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Hell's Bells

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Once Upon A Time - for every proper story should start with 'Once Upon A Time'; good, bad, or otherwise - there was an angel who fell in love with a demon. But it could never be. For if one is fated to be lost to the other, without change, there can be no happy ending.

This is their story.

 

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The Earth had been around for only five days. It was a brand new, bouncing baby rock. God was so proud. She had worked very hard on this one. It was going to be the beginning of a lot of new things.

She created wind and sky, dirt and grass. Stones, trees, sand, and mountains (which was an afterthought) just to name a few. Volcanoes came to Her at an especially imaginative moment. Weather notwithstanding.

One of her early favorite things She made was a colorless, odorless, tasteless substance that came translucent. She eventually named it Water. Yes, She was especially proud of Water.

In fact, She may have gotten a tad carried away on the Water-thing. Making many, many, many-many different types, sizes, and versions of it. But that was something She would never admit.

Eventually, She moved onto actual lifeforms. That was an interesting challenge. So many trial-and-errors. She'd make them big and morph some small. Microscopic if She didn't know where to put it. An exorbitant amount She dumped in the Water - to the point it got overcrowded, so She had some of them do double duty. If they didn't want to stay there, they didn't have to. Others She threw in the air and the ones that didn't fall got to enjoy a whole new mode of transportation. -- (She based them off her employees and surprised them with it. Their reaction wasn't quite as exuberant as it had turned out in Her head. Their appreciation was wanting and told Her - in no uncertain terms - it was a 'non-flattering and cruel' homage. Well really. It's the thought that counts.)

It took a great deal of concentration, time, and effort for Her to attempt to get everything right. And even then, She nearly forgot Her top priority - and utmost treasured subject matter; Humans.

Understandable. For around the time God put them to shape, a 'Mutiny' of sorts seemed to be taking place when She wasn't looking.

Well. Back to the drawing board concerning the planet. Changes would have to be made to accommodate to this new predicament. She was going to need a sit down after this...

 

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4,004 B.C. OCTOBER 28TH, SUNDAY - GARDEN OF EDEN

 

He stood near the lip of the stone ledge - not that close, he wasn't a fool - and fretted.

The first two humans off in the distance had barely made their way out into the new world... and were already in danger. A large male lion made a beeline from nowhere toward them and was now intending on making them extinct. Oh yes, this was going smashingly well.

Thank goodness they weren't unarmed, the angel consoled himself. It helped but little.

The weather was fair, aside from the rapidly building clouds. At least that was a comfort to know. A kind, warm breeze fluttered his clean robe around in a playful way. It felt wonderful, but even better how it ran through his unsheathed white wings. He flexed them out. Ah, it felt good to have them free from their confines. He had been practicing getting used to having them put away for his assignment on this new planet. They had warned him upstairs that he couldn't afford to be seen by 'God's Little Projects' down here. (Their words, not his.)

--Before he embarked, She Herself told him they wouldn't be able to handle it due to now learning 'jealousy', whatever that meant. When he asked her what it was, She said he would find out in time - plus all the other ones. He still doesn't know why She didn't tell him, but She has always worked in mysterious ways.--

Don't interfere too much. That was the rule. Be ever watchful, a mentor if needed, guidance if asked, but that's it. Not too difficult. (Or so they kept telling him.)

And already he broke the rule.

Wonderful. More trouble on the mind.

There was only so much to do when watching over the birth of a new species, and to be so limited to what needs to be done simply isn't fair. Not that he condones rules should be broken. But...oh, fret. Fret, and fret. This was not going to be easy.

His toes curled on the hard surface when he felt 'that other presence' approach closer. It was a sort of tugging sensation that came from deep inside his torso region. He thought it curious. That never happened before, except when that 'thing' first showed up.

He knew it was nearby anyway - at times it felt as though it was hovering just out of sight, watching - but he had hoped it would leave. It felt...different than anything he'd ever known. And he didn't like it. Not when everything was so new.

So he promptly chose to ignore it. It was a lowly serpent demon anyway. Granted, that beast is most likely the reason he has a first-class chance of being fired. However...

It's only a hellion. Perhaps everyone would understand.

He rubs his temple. He had one job. Just one. He hadn't even been here for very long and already he morally mucked it up. He'll be the laughing stock upstairs. The only other thing he could possibly get wrong now is if Eden caught fire. Oh, Heavens. Then he would officially be out of a job...

Maybe he should have been more aggressive about it? Really told that serpent what for. Perhaps there was more he could've done? He never was very good at this 'Alpha' thing. Or asserting himself in general. Yes, someone else would be better suited for this than he.

"What do you make of it?"

Aziraphale jumped, the voice startling him from his own musings. He hadn't noticed he was no longer alone. But that would be outlandish because it would imply... and the very thought is preposterous... blasphemous even. For there was only one other... and their kind would never mingle with his. Not without bloodshed, anyway.

It's simply not done.

The angel turned to his left and couldn't help but do a double-take to the creature next to him. It was in a long black robe. The hair... The hair was long curls of lush, brilliant crimson. It looked remarkably like himself. Only not. Slender. Incredible bone structure. Lashes that went on for miles.

He couldn't take his eyes off it, he was transfixed. Was... was that the serpent? He didn't know it had a vessel. Let alone a silky pair of feathered, black wings--

Wait, it has wings? Then it's not just some ordinary demon. It's one of the Fallen. That was fascinating. He had never met one of them.

In fact, if he was entirely honest with himself, this dark one was... striking. Exotic. Becharming.

And now it was staring at him. With yellow sapphire eyes... such large shapely orbs, with slit pupils... unique only unto itself... why did that not repulse him?

Oh, that's right. It asked him something. Best to respond.

He should also stop thinking of it as an 'it'. It's evidently much more than that. How embarrassingly rude of him. 

The angel, Aziraphale - for that was his namesake - smiled awkwardly, then concluded he had no idea what the creature said, and asked, "Sorry, what?"

The arresting redhead - stop that - points out towards the humans. "That, right there. The whole... tiger thing."

He follows the demon's finger. "That's a lion." Aziraphale corrected.

"Whatever - don't you think it's a bit much? I mean, they just got out, are finding their footing, and the first thing they come across on this big round planet is this aggressive omnivore?"

The other had a point. Still, Aziraphale says, "No one said it would be easy."

"It's trying to eat them!" the demon gawked at him.

"Look, I don't like it any more than you do, uh...?"

"Crawly."

"Crawly, thank you. But these things are not our decisions to make."

The one named Crawly was giving him a peculiar look, "Are you going to sprout some Holier-Than-Thou jibberish at me?"

He wasn't sure how to answer that. For that's all anyone ever talks about upstairs. The very idea that someone wouldn't want to - let alone calling it jibberish - preach about it and discuss its many glorious wonders was unheard of. It was... curious.

When the angel didn't answer, the dark one rolled their eyes, "You were, weren't you?"

"There's nothing wrong with that." Aziraphale countered.

"No no, of course not," Crawly mocked, "you're within your right to justify a reason as to why God's human race failed at the get-go."

"Listen, I'm not trying to do any such thing!" Aziraphale said, growing flustered, "A-and besides, look! The male seems to be fending its adversary off brilliantly on his own. They're, they're obviously capable of taking care of themselves. I only hope that this will be the worst of it. At least for today."

A roll of thunder breaks in, causing them both to look around for the source. Detecting it's from the sky, they exchange inquisitive looks then go back to watching the battle for survival in front of them.

They stand in oddly comfortable silence. Then Crawly breaks it, "Wait, so that's a lion?" 

"Yes. It is."

"Huh. Never seen one of them before."

Aziraphale blinks, "Sorry?"

"I said, I've never seen one of those before."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I've never seen a lion before. This is my first time. Would never have known they looked like that."

Aziraphale only stares. "What?" Crawly asks in a rather prickly manner.

"Nothing," the angel turns away, a slight blush framing the tips of his ears. He didn't realize he was ogling again. He shrugs, "Just, find it surprising that one deadly animal isn't familiar with an equally dangerous one."

"It's not like I was there when they were created," Crawly returns, "'Twas a bit busy with 'another matter' at that time. As you well know."

Another boom of thunder rumbled closer over their heads. Only this time it had been accompanied by a shocking bright snap of light that streaked across the sky. Both of their sets of wings flinched outward and lightly fluffed at the surprise of it.

Aziraphale let out an embarrassed chuckle and willed his feathers to settle. He could see out of the corner of his eye the other trying to do the same. He cleared his throat and thought it best to continue where they left off.

"So, therefore, am I left to understand that - based on what you've said - you've never witnessed a tiger as well?"

Crawly immediately clammed up, "I... don't... see the... well if you must... why do you ask?"

"It's a simple question."

"I don't know about that."

"Really? Do tell. I'd love to hear it."

"Has it gotten a bit stuffy out here?"

"No. I find it quite pleasing in all truthfulness."

"More cloudy-things are building up."

"So they are. Stop trying to change the subject, please."

Crawly eyed him carefully, "Why do I get the feeling I'm being ridiculed?"

"I would never," he said with all honesty.

Crowley looked around as if someone might hear, grimaced and leaned in, "Promise you won't tell?"

"Oh, may the Lord Herself strike me down if I should ever utter a syllable to another living soul." Aziraphale clasped his hands as if in prayer.

Crawly gave him a doubtful look, but eventually relented and grumbled with an obnoxious huff, "No. No, alright? Are you satisfied now? I've never seen a tiger, a lion nor an-an, a...bloody whale!" the demon clasped their hands in front of them. They closed their eyes and flinched again when more thunder rumbled closer still. The sky was turning all below it several shades darker, growing ever so closer to swallowing the bright sun.

The angel was oblivious to this, however. For next to him was, oh my. Was that a... blush? Something fluttered inside and Aziraphale couldn't understand why.

"If it makes you feel any better," the angel smiled, "I've never seen a bloody whale either."

It took a moment, but Aziraphale noticed the smirk flit across that surprisingly sharp face. "It doesn't." Crawly glanced at him all the same with those gemstone eyes - stop that - and once again they slipped into a pleasant silence.

Aziraphale had a thought. If Crawly didn't seem to know about other animals, did they know about themself?

"Now uhm, don't take this the wrong way but," he asked carefully, "you do know what you are, correct?"

"You mean besides an angel-turned-demon who's damned for all eternity?" Crawly said in a sardonic tone.

"Yes. Obviously, I did mean that."

"Pfft! Then of course, I know."

"Excellent! Care to say it out loud?"

"I already told you; I'm Crawly," the demon grinned.

He felt his heart miss a beat, and not in a good way. The thump was alarmingly prominent like his vessel-body was trying to alert him to take note to what this creature was saying. There was no possible way this demon could be this naive? Something else was amiss.

"Yes. But that is your name. I'm asking if you know what you are. Do you? Do you know what you are?"

Crawly's expression gradually changed from enjoyment to being perplexed. Their brow furrowed. They stared off, eyes flicking around as if searching for something but simply grew more confused. 

A smarmy look took over - must have thought they found the answer - and the demon began to say, "Do you mean--"

"A serpent, dear one," Aziraphale broke in, quickly cutting to the chase. Evidently, that's not what the other one had concluded to, and Crawly's face fell back to puzzlement once more. Aziraphale's mouth fell open. It was evident that word meant nothing to the demon.

"Oh my Lord. You don't know what a serpent is, do you?"

Crawly shrugged it off. "What of it?"

"That's what you are!" 

"So? What's so important with needing to know the in's and out's of a sneggle?"

"Serpent."

"Whatever - and why do you care if I know or not?" Crawly snapped.

"No need to get upset. I was only trying to help." Aziraphale raised his arms in defense to try to quickly diffuse the tension. He watched Crawly focus on the humans again, and it was clear something he had said or done bothered the demon immensely. He felt terrible.

And then suddenly that scent came back.

Only recently has Aziraphale caught this aroma in the air. It comes and goes with the wind, but the longer he's been here the less deniable it's become. Never has it been invasive or overbearing, but the angel noticed he can pick it out no matter what kinds of stronger scents surround it.

And right now, this very moment, it's hitting him stronger than it ever has before.

"Looks like the lion's down." Crawly added, noting how successful the humans were doing so far. Another rumble of thunder accompanied by that bright flash pushed ever closer.

Perhaps Crawly has caught a whiff of the scent?

"Do you smell that?" the angel asked, sniffing the air.

Crawly blinked, "What?" 

"That. There's a subtle yet pungent odor in the air that I've been catching on and off lately, and though it hasn't been around long, it's steadily growing stronger."

"I smell nothing, Angel," the demon said, giving him a very odd look.

"No, it's there! I swear to you - I mean I don't. I could never swear. But I'm very sensitive to these things and," he took deep inhales and moved closer to his companion. Aziraphale - without thinking - invaded Crawly's personal space and began sniffing the feathers, black robe, and dipped in to inhale near the neckline. Crawly let out a breathy gasp and - whether he meant to or not, Aziraphale wasn't sure - leaned closer to the touch of the other. The angel jerked away in shock, eyes wide (face beet red) taking several dramatic steps back. He placed a hand on his chest and yelled, "Great Golden Gates! It's you!"

"Beg pardon?" Crawly's face looked feverish and dazed. Their eyes were narrowed at the angel and their breath seemed to have quickened. One hand was on the neck where Aziraphale had just smelled. 

"That scent is radiating off of you! You're the source of it! I should have known it was you - but I have found you out! So if your plan was to poison the Garden anymore, you've failed; I, have caught you!" Aziraphale stood tall and proud.

Crawly stared, then looked around. They appeared stunned. The jeweled eyes - stop that, now  - rested on him once more and the demon cracked a wicked grin, "Looks like someone else here doesn't know something either."

Aziraphale's mind blanked. What was going on here? What did he miss? There was a perfectly logical, linear path he was following and in a matter of seconds it shatt-- good Heavens what is that?

For the first time, Aziraphale got a glimpse of a forked, blackish-grey tongue roam around playfully on a canine. They unabashedly let their eyes rove up and down the angel. Aziraphale swallowed, his neck growing hot around the light fabric of the collar, "Wh-what are you sa-saying? And why are you staring at me like, like that?" The angel could not make eye contact. His fingers started fiddling with the hem of his sleeves.

Crawly chuckled low and crossed their arms, "So...an Alpha, yes?"

Aziraphale closed his eyes and he heavily sighed in relief. It washed over him and was cool and comforting. "Yes. Oh yes, is that all? My, you startled me!" he laughed, "but I already know this fact, it's nothing new."

Then, the angel's eyes widened and he tensed, feeling mortified, "Oh Lord, how bad can you tell? Does it really show?"

"No, not really." Crawley said, crossing his ankles, "I mean, I could smell you from a distance but that's only natural. Although once I started conversing with you I admit I had doubts."

"How?" Aziraphale frowned.

Crawly blinked, "Sorry, to which part?"

"How you knew I was an... Alpha?" he whispered the last word as if it were foul. 

-- The last rays of the sun vanished as the angry clouds had almost officially conquered the skies. It lit up and boomed its victory for all to hear. --

"I knew what you were - and you can scent me so decidedly - because I'm an Omega. See? Only natural." the demon shrugged and placed his hands behind his head. 

The angel was unimpressed. "And?"

"And... that's it. That's all. That's everything. What more do you need?" Crawly looked at him in disbelief, yet there was a slight twinkle in the eye that made Aziraphale wonder if he was missing a key feature to a bigger puzzle. "You should have known this already by instinct."

Alright. Now the angel was well and truly thrown. "Instinct?" he asked. It came out quizzical.

"Yes. Wait-- have you never met an Omega before?"

He paused and thought about it. The only places he had been - for the most part, so far, - have been most of Heaven and now Eden. Guarding took up nearly all of his time, so he was never given an opportunity to do anything else, really. But when he was able to explore, he always came across the same two types of beings. He can't recall there ever, at any time, being a third type.

So he gave a small shrug and said as much. "There aren't any in Heaven. Only kinds like myself - unfortunately - and, well Betas I suppose."

The singular figured - oh for Heaven's sake, stop that, what's wrong with you? - went quiet for a moment, eyes far away. "Oh. That's right. Funny I forgot that. Hn."

A shadow flickered across Crawly's face. A memory. And based on the demon's current body language and reaction, it was not a pleasant one.

Aziraphale felt a need to bring them back to the here and now, although he himself didn't know why. The only thing that came to mind to bring up was the same thing he was curious to know more about for himself.

He hoped that would get the demon's attention, "What is an Omega exactly? Did you make that up or do you actually, do something?"

Crawly snapped those eyes up to his. He felt his pulse quicken; that was quite disconcerting. It got the other's attention, however. And that dark cloud left as quickly as it came. Again, not understanding why, he quietly thanked God for that. 

The dark one smiled, "I'll save that for another time."

"Hah! As if there will be another time."

"Sure there will. I've got a feeling we'll see each other again."

"Only to end in the defeat of one of us." Aziraphale playfully bantered back, mostly meaning it because that was the way of things, but not putting a lot of intent into it. For Crawly, they just... shuddered as the temperature dropped a handful of degrees. For the blackening skies threatened overhead with another roll of angry thunder. They rubbed their arms looking up at the changing weather. 

Aziraphale watched as the red curls tumbled off the slim shoulders to hang loose down the back. Even through the unflattering shape of the clothes, he could see it was a nice back. Sinewy. The hair had become an eye-catching contrast to all the dark that had heavily settled. It took a time for Aziraphale to note he forgot to breathe.

The angel shook his head - wondering for the, was it fourth time now? What was wrong with him today - and cleared his throat. The unknown feeling for the other was still present, and before he could stop himself he licked his lips and blurted, "For the record, your scent? It's not - entirely unpleasant. In fact... One might say, it's - agreeable." Crawly looked at him.

Aziraphale gawked at himself, eyes bulged. My Lord and Saviour, what did I just say?

 Now he needed to leave. The humans had defeated their threat and were cautiously making their way forward. Huddled and aimlessly, true, but in one piece. He had a job to do, and now was the time to return to do it. He had thoroughly made a mess of things, embarrassed himself, and now was going to not only be the bunt end of a joke in Heaven but to a demon as well. Fallen, serpent or Omega. Whatever it was.

What he needed was to get back to work and put this all behind him.

"And for your information, I came over here because I found your scent to be rather 'welcoming', among other things."

Those streaks of light lit up the sky. The thunderous boom that followed reverberated inside Aziraphale's very being.

 Did thy ears deceive me? 

There was no laugh. There was no insult. Derision never came, nor was the voice filled with venom. It was gentle. Informative. Ridiculously honest. And from a demon that's an impossibility.

