The thing was—Crowley had never in a thousand years expected to find any sort of terror in LA.
Well, that was untrue. He was in LA in the first place to check up on Rags—Raguel—and that in and of itself inspired terror, just a little, even after all these years. Rags, at the height of his power, could reduce Crowley to a smear on the floor, and that was if he was lucky. Normally that would be enough to keep the demon far, far away from the archangel, but Rags had as much if not more to feel bitter about than Crowley did, in the last few millennia.
Raguel had been the start and the end of everything, after all. Aziraphale had apparently seen Zachariah tear off his wings, once upon a time, when the Silver City had started to lose its beauty, long ago. Crowley only remembered Falling—er, Sauntering-- himself.
Rags hadn’t fallen precisely, in that it wasn’t God who’d done anything to him—just the other angels. Even Crowley had been angry at him for a long, long time.
But past was past, and Raguel was only what he was made to be—just a pawn, like the rest of them. Well. He was a little weepier, these days, what with the whole wing thing.
Aziraphale liked to keep tabs on his celestial buddies, anyway, and he was all tied up doing—Crowley didn’t really even know, being a lazy arse probably—so Crowley had gone over to check on Rags. He’d gone quiet, in the last few months.
Apparently, he and Aziraphale were pen-pals. Angels. Honestly.
Crowley had signed up for weepy archangels and irritation, not mind-numbing terror. Except when he reached Raguel’s suspiciously open front door, bright red as always, there was no archangel. There were American panda cars, though, and a bunch of bright yellow police tape, but Crowley mostly ignored those things. Something far more important had caught his eye. Because there it wasn't really that there was no archangel in that house. It was that it was the wrong one.
He could see the figure through the open front door, past all that ridiculous tape, down a hall. He was lit dramatically by all the--the whatever, the lights the police had put up inside. Dark eyes slid from their perusal of the interior room and then met Crowley’s through the hall and the door, through Crowley’s sunglasses, and the demon froze.
“Crawly?” blurted bloody Lucifer himself, and Crowley gave a very dignified shriek and bolted.
“No—wait—stop!” The last was a command that could not be ignored. Crowley definitely would have tried, except the bastard lunged out the door and grabbed his arm. He squeaked. The world around him narrowed to the hand on his arm, gripping tightly, and the horrified pounding of his too-human heart.
“Stop. Stop panicking. Crawly.”
Bless that wretched name. Someone calls you something once, once, while you're still a snake and it lasts for-bloody-ever. “Crowley,” Crowley croaked.
“It’s Crowley. Sir.” He gulped down the last of his bravery and shook. He was dead. That was it. He was so dead, and he wasn’t even going to get to tell Aziraphale why or how or anything and he was never going to see him again—
Lucifer gave him an odd look. Man-shaped, he was a handsome fellow, but of course he was. Those dark eyes could probably see into any human soul. Not Crowley’s though, Crowley thought with a spark of feeble defiance. He’d picked his side years ago. Not Heaven, not Hell. Humanity was the only way to go. They had the internet. And Aziraphale really liked sushi so there was nothing else to be done for it—
“Lucifer!” called a voice from within. Lucifer looked up, but he didn’t let go of Crowley’s arm.
They were standing on the lawn, Crowley realized, still feeling a little shell shocked. Raguel’s weedy, ill-kept front lawn, such as it was: a sad, tiny patch of grass in the built-up area. Crowley was the one paying for the house, in truth.
Well, really, Crowley was siphoning money from the Russian mob in LA to pay for it, but the money he was siphoning was actually the mob’s donation to a church—the same church that Aziraphale was funding by way of the Albanian mob. They’d both been pretty pleased with themselves when they’d worked the whole thing out. They were both retired, of course, but it was worth it, to be sure poor Raguel wasn’t homeless.
A blonde woman was strolling out of Raguel’s front door, head tilted inquisitively. “Who’s this?”
“Detective!” Lucifer said, and something about the way he said it made Crowley turn his head and gape at him. Was that affection? “This is an old—associate—of mine,” he added. “Craw—sorry, Crowley, this is Detective Decker, of the LAPD.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” blurted Crowley.
“I beg your pardon?” Lucifer murmured, but he glared. Crowley quailed.
“Nothing,” he managed.
“What’s an old associate of yours doing at our crime scene?” asked the detective.
“That’s an excellent question! What on earth are you doing here, Crowley?” The Devil shook his arm a little.
Well. Crowley never claimed bravery, and he knew the Devil abhorred lies. “Raguel lives here,” he said flatly. The hand on his arm tightened and he winced. “He’s gone dark, for a few months. I was checking on him.”
“Raguel?” growled Lucifer. “He’s alive?”
“Mostly,” said Crowley. “He’s a sad sack, though. Apparently Zachariah did kind of a number on him, after you—you know. He’s been—” He glanced at the detective and hesitated.
“Anything that can be said to me can be said to the detective,” Lucifer growled.
Crowley blinked. He looked back to the detective. She was a no-nonsense sort of woman, young but determined, blonde hair all tied back. Once upon a time, Crowley thought, he would have tempted her with—food and drink, maybe, and then slowly, slowly, brought her towards deeper, darker things.
In truth, he could see that she was straight-laced but lovely just as she was. He was retired. He didn’t hurt people.
Lucifer was the bloody boss, though. “He’s been wandering earth for millennia. Sort of unhinged, actually. Doesn’t want a fight, Lord,” he added quietly, looking away.
“Could you identify him?” the detective asked. “Think he’s our vic?” The second was addressed to Lucifer.
Lucifer shook his head. “If it were Raguel, detective, I would have recognized him. I could never forget that face.” That last was dark.
Crowley laughed nervously. “Up dog! Or I shall set that coat ablaze!” he squeaked. Which was a deeply foolish thing to squeak. Lucifer rounded on him, fire in his eyes.
“What did you just say?”
“That’s…. Kipling,” the detective said. “Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Crowley squawked. “Sorry. Sorry. Kipling was a drinking buddy—I’d been running around with the British army and it was giving me these flashbacks—I was drunk—”
“What the hell is he talking about?” the detective demanded.
“My Fall,” snapped Lucifer. “But never mind that. Come on. Maybe you can identify our victim.” He tugged.
“Me?” squeaked Crowley as he was hauled in through the front door. “Why me?”
“You’re here, aren’t you?” the King of the Damned snapped, pulling Crowley along.
Protesting all the way, Crowley was pulled through a short hall that led to an open living space, bright and airy. Blood sprayed the walls, and Crowley gulped a little, feeling queasy at the sight of it. He made himself look at the body.
Unfamiliar, thank Somebody, but there were marks on his chest that were…he knew what those were. Great, outward bending slashes, like that thing from Alien had burst through the poor bastard’s chest cavity, about seven times. “He was possessed,” Crowley said flatly. “By someone cruel. I have no idea what he was doing in Raguel’s house.”
“Cruel?” Lucifer arched a delicate eyebrow at him.
Crowley swallowed, eyes fixed on the poor man. “Yeah. Or inexperienced. First time I did it, I royally screwed it up. You have to sort of—fold yourself right, yeah? Or you break through. Humans are delicate. Haven’t you ever possessed anyone before?” He winced. Stupid. You didn’t ask the Morningstar questions. He didn’t like them.
But, oddly, he didn’t bat an eye. “No, actually,” he said mildly. “I’d rather inhabit my own body, thank you.”
Crowley had much the same opinion. Strange. Granted, he hadn’t actually spoken to old Morningstar in person in—oh, thousands of years. Not since the Garden. Maybe the rumors were wrong?
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “Me too. Still, sometimes needs must.”
The detective was looking at them oddly. “That’s it? Your witness is telling us he was possessed?” she asked Lucifer.
“Crawly’s the best there is, detective,” Lucifer said lightly. “The luckiest sod there is, too.”
“Not so lucky,” Crowley muttered to himself. He shifted his weight, eyed that dead body, then looked away. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and—and the screams must have been— he shuddered a little. It wasn’t a fast way to die.
He kind of wanted Aziraphale.
“Hey man. You okay?” A woman blinked up at him from smiling, owlish eyes. She was nearly a head shorter than Crowley himself. Lucifer seemed to have wandered off with that detective of his while Crowley was staring. The woman was holding a special camera, the kind they used to photograph the dead. Humans. What’ll they come up with next?
“Er—I don’t particularly like dead bodies,” Crowley told her, honestly. Where had Lucifer gone? Could Crowley sneak away? He looked around furtively.
“Oh, well, who does? Except me of course, I guess. I’m Ella by the way; Chloe said you were a friend of Lucifer’s?”
Lucifer was standing at that detective’s back, Crowley saw. He’d be mantling his wings around her if he could, except there were all these humans loitering about. Still, it was in his body language, the way he broadened his back. Why? There was nothing special about her that Crowley could see, nothing unusual, except that Lucifer Morningstar himself clearly wanted to wrap himself around her and never let go. That was just—impossible. Absurd.
Had the Devil gone and fallen in love? Crowley had definitely been there. It never ended well, with humans. Thank Somebody for wonderful, idiot Aziraphale, the best and most absurd safe haven Crowley could find. Aziraphale would never die on him. Humans just—had expiration dates. And there was no following, not really. Grief stricken, miserable Lucifer was a horrifying thought.
And Raguel was missing. That combination was probably really bad.
What on earth was going on here?
The woman cleared her throat. “Hellooooooooo?” she told him, “Spacy much?”
“Sorry,” Crowley said, and he kind of even meant it. “Er, what were you saying?”
“That you were a friend of Lucifer’s?” she asked.
Crowley snorted. “Not for a long, long time,” he told her honestly. “I followed him down to a dark place, and then I crawled out. That’s it.”
“Drugs?” she breathed.
“More like Kool-Aid,” Crowley muttered.
She gave a light, sort of breathless laugh. “You drank the Kool-Aid!” she cried.
“I did indeed. What was your name, again?” He liked her, he thought wryly.
“It’s Ella. Miss Lopez, to you, Crawly.” Lucifer swooped in like an overprotective bat, putting a hand on the woman’s shoulder. She didn’t flinch, or otherwise freak out.
“Aw, he can call me Ella if he wants,” said Ella with a light smile.
“You have no idea who he is,” Lucifer hissed. He glared at Crowley, like Crowley was the threat. That was kind of hilarious.
Actually? Actually. Surrounded by humans Lucifer was clearly very fond of—Crowley was probably safe. Ish. Mostly. Hopefully.
Who was he kidding? He was toast. Might as well enjoy it.
“Serpent of Eden to his Lucifer Morningstar, if you catch my drift,” Crowley told her in an undertone, smiling his best in-joke smile. “The name’s Crowley.”
“So you’re—a male prostitute?” blurted Ella.
Behind him was a snort. Crowley looked over his shoulder at that blonde Detective Decker. She was regarding him with a twinkle in her eye.
She…. did know, Crowley realized, surprised. She definitely knew. And she was still here. And Lucifer was looking at her like Aziraphale looked at him sometimes, like he wanted to wrap Crowley up in a warm blanket.
“What bloody weird parallel universe have I walked into?” Crowley said pitifully, gaping at her. Ella giggled.
The detective smiled at him. “Mr. Crowley. Where were you roughly three hours ago?” Clearly, she didn’t really think he was a suspect; she was just covering her bases.
Unfortunately, three hours ago Crowley had been in London. He’d been finishing his tea on the dilapidated sofa in Aziraphale’s back room, while the angel muttered at himself as he re-organized one of the shelves in his bookshop, growling at customers who dared so much as suggest purchasing anything.
“Er, can I answer that question in private?” Crowley asked plaintively. He looked at Lucifer, because Lucifer was the boss.
“Detective?” Lucifer drawled.
She nodded and gestured, and they meandered through the house.
“Nice to meet you, Crowley!” called Ella.
Raguel’s house was a very small, slightly shabby, single-story affair. He wouldn’t accept anything more, though Crowley had certainly tried. They made their way into the bedroom.
“Off,” Lucifer said once he closed the door. “Glasses off. The detective knows the truth, come on.”
“Wait.” The detective held out a hand. She took a breath. “Tell me first. Please tell me you actually have eyes.”
Crowley laughed nervously. “Er. Yes. Snake eyes, actually,” he said. “I wasn’t lying. I’m the, er. Serpent of Eden.”
She looked at Lucifer.
Lucifer grinned. “Yes he is. I told him to make some trouble and I think he’s done an admirable job, haven’t you, Crawly? Your reports were always the highlight of my century.”
“Crowley, it’s Crowley; you know how hard it is to get people to listen to you when you go by Crawly?” Crowley whined.
“I go by Lucifer,” said Lucifer, king of Torture and Torment.
“Of course you do,” Crowley muttered. He glanced at the detective and then removed his sunglasses. He smiled at her lightly, hopefully. “Pleasure to meet you,” he said, after a moment.
She gaped at his slit-pupil, yellow eyes for a second, but recovered admirably. “You too, Crowley. Where were you about three hours ago?”
“London,” Crowley answered honestly, fiddling with an arm of his sunglasses. “I flew here. I live in London.”
She blinked. “Is there anyone who can confirm that?”
Like Hell was Crowley getting Aziraphale involved in any of this. “Yes, but he has to leave,” he squeaked, and glanced timidly at Lucifer, who looked offended.
“Lucifer!” The detective barked and, shockingly, he left, shoulders slumping dejectedly. Crowley let out a breath.
“Now there is something you don’t see every day,” he said once the door closed. “Who are you?”
She was looking at him shrewdly. “You know him. From—forever.” She laughed nervously.
Crowley nodded slowly. “I followed him over the edge,” he said.
“You’re a fallen angel,” she breathed. Crowley nodded again.
“I—didn’t know there were more,” she added.
“Six hundred sixty-six of us,” Crowley told her, because he got the feeling that this ordinary mortal was not so ordinary, and this was important. “Why do you think you people latched onto that number?”
She huffed, surprised. “So you’ve known him. From—from—”
“From the Silver City, and before,” Crowley said. “You—just found out, didn’t you? Recently.” He could read it from her wide eyes, her curiosity. Crowley had hung around humans long enough to know what it looked like.
She nodded. “I’ve worked with him for about three years. I found out six months ago. Why—why are you afraid of him?” She’d been composed throughout the whole crime scene fiasco, but now she fidgeted a little, anxious but hiding it well, like the answer to that particular question was far more important than she was making it seem. Like she was asking, should I be afraid of him?
Crowley blinked at her. If he were cruel, he thought, or very, very angry, he could really mess this up for old Morningstar. Revenge, for all those times he got recalled to Hell, for all of Hastur’s threats, for that time he ended up in a Hell-loop of the Fall by accident. But Crowley wasn’t cruel, and he didn’t particularly want revenge. Hell was the worst, but Lucifer himself had done very little to harm him, over the centuries, besides being the boss of a very bad place. “My boss,” he said slowly, “is in charge of punishing the damned. I am very, very damned.”
“No,” the detective said slowly. “He punishes the guilty. If you Fell with him—what are you guilty of?”
“What am I not guilty of?” Crowley said. “I’m a demon. I’ve been wandering around Earth for six thousand years. For one thing, lady, I betrayed him.” He swallowed, but if he was already screwed, he might as well say it. He was very proud of his choice, after all—it was heartfelt, for all that it was suicidal. “I switched sides. I chose humanity. Why are you letting him near you?”
She tilted her head and ignored his last question. “You chose—humanity?”
“Well, everyone thinks it’s chess, right, Heaven versus Hell,” Crowley blurted, because at this point he really might as well. What was there to lose? “But they’re wrong. There’s three sides. I choose humanity. So screw Hell.”
“Actually I don’t think that’s as much of a betrayal as you think it is,” she smiled at him. “Who can confirm that you were in London, that you don’t want Lucifer knowing about?”
“My angel,” Crowley said, and immediately regretted it. “Aziraphale. Actual angel. I’m a, a traitor. But—please don’t tell him. Please. He’ll send someone after him—Lucifer’s never tolerated angels—”
“Calm down. I won’t tell him. But you should know that he’s been getting closer to his brother, Amenadiel, over the past few years.” She reached out and patted his arm. “He might have changed his mind about angels.”
