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this message is a warning about danger (about love)

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This is a message, and part of a system of messages. Pay attention to it!

*

Hell doesn’t burn these days.

It did in the beginning, though. It burned hot and it burned cold, torching everything to blackened dust before the Fallen could crawl from the ashes again. Crowley had not understood, really, what he would crawl out as, and he’d taken that swan dive down because it had been the first time there’d been a new direction to go.

There should’ve been a warning sign, in his opinion. Humans these days would’ve called it informed consent, and made you sign six forms complete with carbon copies to make sure you understood. No such luck in Heaven, back in those days. He doubts it’s gotten any better.

He isn’t sure whether he’d have still dived if he’d known what he’d be giving up. Not them, not their shiny tablets lined with rules, but the bigger things. The deeper things.

He didn’t know he’d be giving up himself, and Hell had burned in the beginning because fire is the only way to tear an angel asunder.

*

Sending this message was important to us. We were a powerful culture.

*

Crowley stands at the window, looking out.

Time has gone all sticky-slow, thick as treacle and just as dark. The night outside smells like frost and rust—like the explosions that sounded at the beginning of the world.

The South Downs are quiet beyond those windows, the hills hushed with mist. Crowley stands at the window with his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes gone huge and yellow behind his sunglasses, his teeth gone sharp in his mouth. His wings unfurl, stretching the very fabric of reality taut, intended as a warning for those capable of seeing him there in the dark.

Sometimes Crowley forgets to feel like a person, on nights like these. Sometimes he feels more like a bruise, the pressed-in curve of an under-eye circle. Or else like a rifle, the sights lined up and the trigger already half-pulled.

The snake coils around inside him, some wraithlike idea of a tail flicking back and forth beneath his ribs.

The fog curls through the hills, twisting up around the trees and down into the valleys. Crowley has been standing here for hours, keeping watch as though he expects the denizens of Hell or the hosts of Heaven to come clawing through the dark. He holds the snake at bay as he waits, fighting the urge to stretch his spine and make himself as big as he can be, a threat in scales and teeth he wants to make as much as he really, really doesn’t.

Then: a light blinks on, somewhere in the cottage behind him.

In the beginning, two hundred years ago at the windows of a Soho bookshop, that light had startled Crowley so badly he’d hissed and bared his fangs, already moving to strike. He’d been prowling around the shop for weeks, drawing the shadows long and vigilant over the streets; for a moment he’d thought it was the archangels again, come to claim one of their own with their medals and meddlings and threats disguised as welcomes home.

These days, Crowley’s feathers ruffle in unconscious reaction, and the snake inside flattens but only for a breath. There’s no spike of anxiety anymore. That light is as familiar to him now as the noonday sun, and it soothes and warms rather than burns.

It’s Aziraphale.

“Leave it, you old gargoyle,” he says fondly, coming out of the library and tutting and puttering with the stacks of books on the sofa table. Looking for something to take to bed, by the sound of it. “There’s no one out there.”

“You don’t know that,” Crowley tells him absently. He hasn’t blinked in hours. “I’m just watching. Just in case.”

Aziraphale’s hand is gentle on Crowley’s elbow; his voice is quiet in the dark, and certain. “I do know that,” he says gently. “You know that too. We’d feel it if they were crossing our boundaries, Crowley. We’re safe here. Could you look at me?”

Crowley isn’t sure for a long moment.

The snake twists and gnashes in his chest; it makes his muscles stiff and his skin ripple with the suggestion of scales. He doesn’t need to breathe, but the snake is curled so tight and crushing that he couldn’t do it anyway.

He doesn’t want Aziraphale to see him like this, with the snake so close to the surface, boiling up with his anxiety. He shoves it down a little further, burying it in wet muscle and sheer bloody resolve.

Aziraphale stands next to him, waiting patiently. The night is darker there than it ever was in Soho, with those eternal marquees and flashing neon, but after a moment or two Crowley thinks there’s a subtle radiance to the landscape: the stars beginning to brighten, the fog beginning to lift.

He breathes in.

When he looks over, Aziraphale isn’t quite glowing faintly on the edges, because angels don’t really do that, but he could be by the way he looks back: devoted and reassuring, calm and so terribly in love.

Would he be as in love, Crowley thinks, if he could see the serpent where it wreathes around my ribs, curls up around my spine? If he could see the beast She made me—would he still love me?

