Chapter 1: The Garden, Eden, Year 0, 4004 BC
We all know the story of the Garden, but do we know its motives?
The garden was beautiful. Of course it was, that was the point. It was a single oasis of goodness and beauty in a world of bleak and shifting evil. The serpent didn't quite understand that logic. Shouldn't the sides have the same amount of ground, at least? It seemed like his lot had a strict advantage, what with all the desert and deep dark waters and wild beasts, et cetera. But he supposed God got the humans, odd and fragile things though they were. The serpent himself had been sent out with one of their forms and it was... odd? He kept forgetting himself and bumping into things, or stubbing his toe (seemed like a design flaw) on errant rocks. Although he supposed his other new form, where the rocks instead poked uncomfortably into his long belly, wasn't much better. Still, the plants were lovely. He spent time lolling in the branches of the trees as they swayed in gentle breezes, and sunning himself on exposed rocks near the waterfall, and overall tried to focus on the present, on his surroundings, soft and peaceful and immediate. It all felt so fake, as if the sky itself would crack open and rain down the wrath of heaven again at any moment. He couldn't keep himself from shuddering at the thought. He could still feel the scorching rains of the War, as if the burns they'd left somehow had migrated to this form as well. He didn't sleep, but he tried to convince himself that he did. And through it all, nothing changed. The beautiful breeze stirred beautiful trees, and the sun shone down, and the humans frolicked amongst the various animals and ate fruit and bathed in the waterfall.
All of it was terribly dull, and all of it gave him far, far too much time to think.
There were others here, he knew. He could feel their presence, at the gates, North, South, West and... East.
The fruit was forbidden, God Herself had said so, and She seemed to enjoy that game, as She'd played the same dirty trick on him.
The same thoughts he tried to drown out came back, again and again. Why hadn't he come to see him?
Surely the Principality perched high on the eastern gate could feel the serpent's presence as surely as the serpent could feel his? Unless... he had decided his loyalties. After all, he was still guarding the gate, while the serpent writhed in the dirt and sulfur.
The last look of his face, framed in the rain of holy water, framed by his own wings outstretched and flaming sword in hand, was burned into the serpent's mind.
The worst part was the expression. This had been Before, so it wasn't Aziraphale's face, exactly, but his expression was pure, unadulterated panic. He'd genuinely believed God would be merciful, right until the last moment. And he'd genuinely been terrified when he was so very wrong.
The serpent had known better, and told him so, but somehow, that panic, that surprise, that showed Aziraphale had trusted God's promises over his, stung with acrid betrayal.
Even until the last moments of the War, Aziraphale hadn't trusted him enough to know he was right. Aziraphale, the faithful, faithful to a fault, hadn't had faith in him when it mattered most.
The serpent preferred to watch the sun set rather than rise, fearful of seeing a telltale glint of fire up on the Eastern wall.
He was meant to cause trouble up here, and he knew he would. It was all so pristine, glistening and ordered. She had given them everything, just as She had to the angels above.
Everything except knowledge. Everything except freedom. Everything except choice.
He looked around at the garden, at the glory of it all, at the spray from the waterfall, and the animals, predator and prey and human alike, dancing and praising God, and all the plants, verdant and calm, and the sky, brilliantly blue and gleaming.
And he wanted nothing more than to smash it.
His orders had been to cause some trouble in this new experiment, but this? This would be for him. The humans deserved better than a synthetic paradise. Everyone did.
And if they fell in the process? Well, they would have fallen one way or another, to that trickster god. This way, they fell by choice. This way, if they fell, they jumped.
He had been basking as he considered all this, letting his black scales soak up the sunlight (not one of his stars, by the way. After all, yellow? So tacky). And he watched the humans as they sat together on a rock nearby, giggling with each other.
Suddenly, the smaller one (Eve, he remembered hazily), straightened up and turned to look directly at him, almost through him.
His breath caught, and he froze, eyes locked on hers. They were deep and dark and molten, and they looked right at him, without fear, without loathing, just with warmth.
It had been an achingly long time since anyone, anything, had looked at him like that, with compassion. Nervously, he flicked out his tongue, tasting the air.
Eve giggled, and thought for a moment, before sticking her tongue out at him in return.
In that single moment, the serpent saw what he hadn't seen before. God hadn't taught her that. She'd taught herself that.
These humans, whatever else they were, were inquisitive. They were playful and curious.
Somewhere inside them, they wanted more.
And in that moment, the serpent loved them. In that moment, the serpent knew he would give them the world.
Slowly, slowly, eyes fixed on Eve, he crept forward. His heart (a strange sensation), was beating fast enough that he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. Did he dare? After all, the punishment for asking questions had been... he shook himself slightly. No, he reminded himself, focus on the now.
If the humans were under the thumb of God, the only way to free them was inherently risky. But it was also worth everything.
The larger human had wandered off into the forest, but Eve remained where she was, eyes closed and head tipped back into the light, a small smile on her face.
He came up before her, arcing his body back to stand partially upright, "Hello."
Her eyes snapped open, locking on him again with keen interest. "Hello," she said simply.
She opened her mouth briefly, then closed it again, looking as if she was restraining herself from asking something.
"Yes?" the serpent asked, expectantly, almost fearing the question.
"Why do you talk? My husband named the animals that look like you, 'snake', but they don't talk."
The serpent blinked. Full of surprises, these humans. Full of questions. "Do you really want to know that?" he asked, somewhat nervously.
"Oh yes!" Eve said, excitedly. "I want to know lots of things!"
"What kind of things?"
She considered a moment. "Things like... Why's the sky blue?"
"Well-" The serpent realized he really didn't have time to explain particle refraction, but it hardly mattered, because Eve was still chattering, listing things off.
"And why don't the animals eat if we do? Why are we different? Oh! And what's outside the garden?"
That one came like a punch in the gut. "Do... do you want to know what's outside? Because I could... I could tell you," the serpent said, softly, dangerously, almost wishing she wouldn't hear him, but Eve snapped to attention immediately, eyes fixed on his, rapt and breathless.
"Oh please!" She exclaimed, "I'd be ever so grateful!"
The serpent's tongue flickered nervously. This was it, then. Whatever happened to him, these humans, they had a chance.
They could build something new, something Heaven and Hell alike could never dream of. They could be freer than any being ever had before.
“Well,” he said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die,’” she replied, matter-of-factly, and it hurt to hear the certainty, the absolute trust in her voice.
“You will not certainly die.” The serpent sighed. “God knows that when you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
She smiled slightly, hopefully, “Will I know what’s beyond the garden?”
The serpent's tongue flickered anxiously. “Yes.”
She stood, excitedly, then paused for a moment. "You didn't answer my first question."
"Are you a snake?"
"Not... not exactly."
Her eyes lit up at that. "Does that mean you're something new?"
"I suppose so."
"Can I name you? Adam got to name everyone else. He even named me.” She frowned a moment, considering. "Who named him?”
The serpent was taken aback by the request. He supposed she didn't know the significance, yet, of what he'd told her, or she wouldn't be dithering about with this. But, he was oddly touched. "Okay. What's my name?"
"Crawly,” she said, proudly.
Crawly couldn't stop himself from making a face, and she giggled again. "Why?" he asked, a bit incredulously.
"Because it's what you do." And with that, she smiled, got up, and headed for the center of the garden, humming to herself as she went.
“Thank you, Crawly!” she called over her shoulder.
And she went to the center of the garden.
And after she had eaten, and her eyes opened wide, she told Adam.
Crawly had expected she would. He'd seen the way she'd looked at Adam, in a way so achingly familiar.
It made sense, it was only natural for her to want to bring Adam with her, to pass the gift onto him, no matter the danger.
In a way that tasted bitter to Crawly, Adam took the fruit.
The rest seemed to happen in a blur, with God Herself coming down to tell the humans off. Truthfully, Crawly didn’t remember much of it, so blind was his panic. He dug himself deep into the soil, coiled tight, and waited to burn again, trembling slightly in the cool earth.
But nothing happened. He didn’t know how long he waited, tense and dreadful, for the wrath of God.
But when he emerged from the soil, cautiously, anxiously tasting the air, everything appeared as it was. The water still glistened, the birds still sang, the sun still shone. But he could feel the loss, heavy in the air, electric along with the approaching smell of ozone.
Crawly knew this place was over, now. The grand experiment unleashed on the new world. And he knew he should follow. But first. His tongue flickered anxiously once more.
The temptation was too great.
He slithered Eastward, up the wall, warmed by the morning sun, and up onto the palisade.
His breath caught, briefly, as he caught sight of the angel at the gate. Even now, wringing his hands anxiously, brow furrowed in worry, he was glorious. Not the new body (who cared about that?), but his aura, his sheer presence, his glory, as it were, sucked the air from Crawly’s lungs and, unintentionally, he hissed in surprise as the familiar presence washed over him, welcome and warm as the rising sun. He had just wanted a glance, he wasn’t- he wasn’t ready to speak to the angel yet, but his hiss had startled Aziraphale, and he was turning, and before Crawly could duck back down the wall, Aziraphale’s eyes, like piercing shards of the new sky, locked onto his.
They were bright and worried and wary and blank. They showed no recognition.
“Sorry. What was that?” The angel asked.
Too late now. Crawly hated being on the ground for this conversation. Humans were one thing, but he needed to face this with at least a bit of remaining dignity. As he willed himself into his human form, his thoughts raced as to what to say. What does one even say in a situation like this? A joke maybe?
His mouth was dry, but he cleared his throat, and as nonchalantly as he could muster, went for it, “I said, ‘That went down like a lead balloon.’”
The angel seemed distracted, “Oh. Yes, it did, rather.”
Aziraphale gazed down off the wall, to where Adam and Eve were setting out, biting his lip. Crawly heard himself speaking before he thought about it, desperate to get those blue eyes to see him, even if for a moment, “Bit of an overreaction, if you ask me. First offence and everything. And I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway.”
This was a test. Crawly knew it. It was mean-spirited of him, it was unfair, he knew, but he had to know. Crawly had said it as casually as possible, but his pulse quickened to hear the angel’s response, his take on this whole situation. Did he have regret? Fear? Mercy? Was he sorry? Did he miss Crawly? Did he miss Crawly like Crawly missed him?
“It must be bad,” Aziraphale turned towards him, and for a moment, just a blessed moment, it felt like one of their jokes, from Before, when Crawly would talk him round in circles until the angel was laughing nearly uncontrollably. But he realized, with a cold, clammy feeling sinking into his stomach, that this wasn’t like that. It wasn't a game. The angel didn't know him. This was a genuine question. The angel couldn’t lie to him, he wouldn’t, right? Not about this. Not about anything. But here he was, looking expectantly at Crawly, all his politeness that he’d reserved for strangers and outsiders and others, reserved for anyone at all except Crawly, was now directed fully at the serpent, and he suddenly felt very, very small under the broad blue sky above. All this flashed through Crawly’s mind in an instant, but he kept his face a mask of impassive interest. He wouldn’t give God the satisfaction of knowing how much this hurt. He wouldn’t let Her hear him scream, like he had the first time She’d burned him.
“Crawly,” he supplied, helpfully, rolling his new name around on his tongue for the first time.
“Crawly.” Aziraphale repeated, dubiously, and turned back towards the humans, “Anyway, it must be bad, otherwise you wouldn’t have tempted them into it.”
“They just said, ‘Get up there and make some trouble.’”
“Obviously. You’re a demon. It’s what you do.” The angel’s voice betrayed no blame, simply a statement of fact. As if he were discussing why the trees grew upward or why birds flew. It was, as far as Aziraphale was concerned, simply the nature of things. That, in and of itself, crushed Crawly further. Here Aziraphale was, brilliant and kind and glorious, simply spouting God’s propaganda again. Simply accepting what he’d been told. Not asking questions.
Crawly looked away from Aziraphale’s face and joined him in watching the humans slowly trek into the distance. He gathered his courage, and prodded the angel, seeing if there was anything left of that old spirit who he had known before, or if God Herself had killed him. Not him, Crawly couldn’t help but think, somewhat desperately, I understand I needed to be made an example of, but please, not him.
He heard himself rambling again, searching for any reaction, any familiarity in the angel beside him, “Not very subtle of the Almighty, though. Fruit tree in the middle of a garden, with a ‘don’t touch’ sign. I mean, why not put it on top of a high mountain? Or-Or the moon? Makes you wonder what God’s really planning.”