Well that was a terrifying thought, if only because Amenadiel was terrifying, with his mind-bending time tricks. Crowley looked away at Raguel’s perfectly made bed. He doubted Rags ever really used it. Poor old bastard. Lucifer was going to freak out, if they brought him anywhere near Raguel.
“Not about Raguel,” Crowley said darkly. “You should be careful on this case, detective. Raguel is the angel who started—everything. He nearly killed Lucifer, at the start, before Michael threw him from the City for good. Raguel chased all of us out, and down into Hell.”
The detective frowned. “You think Lucifer will have a strong emotional reaction, if he sees this Raguel.”
“I did,” Crowley said. “First time. Aziraphale found him. There are plenty of angels on Earth, you know, if you know where to look, but they’re all sort of broken and messed up.”
The detective’s eyes strayed toward the door, beyond which stood Lucifer, Crowley was sure. “I’m aware.”
“Aziraphale found him wandering around, homeless, and mostly crazy. Apparently after the Fall, Zachariah and his crowd pulled off his wings and cast him out, too. He went to Earth, not Hell, and wandered around, going mad. I sort of—well—had that bad reaction when we found him, but Aziraphale stopped me, and he was right. Raguel’s not the same as he was.” Crowley licked his lips. “Once, he was the Vengeance of the Lord, you understand,” he added. “Those of us who think Him Above might want to wreak vengeance upon us—we tend to overreact.” He smiled at her tremulously.
“We’ll find him,” the detective said. “And whoever murdered our vic. Unless this Raguel got his—his powers back?”
Crowley shook his head. “If he had, you would have no body. He reduces people to—nothing. A smear on the floor or a bit of ash if you’re lucky, but generally just—gone.” He gritted his teeth, remembering those bygone days. He’d been so angry, then.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “For the information, Crowley. Really.”
It was a touchy subject. There wasn’t much he and Aziraphale truly fought about anymore, but Raguel and all the madness at the start of everything could bring them to a shouting row. It hadn’t really been Raguel’s choice, in the end, Crowley thought. This poor detective should probably know. In case they ran into him. Lucifer would go apeshit.
“You’d like him,” he told her. “He was the first detective, you know.”
She blinked at him. “Raguel?”
Crowley nodded. “Lucifer will get angry if you ask,” he continued softly. “But the short story is that an angel called Saraquael committed the first murder. He killed the angel Carasel, because he loved him, and didn’t know what it meant. Raguel tracked down the clues, and then killed Saraquael, for vengeance. Lucifer didn’t think it was fair. I didn’t either.”
“And that’s why you both Fell,” she breathed, like it was a revelation.
Crowley shifted uncomfortably. “Among other things,” he said. “Lots of reasons. Anyway, I didn’t so much Fall as… saunter vaguely downwards.”
She smiled at him. “Will you stay in town? We could use your help with the case. I’m sure you want to find Raguel.”
Crowley gulped. He did want to find Raguel. That had been his next step – empty house meant figure out wherever the blessed angel had wandered off to, a task that was generally not so difficult, if you knew how to sniff out the divine, and Crowley did. But he wanted to go back to Aziraphale more, especially now that bloody Lucifer was involved. Slowly, he shook his head.
“Listen,” he said, “I’m not cut out for this. I can give you my mobile number, okay? Call if you need me. I can fly right over. Just—I want to go home.” He fiddled with his sunglasses.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Lucifer can force me, if I don’t come when you call,” Crowley muttered unhappily, looking down. Dread uncurled in his stomach at the thought of being summoned that way again, after thousands of years.
She frowned. “I won’t ask him to do that,” she said at last. “Just—give me your number.”
Crowley stared at her. “He is not wrong,” he blurted when she dug out her phone.
“You are something special,” Crowley told her, without guile or subterfuge.
She looked taken aback. “He said that?”
“Celestial thing,” Crowley said. “Can see it in his posture.”
“Show me,” she demanded. Crowley winced.
“Er,” he said awkwardly. “Has he showed you—wings?”
“He mantles,” Crowley said, sort of apologetic. “Look, it’s—” he looked around. There was a floor lamp, well placed. He strolled over to it, pulled out his wings, and did the protective gesture around it. Then he pulled in his wings, but kept still otherwise, so she could see the way his back broadened and curled. “See?”
She gaped at him.
Crowley winced. “Please tell me you’re not freaked out about the wings because if you are then my boss is definitely going to smite me for traumatizing you.”
She let out a little, incredulous laugh. “No! No, I’m fine. Just—you did that so causally. Thank you, that actually explains a lot. I’ll—look for that body language. Of course wings change how you express yourselves,” she added to herself. “Your number?”
Crowley sighed. “Sure.” What was one more signature on his death warrant, anyway?
 There are many universes spanning the multiverse. Some of them even have angels and demons, and some of them are closer than others. Some even have alternate versions of angels called Zachariah, but in every universe, Zachariah is a douchebag.
 Crowley didn’t so much as Fall as saunter vaguely downwards, but eventually you hit a ledge and after that—well, down was down, just at a much greater speed than before.
Heaven needed more railings, really. Fences, maybe. Signs. HERE LIES THE EDGE, or something.
 Deeply, deeply drunk. He’d sat with old Joe and together they’d drunk their weight in Indian beer, and Crowley’d tried to encourage the imperialist bastard like a demon should, he really had, but honestly, it was just so silly, especially when you had thousands of years and a Great and Terrible Saunter’s worth of perspective. Why did people insist on conquering, anyway? So much fuss and bother and for what? To be king of the mountain? Old Will had it right. What fools these mortals be.
Crowley had explained this to Joe at drunken length only to find him passed out and snoring rather heavily. Oh well. More beer for Crowley.
 Which was lovely if you were, at your heart, a snake.
 That insufferable bastard.
 This was notable. Crowley didn’t blink a lot. It was a serpent thing.
 Besides his continual wellbeing, his presence on Earth, his very existence, and literally everything and everyone he ever loved. Most of Crowley’s ideas were terrible.
 And yet, he continued talking. In for a penny, as they say, though involving Aziraphale made something queasy settle in his stomach. Crowley really wished he could learn when to shut up. But the detective was just so earnest.
 Free will. Love. Lucifer was a really good public speaker. Also, all the cool kids were doing it, so there was that.
Chapter 2: The great possibly dead serpent
If anyone can guess the obscure movie Michael comes from, I will do a dance. (Michael does not actually appear in this fic; just mentioned a few times).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The bell jingled in his wake as Crowley strolled through Aziraphale’s bookshop, between the musty, dusty shelves that always, somehow, smelled of home. “That’s it, it’s all over, I am dead and gone for good, please plan my funeral—” He made his way to the back room.
Aziraphale was sprawled comfortably on the couch, reading something that looked old and boring. He didn’t look up. “Would you like lilies at your funeral, or shall I switch it this time? I rather like carnations.” He turned a page.
“No!” Crowley collapsed on top of him, and the angel spluttered protests as Crowley burrowed his way into the back of the sofa, and then into his arms. “I’m doomed. Actually doomed.”
“For the last time, Crowley, Raguel doesn’t have his powers; he’s not going to hurt you—”
“But Lucifer does!” Crowley cried, burrowing. “Lucifer definitely does! And for some reason, he’s in LA!”
“WHAT?” shrieked Aziraphale. He sat bolt upright, dislodging Crowley entirely, the bastard. “You ran into Lucifer?” He put the book on the table, careful despite everything, and then started patting at Crowley’s arms and torso fretfully, as though looking for injuries. “My dear boy! Are you alright?”
Crowley put his head on the angel’s shoulder and resisted the urge to wail. “I’m fine,” he squawked.
“What on earth happened? Crowley?”
“Need wine,” Crowley said into Aziraphale’s shoulder.
“Clearly!” Aziraphale spluttered. He miracled a glass and held it out to him. Crowley tossed it back like a cheap shot. It refilled itself.
In fits and starts, over rather a long stretch of time, he told Aziraphale everything. The angel watched him with wide eyes, and he curled an arm around Crowley protectively.
“Missing?” he breathed. “Raguel is missing?”
“That’s what you take from this? Raguel is missing? Never mind my near-death experience—”
“You didn’t get anywhere near Azrael, my dear boy—”
“I almost died! I could’ve been un-made! Or worse, thrown back Downstairs! You know how many people want my insides on the outside Down There—?”
“Over my dead body will he take you back there—”
“Which is exactly what I’m afraid of!” Crowley wailed. “We’re doomed!”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to reply, and then Crowley’s phone rang, cutting him off. Crowley shrieked and buried himself into the sofa’s cushions.
Which meant Aziraphale answered it, muttering a little before he figured out that the green icon meant talk. Crowley choked on a protest.
“Hello?” said the angel.
“Oh—hello—is this the right number?” Crowley could hear the detective’s American-accented voice from his place huddled amongst the pillows. “I’m trying to reach Crowley?”
Aziraphale frowned. “May I ask who is calling, dear?”
“This is, uh—detective Decker? From the crime scene? He said he’d come when I called. Who’s this?”
“My name is Aziraphale,” said Aziraphale, and Crowley wanted to deck him for his stupidity.
But the thing about Aziraphale was that he wasn’t actually stupid. He put on a good show, and even fooled Crowley sometimes which was a feat in and of itself, but when he played dumb, it was calculated, always. Sure enough, Decker’s smile was in her voice when she said, “Nice to meet you, Aziraphale! Can you confirm that Crowley was in London about five hours ago?”
“Of course. We were both in the bookshop. He’s with me right now, too, but I’m afraid he’s terrified, my dear. Your associate seems to have, er, rendered him speechless.” His voice was full of insufferable compassion, as if he were not also shitting his pants. For an angel, he was a bloody good liar, Crowley thought with admiration and no small amount of envy.
“Oh—” Decker sighed. “We do need him to come in, I’m afraid. We have—well. It’s a pile of ash. Lucifer thinks it’s Raguel, but Crowley did say that he, um, well, that he couldn’t—anyway—we could use a second pair of eyes. Celestial eyes, I mean. If you wouldn’t mind.”
Crowley closed his eyes and shook. He felt Aziraphale take his hand. His palm was sweaty and cold against Crowley’s. It was still comforting. “My dear, that is quite impossible; Raguel lost his powers many, many years ago, and even if he did have them, he would not leave behind ash.”
“Lucifer says it looks like him. Like something he would do. He’s—very upset. I don’t know if it’s a frame job, or the real thing, and it looks like ash to me. Our forensic scientist says it’s definitely human. Please. I can send Lucifer away.” She actually sounded pained, suggesting it.
Crowley was a demon. He didn’t have a heart. But something in him tugged at her anxiety anyway. “Oh, don’t bother,” he muttered, mostly to Aziraphale. “I’ll go. It’s fine. What have I got to lose?”
Aziraphale stared at him. “Your life? Your very essence? Your existence on this mortal plain?” he hissed.
“Excuse me?” asked Decker.
“Give me that.” Crowley sat up and took the phone. “Hi, Decker. I’m on my way now.”
“Thank you!” she said. “When can I expect you?”
Crowley leaned into Aziraphale’s side, relishing his warmth one last time before Lucifer inevitably squashed him. “Give me ten minutes,” he said. When she made an impressed sound, he hung up.
“Have you,” Aziraphale said very seriously, “lost your mind?”
“Probably,” Crowley muttered. He closed his eyes, leaning harder into Aziraphale. “Don’t forget me when I’m dead,” he said mournfully.
He could feel Aziraphale’s glare. “As if I’ll let you go alone, after that stunt,” he sniffed. He leaned back into Crowley. “We go together, or not at all.”
“Votes for not at all,” Crowley muttered.
“Well, I would agree with you, but you’ve already made that choice, dear boy. It does not do to keep the detective waiting, does it? And she sounded like such a lovely girl.” He sniffed again.
“We’re so dead,” Crowley moaned.
When they arrived, by wing, in America, it had gone dark. The detective had given Crowley the address of a police precinct, in LA. Lucifer was waiting for them, arms crossed impatiently, when they touched down.
Crowley was rather proud that he didn’t scream. Aziraphale squeaked.
“Took you long enough,” Lucifer said. He cocked his head at Aziraphale. “So this is the famous Guardian of the Eastern Gate, and your Great Adversary, is it, Crawly?”
“Ngk,” said Crowley.
Aziraphale squeaked again.
Lucifer rolled his eyes. “Well, come on. The sooner you people agree that it’s Raguel, the sooner we can move on with this.” He spun on a heel and beckoned them into the precinct.
“Still time to run,” Crowley hissed to Aziraphale.
“Not on your life,” gritted the angel. They followed Satan, the Eternal Adversary, Lord of Hell and Him Below, the Devil himself and King of the Damned into the precinct.
It was a rather ordinary precinct, all things considered, gray and industrial but it got nice light, or it would have, had it been daytime. Lucifer trotted daintily down a flight of stairs that spilled out into an office area. Aziraphale tripped into Crowley’s back and nearly set them both sprawling. Crowley gripped the railing like a lifeline and hissed at the angel. It wasn’t a particularly human hiss, but he was under rather a lot of pressure, what with Lucifer Morningstar glaring over his shoulder.
“Keep up!” he called.
They followed. They followed him as he wove in and around a series of desks, and then up another flight of stairs. Crowley was the one who nearly tripped, this time.
“Who in bloody Manchester designed this place?” Crowley muttered, righting himself.
“Evil architect,” Lucifer said, wry.
“Is he serious?” hissed Aziraphale.
“Place doesn’t look evil to me,” Crowley hissed back.
Just at the top of the stairs was a great, glass room. Lucifer pushed open the door. “Here he is! And he’s even brought a friend. Bully for us.”
Crowley exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Aziraphale, before following.
The room was lit mostly by the lights on the forensic table. Standing around the table was the woman Crowley remembered from before—Ella—as well as Lucifer’s esteemed detective, and an unfamiliar man.
“So—who are they, again?” asked the man.
“Crawly’s an old associate of mine,” Lucifer said lightly. “The other—what you your name again, brother?”
“Sorry, what?” blurted the man, again.
Aziraphale cleared his throat. “There are—rather—a great deal of siblings,” he managed. “We’ve never actually met. Personally. I’m called Aziraphale. Er.” He grimaced.
“That was it! Cunning Aziraphale.” Lucifer snapped his fingers gleefully. “Like I said. Those reports were the highlight of my century.”
“So who are you then?” Ella asked, winking at Crowley before turning to Aziraphale. “If he’s the Serpent of Eden, and he’s Lucifer, what’s your jam? You must have a jam. Your whole family has a, a thing.”
“Er,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley snorted. “Ella, Aziraphale. Aziraphale, Ella. He was the Angel of the Eastern Gate,” he told her with a wry smile.
“Hey, gave the flaming sword to Eve! Thanks man! Up top!” Ella held out her hand, for a high-five.
Aziraphale tapped her palm with his, looking perplexed. “Er,” he said, again. He looked at Lucifer. “She--?”
“Is simply incredibly preceptive,” Lucifer said, proud as any father.
“Aww, thanks Lucifer,” Ella said, beaming. She bounced over to him and wrapped her arms around his middle, and he accepted the hug with aplomb.
“Still confused!” called the other man in the room. “Why are they here?”
“To prove that that,” here Lucifer pointed to a lumpy pile of ash in a baggy, “Was done by Raguel.” Gently, he extricated himself from the hug.
“Nope,” said Crowley, immediately and without thinking, as Aziraphale shook his head beside him.
Lucifer opened his mouth to protest, but the detective beat him to it. “Why?” she asked.
Aziraphale swallowed. “Raguel is—how shall I put this.” He glanced around the room, at all the humans who didn’t know.
“Think ‘reduced to component particles,’” Crowley told her. “That’s too--much. Looks like ash in there?” He shuddered a little.
“Nothing left,” Aziraphale added. “Just a, a mark on the ground. Generally, not even that. No pieces. Crowley’s right—that’s ash. It’s not Raguel. Don’t you remember?” He looked at Lucifer, not so much brave as curious.