“We’re safe,” Aziraphale repeats, his eyes bright against the shadows, and Crowley doesn’t know how to answer his own questions. He never has.

He looks out along the Downs, at the mist dissipating underneath the shining stars, and back to Aziraphale. He lets his arms uncross; he lets Aziraphale take his hand.

“You’re sure?” he asks. The hissing thing under his skin doesn’t really recede, but it loosens its hold at least.

“I’m sure. Would you come to bed?”

The bed is upstairs, far away from these windows, tucked away from the night. Crowley isn’t sure enough of his control, just yet—the serpent’s tail still flicks along his consciousness, its tongue still waiting for his own vigilance against it to fail. “In a bit? Will you stand with me here first, for a while?”

“Of course,” Aziraphale nods, squeezing Crowley’s hand, shifting his own white wings into the sitting room. They mantle, a little; one spreads wide around Crowley’s back, around Crowley’s wings, holding him in a loose embrace. “Of course I can stand with you here for a while.”

And he does, and the stars keep getting brighter and the fog keeps getting thinner as they stand there watching together. Aziraphale asks Crowley about the new vegetarian place in the village and whether it’s any good—“Not bad,” Crowley says, “you’d like their sticky roasted baby aubergines,”—and whether Crowley’s been to the beat-down record shop he likes recently, and if bebop has improved in the last several years—Crowley huffs a laugh through his nose, and teases, “Not to your taste, I don’t think, no.” They talk about the Thursday morning market and whether the pub ever plays anything other than old reruns of Fawlty Towers, whether Aziraphale ever got that bread recipe from Julia Dexter and whether they should have eggs for breakfast, or pastries.

And Crowley breathes out.

After an hour, maybe two—Crowley’s never sure of the time on nights like this—the snake finally settles in Crowley’s chest, burrowing itself away for now. It’s like being released, let go; he sinks more fully into the bones of his thighs and his wrists, into the movement of his chest and his eyelids. He feels solid, finally.

He feels human.

He lets himself turn into Aziraphale’s hold, tucking his wings back away to fit better, tucking his face into Aziraphale’s neck as Aziraphale’s arms and wings come up around him. “You’re all right, dear boy,” Aziraphale whispers to him. “We’re safe.”

He means, we’re safe from them.

Crowley lets it spill gently over him, and even though Aziraphale doesn’t say it and never would—even though Aziraphale doesn’t know that it ought to be said—he lets himself hear it anyway. We’re safe from you.

“I know,” Crowley says. He hopes he knows.

The stars begin to fade again, back into their pinprick diamonds; the shadows that draw themselves up feel more like a blanket than a shroud. “I think—let’s go to bed, angel. I’m tired.”

Aziraphale kisses his temple, and then his wrist: these most human parts of Crowley. He takes Crowley upstairs to bed, folding him beneath the blankets, holding him close, and the twisted, hissing thing that makes up Crowley’s soul is soothed, so slowly, into sleeping.

Crowley stands watch over the cottage, sometimes. He stands watch over these familiar hills, these trees and streams and gardens, when the frost is starting and there’s a smell of metal in the air. He stands guard against the things that creep and crawl along the ancient stone walls, along the windows; he stands guard against the things that coil and slither underneath his own skin. He watches this land, and this cottage, and everything—everyone—inside it, against old fears and new. He always will.

Yet there are always two hands in the dark; two sets of wings in the window. Crowley stands watch over the cottage sometimes, and sometimes, Aziraphale stands watch over Crowley.

To guard me, Crowley wonders, or to guard yourself from me?

Crowley doesn’t know how to answer all of his own questions, and there are some questions he doesn’t want to know the answers to.

*

This is not a thing of honour. No highly esteemed deeds are commemorated for it. Nothing of value is in it.

*

Crowley remembers Heaven.

It would have been a kindness to forget it, but nothing about Falling was a kindness. Instead he remembers the sense of space, huge and echoing. He remembers creation, sparking from his fingertips, and song, the soft comfort of the presence of others. He remembers the sense of purpose, and the sense, a bit, of happiness.

At least, he remembers it as happiness.

He also remembers himself.

He remembers power, most of all: the rush rush rush of existence, spinning out among the stars, painting colours into the universe with his fingertips. He remembers being without a body: without frame, without this haphazard scaffolding of ribs and hips and shoulder blades, moving free and fluid and everywhere. He remembers light and brightness, holy and clean; he remembers moving around one another like ripples of water meeting again and again and again on calm surfaces, endlessly going out and coming in.

