The last time Crowley was in the flat above Aziraphale’s bookshop, he was curled up in bed with his husband under several quilts, two duvets, and one weighted blanket. He’d been warm in the way he could only get when he was snuggling Aziraphale, and he’d felt safe and comfortable and loved.
This time he’s in a much less pleasurable position.
“I’m so sorry, dearest,” Aziraphale coos, “I know it hurts, but the sooner we get these plucked, the sooner they’ll grow back.”
If it weren’t for the apologetic kiss Aziraphale places on the nape of Crowley’s neck, he would almost suspect his husband of mocking him.
“Am I not allowed to complain then?” Crowley supresses a minute flinch as Aziraphale tugs out a clipped feather.
“I doubt I could stop you even if I tried, but,” Aziraphale says while adding the stub to the pile on the bed, “I must admit I find it heartening that you’re well enough to complain with such vigour.”
“Great to see – ouch! – that you know me so well.”
Crowley has his back turned to Aziraphale, but Aziraphale makes his good mood apparent with another light kiss.
“There you go. We’ll have you back to your happy, handsome self in just a tick.”
“Yeah, I’ll look real handsome when I’ve got a bald patch covering half of my blessed wing.”
Aziraphale disregards Crowley’s grousing and pulls another stub out. “Your wings aren’t blessed, they’re rather the opposite,” he runs a finger along the skin he just plucked the feather from, healing the minor damage, “and you’ll always be beautiful to me.”
“Even if I took a page out of Hastur’s book and fused my corporation with a garbage heap?” asks Crowley, just to be contrary.
“Hmm, don’t push it, darling.”
Crowley grins. “I knew you only married me for my body. So shallow, angel.”
Aziraphale pulls out two feathers in quick succession. Crowley can’t hold back his pained yelp. “You bastard! You did that on purpose!”
But this time, instead of a witty riposte or an admonishment for swearing, Aziraphale starts nervously running his fingers over the irritated skin, his voice taking on the frantic, timorous speed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it must hurt a lot, and it will be over soon, you only have to endure this a little while more –”
“S’alright, I’m fine. It’s fine. Just stung, is all.” Crowley’s voice sounds surly to his own ears, and he decides to shut up before he turns the light banter between them into something heavier. Maybe Aziraphale’s feeling something similar because he returns to his work in silence.
Aw hell, this is what Crowley wanted to avoid.
Without Aziraphale’s repartee to distract him, all Crowley can focus on is the sensation of tugging feathers. Before this, his wing already felt awful with the terrible lack of feathery weight, but at least his skin didn’t sting with the pinpricks of a thousand tiny needles. Aziraphale might be able to heal any surface-level wounds caused by the plucking, but the pain lingers.
Each throb from his wing reminds Crowley of what he’s lost.
Demon wings are supposed to have feathers. They weren’t made to be plucked. It’s an aberration in the natural order of things, something the lower downs could threaten their minions with, a promise of the greatest violence one could perform beyond discorporation. Crowley had never been punished with it himself, but the mention of it was one of the many ways hell liked to try and keep him under its heel.
In the end, it wasn’t hell but a bunch of humans that did this to him.
“There, all done!”
Crowley brings his wing around to look. All the stubs are gone, and though it’s necessary if he wants his feathers to grow back, the empty space is fucking sickening. Along his fragile, bare wing bone, the skin where the feathers were plucked is pink, flesh peeking through the few remaining tufts like open sores.
It’s ugly. It’s appalling. It’s grotesque.
It’s part of Crowley now.
The black twig of a wing bone jeers at him, wearing its naked skin with pride.
He’s not ignoring Aziraphale, but the void that’s attached to his body is more pressing at the moment. He can’t take his eyes off it. Who knows what it would do if he did?
“Crowley… are you shaking?”
Is he? He lifts a hand to check, and yep, it’s shaking. That’s embarrassing, his body hasn’t done this for a while, and hasn’t done it sober for nearly a century now.
Suddenly, Aziraphale’s arms come around Crowley’s sternum, pulling him back into a soft, squishy embrace. Crowley is forced to rest his head against Aziraphale’s chest, his back along Aziraphale’s plump stomach, and its calming, it really is, but it means Crowley can’t hide from Aziraphale’s well-meaning intentions.
Aziraphale lays his head on top of Crowley’s. “I won’t ask it of you if you don’t wish to answer, but would you please share with me what’s wrong?”
That’s a loaded question. It’s not so much one thing but many, but Crowley isn’t sure how to verbalise that, isn’t sure how to list every awful emotion drawn out by the bare space that used to be filled. He’s not sure he should even try.
But… if he doesn’t try now, here, with the one being in all of creation he trusts most, then he might not ever forgive himself.
So he tries.
“I…” Crowley swallows, “I hate being grounded. Makes me feel trapped. I know we don’t fly much anymore, but I don’t like not having the option.”
The last time Crowley was grounded doesn’t bear thinking about. He’s already feeling brittle, and he doesn’t want it to get worse by recalling his less-than-casual saunter into a lake full of boiling sulphur. Aziraphale must come to a similar revelation, because his grip around Crowley tightens, squishing him even closer.
