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The Truth Remains

Chapter Text



And if we feel the silence
Holding this all inside us
Everything means more now than
Words could explain




He can feel them coming. His siblings. His family. He knows what Lucifer expects of him, what the Plan says he should do. He won ’t do it. He can’t. He was Her healer. He can’t fight. Can’t kill. Not ever. And especially, not them. He drops his blade. Dark armor follows, piling at the feet of this body that has already been broken and re-formed to Lucifer’s will. He may be Falling, may have already Fallen, but he isn’t going to fight in this war.

 

By the time they arrive, he ’s wearing only his robes, black wings limp behind him. He spreads his arms, and welcomes his own destruction.

 

When it ’s over, they throw his body from Heaven, expecting the boiling sulfur below to destroy what is left. He closes his eyes and lets his soul fade into oblivion.

 

I STILL HAVE PLANS FOR YOU RAPHAEL

 

His body slams into Hell, sinking, burning, down and down into the roiling pit. Fire consuming blood and bone and flesh. Soon nothing will be left.

 

LIVE, MY FALLEN SON

 

He opens his eyes, body taking a deep gasping breath. Sulfur floods in, burning, cauterizing, changing him again. It hurts. It burns, and he screams and screams again.

 

 

 

The first thing he notices is the silence. An empty, ringing nothingness where once there had been six bright voices. He strains his ears for the happy chatter of Gabriel’s thoughts. The steady calm of Michael’s words. The bright sunny glow of Uriel’s dreams. Even the angry mutterings from Sandalphon. Nothing. Just silence, his own thoughts echoing in the emptiness. He reaches for the place in him that ties his siblings together, and brushes the raw bleeding wound that remains. He screams, and unconsciously tries to project his anguish through the bond. His mental cries increase the pain in a feedback loop that nearly drives him insane. There’s physical pain too, half-healed wounds that tear open anew at his thrashing. He remembers the feeling of blades sinking into flesh, of the ones he called family casting him out, of burning and dying so desperately alone. It’s all around him, within and without. He cannot tell where pain ends and he begins. He is pain, screaming, alone into the aching Silence. It could be minutes, hours, or even years that he lies there in the dirt, stuck in an endless cycle of anguish.

 

“Oh dear. You’re not supposed to be here.” A voice. A voice outside his own head. He keeps his eyes firmly shut, fighting the disorientation. He Fell. They cast him out. His siblings cast him out, throwing him down into the pit with the rest of the rebellious Fallen. He isn’t in the pit now. Somehow, he climbed out. He doesn’t remember that. His new body is burned in places, especially the underside where he crawled across the burning sands of Hell. It hurts, but the pain is secondary to the raw wounds in his mind.

 

Cool hands pick him up and he squirms, afraid. Where they touch, the hurt fades. He shakes from the shock of it, the sudden absence another kind of pain.

 

“Poor thing. It’s alright now. You’re safe.” The voice is soft, kind. It’s warmth flows over him, soothing the ragged edges of his shredded bond.

 

He opens his eyes. His physical form has become small, scaled, long and limbless. A snake, he realizes. Fitting, he supposes. Snakes had always been his symbol. A forked tongue darts out from his mouth, tasting the air. The sweet greenness of Eden surrounds him, with something else, something that tastes like electricity. Like lightning. An angel. He’s being held by an angel. An angel, who is running those cool, gentle hands along his scales, easing the burns with a touch. He moves his head, and through the dizziness he sees a face. He squints, looking at the angel’s Grace through watering eyes. It’s hard. His eyes don’t want to focus. But soon they clear, and the true nature of the angel becomes visible, infinitely familiar and as dear to him as his former siblings. He hisses and recoils in shock. Of all the angels that could have found him like this, it had to be that one.

 

 

“What’s the most important part of being a principality?” Raphael asks, leaning forward and catching the attention of the young angel.

 

Aziraphale frowns at him, not, seemingly, intimidated by the sudden intensity of an archangel ’s focus. “I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking!”

 

Raphael shakes his head and grins. The Principality Aziraphale has been asking that question of every higher-ranking angel he met since he ’d been given his title. The archangel has been watching him for hours now, consumed by curiosity. It’s a flaw, he knows. He’s not meant to be curious. Be he wants to know so much, about everything. And right now, the thing he wants most to know is the answer that will satisfy the new principality.

 

“Didn’t your teachers tell you?” he asks. He lets his gaze drift over Aziraphale’s Grace, seeing him as he is and not just as he appears. The angel shifts uncomfortably under his gaze but doesn’t back down.

 

“They told me we’re meant to guide Her creations. That we must keep them on track for the Great Plan.”

 

Raphael makes a face. The Great Plan. Lucifer has shared what he knows of the Great Plan with Raphael, despite Her orders not to. The archangel still doesn ’t know how he feels about it.

 

“They’re wrong,” he says.

 

Any other angel would have gasped and looked shocked before politely pretending he hadn ’t said anything. Aziraphale just nods and smiles. “What is it then? The most important part of being a principality?”

 

Raphael leans in, like he ’s telling a secret. “You care,” he tells him. “You care about the people you’re sent to guide. That’s the most important part of being a principality.”

 

Aziraphale considers his words for a moment. Raphael watches, prepared to see his answer discarded like all the others the principality has gotten so far. Instead, Aziraphale smiles, frustration clearing from his face. “Yes,” he says, relieved. “Yes, I think you’re quite right. I won’t get anywhere with them, if I don’t care about them. Thank you, this makes me feel a great deal better.”

 

Raphael can ’t help but match that smile. “Happy to help. That’s my job, after all. You lot get to do the guiding of Her creatures. We do the guiding for you.”

 

“And the caring?” the younger angel asks. Raphael laughs - a bright, clear sound of joy that rings across Heaven. Though neither of them know it, it is the very first time an angel has laughed in all of Creation.

 

“And the caring,” he agrees, and laughs again. Unnoticed by either angel, a very specific form of caring has taken root in Raphael’s heart, so swiftly and so deep that even his Fall will not destroy it.

 

 

“Oh, oh dear, I’m sorry, did that hurt you?” Aziraphale asks, hands stilling and then resuming the gentle caress of his scales, the touch as light as a feather. “Hang on, just a little more and you’ll be done.” Where he touches the newly made demon, the angel leaves a trace of healing magic, soothing the burns of hellfire and the singed and blackened wounds from his sibling’s swords. Aziraphale talks as he works, soft, calming words that wash against the echoing silence and drive it back, holding it at a distance where the demon can feel its presence but not the ragged pain of it. The relief is so complete that he almost doesn’t realize when Aziraphale finishes healing his body.

 

“There,” the angel says, setting him down carefully on a sun-warmed rock. He aches again at the sudden loss of touch, of connection. “That’s better, isn’t it?”

 

Anger boils up in him, far too quickly. The new, aching, bitter part of him rages against the careless way Aziraphale just picked up and healed a demon. Doesn’t the angel have a shred of self-preservation? “You sssssssshouldn’t have,” he snaps, hissing around the words. He can’t do things like that. What if it had been a different demon? “Don’t you know what I am?”

 

“You’re a demon,” Aziraphale replies calmly. “That’s not a reason to not help you, though.”

 

He laughs. It’s harsh, angry. So far from the bright sound he used to make, like shattered glass in his throat. “Angel,” he says, “that’ssss the only reason.”

 

“I’m a principality,” Aziraphale tells him. “I’m supposed to care about everything. I don’t see why that doesn’t include demons.”

 

Oh Aziraphale, he thinks. You haven’t changed a bit. The rush of fondness is too much, on top of everything else. He can’t do this. Can’t sit here, and talk to Aziraphale like he’s just some demon that crawled into the garden. Can’t let the angel care about him, when everything they’ve ever been taught has said he shouldn’t.

 

“Don’t,” he snaps, uncoiling. “Don’t- hsssssss- don’t care about me.” He slithers off the rock and into the greenery of the Garden.

 

“Wait,” the angel calls after him. “What’s your name?”

 

He doesn’t answer.

 

He doesn’t know how to answer.

 

Raphael died at the end of the war, killed by the four remaining archangels. The demon that survives has no name. She didn’t take it back. Oh, no, She isn’t kind enough for that. The old name hangs, heavy, on his heart. It will get him killed, should the demons know it. And if an angel sees it… he knows all too well the pain his Fall caused his siblings. Better they think him dead. Better Aziraphale never knows what truly happened to the archangel that taught him to care for the earth. He thinks about it, as he slithers farther from the angel. The problem takes his mind from the ache, the burn of the silence that screams within him where Aziraphale’s soothing hands cannot heal. Crawly, he decides eventually, when he’s crawled into a small cave near the forbidden tree. It’s what he does now, after all. And it’s so far from his former name, no one will even think to connect the two. He takes the old sounds, the syllables, the sigil that marks him as Raphael, and buries them deep within his heart.

Chapter Text

It’s a few days later, after he’s done everything that the Great Plan said he was meant to do, when he stands on the wall next to Aziraphale in human form once again. He’s taken pains to hide any remnants of his former identity, and stands secure in the knowledge that Aziraphale will not recognize him. His Grace is gone, and while the essence that remains could still be recognized, he knows how to redirect another’s gaze, how to lock the core of himself so tightly behind layers of walls that you would have to really work to see it. It wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny by his sib- the archangels, but it will fool anyone else he might come into contact with. His new human form is different too, taller, all sharp angles and lines. He tries to think of the eyes as a blessing, snakelike and so vibrantly yellow, so different from his former soft amber-brown. They’re demonic enough that no one will even think to look for the former archangel in him. It makes him feel a bit easier about the one thing he kept from his old form. His hair is still red, still long cascades of curls. The color is darker now, like the cooling embers of a fire instead of the vibrant red of a new-formed nebula, but it’s a color he likes quite a bit. He should have changed it, he knows, but it’s comforting, to have something of his old self still. Almost like he hasn’t really lost everything. He thought it might help. It doesn’t.

 

The silence inside him still hurts, and he’s beginning to expect it always will. That raw place where the bond had been has not even begun to heal, and even examining it causes fissures of pain to shoot through his essence. Sometimes, when he sleeps, he thinks he can hear them still. Echoes falling down through what little remains of their bond. It’s wishful thinking, surely. The pathways between his mind and theirs are shredded, broken, incapable of holding together long enough to project a single thought. And he knows what would happen if he tried to contact them, gave them any hint that he was still alive. They would come back to kill him, and do it properly this time. He has enough self-preservation left to know he doesn’t want that to happen. It doesn’t stop him from praying that She will care for them now, since he cannot. Not that it helps. She will no longer hear his words. He’s become unforgivable. A demon. And all he’d ever done was want to know why.

 

“Well, that went down like a lead balloon,” he says to Aziraphale, as they watch the first humans make their way across the desert. The angel laughs nervously, and Crawly almost misses his reply as the sound of his voice washes over him. Soothing. Cooling the raw ache of loneliness. And for that brief moment he doesn’t feel so alone in his head anymore. So he chatters. Tries to keep the angel speaking, to feel more of that blessed relief. He had contemplated going back to Hell, seeking out Lucifer, and showing him who he really was. He wants to think that their bond, at least, could be healed. But no, he knows better. He was the one that had cut the first of the Fallen from their minds in the first place. His thoughts had been so fill of rage and pain, even then, with anguish and betrayal lancing through their connection until Raphael had been forced to cut it himself to protect their siblings. He doesn’t even know if anything remains of his brother in the newly crowned King of Hell. He’s not even sure much remains of himself.

 

“He was kind, once,” Crawly tells Aziraphale as they watch the first thunderstorm sweep across the desert. He’s warm, protected under the angel’s wings, and though he knows he doesn’t deserve it he can’t bring himself to leave. The first humans have made a small camp, and it warms him to see the sword that Aziraphale gave them, helping them find a way to survive. He doesn’t ask why the angel gave it away. He’s not sure he wants to hear that answer.

 

“Hmm?” Aziraphale asks, glancing at the demon.

 

“Lucifer,” Crawly says. “He was kind, once. Before… all of this.” He gestures to the world around them. Internally, he kicks himself for bringing this up. But it had been the first topic to come to mind as they started running out of more innocent things to say, and he can’t let the conversation die now. He’s not ready to face the silence on his own.

 

Aziraphale gives him a sharp look. “You knew him?”

 

Crawly shrugs. “Not really. Just, I talked to him a bit, yeah? He used to like talking to angels. Didn’t matter what rank we were.”

 

The angel at his side frowns, and turns his gaze back to the humans. “Well, I don’t know about that. He seemed like he was just doing it for appearances.”

 

The demon wants to be offended, but he can’t help but remember how much he’d trusted Lucifer. And how that trust had been returned. He knows Aziraphale is right. “Still, he didn’t seem like the sort to cause all of… well. That’s the Great Plan though, right?”

 

“Ineffable,” Aziraphale agrees. Then, after a moment of silence where Crawly tries desperately to come up with something else to keep the angel talking, to drown out the silence, he adds “Still. I guess you have a point. Raphael was kind. Really kind, like he meant it and wasn’t just trying to make friends because he was important. He could be… he could be a bit of an idiot, really, always laughing, grinning at me like I was in on some joke he’d told. But he cared. And he tried so hard to do what was right.” He pauses, then adds, in a softer, almost broken voice, “They told me he fell, too.”

 

Crawly freezes at the sound of his old name, then forces himself to relax, to act as if the word means nothing to him. “Oh, I’m sure he was just as false as old Luci,” he drawls, leaning back against the wall in way that suggests his human spine has too many vertebrae. He tries to distract himself by the feel of his new body. He rather likes it, he thinks. It lets him move with more freedom than his old form ever did. It’s not an even trade, not at all, but he’s got to take what he can get.

 

To his surprise, Aziraphale rounds on him with real anger, divine wrath flashing in his eyes. “If you’re going to talk like that, then you can- you can just leave. Raphael was not false. He was- he was kind, and, and good, and honest, and- and he was the best of all of them. And I won’t have anyone saying any different.”

 

“He Fell, angel,” Crawly reminds him, bitter, and the words taste like ash in his mouth. “Just like the rest of us demons.”

 

“I don’t care!” the angel yells at him. “I don’t care if he fell, if he’s a demon now. I wouldn’t even care if he was human, or, or anything else. He was kind to me, and everyone else he met. He was beautiful, and bright, and Heaven is so much less without him in it.” To both of their shock, tears form in Aziraphale’s eyes. Crawly hates himself a little more for bringing the topic up, for Falling, for causing this angel pain that he never deserved.

 

“Hey, it’s alright, don’t cry.” He reaches out a hand, then thinks better of it. The angel won’t want a demon to comfort him like that. “I’m sure he’s fine, down there with everyone else. He’ll be back up topside, causing trouble in no time.” Does he know? The demon wonders. Does he know what the other archangels did when I Fell?

 

“He’s not,” Aziraphale sobs, and Crawly really can’t help himself. He reaches out and runs a soothing hand up and down the angel’s lower back, just below his wings. “They said- they said he died. That the others, they killed him, rather than let him fall.”

 

A bright flash. The point of a sword erupting from his chest. Fire licking at the blood from the wound. Uriel ’s screams as his vision goes black. Falling. Falling. Falling, and something in him refusing to give up. His body twisting, Grace burning away, wings burning to black, turning twisted and dark as he loses everything he’s ever loved.

 

“Maybe that’s for the best,” Crawly tells him gently. He’s glad they announced his death. It makes it less likely anyone will think to look for the fallen archangel in a crawling demon like him. “It’s… Falling, it isn’t… well. Let’s just say there are worse things than death and leave it at that. Leastwise, if he died, he didn’t have to go through the rest of it.” He can’t help the pain that creeps into his voice at the thought of it. Death would have been preferable, he thinks. He’d welcomed death. She hadn’t let him.

 

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says, sniffling a little still. “I didn’t mean- here I am, getting all upset, but you’re the one that’s just been through, well, all of that.”

 

“Oh, don’t you worry about me,” the demon says, placing both hands behind his head and forcing his body to relax, like none of this means anything to him. He forces down the pain, and tries to ignore the silence in his head. “Not like I’d get to do this if I was still, you know.”

 

“An angel?” Aziraphale asks, and Crawly nods, latching onto the change of topic with desperation. He had always been far too busy to just sit and admire Her creations like this. It strikes him as somewhat ironic that now, when admiring Her work is the last thing he wants, he finally has time to examine it.

 

“I doubt I’d ever get down here, if I was still Up There. ‘S nice. Think I might hang around a while, see what more trouble I can get into.” He grins, and then laughs at the look on the angel’s face. It still sounds like shattered glass in his throat, missing the brightness of innocent joy.

 

Aziraphale settles down, sliding back to sit upright against the wall beside him. “What were you then?” he asks. “What kept you so busy you couldn’t come down to see Earth, if you wanted?”

 

“Starsmith,” Crawly says instantly. It’s not even a lie. He’d worked with the starsmiths, building stars and nebulae, whenever he got the chance. He’d enjoyed the act of creation.

 

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Raphael turns to see Aziraphale walking towards him, eyes on the hot bit of star-stuff in his hands. “Is that… is that a star?” The angel sounds awed, and he holds out a hand, hesitating, but clearly wanting to touch.

 

“No,” Raphael grins at his friend. “It’s a new kind of animal.” He smirks at Aziraphale’s expression, then relents. “Yes, it’s a star. Don’t touch, though. I don’t want you to get burned.” His hands were made to work with pure Creation, but not Aziraphale. The principality was made to guide, not create. To touch the heart of a star would leave him with terrible burns, and Raphael would protect him from all harm if he could.

 

“Ah, thank you.” The younger angel retracts his hand, but still stares, awed, at the glowing fire Raphael is shaping.

 

“This is Alpha Centauri B,” the archangel tells him. “That’s it’s companion star, over there.” He nods to a ball of fire contained within a clear box, already complete and ready for transport to it’s ordained place in the sky. “I’ll be taking them up tomorrow, if this lot will get off their asses and finish the planets.” The starmsiths around the room protest, and he laughs, sending sparks to sting the backside of one that made a rude gesture at him.

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale looks away for a moment, and Raphael can’t read his expression.

 

“Did you need me for something?” he asks, concerned. Aziraphale has been doing well, learning from the teachers how to be a principality. Raphael hasn’t had to step in since that first question, but sometimes he’s come by, offering help to the newest members of the Heavenly Host. And sometimes he has sought the angel out, coming to him on the rare chance he gets to be in the Garden, not for any particular reason, just to talk. Sometimes Aziraphale finds him, when they both have a little time to rest. But he has never come to him in the workshops before, here in the seat of Creation.

 

“No, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t-” the angel wrings his hands, a very human gesture that endears him a little more to the archangel.

 

Raphael puts down the star and reaches out, a hand still warm form holding star-fire pressing agains the angel ’s arm. “Aziraphale. What is it? Has something happened in the Garden?” He’s been hearing more and more rumors, awful ones, about angels turning away from Her light, something about being unhappy with Her love for the newest creatures in Eden. He wouldn’t put it past some of them to have begun causing more trouble near the source of their displeasure. A chill runs through him, thinking about what might happen to Aziraphale if the dissenters try to attack the Garden.

 

“No, no, it’s nothing like that. I just-” he looks down at Raphael’s hand on his arm. “You’ve been so busy lately. I thought, well. I was wondering if- But no, of course, you have better things to do than wander around in the Garden with me.”

 

Raphael sighs. He hates how little time he has anymore. Her Plan is swinging into motion, and he and his siblings have been charged with the overseeing of it. It ’s a great honor. And he does know how important it all is. But sometimes he wishes he could go back to the times when it was easy to take an hour or two, drop down into the Garden, and just have a quiet conversation with Aziraphale.

 

“I want to come to the Garden,” he tells the angel, dropping his usual air of mischief in favor of meeting Aziraphale’s eyes with complete sincerity. “I do. But She requires my assistance now, with everything going on.” It’s been so long since any of them heard from Lucifer. It’s been hard, stepping up to fill his shoes as well as his own. He and Michael trade off on Lucifer’s duties now, but every time they try to reach through the bond between them to speak to their elder brother, they are met with a solid wall. He truly doesn’t know how much more of this he can take.

 

Aziraphale is trying hard not to look crestfallen, but Raphael can see the disappointment in his eyes. “Of course, I understand. I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll just-”

 

“Wait.” Raphael grabs him by the hand as he turns to go. He doesn’t understand the urge. It would be far more sensible to let Aziraphale return to the Garden, to turn away and go back to his work on the stars. He had promised the starmsiths he’d get them done, anything to help with their reduced numbers. (It doesn’t escape his notice that Lucifer had worked with a great many of the starsmiths, and many of those who were especially close to his brother are now missing.) Instead, he turns the principality back towards his workstation. “If you have time, I could use a little help here. We’re falling behind schedule, and I need to get this done in time to hang them tomorrow. You could… you could help. If you want. You don’t have to.” He stumbles over the offer, cursing himself for a fool.

 

He ’s rewarded when Aziraphale smiles, eyes lighting up in a way that touches a part of Raphael that the archangel doesn’t quite understand. “Of course. What do you need me to do?”

 

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale’s voice brings him back from the memory. He sounds disappointed.

 

“What? Not what you were expecting?” Crawly asks, smirking. “Wanted me to be something boring, I bet. File clerk or something.”

 

“What? No, no, not at all. It’s just….” He hesitates, then continues onward. “I was wondering if I knew you. Before. You just… you seem so familiar. But I must have been wrong. I didn’t really know any of the starsmiths.”

 

“We didn’t get out much,” Crawly says. “And I wouldn’t go around asking other demons who they used to be. Some of us can get pretty touchy about that sort of thing.” There. That ought to keep Aziraphale from asking too many more questions.

 

“Right. Yes, sorry.”

 

They don’t speak about Crawly’s past again. They do, however, talk about thousands of other topics over the course of the next 6,000 years. And each time Crawly, then Crowley, hears Aziraphale’s voice, it sooths that ache inside of him that still burns from the loss of minds joined to his. And if he makes a point of it to watch out for the angel, to do the caring and the guiding he used to be built for, in the only way he has left? Well. Nobody really needs to know. Certainly not the angel. On his better days, he doesn’t even admit it to himself.

Chapter Text

The thing, as Crawly rapidly finds out about himself, is that he can’t leave well enough alone. There’s an itch in him now, a drive he thinks he must have always had, even if it had been more muted as an angel. He has to poke, and prod, and test things until either he’s satisfied, or they come apart. His relationship with Aziraphale is like that. He knows he should leave the angel alone. Knows that even being near a demon is a risk to his divinity.  But he can’t help himself. He’s drawn to him, like a moth to a flame. Because his world is chaotic now, full of brimstone and fire and none of the absolute certainty of Heaven. And Aziraphale? Aziraphale is nothing if not steady. Unchanging. A calm port in the storm.

 

At first, Crawly promises himself he’ll just watch, just to be sure. There’s so many demons about, in those early days. So very many demons, and Aziraphale is down here alone, without even a flaming sword to protect him. And nobody asks if Crawly kills a few demons that get a little too close. It’s survival of the fittest, after all. And taking care of Aziraphale scratches the other itch, the one that should have gone away after he Fell, the urge to heal, to care. He isn’t supposed to be able to care anymore. It’s counter to the new, angry, bitter parts of him, the rage that boils up all too quickly, the urge to lash out, to make everything and everyone hurt just as much as he hurts. He’s at war within himself, and the only thing that’s winning is the silence.

 

It’s the silence (or is it Silence?) that’s the worst of it all. The desperate, aching loneliness inside that can never, ever be filled, no matter what he does. The absence of other voices within him, minds joined to his in harmony and love. The absence of Her, too, though even that feels less acute. He was always going to lose Her, he’d known that as soon as Lucifer told him about the blessed Plan. He hadn’t been ready to lose them, too. The silence eats away at him inside, taunting, tormenting. Driving him to seek out the one being in all of creation that can sooth the raw and burning ache, if only for a time. And even then, it hurts. Hellfire and damnation, it hurts, to see those beautiful eyes widen at the sight of him, a slight step backwards taken, before his face evens out into a gentle smile. It nearly breaks him, every time Aziraphale calls him Crawly. When the edges of his ill-fitting name catch on the soft voice before hitting him like daggers to the heart. He wants to stop him, to take down the walls he’s built around his soul and show Aziraphale he’s not just the Serpent of Eden. He doesn’t. He can’t. He’s not an angel anymore. He can’t be what Aziraphale remembers. He can’t let his truth shake that unbreakable faith Aziraphale has in his God. Because he knows what happens with questions. And there’s only one thing that’s worse than what already happened. He cannot see Aziraphale Fall. He makes himself a promise. One he binds into the walls around his name. He will never tell Aziraphale who he used to be.

 


 

It’s after the Flood, that the first near miss happens. They’re in Asia, a small city that’s a world away from the death and destruction they left behind. He had stayed in Mesopotamia just long enough to see the flood waters recede, to see Noah and his family step down from the ark, before he’d taken one look at the face of his angel and decided it was time to be somewhere else. Anywhere else, so long as it was far away. Somewhere where he wouldn’t still hear the screams of the children he couldn’t save, reverberating inside the aching silence. So they’d gone to China. It had been an easy choice, really. Aziraphale had shakily mentioned he’d heard of a new food seller he wanted to try, and Crawly wasn’t about to tell him no. Not when he’d seen that flash of doubt and pain on his angel’s face, the questions Aziraphale refused to allow himself to ask written plain in his wide, sorrowful eyes. Any other demon would have poked and prodded, tried to get the angel to really doubt. But Crawly knew all too well what doubting meant. What came of needing to know why. So instead, he takes Aziraphale to China, finds him a nice place to stay in a town that hasn’t seen danger or sickness in living memory, and takes him out for a meal.

 

It starts off well. Every new sensation, every simple pleasure, erases more of that doubt from the angel’s eyes. Crawly relaxes, listening to him go on about something called the Five Grains and the evolution of food in China, and lets the cool soothing wave of his words wash over him and quiet the screaming of the echoing silence inside. If he keeps his eyes open, it’s almost as if the past forty days never happened. And then it happens. The tattered edges of his broken bond burn, and he knows they’re coming. He has just enough warning to transform into a snake and hide beneath Aziraphale’s seat, hoping whichever one of his former siblings is arriving does not think to look.

 

It’s Gabriel. Because of course, it’s Gabriel. His cheerful little brother, who loved to build the stars. Only, as Crawly listens, he realizes he doesn’t know this angel. It’s been a thousand years, and those years have not been kind. This isn’t the eager young archangel who helped him hang the constellations in the sky. His words are cruel, cold, without empathy. The way he treats Aziraphale makes Crawly want to drag him by the ears into an audience with their Mother and force him to explain himself. He doesn’t understand how his little brother had changed so much. How the warm, loving boy he all but raised has become a bitter imitation of an angel. Against any remaining shred of self-preservation, Crawly tries to reach through the pain of shredded pathways, tears welling in his eyes as the agony rips at his soul. He stretches out a trembling wisp of a thought, carefully, slowly, inching forward - and comes up against a wall. He presses against it, the raw pain burning in his mind, but he can’t break through. The wall is harder than marble, than stone, than a diamond forged in the heart of a collapsing star. It’s also disturbingly solid, no doors, no gates, not even a crack to let in the touch of his sibling’s minds. It’s not personal, Crawly realizes with a start. It’s not against him. It can’t be. Gabriel watched Raphael die. He wouldn’t even consider the possibility a nameless demon crawling across the earth might be his brother. No, Gabriel has put up a wall to keep everyone out, even his remaining siblings. Crawly retreats, the wounds of his soul screaming in white-hot agony while the silence echoes inside, empty and endless as the dark behind the stars. After, he realizes he cannot actually recall what Gabriel had said. All he can remember is the frightening coldness of his eyes, devoid of even a hint of emotion.

 

When Gabriel leaves, Crawly emerges from under Aziraphale’s chair. He’s uncharacteristically quiet, he knows, but he can’t bring himself to speak. The silence has overtaken his senses, fresher and more raw than it has been in years. He waits, while Aziraphale finishes his meal. And to his surprise, the angel doesn’t leave when the plates are taken away. He knows he’s being less than charming company. He had expected Aziraphale would want to be well rid of him, after the past few weeks they’ve had. But he stays. And what Crawly doesn’t know is that Aziraphale knows him well enough by now to understand what he needs when he gets like this. He doesn’t ask the demon why he’s suddenly in this mood, he just watches Crawly with barely concealed concern in his eyes and tries to draw him into conversation.

 

Finally, when the soothing presence beside him has washed away the sharpness of his pain, the demon asks a single, bitter question. “Are they all like that?”

 

Aziraphale doesn’t need to ask who he means. “Yes,” he says sadly. “They’ve always been like that.”

 

“They weren’t though,” Crawly says, desperate, before he can stop himself. “Not Before.”

 

The angel nods, hand moving almost as if he wants to put it on Crawly’s arm. “They changed, after the Fall. Everybody did.”

 

Not you, the demon almost says. Never you. He bites back the words, thoughts roiling, until one becomes so strong and sharp that it spills from his lips like poisoned wine. “How can she let this happen?”

 

Aziraphale, of course, looks shocked. “My dear, it’s part of the Great Plan.”

 

Fuck the Great Plan,” Crawly snarls. “How can She claim to love all things and still let this-” he waves vaguely in a gesture that could mean the archangels, or the Flood, or even just the general state of humanity “-happen?” His head hurts. And even Aziraphale’s presence isn’t drowning out the echoing silence. The raw places inside him are all in flames, and he just wants to go find somewhere to sleep for a couple months. Maybe a year or two.

 

“I imagine it’s all coming to a point, somehow,” Aziraphale tells him. “It’s ineffable.”

 

The demon laughs, bitter, shattered glass, and it only reminds him of the way he used to be able to laugh, unrestrained and so full of joy. He doesn’t know if there’s an angel or demon left in all of creation that can make a sound like that anymore.

 

“Don’t tell me about the Plan,” he says, angry and looking for a place to put it. “I read the damn thing, and it still doesn’t make any god-damned sense.”

 

“You- you’ve read it?” the angel asks, and Crawly cringes. There’s only ever been one physical copy of the Great Plan. He was careless, and his words almost gave himself away.

 

“I wanted to know what the point of it all was,” he says bitterly. “I thought, oh, come on now, it can’t be as bad as Lucifer says. But it was. It was worse.”

 

“Yes, but…” Aziraphale is squinting at him now, looking slightly to the side in the way of an ethereal being trying to see beyond the physical plane. Crawly slams up his walls further, hiding his essence from view. “How did you even get a copy?”

 

“How do you think I Fell, angel?” the demon asks, his pain and loneliness embarrassingly clear in his voice. “I took it from Lucifer.”

 

 

“What?” he stares at the small book, held so casually in his brother’s hand. Words he has been forbidden by his Creator to read. Forbidden to ever know.

 

“She’s going to sacrifice you, Raphael,” Lucifer says, oh, so gently, as if afraid Raphael will break. “She’s going to make you Fall.”

 

“That… that can’t be right. I wouldn’t, I would never-” he isn’t supposed to know this. Isn’t supposed to see Her Great Plan. He watches the book with wide eyes as Lucifer extends it towards him, and doesn’t see the sly smile that crosses his brother’s face.

 

“You have a part to play, dear brother,” the Morning Star says, taking Raphael’s hand in his own, drawing him closer, until he stands within the shadow of Her forbidden tree. Raphael has always felt so small next to his brother, so young, so much less than the beautiful favored child of God. “She wants you to be the one to teach them Good and Evil.”

 

“But…” he looks over his shoulder. He’s spent so much time here in the Garden lately, teaching the humans, looking after Her creatures, watching Aziraphale as he learns to guide them towards Her light. There’s a wanting there, as he watches the young principality, hands gentle on the back of a small creature that has crawled into his lap. Aziraphale turns his face up into the sun, and oh, there’s a wanting there, a warmth and desire that Raphael does not understand. He should not need to understand it, for if he feels it than it must be Her will, and he will come to know the answers in time. He should be patient. But patience is something She did not make him good at.

 

“Why?” Raphael asks. “Why ask me to be her Healer? Why have me teach them how to survive, if she’s just going to cast them from Her favor?” He does not ask ‘Why me’.

 

Lucifer’s expression is sad, and Raphael can feel the pain and conflict within him. “I do not know,” he answers, eyes dark and unfathomable in the shadows.

 

“What of the others?” Raphael asks. “Our siblings? Surely they-?”

 

Lucifer is shaking his head. “They will kill you,” he tells him. “You will Fall. You will tempt the humans. And then our brothers and sisters will strike you down for your sins.” Raphael can feel his honesty. They share one mind, one connection. There is no hiding, no lies between them. He trusts Lucifer completely, and he cannot hide from this. The pain between them doubles, anguish from both of their hearts.

 

“It is written, Brother,” the eldest of all angels says. “I cannot change what She has decreed.” He offers the book again, and Raphael knows he can feel the desire he cannot lock away. He needs to understand, to read the words for himself and know what their Creator, their Mother, has planned for him. He should not take the book. It is forbidden. He looks back, over his shoulder, and sees Aziraphale watching them. The younger angel gives him a soft smile, and turns away, called deeper into the Garden by the needs of one of Her creatures.

 

“Do not forbid yourself this,” Lucifer whispers. “She has already doomed you. You deserve, at least, to know why.” Pain flows between them, doubled in the sharing, washing from one soul to the next. There is a seed of madness there, and Raphael cannot tell if it comes from Lucifer, or from him. He takes the book. And he reads.

 

“Crawly…” Aziraphale reaches out, hesitating, then puts a gentle hand on the demon’s arm. His eyes are on Crawly’s face, and the demon realizes with shock that he’s crying.

 

“I know you said you didn’t like to talk about it,” the angel says, compassion and a hint of fondness in his voice. “But you should know, you can always talk to me. If you like.”

 

His world narrows to a single point, every particle of his being focused on the hand resting on his skin. It overwhelms the screaming emptiness in his mind, calming, soothing, offering more than he ever hoped to feel again. He almost gives in, reaching out, until his essence brushes against Aziraphale. The shock of it jolts him awake and he recoils, cursing himself for a fool.

 

“I don’t talk about it,” he snaps, and pulls his arm away.

 

Crawly leaves his angel sitting there, and tries not to think about the hurt on Aziraphale’s face. He tells himself he’ll stay away for good this time. He also tells himself he won’t make it a point to get near the other archangels, to see if they, too, have walled themselves off from the world. It’s safer for him, that way. But he’s never been very good at self preservation. By the end of the century he knows that there are identical walls around Uriel, Sandalphon, and Michael. And Aziraphale’s voice continues to sooth away the worst of the  agony in his mind.

Chapter Text

The whole thing with Tobit is a complete disaster from start to finish. Crawly hears about it first from his ‘side’, when orders come down from Dagon to assist Asmodeus during his time on Earth. Then, of course Aziraphale was assigned to heal the old blind man and protect his son from the demon. When he hears that, his blood runs cold and his human heart stops beating. He’s grateful for the bandage hiding his eyes, because they would reveal far too much of him in that moment.

 

“No,” he says, firmly. “Out of the question.”

 

“My dear boy,” Aziraphale says, exasperated and fond, a tone he’s taken more and more often with Crawly lately. “I can’t not. That poor old man will be blind forever if I don’t cure him, and his son will be killed.”

 

Crawly holds himself still against every single instinct he has, everything he is and was telling him that he cannot let Aziraphale go. Asmodeus is a Prince of Hell. And Aziraphale gave up his sword rather than use it in battle. The angel has never killed. Has never been forced to defend himself in battle against a foe that truly means to murder and destroy. And while Crawly has no doubt that the angel can fight, can wield a sword with intent to kill, a prince of Hell is not something on which to test his skills.

 

“Let me go,” he says before he can stop himself. “I’ll take care of it.”

 

Aziraphale stares at him, shocked. Their friendship is still new, still fragile. The angel has only barely learned to trust him after nearly three thousand years, and he longs for the ease that once had defined their relationship. The way they could walk through the Garden, saying nothing, perfectly at ease.

 

“I’m perfectly capable-” Aziraphale says, once he’s overcome his surprise. Crawly doesn’t let him finish the thought.

 

“I know you’re capable. It’s, what, killing some demon? Curing an old man’s blindness? Not much effort at all, I’m sure.” He shrugs, trying to appear careless. If Aziraphale realizes the danger, nothing in Heaven or earth will get him to let Crawly go in his place. “Not truly worth your skills. Let me do it.” He pauses, counts to three in his head, then adds carelessly “Or don’t. Either way. I’m just saying, if you do you’ll have time to pop on over to Egypt, take a look at those wondrous pyramids you’ve been wanting to see.”

 

Aziraphale is watching him, head cocked, eyes scanning his face as if trying to find a hint of what he’s hidden behind his blindfold. “Why?” He asks at last.

 

Crawly shrugs. “I get to kill a rival,” he says, a feral grin on his lips. The itch of chaos inside him thrums at the risk he’s taking.

 

“And the healing? You’ll do that too?” the angel asks, and Crawly closes his eyes against the wash of pain that brings up. Healing had been his job. Had been what he was made for. He still has the old instincts, fingers twitching when he passes an injured man, guilt picking at him when he turns away from a sick woman. He lets himself give in, when it’s children. “Let them grow up to be tempted,” he tells Hell. “No sense it letting go of potential recruits.” He’s not sure Dagon buys it, really. But he’s never been called in to a meeting with the head office about it, so at least the Lord of the Files hasn’t said anything to anyone else.

 

“And the healing,” he agrees. “It’s not like it’s hard.” He’s not looking at the angel, so he doesn’t see the way Aziraphale’s eyes linger on his face, trying to read the expression he hides behind the blindfold. Something in his posture must give him away though, because the angel sighs, and gives him a smile that’s full of compassion.

 

“Alright then. You can do my miracle for me,” he says. Crawly nods. It’s time to go kill a demon.

 

 

Asmodeus is deserving of his reputation. In his truest form, he is a creature to be feared - all fangs and thorns and claws and spines. He had been a Power once, a guardian of Heaven. Crawly remembers him, standing guard at the gates, looking down at the world She created with disdain. He’d been beautiful then, beautiful and cold. Raphael had not disliked him, because ‘dislike’ was not a thing angels had learned to feel before the war. But there had been something there, a feeling the demon would later learn to call distrust. It had been Asmodeus that had opened the gates to Lucifer’s army, letting his twisted and Falling angels into the heart of paradise. As far as Crawly was concerned, that is hardly relevant. What is relevant is that Asmodeus knows how to fight. He had been trained in it since before the first star had been born.

 

So he prepares. He goes to Hell, and he forges a sword. Not a flaming sword, no, he can no longer touch so holy a weapon, but a sword of Hell’s obsidian. He folds sigils of power into the sharp stone, shaping it the way a human would shape iron. Sigils of protection on the hilt, sigils of destruction within the blade. As he works, he imbues it with a Purpose. This sword, this tool of death, will be used for one reason and one reason alone - to protect what Crawly loves. He pours his power into the blade, filling it to the brim with Intent. Hell Obsidian is the one thing that can kill both angel and demon, destroying them with the same impunity as Hellfire or Holy Water. This blade is made for a more specific purpose, and filled as it is with his power, it cannot fail. When he finishes, it flickers with ghostly fire along the blade, a parody of Aziraphale’s flaming sword.

 

When he returns to Earth, it is time. He presents himself to Tobit as a relative, and because he wants no one to question him, no one does. His offer to escort Tobias to his wedding night is accepted, and he accompanies the young man on his journey. Crawly contemplates letting the demon kill the boy. It would be an opportune time, striking while his guard is down as he feeds on Tobias’ soul. Any other demon might have done it, too. But Crawly can’t. Tobias is barely older than a child, and Crawly likes him. He’s gentle, and kind. He laughs at Crawly’s jokes, and teaches him how to fish. He’s human, and that’s enough. Crawly will find another way.

 

It’s the fishing that gives him the idea, and he advises Tobias to catch a fish, and remove it’s liver and heart. On the wedding night he burns them, Crawly’s power aiding in the occult ritual to banish a demon. It almost banishes him, too, but he anchors himself within the words, and it is Asmodeus that flees first. Crawly follows, leaving Tobias and his new wife to celebrate their union. He finds the other demon halfway to Egypt, and their battle causes several natural disasters, the destruction of a small town, and the creation of a new lake. It’s brutal, terrible, and it leaves Crawly drained of most of his power. His physical form is wounded terribly, and he holds it together by sheer imagination as he returns to take Tobias and his new bride home. He saves what remains of his power to complete Aziraphale’s miracle, and tries not to think about what Hell will say if they ever find out he killed a prince of hell.

 

The trouble is, he’s exhausted. Worn down to the core of his being. And so when he heals Tobit, he heals the old man a little too well. He looks at Crawly, and his open eyes see past the human facade and into the occult being within. The demon freezes when he realizes how deeply the man can see, expecting terror to cross his face, expecting screams when he looks past the bandage over Crawly’s eyes and the thin human skin around his essence and sees the damned being he has become. But Tobit’s eyes look past even that, past the Fall and the emptiness that tears at his mind, past the fortress of walls he has built around his heart, and they see his truest name.

 

“Raphael,” he says, and Crawly shakes his head, trying in vain to convince him otherwise. But he’s seen too well, known too thoroughly the soul inside the demon.

 

“Not me,” the demon tries to say. “Not an angel. Not him. Not Raphael.” It does not matter. Tobit has seen him, known him, the being he used to be. It wounds him deeper than than Asmodeus’ claws, to hear himself called that name, to be mistaken for that which he once was - that which he can never be again. He does not have the strength to miracle the knowledge away. He leaves the old man and his son writing their story, and hopes to whatever power might be listening to a demon’s prayers that they do not use his name. He should have known better than to hope.

 

 

It’s two days after he returns, when he feels Aziraphale’s flare of anguish, followed by white-hot rage. It reverberates across the metaphysical plane, echoing down through Crawly’s senses, and the demon closes his eyes. There’s a name, wrapped into that rage and pain, the name that once belonged to him. He feels Aziraphale’s searching, and he doesn’t have enough power built back up to hide from him. In moments, the door explodes away from the small house he’d taken over to nurse his wounds, and the angel marches in, eyes glowing with divine fury. “YOU!” he says, voice booming with the wrath of an angel. “WHY DID YOU DO THIS?

 

Crawly recovers from the shock of his entry and pretends to stretch, languidly, as if he had just risen from bed. Inside he’s shaking, the weight of an angel’s divine power burning in the air around him. The raw parts of his soul scream in protest, unable to handle so direct an assault from the holiest of light. It’s a pain so deep it nearly drowns out his injuries, the broken ribs, the cracked skull, the claw marks down his sides. He can’t let Aziraphale see him like that, can’t give in to the desire every one of his atoms is screaming for and cry from the pain of it. Pride has always been one of his favorite sins.

 

“Why did I do what?” he asks, stalling, because he knows what this is about. “I do a lot of things, Angel.” He’s in no condition to have this conversation, to try and explain how the old man used the name of a dead archangel as that of his savior. He’ll have to anyway, because he can feel the pain radiating off of Aziraphale. He remembers how Aziraphale cried that night on the wall, so long ago, and the guilt shoots through him, thick and hot, for all the pain he has caused his friend.

 

WHY DID YOU USE HIS NAME?” Aziraphale thunders, and Crawly has never seen him this angry before. He winces as divine power washes through the room and touches the place in his soul that used to house his Grace. The shock of it sends him stumbling back, body flaring with agony. He hits the wall, and feels his face go white with pain. A small, pitiful sound escapes his lips, and Aziraphale stops, concern fluttering across his face, the divine force of his anger abruptly fading as his eyes scan the demon’s physical form.

 

“I didn’t!” Crawly finds himself saying, pushing back against the pain. He will not let it win. He will not let his angel see this. It’s difficult, but the terrible silence inside him is gone for now, faded into the background behind the overwhelming presence of Aziraphale that, despite the divine anger that had been consuming him, is soothing the broken bits of his soul. It leaves Crawly with just enough strength to hold himself upright.

 

“Angel, I ssssswear. The old man jussst ssssaw what he wanted to ssssee.” 

 

“I don’t believe you.” The words are devastating, but no less than Crawly expected. He is a demon, after all. He thinks, bitterly, of how Aziraphale would have trusted any word from Raphael’s lips without question. It tastes sharp and metallic on his tongue, like iron. Like blood.

 

Crawly conquers a spine that wants nothing more than to sink to the floor, and holds his arms out at his sides. The look Aziraphale is giving him now is torn between the sharp hardness of anger, and, even worse, a growing sense of concern. He can feel his wings itching to manifest, to take him up in flight, away from whatever that expression is. Inside, the snake is readying itself to strike, to bite, to defend itself against the approaching predator. The Fallen archangel forces his body to still, knowing, somehow, that if he doesn’t this will be it. Aziraphale will never again welcome his company.

 

“I mean it,” he says. “I promise you, angel. I gave him no name.” Crawly has lied, quite an astonishing amount since Falling. Part of the job, really. Sometimes it just comes out from that angry, broken part of himself. Like an exhale, he can’t help it. But there’s one thing he will never, ever allow himself to do. And that is tell an outright lie to his angel. His name doesn’t count. Raphael was an archangel, not the name of a demon. The name he gave himself might not fit, but it isn’t a lie. He knows, in that moment, that Aziraphale can see his honesty, in the same way he can see when a place or thing is loved.

 

Confusion clouds those beautiful sea-blue eyes, more of the anger being replaced by concern as he senses the pain the demon cannot hide. “But…” he frowns. “But you must have. How else would he have gotten it?” There’s no rage in his voice now, just a soul-deep aching hurt. “Why else would he choose to call his healer Raphael?” He closes his eyes as he says the name, missing the shiver the sound of it on his tongue sends through Crawly.

 

The demon turns away. He misses how this used to be, how Aziraphale would stand beside him and they could talk without this wall of pain and loss between them. He rubs the back of his head, gingerly touching the wound there, and his fingers come away bloody. Asmodeus’s last, desperate attack had thrown him against a wall headfirst. He’ll have to answer for his actions someday, he knows. Hell might find out, eventually, despite the work he did to cover his tracks. And killing a Prince of Hell is not something they take lightly. He doesn’t regret it, though. He’ll take this pain, and whatever punishment Hell decides to give him, if it means Aziraphale is safe and whole.

 

“I promise, Aziraphale. I know how much he meant to you. I wouldn’t use his name, even to do a good deed.” They’ve talked about it before, sometimes. Aziraphale won’t say much, and Crawly doesn’t ask, but even if he hadn’t known the angel before it would have been easy to see how much his loss had hurt him. And every time he sees that broken look in his angel’s eyes, a little more guilt settles heavy in his soul. It’s all his fault, after all.

 

“I…” behind him, Aziraphale frowns, the last of his anger clearing from his eyes. “You know,” he says, taking a step closer, “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever called me by name.”

 

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” the demon prods at the wounds in his side, feeling blood drip down his fingers under his shirt. “I’ve used your name before.” He remembers the feel of it on his lips, every time Raphael used the name. And every time since then that Crawly has wanted to, and resisted. He wants the closeness they once had, wants the ability to say his name, but every time he tries it’s like he’s tainting it when the sound touches his forked tongue. ‘Angel’ is easier. It doesn’t carry with it so many memories of hours spent together in the Garden.

 

 

“Aziraphale!” Raphael watches as the angel jumps, a fond smile curling his lips as Aziraphale turns towards him.

 

“Oh, hello my dear.” Aziraphale’s answering smile is enough to lift Raphael’s heart and banish the worries that have filled his mind so often lately. “What brings you here?”

 

Raphael shrugs, looking around the Garden. “Felt like a walk,” he says. His body itched to move, to stretch, and he allowed his wings to unfurl and then close again, tight against his back. He’d needed to get out, away from the worried faces of his siblings as they investigated rumor upon rumor of angels going missing, walking away from their posts without explanation, vanishing from their Host. But more than that, he’d just wanted to see Aziraphale. They could be stuck in the file room filling out paperwork for all he cares, so long as he can watch the angel smiling at him like nothing is wrong with their world.

 

“Well, no better place for it than here, I think,” the angel says, coming to stand at his side. “Some of the Gardeners have added a few new plants recently. Would you like to see?”

 

“Yeah, okay.” He follows Aziraphale though the winding paths, losing himself in the good-natured banter that flows between them. This is what Heaven should be, he thinks. Just this. A garden, the sun on his back, and Aziraphale. No worries, no rumors, no missing elder brother, no absent mother.

 

“Raphael?” Aziraphale’s voice breaks into his contemplation.

 

“Mm?” He looks up from the flower he’d been staring at as he thought. “Sorry Aziraphale. What did you say?”

 

The young angel bites his lip, hesitating, then forges onward. “I was- Well. You look like something is bothering you.”

 

“It’s nothing.” He’s not going to taint this with his fears. Not here in the Garden. Not this young, optimistic angel that tries so hard to always think the best of everyone.

 

“It most certainly is not,” Aziraphale says, frowning at him. “You’ve been staring at that flower, saying nothing, for the past five minutes. Raphael. What’s wrong?”  He plants himself solidly in front of the archangel, staring up at him with concern plain on his face.

 

Raphael shakes he head, schooling his features into a smile. “Really. It’s nothing. Just some rumors.” He doesn’t want to say that he thinks his brother is missing. That even within their bond, none of them have been able to contact Lucifer. That, far worse, none of them have had any contact with God since she created the female human. That he’s deathly afraid of what it means that angels are missing from the ranks.

 

“Raphael.” Aziraphale moves closer, holding the archangel’s eyes.

 

“Aziraphale.” They stare at each other, neither one backing down, until the absurdity of the situation abruptly hits the archangel and he starts to laugh.

 

“What?” Aziraphale looks confused, watching Raphael release bright peals of laughter. “What’s so funny?”

 

“Hahaha -oh, hah, you- your face!” He can’t help it. The principality looks so concerned, probably wondering if Raphael’s mind is cracking, and that makes it even funnier.

 

“My face?” Aziraphale’s frown deepens, though the corners of his lips are starting to twitch. “My dear, I don’t-”

 

It ’s too much. Raphael doubles over, putting both hands on the angel’s shoulders as he laughs. “I’m sorry,” he says through eyes that are watering with mirth. “I just -oh, haha, you- you look so serious.”

 

“I am serious,” the angel says, but Raphael’s laugh is infectious, and suddenly Aziraphale is laughing too. “Oh alright, fine.” Raphael rests his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder, overcome with laughter as days of tension drain from his body. Hesitantly, Aziraphale’s hands come up to rest against his waist, holding him as he shakes.

 

He doesn’t know how long they stand like that, until the laugh fades away and it’s just them, Raphael’s head on Aziraphale’s shoulder, Aziraphale’s arms wrapped around him, forehead pressed to the archangel’s hair. A small, blasphemous thought crosses Raphael’s mind. This is better than being within Her light. He banishes it without mercy. But it was there. He had thought it. And he had meant it.

 

Raphael. Another’s voice inside his mind. Uriel. Calling him. He stands up, squeezing Aziraphale’s shoulders and then stepping away to a safer distance.

 

“Thank you,” he says, though he couldn’t really say for what.

 

“A- any time.” Aziraphale’s cheeks are flushed, and his eyes linger on Raphael’s physical form before slipping sideways to look at his Grace. He smiles.

 

Raphael can ’t resist. “Like what you see?”

 

“You’re beautiful,” the angel tells him with complete, innocent, honestly. “I’ve always thought so.”

 

“I-” Raphael can’t think of a reply. Luckily he doesn’t have to.

 

“Brother.” Uriel appears before them. “Michael’s been looking for you.” Her eyes flick to Aziraphale, and then back, dismissing the principality with a slight nod.

 

“Uriel,” Raphael says, bristling. He hates when they get like this, ignoring anyone that isn’t one of them. “This is Aziraphale. Angel of the Eastern Gate.”

 

She frowns, then blushes, chastised, as he sends her an impression of how she seems. “Apologies, Aziraphale. I would greet you properly, but I’m afraid Raphael is needed urgently.”

 

“It’s quite alright,” Aziraphale says, though Uriel has already turned back to Raphael.

 

“I was taking a break,” Raphael tells her, almost petulantly.

 

“Your break is over,” Michael’s voice comes from behind him, and they turn. “There’s been an Incident.” He can hear the capital letter, even without feeling the anger and worry his siblings are projecting through their bond. “Aziraphale.” Michael, at least, meets Aziraphale’s eyes. “I’m sorry to steal him from you. I know he was looking forward to seeing you again.” She smirks as Aziraphale’s blush deepens and Raphael squawks, and projects a sense of amusement through the bond.

 

“I, oh, I’m sure it’s fine. He- you can come back. Any time.” Aziraphale’s eyes are sincere as he looks at Raphael. “I’ll be here.”

 

“Then I’ll be back.” He gives the angel a gentle, grateful smile. Then he straightens his robes and holds his hands out to his siblings. “See you later, Aziraphale.” In the blink of an eye, they’re back Upstairs, where Sandalphon and Gabriel are waiting. Sandalphon tosses him a flaming sword.

 

“Someone broke into the armory,” Michael tells him. “The Guardian posted there thinks she saw Lucifer with the thieves.”

 

 

He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t notice Aziraphale approaching him from behind until the angel’s gentle hand touches the back of his head. Crawly jumps, whirling, to meet remorseful blue eyes.

 

“Oh my dear, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize- what happened?” He’s reaching again, healing magic coating the tips of his fingers in cool blue light.

 

“Don’t worry about it.” Crawly bats his hands away, not wanting his sympathy. “Give me a bit and I’ll heal it myself.” He will, but not yet. He doesn’t have enough reserves stored up that he can risk using his power. He used too much, fighting Asmodeus and then curing the old man. Better to live with the pain for a few more weeks than to use up strength he might need later. After all, it’s not as if this pain is worse than the ache inside.

 

“I- alright.” Aziraphale takes a step back, giving Crawly room to breathe. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I should have noticed you were hurt. I just, when I heard who Tobit said had healed him, I thought-”

 

“That I’d given him the name of a Fallen archangel.” Crawly moves on shaking legs to stand by his water basin and grabs a cloth. He stares out the window while he dabs at the back of his head, unable to look the angel in the face.

 

“Well, I certainly didn’t think you’d give him yours.”

 

Crawly laughs, the shattered glass sound hurting his throat. “Not a very angelic name, now is it?”

 

“Oh, oh, I didn’t mean that.” He can feel Aziraphale moving behind him, coming closer. “I just meant-”

 

Anger boils up, burning from the raw parts of his soul. “I know what you meant.” The words come out harsh, and he can’t help the way his voice breaks at the end. He tries not to miss what he was. Tries not to think about it. He can’t have it back. And after everything he’s been through, everything he’s done, he doesn’t even really want it back. But he hates the way Aziraphale sometimes looks at him, like he wants him to be something more than what he is. Like he’s trying to look through him and find the angel he used to be. Crawly throws the bloodied cloth into the basin, and watches as swirls of red taint the clear water.

 

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale sits on the room’s lone chair and sighs. “Really, Crawly, I am. I should have come here sooner. I should have made sure you were alright, after fighting that demon all on your own. I wasn’t thinking.”

 

“No, you just thought you’d come in here and scream at me for a bit,” Crawly snaps, not quite willing to forgive just yet. He hasn’t turned away from the window.

 

“I…” the angel sighs. And Crawly can picture him sitting there, frowning as he tries to find the words to express what he’s feeling. That’s always been Aziraphale’s problem. He’s never quite able to find a way to say precisely what he means. The demon glances over his shoulder and finds Aziraphale slumped in the chair, elbows resting on his knees, face in his hands. “I’m sorry.” His voice is small, hurt, filled with grief and remorse.

 

The silence stabs at him, echoing, mocking him. He’d known the angel was sensitive about his old self. He’d known that what Tobit saw might have brought up all sorts of emotions that Aziraphale wasn’t really equipped to deal with on his own. He’d even known that the angel might blame him for it, that he would probably assume Crawly had used the name as a joke or out of some careless whim. With herculean effort, he grips the anger inside him and shoves it down, deep into the recesses of his mind, where he can deal with it later - somewhere where there won’t be collateral damage.

 

“Angel. Aziraphale.” He sits down on the bed, far enough away that he can’t reach out like he wants to. “What’s so bad about the old man using- using his name?” He can’t bring himself to say it, not even after all these centuries.

 

“He’s dead,” Aziraphale tells him, expression cracking. “Raphael. He’s dead. He can’t- he… he isn’t. He died.” He covers his face with his hands again, wings flaring out and coming around to shield himself from view.

 

Something in Crawly twists at the anguish in Aziraphale’s voice. It echoes in the pain wrapped around his own infernal soul. He wants to tell him the truth. To stand up, cast aside all of his layers of disguise, take down the walls around the name at his core, and show Aziraphale that he’s wrong. That he’s not dead. But he can’t do it. He can’t do it, because Aziraphale is right. Crawly Fell. The angel he was died, killed by Lucifer pulling him downward, by the swords of his siblings as they tried to prevent his Fall, and finally by the boiling pit of sulfur that caught his broken body at the end of his light-year plummet. He’s no angel, not anymore. And he can’t be, not ever again, no matter how hard he tries. He’s learned hate now, and lies, fear, greed, even lust. His soul is tarnished by a thousand unforgivable sins. Unforgivable. That’s what he is now. Raphael is dead. And he left a broken, worthless demon with an ill-fitting name to stand in his place. A demon that can’t even reach across the distance of a few feet to hug the most important person in his long life, for fear of the reaction such a touch would bring.

 

“Tell me about him.” The words come, unbidden, from his mouth. He may not be able to offer the comfort he wants. But he can do this, at least.

 

“What?” Aziraphale peeks out from behind his wings, and another stab of anguish shoots through Crawly at the sight of his tear-stained face.

 

In for a penny, Crawly thinks, and meets Aziraphale’s eyes. “Somebody whose name can get you so worked up over three millennia later must have been someone special.” Then, to counter an image of being soft, he leans back and grins. “And if I get you talking it’ll-” he winces, the movement pulling at the claw marks along his sides.

 

The angel pulls back his wings, looking guilty. “I am sorry. Will you let me…” he reaches out, and for a second Crawly considers not letting him. Then his back twinges, and he feels a trickle of blood run down his side. He gives in, moving to sit on the floor against Aziraphale’s legs and removing his shirt, baring the worst of his wounds.

 

Aziraphale makes a sound of dismay when he sees the damage. “Oh, my dear, I-”

 

“Less apologizing. More talking. Keep my damn mind off of how awful it’s going to feel with all that divine energy crawling all over me.”

 

“Well.” Aziraphale huffs, then chuckles, and Crawly knows he’s seen through his bluff. Gentle fingers start carding through his hair, and it’s all he can do to keep reacting to it. Healing energy flows over him, just like that day in the Garden so long ago, soothing and settling into the deep aches within.

 

“Talk, angel,” he demands.

 

“Right. Right, sorry. It’s just, it’s hard to begin, you see?” Aziraphale’s magic tingles against the edges of a wound. “He was… Well. He was an archangel.”

 

The mention of his title brings up memories of his siblings. “Like those dicks you report to, yeah. I know that much.” The silence stabs at him until Aziraphale’s voice drowns it out.

 

“No, no, not like them at all. Raphael was… he cared.” The reverent way the angel says his name stings, causing something raw and painful to throb in the corners of his soul. “He was funny. And kind. Good, right down to his core. He made me want to be a better angel than I was.” He can feel the grief in Aziraphale’s voice, along with some other emotion he does not want to name.

 

“He was Her healer, you know,” the angel continues. “And at first, that was what he did. He taught the humans medicine. And he healed us, whenever any of us got hurt while we worked. He taught me- he taught me how to do this.”

 

Crawly blinks, remembering days in the Garden, moving Aziraphale’s hands over some injured creature, feeling the healing energy flow from both of them. With a mental snarl he shoves the memory down.

 

Aziraphale speaks on, unaware of Crawly’s inner turmoil. “But, he was so much more important than me. He couldn’t spend all his time in the Garden, as much as I wanted him to. We started hearing all kinds of horrible rumors, and he was away a lot, though he never could tell me why. But when I did see him, he’d laugh, and make jokes, and it would seem like everything was fine. Like it was all going to be alright, despite the things I’d heard about rebellion brewing. But…” he trails off, fingers stilling on Crawly’s neck for a moment.

 

“But?” the demon prompts. He’d thought he’d done an excellent job of hiding his distress from the angel. He’d been so careful to never show him anything other than a smile.

 

“But when he thought I couldn’t see, he looked so sad. Like he was waiting for something terrible to happen.” Healing magic sparks along his sides and scalp, knitting the skin back together.

 

“He probably knew what was coming,” Crawly points out, hoping it’s a reasonable suggestion. He has to be careful here. Can’t give himself away. “I imagine that would be enough to upset anyone.”

 

Aziraphale’s hands keep moving, prodding across Crawly’s back and scalp for more injuries. He hits a sore spot, and the demon hisses.

 

“Sorry, sorry.” He places a hand over the bruise, and Crawly feels his power flow over the inflamed skin, soothing like cool water. “I suppose you’re right. I couldn’t ever get him to tell me what was wrong.”

 

Crawly hates that ache in Aziraphale’s voice. “Maybe he knew he was going to Fall,” he suggests. “The archangels had the Plan, after all.”

 

The angel freezes, fingers tightening in Crawly’s hair. The demon protests, squirming. “Ouch. Ow. Hey! That stings!”

 

Aziraphale doesn’t seem to notice. “That’s why…” he murmurs, releasing his grip.

 

“Why what?” Crawly twists, trying to get a look at the angel’s face. A hand on his head stills him, and Aziraphale’s magic washes over him again.

 

“I’m not sure,” the angel says, voice tight and pained. “But… I think- I think I saw him, just before he Fell.”

 

A spot of brilliant white in the forest. Blue-green eyes wide in fright. “Aziraphale. Go. I’ll be alright.”

 

The demon says nothing. It takes all his willpower not to shake, to react, to give in to the way the silence feels ready to overtake him. He remembers that day in perfect clarity. The fear on Aziraphale’s face, Lucifer’s laughter, and the searing pain of the Fall. He pushes the memory away. He’s not ready to face it, it’s still too fresh, even three thousand years later.

