wry, self-effacing smile, that then faded into something darker, more sorrowful, as he admitted, “Or… to face the consequences of… of openly …”

 

Loving me ,” Crowley whispered, his tone hushed and softly bewildered - and it broke Aziraphale’s heart a little to think that he found it so difficult to believe.

 

He’d had him convinced, once, finally, years into their relationship - not only that he loved him, but that he was worthy of it. That it was safe to accept it, to let Aziraphale love him. That he wouldn’t somehow ruin and corrupt Aziraphale, simply by loving him in return. 

 

And then… Gabriel

 

Time for him later. Crowley needs you now. 

 

I do love you,” Aziraphale promised. “And I’m finished with hiding it, Crowley. No more secrets. You - you said that morning, before - before they took you…” Crowley flinched a little against him, and Aziraphale’s arms tightened around him, protectively. “... you said… you were tired of being my secret… and I don’t want you to be. Not ever again. I want… the whole universe to know: I love you. I’m yours. And there’ll never be anyone else for me.” 

 

Crowley was very quiet, but Aziraphale could feel the slight tremor in his shoulders, heard the soft hitch of his breath. He kissed his hair again, just a soft brush of his lips, before speaking again, his own voice thick with unshed tears. 

 

That’s why. If it means that - that bastard can never touch you again, well - that’s quite an enticing side benefit.” 

 

They fell silent after that for a while… and a while after that, Crowley did finally drift off in Aziraphale’s arms. Aziraphale reached for his book on the coffee table, but found that it was impossible to focus. When Crowley woke up a little later, it was just to move to the bed where he could sleep properly.

 

Aziraphale felt a little sad, a little guilty. He supposed it was a natural response for many people - most certainly for Crowley - to hide away in sleep when things became a bit too overwhelming. He moved to his desk with a couple of ancient texts, and settled in to try to study a bit. After a while, he found his mind engrossed enough to momentarily forget about the conversation, and his ill-fated proposal. 

 

It was several hours later when Crowley emerged from the bedroom, slipping up behind Aziraphale and embracing him, his chin resting on Aziraphale’s shoulder and his long arms draped around his neck. Aziraphale smiled as he turned to kiss his cheek. Crowley smiled faintly in return, but then his expression became pensive and thoughtful, and Aziraphale prepared himself for another question. 

 

“You said it was ‘not without consequence,” Crowley reminded him, his voice hoarse with sleep. “So… what does that mean? Define ‘consequence’.” 

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale felt himself blush a little, cleared his throat, self-conscious. “Well, I rather meant… that you’d be more or less… well, stuck with me.” 

 

Crowley let out a derisive little huff. “You’re ridiculous,” he muttered, turning his face to press a kiss into Aziraphale’s neck, and the angel felt his embarrassed blush bloom into a warm swelling heat in his chest. “Thought we were talking about consequences , not benefits .”

 

Aziraphale turned his chair away from the desk and toward Crowley, who settled comfortably in his lap for a few minutes of lazy, gentle kissing, before reluctantly getting up and heading toward the kitchen to see to his plant. Aziraphale watched him go with grateful affection, desperately relieved that he hadn’t inadvertently destroyed what they had with his hasty proposal. With a happy, if slightly impatient, sigh, he returned his focus to the books spread out across his desk, trying to better understand the bond he was asking Crowley to form with him. 

 

Besides the marks - matching, miraculous in origin - there were other things as well. 

 

“In the eyes of God, two become one…”

 

Aziraphale knew what that phrasing meant in terms of human marriage, and it was reasonable to assume it meant something similar when it came to a pair of angels - but for an angel and a demon? He had to wonder what that might mean, in a practical sense. 

 

Would his “holiness” somehow raise Crowley out of his Fallen state? Would Aziraphale end up falling, to be like Crowley? 

 

Or perhaps the reference was to something else entirely, and he was completely missing the point. 

 

“Crowley, darling?” he called out toward the kitchen where he’d last seen him disappear. 

