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A/N: A little fic on wing-grooming
Gift For: aliceapproved
Crowley was proud of his well-kept wings, which was of course perfectly alright as pride is a sin and Crowley being a demon was supposed to sin. There was more to it than just that, though. As Hell's representative on Earth, Crowley had to look presentable.
That, too was of course perfectly alright with Hell - Not that evil necessarily had to look attractive, but it wasn't easy to entice people into committing evil if they were so put off by one's appearance that they didn't even want to talk to one.
Of course Crowley could have argued that he very rarely, rarely in this case meaning never, showed his wings to humans he was tempting. A certain angel was a different matter, but then tempting angels itself was an entirely different matter - or at least it fell into the responsibility of an entirely different department in Hell and Crowley couldn't be completely sure that he wouldn't be acting without licence if he ever actually tempted an angel into Falling. Not that he had any plans to go that far, of course. One could get into all sorts of trouble if one acted without a license in Hell. Crowley's job was to tempt humans and he'd stick to it. Tempting the angel was a private game and nothing more.
So Crowley could have argued, but why should he? He enjoyed grooming his wings and while Hell wanted him to do it, he wasn't going to point out any reasons against it.
There was another reason why Crowley, like most demons, enjoyed grooming his wings, besides, and he wasn't quite sure that Hell might not forbid it entirely if they ever figured it out. Grooming his wings reminded him of Heaven.
There was a huge difference between grooming your own wings in solitude and the intense social exchange that was a mutual grooming session in Heaven, of course, but if you closed your eyes and just focussed on the feeling of feathers under your fingers and fingers running through your wings, you could almost pretend that it was somebody else's wing that you were grooming and somebody else's fingers in your wing.
Few demons ever engaged in mutual grooming, though and Crowley most certainly never would let another demon touch his wings. It would be much too easy to suddenly close your fist and rip out a bushel of flight-critical feathers, or rake sharp claws over tender flesh, rendering the victim incapable of flight for months - or possibly even permanently if one's claws reached deep enough. You couldn't trust demons the way you could angels. - If you were a fellow demon or angel, that was. Being a demon, Crowley couldn't trust angels either. He was the enemy, after all.
Perhaps he could have found a comparatively trustworthy demon - one that was too afraid of his wrath, or one that simply didn't have claws - if he had been permanently stationed in Hell, but up here on Earth the number of demons you got to interact with was limited to start with. Quite often the number of demons on Earth was one, and that one was Crowley. Even when it wasn't, Crowley didn't particularly like any of the options. Getting cuddly with Hastur or Ligur, for example? No, thank you! Really! And the very thought of touching Dagon's wings if his superior ever came up to give him his orders in person made his skin crawl.
Of course, Crowley could have gotten a human to groom him. That was easy enough. They were abundant in most places he had to stay in for any length of time and prone to having the most surprising kinks. A fascination with feathers was quite run of the mill with them, so a suitable candidate would be easy enough to find. In fact, Crowley had had a quite delightful slave back in Ancient Egypt for a while. It had been lovely - except that a human's lifespan was so very short and the successor Crowley had bought after the first one's death never had gotten the hang of slow, even stroking that also effectively straightened one's feathers without pulling them out. Or maybe Crowley just hadn't been patient enough with his clumsy attempts to give him the time to learn.
Humans had another shortcoming that couldn't be remedied anyway: They didn't have wings of their own, so there wasn't anything for one to groom in return.
Yes, Crowley didn't just long to be groomed - he also quite frequently itched to groom. He had no idea what Hell would make of that if they ever found out. He certainly didn't want to know, since he was quite sure that it couldn't possibly be pleasant.
Luckily there was very little risk that Hell ever would find out, as Crowley never got to indulge that desire with any wings other than his own and grooming his own wings could always be explained away by the desire to look presentable, which was, after all, something Hell wanted him to do and thus not likely to result in punishment. He wasn't in the least tempted by birds' wings and always too nervous and on his guard when there were fellow demons around to get carried away into reaching out for somebody's wing.
The only one that could, and did in fact, tempt him into that was Aziraphale. Not only was Heaven's representative friendly enough that Crowley knew that he didn't usually run the risk of a sudden unannounced smiting - he also had the most deplorable tendency to neglect his wings until they looked so fuzzy and grey that it was downright painfully embarrassing just to look at them.
Crowley couldn't understand why the angel didn't give them the attention they deserved either. They'd be beautiful things if they were properly tended, pearly white and glossy, and, Crowley suspected, possibly even a touch longer and more symmetrical than his own. It would be a pleasure to groom such wings and every time he saw them Crowley had to sit on his hands - sometimes even literally - to stop himself from reaching out for them. He hadn't always been successful at it either.
