Actions

Work Header

reasons wretched and divine

Work Text:

Crowley lets the door hit him on the way out. Didn’t mean to, really—just the price to pay for pausing in the doorway to steal one last backward glance at Aziraphale. The fury and heartbreak painted plainly on the angel’s face only makes the whole blasted situation worse. 

The evening chill hits Crowley all at once, then seeps in slowly with the breeze sweeping in off the channel, up the chalk cliff-sides, through his disheveled hair. The grass is already wet with dew between his toes; he hadn’t even stopped to put on his shoes. Even without his sunglasses and with his slitted pupils dilated almost round, he can barely make out a thing except the stars in the sky and the faintest sliver of a waning moon.

It’s a dark, but not stormy, night. It ought to be stormy, Crowley thinks. That would be much more fitting.

Somewhere behind him is a cottage, its For Sale sign freshly plucked from the front path and yellow-orange lamplight spilling out from behind the curtains. Crowley would rather like to turn back, to waltz in through the front door and sit back down with that cup of cocoa Aziraphale had made him, what feels like hours ago. He doesn’t know what he’d say, though: Yes, alright, I know we’ve had a fight but it’s freezing outside and you are very warm, angel, and I promise I really don’t mind that pattern for the drapes.  

But. Well. He’d committed to this argument the moment he admitted that none of this was about the bloody drapery, hadn’t he?

You go too fast for me, Aziraphale once said, which seems terribly hypocritical from where Crowley stands now. Aziraphale had gone from drapery to… whatever the fuck their argument escalated into, zero to ninety straight through Crowley’s cold-blooded heart in three seconds flat.

“If it is so horrible to love me, Crowley, then leave.”

Crowley has been walking east along the cliffs, stewing, for the better part of an hour now. His insides twist and turn like his snake form somehow trying to tie itself in a knot. He thinks he might throw up, though he’s not sure what that will accomplish; a few sips of abandoned hot cocoa notwithstanding, he and Aziraphale haven’t eaten much in the way of solid food in a day or so. The moving van rental company charges by the day, and they still have an entire half-cottage’s worth of antique furniture to unpack. 

He hopes Aziraphale doesn’t try to move anything heavy while he’s gone. Angel or not, Crowley knows how his back can bother him. 

(In case you’re wondering, here’s the gist of how it went:

“Darling, please, I can see you don’t like them.”

“No, really they’re fine! Very… Victorian.”

“You hate them.”

“You’re reading too much into this.”

“If this is going to work, you must tell me what you want! This is not my space, or yours, it is ours, and it won’t do for you to appease me as if what you want doesn’t matter.”

A heavy sigh. “What are we even doing here, angel?”

“What?”

“You. Me. South Downs. Playing house like a couple of human newlyweds, what are we doing?”

“...I had thought… Well. I had thought we were building a home together.”

“A home. Yes. Jolly good, that, a home.”

“My dear, you aren’t making sense.”

“You’re the one going on about fucking drapes as if that will matter the next time Heaven and Hell decide to pop on in!”

“Are you worried about that already? We’ve bought time—”

“Yes, yes, and how much of it? It’s already been a year and a half since the world almost ended. How much longer, a few years? A decade maybe? A century, who cares, it will happen eventually. Us against the world, angel, against the forces of Heaven and Hell and the Laws of Creation and Whoever else is out there, and we’re behaving like a pair of pensioners, picking out drapes!”

“Now, you know as well as I do that we cannot live our lives in fear.”

“Can’t very well live in denial, either.”

“I do not want to live as if the next war will start tomorrow. And I am sure you don’t, either.”

“Of course I don’t, what kind of question is that?”

“It’s… Well, aren’t you tired, Crowley?”

"Yes, yes I’m tired, of course I’m tired, but there’s no rest for the wicked, is there? Not when the wicked’s gone and fallen in love with an angel.”

“I see. Well, then, I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Angel, don’t—”

“If it is so horrible to love me, Crowley, then leave.”

There, now. You’re all caught up. Though Crowley over there is still having quite some trouble processing it all.)

There’s a particularly nice outcropping coming up, right before the shore banks northward. It seems as good a place as any to stop, stand on the edge of a cliff, and yell into the void.

With the panoramic view of sea-shimmering darkness and the moon barely visible in the sky, it almost reminds Crowley of the Beginning. Well—the Before the Beginning, actually, the Sacred Prequel, when God and the angels existed but not the Earth, not the Universe, just the Formless Void and the light of God’s Grace in Crowley’s heart, in his mind, beneath his wings. 

