Falling was not like flying in the slightest. For one thing, it hurt a great deal more. As his wings burst into flame and he was yanked from the existence of Heaven that he had known so far in his immortal life, he caught sight of all the planets and the stars. The whole thing was spread wide open to him as he crashed through the atmosphere of Her latest project at the wrong angle. The pain was horrific, but he lost track of it for the length of time that he saw the Earth. And then, he slipped under the ground and was lost for who knows how long.
It felt as though he hit every single rock on his descent into Hell, and he landed in a heap at the bottom of a shaft, sweltering heat weighing down on his burnt form. He had landed on a rock rather than the flames, but he could not quite feel grateful, as he was busy feeling hatred for the One that had made him. He attempted to stretch a wing forward to survey the damage, but he barely so much as twitched it before another wave of agony rippled through him. He pulled on his inner grace as well, and even though it was as twisted and broken as his wings had become, it did not hurt as it responded to him.
He used it to cycle through shapes and forms and settled on one that did not have wings. It did not have anything but a smooth sleek body and a mouth full of venomous fangs. In this way, he did not have to hurt any more. Eventually, his wings would heal, and the feathers would grow back - black, naturally - but he would never stop feeling the flames that burned them first. His memories of Before did not fade as it did for the rest of the Fallen, but that made it worse in a way rather than better. Nevertheless, it was he that rose to power, taking his throne in the depths of Hell.
And so he remained on the throne until he went to tempt the despicable creatures that She had left in the Garden. That was where he met a Principality by the name of Aziraphale. His immortal life was never quite the same after that. He chose to spend much more time on Earth, leaving a council of Dukes and Lords in his absence to oversee the day to day processes. Every so often, he would pop back in to throw in an idea or two, but for the most part, he spent his time trying to get to know the unique angel better, causing trouble of his own along the way.
Oh, but he would do anything to get that stupidly sweet smile on Aziraphale's face again. The delighted way that he would say his chosen name when he would do something for the angel. Even if he would protest vehemently at the prospect of being called 'nice'. He... he enjoyed making Aziraphale happy. That was not very demonic of him, but he was the bloody King of Hell. He was allowed to have a few freebies if he wanted to. What were the others going to do, drag him back to Hell? They would never dare do such a thing to their King.
Speaking of which, he had never actually told Aziraphale about who he was... exactly. The angel got into a tizzy over him just being a filthy demon at times, so he could only imagine how he would react over learning that his friend of the past few millennia was the King of them all. Yeah, he did not think that would be a great idea. He would rather cut his own tongue out than have Aziraphale not talking to him. The last time that had happened, he had made himself sleep for eighty years. Not one of his finest moments but whatever. The point was that he would rather not tell Aziraphale. He did not like lying to the angel, but omitting the truth was not the same thing as lying, was it?
Crowley propped his head up on his fist as he watched Aziraphale dig into his plate of crepes like he had not eaten in days. Always so proper, elbows off the table and posture erect. The demon had only an untouched cup of tea in front of his spot, which he ignored in favor of staring at the angel from behind his dark glasses. If Aziraphale was bothered by his attention, he made no complaint. Crowley tended to avoid eating food in contrast to his angel, who nearly lived for it. If Aziraphale was not an angel, he might even be accused of gluttony.
"Oh, my dear." Crowley blinked and wondered if he had missed something in their conversation. He realized that Aziraphale had turned toward him, and he was looking at him with his blue eyes. "I believe I'm being terribly rude. Here, have some. It is really quite delectable!" Aziraphale said.
Crowley's stomach made an odd little fluttery feeling, and he swallowed. He flicked his eyes from Aziraphale's sincere face to the pieces of crepe stuck onto his fork, angling in his direction. When Crowley remained silent for a few more seconds, Aziraphale started to lower the fork, his expression falling briefly. The demon snatched the fork from him and plopped the slightly too sweet food into his mouth. His tongue passed over his lips slowly as he handed the fork back to the angel. It was not something he particularly liked, but Aziraphale was looking at him like that again. So expectant.
"Yesss," Crowley remarked. "Very nice."
The smile his angel made was definitely worth it. He made a mental note to bring Aziraphale here for lunch more often. He had a whole list in his head of places that Aziraphale enjoyed, whether or not they ever went back to them again. Crowley washed down the too sweet taste of the crepes down with a gulp of bitter tea. His cup was set back on the table with a light thump. His golden eyes tracked Aziraphale's neat hands as they brought a white kerchief to dab at his mouth.
"So what have you been up to, Crowley?" Aziraphale asked.
"Much of the same. Trouble," Crowley said. He gave the angel a smirk, letting his lips quirk up.
"Hmm. I can imagine," Aziraphale replied. "I do hope that your side isn't encroaching on young Amelia's soul, however."
"Don't worry, angel. She's all yours," Crowley said. "We have plenty of other souls to taint."
You know, this whole Antichrist thing had seemed a Hell of a lot better in his head. Crowley stared down at the baby, and the baby stared back at him, blinking seraphic blue eyes back at him. And if he had maybe modeled the child's general traits just a little bit after Aziraphale, well, no one would be terribly surprised if they actually had met him before. He knew for a fact that his, er, minions had a betting pool on his extracurricular activities. He had had to go Downstairs and threaten the lot of them after some of the younger demons attempted to 'speed up the process' as it were.
They were all a bunch of voyeuristic bastards, in his opinion. Thankfully, he had managed to intercept them before they caused any damage or spoiled his little secret. Really, it was essentially the only secret that he had kept from Aziraphale, but it was definitely the biggest. Crowley was not going to do anything that would make the angel Fall. He respected Aziraphale too much for that. Falling was not a pleasant experience, and it was not something that he would wish upon someone that meant as much to him as Aziraphale did.
Crowley tilted his head slightly to the side, and the tiny Antichrist mimicked him, his eyes far too alert for that of a newborn. This minuscule creature that he had made would bring about the End of Days, and he was not sure that was what he wanted anymore. Not really. The humans were not as... awful as he had originally thought. He supposed that, in a way, he could see why She had made them. Not to mention the fact that all of the things that he liked to do with Aziraphale would be destroyed. Beelzebub peered over his shoulder carefully as he set the baby in his basket, letting it balance in the crook of his elbow.
"He lookszz very human, my lord," the Lord of the Flies remarked.