He remembers that he didn’t understand, at first. When he Fell. He didn’t understand the prison; he didn’t understand the confinement. Writhing, panicked and frightened, reaching for himself and not being able to find it, not being able to break out into the big thing, the boundless thing he was used to being: he didn’t understand what kind of punishment the serpent was meant to be.

His true form.

He’d been in bodies before, for the thrill of it, for the convenience of it—planning meetings, mostly, and occasionally because it was funnier to eat ambrosia with fingers than with abstraction—but he’d always known that himself was still there, sunk down inside him like the pit of an apricot. He’d always known he’d have himself to return to.

And now that was gone, changed into something else: what once was warm had gone cold; what once was smooth had grown over with scales.

After he Fell, the serpent became himself, or himself became the serpent, that thing buried at the center. She had seen him endless and soaring, and so gave him a form that would crawl on its belly in the dust; She had seen what he had made, and so gave him a form without hands.

Nothing more than a beast.

The curse reminded him to feel small, and monstrous, and unnatural. The curse set him apart from humanity, kept him from belonging among them, kept him from comfort—it set Hell’s ownership into his very flesh, into his very eyes, yellow and slitted and infernal.

Make no mistake, the serpent warns. This here is venomous. This here is dangerous. This here is without dignity.

It lives in his chest, coiled and waiting, and it lives in his skin, stamped into the planes of his very face: not as a tattoo, not metals or ash so carefully needled underneath the surface.

It is a brand, and it burns.

*

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

*

He knows Aziraphale wonders about it, sometimes. The snake.

He’s seen it a couple of times, over the years, though Crowley doesn’t let it out unless he has to. In Eden, once, and a couple of times during that horrible flood, slithering around the tremendous ark. Once or twice during this Crusade or that. Once, at the end of the world.

Crowley’s always careful with it. He’s always careful to make it seem like it should be impressive, to posture and pose and tease; or else he’s careful to make it seem like a joke, to fill it to the brim with bravado and confidence until it’s practically sour on his own tongue, laughing and showing off.

He doesn’t ever say that he’s afraid, afterward, and there’s not really much else to be said.

Aziraphale watches him, and he’s never been good at pretending he’s not thinking about something sensitive, but he doesn’t ask, and Crowley doesn’t offer. What kind of conversation could you have with an angel about it, anyway? He knows Aziraphale still has that endless, boundless form inside him somewhere. He knows Aziraphale can still feel that warmgoldensmooth of himself, deep underneath. He knows Aziraphale can’t imagine it being gone, not really.

The other demons, for their part, had taken their new true forms and reveled in them. Hell teems with sharp teeth and rough scales, with iridescent wings and wet flesh. Crowley’s never known another demon that didn’t embrace these new selves, that didn’t wear them in the open like military buttons and braids. Not a lot of conversation on that front, either.

“You know,” Aziraphale had said, half-drunk and affectionate, two nights after they moved into the cottage, “I want you to be comfortable here.”

“M’comfortable,” Crowley had mumbled in half-hearted protest, furrowing his brows in confusion. Aziraphale couldn’t see it, because Crowley had been smushed up against his chest and already dozing off, a glass of wine dangling precariously in one hand, but he’d understood the tone.

“I don’t mean right now.” Aziraphale had said. “I just mean—this is our home. Our side. You should be comfortable to be yourself.”

The snake, buried deep in Crowley’s chest, had raised its head.

He’d been still and quiet for a moment, careful not to tense up, careful not to tighten all his muscles in visceral response and leap away. Can he tell? Crowley had wondered. Can he feel it there, curled like some grotesque corkscrew underneath my skin? Can he feel it there, basking in his warmth, stealing it away?

“I’m comfortable,” Crowley had repeated, more clearly, and he'd pushed the snake back down and reached up to kiss Aziraphale without fangs in his mouth.

*

The danger is in a particular thing. It increases towards a centre, and the centre of danger is here. The danger is of a particular size and shape, and it is inside. It is below.

*

Sometimes, over the years, he has found himself basking in the sun too long, burning delicate human skin into shades of pink without even realising it. Sometimes, over the centuries, he has found himself trying to curl in on himself, to twist himself into a coil, somehow surprised, after all this time, at the structure of these human bones, these human limbs. Sometimes, over the millennia, he has found himself licking his lips, searching for something in the air that he can’t find with a tongue like this.

