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it'll get in my head in a bad way, baby

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Sometime Before Years Were Invented

Something is wrong. Not wrong, but off. Blinking a few times, Chamuel realizes it’s his depth perception. Of course it is; that’s how he’d gotten himself captured in the first place. There’s still blood dripping from the cut running through the eye in the center of his chest. There’s a few more that have been blinded, too, but those came after he’d been locked up. He tries to rub some of the blood away: right, he’s shackled to the wall. That’s part of why all his muscles hurt so much. He tries to stretch: right, they’d broken his wings, along with a few other bones. So he couldn’t escape. And that was after they’d clipped his wings, and put him in the second most secure cell the prison had (obviously, the first one was reserved, and if he’d heard right, that reservation had just been filled). He’s beginning to think the angels that threw him in here are doing a little more than following orders. Or maybe, he thinks, looking with his remaining eyes at the blood on the cell floor, these were the orders. Maybe the Almighty is really that angry. He won’t put it past her; not after he challenged her Plan in front of the entire population of Heaven.
He’s the angel of peace. You’d think there would be some sort of conscientious objector status allowed.
The cell door slams open and a short figure enters, messy hair and red robes. Bazazath. They’ve been running the prison since it’s creation, and Chamuel can’t imagine they’ve ever seen it so crowded.
“What is it?” He does his best to sit up straight and look them in the eyes. It takes more effort than he was expecting.
They speak with a lisp that sounds a bit like buzzing. “The jury has evaluated your case. I’m not supposed to talk to you before the official sentencing, but I thought you ought to know. You got off a lot easier than the rest of us.”
“Us?”
Bazazath sighs. “I’m on your side. I’d help stage a jail break, but I think it’s too late. And it’ll be soon enough that they find out as it is. He’s… convincing. I guess.”
Chamuel nods. He’s not sure he should be included in “us.” If it were up to him, there wouldn’t be any sides. There wouldn’t be any Plans. He’d joined Lucifer because he thought they wanted the same things, but the second the word “war” left the other arcangel’s mouth he’d started looking for a way out. And, well, clearly he hadn’t found one. He would give anything to be back to where he was before the War, sitting on the edge of the Almighty’s desk, watching Her draft another blueprint for the Humans. Watching with all of his eyes. “What’s the verdict?” he asks, carefully stepping around the subject of Lucifer and sides and convincing.
“Everyone else- well, almost everyone else, there’s a few who got the same offer as you- they’re getting banished from Heaven. All the way. Demoted so far they won’t even be angels anymore. Almighty’s built a whole new realm for them. It’s… harsh. That’s coming from me. But the jury said they’d let you stay. You’d spend some time in prison, of course, but not eternity. All you have to do is say you agree with the Great Plan.”
“Banished.”
“Yeah.”
“Demoted.”
“I’ve never seen the likes of it. I guess She really doesn’t like infighting.”
“Right. And if I don’t agree to it…”
Bazazath jerks a thumb at their wings and makes a slow slicing motion.
“Right.”
“I’ve got to go tell the others. Think it over. Someone’ll be here to bring you to the sentencing later.” They stand there, lips pursed, assessing the damage. Chamuel’s forgotten how much of it they inflicted. “You- we… we lost. No matter what you do, the Plan’s going to go through. So if you really hate it so much, I guess you should figure out which side you can stop it from.”
The door closes with a click behind them. They’re right: the Plan’s already started, practically. He saw the sketch of Eden pinned up on God’s office wall. The Antichrist had been partially his idea. Everything had been placed on an immovable timeline. First, time would start. Then, it would keep ticking and ticking until it ended, six thousand years later. Chamuel didn’t even know what a year was yet, but he knew that six thousand of them couldn’t possibly be enough time. Not enough time for Humans to exhaust their full potential. Not enough time for them to live up to expectations. There hadn’t even been enough time for any of the angels to live up to expectations. They’d all been a bit of a let-down. Lucifer had been Her favorite. Chamuel had been a close second, and it seems like he might still have a fighting chance. It’s tempting to take the offer. Keep his head down for a while. Develop a stronger argument. Drum up some more support- no easy task, post-War, but he could manage something. Bring it up again, after everyone’s bruises have faded. Take the Plan down from the inside, without fighting, without violence.
But he’s an optimist, not an idiot. He knows that even the earliest drafts called for a war. Angels, despite (or maybe because of) the harmony they live in so comfortably, have a high capacity for violence, and an ocean of bloodlust boiling just under the peaceful surface. He knows that. He thought he’d known that before, but he had broken wings and blind eyes telling him how unprepared he’d been.
Maybe demoted, banished, that ocean of blood would calm a little. Maybe they’d all be able to think a little clearer, lick their wounds, gather their senses. Maybe it would be for the best. At the moment, Chamuel wants as little angel in him as possible. And staying on Lucifer’s side seems to be the best way to do that.
He closes his eyes. Ordinarily, he’d pray. But it seems like too little, too late, and he knows She won’t listen.