 

“I was in the Garden,” Aziraphale continues, unaware of the effect his words were having. “I heard shouting, and I knew Raphael had been worried about someone breaking into Eden. So I went looking. I didn’t- couldn’t know what was going on. I found him by the apple tree. Lucifer.”

 

Crawly hisses at the name. His brother. The First of the Fallen. The one he had followed, blindly, into destruction.

 

“He was- oh, it was horrible.” Crawly feels the angel’s hands shake.

 

“Let me guess,” he says, trying to inject some levity into his voice. “Big, red, bat-winged bugger. Laughing about how evil he is and gloating about causing an archangel to Fall?”

 

Aziraphale gives him a weak chuckle. “Are you even allowed to talk about him like that?”

 

“Eh,” Crawly waves a hand dismissively, and grins when the movement doesn’t hurt. The angel has done an amazing job. He feels a swell of pride. He taught him well. “If he doesn’t like it, he can always come up here and drag me back down.”

 

The angel smacks his ear. “Don’t talk like that. What do you think I’d do, left all alone down here?”

 

“Ack, hey, watched the head, Angel! Aren’t you supposed to be healing me or something?” He doesn’t say Isn’t that what you want? For the demon plaguing you to go away?

 

“Ah, yes, sorry,” Aziraphale resumes his work, but the demon can feel his hands shake, and he knows he’s still thinking about that day.

 

“So,” Crawly says after a moment. “You found Himself in the Garden. What happened next?” He doesn’t want to hear this. He’d been there for it. He knows what happened next. But he can feel the angel relaxing against him, muscles un-clenching, wings falling to rest at his sides. The demon’s instincts had been right, he needs to talk about this. And if Crawly is the only one he has who will listen, then so be it. Consider it part of his punishment for damnation.

 

“He…” Aziraphale’s voice is shakier than his hands now. “He had Raphael on the ground. I think- I think he was torturing him. When they saw me-” he stops.

 

“You don’t have to tell me,” Crawly offers, half hoping he’ll take him up on it. “If it’s painful for you.”

 

Aziraphale shakes his head. “No, no, I… no. This is helping. Unless you’d rather…”

 

“No,” Crawly says. “No, it’s fine. Keep going.”

 

The angel pats his arm in silent gratitude. “Thank you.” He takes a deep breath. “He - Lucifer asked me if I’d come to- to watch Raphael Fall. I was… I was so scared. I didn’t understand what was happening. But I knew Raphael was in danger, so I tried- I was going to attack. It was stupid, really. I knew I couldn’t win. Not against Him, but it might have been enough to get Raphael free. But he- Raphael- well.” Crawly realizes with horror that Aziraphale is crying. “Raphael smiled at me, and he-” his voice catches on a sob. “He told me it would be alright.”

 

Silence settles between them, heavy and thick with grief. Crawly reaches up and puts a hand over Aziraphale’s, more than half expecting the angel to shake him off. But he doesn’t. He takes his other, and grips Crawly’s hand between the two, like a lifeline.

 

“I…” Aziraphale makes a pained noise. “He smiled, Crawly. But he was scared, and in pain. And- and I couldn’t help him. I wanted to, but before I could, he- he sent me away.”

 

Crawly stays still. He knows what he had done. And even sitting here, guilt coiled like a serpent at the base of his spine, he doesn’t regret it. “Well,” he says, hesitantly, “I’m glad he did.”

 

“But- but what if it was his last miracle? What if he used the last of his strength to send me away, and that’s why he fell.” Aziraphale’s hands shake around Crawly’s, fingers curling tighter around his palm. “What if I could have-”

 

“And what if you couldn’t?” Crawly asks, even the hypothetical sending cold tendrils of fear down his back. He forces himself up, unable to sit still. “That was- Angel, that was Lucifer. Satan. My boss, the King of Hell. If a fucking Archangel couldn’t defeat him, you wouldn’t have stood a chance. And you know it.”

 

Aziraphale looks away. “But he-”

 

“No.” Crawly looks Aziraphale in the eyes, willing him to understand. “No. You know what? I’m glad he sent you away. Because if you’d stayed, if you’d attacked him, you wouldn’t have Fallen, angel. You would have been destroyed.”

 

At least I would have tried!” Aziraphale cries, standing as well. “At least I would have stood with him, instead of letting- letting him die like that. Alone. Because that’s what happened. I- I looked for him, on the battle field. I was so sure I’d see him there, see him healing the wounded, or at the very least fighting beside the others. And then- and then-” he choked off, swallowing a sob. And Crawly can’t take it anymore. He does something he’s never done, not since he Fell, not in all their long years of almost-friendship. He reaches out, and pulls the angel into a hug.

 

At his touch, the angel lets out a great, heaving sob, and wraps his arms around the demon, burying his face in Crawly’s shoulder. Crawly rubs a comforting hand up his back, between his wings, and releases a single pair of his own, wrapping them around them both in a feathery cocoon. They stand there, for an incalculable stretch of time, the angel shuddering with deep, aching sobs. The silence threatens to overwhelm Crawly, echoing, screaming at him, and he’s so, so glad that angels aren’t made to sense pain as easily as love, because standing there, with Aziraphale in his arms, he knows exactly what he lost when he Fell.

 

Eventually, when Aziraphale’s sobs have faded away to the occasional sniffle, Crawly lets him go. When he steps back, the angel’s face is a mess, covered in tears and red from crying, and even then he’s beautiful. And that’s when Crawly knows he well and truly fucked. Because he still feels that very specific form of caring he’d held for Aziraphale in Heaven. Only now, now he knows enough about human emotions to put a name to it. It’s love. Not Love, like what he’d felt from God. But love, small-l. Specific. Far more wonderful. And far, far worse. The knowledge rips him apart inside, because there’s no way, no way that Aziraphale will ever feel that way about a low, broken, crawling thing like him.

 

“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale tells him, once he’s miracled away the evidence of his sorrow.”I know that can’t have been pleasant for you.”

 

Crawly shrugs. “Eh. I prefer getting cried on to being thrown into walls at least. Easier to get tears out of my shirt than blood.” He pastes on a grin, letting the angel know he’s just teasing.

 

“Regardless,” Aziraphale says, reaching out and taking his hand in both of his once again, and giving it a squeeze before letting go. “Thank you. I… I didn’t realize how much I needed that.”

 

The demon opens his mouth to say something rude, maybe something about gaining points with Downstairs for making an angel cry. Instead, what comes out is “Did you love him?”

 

“What?” Aziraphale frowns at him, and he has the chance to take the words back, to cover it with a joke and pretend he never said anything. Instead, his traitorous mouth doubles down.

 

“The archangel. Did you love him?”

 

The angel considers his words, looking in his direction, but not at him. Eyes focused somewhere Crawly cannot see. “Did I?” he says softly. Then he smiles, and that look, the love in it, the very specific love, shatters Crawly’s heart into pieces. “Yes. I do believe I did. I do.”

 

“Do?” Crawly manages to ask, past the way his throat feels tight with loss and silence and pain.

 

Aziraphale nods. “I don’t know if you can understand it,” he says, not meaning to cause the spears of pain that threaten to break Crawly’s soul apart. “Being a demon, and all. But love… you don’t just turn it off at will, you see. I can’t not love him, once I’ve started. I might have stopped after a time, I suppose. It does happen, with humans at least. But I couldn’t stop loving him just because he Fell. Not if he was still the same person.” He sighs, and that painful, loving expression falls from his face. “I suppose it doesn’t matter, though. It’s not like I’ll ever get to tell him.”

 

He wants, so badly, to stand up tall, to take Aziraphale by the hands and shout that I’m here! It’s me! I was Raphael! I’m right here! He can’t. He’s not Raphael anymore. And just because Aziraphale admitted to having loved him as he had been, it doesn’t mean he could ever love Crawly as he is. In fact, it probably means the opposite. He’s suddenly disgusted with himself. How can he even entertain the idea of revealing himself to Aziraphale? He’s nothing like that kind, funny, Good-with-a-capital-G archangel Aziraphale described.

 

There had been a moment. One bright, shining moment, when Tobit had looked at him with newly clear eyes and said “Raphael”. When he’d felt like, just maybe, maybe he could be redeemed. That maybe he wasn’t as worthless as he felt, as unforgivable. That maybe he could shed this ill-fitting name and take back what he’d once been. And then he had seen his own reflection, dark wings hovering on just the other side of reality, the snake branded on his skin, a thin black cloth covering his very demonic eyes. He’d known the truth then. The inescapable, irreversible Truth. He Fell. He’s a demon. At his core, he’s capital-B-Bad. Evil. He’s the metaphysical embodiment of sin, and he can’t hide from that even if he wants to. The truth of it stares back at him every time looks in a mirror. He takes a step back. Away from Aziraphale.

 

“I’m sure he knew, angel,” he says. And I’ll never tell you how very much I love you, too.

Chapter Text

After Tobit, his false name sits even more uncomfortably on his soul. He had never liked the name Crawly, really. It had just been the best he could think of at the time. It hung on him like a poorly-made coat that’s a few sizes too small in places, and a few sizes too large in others. It was utilitarian. Useful. A descriptor, nothing more. But he finds, after so long, that he can’t stand it. He can’t stand the way it rubs against his old name, chafing, like trying to shove his feet into too-small shoes. He tries on a couple names over a period of years, but nothing really fits him as well as the name She gave him. The name he’s sworn he’ll never use again. Then he tries Crowley. And he’s never quite sure why, but it feels right, like it belongs to him. Like he’s claiming a part of himself back. He doesn’t have to be the squirming demon crawling at Her feet, but neither does he have to be Her obedient Healer. It doesn’t help with the ache inside him, but at least it gives him something wholly his own to cling to. Something to separate him from the name he can’t quite leave behind. It makes him feel… freer. More grounded, in a way he hasn’t been since Lucifer told him about the Great Plan.

 

It isn’t long after, that he hears about the mortal birth of the Son of God. Immediately, he signs up for any and all duties involving tempting, thwarting, or otherwise interacting with Her divine offspring. He justifies it to himself as being greedy for the hazard pay, but that’s really only an excuse. He’s read the Great Plan, after all. He knows that this boy is just another of Her sacrifices in whatever long game of solitaire She’s playing with the world. He’s not surprised when Hell agrees to give him the assignment. After all, most demons are selfish creatures at heart, and getting near the Son of God is almost guaranteed destruction.

 

He keeps his distance at first, and at first it is easy. Staying on the outskirts of his life, never directly interacting. His heart aches every time he sees the child, so young, so innocent, but with such ancient, immeasurably sad eyes. He’d never known Jesus in Heaven. Speaking with him was something Lucifer had always done. He does know that he knew of the Great Plan, even more than Lucifer with his forbidden copy of Her words. Crowley wonders what he thinks of the Plan now, when he stands on an earth that moves forward each day, steadily marching him towards his torment. He’s not going to ask. Especially not when he’s still a kid. Instead, Crowley does his best to ensure that the boy has a happy childhood. Nothing too over-the-top, he doesn’t want to be noticed. But he has recognized the distinct lack of angelic presences in the area, and he doesn’t see what’s so bad about a few unexpected windfalls for the family, a few toys left where a clever boy will find them, a client miraculously changing his mind and giving Joseph’s family their business over a competitor. It gets harder to remain unnoticed as Jesus grows. He’s nearly caught several times once the boy is old enough to start really looking for him. But the first real time he speaks with the Son of God is still a surprise.

 

He’s watching Jesus and his mortal brothers build a house when it happens. He had thought he did a good job blending in with the crowd, pretending to sit, sightless, with a group of beggars, a dirty bandage wrapped around his head to hide his eyes. But still, the fifteen-year-old Christ child stands up when his brothers take a break, looks around, and then walks directly towards Crowley with an air of intent. The demon freezes, hoping he hasn’t been spotted, but unable to attempt an escape without compromising his disguise. Jesus comes to stand directly in front of him.

 

“Crowley, right?” he asks, and Crowley blinks behind his bandage.

 

“Uh, yeah. How…?”

 

“How did I know your name? I know the names of all my Mother’s children.” He offers the demon a hand. Crowley stares at it, unable to form a proper response. “Come on,” Jesus says. “We need an extra pair of hands to lift this wall.”

 

“I, um…” he’s finding it hard to come up with the right words in Aramaic, or in any language, to be honest. It’s the first time in his long, long life that words have truly failed him.

 

Jesus smiles, and squats down so he’s on eye level with Crowley. “It’s alright,” he says. “I know what you are.” He gently reaches out and removes Crowley’s bandage, waiting patiently while the demon’s eyes adjust to the added light.

 

“Then… you know who I was?” It’s not the most elegant way of phrasing the question, but he has to know.

 

“I know,” Jesus confirms. “Did you want me to call you Raphael?” He asks it like he already knows the answer, and just wants to see if Crowley knows it himself.

 

The demon shakes his head. “No. I’m good with Crowley.”

 

The Son of God holds out his hand again. “Come on then, Crowley. Let’s build a house.”

 

Nobody mentions Crowley’s eyes while he’s with Jesus. He supposes this family has seen enough Heavenly miracles from their oldest child that an odd man with serpent’s eyes is hardly novel. They’re more concerned with how hard a worker he is than anything as minor as odd eyes and a tendency to hiss. For the first time in a very long time, he feels welcomed. Not tolerated, not a convenient partner in a beneficial arrangement, not a loyal adversary, or even simply the only other being that’s been around for so long. He’s welcomed. Like a friend. Almost like family. It feels wonderful, even as it rips at the raw parts of his soul that crave to belong somewhere, with someone, once again.

 

At the end of the day, Jesus stands, and glances at Crowley. A wordless invitation to follow as he walks away.

 

“You don’t have to look out for me,” the boy says, once they’re out of earshot of his family.

 

“I know,” Crowley tells him. “Just thought someone should. Doesn’t look like your lot are putting in much of an effort right now.” Aziraphale has been ordered to stay away, he knows, so he expects all angels have been told to leave Her son alone on Earth, to make his own way as a human. That’s bullshit of course. Crowley has already taken down three minor demons, six imps, two lords of Hell, and a particularly determined succubus that all wanted to get their hands on the Son of God before he grows strong enough to defend himself. The sword he forged to protect Aziraphale is getting double the workout, and rumors are starting to get around Hell that an unknown archangel is protecting the Christ child. Crowley is highly amused at the size of the betting pool on which one it is. He currently has money in the pot on both Michael and Gabriel, and is doing his level best to leave hints that point to one or the other where enterprising demons will find them.

 

Jesus laughs. “I’ll tell her you said that.”

 

“Please. Don’t.” The demon can’t help the emotion in his voice when he says it, the raw, burning ache of anger and loss, hatred and despair, and buried deep within a broken, desperate longing. His companion stops their slow stroll to turn and look at him.

 

“She doesn’t hate you, you know,” he says, as if the words don’t completely rip the world out from under Crowley’s feet. “In fact, I think She likes you quite a bit.”

 

Crowley gives his shattered-glass laugh, bitter as the rind of a lemon. “Will I get smote for telling you I think you’re lying?” he asks.

 

“No,” Jesus shrugs. “I never expected you to believe me. I just thought you ought to hear it. So that, maybe some day, you’ll be able to understand.”

 

“Kid,” the demon says, half expecting to be struck down for calling the Christ child ‘kid’, “I’m a demon. I’m pretty sure that’s the exact definition of ‘things She hates’.”

 

“And yet, you helped me build a house today,” his companion says mildly, looking up at him with those too-old eyes. “You left me toys, when you thought no one would catch you. You kept us all safe, when my family was forced to flee into Egypt. You make sure the children of this village have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. None of those things are very demonic, are they?”

 

Crowley shrugs. “’S not like I could do much else. Nobody else was gonna.” He pauses when he realizes what he just admitted to, then scowls. “And if you ever tell anyone, I’ll… I’ll make sure the sand in that desert I’m supposed to tempt you in is hot enough to burn your feet.”

 

Jesus blinks, then laughs. “That’s the best threat you can come up with?”

 

Crowley’s scowl deepens. “You’re a kid. I’m not gonna torture a kid.”

 

“Am I?” The Son of God asks, standing in front of Crowley and forcing him to meet those impossibly ancient eyes. His voice goes deep with divine knowledge, the edges of the words crackling with Her holy power. “I’ve been here since before there was light. I watched your creation, and your downfall. I am Her Word and Her Son. Her promise to the world that there can be redemption. I am one with Her and Her Spirit. When She speaks, there I am. And so when I say She does not hate you, I do so with Her voice and Her mind.”

 

“Her promise of redemption?” Crowley echoes, dragging his gaze away from the universe he can see inside this child’s eyes. He chuckles, and shakes his head. “You believe what you want, kid. But for some of us, there is no redemption.” He knows he sounds bitter, but there’s no hiding himself here. Not from eyes like that. He doesn’t think about what the boy just said. It can’t be right. If she didn’t hate him, she wouldn’t have let him Fall.

 

The boy’s hands fall on his shoulders, and Crowley meets that impossible gaze again, startled by the contact. “You are part of Her plan, Crowley. You read Her words. You cannot deny that this is what She planned for you. It does not mean Her heart did not ache as she cast you from Her light.”

 

Crowley wants to scoff, to look away, to turn and stalk off into the night. He can’t. He’s frozen. A captive to His ancient eyes. “If She cares so much, why did She make this Plan in the first place?” he asks, voice shaking from the strain of standing under that gaze. The silence inside is screaming, aching, empty and raw. “Why did She leave?”

 

Jesus doesn’t pull away from the pain in his voice. The only indication he notices it at all is a tight squeeze of the hands against his shoulders. “She does things in Her own way. Even I don’t always get to know why.” For a moment, he sounds like a child again, a little lost, confused. Then he smiles, his eyes clear, and Crowley sees a young man, wise beyond his years, but mortal. Human. “Her Plan will become clear in time,” he assures the demon, then drops his hands and steps away.

 

Crowley nearly collapses from the relief of it, of being out from under those impossibly wise, sad eyes. He forces himself to stand firm. “Yeah, well, you can tell Her I don’t think much of Her Plan. Sacrificing kids who never did anything wrong.”

 

Blessedly, Jesus doesn’t look at him again, instead turning his gaze to the moon. It’s a clear night, and Crowley can see some of his own stars above them. “Do you mean the Flood?” the boy asks mildly. “Or yourself?”

 

“Oh, the Flood of course,” the demon laughs. “I know what I did that pissed Her off. I wanted to know Why. I knew I wasn’t supposed to read the damn book. Still did. My question though, my question is, that what I did was written in the Plan. So She knew I’d damn myself, and just let me do it anyway. Let me just wander around, asking my questions, trying to get somebody up there to just tell me one blessed Good reason why I was meant to sacrifice myself for the humans. I was a goddamned -literally- idiot, walking right into this mess.” He kicks a pebble down the road, feeling a sense of satisfaction in the sound it makes as it skips over the dirt. “I just asked questions.” He sighs. “That was all I did, other than try my best to do what She asked of me. Was it so bad, to want to know why?” he hisses at himself and kicks another rock. This one makes a nice solid thunk as it hits a fence post. He’s revealing far, far too much of himself. But he also can’t seem to stop.

 

“Do you regret it?” Jesus asks. “Asking questions? Falling?”

 

Crowley shakes his head. “Asking questions? No.” He doesn’t. He still doesn’t understand why it was wrong. Everything would have been so much easier if She had just explained what she wanted. “Falling… every day.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Aside from losing Her Love?” Crowley asks. His companion nods silently. The demon considers his answer. It should be simple. It should be his siblings that he misses the most. But even with the silence screaming inside of him where their voices used to be, it’s not. “I don’t… I’m not sure. But… there was someone. Another angel. I didn’t really know, then, but I was starting to love him. Specifically love him. More than anyone. More than Her.” He can admit that to the boy beside him, the carpenter’s son who preaches love above all else. He sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, maybe that was part of why I Fell. She never did go in for… for fraternization in the ranks.”

 

“You still love this angel. Specifically,” Jesus observes, still looking up at the sky. Then he shoots Crowley a playful, sideways glance. “And don’t lie. I’ll know it if you do.”

 

“I…” for a second, Crowley considers lying anyway. But there’s no point. Not to Him. “Yeah. He’s… special. Not cold, like the others have become. He cares, he’s kind, he’s… he drives me absolutely bloody mad with how oblivious he can be at times, the trouble he gets himself in. Do you know, I had to save him last year from the bloody arena? Somehow he got himself caught up in a Roman prison and sentenced to be a gladiator! Can you imagine that? Him? Fighting? I spend half my time worrying about the daft bastard, and the other half fishing him out of whatever trouble he’s managed to bumble his way into!” He knows he’s rambling, but he can’t quite find it in himself to stop, now that he’s started. “He’d have been discorporated a dozen times over just this past century, if I hadn’t stepped in. He just…. Oh, I don’t know. He’s got too much faith in people.”

 

“And you don’t?” the boy beside him asks. They’ve made their way out into a field now. Beside their voices, the only other sounds are from animals and the wind blowing across the wheat. “No optimism about what these humans will do with the Knowledge you gave them?”

 

“None,” Crowley says flatly. His companion’s lips quirk up in a smile and he knows he’s been caught in a lie.

 

“She has a Plan,” Jesus tells him, after a moment. “But sometimes, I think she really just wants to see what they’ll do with it. Free will.”

 

Crowley considers that. “Maybe.” He shrugs. “Nothing to do with me at this point. I’m just here to cause a little chaos.”

 

His companion politely doesn’t point out the truth. That chaos is a critical element for self-determination.

 

They walk a little further without speaking. It would be nice, save for the silence inside Crowley’s mind. It hurts more than it has in the past thousand years, standing here next to a boy that is the embodiment of God’s love. It stabs right through him, clawing at the walls he built around himself, threatening to tear them all away and leave him broken once more, a small, crawling thing meant only to be crushed beneath His feet. It would be so much easier, if he could hate him. If he could hate Her for what She did. He wonders if it would hurt less, then. The demon turns his eyes back to the stars. And after a time, he speaks.

 

“I meant you, too,” he says, anguished, quiet enough the boy can pretend not to hear. “She’s sacrificing you, too.”

 

Jesus doesn’t turn to look at him, and he’s grateful. He doesn’t know if he could stand to see those ancient eyes right now.

 

“Is it a sacrifice if I choose it?” the boy asks. Crowley doesn’t have a reply. Jesus squeezes his shoulder comfortingly, then turns and walks back towards the light of the village. Crowley stays out in that dark field all night, trying to come up with an answer.

 

 

 

Fifteen years later, Crowley comes to him in the desert. He’s tired, thin, filthy, and horribly dehydrated. He looks like a corpse, paper-thin skin stretched too tight against bones and little else. Crowley would think him dead, were it not for the determined way he’s still putting one foot in front of the other. The demon snaps his fingers and conjures a waterskin into his hands before shoving it at the Son of God.

 

“Here.” He’s starting this off by going off-script, he knows that, but he can’t not. He was Her healer, once, and that urge to heal has never gone away. And, anyway, how is he supposed to tempt someone who’s dying of dehydration?

 

Jesus’ sunken eyes snap open, so tired, ancient, and human, and he gives Crowley a small smile. “You’re meant-” he coughs, then tries again in a raspy voice. “You’re meant to-” he can’t get the words out past the dryness of his throat.

 

“Yeah, I know what I’m meant to do,” Crowley tells him, wrapping his hands around the waterskin and bringing it to Christ’s lips. “Small sips,” he cautions. “It won’t do you any good to just vomit it all back up.” He carefully uses a small demonic miracle to speed his re-hydration. It’s not like anyone will be keeping track today, not when he’s meant to be tempting the Son of God himself.

 

“There.” He steps back, pleased, when he can sense enough water has finally returned to the man’s body. “Now I can tempt you properly, without worrying your body is gonna give out on us.”

 

Ancient, knowing eyes sparkle with amusement. “This is supposed to be a test, you know,” he says, sounding much better now that his throat isn’t coated in sand. He still looks tired, and Crowley’s fingers itch to heal his fatigue, to conjure up some food for him, and shelter from the burning sun. His skin is burned raw, blistered in places, and it hurts the part of him that used to be Her healer to stand there and not make it right. There’s a line here, he knows, a script they need to follow, at least a little. That doesn’t mean he can’t improvise.

 

“I know,” Crowley says, and snaps his fingers. A stone appears on the ground between them, and he glares at it instead of looking up into that too-thin face. “I don’t suppose you’d want to turn that into bread, huh? You haven’t had a thing to eat in over a month. I’m honestly not sure how your body is still functioning.”

 

“If my Mother wishes me to have food, She will provide it,” Jesus answers, and Crowley rolls his eyes.

 

“Sure, just like she provided that water for you. Or this.” He snaps his fingers again, and a great umbrella appears in his hands, wide enough to shield them both from the sun.

 

The Son of God smiles. “She did. She sent you.”

 

I’m here tempting you,” the demon snaps. “I’m no healer sent by God Herself to get you out of this desert.” He wants to be, he doesn’t say. He knows what he is.

 

“Aren’t you?” his companion asks.

 

Crowley freezes. “No,” he says, sharp, anguished. “Not anymore.”

 

“Then why give me water? Or shade? There is a reason She chose you to be my tempter.”

 

The demon shakes his head and refuses to meet his eyes. “I took the assignment for the hazard pay,” he says.

 

“Liar,” Jesus says, amused, a statement of fact with no accusation in the words.

 

Crowley pastes on a grin, pretending the word doesn’t hurt. “Guilty as charged. Let’s get on with this, shall we?” He doesn’t like the look of the burns on Jesus’ back. They are clearly infected, and need cleaning sooner rather than later. “You sure you don’t want to turn this into bread? I doubt she’ll begrudge you a miracle, not when you’ve just spent forty days wandering in the desert to prove your faithfulness to her.” He glowers at the sand. “Which, by the way, is a pretty shit way to treat your kid.”

 

His companion moves closer, further under the shade of the great umbrella. “One does not live by bread alone,” he says, stepping onto the stone Crowley summoned.

 

The demon shrugs. “Doesn’t have to be bread. Anything with the right nutrients will help.” He chances a look at Jesus’ face, and sees him watching Crowley with a sad smile. “Or you could, I don’t know, just… take this.” He pulls a small loaf of bread filled with dates out of a pocket. “Give you some strength for the bit where I show you all the kingdoms of the world.”

 

Too-warm hands take the bread, breaking the loaf in half and offering part back to Crowley. “Didn’t I Say she would send food if She thought I should have it?”

 

“Don’t think I’m a puppet to be pulled by Her strings,” Crowley growls. Snatching the offered loaf and tearing off a bit with his teeth. “I’m here because Downstairs says someone has to be, and I’m the one that got assigned. I’ll read Her script, but don’t think for one second I’m doing any of this for Her.”

 

“I didn’t think you were,” Jesus says mildly. He doesn’t make a move to eat the bread.

 

After a few moments of silence, Crowley hisses and tears off a chunk of bread with his fingers, and shoves it into the man’s hand. “Eat that,” he snaps. “It’s got enough vitamins in there to keep you from falling over before I’m done here.”

 

“And what,” his companion asks, accepting the bit of bread. “Are you doing here, if not following Her plan?”

 

“I’m here to talk you out of it, of course,” he says. “I may have walked headfirst into Her Great Plan, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You can still tell Her to forget the whole thing, leave you alone, skip the whole dying in agony and going to hell bit. Make someone else her sacrificial lamb.”

 

Jesus considers his words for a moment, which is honestly more than Crowley expected. He’s also eating the bread, which eases the itch in Crowley’s bones that remember old instincts. “And if I said that I asked for this?” he asks mildly. “That I walked into my role with my eyes open?”

 

“I’d call bullshit,” Crowley says. “No one just walks into something like this and says ‘sign me up for unimaginable pain, please’.”

 

The Son of God looks at him. “And yet, if I recall correctly, you knew of Her plan. And though you hated Her for what She did, you still chose to tempt Eve.”

 

Crowley looks out over the desert, refusing to meet those ancient, knowing eyes. “That’s different. That wasn’t for Her, it was for them. The humans. Bloody ungrateful bastards.” How many times had he stood up on that wall with Aziraphale, looking down at the humans and wondering what they would become? How often had they walked through Eden, and found the humans, ever curious, exploring their domain? He remembers the questions in Eve’s eyes. So many questions. All with answers he had been forbidden to give.

 

 

Aziraphale meets him at the gate, eyes wide and worried. “Oh, thank goodness. I’m so glad you’re here.” He guides Raphael into the Garden. “I don’t quite know what to do, and it looks like it hurts her, the poor thing. If I hadn’t been able to reach you, I don’t know what I would have done.”

 

Raphael chuckles. He can feel the female human ’s pain now, his power picking it up more clearly with every step. The stinging, rough sort of pain that comes from skinned knees. “She’ll be alright. It’s nothing serious,” he reassures his friend. “Don’t worry so much.”

 

They find her near a stream, wincing but also poking curious fingers at the bleeding wound on her leg. She looks up when she hears them and smiles.

 

“Hello,” Raphael says, switching from Enochian to a language more suited to human tongues. “I hear you had a bad fall.” He kneels down beside her, careless of the mud staining his white robes. Aziraphale stands at his side, shifting with nervous energy.

 

“It hurts,” Eve says, showing him her knee. There’s a deep scrape there, just below the kneecap. Raphael takes a deep breath, letting healing energy pool in his hands.

 

“It’s alright,” he says, expecting her to be scared, but she just watches him with those wide, curious eyes. “I’m going to make it better.”

 

She doesn ’t flinch as he touches her knee, or shy away from the contact as lesser animals would do. He concentrates, and the bright blue light of his power flows down from his hand to cover the scrape. He wills it to heal, and it does, knitting her skin back together and then flowing up, back into his hands.

 

Eve pokes at the place where she was injured, running a hand over the repaired flesh and scraping at it gently with a fingernail. “How?” she asks, the words still awkward on her lips. She’s barely a day old, and already she’s exploring the Garden.

 

Raphael smiles at her, feeling a rush of fondness for these new creatures. “I’m a healer,” he explains. “It’s what I was made for.”

 

“Can you teach me?” Aziraphale asks, and Raphael turns his head to see the principality watching him with hope in his eyes. “I think I should know how to do this, if I’m to guide them,” he points out. The archangel feels his smile widen.

 

“Go pick a flower,” he orders. “Any flower.

 

“A flower?” Aziraphale frowns, confused.

 

Raphael laughs. “Well, I’m not going to teach you how to heal on someone who feels pain, now am I?”

 

“Oh. No, I suppose that wouldn’t be a good idea,” Aziraphale agrees. He returns with a small white flower, carried carefully in his soft hands. At Raphael’s gesture, he comes to kneel beside the archangel.

 

Raphael inspects the flower. Yellow in the center, fading to a pure white in the petals. Plumeria, She had named it. A flower of new beginnings. “Now,” he says, setting it on the ground before them. “You need to feel the life in it, the pattern of the form it is meant to have.” He reaches out and wraps a hand around Aziraphale’s, drawing it out to hover over the flower.

 

“I don’t feel anything,” Aziraphale confesses after a moment, eyes squeezed shut as he tries to concentrate. “It’s like nothing is there.”

 

“Here,” Raphael says, and reaches out again, this time with his essence. He brushes against Aziraphale’s, then waits for permission to enter. He feels a flash of pleased acceptance from the other angel, and mingles their essences together. Not enough for a true joining of minds, but just enough that he can guide the angel, show him how the healing is meant to feel. Aziraphale’s essence is warm, welcoming, a steady presence at his side, a rock to cling to against the crushing tide. He’s never felt anything quite so wonderful, and it takes all of his self control to keep from diving further, mingling their essences completely until he’s surrounded by that warm light. Briefly, he wonders how he feels to the angel, and Aziraphale catches the thought. Then he feels rather than sees the image the angel gives him - a tempest bound within an acorn, flashes of light and the birth of stars above the gently rocking depths of the ocean. He projects back amusement, and lets Aziraphale’s calm still him, calm the storm within so they can concentrate together.

 

He guides their hand down to touch the petals of the flower. And there it is, the pattern of life, the place where the flower knows a stem should be, roots and leaves growing strong. Raphael guides their combined power, flowing down into the flower-that-is, and through to the empty pieces of the pattern.

 

Aziraphale gasps as the power catches on the pattern, and then they feel the pattern shift beneath their hand. The power flows from them more easily now, filling the flower until it spills into the empty pattern, until the pattern is so fill any more will cause it to overflow. Beneath their hand the roots dig deep into the earth, a strong stem grows to support the flower, and little leaves unfold along the stem. Then the pattern is complete. He withdraws their power, and, reluctantly, ends their contact.

 

“Oh my.” Aziraphale is watching his face, innocent eyes wide above an excited smile. “That was…”

 

“That was.” Raphael agrees. He doesn’t have words for it. He wants to do it again, to reach out, to mingle their essences more, until they can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, to feel that calm surround him, bring him peace and ease the itch of worry that’s been building in him more each day since they’ve heard from his eldest brother. He resists the urge, instead squeezing Aziraphale’s hand within his and then letting go.

 

Then he looks down at the flower, and frowns in confusion. The plant before him is smaller, with five petals of a perfect dusky blue. Three more spring from the same stem, like stars in a constellation.

 

“I haven’t seen that one before,” Aziraphale comments, touching the petal curiously.

 

“It’s new,” Raphael says, surprised. He had thought the last thing made in the Garden was to be the humans, but here, under his hands, is a new flower. “Myosotis.” He knows it’s name instantly, like he had with all of Her creations. “Forget-me-not.” A flower of love and remembrance.

 

“It’s beautiful.” Aziraphale looks between the flower and the archangel. “But… we didn’t do it right, did we? The healing?”

 

Raphael shrugs. “Not quite. But I didn’t expect it to go right, exactly. It never does, the first time.”

 

The angel frowns at the flower, clearly disappointed still. “What happened your first time then?”

 

“I, well… ah. Nothing much.” The archangel studies his hands, feeling his face heat. Michael has never and will never let him live it down. She thinks it’s hilarious, the creature he accidentally created.

 

Aziraphale grins. “That doesn’t sound like you mean it. Now you simply must tell me.”

 

Raphael looks at his lap. “I… may have created the platypus,” he mumbles. “Trying to heal a duck with a broken wing.”

 

“The platypus?” Aziraphale asks, eyes widening. “That was you?”

 

“In my defense, I was only a fledgling at the time. Sandalphon hadn’t even been created yet.”

 

The angel is laughing now. “But, my dear, the platypus? I always assumed that was one of Her little jokes.

 

“Maybe it was,” Raphael shoots back. “She works in mysterious ways, after all.” Bitterness creeps into his voice. “She’s ineffable.” He hasn’t heard from Her in two days. Hasn’t heard from Lucifer in far longer. For a being that was used to hearing from Her all of the time, every little directive, some small task She needs taken care of, it feels like an eternity.

 

“Oh my dear boy,” Aziraphale reaches out, a comforting hand on Raphael’s arm. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing.” Raphael forces a smile back onto his face. “Nothing at all. I was just thinking. But here, let’s try again.” He summons a dagger, and draws it lightly across the skin of his palm. His human corporation starts to bleed, and he grits his teeth against the sting of it.

 

“Raphael!” Aziraphale cries, shocked. “What- but what if I…” he gestures helplessly to the flower.

 

The archangel laughs. “Don’t worry. The longer something exists, the harder it is to change the pattern. You won’t be able to change me on accident. I’ve been in this form since before time began.” He almost reaches to mingle their essences again, but thinks better of it. “Now. Do you remember how it felt, to feel the pattern?”

 

Aziraphale nods, eyes on the thin line of blood seeping across the archangel ’s palm. “I do.” He raises a hand, and fingers brush against Raphael’s hand. Blue power coats his fingers, and Raphael watches his face as he squeezes his eyes shut, concentrating. He lets the power flow down to settle on the archangel’s palm, where it ripples across the wound. It feels cool, soothing and wonderful. It’s a feeling Raphael doesn’t want to end. But the cut soon begins to knit together, and then it’s gone. Aziraphale withdraws his power, leaving behind a faint line of a scar across Raphael’s palm.

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale’s face falls, and he runs a finger along the scar, sending a shiver of… something up Raphael’s spine. “I’m so sorry, I was so sure I’d got it right. Let me-”

 

Raphael withdraws his hand, holding it up so he can look at the faint pink line. It runs diagonally from what some humans would come to call the ‘heart’ line, crossing the ‘fate’ and ‘life’ lines to end at the base of his thumb. “Not bad,” he says, checking the depth of the healing. “You did well for your second time.”

 

“I left a scar though,” the angel says. “It’s not fully healed.”

 

Raphael shakes his head. “It’s fine.” He can feel the scar as part of his human-shaped pattern now. He won’t be able to heal it away. Strangely, he doesn’t mind. He meets Aziraphale’s eyes. “You did well. I want you to practice this, until you can sense the pattern without having to think about it.”

 

The younger angel looks about to say something, but he ’s interrupted by a call from deeper inside the Garden.

 

“That’s one of the teachers,” Raphael tells him. “Sounds like they need you.”

 

“Oh, but…” the angel looks torn between wanting to stay, and his desire to please everyone.

 

“Go,” Raphael says, rising, and pushing him off in the direction of the voice. With a last look back at him, Aziraphale goes. And Raphael feels something tighten in his chest, squeezing at his heart.

 

“It hurts,” the human woman observes, and he jumps, having forgotten she was still there.

 

“What?”

 

“It hurts.” She puts her hand carefully against his chest, over his heart. “Here.” Her eyes meet his. “Why?”

 

Raphael looks away. “I don’t want him to leave.”

 

“Why?”

 

He blinks, and looks at her. She’s watching his face with those same wide, curious eyes that didn’t flinch away when he healed her. Endless curiosity, this one, he thinks. “I don’t know,” he says honestly. “I just… want to be around him.”

 

She smiles, like that was all the answer she needed. She turns and walks away, leaving Raphael alone to examine the flower he and Aziraphale created. Such a small thing, but beautiful, like looking at the stars from earth. He can imagine a field of these, lying warm in the afternoon sun. He could take Aziraphale and his siblings, and they could sit beneath a tree surrounded by flowers, watching Gabriel and Sandalphon bicker. Uriel would bring her harp, and coerce Michael into joining her in song. He wonders what Aziraphale ’s voice is like when he sings. And Lucifer… he can’t find Lucifer in this picture. It’s been so long, he isn’t sure anymore what his brother would do on such an occasion.

 

“Heal?” Eves voice breaks him out of his contemplations. She’s back at his side now, holding to halves of a broken stick. “Make it better?

 

He takes it from her, extending his power, but this stick fell from it ’s tree a long time ago. All the life is gone from it, the patten lost to entropy, and with it any chance of making it whole again.

 

“I can’t,” he tells her. “It’s dead.”

 

She frowns. “What is ‘dead’?”

 

He opens his mouth to explain, then remembers the tree, the apples, and the Knowledge she isn ’t allowed to have. “It means I can’t fix it,” he tells her.

 

She looks at the stick, and then reaches for his hand, turning it palm up and tracing the new scar there. “Dead?” she asks.

 

“No. Not that. That’s… different.”

 

She shakes her head, frustration in her eyes as she struggles to understand. “You can heal it?”

 

“No. But it’s not dead. It’s a part of me.”

 

“Can I be a healer?” Eve asks him, and he blinks at her surprised.

 

“I don’t think so,” he says at last. Humans don’t have the ability to see the patterns, not like an angel can.

 

She continues to frown. “Why not?”

 

He gives her the simplest answer he can. “It’s not how you were made.”

 

“Then what?” she wants to know. “What am I made for?”

 

“You were made to be yourself,” he says. She isn’t satisfied with that, he can tell. Not by a long shot. But he can’t give her anything more. She’s forbidden from knowing too much. And for the first time, he realizes that he hates one of Her rules. Why shouldn’t the humans know what they were made for? Why keep from them the knowledge of life and death, good and evil? He doesn’t understand Her reasons for it, and he hates that too. He wants to ask Her, to stand before Her in Her Grace and demand to know why. But She isn’t there. He doesn’t know where She went. And he isn’t supposed to ask questions. He’s as frustrated and clueless as the human woman, and he hates that too.

 

 

***

 

 

It ’s still beautiful in the Garden. Part of him had expected it wouldn’t be, after everything. But the war never came this far. Eden was spared the brunt of it, and one angel’s Fall is not enough to taint it’s perfection. Not even the Fall of an archangel. He almost wishes it was. It would be easier, he thinks, if it didn’t look the same. If he wasn’t able to curl up here on the edge of the river, his new scales warmed by the sun, and watch the wind blow across a small patch of those little blue flowers he and Aziraphale created so long ago.

 

Eve finds him soon enough. She knows this Garden well now. She knows when something doesn ’t belong. He curls into a tight knot, head in the center of his coils, as she sits down at his side.

 

“You’re new,” she says. “What are you?”

 

“Demon,” he hisses, but the word holds no meaning for her.

 

“What’s a demon?” she asks.

 

He hesitates. Demons, like Good and Evil, are part of the forbidden Knowledge. The Knowledge he was supposed to tempt her into taking.

 

“It’s what I am,” he tells her.

 

“You’re from outside?” So many questions. Doesn’t she know questions are dangerous?

 

“I am.” He coils himself tighter, wanting to escape but also not wanting to be alone again.

 

“What’s happening out there? With the angels?”

 

He blinks in shock, turning his head to look at her. She ’s looking up at the sky, where the last vestiges of the War still play across the clouds in flashes of light and thunder. He stays silent.

 

“Adam says it’s nothing,” she tells him. “But we don’t know what this is. I want to understand.”

 

“You cant.” He doesn’t mean it to come out so sharp, but it does. “You can’t understand.”

 

She frowns. “But… why?”

 

“It is forbidden.”

 

“Why is it forbidden?” He can hear the frustration in her voice.

 

“Because it is.” He hides his head under a loop of his body.

 

At his side, she sighs. “That’s what the angels say.” Her hands form fists on her knees. “They say I do not need to know. That it doesn’t matter.”

 

“Why do you want to know?” he asks.

 

She grinds her teeth in frustration. “Because I don’t understand. There’s so much I don’t understand. And I want to know why.

 

“It’s better if you don’t,” he tells her, anger and pain bleeding into his voice. “Ask too many questions, you’ll get burned.”

 

“Why?” she wants to know. That had always been his question too. Why make a Plan to cast them out? Why sacrifice him? Why lead Lucifer down this path to madness? Why create all of this if she was just going to take it away? So many whys. So many unanswered questions. And for that, he had Fallen. “I don’t understand.”

 

“Because…” he stops. As an angel, refusing her answers had been his duty. And now, well. Now his duty is to tempt her. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. After all, isn’t the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge supposed to impart wisdom? He looks at her, and sees himself, as he was - young, innocent, asking questions because he wants to know the answer, and being told again and again that he wasn’t allowed to know. He had taken the book from Lucifer, had read what he had been forbidden to see, because he couldn’t stand not knowing why. He didn’t get an answer then, and he probably never will. But that doesn’t mean that she won’t.

 

“Because,” he tells her, “you’ll have to choose. If you understand, you won’t be able to stay here. You’ll have to leave the Garden.”

 

“What’s outside the Garden?” she wants to know.

 

“Many things.” He thinks of the stars. Of fields of little blue flowers. Waterfalls. Rivers rushing to the sea. “Wonderful things.” He thinks of demons. Of fire. Landslides. The teeth of great predators. “And terrible things. It isn’t safe.”

 

“Is safe better?” she asks. He doesn’t have an answer.

 

“If I go, must Adam stay?” she wants to know, and he follows her gaze to where the first man is standing under the shade of a tree, watching them.

 

“He must make his own choice,” he tells her.

 

“He’ll stay with me,” she says, sure in her response. She’s probably right, too. Adam looks at her, the way he knows he looks at Aziraphale. Like he’ll follow her anywhere she wants to go.

 

He takes a deep breath. “To get your answers, you need to eat an apple from the forbidden tree. If you do, you’ll Know. But you won’t be allowed to stay here. You will be cast out, and never allowed to return.”

 

She nods, and stands. He turns away, sliding off the rock and into the forest. He doesn ’t want to see what happens when she takes that first bite. Will she hate him for it, he wonders? He thinks she probably should.

 

 

“You did the right thing,” Jesus says, and Crowley blinks. For a moment, he had imagined himself back in the Garden, watching it all unfold again.

 

“Did I?” he asks, dryly. “Do you think they would be happier, had they remained in Eden?”

 

“I think they deserved the choice,” his companion says. “I think choice was Her whole point.”

 

“Do you get a choice?” Crowley asks him. Did I?

 

Jesus nods. “I chose this part in Her plans.”

 

“And how does she repay you?” the demon demands, bitter. “What do you get for allowing yourself to be tortured?” With a snap, they’re standing atop the Great Temple in Jerusalem. “If you jump off this roof now, will She send Her angels to catch you?”

 

Ancient eyes meet his. ‘I do not need to test Her,” Jesus says. “She will send me what protection I require.”

 

Crowley scoffs. “She hasn’t sent shit. I’m the one that’s been chasing off the demons on your tail, not some bloody angel. They all have orders to leave you alone.”

 

Jesus smiles knowingly.

 

“No,” Crowley tells him. “She didn’t send me. I sent myself. And I’m only here trying to get you to back out of this stupid plan before you die in agony.”

 

“You cannot convince me to abandon my appointed task,” the Son of God says quietly. “It must be done, and I am glad to do it.”

 

“You can’t expect me to believe you want to be tortured,” Crowley says.

 

Jesus shrugs. “I don’t. But it’s necessary. To give them a chance at redemption.”

 

“Why?” Crowley wants to know. That same old question. He doesn’t expect an answer, as much as he wants one.

 

“I don’t know,” Her Son tells him, for a moment sounding just as lost. “She never does explain Herself.”

 

They watch the city in silence as the sky goes dark. People hurry to and fro, lanterns coming out as the sunlight fades. A family wanders past their perch, a young father with his arm wrapped around his wife’s shoulders, their daughter clutching his hand.

 

“You told me once you think She let you Fall because you were falling in love,” Jesus says into the silence. The demon jerks away from him as if slapped.

 

“Part of the reason,” Crowley tells him. “It was part of the reason.”

 

“No,” he says. “It isn’t. She would never make you Fall for feeling love.”

 

Crowley watches the young family on the street below. “Don’t.” His voice is bitter, angry, and more than a little terrified. “And don’t tell anyone. I won’t risk him for my stupidity.”

 

“He is safe,” Jesus reassures him. “He won’t Fall.”

 

“’Course he won’t. He’s too Good. Still loves Her. And… you know. Raph- the archangel. You won’t catch him falling in love now. Especially not with a demon.” Especially not with me. He means it to come out sharp, but the words just sound broken.

 

Thankfully, Jesus says nothing. He just steps a little closer, until Crowley can feel the heat radiating off his skin. The demon frowns, allowing himself to be distracted by the itch to heal.

 

“Come here. Let me fix that,” he says, careful fingers turning the Son of God until he can see the expanse of his back under his thin robes. The uncovered skin is blistered and raw, and he flinches automatically when the demon’s fingers brush against it.

 

“I suppose those angels that are supposed to come minister to you when this is over will be surprised,” he muses, letting the healing energy flow through him. “Since you’re not supposed to use miracles.”

 

“Well,” Jesus says, and Crowley can hear the smile in his words. “I won’t tell them if you don’t.”

 

 

Crowley takes him to see the kingdoms of the world. A snap of his fingers, and they’re wandering through a palace in China. Another snap, and they stand dwarfed in the shadow of the Great Pyramid at Giza. They walk through Rome in all it’s glory, and lose themselves in the crowds of a Mayan marketplace. It’s amazing to Crowley still, even after four thousand years. He’ll never get tired of seeing what these clever humans come up with. True, he thinks, they do some truly terrible things as well. But just when I want to give up on them, they do something brilliant.

 

“I agree,” Jesus says, and Crowley realizes he spoke his thought out loud. “They really are remarkable, aren’t they?”

 

“Not enough to be worth sacrificing yourself,” Crowley tells him, but his argument lacks the conviction it had before.

 

“I think they are,” the Son of God tells him. “You won’t get me to change my mind, Crowley.” He pauses, and he must see the conflict on the demon’s face, because he turns and looks him in the eyes.

 

Crowley meets that ancient, knowing gaze, and does not back down. “It’s Hell, you know,” he says. “You don’t just get tortured on Earth. You’re walking into Hell. And you know what that means. Beelzebub has already ordered a torture chamber prepared for you. They’ll torture you until you crack, until you break right down the middle and there’s nothing left to return to Her in Heaven. It won’t even take three days. Belial has been preparing for this since we received news of your birth.”

 

“I will not break,” Jesus assures him. “I know what I must endure. And still, I choose it freely.”

 

“You don’t even know Her reasons for forcing you through this!” Crowley says, wanting to reach out and shake him, but unable to move under the weight of those eyes. For the first time, he wonders if mortals feel like this when faced with his stare, transfixed, helpless.

 

“I know enough,” Jesus says, and his expression closes off. “I have made my choice, Crowley. It will not change.”

 

“Then I won’t watch you walk into this,” the demon tells him. And with a particularly difficult wrench of his will, he leaves the Son of God standing alone on a mountaintop.

 

 

He doesn’t watch the rest of Jesus’ ministry, nor the events leading up to his crucifixion. He does go, on that last day, and stands beside Aziraphale as the humans nail him to the cross. The wounds inside him burn as he watches.

 

“Did you ever meet him?” Aziraphale asks, and Crowley almost laughs. He has spent the better part of thirty years watching over this man, only to be standing here, helpless, as he dies far too young and walks willingly into Hell. Inside, he’s a mess. The silence roars at him, tearing at the shattered pieces of his soul, demanding that he do something, anything, to make it stop. Outwardly, the only sign of his turmoil is the way he’s clasped his hands together, fingers digging into the flesh of his palms. He can feel the faint line of a scar on his right hand, and that only makes it worse. Because Aziraphale is right here, at his side, that warm and steady presence. But Crowley has so many more scars now, the tempest inside has become far too strong. While Raphael might have been able to cling to Aziraphale’s rock in the storm, Crowley’s tempest would shatter it into a thousand pieces.

 

Crowley turns away when Jesus cries out in pain, asking the question that has been on Crowley’s lips since the day he first read Her plan. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

 

 

 

Four days later they stand together outside his tomb, and watch in awe as the Son of God steps out. He turns to them, and Aziraphale bows deeply.

 

“My Lord,” the angel says. Crowley just grins.

 

“I didn’t think you’d make it out,” he says, and Aziraphale gasps at the irreverence of his words.

 

Jesus only laughs. “For a few moments there, I almost didn’t.” Then he smiles. “It was worth it,” he says, and holds the demon’s eyes with his own, eyes ancient and knowing, and somehow just slightly less sad than they had been before. Looking into that ancient gaze, Crowley remembers.

 

 

She sits by the fire in their camp, Aziraphale ’s flaming sword at her side. Adam leans against her, asleep with his head on her shoulder. She holds their son to her breast, belly already swelling again with their second child. She looks happy, despite the loss of Her love, despite being banished from the Garden. He stays, watching from the shadows as she rocks her baby.

 

Then Eve looks up, and meets his eyes. He freezes, waiting for her to take up the sword and chase him off. Instead, her expression softens, and she smiles.

 

“Thank you,” she says.

 

He hisses in shock, pulling back, deeper into the shadows. “You sssshouldn’t thank hssss me.”

 

“I should,” she tells him firmly. “You are the one that gave me knowledge.”

 

“I got you kicked out of the Garden,” he hisses.

 

Eve nods. “You gave me a choice. I chose knowledge over ignorance.” She smooths a hand through her baby’s hair. “I did not know then, what love was. I could not know, until I knew the absence of it. But now…” she meets his eyes again. “Now I know what love is. I know how to love. And I know I am loved in return.

 

“She loved you,” he tells her. “She kept you safe in Her Garden.”

 

“She kept me from choosing. From even knowing I could choose.”

 

“You were happy,” he counters, not understanding how she isn’t furious with him for this.

 

“I didn’t know what happy was,” Eve says, and he realizes he hasn’t seen her frown today. She’s not frustrated anymore. Whatever answers she got, they seem to have been enough. “I know now. That wasn’t happiness. That was… complacency. Contentment, I suppose. But this,” she gestures to her child and her husband, the small camp they set up that is gradually turning into a home. “This is happiness. My happiness. And so I thank you.

 

He doesn ’t respond. But he thinks that, maybe, he did do the right thing after all.

 

 

“Yeah,” Crowley agrees, when the memory releases him. He can feel a lightness to the world now, like something that had been very wrong was suddenly very right. “Yeah, I think it was.”

 

Jesus nods, and turns to the angel. “Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate. I have heard a great deal about you.”

 

“Lord?” Aziraphale asks, and Jesus reaches out, drawing him upright from his bow. Crowley shifts just a bit closer, just enough that his arm brushes the angel’s, letting him know that he’s there, and feels a bit of Aziraphale’s fear ease.

 

“It isn’t as hopeless as it might seem,” the Son of God says. “You are not alone.”

 

Aziraphale nods. “I know.” He glances at Crowley, and there’s a soft sort of smile on his face that the demon hasn’t seen before. Then he catches himself, and the smile fades into something more neutral.

 

“Take care of each other,” Jesus tells them both. And then he is gone.

 

The angel stands still for a moment, and then turns to Crowley. “Well then,” he says, offering a hesitant smile. “Lunch?”

 

The demon doesn’t respond right away, lost in thought as he considers what it means to choose. He thinks, with some wonder, that he can choose, now. Has been making his own choices for the past four thousand years. And maybe it doesn’t make him any less damned, doesn’t make the raw and aching places inside him any less painful, but it’s not nothing. It’s something to hold on to, at least.

 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale asks, using his new name for the first time. The sound of that name in his voice makes something else slot into place, something wrong becoming something right. And for the first time in over four thousand years, he allows himself a little bit of hope.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Crowley has days where he wonders if he made it all up. Heaven. The archangels. Aziraphale. When he starts to think that maybe he’s wrong. Maybe all of this, the pain, the silence, even the careful new friendship he’s managed to regain with the angel are all part of something cooked up by Hell just to torment him further. When the fragile candle of hope the Son of God gave him starts to flicker and fade, leaving him floundering in a sea of anguish. Those are the really bad days. The days when not even Aziraphale’s voice can settle the screaming silence within him. When he feels the ache of it shredding the corners of his mind, picking away at his sanity until one day the only thing left will be a feral beast that knows nothing but silence and pain.

 

Those are the days when he takes to the skies. When he flies high, and far, and fast, as if trying to outrace his own thoughts. Over five thousand years, he’s been a demon. Five thousand years on Earth. Five thousand years watching the humans come up with new and inventive ways to kill and torture each other. And that’s when the damn planet didn’t do it for them. He had thought that he had seen the worst that She could throw at them, after the Flood. That even She couldn’t be more cruel than to drown young children. That’s what makes the fourteenth century such a surprise. He hadn’t thought it could get any worse. He’d been wrong.

 

It’s the plague that does it. Yersinia pestis. What would come to be known as The Black Death. It starts in Kyrgyzstan, in a small community of Nestorians. And before he even has an inkling of what’s to come, it becomes a pandemic. He walks the silk road in the trail of Pestilence, watching sixty percent of the population falter and die, the flesh rotting from their bodies even before they take their last breath. And he tries to stop it. He does. He can’t not. He may be a demon, may be damned, but he was a healer once. Whatever he’s done, whatever he’s become, it’s still a part of him, bound into his being. He tries to teach them how to cope, how to keep their dwellings clean and free of the biting insects that spread disease. How to avoid getting sick, and how to ease the passing of those that fall ill. Because they don’t have the ability to treat it. Medicine has only come so far, and he can’t make them move any faster. They don’t listen. They never do. So he drinks, and he flies, and then he comes down and does it all over again, a hopeless cycle of useless miracles that can’t make even the tiniest dent in the tide of death.

 

Aziraphale finds him in a hospital near Genoa. The plague is in full swing in Italy, and every day sees another pile of bodies, interred in a mass grave like so many rotting sacks of flesh. Crowley concentrates his efforts on the children, the little ones who haven’t even had a chance to live yet. He tells Hell it’s so they can live to fall into their hands. He tells himself that if he can save even one, it’s a victory. And every time he loses one, his shattered heart breaks a little more.

 

“Terrible,” he mutters to himself, looking over the dwindling stores of ‘medicine’ the hospital keeps. “Humors. Pah.” He’s spent the last six weeks here, trying to show the physicians here how to properly treat the symptoms. It’s all he can do at this point. There’s too many ill in just this one hospital, for even his miracles to help. Once they start showing symptoms, they die before a month is out. He’s calculated it. Ten days from infection to death, on average. Some, the mostly healthy, last longer. Some, especially the very old and the very young, don’t even make it a week. Crowley very deliberately tries not to think of the little boy that looked just like Uriel. Vito, his name had been. He had died in Crowley’s arms less than an hour ago. “Fucking ‘physicians’. Useless, the lot of them.”

 

“They are doing their best, my dear.” The familiar voice washes over him, and just like that the echoing in his head is silenced, for a time. He straightens, turning, and there he is. Aziraphale. Angel of the Eastern Gate.

 

“Not good enough,” Crowley tells him, trying to sound merely irritated instead of anguished. He can’t quite control the tremor in his words. “Not nearly bloody good enough.” He had taught them better, he knows that. After the Garden, after the Fall, when Eve had welcomed him and Adam had drunk in his knowledge. They had learned well, even without an angel’s healing powers. But somewhere down the line his instructions had gotten lost and corrupted, just like he himself had been. Corrupted, and changed beyond recognition.

 

Aziraphale looks at him, the disheveled state of his clothes, the long tangles of greasy copper hair that fall down his shoulders, the fresh tear-tracks cutting through the grime on his face. Crowley tries on a smile, but it falls from his lips before it’s even begun to form. He’s shaking, his power drained so low he doesn’t even have enough left in him for a single miracle.

 

“Oh my dear boy,” Aziraphale says, with such empathy. And Crowley knows he’s seen. The angel understands him far too well these days. Far too well, and yet, nowhere even near well enough. And the thing is, he wants to be understood. He wants to be known, not as he was, but as he is. Something that wasn’t Good enough to stay an angel, but can’t quite manage to be Bad enough to be a proper demon. He wants to pull Aziraphale close and hold him tight, to let him in, beyond the layers and layers of walls he’s built these past millennia. He wants. But he can’t have. Because he knows what he is. He’s a creature of Hell. And he can be friends with Aziraphale. He can work with him, spend time with him. He can even let himself forget, sometimes. But he knows what his truth would do to the angel. The questions it would bring. And he knows all too well what questions can do.

 

How did you make us? Where did you go? What’s the point of this? When will you come back? Why did you go away? Why did you let this happen? Why me? Why?

 

He’s being selfish even letting the angel get this close. Any closer, and the risk is too great. And he can’t take it. He knows he can't take it. If Aziraphale fell, because of him, it would break him in ways he couldn’t patch back together. And he tries, he does. He tries so hard to stay away, to keep away from Aziraphale, keep him at arm’s length, keep him safe. But they always come back to this point. Reaching out. Finding each other, no matter how much distance they try to put between themselves. They keep coming back together. And Crowley knows why. Because Aziraphale is is his constant. His magnetic north. And like a compass, he cannot help himself from pointing home.

 

Aziraphale is watching him now, worry plain on his face. And the worst part of everything is that he doesn’t even think Aziraphale would mind the risk. He’s just… he’s that Good. He’s got kindness in his bones. He hasn’t changed at all from the angel that picked up a broken demon in the dirt of the Garden and soothed his torment just because he could. Because he couldn’t stand to see another creature in pain. Crowley doesn’t deserve his kindness, or the warm compassion he can see now in his eyes. Crowley is broken. Twisted. Unforgivable. Incapable of saving even one small child. He thinks of Vito's face as he looked up at Crowley, eyes wide in fear, as he begged the demon to save the life of his sister. His little sister, whose lifeless body had already been taken to be buried. How he'd smiled, when Crowley had said she would be fine, the light fading from his eyes.

 

“Crowley.” Aziraphale reaches out, fingers brushing Crowley’s arm before pulling back. “Are you alright?”

 

“Are you alright?” Aziraphale’s hand on Raphael’s shoulder is warm, comforting.

 

Raphael forces his worries from his face. This is his burden, and he will not force the younger angel to bear it. He slides Lucifer's book back into a pocket, where it can’t do any more harm.

 

“I’m fine,” he says, and manages a genuine smile. “Just tired.”

 

“Ah. That’s why you’re sitting on my wall. You’re hiding from Michael, aren’t you?” Aziraphale teases him, sinking down to sit beside him on the wall. Their shoulders brush, and Raphael can feel the edges of their Graces mingling. He laughs.

 

“I wouldn’t be doing a very good job of that, if I were. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re out in the open up here.”

 

The angel leans against him, just a little. Just enough that he can feel that steadiness, his rock to cling to in the storm. “Well,” he says, “Let’s take a walk in the Garden, then. I won’t tell her you're here, if you don’t.”

 

“Helping me play hooky? Really, Aziraphale, what are they teaching you?” He grins, and he can feel the answering laughter in Aziraphale’s Grace.

 

“It’s not ‘playing hooky’, my dear,” the angel tells him. “It’s letting you get some rest before they work you to death.”

 

The archangel snorts. “They can’t work me to death. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re immortal.”

 

“Still. You’re no good to anyone if you’re bone tired. How long has it been since you even had five minutes to yourself?”

 

He loves the way Aziraphale fusses over him. His siblings all treat him like he’s unbreakable, like he’s stronger than all of them. So he makes himself  be strong, because that’s what they need him to be. But here, with this gentle angel, he can relax. He can be himself here. He can even be soft, if he wants to. He lets his head fall to Aziraphale’s shoulder, and feels an arm wrap around his waist, pulling him closer. He-

 

Crowley shoves the memory away. He can’t do this. He can’t let the past rule him. It’s gone. It’s gone and it can’t come back. The memory of it, here, surrounded by death, it’s too much. The room suddenly feels too small, like the walls are closing in on him. He needs to move now. To run. To fly. Anything, anything at all, that gets him away from those wide, kind eyes that still look the same after all these years. From this place that used to be a place of healing, that now smells like rotting flesh, blood, sickness, and death. He can’t stand here, can’t see Aziraphale looking at him like that. Not now, when he’s just proved, once again, that he’s nothing but a failure.

