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The Ritual Highway to Heaven

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Crawly figured out early on that one could get used to anything, even the absence of it. Maybe if there were truly nothing, if Crawly had been awake in pure darkness and cold forever, he'd be undone by the loss. But the ever present sense that he both had and had been abandoned eventually just became a part of his self. In a way, there still was divine purpose, even if it was to be squashed under a boot someday.

In the Garden, Crawly mostly basked in the sun and watched the angel of the eastern gate.

Sure. His heart didn't have the ability to long for God, because God was entirely removed. Along with that had gone any connection to light or love that he might have had previously. It was fine. Crawly, like anyone would, quickly became accustomed to the new way of things.

But he’d had no idea how cold he would be after Falling, or that it would leave him feeling tired. He’d never been cold or tired before, or so he assumed because the sensations were overwhelming. In snake or human form, he felt particularly sluggish. He stayed curled up on a rock, or in the branches of a tree, letting the sun fight away his chill. He wasn’t a productive demon in any measure, and most of his temptations were just mild suggestions that he could murmur with his eyes half-closed.

The angel of the eastern gate, who he would later learn was named Aziraphale, had a flaming sword and beautiful wings. Those impressive features aside, the angel was unintimidating. He just looked happy to be there, to watch man and woman love and tend the Garden. Crawly had looked at the other angels, and they weren’t nearly as reactive. They were all stone-faced, and it made Crawly want to try and remember if he’d ever smiled like the eastern gate guardian before he’d Fallen.

To call what he felt when he first spoke with Aziraphale “lust” would have been generous. It was nothing named yet. It boiled his stomach (or maybe that was just the heat of the ground he'd been told to slither upon). It was physical. It wasn't not emotional. It was a pairing of mind and body that Crawly hadn't known would feel so good. If it truly was lust, lust was warm and sweet and funny, tickling up his spine, making him want to beam as brightly as the angel beside him. He wanted to coil around him until they both burst.

He didn't realize how appropriate a word “burst” was until they'd made a few more generations of humans for him to try things out with.

It seemed to him that saving someone from a God-sent flood was probably bad enough to outweigh the whole preservation of human life thing. He picked a heathen whore and her bastard son, because that was probably an additional level of sinful. (He had picked her because her skin smelled of sunlight, and seeing Aziraphale had made him long for the Garden’s warmth.) He spirited her and the baby away under the guise of wanting a woman to lie with him the whole night, to feel a weight sleeping in bed beside him.

“I have a room for the child,” Crawly told her. It was starting to pour harder than it ever had before, so much so the woman was disoriented and agreed to the bizarre arrangement.

She cradled the baby against her chest, shielding him from the cold wind. “What strange weather,” she laughed as Crawly led her away, faster and farther than she could realize.

He fucked her that night, after they'd had dinner and she'd put the baby to sleep. She told him that the day had been strange, even before he had brought her to his rooms or the rain had started. He didn't ask for clarification. She slept by his side, and he curled around her.

In the morning, he showed her the edge of the flood; they looked down on the miles of water from atop his high mountain fortress. She wept. She cursed him. She had lost everything: her mother, her husband who was a shepherd, all of her friends, all of her petty enemies, everything she had lived for. Now, all she had was a child she hardly knew what to do with.

“You would have drowned,” Crawly said, overwhelmed by her anger toward him. She could not be reached by this offering, and she cursed his name, setting herself upon him like the wrath of abandonment.

She took her child, who brought her no comfort. She took anything of value. She went to make her way in a country she did not know with a language she had never heard.

In this way, Crowley secured souls for hell.

The man drinking beside him would not stop talking about his beloved friend who was a glorious idiot. He was incompetent. He was too forgiving. He loved too much and with no discretion, the man drinking beside him slurred. The man was a lightweight, only on his second drink, and clearly bent on drinking himself stupid. He was clearly in love with his friend, a rabbi, and Crowley just wanted him to shut up because he had a temptation to get to in a half an hour and he wanted to finish his drink by then.

“Sounds like your friend needs a kick in the pants,” Crowley told him, not even listening to himself. “Something to make him calm down.”

“Something like that,” the man said, uneasy. “I worry what might happen to him. I just worry what might happen to him,” and he went on about his friend's kindness. He talked about how he had memorized his voice, and he could hear him when he called from any distance. He knew the slightest movement of his face, when he was happy or sad. He had, without meaning to, learned his scent, and it had become the only thing that comforted him at night. If something were to happen to him...