There was a moment before Aziraphale responded in which Crowley thought it might be like Before, when Aziraphale would, however hesitantly, allow himself to be curious, in that mischievous way of his. In which he would allow himself to be more than what he was supposed to be.
But then Aziraphale simply said, “Best not to speculate. It’s all part of the Great Plan. It’s not for us to understand. It’s… ineffable.”
"The Great Plan’s 'ineffable?'” The words came out more angrily than Crawly intended. The plan, so far, wasn't ineffable, it was cruel.
But maybe it was ineffable to Aziraphale, who couldn't, who wouldn’t, understand cruelty, even now. Crawly's heart fluttered, and he tried hard to clamp down on it. This was not the angel he had known. This was a stranger, and just as Aziraphale seemed to not remember him, Crawly seemed to remember an entirely different Aziraphale.
The angel looked slightly offended at Crawly’s incredulity. “Exactly. And you can’t second-guess ineffability. There’s Right and there’s Wrong. If you do Wrong when you’re told to do Right, you deserve to be punished.”
So that was it, then.
The answer Crawly needed, to the question he was too afraid to ask, that sat at the tip of his tongue, at the corners of his eyes, begging, do you, of all people, think what they did to me was just? Do you too think me so evil as to deserve this? Crawly shuffled his wretched wings miserably.
The angel seemed completely unaware of the heartache he had just wrought, “I don’t like the look of that weather,” he commented, a bit worried.
Crawly’s eyes refocused, and saw clouds gathering on the horizon. The scent of ozone was strong, and static crackled in the dry desert air. It was getting rather dark as the clouds overtook the sun. No matter, they’d be just fine with Aziraphale’s swor-
Crawly snapped his head around, staring directly at Aziraphale. “Didn’t you have a flaming sword?”
The angel shuffled uncomfortably, but Crawly pushed, “You did. It was flaming like anything. What happened to it?”
Aziraphale mumbled something noncommittal, wringing his hands nervously.
Crawly rocked back on his heels, disappointed. He couldn’t resist taking the inevitable jab at this new not-Aziraphale. “Lost it already, have you?
The angel looked down at his feet, and the tips of his ears turned bright pink, as he mumbled, barely audible, “I gave it away.”
Now Crawly was paying attention, and he felt his pupils dilate and his eyebrows raise nearly to his hairline as he heard himself say, incredulously, “You what?"
Now the angel was flustered, in that familiar way when they used to joke, and Crawly couldn’t keep the grin from spreading across his face as the angel tried, spluttering, to justify himself, “I gave it away! They looked so miserable! And there are vicious animals, and it’s going to be cold out there, and she’s expecting already, and I said, here you go, flaming sword, don’t thank me, and don’t let the sun go down on you here…”
Aziraphale’s voice trailed off, until he said, quietly, almost plaintively, “I do hope I didn’t do the wrong thing.”
A hint of acid tinged Crawly’s voice as he replied, thinking of this new-Aziraphale, “You’re an angel. I don’t think you can do the wrong thing.”
“Oh, thank you. It’s been bothering me,” Aziraphale gushed, with the first genuine warmth of the conversation, and there it was again, a glimpse, a fleeting second when everything was okay again, and it was them against the world again, and it was going to be okay. But Crawly frowned. What if he’d done the right thing in the garden? That he was simply playing pawn to God yet again?
Without thinking, he found himself confiding his fears aloud. “I’ve been worrying too. What if I did the right thing, with the whole eat-the-apple business? A demon can get into a lot of trouble for doing the right thing.” It felt so much like old times, for just a second, that Crawly couldn’t help himself, and he grinned a toothy grin, “Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? If I did the good thing and you did the bad one.”
The angel’s expression turned icy yet again, and he replied, somewhat sullenly, “No. Not funny at all.”
Crawly shook himself slightly. He needed to remember where he was. This was not Heaven. This was not his angel. It was a whole new world, he tried to convince himself, full of opportunity. But all he could feel was a profound sense of loss.
As if She was mocking him, at that moment the downpour broke, and for the first time in this new land, the sky wept.
It wept upon the earth and upon the walls, and upon the plants and all the beasts of land and sea and sky and those who crawled upon the ground.
It wept upon the whole world, except for one being. Seemingly without thinking, Aziraphale had thrown up his wing to shield Crawly from the rain. And seemingly without thinking, Crawly felt as if dawn had just broken over a broken land, and perhaps the shadows did not seem so long after all.
I listen to very specific music while I write this, and I realized some people might enjoy that, so I've decided to add a song for each chapter's feeling, that I used to help me write it. So here you go!
Song recommendation for this chapter's mood: "Broken Crown" by Mumford and Sons
Chapter 2: Mesopotamia, Year 1000, 3004 BC
The Ark, the storm, you know the drill
The ship, massive as it was, loomed over the plain, and the smell of fresh tarring on its hull mixed unpleasantly with the smells of animal waste and humans clustered too closely together. How far they’d come, Crawly thought. Built up all this, tamed the land and sea and all the obstacles God had set for them, despite Her pettiness, here they were, flourishing.
But their flourishing was sometimes something else. A thousand years is a long time to live, and Crawly had seen much of the world, and much of these new humans. They had taken his gift and run with it like bandits, that much was for sure.
But this, this was odd. A massive boat, bigger than any he’d yet seen, yet miles from any river, let alone an ocean. It smelt, and not just of tar.
A loud crowd was gathering, throwing jeers and shouting, little barefoot children darting around and opportunistic fruit sellers calling their wares as the crowd jostled to see this great monstrosity. Who could blame them? When God sentences you to starve and till the earth until you return to dust, you’ve gotta take what entertainment you can get. It was all rather overwhelming to Crawly, that much noise and activity and humanity all in one place. Except… except, he felt the telltale presence of something not entirely human. It figured. This had the grimy fingerprints of God all over it. Crawly focused and traced the presence through the teeming crowd, and felt his breath catch in his throat.
It wasn’t just any angel.
That clandestine meeting on the wall had been one thing, Crawly had to see why Aziraphale hadn’t come for him, hadn’t sensed him, hadn’t even asked. And he’d got his answer, thundering down at him from above, crushing him where he’d fallen; Aziraphale didn’t come because he didn’t remember him. All of Before, it was gone now. Nothing but memories, a thousand years stale, like trying to hold water in his hands.
He’d gone to the wall, and seen his angel, and had spent the last thousand years attempting to come to terms with what he’d found. It wasn’t that this new Aziraphale was cruel, necessarily. He was still, at heart, brimming with the kindness that had always made Crawly’s heart ache. Crawly had been over the events of the garden thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times, trying to convince himself to let it go, to move on, that his Aziraphale was gone for good and Crawly just needed to stop deluding himself. But there was a sticking point to that logic. Aziraphale, principality of the eastern gate, had given his flaming sword to the humans as they left the garden. The very sword he had been charged to use to keep them in it, on the orders of God Herself. Any other angel would have simply followed orders, unquestioningly, without thought as to any consequences for anyone but themselves. The other three that were there did! But not Aziraphale. As always, his angel was special. His angel was more than the others would ever dream.
But his angel didn’t know who he was. Who Crawly was. To this new-Aziraphale, Crawly was just a serpent in the garden, sent to follow orders and carrying them out. The thought that that was what Aziraphale had thought of him, all these thousand years, sent pangs through Crawly’s chest. In the moment, before he understood, Crawly had blamed him. How could his angel think so low of him? How could he treat him with such disdain? Especially after all that had happened, after the War.
But then Crawly had realized. It was because Aziraphale didn’t remember him. Was it one last punishment of Crawly’s from God? Had She known that, after he’d fallen, that was the last thing She could take from him that had any meaning? Was this his punishment for freeing the humans?
He looked sidelong at the crowd around him. He’d paid everything, and this is what they’d made of themselves. It wasn’t enough. The price had been too high, he thought, as he stood on the plain, the scents of dung and tar floating in the wind, the dust gritty in his sandals, the shouts of the throng all around him.
But, he knew, he mustn’t blame them. To do anything at all worthy of that price was impossible.
He knew who to blame. The trickster God, who set traps and punishments and seemingly nothing else since the War. Crawly remembered who She used to be. He’d mourned Her, despite himself.
For all She’d done to him, he couldn’t stop himself from loving Her, even if only from memories.
Right. Aziraphale was here. After one thousand years of avoiding, of analyzing every twitch of his face, every possible intonation of every word said, for anything that would give Crawly hope that all wasn’t lost, he was here, in the flesh.
Crawly hadn’t dared to hope that his Aziraphale was still there. He didn’t want to. It had burned too much to lose him the first time, and felt like drowning the second. Crawly couldn’t keep doing this.
But he couldn’t shake loose the hope from his mind. There were flashes… the sword, the fact that the angel had talked to him at all, the wing stretched over his wretched head. There were flashes of the angel he had loved. If there was any hope at all, wouldn’t that be worth it? Wouldn’t it be worth the risk of dying a thousand deaths?
After all, he’d chosen this. It had been a choice between his God or his Angel, and he’d made it. Long live the rebel.
Crawly closed his eyes. That was then, and he’d seen the consequences. That was when there was promise of reward, and God had tricked him out of it. Now, what promise was there? All that could reasonably be hoped was more pain. It was lunacy to think otherwise.
Crawly felt his feet walking towards the angel despite himself, and felt his heart begin to race. Maybe Aziraphale had remembered something? Maybe it would all be okay this time? Maybe, just maybe, not all hope was lost in this barren world?
Aziraphale jumped slightly, clearly nervous. But he swallowed and replied, “Crawly.”
No hello. No warmth. Nothing. Just the barest acknowledgement of his presence.
Crawly felt his heart sink like a stone to the pit of his stomach. So no memory then. He was a fool to keep hoping, to keep expecting God to change Her wicked ways, or to take mercy on him. As if She had before. Still, it was good to see Aziraphale, even in this new life. The angel looked anxious, as he had before, and tired, as Crawly had never seen him Before. In Heaven, there was no need for tiredness. And in the garden, when the world was new, there was no time for tiredness yet.
But Crawly understood. He felt the weight of years in his mind as well, and he sympathized. He tried to make conversation, but couldn't stop himself from asking the question that had been plaguing his mind for a millennia, “So. Giving the mortals a flaming sword. How did that work out for you?”
Aziraphale sighed, and shuffled his feet a bit, “The Almighty has never actually mentioned it again.”
Typical. Crawly gives the humans an apple and God punishes him. Aziraphale gives them a flaming sword and She’s silent, opaque. Still. Crawly was glad Aziraphale hadn’t been punished.
“Probably a good thing,” Crawly shrugged. He glanced around at the crowds, at the animals, and the boat, looming over all like a cliff face, “What’s all this about? Build a big boat and fill it with a travelling zoo?”
Aziraphale stiffened at the question, and looked profoundly miserable for a moment before composing his expression, saying, “I… probably shouldn’t be telling you. What with you being a demon and all that. But… from what I hear, God’s a bit tetchy. Wiping out the human race. Big storm.”
Crawly blinked. “All of them?” he asked, numbly.
“Just the locals. I don’t believe the Almighty’s upset with the Chinese. Or the Native Americans. Or the Australians.”
“Yet.” Crawly couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. He knew how this game was played.
Aziraphale’s words tumbled over each other as he turned to Crawly, looking a bit desperate, “And! God’s not actually going to wipe out all the locals. I mean, there’s Noah up there, his family, his sons, their wives, they’ll all be fine.”
“But they’re drowning everybody else?” Crawly asked, pointedly.
Aziraphale turned away, nodding miserably. A salesman shouted out prices for fish. A few children ran past their feet, giggling as they threw up clouds of dust in their wake.
“Not the kids. You can’t kill kidsss,” Crawly’s hiss escaped against his will, and he forced himself to stop it, licking his lips nervously.
Aziraphale nodded again, mutely.
Crawly looked out over the crowd, laughing and jeering and living, and utterly, utterly doomed. “That’s more the kind of thing that you’d expect my lot to do.” It came out accusatory, and this time, Crawly wasn’t sorry it had.
“I didn’t get any say! But God’s promised this will be the last time. Oh, and when it’s done, the Almighty’s going to put up a new thing called a 'rain-bow', as a promise not to drown everyone again.”
But Crawly was tired of his blustering, his excuses. Crawly was tired. A thousand years, he’d witnessed, and for what? Gone up in smoke with a temper tantrum from Above. Maybe the apple was worth it after all, if Aziraphale had always been this spineless.
After all, at least Eve had taken it when Crawly had offered.
