It's damp in Hell.
Not quite what Aziraphale had been expecting, honestly.
The classic depictions of flames and torture had flooded his mind when discussing the plan with Crowley, but instead he was met with the dark, wet stuffy air of a corporate basement. Posters and paper scraps were stuck to the wall wherever they could stay on; soggy pieces of pulp on the ground were all that remained of previous messages. No one had ever bothered to clean them up.
The only lights are flickering white bulbs, casting the hallway in a sickly light. Whatever air is left over from the panting breaths of demons is heavy and difficult to swallow. The smell of sweat and stagnant water seems to permeate every breeze Aziraphale is fortunate enough to walk through.
Grimey, desperate faces pressed in on Aziraphale as he walked through the crowd. It was hard to keep up Crowley's swaggering walk while so many eyes were trying to pick him apart. He schools his face back into a classic Flash Bastard emotion as his thoughts race.
Is this what Crowley reports back to? This is, for lack of a better word, his home?
As Aziraphale enters the courtroom, he can't seem to shake a nagging sense of familiarity. For all the walls and rules Heaven and Hell put up to divide themselves, they're really quite similar, and that scares him more than anything else down here.
Lord Beelzebub is exactly as Crowley had described them. Aziraphale manages to make a few jokes at the decorations, but it's only really to keep up the disguise. When Michael enters the room, Aziraphale's heart clenches. He knew some sort of communication was happening between the two sides, but to see it displayed prominently in front of him was a slap to the face.
Aziraphale knows deep in his core that Heaven would not be forgiving in the slightest if they had found out about his unlikely friendship with Crowley. It just makes it hurt more to see Michael nod at Hastur in greeting. The holy water begins to spill out from the pitcher, clearing the stench from the air but leaving the scent of bleach and cleaning products hanging just as heavy and stifling in its place.
As Aziraphale stares down at the tub rapidly filling with water, he feels sweat sliding down Crowley's back. If they hadn't read that prophecy--if, if, if, a thousand different things had gone wrong--this is how he would have lost him.
They would have been separated, and Crowley would have been dragged down here with his head held high, because he was damned anyway but it would have been a personal stain to let them take him without a fight. He would have stared down at the pitcher of water just like Aziraphale is doing now, standing the same way with his head tilted slightly to the side. His brain would try to come up with a thousand rapid-fire plans to escape, just like how he had rescued Aziraphale from danger so many times before.
But Crowley would not have made it out that time. He would have vanished, surrounded by demons--fellow fallen angels--who had known him for millennia, demons who hadn't an ounce of love for him in their hearts. His last sight would have been desperate, sunken faces who were to let all their problems sink with him as he dissolved away.
Aziraphale swallows the lump in his throat as he slowly takes off Crowley's jacket.
Heaven is cold.
Crowley didn't have many memories left of his time in Heaven, but he was sure it used to be warmer. He vaguely recalled soaking in sun rays on top of clouds, and laughing with friends in the warm shadows cast by white pillars.
Now, all that's left is a bleached office with the A/C turned all the way up. There are no messes or even stacks of paperwork to make it seem more homely; Heaven looks like a house purged of belongings before relatives come to stay for the holidays.
Is this really the place that Aziraphale would have to go to if Heaven had won the war? Lifetimes upon lifetimes of shushing, of hands just slightly too far away to touch, of lights so unflinchingly bright that even the afterimages leave headaches in their wake. Suddenly, the comments Crowley made about eternity in a bookshop years ago seem too real and harsh to be taken as anything resembling a joke.
The kidnapping in broad daylight seemed more like Hell's style, Crowley muses as he tests his bonds. Although the line between Heaven and Hell seems to be much fuzzier than it used to be.
Crowley raises his head--Aziraphale's head, technically--at the sound of footsteps. Gabriel looms over him from a distance, as if Aziraphale were something he could catch a disease from. Crowley resists the urge to spit in his face.
Crowley forces himself to ignore half the words Gabriel is saying. He has to keep up his Aziraphale facade, and it wouldn't do to break character now just because some stupid Archangel thinks he's hot shit. Uriel comes to undo his bonds and he stands up, rubbing at his wrists.
The three Archangels stare him down, patiently waiting for him to walk into the flames. No trial, no audience to his demise. Aziraphale would have been consumed by flames without a soul to bear testimony, since these shit-for-brain angels clearly didn't have a conscience among them. He would have died far away from his warm, cluttered bookshop, cut off from the world he had so desperately tried to protect.
"May we meet on a better occasion," Crowley says through a smile, because he knows this is what Aziraphale would have done. Offered the angels forgiveness, even when Heaven had stooped so low as to Fall themselves.
