-1906 BC, Cities of the Plain, Sodom-
Aziraphale scanned the crowds of revelers in the streets of Sodom for a glint of yellow, slitted eyes, or a flash of ember-red hair. Music filled the streets, and a drunken human stumbled into him, made a lewd suggestion, and then stumbled on, leaning on his only slightly less inebriated companion.
The angel hardly noticed as he hurried on again, his sandaled feet pounding against the packed earth of the city street in an ungainly jog. He was in a panic to find Crawly. He'd learned from one of Abraham's wives that God had sent Michael and Sandalphon to destroy the five cities of the plain for their wickedness and depravity. Crawly had been doing his job a little too well, it seemed, and God's wrath had been irked. Abraham had begged for mercy, and God had said that he would spare them, if Abraham could find ten righteous people amongst the sinners.
Tonight seemed to be the celebration of some festival to earthly pleasures though, so Aziraphale wasn't counting on it. He had to find Crawly and warn him before the earth started quaking, and the sky spat down fire. Aziraphale wasn't exactly keen on being around when that happened either.
He stopped at another cross street to scan the crowds again, and was once more jostled by another partygoer.
"Hey there, love. Ye can' jus' stop in th’ middle of th' road like tha'. Ye made me spill my wine," a familiar voice slurred.
Aziraphale spun, smiling in relief. "Crawly, thank God. I've been looking for you everywhere."
"Angel!" He gave Aziraphale a sloppy grin. "D'you come fer th' party? 'Ssss gonna be great. They're lightin' a big bonfire a' midnigh'. Gonna dance naked through th' streets."
"No. I did not come for the party," Aziraphale said, tartly. "I came to warn you that the bonfire may be a lot bigger than anticipated."
Crawly frowned in wine-slogged befuddlement. "Whatchu mean?"
"Sober up, will you. I can't talk to you like this."
"Bu', aaangel. I'sss a party," Crawly whined.
"Now, serpent," Aziraphale demanded, "or I shall leave, and let you fend for yourself with the rest of them. I'm not going to be discorpoated on your account."
"Don't go," Crawly pleaded. "Look, 'm sober. 'M sober." The demon gave a shudder, twitching his head to the side, and spat on the ground. "What's this about Archangels now?"
"They're going to destroy the city," Aziraphale repeated. "We need to get out of here, now."
Crawly looked around at all the people in the street, drinking and laughing, happy as any person who spent their life working their way toward the grave in labor and toil would be when given a few days to indulge in those pleasures available to them-- sloth, gluttony, and lust, mostly.
"What? He's just going to destroy the whole city, because He found out that people are having a good time?"
"He means to make an example of them," Aziraphale said. "He wants to show people what happens to those who put earthly pleasure before their devotion to God. He wants Sodom to be synonymous with sin."
Crawly's eyes went wide. "We have to warn everyone."
"There's no time for that now. We need to go before Michael gets here. We can't be seen together.”
Crawly's face crumpled, all the joy gone from the night. "We can't just leave them all to die."
"This isn't my doing," Aziraphale protested. "It's His divine will. You can't go against God."
"A million-year tumble into a burning pit of sulfur says I can," Crawly grumbled.
Aziraphale's eyes went sad and pleading. "Not this time, my dear. Please, come with me. There isn't time for theological argument. There's time for running, or burning with the others. Pick one."
Crawly's head moved back and forth in serpentine indecision, and he let out a growl. "Fine. Lead the way then."
Aziraphale clapped him on the shoulder and gave him a grateful smile, and then he turned and hurried back the way he had come, towards the city gate.
"FIRE!" Crawly yelled at the top of his lungs as he ran after the angel. "EVACUATE THE CITY! FIRE! PARTY AT THE RIVER! DRUNKEN SKINNY DIPPING! BRING YOUR FRIENDS!"
The Sodomites mostly laughed and ignored them as they ran past, but some few of them opined to their companions that the day had been a hot one, and a trip down to the river for some naked swimming might be a nice way to cool off, or heat things up, as the case may be.
They had nearly made it to the gate when the press of people became too thick for them to run any longer, and their progress slowed to a crawl as they tried to slip between the press of bodies, most of whom were too drunken to even notice that they were being jostled.