“Oh Crowley,” Aziraphale sounds wrecked, and that’s not what Crowley wanted, not at all. He brings his own hands up to rest on Aziraphale’s, rubbing his fingers along his wedding ring.
“None of that now,” Crowley says, “s’not so bad as what you’re thinking, but I don’t want… I don’t like feeling vulnerable. Fucking despise it, actually. So there’s your answer, and you can stop fussing.”
Perhaps telling Aziraphale not to fuss is the stupidest thing Crowley could have done in this situation, or any situation, really, but he really can’t help it. He’s hardwired from centuries of conditioning to try and smooth Aziraphale’s ruffled feathers, be they metaphorical or real.
Crowley winces. Bad analogy. Too painful. Too soon.
And of course Aziraphale is fussing. Crowley’s not looking at his face, but he can feel Aziraphale’s fidgeting from where they’re pressed together, his husband trying to do his regular self-soothing gestures without letting go of him.
Aziraphale sighs, then says, “May I confess something?”
“When you disappeared,” says Aziraphale, “I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sense you anywhere near, and I was so scared. I was afraid you might be gone forever and that I’d never see you again. For a moment, I thought it was heaven or hell or… or something worse before I managed to feel out your location, and it was the most awful sensation,” Aziraphale pries a hand away from Crowley’s, bringing it up to stroke Crowley’s hair, “listen to me, I’m rambling. There was a point to this, I promise.”
Crowley has no patience for that kind of self-deprecation. “You’re not rambling. M’sorry I left you alone.”
“You have nothing to apologise for, you ridiculous thing, that’s not what I was attempting to say,” Aziraphale squeezes him, “what I’m trying to say is that before I mastered my emotions I felt remarkably vulnerable myself, and I like the feeling no better than you. But you’re hurt, and I’m not, so please, Crowley, please let me be strong for you.” Aziraphale kisses the top of Crowley head, then whispers, “You’ve done it for me so often and for so long, let me do the same now.”
Crowley thinks over the offer, leaning his head back to see Aziraphale’s face. Though the angle’s atrocious, Crowley can see his troubled expression all too well. That won’t do at all.
“It doesn’t need to be all or nothing, angel.”
“What?” Aziraphale says. He sounds so affronted Crowley can’t help but snort.
“Doesn’t need to be one or the other, you protecting me or me protecting you. We can do both at once, yeah? We can be strong for each other,” Crowley says, letting his words get softer as he goes along, “that’s what being married means, at least a bit.”
Aziraphale makes a strangled noise, and then suddenly his wings are out and surrounding Crowley. One brilliant white wing is resting right behind the bare gap on Crowley’s, layering a different set of primaries and coverts over the once-filled space. The colour divide between their feathers is obvious, can’t be ignored really, but when they’re resting this close it almost looks like they’re one wing. The plucked void isn’t empty, not anymore.
It doesn’t hurt to look at.
Crowley can’t rip his gaze away.
“Our side?” he asks.
“Our side.” Aziraphale replies.
And that’s enough emotional communication for now. Any more and Crowley might do something embarrassing like cry or quote poetry or something equally soppy… but just for a little while, he can let himself bask in the feeling of being loved and being in love.
It’s more divine than heaven could ever dream of.
But like all things, the moment can’t last forever, and after a few minutes, long enough for both of them to compose themselves, Aziraphale puts his wings away. Crowley doesn’t. He might hate to look at them, but he doesn’t want his wings healing all wonky while trapped in liminal space, so he scoots out of Aziraphale’s arms and tucks them in close to his back. His movement disturbs the pile of feather stubs, scattering them across the sheets. Oops.
“Guess I’ve got to do something with these,” Crowley says. Aziraphale looks down at the pile, his face pensive.
And this small question threatens to undo Crowley all over again. After having his boundaries so thoroughly violated the night before, all it takes to fill Crowley up with enough gratitude to bring him to tears is Aziraphale bothering to ask for his permission. God, he’s a wreck right now.
Crowley still nods all the same.
Aziraphale pats the pile of stubs much in the same way one would pat a ball of dough. The feathers, like Crowley, seem to love Aziraphale, and when he draws his hand away, the stubs clump together in the spot he last touched. The blobby mass gains features all at once, with eyes, legs, wings, and beak popping into existence with a startled squawk. However, it looks like Aziraphale’s angelic miracle might not be meshing well with Crowley’s black feathers, because the colour is draining out of them even as the little creation settles into its final form.
Sitting on the bed, looking terribly pleased with itself, is a fat, grey pigeon.
Crowley can’t help it, he’s charmed.
Aziraphale seems to feel differently. “Oh bother, I was trying to make a crow like you did. It was such a lovely gesture when you did it last night…”
“I’m surprised you didn’t make a dove,” Crowley reaches out and cups the pigeon in his hands. It fluffs up its down and makes itself comfortable.
“She is a dove! She’s a rock dove and her name is Rupert.”
Crowley snorts. “Angel, I don’t want to fight you, but this is a pigeon. Swear to hell.”
The bird – Rupert? – coos from her perch in Crowley hands, a soft little orb that used to be part of Crowley, now transformed by his husband’s love. She’s very obviously a pigeon. Crowley kind of adores her.