 

He frowned when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs from the shop. 

 

Then, he saw Crowley’s face - tear-streaked, pale, eyes large and haunted. 

 

The heat of anger in Aziraphale’s chest flared into a raging flame, as he rose from his seat and went to Crowley, putting his arms around him and holding him close as he cried against his shoulder. 

 

“How long was he here for?” Aziraphale asked softly, dreading the answer. 

 

“Not long,” Crowley whispered. “A - a few minutes. I - I walked away. Closed the door and walked away.” 

 

Yes , my love, I’m so proud of you,” Aziraphale told him, fiercely encouraging. “Come, let’s sit down, come on…” They sat together on the sofa for a little while in silence, before Aziraphale added, a little sadly, “You don’t have to go downstairs at all when he comes here. You know that. You don’t have to listen to him.” 

 

Gabriel had come to the door at least twice since the first time - that Aziraphale knew of. Each time, he told Crowley this. 

 

Each next time... Crowley went to the door anyway. 

 

Crowley didn’t say anything, just remained quiet in Aziraphale’s arms, still, as he gradually regained his composure. When he carefully pushed himself up, out of the angel’s embrace, Aziraphale could feel that something was off, even before he took in the cool, distant expression on Crowley’s face, the way he wouldn’t look Aziraphale in the eye. 

 

Crowley swallowed slowly, closed his eyes for a moment. “I did a lot of things I didn’t have to, you know,” he remarked, with a forced casual tone that still didn’t quite mask the vicious disgust, the self-loathing, in his words. “He didn’t always… have to force me.” 

 

Crowley …” 

 

Aziraphale had to try to stop him - but Crowley did not want to be stopped. 

 

“Did you know I tried to get him to fuck me sometimes?” Crowley did meet Aziraphale’s eyes then - challenging, defiant, daring him to say it was okay, that he should be excused or forgiven for that . “Didn’t want him to slap me around, or - or use my ribs for a punching bag, so I’d - I’d go to my knees for him. Chose to - to touch him. To tempt him. ‘Til he’d do what - what I wanted.” 

 

The raw pain underlying the words was so thick that Aziraphale was fairly choking on it. He felt a fresh wave of rage building deep down in his chest, because he knew this wasn’t coming out of nowhere, it was no coincidence that it was immediately following one of Gabriel’s little visits. But Aziraphale swiftly stifled his anger at the archangel, anger that, in the wake of his rather aggressive confession, Crowley would certainly misinterpret. 

 

Instead, he focused on Crowley.

 

Aziraphale had no doubt that Crowley absolutely did not want the things that he was describing. It had been nothing but sheer survival. Aziraphale knew that. He also knew exactly why Crowley was choosing to bring this up now . He didn’t want Aziraphale to end up “stuck with him”. Bless him, he wanted his angel to know what he was getting into. 

 

Aziraphale did know. He wanted to get into it… and never get out. 

 

He reached out a gentle hand to touch Crowley’s face, ignoring it when Crowley flinched a little, even though it made his heart ache to see it - as if on some level, some deep down part of Crowley still expected that Aziraphale might slap him for his defiance, or for his deliberately offensive words. Crowley’s eyes darted to Aziraphale’s hand for a moment in surprise, before he looked up at him, eyes wide and wary. 

 

“Brave, clever boy,” Aziraphale said with clear admiration, meeting Crowley’s visible shock with a warm smile. “You did what you had to do, to keep him from hurting you quite as badly, in an impossible situation.” His smile went steely and cold as he concluded, “And now we’re going to make him pay. For every single time he ever touched you.” 

 

Crowley tried it again the next morning, over breakfast. 

 

“Sometimes he was kind.” 

 

Aziraphale’s teacup paused on its way to his lips for just the briefest second, before he lifted it the rest of the way and took a sip, as he watched Crowley and listened for him to go on.

 

“Sometimes, when he’d taken it a bit too far - hurt me a bit too much, he’d just - he’d hold me.” 

