Night. The merciful numbness was fading fast.
They sat facing each other from opposite sides of the tiny cabin, Crowley because his legs would no longer support him, Aziraphale because Crowley had pushed him down.
The light of the moon, filtered, a little, by the tree branches, fell on Aziraphale's face through the glassless window. Once, this would have made him look so silvery-beautiful as to drive Crowley absolutely to distraction, and then, all the wild horses in the world could not have pulled the two men apart. Now, it gave him the appearance of a dead man laid out for burial, and the sight made Crowley wish he could crawl into a coffin himself and slam the lid. And he would have done it, too, had it not been for a single fact that stood like a rock amid the raging chaos in his mind: Aziraphale was here, and needed him.
What could Crowley do, even on the most basic level? He had cleaned the wound on Aziraphale's temple, but he could not actually heal it. Demons could heal themselves, as well as other creatures when they wanted to, but he didn't think his healing powers would work on... angels...
Except this wasn't an angel anymore, was it?
Crowley's swirling thoughts screeched to a halt, and crashed down into stark reality. Not an angel anymore. Not his Aziraphale anymore. Everything, everything was gone from those eyes. An empty, soulless shell.
Part of Crowley wanted to tear down the cabin door and run screaming into the darkness. Fortunately, it was the other, bigger part that acted. He lunged forward, grabbed Aziraphale's collar, pulled him, a dead weight, against his chest, almost tight enough to crack the other's ribs, and buried his face in golden curls, threaded with silver.
Where was the Aziraphale he had so often had dinner with, had roaring drunk discussions with, tasted the kisses of, laughed with, argued with, fed ducks with, caressed in his arms at night? Gone? Gone?
It could not be, he thought, as he smoothed away the wounds and scars, closed his beloved's unblinking eyes and pressed his lips to the eyelids. Somewhere in there, his Aziraphale still lived, he knew it, he felt it, it had to be true. Simply had to be.
Still, that night, as he sat sleepless with his angel-no-more leaned against him, he could not quite make himself believe it.
Crowley woke up at the prickings of early-morning sunlight. Hm. He must have drifted off anyway. He looked down, and found that Aziraphale had opened his eyes again during the night.
Crowley's mind felt strange, as though all capacity for deep thought had been temporarily frozen. Or rather, as though his thoughts were constantly skirting the edges of some pit of nightmare, to fall into which would be to go mad. Practical matters, yes, those were safe. Practical matters he could handle. And mindless babbling, that was good too.
"All right, ang..." Slipping, slipping, don't fall in. "All right, Aziraphale, I'm going out for a moment, but I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere." He carefully wormed his way out from behind the blond, and propped him up against the wall. Then he got up, opened the door, walked out and closed it, all without looking back.
When he came back in, about half an hour later, Aziraphale was still sitting just as he had left him. Crowley pulled him up, and led him out by the wrist. Half a mile further into the forest, they came to a small, round pond, in the middle of a clearing.
"Can't believe it took me so long to find this. All right then, let's get you cleaned up; it's been long overdue, I can tell. Of course, an..." Don't! "...supernatural beings can't get really filthy if they don't do anything, but still, it won't hurt."
A glance at the pond, and it went from dawn-chilly to pleasantly warm. Crowley removed Aziraphale's clothes, careful to touch him as little as possible, - Oh, that warm, white skin... Don't, blessit! - and manoeuvred him into the water. Miracling some soap and a washcloth, he washed him tenderly, all over, as though he'd been a child. Ah, if Crowley's superiors could see him now, they'd have a collective seizure. When he was done, Crowley said, "Now you just sit there and soak a little, while I take a look at your clothes." He shuffled through the pile of, unlike Aziraphale had been, decidedly filthy clothing, and picked out the shirt. "What have you been doing with this thing? Look at these two rips in the back. How did... How..."
And there he went, straight off the brink. He could imagine perfectly well where those rips had come from. Magnificent wings, white and pure as virgin snow, more so, spreading out to their full span, and slowly... fading... to black.
No. For Someone's sake, no. Aziraphale, his Aziraphale, the very definition of an angel, as far as Crowley had been concerned... No longer one. A demon, now, just like him. He could feel his own mind sliding closer and closer to a different edge, one belonging to a chasm out of which said mind would never be able to crawl. At the last moment, it frantically skittered away from that edge, and locked the lethal truth behind steel doors. It could not be denied, but it could be ignored, pushed away, for as long as possible.
Crowley opened his eyes, and found that he was on his hands and knees in the dirt, and that he had torn the shirt right in two. No matter; those clothes had been nearly worn to threads anyway. With a wave of his hand, they all disappeared, and he went back to where Aziraphale was still sitting in the water. With a smile, Crowley ran his fingers through the wet curls. "Better, angel? Right, let's get you dried off and dressed." He bent down low, and fairly lifted Aziraphale out of the pond. He set him on his feet, summoned a towel, and dried him off, rubbing at the skin till it turned pink. For half a second, he considered putting his angel in slightly more modern clothes, jeans perhaps, but immediately dismissed the idea. It would not have been the same. Another snap of his fingers, and there it was, tartan and tweed, the way it had always been. The way it was supposed to be.