"Yes, he does," Crowley said. "That is rather the point."
"Who szzhall we get to deliver the boy for you?" Beelzebub asked.
"You know what? I'll just take him. It's fine," Crowley said. She nodded and stepped out of his way as he strode past the rest of the Council. He heard them all echo a 'hail, Satan', as he went past them, and he held back a displeased frown. He never did like that name as much.
The basket hung from the crook of his elbow as he neared the door. His son - that felt really strange to say - had quieted down sometime after he had brought the Bentley to a screeching halt in the parking lot. There was a short, rather plain man standing near the doorway, fiddling with a cigarette. He must have been the father, then. Crowley was a bit perplexed in the short conversation that followed about what made the father believe that he was, in fact, a doctor of some sort. What kind of doctor showed up to a birth nearly half an hour late? However, Crowley did little to correct his baffling assumption.
Room Three had two occupants currently. There was a woman, obviously the mother, who was passed out on the bed and did not look like she would be up for the world anytime soon and a baby in one of the cots on wheels, swaddled up in a blue blanket. Crowley went over to the baby. The job was simple enough, in theory. He would take this baby out of the cot, put the Antichrist into the cot, and hand the basket with the spare baby in it over to a nun for disposal. Light work. He would be home in plenty of time for supper. Not that he ate supper often. The door creaked open. One of the nuns slipped through and froze when she saw the demon, her eyes wide.
"Oh! Is that him, Master Crowley?" the nun asked. She came to peer over the demon's shoulder without waiting for an answer, but she was not looking at the basket in his hands. Rather, she was looking at the cot. The cot with the entirely human baby already laying on it.
"Of course," Crowley found himself saying before he really thought it over.
"Huh," the nun said. She tilted her head to the side slightly as she observed the little human babe. "It's only I'd have expected funny eyes or teensy weensy little hoofikins. Maybe a little tail."
She walked closer to the baby and gently touched his tiny feet. For some reason, Crowley's eye twitched at the thought of her touching his son like that. Bless it all, he had grown attached to the wriggly bundle of flesh. That was the one rule he set for himself, for somebody's sake. The demon that was also the Devil fought back a sigh.
"That is definitely him," Crowley told her.
"What adorable wittle toesie woesies he has!" the nun cooed, her voice coming out as a soft delighted squeal as she fixed the blankets over his legs. "Does he look like his daddy? I bet he does. Don't you?" She tickled the bottom of the baby's chin, and the newborn let out a fussy sound and shifted in his blankets.
"He really doesn't," Crowley said.
"Oh, I have to let the others know," the nun said. She glanced up from the baby to look at him. There was a creak behind him, and Crowley looked back to see the father enter. There was a slight sheen of nervous sweat coating his face. He still smelled of nicotine.
"Has it, uh, has it happened yet? I'm the husband... father. Both," the father explained.
"Ah, yes, your Ambassadorship," the nun said with a bright smile. She straightened up to guide the man toward the cot beside his wife's bed. "This is your son."
Neither of them seemed to notice to demon as he left the room, baby Antichrist hanging in the basket at his side.
Aziraphale roused himself from his dazed groggy studies, and he realized that he was at the end of his book already. He blinked a bit and glanced about his bookshop. The sun was streaming in from the east windows again. His tea was not only stone cold but had evaporated down to thick sludge at the bottom of his cup. The angel noticed that the demon was not where he had been earlier. Or in the shop at all. Aziraphale was not quite certain why that fact disappointed him, but it did. The angel pressed his lips together and went to set his cup in the sink.
Drat it, anyway. It was not like Crowley to have left him to his own devices for so long. In past centuries, the two had often let years, even decades pass before once again crossing paths and engaging in inevitable, drunken brawls. And true, the times between path crossings had gotten shorter as they became somewhat more about drinking than brawling. And then there were the odd times when Aziraphale would hunt Crowley down just to share a particularly nice bit of poetry, or Crowley would slither up to his side with a bottle in his hand and a smirk on his face.
But in the past couple of decades, Aziraphale had become more accustomed to seeing the demon weekly, if not daily at times. And perhaps he was not a very good angel for thinking so, but he rather enjoyed Crowley's company. The demon would sometimes just take up space on Aziraphale's couch. He seemed to delight in rebuffing Aziraphale's customers who had dared to attempt to come in and actually buy something. He would chuckle darkly, lounging back and crossing his arms behind his head when he had thought up new and inventive ways to scare them off.
Aziraphale glanced up at the odd little gift that Crowley had decided to give him. He knew that Crowley particularly enjoyed growing such greenery in his flat - presumably, at least. He had never been in there before. Nevertheless, it was quite nice of the demon to give the plant to him. Though it was a miracle in and of itself that Crowley had managed to get the plant to actually grow, what with the lack of light available for it. Aziraphale strongly suspected that the demon had done something to it because there was no natural way that the leaves could be this lush in this environment. The angel blinked as he heard a knock at the door.
Crowley lightly bounced the baby in his arms, settling him on his hip and keeping his little head up with the inner part of his arm, basket hanging off his other arm as he raised his hand to knock on the angel's locked shop door. There was a slight moment of panic as he heard his friend come to the door, his footsteps light on the floor. No, he had to remain calm. He was just a demon that had decided he did not want the End of Days to happen and had taken the key to it. The 'against orders' part was obvious in this context. Crowley took a deep breath, glancing down as he heard the tiny Antichrist let out a fussy sound.
"I am afraid that we are quite definitely closed," he heard the angel say primly. "Please return tomorrow during store hours."
"Aziraphale, it's me. We need to talk," Crowley cut in. His voice came out a bit rougher than he had intended. An inhalation of air reached his ears, and he spoke quickly before Aziraphale could interrupt him. "It's not what you think."
"What, pray tell, did you get yourself into this time?" Aziraphale asked. He tried to mask his concern with frustration, but it was not as smooth as the angel might have imagined. Crowley sighed and was about to tell him when the little creature hanging off his hip let out a cry as some cold evening air whipped across his face. "Crowley, is that a baby?"
"Well, yes, angel. Could you open the door please? I require your assistance," Crowley said, keeping his tone soft and low to avoid further upsetting his son. There was a fumbling sound, and the door unlocked. He saw Aziraphale's wide blue eyes greet him the moment the door swung open. Concern was writ over his face. His gaze softened as it landed on the baby that he held. "I have no clue how these things work. Tell me you know how to handle him."
