Chapter 1: Gawking at the Menagerie
You know, considering the inciting incident of the Sandman comics, I'm surprised there aren't more stories about Crowley getting summoned. I am here today to rectify this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley appears about two metres above the ground, and gravity isn’t too happy about that because it immediately tugs him down. The ground is also not happy with him, because Crowley lands with loud thump that he knows will cause bruises.
Bruises he can’t heal, because his powers just got sealed away.
Well, shit. Looks like whoever’s summoned him actually knows what they’re doing.
Crowley’s been summoned before, has been called upon countless times since humans learned how to write. He’s been summoned by priests, cults, scholars, kings, witches, and, on one memorable occasion, a bachelorette party. He has enough practice with the process that he can feel out some of the enchantments that have bound him, and right now, he can tell whatever spell has trapped him here is a doozy.
Crowley’s powers are gone, and he knows with a certainty borne of his demonic nature that they won’t come back until the circle is broken. It feels like a tiny void has been cut out of his soul, filled back in with human enchantments that strain up against his essence, pushed inside his skin like magical bloat.
Crowley’s still lying on the floor, eyes closed, and he will eventually need to get up and survey his surroundings, but for now he’s going to try and glean as much information he can without moving.
So he lies still.
The floor is scratchy, wooden, and very cold. There are no planks, so it must be plywood. There is a faint, burnt scent, and even with dulled senses he can smell how it lingers underneath the overwhelming odour of wax. Around him, Crowley can hear the tail end of some Latin chant (so cliché) and can make out at least five distinct voices.
The chant ends, and the room is quiet. Crowley can feel multiple gazes raking up and down his body.
He keeps his eyes closed and makes an effort to visibly breathe.
It’s hard to be intimidating when you’re wearing your husband’s fluffy blue bathrobe and black silk pyjamas, but Crowley’s worked under worse conditions, and with worse clothing.
In fact, this outfit may be a blessing in disguise.
There are many different ways to handle being summoned. With amateurs, it’s easy to intimidate them, throw a little fire and brimstone around, because more often than not, amateurs may be able to summon a demon, but they don’t remember to bind them. With practised occultists you need to be a bit more careful. In those situations, it’s important to keep an ear out for the exact wording of questions and commands, to give away as little as possible until the opportunity for escape is spoken into existence.
Then there are the summoners who really know what they’re doing, the ones who remember to bind not only the demon but the demon’s power. They’re the ones who have plans, who know what demonic magic can do and want to use it for their own ends. The trick in these situations is to be as useless as possible.
This is exactly what Crowley intends to do.
Tonight’s theatre performance might not have any special effects, but Crowley is a damned good actor, and he’s going to play his part to perfection. It’s a shame his audience won’t be able to appreciate it.
Crowley sits up and opens his eyes as blearily as possible. He looks around in feigned confusion, squinting, before rubbing his eyes and groaning.
(The brief glimpse around the room reveals stone walls peeking out behind tapestries, a gothic, vaunted ceiling, and nine figures cloaked in black standing around him. Most importantly, Crowley sees the thick circle burned into the floor, gets a quick glimpse at numerous symbols he can’t focus on yet. He already knows the situation is dire, but the confirmation that he might be well and truly fucked is nice).
“Demon.” A rough voice speaks somewhere to Crowley’s right.
Crowley pretends to startle and turns to face the speaker.
The speaker has pulled down their hood, revealing a furrowed brow and long, blonde beard. “Serpent of Eden, Beast of Hell, Progenitor of Sin, the Demon Crawly, we entreat you.”
Crowley squints at the human. “What?”
The speaker ignores his question. “While we have summoned you, we bind you to these rules…” and ooh, this is bad, because Crowley can feel the circle’s enchantments swelling under his skin, ready and eager to bend him to this human’s will.
“One: you cannot lie to me. Two: you will follow all my orders. Nobody else can command you but me. Three: you will not harm me physically, spiritually, and mentally. Four: your powers are at my disposal. You will not use them unless I command you to.”
