Crowley was supposed to be helping the plague along. Was supposed to cause doctors to 'conveniently' forget about a patient and allow them to infect others. Was supposed to be directing the rats into people's houses and the fleas into their clothes.
He was supposed to be evil.
And yet, here he was, clutching a small child to his chest while her mother choked on the blood pooling in her throat. It was her last few moments and the young girl was sobbing grossly into Crowley's chest. He held her tight, trying to offer comfort. He was never good with allowing children to suffer. His Achilles heel.
The whole city was overrun with disease and death. He had seen Death himself on multiple occasions—and Pestilence's name was whispered like a curse, although Crowley never saw them—but demons and Death worked in different sectors and therefore they left each other alone.
For the most part, anyway. Currently, Crowley was cursing Death as he strolled into the house, demanding into the silence that had suddenly befallen the room as the mother's soul was sent away for judgement, WHY Death hadn't taken a break. Why must he cause so much suffering and pain? Death didn't so much as look at Crowley as he left to continue working. Crowley hadn't expected an answer but it felt good to lash out.
The child hiccuped and Crowley stroked her hair to calm her down even as he stood and hugged her to his chest. They left the house and neither of their eyes were dry.
Quite suddenly, the girl vanished from his arms with a pop that startled him. His heart clenched in fear and he looked around wildly before his gaze landed on Aziraphale, who was standing a few paces to his left, hand still raised from the miracle.
"It's alright," Aziraphale strode closer and gave Crowley a tense smile. "I sent her somewhere safe. She has family outside the country. She should be okay there."
Crowley nodded dumbly, his mind reeling. "What are you doing here?" He demanded more harshly than he meant to.
Aziraphale winced and looked away. "Well, I heard that there was a problem starting down here. Lots of death and reports of demonic activity. I came to thwart you." To anyone else, it would appear they were on opposite sides. But after over five thousand years of knowing each other, Crowley knew Aziraphale. And he could tell that that was just the story he would tell to his superiors. In reality, he could feel the concern radiating from the angel and the utter relief that must have only just started when he found Crowley alive and well (and technically not helping the plague spread at all, but rather the demon was comforting those affected).
Crowley didn't mention that he could see through Aziraphale, and instead played along, just in case anyone was listening to them. "You can't stop the wiles that have befallen this city," he said slowly, watching Aziraphale's eyes to make sure he understood the hidden meaning. Aziraphale met his gaze solidly, understanding burning deep inside. "All you can do is stand back while I do what I must."
"Goodness will always prevail, fiend. You cannot stop me from helping this city no matter how hard you try."
Crowley fought back a smile. Of course Aziraphale wouldn't just leave the city. Of course he would help Crowley get as many people to safety as he could. Crowley gave a single nod, then turned and started running down the street, using every bit of his demonic energy to sense out who was in the most distress, so he could try to save them. Aziraphale was hot on his heel, a concerned frown creasing his brow.
It went on like this for weeks. Crowley had told Aziraphale how the plague was spreading and so both of them miracled themselves a rat and flea repellent, which they also blessed onto the survivors they could find before Aziraphale miracled them out of the country. It was dirty work. It felt horrible. Aziraphale would save the people he could, while Crowley would make sure the end would be swift and as painless as he could make it for those who couldn't be saved (he would later tell his superiors that he just wanted as many people to die as possible, hence speeding up the process).
They had a system.
Until they didn't.
Crowley wasn't sure if it was because his superiors had cottoned on to his and Aziraphale's little system and had sent the unnamed demon as a punisher, or if said demon was just acting out of turn. But while Crowley was helping a rather large family prepare for the death of three of their family members, he felt the sharp pinch of a bite. He kicked his leg out and looked down. A rat. His stomach plummeted and when he looked up, he saw Aziraphale, unaware and holding the wife's hand, and just behind the angel he saw the lower demon, a wicked smile on his face and his hand still raised, controlling the rat.
He jumped to his feet, startling all of the conscious people in the room, and lunged at the demon, but he disappeared before anyone could even see he was there. Aziraphale blinked up at Crowley, a questioning frown pulling at his lips. Crowley debated telling the angel what had happened. But another part of him didn't want to worry the angel. After all, it was just discorporation. He could discorporate himself, if nothing else, and be back on Earth in no time. But then again, he couldn't leave Aziraphale to take care of the sick by himself. Discorporation paperwork took a rather long time (something the demon must have known about), and Crowley was sure that by the time he made it back to Earth, the plague would be over.
