There were times when Aziraphale found himself almost struck speechless by how graceful Crowley was, how the demon’s every move practically dripped with sensuality, how his long lines and sharp angles made it almost unbearably obvious that his form was crafted to be Temptation itself.
This was not one of those times.
“Er, are you… quite alright down there?”
Aziraphale did not need to see Crowley’s face to picture his answering expression, which was fortunate, as the only part of Crowley currently visible was a scaly tail, black and crimson, emerging from a hole in the front garden.
Their front garden, because they got to have these things now. Aziraphale got to putter around in their kitchen and drink his morning cocoa while the dawn gradually lengthened into day to illuminate their sitting room. And eventually, when the day was well underway, Crowley would slope downstairs looking effortlessly (though perhaps not Effortlessly) handsome and mumble a greeting into his coffee and maybe, maybe, as had become his habit of late, he would gently touch Aziraphale’s shoulder on his way out to the garden in front of their cottage.
Right, the garden. Aziraphale brought his attention abruptly back to the scene in front of him. Crowley did not seem to be making any progress either into or out of the hole.
“Are you st–”
“I am not ssssstuck.” Crowley hissed, slightly muffled.
There was a long pause.
“I may be slightly… inconvenienced. That’s all.”
“Why did you… er, that is to say, I’m sure you had a very sensible reason for–”
“We have a vole.”
We, Aziraphale noted, a warm feeling in his chest. We have a vole.
“What is a vole?”
“Nasssty little rodent. He’s been digging little tunnelsss for the past week, buggering up the root syssstems.”
Now that Aziraphale was looking, there did seem to be a number of raised elongated clumps criss-crossing across the ground, foretelling some sort of underground disturbance.
“I see. And you went in there to tell him off, did you?” An unpleasant thought occurred to Aziraphale. “Were you going to eat him??”
“I was not going to eat him, I just wanted to sssscare him, but there’s a bloody big rock here and now I can’t get my neck back through.”
In this form, Crowley was basically all neck, so this did not greatly help Aziraphale deduce where exactly the problem was, but he nodded gravely all the same.
“Can’t you just shrink more?” He asked. Indeed, Crowley was already smaller than he’d ever seen him in his snake form, no doubt a concession made in order to follow the vole underground in the first place.
“Not in front of the vole,” Crowley hissed. “He’sss already mocking me.”
“He’s still down there with you?!”
“Where elsssse is he going to bloody go?” Crowley’s tail looked about as irritated as a tail could look.
“Out a back channel, perhaps, aren’t there always back channels?”
“Well, he’s not going out a back channel, he’s just out of reach, looking sssmug. Might have to eat him after all. Teach him what’sss what.”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s no need for that. I think this is probably all just an unfortunate misunderstanding and we’ll get it all sorted out in a jiffy.”
Aziraphale wasn’t going to laugh. That would be deeply uncharitable and unbecoming of an angel. He might just have to – to cough unexpectedly.
“Are you laughing?” Crowley’s muffled voice sounded aggrieved.
“Because I could eat him. I’ll have you know I happen to be an apex predator.”
“Yes, dear,” Aziraphale agreed, watching his tail flailing in the clover. “But perhaps instead I could miracle up a shovel?”
“We already have a shovel, how do you think any gardening happensss–”
We have a shovel, Aziraphale noted happily.
“–and no, you’ll disturb the rootsss, and the whole bloody point of thisss was not to–”
“Yes, yes, I see. Well, I’m afraid I’m at something of a loss, then. You always say no miracles on the garden itself and I don’t think it would be wise to attempt an angelic miracle directly on your person. Er, your sna– well, your corporation, such as it is.” Aziraphale winced, suspecting a faux pas, but Crowley seemed to take no notice of his stammering.
“Never mind that, angel. Just… just pull, all right?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You won’t hurt me, I’m not that stuck, really, I just need a bit of… oomph.”
“Oomph.” Aziraphale repeated faintly.
In over six thousand years, Aziraphale had never once touched Crowley while he was in his snake form. They didn’t much touch in human form either, beyond the odd handshake to seal a deal or perhaps, if Aziraphale was feeling particularly daring, a quick brush of lint off Crowley’s jacket. Since moving to the cottage – their cottage – this unspoken rule was maybe, possibly, incredibly starting to relax. But even if Crowley had started to become comfortable with shoulder touches while they were both humans, that was still a far, far cry from–
“You want me to physically, er–” Aziraphale cast his mind about desperately for phrasing that wouldn’t sound like a euphemism, “–relocate you to aboveground?” There, concise and appropriate, a triumph of clarity and decorum.
“Yeah, one good yank ought to do it.” Crowley, it seemed, had no such concerns.
“Really now,” Aziraphale said disapprovingly. A faint hissing from the hole suggested that Crowley was now the one laughing. “Well, if you insist.” The angel squared his shoulders and took hold of Crowley’s tail with both hands.
The hissing stopped abruptly.
“Oh.” Aziraphale said. Crowley’s scales were dry and smooth. Little flecks of iridescence gleamed under his fingers as the very tip of Crowley’s tail curled around his thumb. In the dim part of Aziraphale’s brain that was still processing information, he wondered if this was an instinctive coiling reflex. For a moment stretched long as taffy, he held still, and held Crowley, and didn’t dare breathe.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley’s voice was unusually quiet, even accounting for his subterranean status.
“Right!” Aziraphale snapped back to life. “So sorry, just… just getting a good grip. For traction, you see, just for… right, that’s all set, here we go!” Flushing pink, Aziraphale dealt with his mortification by applying all of his strength to the task.
Aziraphale, as ex-soldier in The Almighty’s celestial army and Guardian of the Eastern Gate, was very, very strong. Crowley, as previously noted, was not at present a very big snake.
They landed rather hard on the gardenia bush.
“Sorry,” Aziraphale gasped, flat on his back. “I’m afraid I slightly overdid it.”
“You don’t ssssay.”
Movement on his chest alerted Aziraphale to the fact that he now had his arms full of snake demon. He jolted upright, and realized with quiet hysteria that this shuffled Crowley into his lap.
“My apologies, I certainly didn’t mean–”
“S’alright. Fell mostly on you, sssoftened the landing.” For the first time that afternoon Aziraphale could see Crowley’s eyes, albeit in a less expressive face than the one he was used to. He let out a deep sigh.
“There you are,” he said.
“Here I am. Thanksss, angel.”
“Well, that’s quite enough gardening for one day, I should think – oh!” He pointed. “Is that him?”
A tiny whiskered face was peering out of the hole.
“You didn’t tell me he was so cute!”
Crowley fixed him with a yellow glare.
“He issss not cute.”
“Oh, let’s leave him a bit of the garden, can’t we? Just a corner, so he can build a few tunnels if he’d like?”
“He’s just a little thing, how much room can he take up? Oh, I do hope you didn’t scare him too badly.”
“Ridiculousss.” Crowley slithered off Aziraphale’s lap and began winding his way toward the cottage. “He’ll make tunnels everywhere. Dig up the whole place. Make our life missserable.”
Our life, thought Aziraphale, and smiled.