But Aziraphale was looking at him, big blue eyes desperate for reassurance. This time, Crawly wouldn’t give it. “How kind,” he said, dryly.
The angel kept pushing, seeming to be trying to convince himself as well as Crawly, “You can’t judge the Almighty, Crawly. God’s plans are…”
Crawly cut him off, sharply, “Are you going to say ‘ineffable’?”
The words came out cold and angry, but Crawly didn’t care. The angel huffed in response. “Possibly,” he said, nearly pouting.
Crawly simmered with quiet rage. After all, why shouldn’t he judge the Almighty? She certainly felt entitled to judge everyone else. To cut them down, to the bone, to the soul, until there was nothing left.
Crawly couldn’t be here anymore. He didn’t know where to go, but not here, not in this crowd of walking dead, not next to this callous angel, more determined to convince himself he was in the Right than he was to actually do right.
Thunder cracked in the distance, loud, and the people looked up, slight traces of anxiety on their faces. It hurt to see them go back to their games, to laughing and shepherding their children away, back inside for supper as if everything was fine and normal. As if they were safe. As if this was like any other storm, instead of the very last storm they would ever see.
Raindrops begin to fall, dappling the dusty soil with dark pockmarks, and the crowd began to move off, back to the villages, for shelter, talking excitedly about what they’d seen.
It felt just like the first rain, but Crawly knew it was nothing like that. He paused a moment, waiting, just in case. His foolish heart held him back a moment, again.
No wing was outstretched. Why would it be? This wasn’t his angel. His angel was dead. His angel had abandoned him in the moment of crux, and let him fall.
Maybe this is who his angel had always been.
With a whoosh of his robes, Crawly stalked forwards, unable to stay there for a moment longer. Around him, the thoughts of the masses swirled like a swarm of angry flies. Flies swarming around the dead still walking. In amongst all of them, he heard the thoughts of the Chosen Ones, aboard the boat, perched upon the boat like a great wall above the desert.
“Oy! Shem!” he called through the rising winds, “That unicorn’s going to make a run for it if… oh, too late. Well, you’ve still got one of them,” He couldn't care less, to be honest. Let them drown. Let them all drown, if that's all God's limited vision could provide, could see for this new world. If she wanted it as pristine and smooth as Heaven, she would get it. That is, she would get it after the corpses had rotted away.
And suddenly Crawly knew where he had to go. He turned on his heel and walked away from the boat, looming, and away from the gathering clouds, away from God’s wrath and angels disdain, away from Before, and for the first time, he was glad to have fallen.
Song here: "Round" by The Moth & The Flame
Chapter 3: Golgotha, Year 4039, 33 AD
Short chapter this time, but more to come, I promise! Try to forgive Crowley his anger... he's being unfair to Aziraphale but, he's really been though a lot. Things start looking up from here, I promise! (Although the angst won't stop, just be more punctuated with happy things!)
Crowley had to be here. He had to pay his respects, whatever the cost. Jesus at least deserved that from him, when he hadn’t been able to do anything else to stop this.
The hammers fell with sickeningly wet thumps, as the nails were driven through flesh. It was hard not to wince with each fall, rhythmic and purposeful. The Romans, to give them credit, were terribly efficient. They were also terribly cruel.
There wasn’t much in the way of ceremony or respect here. After all, it was a ceremony for the torture of criminals. The supposed Son of God hung limply, nearly naked, between two ragged highwaymen. The smattering of people who had shown up to witness the crucifixion weren’t faring much better. Women wept and men stood, attempting stoicity even as they watched their world come down with each hammerstroke. Crowley was here for them as much as for the man on the cross.
There was one, in their group, whose robes were gleaming white, suspiciously absent of the dust of the road or of the raggedness of poverty. Crowley didn’t want him here. Not after the ark. Anger still burned in his veins over that. The world had flooded, as Aziraphale had said. The humans had drowned, in their hundreds, in their thousands, in their millions. They had fled to mountaintops, they had clutched their children tight, they had torn their hair and screamed for mercy, praying to every God they could think of to show them even the slightest compassion. First, they'd prayed aloud, and then, as the water filled their mouths and lungs, Crowley had heard them scream their truer, more secret prayers, deep in their hearts and thoughts.
There had been no mercy.
Crowley had tried, escorting whoever would follow to higher ground, higher and higher and higher, but still the water rose, the neverending rains pummeling the earth for 40 days, until even the mountains were engulfed, and there was nothing more that could be done.
So Crowley did all that was left. He had stayed with them. He had stayed, even when there was no comfort to be offered, even when there was none. He had told them, in their final moments, that their loved ones had gotten away, the lies slipping easily from his tongue when he saw the relief in their eyes, so much like Eve’s had been, all those years ago. He had stayed, so they needn’t die alone. He had stayed, so that if their prayers weren't to be answered, they were at least to be heard.
And when they had gone, he had stayed because there was nothing else. He didn’t need to breathe, didn’t need to eat or drink, so he stayed, and kept vigil.
The worst of it was the silence. The worst silence he had ever heard since he'd fallen, the worst silence he'd heard since Heaven itself. Even in the garden, he could hear the intentions, the thoughts of the humans, simple as they were. In the mobs and markets, he heard them clamoring. And now, all the world had fallen silent, nothing at all but the gentle rush of water, the swaying of lifeless bodies with the current.
The waters subsided, after a long while (Crowley hadn’t counted this time), the sun had come out again, and there, in the sky, had been a rainbow, as God had promised, with no one at all to look upon it.
A promise to never do it again, made after having done it, rung hollow. Hollower still as it gleamed in rainbows on the puddles on the sodden ground, as it reflected in still-open, lifeless eyes.
The eyes that had begged for mercy saw it now, far too little, far too late.
But the humans were an enterprising lot, and they’d rebuilt from the handful of survivors. Up and up and up again, until there were great dynasties and art and science and religions… and, to make their Mother proud perhaps, wars. Now there were the Romans, masters of war itself, and they had killed the Son of God, supposedly the most special and loved of all Her children, on Her command.
And there, at the murder, stood Aziraphale, in all his audacity. Crowley strode forwards, not taking his eyes off of Jesus, but stepping loudly enough to make his presence known.
“You’ve come to smirk at the poor bugger, have you?” his voice was acrid.
The angel seemed genuinely surprised by Crowley’s anger. “Smirk? Me?”
Crowley had little patience for this. “Well, your lot put him on there.”
“I am not consulted on policy decisions, Crawly.”
Policy. As if all of this was a matter of policy, removed from any suffering at all.
“I’ve changed it,” he said instead, brusquely.
“My name,” Crowley continued, “Crawly just wasn’t doing it for me. A bit too squirming at your feet-ish.”
Aziraphale huffed slightly, “Well, you were a snake. So what is it now? Mephistopheles? Asmodeus?”
Hearing his name out loud, letting Aziraphale know it, felt good. Crawly had been given to him when the world was new, fresh and naïve. Things had been simple then. There had been above, God, the angels, perched on their walls, and below, the humans, and Crawly, squirming at their feet. But things were more complex now. The humans had shaken up everything, full of contradictions as they were, they ascribed themselves to no sides, to no masters. They simply lived and made choices, each in their own. Crowley had styled himself after them for this. But it had felt unfaithful to dismiss Eve’s name altogether, so hopefully she would forgive him a few letters. Although it hardly mattered, she’d been dead for 4000 years. That thought soured Crowley’s stomach slightly. It was hard to remember it’d been so long ago.
Aziraphale’s voice, hesitant at first, broke him from his thoughts. “Did you… ever meet him?”
“Yes. Seemed a very bright young man. I showed him all the kingdoms of the world.”
Aziraphale seemed genuinely puzzled by this. “Why?”
“He’s a carpenter from Palestine. Travel opportunities are limited.” Crowley gazed upwards at the cross above them, wishing he could be anywhere but here, “Ow. That’s got to hurt. What was it he said that got everyone so upset again?”
“Be kind to each other,” Aziraphale replied, almost wistfully.
“Yeah,” Crowley muttered, “That’ll do it.”
Song for this chapter is "Gethsemane" by Dry The River
Chapter 4: Rome, Year 4047, 41 AD
So where HAS Crowley taken Jesus during all that temptation? How will our dynamic duo ever overcome their differences? Another short chapter, but we're picking up momentum now!
Crowley sat down heavily at the bar. He was exhausted. It had only been eight years since the crucifixion, and it still weighed heavy on his mind. Still. Life went on, for him, even as the humans all around him flared to life, burned out, and died.
Crowley glanced up at the bartender, “What have you got?” he asked, wearily, ignoring her internal flare of annoyance at the question.
She gave him a look that matched her mood, “It’s all written up there. Two sesterces an amphora for everything except the Greek retsina.”
“I’ll have a jug of whatever you think is drinkable.”
“Jug of house brown. Two sesterces.”
He laid the coins on the worn wooden counter as she set about getting him a jug. It honestly didn’t matter if it was drinkable. In his current mood, it only mattered if it was alcoholic. He found his mind wandering back, as it always did when he was too tired to stop it, to running through the conversations with Aziraphale, again and again. He grit his teeth. His angel was dead, he needed to stop doing this to himself. His angel would have never asked him why Crowley had taken Jesus around the world, he would have known. His angel would have asked how the trip went, but he would have meant, was it worth it? His angel, the one from Before, would have asked if Crowley had made a difference there, if he had learned anything. Crowley honestly didn’t know. He kept turning that last conversation, between himself, a demon, and Jesus, over and over in his mind until it was smooth as a river stone.
In the garden, Gethsemane, a very different garden than the first, Crowley had finally asked, voice quiet in the cool evening air, “Do you know who I am?”
And Jesus had replied, “I think so. But I don’t mind. I know you were sent to tempt me. But it was better, this way, to know what was at stake.”
The whole world, all the humans had built, for millennia. Crowley had been sent to convince Jesus not to go through with it all, to try to turn him to Hell’s side, to try to stop him from sacrificing himself and going through with Heaven’s plan. But Hell was naïve. They didn’t know what Crowley knew of these humans. Crowley had felt a strange kinship with this young half-human, and so had watched carefully, as he showed him all the humans had done. Crowley didn’t hide any of it. He showed the good and the bad, the beauty and the ugly. He showed Jesus great palaces, and also the unmarked graves of the slaves who had built them, he showed him the glorious fields of grain, tended by happy families, and also the destruction their fires had left to clear the fields. He showed him floods, and he showed him rainbows. And then Jesus had surprised him. Jesus had understood. He'd understood that all of this, the pain and pleasure and persistence and apathy, all of it, was something new and something precious.
Jesus had looked Crowley in the eye afterwards, not flinching from its sallow yellow, or its slitted pupil, like the humans usually did, and he had told him he knew what he had to do.
Crowley had sat with him in the garden, with the dusk gathering, and listened, quietly, while Jesus told him what was to happen. He knew all the pain that was coming. He knew what God intended to do to him. And he was going to go through with it.
“Why?” Crowley had asked, softly. Not because he didn’t know why, but because he needed to know it was for the right reasons.
Jesus had teased him then, “Ah, ye of little faith, you test me so, even now.” But he’d smiled to himself and leaned back. “I am the Son of God, and I am the Son of Humanity. I must save them. If She’ll listen to anyone, She’ll listen to me. So I must die, and rise, and all of it. I must prove my loyalty.”
Crowley stared into his mug of brown wine, and took a swig, morosely. It had been Jesus’ choice, after all. He had known what was coming. And maybe he had succeeded. Crowley had heard rumors of Jesus being raised from the dead, and ascending to heaven. Maybe he had succeeded where Crowley had failed, time and time again. Crowley prayed that he had, but dared not hope.
“Crawley? Er, Crowley? Fancy running into you here!” the voice broke through his musings, and Crowley scowled. Of all people, it must be Aziraphale, mustn’t it? Always poking his nose into everything. Of course he had to be the angel sent to earth, just God getting in Her last little jabs at Crowley every time he dared to hope his angel from Before might still be in there. He wouldn’t give Her the satisfaction.
“Still a demon, then?” Aziraphale said cheerfully, plopping himself into the seat beside Crowley, uninvited.
“What kind of a stupid question is that? ‘Still a demon?’ What else am I going to be? An aardvark?” Crowley snarled, fingers dancing on the handle of his jug, taking another swallow, deeper this time.
Aziraphale sounded hurt, “Just trying to make conversation.”
“Well, don’t,” Crowley snapped, nearly cutting him off.