 

“Goodbye, angel,” he says abruptly, and stalks from the room. He knows he’s being unspeakably rude, but he can’t help it. He needs to be somewhere, anywhere else. So he leaves. He walks through the hospital, past the dead and the dying, past piles of bodies and dead-eyed men digging holes, past weeping widows and broken husbands, past friends and lovers and strangers and enemies, clinging to each other in the face of the greatest equalizer man has ever known, for death has come for them all. He keeps walking, out into the wilderness, alone, like he has been for the past five thousand years. Like he will always be. Alone, with the echoing silence.

 

When he’s far enough away that no one will hear, Crowley turns to the sky and screams - a wordless expression of all the pain and anguish that’s been building inside of him for far too long. The pain of a Fallen angel, the agony of his shredded bonds, and the longing for what he can never allow himself to have. All of it, wrapped up and amplified by the broken soul of a healer that has lost far, far too many patients. He screams himself hoarse, until his raw and aching throat can’t force another sound from his mouth. It’s a release, of sorts. But even his loudest cries can’t drown out the silence inside.  The way the emptiness catches on the walls around his heart and reverberates back into the void of his soul.

 

“My dear,” that familiar voice says when he stops for breath. “I’m so sorry.” Crowley whirls, and Aziraphale is there, standing in a ray of sunlight, watching the demon with worry written clear on his face.

 

Crowley looks at him, then turns away from the kindness in those sea-blue eyes. “I couldn’t do anything,” he rasps, the words causing pinpricks of pain along his abused throat. He means I couldn’t save him, as much as I couldn’t do this to the world, even though Hell will thank me for it. It also means I couldn’t prevent it. I couldn’t teach them enough, prepare them enough, to prevent this. And I couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t stop any of this. It means I couldn’t stop myself from Falling. I couldn’t stop asking questions, even when I knew where it would lead.

 

Gentle hands press against his back, turning him again. “Oh my dear, of course you couldn’t,” Aziraphale tells him softly. He rests his palms on Crowley’s biceps, fingers curling into the fabric of his sleeves. And Crowley can’t help himself. With a strangled sob, he stumbles forward, falling against Aziraphale’s shoulder. The angel gathers him in, pulling him close. It would be so easy, he thinks, to let go here. His walls are so dangerously close to falling down. He clings to Aziraphale’s warmth, his kind, steady presence, but he bites his lip and holds his breath and swallows the sobs that shake his body, fists clenched at his sides.

 

“Shh, it’s alright. You’re safe here,” the angel murmurs into his hair. “You’re alright.” Crowley doesn’t hear the prayer in those words, the way the angel speaks them as if willing it to be so. “I’m here. I’m here. Just tell me what you need.” The demon doesn’t even contemplate the fact that, for all the times he has been drawn to the angel’s need, this time, Aziraphale was drawn to his. That perhaps, Aziraphale sensed his pain from halfway across the world. And that, maybe, the angel came here, to this place, at this time, because he could feel that Crowley needed him.

 

The pressure to cry out subsides, easing back into a manageable pain, and Crowley allows himself to relax for just a moment, to lean against Aziraphale and breathe in his unique scent of old books, cocoa, and myrrh. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, and then forces his pain back behind his walls. Aziraphale shifts then, pulling back just enough that he can look Crowley in the eyes.

 

“Can you try and tell me what’s wrong, my dear?” he asks, and the demon looks away from the Love (big-L, general, not specific to Crowley) in those eyes.

 

What isn’t? He doesn’t say. Instead, he steps back. He’s taken enough. Risked too much. “I’m fine. This is… an aberration.” An aberration, only in that he allowed the angel to see.

 

Aziraphale sighs, as if disappointed. “Really, dear boy, I would have thought after all these years, you would know that you can trust me.”

 

“It’s fine. I’m fine,” Crowley tells him, already cursing himself for letting the angel see his pain. “This whole… plague thing. I don’t like it.”

 

Understanding dawns on Aziraphale’s face, and Crowley knows he shouldn’t have said that. “It is a mess, isn’t it?” the angel asks, glancing back through the trees in the direction of the hospital. “I don’t know if even Raphael could have cured this.”

 

The demon flinches at the sound of his old name. “The thing I don’t understand,” he says, an edge of desperation in his voice as he frantically tries to shove the pain deeper behind the walls inside, “is why would your lot let this happen?”

 

Aziraphale frowns. “We didn’t ‘let’ anything happen, in the same way your lot didn’t actually cause it. It just… happened on it’s own, I suppose.”

 

Crowley starts to pace, unable to stand still under his steady gaze. “But why? You’ve got, what, a hundred thousand angels up there? If you got all of them down here, maybe you could do something about all of this.” He spins around in a wide gesture that indicates everything around them. “Why doesn’t She just command them all to fix this?”

“Well…” Aziraphale draws the word out, thinking through his answer. “I suppose, we must be vigilant against your lot. We can’t just go around exhausting our forces in case Lucifer decides it’s time to restart the Great War.”

 

Crowley’s pacing grows more frantic, back and forth across the little clearing, his thoughts going in circles. He hates this fucking century. “I… ugh.’ He tugs on a lock of his hair until it hurts, just to feel something other than the turmoil inside of him. “So they’re just going to sit there, useless in case my b- my boss just up and decides to start Armageddon?” He catches himself, thankfully, before he can call Lucifer his brother. “What’s the point of it all, Aziraphale? Why did She do this?” Why have the Great Plan? Why cast him out, let him tempt the humans, if all that was waiting for them in the end is this? Part of him grips tightly to the words uttered by the Son of God - It was worth it. There must be more than this. Hadn’t his Fall been meant to give them a choice? He hasn’t felt this conflicted since the day he stood before Her throne and asked the questions that will never be answered.

 

“Lord,” he says, bowing before Her throne. He doesn’t expect an answer, though he hopes for one. No one has heard from Her since before Lucifer vanished. In a softer voice, he asks “Mother?” He hears nothing, feels no presence in the room. She isn’t here.

 

“Where are you?” he calls out, listening to the echo in the empty chamber. “Why did you leave?”

 

He paces in front of the dais, heart in turmoil. He feels too much, hurts too much, to stand still. “Why are you doing this?” he calls. Nothing. “Answer me!” he demands, a flash of anger boiling too fast to the surface. He takes out the book and considers it, the weight of it in his hands and in his heart. The bitter anger he feels is new, ugly, a shadow on his soul.

 

“I did my best for you!” he yells. “I did everything you asked.”

 

She’s gone. She left him, here, alone, with this terrible forbidden Knowledge, and he has no one else to turn to. “Why me?” he cries. “Why throw me away?”

 

The Morning Star is gone, so far away now that not even Michael can feel him through their bond. He curses his brother for doing this to him. For giving him this copy of Her plan. And for leaving him here, without answers, in a Heaven where suddenly nothing makes sense. The words are there under his fingers, a black stain on the page.

 

Concerning My Archangel Raphael:

The healer who questions my authority and wisdom

His questions shall lead him to descend unto the fires of the Fallen

He shall give freely that Knowledge which has been forbidden

He shall face his kin in combat and lose all that he is

And he shall Fall for the final time in beloved hands

 

What does that even mean? ‘Fall for the final time’? Death? How much further can one Fall than Hell? He doesn’t want to ‘face his kin in combat’. Or ‘give freely that Knowledge which has been forbidden’. Or… any of it, really. What he wants is to go on as he has, making stars, loving his family, spending time with Aziraphale. He sees no reason for it to change. In frustration, he rips the pages with his name out of the book, and throws the crumpled ball of paper at the empty throne.

 

“I won’t do it!” he shouts at the place She should have been, betrayal and rage thick and hot within. “I can’t!” He throws the book, which his the chair with a satisfying thud. “You can’t ask this of me! I- I refuse!”

 

Abruptly, all the fight leaves him. He sinks down onto his knees before Her throne. “Please don’t ask this of me,” he whispers. “Anything but this.”

 

Lucifer’s words from the Garden come back to him. “She wants you to teach them the difference between Good and Evil.” He’s not so sure he even knows that difference himself. “Why me?” he asks again. “Wasn’t I Good enough?” He chokes down a sob. He won’t cry. Not here. Not where anyone could walk in and find him. “Didn’t I do everything you ever asked?” He doesn’t want to Fall. He doesn’t want to lose everything. What he wants is to understand. To know, beyond doubt, why she’s put this path before him. But he will get no answers from an empty throne.

 

 

“What’s the point?” Crowley asks again, once more shoving his memories away. Heaven is lost to him now, and along with it any answers he may have gained.

 

“The point of… what?” Aziraphale asks him, confusion and concern written in every line of his face. Standing there in the sunlight, framed by the trees, Crowley can almost see him in the Garden, the way it used to be. For a very bad moment, the want overtakes him, loss swirling up and choking him, keeping him from reaching out.

 

“The point of… of everything!” he shouts. “The whole blessed mess of it all!” What did I even Fall for, if all free will gets them is this?

 

“I don’t understand,” the angel says. “Crowley, this- it’s the plague. It’s not meant to have a point. Her plan is-” His eyes are impossibly blue, watching every move the demon makes from across the clearing.

 

“Don’t you dare say ‘ineffable’,” the demon growls. Aziraphale looks so confused, and Crowley wants nothing more than to go to him, to touch his Grace, to join their essences until the angel just knows what he’s trying to say here. Until he knows him, inside and out, fully and completely. He’s halfway across the clearing before he catches himself. He freezes, still as a statue. Aziraphale takes an involuntary step back, hands clasped tightly together against his chest, eyes wide as he watches the demon stalk towards him.

 

Too much. You’re getting too close, Crowley’s mind screams at him. Without another word, Crowley unfurls his wings and launches himself into the sky.

Chapter Text

Crowley flies up. Up and up and out. Away from Aziraphale. From the humans. From the plague, from death, from all the questions he wants to ask and all the answers he knows he’ll never get. It’s hard work on his already exhausted body, using only his wings to breach the atmosphere. It takes his whole being, every ounce of concentration he has, every muscle and bone and sinew working in concert to lift him in flight. Even his racing thoughts quiet as he works to rise higher, pushing against gravity. All he can hear is the rush of the wind, the beat of his wings. A passing thought - if he goes fast enough, can he leave himself behind? His speed is nearly 7 miles per second. Over 25,000 miles per hour. Escape velocity. It should be enough. It would be. Except that there is one thing that he can never, ever escape. And that’s himself.

 

The cold of the Mesosphere shocks his body as he passes through. He keeps going. Up through the Thermosphere, through the Exosphere, and then he’s out. Free. The pull of the earth lessens, gravity releasing him as he travels higher still, out into the stars. He could travel forever, if he wanted. All the way to Alpha Centauri and beyond. He could. But he won’t. He still has things he can’t leave behind. One thing. One person. If he leaves, then who protects Aziraphale? Who will be there, the next time Heaven sends him into danger unprepared? Who will come to pull his feet out of the fire, the next time he walks into a dangerous situation with nothing but his blessed faith that everything will turn out right? Nothing Crowley could find, out there in the universe, would be worth the risk of leaving the angel behind. He knows it in his bones. The only way he leaves Earth is if Aziraphale comes with him.

 

He lands on the far side of the moon. It was full on Earth when he left, so the far side is completely in darkness, away from the life-giving rays of the sun. He can see the stars, so clear without the atmosphere in the way. Beautiful. Making them had always been one of his favorite duties. He could lose himself in the details, then. The swirl of light around his fingers, holding the heart of a red dwarf in his hands. He doesn’t know if he’s capable of that, anymore. He’s a hell-thing now, made for sulfur and ash and death. He doesn’t know if his hands can even hold the fires of new life anymore. Doesn’t know if there’s anything left in his twisted soul that is able to produce such beauty.

 

Crowley heads for the mountain chain the humans will come to call Montes Cordillera. It’s a perfect ring around an impact crater, one that, before time began, he had created by accident, during the very first game of tag. He likes to go there sometimes, when the aching loneliness starts to get the best of him but he’s still strong enough to resist going to Aziraphale and letting the angel’s voice soothe the ache inside. It reminds him of happier times. Of chasing Gabriel across the skies until his little brother teams up with Uriel and Michael and they turn on him, laughing, the three of them chase him together and tackle him, falling in a tangle of limbs until they collide with the moon.

 

The demon has a favorite spot in the range, a peak on the southern hemisphere with a slightly flattened top. Michael had shown it to him, the first time he’d come here. They had stood together on the mountain top and planned the constellations they were going to hang in the sky. There’s a couple boulders there that make good seats, and he’s spent hours there, alone, watching the universe dance in the sky above him. He starts to go there now, half-formed plans of staying up here until the plague runs it’s course flitting across his mind.

 

He gets halfway up the mountain before he feels it. A Presence. Someone else is here, on his mountain, sitting in his spot. In over 5,000 years, he’s come up here hundreds of times. And never once has he encountered anyone else. He didn’t think anyone else would be interested. There’s no life here, no change, it doesn’t even produce any light of it’s own. It’s critical for the planet below, but on it’s own it’s nothing more than a giant rock. Demons, as a whole, don’t do space. It scares them to look up, and see so much nothingness above them. They’re more comfortable in the cramped, labyrinthine complex of Hell. And angels barely acknowledge space. There’s no room for it in the divine machine his siblings have created in Her absence.

 

So he keeps going, because now Crowley needs to see who it is. It can’t be a coincidence, he thinks, that they picked his spot. He’s careful, moving slowly as he nears them, until they finally come into sight. And he stops in shock. Michael. The archangel Michael. His older sister. Her divine Warrior. She’s taken one of the boulders and sits with her head down, eyes on the crater below. At the sight of her, the silence inside him screams, the pain so acute he almost falls to his knees, assaulted by memory.

 

He can feel their laughter through the bond, flowing between them behind the carefully crafted veneer of calm they ’re holding between them and their elder siblings. Gabriel is giggling at his side, peering out around the corner into the hallway. Across from them, Uriel hides behind her own corner with Sandalphon, sneaking glances around the wall to see if they’re coming yet. Raphael holds a small ball of orange fire in his hands, not quite warm enough to burn, but good enough to give a good shower of sparks. The real power of the flames is what they do when they touch skin. His younger siblings hold it’s cousin, in colors ranging from gold to a soft sort of blue.

 

“Where are they?” Gabriel whispers, impatient.

 

“Where are who?” a voice asks behind them, and they jump, turning, to see Aziraphale standing in the hall at their back, watching them with open curiosity.

 

“Shh,” Raphael cautions him, holding a finger to his lips. “You’ll give us away.”

 

He grins when the principality kneels down next to them. “What are we doing?” Aziraphale asks, and Raphael feels a surge of affection at how quick he is to join them.

 

“Lucifer’s back!” Gabriel whispers, his joy spilling out and making it hard to keep his voice soft. It echoes through the younger archangels, and Raphael’s smile widens. He reaches out and tangles a thread of his essence with Aziraphale’s, letting his friend in to their bond just enough to hear their thoughts. Gabriel tenses beside him when he feels another in their link, but Uriel rolls her eyes and makes a face at him. One of these days he’s going to need to ask them what those looks mean. Not now though. Now they’ve got a plan to enact.

 

We’re waiting for Michael and Lucifer, he explains through his link to Aziraphale. Last time he came home, Lucifer tricked Uriel into thinking she was getting put on armory duty for the next thousand years. He still remembers how upset she had been, until Lucifer explained the joke. This is our plan to get back at him.

 

Is… is that really a good idea? Aziraphale asks. I mean, Lucifer, and Michael, they’re -

 

Pricks, Raphael finishes the sentence, letting his love for his siblings color the word and take away it’s bite. Divine pricks. He can feel the principality’s astonishment, and the anxiety he’s projecting about whatever it is Raphael and his younger siblings are planning. He rests a comforting hand on the principality’s shoulder. Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll find a way to get us back for this. And then we’ll have to think of something else to do for them. It’ll be fun.

 

Aziraphale blinks at him in astonishment. Fun? He asks. What about attacking the archangel Michael, the leader of Her armies, is going to be fun?

 

They’re coming! Uriel sends, and Raphael straightens.

 

Just watch. You’ll see, he tells Aziraphale, and lets the little ball of flame in his hands burn a bit brighter. Michael steps into the hall, deep in conversation with Lucifer. Raphael holds up a hand, lifting first one, then two, then three fingers. At the third finger, all four hidden archangels launch themselves from around the corners, fireballs already flying at their older siblings.

 

“Attack!” Gabriel yells, charing forward with Sandalphon at his side. Raphael and Uriel follow right behind, conjuring a second set of fireballs to launch. Michael and Lucifer freeze in surprise, and then they’re bowled over by their siblings. A dark, furious expression crosses Lucifer’s face as he goes down, and Raphael is momentarily shocked by the force of rage in his eyes. And then it’s gone, and his eldest brother is shouting curses in-between laughs as Gabriel and Uriel force him to the ground with the flickering fire that tickles whatever it touches. Raphael must have imagined it, he thinks, when he recalls this moment later. After all, the only thing he feels through their bond is shock and then laughter.

 

An instant later, he and Sandalphon reach Michael and he ’s shoving a ball of tickling flames down the back of her robes. She squirms, yelling, and the three of them land in a heap on the floor, feathers flying as the halls of Heaven ring with laughter.

 

Later, when the laughter has faded, he stands, flushed from exertion and laughter. He extends a hand to Michael, and she takes it, allowing him to pull her to her feet.

 

“Raphael,” Lucifer says, from where he’s already standing beside Uriel and Gabriel. “Why do I think this was all your idea?”

 

Raphael grins, and shoots a look down the hall to where he can see Aziraphale standing awkwardly. He looks so worried, but Lucifer would never hurt them. “Well,” the healer says, brushing an errant lock of copper hair from his eyes. “I’d say you have the wrong angel, but you and I both know Gabriel couldn’t come up with a good prank if his life depended on it.”

 

“Hey!” Gabriel cries, indignant. Raphael laughs.

 

“It could have been Sandalphon,” Uriel suggests, grinning. “But I think we’re all aware of how our dear baby brother’s grasp of subtlety is… sadly lacking.”

 

“I resent that,” the youngest of them says, glaring at them all. “I’ll have you know that I resent that.”

 

“Could have been Uriel,” Raphael says, winking at his little sister. “She’s smart enough.”

 

Lucifer frowns at him, attempting to look stern and utterly failing. His beautiful face twitches, and then he breaks into a laugh. “Fine. Fine. Don’t admit it. But I’m watching you now, little one.”

 

Raphael shrugs. “Well, if you’re that concerend about me, take me with you next time you go out.” He means it. He’s always wanted to see where Lucifer goes when he leaves. What She has him doing, out there in the universe.

 

“Hmm. We’ll see,” the Morning Star tells him, which is as good as a no. Raphael tries not to be disappointed. It had been a shot in the dark anyway.

 

Michael leans against him, and he looks at her, startled. She smiles, and brushes their shoulders together again, comforting. “It’s alright,” she tells him. “When he leaves again, I’ll take you out to hang some stars.”

 

He grins, grateful. She knows how much he enjoys building the stars, but she ’s never offered to let him help her hang them before. They stand there, side by side, as Uriel says something that makes Lucifer laugh. Gabriel is pouting at his side, trying not to react while Sandalphon needles at him to make him smile. God above, he loves them. His surge of emotion echoes through the bond, doubled and redoubled as they all take it in and send it back, an endless feedback loop of love.

 

A touch on his elbow. He blinks, and Michael looks significantly down the hall, where Aziraphale still watches. “That one cares for you,” she says quietly, and Raphael feels his face soften.

 

“I care for him, too,” he admits. “He’s one of Her better creations.”

 

“Hmm,” she says, but unlike Lucifer her hum is thoughtful, not dismissive. “Well, little brother, right now he looks a little lost, don’t you think?”

 

Aziraphale looks around, shifting awkwardly, still so far away. Michael ’s hand presses against Raphael’s back. “Go to him,” she says. He hesitates, glancing at his siblings, and she laughs. “Go,” she says again. “We’ll all be here when you get back.” She doesn’t need to prompt him a third time.

 

He ’s halfway down the hall when she calls after him. “Sparkler!”

 

Raphael turns, making a face. He hates that nickname. “What?”

 

“You might want to check the Garden. I hear the gardeners have made some improvements lately. Good place for a walk.”

 

Raphael rolls his eyes and crosses the last few feet to Aziraphale.

 

“Sparkler?” the angel asks, curious, and Raphael groans. She did that on purpose.

 

“I blow up a star one time,” he grouses, shoving his hands into his robes and leading Aziraphale back towards Eden. A walk does sound nice, now that he thinks about it.

 

 

Michael. The older sister he had always looked up to. He still remembers the way her hands had trembled, when she’d picked his limp body up off the battlefield and thrown him over the edge. How she’d clutched at him for just a moment, before letting go.

 

She hasn’t seen him yet, thank Someone. He should leave. She’s Her Warrior, the way that Raphael had been Her Healer. She’s the one who leads in the war against the Forces of Evil. Her whole reason for being is to smite things like him. She could destroy him without a second thought, and never even realize who he used to be. He turns to go, wings ready to take off, muscles tensing, and… he can’t He knows the slump of those shoulders. The way she carries her pain in the curve of her spine and the tightness of her jaw. An old instinct, half buried and all but forgotten, flares to life in his chest. Raphael had always been her sounding board, her conscience, the one she turned to when she needed to talk. He had asked her the questions she couldn’t ask herself, got her out of her head and helped her focus on the problems before them. Crowley supposes he had hoped she would find someone else to turn to after he Fell, but if she had she wouldn’t be sitting here alone.

 

He makes a decision. It’s a stupid decision, and later, when his mind isn’t fogged by pain and misery, he’ll wonder what he was thinking. In the moment, however, he’s only thinking that she’s still his sister. And he still misses her. So Crowley takes his power and wraps it around his essence, reinforcing the walls around his core so that even she would have to look hard to catch a glimpse of his ancient name. He’s suddenly very gateful for how drained he’s been lately. His power isn’t recognizably more than your average demon, as low as it is. Michael won’t be able to tell that he normally holds the strength of a Fallen archangel in his essence. He pastes a smirk on his face and saunters closer.

 

“Well well, what have we here?” Crowley asks, moving into her line of sight. She stiffens, hands wrapping tightly around an object in her lap, and glares at him.

 

“Begone, demon,” she snaps.

 

Crowley laughs. “Why? You going to smite me?” He almost asks with what?, but the words die in his throat. He’s close enough now, he can see what is in her hands. She’s holding a staff. Dark red wood, polished to a high shine, the carving of a serpent lined in gold and twining around the pole. He knows that staff. Knows the feel of it in his hands, the way the grip fits his fingers just so, the weight of it when he spins it carelessly in the air. It was his, so long ago. Left abandoned in a place he has long since stopped calling home.

 

Her eyes flash, and he can smell the burnt ozone scent of an angel’s wrath. “I said leave.”

 

“No,” Crowley grins. He should be terrified. He’s a creature of Hell, and the Warrior of Heaven is looking at him like he’s just one step away from being struck from existence. He’s not though. She’s won’t kill him. Not yet. He knows, because while he can smell the wrath on her, he can’t feel it. Not even with senses fine-tuned to pick up the darker emotions. And not with the barest tendril of thought he snakes through the burning tatters of his bond to brush against the walls surrounding her soul. All he can feel is loneliness, and an ache in her that mirrors his own.

 

“That’s an order, creature,” she threatens, but there’s no force behind the words.

 

Crowley shrugs, moving closer. “It’s a free universe,” he tells her, even though it isn’t. “And this just happens to be the best spot in it to watch the stars.” He snaps his fingers, and the boulder beside her suddenly becomes a throne, angled so that, if he were sitting in it properly, he’d be looking away from her, into space. He doesn’t sit in it properly. Instead, he throws his legs over the arm and slouches, sideways, in the seat. Then, to all intents and purposes, he turns his head and looks up at the dark expanse before them.

 

She’s never done well with silence, he knows. And as much as things have changed since he knew her like the inside of his own mind, Crowley doesn’t think this is different. All he has to do is wait, letting the silence grow between them, and she won’t be able to resist. He watches the stars, but out of the corner of his eyes he also watches her. She’s running her fingers over the impression of his hands on the staff, placing her own in the void of it, her smaller fingers framed by the place his own used to rest. He holds a hand in front of his face, examining the long fingers with a critical eye. They will no longer fit so perfectly into place, he knows, no matter how much he might want them to. He turns his attention back to the stars, and his gaze drifted to Centaurus. To the very last stars he had ever made, hanging there in a binary orbit.

 

“Demon.” There’s ice in her voice, but he can see the shake in her hands that are gripping his staff like a lifeline. He hides a smile. She hasn’t changed at all.

 

“I have a name,” he says petulantly. “We don’t all just go around calling each other ‘demon’ and ‘creature’.”

 

“Hmph.”

 

Crowley rolls his eyes theatrically. “What, you don’t even try to know the names of the people you’re killing? Demons are people too, you know.”

 

Michael glares at him. “If your names were worth knowing, I would know them.” He makes a face at the cold certainty in her words. She doesn’t automatically know his name, and therefore it is of no consequence.

 

“What?” he asks. “Like you know the names of all the angels under your command?” He had. He still does. Ten thousand angels, more names than a human brain is capable of holding, but he remembers them all. Aside from a few hundred he can’t find, he knows what happened to each of them after the war, too. He’s still looking for those few hundred. Three hundred and twenty-three, to be precise. He knows from Aziraphale they’re not in heaven - two centuries ago he’d finally gotten the angel to get him a register of all angels currently in or working for Heaven. Just their names - the angel still doesn’t trust him enough to give him anything truly sensitive - but he’d poured over the list, comparing it to the rosters of Hell. He’d been in Aleppo when he realized that he couldn’t find them all. He still feels guilty about the earthquake he’d caused.

 

There’s a flash of guilt on Michael’s face, when he asks about the names of her angels. It used to upset him, when they hadn’t cared as much about the other angels as he wanted them to. Now, it just makes him sad. The humans think so highly of them. Of Her. He wonders what they would do, if they knew how callous Heaven could be. How little they cared for those beneath their place.

 

“What is it then?” she asks him.

 

Crowley blinks at her, surprised. “What?”

 

“Your name. What is it?”

 

“Crowley.” Part of him wonders at how easily the name comes to him. He almost thinks that here, with her, his old self should be closer somehow. Instead, it was only after he’d already spoken that he remembered his ancient name. “No need to ask who you are,” he adds, giving her a sly grin.

 

Her eyebrow twitches and he hides his amusement. Her tells are still the same, too. Crowley looks back up to the sky, watching the slow march of stars as they spin with the earth in another turn around the sun. She’s silent at his side, but she hasn’t chased him away yet.

 

“What was it like?” she eventually asks, then stops, as if surprised to hear the words come from her lips.

 

Crowley frowns at her, confused. “What was what like?”

 

Michael glares at him. “Falling. What was it like?” she demands.

 

‘Ah.” His gaze tracks Alpha Centauri and he orders his body not to shake. Burning. Bleeding. Bones breaking with a sickening crunch, reforming only to be broken again. Lucifer standing over him, laughing as he writhes on the ground.

 

He could refuse to answer her. If it were anyone else, he would have. But he knows her. Knows how much it cost her to ask. To bear something of herself, even if only curiosity. Especially to a Fallen creature like him.

 

“It’s different for all of us,” he says carefully, navigating a minefield of pain in his thoughts. “Some of us, the more powerful ones, usually, went mad from it. Others seem like it barely even touched them. And it’s not like it happened all at once. Not for all of us.” He had Fallen twice. Once when Lucifer dragged him down. And a second when his siblings cast him from Heaven with a sword in his back.

 

“I see.” Michael is watching the stars now too, very deliberately not looking at him. He can tell she wants to ask more, but can’t bring herself to. If not for the feet between them, it would almost be like it used to, when she would seek him out with the questions she knew he could put a voice to. He looks at the staff in her hands. His staff. And he wonders if she knew, when they came to kill him. If any of them had known, had understood, what Lucifer had done.

 

“It was the worst for the first of us,” Crowley finds himself saying, needing to ease the bone-white grip of her hands and the tight unhappy expression on her face. “For the ones Satan chose personally.” He sees her flinch at the sound of their brother’s new name, but she’s watching him now instead of staring at the staff, so he continues. “He came to us, before the war. Alone, in groups, hiding, waiting for him. He found us. And he changed us. Bound us to his will.” His wings ache from the memory and he shoves it away. Even now, he’s not ready to face it. He doesn’t think he ever will be.

 

Michael scoffs. “You expect me to believe it wasn’t your choice to Fall?” she asks, and he looks away from the emotions warring in her eyes.

 

“Some did. Most, really. Welcomed it. Thought it couldn’t possibly be worse than a universe in which everything is already decided for us. Nobody realized, then, we were just trading one master for another. Different name, same story.”

 

“God is not the same!” she protests, shifting to face him fully. Her eyes blaze with heavenly anger.

 

“Isn’t She?” Crowley asks, and holds himself still as that holy anger flares in her gaze. “Seems to me we’re all just following orders. You lot do a few blessings there, we do a few temptations here, we both fill out the paperwork and do it all over again. Unless your lot actually get a say in what you’re told to do.” He raises an eyebrow at her, above his dark glasses, watching the fire of her rage flare higher and then fade.

 

“What would a demon know about God?” the archangel snaps, but there’s doubt in her eyes now. Instantly, he regrets putting it there. Michael, like Aziraphale, likes her absolutes. Black and White. Good and Evil. God and Satan. Crowley has spent millennia protecting Aziraphale’s chance at having that certainty, because he knows what questions come when you can look at a thing and see shades of grey.

 

“I know enough,” he says carefully, “to know that Her plan isn’t clear to anyone else but Her. Don’t know how you lot stand it, not knowing why you have to do something.” He grins and props his feet up on her boulder, lounging back and tilting his face up towards the stars. “Least with old Luci I’ll only get a few thousand years of torture for disobedience. Can’t do much more to a demon than’s already been done.” There. Mention the consequences. That should remind her enough to pull back, to look away from the shadows he had thrown on her black-and-white world.

 

“Did it hurt?” she asks, and he sits up to see her looking horrified at herself for asking the question.

 

“Did what hurt?”

 

Michael scowls. “Never mind.” Her hands grip his staff to her chest.

 

Ah. That. The demon slouches back in his seat. “Yeah.” It still does, he does not tell her. The aching, lonely void in his soul beats against the walls he’s constructed around it. Layers upon layers of walls, and they’re still just barely enough to keep the pain inside from reaching out and destroying him.

 

Silence settles between them, and part of him wonders if it screams at her the way it does at him. If the torn edges of the bond where his mind used to meet hers cry out, if she can feel the silence where his soul used to be joined with hers. Or if it’s cauterized, tucked away in a corner of her mind and forgotten like an ugly pair of shoes. He doesn’t know which would be better.

 

She’s thinking. He can see the thoughts flow across her eyes. They’ve always been too alike in that way. Neither of them have ever had trouble controlling their expressions. But their eyes, well. Those will betray them every time.

 

“You’re thinking too loudly,” he tells her.

 

“Then leave,” the archangel snaps back. “I’m not keeping you here.”

 

“Nah.” He tips his head back again. The stars really are lovely, no matter what angle he sees them from. “’M comfortable now.”

 

She sighs, an angry release of air, but she doesn’t get up, or threaten him to make him leave.

 

“Come on,” Crowley needles her. “What’s got the great Archangel Michael all caught up in a twist?” He doesn’t see the way she glares at him, but he knows the look.

 

“It’s nothing a creature like you could understand,” Michael says, but the demon hears the uncertainty in her words.

 

“Try me,” he offers, leaning up to look at her over his glasses. “Unless you have someone else to go ask all your uncomfortable questions?” Michael turns her face away. “Not like I’ll be able to tell anyone. Who would believe me when I say I met an archangel on the moon and didn’t die?”

 

“You still might,” she threatens, but there isn’t bite in it. Her hands turn his staff over, fingers tracing the lines of the serpent. If he were still Raphael, he would laugh, and poke at her, tease her, do his best to annoy her until she either snapped and screamed at him, or rolled her eyes and laughed and told him what was wrong. He’d always worried about how tense she got, how tightly controlled she kept herself. He’s still worried, but none of his old tactics will work anymore. To her, he is a stranger, a damned creature she just happens to be tolerating. He lets himself sink deeper into his slouch.

 

“Are you-” she stops, and he sits up again, giving her his full attention.

 

“Are you still the same person?” she asks. “As you were in Heaven?”

 

Ah. So that’s it. This is about him. About Raphael. She must have seen the plague, the sickness washing over the world, and remembered it should have been his job to stop it. He closes his eyes as his own anguish rises up. If he were still the archangel he’d once been, he would have stopped it. All of it. He would have led an army of healers down from Heaven and marched them through the streets of the world, until Pestilence lay dead and the plague was nothing but a memory.

 

“No,” he tells her. “I’m not.” He’s Fallen so far, been beaten, broken, twisted, and changed. It’s been over five thousand years, now, and even if he hadn’t Fallen, he still wouldn’t be the same. Time, as She designed it, will do that to a person. Even an archangel, if they let it.

 

“Are you?” he asks her. “Are any of you the same as you were before?”

 

She gives an almost imperceptible shake of her head. She knows she has changed. They all did. And the worst symptom of it is that she’s here, alone, and not sharing her pain with the siblings that used to share her mind. If he reaches out just a little, though the pain of his own broken bond, he can feel how high her walls have become. Always, she had been guarded. Now, her mind is a fortress, walled off, isolated. It makes him angry, furious, that she - that any of them - should still have the option to share their bond, to live within each other’s minds, and choose to lock it away. To wall themselves off from the beings She created to share their burdens and their joys.

 

“Don’t mourn the Fallen,” he tells her, bitterness in his voice. “We know what we lost. Sometimes I wonder though, do you?”

 

She stares at him. And then, in the heartbeat between one blink and the next, she is gone.

 

Crowley remains, though the throne he created for himself shatters into thousands of pieces and he finds himself sprawled in the rubble. He came her to find some measure of peace. A moment within which he could ground himself. And now, the pain is fresh once again. Scars ripped open by memories he tried so hard to bury. He closes his eyes and breathes, focuses on the pain, on pushing it back, away, until it’s safe behind his walls once again.

 

 

Hours later, he wakes from a fitful sleep to find Aziraphale at his side. He blinks sleepily up at him, not quite ready to believe he’s awake, and Aziraphale smiles.

 

“Good morning,” the angel says, when he notices Crowley’s eyes on him.

 

“Angel?” the demon asks, still trying to shake the fog of sleep from his mind. “What’re you doing here?”

 

“I was worried about you, my dear,” Aziraphale explains, as if that tells Crowley why he’s sitting here, next to him, on the moon of all places. “You left so suddenly, and then, when I couldn’t find you on earth, I well. I suppose I just needed to know you were alright.”

 

The demon sits up, and is impossibly grateful that his glasses didn’t slip from his face as he slept. Because he doesn’t even know what his eyes would be giving away right now. “’M fine,” is the best he can mange to say, blinking stupidly as his tired brain adjusts slowly to the new information. “I just… just needed some space, is all.” He grins, inviting Aziraphale to laugh at the double meaning behind the words. Space, as in distance. And Space, as in the cosmos around them.

 

And Aziraphale does laugh. He chuckles, giving Crowley an amused, fond look that can’t possibly be for the demon. “Well, you certainly have it out here,” he says, looking up into the sky above them, giving the demon space to wake up and collect himself. Then, when Crowley has rubbed the sleep from his eyes and wrapped his long limbs into a semblance of a seated position, Aziraphale turns back to him. His eyes scan the demon’s face, looking for any hint of the agony he’d seen before, in that tree-lined clearing in Italy.

 

“I’m fine, angel,” Crowley is quick to reassure him. Anything, to get that pinched, worried expression off of Aziraphale’s face. “You don’t need to worry.”

 

The angel frowns at him. “Clearly I do. Or are you going to tell me you didn’t come here to avoid talking about it?”

 

He sighs, and scrubs at his face. He should have known he wouldn’t get off that easy, not after the way he’d left. He almost wishes the angel would go away and leave him alone. It would be easier, then. He wouldn’t have to pretend he doesn’t want more than he’s allowed to have. Wouldn’t have to stop himself from giving in to the hope that someday the angel could love him in that very specific way. Wouldn’t have to remind himself, again, and again, and again, of exactly what he is.

 

“It’s nothing,” he repeats. “You just… caught me at a bad time.”

 

“Are you… are you sure?” Aziraphale asks, and Crowley knows that he knows this isn’t the whole truth. The demon meets his eyes, and is startled by the depth of feeling in them.

 

“I know I’m just an angel,” Aziraphale continues, and Crowley is still too stunned by the look in his eyes to protest. “But, well, we’ve known each other for over five millennia now, and I rather like to think I know you well enough by now to know what you’re talking about. If you want to tell me.”

 

The demon blinks at him stupidly, for a moment. Then he smiles and shakes his head. Of course. Of course his angel would be so kind, even to a demon. It didn’t mean anything beyond that. But still, he leans forward, as if to drink in some of that warmth. It soothes the aching parts of him, bleeding and raw from his most recent encounter with his past.

 

“It’s just not fair,” he finds himself saying. “The humans. The plague. They didn’t even do anything to deserve it this time. And I know my lot go in for that sort of thing. But yours is supposed to be better than that.”

 

Aziraphale looks away, and the loss of those sea-blue eyes hurts. “I don’t know,” the angel says. “I don’t think this is divine punishment. We weren’t ordered to stand by, like we were with the Flood. But we weren’t told to intervene, either.”

 

“That’s my point,” Crowley tells him. “Where is God in all of this?”

 

“I suppose the archangels -” Aziraphale says hesitantly, and Crowley laughs like breaking glass.

 

“The archangels were never Her conduit. They’ll be as clueless as you.”

 

“But,” Aziraphale’s brow furrows. “But I know She spoke directly to them. She must still, mustn’t she?”

 

The demon shakes his head. “She stopped speaking to them, angel,” he says, remembering how it had hurt, how it had hurt them all, when they realized. “Sometime after the humans were created, they stopped hearing Her voice.”

 

Aziraphale’s eyes narrow, and he frowns at Crowley. “How… how do you know that?” He moves as if to look into the metaphysical plane, at Crowley’s essence, before catching himself and focusing on the demon’s face.

 

Crowley freezes. Fuck. He really has to be more careful with his words. He’s been getting too relaxed around the angel lately. “I worked with Lucifer. Spent a lot of time together in the star factories.” He tries to sound casual, but it’s hard, the fear of discovery squeezing at his heart.

 

“And Lucifer just happened to tell you that the archangels weren’t hearing God anymore?” Aziraphale asks mildly, expression unreadable.

 

“He answered my questions,” Crowley counters. It’s true, mostly. Or it was, until his elder brother had taken to vanishing for large chunks of time and not telling anyone where he was going. “He didn’t mind that I asked them. Not like the others.”

 

“Is that why you Fell?” Aziraphale asks, and the question, in that familiar voice, snaps something inside of Crowley. He closes his eyes against the tidal wave of pain that rise up from the innocent question. Beside him, then angel gasps. “Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to ask that, I know it upsets you. I’m so sorry, it just slipped out.”

 

He gets himself under control. It’s easier, with Aziraphale sitting next to him, his gentle voice filling the empty void within.

 

“I didn’t mean to bring it up. And of course, you have every right to be cross with me. I really should watch what I say more-”

 

“Angel,” Crowley says, once he’s shoved the pain back behind his walls. “It’s ok.” The torrent of words stops, and the worried, shamed expression clears from the angel’s face at Crowley’s encouraging smile.

 

“It is?” Aziraphale asks, relief clear in his voice.

 

“It’s ok,” the demon confirms. “I’m ok. It was just… a little much, there for a while.”

 

“I see.” Carefully, as if afraid Crowley would pull away, the angel reaches out and puts a hand on his arm. “Will you… do me a favor, then?” he asks, as if Crowley’s whole being hasn’t suddenly focused on the single point of contact.

 

“Yeah?” he manages, trying very very hard not to react. He wants to lean into the touch. He should pull away. He does neither.

 

“Next time it gets to be too much, will you call me? Before you take off for the moon?”

 

In that moment, with Aziraphale’s hand warm on his arm, the angel looking at him with such concern in those kind sea-blue eyes, he could have asked for the sun and Crowley would have given it to him.

 

“Yeah, ok,” he agrees. Then the demon watches as Aziraphale’s face lights up, relief and joy mixing with other, unnameable emotions on his face. It’s so bright, there on the dark side of the moon. And Crowley wonders if this is how it might have felt, when God stood alone on the earth and watched the first sunrise.

Chapter Text


There is a reason why Raphael alone, of all the archangels, wielded a staff and never a sword. Most assume it is because he couldn’t. That, as Her Healer, he was meant to see the battlefield only after the war had been fought. That he would only heal the wounded, and not stand beside his siblings in a fight. That it wasn’t his choice, but rather the inability to use a weapon that lead him to refuse a blade. They would be wrong. The staff is not a symbol of any lack of skill. It is a mercy. A choice that Raphael made, when he understood what war would mean.

 

Because the thing is, Raphael did not fight with the strength and skill of Her Warrior, Michael. He did not have the wild brashness of the Morning Star. He could not claim to Uriel’s swift grace, Sandalphon’s savagery, or even Gabriel’s bravado. He was never powerful, in the traditional ways of the warrior. What Raphael was, what Crowley is, is ruthlessly efficient.

 

The pattern of life is all around him. He cannot help but see it. The critical points in the pattern, the places where injury weakens and wounds throb, calling out for healing. He sees where the patten has gone wrong, where he could fix it, if he chose. But he can also see other points, places upon which the whole pattern hangs, the points where a single well-placed blow can tear it all to shreds. He does not need to overpower an enemy with brute strength. He does not need guile or trickery. What he needs is an opening. Just one single, solitary moment in the larger pattern dance of moving bodies and iron and blood. A chance to dart in with his weapon, and then watch as the light fades from his enemy’s eyes.

 

Crowley moves deliberately, carefully, like the predator he is. Pacing, circling, watching the pattern. The demon before him curses, dripping blood and breathing hard. They step over the bodies of it’s legion, a band of more than twenty demons. They eye each other warily, and Crowley can see the fear in it’s eyes. There. An opening. He moves with the precision of a surgeon and darts in to slide his blade home. The pattern comes apart and then disappears. This one doesn’t even scream. It just goes limp and falls, dead, to the cold stone floor.

 

“That’ll teach you to go after what you don’t understand,” Crowley mutters, kicking the corpse. His sword glows with the ghost of sickly green flames, lapping up the demonic ichor it’s drunk so much of this night. With a snap of his fingers, the room is engulfed in hellfire. He stands in the inferno, directing the flames, until every last bit of evidence has been consumed by the fire. He’d learned, some two thousand years before, that even a demon’s body will burn, once the life is snuffed out of them. He appreciates that. It makes his cleanup so much easier.

 

He’s careful with the evidence he leaves. This time, it’s a piece of a suit jacket - the fabric stolen from Gabriel’s tailor for just this purpose. Let Hell assume Her Herald is the one protecting Aziraphale. For now, at least. He’s also got one of Michael’s shoe laces and a pair of Sandalphon’s socks to leave at other sites like this. He’ll have to get more soon, though. He’s out of Uriel’s things completely, and at the rate things are going he’s got at least three more legions that will try to kill the angel this century. It’s a shame. He thinks he’d quite like the 1800’s, if it weren’t for all of Hell suddenly deciding that killing angels is the newest way to win favor with Lucifer.

 

“Well, well, well,” says a hoarse voice from behind him. Crowley turns, raising his sword once again, eyes scanning the shadows for the source of the sound. A dark figure steps forward, and the demon’s eyes widen in surprise.

 

“Prince Paimon,” he says, bowing low. “Your highness. To what do I owe this pleasure?” His mind is already racing, searching for a way out of this. Paimon is no Asmodeus, no warrior trained to fight from birth. But he is still a Prince of Hell, one of Lucifer’s special favorites. Worse, his domain is knowledge. Secrets. He’s a demon that prides himself on answering any and all questions put to him. Answering them truthfully, because, he says, the truth is always so much more destructive than a lie. If he’s here, it means Hell is closing in on Crowley, and there’s only one way out of this alive. He has to kill the prince, and make it look like an archangel did it. And he doesn’t know if he has enough energy left. Not after fighting so many of his legion.

 

Run. Run run run run run. The fear pulses in his veins, in the frantic beats of the heart which has never been as optional for him in the same way it is for Aziraphale. He can’t run, and he knows it. If he does, Paimon will follow. And then he will break him, draw out his weaknesses. And when he does, he will go after Aziraphale. He knows how the prince works. He will catch Crowley, but not kill him. Not until he watches Aziraphale’s death at the hands of Hell.

 

“I hadn’t quite expected to find you here, of all people,” Paimon says, circling Crowley like a vulture coming in to feast. “The little snake that crawled up from the pit and sent the humans scurrying away from the garden like little mice.” His voice is raspy, like sandpaper on the ears, and he follows Crowley’s every movement with the colorless, empty eyes of a shark.

 

“Why not?” Crowley shoots back, trying to sound braver than he is. Like there’s more than a hair’s width of a chance he’ll leave this conversation alive. “I sensed a legion on my turf, and decided to come down here and see what’s what. Not my fault they got a little uppity and forced me to teach them a lesson.” The pattern of Paimon’s life flickers before his eyes, ever-changing, weak points sliding away before his gaze can catch even one. Asmodeus had been the same. It had taken serious physical wounds before Crowley had been able to see a way to kill him. He knows he doesn’t have the strength for such a prolonged battle now.

 

“Oh, I think you know better than to lie to me, Crowley,” the prince says. Then his eyes shift and a delighted grin snakes it’s way up his face. “Or should I say Raphael? Oh, our Lord is going to love this. His missing brother has been hiding right under his nose all this time.”

 

Crowley grips his blade tighter, the nails on his free hand lengthening to claws. “That is not my name.”

 

“Isn’t it now?” the prince asks, still circling. “I can see you, you know. All those walls you’ve thrown up around yourself. Such a dense labyrinth in your mind. They do nothing to hide you from me, Crowley. I see it all.”

 

“You’re wrong,” the demon protests, fear turning to panic inside. He drops into a crouch, blade held between them like a barrier as he slowly turns on the spot in the center of Paimon’s ever-narrowing spiral.

 

Paimon laughs, like gravel crunching undefoot. “Oh, I can see you child. The Fallen archangel, so quick to question. You never did fit in, really, did you? That bright mind of yours, always racing, always looking for answers, so thirsty for knowledge.” The prince’s cold eyes shine with amusement. “I see it now, how you could never be content, could you? Couldn’t remain still at Her side until she released you to fix what she allowed to break? You needed to know why, didn’t you?” He steps out of the pattern, closer to Crowley. “You wanted to understand Her. And look where all those questions have gotten you now.” He leans down, to whisper in the demon’s ear. “All alone, trying to pretend you can still be something other than what you are.”

 

He steps back, and surveys the damage. The way Crowley is shaking, vibrating so hard he might crack. The fear and pain radiating off of him in waves. He’s so alone here. No help is going to come for him now. No siblings connected to him mind-to-mind. No Aziraphale swooping in with his steady determination. Just Crowley, his sins, and his pain. And if he fucks this up, if he dies here, then so too will his angel. He bites down on the inside of his cheek and shoves the pain away.

 

“Oh, and what is this?” Hellfire flickers in Paimon’s dead-eyed gaze, and his grin takes up more of his face than should be humanely possible. His sharp teeth seem to crowd his head, far more than should fit in the prince’s mouth. “Oh my,” he says, like a cat that spilled the cream. “And you were in love. Oh, and isn’t that forbidden? Such a rebellious little angel you were. It’s no wonder our Lord was able to drag you down so easily.”

 

Sssshut up,” Crowley hisses. “Jussssst ssshut up.” She would never make you Fall for feeling love, Jesus had said. He clings to the words against the rising tide of pain.

 

“But I’m having so much fun,” the prince crows, resuming his circling. “Oh so very much fun, looking at all of you like this. Your pain is so delicious, I just, mmmm, can’t get enough.” He takes a deep breath, savoring it, and the emotions he can smell on the air. “Still so fresh, even after all these years. It’s a wonder you haven’t destroyed yourself from it. Oh, and look at this! There’s a name! I do so hope I know who it is. Let me see, starts with an A-

 

Crowley launches himself at Paimon, slashing blindly at the shifting pattern with sword and claws. The prince counters, drawing his own blade in one swift, fluid motion. Sparks of hellfire fall from the place where obsidian meets obsidian and Crowley jumps back, only to rush forward again, and again. The patten before him continues to shift, weak points vanishing even before his eyes can catch on them. He pours as much power as he dares into his senses, strengthening them, searching for anything at all that he can use to turn this in his favor. Paimon laughs angrily, batting his blade away like a large fly.

 

“Such a pathetic excuse for a demon,” the prince says, a vicious snarl in his words. “Trying so hard to cling to the light when you know, deep down, that She will never take you back. That your Aziraphale will never see you as anything more than exactly what you are.”

 

“And what am I?” Crowley demands, searching for any break, any weakness he can use to turn this in his favor.

 

Paimon stops his circling, and looks at Crowley with a gaze cursed to see only the truth. “Unforgiveable,” he whispers. “Damned. You are that which can never be forgiven.”

 

Crowley does his best to ignore the words. He’d known the answer before he’d even asked, after all. That didn’t make any difference to the screaming void of silence inside. “And you?” he asks instead. “How are you any better? I know who you were before, Paimon. You were a Dominion, a lord in Heaven, second to my brother Lucifer. And now look at you. Reduced to sharing power with the other Princes and answering to the whims of a madman.”

 

“I, at least, know what I am,” the prince rasped. “And where my loyalties lie.”

 

An idea sparks in Crowley’s mind. One desperate chance. Paimon, as the prince of secrets, cannot lie, even to himself. His power allows him to know the answer, or the way to find the answer, to all questions posed to him. Crowley has been very lucky that Lucifer never asked ‘Who is protecting the principality Aziraphale’ to Paimon. If he had, Crowley would have been dead before he even had a a chance to realize he was in danger.

 

“What does that loyalty get you?” Crowley asks. “When all is said and done, if Hell wins, what will you have? Lucifer does not share power. So what will my brother give you, for your millennia of loyalty?”

 

The prince opens his mouth, the answer coming to him as Crowley hoped it would. Then his eyes widen, and for just a moment, the pattern stills. It’s less that a breath, but it’s all that Crowley needs. He strikes before Paimon can register his movement, blade sliding home into Paimon’s chest. The prince stares at him with those cold, dead eyes, mouth dropping open in surprise. And then something suspiciously like relief settles onto his face.

 

“Here’s another question for you,” Crowley growls, pulling his blade free of the prince’s body. “Out of all demons, why am I the only one that still has any hope?” Any other demon would have given up by now. Left Aziraphale alone and retreated into the comforting embrace of mindless evil. Doing their duty and no more. Not Crowley. He couldn’t. Not when that small flame of hope the Son of God had given him still burned within his heart.

 

Paimon looks at him, life force fading, and his eyes go wide with shock. “Six thousand years,” he murmurs. “So very, very long.” The prince sinks to his knees on the cold stone floor, sword clattering to the ground at his side. He reaches up, touching trembling fingers to the ichor pouring from his chest. “So very long,” he says again, holding the shaking hand before his face. “When does it end?” he asks Crowley. “When do you stop this charade?”

 

Crowley hisses, and raises his sword. “It ends when he is safe from our kind, forever,” he tells the prince. Then, with a practiced motion, he removes the prince’s head from his body, and watches the pattern of his life fly apart.

 

Unforgivable. The word echoes in Crowley’s mind. It is, of course, the truth. He betrayed Heaven with his search for forbidden knowledge, and was damned for it. He has betrayed Hell, over and over and over again, destroying his fellow Fallen in a fool’s quest to save the life of one angel. He does not repent, not for either crime. He does not seek forgiveness for them. And yet, the word still sends echoes of pain through the void in his soul. There is only one entity whose forgiveness he seeks. Only one crime worth begging for absolution. He has put his angel in danger, and one day, perhaps soon, that danger will be more than he can prevent.

 

He burns Paimon’s body. It won’t be enough, he knows, to keep Hell off of his trail. The prince was one of Lucifer’s favorites, his personal friends. One of the very first to Fall. Crowley knows his eldest sibling well enough to know that he will not let this go. That Paimon was on earth at all is proof that they were looking for answers, trying to find the reason so very many demons have perished in this region. His death will give them a reason to look harder. They’ll send out the hunters next. They’ll investigate deeper, look harder than ever before. And soon enough, the trail will lead them right to Crowley. It might take a thousand years, or it might take a decade, but his reckoning is drawing closer, and his list of victims is far too long. He needs a backup plan. A nuclear option. Something that will ensure that, should the worst happen and they come for him, Aziraphale does not fall victim to Hell’s schemes. An idea starts to form as Crowley scours the room of all demonic traces. An insane idea, but one that might just work. The only thing is, he’ll need the angel’s help to do it. And Aziraphale is not going to like what Crowley is about to ask him for.

 

 

 

Crowley goes to St. James’s Park. And Aziraphale arrives to meet him, like he always does these days. Their meetings have become more frequent as the years go by, from conversing once every few hundred years, to now where they barely go a few months without seeing each other. And each time they meet, it lasts longer. Walks in the park, nights at the orchestra, visits to the little restaurants the angel likes so much. It’s wonderful. And it hurts the demon more than he has the words to describe. Because it’s so close to what they used to have, to walks in the Garden and laughing together on top of the wall. And yet, it’s not anywhere near close enough. There’s times when Aziraphale will look at him, and it’s like he’s trying to see through the demon, past the sin and damnation, to the angel he was before. Times when he seems to expect the demon to be more than what he is. And even when he doesn’t, there’s still the distance between them. A careful line that the angel holds to like a lifeline.

 

Crowley knows that distance well. Knows the strength and the give of that line intimately. He dances along it with every word, tipping over the edge just a little with a touch, with a gesture, a brush of elbows, a pointed look, or a careful word. Silently begging the angel to retract the line just a little, to lessen the distance between them just a hair’s breadth. He shouldn’t, he knows he shouldn’t. But lately, he cannot seem to resist. The pain inside has only grown with time, until even just hearing the angel’s voice is not enough to calm it. But for almost every overture he makes, almost every chance he takes to close the remaining distance between them, the angel pulls back just as far. A step in the opposite direction, holding his arms tighter to his sides, looking away and ignoring invitations to come nearer. It’s the almost that kills him. The rare and wonderful times when Aziraphale doesn’t pull away.

 

Because it’s not as if Crowley has forgotten what he is. And what he is not. He can’t forget, not ever. Not while the pain inside gnaws at his walls like so many rodents, determined to knock them down and let the full force of it out to drown him. It’s just that, after all these years, it seems less important. He’s a demon, yes, but Aziraphale has always been the best of all the angels. His Grace hasn’t tarnished in the slightest after centuries on earth. He doesn’t think it will dim now, just because he admits to friendship with a demon. And friendship is all Crowley wants. Just as Aziraphale refuses to allow himself to cross that line between them, Crowley refuses to cross his own mental barrier and allow himself to want what he knows he can never have. The angel is still in love with the archangel-that-was, and the distance he so carefully maintains between them is proof enough that he’ll never be able to feel that way for the demon-that-is. And any time the distance between them shifts, even the slightest bit closer, Crowley has to re-learn how to strike that balance within himself. How to allow himself this friendship, without letting that flame of hope take root in his desire for anything more.

 

And now Aziraphale is here, standing beside Crowley and feeding the ducks. They have plans for later, tickets Crowley procured for an orchestra. A young Russian professor of music named Tchaikovsky who is quickly growing in popularity. Crowley had heard his work by chance on a job in St. Petersburg, and has a feeling that in the next few years his career will really take off. He had offered the tickets without truly believing that Aziraphale would accept, and had been both shocked and delighted when the angel had agreed to accompany him. But that is for later, after business has been attended to. This is now, and he has something he needs to ask for.

 

Please have meant it, he thinks. Please be okay with me coming to you for this. He’s been good about not letting things get too much again. He hasn’t had an episode like the 14th century since the 14th century. Not even during the bloodshed of the revolutions that took place in the latter half of the 18th. But now, just hours after his close call with Paimon, he’s terrified. And he can do one of two things with that terror - he can bottle it up inside with all his pain and hope that the volatile mixture doesn’t explode, or he can take action. Put his fall-back plan into motion to protect the angel even if the worst should come to pass. It’s no contest really. Not when Aziraphale’s safety hangs in the balance. If Crowley dies, there will be no one to protect him.

 

“Look, I’ve been thinking,” he says, carefully neutral, as if he hasn’t just come from a duel with a prince of Hell. “What if it all goes wrong? We’ve got a lot in common, you and me.” He stops there, unsure of how to go on, how to ask for what he needs. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the way Aziraphale looks at him.

 

“I don’t know,” the angel says slowly. “We may both have started out as angels, but you are Fallen.”

 

Yeah. Okay. He’d deserved that one, even if the words send daggers through his heart. He is Fallen. And he knows that the things they have in common terrify Aziraphale, if he’s given any time at all to contemplate them. And not for the first or the last time, Crowley wonders how it is that, of the two extremes, Heaven is the one that rules with the iron fist of fear.

 

“Oh, I didn’t really Fall, so much as… saunter vaguely downwards,” he says, trying to cover for the way the words knock holes in his walls and let the pain flow through him freely. He sighs. Sauntering was the last thing his Fall was like, but the angel doesn’t have to know that. “I need a favor.” Best to be direct. Get it over with. Like ripping off a bandage.

 

“We already have the agreement, Crowley,” Aziraphale reminds him. “Stay out of each other’s way, lend a hand when needed…” he trails off, uncomfortable as he always is when they discuss this.

 

“This is something else,” Crowley says. “For if it all goes pear-shaped.” You told me to come to you, when it started to get too much, he doesn’t say. Well this is me, coming to you.

 

Aziraphale won’t look at him. “I like pears,” he says, a desperate attempt to change the topic. And the demon knows he should take the out, step away. He’s crossing the line too far. But the angel had offered, hadn’t he? Maybe he didn’t mean it, says the voice inside Crowley’s head that always sounds a little too much like Lucifer.

 

“For if it all goes wrong,” Crowley tells him. Because it can. It can go so, so terribly wrong. And right now the only thing standing between Aziraphale and legions of bloodthirsty demons is Crowley. If Paimon’s deputies come for him, if Hell figures out who killed the prince of secrets and decides it’s time to look into punishment? Crowley knows he won’t be able to defeat them. Not with the legions at their command. His only hope, Aziraphale’s only hope, is for him to neutralize himself before they torture him. Before they break him, and find out the reason he killed so many demons. Because if they do, nothing in the world will keep Aziraphale safe from Hell’s wrath.

 

“I want insurance.” It sounds so simple, when he says it like that. Like he’s not asking for a nuclear option here. Something so unstable that one mistake will destroy him utterly.

 

Aziraphale turns to him then, startled. “What?” he asks, and Crowley can smell the fear that rolls off of him. Too close. He’s well beyond too far over the line now. But he’s committed. He has to do this. Both of their lives depend on it, if not now then certainly within the next few centuries. He pulls the small slip of paper from his pocket, and orders his hands not to shake. You’re a fool, Crowley. You’re about to ruin everything, that voice in his mind tells him.

 

“I wrote it down. Walls have ears. Well,” he looks around, at the distinct lack of walls around them. He’s an idiot, just like always. But he hands Aziraphale the paper with carefully controlled hands. “Not walls. Trees have ears. Ducks have ears. Do ducks have ears?” He’s just babbling now, he knows. He needs to get himself under control, before he slips and says too much again. “Must do. ‘S how they hear other ducks.” Smooth. Really smooth. Moron. Damned, Paimon’s voice reminds him. He swallows his nerves and waits for the angel to read. Two words, in his own spidery handwriting. Holy Water. Crowley stares at the water, and does not see the flash of pain in the angel’s eyes as he takes in the words, or the tremble in his fingers as he looks up at the demon and back down again at the paper.

 

“Out of the question.” There’s a hard edge to Aziraphale’s voice when he speaks, though the fear is there too, coloring the words.

 

“Why not?” Crowley demands. It’s only dangerous to demons, after all. The angel should have nothing at all to fear from Crowley having it.

 

Aziraphale crinkles the paper in his grip, trying to hand it back like it’s a bomb that might go off at any second. “It would destroy you! I’m not bringing you a- a suicide pill, Crowley.”

 

The demon’s heart hurts at the way the angel’s voice sounds when he says ‘suicide pill’. There’s too much there, too many emotions, and he can’t tell if he’s hearing fear for him or just a general sort of horror at the idea of it. Aziraphale will never see you as anything more than exactly what you are. The echo of Paimon’s words stir the maelstrom of pain inside Crowley, and he tries in vain to shove it back behind his walls.

 

“That’s not what I want it for.” Well. Not exactly. It’s a last resort. Insurance, only. A way for him to know that even if Hell figures it all out, even if they come for him, the angel will be safe. “Just insurance.” Even as he says it, he smells the fear in the air and knows he’s lost. Unforgivable echoes in his skull and he can’t bring himself to look Aziraphale in the eyes.

 

“I’m not an idiot, Crowley,” Aziraphale says. And Crowley knows he’s not. He’s the smartest being he knows. And, fuck, he loves him far, far too much. He wants nothing more than to ease the notes of fear in the angel’s voice. But he can’t. He can’t even explain, not without frightening him more. “Do you know what trouble I’d be in if- if they knew I’d been- been fraternizing?” The demon doesn’t miss the way his voice catches, and he can’t help it, he turns. And then the meaning of the words hits him. Fraternizing. That’s all this has been to the angel. Something daring, something forbidden, a private little rebellion. He’s not worried about Crowley, he’s worried about what Heaven will do to him if they find out about their arrangement.