Crowley dismissed his nerves. “Ah, most of the time, things work out all right, don't they?” He looked at the face of the man. He was tired; he'd been having doubts about his friend, and that made him hurt. His uncertainty in love felt worse than hatred, or so Crowley surmised. “I'm sure it'll all be fine.”

“Thank you,” the man said. “I hope so.”

He left some time after that, and Crowley had to piece together what had really happened later on.

His chest burned when Judas's soul jumped from his swinging, bloated body. He was going to the worst part of Hell, and Crowley had helped him get there. Crowley had, in his own way, led to the destruction of the young Messiah. He'd get promoted for that, except he didn't tell anyone. God must have known, though, because every step he took on creation was that much heavier, and his hands shook when he thought of it.

He hadn't even realized his part in the matter as he watched Christ die. He had hardly noticed the man getting crucified, because He was coming back anyway. Instead, he had been memorizing Aziraphale's voice, getting to know his face, learning his scent. Why not? he'd thought at the time. Aziraphale was the closest thing he had to a friend, and it had seemed good enough for Judas.

When Aziraphale passed him an oyster, their fingers brushed. Electricity raced through his spine, shocked his nervous system into a furious, brutal race. His heart was pounding, he was starting to sweat, and he couldn’t taste the food in his mouth. His whole head felt fuzzy. All of it corkscrewed heat into his stomach, and he wasn’t sure if he was aroused or having some kind of allergic reaction.

Aziraphale handed him another, and Crowley made sure to keep his hand away. His fingers itched just from being close, and when Aziraphale smiled at him, the heat in him sank down, cloying, to his thighs. Crowley forced down the second oyster, this time tasting it (and wishing he hadn’t).

“No good?” Aziraphale put together from the look on his face.

“I don’t like eating much,” Crowley said, feeling like he had to explain himself.

“I adore it,” Aziraphale rushed, turning his gaze to the rest of their order. Crowley hid behind his cup, watching Aziraphale pick up and prepare a shell for himself. “As unfortunate as it is that you don’t care for these, I have to admit I’m happy to not share.”

“Do you think we knew each other?” Crowley blurted out. Maybe what he was feeling was some kind of sense memory, some echo that could explain why Aziraphale was inside of him after a few brushes of his fingers.

“What’s that?” Aziraphale was more focused on freeing the oyster from its bed, a task performed with his delicate, soft, little hands and an almost sacred reverence.

“Ahhh,” Crowley said, losing his nerve some. He watched Aziraphale slurp back the frankly nasty meat, somehow enjoying it even as his own tongue reeled at the lingering taste. “You know,” he cleared his throat. “Up There. Before.”

Aziraphale chewed slowly, savoring both the flavor and the question. “I’d assume we’d have had to. Everyone knows everyone.”

“You don’t think we were close?”

“Oh!” Aziraphale laughed, reaching for another oyster. “No, I can’t imagine we were.”

“You didn’t have a friend you lost after the Fall?” Crowley kept the panic out of his voice by leaning in, conspiratorial.

“No!” Aziraphale was really tickled now, putting his hand down momentarily. “I never had a friend in Heaven,” he said, like no angel had specific friends. Crowley couldn’t remember much about Heaven besides the Fall, but he knew he’d had friends. At the very least, compatriots who he’d seen more often and worked with more closely. Sure, most of them Fell too, and he couldn’t really call them friends anymore, but certainly not all. Aziraphale had just admitted something startling, and he went about unshucking an oyster like he was the happiest thing on earth.

Crowley thought he should tell him that he’d been left out and that he was strange for not noticing. But when he looked carefully, like he had been learning to do, he could see that Aziraphale was well aware. The bravado was either for Crowley’s sake or his own.

At the touch of a hand, Crowley could lose all higher functioning. The feel of it, of another person's hand on his hand, shot up his arm and through his body. It didn't hurt, but he wasn't sure it felt good.

It was even worse when Aziraphale kissed him while they sat side by side on the wooden settee. Crowley was still sensitive all over, the muddle of his physical body made worse by the apparent submission of the gesture. Aziraphale bowed his head to him, lowered his eyes. If nothing else, it was a sign of completely undeserved trust.

