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Hell's Bells

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3553 B.C. - MESOPOTAMIA

In the vast sands of the desert, all seems the same. Walk-in any direction for a time and you will see barren hills, sand as dry as a bone, and a relentless sun that burns with glee to anything that attempts to traverse it.

So, had that hole always been there, he wondered? One would think - based on its size - that Aziraphale would have recalled it at some point or another. It wasn't pretty hard to miss. Then again, it was placed in a rather inconspicuous location.

Primarily where the least amount of life had cared to settle. Which is impressive out here in this unforgiving wasteland.

It was odd. He knows he has passed by here many times before (flown even) and never once did he see a black spot amongst all the golden sand. It wouldn't have been that hard to find.

And yet, here he was. Standing several feet in front of a gaping maw what seemed nearly as big as him.

Well, alright. Perhaps half of that. But it was still a sizable hole.

He hadn't meant to be here. Only to pass through. There was a bit of 'Heavenly Guidance' needed in the nearest soon-to-be (if this one doesn't fail) city, and he had been so ordered to do all he could to make sure that was successful. Within the 'Rules', of course. Those did not change, however, they did give him a bit more wiggle room since the job became more substantial.

And Lord has it been a learning experience so far.

The humans had survived - thank God for that - and were progressing along nicely. Although about as slow as a tree grows, they were still moving in the right direction. Their numbers also increased. That was a bit of a bumpier ride; however, thanks to a miracle or two they multiplied soon enough.

Except, they 'didn't' if he was honest with himself about it. The angel discovered with great trepidation just how fragile these Humans truly were, and how their lifespans were, well, in 'need of improvement' (to put it kindly). Most of the time, when Death would stop by and they would have a quick chat (it was mind-numbingly boring in the early years) he would inform him that the highest cause of death for these Humans was their total lack of survival. The instinct apparently started and ended with Adam and Eve. Incredible learners, not very good at teaching. Plus the sword was a bonus the others didn't and still don't have. Speaking of the sword...

That went about as well as a boulder floating on the water's surface. God was not happy it went missing. To make the story short, Aziraphale did indeed get fired.

--And then promptly rehired to a new job of watching over all the Humans (not just the two) and taking assignments from the Archangels when given. More or less it was the same thing he had been doing, but to a considerable degree and sans Garden-watching. She gave another Cherub that position. He didn't mind. It gave him the freedom to explore the wonders and intricacies that the Lord worked so hard on. He knew he'd appreciate and delight in every moment of it.

And besides, Uzziel was a nice enough chap. A Cherub who never really wanted to go anywhere, so this would be good for him. A positive step forward for everyone.

The things he saw were glorious indeed. The situations he went through... not as much. These varied from day-to-day, year-to-year. Something that made all experiences a thousand times more difficult was his struggle with understanding how his vessel worked. That could leave him gobsmacked for quite a spell.

Back at the Garden he never went through any of these tribulations. All was perfect all the time. The vessel behaved. But now, he would get cold. He would get hot. The aroma of food intrigued him. Parts of his insides - including the ones he didn't know he could feel there - would hurt if he did something for too long, or incorrectly. For the first stages of his new assignment, his outer appearance had begun to change. That had so appalled him he had hidden in the nearest heavily wooded area and stayed there. Until he figured out a simple miracle could set it back. (It took twelve years to come to this realization. Aziraphale vowed to be the sole owner of that part of his life to his very destruction. He had never been more mortified.)

Besides the aches and inconveniences, slowness of progression, and the occasional conversing with Azrael* it wasn't so bad. There were lots of fascinating events that would take place. Just enough to keep him busy. But not enough to stop him from thinking about red hair and sapphire eyes...

He hadn't seen Crawly since the day they met. After the storm ceased, the Humans were long gone, fate unknown, and it was time for him to go back to his duty. He had nearly made an unforgivable mistake by offering Crawly to come back in and stay a while if the other would like to but thankfully held his tongue before it ever escaped. Nothing much was left to do, so. Aziraphale said goodbye and turned back to the Garden. He assumed they both went their separate ways, but when he reached a clearing in the trees he looked up... and Crawly was still standing there. It seemed the demon was facing him, but they were too high up to tell for sure. The angel didn't know why they hadn't left.

Something pulled him then. At his very being. He unconsciously moved towards the wall Crawly stood on, never taking his eyes off the other, and watched them in return. They stayed this way as the sun set and even partially into the star-filled night. There was something transpiring between them, he sensed it. But couldn't explain or, perhaps understand. It was harder to see the redhead then, but he could smell them just as clear as to when they were standing under his protective wing. No words were said. Not verbally. Just the rustle of leaves in the trees. At some point, Crawly finally moved by spreading those black wings of theirs. That's when Aziraphale had a sudden urge to call out to them, but they took off.

After that, Crawly seemed to have vanished off the planet's surface.

He never went searching for the demon, why would he? There was never a plausible reason or excuse to do so. Why would one quest for their enemy? So he waited. The planet was only so big - they were bound to run into each other again at some point.

Although he never saw Crawly again, he did in fact smell them on occasion. It would carry with the wind and awaken a type of foreign 'sharpness' in him he didn't know he had and never wanted. It would drive him mad.

He would find himself dropping whatever he was in the middle of doing to hunt the scent down. On every single occasion, it was a fool's errand. Some of those it lead to awkward excuses as to why he suddenly dashed out in the first place upon his return to, whatever it was he was doing originally.

He could never fathom why he would leave. That just wasn't like him. It was only a scent; it had no meaning. No purpose. And the behavior it made him do was uncivilized. He got to the point where he started to train his senses to ignore it. That took some time and discipline, but eventually, it worked. The scent had ceased to haunt him.

--On the day that occurred, Aziraphale experienced the feeling of emptiness. He did not learn what caused the source of it.--

That had been some centuries ago. Time had passed, events had happened, and memories were not forgotten. Not for one angel, anyway.

Now he was here, a sweat rag in one hand, a gnarled walking stick in the other. Standing in front of a large hole that appeared to be dipping down into a voidless chasm of Lord knows what.

There were things he needed to do, but this just seemed so much more intriguing.

The angel stepped closer to it, eyes full of wonder. No, he certainly doesn't remember this being here before. He's walked this way many times, and this is new.

The hole was more at an angle. Aziraphale leaned forward and tried to peer inside. What he could see was, of course, sand. That was everywhere. He assessed about two arms' lengths in was the extent the sunlight was allowed welcomed. Showing that much told him the hole wasn't merely a hole; it appeared to be a tunnel. He felt giddy.

He giggled. Then suppressed it and looked around, making sure no one heard him. The angel felt like this was something he was never supposed to find, and in particular with what he desired to do next, he thought he would be scolded as a 'very naughty boy'.

"Curiosity killed the cat," he said with a smile and shrugged. Then dropped the stick. It landed with a poof! in the sand and vanished from sight. He wrapped the sweat rag around his shoulders, then thought better of it and put it between his teeth. Then put it back over one shoulder because the other idea was too revolting. He crouched and inched his way closer. He didn't know how he was going to do this. If he touched the sides it would surely crumble in, and if he 'miraculously' hopped in the middle... then what? Keep scooching? Wiggle like a worm? Why was he doing this again?

Aziraphale sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. What in the name of Divinity was he doing, exactly? This was ridiculous. He looked ridiculous. This is not how an Angel of the Lord should act. This is not how a Cherub should act. In fact, he should probably stand up and forget any of this ever happened if it weren't for the fact he lost his balance and is now tumbling head-over-heels into the black pit oh dear God--

A strangled, wobbled yelp was all Aziraphale had to say about this as he shot out his arms and flailed them uselessly around. One hand snagged the edge of the hole, and the angel waited for the inevitable downpour of hot sand that was sure to bury him there forevermore.