There was a minute flicker of horror that passed through Aziraphale's eyes, and Crowley felt unbearably nervous as the angel moved closer to him, opening his arms. Had he done something wrong? He had had the boy for less than two hours, and already he had hurt him, hadn't he? How could he have messed up something so simple? A featherlight touch to his arm jolted him out of his panicked thoughts. Aziraphale was gathering the baby up in his arms, and Crowley willingly released his grip. The angel cooed and whispered as he bounced the child lightly.
"You have to support his head a bit more, dear," Aziraphale said. He demonstrated with the baby, flicking his eyes up momentarily to see if Crowley understood. Maybe it was the wrong thing to focus on at the moment, but he was inordinately pleased that he had gotten the shade of the baby's eyes right. Aziraphale gestured for the demon to come inside. "Come in. We have to get him out of this weather."
"Good idea," Crowley agreed. He followed Aziraphale into his bookshop, shutting the door behind himself. The angel continued to gently rock the little Antichrist in his arms as he turned back to Crowley with an expression between curious and worried.
"Now, can you tell me why you have a baby of all things?" Aziraphale asked. Crowley swallowed and set the baby basket down on the nearest flat surface.
"It's... a bit complicated," the demon admitted.
"Whose child is this?" Aziraphale asked.
Mine. He bit the inside of his cheek before speaking.
"Well, that child is the spawn of Satan," Crowley said. He gestured loosely to the boy nestled in Aziraphale's arms. Technically, not a lie. He was the spawn of Satan.
"Oh, don't say it like that!" Aziraphale gasped. The demon regarded him curiously.
"Like what?" Crowley asked.
"'Spawn'," Aziraphale said.
"Would you prefer offspring? Progeny?" Crowley asked.
"Just use baby," Aziraphale insisted. His skin looked a bit pale, and he was eyeing the boy warily. "You cannot be serious, Crowley. This can't be-"
"The Antichrist. Yeah," Crowley said.
"But he looks so... normal," Aziraphale remarked. He seemed perplexed and possibly a bit confused.
"Him having horns would make it kind of hard to blend in, don't you think?" Crowley said.
"I suppose," the angel conceded. Aziraphale looked over at him. "Why do you have him?"
"I was supposed to deliver him and replace him with the son of an American attache, but, uh, I sort of decided... not to," Crowley said.
"Why?" Aziraphale asked.
"I like this world. And if it's supposed to run its course and end naturally, that's fine by me. I just really don't want to be the catalyst for that event," Crowley said. "So I figured, we could each help to influence him. That way he might end up in the middle. Not too much of either side. Normal. Perfectly average."
Aziraphale stared at him, blinking slowly.
"You want us to raise a baby?" the angel hissed softly. "Crowley, I don't know that much about human babies!"
"What else do you have in mind? Do you want me to drop him off somewhere he may be raised to crave destruction like my side wants? We don't exactly have a lot of options here. Do you want the Apocalypse?" Crowley asked.
"Of course not. I like my bookshop and stores that welcome me by name! And I like humanity, truly," the angel said. Aziraphale frowned. "But we've known it was coming. It's supposed to be a part of the Almighty's-"
"Yes, Her Great Plan," Crowley sighed. He ran a hand through his hair, tugging a bit on the red ends. "Look, angel. I'm not asking you to question it. I just want your help. You don't have to say yes. I'll leave if you want."
The angel and the demon looked down at the now sleeping baby Antichrist. Aziraphale's expression was pained before it cleared up.
"Of course I'll help you," he relented. Aziraphale looked back at Crowley. "We could be like his fathers."
Crowley twitched slightly and hoped that Aziraphale had not noticed. He swallowed.
"Godfathers, maybe. Or uncles," Crowley said.
"Godfathers," Aziraphale echoed, trying out the word on his tongue. There was a slight smile on his face that did something to his chest. "Well, I'll be damned."
"It's not so bad once you get used to it," Crowley said. He smiled at the angel holding his son. Aziraphale blinked as his words finally registered, and his own smile dropped.
"Crowley!" the angel protested.
Crowley liked children, just, in general. Children were easier to get along with than adults, and they tended to like him for some reason. Not quite sure why they would get fond of the Devil himself, but he digressed. Babies, on the other hand, were kind of difficult to get along with. Thankfully, Adam seemed to be more perceptive than most children his age, and before he knew it, the boy was already nearing four years of age. He was rather rambunctious, as most toddlers were, but now they could play games. And Crowley rather liked playing games. One could even say that games were his forte.
One in particular that Adam seemed to enjoy playing with him was hide and seek. And he had to admit that it was sort of fun to play. Crowley had his own hands clasped over his face, making sure to cover his eyes and careful not to press his sunglasses uncomfortably into his skin. The demon slowly counted backwards from fifteen, enunciating each number loudly and clearly to ensure that the boy could hear him. As soon as he reached one, Crowley let his hands fall back to his sides, and he glanced around. Hmm, where could that boy be?
"Adam!" the demon called out.
It was rather obvious where the young child was. Adam's pale blonde curls that were just shy of ivory gave him away. They stuck up from behind the edge of the sofa that his son was currently crouched behind. But it was important to play along.
"Where has that boy gone, I wonder?" Crowley mused to the air, voice kept loud, and he whirled in the angel's direction. "Angel, have you seen the kid?"
Aziraphale did not bother looking up from his book, instead methodically turning another crisp page. He had spoiled one too many games of hide and seek in the past, and he had since learned his lesson.
"I haven't a clue, my dear," Aziraphale replied.
Crowley huffed and spun back around, stalking toward the kitchen. He lifted up the tablecloth and peered under it. No little Antichrist.
"Not there," Crowley said.
He went over to the cupboard and pulled the top off of the biscuit jar that lay directly underneath it, looking inside. A youthful giggle trickled over to his ears. He could spot the blonde curls wiggling a little from the side edge of the sofa. The demon forced an exaggerated sigh, slumping his shoulders.
"Where could he have possibly gone?" Crowley asked loudly. False consternation rose in his tone as though he were genuinely nervous. "I've lost the kid, angel!"
"Tsk, tsk. Dear boy, you will lose your own head next," Aziraphale chided goodnaturedly. He flipped another page of his book. Adam giggled again.