Silence stretched between them. Crowley took another gulp of his drink. He could feel the angel’s eyes on him, searching his face for answers. The poor bastard truly didn’t understand why Crowley was so angry. And why should he? He was just being a good soldier.
Crowley sighed, heavily then, stiffly, “Cup of wine? It’s the house wine – dark,” and without waiting for an answer, tapped a long finger on the bar, “A cup for my acquaintance here.”
The bartender complied, setting down a cup smartly in front of Aziraphale. Crowley took it and poured some wine from his jug into it, silently, before passing it to Aziraphale.
The angel seemed heartened by this gesture, and rose his cup, “Salutaria! In Rome long?”
“Just nipped in for a quick temptation,” Crowley muttered, struggling to keep his voice level. As if he would want to spend any more time than strictly necessary in Rome.
Aziraphale refused to be deterred, his forced cheerfulness strained as he anxiously tried to keep the conversation going, “Tempting anyone special?”
Crowley sighed, swilling the wine around in his cup before taking another gulp and replying, “Emperor Caligula. Frankly, he doesn’t actually need any tempting to be appalling. Going to report it back to head office as a flaming success. You?”
“They want me to influence a boy called Nero. I thought I’d get him interested in music. Improve him.”
Crowley had nothing to say to that, but saw Aziraphale’s eyes on him, bright with interest, like chunks of fallen summer sky. No one had looked at him like that other than Jesus, and Eve, and someone else, long ago, Before. Crowley cleared his throat, making an effort, “Couldn’t hurt. So, what else are you up to while you’re in Rome?”
Aziraphale suddenly wiggled in his seat excitedly, his voice picking up, “I thought I’d go to Petronius’s new restaurant. I hear he does remarkable things to oysters.”
Crowley couldn’t stop himself from curling the tiniest, sardonic smile. Oysters. How absolutely ridiculous. He leaned back slightly, and for the first time, fixed Aziraphale’s gaze in his, through his shades. “I’ve never eaten an oyster,” he offered.
Aziraphale’s mouth nearly fell open at that, “Let me tempt you to…” Crowley snorted into his jug mid-drink, nearly choking, raising his eyebrows, and Aziraphale stumbled, the tips of his ears burning bright red, “Oops. That’s… that’s your job, isn’t it?”
Crowley turned back to the bar, settling his elbows comfortably upon it, “And yours is to try Petronius’s new restaurant?” he teased.
The redness in Aziraphale’s ears darkened another shade, and he hid his face in his cup a moment, before replying, “No, but… it doesn’t hurt anything! And I know I’m not supposed to, but the humans do really create such marvelous things, it seems a waste to ignore them when off duty.”
Aziraphale fidgeted in his seat, looking down a moment before glancing back up to Crowley, that familiar look in his eyes, seeking reassurance.
Crowley allowed the slightest smile to grace the corner of his mouth and said, briefly, “Oh, I agree entirely.”
Aziraphale perked up at that, emboldened, “Yes! Precisely! They do create such interesting things, all on their own, don’t they? I mean, I’m supposed to influence them – and I do! – towards the Lord, but all this that they’ve built on their own, I’d never have thought of half of it! We never did, Heaven, that is, in all the millennia we angels have been there!” He signed contentedly, and took another sip of wine, “It really is quite wonderful.”
Crowley gave the angel a sidelong look. Perhaps he had given up too easily on this new Aziraphale. The angel took his last sips of his cup and stood.
“Thank you, Crowley,” he said warmly, and it sounded as if he truly meant it, “I won’t take any more of your time, but perhaps I will see you around again soon.”
With that, Aziraphale gave a little wave and trundled off, out into the streets of Rome, leaving Crowley with a funny feeling in his stomach. He downed the rest of his jug, ordered another and downed that too, but the feeling didn't go away.
Song for this chapter: "Dirty Love" by Mt. Joy
Chapter 5: The Kingdom of Wessex, Year 4543, 537 AD
500 years to cool off seems about right... but honestly, who else would Crowley even talk to? Everyone else is either boring or dead.
The fog clung to everything. The horses, the armor, the skin. It dripped into Crowley’s eyes uncomfortably under his dark helm, where he couldn’t so much as brush it off. He’d hated the desert, he reminded himself. He’d needed a change. Besides, after Rome fell, there wasn’t much to do or see there but destruction the humans wrought on themselves, and each other. It was depressing to watch.
But Satan, he hated horses. Not only were they uncomfortable to ride, but the wetness in the air clung to them and produced a horrid smell, although perhaps no more horrid than the bodies of the men, unwashed and crammed into metal suits alongside. For once, Crowley was glad of his own scent, merely a slight whiff of sulfur, rather than the unseemly odors the humans produced. He shuffled in his seat, awaiting his meeting. All of this was becoming rather tedious, the temptations, the endless tug of war over the humans. Wasn’t the whole point, under this reformed God, to allow them to make their own decisions? It seemed Jesus had succeeded, and the world had not been destroyed again, although Crowley was sure if he asked Heaven, they’d simply say She'd kept her promise. No matter. The world went on, and of all the pain and suffering they were given, at least, for now, the humans had been given a chance.
A muffled voice called through the mist. Finally he’d arrived, although, that voice, no. He hadn’t seen Aziraphale in 500 years. He had, literally, no idea on Earth where he was or where he’d been. Yet still, his fool heart quickened slightly when he heard the call again, this time confirming his suspicion, “I, Sir Aziraphale of the Table Round, am here to speak to the Black Knight.”
The mist seemed to part around Aziraphale, and he stepped forward, white armor gleaming dully with beaded water, and leading a bedraggled white horse behind him, legs splattered with mud. Aziraphale caught sight of Crowley, and set to business, “Oh. Right. Hello. I was hoping to meet the Black Knight.”
As if his all-black armor didn’t already give it away. Still, Crowley kept up the charade, seeing if Aziraphale would recognize him as well, “You have sought the Black Knight, foolish one. But you have found your death.”
Aziraphale squinted, then relaxed, visibly. “Is that you under there, Crawly?”
Crowley pulled off his helm and scowled, “Crowley.”
The angel looked flabbergasted, “What on earth are you playing at?”
Crowley heard a stick snap behind him, his backup approaching, and lazily waved them off, “It’s all right, lads. I know him. He’s alright.”
He then turned towards Aziraphale and said, plainly, “I’m here spreading foment.”
The angel’s brow furrowed with deepening confusion, “Is that a kind of porridge?”
“No!” Crowley replied, and accidentally let the indignation slide into his voice, “I’m, you know, fomenting dissent and discord. King Arthur’s spread a bit too much peace and tranquility in the land. So I’m here, you know, fomenting.”
Cautiously, Aziraphale hazarded a reply, “I’m, er, meant to be fomenting peace.”
Crowley groaned aloud and sighed. “So, we’re both working very hard in damp places and just cancelling each other out?”
“You could put it like that,” Aziraphale shuffled, rather uncomfortably, looking side to side, “It is a bit damp,” he allowed.
Crowley narrowed his eyes, sizing Aziraphale up. This talk of sides, this persuading the humans one way or another was all cockamamie bullshit anyway. And, he couldn’t help thinking of the past four millennia, of telltale signs, that this angel, this new Aziraphale, may not actually be so lost as he had thought. A given sword, an outstretched wing, a love of oysters, and all of it, pointing to one thing; a desire, even if deep down, even if suppressed, for something more than just status reports and promotions and unquestioningly following the will of God.
Crowley saw a glimpse, with all the pieces before him, of the Aziraphale from Before, and before he could think, before he could stop himself, he heard himself saying, slyly, “Be easier if we’d both stayed home, and just sent messages back to our head offices saying we had done everything they asked for, wouldn’t it?”
Aziraphale gasped aloud, “That would be lying!”
It was too late to stop now. The idea was in his head, and his mouth was racing almost as fast as his thoughts, if he could just get Aziraphale to see what he saw, maybe, just maybe, he could get him back, even after all this time. Maybe he was still in there, buried deep. “Possibly,” Crowley acknowledged, “But the end result would be the same. We cancel each other out.”
“But my dear fellow!” (Crowley would think about how Aziraphale had called him a dear fellow later, for perhaps substantial amounts of time), “They’d check! Michael is a bit of a stickler. And you do not want to get Gabriel upset with you.”
“My lot,” Crowley countered, “Have more to do than verify compliance reports from Earth. As long as they get the paperwork, they seem happy enough. I mean, as long as you’re being seen to be doing something now and again…”
“No!” Aziraphale interrupted, voice shrill, and Crowley was slightly taken aback, “Absolutely not! I am shocked that you would even imply such a thing. We are not even having this conversation. Not another word.”
Crowley had pushed too far, too fast. “Right,” he said, deeply disappointed.
“Right!” Aziraphale replied, before jamming his helmet back on, spinning on his heel, and returning into the mist from whence he came, his miserable horse tagging behind.
Crowley grimaced in frustration as he jammed his helmet back on and sloshed his way, miserably, back to his camp.
Song for today is "Believer" by Imagine Dragons. A bit tacky, it seems, until you re-listen to the song and realize it is explicitly about the lead singer's chronic pain. Look it up, I would highly recommend reading his GQ interview on the subject.
Chapter 6: Florence, Year 5510, 1504 AD
Wrote this because I apparently have zero self control. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Crowley had gotten tired of the damp, and so he’d struck southwards. Besides, he’d heard lovely rumors of some blaspheming going on in the south. Some sort of “rebirth” nonsense. Either way, it had to be better than Wessex.
It was certainly warmer than Wessex, and Crowley couldn’t help but revel in the new sights and smells and tastes. The wine was fantastic, the breezes mild, the plagues minimal, and all in all, he wondered why he hadn’t done this centuries ago.
Antony. He rolled the name around in his mouth, lazily, mixing with the warm, dark summer wine.
“And why Antony, then?” he asked.
Leonardo raised his eyebrows, “Because, my dear friend, you will not tell me your name, after all this time. So, I suppose, I must confess, I’ve been calling you Antony to myself, for lack of anything else.”
Crowley raised a single eyebrow, taking another sip of wine and peering at the artist through his glasses.
“Ah, after Mark Antony. You do share his wit, and perhaps, his prowess as a statesman.”
Crowley snorted softly, at that. “Some statesman, without a name.”
“And in the wrong state entirely, by that accent.” Leonardo retorted, smiling.
“Your reputation comes well deserved, then.”
“Has it spread so far north?”
Crowley was feeling the effects of the wine, heady and fragrant, and he grinned into his cup before replying, “It’s spread far from Vinci, I can assure you. You’re quite a successful man.”
“Are you so surprised as the others, that I’ve come this far on merit alone, and not my mother’s blood?”
“I know what it is to be a bastard son,” Crowley replied, coolly.
“I know, Antony da Nord,” Leonardo looked earnest, and a bit sad. So much wiser, it seemed, than the years he’d had to live, “I see it in your eyes.”
Perhaps it was the wine. Perhaps the night summer air, and the gardens below the balcony, fresh with summer blossoms, the soft sconce behind them as the sun set bathing the whole scene in a golden light from both directions. Perhaps it was Leonardo himself. His eyes, looking into Crowley’s unflinchingly, with no trace of fear, or disgust, or pity.
For the first time in millennia, Antony looked into those eyes, and they looked back, and loved what they saw. And despite himself, Antony felt himself lean forward, across the table, and brush aside Leo’s hair, and their lips met, softly.
He had meant this to be a goodbye. He knew he couldn’t stay. He couldn’t bear to watch what he knew would happen next.
“Sit for me, one last time before you go,” Leonardo murmured.
And Antony, against everything he knew he should say, whispered, “Yes.”
Song for today is "What It Feels Like to Drown" by Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers
Chapter 7: London, Year 5607, 1601 AD
Shakespeare, Shakespeare, and the arrangement is set. Now for the trust to follow.
So this was the spot, then. Crowley looked around dubiously. Upon stepping into the building he had left the noise of the streets behind, with their urchins running underfoot, the women hanging washing from the eves, men whipping overladen donkeys through the streets, herds of sheep blocking foottraffic. This building was nearly pristine by comparison, empty and quiet, with only a few people lounging on the banisters around the edges. Onstage, some palsy actor was melodramatically reciting. Crowley wanted to groan aloud. Of course this is where Aziraphale had asked him to meet.
He spied Aziraphale across the theatre and sidled over to where he was buying grapes from a saleswoman.
“I thought you said we’d be inconspicuous here. Blend into the crowds,” he grumbled at the angel.
Aziraphale looked around, appearing a bit put out by it all, “Well, that was the idea. Grape?”
