Chapter 1: Brewer Street, 1967
There were an infinite number of places that the demon Crowley could have set out to run a heist. But he had chosen Soho.
His motivation was partly one of practicality: after seeing an unguarded fount of holy water, it had taken him two decades to recollect his thoughts enough to make a retrieval plan; moving said plan outside of England seemed a fair way to grow distracted for yet another two. Crowley had very much enjoyed Ocean’s 11 , and it thrilled him to play out the Sinatra part. If he kept the operation in London, it would be over with quick enough. He already knew which strip clubs and bars attracted the appropriate rapscallions, so why mess with good intel?
His second motivation was purely personal: secretly, buried so deeply that even Crowley wasn’t sure if it was real or a shadow in the corners of his amber eyes, he hoped that Aziraphale would hear about him. And come to say hello.
It had been a minute since they’d last seen each other. After the Blitz miracles, Aziraphale had made his interest in Crowley’s company more plain. At least, Crowley felt that he had. There was always some perfectly innocent reason for the angel to ring him up for a stroll. The nineteen-fifties had been an interesting time in both of their lives, if the regularity with which they’d met was any indication. A lot to talk about apparently. Even more to drink about.
Lately, through whichever crises of faith kept calling his angelic attention, Aziraphale hadn’t had as much time for their previously increasingly common rendezvous. And Crowley missed it. Missed him . No matter how interesting the humans had become, temptations and distractions were nothing compared to the deep sense of… contentment he felt spending a day with Aziraphale.
It had all started to feel like the best of the old times, the after-Paris but before-Crowley-cocked-it-all-up times. Granted, a lot of the distance between them was on him: he could have made an effort to reach out but his angel’s rejection that sunny morning in St. James Park stung bitterly. Sleeping for a few decades seemed a fantastic idea. But then Crowley had been so shattered, she’d barely managed to crawl out of bed in time for the twenties. She had started thinking it’d been for the best she was gone as long as she had been and wouldn’t it be better for everyone if she made a habit of it--until the demon’s time with British counter-intelligence revealed just how adept Aziraphale was at finding trouble when there were gormless murderers and spies running around the country. He’d been liable to get himself killed, playing with fire like that.
Discorporation was a nasty business. And who was to say those blighters Upstairs wouldn’t reassign him, just ‘cause? Gabriel had tried to do it before! Oh, Aziraphale would have withered away working back at Home Office. No bookshop, no tea, no fun at all. And then where would Crowley be? Bored. Alone. Without a friend in the world.
Nope. Not one drop of good would have come of it. He couldn’t risk losing Aziraphale. After all, they’d only just had the Arrangement for a few hundred years! He’d decided it was better to keep tabs on the angel and get back to preparing for the worst. He worked extensively on his impression of a demon who wasn’t a spring-coiled anxious mess, and who definitely didn’t always want to be near his kindhearted friend. Couldn’t go about drawing the wrong kind of attention.
Speaking of attention though…
Crowley hadn’t been fully expecting Aziraphale to hear about the heist, but he had mentally prepared for it. Somewhat. As the demon had plotted away in his newly rented flat in Mayfair, he’d amused himself by imagining the angel all aghast, telling him, You can’t steal from a church , Crowley! How he’d chuckled to think about that! Stealing from churches was just the type of grade-a villainy a demon could get commendations over, holy water notwithstanding.
And if Aziraphale had never heard about the heist? Well, Crowley had already picked out a time to swing by the bookshop with chocolates and wine. He could clandestinely celebrate his success, inching both of them closer to safety from his side without Aziraphale ever needing to worry.
But in all of Crowley’s idle day-dreams around the robbery--with the worst case scenario involving a reproachful angel in need of a mollifying dinner at The Swiss Tavern--there were two things he hadn’t expected.
The first: that Aziraphale might turn him down socially .
The second: that the bookish principality would turn him down after offering up a custom tartan-wrapped thermos containing exactly what Crowley had been idly wanting for Christmas over the last century.
As he’d taken possession of the gift, moving with equal parts caution and reverence, Crowley’s heart had felt near to bursting with affection for his old friend. After everything Aziraphale’d said? Did it mean he was forgiven? They could put that old fight behind them? Get back on the same side?
No, he was a demon. Unforgivable. Unlovable. Aziraphale made that much clear. He’d barely been able to look at Crowley. And when he did? It was a look of such… pity. Pain. It pained the angel to look at him.
“ Wot’d I do?” Crowley wondered aloud to the Bentley, distracted as he made the quick drive back to Mayfair through the glittering late night streets. He hazarded a glance at the thermos secured beside him. It practically radiated nervous energy.
“It’s not like I asked for it!” Not outright, not with words.
Maybe though… with actions?
He frowned, deep lines curving through his cheeks. Something akin to frustrated understanding dawned. That was it, wasn’t it? Aziraphale had picked up on manipulations Crowley hadn’t even intended.
“I wanted to see him? For company ?” His voice pitched higher as he scoffed at himself. “Impossible. I’m a demon, right? Must’ve been maneuvering him, yeah? Aw, look how reckless I’m being, angel. Yesss, come do the legwork for The Serpent like a good boy.”
He’d done it before, hadn’t he? Back Then. Seen a doe-eyed distractible angel wandering the garden, used it to his advantage. And that turned out so well for humanity.
He tried to be better. To never lie to his friend. Just show alternatives, offer simpler solutions. To find room for both of them to breathe.
He tried to fight what all the forces of Heaven and Hell told him were his nature. But if Crowley was exploiting without effort, then he wasn’t in control. Old habits and all that.
He peered at the wing mirror. As his reflection sneered at him, he thought with disgust, Hail Satan, am I right?
Chapter 2: Crowley’s Flat in Mayfair, 1967
Crowley needs to work on obsessive thoughts... Mostly that good good soft-sad angst.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Crowley parked the Bentley illegally outside his building and damn near flew up the stairs to his flat. Spindly black-clad legs took the steps two and three at a time. He cast open his door and flung off his round-framed sunglasses with what he considered appropriately dramatic self-loathing.
On his stately red desk in his new office, he set down the thermos of holy water and took one long step backward. He was supposed to be the snake around there and yet he shifted about as though expecting to get bitten.
The grainy whorls of his fingers idled along the wide lapels of his velvet jacket, the embossed paisley pattern keeping him firmly planted in the present moment. When he could focus again, he undid the smooth buttons. It was too warm in his cold den.
Both demon and thermos entered then into a contest of wills. They stared balefully at each other, wide-eyed and unblinking. Not that Crowley blinked much as a rule, but this was a pointed and purposeful stare-down. The kind of alpha dog posturing the demon purely abhorred from the humans. But this was no human adversary, and he could make an exception.
The canister would win the battle if only barely but, until then, they were locked into it. And the one small piece of the universe that was Crowley’s and Crowley’s alone shifted beneath him, earthquakes of regret at the ready, volcanoes of shame set to erupt.
Without looking away from his newest roommate, the crimson-haired demon grabbed a cigarette from the pack in his jacket pocket. He lit the Morley with a snap of his sharp fingers. In and out, he breathed and strained for an artificially calmer place.
Crowley swallowed, his throat thick. “A little splash,” he said with a sunken terror, “all it’d take.”
He’d learned what that stuff could do to a fellow demon precisely once, after which he’d quietly excused himself from the country and fell from grace in a series of bars, a failed effort to forget.
He’d do what he needed to if he had to. He’d made up his mind about that long before mustering the courage to ask for such a weapon from Aziraphale, his friend first and servant of Heaven a distant second. Didn’t mean that he’d enjoy it if… when… he needed it.
This should have been a triumph. Why wasn’t he happy? It wasn’t just the aborted heist, though he hadn’t technically called that off. Still could steal something. The pulpit? Too heavy. He’d think of something. Probably.
No, the problem was that he’d wanted to celebrate this moment with his angel. Instead, he wasn’t sure if Aziraphale would even want to hear from him any time soon. They’d met today, so he couldn’t reach out tomorrow. Too risky. The day after, would that be enough time or too soon?
Too fast for me, Crowley.
The demon sucked the air through his teeth and whirled away from the tumultuous gift, withdrawing from the staring contest.
He pushed the nearby revolving wall and entered the crossroads of the flat. He hadn’t yet figured out what he wanted to do with the awkwardly placed room. A sitting room had seemed a strange novelty--who was he going to entertain? The Dark Council? Instead, for the moment, he’d set up a row of potted plants on sturdy rectangular bases.
