Aziraphale was staring at Crowley, face set. The angel’s face clearly said that his mind had not been swayed despite the last hour of arguing.
“Crowley, we don’t know what’s going on. I agree with you, we should look into it but you’re not going alone. I don’t care if whatever it is is in Hell. It’s too dangerous.”
Crowley stopped pacing, turning to stare at Aziraphale. “Angel. You don’t belong in Hell. I can’t lose you, Aziraphale.”
Aziraphale looked into the golden eyes. “And what if I lose you?”
“You won’t.” Crowley’s voice was firm. “I promise, I’ll just go take a look and come back. Won’t even stick around and make any trouble. But that note we got, that they’ve got a plan on how to deal with us-” Crowley paused then he continued softer. “Please let me keep you safe. Please.”
Aziraphale stood, crossing the distance between them. He opened his arms, an invitation. Crowley tucked himself in against Aziraphale’s chest.
Aziraphale tightened his arms, turning to catch Crowley’s lips with his own. When the kiss broke he gently traced his hand over Crowley’s cheek. “Can we discuss this later, love? Let our minds clear a bit?”
Crowley nodded and smiled gently as he leaned in for another kiss.
A few hours later Aziraphale woke up in their bed, but his arms were no longer around Crowley but around a large pillow instead. Crowley was whispering something at the foot of the bed, staring down at-
Aziraphale jumped up, but he wasn’t fast enough. The barrier knocked him back. “Crowley-”
Crowley was looking at him, but he didn’t cross the barrier. His hand raised for a moment then he let it drop. “I’ll be back soon. Promise. Left you a book.” He gestured at the bedside table. “If I’m not back in an hour this’ll fade out. Didn’t want-” He stopped as if he realized he’d said too much.
Aziraphale said his name again, but it was too late. Crowley disappeared.
Aziraphale didn’t reach for the book, he opened the drawer of the nightstand and pulled out an old cell phone. Then he dialed one of the few numbers he knew. He hoped Anathema was still in London, he did have a rather bad habit of losing track of the humans.
Aziraphale explained as Anathema hurried over. As soon as she broke the line of the circle, Aziraphale closed his eyes and was gone. Anathema shrugged, but decided not to wander far.
Aziraphale didn’t pause at the entrance to Hell. He took the steps three at a time in his rush. He could sense Crowley. He could sense other beings too, but they didn’t matter. Crowley was there, and Crowley needed him.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark he finally spotted the demon. He looked battered, but he was on his feet. He was fending someone off, but he was fighting and fine. Aziraphale started to make his way across the room to him, batting away a demon that was foolish enough to try to get between the pair.
That was when the room lit with a bright light. A ray shot through the room. Aziraphale had a brief moment to wonder what was going on, and then he saw it barely brush Crowley, touching his arm. And Crowley was falling.
He caught Crowley before he hit the floor, but the demon was unconscious in his arms. Aziraphale refused to think it could be any worse, that he could be any worse, that-
Aziraphale saw the beam hit another being in the room and watched them disappear on the spot.
He pulled Crowley into his arms, and he focused on home. Focused on getting them there. He tightened his grip on the demon as they faded from the room and reappeared in their own back room of the bookshop.
He saw Anathema was still there.
“Some sort of ray? It hit him. I don’t know what it did, he’s-” Aziraphale looked down at the demon in his arms.
Anathema nodded. “I’ll get supplies. Just, keep him breathing.” Then she was running out the door.
Aziraphale laid Crowley down gently on their bed. Breathing. He was still breathing. Aziraphale tried to focus on that while he tried to examine exactly what had happened, and how he’d been wounded.
He rested one hand gently on Crowley’s forehead as the other clenched the demon’s hand . “Don’t leave me now. Not now, love, please.” The words came out a whisper. A plea.
Crowley’s breathing faltered for a heart beat before resettling and Aziraphale felt the pit grow in his stomach. He could feel the presence behind him. He took one last look at Crowley, kissing his hand slowly as he set it down.
Then he turned. He released his wings as he turned, bristling them out and around Crowley. Blue eyes stared into the endless depth of DEATH’s eyes. Where his voice before had been soft and gentle, there was nothing benign about Aziraphale’s voice now. “Leave.”
“YOU KNOW I CANNOT.”
For the first time, Aziraphale wished he had his sword. He spared a quick glance back over his shoulder at the demon still out cold behind him. Still breathing. He took a deep breath and centered himself, then he ran at DEATH.
DEATH swatted him away as if he were a fly.
Aziraphale saw him take a step forward from where he lay on the floor. He didn’t take a breath to regroup this time, he just dived at DEATH again.
This time DEATH held onto him for a moment, seeming to almost consider him before he threw him against the opposite wall.
Aziraphale was back on his feet in a heartbeat, diving at DEATH again. He had no plan. His only plan was to keep himself between the two. To protect Crowley. Nothing else mattered.
This time when he ran into DEATH, there was no response from the dark angel. He simply stood there, watching Aziraphale try to move him. Aziraphale thought he may have heard a bit of begrudging admiration in his voice.
“STOP BEFORE YOU GET HURT.”
Aziraphale felt anger rise in him. Hurt him. The only unbearable pain in this room was the fate of the demon behind him. The only pain he refused to suffer was losing him. Aziraphale unleashed his full angelic self as he continued to push against DEATH, desperately trying to keep him away from the demon.