Some demons, the particularly insufferable kind that peaked early on and haven’t done anything very Rebellious since, still share stories of their Fall like it happened yesterday. Crowley never quite related to their exaggerated descriptions, which only grew gorier with the passing centuries, of the Almighty hacking into their metaphysical bodies with a metaphysical axe and cutting the divine Grace out from their metaphysical bleeding chest cavities before casting the carcasses into the Bottomless Pit. 

For Crowley, though, it happened slowly. Like a pot of water set to boil over medium-low Hellfire, His Grace evaporated from him slowly, until one day he realized quite suddenly that it was gone entirely, leaving him a burning kind of cold, blinking helplessly into clouds of sulphur and darkness. He couldn’t really be blamed, could he? They’d made it look cool, the others. Hanging out ‘round back, slacking off on the job and leaving star-systems unfinished, rolling up Questions and lighting them between their teeth and puffing away, having a grand old time. Crowley only took a couple drags. A few but why?’ s, maybe one but why not?

The Fall was a little less dramatic for him, sure. Less 3-2-1 action, more the kind of thing you capture in a time lapse. But once he realized what had happened it was far too late: the wretched chill had already begun to set in. He had gotten used to it more or less over time. A few centuries it took, to feel something close to warmth again, something that dulled the sharp existential horror of being forsaken. 

(And even that was only thanks to Aziraphale. His angel. His personal fountain of Grace. The thought of losing him, whether to Heaven or Hell or Crowley’s own pigheaded stupidity, is nothing short of soul-crushing. The thought that it might be inevitable is worse.)

On the cliff-side, Crowley shivers. The wind off the channel doesn’t let up and probably isn’t planning on it any time soon. He unfolds his wings and wraps them around his body—he hadn’t stopped to grab a coat, either.

There is no such thing as happily ever after for immortal beings—certainly not for a star-crossed pair of them that’ve had targets drawn on their backs by every Power that Be.

Crowley yanks at his hair, unfurls his wings, and cries out uselessly at the ink-black sea. 

“Just leave! Us! Alone!”

Crowley.

And suddenly, instantaneously, there is light so blinding it burns his eyes like Holy Water. Crowley falls to his knees, palms pressed to the grass as the dew evaporates beneath them, tries to scream but can’t pull in the air. His charcoal-colored wings cower limply behind him, blown back with the sheer force of it. 

Crowley, comes the voice again, if “voice” is even the correct word to describe the way it seems to come from everywhere and nowhere, resonating through his body and mind at every frequency. It shakes the ground and stills the air, landing like a blow over his shoulders and a whisper in his ear.

“No,” Crowley breathes, his hands curling over his ears. “This isn’t…”

Isn’t it? You speak to Me often. It is time I spoke back.

It’s everything and nothing at all like being spoken to by Satan, the Adversary, Ruler of the Pit. The ever-present fury is absent, replaced by an equally terrifying tone of… patience. This Voice does not shout, does not threaten, has an almost feminine edge. Beneath every word is a universe of meaning, a looming power Crowley hasn’t felt since before the Beginning, and he trembles where he fell.

“God,” he gasps. That’s all he can say. He keeps his head down and his eyes screwed shut. 

You are usually more forthcoming, Crowley.

Somewhere in Crowley’s mind, he has the wherewithal to be surprised by the use of his name. Demon, Snake, even his angelic name stripped from him in the Fall, any of these would have struck him less than simply Crowley. He flinches away from it.

“Six thousand years,” Crowley croaks, his throat as dry as the desert. “You… haven’t spoken to me… in six thousand years.” In his head, Crowley asks, Why now? But he knows better than to say it out loud. He knows better than to Question.

Only a few miles away, Aziraphale sits in their cottage, probably on the floor because they haven’t moved in any of the couches yet, probably sipping cold cocoa, maybe staring out the window waiting for Crowley to come home, maybe cursing his name, maybe reading a book to distract himself. Horror trickles into Crowley’s stomach and churns like the waters below. 

You need not be so nervous.

Crowley uproots fistfuls of grass in his hands without really meaning to. He tries very hard not to throw up. 

I see. You are worried about your Principality.

“He is not mine!” The words rip themselves from Crowley’s throat almost on their own accord as he jerks back, kneeling up and daring, for the first time, to open his eyes. His pupils constrict to slits against the burning brightness but he looks anyway, able to make out the barest hint of Something standing—hovering—above him: a formless, shimmering silhouette, larger than life, made itself of pure light. 

Your Principality reverberates through Crowley’s mind, his head pounding with it. He will deny Aziraphale, deny ever knowing him, deny ever being loved by him if only God would pass the angel over in whatever comes next.