And even though the words scorch themselves into his soul like lightning, even though these airtight rules threaten to choke him, Crowley is aware that, although the humans don’t know it, they’ve already made a classic blunder.
Simply put, the circle is too strong.
Crowley’s powers are bound so tightly that he can’t perform any miracles even if this human orders him to. The inscriptions written out in the circle supersede the human’s commands, even if the circle is what forces Crowley to obey this human in the first place. The written will always take precedence over the spoken in summoning rituals like these.
As long as Crowley is clever, he can use this to his advantage.
And Crowley considers himself pretty damn clever.
So Crowley stands up, trying to look a bit nervous while he worries the sleeve of Aziraphale’s bathrobe, and says, “Um, sorry, not sure how much I help you.” It’s not a lie. Crowley isn’t sure what these humans want.
The speaker looks at him. “Are you the Serpent of Eden, the Demon Crawly?”
“Yup.” Crowley gives a dopey grin.
The speaker continues to look at him, inscrutable. Crowley lets his smile fade, starts fidgeting the way Aziraphale does when he’s uncomfortable with a situation but won’t say anything.
“Are you the demon that tempted Eve with the apple of knowledge of good and evil?” the speaker asks.
“Oh yeah! That was me,” Crowley says, nodding vigorously.
One of the hooded figures to Crowley’s left whispers something before being hushed.
The speaker is glaring now. “Are you telling the truth?”
“Didn’t you just say I can’t lie?” Crowley asks, as innocent as can be.
The speaker grits their teeth. “Are you telling the truth? Answer yes or no.”
This seems to reassure them, and Crowley can hear several people around the circle shift their robes. The speaker relaxes somewhat, their posture becoming less rigid.
“What powers do you have at your disposal?” The speaker asks, and now Crowley can have some fun.
See, despite having finite lives, humans generally don’t factor in the temporal nature of existence when issuing commands. The human didn’t specify a time, so Crowley chooses to only list the things he can do right now.
Which isn’t that much, to be honest.
“Weeeelllll,” Crowley tilts his head, puts a hand on his chin like he’s considering it, “I’m good with computers, I’m an excellent gardener, I’m fantastic at finding new restaurants, and I can identify at least three different rat species by sight.”
Not surprisingly, the humans around the circle don’t appear impressed with this resume. Crowley puts his hands on his hips and beams.
The speaker looks nonplussed and says, “Is that all you can do?”
“Nope!” Crowley continues to grin, guileless and proud, “I also dominate at karaoke.”
The hooded figures around the circle are fidgeting, glancing left and right. One is looking right at Crowley, so he gives them a little wave.
The speaker is turning red. Their voice is harsh when they ask their next question.
“Can you possess the body of a human?”
“Nah.” Crowley says, and he really can’t right now, not with his powers sealed.
“Can you inflict magical harm, such as physical wounds, blindness, and lameness, upon the bodies of humans?”
“Can you summon wealth, either from human sources or from nothing?”
“No can do.”
The speaker looks furious, which could either be very good or very bad for Crowley’s immediate well-being. They spit out the next question with gritted teeth.
“Are. You. The demon. Crawly?”
This answer doesn’t make the speaker any happier, their teeth grinding together audibly, but then they take a deep breath, pause, and ask:
“Why have you answered our summons?”
And as Crowley hesitates, only for a moment, he feels the full weight of the enchantment crush into his soul, feels the tendrils dig deep inside him and squeeze the answer out of him.
“Didn’t have a choice,” Crowley gasps.
The speaker gives a grim smile, and it speaks volumes about what situation Crowley’s got himself into. If a hint of pain is enough to make this human grin, what could they want to accomplish with a demon at their beck and call?
“Why have you chosen to appear before us in your current form?”
“Didn’t choose,” Crowley mumbles, and even though appearing powerless is his plan, the amount of mortification he’s feeling is only half a farce.
The speaker tugs their beard before asking, “What were you doing when we summoned you?”