Instead, he was surprised to find the grip was solid. As if the entire rim of the opening was made of some kind of stone. He then immediately took notice of the fact that he was crookedly upside-down with his legs dangling up in the air.

He was only wearing a robe. Nothing more. Thank God the Human's population was still relatively small. What the Almighty must think of him now...

He let out an alarmed cry and did his very best to pull himself right side up. He got as far as getting his legs in with him. Better than before, he'll take it.

Once in the angel sprawled out in what little space he had and panted. It took a couple of seconds to clear his head of images he'd like to forget and realized that the ground and walls around him were all hard. So it was a tunnel of sorts. He swept his hands on it and noted it was relatively smooth and warm.

Aziraphale flattened himself onto his stomach - because he was still too tuckered out from his wrestling match with himself and the entrance to sit up - and looked ahead. It was pitch black. Still felt like it was aiming down, but other than that he had no idea of the layout ahead. He huffed, brought one of his hands to his mouth, palm up, and blew on it.

Ten to fifteen little tiny flames flew out and danced in front of him. They flickered and snapped, hummed and twirled. They were not hot to the touch. These were special flames. Precious flames. One-sixteenth times the power of its original self, but still just as blessed as anything else an angel could produce. Not the best use for the 'Holy Spirit', but when times are desperate and one doesn't feel like using a blinding light source at a time like this, it's perfect.

They gently sang to him and touched his cheek. Aziraphale pointed out in front of himself, "If you would be so kind, I would be ever grateful for you to help light the way ahead of me. Please?"

Their soft voices sang higher and then they moved, one at a time till they lit up the tunnel as far down as there were many of them. The angel stared. It wasn't as far down as he had originally thought, and now with the comfort of the lights, it was rather enchanting. His giddiness amplified tenfold. He couldn't see, of course, but he was sure there was the biggest, silliest grin spread on his face you ever did see. This was exciting. He'd never done exciting.

Last time he felt this pleasant was meeting Crawly. Oh, when he sees them again he'll have to tell them all about this.

"Oh, thank you, thank you so much little ones!" Aziraphale praised to them. They lit up the teensiest-bit brighter.

Aziraphale got up on his elbows and knees and did his best to sort of, well, crawl his way forward. It wasn't easy, with him constantly getting himself stuck on his own robe. He would mumble to himself, reshift, try again. At one point he stopped and noticed the unusual way in which the wall was moving without him. Then it clicked. The walls weren't moving. He was. Aziraphale looked down in front of him and noticed a tad too late that he was sliding forward whether he wanted to or not.

"Oh. Uhm..." was all he got out before his body picked up momentum and he slid down the rest of the way, screaming.

A wall greeted him at the end with a friendly thunk! on contact. It hurt less than he imagined it would, but more when the dizziness stopped. He groaned as the tiny flames collected above his head and whispered a new, unintelligible song.

When he felt strong enough to collect himself, Aziraphale pushed up to a sitting position, his back to a side wall, legs splayed out. In front of him appeared to be a dark, empty space. He wondered, blankly, how many of those there were down here. Or even what this strange place was. But that question came to him later when his thoughts were less fuzzy.

The little flames hovered around his head and shoulders, with a few occasionally touching the tip of his nose, cheekbones, chin, and ears. They gave him the indication they were concerned.

"Oh, I'm alright babies," Aziraphale sighed, "Just got a bit of a splitting headache, is all." He rubbed his temple with his middle and forefinger, eyes wide by how much that actually hurt.

A quiet yet high ring grew in the air. It vibrated into the angel's head and numbed and soothed out all that had been ailing him. He closed his eyes and gave in to it with a pleasant hum. It felt marvelous.

He looked at each flame with affection and said, "Bless you, little ones." They brightly pulsed in placid rhythms in response and continued to sing songs in their own tongue.

As several sweatdrops ran down from his hairline to his neck then irritatingly to his clothes, the angel had to admit he was roasting in here. He reached for his sweat cloth which, of course, wasn't there. He groaned and dropped his arm. Most likely slipped off with my graceful tumble, he surmised. "Lovely," he huffed, "lovely, lovely."

Aziraphale turned his attention back to the endless nothing in front of him. "I came this far, why stop now?" he mumbled to himself. Then shrugged, getting too hot to care and not feeling like putting an effort in climbing back up just yet. He could miracle himself out, but that also takes effort. And what's the bloody point in getting out when he fussed so hard to get in? Might as well see it through. Overheated brains are odd things.

He addressed the flames, "Peg pardon but, if I may trouble you all one more time, would you dearies mind once again--"

They moved before he finished. Five of them stayed behind with him and the rest shot out bravely into the unknown and spread out, lighting up the space in a benign glow.

It was smaller than what he expected. And not caverns upon tunnels of intricate cave systems his imagination whipped up. It was one, circular room. The ceiling, walls, and floor appeared to be all made of the same substance that the rest of this tunnel was made of. Which as far as Aziraphale could deduce, was hard, smooth sand. There wasn't much in this room. Just a big solid rock slab in the general, middle area. In the long run, this would have been deemed a 'massive disappointment', or 'let down'. And it was, quite frankly.

But not to Aziraphale.

To Aziraphale, it was finding that important item you've lost and been mad searching for. An idea you came up with is not only accepted but is now put to use. The first time you try something and you know you're going to love it for the rest of your life. That's what this room meant to him.

For what was on top of the slab, was a makeshift nest of sorts made out of dirt and an assortment of other random pieces of nature. And inside that, nestled comfortably, was a dark-robed figure with long curled locks of lush crimson hair.

The angel's breath hitched. The near-forgotten flutter from inside his chest made a bold return. It swept so hard and fast that that alone must have been what got him to his feet. He felt lighter than air, the oppressive heat but a memory. With quiet, tiptoed steps he made his way into the room, so drawn was he to the other. He did not look away, and he could not blink. Not until he was halfway there did Aziraphale think how strange this all was. The tiny flames by his head sparked and fluttered around him wherever he went.

He paused. What was Crawly doing here? What was he doing here? Where has that demon been all this time? What have they been up to? Doing? Seeing?

... Was Crawly alright?

Once that thought hit him, Aziraphale unconsciously gasped and rounded to the other side of the rock where he would be facing the other. The quick move mixed with the sweltering heat had him panting when he halted in front of them. With eyes wide, he searched for signs of... anything. He didn't know what a demon would show for life but he looked all the same. Time ticked by. It was agonizing. But then...

Aziraphale's eyes were drawn to the subtle, rhythmic rise and fall of Crawly's chest and shoulder.

The angel's eyes rolled back and he swooned with relief.

 

***~***

 

He came to with a loud snort. A puddle of drool had collected just under his mouth. He smacked his lips lazily and wiped them with the back of his hand. Michael's Sword, it was blazing hot in here, the angel thought. 'Twas almost like his brain was cooking.

He stared blankly at the bland-looking rock wall in front of him till an itty-bitty flame making a high pitched humming sound drifted down to his eye-level. Another one soon followed. He smiled at them; they were pretty.

"Hello there," Aziraphale greeted them, "do you know where we are?"

The little flames took their time flying back up, making sure the angel was following where they went. He watched them drift away then flitter over the top of the rock out of view.

Top of the rock.

Top, of the...

Recognition hit him like a jolt of lightning. Aziraphale gasped and scrambled to sit up, using the boulder for support. He slapped one arm on top of the stone to stable himself and used the sleeve of his other to wipe the sweat away from his face to properly take in the peaceful form in front of him.

The angel gawked, arm frozen in mid-movement. He had forgotten. His mind, his memories of the black-winged Fallen were a child's drawing compared to the real thing. Crawly was stunning. And this was only when sleeping.

