Crowley double-checked all the points of his pentagram, and made a face. It all looked to be in order, but drawing occult symbols in the dirt seemed very ... un-classy. Still, at a time like this, he could forgive himself for kneeling like this in the dirt, and for drawing his pentagram with a convenient stick. Right now, necessity was more important than style.
He spoke a word that would have made mortal ears bleed, and the pentagram glowed a sullen red. From its depths a terrible voice spoke. YES? the voice said.
"Hi," said Crowley. "Look, I don't know if you know the latest up here, but apparently Upstairs is annoyed with the humans."
WE ARE AWARE, the voice said. ARE YOU SUGGESTING WE COMMEND YOU FOR YOUR INFLUENCE?
"Sure," Crowley said amiably. "But, uh, that's not the point. The point is that Upstairs is upset enough to dump a great load of water on Earth. Big old flood. Drown every living creature."
"And it's, you know, holy water." Crowley paused for a moment. The voice remained silent, and the pentagram continued to be a stubbornly sullen red. Crowley pressed on, "So maybe I could come back to Hell for a bit? In the interest of not melting like a bloody candle, you know."
WHERE HAVE YOU RECEIVED INTELLIGENCE OF THIS ... HOLY FLOOD?
"Around," Crowley said vaguely. The prissy resident angel might have mentioned it, and coupled with the fact that rumors were spreading like wildfire and some old kook called Noah was building a big boat, Crowley thought it prudent to heed the warnings.
AROUND. AROUND IS NOT A VERY INFORMATIVE PLACE, IS IT, CRAWLY?
Crowley blinked, which was unusual. "Look," he said, "I need a leave of absence from Earth. It's perfectly within my jurisdiction to be paranoid of everything, and I'm paranoid of this holy flood." Besides, he added silently, I wouldn't go back down to you bastards unless I was really scared.
UNTIL WE RECEIVE CONFIRMATION, YOU'LL BE STAYING RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE. GETTING A NEW FIELD AGENT TAKES TIME.
The pentagram faded and became simple lines in the dirt.
Crowley stared at it in disbelief. Okay, so the minions of Hell weren't the nicest people around, but they were going to leave him here? He knew perfectly well they could recall him in a second. Bastards. They were going to leave him here to melt. They were going to leave him here.
Sitting in the dirt in front of a very unstylish pentagram, the demon Crowley blessed furiously.
Aziraphale looked critically at the Ark. "Excuse me," he said politely.
"Not now," the old man replied, marking tally after tally on a clay tablet as pairs of animals trotted and fluttered and crawled past him up the gangway. "I'm busy."
The angel peered over his shoulder. "Goodness," he observed, "That's quite a lot of animals. Er, do you think they'll all fit?"
"Look," the old man said impatiently, "God gave me very specific instructions about the size of this thing, and God knows if everything will fit." When Aziraphale remained patiently hovering near his shoulder, Noah added, "Ham, please show this man off the Ark."
One of Noah's sons came forward rather apologetically, and took Aziraphale's arm. "Sorry," he murmured. "Dad's been getting a lot of criticism about this."
"Really?" said Aziraphale concernedly. "Oh dear me. I was only trying to be helpful."
Ham regarded Aziraphale with some interest. "So you don't think Dad's crazy?"
"Of course not!" said Aziraphale in surprise. "Wicked men walk the Earth, and it's a very good idea to get rid of them, and start over. All of that. Righteous smiting. Besides, we shouldn't question the will of God. Ineffable, you know. All part of the divine plan." He looked doubtfully back at the Ark. "Although one can't help but wonder how everything will fit ..."
Ham blinked. "Um, you don't seem very wicked."
"Well, of course not. I presume I'm going on the Ark with you."
Looking horribly guilty, Ham said, "No, I don't think so. God only told Dad to bring Mum and me and my brothers and our wives ... and all the animals, of course. And some food. But no one else. Apparently everyone else is wicked." He paused, looking into Aziraphale's surprised face, and added, "Sorry."
"But ..." Aziraphale floundered. "I can't possibly be wicked. I'm an angel."
Ham's guilty look turned to skepticism. "An angel?"
Aziraphale coughed self-consciously and shook out his wings. "Well, yes."
Ham stared at the wings. "Wow. Listen, I'm sure Dad will let you come. Maybe God just didn't bother to mention you because He knew you'd be coming. Wow. An angel. You can help watch over us. I know you won't want to be flying in the rain, for however long this flood will last."
"Forty days and forty nights," Aziraphale said. "Or so I'm told."
"Come on then!" said Ham. He hesitated a moment, then took Aziraphale's arm and lead him back to the gangplank. "Dad," he said loudly.
Noah, however, seemed busy. It appeared he was having a spirited argument with another of his sons. "Look," he was saying, "I must have accidentally added an extra tally mark, that's all ..."
"You'd accidentally check off three asps?" his son said impatiently. "Dad, it's not very easy to miscount big old snakes."
