Sometime after the death of Christ (Crowley hated keeping track of years. That was somebody else's job.)
It might have been the worst week of Crowley's inimitable existence.
During his last check-in Beelzebub had buzzed at him dubiously about his latest work, but didn’t question him too much, which should have been his first warning. Because Beelzebub always questioned him. His second should have been when they declared, “We’re sending you to Rome.”
“What for?” Crowley had asked. He hadn’t been to Rome in a while and he wasn’t fond of the place. Bad food, bad wine, too many people.
Beelzebub waved their hand dismissively. “You’ll know when you get there. Just get close to the emperor. You’ll figure it out.”
Crowley hadn’t liked that at all. His preference was to be left entirely to his own devices, forgotten by hell to do as he pleased. Whenever he got actual assignments, he liked the straightforward ones. In and out as it were. This sounded needlessly open-ended.
But before he could push back against his vague orders, he found himself popped into the streets of Rome—directly into a pile of horse droppings—and decided he didn’t have much choice but to get to work.
The horseshit was an omen of what was to come. First, Crowley had been groped by no less than three politicians who tried their best to proposition him for sex. Which...gross. Sex with a human? Disgusting. Crowley hardly went in for the idea of sex at all. Seemed...messy. And with humans? They had all those feelings and they oozed.
Then he befriended the emperor easy enough but it turned out the emperor was an insane person who liked to kill anybody who looked at him sideways.
“A cask of...whatever you’ve got,” he growled at the serving girl in the tavern he’d posted up in. He just wanted to get drunk. He wanted to forget the execution he’d witnessed about an hour ago and forget the fact that that was exactly why Hell had sent him here. To get a teenage boy executed.
Crowley normally liked his demonic work. A little tempting here, wiling there. A perfect outlet for his energy and his monumental creativity. The other demons didn’t understand what it took to really stir the pot on Earth. It was all about leaving the minutiae up to the humans, they’d figure it out, they always did. Mindlessly creative, humans. It’s what Crowley liked about them.
He peered into the already dwindling reserves in his cup and wondered if he could will the alcohol directly into his bloodstream. Make it faster so he could pass out and forget about the way the child’s eyes had gone wide while he begged for his life.
He knew that posh voice anywhere. The blasted angel. Always appearing when Crowley least expected it, defending Heaven’s awful behavior with a shaking voice but stalwart resolve. The guardian of the eastern gate, Crowley sneered in his mind. Aziraphale.
“Fancy seeing you here!” Aziraphale said as he sidled onto the stool next to Crowley. The angel sounded excited to see him. Crowley must be reading the situation wrong. No one was ever excited to see him, especially not his demon coworkers so why would an angel be excited about it. Crowley's heart did something strange in his chest like it was going simultaneously too fast and too slow. What the fuck?
Aziraphale looked unbearably bright compared to the dinginess of the tavern, white tunic clasped about his shoulders, impeccable and clean. How all the humans didn’t recognize his ethereal nature Crowley had no idea.
Crowley grunted and poured himself more wine. He wasn’t exactly in the mood for philosophical conversations about the nature of good and evil. Sure, he usually went in for that sort of thing. That’s why he tended to consider the angel worthwhile company. Good for needling and flustering and general entertainment.
“Still a demon then,” Aziraphale muttered but there was no reproach in it. Despite that Crowley couldn’t stop himself from snapping at him.
“What else would I be? An aardvark?” Crowley twisted his lips and took another swallow of wine. He wondered if he could use his powers to make it taste better.
Aziraphale’s hands fluttered in front of him and then settled into his lap. “Ah, yes. Silly question. What are you in Rome for then?”
“The usual,” Crowley grunted. Maybe if he was rude, Aziraphale would leave him to drown his sorrows alone.
When he looked over at the angel, the uncomfortable look on his face made Crowley feel guilty—ridiculous—so he conceded, “You? A bit of heavenly business then?”
“No, actually,” Aziraphale said, relief clear in his voice. Why did he sound so relieved that Crowley was making small talk with him? “I’m here to try a new restaurant. I heard the oysters are remarkable.”
Crowley snorted. Oysters. The angel would be after food. He remembered that time in Phoenicia when Aziraphale appeared to try some spiced beans of all things. Crowley had no interest in beans. But the Phoenicians did have delicious wine, he thought fondly.
“You should come with me!” Aziraphale said, like it was the best idea he had ever had.
Crowley looked at him from the corner of his eye and wondered for a moment if that was just the distraction he needed.
“Could I tempt you to a spot of lunch, then?” Aziraphale said and Crowley couldn’t disguise his glee at his choice of words. An angel trying to tempt him. Maybe he should write a report. Get a commendation.
Aziraphale gasped. “Oh no! I mean, that’s your job.”
Crowley chuckled and his heart lightened a bit.
“Phrasing aside,” Aziraphale continued with an awkward smile, “The offer stands.”
And, with nothing better to do, Crowley agreed.