He hates that he forgets, sometimes. The distance between what he is and what he wants to be is unfathomable, ungraspable, unending.

Not angelic, not again—he knows that. There’s nothing no one could offer him now to make him want that.

All he wants to be is free.

*

The danger is still present in your time, as it was in ours.

*

“Do you ever shed?” Aziraphale asks one morning over breakfast.

Crowley spills half his coffee down the front of him. “Do I what?”

“Shed.” Aziraphale pops a bit of egg into his mouth, as nonchalantly as if he were asking whether Crowley ever ate Lucky Charms. He’s never asked such a thing before. He’s never even—he’s never hinted—he’s never noticed before we—what did he notice? “Like molting, I suppose, but for your—”

“I know what it’s for,” Crowley cuts off.

Every other word turns to ash in his mouth, and Aziraphale finally looks up from his toast, realising rather belatedly that he’d stumbled into a minefield. Crowley can see it blooming in his eyes: oh, he doesn’t want to talk about this. Oh, this is a Sensitive Subject.

That realisation is almost worse than the question itself, but Crowley still can’t bring himself to shake off the shock of it and get on with answering.

“Oh, darling,” Aziraphale breathes, and that’s quite enough of that. The coffee slams back onto the table; Crowley is halfway to the door before Aziraphale can even finish the word. “Oh, no, darling, wait—”

“Things to do,” Crowley says shortly. “See you tonight.”

And he’s gone already, reaching for his keys and racing out the door and climbing into the Bentley and just going, just driving, the windows rolled down and the speedometer pressed to its limits.

He lets the wind rush past his face, and remembers, in bits and pieces and fragments and fractions, what it was like to be boundless.

*

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

*

It’s technically tonight when Crowley slithers his way back into the house, out of the storm that had started sometime that afternoon. 11:59, and not a moment before: Crowley keeps his promises with all the attention of a lawyer looking for a way out.

The cottage, of course, is dark. Crowley knows this is meant to entice him, meant to make him feel safe, and he hates that it works. He can hide in the shadows as he moves down the hall, through the kitchen, up the stairs. He can be the phantom, half-here and half-gone; he can be the ghost that disappears with the flick of the light.

Aziraphale is tucked into their bed already, of course, grey and blue in the darkness, muted against the sheets as if all his colours had gone out. His eyes are closed, but Crowley knows better than to think he’s actually sleeping.

He sloughs off his clothes and slides in, trying to move with deliberate human clumsiness; the sheets are already warm, and Aziraphale is already reaching for him.

It makes Crowley want to fold in on himself, a little bit, as if his breastbone were made of paper: to be confronted with the enormity of their recklessness, to touch the significance of their daring. An angel and a demon, curled in bed together. Aziraphale has so much softness and warmth in the deep core of him, where his goodness and his light and his wonder lives on. Crowley doesn’t know what to do with it, when Aziraphale presses it into his hands like this. He doesn’t know how to hang onto it with these scaled and scarred palms.

“Come here,” Aziraphale whispers, his voice nearly lost to the rain outside. His hands find Crowley’s in the sheets, tugging gently; Crowley is helpless not to follow. He holds Crowley against his chest, where Crowley can feel his heart beating; he covers Crowley with one white wing, where Crowley can feel his warmth flowing. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Crowley laughs, dry and joyless. “Don’t I?”

He knows better, even if Aziraphale doesn’t. He knows his truest form is made of fear, the same as it is made of pain, and hurt, and anger, and loneliness. His form is the final verdict, finding him guilty of every choice he’s already made even as he offers those choices to the whole of humanity. Crowley is not made for safety; he is made to flit temptation and damnation between his fingers, two sides of the same coin, and to offer them up.

Aziraphale fits his own fingers into Crowley’s, slotting into those same spaces without even a hint of caution.

“You’re safe,” he tells Crowley again. “I’m a guardian, if you care to recall. I will always keep you safe.”

Crowley pulls back, just far enough to see Aziraphale’s face. Aziraphale’s eyes are dark here, in the unlit shadows of their room, under the sweep of his own feathers. Usually so bright and shining, like seeing the sun from underneath the surface of the water, they have gone black and unnatural.

Like Crowley’s own eyes, inverted.

“Who will keep you safe from me?” he asks.

Aziraphale’s face crumples—the wet plaster sheeting of Crowley’s carefully constructed facade, falling to pieces. There’s the shed after all, Crowley thinks, and he wishes he were somewhere else.