Yet, that's what Aziraphale felt from the other. It wasn't a wickedness. It, it was...

But that's beyond absurd. They're evil. Pure evil. Aren't they? That's what everyone told him...

Crawly moved a side-step closer to the befuddled angel. "So," they started, "not only are you an Alpha but you're a Cherub as well."

Alright now, this just wasn't fair. "How did you know I am a Cherub?" Aziraphale asked, practically sucking in air from the surprise.

"Cherubim's guard the Garden of Eden, Angel." Crawly grinned like this was news everyone had the knowledge to, "That's the reason why you're here, is it not? With your flaming sword of course." Crawly frowned, "Wait. Where is your flaming sword anyway? I thought you had one."

"Um..."

"Did you have one, or didn't you? Because now I'm confused - why are you here, then precisely?"

 "How do you mean?" the angel began to feel uneasy.

"Well, your presence here no longer makes sense, so what are you doing here, Angel?"

"I'm--"

"Are you lost?"

Aziraphale's heart started to race, "No, I'm...you're trying to confuse me."

"I'm trying to confuse you?"

"Yes. That's what your kind do and I will not be swayed into it." He was being cornered. Of course, he was! This whole thing was a setup to get him to lose ground or faith or doubt himself in his duties for the choices he's made and how thanks to him everything is ruined. And he fell for it. He failed again. God must have been testing him early and he has failed another one. Or perhaps not? He may have caught it in time, he could still redeem himself if he stayed strong.

"You're the one who's doing the confusing here," Crawly lectured, "You're supposed to have a flaming sword - which I could've sworn you had - and that would make sense for a Cherub to have in order to guard the Garden of Eden from unmentionables. But you can't be a Cherub because let's face it, you're terrible at guarding - I got in - and you don't have a flaming sword so I ask you again; what are you doing here?"

A boom of thunder emphasized the demon's point.

Aziraphale took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, eyes closed. All he had to do was be honest, true, and stop being distracted by the alluring visage before him. Honestly.

"I...I gave it away."

"You gave it away?"

"Shh! Not so loud!" he panicked. Already forgetting the pep-talk he gave himself. "I don't want the head office to hear! Besides, it's not lost or anything. It's right there, see? They have it now." The angel points to the humans slowly fading in the distance with a remarkably bright-looking stick in the hands of one of them.

Crawly looks back to the tiny figures, then to the angel. Then back to the figures, and once again to the angel. Then suddenly, what Aziraphale could only describe as a ridiculously big stupid grin spread over the demon's face, the creature did an unexplainable thing: they started to laugh.

And laugh. And laugh some more. It became so severe they turned into fits, gripping their stomach. That damned thing lost their balance and fell to the floor. They rolled around, it wracking their lithe body to near spasm levels, and during it all, they had the utter nerve to speak to the angel at the same time. It came out more like a wheeze: 

"Oh! Oh, I would love to be there for your first report in! 'How's everything going?' 'Oh, just sssmashing! But, by the by; it appears your little human project has a tiny kink in it. Turnnns out that they aren't too bright yet when it comes to, to violent weaponry and the use of fffire so they seemed to have kkkkkilled themselves already and now they are currently extinct! Other than that everything's super-duper! How are you?'"

 Aziraphale could get in a great deal of trouble for this. Everything Crawly pointed out is more than plausibly true and may happen once the humans are out of sight. This is serious.

Even so, he couldn't stop a giggle bubble up to the surface. Watching Crawly, he found out, was contagious. It started small but soon grew to a level that was painful to hold in. He tried to stifle it, tried to bite it back with his teeth against his tongue, but for fighting it his skin heated up and turned redder than a cherry.

Aziraphale covered his mouth and did his best to hide it from the cackling demon. "That's not funny," he tried to say normally but cracked on the last word. He clenched a fist and nearly begged the other to spare him. "I beseech you, stop laughing!"

Crawly rolled to face him and Aziraphale was almost lost again when he saw tears - genuine tears - running down their cheeks. He had no choice but to turn away and fisted his hands tightly by his sides. "No! No, I refuse to believe in your trickery. This isn't a joke!" the angel yelled, not caring what he said so long as this lark would end.

Within time, Crawly calmed down, breathing heavy. "They're going to be fine, Angel. I'm only teasing you," they said while a chuckle or two still found its way out.

Aziraphale heard from behind him a tired sigh, "Look how well they have handled themselves against their first threat, and they've only just set foot out there. If you hadn't given them that sword, they would be torn to pieces by now. You saved them."

-- The loudest thunder roll cracked out, the very appearance of the clouds above threatening their next level to come soon.-- 

The flutter from inside Aziraphale's chest came back. But, somehow it was stronger this time around. He turned back to face the only other being up there with him and took notice of how Crawly laid there. WIngs relaxed, hands resting on the stomach, one leg bent. They were comfortable. Crawly, an evil enemy, was content to lay there in his presence. The angel could easily smite him. He would technically be within reason, for what they had done concerning the apple. It would be simple, quick and clean.

But that never even crossed his pure mind. He strode over to the redhead and reached down a hand with a winning smile of his own, "Aziraphale. I, am Aziraphale. It's nice to meet you."

Crawly's eyes widened; they weren't expecting that. They stared at the pale hand as if they'd never seen its kind before. The demon's brow knitted. They appeared unsure what step to take next. Aziraphale gave them time, he didn't pull away yet. 

Soon enough, Crawly smiled, "Hello, Aziraphale. It's nice to meet you, too," and reached up with their slender hand, clasped the inviting one and was hoisted up.

Aziraphale nearly dropped the demon, however. Once they touched, the contact was not at all what he was expecting. He cried out, yanking his hand away and jumped back. His other hand clasped it around the wrist and pulled it close. Aziraphale stared from his hand to Crawly in either astonishment or fear. He couldn't decide which it was. Crawly just raised an eyebrow at him, perplexed as to what had happened.

"Oh! Forgive me but, you're so cold! To the touch, I mean!" he did his best to explain but not offend.

Crawly shrugged, "Naturally."

Aziraphale shook his head, confused. "This is a normal occurrence?"

"Of course," the demon said casually, amused by the reaction from the angel. They crossed their arms, took a deep, over-exaggerated breath and- "Being a fallen angel - or more accurate, a demon now - the collective being that is me is, how should I put it; searing hot  so, in order for a proper vessel to contain it without consistently, spontaneously combusting or discorporating every millisecond of every minute of every hour of every day till ad nauseum adjustments had to be made mainly, every organ that holds the true me must be equal if not drastically negative degrees colder in order to safely contain me." They rattled all this off in one, long, rapid go. Took another - but vastly less dramatic - unneeded breath, and added, "So yes, to answer your question; being fucking cold is normal for occults like me," then smiled.

--This boom of thunder rumbled on for some time. It was as if the sky was growling its impatience for being ignored.--

Aziraphale wasn't sure if he got any of that. Possibly bits and pieces. If they ever do meet again, he'll have to remember to ask the demon once more about this subject - but mercifully slow next time.

In the meantime, he pretended he caught every syllable and understood it indubitably. He played it down, "Is that all?"

"Yep." Crawly didn't seem to care. "Oh, there is one more thing; that doesn't include the inside inside of the internal organs. Not fully, at any rate. I mean they are drastically cooler than the original, but it's more of a... sizzle."

"Uhm," he felt lost again.

"Here, let me demonstrate." Crawly opened their mouth and exhaled. The air in front of it appeared to ripple several inches outward. Aziraphale walked up to it, mesmerized, and like a baby who's still testing out the world for the first time, he reached out a hand and ran it through it. It was warm, heated air coming out. It wasn't painful in the slightest.

"Oh my," he breathed. The angel beamed as he wiggled his fingers around in it. He kept it up until Crawly closed their mouth.

"A whole lot of hot air," the demon grinned.

Aziraphale was about to agree, then stopped himself and wondered why this was brought up in the first place. "What does that entail, exactly? Why are you telling me this fact?"

"Oh. Well, just because... I dunno. 'Sept that I know if anything should be inserted in any of my orifices, they would be greeted with a rather sweltering sensation than freezing. That's all." Crawly said, very matter-of-factly. 

"How obscene!" said the angel, disgusted.

"Really? You think so? I found that rather pleasing."

"Well, of course, you would, you're a demon."

Crawly seemed to think on it, then shrugged their head in agreement. "Anywho, going back to your 'sword conversation with Her Royal Highness'," Aziraphale visibly shook his wings at that, "if you can't find humor even in the direst situations, then what's the point of it?" 

Aziraphale wasn't sure what he thought of that advice, but he secretly tucked it away in the back of his mind all the same. "You'll be alright. She loves all of you unquestionably," Crawly added.

Pause.

Did Aziraphale hear that right? Had a fallen angel, a being who willfully rebelled against God just casually admit She adores all of them? Without a second thought about it?

What was going on here?

Aziraphale turned his head and glanced at the demon. They were rigid stiff. Eyes hard, staring intently straight ahead. Jaw clenched. He could see the dark one's fingers turning white from how hard they were gripping their own arms.

So it was a mistake. They didn't mean to say it. Of course not. Now at least something about this villain makes sense to him.

Crawly jerked their head, "I wonder how far up we are?" and then just took off, running over and standing right on the edge of the wall cliff. Their black wings thrusting out just so to counter the body weight from tumbling over. Aziraphale gasped and ran after but stayed himself some steps later. For a split moment, he chastised himself for the idea of wanting to save the enemy. But most of the time he was too busy worrying about the redhead disappearing suddenly from his sight.

The wind had picked up some, and was a tad rougher on Crawly's clothes and hair, yanking and blowing it around like a dare to take another step.

"Ugh..." Crawly moaned.

The angel moved fast and was standing next to them once the groan had been uttered. "Are you alright?" he panicked. 

"I don't like heights," the demon mumbled. The eyes were closed and they appeared to be swaying.

"Then get away from the edge, you silly thing!" Aziraphale shouted, grasping the other and guiding them down to safety.

When they unclosed their eyes, they got defensive, "I just wanted to see how far down it was!"

"Yes well, be that as it may...curiosity killed the cat."

Crawly quirked a brow, "Did you just make that up?"

The angel straightened, "So what if I did?"

"It's good. Bit catchy."

Aziraphale smiled bright and sunny, "Thank you. And it is, isn't it?" he said. Very proud of himself for making something up and it is acknowledged as worth. 

Water from the skies began to fall. When it hit them they shied away from it on the first drops. Aziraphale figured it out quicker than the other one did. Crawly seemed a little lost to this experience, unsure of what to do or how to react to it. Crawly must have sensed eyes on them, for they turned to catch the angel's, and he - at this point he stopped trying to reason it - opened an arm, lifted a wing and beckoned the other in.

To say he was surprised the demon actually moved closer is a hard ball to juggle. So many unusual and unexpected things happened in... well he doesn't know. He wasn't even sure how he felt that he didn't seem the least bit repulsed when Crawly stood so close they nearly touched shoulders, and he could feel the chill of the other's temperature radiating onto him. It made him shiver. 

The demon kept glancing at him, shifting on their bare feet. Eventually, they opened their mouth and asked what seemed to be on their mind, "No hard feelings between us, yes? Afterall; I was only doing what I was so ordered to. On pain of repercussion, and all that."

The angel went quiet. Unsure of whether to trust what this thing was saying or if they were lying to him and this was planned the whole time. Whichever it was, he hadn't the heart to be cruel. "No, I daresay. No hard feelings. It's too early for that yet."

 

Every once in a while, they would both stick their hands out to catch the water droplets on their palms then bring them in under the protection of the angel's wing.

Aziraphale observed - unsure of what to think - as Crawly watched Aziraphale's droplets absorbed into his skin in no time, and frowned when it took twice as long - if not longer - for theirs to do the same in their own hand.

Chapter Text

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.--

Chapter Text

3496 B.C. - HELL

 

"I have to go."

 *

--Bells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Help me Bells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Hells. Bells--

--Muffled voices saying something. Can't respond--

--Everything's in shadows now. Can only hear the bells. Fierce, beckoning, I can't--

--Hells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Hells. Hells. Hells. Hells. Bells. Hells. Hells. Bells. Hells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Hells. Hells. Stop Hells. Bells. Hells. Hells. Bells. Bells. Hells. Hells. Hells. Bells--

 *

He couldn't move; they moved for him.

Chains. Glowing chains. Hot-iron chains and shackles. All over. Everywhere. Grasping, clinging, biting. He can't see them from this angle but by God, he can feel them. They're too tight. Too thick. Too constraining. Ankles. Knees. Thighs. Wrists. Waist. Forearms. Biceps. Chest. Neck.

Pulling. Always pulling. Foreward. Down.

Away from the angel.

Away from the sun.

Away from life.

Forward.

Home.

Oh God

No

 

***~~***

 

The bongs were all he heard. They filled his mind and numbed all senses, assuring he never had a chance to rebel against them. It pulsed in him, replacing the beat of his heart with something alien but in time he would come to associate with a funeral song. He didn't know it then, but the knells were the death of sorts. But if Crawly was anything, he was a quick learner. And the requiem of the bells was a call for worse things to come.

Normally when Crawly entered Hell, the screams hit him first. He was spared this time. Whether that was a blessing or an omen he wouldn't know yet. But a tiny part of him was thankful he got a reprieve this time. They were one of the many reasons he despised coming down here in the first place. Hearing them killed whatever remnant he had left from his former life in Heaven with every descent.

If one should ever have the unfortunate chance to visit the Infernal Abyss, the shrieks of the damned that greet them are sudden and jarring. Their sound alone can drain a mortal's hair to pure white. Nothing on the planet can equal it which is merciful to those still living and/or wish to remain sane. And those are only the cries of agonized souls. More than that is impossible to fathom. Worse to explain in coherent words. And the visual horrors? No one's ever survived to describe them. Even the demons down below refuse to talk about what they've seen without a tremor in their voice and a deep-seated fear in their eyes.

Crawly hated it here. It sickened him that he was growing used to it. He never willingly came down here, ever. Not even on the day he fell. But on that day, he was pushed - he didn't have a choice. Just like now. Only it's towing him this time by force using consecrated restraints. Taught chains pulling in an extreme direction to some precise location. Where that was, Crawly didn't know. And he had a growing fear he didn't want to.

No matter what he did, it seemed he would never get away from them.

But there had been a time when he thought he could. In the beginning (up till now) when he was still traumatized and getting over his new 'situation'. Everyone was all abuzz over the new favored 'species' that had recently been placed in something called a 'garden'. They were meant to stay there and live in perfect bliss and harmony to be kept away from... well, them. A 'look-don't-touch' sort of punishment (at least this is what they had concluded).

So, of course, they were determined to derail it at the get-go. They felt it only fair.

But in so doing it they would have to have one of them go to the planet's surface and actually interact with the Humans. No one volunteered. They loathed and resented those mortals and found them far more disgusting then they were. (No real reason. They just wanted something to blame.)

However, when Crawly soon heard about it, and that it entailed leaving Hell to get it done, he jumped at the chance and offered himself to be the one. He didn't care about the particulars after that - so long as it got him further away from 'home'.

And he was damn sure going to do everything possible to see that it would be beyond successful. Because if this one turned out, perhaps they'd continue to allow him to do more assignments concerning direct Human matters?

'Simplest job ever' they told him it would be. Just get one of them - 'whoever's closest to you, we don't fucking care' they had said - to take a bite of the 'Forbidden Fruit' from the 'Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil' and bam! Job done. Easy.

He never calculated the Cherub into the equation. He should have - he knew better. He, of all the angels, would have known this as second knowledge along with the rest of his rank, but, like along with his name, he just forgot.

His superiors also failed to mention to him - or remind, however one wishes to look at it - about the Cherub Guard that resided inside. He's not sure if that detail was intentionally forgotten, they truly didn't expect one, or they simply gave two fucks about it. Either way, that did give the demon cause for alarm.

But not the way it should have. For one thing; the Guard was the worst he'd ever seen. Actually saw him slither in... and just stood there, pretending to admire their firey sword for the first time. Like it had suddenly materialized in their hand and they only now noticed it. Never once charged forward with said sword to engage in combat. In fact, the Guard gave off the impression they didn't even know what a 'fight' was. Seemed a bit bewildered as to what they were meant to do, in all honesty.

The other was the automatic reaction his body gets when an Alpha is nearby. All his muscles flex at once, almost like a tremor, and then their scent hits him. It's most likely a warning mechanism naturally built into every one of his kind - he figures - because he's never had that same issue around Betas. They just smell. Err, produce a scent. Pleasing or otherwise.

And his body did just that; it seized, cutting short his breath and concentration long enough to note the 'other kind' was nearby.

Crawly didn't know the Cherub would be an Alpha on top of everything else. In any other situation, this would have been a serious problem in which Crawly should have given it a top priority in taking precedence to flee, in hopes of making it back 'home' in one piece. But that wasn't the case he got when dealing with this one. The Guard took great effort to stay away from him, which was highly irregular for their kind. Acting timid and unsure, and causing Crawly to question his instincts if this Cherub was an Alpha at all.

But the biggest alarm for Crawly when meeting the Angel Guard was; that there wasn't one. Nothing. Just pleasantness and calm. Happiness. Innocence. Love. How... strange.

Crawly had been through many things up to that point. Seen even more - most of it from the place he was supposed to call 'home'. But never had he ever bared witness to an Alpha with just traits like that. All had been aggressive and the very definition of their namesake. It was interesting. Fascinating. And wholly curious. Even his scent was unique because of it.

Crawly couldn't help himself; he wasn't prepared for it. Blame it on the fact that he was traumatized from the culture shock of his new existence, or that he didn't understand the full extent of how taboo and forbidden this absolutely was. Naivety, ignorance, lack of knowledge, evidence, preparedness, or understanding. Whatever anyone chooses to see it as the bare fact of the matter was it was an accident. And completely real.

Crawly unintentionally fell - for the second time - before Adam and Eve left the Garden.

And this deep affection only got worse from there.

 

***~~***

 

He didn't care what the assignment was - he took it. So long as it got him to stay planet-wise, he sold himself out. Not that that meant anything in the early days. There wasn't all that much to do up on the planet then, what with the population still in its infancy. The jobs tended to be short because of it and grew few and far between.

But in order to stay up there longer, Crawly would get creative. Keep himself busy. Or just make up an excuse and hope they fell for it. Tell them he was scouting out the area, and studying it for 'possible future hotspots, landmarks, and other various places of interest'.

This intrigued his higher-ups downstairs for his 'positive forward-thinking' and they allowed it to continue. Instead of seeing it as the utter bullshit it truly was.

