Actions

Work Header

of some other man's belief

Work Text:

The demon known as Crowley is not a learned being. This is not the same as saying he's stupid (which he is not 1). In practical terms, it means he lacks the precise vocabulary to describe a concept in a manner intelligible to a specialist in a particular field of study; in this case, history.

But if he did have it, this is what he would probably say: there is no difference between history and historiography, not the way humans experience it. They can extrapolate what could be missing, point out what definitively is, and the specific reasons why. But for most eons past, there is no way to ask someone who was there, or even read about it, assuming somebody bothered to write things down with all the necessary contextual details.

Which is to say, there are many times he will read accounts (usually written by people who weren't even alive at the time) of what people thought happened during a particular event, and he will go, "That's not how it went."

This is what he remembers 2: Yeshua ben Yosef of Nazareth was reputed to be the Son of God. There have been men throughout the ages who have claimed such, or who have been hailed as the Mashiach by others. To the best of Crowley's knowledge, however, none of them ever had their births announced by the Archangel Gabriel. He feels like it's something Aziraphale would have remarked upon, given his dislike of Gabriel and the rarity with which he actually leaves Heaven.

("Can you imagine that oaf, trying to tell some fourteen year old girl 'Be not afraid' successfully, much less inform her she will have the great and terrible privilege of carrying the savior of all humanity in her womb? Honestly."

Aziraphale takes a drink of wine and makes a face. Crowley is unsure if it's the conversational subject or quality of the wine that causes it.

"Big stupid tosser," he agrees, and Aziraphale smiles.

"I like how we're always in accord on the important things.")

Regardless of the truth of his divine heritage, Yeshua is baptised by his cousin 3. Eventually, in the manner of prophets of the age, he decides to go to the desert and fast. The Head Office loves it when they do this; temptation is always easier when humans deliberately take their defenses down. And this one attracts a great deal of attention, because of his possibly special status.

Crowley knows he's not anybody's preferred choice for his part of the temptation. He doesn't spend much time in Hell, or socializing with other demons. But nobody can argue with his track record; and if this is something they can snatch away from the Opposition, it would be a huge win. So he observes, and he plans.

(For some reason he doesn't tell Aziraphale about this particular job. It's not like he tells Crowley about everything he does, but it feels like something Aziraphale would disapprove of. Besides, they have many more interesting things to discuss than work when they get together.)

Crowley keeps an eye out as Yeshua travels to the desert in Judea. They all start out so confident, then get so defeated by the fragility of their bodies. Crowley doesn't see why they get so upset about it; humans aren't made for privation like this 4. To induce it purposely seems like madness.

He watches the other two demons as they try to tempt Yeshua into sin. They're good; that he will acknowledge as a fellow professional. The food angle is awfully uncreative, but it's been a very long time since he's had a decent meal. You can't really blame a demon for using the tactic that's most likely to work, even if it does ultimately fail.

The scripture quoting is actually quite clever. Crowley is, for a second, struck with a bit of jealousy it's something he never considered 5. But Yeshua does not budge, citing another line of doctrine that somehow refutes the first. Crowley doesn't understand it, nor does the demon doing the tempting, but they don't have to. It makes sense to Yeshua and bolsters his resolve, and that's what matters.

Crowley's up. He materializes next to Yeshua, who's sitting on a flat rock, attempting to contemplate. It's very hot, and there's no shade in sight.

"Hello," he says.

Yeshua looks at him, and Crowley is struck by how young he is. Granted, almost everybody is young compared to him, but there's something about the boy that makes him think of things green and new; pale, tender buds unfurling towards the sun. People will follow him wherever he leads; Crowley feels it in his bones.

"I know what you are," Yeshua says. He sounds tired, undoubtedly weak from lack of food. "Can you please do what you need to do and leave me alone?"

Crowley tilts his head. "I don't know what I was expecting in a Mashiach, but it wasn't you. No offense."