"Shut your stupid mouth, and die already," hisses Gabriel through a grin, his purple eyes flashing, reflecting back the hellfire in front of him. The expression is a familiar one to anyone from Downstairs; unrestrained cruelty was allowed to take up full residence on the Archangel's face as if it had been there all along. And perhaps it had.
Crowley steps forward into the flames willingly. Not because he was immune to their heat, but because it's what Aziraphale would have done. As the light wraps around him, the hate for Heaven pooling in the bottom of Crowley's heart seems to burn hotter than the hellfire around him.
He can't help the tiniest bit of a grin at the Archangels' expressions.
Aziraphale takes a sort of sick joy in teasing Michael and the others. Really, is it such a shame if he gets to cut loose once in a while? And if his motivation behind it has something to do with Crowley's still-shaking hands and the cold caress of holy water against his back, no one's about to comment on it.
Aziraphale takes a deep breath of London air, surprised on some level that he would prefer the smog of the city to anything else. But Hell--and Heaven, he supposes--is an exception. He would rather have many things than the stench of rot and bleach.
Crowley--or Aziraphale, rather, he's still wearing white hair and a tartan collar--is already waiting on the bench for him when he arrives. Aziraphale scans him over to make sure he's all present and unharmed before sitting down. Can't ever be too careful, he thinks.
The swap back is relatively uneventful compared to the rest of their afternoon. They share a laugh over angels and bathtowels, but both of them focus more on the morbid realizations cradled in their chests. The words they want to say don't come out in the park, or even at the Ritz, when Aziraphale leans into Crowley's side for the first time in milennia.
It's not until Crowley's sunk deep into his fourth bottle of a fine red vintage, safely cocooned in the back room of the bookshop, that he can spit out his thoughts.
"No trial," he says.
"Pardon?" Aziraphale looks up from the depths of his own wineglass, squinting at his companion. He struggles to sit up in his armchair. Perhaps they had gone a little bit overboard on the wine.
"They didn't give you a trial," Crowley repeats, sitting up slightly on the couch (if laying over the armrest could be considering sitting). "I know they probably had one planned out Downstairs--I taught 'em all about the justice system, y'know?--but I was expecting Heaven to be more. I'unno. Fair?"
Aziraphale swirls his glass, instinctively shying away from any topic that could incriminate Heaven. "You did get a trial, dear. Although I wouldn't call it 'fair' either. It's the thought that counts, I suppose."
Crowley takes a moment to be frustrated over the angel's ability to compose himself while drunk before continuing on with his thoughts. "For being all Holier-Than-Thou, I just thought Heaven was gonna be more knowledgeable about the whole thing. But they were just... just." He waves his hands around in the air aimlessly. "They s'pected you to give up to their ideals in the end. S'like they didn't know you at all."
Aziraphale wraps his mind around that as best he can before placing it aside with other thoughts to consider when he's less sloshed--like how Crowley seems to be more at home in his bookshop than he has anywhere else, or how his vibrant hair spills across the armrest of Aziraphale's favorite chair, or how Crowley had asked him barely a few days ago to run off to the stars by his side...
Instead, he tells Crowley about Hell's mock trial.
Crowley smirks at all the right bits, but he never laughs. Aziraphale has only seen Crowley smile, really smile, a few times over the course of six thousand years, and right now seems to be no exception. Crowley's only half here at the moment, part of his mind still in the top floor of a skyscraper, breathing in cold clouds and starched uniforms, and another part struggling to break free from the wretched muck and damp air of a basement far below them. Aziraphale is no better off, but his mind is more focused on recalling every time Crowley had come back from a meeting in hell to get drunk in the back room.
Aziraphale's mind flashes back to Spain, 1478. He had heard about the Spanish Inquisition's work and had been ordered not to interfere due to the amount of people Heaven had seen returning to church, but he was just certain there was some demonic force behind it. His rage whipped behind him like a cloak in a violent wind as he stormed through the streets of Madrid, bursting into bars and leaving just as suddenly when he couldn't find the person he was looking for.
By the time Aziraphale slammed open the fifteenth door, his mood was setting off minor miracles (well, these were temptations, technically speaking, but he would never admit to it) down the street. Oil lamps cracked and cats yowled at shapes only they could see. Aziraphale ignored the pissed and bewildered stares of the inn's patrons as he scanned his eyes across the room.
By the time his eyes landed on a shock of bright red hair, his legs were already moving him across the floor.