Another variation of this was telling his superiors that he was attempting to get a 'heads up' on the lay of the land before the angels claimed everything as theirs. Which it wasn't. It was God's. But, that alone had the effect the wily demon wanted.

Time passed, and this charade continued. He had wondered how long he'd get away with it, but soon his mind became occupied by Human behavior and angel wings.

The Humans weren't quite what he thought they'd be. Or more correctly, what he had expected them to become based on the characteristics of what he observed with Adam and Eve. They changed, and rather drastically. He's not one hundred percent sure where it started to go sideways, but he will give it to them that it did take a couple of hundred years before it got to the level it was now. At least it wasn't immediate.

For some unknown reason far beyond the comprehension of himself, the Humans with their two separate sexes seemed to have made a decision that one of them would rightfully be the overpowering one of the two. Although at first there was an equal share in the burden of things. They made it so one did all of these certain duties and had these expectations while the other had a different list. It made logical sense to him at first, and it surprisingly worked.

However...

Somewhere the lines blurred. He began to notice the males acting peculiar with this new set of rules. They changed it, twisted how it worked and made it their own. Their focus on the females had drastically differed. They were looked down upon for some reason. A lesser Human to the male counterpart. Some were treated more or less the same, but those other females...

The demon recalls one occasion in particular. He had been skulking around a small village - the name he can't recall anymore if it even had one at the time - hoping to find a reason to stay to gain extra time since he had technically completed some recent assignment. His attention was instantly drawn to the middle of the square - whereabouts he was wandering - to two Humans who had crashed out of one of the huts with great alarm. The female had fallen on her hands and knees with tears filling her eyes as she crawled to get away from the male, who was rushing out after her with some sort of long switch. He had been ranting and raving about something Crawly couldn't pick up and took his fury out on her. The switch came down repeatedly and without mercy, lashing out on any part of flesh it could get to. The female begged for it to stop but he only hit harder, as if possessed. That's when the male made eye contact with Crawly. He continued to beat the woman as he peered into the demon's yellow eyes. Unflinching. Guilt-free. Self-righteous.

At that moment Crawly got hit with a flashback consisting of Heaven with swarms of angels surrounding him with that very same expression. Scum like you doesn't belong here...

He recoiled with a gasp, backing up until he bumped the wall behind him. He didn't know how much time transpired but he desperately wanted to leave this place. The male seemed to come to his senses at that time and stayed his hand over the crumpled form in front of him. The female did not get up again.

The demon was forced to go back to Hell after that and when he got there, he was greeted with the tortured screamings of the same female from the village. He found her, splayed out and practically cut to ribbons from a thousand whips all lashing at what was left of her body. She begged and pleaded that she had done nothing wrong and was sorry for whatever they believed she had done. The female so reminded him of himself yet he couldn't understand why, that Crawly became physically sick for four months straight after that. The emotional trauma he never would get over.

Times like those made him think back to the angel. How, out of all the creatures he's ever run across, that they have been the only one he's not only never felt threatened by, but has grown a desired longing to be near. They felt safe. They felt comforting. There was no real animosity in their tone or body language or intent. They had every right to be, based on their stats, but nothing about them seemed capable of even wishing harm to another lifeform. They... were soft. And Crawly discovered early on that he craved that as much as an older man dreams of youth.

So he'd seek them out. They were never hard to find. The Alpha's scent always leading him to the other. Crawly savored in observing Aziraphale from a distance. Watching how they interacted with the Humans, and how they, in turn, responded to the celestial being in their midst. It was stimulating; to see the utter incredulity they emanated at the very concept that something so hallowed would casually walk among them. He'd be without words for the sheer music of it.

This was the complete opposite of how he was treated. If it wasn't unwarranted hate and violence then it was a manic carnality and hunger with no filter in-between. Always unpredictable and forever a dance he never accepted to join. Because he didn't choose this lifestyle; they did for him. How would he ever get used to this?

That angel was his lifeline to better times. A spark of what he once was, and can never be again. He had a name, a position, importance. Now, what was he? A 'serpent'? Whatever that was. The angel didn't seem to mind though. Which is not what the others told him the other side would react as. And yet... this one did. The first one he met did. And he needed that. He needed them. It made Crawly feel important.

It was a stable comfort he could draw from that the demon hadn't realized he grew dependant on until it was severed from him. Worse still was the moment he figured out it had been the angel themself who dissevered the connection. That crushed him. Crippled his spirit and meaning, and he gave up. Crawly knew it was idiotic to put so much on the angel. They weren't aware after all. But he had yet to get over the fall, and this additional dejection was just another nail in the proverbial coffin.

He refused to go home, but he hadn't the strength to continue to wander the planet and keep up the act. He ignored the inquiries to return. So, with no other suggestion to come to mind, he settled on the idea of 'sleeping'. The Humans did it - and when they did, hours would go by for them while in a dormant state only to 'awaken' as if no time transpired. He wanted to try that. What would it hurt?

On his roaming to find a secluded warm place for him to stay tucked away, Crawly found a feather. A single, large, immaculate-white plume with a beatific essence emanating from every thread of its being. It had called out to him in passing, laying nestled in a patch of grass by a riverfront. A calling card? A reminder of their existence? They haven't forgotten him? Or a simple coincidence?

--Crawly knew the answer. But he wanted so desperately to believe--

He picked the precious item up and pinched his thumb and forefinger from base to tip along its soft sides. It sent an exhilaration down his spine, like lightning. He brushed it on his face, closed his eyes as it traced the outlines of his profile. Had it kiss over each lip, eyelid, tease down his neck. Crawly gazed at it with devotion. Cupped it in both hands. Inhaled deeply its scent and sighed, breathing in what he missed. He would treasure this. Keep it tucked away and safe from prying eyes and tainted hands. No one would be allowed to touch it. If the angel didn't want him around, then, fine. That's understandable. He would at least have this as a reminder of the one kind being who talked with him once upon a time. He tucked it away and continued on his quest to find a place to bury himself.

 

***~~***

 

Aziraphale let him touch them.

Crawly had awoken from his sleep and the angel was there, there. With him. Why he didn't know. But somehow they found him. Most likely an accident - and perhaps to start a confrontation of some sort - but still here. And when the demon reached out to the Cherub, they didn't pull away this time.

He was given an unspoken permission to feel the other, and Crawly wasn't going to waste it.

The counter-balance of all the demon vessels needing to be naturally chilled causes them to instinctually seek out heat sources. An unfortunate side-effect to be sure, but one they hadn't minded sacrificing in the long run. Made staying home pleasurable and 'other such activities' doubly so.

The heat from the angel struck life into his cold vessel, reminding him of what he is. But in the best way.

But this heat was different. Oh, he still fed on it. But the angel took the ice from his own veins that had been accumulating since the last time they made contact. Which - however brief - was a hand grasp in Eden. They drank from one another without meaning to then, and they are doing it now. But it's extreme this time. Almost overrunning for both. Worse for the angel, it seems.

They keep grabbing him. Holding on and taking the freezing away, replacing it with scalding heat. He can't breathe. He's drowning and it's wonderful. The switch is drastic and completely needed and why had no one told him this was what it felt like? He knew all about Alphas - how could he not? Betas as well. Knew about the functionality of each and how all three worked together. (God was very clever in creating them.) But he had never experienced it. Never wanted to. Was too busy before, and later there was nobody who turned his head that way. But if they had told him... that angel would have seen a lot more of him whether they wanted to or not. They would have had their hands full...

No, this isn't right. The angel doesn't act like this. That other thing must be starting up. Crawly's putting them in a frenzy. Then he'll go into a frenzy. And then... well, maybe it won't be so bad. Aziraphale called it 'shameful', yet they're still next to him. It's mostly because they don't understand. And Crawly's indulging in that. He's finally with them. It'll be alright. He himself isn't to that level yet, he can hold on. He can keep this charade going a bit longer too. Then he'll walk away. He doesn't want to leave yet. Just a little longer. Wait for it to pass, and then see if the angel maybe, wants to see him agai--

Crack! Something small and hard hit Crawly in the upper back of his head...

 

***~~***

 

Stop walking, go back Crawly's mind attempts to command the rest of his vessel to follow. He tries to force his legs to stiffen, or still, or anything as long as it prevents him from moving forward. But it's no use; the binds drag his body onward like he was a marionette to be played with. He can't speak, his jaw clamped shut. Eyes following to where the ends of the chains lead, which are straight and endless down the darkened, hellish halls.

The bells continue their solemn chant. The sound reverberates off the walls and booms back to him, circulating around and through. All air is pressed out of him. There is no sound aside from the eternal clang which has only one message. One order to be obeyed.

Come to me.

There's a sea of demons wandering around him. But they are free to move and don't spare him even a glance. Can they not see him? Or do they not care? Some were never angels, and these ones straggle mindlessly, waiting for an order to follow. Others stand without a purpose and laugh as the tortured souls' cries of agony carry throughout the halls and corridors. They reveled in the sweet 'music' of the Human's eternal suffering.

They move around with no indication of bells being tolled. Apparently, no one else hears them.

Onward still he marches, further into a maze of hallways and corridors. Crawly does not know this place. It seems older than the rest if that's even possible. The bells' clangor is louder here. Each bang vibrates into his body, right down to his teeth. The sound is deafening; something trickles out of his ears. Further down now. The walls are black stones. The chains yank sharply around corners, directing him to new places. Every step makes the uneasiness in his stomach settle deeper. Less traffic here.

The ember tethers tow him through an archway into a spacious room. The melancholy booms originate here. Once in, Crawly hears what sounds like a heavy-set door close behind him.

He has entered a bleak chamber which is hexagon in shape. Same black stone walls as the rest of the area, as is the floor. Minimal lighting from sources he cannot see. There are no windows or furniture in here. The only resident inside is an imposing structure in the shape of a shrine, positioned in the room like a king's throne. This is where the bells reside; three of them, of immense size and standing. Black as pitch with intricate markings and symbols - blasphemous in their meanings - carved with great care into each iron body with no space left untouched.

His bonds drag him toward the ominous trio even though every instinct leaps to do otherwise. They sway unhurriedly to the rhythm of a promised doom. Crawly stares in terrified awe at how these black curses are the sole cause of bringing him here. He stands in front of them, unblinking, unmoving. Helpless to do anything but what they order him to do next.

Crawly catches movement between the bells. He is not alone in here - there is another in this room with him. He can't focus on them due to his attention being ever driven to the bells. But in his peripheral, he notes they are holding tightly to a long, dark - what he can only assume is the bell-rope - that dangles in the middle of these godly monoliths.

It's the summoner. They notice Crawly and stop their ministrations.

As the last ring fades, the shackles vanish, the control is relinquished back to its owner and the demon takes a breath of stale air as his own faculties rush back to him. Crawly immediately brings his hands up to check himself; not one trace of evidence the chains had ever touched him. He almost missed his muscles spasm the moment he was released.

"Magnificent, aren't they?" was asked from the deep, imperial voice of the summoner. They were running a hand along the outside of one of the bells. From where they stood, they were hidden in the shadows of the three giants. Crawly couldn't get a clear look at them, but he recognized the voice almost instantly. He swallowed hard but otherwise made sure to give no indication of his growing nervousness. He willed himself to stand casual, doing his best to ignore the twisting knots in his stomach. Time for another dance.

The summoner continued, "And made in very little time. The brilliant wonders we brought with us, you'd think Michael and the others would have been a little more, 'careful' in there choosing." The summoner stepped forward, finally moving to where Crawly could see them well.

Or, more appropriately, him well. Crawly thought it best to acknowledge his superior at this point. "Lord Asmodeus," he greeted, tipping his head slightly, "long time, no see. Miss me already, or been demoted to bellringer?"

Asmodeus smiled, ever amused by the serpent. And for that reason - and that reason only - was why Crawly knew he could get away with saying such a thing to the Archdemon. He was not a creature to be taken lightly, and there was many an envious demon who wished hey had gained such a favor.

The Archdemon had a short walking stick with him in which he heavily leaned on concerning his right leg. Nevertheless, he moved around the room as though his vessel was in pristine shape. His maroon robe always just long enough to cover the imperfect limb.

"Hello Crawly," he said, with more intent than Crawly was comfortable with, "and yes, I have missed you. Immensely. Your absence from here has left a crater that has yet to be filled by anything other than your eventual return." He said all of this while taking slow, deliberate steps toward the other demon. Eyes never leaving Crawly for an instant; large and dark brown they were.

There were no whites to these eyes. They were the eyes of a bull. An actual bull.

As he approached he blinked - and the eyes changed. They were now that of a man; lightning blue and beautiful. Pleasing. One would misinterpret it as 'heavenly'. The last residual he had left of his former existence. But it was only in appearance. They clashed magnificently with his long black hair.

The air shifted, Crawly felt it. It became predatory. The natural urge for him to run kicked in and tried to take over, but once again he forced it down. Asmodeus was not a demon to challenge. Besides, he didn't know the full situation. He only just got back so his vessel may be overreacting.

Best to get his attention on another thing, see what happens then.

"You missed me so much you brought me here with a bell?" he asked with an eyebrow raised, "Couldn't come to collect me yourself? Or, even send one of your many minions to do the dirty work? Seems a bit lazy if you ask me."

"But we did, my dear Crawly," Asmodeus waves an arm out for emphasis.

Crawly's face falls. "You did? Must have missed you."

The Archdemon lowers his gaze, moving ever nearer. He raises a finger, "Ah, but you see? That's the problem." He blinks again. Eyes now that of a ram - pupils rectangular. "You always seemed to be conveniently absent from us when we came calling. A handful of times is understandable. Natural reasons and badly timed opportunities."

Asmodeus circled behind him, out of his field of vision. It took everything in Crawly not to turn around and follow what he was doing. "However," the dark-haired demon uttered an octave lower than he had been, "when it transpires in every case that the attempt is made, one cannot help but feel it is intentional."

Crawly winced - he didn't mean to, it was a nerve reaction - when Asmodeus touched his upper arm and pressed closer into his back. He shivered when his superior's beared brushed over his ear, "So, for situations like that, we decided it was time to turn to more exacting measures. And that's how these bells were conceived."

"All that for me? I'm flattered, really." It came out breathier than he would have liked, but Asmodeus had wormed his arm around Crawly's waist and tugged him in close. The other demon chuckled low in his ear, now nuzzling the side of Crawly's face. Crawly's mind rebelled at the contact, berating him for allowing this to continue. But there was nothing he could technically do, and he knew that. They both knew that. If Asmodeus wanted to use rank against him for any little thing, it was within his right to do so. And there was not a damn thing Crawly could do to counter it. The Archdemon had all the power to do whatever he so desired, whenever it tickled his fancy. No matter how much the other party resisted.

"They weren't made for just you in mind, darling," he says while dipping his head lower into the crook of Crawly's neck. His teeth grazed over that one spot and Crawly arched into him, biting his own tongue to stop the moan that threatens to surface. Asmodeus knew right where to go to send him reeling. He barely did anything but it was so sensitive, it hadn't been touched, was never claimed.

And for fuck's sake, he was reaching his peak...

More than ever he's frantic to get away from the other demon. His intentions are becoming clear with each passing second. Crawly's panicking. He doesn't want this, not with him. God-fucking-dammit, he should have just let the angel cross the line.

He doesn't give a flying shit about the mechanics of the bells. Later? Sure. Of course, he wants to know how those blasted things work - and how and why they came into being. He's sure they are very important to the overwhelming cause - in some twisted way. But right now they were used as a ruse to get him here, (at least that's what Asmodeus is hinting at) and that's the full extent of the knowledge he cares to know about them until he can get his sorry-ass out of this predicament.

Asmodeus licked over that spot.

"W-what are you trying to say?" Crawly closed his eyes and thought about dogs slobbering.

"It doesn't matter. We can discuss the bells later but for now, it's time for why you're here."

He quickly switched to sucking on it. "'Here', my Lord?" Crawly's mind stopped working. His own head tilted to give the other greater access to any part that he wanted of his neck. Oh yeah, that's helpful.

The Archdemon indulged in the buffet given. "Mmm, yes. You've made me wait long enough, Crawly. I can be patient but for only so long." Asmodeus's other arm wrapped across Crawly's chest, letting his walking stick clatter to the floor. Forgotten. He started kneading the muscles there; pectorals, abs. Palming both hands over everything, claiming it. He didn't seem to care the robe was still on.

When he reached for a nipple Crawly started and shot his own hand up to try and pull it away. A voice in his head was yelling at him about some warning, but he was too overwhelmed by the rush of heat and feeling tipsy to concentrate clearly.

Asmodeus twisted his grip on the lesser demon to where he was holding the top of the other's hand, and while purposely sliding both hands down over the torso of Crawly, he then dragged that same hand over his own lame leg. He laced their fingers together and forced Crawly's hand to rub against it. "You still owe me from before, remember?" he growls in Crawly's ear, squeezing the redhead's hand and pressing it harder into the injured limb. Crawly whimpers at the reminder he's never forgotten. "But now there's a new debt to pay."

For a split second Crawly thought, he somehow had an epiphany and gained enough of himself to push away from the powerful demon. But after stepping out he was just as quickly whipped around and was now face-to-face with Asmodeus. The dark-haired demon gripped Crawly's lower jaw and yanked him in closer, fisting a handful of Crawly's black robe and shoving him flush against him.

Somehow through all of this, Asmodeus had blinked again. The eyes peering into Crawly's were a mirror image of his own - except emerald green. It was now charged snake eyes blazing into growing distraught ones.

"I'm the sole reason you've been allowed to frolic to your heart's content upon the planet's surface till now," Asmodeus pressured into him, voice rising. They started spinning in a circle, "It was I who had given you a pardon from relentless searching and hounding in favor of them all seeking out the other Omegas in your stead." His grip was tightening on him. Crawly's breath turned haggard. It was at this point his body reacted before he did and tried to get a better grip of Asmodeus to gain his own kind of leverage.

He stilled them both, saying the next words so close to Crawly's lips he could taste the veiled threat beneath, "To spare you for as long as possible and let you indulge in your other weaknesses."

The fog in Crawly's brain was lifting. It instead was being replaced with a wakeless dread. Did he mean the angel? Did he know about Aziraphale? What other weakness did he possibly have that would get the other demon this riled up?

"But I could only prolong it for a while, not indefinitely. For you see, the others have been rounded up. All except you. Now it's your turn, my precious."

Crawly needed to run. He had to get away now. There was only one direction this was leading and at this point, he couldn't fake it anymore. He was not doing this. Not here, not with him. And especially with him knowing full well he'll fight violently to resist, which will only make it worse. His mind was spinning - he couldn't see straight. Too many voices were shouting at him all at once, hollering for him to fucking do something already. But the other voices were halting him reminding him that if he takes action he'll pay. Oh God, will he pay...