Aziraphale is already pulling him close again, though. “You keep me safe,” Aziraphale says, hurt and furious; Crowley can’t tell which of them he’s more hurt for, or more furious at. “Do you think I love you with my eyes half-closed? That I’ve deluded myself, or dreamed you into something else entirely? I know you, Crowley. I’ve known you for six thousand bloody-odd years.”

“I’m a demon,” Crowley says, with that same rickety laugh. “I’m a serpent. The Beast of Eden, squirming at your feet. Don’t want to drag you down into the dust too, angel.”

“You don’t,” Aziraphale says, as though affronted that Crowley thinks he could drag him anywhere. Then he softens all over again, and runs a hand up Crowley’s spine. “You see all your shadows, darling, but you don’t see the shelter they make. You love me, don’t you?”

Crowley grimaces; this is about to be used against him somehow. “Yes.”

Aziraphale smiles, and Crowley can feel it against his hair, against his temple, against the corner of his mouth. “I know,” Aziraphale whispers, like he’s telling secrets. “I can feel it. Whatever you think you’re taking from me, Crowley, you’re giving it back tenfold. I never feel as safe as when I’m with you.”

Now that’s a trick lost to demons: feeling love. In Heaven, love had been a constant companion, rippling out like echolocation—and it had been torn from them. I’m here, I love you. I’m here, I love you.

Crowley has not felt someone else’s love in six thousand years. The love in his own chest echoes out, and hears no echoes back.

The feathers over them now are luminous, so bright and white that Crowley has to shut his eyes, hide a little in Aziraphale’s chest. Angels don’t really glow, but Aziraphale isn’t all that good of an angel—he does what he wants to make his points.

Slowly, Crowley manifests his own wings, so black they contemplate the void, the space between the stars. His feathers slot, cautiously, around Aziraphale’s. The light dims, and Aziraphale’s white feathers have turned blue and purple in the shadows of Crowley’s; Crowley’s black ones have turned iridescent red and green under the shine of Aziraphale’s.

Shadow and light, light and shadow. One inside the other—the other creating the one.

“I love you,” Aziraphale tells him softly, stroking a thumb over his cheek. “You love me. That has always saved me.”

It feels daring, too big on its edges, but Crowley lets Aziraphale hold him close and thinks, maybe.

Maybe they’ve built something here, with this cottage, with these nights. They’ve claimed the ability to slide their feathers against each other’s; to press their foreheads together and breathe. It’s a sanctuary as much as it is a triumph, built from everything they’ve been and everything they’ve chosen not to be and everything they’ll yet become.

Everything they are.

“I am a serpent, though,” Crowley blurts again, a bit suddenly. “A snake. Great big animal thing.”

Azirpahale goes still under him, and he knows that Aziraphale can hear it in his voice: oh, this is the important bit. Oh, this is the heart of the Subject. He says it anyway; he’s so tired of not saying it. Of pretending it doesn’t matter; of pretending he’s fine, that it’s funny, that he doesn’t care. He’s so tired of trying to distance himself from himself; he is so tired of existing in only halves.

They are here, and they are on their own side, and Crowley wants to be loved. As everything that he is, and not in parts. It’s an ugly, selfish thought, he knows, but he wants it all the same.

“I don’t miss Heaven, they’re all a bunch of tossers,” Crowley goes on, choked around each syllable, his yellow eyes burning, “but I used to be so much, and now I’m—I’m just a snake.”

“Oh, my love,” Aziraphale says, drawing Crowley back against him, kissing him softly on each of his eyelids, and then on his mouth. ”I don’t know who you used to be. I know who you are, everything that you are, and I’m in love with all of you.“

Maybe, Crowley thinks. Maybe.

The next time Aziraphale says, “I love you,” murmured into the skin above Crowley’s heart as he settles deep inside, Crowley lets it sink beneath his ribs and buries it along his bones, and he breathes, and reaches, and hangs on.

“I love you,” Crowley says, gasping, and it does not feel like a weapon. “I love you,” he says, and for once, it feels like a shield.

*

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

*

When Aziraphale comes downstairs two days later, Crowley is waiting for him on the sofa, all thick dark coils and shining scales, and Aziraphale stops in the doorway and does not blink.

I should not have done this, Crowley thinks immediately.

His heart is beating so fast he can barely breathe. He struggles to hold himself still, to overcome the urge to hide. He struggles to keep his tongue inside his mouth, and when he fails, he tastes the hesitation and the trepidation on Aziraphale’s skin. It curdles in his stomach.