 

Anger flares in the demon, hot and thick, burning through the pain. “Fraternizing?” he repeats. He’d thought - well. He’d been wrong, hadn’t he?

 

“Or whatever you wish to call it.”

 

Friendship, he thinks, somewhere deep under the rising anger. I wanted this to be friendship. Like it used to be. He’s furious, but it’s not with Aziraphale. He turns his anger inward, towards himself. He’s been an idiot. Again. He let himself hope. Let himself dream. And here, once again, is yet more irrefutable proof that the hope he cannot quite put out is one day going to be the thing that destroys him. He’ll never see you as more than a demon.

 

Aziraphale turns away. “I do not think there is any point in discussing it further,” he says, and his tone makes it clear this is his final decision.

 

“I have lots of other people to fraternize with, angel,” Crowley says before he can catch himself. Aziraphale glaces at him again, and for a moment the demon sees the hurt that crosses his face at the words. It only fuels his anger. He’s hurt the angel. Again. Six thousand years of trying to get to the point where they can stand together, side by side. Six thousand years of slow, painful progress. And now he’s standing here, watching it all slip away once again. Under the anger, the pain wraps tight around his soul.

 

“Oh, of course you do,” the angel says, though it’s clear he knows the truth. Crowley has no one. Not a single soul in all of creation. The only being he trusts is turning his back on him and walking away.

 

Next time it gets to be too much, will you call me? The angel’s words, spoken nearly four centuries ago, reverberate in the screaming silence inside.

 

“I don’t need you,” he says, vicious, a firm denial. He’s not certain who he’s trying to convince. The angel? Or himself?

 

Aziraphale stops, and turns. Crowley can’t read the expression in his eyes now. Anger, yes. And hurt. But something else, too, something hidden behind the angel’s own walls, out of reach of his demonic senses.

 

“And the feeling is mutual. Obviously,” he says, and leaves, tossing the paper aside like it means nothing. Just a scrap on the wind. Crowley tells himself it’s the truth. The paper means nothing, nothing at all. He sets it on fire with a glare, and watches it burn, ashes sinking down beneath the pond. He should have known better. He’ll never see you as anything other than exactly what you are.

 

Hope is a foolish emotion, he tells himself. And I am a fool for allowing it in. Raphael had meant something to Aziraphale. The angel would have brought the archangel holy water in a heartbeat. But he can’t see the remnants of the archangel in the demon. And Crowley has never wanted him to, even if he could. Not that it matters now. He’ll likely never speak to him again. Forever is a long time, but angels are very good at holding grudges.

 

Unbidden, a long buried memory floats to the surface of his mind. Just touching the edges of it hurts, but he finds himself examining it anyway. And suddenly the pain all but consumes him, drowning him within the void inside.

 

 

 

It won ’t be long now. Raphael can feel it in his bones. He’s starting to Fall. Not much, not enough that anyone else would be able to tell. But he can feel it in his Grace, in the way he seems less connected to Her with each passing day. He asked too many questions, he knows. He read the book when he knew it was forbidden. It does not comfort him to know that it was all a part of Her plan. That she had planned to cast him down from the start. He wants to rage, like he had that day in the throne room, but there is no point to it. She will not hear him. And no one else can save him from his fate.

 

133,316,665 angels have gone missing. Nearly half the soldiers, nearly all of the starsmiths and every one of the watchers, at least a third of the seraphim. Somehow they have lost none of the thrones, and very few of the cherubim or those in the Second Sphere. However, most of the principalities are gone, leaving only Aziraphale assigned to the Garden. And they ’ve lost one archangel. Lucifer. He has vanished from their minds, almost as if he never was. And the reports they have of his actions… it’s hard to believe the angel now calling himself Satan is their eldest brother. Raphael can feel Michael raging at the betrayal. His younger three siblings press at their thoughts, desperate to understand what is going on. He deflects, walling himself off. He wants to protect them from this, for as long as he possibly can. Until that number rises by one more archangel.

 

War is coming to Heaven. It is inevitable now. And Raphael does not know how long he has left. He just has one thing he wants to do, before it does. One being, in all of creation, that he needs to see, before he returns to his siblings and prepares for what is to come.

 

He drops from Heaven, flying down to Earth, just to feel the wind against his wings. He wonders if he ’ll still be able to fly, when all is said and done. If, as a demon, he’ll even want to. He shoves the fear away and concentrates on his flight, until he can see Eden in all it’s glory.

 

Aziraphale is there, standing on top of the wall, exactly where Raphael expected to find him. He turns as the archangel lands, a smile lighting up his face. Raphael starts forward, then freezes. Aziraphale is wearing a sword. Somehow, someone gave him a flaming sword.

 

“Raphael?” Aziraphale asks, smile faltering.

 

“You have a sword,” he says, stupidly, staring at the weapon.

 

The angel looks down, as if making sure it ’s still there. “Oh yes, so I do.” He shrugs, settling the belt into a more comfortable position on his waist. “Michael gave it to me.”

 

Michael gave it to you?” He had asked her to keep Aziraphale away from the fighting. To station him anywhere at all where he wouldn’t see the battle. Where there would be no chance that Raphael could encounter him, after he falls. He lets the sting of betrayal flow down their bond and gets a flare of anger in return.

 

What did you want me to do? She demands. Keep him back while every other angel in Heaven goes out to fight? When I’m already missing half my forces? I can’t do it, not even for you.

 

“They’re issuing them to everyone now,” Aziraphale tells him at the same time. And all Raphael can think of is this kind, gentle angel, thrown into the thick of battle, forced to raise a weapon against angels he had once called brother and sister. Of Aziraphale falling, dying, at the hands of one of Lucifer’s legion. Raphael’s fear courses through their bond, and he feels Michael soften.

 

I put him on the Eastern Gate for the duration, she says. He’s to guard Eden from any attack from the East. It was the best I could do. He can see that. They can’t play favorites. Not now. But she’s done the best she could for him anyway. He sends back a pulse of apology and gratitude, and feels her love in return.

 

“Do you know how to use that thing?” Raphael asks the principality, staring at the way the flames dance along the blade at his side. His staff is heavy in his grip.

 

Aziraphale nods, confident. “Of course. It’s been part of my lessons, after all.”

 

“Show me,” Raphael orders, and he does. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, really. The angel has always tried to excel at everything he does. Swordplay is no different. He can fight as well as any of the other principalities. Maybe even as well as a guardian, if he really concentrates. They’ve taught him well. That fact should come as a relief to Raphael, but it doesn’t. It terrifies him.

 

“Aziraphale?” he asks later, standing beside him on the wall, looking out over the desert beyond the Garden.

 

“Hmm?” the younger angel is watching him, he can feel his gaze on his face. “What is it?”

 

“Can you promise me something?” Raphael asks, suddenly desperate, though he keeps his voice carefully controlled.

 

Aziraphale nods. “Of course. What is it?” The words come easily. So trusting.

 

Raphael takes a deep breath. “Something… bad is going to happen soon,” he says. “Something very bad.”

 

“Is this about the missing angels?” his friend asks, and Raphael nods, almost imperceptibly.

 

“That and more,” he tells him. “But, look. I want you to promise me one thing. Promise me that whatever happens, you won’t let it change you. That when all of it is over, you’ll still be you.” Still the same, still kind, still careful, still Good. He can’t Fall, Raphael thinks. Please Lord, let me have this one thing, he begs Her, though she hasn’t heard his prayers in a very long time. Please let him remain as he is. Images of Aziraphale in battle march through his mind, showing him a future in which the gentle being beside him has become a battle-hardened warrior.

 

“Of course,” Aziraphale agrees easily, and Raphael looks at him in surprise. He smiles, and leans against the archangel. “How can I be anything else but me?” he asks.

 

Raphael doesn ’t respond. How can he explain what’s coming? Especially when that knowledge is still forbidden to the lower ranks of angels?

 

“Raphael?” Aziraphale prompts, concern creeping into his voice.

 

The archangel sighs. “I… I may have to go away for a while,” he says, ignoring the angel’s question. “Somewhere far away.”

 

“I see,” the angel says, then his eyes widen as a thought occurs to him. “But, you’ll come back though, yes?”

 

“I…” he’s thought about how to do this, how to prepare his friend for what’s coming. He finds he can’t do it. Can’t admit to this being who is so Good that he’s broken the rules one too many times, asked too many questions, gone too far off course from his place. Can’t tell Aziraphale that their Creator has planned for this since his birth, has created Raphael with intention of throwing him away. He knows that Aziraphale could handle the truth, perhaps handle it far better than even his siblings. But it would lead him to questions. To doubt. And that’s the last thing Raphael wants, when even the wrong word could get an angel a one-way ticket to Hell. Better to not talk about this. Safer, that Aziraphale not know until it’s too late.

 

“I shouldn’t have brought it up. I’m sorry.”

 

Aziraphale grabs his arm, forcing him to turn at look him in the eyes. “Are you going to come back?” he demands, sea-blue eyes determined, almost desperate, searching Raphael’s own amber-brown.

 

“I-” Raphael opens his mouth to lie. To give a comforting falsehood. To tell him that of course he’s going to come back. But he can feel it, how close it is to the end. This could be his last conversation with Aziraphale, and, whatever else may come, he will not have the last thing he says to his angel be a lie.

 

“I don’t know,” he says, and watches the fear chased by pain and then sorrow cross Aziraphale’s face. “I’ll try,” he adds suddenly, although he’s not sure he’ll even remember this conversation. “I’ll do what I can. Try to come back to you, no matter what. You have my word.” It’s an impulse, one he doesn’t understand, but he says the words and burns them into his being. He will try. Whatever happens, whatever he becomes, he will try to come back for his angel. He will defy everything that tells him it’s impossible. Fuck the Great Plan.

 

The Great Plan. Lucifer. His impending fall into the fires of Hell. Raphael ’s hope gutters out just as fast as it had risen. He might come back. But what will he be, when he does?

 

“What is it?” Aziraphale asks, still watching him with those wide blue eyes. “Raphael?”

 

The archangel breaks his gaze away, turning back to stare into the Garden, where he ’s meant to tempt the humans into eating the Fruit of Knowledge. “I…” he doesn’t know how to say it. Doesn’t know if he even can.

 

Aziraphale makes a noise of frustration, and reaches out, a gentle hand on Raphael ’s cheek turning his head back to where he can see his face. “What’s wrong?” he asks softly. “You can tell me.”

 

“If I come back…” Raphael says, choking on the words. “Where I’m going, it’s not…” He closes his eyes, and tries again. “I might not be me, anymore. When I come back. I might not be Raphael.”

 

Aziraphale pulls him close, and Raphael is surprised by the warmth of him. They've so rarely done this before. Hands on shoulders, a guiding grip on an elbow, leaning up against a warm shoulder, simple gestures of affection. Those have become common between them, true. But even so, hugs have been so very rare. They’ve always been aware of the difference between their ranks, though it has hardly ever seemed to matter. Raphael has crossed that line, many times, heedless of what it means for them, and been met with warm acceptance every time. But this is one of the few times that the principality has reached across, bridging the distance between them on his own.

 

“You’ll always be yourself,” Aziraphale tells him, and Raphael can feel the way the words rumble in his chest. Soft white wings wrap around him, comforting and warm. Aziraphale looks up, and their eyes are so close now, barely an inch between them. “No matter what happens,” he says, certainty in his gaze. “I know you. You cannot be changed so much that I no longer recognize you.”

 

“How can you be sure?” Raphael asks, overwhelmed by the faith this angel has in him. “You don’t know what is going to happen.”

 

“I know you,” Aziraphale tells him. “I know your heart is Good. I know you hate to see anything suffer. I know the love you have for your siblings, and the way you care for all of God’s creations. I know you make terrible jokes.” He grins and Raphael cannot help the small laugh that falls from his lips. “I know your essence,” Aziraphale continues. “I know your Grace, the way you feel like a storm bound tight in a shell. All of that is a part of you. It makes you who you are, and that won’t change. Not any more than the things that make me, me.” He says it with such certainty that Raphael almost believes him. Almost.

 

“You can’t promise that.”

 

“I can,” Aziraphale tells him, and his eyes are full of certainty. “If you promise to come back to me, however you can, then I promise you, Raphael. I promise to know that it’s you.”

 

 

 

I promise to know that it’s you, Aziraphale had said, so very long ago. And yet here he stands, watching the angel’s back as he walks away. Crowley has kept Raphael’s promise. He came back. Changed, yes. Fallen. But he still came back. And almost six thousand years later, Aziraphale still hasn’t recognized him. And he’s glad of that. He really is. There are so many reasons why being recognized for the archangel-that-was are a bad thing. That doesn’t make it hurt any less. And the worst part is that that stupid flame of hope is still there, burning in his chest and giving light to all of the places his soul has cracked and shattered.

 

He wants to run. To fly. To get away from the way his heart feels like it’s shattering into smaller and smaller pieces every second he stands here. But he can’t. He doesn’t know where to go. There isn’t a place in this universe, now, that wouldn’t remind him of Aziraphale. Not even the moon is safe. Not when the last time he’d been there, the angel had put a hand on his arm and told him to come to him when the pain became too much. There’s nowhere he can go that doesn’t have memories of the angel. He could, he supposes, go back to Hell. But there, there are memories of his Fall, and Hell isn’t a place one tries to escape to. It’s far more a place to escape from. And even if he went back, who would protect Aziraphale? No, that’s out of the question too. And he can’t just leave, anyway. He still has to find a way to turn Hell away from his scent.

 

He’s so tired. Not physically, not really. It’s a soul-deep aching tiredness that shrouds Crowley’s mind in exhaustion, making it difficult to think. He’s been carrying this pain for nearly six thousand years, and even now it’s almost a daily struggle to keep his walls up, to maintain the labyrinthine fortress he’s created in his mind to house the broken pieces of his soul. He needs rest. He needs sleep. And then it comes to him. He can hide in plain sight. Lay low for a while. It doesn’t have to be long, just long enough to… recharge a little, to let his body rest, to regain all that power he’s been expending lately. Maybe a couple years. Maybe decades. Hell won’t come for him, if he’s not an active threat. They won’t even notice him. The trail will go cold. The idea of it is enough to make him lightheaded with relief. It’s not a permanent solution, but it doesn’t need to be. He’ll figure out a way to get the holy water once he wakes up.

 

So Crowley returns to his flat - a large, empty space that he’s kept deliberately impersonal, save for a few pieces of art. After all, it’s not like he’s ever going to invite the angel here. He keeps it clean, uncluttered, as far from Hell as he can get. The only things he has any attachment to are his plants. His garden. His pathetic little attempt to recreate something lost so long ago. Eden, he knows, no longer exists. She’s taken it from the world, just as She took Her Grace from him. And this isn’t really the Garden, in the same way his obsidian blade is no heavenly flaming sword. It’s an imitation, a poor one, but it serves it’s purpose for Crowley. He terrorizes his plants, screaming threats and abuse at them if they even so much as think of displeasing him. They’re terrified of him, the way the angels are afraid of disappointing Her.

 

That’s the front room, though. There’s also the back room, a place those plants never see, the one from which he makes the wood-chipper sounds. This is where he keeps the ones that grew imperfectly, developed spots, or weak stems, or otherwise displeased him. These plants still get his shouts, his threats, but also specialized care. He tends each one carefully, seeing to it’s needs, encouraging it to grow in the way he wants. There’s more variety here, more color. Flowers. Delicate plants that can’t thrive under harsh words alone. Carnations of every color. Pansies. Lavender. Zinnia. Morning Glory. Poppy. Violets. And, in their own little corner, a small patch of Forget-Me-Nots.

 

Near the Forget-Me-Nots is his work bench, his office. His real one, where he does his best work. The other one, with the hard golden throne and stone table, that one is for show, for when Hell calls, when he can sense them watching him. They’re not watching him now. They haven’t been for centuries. If he plays his cards right, he’ll be able to buy himself a few more before anyone thinks to cast suspicion on him.

 

This office has a few books. Some arcane texts, a few works of fiction he’s stolen from the angel, a couple astronomy textbooks. He pulls a thick tome down from the shelf and flips through the pages, until he finds the spells he wants. Then he stands, and manifests his wings. They flare behind him like large black shadows, feathers shining like the obsidian of his sword. He takes a second to look over them, and allows himself a surge of pride. He knows he’s meant to hate them, this second most visible symbol of his Fall from Grace. He doesn’t. The colors suit him, he thinks. They match his sword, and the red of his hair looks so dramatic against the inky black. If he angles them just right, he knows, the light will reflect off the feathers, giving them a slight rainbow sheen. Vanity is another sin he allows himself to indulge in. Standing there in his well-tailored suit, wings unfurled behind him, he knows his physical form looks stunning. It’s only when the lenses come off, when he can see his eyes, and, behind them, the shape of his mangled essence, that he hates what he sees in the mirror.

 

He reaches out carefully, and runs a hand over a wing, fingers smoothing the soft feathers. He keeps them clean, spending hours meticulously grooming them after every visit to Hell so that they stay free of the ash and sulfur. He knows too well that if he doesn’t, the detritus of Hell will coat his wings, killing his feathers and taking away his ability to fly. He traces the shaft of one of his primaries, fingers picking out the smallest of the ten and following it to the base. There, he grips it delicately between two fingers and, with a grimace, plucks it from the wing. Another will have grown in to take it’s place by the time he wakes from this nap.  In his hand, the large feather shrinks to a more manageable size. It would have been nice to use one of his secondaries or tertiaries for this, but the primaries, he’s learned, hold the magic the longest. And he doesn’t want to take a chance on this.

 

Crowley holds the primary up to the light, admiring the way the sun shines through it. Then he takes a deep breath and touches a finger to the shaft. When he pulls it away, a golden thread of power follows. Like a master weaver, he manipulates it, twining it through other strings of power pulled from his own essence until it forms a base pattern from which the rest of his spells will take place. He anchors everything into the feather, making it glow with an otherworldly light. Words in Enochian flow from the demon’s mouth, calling up ancient knowledge from the depths of his soul. He casts wards, weaving them from the pattern and tying his power into the fabric of the world, setting it to warn him when anyone - occult or ethereal - comes near. He weaves it tight over his flat, adding another pattern - a spell to keep all but the strongest out. And a curse, buried within, to attack anyone who tries to touch his spells. A final touch - just a bit of power to keep his plants watered and healthy until he can look after them again.

 

He hesitates here. He can stop, leave it be. He’ll be safe, while he sleeps. But even with the pain of losing him again burning raw and fresh within, Crowley knows he can’t leave Aziraphale unprotected. So he grabs at the edges of the spell pattern and casts another bit of magic out into the world. A small, innocuous bit of power that not even the angel will notice is following him through the universe. Something that will alert Crowley the moment any danger comes close. He weaves in something stronger, to lie inert behind the other spells, something that will activate upon an alert and follow it back to it’s source, informing Crowley of exactly what danger is stalking his angel. Then the demon ties it all together, casting his magic out into the larger pattern of life, letting it flow from him, out across the world - a safety net that will keep his angel protected wherever he goes, even as Crowley sleeps. And the best part is that it is undetectable, unless one can see all the patterns of the universe, and know what changes have been made. It’s such a complex weaving that it would take even Crowley years to find the strand that connects it all back to him.

 

A final burst of demonic power, channeled through the feather of a Fallen archangel, and everything is set into motion. He feels the magic snap into place around him, joining and blending with the fabric of the world. He feels the power flow through him, and watches as it leeches the color from his feather until it is clear as the finest crystal. In his hands, it becomes as cool and hard as stone. A snap of his fingers, and it’s bound to a silver chain that he drapes around his neck, where it settles over his heart. He can feel it’s weight against his chest, a comforting reminder that he is not leaving his angel unprotected.

 

The work done, Crowley is even more exhausted. He doesn’t know how long it took him to weave his spells. It was light outside when he started, and dark now, but that tells him nothing. It could have been hours, but it was probably days. The wards draw from his power, limiting him from the full range of a Fallen archangel to something more like the lesser demon he pretends to be. That’s fine. Better than fine. It will help to throw Hell off his scent. Only someone with the power of an archangel could have killed Paimon. Unless they detect the spells draining his power, they will not believe Crowley capable of such a feat. It’s one more thing that will help keep Aziraphale safe as he sleeps.

 

Crowley gets up, and drags himself to the bed on the other side of the room, placing his sword against the headboard, where he can reach it with ease if he needs to. He has barely enough energy left to miracle himself into something more comfortable, before he falls into a deep, decades-long sleep.

Chapter Text

Asleep, Crowley dreams.

 

He ’s on the battlefield again. At least, what’s left of it. He picks his way past corpses of beings that were once angels. It doesn’t matter now, which side they fought on. In death, they are all the same. He shouldn’t be here, he knows that. This isn’t Heaven, but it isn’t Hell either. It’s not even Earth. This place, this bloodstained piece of land, had once been part of Heaven, but the violence of what happened her has split it apart. It is a realm of its own now, a place where only the dead remain.

 

He had come because he had to. Because, despite everything, despite his Fall, despite the loss of Her love, he was once Her healer. And his job should have been here, walking the battlefield, tending to the wounded. Only, there are no wounded left here anymore. Those Fallen who still lived when Lucifer was cast down, shortly after his own million-light-year plunge into the Pit, they Fell with him. It was in Hell that they either succumbed to their wounds, or were transformed so completely and so deep that old injuries no longer mattered. And the rest, the wounded angels that survived long enough to be returned to Heaven, had already been taken back to the halls of healing, where his own apprentices would heal them, under the command of another. Whatever remains here is beyond saving, even with the skill of an archangel. It all belongs to Azrael now.

 

He makes his way slowly to the edge of the plane. To the place where the Fallen had been thrown from the field. He should leave, now that he knows he is not needed here. He doesn ’t. Something pulls him onward, and he makes his way slowly along the rim of the battlefield, until he can see a single, lonely tree. The place where he stood and watched the battle, refusing to take part. The place where Raphael had died, murdered by his own siblings who would rather have seen him dead than let him Fall.

 

As he nears, he sees a figure kneeling in the bloody grass beside the tree. Curious, he shifts, taking on the form of a serpent. He crawls across the ground, until he can slither up the trunk of the tree and hide himself in a coil along one of it s leafy branches. Slowly, he inches out until he’s over top of the kneeling figure. His tongue flicks out, tasting the air, and he recognizes the scent of blood, misery, and Uriel. Crawly looks down, and sees his little sister. She’s on her knees beside of pool of blood he knows must be his own, head bowed as if in prayer. Before her lies her sword, still dripping with the ichor of a Fallen archangel. On Crawly’s back, a scar burns with pain. It’s mate, a thin white line on his chest, above his heart, pulses in harmony. He almost calls out, chastising her for leaving her weapon in such a state. He doesn’t know how long it’s been, but he knows it’s been weeks at least since he Fell, and even Heavenly blades will rust if left uncleaned.

 

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and the void inside him screams. He can hear the pain in her voice, his flickering tongue picks up the scent of her regret. He can’t feel any of it rolling down their bond, the way he used it. She is all but gone from his mind. Still, he wants to go to her. To comfort her. To draw his little sister into his arms and hold her in a tight embrace until her pain fades away like a terrible nightmare. He can’t. He’s no longer her brother, or anything she would even recognize. He’s a demon now, and she will kill him on sight.

 

“Uriel.” Gabriel’s voice. Or, it sounds like Gabriel’s voice, but harder, lacking the undercurrent of joy that Crawly remembers.

 

She looks up, eyes streaming with tears. “Brother.” Her voice is weak, choked with grief. “I-”

 

Gabriel moves into Crawly ’s line of sight, dressed in a perfect white robe, free of the splattering of blood that stains his sister’s clothes. “We have need of you, sister,” he says, stopping before he enters the shadow of the tree. “Your angels are leaderless and afraid. They need your guidance.”

 

“How can I?” Uriel asks him. “How can I lead them, when I- when Ra- he is-

 

Gabriel ’s hard expression cracks, just a tiny bit, and he raises a hand, but it falters, dropping back to his side, and his face closes off, goes unreadable again. “You do what he would have wanted you to do,” he tells her.

 

Hug her, you idiot, Crawly thinks. She doesn’t need motivation, she needs support. Do you not know her at all? Even without her mind in his, he knows how to help her. It kills him that he can’t.

 

Uriel stands, fist clenched and eyes now flashing with anger. “And what is that?” she hisses. “To go back to Heaven and tell everyone that this is all part of Her Great Plan? That She took our brothers and sisters from us on purpose, went silent and let it all happen for a reason? That She’s left us to pick up the pieces on our own and hold it all together against our former siblings until it’s time to wipe each other out at the end of the world?” She takes a step towards Gabriel, who takes a step back, away from the sudden force of her wrath.

 

“Yes,” he tells her. “That’s exactly what he would want us to do.”

 

No. No it’s not, Crawly hisses in frustration, the sound covered by the wind that blows through the trees. I want you to heal this, not just hold it together. To stop the end of her plan from coming to fruition. To bloody well take care of each other.

 

“Is it?” Uriel asks, ice in her words. “Is it really?”

 

Gabriel frowns at her, suddenly looking as lost as Crawly feels. “How should I know?” he demands. “I’m not the one he confided in!”

 

“Well neither was I!” Uriel spits. “I don’t know any more than you do, what we’re supposed to be doing here. All I know is that our brother is gone, and we’re the ones that killed him.”

 

The other archangel reels back as if slapped, purple eyes wide and pained. “Uriel-” he says, but she’s not done.

 

“And before you presume to tell me how I should feel about it, you should know that I still don’t forgive you for what you did.”

 

“If we’re going to play that game, then I should remind you who cast the first blow,” Gabriel retorts. “Or have you forgotten that it was your blade through his back?

 

Uriel launches herself at Gabriel with a wordless scream. Weaponless, she claws at her brother with her fingernails, leaving bloody scratches down his face. Gabriel stumbles back, reaching for a weapon he doesn ’t wear. Her assault is so vicious, so unexpected, that he can do little more than block her blows. He cries out, then somehow manages to catch her wrists, lifting her into the air by his longer arms. She squirms, kicking out at him, inarticulate in her rage and grief.

 

Stop this. Now.” Michael’s voice sounds from behind them, and Crawly watches as she strides into view. “Gabriel, release her.” She’s wearing a clean cream-colored robe, as spotless and perfect as Gabriel’s.

 

Their brother stares at her, surprised. “But, Michael, she-”

 

Now, Gabriel,” she says, in the voice they all knew better than to disobey. “Uriel won’t attack you again. Will she?” This last is addressed to Uriel, now hanging limply in Gabriel’s grip. Mutely, she shakes her head, and he lowers her to the ground.

 

“Good. Now. Someone tell me what started this,” Michael orders, frowning at them both.

 

“Uriel isn’t keeping up with her duties,” Gabriel all but whines. “So I came to get her, that’s all. And she just attacked me!”

 

Michael looks at Uriel. “Is this true?” she asks calmly.

 

Uriel doesn ’t meet her eyes. “He said- he said that I-” she stops.

 

“Go on,” their sister says. “What did he say?”

 

Uriel just shakes her head, unable to answer.

 

“Gabriel?” Michael turns to him. “What did you do, really?” Crawly knows that set to her jaw. She’s in no mood for games.

 

Gabriel seems to realize that too, because his eyes harden and he glares at them both. “She was shirking her duties. Coming back here and moping about - about him.

 

“As is her right,” Michael snaps, and thunder claps in the distance. “As is all our right. Raphael was our brother.”

 

“He Fell,” Gabriel says, stubborn. “He wasn’t our brother anymore.”

 

Michael slaps him. The sharp crack of it startles Crawly. He jumps, and nearly falls from the tree. Below, Gabriel and Uriel both gape at her.

 

“You will not speak of him like that,” she says, anger in every line of her body. “Whatever he became, we will remember him as what he was to us.”

 

“To us?” Gabriel asks, purple eyes glowing with his own rage. “And what, exactly, were we to him there at the end? He didn’t even come to us, did he, when he knew he was Falling. He tried to get to Eden. To him, that principality he was always ignoring us for.

 

“And why should he have come to us?” Uriel snaps back. “Considering what we did to him in the end? He knew what was coming, you said it yourself.”

 

Crawly closes his eyes, and wishes he was anywhere but here. He doesn ’t need to see this. The silence in his mind rages and screams at him. He had known, objectively, what his Fall would do to his siblings. But knowing and seeing are two different things. At the time, all he could think of was Aziraphale. Of getting to him to say goodbye one last time. He hadn’t even thought to go to them. Hadn’t wanted them to see the damage the Fall was doing to him, to see him Fall and know it was too late to stop it. Hadn’t wanted to be there, when they got the orders to destroy him.

 

Below him, Gabriel makes a noise of frustration and turns his back on his siblings. “He could at least have said goodbye,” he says, bitterly.

 

“He did,” Uriel snarls. “You were too busy condemning him to listen.”

 

“That- that thing wasn’t Raphael anymore.” Crawly holds back a sharp wave of pain. Gabriel is right. He’s not Raphael anymore. He won’t ever be again.

 

“Just because he Fell, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t him!”  Uriel shouts.

 

Gabriel growls. “That’s exactly what it means!”

 

ENOUGH!” Michael shouts. “That. Is. Enough. Both of you.”

 

Crawly’s eyes shoot open, and he watches his siblings turn to her. “I will not have you fighting. If you have nothing better to do, you will get back to work. Gabriel. You’ve been placed in charge of Earth operations. In this, and in this alone, I report to you. I suggest you get back to it.” Gabriel nods curtly, and stalks away.

 

Crawly would have frowned, if he ’d had the lips for it. As it is, his tail twitches. Michael, placing herself under Gabriel’s command? He wants to hear more about that, but Michael turns to Uriel.

 

“Uriel. I know this is hard, but we need you to take over command of Raphael’s legion. The scientists and artists need direction.”

 

The younger angel nods. “I’ll- I’ll try.” She, too, turns and walks after Gabriel.

 

Michael starts to follow, then stops, bending down. She picks up something small and glittering from the ground. Crawly watches as she wipes it free of blood and dirt with the hem of her robes and then holds it up to the light. A ring, glittering golden in the sun. He knows the pattern - a pair of angel wings that wrap around the wearer ’s finger to meet at the tips, the well-worn metal having taken the shape of his ring finger after years of wear. He’d thought it had been destroyed in his Fall, but here it is.

 

“Uriel,” she calls out, and their sister turns. Michael goes to her, and holds out the ring, placing it carefully in Uriel’s outstretched palms. “Take this,” she says, so quietly Crawly almost doesn’t hear her. “To remind you.”

 

“Michael,” Uriel says, voice rippling with pain. “Michael, I can’t. I-”

 

“If you don’t think you can keep it,” she tells her, “then pass it on to someone who needs it.” She curls Uriel’s fingers closed around the bit of jewelry. “His Fall caused more pain than ours, after all.”

 

Uriel nods, and they walk away, out of Crawly ’s line of sight. It won’t be until later, that he learns his little sister gained a new title after his Hall. Uriel, Archangel of Repentance.

 

 

 

The dream changes. He ’s back in Hell, standing in Lucifer’s throne room. His brother paces upon the dais, overlooking his troops. Crowley forces himself to stand straight as his once beautiful eyes pass over him. He tells himself that he’s never been noticed before in these inspections. There’s no reason he should be noticed now. But then Lucifer pauses, and he sees the madness that burns like hellfire in the depths of his gaze. There is no twinge, no pull from the shredded remains of Raphael’s connection to his siblings. He cut this bond himself, and Lucifer burned it closed in his rage. The silence aches within him, but there’s anger there too. So much anger, he’s almost overflowing with it. If only Lucifer had never come to him. Had never told him what he knew. Hadn’t given him that copy of the Plan. He’d still be an angel then. Still be whole.

 

Do I know you, little snake?” the being that was once his brother asks, but there’s no real recognition in those eyes. There’s barely any sanity. “You remind me of someone” the emotion on his face is almost sorrow. Then his expression clears, and recognition flickers in his gaze. Ah. But you are the one called Crawly. You have done well, tempting the mortals. Yes, most well. I will see you rewarded, when I take back what is rightfully mine.” He turns away, and Crowley can breathe again. The silence, for the moment, is comforting. His mind, at least, is safe from Lucifer’s reach.

 

They’re released hours later, and Crowley takes his time making his way back up through the halls of Hell. He hates it here. It’s so dirty, so crowded, full of hopeless, tainted things that only serve to remind him that he, too, is tainted and vile. He wants to be gone from here, but if he hurries, if he looks like he wants to be anywhere else, somehow Hell will contrive to keep him here. So he takes back passageways, winds through lesser used rooms in the places where the masses of lower demons fear to travel due to the close proximity to the Pit. It’s this that leads him to enter a darkened torture room on the very edge of the abyss, and stumble upon Lucifer. The devil is standing precariously at the point where solid ground gives way to the bottomless pit, listening to the screams of damned souls that echo up from the depths. When Crowley sees him, he tries to back away. If he’s lucky, Lucifer won’t have noticed him. He’s not lucky.

 

I see you there, little snake, ” Lucifer says, eyes never straying from the darkness of the Pit. Crowley can hear something down there growling, a harsh, guttural sound.

 

“It galls him to do it, but Crowley bows before his elder brother. “My Lord,” he says, the words burning his throat. Satan is not a stable ruler. Any sign of rebellion is quashed immediately, and with no sense of remorse. As much as the demon hates making obeisance to his own brother, he would prefer it over destruction. “I apologize, I didn’t know you were here.”

 

Do you know what is down there, little snake? ” his brother asks, ignoring Crowley’s words.

 

The demon glances into the Pit, and then away. “I do.” He wishes he didn’t.

 

S'el fu s ì bel com' elli è ora brutto, e contra 'l suo fattore alzò le ciglia, ben dee da lui procedere ogne lutto. ” Lucifer says, almost as if to himself.

 

If he were beautiful as he is hideous now, and yet did dare to scowl upon his Maker, well from him may all our misery flow. Dante’s Inferno. Crowley had helped him write the Divine Comedy, lounging beside the poet, making jokes about what might be seen on a trip through Hell. He hadn’t realized how much he’d revealed, until Dante had presented him with the first copy of his work.

 

His brother turns to him then, and this close Crowley can see the full extent of the damage done in his Fall. It ’s not just the eyes, which had once been warm and welcoming, a deep black that he remembers sparkling like starlight. They’re so cold now, like chips of ice at absolute zero. His face is wrong too, vermilion skin drawn tight across features twisted and warped from the familiar lines he’d once known so well. In this light, the color of his skin could have been that of blood.

 

Do the humans remember what we did for them? ” Lucifer asks. “ Are they grateful? ” His words are almost lost under a cry from the abyss.

 

Internally, Crowley raises an eyebrow. We? That ’s exactly like the Lucifer he remembers, there at the end. Taking credit after the fact for someone else’s actions. Lucifer hadn’t rebelled for the humans. Hadn’t meant any of this as a way to give them free will. He’d wanted more power, more notoriety. He hadn’t been content with just sitting at Her left hand. He wanted a throne. As far as he was concerned, the humans gaining their freedom was merely a side-effect.

 

“Some do,” Crowley tells him, not daring to say more.

 

The Thing in the Pit thrashes and screams.

 

Pitiful creature,Lucifer mutters, throwing a disgusted glance at the dark hole. Crowley closes his eyes against a rush of pain. He can hear the anguish in that tortured voice in the abyss, and the healer in him wants nothing more than to soothe it. Here, he can feel something clawing at the scarred connection between them, a mad scramble of claws and teeth trying to open up the burned and cauterized bond. He’s too close. He needs to get away. Soon. Before Lucifer realizes what’s happening.

 

Sometimes, ” his brother muses. “ Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. ” His voice is sad, and the demon thinks he hears an echo of his own pain there. He tries to take a step away, back the way he came, but Lucifer raises his eyes to Crowley’s, pinning him to the spot with his gaze. Something in him is burning, and it’s all he can do to stand under the assault. It’s not the bond. It’s something else. Something that connects all demons to their lord and master.

 

Tell me, little snake, ” Lucifer says, a cruel smile twisting his features. “ What do you think? Was Falling worth it?

 

Crowley is compelled to reply, trapped by those ice-cold eyes. “No,” he says honestly. “It wasn’t.”

 

Lucifer throws back his head and laughs, loud and sharp like gunshots. The thing in the pit echoes the sound until the whole room shakes with it. Crowley can’t help it. His eyes are drawn to the abyss. There, in the darkness, he sees him. A creature the same vermilion color as the King of Hell at his side, but larger. So much larger it could crush whole armies with one hand. Six great wings spring from its back, constantly flapping, drafting a cold wind over a lake of ice that engulfs it up to its waist. Three heads thrash, gnashing teeth, while tears of pains fall from each of its six eyes. Lucifer’s true form, imprisoned still where She had bound him when he’d been cast down. What Lucifer has done horrifies him, deliberately splitting his essence, leaving the chained pieces of himself within in the Pit, a raging, mindless beast, while the rest of him walks free.

 

I had a brother, once, ” Satan tells him, staring down at his other half. “ He would have ruled at my side, before our former siblings killed him. ” His face twists in a snarl when he speaks of their siblings. “ He would have had your place on Earth, my little snake. ” Crowley shudders, wondering if Lucifer would have done the same thing to him, splitting his essence, chaining the broken parts of his soul in the Pit. He thinks it would have driven him mad.

 

You have pleased me so far, ” his brother says, and lays a heavy hand on Crowley’s shoulders. It burns where it touches him, and he forces himself not to react. “ If you continue to do well, perhaps you may take his place in Hell. ” His hand clenches, nails like claws cutting into Crowley’s flesh. “ If you displease me, however ” Lucifer looks back down into the Pit, where his feral self chews on the soul of a sinner. The warning is clear enough. If Crowley displeases Satan, he will find himself cast into the Pit again, and this time there will be no crawling out. If they ever find out what he’s been doing on Earth, this will be his fate.

 

 

 

The dream shifts again, away from the realm of memory. Crowley is back in St. James ’s Park, watching the ducks. He throws some seeds for them, and frowns up at the blood-red sky. It’s nearly sunset, and Aziraphale has still not arrived to meet him. The angel is never late. He turns, about to go to the bookshop to check on him, when Aziraphale appears.

 

“Aziraphale! I was just-” he stops, relief turning to confusion. The familiar figure of his angel is radiating divine rage and hate. The emotions flow before him like the heralds of an oncoming storm, washing over Crowley. The demon freezes, mind blank at the pure hatred he sees on Aziraphale’s face. Hatred directed at him.

 

“Demon,” the angel spits, and there’s no kindness hidden in his voice, no recognition, no indication that he knows Crowley. “You will not speak my name.”

 

Crowley ’s mind scrambles for a thought, a word, anything that could explain what he’s seeing. In front of him, Aziraphale draws his flaming sword.

 

“Angel, what-?” He chokes on the words, watching Aziraphale with wide eyes.

 

“You killed him,” Aziraphale says with white-hot fury shaking in his words. “I trusted you, and you killed him.”

 

Crowley instinctively holds his hands up between them, open and nonthreatening. “I haven’t killed anyone!” he protests, and Aziraphale laughs, a cruel, harsh sound through the tears streaming down his face.

 

“Don’t lie to me, fiend. I know your ways. You killed him, and tried to take his place. As if I could ever love a creature like you.” The angel’s beautiful face contorts into a sneer. He takes a step forward, and Crowley retreats back.

 

“No, I don’t- angel, I don’t even know who you’re talking about!” All of his instincts are screaming for him to run now, but he can’t. This is Aziraphale. And Aziraphale would never hurt him… would he?

 

“Raphael,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley flinches. “You murdered the Archangel Raphael.”

 

He checks his walls at the mention of his ancient name, and to his horror he finds them gone. The symbols that name him Raphael are visible for all to see. But they ’re not right, not the clear, clean lines he remembers. They bubble, thick and viscous, corrupted almost beyond recognition. A rot covers the old sigil where it hasn’t decayed away, and the whole thing makes him sick to look at.

 

“No, no, Az- Angel, I swear to you, please-

 

Aziraphale watches him with blazing eyes. He advances slowly, sword raised. “Demon Crowley. You have sinned against your Creator.” The angel takes a deep breath, before uttering his divine judgment. “Your sentence is death.”

 

Crowley runs then, pure terror spurring him to action. It ’s too late. Aziraphale’s sword finds it’s mark, piercing his back in the same place Uriel’s sword had been, cutting easily through flesh and bone and sinking into his heart. Crowley screams, falling as his angel shoves the blade deeper, through his heart and out the other side. He turns it viciously, then pulls it out. Crowley gasps, feeling the blood bubbling up in his throat and spilling onto the grass that’s pressed against his face. Aziraphale kicks him over onto his back and raises the sword again, hovering over his neck. He brings it down, and the ground opens up beneath them. The demon falls. Down and down, past the circles of Hell, dropping down into the Pit, surrounded by Lucifer’s laughter. His brother’s feral form scoops him up with one hand, and the last thing he sees is three sets of sharp teeth, coming far too close.

 

 

 

Crowley wakes with a start, covered in the sticky sour sweat of fear. The key to his wards is hot against his chest, pulsing an urgent warning. Danger danger danger. He sits up in a panic, already reaching for his spells. Danger. All his wards are broadcasting danger. But nothing specific. Nothing targeted, neither at Aziraphale nor himself. Nothing demonic in origin at all. He takes a deep breath, and pulls back. The wards demand attention, but it’s not immediate. He has a moment to breathe, to try and forget his dreams. Most of them had been memories. Painful memories, happy memories, things he’d seen or done. They were fading away now. But that last dream hadn’t been a memory. It was a nightmare, a private fear that one day Aziraphale would decide to do what he should have done at the very beginning and smite him from the earth.

 

He sits and focuses on breathing for a few moments, grounding himself in the soft sheets under his fingers, the cold stone beneath his feet, the sounds he can just barely hear of the world outside, filtered through his windows. It’s not the sound of the city he remembers. It’s changed while he’s been asleep. He reaches out with all of his senses, to find a world he almost doesn’t recognize. He’s been asleep for just over half a century, and in those five decades so much has changed. He can feel the pace of human civilization accelerating. Time was, he could sleep for a century and wake up to a world that was hardly any different from when he had gone to bed.

 

His wards are still going off, insistent. Crowley stands, stretching muscles and joints that haven’t moved in decades. It’s only because of his demonic nature that his body hasn’t wasted away while he slept. He walks on stiff legs to his kitchen to make himself some coffee. Just the smell of it has him sending a blessing to the descendants of the Yemeni family that first discovered the drink. He’s not hungry - he’s never been quite as fond of that aspect of humanity as Aziraphale is - but the hot, bitter liquid is something he’s always appreciated. He hums in contentment, then notices a stack of letters on the kitchen counter, each one addressed to him in the angel’s careful handwriting. Crowley’s lips curve in a small smile as he flips through the envelopes. There’s no postage. Aziraphale must have miracled them into his flat instead of sending them by regular mail.

 

Awake now, Crowley takes the letters back to his workbench. He casts a longing glance at the soft bed, but he knows if he gets back in he’ll fall asleep again, and he wants to look into the wards, find out what’s set them off. With a sigh, he lowers himself into his seat at the desk, and puts the letters aside. Wards first.

 

Crowley casts out with his mind, sinking through the feather that anchors it all and expanding out into the network of patterns, feeling for the world around him. What he finds is an entire planet on the brink of war. Chaos and fighting plague most of Europe, while colonialism proceeds apace in Africa and South America. Alliances are stretched thin, and fragile peace is being tested in more places than he can count. Crowley can read the pattern here, can predict what will happen. The world is a powder keg. It will only take one match to set it off.

 

The demon withdraws from his wards, quieting them, tuning them towards specific dangers. He has a feeling just being alive is going to be a danger for a while. Before he pulls back completely, he quickly checks on Aziraphale. The angel is settled into an armchair in his bookshop, a cup of cocoa at his elbow and a book open in his lap. Crowley smiles fondly, and returns to himself. At least Aziraphale is still safe. He’ll have to make sure that remains the case during the war that is to come. The memory of their last conversation echoes in his mind, and he shoves it away. The pain is miraculously quiet for now, a background hum, constant, clearly there, but manageable. His mental walls are holding strong, holding back the worst of it.

 

He stretches, yawning, and his gaze falls on the stack of letters. As he flips through them, he sees they’re all dated on the corner, telling him when the angel sent them. The first is from 1863, a little more than a year after their last meeting. For the next decade, there’s one every couple of years. As time wore on, they came more frequently, until the past decade, where he has one every few months. He decides to start with the most recent, and work backwards. It’s dated June 14, 1914 - two weeks before he’d woken up. Crowley breaks the seal on the letter, and reads.

 

 

 

My dear Crowley,

 

It has now been over 50 years since we last spoke, and I find once again that I deeply regret the way our conversation ended. I can ’t imagine why you asked for what you did, but I regret that my words may have led you to believe that I do not care for your company. In case this is the first of my letters you read, I will say once again that I value your companionship far more than I believe you know. I have missed you these past decades, and I would very much like it if you were to return to me soon.

 

I know you are in there. I can feel your presence when I come to your door. But, as always, there is something that keeps me from entering. I understand if you do not wish to see me, but I worry about you. I haven ’t felt your presence outside of this flat for decades, and I can only assume you are taking another one of your long ‘naps’. If that is the case, then, I hope you will see these letters when you get up. I know I have no right to ask this of you, but should you feel so inclined, I would appreciate it greatly if you could let me know when you wake, and if you are alright.

 

Nothing much has happened to me, since my last letter. The bookshop continues to do well. I have not sold a single book in months, and it seems my opening hours have done a good job convincing potential customer to go elsewhere. A rare book dealer came by the other day, and I managed to convince him to part with a particularly good first edition of Don Quixote. I know you said you do not read novels, but I believe you might enjoy this one. Perhaps one day, I can loan you a copy.

 

On a more unsettling note, I had a visit from Gabriel the other day. Uriel accompanied him this time, though I noticed that they did not seem particularly pleased with each other. I remember you telling me, once, that you thought they all seemed extremely cold, both towards myself and each other. I find I must admit that you are right. I remember Uriel as being fond of her brothers. Raphael would tease her mercilessly, and she would always laugh and give as good as she got. She had a wonderful smile. I don ’t think either she or Gabriel were particularly pleased about my friendship with their brother, but I had hoped with time I would come to know them better. Raphael always spoke so highly of them both. Perhaps that is too much to ask. I’m just a principality, after all. I just wish, I suppose, that they could understand how wonderful Earth is. All the fantastic things humans come up with. They spend so much time in Heaven that they ’ve lost touch with the rest of Her creation. I think it would benefit many angels to spend time down here, to understand what it is we were created to take care of.

 

Enough of that. I ’m sure you don’t want to read about my boring interactions with the archangels. I’ve had a few jobs lately, minor blessings mostly, but my current assignment is simply to observe. Gabriel says big things are starting to happen in Europe, and I am to watch them. I’ve been ordered specifically not to interfere, though with what , I have yet to find out. I can feel a tension in the world, and I worry about what that might mean. I am certain you would know, but of course I cannot ask you.

 

In any case, I am at loose ends for a while. I almost miss doing your temptations for you. (Do not assume this means I wish to take on more of your work. You do little enough as is, you wily demon.) It is far too quiet, without you here to thwart. Please be alright.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Aziraphale.

 

P.S. I went to a concert the other day - Tchaikovsky. You were right, his work has become quite popular. I particularly like his Romeo and Juliet, though, given your current activities, you might prefer his ballet The Sleeping Beauty.

 

 

 

The rest of the letters are much the same. Notes about significant events taking place, updates on the bookshop, comments on interactions with various humans and, occasionally, the archangels, musings on the current state of the world, all interspersed with entreaties for Crowley to wake up. Two other letters also offer apologies for the way they parted, though in several more the angel reprimands him for seeking so dangerous a thing as holy water. Crowley breathes a sigh of relief, some of his pain fading away. Aziraphale doesn’t hate him. Or, at least, he isn’t ready to be completely rid of him just yet. The knowledge eases something that had been tightened around his heart.

 

He contemplates going to the bookshop and talking to the angel. He can picture his expression, the way his eyes would light up, the small smile that would appear on his face before he could banish it in favor of a look of admonishment. He’d probably then launch into a lecture on sloth. It would be good to see him again, Crowley thinks, but he doesn’t know if he could take it if the conversation devolved into another argument so soon. If Aziraphale walked away from him again. So instead, he pulls out his own paper, miracles some ink for his pen as everything he had has gone dry, and writes a quick note.

 

Angel,

 

I ’m up. Had a great nap. Thanks for the letters. Sorry I missed the Titanic, it sounded like a fun time.

 

See you around,

 

-Crowley

 

 

He seals it with wax and his personal seal, then miracles it into the angel’s letter box. He’ll go to him when he’s ready. That done, Crowley gets up, deciding he’s spent far too long inside these walls. He wants to get up, and see what this new century is all about. The demon spends some time wandering around, getting a feel for life in 1914. He quickly picks up on the fashion of the times, and miracles himself a more modern suit and haircut. Then, properly outfitted, he sets out to find some trouble.

 

It isn’t long before war breaks out, and Crowley is swept away in it. Without Heaven or Hell picking a side in this one, Crowley is left to determine who he supports on his own. It’s a freedom he didn’t expect, but with his only orders being ‘promote evil’, well, there’s a lot he can do with that. After all, he barely has to lift a finger to promote evil in this war. Human ingenuity has created weapons of violence that far exceed the tried and tested battle tactics, and the end result is carnage far beyond anything even the most twisted minds of Hell could have dreamed. Old strategy is useless in the face of modern weaponry, and the humans scramble to find their footing in a game where all the rule have changed, and the consequences of losing are unimaginable.

 

Crowley visits a battlefield, and decides at once he can’t do it. Being on the front lines, it’ll be a repeat of the Black Plague all over again, and he can’t have that. Can’t let himself get so close to falling apart again, when there’s a chance Hell could find out what he’s been doing. So he decides that the best way to keep up with the amount of chaos going on is to join the fledgling British Secret Intelligence Service. He picks the first name Anthony for the paperwork, and weasels his way into a job as a field agent. A few quick miracles and some quick thinking in the field see him rapidly climbing the ladder. And it’s… it’s fun. The itch to create chaos inside him pushes him to take the dangerous assignments, the risky ones that get even the best agents killed. The thrill of it thrums through him. He’s never felt more alive, more human, than when he’s running from gunfire, desperate to get some bit of information back across enemy lines. It’s glorious. The adrenaline rush through his borrowed body is addicting. It’s better than the taste of fine wine, or the high from certain drugs. And the best part is, when he’s working, the silence and the pain fade away, pushed aside. There’s no room for them when it takes all of his concentration to get out of a situation alive. Sure, discorporation wouldn’t be too bad, he’d just have to get another body and come back topside. But it could be years before he gets through the paperwork, and, really, there’s always the risk they’ll decide he’s spent too long on Earth and send someone else. Better not to risk it.

 

Through it all, he keeps tabs on Aziraphale. The angel stays in London during the war, running his bookshop and observing as ordered. Sometimes, he finds an excuse to go over to the continent, and when he does Crowley always follows, remaining carefully out of sight. He has to take action on a few occasions, diverting attacks or sending a bomber off-course, but there’s never anything that demands his personal, physical intervention at Aziraphale’s side. They exchange a few letters - long and rambling on the angel’s part, quick and casual from Crowley - but the demon brushes off any suggestions of meeting in person. He’s still not ready.

 

The Great War ends. Crowley stays on with the SIS. In 1926 he gets a car, a Bentley, and finds something else he loves. The speed is like nothing he’s ever known. He’s flown faster, of course, but there’s just something about the rumble of the engine, the feeling of the road passing underneath the tires. Behind the wheel, driving 90mph down an empty highway, Crowley thinks he finally understands why Aziraphale loves his bookshop so much. It’s amazing, the things humans can come up with.

 

When it’s been long enough that his fellow spies start to get suspicious about his lack of aging, Crowley fakes his own death on a mission. It’s dramatic, involving him getting a critical piece of information out just before the enemy catches and ‘kills’ him. In reality, he miracles away the bullet, and plays dead until they bury him. Then he rises from his grave and returns to his car, driving back to his flat. A year or two later, his ‘son’, Anthony J Crowley, appears at the SIS, promising to live up to his ‘father’s’ legacy.

 

When World War II breaks out, he spends a lot of time out in the field. He can’t resist making a name for himself, foiling England’s enemies in increasingly spectacular ways. He passes it off to Hell as inspiring the Axis powers to try harder to be evil, but really it’s just fun. He can’t help wanting to make a fool out of the Nazis. He hates what they’re doing, hates it with a passion. If he could, he would stop it all at once with a snap of his fingers, sending Hitler down into the Pit with Lucifer’s great beast. But not even an archangel, Fallen or otherwise, has the power to stop a war this big on his own. So Crowley contents himself with a series of exploits that would astonish even the most hardened secret agent. Later, he will boast that he was part of the inspiration for James Bond.

 

 

It’s 1941, before Crowley hears rumors of a local Soho bookshop owner working for the Germans. A little more digging, and he’s certain that it’s Aziraphale. He’s positive the angel wouldn’t willingly work with a genocidal regime, so he knows he must have been duped into it somehow. He volunteers to take the case, citing a need for a bit of downtime before going back out into hostile territory. From there, it’s not hard to work out what the angel is doing. A pretty young woman, who Crowley instantly hates, has him convinced she’s an SIS agent. He’s going around gathering books on prophecy, believing he’s doing it to lure a couple Nazi spies into a trap. Then Crowley learns exactly what they have planned, and his blood runs cold.

 

He follows the fake agent to the church. And of course, the whole thing is taking place in a church. He watches the agent go in, then takes a deep breath. Consecrated ground. It’s not fair, that the place most connected to his Creator, his Mother, is forbidden to him. Not fair, that the holiness that once felt like home now burns his body, raising blisters on his feet where they touch the ground and turning every molecule in his body sensitive and raw. He hesitates right on the threshold between safe and holy, and feels Her light on the building, illuminating the yawning void inside him.

 

“Right,” he tells himself. “Time to go in.”

 

It burns. Like being on a beach in bare feet, yes, but a beach where the sand has the heat of a volcano underneath and the very air is almost too hot to breathe. He has to step quickly, trying his best to keep contact with the floor to a minimum. His mental walls strain and crack against the pain, the sharp sting of rejection. It’s almost too much. And then he sees Aziraphale, standing there with guns trained on him, ready to discorporate the angel. It’s almost a physical relief when the woman holding the gun turns it on him instead. Aziraphale’s face goes unreadable, and Crowley tries not to miss the welcoming, relieved smile he’s seen, the last few times the demon has swooped in to save him.

 

“What are you doing here?” Aziraphale hisses, watching him with guarded eyes.

 

He supposes he deserves that. They haven’t seen each other face-to-face in nearly a century, even though he’s sometimes gotten close enough to see the angel himself. He hadn’t been ready for it. He still isn’t, truth be told.

 

“Stopping you from getting into trouble,” he tells him, distracted as he tries to assess the danger in the room. Three hostiles, at least two with guns. How to get rid of them?

 

“I should have known, of course,” Aziraphale says, and the accusation in his voice stings almost as badly as the stones beneath his feet. “These people are working for you.”

 

“No!” Crowley protests, almost offended. “They’re a bunch of half-witted Nazi spies, running around London, blackmailing and murdering people.” If he’d been a good demon, they would have been his agents. But he’s not exactly a good demon, is he? “I just didn’t want to see you embarrassed.” Didn’t want to see the angel discorporated. Didn’t want to risk Heaven refusing to return him and sending down someone else. He knows he won’t ever have the angel’s love, but it still might kill him if Aziraphale goes back where he can’t follow.

 

“Mr. Anthony J Crowley. Your fame precedes you,” one of the two men says, and Crowley spares him a glance as he paces in a circle. He won’t be able to walk right for the better part of a week after this.

 

“Anthony?” Aziraphale asks, and Crowley remembers he hasn’t let the angel know about his new name yet. He feels a stab of worry, barely noticeable on top of everything else, that his friend won’t approve.

 

“You don’t like it?” He casts his senses wide as he speaks, searching for something to save them now that he’s rushed in without a plan.

 

“No, no, I didn’t say that,” Aziraphale says, and there’s a softening in his features, his walls lowering. “I’ll get used to it.” Crowley relaxes a bit. Maybe their friendship really isn’t un-salvageable after all. And, ah, there. He spots a solution to this situation. One quick demonic miracle, and a plane goes just slightly off course.

 

“The famous Mr. Crowley,” the woman says, and he hides a grin. Famous. “Such a pity you must both die.” She’s eyeing him appreciatively, but he never really has time for that sort of thing. Especially not with people who plot to murder his angel. Plus, all three humans are going to be dead in less five minutes now.

 

Aziraphale looks at the humans, then back at him. “What does the J stand for?” The demon would have laughed, if he wasn’t so busy keeping his feet moving. It’s just like the angel to avoid the important issues at hand in favor of trying to figure out what his initial means.

 

“Er,” he says, realizing he hadn’t ever actually decided what it stood for. He’d just used it to distinguish his current secret agent persona against the older, ‘dead’ agent from the first World War. “It’s just a ‘J’, really.” He circles again, and his eyes catch on the font of holy water, sitting there right in front of them. “Oh, look at that. A whole font full of holy water. Doesn’t even have guards.” It’s a pity it’ll probably be completely destroyed. He’ll have to be careful that none of it splashes on him when the church explodes.

 

“Enough babbling. Kill them both,” one of the humans says, turning away from them. Crowley feels the flash of fear from his angel, and around his neck his spell anchor pulses, confirming the danger. He has to stall them.

 

“In about a minute,” he says, “a German bomber will release a bomb that will land right here.” He has their attention now. “If you all run away very, very fast, you might not die. You won’t enjoy dying. Definitely won’t enjoy what comes after.” His dramatic delivery is spoiled a bit by how he can’t stand still, but he’ll take what he can get. It’s not like anyone but he and the angel will survive this to tell anyone about his poor performance.

 

The human that had ordered their deaths smirks. “You expect us to believe that? The bombs tonight will fall on the East End.”

 

It’s starting to get too much. He can’t stand much more of the pain in his feet, or the way even the air hurts his lungs as he breathes in. He doesn’t need to breathe, of course, but the air is important for talking so he can’t just stop for now. He’s going to have to stand in Hellfire for a while to recover from this.

 

“Yes,” he says, voice strained from the pain. “It would take a last-minute demonic intervention to throw them off course, yes. You are all wasting your valuable running-away time.” They won’t understand what he’s saying here, but Aziraphale will. Time is limited, and with the way the holiness of this place is burning away at him, he’s not sure he has enough power to shield them both from the bomb. “But if,” he adds, “in thirty seconds, a bomb does land here,” he meets Aziraphale’s eyes, praying to someone that the angel will get what he’s saying here. “It would take a real miracle for my friend and I to survive it.” He doesn’t miss the way Aziraphale’s eyes widen at the word ‘friend’, the way his lips twitch in a way that suggests that, were they not in such immediate danger, he would be smiling.

 

“A- a real miracle?”

 

“Yes,” he confirms, projecting confidence. It feels like parts of his essence are burning now. The bomb coming will be a welcome relief.

 

“Kill them,” one of the human men orders, and the woman raises her gun again. “They are very irritating.”

 

Crowley feels his errant bomber arriving, and points up. The humans all freeze, hearing the tell-tale whistle of a falling bomb. Silently, Crowley counts to three, then closes his eyes, trusting in Aziraphale to bring them through this safely. The world explodes around them. As it does, he remembers the books. And that Aziraphale will probably not remember them. It takes only a small bit of power to shield the bag of them, but he almost doesn’t have enough.

 

The smoke clears, leaving them both standing in the wreckage of the church, and Crowley nearly sags in relief as the consecration evaporates and he can breathe again.

 

“That was very kind of you,” Aziraphale tells him.

 

“Shut up,” Crowley responds, cleaning debris off his glasses and sliding them back on, safely hiding his eyes. He doesn’t need or want thanks for this. Still, it warms him when Aziraphale insists.

 

“Well, it was,” he says, then the demon watches as the realization dawns on his face that he’s forgotten about protecting his books. “Oh, the books,” he says, and the heartbroken expression is enough that Crowley would have reversed time just for him, in order to save the books. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to. “I forgot all of the books. They’ll have been blown to-”

 

Crowley stands and walks on blistered feet to where the dead body of one of the humans still clutches at the bag. He pries it free, handing it to his friend. He avoids looking at the angel’s face when he does. He thinks they’re still friends, but he’s so afraid that he’ll look at the angel and see rejection in his eyes.

 

“Little demonic miracle of my own,” he says, as if it were nothing. As if, moments ago, he wasn’t terrified he would be too late to save the angel this time. He stalks away, tossing back an offer for a lift home. He doesn’t see the complicated expression that crosses Aziraphale’s face, or the way the angel’s eyes linger on his from as he moves towards the car. He doesn’t expect him to take the offer, especially when he doesn’t immediately follow, so it surprises the demon when the angel climbs into his passenger seat.

 

“New car?” Aziraphale asks him, and Crowley grins.

 

“Yeah. Isn’t she great?”

 

Aziraphale hums an agreement, looking over the interior of the Bentley. Crowley pulls out of the lot across from the ruined church, and his headlights fall on the one thing still standing from the explosion. The dove-shaped lectern. He thinks he’ll come back for it later. It will look nice in his apartment. A reminder of what happened here tonight.

 

Silence falls between them. Crowley briefly considers apologizing for the holy water incident, but decides against it. He’d been right to ask for it. Hell will still come for him, and he still needs a plan to face them when they do. If he can’t get it from the angel, he’s going to have to steal some himself. Now isn’t the time to bring it up again, however. Not when they just reunited after almost a century apart. He can also tell something is worrying the angel. Aziraphale’s never really been able to control his expression, and right now it’s doing a complicated dance as thoughts cross his mind. Crowley sighs, and gives him time. It’s hard. His burned feet scream at him, and he can almost count the individual blisters by the way they throb. His lungs hurt too, like he’s inhaled too much smoke. He needs to go home, conjure some hellfire in his fireplace, and stand in it until it heals all his holy wounds.

 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale finally asks as they speed through the darkened streets.

 

“Yeah angel?” The demon glances over at him, and sees his hands clenched in his lap.