So Crawly stands there, blank. Terror was clear in his yellow eyes as Asmodeus continues to take his non-responsiveness as a positive sign to continue touching him everywhere.

"But because I love you so ardently" - bullshit - "I refuse to have your first time be the same fate as your fellow class." The Archdemon rubs his chiseled nose from the base of Crawly's swan neck to the tip of his chin. Reveling in the curve and beauty of it.

Crawly's heart sank. "My... what?" He stared in horror at Asmodeus.

His vessel finally caught up to his mind; he braced his arms against the taller demon and started to push him away. Asmodeus anticipated this, however.

He grabbed the back of Crawly's neck and held him there with an immovable strength. With his other hand, he punctured his talons into the serpent demon's spine. An immediate spike of pain stabbed into him.

Crawly's strangled gasp brought an excitement to Asmodeus's snake eyes. With revulsion, the redhead could feel the depravity and longing that had been kept in check all this time let loose and suffocate him. He started choking on it; it was too much.

"You will still have to go through with it as they did - you must, I'm grieved to say," Asmodeus told him as he continued to paw at him - his voice becoming guttural, "But at least, you'll already be broken in."

He couldn't move and it only heightened his hysteria. Crawly's mind completely shut off and he went with an odd instinct then. He relaxed and chose to frown at the bells - which were now currently behind Asmodeus.

"Were you planning on having an audience?" Crawly asked to the space over the Archdemon's shoulder.

Asmodeus responded with a quizzical look, moving back a bit at the strange question from nowhere. "No. Why?"

"Well," Crawly nodded behind the other, "because there's clearly another git here, and it seems to me they have a hankering to ding the dongs. Hey, oi!" Crawly shouted, "I see you, you sneaky bastard! How'd you get in here?"

"What?" Asmodeus roared and turned around.

Crawly spun and ran. He high-tailed it to the door with a disregard to consequences and a nice dump on second-thoughts. He could make it out of here, the diversion worked. He whipped it out of his ass and the King of the Nine Realms fell for it. He felt like a fucking god.

Frazzled, and slightly nuts, but that's the definition of Her Almighty, anyway. (Just never to Her face.)

He was a few feet away when he tripped on something and hit the stone floor. His jaw smacked into it hard and he heard a loud snapping! sound then everything went white. When his vision cleared he tasted blood. A lot of it. When he moaned he found he couldn't move his jaw right away, it was strangely clamped shut. Hurt didn't register at this time.

He pushed his head up a little - feeling it swim - and this time his mouth successfully opened.

--And out spilled a dozen shards of his teeth in a pool of black blood.

He stared at the white pieces, unable to comprehend what they were at first. The excruciating pain hit the same moment his hair was yanked back. He cried out.

"Ever the teasing Mynx," Asmodeus grumbled into his ear, "that's what I crave about you."

He switched his hand from Crawly's hair to his throat and squeezed. Crawly's eyes widened when his oxygen was cut off, but worse when he felt Asmodeus hurriedly trying to hike up his robe past his waist.

Crawly exploded into a fission of gut-wrenching screams and clawing limbs to scramble out of the other's grasp. He didn't know who or what he was anymore - he literally became a wild animal. But struggle as he did, he simply wasn't strong enough against the powerful Alpha demon.

"No! Don't touch me! Don't fucking touch me! Help!" he would catch himself screaming out. It came out a bit slurred and broken due to his mouth being ruined. Blood spittled down his chin from the force of saying it.

Asmodeus clamped a hand over his mouth and pinned him down with is weight. "Scream all you want! No one can hear you in this room. It was made especially in mind to keep all sound inside, so the bells only ring out to the summoned - and whoever is in here; such as the summoner."

Both of Crawly's arms were wrenched back behind him, one stacked on top of the other. He yelped at the sharpness of it and violently shook when he couldn't move them anymore. They were bound somehow, and he didn't have time to linger on it as Asmodeus forced his legs open further.

Crawley scrambled to get a better footing, to kick him. It earned a hard punch to one of his thighs. "Don't fight me, darling. This will go so much better if you stop struggling. Just know I'm doing this to help you, too."

There was no warning. Just undeniable pain. The insertion was hard and forced with no mercy. The instant it punctured in Crawly felt his insides tear. He was being ripped open with a searing sting that once entered never let up but only increased.

Crawly screamed against the hand over his mouth. It was so sudden and excruciating his body went into shock and his mind flatlined. Tears filled his eyes and rained down his face. He couldn't move, he couldn't get away.

Asmodeus was relentless. Rutting against him with filthy words and sounds in Crawly's ear that he couldn't hear anyway. He wanted it done. He wanted it over. Why wasn't it over? His vessel was on fire, burning him alive and he was conscious for every second of it.

He didn't know how long it lasted. Felt like aeons. The bastard wouldn't stop, never got tired. When he picked up the pace the pain double-timed in intensity. Crawly shrieked and screamed more till his vocal cords blew out. And still, the Archdemon continued. This isn't what he wanted for his 'first time'. He had planned that out. He had picked his partner already, even if the other didn't want to - he would've waited for them.

He just wanted the angel. Was that such a great sin to be punished like this?

He felt the large swell. The lock in place. His bile threatened to surface as a burning hot something shot up and through his system. The monster let out a loud groan, then collapsed on top of him. Everything hurt.

He was prepared to smash his head into the ground. To block this all out. He wanted to rip that damn thing out and shove it up Asmodeus's own hole. Sees how he likes it. But there was nothing he could do. He knew the process. Even if he'd never gone through with it himself, he was aware of how it worked. He was trapped here. For fuck knows how long. And if it weren't for the fact that every part of him was in agonizing torture, he'd be keeping track of just how long that was. Currently, it was too long.

Asmodeus had been talking to him. He didn't care - wasn't listening. Knowing him it was probably some more bullshit words of promises he'd rather piss all over. But, the only one that caught his attention was the last one when he was finally - finally pulling himself out. Which that feeling itself was vile.

"You won't be able to continue with whatever activities you were doing on the planet, of course," the Archdemon states conversationally, "That's all over."

Crawly's mind reels. He can't do what? As Asmodeus stands a snap is heard and Crawly feels a strange sensation of being cleaned. And suddenly his jaw doesn't hurt anymore. In fact, neither does...

Crawly gives him a shooting stare. The Archdemon rolls his eyes, "Darling, believe it or not, I'm not the bad guy here."

"Fuck. You."

"Save that anger for where you're going next. That's where you were supposed to go directly. However, I deemed this would make that blow a thousand times more tolerable."

Crawly frowned, "What are you talking about?"

"Sadly, you'll find out my love." He started to limp away, over to where his walking stick fell, "I tried to spare you but, you know how it is."

The redhead was all set with lashing back out at him when the floor around him suddenly burst open with long, sleek black arms and hands. Cries of the damned rang forth, and Crawly had no chance to think before those tendrils latched on to him and started to sink him into the floor.

Crawly screamed and clawed at them, eyes filled with terror. His vessel being bent and yanked in unconventional ways. Ripping at his hair, his robe. Anything it could fist. Before he had time to fully grasp what was happening to him, those things absorbed him into the floor and dragged him to someplace else.

The hellish screeches they produced never ceased, and Crawly passed out on the trip there.

 

***~~***

 

......"It's not that I don't like it, it's just I don't think it suits us."

"You think it's too much?"

"Maybe a trifle."

"But it frames your head rather nicely."

"You think so?"

"I do! And it brings out the dark nothingness of your eyes."

"Oh, now your just sayin' pretty words to turn my opinion."

"But it's true!"

"Well, now I have to get rid of it."

"...I don't follow."

"It's making you tell the truth! We're not supposed to tell the truth - we're supposed to lie!"

"You're right. I thought I tasted somethin' funny in my mouth..."

*

Two voices muttered in the background as Crawly's mind sluggishly came back to the waking world. His eyes remained closed, too heavy to open as he listened to them. They sounded familiar. Both were deeper in tone and evidently knew one another quite well. They also had a reverb. The more Crawly woke up the more he was able to deduce he was no longer in that same chamber but in an open hallway. Also, his vessel was moving. But not of his own doing.

He was on his back. Something had a hold of both his arms and was pulling on them above his head. They were stretched to their full extent and he could feel his vessel sliding along the stone floor. So. He was being dragged somewhere. Like a sack of waste.

His body throbbed. He tried to lift his head but he found it too heavy, and he let it drop back down from where it hung. His face pinched up as a wave of pain ran through him. He didn't have the energy yet to use his legs in any way shape or form. Crawly let out a moan.

The two voices went silent. The moving stalled for a second or two, then proceeded with what seemed like new vigor. He still couldn't unclose his eyes, but he didn't need them to know the familiar voices were now addressing him.

"Well well well, looks like 'His Royal Highness' finally decided to wake up from his nap."

"Oh, I do hope he got his full beauty rest. He's gonna need it for what lies ahead."

"Heh, ain't that the truth of it!"

They stop moving again. Followed by a short silence.

"For fuck's sake."

"Can't we have just one thing that works?!"

"Back to the drawing board, we go."

"What in the name of Satan's Crown are you two wearing?" Crawly groaned from the floor. At this point, he had been able to crack open one eye and saw who he figured had been handling him thus far. It was two of the Dukes of Hell; Lord Hastur and Lord Ligur... wearing the most ridiculous rodents Crawly had ever seen on their heads.

"That is none of your concern!" said Ligur on the right, as intimidating as he could muster. Sadly, it fell flat when combined with a rat's mouth - stretched to an abnormal length - engulfed on top of his head. The rest of its body sticking straight up. The long tail just sort of... dangling there, whipping around every time the Duke moved his head.

Hastur was no better, but at least he seemed to understand that. His entire head was presently draped and plastered with what looked like several disoriented bats who had no idea of how they got there. "You don't, like it?" It came out timider than what Hastur probably intended it to be.

"Well," Crawly started, looking between the two of them from his upside-down advantage point. He opened both eyes for this horror show analysis. "if I were to be frank with you two, it depends on what you're going for. If it's a comedy, bravo. You executed it with brilliance. If it was literally anything else - which I fear it was - then you both were clearly affected by the fall far worse than any of us originally imagined."

The Dukes looked at each other, then simultaneously released their hold on Crawly. The redhead hit the ground with an 'ow' and stayed there, too bruised and tired to move. He listened occasionally as the other two continued to fret about their headpieces.

For the most part, his mind wandered aimlessly over the past recent events that lead him up to here. What Asmodeus did - which he supposes wasn't that big of a surprise, considering what he is. The creation of the bells - how powerful they are and how he still doesn't know what their purpose is for. Aziraphale finding him--

A... Aziraphale...

Crawly lifted up his hand and rested it over the spot where he's been secretly keeping the white feather safe. It hadn't been detected yet. Not even by Asmodeus and how... close... he got to him. How he'd been able to hide it from them so far was a miracle he hoped had no end. This feather was his lifeline to the angel. As long as he had it, he knew he'd see the other again at some point. Which made whatever happen to him manageable. No one told him this, it's just a feeling he got with it pressed so close to him. It gave him ho--

"I hate you so much!"

"Huh?" Crawly's attention was ripped back to the Dukes, who, looking above at them were glaring down at him. Hands in fists. He must have missed something.

"Quiet you! No one said you could speak!" Ligur kicked him in the side and Crawly folded in with a loud groan. The sharp hit bursting fresh hot pain throughout his vessel.

"Whores, the whole lot of 'em. Quick, let's get this over with - I'm tired of seeing his ugly mug," Hastur mumbled to his companion, the words dripping with scorn.

"That's the best thing I've heard all day," responded Ligur.

Crawly had wanted to ask what they were getting on about, but the strong regrip they had on him mixed with the jarring tug only caused him to yelp out instead. They resumed their dragging of him across the stone floor but at a much faster rate, sneering and mocking him when they happened to cause him to cry out in pain.

This scenario didn't last long, however, when Crawly suddenly recognized where he was. Then a new horror sank in. He quieted down and tried to twist his head and body to get a better look at where they were leading him. It was a gaping hole in the middle of the floor.

Bile rose in his throat. "W-wait, wait! Stop! Is that what I think it is?! Is that the-the--"

"Shut up, Omega! You're only allowed to speak when spoken to!" Hastur roared at him. Ligur snickered at his side. They were enjoying this.

They threw him down right to the edge of the gaping maw. Crawly stared into the abyss, the arm closest to the lip shaking as it held up his weight. His mind froze. Hastur bent down to ear level and let out an over-exaggerated sigh. "But yeah, to answer your question: this is The Pit. Ain't it a thing of beauty."

*

The Pit.

It was an actual place in Hell. Not Hell itself, as some would later believe, but a separate entity that even the Fallen and demons want little to do with. Its beginnings were an enigma and still have yet to be solved. Not that anyone wants to be the one to do it.

Remarkably, it has another name, but rarely does anyone call it that. Its name originally was Abaddon. Technically still is, though its nickname 'The Pit' caught on much easier for everyone to remember. Plus it sounds more sinister that way.

Not just anybody in Hell has access to it, either. It had always frightened the other residents that when it came to actually using it, no one went near. And the responsibility of such a cursed realm could not be controlled by just any creature. Therefore, Satan had to assign someone he knew would be capable of handling the job as well as other duties.

Small world, he gave that privilege to Asmodeus.

There are rumors as to what's down there. Ungodly sounds gurgle up from its depths more often than anyone within earshot is comfortable with. One of the rumors is that the Legion is kept hoarded there. Another is abominable monstrosities that some say are demon-human hybrids. Others swear they are beings so horrific that their only purpose is to morph and bend and twist until they will be unleashed unto the world. All the choices are the same, really.

They secretly live in the deepest parts of The Pit. They are the ones nobody talks about for fear of keeping their existence alive. But exist they do, and even Satan pities the poor souls who end up condemned to keep them company.

Which, at the moment, appears to be a redhead.

*

Crawly is frozen where he sits. Eyes wide as he stares into the vast nothingness that feels to have no end. Ice daggers prickle up his spine. "Why have you taken me here?" he whispers. Unnaturally high.

Hastur answers him with a sinister gentleness, "Well, you see Crawly, it's like this. Your lot has been allowed to run about for long enough. But your fun time is over now. Now, the 'Grooming' starts. Now, you must learn your place," The Duke gradually gets back to a standing position, "Now, you will understand what job is asked of you in the grand scheme of things. But most importantly, you will officially know what it means to be an Omega."

Possibly as a nervous tick, but Crawly was about to tease Hastur on his repeated use of the word 'now'. It most likely would have been hilarious and amazing, but no one will ever know. For as Crawly took a breath to say the first words, he was jolted forward from a hard kick from behind into his back, sending him sprauling head-first into the blackness below.

Crawly's blood-curdling screams down were mixed with the echoing laughter from the two Dukes standing above.

 

***~~***

 

He fell for some time. He's not sure how long. Could've been hours, or perhaps years. Whatever it was, he knows he screamed the whole way down. At least that reminded him that he was indeed a separate entity from the darkness.

When he met with a hard surface, it was alarming how much it didn't hurt. It was a sudden stop, out of nowhere - naturally, he couldn't see it coming. It took his mind a moment to register he was indeed laying still somewhere, in the void. When it dawned on him there was a lack of pain, he concluded it must have been due to shock, and at some point, he would feel it later.

In the meantime, he curled up into himself and strained his ears to hear anything other than the sounds he was making. There appeared to be none. Eventually, on unstable limbs, Crawly carefully - and oh so slowly - pushed his body up into a sitting position. Then he waited. He sat rigidly and listened. The only sounds to reach him was his own haggard breathing. Which in the silence seemed ten-times amplified.

Nothing changed, and Crawly dared to get a little braver. He nudged his legs beneath him and with care took his time to rise. That was remarkably hard; his legs were shaking so violently the whole time he doubted he'd be able to stand at all.

He found a balance and stood, swaying. His own heartbeat pounding hard in his ears. He found his lungs were not taking in air and was okay with that. Yet he could still hear his own breathing. They had become rapid and shallow. He needed light.

Crawly lifted his hand and snapped his fingers - and instantly a large, bright, orange flame sparked and hovered over his thumb. It flickered in front of him, warm and familiar. He was grateful for its presence. He lifted his thumb up high and gazed out into the darkness.

There was nothing to see. Everything around him was the same inky black. Even the 'floor' he stood on was not visible. The only objects he could see without question was himself and the flame. Everything else was endless.

He wasn't sure what to do at this point, or what he expected to see, but since there literally was nothing he forced himself to move. He didn't care what direction, and he took simple steps. The more nothing happened, the more terrified he became. Cold chills ran up and down his spine, twisting his stomach to the level he was thankful he hadn't eaten recently.

Then he heard it. It was brief and light of foot but it was there. And he couldn't help himself but let out a strangled gasp and spin around. He couldn't see anything. His heart rate increased.

Crawly's mind raced as to what might be out there when he heard another soft noise in the distance. Wherever it came from he would turn in its general direction, unwanted thoughts exploding his mind. He had no idea what he was dealing with down here. Or if there was one or many. But as time went on he knew one fact; it was coming closer.

He inhaled deeply and his hand flew up to where the feather was, and he gripped it through his clothes. He would be alright, he reassured himself. Aziraphale was with him. If nothing else just having it would give him strength. He sensed the angelic essence pulse through into his vessel and he did all he could to focus on that. Aziraphale. Aziraphale.

More sounds, this time a mixture of scurrying and scraping. Then a rumble. Several feet closer than before. Crawly jumped, his shallow breathing increased too fast. He scampered backward with wild eyes trying and failing to find the source of the growing noises.

He stopped. Everything. Breathing, looking, feeling, and went perfectly still.

Something was behind him. It too didn't make a sound, but he knew it was there. A shot of fear struck him so fast he was going to gag. A part of him wanted to turn around, to confront it. To see it. But with it as close as it was, he couldn't turn if he tried.

Hot puffs of breath blew onto the back of his neck. It was right there. He never even noticed it moved in closer. That's when his brain filled with only one thought; run.

He didn't bother to juggle the 'do's and don'ts' of that idea. He just did it. Went with impulse. Crawly ran forward several feet then spun around to get a look at his companion--

And nothing was there.

Crawly felt he was going to fall apart. That's when they surrounded him. Or, when he became aware he had been surrounded the whole time. They were in every direction. Thousands of them. Their eyes casting a reflection off his light source. Every one of them was centered on him. They didn't move.

Crawly's mouth fell open. A numb sensation took over. As his eyes flicked from one unspeakable pair to the next, he noted with detachment the accustomed look of carnality they all aimed at him. They were hungry.