You do not need to worry. He is calming now. The tears have stopped.

For the briefest of moments once the meaning registers, Crowley forgets himself and feels a sharp pang of relief. Then he realizes what this means, what he should have known from the start—

This is God, the Almighty, the Creator, Omniscient and Omnipotent. There is nowhere to hide.

It would be funny if it weren’t so bloody terrifying, Crowley thinks. The entire almost-Apocalypse went by without a word, not so much as a quick cameo from anyone but a useless Spokesperson, but now Crowley’s having a bit of a shitty evening and God suddenly decides it’s as good a time as any to intervene in blazing glory as if a demon in a lover’s spat were Abraham and the cliffs of South Downs in southern England were Mount Moriah. 

When Crowley and Aziraphale’s true allegiances were discovered, Heaven and Hell had worked together to bring them to an end. Holy Water and Hellfire, punishments fitting the crimes. It hadn’t worked, of course, owing to a spot of cleverness and the help of a very vague sixteenth century witch.

But this is God. There are no clever tricks to save them here. 

“Whatever You think of me,” Crowley rasps, his eyes watering, “You must not think of Aziraphale.”

And what do I think of you?

Crowley takes a long, deep breath, trying not to flinch. “You… You say that as if I shouldn’t presume to know. As if it’s hard to deduce how much contempt You must hold for me, an unforgivable creature of the Bottomless Pit. But You must not hate Aziraphale.”

He realizes too late that he’d just tried to tell the Almighty Ruler of Heaven and Earth what to do. But for Aziraphale’s sake, he shoves down the terror and squares his shoulders against the weight of the oncoming Judgment. 

I do not hate.

“No?” Crowley unfurls his wings, stretching them out at his sides. He holds them high, black stains in this pocket of Heavenly light. “Well, neither does Aziraphale. He has only ever wanted to serve You, and Your Ineffable Plan. He has only ever wanted to do Good! If fraternizing with a demon is all that it takes to corrupt him in Your eyes, then—”

Aziraphale is not corrupted. His Grace shines brightest in all of Heaven.

Crowley blinks. Stares, his eyes burning. The relief comes to him slowly. “Oh,” he replies, the breath punched out of him. He straightens his spine and braces himself. “Well then. As long as we are laying the guilt where it belongs, best be getting on with it, then.”

A brief pause. 

You speak of guilt.

“Of course I speak of bloody guilt!”

This is not a trial.

“You’re… You’re God! You’re the Judge, what else would this be?” Crowley is certainly shouting now—shouting into the blinding face of the Almighty. He cannot be bothered to care. There is nothing in this moment that could make him more terrified than he already is. “If You know everything, You know that little stunt we pulled on Heaven and Hell. Unfinished business, and all that. Well, You’re here now. Take Your best shot, but leave Aziraphale be.”

Crowley, the angels of Heaven act on their own accord. They are agents of My Will, but that does not mean they always get it right.

“What…?”

In My eyes, there can be no guilt if there is no crime.

Crowley swallows. His forked tongue flicks out to lick his cracking lips. “I don’t…”

There is no punishment for Love, My child. Not his, nor yours.

Very deep inside Crowley, something shatters, setting free a dangerous creature that rattles his ribcage and stomps on his lungs. His mind floods with questions, but what comes out when he finally manages to breathe is, in a voice cracked and small:

“You think me capable of love?”

You forget that I know everything that has been and everything that will be. I feel your love, Crowley, for him and for the world. I see it. It radiates out from you. You cannot hide it.

“You cast me out,” Crowley rasps. “For asking a few questions, for being curious around a few who Rebelled, that’s all it took! And You expect me to believe that You don’t mind a demon shacking up with Your brightest angel?”

Aziraphale is bright all on his own, but his love for you only amplifies his Grace.

“For me?” Crowley barks a laugh. “A demon? An enemy?”

You are not an enemy, Crowley. You are My child.

“Don’t! Don’t You dare! I haven’t heard from You in thousands upon thousands of years, since before even the Beginning, since You cast me out and tore Your love away from me, don’t—”

I still love you, Crowley.

“You don’t! I felt it, I felt it go!”

And when you are with Aziraphale?

“...What?”

When he holds you, child. When he shelters you with his wings or looks into your eyes. What do you feel then?

The answer is love. The answer is light. The answer is Heaven’s warmth, so powerful it leaves even him, even a wretched, vile creature of the Pit, feeling blessed. 

Do not confuse your Grace with my love for you, Crowley. One I took from you at the Fall. But the other is infinite and ineffable, and it cannot be taken away, for all love in the Universe originates with Me. 