Outside of sex, which he'd gotten bored with in the recent century, Crowley didn't get touched. No one set their hands on his skin in a good or bad way, unless they were fucking. Even then, it was usually a minimum of direct contact. Sometimes his body felt too tight, and he knew it was because of this absence of touch. He would take the other knights to train when it became unbearable and let them smack him around. His liege didn't ask anything of him except that he be ruthless and inspire fear throughout the countryside. The people of the court largely avoided him because of his eyes and his reputation.

Aziraphale put their hands together, as simple as taking a breath. He pressed his mouth to that flesh like Crowley didn't stink of evil. He had the audacity to look confused and hurt when Crowley needed a moment to process this bizarre behavior. Before he could think it through, Crowley was returning the gesture, his whole being consumed by a fire. When he'd done it, he realized he'd meant it. The kiss had been not only a gesture but some sort of proclamation: I am your own. Allow me to stay.

It was a supremely stupid thing to do, and Crowley got over it. Without Aziraphale's hand on him, he returned to his right mind with its right loyalties and right priorities.

When Aziraphale took his hand again, later in the evening, he brushed a circle on the skin that apparently fascinated him so much, and Crowley kept his head. The shaky jolts Aziraphale's touch had brought subsided. Instead, Aziraphale was just holding his hand in his soft, sturdy palm. Aziraphale was just holding his hand. Crowley would just have to make sure he didn't get too used to that.

Crowley had periods where he fucked more. Sometimes he'd go years, refusing an effort because the whole thing bored him so much. Sometimes he couldn't get enough, needing to take and be taken simultaneously, needing to be in some way ravaged to chase away some sort of creeping and terrified emptiness. Plus, it could be fun. It felt fine usually. (Sometimes all of it repulsed him.)

It had never occurred to him that Aziraphale was capable of any sort of sexual feeling. Aziraphale acted so chaste and so squeamish when it came to the topic of sex. In hindsight, that was maybe a laughable assumption on Crowley’s part. Aziraphale liked all of the body’s other pleasures: good food, soft fabrics, a warm fire, holding hands. And some of the most lascivious Crowley had ever met were undersexed clergymen and blushing virgins.

Still, he didn’t think Aziraphale knew what he was asking for when he asked for it. Not fully, or else he wouldn’t be doing it so casually in a pub, playing footsie with a demon like they were teenagers. On the other hand, he looked so hurt when Crowley said no. And why had Crowley said no? Fucking wasn’t more dangerous than what they were already doing.

Unless, Crowley had to admit, it wasn’t just fucking. And, with Aziraphale, of course it wouldn’t be. For Aziraphale, fucking would have had to be synonymous with making love. Crowley had never done something like that, because it was distasteful and probably not even a sin.

In a hazy state much later when Crowley had managed to get home despite his drunken stupor, he realized Aziraphale had been making love to him since that feudal kiss so long ago. Crowley had already allowed the worst of it in—the sweetness, warmth, and devotion. To deny Aziraphale further was pointless from a philosophical perspective.

Still, he decided, he’d feel better if they had some safety precautions in place before they went much farther.

“We’re built to love and serve,” Aziraphale was saying. We meant angels, but Aziraphale was actually talking about just himself, whether he knew it or not. When he said “love” and when other angels said “love,” they meant different things. “We were made to be obedient to a Master.” This was a party line.

“You heard from your Master lately?” Crowley teased. It was a low blow. He figured he was allowed a few. He’d just saved his life and ordered his lunch. He’d pay for the meal too, if he could beat Aziraphale to the draw.

“The Metatron – ”

“Ugh, Metatron!”

“Well, anyway, I’m best used serving the earth.” Aziraphale dabbed his mouth. He looked satisfied and yet a little displeased that his meal was gone. He returned to his coffee.

“Poor angel with no master,” Crowley hummed. If he were talking to a human, the tone would have indicated that they were about to go to bed together. With Aziraphale, Crowley saw it as extended foreplay. His no, not now a century ago had seemed to keep Aziraphale at bay while he sought out different protective measures. “No one to tell you job well done and how well you love the earth.”

Aziraphale’s face was blotchy red. “That’s not what I meant.” He shifted in his seat. He cleared his throat, lowering his eyes. “I just mean that, about Joan – ” oh, that was what they were talking about – “Some beings—it’s a pleasure to be of service. I hope she felt that way, wherever she ended up.”