Crowley lay (because calling what he was doing 'sitting' would be doing a disservice to language) with his front half on the table in front of him and his legs up on the seat of the booth he was hiding in. He didn't raise his head from where it was buried in his arms as the angel came closer, instead clenching his fists as Aziraphale's shadow came to a halt above him.
"What, pray tell," the angel spat, watching Crowley jump slightly at the tone of his voice, "did you do?!"
Crowley only gave a minuscule shake of his head in response. Aziraphale's temper grew worse and somewhere on the other side of the bar came the sound of breaking glass as his energy leaked.
The angel grabbed Crowley's head--gently, even when he was this angry Aziraphale couldn't yet bring himself to hurt the demon, he had to hear the story from Crowley first--and lifted him up to look him in the eyes.
Aziraphale really wished he hadn't.
Once-golden eyes were a sickly yellow in the dim light of the inn. Crowley's hair, such a recognizable and vibrant red even from a distance, he found to be shockingly dirty and tangled now that he was touching it. Dark circles drooped from under Crowley's blank stare as the fists on the table clenched even tighter.
The demon halfheartedly tried to struggle away from Aziraphale's grip, only succeeding in drawing attention to the myriad of empty wine bottles scattered haphazardly on the table and floor. But that barely held Aziraphale's attention for more than a moment before his eyes snapped back up to Crowley's face, horrified.
Crowley was crying.
Big, gleaming tears tracked their way down his face as his shoulders shivered with what was left of an exhausted sob. If the angel looked hard enough, he saw the tears had tiny pinpricks of light in them, glowing like stars and tinting the water a familiar gold; it was as if Crowley's eyes were leaking color.
Snapping back to awareness, Aziraphale hurriedly pulled his hand out of Crowley's hair, half-hoping that his head would sink back to the table. Unfortunately for him, Crowley seemed to have nothing left to lose now that Aziraphale had seen him so uncomposed.
"Come to finish me off, hav'you?" he said without inflection as his words dripped like wine out of his mouth and spattered like blood on the table below.
"I..." Aziraphale whispered, his words stuck behind the anger rapidly disappearing in his throat. "Cr... Crowley, what happened?"
"Got a com'ndation," the demon recited the words like he'd been saying them for hours. He probably had. "Had'n even been in Spain. Dunno the las' time I was here."
Azirapale slowly moved some wine bottles to the ground in order to sit next to his friend. His guilt ate at him in waves; of course Crowley hadn't done this. Crowley was encouraging words on a wall and dinners in Rome and hiding children from a thunderstorm. Not this. Never this. Aziraphale cautiously put a hand on Crowley's back, rubbing in circles.
Crowley hiccuped, his sobs bursting back out of him as he curled into Aziraphale's side. "I did'n," he managed to say between heaving breaths. "I did'n do it, angel, I swear, you gotta b'lieve me."
"I do, dear," Aziraphale had replied, sounding just as choked up as the crying serpent in his arms. "I believe you."
The angel's mind is brought sharply back to the bookshop at the sound of books falling to the floor. Crowley has pushed himself back against the couch, staring at Aziraphale over his glasses in shock as a whirlwind of paper and books dives through the air around them.
"Sorry!" Aziraphale's hands flutter in the air, books dropping from a height of five feet or more as he struggles to regain his composure. "Sorry. Just... got a little bit emotional."
Crowley slowly relaxes himself in his seat again, roughly 20% more sober than a few minutes ago. "About what?"
The wine swirls in Aziraphale's head, lapping up against the side of his brain like the glass he holds in his hands. He isn't sure this was a great subject to talk about, but here they go anyway. "Spain. Hell."
Crowley's expression is already dimming, so Aziraphale stumbles ahead before he can say anything. "It's just, when I was Down There, I kept... getting stuck on... what if we didn't swap? What if..." he swallows around the feeling rising in his throat. "What if I had lost you?"
Crowley stares at him, then slowly raises his hand to his face to take off his glasses. "Angel?" he questions, but there's something under the tone of his words besides his newfound sobriety. Worry? Hope?
"I can't lose you to that place, Crowley," Aziraphale hurries. His eyes feel weird. Why do his eyes feel weird? "I would've... you would have died there, and--and no one there would have cared--"
He's cut off as a sob finally shoves itself out of his throat, sick of being kept down for so long. Oh, Aziraphale thinks as he buries his head in his hands. I'm crying.
It had been a very long time since the Principality of the Eastern Gate has cried.
Aziraphale looks up to a soft pressure on his wrist. Crowley's crouched next to him, his hand a gentle reassurance on one arm as the other reaches up to brush away tears. "It's okay," he whispers. "I'm not going anywhere. And neither are you, for that matter."
