First, there is Eve.
“Sssssorry,” he says a year later, the first time he’s seen her since, slithering by her feet and curling around them to warm them. His blood runs hotter than the other snakes of earth because he’s not a snake, not really. He’s an angel.
Just because the gates of heaven are forever closed to him doesn’t change the molten Grace in his bones, the Divinity pulling at his back. There’s a curse in this somehow, that when he’s mortal shaped the pull of being an angel is at his back, that scales itch to creep along his skin, and when he’s a snake it’s molten heat and a longing for opposable thumbs.
What was the Almighty thinking, when She stretched out a serpent to be an angel, when She thrust an angel into a mortal form? There is no peace like this, in this.
“Sorry are you?” she sighs, but lowers her hand so Crawley can wind himself around her arm, shrinking his form so he’s small enough for her to lift.
“Yesssss,” he says, lifting his head over her shoulder so his tongue flickers against the skin of the babe sleeping in the crook of her elbow. “What’ssss that?”
She uses her free hand to rub a hand down his scales, and he leans into the touch, liking the feel of the rough callouses of her skin against his scales. She’d never had callouses in the Garden. “Cain. He’s my son.”
“Little,” Crawley observes, “are they ssssuposed to be sssso little?”
“You are little too,” she says, and sure enough he’s shrunk to just big enough to hang around her neck. “Thank you, for what you did.” Crawley freezes against her skin. He says nothing, and she continues, “Given the choice again, I’d do the same thing.”
“I wouldn’t,” he whispers, close to her ear, where hopefully only she can hear him.
She raises her hand so he can twine his body around her fingers, now no bigger than a freshly born corn snake. “I know, love. I know.”
“He’s bad at this. Cain was better,” Crawley says, standing beside Eve’s shoulder as Abel takes his first shaky steps.
Abel bypasses his mother and goes tumbling into Crawley’s knees, and he has to bend to grab at him before he falls to the ground. Abel’s chubby hands grab onto the cloth of his robes, grinning at him without any teeth. “That’s right, you show Uncle Crowley,” Eve praises.
“Adam hates when you call me that,” he says, holding Abel on his hip. He glances behind him, searching for Cain on the horizon, for the boy climbing trees and laughing at the sun.
“I care little for what Adam hates,” she mutters, low enough that neither of her sons would pick up on it. She touches his shoulder and pushes herself up to press her lips on the place next his mouth, and his heartbeat goes up several notches.
Her body was sculpted by the Almighty, she runs warmer than she should, the lingering heat of Her divinity that Eve’s body can’t seem to shake. “What are you doing?” he mutters, wanting so desperately to turn his head that extra inch, and not daring to do so.
“Whatever I want,” her breath is hot on his ear, “isn’t that the point of all this, after all?”
Cain and Abel are nearly grown, and Adam is often away exploring the world while Eve sits at home, on her knees. Weaving, foraging, cleaning, cooking. Eve spends so much time on her knees that Crawley wonders why she didn’t just stay in the Garden, if she was going to live her life in prayer.
“Don’t you want to go with Adam?” he asks, helping spin yarn into thread as she boils pungent berries over the fire, the first step in her favorite rich purple dye. “Don’t you want to explore the world? You gave up the Garden for the world, you should get to see it.”
“A world unseen still turns,” she says calmly, looking over at him with her sparkling brown eyes, “a home unkept ceases to exist. Do I wish to see a world, or to make it?”
“How does one make a home?” he wonders. It sounds nice. He misses having a home.
Hell doesn’t count. That’s not a home. It’s a prison.
She holds out a hand, berry-purple, and he takes it. She lifts it to her mouth, and kisses the knuckle on his middle finger, and it’s good he’s sitting, because his legs wouldn’t be able support him. “You stay by my side, and I make if for you, and you know that no matter how far you stray, you have a place to return to.”
“If I stray, it means leaving your side,” he points out, mouth dry.
“No,” she says, and presses his hand to her chest, to the place where her heart beats with the strength of a rising tide. “I carry you.”
This time, when she cups his face with berry stained fingers and her lips touch his, he doesn’t stop her, he doesn’t pull away.
“I’m heavy,” he warns as she climbs on top of him, as her thigh hitches around his hip.
“I am gifted with the knowledge She forbade,” Eve says, pushing her hands through his hair, “I know your weight, and I know my strength. I carry you.”
He’s a demon, and she is the first sinner, and yet she tastes holy, tastes like getting on his knees and receiving the sacrament.
Damnation was never this sweet, so it must be absolution.
“It burns,” she says into his mouth, on the nights when Adam is gone. Eve is no liar, and Crawley can tell by the weight of Adam’s glare that he knows what transpires when he’s not at home.
He keeps leaving, however, and Crawley thinks that’s as close to forgiveness as he’s going to get.