"Well, Shem, it seems I did so anyway," Noah retorted, looking put out.
"Excuse me," Aziraphale said. "You miscounted something?"
"Yeah," Shem said. "According to Dad's tallies there are three asps on board. Who are you?"
"Three garter snakes?" Aziraphale repeated.
"Dad," Ham interrupted, "Dad, this is an angel. He's coming with us."
"An angel?" Noah said, and looked at Aziraphale's wings. "I see." He bowed. "Honored. Your name?"
"Aziraphale," Aziraphale said, smiling benignly. "Now, what's all this about three snakes?"
"Nothing, nothing," said Noah, waving his hand. "Just me getting a bit old. It's fine. Now, where are the turtles?"
Aziraphale left them to it, and wandered up into the Ark. He climbed to the top deck, and stood there, watching pair after pair of animals march up into the Ark. In the distance, thunder began to rumble.
"Three snakes," the angel murmured thoughtfully.
Crowley lay curled in a dim corner, seething. This was cramped, crowded, smelly, and very, very undignified. It was beneath his dignity to be a bloody stowaway. It was also beneath his dignity to be so very uncomfortable. He could hear rain beginning to patter incessantly away on the wooden sides of the Ark, and he didn't need the vivid imagination of a human to consider what would happen if the Ark sprung even the smallest leak. He also felt vaguely like a scaly piece of ill-used rope; he'd forgotten how annoying it was to have no limbs. In the Garden he'd been happy to simply be on Earth, regardless of the body, but once Hell had commissioned him a human-shaped one, Crowley had been loath to ever revert back to the body of a snake; he had a tendency to get kinks in his coils, and it was very uncomfortable to be cold-blooded.
Also, the stupid angel was somehow on board. Crowley was sure he'd done it on purpose, and was equally sure the angel knew he was here somewhere.
Crowley uncoiled himself quickly and slithered further into the shadows. The snuffle came again, followed by a very large velvety nose in very nice chestnut brown fur.
A blessed horse. He'd never gotten on with horses. And they had hooves –- rather big hooves that could easily crush his body. While that would take care of the getting-recalled-to-Hell problem, Crowley hadn't particularly wanted to go back to Hell in the first place, even when the alternative was stowing away on some creaky little boat. Besides, dying was so messy. Crowley hissed.
The horse seemed affronted by this. It whickered and took a step closer to him.
"Get away!" Crowley hissed at it, using words this time. "Bad horse! Bad!"
"Oh dear," said a voice from the doorway. "I was rather thinking the animals might not all get along. Come here, my dear. I've got some hay for you ..."
The horse immediately lost interest in Crowley and trotted off towards Aziraphale, who was standing in the door, his arms full of hay and a very kind smile on his face.
Crowley curled further into the shadows. Thrice blessed stupid angel. He'd probably sent the idiotic horse over on purpose.
Having finished depositing the hay in a convenient trough, the angel wandered nearer to his corner. Crowley briefly entertained thoughts of what might happen if he bit the angel's stupid sandaled foot.
"Hello," Aziraphale said conversationally.
"Mmm," said Crowley noncommittally, looking for an exit.
Aziraphale kneeled down. "Er ... Crawly, is it?"
For the second time in as many days, Crowley blinked. He hadn't really expected the Angel of the Eastern Gate to have remembered talking to the serpent, and he certainly hadn't expected Aziraphale to remember his name. It was beside the point that he'd remembered Aziraphale's –- it really was much more memorable than 'Crawly,' anyway.
"Crowley," Crowley found himself saying. "It's not Crawly anymore."
"Crowley," Aziraphale repeated dutifully. "I say, that's rather modern, isn't it?"
I can't believe this, Crowley thought. Any other angel would be waving his arms around and pronouncing 'begone, demon,' by now. Of course, not many angels took the time to chat with demons in general. Aziraphale had been odd that way ever since the Beginning.
"Look," Crowley said, "this isn't a social tea. Would you go away now?"
Aziraphale looked doubtful. "I suppose I should do something about you," he said dubiously. "I mean, all the other wicked things are drowning right this moment, and I hardly think it fair ..."
"But all the others are only drowning," Crowley interrupted in his most persuasive voice. "It's holy water out there, and I'd melt. Horribly. I don't really think that's fair either, do you?"
"No, of course not," Aziraphale said immediately.
Crowley was suddenly very glad it wasn't physically possible for snakes to smirk. The angel was a softhearted fool.
Silence stretched between them.
"I say," Aziraphale said finally, "I don't suppose you'll be wanting some food?"
"Sure," said Crowley, happily without a voice of reason. "Can a mouse be spared?"
As he expected, the angel looked shocked. And as he had rather hoped, the angel also departed, radiating disapproval. Crowley curled up around himself and allowed himself a moment of intense satisfaction. He couldn't believe Heaven was stupid enough to let an angel like Aziraphale be their only field agent. As sleep crept upon the coiled demon, Crowley's last though was But they left him here on earth for the flood. Maybe Heaven isn't stupid after all.
