Crawly hadn't meant to stick his nose in, really. He'd just been following the herd. And what a herd; two of every animal, moving as if pulled by some inexplicable force towards the enormous boat some idiot was building in the middle of the desert.
It wasn't a huge surprise, to be honest, coming across Aziraphale right on the site of the boat in question. Aziraphale and madmen had some sort of natural affinity that drew them together at every opportunity - unless, of course, this was God’s own stupid boatbuilding project.
Of course, it was. Of course it was. Crawly stared in horror as the angel - who he’d always thought was a fairly decent chap, underneath all that hideous piety - explained what the boat was for.
"Not the kids? You can't kill kids." But of course they could, and they would. Was there no end to the depravity of Heaven?
Which was why, as the rain grew heavier, Crawly found himself not, as Aziraphale had awkwardly suggested, riding the Ark as one of ‘two celestial beings of original angel stock’. If the angel wanted company, he could talk to the lone unicorn; Crawly was busy. Crawly was shouting at a tree.
"Grow, you useless thing! Taller than that! All this water and you can’t grow any faster? You’re pathetic, that’s what you are! Grow, for the love of Satan, grow!"
What he was doing wasn’t good, he told himself irritably as he helped a screaming child up into the branches. It was definitely going to annoy God, especially since the tree in question was an apple tree. At least, it had been an apple tree; now its limbs had broadened beyond recognition, and it stood taller than any tree Crawly had yet encountered, and while its fruits still looked like apples, the insides had become something far more nourishing. But the point was that he’d chosen an apple tree to harbour a horde of tiny future sinners, and if God ever noticed, that was sure to really get Her goat.
The little ones cried, of course, and Crawly almost wept with them. He’d been learning a lot about the humans, and they were quite interesting little characters, actually - no two alike. He’d been putting the effort in, a temptation here, a crisis of faith there, and now it was all going to be wasted, for what? Because God was a little tetchy ? It was a blessed shame, was what it was, and Crawly couldn’t keep them all. Perhaps with a bit more warning, or with a better tree - he growled at it, and it grew two feet out of sheer terror - but he hadn’t had any warning, and this was the best he could do under the circumstances. He had packed the tree with children, and a handful of parents he’d thought he might need in order to control them, and now the floodwaters had risen to cover everything in sight but the tree itself. The water kept rising, and Crawly kept hissing threats, and the tree kept growing, keeping the feet of those seated on the lowest branches just above water level.
A small child sitting near Crawly was sobbing quietly, and none of the other adults seemed to have the time to deal with it, so Crawly shuffled along the branch to see what was the matter.
"What’s the noise for?" He asked, and the child shrank back, almost toppling into the stormy seas below them. Crawly caught her by the back of her tunic and hauled her back to safety; no sinner wasted. "There, don’t be frightened. What’s wrong?"
"I can’t find my mummy and daddy," she told him, "they were always cross but they looked after me. Who’s going to look after me now?"
"I am," Crawly told her, before he could think about it too hard. "I'm going to look after all of you." The little girl stared at him for a moment with a thoughtful frown too old for her face, and Crawly became aware that she wasn't the only one looking. He met each frightened gaze in turn, and heard the word demon pass between some of the adults. He heard the word angel, too. Yeah, he wished one of them was in his place as much as everyone else obviously did, but they were stuck with him for now. He turned to one of the women, one with a kind face and a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "I don't know how."
"This is a start," she told him, gesturing at the tree, "the rest, you will learn. We'll teach you."
The little girl tugged at his sleeve, peering curiously up at him.
"Thank you, Mr Yellow-Eyes."
"It's Crawly." He closed his eyes, aware of the panic they spread whenever anyone looked too closely, but they sprang open again as a small pair of arms tried to wrap around him, squeezing like a constrictor's coils.
"They're pretty eyes, Mr Crawly."