Crowley, as usual, did not take the offered food, although that didn’t seem to distress the angel, who happily popped the grape in his own mouth.
“Ah, hang on. It’s not one of Shakespeare’s gloomy ones, is it? No wonder nobody’s here.”
The angel put out a hand, hurriedly to shush Crowley, “Shh! It’s him,” and Crowley saw with dismay the wretched playwright himself approaching them.
“Prithee, gentles,” Shakespeare started, somewhat abashed, “Might I request a small favor? Could you, in your role as the audience, give us more to work with?”
Crowley restrained himself from rolling his eyes as Aziraphale chirped, without hesitation, “You mean, like when the ghost of his father came on, and I shouted, ‘He’s behind you!’?”
“Just so! That was jolly helpful!” Shakespeare half turned towards the stage and raised his voice slightly, “Made everyone on the stage feel appreciated. A bit more of that.” Shakespeare turned fully now, and called to the actor, standing before a crowd of flies, “Good Master Burbage, please. Speak the lines trippingly.”
The actor pouted, “I’m wasting my time up here.”
Aziraphale practically jumped to reassure him, “No, you’re very good. I love all the, the, talking,” he finished, lamely.
Shakespeare looked less than impressed, “And what does your friend think?”
Aziraphale glanced at Crowley, anxiously, before looking back to the playwright, “He’s not my friend. We’ve never met before. We don’t know each other.”
Crowley cut him off before he could dig himself in any deeper, forcing a broad smile, “I think you should get on with the play.”
Shakespeare sighed, then, curtly addressed his reluctant actor, “Yes, Burbage. Please.”
“To be – or not to be – that is the question…” the actor called out over the dusty theatre.
“To be!” Squeaked Aziraphale, bouncing up onto his toes in excitement, “I mean, Not to be! Come on, Hamlet! Buck Up!”
The actor, Burbage, apparently, appeared heartened by this, and spoke his ensuing lines with more confidence.
“He’s very good, isn’t he?” Aziraphale asked Crowley, clearly engrossed.
“Age does not wither nor custom stale his infinite variety,” Crowley replied, drily, and didn’t fail to notice the playwrite hastily pull out a scrap of paper and scribble his words down as he walked away.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Aziraphale sighed and looked to Crowley again, “What do you want?”
Crowley raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, “Why ever would you insinuate that I might possibly want something?”
Aziraphale continued to watch the play, clearly attempting to ignore his antics, “You are up to no good.”
“Obviously. And you are up to good, I take it? Lots of good deeds?” Crowley teased.
Aziraphale huffed, “No rest for the, well, good. I have to be in Edinburgh at the end of the week. A couple of blessings to do, and a minor miracle to perform. Apparently,” he sniffed, delicately, “I have to ride a horse to get there.”
Now that was something Crowley could work with, “Hard on the buttocks, horses,” he said, sympathetically, and saw Aziraphale nod approvingly, “Major design flaw, if you ask me. I’m always expected to ride those big black jobs. With flashing eyes.” This next bit was the tricky part, and Crowley tried to slip it in as casually as he could. Aziraphale spooked easily. “Oddly enough, I’m meant to be heading to Edinburg too this week. Tempting a clan leader to steal some cattle.”
“Doesn’t sound like hard work,” the angel replied, promisingly.
Crowley seized on his advantage, “That was why I thought we should… well, bit of a waste of effort. Both of us going all the way to Scotland.”
Aziraphale practically snorted, and ripped his attention away from the monologue on stage. He looked at Crowley, dead in the eyes. “You cannot actually be suggesting what I infer you are implying,” he said, carefully.
The demon raised an eyebrow, “Which is?”
The angel averted his eyes back to the stage, and in a tight voice, replied, “That one of us goes to Edinburg and does… both. The blessing and the tempting.”
Crowley didn’t understand why they were still playing this game. Why Aziraphale was still so skittish. They’d known each other for 5000 years, hell, even longer. After all of that, after being the only two beings who had experienced the full of all of this, why on Earth was Aziraphale still making him pretend and trounce around like that idiot Burbage on stage? He scowled slightly. “We’ve done it before. Dozens of times now. The arrangement.”
“Don’t say that,” Aziraphale said, curtly, his hands clasped behind his back, his thumb restlessly moving in small, agitated circles.
“Our respective head offices don’t actually care how things get done,” Crowley couldn’t keep the frustration from his voice. Why must they always be playing games? Before, Aziraphale had never done this. They could just talk plainly to each other. All this secretive nonsense irritated him to high Heaven, “They just want to know they can cross it off the list.”
Aziraphale’s voice was curt and stiff, “If Hell found out, they wouldn’t just be angry.” Aziraphale took a deep breath, “They’d destroy you.”
What was that tone? That stillness, rather than the angel’s usual energy, either nervous or boisterous. Was it… fear? Fear for Crowley?
In a far gentler tone, Crowley replied, “Nobody ever has to know.”
It was a reassurance. A reiteration of trust. If Heaven found out they’d been collaborating, Aziraphale would be punished, surely. But if Hell found out, well… Crowley didn’t want to think about it. He was already Fallen. There really wasn't much further down to go. But the only way Heaven or Hell would find out is if Aziraphale told. Even now, even after all of this, 5000 years on earth, even after falling, even after learning the eccentricities of this new Aziraphale, Crowley trusted he would never do that.
The angel’s shoulders slumped slightly, whether in relaxation or resignation, it was hard to tell. Crowley pushed, then, knowing this is when Aziraphale would agree, “Toss you for Edinburg.”
Aziraphale swallowed, almost imperceptibly, “Fine. Heads.”
Crowley flipped the coin, spinning through the air, and didn’t miss a dirty look from the head actor as he noticed them betting in his theatre. Rather unprofessional, Crowley thought, absently, to be breaking character for pettiness like this. He caught the coin, deftly, and placed it on the back of his hand, tsking through his teeth as he saw the result. “Tails, I’m afraid. You’re going to Scotland.”
Aziraphale didn’t check, simply groaned slightly. It occurred to Crowley that the angel trusted him too, perhaps with much less than his life, perhaps with just a coin flip, but at least with something. He couldn’t stop a small smile rising to his lips at the thought.
Before them, Shakespeare was complaining to the foodseller, rather loudly, “It’s been like this every performance, Juliet. A complete dud. It’d take a miracle to get people to come and see Hamlet.”
Aziraphale’s head swiveled towards Crowley, grinning hopefully, his blue eyes pleading.
Crowley sighed, “Yeah, all right. I’ll do that one. My treat.”
“Oh, really?” Aziraphale exclaimed in feigned surprise. His grin widened, wrinkling up the corners of his eyes, and Crowley felt an odd sensation in his chest, to be the cause of such a smile.
“I still prefer the funny ones,” Crowley griped, snapping his fingers, but unable to hide the barest trace of his own smile.
Song for this chapter is "Big Houses" by Squalloscope
Chapter 8: Paris, Year 5799, 1793 AD
What does 5000 years do to someone, just watching thousands of lives pass them by? Evidently, it makes them gay.
When Crowley had done his usual check-in on Aziraphale, stretching out his consciousness to search for the angel’s telltale presence, as he did every few days when it crossed his mind, he had scarcely believed it. In Paris, of all godforsaken places. Crowley had always told himself he was being paranoid, to check in on his angel so often, but this confirmed all his suspicions. Stupid bloody angel. Or, about to be bloody if Crowley didn’t get there quickly. He’d been planning to get a nap in for a bit as he’d just gotten back from a tempting trip, but it seemed the angel had other plans. Crowley rubbed a hand over his face, tiredly, and snapped his fingers, drawing himself to the angels presence, and taking care to change his clothes to the red of the people. He, (and apparently only he), read the news.
He opened his eyes to find himself in a stone room, dank and smelling of human waste and fear. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. The things he’d do for this angel, honestly.
“Please, no,” Aziraphale was babbling, “dreadful mistake discorporating me, there’s paperwork to fill out when I get back, it’ll be a complete nightmare-“ but his voice was cut off by a cheer from outside, accompanied by a rather wet sounding THUNK. Aziraphale winced, and looked pleadingly back up at the man guarding him, apparently loosening his collar, no doubt to take him up next…
Briskly, Crowley snapped his fingers (trying not to think about the lurch in his stomach when the guard had loosened Aziraphale's collar), and everything froze, the crowd quieting as if they’d been muted, the guards hands hovering just inches from Aziraphale’s throat. The effort of the thing nearly winded Crowley, but he hadn’t had time to think of a better plan. He grimaced as he felt the pounding already beginning in his temples. He’d need to sleep this one off for sure.
“Animals!” Aziraphale spat, lurching backwards and away from the guards hands as his bindings miraculously gave way.
“Animals don’t kill each other with clever machines, angel. Only humans do that.”
Aziraphale started, nearly falling in surprise as he turned to see Crowley, slouched against the wall with effort (but, he thought, successfully passing it off as simply a casual gesture). “Crowley?” he exclaimed, with genuine delight in his voice, before laying eyes on the demon, swallowing slightly, then glancing him up and down. “Oh good Lord,” he muttered, a bit breathlessly, averting his eyes.
Crowley pushed himself off the wall, stalking towards his angel, “What the deuce are you doing locked up in the Bastille?” he said, altogether too quickly. He forced his words to slow, and continued, lamely, “I thought-I thought you were opening a bookshop.”
“I was.” Aziraphale looked down at his feet, and had the grace to look sheepish as he readjusted his collar, “I got peckish.”
“Peckish?” Crowley asked, incredulously.
The tips of Aziraphale’s ears turned a familiar pink, “If you must know,” he said, brushing off the front of his coat, “It was the crepes. You can’t get decent ones anywhere but Paris. And brioche-“
Crowley cut him off, “So you just popped across the Channel during a revolution, because you wanted something to nibble?” He gestured towards the angel in exasperation, “Dressed like that?”
Aziraphale sniffed. “I have standards.” Crowley opened his mouth to argue, but his angel cut him off, words falling over each other to explain, “I had heard that they were getting a bit carried away here but-“
“This is not getting ‘carried away’! This is cutting off lots of people’s heads very efficiently with a big head-cutting machine.” Crowley rubbed at his temples in exhaustion, the dull thudding behind them becoming stronger as he held the timestop. Nearly wished someone would cut off his head. “Why didn’t you just perform another miracle and go home?”
“I was reprimanded last month,” Aziraphale replied, anxiously, “They said I’d performed too many frivolous miracles. I got a strongly-worded note from Gabriel.”
“You were lucky I was in the area,” his voice came out terser than he’d meant it to.
“I suppose I am. Why are you here?” Aziraphale seemed a bit hesitant to ask, testing out the waters, and Crowley wished he hadn’t.
“My lot sent me a commendation for outstanding job performance. So I thought I should find out what they were commending me for.” Technically true. He had been meaning to get around to it and see what all the fuss was about.
Aziraphale seized on that, voice rising slightly in accusation, “So all this is your demonic work? I should have known!”
That stung. After all this time, Aziraphale still hadn’t bothered to learn enough about him to think him capable of this? All 5000 years he’d spent agonizing over every word he’d said to the angel in order not to scare him off, and it seemed his angel hadn’t even paid attention.
“Nah,” Crowley said, trying to mask his expression, “Humans thought it all up themselves. Nothing to do with me.”
A moment of awkward silence ensued (did Aziraphale realize how harsh he'd been, or did he simply not know what to say?), until Aziraphale offered, “I suppose I should say thank you. For the, er, rescue.”
“Don’t say that,” Crowley couldn’t wait to crawl into bed and leave this all be for another day, another century even, “If my people hear I rescued an angel, I’ll be the one in trouble. And my lot don’t send rude notes.”
The angel persevered, “Well, anyway, I’m very grateful. What about if I buy you lunch?”
Crowley’s mouth quirked into a small smile despite himself, at the ridiculousness of it all. “Looking like that?”
Aziraphale sighed, impatiently, and snapped his fingers, swapping clothes with the guard who had been holding him a moment earlier, and looking down on himself with a slightly curled lip that he caught Crowley noticing, “Barely counts as a miracle, really.”
Crowley raised an eyebrow, and time resumed, the shouting from outside jarring after the peaceful silence. It was a relief to stop forcing time to obey him, though. Maybe he could spare some time for lunch before he rested.
The heavy wooden door to the cell opened with a creak of ungreased hinges, and two more guards entered. Upon seeing the guard in the cell dressed in English gallantry and chained, they seized him, and with a nod to Aziraphale, escourted him out, even as he yelled obscenities at them in French.