He’d always liked plants. They were easier than other living creatures. Not that he particularly disliked animals but, being a demon and a snake, there were a lot of factors. Plantlife was easier. Simpler. He understood their needs: water, sunlight. Simple.
He hadn’t intended to bring any home, but one temptation led to another and another. They brightened the room. Reminded him of… times. Not better times exactly but ones he missed all the same. Having lived through that long long ago, growing in strange and uncomfortable ways around the sharp-edged rocks, he knew how he’d handled the issues and could pretend they didn’t exist. There were fewer complications all around in remembering those times.
Fewer complications and… fewer feelings.
Because while he absorbed the basics of flora back then and had just as many centuries of study since, he was clearly at a loss with the care and feeding of that angel. The goalposts kept moving until he was out of breath from enduring.
Other angels at least there were standards to keep: rile up a little trouble and duck away before they could smite you, just like Downstairs suggested during their tri-century retraining courses. Of course, Crowley had been ditching out of those since the last millennia. Claiming important work and can’t be pulled away and catch you at the next one . With all the good, er, bad reports he was always putting in with Dagon down in Filing, no one in the nine circles of Hell thought to question or check in. Leaving him free to keep up with the humans, craft Rube Goldberg-esque evil plans, and… pine.
He was a damn forest for Aziraphale. Pulp him up into six thousand books.
Miserable with the soggy wet mass of his heart, Crowley stalked into the kitchen and grabbed a delicate brass plant mister. He puffed madly on a second cigarette as the mister filled under the tap.
We may have both started off as angels, but you are fallen.
He slunk back into the planting room, Aziraphale’s admonishment cracking against his skull.
He spritzed the wide leaves of his little garden, inspecting them so he didn’t have to do the same to himself. The plants were… adequate. He wanted them to be better. Some day, he’d have the most lovely plants, and then he could adopted one out to Aziraphale and--
“Fuck.” He squinted against the sudden pain behind his yellow-slitted eyes, setting aside the mister.
Crowley grabbed the smallest pot, one of the long-stalked Aspidistra, and slumped sideways against the wall. He cradled the tiny sprout to his face for something akin to comfort.
Across the flat, looking so much like an incendiary bomb in its own right, the tartan thermos burned a hole through him.
“Aziraphale. He…” Crowley’s shoulders slumped as he whispered to the plant, a strange thing to do that felt right all the same given the depths of loneliness the demon found himself awash in. “He said I’m too fast for him.”
The more he replayed the interaction in his head, snuggling the potted plant in one hand and smoking from the cigarette in his other, the more Crowley doubted if he’d heard it right.
Aziraphale had been adamantly against the holy water idea before. Then he heard about the heist. Then he just changed his mind? Did he… did he want Crowley to have it for some… other reason? They hadn’t been meeting each other much lately. Were the angels cracking down on him? He’d looked like the cat that swallowed the canary sitting in the Bentley. Were they watching then?
“Stop. Stop torturing yourself,” Crowley said aloud. “This Aziraphale. Aziraphale! He’d never. He couldn’t. He… He’s an angel .” He’s my angel.
Crowley stood from the floor and paced, still clutching both plant and cigarette, though furiously puffing on the latter. Each hot drag scorched his throat anew.
Aziraphale had looked jittery from the first moment Crowley climbed into the driver’s side of the Bentley and found his angel miracled into the passenger seat. The holy water inside the thermos was the holiest of holy. Aziraphale had promised.
Crowley’s mind jumped and he spat, “Too fast . What did that even mean?”
He was just trying to spend time with him. Was that so odd?
“Okay. Sure. It is. Demon, angel, all that. That’s my bad. That’s on me.”
Fraternizing, a distant ghost of a voice hissed.
“No,” Crowley keened to his own demons. “Please.”
Should I thank you?
Maybe he should return it. What good was this ticking tartan time bomb if he wasn’t using it to protect what he cared about most in all of the cosmos?
For so long it was so clear Aziraphale didn’t get it, didn’t see it; Crowley had been a fool, chasing after an angel to save him from himself, hoping he’d notice the lovesick eyes the demon kept behind glass.
Perhaps one day we could…
There’d been… something?
I don’t know…
Hadn’t there been?
Go for a picnic. Dine at the Ritz.
Aziraphale was still on about what Upstairs thought. Frozen. Afraid of Falling.
“I would catch you,” Crowley whispered out to the ether.
No, that was entirely too much to ask of the angel. What was he doing? He was being ridiculous. Aziraphale was right to be scared to throw a big fuck you up to Heaven. Crowley’d been there! It was no joke.
Maybe it was a mercy, Aziraphale rejecting him. Crowley knew firmly where they stood that night. Opposite sides. So all right. He was the only one who had to walk with their eyes open to the cruelty on both sides.
And he wanted to wait. He would wait. For soft smiling Aziraphale and his complete trust, he could wait. It shredded and burned him from the inside out, but he would stay waiting until the day Heaven tore the wool from his angel’s pale blue eyes.
“Is that what you’re asking?” Crowley hugged the plant tighter and took a slim drag from the cigarette. “I can’t read you, angel. Do you want me… To be...?”
Unhurried. No more demands. Give him space. Give him time.
He succumbed to the cement floor, curling his legs beneath him as replayed it all in his head. Once. Twice. A dozen times.
I can’t have you risking your life.
It was so very important that he heard it right. He played it again. And again. Committing the brief touch of their lives to eternal memory. Until the cigarette burned his fingers and the plants begged for water. Until the fringe of his shaggy mop fell long in his eyes.
Until he wanted no more than sleep eternal.
Part of this scene inspired by this art: https://twitter.com/kokokoart/status/1136381409566842882
Chapter 3: What Happened In The Bentley, 1967
What Crowley commits to memory. Permit the indulgence.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The Shadwell kid--Lance Corporal, so as he said--had thrown off the demon’s expectations for the night. Lost in his own amusement as he left his conversation outside The Dirty Donkey , Crowley wasn’t paying attention when he opened the driver’s side door of his already-vintage Bentley. If he had been, he would have noticed a half second soo ner a familiar sc ent that danced out. Fresh earth and vanilla, sun-dusted leather, bergamot soaked wool.
Admittedly, this was a bit quicker than he’d expected his old friend to find out about the church job but he was always happy to see Aziraphale. Maybe it was about something else? From behind his round silver-framed sunglasses, Crowley devoured the sight of the angel in profile: all reassuring daylit sky, cloudcurls of hair framing his noble forehead. The same comfortable clothes as always.
Even though Crowley was pleased, it was still a surprise to have the angel there in his car at that precise moment. Couldn’t he have called out to him on the street, like the witchhunter-whatever had?
And so the first words he said weren’t the ones he would have chosen.
“What’re you doing here?”
The angel looked at him apologetically if ever so briefly. He hid a shy smile before turning back to face forward. “I needed a word with you.”
Oh, yes. He’d most definitely heard. This was it. Time for a tongue lashing, and not the fun kind.
Who was it that blabbed? Sally? Spike? And here Crowley had just paid out the first third of their prize. Had to have been Spike. What kind of name was that anyway, Spike? Lance and Skewer already taken?
Irritated, he bit out a bit too sharply, “What?”
“I work in Soho. I hear things.” Aziraphale seemed to be swallowing each thought and finding them unpalatable. “I hear that you’re setting up a…”
The darting glances fell on Crowley again, his bright eyes sizing him up in an instant. Each time they’d been apart for a while, Aziraphale made a show of examining whatever new cut Crowley was making of himself. Whether he realized it or not, he was rubbish at hiding it. The demon had felt damn near undressed the time he came to rescue the angel from Madame Guillotine. Not that he wouldn’t encourage it.
But in the Bentley that night, a serious tone covered the hesitant delight in Aziraphale’s gaze as he finished his thought, saying, “Caper. To rob a church.”
Nope. Not having this conversation. Crowley pointedly stared out the windscreen. He’d been having such a good night, too.
“Crowley, it’s too dangerous,” Aziraphale said, tone turning conspiratorial.
‘Obviously’, Crowley barely managed to muzzle the memory. Stale spite crowded his thoughts over his angel’s softened pleas.
“Holy water won’t just kill your body. It will destroy you completely!”
Don’t say anything. Don’t instigate. But he couldn’t listen to his own advice.