The first time he had slipped up had been very early in their relationship. Adam and Eve had been "busy" that evening and asked Aziraphale to watch little Cain and Abel so they could have some privacy while they took care of their "business".
Since there still hadn't been any other humans in the world, Crowley, still called Crawly at the time, had had nothing better to do than watch Aziraphale watch Cain and Abel and the boys had promptly fallen fast asleep.
So there they had sat side by side, angel and demon, watching two little humans sleep. Sleeping toddlers were cute, but awfully boring and it had made them sleepy as well.
At some point Aziraphale had leaned back against the rock Crawly had been lounging on and there it had been: A wing of tangled feathers right in front of Crawly's face. Awfully tangled they had appeared to him, though back then when they had still worn their wings openly for all of creation to see and used them to fly around it hadn't been nearly as bad as later on, after Aziraphale had given up their practical use. A few light strokes and maybe a slight pull here and there would have set things to rights soon enough. Crawly had seen the need and without conscious thought reached out to fix it.
There had been a yelp, a sudden movement, a flash of pain ... and that had been Crawly's first inconvenient discorporation.
He hadn't gotten comfortable enough to relax to the point that he slipped up like that again around the angel for centuries.
But eventually in the back of a small tavern on the outskirts of Susa late one night - or had it been early in the morning? - the desire had once again overwhelmed his drunken mind. At least he had still had enough self-control to be a little more cautious that time, though.
"Your wingsh," he had slurred.
"Eh?" Aziraphale, who'd been just as drunk as Crowley, had made.
"Your wingsh are an embash ... no an embe ... no ... Well, they look awful anywash. Let me ..."
And then he had reached out and Aziraphale had jumped up and sobered up and called him a wily trickster, a snake and a deceiver and knocked him over the head.
Crowley had passed out and had a headache for days after, but whether that had been from the knock over the head, or from not having sobered up first, he'd never been able to tell and at least Aziraphale hadn't discorporated him that time.
Nevertheless, he'd decided to keep his urges under stricter control and never to get drunk enough to forget himself around the angel again.
The latter resolve had only lasted up to the founding of the Roman Republic, but he'd at least managed to keep the first well into the days of the Arrangement - though the fact that Aziraphale hardly ever showed his wings anymore might have had more to do with that than Crowley's self-control.
It had only been during the French Revolution that he'd dared to broach the topic again.
"It's horrible, just horrible, how they're just ... just murdering each other," Aziraphale had told him, actually in Crowley's own flat in Paris, because nobody with half a brain would have dared to speak that openly in public at the time. "I was all for it when it still was about being hungry and overly high taxes and the distress of the poor, but when they're killing children in the name of brotherhood I just don't understand anymore. Why are they killing people for preaching His word? What is this world coming to?"
"Blessed if I know," Crowley said. "It's only France, though. We could just get out of here. When was the last time you visited England, for example?"
Aziraphale looked at him sharply.
"You don't think it's my fault, do you? I admit I might have had a word or two with some people in the beginning, but that was before it got out of hand. I wouldn't ... Did you see when that General Bonaparte had them fire canons in the street? G... S... Somebody, it was horrible! And his own people at that! ... Well, alright, not technically his own. He's from Corsica, actually, but still ... Anyway, I'd had all I could stand of it after that. I've been keeping out of everybody's way ever since."
"Then why are you still here?" Aziraphale demanded. "You could have gone to England yourself."
"Orders," Crowley admitted. "Well, not too direct ones, but I've been getting commendations for doing nothing again. It's the Spanish Inquisition all over again and, well, you know, sloth."
"Right," Aziraphale said. "Well, I guess we'll have to see it through. It can't last much longer and maybe I can put a word in here and there about religion. They are still good people at heart, after all."
"They are enjoying it," Crowley remarked. "They take their children to see their neighbours be guillotined. And then they scream for more blood. And you call that good at heart? No," he decided spontaneously. "I'm out of here and commendations be blessed. Why don't you come with me? We can do some light wiling and smiting in England."
"They're suspicious of everybody that leaves the country," Aziraphale reminded him. "I don't want to be held for a traitor and publicly discorporated."
"Then we'll fly over," Crowley said. "The channel's not that wide and they won't even see us if we're high enough up."
"I can't fly that far," Aziraphale returned. "I haven't flown at all in ages and my wings are in no shape for it. Besides, how would I carry my books that way?"
"Then we get them back in shape," Crowley suggested eagerly. "It shouldn't take that long if I help you groom them. I'm a good groomer. I ..."
