Yes indeed, you may well look shocked! This is not a Sherlock fic; I repeat, this is not a Sherlock fic! I’m not sure whether I’m chuffed to bits or terrified about venturing into a new fandom for the first time. So, brace yourselves, everybody, and here we go:
Title: The Touch of his Hand
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 7285
Warnings, kinks and contents: Ineffable Husbands, The Elephant in the Room, Idiots in Love, Declarations of Love, Heartbreak, Anguish, Angst, Danger, Endangerment, Anything for Love, BAMF Aziraphale, Eventual Happy Ending
Summary: After far too long, our ineffable idiots finally pluck up the courage to admit their feelings for each other. It’s all quite lovely and the future looks like it’s going to be rosy. But fate is never that kind, and soon it all goes to Hell and back. Pretty much literally.
There was an elephant in the room, and it was getting bigger and more noticeable all the time. It was also getting more and more grumpy about being ignored, and one of these days very soon it was likely to throw an elephant-sized hissy fit and do lasting damage to both of the idiotic beings who were foolishly keeping their eyes averted and pretending it wasn’t there.
Fourteen weeks had passed since Armageddon didn’t geddon, and life had pretty much gone back to normal. Aziraphale spent most of his time re-cataloguing the books in the shop, and Crowley spent most of his time doing whatever demons did when they hadn’t had any specific instructions from their masters. He never explained his absences when he returned days or even weeks later, and Aziraphale didn’t think it was polite to ask. He was always relieved to see him back and tried hard – mostly unsuccessfully – not to worry while he was away. Even though they both thought that Heaven and Hell wouldn’t have time to bother them while they were preoccupied getting their troops to stand down from their war footing, there was always the concern that someone with a grudge might decide to make another attempt on their existence, but there was nothing to be done to prevent it and they would just need to be constantly on their guard.
Aziraphale tried to look on the bright side and concentrate on the pleasurable times. All of these times occurred when he was with his best friend. When he thought back he realised that the vast majority of his most pleasurable times throughout history had occurred when he was with his best friend, and he hoped very much that this tradition would continue.
Currently it seemed there was no danger of the tradition changing. They had talked for days after their experiences in Heaven and Hell, speaking more honestly than perhaps they had ever done before. They had each told in detail what had happened while they were masquerading as each other, and each had comforted the other over their anger and grief at what they had experienced. Aziraphale had wept when he learned that he hadn’t even been granted the courtesy of defending his actions to his former colleagues in Heaven before being condemned; Crowley’s face had been haggard while he recounted how he felt about returning to Heaven after so long, only to learn that it was even worse than the Hell which he had despised for centuries.
Their long conversations were sometimes painful, but during that time their friendship became even more comfortable. After all the time they had known each other, now there was just one “our side” and it belonged to them alone. It didn’t make either of them feel isolated or lost; if anything, they felt more peaceful and secure in each other’s company. And their new partnership manifested in physical ways as well. Whenever they stood or sat side by side, Crowley no longer kept a gap between them, frequently moving close enough for their shoulders to press together. Occasionally Aziraphale would daringly try and brush his hand against Crowley’s, and he tried not to feel disappointment when the demon awkwardly moved his arm out of the way. It didn’t matter. At least they were together.
Also, Crowley was leaving his sunglasses off more and more frequently when they were alone together and he would maintain eye contact during their conversations, allowing Aziraphale to see his emotions as they spoke. Aziraphale found this quite lovely, and he told himself that the demon’s unblinking gaze was triggering a sympathetic reaction in his own eyes, that they wanted to blink on Crowley’s behalf and that that was why they repeatedly kept trying to fill with tears.
Three and a half months after their lives had changed forever, on one particular Thursday afternoon they went to the park to feed the ducks, who were extremely grumpy to learn that Aziraphale had been reading an article explaining that bread isn’t good for them. Mortified that he had been doing them no good for so many years, instead he offered them a selection of sweetcorn, rolled oats and birdseed and even though the ducks gobbled up everything thrown to them, in return they threw back some very dirty looks and voiced their disapproval in no uncertain terms. Aziraphale didn’t speak duck but he suspected that some of their quacks contained some extremely unangelic language. Crowley’s amused smirk suggested that he did speak duck, and that Aziraphale’s suspicions were correct.
They went on to one of Aziraphale’s favourite small and quiet cafés for afternoon tea, and Crowley even ate a few mouthfuls of sandwich from Aziraphale’s plate. Afterwards, because they were nearer to the apartment than to the shop, they went to the former. Crowley wandered into the kitchen to find a bottle of wine while Aziraphale had soothing words with the houseplants, which lapped up his affection as they always did, and straightened up and became just a little more glossy. Strolling back into the room with a bottle and two glasses, and having left his sunglasses in the kitchen, Crowley nodded approvingly at the plants. If they could have sighed with relief, they would have done so.