Thunderheads crashed in Lucifer’s eyes, but Aziraphale didn’t cower. Bloody angel was so, so brave and so, so stupid, Crowley thought helplessly.
“I try not to,” the Devil replied darkly.
“Nope,” said the other guy in the room, “Still not getting it. This Raguel guy, who’s missing, reduces people to smears on the floor? And he’s not a criminal?”
“Oh, he’s a criminal, alright,” growled Lucifer.
Aziraphale stiffened. “It was Justice,” he said. Crowley could hear the capital, like they were still in the Silver City, like the concept was still a proper noun, still new. He tried to resist the urge to roll his eyes.
“It was unfair,” muttered Crowley, not wanting to get into it. It wasn’t worth the row.
But Lucifer didn’t seem to care. “Justice?” he spat. “In what universe was that Justice?” He also capitalized it, Crowley thought, despairing. Still angry, then. Well, that wasn’t exactly a surprise. Crowley hoped he didn’t smite Aziraphale. Crowley really loved Aziraphale. He’d follow Aziraphale anywhere. Going down with Aziraphale against the Devil in this pointless argument was an idiotic way to die.
Never mind that he actually agreed with Lucifer.
“It was His Ineffable Will—”
“Ineffable my arse! Dad threw a tantrum because Saraquael didn’t follow the rules! He didn’t even bloody know there were rules! No one had ever experienced pain before; he was just trying to make it stop!” At the last, he had advanced on Aziraphale, thundering in rage. “He didn’t punish him! He unmade him!”
Crowley cowered, but idiot Aziraphale stood straighter, ready to take down the Devil himself: the Fall Part Two, one Devil and one little angel who liked eclairs more than swordplay—
“Stop. Lucifer. Stop.”
The detective. She’d rushed in between them and rested a hand on Lucifer’s chest. Crowley almost choked on that: the most dangerous place in the world to stand. But to his shock, Lucifer deflated, looked down at that detective like she was all that mattered.
“It wasn’t fair,” he told her, and he sounded far more helpless than the Devil should ever sound.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley called softly. The angel turned and met his eyes through Crowley’s sunglasses. Crowley managed a weak smile. “Were you really going to go at it again? With bloody Lucifer himself?” He quirked his lips, amused.
“I suppose we’ve already had that fight,” Aziraphale replied. Then he blinked. “Did I almost—do—do battle with the Devil?” He looked a little faint.
“Yep,” said Crowley.
“Yep,” said Crowley.
“Oh dear me.” He swayed a little, blood draining from his face. “Over Raguel?”
“And the whole bloody mess. Pretty much. You need to sit down?”
“Ella? Can you get him a chair, please?”
Ella provided a chair. Aziraphale sort of swayed into it with a moan.
“Oh, come on,” said Lucifer from the other side of the room, where he was standing next to his detective, back broad like he wanted to wrap his wings around her. She had a hand on his arm, and he was leaning into the touch like it was a lifeline.
Too weird. Best to focus on Aziraphale, who looked close to hyperventilating, having apparently forgotten that he didn’t actually need to breathe.
“He might need a paper bag,” Crowley told Ella, amused.
“Does anyone have any idea what just happened?” asked that other man.
“Actually,” the detective said, sounding baffled, “I do, yeah. Crowley explained it to me at the crime scene. Thank you.” She smiled warmly at him.
Crowley put a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder. With a thumb, he kneaded at the small dip between where the shoulders for his arms, and the shoulders for his wings would be, had he unfurled them. “Yeah, you’re welcome,” he muttered. Aziraphale leaned into him, comforted.
“You want to explain to the class?” the man said, sarcastic.
“Old family feud, Daniel,” sighed Lucifer. “One of our siblings acted out. Dear old dad had Raguel kill him. As you can see, we’re still arguing about it.”
“That’s—not okay,” Ella said slowly.
“Nope,” Lucifer said, popping the P.
Aziraphale vibrated against Crowley, wanting to argue. Crowley squeezed his shoulder.
“You can press charges—” the man—Daniel—said, and Crowley laughed.
“That’ll be the day!” he said. “Anyway. That.” He pointed to the pile of ashes. “That’s a frame job. Rags didn’t do that. And before you get up in arms, it wasn’t Raguel’s fault.” Now he glared at Dan. “What happened to Saraquael.”
“Of course it bloody was,” Lucifer snapped.
“No.” Crowley looked into his old boss’ eyes, and felt a bizarre lack of fear. “It was his function. Nobody had a choice then. And he was punished, anyway. Aziraphale will tell you.” He squeezed the angel’s shoulder again. “He was definitely punished. Raguel is done. My Lord.” He swallowed. “He just wants to be left alone.”
“He was punished,” Lucifer echoed.
Aziraphale nodded, wordless.
“You know I wouldn’t speak for him if I didn’t mean it,” Crowley said with the tail end of his courage. “I followed you over the edge.”
Lucifer watched him, silent, leaning protectively near his detective. Finally, he nodded. “Fine,” he said. “No arresting Raguel. I still want to know how he was punished.”
“Zachariah did it,” Aziraphale sighed. “I didn’t see all of it. I—hid. But I heard him screaming. I had never heard screaming like that before.”
“You have possibly the most messed up family I have ever heard of,” blurted Daniel, and Crowley snorted.
“Pal, you got no idea,” he said.
“Aren’t you going to press charges?” asked Ella, sounding horrified. “That’s—murder, that’s torture—”
Lucifer smiled at her sweetly, like he loved her and would protect her against all who would do her harm, and that was just—that was so strange, “It is indeed,” he said, “But there’s no one to press charges against, Ms. Lopez.”
“Dead!” blurted the detective. “Because they’re all dead. All in Heaven or Hell. Right Lucifer?”
Lucifer chuckled. “All in Heaven or Hell,” he echoed and that was not even a lie. Slick, Crowley thought, admiring.
“Except Raguel,” Ella said.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Aziraphale insisted.
“And you’re saying someone’s trying to frame him,” Daniel said slowly. He wandered up to poke at the ash in its baggy. “How did it happen? Why? What did this Saraquael—do?”
“He loved a—fellow—called Carasel,” Crowley said, because Lucifer and Aziraphale were going to get bloody angry again. “And when Carasel didn’t love him back, Saraquael murdered him, because he was hurting, and didn’t know how else to make the pain go away. Raguel enacted our bloody Father’s vengeance upon him and—and—sort of—torched?—Saraquael.” He squeezed Aziraphale’s shoulders, as much for his own comfort as for Aziraphale’s.
“And the rest of us,” Aziraphale added, “We argued about whether it was Just. We’re still arguing about it.”
“Martin Carrothers,” blurted Ella. “Oh! Oh! He had a boyfriend, didn’t he, Chloe?”
The detective’s eyes brightened. “Yes,” she breathed. “Yes he did. A secret one.”
“Think this is our guy?” Daniel asked excitedly.
“Who’s, er—” Crowley asked.
“The possessed fellow,” Lucifer said. He watched the detective leave his side regretfully. “His name was Martin. You think this is his dead—boyfriend? That someone is reenacting--?”
“But who would know?” Aziraphale asked, shocked.
“Someone who was there,” Crowley hissed, anger rising. It was not a good set of memories, after all. “Someone who remembered. Someone angry at Raguel.”
“You think it’s one of your brothers,” Daniel said slowly.
Aziraphale looked up and back at Crowley, troubled.
“Well, that’s a horrifying thought,” Crowley said, meeting the angel’s blue eyes. They both shuddered.
“The six hundred know better,” Lucifer said lowly.
“That we do,” Crowley murmured to himself. He scratched his neck. “But Hastur—”
“Hates coming topside,” Lucifer interrupted. “Besides, this city is—” he looked at the detective, then darted his eyes to Daniel, and then Ella. The word he was omitting was clear: this city is mine. Hastur would not dare set foot in Lucifer’s city.
Crowley had a strange sort of flashback to Thonis, in the days before his official Arrangement with Aziraphale. A prostitute, a pickpocket, and a medic, all between the ages of sixteen and twenty, and Crowley had never felt love like that before. He didn’t adopt humans often, because that way lay heartbreak, but those three had been his first, in that port city in Egypt. What fun they’d had.
Back in the day, Thonis had been Crowley’s city. All gone now, of course. It had sunk into the Nile Delta, a slow, inexorable death. Venice would go that way too, someday. It had hurt when the city finally died.
“You think they’re after you.” Aziraphale’s voice was flat. He’d fallen in love for the first time in Mari, Crowley remembered. A baker, and his three grown children. Mari had belonged to Aziraphale. Even then, Crowley hadn’t had it in him to hurt any of them.
“You would pick Los Angeles as your first city,” Crowley muttered as Lucifer pressed his lips together.
“If that is the case,” Aziraphale said, louder, “We must look to our brothers. What of Michael, Lucifer?”
“Michael can bite me,” Lucifer snapped. “If he wants to duke it out at the end of the world because Dad says so, I’m not playing.”
Crowley exchanged a surprised look with Aziraphale. That was nice to hear. Bit confusing after the last apocalypse, but still nice. Who could predict the whims of the Morningstar, though? Crowley had had centuries upon centuries trying to play that game. It had taken roughly two to throw up his hands and just soft of—let the Devil happen. Lucifer wanted free will. That meant he acted erratically.
Frankly, his son was just like him. Maybe the not-pocalypse in the eighties really had been the plan all along.
“No, no, no,” Ella interrupted sharply. “You’re doing it backwards. Evidence first, then suspect. Lucifer, how many brothers do you have?”
Lucifer shrugged. “More than I can count,” he said honestly.
“He means it actually,” Crowley butted in, before the humans could get fussy. “Our—er—father was—let’s say very promiscuous? New siblings pop up all the time. Think Ghangis Kahn, okay.”
Aziraphale made an unhappy sound, but otherwise didn’t protest. Lucifer choked, then cackled.
“Oh, I do like you, Crawly,” he snickered.
“Crowley, it’s Crowley,” Crowley muttered, aggrieved.
“I think,” the detective said, clearly amused, “We’ve gotten a little off topic. We still don’t have a lead.”
“Yes we do,” squeaked Aziraphale. He cleared his throat and lifted his head. “We need to find the real Raguel. He may be in danger.”
“Actually,” the detective said warmly, “Not a bad idea. Can I talk to you both, please?” She beckoned.
Crowley caught a flash of a red eyed glare as he followed Decker out. Message received: don’t hurt the detective. Yikes. Aziraphale, cowed, bumped up along his back.
They followed her nervously down a set of stairs and through a door that led to what was clearly an interrogation room. Crowley balked a little, backing into Aziraphale after the door had shut behind them.
“Er,” he said.
“Not an interrogation, just for some privacy. Look.” She flicked a switch, turning on the light in the room beyond the two-way glass, so they could see inside. It was empty. “Okay? I just want to talk.”
There were hands at Crowley’s hips, moving him gently out of the way. Aziraphale stepped out from behind him. “What do you wish to talk about?”
She crossed her arms. She was a beautiful woman, Crowley thought a little abstractly. Not his type, and lacking in soft feathers to preen, but as far as humans went, her soul shone through her eyes like a beacon, earnest and sweet. Lucifer had chosen someone honest and loyal and true. It was a good choice.
“If I send Lucifer to track down this Raguel, he’s going to freak out, isn’t he?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Crowley said, over Aziraphale’s uncertain spluttering.
“Should I take him off the case? Is this too personal?” she asked frankly.
Crowley looked at Aziraphale. Aziraphale looked at Crowley.
“It’s too late for that, my dear girl,” Aziraphale said slowly. “I have not met Lucifer, not in truth, but I know enough of his reputation to know that once he is on a track very little can sway him. To be fair, I only saw him a few times from afar before everything went—er—south—so I do not know him well. I did not even go to any of his sermons, back in the day.”
“Sermons?” her shoulders relaxed.
Crowley chuckled. “He’s a brilliant public speaker,” he said wryly. “I went. And Aziraphale’s right—he’ll find Rags, like it or not. Better he finds Rags with you there than without you. You’ll be able to stop him.”
“And this—rogue sibling of yours?” she asked.
“Raguel will take care of that, my dear,” Aziraphale said darkly.
“He’s powerless,” Crowley said, startled.
“He’s mostly powerless,” Aziraphale told Crowley. “He cannot harm someone like you or I, who have committed no true crimes. But I suspect this may be just the thing to bring him back. Our Father works in mysterious ways.” He smiled grimly.
The rage came up in Crowley thick and fast. “You can’t just unmake someone because they’ve made an idiot choice, Aziraphale! That’s not Justice! He can’t destroy us for being what we are!” The last was an impassioned shout.
“Your father?” the detective said, sharp, “Or Raguel?”
“I’ve disowned my father,” Crowley spat, bristling, finally at the end of his patience.
Aziraphale wilted. “I’m sorry, my dear. It was not my intention to upset you.”
Crowley closed his eyes. He didn’t like to see that look on Aziraphale’s face. He huffed a bitter laugh, took a breath, calmed down. “This is why we don’t talk about this. Morningstar hasn’t been on earth as long as I have,” he added to the detective. “Earth kind of cools you down. Reminds you of—other things. Ducks, and good wine, and houseplants and apples.” Even just listing them made him feel better. “His reaction is going to be worse than mine. This is what made him question in the first place.”
The detective nodded. “Will a human be able to apprehend Raguel?”
“Likely not,” Aziraphale said. He walked over to Crowley and put a hand on his arm, stroked him soothingly. Crowley let out another breath, comforted.
“And if our killer’s an angel,” Crowley muttered, “The only one who’s going to be able to fight him off is Lucifer. No contest. And if it’s Michael, we’re dead.”
“It’s probably not Michael, in truth,” Aziraphale said regretfully.
The detective took a deep breath. “Okay. If I send you two to go after this Raguel, will you do it? Will you bring him in?”
Aziraphale gave a high, awkward laugh.
“My dear girl,” he said, “Lucifer will broil us alive if we do not listen to you.”
“Okay, so that’s—disturbing,” she muttered.
“Welcome to my existence,” Crowley said wryly. “But we’ll find him for you. We were looking for him anyway. You have to promise me something, though.”
She tilted her head, waiting.
“You have to stop Lucifer,” Crowley said, deadly serious. “He’s going to take one look at Rags, and he’s going to go for his throat. But he’ll listen to you. He loves you. So stop him. Please.”
Her eyes were serious, too. “I’ll do my best,” she said, and that was of course, the best she could promise.
“That is all we can ask for,” murmured Aziraphale. He looked at Crowley, squeezed his arm. “Come along, my dear. We’ve a friend to find.”
 Crowley was under no delusions that the spot between Aziraphale’s chin and shoulder was the safest place in the world, but he was fairly convinced it was the best place in the world. Aziraphale was warm and smelled like books and sweet things and six thousand years of familiarity. It was a long, long time to be enemies, and even from the start, enemies had looked a lot like friends. Never the twain shall meet was absolute nonsense. What Heaven and Hell didn’t know couldn’t squash Crowley and Aziraphale. Anyway, he loved the angel, honest and true.
And come Hell or high water, Crowley thought beneath his rising hysteria, breathing in unnecessary breath because it smelled like Aziraphale, he was going to get out of this. He had too much to lose.
 Which was preposterous, really, because Crowley wouldn’t be injured, he’d be annihilated. Oh, Earth help him, he was feeling faint.
 Close enough to taste terror, though, and Aziraphale couldn’t think about that or he’d panic. To be truthful, he was already panicking. What was life without Crowley? His companion in one way or another for six thousand years? He didn’t seem injured at least. Aziraphale kept patting him, for lack of anything better to do.
 Aziraphale’s attempts to understand technology could be politely described as abysmal. Crowley wondered how Aziraphale functioned, sometimes.
Greater Demons—fallen angels—had exceptional hearing.
 Aziraphale needed Crowley, after all. He was his counter balance. And who would sit with him late in the night, absolutely smashed, and debate about gorillas or some nonsense? He loved his demon, anyway, with his golden eyes and his quiet, contented sighs in the night. Like Hell would Crowley go alone, Lucifer be damned. Er. Again.