Forty days and forty nights passed, and everyone was getting very tired of eating apples by the time the water began to recede. There were no bodies beneath the waves; it was as though the people who'd drowned had never existed at all. Well, good. That meant he didn't need to clean it up to protect the kids.
The tree shrank down gradually, allowing people to alight safely as it approached its normal size. Crawly and the other parents swung child after child down from the branches until, finally, they were all standing together on firm ground again. He felt the world spinning around him, and tried to remember whether you were supposed to be able to feel that. He didn't think so.
"That tree," he told the humans, "should provide for you until the animals and stuff come back. Stay away from those colours in the sky and God shouldn't find you. Don't let Her find you- Oh, shit." And with that, he disappeared.
Hell was, even so soon after the Beginning, one long shambling queue. It would be centuries before anyone finally agreed with Crawly that it should be replicated on Earth, and even then it would only be because he'd already done it. Of course, Crawly didn't know that at the time of the Flood, but he did know that queuing was an inevitable part of a visit to hell.
So it was a surprise to materialise directly in Beelzebub's putrid little office.
"Lord Beelzebub." He wasn't sure why Beelzebub was a lord, exactly, but all his questions on the subject had been met with dire threats and he'd given up quite quickly. “This is unexpected.”
“What the Heaven are you doing, Crawly? Saving mortal children? That’s not what we do.”
“God wanted them dead.” He shrugged. “Figured they must be evil waiting to happen.”
“Still-” Lord Beelzebub didn’t seem convinced, but Crawly pressed on.
“It’s a big slap in the face for her really. For one thing, I hid them in an apple tree. Bit of a callback to old evils there, eh? Clever, I thought. And besides, it’s going to be so much easier to sow doubt in people’s minds if their all-powerful Almighty can’t even wipe out a few human children without being thwarted.”
“Thwarting’s their job. We tempt, they thwart, that’s how it goes.”
“Ah, but now we’ve thwarted them. That’s gonna throw them right off their game.”
“Right.” Beelzebub probably hadn’t followed any of that, but Crawly was at his most persuasive and that sort of confidence was hard to argue with. “Well, then. If you’re going to do stupid things like that, could you try not to discorporate? You needing a new vessel means paperwork for both of us.”
“Did I? Discorporate?” He’d never done it before; it hadn’t been as unpleasant as he’d expected.
“No, because I summoned you. You were right on the verge, though. Don’t do it again,” Beelzebub’s tone made it very clear that they weren’t speaking out of concern. “Off you go. Any plans?”
“Well. Since I’ve saved those evil tykes, I suppose I’d better make sure they grow up good and evil. Don’t want to leave a job half-done. Better go, actually, it’s probably rush hour out there.” Crawly gestured vaguely towards the corridors of Hell, and Beelzebub shrugged.
“It’s always rush hour out there. You’re dismissed.”
The sun beat down upon the Earth, baking the Mesopotamian soil dry. A lonely figure emerged from behind a tree and stood awkwardly, wondering if he should make himself known or simply go on his way. His gaze was fixed on a little girl, a little girl who was burying a fallen apple.
“This one’s a bad apple,” she was telling the younger children, “bad for eating, but not bad for growing. One day it’ll be its own tree with so, so many branches!”
“And if the rain comes, we can live in it?”
“If the rain comes, we can live in it,” she confirmed, glancing towards the tree the apple had fallen from. And then, as she noticed the demon standing there, she dropped everything and ran, face lit up in a smile as blinding as the sun above. “Uncle Crawly!”
Crawly had never envisioned himself as the kind of person who was mobbed by delighted children, but he couldn’t bring himself to try to scare them off.
“You’re back,” the little girl told him, as if daring him to disagree, and he smiled.
“I’m back. So, what are we doing? Planting apples, is it? Great idea, diabolical, well done. Need a hand?”
And if Crawly spent the next twenty years raising a crop of children, it was only to make sure they had every opportunity for evil. Obviously.