 

Aziraphale did not allow himself to flinch, because Crowley was watching for it, waiting for his words to hit their mark so he could know that it was officially too much , that Aziraphale couldn’t take it - and Aziraphale could take it, he would, no matter what, because Crowley was worth it . So he kept his expression calm but attentive, nodding as if that was completely normal and understandable and not a mental image that made him want to vomit up his breakfast and carve Gabriel’s vile heart out - not necessarily in that order.

 

“He’d touch me. Gently. Not to hurt me, just - to comfort me. And tell me what a good boy I was.” Crowley glared up at Aziraphale, eyes defiantly glittering with tears. “I liked it. I tried to get him to do more of that. Tried to be so very good for him, so that he’d touch me like that . Like a - a beaten dog hoping it’d be pet this time instead of kicked.” 

 

Aziraphale was quiet for a moment, measuring his words, preparing them carefully. At last he spoke, with a soft, disarming smile. “You know… I appreciate a really good meal.” 

 

Crowley blinked at him, surprised and confused. “... Yeah?” he replied at last, trying, and not quite managing to maintain his challenging, vaguely hostile demeanor.

 

“But… if I was starving… genuinely starving because I’d had nothing for so long… longer than I could remember…” Aziraphale met Crowley’s eyes, willing him to see the understanding, the love he felt for him despite his efforts to break it. “... then, in that situation, someone else’s leftovers… scraps from the rubbish bin… whatever I could get my hands on to just survive …”

 

“You can’t starve,” Crowley pointed out, his words a listless whisper as he dropped his gaze, sitting back in his chair - defeated. He shook his head a little as Aziraphale rose from his seat to make his way around the table, then knelt facing Crowley and took hold of his hands. They were trembling as Crowley whispered, “I - I was so weak. I - shouldn’t have…” 

 

“You needed it, Crowley. I know that. No one can survive for that long without the slightest gentle touch… a bit of comfort, especially in the midst of so much suffering…”

 

“I - I let him…” Crowley lowered his head, tears falling in dark, wet drops on his jeans. “I don’t deserve to have you, angel. I - I’ve been… unfaithful. Physically. Emotionally…”

 

“Nonsense,” Aziraphale assured him, trying to meet his eyes with a warm smile. “You’ve been as faithful as you could possibly be. You did whatever you had to do , to make sure that you could come home to me… to survive , my love…”

 

With an effort, Crowley lifted his faltering gaze, finally staring into Aziraphale’s eyes - bewildered and doubtful. “You - you forgive me?” he whispered. 

 

Aziraphale leaned in closer, holding Crowley’s gaze, his voice hushed but fervent. “There is nothing to forgive .” He rose up on his knees and took Crowley’s face in his hands, his thumb gently brushing away a tear from beneath his eye. “My darling boy… you can keep on trying to come up with things you think will change my mind… horrors of this past year you’ve spent away from me that you believe will somehow make me see you as - as less . You can try and try to make me see you in the way that he made you see yourself - but that will never happen .”

 

Quietly, Crowley broke down, his trembling hands reaching up to cover Aziraphale’s hands, tears slipping through his lowered lashes as Aziraphale continued, warm and earnest and reassuring. 

 

“None of the unjust, cruel torments he visited upon you will ever make me see you as any less than brave, and strong, and the most faithful and loving you could possibly have been, Crowley. Because you endured it for me . You survived - to come home to me . And no matter what - I’m not going anywhere. Not unless you hold the door open and boot me out, love.” 

 

He laughed softly, and Crowley laughed with him through his tears, pointing out weakly, “‘S your place…”

 

“Yours, too,” Aziraphale insisted. “If you want it.” He took a deep breath, then continued, “You’ll never be alone in that darkness again - never have to survive on scraps of affection. Because I’ll always love you, more than my own life. I’ll always be here , my love… always. If you’ll have me. And it’s not because I love all living things, and it’s not because I feel some need to save you - it’s because you , Crowley - are the only one in 6000 years I’ve ever loved this way, and if I live another 6000 years… I don’t want a moment of it to not have you in it.”