“I’m sure she’s with your people.” Crowley said, not having realized that his earlier question might have caused some distress.

The smile that broke was beatific, and Aziraphale reached to take Crowley’s hand, clearly wanting to share his joy. He pressed Crowley’s fingers between his warm palms, squeezing just a titch. It tweaked down to Crowley’s elbow sharply, the familiar nonhurt and nonpleasure. He couldn’t help but grin back. “I do appreciate you saying so,” Aziraphale told him, even though he didn’t need to.

Crowley looked at his mouth as he formed the words, though. He squeezed his hand back, telling him soon. He wondered what sort of effort Aziraphale would prefer him to make, what he was expecting.

Crowley had tried to explain, but Aziraphale assumed the worst. After all their time together, Aziraphale couldn’t just listen to him. He couldn’t just shut up for one minute and believe Crowley. It all made him so wretchedly angry.

He went to bed and didn’t wake up until the next century.

He didn’t often take Aziraphale’s hand without prompting, and he had hoped that the gesture would carry some sort of weight. He was so close to saying, “Please give me this so that I can love fuck you,” but when he looked at Aziraphale’s face, he was pale. The hand he’d gripped was shaking, and that grip was tightening around Aziraphale like it might squeeze a yes out of him. He was hurting Aziraphale without thinking, and that made him feel sick to his stomach. He let go. He could get the holy water on his own. It was better for him to do it on his own, at the very least to show that he could.

Crowley almost leaned in to kiss the angel—his angel, he could probably start to say—when he’d handed him the holy thermos. He wanted to wait. He wanted to bring him somewhere, anywhere Aziraphale liked, and do it right. He had a neat little pussy tucked between his legs that he figured Aziraphale would get a kick out of, and they could kiss the whole time. There would be hours and hours of kissing. He was nearly delirious from the thought.

Aziraphale said no. He said no. He got out of the car. He left. He looked so sad.

That stung, but Crowley realized Aziraphale had just done something he’d been markedly against. It probably didn’t put him in the best of moods. Crowley could wait, because he had been, and time with Aziraphale often blew by.

In the upcoming weeks, he tentatively put his hand atop Aziraphale’s, testing to see if he was ready. Each time, Aziraphale gently pulled his hand back and busied himself with some pointless task. Losing the heat of him chilled Crowley to his insides. Aziraphale was still sweet, still welcoming, still interested in and caring toward Crowley, but he did not linger how he once had. Thinking back on it, Crowley wasn’t sure when that had changed. He’d been so assured of his place in Aziraphale’s life, he stopped questioning every sign and gesture.

Maybe Aziraphale had never actually wanted sex. Maybe he had only wanted it when Crowley was holding back. Maybe he’d found something else and was satisfied now. Good for him, Crowley tried to say, feeling cold even in the summer sun.

He started to trade sexual favors in a divey movie house regularly, a few times a week. If the guy stayed until the credits, Crowley would invite him back to his apartment, regardless of how Crowley felt about him. These encounters were almost entirely passive on his part, although he’d swapped his cunt model for a more standard cock and took it up the back because the burn was particularly overwhelming.

“Lance Corporal,” Crowley said, mildly surprised to see Shadwell sitting in the middle of the theater. The young man looked up when he’d heard his title, and he smiled.

“Mr. Crowley!” he said, equally surprised to see his sometimes employer in a not previously agreed upon setting.

Crowley wasn’t quite sure what to do with this development, because he’d never taken Shadwell as the type to hang around empty movie theaters at noon. It wasn’t like this was a porno house, but its reputation wasn’t that much better. Even if someone else came in, Crowley wouldn’t be able to get anything accomplished without Shadwell’s knowledge. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Aye, what’s it look like I’m doing?” Lance Corporal Shadwell’s face was lighter than his tone. His knees were spread way out, thighs parted as much as the little seat would let him.

“Do you mind?” Crowley asked. Shadwell shrugged, and Crowley sat down, leaving a seat between them, still unsure where this could go. “You seen this one yet?”

“I wouldn’t be spending my hard-earned money sitting my arse in a fancy theater to watch it if I had,” Shadwell said. He didn’t return the question, which was probably a good thing because Crowley had seen every noon showing of Easy Rider since it’d come to the single-screen theater. Dennis Hopper, what a talent, he’d planned to say if anyone asked, and that he liked the motorcycles.