After putting their glasses of wine onto the coffee table, the two of them sprawled side by side on the couch – well, Crowley sprawled and took up most of the space and Aziraphale sat upright next to him with his hands clasped in his lap. They sat in comfortable silence for some time and it was all very lovely and peaceful and Aziraphale became aware that his left leg was pressing against Crowley’s right and there were some quite delightful fuzzy sensations running through his body.
The elephant in the room huffed encouragingly, and for the first time Aziraphale paid attention to it and half-turned on the couch so that he could look at his friend, Crowley lazily turning his head to meet his eyes as he spoke.
“Crowley, I’ve been thinking.”
“Don’t strain yourself, angel,” Crowley drawled.
“No, I won’t,” Aziraphale said, “but, well, I was thinking it might be quite nice for us to have what you might call a relationship.”
“A what, now?” Crowley’s expression was amused, but at least he didn’t look revolted.
“You know, a relationship,” Aziraphale explained. “Humans do it. They get together in pairs and, um, you know, spend all their time together ...”
“We already spend all – well, most – of our time together,” Crowley reminded him.
“Yes, yes, we do, but a relationship is different. It’s a commitment. It’s a ... um ... it’s a declaration to each other that you want to be together.”
Crowley’s eyes widened. “Are you proposing to me?!”
“No! Oh, I don’t mean no, I don’t ... I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead.” He couldn’t bear the affectionate bemusement in Crowley’s eyes any longer and turned away.
“I’m really not very good at this,” Aziraphale said awkwardly.
“Aziraphale.” Crowley reached out and touched the angel’s shoulder briefly. “You’re doing fine.” His voice was sympathetic and unusually gentle. “Keep going.”
Aziraphale threw a pleading glance towards the elephant in the corner, silently begging it for strength, then turned and looked into his best friend’s eyes. “I think I’m in love with you.”
Crowley’s eyes widened again, then he relaxed. “You took your time,” he told him.
Aziraphale gaped. “What?” he asked.
“Oh, angel, I’ve known you’re in love with me for years,” Crowley said. “It’s not like you’ve been hiding it. You’ve been radiating it practically every time you look at me. Sometimes I’m surprised you haven’t actually been glowing.”
“And ... and you don’t mind?”
“Why would I mind?” Crowley shrugged. “I’ve loved you for even longer.”
Aziraphale didn’t think it was possible for an angel to discorporate through shock but nevertheless he had to concentrate hard for a few seconds just to ensure that it didn’t happen. Certainly he felt as if he might just disintegrate on the spot.
“You ... you love me? Me?” he finally managed to ask.
“No, I was talking to the elephant,” Crowley told him.
Aziraphale was already starting to turn his head to look into the corner, then he made an exasperated sound and turned back. “Be serious,” he begged. “Please.”
Crowley looked a little awkward. “Did you really not know?” he asked.
Aziraphale took a shaky breath. “Well, I hoped,” he said. “I mean, I wondered sometimes, but I didn’t really believe ... I mean, we’re not exactly ...”
“‘I am an angel, you are a demon’,” Crowley sarcastically quoted in an eerily good impersonation of Aziraphale. “‘Get thee behind me, foul fiend’.”
“Oh, yes, well ...” Aziraphale stuttered. “That’s why I didn’t think it was possible.” He blinked. "Are you sure?” he asked.
“Sure about what?”
“That you love ... that you love me.”
“Yep,” Crowley confirmed patiently. “Pretty much always have. You didn’t think I kept turning up to rescue you out of the kindness of my demonic heart, did you?” He peered at Aziraphale, then rolled his eyes. “Oh, of course you did. You thought your holiness was rubbing off on me.” He snorted. “In your dreams.”
Aziraphale blinked back tears. “So you did it for ...” He hesitated before continuing. “... me?”
“Love,” Crowley said simultaneously.
“Love,” Aziraphale repeated wonderingly.
“Love,” Crowley said, but a touch of impatience was creeping into his voice. “Bloody heaven, I don’t know how many times I have to say it but, yes. Love.” He realised that he was sounding unnecessarily tetchy when he noticed Aziraphale’s hurt expression. He sat up straighter and turned to face him, speaking more gently. “Principality Aziraphale, former Angel of the Eastern Gate, former Holder of the Flaming Sword, and All-Round Just Enough Of A Bastard, I’m in love with you and have been for centuries.”
Aziraphale tried to gather his thoughts. This was all happening much faster than he had anticipated, and he wasn’t sure whether his brain would ever catch up. His heart, on the other hand, knew exactly what it wanted.
“So, um, do you think we’re in a relationship, then?” he asked.
Crowley smiled indulgently and leaned back again. “I think, in the scheme of things, we’ve been in a relationship for several thousand years already,” he said. “But, if you need to make it official, then yeah. We’re in a relationship.”
“Oh!” Aziraphale breathed.