They laid on their side, one arm draped over the curve of their midriff, the other they had tucked under their head which pushed all that scarlet hair out like an explosion, spreading out around them. Both firm legs were bent in - one more than the other. Their clothes hadn't changed much, but the angel noticed the demon's tresses had grown in length. Skin smooth and flawless, lightly kissed by the sun. And not a bead of sweat to be found.

Aziraphale sat on his knees, his fingers rested on the edge of the stone in front of him. The flames whispered peacefully in high notes all throughout the room, crowning the angel's head and a few hovered over the new form they only just met.

It was then in this enclosed, safe burrow that Aziraphale felt the true weight of the past near five-hundred years, and how lonely he was. Humans were entertaining in their own ways, and could be the loveliest of souls... but they never stayed. He's lost count the number of times he's been at any one of their sides while they take their last breath and Death takes it from there. If Aziraphale would happen to be in the area of a dying Human, Death always welcomed him to be at the bedside instead of him (on account of how Azrael looks, more than once they have screamed in terror as their last words to their loved ones. It never goes well and he's grown sick of it).

Other than Death and the other Archangels throwing new assignments at him once in a while, the angel doesn't have a constant. Things are still new. Always changing. And, no one really wants to spend time to chat with him. Not really. When they see him, they usually want to touch, poke, grab a feather, bombarded with questions, or simply name-call. Others follow him around. A couple of times he was abducted. And one old woman insisted on feeding him bread with all the other birds** every day until she passed on. He liked her.

But they all left him, eventually. He had begun to accept that this was how an angel on the planet was to live. It wasn't about him, but how to help the others. It was a heartbreaking job. No wonder he seemed to be the only one who asked for the position. They all knew the sacrifices.

Only, he wasn't alone. There was another like him on the same planet at the same time doing the same things he was doing, just opposite. That alone had felt remarkable. He sometimes would wonder if that other would feel the same loneliness. The emptiness. The want of a constant in their existence in this ever-changing planet of uncertainty?

He looked forward to their meeting again - as Crawly said it would, but it never came.

Until now.

Because Aziraphale found them. He found them most likely by the one way he tried to teach himself to unlearn. To forget, and ignore. Crawly mentioned it before; instinct. Yes, that was it. He didn't know what instinct was - and still doesn't - but Crawly told him that because of 'that word' is how they both sensed each other. And he had smelled Crawly a handful of times but to no avail. But when he stopped trying and let his self relax, he found that funny hole. That hole in which he most likely would never bother to investigate on any other opportunity because there's no point to it. But on this particular day, at this particular time, he just so happens to feel adventurous enough to explore a senseless place, and it is the one that holds the demon?

Aziraphale let out a light chuckle and thought secretly to himself, that if it had been that easy all along he would have done it much sooner.

The angel scanned down the length of the demon and stopped at the thigh then snapped his eyes forward. Even as stifling as it was in here, he still felt his cheeks heat up. He hadn't noticed before but Crawly's robe was hiked up nearly all the way to his hip on the exposed side. It barely covered everything.

Doing his very best to watch from the corner of his eye, Aziraphale reached out a sweat-dripped hand and delicately pinched a piece of the fabric, and did his best to... make Crawly more modest.

He watched Crawly's face to see if he disturbed the demon. A finger twitched, but that was it. The angel sighed.

Feeling braver - or wanting an excuse to try - Aziraphale licked his lips and, reaching out with the same two fingers, and moved in snail slow to the closest ruby curl he could get to. His eyes flicked from the demon's face to the curl, and back again. He had the tip of his tongue between his teeth when he got near, eyes wide. This was exhilarating.

When he reached the prize, he dipped a forefinger inside the inner part of the curl and held it with his thumb. He lifted it just so and rubbed the strands between them. It was incredibly soft. Different than his down feathers. It was smooth, silky. The angel swallowed hard then set it down with care and drew his arm back. He brought those fingers up to his nose and took a small inhale; eyes fluttered closed.

He didn't know he moved. The last memory he had was sitting and the next he was hovering on all fours over Crawly with his head buried close to their neck. Breathing in the scent there, drinking it in deep and profound. God, he missed it.

Something was pulling on his collar from behind. Words were whispered in his ears, clearing his head. Aziraphale popped open his eyes wide and sat up fast, hands tucked to his chest. He looked down horrified by what he had just done as the tiny flames flickered and rotated around his head, making all kinds of ruckus. It was like they were scolding him.

Crawly barely shifted. Yet the ends of his mouth curled up a little bit.

What are you doing?! What in God's name is wrong with you?! Have you lost your mind!?

Aziraphale was flustered and ashamed. And still standing on the rock, albeit crouched. He couldn't for the life of him figure how to get down, let alone how he got up here in the first place. Or why he did any of this, to begin with. He tried to shift-scooch his feet backwards to jump off. When he got to the end, he hopped down, but it turned more into a stumble and he lost his balance on the landing, but thankfully caught the rock again with his hand for stability. But the rock felt different which startled him. It was freezing. He looked toward his hand and saw that it was resting firmly on Crawly's ankle. He choked, slipped it back as if it had been stabbed, and just stood there waiting for Crawly to let him have it for waking them.

But Crawly appeared deep in some hybernated slumber that not even an earthquake could wake them up. Aziraphale was relieved, but also greatly disappointed. He moved back to face the other, and since they didn't seem to be getting up soon, the Angel 'materialized' a small flat rock next to the bigger one and sat on it. He made sure he was comfortable; crossed his legs, folded his hands on his knee, switched to placing them back on the large boulder, then thought better of it and moved them back to his knee.

It was quiet in there, minus the tiny singing. Aziraphale kept glancing back to Crawly's face, then huffed out his nose, making up a decision. He was going to start talking.

"I had forgotten how cold you are," he spoke to the demon and smiled.

More sweat got into his eyes and he used both sleeves to wipe it away with frustration. "I wish I knew how to regulate my vessel like you do. But I don't," Aziraphale slumped, "And I'm certainly not going to ask for guidance from anyone upstairs. The Almighty is far too busy for insignificant trifles that I, myself am going through. This has been more difficult than I originally thought it would be. Be nice if it came with a manual."

Aziraphale grabbed the top of his robe and pulled it out and in to fan himself with it. It didn't help. He felt miserable. "Oh, it's so sweltering hot in here - I don't know how you can stand it!" he whined to Crawly who had yet to answer him. Just continued to lay comfortably while the angel melted.

He shook his head, "What am I even doing? You can't hear me, can you? You, sound asleep while I've been out there doing all the work - which, in all honesty, I appreciate; it does give us a headstart - but it's not fair. I mean, what if I wanted to take a break? I'm not saying I do, it's just... oh I don't know what I'm saying anymore."

He covered a hand over his eyes. The heat was making it hard to think. He couldn't figure out why he was still sitting here. So Crawly was here. Alright, fine. Now he has discovered what was in this mysterious hovel. He has business to attend to and more important places to be, yet he's still sitting there having a one-sided conversation with the enemy. God, he was lonely.

A few thoughts popped in his head then. Curious ones, although not altogether unpleasant. The angel peeked at the demon again and thought, what's the harm in it? Saying it to the sleeping form is better than not saying it at all.

"This uhm, is a bit bold of me to say and I would never consider it under ordinary circumstances, but, since you're out cold and all that... I, I wanted you to know that... I'm happy to have come across you again. I...I, oh Lord... believe it or not - and this is so sudden so don't hold me to it, but - I've missed you. No, it's true! I really have. And, if it's all the same to you, I hope you don't mind if I stop by again to, to, you know. Sort of, check up on you from time to time. See if you're still here. If all is well. I assume you'll be staying here for a span is all."

Aziraphale waited expectantly for an answer. Or humiliation. Which, in itself, would be an answer. Just not the desired one.