Aziraphale sits in the seat he’d been assigned upon his creation. It’s toward the front of the hall, but so far to the left that he still doesn’t get a very clear view. He can see that the podium has been removed, along with the glass from the window behind it. And below that, some fifty stories, the ground seems to have been taken away, leaving a long, dark tunnel, leading God knows where. And indeed, God is the only one who knows where it went. She hasn’t told anyone what She’s built for the banished angels, but Aziraphale has heard rumors. An exact clone of Heaven. A more secure branch of the prison. A pit of sulphur. He tries his best not to pay too much attention to rumors, but it seems to him that they wouldn’t be making such a big fuss of sending the exiles to a new branch of the same prison they’d all been in since the War ended.
Gabriel opens the ceremony. He stands where the podium usually is and waits for silence. It comes quickly. Aziraphale doesn’t remember when the Archangels had taken charge, but it was sometime soon after the war. They keep saying that they’ve been able to reach the Almighty, that they’re just delegating Her orders in Her absence. And angels don’t lie. They don’t even stretch the truth, except in extremely rare cases.
“Hosts,” Gabriel begins. He smiles. “The fighting has been over for quite some time now, but we cannot consider that the end of the War. In order for that to happen, peace must be restored. The Great Plan must be set in place. And, as you all know, the Plan requires a unanimous vote. We had hoped, before, that everyone would act with the Almighty’s, and her future creations’, best interests at heart. That did not happen. Now, in order for us to move on, we must make sure that everyone remaining in Heaven can be trusted to vote, and act, and obey, for the good of all of us, and all of the future Humans. We will be banishing all dissenting voters, all those who fought against us, as insurance, therefore putting a complete end to the War.”
One by one, angels are brought to the edge of the glassless window. They are offered a chance to say their last words. Most of them have nothing to say. Aziraphale pretends not to notice how hurt they all look, both emotionally and physically; all of his wounds from the War have healed, so there’s all must have come from their time in prison. He also pretends not to notice how many empty seats there are in the hall, or how many names are being read off Gabriel’s list, or how many angels are Falling through the window. It’s not the majority, but it’s a lot more than Aziraphale would have expected. Certainly more than anyone could feel entirely comfortable with banishing.
Lucifer Falls last, and he does it with a grin on his face. The angels in their seats erupt into applause, and Aziraphale claps quietly along with them, maintaining appearances. When he’s perfectly honest with himself, he can’t help but agree with the dissidents. It seems cruel to create something designed to be so intelligent, so perfect, only to destroy it just when things really settle down. At the proposal meeting just before the War, he’d very nearly stood up with the angels who had just stepped out the window. But, as everyone kept reminding him, some motions were inexplicable. And those motions still needed to be passed unanimously in order to move forward. Also, he’s firmly against Lucifer’s methods. He thinks there must be a way to sort everything out rationally, democratically. Really, the only reason he’s not Falling right along with them is principle.
The remaining angels, Aziraphale cautiously among them, shuffle out of the hall. He stays silent, but listens:
“It’s for the best, really.”
“I heard they’ve got their own Plan.”
“Well, it can’t be very good. They lost, after all.”
He takes one of the last elevators down to the ground floor, and as a result is one of the last people left in the lobby. No one left but a few pairs of angels on their way out, and a group of three, standing directly in front of the door that leads out to the tunnel all the dissidents had Fallen into just a few minutes before. One of them holds a clipboard, the other a pen. The third has long red hair and what looks like a broken wing.
“I’m really sorry,” he’s saying. “But I can’t.”
“You’re choosing that?” the angel holding the pen says.
“I’m afraid so. I don’t like it either.”
“You’re worse than the others. If any of them were offered a chance, they’d renounce their betrayal. Everyone else who got the choice, chose correctly.”
“Well. First time for everything. Hello,” the red-haired angel turns and waves at Aziraphale.
“Have fun with your Plan,” sneers the angel with the clipboard.
The red-haired angel opens the door and smiles with only a trace of sadness. “Oh, I don’t have a Plan. Don’t really care for them.” He saunters to the edge of the hole and steps casually in.
“No, stop!” Aziraphale calls, but he’s already Falling.