 

“I… never mind. It’s nothing.”

 

Crowley rolls his eyes behind his glasses. “Come on angel, I can feel your gears turning from here. What’s bothering you?” He’s not sure he really wants to know. From the way Aziraphale is looking at him, he knows this is going to be a painful conversation. But he’s never really been able to deny the angel anything before. He sees no reason for that to change now.

 

“There is something… something I’ve been wondering about, for quite a while now,” Aziraphale says carefully, eyes looking anywhere but at Crowley’s face.

 

“Yeah? Like what? Whether Satan wears underpants?”

 

“What? No,” Aziraphale looks surprised, then frowns at Crowley’s grin. ‘Oh, do shut up.”

 

Crowley’s smile softens, and his eyes fall again on the way the angel’s hands are tangled together in his lap. “It’s alright,” he says, sincerity in his voice. “Whatever it is, you can ask.”

 

“But…” Aziraphale sighs. “I don’t think it’s exactly the kind of question one asks.” And the demon knows him well enough to hear the words he doesn’t say. I think this question might hurt if I ask it. He’s not sure if he’s afraid it’ll hurt Crowley, or himself. On hand on the wheel, he turns his full attention to the angel. He expects the car to keep driving and not hit anything, so that is what it does.

 

“Angel,” he says firmly, and Aziraphale raises his eyes to meet his. Or at least, to meet his glasses. “You never need to worry about asking questions with me. Can’t promise I’ll answer. But you can ask.”

 

“I… alright.” Despite his words, the angel doesn’t seem inclined to go on. His eyes turn towards the road ahead, but Crowley can tell he isn’t seeing a thing. He returns his attention to the wheel, and waits for the angel to be ready.

 

At last, Aziraphale gives a small sigh, and the demon knows he’s ready to talk. “I was… wondering. Do- do demons feel love?”

 

Do demons feel love? Crowley scrambles to throw up more walls against the rush of pain those words stab into him. Of all the questions the angel could ask, he hadn’t expected that. The emptiness inside bleeds, the void where Her love used to be an aching, empty pit. Do I? Of course he does. It isn’t effortless, like it had been when he was an angel, to feel it around him. But he can, if he tries. He does now, reaching out with another set of senses and feeling for the love that always radiates from the angel. He finds it right where he expects it, warm, comforting, a genuine sense of love for all things great and small. It steadies him, soothing the aches inside. For a moment, he almost gets a hint of something else, before it slips away, slotted carefully behind a wall in Aziraphale’s mind.

 

“Do you mean in general, sensing it around us?” he asks, when he has a hold of himself again. “Or specifically, love for something?”

 

“Both. Either. I don’t know.” The angel won’t look at him now.

 

“I see.” He considers his words carefully. It’s…” There’s an easy answer he could give here. He could lie, say no, he doesn’t feel love. Or he could say yes, and leave it at that. Simple and honest, which he expects the angel wants. Something in him balks at the simple answer. He finds that he wants Aziraphale to understand this. To get where he’s coming from here. He’s not even sure why it’s so important to him, suddenly but it is.

 

He’ll have to be careful though. He can’t go too far here, can’t reveal too much of himself. If Aziraphale even thinks Crowley might feel that more specific kind of love, might feel it for him, well. Crowley knows him well enough to predict what would happen. He would run. And this tentative friendship between them, rekindled less than an hour ago now, would be gone, lost, possibly for good.

 

Feeling love, other people’s love, yes, we can do that. But it’s… different for a demon. It’s like…” he frowns. How to describe it. Ah. He remembers the great orchestras of Heaven, how they would play, and the sound would fill Heaven and he could let himself be carried away by the melody. They’ve tried to replicate it in Hell, but they just can’t quite get it right. Somehow, he doesn’t think the angels can do it anymore either. Not the way it used to be.

 

“What’s that instrument in an orchestra?” he asks. “The big stringed one. With that deep sound that sort of carries all of the others on its back?”

 

Aziraphale’s brows knit in confusion. “Bass. Or cello, I suppose. But what does that have to do with-”

 

“Yeah, bass!” Crowley nods. “That’s the one.” He snaps his fingers, and sound flows around them from the radio in his car. “It’s like this. You lot, you don’t even really have to listen to hear the music. It’s just… there. A part of you. All the violins and cellos, pipes and drums and harps. Every little piece of it.” He meets Aziraphale’s sea-blue eyes, willing him to understand what he’s trying to say here. “That’s love. All the different kinds of love, from passionate, romantic love, all the way down to the simple, honest love of an animal. And at the core of it all, so low and steady you forget it’s even there, there’s Her love. Like bass in an orchestra. It supports all the rest, gives it life, color.”

 

“Now,” he snaps again, and the music changes. The deeper bass and cello notes falling away. “When I - when someone Falls, it’s like… like going to the concert, and expecting it to be like always. But you listen. And the bass is gone. You can see the bassist, and the cellos, but you can’t hear them. You can see other people who you just know can hear it, but you can’t. Everything else comes through just fine. Violins and violas, trumpets, flutes. It’s all there, all beautiful. But the bass is missing. And you know it will always be missing, no matter what you do.” He doesn’t say he thinks there might be something better than the bass. That he would forgo the whole fucking orchestra, if only he could hear one very specific instrument. One that will never be played for him.

 

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale’s voice is mournful, and when Crowley looks at him, he’s shocked to see tears in the angel’s eyes.

 

He turns away, uncomfortable. “Don’t look at me like that, angel.”

 

“I just…” Aziraphale’s hand stretches towards him, hesitant, before he retracts it, twining his fingers together instead. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

 

“Well.” Crowley shrugs, trying to convince his shoulders to relax and not feel the need to be up around his ears. “Now you do.” He sighs, wondering if he should have just lied.

 

“And… being able to love? Is it… can you?” There’s something in the angel’s voice there, a question Crowley doesn’t know how to understand.

 

“Demons in general?” He shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s that we can’t, really. It’s just… what’s the point. We’re damned, angel. Unforgivable. Even if we did, it’s not like anyone is ever going to be able to love us back.” Not like someone was ever going to return his love.

 

“That’s not true!” Aziraphale protests, and Crowley can’t help but laugh at him. It feels like a church window shattering in his throat.

 

“Sure it is. Name one being, just one, that can honestly say that it loves a demon.” He feels that unnamed feeling from Aziraphale, surging against the angel’s barriers until he grips it and puts it away.

 

“I-” Aziraphale starts, then stops, and Crowley’s pain roars to life, swamping his own mental walls.

 

“Don’t say you do,” he warns, trying to keep his voice light and free of the echoes screaming inside the silence. “You’re an angel. It’s part of the job description. You love everything. You love demons in the same way you love ducks, or flowers. ‘All God’s creatures’ and all that rot. I mean specifically. As a person, not an angel.”

 

Aziraphale opens his mouth, then sighs, and closes it again. “What about you, then,” he asks quietly. “Can you love, specifically?”

 

Crowley’s knuckles go white on the steering wheel. He doesn’t answer, which, in itself, is answer enough.

 

 

 

Twenty-six years later, he returns to his car from finally setting up the job to get the holy water, to find Aziraphale sitting in the passenger seat. His heart constricts, and the way the angel won’t meet his eyes practically screams that something is wrong. He’s leaving you, whispers the voice that sounds too much like Lucifer in his head. He’s come to say goodbye.

 

“What are you doing here?” Crowley asks, hoping against hope that he’s wrong.

 

“Needed a word with you,” Aziraphale tells him, and his voice opens cracks in the demon’s walls, letting the pain and silence bleed out into his mind.

 

Crowley lets out one carefully controlled syllable. “What?”

 

“I work in Soho,” the angel says, still not looking him in the eye. “I hear things. I hear, that you’re setting up a… caper. To rob a church.” Ah. So that’s it. Crowley forces his body to relax. He’d known this was coming, but he has to do it. If he doesn’t get the holy water, and soon, he’ll be completely unprepared when Hell comes for him. And he can feel them searching. Ligur and Hastur have been poking around. Not to mention Paimon’s two deputies who are on the warpath, determined to kill something in revenge for their leader’s death.

 

“Crowley, it’s too dangerous,” Aziraphale cautions. “Holy water won’t just kill your body. It will destroy you completely.”

 

Safe behind his dark glasses, Crowley closes his eyes. There’s fear in the angel’s voice, open and obvious. He hates that he’s the one that put it there. That he can’t just ease it away, tell the angel he won’t try and get the holy water. Can’t even promise he won’t use it the way Aziraphale fears, if it comes down to it. But if the choice he has is between his life and Aziraphale’s, he knows what choice he’ll make. Every time.

 

“You told me what you think,” he says, “A hundred and five years ago.” He doesn’t need to be yelled at again over this. He’s made up his mind. It’s the only way.

 

At last, Aziraphale meets his eyes. He wonders what the angel sees, when he looks at him. Can he see past the dark glasses? See the way Crowley’s serpentine eyes are drinking him in, memorizing his face, just in case this conversation ends the same way the last one did. Just in case this time they don’t come back together again if it does.

 

“And I haven’t changed my mind.” The angel’s voice is sad, but also resolved. “But,” he says, “I can’t have you risking your life. Not even for something dangerous.” He looks down, and Crowley can smell the fear and pain rolling off of him. “So…” he produces a thermos. Crowley can feel his heart beating in his throat. He forces himself not to read into this. This is just Aziraphale giving him what he asked for so he won’t go getting himself hurt and put their arrangement in jeopardy. Nothing more.

 

“You can call off the robbery,” Aziraphale tells him, and Crowley’s eyes flicker between the angel’s face and the thermos in his hands. Carefully, he reaches out, taking it from the angel. Softly, Aziraphale warns him not to unscrew the cap. He orders his hands not to shake as he pulls it close.

 

“It’s the real thing?” He shouldn’t have asked. He knows it is.

 

“The holiest,” Aziraphale confirms.

 

There’s a lump forming in his throat, making it hard to speak. “After everything you said?” The memory of Aziraphale’s words that day in the park are still fresh, floating in his pain alongside all the other little reminds that he’s not good enough. Will never be good enough. Aziraphale will never see you for anything more than exactly what you are. Unforgivable. He can’t be the archangel Aziraphale still mourns.

 

The angel nods, but he can’t even look at Crowley now.

 

“Should I say thank you?” the demon asks, already knowing it’s a bad idea.

 

“Better not.”

 

He closes his eyes against the pain in the angel’s voice. He curses himself for doing this to him. For ever putting them both in such a position that this is the only way to be sure the angel will be safe.

 

“Can I drop you anywhere,” he offers, hoping he can at least do this for him. Aziraphale’s gaze is skittish, flickering to Crowley’s face, then away again.

 

“No, thank you,” he says, and Crowley would do anything to make him stay. To have a few more moments with him, so he can unfreeze his brain enough to think up something to say that will make the angel laugh. Something to make him smile, and wipe that heartbroken look off of his face.

 

“Oh, don’t look so disappointed,’ Aziraphale chides gently. “Perhaps someday we could… I don’t know… have a picnic. Dine at the Ritz.” And now Crowley knows he’ll move heaven and earth to make both of those things happen. If it kills him, he’ll do it. If it will make his angel happy again, he’ll do anything. Anything at all, except give him back this precious lifeline in a tartan thermos.

 

“I’ll give you a lift,” he says, one last try. “Anywhere you want to go.” He means it. Anywhere at all. The bookshop. That crepe shop in France. Up into the stars.

 

Aziraphale meets his eyes again, and the look on his face is devastating. Crowley braces himself, but even still the angel’s next words set the silence inside him to screaming.

 

“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”

 

The demon is still trying to find a reply, still trying to understand what that even means, when the angel gets up and closes the door behind him, leaving Crowley alone in the silence. Too fast. They both know he doesn’t mean the car. Another thing to add to the list of things he is. Demon. Unforgivable. Fallen. Too fast. He holds the thermos and takes a deep breath. It doesn’t matter, he reminds himself He’s known since that first day in Eden, when they stood on the wall and watched Adam and Eve walk away, that he can’t be what Aziraphale needs. It doesn’t matter. As long as the angel is alive, it is enough. It doesn’t stop the way the silence echoes inside, reverberating with Paimon’s words from over a century before. You’re all alone, trying to pretend you can still be something other than what you are. He’s no spy, no secret agent. He’s not James Bond. He’s not an archangel. Not Raphael. To Aziraphale, he’s just an inadequate shadow of an angel. He turns the thermos over in his hands. None of that matters. It’s not anything he can change. He takes a deep breath, and slowly shoves the pain back. He’ll just have to focus on what’s in front of him.

 

 

Chapter Text


If someone had told Raphael that there were things he would enjoy about being a demon, he would have laughed at them. Laughed long, and loud, until they started to look a little uncomfortable. And then he would have directed them to the halls of healing to get their head looked at. That doesn’t change the fact that the truth of it, so many centuries later, is a comfort. Because it’s true. There are things that Crowley enjoys about being a demon. As much as he hurts, as much as he misses his siblings, and his connection to God, and most of all the easy friendship he had shared with Aziraphale, there are things he has now that he doesn’t think he could give up. There’s a freedom to his life now, a freedom that he could never have in Heaven. There are rules, yes, and consequences for disobeying. But he’s not bound to them, body and soul. Not the way he used to be. He can get away making mistakes, disobeying the rules, without fear that he’ll rip himself further away from Her Grace. Lucifer isn’t omniscient or omnipotent, even as he pretends to be, and it’s a relief not having that kind of presence looking over his shoulder at every moment. He’s not always on orders, now. He has time to go where he wants, do what he wants. There’s no conforming to the image of an archangel now, either. He doesn’t have the eyes of all Heaven on him, just waiting for him to slip up, to be a little too much himself, and get punished for it. He’s not being told at every turn to accept his place and set a good example for the others. He’s not being told not to ask questions.

 

He has time to be alone now, too. That wasn’t something he’d ever had, before Falling, not for a single moment. He’d had five siblings living in his brain, and as much he loves them, there were many times when they would come into his consciousness just when he didn’t want them there. Even with the silence inside raging and screaming at him, the void where his siblings used to be tearing away bits of his soul, even then there are times where being on his own helps. It becomes necessary, sometimes, when the silence gets too much. When the ache of it all threatens to send him spiraling into madness. When everything he feels, everything he is becomes more than he can handle. He can take time to go off on his own, and sit, and think. Construct stronger walls within his mind, slotting the puzzle pieces of his broken soul back together as best he can. He’s built himself a labyrinth now, layers upon layers of walls. It would take someone years to unravel them, but that, he knows, will never happen. There’s no reason he’ll ever lower his walls again. It’s better that way. And when he can quiet the screaming of his own internal silence, there’s something soothing about solitude. About the ability to know that no one is around, no one is watching, and no one will judge you for being yourself.

 

Still, above even that, the thing he really loves about his life now is the ability to cause chaos. There’s just something so immensely satisfying, about sending bits of chaos out into the world. About causing something to happen, and letting the humans decide where it goes. He loves the moment of not knowing, of wondering what will they do with this? He gives them an option, and lets these brilliant, bright creatures of Hers forge their own paths. He loves giving in to the itch to cause chaos, not because it wins him approval in Hell, but because of the ways humans take that chaos and make something more of it for themselves. What will they do, he always wonders, with the challenge he has given them? How will they react to that coin he’s stuck to the ground? Will they grit their teeth and growl in frustration, sticking their nails under the coin until the break and bleed? Will they shrug and turn away, hurry on to some other task? Or will they think about it, and find some sharp, flat object to work under the coin and pry it from the ground? He doesn’t tell Hell he rewards the smart ones, the ones that find a way to pry the coin loose. He’s always liked humans with ingenuity.

 

It’s this itch for chaos that finds him in the BT tower one beautiful summer evening. In the elevator, he wonders what people will do without cell phone service. How long will it take them to fix it? How will they communicate, when the tool they all rely so much on is suddenly useless? Fights, he expects. Millions of people taking out their frustrations on each other. And the creative ways they’ll find to do that will be interesting enough. But then there will be those who figure out a way to get around the block, somehow. He’s not sure how, exactly, but he knows that for those people it won’t be the spark of evil his actions tonight will nurture, but the spark of brilliance. It’s a good night. Or, at least, it was. Until he returns to his car and finds a summons to an old graveyard. And then Hastur hands him a basket. And the world begins to end.

 

 

He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t known it was coming. He hadn’t known when, of course. But it was all in the plan, written down in a battered old book he’d tossed away in anger, throwing it at the place She should have been but wasn’t. He’d had six thousand years to come up with a plan. And the best thing he’s come up with is this - convince his angel to help influence the kid. He’ll be held to a higher standard than normal with this job. Hell will keep tabs on him, make sure he does it right. So he can’t just skip out on it all and leave the kid without any evil influence whatsoever. Neither can he try and influence him for good - not only is he unsure it’s even possible for a demon to be a good influence, but he knows Hell will figure it out if he tries. He certainly can’t kill the Antichrist, not the way he has so very many other threats. At the moment, the child is an innocent. Not quite good or evil, despite its parentage. And Crowley isn’t a monster, he won’t kill an innocent, not unless it’s a last resort. And even then, he’s not sure if he even can. If he could bring himself to do it, even with all the world at stake. But he thinks, he hopes, that if he can get Aziraphale to help him, they can influence the boy together. He’s never met anyone as relentlessly Good as the angel. He loves everything - and not in the cold, detached way that most angels do. He loves the universe and everything in it in a very real way, one that actually means something when he says it. And sure, he can be a bit of a bastard at times. Sometimes he can even be thoughtlessly cruel. But he tries his best to be everything She always said an angel should be, to guide the world towards light and love and kindness. And Crowley loves him for it.

 

So he calls Aziraphale. From a pay phone, since his little bit of chaos has taken down the cell networks. He doesn’t even have to wonder if he’ll answer. He always does, these days. They’ve been seeing each other a lot more in the past few years, sometimes even two or three times a week. It’s a welcome change from those centuries where they could go decades without running into each other. And Aziraphale even initiates their encounters now. Calling Crowley, dragging him out to dinner, insisting on regular meetings in the park. Sometimes, he thinks it’s the angel’s way of keeping watch over him, making sure he doesn’t use that thermos of holy water he’s got sitting in his safe. He’s not sure why though, unless Aziraphale is worried about being left alone or forced to deal with a worse (better?) demon than Crowley. Still, sometimes he can pretend that it’s because the angel cares about Crowley, that he’s just as worried about the demon’s safety as Crowley is about the angel.

 

So he calls. And they meet to talk. And it goes the way it always does, when he’s trying to convince the angel of something. Aziraphale refuses. Protests. Points out all the reasons why it won’t work. But he still stays. And he listens. And while the silence screams inside him when the angel talks about Heaven winning as if he doesn’t realize -or care- what that will mean for Crowley, at least he’s still there. He lets Crowley talk. And Crowley takes him to lunch, as if to say see, don’t humans make the most fantastic food? Don’t you love this? Then he walks with him through the city, commenting on all the wonderful, fascinating things the humans have come up with, pointing out again and again that it’ll all be gone once the world ends. They end up at the bookshop, like they’ve done more and more often lately, and they break out the good wine. And with each new human experience, each little wonderful thing about the world that the demon brings up, Crowley can see his angel’s resolve weakening. He keeps his words carefully light, away from pointing out what the end of the world will mean for them, personally. Aziraphale’s pointed words about his demonic nature sting, and he knows he isn’t going to win any arguments by appealing to any fondness the angel might have for him. But finally, in the end, he succeeds. Aziraphale allows himself to be convinced. And soon after that, they take on their respective roles at the Dowling’s residence.

 

 

 

As it turns out, Crowley is actually really good with kids. He shouldn’t be surprised, considering he had raised three of his siblings practically by himself. He can remember holding Sandalphon’s hand as the newly-minted archangel took his first steps out into the light. Cradling Uriel in his arms when she stumbled trying to run. Throwing Gabriel into the sky and being there to catch him the first few times, when he fell instead of flew. He’d shown them each how to use their wings, how to fly with six of the appendages instead of the more usual two. It had been Raphael that had given Sandalphon his first sword, and Raphael that healed him after that first disastrous training session with Michael. He’d given Gabriel his first lessons in Creation, holding his hands gently between his own and blowing, helping him pull from Her light to start up the heart of a star. It had been Raphael that first heard Uriel sing, and it was he that had taught her the magic of science. He’d been the third angel ever created, and he’d raised himself first with Michael’s clumsy help. Then he’d turned around and raised three more siblings, and loved them all so fiercely it hurt.

 

And then She started bringing more angels into the world, not one a time, but whole batches of them. Thousands of new, young fledglings trying to find their feet in the chaos of the nursery. It had been a mess of wings and limbs and power, tripping over each other as each new angel opened their eyes and took in the collected knowledge of those that came before. Raphael and his siblings had looked after all of them, from their first moments in the nursery of Creation until they took their first faltering flight out into the sky. He’d lead each of them, walking on unsteady feet, to the chamber of Naming, where every new angel was given a name and a purpose. Guided them out to their posts, to the ones who were tasked with teaching them all how to be, and then continued to guide and teach and love every single one. That’s what had hurt the most, after he’d learned of Her plan. Aside from the knowledge that he had been created to Fall and be cast out or killed, he’d ached with the realization that half of those bright, shining beings he’d first led from the nursery, who had drunk in his knowledge in their very first moments of life, whose hands he’d held as he led them to be named, that they were going to be torn from Her light and forced to suffer forevermore. That knowledge had bled inside him like a wound between Her Grace and his soul, festering and tearing wider with each question he asked.

 

After all of that, Warlock is easy. He’s a good child, which really should have been their first clue. He’s easy to care for. Easy to love. He’s easy to teach too, so bright and curious about everything. His first word is ‘why’, and Crowley has never felt more proud.

 

The boy takes to causing chaos like a duck to water. Crowley barely has to suggest something, before Warlock is off and running, causing as much mischief as possible for a child of his age. It gives them both hope, though, when he’s never outright cruel. He does cause quite a lot of trouble, though, which often causes his human parents or the house staff to reprimand him. Sometimes far more harshly than Crowley feels he deserves.

 

One afternoon, Mrs. Dowling catches Crowley on his way back from some hours off.

 

“Miss Ashtoreth,” she says, placing a hand on Crowley’s arm. The demon looks at it, then back up at the woman, and pointedly raises an eyebrow. She removes her hand, shivering with a sudden chill of fear. “Miss Ashtoreth,” she begins again, shrinking back under the demon’s stare. “I know it’s your afternoon off, but could you please check on Warlock? I’m afraid I lost my temper with him a bit earlier, and he ran off before I could catch him. I haven’t been able to find him since.”

 

Crowley resists the urge to snap at her, to tell her exactly what he thinks of her, and of her ability to be trusted with a small child. He doesn’t. It wouldn’t do to get himself fired yet, not when the boy is only three. There are eight more years to go yet, and he intends to see this through. It has nothing to do with being attached to the boy. Nothing at all.

 

“Of course,” he says calmly. “I’m certain I know exactly where he’s gotten off to.” He turns to go, knowing his words hit a bit too close to home for the human woman, who was realizing that the nanny knew her son better than she herself. He can’t resist making little jabs like this, from time to time. And especially not times like this, when all he really wants to do is show her how piss-poor of a parent she is, and rub her nose in it like a bad dog. And if a few of his more demonic acts bring frustration to the Dowlings more often than others, well, he’s never been good at keeping that itch for chaos inside. It has nothing whatsoever to do with his feelings on parents who neglect their children. There’s nothing personal about it.

 

He finds Warlock exactly where he expected to, curled up under a bush in the garden. The boy is weeping in that silent way that tells him he’s been at it for a while, and Crowley feels another flare of anger for a mother who will let her son cry alone like this. In the house, Mrs. Dowling trips and drops her favorite teacup, which smashes to pieces on the floor.

 

“What’s wrong, dear?” Crowley asks of his charge, arranging his skirts so he can sit beside the boy in the dirt. Warlock stiffens, curling in tighter on himself when he hears Crowley’s approach, but sits up when he hears his voice, all but flinging himself into his nanny’s arms. He starts sobbing, loud, gasping, hiccupping sounds. And the demon knows he should push him away, tell him to learn to be strong and take care of himself like a good demon. But the boy is only three. Just a kid. And this isn’t asking for a bedtime story. It’s not lessons, or a walk in the park where Crowley can teach him how to rule in Hell. This is a three-year-old child sobbing his heart out in the demon’s arms like the world has just ended. So Crowley does what he’s always done at times like this. He ignores his duty and pulls Warlock close until his face is buried against his shoulder, rubbing his back and making soothing noises until the boy quiets down and pulls away.

 

“There now,” he says, when he’s calmed. “What’s all this about?”

 

Warlock looks up at him with wide, trusting eyes, still wet with tears. “Mo- Mommy said,” he hiccups, then starts again. “M-Mommy said I a- asked too many questions. Sh- she said I’m d-dumb.”

 

Crowley sees red. Mrs. Dowling, looking around to find one of the staff to clean up the shattered teacup, suddenly gets a bloody nose.

 

You ask too many questions, Raphael.

 

He takes a deep, steadying breath, and shifts so that he can look Warlock in the eyes. “Now you listen to me, young man,” he says. “Your mother is wrong. You are not dumb. And there is never any such thing as too many questions.”

 

Warlock shakes his head, confused. “Bu- but, but Mommy said-” the poor boy looks devastated, his face a mess from crying for so long. But the tears are slowing now, here in Crowley’s gentle embrace.

 

“No.” Crowley shakes his head, holding Warlock’s gaze, trying to impress upon him how important this is. “No. She is wrong. Questions are so important. I don’t care what your mother - or anyone else - says. If you have questions, you ask them, do you understand me?”

 

Warlock nods, sniffling. “But-”

 

Do not ask questions, Raphael.

 

“No buts,” he tells him, more tenderly. “No one who asks questions is ‘dumb’. In fact, the more questions you ask, the smarter you are. And the truly smart people ask the best questions.” It’s true. Of all the intelligent humans he’s met over the years, the best have always been the ones that wonder, that question, that look at the world and don’t just see what it is, but want to know the why of it all.

 

“Okay…” Warlock says. His eyes are still wet, but he looks at him seriously. And Crowley loves him. This nephew of his. This child he’s helped to raise. This inquisitive little terror that’s growing up pulled between the forces of Heaven and the forces of Hell. Go- Sa- Somebody help him. He loves this boy like he loves his own siblings.

 

“I mean it, Warlock,” he tells him. “I want you to promise me this- if you have a question, even if you think it’s silly, I want you to come to me. I promise, if you do, I will never laugh at you for it. I will never yell. I will never tell you not to ask. I want you to ask me your questions. Can you do that for me?”

 

Do not question Her, Raphael.

 

Warlock nods again, wiping at his eyes with a dirty sleeve. Crowley places a soft kiss on his forehead, and produces a handkerchief that hadn’t existed until a moment ago, using it to wipe away the dirt and tears on the boy’s face.

 

“There now, that’s better,” he says when he’s done. Warlock’s face is as clean as it’s possible for a three-year-old to be. “Now. Why don’t you tell me what question you asked your mother?”

 

The boy hesitates, and Crowley may or may not start planning his revenge on the Dowlings for the fear that they’ve taught this child. He speaks though, which means the damage is not yet so bad he cannot fix it.

 

“Why is Daddy always gone?” Warlock asks.

 

Why did She leave us? Where did She go?

 

Crowley pulls him into a hug. “Your daddy works very hard, dear,” he says. “But one day when you rule over the Earth, you can make it so he never has to work again. Would you like that?”

 

“Mm-hmm,” Warlock mumbles into his shirt. “But why can’t I do it now?”

 

Why can ’t I fix this? Why can’t I make Her plan better?

 

“You need to learn how to rule over the Earth, dear,” the demon tells him, stroking his hair. “That’s what your nanny is here for, after all.”

 

The boy lifts his head, searching Crowley’s face with bright, curious eyes. “You won’t leave me, will you?” he asks.

 

Will She ever return to us?

 

“No, dear,” Crowley promises. “Even when I’m no longer your nanny, even if I have to go far away, I’ll always be right here if you need me.” He means it, even if he shouldn’t. Even though he knows that far too soon, Warlock will no longer need him. He won’t need anyone, once he comes into his full power.

 

Later that night, after Warlock has been calmed and put to bed, Crowley allows himself to give in to the pain that flared inside him at the mention of questions. He closes his eyes, there in the darkened nursery, and remembers what it was like before there was time. When he’d been young, and innocent, like Warlock is now. A clean slate, new made from Her forge. And, like Warlock, he’d asked his Mother far too many questions.

 

 

The white stone halls of Heaven stretch before him, still a labyrinth to the young archangel. He ’ll learn them well in time, he knows, but for now he has no idea how to get back to Michael in the training grounds. He could reach out through their bond, and ask her to come get him, but he’s determined to do this for himself. The halls are so empty, still and waiting for the millions of angels She has yet to create. There is no one here to ask where to go. So he picks a direction at random and sets off. Before long, he’s hopelessly lost. He wanders the echoing hallways, increasingly frantic, until his feet lead him into a courtyard where a small group of new-minted angels sit clustered around a table with Lucifer at his head.

 

His ruby-bright wings are spread wide as he gestures emphatically, voice low like they ’re speaking of secrets. For a moment, Raphael is confused. There’s so few of them now. Why would anyone need to keep secrets? But then Lucifer’s love flows down their bond and into his mind, and his older brother looks up and smiles like the sun breaking through the clouds.

 

“Raphael,” he calls, holding out a hand. “My dear brother, what brings you here?”

 

Raphael moves closer, and Lucifer ’s arm wraps around his shoulders, warm and heavy and comforting. He looks into those eyes like starlight and then away, ashamed. “Got lost,” he mumbles.

 

“What?” Lucifer laughs. “Speak up, little one.”

 

“Got lost,” Raphael says, louder, and the other gathered angels laugh too.

 

“Lost?” his brother repeats, voice just this side of mocking. “Why not just ask for directions?”

 

“Why make Heaven a maze of hallways that all look the same?” Raphael retorts, which elicits a pleased grin from Lucifer.

 

“Ooh, it bites! She made you with some fire in you, little one.”

 

Raphael blushes. “Is that a bad thing?”

 

“No, no,” Lucifer pulls him closer, wrapping a ruby-red wing around him. “I like it.”

 

Raphael feels warm, loved. Lucifer’s affection for him is strong, flowing through their bond. Comforted, he asks something else that’s been on his mind. “Why is Heaven so empty?

 

A startled noise passes through the lesser-ranked angels around them, but Lucifer just squeezes him briefly with a wing. “She’s waiting,” he says calmly.

 

“Waiting for what?” Raphael demands, not realizing that in asking these questions, he also questions Her.

 

“Waiting for us to be ready,” Lucifer tells him. “Waiting for Her Archangels to be ready to guide the new angels She’ll create.”

 


 

Later, Raphael tries to ask Michael a different question. They’re in the workshop of the starsmiths, building a galaxy together. It’s soothing work, watching the swirls of color and light come together under their hands. He just doesn’t understand the why of it, why they have been tasked with this, why so very many stars and galaxies and planets must exist.

 

“Michael,” he asks, “Why are we creating the stars?

 

His sister frowns at him. “You don’t enjoy it?”

 

“I didn’t say that.” He does enjoy it, very much so. He loves watching the fire grow within his palm, brighter and brighter until it’s gone from a spark to something so much more. “I was just wondering why. I don’t understand why it’s necessary.”

 

“We don’t question Her orders, Sparkler,” she tells him, grinning when he makes a face at the nickname. “It’s not given to us, to question Her. Only to obey.”

 

“But… why?” he wants to know.

 

Michael freezes, then fixes the full force of her stare on him. There ’s fear hidden behind the steel in her gaze, masked with anger and a stern air of command. “Do not question Her, Raphael,” she says. He does not ask her questions like that again.

 


 

He asks another question with Lucifer, standing out on an open field of Heaven, overseeing the construction of the Garden walls. “Why should Eden have walls?” he asks.

 

Lucifer smiles fondly at him. “I don’t know, little one. Why do you think?”

 

Raphael frowns. Below them, some angels chase a lion away from half-formed walls.

 

“I think it’s to keep dangerous things outside the Garden,” he says, thinking aloud, and watches a little longer. “But,” he wonders, “if that’s so, then why create the dangerous things at all?”

 

“Perhaps it’s a test,” Lucifer muses. Raphael looks at him, and sees his gaze is distant, sad. “After all, it is all part of Her plan.”

 


 

“What is your plan for him?” Raphael asks Her, standing in Her presence as she creates the fourth archangel. “What will you do with us, once your universe is complete?” It’s been bothering him lately. Every day they make progress towards some sort of goal. But what that goal is, and what will happen to them when it’s done, he doesn’t know. And he doesn’t like not knowing. Especially now, when he’s to be responsible for more lives than just his own. Wants to be able to answer all the questions his new brother might think to ask.

 

Hush now , She tells him. It ’s all part of my Great Plan .

 

“But I don’t understand,” he says. “What is our purpose, after the world is made?”

 

Do not question me, Raphael , she warns. If it is for you to know, you will know in time.

 

He leaves, holding the hand of his newest sibling, and wonders what else she isn ’t telling them.

 


 

Lucifer lounges by a stream in the Garden, and Raphael can ’t help but laugh at the sight of him.

 

“Brother,” he says, “did you know, you look ridiculous like that?” Lucifer’s six wings are out and stretched across the ground, looking like nothing more than a massive feathered rug laid out around him. His long dark hair is dripping wet, robes hanging in soaked folds from his lithe frame. He holds an apple in one hand, but the other he’s flung out along the arch of a wing. It’s a dramatic pose, or it would be if Raphael couldn’t see the smugness on Lucifer’s face, or the way he keeps cracking his eyes open to see if he’s been noticed yet. He rolls his eyes. Lucifer has always been an over-dramatic bastard.

 

Raphael turns to Aziraphale to share a grin about his brother ’s theatrics, only to notice a worried frown creasing the principality’s face.

 

“Hello little one,” Lucifer drawls, fully opening his eyes and smiling at them. “Is this the friend of yours that Michael’s been telling me about?”

 

He nods, leading Aziraphale forward gently by the elbow. “This is Aziraphale. Aziraphale, Lucifer.” He shoots a warning look at his brother. “Be nice.” Lucifer knows full well how much he scares the younger and lower-ranked angels, but he doesn’t seem to care. In fact, sometimes Raphael is beginning to believe he enjoys it.

 

The Morning Star levers himself up off the ground, and with the snap of a finger he ’s dry and in far more impressive robes. “Aziraphale,” he says, and Raphael feels a flash of jealousy at the starstruck look on the principality’s face.

 

“It’s an honor to meet you,” Aziraphale says, but he shifts just a hair closer to Raphael. The younger archangel tries not to feel satisfaction at that.

 

“The honor is mine,” Lucifer drawls. “I’ve heard so very much about you. Sparkler here seems quite fond of you.”

 

Raphael rolls his eyes. Leave it to his brother to be dramatic about everything. “Right. Why are you here, Luci?” he asks, deliberately using a nickname he knows Lucifer dislikes.

 

“Raphael!” Aziraphale cries, shocked.

 

Lucifer laughs. “Oh, don’t worry about him, Aziraphale. He’s been asking questions since the day he was made. Personally, I think Mother didn’t make him quite right. Her hand must have slipped on the curiosity when she was pouring it into him. Gave him a little too much.” He shakes his head, showing them an exaggeratedly sad expression. “It’s sad, really. He’s such a bright thing, otherwise.”

 

“And you’re any better?” Raphael asks. “I love you, brother, but we both know Mother gave you too much ambition.”

 

Aziraphale is looking between them both, fear in his eyes. “You- you aren’t…”

 

“Questioning Her?” Lucifer asks. “Oh yes. We are.”

 

“It’s alright,” Raphael reassures him. “It’s just questions. She doesn’t mind.”

 

The principality grips Raphael ’s arm, hard. “You’re safe?” he asks. They’ve all heard rumors of Her displeasure. But this isn’t anything like that.

 

“He is,” Lucifer tells them. Aziraphale does not look convinced.

 

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Raphael wants to know. Aziraphale doesn’t have an answer for him.

 


 

Watching the newly made humans, Raphael feels Her presence in his mind.

 

You must love them , She tells him.

 

“I do,” he says, voice echoed by thousands of others. She speaks now to every angel there is, and every one of them responds as She commands.

 

You must love them more than you love me , She says. These creatures I made in my image.

 

“I will,” Raphael responds, one voice in thousands. More than Her? He keeps his question silent, even from the siblings in his mind.

 

“Why?” Lucifer demands, and the assembled host falls silent. Not once since She first spoke them into creation, has anyone stood up to Her like this.

 

“Why,” his elder brother continues, “must we love them more than you? You are our God, our Mother.”

 

Because I said so , She tells him. Because that is what I wish for you to do.

 

“I don’t understand,” Raphael says, his voice a quiet whisper compared to Lucifer’s shout. “You say to love them, and we do. But why can’t we love you, our Mother, more?”

 

Do not question me, Raphael , she tells him, and he looks down in shame.

 

“Why?” Lucifer demands again, coming to stand at Raphael’s side. “Why can’t he question? What’s wrong with wanting to know your reasons?”

 

They feel a wave of anger from Her, and Raphael presses himself against his older brother, wings flared wide as if to protect him from Her wrath.

 

I am the Lord, your God. And you will do as I command , she orders.

 

“Why?” Lucifer demands. She does not respond.

 

“Tell us why!” The Morning Star shouts. Her presence wavers, and then, in an instant, She disappears from around them. Lucifer growls in frustration and launches himself into the sky. He is gone for a long time, and the next time Raphael sees him, he stands beneath the Tree of Knowledge, and gives the healer a small leather-bound book that contains Her Great Plan.

 


 

“Why test them like this?” he prays to Her, that night. He’s sitting still beneath Her tree, hands shaking on the faded binding of the book. “Why give them so much, only to lead them to destruction?”

 

He gets no answer. He never will. She has gone.

 


 

“Why do you think the humans are so important?” he asks Aziraphale one day, standing on the wall and looking down into the Garden where Eve sleeps, curled against Adam’s side.

 

“I don’t know,” the angel says. “I imagine She must have some plan for them, though.”

 

“That’s just it,” Raphael tells him. “Why does she need a plan for them? Aren’t we enough?”

 

Aziraphale looks at him, horrified. “Don’t question Her,” he almost shouts, voice breaking in panic. “They say bad things are happening now, to angels who question Her.”

 

Raphael turns away from him. “Right. Yes. Sorry.” He won’t be the cause of that terrified look on his angel’s face. “It’s all ineffable anyway, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, quite.” Aziraphale relaxes. Raphael makes a point after that, to keep his questions to a minimum around the principality.

 


 

Lucifer returns to them one night, landing with a thump outside the rooms She had given them for their own. Raphael looks up, a joyous greeting on his lips, when he takes in the haggard appearance of his brother ’s form. There are dark circles under his eyes, his normally pristine robes hang in wrinkled folds from his body, and his normally sleek wings are all ruffled and messy like he’d flown through a tornado to get here.

 

“Lucifer!” He stands, supporting his exhausted elder sibling and guiding him to a seat. “What happened? Where were you?”

 

“Away,” Lucifer says, his voice dripping with exhaustion.

 

Raphael gets to work on his wings, gently running his fingers through the soft feathers, guiding them back into place. His brother sits in silence as he works, head falling forward onto his chest. As ethereal beings, they don ’t need sleep exactly. But they can run themselves down into an exhausted state, one that requires an extended period of inactivity to recover from.

 

“You need rest,” Raphael tells him. “What were you doing out there?”

 

Lucifer only grunts in response. Raphael sighs. He can feel his brother ’s exhaustion, and his own body aches in sympathy. Carefully, he reaches for their patterns, thinking to inject some of his own energy into Lucifer’s essence. He has more than enough to spare. But his fingers barely brush his brother’s pattern before he recoils in shock. The clean lines he knows so well are twisting, writhing around each other, turning dark and foul where they haven’t outright frayed away to nothing.

 

“Brother!” he gasps. “What-?”

 

Lucifer whirls on him with sudden energy, walls going up between their minds, his pattern vanishing from Raphael’s sight as if it had never been. “You ask to many questions, Raphael,” he snarls, throwing him against a wall and holding him there with one arm. “You ask too many fucking questions.” His eyes are deep and colorless, anger eclipsing any of the warmth Raphael might have found within. They’re like twin black holes, bottomless, absorbing any light that falls into them.

 

“Lucifer-” Raphael wraps his hands around his brother’s arm, tugging at it, trying to get free. This is not the Lucifer he knows. Not the elegant, experienced elder brother that he loves and admires. This Lucifer is raw down to his last nerve, ready to snap at a moment’s notice. He’s angry, and whatever block he’s kept between them to hide the worst of his emotions is cracking, leaking flashes of rage and a bitter desperation.

 

Then Lucifer ’s expression shifts, turning feral. He leans in, pressing on what would have been Raphael’s windpipe, if he were in a body. “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you, little one,” he asks, the heat of his breath hitting Raphael in the face. “Where all your questions are leading you.” He bares his teeth, sharp canines on full display. His other hand lands on the wall beside Raphael’s head, and his smile widens at the sharp flash of fear that courses through the younger archangel.

 

“You’ve done it to yourself, you know,” he says, suddenly gentle, as if he wasn’t holding Raphael against the wall. “Each time you question Her, it puts that much more space between you. I can see it now, the gap between essence and Grace. One day soon it’ll be wide enough that I can work my way in, and rip you right out.”

 

“Why?” Raphael demands. “Why are you doing this?”

 

“Because,” Lucifer tells him. “I read Her plan. And I don’t want to be told what I must or must not be.”

 

He lets himself hang in his brother ’s grip, toes just barely brushing the floor. It’s uncomfortable, but even now he doesn’t truly believe Lucifer will hurt him. “And isn’t that exactly what the Plan says you’ll do?” he asks, meeting that black-hole gaze with his own steady honey-amber eyes.

 

The flashes of emotion from his brother abruptly shut off, like a wall dropping down between them. He can ’t even feel Lucifer’s exhaustion anymore.

 

“For your sake, little one, you had better hope not.”

 

“Lucifer? Raphael?” Gabriel’s voice. Just over Lucifer’s shoulder, Raphael can see their little brother looking at them in confusion. “What’s going on?”

 

“Nothing,” Lucifer snarls, removing his grip and dropping Raphael to the floor. Six ruby wings spread wide, and he glares at them both. “Watch yourselves, brothers,” he warns. “Remember what happens to those who question Her.” And then, in the blink of an eye, he is gone.

 

“What was that about?” Gabriel asks. “What did he mean, about questions?”

 

Raphael climbs to his feet, pushing away his fear and worry so that Gabriel will not feel it. “I’m not sure,” he lies.

 

 

 

 

When he opens his eyes again, Warlock is snoring softly in the bed beside his chair, curled around a stuffed bear that is almost bigger than he is. Crowley allows himself a fond smile, and smooths a hand over the boy’s hair before standing and turning of the last light. The void is screaming at him tonight, and his mind is so achingly empty of other voices. He hadn’t known, when he started asking questions. Hadn’t understood what it was, to question Her. It didn’t seem fair to him, to be forced to Fall for that. It had never seemed fair, none of it, not the forbidden tree, not ejecting the humans from Eden, and certainly not this plan for Armageddon.

 

His feet take him down to the garden before he’s even aware of where he’s going. His head is full of thoughts, and pain, and that awful ringing silence. He walks out into the emptiness of the night, and there, above him, are the stars. The star factories are shuttered now, he knows. Empty husks of buildings that once held such promise. If he hadn’t Fallen, would he have continued to create? Or would he have turned as cold and passionless as his siblings? It’s a pointless question, of course. He had always been meant to Fall.

 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice - his real one, not that terrible fake accent- flows into the void of his mind, soft and worried. The demon frowns, lowering his eyes from the heavens, and sees the angel standing before him. “My dear, are you alright?” He’s holding a pair of garden shears and a watering can, and is absolutely covered in plant debris. Even in that ridiculous disguise, he’s the most wonderful thing Crowley has seen all day.

 

The demon forces a smile for the angel. “’Course I’m alright. Always am, you know that.” His eyes stray to the boxwood hedge the angel must have been working on, and he lets the absolute disaster of it distract him from his thoughts. “What have you been doing to that bush, anyway? It looks like you’ve tried to murder it.”

 

“Well, I should think it’s obvious,” Aziraphale pouts. “I was trimming it.”

 

“Angel,” Crowley says, barely able to restrain the fondness for the angel from seeping into his voice. “If I didn’t know better, I’d have said you did this trimming with a chainsaw.”

 

“Oh, and you could do better?” Aziraphale asks him, frowning, and Crowley remembers that the angel hasn’t seen his private garden, the green space he’s let take over a large part of his Mayfair flat. He probably doesn’t even know that Crowley keeps plants. The demon grins.

 

“I think so, yes.” He normally prefers to heal his plants with more natural methods, but Crowley finds he can never resist a bit of showing off in front of his angel. He brushes his hands across the decimated shrubbery, feeling the pattern of its life and feeding power into it, forcing months of growth, repairing the damage done to the poor thing. Then he shifts his concentration, twisting the pattern a bit, feeding a little more power here, a little less there, until he’s grown a perfectly manicured boxwood.

 

“Tell me you could do that with shears, angel,” he says, letting pride in his accomplishment chase away the lingering ache of memory. He steps back, grinning, to see a strange expression on Aziraphale’s face.

 

“What?” he asks, squinting through his glasses to decipher the look.

 

“No one can do that.” The angel’s eyes flicker from the regrown bush, to Crowley’s covered eyes, to his hands, and then back again.

 

Crowley quickly re-runs his actions in his mind. He’d healed the plant, then adjusted the healing until it grew the way he wanted. Simple. “I just healed the damage you did to it. What, didn’t think a demon could heal?”

 

Aziraphale shakes his head. “No, it’s not that. I’ve seen you heal before, my dear.”

 

“You have?” the demon blinks, momentarily confused.

 

“The plague,” he clarifies. “And some of my miracles. But- but that was just healing. You just pour your power into it until it’s repaired. You changed the pattern as you went, made it grow how you wanted.”

 

Crowley frowns at him. “And?” It was easy. He’d taught Gabriel and Uriel to do it before they were days old. Sandalphon had never quite managed to grasp the finer points of healing like the other two, but even he could do it in a pinch. He hadn’t had time to teach Aziraphale though. He’d Fallen before he could.

 

And,” Aziraphale continues, “Not even Raphael’s healers could do that. Only the archangels can.”

 

Crowley’s blood runs cold. “Oh, I’m sure others could do it.” He tries to think. Hadn’t he trained his healers in this, before he Fell? He can’t remember now.

 

“No, that’s my point. They can’t.”

 

Too close. Danger. Danger. Too close. Run. Crowley’s instincts scream at him. “Clearly they can. I’m no archangel. ‘M not even an angel anymore.” Unforgivable. Demon. The silence inside echoes with the words.

 

Some of his pain must have leaked into his voice, because Aziraphale blinks and shakes his head. “Yes, of course. My apologies, my dear.” He shifts the shears in his hands until he can play with the ring on his smallest finger, a nervous habit Crowley’s known he had for ages. Tonight though, for the first time, his attention catches on the ring instead of Aziraphale’s hands. It’s familiar, and he almost reaches out to catch the angel’s wrist, wanting to pull his arm closer so he can get a better look.

 

“That ring,” Crowley says, frowning. He knows it. He knows he does. Angel wings, in a pure soft gold.

 

“Hmm?” Aziraphale looks at his hands, twisting the ring around his little finger. “Oh, this? Yes, well.” He traces the line of one of the golden wings. “It was a gift. After I was appointed to Earth.”

 

“Yeah, but that style. I know that style,” Crowley insists. He squints at it, and… oh. There it is. He touches the base of his ring finger, where a very similar band had once belonged. “That’s an archangel ring.” He looks back up to the angel’s face, knowing his confusion is evident even with his eyes hidden away. “I mean, I haven’t seen one since the War, but I remember. They all had one, and it was definitely that style. Angel wings, in solid gold. Wore ‘em on their left ring fingers, all six of them.” Uriel has his, he thinks. At least, he remembers watching Michael give it to her. Had one of the others give Aziraphale theirs? Why? He doesn’t understand. “What are you doing with an archangel ring?”

 

“If you must know,” the angel says, sounding a bit affronted at being questioned like this, “Uriel gave it to me, just before I left Heaven.” He slips the ring from his finger, holding it in his palm. “It belonged to Raphael.”

 

“What?” He must sound like an idiot, sitting there with his mouth gaping open. How had he never noticed this before?

 

“Is it so strange?” Aziraphale asks him, voice going soft and sad. He lifts the ring up so the light of the moon shines behind it. “That I might want to keep something to remind me of him?”

 

“No,” Crowley admits. “But Uriel is m- his sister. She didn’t want it?”

 

The angel shakes his head. “No. She said it hurt too much.” Then he sighs. “She, ah, came to me. A few days after, well, after I met you.” Crowley tries very hard not to read into the way Aziraphale’s lips quirk up in a smile at the mention of their meeting on the wall. “I’d never seen her so upset, which is understandable, of course, I can’t imagine what it must have been like, to - to see-” he stops. “In any case. She said he would have wanted me to have it.”

 

Crowley nods. She was right. He hadn’t even considered leaving mementos, hadn’t thought it would mean anything to anyone until that day he’d found Michael on the moon with his staff. But he’s been thinking about it since then, wondering if he should have left something for his siblings. If he should have left something for Aziraphale.

 

The angel slips the ring back onto his finger, twisting it until is slots into the place it’s conformed to against his palm. “That was before they all turned cold though,” he says sadly. “Gabriel laughed at me, the last time he saw it. Said I was being too sentimental.”

 

“Gabriel’s an ass,” Crowley tells him, and means it. He knows his siblings are in pain. He knows the loss they suffered - not just of him, but of Lucifer too. But the truth of it all is that they had choices. And they chose to become what they are. There’s a lot he can forgive, but the way they treat his angel, well. That’s way over the line.

 

“Crowley!” Aziraphale looks at him, aghast. “You can’t just say things like that!”

 

The demon shrugs. “Sure I can. Demon, remember? Don’t much care what those winged dicks think of me.” He tries very hard not to remember Gabriel’s voice. That thing wasn’t Raphael anymore.

 

“Winged Di-!” Aziraphale gapes at him, astonished by his casual irreverence.

 

“Dicks,” Crowley repeats with a grin. “Face it angel, your bosses are grade-A assholes.”

 

“Well, I- I-” the angel splutters. “Like yours are any better?”

 

He laughs, though the sound is brittle and bitter. “Oh, mine are much worse.” As cold as his former siblings might have become, he still doesn’t think they’re as bad as Lucifer or his princes. The thought sobers him. If they get this wrong, he won’t be able to worm his way out of this one. If Hell finds out he’s trying to prevent the apocalypse, he’ll be dead - really dead, not discorporated- before he can even draw his blade. And that’s if he’s lucky.

 

Of course the angel would catch the change in his mood, damn him. “Crowley,” Aziraphale says, eyes wide and so full of empathy.

 

“It’s fine, angel,” he waves his concern away. “Like I said. Demon. Comes with the territory.”

 

“If this, I mean, what we’re doing here, if it’s putting you in danger-” the angel starts, and Crowley can’t help but laugh, this time it’s harsh and sharp, like nails on chalkboard. He’s been in danger of one thing or another for so long he can’t even remember what it’s like to not have something hanging over his head.

 

“Don’t worry,” he tells Aziraphale. “By the time either of our sides works out what we’re doing here, it’ll be too late. One way or another.”

 

Aziraphale sighs. “I do hope you’re right, my dear. I do hope you’re right.”

 

 

After that night, Warlocks’ questions never seem to end. And Crowley takes each and every one as seriously as he wishes his own had been. He just wishes that the boy’s favorite questions didn’t tend to the more personal nature. “Why is your hair red?” “Why do you wear sunglasses even in the dark?” “How old are you?” “Why is your skin so cold?” “Why do you look so sad?”

 

“What?” Crowley frowns, surprised by that last question.

 

“Why do you look so sad?” Warlock repeats. He’s eight now, almost too old for a nanny, and so, so full of questions.

 

“I’m not sad, dear one,” Crowley tells him, trying to school his face into calm indifference.

 

“Yes, you are,” his charge insists. “You were looking at Brother Francis, and you looked like you wanted to cry. Like Mum does sometimes, when she looks at Dad.”

 

“How do you know I wanted to cry,” Crowley counters, checking to make sure Aziraphale is well out of earshot. He had been feeling a little morose, watching the angel putter around the Dowling’s rose garden like had in the Garden. He’d been hit with a strong feeling of nostalgia and longing for the way he used to walk with the angel through Eden at watch him work. The feeling had come up on him without warning, and clearly he hadn’t succeeded in wiping the evidence of it from his face.

 

Warlock rolls his eyes. “I’m eight, Nanny. Not dumb.” And not for the first time, Crowley wonders about this child. This boy he’s spent the last eight years raising. He’s almost too human, too empathetic. Even with the angel around to cancel out his infernal influence, some of the Antichrist should have started showing through by now. Reality should have been warping around Warlock’s whims without the boy even thinking about it. But it doesn’t. And while Warlock could certainly be rude, and he did seem to take a perverse sort of joy in causing chaos, he wasn’t in any way what Crowley might have called ‘evil’. He was just… a kid. A normal, inquisitive kid.

 

“No,” he tells the boy with a small smile. “No dear, you certainly aren’t that.”

 

Warlock grins, pleased by the praise. “Then tell me. Why does Brother Francis make you sad?”

 

Crowley considers his words carefully. He could lie, he knows. But he promised Warlock to always answer his questions. And a lie, while technically an answer, is not what he promised.

 

“I used to know Brother Frances,” he says slowly. “A very long time ago.”

 

“Like before you were my nanny?” the boy asks, and Crowley chuckles.

 

“Yes dear, long before I was your nanny. I was a doctor then. And he… he was supposed to be a soldier, but he never was very good at it.” It’s not a lie, so much as a very careful stretching of the truth. “And sometimes, when I had a little free time, I would sneak away to the place he’d been sent to guard, and we’d take walks through a garden just like this.” He shakes his head, snapping himself out of the memory before it can take him over. “But,” he says, looking seriously at Warlock over the top of his glasses, “that was a very long time ago. And we were both very different people. He wouldn’t remember me now. And you won’t bring this up with him.” He laces the order with a bit of power, and feels it sink in. Yet another thing that worries him. His power should have rolled off Warlock like water off a duck. Instead, it took hold, assuring him that the boy would forget this conversation if he ever tried to talk to the angel about it.

 

Warlock glances down the lawn, to where Aziraphale is kneeling next to a rose bush, and makes a face. “Please don’t tell me you wanted to do the kissy stuff with him.”

 

Crowley thinks back to mingling essences, brief touches of Grace against Grace, watching the brightness of Aziraphale’s smile as he stood in Her light. “No,” he says honestly. “It wasn’t ever about ‘the kissy stuff’.” It had been about so much more than that. It still was. Oh, he wanted the angel. Lust was no stranger to the demon, not at all. But even if all he ever got was that gentle smile and the briefest touch of his hand, it would be enough. So long as Aziraphale was happy.

 

“Good,” Warlock says firmly. “Because that’s just gross.”

 

The demon laughs, a true, honest laugh that only just catches on the edges of his pain. “Gross, eh?” he asks with a grin. “And what about you and that girl from your judo class? Sally, I think you said her name was?”

 

“Eeeeeeeeeew!” The boy makes a gagging noise. “No, that’s gross, Nanny. No way.”

 

“Well, give it time,” Crowley smirks. “By the time you turn thirteen, I guarantee you won’t think kissing is gross.” He can read it in Warlock’s all-too-human life-pattern. He’ll find love with all genders when he’s older. If he lives that long. And if he doesn’t end the world, first.

 

Won’t,” the boy promises. “Not ever.”

 

Crowley smiles indulgently, and tries very, very hard not to think about what might happen in the next three years.

 

 

 

“Angel,” Crowley says quietly, sitting on a bench with a new haircut and clothes that fit his male-shaped body almost as tight as his skin. He’d forgotten how good he felt, dressed like this. Even if he is a hell-thing, at least his physical form is something nice to look at, if you can get past the eyes. Don’t get him wrong, he looks stunning in a female form too. But the nanny clothes had been unfashionable when they were new, let alone the decade he was wearing them. Even so, playing a nanny had been fun. He’d loved- he stops the thought before it can form. Can’t think like that. Not now, not when all of Earth is on the line, hanging in the balance against one innocent life. “I think we got it wrong. He’s too… normal.” Agree with me, he almost prays, the thought reverberating around inside the silent void. Tell me I’m right. That Warlock isn’t the Antichrist. He doesn’t know what it means if he’s right. But if he’s wrong, if it really is Warlock, he doesn’t know if he can do what knows needs to be done.

 

“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “You’ve said. But doesn’t that mean we got it right? If he’s normal, then-”

 

“He should still have powers. Warping reality, smiting his enemies and all that. We should have at least seen something.” If they’re wrong, and Warlock isn’t the Antichrist, then he doesn’t have to think about what he might need to do to prevent the end of everything. But if it is true, if he’s just a normal boy, then they’ll have lost already. They have six days, if it all goes to Her plan. There’s no way they could find a missing Antichrist in six days. And even if they did, what then? Once he has the dog, it’ll be too late.

 

He watches as Mrs. Dowling comes into view, Warlock walking at her side. He wants to be down there with them, like he has been for the past eleven years. Wants to point out how fantastic the big scary monsters like dinosaurs are, and watch Warlock grin and ask him questions. Briefly, in this daydream, he looks up from a laughing Warlock to see Aziraphale smiling at him with the same open affection he always had when he watched Raphael with his siblings. Then Crowley bites the inside of his cheek, hard, and that pleasant vision evaporates like so much smoke.

 

“Well,” he says slowly. “We’ve done everything we can. All we can do now is wait for his birthday.” He thinks about the message from Hell he’d gotten that morning. “The Hellhound will be the key. Shows up at three on Wednesday.”

 

“Right.” Beside him, Aziraphale frowns. “You’ve never actually mentioned a Hellhound before.”

 

Behind his glasses, Crowley closes his eyes for a moment. He can do this. He has to. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, they’re sending him a Hellhound. To pad by his side and guard him from all harm. Biggest one they’ve got.” He can’t help but glance at the angel’s face as he speaks, watching the minute shifts in his expression. Aziraphale is worried. As worried as Crowley. And the demon wants to tell him he doesn’t need to be. That, no matter what happens, he doesn’t need to worry at all. Because even if it all goes bad, even if the war does start, Crowley will do everything in his power to make certain that at least Aziraphale makes it through intact. He doesn’t have any other back up plan than that. He doesn’t say it. Instead, he watches Warlock walking away with his mother, and tries not to think of him as Warlock at all. He’s the Antichrist. The end of everything. Not a small boy Crowley couldn’t help but love.

 

“Won’t people remark on the sudden appearance of a huge black dog? His parents, for a start?” Aziraphale asks. Crowley can see the angel looking at him in his peripheral vision, but he can’t turn to face him just yet. He needs another moment to get his mind together. To slot the pain away behind yet another wall in the labyrinth of his mind. He can’t do what needs to be done. He knows himself too well. He’s killed so many times, but killing demons isn’t like killing a child. Killing an innocent. Every demon he’s ever fought deserved what it got. They’d been proper demons, unlike him. They’d let all the good in their souls wither away to nothing, leaving behind nothing but empty husks of sin and evil. Something vile. Something he could convince himself to hate. He can’t hate Warlock, for all he knows what the boy could do. And he can’t kill what he can’t hate. Even if it means saving the world.

 

He turns his face to Aziraphale, and forces down the desperation building inside. “No one will notice anything,” he tells him, as Aziraphale looks away. They can’t meet each other’s eyes today. They both feel too much, he thinks. Something in them is broken, compared to other angels and demons he’s met. “It’s reality, angel. And young Warlock can do what he likes with that, whether he knows it or not.” He stops. Not Warlock. The boy. The Antichrist. A nameless, anonymous enemy. Not for the first, or last, time, he curses the heart he isn’t meant to have.

 

“It’s the start of it all,” he continues, shoving that thought, that uncertainty, away. “The boy’s meant to name it. Stalks-by-night, Throat Ripper, something like that. But,” he says, and Aziraphale finally looks at him. He can’t read the emotions behind his eyes, but his face is worried. The fate of the world hangs on them, and he’s sure his angel is very aware of that. “If you and I have done our job properly, then he’ll send it away. Unnamed.” It’s the only hope he has. It’s not enough.

 

“What if he does name it?” Aziraphale asks, and Crowley looks away from the fear in those sea-blue eyes.

 

“Then you and I have lost,” he says, staring out at the park, at the humans around them. “He’ll have all his powers, and Armageddon will be days away.” He can’t bear to see whatever expression is on his angel’s face now. He keeps his eyes forward. On the boy that is the adversary, destroyer of worlds.

 

Aziraphale follows his gaze. “There must be some way of stopping it,” he says, desperation leaking into his voice. Crowley can taste it in the air around them, when he opens his mouth to reply.

 

He takes a deep, steadying breath. “If there was no… boy,” he says, watching Aziraphale’s face. “Then the process would stop.”

 

Aziraphale turns to look at him in shock. “Yes, but there is a boy,” he says. “He’s over there, writing a rude word on a description of a dinosaur.”

 

Crowley glances at Warlo- no, the Antichrist, and turns away. “There is a boy now. But that could change.” He watches Aziraphale’s face. Please, he almost prays. Please understand what I mean.

 

Aziraphale looks at him in confusion.

 

“Something could happen to him,” Crowley tells him quietly. Please don’t make me say it.

 

The angel’s face is clouded. He doesn’t understand. He’s too good for that. Even as it breaks him, Crowley feels a flash of fondness for his angel. For someone so good they wouldn’t even think of the words about to come from his mouth. A distant, aching part of him wonders how horrified Aziraphale would be, if he were ever to learn of the blood on Crowley’s hands.