What he got was Crawly settling more comfortable in their 'nest' with a soft sigh. To the angel, that spoke volumes. He interpreted that as a yes and beamed brightly. "Really? Do you mean it? Oh, Thank you! Then I promise you I will! I swear to you dear boy, that from here on, I will watch over you as you sleep. But not in a disturbing way, of course. Just until you awaken and we can continue our eternal battle for good and evil!" he said with a big toothy smile.

The angel stood up after slapping his knees and began to make his way toward the tunnel. "Right! So. I must be off. Many a good deed to do, you understand. Also if I spend one more second in this torridness I hold you responsible for my untimely discorporation you vile filth. Ta!"

Aziraphale stepped back over to the base of the tunnel and got himself prepared for the climb up. Before he did so, he then gestured for the tiny Holy Spirits to fly back up the way they had come. And as they each flew out of the room, the angel watched Crawly slowly disappear into the darkness from his view.

Climbing back up was torturous to anything else he'd done so far that day. When he'd gotten a third of the way there, wheezing and slipping everywhere, it dawned on him to just easily miracle himself out. Once again, he didn't want to tell anyone about that.

Laying at the very top inside the hole was the angel's rag. He picked it up, climbed out and made his way minus walking stick to the promising future.

 

***~***

 

It was a routine the angel set out for himself.

He would report-in. He would accept a new assignment; if he was already working on an assignment, he would detail them on how it was coming along. He would report-in. He would get to work.

The first report-in usually felt like an undertaking: Had Aziraphale been meeting all their expectations? Why weren't the Humans farther along by now than they had planned them to be? How was he getting on with adjusting to their ways? Their thoughts towards each other? To him? Did he preach the good word of God, peace, and love yet? Has he showed his wings? Is he sure he didn't show his wings? Because they have been getting strange reports about a figure in white with a magnificent set of pure white wings. No, that isn't him? They must be mistaken? Probably a giant freak of a bird and an imagination? Huh. Okay, sure. Good work then. Keep doing what you're doing. Only better. Remember, God is always watching. Amen.

The second report-in, on the other hand, was the dessert for his meal. That was when he would drop by the homemade burrow and visit Crawly. Aziraphale would sit on the smaller rock and rattle on to the demon all that had transpired since the last time he had seen them. Always making sure they were caught up, comfortable, safe, and the area was clean. The tiny flames became a habit, releasing into the tunnel and to the room that they no longer needed to be told what to do. They automatically went to their spots and hummed brightly. The heat was still a problem, but he learned to makeshift a fan and other such necessities. Mainly water. He also got clever concerning getting in-and-out of the tunnel itself. The angel didn't feel like miracling all the time, therefore when going down he placed rags and sheets on the other end to cushion the landing. For the way out, he spent time - just as an excuse to stay longer, really - digging grooves on the tunnel floor deep enough to use as grips for his hands and feet for climbing. He would learn to bring an extra sack so it didn't feel as bumpy sliding down. Occasionally he would get carried away and decorate the room while updating Crawly on things.

When he would take his leave, he would always promise to come back again as soon as he could, lest Crawly woke up before the angel got there. Which they hadn't so far. Then he'd go off and continue with his duties for as long as he was comfortable within staying away from the demon before worrying thoughts consumed him. Sometimes Aziraphale would reprimand himself for acting like a hovering mother.

This pattern continued for about fifty-seven years.

Until one day...

 

3496 B.C - MESOPOTAMIA

 

Aziraphale had slumped into his usual spot next to the snoozing demon after a particularly tiring workday. It wasn't so much that he had gotten a lot done, but more on the level whatever he needed to complete happened to be outside on one of the hottest days they've had in a while. And now he was willfully sitting in an oven. He thought he may just pass out where he sat.

The angel's eyes couldn't focus on anything. Perspiration poured down him and dripped in rhythmic taps on the massive stone. Sudden blindness came over his vision and the room began to tip down for no reason. In the back of his mind, Aziraphale knew he was leaning forward about to collapse on top of the redhead. He could see it happening but had no energy left to stop it. He was too exhausted. And this infernal heat...

Smack!

A cold snap from underneath his jaw whipped his head back and he tumbled flat to the floor. He cried out and cradled his lower face, bewildered as to what hit him.

From his view on the ground, he watched two sinewy arms reach up into the air, stretch out their fingers, then disappears. A loud, long yawn followed. Then rustling. Mumbling. Silence. Confused swearing. Sniffing. More rustling. Finally, a head peeking over. Long, succulent red tendrils cascading down around it. Bright eyes meeting his; they sparkled, a blooming smile spread across that formed face. Crossed arms appeared under the head for it to rest on. "Hello, Aziraphale," said Crawly in a friendly tone.

He was mesmerized. His heart was thumping up and down at a rapid level and he felt weak. Aziraphale could have sworn a minute ago that is jaw was throbbing. But he doesn't feel it now so he must have been mistaken. "Y-h-ou, remembered, my name," the angel breathed in amazement.

"Pfff, of course, I did!" the demon laughed, "How can I forget the Cherub-Alpha-Angel at the near beginning of the world? That'd be like, saying dogs can't talk."

"Dogs can't talk."

"Oh," Crawly's face fell. "'Suppose that wasn't a very good example then."

"Not the best," the angel smiled, "but I understood the meaning."

Crawly turned and swung their legs over the edge and hopped off. They brushed the dirt and various other debris from their robe then sauntered - is that how they move? - over to the splayed angel on the floor.

The dark one raised an eyebrow, "This is familiar."

"It is?" the angel blinked.

"Yeah. 'Sept the roles were reversed last time." Crawly reached down a hand, "Time to return the favor."

Aziraphale gazed at the hand. It didn't take him long to grasp it and be hauled up to his feet. He wouldn't let go.

"No sprinting away this time?" asked the demon.

"No," the angel exhaled heavily followed by a weak laugh, "it feels sublime."

Crawly's brow furrowed immediately at that and he stepped closer to their opposite, "Angel, are you alright?"

"'M fine, silly... It's just, a tad warm in here..." The angel swayed on his feet, patting his face with his free hand. A handful of tiny flames flew swiftly over to him and hovered protectively around his head. They sparked as their voices raised to a higher level.

The demon put a palm over the angel's forehead, and their frowned deepened. "Yeah, you do have a bit of a flush. We better get you out of here, your kind isn't meant to be in these temperatures for long periods."

"Oh, stop fussing, I said I'm fine," Aziraphale tried to bat the other away but didn't put a whole lot of effort into it. The demon wrapped an arm around the angel's waist and helped them out of the room.

The moment of contact, Aziraphale nearly fainted. The coolness of the other's body pressed against his side was an alarming reprieve from the oppressive heat.

As they walked to the tunnel, Crawly asked the angel, "By the way, did I hit you?"

"You did, yes..."

"Ah. Didn't mean that. Was trying to wipe off whatever was dripping on my face."

"Oh, that was me... you got it then..."

Getting out of the tunnel between the two of them was a lot easier said than done. Crawly was exceedingly limber, but even so, they both agreed it was easier to get Aziraphale out first. Which constituted the demon pushing the angel from behind in order to get the other to keep moving and not pass out in the suffocating space. It wasn't fun for either of them.

Once out, to Aziraphale's horror - for he forgot - it was just as bad out there as it was inside, and he moaned and flopped over the side into the sand. There has got to be an easier way to survive...

--The tiny flames collected themselves and hovered over to the angel.--

"...gel...angel...Angel... Angel?"

"Hmm?" Aziraphale hummed, cracking an eye open to white-hot light. He groaned and tried to turn away from it. He choked out a gasp as soon as a shocking, ice-cold object touched the sides of his face. It turned his head back and something familiar kept speaking. He took a deep inhale when that delicious chilled feeling caressed his forehead, his chest, wormed in to touch shoulders, arms... was it everywhere?

