Crowley rushed through the stormy night. The cottage near the forest’s edge came in sight and he sighed in relief. Inside, a silhouette was visible through the window, dark against the warm glow of the hearthfire.
He knew Aziraphale so well. His curly blond hair, his pretty angelic face, the shining eyes, the lush figure and even his shadow. So Crowley could now be sure that Aziraphale had obeyed him and stayed in the old hunting cabin.
This was not a given. Since they had fled the capitol, Aziraphale had been pretty defiant, only reluctantly listened to Crowley - or not at all. The stubborn prince had trouble accepting that outside the safe walls of the castle, especially in a dangerous wood, Crowley was in charge and not his Royal Highness. But apparently, running around in the rainy night was less attractive than driving Crowley mad.
Keeping his bag as dry as possible under his coat, Crowley hurried towards the old wooden door. Pleasantly surprised, he found it locked. Sometimes Aziraphale actually listened to him.
Crowley knocked. Inside he heard shuffling and, soon after, footsteps. Aziraphale opened the door with a strained smile on his face.
“Welcome back, Captain Crowley” he said.
“Please, just Crowley,” Crowley reminded him. “Just as I will have to skip the ‘Highness’ and the ‘prince’.”
“Oh, of course, sorry,” Aziraphale said. “Had any success?”
“Yes and no,” Crowley chuckled. “I changed my mind about hunting. You were right. We don’t need the attention a case of poaching might get. But I found mushrooms and some herbs.”
“I found an old cauldron and cleaned it,” Aziraphale said. “Water should be hot enough soon.”
“Oh, well done!” Crowley said and rushed to sort and clean the ingredients he had found.
Aziraphale scoffed and let himself fall on his blanket.
“Something wrong?” Crowley asked.
Lifting his cute nose, Aziraphale looked at Crowley with what probably was supposed to be a haughty expression. It turned out rather petulant though and very adorable.
“I’d appreciate it, Mister Crowley,” Aziraphale said pointedly. “If you’d not treat me like a child.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I cleaned a cauldron, got water and made a fire,” Aziraphale said. “Praising me for it, is like praising a toddler for drawing three scrawly lines that are supposed to be a cat.”
Crowley pursed his lips so as not to grin.
“Well, for one, I recall you being a friend of the abstract arts,” he jested, but cleared his throat and tried to look serious when he saw Aziraphale’s still sour mien, “and for two, I meant no offense. I had expected the cooking to become a problem that you had already solved. So… well done.”
“Ah, of course,” Aziraphale said, tone dripping with sarcasm. “Did you notice I also solved the problem of being naked by getting dressed on my own? That ruffled hair issue? I brushed it - all alone! Impressive, hmm?”
“Aziraphale, please,” Crowley was becoming annoyed, “this is ridiculous.”
“Oh, now I’m ridiculous?”
“I never said…”
“Right! I guess I'm just overly sensitive!”
Crowley took three long strides. Standing in front of Aziraphale he grabbed the prince’s arm and pulled him to his feet. Fed up with Aziraphale’s attitude, he snarled into the pretty face.
“I gave up everything for you,” he hissed. “Left behind my work, my men, my home and all my belongings to protect you. Is it really too much to ask that you don’t behave like a spoiled brat in return? I grew up at a hunter’s home and had military training. I know how to survive and how to fight. So just do as I say because you know neither of those!”
For a moment, Aziraphale was stunned into silence. He blinked. Then he pushed Crowley away, well, he tried to.
“I know all this, Crowley,” he said, voice wavering. “You take care of food, water and safety. I’m well aware how useless I am!”
The stubborn expression fell from his face. As Crowley’s grip loosened, Aziraphale fell back onto his blanket. There he sat and sobbed. Guilt chased away Crowley’s anger in an instant and he knelt beside Aziraphale.
“What? No,” he hurried to say, as soft as he could manage. “You… you’re not useless! You have so many skills and talents. You are so educated and knowledgeable.”
“But all my skills, talents and my knowledge are useless out here!” Aziraphale said. “There is no political analysis to be made, no instrument to play and no smart book to interpret to impress the guests. There are also no guests!”