But there’s something else there, too—something that stops Crowley from rushing off the sofa back into his human corporation. Something familiar, but unrecognised. Like a memory, or a dream, or a memory of a dream.

It’s thick and heavy as honey, pouring off Aziraphale in huge, cresting waves. Pheromones and hormones, pores opening and blood moving, synapses rolling over with a million electric currents. It tastes dark and full of life, like bitter chocolate or black earth. Crowley flicks his tongue out one more time, trying to place the burn of it, like good whisky, and the smoke of it, like the hot bursts of creating stars.

“Good morning,” Aziraphale says softly, taking a single step into the room, and the taste of that strange, half-dreaming scent could drown Crowley. He’d let it.

He realises, all of a sudden, what it is.

In the next instant he’s on his feet again, stumbling from the sofa on unsteady legs into Aziraphale’s arms, already reaching for him, already crashing their mouths together. His heart is beating in triple time, his hands are sweating, his eyes burn. The scent is muted in this form, barely more than a hint remaining, but he can still taste it. Like having a hint of cinnamon you’ve never noticed before pointed out, and now your mouth is full of spice.

Now that he’s tasted it once, he will always taste it.

It’s love.

“I didn’t know,” Crowley gasps against Aziraphale’s lips, as Aziraphale gathers him up. He takes Crowley’s kisses as they come, holds him up from failing knees. “You said, you said but I didn’t know.”

Aziraphale makes a noise like it hurts, like he can’t stand it, and he hauls Crowley closer and kisses him deeper, one hand already fisting in the back of Crowley’s shirt as if to hold him in place while Crowley pours out all his uncertainty, all his fear and despair and regret, the force of every iron-scented starburst rippling through him all at once as he gives up and gives in and gives Aziraphale everything he thought he’d ever lost.

Because this is not about being lost. This is about being found.

“I love you,”Aziraphale says, heady and urgent, biting the words into Crowley’s mouth, into the air in his lungs. “I love you, of course I love you, you ridiculous thing.”

And Crowley has believed in so many things over the last six thousand years, he’s believed in wine and he’s believed in laughter, in automobiles and ingenuity, he’s believed in humanity’s ability to fuck things up and their ability to make things better, he’s believed in the songs that have always risen out of the darkness wherever people have gathered and he’s believed in God Herself, praying like a damn fool as if She were still listening, but now, finally, he can believe in this one last thing.

Aziraphale crowds him against the wall in one moment and slips one hand up under the hem of Crowley’s shirt in the next, skating over Crowley’s spine, feeling out the notches of each vertebrae he just saw multiplied and elongated into hundreds not a minute before as if he loves each and every one of them.

He does, Crowley thinks, and his hands can’t find their grounding—hips, shoulders, stomach, sternum, all of Aziraphale, every inch of Aziraphale, he wants everything. He really does.

“I love you,” Crowley manages to say back, slamming his head back into the wall as Aziraphale undoes him at every seam, digging his thumbs into Crowley’s hips and raising bruises along the crux of his neck. “Can you—please, Aziraphale, can you–”

“Yes,” Aziraphale says, pushing Crowley’s shirt up to find the skin of his ribs, the trail of hair down his belly, the pink nub of his nipples. “I can feel it. I can feel it, Crowley, and it feels—oh, darling, it’s never—you’ve always—”

“Yeah,” Crowley croaks, “I’ve always.”

Now that he’s tasted it, he can feel it, and he knows Aziraphale has always too.

This is how it feels: reckless and wild, hauling each other upright as they try for the stairs up to their bedroom and fail on the first step, stumbling and stopping with Aziraphale on his arse, laying out along the risers as if he doesn’t feel each one along his back and thighs as Crowley stretches over him, kissing him until they’re both dizzy and drunk on the shift and the slide and the press and the roll of hips and hands.

This is how it feels: warm and flickering, the cold flare of a miracle glittering along Crowley’s senses, the soft sheets of their bed, still freshly made, rising out of nothing to meet him as Aziraphale presses him back down, the hitch of their bodies as they find each other in all the familiar places, in the way Aziraphale’s teeth against Crowley’s collarbones always make his breath stop, in the way the bow-tie slides out of Aziraphale’s collar, in the way their buttons slip and their hands seek and their chests heave and their pulses rush in six-four time but always as one. Always as one.