"Are you home? Are you there?"

"Mmm... That feels divine." the angel purred, and opened his eyes but this time to a vision of red and yellow and black.

"Well, that's a first. Can you stand yet?"

"Mmhmm."

"Good. 'Cause I'm not carrying you."

The cold vanished. Aziraphale started and sat up, craving those touches back. "Wait! Where are you going?!"

Crawly had started walking away in any particular direction, stretching. "I dunno. Thought I'd see how the planet's changed without me there. Then I'd figure out where I left off, counter what you've been doing. That sort of thing."

"W-wait for me!" Aziraphale shouted, scrambling to his feet and doing his best to stay vertical as he ran to catch up to the other. He didn't want to lose them just yet. "Hold on! You don't even know where to go at this point!"

"Eh, figure it out on my way. Why, what's so fantastic that you yourself must show me now?" Crawly asked with a grin. They stopped when the angel caught up and was panting heavily.

"Well...for one thing...if you want...to see a...bustling city...which is a real thing now...it's that way." Aziraphale bent over, gasping for air and pointing in an entirely different direction.

"Oh, for Lucifer's Beard, come here," Crawly mumbled and bent down to straighten the angel up. Once they were face-to-face the demon clasped one hand on the back of the angel's neck and one over his brow. They held him firmly there. "Might as well put this vessel to use somehow - you really need to learn to control yours better, Angel."

"Ohhh," was all Aziraphale could say. The hand on the neck nearly made him whimper. It was a crashing wave on hot embers. He melted into it. "You're an angel..."

"Wha'--" was as far as Crawly got before Aziraphale suddenly clamped both his arms around the demon and pulled them into a vice grip. He buried his wet face into the crook of Crawly's arctic cool neck and moaned.

It was incredible. Bordering on indescribable. The frigid body pressed against his overheated one was sublime. If they hadn't both been in vessels, Aziraphale would have believed for certain that they were about to blast into a mushroom cloud of steam. Or shatter. Either sounded equally satisfying.

Frozen limbs encircled around the angel's back. He gave in to the strength of the other. Let them drain all the unwanted heat from his body. He was sure to pass out from the alleviation that he now understood had been building for five decades now. Why his vessel collected the heat and not properly dealt with it would be a question Aziraphale would ponder for years to come.

Aziraphale sagged in Crawly's hold. That's when repeated patting on his back started.

The voice was quiet, "Aziraphale? You're not asleep, are you?"

"Mmm..."

"Azir... Can we at least not do this here? You're all wet," the demon lightly keened, and leaned into the angel, running gentle nails down his back.

"Mmfphrm."

"What?" Aziraphale heard Crawly mumble some cursing to themselves. Then the voice changed to a bit more impatient and controlled, "Look, you said there was a town-city-place nearby. Yes? How about we go there first and then it'll be your turn to take a nap, sound fair?"

"Mhmm." He reluctantly pried himself away from the coolness and whimpered as the heat returned. The cold now becoming a fading ghost on his skin. "It's just it's so unbelievably hot out here..."

Crawly pet the angel's hair and placed their hand back behind the neck again."I know. That's why Humans built things to go indoors. To protect them from such occasions as this - and they're airier than mine."

The angel eyes closed and moaned, leaning into the contact. His reaction to the other was immediate and it unnerved him. Goosebumps broke out all over his skin.

He glared at the demon and jabbed a pudgy finger at the slim chest, "Are you tempting me?"

Crawly looked bored. "If you want to call it that, then yes. Whatever gets you moving."

Aziraphale put out his bottom lip and turned in the direction of the familiar city. "I was going to say 'because I wouldn't care at this point for I'm too tired' but you lost your one and only chance so too bad for you," he slurred as if drunk and wobbled on.

"I lost what now?" the demon asked in a raised voice. They were walking parallel to each other, but with the angel guiding the way. "What did you say?"

"I don't know," Aziraphale dismissed it with his hand, "my brain has been boiled for a while. I haven't the vaguest idea what's going on."

Ice on the back of his neck once more. Like overstimulation. Aziraphale shuddered a moan and stilled, stiffening his back. The longer the demon would hold it there the more the chill spread throughout the rest of his vessel, clearing his head. Magnificent. He took everything the redhead gave him without thinking about the source. "Oh, yes right there. Please, leave it there. It feels so good."

There was low snickering. Aziraphale blinked several times to clear his vision and turned. A devilish smirk had overtaken Crawly as they eyeballed the excited angel. "Why are you laughing?" Aziraphale asked.

"Oh," Crawly simply shrugged, "just. Discovered a new fact about you. Found it interesting."

"Well, what is that? What did you learn?"

"That you lose control when you get a fever. Or stuck in a heatwave. I'm going to remember that," said the demon, a trifle too smug.

Aziraphale continued to walk and stammered. "I, I do not lose control. How dare you make such an accusation. I'm just tired after a long day and your hellish pit made it impossible to breathe. I might have suffocated in there."

"Why were you there, by the way?" the demon asked. They were just as amused. Hand still laid where it rested.

"I...will, tell you in the city. Oh! Speaking of the city, I helped build it! It's marvelous, one of the first of its kind. We're all quite proud of it so far..."

With the demon's hand bringing him back to his normal self, Aziraphale started to rattle on about the great city and its charm that they were on their way to see. Anything, as long as he didn't have to explain why he was in Crawly's cave while Crawly was touching him. The demon - mercifully - accepted the change in subject.

Every once in awhile, Aziraphale could swear he felt a gentle caress of a thumb shiver into his hairline.

 

***~~***

 

"This is indeed impressive," Crawly said in awe as they made their way through the bustling streets of Uruk.

"Isn't it?!" crowed Aziraphale, bouncing on his feet. "With a lot of hard labor and elbow grease, it's incredible what the Humans will accomplish when inspired!"

--The tiny flames had been long put away on their walk when Crawly inquired about them. The angel had gotten used to them being around and hadn't noticed them flittering about since they exited the demon's burrow. When informed they were related to the Holy Spirit, Crawly was not pleased they were near them.--

"This has potential," Crawly began murmuring to themselves, nearly salivating. Their eyes unable to focus on any one thing, there was much for them to take in that was wholly new. "I can work with this. It was worth the sleep."

The angel stared at his companion, "What are you muttering about?"

"Nothing," the demon shook his head. Their hand had not left the back of the angel's neck since their departure, and Aziraphale seemed a thousand times better for it. "How are you now, by the way? You seem back to your old, 'everybody's a good person in the world' self."

"I am, thank you. I don't know what came over me. Please accept my apologies if I put you through any inconvenience. My actions were, I admit, quite shameful."

"Naw, you're fine. You've introduced me to this! I'd say we're even. But I would like my hand back."

"Oh, of course!" He gave a sheepish laugh. And they did. The two of them continued to meander the city with the angel pointing out the different things he helped contribute.

A few minutes later the angel noticed Crawly seemed distracted, but not by their surroundings. There was a thought going on in the demon's mind and although it wasn't his business, Aziraphale couldn't stop himself before asking what it was.

"Care to share whatever is plaguing your mind?"

Crawly glanced at the other than scanned the people, "Was just... wondering."

"About what?"

"All these Humans have two sexes."

"Yes, that is how God chose to make them."

"But why? What's the point?" Crawly frowned, "I mean, I understand the concept and workings behind the--the whole, breeding thing - I'm not an idiot. But why make them different?"

Aziraphale felt lost. "I'm not sure what you mean?"

"Look," Crawly points out to a couple of Humans near them, "see how the female is shaped? Their appearance? Now, look at the male. See what I mean? Not the same."