 He was abruptly convinced that bringing Aziraphale had been his worst decision of all time. Lucifer really didn’t like angels, broadly speaking, no matter what that detective was saying about Amenadiel.
 It was, in fact, designed by a fellow named Josh Roberts, who had kind of a gambling problem and ended up gambling away his house, dog, and eventually his wife, but was otherwise unremarkable. Whether or not that qualifies him as evil is up to the reader to decide. Lucifer did not know this detail; he just thought it was fun to mess with Crowley, because he was a jerk.
 Lucifer loved Ella. He loved her like he’d never loved anything before, not even Chloe, and it was strange, because for the first time, he did not want to have sex with someone. Oh, he’d take it if Ella wanted it and if it wouldn’t hurt Chloe, but he felt no urge to chase it. It was very unusual, and kind of—precious, in a way he couldn’t quite describe. He wanted to hug her close and protect her from his wretched Father, who would undoubtedly do something terrible to her, one day. When the time came, he’d be ready.
 He did a very bad job.
 Lucifer remembered everything. Saraquael’s wail, his despair. He’d loved, and he’d been so terribly confused. They should have helped him, and Lucifer had thought Raguel would—Raguel had taken him into his arms and kissed him, and then it had gotten so, so bright, too bright even for the Morningstar to look at—and the angel was gone. The things in the Dark beyond the Silver City had whispered such things to him, after that. Unfair, unjust, Father is wrong, he is cruel cruel cruel—
 He didn’t know why that mattered so much, but it did. It really, really did, that horrible, silver Raguel might be punished like a human might be punished, for his terrible misdeeds.
 Oh, he’d pissed them off some. He was a demon after all, and he and Aziraphale had been enemies then. He’d blown up the oven a few times and Aziraphale had chased him, shouting, with that great flaming pigsticker of his. Good times.
 Crowley’s breath caught in his throat. Aziraphale was bloody ruthless sometimes. Michael was part of Angel Network, along with Raguel and the others.
 As he should. Bastard. Michael was a really irritating friend. Also, if Michael decided to battle them, he would damn well win. The archangel was an affable moron who knew a lot less than he pretended to and got into interesting barfights, but a real battle would not end well for—well—the entire world.
Chapter 3: Vengeance or lack thereof
They found Raguel in a warehouse about three days later, tied as though crucified against a boiler. Luckily, the boiler was not hot. Someone had traced dark wings on the metal behind him with—it looked like ash. Crowley knew enough about humans to be willing to bet a reasonable sum that it was the same ash in that baggy, the same ash that Ella had determined belonged to Martin Carrother’s boyfriend, Patrick Lane. His cheeks were streaked with tears. Bile rose sharply in Crowley’s throat, and Aziraphale darted from his side in horror.
“My dear!” he gasped, and worked to get the angel down. Crowley—had to sit.
He put his head between his knees and gasped in air, more disturbed than he could say to see an angel all tied up like that. As if crucified, too. He shuddered.
“My dear, please call the detective!” Aziraphale said sharply, and that—that was a thing Crowley could do.
“I didn’t see him,” Raguel kept croaking. “I didn’t see him. I think it’s human.”
But that was just—impossible. Wasn’t it? What human knew the story of the first murder?
“Hush now,” Aziraphale murmured, “Hush now. It’s alright, my dear. We have you now.”
Crowley called the detective.
“Decker,” she said.
“We found him,” Crowley told her. He gave the address. “And we need water—he’s in real bad shape. Hurry.”
“Can he be taken to a hospital?” Decker asked, straight to the point as always. Crowley kind of wondered what she was like when she wasn’t all business. Did she let Lucifer wrap his wings around her, like he so clearly wanted?
Weird thought. Did she preen the Devil’s feathers, the way Crowley preened Aziraphale’s? Did she even know how? Maybe he taught her, thrumming with easy contentment, fingers coated with powder down. Nope, that was a bad image, gross, gross, gross. No picturing the boss snuggling; that was very disturbing. Crowley shivered it away.
“Not unless you want them wondering why he’s got extra bones in his back, and a phobia of sharp objects,” Crowley told her wryly.
“I think he was human,” Raguel said again, horrified.
“Alright, then, alright,” murmured Aziraphale. He smoothed a had over Raguel’s shoulder, trying to heal some of the worst of the gashes, the hurt bones. 
“A hunter or a hedgewitch,” babbled Raguel. “I didn’t see him.”
Lucifer would go apeshit if some magic-wielding human showed up and threatened his city and his detective, Crowley thought. Even if this person was targeting poor Raguel.
“We’ll be there right away,” Decker said. “Lucifer says he won’t overreact.”
“He’s definitely going to overreact,” Crowley said wryly.
She laughed quietly. It was a pleasant laugh. “I’ll be ready,” she said, and hung up.
Crowley tucked his phone away and went over to the pair of angels. “They’re on their way,” he said. He crouched down. “How’re you doing, Rags?”
“I didn’t see him,” he babbled.
“Yeah, I know. It’s alright,” Crowley sighed. He shook out his wings on a hunch and then sat next to Aziraphale. He curled one around the angel’s back, and he leaned against Crowley’s shoulder, Raguel in his arms. Crowley curled his other wing around them both.
“Safe now,” whispered Raguel.
“Safe now,” Aziraphale echoed.
“Thank you for coming,” sighed Raguel, and promptly dropped off, asleep, against Aziraphale. Aziraphale spared Crowley a hopeless look.
“Don’t mention it,” Crowley muttered, even though Rags couldn’t hear him.
Aziraphale sighed against his shoulder. “And now we wait,” he murmured.
Crowley shifted his wings. “And now we wait,” he echoed. “You know,” he added, after a moment, “There are many reasons why I never tried to be a detective.”
“You hate dead things?” Aziraphale asked wryly. He reached out and ran a hand affectionally through Crowley’s primaries, once, twice, fingers coating the feathers with powder down. Crowley never got to the itchy stage—he was far too vain, and anyway Aziraphale fussed like none other – but it still felt nice.
“Yes. Also the mess.”
“Mmhmm.” Aziraphale ran Crowley’s dark feathers between his fingers, straightening them. They weren’t sharp—Crowley was no archangel, or archdemon, for that matter. He’d ranked far, far below that, back in the day, so his dark feathers were only soft.
Aziraphale had some sharp ones. The first flight feather on each wing had an edge. He’d been one of the Cherubim, once upon a time, before he’d been demoted. Aziraphale could actually be a formidable opponent, if he ever got his face out of the crème brûlée, or whatever dessert had caught his fancy.
Crowley liked him better as he was, frankly. He hugged him close.
“And, and the blood. And the danger, Aziraphale, what if this guy comes back?”
Aziraphale twisted to press a kiss under Crowley’s chin. It was a purely human gesture, and it was comforting. “I have a flaming sword, in case you’ve forgot,” he murmured.
“Aziraphale, you are a cream puff,” Crowley scoffed, just to get a rise out of him.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat?’”
“And again, I remind you, I have a flaming sword.”
“Oh, please.” Crowley tightened his wings around them both. “I’ve actually seen you fight.”
“Yes but it’s quite an impressive sword, isn’t it dear boy? There’s a certain, a certain intimidation factor.”
“And again, I say: Aziraphale, you are a cream puff.”
“Oh, do shut up, Crowley.”
Crowley snickered. He felt a little better. Aziraphale was pouting. He’d stopped preening Crowley’s wing, and, from nowhere, an itch sprung up somewhere in his coverts, a down feather that needed adjusting, the powder uncomfortable against his skin.
“Hey, angel, tell you a secret?” Crowley hissed.
Aziraphale scowled at him.
“I really like cream puffs. Favorite pastry.”
“Really? You’re not just saying that?”
“Demon’s honor. Favorite pastry.”
Aziraphale settled. That was better.
They waited. It felt like forever, in the cold, drafty boiler room. Crowley kept his wings around everyone, trying to keep the warmth inside. It mostly worked, for them at least, but it left Crowley with the cold at his back, and at his wings. He was a serpent at heart, so it made him feel slow and unhappy. But Aziraphale was warm against his side, and he fixed the itch in Crowley’s coverts eventually. Rags had started to snore, so that was something, at least.
He heard the detective calling their names, after a very long while. Crowley raised his head and looked around.
She swayed her flashlight over them. Crowley blinked in the light, though of course he was still wearing his sunglasses. “Hello,” he said, lamely. His wings were still sprawled around the angels like a swan protecting its young.
She blinked at him once, twice, then shook herself out of it. “Lucifer!” she called. “I found them!”
Running footsteps, a little frantic, from a distance.
“Brace yourself,” Crowley told her.
“They’re black!” she blurted. He blinked a her, a little thrown, until he realized that she was talking about his wings.
“You’ve seen them before,” Crowley said, surprised.
“Everyone’s wings are different, my dear girl,” Aziraphale said, peeking over the leading edge of Crowley’s wing. “Mine are a lovely cream color, if I do say so myself.”
“Vanity,” Crowley drawled, and Aziraphale elbowed him.
“Lucifer’s are white,” she blurted again, then fidgeted, embarrassed.
“Loveliest in all the heavens,” Aziraphale sighed. “The light bearer was always the most beautiful among us, and he shined the brightest.” He smiled at her wistfully.
The footsteps got louder. “Detective!” Lucifer’s voice echoed, and he sounded very frightened. “Chloe!” He came hurtling out of a corridor like the hounds of Hell were after him, and he skidded to a stop next to her, breathing hard. “Alright? Are you alright?”
She gave him a puzzled look. “I’m fine. Are you?”
He whirled, and he met Crowley’s eyes. His were glowing red with terror. Crowley shuddered and tightened his wings. “He can’t hurt you,” he said, full of conviction. “He’s in bad shape, anyway, but even if he weren’t—he can’t hurt you. And especially not your detective.”
“In fact,” Aziraphale added, “I would suggest you take a, a step back, and let the detective approach first. Er. Sir.”
Lucifer bristled with outrage, but his human stepped neatly around him, fearless. “Let me see,” she said.
“Chloe—” Lucifer blurted, and he did sound pretty freaked out. Crowley almost felt bad for him. Almost.
“It’s fine.” She knelt just outside the cage of Crowley’s wings. She didn’t touch—Lucifer had clearly taught her something about etiquette. Or maybe she just had good instincts. Trust Lucifer to find the best and brightest of humans. “Can I see?”
Crowley took a breath, and swept his left wing back, revealing beaten, bruised Raguel. Aziraphale had cleaned up the worst of what he could see, but he definitely hadn’t fixed everything.
He heard the detective’s gasp, but he looked at Lucifer.
The Devil’s face had gone cold. All the tension in his body had crept up to his shoulders, which had crept up to his ears. He looked like he wanted to run. He looked like he wanted to hide. He looked terrified for his detective. He looked like he was reliving every terrible thing that had happened since Raguel had been created, since he had first served his function. He probably hadn’t seen Raguel since the Fall, Crowley thought. He had no way of knowing what happened after.
“He needs a hospital,” the detective was saying.
“That is a spectacularly bad idea, my dear,” Aziraphale replied.
Carefully, Crowley swept his wing back around Raguel, blocking him from view. “You can help us move him,” he said. “Right now, go to Lucifer.” He took a small breath. “Poor bastard needs you. Looks like he’s having every flashback known to angel-kind.”
“Am not,” Lucifer said, squeaky.
“Are to,” Crowley shot back, some small corner of his mind shocked at his own daring. “Because that’s what I did when I saw him for the first time, too.”
The detective bit her lip. “He needs medical attention—”
“Linda,” croaked Lucifer. “I can call Linda.”
The detective nodded. She nodded again and got to her feet. “Okay. Is it safe to move him, Aziraphale?”
“I think so, yes,” Aziraphale said slowly.
“Okay.” She wandered over to Lucifer, put her hands on his arms. “You okay?”
He looked down into her eyes like she was the only thing that mattered. Crowley watched them, still feeling a little flabbergasted. The Devil Himself, and this little human, and the funny thing—the really funny thing—was that he was entirely sincere. That was the thing about Lucifer, though, that was what made you follow him. He had never lied; he always meant what he said. And he’d well and truly fallen arse over teakettle for this perfectly ordinary human. You could see it in his eyes—brown, not hellfire red, and that was something in and of itself.
It was a very tiny motion, but the great Lucifer Morningstar, Lord of Hell and Him Below, the Devil himself, Satan and King of the Bottomless Pit, he looked into that human’s eyes and he shook his head. He was not alright.
She reached up and cupped his cheek on a sigh of his name, and he leaned into it like there was nothing else in the world he wanted.
Crowley gaped unabashedly.
“Oh, bother,” Aziraphale muttered. “Ms. Decker!”
She turned to him, hand falling. Lucifer made an unhappy noise at that.
“I don’t know if a human throat can do it,” Aziraphale said sheepishly, “But try with me. Repeat after me.” He hummed four notes, low high low high—Hal-le-lu-jah, the way every bloody angelic hymn started. She repeated, curious, and Aziraphale hummed four more.
Crowley found himself chuffing a laugh.
“Of course,” Lucifer muttered, but he did relax, shoulders sinking down slowly.
From within the circle of Crowley’s wings, Raguel stirred and hummed too, comforted.
“What is it?” the detective asked after the second round. She rubbed Lucifer’s arms and he leaned into her like he wanted to put his head on her shoulder.
“Raphael’s lullaby,” Raguel rasped. “Passed around the barracks like a balm after a hard day, back when things were simple. We all stopped singing it, when the war broke out. Seems the only one who remembers it is Aziraphale.” He rolled his head to one side like a man expecting a guillotine. “Well met, Lucifer Morningstar.”
“Detective,” Lucifer said icily, “I need to leave or I might very well commit fratricide. Again.”
“Again!” Raguel huffed a bitter laugh. “Who was the lucky bastard the first time?”
The power and the rage rolled off Lucifer, enough so that Crowley cringed against Aziraphale, who huddled back against him. Those fuzzy lullaby feelings were gone in a flash. There were not enough escape routes in the world, Crowley thought frantically..
“Uriel,” barked Lucifer. Aziraphale stiffened against Crowley’s side, shocked. Crowley couldn’t blame him—Uriel was dead? Sleezy, nasty little Uriel, with his creepy patterns, who welcomed new souls in Heaven? Lucifer killed him? And there hadn’t been war?
Raguel lifted a shaking hand from where he was lying nearly prone on the floor. No light emerged from his palm. As always, there was no Vengeance left in him. “Oh, look,” he said, bitterly ironic, “You’ve been pardoned,” and then he laughed, miserable and deranged.
“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale sighed.
“So does it even matter, then?” Raguel cried, despairing. Oh, he hid his insanity well when it suited him, Crowley thought wryly, but it was always there, under the surface. Poor bastard. “Kill me too! End it, Lucifer! Samael! Father of Lies! Finish it!”
“Stop it, my dear, you must stop—” Aziraphale whispered.
Crowley swung his head.
The detective had grabbed Lucifer’s arm, and she was physically holding him back. He could break that grip, Crowley thought, weirdly detached, he could tear his way out of it like it was nothing, but he didn’t. He let her pull him bodily away.
“I—” Crowley’s voice wavered. It was a little embarrassing, but he spoke anyway. “I don’t know what to do.”
“You never know what to do,” Raguel told him viciously. “You are every bit as useless as Aziraphale.”
Crowley glared at him. “Oh, shut up, you old has-been,” he snapped. “You are in dire need of medical attention and the Devil isn’t up to murder today, so will you do us all a favor and be quiet?”
“We will bring him to Dr. Linda’s,” Lucifer growled, eyes glowing red as coals. He was nearly hiding behind his detective—not out of fear, but to stop himself. “If he hurts her, I will destroy him, but otherwise, she can help.”
Great, Crowley thought, another of Lucifer’s gaggle of stray humans. This can’t go wrong at all.
 Well, not really, since Rags didn’t actually need to drink per se, but it would still be nice. A parched throat was a parched throat, and by the way Rags was croaking, his throat was sore.
 Aziraphale was a terrible healer, by angel standards. It was kind of embarrassing, but he was going to try, at least.