Crawly was fitting himself into a gap, made by Aziraphale finally giving up his attempts to politely excuse himself and just pushing his way through, when the angel was grabbed by a large man and spun around out of the way before him.
“Well, hello there, my lovely,” the man rumbled, one hand on Aziraphale’s arm as the other snaked up under his robes to grope at the rounded thigh and curve of buttocks revealed.
“Excuse me,” Aziraphale exclaimed, batting at the hand. “Unhand me this instant.”
“Come on, give us a kiss, my beauty. I’ll make it so good for you.” The man pouted out his lips and leaned over Aziraphale, breathing boozy breath into his face.
Aziraphale’s eyes went wide and he struggled against the man. “Crawly, help!”
“All right there, that’s enough,” Crawly said, pushing in through the press. “Let him go. He’s not for the likes of you. We were just leaving.”
The man set Aziraphale down, and left off molesting the angel long enough to turn his attentions on Crawly instead. “We could make it a threesome, if you like, Red. I’m man enough for the both of you.”
“Perhaps another time,” Crawly said, “we were just going.” He grabbed Aziraphale’s arm and started pulling him away, but the man grabbed Aziraphale’s other arm to hold him back.
“Hang on a minute now,” the man said. “Don’t be so hasty. If it’s like that, we can share him.”
“We really can’t,” Crawly growled. “You’d better just go back to your drinking. I’m sure you’ll find someone else to warm your bed. Well,… it’s bound to be warm up anyway, one way or another.”
The man ignored Crawly and went back to Aziraphale. “Don’t go with him,” he said in a breathy voice. “You need a real man. Stay with me instead.” He fastened his mouth onto Aziraphale’s neck, and Aziraphale let go of Crawly’s hand to smack the top of the man’s head in a series of quick smacks. “Stop that!”
The man grabbed Aziraphale’s hand by the wrist to hold him still, but paid no more notice than that. “Loosen up a bit, pretty. It will be better for you if you don’t struggle, but I’ll have you either way.”
“You most certainly will not,” Aziraphale said, forcefully, and he pushed the man back hard. He stumbled and landed on his arse in the street.
Crawly grabbed Aziraphale by the hand and pulled him through the crowd to the gate, while the angel made disgusted noises and rubbed at his damp neck.
“Hey, get back here!” the man called after them as he struggled to his feet.
“I’m starting to think that God might have a point,” Crawly muttered, as they finally broke through the crowd and took up their mad dash again.
They made it out of the city gates into the relative quiet outside, and they stopped there to catch their breath, looking around at the empty plain surrounding the city.
“Are you the angels that Abraham sent?” a gravelly voice asked from the shadows of the gate.
Aziraphale whirled on the man there, moving to step between the him and the demon. “Who are you?”
The man rose from his seat in the shadows and came forward into the light of the moon, bowing low. “I am Lot. Abraham is my uncle. He said that God was sending two angels to count the righteous people of Sodom. Are you them? You must be. Please, my lords, I pray you. It is late. Come with me to my humble home. Rest yourselves and wash your feet, and you may be on your way in the morning.”
“Um,” Aziraphale hedged, glancing first at his sandaled feet, and then to Lot, before looking back to Crawly, uncertainly.
“Naw,” Crawly said to Lot. “We’re fine here in the street. This is a nice street. Maybe we’ll catch you tomorrow.”
“Please accept my hospitality,” Lot persisted. “I would be honored to house two such lovely and most holy beings.”
“Can’t any of you people take no for an answer?” Crawly demanded.
Just then, an angry mob of burly men burst through the city gates, led by Aziraphale’s amorous new acquaintance. They stopped, looking around while their eyes adjusted to the relative dimness of the moonlight beyond the city torches, and then the leader of the group pointed to Aziraphale and Crawly. “There they are,” he said. “I want the blonde one, but you fellows can share the other.”
“Yes, that’s us, angels,” Aziraphale said quickly, pulling Lot along behind them as they ran from the angry mob. “Take us to your home so that we can count your family. Quite quickly, we’re in a hurry.”
Aziraphale peeked out the curtains as Lot’s wife and daughters busied themselves with making food for their guests. “They’re still out there,” he whispered to Crawly.