“What?” he mutters, his hand cupping her breast, her legs in between his.
She grabs his hand and moves it lower, presses his fingers to her bottom rib on her left side, and says, “This one is his. I wish I had a scalpel, I wish surgeons had come around yet, I want someone to crack me open and tear it from my spine.”
“Don’t say that,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss to her jaw, “don’t – don’t.” She reaches for his chest, pressing her thumb into his chest, a new kind of want on her face. “Are you sure? It’ll burn hotter than his.”
“I won’t mind,” she says, “not if it’s yours.”
His fingers slip inside her chest and he delicately pulls Adam’s rib from inside her, so quickly it barely has time to hurt, and then he reaches inside his own chest. He snaps a rib off his spine and slots it into hers, giving Eve a rib from right up against his heart. It’s fine. He’s a snake, he has plenty to spare.
“In the future, they’ll just exchange rings,” she laughs, and she feels lighter than she did before, as if Adam’s rib was holder her down, was holding her in place, a pin against a butterfly’s wing.
“Cowards,” he says, and then she’s cupping his face and kissing him once more.
Crawley arrives when it is already too late.
Abel is dead, a flaming sword sticking out of the center of his chest, and Adam screams as Cain weeps, remorse in the set of his shoulders and despair in his hanging head.
Eve sits on her knees, her dead son’s head in her lap, and her face is dry while she cleans the blood splatters from Abel’s cheeks. Her skin bubbles and burns from her proximity to the sword, and Crawley reacts without thinking, grasps it in his palms and pulls it free of Abel’s body.
His first thought, staring into Abel’s sightless eyes, is that this is going to kill Aziraphale.
Crawley wasn’t a warrior, he hadn’t been a soldier, and drops the sword into the dirt, not sure what to do with it’s weight or heat. He’d fashioned the stars into the sky, and those had burned, but not like the sword, not with Grace, just with the simple heat of gas and combustion.
“Don’t – say it was something else,” he begs, “don’t say you used you the sword.”
Cain doesn’t react at all, still sobbing, and Crawley wants to shake him, wants to beat him, wants to hold him in his arms and give him something solid to fall apart against. Adam throws him a disgusted look, and Crawley can’t tell if it’s directed at him or his son. He walks over, picks the flaming sword up off the ground, and keeps walking. He doesn’t look back.
“It was a rock,” Eve says, running her fingers through Abel’s hair. “My son was killed with a rock.”
Crawley doesn’t know if he’s allowed to touch her in this moment, if she even wants to look at him, if she hates him now. But he stands there looking down at her, looking down at the dead boy he helped raise, and doesn’t know what to do.
She finally raises her head, her eyes clear, her face dry. She holds out a hand stained with Abel’s blood, and he takes it without thinking. He can’t deny an outstretched hand. “It’s all right. I knew, and I bore them both just the same.”
“You knew,” he repeats, and for the first time her touch makes him cold. He drops to his knees beside her and cups her face, tilting her head so he can look into her dark brown eyes, eyes that know so much, that see so much. “You knew.”
“What did you think biting the apple meant, love?” she asks.
“You know the Plan,” he says, a million questions bubbling up his throat. “Does Adam?”
She says, “Adam ate the fruit I gave him. He knows what I want him to know.”
She pushes herself up, Abel falling from her lap to the ground with a dull thump, and kisses him, cutting off his words. “Help me bury my son,” she says, and he nods, because what else can he do?
They lower Abel into the earth. Cain is cursed to wander as his father wandered, Adam never returns after leaving with the flaming sword, and Eve remains, on her knees. Cleaning, mending, cooking.
Her stomach swells, and she cradles it in her hands as she smiles and says, “Adam’s last son.”
Seth is born screaming as neither of his brothers were, and Crawley is there, as he wasn’t for either of Eve’s other births. “He is the beginning, just as his elders were the end,” she tells him, yawning as Seth suckles on her breast.
“You scare me,” he tells her, pressing his thumb against her bottom lip, his heart jumping as her tongue curls around his finger.
Seth has more children than Crawley has ribs, and all his children have as many children as that, until this corner of the world is crawling with people.
Eve ages slowly, thanks to the burning of being formed by Her hand, thanks to the heat of Crawley’s rib in her chest. Hundreds of years pass, and she doesn’t go far, building a home wherever she goes, building humanity wherever she goes.
“Pyramids,” he murmurs, kissing her neck as he looks over her shoulder at the plans spread out before her. “How do you expect to make something like that? It’s massive.” Bigger than even the Garden has been.
“With help,” she answers, leaning into his warmth. “It’s time for me to go somewhere else.”
Finally, he thinks but doesn’t say. It’s been a thousand years since she left the Garden.