This is how it feels: right here and right now, without hesitation and for once, without fear, and Crowley sinks down into it and lets Aziraphale kiss it into his skin, his bones, his muscle, his blood, his scales. This is how it feels: immediate and desperate, aching and hard, like a kiss to a breastbone, like a hand on the inside of a thigh. This is how it feels: the strain and the flex and the bitten off plea and the slow slide of Aziraphale’s mouth as he worships every inch of a body Crowley has never felt so himself in.

This is how it feels now: like home.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says, or tries to say. He feels like he’s crawling out of his skin with want, with need; his cock is flushed and wet inside Aziraphale’s mouth, and it’s too much and not enough and every other paradox happening all at once. “Aziraphale—”

“Tell me what you need,” Aziraphale says, laving his tongue over Crowley’s hip bone, up the sensitive skin of his waist that gives and  instinctively tries to pull away. Aziraphale follows after him, his mouth tilting up on one side, pinning Crowley down. His hand strokes up Crowley’s cock, slow and lingering.

There’s only ever been one thing Crowley has needed. He wrenches his eyes back open, finding Aziraphale’s in the morning sunlight. “You.”

It’s cheesy and soppy and ridiculous and it doesn’t matter, not even a little, because Aziraphale’s smile resolves into a grin as he surges forward again, kissing Crowley hard, fitting the lengths of their bodies together, angles and curves and dips and valleys, and Crowley feels it, Crowley feels all of it.

Aziraphale’s love is a tangible thing in the room with them, and it feels like Aziraphale’s breath on his cheek and Aziraphale’s hands on his thighs, skating up between his legs, searching and finding. It feels gentle, like the soft stroke of a single slick finger, and it feels careful, like the press inside. It feels deep, and seeking, and revealing, and Crowley’s breath comes in pants and his hips shift and and his back arcs and it feels like needing, and wanting, and everything he’s already held in both his hands and failed to recognise, and he presses himself down onto Aziraphale’s fingers and tries to lay this knowledge over every memory they’ve ever shared.

“M’ready,” Crowley says, panting. “Aziraphale, I’m ready.”

Aziraphale doesn’t need asking twice; he slides his fingers out and fits himself between Crowley’s thighs, guiding one knee up around his shoulder, reaching up to kiss him, and kiss him, and kiss him, as he slowly presses himself inside.

“I love you,” he says, rolling his hips deep and even, and Crowley believes him.

Crowley believes him.

Crowley believes in the rush and the roll, in the forward and back, in the bead of sweat that curves over Aziraphale’s shoulders as he fucks into him; he believes in the rhythm and the harmony, in the shallow burst of breath and the humid whispered words that fill the sticky air between them, harder and faster, the soar of adrenalin and the surge of hips, of hands, nipping teeth and swiping tongues, biting fingers and the unrelenting gaze of Aziraphale’s eyes; he believes in the sound of their useless, well-worn hearts, in the groan and the whimper and the gasp; he believes in the rolling and the rocking, the straining and the building, the building and the building and Aziraphale’s hand is around his cock and his eyes are watching Crowley fall into pieces, watching Crowley fall into love, as he thrusts and moves and needs, and needs, and needs, for Crowley to believe him and Crowley to be here with him and Crowley can finally feel it—

Time hangs, crystalline, and Crowley can see all of it, he can hear all of it, feel all of it.

The next moment is a detonation.

The crash and clash of atoms, the disintegration of barriers, of every meaningful distinction—before and after, here and there, himself and himself. You and me, he thinks, between one breath and the next, and he comes slick and hot over Aziraphale’s hand, his every muscle pulling Aziraphale closer, hanging on, his back arching as he cries out into Aziraphale’s mouth, as Aziraphale slips one hand underneath him to clutch at the wing of his shoulder blade, and then it’s Aziraphale, losing the rhythm, losing the breath, pressing and pressing and pressing, flying after Crowley, wrenching his hips one last time and coming deep inside him.

“I know, now,” Crowley says, buried in Aziraphale’s chest as their breath evens out, as their hearts begin to slow. “I know.”

Eventually things subside. Eventually Aziraphale slips away, miracling things clean again, and tucks Crowley into his side. His fingers trace in slow circles over Crowley’s skin, finding the odd patches of scales in the insides of Crowley’s elbows, over the skin of his ribs, nestled in the hollow of his throat. Crowley lets him, and does not will them away.