Yeshua laughs, just a little bit. "A demon with a sense of humor! I thought I had seen everything until now."

He shrugs. "I'd apologize on behalf of my fellows, but we can't help being what the Almighty made us. Imagination isn't really their strong suit."

"And so it's yours?" Crowley can see that despite himself, Yeshua is intrigued. He can work with this.

He sits down. "You can't do things the same way and expect different results. Isn't that why you're--" He makes a gesture that's meant to encompass Yeshua, the rock, the desert.

At this he bristles, just a tiny bit. "I came for clarity and guidance. If it involves a change in the existing order of things, I trust my Father will reveal it to me."

"Come, now. How many people would you personally trust to make these changes well, and not fall to the influences of power and greed?"

He can see Yeshua going through the list in his head. "Not many. And a great deal of them would not be able to do so anyways 6." A pause. "And me, I suppose."

"Think upon it," Crowley says, soft and encouraging. "The ability to change things for the better, and enact measures so your brothers' and sisters' children, and theirs, and theirs can thrive and be happy.

"You would be good at it. You would be fair, and wise, and kind. People would look to you as an example. Everything could be yours, Yeshua. Dominion over all the kingdoms of the world, to shape as you in your wisdom see fit. Just say the word, and it's all yours."

"No!" Yeshua cries. "Get away! I worship only the Lord our God and serve only Him." He breathes heavily, as if it was a great effort to rebuke Crowley.

(Here is something Crowley has never told anybody, not even Aziraphale: he could feel how close he was to succeeding. He has no idea if the wind had blown from another direction or if a butterfly flapped its wings differently if it would have turned in his Side's favor, as nominal as the affiliation is. He does not know how exactly the course of history and/or theology would have shifted if he had been successful; he's not omniscient. The only thing he knows for sure is Yeshua ben Yosef would not have been nailed to a cross on top of Golgotha at 33.)

"I hope you're making the right choice; I really do." Crowley, to his surprise, sounds almost sorrowful. Maybe he is, just a little bit.

"I have faith in my Father's plan," he says, a little bit like he's trying to convince himself.

"May it not be misplaced 7."

"You've done what you need to do. Leave now, please." Yeshua closes his eyes and lays down on the rock. He looks exhausted.

Crowley materializes back to the nearest town and sleeps for a week. Not even alcohol will provide the oblivion he needs to deal with what just happened.

--

They both feel it when he breathes his last. The onlookers must sense it too, because one of the women—Crowley thinks she is the one they call Magdalene—walks over to a couple soldiers keeping an eye out and demands they take the body down for burial. They must balk, because she draws herself up. (It reminds Crowley of something, but the specific thing eludes her at the moment. It comes back, later; she looked a bit like Aziraphale at his most righteous.) Whatever she says to them must be effective, because they start pulling the cross to the ground.

His body has been prised from the timbers and placed upon a shroud. His mother drops to her knees and gathers him to her chest. There is no artful posing here, just a woman holding what was her son.

Aziraphale grabs her hand. "We have witnessed what we came to see," he says softly. "This is not for us."

Crowley nods, and they walk away from Golgotha.

After they've traveled for a while, Aziraphale turns and looks at her. "I just noticed. Not that it would have been appropriate to mention back there, but. I like what you've done with your hair. It's quite lovely."

The haze of shock does not clear, but it is lessened a fraction, and Crowley smiles, just a little bit. "Thanks. I wanted to try something new."

"Would you like to get spectacularly drunk?" Aziraphale asks, except it's not really asking. I can't be alone right now, and you are the only being in existence who remotely understands, more like.

"So, so very much," Crowley replies.

--

It has been a long time since either of them have been this inebriated. She estimates they've had at least half an amphora between them, possibly more. They dispensed with cups a few hours ago, electing to pass the pitcher back and forth. It's incredibly shitty wine, sweet enough to make your teeth hurt but somehow with a lingering bitter aftertaste. It suits Crowley's mood.