"Don't you dare touch my wings, you old serpent!" Aziraphale exclaimed in his best smiting voice and for a moment Crowley thought his first discorporation since the Arrangement was imminent, but then the angel merely stalked out and slammed the door and Crowley saw no more of him during the few days he still remained in Paris.
He'd kept himself under control since then, aided by the fact that he hadn't actually seen Aziraphale's wings until the day of the Apocalypse, when they had looked as unkempt as ever, but Crowley hadn't had any time to spare to do anything about it anyway since they had been about to be incinerated. Nobody cared how well or badly groomed your wings were when you were a pile of ashes.
That had been a week ago, though, and Crowley and Aziraphale were still in existence after all. They were even both still corporated. The Bentley was back without a scratch - though, Crowley had a vague feeling that two or three Best of Queen albums were missing. Not that those were much of a loss. Aziraphale's bookshop was fully restored, though it definitely was missing some of its dust.
This lack, for reasons that would most likely always remain a mystery to Crowley had inspired the angel to do some spring cleaning and take inventory.
Well, to do Aziraphale justice, taking inventory did make sense considering the unfamiliar titles Adam had materialised into the shop.
Why Aziraphale had asked him to come over and help with the task, however, the demon couldn't explain. The angel knew that practising sloth was his favourite kind of work after all. Nevertheless, he had come and was dutifully practising it on Aziraphale's no longer quite so dusty couch instead of in front of his shining new TV set, watching the Angel's back as he worked.
There were no wings in sight, of course, but somehow Crowley couldn't help thinking of them anyway.
"You know," he remarked after taking another sip of wine that just didn't taste the same when Aziraphale's glass was standing forgotten on a nearby stepladder. "Your wings really do look a fright. Don't you ever groom them?"
"My wings?" Aziraphale replied somewhat distractedly. "I never use my wings anyway, so nobody ever sees them. It would be a waste of time and ... Whenever did you see what state my wings are in, dear?"
"At the Apocalypse," Crowley reminded him. "Last."
He didn't list any other occasions remembering how some of them had turned out. Why was he talking about wings again at all? It probably wouldn't end well and he was quite comfortable on this couch right now. It would be a pity to be thrown out of the shop.
Of course it was rather unlikely that Aziraphale would go so far as to discorporate him again, but then you never knew. Aziraphale probably was in Heaven's bad books after his little rebellion at the Apocalypse and discorporating a demon might earn him a commendation or at least a little goodwill. Well, if Heaven had bad books at all. Crowley didn't remember, and it was Heaven after all.
"It's just such an unnecessary fuss," the angel commented, probably not realising that Crowley had decided he'd better drop the subject and wanting to fill the silence. "I shouldn't waste Heaven's time on it."
"But you can waste it on reading books," Crowley pointed out despite himself.
"That's different," Aziraphale claimed.
"So, wouldn't it also be different if you were to sit down here and read a book while I groom your wings?" He should not have said that! He knew better than to say that!
Aziraphale turned to look at him with a rather surprised look on his face. He didn't seem at all angry, which was quite a relief.
"But that would take you hours of work, dear, and all of it quite in vain. By the time we have another Apocalypse they will be just as mussed up again and I doubt anyone will see them before that."
Could it be that Aziraphale was really considering it?
"So we'd have to repeat it every once in a while," Crowley offered. "You do read enough that it shouldn't be a hardship."
"It'd be hours of work for you," Aziraphale repeated. "And not at all slothful."
"Then I'll practise ... Well, pride or something," Crowley decided. "Go, fetch a book."
And Aziraphale did, though he seemed to consider it a silly joke and predicted that Crowley would give it up soon enough when he realised how much work it really was.
Quite to Aziraphale's surprise, however, Crowley set to work almost eagerly and more gently than the angel had expected. The gentle rhythmical stroking was very relaxing and brought back long forgotten memories of grooming sessions in Heaven and friends he'd had before the Eden incident. How pleasant mutual grooming had been back then.
Another surprise was that Crowley had materialised his own wings when he'd started grooming, though of course they were worth showing off, Aziraphale supposed, and maybe the demon had intended it as a reassuring gesture, offering his own wings as a target for retaliation if he should harm Aziraphale's. Wing grooming among demons probably required such courtesies.
For a moment Aziraphale was tempted to put down his book and return the favour as was customary among angels, but there wasn't a feather out of place on Crowley's wings, of course, and the demon was so very particular about his wings. No, it was better not to touch them uninvited. Maybe someday when Crowley had been flying or doing some kind of dirty work, he could offer.
So Aziraphale kept his attention on the book. He finished it long before Crowley tired of grooming his now perfectly straight and clean wings.