“You told me what you think,” Crowley said, perhaps a little unkindly as he threw the words toward his passenger, “a hundred and five years ago.”
“And I haven’t changed my mind,” Aziraphale cut in. “But I can’t have you risking your life.”
He couldn’t do this again. It physically pained him to look away from the angel a second time.
“Not even for something dangerous,” Aziraphale chided. “So...”
The angel moved to retrieve a slender item nestled at his side by the car door. When he raised his hands, Crowley saw a modern vacuum flask between them. A signature tartan wrapper cloaks it and a cream-colored mug sat upside down atop it.
Aziraphale’s voice, like his hands, trembled imperceptibly as he said, “You can call off the robbery. Don’t go unscrewing the cap.”
His heart became an undertow in his chest. He didn’t know where to look, the angel or the...
Reverently, Crowley reached to take the thermos-- that’s the word! --and the fingers of his left hand brushed along the back of Aziraphale’s where he steadied the bottom of the container.
A flash in his mind rolled up through the riptide. A creaking leather satchel. Smoldering wooden pews. Those fingers grazing against his own, two of cups now reversed. Dragging a statue out of the rubble under cover of darkness and war, memento angelus crammed into the Bentley.
But this was so much more than a simple demonic miracle to spare the angel’s beloved books. This is… is…
“S’the real thing?”
“The holiest,” Aziraphale said, barely an exhale.
Walls have ears.
Crowley marveled at the canister. The watery sounds inside dragged the demon down through impossible lakes of apprehension and up again to scour his back with veneration.
No one would guess its contents weren’t some soup or tea or perfectly ordinary water. Sooner a human might expect a stash of bills than the holiest of holy, the protection from his kind he’d been desperately needing for the both of them.
“After everything you said?”
Aziraphale nodded tightly beside him, and pointedly did not look at Crowley.
There were so many boundaries he didn’t want to overstep, especially when Aziraphale had always been so careful not making a big deal out of Crowley’s rescues. But if he’d let him, the demon would have pulled Aziraphale close across the seats and cried out in joy. He’d come to his senses! He understood! They were friends, they had each other’s backs, and Satan himself couldn’t stand between that.
He wanted to say everything at once. So many words that felt too small. But he had to start somewhere. C areful not to spook the angel, he asked mildly, “Should I say thank you?”
The answer came back quick and wounded, “Better not.”
That was fine. Aziraphale had always been more appreciative of actions than words anyway. Think quick. Don’t lose this.
“Well, can I…” He stammered over a few more words before settling on, “Can I drop you anywhere?”
Let me drive you home, angel, so you have your excuse to invite me in. You’ve got some new bottle you want to open? You always do. There are albums I want you to hear. The musicians, they’re very clever. Let me share them with you.
But his hope crumpled around the polite w ords, “No,” and, “Thank you.”
Crowley’s face fell into a deep, furrowed frown. All thoughts flew from Crowley’s mind with the rejection.
“Oh, don’t look so disappointed,” Aziraphale said, tone double-edged in mercy. There was apology there in the sad smile the angel cast his way as he sighed. “Perhaps one day we could… I don’t know…”
Aziraphale furtively glanced out the window at the pedestrians.
He graced Crowley with his gaze as he continued lightly, “Go for a picnic. Dine at the Ritz.”
What was holding him back? They could go to dinner right now.
Let’s drop our guard and laugh where no one’s listening. I want to celebrate us tonight, angel.
“I’ll give you a lift,” Crowley said, voice suddenly urgent. “Anywhere you want to go.” Stay. Stay with me, angel. Tonight, stay.
Aziraphale’s angelic smile didn’t reach his eyes. Under the neon lights of the Soho street, those hazel-blue eyes were all wide and shimmering, entrancing the demon with their unspilled secrets. He didn’t know the danger he was facing. He stared back with curiosity. Then his angel spoke.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
The words were a rustle of white wings, barely slid between them. Crowley was certain he felt his soul plummeting from atop the wall of his devotion.
Too fast? W-what did that mean? What was too fast? The car? He could slow down. Probably. Maybe. Old habits were hard to break. He could try. Was that what that meant?
He wanted to say, Please, angel, my heart can’t take this. But Aziraphale made a hasty retreat, shutting Crowley in with all of his swirling terrified thoughts.
The towheaded angel cross the empty street with urgency in his steps. There was no hint in the angel’s gait to suggest he knew what fresh Hell he’d cast into the demon’s overactive imagination.
And maybe that was the point, Crowley realized with dawning horror as he snapped his attention to the thermos, blinking owlish behind his round glasses. Maybe his friend had left behind all that actually remained between them.
What’d you just do, you old snake?
He didn’t wait to see if Aziraphale looked before he started to drive off.
So. Hmm. Well.
He had gone too fast . It was up to him to figure out if he could live with that.
This is the last chap set around that night in 1967. I was debating putting it here or not but hopefully it makes sense to be here now. Thanks for reading.
Chapter 4: The Road to Armageddon Begins With a Single Step, 2008
The calm before the storm. False security.
Crowley hadn’t been lying to Aziraphale that day in St. James Park. It wasn’t a suicide pill he’d been after.
But sometimes, in the darkest times, Crowley would be lying to say he didn’t think about the contents of the safe he’d miracled up shortly after that night in ‘67.
It was hard not to wonder. Wondering was what he did, what he’d always done. Question everything. What would it feel like? Was there anything After? Would the world be better off without him? Would anyone--Aziraphale--mourn him, a demon, a Fallen angel? Probably not.
Be careful with that hope, serpent. It’s not yours for the taking.
Sometimes the emptydark thought crept up apropos of seemingly nothing.
Humans killed the last Caspian tiger in existence? Funny, I could stop existing, too. That’d be nice.
Y2K didn’t go as planned after decades of delicate work? No use for a screw up like me around. Right! Time to open a thermos.
Hell demanding a face-to-face? Yeah, sure, I guess but… what if I wasn’t around for it?
He didn’t mean it, not really. Except when he did. The sort of joke that’s not a joke if someone else agrees like, Ha ha, angel, wouldn’t it be silly if I held your hand and all these people thought I was sweet on you?
Crowley had checked on Aziraphale’s thermos plenty of times over the years, fingers twitching like they had back in the Garden, reaching for equally forbidden fruit. A pang of dread burrowed beneath her nails and leached into her veins, saying the angel had given over nothing more dangerous than water from the tap. If she needed to use it in defense, someone would end up damp and she’d end up throttled. Good joke, that.
Whenever Crowley went to to the thermos out of idle curiosity, everything was fine. She’d pick it up, give it a good shake to make sure the water hadn’t evaporated. Who knew what being in close proximity to hellish forces for decades could do to the stuff, after all. This was uncharted territory.
What the demon hadn’t noticed, simply could not have, was all the times that she hadn’t touched it. In those moments, the siren-song of the void carried feet over stone and hands to the swinging Mona Lisa sketch that hid the safe from unwelcome scrutiny. If there was even the most minuscule sense of sincerity to Crowley’s pained desire, a prayer was answered.
On the night that Crowley met two Dukes of Hell in a graveyard in Buckinghamshire, she had been in high spirits. She’d wrapped up a long-term project, taking down a large swathe of the mobile phone network in the Greater London area. Sure, getting called away from London to take a meeting was something she deeply dreaded but this time they didn’t actually need her at head office. There was some quaint parish church, dated back to the Middle Ages, with a healthy crop of graves out front. That was where they’d all meet.
As she surged the Bentley up the A413, a moment of heat crossed her lightly freckled cheeks. “They can’t know,” she said. “Can they?”
After what Crowley had pulled off with the London Orbital motorway, the mobile disaster was precisely the level of delicate, deliberate, and far-reaching work that she assumed the forces of Hell associated with her in the current era of human advancement. But unless there were more immediate ramifications that the demon had overlooked, surely she wasn’t getting recognition for this so soon. Perhaps in a few years, the full mastery of that night’s plan would unfurl like a moth’s wings to the moonlight, but tonight? N-nah.
She was right, of course. Where Crowley was fast--don’t go there--the legions of the damned moved rather more at the excruciatingly leaden pace expected of them. As such, unbeknownst to her, that project more than thirty years before was the one paying off, the reports finally all gone through.
But a small desire for more immediate gratification over a Job Well Done tugged at her ear, causing one corner of her lips to follow suit.