He knows, now, and something inside Crowley quakes, and shakes loose, and begins to rise.

*

The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically.

*

“Here,” Aziraphale says, minutes later or hours, Crowley doesn’t know. He guides Crowley forward; there is a tall, cold glass of ice water at his lips. “Slowly, there you are.”

He drinks, and settles back against the pillows, exhaling. The water is a relief on his tongue.

He feels achy and raw, split open along the shield of his breastbone to expose the bloody scaled mass beneath. Aziraphale folds him close again, running soothing hands down his sides followed by a cool cloth, clean and refreshing. The cloth finds Crowley’s forehead, brushing back the hair stuck to his skin, and Aziraphale presses a kiss down after it.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says. The name is a jumble in his mouth. He catches Aziraphale’s wrist, presses a clumsy kiss back to it. “I felt it. The—thingy. Love thing. Yours.”

“You said,” Aziraphale agrees. He stops, pauses, looks down at Crowley. “Do you really not? Normally?”

There’s something studied about the way Aziraphale asks it, something that reminds Crowley of hands clasped behind backs and stormy skies over London bandstands. He shakes his brain loose a little, and presses Aziraphale back into the pillows, nestling himself on his chest, resting his chin on his hands crossed over Aziraphale’s heart.

“Not—not the way you can. Not the way angels can.” He shrugs, taps his fingers against Aziraphale’s chest. “Inside, like.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale says faintly. “You really didn’t know at all, then.”

Crowley’s brow furrows. “Well, I knew. How do you think everyone else goes about it, angel?” He closes his eyes again, settles in more deeply against Aziraphale’s chest. “Knew it like a human knows it, I suppose. It’s like—feeling it all on the outside. Not like it goes through you, but like it lives around you. Just have to pay closer attention, that’s all.”

He can feel Aziraphale start to relax underneath, tentatively, as he goes over it in his mind. Crowley skates his fingers back and forth through the golden downy hair on Aziraphale’s chest, waiting for him to work through it.

“How did you know to pay attention?” he finally asks.

Crowley grins, and slides one eye open to look at him. He can tell it’s still fully yellow from side to side, but he’s watching, and waiting, and Aziraphale doesn’t flinch away.

He never has, when it’s Crowley. That’s how Crowley knows. That’s how he’s always known.

“I’m always paying attention to you,” he says, and he leans in to kiss Aziraphale one more time.

*

This place is best shunned, and left uninhabited.

*

Crowley stands at the window, looking out.

The South Downs are gorgeous on nights like these—the moonlight spilling down the leaves and petals of the gardens, illuminating the broad swathes of meadow and field beyond. Still, there’s something poisonous about it. Something nefarious, lurking behind every starlight tree and underneath every shadowing bush.

The serpent rises in Crowley’s chest, tail flickering, eyes wide, teeth at the ready.

This time, Crowley gives into it.

He coils himself down and in, taking refuge in the power and the strength and the stealth of this form. His body is fast and long and lean, and he can move and strike in an instant if he has to.

But Crowley doesn’t have to. His tongue flits into the air, once and again, and there’s nothing there he doesn’t recognise, and everything there that he does, these days. Something burning and smoky, something full of cinnamon and chocolate, tannin and spice, washing over him in wave after wave after wave.

Aziraphale.

“Come here, you old serpent,” Aziraphale says softly, flicking on the light behind them, settling into his favourite chair. “Let me read to you for a while.”

Crowley hesitates a moment at the window, looking out, but he knows that they’re safe. He can taste that they’re safe. He turns away, easier than he ever has before, and slithers, meter after meter of him, into Aziraphale’s lap, slipping his head up around Aziraphale’s shoulders.

The taste and the feeling of him is an old comfort, these days, and the sound of his voice vibrates through Crowley’s endless body, into all his endless bones. You do not have to be good, Aziraphale recites gently, even though Crowley knows that’s not really written in the old copy of Frankenstein that they’ve been reading together. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. 

Sunlight casts long across the floors of the cottage, even now in the middle of the night. Crowley knows it would last for days, if he let it.

You’re not alone, the sunlight tells him, the stories tell him. I will take care of youI will be with you, always. You are safe here; you are home.

And Aziraphale does take care of him. Crowley knows he always will, when Crowley needs him, the same way Crowley takes care of Aziraphale. That is the basis, the foundation, the sound and the taste and the feel of love. 

Crowley know this.

He has, after all, has been paying quite close attention. 

*