Crowley slept, but it wasn't the smug contented sleep he'd expected after beguiling the angel so.
Aziraphale kept out of his way, and Crowley kept in the shadows (and out of the way of that overly-friendly bay horse). A part of the demon was nettled by the idea of having a sort of arrangement with the angel, but it worked well enough.
As the days went by, Crowley got progressively more bored. There wasn't much someone in a snake's body could do to entertain himself. He couldn't even count his fingers to pass the time, for G -- for Sa -– for someone's sake. And Crowley was beginning to desperately miss Babylonian wine. He began to miss it all the more as he realized it wasn't likely he'd ever get to taste a drop of it again, unless it was floating around in barrels.
Then he remembered Aziraphale's offer of food, and his hopes rose again. If there was food on board this creaky little tub, there had to be drink. And even a silly old man in God's favor couldn't really be silly enough or righteous enough to not bring along Babylonian wine.
So Crowley began his search.
It kept him occupied for a number of days, so though the wine wasn't forthcoming, it did help pass the time. And Crowley did eventually find it, on the second-to-top level of the Ark, along with the gold, weapons, and other various things Crowley generally regarded as tools of the more sinful side of humanity. He grinned inwardly. These were the people that pleased God, huh? Well, they pleased demons too. A demon, at least.
So, he had found the wine. Now all that remained was to somehow get the cork off the lid and drink some wine without falling embarrassingly into the barrel. He carefully wound himself around the barrel and up to the top, then, just as carefully, and very determinedly, bit into the cork.
His teeth stuck.
Crowley hissed angrily to himself. This was just brilliant. He tried to open his mouth wide, but his fangs were stuck fast in the cork and wouldn't budge. Rather desperately, he began simply tugging his head in a vain effort to pull the cork out, as had been his original plan. When it became apparent this wouldn't work either, Crowley hesitated a final moment, then shifted to human shape.
Knowing he looked very silly wrapped around the barrel with his teeth on the cork, the demon disentangled himself and fell to the deck with an undignified and very loud crash. Wincing, Crowley swiftly changed back into serpent-form and slithered into the shadows. Just in time, too, it seemed; on the upper deck was the sound of running feet, and then a thoroughly drenched Shem and a completely dry Aziraphale came down a ladder. Shem, holding up a lamp, looked about the room curiously, but the angel's eyes flickered immediately to the shadow in which Crowley lay.
Crowley angrily blessed his own stupidity. Oh yes, he couldn't just leave well enough alone. He had to draw the angel's attention when all around them holy water was pouring down by the bucketful.
But holy water, or the administration thereof on Crowley, didn't seem to have occurred to the angel. Upon spotting the demon curled in shadow, Aziraphale did something very strange. He walked softly behind Shem, carefully picked up a standing block of gold, and set it gently sideways on the floor. Then, "I say," the angel said. "I do believe I've found what caused that racket." He pointed to the newly repositioned gold. "It must've fallen over in a swell."
Shem turned to see where Aziraphale was pointing, and looked thoroughly relieved. "Yes, that must have been it." He grinned a tired grin at the angel. "I really don't know what we'd do without you. You keep the animals happy, none of our food has gone bad, you reassure suspicious men like me when I've got the nerve to think we have stowaways -–" He moved to clap the angel on the back, seemed to remember exactly who he was talking to, and instead finished enthusiastically, "If we ever get the chance to write down the history of the great flood and the Ark, I'll make sure you get at least a paragraph or two of praise."
"Oh come now," Aziraphale said uncomfortably, "you really don't need to do that."
"Of course I do," Shem said firmly, and ushered the flustered angel back up the ladder.
Still lurking in the shadows, Crowley found himself at an utter loss as to what to think. He knew angels, the whole lot of them, were a bunch of righteous bastards. They liked to smite things. And they didn't lie. They didn't even mislead that much.
Well, Crowley concluded, curling up amongst some gold, he was obviously having a bad influence on the angel. Bad job well done and all that.
It was quite some time before Crowley remembered that he'd originally come to that particular room to get some Babylonian wine. By that time, he'd gone back down to the second deck, though he stayed well out of the horses' way. Crowley was beginning to get seriously annoyed now, and really did contemplate going back up to the wine barrels before he concluded he really couldn't risk another episode like the one he'd already sparked.
As it turned out, his wine concerns didn't really matter anyway.
Sometime about a fortnight after he'd stowed away on the miserable little boat, Crowley awoke to the distinct smell of Babylonian wine in close vicinity. It took him a minute to process that yes, he wasn't delusional, and no, this wasn't a wistful projection of sheer boredom. Slitted yellow eyes snapped open. The demon looked around his darkened corner, and after a moment noticed a ceramic mug from which the tempting scent of wine came. He slithered over to it. Right. Definitely Babylonian. He smirked inwardly, and spent the first enjoyable afternoon he had in weeks.