 

Crowley closed his eyes, turned his mouth into Aziraphale’s palm to brush a kiss into it. He swallowed slowly. 

 

“I will,” he whispered. 

 

Aziraphale smiled, gently caressing Crowley’s face - and then his heart stopped for a moment when Crowley opened his eyes again and looked at him and repeated the words… soft, intent. 

 

I will .” 

 

Suddenly Aziraphale’s heart was racing, as understanding slowly dawned. “You - you will? You mean, you will ?”

 

Crowley laughed through his tears, rolling his eyes. “Bloody - yes , angel, all right? Yes, I will !” 

 

Aziraphale stared at him in wonder for a long moment, scarcely daring to believe it - and then all at once, Aziraphale was the one who was just sobbing , so overwhelmed with relief and love and gratitude. And Crowley was the one who was comforting him, as he wrapped his arms around him, and drew him in close, whispering soothing sounds against his ear and kissing the salt of his tears from his trembling lips. 

Chapter Text

The Archangel Gabriel was never nervous. 

 

He was a creature of power, and authority, feared by many, respected by most - and generally speaking, he feared no one. Angels did as he told them. His plans succeeded. He got what he wanted. And he was most definitely never nervous. 

 

The Archangel Gabriel was never nervous - but he was right now, as he paced back and forth in the hallway outside Crowley’s room, his jaw locked with anger, tugging at his hair in frustration. 

 

Michael had done this on purpose - springing this on him at the last possible moment, with no warning, so that he couldn’t possibly rig the results… so that he wouldn’t have time to prepare Crowley, to coach him. He smiled to himself a little, taking a deep breath as he stopped outside the door. 

 

Michael didn’t know what he knew. 

 

Gabriel had all the time he could ever need. 

 

He snapped his fingers and felt the electric crackle, the unnatural stillness that immediately surrounded him as time stopped. He considered just walking into the room, but decided against it. He wanted Crowley a bit off balance, acutely vulnerable. He took him by surprise, instead, snapping his fingers again and simply appearing in the center of Crowley’s room, facing the bed - because of course Crowley was in the bed, hiding in his sweet little nest as if it could somehow protect him from whatever Gabriel decided he wanted to do to him. 

 

It was fucking adorable.

 

So was the way his eyes went wide and panicked, the blankets tangling around his long limbs as the demon scrambled desperately to get out of the bed and to his knees before his master, the moment he materialized in front of him. Gabriel suppressed the smile of amusement that rose to his lips at the sight. It wouldn’t do to show Crowley even the slightest trace of softness or affection - not just yet. 

 

He circled the kneeling demon slowly, taking in his healing wings, still torn and burned in places. He considered for a moment before passing a hand across them behind Crowley’s back and healing the remaining damage. 

 

Crowley’s shoulders drew in a little, and he began to tremble, even as he whispered a halting, uncertain, “Th-thank you, master.” 

 

Gabriel allowed himself a smile behind Crowley’s back, relishing his little shudder as he gently traced his fingertips along the upper edge of Crowley’s wing. Crowley’s fear just proved how well he’d come to know and predict his master’s preferences. Healing was usually nothing more than Gabriel’s preparation to inflict some new suffering upon him - and he knew it. 

 

Gabriel snapped his fingers, and Crowley flinched violently - but all Gabriel had done was clothe him. 

 

He needed to be presentable for this. 

 

He paced back around to face Crowley, crouching down and reaching up a hand to run gentle fingers through his hair, observing the way Crowley tensed, but did not pull away. He was shaking, braced for suffering - but Gabriel waited just a little longer, waited until Crowley was really on edge before breaking the silence. 

 

“You’re going to be tested today,” he informed him. “Before the Archangel Michael.” 