"Where, oh where, has that boy gone? Maybe your Oscar Wilde's have devoured him," Crowley accused. He stalked over to that section of the bookshop to start berating the books. "Did you take my kid, hmm?"
There was a small rustling sound as Adam started trying to try to make his way toward the front of the sofa, seemingly intent on changing his hiding place. Even though that was against the rules. Aziraphale continued to keep his eyes steady on his book. Crowley wandered back out into the main area and made a show of looking the sofa all over while Adam pressed himself between a bookshelf and the wall, no doubt thinking himself rather clever.
"I thought I saw... must have been wrong," Crowley muttered to himself as if in thought. The demon looked over at Aziraphale and grinned. Aziraphale glanced up from his book with a small sigh.
"Have you tried the fireplace?" the angel suggested.
Crowley smacked his forehead. Aziraphale raised his brows slightly, lips twitching in amusement.
"The fireplace! Silly me," Crowley said. He strode over to the hearth and peered inside after dragging the grate open. "Heeello? Adam?"
He heard another giggle that only got louder after Crowley pulled back with soot covering his face, little splotches of it dirtying his dark glasses as well. Aziraphale laughed at that as well. Crowley blinked and swept a finger over his cheek, scowling at the dark line. With a thought, it was miracled away, and he was clean again. The demon theatrically tripped over one of the boy's soft toys and flailed his arms. He was aiming for the floor, but he ended up sprawled across Aziraphale's lap. Well, this was awkward.
"Oh! Are you alright, my dear?" Aziraphale asked, surprised.
His arms came around the demon as if to steady him. Crowley was a bit distracted by how warm and soft he was for a moment.
"Yes," the demon finally said. "Just lost my footing."
His son popped out from behind the bookshelf, frowning and seeming worried.
"Look, I found him! I'm a genius. Aren't I a genius, angel?" Crowley asked with a grin.
"If you say so," Aziraphale said, back to being amused.
The demon moved up from his lap, momentarily feeling cold from the lack of heat, and he went over to scoop up the child.
"Where did you go, young man?" Crowley asked.
Adam giggled again, and it only got worse when Crowley spun them around and promptly threw himself and the kid backwards onto the sofa. They landed on the overstuffed cushions with a satisfactory thump.
"Where'd you go, Adam?" Crowley asked again.
The young boy's forehead scrunched together in thought, and he wiggled himself about on Crowley's chest, getting more comfortable. He ended up kicking Crowley in the stomach a little, so he gently nudged him over with a hand to get him situated.
"I saw Fweddie Mewcuwy," Adam told him enthusiastically.
Aziraphale snorted softly from his seat, shaking his head.
"Yeah? Where did you see him?" Crowley asked.
"He's ovew thewe!" Adam said. He pointed to the spot behind the bookshelf. "He's weally little."
"How little?" Crowley asked.
He was fairly certain that the kid was talking about the disk set he had left over there. His son spread his hands a little ways apart to show him.
"This little," Adam said.
"That is little," Crowley agreed. He ran his hand over the child's hair and smoothed it down. A few pale curls sprang back up again. Crowley kissed the top of his head, and Adam giggled.
"Tickles," the boy said.
"That tickles?" Crowley asked. Adam nodded. "No, that can't tickle. This tickles!"
He started attacking the boy's soft sides with his long and dexterous fingers, and Adam squealed. The boy squirmed about, trying to wriggle away from his dastardly fingers.
A good ways Below, as in Down There, there was a throng of younger demons throwing slips of moldy paper into a bowl. Aeshma snickered as they continued to bicker between themselves, and the Under-Duke of Accounting tallied in the latest numbers. They had been going at this betting pool since before Rome was founded. Demons were notorious gossipmongers.
"Yeah, Lord Beelzebub thinks that it's this century, too," Adramahlihk said as he added his paper. "So I'd say it's a bloody good bet."
"Well, I think it's gonna take longer than that. I mean, come on. 'e still hasn't figured it out in, what? Six thousand years? The Boss ain't exactly subtle with 'is intentions," Mal'lak retorted. "Those two ain't gonna get their arses in gear for at least a few more millennia. Blasted angel might not even figure out what's up for that long."
Mal'lak shook his head and dug at a sore on his chin with a crooked nail. A blister next to his sore popped with a satisfying squelch.
"I say that it's going to happen at or perhaps directly after the inevitable Apocalypse," a new voice rumbled.
"What's that?" Adramahlihk asked. He took his hand out of the bucket of human entrails at his feet to crane his neck to get a look at the newcomer. Adramahlihk blinked as he saw who it was and quickly shuffled out of the way, dipping his head. "M'lord Azazel. What an honor."
He barely remembered to drag his bucket out of the way as the Lord Azazel strode forward. Mal'lak moved closer to Adramahlihk, snuffling. They watched with eager eyes as the Prince of Hell added his own wager to the bucket. Lord Azazel hadn't ever contributed to the betting pool, so they felt sorta like they were witnessing history. The Lord Azazel left immediately after, but the younger demons still felt a little giddy.
Crowley was absently flicking through the latest report that he had written up. Despite being the Boss and all, paperwork was still a drag. It was rather important that everything get documented. If nothing got documented, Hell would be even more chaotic than it already was, and Crowley was getting a migraine just thinking about that. There was a small dragging sound, and the demon looked up from his paperwork. Adam trailed into the room and beelined over to his chair, holding something that rather resembled a dead rat in his hands. Crowley put his report aside for the moment to see what the matter was.
"It's puppet time! You be the chipmunk," Adam told him.
He plopped the large and furry object onto the demon's lap and looked up at him expectantly. Crowley looked down at the puppet and then back to the boy. Adam smiled back at him.
"You know, Adam, I'm not really a puppet kind of guy," Crowley said.
"I would do it for you," Adam responded.
His voice got all high pitched and pleading, dragging out the you. Crowley gave his son a slightly impressed look and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Ah, very good. Your very first guilt trip," the demon said.
The boy pouted, lower lip jutting out and wobbling a little. He looked up at Crowley with wide blue eyes, and Crowley just knew he was screwed. The demon heaved out a sigh and picked up the limp puppet from his lap.
"Alright, I'll do it," Crowley sighed. His voice became sterner for a few seconds as he continued speaking. "But don't tell anyone."
