Crowley's skin felt tight.
The demon chose to ignore it, instead focusing on his breakfast and the angel with him.
He'd convinced Aziraphale to venture out with him to some ridiculously pretentious and overpriced coffee shop, and he was quite proud of himself for accomplishing that.
Aziraphale had looked at the shop skeptically, all sleek metal, glass, and minimalism inside, until Crowley had lured him through the door with the promise of pastries, and now the angel was happily tasting the variety they offered while Crowley occasionally sipped at his drink. He'd requested just about every add on the store offered just to watch the poor barista fume internally as they prepared it. It tasted horrible, of course, but that was a small price to pay for mischief. He didn't care much for food, anyhow.
Crowley was busying himself watching the humans that shuffled in and out, occasionally causing slight mishaps – and untied shoelace here, a spilled coffee there. Aziraphale scolded him lightly, making sure to miracle extra sugar into the coffees of his victims. All in all, it was a good morning.
Aziraphale seemed to think the same thing. "Crowley," he said between bites of a chocolate croissant, "we simply must come back here sometime. This food is delicious, and that barista was so sweet.”
Crowley's lips quirked into a small smile. "I'm glad you think so, angel. Although, I'm not sure what the barista will think of having me as a regular."
Aziraphale rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Well, if you would just order a normal coffee like anyone else, it wouldn't be a problem, my dear."
"What fun is there in that?" Crowley smirked, taking another sip of his drink (hiding a gag at the flavor from Aziraphale). He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His skin was still tight; itchy now, too. 'Shit. This is not a good time for this' he thought, and scratched at his arm absently, not realizing he was making the skin splotchy and red.
"Crowley," Aziraphale said slowly, "... what are you doing?"
His hand froze. "Uh," he tried to think of an excuse for a moment; came up empty, "nothing."
Aziraphale frowned, clearly not believing him, but said nothing as he finished the last of his pastries. As soon as the angel was done, Crowley jumped up from his seat as if it were on fire and rushed to the door, holding it open for Aziraphale even in his rush to leave.
In the Bentley, Crowley's fingers drummed an insistent beat on the steering wheel. God-, Satan-, somebody, he was so uncomfortable, he wanted to jump out of his own skin. It took all his focus not to start up the itching again, so he couldn't speed as excessively as he normally would. In the corner of his eye, he could see Aziraphale glancing at him with concern, and he bit his tongue. It wouldn't do to say something embarrassing.
"Crowley, dear, are you alright?" Aziraphale asked as the car came to a stop at the bookshop. "You're acting rather strange."
Crowley's knuckles were white on the steering wheel. " 'M just fine, Angel." He ground out, flooding with shame when it came out sounding aggressive. "Er, sorry. I just... need to get home."
Aziraphale's hand hovered over the door handle for a moment, and he hesitated. "You know you can tell me anything, Crowley." He said, softly.
"Ngk. I - yeah." Crowley stuttered " I know that, angel." His throat felt like it was burning with things unsaid. But how would he even begin to go about explaining that he had to shed, of all things?
Aziraphale seemed satisfied (at least temporarily) by his answer and opened the door. "I'll call you tomorrow, my dear."
Crowley watched Aziraphale disappear through the door before slumping in his seat and giving into the urge to itch. He hissed angrily, clawing at his arms until the skin was angry and raw. Eventually, he gave up the losing battle to the itching, pressed the clutch into the floor, and tore away from the curb in the direction of his flat.
It was pitch black when Crowley woke up on his couch. He moved to push himself up but found that he currently had no arms to do so. With a disgruntled hiss, he swung his head around, assessing the state of the scales that were visible through his blurry vision. What should have been gleaming black scales were a dull gray, and while his skin had been dry and itchy earlier, his scales now felt waxy and oily. He flicked his tongue out, tasting the humidity in the air.
Good. His plan was working -- he'd run into the bathroom as soon as he'd gotten back from his breakfast with Aziraphale and turned the water on as hot as it could possibly go, letting steam fill the apartment. Now he just had to wait and see if it would pay off. His tongue darted out again, trying to sense his surroundings as he slowly slithered in the direction of the bathroom, bumping his snout on the baseboards several times as he went.
Water was still pouring from the showerhead and was miraculously still hot. Crowley slithered into the stall, careful to avoid the scalding water, and coiled in the corner. It was much more humid and warmer in here. He'd sit here and let the humidity soak into his scales while he figured out the best way to get out of the old skin. Crowley stared at the wall, watching the water run down it while he racked his brain. There weren't any rough surfaces in the flat to rub against, but… perhaps a towel would work? He yawned widely. It was hard to focus when it was so comfortably warm in the shower stall. Maybe he could just take another nap while he let his scales soak...