 

Crowley looked up at him sharply, through wide, startled eyes - and Gabriel really wasn’t surprised. Crowley rarely had any interactions with other angels, only Gabriel - and the whole affair had come as a shock to him , too. It was an understandable reaction, one that under ordinary circumstances, Gabriel might have let slide, if he was feeling particularly charitable. 

 

He wasn’t. 

 

He could use this; Crowley had to get the message - had to know that nothing but complete submission was acceptable today.

 

Gabriel stood up, abruptly towering over Crowley, who immediately lowered his gaze, lowered his entire body, curling in on himself as he realized his mistake. Gabriel paced away from him a bit with a bitter, angry laugh, running a frustrated hand down his own face - allowing the nerves he felt to manifest themselves into rage, to pour forth in his sarcastic words. 

 

“And of course the very first thing you do, when you find out you’re about to be tested on your obedience … is to look me in the fucking eye, like the stupid useless little fuck-up that you are!” 

 

Crowley flinched away from him, closing his eyes, letting his words out in a breathless, shaky hiss. 

 

“I-I’m s-s-sorry, master, I’m sorry…” 

 

Any other day, Gabriel might have tolerated it. He usually did. Crowley should be sorry, he should recognize when he’d fucked up. But today - today, he couldn’t afford to be the slightest bit tolerant. 

 

The rules had to be clear. And they had to be obeyed. 

 

He turned on Crowley and smacked him, hard, across the face, so hard that his hand throbbed after. He ignored it and reached down, snatching a handful of Crowley’s hair and viciously jerking him up higher onto his knees, leaning down into his face. 

 

“You do not speak unless I tell you to!” he snarled. 

 

Crowley nodded desperately, his teeth biting into his already bleeding lip to stifle a choked, pleading whimper. He was clearly very confused, and very scared - and Gabriel really couldn’t blame him. He’d sort of thrown the whole testing thing at Crowley without any warning, and was deliberately behaving erratically enough to keep Crowley off balance, to keep him scared - because he had to understand how vitally important this was. 

 

He had to understand - they had to get this right

 

Gabriel lowered his voice as he crouched down in front of Crowley again, his fist tangled in the demon’s hair holding his face inches from Gabriel’s as he spoke to him with warning, measured words. 

 

“You do not look an angel in the eyes. You do not speak without permission. Do not pull away when I touch you. Or when they touch you. You do every single little thing you are told to do, and if you forget the rules, Crowley, if you fuck this up … do you know what happens then?” 

 

Crowley shook his head what little he could in Gabriel’s wrenching grasp, his wide eyes desperately focused on the front of Gabriel’s shirt. 

 

“They’ll say you’ve failed your training,” Gabriel explained, softer now, almost patient. He eased his hand in Crowley’s hair, choosing instead to stroke gently through it. “And we’ll start all over again. Right back… at the beginning…” 

 

As he spoke, he traced his thumb slowly, lightly, just beneath Crowley’s eye. He heard the panicked hitch of his breath, saw the tears welling up. 

 

The archangel’s voice was barely over a whisper. “Is that what you want?” 

 

“N-no, master, please…” The words were almost a sob of sheer terror. “Please, don’t, I’ll do whatever you say…”

 

“Oh, you’ll do that no matter what I do,” Gabriel snapped, tightening his hand in Crowley’s hair again, dragging his head back. “And you’ll do whatever they say, too.” He made his voice very soft, even as he twisted his fist in Crowley’s hair until he whimpered with pain. “But… if it comes to a choice. What they say… or what I say…”

 

“You, master,” Crowley gasped out without a trace of hesitation, in a desperate rush. “I-I’ll do what you say.” 

 

And yeah, that felt pretty damn good… but Gabriel wasn’t sure yet that he’d made his point. Just in case his meaning wasn’t clear, he hauled Crowley in closer, sliding his free hand around him to touch his mark through the black shirt Crowley now wore - smiling at the way Crowley just crumpled under the touch, his shoulders drawn in and quaking, his expression taut with terror. 