There are tears streaming down Crowley’s face, drying quickly in the light. His shoulder’s shake and wings quiver. “If You loved me, how could You have left me?”

That is not for you to understand.

“Yes it bloody well is! You don’t get to come back now, millennia after throwing me away, and say it was all for the best but oh, oops, can’t explain why! Tell me! If You love me, TELL ME!”

You know that I cannot. It is—

“Do not say ineffable. Do. Not. Say it.”

Unable to be expressed or understood.

Crowley is shaking. He’s shaking so hard he thinks he might fall apart.

“I want to hate You,” he cries.

I know, Crowley.

“I want to despise You. I want to never think of You again. I want…” He chokes on the rest of his words. On the need. On the impossibility.

I know, Crowley.

“I can’t,” he whimpers, and finally collapses. “Why can’t I hate You…”

The light burns even brighter behind Crowley’s eyelids and he quivers, helpless, as God, his Mother, his Father, his Creator, descends on him in a blanket of warmth and light. 

You do not need to worry, My child. For I could never hate you, not when you are so full of love… Crowley… Crowley, are you alright? Crowley, my dear, my darling, Crowley…

The blinding light begins to fade, leaving only a very familiar warmth surrounding him. God’s celestial embrace consolidates into a physical one, of arms and wings and a normal, quasi-human voice begging words Crowley’s brain can only half-process.

“...Wake up, please, it’s alright, darling, I have you. I have you, Crowley, my dear …”

A sob tears itself from Crowley’s throat, a heartrending sound he didn’t know he could produce. He buries his face in the lapels of a familiar tweed jacket. It smells of old books and he gasps in the comforting scent, his eyes still squeezed shut, his manicured nails digging into the sleeves.

“I… I don’t… I can’t…”

There are fingers running through Crowley’s hair, sending shivers down his spine. “Shh. Just breathe. Just breathe, there we are.”

Crowley tries. For Aziraphale, he tries.

“Was that Who I think it was?” the angel asks. Crowley shudders, which is answer enough. “I see. It is quite… terrifying, if I recall correctly.”

Aziraphale seems calm, remarkably so, but when Crowley opens his eyes and looks up to the angel’s face he finds terror lingering on the edges of a reassuring smile.

“There you are,” Aziraphale whispers, stroking down his cheek. “I was so worried. I’ve been looking for hours…”

Crowley slumps into the arms that hold him, all fight draining from his body. “‘M sorry, angel.”

“There, there. It’s quite alright, darling. Quite alright.” Then, carefully, he asks, “...Are you hurt?”

“No,” he replies in a voice split down the middle, because physically, against all odds, he is fine. “I’m just, I’m… just so…”

Aziraphale hums, a sweet sound of encouragement from deep in his chest, and Crowley feels it reverberate beneath his ear. “You can tell me, dear.”

Crowley is a lot of things. Exhausted, devastated, elated, furious, desperate for something he can barely wrap his liquified mind around. He doesn’t think there are words to describe the way he feels all tangled up inside, yet soothed in equal measure. It makes him want to scream.

“After all this time. After everything.”

“Was She very angry?”

Crowley barks a laugh. “No. No, She wasn’t. She… approves, apparently.” He feels Aziraphale straighten beneath him.

“Oh. Well.” It feels warmer, suddenly, in his arms, and even with Crowley’s face buried in his neck he can hear the smile on Aziraphale’s face. “That’s… a rather fortunate surprise. For us, I mean.”

“Yes, it is rather fortunate that She didn’t smite me where I stood.”

“Crowley, darling, She wouldn’t.”

“She’s done a lot more for a lot less,” he grumbles. “Imagine my surprise. I’m not exactly the take-home-to-your-parents type. Leather jackets, snake eyes, fast car, all that.”

Aziraphale suddenly goes very quiet. His wings, a radiant white even in the dark of night, curl closer around Crowley’s body. 

“You’re hurting,” he observes. It isn’t a question. “What did She say to you?”

That maniacal creature that escaped from the depths of him seizes Crowley’s ribs and shakes them desperately. Disturbed, Crowley wraps his arms over his midsection, as if that would help keep it imprisoned inside him. 

Hope, he thinks it’s probably called. A dangerous thing, Hope. If he lets it get out it will run rampant again and make him believe preposterous things, like—

“She said that She loves me,” he whispers, so quietly he thinks Aziraphale will ask him to repeat it. Luckily, the angel hears. He sucks in a swift breath.

“Oh,” he replies. “Goodness me.”