He goes to her when he can, as he’s always done, but hell has him traveling across the earth, and he thinks that he travels enough for the both of them. He still likes Mesopotamia, likes watching Eve’s children, Seth’s line knows him well, and the children delight in his presence, tug on his hands and clumsily braid his hair, not knowing that he’s a demon, only that he’s a friend.
“Angel,” he says, creeping up behind Aziraphale, and look what happens, he spends a couple years in Egypt and then the opposition is moving in. He can’t bring himself to mind, wants to press his hands to the heat radiating off of Aziraphale, like warming his hands on a fire, like warming himself on a sun heated rock.
His euphoria melts as Aziraphale tells him the fate that is to befall all of Eve’s sons and daughters, all her children. “You can’t kill kids!” he protests, but Aziraphale just winces and says nothing more.
Shem is a good boy, he tries to convince everyone to get on his boat with them, begs parents to give over their children if nothing else, tries to drag old ladies to safety, but it doesn’t work.
Noah and his family live. But what Noah seems to have forgotten is that all men are his family, that they all have a common mother.
When the flood resides and Aziraphale is gone, he goes through the land and buries the bodies, just like he did for Abel so long ago. There’s no one left to bury them, to remember them, and he ignores the cold sliminess of decaying flesh and kisses the forehead of every child he finds before laying them to rest in the soft earth.
He returns to Eve with the scent of death still clinging to him, and when she smiles at him, it strikes him for the first time that she’s old, that her bones creak and her skin is wrinkled, that her gorgeous brown eyes have clouded with age. “I know, love,” she says, and he realizes the death he smells is not on him, but on her.
“No,” he says, and she just keeps smiling.
“I would have stayed,” she says, “I would have drowned with them. But I did not want to leave without saying goodbye.”
“No,” he repeats, taking her in his arms, kissing her like his mouth on hers can keep the inevitable at bay. He doesn’t realize he’s crying until she gentles the kiss, until she’s licking his tears away.
She sheds her clothes like he sheds a skin, pulling his hands to her, letting him touch her for what he knows will be the last time. “You weep as a woman weeps,” she tells him, her hands in his hair, her thigh hitched over his hip.
“How’s that?” he asks, tries to keep from choking on the words.
“As if the future rests on your hips,” she says, “and you must walk it forward.”
After, he curls on top of her chest, lets her play with the braids in his hair, and can’t stop the tears when all her movements finally stop.
He reaches into her, pulls one of her upper ribs from her spine, and places it in his own chest, replacing the rib he gave her so long ago with one of her own, letting her keep his rib even in death. She’s carried him these thousand years, and now it’s his turn to carry her.
But he can’t bear to bury her.
Instead he lifts her up into the sky, places her in the heavens, and makes stars from her body, something he hasn’t done in a long, long time.
They call her Virgo, and it makes him laugh.
Crawley is in the market, her robe pulled around her to protect her from the chill of the wind, when her dark scarf goes flying, her red hair flinging itself away from her face. She curses, turning to chase after it, but a young man is already running, desperately trying to catch her errant scarf, and her irritation gets caught on her laughter.
The young man finally grabs it, then runs back to her side, holding it out eagerly. “Thank you,” she demurs, bending her head so that he may put it back in place.
He blushes, but carefully tucks it back on her head, and she nearly forgets to breath when his skin brushes hers. It’s been thousands of years, but she recognizes that heat, that pressure against her skin. “You have hair like a sunset,” he tells her, and he can’t be more than a couple decades old.
“What’s your name?” she asks, looking into his eyes. They are soft and brown and full of the type of knowledge that no one should have.
“Yeshua,” he answers, then points over his shoulder at an older couple, “Those are my parents, Mary and Joseph.”
“Ah,” she breathes, looking at Mother Mary, at the woman She chose to carry her son, the bright eyed boy who stands before her now.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Crawley,” she says, then winces, “Crowley, I mean.”
She’s stuck to herself ever since Eve, hasn’t really had cause to use it until now, and she just knows she wouldn’t be able to bear hearing her name on someone else’s tongue, knows that her name now forever belongs in the shape of Eve’s mouth.
“Crowley,” he repeats, and she doesn’t know if it’s a name he recognizes, doesn’t know what the way he looks at her means, if he’s looking at her as a man or as a son of Her, and she can’t ask.
She means to avoid him, but of course hell wants her to do just the opposite, wants her to temp him to evil.
Yeshua has callouses on his hands, and a scruffy beard, and delights in telling her of his friends as he cuts wood, in telling her of his disciples as he sands it down, as he creates with his hands, and he builds home with his calloused hands, the heat of Grace so oppressive around him that Crowley is never cold in his presence.
It’s not a surprise when she gives in and leans close to press her lips to his, cutting off his preaching, because she’s no choir, but she’s no one he can save, and she can’t stand the warm light of his attention any longer.