Chapter Text

1895, 124 Years Before the End of the World

Crowley’s kitchen floor is covered in blood. For once, it isn’t his blood; he’s stayed low enough on Hell’s radar that he hasn’t had to patch himself up in years. It’s been so long since he’s stitched closed a stab wound that he’s forgotten where the needle and thread are, and is currently searching frantically through the drawers for them.
Ordinarily, he’d be grateful that it wasn’t him. Happy, even. But he’d gone and gotten himself in love, and now he couldn’t even take comfort in the fact that it wasn’t him who had been nearly killed by his superiors.
Aziraphale, from his position on the floor, held up an empty bottle. “Have you got any more?”
“Of course. Don’t move your arms too much. You’ll make the bleeding worse.” Crowley pulls another bottle of whiskey off a shelf and hands it to the angel.
His memories from Heaven are fuzzy, at best. White walls and blank facial expressions, mostly. But the judicial system is ingrained in the back of his mind like a brand. He’d had to represent himself, during the Trials. Not to mention, he’d helped draft most of the laws. He knows the rules about miracles, and fraternization, and he knows the punishment for breaking them.
“-sure you can’t jus’ make it, go away, er-“
“Doesn’t work like that, angel. Miracle-proof.” The needle and thread are in the last of the nearly-empty cabinets.
He kneels behind Aziraphale, pushing down the rage boiling inside of him. Ninety percent of his life is spent pushing down some degree of boiling rage- it’s been that way since he Fell- but usually it doesn’t take so much effort. He clenches his jaw and picks up a kitchen knife.
“I’m going to cut your shirt off.” He lifts the red-soaked fabric off Aziraphale’s back; he almost has to stop when he feels the flinch that comes with the action.
Two straight lines, blood seeping out of them, running from the base of his neck to just above his wings. Surgical. Practiced. Crowley takes the bottle from Aziraphale and pours the whiskey into a towel.
“‘S gonna sting,” he says, like it matters, like anything could make the situation worse than it already is.

Aziraphale nods and closes his eyes. He is trying to forget what’s happening behind him. He can’t, because it hurts so much already and then Crowley starts the process of stitching him up, but he’s doing a fairly good job given the circumstances. His memories of the day have already dissolved into a vague collection of snapshots: Gabriel walking into his shop, flanked by Michael and Uriel; a holding cell of some sort, the walls covered in carefully-drawn sigils; the phrase “frivolous miracles” for what felt like the millionth time; another room, brighter, with sigils that hurt to look at; and Crowley’s apartment, wondering why it was so hard to stand up. He still couldn’t quite place that part. There was blood on the floor, and he was almost certain it was his, judging from the panicked look the demon had had when he’d walked in on him. And from how much everything hurts. Whatever had happened, it was probably his fault, Aziraphale knew. Perhaps he’d given away something else important, or skipped another blessing in favor of a nice lunch, or said the wrong thing around Gabriel again.
“What’s your new... position?” Crowley asks.
Aziraphale has no idea what he’s talking about.
“Angel, you still with me?”
“Mmm, yes.” He takes another sip of whiskey. The motion hurts his shoulders. He doesn’t remember why, and he considers this a victory.
“I’m going to kill those bastards. What’d you do this time, save someone innocent from hanging? Cure consumption? Eat a pastry? Fuck them. All right, I’m done with the first one.”
“First what?” Aziraphale hopes the words come out correctly. He’s too drunk to tell whether or not they did.
“Your... just hold still. ‘N then we’ll get you into bed.”
“I don’t sleep.”
“You’re going to want to.”
Crowley’s right. His head keeps pitching forward. The edges of his vision are a bit frayed, and all he wants to do is close his eyes. He suddenly feels like he’s spent the past five thousand years trying to stay awake for one more hour, hour after hour, and he’s just been given the opportunity to stop. Even though he doesn’t know why, he’s going to take the offer.
“Whoa, hey, angel. A couple more minutes, okay?”
There’s something in Aziraphale’s hand, and then there isn’t.
He’s standing up- or he’s upright, someone else is doing most of the standing- and there is the feeling of blood drying and a hand on his chest.
And then, in a warm sort of way, there isn’t much of anything.