Aziraphale answers him with a shaky smile. "It'll take more than that to get rid of us," he agrees, but his words feel like they could be knocked over by a breeze.
Crowley takes all of this in without a word, then leans in and wraps his arms around Aziraphale. As he does so, the echoed voices of a Spanish inn seem to bounce around the walls of the bookshop, only growing louder when Aziraphale clutches at the back of Crowley's jacket. He could almost smell the wine.
"I thought about it too, angel," Crowley murmurs. He looks at Aziraphale's hair for a moment, second guessing himself on how far he can push the physical intimacy, before nervously sinking his hand into the white curls. Soft, he thinks. Aziraphale's tears stutter for a moment before he leans into the hand.
"I had to," Crowley continues. "I had to picture you there so I could mimic you, but when you walked into the hellfire you never walked out. A-And just the thought of it..."
"Oh, my dear," Aziraphale's arms tighten around him. "We're never going back there. To either of them."
They spend a long moment like that, clutching at each other in their arms, feeling the reassuring touches of ghostly wings brush against them. Finally, Crowley moves away, but he sits much closer on the couch than before.
It's a while until conversation comes back at full force, but their chests feel eased of that peculiar weight now. They sip at their wine, almost-smiles crossing their faces. Aziraphale is hit with the realization that sometime very soon, when they're less exhausted, he'll be able to see Crowley smile for real. The comfort of that thought spreads into the air, imperceptibly warming the back room. A soft, relieved feeling seems to permeate the whole area, which is promptly shattered by the grandfather clock ringing for midnight.
"I suppose I should be heading out, then," Crowley says, making no move to get up from the couch.
"Yes, of course," Aziraphale trails off, motionless.
They stare at each other in silence, and the seconds feel like hours, until Crowley finally stumbles to his feet. His limbs seem stiff as he walks over to the coat rack to grab his things.
It's not until Crowley starts to move towards the door that Aziraphale finally scrambles to his feet. The angel rushes over to Crowley's side, who stares at him, his hand hovering just above the doorknob.
"Uh," Aziraphale starts, already mentally smacking himself. "You could--well. You let me stay over at your apartment before, and I would be quite remiss if you did not allow me to return the favor."
Crowley's eyes grow wide behind his glasses, but he doesn't respond. Aziraphale pushes forward anyway, panicking. "I mean, you don't have to, but it's very late, and I've only got the one bed but I'm sure there's room for two--not that I sleep much, anyway, but--"
"Yes," Crowley breathes, and its only when the breath hits Aziraphale's face that the angel realizes in his panic he has continued to step forward, leaving them far too close together. "Yes, I'd love to."
"O-Oh," Aziraphale swallows, trying to tone down the flush he can feel crawling up his neck. "Tip-top."
Crowley's face breaks into a nervous grin. "Tip-top?"
"Oh, shut it," Aziraphale laughs. Crowley stares at him like he can't believe the sound he just heard, before his face softens into a smile. A real smile. Aziraphale's eyes flick over his face as he tries to memorize the lines, unsure of when he'll see one again.
Crowley drops his stuff back off at the coat rack and follows Aziraphale up the stairs. He's only been up here a couple times, and it was only ever to fetch a book or tie his angel asked for.
Aziraphale's bedroom is covered in tartan, naturally, but it's so cozy that Crowley finds it in him to forgive the angel for his crimes against style. There is, indeed, only one bed, but it seems large enough for two people. Aziraphale stares at it like he's not sure what to do with it.
Crowley takes of his jacket and shoes before miracling himself into some softer clothes. Aziraphale follows suit, his borderline-nightgown contrasting with Crowley's sleep shorts and t-shirt. An angel and demon look at each other and the bed between them apprehensively, the awkwardness in the room almost tangible. Then one of them laughs, and they dissolve into a giggling mess before they crawl under the sheets. Aziraphale snaps his fingers, turning out the light, before turning to face Crowley.
The golden eyes in the dark are warm, inviting, and Aziraphale can see (not for the first time) just how Eve was tempted to take the apple. There is nothing in that gaze that would be harmful. Instead, it invites him in, whispers promises of warm touches and lovely restaurants. The rustle of Crowley settling under the blankets whispers "I've got you, I'm here, you're safe, you've got me, you're here, I'm safe," like a mantra.
Aziraphale swallows back his nerves and lays his hand on top of Crowley's. A beat passes, and then the demon tilts his hand palm-up in order to lace their fingers together.
"This okay, angel?" Crowley asks, his voice soft and unsure in the dark.
"It's perfect," Aziraphale whispers back, a million unsaid things laying on his tongue. You're perfect. I'm sorry I told you that you go too fast. You are my friend. You're more than my friend. I'm so sorry.