Crowley hesitates again, because as much as he’s trying to present a façade, his intimate moments with Aziraphale are not meant for this human’s ears. Those moments lounging in bed together, snuggled under the covers while Aziraphale reads, are hard fought for, hard won, and still too new and delicate to expose to the light of day. Crowley and Aziraphale can barely hold hands in public without panicking, so he is not about to share the fact that he uses Aziraphale’s thighs as a pillow, not with anyone.
But the enchantments don’t grant Crowley any dignity. They press an answer out of his chest with a ruthless, uniform pressure that is impossible to fight.
“I was cuddling with my husband in bed.” It comes out in a rush, like the exhale of a breath held too long. Crowley is mortified.
But regardless of how Crowley feels, the mundanity of the response must have thrown the humans if their expressions are anything to go by. The speaker looks baffled, opening their mouth before closing it with a snap, and judging by the whispers around the circle, the hooded figures are beginning to lose faith. Whether it’s in the supernatural, the summoning ritual, or their leader, Crowley’s not sure.
It’s a start.
The leader shakes their head, then gestures to the figure beside them, whispering something in their ear that Crowley can’t make out. Both turn to look at him, and Crowley fiddles with the sleeves of the bathrobe, attempting to look nervous without appearing insincere.
“Demon Crawly, you will hear my words and obey,” The speaker says, glaring, “You will not break any of the rules I have bound you to. You will stay here and not leave this place.”
“I can’t leave this circle, you don’t need to tell me that.”
“Silence! You will be silent until I return to this room!” the speaker commands, then turns to leave, gesturing to the figures around them. Five of the other cultists depart with their leader, and the remaining three step back from the circle without taking their eyes off Crowley.
The wooden door of the room closes with a boom, and Crowley is silent. He has to be.
Crowley’s thrown the humans off script for now. He’s presented them with the most useless, powerless demon imaginable, subverting their expectations and denying them even the first step of their plan, whatever that plan may be.
But humans are adaptable, and Crowley can’t expect this act to fool them forever.
So he looks down at the circle and starts to plan his escape.
Tune in next time for more cult shenanigans and a very pissed off angel!
Chapter 2: Kiwis and Other Flightless Birds
Now is a good time to mention that this fic (and especially this chapter) was inspired by "(Don't) Say My Name" by CosmicOcelot. If you haven't read it, please do, it's absolutely fantastic. If you have read it, brace yourself, you know what's coming.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Silently, and under the gaze of the three remaining cultists, Crowley is examining the sigils binding him to the summoning circle. Admittedly, Crowley is working very hard to appear as though he’s not puzzling out the circle and is instead reclining on the floor while tying bows into his bathrobe tie.
When he has glanced up at the cultists, they regard him with undisguised disdain. It reminds him too much of his most recent visit to heaven, so he’s trying to avoid their gaze.
Crowley is far more concerned with the circle anyhow. It’s a massively complex thing, burned into the plywood floor with a precision that speaks to weeks of work. The nigh-indecipherable sigils that make up its circumference are a metre thick, layered over and around each other in way that would almost be beautiful if it weren’t keeping Crowley trapped.
And oh, it’s keeping Crowley trapped. Based on some of these symbols, this circle could keep him trapped for years, maybe even decades.
He hopes it won’t come to that.
Time in this brave, new, post-apocalyptic world is more precious than it’s ever been. In Crowley’s six thousand years on this planet, he’s never spent his life living minute to minute, happy and eager to exist in a way that’s free from restraints, from bureaucracy, from danger…
He just wants to go back to Aziraphale.
Aziraphale must be worried, he must be. Crowley did disappear while he was smushed face-first into Aziraphale’s stomach, enjoying the slow rise and fall of breaths that Aziraphale didn’t need to take. Surely Aziraphale knows that Crowley wouldn’t leave him unless he was torn away by human magic against his will. Surely Aziraphale would try to find out where Crowley went. Surely.
Maybe Aziraphale thinks that Crowley got tired of him and left. Maybe he thinks that Crowley came over all touch-averse and needed a break from their snuggle pile. Maybe Aziraphale didn’t even notice Crowley left, too engrossed in whatever he was reading to be aware of his surroundings. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Crowley is overwhelmed with hypotheticals, and with them comes an onslaught of questions.