 She liked Crowley, Chloe decided. He was like Lucifer: lovely, despite a fearsome reputation. And anyway, maybe she could start a fallen angel collection.
 The ground was made of concrete and it was cold. Some still-serpentine part of him whined about this.
 Aziraphale was actually an excellent fighter. He’d been a soldier once. But he really just didn’t like it very much. He was the only angel with special permission to kill humans if he really needed to, what with his earthly posting and all, but it always made him feel filthy to do it. So when pushed, he always looked a little—lackluster. Crowley might use the word wimpy, because he was an arse.
 It really was a very impressive sword. Flamed like anything. Aziraphale actually knew how to use it, too, a fact which continued to surprise Crowley.
 He really did rather like cream puffs.
 Or like a demon who kept ending up in absurd situations.
 Mostly. Kind of. Who was he kidding Raguel was terrifying.
 Wow. She really was something. Lucifer was totally screwed, wasn’t he, loving a lady like that.
 Aziraphale had this unfortunate tendency to heal the cuts and scrapes and miss the ruptured spleen and the internal bleeding. He was really good at books, though. Aziraphale should probably stick to books.
 Not every flashback. Just most of them.
 For more reasons than one; did it count as PTSD if you were a fallen angel and didn’t share human biology? Asking for a friend.
 Aziraphale’s lullaby, Crowley thought sullenly. He’d never heard Raphael sing it. He’d heard it in twenty-part harmony back in the Hall of Being, before he’d Sauntered, and after that, only from Aziraphale. He was certain there was a cheat in there. Some kind of hard-wired comfort that went straight to the brainstem of anyone of angel stock. That was how these things worked in Heaven, but it was alright, as long as it came from Aziraphale. He liked it when Aziraphale cheated. Made a demon’s heart warm.
 Ephemeral bastards.
Chapter 4: Put away the pigsticker
Dr. Linda turned out to be a lovely, petite blonde woman with glasses and wide eyes. Well. The wide eyes were understandable, what with the three winged people who showed up on her doorstep.
“Er,” said Crowley, the only one not carrying someone.
“Whew!” laughed the detective. Lucifer had swept her up bridal-style for the flight, and while she had first spluttered protests, now she looked windswept and elated. He set her on her feet very carefully and grasped her shoulder, so she didn’t wobble. “That was—that was something!” She beamed at him. He smiled back, a little helplessly, and they kind of had a moment.
New queen, Crowley thought, despairing. Hell’s going to have a new queen. The Devil’s gone and fallen in love. With a human. Hastur’s going to throw a fit.
“And—who are you?” Dr. Linda asked Crowley, eyebrows raised.
“That’s the Serpent of Eden,” Lucifer said, eyes fixed dreamily on his human.
“Lovely,” said Linda, sounding shellshocked. “Lucifer, can I punch him, or is there—there some other side of the story I should know, or—”
Crowley squeaked and dived behind Aziraphale.
“We need your help,” Aziraphale said, a little severely. He wouldn’t let some human punch Crowley, no matter how much Lucifer apparently liked her, Crowley thought, relieved. “Raguel’s been hurt.”
“And you never thought,” said the doctor, glaring at Lucifer, “To send him to a hospital? How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not that kind of doctor!”
“Yes, because angels and hospitals end very well,” Raguel drawled from his place in Aziraphale’s arms, also having been carried bridal-style over LA. “One time, I took Vengeance upon a heart monitor!” he giggled. “Blown to kingdom come! I suppose Father thought it was guilty of something.”
“I thought you said he had no powers,” hissed Lucifer, attention torn away from his detective. He glared at Crowley.
“Kind of glitchy?” Crowley squeaked.
“If he hurts her—if he hurts any of them—” snarled Lucifer. His wings, still resting on his back, ruffled and prickled like a pinecone.
“You’d better come inside,” Dr. Linda sighed, and stood out of the way.
Lucifer had led them to her apartment, rather than her office. They stumbled inside and she directed Aziraphale to put Raguel down on her living room couch. Aziraphale sat next to her on the coffee table and hummed that little tune, Raphael’s song. Crowley stood back, with Lucifer and the detective—Chloe, wasn’t it? If she was going to be the Queen of Hell, he’d better get used to her actually having a name.
It was too bad that Aziraphale was shite at healing, Crowley thought, a little despairing. But Crowley couldn’t fix angels, like he could humans and animals. Still, Rags was in bad shape, but none of it seemed immediately life threatening. Just really unpleasant.
Lucifer looked ready to jump out of his skin. His eyes were fixed on Raguel.
Crowley caught Chloe’s eye. He jerked his head to Lucifer. She frowned at him, and then looked at Lucifer. Her frown deepened, and she took his hand. Lucifer glanced at her, and then his shoulders slumped. Crowley saw him twine their fingers, which was frankly adorable, and it even had a secondary function of calming Lucifer Morningstar enough so that he didn’t smite everyone in the room.
Better. Crowley could work with an arrangement like that.
“You want to know what happened after?” Crowley offered quietly after a moment. Chloe looked at him; Lucifer didn’t, focusing on their joined hands.
“After what?” she asked.
“Rags burned Seraquael to ash,” Crowley said. Lucifer tensed. “And we all thought, you know, you can’t just unmake someone because they made a bad choice.”
“Made any choice, more like,” Lucifer muttered angrily.
“Right,” said Crowley. “Love makes you do weird things, though none of us knew it, then.” He chuckled darkly. “How dare our Father give two innocent angels something as dangerous as love to play with, anyway? So we rebelled. And we Fell. And it sucked.”
“Aziraphale told me what happened after,” Crowley added, and now Lucifer looked at him, curious at last. “The war didn’t just end. Him Above wandered off, like the Father of the year he was, and everyone argued. They argued, and they argued, and they argued and they finally decided that it was Raguel’s fault. Our Father couldn’t make a mistake, could he? No.” Crowley scoffed. “So they tore off his wings, and they threw him out of Heaven. He’s been wandering around Earth ever since, one more messed-up angel on the mortal plain.” He quirked Chloe a wry smile.
“All this time?” Lucifer asked quietly.
“Yep. Mostly in the Americas. He can’t fly, of course. He just walks. He got really attached to the Aztecs, apparently.” Crowley shrugged. “He’s more than halfway crazy, my Lord. More than Cain—that’s the loneliest fellow on the planet. He really isn’t what you think he is, anymore. Saraquael was a very long time ago.” Crowley sighed. He looked back over.
Aziraphale was preforming half-assed miracles with his feathers, at this Dr. Linda’s tentative direction. Ridiculous angel. She seemed impressed, though, and also like she actually didn’t forget about internal injuries, so there was that.
Raguel was sitting up. He looked tired, but far better.
“Alright, Rags?” Crowley called.
“I feel like shit,” Raguel said. “The bastard was a hedgewitch. Or a hunter. Something. I couldn’t get free.”
“There aren’t any hunters in LA,” Lucifer growled, and Crowley could practically see the temporary good humor draining from his posture. “There is nothing to hunt. The only demon here is Maze. And Crowley, apparently. I keep six Mediators on payroll to take care of ghosts. Two of them are Shifters. Anything else—has to get through me. Or, rather, my fearsome reputation.” He smiled grimly.
“You clearly haven’t been paying attention,” Raguel said wryly. “Someone’s slipped through.”
“Oh?” Lucifer’s voice went low and dangerous, and the hairs on the back of Crowley’s neck prickled. He exchanged an alarmed look with Aziraphale.
Rags smiled serenely. “I have been living in LA for forty eight years, brother. You never noticed me. ”
“He’s got you there,” Crowley muttered. “Here’s the wrinkle, Rags—whoever did this knows about Carasel. Killed two humans—the second was burned to ash. Have you told any stories lately?”
“I always tell stories,” Raguel grumbled. “He trades in favors,” here he indicated Lucifer, “I trade in stories. They come more cheaply nowadays than they did, but it’s enough to get by.”
“Then I’ll ask for one,” Chloe said. Crowley could feel Lucifer tense up beside him. “What do you know about Martin Carrothers?”
Raguel cocked his head. “What’ll you trade me for it?”
Lucifer snarled, all protective rage, and only Chloe’s hand on his chest held him back. That detective was something else, Crowley thought, impressed. She was completely fearless.
“Home cooked meal,” Crowley blurted, because he knew that was always what Raguel wanted, despite what he said. Hopefully this would pre-empt any requests that Lucifer might kill the sad sack. He exchanged another glance with Aziraphale. “Or dinner at the Ritz is always up for grabs, Rags, and you know it.”
“I can offer a meal,” Chloe said with a small smile. “It’s my story, after all.”
“Detective—” Lucifer said, distressed. She patted him and he quieted.
“A meal it is,” Raguel said, satisfied. “Martin Carrothers was an art student,” he added, and his voice fell into that familiar, calm cadence of one of his stories. “He loved his mother. His father was dead. He had a boyfriend called Patrick Lane, for a time.
Their story is an old one. The oldest one there is, in some ways. They were in love, and then they were not. Or rather, Martin was not. He broke it off with Patrick, but there were things about Patrick that he didn’t know—strange, occult things. Patrick was what we might call a hobbyist; he liked to summon lesser demons and imps to whisper in his ears. He shook them like magic eight balls. He was never a full hedgewitch, but he did like his demons.
When Martin broke it off, Patrick set an imp to him. The intent was to frighten him, or maybe possess him. It failed, and the imp killed him. This Patrick told me, some days before I was kidnapped.”
“Idiot child,” hissed Lucifer. “Where is the imp now?”
And then, oh bugger, Lucifer turned to Crowley. “Find it,” he said, and his eyes burned with hellfire. “Kill it. Send it back Down.”
“With what?” Crowley squeaked. “I live on Earth! I’m not exactly a first-class soldier!” He showed Lucifer his empty hands.
“Figure it out!” snapped the Devil, and, well, that wasn’t exactly an order Crowley could refuse.
Hunching a little, Crowley made his way to the door.
“My dear.” Aziraphale strode away from the table. He made a motion with one of his hands; the great sword, not flaming at the moment, materialized. He handed it, hilt first, to Crowley. Crowley took it carefully.
Bloody Aziraphale. His heart was in the right place, but Crowley couldn’t have used that blessed sword if his life depended on it. He took it anyway, because he was a sap and an idiot and he wanted the talisman.
“Be safe,” said the angel. He ran a hand lightly through Crowley’s hair, and then back through the feathers of one of his folded wings, one motion.
Crowley nodded and tipped forward to put his forehead on Aziraphale’s shoulder. He smelled like books and sweet things and home.
“Is this really necessary?” asked Dr. Linda, concerned. “What even is an imp, anyway?”
“Human soul turned twisted,” Lucifer said gruffly. “It doesn’t happen to every soul in Hell, but it happens to some of them. They become small, and petty, and have a tendency to focus on one thing and one thing only. Often it’s revenge. Crawly, I’m hardly sending you to your death. You are a Greater Demon. It’s one imp.”
Crowley sighed. He pulled back, kissed his angel’s cheek, and then glared at the Devil. “You haven’t been on Earth long enough to understand,” he said, then spun on his heel and walked out the door, sword in hand. Behind him, Lucifer spluttered indignantly.
Once outside, he released a shaking breath. He’d just talked back to his boss. Flaming, fiery death awaited him.
Screw it. He had an imp to find. Crowley spread his wings, and he leaped.
It wasn’t hard to track down the smell of sulfur. Imps weren’t really good at hiding their tracks. Too much of their reasoning got burned away, Down There. Bloody awful, Crowley thought, following his nose, but each sweep of his dark wings against the sky – the sun had set, and the stars were out, cold and glinting this high up – was a comfort. Not as good as Aziraphale, but still a decent reminder that he was still on Earth, and Lucifer had not and maybe would not smite him, and almost everything was okay.
Story of his bloody life.
The scent led him across the city at an easy glide. He passed the detective’s precinct, and then doubled back—it hadn’t come from there, but from somewhere nearby. With easy stealth – he’d been hiding his wings since literally the dawn of time – Crowley made it to the ground. He followed his nose.
It was a little pub – bar, whatever – tucked in between two larger restaurants. Not nearly as clean-looking as Crowley would like, but he was on a mission, and so he stepped inside.
The lighting was poor, and it was fairly empty. Weirdly empty. Booths and tables sat, forlorn and unoccupied on the scratched, dingy floor. The place was long and thin, lined with booths and tables on either side, with the bar all the way at the end, far from the door. And it stank to—well. Somewhere. The lights, already terrible, flickered. Where was the bartender?
Crowley stepped lightly, but his feet stuck to the cheep linoleum floor. Ugh. Gross.
There were two people sitting at the bar, the only patrons in the place. One looked familiar, hunched over her drink miserably. At the sound of Crowley’s quiet swearing at the sticky floor, the other turned.
He looked perfectly human. This was because he was possessing some poor bastard.
“Oh, gross,” Crowley told him, on no uncertain terms. “Get out of that, what did that guy ever do to you?”
The young woman turned, and her face was very familiar. He’d met her in the precinct; she belonged to Lucifer. “Crowley?” Ella asked. She hopped out of her chair and approached him. Her eyes were huge.
She looked very frightened, and very annoyed.
“Ella,” said the imp.
She swallowed, and still walked up to Crowley. “Listen,” she said, “There’s something—something really weird going on and I don’t know what it is—”
“Ella, come back!” snarled the imp.
Ella stood in front of Crowley and shook her head.
“Ella, that is a demon, Ella! I can protect you--!”
Ella closed her eyes. “Sebastian has been dead for six years,” she said in Spanish. “And even if he weren’t, I’d still break up with him. I don’t know who you think you are—”
The imp—Sebastian, apparently—lunged forward, and Crowley reacted without thinking. He grabbed Ella by the hand and pulled her behind him, spreading his great black wings in the empty bar in her defense.
It looked really good. Really flashy, really primal, a gesture that meant I am bigger and stronger than you. That was handy, when dealing with imps. Crowley projected don’t mess with me as hard as he could, and tamped down on the reason: because if you do, there is a good chance I’ll lose.
“You do realize,” Crowley said when the imp came up short, wide-eyed and frightened at the sight of the wings, “That this human belongs to Lucifer Morningstar himself? I mean, of all the humans to harass, you chose this one? Come on. Big boss is not going to like that.”
“You—you have—” gasped Ella behind him.
“Great big wings, yeah, sorry,” Crowley told her distractedly. “Give me a sec to deal with this guy and we can talk, yeah? Please don’t run away.”
“Cool,” she said faintly.
“Great. So. Sebastian, was it? I have some questions.”
“And if I don’t want to answer?” he snarled.
Well. Crowley had exactly bupkus. Bupkus and a flaming sword that he not only couldn’t use, but refused to use on principle, since it would worse than kill this poor bastard, and also that it would also kill the poor host. Great. But hey. He had a damn good bluff, pun fully intended.
“Then I’ll tell the big boss, and I’m sure he’ll be far less accommodating than I will. Particularly since you went after one of his favorites. That was a really stupid move, bub. But I’ll tell you what. Give me answers, and I won’t have to tell him about this little fiasco. Deal?”
Sebastian thought about it. “Deal,” he said.
Bravo for imps. Something about Hell burned out all their intelligence.
“Who called you?” Crowley asked. “Who brought you up here?”
“Patrick Lane,” said Sebastian.
“I was supposed to possess Martin Carrothers,” he said. “But he was too small. He fought back. He ran to an angel's house for help, but he was too late. He died.”
So far, so good. Matched Rags’ story. “And the angel Raguel?” Crowley asked.
“Patrick met him with Martin three weeks ago, on the street. He traded Patrick a story for some McDonalds. He told me the story. I liked the poetry.” He smiled. “And I liked having a man to frame.” His smile widened. “An angel, even. Get rid of my masters, and I could find Ella again. Maybe make it work, this time.”
Ella choked behind him. “Are you kidding me?” she demanded in Spanish, furious. “You’re dead! And you’re a murderer! And you framed an angel? Are you serious? Do you really think I would date an abusive angel framer?”
“She’s got a point,” Crowley said wryly.
“You’re a demon,” sneered Sebastian. “What the hell do you know about true love?”