Crowley slipped the puppet on over his hand, and it reminded him of a rather stiff glove perhaps. He followed the little boy over to his play table and sat down backwards on one of the tiny plastic chairs. Adam lifted up his arm with the zebra puppet attached to it, and there was a fierce little scowl on his face.
"Rawr! I'm gonna get you, chipmunk," his son growled, lowering his voice like he was an angry predator. The demon lifted a brow in amusement.
"I'm pretty sure zebras don't rawr, hellspawn," Crowley said. "Or eat chipmunks."
"It's for the game, Daddy," Adam told him very seriously.
"Alright, fine. Your zebra's a carnivore, but what sound does he make?" Crowley asked.
"Rawr!" Adam repeated enthusiastically.
"What has that angel been teaching you?" Crowley sighed. He shook his head. "Now, if you want to be authentic, your zebra is going to sound a little more like this." Crowley cleared his throat and made a low sound, almost like a large cat growling and worked his way up to a high pitched yip. Adam giggled.
"Grrruff! was the sound that the boy ended up making.
"Eh, close enough. Alright. Let's try this again," Crowley said.
"I'm gonna get you, chipmunk!" Adam growled.
"Oh no, oh no! Don't eat me, fearsome striped beast!" Crowley said.
"You don't sound like a chipmunk," Adam told him. The demon lowered the puppet on his hand a little, feeling bemused.
"Well, how does a chipmunk sound?" Crowley asked.
"Squeaky," Adam replied.
"Huh. Okay." Crowley repositioned his chipmunk arm. "Oh no, oh no. Don't eat me, terrible one!" the demon said, pitching his voice slightly higher. The chipmunk puppet's arms wiggled around fearfully.
"Squeakier," Adam insisted. His voice actually cracked from trying to imitate how he wanted it to sound. Crowley rolled his eyes with a small grin and lifted his puppet again.
"Oh no, oh no! Don't eat me, you hooved horror!" the demon cried, feeling the vocal cords of his corporation itch a little at how squeaky he got his voice to be.
"Grrrr," Adam said. The zebra puppet swooped down toward the chipmunk puppet. "I'm gonna eat you, chipmunk."
"Dinner is ready, dear," Aziraphale interjected as he poked his head into the back room.
"Coming," Crowley said. He coughed, and his voice lowered to its usual timbre. "I mean, I'm coming. We're coming."
"You stay here and practice, Daddy. I'll go eat with Papa," Adam suggested.
He put his zebra puppet down on the table and started going toward the door. The nerve of that little brat. Crowley gaped at him for a moment before standing up, dropping the chipmunk puppet to the floor. The demon walked towards him imperiously.
"Why you little-" Crowley cut himself off to scoop the boy up from the ground, swinging him up into his arms. Adam made a squeal that melted into a giggle as Crowley spun him around. He could see his friend smiling out of the corner of his eye at them.
"Don't forget to put your toys away before you come to the table," Aziraphale said.
"Yes, Papa," Adam responded as Crowley finally lowered him back to the ground.
"You got it, angel," Crowley said. "Come on, Adam. Where'd you get these from anyway?"
"My toy box," Adam told him. He picked up his zebra puppet, and Crowley grabbed the chipmunk one.
Aziraphale was annoyed. No, annoyed was not the correct word for it. He was agitated. There were customers in the shelves, smelling of an unfortunate amount of money. That meant they were actually looking to buy one of his precious books. When he was determining his hours for this week, he thought that since this day was a holiday that it would be safe enough to be open for a few hours in the morning. Needless to say, he had been wrong, unfortunately. Ever since he had decided to help Crowley raise the small Antichrist, his opening hours had gotten even more ridiculously obscure and infrequent, but somehow, the customers always found a way.
It was rather frustrating. He had truly tried his best to get them out. He had made pointed comments about their choices and informed them that he was closing soon. He had done everything short of using a miracle to get them out the door, but these customers with their expensive handbags and luxurious coats would not budge until they found the perfect important sounding book to put in their sitting room, never to be read. What a travesty. Aziraphale was left to nervously smile and titter about the bookshop, praying to the Almighty that they did not buy a single book.
"So how much would this one cost, sir?" one of the women asked.
Aziraphale plastered on a polite smile and wandered over to the woman. Thankfully, she was holding one of his more modern books from the public display. He would go and set them out in order to deter some of the customers from his first editions. Her companions were nearing his more treasured books, and he barely managed not to glare. That would not be very angelic, would it?
"It doesn't have a price tag," the woman continued.
That was because he was never in the mood to sell a single one of his books. But he might be willing to part with this one if it got the woman and her friends to exit his establishment before they thought they wanted to purchase something else. It was not even a first edition. He was about to open his mouth to reply when there was a small clatter that caught his attention.
"Papa!" a young voice said.
Aziraphale blinked and turned around. He had thought the child was still upstairs coloring in his room. Adam trotted closer, holding a slightly crumpled piece of paper in his hands.
"Hello, dear. What have you got there?" Aziraphale asked.
"I drew you a picture. Do you like it?" Adam asked.
He lifted up the piece of paper to show him a squiggly crayon drawing of a tree. It had quite a few reddish splotches interspersed in the green mass of its leaves that the angel assumed were fruits of some sort. Perhaps apples.
"Oh, I love it," Aziraphale said. He smiled again, this time fond and genuine, and he took the paper that the boy shoved at him. "I believe that is desk worthy material. Don't you?"
"Yeah," Adam agreed, nodding his head.
Aziraphale walked over to his desk in the back of the bookshop and placed the picture the child had drawn right next to his pen and ink. Adam trailed after him. He could hear the woman huff impatiently near the front desk and set the book she had selected down.
"Do you wanna watch cartoons with me, Papa?" Adam asked.
"Well, after I tend to this customer-" Aziraphale started to say. The bell above the front entrance tinkled, and he saw the women leave. The angel felt relieved. "Never mind that, I suppose."
"So... cartoons?" Adam asked again.
"Sure, my dear," Aziraphale said. The child grinned and grabbed his hand, tugging him toward the stairs in the back. Aziraphale smiled and allowed him to do so.