Is Aziraphale looking for him?
Would Aziraphale bother looking for him?
Why should Aziraphale inconvenience himself looking for him?
The sigils in front of his eyes are nigh unintelligible, and Crowley’s certainly doing himself no favours by paving the road to a mental breakdown.
Fuck, he needs to get out of here.
The loud bang of the door opening jolts him out of his spiral. The speaker returns alongside the other cultists, so now Crowley has to shove his mess of emotions to the side and get back in character. He moves himself to the middle of the circle, crosses his legs, and, since the command for silence has broken, addresses the speaker.
“Welcome back! Have a fun time in the other room? What were you up to? What’s in that box?” He points at one of the cultists standing with an ornate chest in their arms. “Are you going to tell me or just stand there all menacing-like?”
Crowley is aiming for annoyance, which is always a lovely trait to couple with uselessness, and the speaker’s glower is like music to his ears. Eyes. Whatever.
“Demon Crawly –”
“Yep, that’s still me.”
The speaker elects to ignore Crowley’s helpful comment. “Demon Crawly, you will hear my question and answer truthfully.”
“I don’t have a choice, geez, did you forget already?”
The speaker clenches their fists. “Are you a demon born of hell or a fallen angel?”
Crowley doesn’t make the mistake of hesitating like last time. “Fallen angel, duh. Hell born demons are way shorter and rounder, look like scaly footballs, honestly guys, that’s a beginner’s mistake –”
“Answer yes or no,” The speaker says, interrupting Crowley this time around, “do you have wings?”
This is getting into dangerous territory, but Crowley needs to answer as he’s commanded or the summoning circle’s going to squeeze his decorative guts out.
The cultists who came in with the speaker start whispering amongst themselves, agitating and eager, until the speaker silences them with a gesture.
“Reveal your wings to me.” The speaker commands, and Crowley must. Unlike his magic, which the summoning circle binds, Crowley’s wings are a part of his physical body and could never be sundered from his corporeal form by any human magic.
No one besides God could take his wings from him.
But Crowley has a terrible suspicion that this human is about to try.
Still, he has no choice. Crowley’s wings burst out of his back, a mass of feathery night that helped him blend into space long, long ago, though he doubts that the humans could appreciate this visual allusion to his past even if they know what he used to be. Their limited minds can’t see the history, only the way the feathers eat the light around them and coat themselves with an oily lustre.
They probably think his wings are black because he’s a demon and not because of his own choices.
Many of the cultists are fixated on the wings, but the speaker’s face has taken on a predatory sort of anticipation, their mouth curving into a nauseating grin. They gesture at the cultist with the chest, beckoning them forward to the edge of the circle.
“Hear me, demon Crawly, and obey,” The speaker opens the chest and reaches inside, “You will not perform any action with the tool I am about to give you that I have not explicitly told you to do.”
The speaker pulls out a long, sharp pair of copper scissors.
Crowley, very calmly, begins to panic. He is careful to keep his body language neutral, but his lungs might be deciding that hyperventilating is a viable career option. Someone help him if his pancreas decides to get in on that action too.
“When I give you these scissors, you will hold them in your hand, and you will not move until I tell you to.”
Crowley can’t take his eyes off the scissors. He can’t look away as the human steps the edge of the circle, leans over, and tosses them on the ground.
“Pick the scissors up.”
And Crowley does.
“Bring one of your wings around to the front of your body.”
And Crowley does.
“Raise the scissors to your wing,” the speaker says, “and cut off your feathers.”
Crowley watches his hand move and he can’t stop it, can’t stop himself from gripping his right wing, from lifting the scissors to his primaries, from threading his feathers between the blades and –
It doesn’t hurt, not physically.
Crowley still can’t suppress the wail rising in his chest.
His feathers drift to the floor, black and glossy. They were perfectly groomed when they were still attached, but now the cut edges are jagged, sundered from the rest of the wings by an unworthy instrument.
Crowley raises the scissors again.