Off the main roads, a clinging fog devoured the light from the Bentley’s headlamps. She wasn’t far from the designated graveyard but she was still late. More often than not, that was the case. Everything always took longer than she accounted for, even on the very dullest of days. But when a project was underway--worse when a project was on its very last, exacting day--time slipped and skipped like an old scratched CD.
Or an old record on that player in the bookshop.
Crowley tried not to think about Aziraphale when she was likely to encounter fellow demons. Best to keep the angel far, far from her thoughts, lest she grow distracted or look too fond over some memory as she was want to do, mind always associating without her permission. But driving was safe. The Bentley was safe. Only Aziraphale ever joined her there, leaving behind no more than biscuit crumbs and that bookdust smell and a tender ache in Crowley’s heart.
But when the M25 preoccupied her thoughts, Aziraphale was never far away.
The angel had been the one to point Crowley toward the dread sigil Odegra, after all. Found it in one of his tomes, chattered about it as they enjoyed a particularly elegant Inglenook, and inadvertently inspired the demon to reach for higher heights in mayhem-causing.
Crowley had even practiced his progress presentation in front of the angel, as he’d been so nervous to explain it all to his bosses. Would they get it? The hilariousness? The genius? He’d done a few year’s work, bribing officials and getting very good at a new bit of criminal enterprise called hacking--and physically moving a few surveyor’s polls across a field by himself under cover of darkness, because who else was he going to trust with those small but occultishly significant changes? And when all was said and done, that energy would feel like unto the barest flick of his wrist compared to the endless decades of commuter frustration spilling on the tarmac.
Hail the Great Beast. Devourer of Worlds. The promise of the sigil. Going strong, three decades hence.
Crowley tittered as she turned the Bentley onto the dirt road of St. Mary’s, remembering the delightful little ‘wahoo!’ Aziraphale had given at the end of that presentation. When asking for a similar show of exuberance from the assembled Dukes and Lords of Hell, the reaction had been the exact tepid flavor Crowley had always known from them.
But it had made the demon smile nonetheless.
That mid-August night in the early twenty-first century, two of those selfsame Dukes lurked in the Bentley’s headlights, almost forcibly melding themselves into the shadows beside a peeking stone parish and beneath the sullen beeches.
The demons were a solid oil spill of shadows and a gangrenous ghost, lizard- and toad-headed respectively. Dukes Ligur and Hastur.
She cut the engine with a thought.
Calm down. Can’t be bad, or we wouldn’t be out in the middle of nowhere.
A deep focused breath cooled her throat. A run of her hands over the fabric of her skinny jeans, importantly familiar against too-thin thighs. Her mental armour settled around her broad shoulders as though black wings manifested.
She could do this.
Crowley made her exit, throwing a predatory swing into her already pendulous hips. Beneath her boots, last autumn’s leaves crunched in an even rhythm.
If the demon knew what she walked toward, the anguish she'd inherit, Crowley would have slowed that pace to a crawl.
Chapter 5: St. Mary’s of Amersham, 2008
Ahead of Crowley, the dukes greeted her with raised hands. “Hail Satan,” said Hastur.
“Hail Satan!” Ligur echoed.
“N-uh. Hi, guys.” Crowley said, raising her hand in reply. The two dukes had been waiting and their patience seemed thin. “Sorry I’m late but you know how it is on the A40 at Denham. I tried to cut up towards Chorleywood--”
Hastur cut off her excuses. “Now that we all art here,” he said, slickblack eyes boring into the lesser demon, “let us recount the deeds of the day.”
“Of course. Deeds, yeah.” It was an old tradition. Tedious. Crowley shoved her fingers into too-small pockets. They were one of the better, more subtle ideas the demon had had over the years, if she had to guess based on how much she hated them.
Hastur went first on recounting. Naturally. The braggart.
“I have tempted a priest,” he said, voice lofty. He raised his pale chin, shaking back the hair of his white wig that kept his companion hidden this evening. “As he walked down the street, he saw all the pretty girls in the sun. I put doubt into his mind. He would have been a saint.”
Crowley nodded, as appropriate, but already felt her mind start to wander.
“Now, within a decade,” Hastur continued with a leering smirk, “we shall have him.”
A decade? On one soul? Crowley forced a thin chuckle and smiled through her teeth. “Yeah, nice one.”
There was no way these two had heard about her project. What’s this all about then?
Ligur interjected next, staring at Crowley almost in challenge. “I have corrupted a politician. Let him think that a tiny bribe wouldn’t hurt.”
He sounded very proud. Crowley couldn’t understand why. Politicians really, well, historically, they were almost made for corruption.
“Within a year,” Ligur said with marked intensity, “we shall have him.”
She got the lay of their dick-measuring then.
Bobbing in anticipation, Crowley couldn’t help the self-satisfied smile that crept onto her face. “Right, you’ll like this. I brought down every London area mobile phone network tonight.”
She grinned fully. And waited.
She swayed, ready for their approval.
Hastur’s oily eyes flashed with confusion. “Yeah?”
“Yeah! It wasn’t easy. I had to--”
“And what exactly has that done to secure souls for our master?” asked Hastur, damn near accusatory, like she’d been the one poncing about whispering evil thoughts at souls already half-damned and not Ligur.
They really didn’t get it, the relics!
“Och, come on, think about it!” She failed to suppress her own delight, scoffing with laughter. “Fifteen million pissed-off people who take it out on each other.”
Ligur sneered. “It’s not exactly… Hmm. Craftsmanship.”
She bit her tongue. Quite literally.
From behind her sunglasses, Crowley flicked her gaze between the dukes. She’d worked hard! And even if they couldn’t see it, didn’t get it, that was no reason for the thick shame that had started to pool in her stomach.
On the defensive, not where she wanted to be, Crowley hissed, “Well, head office don’t seem to mind. They love me down there. Guys. Times are changing. So…”
It was pointless arguing. She had better things to do. Better beings to associate with.
She shrugged sharply and sniffed with disdain. “What’s up?”
Hastur’s voice filled with grim meaning as he answered, “This is.”
Ligur bent to retrieve an item shrouded in shadows at his feet. He lifted the woven basket by its twisting handle.
If Crowley had been dunked in an ice pool, she couldn’t have been more quickly numbed or had all playful smugness evicted as thoroughly and accurately. Two words and a glance at that hell-sent basket and her mind turned to radio static.
Crowley rejected her new reality.
“Yes,” Duke Ligur corrected.
Static. Crackling. Screeching between her ears until another word struggled forth from the floe. “Already?”
Duke Hastur strode toward Crowley until they were a mere foot apart. “Yes.”
With her brain opening and closing connections at random, fight, flight, freeze all at war, in a fit of hyper-awareness the serpent of Eden caught all the details of the other demon she tried so often to avoid. The smudged edges of Hastur’s trench coat. The frayed collar of his lapel and the pulled-thread scarf. The rotten stink of sulphur and throat-choking smoke, still clinging all those hours after Crowley had been told to arrive.
The state of him was a most vicious reminder of Hell, where the noblesse seemed so impossibly comfortable and Crowley was… was most assuredly not. Nothing was comfortable for her then, not sharp-visioned thoughts of Downstairs and not standing on suddenly aching legs in a graveyard on Earth, about to take a task she hoped was still another thousand years away. A thousands years and someone else’s problem.
Horrified, Crowley asked, “And it’s up to me to…?”
In dark chorus, the Dukes of Hell answered, “Yes.”
The basket lurched forward.
Crowley fought every instinct to recoil, stammering out, “You know, listen, it… Mm-ff-nnn… really isn’t my scene.”
The basket was offensive. It was impossible. Her face scrunched up in displeasure as she shook her head, a steady stream of no no no bashing against her skull. How could they ask this of her?
“Your scene. Your starring role.” Ligur menaced in whisper, “ Take it.”
Hastur, sounding almost cheery, offered, “Like you said, times are changing.”
Ligur grinned. “They’re coming to an end, for a start.”
“Why me?” Crowley hissed, curiosity finally getting the better of her.
“Well, they love you down there,” answered Hastur readily. Crowley caught the sarcasm as the duke continued. “And what an opportunity! Ligur here would give his right arm to be you tonight.”
“Or someone’s right arm, anyway,” the other duke said, his black-rimmed eyes drilling a hole through Crowley that told her exactly whose arm he was thinking about. The hell-lizard on his head inched closer with a dead-eyed hunger.