“YOU CAN’T HURT ME, GUARDIAN OF THE EASTERN GATE. YOUR STRENGTH DOESN’T MATTER HERE.”
Aziraphale didn’t stop pushing. DEATH actually took a step back as Aziraphale managed to gasp out. “You can’t have him.”
DEATH swatted him to the wall again. “I DON’T WANT HIM.”
Aziraphale could barely breathe, but he moved himself back between DEATH and Crowley. Wings protectively around the demon behind him. Still breathing. Still alive. He had a moment to catch his breath and maybe he could come up with a plan-
Aziraphale’s voice came out in a hiss that sounded more like the Serpent of Eden than any angel should sound. “Then leave.”
“I CAME FOR HIM. IT’S YOU I WANT NOW.”
“Just- just don’t take him. You can-” Aziraphale’s voice cracked. Crowley would never forgive him but-
“IT IS NOT YOUR TIME, GUARDIAN.” And here the grudging respect was back. “BUT I AM WILLING TO MAKE A BARGAIN. YOU HAVE PROVEN YOU HAVE HEART AT LEAST.”
Aziraphale ran through his options. A bargain with DEATH was not high on his list of things he wanted to do and yet. He could feel Crowley behind him. His energy felt so much weaker than usual.
“HE’S DYING. WE CAN BOTH FEEL IT. BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHY. DO YOU WANT TO SAVE HIM?”
Aziraphale’s voice was a whisper “Yes. Why are you helping me?”
“I NEED YOU TO DO WHAT I CANNOT. I NEED YOU TO SAVE ANOTHER.”
Confusion flickered across Aziraphale’s face. All DEATH needed to do to save a soul was not claim it. Something was-
“THE WEAPON THEY USED ON HIM THEY WANT TO USE ON HER.”
“YES.” Death paused. “DON’T YOU WANT REVENGE FOR HIM?”
Aziraphale did. But not as much as- “Nothing of the sort. I want to stop them from hurting him again.” He paused, considering. A bit of his angelic self slipped out. “They can’t hurt him again if I ę̸̰̭̲̎͋͂̎̐̿ͅn̸̢͙̫͔̽͒͌d̵̳̿̊͘ ̵̧͕̗̼͇̫͕̗̫̏̑̓͑̒̃͒̋̚͝͝ͅͅṫ̴̮͎̮̉͑͌̎͑͘͝͝͝ḩ̵̢̗̯͎̰̹͈̹̂͜͝e̴̞̝̫̪̮̥̜̫͚͓̙͗͝m̶̦̦̬̦̾̉̄̄̈͋̊͊.”
Aziraphale wasn’t sure about the rush of emotions that went through him. Hope. Hope for Crowley. Frustration. Pain. He stepped away from DEATH and took Crowley’s hand again. Still breathing. “Why should I help Her? She threw him away.” The blasphemy had rolled off his tongue before he thought it through, but he couldn’t find himself regretting it.
“IT WAS ALL-”
“Are you going to say ineffable?”
“NO I WAS GOING TO SAY BEYOND DESCRIPTION.”
Aziraphale had the strangest feeling of being winked at. Perhaps this would work after all. He let a small smile cross his face as he looked down at the demon. For the first time since he’d walked into Hell, he let himself hope.
“I WILL GIVE YOU THEIR LOCATION. YOU DESTROY THE WEAPON AND YOU BOTH CAN GO ON YOUR WAY.”
Aziraphale snorted in derision. “No.”
His grip on Crowley’s hand tightened. “I go with him or not at all.”
“THERE IS NO TIME.”
“Then I suppose you should help me heal him quickly, shouldn’t you?”
He wondered if he’d finally pushed DEATH too far. If he was no longer worth the trouble. He’d accept that. But he wouldn’t leave Crowley’s side, and certainly not to leave him here on death’s doorstep with… well DEATH.
“HE IS BURNING FROM THE INSIDE.”
“He can’t burn, he’s a demon. He’s already been burned.” Aziraphale thought of the vague scent of smoke that always clung to Crowley. It was part of him. Something Aziraphale had come to love, just like the rest.
“IT IS SIMILAR TO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FALL. BUT SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE. IT WAS MADE TO DESTROY HER. HE BARELY TOOK A HIT, BUT IT’S COMPOUNDED ON TOP OF OLD WOUNDS.”
“How do I fix it?”
“YOUR WITCH SHOULD KNOW A WAY.”
Anathema’s timing was perfect. She burst through the door, nearly dropping the chest in her arms as she caught sight of DEATH. Aziraphale was by her side, pulling her gently to the bed.
“Burns, what do you have for burns?”
Aziraphale nodded. He watched as Anathema opened the chest, pulling out a small vial, and handing it to Aziraphale.
He turned to Crowley and then Aziraphale was pulling Crowley up and trying to gently dribble the concoction down his throat. Crowley started stirring after the first few drops. By the bottom of the flask, he was swallowing without encouragement. Aziraphale pushed down the tears as he put the flask down gently behind him. “Angel?”
DEATH began to flicker. “REMEMBER. WE HAVE A BARGAIN. DESTROY THE WEAPON.” Aziraphale watched as he flickered out. Knowing truly he was still there as he was everywhere. But Aziraphale was breathing again.
“Was that DEATH?” Crowley’s voice was weak.