Crowley tsked, “Dressed like that, he’s asking for trouble. So what’s for lunch?”
Aziraphale had that excited gleam in his eyes again, the one Crowley couldn’t resist, “What would you say to some crepes?”
The café they went to was stuffy and overcrowded, with small groups of people huddled around small tables and sipping wine or tea or (for the especially brave) water. They’d managed to squeeze into a tiny table in a corner, and to Aziraphale’s immense disappointment, Crowley had refused to order anything but a pitcher of wine. However, Aziraphale seemed to be enjoying his crepes enough, making contented little noises as he ate, while Crowley watched him over the rims of his sunglasses.
“Do you ever feel old, angel?” Crowley asked the question before he could think better of it.
Aziraphale seemed affronted by the question, “Crowley, don’t be ridiculous, we are old.”
That wasn’t what Crowley had meant. “Obviously. But I mean, do you ever feel it? Do you ever look at all this and… you know?” he waved his hand vaguely to the café around them, and beyond that, to the city in turmoil, and beyond that, to a country in rebellion, and beyond that, to a world crowded, absolutely stuffed, with humans, too many to possibly understand or control or tame, but he wasn’t sure the angel understood.
Aziraphale nibbled on a bite of crepe, thoughtfully. “I suppose,” he said, a bit doubtfully, “I mean, all this business is rather dreadful, isn’t it? And Lord knows we’ve seen it before.” He took another bite and hummed in satisfaction, “and we’re likely to see it again.”
“I just… I don’t think the others understand, you know. They’re not here to see them. They send their assignments, and think they matter in the large scale, when most… most of what the humans do is all their own.”
“Like these crepes” Aziraphale said, contentedly.
“Well, yes, I suppose, but- ach, nevermind,” Crowley set down his wine and rubbed his temples. The pain was really building now.
“Are you quite alright?” Aziraphale sounded genuinely concerned, “You aren’t acting like yourself.”
“Ah, yes, angel,” Crowley said, wearily, knowing that he was acting like himself around Aziraphale for perhaps the first time in 5000 years, “Just tired.”
This chapter's song is "Fair Verona" by Dan Mangan.
Chapter 9: London, Year 5838, 1832 AD
Several trigger warnings for this one, including: drowning, suicide, unreality, and extreme guilt/self-loathing. Be careful, friends. <3
He was falling.
His wings, once so beautiful, rippled in flames, the pain strong enough that he could scarcely think. Darkness shimmered from the heat around him, suffocating and immense and absolutely impenetrable. He fell for long enough that he was sure he’d have to have gotten used to the pain, like a sword in his back, but he never did. He fell and fell until he hit brimstone with a massive splash, and instinctively, he put out his wings to break his fall, tattered and ashen though they were.
The brimstone put out his wings, and as he watched, bits of them tore off and floated to the surface, darkening the liquid around him in his own burnt feathers, like an oil slick upon water. He began to boil, feeling his mind twist and scatter like his ashes that slipped through his fingers as he scrabbled at the sulfur, desperately trying to swim, but bogged down by his massive, useless, charred wings, now logged with sulfur. He manged to drag himself forwards, calling on miracles to save him but receiving none, simply spluttering feebly until, like a gift from God, a hand appeared above him.
He grabbed it, desperately, trying to spit out the brimstone that filled his mouth and coated his tongue, holding on to this blessed hand as tightly as he could, clinging to it as the only solid thing in the world. It pulled him up, out of the burning lake, onto a slippery obsidian rock that he could have sworn wasn’t there a minute ago. Crowley collapsed, panting, drenched, on the rock, his bedraggled wings hanging lopsidedly behind him, still burning dully.
“Thank you,” he gasped, spitting sulfur, “Thank you.”
“Oh, Crowley,” the sighing, singsong voice was so familiar it ached, and Crowley looked up to see Aziraphale, as he’d been Before, in all his glory, multitudes of wings blinding and outstretched, their shimmering eyes, in their thousands, all a breathtaking blue, all fixed on Crowley, huddled wretchedly at his feet.
“Aziraphale,” he scrambled to stand, to embrace him, to collapse into his shoulder and know, finally, that he was safe, but his wings were too heavy, leaden as if they were pinning him to the ground, where he lay, writhing and helpless and stinking of sulfur, while Aziraphale looked down upon him.
“Aziraphale, please,” Crowley grunted, “Help me up, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much. I knew you would come back. I knew you wouldn’t – please, help me up.” Crowley's hand was still outstretched, clasping Aziraphale's warm, soft hand as firmly as he could manage. Crowley saw his own veins under thin skin, his hand trembling above him, even in the angel's grasp.
Aziraphale smiled down at him, and it felt again as if the first dawn was breaking, when the world was new, before Crowley had fallen, when he’d been assigned to build the stars. But the angel made no motion towards his outstretched hand, and this was a sad smile, a patronizing smile, as one would give a child struggling to understand. “Oh, poor Crowley. Can’t you see you’ve ruined everything? You had Heaven… you had me, but that never was enough for you, was it? You needed more." Aziraphale clucked his tongue in disappointment, "Stupid, selfish angel.”
And with that, Aziraphale let go of Crowley’s hand, and the rock disappeared, and Crowley fell down and down into the brimstone, sinking and struggling, deeper and deeper until the light disappeared entirely and the pressure made his ears feel as they might burst, and the heat itself made him wonder how liquid could exist here at all. Crowley clawed at the brimstone, seeking something, anything in the darkness, until his hand hit something solid, and in desperation he clawed himself up onto a shore, gasping and choking for air.
He lay, coughing, in a shallow pool, sodden, useless wings lying limply over his back and pinning him to the sharp stones beneath. It was light here, and birdsong filled the air. A gentle breeze whispered through the trees and over Crowley’s face, brushing the hair from his eyes, as he looked up. The Garden. Beautiful and as pristine as he remembered it. He stretched his sodden wings as best he could and they ached horribly, charred black and tainted with sulfur, dripping disintegrating feathers whenever he moved them. He heard laughter peal through the air, and started. Across the stream, sitting together, were the humans. The two of them, giggling together over something or other. As though she felt his gaze on her, Eve looked up, meeting his eyes, and froze him in her stare. As she looked at him, her eyes, once so gentle and warm, hardened into a flinty coldness. She shooed Adam off into the forest, and stood, striding through the stream until she stood next to him, helpless as he was, barely able to raise his face from the water.
“Hello, Crowley.” She said, simply.
He said nothing, afraid of what she’d say.
She squatted down next to him, “Ah, so not a snake, then. I see. You never did answer that question. Probably didn't want me to see the truth,” She laughed then, but not like the laugh she shared with Adam. This laugh was high and cold and brittle, “You look like something God spat out.”
Crowley swallowed, then muttered, “Didn’t like the taste of me, I suppose.”
Anger sparked in Eve’s eyes, then, “So you assumed I would?”
“We’ve long since left the garden, Crowley, you can tell the truth. I know it now anyway, thanks to your apple.”
“I wanted to give you the choice, that was, I mean-“
He looked around, bewildered, as The Garden's walls, its plants, its birds melted away around them, and the stream began to rise, inexorably, beside him, and he craned his head backwards as far as he could, gasping for air and pushing himself up onto his elbows.
“Yes, yes,” Eve said, mockingly, “I know that’s what you wanted. Noble Crowley, clever Crowley, knows better than God ever did.”
The water was rising fast, and Crowley, with a Herculean effort, stumbled to his feet, his wingtips dragging in the rising water.
Eve continued, “What good does knowing do us when we die, Crowley? What good does choosing do us when we all drown anyway?”
The water was at their throats now, and Eve raised her chin high, eyes flashing yellow as she was engulfed, “Arrogant bastard,” she spit.
Crowley opened his mouth to reply, but it was full of water, and he only choked, accidentally drawing the water into his lungs. In panic, he looked around only to see villages, people, flailing and mouthing unanswered prayers, looking at him with eyes wide and fearful as fish as they were swept along in the current. He reached out, as they reached out back to him, but they all went by too fast, and air bubbles left their mouths, and all the debris; rubble and ashes and feathers and guillotine blades and muskets and oysters and books and sunglasses and shed skins, all five thousand years of it, swirled around him and away from him, tangling in his wings and making him far too heavy to swim, and the water rose higher and higher, and he opened his mouth to swallow water, to allow himself to drown with the rest of them, and-
He awoke in a cold sweat, chest heaving for air despite himself, and bolted upright, feeling with relief no weight of wings on his back.
A dream. Another dream. He raked his hand through his sweaty hair, surprised to find it long and unkempt. He’d slept a while then. Good. It was better to sleep for a while. Gradually, his heartbeat slowed, his breathing settled, and he managed to stop his reckless thoughts.
Crowley hauled himself upwards, staggering on legs unused to supporting weight, his red hair nearly falling to the floor behind him. Asleep for quite a while, then. Not that it mattered. Except…
He threw his mind outwards, searching for the telltale presence of Aziraphale. What if he’d gone and done something stupid again? What if Crowley had slept too long? What if-
Crowley found Aziraphale, in his bookshop, curled over an old tome, no traces of fear around him. Crowley shook his head slightly, breaking the connection. All was well, then. Stupid of him to worry so much. He dragged a hand over his face, feeling the ragged beard that had accumulated, and stumbled to the mirror hung on the far wall. Impatiently, he scraped the dust from it, and his breath caught in his throat – a pair of severe yellow eyes, looming out at him from the darkness.
He shut his eyes tight and mentally punched himself. Idiot, those are yours. It’s been five millennia, you think you’d be used to them by now.
His hair really had gotten long. He looked in the mirror to see a grubby, unkempt man, hair nearly to the floor, beard nearly to his waist, mothholes and mouseholes eaten in his clothes, thin and pale and even more skeletal looking than usual. It was dark outside, and quiet. He’d chosen this building carefully to rest in, an old farmhouse, legally owned by him, where no one would bother him for at least a lifetime, when it might finally occur to someone to check for a will. Evidently, that hadn’t happened yet, and he was glad. He wasn’t ready to wake up.
Unlike Eve, he was content to huddle behind his walls.
Song for this chapter: "I'll Be Good" by Jaymes Young
Chapter 10: London, Year 5871, 1862 AD
You know exactly what this is.
The day was bright and uncharacteristically warm, and Crowley felt sweat beading under his thick wool coat. The park was peaceful as ever, and it set him on edge. He was here for something dangerous, and this park, as much as it always was a haven for their clandestine meetings, was never safe enough. Nowhere was, especially not now, especially not for this.
He strode towards their usual bench, scanning the surroundings to sense if anyone was looking, worrying the paper in his pocket nervously. He knew it was a lot to ask. But he’d been thinking and he couldn’t continue with the arrangement otherwise. It was too risky. There was too much at stake.
He knew his angel would be upset, but… there was no way around it. His dreams had been haunting him more and more. Besides, his angel, of all people, would understand.
He had to. Crowley didn’t know what else to do.
Crowley spied him, standing by the pond and tossing small bits of bread to the ducks. Aziraphale had a small smile on his face as he watched the ducks gobble up the bread with delight, and Crowley felt a familiar pang in his heart. Aziraphale looked like he belonged here perfectly, amongst the ducks and the songbirds and the dapper gentlemen and ladies. He deserved that. To be at peace, for once. Perhaps it was selfish of Crowley all along, to even be here, to even allow himself to see him. Let alone to allow Aziraphale to care, which Crowley was beginning to suspect that he did. The angel had been free of him, good and proper, after the fall, God had made sure of that. But there, in the garden, She had played the same trick on Crowley as She had played on the humans. And fool that he was, he had taken the bait. His mouth twisted in anxious amusement. At least, he told himself, he hadn’t eaten the fruit.
Try as he might to convince himself to leave well enough alone, to leave Aziraphale alone, even if he slept for decades, whenever he awoke in a cold sweat, he could only think of one thing, one… being, as comfort. Once he’d thought he felt a soft, warm body in the bed beside him, but it had just been latent dreams, playing with the mind. Crowley licked his lips. This could ruin everything. This could ruin five thousand years of progress. But if he didn’t do it… he could lose everything.
There was no point delaying it. Crowley forced himself to speak around his heart thumping in his throat. “Look. I’ve been thinking. What if it all goes wrong? We’ve got a lot in common, you and me…”
Aziraphale’s smile vanished, thoroughly enough that it was difficult to remember it had ever been there. “We may both have started out as angels, but YOU are fallen,” he said sullenly, tossing his next bit of bread a bit more vigorously than necessary.