Crowley squinted at him. “You’re not going to faint, are you?” he asked.
“No, of course not!” Aziraphale said, trying not to faint. “Well, um, what-what do you think about us moving in together?”
“Really?” Crowley asked. “We’ve not even had a first date yet and you’re already moving in?”
“We’ve had lots of dates!” Aziraphale protested. “We go out and eat together all the time! We’ve been to concerts and plays and all sorts!”
“Yeah, but we weren’t in a ‘relationship’ before,” Crowley said, making dramatic air quotes. “You should at least buy me dinner before you move in here.”
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of living here,” Aziraphale said, then hurried on when Crowley frowned. “Or above the shop. I was thinking that maybe we could get a new home together. I don’t know, perhaps a cottage in the countryside. And ... oh ... if you thought it would be all right, maybe we could even share a bed?”
“Angel.” Now Crowley began to look uncomfortable. “I’m not really into that sex stuff. I mean, I’ve tried it, but it’s not really my thing.”
“Oh! No!” Aziraphale squirmed. “I didn’t mean going that far ... necessarily ... or at all ... Oh, dear, I’m not explaining myself properly.”
“Take a breath,” Crowley advised.
Aziraphale took a breath. It didn’t help. He took another one. Neither did that. He decided to press on before he started to hyperventilate.
“I meant that it would be really nice if we could sleep side by side. And maybe cuddle. I’ve not done much cuddling but it was rather pleasant on the couple of occasions I tried it. It’s warm and snuggly, and I know how you feel the cold so I thought you might appreciate it.”
For the first time since the conversation had begun, Crowley looked anxious. Aziraphale hurried to reassure him.
“If you’d rather not, that’s fine, it’s all fine,” he said. “Whatever you want, dear, and whatever you don’t want, it’s all just fine. I just think ...” He paused, then poured out his heart in a rush of reverence. “I adore you, Crowley, and I want us to be together forever.”
He reached out and gently laid his hand over one of Crowley’s. The demon flinched and appeared to be about to snatch his hand away but then subsided and stared unblinking into Aziraphale’s eyes. He was trembling slightly.
Aziraphale smiled tenderly at him. “I really do think it could work,” he told him, and took his other hand.
Crowley screamed in agony.
Heavenly angels and their fallen equivalents – referred to as demons more frequently than not, but we’ll simply call both types angels here to save space – are usually not inclined to have what humans would call ‘relationships.’ The majority remain aloof from all their brethren, having nothing more than a mutual purpose in life, whether that be to make things worse or to make things better. Some angels do form close friendships, and a few – a very few – do what humans would call ‘fall in love.’ They’re not banned from having the angelic equivalent of relationships; it’s just that the majority aren’t wired that way and only a few drift from the considered norm. It’s also a statistical fact that more heavenly angels than demonic angels are inclined towards relationships.
It has probably become clear by now that Aziraphale in particular was one of those angels capable of falling in love. He knew this because he was in love, and had been for some time. Thinking back, he’d probably been in love for much longer than he had realised. He never claimed to be the smartest of angels, and sometimes he could be a bit slow on the uptake. But now that he had realised, and after all that he had gone through with the object of his love, and the horror which had struck him when he realised just how close they had come to being torn apart forever in more ways than one, he had finally taken notice of the elephant in the room and had decided to find out if the object of his love could possibly feel the same way, the object in this case being the not-as-demonic-as-perhaps-he-ought-to-be Anthony J Crowley.
If you had given Aziraphale a large piece of narrow-lined paper and a pen and asked him to write a list of potential outcomes of his tentative but determined declaration, he would have drawn several columns on both sides and then spent four days listing all of his fears and concerns and worries on one side, and a couple of minutes listing his hopes on the other. Turning back to the longer list, he would have added fifteen more items and then run out of space. Any one of those many, many outcomes would not have entirely surprised him if they had occurred, including him spontaneously and genuinely starting to like bebop music. But even if you had given him a whole pad of narrow-lined paper and six more weeks to think about it further, he would never have predicted the actual reaction, and Crowley’s agonised scream left him frozen and gaping and unable to understand what was happening.
“You burn me,” Crowley said in anguish, snatching his hands away.
“I ... I don’t ... I don’t understand,” Aziraphale floundered.
“You burn me,” Crowley repeated, hugging himself with his hands tucked under his armpits. “When you touch me, it burns.”
“But that’s not possible,” Aziraphale flailed. “It can’t be me. It can’t be.” He looked wildly round the room. “There must be something here. That’s what it must be. Our former colleagues must have broken in and left something to harm you. We’ll find it and I’ll get rid of it ...”
“You don’t understand!” Crowley yelled. “You’ve always burned me! It’s what you do! You’re a bloody angel, angel. You’re holy! Demons can’t touch anything holy! It’s you, Aziraphale!”