"But that makes them wonderful and full of diversity."

"No, you miss my meaning." Crawly huffs and rubs their forehead, realizing they're not explaining this right.

"Why don't you try to approach this another way, then?" the angel suggests.

Crawly stops walking, "Alright. Let me ask you this. If you could pick to be one of the sexes, which one would you choose?"

Aziraphale thinks about it. This wasn't something he had given a whole lot of thought to, but it had flickered across his mind occasionally. He didn't have an answer then, either.

The angel gives a one-shoulder shrug, "I'm not sure. What would you choose?"

Crawly goes quiet, eyes distant. Aziraphale can't explain it, and it's ridiculous to admit it out loud even to himself, but somehow, he just knows Crawly's mind has gone back somewhere to an incident in the past they must've witnessed. Probably more than one. But that's absurd.

"I would choose the female, and see how the males like being treated as if they were expendable.***" Their eyes hardened.

The angel grew instantly concerned. His voice was sincere, "Crawly? You alright?"

The demon reacted a second late, but had shrugged and appeared to have forgotten where they were. "Yeah. I'm fine. What were we doing?"

"Oh, just talking about some such things," Aziraphale smiled, not wanting to bring it up again so soon.

"Right, right. Was it one of those 'things' about why you were in my burrow in the first place? Or better yet, How long you've nestled there?" they gave the angel a cheeky grin.

Aziraphale knew how to counter this, he thought anyway. "No. But it also didn't include the definition of what an Omega is - which, my dear nemesis, you said you'd tell me another time. Well. Here's another time. I'm still waiting."

"You remembered about that."

"Pfff! Of course! How could I forget about the Fallen-Omega-Demon that was with me when the clouds rained on the planet for the first time?"

Crawly chuckled and flashed a brilliant smile at Aziraphale that fluttered that something in him again. "It appears we now have a piece of information that the other one desires." The demon teased.

"I suppose we do."

"Well? What are we going to do about that?" The air around the redhead changed. That scent hit Aziraphale like an avalanche. He had to take a step back and shake his head. When he looked up he was met with jeweled eyes burning into his, and he swallowed hard.

"What are you doing?" the angel asks while breathing heavy.

Crawly's brow knits. "What are you talking about?"

Aziraphale tries to grab the support of a wall and is forced to close his eyes. He's going dizzy again. "Y-you are doing it again..."

"What? What again? I don't know what you're talking about?" Crawly stood, confused in the street. They raised an eyebrow, "Is this like one of those bits of knowledge that I'm supposed to know about but don't because I'm not you, so, therefore, I must--" something small and dark hit Crawly in the back of his head with an odd crack! sound. The demon cried out, bent over and covered the spot with one of their hands.

"Crawly!" The angel called out. Though still unsteady, Aziraphale pushed himself forward and next to the dark one without actually touching them - for fear of what he might do. "What happened?"

"I don't know," said Crawly, their face twisted in pain. "I was just standing there and something hard came out and beamed me," they brought their hand down. It was covered in a black liquid.

The angel stood aghast, "What in Heaven's name is that!?"

"Blood," Crawly stated, "Demon blood. This is what it looks like." They caught the angel's worried eyes.

Aziraphale grabbed without asking and examined Crawly's head. The dark one hissed at the touch but allowed it. Their red hair was now mixed with the black blood that was spilling freely from a fresh-cut near the top of the cranium. "You've been hurt."

"Well, I know that I didn't need you to tell me."

He let the comment slide. The only thought that crossed the angel's mind that could have been the cause of this made a feeling of rage swift through him it didn't register. "Which one of you threw that stone?!" Aziraphale yelled when he spun around and addressed all the Humans in the vicinity. "Well?! Speak up!"

Humans stopped what they were doing and exchanged looks, focusing on the demanding figure in white. Not one of them said a thing.

"What is this? What's gotten into all of you?!" the angel asked, taking a step towards them. For their part, the Humans tried to shrink away from him.

From behind him, another crack! followed closely by Crawly crying out again. Aziraphale turned and saw to his utter dismay Crawly holding their head with both hands and bent even more. The demon moaned. He rushed over and sure enough, a twin cut had split into the upper part of their head, opening a door for the black blood to bleed freely out of.

"Crawly," the worry in the angel's voice was clear. He laid his hands on the wounds and miracles them away. But he left his hands in the other's hair as he spoke to the Humans once again, unsure of why they were doing this. "Please stop it! What did they do to you?! What is the problem, who are you?!"

"Angel."

"We've just arrived! Can't this be solved another way?"

"Aziraphale."

He turned to the demon, who was pulling his arms away from their head. "Forget it. You're not going to get anywhere with these peop-- fuck!" another crack! but to the side of their head. They cried out, covered the wound.

This time, Aziraphale saw what happened. And he couldn't help but take a few steps away from Crawly in horror.

"Crawly."

"Nn, what?"

"They aren't stones."

The demon looked up at the other holding their head, confused and growing pissed. "What do you mean, 'they aren't stones'? So they're throwing another grabbable item. Who cares?"

"No, what I meant was, the Humans aren't throwing stones. They aren't throwing anything," he said in a trembling voice. Blue eyes wide with disbelief.

Crawly was staring directly at him now, face slowly matching that of the other but more flustered. "Then, what is it?"

The angel took several breaths before answering. Unable to even believe what he is about to say himself, "Birds, Crawly. It's been birds."

A hush fell upon the crowd at the first sound of distinct chirping. It was angry. Several heads followed the noise to the tops of buildings. Birds of various sizes had lined them and were hopping back and forth, agitated. A particular one who couldn't take it anymore dive-bombed at the redhead - who ducked in time - then swooped back up to land on an opposite building top.

"I don't understand," Aziraphale said watching the birds. He turned back to Crawly, "has this happened before? I've never seen this."

Crawly wasn't paying him any attention. Their gold eyes were intently focused on something in front of them, which made them tense up. Aziraphale looked to see that they were looking at and his breath hitched in his throat.

Directly in front of the occult beings, and in-between the lines of assaulting birds, stood four wild, savage-looking crazed hounds. Their teeth bared, slobber dripping from their jowls. The muscles taught and firm, waiting for a movement. Trembling with anticipation. Heads lowered. Eyes burning with hate and rage the likes the angel has never seen in an animal before. All honed in on one being. And it wasn't the celestial type.

A low, guttural growl rose from each of their broad chests in a unified ambiance from lips twitching with impatience. They wouldn't blink. They waited. The other had to make a move, any kind of signal, and they would pounce.

Aziraphale knew they weren't aimed at himself. That's not why he was afraid. He eyed his companion and noticed the hesitation in the demon's decision on what to do next. The Humans nearby shouted and sprang to getaway. He couldn't blame them. They weren't after him, but he couldn't leave. Not Crawly alone. But he didn't know what step to take next.

He tried to reach for Crawly, to let him know he was there. "It's alright--"

"Go."

"What?" the angel blinked.

"I said 'go'. Get away from me."

"I-no. No, I won't."

"What part of this are you not hearing?" Crawly said through clenched teeth, "I said 'get away from me', Angel. Now!"

One dog snapped its jaws loud and three took a step forward. The growling now raising from a warning to a threat. Just one more excuse from you, one more word...

Another dog rounded a corner and trotted up to the other four. It slowed down to a walk, its attention fully on the dark one, almost hypnotized by them. Aziraphale watches in almost sick fascination as it transforms within moments to match the same pose and level of animosity of the others. The energy they emanate is unnatural.

"Fuck this," Aziraphale heard Crawly grumble, and before he could do anything, the demon turned on his heels, shoved the angel out of the way, and darted off in the opposite direction down the street. The hounds snapped and howled and moved even before the demon ran. Up above the birds screeched abnormally and blasted the street sky with their feathered bodies. Aziraphale screamed.