“Can’t you just smite them all?” Crawly asked.
“I’m a principality,” Aziraphale said. “We leave the smiting to the archangels.”
“Yeah?” Crawly asked, with a cynical flash of his teeth, more a snarl than a smile. “And what are we supposed to do when the real archangels get here. What do you think they’ll do if they find me?”
“We just need to earn ourselves a little time,” Aziraphale said. “Surely their ardor will cool eventually.”
“I dunno, angel. They seem pretty intent.” Crawly moved in beside Aziraphale to look out himself.
The mob of men had grown and surrounded Lot’s house. They were making a dreadful racket of suggestive jeers, passing around wineskins, and making use of each other while they waited to get their hands on the angel.
“I’m not sure if I should be flattered or terrified. What has gotten into that man?”
“Sinner got a taste of the divine and decided that one taste wasn’t enough,” Crawly said. His gaze lingered on the beard-burn now reddening Aziraphale’s neck, and wished that Michael would get here a bit sooner and start the smiting.
“Perhaps if I went out there and tried to talk some sense into them,” Aziraphale started, but Crawly cut him off.
“No! You aren’t stepping one angelic toe out of this house until they’re all burned away to ashes. They would rip you apart.”
Aziraphale shuddered. “What do you suggest we do, then? If we stay here when the fire starts raining down, we’ll be discorporated.”
“Better to burn out than to be raped to death by an angry mob.”
Aziraphale let out a sound like a whimper.
Lot came back in from the other room. “Your admirers still out there then?” he asked.
Aziraphale sighed. “I don’t think they’re going away on their own.”
Lot hummed. “I know Karik. He has his passions, but he’s usually reasonable enough. I’ll have a word with them. See if we can’t make some kind of compromise.”
“Oh, do you think you could?” Aziraphale asked with relief.
Lot nodded, looking thoughtfully over at his two young daughters. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said, and went out to greet the mob.
“What sort of compromise is he going to make with a sex-hungry mob?” Crowley asked in a whisper.
“Maybe he plans to take my place,” Aziraphale suggested with a mixture of disapproval and gratitude.
Somehow Crawly didn’t think that was what Lot had in mind.
“Hey there, Karik,” Lot said, as he approached the leader of the mob, “nice night for it.”
“Lot,” Karik grunted. “You have something I want. Send out the blonde and the redhead and there won’t be any trouble.”
Lot clucked his tongue regretfully. “Sorry, but I can’t do that. They’re my guests.”
“We only want to get to know them a little better,” Karik reasoned. “Send them out so we can introduce ourselves.”
“Yeah,” called a scrawny man in the back, with a rude motion. “Introduce them to our cocks!”
There was a round of laughter from the mob.
“Those men are angels of God. I can’t just hand them over to you. It would be more than my life’s worth to disrespect the Almighty so. I have two young daughters that have never known the touch of a man. Perhaps you’d like to introduce yourselves to them instead? Provided one of you married them tomorrow, of course.”
“What do we want with unexperienced little girls?” Karik asked.
“They aren’t so little anymore,” Lot said. “My eldest is nearly fifteen. Surely you would prefer the soft touch of a willing woman, and a damp quim, over a struggle for a few thrusts in a dry hole.”
“Don’t tell me what I want. You’ve always looked down on my tastes, Lot, but I don’t want your scrawny, virgin daughters, you judgmental old fool. I want to thrust my manhood between the soft, fleshy cheeks of your pretty angel. I want a man, not a little girl. If I can’t have him, then maybe I’ll just make do with you for a while. I was going to make it sweet for him, but I’m not so inclined to be gentle with you.”
Karik took a menacing step forward, and Lot stumbled back a few steps before he turned and fled back towards the house.
“You could send out the girls too,” one of the men in the mob called after him. “I’d take a turn with one of them.”
“No, no, that’s fine,” Crawly said, backing away from the younger of the two girls. She advanced on him with her sponge.
“Just sit down, dear. It’s quite nice,” Aziraphale said from his seat, where the elder girl was washing his feet with warm, flower-scented water.
“Take off your shoes,” the girl prodded, looking down at the strange snake-skin boots he wore. “Let me wash you.”