Crowley leaned back in his throne at the the head of the Dark Council's table, mildly aggravated that he even had to be here. He hated being in Hell no matter the reason, and this was no exception. Also, he tended to get into a sort of mood when he went full Satan for long periods of time, and the last thing he wanted to do was expose Aziraphale or Adam to that. But needs must and all that nonsense. The demon curled his long fingers over the edges of the armrests, resisting the urge to kick his feet up on the high wooden table as Lord Beelzebub finally chose to speak up, the Accounting demon slipping back into her seat.
"Your Diszzhonor, if I may?" the Lord of the Flies buzzed.
"Uh, yeah. Sure, whatever," Crowley said, waving his hand for her to go on.
"Aszz we are all aware of, the Triumph of Evil and Victory Over Good iszz only szzix yearszz, eight monthszz, and fifteen dayszz from thiszz date. And we have much work to do szztill. The legionszz are being beaten back into szzhape for battle, my lord, but we do not currently have the mathematical balance of the angelic numberszz. If I need to ruszzh order a new batch or three of impszz, I need to do it szzoon," Beelzebub told him.
As much as he did not really want the End of Times to come about, what she was saying made sense. If they showed up to the party with a lack of soldiers, there was a great chance that the angels would get the upper hand. However, it also would not do for the Hordes of Hell to grossly outnumber the angelic ranks. No one wanted to listen to the whining if the Archangels complained that it was an unfair war, and they would tie Hell's clear victory up in red tape for millennia. He scraped a clawed finger against the table, frowning slightly.
"Alright. I'll speak to Michael," Crowley said.
Michael was a right bastard, but she was still practical. Logical. At least far more so than Gabriel could be. There was a reason that she was the one that would lead the angelic armies into the Last Battle. She would probably fork over the head count in exchange for their own.
"Anything else?" Crowley asked.
A new episode of Waybuloo was coming on tonight, and he had promised Adam that he would watch it with him and Aziraphale. One of the Princes of Hell cleared their throat, and Crowley flicked his serpentine eyes in their direction.
"Actually, my lord, we have prepared something for your son," Asmodeus ventured.
"You did, did you?" Crowley said, keeping his voice monotonous and unimpressed. He was in actuality somewhat apprehensive.
"Yes. Children enjoy their toys," Asmodeus continued. He thunked an intricately carved blade onto the Council table with a grin. The serrated edge glinted in the atrocious lighting. Crowley cocked a brow.
"You want to give my four year old son a sword?" he said flatly. A few of the Princes nodded, and Crowley let out a dark chuckle. "That is as big as he is. Perhaps in a few years when he has grown into his powers." With a flick of his wrist, the blade skidded off the table and landed in Asmodeus's lap. "Meeting adjourned. Get back to work."
It was not until nearly two months later that Crowley decided to seek out Michael. As it turned out, It ended up being a lot simpler than he had imagined to find the Archangel of Loyalty. Because Michael, unlike Gabriel, had invested in some of the newer technological advances that the humans had come up with such as mobile phones. Though to call what Michael used a mobile was not quite correct. It was not like there was a phone book with a bunch of ethereal beings' numbers, but so long as the intent was known, that worked the same.
"Michael," Crowley said.
The Archangel turned away from the line of trees soaked in moonlight to face him. She looked as cold and removed as he remembered, little flecks of gold ethereality dotting near her rich brown hairline that could be mistaken for some sort of fancy makeup. She had exchanged her Heavenly armor for a more human friendly pale grey suit with a fine set of ruffles laced over where a tie could go.
"Lucifer," Michael replied.
"Been a while, hasn't it?" Crowley said.
"Perhaps," Michael allowed coolly.
Her radiance seemed to spike for a moment, and Crowley responded in kind, letting his own unholy power seep out. Where their auras met, they recoiled with a hissing sound, rather like two cats disagreeing over the rightful ownership of a choice cushion or bit of tuna. Michael was the first to draw back, ever aware of the celestial time ticking on by. There would be plenty of time to squabble later. They had business to be getting to. There was a beat of silence that Crowley felt was rather awkward.
"I like your hair. Suits you," Crowley said.
"I have not done anything different to it since last we met," Michael responded. "Though yours appears to be shortening."
"I'm actually thinking of getting a haircut in a couple weeks," Crowley said. She raised a single brow minutely.
"I see," Michael replied.
"Something like this." He swiped open his phone screen and showed her a picture. "What do you think?" Crowley asked.
The Archangel looked at the photo on the screen for a moment, and she looked back at him, utterly unimpressed.
"Is your intention to resemble a hedgehog?" Michael asked. Crowley took a moment to give her a look. Those in Heaven simply had no taste. The Archangel remained unperturbed. "I was rather surprised that you were so concerned about our numbers. Has Hell's legendary Legion lessened?"
"Has Heaven's famed foresight forsaken you?" Crowley asked in response.
Michael's eyes did not narrow, and Crowley did not cross his arms in front of his chest. They both maintained their airs of indifferent neutrality, staring each other down what could have been hours or seconds. Michael smiled, the gentle, kindly smile of a politician in public who, having been elected unopposed for decades, was being challenged by someone forty years their junior. The nerve.
"We are simply looking out for you and wanted to ensure that you hadn't wandered from the path. You do have a history of being led astray, and that won't do for Armageddon. The Great Plan is quite precisely laid out, and we do want to play fair, lest you accuse us of winning through foul means," Michael remarked.
Crowley smiled, showing a bit more teeth than was strictly necessary.
"Likewise. Hell forbid that we win in a manner that did not come from a place of true equality," the demon said.
Both parties were, of course, lying through their teeth, and they both knew this. So really, there was no deception to be had. Though Michael would never outwardly admit to such a folly. She was an angel, and angels never lied.
"It would be a shame if everything weren't in perfect alignment for the day itself," Michael stated.
"Indeed," Crowley said dryly.
Michael extricated a single piece of crisp white paper from her suit jacket, and Crowley mimicked her. They exchanged slips of paper in a way that reminiscent of a pair of middle schoolers passing notes in class. Michael folded up the paper he had given her, vanishing it to an immaterial pocket, and she looked at him one last time.
"I would prefer not to be contacted by you again until Armageddon has begun," the Archangel told him.
"Same here," Crowley replied.
"Goodbye, Lucifer," Michael said.
She turned on her heel and strode off toward the sidewalk, disappearing into thin air somewhere in between that. Crowley crumpled up the piece of paper and let it catch flame in the palm of his hand, sending it down Below for his Advisors. The demon blew the ash out of his hand, and he decided to take the quick way home. With a sharp snap of his fingers, Crowley was standing in front of the angel's bookshop. He touched the doorknob, and it knew better to deny him entry. He was not some pesky human with a proclivity for vandalism.