No, he would stay alive as long as he could. And he would help as many people as he could. He snapped his fingers and the rat, which had bitten his ankle another two times while he was distracted, fell over dead.
Aziraphale's eyes burned with questions that he couldn't ask while surrounded by humans, but he reluctantly pulled his gaze back to the woman squeezing his hand. Crowley took a deep breath and shuffled back to the dying family's side with a small apology.
He felt the effects of the plague the very next day. He was incredibly lethargic and his body ached something fierce. He and Aziraphale had been working nonstop for weeks by now, but he hadn't felt as tired and as ill as he did when the sun rose. Aziraphale seemed to notice he wasn't speaking as much, and he tried asking him between houses what was going on and why he was acting weird, but Crowley kept brushing him off and redirecting the conversation.
Crowley knew he would need to either tell Aziraphale what happened, or get away from the angel so he could die in peace. And considering how clouded his head felt, he wasn't sure which would happen first. At this point, both he and Aziraphale knew the symptoms of all the types of plagues. There were three of them, they had come to learn. One that went after the lungs, though that one hadn't hit England as hard as the rest of Europe yet. Another that caused boils to fester along a person's inner thigh and up their groin. The last caused those same boils to fester around a person's neck and spread down their armpits. Although, after enough time, sometimes it was hard to tell the second two apart, as the boils tended to spread quickly. Sometimes the person's limbs would blacken and die before they did, sometimes they would vomit blood, and sometimes they just passed uneventfully. But no one lived past a week. Most died after around five days (with Crowley's help it was usually cut down to just two), but occasionally one would suffer for a week. Crowley gritted his teeth. He would need to be an outlier. He had to survive for a week, or longer. He couldn't leave Aziraphale to clean up this mess.
So he pushed away the cloudy feeling in his head and pushed his body to the next house, and the next one. He was rather quiet and just let Aziraphale tell the story they had come up with: that they were doctors and they were there to make sure no one suffered any more than they already had. They were only turned away once, a couple weeks ago. For the most part, though, everyone would let them in because they refused to let their loved ones suffer any longer than necessary.
Crowley shuffled inside a victim's house on the third day of his bite, glad that his sunglasses shielded his eyes from the occupants, as he was sure that his eyes were bloodshot, similar to the victim lying prone on the bed. He knelt by the bedside and rested a hand on their small chest, eyes tracing over the boils that had swelled under their chin. They had tears trickling down their cheeks as they watched Crowley.
"I'm going to die, aren't I?" They wheezed, and Crowley felt something twist inside him when he heard that it was a young boy whose voice had yet to drop.
Crowley opened his mouth to reassure the child that he would be okay, but the lie got stuck in his throat. "I'm sorry," was all he said, and allowed a demonic miracle to pass down his arm and into the boy's chest, stopping his heart immediately. Chaos ensued around the room, people sobbing and demanding for Crowley to bring him back, and Aziraphale did what he could to calm them, trying to explain that the boy was no longer suffering and that he was safe in Heaven now. Crowley wasn't sure if the last part was true, but it seemed to calm the occupants enough so he and Aziraphale could leave without being flogged. It was much quicker than usual, as Crowley liked to let the family say their goodbyes. But it was a child, and Crowley couldn't let him suffer.
As soon as they stepped outside, Crowley felt dizziness swell over him and he staggered, stumbling into a tree to hold his balance. Aziraphale was right by his side. "Crowley?" He asked, holding the demon's elbow. Crowley raised his gaze to Aziraphale but quickly lowered it when he realized that his glasses had slid down his nose the smallest bit, and his bloodshot eyes were visible.
But it was too late. Aziraphale's breath caught and he ushered them to kneel in a small garden between two buildings where they wouldn't be bothered. He reached up and unhooked Crowley's glasses from his ears despite his protests. Once they were gone, Crowley squeezed his eyes shut.
Aziraphale's soft hand rested on his cheek. "My dear, please look at me." And oh Satan, the amount of fear that shook Aziraphale's request nearly made Crowley's heart break. So he reluctantly opened them.