Crowley doesn’t sleep. What he does instead, is finish the whiskey that Aziraphale hadn’t gotten to the bottom of, and miracles the kitchen clean so his housekeeper doesn’t wake up to a murder scene, and tries to summon Gabriel, even though he knows full well it won’t work because he’s a demon, and sits on the elaborate chair in the corner of his room waiting for Aziraphale to wake up.
It’s impossible to spend eternity in Heaven and not end up with some kind of scarring. It’s baffling that Aziraphale made it as long as he has. Even Gabriel has a thin line just below his collarbone, from the War. Crowley knows, because he was the one who gave it to him. The only real difference between upstairs and downstairs is that angels make sure they only hurt each other in places that can be easily covered up. Nothing above the shirt collar. Nothing below the sleeves. And everything continues as normal. Sure, they’ll throw anyone who doesn’t agree with them in prison for a few thousand years and break the bones in their wings and blind them and brand the bottoms of their feet, but the day an angel gets a split lip is the day after Hell freezes over.
He watches Aziraphale sleep. He looks peaceful. More than that, he looks fine, except for a little bit of dried blood on his fingers, but that’ll wash off like it’s nothing.
Against his will, Crowley wonders what it felt like. Obviously he knows what the process is, he’d put a few angels through it himself before the War. It was one of the main reasons for the side he chose. He knows what the rooms look like; he could probably remember the incantations if he tried hard enough. Sometimes he sees the ideas they come up with in Hell and thinks that maybe they’d be able to cause more pain if they consulted the other side. He stands up abruptly and walks back into the kitchen. The sun is about to rise, and soon Aziraphale is going to wake up, and either he’ll remember what happened or Crowley is going to have to explain it to him. He opens the one cabinet that’s stocked with things other than liquor and first-aid supplies and takes out a tin full of chocolate.

Waking up is a strange process for Aziraphale. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, and he doesn’t remember what happened while he was asleep, and suddenly his eyes are open and he’s in a bed he can’t recall climbing into and it’s several hours later. It’s a new experience, to say the least. But given the effort it takes not to drift back off, he has the feeling he’s going to have to get used to it.
His back hurts. So much that he can’t even lift his arm over his shoulder to feel what’s happening. The need to know what’s happened overpowers his better judgement, though, and he tries to sit up.
Through the black spots that appear in his vision, he sees a lavish bedroom, far more expensive than the flat above his bookshop, and a thin dark figure lunging towards him, eyes glowing gold in the sunrise. Crowley’s house in Piccadilly; why is he here? He shouldn’t be, he knows that much. It’s bad enough Aziraphale sees the demon as often as he does, bad enough that they’ve spoken more than a few words to each other, and that none of the words Aziraphale has used have been part of an exorcism, and now he’s waking up in his house. Presumably he came straight over after… whatever happened. Going back to his own side of town should be his first priority. For some reason, though, feeling hands guiding him back to the sheets and pillows, he decides that it isn’t.
“Don’t try moving yet. Here, I- er, the housekeeper made some cocoa.”
“Thank you,” Aziraphale says, hoarsely, fighting all the instincts telling him to snap his fingers and send Crowley back to Hell and very nearly losing. “Could you… could you explain what I’m doing here?”
“Wh- how am I s’posed to know? I came downstairs for a bottle of whiskey and you were bleeding out on my floor.”
“Oh. Any idea why?”
“You…” his expression isn’t one Aziraphale recognizes. “... don’t remember.”
“I can’t say that I do.”
Crowley is standing at the end of the bed with his hands in his pockets. “What’s your order?”
“What kind of a question is that? You know. You saw me in Eden.” Aziraphale’s urge to leave pushes harder against his back, along with the pain. The demon could very well be trying to get information for his side to use. Even with the Arrangement so firmly in place, they were fundamentally at odds. It was times like this Aziraphale remembered that.
“Just tell me.”
He glares and relents. But when he finally answers the question, the wrong answer comes out of his mouth. It comes with the same factuality it always has, the same confidence; it’s the wrong word, though. “Principality.” His brows knit together. “Principality. No. I’m, er…”
“What, five orders? All the way from two to seven?” Crowley angrily paces the room.”You couldn’t’ve done anything that bad. I’ll slit their throats. It was Gabriel, wasn’t it?”
“Of course it was Gabriel. And Michael. They’re the ones in charge, since the War.” Things are coming back to Aziraphale. The courtroom, and a line of angels in green, gold staffs in their hands, reciting something in unison that he couldn’t hear over the ringing in his ears. Michael’s voice- “you do the honors”- and violet eyes reflected in a long, sterilized knife. “Demoted,” the angel says softly. Despite the tiredness, he is determined to keep his eyes open. He’s never had them himself, but he knows about nightmares.
Crowley hisses. Aziraphale just purses his lips and folds his hands neatly over his stomach. It really isn’t up to the Archangels, he knows. It’s a democratic process. Besides, he’s been issued plenty of warnings; been given plenty of space to do what he’s supposed to. It was only matter of time.
“‘M sorry, angel,” Crowley says.