There was a contract suddenly, also shoved in Crowley’s direction. Hastur told her where to sign.
She just couldn’t fathom it. Her? In charge of… of… Delivery? That would kick it all off, wouldn’t it? No turning back. No more time. No more anything. No more any one . At least, no one like they had been over the millennia.
Stop it! Do not think about--! Just stop.
She licked the tip of her finger, a spark of hellfire lighting up. It wasn’t like she could refuse. This was Armageddon.
Crowley signed her true name, a swirling symbol like she was some demonic Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Her fingertip flamed as the contract sealed her immortal soul to its sinister purpose and she reeled back.
So. That’s that. Pulling back up a comforting if detached bravado, Crowley shook her head so that her winespill hair fell forward. “Now what?”
Hastur said, “You will receive your instructions. And why so glum? The moment we have been working for all these centuries is at hand.”
“Centuries?” she repeated hollowly, wondering how Hastur could believe the party line so strongly.
“Our moment of eternal triumph awaits,” Ligur rallied.
Through gritted teeth, Crowley said, “Triumph.”
“And you,” Hastur added, oily eyes wide and wet and terrible, “will be a tool of that glorious destiny.”
“Glorious. Tool. Yeah.” This is enough. Get moving. “Okay. I’ll, um, be off then.”
At long last and because she quite literally no other option, Crowley took the accursed basket from Ligur’s outstretched hand.
“Get it over with,” she snarled aloud to herself.
She recovered quickly, saying, “No, I want to get it over with, obviously, but I’ll be popping along. Great. Fine. Yeah.”
Crowley took several halting steps backward toward the graves and the lights of the Bentley beyond. Then the sight of the basket in her hands made her already traitorous legs weaken. She spared one last glance at her fellow demons and made a speedy retreat from the dukes at her back.
She affected an extra predatory twist to her thin hips. It would not do to let on how riotously panic-inducing she found the wicker picnic basket, especially not to the likes of those who would report back to Lord Beelzebub zirself. Keep it cool, keep it together.
“Ciao,” she called, feigning effortlessness.
She wanted to throw up.
Right foot, left foot. Do not stumble, you prattling fool. You’re holding the actual Spawn of Satan in your hands.
The driver’s side door of the Bentley opened a bit too eagerly. She leaned her seat forward and deposited the future Lord of All Darkness onto the red leather bench seat in the back, motions mechanical.
Now get in.
She slithered into the seat, feeling bone deep cold despite the August night.
Good. Start it. Get the heaven out of here before they realize… a-anything.
The Bentley rolled with exceeding caution back down the drive of St. Mary’s, back to the main road, back to the fog-filled forests.
Her heart thundered in her chest and down through her feet. Her throat threatened to swallow her. Was there anything to eat? Could she choke on a CD case and call it a day?
The car would crash. The Antichrist would die. It could all start over again. Easy-peasy. Lemon squeezy.
The downside? There would be an awful lot of explaining to do when she arrived in Hell, without a body and without her charge.
Also, the kid. He was just a babe. Hadn’t done anything world-ending yet. Maybe he wouldn’t?
No. She couldn’t. She couldn’t kill a kid. Not even circumstantially in a car crash. Not even a prophesied destroyer of kings and father of lies.
More to the fact, Crowley couldn’t handle this kind of pressure. Not without a several bottles of whiskey at least.
Crowley wanted Aziraphale.
No, she needed him. If she could talk to the angel, her clever bookish angel who always had answers or could find them if he didn’t, then he’d come up with an idea on how to stop this. Stop her.
But she couldn’t even think of her friend. Couldn’t even think of him! Not until all of the Antichrist hullabaloo was over.
Oh, hell, the demon thought. How long is this gonna take? What if I need to… to stick by him? Protect him? I know Earth. I know the humans! Why did I stay up here? Did I do this to myself?
She didn’t even know what her instructions were and already every moment was excruciating. Crowley felt, in a word, royally fucked.
Chapter 6: The Road to Tadfield Manor, 2008
Heading to Dragon Con in mere minutes but wanted to post something before I go on this. So, less edited than normal. Thank you everyone who's been reading! I've loved your comments, they are very supportive and encouraging. :3
Crowley was all in favor of Armageddon in general terms. But it was one thing to work to bring it about, and quite another for it to actually happen.
She didn’t know where she was going. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but the living, breathing, squirming parcel in her backseat. The demon gripped the Bentley’s steering wheel, knuckles white and fingers aching.
“Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit! Shit!” She growled with growing intensity, “Shit! Shit! Shit! Why me? ”
The announcer on the radio, playing Queen still, cut through the pea soup of her panic to say, “...in 1975, it was because you earned it, Crowley, didn’t you?”
For the second time that night, Crowley felt the proverbial rug yoinked out from under her.
That drawl wasn’t the Lord of the Files. That was the really big boss. Satan himself. Talking. Directly. To Crowley. Well, an approximation thereof anyway, channeled through the British radio man.
Lucifer continued, voice honeyed and edging toward one Freddie Mercury. “What you did to the M25 was a stroke of demonic genius, darling.”
“The M25? Yeah, well… W-nn-nn, yeah, I’m glad it went down so well.” Could she hear herself?
Delight filled the voice on the radio as her boss said, “Here are your instructions!”
Hellish incense drifted from the vents of the Bentley, giving Crowley a moment of panic-- what’re they doing to my car!? --before the glowing smoke seized her. She stared, unseeing, hands on the wheel.
“This is the big one, Crowley,” Satan said, an unwelcome intimacy passing between them that left the lesser demon feeling stripped bare. Eviscerated.
She was barely cognizant of the return of the music, her mind caught in the hypnotic drone of the instructions boring into her. It took the high, bright lights of a lorry and an accompanying shrill horn for Crowley to pull back into her senses.
She cranked the wheel and, not that the demon realized, the last of the Dark Council’s directions floated past their recipient. The hellsmoke harmlessly dissipated through the Bentley’s back window.
The picnic hamper slid sharply on the back bench seat to slap against the side of the car. The top flipped up, scaring and confusing the Antichrist. He wailed his displeasure.
Crowley pulled over.
She knew what the plan was. What her part in all of this had to be. It wasn’t predestined, that much she knew. Could have been any demon with enough mileage under their belt and in good--bad--graces to be considered loyal enough to the Big Boss. Loyal enough but also disposable if they stepped out of line.
With shaking fingers, Crowley moved her sunglasses up her forehead into her long wine-red hair, the motion exposing the snake mark at her jaw near her ear. It was not quite a tattoo. No one had given it to her with stick and ink. It was more correct to call it a brand, burned into them with the Fall. It had been there as long as she’d had those sun-slack yellow eyes, which she squeezed shut against the thunder of her thoughts.
The child in her backseat continued to wail.
You have to do this. They’ll kill you if you don’t. They’ll find you.
She contemplated his options.
They’ll find you.
There really weren’t any options.
She was to deliver the baby to a place less than half an hour away. Village by name of Tadfield near Oxford. On the outskirts was a convent at Tadfield Manor. The nuns there were no devotees of the Almighty but rather to the lovely chap who’d just gotten off the radio. Satanic nuns. Crowley had met them in passing over the years, an order dedicated to St. Beryl. They… they talked a lot. No filter whatsoever. They’d be expecting her, and the baby, that shortly evening.
She’d’ve had more time if she’d hadn’t been late for her meeting with the two dukes. Everything had been timed down to the minute.
Crowley snapped her fingers and the picnic basket closed once more, shielding the Adversary from the streetlights. That seemed to do the trick, and her lord’s son returned to quiet comfort.
She began driving. She couldn’t afford to delay.
As the radio faded to static in her brain, the demon slipped his glasses back down to cover her eyes and thought it all through.
Child to Tadfield Manor. Give him over to the nuns. They would make the switch, get rid of the other child, Bob’s your uncle, over and done with on their part.
It was what came after that boiled like molten lead in the pit of Crowley’s empty stomach: in close range but without arousing suspicion, she was to see to the child’s proper upbringing, that the Prince of All Darkness might come into his full power on the afternoon of his eleventh birthday and bring about Armageddon.
The forces of Evil would triumph over Good.
And everything Crowley loved--humans, lovely wonderful inventive questioning humans, with their music and plays and television productions and technology; her car and her flat and her clothes; and a bookshop in Soho and everything that entailed--would end up in flames. A puddle of boiling goo, ruled over by the little imp bouncing along in the back of the Bentley and getting his first but not last earful of Mercury, May, Taylor, and Deacon.