"Fuck," was all he was able to get out before each one charged at him, unnatural full speed, long, jagged, razor-sharp teeth flashing in the diminishing flame as they shrieked an unholy screech so potent the birds on the planet's surface took off and flew from the disturbance.

*

Aziraphale dropped a pitcher of water and it shattered, water spreading in all directions at his feet. A breath caught in his throat. He stood quiet for a moment, then broke down and began to weep. He didn't know why. Every Human who heard him came rushing to his aid, worried sick. They needed to know if there was anything they could do to help the ailing creature.

 

***~~***

 

The door burst open. A dark, bulky object was flung inside at the rest of them. It tumbled to a stop where it lay and the hefty door slammed shut once more. It remained closed after that.

The room went quiet. The others did not move, unsure of what to do. All eyes were on it, and in less than three blinks Belial recognized it and rushed forward.

"Crawly!" he cried out, running to the other's side.

Once the familiar name had been said, it was as if a spell had been broken on the rest of them. Half bounded forward while the others hovered in the background unsure of how to help. It turned into panicked - yet concerned - chaos.

Twelve of them hovered around Belial as he gingerly turned Crawly so they could see his face. His eyes were half-lidded and blank - the same as they all had been. A hand was clenched on his person in a death-like grip, knuckles white.

"Oh no, Crawly. Not you too..." mourned Belial, cradling the redhead's face. His own long blonde curls tumbling down when he reached for the demon.

His words were drowned out by the constant chatter of the others with equal exclamations of worry. They crouched, poked, grabbed, pushed. Each one too excited to try and get a glance at Crawly's condition. The ones on the outside never stood a chance to see anything. Or know anything, since in their babble the closer ones never once mentioned anything about his status.

A vertically-challenged one named Azza, who at one time had been granted the position of Principality, had had enough. "Well, is it him or isn't it?!" he shouts from behind the huddle, exasperated, "Is he dead?! Alive?! A chicken?! For fuck's sake, one of you tell me what's going on!!"

"It's okay, Azza! It's okay!" reassures ex-Power Imamiah, who had been wedged in the thick of it and wrangled their way out to comfort their fellow Omega, "It's him, it is! He's just like how we were - how the others are now. I'm sure he'll be just fine." They drape an arm over the smaller one's shoulders and pull him in.

Azza squirms at first, then relaxes into the touch. "You guys should've, just said something. Right away about it."

"I know, I'm sorry."

"Alright everyone, let's move back now. Give him some air," said a strong voice from the clutter. They obeyed the voice's word and spread about the room. Standing there directing it was a sturdy-built being of thick brown hair and eyes like honey. His name is Dantanian, and once upon a time he had been an Ophan - the third-highest rank of the angel's hierarchy. Nowadays he had been reduced to two things: his class as an Omega, and a Fallen/demon who appears as a man with many faces. But in this group, they still hold him to his original rank.

They keep all of them to the old ways. It's the last remnant they have left that they once had meaning.

Belial attempts to move Crawly to a more comfortable position in order to lift him, but when he tries to lower the serpent's hand from where it clings, he finds it will not budge. He tries a second time but the grip remains the same. His brows knit and he and Dantanian exchange quizzical looks. He doesn't want to, but something tells him to let it go.

Dantanian leans into Belial, "Do you need help in moving him?"

Belial smiles, "No, I can manage. Thank you." He shows this by scooping up the motionless demon in his arms.

"Of course," he graciously gives a quick bow and steps back. Dantanian has great regard and respect for Belial. The main reason being that he was once a Cherub - one rank higher than him. The other is how startlingly beautiful the blonde is - deceptively so - and yet now as a demon has done nothing about it. He's tried instead to continue work as he had done before - guarding. Now it's evident all that will change.

Belial picked Crawly up with ease and carried him over to an unused couch by a wall. He sat down and laid Crawly across his lap. Dantanian perched himself on one of the armrests. Once they were settled, the others moved in like a storm.

"Is he alright?" Belphegor - formerly a simple angel - questioned carefully, once he caught the ex-Cherub's eye. He kept fiddling with his fingers and he wasn't the only one. The others near him echoed the same question with the exact same nervousness.

Belial looked from Dantanian to him while holding the serpent demon close, "No better than we are." It wasn't the answer he wanted to give, but other than that, he didn't have any.

Eligor, who had been a Virtue, plopped close by in a chair, stunned. His head shook slowly, "They did it to him too? I... I don't understand. He's a Seraph. I figured they'd have at least left him alone."

"Was. Was a Seraph. Don't forget that," barked Zadkiel from the sideline, arms crossed. A bitter ex-Archangel, "They're not going to leave any of us alone. Don't you get it?! None of us are safe!"

"Oh, God have mercy," bemoaned Eligor. Head in his hands.

"Don't ask Her for mercy, She has none to give," Zadkiel grumbled to him in return, flicking his gaze upward. Whether or not he heard it, the Omega didn't care.

"So what are we supposed to do now? Where do we go from here?" asked Azza by addressing the room. They all turn to Belial and Dantanian, desperation in their eyes.

The two looked at one another, hoping either had an answer hidden away somewhere. They didn't, and with a resolution, Dantanian told them all, "We don't know."

Slight murmurs spread. Another ex-Archangel named Gomory had been bouncing her leg since before Crawly was thrown in. It had escalated to her pacing and finally - "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not going to stand here and wait for them to come and take any more away from me!" She had been jabbing a finger at herself in near tears. She started for the only door in the room.

"We've already tried that seven times already, you know the outcome."

"Then I'm going to try it for the eighth time!" She screams hysterical, and charges at the door. Gomory rams into it with her shoulder only to shout when her vessel crunches against it. It never even rattled from her effort. She hit it again with the same shoulder, same energy - fueled by rage. And again. And again. She hollered curses at it, clawed it with her fingernails. Used her feet against it. Cried her heart out at it.

Three others rushed over to stop her from her futile attempts. She went feral in their grasp, yet they remained gentle. They understood. And held her till the anger changed to sobbing. Gomory went limp in their grasp. A few on the opposite side of the room shed silent tears, eyes haunted from the same memory Gomory fought with. Another collapsed to the ground into a fetal position and began rocking themselves, hands covering their head and ears for protection.

Belial felt sick. This was getting them nowhere. Anything done made everything worse. They had no answers or explanation as to what was going on or why. Only that - as they had come to learn - they would not be able to leave this room of their own volition.

Feeling helpless in how to fix any of this, he thought it best to at the very least get some of their minds on another subject.

"Ronobe. Ronobe?" Belial called out to a distracted ex-Archangel. He blinked several times and turned towards him. His face was a canvas of suffering and confusion.

(Ronobe didn't belong here. He was a sensitive and sweet Omega, ever the artistic dreamer. So as punishment to remind him of what he has now become, his alternate form was him transformed into a foul monster. It repulsed him. He tried to find a way around it; by finding anyone who would listen, he was willing to teach rhetoric and art. Unfortunately, no one has been able to see past his skin-deep appearance.)

"How's Malpas and the others?" inquired Belial.

Ronobe's eyes darted a bit, giving Belial the impression he was at a loss as to what the question meant. He blinked again and turned to the five bodies laid out carefully on a thick blanket on the floor. Each one appeared to be sleeping. "No change. I don't know if that's good or bad," he reported faintly. He took a couple of hesitant steps toward the blonde and continued, "Do... do you think... they'll ever wake up?"

Belial smiled at him, "I'm confident they will come to in their own time. Each of us did."

"Yes but... when? How sure are you?"

"They're better off not waking up at all. They'll be the lucky ones," Zadkiel added from behind him. It startled Ronobe that he was there.

Belphegor pointed at Crawly. "What's he saying?"

That got everyone's attention and they followed his finger. Belial's eyes went wide. Crawly looked slightly distressed, his eyes closed, and was mouthing something the blonde couldn't hear.

"I don't know, I can't hear it," he told the others as he tried to crane his head down. Dantanian swiftly moved in front of the two before Belial could do anything else and lowered his ear next to Crawly. He closed his eyes and stilled. No one made a sound, aside from the one demon who was still huddled on the floor, muttering lowly to themselves.

When Dantanian pulled back, he seemed at a loss of what to say. "What is it?" pressed Belial.

"I can't hear it completely, but it sounds like he's saying... 'as we fell'," he told the other with a heavy heart.

A lump caught in his throat when the ex-Cherub heard that. "He's still hung up on that."

"Who in here isn't?" the ex-Ophan whispered back.

It was a piercing gaze they held but mutually shared. The memory was so real and fresh in all of their minds. Perpetually burned into them just like the black in their wings. Marking them as sinners when that's not how it happened at all.

"Why don't you snog and get it over with?"

Dantanian jumped, Belial gasped. That came from his lap. He looked down and was greeted with a very put-out set of yellow eyes. He could barely contain himself. "Crawly! You're back! Everyone! Crawly's come back! He's woken up!"

This news was a dam that had broken. The energy in the room charged. Everyone moved in some way or other to be closer to the three demons. But right away Dantanian saw their enthusiasm - although touching - overwhelm Crawly. He automatically shied further into Belial's lap from the sudden surge of voices and renewed energy. The honey-eyed demon once again did his best to calm them down.

"Alright everyone, please step back. He's just come to, and if you recall what it was like for yourself then you know you need to give him a bit of space."

They didn't want to, being desperate for any kind of prospect that something good could still happen to them. But they relented, albeit not as far as Dantanian would have preferred.

Belial focused his attention on Crawly and tried to get the other to do the same to him. He wanted - no, needed - to make sure Crawly had come back fully. He asked carefully, "Can you hear me?"

Crawly's yellow eyes flicked up to meet with blue. Belial's heart skipped a beat.

"Belial."

The blonde's cheeks flushed with color. "You know my name," he whispered a little surprised.

"Of course." Crawly's eyebrows raised up high at the question, as if he'd always known and what a stupid thing to ask him that. That made Belial's heart beat faster. And blush harder.

"You don't mind me laying here, do you?"

Well, now he was just flat-out red. "No, not at all," he tried to say casually.

Must have worked, he thought. Crawly didn't seem to notice. The redhead sighed, "Good. 'Cause I don't much care to get up just yet." He turned his head to the demon standing next to him. "Dantanian. You're looking well." The brunette blinked and nodded.

Crawly started turning is head this way and that, naming the other members in the room. Adding a little comment here and there when he felt like it. Most of the reactions were either surprise or delight to be known so easily.

"Azazel, Uzza. Imamiah, nice hair. Hey Ronobe, been a while. Lerajie. Kokabiel, you have a feather twisting out. No, wrong side. It's higher up - someone help them."

"So he knows who we are, well isn't that peachy?" Zadkiel scoffed.

Crawly snapped his fingers and pointed one at that demon. "You. Zadkiel." He turned to look him right in the eye. Zadkiel acted like he had been caught in a corner.

Crawly eyes softened. "I'm so sorry for what happened to you. Sandalphon is a bastard, and should be down here - not you."

The former Archangel looked like he was going to pass out. He slumped, buried grief flickering in his eyes. Nobody had ever brought it up to him before and if they did, it was never on his side. He turned away, lost in thought. Arms now hugging him instead.

Crawly turned back to Belial. "How many of us are here?"

"Including yourself? Twenty-nine."

"Twenty--?" his jaw fell open.

"That's all there is."

Crawly nods his head absently, "I see. Best if I get up now. You mind?"

Belial shakes his head, unable to trust himself to speak. Crawly stands in one fluid motion all while still gripping that one spot on his robe. He stretches his back out, the pops and cracks not being the most pleasant thing for everyone else to hear.

Belial points to his arm, "Are you alright?"

Crawly, noticing what he's commenting on, relinquishes it for the first time and smoothes the spot over with his palm. "Fine," he nods. Then quickly turns back to the crowd.

"What's the matter with them?" Crawly gestures to the Omegas laying prostrate on the floor.

Belial inwardly flinches and chooses his words carefully, "They, they haven't... they haven't come out of it yet."

"Oh." Crawly goes silent for a minute, the air growing heavy in the room.

He scans the faces of the ones closest to him, "How long have you all been here?"

They stare but do not answer. Some cast their gaze downward. Dantanian clears his throat to catch the redheads attention, "It depends. Some of us have been placed here only recently where others... it's been... too long."

The meaning sunk in. The actions of some of the poor devils showed that they most likely haven't seen the outside of this room in hundreds of years. The evidence of that fell on the unfortunate who had at some point moved themselves to curl up against the wall. They were drawing invisible images onto the stone surfaces.

Belial shuddered at the thought that that could be all of them someday.

"Have you tried getting out yet?" It was a stupid question. By the looks of it, Crawly was aware of how senseless it was. But, be that as it may, Belial could see the importance of - at the very least - inquiring. Since Crawly had only arrived today and knew nothing of what they've done so far.

Eligor sat up out of his chair to answer him. "Oh yes, numerous times. But no matter how we thrash or scream the door still won't budge."

"Have you tried the handle?" Crawly said it deadpan.

Beligor looked at him, a swirling vortex of perplexity.

"Forget it, nevermind," he sighed. The joke dying where it landed. So much for lightening up the mood, thought Belial, rubbing his temple.

Crawly smacked his hands together - causing more than half of them to jump, "Right then. Does anyone have even one suspicion as to why we're here?"

There was a pause, then Imamiah - not needing to, but doing all the same for politeness' sake - raised their hand, "I might? I think it may have something to do with a sort of 'grooming'? They spoke about it when they... uh..." They shifted on their feet for the last part, not wanting to finish it.

Belphegor jumped in to help, "Same for me! But I soon tossed it as nonsense because, well they've never sent anyone to help preen."

"It's not that kind of 'grooming'." Crawly's voice was low and serious.

"Then, what sort of grooming is it? What are we being groomed for?" Ronobe asked meekly. His eyes darting from Crawly to Belial, then to Dantanian.

Crawly opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by Zadkiel, who said with disdain, "What else, but for what we can do that the others can't. We can give them what they want."

The room went silent once more. There was no point in arguing with him when he was right. If the events in The Pit were any indication of what they intended to use them for, it was cut and dry in explanation.

Out of nowhere, Crawly perks up. He makes a sound to get their attention - which isn't hard - and says rather too peppy, "I suppose this is our new life, so welcome home everyone. It's not exactly how I wanted to meet all of you again, but... I'm happy to be reunited in one room. So, hello."

Crawly flashed a dazzling smile which felt out of place all things considered. However, it did brighten up a few faces which got them to step forward and feel brave enough to start asking him questions. It was most likely all a farce to get their minds off of here and now. Crawly started it, and these ones followed into it. Clever devil.

"I heard that you've spent quite a bit of time planet-side."

"I have, yeah," the serpent beamed.

"What's it like up there? What does it have?"

"Yes! Can you tell us about it?"

"Oh, it's incredible! There's all this wide-open space and trees trying to fill it up everywhere--"

"What are trees?"

"Oh. Just these, long cylindrical spyres with a bunch of greeny kind of stick fluff that juts out of it on all sides. And it's alive."

"Really?"

"Sure! They come in different shapes an' sizes too. Some in other colors. There's even one that appears to bleed.

"Oh, and don't get me started on the immeasurable amounts of water there is. Not even sure why there is so much of it. Some of it has a putrid odor, and most of them are teaming with ugly little atrocities..."

This went on for a time. Crawly captivating them with his tales of what the planet was filled with. A few of the animals Belial questioned the accuracy of, but he held his tongue. He spoke in detail about a 'city' and how wonderous that is. He never once mentioned running into the enemy. Apparently, they left the planet alone after creating it. Seemed a bit out of character for them...

Belial knows he would have at least run into a Cherub at the Garden of Eden. And although one would think that would be quite the story one would talk, share, and brag to with others about, Crawly was completely moot on the point. Belial decided he was going to publicly ask him about that. The blonde stood up and called out his name when--

"I'm sorry! I'm so very sorry!" Eligor rushed up to the redhead and clasped his hands as if to beg. He started crying. "I'm so sorry for you being here! That you've gotten involved in all of this, for everything!"

Crawly didn't say anything at first. He seemed at a loss for words and even more what was going on. When he found his tongue he reached out to calm the other demon down. "Don't be. Eligor, stop. Don't be sorry. You've done nothing wrong."

Crawly's demeanor changed. A thought occurred to him. His eyes darkened with it. "Unless you have done something..."

He pulled away from the ex-Virtue - who now truly wondered if he had done something wrong - and proceeded to pace throughout the room. When he spoke next, his voice was loud and stern. But there was no trace of cruelty there.

"I'm going to ask you all two questions, alright? And you're all going to answer me and you're going to do it now. First one: Were any of you involved in the Rebellion against Heaven? - Honest answers, Omegas! I want honest answers! What happened has happened so it's too late to lie about it now! Were anyone of you involved in the Mutinus Rebellion; raise your hands!"

Belial couldn't fathom why he was asking this - it happened so long ago. What did that have anything to do with their predicament now?

Each one looked around at the other, no words were said. No hands were raised.

"Oh, my God..." Gomory breathed as she collapsed into a chair.

"Not a single one of us?" Belphegor asked.

Azza really couldn't take any more of this. "What does that mean?"

"It means," Gomory answered, getting worked up again, "we're innocent and are down here by mistake! They must know that and that's why they've locked us up! We've got to tell someone!"

Ronobe blinked. "Tell who?"

"I don't know - God, another angel - just someone!"

A burst of mocking laughter rose up. It took no time at all to trace it to the spiteful ex-Archangel. "You think that will do any good? You'd be talking to the wrong creatures. And don't correct me, I mean to call them all creatures. I'd say worse, but I'd rather not be verbally attacked."

Crawly took several quick strides closer to him. "What do you know?" he asked, his voice low.

Zadkiel's expression faltered. It seemed unable to stick to one feeling. He rubbed his arms. "Just a memory. Of that day. It's so clear in my head it's burned into my brain... It's what Sandalphon told me before he pushed me off. Gabriel was standing there - I saw him, the leech. And I had once been the 'Angel of Charity'. I'd never felt so betrayed..."

He'd wound a hand into his hair and flipped back and forth between quiet laughing and stunned reality.

"What did he say?" Crawly urged. Taking a smaller step forward.

Zadkiel lifted his tear-filled eyes and burned them into Crawly's. "He told me, 'Nothing personal. We just can't afford to risk having breeders tainting the celestial'."

A suffocating weight settled into the room. Belial doesn't recall sitting back down on the couch, nor when Dantanian placed himself back on an armrest. He just knows he can't breathe or feel anything besides mutilated.