She offers the pitcher to Aziraphale, who waves it off. They're sitting on the bed, leaning against the wall and each other. They're not particularly tactile beings, but it has been a rather stressful day.

"Do you know what he did the night before—" Aziraphale makes a gesture she presumes is meant to indicate the day's events. She shakes her head.

"He went to the Mount of Olives, where there's a little garden. He took three of his friends to keep him awake so he could pray. Fat lot of good they were; I think they fell asleep pretty much immediately." He holds his hand out for the pitcher and Crowley hands it to him. Aziraphale takes a long drink.

"The Almighty, in Her wisdom, sent to Her only begotten son in his hour of need, an angel."

Crowley must be staring because he nods grimly. "I can't tell if my presence was meant as a comfort or a sick joke on some Archangel's part. Send the Principality Aziraphale, he loves the humans! Surely he'll know what to do with this—this child."

He tips his head back against the wall. "Console him, they said. Maintain his hope, they said. Tell him this is part of the grand in-fucking-effable Plan, that there is a reason for this."

His eyes are shining. It occurs to Crowley she has never actually seen Aziraphale cry, not in their entire acquaintance.

"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

He wipes his eyes and sniffles. "I think it's helping. Or at least it feels better that somebody else knows about it." Crowley bumps his shoulder: in acknowledgement, sympathy, an attempt at comfort, she's not really sure. Maybe all of those things.

"So what happened?"

"I did my job. I let him rest his head in my lap, and I stroked his hair until I felt him regain a measure of composure and solace. And then I lied through my fucking teeth."

"Oh, Aziraphale." Crowley squeezes his hand.

Aziraphale takes another drink. "For what it's worth, I think he believed me. I do not know if that is a mercy or a cruelty."

Crowley looks at him. "Did it feel like the right thing to do at the time?"

He thinks for a moment. "It did."

"There's your answer."

Crowley tugs the pitcher from Aziraphale's grasp and takes a long gulp. When she sets it down Aziraphale is staring.

"What?"

"You say that like it should be patently obvious what the moral course of action should be."

"Is 'be kind' not an obvious moral course of action?" It's a genuine question. Obviously preaching such was not the only thing that made the Romans decide the poor boy should hang from a cross, but it probably contributed.

"Surely it can't be that simple." Aziraphale looks like he's turning something over in his head, having some sort of realization that he never noticed before.

"For the sin of their parents' wickedness, She drowned children. I'm sure you remember that." It's probably ungracious, but she recalls the way he staggered into that bar in Aleppo, the bleak, gutted look on his face.

"So She did." He doesn't say anything more, but he does lace his fingers into hers.

"I can't trust that everything will turn out all right in the end, not after that." Crowley hopes he understands.

"I'm glad you're here," Aziraphale says to their hands. He'd been so quiet she thought he'd fallen asleep. "I don't know what I would do without you."

Crowley's chest does something. It feels like a somersault, but also an ache, intense but not necessarily unpleasant; and the sense of something spilling over, too full for what's meant to contain it. She breathes past the catch in her throat. "If I have my way, you'll never get a chance to find out."

 


 

1 This is also different from saying he's a dumbass, which he most certainly is.

2 There is never such a thing as an impartial observer under any circumstance, only the hope they are sufficiently unbiased to tell something approximating the truth.

3 Accounts vary regarding a heavenly voice, how it manifested, and who it addressed. The only thing anybody knows for certain is Yeshua got wet.

4 But then again, he knows very little about how things like this work. Maybe stripping away the minutiae of daily life does help humans get in touch with the Almighty. It is definitely something he wonders during 14th century France, watching a young woman named Jehanne burn at the stake.

5 He makes up for it when he proposes the Arrangement, proving that invention is not the most important part of the process, but rather the ability to apply a technique creatively.

6 By which he means they are women. Yeshua thinks they would be perfectly capable, but there are some things that even a purported Mashiach cannot change.

7 Demons don't pray. They can't. It is, however, possible for them to wish fervently.