Aziraphale gawped at him, then closed his mouth as the truth began to batter at his confused mind. “Are you sure?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, for ...” Crowley surged to his feet and began pacing around the room, still clutching his hands close to his body. “Yes, I’m sure. I’ve known it for years.”
“How?” Aziraphale asked. “I don’t think we’ve touched each other that often.”
“Enough,” Crowley said savagely. “Enough times for me to be certain.”
Aziraphale’s lower lip quivered. He pressed his mouth closed to try and stop it, but it didn’t seem to help. “Tell me,” he requested.
Crowley whirled and glared at him. “Six thousand years,” he said bitterly. “Six thousand years and we never made physical contact. Not skin to skin, anyway. Then one day we did. And it burned.”
“When?” Aziraphale asked tremulously.
Crowley sucked in a breath and looked as if he would start yelling again, but then he walked over to his chair and tiredly sank down onto it.
“Nineteen forty-one,” he said quietly, not looking directly at Aziraphale. “The church with the Nazis. I blew it up, you stopped us from getting blown up with it, and I saved your stupid books. When I gave you the briefcase our fingers touched, and it stung.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t think about it at the time. Even though the church was destroyed, it was still sanctified ground and my feet were still hurting. If I’d thought about it at all I’d have assumed it was a knock-on effect of that, or maybe a drop of the holy water in the font had splashed onto your hand during the explosion.”
Aziraphale swallowed, recalling his own revelation at that moment, and hating the fact that he hadn’t realised what his friend was going through. Unaware of his anguish, Crowley pressed on relentlessly.
“Nineteen sixty-seven in Soho. I got into the Bentley and you were there and you gave me the flask of holy water. Our fingers brushed for a moment and it burned.” He laughed humourlessly. “Again, I thought you’d got some of the water onto your hand and I forgot about it.”
He grimaced. “The day after I delivered the Antichrist and we got drunk and agreed to bring him up together. We shook hands on the deal and it hurt so badly that I finally began to put it together. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, tried not to think about it. Then eleven years later we drove to Tadfield to try and find the real Antichrist. You nearly called me ‘nice’ and I didn’t take kindly to it. I shoved you against the wall and shouted at you, and our noses bumped for a moment. It hurt, and then I definitely knew. I didn’t have time to focus on it because that woman turned up.”
Aziraphale’s hands were shaking. Crowley grimly continued.
“Then after we stopped Armageddon, we got the bus back to London just after that weird delivery guy picked up your sword and the other stuff. You sat down on the seat next to me and your hand brushed against mine.” He smiled bitterly. “You probably didn’t even notice how I snatched my hand away.”
Aziraphale actually had noticed. He had deliberately touched his hand, thinking that if Crowley didn’t object, it might be nice to hold hands during the ride home. When Crowley had withdrawn his hand and folded his arms for the rest of the journey, he had told himself that Crowley was either being coy in the presence of nearby humans, or simply wasn’t interested.
“The only time it didn’t hurt was in the park when we’d swapped appearances just before we were dragged off for our trials,” Crowley continued. “You got me an icecream and our fingers touched when you gave it to me. It didn’t hurt – I remember noticing it.”
His eyes widened and he stared intensely at Aziraphale. “Did it hurt you?” he asked.
Aziraphale tried to hold his gaze but his eyes began to fill with tears as he remembered wondering why there had been a sharp sting against his fingers when he gave the icecream to his friend. With everything that had happened immediately afterwards, he’d forgotten all about it and even if he had remembered he would have assumed that a wasp had been in the vicinity.
Crowley read his expression and lowered his head. “It hurt you,” he said, staring into his lap. “So it also hurt you when we swapped forms. I knew it was going to burn but we were desperate and had to do it, and the best way to change was through physical contact.”
He grimaced. “It hurt like a bugger at the start, and then went away when I turned into you. When we swapped back, I was doing everything I could not to scream. If it had taken any longer, I probably would have.”
Aziraphale swallowed, remembering the burning in his hand as the transformation started and how it had faded as he became himself again. He also remembered how Crowley had painfully flexed his fingers once he’d withdrawn his hand. “I ... I always assumed it was the transformation causing the pain,” he said.
“It wasn’t the transformation,” Crowley said in a voice full of despair. He slowly raised his head and met Aziraphale’s eyes. “It was you. It’s always you. You’re holy, and you burn me. Face it, angel ...” he had never said the word with such savagery, “... we can’t ever touch.”
It’s a statistical fact that angels, whether in their celestial or demonic form or in a humanoid body, have what humans would call a ‘heart.’ The angelic form of a heart is somewhat different to what humans would recognise but it serves much the same function. And like the human heart, it is capable of breaking. Aziraphale now knew this for a certainty.
The main entrance to Heaven’s and Hell’s head offices wasn’t monitored. Any lost tourists thinking they could go in through the revolving doors to ask for directions would mysteriously find themselves back out on the street again with no recollection of how they had done a full circuit. If they tried a second time they ended up in the middle of the road three streets away with a headache and no memory of what had just happened, but an inexplicable feeling of ‘don’t do that again.’