The rage came thick and fast. “I’m a bloody demon, you moron,” snarled Crowley. “I know everything about true love. Now—get—out—of that—body.”
Common misconception: an order from a Greater Demon, one of the original six hundred sixty-six angels that fell with Lucifer, was neigh on impossible to resist, especially for an imp or a Lesser Demon.
The imp went flying from the body, and Crowley made a dive for the bar. Ella was on his heels.
“What do you need, what do you need!” she shouted.
“Bottle—something with a stopper—”
She threw an empty beer bottle at his head. He made to catch it but missed entirely and it cracked into his forehead before clunking to the floor.
“Crowley!” she shouted, but he scooped up the bottle anyway.
“Useless bloody swords,” Crowley said disdainfully. You didn’t unmake someone just because he made a bad choice, even if he was an imp and a terrible person. Aziraphale’s flaming sword could injure or kill an angel, human, or demon; it would destroy an imp, until there was nothing left, the way Raguel burned Saraquael. Not in a thousand years would Crowley use that sword on that imp, even if he could make it flame, which he couldn’t.
“Wait here!” he told Ella, and took off running. The imp hadn’t got far – just barely beyond the front door – before Crowley caught him in the bottle. Of course, the bottle was for beer and therefore had no cork. Crowley had his palm over the top.
Ella sidled up alongside him on the sidewalk. People were staring, but he’d winched in his wings. They were probably just—disheveled.
“Looking for this?” she asked, holding up a cork.
“You’re brilliant,” Crowley told her, heartfelt. He corked the bottle.
“You’re a demon,” she replied.
“Er. Yeah. Sorry.”
“Which means Lucifer—” she swallowed, a little wide-eyed.
“Is Lucifer, yeah.” Crowley shrugged at her. “Sorry again. If it’s any consolation, he’s definitely adopted you.”
“Adopted me.” Her echo was incredulous.
Crowley shrugged. “Well yeah. First time you fall in love with Earth, really fall in love, I mean, not just the superficial stuff, you kind of—acquire a gaggle of humans. And they’re yours. And you love them beyond all reason, and when they die, you decide that Hell can’t have them.” The last was a growl, the memory of his long lost Thonis, his humans who lived there.
Ella smiled at him, tentative. “That was all you, wasn’t it? What were their names?”
Crowley goggled down at her, startled. He told her their names, ancient, foreign-sounding names that hadn’t been used or even spoken aloud for centuries upon centuries. They were gone from the world, but he remembered them still. It was comforting, in a way, because now this human, Lucifer’s human, knew about them, too. The city was Thonis, he told her. It had two names. The Greeks called it Heracleion. It sank, but not the way Atlantis sank. It sank slowly, inexorably, until even the last spire was gone.
Her tentative smile became real. She hugged him hard around the waist. “Thank you,” she said, heartfelt. “Are you really the Serpent of Eden?”
“Lucifer told me to get up here and make some trouble,” Crowley said, looking down at her wryly. “Always worried I’d done the right thing by accident, you know. A demon can get in real trouble, doing the right thing.”
Ella laughed. She stepped back. “I think you did the right thing,” she said.
“Keep your voice down!” Crowley hissed, and she laughed again.
“What, or Lucifer will hear you?” She grinned. “He’s a total pushover. I’d know. Are you going to, um, take Sebastian back to him?” She eyed the bottle.
“Yeah.” He looked at the bottle, then at her. “I’d offer you a lift, but I did make a promise.”
“Demon of your word.” She smiled at him. “But you never said that I wouldn’t tell.”
Crowley grinned at her. “I like the way you think. They’re at, um, Dr. Linda’s place, if you want to come meet everyone.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll see you there. Can I see your wings again?”
Crowley shrugged. He beckoned, and they went back inside, where the poor slob who had been possessed was starting to wake up, looking around, puzzled. Ella stopped to kneel down next to him, because she was a kind soul, but once it became clear that he was perfectly fine, just deeply confused, she followed Crowley up the stairs.
Up to the roof, and Crowley spread his wings, black as night.
“Look at that,” Ella told him, amazed. “You’re gorgeous. Like a raven.”
Crowley shrugged one of his wings, flattered. Aziraphale lavished attention on them, of course, but he was an angel, and to an angel, wings were no more remarkable than an arm or a leg. A human’s genuine wonder was gratifying.
“Thanks,” he said, and then found himself adding, “Black’s a weird color, you know – Aziraphale doesn’t mind but I sort of stick out. Even in Hell. Lot of yellow and orange, in Hell. Just how it worked out, I guess.” He shrugged.
“I think they’re beautiful,” Ella told him. “Now go get Sebastian back to Lucifer. Where he belongs.” She swallowed. “Tell him to go easy on him?”
Crowley smiled at her. “Tell him yourself,” he said. “For you—I think he’d do anything.”
Impulsively, she hugged him again, getting a face full of feathers. “Thank you, Crowley.”
Crowley huffed. “Yeah, you’re welcome. Now go on. I don’t want to keep my boss waiting.”
She stepped back. Crowley leaped, and at the first powerful downstroke of his wings, he heard her give a thrilled whoop.
Crowley had already presented the imp-inna-bottle to Lucifer, including the confession (minus any mention of Ella, as promised), when Ella burst in herself, breathing hard.
“Don’t take him back to Hell yet,” she gasped.
“Ella?” Chloe surged forwards. “Are you okay?”
“I know—I saw Crowley’s wings—”
Crowley moaned. He was dead. That was it. It was all over. He could feel Lucifer’s glare.
“—and my mind is kind of blown but it’s fine; he saved me from my stupid ex so it’s good, he’s good, but don’t send Sebastian back just yet.”
“Your—stupid—ex?” growled Lucifer. He rattled the bottle. “The imp is your ex?”
“The imp is so my ex,” Ella told him. “He came up to me and tried to get back together while possessing someone else which, Crowley is so right, ew, but still—”
“And you didn’t think to tell me this very pertinent information?” Lucifer growled at Crowley.
Crowley stepped back into Aziraphale’s arms and cowered. “I made a promise,” he managed. He could practically feel Aziraphale glaring at Lucifer over his shoulder, for all the good it would do.
“Hey! Front and center! Stop scaring Crowley!” Ella snapped her fingers at Lucifer, who blinked at her.
“Oh, I like you,” Raguel murmured.
“You be quiet,” said Chloe. “The last thing we need right now is more of your input.”
“Very well, what, Ella?” Lucifer muttered sullenly.
“Listen. Sebastian died in like a freak accident six years ago, just after I broke up with him. I blamed myself for a long time, but then I realized later that that was crap, and that he was crap, and him being dead didn’t change how much crap he was. But he still doesn’t deserve Hell.”
Lucifer sighed. “My dear Ella,” he said lowly. “He transformed into an imp. In only six years. Only some souls are capable of doing that; the worst, cruelest of souls, and even then, it might take centuries. That he did it in six years means a great deal. If ever a soul belonged in Hell, my dear, it is this one.”
Ella swallowed. “Mercy,” she said softly.
Lucifer closed his eyes. “Very well,” he said. “What shall I do with him, then? I cannot send him to Heaven, and even if I could, people like him,” he glared at Raguel, “Would simply unmake him, a fate worse than any I could come up with.”
Crowley shuddered. Aziraphale took his hand. Though they disagreed on this point, it still meant a lot that the angel offered comfort.
“Crowley?” she asked, “What’s Purgatory like?”
“Neither here nor there,” Crowley replied, a little strangled.
“I could keep him at the bookshop,” Aziraphale offered.
“Seriously?” Crowley blurted, thrown.
“We’ll have to get him a nicer bottle,” Aziraphale said, frowning at the cheep label. “A wine bottle, perhaps.”
“For all eternity?” Crowley spluttered. “You want to keep an imp as a pet like a fish in a bowl?”
“It’ll scare away patrons,” Aziraphale said.
“I hate you so much,” Crowley groaned.
“Aziraphale’s bookshop,” Ella said. “And if he escapes, Purgatory. And if he makes trouble, back to Hell. So he gets a second and third chance.”
“You are entirely too kind.” Lucifer sighed, but he handed the bottle to the angel. “Don’t break it, now,” he said firmly.
“Certainly not,” Aziraphale said. He made a complicated gesture with his hands, and the bottle disappeared.
“Oh!” said Ella. She looked to Lucifer. “You never do stuff like that.”
“I prefer not to break the laws of the mortal plain,” Lucifer said haughtily.
“He’s a snob,” said Raguel. “What he’s saying, is that he’s a sob.”
Ella frowned. “Who are you?”
“Ella, this is Raguel, the Vengeance of the Lord. Don’t get to close to him; he might smite you.” Lucifer put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her away from the couch, gently.
“He’s not going to smite anyone.” Chloe rolled her eyes. She smiled at Ella. “You okay?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, actually!” She looked around the room, at the angels and the demons and the people. “Anybody want to go for a drink?”
 People-shaped beings, anyway.
 It was just an ordinary heart monitor. It had never done anything particularly evil. It was just doing its job. It didn't deserve to die.
 Chloe observed this, kind of fascinated. She wondered if they’d smooth if she petted them, but she didn’t have the guts to do it in front of all these people.
 He missed Lucifer and Chloe share a glance at the mention of Cain, Chloe’s silent flinch. It wasn’t like Crowley didn’t know Cain was a douchebag. He’d hung around with Cain in the third century, for a while. He’d sort of lost track of him, after that.
 Linda had a fair idea of what kind of bruising or painful spots meant there was something worse underneath, and Aziraphale was lovely like Amenadiel was lovely, kind and a little awkward, though he was clearly extremely gay. Could angels even be gay? They looked like men, but were they really men? Did they even have genders? Was that a thing? But he was intelligent, at least, and he listened to her, and his English accent was somehow more pronounced and more charming than Lucifer’s.
 Paul Slater, Shifter, was extremely confused about the whole business, to be honest. He hadn’t quite believed that this clown was Lucifer Morningstar, like actual Lucifer Morningstar, at first glance, but then his shadow had honest to god wings that normal people definitely couldn’t see, so there was that. Anyway. Morningstar paid well, and in LA, that meant a lot. Paul took care of the more uncooperative ghosts.
 He wasn’t an angel. She knew it like she knew nothing else in life. Crowley was all demon, but he was demon standing between her and that—that ass in the hot man’s body—so she was going to let him stand there.
 Look. A flaming sword was, in every sense of the word, overkill.
 This was absolute crap, but most imps didn’t know that.
 Ella wasn’t stupid. Nombre de dios, but she wasn’t stupid. If Crowley was a demon, then Lucifer was no method actor. If this was a test from God, it was a hell of a test, in every sense of the word. But she also knew you couldn’t exorcize demons. You had to look them in the eye and make them leave. She wasn’t sure she wanted Crowley to leave just yet, so it was time to look him in the eye and decide.
Ella was sweetness and light from the outside looking in. Inside, it was motor oil and razor wire. You should never underestimate the kind ones.
 There he was, she thought. Look at that. How brightly this demon shone. The light was red, but it was still bright: true love. Maybe there was hope for Lucifer, too.
 Azrael also had black wings, but then, Azrael also took many forms. There was an angel poorly understood, created to be creation’s shadow. Crowley had last seen Azrael as a Horseman. He hadn’t seen her as a woman in centuries.
 Look. Chloe had just spent the past hour or so listening to Raguel try to bait Lucifer into killing him. Lucifer was still extremely upset. Aziraphale also looked upset, and Linda—well, Linda actually looked kind of fascinated, but Chloe was chalking that up to a therapist surrounded by the worst family ever sort of thing. Anyway. She was definitely over Raguel. Why Crowley thought she’d like him was totally beyond her.
Chapter 5: Epilogue: a devil set free
Okay, spot the fandom! Everyone in Angel Network is from a different fandom. CAN YOU NAME THEM ALL??
Also, anyone who knows where Paul Slater is from (mentioned in a footnote) gets a gold star.
And this was how Crowley ended up waking up, not quite hung over, but certainly on a black tiled floor, with his face in Aziraphale’s stomach, and two great cream-colored wings wrapped around him. He wasn’t in pain the way a human would be, but he was certainly uncomfortable.
Someone was watching him.
He looked up.
Lucifer Morningstar himself, in a black silk robe, was sitting on a barstool. Behind him was a lit, well stocked bar. He would have a full bar in his bloody flat. He sipped at something that was probably the hair of the dog. Crowley froze.
“You’re fine,” Lucifer told him, amused. “Relax, Crowley. You’re fine. Are you actually hung over?”
“Little achy,” Crowley whispered hoarsely. “Can get rid of it.” He chose not to, even though it was unpleasant.
“I’ve decided to set you free,” Lucifer told him, without preamble.
Crowley gaped up at him. “What?”
“I’m setting you free, Crowley. Formally. I know you’ve retired. I know you never want to go back to Hell, and frankly I can’t blame you. I know you’re afraid of me, because I was your—” he scowled, “King. I don’t want it anymore. I don’t want a vassal.” He looked away. “So. You’re free. You don’t have to answer to me, Crowley.”
Crowley sobered up with a hard shudder. “Why?” he demanded. He didn’t entirely leave the shelter of Aziraphale’s wings, pulling one into his lap, but he did rearrange himself so he was at least sort of sitting on the floor, instead of sprawled. He looked up at his boss, sitting on that tall barstool.
“I don’t want it anymore,” Lucifer said flatly. “Hell. Kingship. I was bloody miserable Down There. For once in my life I’ve found a place where I’m—” he sucked in a breath.
“Happy,” Crowley murmured. He huffed a disbelieving laugh, fiddling with Aziraphale’s feathers. “Earth’s like that.”
Lucifer quirked an odd smile at him.
“What he’s not saying,” drawled a second voice. Aziraphale stirred and then froze, pretending badly to be still asleep as Chloe, wearing an overlarge shirt and sweatpants, strolled across the room to sit beside Lucifer, “Is that he could use a friend.”
Those cream-colored wings tightened protectively around Crowley, brush of prickly pinions.
“With all due respect,” Aziraphale growled, sitting up, “You’ll not overcome six thousand years of terror in a week, my dear girl.” The wings rustled around Crowley, encircling him more fully, more comfortably.
Crowley thought about it. He ran a hand through those pinions, cautious about that sharp first primary, thinking about reputations, and what Lucifer represented, as opposed to what Lucifer actually was. He thought about Thonis, and the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition, where having serpent’s eyes was a deeply awful experience. He thought about World War One, and coming home from the trenches, and trying to take credit for everything while sitting in the bed above Aziraphale’s bookshop, hands too shaky to write the report. Aziraphale had preened and fretted over his wings until his hands went still, and he’d written that report by candle-light, like in the days before the war.
He’d never even known Ferdinand, or Princip, and he’d found out about the Black Hand well after everything. He’d taken credit for it anyway. Spreading evil in the world, Lord, he’d said. Doing your great work. You told me to make trouble; I’m making trouble.
The wars had been awful. Crowley straightened out some of Aziraphale’s crooked feathers, getting powder-down on his fingers. It looked like dust on the black-tiled floor. “We talk big, demons,” he said slowly. “You never liked lies, but there’s ways around that, aren’t there?” He cocked his head at Lucifer.
“Of course,” Lucifer said softly.
“So, everything you ever said, it’s true but left of center.” Crowley quirked a smile. “Me too. I never claimed to start World War One, but I implied it. I didn’t,” he added to Chloe, who looked alarmed.
“I know,” said Lucifer. “You were in the trenches. Your hand shook when you wrote that report. I could tell. The others didn’t notice. I never said anything.”
“Your reputation proceeds you,” Crowley said, swallowing. “But going by the reports, mine too. We neither of us lied, but we—left things out. The heat of the pit. The stench of sulfur. How I—never liked screaming.”
“I’m afraid of heights,” Lucifer admitted. “Well. Falling.”
“Me too,” said Crowley. “One week does not make trust,” he said firmly. “But it’s a blessed good start, yeah?”
“Crowley,” murmured Aziraphale, shifting his wings, “Are you certain?” The words he didn’t say: If you’re wrong, it’s the same mistake as the First. Crowley had run with Aziraphale long enough to know what he meant.