"So, we were cast out... because of our kind?" he asks so quietly it's a wonder anyone heard him.

But heard him, Crawly did. And answered with a shockingly calm tone, "Millions fell. It would be ridiculously easy to sweep twenty-nine extra under the table. Who would notice?

"Second question," Crawly moved on with the same vigor as the first, "has everyone been broken in yet, yes or no?"

"Tsk," was the snarky response from Zadkiel. Crawly ignored it. They all did.

A hand raised up further in the back. A shy, ex-Angel named Lix Tetrax who had been keeping to himself for nearly all of what had been transpiring, finally spoke up. "Uhm, I don't even have one clue what any of you are talking about. I must have bypassed whatever the rest of you have gone through, so I suppose... I haven't?" he smiles awkwardly.

Every one of them stares at him in horror. None can believe what they've just heard - they never thought for a second that there might have been one who hadn't been taken yet who was in the room with them.

"You weren't brought to The Pit?" Dantanian asks, bewildered and once more standing.

"The Pit? No, why? I was picked up and brought straight here, that's all! Why are you all looking at me like that? What does it mean? W-what's going to happen?"

No answer is given.

"Well somebody say something!" he yells.

"I'm sorry." It's Crawly, and he says it in a pained whisper. As if it's too hurtful to get it out at full strength. "I'm so, so sorry."

There is no time to register what happened next. The walls must have been genuinely made of ears from how convenient the timing of it was. One moment all was as it had been. The very next came an eruption of ghastly wails and blackened, slick hands. They blasted around Lix Tetrax and latched on to any and all parts they could reach. The ex-Angel screamed.

Belial watched in frozen terror as the nightmarish hands began to pull him into the ground, clawing and moaning unearthly cries no creature should hear. Lix Tetrax's face was twisted in unexplained fear, eyes bulging as he tried to fend off the limbs to no avail. He called and reached out to his fellow Omegas for help, begging and pleading for someone to save him. All stood their ground - too scared and traumatized to move.

Except for Crawly. He charged forward with abandon to get to that other demon, eyes flashing. Mostly likely would have, too. But Belial, ever watchful of him, caught his movements early on and had met up with the redhead to stop them from reaching the ex-Angel.

He caught the serpent demon from behind and held tight, both arms wrapped securely around his thin waist and across his chest. Crawly struggled to break free, his determination incredible, but Belial would not relent his hold. He clung to the other tighter and spoke directly into his ear, "No! Crawly, no! There's nothing you can do. You'll only get pulled down again."

Perhaps he didn't hear him or refused to listen. Either way Crawly continued to fight him. Lix Tetrax pleaded and reached out for him now, a ghastly hand grabbing tightly into his mouth and yanking down on his jaw. When he was all but gone, Belial finally released Crawly. The other ran forward and fell, right over the spot where the ex-Angel had once been. The redhead yelled a curse and pounded the ground with both his fists.

The sounds of weeping filled the air. Several other Omegas had collapsed to the floor and were sobbing uncontrollably. Others stared off into space. Everything was worse.

Poor little Ronobe had slid boneless against the wall and sat, eyes glazed and vacant. He slightly rocked himself. "Heaven didn't want us. Now Hell is going to use us. Enslave us. What are we going to do? What does any of it mean for our future?"

Crawly sat back on his heels after a minute of silence. He lifted his head and spread his arms out wide. "I'll tell you what it means. And it's remarkably simple. So simple in fact, you'll laugh by how much effort we'll have to put into it: Every single one of us - including me - are royally fucked."

 

 

Chapter Text

---------------------------------

3215 B.C. - CONFERENCE ROOM 13, HELL

 

"Alright, calm down. Quiet down everyone," said Lord Lucifer to the room of four (well, five) other beings who, in fact, had been sitting in bored silence for the past ten minutes.

This was a meeting. Or, was about to be the beginning of a meeting that all the demons inside the cavelike room were sadly used to by now. They were never very good. This was one of many they've had over the hundreds of years since they've decided to have these ridiculous gatherings of this sort. It consisted, without fail, to be exclusive to the only Seven Princes in Hell. These Seven Princes were known by another title, respectively. For each one represented - literally were the embodiment of and controlled entirely - a 'Deadly Sin', as they would eventually become famous to be named. (And also, ironically enough, very difficult for most people to remember all the names of.) They are: Wrath, Pride, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Greed, and Sloth. There would always and ever be seven in a meeting. Minus one. Plus another. Physically speaking.

(And technically, there are currently missing one more. The reason for these 'absentees and addition' will be explained below.)

They sat in a semi-circle of chairs, the four of them. Err, five. With Lucifer standing in front of a podium made of the finest obsidian Hell had to offer. It was quite possibly the only thing down there that was one-hundred percent 'pure'. Naturally, Lucifer had to adorn himself with the best. Ever the pompous egotist.

"It's time once again for our annual meeting of 'The Sinning Seven', he continued, looking rather pleased with himself for that one. Lord Beezlebub, sitting to the right of Asmodeus, lets out a barely audible groan. They were staring off into space, doing their best to keep their patience together. Arms crossed.

(If any of them had known - that thousands of years later - a Japanese movie would be made due to a love and inspiration from Western films called Seven Samurai, which then, in turn, would be lovingly remade into an actual Western known as The Magnificent Seven, they would have seen how undeniably clever Lucifer had really been.

Sadly, he was ahead of his time and no one gave a shit.)

Each one wanted nothing more than to get this conference over with. Except for Lucifer, of course. He never seemed to get tired of the damn meetings.

And sadly, they were a necessity since each one of them held great importance to 'the cause'. It was simply just that...

Well, if Lucifer didn't have to make it such a bloody chore. "And to start it off, as you all know, we must do our roll call. So! Starting from the top. Everyone ready?" No one answered. "Excellent! Now, remember to say 'here' when your Deadly Sin is called, right? Right. First on the list; Wrath. As usual, I will speak on our Lord and Master's behalf - since he is always with us - and mark him as 'here'." The dark blonde licked the end of a black stylus and etched a check near the top of his red clay tablet. It sizzled on contact.

*

Satan never bothered to show up for these meetings. Even he didn't care for them. They still - Asmodeus doesn't know why - leave an unoccupied seat for his-truly with a sign stating it as 'reserved'. None of them were ever allowed to sit in it, not that any of them tried.

It was always positioned next to Lucifer, naturally. For he literally represented the ruler of Hell. Humans would come to confuse them as being one and the same; an understandable mistake. He was the closest demon to Satan than any of the others could ever imagine to be. He alone could stop by at the drop of a hat and pay a visit to The Evil One whenever the mood struck him. And Satan never turned him down. They were and have been exceptionally close - practically inseparable, those two. In fact, it's because of them there was a Rebellion at all.

Simple reason? Jealousy of God's attention to Her new pet project: A New Living Planet With New Thriving Species On It. She stopped focusing on what they do and all the thankless, backbreaking work that's expected of them to handle when She's too busy centered on a single other plan. Always left to pick up the pieces, they were, when She'd leave to fiddle around. They had to, in order to keep 'Holy Order in the Cosmos' so chaos wouldn't reign. Never an acknowledgment of gratitude. Nor honest-meaning praise. She'd only ever get sidetracked on something 'better and shinier' than what they were.

Well. That killed them. They had enough. Satan and Lucifer - Her most favored Seraphims - planned and plotted, griped and preached until they worked each other up into a frenzy. But were smart enough to know they couldn't do it on their own. So, with enough enticement they eventually pulled Beelzebub - a fellow Seraph, for they were the ones who worked the hardest, were they not? - to their side. Rallied troops - without giving them probable cause to the reason for it - and took it into action.

They never stood a chance. It was all over after that, and those three were the first to Fall. And they refuse to let Her forget about it ever since.)

*

"Alright now, second on the list; Pride." The Fallen Angel lifted his eyes to the others expectantly. All of them either shifted to another buttcheek, cleared their throat, did both or rubbed their tired eyes. Slouching started to become a favorite position in their respected seats for some.

Suddenly Lucifer's face cleared as if he remembered something, "Oh, that's right! Silly me. I'm Pride, of course. 'Here,'" he chirped, placing a palm to his chest and a smirk on his lips.

This wasn't original. He pulled it every time. If they could have seared him with their eyes the Second-in-Command would have been long discorporated before this meeting went underway. He checked himself off the list with great flair and a verbal 'check!' to go along with it. He then proceeded with this mundane task. "Third on the list is Gluttony." He once again looks up.

"Here," it mumbles out of Beelzebub.

Lucifer quirks an eyebrow at them and turns an ear in closer, "I'm sorry, what was that?"

"Here." The Lord of the Flies glares at him, saying it a bit louder than necessary.

The Archdemon ignores the way it was said and points his stylus to the ceiling in acknowledgment. "Ah. Very good." He scratches it off. "Now Lust."

"Here," Asmodeus's deep voice booms it out crystal clear - albeit extremely weary - so there's no mistaking it's him, and they can move along.

Lucifer glances at the black-haired demon, smiles, then dips his head back down and 'check!'s the fourth mark on his tablet. While he does this, both Asmodeus and Beelzebub catch each other's eye. Asmodeus widens his ram's eyes with a look of 'I know how you feel' and Beelzebub shakes their head with a sigh in return.

The dark blonde scans the room with searching eyes, "Envy."

A perfectly poised - if not rigid - Archdemon sits directly in front of Lucifer, left to Asmodeus. Peppered hair, cleanly coifed, and smartly dressed in a cobalt blue robe who's ever-growing vibe of resentment increases with each passing second. They are Leviathan, and their slow-burn has begun to reach its peak.

"I have been seated oppositive - thine eyne has gazed usward."1

Lucifer continues to dart his eyes around. "Envy?... Envy?" he calls out, frowning, growing more upset that the other 'isn't there'.

The others in the room can't help but let out various levels of groans at what The Archdemon is doing. At some point in time, Lucifer has done it to all of them. It's only the Keeper of the Hellmouth who refuses to back down to the Shining One's power games. It never gets them anywhere, but the others still respect them for it.

Leviathan's whirlpool eyes harden. They press their lips into a thin, taught line. Finally, they grumble 'jobberknowle'2 and raise their voice, "Enow! Here!"

Lucifer looks directly at them and acknowledges their presence. "Ah, there you are!" as if he's just discovered them. He soon drops it and points his stylus at the water serpent, "You're very lucky, you know. I was just about to mark you as 'tardy'. Our Most Wickedest would not have taken to that at all well if you were." It was a veiled threat. Leviathan got the message, but burned holes at him all the same.

They locked eyes for a while, making everyone feel uncomfortable. Another stupid Alpha challenge. But Leviathan knew there was no winning against their fellow Fallen Angel, and turned reluctantly away first. Lucifer puffed out his chest further, looking down on them. That cursed smile never truly fading. He checked the red tablet with little fanfare and - thankfully - moved on.

"Getting down to the end, we are," he informs everyone. Which, of course, wasn't necessary. They weren't blind. Many eyes were rolled. "Greed," his voice clear and precise.

"Here," the twins say almost in unison. Although, one of them added a 'Yeah' first. Which one it was is difficult to say anymore. One of them also raised a hand but changed their mind halfway. Their robe was a haphazard collage of undecided fabrics and colors. A new something always getting added to it whenever they'd show up somewhere.

(The unfortunate twins, which make up the reason why the circled group is five, not four - if you disregard Lucifer. They are Ba'al and El Berith. Identical in every way, and thankfully endearingly close. However, due to a disastrous and regrettable circumstance that took place during the process of when they Fell, the two of them - always refusing to be away from one another - accidentally melded partially into one body due to the searing heat of their bodies becoming molten hot and pliable. Once cooled, they were forever permanently conjoined. With two heads, three arms, and two legs. Plus whatever that odd dangling-thing is, that sticks out the middle between them with three fingers and four toes and a thumb. They have yet to figure that one out, however, it does still function. Strange as it seems. With a plethora of joints, it has no problem bending to either of their needs.)

Lucifer took a pause, scrutinizing them both carefully. His piercing eyes flicking from one head to the other. He set the stylus and clay tablet down and steepled his fingers over it. Then proceeded to take a pointed breath and of course, just had to ask, "Was that a 'here' from one or both of you?"

"You gecunnan ealfella well that the twain had asecgendlic semovedly, and 'twas the gesprecendlic you aseceudlic,"3 muttered Leviathan, never taking their eyes off Lucifer. And unsurprising, he ignored them again.

"Both." It came out more as a hesitation. The twins looked at one another, lost, and started a quick conversation with themselves while one scratching a head.

"I mean, I - didn't you?"

"Yes, I did."

"We both had."

"Or didn't we?"

"I'm not so sure, now."

"Neither am I."

"Is that new?"

"Yes, it is!"

"Oh, it's nice!"

"Thanks."

"Where'd you get it?"

"You gave it to me."

"Oh yeah. Thought it looked good."

"It does. I'll get you one."

"Aww, you."

"With my question answered we will be moving on," Lucifer's voice boomed in to cut them off, and once more all attention was reverted to him. He almost needn't have said that at all, for the gaze he gave the Berith Twins alone was the equivalent of a lightning strike to a tree. He 'checked!' it off with a sizzle.

"Now all that's left is Sloth."

Lucifer looks up. His eyes move but the rest of him doesn't. There is no response to the call. And for the first time, Lucifer does not repeat it. "He's not here yet, is he?" Morning Star says, unamused.

Asmodeus smirks, "Has he ever come on time?"

Beelzebub snorted at the double entendre given. The twins snickered amongst themselves, and Leviathan said nothing. A vein pulsed by Lucifer's temple. "Well then," he stated, "we're all just going to have to sit here and wait until he arrives."

That zapped all the humor - and air, although there wasn't any, to begin with. Just a matter of speech - out of the room. "Wait, we're not going to start?" Beelzebub questioned, bewildered.

"Not without him, no."

The Lord of the Flies began to tumble over their own words, "B-but, he'zz not even here! That marks him azz late! Why should we suffer for hizzz incompetence?!" They sat up in their seat.

Asmodeus felt the same rage shoot up his spine, but that didn't stop him from giving a slight flinch at hearing the Z's from his fellow Prince as they vent next to him. Beelzebub would only let that slip when they were emotionally unchecked. Otherwise, they had their dialect in check. He knew how much Beelzebub hated the accent and did their best to keep it under control. But in moments like these, it was impossible.

"You cacafuegoing spuddle!” Leviathan started, barely able to keep their temper in check. “You were to discount that I was hider all andlang! He's well agongen the byre but you findan a intinga to mierrung our byre for his ofercyme! I cwis not him as ieldentlic and ferion!"4

"That is my final word on the matter and since my word is law there is no more discussion on it." His words came out rushed. He slammed his tablet down on the top of the black podium, silencing the room at once. His eyes sparkled with a light that had them shrinking back unconsciously.

The light retreated back inside and Asmodeus noticed a slight ringing in his ears. For his part, Lucifer folded his hands over the tablet, shifted his stance, then stood to his full height and stared at the back rock wall.

They stayed in a miserable silence then what was deemed necessary, till out of the blue-- "Asmodeus."

The demon of Lust blinked his eyes a few times - serpent, bull, man - recollecting his thoughts after his mind had started to drift miles away. The dark blonde was eagerly addressing him. "Yes, my Lord?"

"Oh please, call me Luci," he bantered playfully. "We're not having a meeting yet and we're all friends here! I'll refer to you in kind as As. How's that sound, hmm?"

Asmodeus's stomach lurched. "What?"

"And you're Beelz, and you'll be Levi. Isn't this fun?" he beamed at all of them. His teeth were showing in an unsettling smile, daring them to try and disagree with his assumption.

He didn't give a damn about their opinion. He was telling them what was to happen from now on. As irrelevant as it was to the situation.

Asmodeus forced himself to look grateful in return. He tipped his head at the pompous twit, "In only the way you can give, Luci. Thank you for such a gift."

"Not at all, As. You are most welcome!"

Ba'al and El raised their odd-looking appendage from their middle and whichever one - no one knows anymore - meekly spoke up, "Uhm, sorry but, you haven't given us one yet--"

"Your names are short enough as it is." Lucifer didn't even look at them as it streamed out. They slowly lowered their limb, expressions blank.

A rustling and scraping like claws came from outside the room. The head Archdemon perked up his ears to the sound and as he did this, Asmodeus caught at the corner of his eye Beelzebub mouth the words to him 'kiss-ass'. He flipped them the bird by rubbing the side of his nose. At the same time turning in his seat to see what the commotion was about.

Lumbering in, as slow as you please, was a red beast of a dragon. Low in stature, long in length and wide in girth it snorted out puffs of smoke and reeked of sulfur. Curved brown horns near the ears. Its red slit eyes as nasty-looking as the rest of it regarded each member in the room with a predatory hatred and warning to keep a distance. Jagged teeth of disproportionate sizes jutted out the flaps of its mouth in quirky angles to almost be comical, if it weren't for the undeniable fact that it was capable of using every one of them to unthinkable means. Leathery scaled wings carefully tucked away near its body. Its long spiky tail the last thing to casually flick its way into the room as an afterthought.

Interestingly enough, no one in the room paid it any attention. For nobody cared about the hellish beast that slunk in, but more on what was on top of the creature's back that arrested their scrutiny.

Draped across the beast lengthwise was the last member of their group. His black wings nestled against his own back covered him like a blanket. All that could be seen of him was a mess of greasy, charcoal curls and a lop-sided crown resting atop them. A muffled groan and a hissing could be heard from somewhere in the pile of feathers.

The squat creature approached the semi-circle, watching them all carefully. When it stopped the bundle on top shifted a bit.

Lucifer wasn't the least bit perturbed. "Ah, and now Sloth! Finally deciding to grace us with your presence, have you?" he snickered at the lump.

The wings rustled. A lazy hum grew to a crescendo as the wings lifted and the figure underneath, stretching, was revealed.

There was one single thing that was obvious about this being that not a soul could miss, and it only got worse when the figure shifted to face them, completely relaxed.

He was butt-ass naked. And he was a he. And none of them wanted to see it. The others shuddered or otherwise turned away in disgust. The rest waited to see how this would end. He was nothing to look at. Ponch pork belly that he had a constant need to caress and scratch. Splayed his legs open to get comfortable as he yawned, he supported his head on one hand with the elbow resting on the beast. He looked like he just rolled out of bed. Gave them all a slow blink.

Wrapped around his shoulders was a tan-patterned serpent who seemed quite at ease with its surroundings. A little tongue flicked out every now and again.

This waste of space is Astaroth. He is the Seventh Prince of Hell as well as a Great Duke.