Aziraphale couldn't stop the single sob from ripping through him as he tossed the glasses away and held Crowley's face with both hands. "When were you going to tell me?" He asked, sounding betrayed.
This wasn't fair, Crowley thought petulantly. He dropped his gaze but that was enough answer for Aziraphale. After over five thousand years, Aziraphale knew Crowley as well.
"You were going to push yourself to discorporation just to save the people here?" He asked in awe. Crowley debated correcting him: it wasn't for the people; rather, it was so Aziraphale wouldn't have to suffer with helping these people alone. But he knew Aziraphale wouldn't return the sentiment, so he instead gave a weak nod. Aziraphale's grip tightened. "You stupid demon, were you even going to try to heal yourself?"
He blinked sadly. "I don't think that's a good idea."
Aziraphale didn't wait a moment longer. He raised his own hand, ready to summon a holy miracle, but Crowley quickly grabbed his hand before he could do it. "No!" He argued, glancing up as if Heaven could hear him. "If they know you used a miracle to save me, you'll Fall for sure!" Aziraphale frowned and tried to shake off Crowley's grip.
"I don't care," he spat, raising his hand again. Crowley held on for everything he was worth.
"Please don't," he begged. "It will just cause problems for all of us. Some demon sent the rat after me, so I know Hell will be expecting me. If I don't show, they'll check why. And then you'll be in trouble with both Heaven and Hell. I can't let you risk your status for me, Angel. Please."
Aziraphale frowned deeply and his voice was harsh but Crowley could hear the fear hiding inside the rough exterior when he said, "Why do you care about my status? You're a demon, you should want me to Fall."
Crowley shook his head and felt himself stiffen when a shock of pain shot through him. "I don't want you to Fall," he said weakly.
"Oh, so you can tell all your friends you have an angel as a friend?" Aziraphale's words stung, but Crowley was too tired to really let them hurt him.
"Because you're happy as an angel. And I like seeing you happy."
All of Aziraphale's anger disappeared in an instant, as he couldn't even pretend to be mad anymore. "I like seeing you alive," he whispered, touching their foreheads together. Crowley took a breath to answer, but felt the air choke him. He coughed, turning away from Aziraphale so he wouldn't get him sick too. As he coughed, instead of feeling better, it started to turn into a burning sensation that caused him to cough harder. He pushed away from Aziraphale altogether and braced himself on his hands and knees, coughing up a lung. He felt a gentle hand on his back and gave Aziraphale a sad smile before coughing once more.
Finally it tapered off, but not before leaving Crowley feeling raw from the inside out. Everything burned and when he opened his eyes (when had he closed them?), he saw a spray of blood between his hands. His eyes widened but he couldn't find the energy to move. Thankfully Aziraphale gathered him up into a cradle and hurried them away. Crowley felt a bit of embarrassment at being carried like a child, but another part was grateful that he didn't have to walk. He wasn't sure if he even could.
They entered an empty house. Crowley vaguely remembered it from a previous rescue he and Aziraphale had performed. They had gotten there immediately after the person was infected, so the house was still relatively clean and free from the plague. Aziraphale settled Crowley onto the bed.
"...shouldn't be here," Crowley said, his breaths coming in harder than he liked.
Aziraphale shook his head. "Nonsense, your house is too far away."
"No," Crowley wheezed. "I mean you shouldn't be here. You have to go help the plague victims. You can't stop just because of me."
"You are a plague victim," Aziraphale said softly, eyes welling with tears as though saying it suddenly made it more real.
Crowley groaned, coughing lightly when it irritated his throat. "I can miracle myself things to feel better." As if to prove his point, he snapped his fingers and a bowl with cool water and a clean rag manifested on the side table. He reached over and slapped the rag (still dripping wet) over his eyes. "See?" He said with a smirk. "Humans can't do that. You have to go help them," he slid the rag up to his forehead to he could see his angel, and felt something stir deep in his chest at the look Aziraphale was giving him.
The air was thick for a few moments, until Aziraphale looked away with a quick sigh. "Okay, I'll go help three families, then I'll be back to check on you." Crowley felt relief flood him as Aziraphale stood and slowly started making his way to the door. "If anything happens..." he trailed off. "Just– don't let anything happen while I'm gone," he said quietly. And then with a snap of his fingers, he disappeared.