Shadwell started on about witches again, but the movie started. Crowley kept his arm slung over the back of the chair between them, and Shadwell didn’t seem to mind when his fingers brushed the edge of his jacket 10 minutes in. Shadwell had, on their last meeting, clapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand, and now Crowley thought that maybe that had been something.

“Can I move a seat over?” Crowley said lowly in his direction. “I like being in the middle.” And when Shadwell, gaze on the screen, nodded, Crowley slid in beside him. Shadwell was a strange man, but strange wasn’t necessarily a problem. He didn’t like Shadwell very much, but they were friendly. Crowley very badly wanted to try this with someone he was friendly with.

He put his hand on Lance Corporal Shadwell’s knee.

“What do you think you’re doing, you bleeding woofter?” The words burst from Shadwell, so loud Crowley was worried the underpaid ticket seller-cum-usher was going to pop back, and then Crowley would have to either get rid of the overworked clerk or find a new place to cruise.

“I thought you might want to mess around,” Crowley said, not sure if he could make his voice sexy when he was also trying to keep Shadwell from running to the police. “Why else are you at this theater?”

“I was in the area, you fairy, and Dennis Hopper is a talent.” Shadwell stood. Crowley remained seated and looked up at him. Shadwell was getting worked up. That wasn’t necessarily a problem. Crowley grasped a hand around the back of Shadwell’s thigh, testing the muscle. There was no resistance, and so Crowley used his other hand to pull at Shadwell’s zipper. Mouth tight and coarse around the words, Shadwell managed to say, “I should have known you were a buffer. The way you were panting after me when we first met. You’re gagging for cock.”

“Shut up,” Crowley asked, taking him out of his trousers. When he got his mouth around him, Shadwell fisted a hand in his hair and gripped so tight that Crowley’s eyes watered. It felt so nice. It felt perfect.

Shadwell was grunting and panting above him, calling him all manner of things, jabbing his dickhead at the back of Crowley’s throat like he wanted to poke through to the other side. Crowley only realized he was white-knuckling the armrest of the seat when he heard the shoddy wood creak underneath his fingers. His jaw was aching. Shadwell had been right: he was indeed gagging for cock.

It didn’t take long for Shadwell to near the end, and he’d quieted down some. He pulled out, and Crowley was about to tell him that it was all right to come in his mouth when Shadwell stripped his cock once, twice, and then came on Crowley’s face, streaking over his sunglasses, his nose, and his lips. Crowley felt wobbly as Shadwell, sneering, wiped his sticky dickhead on Crowley’s mouth and then put it away. He let go of Crowley’s hair roughly, leaving him to pant as he fixed himself and hightailed it out of the theater.

Crowley followed him out, wiping the mess on his face off on his sleeve, trying not to smell it. It was disgusting. Shadwell, wising up to his being tailed, turned around. “I’m done with you, faggot,” he shouted. People in the street heard. Crowley smiled, gazing at him through semen-striped sunglasses. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he made a show of licking his lips and teeth, and at least it felt good watching Shadwell sputter and fume.

He got socked in the mouth for his trouble, which allowed Crowley to sock him right back. Shadwell dragged him by his arm into a public toilet and fucked him against a mirror, the cold, dirty porcelain of the sink digging into his hipbones. The irony of being forced to look at himself was not lost on Crowley.

Crowley loved everything about the late 20th Century except that it was gauche for men to hold hands or take each other by the arm in public. He’d spent years perfecting a slight veering off course that had looked natural enough to not raise suspicion but that Aziraphale had always responded to by taking his elbow and steering him right. Sometimes, Crowley would just sit on his bed alone and think about the light pressure on his elbow or the casual brush of their legs as Crowley had been straightened out. Now, being close would draw too much attention, and it was best to touch only in private.

“My dear, could you pass me” was all Aziraphale had to say when he had his ridiculous little glasses on, looking down at a book, and Crowley would bring him anything in the world. In those moments, their fingers could touch or Aziraphale could pat him on the back in thanks. If the contact wasn’t so necessary for Crowley to continue on, the dewy and dazy feeling he got when Aziraphale brushed some dust off his shoulder or took his hand to “covertly” look at his freckles would be pathetic.