When Crowley woke again, it was to a feeling of unbearable tightness. The sound of the water that was still pounding onto the floor had grown aggravating, and he willed the showerhead off before slithering out.
Now for the exhausting part. Crowley willed a large towel into existence on the floor of the bathroom and slithered underneath, wriggling his way under until his whole body was covered. Then he wriggled some more, trying to get just one section of skin loose. After several minutes with no results, he poked his head back out and made his way over to the door. It looked like he'd have to just slither along the wall to try and get his old skin off, unfortunately.
An hour into his rounds around the flat, Crowley wished he'd thought ahead and gotten a head start on his shed by peeling a patch loose while he'd still had hands. He'd gotten the skin under his jaw loose, but he still had a long way to go until it was gone.
Several hours later, there were patches of scales scattered around the flat. This was by far, one of Crowley's worst sheds to date, but at least he'd gotten nearly everything off. The few bits that were still stuck - like his tail - could easily be removed once he was back in his regular form. He slithered in a circle, double checking everything, and once he was satisfied, slithered up onto the couch to wait for morning, when he'd have his body back.
" -- I know you're probably still sleeping, but I was wondering if you'd like to come by the bookshop later today. Please call me back when you can."
Crowley blinked open his eyes, squinting in harsh morning light. That was Aziraphale on his answering machine. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, waiting for it to come into focus. It sometimes took a moment for his eyes to adjust after a shed. He blinked again, then once more just to be sure. Things were still blurry.
Uh - oh.
Crowley jolted upright, quickly snapped his fingers to dress himself, and stumbled to the bathroom where he'd left his cellphone. If he didn't answer Aziraphale soon, the angel would worry about him and come looking, and Crowley did not need Aziraphale to see him with a stuck eye cap. This was humiliating; just another reminder that he was damned and had been cursed to crawl on his belly through the dirt all those years ago.
Crowley pressed 1 on his speed dial, and Aziraphale's phone rang on the other end of the line.
"Angel, it's me," he said as the line connected, "Sorry I missed your call, I was just -"
"Sleeping?" Aziraphale guessed. "I figured as much. I hope a long nap improved your mood; you really were acting so odd yesterday."
"Er, yeah." Crowley said awkwardly, looking at himself in the mirror, "You know me... uh - grumpy when I haven't slept in a while..." He squinted, poking at one eye. The skin around it was swollen, and the eye itself felt cracked and painful. He winced, drawing his fingers away from the eye.
"... - so be here around one o'clock, I'll have some nice tea ready." Apparently Aziraphale had been speaking without Crowley even noticing the first half.
“Uh, Yep. Yeah. Sounds good. I will be at the bookshop for tea. Seeyoulater!" Crowley said hurriedly and hung up the phone. He looked back to the mirror, leaning forward to poke at the eye some more.
Several attempts to remove the offending eye cap just left him squinting and in pain, and the demon reluctantly summoned his sunglasses. He'd have to cover the irritated eye for now. Continuing to prod at it would only make it worse. Maybe having tea with Aziraphale would give the swelling enough time to go down and he could try again.
Checking the time, Crowley sauntered out the door, pausing on the street when he reached his car. His vision was far too blurry for driving right now, and the amount of energy required to miracle himself a safe trip despite that would exhaust him. Grumbling under his breath, the demon shoved his key into his pocket and continued past the car, resigning himself to walk to the bookshop.
Crowley was late for tea.
Aziraphale had been pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the front room, peeking out the window to check the street for signs of Crowley’s Bentley, then rushing back to check on the tea that was going cold, and then back to the window. Just as Aziraphale reached for his phone on the wall, the bell above the door rang out, and Crowley stumbled in, panting and walking more unevenly than usual.
The angel and the demon both spoke at the same time:
“Sorry I’m late, Aziraphale, I had to walk.”
“Oh, Crowley, I’m so glad you’re finally here!”
“You –“ Aziraphale blinked, processing what Crowley had said. “ – what?”
“I walked here.” Crowley repeated, coming further into the shop.
“Yes, I heard you, but why?” Aziraphale pressed, concerned. “You never walk anywhere.”