 

Gabriel leaned in until Crowley’s disheveled hair brushed against his lips as he spoke, his voice a low, warning growl in the demon’s ear. “You don’t tell them… about this.” He paused a moment, then slid his hand slowly down across the coarse black denim that covered Crowley’s ass, gripping the back of his thigh and jerking him in closer. “You don’t tell them…” 

 

“I won’t,” Crowley whispered, breathless, pleading. “I s-swear I won’t, master… please …” The last word was a choked sob. 

 

Gabriel had to admit, if only to himself - perhaps he was pushing Crowley a little hard. 

 

“Shhh,” he soothed him. His hand in Crowley’s hair went gentle again, fingers against his scalp caressing away the sting, his other hand rising to cradle the side of Crowley’s face. “I know you won’t. I know you’re gonna be good for me, aren’t you?” 

 

Crowley nodded, tears streaking his face to mingle with the blood smeared at the corner of his mouth, running down his chin. Already a bruise was beginning to form, high on his cheek, where Gabriel had slapped him. 

 

“The best you’ve ever been for me…”

 

Crowley nodded again, his breath shallow and shaky, a convulsive swallow visible in his throat. 

 

“Good,” Gabriel reassured him, drawing Crowley’s head down to press a kiss to his forehead. “That’s very good, sweetheart…” He kept gently stroking Crowley’s hair, as his other hand moved to pass carefully across Crowley’s face, healing away the damage he’d just done. 

It needed to look as if Crowley obeyed without being beaten into it. 

 

To be fair… he usually did. 

 

He allowed Crowley a few moments to regain his composure. He wanted him off balance enough to be too scared to dare cross his master - but not so off balance that he would make some anxious mistake and fail the test. 

 

He led Crowley out of his cell, softly snapping his fingers out of Crowley’s eyeline and restarting time just as they started down the hall. He ushered Crowley past him into a large, empty room, where Crowley slid to his knees without being told… his submissive stance perfect: head bowed, shoulders back, wrists crossed behind his back. Gabriel allowed them both the brief reassurance of a gentle hand at the back of Crowley’s head, stroking his hair for just a moment - until he heard the footsteps of several angels approaching. 

 

Michael, and two others - Hael and Remiel, two underlings whose names Gabriel wouldn’t have even remembered if they hadn’t been chosen to be on this special project committee with him, by Michael herself.  

 

“Gabriel,” Michael greeted him with a nod, and he nodded in return, before glancing down at Crowley. 

 

His eyes were closed, and he was visibly trembling, but he maintained the required pose, quiet and submissive. The three angels circled the kneeling demon, looking him over closely, and Gabriel fought back the possessive impulse he felt to move between them and Crowley. That unfamiliar nervous feeling was in full force by this point… the irrational fear that this would result in their taking Crowley away from him. 

 

Irrational. It was, he knew. Because Crowley was going to do well. 

 

And he did do well. 

 

He followed the simple orders given to him without hesitation - standing when instructed to do so, crossing the room, raising his arms, his wings, turning, kneeling again - all so that the rest of the committee could more closely inspect him. Gabriel was fairly certain that they were looking for signs of recent injury, and was very glad he’d chosen to heal him. 

 

Recent injury would be an indication that Crowley was still requiring punishment in order to be obedient. And he wasn’t, not anymore. 

 

These days, the demon’s punishment was usually solely for Gabriel’s pleasure. 

 

Once Crowley was kneeling in position again, Michael addressed him directly. 

 

“What are you, Crowley?” 

 

Crowley blinked, looking a little confused, and a lot terrified. He swallowed slowly, clearly scared of getting the wrong answer. The question did seem painfully obvious. His voice was very soft, uncertain, a little hoarse from disuse. 

 

“I’m - a demon?” 

 

Gabriel wanted to slap him. 

 

Stupid little whore…

 

Michael was patient. “Yes, but here, in Heaven - what are you, specifically?” 