Right now, Aziraphale almost wished that the entry permissions to the revolving doors had been changed against him and that he too would find himself back on the street, but he walked into the foyer without obstruction. He still didn’t have a proper plan of what he was going to do once he got upstairs, but he had had the beginning of an idea and if he could just keep his nerve, he might be able to persuade Gabriel and the others that he was still as powerful as when they’d last seen him – or what they’d thought was him – and that it would be better for them to accede to his demands than to run the risk of him hissing hellfire at them again.
Nervously straightening his bowtie, he began to walk towards the escalators. And then, in a moment of inspiration – he dare not think of it as ‘divine inspiration’ even though it felt that way – he swerved slightly to the left and stepped onto the down-escalator.
“You’ve got a nerve coming here,” Hastur told him, falling into step beside him as he walked through the halls towards Beelzebub’s office. Aziraphale noted that Hastur was trying to look belligerent but was keeping a large gap between them.
“Yeah, well ...” he said, trying to sound far more relaxed than he felt. “I’ve got a proposal.”
“You’re not in a position to propose anything,” Dagon said, walking out of a side corridor with a threatening look on her face. She bared her teeth at him. “Why shouldn’t we just destroy you here and now?”
“You’ve tried that before,” Aziraphale said smoothly. “How did that work out for you?”
He smiled and then wrinkled his nose at her and she cringed slightly. He smirked.
Just then Beelzebub stormed out of her office. Her eyes swept around the nervous-looking demons standing nearby, then she glowered at Aziraphale.
“What do you want, Crowley?” she demanded.
Aziraphale could see the anxiety in her eyes despite her attempts to appear in command. He sent out a silent prayer of thanks to Whoever had inspired his decision back at the main entrance. Once he had stepped onto the down-escalator he had closed his eyes and concentrated hard, remembering how his body had felt after he and Crowley had swapped bodies for their trials, and before he reached the bottom he had transformed into Crowley’s shape again. It had been much harder to change without Crowley there to guide him and already Aziraphale was feeling the strain of holding the shape together. Still, the looks of fear on the faces of the damned as he had strolled past them had been somewhat enjoyable, and he had had quite the feeling of power as he watched them cringe away from him, some of them whispering, “He’s back,” and “How dare he come back?” in awestruck wonder.
Aziraphale – let’s call him AzCrowley while he’s in this form – held Beelzebub’s angry gaze. “Look, guys,” he said, hoping that his impression of Crowley’s voice would stay accurate. “We all know I shouldn’t be here, and we all know you’d love to kill me. And we all know you can’t, so let’s just get down to business.”
“And what businezz could you possibly have that we’d be interested in?” Beelzebub asked.
AzCrowley grinned at the three of them. “You’re gonna love this,” he told them. “I want you to make me able to touch holiness without getting burned.”
Hastur looked nauseous. Dagon looked at ‘Crowley’ as if he’d lost his mind. “You want to be able to touch anything ‘blessed’? What for?”
Beelzebub smirked. “Is it so that you can hold hands with your angelic boyfriend? Do you want to make kissy-kissy with him?” she asked snidely.
Hastur blanched. “I’m going to be sick,” he announced.
“Turn the other way, mate,” AzCrowley told him. “These are new jeans.”
“Explain your reasoning!” Beelzebub demanded.
“I wouldn’t dream of asking for a personal favour,” AzCrowley said, starting to relax just a little and flailing his arms around in a Crowleyesque manner as he continued. “I’ve got a really good reason for wanting this, and it’s all for the good, or the bad, or the whatever of the hellish cause. I might be demon-non-grata down here but, guys, I am still a demon! It’s in my nature to cause mischief and temptation and woe whenever I can. If you give me the ability to get close to holy people, just think how much more trouble I can cause!”
“And what will the angel think of that?” Dagon simpered.
“The angel has got nothing to do with this,” AzCrowley said casually. “We’re both based on Earth, and we bump into each other sometimes.” He shrugged. “Occasionally we socialise, but it’s only because we don’t have anything to do with humans and we get bored of not having anyone to talk to. I don’t approve of anything good that he does, and he doesn’t approve of ... pretty much anything that I do. He’s not making me soft, and however much I’ve tried I haven’t managed to get him to go bad. He’s just ...” He paused and shrugged again. “He’s just there.”
Beelzebub looked thoughtful. AzCrowley pushed onwards.
“He’s there, and he’s probably thinking the same as me. He’s as unpopular upstairs as I am down here, but he’s an angel; of course he’s going to carry on doing ‘good deeds’.” He forced himself to sneer on the last two words. “So you need someone in the field to counteract him as often as possible, and if the angel blesses people then they’re touched by holiness and I can’t get near them.” He lowered his voice and looked cunning. “But, if you take away that inability – and I know you’ve done it before – I can undo a lot of what he’s done and at least keep balance, if not sway things back in your ... in our direction.”