The silence overtakes them, and the worry is starting to grow in their chests again. Crowley holds himself back, whispers in his mind chanting too soon, too fast. So he swallows back his words and gazes sleepily at Aziraphale in the dark, soaking in the warm of the blankets and the body laying just slightly too far away form him.
"Did you know," Aziraphale whispers, and Crowley startles. He hadn't realized he was staring. "that you were the only person at Eden to say something nice to me?"
"What?" Crowley asks, his mouth suddenly very dry. "But there were angels everywhere."
Aziraphale chokes on a laugh. "None of them cared, my dear. They just ordered me to the wall and told me the rules, then left. And then when I gave the sword away, I was so afraid to tell anyone about it, but... you told me I couldn't really do bad, and it eased my mind so much."
Crowley doesn't have the heart to tell Aziraphale that he had been slightly sarcastic, especially not now, so he just smiles instead and holds his hand a little tighter. "About the sword," the demon starts.
"Yes?" Aziraphale whispers, eyes wide.
"When you gave it away. I didn't expect angels to... well, you were just so nice. And none of the others even thought about helping them, but you were so willing to give up something that would definitely get you in trouble, and..." Crowley tries to swallow them down again, but the words are already spilling free from his mouth. "I think that was when I started to fall in love with you."
Aziraphale jumps slightly on the other side of the bed, and Crowley snatches his hand back like he's been burned. Stupid, stupid, he tells himself, ignoring the burning behind his eyes. He starts to turn away. "Sorry. Don't know why I said that. I know you don't want--whatever. Just ignore m--"
Crowley's cut off by a pressure on his face. It's too dark to see, so he opens his mouth to ask what it is, and then Aziraphale's kissing into his mouth and oh, they're kissing, aren't they?
He wraps his arms around the angel leaning into his half of the bed and buries his free hand into those soft curls. Aziraphale's fingers tangle into red hair in response and Crowley's breath hitches.
Thoroughly confused, but very happy, Crowley pulls back. Aziraphale chases after him for a second before remembering himself, panting. They're laying much closer together than before.
"Wh...what was that for?" Crowley asks.
Aziraphale's answering laugh sounds more like a sob. "I love you too, you daft demon."
Crowley's eyes grow wide, and Aziraphale's laugh cuts off and he presses closer. "Oh no, dearest, it's alright," the angel whispers, worried about something Crowley can't see. Aziraphale's fingers brush against Crowley's cheek, coming away damp, and Crowley realizes he's crying.
"Sorry," he sniffles. Demons don't sniffle. This is humiliating. "I just. I didn't think you would."
"I've loved you for as long as I can remember," Aziraphale continues to trace Crowley's face. "And I realized you loved me back in that church, in 1941. But I was too scared to do anything about it, darling, I'm so sorry. I've been such a coward."
"But we're free now," Crowley murmurs, tears mostly dry. "You didn't mention anything earlier."
"I thought I lost my chance," Aziraphale admits, pursing his lips. Crowley's attention is drawn down to his mouth for a moment before he shakes himself. "I wasn't very nice with the whole... holy water situation."
The silence is deafening in Crowley's ears, and suddenly he's back in the Bentley, neon signs lighting up a thermos sitting in the cupholder. He takes a shaky breath. "So I don't... go too fast for you?"
Aziraphale shakes his head frantically. "No. Never. I just didn't want you to get hurt. If Heaven or Hell had found out..."
Their visits earlier today flash across their minds, and they shudder at the same time. Crowley inches a little bit closer, resting his forehead against Aziraphale's.
"I love you," Crowley repeats, just to try it out again on his tongue. Aziraphale flushes, and Crowley finds he really likes the color.
"I love you too, dear," Aziraphale murmurs.
"Dear," Crowley repeats, watching Aziraphale's face darken to another shade of red. "Dearest. Darling. Sweetheart. Love."
"Crowley," Aziraphale sputters, only to be cut off by Crowley laughing. The angel is helpless to do anything but watch, enraptured as his silly demon's defenses come down.
When the laughter dies down, Crowley presses a chaste kiss against Aziraphale's lips. Aziraphale's fingers tighten around Crowley's, and they smile at each other in the dark.
Curling up together, they soak in the warmth, content with the knowledge that tomorrow will be a day with the other by their side.
Well I know that getting you alone isn't easy to do
With the exception of you I dislike everyone in the room
And I don't wanna lie, but I don't wanna tell you the truth
Get the sense that you're on the move
And you'll probably be leaving soon, so I'm telling you
Stop the world 'cause I wanna, get off, with you