They were on the dark one now. The chase was on.

 

***~~***

 

The streets were filled with Humans shouting, pots breaking, carts crashing, frantic bodies trying to find a safe place to hide. Chickens clucking in surprise. Bleating sheep. Savage barking now several rows down and fading. Shrill cries of someone being attacked. Baying.

And an angel desperately trying to follow the madness.

"Crawly!" yelled Aziraphale running as fast as his legs would carry him. His feet pounding on the hard ground as he forced himself to push on, to keep going. Turning this way, that direction. The sounds everywhere but not where he was. Always the next street. Farther down than he physically can give. His lungs burning, his voice raspy from calling out to the other, begging to know where they are.

Another Howl. Vicious barking mixed with tearing. A shriek. Crawly.

"Please, don't hurt Crawly! Stop!" He wasn't getting anywhere like this. He was panting, mind racing. He had to try another way. Finding them from above would be easier, he had to fly.

 

--You cannot, the rules--

Aziraphale fell on his hands and knees.

--We cannot show our true selves--

He couldn't take in air.

--The Humans cannot see our wings--

A dog yelps in the distance somewhere.

--They will not be able to handle it--

Crawly screams a curse, a fierce growl cuts it off.

--Don't interfere too much--

 

Aziraphale yells, hits the dirt with a fist. Chest heaving. Tears start to form.

It wasn't fair. He's panicking, shaking. He can't find Crawly. The animals are hellbent on hurting the demon and he doesn't know why. The angel sniffled. He's useless, he can't help them.

~A switch~

He raised his head and stilled. Raised it higher. The angel looked straight ahead and closed his eyes. Tilted his nose to the sky, sniffed the air. Multiple scents. Horses, blankets, bread, fire. No no that's not it. Not right. Sniff again. Hounds. Birds. Feathers. Feces. No, no, no!

There. Two. That one and another. The newer one that belongs to the Omega as well. Blood. Main body and blood. Moving. Running. Tired. Frightened. Bitter. Down three blocks and left. Found you.

Aziraphale shot straight out and ran. His senses were sharp and focused. He'd never been more clear-minded. Everything was in a detail he'd never noticed before. And he ran faster. Eyes open, on target. One block.

A woman trying to clean up a mess nearly collides with him. He barely misses her, slows down to apologize profusely. Offers to help later. Turns, sniffs. Back on track, takes off. Two blocks.

Weaves around barrels and a knocked over cart. Heart pumping but it doesn't hurt. It's exhilarating. It's alive. It knows where to go instinctively. Three blocks. Turn left.

Hard slide, grabs the wall. Scares some chickens to fly in the air. Yells 'sorry'. Picks up speed. No Crawly, no dogs, no birds. But he's closer. Sniffs the air.

Right, two rights. Then straight. More blood, stronger now. Back left. Go.

Aziraphale gets to the end of the lane and makes a swift right. A dead dog on his left, throat ripped out. Smells of Crawly. He doesn't stop, keeps going. The angel's smiling, he can feel it. This is fun. Why is this fun? Turn right.

He gasps and stumbles, catches himself. Blood everywhere. Black blood. Demon blood. Sprawled over the dirt like a full bucket knocked over. But no demon. I'm coming Crawly.

Mad barking. But in a different direction. Another scream. Clashing with the scent. But that's Crawly's voice. The angel stops at an intersection and heaves. Flips one way, another. Sounds on each side. Smells in all streets. He's confused. Only one conclusion: Crawly's lost and had backtracked over old scents. Shit.

Of course, he's lost, Aziraphale chides himself, adding a frustrated growl. He just woke up and it's their first time in this metropolis. I've helped build it for nigh fifty-seven years now. I know it well. What a welcome introduction.

The angel forces a calm and takes a deep breath, closes his eyes. Centers on the demon.

New. New. Searching for new. Where are you? That's old, not it. No, I can almost see it. It's right there, right within reach. Just a little further--

THERE.

The angel snaps his head to the side just as a pack of dogs - more than before? - run past on the Eastside. He's off.

He's dashing after them, catching up and leaving them behind. He's got enough sense to look at them uneasily, which they seem to do the same to him. This is weird. He's running with the hounds. An angel running with the hounds. That's really weird.

He looks up; birds rushing by. He's in the right direction. The heart is sprinting with every step. Closer, closer. The scent is overwhelming. Crawly must be right around the corner to the right. Please God let Crawly be alive--

Aziraphale slides, trying to stop. Tripping. It's not graceful but he doesn't fall. He's too shocked. Speechless. He found them all. An entire gathering of them in a closed spot. The dogs seem to have lost their minds. The birds are too loud and twitching. Farm animals in the background are hollering to add to the noise. And in the middle, trapped up in a high right corner between a building corner and an arch is a bloodied, clinging demon with wild yellow eyes. Trying to curl their body as close to them as possible, for every time they slip, a hound rushes up and uses the wall for leverage to jump and attempt to chomp down on anything it can grasp. Robe, skin, leg, anything. The demon flinches, hisses back, sometimes strikes. But they don't stand a chance against the mob of beasts. The demon is breathing heavy, fear wreaking from their very cells. Mixed with resentment.

The serpent slips...

"Crawly!" The redhead looks up. Aziraphale charges forward through the throng, pushes his way around the animals and faces them. "Stop this, now!"

Instant silence.

Calm.

Dogs lick their lips and pant, some sit casually. Others lay down. Birds begin to preen themselves or fluff up and close one eye. Stand on one foot. The farm animals go back to their own business and duties. The air smells of roses. Dogs look up and watch shiny things fly around the Humans cannot see. Beautiful chirping works its way through the city. It's peaceful.

Aziraphale takes slow, deliberate steps up to the nearest dog and crouches to their level. The animal wags its tail with head lowered at first, then perks up and eagerly seek out the clean outstretched hand. The angel is licked. Is able to pet and scratch all over the body. The dog instantly rolls over to bare it belly to him. He smiles warmly and gives a few pats and rubs there. A tongue hangs out, eyes closed.

None of them are anything like the beasts they were minutes ago. These are beautiful creatures. Loving beings. Everything is bliss here.

Crawly...

Aziraphale turns to the demon in the corner and double-takes. Nothing it there but black stains and some long red hairs. He stands and searches the city. But this time, Crawly is not here. He contemplates sniffing the air once more when he sees a black-robed figure with long red hair drift out of the city entrance and back to the main body of the desert. Avoids the river, for some reason.

He knows it laughable to follow this creature again. It would be wisest to let them be. But he can't help it. As is want to happen concerning the dark one, the angel's vessel moves first before he is aware of it.

"Crawly! Where are you going?!"

"Why do you care?!" Crawly snapped back. Taking long, limping strides off in - again - no particular direction. Unconsciously Aziraphale noted how the dark one's body sways under the robe as the wind whips it around. A rather fluid motion.

"Because I want to know, that's why!" he stomps up to the other, though it's still a run, "You were just savagely attacked by a mob of various animals and that in itself is extremely confusing and-and, well look at yourself!" He catches up, although behind Crawly, panting heavily under the sun, "You're bleeding! And the town is half-destroyed thanks to that chase of yours--"

Crawly spun around and halted, "You don't get it, do you?"

The angel bumped into them then took three steps back, bewildered from the action and the question. "Get what?"

"All that's happened to you - to me! And I don't mean just today, with the bungle in the city and such others!"

The angel eyed the other and thought about what they were trying to say. The demon was glaring intently at them for a reason, so apparently, he was supposed to know the answer at the ready. But perhaps it was a trick question. "If you're referring back to that time in Eden when--"

Crawly rolls their eyes in a huff, turns around and continues walking away. They snap their fingers and heal their own wounds. No more limping.