Crowley started to walk toward the back room. Aziraphale would more than likely have his nose in a book or be working on his ancient script translations by now. The lights were off in the main room, but that was not particularly unusual. It was almost eleven in the evening, and his son would have gone to bed by now. Or at least, he should have been, but as he took a step toward the back room, a little person latched onto his leg, causing him to halt in place. Crowley looked down at his son, who beamed up at him with a bright smile.
"Daddy, you're back!" Adam said.
"Adam, what are you doing up?" Crowley asked. He reached down to pry the boy from his leg and lift him up into his arms. Adam wrapped his arms around Crowley's neck.
"Couldn't sleep," the boy mumbled. "You di'n't sing to me."
"You didn't ask Aziraphale for a bedtime story?" Crowley asked.
"It's not the same, Daddy. You have to sing to me, too," Adam insisted.
"Spoiled brat," Crowley muttered. He rubbed his son's back and kissed his cheek. "Alright. I'll sing to you."
Crowley carried the child up the stairs, letting him cling to him until they got up to his room. He plopped the boy down on his bed, and Adam went easily enough, wiggling under the covers. Crowley sat down in the chair next to the bed, crossing his legs at the ankles.
"Only one song, and then, you have to get to sleep, young man. Got it?" the demon said.
"Yes, Daddy," Adam replied.
Aziraphale puttered about his small bookshop kitchen, trying to organize some breakfast for the child. It was the boy's first day of schooling, after all, and that should be recognized. But nothing seemed to be quite working right. He had spent the last two hours attempting to make two lots of breakfast, toast with jam, and bacon and eggs, but he had burnt the bread, as well as the eggs and the bacon. He frowned as he tipped the burnt food into the trashcan. It was rather disappointing that he could not make one simple breakfast. Usually, he could manage to create something edible, but not today.
He could just miracle up some food, of course, but he always had preferred to use the human method in cooking. He leaned against the counter and sipped tea from his cup as he peered up into the cupboards at what he could give Adam for breakfast. Aziraphale had an urge to simply go and wake up Crowley to get his help, but no. He was going to do this himself. Finally, he noticed an unopened box of cereal on the counter. Well, if that was the best he was going to get, then it would have to do. Aziraphale grabbed up the cardboard box and determinedly started pouring it into a bowl.
Just as he was adding the milk to the bowl, the child wandered into the kitchen, wearing his pajamas and rubbing at his eyes. Adam smiled when he saw Aziraphale, and he moved over to hop onto his chair.
"Hi, Papa," the boy said. "Guess what?"
"What, dear?" Aziraphale asked as he placed the bowl in front of him.
"I have school today," Adam said. "Isn't that cool?" He picked up his spoon and dug into the cereal, bringing it to his mouth and chewing it with a crunch.
"It is," Aziraphale replied.
Crowley and Aziraphale went into the classroom with him. They greeted his teacher, a middle aged woman with a stern bun pulling her greying hair back from her face and soft kindly eyes. They had met her before. Her name was Mrs. Peterson, and Crowley knew, realistically, that Adam was in good hands. His son had gone over to join the other kids that were sitting on the carpet together, showing off various toys they had brought from home, and he was smiling. He did not look like he was out of sorts by being around these new people, so Crowley took that as a good sign. They trailed closer to the door.
"Oh, look. He's already made a friend," Crowley said. One of the little girls with a set of red braids running down her back was showing Adam her toy car. The demon smiled. "It was probably a good idea to bring him here-"
"I am not so sure, my dear," Aziraphale interrupted him. The demon blinked and looked at him, confused.
"Not so sure about what?" Crowley asked.
"I am not so sure that this was a good idea," Aziraphale said, giving one of his little displeased frowns that tended to mean he was feeling conflicted about something.
"Not a good idea? This was your idea," Crowley sputtered.
"Well, perhaps I was wrong. We could still wait another year before he has to go to primary school. Maybe it is too early still," Aziraphale said.
"Nursery school is important, angel. He'll get down a lot of basic skills before primary school, and he can make friends and interact with other little kids. He needs time with his own peers," Crowley reminded him.
The angel seemed to latch onto only one of his points.
"We could teach him those things! Maybe we should try homeschooling first-" Aziraphale started to say.
"Are you out of your mind?" Crowley almost shrieked. He adored Adam, perhaps more than he should, but even that was too extreme for him. "The reason we did this in the first place was so we could have more time for ourselves! Homeschooling? You really want to spend every single minute of the day with the boy? Never have the time to go to Ritz again, always listen to music like Old McDonald Had a Farm? Angel, what the Heaven? Don't you miss good music and food at all?"
A couple of younger parents were standing close to them, having just said goodbye to their kid.
"See, John? Gay people have marriage problems, too," the woman whispered to her husband.
"We aren't married," Crowley snapped, not even bothering to turn around and look at her. The angel reached out, lightly touching his arm with a small frown.
"Dear, I thought you were upset that we would have to separate from Adam when we brought him to class, though?" Aziraphale said.
Crowley felt himself flush slightly. His neck grew warmer. He had definitely not been on the opposite end of this argument just twenty four hours ago.
"That's so sweet," one of the mothers there alone gushed.
"Well, n-no, I was not. I was just worried that he would like it better at home than here and be sad," Crowley managed to get out.
They glanced over to where Adam was playing with the little girl. The two children were making engine noises and bonking their toy cars into each other. A fond smile slipped unbidden onto Crowley's mouth. The angel's fretful expression seemed to soften.
"Well, It seems there are no worries there, my dear," Aziraphale said.
"It wasn't like he didn't want to come," Crowley agreed.
"I suppose... he will be fine. We will see him again in only a few hours," Aziraphale said slowly.
"Exactly," Crowley confirmed.
There was a beat of silence that was filled only with the background chatter of parents and children.
"We should probably get going," Aziraphale decided.
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Crowley said.
If he hung around any longer, he might be tempted to take Adam back home, and as a demon, Crowley rarely wanted to resist a temptation. Though, there were certain exceptions, naturally. Besides, as much as he wanted to, they could not simply keep the boy in a bubble with only them forever. The two of them walked outside of the classroom, having already said their farewells to the boy. They stood next to the door for a moment.