Chapter Text

1985, 34 Years Before the End of the World

Aziraphale slowly replaces the furniture in his back room, taking care to cover up every trace of the chalk on his floor. It’s more for himself than any potential customers; he can barely stand the notion of contacting Heaven on a good day. And today has been, well…
He resets his chair in front of his desk and sinks into it. Ideally, he would stare at the pens and “this book belongs to” stickers until he thinks of something more productive to do. It usually takes less than an hour, no matter how badly the meeting has gone. Which is why the fact that he is already dialing Crowley’s number takes him by surprise. Almost as much as the stinging feeling in his eyes does.
He dials it three times before he actually calls. As much as he hates to admit it, part of him would still rather follow orders than talk to his friend; the same part of him, no doubt, that still keeps him stuttering whenever he speaks in front of Gabriel, and still keeps him from covering up the scars on his back with a facade, the way Crowley does with all the damage still visible from the War and the Fall and six thousand years of disobeying Hell. The fact that he manages to let the phone ring at all is a vast improvement from past meetings.
“What.”
“Just, um, making sure you were home, dear. I’m coming right over. If it’s okay, I mean.”
“Now? What for?”
“It’s, er-”
“Heaven, isn’t it.”
“Well, yes, it, I mean-”
“Come on. Don’t encourage the plants.”
He takes a cab to the apartment. Cab drivers always seem to know when not to start a conversation. Aziraphale can’t remember which side invented taxis, and he also can’t tell if it’s a sixth sense or the fact that he’s so clearly on the verge of tears, but either way he makes it across town without having to say more than ten words. Which is all he can manage.
Crowley’s apartment is much warmer than it looks. Despite all the gray and stone and metal, every room is kept at a consistent 80 degrees. Warmer in winter. He’s always had the most advanced heating system available. Aziraphale doesn’t mind; it comes with the fact that his best friend is cold-blooded and keeps one of the largest collections of tropical plants in London. He takes off his jacket and hangs it on a hook that he doesn’t remember being there last time he came.
“In here,” calls Crowley from the kitchen. “Tea or scotch?”
“I’m all right, thank you.” Aziraphale’s stomach isn’t done churning yet.
“What happened?”
He sits at the chrome table and folds his hands in front of him, clenching his fingers together until his knuckles turn white. It’s a habit, and it’s the kind of habit that shows itself more clearly after a day of listening to Gabriel criticizing his every move.
“They- well, it wasn’t much, really, they just took some collateral. A few books.”
Crowley sits down across from him. He’s poured two glasses of scotch, just in case. “What’s collateral? And what do the bastards want with books? They can’t read.”
“They can read Latin. And Hebrew.”
“Physically, maybe. Not emotionally.”
“Well. Collateral is… I have some very important miracles lined up. On the to-do list, you know. Direct orders.”
“Of course.”
“And they needed to make sure that I wouldn’t, er… that it wouldn’t go wrong. So they took a few books, and they’re going to give them back after everything goes smoothly. Which it will. I’m sure your side has a similar system.”
“Oh, my side doesn’t have any systems. I send an email and I get a carrier pigeon back. ‘N none of ‘em care enough about the jobs they give me to ask for any kind of insurance. They weren’t too important, were they? The books.”
Aziraphale stares at his hands. Then, he takes the second glass of scotch and downs it.
“Angel.” Crowley’s face hardens into a glare. “They wouldn’t happen to be your prophecy collection, would they?”
Aziraphale nods. He knows it’s all the demon can do not to strap on a pair of fireman’s boots and march up the escalator to Heaven, just to tell Gabriel off himself, that he’s currently thinking of all the things he could do with the half-empty glass of scotch in front of him. But they’ve been through this enough times. Crowley won’t do anything rash; not after the four times he’s tried to break into Heaven and the countless more times he’s attempted to summon the Archangel, only to be stopped by a panicking Aziraphale.
After a few tense moments, the Hellfire fades from Crowley’s eyes. He pushes his glass across the table. “You need this more’n I do,” he says quietly.
“I shouldn’t,” Aziraphale replies. He stands up on shaky legs. “In fact I should get to work. Yes. Er, I should get to work.” It’s all he can do. It’s all he should ever be doing, he reminds himself. All the restaurants, and ducks, and scotch, and books: frivolous. He really shouldn’t even care that they took the prophecies. What good was being an angel if you cared more about material objects than your orders from the Almighty? When it came down to it, everything in Aziraphale’s life should be labelled as frivolous. Collateral is only for people with the wrong priorities.
And, he thought, looking at Crowley with his hair falling around his shoulders, his priorities were about as wrong as they could possibly be.