The next day a refilled mug was waiting for him.
On the third day, Crowley's mind had the nerve to get suspicious. Wine didn't just appear out of thin air. It had to be brought. And Crowley had the idea that none of Noah's family would take it into their heads to bring their precious Babylonian wine anywhere near the animals. In fact, they wouldn't have the faintest inkling that a demon was hiding on their ship trying to steal their wine. The only being who knew either of those things was a certain annoying angel.
But Aziraphale wouldn't give him wine, would he? Nothing willingly gave a demon anything. Humans would give a demon something for a bargain, sure, but that was about it. Angels did a bit of righteous smiting, and demons did a bit of not-so-righteous backstabbing, but no one, no one gave Crowley Babylonian wine. It didn't make sense.
When, on the fourth and fifth and sixth day, the wine continued to appear, and continued to be mildly distracting and entertaining, and continued to be in no way harmful, Crowley gave a sort of mental shrug and simply accepted it as his due. The angel certainly wouldn't see him complaining.
On the seventh day of Crowley's angel-delivered wine service, Crowley awoke to find things were different.
The first thing he noticed was the fact that no wine was forthcoming. He just had time to be annoyed by this before he realized the second thing, which was that the perpetual rocking motion he'd become accustomed to for the past forty days or so had stopped.
Well, obviously the storm had stopped. This also meant the rain had stopped. The question remained as to whether the Ark was now resting on land, or some incredibly flat sea. Crowley hoped for the first and was betting on the second.
He slithered cautiously out of his shadow-spot, expertly avoiding the various paws and hooves of the animals as he snaked along the floor and up the ladder to the infamous deck in which the wine and gold and weapons were kept. Crowley looked around the room. It was mostly empty except for a figure sitting at the base of the ladder leading to the upper deck. The figure was looking upwards into a ray of sunlight that was streaming down on his face, and a breeze from outside ruffled his hair back against his forehead. The whole effect might have been very beautiful and angelic, except that, well, it was Aziraphale, so on the whole it ended up looking rather silly.
Crowley weighed his chances for a moment, then slid over to the angel. "Hey," he said.
Aziraphale jumped a bit and looked down at him. "Oh, hello."
Crowley gestured vaguely upwards with his blunt green head. "Looks like the storm's gone. How are things?"
"Oh," said the angel, glancing up again for a moment, "it's rather beautiful, actually. Would you like to see it?"
"Nah," said Crowley, suddenly wanting more than anything to get out into the fresh air. "I can't get topside without being in human form, and then Noah and company will see me."
"Keep them from seeing you," Aziraphale said reasonably. "Miracle them into not seeing you, or ... or whatever it is demons do instead of miracles."
"Upstairs might notice that," Crowley snapped.
Aziraphale blushed. "I don't suppose they'd notice if I did a miracle," he said very quickly. "I mean, it wouldn't be very odd for an angel to do a miracle on the Ark, so really if you do want to come up on the roof with me it shouldn't be a problem –-"
Realizing that a snake with its mouth open was probably a very comical sight indeed, Crowley snapped his jaw shut. Then, before the angel could babble himself into real embarrassment, Crowley interrupted, "All right, all right, if you really think so." Not giving the angel a chance to think about his stupid offer, Crowley shifted to human-shape, smirking happily at the ten fingers he so missed in serpent form.
Aziraphale gave Crowley a wide-eyed look for a moment, then seemed to pull himself together. "Er, right. Er. Let's go up to the roof, then. None of the humans will take any notice of you."
Crowley nodded and followed the angel up the ladder and into the flat open deck. Before he had a chance to get anything but a vague impression of light and a vast shininess, Aziraphale was spreading his wings and gesturing for Crowley to do the same. With a shrug, the demon followed suit and flew after the angel, landing on the sloped wooden roof of the very top deck. He settled on the opposite side of the slanting roof as Aziraphale, ruffled his feathers a bit, and looked around.
He felt suddenly very small. All around the little piece of wood on which he was floating was water; vast water, stretching on all sides to the slightly curved horizon, all calm water, smooth water, brightly shining in the afternoon sun.
"Wow," Crowley observed coolly.
"It is impressive, isn't it?" Aziraphale agreed.
"Sure." Crowley drew his knees up to his chest and huddled in a ball, doing his very best to look as though he wasn't sort-of-cowering. Anyway, this much holy water would make any demon really bloody nervous.
"Say," Crowley said after a few moments, "it's not going to rain anymore, is it?"
"No," Aziraphale said dreamily. Crowley frowned and scooted up the roof a bit until he could see what the angel was doing. Aziraphale was half-lying, propped up on his elbows with his wings spread about him, gazing into the clouds and looking just as silly as he had on the ladder. "No," Aziraphale said again. "Only forty days and nights of rain were scheduled, I believe."