There’s a tap at the window followed by a loud caw. Crowley and Aziraphale both start and turn towards the sound, and there on the ledge is a tiny, yellow eyed crow. When Aziraphale gets up to open the window, the crow hops away to a different perch, and Rupert, dislodging herself from Crowley’s hold, follows suit. She lands almost directly on top of the little crow, but far from being upset, the crow burrows into her side.
It’s disgusting. It’s adorable. It’s disgustingly adorable.
Maybe that’s why Crowley starts shouting.
“Stupid, bloody bird! I gave you free will! You could go anywhere you want and you choose London? Get lost!”
Crowley is half leaning out of a second story window in Soho, at noon, in his pyjamas, with his wings out, yelling at a pair of birds resting on a nearby window ledge. He doesn’t care that he’s making a scene. He’s actually kind of relishing being a public nuisance, it’s helping him recover from the emotionally charged conversation he just had.
Then there are arms winding around Crowley’s waist, drawing him back inside the bedroom. Once he’s back on steady footing Aziraphale moves to his right and peers out the window.
“That one,” Aziraphale says, pointing at the crow nestled into Rupert’s feathery mass, “is named Fitzherbert.”
Crowley lowers his head into his hands.
“They’re girlfriends.” Aziraphale’s voice is trembling with barely contained laughter. “You’re basically their father, dear, won’t you give them your blessing?”
“I refuse to bless anything named Fitzherbert!” Crowley shouts. He’s being loud on purpose, letting his voice carry to street below, and Aziraphale’s giggles burst into a true fit of hysterics that Crowley can’t help but copy.
After everything, after the summoning, the clipped feathers, and the hard conversations, Crowley is so, so glad to just laugh. It’s a guffawing, snorting mess of a laugh, and he can’t breathe, he can’t, but it’s a joyful kind of breathlessness. Aziraphale makes a high-pitched squeak, and it in turn makes Crowley wheeze, makes him collapse into Aziraphale’s side and topple the two of them back onto the bed.
They’re giggling in each other’s arms. Crowley has tears on his face, but they’re happy. He’s happy.
He’s so happy.
Their fit of laughter is wearing off, but though Aziraphale heaves himself up to sit, Crowley stays prone on the bed, wings and all. Aziraphale looks down at him and brushes a hand through his hair.
“Poor dear, you must be terribly fatigued. You never did get a proper rest last night.”
“Don’t call me fatigued, it makes me sound like some nineteenth-century French debutant who’s too fond of fainting couches.”
Aziraphale giggles again, threatens a return to hysterics, before his expression rearranges into something more sober. “This is a bed, love, it’s a beast all of its own. Would you care for a nap?”
Crowley would, as a matter of fact, but the last time he took a snooze he was torn away from Aziraphale by human magic and forced to clip a wing.
“Dearest,” Aziraphale tilts Crowley’s chin so they can look each other in the eye, “You don’t need to, and I won’t make you, but I’ll be here the whole time, I’ll keep watch over you.” He gives a small, sad smile. “I’m not a proper guardian angel, but a principality is close enough, isn’t it?”
Woops, looks like the laughing fit didn’t rid Crowley of all his sad tears. He’s cried more in the past twenty-four hours than he’s done in centuries, and it sucks, it’s sticky and humiliating and the absolute worst. He wipes his face on his pyjama sleeve and makes a decision.
“You were a terrible guard in Eden, but I guess I’ll give you a second chance.” Crowley says. He squirms around until he’s a more normal position for sleeping and stretches his wings over the rest of the bed space.
Aziraphale looks bemused. “There’s no room for me, dear.”
Crowley holds out his arms and makes grabby motions.
“Ah, I see your ploy. Quite devious of you.”
Aziraphale falls into Crowley’s embrace, settling himself on top of Crowley’s body. Aziraphale weighs a fair bit more than him, and Crowley needs that weight right now, needs to be pinned down to stop him from slipping away.
Aziraphale tucks his head under Crowley’s chin, and really, how is Crowley supposed to resist kissing him? So he does, pressing his lips into the crown of Aziraphale’s head once, twice, three times for luck and for love.
There’s a squawk beyond the bed, and when Crowley pulls back he can see Rupert and Fitzherbert on their window ledge, still tucked up next to each other. They look content. Crowley contemplates them as he runs his fingers through Aziraphale’s hair.
“When I’m healed, let’s go flying.”
Aziraphale hums. “I hear there are some nice cliffs in the South Downs. We could make an expedition of it.”
“We’ll put together a picnic, bring some nice wines and – ooh! Would it be too cheeky if the main dish was duck? Of course not, and that pairs well with…”
Aziraphale is keeping his voice quiet, but Crowley can’t help grinning at the undercurrent of excitement there, at Aziraphale happily planning for the future. And maybe it’ll be a while before Crowley feels safe enough to nap on his own, and maybe his wing still looks ugly and empty, and maybe there is no guarantee him and Aziraphale will always be safe, but here, now, falling asleep with the being he holds most dear, Crowley is content.
And sometimes that’s enough.