 

“I’m saying you could kill him,” he says bluntly. The words rip at half-healed wounds inside, setting the silence afire with pain. He watches as Aziraphale’s expression falls, the angel turning to look at - no. He can’t look over there. Can’t think about what he’s saying, or he won’t be able to do this. He never wanted Aziraphale to become a killer. That had been the whole point, after all, of making sure he was kept away from the battlefield. Of keeping him sheltered, all these years, from anything that wanted to kill him. He never wants that sort of violence to tarnish his bright light. But now it’s come down to it, he doesn’t know what else to do.

 

“I’ve never actually… killed. Anything.” The angel fidgets, hand going to the ring again, turning it around and around on his little finger. He sighs, and Crowley can feel his turmoil. “I don’t think I could.”

 

The demon’s heart breaks a little more at that. He wants to drop this now. To say they’ll find some other way. But he can’t. He can’t see any other way. Not now. Not when they have six days left before everything ends. He leans forward.

 

“Not even to save everything?” he asks, voice just barely above a whisper. Aziraphale won’t look at him. “One life. Against the universe.” Please angel. I can’t. I know I can’t. Not this time.

 

“The- this Hellhound. It- it’ll show up at his birthday party?” the angel asks, voice shaking. He finally looks at Crowley, the conflicting emotions on his face clearing into a kind of resolve.

 

“Yes,” Crowley turns away, pulling back in on himself. He’s failed.

 

“Well then,” Aziraphale continues. “We should be there. Maybe I can stop the dog.” It’s a thought, and Crowley looks up, trying not to let that treacherous flame of hope flare up inside. “In fact!” Aziraphale looks excited, grinning, like they hadn’t just been discussing cold-blooded murder. “I could entertain!” He starts to practice his magic tricks, and Crowley groans, squirming in his seat. He tries to project disgust, but he can’t help but watch as the angel lights up with joy, pulling a coin from a pocket and pretending to do a trick. He’s never understood why a being that can do actual magic would stoop to such a level, but even as it baffles him, he still loves how it makes his angel smile.

 

He represses a shiver as Aziraphale’s hand brushes his ear, pretending to pull a coin from it. If you asked the demon then what he’d said, he wouldn’t be able to tell you. He’s lost in the feeling of love he’s never been able to put away as neatly as his pain. They relax into their old pattern of good-natured squabbling, and as much as Crowley is terrified, even with the weight of the universe hanging over their heads, he allows himself a moment to just appreciate the way Aziraphale seems to glow when he’s happy. As if all the light in the sky decided to shine on him for that moment. He loves him. Oh Somebody does Crowley love him. He loves this angel far more, and far more deeply, than any demon has a right to feel.

 

 

 

 

The birthday party goes about as well as could be expected. Which is to say, it’s a complete disaster. But the dog doesn’t show. He can’t smell even a hint of Hellhound on the air, and he doesn’t know whether to be relieved or terrified. Warlock isn’t the Antichrist. But now they have four days until the end of the world and the Antichrist is missing. He leaves the party without even really thinking about that he’s doing, on auto-pilot as he heads back to his car. Aziraphale follows, trailing behind as he tries to clean his suit of the debris of the chaos he unwittingly created inside.

 

“It’s late,” the angel says, retrieving a dove from up his sleeve. The poor thing is dead, or nearly, and Crowley steps closer to the angel to take a look.

 

“Comes of putting it up your sleeve,” he says, examining its life-pattern. It’s fading fast, but not quite gone. There’s still some sparks of electricity in its brain - just enough for him to reach out and latch on to its soul, keeping it in the land of the living. Taking the bird gently from Aziraphale’s hands, he breathes and lets the healing magic flow. In this plane it isn’t visible to humans, but his demonic eyes can just make out the ghost of the power flowing from his hands and his breath, covering the dove in a faint blue glow. It’s the work of seconds to rebuild the pattern, weaving it back together until it can hold on its own. He breathes again, and those few remaining sparks of life catch fire. When he opens his hands, the dove flies away.

 

Aziraphale is watching him with an odd look on his face, but then he shakes his head, and his expression clears. “No, I mean the Hellhound. It’s late.”

 

“Right.” He has to check. Just to be sure. He slides into his Bentley and turns on the radio. It starts off on some talk show, but then, soon enough-

 

“Hello Crowley.”

 

He makes a face. He hates communicating by radio. One of his worst ideas, convincing Hell to use modern technology. He’d thought they could all just get cell phones. Lucifer had liked this better. Said it had more style.

 

“Uuhh, yeah, hi. Who’s this?” He’s never actually been very good at lying, despite being a demon. Not when it counted, at least. Not with this much hanging on Hell not realizing what’s going on. If they realize he’s lost the Antichrist… Well. The end of the world will be the least of his worries.

 

“Dagon,” the radio says. “Lord of the Files, Master of Torments.”

 

Well. That’s not great, but it could have been worse. He’s never known Dagon to be particularly good at catching liars. “Yeah, uh, just checking in. About the Hellhound…” That doesn’t sound suspicious at all. Not a bit.

 

“It should be with you by now,” Dagon tells him. There’s an ominous pause. And then… “Why? Has something gone… wrong, Crowley?”

 

“Wrong?” Crowley says, going for casual and missing it entirely. “Nothing’s gone wrong, what could be wrong? Oh, no I can see him now. What a lovely big… hell-y Hellhound. Yes, okay, great talking to you.” He turns off the radio and sits back in his seat.

 

“No dog,” Aziraphale observes.

 

“No dog,” he agrees. He was right. Warlock isn’t the Antichrist. A part of him, one he’d viciously locked away, stops screaming in pain. The walls he’d placed around it crumble with his relief. The child he raised is safe. But that means-

 

“Wrong boy,” the angel says.

 

Crowley nods, and a different kind of fear overtakes him. “Wrong boy.”

 

On some unspoken agreement, he drives them back to the bookshop to regroup. They have four days. Three, if you don’t count the rest of this one. And then, if they don’t get this right, Armageddon will begin.

 

 

 

That night, when Warlock returns to his room, he finds a gift from his nanny, and a goodbye note. One that gives him a number to call, if he ever has need of her. Crowley doesn’t know if he’ll ever use it - if he’ll even have the time to use it, before the world ends. But it makes him feel a little bit better, like he’s not just fucking off to who-knows-where and leaving him there, alone. Like he’s not just abandoning the boy. He knows far too much of abandonment, after all. He won’t be the one that abandons the people he cares about. Not ever.

Chapter Text

On Thursday morning, Crowley takes a walk. It’s early, far earlier than he would usually like to be awake, but he hasn’t been able to sleep since Monday and he’s not entirely sure when or if he’ll ever be able to again. He has two days to find the Antichrist, if he wants to save the world. And he has no idea where to even start. So when the dawn light starts to filter through his windows and he still can’t think of a single plan, he gets up and heads to the park. There, he lets his feet guide him down familiar paths, the usual route for his preoccupied wanderings. This early, there’s no one around but the occasional jogger, and it’s comforting to pace down the quiet green pathways. Songbirds call to each other in the trees above him, falling silent as he passes by and then starting up again when his demonic aura is gone from their primitive senses. Squirrels chitter in their nets, calling a warning to each other when they sense his approach. Danger. Predator. Snake. Only the corvids call out to him in welcome, but then they’ve always been his favorite sort of birds. He loves their penchant for mischief and their wild sort of intelligence. They make excellent partners in crime, and he prefers to work with them above even rats and serpents when the nature of his demonic wiles allows.

 

Now, a crow drops down from the trees to hop beside him for a few paces, eyeing him with curiosity.

 

“Hullo,” he tells it. Might as well be polite.

 

Danger, it caws at him, a warning. Predators by the water.

 

Crowley frowns. Predators by the water… demons? Or angels? That’s the only kind of ‘danger’ a crow would warn him of. Anything else and the mischievous things would have lured him over to get rid of it for them.

 

“Thanks,” he tells the crow. It caws a farewell and takes off, back to its nest. Crowley considers just turning around and going back to his flat, but it’s not like he has anything else to do right now. Or, at least, not like he was making any progress at all on the one thing he needed to be doing. So instead he takes a smaller version of his serpent form and glides through the grass until he can taste the scent of angel in the air.

 

He feels them before he sees them, the tattered remains of his bond to them screaming in the silence. Two of his siblings, the raw edges of his connection to them burning him from inside. He follows the pain, and there they are. Gabriel and Sandalphon.

 

If you had asked Raphael if he had a favorite sibling, he would have shrugged and told you not to be daft - he loved them all equally. And this was true.

 

He loved Lucifer’s poise and strength, the way his elder brother could walk into a room and immediately all eyes were on him. He loved his dramatics too, the way everything about him was just a little bit too much. He felt cared for, by Lucifer, the brother that answered all of his questions, no matter how silly - or how dangerous. He loved how he could make Lucifer laugh at the littlest thing, even if sometimes he feared the cruelty he could sometimes see hidden behind his brother’s eyes.

 

He adored Michael. He was her confidante, the one she told her secret worries and hopes alike. He admired her bravery, the way she could face down even the most horrifying disaster with a calm eye and a steady hand. And he loved the deepest heart of her, the places where the steel in her soul didn’t quite reach - the parts of her that worried about whether or not she was doing the right thing. He wished he had her resolve, her ability to see things through no matter how much she worried about doing it.

 

Gabriel, he loved for his energy, his relentless positivity and good cheer. He loved how his little brother never seemed to be without a smile. How eager he was to learn, to see, to do all that there was in the universe. He cherished Gabriel’s enthusiasm, the way he threw himself into any task with single-minded abandon. How he could focus so entirely on one thing that all else got blocked out.

 

Uriel was the sister of his heart, with her quick wit and quicker tongue. They sung together in the place that stars were born, matching wits in verbal sparring matches that rang across the Heavens. Uriel was so very like him, in so very many ways, but she was steadier than he, calmer. Where he wondered, she knew. Where he asked, she had answers. And he’d loved her for her certainty, even when he knew those answers were incomplete. He loved her laugh, and her smile. With Uriel, he wanted to protect that joy, because every time she expressed it, it felt like something precious.

 

And then there was Sandalphon. Where Uriel complimented him, Sandalphon was his mirror image. Where Raphael loved, Sandalphon hated. Where he healed, Sandalphon destroyed. The one thing they had in common was an endless desire for approval, to know that they were doing a good job. That they were loved, and appreciated. Raising Sandalphon had been a challenge, but Raphael had loved him even as he struggled to find common ground with his youngest sibling. He’d loved his tenacity, the way he refused to give up on anything. And he’d loved how committed Sandalphon was to keeping his family safe, how he practiced for hours with Michael until he could wield a sword almost as well as she.

 

So no, Raphael did not have a favorite sibling. And Crowley doesn’t either, for all he hasn’t spoken to them in six thousand years. He loves them all, even as their actions make him furious and terrified all at once. He wants to hate them. It would be so much easier if he could hate them. But he can’t. He looks at them now, and sees the little brothers he raised. The eyes that looked to him for guidance, hands he held in his own a thousand times. He remembers taking them into the universe and pointing out his stars. Games of tag played across planetary systems. Arguments that shook the earth, and songs that filled the heavens. He remembers Sandalphon’s grip on his arm, the fear in his eyes, the first time they witnessed a supernova up close. Gabriel’s fingers squeezing his as he fought the pain of a broken wing, his grip easing as Raphael filled him with healing energy and love.

 

But these two angels aren’t fledglings anymore. They’ve grown cold. Aloof. They hold themselves apart from Her creations and think it good. Crowley doesn’t understand the impassive wall of Gabriel’s face, the appearance of good cheer that melts into something solid and ugly the moment he thinks no one is looking. And he fears the clear and ever-present anger that radiates from Sandalphon, a feeling more at home around a demon than an archangel. He wonders if there’s anything that either of them loves, anymore. The thought is enough to send an echo screaming through the void, letting it tear at the raw and bleeding parts of the demon. It doesn’t stop him from trying to get closer, trying to see just what they’re doing here, now, so close to the end of everything.

 

“-don’t see why you insist on doing this down here,” Sandalphon is saying as Crowley slithers into hearing range. “We can train at home.” He’s got gold in his teeth now, Crowley can see. Vicious, sharp gold, studded with diamonds.

 

“But not like this,” Gabriel says, sounding for once like the enthusiastic little brother Crowley remembers. “Not with the planet under our feet, that atmosphere, the way it affects the corporations. This, Sandalphon, is what it will be like when we fight. If we don’t train for it now, we won’t be ready when the time comes.”

 

“I see...” Sandalphon sounds less than impressed, and for once Crowley agrees with him. It makes him sick, hearing Gabriel so excited, almost giddy about Armageddon. This was the planet their Mother created specifically. These were the creatures She had commanded them to love above all else, even her. And now, Gabriel was so eager to see it end.

 

Gabriel turns, frowning at Sandalphon, and Crowley is reminded of a hundred different arguments he witnessed between his little brothers. “Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts now, Sandalphon?”

 

“Of course not,” the younger archangel growls. “I look forward to taking our revenge on Hell.”

 

“Then what’s that look for?” Gabriel demands, planting himself in front of his brother, unknowingly blocking him from Crowley’s view. “Come on, it’s the apocalypse! I thought you’d be excited!”

 

Sandalphon pauses, and Crowley wonders if he’s considering his answer. “You…” he starts, then makes a noise of frustration and pushes past Gabriel. The look on his face is full of contradictions, so different from the serenely confident face he’s shown every other time the demon has had occasion to see him in the past six thousand years. It’s a face that’s more comfortable with a sneer than a smile, but right now there isn’t a hint of either.

 

“Sandalphon,” Gabriel calls, turning but not making any move to follow.

 

His brother whirls around, eyes sharp and angry. “You!” he snaps. “You act like this is all a game. Like you forgot what this means.”

 

Gabriel gapes at him. “What?”

 

“Did you forget?” Sandalphon asks him. “Did you forget who we will have to fight?”

 

Gabriel’s expression doesn’t change, it vanishes. He stares at his brother with hard violet eyes, set in the face of an alabaster god. “I don’t see why that matters,” he says, his voice as dead as his eyes.

 

“It matters,” the younger archangel says calmly, “because it will be us against Lucifer. And I don’t know if you have it in you to kill him.”

 

They stand there in the dawn light, staring each other down, anger crackling between them. The air smells of ozone, and even the birds have gone silent. It will take so little, now, to push them into a fight. Her Herald and Her Messenger, Crowley’s little brothers. And all he can do is hide in the grass and watch.

 

“I killed the traitor Raphael,” Gabriel says flatly, and Crowley flinches at his old name. The void echoes with the words I killed the traitor Raphael. “I can kill Lucifer too, for his betrayal.”

 

“Uriel killed that demon,” his brother tells him, words dripping with disdain. “You slit it's throat when it was already dead.”

 

The demon in the grass remembers the feeling of a blade sliding across his throat as he dies. Hot, wet tears fall on his face. Uriel screams in anguish somewhere behind him. Blood flows from his wounds, staining his skin red. He shudders, shoving the memory away before it can rise up and claim him. Even in this form, he can feel the scars. He hides them, in his human corporation. But he can’t fully heal them away. They’re a part of his pattern now, along with the rest of his pain.

 

“What Uriel did was an accident,” Gabriel sneers. “She thought that thing was still our brother. If you’re worried about any of us having the balls to destroy Lucifer, worry about her.”

 

Their words make Crowley feel sick. How can they stand there, so easily discussing this? How they’re going to destroy their eldest sibling. How they had killed him. Gabriel’s expression hasn’t changed since Sandalphon started yelling at him, while the youngest of the archangels is glaring up at him, the look on his face more fitting for a demon than an angel.

 

“Uriel knows what to do,” Sandalphon replies. “She agrees it is necessary.”

 

“And what about you?” Gabriel asks, face melting into a nasty smile. “You’re the one that hesitated last time.”

 

Their younger brother laughs, a harsh, cruel sound, like a knife being drawn across glass. “Bring out your sword,” he dares Gabriel. “I’ll show you if I hesitate.”

 

Crowley wants to cover his ears, to look away. He can’t stand the sound of his siblings fighting. He never could. He remembers so many times where he’ d have to step in and pick up the pieces, healing them after yet another violent argument.

 

 

 

He ’s lounging in their rooms, playing with a ball of star-fire when Sandalphon comes to him. He feels his pain before he even sees him, extinguishing the fire and sitting up from his lazy sprawl and bracing for something bad. He’d felt the flair of anger from both Gabriel and Sandalphon earlier, and knows it must have been a bad fight. He’d almost gone running for the practice yards then, but Michael had asked him to remain where he was. Now Sandalphon limps into their rooms, an angry red wound in his side. The body he’d so recently been given is bleeding, and he’s favoring his left leg. Raphael’s hands are already reaching for his brother before he’s taken more than a step into the room.

 

“Come here,” he orders, gentle hands guiding his little brother to stand in front of him. He probes the wound, and Sandalphon winces.

 

“Michael told me to come,” the younger archangel says, tone heavily implying that he wouldn’t have even thought of it if he hadn’t been ordered. “I’m fine. I can fix it.”

 

“Sure you can,” Raphael tells him, though privately he knows his youngest sibling is not adept enough at healing to fix a wound this large. “But I’m going to do it anyway.” He looks his brother over with a critical eye, inspecting his life pattern for other wounds and finding a multitude of minor scrapes and bruises, along with a sprained ankle and dislocated shoulder.

 

Sandalphon shifts uncomfortably under his hands, glaring at his shoes. “I don’t need it.”

 

Raphael hides a smile. Stubborn, Sandalphon is. They all are, in a way. Perhaps it ’s a family trait. “Will you tell me what happened?” he asks.

 

“Why?” Sandalphon wants to know.

 

“Because I asked,” Raphael tells him, summoning his power. His brother shivers as he touches his pattern, tension easing from his body as healing energy flows in, filling up the places where the pattern has broken, knitting the torn parts of him back together. “And because if you don’t tell me, I’m going to assume you started another fight with Gabriel, and I’m going to drag you both up in front of the Metatron to face Her judgment. ” They both ignore the pain that causes, that they can’t even speak to their own Mother anymore, they have to go through Her intermediary.

 

“I didn’t start a fight with Gabriel,” Sandalphon says, sullen now. “Gabriel started a fight with me.”

 

Raphael sighs. “What was it about this time, then?” On the physical plane he can see Sandalphon’s wounds closing, glowing faintly blue with healing light.

 

“I don’t want to tell you,” his brother says, and won’t meet his eyes. He can’t hide from their bond though, and Raphael reaches out, brushing against his mind and projecting as much love and safety as he can.

 

“Of course, you don’t have to. But I can’t fix what I don’t understand.”

 

Sandalphon shakes his head. “You don’t need to fix it. We worked it out.”

 

The healer represses a grin. “Who won then? You, or Gabriel? Am I going to have to go put him back together in the practice yard?”

 

“Michael’s healing him,” his brother says, and they share a wince. Michael can heal when she has to, but it’s never a very pleasant experience. “She said he didn’t deserve to come to you.”

 

“Hmm.” Raphael frowns, prodding at the healing pattern. It’s not going deep enough in one corner, which could leave a part of the wound unhealed. It’s a nasty cut, the edge of it cauterized by the heat of a flaming sword, and he doesn’t want to see his brother left with lasting damage.

 

“That must have been some fight,” he adds, just before the silence started to get uncomfortable.

 

“It was!” Sandalphon brightens as he talks about the bout. “We were practicing, see, and Gabriel came at me with his sword like this , ” he gestures with his good arm, growing more excited as he narrates how the fight had taken place. The healing is almost finished when he frowns and growls “And then Michael got in between us and made us stop.”

 

“I’m glad she did,” Raphael tells him, disturbed by how violent this fight sounded. They’d never gone so far in anger before, and he doesn’t like what it means. “You could have seriously hurt each other.”

 

Sandalphon sniffs. “He deserves it.”

 

“Why?”

 

His brother looks away again. “I said I don’t want to tell you.”

 

“Alright,” he sighs. “I’ll let it go this time.” Michael will tell him later, he’s sure. “But you have to promise me you’ll try to talk to Gabriel first, next time. Violence isn ’t always the answer.”

 

“It can be,” Sandalphon insists.

 

Raphael laughs, the bright sound drawing a smile from his taciturn sibling. “Ok, fair enough. But it isn’t always the best answer. ” He checks his pattern and nods, satisfied.

 

“There,” the older archangel pulls back from his brother’s pattern, the wound healed without a scar, torn muscles grown back together, and shoulder sitting back in place as if they had never been damaged at all. “You’re all fixed. Do you think you can promise not to need healing for at least another week?” He wonders, not for the first time, if he should withhold healing from them when they fight like this. If the instant fixes to their wounds keep them from learning that fights don’t solve everything. He doesn’t think he could do that, though. He’s never yet been able to turn away from anything that was in pain.

 

Sandalphon shrugs, rotating his shoulders and checking the motion of his arms. “Maybe?” he says, giving Raphael a small grin that says ‘probably not’.

 

The healer sighs. He knows all too well what pushing this will do. His little brother will just turn sullen and sulk and pick another fight with someone as soon as he possibly can. “Then, at least promise me that next time you’ll have someone come get me. I’d like to be on hand in case something happens.” He knows neither of his brothers would willingly do serious, permanent injury to the other, but they can get carried away. So far they’ve only managed to harm their physical forms, but it’s only a matter of time before one is left with a lasting wound in their essence.

 

“If he gives me enough warning, maybe,” Sandalphon tells him. It’s the best he’s going to get.

 

“Alright then. Off with you. I know you have duties to get to.” He gives the younger archangel a gentle shove, pushing him back towards the door.

 

His brother gives him a disgusted look, and starts off. He stops, though, halfway across the room, and turns back to the healer with something raw and worried in his gaze. “You won’t replace us, will you?” he asks, voice uncharacteristically uncertain.

 

Raphael stares at him, shocked by the question. “What? Of course not. I could never.”

 

His brother nods and starts off again, only to turn back once more. “It’s only- “ he starts, then scowls and turns away again.

 

“It’s only what?” Raphael asks quietly. What would make him even consider the idea that Raphael could replace them? Guiltily, he thinks of the book he left on their Mother’s throne. He won’t be able to help leaving his family, in the end. But replace them? Never.

 

Sandalphon faces him, hands curling into fists at his sides. “It’s only that Gabriel said you’d rather share a bond with that principality.”

 

“With Aziraphale?” Raphael asks, stunned. “Why would I-” Although. He knows why. He felt it when he taught Aziraphale how to heal, that longing to mingle their essences, to bring some part of himself into contact with the angel and never let go. But it’s not like he wants the same sort of bond with Aziraphale that he shares with his siblings. It’s not the relationship of a brother that he wants with the angel.

 

“We never see you anymore,” Sandalphon accuses. “Not even when you’re here.”

 

“Of course you do! I’m right here, aren’t I?” Raphael asks, standing. He can feel anger and pain washing down the bond from his brother, echoes of the same feeling coming from Gabriel and even Uriel.

 

Sandalphon shakes his head. “You’re blocking us out. Just like Lucifer. There are parts of you we can’t reach anymore.” He growls, and his face turns ugly. “But you open yourself to him, don’t you?”

 

Raphael ’s eyes widen in understanding. He’s locked pieces of his mind away, hiding everything he knows about the Plan from them. Hiding the pain that knowledge causes. He hadn’t realized they could tell. Guilt floods through him, and he opens his mind to his siblings, all but the parts hiding the Plan. Those he shoves down deep, where they won’t think to look.

 

“I like Aziraphale,” he tells them, and shows them what he feels. The very specific way he cares about the principality. He hasn’t put a name to that feeling yet, but it isn’t one he thinks one should have for a sibling. It’s different, here in the light of his mind. Stronger in some ways, less so in others. He lets them in to it, lets them see that it’s not what he has with them at all. Sometimes it reminds him of the way Adam looks at Eve, full of devotion. It’s a strong emotion, powerful, and wholly unlike anything else he’s ever known. But there’s room in his heart for more than one person. Whatever he feels for Aziraphale, his siblings will always be a part of him. He shows them how he feels about them, the warm, all-encompassing, unconditional love. The joy and pride he feels when he sees them, that sense of belonging, of being a part of something whole and wonderful.

 

“You see?” he says, as they settle deeper into his love for them. “I care about Aziraphale, quite a bit. But that doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

 

“He’s not one of us,” Sandalphon says. “He’s not part of our bond.”

 

“Yes,” Raphael looks at him, honey-amber eyes earnest and full of emotion. “And we will always have that. I ’m not replacing you with him. I never will.”

 

But you’re never here, Gabriel almost whines through the bond. You’re always off hanging stars, or down in Eden with him.

 

Hush now, Michael says, flooding their link with her quiet, steady belief in their bond. We’re all busy now.

 

Raphael nods. “We’ve all been taking on extra duties.”

 

Because Lucifer left us! Uriel cries. And Raphael can feel it, the hurt in him responding to his sibling’s pain. Lucifer left them. He hasn’t even been in contact through their bond. He just… gave Raphael a copy of the Great Plan, told him he was going to be cast out, and then went off somewhere, leaving them all behind.

 

He left us, his little sister continues. And you were always his favorite. He spent more time with you than any of us. So what are we supposed to think, when you start going off on your own like he did?

 

Raphael can feel her hurt and fear, the way it echoes between them all, even Michael. Sandalphon looks up at him with pleading eyes.

 

“Listen to me,” he says to them all, moving forward to grip Sandalphon by the shoulders. “Listen carefully.” He projects his love down their bond, flooding it with everything he feels. “I promise you, all of you. I promise that I will never choose to leave you. Aziraphale is special to me, yes. But you are my family, and that ’s not a bond I will ever want to break. If I have any choice in the matter at all, I would stay with you forever. I won’t go off on my own like Lucifer. I won’t leave you alone here. You’ll have to kill me first.” A sharp spike of pain escapes his control, anguish torn from the heart of him, where he hides the knowledge of his own fate. He won’t leave them by choice. He won’t want to. But he will leave them. And then, they will kill him. It ’s all part of her plan.

 

“I’m sorry,” Sandalphon tells him, projecting remorse and his own love through the bond, trying clumsily to soothe his older brother’s pain. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I was just worried.”

 

Raphael pulls him closer, wrapping his arms around him and unfurling all six of his wings, cocooning them both in soft golden feathers. “I know,” he says, projecting his warm comfort down the bond to his listening siblings. “I know.”

 

 

 

In the park, Gabriel and Sandalphon stand, staring each other down. Crowley braces himself to witness a fight between them, the way things like this had so often gone in the past. And then Gabriel laughs and shakes his head.

 

“I know you won’t hesitate,” he tells his youngest sibling. “Want to know why?”

 

Sandalphon smiles, a nasty, vicious thing that exposes the metal on his teeth. “It’s finally time to take our revenge on Lucifer,” he says. “For taking Raphael from us.”

 

A roaring fills Crowley’s ears, the void screaming at him. His fault. They’re making this his fault. They’re justifying this whole thing as revenge, a retaliation against Hell for the Fall of an archangel. His siblings are going to destroy the Earth and everything on it, not because She said to, but because they can use Armageddon to take some measure of retribution from their former brother. And it’s not for the War. Not for the Fall of half of all Heaven. Not even for the pain and suffering that Lucifer and Hell have caused. They’re doing this because of him. Because of Raphael. Because of the angel Crowley used to be.

 

By the time he’s quieted the echoing screaming inside, Gabriel and Sandalphon have gone.

 

 

 

It’s lucky that Aziraphale has an idea, because Crowley can’t think of a blessed thing. The silence inside won’t stop screaming at him, the empty ringing nothingness reminding him of the siblings he lost when he Fell. In the silence between words, all he can hear is Sandalphon’s voice. It’s finally time to take our revenge on Lucifer. For taking Raphael from us. He drives towards Tadfield like he’s being chased, trying to put distance between himself and those words he wishes he had never heard.

 

When they arrive, the first thing he notices is that the hospital doesn’t really look like a hospital. Not that it ever really did, being a convent for satanic nuns and all. Crowley frowns at it, remembering that night eleven years ago, when he carried a baby in a basket onto these grounds and started off the apocalypse. He’s not expecting it when Aziraphale reaches out and grabs his arm, stopping him in his tracks, and for just a moment he lets the angel’s hand rest there, warm and comforting. Then he steps back, just out of reach. He feels exposed, like a raw nerve, and even the gentle touch of his angel is too much right now. Everything he feels for Aziraphale surges at his barriers, and he has to work to keep it all inside.

 

“It feels loved,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley looks around. He imagines the buildings in the dark, the moon bright and looming overhead. And yes, this is the place. He can’t feel the love that Aziraphale mentioned, but he doesn’t want to reach out and try, either. He can’t open himself up to emotions like that right now. Not when his pain and loss is so sharp. He’s afraid that if his barriers come off, that sharpness inside will find someone else to cut. He’s on edge, nervous, unable to really focus.

 

He’s still distracted when he feels the shot. There’s a flare of pain, but he’s had bullet wounds before. He knows before the sharp clap of sound has vanished that it’s not a real gun. Despite the burning pain of impact, the wound goes no deeper than the skin.

 

“Blue?” Aziraphale asks, and with a shock of terror, Crowley realizes that the angel was shot too. If this had been real, Aziraphale could have been killed - discorporated. And here he was, distracted, not even paying attention. It doesn’t help that the spell-key around his neck is pulsing with a general warning, and has been since Wednesday. He needs to shake this off, if he wants to be ready for the more specific danger to either of them.

 

Crowley loses a bit of his control when a human has the nerve to come and yell at them. He can’t help it. He’s wound too tightly, trying to contain too much, and he loses his hold on his mortal form for a second. The monstrous shape of his power breaks free and he only has a split second to guide it into something that isn’t quite a snake, and isn’t quite a dog, but is at least an earthly enough form that it won’t destroy the sanity of every human that sees it. He’s done it before, exposed part of his monstrous self to humans that needed a lesson or two. It’s… well, usually, it’s fun. It feels good to let even a piece of himself free like that. And he’s amused by the way the human’s eyes roll back into his head, the thud as he drops to the ground. But he’s never done it in front of Aziraphale before. He’s never shown the angel even a piece of the twisted essence he hides beneath his favorite human shape.

 

“Well that was fun,” he says, and a glance to the side shows that the angel isn’t even paying attention to him. He’s looking at his coat, trying to see the blue stain splattered across his back.

 

“Yes, fun for you, maybe,” Aziraphale’s voice is dry as he looks over the damage done to the soft cream fabric. Crowley circles him, feeling his stomach drop as he sees how very close he came to losing the angel. Because while it wouldn’t have truly killed him, discorporation now means they won’t be getting back to Earth. Not in time for the end of the world. And he knows that just one of them, on his own, will not be able to stop the apocalypse. He’s been stupid, careless, and the angel almost paid the price.

 

“You could miracle it away,” Crowley tells him, and gets the full force of the angel’s wide, pleading sea-blue eyes.

 

“Yes, but, well, I would always know the stain was there. Underneath, I mean.”

 

Crowley blows it away, leaving not even a trace of the dark color on his angel’s clean white coat. Privately, he wonders if that’s how Aziraphale sees him, his human form just a miracled illusion over the dark and all-consuming stain within. A stain that, however he might cover it up, will always be there. Underneath. The taint of the unforgivable. But then Aziraphale smiles at him, and his human heart skips a beat, because whatever else is true between them, that smile is his favorite thing in the whole world.

 

 

Inside, Tadfield Manor is still the same building he remembers. Or, well, not exactly the same. The decorations are different, less religious and more... field combat. But he can smell it now, the scent of satanic worshipers. It’s faint, faded, but it still makes that itch for chaos flare up inside him, becoming more than just a background hum. A human runs around the corner, demanding to know who was winning their inane game. What did it matter who won? They had two, maybe three days left. And then, they were all going to lose.

 

He gives in to the itch. With a gesture, all the guns on the premises shift in their wielder’s hands, balls of paint becoming bullets as the first real gunshots ring out. Chaos starts to flow around them almost immediately as the humans realize what they now have in their hands.

 

“What- what the hell did you just do?” Aziraphale demands, and he has to work to ignore the disappointment in those sea-blue eyes. He’s a demon. The angel should know better than to expect him to refrain from giving in to temptation.

 

“Well,” he says, that chaotic part of him enjoying the startled cries from outside. “They wanted real guns. So I gave them what they wanted.” It’s his job description, after all. Letting the humans have the things they want, especially if it will hasten their destruction. It’s not like he’s letting any of them get truly hurt. That kind of chaos isn’t fun. It just makes the part of him that was once Her healer cry out far too loudly.

 

He keeps walking, looking into any room they come across for signs of the nuns, or even the hospital records. Aziraphale, however, is distracted by the gunfire outside. Crowley supposes he can’t blame the angel. After all, he doesn’t know they’re all going to come out alright in the end.

 

“There are people out there, shooting at each other,” he says, watching Crowley’s face now.

 

“Well, it lends weight to their ‘moral argument’.” Crowley can’t help but to get in a bit of a jab. Guns, in his opinion, solve exactly one problem. That something is alive, and something else wants it dead. He kicks in a door, and feels a sick satisfaction as the sound of something shattering reaches his ears. There’s too much going on inside, too many conflicting emotions, and he wishes he could just… default to factory settings. All of this would be so much easier, if he were the kind of demon he’s supposed to be.

 

“Everyone has free will,” he continues. “Even the right to murder.” Even the right to kill one’s sibling and then wage war over who should take the blame for his death. “Just… think of it as a microcosm of the universe.”

 

Behind him, Aziraphale stops. “They’re murdering each other?” he asks, shock in his voice, as if he’s just realized that’s what gunfire usually means. And Crowley knows what a good demon would do now. He’d let the bullets find their marks, smirk, and ask the angel what he expected. But Crowley isn’t a good demon. He never has been. Chaos is his thing, not wanton murder.

 

He sighs. “No, they aren’t. No one’s killing anyone.” He doesn’t want to see what Aziraphale’s face is doing while the angel takes in this information. He’s probably looking at him in that way of his, the one that screams he’s trying to find the angel Crowley once was, that he’s looking for something, anything, to use as a sign that the demon can be redeemed.

 

“They’re all having miraculous escapes,” Crowley adds, trying to think about anything else than the way Aziraphale is looking at him. “Wouldn’t be any fun, otherwise.”

 

Aziraphale smiles, the worry on his face easing, and he moves forward. Closer. Too close.

 

“You know, Crowley,” he says, and the demon hates that hopeful, happy look on his face. Hates the way he knows it’s because Aziraphale has just added yet another item in his exhibit of ‘things that mean Crowley is redeemable’. It hurts, deep inside, where the howling silence of the void reminds him of everything he is and can never be. And yet, he can’t look away. He stands, frozen, as the only person whose good opinion matters looks at him and sees so many things that aren’t there.

 

Such a pathetic excuse for a demon, Paimon’s words echo in the silence. Unforgivable. Damned.

 

“I’ve always said that, deep down, you really are quite a nice-”

 

He snaps. It’s too much. It’s all too much. He Fell. He betrayed them all. It’s his fault this war is about to happen. His Fall that his siblings are using to justify Armageddon. You are that which can never be forgiven.

 

“Shut it,” he hisses, surging forward, pressing Aziraphale against the wall and dragging him up by the fabric of that precious coat of his, until their eyes are level with each other and he can see the flecks of deeper color in his clear blue-green eyes.

 

“I’m a demon,” he growls, baring his teeth and snapping like an injured predator about to become the prey. He hasn’t been this close to the angel in thousands of years, and a distant part of him notes how he still smells like vanilla, cocoa, and old books under his cologne. The length of his body burns where he’s pressed against Aziraphale, burning in the echoing silence that’s screaming for more and closer, and he can’t contain himself, it’s too much, he’s going to come apart right here. He’s going to pieces inside, and he’s sure the angel can feel how badly he’s shaking. Words spill out from his mouth, carried on waves of pain. “I’m not nice. I’m never nice. Nice is a four-letter word. I will not have-”

 

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” a voice intrudes, and he turns, ready to send a stream of Hellfire at anyone who would dare to interrupt this, but - it’s her. It’s the nun he gave the baby to. And the shock of recognition breaks him out of his spiral. He steps away from Aziraphale, and his whole body protests, but he’s back in control of himself now. He won’t go to pieces just yet, though he expects that after everything, if they live, he’ll have to continue this breakdown in a private place. Somewhere the angel won’t be around to see. Someplace he can be alone, when he can no longer hold back the tears and the pain.

 

 

 

All they get from the former nun is that the baby was switch with someone who was decidedly not the American ambassador, unless Swindon became its own country while Crowley wasn’t paying attention. There are no records, Hastur made sure of that, the bastard. They’re back to square one. Again. And it doesn’t help when Aziraphale starts talking about sensing love in the car, reminding him painfully of their conversation from 1941. It had been nighttime then, too, when the angel had asked if he could love. If he could sense love. And the trouble isn’t that he doesn’t, that he can’t. It’s that, right now, he’s feeling far too much of everything.

 

So he drops Aziraphale off at the shop, after their run-in with the woman on the bicycle, and doesn’t even mind when the angel doesn’t invite him in for a drink. He needs time alone, to breathe. He locks himself in his workshop for the rest of the night and loses himself in the task of refining his wards. With the end of the world coming, everything registers as ‘danger’. He has to fine-tune it, shift the spells so that they reflect only immediate danger of discorporation or death. He tries not to think about how it felt to be so close to Aziraphale. How the scent of him surrounded him, tasting of comfort and love. The way Aziraphale’s eyes had gone wide and shocked, but he still hadn’t made an effort to push him away. Hadn’t protested the closeness.

 

The next day, he hires Shadwell to look into the Antichrist, though he doesn’t hold much hope that he’ll find the boy. They don’t have enough time. He’s got to do something, but for the life of him he can’t figure out what. It makes him restless, itching with pent-up energy he can’t find a place for. He goes back to his apartment to pace, swearing at his plants and wracking his brains for any little bit of useful information. He can’t let it end like this. He can’t. But as the day fades into dusk, he still has no idea what to do. It’s almost Friday. And Saturday is the end of the world.

 

The knock on the door surprises him, and he’s distracted enough that he forgets to check who it is before opening it. The feather spell-key around his neck grows hot when he puts a hand to the handle. It gives him just enough warning to duck out of the way of the Hellfire that streams past the place his head had been just a second before. Danger, his wards pulse at him. Danger danger danger.

 

Behind the Hellfire stand two demons, dukes of hell - but not the ones that Crowley might have expected.

 

“Your Grace Duke Bebal, Duke Abalam.” Crowley greets Paimon’s deputies with a deep bow, reaching out for the place he keeps his sword, hidden in the same pocket of reality where he keeps his wings. “I wasn’t made aware you were coming, or I would have prepared a proper reception for you.”

 

“Cut the crap, Crowley,” Bebal sneers, shoving his way past the demon and into the apartment.

 

“We know what you did, Abalam adds, following his twin.

 

Crowley’s spine turns to ice and he tries to back away, into the open area of his ‘living room’. “And what would that be, exactly?” he asks, fingers just brushing against the hilt of his sword. If they know he killed Paimon he’s as good as dead. They’ll have brought all of his remaining legions to kill him. But if they don’t know, if they’re just speculating, he has a chance.

 

“You knew Paimon was in danger, and did nothing,” Abalam tells him, and he has to carefully control his face to not let his relief show. “You let him walk into an attack from an archangel and said nothing.”

 

“Your actions cost Prince Paimon his life,” Bebal adds. The pair of them step to the side, trying to flank him. They’re dressed in identical black suits, each with a sleek grey rat riding on their shoulders. The only way to tell them apart is which shoulder the rat rides on - Abalam on the left, Bebal on the right.

 

“We want to know why,” the chorus. “Why you let our prince perish.”

 

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” Crowley says, and his hand curls around the hilt of the sword, ready to pull it out at a moment’s notice.

 

“No misunderstanding,” Abalam says.

 

“You’re a traitor,” Bebal adds, and shows Crowley the briefcase he carries, dark leather stained with red. He knows what’s inside.

 

Abalam smiles as Crowley begins to sweat. “You’ll sing for us, little crow.”

 

Bebal draws closer, and the latches on his case click open. Crowley draws his sword. The dukes don’t even blink.

 

“If you kill us, Hell will know,” Bebal says.

 

“If you kill us, Hell will kill you,” Abalam tells him. “Did you think we wouldn’t tell them where we were going?”

 

“It’s nothing personal,” Bebal adds. “We don’t want to end up like our Prince.”

 

Crowley brings up his sword, a thin steel barrier between them. He steps backwards, retreating until he can see both dukes without turning his head.

 

Abalam stares at the weapon. “He has a hell-blade, brother,” he observes.

 

Bebal’s eyes widen. “A hell-blade killed Prince Paimon, brother.” His case falls from his hands, spilling the tools of a torturer across the floor.

 

“I think we made a mistake,” Abalam says, taking a step forward.

 

“I think it wasn’t an archangel attack at all,” Bebal adds.

 

“Traitor!” they cry together. In unison, they draw their arms back and launch twin fireballs at Crowley. The demon dodges, and two of his plants go up in smoke.

 

They attack together, moving as one, and he dodges again, dropping to roll under the table and come up on the other side. With the barrier between them, he has a moment to think. How to get out of this? Bebal and Abalam split, coming around the table on opposite sides. Crowley back up again, and hits the wall.

 

“I think he looks guilty,” Abalam says, a steel blade appearing in his hands.

 

“I agree,” Bebal says, an identical blade appearing in his.

 

“Now-” they raise their weapons, and Crowley spots his chance. He kicks out with all his strength, driving the heel of his show deep into Abalam’s gut. While the duke is distracted, Crowley raises his sword and cuts the rat from his shoulder. Abalam screams, his pattern going ragged and fraying. Bebal growls, moving to his brother’s rescue, but Crowley hears him before he gets very far. He whirls, blocking his attack, and letting the momentum complete the turn. Facing Abalam again, he sees weakness in his pattern, a broken point he can exploit. He ducks Bebal’s next attack, blocks another, weaker, one from Abalam, and stabs. His blade slides home, and Abalam drops.

 

Bebal screams as his brother dies, the edges of his pattern going ragged and raw. Crowley takes his moment of distraction and whips his blade around, beheading the other duke. Bebal’s body drops, his pattern flickering out, and Crowley is alone once again, two very dead dukes of Hell on his floor.

 

“Shit,” he curses. “Shit shit shit.” They told Hell where they were going. When Hell finds out that they’re dead… Crowley’s wards pulse against his essence. Danger. Danger. Danger. Danger.

 

 

 

He calls Aziraphale with one thought on his mind. Panic. They need to leave. They need to get away from this planet, before Hell has a chance to retaliate against him for his actions. Before Heaven starts the war, and all that goes with it. If they stay here, it’s certain death for them both. He’s desperate, and cornered, and the only thing he wants now is to be certain Aziraphale is safe.

 

So he goes to the bandstand and waits, hoping that maybe this time, this time, he can convince the angel to look after himself for once. That, if Aziraphale has no new information, he’ll be able to convince him to run away with him. He’s not… he knows he’s not going to convince him to go because of the danger to Crowley. He doesn’t know if the angel would even really care if Hell did get him. But there has to be something he can say, or do, to convince him. He’ll do anything, really. Anything at all.

 

When the angel arrives, it’s like a weight physically lifting off of his shoulders. He hadn’t even realized he’d been worried, until he could see him and he knew that Hell hadn’t sent anyone to the bookshop. The demon takes a moment to look him over, to reassure himself that he’s not injured. He’s not limping, not favoring any part of him, and his pattern blazes bright in Crowley’s vision - whole and clean and beautiful. He looks worried though, frightened. But aren’t they both?

 

“Well,” Crowley asks, “any news?”

 

“Um.” Aziraphale clasps his hands together, fingers running over his ring - the ring that had once belonged to Raphael. It warms Crowley to see it on him, as always, even as it hurts because he knows he can never mean as much to Aziraphale as the archangel that once wore that ring.

 

“What- what kind of news would that be?” Aziraphale asks, clearly distracted. How hard must this be for him, this gentle creature that has only ever loved the Earth? Crowley wants to be frustrated with him, wants to roll his eyes behind his glasses and call him an idiot. But he can’t, not when he’s having such a hard time breathing at the thought of something happening to Aziraphale.

 

“Well,” he says, trying for a joke. “Have you found the missing Antichrist’s name, address, and shoe size yet?” He’s aiming for light, but his tone comes out harsh, angry. There’s so much fear in him right now, it leaves hardly any room for levity.

 

Aziraphale frowns, still playing with his ring. “His shoe size? Why- why would I have his shoe size?”

 

“It’s a joke. I’ve got nothing either.” Crowley hates how nervous he looks, almost as if he’s scared of Crowley. And that hurts, sending echoes of pain through his mind. It reminds him of those first few centuries, when Aziraphale’s initial reaction to his presence had always been one of fear.

 

Aziraphale nods. “It’s the Great Plan, Crowley.” And, fuck it, he’s heard far too much about this Great fucking Plan to listen to Aziraphale parrot the party line at him like it explains everything. Her Plan has ruled his life from the moment he was born. He’s lost more to Her Plan than anyone else in the history of the universe, and now, here, at the end of everything, even Aziraphale is willing to hide behind those words.

 

“Yeah?” he all but growls, pacing, because standing still is suddenly too much for him right now. “For the record, great, pustulent, mangled bollocks to the Great blasted Plan!” He shouts it at the sky, at Her, at all those who follow it so blindly and don’t ask whether it’s right. His voice is rough, raw, and he can’t seem to get a solid grip on the raging silence within.

 

His angel watches, shocked, and the words that come out of his mouth cut Crowley to the core.

 

“May you be forgiven.”

 

You are that which can never be forgiven.

 

“I won’t be forgiven,” he tells him. “Not ever.” As he says the words, something inside him cracks. “That’s part of a demon’s job description.” He looks into those familiar sea-blue eyes, and sees fear there. The crack widens. “Unforgivable.” Paimon’s word for him, the truth of him that the Prince of Secrets spoke. “That’s what I am.”

 

And Aziraphale is looking at him with that searching gaze, the one that tries to see beyond the taint of Hell, looking for the angel-that-was. The angel that died on the blades of his siblings six thousand years ago. And this time, this time he has to say it.

 

“You were an angel once.”

 

The words strike the crack that’s forming in Crowley’s heart, tearing it wider, breaking away another piece of him.

 

“That was a long time ago,” he says, willing the angel to understand. He can’t be what he once was. He’s changed in far too many ways, been burned and broken and scarred in so many places. Even if he could go back, it wouldn’t ever be the same. They don’t have time for this discussion. It’s barely a day away from the end of the world, and the Antichrist is still missing. If they can’t act, if they can’t stop it, they have to leave.

 

Please, angel, listen to me, he silently prays. Please let me save you. I can live without saving the rest of the world, if only you’ll let me save you.

 

He moves closer, into Aziraphale’s space, watching his sad, frightened eyes. “We find the boy,” he says, because he has to present this option, even though he knows it’s the one that neither of them are capable of. “My agents can do it.” That may be giving Shadwell too much credit, but it’s his last hope if he can’t get the angel to leave.

 

“And then what,” the angel asks, hitting the nail on the head. And then what? There’s only one thing they can do. “We eliminate him?”

 

Crowley nods. “Someone does,” he says. “I’m not personally up for killing kids.” Understand what I’m saying here, angel, he prays. I can’t do it. I know I can’t do it. You can’t do it. You know that, too. They’re standing so close, almost touching now. He can smell cocoa-and-books-and-holiness in the air between them, the scent of home. But it’s contaminated, tainted, weighted down with the heavy sour scent of fear and pain. His own sulfur scent must overwhelm the angel, it’s a small mercy he doesn’t cover his nose from the stink of Hell that must cling to the demon like cigarette smoke.

 

“You’re the demon,” Aziraphale reminds him, and oh, that makes the silence inside him scream. Demon. Unforgivable. Demon. Traitor. Demon. That which can never be forgiven. “I’m the nice one,” the angel continues. “I don’t have to kill children.”

 

Behind his glasses, Crowley closes his eyes. He’s never, not ever killed a child. He can’t. Not even for Aziraphale. He tries to stop the angel, before the flood of words he can feel building up comes out, opening his mouth to remind him that it was God that killed children during the Great Flood. It was God that stole the lives of all the firstborn in Egypt. It was God that sacrificed Her only son. It’s always been God that does the killing. Her orders. Her plan. But he can’t get his words out, and Aziraphale continues.

 

“If you kill him,” the angel says, “the world gets a reprieve. And Heaven does not have blood on its hands.”

 

If I kill him, I die, Crowley thinks, and knows it to be true. If I kill him, Hell kills me. Do you know that? Are you aware of what you’re asking of me? Don’t you understand what it would mean for me to do this? It’s not like Paimon or Asmodeus. Lucifer will know who killed his son. And I’ll be dead before you even realize what’s happened. Anger flares up inside him. He’s on borrowed time already, and Aziraphale doesn’t even seem concerned by what killing the Antichrist would mean. The void surges inside him, raging against walls that are starting to crumble.

 

Of course he doesn’t care about you. Demon. Filth. Foul fiend, the voice inside tells him. He never did.

 

“Oh, no blood on your hands?” Crowley asks, thinking about Mesopotamia. About Sodom and Gomorrah. About Egypt. And Golgotha. And all the other times throughout their long history that Heaven has caused the deaths of innocents just to prove a point. “That’s a bit holier-than-thou, isn’t it?”

 

“Well, I am a great deal holier than thou. That’s the whole point,” Aziraphale tells him. And oh, oh that burns inside him. It’s confirmation that all Aziraphale sees when he looks at him is a demon. A damned soul that can never - and will never - be worthy of his, or anyone’s, love.

 

“You should kill the boy yourself,” he hisses, anger burning within his pain. “Holi-ly.” It’s icy, the anger that flares in him now. The burn of frostbite, not fire. It makes his face numb and his hands shake. It hurts. Somebody, does it hurt.

 

“I’m not killing anybody,” Aziraphale says. And there’s a moment when their eyes meet. And he looks… sad. Sad, and determined. And Crowley knows he’s lost. This is it. This is the end. Six thousand years, and this is where it all falls apart. His fault, yet again. His Fall, and the gulf between them he can’t quite convince the angel to reach across.

 

“This is ridiculous,” Crowley snaps, backing away, putting distance between them. “You’re ridiculous.” The words are cruel, reflexive, a dying predator striking out, trying to wound anything that nears it. “I don’t even know why I’m still talking to you.”

 

“Well, frankly, neither do I,” Aziraphale tells him. And that’s it. He can’t do this.

 

He whirls, stalking away. “Enough,” he says. “I’m leaving.”

 

Through his own pain and rage, he feels a spike of anguish from the angel. “You can’t leave, Crowley,” he says, and oh, the pain in his voice. “There isn’t anywhere to go.” It’s enough to make him pause, that small, treacherous flame of hope rearing its ugly head inside. He stops at the very edge of the bandstand, knowing that if he steps off it, if he walks away, he won’t be able to come back. He’s on the edge of falling again, and this time there won’t even be a pool of sulfur to catch him.

 

“It’s a big universe,” he says, remembering the stars. All the planets he built and hung in the sky. “Even if this all ends up in a puddle of burning goo, we can… go off together.” Please. Please, angel. Say yes. He’s offering himself. Everything he is, everything he ever was or yet could be. He’s holding his heart in his hands and asking Aziraphale to take it. And for a second, he almost believes the angel will say yes.

 

“Go off together?” he asks, voice full of so many emotions. But there’s sorrow on his face. Pain. “Listen to yourself.” The crack in Crowley’s heart widens, sending fissures out through the core of him.

 

“How long have we been friends?” he asks, desperate to keep hold of the pieces, to keep his heart from shattering in his hands. “Six thousand years.”

 

“Friends?” the angel won’t meet his eyes now, and that’s almost worse because now he can’t see the emotion in his gaze. “We’re not friends. We are an angel. And a demon. We have nothing whatsoever in common.”

 

Each word is an arrow right into Crowley’s shattering heart. His walls are cracking and bleeding, thousands of years of pain leaking out, swamping him.

 

“I don’t even like you!” Aziraphale almost shouts, turning from him. And it’s… he can’t. He can’t let him walk away like this.

 

“You do,” Crowley says, but it’s more hope than fact. Reflexive. Please tell me you didn’t mean it.

 

You’re a demon, the voice inside says. Of course he doesn’t like you. He hates you. You’re a fool for even starting to think otherwise.

 

The angel turns back to him, truly yelling now. “Even if I did know where the Antichrist is, I wouldn’t tell you! We’re on opposite sides!”

 

“We’re on our side,” Crowley growls, voice low, insistent against the angel’s shout. Don’t leave me, he wants to say. Don’t make me go through this alone. You don’t have to love me. You don’t even have to like me. Just please, please don’t leave me.

 

“There is no ‘our side’, Crowley.”

 

Crowley stops. And all his walls break open. He knows nothing but pain.

 

“Not anymore. It’s over.”

 

His heart doesn’t shatter. It crumbles into dust.

 

“Right.” There’s nothing more to say. Nothing that can be said. Six thousand years. All that love. All that hope. He was a fool. A moron. A complete and utter idiot. He had thought… well. It doesn’t matter what he thought. He’s alone. And whatever else it might have felt like at the time, he has always been alone. The pain rises up inside, a giant wave the threatens to carry him away, leaving only a feral creature that knows only rage and agony.

 

He takes one last, long look at Aziraphale. Trying to memorize his face, committing every line, every color to memory. He mourns that he can’t see his eyes. He’ll never get to see that clear sea-blue ever again.

 

“Have a nice doomsday,” he says, with a detachment he does not feel. And then he turns, and he walks away.

Chapter Text


His hands hung the stars, once. They cradled the fires of creation as his fingers shaped lines of light into the patterns of pulsars and blue giants, black holes and red dwarfs. They painted the colors into nebulae, shaping the burning gasses into something wonderful, something that humans would look at, thousands of years later, and stare in awe at the beauty of it all. His hands had healed, too. Taken the broken, the dying, things damaged beyond all repair, and knitted them back together, filling their patterns with light and life. They were strong hands, and steady, never shaking as he reached into the forge of Creation and brought forth new life. The hands of an artist, of a healer. He’d never meant for them also to become the hands of a killer.

 

Crowley thinks about it, as he cleans up the bodies he had left on his living room floor. So many deaths, over the years, can be traced back to him. It’s no wonder the angel finds him disgusting. “Will all great Neptune’s oceans wash this blood clean from my hand?” he mutters, suddenly understanding how Macbeth might have felt upon realizing what he had done. It’s not the dukes’ deaths. Or at least, not specifically. Everything he’s ever killed has been a threat, an immediate danger to his angel or himself. He regrets the necessity, not the action. But how could he expect Aziraphale to love him, when he’s spilled enough blood to fill an ocean? He thinks of Lady Macbeth’s reply, chiding her husband for his weakness. My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white. His own heart isn’t white. It’s charred black and broken into thousands of pieces. But she wasn’t calling out the color of Macbeth’s heart. She was calling him weak, worthless, made useless by his own guilt. Just as Crowley is weighted down by his own pain and regret, by the void and the silence screaming within. Demon, the voice inside hisses. Tainted. Unforgivable. Unworthy. It’s no surprise that Aziraphale hates him. He’s a fool for not realizing it sooner. It was only his own stubborn pride, or maybe his too-soft heart, that kept him blind to it, let him hope. God must surely be laughing at him, wherever She is. The son She created only to be cast out, daring to hope that he could hold on to one good thing.

 

His walls are broken still, all the pain he’s locked inside washing through him, making him shake with it. He can barely pick up the silver tools of torture that Bebal dropped on his floor, the tremors in his hands causing him to drop the delicate instruments time and again. At last he’s gathered them all, shoving them in with the bodies in the fireplace that hadn’t existed this morning. Then he summons Hellfire to burn it all away. For a moment he stands in the flames and considers letting go. Unraveling his pattern and letting the fire consume him too. But something in him rebels at that, the stubborn streak inside that refuses to give in. It wouldn’t let him die when his siblings tried to destroy him. It wouldn’t let him die when Lucifer dragged him down and tore his Grace from his soul. It won’t let him die now, when everything he is is cracked open and bleeding into the silence. He’s not sure if that’s a curse, or a blessing.

 

He steps out of the flames, and watches them consume the last evidence of his murders. His mind is in shambles, the labyrinth inside wide open and leaking his pain. Only one set of walls remain standing. The innermost barrier, the high, strong walls he built to protect the very core of his being. Even these are cracked and bleeding, but Crowley breathes a sigh of relief when he sees they did not fall. There’s too much pain within them. A memory he still cannot face. A name that no longer fits in the place it once belonged. He shores up the walls, stronger this time. He can’t risk them crumbling like the rest. He doesn’t think he’d survive it.

 

The rest of his walls are easier to rebuild, patching over the damage the angel’s words have done. His mind is used to the lines of them, the maze-like pathways familiar and comforting, keeping the pain at bay. With each wall repaired, the ache in him lessens. Each barrier locks more of it away, until they’re all rebuilt, and the agony is at a manageable level once again. The void still screams at him, echoing within the silence, but it’s muted, muffled by the solid slabs of pure willpower he’s placed around it. He takes the dust and shards that remain of his cursed heart and shoves them behind one last barrier. Walls them up like everything else, to be dealt with at some other time. He could make these walls permanent, he knows. Make them stronger, higher, until he can’t feel anything at all. Become as detached from his own heart as his siblings have become from theirs. The thought horrifies him. What would he be, if he didn’t have his heart to guide him? What would he do, if he could be as cold and uncaring as Gabriel?

 

An image crosses his mind - him, eyes fully yellow, fangs extended, hands clawed and vicious, face contorted with all the hatred and fury of a true demon. He rejects it, violently pushing the thought away. It’s not something he’s even willing to entertain. It is enough, for now, to push the pain back. To keep it from swamping him. He can think, like this, but his heart is not so far away that he forgets what it feels like. He can breathe again. It won’t be forever, he knows. His walls were put back up with too much haste for them to truly last. But they’re enough, at least, to get him through the next forty-eight hours. After that, well, if he’s still alive he’ll have to come up with something. He doesn’t really expect to be alive, though.

 

Crowley’s hands are steady once again, when he lets his awareness return to the world outside. The hands of an artist. A healer. And a killer. He looks at them, callused, strong, accustomed now to the grip of a sword. He could still fight, he thinks. Still try to end this before the world is destroyed. But what hope has he, against all the forces of Heaven, and all the forces of Hell? With Aziraphale, he could hope, could begin to think that they could be enough. Alone? Alone, he’s nothing. A broken demon that used to be something greater. No, if he wants to live, he needs to leave. He needs to leave now. Where though? That is the question. His globe holds no answers. Soon enough, all of this will be a boiling puddle of sludge. Nowhere on Earth will be safe. He considers the moon, but even that’s still too close. And too personal. He couldn’t spend eternity there in the silence, the echoes of the void in his head would drive him mad.

 

Alpha Centauri catches in his thoughts. The last star system he ever created. He remembers Aziraphale coming to him, there in the star factory. Not because he needed anything. Not because of any arrangement, or duty. But because he’d simply wanted to spend time with him. With Raphael. He hadn’t been able to let Aziraphale handle the star, the fires of Creation had burned too hot for anyone not built to touch it. But he’d still helped in other ways - holding Raphael’s tools, commenting on the shape and color as he worked, making him smile and keeping him from falling so deep into the act of creation that he forgot who and where he was. He remembers the angel’s smile, as he’d held up the newly formed star for inspection. They’d both been pleased with the orbit, the way the other starsmiths helped them set the planets around the twin stars. And when they had finished, he’d taken Aziraphale by the hand and led him through the star factory, showing him all the wonders of creation.

 

He could go there. There was a planet at just the perfect orbit that it could host life. He’d put it there himself, knowing that life would not remain bound to Earth and the Garden forever. It would be green, now. A garden world, with perfect blue oceans and tall snow-capped mountains. Things would have developed a little differently, with a second star so close by, but with the right mix of tides and elements, life might have begun. Life outside the control of God and Heaven. For a moment, he imagines going there with Aziraphale, settling there with his angel and watching that new life flourish around them. And the angel could guide it to a kinder path, while Crowley himself delighted in causing chaos that harmed no one. I don’t even like you. A sharp spike of pain reminds him that this pretty daydream will never happen. Could never happen. Aziraphale will never go anywhere with him.

 

And… the humans. What would happen to them, after Crowley left? These wonderful, terrible, extraordinary beings that populate the Earth. What would Armageddon do to them? They’d die. All of them. Not a single child of Eve left in all of the universe. He remembers her bright smile, her questions. The way Adam had held her, like she was something precious, his dark eyes filled with love. Their children, whom he’d watched as Adam and Eve built their world from nothing, the little ones he’d loved as if they were his own siblings. All of the people, every single blessed human, could trace their line back to the woman that asked too many questions, and the man who loved her enough to follow where she led. He thinks of the choice he had made, before it all even really began.

 

 

He's standing before the Metatron, listening as news of angels Falling starts to trickle in. Lucifer’s doing, all of it. But so many are Falling now because of his oldest brother’s words, his explanation on what is going to happen to the humans She commanded them to love.

 

“I don’t understand,” he says to the angel that stands as Her voice. “Why test the humans at all, if she knew it would cause all of this?”

 

“She has Her reasons, child,” the Metatron says, in a way that implies he’s more than a bit dim for asking. “I wouldn’t presume to question Her.” And it rankles something deep in Raphael, that this angel can talk to him like that. He’s older, far older, than the Metatron. But, he supposes, he doesn’t have his wisdom. His direct connection to Her.

 

“But why?” Raphael demands. “If She didn’t want them to have knowledge, why put the tree there? If She didn’t want us to care for them, why tell us to love them more than Her?” Give me an answer, he prays silently. Please. Give me something to hold on to before I Fall too.

 

The Metatron glares at him, clearly frustrated. “She has Her plan. I suggest you obey it.”

 

He doesn’t want to obey it. He knows what happens next in this plan of Hers. “It’s not fair,” he says. “They’ve done nothing wrong.” I’ve done nothing wrong. Please. I can feel myself Falling.

 

“But they will. It is written.”