"So what happens now?"
"Now? Oh." The angel frowned a bit, obviously thinking hard. His countenance suddenly clearing, he said, "Ah, yes! Now is the hundred and fifty days in which we sit here on the water, enjoying the view, I assume."
"WHAT?" Crowley shrieked.
Aziraphale gave him the disapproving look time-honored by librarians everywhere. "Hush. If you insist on screaming like that, you'll attract Noah's attention no matter how good my miracles are."
But Crowley would not be calmed. He hissed, "Right! You are getting a sssword right now, and you are ssslicing my head off with it. I refuse to spend another three months cooped up like this! I'd rather go back to Hell!"
The angel gave him a cold look. Crowley froze. There was something wrong about that look. Angelically wrong, at least. Aziraphale didn't look especially righteous, and he didn't look as though he was considering smiting of the usual sort, either. He looked remarkably like a number of humans Crowley had never managed to tempt. These were the humans that frustrated Crowley; the ones who were the friends of the tempted, who saw what Crowley had done and so didn't fall prey to it themselves. These were the humans who got angry at their friends for doing stupid things, because they cared. And Aziraphale was giving him this look now. It was a very human look.
"That's very silly," was all he said, and he turned away to gaze out at the giant, beautiful ocean.
Crowley ruffled his feathers uncomfortably and turned the other way to glare at the place where endless sea met endless sky.
It took him a few weeks of sitting sulkily on the roof to notice, but he never did again consider going back into the Ark and stabbing himself out of sheer frustration. Besides, every morning Aziraphale would fly up to the roof with two mugs of Babylonian wine, and they would drink in silence. This kept Crowley content enough that it was too much bother to worry about going back to Hell, anyway.
Something even worse than the endless sea, Crowley discovered sometime during the second month he spent on the roof, was the fact that, after a while trapped in the same general space as someone, you started to get used to them.
He was beginning to fall into a routine. Every morning he would awaken just as the angel brought up their wine. They would drink, each sitting on their own side of the slanted roof. They would spend the day sitting or lying about on that roof, Aziraphale sometimes humming insipid little tunes to himself, and in the evenings Crowley would doze off again, to wake up the next morning as Aziraphale brought the wine.
Crowley began to get a bit uncomfortable when he realized he could recognize each of the songs Aziraphale hummed to himself, from sheer repetition.
His discomfort grew when he realized that not only was he used to the angel's singing, he was used to seeing the angel. When he curled up at night with his wings folded around him, and the stars overhead provided the only light, he didn't even have to concentrate in order to have an image of Aziraphale printed across his closed eyelids. Without thinking about it, he could picture the angel's friendly face, the very slight smile that greeted him every morning along with the Babylonian wine. Without trying, Crowley could see Aziraphale's tousled sandy hair, and his rumpled robe, and his horribly disarrayed pinion feathers. After a bit of horror at this realization, Crowley gave up trying to not see.
The last straw, of course, was when Crowley realized that their silence was companionable.
"Right," he said abruptly one morning as the sun was nearing its zenith overhead. "If this keeps up, I'll go mad."
Aziraphale peered at him over the slope of the roof, looking absolutely bewildered. Then again, it had been at least two months since the demon had offered any commentary on the situation. "I'm sorry, what was that?" Aziraphale asked.
"I said," said Crowley, "if this keeps up, I'll go mad." He gestured vaguely at Aziraphale's wings. "Those are an absolute disgrace."
Aziraphale looked a bit affronted. "What's wrong with them?"
Crowley waved his hands expressively. "You know. Your pinfeathers are a disaster. I can see your down's no softer than your outer feathers. Any self-respecting bird would be ashamed."
"I," said Aziraphale with great dignity, "am not a bird."
Crowley stared at him. "I know." He turned away, half-annoyed with himself for breaking the silence. Then again, now that it was back, it wasn't half so comfortable. He grinned.
A week later, over their makeshift breakfast of wine, which Crowley, to his own horror, was beginning to get tired of, Aziraphale said, "They aren't really that bad."
"Who aren't?" Crowley said on reflex, before he could remember that talking to the angel wasn't the most productive of activities.
"Not who, my boy,: Aziraphale said. "What. I mean, are my wings really as bad as you said?"
"Worse," Crowley replied, draining his mug. After a moment's hesitation, he shook out a wing. "See this? Not a feather out of place."
"That's rather nice," said Aziraphale, sounding impressed in spite of himself. "However do you manage it?"
"Every ten years or so I take the time to give them a good grooming," Crowley said, feeling a bit superior in the light that Aziraphale needed to be told something so obvious. "It doesn't take that long. Don't you do it?"
The angel looked away. "No," he said softly.
Suddenly very interested in spite of himself, Crowley asked, "Why not?"
Aziraphale seemed to be finding the wood shingling of the roof of the utmost fascination. Even more softly he said, "I don't suppose you remember. In Heaven angels generally groom each other's wings."