He gave a quick nod of his chin to Lucifer who breathed a sigh of relief. "Excellent. All here." He scratched a 'check!' at the bottom of the tablet, a final sizzle fading out. "Now, we can begin.

"Now, we can begin," the Archdemon repeated with a steely glare when Leviathan tried to protest.

Asmodeus reached over and gave a gentle squeeze to Leviathan’s arm when he sensed the other was going to stand. They felt tense under his grip, and he knew it was killing them that they had no say in the logic or fairness of everything that has transpired. To some degree, it was obvious his ‘Envy’ side was influencing his emotions. But for everything else, it was of course;

Because it was Lucifer being Lucifer. He didn’t need a reason to be a dick, or ever explain his actions. Perfect free reign to do as he pleased and whatever it was, his word was final.

"We'll only be covering a few things this go around - the main point, of course, being on how the progression of the Omegas is going. His Most Foul wants an update on that. But before we breach that subject we need the details and report on the first ‘Send Out’ from you, Lord Asmodeus. So if you could give me a brief rundown on that it would be most appreciative. Then later - as quickly as possible but only when you can - the file on it."

A strike of fear hit Asmodeus at the thought that he was being tested. The hand that touched the Water Serpent now hung limp at his side. "The, first Send Out?"

"The Experiment, yes." Lucifer agreed passively. If Asmodeus had paled or shown any sign of panic concerning the subject, the demon of Pride gave no indication of it. Either due to being as impatient as everyone else by now to move on from this accursed meeting - and room - or simply was no longer in the mood.

"Oh, that Send Out.”

He recalled it now. The ‘Experiment’ was the trigger word. He loathed that time period and frequently did his utmost to forget it ever happened. He never liked being parted from his favorite for very long, and this was excruciating. “How stupid of me."

"It was successful from what we’ve heard."

"Absolutely. He followed every order given to him, without fail,” he stated with a smile.

"Without distractions of any kind? Or the slightest bit of resistance or defiance?"

Asmodeus took a moment before answering. "None, my Lord."

Lucifer raised an eyebrow at that.

"You hesitated."

The Archdemon mulled over the correct response to give. He blinked, eyes set back to a ram, and settled in his deep voice, "The return home is still... a tedious work in progress."

A snort came from his farthest left. He knew it was Astaroth. Asmodeus clenched his teeth near breaking level in order to keep his control and not disintegrate the indolent demon.

Lucifer glanced at Astaroth but did nothing more. "He didn't come home directly after his task, is that what you're saying?"

"More along the lines of Asmodeus couldn't stand having his little fuck-toy away for that long and grew impatient," Astaroth added with a sneer. His eyes twinkled with mirth at the immediate - and quite satisfying - reaction he received from the Head Duke.

"You hold your tongue," snapped Asmodeus.

"You used the Bells. Again."

"I have every right to access those Bells when and how I see fit."

The foul demon chuckled, scratching his exposed belly, "For one individual? That's not what they were made for."

"So you're an expert on them now?" Asmodeus scoffed. He felt insulted this cretin dared even bring up the Bells, to begin with.

"Only on things, others take for granted.” Astaroth’s smile was cool. It told of hidden meanings and held secrets known solely to him. It was vile, and Asmodeus could feel he was not the only one in the room who had a degree of resentment aimed at him for it.

"Alright alright, that's enough,” Lucifer finally broke in. The tension in the room, however delicious to him, was getting them nowhere closer to ending the meeting. “Lord Asmodeus, from what you've answered so far the majority of it was a success. After all, it was an experiment. We'll know more when the report comes in but from what I am hearing, it seems quite plausible we've created the end of a civilization. Congratulations, Lord.

"Oh, and Lord Beelzebub?” His attention now turning suddenly to the Third in Command. It came out like an afterthought, “His Wretchedest wants you to team up with Famine on your grand project you've been working on. So make sure to include him in and make him more than a simple background spectator. Alright? Moving on."

"Wait, what? You want me to include Famine?" Beelzebub sat up with eyes wide. They seemed a tad lost.

"Is there a problem?"

"Yes. Or, no. I mean, isn't it a tad asinine?" they questioned.

Lucifer frowned, "How do you mean?"

"Well, I should think it's fairly obvious."

Lucifer stared at them, A heavy, pregnant pause settled in the room. The way he drew it out was beginning to serve more as a punishment to the Lord of the Flies for casually avoiding the answer outright, then obeying when expected to.

His lips pinched into a thin line and punctuated each word as a frightening light threatened to break out through his eyes. "Say it isn't and explain."

Asmodeus was impressed by how little Beelzebub showed Lucifer’s intimidation seemed to affect them in front of the others. They sat cool and collected, staring them right back square in the eyes. Not blinking away. As if either not afraid, or unaware there was an issue rising at all.

They covered their crippling fear exceptionally well. It was a hidden strength to be marveled at.

One of the twins made a noise - a welcome interruption in the heady tension, "They would just cancel each other out. Wouldn't they?" the head on the right asked. Some believed this to be El, but the bastards stopped clarifying who was who centuries ago. All the same, they looked to their other half for assistance.

The left head - possibly Ba’al? - nodded their own head in reassurance to their sibling. "One representing Gluttony and the other, well..." They gestured with their arm as if that would help to explain what they were meaning.

Miraculously, to everyone’s amazement, it worked.

"Hmm, I see your point,” Lucifer nodded deep in thought.

The Berith twins looked at each other then sat up straighter. Leviathan gave them an appraising once-over, Asmodeus tipped his head in approval, Beelzebub raised their eyebrows as a silent ‘thank-you’, and Astaroth gave them an unnerving stare.

Rarely if ever could anyone persuade the Second-In-Command to see things the way they were meant to be perceived. Or, even more so, sway his opinion of something. That feat alone deserved to have a song based on it.

“But be that as it may,” (it was short-lived, apparently) “I didn't make the order, I'm passing it on. His Almighty wishes for this to happen and what he says is law. It may not be agreeable but, there it is. Sorry, Beelz. Do your best to make it work,” Lucifer said, giving his best version of a sympathetic expression to his fellow Archdemon. It felt more mocking to Asmodeus. Especially when the reaction was Beelzebub slouching back with a pained groan.

"Now onto the status of the Omegas! Lord Asmodeus, I do believe this is once again your department. Could you give us an update on how they are coming along thus far?"

A welcome change in subject, and one the King of the Nine Realms was all too willing to flaunt his feathers about.

"With pleasure, my Lord. Since we've started the Grooming process with all of them, now officially gathered together, the rate of obedience has skyrocketed to well-nigh past our expectations. I'd say within a Century they'd all be fully trained," he boasted, head held high.

Lucifer smiled a tad too eagerly. “Excellent news to hear. However,” Asmodeus’s demeanor faltered - Lucifer seemed to notice for his eyes twinkled, “a little sprite told me that you've been having your hands full with some of them. That no matter what is done to any number of degrees of intensity, they still insist on being defiant and quote; 'free of will to do with their mind and body as they see fit'.” He had looked down at his clay tablet for this part, then snapped back up expectantly to the Archdemon. “Is that an accurate statement that I have just reiterated to you?"

The demon of Lust swallowed slowly. He had thought this mishap had gone under the radar. But alas, he should have known that in Hell, the walls literally have ears.

"My Lord?" It comes smoother than how he feels. He was always good at faking it.

"Does that sound familiar? Are you having difficulties with some of the Omegas falling in line?"

Astaroth clapped his hands and laid back down with a loud bark of a laugh, "Oh, this I do so want to hear."

His beast huffed out twin plumes of smoke. A hideous tongue sleeked across its teeth and set its eyes on Asmodeus. It appeared to be in tune to its rider. Just as interested, just as hateful.

"There are a few who have been proving rather unamenable, it's true. But nothing I can't handle," Asmodeus stated simply. Hands clasped in his lap.

Lucifer narrowed those alarming eyes of his at the other. "You're not telling me something."

There was no way around it, he could tell. The Archdemon let out a heavy sigh.

"Well, if you must know--"

"I do."

That gave Asmodeus a moment of pause. He had blinked his eyes which now switched to the brilliant blue ones. He continued unable to look away, "There is one who's been a real thorn in my side. Refuses to bend like the others. It's one of the Ophanim."

There was an odd sensation then. Lucifer looked quite pleased with this news.

No animosity from him like he gave the others, no escalation to something worse was this seeming to be progressing to. It was clear it was confusing everyone in the room - least of all Asmodeus and Astaroth - and whatever he had said it was the absolute correct answer.

Why? The high-ranking demon, in all honesty, couldn’t say. Not that he opposed the reaction in any way shape or form, mind you.

"Mmm. A previous throne and wheel of God Herself,” said Lucifer more to himself than anyone else. He had been tapping a finger against his chin then - with no miracle to it - snapped his fingers in excitement, “I believe I know which one you're talking about. The well set one, correct? Goes by the name of... Dantanian."

"One and the same, my Lord. Perfect deduction as ever." Asmodeus fed more into the dark blonde’s egotistical side with abandoned. The other openly relished it. He visibly shivered from it, like on a sugar high.

With pupils slightly dilated, he finished with, "There's no such thing as a mind that cannot be broken. Don't worry Lord Asmodeus, if he continues to give you any inconveniences you have our permission to use whatever measures you deem fit to get him under your control and to comply. Is that understood?"

"Perfectly, my Lord."

"Good. They are supposed to know their place. We don't want any of them thinking they are our equals," he chuckled.

"Of course, my Lord. Thank you, my Lord." Asmodeus bowed his head in respect and appreciation. This time, Beelzebub sat stoically.

"Not at all.” The handsome blonde positively beamed with a swelled chest. Asmodeus secretly wanted to pop him with one of his talons and see what would happen.

Lucifer swept his arms out and addressed the room, “Well, unless we have any questions to ask for the group? No? Then, I'd say our meeting is--” he snapped rigid silent.

All their stomachs plummeted when Lucifer raised a single finger and said, “Oh, one moment…” and the extraordinary connection commenced.

They watched almost hypnotized, compelled - or forced - to see the communication before they transpire. Lucifer’s eyes were wide, as open as they could possibly go. A frightening light pierced out from deep within the pits of the Archdemon and lit up the room in an instant.

It was terrifying, and gave the full understanding of why he was known as ‘Morning Star’.

Nothing else was visible in the room. It hurt to look upon, and Asmodeus knew if he wasn’t already a Fallen, his eyes would have boiled and melted out by now. But through it all, he could hear what sounded like Lucifer having a one-sided conversation with himself.

Suddenly, the light snapped out. All the Alpha demons were shaken but not too perturbed. After all, they’d been through this before. Whenever Satan wished to drop in and speak to his closest, it always ended up being this dramatic.

Still, an earlier heads-up would be greatly appreciated. Which of course is most likely why they never gave it.

Lucifer blinked a few times and sniffed louder than needed. He collected himself and moved on as if this bizarre thing hadn’t just taken place.

He turned once again to Asmodeus, “Just one more thing, Lord Asmodeus before we end this meeting. That Omega you sent the last time for the experiment, they still are toeing the line, correct? Just as submissive as they had been previously?”

"Oh yes, your Lordship. If not more so." A dread was pushing down on his shoulders. He just knew in advance that whatever Lucifer was going to lead in to next concerning this, he was going to detest it with every fiber of his being.

The demon of Pride let out a pleased sound mixed with an obnoxious smile plastered to his face, "Perfect. Precisely what His Loathesomest wanted to hear. For he's just informed me that he desires that same Omega to go back out and have another go on the surface - only this time for a longer spell. Do you have any objection to that?"

Of course, he fucking did. Lucifer knew he did, they all knew he did. That’s why the smug bastard brought it up. He did all he could to focus on their leader and suppress the ever-growing irritation he had from the glee the emanated off of Astaroth as he squirmed under this scrutiny.

"I - well, that is to say - no. Not necessarily. But--"

"Good. Then as soon as we are finished up here you will do what is required to get them ready for their next test upstairs. Is that understood?" he said as he busied himself tidying up the scant items on his immaculate podium. Really, it was all for show. More or less to give himself something to do to look important. All that was there was his red clay tablet and stylus, and there are only so many times one can pick it up and set it down in different ways.

Lucifer ‘was too busy’ to notice Leviathan bring a hand to their face and pinch the bridge of their nose at the ridiculous spectacle.

He knew it was futile and stupid, but he felt himself slowly unable to think clearly. Asmodeus was growing desperate; the very thought of being parted yet again - and longer this time - is and always was unthinkable to him. So, he squirmed in his seat and gave in, "Yes, but may I ask a question?"

Lucifer stopped his fussing and glanced at him as if innocent to what he could be possibly about to question him on. "Of course, Lord Asmodeus," it dripped out gentle and oh so kind.

The Archdemon flinched and blinked twice - serpent eyes now. How fitting. "Why him? Why now?"

He didn’t answer right away. Oh no, he took his time. Drew the moment out. Controlled the moment. Made sure everyone was uncomfortable before speaking into the thick tension. The dark blonde leaned over his black podium, never taking his eyes off the other demon, and spoke quiet and clear to him with all the authority and threat a creature like him is capable of.

"Firstly; this is an important matter to us and we wish to send out the best. After all, he was once a Seraph like ourselves. We'll at least give him that. And secondly; why not? Does that answer everything to your satisfaction?"

"Yes, my Lord," Asmodeus replied after a short pause, his eyes cast downward, voice lowered in defeat. Inside, he was a raging inferno of anger. But there was nothing to be done with it. The decision was made and it would have to be followed through to the letter.

Lucifer straightened with a perky smile. He had gotten his way once more, as he always did. As they always did. After the Fall, they promised one another that they would never fail again. And so far they hadn’t.

"Jolly good. Now with that cleared up, I'll close by saying; the meeting is adjourned."

 

***~~~***

 

3215 B.C. - CONFERENCE ROOM 33, HEAVEN

 

For all intents and purposes, this was a room. One of Heaven’s many conference rooms - the more popular one to be a smidge further accurate. Everyone in Heaven acknowledged this as a simple fact. It had been made for that purpose, therefore it was.

However, it really didn’t fit the description of what a room truly is in its basic form. It had a door (yes, he could give it that) and… that’s it.

There were no walls to speak of, no ceiling visible - yet the sky did not show overhead nor the sun. The floor might as well not have been there (and it wasn’t) for the ground consisted of clean, wisping smoke rising high at most to the thighs as far as the eye could see. No distinguishable light sources in any direction. Despite the room being as bright as… well, as anyone would imagine Heaven to be.

There was furniture in this so-called room. Mainly clustered in one spot surrounded by the vastness of white. It consisted of a semi-circle of chairs, just comfortable enough to keep each being seated but also stiff enough to equally keep them awake. A large whiteboard faced the circle several feet away and a simple - though - elegant table barricaded itself between the two.

The room was not empty. It had been slowly-but-surely filling up the chairs as each ethereal being would enter and take their corresponding seat one by one. None of them seemed to be in a hurry, for there’s no such thing as a late angel.

These weren’t just any angels, either.

Eventually, when they would all commune together, there would be a grand total of seven of them. These seven angels happen to be all Archangels, not that that has anything to do with anything in particular. Just another bit of random knowledge for the brain. See, Archangels belong in the Third Hierarchy just below Principalities. What makes Archangels so memorable compared to other angels for people in the future is that they are known as the ‘Warrior Angels’. The fighters for God Herself. The ones meant to do battle with the Evil One at every turn. Simply put; makes them more exciting reading and storytelling than, say, an angel who goes about receiving orders from the higher angels, then makes sure to pass on the information and goes about seeing if all the other angels follow said orders.

Which, in a nutshell, is what a Principality does. Rather dry reading.

But these seven Archangels are even more fascinating than any of the other angels in Heaven put together - which is quite a feat to say in any case. These seven represent something exceptional. Individually or together, they represent the ‘Seven Heavenly Virtues’, which are as follows; Kindness, Humility, Temperance, Chastity, Forgiveness/Patience, Charity, and Diligence.

(And as the angel of Temperance is about to enter the room, we will soon be introduced to which ones belong to which Virtue.)

*

By the time the Archangel Gabriel arrived - dressed in a robe of pure white - nearly half were already sitting, hands folded appropriately in their laps. Staring ahead, looking pious. Now with Gabriel as an addition, he tipped the scale to over half. His chair was the first on the right, currently unoccupied of course, and he smiled that the seat next to him was respectfully filled.

He gave a friendly nod to Sandalphon - current angel of Charity, robed in light brown, sitting in the second-to-last chair across where Gabriel will be seated - as he made his way over and sat down. The squat angel returned the greeting in kind but at half the speed. Flashing altered teeth that hit the light just the way he wanted to catch everybody’s eye who happened to look. In the same fluid movement, he turned his attention back to the angel who sat next to him in the semi-circle. He gave this one an agonizingly slow blink and proceeded to just stare, mouth slightly open.

The angel that captured his rapt attention was named Jophiel, the Archangel of Humility. He was covered in long golden hair and dressed in a violet robe that, just as on all the others, laid and moved like silk. He was quite lovely, which isn’t a surprise to anyone. For his name means ‘Divine Beauty’. It suited him.

Jophiel caught Sandalphon’s gaze, and the two shared an awkward moment. Eventually, Sandalphon smiled. Jophiel flicked his eyes back forward, face blank. Once he did this, Sandalphon dropped the smile and continued to stare.

Gabriel didn’t notice any of this. His focus was solely on the angel seated next to him; Raphael. His golden robe flowing elegantly down his lithe body. Though his posture was like the others, his face belayed another story. One that was clear his mind was somewhere else - and most likely had been for some time.

His most prominent feature was his long, beautiful, curly red tresses that Gabriel could not seem to ever keep his own damn hands away from.

Raphael was the Archangel of Forgiveness and Patience (the sole one to have two virtues). Which was most likely the reason why Gabriel kept getting away with touching his hair. Gabriel himself was Temperance. Raphael would occasionally remind him of this, but the clever Archangel always found a way to excuse his actions.

No wonder he was as high-ranked as he was.

The meeting hadn’t started, there was time to kill, and where’s the harm in playing with one curl?

Gabriel crossed his legs at the knees and reached his left arm over. He plucked a lock up and ran it through both hands, marveling at how silky smooth it always was. He then began to casually separate it into three sections and formed a small braid. He hummed a contended tune while he did it.

"Gabriel, how many times have I told you?" Raphael sighed after a while, closing his tired eyes.

One braid finished, Gabriel looked back at him with a sad face and proceeded to grab for more hair and start the process over again, "What? Oh, come on, Raph. Can you blame me? There aren't that many redheads up here in Heaven. Especially with hair like yours."