But he also knew that Aziraphale was an angel. He thought the first time Crowley had trusted Lucifer and subsequently Fallen was a mistake.
“Of course not,” Crowley told him, with a wry smile, “When have I ever been certain? But I’ll take the freedom,” he told Lucifer softly, “If you accept that, the next time you call, I might not come. That’s what it means.”
Lucifer nodded. “I am aware,” he said.
Crowley nodded back. Then he leaned back into Aziraphale’s embrace and grinned at him. “Hey, angel,” he said.
“Oh dear,” sighed Aziraphale, still tense.
“I found another one,” Crowley told him, gleefully.
“No,” said Aziraphale.
“Y-es!” Crowley crowed. “Look at him! He’s perfect! Come on, Aziraphale.”
“Crowley. He is the Adversary!”
“Nope! He just told me he forfeited his throne. No throne, no Adversary. Just another messed up angel on the earthly plain. What, that makes it—oooo, angel that makes it six? Good number!”
“No!” moaned Aziraphale.
“What are you talking about?” asked the detective.
“Angel network!” Crowley said cheerfully. “Angels wandering around earth, deranged and sad. Aziraphale collects them and it has been irritating me for twenty years.”
“Michael doesn’t count,” Aziraphale groaned. “He doesn’t live on earth; he just shows up when it’s inconvenient. It would be five, and I’m not putting him in touch with Lucifer, Crowley, don’t be absurd.”
“Oh, come on, between the two of them they’ll shag half the planet,” Crowley said.
“I hate you,” Aziraphale moaned.
“Surely Amenadiel counts,” Lucifer drawled, devious. “I’m sure he’d love to find all the others wandering about. Particularly Michael, if he’s sneaking off.”
Crowley and Aziraphale gaped at him. Amenadiel was frankly terrifying.
“Wagers,” Crowley managed. “He likes making wagers. With. You know. Him Above.”
“He always did like a good gamble, the self-righteous bastard,” Lucifer sighed.
“Michael’s got a gambling problem?” Chloe asked. Crowley hooted.
“Something like that!” he said.
“They would fight, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, aggrieved, “And you know what happens when Lucifer and Michael fight!”
“Who else?” Lucifer asked, amused. “In your little collection. Raguel, clearly.”
“Yes, where is Raguel?” Aziraphale asked, distracted.
“Sleeping it off in my second bedroom,” Lucifer said. “Miss Lopez is on the couch behind you, and Linda is on the other couch behind you.”
Crowley looked over, feeling Aziraphale turn with him. Sure enough, Ella was staring at them over the arm of one of the couches with huge eyes. Linda was watching them with the eyes of a very hungover human.
“Brilliant,” Crowley muttered.
“You know Michael?” Ella breathed.
“Yes. He shags, he drinks, and he gets into fights with streetlamps,” Crowley replied. “It’s frankly embarrassing.”
“And alarming,” Aziraphale muttered.
“But I want to know the others on your little list, Aziraphale!” Lucifer said, petulant.
Aziraphale scowled at him. “Islington, imprisoned in London Below. I visit him once every fifty years,” he said flatly, “Michael shows up occasionally. Raguel you know. And there’s an angel called Castiel who broke through reality a while back; he is from a frankly appalling universe. We sent him back. He keeps in touch.”
“Alternate universes?” blurted Chloe.
“Yes, don’t think about it too hard, it’s terrible to contemplate,” Lucifer muttered. He grinned at Aziraphale. “Add Amenadiel and me to the list,” he said, eyes twinkling. “Let’s see where it takes us.”
“This is the worst idea,” moaned Aziraphale. Crowley wriggled out of his winged embrace, only to turn back and offer him a hand. He took it, and Crowley pulled him to his feet.
“Nah,” Crowley said. “Buddies with the Devil. Best idea.”
From the couch, Crowley heard Ella’s whoop of laughter, and he knew he’d made the right choice.
 Frankly, Crowley was a terrible vassal. Lucifer had a sneaking suspicion that he’d be a good friend, though. Lucifer didn’t have a lot of friends. It was a human concept that he rather liked, though, and he wanted to develop it.
 Dammit, thought Lucifer. How did she manage to read his mind? Why was she perfect? Also, sweatpants were the worst and she should remove them immediately.
 Things were processing slowly. Linda was fairly certain they’d mentioned the Archangel Michael, and she was debating with herself about whether she actually wanted to know, or actually really didn’t want to know.
 Aziraphale was in for a nasty surprise on his next visit. Frankly, so was Lucifer.
 Castiel really liked Aziraphale and Crowley. They’d taken him to the Ritz, which was novel, since Sam and Dean usually ate salad and hamburgers, respectively. It was a whole different perspective on how to live amongst humans. Sending letters across dimensions wasn’t that hard, and it was worth it, anyway, to get responses about calm, and England, and tea, and love. He loved his humans, but it was a nice break from the madness. Also, they gave excellent advice about Sam and Dean, when Castiel found himself stumped.
Chapter 6: Epilogue 2: The thing with feathers
Hi all! Not dead! I think this bit is as good as it's going to get. I suppose in this universe we're just..... pretending Lucifer season 4 never happened, though I really liked season 4! Even though I'm a total mess about it.
(Somewhere, in some version of reality, Crowley has his hands over his ears and he's going LALALALALALA I AM NOT A FALLEN ANGEL LALALALALA I WANT TO STAY ON EARTH LALALALA)
Crowley got the call in the middle of the night. He made a disgruntled noise against Aziraphale’s thigh, and then again when he realized it was a his mobile.
Aziraphale, awake and reading since he didn’t indulge in sleep as much as Crowley did, shifted his weight. He lifted the phone and said, “Oh.”
It wasn’t a good “Oh.”
Crowley held very still. Maybe, if he pretended not to exist, Aziraphale would let him go back to sleep, and he would never know who, or what, had called his mobile phone at four in the morning.
“My dear boy, it’s the detective,” Aziraphale said apologetically. He ran gentle fingers through Crowley’s hair.
Crowley had a brief, wild hope that it was Detective Inspector Lestrade, who actually lived in London, and not Detective Decker, Actual Girlfriend of the Actual Devil.
“If you’re not going to answer it, my dear, I will,” Aziraphale threatened softly.
Bloody Somewhere, absolutely not.
Crowley groaned again and lifted his face from the angel’s thigh. “Give it here,” he croaked, hoarse from sleep.
Aziraphale passed the phone to Crowley.
He answered. “Hallo?” he croaked.
“Crowley?” Detective Decker, bless it, and she sounded uncertain. “Oh, god, it’s like three thirty in London, isn’t it?” she blurted, unhappy.
“Yep,” Crowley said, just as displeased. “What can I do for you, Detective?”
There was a hesitation. Crowley felt his eyelids droop closed of their own volition.
“Lucifer’s—I mean normally I’d chalk it up to his, you know, Luciferness but he’s acting—strange—stranger than usual and I thought—I thought maybe you might—” she paused again and blurted, “I think it’s his wings.”
Crowley blinked open his eyes. “Okay?” he asked.
“Do they get itchy?” hissed the detective.
“Yes,” Crowley said. This was possibly the most surreal moment of his life, he thought, and he’d watched the apocalypse come and go at the whim of a child. “If you don’t preen them the powder-down builds up and it feels terrible.”
He didn’t add the corollary to that: if you were fighting with the person who was supposed to preen them, or not asking for something that you needed, the pesky things had a tendency to build up down feathers like nobody’s business. He was fairly certain that was some absurd joke on the part of that bastard, Him Above, giving angel-stock a subconscious that could affect their physical form.
“He keeps scratching his back against things,” the detective hissed. “Walls. Chairs. My daughter.”
He felt Aziraphale twitch beneath his cheek.
“A, a tapered dowel. Looks like a big chopstick. I suggest you make one. He won’t like it if you use store-bought.” He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation.
“I really hope you’re not talking about what you think you’re talking about,” hissed the detective. “This is not a time to joke about sex, I need your help!”
“What?” Crowley squawked. He sat up. “No! You need it lift the coverts out of the way so you can get to the down!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Fixing his wings!” Crowley cried. “If he’s itchy, he’s not been preening!”
Stunned silence on the other end of the line.
Crowley looked helplessly at Aziraphale.
Aziraphale was gaping at him like someone who had learned the best, most glorious piece of gossip and had no idea what to do with it. Useless angel.
Crowley desperately needed a drink.
“Are you there?” Crowley asked at last.
“He hates his wings,” whispered Chloe.
Crowley gulped. He looked back at Aziraphale.
He couldn’t imagine.
Crowley’s wings were black as night. He’d been bullied for it, when he was young. When he Fell, they burned and burned. On Earth, mostly he kept them winched in.
But they also carried him high above the floodwaters, the day the earth turned to sea. They let him race Aziraphale in mock battles in the early days before their Arrangement, and now, long after, Aziraphale petted and stroked them, he preened them, and it was lovely, like the longest, best massage, and how could anyone hate their wings? It was like hating a leg. He needed his wings.
But then— maybe no one had fixed Lucifer’s wings in eons. Imagine all that powder-down built up, Crowley thought, with the sulfur and the ash of Hell. He knew the Devil had once been fastidious about keeping his wings clean—white was the worst color for Hell, honestly—but it was hard to reach the back, even with a brush, and a hooked dowel. You had to really trust someone to let them at your wings, at your back. You had to trust them even more for it to actually feel nice.
Trust didn’t exactly come in spades in Hell. Crowley looked at Aziraphale, and thought about Lucifer not having that, and for the first time he thought, poor bastard.
“Where are you?” he asked. He took Aziraphale’s hand and squeezed, because he was, as always, about to do something extremely stupid.
There was a brief, embarrassed pause. “…in the bathroom of his penthouse,” the detective admitted. Crowley couldn’t help it; he smiled.
He picked up Aziraphale’s hand, kissed the back of it. “Okay,” he told Chloe. “I’ll be there in a second. And I’m bringing my dowel. He’ll bloody hate it, but it’s better than store-bought.”
“Crowley—you don’t have to—”
“It’s fine. It’s fine. See you soon.”
“Thank you,” she said, and he hung up.
“My dear?” Aziraphale asked.
“Lucifer’s a bloody idiot and I have to go teach his human how to preen him, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this,” Crowley muttered. “You should stay. He’ll hate me there, but he’ll hate you more, angel.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Your dowel is going to be covered with my down. It’ll feel like me. Do you want to take mine instead?”
Crowley shook his head. “Just as bad. You made it. At least I made mine.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Wash it when you get back,” he said restlessly. “I—er—”
“Yeah, I know, angel, don’t worry about it.” He kissed the back of Aziraphale’s hand again, and then got himself out of bed. Aziraphale followed and trailed after him while he found his clothes and the dowel like a lost soul, fidgeting anxiously all the while. He even followed Crowley up to the bookshop’s roof and ran worried fingers through Crowley’s dark feathers.
“Be safe,” he said.
“Angel,” Crowley told him, laughing a little at his own idiocy, “I am nothing if not a coward.”
Aziraphale smiled back at him. He leaned forward and kissed Crowley’s forehead, but it wasn’t just a kiss—it was an angel’s blessing. Once upon a time, such a thing could cut Crowley at his core, but no longer. Crowley replied with a demon’s blight, and the two opposites twined into something new, and wild, and wonderful. A paradox, contradictory and gorgeous, and it felt bloody amazing. Both of them caught their unnecessary breath.
Any human looking up that early morning in SoHo would see two man-shaped beings, one with wings, standing forehead-to-forehead. Had Amenadiel been there, he would have seen something quite, quite different. Aziraphale and Crowley were exotic, and new, and wildly, recklessly in love, for all that they might seemed subdued about it, to a human. To an angel, who could see that paradox, this display would be almost obscene. Even Lucifer might have been shocked.
Thoughts of Lucifer tore Crowley away. “I—you know,” he muttered awkwardly, pulling back.
Aziraphale smile beatifically at him. “I love you too, my dear. Now go help the detective.” His smile turned just a hair wicked. “And do tell me all about it afterwards, will you?”
“You old gossip,” Crowley sighed, mock-dismayed but secretly fairly delighted. “You know, I’m convinced half of the bibles in your bookshop are there just because you like to keep tabs on the rumor mill about everyone Upstairs.”
“Go, my dear!” Aziraphale told him, chuckling.
Crowley grinned back and spread his great dark wings. Aziraphale’s eyes gleamed at him, admiring, and Crowley stepped up to the ledge.
“Don’t wait up,” he said, and jumped.
“Come home quickly!” the last Aziraphale added in that old angelic tongue, Enochian, which carried over the wind in Crowley’s ears.
“Always,” Crowley replied, and he beat his wings hard, rising high over nighttime London, chasing the setting sun of yesterday.
He flew fast and hard over the Atlantic, and he could see the first red lights of dusk over America. He raced harder, and almost overshot LA entirely, but managed to find the distinctive outline of the building that housed Lux. He spun down in a tight, quick corkscrew, and landed with a flutter on Lucifer’s balcony. He tucked his wings away.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Lucifer himself, clad in a black silk bathrobe and holding a promising glass of amber liquid, strode from within. He peered at Crowley with a frown. He must have heard him land.
The fear rose sharply, but Crowley quelled it the best he could. “Your detective called me, actually. Is that Scotch?” He looked at Lucifer’s glass hopefully.
Lucifer offered it. Crowley took it and sipped appreciatively. If nothing else, the Devil had taste.
“Chloe called you?” he asked, concerned. “Why?”
“You’re an idiot, that’s why,” Crowley said, screwing up his courage. “Go get her; she’ll explain.” He took a gulp of the very good Scotch.
Half way between insulted and intrigued, Lucifer eyed him, then spun around, back inside. Crowley let out a breath and downed the rest of the scotch. Was he shaking? He held out a hand. Yep. Definitely shaking.
He took another quick breath of fresh air and made his way inside.
Once he crossed the threshold, Crowley huffed a laugh.
Where Crowley had decorated his flat in clean, modern white lines, Lucifer had gone for black and red, stained glass and classic books on decadent shelves. He had a bar, too, and Crowley rummaged for more scotch, because he definitely needed it. It was good stuff, too, so there was that.
Lucifer had set him free. He wanted friends. He was on the angel list. Crowley was about to do him the biggest bloody favor of his life. That meant he definitely had free range of the Devil’s alcohol, right?
Crowley drank more of the lovely Scotch. He eyed the doorway to the Devil’s bedroom.
Sure enough, Chloe, looking embarrassed, led a baffled Lucifer through and down the few stairs.
“Thanks for coming, Crowley,” she said. She looked at Lucifer and raised an eyebrow.
Lucifer looked back at her. He shifted his weight. “I’m fine,” he muttered.
“You haven’t preened your damn wings in years, have you?” Crowley asked, sipping his Scotch and trying to hide the shaking of his hands. He pretended to be amused. It wasn’t really working.
Lucifer scowled at him. “It’s fine!”
“They’re itchy,” Crowley said, “aren’t they?”
“They won’t be if I cut them off again,” Lucifer growled. “I think I can make it stick this time.”
Crowley couldn’t hide his shudder. Cut them off? His wings? No more flight, no more cool breeze, no more Aziraphale gently scratching at itches? He swallowed.
“Or,” he drawled, putting down the Scotch, hands shaking hard enough that it clinked and clanked against the bartop, “You could teach your girlfriend to preen them.”
They both got a little flustered at the world girlfriend, and now Crowley’s amusement was real. Seriously? It was almost cute. Almost.
“I wouldn’t presume—” Lucifer started stiffly.
“—I don’t mind!” blurted Chloe, a little more enthused than she seemed to want to show. She fidgeted.
“It’s—it’s quite a lot of work, my dear, and not the most sanitary—” Lucifer spluttered.
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be a hedonist? Go get a chair with a back, and sit on it backwards.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be afraid of me?” Lucifer said crossly.
“Shut up and do as he says,” Chloe told him, and, as always, Lucifer listened to her, a little wide-eyed. He went over to the library, where there were chairs with backs.
Crowley beckoned Chloe over. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this.