Aziraphale was reordering his books while Crowley sprawled on his couch, nursing a scotch. “Wasn’t the Marquis a friend of yours?” The lighthearted derision in the tone made it clear which Marquis that was. Crowley wasn’t quite sure why Aziraphale would have collected any of his writings.

“I think friend is a strong word.” Crowley tried to remember if they’d fucked or not. If they did, it wasn’t anything as reckless as de Sade’s literature. Aziraphale looked over his shoulder at him, eyebrow raised, wanting some kind of clarification. “So what; I knew him. You’ve always been the starfucker between us,” Crowley said, mostly to enjoy Aziraphale’s little wince at the word.

“In my defense, dear boy,” Aziraphale said, coming to sit next to him. “Most of my celebrity encounters happened before they were famous. Brother Francis, for instance.”

“Oscar Wilde,” Crowley sneered back.

“Touché,” Aziraphale said archly. “But he was rather unavoidable in certain places.”

“Were you good friends?” Crowley pried, not sure he actually wanted to know.

“Oh, no.” Aziraphale cleared his throat. “I was a little preoccupied during our acquaintance. But he was a wonderful man,” he barreled on, seeming to assume Oscar Wilde was the subject Crowley was interested in here. “The life of the party, and a topnotch dancer! He – ”

“Stop it, go back. You were too preoccupied to make friends with Oscar Wilde?”

“Oh, you’ll find this very funny!” Aziraphale looked sickly giddy, an uncomfortable blush trickling down his throat. “Really, it’s such a laugh. It’s just that I’d entered into an—oh, you’ll love this—an affection during that time. Can you believe that? Me! How silly.”

“With a human.” Crowley put his drink down on the table harder than he meant to.

“I know, I know. How remarkably—well, silly!” He kept repeating the word: silly, silly, silly. It didn’t seem to convince either of them. Aziraphale forced another laugh and poured himself a glass of the scotch Crowley had broken into.

“Was he—were they… good?” Crowley didn’t want to know.

“Terribly good,” and Aziraphale laughed again. He downed the drink without savoring it. “But human life is so – ”

“Silly,” Crowley snapped.

“Fleeting,” Aziraphale said over him. He hadn’t heard, or at least he acted like he didn’t.

“I’m glad he was good for you.” Crowley sounded like a child. It was stupid. Of course Aziraphale had been with someone else, a person who he could be warm and righteous with. He had fallen in love, truly in love, and he’d acted on it with someone good. Sexually and morally, Crowley knew now it would be impossible to shape up against that person. A human, and not even a famous one. Just a regular, dumb human being had swept Aziraphale off his feet, and he was still aching for them. Crowley could see it, almost feel it—how he ached.

“Wait, dear, when you asked if he was good, you didn’t mean – ”

“Forget about it,” Crowley told him. In his drunken state, he wanted to moon about how unfair it was that Aziraphale had left him for a person who was dead, and now Crowley couldn’t do anything to sabotage Aziraphale’s regard of them. It recontextualized every single wistful look or soft sigh that Crowley had caught Aziraphale making. He’d been silly enough to think they might be for him.

Aziraphale put his hand atop Crowley’s, and Crowley figured there was still some sort of care for him that Aziraphale held, because the grace of it twitched through his body and brought him back to the present. “All right, darling,” he said.

Crowley watched as Aziraphale leaned in. He inclined his cheek so that he could be kissed, near the corner of his mouth. It was something they didn’t do often, especially now that it wasn’t a common custom. Aziraphale smelled like paper and glucose and like the scotch they were both drinking. His lips were soft and warm. Crowley reached up and cupped his round cheek, because it seemed the thing to do even if his fingers trembled.

Aziraphale closed his eyes, and he sighed.

The worst thing in the world was that Crowley couldn’t even hate Aziraphale for his cruelty. Aziraphale should never have taken his hand all those years ago. Crowley would have gone through his whole existence and never felt that raw need to be held if Aziraphale had just left him alone. It wasn’t fair that Crowley had to remember how close he’d almost been to getting what he wanted, especially when he hardly ever wanted things at all and, in the scheme of the entirety of creation, this was so small.

But, like all terrible things, he got used to it with time. He started to prefer it, because it was familiar. He started to not remember the hope he’d felt just half a century ago. A little was, after all, better than nothing.

And, really, the worst was always going to be the war to come.