“What’s with you people and foot washing?” Crawly asked, retreating behind Aziraphale’s chair
“Just let her do it. You’ll like it.”
“That’s easy for you to say, angel,” Crawly hissed in a low whisper. “I’m not wearing shoes. Do you think that she might start questioning why an angel has scales on his feet?”
“They haven’t said anything about your eyes,” Aziraphale observed.
Crawly was about to growl out a retort when Lot burst back through the door, breathing hard, and held it shut behind him, as fists pounded against the wood. His shirt was torn at the collar.
“I take it they didn’t go for your compromise?” Crawly asked, raising a brow.
“Not exactly,” Lot said with a squeak, as he nearly fell forward when the door was hit hard against his back. He grunted, throwing all of his strength against it again, as the door rattled in its frame.
“Break the windows,” a voice called from outside the house.
“Do something,” Aziraphale begged Crawly.
“Right,” Crawly said, taking a step to the door, expression hardening. “This isn’t funny anymore. Move out of the way, Lot.”
As soon as Lot let off his weight against the door, he was thrust forward, and fell to his knees, and the door swung open.
“Oi,” Crawly yelled at the mob, “you lot! No, means no!” He thrust his hands forward with a scream, and a brilliant white light shone from his palms, pushing the mob back in a wave. They fell over like wheat in a high wind, blinded and clutching at their eyes.
Crawly brushed his hands together, and slammed the door shut, turning back to Aziraphale with a self-satisfied smirk. “That will have bought us a bit of time. We need to get out of here now. Come on, Lot, grab your things and we’ll lead you away from the city.”
“Away from the city?” Lot asked in confusion. “I don’t think that’s necessary. They’ve got the idea now. I expect they’ll just leave.”
“It isn’t just them. God means to destroy the cities of the plain for their wickedness,” Aziraphale explained. “You must take your family and go.”
“Destroy them? Surely not. There is wickedness here, yes, but there’s wickedness in every corner of the world. The Lord cannot mean to kill everyone. There are innocents here as well, children.”
Crawly threw up his hands in agitation. “Yeah, well, He doesn’t have a great track record for caring about the kids. We don’t have time to save anyone else. Get your things, and let’s GO!”
“But… our friends… our neighbors…”
“Come on, Angel,” Crawly said, turning for the door. “I’m getting you out of here. If you have any sense, Lot, you won’t be far behind.” He stood, holding the door open for Aziraphale, who was frozen, looking between Lot’s family and Crawly.
“Angel,” Crawly persisted, and Aziraphale waved at his feet to dry them, and then hurried to slip his sandals back on.
Once Aziraphale started for the door, Lot lost his indecision, and grabbed one daughter by each hand, calling after his wife to follow.
They stepped over the bodies of men lying on the ground, groaning with pain, as they made their way across Lot’s front yard.
Aziraphale was just stepping gingerly around the body of the fallen Karik when the man’s hand snapped out, quick as a viper, and latched onto his ankle. Aziraphale kicked him with his free foot, but Karik held fast as he growled and used his grip on Aziraphale to pull himself to his feet, grappling his way up the angel’s body as he rose. Blood dripped from his eyes, as his hands groped at Aziraphale’s face.
Crawly noticed that Aziraphale was no longer at his side, and turned back, blessing under his breath when he saw what was going on.
“Honestly,” he growled. Crawly grabbed Aziraphale around the middle and pulled him bodily away from the bleeding horror. “This is my angel. Back off!”
Aziraphale gave him a soft smile, and Crawly rolled his eyes. They started off again, but before they could make it more than a few steps, the earth began to shake beneath them.
“Out of time,” Crawly said.
“Nothing for it,” Aziraphale agreed.
In an instant, and rustle of feathers, they both manifested and flicked out their wings. One set of white feathers and one set of black gleamed glossy with reflected moonlight. Aziraphale grabbed Lot under one arm and his wife under the other, and Crawly grabbed the two girls. With a prodigious effort, and the strain of muscles, they both took off into the air, with great beats of their wings, as the earth shook and cracked, and great flames erupted from the fissures beneath them.
They flew as far as they could away from the city, before their strength finally gave out, and they set down on a hill overlooking the river plain, as the sky glowed red and Sodom burned below them in the valley.
