It started, as many things do, near the Beginning, and it was, as it often is, a dark and stormy night. A serpent and an angel stood in the rain, trying not to acknowledge how close they were to touching, or how right it felt. They had long since given up conversation, and they stood in silence, each thinking their thoughts about what had happened and what would happen next.
The serpent thought, What a fitting end to this fine day. That God sure is an unbelievable twat, what kind of Heavenly Grace is that? Hope those two are okay out there, anyway, they’ve got that sword, at least. I should definitely change my name. Snakes don’t even crawl, and it’s not very sophisticated, is it? Maybe I’ll be called Mortimer. Or Ginger, or Yitzhak. It’s not important right now. I wonder what will happen next.
The angel thought, Oh dear, oh dear. That all fell to pieces rather quickly. I do hope it won’t be like that every time. I really don’t know why the apple is such a – but it’s not my place to question. There must have been a good reason, or it wouldn’t have happened like that. I suppose all is as it should be, and we all must move forward as best we can. This snake certainly is wildly unpredictable – not to Him, of course, but to me. I wonder what will happen next.
They had both been having a rather rough time of it, so far. Having been on earth for only a short time, the serpent had already found himself making far more trouble than he’d intended, even given that making trouble was his raison d'être . He’d chosen to channel his anxiety about the mishap into ire at Heaven, at God, at the whole damn system. The angel, on the other hand, was yet incapable of expressing such sentiments, and so dedicated his energies to fortifying his faith in the whole blessed system. He truly wanted to believe that whatever happened next would be for the best.
What happened next was two humans, exiled from Eden, went forth and multiplied. And multiplied, and multiplied. The serpent changed his name to Crowley, deciding that keeping it close to the original was probably best. The angel, Aziraphale, kept his name, although he didn’t always give it out as such. The two of them kept an eye on the humans as they peopled the Earth, got the hang of agriculture and written language and empire, and altogether messed about for several millennia.
Of course, they couldn’t really be too upset about the humans messing about; it would be a bit hypocritical of them. Besides, they enjoyed watching how it played out.
“Like setting up a chess game with sentient pawns,” Crowley said once. “And we can only give suggestions as to where they should move.” It was sometime in the second millennium BCE, and they were hanging around Babylon, hoping for nothing exciting to happen anytime soon.
Aziraphale thought on that for a while. “I suppose that’s accurate,” he replied. “Although I don’t particularly like thinking of them as pawns.”
“Me neither,” Crowley agreed. “But not saying it won’t make it less true.”
Aziraphale frowned. Crowley frowned, as well, but not for the same reason. Aziraphale was frowning as he contemplated the veracity of Crowley’s statement, trying desperately to come up with a counterpoint, as it would have made him feel very good about himself to be able to prove Crowley wrong on this specific point. Crowley, on the other hand, was frowning because he knew exactly how right he was, and how powerless he was to change it.
Neither asked the other why he was frowning. Neither divulged that information voluntarily. Both continued drinking.
They drank a lot, over the years, both together and apart. Aziraphale was a social drinker, although not a particularly social person, and so tended to drink more in Crowley’s company than otherwise. Crowley had a pathological need for attention, which necessitated a certain level of social interaction; he drank with friends, at parties, with Aziraphale, and quite a bit by himself.
They drank in Babylon, they drank in Rome, they drank in China, they drank in Brazil, they drank in France, and they drank in Egypt. On one ill-advised occasion, Crowley even drank in Ohio. That was one disaster that he’d really, really wished the angel could have seen.
Crowley didn’t like to analyze why he felt like a piece of him was missing whenever something noteworthy happened and Aziraphale wasn’t around to experience it with him, or to laugh at him, or to bail him out of jail. No, Crowley preferred to think of Aziraphale as a ship in the night thinks of another ship in the night, provided the second ship is bright and warm and witty and the only thing that breaks up the vast monotony of the cold, harsh sea. Sometimes they crossed paths, sometimes they didn’t, is what he told himself. And if he occasionally went out of his way to be closer to Aziraphale’s path than might have been entirely necessary, nobody needed to know.
The fact was, every time they connected, it resulted in a confusing and altogether undesirable mix of feelings and realizations for the both of them. Aziraphale tended to obstinately ignore the swirling thoughts in his head, whereas Crowley was partial to explaining them away with stunning feats of mental gymnastics. Had they taken the time to work through it, however, they may have discovered that they were feeling rather the same things, every time. Not exactly the same, mind, but their own unique flavors of the same brand of emotion.
Were Crowley in touch with his inner depths enough to put it into words, he might have described it as a sickly combination of warmth and smallness, the sunburned feeling of being truly seen and understood. He might have said that every time Aziraphale looked at him, his blue eyes searching and full of sparks, a devastating cyclone formed in his chest and he forgot what it felt like to be sure of himself. He might even have said, if he dug to the bedrock of his soul, that he thought himself entirely undeserving of the angel’s attention and continued companionship, that he felt guilty for selfishly taking up so much of his time over the years, and that he would never, ever give it up for anything.
And were Aziraphale honest enough with himself to describe his own feelings, he might have described the sensation of being pulled slowly, like saltwater taffy, or of being viewed under a microscope by a scientist who never observed his faults. He might have said that whenever Crowley smiled, too-sharp teeth gleaming in whatever light they could catch, it made him want to question everything in exactly the way he’d always tried not to. If he turned off the safety inside himself and pulled the trigger, the bullet might have been shaped like shame – shame at letting Crowley in so easily, shame at the absolute, firm knowledge that it was the right decision, shame at his complete lack of shame.
And if either or both of them tried to somehow condense all of those emotions down to one word, it might possibly take them six thousand years of combined effort and conflict just to come up with love .