Crowley was so nettled by the first part of this reply that he hardly caught the second. Does it matter if I remember Heaven? he wanted to snap. Instead he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and in that moment the second part of Aziraphale's reply registered. His eyes snapped open.
"You're telling me," he said, "that you haven't taken good care of your wings because there's no one else around to do it for you?"
"Er." Aziraphale looked off at the endless sea. "Yes. That's the idea."
Crowley swallowed the words oh for goodness sake let me, because those words were incorrect on a number of levels. Aside from the fact that goodness would be invoked, Crowley didn't really want to think about why he might possibly be offering to do something for somebody else. Even if the angel's wings were in horrible condition, that was really no excuse.
What actually came out of his mouth was, "You know, it's not that hard to groom your own wings. I'll show you."
Well, that still wasn't going to make the list of Top Ten Brilliant Things Crowley Has Said. But that wasn't the point. The point was that Aziraphale looked willing and happy in light of this offer. No, that wasn't the point either. The point was never going to be making Aziraphale look happy. The point was that teaching the angel some proper wing care would likely take up a few weeks, and that was a few weeks closer to getting off the wretched little boat.
The point definitely wasn't that Aziraphale was beaming and saying that yes, he would like that very much.
Teaching Aziraphale to groom his own wings didn't take quite as long as Crowley had expected, and it also had repercussions that Crowley hadn't expected.
For a start, the angel looked almost presentable. This alone, in Crowley's completely un-humble opinion, was cause for great shock.
The repercussion Crowley liked rather less was that Aziraphale seemed to be taking the whole thing as a gesture of friendship. Once or twice, he even went as far as to try touching Crowley's wings, to see if a feather felt right. Crowley would flinch away, hissing that as a demon it was in his nature to trust no one, and that was as good as a big sign on his forehead saying 'don't touch.' Eventually Aziraphale got the hint and kept to his own side of the roof, because Crowley tended to get rather tetchy after making his excuses.
The truth was that Crowley was angry with himself for even bothering to think that the angel deserved an explanation for why he didn't want anyone touching his wings. Certainly it was in his nature to trust no one, but to a degree Aziraphale's thoughtless comment from the previous week nettled him. I don't suppose you remember. In Heaven angels groom each other's wings.
Generally, not remembering Heaven was more of a moral thing. The bastards Upstairs had kicked him out to the bastards Downstairs. In a working relationship, you just generally don't mention your previous boss too much, especially if He threw you to the metaphorical dogs. And generally, it was easy to remember that Heaven was pretty boring, and that most of the people there were smug and righteous and basically the sort of people Crowley didn't want to hang out with anyway.
It was just harder to remember this with Aziraphale around.
Crowley considered simply not talking again, in the hopes that it might discourage the angel from having any more to do with him, but Crowley's traitorous mouth continued having other plans. Since the wings episode, their comfortable silences had morphed into companionable conversations about nothing in particular. A favorite subject was the animals aboard the Ark, as that was a fairly safe topic. Crowley discovered that it was incredibly satisfying to ramble for hours, to be allowed to tell Aziraphale at length about his theory that every horse on earth (even if there were only fourteen at the moment) was out to get him, because when Crowley ranted, Aziraphale would sit on his side of the roof and simply listen.
Somewhere in the third month, though, their conversations gradually became less innocent. "I really do think I should commend you," Aziraphale said once, as the two celestial beings watched a rather spectacular sunset.
"You, commend me?" Crowley snorted. "Why?:
"This whole flood business," Aziraphale replied thoughtfully. "You know, drowning all the wicked. You know our jobs. You're supposed to encourage wickedness. So, er, I suppose you've done a spectacularly good job."
Crowley frowned. He'd never really thought about it. "That's the funny thing," he said finally. "I just don't have time to corrupt everyone. Besides, there isn't much I can do to corrupt newborns. They're too busy nursing to be corruptible. And animals don't take much notice, except sometimes they try to step on me. What's Upstairs saying about drowning all the animals?"
The angel shrugged. "It puzzles me too. I suppose we'll just have to put it down to ineffability."
"In-what-y?" Crowley said.
"Ineffable. You know." Aziraphale waved his hands expressively. "Indescribable. Indefinable. God."
"Oh." Crowley gazed down at the molten orange-gold path that glittered across the water, leading from the Ark to the setting sun. "So you're saying that you're explaining it by not explaining it?"
"I suppose so, yes."
"Ah." Crowley leaned back on his elbows. "That's rather Zen."
Crowley rolled his eyes. "Never mind."
Twilight came. Stars began to appear above the water-drenched earth. "The funny thing," Aziraphale said quietly, "is that I'd never met Noah's family."
Crowley turned to peer at his companion. "And?"
"And ... I'm an angel." Aziraphale inspected his hands. "I mean, if they're the only people good enough to be kept alive, they should have had some sort of angelic influence. But I'd never met them before in my life. They were chosen. And everyone else died."