He peered over the top of his sunglasses at Crowley’s former line manager, doing his best to exude casual confidence. “What d’you think?” he asked, then beamed his most evil grin round at the rest of the crowd which had gathered behind him. Beelzebub looked downwards, her gaze distant. It was possible that she was communicating with the boss, and Aziraphale fervently hoped that Satan wouldn’t decide to come upstairs and investigate in person. He really didn’t want to set eyes on the King of Hell again, even though – despite all the evil and the general terror of the situation at the airfield – Satan had had a really very attractive-sounding voice. If he ever chose to visit Earth in human form, he could probably be an actor.
Eventually Beelzebub raised her head again.
“We agree,” she said.
Hastur and Dagon gaped at her, and she raised her hand to stop their imminent protests. She smiled unpleasantly at the being who she thought was Crowley. “For this special dizzpensation, there will be a price ... and it will be expensive.”
AzCrowley grinned. “Bring it on,” he told her.
Aziraphale slumped exhausted against the wall outside the front door of Crowley’s apartment. He was still in the demon’s form and had walked the several miles back here, unable to take the bus or a taxi for fear that he might lose concentration and begin to transform in front of humans who would undoubtedly go into fits of hysterics and might cause the vehicle to crash. He could have slipped into an alleyway or a public toilet to make the change but he had just wanted to get back to his friend. He had tried to hurry, but walking on these legs which didn’t seem to know how to walk in a straight line had been even more of a strain, not to mention manipulating these hips which really didn’t need to swing like that.
Groaning quietly, he released his mental grasp on his current form and began to transform back. It wasn’t as simple as just letting go, particularly with no assistance from Crowley himself. He had to will his body back into its original form, and it took a lot of effort, and it hurt. On the escalator to Hell he had managed the change within three minutes; this time it was over ten minutes before he was fully himself again. He slumped to the floor breathing heavily and wiping the tears of pain and effort from his eyes, and it was another five minutes before he mustered the strength to stand up.
Even though Crowley usually finger-clicked his door open, he did actually have a set of door keys and Aziraphale was grateful that he’d thought to pick them up on his way out, because he wasn’t sure he could have found the energy to miracle the door open. Taking the keys from the left pocket of his coat, he let himself in and stumbled wearily to the bedroom.
Crowley was still asleep. Aziraphale walked to the right-hand side of the bed and looked down at him for a long while, still feeling guilty about having miraculously rendered him unconscious before he left on his mission. He hadn’t had any other choice – Crowley would never have agreed to it and probably would have insisted on going instead, and Aziraphale wasn’t sure how that would have worked out, whichever escalator he’d taken.
He silently reminded himself that he had done all this for a reason, and now he had to find out whether he had succeeded. Concentrating, he carefully reached into Crowley’s mind and gently lifted the level of his unconsciousness until the demon was simply in a deep sleep. Crowley promptly rolled over onto his right side, his right arm flopping across the bed. It looked – if you were inclined to believe in unconscious romantic moments – as if even in his sleep he was reaching towards his friend. Tremulously, and terrified that somehow Hell had double-crossed him, Aziraphale began to extend his hand forward but then grimaced and snatched it back again. He turned from the bed and flexed his fingers painfully, looking down and realising for the first time that his index finger was still badly burned. For some reason it hadn’t healed when he changed back into his own form. Presumably that was a result of the hellish circumstances under which it had been injured.
He shrugged. It would heal in time, and anyway he had another hand. He turned back to the bed and reached forward with the other hand, brushing the lightest of brief touches across the back of Crowley’s outstretched hand with the tips of his fingers. Crowley didn’t wake and, more importantly, didn’t flinch in his sleep. Nervously Aziraphale stroked the hand a little more firmly. Crowley’s fingers twitched slightly but still there was no indication of pain. Taking a quiet anxious breath, Aziraphale laid his palm gently over Crowley’s hand and left it there, bracing himself to snatch it back at the first sign of distress. Crowley drowsily mumbled a long and partially incomprehensible sentence that seemed to include the words “Oscar Wilde” and “clingfilm” and ended with something which sounded like “sheen’s-got-lovely-eyes.”
Aziraphale let out a quiet sigh and sank down to sit on the side of the bed, still covering Crowley’s hand with his own. “Mistysblueboxstuff,” Crowley murmured apparently, though it was hard to tell for sure.
Aziraphale began to dare to think that there might be hope.