 

“It doesn’t have to be, though!” He can’t help himself from trying to reason with Her, even when She no longer hears his voice. There’s no reason to test the humans like this. No reason for any of the plan to happen the way She has written it.

 

The Metatron’s frown deepens, and Raphael knows that if he were wise, he would drop this now. He’d go back out, try to be the perfect little archangel, try to conform to whatever She wants of him, though it might be too little too late. He should be doing everything in his power not to Fall. And yet here he is, trying once again to convince someone that this isn’t right. That Her plan is flawed and unjust.

 

“You must choose, Raphael,” the Metatron says angrily. “Loyalty to your God, or whatever it is you feel for Her creations.”

 

“She said to love them,” Raphael reminds him. “More than Her, she told us.”

 

The Metatron shakes his head, glancing at a book lying face-down on the desk. Raphael freezes, staring at it. He recognizes the cover, the gold-leafed pages, the way one corner is crumpled inward where he ’d dropped it in shock as he read the words within. He knows those words by heart, as much as he wishes he’d never read them. He’d last seen this book when he’d held it in his hands, standing before Her throne, begging for them not to be true. When he’d thrown it at Her seat and left it there, terrified and angry over everything the book contained. The only written copy of Her Great Plan.

 

His companion doesn't notice his preoccupation, and continues to speak with callous indifference to the universe around him. “That does not absolve them of the punishment, should they disobey. She is testing them. She will continue to test them, for as long as She wishes to do so.” He writes down the name of another angel. One more who has joined the ranks of the demons. “Make your choice, Healer. Remain true to Her, and She may yet save you from your fate.”

 

Raphael thinks about his family. His siblings. He thinks about all of the angels that look to him for command. His mind skates around Aziraphale, avoiding thoughts of the principality and how very much he wishes he could just remain at his side. He thinks about the Plan. This blasted Plan that they ’re all caught up in. About God, his Mother, who made it clear how easily she could cast him out. About Adam, and the way he looks at Eve like she is his everything. About Eve, with her bright eyes and quick wit, forever asking questions he is not allowed to answer. About an eternity spent asking questions himself, and getting no answers in return.

 

“I shouldn’t have to,” he tells the Metatron firmly. He has enough love for all of them. And if he can love them all so much, why, then, can’t She? “But,” he adds, “if I must, then my choice is clear.”

 

He thinks about Her Plan. About what it means for him. He ’ll be walking headfirst into it, doing exactly what She said he would. But in that moment, thinking about questions and non-answers, about love, and tests, and free will, he doesn’t care. He can’t stay here. Not when staying means turning his back on what he believes is right. He meets the Metatron’s eyes.

 

“I choose them.”

 

The Metatron nods, and turns to write another name on the list of the Fallen. Raphael walks away. He can feel the gap between his essence and Her Grace widening within him, leaving a space that is wide enough, now, for Lucifer to work his way in and drag Raphael the rest of the way down.

 

 

 

He’d chosen humanity once, even knowing where that choice would lead him. Could he really abandon them now, after all of that? Tempting Eve. The Flood. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. The plague. All the wars, little and great, where one side or the other claimed to fight in Her name. All of his temptations. All of Aziraphale’s miracles. Concerts. Cars. Nights spent lounging in the back room of a bookshop in Soho.

 

The empty walls of his flat echo with the silence. He can’t think from the ache of it. The void inside screams, raw and full of pain. He can still smell the fire, smoke wafting through the apartment, carrying the scent of charred demon. He hadn’t ever meant to Fall.

 

“I only ever asked questions,” he says, not entirely sure if he’s talking to himself, or to Her. “That’s all it took to be a demon in the old days.” He still doesn’t understand. How was asking questions enough to damn him, when he’s seen angels doing so much worse and not even losing a feather? How could a God that claimed to love all of Her children do this? How could She destroy everything She had built? How could She sit back and watch Her first children kill each other over… over ideological differences?

 

“Great Plan?” he calls out, praying to Her for real now, though he doubts She will hear him. “God? You listening?” There was a time he never would have dreamed about talking to his Mother like this, demanding her attention. He doesn’t care now. He’d only ever done what She had asked of him. She is the one that failed him.

 

“Show me a Great Plan.” He hadn’t wanted to believe it, that this was really what She wanted. Not when he was in Heaven as Her Healer, reading Her words for the first time. Not in Eden, a newly-made demon contemplating the meaning of those words for the humans before him. Not in the 6,023 years since, as he tried to find his place in this world. And not now, just hours from the end of everything.

 

“Okay. I know. You’re testing them. You said you were going to be testing them.” She’s not listening, but he’s going to give Her his opinion anyway. She owes him that much. “You shouldn’t test them to destruction. Not to the end of the world.”

 

And suddenly he’s angry. So very angry. What right has She to say she’s given them free will, and then plan it all out like this? How can She say She loves them, and then turn a blind eye to all the pain and misery in the world? What’s the point of any of this? He growls and shoves himself back from his chair. He can’t think here. He’d tried to make his flat as unlike Hell as possible, but in a way, it now mirrors Heaven. Cold. Impersonal. Without any of the warmth and life of the world he’s come to love. It’s not home. Not really. There’s only one place on Earth he feels safe enough to want to call it home, and he’s not welcome there anymore, if he ever really was.

 

In seconds he’s in his car, speeding down the street. Usually driving calms him, but today it only serves as a reminder of the last time he was in the Bentley. Of Aziraphale at his side. He snarls at the pain the memory brings. There will be no more trips with the angel in this car. No more chances to watch Aziraphale panic at the speed he’s going, voicing the same complaints as always but never actually leaving. It’s too quiet without him there, but he can’t turn on the radio. Not with the chance Hell will try to contact him through it. Crowley curses himself and heads for the park. Maybe a walk will help.

 

He doesn’t even get out of the car when he reaches St. James. He looks at the beautiful greenness and all he can see is Aziraphale. Feeding the ducks together. Sitting on their bench. Walking along the familiar paths, almost (but not quite) close enough to touch. The void screams inside, and he nearly causes a massive accident as he speeds away.

 

Not one of his usual haunts can satisfy him. He’s taken the angel to them all, at one point or another. Going to them now, alone, when he knows he’ll never be there with Aziraphale again… it opens up new wounds inside him, new pain he hastily shoves behind yet another set of walls in his mind.

 

Eventually, Crowley settles on an old movie theater. It had been abandoned years ago, but it’s a simple miracle to clean up the inside and start the projector going. He slides into a seat in the empty theater and snaps his fingers, letting a series of cartoons play across the screen. He watches it, and he thinks. He can leave the Earth, of course. Nobody would blame him for that, for not sticking around to see it all end. Well. Aziraphale might blame him, but the angel has made it clear where he stands. And yet… and yet he would blame himself. He’s spent so long living on this planet, loving this planet. Cowardice is common in many demons, but it’s never been one of Crowley’s flaws. He just can’t make himself give into it now. The only point had been to keep Aziraphale safe. And if Aziraphale won’t go, then he has no reason.

 

So he’s not leaving. But if he’s not leaving, what can he do? He doesn’t know where the Antichrist is. Won’t know where the Antichrist is, until it starts. And then it’ll be too late. His thoughts flow to Warlock, the boy he raised. He’ll be at Megiddo by now. Soon, they’ll know he’s not the right boy. And he knows they might attack Warlock, but Crowley put wards in place around his young charge years ago. Strong wards, that should protect him from a demon’s wrath. And he doesn’t really think they’ll try to kill the boy. As a human, they won’t consider him worth the time it would take - not when they’re on a schedule. And they are on a schedule. The armies of Hell need to be ready for the End, because anything less than complete readiness means destruction at the hands of Heaven.

 

Cartoon rabbits dance across the screen as he thinks. Outside, it’s morning now. Saturday. The day the world is going to end. And he’s sitting in here, watching stop-motion rabbits.

 

One of the rabbits rips off its own head, and Hastur appears. And Crowley barely even pays attention to their conversation, because this is it. Hell knows. Hell knows, and they’re coming for him.

 

Fight and Flight war within him. If he fights, if he kills Hastur when he comes to collect him, it’ll only put off the inevitable for so long. Hell knows now. Or at least suspects. They know the Antichrist is not Warlock. They know that Abalam and Bebal were coming to him, and that they have not returned. They know of the hundreds of demons that have been killed over the years, all within his general proximity. They have all of the pieces. It’ll only take someone smart, like Beelzebub, to put it all together.

 

If he flies, if he leaves Earth, they’ll be distracted by the war. At least, until it’s over. But if Hell knows about him, then what does Heaven know? Does Heaven know about Aziraphale? About how he’s been working with Crowley to prevent Armageddon? He remembers Gabriel’s cold eyes. If they know about Aziraphale, they won’t just make a demon of him for this. They’ll destroy him.

 

Without conscious thought, he finds himself driving down a familiar Soho street. And there’s his -the- angel, walking towards his bookshop, not even watching around himself for any danger. But then, he’s never had to. Crowley has always been there to keep him safe, whether he knew about it or not. Crowley’s spell wards pulse against his chest, but there’s nothing immediate. Hell is still gathering itself. He has some time before they arrive. He gets out of the car, already calling for Aziraphale.

 

“Angel!” He rounds the car, and sees the surprise and recognition on the angel’s face. It’s not pleasure, but at least it’s not disgust. Not hatred. He can work with this. “I’m sorry,” he says, because he doesn’t know what he did that caused the angel to decide to break from him now, but there’s a chance an apology will help. “Whatever I said, I didn’t mean it.” I never meant any of it. Never wanted any of this. Aziraphale watches him, saying nothing, but he’s not turning way. He’s not leaving.

 

“Work with me,” Crowley begs. They won’t get another chance at this. “I’m apologizing here.” The angel’s expression doesn’t change. Please. I can’t be not what I am but I can try. I’ll try to be whatever you want, if you’ll just come with me, let me keep you safe. “Yes? Good? Get in the car.” He has to. The only other option ends in death.

 

“What? No!” Aziraphale says, and part of him wonders if he even expected any other result. The other, larger part of him forges on, desperate to save Aziraphale, even if he can’t save anyone else.

 

“The forces of Hell have figured out it was my fault,” he tells him, fear coursing through his body like electricity. “But we can run away together! Alpha Centauri!” He doesn’t know if the angel even remembers building the star system together, if invoking the name of it will help or hurt his argument. “Lots of spare planets up there. Nobody’d even notice us.”

 

Aziraphale stares at him like… like he’s just spoken gibberish. There’s disappointment in his eyes, too, like he’d expected better from Crowley. And that hurts. It sets off all of the other hurts, echoes in the silence. Unforgivable. It’s not enough. He’s not enough. And there was no real reason he ever should have thought that he could be.

 

“Crowley,” the angel says, and even his name in that familiar voice can’t soothe the screaming silence anymore. “You’re being ridiculous. Look. I-I-I’m quite sure, if I can just - just reach the right people, then I can get all of this sorted out.” He’s stammering, nervous, as scared in his own way as the demon. But he’s falling back to Heaven. To that mythological God that cares what happens to Her creations. And Crowley loves him for that certainty, that unwavering faith. But he’s wrong here. Heaven wants this war, just as much as Hell. And it amazes Crowley that he can’t see that.

 

His frustration, his fear, his hurt, they all bleed into his voice as he steps closer, begging the angel to understand. “There aren’t any right people,” he says. There never were. “There’s just God. Moving in mysterious ways, and not talking to any of us!” He’s so angry at Her in this moment. He remembers how much it had hurt when She’d stopped responding to them. How Uriel had cried from the loss. How Gabriel had refused to believe, for so very long, that She was really gone. How Sandalphon had raged, and Michael had gone quiet, withdrawn into herself. They hadn’t understood then, none of them. And he still doesn’t understand now. He never will.

 

“Well, yes,” Aziraphale tells him. “And that is why I’m going to have a word with the Almighty. And then the Almighty will fix it.”

 

She’s gone! Crowley wants to scream. She’s not listening! She won’t hear you! But what comes out is “That won’t happen! You’re so clever. How can somebody as clever as you be so stupid?” How can someone who lives for knowledge not realize what’s happened? She created them all. She made Her plan. And then, She left. It’s the archangels that are running the show now. And they’ve become so cold, so close-minded, that they can’t see that Her plan is wrong.

 

Hurt crosses Aziraphale’s face, followed by resolve. He looks Crowley in the eyes, that familiar sea-blue gaze firm, and sad, and still so kind.

 

“I forgive you,” he says. And it’s the very worst thing he could have done, like shards of glass cutting through Crowley’s soul, because he can’t. Crowley is unforgivable. It’s in his very nature. And the reminder of it, oh, it reminds him of everything he’s lost, and everything he can never have. He can’t do this. He can’t keep hoping, keep trying. He’s out of time. Out of options. And he can’t stay here and watch what happens when Aziraphale realizes, too late, that Heaven. Doesn’t. Care.

 

“I’m going home, angel,” he says, fear and pain and anger writhing inside him like a tempest, taking his words and making them as cruel as he’s ever been. “I’m getting my stuff and I’m leaving. And when I’m off in the stars, I won’t even think about you!” It’s a lie. One of the very few he’s ever told the angel. But oh, how he wishes it could be true. In this moment all he wants is to forget. Forget the angel, and Earth, and Heaven and Hell. Still, he knows, he never will. This pain, just like all the rest, will remain with him forever.

 

 

When he gets back to his flat, he senses it immediately. Something has changed. Frantically he checks his wards - has Hell already arrived? But no, they’re pulsing with danger, and that danger is getting steadily closer, but it isn’t with him yet. It isn’t inside his flat. The spells around his door have not been broken. No one has entered that he meant to keep out. Still, something is different here. He paces through the large open spaces, all of his senses wide open, trying to spot the change.

 

He finds it in his office. It’s the same as when he left it, mostly. Empty, save for the desk and the golden throne. Echoing with the sound of his footsteps. The only difference is lying innocently on the stone table, a square of paper bound in brightly-colored leather. A book. It could almost be new, the cover unworn, the spine unbroken, gold leaf on the pages still shining brightly where it catches in the mid-morning sun. The only hint that it’s ever even been opened is in the upper left-hand corner of the cover, where the leather has crumpled in where someone dropped it. Not someone. Him. Because, while there is no title on the cover, no author listed on the spine, Crowley recognizes the book. The Great Plan.

 

Show me a Great Plan, he had said, not believing she was listening. And now, here, in his home, is the only written copy. His fingers brush the leather, and he pauses. Does he really want to see the words inside? He flips it open, careless of the way it cracks the spine. He flips through it, running a finger along lines he’s read hundreds of times, each one just as painful as the last. Her Great Plan, laid out for him like a road map straight to Armageddon. And there, halfway through, he finds a page he had ripped out himself. Balled up and thrown at Her throne in anger. It’s been restored to the slim volume, as if he’d never even touched it.

 

Concerning My Archangel Raphael

 

His page. His fate. His questions shall lead him to descend unto the fires of the Fallen. That was true. He’d asked so many questions, separated himself from Her so much so that Lucifer had been able to work his way in and tear him the rest of the way out.

 

He shall give freely that Knowledge which has been forbidden. True again. He had tempted Eve. Not because he was supposed to, but because he couldn’t stand to see her forbidden the answers to her questions in the way that he had been. It doesn’t matter the reason, though. Ultimately, he’d done what Her Plan had said. He’d gotten the humans thrown from the Garden. But he’d also given them the power to choose.

 

He shall face his kin in combat and lose all that he is. That had happened before Eden. But it had happened. His part in the plan, almost finished. Just one last line meant for him.

 

And he shall Fall for the final time in beloved hands. What was that even supposed to mean? Perhaps, he thinks, it means that moment, at the end of the fight. When Michael, his beloved older sister, whose hands had held his and showed him how to make the stars, had picked him up off the battle field? When those strong, careful hands had thrown him over the edge? He supposes that must be it. Because the thought that it could mean anything else was terrifying. How much further could a demon Fall? How much lower can you sink than rock bottom?

 

He flips the page, and comes face to face with an illustration. One that he does not remember being there before. It’s of a demon in dark glasses, six black wings spread wide. He - and it can’t be anyone but Crowley, not with three pairs of feathered wings - stands in front of a small white-washed cottage. It’s windows glow with warm light, and the open door lets it spill out onto a cobblestone path. There’s a garden, lush plant life growing all around the demon. Under his feet, there’s a carpet of Forget-me-nots. It would be a beautiful, serene picture, were it not for the four figures facing the demon, a wicked blade in each of their hands. The demon is pointing his own sword at the figures - angels, their backs to the viewer, where it’s all too easy to see they have the wings of an archangel.

 

Crowley stares at it. He’s certain it wasn’t there, the last time he held this book. He would have remembered it. The art is exquisite, reminding him of sketches Leonardo had shared with him. But Da Vinci had never seen Crowley’s wings. He didn’t know what his siblings looked like. There was no way he could have created their likenesses in such perfect detail. He can tell who each of the angelic figures is meant to be. Michael, sword pointed at the ground and a hand out to grip Sandalphon’s shoulder. Sandalphon, his own blade thrust towards the demon, his coat billowing out behind him. Gabriel, sword held above his head, poised for a deadly sweeping cut. Uriel, just to the side, lunging at the demon.

 

What does it mean? And why is this book here, now? Why this illustration? He doesn’t know. And a warning flash from the spell-key around his neck tells him that he doesn’t have time to find out. So he goes to the safe, and removes the tartan thermos. Then, in its place, he leaves the book. If he lives through the next twenty-four hours, he’ll have time enough to try to understand it then.

 

 

He only just gets the holy water into the bucket, when the crystal feather burns. From the hallway, he hears Hastur and Ligur calling his name. They kick at the door, pressing against Crowley’s warding spells with all the power of a Duke of Hell. The wards hold. They should, of course. Crowley was an archangel once, and even now he has more power in his little finger than most demons do in their whole bodies. The small fire of Ligur’s power can’t hold a candle to his own roaring flame. But. So much of his power is going into his wards. Has been going into them for over 150 years. He can’t keep them all up and resist the combined forces of Hastur and Ligur attacking his door. He has to let something go. And he could release the warning spells around the angel, the ones that can lead him to Aziraphale if the angel is in danger. But even now, when Aziraphale has rejected him so thoroughly, he can’t quite bring himself to let go. So he releases the power on the door, hearing it explode inward as his unwanted guests push their way into his flat.

 

Carefully, knowing that even the smallest drop of it could kill him if it lands in the right place, Crowley places the bucket above the door. It’s only then that he remembers his sword, hung uselessly above his workbench in his garden room. He doesn’t have time to get it now, and if he uses a miracle to take it his visitors will know. Cursing himself for a fool, he sits down in the hard, golden throne and calls for the dukes.

 

The bucket falls on Ligur. Crowley watches, nerves singing. The spell-key pulses insistently with warning. DangerDangerDanger. DangerDangerDanger. The crystal feather burns against his skin. Ligur screams, and his life-pattern dissolves. Hastur keeps screaming, staring in horror at the remains of his companion. He glances at Crowley, then back at the puddle on the floor, stumbling over his words in his horror.

 

“That’s- that- that’s Holy Water. I can’t believe even a demon would - would - would- Holy Water. That’s - that’s- but he hadn’t done nothing to you!”

 

Crowley ignores the guilt that settles inside him. He’s killed more for less, he knows. It was easier, if he could tell himself he was protecting the angel. Killing simply to save his own skin… it’s necessary. He doesn’t want to die. But it feels worse somehow, like the stain on his soul is darker than the times he killed for the sake of someone else.

 

“Yet,” he says, breaking through Hastur’s torrent of words with a single, heavy syllable. Ligur had done nothing to him, yet. It wasn’t like he’d come for a nice chat. He aims the plant mister at Hastur.

 

“You. You don’t frighten me,” the duke tells him, but the fear is clear on his face.

 

“Do you know what this is?” Crowley asks, thinking about Bebal and Abalam, killed in this same flat only hours ago. It’s almost funny, the contrast between them and Hastur. They’d been ruthless and fearless, right up until the end. Hastur is practically radiating fright. It stands to reason that those of the same rank might not share the same demeanor, but that this is the duke Hell sends to kill him? He must have been doing something right, all these years, if they think someone like Hastur or Ligur could succeed against him.

 

Still, the wards pulse against his chest. DangerDangerDanger. DangerDangerDanger.

 

He stands, aiming the mister at Hastur. He’s not sure the bluff will work, but it will buy him time to consider other options. “It’s a plant mister,” he says, watching the duke track the nozzle with his eyes. “Cheapest and most efficient on the market today. It can squirt a fine spray of water in the air. It’s filled with Holy Water. It can turn you-” he looks pointedly at Hastur. “Into that.” He glances as the still steaming sludge on the floor.

 

Hastur follows his gaze, then tries on a sneer. “You’re bluffing.”

 

“Maybe I am,” Crowley admits. “Maybe I’m not.” If it weren’t so very serious, he’d be reminded of his days as a spy. This whole thing feels very James Bond. “Ask yourself: Do you feel lucky?”

 

Hastur looks at the bottle, and Crowley can see the moment he decides it’s a bluff.

 

“Yes,” he says. “Do you?” and the plant mister explodes in Crowley’s hands.

 

“Time to go, Crowley,” Hastur says, pointing at him and starting to work a demonic miracle that will drag them both back down to Hell. Crowley gathers his own power to combat it, pulling from a deeper source than he has in thousands of years. His wards pulse around him. DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger.

 

The phone rings, completely unexpectedly. He had bought the machine to play with, because human inventions fascinate him. He’s only ever given the phone number to one person.

 

Adrenaline floods through Crowley. He can’t let Aziraphale speak into the recording. Can’t let Hastur hear the voice on the other end of the phone. Six thousand years of protective instincts kick in, and he lunches for the handset.

 

DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger

 

“Don’t move,” he orders Hastur. “There’s something very important you need to know before you disgrace yourself.”

 

He hears Aziraphale’s voice coming from the old-fashioned answering machine. “I know where the Antichrist is.”

 

Crowley rips the phone from its cradle, pulling it to his ear. Talk to me, he wants to say. Tell me how we can save the world. He can’t. He has to get rid of Hastur first. But the very fact that Aziraphale called, it feeds that fragile hope within him, and he’s never been strong enough to hold it back.

 

“Yeah, not a good time,” he says. He’ll have to apologize about this later. But now he’s allowed to believe that there will be a later. “I’ve got an old friend here.” He hopes Aziraphale won’t read into that, or worse, disregard it and try to come in person. He can’t have him coming here, not until Hastur is gone.

 

DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger. The spell wards pulse around him. Mortal danger. Like he didn’t already know.

 

He launches into his most ambitious bluff yet. “Well,” he says, letting Hastur feel the strength of his power. The duke will know what that strength means. As a Fallen archangel, Crowley has the same amount of power as a Prince of Hell. More, though only Satan holds a higher position. He injects false cheer into his voice. “You definitely passed the test. You’re ready to start playing with the big boys.”

 

“What? You’re mad,” Hastur says, even as his eyes go wide as he senses Crowley’s strength.

 

“The Lords of Hell had to make sure you were trustworthy, before we gave you command of the Legions of the Damned in the war ahead,” he tells the duke, and watches as disbelief and a growing pride cross Hastur’s face. “And, Hastur,” he jumps onto his throne for effect, “Duke of Hell. You’ve come through with flying colors.”

 

“Me?” the duke asks, and Crowley almost feels guilty for how happy he looks. DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger

 

“Now, I- I wouldn’t expect you to believe me, Duke Hastur,” Crowley takes his inspiration from Aziraphale’s phone call, and pulls out his mobile. “But why don’t we talk to the Dark Council? Let’s see if they can convince you.”

 

Hastur looks surprised. “You’re calling the Dark Council?” Nobody calls the Dark Council. If the Lords of Hell want you, they call you.

 

“Yes I am.” Crowley gathers his power. “And they say-” he pauses, then takes a firm grip on reality and bends it to his command. “So long, sucker!” With a hiss, he dissolves into a thousand tiny pixels and sends himself into the phone line.

 

The spell-wards scream at him. DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger DangerDangerDanger. He ignores it. Hastur is following him, but this will work. Despite Hastur’s threats, Crowley is laughing. Aziraphale called him. Aziraphale called him. Aziraphale called him. It’s not all as lost as he thought. And if he heard correctly, his angel found out where the Antichrist is. The hope is expanding within him, filling his chest and stitching the shattered bits of his heart back together.

 

He tumbles out of the phone line, still laughing. He shuts off the answering machine. He can’t call Aziraphale, now that Hastur is trapped inside his phone line, but he can -

 

DANGER!DANGER!DANGER! DANGER!DANGER!DANGER! DANGER!DANGER!DANGER!

 

The crystal feather, the spell-key around his neck, grows hot enough to sear his skin. He yanks it off, just in time for the silver chain to melt around his fingers. The crystal feather vibrates, and then it shatters into a shower of glittering crystal shards.

 

“No.” Crowley stares at them in disbelief. “Oh no. No no no no no.”

 

The backlash from the spell hits him a moment later, a jumble of sensations from the last of his wards, trying valiantly to tell him from where the danger came. He stumbles back from the force of it, bruising his hip on the table. He barely notices the pain. All he can get from the wards is a sense of Aziraphale, and warning of danger from Heaven. His blood turns to ice in his veins.

 

“No. Angel, oh, Go- Sa- Somebody. No.”

 

He’s never gotten down the stairs and into his car so fast. Every little delay, even the tiniest bit of traffic, makes him roar in frustration. He can’t drive fast enough, but as he does, he prays. Please let me be wrong. Please let him be alive. I promise, whatever you want from me, you can have it. Just let him be alright.

 

 

 

The bookshop is on fire. He can see it as he pulls up. Smoke. Sirens. People shouting. Someone shouting at him. He says something back, but he’d be lying if he said he even knew what language he spoke in. All his attention is on the closed doors. The flames licking up the walls and blowing out the windows. The terrifying lack of angelic presence.

 

He snaps, and the doors open for him. Inside, it’s an inferno. Bits of charred paper float in the air, Aziraphale’s beloved collection going up in flames around him like kindling. He expects to find the angel here, rushing around, trying to save his books. But the shop is empty. There is nothing alive inside. He throws his senses out, filling the bookshop with his power, searching, desperate, for something he already knows he won’t find. He’s screaming, calling out Aziraphale’s name, but his body is on auto-pilot. His mind is reaching, flowing through all the patterns of the world, searching for the one, beloved shape that holds his angel’s life force. He finds nothing. Nothing at all.

 

“I can’t find you!” The words are torn from him, full of desperation and fear. Anger. Agony. The silence echoes with it. “Aziraphale! For Go- For Sa- For Somebody’s sake! Where are you?!” The void reverberates with his name. Aziraphale. Aziraphale. Aziraphale.

 

He can’t sense him. He can always sense him. But now- now there’s not even an echo. He can sense a source of holy power between the burning shelves. Something far older, and far stronger, than his gentle angel. A power older, even, than Crowley himself. A gateway to Heaven. Activated. A path between the heart of Her domain and Earth. And there, at the edge of all that power, he can sense the place a life-pattern came apart.

 

A jet of water hits him, and he barely feels it. Hardly even notices he’s on the ground. The flames must be roaring around him, timber creaking, the building itself groaning as it’s about to give way. He can’t hear any of it. All he knows is silence. Vast, empty silence, screaming from the very depths of his soul.

 

Around him, the fire eats away at the couch he’s spent so many evenings on. The desk, where he’s spent hours watching Aziraphale work. The ancient gramophone that the angel would sometimes use to play music for them both. Everything. Everything that Crowley thinks of as safety, as home. It’s gone. Aziraphale is gone. Not gone. Dead. And so, too, the hope inside him dies. There’s nothing, nothing for him to hold to now. He failed. When the angel needed him most, he was somewhere else, dealing with his own problems. He should have been here. It doesn’t matter that Aziraphale had rejected him. It doesn’t matter that he was fighting for his life. It doesn’t even matter that whatever happened, it happened too quickly for him to be able to react, even if he had been here. What does matter is that he failed. And now, he’s alone. So very, very alone, and scared. Flames lick at him, testing, the inferno reaching out to see if he can burn. And the world is about to end.

 

He’s only felt like this, this hopeless and afraid, once before. On the day he lost everything.

 

 

 

[*]He’s running. He can’t help it. Something has changed. He can feel it in the air. The Plan is in motion, and he knows what happens next. He knows what he did. He read the damn book. He asked Why. Hellfire, he went into Her throne room and demanded answers. It’s all been written, every word of it, in a small leather-bound book handed to him by a brother he had trusted above even Her. He is going to Fall. And then, he is going to be destroyed. Raphael has no idea how long he has left as himself, maybe minutes, maybe hours. It’s not long, now. And that knowledge terrifies him.

 

He should be running to them. To his siblings. He should go to them now, tell them goodbye, that he loves them, and beg their forgiveness before they kill him. He isn ’t. There’s only one place he wants to be now, only one being he wants to see. He’s in the Garden with a thought, stumbling along green pathways, searching for his principality.

 

“Aziraphale!” He can’t sense him. His thoughts are thick with panic and his angel is nowhere in the Garden. “Aziraphale!” He’s not there. He’s gone. He can’t- Raphael refuses to think of his angel, drafted to fight in the coming war, marching onto a battle field and forced to endure horrors that have not yet been imagined. Or the other thought - the one he can’t even contemplate. He casts out with his mind, searching, seeking.

 

There. A presence. By the tree. As he nears, he knows it ’s not Aziraphale. It’s someone both more and far less familiar. A Presence he can no longer read, but can still feel. The Morning Star.

 

He goes to him. He can ’t not. His brother has been blocking them for so long now. To feel him like this, even if he can’t reach his mind. It should be a relief. It isn’t. His presence feels wrong. Changed. Missing something.

 

He finds him waiting in the shadow of the tree. Standing in exactly the same place he had been, when he ’d given Raphael his copy of Her Plan. Raphael squints, trying to see through the shadow and the dark haze of corrupted power that hangs around him. Then he moves, shifts closer to the light. And the archangel sees what he has become.

 

Lucifer ’s once shining wings are what he notices first. They’d been beautiful, the last time he’d seen them. Soft ruby red feathers that reflected the light of the sun as he flew, always well-kept and in order. No longer. The glossy feathers are gone, revealing stretched crimson skin, batlike, thin enough to reveal the delicate bones of his phalanges. Holes are torn through them, dripping blood. All three sets flap slowly, leaving a trail of ichor on the ground around him. Raphael’s hands itch to heal, and he starts to reach out. Then Lucifer turns, and something in his brother’s eyes holds him back.

 

Lucifer ’s eyes have always been dark. Now, they are deep bottomless pits. Not so much black, as an absence of light. There’s no emotion there, nothing that Raphael can read. His skin has turned a dark blood-red, and sharp horns now jut proudly from his head like an infernal crown. Worst of all, his Grace is gone. Torn away from his essence by some unimaginable force. It makes Raphael sick to look at the leaking hole where Her love had once been. The Morning Star grins, baring sharp fangs that drip venom as he speaks.

 

Such horror, little brother , ” he says, a new, terrible, infernal power in his voice. “ Do I truly look so frightful?

 

“Lucifer,” Raphael can barely breath from the horror of what he’s seeing. “What happened to you?”

 

His brother laughs, sharp, like nails on slate. The time of revolution is at hand! Is it not wonderful? ” He gestures to himself, making that terrible laugh again.

 

“No,” Raphael says, reaching out with his mind, pressing against the wall Lucifer has thrown up against him. “Brother, please.”

 

Please? ” Lucifer rumbles, amused. “ You read the book, Raphael. You know what happens now. You cannot change it with ‘please’.

 

“Don’t do this.” His voice is faint, in the face of that power. “Brother, you know what this will do to our siblings. To all her creatures.” Lucifer flinches at the mention of their family, so he continues on. “Uriel wants you to come home,” he says, and his brother shakes his head. “Sandalphon, he’s still too young. He doesn’t understand any of this.”

 

Stop , ” Lucifer growls.

 

“Gabriel misses you,” Raphael tells him. “Can’t you feel it? How much we all miss you?

 

I will drag them down with you , ” his brother snarls. “ You will all Fall to me .

 

“And Michael,” Raphael says, watching him flinch at the sound of her name. His almost-twin, made mere minutes after his creation. “She’ll fight you. Are you telling me you’ll turn your back on her, too?”

 

IT IS AS GOD HAS ORDERED! ” Lucifer roars. “ It is all a part of Her plan.

 

Raphael shakes his head. “But… why? You always said we could change it, that you wouldn’t do what She wants.”

 

Why ? ” his brother echoes, and any hint of recognition fades from those merciless eyes. “ Why fight it, when it ’s so… ” He tips his head back, and spreads his arms and wings. Raphael can feel the infernal power rippling in air around him. “ Glorious. ” Lucifer sighs, an obscene sound in the quiet of the Garden.

 

“No. No, this isn’t, this-” Raphael tries to back away, running into a solid wall of power that wraps around him, holding him in place. “Brother, this isn’t you.”

 

Oh, but it is, ” Lucifer tells him. “ This is what She has made me to be .

 

“Stop!” Raphael cries out as that infernal power surges over him, burning where it touches his essence.

 

Stop ? ” his brother asks, and laughs again. With horror, Raphael realizes that there’s no sanity in his voice. “ I can ’t stop. I can never stop . ” He pauses, and something in his face chills Raphael to his core. “ Here. Let me show you.

 

The walls around Lucifer ’s mind abruptly slam down, and the whole roiling mass of his thoughts flows down their bond. Distantly, Raphael can hear his siblings scream as their minds are assaulted. He stands at the heart of it, pain and fear and a terrible pleasure swirling around him, wordless thoughts slamming into his mind, driving him to his knees. It’s chaos and panic, wrapped in sulfur and flame. It fills the world, dragging him down, tearing at his physical form to remake it in its image. He feels his wings singing at his back, feathers burning black as he struggles against his brother’s attack.

 

STOP!” he shouts, both mentally and physically, and feels the onslaught halt for just a moment. It’s enough. In the quiet, he can hear his siblings crying out in pain. “LEAVE THEM ALONE!” He forces himself to his feet, hands shaking as he reaches for his staff. He forces his own power back down their bond, shoving out his siblings and throwing up walls behind them. Be safe, he thinks to them as Lucifer’s power rushes at him again. I love you all.

 

Lucifer draws his blade, a predatory grin on his face. Oh, I ’ll stop , ” he promises. “ Just as soon as you stop fighting Her Plan. ” He advances, slow, careful, the approach of cat who knows the mouse is cornered. “ We cannot escape Her will .

 

“No!” She wouldn’t do this.” Raphael gathers his strength, holding tight to his staff as he tries to fight against the anger and pain flowing down their bond. “She can’t want this.”

 

Haven ’t you noticed, Brother? ” Lucifer asks, stepping closer. “ She ’s been silent for so long now. It doesn’t matter what She wants. She’s left us.

 

Raphael falters. He ’s thought the same, many times, since She last spoke to him. Only the Metatron has heard from Her, or so he says. His mental barriers flicker, and he hears Uriel and Gabriel scream in his mind as a fresh blast of Lucifer’s infernal power hits them.

 

He shoves the barriers back up, yelling in frustration. “Maybe so,” he shouts. “Maybe she’s gone. But I won’t - I won’t let you do this.” He brings his staff up between them.

 

You questioned , ” Lucifer reminds him. “ You read the forbidden book. You hold forbidden knowledge. You cannot escape your fate now.

 

“Alright, yes, I did! I read the book. I asked questions. So take me! But leave the others alone! Don’t drag them into this!”

 

But why?” his brother asks. “When Hell will be so very lonely without my brothers and sisters?” The flow of the madness changes, suddenly pulling, reeling in.

 

“NO!” Raphael’s staff bursts into flames in his hands, and a snap brings the physical manifestation of the bond between the archangels into being before them. He raises his staff high in the air, commanding the edges to cut.

 

STOP!” Lucifer commands, flames of Hellfire shooting from his outstretched fingers. Raphael brings the staff down on the thread that connects Lucifer to them all. A moment of resistance. Power meeting power. He pushes against Lucifer’s will, fighting with everything he has. The bond snaps. Hellfire surrounds him, burning down the channel from Lucifer’s bond, cauterizing it. Six voices cry out in agony, shaking the skies of Heaven. Raphael’s weapon is thrown from his hands, crashing to the dirt as tears of pain stream down his cheeks.

 

The fire shifts, flooding out from the broken bond and into the physical plane, pooling around Raphael ’s feet. Lucifer roars and he falls to his knees again, down into the sulfur-blue flame. “ YOU WILL FALL! ” his brother screams, focusing all his will on Raphael. The archangel is pressed into the earth, unable to move under the weight of his power. He can feel his bones breaking from the force of it, the pain making him dizzy and ill. “ IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN!

 

“Brother, please,” he hates how weak he sounds, pathetic, protesting the inevitable. He’d known this moment was coming. Had known it since he’d taken that damnable book from Lucifer’s hands, right here in the garden.

 

“Raphael!” A horrified gasp. He looks up, fighting to see through the pain. A spot of brilliant white against the dark green backdrop of the forest. Familiar blue-green eyes wide in fright. Aziraphale. Oh no. Oh no no no.

 

Oh look, we have a guest. ” The press of power upon him lessens as Lucifer turns his attention to the principality, and Raphael can’t allow that. Can’t bear to hear that wonderful soft voice crying out in pain. His nerves sing with fear, lightning coursing through him, spurring him to action.

 

“You’re dealing with ME ! ” he shouts, reaching for his staff in the dirt. “Aziraphale, RUN!”

 

“Raphael, what-?” Aziraphale reaches for his sword, stepping forward. Lucifer laughs, low, pleased, insane.

 

Did you come to watch him Fall? ” the Morning Star asks. “ Come closer, little one. ” Raphael feels more of his power lift, flowing outward towards the principality.

 

No you don’t.” He throws up a barrier of his own, stopping Lucifer from moving forward. It’s all he can do. He can’t reach his staff. He used too much power to sever their bond, his body feels weak, heavy, unresponsive. He can barely move enough to lift his head from the earth. He looks up and meets terrified sea-blue eyes.

 

“Leave Raphael alone!” Aziraphale is shaking. Raphael can see it in his hands, in the way the sword wavers before him. But he isn’t backing down. Isn’t running in the face of the newly crowned King of Hell. And oh, he loves him. His sweet, brave angel. But he can’t do this. He can’t be here. Raphael is going to Fall. There’s no changing that now, not when he asked so many questions. He won’t let himself be the cause of Aziraphale’s downfall too.

 

He forces his face to form a comforting smile, despite the pain and terror coursing through him. “Aziraphale. Go. I’ll be alright.” He gathers all of his power, every shred of it he has left, and throws it at his friend. He twists reality, and in the blink of an eye the angel is gone, miracled back to Heaven and safety. Raphael collapses, spent, not a drop of magic left within him to use in his own defense.

 

Lucifer laughs, nails on slate, and his power forces Raphael further down, until his body is digging into the earth. He watches with lightless eyes as Raphael writhes on the ground of Eden, body breaking and reforming, his Grace tearing away as he screams. Flames rush over him, sulfur-blue and hungry, burning at his robes, his skin, his hair. Lucifer stands over him, bat-like wings spread wide, blocking out the sun.

 

Welcome to my kingdom, Brother.” Gleeful laughter accompanies his screams, mocking his pleas for help, for mercy, for forgiveness. He reaches out with clawed hands and grips Raphael by the shoulders. Almost gently, his finger part the flames that surround him, running over his essence until they find the place he’s searching for. Claws sink into him, digging into the gap that has been steadily forming between Raphael and his Grace, widening with every question. Lucifer snarls, and something inside the archangel rips. Raphael screams as Lucifer’s hands tug at his Grace, claws slicing at the last few places where it still clung to his soul. He watches in horror as flames surge over the tattered Grace, consuming it.

 

Welcome to my legion, Raphael. ” Lucifer laughs again, and drops him to the ground, a shaking, sobbing wreck of a being. The power holding him lifts, freeing him, but the damage has been done. “ Welcome to the Beginning of the Great War!

 

Lucifer takes flight, leaving Raphael to beg in the dust to a power that will no longer hear his prayers.

 

 

 

He sits in the inferno that was once an angel’s bookshop, and lets the flames rage around him. He is a demon, wholly and completely. A thing made of fire. A thing made of hate. Of fear. Of pain. Hellfire rages in his veins, chasing the final shreds of his hope and engulfing them, strangling them with the force of his pain. The void inside rages with it, taking in all of his anguish and doubling it, tripling it. Echoes of Aziraphale’s words to him reverberate within the roaring silence, until it’s all he can hear. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.

 

There will be no forgiveness now. The last bright light in his life has been snuffed out. Stolen from him by careless hands that didn’t know just what they were doing. Six thousand years. Six thousand years. And this is how it ends. Just like his time in Heaven, it ends in Hellfire, and pain, and loss. It ends with him here, in a space he once shared with Aziraphale. Alone, broken on the ground, begging to God for something he knows he cannot have.

 

“You’ve gone,” he sobs. The yellow spreads in his eyes, filling the whites until nothing remotely human remains. “Somebody killed my best friend.”

 

He tries to be angry. To be furious. To feel anything other than the crushing void of pain. “Bastards!” he screams, not sure if he means Heaven or Hell. “All of you!”

 

There’s a book on the ground before him. He picks it up, barely registering the title. It’s the only thing of Aziraphale that he has left. He clutches at it like an anchor, no, like a life-vest, keeping him afloat on an endless sea of pain. Breathtaking, unimaginable pain. He has lost Heaven. He has lost his siblings. Lucifer. Michael. Gabriel. Uriel. Sandalphon. He’s lost their bond, the family he loved. He’s lost Her. Her love. His own certainty that She was Good and Right. He’s lost his place as Her Healer, and the chance to build the stars. And now, now he’s lost Aziraphale. The world is ending, and he’s lost the only being that truly matters to him in this entire blessed universe.

 

He forces himself to stand up. He has one last duty to see through. These humans, the descendants of the woman who wanted to know why, and of the man that loved her for it, they have no one to stand for them. Not against Heaven. Not against Hell. He’s all they have. And he’s not enough. But he can’t leave them with nothing. He won’t. He doesn’t know where to go now, but that doesn’t matter. When the skies burn scarlet and the armies of Heaven and Hell descend upon the planet, then he’ll know where to be. And he will get up, and go to war. Not to join one side against the other. No, he is going to stop this, if he can. He’ll fight them all, if he has to. And if he finds out which ones took his angel from him? Well. He’s going to hunt them down. And then, he is going to make them burn.

Chapter Text


He finds himself in a bar. It doesn’t really matter which bar. It’s not one he’s been to before, and that’s really all he cares about. It’s warm, and it’s loud, and the bartender keeps the drinks coming. Everyone ignores him, which is exactly how he wants it to be. He gets drunk. Or, at least, he tries to. He’s aiming for the kind of falling-down, blackout drunk. The kind of drunk where you can’t even remember your own name, let alone what happened to you an hour before. It would be nice, he thinks, to reach that kind of incoherency. He might have to drink every drop of alcohol in the building before his infernal body gets within shouting distance of that sweet oblivion, but right now, hours before the end of the world, he’s willing to give it a go. It’s not like he’s going to get another chance, and the thought of living out the rest of… however long he’s got, remembering the flames on his face, the emptiness of the shop, the way the crystal feather shattered in his hands as Aziraphale’s life went out. It’s more than he can bear. He failed. He has failed at anything and everything that has ever meant something to him. So here he is. In a bar. Four hours until the world ends. Drunk out of his mind, yes, but not yet drunk enough to keep the grief at bay.

 

In contrast to the screaming void of his mind, his power is singing in his veins. So much of it, over the years, has been poured continuously into all of his wards and spells. Every ounce he could spare, wrapped up in workings meant to keep Aziraphale safe. All of it returned to him, when the wards around the angel gave way. It’s almost painful, the fire of it, racing along the pathways of his pattern and brushing against the pain of that void inside. He should use it. Rebuild his own warning spells, if nothing else. Create a working that will hunt down the patterns of the ones responsible for killing Aziraphale. Build walls of power around himself so vast even the combined forces of Heaven and Hell will be unable to bring them down. Something. Anything.

 

Instead, he uses just a touch of power to miracle his sword from his flat. To tuck it into the extra-dimensional pocket of the universe in which he keeps his wings. He’ll need it later, when the sky burns and the war trumpets sound. Right now, though… right now, all he needs is another bottle of whatever it is he’s been drinking. He’s forgotten what he ordered in the first place, and all he cares about is that it’s strong, and it’s bitter, burning his throat as it goes down. It’s not good enough, really. Not strong enough to drown out his pain. But then, he supposes, there’s no alcohol in the world that would be. There’s never been anything strong enough to drown out the echoing silence of the void. Nothing except Aziraphale’s voice. And he’s never going to hear him speak again. It’s just him now. Just Crowley. Alone. With the echoes and the silence.

 

Something shifts in the universe around him. A high-pitched sound, like a dog whistle but even higher, on a frequency no mortal can hear. He doesn’t even think about it. It’s the end of the world, after all. The universe should be crying out. It should be screaming, protesting the horror that is about to come. He lifts the bottle to pour himself another glass, and freezes. There’s a figure there, reflected in the dark glass over his eyes. Shimmering. Transparent. But so very, achingly, familiar. The power inside tears through his mind, roaring into the silence, and all he can do is stare.

 

“Aziraphale?” he asks, not expecting an answer. He’s drunk. He’s drunk, and his mind is playing tricks on him. “Are you here?”

 

“Good question,” the shade responds, looking around as if unable to tell where his voice is coming from. “Not certain. Never done this before. Can you hear me?” It’s a ghost then. An echo of the power Aziraphale left in the world. Or perhaps simply an echo inside Crowley’s own power, trapped there when the wards broke. When the angel died.

 

“Of course I can hear you,” Crowley tells it, though part of him realizes this is ridiculous. He shouldn’t respond. Shouldn’t interact. It’s only going to hurt him so much more when this last remnant fades.

 

The ghost of Aziraphale gives him a small, sad smile. “I’m afraid I’ve rather made a mess of things.”

 

Crowley wants to agree. To tell him he’s an idiot. That he should have listened. Should have run away with him when they had the chance. To tell him not to be stupid, that it’s not his fault. He doesn’t. He can’t make his throat work. Can’t bear to break the silence, in case Aziraphale speaks again. Not when this is the last time he’s ever going to hear that gentle, kind, beautiful voice.

 

“Did you go to Alpha Centauri?” the echo asks, eyes searching sightlessly in front of him.

 

“Nah. Changed my mind,” Crowley tells him, the words spilling out before he can stop them. “Stuff happened.” His voice breaks, and he can barely manage to swallow back the tears. “I lost my best friend.” I forgive you echoes in the void. He half expects this figment to say it again, but he doesn’t. He just gives him that look, the one with the big, sad eyes. The one that says I hate that you’re in pain, and I wish you would let me help. It’s a look Crowley has become familiar with, over the years. It’s almost as familiar to him as the one that says I know there’s still good in you. He hates them both, for different reasons, but right now it’s still the most beautiful thing he’s seen in a long time.

 

“I’m so sorry to hear it,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley wonders for a moment if he knows that Crowley is talking about him. Not that it matters. He’s just a ghost. An echo. A remnant of the angel and nothing more.

 

“Listen,” he continues, as if he’s realized something urgent. “Back in my bookshop-” Crowley winces, feeling the heat of the flames on his face. “There’s a book I need you to get.”

 

Of course. Of course even the echo of Aziraphale would ask about a book. And Crowley knows he would want to know about the bookshop. But… he doesn’t have to tell him. What has or hasn’t happened can’t possibly matter to a ghost. And yet… and yet he can’t lie to him. Not even to just the echo of his soul.

 

“Oh, look, your bookshop. It isn’t there anymore.” The words taste like ash in his mouth. Like the gritty, charred remains of the angel’s beloved books.

 

“Oh?” Hurt flashes across Aziraphale’s face.

 

“I’m really sorry. It burned down.” Crowley’s heart aches at the loss he can see in the angel’s eyes. Why did he tell him that? Why couldn’t he just do his best to make this echo happy? To do what he couldn’t for the real Aziraphale? He closes his eyes against the pain. In the silence, he can feel it. Something… something off. He can’t quite put his finger on it, but he feels as if he’s missing something. Something obvious.

 

Aziraphale is quiet for a moment, eyes staring ahead, unseeing. Crowley can see the moment he accepts the information, understands what it means. “All of it?” he asks, and Crowley nods.

 

For a moment, he can’t make his voice work. The echoing emptiness chokes him until he swallows it down. “Yeah. What- what was the book?” The silence is screaming at him, raw and powerful.

 

“The one the young lady with the bicycle left behind,” Aziraphale says sadly. “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of-” Crowley blinks and realizes he knows that title. A surge of energy flows through him as he reaches for the book he’s been holding in his lap all this time. Suddenly he’s sober, all of that extra power burning the alcohol away as it races through his veins.

 

“Agnes Nutter! Yes! I took it!” He holds it up for the angel to see, even though he can tell by the way Aziraphale’s eyes haven’t focused on him once this whole time that the angel can’t see him. “Look,” he says, excited, glad that this, at least, is something he’s done right. “Souvenir!” He couldn’t save the angel, but at least he could save this one book, if it was important enough that even his echo was asking for it.

 

“You have it? Oh!” Aziraphale sounds pleased, smiling, the look on his face one of relief. It’s so convincing, he almost believes this is real. “Look inside. I made notes. It’s all in there. The boy’s name, address. Everything else. I worked it all out.”

 

And Crowley is so proud of him. He figured it out. He found the Antichrist. And it doesn’t matter that it took until the absolute last minute for Aziraphale to try to tell him. He knows how much faith his friend had in God and the soldiers of Heaven. How much he wanted them all to do the right thing. The demon flips through his notes, looking at the map, directions, everything he needs to find the place where the end times will begin. He speaks without even thinking, an earnest promise, one he’s been making without words since before Eden even had walls. A promise that will do no good for a ghost.

 

“Look, wherever you are, I’ll come to you. Where are you?” He looks up, energy fading, as he realizes what he said. And there’s still… it still feels like he’s missing something.

 

“I, ah, I- I’m not really anywhere yet,” Aziraphale says, expression going uncertain as he tries to see through whatever it is that’s keeping him from looking at the world around them. “I’ve been discorporated.”

 

“Ah.” Crowley bites back the apology that rises to the tip of his tongue. He’d never meant to let Aziraphale get discorporated even once. He’s truly staring at the angel now, he knows, but he can’t shake the feeling that he’s overlooking something obvious. Something about this echo of his friend that he needs to understand.

 

Aziraphale doesn’t seem to notice his preoccupation, but then, he’s already realized that this ghost can’t actually see him. “You need to get to Tadfield Airbase,” he orders the demon.

 

Crowley frowns at the map in the book, where Tadfield is circled in pen. “Why?” he asks, already calculating the best way to get there in time. He can feel a barrier around London now, along the lines of the M25. It will keep him from just miracling himself into the base. He could try to force it. He might even have enough power. But if he does, then will he have enough left over to take on the armies of Heaven and Hell? Not that it will matter, of course. Even at full power, one demon alone won’t be enough to stop Armageddon.

 

“World ending,” Aziraphale’s echo says, breaking through his thoughts. “That’s where it’s all going to happen. Quite soon, now. I’ll head there too.” Crowley tries to focus on his face, on those familiar curves and lines but his shape is hazy and indistinct, a mirage and nothing more. He frowns, looking past the echo, at the bar around them. The bartender. The patrons. Their life patterns flickering as the world marches steadily towards its end.

 

“I just need to find a receptive body,” the angel tells him. “Harder than you’d think.”

 

A dirty joke floats to the surface of Crowley’s stunned mind, the chaos inside him finding amusement in the unintended innuendo. “I’m not even going to go there,” he mutters. He can see his own pattern if he tries, the carefully worked lines fading into and behind the larger pattern of the universe, hiding him from others who might look to spot his particular pattern.

 

“I do need a body,” Aziraphale continues. “Pity I can’t inhabit yours.” He grins a little, and Crowley knows that if this were real, if Aziraphale really was here, he’d offer up his body without a second thought. Anything, if it would bring the angel back to him. Through the ghostly shape before him, Crowley can see people running down the street, life patterns flowing over and around the rest of the universe when they move. He makes some indistinct noises, not even sure what he’s saying, distracted by all of the life patterns around him. They itch at him. At whatever he’s somehow not seeing.

 

Aziraphale is smiling at him. He’d do anything for that smile to be real, and not just the echo of an expression the angel might once have had. “Angel,” he says. “Demon. We’d probably explode.”

 

There are so many patterns around him. So many lives. All of them, part of the larger whole.

 

“So I- I’ll meet you at Tadfield,” the angel promises. He won’t though. He’s not real. Just a ghost against the patterns of the world. Plants. Animals. Humans. Demon. Angel. They all dance in front of his tired eyes.

 

“But we’re both going to have to get a bit of a wiggle on,” Aziraphale says, his life pattern so familiar and bright and-

 

“What?” His pattern. Aziraphale’s pattern. His life pattern. Ghosts don’t have life patterns. Not like this, bright and glowing gold against the rest of the universe.

 

“Tadfield. Airbase,” the angel says firmly, and he’s already fading out. But- his pattern is there. Lines of light and power. Strong, steady, and so very beautiful. Patterns cannot lie. Even as he fades away, Crowley can feel it there, a part of his universe.

 

“I heard that,” he says petulantly, a reflex while his mind races to catch up with everything that just happened. “It was the ‘wiggle on’.” He’s gone. But when Crowley sends some of his own power out into the universe, searching, flowing through the pathways of the universe, he finds him again. To this sense, to the power of an archangel, Aziraphale is as sold and real as the table beneath Crowley’s hands. As the ground beneath his feet. His pattern shines brightly, a precious, steady light. It’s real. He is real. Alive.

 

Crowley pushes himself back from the table, sending the last of the liquor from his body. He has to get to Tadfield. To Aziraphale. And the end of the world.

 

 

 

He arrives in a car that is, quite literally, on fire. His Bentley, such a wonderful car, just shy of a century old. He loves this car, just as much as Aziraphale loves his bookshop. And he knows he’ll be devastated about the damage to it later, bur right now his first priority is to make sure Aziraphale is alright. That he’s there. That he’s alive. That he’s real. So Crowley climbs from the burning car, Agnes Nutter’s book clutched in one barely shaking hand, and walks towards the odd trio standing before the gates. An army man, brandishing a gun. Shadwell, holding an insane contraption that looks like nothing so much as a tuba with a lot of extra pipes. And a red-haired woman with two life patterns. One, her own, the pattern of a mortal woman. Laid over it, lines blurring around hers, is that bright pattern he would know anywhere.

 

“Crowley!” Aziraphale’s familiar voice, even coming from the body of a mortal woman is comforting. Soothing. It washes over him, quieting the screams of the silent void inside.

 

“Hey Aziraphale,” he says. “I see you found a ride.” He tries to play this off as cool, as if he wasn’t prepared to drink himself into oblivion just hours before. “Nice dress,” he adds. “Suits you.” What the angel doesn’t know won’t hurt him. And he doesn’t need to know just how badly his loss had affected Crowley.

 

The angel steps toward him, and this close Crowley can feel his pattern. How it resonates with his own, power against power. “This young man,” he says, “Won’t let us in.”

 

“Leave it to me,” Crowley tells him, moving like always to place himself between Aziraphale and danger. He starts to speak to the man, gathering his power to cast a temptation, a demonic miracle, to make him look the other way while they enter the base. He’s interrupted by the gate rolling back on its own, allowing four small children on bicycles into the airbase.

 

Behind them, his car explodes.

 

It’s too much. On top of everything. The world ending. Hell on his trail, ready for retribution. His siblings, so eager to end everything in revenge for his own Fall. The loss of Aziraphale. The shock of his return. This whole mad roller-coaster of emotions he can’t seem to get off of. It’s far, far too much. His brain short circuits for a moment, as he stares at what remains of his car. Aziraphale is shouting at him, but he can barely hear it over the echoing silence inside. His walls tremble and crack, and it takes everything in him to hold them up. He loves his car. It represents the best of humanity. Their ingenuity, their brilliant minds coming up with new and inventive ways to do things. Their desire to go further, go faster, reach new heights just for the act of doing it. This car has been his for almost a century. In that time, it’s been more of a physical home than his flat has ever been. And now, it’s gone.

 

He feels Aziraphale’s miracle, sending the army human away. It’s enough to snap him out of his fog of grief. His walls hold firm. He is not in danger of losing himself to the silence just yet. He picks up a piece of the car and stands, tucking it away into the little pocket of the universe where he keeps his wings - a souvenir, something to remember it by.

 

“Nice work on the soldier,” he says. And Aziraphale’s response is enough to prove it’s really him, if he’d had any doubt left.

 

“I do hope I haven’t sent him somewhere unpleasant.”

 

Crowley’s not in the mood to grin, but it doesn’t stop the corners of his mouth from lifting up just a little. Only his angel would be worried about the pleasantness of wherever he sent the human that was stopping them from preventing the end of the world.

 

Jeeps full of soldiers pull up to the gate, and Crowley mentally shakes himself. “Oh. Okay.” He needs to focus now. He can process all of these emotions later. If there is a later. “I need to get over the…. Car thing. I’ll deal with them.” He stalks forward, eyes focused on the danger ahead. He keeps a bit of his awareness on the angel, however. Just a touch of his power connected to his life pattern. Enough for Crowley to know, without a doubt, without having to look for him, that he’s there. That he’s alive. He’s not sure he’s ever going to be able to let him out of his sight ever again. He wants to reach out, to touch, to have that very physical reassurance of his presence. He can’t, of course. It’s not what they do. And his touch would very likely be unwelcome. Still, it’s reassuring to hear that familiar voice at his back, scolding Shadwell. Even if he does confuse ‘kick’ with ‘lick’ in ‘kick butt’.

 

 

 

Crowley can sense Azrael before he sees him. Of course he’d be here, at the beginning of the end. He’s one of the Four Horsemen, after all. The Angel of Death. The term, of course, is a bit of a misnomer. Azrael is neither angel nor demon, but something entirely apart. Something older than all but God Herself. He is the personification of entropy, the end of everything. In Heaven, Raphael had done his best to avoid Azrael. His presence in Raphael’s Halls of Healing could only mean one thing - that the healer had failed. He’d been his antithesis, his exact opposite, taking life instead of preserving it. And yet, when they had been forced to work together, he had found Azrael to be reasonable, sometimes even kind. He let Raphael ease the passing of the injured, erasing their pain before they breathed their last. The archangel had asked him, once, about the end of the world. About Azrael’s part in it. It comes to him now, that perhaps he should have paid more attention to his answer.

 

 

 

“No. You can’t come in here.” Raphael stands in the door to the Halls of Healing, wings spread wide to prevent Azrael’s entrance into his domain. “I’ve got patients in here who will be upset by your presence.”

 

I know , Azrael says. I am sorry, Healer, but I must. Despite his words, he makes no move to enter without Raphael ’s permission. He just stares down at the archangel with his eyeless gaze, and waits.

 

Raphael glares up at him for a moment more, making his point, but he knows he has to let him in. He knows who he's there for, and as much as it hurts to admit it, there hadn’t been anything he could do. This was always going to be the end result.

 

“I tried to save him,” Raphael says, and his wings droop in exhaustion. He’s used all of his power, ever last shred of it, trying to save the three lives his healers had brought him. He’s even borrowed power from those under his command, draining several of them to fill the life patterns of their patients. “I thought… I had hoped he wasn’t so far gone.”

 

I know , Azrael repeats, voice surprisingly gentle. He was mine even before he entered your halls.

 

The healer sighs, and steps aside. His healers vanish into other rooms as they walk through the long building, afraid of the specter of Death that follows at his heels. Soon enough, they reach the room where the dying angel lies. Two beds sit empty, their occupants moved as soon as the healers knew they would be unable to save this one. There's still blood on the floor, dark scarlet stains from his corporeal body, mixed with the golden ichor of a bleeding angel. Splotches of a darker color mix with the red and gold, a viscous fluid Raphael has never encountered before. It fell with the ichor from his patient, and it feels almost the same - except for the faint aura of evil within it. He doesn’t know what it is, but he doesn’t like it.

 

“Liriel,” he says, quiet, though he knows his patient won’t wake, even if he shouts. “I’m so sorry.” His pattern is grey and fading fast, the lines unraveling despite everything Raphael and his healers have tried. The golden lines of the archangel’s own pattern are wrapped around it, feeding it with the healer’s own life force. It’s the only thing now that’s keeping him from death. Raphael takes his hand, squeezing it gently. It’s one of the very few parts of the young angel that aren’t covered in bloodied bandages. The other two are only a little better. He doesn’t want to know what could have caused these wounds. What could be so powerful it could overwhelm three Guardians - posted to guard the armory, found when a new shift came to relieve them.

 

It is time. The angel of death comes to stand behind him, wings like the night sky filling the room.

 

Gently, Raphael withdraws his pattern from Liriel’s, taking back his power as the grey lines flicker and fade. “Rest now, brother,” he says in the ceremonial language of the angels, a phrase he had never thought he would have to use. He brushes a hand across Liriel’s forehead, using just a touch of power, to ease the last of his pain. “It is time to return to the fire, from which all things are made.” He blinks back tears. He has never before lost an angel as a patient. Mortal creatures, yes. Rarely, but it has happened. He’s never even seen an angel this badly wounded before.

 

Azrael moves to the other side of the bed, and his wings flare out around him. One boney finger touches the exposed skin of the fallen Guardian's neck. Raphael watches as his pattern unravels, flowing up to be absorbed into Azrael’s own.

 

He has gone , Death tells him. But you may yet save his fellows.

 

“I don’t understand.” Raphael looks up at him, stepping away from the remains of the angel and ignoring the throbbing in his heart. “What happened to them?”

 

It is Her Plan , Azrael says. I can say no more than that.

 

He thinks about the book. Lucifer ’s copy of the Great Plan, left behind in Her throne room just days ago. About the wounds on his three patients. About the missing weapons from the armory - the third such break in and theft since Lucifer first went missing. About Lucifer himself, and the Plan his brother claims he wants to thwart. About that first incursion into the armory, and the guard that claimed Lucifer had led the band of thieves.