This is a nightmare, it has to be a nightmare. There is no way this is happening, no way he’s doing this to himself. He’s going to wake up and he’ll be in bed or on a couch or anywhere, anywhere that isn’t here in this circle cutting off his fucking –
The scissors snip.
His feathers don’t fall straight down, they twirl a little in the air before settling on the ground. This time he’s snipped off the bottom of his coverts along with his primaries.
Crowley thinks he might be crying. He isn’t sure.
It’s difficult to pay attention to anything except the damage he’s wrought.
And again, he raises the scissors. There’s still over half a wing left, but the section that’s been clipped looks damning in its nakedness, the emptiness ugly because of what it once held. He’s got the last of his primaries caught between the scissor blades now, and then he –
Each time it’s horrifying anew.
There’s a muffled boom somewhere beyond the room he’s in, and as he raises the scissors again to weave his secondaries between the blades, there is another loud noise, a crash, closer to room. Crowley is unable to move his gaze from the scissors, but the cultist-shaped blobs in his peripheral vision fidget about. Crowley can’t stop his hand from moving and –
But he lets himself hope, just for a second.
Crowley doesn’t pray, not in the traditional sense. He kind of just yells vaguely at the sky, demanding answers from an entity that will never give him the satisfaction of knowing. However, there is one creature from heaven that has answered him, even if sometimes it takes a bit of dithering and the promise of lunch first.
Crowley is lifting the scissors again, but the cacophony outside the room is moving closer by the second, and it sounds less like wanton destruction and more like a church choir.
Crowley doesn’t pray, but someone has answered his pleas nonetheless.
The cultists are moving now, black smudges at the edges of Crowley’s sight hurrying towards the door. Their efforts will be in vain, though, Crowley knows it, believes it with all of himself.
The screech of hinges being ripped off the door is enough to finally drag his attention away from his hands, from the scissors and the feathers. For a moment, Crowley is nearly blinded by the figure standing in the wreckage, but unlike the humans, the light is too familiar to keep him sightless, because…
Glowing with holy wrath, wings raised up and innumerable eyes open, is Aziraphale.
He’s still wearing the same worn tartan pyjamas he had on in bed, his second-best housecoat flapping about from the force of his divinity. Aziraphale’s principle eyes, the ones on his face, meet Crowley’s just as he brings the scissors blades together and –
And then Crowley is surrounded by flames.
It’s only for an instant, burning the summoning circle off the floor, but Crowley can’t prevent his flinch, dropping the scissors and pulling his wings close around him. The massive gap where his feathers used to be doesn’t block out the fire, and it’s too much, too, too much…
Then it’s over, and there is Aziraphale.
Aziraphale, with his scrunched, worried expression, Aziraphale, with his soft hands on Crowley’s cheeks, Aziraphale, with his plush lips kissing all over Crowley’s face. He’s here, he’s here, and Crowley’s not crying, he’s not, even if Aziraphale is wiping away his tears and making gentle shushing noises.
Aziraphale wraps his wings around Crowley’s body, and for a moment, Crowley is able to forget everything else.
“Oh my darling, what have they done to you?” Aziraphale’s voice is low, something for Crowley alone, and it’s a shame he can’t reciprocate, his throat clenching around nothing and choking out any attempt at sound.
He just shakes his head.
Aziraphale shifts his wings and arms closer, drawing Crowley into a tight hug that he goes to willingly. He’s clutching at Aziraphale too, trying to wrap around him as best he can without turning into a snake. Crowley needs this, he needs this so badly.
But as Crowley moves his limbs closer, the bald tip of his right wing brushes against the scorched floor and hits something metal.
It’s the scissors.
Crowley recoils before he can stop himself, breaking out of Aziraphale’s embrace, and he would be worried about Aziraphale’s feelings if he could rip his gaze away from the pair of blades on the ground.
Aziraphale follows Crowley’s line of sight, pauses, picks the horrid item up, and then the scissors are disintegrating. He tears them apart atom by atom, reducing them to non-existence with the sort of violent disdain he reserves for proselytizers in his bookshop. It’s very gratifying. Crowley can feel his body relaxing just from the cursed things’ removal from reality.