She was on automatic, arriving at Tadfield Manor without recognition of roads and signs.
As she scooped up the basket and slunk away from the car, she even left it running, lights on, music blaring, driver’s side door still swung open.
“You’ve left your lights on,” said a nervous gent by the front door, lighting up a cigarette.
I need about ten of those, Crowley thought as she snapped her fingers, dragging up the demonic miracle to shut down the car without thinking about this human might think upon witnessing it.
The man gave a pleased noise. “Oh! That’s clever. Is it infra-red?”
Crowley gave the man a brief second look. The diplomat father. He would have been sent out so the switch could occur without arousing suspicion. “Has it started?”
“Uh, I think we were getting along, Doctor.”
“Right. What room?”
“Uh, r-room three!” the man said helpfully, not knowing what he was saddling himself with by those two words.
“Room three. Got it.”
Though Crowley remembered handing over her Lord’s child to a nun--she remembered the too-sweet face and the too-delighted comments from the woman, and the sneer of confusion upon her own face--once she stepped into the convent it all became a blur. Like it were happening to some other demon. Any other demon.
She kept her thoughts locked up best she could.
Stepping back into the cool August air, all at once, she felt the chains of duty drop off. The great eye of evil had shifted focus. Oh, she still had work to do that was certain. But the contract Crowley had signed before Dukes Hastur and Ligur was complete.
Crowley stumbled against the nearby brick wall, clutching a hand to her chest and wincing. She was glad that the man she’d seen on the way in wasn’t still puttering about to see her nearly double over. It wasn’t quite pain, more like a vice grip relaxing after holding her too long and too tightly, residual aches and bruises.
The last time she’d felt Satan’s will imposed upon her so strongly it had been a very bad day to be a carpenter from Galilee. And all she’d been asked to do then was witness, make certain no devotees got in the way.
She still doesn’t know if she could have stopped anyone back then. Her heart hadn’t been in it, thrice shattered over the Almighty’s damnable Plan suddenly including torture of man meant to be a son. But that day, no one had moved to interfere in the end. Not really. Water for a dying man, Crowley had decided, was a small mercy the forces of the damned could look away from.
But nearly two thousand years later, another son was born and this time of hellish influence. Would Crowley be asked to watch this one’s end as well? Or just his growth?
Certainly, they were asking her to watch everything else end because of him.
In the Bentley, driving with singular purpose back to Mayfair, Crowley stuttered out a tight breath. “Call Aziraphale,” she says, enunciating clearly for her phone.
It responded pleasantly, “Calling Aziraphale.”
Shit, fuck, please pick up, angel. I need you.
But before there could ever be a ring, a different a tone struck from the phone. “We’re sorry,” it said. “All lines to London are busy.”
She gaped and growled. Had it only been a few hours ago that she reveled in her trick? Seemed decades ago.
Can’t reach Aziraphale, she thought desperately, burning her way back to civilization. Can’t warn him. Can’t get him to make this all better. This is it. Armageddon.
At the first call box she spotted once she reached the city, Crowley cranked the wheel of the Bentley and parked as she pleased, long legs carrying her to her life line in a flash. Practiced fingers dialed the old phone with a number committed to memory in the late nineteen-fifties.
On the second ring and too many catastrophic thoughts later, that angelic voice came through clear and safe. “I’m afraid we’re quite definitely closed.”
The demon weakened with relief, aware suddenly of how much she took it for granted that the angel was always only a phone call away.
“Aziraphale,” she hissed, voice low from the strain and unreality of her evening. Could Aziraphale hear the nuance? “It’s me. We need to talk.”
“Yes, I rather think we do. Is this about…?” The angel let silence drift through the telephone lines.
So. He’d heard. Damn but his people were quick.
“Armageddon,” she said. “Yesss.”
There was no need to discuss it further. They’d meet shortly before eleven that morning at their favored bench in St. James Park, not more than a pleasant stroll from the bookshop.
When she arrived back at her flat, Crowley wasn’t thinking about tomorrow with its endless possibilities for everything going pear shaped.
She was stuck solidly on Aziraphale.
Heaven had told him about the Antichrist. They knew before she could reach him. How was that even possible? Did they have agents on the inside? Did they actually want a war ? And what of her angel? Was he planning on… Obeying? After everything he’d seen of how beautiful the world could be and how ugly Upstairs could get, would he be able to set aside his sword a second time?
No, he’ll be a wreck. He’ll be as bad as me. Has to be.
But he sounded so calm…
Hell and Heaven would get their war one way or another. But then what? They… they fight? Would Aziraphale fight her ? Would she fight him ?
No. I won’t. Can’t.
Crowley knew that whatever happened, she would rather risk complete destruction than ever take up arms against Aziraphale. And any war that existed between Hell and Heaven would be a war against everything that bastard angel stood for. He still didn’t see all the ways that Upstairs was fucking him over. Oh, he understood it existed, she saw that right enough. But he put up blinders. Better to be impossible, spouting off heavenly doctrine, than see the ways the other angels stole pieces of him and bled him dry.
Kept them apart.
How many times had Aziraphale reminded her: she was a demon, she was Fallen, they were on opposite sides. It felt like every time they’d seen each other, this wall got put up between them. Which was funny in that way that it wasn’t, since the first wall for them had been shared.
Atop the garden wall, there had been no divide.
Crowley dropped into her red and gold throne, thinking of the only way she’d ever fight in that war: if it was to protect what she cared about. But the Glory of Hell? The greater evil winning?
She sneered. She didn’t want that! Not that she wanted the so-called Good Guys to win either.
She wanted this . This world.
With Aziraphale alongside her to enjoy it all. Together.
And in eleven years it’ll all just… end. Take it away by force! By a small golden-haired American boy.
Her stomach rolled. Upset wasn’t a strong enough word for what Crowley was experiencing. She wanted to eat something just so she could vomit it back up.
The demon gnawed on the outside edge of her hand, occupying her jaw so she didn’t go for something she might actually be able to swallow. Her whole body ached in that deep way it got when she’d forget to exert her expectations and her body started to think it was a snake deep down, not that human-shaped being she preferred most days.
Like liquid, she slid to the floor. Even sitting had become too much.
From where the demon had slunk to the floor, a smiling face caught in her attention, hypnotizing the serpent as surely as if she had looked into her own sulphur-yellow eyes.
The painting smirked at her from behind the throne, seeming to ask, Who could blame her?
She goes to it, standing in a smooth arc, thick boot heels clicking in the minimally decorated flat.
The lock of the safe spun. She just wanted to entertain the idea.
Can I just rest? It’s been so long. Mother, please , sleep doesn't help. There’s just so much. It’s caught in my marrow. Someone break my bones and suck it out?
The thermos seemed to glow with heavenly light, though she knew it did not. Never had. A trick of her weary mind.
Aching, Crowley reached for it, to touch it, touch it like she’d done dozens of times since she first tucked it away in there, safe. Safe.
For someday. For someone. For someone who would…
It would destroy you, whispered a ghost of a memory.
Her boney fingers hovered centimeters from the vinyl wrap.
Don’t go unscrewing the cap.
That damn tartan. The blues, the tans, the subtle red. Criss-crossed, hatched across her soul.
We could, I don’t know… Go for a picnic.
“Aziraphale,” she intones, voice prayerful. Oh, her heart swelled, overflowed. The hateful thing strained in her chest as she thought of those changing blue eyes, that beautiful angel and his good intentions.
He’d given her this. After everything he’d said. He hadn’t understood her motivations still, but the angel trusted Crowley. When the demon had asked for the holy water, it was not for her to do this.
She bit her lower lip and stepped back.
She couldn’t betray his trust. Especially not with the End Times ahead.
A snap of her fingers and the safe and painting returned to their previous positions, undisturbed.
They’d face it together. They had to. She owed him that much. She owed their friendship more than that.
Think, think. What can we do to prevent it? How can I keep you?
Crowley crawled into bed, slithering under the charcoal sheets, soothed by the cool texture. She let her imagination go wild, clicking into place like the gears on a lock, until she had it just right: a way for an angel and a demon to make the boy choose not to end the world.
They could do it. Together.
Chapter 7: A.Z. Fell & Co., Booksellers, 21st August, 2019
Eleven years later...
It was another evening in late August, eleven years to the day. And it should have worked.