"Now then, isn't that so much nicer? Let's get something to eat and drink. It'll do us both good. Come." He took Aziraphale's hand, this time, and began leading him back to the path out of the woods.
Something told Crowley that this was the worst possible choice he could have made, but he still had no idea where in England he was exactly, and therefore it was the only place he could go.
With his arm around Aziraphale's shoulder, he once again approached the tiny village, carefully keeping himself between his angel and the burnt-out bookshop, when...
"See? There they are! I knew it!"
...they were stopped by a whole gaggle of villagers, led, predictably, by the burly man, with the old crone from before standing some distance behind him.
"Get away from here, you," the man said to Crowley. "That one," pointing to Aziraphale, "is not someone we want to see. We have no use here for that cursed creature, who abandoned us while we still needed him."
Crowley pulled Aziraphale more tightly against him. "Cursssed, you call him?" he asked with deadly softness.
"Aye, cursed!" the crone spoke up. "I told you, young man, when you stood in that bookshop," a murmur from the villagers, "that it was dangerous, and so is he! He's a monster now, and will bring bad luck on us! We don't want him here."
"You heard the old lady," shouted one of the villagers, armed with a club. "Get that thing out of here, or we'll be rid of him once and for all!"
To the seven winds with the caution of a lifetime. The almost-instinct to hide his true nature was completely lost under the hellfire-hot rage that consumed him. He would have liked to tear every single one of those unfeeling dogs limb from limb, but in the end, he did something far more effective. Deliberately, very calmly and deliberately, he raised his left hand to his face... and removed his sunglasses.
"Try," he hissed. "Jussst try and touch him."
Golden-yellow reptilian eyes scorched their way through every one of the villagers, and every one of the villagers blanched and backed away. "Demon!" they cried. "Demon!"
The old woman raised a quivering arm. "Beasts! Why have you come to plague us? We do not deserve this. We are honest, god-fearing folk and..."
"Keep ssssilent!" he snarled. "You are in no possssition to talk to me about God or Sssssatan; I know far more about the both of them than you ever will. Now," and he put his sunglasses back on, along with his customary cool exterior, "where's the inn in this place?"
One of the villagers pointed mutely at the largest building on the square. No-one would get in the pair's way now; they had no wish to stir the volcano they saw was still smouldering.
"Come on, angel," said Crowley, his mouth full, "you ought to have fome of thif. I know it'f not nearly," he swallowed, "not nearly as good as what they used to serve us in London," the landlord was too petrified to dare be offended, "but it could be a whole lot worse. Try it. Wouldn't want you to lose that pudge, after all, eh?" patting Aziraphale's belly.
Nothing. The plate remained untouched.
Crowley put down his fork; his appetite had completely vanished. He took a deep breath, and called to the landlord, "You! A room for two, and a bottle of your finest wine!"
The wine had gone from reddish vinegar to a first-class Bordeaux vintage in the blink of an eye. So far, the bottle had been drained five times in one hour. All by Crowley. He was still remarkably lucid, considering. And he did not like it.
"D'you sssheee, ainnzhull, wha' you're doin' t'me? 'Sssh a da... blessshed nassshty thing t'do. How'm I ssshupposshed t'enjoy gettin' plassshtered wivout you joinin' in, hm?" He took another swig, rested Aziraphale's head on his shoulder, and leaned his own against it. Two wine-scented tears trickled down his cheeks. "Mi... Misssh you. Lookit me, drinkin' m'ssshelf into a coma, jusssh sssho I c'n per... pretend you're ssshtill you. An' it'sssh not workin', you cheat! Hurtsssh, hurtsssh me sssho badly... Nee' more wine."
He tipped back the bottle, drank it dry, and tossed it against a wall, where it shattered. Wrapping both arms around Aziraphale and nuzzling his neck, he slurred, "'Ssssh cheatin', hear me? Want you... you back now, Azzz'rafail... You get back out here or, or I'll..."
At this point, he happened to glance out the window, and was at once stone-sober, through no act of his own. There was nothing unusual to be seen, only a few twinkling stars in the clear night sky, yet he got up from the edge of the bed, crept stealthily over to the window, and closed the curtains. Then he went and lay down on the bed, pulling Aziraphale down with him, and drew the covers over them both, fully dressed.
Keeping Aziraphale's face hidden in the hollow of his shoulder, Crowley didn't take his eyes off that window for one second, all through the night.
The next morning, very early, the people of the village saw the snake-eyed man and his empty-eyed companion leave. They would never speak of either one of them again.