She walked over to him, apparently a little shy. “What do I have to do?” she asked, hushed but determined.
Reluctantly, he showed her the dowel. “You need to make one of these,” he told her. “Out of anything, really, and polish it smooth. Mine is wood.” He held it out to her.
It was about a foot long, mahogany, which Crowley had carved himself. He’d embossed it, carefully, with shapes like scales, but it was still smooth to the touch, if a little bumpy. One end tapered to a dull point. It was too thin to be obscene, just a little thicker than a knitting needle.
She took it carefully. “For coverts, you said,” she murmured.
Crowley nodded. “Look it’s—okay. When you make it, it’s like it feels like you, kind of. That one—he’s going to hate it because it feels like me, and a little like Aziraphale. Store-bought is going to feel like ten thousand uncaring humans and—” he shuddered.
“It’s an act of love,” she murmured, feeling the scales on the dowel. “Angel-style. Right?”
Crowley smiled at her. “Something like that.”
“Thank you, Crowley,” she said sincerely. “Thank you so much. I’ve been looking for something like this—something not so human to give to him—but Lucifer won’t—” she bit her lip.
This was so weird.
Lucifer cleared his throat. Chloe turned, and Crowley peered over her shoulder.
The Devil was sitting forward on the chair, elbows on his knees, no wings in sight. He watched them warily.
“You have a—” the second word was in Enochian, a melodic sound that made Chloe blink. He meant the dowel.
“It’s mine,” Crowley said. “Thought you’d prefer it to Aziraphale’s, or, like, a chopstick or something.”
Lucifer shuddered visibly. “All of those options are terrible,” he said darkly.
“Listen,” Crowley said, more gently, “this’ll be weird and awkward, but Chloe’ll learn, right Chloe? And she’ll make one of her own, and then it’ll be better, okay? And, if it helps—” he cleared his throat.
Generally he and Aziraphale stuck to English, because they agreed that English as a language was great and funny and weird, with the added benefit of being the tongue of their mutual favorite city. But Enochian was still his first language, after all, and it came in handy, sometimes.
“I really won’t hurt you,” he promised softly. “You set me free. I have no reason to do you harm.”
Lucifer held his gaze. Crowley realized belatedly that he’d left his sunglasses back in London. Something in his stomach quavered.
Then Lucifer swung around to sit backwards on the chair, and his two great white wings erupted resentfully from his back. “Do your worst, then,” he muttered unhappily.
“Bloody Manchester!” Crowley blurted. “When did you last fix these? They look terrible!”
“There was an incident with some guns,” Lucifer muttered sullenly.
“They—they do?” Chloe whispered at Crowley’s side. “I think they’re beautiful,” she added, bewildered.
Lucifer shifted at the complement. He looked over both sets of his right shoulders to gaze at his human fondly.
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Yeah, c’mere,” he told her. Chloe at his side, he stepped into the space between Lucifer’s wings.
The Devil went tense as a bowstring.
Carefully, gently, he took Chloe’s wrist. She let him guide her hand to splay flat against Lucifer’s spine, between his wings.
“Keep that here for now,” he murmured. “And he needs to—”
He took her other hand and placed it carefully on the leading edge of Lucifer’s left wing. He applied pressure, and the wing folded. “Watch the ends,” Crowley said. “He’s an archangel, so the first three primaries are sharp.”
“I don’t—” Chloe swallowed. “I don’t know what a primary is.”
Lucifer’s right wing spread fully, obligingly. “The three long feathers on the end, my dear,” he said, and he sounded a little shaky. Well, of course he did. He had a demon he didn’t quite trust at his back and the woman he loved. He was probably confused as—as anything.
“Can I see the dowel?” Crowley asked Chloe softly. She handed it to him.
“I’m going to show her your feathers,” Crowley told Lucifer lamely, “which means I’m going to poke you. Okay?” Please don’t squish me, he thought.
“Just do it,” Lucifer sighed.
With the dowel, Crowley prodded at the various feathers. “Primaries,” he murmured, “secondaries, tertiaries, coverts, alula.”
Chloe repeated this dutifully.
“So here’s the thing,” Crowley said awkwardly, “We’re not like birds. Well, like most birds. Birds usually have oil glands, right. Angels have powder-down. It’s a, a kind of down feather, and when you touch it, it disintegrates into powder. It cleans off grime and helps you fly and, you know, that kind of thing. The dowel’s so you can lift the feathers and get to it. Uh, boss, I’m going to—”
“Just get it over with, Crowley,” Lucifer growled.
“This is weird, isn’t it,” Chloe fretted.
“You have no idea,” Crowley sighed.
“It isn’t a threesome, if that’s what you’re thinking, darling,” Lucifer muttered, much to Cloe’s evident mortification. “Preening is more akin to—to brushing one’s hair.”
Actually, not a bad analogy, despite Crowley’s horror. A threesome? That would be terrible with wings. Crowley’d experienced his fair share of orgies—especially in Pompeii—and four limbs per person was bad enough, let alone six.
He stuck with the hair thing. “Yeah,” Crowley said. “You let people close to you brush your hair, right? And it’s nice. Or you can go to a salon and get it done or styled. But generally you do it yourself. Or you let your family do it. The people you love. Right?”
Chloe nodded slowly.
“It’s got this weird element of trust that hair bushing doesn’t, though,” Crowley added. “And this metaphysical closeness thing, which is why the boss isn’t liking me so near, right?” He laughed nervously. “But he’ll like it when it’s you,” he told Chloe, now earnest. “Right boss?”
“Very much,” Lucifer said lowly.
“Great,” Crowley said. “Okay. So here.” He slipped the dowel with practiced ease under the coverts and lifted them gently. Lucifer went tense, not liking the dowel. “Bloody Manchester,” Crowley blurted. “That’s—”
The down feathers underneath were tangled and clumped, almost matted together. They were sickly gray, too, not shining white like they should be, and they looked extremely uncomfortable. Crowley had never seen them look that bad, and Aziraphale had been a mess the first time Crowley had seen to him.
“No wonder you’re itchy,” Crowley said lamely. “Give me your hand,” he added to Chloe.
She offered it, and he took her by the wrist. “All those feathers need to go,” Crowley told her sternly. “They’re going to crumble when you touch them. They’re supposed to. Just go to town.”
Lucifer sighed when she pulled out a handful of feathers, when they crumbled to dust. Crowley watched her get rid of the worst of it, and then instructed her on how to splay her fingers, so she could straighten the secondaries beneath, and coat them with the powder. She took it to it like a duck to water, and eventually took the dowel from Crowley herself, hunting for the itchy powder down.
“Watch the primaries,” Crowley warned her.
“How do I—?” she started, and Crowley showed her.
Lucifer had three sharp feathers, and that was two more than Aziraphale, a harsh reminder of his rank. There was a trick to the razor feathers, though, and once you knew where the blade was you could get the powder down where it needed to go without slicing anything vital. Lucifer held very still as Chloe handled the sharp feathers, a little wide-eyed and worried. She didn’t cut herself. She beamed at Crowley.
“Well done,” he said lightly. “So this is how you get the alula and the coverts—”
She got the hang of it, even the alula, which was Crowley’s least favorite part. He had Lucifer extend his wing straight back so they could get the other side, and she did it herself with minimal help. She even put her hand on the leading edge and pushed the wing to fold without prompting when they finished.
Lucifer made a soft sound at that, a musical angel-sound like he should, and Crowley felt a wave of relief. Chloe even replied, without having to be told, though she used actual words.
“Better?” she asked Lucifer.
“Much. Thank you,” he murmured. His eyes darted to Crowley, grateful but without words.
Crowley waved the thanks away. “Here,” he told Chloe, giving her back the dowel, “I’m going to sit at the bar. You’ve got this.”
She smiled at him, and he smiled back. Then he ambled over to the bar, poured himself another Scotch, and watched.
Without Crowley there, Lucifer relaxed considerably. Chloe started humming, and he relaxed even more, though he twitched at every touch of the dowel. Crowley didn’t blame him. If Lucifer had a dowel, which he probably didn’t judging by the state of his feathers, but if he did, Crowley would certainly hate the feel of it.
When he’d been young, and still an angel, his friends had fixed his wings for him. That category was now narrowed down to basically Aziraphale. Raguel went weepy at the sight of wings, though he’d fixed Crowley’s primaries, once, when he’d bent them on a bookshelf and Aziraphale had buggered off somewhere. Rags had felt like sunlight feels, just a little too hot. But Crowley was a snake at heart, so even that had been nice.
Castiel had cleaned Aziraphale’s, in thanks, after Aziraphale had preened his. He’d gotten a little emotional too. Apparently in his universe wings were never corporeal, so he couldn’t ask his beloved humans for help, and he didn’t trust the other angels to fix them for him, either. Poor bastard. Crowley hoped he never found himself in that place. It sounded awful.
He thought about these things as he watched Chloe grow more and more confident, scratching at powder down, straightening feathers. Lucifer was nearly a puddle on that chair, except that he jumped occasionally with the dowel. Poor girl needed to make her own.
Finally, she finished, closing his second wing. “Better?” she asked, and he thrummed at her. Good.
“Oh, much,” he murmured sleepily. He’d rested his head against his arms, crossed over the chair’s back. “Thank you, my dear.”
She smiled at scratched at the back of his neck. He thrummed again, the old sap, closing his eyes. “You’re welcome,” she said. “How often do you need this?”
“As often as you’d like,” Lucifer said dreamily.
She huffed at the non-answer. “Crowley?”
“Monthly at minimum,” Crowley said sternly. “Weekly, because it feels nice,” he added.
Lucifer tensed and spluttered.
“Weekly, then,” Chloe said definitively.
“Chloe—you don’t have to—” the Devil said, sounding weirdly plaintive.
“I want to,” she said, firm.
He gazed at her a little helplessly. He had it bad, Crowley thought, somehow both awed and amused.
“And on that note,” he said lightly, “I believe it’s time for me to go home. Unless you need anything else.”
“No—no, thank you so much, Crowley.” She stepped away from Lucifer with clear reluctance, but she smiled warmly at Crowley.
“Can I have that back?” Crowley asked, gesturing to the dowel.
“Oh! Yes, sorry. Here.” She handed it over with a smile. He took it, wiped Lucifer’s powder-down on his trowser leg. Chloe looked embarrassed.
“Oh—should I—I mean—”
“I’ll have to wash it,” Crowley explained. “Aziraphale won’t like someone else’s powder down on it, particularly Lucifer’s. It’s alright.”
“That sensitive?” she asked softly.
“You don’t like someone else’s sweat on you, do you?” Crowley asked her with a smile.
She huffed a laugh. “True. Thank you again, Crowley.”
He smiled at her wryly. “That’s what the angel network’s for, isn’t it?”
Lucifer had gotten up from his chair. He meandered over. “Yes,” he said slowly, “It is. If you—if you need anything, Crowley.” He hesitated. “Call.”
Crowley met his eyes. Lucifer didn’t lie. He never lied. He really meant that. Well, that was unexpected.
“Yeah,” murmured Crowley. “Sure.”
He got a text message about three days later. It was early morning, but he was awake. Aziraphale wasn’t, though, his cheek pressed to Crowley’s shoulder, and if Crowley pushed enough darkness into the angel’s light, he could hear his dreams, sometimes.
Aziraphale was dreaming of Mari. It was a nice dream, full of cakes and laughter. Crowley was enjoying it.
Crowley’s phone rattled at the nightstand, and he reached for it, careful not to wake the dreaming angel.
I think I did it right, Chloe had texted. Does it look okay to you?
Following it was an image.
Long like a knitting needle, Chloe had made her dowel out of some kind of clay, which was rather fitting for a human. She’d glazed it dark, with little pinpricks of yellow—almost like stars. He smiled.
Well done, he texted back. Aziraphale snuffled at his shoulder, his dreams starting to dissolve. What did you make it from?
Porcelain, she said. I had to buy a whole block. Trixie’s going to be making clay figurines for years.
Crowley chuckled. Good choice. Make a few extra in case it breaks on you.
Do you want some?
Crowley looked down at Aziraphale. He thought about it. Aziraphale wasn’t fussy, really, not like Lucifer was. Still, with these things it was the thought that counted, and acquiring the materials was part of it. He wouldn’t mind a human’s touch, but Crowley was loath to do it.
That’s very kind, but I rather like my mahogany.
Your loss! she returned, with a playful smiley. Crowley smiled back down at the phone.
Aziraphale stirred. “My dear?” he murmured. “Did I fall asleep?”
“You did indeed,” Crowley murmured. “Don’t worry. I’ve been texting my new friend.”
“Who’s that then?” Aziraphale yawned.
“Devil’s girlfriend,” Crowley grinned as Aziraphale sputtered fully awake. “Look, she made a dowel.” He showed the angel.
Aziraphale huffed, amused. “And done a rather good job of it too, I daresay. Perhaps she can give this Dean pointers.”
Crowley laughed. They’d gotten a letter from Castiel the other day, mostly about the brothers Winchester, and particularly about the one called Dean. “No way. Castiel’ll fry Dean for one, and for another, they’re both too stupid to even approach that topic. And further, the less I think about that universe the better.”
Crowley texted Chloe back. Aziraphale says you’ve done well.
Tell him thank you!
“I as well, to be truthful, my dear,” Aziraphale said. He settled back against Crowley. “Do you think they’ll be alright?” he asked after a moment. “The Devil and the detective.”
“Oh, they’ll be just fine,” Crowley murmured. He smiled at that last text. “Just fine.”
 He wasn’t even human, but it was definitely a migraine. Lucifer problems tended to come with totally impossible migraines. Crowley was blaming Satan.
 English didn’t really have a good word for the thing Crowley was talking about, mostly because humans didn’t have wings that needed preening. Enochian had a word for it, though. The closest translation Crowley could come up with was dowel, so that was what he went with. “Needle” sounded alarming, “wand” moronic. “Rod” made it sound like Crowley was going to beat someone to death. Which was not what the thing was for. It was a personal sort of thing, regarded by angel stock much the way a human would regard a beloved journal.
 In Hell, enough demons had sneaked up on Lucifer to give him a knee-jerk reaction of horror when there was someone behind his wings. Curiously, with his wings winched in or sliced off, he had no such reaction. Bloody weird, that. Anyway, Chloe behind him was a comfort. Crowley felt like a guillotine, the blade hanging somewhere. It was confusing.
And that was a touch Lucifer hadn’t felt in a long, long time. A knot he hadn’t realized was in in is belly unraveled with tender, shocking suddenness. Oh, he thought, letting out a breath. Her hand was warm and gentle and everything wonderful, and he thought wildly I love you terribly without really being sure why, though it was certainly true.
 So strange that it wasn’t Aziraphale, who relaxed and thrummed at him when he did that, a contented angel sound that was not quite human. Lucifer was utterly silent, and he did not relax.
 Herons, bustards, parrots and tinamou also have powder-down. Crowley didn’t like to think about that because he got attacked by a heron once. Blasted birds were huge! Also, the less said about tinamou the better.
 It felt like there was a demon at his back, a hanging guillotine in his feathers, the Serpent of Eden, with fangs dripping poison. He could feel the bark of that wretched tree, the crisp crunch of that idiot fruit. Not a friend, Lucifer thought, a little winded. Not a friend yet. Close, but not close enough for this to feel easy. And then Chloe touched him, and all the bad feelings dissolved. This was so confusing.
 Ohhhhh it was better, much better, a massage with warm hands instead of one of those weird vibrating chairs, and he adored those hands, he really did. He still hated the dowel, though. It was weird getting flashes of poison-dripping Serpent amongst all the nice warm Chloe-hands.
 And she didn’t even know, Crowley thought with wonder, she didn’t even know anything about angels, and how they hummed and sang when they were happy, how comforting it was. She really was remarkable.
 It was one of those paradox things that was unique to the union of opposites. In earthly terms, it was like water dripping softly from a damp stone, if Aziraphale were a damp stone, which he wasn’t—he was a warm and squishy angel. It felt lovely, anyway. They’d figured it out about five years ago, but Crowley still thought it was neat.