"There would have been more," Raphael mumbled low under his breath.

Gabriel’s hands froze. He frowned, "What was that?"

"Nothing," Raphael said airily. And nothing more.

Gabriel ‘Hmphed’ and went back to work for a couple more seconds. But soon enough, the Archangel leaned forward and called toward another angel in the room to converse with.

“Hey, Jophiel,” he called out to the blonde one until finally the other looked upon him, “Hi.”

“Hi.” It came out a bit flat.

“How are you?” Gabriel asked while still braiding Raphael’s hair.

“Fine.”

“Good! That’s great to hear. Because at ‘fine’, you can always go up from there, am I right?”

Jophiel seemed to think about that, then agreed. “This is true, yes.”

“So, how’s Metatron doing these days?”

That got the blonde to smile. Only, it was rather stiff and uncomfortable-looking, “He’s good. Metatron is doing quite well, in fact.”

Gabriel gave him a toothy grin, “Fantastic. You two still going strong?”

“Not that that is any of your concern.”

Snap. There it is. Just what the Archangel was searching for. Fuck, he loved pushing buttons. Never to excess, he was Temperance after all. But just enough to make them squirm and let them know he knows what they know and now that he knows he won’t let it go.

It was a harmless little game he picked up hundreds of years ago taught to him by one of the Principalities (now currently Fallen, but he’s never told anyone that.) They had said they were taught it from a glorious Dominion, who learned first-hand by actual Seraphim.

Or so he was told. He’s never dug that deep into the paper trail of it. All the same, he was sworn by his superiors that it was an innocent ‘prank’ - whatever that was - and wouldn’t hurt anyone. But would, in fact, make them better for it. Therefore, Gabriel felt special and continued to practice this game whenever he could. But never, ever to excess.

“It’s just a question.” Gabriel gave him an odd look, “You know, friendly banter? Shouldn’t be that hard to answer. Unless… unless you two are having issues…”

On the first ‘unless’ Uriel entered the room. Dressed entirely in a ruby-red robe, she represents Diligence. When Gabriel implied the ‘issues’, Uriel stalled for only a moment with an eyebrow raised. She exchanged a look with Gabriel and stared down the back of Jophiel’s head as she sweeped around to, naturally, seat herself between the redhead and the blonde in question.

“On the contrary, just the other day he gave me a rather touching letter reinstating his deep affection for me.” Jophiel countered, doing his best to ignore the added presence adjacent to him, who knew nothing of the situation but never questioned judgment or order from one who was higher ranked than she was.

Gabriel stopped what he was doing and sat upon the edge of his seat, a hand placed over his heart. “Aw, really? That’s so sweet. Don’t you think that’s sweet Raphael? What lovebirds.” He said the last part quickly before Raphael could respond. Not that it seemed the other angel was making an effort to try.

The Archangel’s tone shifted to a deeper, more serious one. Surprising nobody. “Of course, it is a bit alarming he had to remind you of his endless adoration. Like, you have a tendency to forget about it or something! Or maybe he doesn’t show it off all that well in the first place. Or, ever. That could be a circumstance too.”

“You’re thinking too much into this, Gabriel,” said Jophiel, voice steady.

“Mm, perhaps I am. I mean, what would I know? I don’t have a significant other to deal with.”

The second to the last of the remaining angels yet to arrive was now entering the room. They looked a tad frazzled. As if they had gotten lost several times along the way before getting here. This was Chamuel, naturally dressed in rosy pink due to being the angel of Chastity. Their brown curls looked coiled tighter than normal to their head.

Gabriel didn’t waste a moment to finish his current thought and aimed it at the newcomer.

“What about you, Chamuel? Have you got a significant other?”

Chamuel stops halfway from sitting and standing, their tush hovering over their designated location. blink at the other Archangel, a total loss for words. Whatever previous thought they had ruminating in their head completely shot out of them and now falling to the Planet’s surface. They looked to the door, then slowly back to Gabriel, “I just got here.”

Sandalphon rolled his eyes. He was the only one who had enough time to react to Chamuel’s response before the final Archangel rushed in, blue robe swirling wild around him, wasting no time to get to the front of the semi-circle between the whiteboard and the table.

This commanding, no-nonsense angel is none other than Michael. His Virtue is Kindness.

“Greetings angels, lovely to see you all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on yet another divinely perfect day here in Paradise,” he says as he moves. Once positioned where he wants to be in front, he twirls his attention - with perfect posture - to the rest of the group with hands clasped. “We’re all very important beings, therefore this meeting will be a short one. So I’ll just get straight to the point. Any objections?”

Stoney silence.

"Right. The main reason we’re all here is of course; what to do with the Garden of Eden? Suggestions, anyone?” Two hands rise. “Uriel."

Uriel puts hers down and answers almost bored, "Now that the Planet's population is increasing, ‘the Promised Land’ will have to be transported somewhere else."

Michael takes a deep breath in and out slowly through his nose. "Yes, thank you Uriel, for pointing out the obvious. Anyone else cares to expand on that for perhaps how we may go about doing it? Or, where we should place it?” One hand is still in the air. He hesitates, but no other hands come. “Gabriel."

“Okay so, hear me out,” he says immediately, energized, “I think we should take this advantage that when we move Eden, I elect we place every single type of Aves into it and ship them off together.”

An almost obnoxious groan erupts in unison from the remaining six of them.

“Not this again.” Michael closes his eyes.

Gabriel holds his arms out looking to each and every one of them with disgust. “What? You know you're all thinking the same thing, and if given half a chance - do the exact same thing I just suggested.”

“You bring it up every time.” Uriel presses.

“Yeah? And no one has yet to give me a solid yes or no on it.”

Sandalphon sticks his nose up and smiles, “I think it’s a splendid idea.”

“There, y’see? Sandalphon agrees with me.” Gabriel points at the smaller angel and simply beams.

“He always agrees with you,” mumbles Jophiel leering at the newer angel of Charity, who once again turned and gawked at him.

Gabriel - clueless - continues to praise his little Yes Man. “The angel has taste. He knows where the intelligence lies.”

“Alright, alright, that’s enough,” Michael announces in a clear and sharp tone. He’s stupefied he let it go on this long already. Most likely answer is that he, in fact, thinks Gabriel’s idea is smashing.

“Gabriel, you are correct in your assumption of our collective feelings toward our ‘homages’.” He’ll give him that much, for it’s true. “But. Need I remind you that your request is impossible to accomplish. God Herself made them with an intentional purpose, and you and I both know that She would not take kindly to us mucking about with Her ‘Grand Plan’ in regards to that project of Hers. You know how she gets.” The last statement was a more personal one between the two co-workers/friends.

It reached him. Gabriel slumped back in his chair with a sigh so heavy, one would’ve thought he’d have deflated. “I know, but it’s just… I don’t see the point in them! What purpose do they serve?!”

Michael gave him a sympathetic look. He felt the same, they had discussed it in private. Hell, they all did. Even to Her face in the Beginning. But there truly was nothing to be done.

“I unimpeachably agree with you, “ he said softly, “I truly do. But there is nothing we can do about it. So now I must implore upon you that, me being the Archangel of Kindness, you leave it the fuck alone.”

“Here here!” Chamuel cheered with a fist in the air.

“Shut up, Chamuel,” ordered Michael.

“Sorry.” They sunk back down.

Gabriel looked earnestly at Michael with those big amethyst eyes of his. “But you do agree with me?”

“I have made that quite clear, yes,” the other sighed.

“Okay then. At least that’s something to start with.”

Michael closed his eyes slowly, left them down, then lifted them just as leisurely to keep a calm demeanor. “Now, returning back to Eden. Where to put it, how to put it, and when to put it.” A different hand now raised up. “Raphael, you have an idea?”

“Not quite. This is more in regards to Uzziel, the Cherub Guard that currently resides in the Garden. Has he been informed yet of our intentions to relocate his present work/living space?”

Serene, Michael. Calm and collected. “The Cherub Uzziel will get proper notification from their respective sources in due time when the arrangements and location for the ‘Land of Peace and Tranquility’ have been officially sorted out by us Seven.”

“You mean, he’s not been told?” Raphael stares back at him with wide emerald eyes.

“Ooh, ouch. That’s gonna hurt. Glad it’s not me.” Gabriel grimaced.

Michael tilted his head higher. “That is not our place to deliver such a message.”

“You mean it’s above our paygrade?” Raphael just had to raise an eyebrow at him while saying that.

Michael kept his jaw set, hands clamped tighter than he hoped it showed. “However you wish to see it.”

“I’m sure he’ll be told with enough time to collect himself and get settled in a new position, Raphael,” Jophiel leaned over Uriel to try and reassure his fellow Archangel. Uriel said nothing, but her eyes told them all she was not happy with this invasion. “God would never let anything bad happen to any of Her angels.”

“If She can help it,” Gabriel countered by leaning over Raphael to be face-to-face with the pretty angel. He gave the blonde a mocking smile when the other lowered his eyes at him. Raphael stared with unfocused eyes somewhere else, as if they had clocked out once more. Uriel felt his pain.

Well. Michael was done. Had about all he could handle and no longer cared how long it took to get this project done; they were going to bloody finish it.

“Quite,” he chirped to draw their attention back to him, “So rest yourselves on that subject, all of you. And let’s get back to Eden for the love of God. Please. We’ll start with possible locations.”

He swirled himself to be on one side of the board, miracles a glowing stick of some writing substance to the board and waited. Poised and perfect. “Raise your hands if anyone has a helpful suggestion--”

One hand shot up before the others.

“--and Gabriel that hand better not be about another damn bird.”

The hand sunk back down.

“Thank you.”

He waited for other hands to rise.

They weren’t very forthcoming.

Merciful Heavens, it was going to be a long day.

 

***~~~***

 

3215 B.C. - CENTRAL ASIA

 

They were tired. They had been walking for miles and miles and his wife’s footwear was bearly keeping it together at this point. His was no better. But that was of little consequence to him. He had grown up surrounded by this kind of rough terrain; harsh sand, a cruel sun, unpredictable rock slides. His feet had calloused to a point where most of the time he didn’t wear anything on them anyhow. But his wife was not the same, and he knew that if his own roughened feet had been burning for rest, then with hers...

She would be lucky to feel her feet at all.

They had entered an area that was predominantly mountain-ish hills all made of solid rock with smaller boulders scattered about in various shapes and sizes. It ended with a cliff dipping down to a more pleasing space that continued on and, from where they stood, eventually connected to a river.

He felt his body want to give out at the sight of it, so filled with joy and relief to finally find not only a water source for them both but a direct connection to other human life. All they would need to do is follow the river long enough down and find someone - anyone - who could give them shelter and perhaps something to eat.

He gestured to his wife toward their salvation, and she and he both collapsed, weeping. He did his best to comfort her, draping a bony arm around her shoulders. He bowed his head to hers, did his best to comfort and soothe with reassuring words, although his voice was dry and raspy. They stayed like this for some time, catching their breath.

Neither saw it right away. It had been approaching for some time now, moving among the sand and rocks with ease. Quiet. Deadly. And slinking ever closer.

The couple was leaning against one of the boulders, letting exhaustion take hold of them. The creature slid over that same stone, taking its time, right up above them. Sleek scales absorbing the rays of the sun as it coiled up.

She heard the hiss first. Reacted first. Her scream jarred him to alertness when all he saw was an open mouth lunging at him. Then he blinked.

And the creature was stilled mere inches in front of his face. Fangs out, but no longer moving. The moment his brain registered this, the man panicked-screamed and scrambled back trying to drag his wife with him. The two huddled in gut-wrenching fear and just stared. Panting loudly, whimpering yes, but only staring at him.

A man - who they know wasn’t there before - was leaning against the boulder, holding the long serpent by the head with one hand. He eyed it disinterested. Turning it this way and that. He wasn’t the least bit afraid of it and treated it as if it were no more than some pottery selling on the market.

His behavior, to them, was strange. But his appearance enhanced it. They could only see his upper body; his lower half being shielded by the body of the boulder itself.

And what they saw of his upper half, was his naked torso and arms. No clothes whatsoever. Greasy black curly hair with an unusual looking gold headpiece atop it. Lopsided. On his back, which made the man feel that he had surely died, were what looked to be a pair of enormous, black-feathered wings. Near the ground of this unusual being, the man would occasionally see puffs of smoke coming from behind the rock. Odd grumbling sounds emanated there as well, and he swears the other side slithered another serpent - only red and much, much longer.

The man and his wife were too frightened to move, unable to speak. They clung to one another and trembled in a cowering mess. They didn’t know who or what he was, or what he wanted. Or why he saved them. But when the being lifted his head and locked eyes with him, he smiled.

The being leaned over the rock and stretched out its wings further. Then, after observing them both for a time, he/it spoke. “Hello there. Are you lost? You look lost.”

The man and woman looked at one another then turned back to the being. Its voice was friendly. It didn’t appear to have a weapon and it hadn’t yet tried to get closer to them. It simply stood where they first saw it, still holding the serpent in one hand. The man had never seen anyone or anything like them.

“Who are you?” his voice choked out as loud as it could.

“That doesn’t really matter, does it?” he/it stated with that mellow tone. The small smile never leaving.

A strange, warm sensation wafted over him. For whatever reason, the man found himself agreeing with the winged man. It didn’t seem to matter who he was at all. Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell his wife felt the same. The two were now slumping a bit more, relaxing their muscles and feeling more at ease where they sat. It was so instantaneous that it didn’t register to either of them that it might’ve been a concern to ponder on. But alas, they had been tired from the get-go and were not working at the top of their faculties.

At some point in time, the name for that would be known as ‘Easy Prey’.

The being took a moment and scanned their surroundings. The man noted it stopped in the direction of the river. “Ah, you’re close to getting back to your own kind I see.”

Own kind? The man briefly pondered on before the being continued speaking, “What a fortuitous meeting this is, indeed. I wish you luck on your travels. But before you take your leave, would you mind coming closer to me, hmm? I wish to show you something.”

“Why?” his wife spoke up first.

“Because. I desire to teach you a lesson that will be greatly beneficial to you and your people in the future,” it purred out slow and syrupy. The words wrapped around them and clung to their skin, lifting them up to their feet and drawing them forward. Whether or not they knew they had moved of their own volition didn’t seem to bother them. Neither did the knowledge that since meeting this man, he hadn’t blinked once in all that time.

They were standing in front of the boulder, facing the man with the greasy hair and lopsided headpiece. His smile was more alluring than the man remembers it being before.

The being gestured to the serpent in his hand, taking his free hand and sliding it under the body and lifted up to them like an offering.

“You see this? This serpent I have in my hands? It tried to kill you. It lunged at you with no other purpose than to end your life. As so many of them have done to countless of you Humans. And what have you been able to do in return? Hm?” He slid his gaze from one pair of eyes to the other, slow and methodically. They didn’t notice.

“Nothing,” the being whispered. “You’ve never even laid a hand on a single one of them, have you?”

The couple shook their heads with a sluggish effort.

“No, of course not. How could you? They’re impossible to kill. Protected by The Evil One Himself. None of you stand a chance against them,” he informed them in a near sing-songy way.

The man’s eyes darkened, a wicked grin stretched over his face. “But I can help change that for you. I know how to kill a serpent. Would you like me to share this knowledge with you, so you may teach others and have a better standing against them for once?”

“Yes,” they breathed in unison. They were hungry to learn.

The being closed his eyes, a growl rumbling from deep down its throat. He unclosed them and laid the serpent across the top of the boulder. A smaller stone suddenly in the other hand. “Watch carefully,” he ordered and raised the smaller stone high above his head.

They watched in rapt silence as the winged being slammed the rock down hard on the serpent’s head.

 

***~~~***

 

Astaroth hummed to himself, draped unashamed over his beloved pet as he watched the two Humans make their way toward the river below. His own tan serpent wound around his shoulders and down an arm where he was absently stroking the head.

He felt them show up next to him. Standing rigidly stiff, as always. They were so insanely easy to sense he knew he could pick them out in a crowd of demons blindfolded. It was never hard because Leviathan was one of the few demons from below that he honestly enjoyed the company of.

For Astaroth, that said a lot.

The two kept in silence for a while, watching the couple struggle to keep moving.

“Secgan bidden you dost pone?”5 asked Leviathan.

Astaroth peeked up at the other who had their hands respectfully clasped behind their back, “I don’t know what you mean.” He rested his chin down on his arm and continued humming, albeit quieter.

“Gese, you dost.”6

Astaroth shrugged, “If you say so.”

Leviathan let out a forced huff. The demon of Sloth knew he had already gotten on their nerves. He loved to tease, but that wasn’t necessarily the direction he meant to go this time.

"Pearf I gemanian you pone I am a snaca as pearf? Are you aerbepoht afandung to mierran me and fremedlaecan yourself?"7

That got Astaroth to snap his head around and look at the other, offended.

"You wound me, sir! I thought we were friends.” Leviathan rolled their eyes to that.

Astaroth ignored the reaction and pointed to the Humans in front. “Look out there. Go on.”

He kept ushering for Leviathan to look, and when they finally did, they actually went even more rigid than they already were.

The two Humans had reached the river. However, they seemed to have been cornered by a serpent who was acting quite aggressive to the couple. The female kept grasping the male, trying to pull him back. But the male repeatedly shoved her hands off. He picked up a nearby hefty stone and took several steps closer to the animal. The male was absolutely determined to face-off against the serpent; no if, and, or but’s about it.

Astaroth smiled, “Watch the show,” and got himself comfortable.

The man did exactly as he had been shown. In every way, right down to even the same facial expression. The look on his face and that of his wife when he hit only the ground and the serpent struck out faster than either of them could see to sink its deadly fangs into his arm, was priceless to the lazy demon.

The wind carried the female’s screams all the way to where they were perched, observing.

“I told them how to do it. I never said it would work every time,” he spoke it with an air of awe from what he witnessed. As the male Human’s convulsing slowed, Astaroth turned and stretched across his red beast, facing his friend. He threw one arm up dramatically in the air. “See? I’m evening the balance. Besides, they’ll never have a chance with you."

Leviathan gave him a long, hard, searching stare. They had a distinct feeling this had nothing to do with ‘evening the balance’ and more to do with a personal vendetta against a particular Archdemon and his favorite Omega.

But they weren’t going to bring it up. Not now, possibly not ever to this demon. They were sure it would serve no purpose but to open a can of worms they themself wanted no part of.

Leviathan settled for biting their tongue. They shook their head wearily. "I hop for your gepanc you gecunnan hwilc you are gewyrcan."8

"Hmm." Was the only answer he got as Astaroth turned his attention back to the dramatic scene still playing out before them.