Crowley suddenly experienced the strange, new, and wholly unpleasant feeling of pity. He quashed it. "Hard luck," he said.
Aziraphale gave him a startled look and didn't talk for the rest of the week.
For a while after that, Crowley went back to talking about horses.
During the fourth month, the silences were somewhat awkward again. Aziraphale fell back on his silly little tunes to fill the silences, and would hum to himself, looking out over the silent sea. Strangely enough, it wasn't driving Crowley mad, as the demon had half-expected it would. And he could still recognize all the tunes, though he couldn't place any of them.
Early one morning, Crowley awoke before dawn and the customary time the angel procured their wine. Aziraphale, of course, was sitting on his usual side of the roof, humming. This was, Crowley observed, one of the more melancholy tunes.
The demon sat up, ruffling his wings a bit in the early-morning chill. "Hey," he said softly.
Aziraphale broke off and turned to offer Crowley a small smile. "Hello," he said. "You're up early this morning."
Crowley stretched lazily. "Yeah. Say, what was it you were humming?"
The angel shrugged. "Nothing really."
"C'mon." Crowley leaned forward, feeling a bit of real interest. "Where'd you learn this 'nothing really'? What are the words?"
"It doesn't have words," Aziraphale replied primly. "Would you like some wine?"
"'M not getting drunk till you answer. Where did you learn it?" Crowley grinned. He generally didn't get the opportunity to be this obnoxious so early in the day.
Aziraphale shrugged again. "I just, you know, I know it. I never really learned it. It's one of those, er, angel things. I suppose it's a praise of God. Just a song the angels sometimes sing. Er, a bit of Heaven, I suppose."
"Oh." Crowley spread his wings and rolled onto his back. "Dunno why you'd want a bit of Heaven, or things angels sing. Most angels are right bastards."
His companion made a half-hearted noise of complaint.
Crowley sat back up. "Come on, Aziraphale, admit it. Angels are righteous and boringly attractive and go 'smite-y, smite-y!'"
A small smile twitched at the corner of Aziraphale's mouth. "You're absolutely sure you're not drunk, dear boy?"
"Pretty damn sure."
Aziraphale sighed, the momentary smile departing. He looked pensively out across the sea.
A small breeze, the first one in almost four months, blew past them, ruffling their feathers and hair and robes. Though they weren't accustomed to feeling cold, both beings shivered. Then the wind was gone, and the sea was glassy again.
"It gets lonely," Aziraphale said, so quietly that even Crowley, with his superb demonic hearing, barely caught it. The angel glanced up at Crowley through his hair, looking worried.
Crowley drew his knees to his chest and looked out across the glassy ocean. "Yeah," he agreed.
They lapsed again into one of their habitual silences, but this one was different from the others. It was, Crowley realized with a sort of quiet horror, the silence of understanding.
That first small puff of wind was the foretelling of other, larger ones. Great winds blew, all smelling of the sea, all bone-chillingly cold. The angel and the demon huddled as close together as it was possible to be without touching each other, and tried not to shiver. Great waves rolled the ocean, and the waters began to recede.
"Has it been a hundred and fifty days?" Crowley asked loudly over the pounding of the sea.
"Yes," Aziraphale half-shouted back. "And we're positioned just over a mountain, I believe, so it shouldn't take us too long. A week, at most."
"Excellent," muttered Crowley.
As it turned out, it was almost two weeks before the winds died down, and another before Aziraphale, quite exasperated, went downstairs to tell Noah that look, really, mightn't it be good to send out a bird or something to see if there was any place with dry land?
Noah said that yes, it was a most excellent idea, so should he send out a dove?
A dove? Aziraphale replied, blinking, of course not! Something bigger, with bigger wings. A raven, for example.
So Noah, who turned out to be quite the diplomat, sent out both dove and raven.
At the end of the week, they both came back empty-taloned.
"Bloody brilliant idea," Crowley hissed irritably. He'd been losing sleep with all the winds, and Aziraphale, likewise distracted by the weather, hadn't been as prompt at bringing up their morning wine. Besides, the angel had said, it was running low.
"It is a brilliant idea," the angel now replied stiffly. "It only means that there's no land as of yet."
Just then a hatch opened below them, and a pair of hands released a dove into the sky. It flapped happily away.
Both beings stared after it.
"Er," Crowley said finally. "What happened to the raven idea?"
As it turned out, this didn't seem to matter. Within the week, the dove returned, this time bearing an olive branch. Aziraphale beamed, and Crowley refrained from doing an impromptu dance, instead quietly swearing to himself that in return for the wonderful promise of land, he would be very, very nice to any dove he ever came across. And this, from Crowley, was a high compliment indeed.
The dove's return resulted in jubilation in lower quarters too. The wives of Noah's sons could be heard laughing and singing; Ham told bawdy jokes; all the humans guessed at length about where the Ark might come to rest.