No dog. Wrong boy.
Crowley gave a labored sigh, holding their head in one subtly shaking hand. “Why did the powers of Hell have to drag me into this anyway?” they lamented.
The pair had extricated themselves from the disaster of an eleventh birthday party at the Dowling Estate and made impressive time back to Soho, even by Crowley’s standards of what a driving time should take. A quick change of clothes and a decision to drink their terror under the table later, the serpent and the guardian set to grieving in the southern wing of the bookshop.
“Well. Don’t quote me on this,” Aziraphale said, his voice chastising as he poured two fingers of whisky for each of them, “but I’m pretty sure it’s because you kept sending them all those memos. Saying how amazingly well you were doing.”
Crowley snapped their gaze up to the angel. “It’s my fault they never check up? I’m to blame they never check up?”
They anchored long fingers around the cut crystal of the whisky glass.
Crowley was correct in their assessment that they were not at fault, not that they knew as much for certain. Their reports and memos had amassed a chilling reputation among Hell’s clerical department, no easy feat among that crowd. If Crowley had noticed earlier in the day how Dagon, Lord of the Files, sounded damn near gleeful to ask if something had gone wrong with the hellhound, they might have started to ponder this.
But they didn’t.
Ever since Crowley had first been assigned to the Garden, Lord Dagon had gone through countless assistants, each driven mad in ways no one should ever have to endure. That Crowley could take the blame for, assuming they ever learned of it.
Which they wouldn’t.
Of late, a lower level legion assisted the Lord of the Files specifically regarding the activities of the demon Crowley. The assistant had cataloged Crowley’s paperwork for centuries. Somehow, despite all odds, they had become an eager fan of the faithfully obedient reports: from the most minor of demonic interventions meticulously and unnecessarily detailed to the heavy tomes of decades-long spots of mischief-making budgeted and accounted for down to the minute. To the right demon, those communiques read like pop culture reference guides coupled with a serialized adventure novel. A reality show with an audience of, well, Eric.
Hope that a life existed beyond the literal sludge of Hell’s overcrowded subterranean halls was precious and dangerous. So the assistant filing demon did everything in their extremely limited power to keep their supply securely where it was: on Earth, unobserved and undisturbed.
Thus, blame for the general lack of inquiry into Crowley’s more everyday affairs fell to them.
To Aziraphale, Crowley pleaded, “Everyone stretches the truth a bit in memos to head office.”
“Yes. But you told them you invented the Spanish Inquisition and started the Second World War.” The accusation was clear.
“So the humans beat me to it. That’s not my fault!”
Crowley was about to launch into a further panicked explanation of why their deceptions and lies of omission were perfectly reasonable given the circumstances, but stopped. They listened, then scented the air, trying to catch the barest hint more of what skittered across their demonic senses.
“Something’s changed,” they whispered.
Across the small table, Aziraphale smiled tightly, as if unsure about but willing to take the sudden change in conversation. “Oh, it’s a new cologne. My barber suggested-”
Crowley cut him off, irritable and distracted. “No, I know what you smell like.”
The demon stilled. Distant cries of delight and dread dueled as the ripple of The Adversary’s aura laughed out across all hellthings. Like his unholy father before him on a road to Tadfield, Crowley felt the Destroyer peer into their body and soul. They were naked and undefended. Judged unworthy.
Crowley’s face fell slack. “The hell-hound has found its master.” Their words were little more than a drone.
“Are you sure?”
“I felt it.” The passion returned to their voice and body and mind as Crowley said, “Would I lie to you?”
Aziraphale’s too blue gaze leveled at Crowley’s behind their sunglasses. “Obviously. You’re a demon. That’s what you do.”
Crowley picked away the pain of Aziraphale’s jab, wondering, All this time? That’s what you still jump to? I can’t with you right now.
“Well, I’m not lying,” they bit. “The boy, wherever he is, has the dog. He’s coming into his power.”
Across the small table, Crowley considered briefly all that lay between themself and the angel. Hell and Heaven would figure out it was Crowley’s fault, eventually. The other demons weren’t exactly quick on the uptake, but there wasn’t long before the Apocalypse would get rolling so, not much time for them to be in the dark then, was there?
Where can we go that they won’t follow? They’ll know we’re working together. They’ll sniff out that you’re my side. That I care more about you than whatever it is they think I should care about that isn't you.
Crowley frowned, swallowing all their words but two. “We’re doomed.”
Dawning realization lit across Aziraphale’s too gentle features. He blinked and lifted his whisky glass to his lips. “Well then,” he said in a hushed tone. “Welcome to the end times.”
Aziraphale downed the drink.
* * *
For the next several hours, the only beings on Earth who knew anything was amiss about Armageddon chased their terror down bottles of whisky and gin and reminiscing. On one trip into the cellar--with the demon sharing how they’d once gotten out of a bind by convincing a daughter of Bacchus that she could divine fortune from spilled wine and the next thing all the priestesses were doing it--the two uncovered a thickly dusted absinthe. Aziraphale had set aside while Crowley had been depression-napping in the late eighteen hundreds.
“Another nap’s not sssuch a bad idea, to be honest,” Crowley said when they back in their spot on the long sofa in the east wing, choking on the smooth floral sting of the drink. They rolled a smile toward Aziraphale. “Care to join me?”
Aziraphale smirked as he leaned his head to rest against the back of his chair. His eyes had started glimmering at the second hour of indulging. “Would be a rather… rude awakening.”
Hold up. Crowley sat up straightish and settled their dark glasses atop their short cropped hellfire hair. That wasn’t a no exactly.
“W-what would be?” Their gaze unfocused, they stayed trained on the angel.
“Arma… Armageddon. Napping and the world just...” Aziraphale gestured with his absinthe glass as he shut his eyes. “All gone.”
Crowley frowned. Yeah, they could just see it. Everything a ruin of demonic and angelic in-fighting. The son of Satan astride his hell-hound, legions of the damned at his command, the Horsepersons laying waste to humanity with glee. No more bookshop. No more Soho, or London, or England. No more hiding whatever they were from their respective sides. The bright exposure would burn away their Arrangement, leave them streaked and darkened, empty negatives.
Well, that’s a right mood killer.
Crowley sighed, purposely dramatic, forcing a change into the space. “S’pose they’ll be in touch soon. Better, you know, not be here. When they come looking for me.”
The demon stood sharply. Too quick. They wavered, their legs aching from the sudden expectation of use. One rawboned hand shot out, catching against the nearby metal behemoth that was Aziraphale’s cash register. Their fingers jammed against the spindly keys. “Ow, shit.”
They waved away Aziraphale’s concerns, not looking back, headed toward the door. Had to get out of there. Had to keep the angel safe.
“Right. Well then. I’ll just… Be off.”
They heard Aziraphale protest again, but they were already gone. Drunk, so very very drunk, they got behind the wheel of the Bentley. The radio roared to life on Schubert’s Save Me . “ I clothed myself in your glory and your love. How I loved you, how I cried-”
Crowley snapped and their car shut its trap.
They drove through the haze of wine and worry, reckless in the still-crowded streets of the late London evening. They rolled down the windows and let the wind whip at their skin. They fought off tears and sobs and blew through red lights and scared pedestrians.
At one point, they miracled up a bottle of vodka because they were feeling hateful of their stomach. The demon stumbled out of the Bentley and down the path to the ducks, to shout obscenities and ask them why they didn’t give any warning about the boy Warlock. Couldn’t they tell when he’d been by over the years?
The world was ending. All of it, everything, ducks and ponds and rivers and grass and bread and Aziraphale and the Bentley and theaters and discotheques and just everything. It was all going away. And the ducks hadn’t even had the decency to say something about one small normal human child.
“Thanksss for nothing, you feckless cadgers!”
Back at their flat, more drunk than they’d left the bookstore, Crowley stared down the dial of their hidden safe.
“Nothing,” they said. “Nothing left. Why watch it burn?”
They spun the dial, left right left, and cranked it open.
“My old friend,” Crowley said to the white capped tartan thermos where it stood, stately and poised. “It’s… It’s all too much.”
A tears slipped out from beneath their dark glasses. They didn’t bother to hide it.
Crowley swallowed down the tension and reached tentative hands to the thermos and the holy water within. The world would be better without them. They’d messed it all up enough, hadn’t they? Maybe something could be done if they weren’t in the way stirring the pot.