It makes it a bit easier to look at the pile of clipped feathers on the ground.
Aziraphale looks down at them too, and now he’s the one with tears rolling down his cheeks. Crowley makes a small, distressed noise, reaches out a hand to wipe them away, but Aziraphale intercepts him and threads their fingers together.
“What,” Aziraphale starts, pauses, tries again, “what would you like to do with them?”
Crowley doesn’t know. He doesn’t know why the humans wanted them in the first place, and if given the option, Crowley would like to have his feathers attached to his wings, thank you very much. But that’s not an option, his feathers are cut now, forever detached from his body.
You can’t undo something like this with a miracle.
But maybe there’s still use for a miracle regardless.
“I’ll handle it.” They’re the first words Crowley’s said since Aziraphale arrived. They creak out of his mouth, rigid and fractured, but it’s still a victory. It’s honestly a wonder he made a coherent sentence at all.
But the feathers…
Crowley reaches out to touch them one last time, feeling the soft tufts of down, the sleek vanes, the slivers of magic, and Aziraphale lays an arm around his back, supporting, but not making any move to interfere.
Crowley says goodbye to these tiny pieces of himself.
Then he allows them to transform.
Each feather multiplies, forming little balls of darkness that gravitate towards each other as they spin in tiny orbits on the floor. From out of the black lumps yellow eyes emerge, then scaled feet, miniature wings, and finally shiny, sharp beaks. A flock of crows, one for each feather, now rests before Crowley and Aziraphale, and Crowley gives each of them one final demonic blessing and a spark of mischief, a personal touch to remind them of him.
Then, as one, the birds take to the air in a feathery cyclone and fly out the room’s broken door.
Crowley and Aziraphale watch them go.
“They’re my namesake.” Crowley says. Aziraphale didn’t ask, but Crowley still wants to explain, to let Aziraphale know that he did this with purpose and not just on a whim. When he peeks over at Aziraphale’s face, his husband is smiling at him, fondness tugging at the corner of his mouth.
He pulls Crowley close into another embrace and Crowley leans into it.
“I do believe that this concludes our business here,” and this is all the warning Crowley gets before Aziraphale is relocating Crowley’s limbs, placing his own arms around him and hoisting him up. And ooh, Crowley should be furious, because it’s damned dirty of his husband to inflict a bridal carry on him when he’s vulnerable and can’t handle the romance of it.
Aziraphale even made sure to keep Crowley’s wings free, the attentive son of a bitch. Under less unfortunate circumstances, Crowley would be swooning outright.
Until now, Crowley had forgotten about the cultists in lieu of Aziraphale’s dashing rescue and his immediate trauma, but from his vantage point in Aziraphale’s arms Crowley can see exactly what his husband did to the people who summoned him. Based on the writhing, moaning, and general incoherence, it looks like Aziraphale drove them all to madness. Whether this was on purpose or just a side effect of his angelic grace overloading their brains, Crowley doesn’t much care. Both options are equally satisfying.
Aziraphale’s extra eyes are winking out now, the need for vigilance gone, but he’s keeping his wings outstretched, probably as an aggressive display against the incapacitated cultists.
Once again, very satisfying.
Making his way to the door, Aziraphale doesn’t bother stepping around the thrashing human bodies. He stamps right on them, his stride never losing its surety or direction. By contrast, Crowley is careful to keep his clipped wings tucked up against his back. He doesn’t want them touching any humans at all.
“Honestly,” Aziraphale says, sounding remarkably put upon, “cultists these days just don’t prepare for the possibility that their minds might be irrevocably broken by the revelations of the cosmos beyond their understanding. What is the world coming to?”
Crowley snickers and falls a little more in love, but then, beyond Aziraphale’s wings, he spots a blond beard poking out from the writhing forms on the floor. His spine goes cold.
“I want to do one more thing.”
“Anything, dearest. Just say the word.” Aziraphale, ever dutiful, has halted with one foot on a cultist’s face, his pink fluffy slipper mashing into their nose.