As Aziraphale had predicted, a mountaintop turned out to be the place.
As soon as it was determined that enough of the mountain was uncovered to safely deposit all of the animals, everything began to spill happily out of the Ark. Everything, that is, except for one demon, who remained sitting on the roof.
Aziraphale gave Crowley a surprised look. "Aren't you coming off?"
Crowley shook his head vehemently. "No, sorry, something occurred to me."
The angel raised his eyebrows in silent question.
Crowley ruffled his feathers uncomfortably. "The world's been given a five-month holy soaking. It's really, really blessed right now. And so I really, really don't think I should be going back onto it."
To Crowley's surprise and deep annoyance, Aziraphale laughed. "Crowley," he said patiently, "the Ark is equally blessed. Not only has it been sitting on the water, and rained on by the water, God Himself blessed it personally. It doesn't get much holier than this."
Crowley shook his head stubbornly. "That's different."
There was a pause.
"I say," Aziraphale said finally, "I suppose I must be holier than the earth. Yes?"
Crowley blinked. "I ... guess so."
"Well then," said the angel, and held out a hand.
Crowley stared at it. It took a minute for his brain to process that Aziraphale was offering himself as proof Crowley could touch holy things. But ... but none of this was making sense. None of it made sense. An angel who allowed Crowley to stay on the Ark? An angel who remembered his name? An angel who deliberately kept him from getting caught? An angel who brought him wine. And let him sit on the roof. And gave him a look one human friend does another. And sang silly things, and forgot to groom his wings, and didn't deny that he was unrighteous and homely, and didn't miss Heaven as much as he wanted company. An angel who was offering his hand to Crowley and looking for all the world as though he expected the demon to take it.
It was all nonsense, of course.
Crowley's hand wasn't paying attention to his brain. It went out of its own accord, and before the demon could begin to panic at the idea of touching holy flesh, his hand was clasping Aziraphale's.
"Well?" Aziraphale asked mildly.
"Er," was Crowley's response.
It was, after all, just a hand.
"Suppose," Crowley's mouth said, without bothering to consult his brain, "I just touched, say, that branch the dove brought. That might not do anything. But if I touched the whole tree it might be too holy."
Right, Crowley's brain said angrily, exactly what are you playing at?
Aziraphale looked thoughtful. "I suppose you have a point. Er." He scooted a bit closer to Crowley. "I suppose if we, er, hugged, that would be essentially the same principle."
Oh, I get it, Crowley's brain snapped. Right. You've become lonely and soft up here on earth. Stop it right now. Insult the angel. Make him go away. Just, whatever you do, don't --
The rest of Crowley, which by this point was well versed in not obeying Crowley's brain, paid the demon absolutely no attention, and clung tightly to Aziraphale. That did hurt a bit, but not in a particularly holy way. There was just some sort of horrible ache in Crowley's chest, and as long as he ignored it and buried his face in Aziraphale's shoulder, everything was all right for a little while.
Crowley's brain retreated into a corner, muttering to itself.
"Crowley," Aziraphale said gently. The demon raised his head from Aziraphale's shoulder and looked up, raising an eyebrow. "Does that help?" Aziraphale asked.
"Dunno," Crowley said, ignoring his gibbering brain, and less successfully ignoring the way he and the angel were tangled together. "I mean, maybe I could walk on the earth for a few moments but after that it'd start getting too holy ..."
Aziraphale nodded, looked speculatively at Crowley's face, and leaned forward.
Crowley's brain short-circuited.
"Um," he said eloquently, and kissed the angel.
On the ground, Ham's wife looked up towards the Ark, and gasped. "Look!" she cried. Everyone turned, and echoed her gasp.
"It's God's promise," Noah told them all solemnly, looking with reverence at the beautiful, vibrantly glowing rainbow above his humble Ark.
"Nuhh," was Shem's contribution, but no one heard him. They were too busy looking at the rainbow, and had by this time completely forgotten about the helpful angel who had accompanied them. But Shem had spent a bit of time with the angel –- had, indeed, promised him a few paragraphs of praise in the books of history and renown –- but he was second-guessing that decision now. Because, you know, a really good and angelic being of God didn't usually sit on top of your dad's boat fervently kissing another winged being of questionable origin.
Yes, Shem decided firmly, tearing his eyes away from the singularly strange spectacle, no one would really notice if the angel wasn't mentioned in the book.
Some indefinite amount of time later, Crowley was cheerfully roaming the earth, tormenting and tempting as he went. As it turned out, the earth wasn't quite as holy as he had expected, for all its prolonged soak. Still, Crowley decided with a sharp grin, it never hurt to be careful.
As for the angel, Crowley was sure to see him sometime in the next few centuries. Not that it really mattered, anyway.
They never spoke of it again. Silence, but mutual silence. It was an agreement. At the time, it didn't seem quite important enough to deserve capitalization. But it was a start.