Crowley smiled. Not knowing how he found the courage to, he tenderly cupped Aziraphale’s cheeks,
“Hey, this is just out here,” he said. “That’s my world. Tomorrow we’ll reach Silversong Harbour, we’ll be among people again and you’ll get to impress everyone and charm your way into their hearts.”
“Except I can’t,” Aziraphale pouted. “It would be much too dangerous to show my face and people won’t be too charmed by a hooded figure who mumbles only the most necessary words.”
Humming thoughtfully, Crowley nodded.
“Alright, you have a point there,” he said. “But the goal is to leave the kingdom, right? As soon as you’re in Avriburg, it will be a new life. You won’t be a runaway prince, but a handsome stranger from a foreign country.”
This, finally, brought a little smile to Aziraphale’s face. He chuckled a bit before letting out a long sigh.
“Thank you,” he said genuinely. After taking a deep breath, he added, “And I apologize for giving you so much grief. When my parents decided I had to marry Lady Device, I felt so powerless. I fled to take back control over my life, only to find myself like a helpless puppy, just as powerless as before.” He lifted his hands in a placating manner, even though there was no one to placate, “This is not meant to be an excuse - I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. You were nothing but kind and brave and… simply amazing.”
Crowley felt his cheeks heat up at the praise.
“And please don’t think I do not appreciate what you gave up for me,” Aziraphale continued. “I’m well aware of your sacrifice and have no idea how to ever repay you for leaving behind your whole life to protect me.”
For a long moment Crowley only stared. What could he say? That after talking to Aziraphale for the first time years ago in the palace, protecting Aziraphale had been Crowley’s whole life? Deciding this would be too weird, Crowley stood and pulled Aziraphale up as well. He looked deep into the beautiful aquamarine eyes and put both hands on Aziraphale’s shoulders.
“You’re not powerless,” he said. “Nobody is. It’s true that right now you’re not exactly in your element...”
“An impressive understatement, dear.”
“...but along your way, you managed to find someone willing to support you.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, tilting his head in thought, “I had not seen it that way. Power not only lies in one’s own skills, right? Sometimes power means making a friend who can help.”
“Right,” Crowley nodded with a fond smile. “You’re not powerless. Nobody is powerless. There is always something we can do and if it’s only asking for help.”
“And accepting it without throwing a childish tantrum,” Aziraphale joked at his own expense.
“Yes, that would help,” Crowley said while trying to keep a straight face. It was impossible to stay mad at Aziraphale.
He thought about telling Aziraphale that. But he was at loss of words when suddenly a soft warm weight lay in his arms. Aziraphale had thrown himself at Crowley to hug him tightly.
“Thank you,” he murmured against Crowley’s chest. “I really appreciate all you do.”
Crowley swallowed. On instinct he returned the embrace. But this was so unreal that it took him a moment to process and he almost forgot to answer. Clearing his throat, he let go of Aziraphale. Crowley took a step back and tried to appear casual as he smiled.
“You… ahem... are most welcome,” he said. “After all, I swore an oath to protect you. But I really should take care of the soup now.”
“Oh, alright,” Aziraphale said, apparently not buying the casual act and therefor being appropriately confused. “I could use a warm meal. Need a hand?”
“No, no! All good,” Crowley hurried to say. “Rest a bit.”
Once more, Aziraphale did what he was told. As soon as Aziraphale was engrossed in his book, Crowley rubbed his own face and suppressed a groan of frustration.
Not too long ago, he would have thought this all to be a dream come true. Only being able to admire Aziraphale from afar was normal. He got to touch or even steal a kiss in his dreams only. But he had gotten used to this. After all, Crowley knew his place. So the sudden proximity overwhelmed him. Never before had he been able to breathe in the scent of Aziraphale’s soft hair, had never been able to feel his body’s warmth or to circle his arms around his generous form. What had been an untouchable forbidden fruit was now within his reach. But still forbidden.
Stealing a hidden glance at his runaway prince, Crowley felt his heartbeat elate. He shook his head.
At least to him, it was pretty obvious who was truly powerless.