“Oh, well. You know. Got to stay fit and all that.” Crowley said nonchalantly, not meeting Aziraphale’s questioning gaze.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, becoming annoyed, “We are celestial beings. We don’t have to stay fit. Are you sure you’re alright? Oh, I knew I shouldn’t have let you leave like that yesterday-“
“Oh, enough with the third degree, Aziraphale!” Crowley snapped, rubbing at his eye beneath his sunglasses. “Maybe I walked because I wanted to. It doesn’t mean anything!”
Aziraphale’s lips pressed into a thin line. “I’ll get the tea.” He said coolly, turning on his heel and disappearing into the kitchen.
Crowley groaned and slumped onto the worn couch, running his hands over his face. ‘Way to go, you stupid snake’ he thought ‘Now you’re acting like an ass just because you don’t want Aziraphale to know that you shed.’
Aziraphale returned with two cups of tea. “It got cold while I was waiting for you.” He said, shoving a cup into Crowley’s hands. “You can warm it up yourself if you’re going to act like that.”
Crowley looked down at the cold tea in shame while Aziraphale picked up a book from the table next to him, ignoring him. Crowley set his tea off to the side, not feeling up to touching it after snapping at Aziraphale. After a moment, he pulled out his phone, hoping to mindlessly scroll until Aziraphale finally spoke again. He blinked. The letters swam before his eyes.
Crowley blinked and rubbed at his eye again. No luck. The screen was still hopelessly illegible. Grumbling, he pulled his glasses up and brought the phone closer to his face and squinted at the screen. With some difficulty, he cycled through his usual apps – leaving some annoying tweets and comments as he did so.
“You aren’t drinking your tea.” Aziraphale said from behind his book.
“ ‘M not really in the mood for tea.” Crowley scowled, scratching at his eye angrily.
“I’m getting rather tired of your attitude, Crowley.” Aziraphale snapped. “Really, what is the matter with you? You left breakfast – pardon me – like a bat out of hell yesterday, and you’ve been acting prickly since.”
“It’s nothing, angel, really.” Crowley insisted, rubbing at his eye more furiously than ever.
Aziraphale set his book down, eyeing Crowley. “Why are you rubbing at your eyes like that?”
“I’m not,” Crowley lied, even as he did exactly that.
“Oh, for fu-“ Aziraphale lunged for Crowley’s arm, “stop that!”
Crowley stared at him. “You almost cursed.”
Aziraphale glared at him, still firmly holding his hand away from his eyes. “Is that really important right now, Crowley?”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “No. It isn’t. Would you please just tell me what’s wrong?”
Crowley tried to squirm away from his grip, hissing angrily. “Aziraphale, let me go.”
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong with you.” Aziraphale shot back, tightening his grip to keep the demon from wriggling free. “I thought you trusted me.”
Crowley froze. “I do.”
“Then why can’t you just tell me?”
“Becaussse, it’s humiliating.” Crowley hissed, looking away. Aziraphale waited patiently, giving Crowley a moment. Eventually the demon mumbled something.
“What was that?”
“I said I hadabadshed!” Crowley shouted.
Aziraphale let go of the demon and settled beside him while he rubbed his wrists. “You – you ... shed?” He asked, confused.
“Yesss. I’m the Serpent of Eden, or didn’t you remember?” Crowley bit out.
Aziraphale thought for a moment. “What’s so humiliating about that? I’ve always known that. If you needed help with something like that, you could have just asked me, Crowley.”
Crowley stared up at the ceiling. “What’s so humiliating -? Has it ever occurred to you, Aziraphale, that I don’t like thinking of myself as a sssnake? That I don’t like to be reminded that I’m fallen?”
“You don’t have to punish yourself for that, Crowley.” Aziraphale told him softly. “Just because you were made to be a snake doesn’t mean that you can’t reshape the meaning of it. Being a snake doesn’t necessarily have to be miserable.” Crowley didn’t respond, so he continued. “So, you had a bad shed – what does that mean? How can I help?”
Crowley sighed and lifted his sunglasses. “It means that some of my skin gets stuck. This time it was over one of my eyes.” He turned so that Aziraphale could see it. Crowley’s left eye was cloudy and appeared as if it were cracked. The white of his eye had become an angry red from his incessant scratching. Aziraphale studied it for a moment.
“I’ll be right back,” the angel said, and disappeared up the stairs. Crowley sunk into the couch and crossed his arms, thoroughly embarrassed. Aziraphale returned a moment later with a damp cloth and a handful of Q – tips and settled back down on the couch.
“Put your head in my lap.”
Crowley nearly choked. “What?”