Crowley wiggles a bit so that he can look Aziraphale in the face. “There was one cultist, the leader, and they were the one who ordered me to –” Crowley’s voice cuts out, unwilling to recount the horror it witnessed.
Aziraphale’s expression is crumbling around the edges, the sadness held at bay by the gathering storm of anger pressing at his brows. His angelic grace starts leaching out again, sharp as the flint of the first fires and promising the same kind of untamed destruction.
“Well, direct me to them. I don’t think such an individual ought to go unpunished.”
Gripping one hand around the lapel of Aziraphale’s bathrobe, Crowley points to the speaker.
Aziraphale turns, snaps his fingers, and the speaker is lucid again. They gaze up at the two of them, twisting off the ground to cower on their knees, shaking all over. Behind him, Crowley can feel the heat of Aziraphale’s halo, see the glow of his wings radiating out, and with this terrifying backdrop, Crowley looms from on high in Aziraphale’s arms and glares with eyes he knows are fully yellow.
“You,” Crowley hisses, “have no idea what you’ve done.”
He reaches out a hand, extends his claws and grips the speaker’s face so tightly that blood drips down their cheeks. Crowley can feel his fangs extending, the ripple of scales moving across his high cheekbones, and he revels in the look of abject horror painting itself across the speaker’s face.
“You desssired the power of hell, you wanted demonsss at your beck and call. I can ssseee it, I can ssssee what you want, and I,” Crowley smirks around inhuman teeth, “will give it to you.”
Crowley’s claws gouge into the speaker’s flesh, dragging their face until they can see each other eye to eye, and then he gives them hell. He gives them six thousand years’ worth of visions, of hell’s worst torments, of the hottest sulphur and the iciest depths. He prints nightmares into this human’s fragile mind and promises that every time the speaker closes their eyes, the agony will start again.
Every blink will be torture.
It’s nothing less than what this human deserves.
Crowley lets the speaker slump to the ground, lets his demonic appearance melt away, and suddenly he is so very, very tired. Aziraphale seems to sense this because he cradles Crowley closer, encouraging Crowley to tuck his face into Aziraphale’s neck without words.
It’s a temptation he yields to easily.
“You leave the rest of this to me, dearest, I’ll make sure nothing of this wretched place remains,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley can feel the holy pressure around them increase, reducing the building around them to rubble with a noiseless, celestial death knell.
Crowley is too exhausted for speech, so he presses his lips to Aziraphale’s neck in response.
The doorway to the room they’re in has collapsed, but Aziraphale scoffs and the wreckage scurries out of their way, shamefaced. The rest of the crumbling building follows suit, moving out of their path like the receding tide, and beyond the ruins the sky is growing lighter, the purple sheet of night turning to orange at the edge of the horizon. It’s gorgeous. Aziraphale pauses as Crowley tilts his head to look up at it.
“Ready to move on?” Aziraphale asks, soft and sweet in the first light of the day.
Crowley takes a deep, unnecessary breath. Releases it. Squirms about in Aziraphale’s embrace until he can get his arms around Aziraphale’s shoulders and summon the strength to reply.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
And facing the dawn, they begin the long journey home together.
This would be a perfectly natural place to end the story, but I'm the author, and if I want to write 3000 words of comfort, none of you can stop me.
Chapter 3: There’s No Wire Cage for You, Love
This is the chapter where the title of the fic finally makes sense. I know that out of everything, that's clearly what's been weighing on your minds the most.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
Rock doves and pigeons are the same species of bird. Neither Crowley nor Aziraphale is aware of this.
I want to give special thanks to my sister, for letting me read this whole thing out loud to her while I proofed it, to my dad, for helping me fix some ooc dialogue in this last chapter, and to my mother, for waiting very patiently for each chapter to be uploaded before reading it.
I also want to thank everyone who left kudos, bookmarked, and commented on this story. I write because I find it fun, but knowing that I've created something that other people enjoy makes me happier than I can describe. I guess that would make it ineffable, huh?