As soon as their fingers touched the flask, Crowley hissed and recoiled. Something had changed.
The demon sobbed, holding his hands as though he’d been burned. Crowley wanted to rail against whatever had decided that now, now, now of all times it should be too holy to the touch. But as he cradled his hands, an old familiar feeling sunk straight into his bones, through phalanges and metacarpals, ulna and humerus, ribs and sternum. He hadn’t felt it so strongly for eleven years to the day, but it screamed at him, one word, staccato against his breast: Aziraphale. Aziraphale. Aziraphale.
Crowley gasped and shook, turning away from the safe. He paced the flat, leered at his plants. He draped himself across his desk and gave the most self-indulgent whine he could manage.
None of it was working.
Aziraphale, Aziraphale, Aziraphale.
The thought wouldn’t leave. He felt like an utter fool, but a fool in pain and in love. So he gave in to his heart and headed back to the Mayfair street.
Chapter 8: A.Z. Fell & Co., Booksellers, 22nd August, 2019
Crowley banged the palm of his hand against the door for a second time, impatient, and unable to consider the alternatives if Aziraphale had stepped out after midnight. He leaned his forehead against the cool glass. “Aziraphale, open up, you-”
The bookshop door swung open, the bell above jingling cheery and discordant with the hour. Crowley barely managed to catch himself from falling.
Aziraphale was on the other side. Where he’d always been for the past six millenia. A flash of worry creased his brow at the sight Crowley cut--the jangling bones of him tied together with string, clacking beneath the costumery of his fashionable clothes, a mockery of Man.
Then the angel scowled, confused and frowning. “Are you still drunk? Good lord, Crowley! You didn’t drive like this, did you?”
“I walked. Angel, pleassse. Let me in?” I know you care about me. I know that’s what that thermos means. I’m begging you: hear what I’m asking you.
Aziraphale tutted and rolled his eyes. “You’re not a vampire, Crowley,” he said and swept his arm toward the bookshop, inviting him in the only way he could in such dark days, those end of days.
With narrow, heavy feet, Crowley tripped his way inside, catching himself on a display.
“Oh dear…” he heard behind him as Aziraphale locked up again. Then a wide steady hand pressed to the demon’s lower back.
Crowley bit his lip to keep from sobbing. He ran a messy hand beneath one side of his sunglasses, catching the tears before they too could fall. “M’all right,” he insisted, a bit sharply. “I’m all right.”
Aziraphale guided him to the east wing. “Can’t do more tonight, I’d think. Come lie down. Sleep this off.”
“Not the sort of thing you ssssleep off. World ending.”
Aziraphale sighed, and Crowley wasn’t sure if the exasperation was with the present situation of the doom-ridden demon’s legless arrival or the wider one of eleven years spent cancelling each other out over the wrong boy.
With firm patience, Aziraphale managed to bundle off Crowley to the sofa once more. “You’d feel better if you sobered up, you know.”
Crowley sneered and dropped against the old familiar comfort of the worn-in cushions. “Not tonight. Give me tonight?” I think I’ve earned it, failed my way into earning it.
For a moment, Crowley snagged the thread of himself against all the years with young Warlock Dowling. Treating the child as the tiny beloved royalty the demon believed them to be, while Aziraphale introduced gentleness, kindness, love. So many nights spent together like this one, but with surety of purpose. It had been a dream, a fairy tale, this one in another garden but of their own making.
It should have worked! It should have. They should have decades before Hell tried again, not days, hours, minutes before the war to end all wars.
How had he lost the Antichrist? How? He tore his glasses from his face and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. A keening moan simmered in his fire-branded throat.
Standing by the twisted wreck Crowley coiled himself into on the sofa, Aziraphale softened. “I’ll get you a blanket.”
The demon made a small noise of thanks, but the grip of guilt tensed at the base of his skull. Panic said he shouldn’t-have-come-back. He was-complicating-everything. Don’t be kind. Toss me out. Throw me down.
He hid behind his glasses again. His skin itched with the need to stand and pace on aching legs, to circle Aziraphale and watch for predators.
But Aziraphale was there again, safe, and carrying an out-of-season eiderdown quilt that overwhelmed his arms. It was patterned in that tartan he’d loved for centuries, as if Crowley had expected anything else. It made him smile to see it. And oh, he needed that.
Aziraphale spoke as he draped the blanket. “Do let me know if this is too warm for you, dear, but I thought you might like the weight of it. I know it works wonders for me when I’m…”
Aziraphale delicately sat on the edge of the sofa, his kind eyes unfocused and elsewhere. “Well, when everything is a bit much, I suppose.”
There was a certain look about Aziraphale’s face that, if anyone knew to ask, Crowley would have said he’d seen ever so rarely. But as they’d known each other for so long, rarely became a relative term--and Crowley knew the sad smiling edges, the plea for compassion hidden in the dark corners of hazel-blue eyes. It had taken him time to recognize it, but he’d seen that look under the orange light of a very different Soho night.
With that look again, Aziraphale brushed his hand over the blanket against Crowley’s chest. My heart, my heart is there. Does he know it’s there? Right there? Always, wherever, whenever he touches me? You can reach in through my ribs, take it, it’s yours.
Azirapale didn’t hold Crowley’s gaze for long. Something akin to embarrassment crossed his cheeks with roses as he dipped his head away. Had he seen the desperate aching there hidden behind dark glasses, the demon’s lovesick eyes?
Crowley opened his mouth with bouquets of apologies behind his teeth, but the angel took a deep breath, filling his lungs with resolve. He smiled brighter when he looked back again.
“Let’s make sure you’re all covered, yes.” He tucked in the quilt’s edges in earnest, carefully snuggling it around Crowley like he was a small wild animal who might hurt itself.
Wouldn’t be wrong that, Crowley thought.
There was a moment where Aziraphale leaned across him, snuggling the blanket beneath his sides, his chest against the demon’s stomach and his curls close enough to kiss. If he hadn’t already been laying down, Crowley would have been a puddle on the rug.
Aziraphale straightened and appraised his work.
“Oh. Do you... want me to…?” He motioned to Crowley’s glasses.
The demon wiggled experimentally inside the cocoon Aziraphale had tucked him into, arms firmly secured. He sighed. “Mm-nn… Yeah? If you- Do you mind?”
Unbearably careful, Aziraphale reached down and plucked away the silver-edged glasses. Crowley bent his head to let the legs unhook from behind his ears. His foolish heart rioted in his chest from the barest whisper of two fingers grazing his temples.
Aziraphale, Aziraphale, Aziraphale.
The glasses clinked softly against the end table as the angel set them beside their empty decanters and bottles.
“There. You know...” Aziraphale said, a conspiracy brewing in his voice.
Crowley turned hopeful eyes up to his angel.
“They might not notice right away. A-about Warlock. Not being the Antichrist and all that.”
“Mmhmm. In fact, while you were gone, I was thinking that if no one’s come for you yet..?”
Crowley shook his head.
“Then there’s likely still time to get out ahead of it all. We might still avert the Apocalypse. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Crowley laughed miserably. “You are ridiculous,” he muttered without malice.
“In the morning.” Aziraphale smiled pat the blanket over the demon’s tumbleheart again before standing. “Since you insist on not sobering up, you should sleep it off. I’ll be near.”
Crowley silently pleaded through too loud golden eyes, Stay close. Keep pressed against me so I know you’re here. Take off this blanket and cover me. I’ll cover you, too, if you’d let me. You’re all I need.
Though the faultline of his mouth trembled, he braced and tied down the shattering words until they were nothing more than a distant freight-train rumbling down the track of his heart.
Aziraphale turned on the record player, the melancholy pianos of Satie drifting on the nightstill air of the shuttered bookshop. Crowley untensed his shoulders with effort, as though the muscles there no longer knew how to be anything more than worked up sinew. But the music helped. And Aziraphale nearby did moreso.
The angel sat in his favored red-and-gold satin covered chair, a well-worn golden-covered book comfortably on his lap. Aziraphale turned a page and scooted his chair closer to the sofa.
The ending of the world shelved for a few precious hours, Crowley let his eyes slip closed. He nestled deeper into the quilt, allowing soft feathers and crisp, crinkling linen to hold his troubles for him where the angel wasn’t free to.
When Crowley finally slept, by some potentially literal miracle there were no nightmares. Instead, his dreams were of white wings sheltering him from the on-coming storm and a smile like sunlight to warm his hunted heart.