All in all and despite his usual humility, Aziraphale felt that on this occasion he was justified in feeling rather pleased with himself. The decision to make his request (he tried not to think of it as an appeal) to Hell rather than to Heaven had come about when he realised that, if they agreed at all, either side would demand a hefty price and would insist upon a binding contract to ensure that the price was paid. Gabriel and his team would have drawn up a detailed itemised document full of unbreakable clauses; Beelzebub and her cronies – as Aziraphale had hoped – scrabbled together a scruffy parchment within minutes of the oral agreement being made, and didn’t bother getting any of the myriad lawyers they possessed to check the wording for loopholes.
But it wouldn’t have mattered even if the contract had been full of legal and binding terminology. Because Hell hadn’t realised several things:
The contract stated that the being whose signature appeared at the bottom of the document would automatically be transported to Hell at the moment of the discorporation of his body. AzCrowley insisted on the addition of a clause stating that if any demon attacked him and succeeded in destroying his body, the contract would be nullified. Crowley’s body had to have expired by other means than hellish intervention. There was unfortunately nothing Aziraphale could do about heavenly intervention. From the moment of discorporation – the contract continued – the signatory’s soul and freedom would belong exclusively to Hell and the signatory agreed never to seek escape and he would submit without protest to all and any torment and torture meted out for the rest of eternity. AzCrowley had managed to keep his expression neutral when Dagon read out that clause with vicious delight, forcing himself not to imagine what the real Crowley would have to face if he ever found himself in the demons’ clutches.
But that wasn’t going to happen. Even if Crowley somehow lost his body in the future, no automatic transportation would take place. As Lord of the Files and record-keeper of all pacts with the Devil, Dagon had insisted on a signature on the contract. AzCrowley had ignited his index finger and drawn Crowley’s sigil at the bottom, doing his best to hide the pain which the fire caused him but also hiding the glee he felt inside as he withdrew his hand and blew out the flame while Dagon added her own sigil to witness the contract and then rolled up the parchment.
He had signed with his right hand, and Hell hadn’t even noticed. Hellish contracts had to be signed with the left hand. Crowley had taught him that. Over a late supper several years ago he’d told him how he had signed for the Antichrist baby with his right hand, thus nullifying any obligations which the contract contained. Hastur and Ligur had been too stupid to realise what he was doing. Similarly, according to the laws of Hell, AzCrowley’s signature was worthless and the contract could not be enforced. The demons had been so eager to bind him to the contract that they hadn’t been paying attention to which hand he used.
There could have been the possibility that because Aziraphale had physically signed the document, albeit with his right hand and not with his own signature, the contract might automatically revert to him and summon him to Hell at the moment of his body’s discorporation. But that too was never going to happen.
When Adam Young had separated Aziraphale’s essence from Madame Tracy’s body, Aziraphale’s body had already been irreversibly discorporated. Adam, without even needing to think about it, had simply created a new body for Aziraphale to inhabit. And Adam, the Antichrist, the son of Satan, the young man powerful enough to destroy the world if he put his mind to it, the young man whose friends had taught him that it was far better to fix the world than harm it, had instinctively made a body better than any other human body. It would never age, it would never succumb to any human disease and, most importantly, it could never be irrevocably damaged by an accident on Earth, nor discorporated by heavenly or hellish actions. Aziraphale’s soul was already immortal and indestructible; now his body was too.
He glanced briefly down at his burned right index finger. Well, okay, maybe Adam hadn’t made him totally invulnerable but the skin and flesh would heal, and Aziraphale felt that he probably deserved some level of punishment for his actions.
After Dagon had left to file away the contract, Beelzebub waved her hand and formally announced that the Demon Crowley’s automatic physical harm in the presence of holiness had been revoked, both here in Hell and up on Earth.
“Now get out and don’t come back down here again,” she said threateningly. “Next time we won’t be so accommodating.”
“Accomm ...” He stopped himself before he could start an indignant protest which would be all Aziraphale and not-in-the-least-bit Crowley. “It’s been a real pleasure doing business, my Lord,” he drawled instead.
He turned and waved to Hastur. “Ciao,” he told him.
“I’m not hungry,” Hastur mumbled.
Aziraphale decided it was probably best not to ask, and instead sauntered back along the corridor. The crowd parted again, and a few of the tormented souls mumbled, “Traitor,” as he passed, although nobody would meet his gaze when he looked in the direction of the sound. More painful to see were the faces which stared longingly at him, perhaps wondering whether they too might one day have the power and ability to leave Hell as easily. Forcing himself to keep going, Aziraphale strolled to the escalator and rode up to ground level. Nobody followed him.
And now here he was, back in the safety of Crowley’s apartment and it seemed that his dangerous ruse had worked. Of course, everything depended on how Crowley would react to his touch once he was fully awake but for now he seemed comfortable with the angel’s hand resting on top of his.
Aziraphale watched him sleeping, resisting any urge to try and wake him, but after a while he carefully lifted his hand and laid it onto Crowley’s forehead. Still Crowley showed no adverse reaction. Forcing himself not to tremble like he wanted to, Aziraphale shifted position, reached over Crowley’s shoulder and gently stroked his left wing, running his fingers over the feathers while constantly watching his face. Crowley let out a drowsy appreciative hum.