Crowley sagged into the bed, no longer trying to be strong. He had been fighting the effects of the plague for almost four days now and it was starting to take a toll. His imagination could only work for so long. His body ached fiercely and his throat burned. He leaned over the side of the bed and coughed, watching with mild concern as the blood splatters were larger than before. He took stock of his body. Sure it hurt, but where specifically? His chest, a bit, but mostly in his neck. He reached a hand up to his neck and felt his blood run cold when he found a small, walnut-sized tumor under the skin by his jaw.
It hurt to touch it but Crowley found himself feeling it anyway. The first of many, he knew. He felt the other side of his neck and found a welt that was much smaller, hardly noticeable. Great, plague type three it was, then. At least it wasn't the one that attacked the groin. He let his head fall back and he took a few deep breaths. His chest felt alright (just stiff with fear), so he doubted he had the lung plague. The boils on his neck must have been the sole cause for the blood-laced coughs.
Some time passed and Crowley could quite literally feel himself declining. Clumsily he dipped the rag back into the cool water and placed it back on his head. It felt amazing for the fever he knew he had. Without anything else to focus his energy on, all he could do was assess how bad he felt, which only made him feel worse, which was all he could think about. It was a vicious cycle.
His head became more and more hazy. The towel grew warm and soggy on his head, but he couldn't coordinate his arms to re-wet the it. Fever wasn't breaking, he knew. But there was nothing really to do.
A small part of him wished Aziraphale was there to help him re-wet the rag and hold his hand and...maybe even do what Crowley had been doing for the hopeless victims and just make it end. But then again, he couldn't wish for Aziraphale to have his blood on his hands. Part of him wanted to reach out with his essence to try to summon Aziraphale back to him. He shut that thought down immediately. He couldn't allow Aziraphale to get in trouble or Fall because of him. He was too proud of his Angel, too proud of what Aziraphale had accomplished, too proud to put something as insignificant as his comfort over Aziraphale's well-being.
So instead, he lay on that bed and he suffered, completely alone.
Screams of anguish rang out through the city but it had become background noise by now. Just the sound of another life being snuffed out. Crowley knew in the end his death would just be another statistic. And he knew that he would be back eventually, since he was the demon assigned to Earth and he had work to do. But that didn't mean he wanted to die.
He wanted nothing more than to stay with Aziraphale and make sure they helped as many people out of the city, together. He wanted to see the relief on Aziraphale's face when the death toll stopped rising. But he knew that if he stayed, then Aziraphale would get in trouble.
Like hellfire, but from within. He panted, trying to cool down. The warm, wet rag dripping into his eyes was an annoyance.
Suddenly the rag was lifted away and when it returned, it was deliciously cool against his fevered brow. He sighed deeply and opened his eyes. They were cloudy and blurred and he couldn't get them to focus. But he knew, even without focusing his eyes, that his Angel had come back. His warm aura was a balm against Crowley's panic and pain.
Something warm and soft touched his hand and squeezed gently. Words were spoken but Crowley couldn't understand them. They were gentle and just as warm and soft as the fingers curled around his cold hand. He wanted to reply, to tell Aziraphale that he couldn't understand his words but that he knew he was there. His throat worked but all it did was cough wetly, sending a small river of hot, metallic-tasting liquid down his cheek.
Fabric dragged down his cheek immediately after, wiping away the blood. Every breath rattled with blood and Crowley found the rasp annoying, so he simply stopped breathing. He didn't need to, anyway. The hand holding his gripped tighter and the voice grew more frantic.
Crowley's heart squeezed tightly. He couldn't let Aziraphale suffer. Because at this point, both of them were suffering needlessly. So he let his eyes slide closed and called out silently for Death to come. He hoped Death would listen. He was a demon, after all. And they were supposed to mind their own business.
But with a surge of fear, he felt the answering wave of black over his consciousness. A voice murmured above him, and it sounded scared. He pulled every ounce of strength he had into giving Aziraphale's hand what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze, before Death forcefully separated him from his corporeal form with his scythe and cast the demon below. He tried climbing back up to Earth, he unfurled his deep black wings and beat them hard, hoping he could rise long enough to tell Aziraphale that he would be back. Tell him not to worry. Tell him they would be okay.
He couldn't even so much as see Aziraphale before he was sucked down below as though it were a black hole.