The mortals clutched at each other and wept as they watched their home and nearly everyone they knew burn.
“That should serve them well enough,” a voice carried softly to them over the sounds of destruction.
“Michael,” Aziraphale hissed, grabbing Crawly’s arm. “Get out of here.”
Crawly flicked his wings back out. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Just go,” Aziraphale insisted.
“Thanks for this-- finding me, getting me out of there. I owe you one,” Crawly said.
“I swear, I saw something over here,” a punctilious voice said from the same direction.
“Thank me by getting out of here,” Aziraphale pleaded.
“Right, well, see you around, angel,” Crawly said, and with a few flaps of black wings, he was gone.
“Over here,” Michael said. “I see a few that escaped.”
Michael and a short, portly, angel emerged from the brush at the hilltop and started for Lot and his family. Aziraphale put himself between the cowering humans and the holy host. “Hello, Michael,” he said, flexing his wings so that the other angels wouldn’t mistake him for another human in the dark.
Michael squinted at him. “Aziraphale, is that you?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “I’ve retrieved Abraham’s nephew and his family from the city.”
“Who?” Sandalphon asked.
“Lot,” Aziraphale said. “God had given His word to Abraham, to spare his family.”
“He did?” Sandalphon asked, looking to Michael.
Michael shrugged. “We were supposed to find him and check to see if there were any righteous people in the city. Sodom would have been spared if we could find ten good people amongst the wicked. I didn’t see any need to waste our time.”
Aziraphale huffed, but didn’t argue with the archangels. “Well, I’ve saved them.”
Michael shrugged again. “Okay.” She turned to the cowering mortals, “hurry off then. Don’t look back, lest you be consumed as well.”
None of the humans moved.
“I said go,” Michael yelled at them, and they struggled to their feet in the face of her wrath, and began hurrying away.
Lot’s wife looked back at them over her shoulder, and Sandalphon let out a cry of joy and snapped out his hand at her, cackling. Where she had stood a moment before, was a light-pinkish pillar of salt. Lot and the girls screamed, and began running. Aziraphale looked on in horror.
“What?” Sandalphon asked at Michael’s reproving glare. “You told them not to look back.”
Michael sighed-- the put-upon sigh of all superiors forced to endure the company of overenthusiastic amatures. “Well, come on then, we have four other cities to do before sunrise,” she said, and strode away across the crest of the hill.
Sandalphon clapped his hands together in glee and hurried after.
Aziraphale bit his lip, looking off into the air the way Crawly had gone.
Sometimes, he wondered if he really was on the right side.
As the ash settled over what had once been the five cities of the plain, a fertile river valley so full of green that it had reminded him of Eden, and the sun rose pink over the horizon of a blackened wasteland, Crawly stood looking over the destruction and tucked his wings tight around himself like a cloak. The burned earth was warm beneath his scaled feet.
“Crawly,” Aziraphale said quietly, as he approached.
“Hello, angel,” he replied, voice hollow.
“Glad to see you made it through all right.”
“Did I?” he asked. Somehow, it didn’t feel like it. “Do you think He’ll ever get tired of this?”
“Get tired of what?”
“Letting them build it all up, just so He can get angry and drown it all under a sea of water, or burn it in a rain of fire, or bury it beneath the earth.”
Aziraphale stayed quiet, and Crawly spun on him, anger and tears in his eyes. “What’s the point of it all?" he demanded, grabbing the front of Aziraphale’s robe.
“Well,..” Aziraphale said, not struggling against the hold. “I think He’s testing them. They failed this one, but maybe they won’t fail the next.”
Crawly let his hands drop away. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Lead them into temptation just so they can know the wrath of God.”
“But you have to. You’re a demon. That’s your job.”
“And, I suppose the wrath bit is your job then, is it?”
“Well,…” Aziraphale hedged.
“Yeah, thought so. What if we just didn’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I pretend to do the tempting, and you pretend to do the wrath, but instead we just let them get on with it, and see what happens.”
“We can’t do that,” Aziraphale said, scandalized.
“Who would know?” Crawly asked.
“Just think about it.” Crawly started away.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going for a swim, need to wash my feet,” Crawly called back. When there was no response, he added. “Are you coming?”
Aziraphale hurried after him.