Crowley had come to Aziraphale’s bookshop mostly because he was bored. Unfortunately Aziraphale had opened the bookshop today and there was an infuriatingly steady trickle of customers. He filled his time waiting for the Angel to close up by hurrying them along. They would pick up a book that looked fascinating, only to discover it was an in depth (and out of date) study on cheese mould. Or the book would feel inexplicably damp and smell. He was pleased with the weird high pitched noise that got rid of two in one go. He’d finally managed to get rid of the last one with a splinter from the bookshelf. Not an easy task.
He glanced at Aziraphale but the Angel was too busy with his filing to notice what Crowley was up to.
Another lady came in as splinter boy left. Damn. She looked determined, as if she was here to find something specific. Why did people come to bookshops looking for knowledge? Haven’t they heard of the internet? Crowley was just mulling over what form of deterrent to use (spider’s nest? Nasty smell? Or maybe he could go and stand just a little bit too close to her…) when she saw Aziraphale and headed straight for him.
“Angel Aziraphale? Principality and Guardian of the Eastern Gate?” Crowley froze and hoped she hadn’t seen him.
Aziraphale was so shocked to hear his full title that it didn’t occur to him to deny it.
“Yes...” he began. In the background the bookshop door locked itself and the sign now read ‘Closed’.
“I’m Sylvia” said the lady dressed in grey. “Eternal Affairs. I hear you have made a complaint about some” she checked her notes “‘bad Angels’?”
Crowley and Aziraphale were dumbstruck. The lady in front of them was dressed in a drab grey suit. Too dark and plain for Heaven’s usual attire, but too clean and well-fitting for Hell. Eternal Affairs was a special place reserved for the souls of the detail-orientated. They snapped up the accountants, the auditors, the inspectors, the librarians. They only took the best. When Wensleydale eventually arrived he would feel right at home.
“Bad Angels?” Aziraphale asked, perplexed, looking at Crowley. He didn’t recall making any formal complaints.
Oh. Wait. Yes he did. Realisation dawned on his face when he remembered that whilst trying to talk to God, he had mentioned bad Angels to Metatron. He couldn’t believe they’d actually followed that up...
“But I made that complaint quite some time ago Sylvia, a lot has happened since then...”
“We have a bit of a backlog yes, but we are thorough.” She said primly.
“Is that... all you’re here to investigate?” Queried Crowley as innocently as he could.
“That’s all that’s been assigned to me, yes. And you are?” She inquired, turning to look at the lounging Demon.
“Crowley. Demon. Serpent of Eden and definitely Not Nice. Did the M25 thing.” He flashed her a sly smile. No point in lying to Eternal Affairs. They always found you out.
She checked her tablet.
“Hmmm. No Demon found under ‘Crowley’. Can I just check the spelling?”
“Try ‘Crawly’ then, with an ‘a’ and no ‘e’.” He said with slightly less enthusiasm. He wouldn’t put it past Hell not change his name on the records.
“Nnnno, still nothing. How... irregular.” She said as she looked him over, thoughtfully. “Definitely a Demon?”
“Well he’s not an aardvark.” Muttered Aziraphale, just loud enough to be heard.
Crowley stomped off. It would be just like Hell to strike him from the record. He sat in a dark corner, brooding. Only the reflection of his sunglasses, and the toes of his shoes in the light gave away his position. The corner hadn’t been that dark before he sat in it, but when a Demon strops, even reality can’t fail to notice.
“Well Sylvia, I do rather think that with everything that’s happened since, this isn’t really worth pursuing, so if it’s ok I think we can drop the complaint.” Said Aziraphale, in his most reasonable voice.
“Well if you’re sure” she began, but then Aziraphale hit her with the full force of his most charming smile and she just nodded her understanding.
“I will have to notify my superiors of your… friend’s lack of records. It’s highly unusual.”
“The bastards probably deleted me!” Came the angry reply from the shadows. “6000 years of work! Then you sabotage ONE apocalypse and they just erase you! Poof!” There may well have been arm waving, but it was lost in the gloom.
“Not possible.” The investigator said matter-of-factly. “Our records are separate to Heaven and Hell’s own. They were formed during the Great Fall and cannot be tampered with. They are infallible.”
“Well they’re looking pretty fallible right now! Maybe you should try turning them off and on again.” Came the sarcastic response. Crowley hadn’t yet acknowledged the rising feeling of alarm. He was too angry at the thought of being struck off to think about what it might actually mean.
“I’m going to need to get some expert opinions on this.” She continued smoothly. “This is certainly going to be an interesting case.”
She touched her tablet, and with a practiced smile, vanished. Sylvia had been a legal assistant in her mortal life and she was very good at getting to the truth, which is why Eternal Affairs had snapped up her soul. She was methodical, but also good at handling sensitive information, and ruthless about filing. She was also on very good terms with the archive keeper.
Back in the bookshop Aziraphale looked into Crowley’s dark corner. The darkness managed to get even deeper.
“I could use The Light you know...” he said, testing the depth of Crowley’s mood.
“Hmph.” Was the emphatic reply. Best not to then. Aziraphale decided to leave Crowley to grump in the corner and went to make some tea. Crowley always gave up stropping sooner if Aziraphale ignored him.
It was some days later, when the pair were sampling a new bakery, that Sylvia showed up again.
“Sylvia, wasn’t it?” Aziraphale said cautiously as she approached. “I’d rather hoped that nothing further was needed from me to drop the complaint, so to what do I owe the pleasure of your company again?”
Crowley merely scowled.