"Hey now wait just a minute!"Aziraphale holds up a finger and does his best to reach them without falling in the deep sand.

"Why should I?"

"Because I was talking to you and that was incredibly rude! Not to mention disrespectful--"

"Why are you following me?" They turned abruptly again, the angel ran into them a second time.

He gave space once more and did his best to fix his white robe. He cleared his throat, "Sorry?"

"You heard what I said. Don't play dumb." Crawly wasn't blinking through any of this, despite the wind and sand and sun.

"I-well, It's just. You recently woke up and we were having a pleasant time in town and now you suddenly want to leave again without a single reason as to why--"

"You want to know the reason?"

For a moment he wasn't sure if he did. But thought that silly and Aziraphale stood tall and said, "Yes."

"Here's the reason; I can't. Be. Around you. Right now." Crawly punctuated each word at the end.

They've met twice. Only twice. And in that time they've had short but relatively pleasant conversations. They don't know each other, besides names and occupation. That's it, and that's all it should be. They were lucky it has been as friendly as it has for this long, and that they both still hadn't taken the other out. It is inevitable, they tell him.

And yet...

Those few words Crawly just said hurt. They slashed at the flutters that filled his insides and that breathed life into him whenever he's near the other. That had built up from guarding them all those years. He didn't mean it to happen, they sort of... accidentally grew and multiplied on every visit. And he let it. Reveled in them. But Crawly cut some down, and it was falling.

Crawly didn't want him. He should have known that. Walking away, sleeping for years. The singular reason they talked to him in the first place was they had nowhere else to go to escape the Garden without getting caught. The serpent was charming, and it worked. He fell for the charm. The emptiness crept back in.

But he didn't want the other to know how he was collapsing in front of them, so he countered with veiled banter to cover his feelings.

Aziraphale turned his head just so and tilted his head up a tad, "That's the most nonsensical statement I've ever heard. If you simply don't want me around you should just say it--"

"I'm in heat, angel!" Crawly states, exasperated. Arms rise and fall at their sides.

That...

Means nothing to the angel.

Aziraphale shrugs, "So am I. If that's all, we can go somewhere and cool off together. Get nice, refreshing drinks, maybe take a leisure swim in a body of water someplace. We'll be rejuvenated in no time! Certainly, be a nice change from this place."

Crawly looks either lost, dumbfounded, or broken. Aziraphale is having a hard time reading the expression. He doesn't know what he said to receive such a peculiar response, but that's what the demon is giving him.

Eventually, Crawly shakes their head, and leans in closer to the angel and - for whatever reason - feels it's best to use hand gestures, "No-no, not you. You stupid bird brain. I'm in heat. You're just hot. Trust me, there's a difference."

"'In heat'?" Aziraphale scoffs, "Why is there a difference? What difference is there? They sound the same to me. Frankly, I think you're making this rubbish up."

"Oh no. It's very, very real. And it's an Omega-thing."

"Well, no wonder I don't know a thing about it! You have yet to tell me anything about what an Omega is! Besides that being you!" the angel shouts.

Crawly waits a moment before they say anything, and when they do it's low and serious, "When did you start getting overheated? And I don't mean today."

Interesting question. Not what the angel thought they'd ask. But they were genuine about it, so Aziraphale figured he'd give this one an honest-enough answer. If he could.

He took a step away and put a finger to his chin and thought. "Well now let me see. It's been going on for some time, however not all of the time. That's right. It doesn't happen all the time, it only occurs when I'm in your sleeping cave - or whatever you call that hovel. In fact, the day I found the hole was the day it all started..."

It's not been an issue before. Not to this degree. He was drawn to that location, and once inside he suffered from the torridness it consistently held. Never cooled down. Outside it was a hot desert, yes, but nothing like the burrow. He figured it was because it was underground in a heated place. But... apparently, that may not be the case.

Aziraphale wrung his hands and felt uneasy, "I don't understand. W-what does this mean? That it only happens when I'm there or when I'm... near you?"

"Now you're figuring it out," Crawly said with sympathy.

No. Just, no. "But Eden. I never felt that way when I was near you in the Garden."

"That's because it's the Garden of Eden, Angel. Nothing is normal there. That was meant to be a paradise."

"So. What you're saying, is when you are in this, 'heat', I can't be near you because I get overheated and lose control. Do I have that right?"

The demon smiled gently, "Perfect, Angel. And, when it reaches its peak, I end up just as bad as you. If not worse."

No. No no-no-no.

"Is that what an Omega is? That's why you wouldn't tell me? Afraid to scare me away on our first meeting?"

Crawly shrugged, "Not really. And that's only a part of what we are. There's more, but I don't want to go into it. Not right now. If it's all the same to you."

"Oh. Of, of course. Yes." No. No, it's bloody not! This isn't fair! You know more about me and I know nothing of you! And I want to...

He hesitated before asking, but Aziraphale knew it would eat at him like a disease if he let it go. So he took a breath and, "Does, does this mean, you still wouldn't mind our, paths to cross in the future, by chance?" He glanced at the other.

He caught Crawly's sapphire eye and noted the demon was smiling warmly at him. They gave a slight one-shoulder shrug, "Why not? If you can stand being in the company of a demon. Third time's the charm."

The flutters explode, hitting every corner of his insides. He ends up standing on his toes for a second to keep himself stable. He can sense his own blue eyes sparkling.

He lets it show for a handful of seconds, then pulls it back, remembering his place. Aziraphale clears his throat and talks to the great expanse of the desert for a bit. Keeping himself half interested, "Yes. I would like that very much. For, or course consistency sake. And to compare notes and what we've seen and how the Humans are getting along with - or without - our influence." He turns back to the demon, "That sort of thing would be delightful."

Aziraphale frowns. "Crawly? Can you hear me?"

The demon is breathing heavy, eyes wide and looking off at something in the distance. Was that a... shiver he saw too?

The angel follows Crawly's gaze but sees only a desert. He moves to stand next to the demon and tries to assess what those golden eyes are focused on. "What are you staring at?"

He still sees nothing.

"Can you hear it?" Crawly's voice comes out shaking.

The angel looks around for the 'sound', "Hear what?"

"That. Right there, can you hear it?" Their voice is growing weaker.

"I can't hear anything." The angel shakes his head, muddled. "There's wind. I'm sorry, dear boy but I hear nothing. What is it you hear?"

"Bells. It's bells. I-I I hear them. I hear the bells." Now it's a whisper, alarmed.

"What bells, where?"

"The bells. The be--" Crawly snaps rigidly to their full height. Mouth closed, eyes blank. Only the robe - which the desert wind billows around - and red hair moves. Otherwise, they are unnaturally still.

Aziraphale steps in front of them, frown deepening. "Crawly?" he asks. There is no response from the other. He raises a hand and waves it in front of the demon's face. No reaction. The angel scans them up and down, unsure of what to think at this point.

"I have to go," said Crawly very monotone. Then moved. They pushed passed the angel and walked off, straight-backed and surprisingly fast, off into who knows where. Without so much as another word.

"Wait a-- oh, nevermind." The angel doesn't have the energy to go through this again. He shouts after them, "You're welcome, by the way!" Not one 'thank you' for saving them earlier.

"'Bells'." Aziraphale mumbles, arms crossed, "Out here? Tsk. Preposterous. Just say you'd rather spend your time with anyone else and leave it at that. Don't lie."

Feeling dejected - although he knows he has no right to - Aziraphale slumps off to do what he can to fix the damage done to the still-developing city of Uruk.

 

--If he had stayed a minute longer, or perhaps if the angel had just turned around, he would have seen Crawly rapidly sink into the desert sand and be swallowed up by it. With not a trace that they were ever there.--