After a few minutes Aziraphale lifted his hand again and ran his fingers into Crowley’s hair, gently stroking it. Crowley snuffled slightly in his sleep and tilted his head to push Aziraphale’s fingers deeper into his hair.
There was hope. Oh, there was hope.
After what was quite possibly the most blissful hour which Aziraphale had ever spent, Crowley rolled over onto his back again. Aziraphale lifted his hand from his head and quietly stood up and took off his coat and shoes. Then he lay down on the bed, linked the fingers of his left hand into Crowley’s right hand, closed his eyes and waited for his best friend and the love of his life to wake up.
Maybe one day he would tell him everything he had done to make this happen.
In the corner of the bedroom, the now extremely tiny elephant let out a quiet but exultant trumpet. If translated into English it would have run along the lines of, “About bloody time too!”
Elephants can’t fist-pump but if they could, this one would have done just that. Instead, it allowed itself a moment of smugness. It felt it was justified in being so proud of itself. Normally elephants in the room are only responsible for making people confess their feelings. After so many thousands of years of following these two idiots around and finally succeeding, it had been appalled to find within minutes that all of its efforts could be in vain. In desperation, and strictly against all the rules of elephant-in-the-rooming, it had followed Aziraphale across town to his former head office and had then sneakily projected a suggestion into his head just as he approached the escalators.
The elephant looked across to the bed and then, fluttering its wings for maximum take-off, lifted into the air and flew quietly across the room until it was hovering over the bed. It looked down at Aziraphale and realised how, even with his eyes closed, he looked completely exhausted. Oh well, the elephant thought, it had already broken some rules, so what the heck. It lifted its trunk and gently puffed in the angel’s face and Aziraphale instantly fell into a peaceful sleep. The elephant nodded approvingly. He needed to rest and recover from his ordeal. To ensure that Crowley wouldn’t wake up too soon and disturb him, the elephant gave the demon a short gentle puff as well, just as a top-up.
Then, in one final touch of love and compassion, the elephant puffed gently over Aziraphale’s right hand and healed his finger.
Elephants can’t normally smile but, taking one last look at Her favourite angels, this elephant smiled.
Then it translocated itself out of the apartment and went off in search of other idiotic couples who needed a nudge – or an enormous shove – to admit their feelings for each other.
Maybe it would start in Baker Street.
Blame this on my angst-loving plotbunny, who sourly watched me while I was delightedly reading so many fluffy and sweet and romantic Good Omens fics and memes and all sorts, and who promptly latched onto a throwaway but heartwrenching comment somewhere on Tumblr which suggested that Crowley might not be able to touch Aziraphale without pain because the angel is too holy and therefore burns any demon who comes into physical contact with him. She promptly cracked her furry knuckles, said, “I’m ’avin’ that!” and chewed savagely on my toes until I was forced to write this.
Just be glad that this has a happy ending. For a scarily long time it wasn’t going to be that way. Regular readers of my Sherlock fic know how often my plotbunny loves to leave stories on an unfinished ending, and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions as to what happened next. For ages this story was going to be completely vague about what Aziraphale had negotiated, and with whom, and what the price was. Similarly to Aziraphale, I’ve never claimed to be the smartest of
angels writers, and sometimes I can be a bit slow on the uptake, and I simply couldn’t think of a storyline which explained what he had done. Thankfully I had a moment of inspiration long after I’d started writing. My plotbunny is not pleazzed. Yes, I think she really is Beelzebub on Earth.
Actually, I guess this does end on a sort of cliffhanger (*glowers at the smug-looking bunny*), but I think we can all be fairly confident what happened next, and if you want to head-canon your own epilogue to the epilogue, you’re welcome to do so!
Sorry (a bit) about the slight off-topic divergence while Aziraphale was remembering Satan’s attractive voice! All the fic I’ve written since October 2010 has been Benedict Cumberbatch-related (either Sherlock or Cabin Pressure) and I never imagined writing for any other fandom. It felt like a slight betrayal to do so, so I kind of had to crowbar in a vague Benedict reference here just to calm my jangled nerves. But it still didn’t calm them enough, hence the last line of the epilogue.
Also, of course, we know that it’s canon that the elephant went on to Baker Street, because we heard it in the episode The Sign of Three. Clearly the elephant’s latest case is still a work in progress, but hopefully it won’t take six thousand years this time.
Oh, and by the way, one of Crowley’s sleepy mumbles was inspired by my admiration for ‘mistysblueboxstuff,’ the Tumblr name of one of the best fanartists out there. Go and have a look at their awesome Good Omens art if you know what’s good for your soul. Or your lack of soul. Whatever. Just go and look at it. Even Michael Sheen and Neil Gaiman have reblogged their work! (Congratulations, you talented genius.)