It is a surprise when he kisses her back.
She pulls away, stumbling over her feet, and it’s only Yeshua’s strong arm around her waist which keeps her steady. “You – no – you can’t–”
“Is this an official temptation, then?” he asks, grin easy, eyes sparkling.
She blinks. “You know.”
“You have been given three temptations to offer me,” he says, still with that same smile, “but I do not believe that you are among them.”
Crowley shakes her head, knows she should step away from him, knows that if she pulls away that he’ll let her, but she can’t make herself do it. “You can’t – we can’t.”
“Do you kiss me in the devil’s name, or your own?” he asks, twining his fingers through her fire red hair.
“Mine,” she whispers. She wouldn’t kiss him on hell’s orders, even if they had thought to ask. She shouldn’t be kissing him at all. “But I’m – I’m a demon.”
“What’s a demon,” he asks, pressing her hair to his lips, “but an angel awaiting trial?”
She laughs, and it comes out almost hysterical. “The judgement’s already out. I’m rotten to the core.”
“I’m sorry you believe that,” he says, eyes painfully earnest, painfully beautiful. “I think you’re perfect. Just as you were made to be.”
This time, he kisses her, and she’s the one to kiss him back.
The three temptations do not happen exactly as she reports back to the head office.
“Get down from there!” she calls out as he stands at the pulpit, preaching his love for all to hear. He built it himself, and she helped him carry the wood over from his workshop. “Give up this madness, and the devil will take you into his heart!”
He rolls his eyes at her and continues, not missing a beat.
“Is that what you two call it? The devil?” Mary Magdalena whispers in her ear, and then they really are disturbing the sermon as she and Crowley clutch each other and laugh.
For the second, she takes him to the highest mountain, where they can see all the kingdoms of the earth. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go,” she says, waving to encompass the lands below them.
He grabs her hand to kiss the back of it. “I must deny all you offer me in the name of the devil.”
“Oh well,” she says, stepping closer so Yeshua can cup her face and run his work roughened thumb over her cheek. “Then I offer it in my name alone. Anywhere you want to go.”
“Anywhere, so long as you are by my side,” he murmurs, and then kisses her, on top of the highest mountain, in front of all the kingdoms of the world.
The last temptation is the hardest.
“Won’t you eat?” she frets, running her hand down his skinny frame, feeling his ribs poking out of his skin. “Just – just some bread. I won’t tell.”
He grabs both her hands in own and forces a smile. “I mustn’t. I’m a son of God, I will not die.”
“But it pains you,” she whispers, touching a sore on the corner of his lips.
He doesn’t respond, but he does kiss her.
They’re lying under the blanket of stars, and Crowley would be freezing if she wasn’t huddled up to Yeshua’s side, the blistering heat of his divinity warming her even in the coldest reaches of the desert.
“It will all change, after I am crucified,” he says, lips moving against the skin of her temple.
“Yes,” she says, “you will be dead.”
He snorts, and then kisses her cheek, then admits. “Not for long. But – but we cannot – we cannot be this, as we are now, with what I will be after.”
“Because you’ll be a god on earth, and I’ll be a demon?” she asks. It doesn’t surprise her. It barely even hurts.
He’s pulling her on top of him, kissing her hard enough for it to bruise. “No,” he says, wide eyed, as frantic as she’s ever seen him, “because I cannot love any person on earth more than the other, you must all be equal. Because losing you is part of the sacrifice, Crowley. You are something I must give up, in order to bear the sins of humanity, I can no longer be–”
“Human,” she finishes.
He nods, something close to misery hanging around him, and kisses her again, gentler this time.
“Well,” she says, glancing up the night sky, finding the curve of Eve’s hip in the twinkling stars, “then we should make the most of your humanity while you still have it.”
Crowley wishes she could stand next to Mother Mary, next to Magdalena, next to Joseph, could not be alone as she watches Yeshua die slowly, as she watches him become so much more than a man.
But no one from heaven or hell can know what she did, who she was. Least of all Aziraphale, no matter how she likes his warmth or his eyes, no matter how much she admires him still for giving away his flaming sword, even when it all went so horribly pear shaped.
“Did you know him?” Aziraphale asks.
“Oh, yes,” she answers, and doesn’t cry, pushes it all down, like Eve must have done so many times. She was always dry faced, and Crowley will be too. “I showed him all the kingdoms of the world.”
She pulls up walls around her softness, not denying it, but hiding it, deciding that she’ll never hurt like this ever again, no matter the cost.
But then Aziraphale glances at her, and she can’t help the way she leans in a little closer to his him, to his warmth.
This angel has known her from the beginning, has known her softness, and perhaps –
– perhaps to be known is worth the pain, if the one doing the knowing is equally soft, is equally known.