As if Crowley needed reminded. Especially from Aziraphale, of all people. He scowled and pressed on, “I didn’t really fall. I just, you know, sauntered vaguely downwards,” This conversation was already going downhill, there was no sense drawing it out. Crowley cut to the chase. “I need a favor.”
“We already have the agreement, Crowley,” Aziraphale sounded terse, chucking more bread, “We stay out of each other’s way. Lend a hand when needed-“
“This is something else. For if it all goes pear-shaped.” The words tumbled out, too fast for Crowley to think about them. He took a breath. What if he was pushing the Aziraphale too far? But, he reminded himself. This had to be done. Crowley couldn’t think of anything else, try as he might.
“I like pears,” Aziraphale murmured absently, clearly looking for a way out of the conversation, but Crowley persisted.
“It if all goes wrong. I want insurance.”
A moment of stunned silence. Crowley licked his lips, nervously. Then, “…What?”
Aziraphale sounded more frightened than indignant, the word barely escaping his lips. He couldn’t help but look Crowley in the eyes, those gigantic eyes meeting Crowley’s, seeking reassurance, as always. Crowley wanted nothing more than to give it to him, but through sheer force of will, kept his face cool and impassive.
“I wrote it down. Walls have ears.” Shit! They were outside. Aziraphale’s look of gathering betrayal was distracting, but he was nearly there. “Not walls. But trees have ears.” Idiot, no they don’t. If only the angel would stop looking at him like that. “Ducks have ears. Do ducks have ears? Must do. That’s how they hear other ducks,” He was rambling, but he couldn’t stop himself. Besides, it didn’t matter. This was the moment. Quickly, he pulled out the crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and passed it to Aziraphale, who took it reluctantly, as if the paper might burn his fingers to the touch.
He unfolded it carefully, practiced, and barely glanced at the words inside before snapping “Out of the question,” and looking back towards the ducks, looking anywhere, it seemed, but at Crowley.
“Why not?” It came out almost puckish, but Crowley couldn’t help it. He’d thought about this, for hours and days. For years. For decades. And it was the only solution. If something went wrong. If anyone found out. If he was forced to take drastic measures. If he was out of options, Crowley absolutely refused to be helpless. He wouldn’t-couldn’t do that again. Not when it mattered. Not when everything was at stake. Couldn’t his angel understand? Couldn’t he, after all these years, trust Crowley, even a bit, even to keep them both safe? A bitter taste rose from Crowley’s throat. It was just like Before. When it mattered most, when Crowley was doing all he possibly could to keep them safe, his angel balked.
And Crowley had taken the fall.
Maybe this new Aziraphale wasn’t so different after all.
“It would destroy you,” Aziraphale was saying, hands worrying the paper in his hands, reading the words over again, HOLY WATER, scrawled in Crowley’s own messy handwriting.
Aziraphale’s fingers tightened on the note, crumpling it, “I’m not bringing you a suicide pill, Crowley.”
“That’s not what I want it for.” Crowley couldn’t believe his angel could be so naïve. He struggled to explain, to make Aziraphale see the importance of what he was trying to accomplish, “Just… insurance…” he couldn’t find the words. Too much was happening, too much swirling, too much fear radiating from the angel next to him, drowning out the thoughts in his head. He shook it, slightly, but couldn’t rid himself of the images of burning wings, the smell of sulfur, the oppressive feeling of miles of cold, unfeeling water pressing down on him. Shit! All those days, spent rehearsing this conversation, knowing he’d have to justify it to his angel, all seemed to fly out of his head the second he needed them, replaced with these useless thoughts, again. A hand reached out from the clouds, Aziraphale’s hand, and Crowley took it, desperately, clinging to it as if it were life itself, knowing it was life itself, or as much of one as he had, or would have, or did have. The hand opened, again and again, and Crowley never stopped falling.
“I’m not an idiot, Crowley!” Aziraphale turned to him fully for the first time, jerking Crowley from his reverie, looking him in the eye as his voice rose, “Do you know what trouble I’d get into if they knew I’d been fraternizing? It’s completely out of the question!”
Oh. So this wasn’t about Crowley’s safety at all. After all this time, after thousands of years, it was still, always, about this new Aziraphale. About his obedience to God. Selfish bastard. Idiot angel. He didn’t even know what She’d done to them. It shouldn’t matter, when the angel knew better than Crowley did all that God had done, to the angels, to the demons, to the humans, to every godforsaken creature She’d ever created, chewed up and spat out. When would Crowley learn to stop wasting his time on this blind follower? When would Crowley ever learn that Aziraphale had chosen, and continued to choose?
When would Crowley accept Aziraphale would never choose him?
He felt his pupils narrow to slits, “Fraternisssing?” he hissed, low and dangerous.
Aziraphale was seemingly unperturbed, and turned primly to the ducks, throwing them his last bit of bread before brushing the crumbs primly off the front of his coat. “Whatever you wish to call it,” his voice was thin and terse, “I do not think there is any point in discussing it further.”
Crowley felt his fangs emerge, involuntarily. “I have lotssss of other people to fraternissse with, angel,” he spat.
“Of course you do,” Aziraphale said plainly, clearly restraining himself.
“I don’t-I don’t need you!” Crowley was shaking now, and balled his hands into fists to stop their trembling.
“The feeling is mutual!” Aziraphale stormed off, throwing the paper into the lake with the ducks, his fingers, once so tight on it, opening and letting it fall.
“Obviously!” Aziraphale threw over his shoulder for good measure, but Crowley could only watch the paper fall, fluttering, into the water.
With a sardonic smile, Crowley lit the paper on fire as it fell, making a few ducks squawk in alarm and jump away from the sudden flame. “Obviousssly,” he hissed.
Song for this one is "Cringe -- Stripped" by Matt Maeson
Chapter 11: London, Year 5871, 1865 AD
Trigger warnings for death, disease, overcrowding, poverty, and hunger
London, 1865, is not the most pleasant of places to be. Descriptions and disease history primarily taken from the work I'd highly recommend, "The Ghost Map" by Steven Johnson, about Dr. John Snow's first epidemiological work in London in 1854 that led to both modern disease theory, but also effective management of cholera. The city at this time was enormously overcrowded, impoverished, and absolutely full of the dead. London's population at this time didn't actually grow through reproduction, but by migration, because so many died in the city from disease that they countered all births present in the city.
The local pub was dingy and grimy and would be raucous in a few hours, when the workers started getting off of their shifts, but for now the afternoon sunlight stretched lazily through the dusty windows, largely leaving the gloom around the bar untouched. Crowley pulled up his usual seat in the corner, the chair rasping against the rough wooden boards rather louder than he’d hoped. However, it did get the bartender to notice him, a rough-hewn chap by the name of Charlie, who looked up and nodded to him, “Goodday to you, sir, Mr. Crowley. The usual, then?”
Crowley waved a hand at him absently in assent, and found a rather grimy glass of a deep dark red set before him. He paid, and Charlie tipped his hat to him in thanks.
Crowley stared down into his cup, swirling the wine around absently. Stupid angel. How was he supposed to keep Aziraphale safe without even a weapon? Stupid, faithful angel couldn’t possibly understand why he might need holy water. Of course he might need it! What if they found out? How, on earth, would Crowley possibly keep Aziraphale safe, when there was nowhere left for Crowley to fall? He’d taken the fall Before, of course he had, but, there was no guarantee he could do that again. He’d bargain with God if he had to, but She’d never listened before.
Crowley took a long slug of his wine, deep in thought. He’d been assigned to do trouble in this massive, sprawling city, but honestly he could hardly see the point. The city was exploding, doubling in size, it seemed, every year, with millions shoved into every inch of space possible, dozens to a room, the multitudes of humanity looking at him with open, hungry eyes as he passed, their fears, their desires so loud it was hard to think straight. Besides, after he’d taken credit for that cholera business, he’d probably be set for a century in this part of the world. He smiled slightly into his cup. Clever humans had figured it out, now, after around a hundred years, and the amount of laborers working on the new sewer systems was truly astonishing, crawling like ants over the earthworks.
“Sir, d’you mind if I ask you something?”
“Hm?” Crowley looked up to see Charlie the bartender looking at him, a bit nervously.
“It’s just… I’ve always been curious. Why do you come down here for your drinks? You’ve been in town a few years now, I would’ve thought you’d go somewhere else.”
“Why?” Crowley asked, looking him in the eyes through his small lenses.
“Erm. Well, sir. If you don’t mind my saying, you seem rather… high class to be here. I mean, you’ve got a room all to yourself up the street,” Upon seeing Crowley’s eyes still leveled at him, unblinking, he trailed off awkwardly, “Sorry sir, I must be mindin my own business. I was just curious, is all.”
“Don’t be sorry, please. It’s a good question.” Crowley took another slug of his drink. “Honestly, I like it here. I like the people. Industrious lot, you are.”
“Y-you mean Londoners, sir?”
“Er- yes.” Crowley corrected himself. He shifted in his seat, waved his hand vaguely again. “I suppose I’m just not much for those, er, high class types. S’not my crowd.”
He heard a snort, and looked up to see Charlie covering his mouth, trying to suppress a laugh. “I-I’m sorry sir! I shouldn’t laugh, I just. Have you seen yourself lately?”
Crowley couldn’t hold back a crooked smile, then, but it soon faded, “What d’you think of all this, then? The great experiment of London? Some say it’s all going to come crashing down. Some say God won’t allow it.”
“Aye.” Charlie replied, solemnly.
“But what do you think?”
“Why should my opinion count?”
“You’re a bartender. Some days I think bartenders have the only opinions that count.” Crowley said, sardonically.
Charlie smiled at that, and Crowley couldn’t help smiling back into his cup. “S’nice to be appreciated, Mr. Crowley,” then he looked thoughtful, “I dunno. Nothing like this has been tried before, you know?”
Crowley nodded, sipping his wine thoughtfully and decided not to mention Tenochtitlan. Lovely people. Incredible booze. Really too bad how that had all gone down.
Charlie continued, “Part of me feels like if it wasn’t meant to be, God would’ve struck us down already. Part of me feels like he already has.” He looked wistful, “You know, Mr. Crowley, the village I was born in is beautiful this time of year. The leaves just starting to crisp up, you know, the harvests coming in.”
“Why are you here then, Mr…”
“Why are you here, then, Mr. Hempstead? What brought you to this tiny pub in the big city?”
Charlie shrugged, and leaned down to scrub a particularly sticky part of the counter, his face looking gaunt in the sharp contrasts of the bar. “Ah, you know. I got three older brothers. Land can only be split so many ways. And I heard good things. That all the wonders of the world were here. That everyone was well fed, and everyone had a job, and the markets were full to bursting with bread, and the winters never hit quite so hard.” He sighed, “Guess I was wrong.”
“What makes you say that?” Crowley asked. Damn his curiosity. One of these days, he was going to learn to leave well enough alone. One of these days, he was going to learn to stop getting so attached to all these humans, with their big, wide eyes and their scared voices. One day he was going to learn to see them for what they were; the dead still walking. He was so tired. Maybe that day would come soon. After all, even angels disappointed him now. He was so very old. Every year brought something new, but Crowley was old enough now to see it for what it was; the same old things, repackaged and resold to generations too far removed to know what they were buying. It hurt to watch their betrayal, over and over again, like those plays Aziraphale was so fond of; the same story, again and again, just with different actors.
Aziraphale never understood why he’d hated those tragedies. There was no joy in watching characters tumble towards their doom, and being able to do nothing about it.
Charlie set the glass down with a sigh, “Can I be honest with you, sir? It’s… I’ve got a job right well enough, thanks to God, but there’s not much money can do when He decides we’ve got to go.”
Crowley cocked his head slightly, and Charlie continued, “Well, y’see sir, I’ve had the doctors in. But I’m not sure they know what’s going on with her, they keep suggesting different things, and robbing me an arm and a leg, and I’m beginning to suspect they’re all frauds anyway, but the priest hasn’t had any luck either and-“
“I’m a doctor.” Crowley heard himself interject.
Damn it. Damn it, he could never leave well enough alone, could he? Here he comes, to a pub, just looking to get peacefully smashing drunk, just looking to exchange some money for a night of peace, and here he was getting himself in deeper.
Charlie’s head snapped up, “S-sir, I’d be, ever so grateful. I imagine your usual clients are a bit better than us, but- If you can help her, I swear you’ll have my wages for the year. I’ll come be your personal drinksman. I’ll-“
Crowley held up his glass, “Mr. Hempstead, you’ve more than paid me, these last few years, with your excellent service and excellent wine.”