“Oh, just -,” Aziraphale pulled his head into his lap. “Sit still.” He instructed. “I’m going to try and get that off of your eye.”
Crowley did as he was told, sitting still as Aziraphale held his head in place by his chin with one hand, and wiped the damp cloth over he eye with the other. Crowley winced.
“Sorry, dear.” Aziraphale apologized, drawing the cloth away from his face. “Did that
Crowley shrugged. “No more than it already does.”
Aziraphale wiped at the eye again, gentler this time. “How do you normally go about removing these?”
Crowley made a face. “It would probably easier if I were snake, actually.”
“If you’re uncomfortable with that, you don’t have to –“ Aziraphale started, but Crowley had already shifted, and a heap of coils was left in his place. Aziraphale peered at Crowley’s serpentine head, seeing the stuck eye cap and the pale scales around it that were also stuck to the snake.
“Oh, come here” Aziraphale said, holding out a hand and Crowley wedged his head in the palm, allowing himself to be lifted while Aziraphale resumed his work. After thoroughly soaking the eye with the damp cloth, Aziraphale gently wiped a Q – tip over it, and the scale popped right off, revealing the healthy and vibrant eye beneath. “There you go, good as new.”
A long tongue flickered out towards his face in response and Aziraphale smiled. Slowly, Crowley slithered out of his hand and turned around to reveal a few small patches of stuck shed near his tail on his belly. Aziraphale sighed, “You know, if you have this much trouble shedding, I wish you would have asked for help sooner.” He wiped the wet cloth over Crowley’s scales slowly, watching with fascination as the scales slowly peeled away from his side. Aziraphale shook the scales from his hand, miracling them away.
Crowley faced Aziraphale once more and flicked his tongue out again, seemingly in thanks, and swayed his head from side to side. “I think you should take some time to enjoy your fresh scales, my dear.” Aziraphale recommended gently. Perhaps if Crowley had good experiences while a snake, he wouldn’t view his animal aspect with such shame. Said snake was still for a moment, probably thinking over the angel’s words, before sliding from the couch to the floor and slithering between the books strewn throughout the shop.
“Please be careful, Crowley! I’m going to open up the shop for a few hours.” Aziraphale shouted as he disappeared and got up from the couch to flip the open sign on the door. The angel settled in a chair near the door to read a book and keep an eye on any customers that might wander in.
The sun was setting when several children ran into the shop excitedly, disturbing Aziraphale, who looked up from his book. “Excuse me, can I help you with anything?” He asked sternly, causing the children to freeze.
“We just wanted to look at your snake, mister!” One of the children, a little boy said. “Can we please pet it?”
Aziraphale glanced towards the window, where Crowley must have slithered to at some point. He wasn’t entirely sure if Crowley would appreciate being disturbed. ‘Oh, but he had always had a soft spot for children, hadn’t he?’
“Alright,” Aziraphale relented, “but if he doesn’t want to be pet, please don’t bother him.”
The children nodded excitedly and darted over, hopping over books on their way to the window. “Hi, mister snake!” The little boy who’d asked to pet him said as he approached the window. Crowley lifted his head, turning to look at the three children. The froze for a moment while his long tongue darted out towards them rapidly, as if determining their worth. After a moment, Crowley stretched out towards them, curious. The children happily stroked at his scales, laughing as his scales tickled their skin.
“He’s so cool!” One of them, a young girl, whispered in awe. “I’m gunna tell my mum I want one!”
“If you get one, can I come over to pet it?”
Aziraphale watched as the children babbled back and forth about snakes while Crowley slithered around, humoring them. The light coming through the windows was beginning to grow dim.
“I think you three should be heading home now, yes?” Aziraphale said, and the children looked out the window at the setting sun glumly.
“Yes…” They chorused in disappointment as Aziraphale guided them to the door. “Thank you for letting us say hi to you snake.” The girl said as they left.
Crowley watched as they left, lifting his head high off the ground to do so. Once they were out the door, he slithered back onto the couch, and a moment later his usual lanky form was sprawled across it.
“That wasn’t so terrible, was it?” Aziraphale asked as he settled on the couch beside him.
“ ‘spose not.” Crowley admitted, laying his legs over Aziraphale’s lap and heating his tea from that afternoon.
“Will you tell me the next time you’re going to shed so I can help you?”
Crowley sipped at his tea. “… yes.”
“Thank you, my dear.” Aziraphale smiled warmly and reached out to ruffle Crowley’s hair. After a quiet moment, he added, “…stubborn serpent.”
Crowley stuck his forked tongue out at the angel.