“I don’t believe Her.”

“I do.”

“Of course you do! Blind faith is your job, angel.”

Aziraphale clucks in disapproval. “Crowley.”

“I’m sorry,” Crowley sighs. “I know it’s not true.”

“And I know that… that you feel forsaken. You have for a long time. I understand.”

“There’s that word, feel. As if it was a bloody illusion. As if She can just waltz back in now and make a couple of promises and act as though I was… overreacting, somehow, by feeling abandoned while, when, while I, while She wasn’t even—”

He cuts himself off when he feels his tenuous control start to slip. He takes a deep breath. It smells of Aziraphale; it smells of Love, the kind he believes in, the kind he has felt for six thousand years and has never had occasion to doubt.

She doesn’t get to take credit for that. She doesn’t.

“I want to be happy,” he whispers. “But I’m so angry.”

“I understand,” Aziraphale promises, smoothing over a few ruffled feathers of Crowley’s crumpled wings. “I may not have Fallen, but I promise you, I understand.” He heaves a sigh, presses a kiss to Crowley’s temple, and breathes, “I want to hate Her sometimes, too.”

“Angel,” Crowley gasps, “She’ll hear you—”

“Oh, She knows,” Aziraphale promises. “And I’m sure She’s watching now, and knows how unbelievably furious I am that She has hurt you so horribly. But She will know, too, that I am grateful.”

“For hurting me?”

“No! Goodness me, no, Crowley.”

“Then—”

“For understanding us, my dear.” He cradles Crowley’s face in his palms and whispers, “For seeing the beauty in what we are, when no one else will.”

They pass many minutes like that, or perhaps hours, in each other’s arms sheltered by angel’s wings. When Crowley regains his strength, Aziraphale helps him off the ground and notices his bare feet.

“My dear, you must be freezing!”

“Not anymore,” Crowley promises. He threads his fingers between Aziraphale’s and squeezes tight. 

“Would you like me to carry you home?”

Home. It sends a shock wave through Crowley’s already weakened body. “I can walk, angel.”

“But you don’t have shoes.”

Crowley considers objecting, but then he remembers how warm he feels in Aziraphale’s arms. Like a little piece of Heaven, made special for him. 

“...Alright, but let the record show I protested.”

“Very well, darling.”

“‘M not a damsel.”

“I know, darling.” 

The walk home is peaceful. The grass rustles, the sea breaks at the base of the cliffs, crickets chirp around them, and Aziraphale’s heart beats beneath his ear. When the light of the cottage appears in the distance, he remembers Aziraphale standing in their living room next to a pair of ugly drapes, anger and devastation written all over his face.

“I’m so sorry, angel,” he mutters into Aziraphale’s jacket. “I hate the drapes. I should have said so sooner. And I’m not tired of fighting for you, I’d gladly spend the rest of eternity impaling anyone that goes against us with a pitchfork.”

“You don’t have—”

“It’s a joke.”

“Right.”

“I love you, Aziraphale. I was just scared.”

“So was I. So do I. I owe you an apology too, I’m afraid. I should never have said to leave—”

“I should never have left.”

“Well, good.” Aziraphale sniffs. “Now that we have that settled, let’s agree to never do it again, shall we?”

“What, fight? For the rest of eternity?”

“I suppose that’s a little optimistic, isn’t it.”

“To never leave, then, either of us,” Crowley vows. “Not in anger. Not like that.”

“I will certainly agree to that.”

They’re nearly home now. Aziraphale walks up the front pathway and lets Crowley down from his arms on the front porch to search for the key, only to realize that he’d forgotten to lock the door in his haste to find Crowley. It swings open, and they are home.

“We still don’t have a couch,” Crowley groans, who had rather been looking forward to collapsing on a soft cushion with a soft angel in his arms and sleeping for maybe an entire week.

“No,” Aziraphale agrees, looking rather disappointed. “No bed-frame, either. But there’s a mattress upstairs. Left from the old owners, I believe.”

“...Reckon one of us had better miracle that clean.”

“Oh yes, I imagine so. I had horrible bed-bugs some time in the nineteen twenties. I’d rather not experience that again. Why don’t you go on ahead? I’ll be up in a minute.”

A few minutes later, the floorboards outside the upstairs bedroom creak and Crowley looks up from where he’s sat down on the mattress. In the doorway, Aziraphale stands with a mug in each hand.

“Cocoa?”

They may or may not have eternity. They may or may not be allowed peace. But by God, they will not be forgotten, either.

“Thank you, angel.”

Aziraphale smiles, and Crowley knows that one way or another, he is Loved.