 

Crowley drew in a soft, shaky breath, his eyes focused on the floor at her feet as he tried again. “I’m a prisoner,” he said, then shook his head a little, correcting, “A - a slave.” 

 

Finally he got it right. Gabriel controlled the release of his own sigh, disguising his relief. 

 

“Whose slave?” Michael persisted. 

 

Crowley glanced up at Gabriel for just an instant, not quite reaching his eyes - and Gabriel’s heart clenched. If Crowley said his name, he’d be taken from him for sure. But then Crowley refocused his gaze on Michael’s pristine sensible heels and answered in a soft, humble tone.

 

“Heaven’s.” 

 

Yes. Good boy. 

 

“As you can see, he’s been very well trained,” Gabriel remarked, not bothering to disguise the note of pride in his voice. “He’ll do whatever he’s told.” 

 

“He’s hardly been given anything challenging as of yet,” Michael pointed out mildly. 

 

Gabriel grinned. “Watch this.” 

 

He took out the blessed blade from his inside coat pocket, the one he’d used on Crowley countless times. He noted the way Crowley’s eyes focused on it, and he tensed just slightly, but didn’t move, didn’t resist in any way as Gabriel approached him. The archangel pushed lightly on Crowley’s forehead with two fingers, and Crowley easily moved with the motion, obediently tilting his head back and exposing his throat. 

 

“Be still,” Gabriel ordered. “Do not move.” 

 

He turned away a little, toying with the blade in his hands - and then abruptly spun back around toward Crowley, extending his arm with the blade poised to strike in his hand. He didn’t halt the motion until the edge of the blade was a bare fraction of an inch from Crowley’s throat.

 

Crowley never even flinched. 

 

Gabriel felt a rush of pride, and something akin to affection. 

 

Crowley was nailing this. He was perfectly good and obedient and submissive, perfectly…

 

Well, he was perfect

 

Feeling more than a little generous, Gabriel wanted to give him a little bit of praise, some encouragement that he was doing well - but he knew that he couldn’t, not in front of the rest of the committee. 

 

“I’m not sure that’s so impressive, Gabriel,” Michael remarked with a faint smile. “He may have known you wouldn’t actually do it - and that he’d be punished if he disobeyed. Simple avoidance of pain and punishment is nothing more than the natural reaction of any intelligent creature.” 

 

Gabriel nodded slowly. She had a point. He thought quickly; how could he prove that this was more than that - that Crowley would literally do anything Gabriel commanded? His mind went back to a recent memory, one he’d played over in his mind repeatedly since creating it. 

 

Crowley’s hands, seared and trembling but forcing themselves to respond in spite of the pain - taking up blessed chains and obediently attaching them to his sensitive, vulnerable wings - at Gabriel’s command. He smiled a little, allowing himself a moment’s satisfaction in the memory - but more in what it meant for this moment. 

 

This would work. 

 

He turned toward Crowley again. “Hold out your hand.” 

 

Crowley obeyed without hesitation, without lifting his head, holding out his right hand, while keeping the left still in position behind his back. Gabriel turned the dagger and placed the hilt in Crowley’s hand. Crowley visibly startled a little, blinking down at it, swallowing slowly - but he didn’t look up at Gabriel’s face, kept his eyes locked onto it, even when Gabriel crouched down low to face him. 

 

“Use it,” he commanded, taking Crowley’s left wrist and pulling it around so that it was extended as well, then dragging a single finger in a diagonal line across Crowley’s forearm. “Right here.” 

 

Crowley’s breath hitched a little. 

 

Michael frowned. “The collar will…”

 

“He knows exactly what the collar will do.” Gabriel’s tone was mild, his eyes locked onto Crowley. He knew Crowley would not miss the subtle underlying note of warning in his words. 

 

Crowley drew in a shaky breath, his hand flexing around the handle of the blade. He lifted it above his left arm, biting his lip - then closed his eyes, and plunged it downward in a smooth, straight line. Blood flowed from the wound immediately - a moment before the collar fired. Crowley’s entire body spasmed, and he dropped the blade, barely managing to stifle a moan of pain as he raised both shaking hands as if to cover his throbbing head. 