"What should we do now?" Crowley asked.
"Now we can go and have lunch," Aziraphale said.
"But it's only eight in the morning," Crowley reminded him.
"Breakfast, then," Aziraphale amended. "We could go to that little Italian restaurant. The one with the little-"
"Ah, that one, yeah," Crowley responded, nodding. He knew the one he was talking about. Aziraphale gave him one of his pleased little smiles.
Despite being a demon, Crowley tended to consider himself to be a reasonable being. Aziraphale, however, seemed willing to test the limits on his reason too often. Take now, for instance. The angel was standing at the backroom of the bookshop, holding a costume in one hand and pointing at it with the other one, a wide honest smile across his face. The costume Crowley was looking at was, to put it mildly, horrifying. Or at least it is for Crowley's standards. The demon narrowed his eyes and reigned in the urge to cross his arms.
"Angel, what the Heaven is that?" Crowley asked while pointing lazily at the whole situation before him.
"It is your costume for Halloween," Aziraphale replied.
Crowley narrowed his eyes further for a moment.
"I am not putting that on," the demon said adamantly.
Aziraphale's smile faded slightly, and his lips turned down in a small pout. He seemed disappointed.
"Why not?" Aziraphale asked.
Why not? WHY NOT? Crowley took a deep breath and looked at the costume again, expecting something had changed in the thirty seconds that had passed since the beginning of this conversation. It had not. It was still a big fluffy green lizard costume with red spikes that poked out from the top of its head to the bottom of its tail. It was ridiculous. There is no way in Heaven or Hell he was wearing that.
"Because I am an occult being!" Crowley protested. "A demon. I'm - I'm the opposite of anything that is nice or cute or FLUFFY!"
When Crowley met Aziraphale's eyes, they were open wide and gleaming. His free hand was now fiddling with the cuff on his sleeve. He looked... well, he looked sad and soft and... and he absolutely knew what he was doing. His friend was such a bastard.
"Please?" Aziraphale said. "For me?"
Crowley let out a sigh, exhaling through his nose. Okay, so maybe there was a way. Big deal. He snatched the stupid green costume from the angel's hands, and Aziraphale gave him an approving smile.
"Now, you and the boy will match," the angel remarked, delighted.
"Oh, for somebody's sake. You got one for him, too?" Crowley said. The look on Aziraphale's face was answer enough. "I'm not letting you be in charge of Halloween costumes next year."
"Now, my dear. Surely it isn't that bad," Aziraphale remarked.
"Tch," was the demon's response as he walked out of the room and left to go change into the ridiculous ensemble.
Crowley had been adamant about not taking Adam trick or treating when he had been just a few years younger mostly due to the fact that he would have been too little to really understand what was going on. Also, the whole point of it was for the boy to enjoy himself, and neither Aziraphale or Crowley had ever gone about and celebrated the holiday on their own before. Crowley zipped up the side of Adam's green lizard costume, and the boy bounced excitedly, stomping his feet in the plush paw like feet on the carpet. He smiled up at Crowley.
"Look, Daddy! I'm a dinosaur," Adam told him.
...oh. That made a bit more sense than 'stupid green lizard'. Huh. He was still totally going to call it a stupid green lizard in his head, though.
"Oh, look at that. I am, too," Crowley said. He adjusted the red spikes of the head piece, lining them up along the center of his son's head.
"Is Papa going to be a Mama dinosaur? 'Cause you're the Daddy Dinosaur, and I'm the little dinosaur," Adam spouted.
"Uh... I don't know, actually. Let's go see what he's up to," Crowley said. He took Adam's candy bag from the counter and handed it to the boy. They walked over to the other end of the bookshop. "Angel? Where'd you go?"
"In here, dear," Aziraphale replied. The angel walked out from the hall, and Crowley blinked. Slowly. Adam giggled.
"Well, aren't you orange?" Crowley remarked bluntly.
"You're a pumpkin," Adam said. "That's pretty cool."
"Why thank you, dear boy," Aziraphale replied.
"Now everybody can go trick or treating," Adam said.
Hastur was a very lurky sort of demon. One might even say that he was a professional lurker as it were. When he was not making sure that the lower level demons did their dastardly work, he would go Topside to do the more fun Tempting side of his job. All it took was a persistent bit of manipulation, and he could make even the most pious of men rescind their virtues for something far more interesting. Hell had a rather low tolerance for failure, so it was safe to say that being good - or bad in this case - at your job was the better thing to be.
The Duke of Hell had tempted many a human on Hallow's Eve to give into either lust, greed, pride, or wrath. Their minds were directed toward the darker impulses on such a night anyway, and all he had to do was give one or two of them a little push. It was perfect. Hastur slunk along the shadows, searching for a target to begin his corruption. The heels of his worn dark boots thudded against the cement, and pale smoke whirled around his face as he exhaled, breathing out a cloud drawn from his cigarette. Hastur felt a familiar presence and turned his head in the direction of his King.
He stared. And stared some more. And maybe one more time for good measure. Hastur rubbed the heel of his hand hard over his eyes and looked back. Nope. His corporeal form was not experiencing some sort of visionary hallucination. That was definitely Lucifer wearing a fluffy green dinosaur costume. Standing next to an angel wearing a bright orange pumpkin. A much smaller than he had expected Antichrist wore the same attire as his father, hopping around a puddle on the ground and holding a white cloth bag in his little hands.
Fuck. Their Dark Lord really was whipped, wasn't he? And that clueless angel of his did not even have any idea of any of it.
Everyone Downstairs had heard about how much Lucifer seemed to be infatuated with that Principality, but rarely was evidence this clear and irrefutably in front of his face. The angel whispered something to Satan, and he laughed. The Boss turned his head, almost in his direction, and Hastur panicked. He was not really doing anything, but this could be mistaken for interference. And the last thing any demon wanted was to piss off Lucifer. Hastur let the ground swallow him up, dropping through the Gates with an uncharacteristic burst of speed and landed right on his arse under the leak in the ceiling by his desk, knocking over the bucket.
"That was fast," Ligur said.
His chameleon faded yellow. Hastur pushed himself up to his feet and kicked the bucket back up. He walked over to the other Duke.
"Wanna know what I just saw?" Hastur asked.