 

“Is it true then?” he asks. “Is She really planning a war in Heaven?” Will he have to see more angels like this, wounded, fading, patterns unraveling as he tries to save them?

 

Azrael focuses on him, that eyeless gaze somehow seeing into his soul. I will not answer that question. You already have the information you seek.

 

“Then what about Armageddon?” Raphael demands, staring right back. He’s drained, exhausted, but he won’t show weakness to this ancient being. “Will you truly destroy everything She has created?”

 

I do as I am bid , he says. Whether now, Armageddon, or the end of the universe. There is only one fate for you all - until only God and I will remain. And then even She will cease to be, and I alone will be left. He turns away from Raphael, folding his great wings against his back.

 

He stops and turns when he reaches the door. You should not assume the truth is as you see it, Healer, he says. And then, in a blast of cold wind, he is gone.

 

Raphael retreats to his office. Liriel ’s body will be taken away, to be buried by his battalion. The first angel he has lost. The first casualty, Raphael suspects, in the coming war. He sits at his desk, head in his hands, and lets himself feel the grief of loss. Of failure. The grief of a healer who could not save a patient. The grief of an archangel who could not protect one that looked to him for guidance. The grief of a younger brother who suspects his oldest sibling has done something unforgivable. Within the bond, his younger siblings flood his mind with their sympathy and love, but even that is not enough to take the edge off of his pain.

 

A knock on the door. Raphael looks up to see Aziraphale standing there, hesitant, blue eyes wide. The healer suddenly realizes how he must look, slumped in his chair, hair wild from running his fingers through it, deep purple bags of exhaustion under his eyes, his white robes spattered with blood and ichor from Liriel and his other two patients.

 

“Aziraphale?” he asks, too drained even to cast the small miracle that would clean up his robes.

 

The principality comes into the room, shutting the door behind him. “Michael said you might need me,” he says, frowning as he surveys the archangel. “I can see she was right.”

 

“I-” Raphael starts, then his voice breaks. Aziraphael’s expression softens.

 

“Come here, my dear,” he says, walking to stand beside the archangel and pulling him into his arms. Raphael wraps his arms around Aziraphale’s waist, burying his face against his chest. His friend holds him close, running soothing hands through his hair as he cries.

 

 

 

You should not assume the truth is as you see it. And it isn’t, is it? His own truth, his past, hidden behind layers and layers of walls. Aziraphale too, his true self submerged, riding along inside this woman with the purple gloves. The Antichrist - Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness - standing there on the tarmac, all of eleven years old with large, innocent blue eyes and golden curls. Even the Horsemen. War, in her vibrant reds, smelling of blood. Famine, dressed in black with his sharp teeth and aura of gnawing hunger. Pollution, still new compared to the other two, with their stained chalk-white and scent of rot. They look almost human, but they are not. They’re the personification of human fears, created not by Her hands but by thousands upon thousands of human minds. He had worked with them before, and he had worked against them before. They didn’t scare him, in the way that Azrael did. He ignores them all as he climbs from the jeep, focusing on the child instead.

 

“That’s him,” he says, pointing. There’s no mistaking him now. The pattern of his life is far too bright, pulsing with power in a way no human pattern ever has. “The curly one.” He tries to see only the pattern, and not the boy. The child, eleven years old, just like Warlock, but capable of so much more. “Shoot him, save the world.” He reaches into his pocket of the universe, ready to pull out his sword if it comes to that.

 

Azrael and the boy don’t even look his way.

 

You’re a part of us, not them, Azrael says. No one will disobey you.

 

Behind him, Shadwell stares, clutching that ridiculous gun to his chest. “What?” the old sergeant asks, horrified. “But he’s just a wee bairn. You cannae-”

 

Aziraphale turns and snatches the weapon from the man. “Oh for Heaven’s sakes. Give me that.” He marches forward, aiming at the boy.

 

Ignore this nonsense, Azrael says. A word from you, and I will end their lives.

 

He could, Crowley knows. He could unravel all of their patterns without even a thought. If the boy orders their deaths, there won’t be anything he can do to stop it. But, until then, they are safe from Azrael. The Angel of Death has rules, just like everything else. He cannot take a life without reason.

 

Aziraphale’s body takes back control, pulling up on the gun, shouting. “You can’t just shoot children!”

 

Raphael, Azrael’s voice is in his head, and it takes him a moment to realize it’s not just an echo from the void. Do you remember my words, Healer?

 

“Perhaps we should wait,” Aziraphale says, looking to Crowley. And Crowley doesn’t want to be the one giving this order. Has never wanted to. But this is the fate of the world, and if they don’t do this, they’ll all be dead before the light fades from the sky.

 

“What?” he snaps, panic setting in. “Until he grows up? Shoot him, Aziraphale!”

 

The angel levels the gun at the boy, and for a moment all Crowley can see is Warlock, the boy he raised. Gabriel, on the day he was made, so young and eager, tripping over his own feet. Uriel smiling at him as their Mother deposits her in his arms. Sandalphon, already glaring at the world around him, clutching tightly to his hand. This is a child. They can’t kill a child. But if they don’t, if they let him live, then the world will end. They can’t fight the combined armies of Heaven and Hell alone. They won’t survive past the first attack.

 

The owner of Aziraphale’s body wrenches the gun upward, pointing it into the sky as Aziraphale pulls the trigger. Their one shot at ending this now goes up in flames.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says, too little, too late. “I couldn’t let you do it.”

 

Crowley wants to rage at her, but he understands the impulse. He knows why she did it. He’s not sure that he, in a similar situation, without truly understanding the stakes, wouldn’t have done the same. The family lines of seven Mesopotamian children can attest to that.

 

“Excuse me,” the Antichrist says, looking at Aziraphale. “Why are you two people?”

 

Crowley braces for attack. For the child to unleash his fury against Aziraphale. His hand curls around the hilt of his sword.

 

“Ah,” Aziraphale says, in typical Aziraphale fashion. “Long story. You see, I was in my bookshop, and-”

 

The Antichrist interrupts him. “It’s not right.” Crowley stares. This child is here to end the world, and he’s worrying about Aziraphale and the human woman sharing a body? This, he realizes, is a child raised entirely by humans. Despite his demonic origin, he’s had no Hellish or Heavenly influences in his life since the day that Crowley dropped him off at the hospital. For the first time in days, he starts to really think they might have a chance.

 

“You should go back to being two separate people again,” the boy says. Something shifts in the universe, and before Crowley can react, Aziraphale’s form twists, splitting, until he stands beside the human woman, dressed exactly like he was the last time Crowley had seen him. His life pattern joined to that of the body, that familiar set of lines that had come apart when his body had been evaporated by the portal to Heaven. He’s the most wonderful thing Crowley has ever seen, in the whole history of the universe. Every detail just exactly as he remembers it, from the soft white curls right down to Raphael’s ring around his little finger.

 

Aziraphale,” he breathes, though no one hears him. The boy’s eyes flicker to him for just a moment, but Crowley doesn’t notice. He’s too busy re-memorizing the shape of his angel. Something that had been shattered within him mends itself as the angel glances at him, and his yellow-gold eyes meet that familiar sea-blue. He moves forward to stand at Aziraphale’s side, completing a circle with Shadwell and the woman, the Antichrist and three human children, Azreal, and the other three Horsemen. He can feel it, the weight of the universe, the fate of it all hanging on whatever happens now.

 

He stares at the boy now, the Antichrist, trying to read his pattern. He can’t. It’s all in flux, shifting as the boy thinks, changing as he tries to decide who and what he will be.

 

War looks at them all and smirks, swinging her sword in a complicated pattern. Crowley grips his, ready to pull it free, but something inside him says not yet. The other Horsemen are posturing, ready for battle, but Azrael stands back, waiting, watching. When Crowley glances at him, he sees that the Angel of Death is staring at him.

 

“The thing is,” the boy says to his friends, “they’re not actually real. They’re just like nightmares, really.”

 

And his friends stand for him. They face down monsters from human imagination, and somehow, miraculously, they come out victorious. Watching them wrestle with the flaming sword, Crowley realizes he recognizes it. He leans closer to Aziraphale, eyes on the battle, and mutters “Didn’t that used to be your sword?”

 

He glances at the angel, turning from the fight to watch the emotions cross his face as he realizes that Crowley is right.

 

“I do believe it was,” he says, and Crowley hides a grin. There’s something right, about that sword being here. Being used by children to defend the world the descendants of Eve had created. It feels almost like a plan, though none of this was ever in that small leather-bound book that’s still hidden in Crowley’s safe. They’ve gone off-script now, and anything could happen.

 

Famine fades away, and Azreal alone remains of the Horsemen. He stands alone before the young Antichrist and his friends, and for a moment Crowley fears he’ll kill the children where they stand.

 

“Death,” the boy says, “this all has to stop now.” His pattern settles into shape against his skin. He’s made his choice, and will not change it now.

 

Azrael’s face is as unreadable as always. It has stopped, he declares. But they will be back. We are never far away. I am Creation’s shadow. You cannot destroy me. That would destroy the world. He looks around. Good day, Gentlemen. His eyeless gaze focuses for just a moment on Crowley, and the demon hears his voice in his mind. Good luck, Healer. I will be seeing you soon. And then, with that ominous message, he is gone.

 

At his side, Aziraphale heaves a sigh of relief. “There,” he says, smiling. “You see, Crowley? It’s like I’ve always said-”

 

Crowley shakes his head. “Oh, it isn’t over.” They’ve gotten rid of the Horsemen, true. But if the Horsemen were the whole of it, Crowley could have handled it himself. “Nothing’s over.” No, now they have the gathered armies of Heaven and Hell to contend with. And if he knows his siblings, they will not give up just yet. Not when the Plan has said that their time to fight had come. “Both Heaven and Hell still want their war.”

 

Inside him, the silence screams. Through the tattered bond he can feel them, the intensity of their anger breaking through their own walls. The Archangels. They know what just happened. And now, one of them is coming.

 

He steps forward, yellow eyes focused on the children. “You,” he says. “Boy. Antichrist. What was your name again?”

 

The boy looks at him, and takes in his serpentine eyes without flinching. For the first time since he drove through the flaming ring of the M25, Crowley realizes he isn’t wearing his glasses. His eyes are bare for the world to see, but these children don’t even seem to notice. He supposes, after the terrifying skull-like head of Azreal, serpent’s eyes are nothing much at all.

 

“Adam Young,” the Antichrist answers, and isn’t that ironic. Adam. Like the first man, who loved Eve so much he followed her down the path of temptation.

 

“So,” Crowley says. “You and your friends got together and saved the world. Well done. Have a gold star. Won’t make any difference.” He might be slightly hysterical, anger and fear rising within him as the silence echoes with his siblings’ rage and the pain of his raw and aching bond.

 

“You!” he hears a shout, and turns to see a familiar figure coming towards them, a nervous young man trailing behind. “You’re the man in the car. You stole my book.”

 

The demon almost laughs. Of course. “Oh, Book Girl!” He looks down at the charred book in his hand. It had fallen into their hands at just the right time. Just perfectly when they needed it, for Aziraphale to find the Antichrist. Almost miraculous, really. He lifts it, gauging the weight of it. “Catch.” He tosses it, and a bit of charred paper falls from the pages, fluttering down into Aziraphale’s grasp.

 

Book Girl catches the book, seemingly unworried by the burnt state of it. She folds it under her arm, demanding to know what has been going on.

 

“Long story,” Crowley tells her. Whoever is coming will be here any minute. “No time.”

 

“Well, try me,” she tells him, and he knows he’s going to like her, if they survive this.

 

“Uh, ok,” Aziraphale says, moving to Crowley’s side. “So, uh. In the Beginning, in the Garden. There was - well. He was a wily old serpent.” He grins at Crowley, who doesn’t grin back. They don’t have time to tell this whole story. They have maybe minutes, before the agents of Heaven and Hell arrive to get the Apocalypse back on course.

 

“And I was technically on Apple Tree duty,” the angel continues, settling in to apparently tell the assembled humans the whole of history. Crowley shushes him, shaking his head. The air around them is changing, starting to smell of petrichor and brimstone. The humans talk among themselves, but Crowley isn’t listening. He’s reaching out with all of his senses, trying to get an idea of what is going to happen next. He has to be ready. He reaches back into his pocket of the universe, about to draw his sword.

 

At the same time, lightning flashes. And Crowley is wrenched around, the remains of the bond burning inside him as the earth shakes. He blinks away spots from his vision, and sees Gabriel standing on the tarmac. Moments later, Beelzebub rises from the ground at his side. Together, they walk forward, past Crowley and Aziraphale, to stand in the middle of this strange assortment of humans that have just faced down the Horsemen and won. Crowley gives them both a mocking bow.

 

“Lord Beelzebub,” he says. “What an honor.” Mentally he’s checking his walls, looking for any cracks that might reveal him to Gabriel. He throws up a few more barriers around his core, just in case. He can’t hide here, not if he wants to be sure they all walk away in one piece. He’ll have to be noticed. But if he’s lucky, they won’t look any further than the surface.

 

“Crowley,” Beelzebub looks at him, voice flat. “The traitor.”

 

He meets her eyes. “That’s not a nice word.” He can feel Gabriel there, even though he isn’t looking at him. This close to one of his siblings, it’s like standing inside a roaring flame. The raw pain of the bond is vibrating inside the silence of the void.

 

Beelzebub sneers at him, a buzz in her voice. “All the other words I have for you are worse.” Her eyes are hard, and he can feel her anger in the air around them. “Where’s the boy?”

 

He glances at Adam, and the representatives of the divine and infernal armies turn to the boy. With the attention off of him, Crowley reaches into the ether once again, firmly gripping the hilt of his sword.

 

“That one,” Gabriel says. Adam Young. Hi.” To Crowley, he sounds like nothing so much as a door-to-door salesman, and the fake, joyless grin makes him sick to see. He approaches Adam, who watches with curiosity, but not a hint of fear. Reality is still his to command, and if Gabriel upsets him… well. Crowley has no loyalty to Heaven. To this sibling that would have killed him. But it would destroy a vital part of him, to see his brother unmade.

 

“Young man,” Gabriel continues, “Armageddon must… restart. Right now.” Still so eager for the world to end. For the war to come. Crowley remembers Sandalphon’s words in the park. It’s finally time to take our revenge on Lucifer. For taking Raphael from us. “A temporary inconvenience cannot get in the way of the greater Good.”

 

Crowley wants to laugh. The greater Good. As if Good has anything to do with this. As if friendship, and love, and all of the things that Adam and Crowley are both fighting for are somehow less good than revenge, and hate, and loyalty to an absent God.

 

Beelzebub scowls at Adam, and Crowley wonders if she’s more pissed at him for stopping Armageddon, or inadvertently being the reason she has to work with an archangel. “As for what it stands in the way of,” she says, throwing a disgusted glance at Gabriel, “that has yet to be decided. But the battle must be decided now boy. That izz-” she stops, getting control over the buzz in her voice. “Your destiny. It is written. Now. Start. The war.

 

Adam looks at them both, confusion in his eyes. “You both want to end the world just to see whose gang is best?” he asks, and Gabriel laughs.

 

“Obviously,” he says. “It’s the Great Plan.”

 

Fuck the Great Plan, Crowley thinks. Look what following the Great Plan has gotten you. Has gotten all of us. He glances at Aziraphale. Following the Great Plan has cost him far too much. They’ve already gone off-script here. Now they need to stay that way.

 

“It’s the entire reason for the creation of the Earth.”

 

No, Crowley wants to shout at him. No, that can’t be it. Think about it, you idiot. Why would She create all of this, just to end it?

 

“I’ve got this,” Beelzebub tells his brother, and smiles, moving closer to the boy. “Adam. When all this is over, you’re going to get to rule the world. Don’t you want to rule the world?”

 

And Adam doesn’t even seem to need to think about this. Somehow, this kid, his nephew, understands what his priorities should be better than even an archangel. “It’s hard enough,” he says, “having to think of things for Pepper and Wensley and Brian to do all the time so they don’t get bored. I’ve got all the world I want.”

 

Crowley wonders what would have happened, six thousand years ago, if Lucifer had looked at their Mother and said the same thing. If he’d decided that his family was all the world he wanted, and turned away from the throne of Hell. Would he still have Fallen? Would he still have lost his siblings and Aziraphale? He turns away from that line of thought. What ifs would drive him as mad as Lucifer, if he lets them.

 

Gabriel’s look of confusion would be comical, if it wasn’t so sad. If Crowley didn’t know that there had once been a time when Gabriel himself was happy just to have his siblings around him. “Well you can’t just refuse to be who you are,” he says, as if that’s anything close to what Adam is doing. “Your birth, your destiny, they’re part of the Great Plan.”

 

To Crowley’s surprise, Aziraphale interrupts him. “Um,” he says, moving to stand behind Adam. “Ahem. Excuse me. You keep talking about the Great Plan.”

 

“Aziraphale,” Gabriel says, and Crowley bristles at the tone of his voice, the instant dismissal of anything he has to say. “Maybe you should just keep your mouth shut.” He hates the way his siblings treat Aziraphale. He always has, but this is so much worse than the way it had been before he Fell.

 

This time though, for what is perhaps the very first time, Aziraphale talks over Gabriel. “One thing I’m not clear on,” he says. “Is that the Ineffable Plan?”

 

Ineffable Plan? Crowley thinks, as Beelzebub shouts.

 

“The Great Plan! It is written! There shall be a world, and it shall last for 6,000 years, and end in fire and flame.”

 

You should not assume the truth is as you see it. The truth, as written in the Great Plan. Is that what Azreal meant?

 

“Yes, yes,” Aziraphale nods. “That sounds like the Great Plan. Just wondering, is that the Ineffable Plan as well?”

 

Beelzebub and Gabriel pause, confusion clear on their faces. And Crowley realizes something very important.

 

“Well they’re the same thing,” Gabriel says. But his voice is missing that certainty, that air of superior knowing it had held before.

 

“You don’t know,” Crowley murmurs. Maybe the Great Plan isn’t Her true Plan after all. The idea throws more than six thousand years of knowledge on its ear. If he didn’t Fall for Her plan, then why did he Fall? Or was his Fall still a part of Her Plan, to bring him here, at this moment, to stand beside Aziraphale and try to save the world?

 

“Uh, well,” he says, louder, joining Aziraphale at Adam’s back. “It’d be a pity, if you thought you were doing what the Great Plan said, but you were actually going directly against God’s Ineffable Plan.” He can see the gears turning in Gabriel’s mind, and even through the ragged shreds of the bond he can feel his brother’s confusion.

 

“I mean,” he continues, “I mean, everyone knows about the Great Plan, yeah? But the Ineffable Plan…” he looks around at the humans, who have been watching this all with varying degrees of confusion. “It’s, well, ineffable, isn’t it?” He looks Gabriel in the eyes. “By definition, we can’t know it.”

 

“But it izz… written,” Beelzebub says, but he can tell she’s thinking about it.

 

Gabriel’s mind is screaming against the bond now. His brother’s walls are cracking, overwhelmed by the pain this new idea brings.

 

“God does not play games with the universe,” he says, but it sounds like he’s trying to reassure himself.

 

“Where have you been?” Crowley asks him. God does not play games with the universe? What a ridiculous thought. God does nothing but play games with the universe. And in that moment, he can feel Gabriel realize what it means. If they haven’t been following Her plan, then was he really doing the Right Thing, when he led their siblings to destroy their own brother? The flare of pain would have knocked him over, if he hadn’t been bracing for it. As it is, it reverberates within his own agony, knocking holes in his hastily reconstructed walls.

 

“Can I just-” Gabriel says, his carefully controlled mask cracking just a bit as he turns, tugging Beelzebub close to whisper frantically. Not that it helps. Crowley can still hear him muttering about how difficult it will be, to get ten million angels to stand down from their war footing. He grins when they both glare at he and Aziraphale, but he grips the hilt of his sword tighter. Cornered predators tend to attack, after all. And he has no illusions about what his little brother has become.

 

Beelzebub and Gabriel turn back to them, moving closer, and Crowley tenses. “Young man,” his brother says, glaring at Adam. “You were put on this Earth for one reason, and one reason only. To end it.” He leans down, putting his eyes on level with Adam’s, his normally impassive face turning ugly with hate and fear. “You’re a disobedient little brat. And I hope someone tells your father.”

 

“Oh, they will,” Beelzebub adds. “And your father will not be pleased.”

 

Crowley shares a glance with Aziraphale. After all of this, after losing the angel and getting him back, after staring down Azreal and his own little brother, he doesn’t know if he has the strength to deal with Lucifer too.

 

Gabriel and Beelzebub disappear in a pop of color. And a moment later, a burning pain rips through Crowley’s whole body, forcing him to the ground. He clutches his chest, trying in vain to stifle the sharp, stabbing, burning pain. It’s not the bond, or the silence, or even his own internal anguish. No, this agony is something else. It’s the pain every demon feels, when Lucifer rages. Satan’s infernal connection to the legions of the damned. Somewhere inside him, buried under all of the agony and rage he feels towards his brother, is the thin strand of connection that binds his essence to Hell and it’s king. That marks him as a demon. It burns now with Lucifer’s rage, a pale shadow of the scarred and cauterized bond they used to share, while the void screams in his mind.

 

“What’s happening?” Aziraphale asks as the demon writhes on the tarmac. “I can feel something.”

 

“They did it,” Crowley gasps, regaining control over his body. The pain is still sharp, still burning, but he has felt pain that was far, far worse than this. Compared to losing Aziraphale, this is nothing at all. “They told his father. And his satanic father is not happy.”

 

The humans yelp and stumble as the world shakes around them, crying out to know what is going on.

 

Aziraphale shifts just a hair closer to Crowley, and the demon takes comfort in his presence. He doesn’t think he has it in him to fight Lucifer himself. He couldn’t stand against him before, with the full strength of an archangel. He won’t be able to do anything now, bound as he is to Satan’s service.

 

“Well,” the angel says, eyes scanning the area around them for the danger. “You can call me an old silly, but it looks like the devil is coming. Satan himself.”

 

The earth shakes again, and Crowley looks up into Aziraphale’s familiar sea-blue eyes. “Right. That was that,” he says. “It was nice knowing you.”

 

The angel shakes his head, eyes pleading. “We can’t give up now.”

 

Oh angel, Crowley thinks. I’ll fight him for you. I will. But I’m not going to win. He doesn’t say it. Instead, he says “This is Satan himself. This isn’t about Armageddon.” He can feel the rage in the air around him. Frankly, he’s astounded Aziraphale isn’t reacting to the weight of it. “This is personal.” That rage, that infernal power, is growing stronger, closer, as Lucifer rises from the pit. “We are fucked.”

 

The ground heaves around them, and Aziraphale stumbles away, almost falling to the ground near his sword. He snatches it up, holding it in a firm grip as he turns back to Crowley. “Come up with something,” he orders, sounding for a moment like the soldier he was created to be. Then his voice breaks, and desperation seeps into his expression. “Or I’ll never talk to you again.”

 

Crowley braces himself. He has once last trick up his sleeve. One thing he can do. Something only a being with the power of an archangel can do. He draws his blade and stands, dragging his power up with him as he goes, catching hold of the very pattern of the universe - and stopping it in its tracks. Stopping time itself. The effort draws his wings into the physical plane, and he fights to keep two of his three sets from releasing. He’s been through enough today. He can’t have Aziraphale finding out about his past, on top of it all.

 

When he opens his eyes, they stand among the sands of time. Crowley, Aziraphale, and Adam. Adam. The boy who can bend reality to his will. Crowley reaches into a pocket and pulls out a pair of dark glasses, hiding away his eyes. There are too many emotions flowing through him now, too much pain. And his eyes would reveal it all.

 

“Adam, listen,” he says. “Your father is coming to destroy you.” He can feel it. Lucifer’s rage. His fury at being disobeyed. At losing this chance for a war against their Mother who damned them. “Probably to destroy all of us.” He tightens his grip on his sword. If this doesn’t work, if he has to fight, he’s going to do his best to make sure Aziraphale and the humans make it out. But he doesn’t like his chances.

 

“My Dad?” the boy asks, thinking not of Lucifer but of the man that raised him. “He wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

 

“Not your earthly father,” Crowley corrects him, speaking fast. Even with all the extra power he holds, it’s draining him to do this. To hold time at a standstill. He won’t be able to keep it up for long. “Satan.” His brother. “Your father who is no longer in Heaven. He is coming. And he is angry.”

 

“So what do you want me to do about it?” Adam wants to know. “Fight him?”

 

The demon shakes his head. “I don’t think fighting him would do any good.” Even the Antichrist, with power over reality at his fingertips, cannot win against Satan in a fight. “You’re going to have to come up with something else.”

 

“But I’m just a kid,” Adam says, and Crowley doesn’t have an answer to that. Just a kid. And how is it fair, that they’ve dragged him into this mess? How is it that they’ve gotten this all so badly wrong that the fate of everything depends on one eleven-year-old boy?

 

Aziraphale steps forward, unfailingly gentle and kind as always. “Yes,” he says. “But that’s not a bad thing to be, Adam. You know,” he looks the boy in the eyes, wings spread behind him, that same steady, unchanging presence Crowley has loved for millennia. “I was scared you’d be Hell incarnate,” he tells them. “I’d hoped you’d be Heaven incarnate. But you’re not either of those things. You’re much better.” He smiles. That soft, reassuring smile that says that everything is going to be alright. “You’re human incarnate.” His eyes move to Crowley’s face, and the demon is very glad of his glasses now, because at that moment the most overwhelming thing he can feel is just how much he loves this angel. And there’s no way that love isn’t showing in his eyes right now.

 

“Adam,” he adds, knowing, now, exactly what he needs to say. “Reality will listen to you right now. You can change things.”

 

“And whatever happens,” Aziraphale tells him, “for Good or for Evil, we’re beside you.” The angel takes Adam’s hand in his, holding his sword ready in the other. Crowley does the same, his own blade flickering with Hellfire, a counterpoint to the angel’s Heavenly flame.

 

“I’m going to start time,” he warns them. “You won’t have long to do whatever you’re going to do.” He releases his hold on the universe, feeling it shudder and start again, depositing them back on the ground of the airbase.

 

“Do it quickly,” he says, as the ground rumbles, and Satan starts to rise from the earth. It’s his larger, more infernal form that breaks through, all carnelian skin and dark, lightless eyes. Only one set of wings are visible, batlike and devoid of feathers, the skin ripped and torn and utterly incapable of carrying him in flight. In this light, Crowley can see the scars that cover his skin, dark and painful, given to him so long ago when Michael cast him down into the pit. This isn’t the Great Beast, for all its size. Only one head, free of chains, and fully aware of the world around him. No, this is the same form Lucifer showed him so long ago, that day in the Garden when he tore away the last of Raphael’s Grace. For a moment, Crowley is struck by the mad desire to confront him. To look him in the eyes and tell him exactly what he thinks of everything Lucifer has become.

 

Where is my son?” his brother asks, looking at them all before focusing on Adam. “You? You’re my rebellious son? Come here.

 

Adam steps forward, staring, defiant, up into the eyes of Satan himself. And then, he takes reality into his hands, and bends it to his will.

 

“You’re not my dad,” the boy declares, voice firm and certain. “Dads don’t wait until you’re eleven to say hello, and then turn up to tell you off,”

 

What?” Lucifer asks, and it’s almost worth all of it to see that stunned expression on his face.

 

Adam keeps going. “If I’m in trouble with my dad, then it won’t be you.” The ground shakes with Satan’s wrath, but the boy stands strong. “It’s going to be the dad who was there. You’re. Not. My. Dad.”

 

What did you say?” Lucifer demands, his anger sharp, hot, and suddenly tainted by uncertainty.

 

Aziraphale raises his sword, ready to fight. “You can do it,” he tells Adam, and Crowley agrees.

 

“Say it, Adam. Say it again.” He holds his own sword in a one-handed grip, the nails on his free hand lengthening to claws. There’s no telling how his brother will react to being defied like this, but they’re so close now. If Adam can do this, if he can send Lucifer back, then they’ll be well and truly done with the end of the world.

 

Satan slams his fists into the ground, growling, his anger almost overwhelming in its intensity. “Come here,” he demands.

 

Adam doesn’t move. “You’re not my dad,” he says again. “You never were.”

 

NO!” Lucifer cries, but already he’s beginning to retreat, crumbling back into the ground. And Crowley almost calls out. Almost confronts him. That mad impulse to be known rising up again. But he can’t. Not with Aziraphale here. Not when to confront Lucifer would be to reveal himself to anyone who might be watching.

 

“Wait!” Adam commands. And the world goes still around them. Lucifer stops retreating, turning back to look at him.

 

“Mister Crowley has something he wants to say to you,” the boy tells him, and beckons Crowley forward.

 

“Adam…” Crowley starts to say, then stops. At his side, Aziraphale still has his sword raised, but he stands unmoving. Not breathing. Not even twitching a muscle. Around him, the humans are the same. Still as statues. Frozen.

 

“It’s alright,” Adam says to him. “They can’t hear you. Or see you. It’s safe.”

 

Crowley looks at him, and can’t think of anything to say.

 

“Say what you need to,” Adam tells him. “I won’t let him leave until you’re finished.”

 

The demon nods, and tries to swallow the lump in his throat. He turns to Satan. Lucifer. The Morning Star. His older brother.

 

Little snake,” Lucifer growls. “Release me at once.

 

Crowley finds his voice. “Or you’ll what?” he asks. “Smite me? Throw me into the pit with your great beast?”

 

Oh, I’ll do worse than that to you, serpent,” his brother snarls, anger contorting his face into something even more hideous. “You’ve earned an eternal cell in Tartarus for this.

 

Crowley pales, and tightens his grip on his sword. He’s heard of the things that go on in Tartarus, home to the eternal torture of doomed souls. He’ll die before allowing himself to be taken there.

 

“You can’t have him.”

 

Lucifer and Crowley both turn to look at Adam, bright blue eyes and blond curls, seeming so small compared to the titan before them. Eleven years old, but in that moment wiser and stronger than any of them.

 

What?” Lucifer growls.

 

“You can’t have him,” Adam repeats. “You’re not my dad. But he’s my uncle. And I’m keeping him.”

 

“You know about that?” Crowley asks, somehow not surprised. Adam is the Antichrist after all. Reality is his to play with. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to see through the walls Crowley has erected around himself.

 

Adam grins at him. “I know everything,” he says. “You’re awesome.”

 

What do you mean, ‘uncle’?” Lucifer growls. There’s something uncertain growing in his face. Something almost, almost familiar.

 

Crowley looks up at him and takes a deep breath. He’d wanted this, hadn’t he? A chance to face down his brother and make him regret what he’d done? It was time to choose. Reveal himself, confront his brother, and face the consequences. Or let this chance that Adam is giving him slip away, and perhaps never get another. He doesn’t stop to think about the possible results. He just grins wickedly at his brother and sketches a wave. “Hey, Luci. Long time no chat.” Then, carefully, deliberately, he releases first one pair of wings, then the second, and then the third. All of them iridescent black now, but still strong and beautiful, ready to take him into the sky. For just a moment, he lets down his walls, and the echo of the archangel shimmers around his demonic form. “Remember me?”

 

Raphael?

 

The Morning Star’s face is a study of contradictions. Shock. Anger. Sorrow. Joy. Disbelief.

 

Crowley scowls at him, his walls falling back into place. The dark glasses over his eyes hide his own tumultuous maelstrom of emotions. Anger. Pain. Loss. Fear. Love.

 

“It’s Crowley now,” he says acidly. “But you knew that.”

 

I don’t… I don’t understand,” Lucifer says, his infernal rage diminishing as his eyes search Crowley’s face for hints of the little brother who healed and made the stars.

 

You don’t understand?” Crowley snarls, the words welling up and spilling from his mouth, finally, after six thousand years. He couldn’t stem the tide of them if he tried. “You. Don’t. Understand? What the fuck is there to understand? You dragged me down, didn’t you? Cut away my Grace and left me there on the ground like trash? Made me into this?” He gestures to his blackened wings, his serpentine eyes, the ragged hole in his essence where his Grace had once been.

 

Raphael is dead,” his brother growls out the words, turning away from the uncomfortable truth. “My siblings killed him.”

 

Crowley laughs, bitter, angry. “They tried,” he says. “Oh, they tried. And look where it got me.” He drops all pretense of illusion. All control over his physical form. Old scars fade into view on his skin. Scars that were woven not into the pattern of his body, but into the pattern of his soul. A scar where Gabriel slid his sword across his neck. Two scars where Uriel’s blade pierced him through. The large scar on his side where Sandalphon tried to cut him in two. Claw marks along his back and sides, the legacy of Asmodeus’ attack. Hundreds of smaller scars that line his arms and body, the marks of thousands of different battles. A thin white line across his palm, where once he tried to teach a principality to heal.

 

“I’ve been nearly killed a thousand times since you started your war, brother.” He spits the title from his mouth like its poison. “But I’m not dead yet.”

 

His brother howls in rage, and an enormous crimson hand lashes out at him with obsidian claws.

 

Crowley jumps, six wings lifting him into the air, putting him on eye-level with Lucifer.

 

“And I’m not about to lie down and die now just because you can’t swallow your pride and admit you were wrong,” he hisses. “Wrong about Her. Wrong about the Great Plan. And wrong about me.” He glares at him, black wings beating the air to hold him aloft. “Maybe I did ask too many questions,” he adds bitterly. “But you didn’t have to drag me down with you.”

 

Recognition finally flickers in those black-hole eyes. Lucifer freezes, staring at him. “Sparkler?” he asks, using Michael’s old nickname for Raphael.

 

“You don’t get to call me that,” Crowley tells him. “You lost that right.”

 

For once, his elder brother seems at a loss for words. His jaw works soundlessly, his wide, cold eyes tracking Crowley’s movements as he slowly lets himself drift back down to the ground. The demon waits, sword at the ready to defend himself if Satan attacks.

 

Why didn’t you come to me?” Lucifer demands at last, and Crowley can hear the hurt and anger in that ancient voice. He laughs again, a sound like shattered glass.

 

“Why should I have?” he wants to know. “What possible reason could I have had to come to you, after what you did?”

 

I would have made you a king,” the Morning Star says, frowning at him, a rumble of confusion under the indignant anger in his voice. “You would have ruled at my right hand.

 

Crowley glares at him, body trembling with rage. “I didn’t want to rule in Hell!” he yells. “I just wanted to know why! I just wanted answers! And barring that - barring that, I just wanted my family!” The words feel torn from him, six thousand years of pain and anguish filling the sounds and reverberating in the silence that falls between them. The void inside seems ready to open at their feet, the broken and torn part of him that once tied six minds together throbs within, still bleeding and raw after all these years - a wound that will never be healed.

 

Our siblings are lost to us,” Lucifer reminds him, beating the air with his torn wings. “We are Fallen. They are not.” He bares his teeth in a snarl. “You would do well to remember that.

 

You took me from them,” Crowley shouts. “I trusted you, and you took me from them.” He looks up at Lucifer’s blood-red face, twisted from millennia of anger and rage, and wonders how this infernal creature could ever have been his beloved older brother.

 

 

 

Raphael is painfully young. He will grow fast in the coming days, as God begins to expand Her Garden. It won ’t be too very long before his hands are full of rambunctious siblings, of starstuff, of the patterns of the universe. He will come into himself, the compassionate healer and mischievous starsmith that laughs for the first time in all of creation. He will learn to heal, and to question, and to love. But now he young. Not even two days out of the nursery. His flight feathers haven’t even come in yet, still covered in protective sheaths, delicate and new. His wings hang behind him, overlarge and awkward, too many extra appendages for his small body to maneuver around. The tips of his lower set drag along the ground as he walks, but he isn’t walking now. He’s curled around himself on the green carpet of Eden, small hands cradling a sparrow against his chest.

 

Lucifer finds him on the ground, weeping, shaking fingers smoothing the tiny reddish-brown feathers.

 

“Raphael?” Gentle hands settle on his shoulders, his body a solid warmth at his back. “What’s wrong, little one?”

 

When he doesn ’t respond, his brother’s hands grip his shoulders tighter, and concern creeps into his voice. “Sparkler?”

 

“It hurts,” Raphael sobs, showing his brother the sparrow’s broken wing. The sparrow’s pain is overwhelming, so strong it feels like his own.

 

Lucifer reaches over his shoulder, touching a fingertip to the feathers. “What happened?”

 

“I found her,” the younger archangel says through his tears. “She says she flew into a tree.”

 

“Why didn’t you call for Michael or I?” Lucifer asks, shifting to sit beside Raphael. He slides his hands under Raphael’s own, supporting them as he holds up the bird. His presence is comforting, warm and soothing. His strong older brother, Her first angel, who always knows what to do. With Lucifer at his side, Raphael knows everything will be alright.

 

He sniffs, wincing as he feels a flare of pain from the bird, and mumbles his answer.

 

“What was that?” Lucifer demands.

 

“I’m the healer,” Raphael says, a little louder. “I wanted to heal her myself.”

 

His brother sighs. “And do you know how to heal, Sparkler?

 

The younger archangel keeps his eyes on the bird. “I tried,” he whispers. “I… I don’t know how yet.”

 

“Then I think it’s time to learn.” Lucifer leans against him, wrapping him in the soft ruby feathers of his large wings. His consciousness brushes against Raphael’s through the bond, and he lets him in. They mingle together in the shared space of their mind, the red-and-black of Lucifer and the red-and-gold of Raphael coiling together into red-and-black-and-gold. The Morning Star pulses with comfort and calm, wrapping Raphael’s mind in well-being just as his wings wrap his body. The younger archangel leans into it, letting his older brother sooth his pain away.

 

See the pattern? Lucifer asks, and Raphael does. Lines of light, patterns shifting across patterns. Everything is connected, his brother’s voice echoes inside their mind. The earth to the plants. The plants to the animals. The animals to us. You see? Lucifer moves his hand, and the patterns bend around it. Raphael reaches out and plucks a string, sending a shiver through the other strings of the universe.

 

Do you see how they come together? Lucifer takes his fingers and guides them to a point where his own pattern merges with the larger collection of lines that make up the universe. Everywhere he looks, he sees patterns joining, shapes of power and life that come together to form a stronger whole.

 

I see, Raphael tells him. Among the multitude of patterns, Raphael can see one that seems weaker than the rest. Duller. The lines a sickly greyish-brown instead of vibrant gold. Parts of the pattern have come out of alignment, and he can see several places where the lines have broken apart entirely, cutting off the flow of life to the lines beyond. It’s this pattern that’s emanating the pain he could sense, that had drawn him to the Garden. The sharp ache of a broken bone, unlike anything he’d ever felt before. He hadn’t known pain, until he had felt the sparrow’s. Now that he’s noticed it again, it’s so strong it becomes all he can feel, distracting him from the lines of light that Lucifer tries to show him.

 

Calm down, his brother says, and Raphael realizes he’s crying again.

 

It hurts, he explains, taking hold of the broken pattern. It hurts too much. I don’t… it hurts. It’s all he can say. He doesn’t know how to explain it better. To tell his brother that the pain is overwhelming, swamping him, filling his mind.

 

Shhhh, Lucifer whispers to him. It’s alright. Push it back. You must keep the pain at a distance now, little one. He moves within their bond, reaching, until a wall of willpower moves into place between them and the sparrow’s pain. At once, the hurt is less immediate, less demanding. Raphael can think through it now.

 

Better? His brother asks him. Raphael nods and sends a pulse of gratitude through their bond. Good. Now, I want you to reach out and put your power into the pattern. Chase out the dead parts until the whole thing is full of light. Lucifer takes the combined red-and-black-and-gold of their power and feeds it into the pattern of the sparrow. Dull grey-brown starts to glow a soft blue, and in the physical world that same sky-blue coats their fingertips as Lucifer guides Raphael’s hand to cover the broken wing.

 

The larger part of the pattern fills with the blue fire, the flow coming easily from within their combined core, until it hits the point where the lines have broken apart. Raphael gasps as a shock rolls back up the flow of power.

 

Pull the broken pieces close, Lucifer orders. Bring them together and force the power through. Fix the pattern.

 

Raphael tries, but his power catches on the break, refusing to go through. He reaches out, realigning the wing in the physical plane, but even that doesn ’t help bring the pattern together.

 

You have to force it, Lucifer tells him. It won’t heal if you don’t force it.

 

No , Raphael thinks. That ’s not right . He tries anyway. He pulls at the broken parts of the pattern, trying to force more of that blue power down into it. It sticks at the break, pressure building, and the bird cries out in his hands.

 

It won’t go, the healer says, pulling back on the power.

 

It must, Lucifer tells him, and tugs on the pattern, shoving more power through it. The bird shrieks in pain, and agony rips through Raphael’s wings.

 

NO, Raphael shouts, and takes their power back. Not like that.

 

Lucifer waits, quiet, as the younger archangel thinks. Then Raphael reaches out again, and starts to feed their power into the pattern from either end, until the whole thing is aglow. He continues to feed power into it, watching, coaxing it, until threads of light start to reach between the broken lines. Slowly, gaining speed, they start to knit together. Lucifer steps in, guiding the power, keeping it together within the pattern.

 

Watch your power, he advises, though there’s a smile in his voice. When you do this alone, you risk changing the pattern. He lifts their hands from the bird, revealing a wing that’s straightened, the bone whole once again. If you change the pattern, you change the life. Together, they raise the bird into the air. The tiny creature sits up and flaps its wings. Chirps. And then flies away.

 

His brother pulls back from their bond, untangling their essences until they ’re wholly in the physical realm once again, sitting on the floor of Eden, wrapped in Lucifer’s wings.

 

“There,” he says, smiling widely at his little brother. “You did well.”

 

“I didn’t do most of it,” Raphael complains.

 

“You will,” Lucifer reassures him. “Soon, I’m sure. Just watch when you do. You might create something entirely different by accident.”

 

“I’ll be careful,” he promises. He’ll try, though the first time he heals a pattern on his own, an entirely new creature will be created. It will take long hours of work before he reaches the point where he can heal with barely a thought to direct the shape of the pattern.

 

His brother nods, and ruffles his copper hair. “I know you will, little one.”

 

Raphael sighs and leans against him, worn out from the very first major use of his power. Lucifer wraps his wings tighter about them, keeping him warm in the crisp, clear air of the new Earth.

 

After a time, Raphael turns to him, a question on his tongue. “Brother?” he asks. “What happens if I can’t heal something?”

 

“Hmm?” Lucifer frowns, eyes on the blue expanse of sky above them. “Why do you ask?”

 

“It’s just…” he feels silly, but forges ahead with his question. “I overheard Michael and Mother talking. She said She has plans for all of us. But what if I don’t fit into Her plan like she wants?”

 

“You will,” his brother says with certainty. “You are who She made you to be,”

 

“But what if I can’t?” Raphael demands. “What if I’m no good at healing? Or what if She wants me to do something I can’t do? What then?”

 

Lucifer turns to face him, pressing their foreheads together and holding his face with both hands. The gesture is comforting, calming, but it doesn ’t ease the worry gnawing at Raphael’s heart.

 

“Listen to me, Raphael,” The Morning Star says, quiet, intense. “And listen well. You have a part in Her plan. And while we may not know what it is, I know you will do it wonderfully. And if you do not, that is because She has planned it so.”

 

“But-” Raphael grips his arm, letting him feel the fear in him, the worry that he might not be good enough. “What if you’re wrong. What if I-”

 

“Raphael,” Lucifer interrupts, holding a finger to Raphael’s lips to quiet him. “Listen to me now, little brother. I am here to protect our family. To protect you. Whatever happens, whatever you do or do not do, I will be here, and I will love you. And I promise you this - I won’t ever let anything bad happen to you. I swear it on every feather of my wings.” He presses a kiss to his forehead, a gesture of love and comfort.

 

 

 

“You promised me,” Crowley says now, pain bleeding into his voice. “You promised that nothing bad would ever happen to me. And then you Fell, and you dragged me down with you.”

 

His brother reaches out, like he wants to grab hold of Crowley, but he stops halfway, leaving his hand hanging in the air between them. “I did this for us,” he says. “I broke Her power over us.

 

“And look how that worked out,” Crowley mocks him. “Here we are, six thousand years later, and the only one who realized this plan wasn’t the Ineffable Plan is a principality that none of you lot even cared about before the Fall.” He gives his shattered-glass laugh, and shakes his head. “And we’ve all been walking right into Her Plan, all this time.”

 

Her plan is flawed. Unjust. I would cast it off and form a new Plan. A new Earth, where everything bends to my will, not Hers.” Lucifer places both hands flat on the ground and stares at Crowley. “I would free you from Her will.

 

“Just to force me to yours?” Crowley scoffs. “No thanks. I’ve got free will of my own, no thanks to you. I won’t be a pawn in your insane attempt at a- a corporate takeover.”

 

His brother growls, low and deep in his throat. “You would rather be Her pawn, then?

 

Crowley shakes his head. “You don’t get it. I’m not anybody’s pawn. Not Hers. Not yours. Not our divine siblings’.” He sighs, and meets his older brother’s eyes, suddenly feeling exhausted. “What do you want, Lucifer? Was power really this important to you, that you gave up everything you were?”

 

She is not a just ruler. She does not deserve her power,” Lucifer tells him.

 

He blinks up at him, incredulous. “And you do?”

 

His brother leans down, bringing his face close to Crowley’s. This close the demon can see the madness in Lucifer’s eyes. That feral, all-consuming hunger and rage. “I will build a world where you will not Fall for asking questions. Where eternal damnation is not the first and only punishment for breaking Her rules.

 

“Is that why you did all of this?” Crowley demands, horrified. “Is all of this some delusional attempt at taking back our place in Heaven?” Lucifer had the Plan, he realizes. He would have known, almost from the beginning, that they both were doomed to Fall. And he hadn’t had Aziraphale to point out the difference between Great and Ineffable. Was his rebellion - the war, the Fall, all of it - just Lucifer’s own, twisted attempt at keeping the things he loved, no matter the cost?

 

I DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE YOU!” Lucifer shouts. Then, softer, “I didn’t want to lose any of you.”

 

“WELL TOO BAD!” Crowley shouts back. “THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID!”

 

He looks up now into Lucifer’s eyes, and he does not see the half-mad King of Hell. He can see past those bottomless pits now, and just beneath them are the laughing onyx eyes that sparkled with starlight when he kissed his little brother on the forehead and held him when he cried. Those wicked crimson claws were once the hands that cupped Raphael’s, and moved his fingers through the patterns of the world. That face, twisted in anger, once wore a smile bright as the stars. That harsh, ruined voice, raised in wrath and breaking on rage, had once sung hymns of joy - a bright sound twined together with his siblings’ and echoing with love. Those bare wings, batlike and torn, full of holes where once he had shining ruby feathers, they had once lifted him into the air, chasing his laughing siblings through the sky.

 

He looks up at Lucifer, and sees what could have been. He sees sickly jaundiced yellow eyes glowing with infernal power. He sees black-tipped fingers lengthened into wicked claws, fangs extended and dripping venom. He sees pale skin turned paler, turned ghost-grey and devoid of warmth. Wings of oily charcoal, battered and missing feathers, no longer able to carry him in flight. Voice torn and broken, declaring his pain to the world. This is what he could have become, had things been different. If he hadn’t had something to hold on to. Something to fight for. Lucifer had held to thoughts of dragging his family down with him, of overthrowing their Mother so he would not have to be alone in his damnation. Crowley had known even before he Fell that there was no chance of keeping them. He was dead to them as a demon, and he would never dream of causing them the pain of Falling. Where Lucifer clings still to that dark and dying hope that his family will Fall to join him, Crowley rejects it out of hand. He has never needed that twisted kind of hope.

 

He looks at his brother, and sees a being that was once an angel. A being that had only one thing to hold on to. One bright light. And when he lost that light, when he knew he was going to lose the family he loved, it broke him. He wasn’t fighting for the humans. He wasn’t fighting for Earth. He wasn’t even truly fighting for a throne or a kingdom or a universe. He wasn’t fighting for Heaven, or even for Hell. He was fighting for his siblings. Not for their own sakes, for their lives, but simply to keep them at his side. A selfish desire to retain them, at any cost. Even the cost of their own peace and happiness. Such a selfish desire. As a reason to fight, it hadn’t been enough. And now, when he has a kingdom and legions and more power than anyone but God Herself, he really has nothing at all. So now he fights for rage. And pain. And to get back at the Mother that abandoned him.

 

Crowley looks at himself, and knows that he fights for so much more. He fights for life. For freedom. For choice. For questions. For answers. For the woman who asked questions, and all those descended from her. For this wild, wonderful, terrible world where four children can stand against the worst nightmares out of human imagination and come out victorious. For the possibilities and the chaos of self-determination. And, yes, for the family he lost. For the chance that maybe, just maybe, they won’t have to suffer any more losses at the command of a God who plays chess with Her children as pieces. But he also fights for love. For Aziraphale. For the Angel of the Eastern Gate, who gave away his sword and liked to take walks in the Garden with Her Healer. For his life, and a chance for his happiness. And also he fights for himself. For everything he lost. And for everything he has or may yet gain.

 

He stands there on the tarmac, and he looks his elder brother in the eyes. This hell-thing, that even now can think only of his own wants and his own loss. And then, he does the worst thing he can think of. He meets that black-hole gaze with his own blazing yellow-gold. He opens his mouth. And he says three simple words. Just three words, but they mean so much more than the sum of the sound.

 

“I forgive you.”

 

What?” Lucifer asks, and though their bond is gone, just another badly-healed scar, Crowley can feel the pain that lances through him.

 

“I forgive you,” he repeats. And he means it. He doesn’t have to keep all of this anger inside. Doesn’t have to hold on to his rage and his pain until it takes his soul and turns him into something dark and twisted like his brother. He can choose to let it go. It makes him feel so much lighter. So much freer.

 

Out from under the weight of it, he can feel the place where Lucifer bound him to his service. That thin connection all demons have to their Lord and Master. A poor replacement for Her Grace. He grips it in one hand, pulling it into the physical realm, and carefully brings his sword down to rest atop the base of it.

 

No,” his brother says, eyes widening with fear. Crowley meets that gaze, and knows that he remembers the last time they stood like this, a bond between them and a weapon in Raphael’s hands.

 

“I forgive you,” he says a third time. “But I won’t be your pawn.” He has to be more careful this time. He doesn’t want to sever Lucifer’s connection to all of his demons. He’s just going to cut himself free.

 

Raphael,” Lucifer shouts, reaching out, but not fast enough.

 

“Go back to Hell, brother. I’m not your creature any longer.” Swiftly, sharply, he brings his blade down. It meets little resistance. The threads connecting them snap, and it takes just a touch of his own Hellfire to seal the wound. Just another scar on his essence.

 

I never was.

 

NOOOO!” Lucifer howls, his infernal form crumbling around them, fading back into smoke. Crowley glances at Adam and nods. The boy releases his hold on his former father, and, without anything to hold him there, Lucifer is sucked back down into the pit.

 

Then Crowley turns to Adam, and for a moment it’s just the two of them there. The Fallen Archangel and his nephew, the former Antichrist. The demon takes two faltering steps, and kneels down to look the boy in the eyes. He doesn’t have words for what Adam just gave him. For the chance to cut himself free of millennia of hurt and anger. To free himself from Lucifer, and everything his brother has done. He reaches out, resting a hand on the boy’s shoulder, and knows that he’s understood.

 

“Thanks, kid,” he says. It’s not enough. But it’s all he can manage.

 

“That was wicked,” the boy tells him, grinning. And then, completely unexpectedly, he throws himself into Crowley’s arms for a hug. Startled, the demon freezes for a moment. And then he wraps his arms around his nephew, and holds him tight.

 

“We did it,” Crowley tells him, hardly able to believe it himself, what he’s just done. “He’s gone.” It hurts, deep inside, where he still misses his older brother. The void echoes around him. And yet, he does not regret his actions. Sometimes, he knows, a bone must be re-broken in order to be healed.

 

“Yeah,” the boy agrees, and the demon realizes that he’s shaking. They both are.

 

“Hey,” he says softly, rubbing a soothing hand up and down Adam’s back. “It’s alright. It’s over.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Adam sobs into his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I should have known better. Shouldn’t have even started it.”

 

The demon feels a flash of anger, rage on behalf of this child, who never should have been put in the position of deciding the fate of the world. He’s just a kid. He had no stake in this fight, until they made him the crux upon which it all hung. If things had been different, if he’d been left alone, allowed to just be a kid… well. That was never in the Plan. And so the forces of Heaven and Hell had swept him up and forced him into their six-thousand-year grudge match.

 

“You shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with,” he growls. “They never should have done that to you.”

 

“But I did it,” his nephew sobs. “I was going to end it all. I- I made Pepper and Brian and Wensley freeze. I took away their mouths and made them follow me. I was going to kill everyone.”

 

Crowley pulls back, not releasing him, just moving until he can look Adam in the eyes.

 

Listen to me,” he says, lowering his glasses to the boy can see it in his eyes that he means every word he’s about to say. “That’s not your fault. That’s just… them. The Plan. The Great Plan, not the Ineffable one. That was what they, Heaven and Hell, wanted you to do. What matters,” he stops as Adam tries to look away. “No, listen, look at me, Adam.” He waits until the boy meets his eyes again. “What matters is that you didn’t. You were overwhelmed with power. With the impulse planted in you to start their war. That was them, not you. You stopped. You chose your friends. Your family. Your world. You chose, Adam. You could have done what was easy, let yourself become the creature they wanted you to be, started the war, destroyed the world. But you didn’t.

 

“You’re not the Antichrist, Destroyer of Kings, Hell incarnate. But you’re not an angel either. Not Heaven incarnate. Like Aziraphale said, you’re human. And when you had the option to become something else, you chose to be what you are. And that- Adam, that’s amazing. That’s something some people never do. I’m not saying your friends won’t be upset with you for what you did at first. But what you did here today, I don’t think anyone else could have done it.”

 

“You did, though,” Adam points out. “You chose to try and stop all of this years ago.”

 

“I did,” Crowley agrees. “But only because I had help. Without Aziraphale, I probably would have given in and let myself become a proper demon centuries ago.”

 

Adam just looks at him, unimpressed, the sorrow fading from his eyes. The demon laughs, and the sound is a little less like shattered glass. A little closer to his old, bright joy. “Alright,” he admits. “I might not have gone that far. But I only made it here because I have things I care about. People I love. And I’m selfish, just like Lucifer. I don’t want to give that up.” It’s not quite the same, he knows. Lucifer’s love was possessive, consuming, caring nothing for how the object of that desire felt. Crowley just wants those he loves to be happy, even if that happiness doesn’t include him.

 

“Then I’m selfish too,” Adam tells him. “I want the world to stay the way it is so I can keep what I love too.”

 

Crowley grins at him. “Then we’ll be selfish together. Sound good, kid?”

 

Adam grins back. “I guess I’m gonna get in trouble with my dad for this, huh?”

 

The demon shrugs, and stands, tucking his wings and his scars away from sight once again. “Eh. Everybody gets in trouble with their dads now and then. Just know your uncle is proud of you. You’re a good kid, Adam Young.”

 

“Thanks Uncle Sparkler,” he says impishly, and Crowley rolls his eyes.

 

“Call me that again and I’ll hang you upside down from the village well, Hellspawn.”

 

Adam just laughs. Around them, their companions come back to life. At Crowley’s side, Aziraphale breathes in, and frowns.

 

“Crowley?” he asks, and the demon shifts just a bit closer, taking comfort in the angel’s warmth.

 

“It’s alright, angel,” he says. “It’s over. The world is safe.”

 

 

 

Later, when the children have been returned to their parents and the older humans have been set on their way back home, Crowley sits beside Aziraphale on a bench outside a church. There’s a careful distance between them still, just like it has been for the past six thousand years. And Crowley… he’s okay with that. He can’t ask for more. Not even after everything that just happened. Not when he knows what he is, and what he was. Not when he knows that the demon-that-is will always be Aziraphale’s second choice, when he can’t have the archangel-that-was. And that, only if he can even consider feeling something like love for something like Crowley. The knowledge doesn’t hurt so much, tonight. Because, against all odds, they’re alive. And they’re together. Maybe not in the way he wants. And maybe even not for much longer, with Heaven and Hell both looking for someone to blame. But right now, tonight, they’re here.

 

He’s so tired. Exhaustion has settled into every line of his body. Emotional, physical, spiritual exhaustion. He’s been wrung up and squeezed out, used up until even feeling is too much work. If the angel wasn’t here, he’d probably already have fallen asleep right here on the park bench. He doesn’t even have enough power in him to miracle them back to London. It’s all he can do to summon a bus.

 

“It all worked out for the best, though,” Aziraphale says into the silence.

 

“Hmm?” Crowley watches him from behind dark glasses, unable to take his eyes off of him, afraid that, should he look away, the angel won’t be there when he looks again.

 

“Just imagine how awful it might have been, if we’d been at all competent.”

 

“Ah,” Crowley agrees. “Point taken.” If they, either of them, had been the creature they were meant to, the world would probably be nothing so much as burning sludge right now. He sighs, and looks down, expecting to see the angel’s fingers fidgeting with his ring. Instead, he’s holding a small scrap of paper.

 

“What’s that?” he asks, though he doesn’t really have enough energy to be truly curious. He barely has enough to lift the bottle of wine he’s holding to his lips.

 

Aziraphale passes it to him. “It fell out of Agnes Nutter’s book.”

 

When all is said and all is done, ye must choose your faces wisely, for soon enough you will be playing with fire,” he reads. Of course. He may have severed his connection to Satan, but Hell will still be coming for him. They’ll want to make an example of him now. Show them all what happens, when a demon defies Lucifer’s will. He’s not naive enough to think his brother will step in, now that he knows who Crowley once was. No, he probably won’t even notice until it’s far too late. He’ll be too wrapped up in his own pain and rage, licking his wounds and ignoring all that goes on around him.

 

“For soon enough you will be playing with fire,” he quotes. “So this is the final one of Agnes’ prophecies?”

 

Aziraphale is watching him, waiting for his reaction. “As far as I know,” he says.

 

“Hmm.” He tucks the knowledge away to deal with as soon as he’s had some rest. He’s not sure he could even solve a simple math problem right now, let alone decipher a prophecy. “And Adam?” he asks, though he already knows the answer. “Human again?” He wants to see what Aziraphale says. How much the angel can sense. Can he tell that Adam kept his connection to Crowley? That, whatever else, it still makes him at least part inhuman?

 

Aziraphale nods. “As far as I can tell, yes.” He’s smiling, and accepts the wine bottle Crowley passes him, gently brushing their fingers together as he takes it from his hand.

 

As the angel drinks, Crowley can’t help but voice the question that’s been nagging at him since they first realized that the Great and Ineffable Plans were two different things.

 

“Angel? What if the Almighty planned it like this all along? From the very beginning?” Was I still meant to Fall? Did She always mean to bring me to this point? To bring us to this point?

 

Aziraphale considers it. “Could have,” he admits. “I wouldn’t put it past Her.”

 

The demon thinks about that, as Aziraphale returns the items of the Horsemen to the delivery man. What does it mean for him, for them, if this was how it was always meant to go? Is he still bound to some great Plan? Will he, one day, find himself outside of a cottage like that one drawn in the book he’s put in his safe? Sword drawn, wings flared, ready to face down his siblings in battle? Or is that just another red herring? Something She put in his path for… whatever reason She does any of this?

 

“Do you believe in life after death?” the postman asks. And Crowley wonders if that’s what he has. Does Falling count as death? And Death… Azreal had said he’d be seeing him soon.

 

The postman leaves, and the bus arrives to take them back to London.

 

“There it is,” the angel comments. “It says Oxford on the front.”

 

Crowley takes a sip of wine. The Oxford bus was closest, and he didn’t have the power to draw anything else to them. “Yeah,” he says. “But he’ll drive to London anyway. He just won’t know why.”

 

“I suppose I should get him to drop me off at the bookshop,” Aziraphale says. And oh. It feels so long ago now. Centuries. Not just this morning, that the bookshop burned down and he had believed Aziraphale was dead.

 

“It burned down, remember,” he says gently, and watches as realization and pain cross his angel’s face.

 

“You can stay at my place. If you like.” But we can run away together! Alpha Centauri! He waits to be rejected again, noting the surprise in Aziraphale’s eyes as he stares at him. Please? He wants to say. And he almost thinks the angel is going to accept. But then he looks away, walls going up between them as old instinct takes over.

 

“I don’t think my side would like that.”

 

Sides. There have always been sides between them. First, it was the distance between an Archangel and a Principality. A small distance, easily ignored. And then it was yawning gulf between Demon and Angel. Insurmountable. And yet, somehow, they managed to reach the point where they could sit here, together, after having worked side-by-side to prevent the end of the world.

 

Fuck ‘sides’, he thinks. He’s had enough of letting someone else’s definition of what they should be stand between them.

 

“You don’t have a side anymore,” he says gently, afraid of frightening the angel. “Neither of us do.” He cut himself free of Hell today. And while he’d give anything to let Aziraphale keep that certainty of Heaven, he’s come too far now to be bound by their rules and live. They can’t make him Fall, not if this really was Her Ineffable Plan. But if he goes back, they will destroy him.

 

Crowley waits until Aziraphale is looking at him, giving him his full attention. He wishes he could wipe the pain from his eyes, but he’ll settle for knowing that, whatever happens, he’s not going to let either side lay a finger on his angel. “We’re on our own side,” he says. “Like Agnes said, we’re going to have to choose our faces wisely.”

 

“Do you-” Aziraphale’s voice shakes, but his gaze is firm as he watches Crowley’s face. “Do you think they’ll come for us, then?”

 

He looks at him over his glasses, yellow eyes glowing in the darkness of the night. “Angel,” he says, touching a hand to the hilt of his own sword, a comforting weight against his leg. “When they come, we’ll be ready.” He pauses, then adds “I won’t let them take you. Not again.”

 

He stands, shoving his glasses back into place as the bus arrives, and tries not to shake apart at how much of himself he just revealed. Aziraphale reaches out, touching his arm with gentle fingers.

 

“Then we’ll need to come up with a plan of our own,” he tells Crowley, and follows him onto the bus.