 

Gabriel grabbed his right wrist, pulled it down away from his face before letting it go, his voice hard and unyielding.

 

“Pick it up.” 

 

Crowley fumbled blindly for the blade on the floor in front of him before finding it and taking it up again, though his hand was shaking almost too hard to hold it, blood still spilling from the cut on his arm onto the white tile. 

 

“Again,” Gabriel ordered, allowing himself a slight smile. “Deeper.” 

 

Crowley drew in a shaky breath, wincing, but nodding wearily through the pain, positioning the blade over his left arm again. He made a second cut next to the first, quite a bit deeper, but jagged and crossing over the first cut due to the violent tremors still wracking his body from the collar - which was still sending pulse after pulse of agonizing punishment through the demon’s body.

 

Gabriel glanced up at Michael to see that she looked dismayed, slightly horrified - but definitely impressed. 

 

He’d made his point, Gabriel decided, taking in the expressions on the faces of the other angels as well. It was time to end this spectacle, before the distaste they felt could begin to outweigh the positive impression made by Crowley’s obedience. He reached for the blade, and Crowley’s hand immediately fell open, instantly relinquishing it. 

 

The moment the archangel touched it, the blade became clean, and Gabriel tucked it away into his coat again. “Very good,” he said softly. He reached out to grasp Crowley’s bloodied left arm, and Crowley yielded easily to his touch, pliant and malleable as Gabriel passed his other hand over the wound, and it vanished away. “Back in position,” Gabriel ordered quietly as he released Crowley’s arm. 

 

Weary, shaking with the effort through the pain, Crowley straightened up on his knees, bowing his head and putting both arms behind his back again, wrists crossed. Silent tears were flowing from his eyes, dropping to mingle with the blood on the tile. Gabriel took a moment to wave his hand over the mess, and every trace of red vanished as well. 

 

Finally, Gabriel reached for the collar, adjusting the setting and turning it back to 02. 

 

“Thank you,” Crowley whispered - then immediately cringed a little, closing his eyes and biting his lip. He clearly wasn’t sure if he should have spoken or not. 

 

Gabriel wasn’t really sure, either. 

 

He glanced warily up at the observing angels. None of them seemed to have noticed Crowley’s brief lapse; he wasn’t certain any of them knew the exact rules he’d been imposing on the demon, anyway. All three of them just seemed impressed by Crowley’s unfailing obedience. 

 

Michael slowly approached Crowley, moving to stand in front of him, and Gabriel rose to his feet again and moved away to allow her access. She took his place, crouched down facing Crowley. He glanced up just a little, not meeting her eyes, swallowing slowly. 

 

“Very impressive,” Michael observed, her tone mild and reassuring. 

 

Gabriel didn’t answer; he knew she was talking to Crowley. 

 

She’d never have used such a gentle tone with him

 

Crowley was a demon. A lesser being, an asset to be used. Michael was by no means above hurting him or allowing him to be hurt, when and if she felt it was necessary. But Crowley had performed perfectly thus far - perfect obedience, despite the obvious agony that was only just now visibly fading away. His huge golden eyes were wide and fearful, his demeanor utterly submissive, his breath shallow and shaky as he waited for her judgment. 

 

Gabriel wasn’t surprised if she felt a certain sympathy toward him.

 

“You’ve done very well, Crowley,” Michael said quietly. “Followed every command of your keeper, immediately and without question.”

 

Crowley hesitated a moment, visibly uncertain as to whether or not he should respond. At last he ventured a halting, cautious, “Y-yes. Yes… ma’am.” 

 

Michael was silent for a moment, looking him over, taking him in with watchful eyes that settled on his face when she spoke again, softly. 

 

“And what of the angel Aziraphale? Tell me of your dealings with him .” 

 

Gabriel closed his eyes fo