“You don’t.” She said simply. “I’m here for Master Crowley.”
She turned to the exasperated Demon.
“We were rather hoping you would help us with our investigation, so we can trace the root of the error. We need to work out why you don’t show up on our records for Hell.”
Crowley didn’t want to help, and didn’t really care, but Aziraphale clearly did, and the look he was getting was one that promised sulking if he didn’t. He relented.
“Oh all right, what do you need from me?” He asked, just barely masking the irritation in his voice.
“Wonderful! Just a few personal details. It might be better if we can do this somewhere less public?” She asked, looking around at all the messy, chaotic humans.
“Why, of course!” He pulled out the key for the Bentley. He’d had a terrific idea.
Well, it should have been terrific, but the Eternal Affairs investigator was decidedly lacking in terror. Crowley was hurtling through central London traffic at stupendous speeds, but she sat calmly in the back seat. The only one being terrified was Aziraphale in the front. Crowley scowled again in frustration and slowed down. They were at his flat anyway.
Once upstairs Aziraphale made himself as comfortable as he could on the sofa, whilst Sylvia took some measurements from Crowley. She noted his eyes, and the mark on his cheekbone on her tablet. She measured his height, and then asked to see him transform. This time she measured his length, and noted down his teeth and red belly. As she stepped back he became mostly human again.
“Now I need to ask you about your Fall.” She said carefully. She sat down next to Aziraphale and produced a small voice recorder. “I’m interested in what you remember from before, and the changes you found afterwards. If you don’t mind, you can tell me in your own time.” She looked at him expectantly.
Aziraphale decided this was probably a good time to disappear off to make some refreshments, so bustled off towards the kitchen. He made sure the door wasn’t fully closed though.
Sylvia switched on the recorder.
“Subject known as ‘Crowley’, interview 1.” She said. “Mr Crowley, if you’d be so kind as to talk us through the events before, during and after your Fall?”
So for the first time, Crowley talked. He talked about how he couldn’t really remember who he was before, just a few snippets of things like making stars. He talked about how he hadn’t meant to fall, he’d just been hanging around with the wrong Angels at the time. He’d got caught up in the camaraderie, and joined in because it was nice to finally feel like he fitted in somewhere. That he could actually make a difference. He’d realised too late what they were actually planning. He only had a hazy recollection of the fall into the sulphurous abyss itself, but he recalled desperately trying to fly back up...
“Fly? You kept your wings?” Sylvia interrupted. “How long did they last?”
Crowley simply unfolded them by way of an explanation and Sylvia’s jaw dropped. As a general rule, Demon’s didn’t really have wings.
...and then how Hastur (who had always hated Crowley) somehow got hold of him and down they both went.
“For the purposes of the tape, the subject known as ‘Crowley’ has entire wings. Pigmented black, but still whole.” Sylvia said, unable to keep the awe out of her voice. “Do you have any blemishes on your body?”
“Only the eyes and the snake here.” He said pointing to his face.
“Subject has indicated a snake-shaped marking on their right cheekbone, beside the ear. And you say you don’t remember it very clearly?”
“No. The memory of it is patchy. Up until Hastur grabbed me, then I remember the boiling sulphur very clearly.”
“This is most irregular. End of recording.” She said as she turned the machine off. “I’m going to have to talk to my superior about this” she said as she packed it away. “The presence of your wings has given me an idea that I need to research.”
Crowley was subdued from the effort of recounting such a painful memory, so simply nodded.
Sylvia stood up. Another tap on the tablet and her and her official smile vanished again
Crowley wandered towards the kitchen.
“It’s alright Aziraphale, you can come out now!” He teased.
He rounded the door and found the Angel sat on the floor, backed up towards the cabinets, eyes wide with terror. His wings were spread out and pressed against the cupboard doors as if he intended to fly at that moment.
“It’s alright Angel, I won’t drive so fast next time.” Crowley chuckled.
But Aziraphale didn’t move. He just turned his head to Crowley and stammered “I saw it Crowley. I could hear you describing the Abyss and I saw it. Felt the fear of falling. Of judgement. But I didn’t see it as you described it, I saw it as if I myself were plummeting into the Abyss.”
“But that’s impossible and you know it. You’re an Angel, by definition you didn’t fall.”
“But it felt like a memory Crowley. One that I’d long forgotten, or suppressed, suddenly being dragged back to the surface.”
“Impossible.” Said Crowley matter-of-factly. “Now it’s nearly dinner time. Where do you fancy going?”
The suggestion of food calmed Aziraphale immensely, and over the course (well, four courses) of dinner at The Ritz, the Angel had almost managed to write the whole episode off as just his imagination.
When the Angels rebelled, God had created the Abyss. It was a nightmare place, drawn straight from the darkest corners of the Angels’ souls. But She didn’t create it as a punishment for the rebels, She created it as a rite of passage.
All the Angels had to face the Abyss. And all the Angels had to plummet into it, hoping that they would be deemed worthy and returned, and not sucked into its sulphurous depths. Those that wouldn’t jump were thrown. Those that fell would have their Angelic qualities stripped from them piece by piece. The more unworthy the Angel was deemed, the more was stripped away. Bodies were scarred and deformed. Wings were ravaged, and those that were lucky would be left with scrawny flesh stretched over bones. Most would have none at all remaining. Once the Abyss had stripped them of all God’s gifts, their mutilated bodies would be banished to Hell for the rest of eternity. Only the purest and most worthy would be returned.
Those that did return would not remember their ordeal. Only those that fell would be cursed with the memory of the horror they endured, and what they had lost. Who they had lost.