Crowley pushed his chair back, holding his hand up to stop Mr. Hempstead’s apologies and thanks. “Don’t mention it,” and then, when Charlie didn’t stop, more firmly, “Don't.”
Charlie nodded, “I’ll-I’ll have to get the other tender, sir, it won’t be a moment and I’ll-“
The other bartender, at that moment, rather miraculously burst through the door, a bit out of breath. “George?” Charlie said, a bit incredulously, “I-I was just about to-“
“I dunno, I was,” George said, panting slightly, “I just felt, suddenly, like I needed to be here. Now.”
Charlie looked at Crowley with a strange look, then turned back to George, “Right. Well. You can have my day wages if you watch for a minute. I’ll be back as quick as I can! If you would follow me, Mr. Crowley.”
Crowley nodded, dunked back the last of his wine and set the glass on the counter before following Charlie out into the sunny streets. The sunshine clawed its way through the late-afternoon smoke that clogged the sky, and all around were the smells of cooking, of woodstoves, of coal plants, of animals and humans practically on top of each other. The streets were narrow and winding, the thick pad of mud and shit underfoot a bit slippery from a light morning rain. Streetvendors shouted, herders urged their flocks onwards, women tossed chamberpots into the street from balconies above, and gaunt children ran underfoot through it all, begging on corners in their bare feet while their accomplices cut purse strings.
The city was alive and teeming, swarming with so much activity that death couldn’t seem to resist it.
They trudged up the streets, through tight alleys, until they reached what had once been a handsome dwelling, two stories tall with once-beautiful brickwork now covered in soot and shit. Charlie led the way up some narrow stairs, all the way to the top, where, in the attic space, they reached their destination.
The room reeked of sickness and fear.
The curtains were drawn, the room full of smoke wafting up from tenants below, the windows open but the air hot and still.
A woman nursing a baby in the corner of the small room looked up as they entered. “Charlie?” she asked, seemingly confused, “Who’s this?”
“A doctor, love,” he said softly, clearly trying not to disturb the figure resting under a threadbare blanket on the floor, under the window.
“Thank you, sir, for coming,” the woman, presumably Mrs. Hempstead, half murmured, “But God’s decided she’s got to go. Nothing they’ve done has touched her, so I’m not sure there’s much to be done but pray for her soul.”
Crowley felt his teeth clench slightly at that. This was mercy, then. Leaving them alone and crying in the dark, clutching their children and shouting into the silence. And then punishing them, forever, if they dared to question. Faith. It brought the taste of iron up into his throat. How could one who knew the truth possibly leave them in the hands of something so cruel as faith?
What had Crowley given them, all those years ago? Eve had asked the questions, sure, but she couldn’t’ve known what she was asking for. Offer a child the world and they’ll take it, and never once think about the consequences.
He swallowed past the lump in his throat and crouched down beside the figure, who stirred slightly at his presence.
“…Papa?” she said, softly, turning and opening her eyes to stare up at him. Her eyes, just like the eyes of all the children, were achingly familiar. Suddenly, recognition flared, and she recoiled slightly, coughing.
“Esther,” Charlie called softly, “Don’t be afraid, it’s a doctor. He’s here to help.”
Esther closed her eyes tight, and a tear squeezed out of the corner of one. She hid her face in her blanket. “No more doctors, uncle. They hurt. Please let me go back to sleep. They said it hurt less once they slept.”
“Who said?” Crowley asked softly, cursing himself already.
“Papa,” Esther mumbled from under the blanket, “And after him, my brother James, and my little sister Mary, and mama… and… I just wanted to sleep, but they came and woke me up.”
“The landlords. They came to, to, move the bodies, and they didn’t realize- they didn’t realize… they took me too at first, but then I woke up, and, and they brought me to Uncle Charlie, and since then the doctors, they- it hurts when they try to-“
Without thinking, Crowley reached out a long, thin hand and took hers in it. The poor girl couldn’t have been more than fourteen. She poked her head out, cautiously, and looked at him. “I promise it won’t hurt.” He said, “It’s going to be alright.”
When would he learn to stop lying? Perhaps he was a good demon, after all, if only because he was truly phenomenal at providing false hopes.
He stood, brusquely, and began to stride towards the door. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t have done this at all. Stupid, stupid Crowley. His fists balled and he went to move poor Charlie aside, where he stood, agape, until he realized Charlie wasn’t looking at him, and turned.
A tad unsteadily, Esther rose to her feet, her complexion notably less pale than it had been a few minutes ago. Her breathing was steady.
Shit. He hadn’t meant to do that. But all he could think of was the open, staring eyes on the body carts, the gaunt hungry faces outside, and a little girl, crying alone in the dark.
The little family looked at her in shock and awe, then slowly turned their heads towards Crowley.
Not even the baby fussed as they all seemed to be calculating for a moment.
Finally, Charlie swallowed. “Sir, may I ask you something?”
Already regretting it, Crowley nodded.
“Are you an angel?”
“I used to be,” and with that, unable to stand it for a second longer, Crowley swept down the stairs, ignoring whatever the family was shouting at him as he nearly ran, out of the house, down the street, bumping into businessmen and mulecarts and vegetable stalls and, everywhere, everywhere, the smell of death and decay and fear. He could only hold it off for so long. He could only pretend not to notice it for so long. It was time to leave.
Song for this chapter is "Poor Isaac" by The Airborne Toxic Event
Chapter 12: The Scottish Highlands, Year 5938, 1932 AD
Time to serve up some fresh, hot blasphemy!
The earth was cool and soft, just like it had always been. Crowley had always been rather fond of the human concept of “mother earth”, of goddesses made of soil with gods made of sunshine and sky. He loved that about them; that they would take a curse bestowed upon them, to till the earth from which they were born until they died; and perceive it as a blessing. That they would thank the sun and soil and water and sky for the bounty it gave them, rather than realize they’d been cursed to pull it from the earth themselves.
They were clever enough to see that they’d come from the earth, dust from dust, and stubborn enough to thank it and revere it as their mother.
But this soil was far from the dusty soils of Eden, that would run through your hands like silk, and spray dust into the air when trod upon. This was half the world away, and the soil here was thick and moist and cool and claggy, sturdy enough to support this small house dug into the side of a hill, with mud brick finishing off the front and sparse meadowgrasses covering the roof.
It felt like home, and to Crowley, it was. He’d commissioned it. There was no way he could get a proper nap in London, with all the people around, with all the traffic and shouting and the humans, absolutely everywhere.
Here it was cool, and dark, and he could simply rest, allowing his heart rate to slow, and his body to cool. It was safer here, and gentler, and quiet, and Crowley had slept for quite some time, on and off, just dozing.
It felt like Before, just floating in a coolness and a peace he couldn’t replicate on earth, but even a taste was so alluring, so perfect, that he nearly never wanted to leave.
He sighed and stretched. Just a bit longer. Surely he could spare to sleep a bit longer.
The hand was above him, shimmering with an ethereal light. Brimming over, it seemed, and there, fingers intertwined, Crowley saw his own hand, thin and gaunt and so very dull compared to the light shining over it, around it, through it.
Had it been hands, Before? It couldn’t’ve been. Hands hadn’t been invented yet. But now whenever he thought of that fateful moment, all he could see was their hands, fingers intertwined, and then, and then, and then-
Crowley braced himself for what he knew was coming. Knowing it would happen didn’t make it any less painful when he saw the fingers began to loosen on his own, when he would feel the wind rushing through his feathers, fanning the flames that coursed up and down them, when all he could think to do was clutch, desperately at the hand that no longer wanted him as he knew he would fall. As he knew he would be left to fall, alone, as he always had when he needed it most.
And for once, the dream changed. The fire along his wings changed course, gathering on his shoulders like the wings of angels had, in the War, coiled and ready to strike. A sudden rage rose in his throat, tasting of blood and brimstone, and suddenly he was part of the fire, and part of the brimstone, and part of the dark masses of wings below. Not a victim to them, but a tool of them.
Crowley felt the flames flicker on his lips as he smiled, and all at once the anger surged forwards, the flames and the sulfur and the power it gave him, and he grabbed the hand above him and pulled, hard.
The tongues of flame raced up his arms, ensnaring and encircling Aziraphale’s, and somewhere, as if far away, Crowley heard the angel gasp in pain.
He tried to draw back. What was he doing, Aziraphale didn’t mean for this to happen, no, no, the angel had only meant to help, he’d-
But the flames had Aziraphale now, Crowley had let them loose for just one, crucial moment, and they had him, coiling up his arms and into his robes, snakes of flame coiling tighter and tighter and darker and darker until it the flames coalesced into one, gigantic black snake, wrapped around him, immobilizing him, and with its face right next to Aziraphale’s panicked stare.
As Crowley’s cold amber eyes met Aziraphale’s, bright and blue as a paradise lost, he saw the fear in them, the true terror, that he’d never seen there before, but felt himself, falling, every dream. It was the same terror he felt when he felt those fingers tethering him to the sky begin to slacken. It was the terror he felt when he was about to fall.
Crowley felt himself lean down towards Aziraphale’s ear, and hiss, barely audible, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and slowly, one by one, he felt his coils begin to slacken.
This chapter's song is "Fire" by Special Explosion.
Chapter 13: Scottish Highlands, Year 5938, 1932 AD
I don't know anything about shepherding or Scotland, so please correct me for everything I'm sure I got wrong!
He awoke in a cold sweat, feeling chilled to the bone, gasping at the musty, cloying air.
A dream. A dream. Nothing but a dream.
In panic, he grabbed at his arms, hugging himself. Flesh. No scales. Sweat beading on his brow and dripping, stinging, into his eyes. Snakes don’t sweat, he reminded himself.
A dream, just like the others, it wasn’t real, and it couldn’t hur-
His eyes flashed open. Aziraphale! He threw out his consciously, rapidly, overstretching painfully, but he didn’t care. What if- what if- what if-
There he was. In his bookshop, an aura of worry around him, but no harm.
Crowley fell back into bed, exhausted. A dream. Just a dream. No harm done.
No more sleeping then. He wouldn’t do that again. Even if he was too exhausted to think right now, sleeping wouldn’t do any good. It was time to go home.
Groaning, Crowley pushed himself upright, stretching and sniffing at the dark around him. The same damp, dark earth, sealed off from the world, just as he’d intended. He groaned. He had no idea how long he’d slept.
With effort and stiff joints, he went to the door of his hovel and pushed. Nothing. He grimaced. Not a good sign. Grunting, he miracled it open, only to find the hinges had rusted off, and a layer of earth had accumulated before the door, moldering into the surrounding landscape.
The door fell outward with a dull thud, and, cautiously, Crowley peered out, tasting the air. The same scents as when he’d gone to sleep. Wind and waves and stone and sheep dung. Lots of sheep dung.
His hair had grown long and ungainly while he slept, spilling out behind him in a great red carpet, dragging on the ground behind him. He couldn’t be bothered, yet. Before he got back into civilization, he’d need a proper haircut, but for now, maybe he’d stride up to the top of the hill, have a look around, get his bearings. See if that little farmhouse wasn’t still-
“Stop!” Came a high voice, with a thick Scottish accent, and Crowley nearly jumped out of his skin.
Looking up, he spied a young girl, maybe in her early teens, scrawny and fierce and holding a shepherd’s crook like a baton. He needed a coffee, at least, before he could deal with this.
“Er. Hello.” Crowley managed, lamely.
“Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself? You just came outta the hill!”
“Yes. Well. I’m a bit lost,” Crowley was not prepared for this situation.
“Well I should hope so!” The girl laughed then, a bit nervously, and Crowley offered a weak smile in return. She tilted her head and looked at him, up and down. “Yer not gonna hurt me, are ya?”
Crowley shrugged, “Wasn’t planning on it.”
“Alright then. You got no weapons, you sure as hell look skinny enough, and God knows you clearly haven’t got all yer wits about you,” she gestured vaguely, to his unkempt hair falling down his shoulders and trailing behind, and to his clothes, once fine, now not much more than rags of wool and leather.
She strode down the hill, wild hair flying in the wind, and seemed to study him as if he were an exhibit.
He looked around for clues, anything, that might give him even the faintest idea of when he was. There was a tug on his scalp, and he looked down to see a sheep taking a cautious bite of his hair, lying as it were, all over the ground. “Oy! Watch it!” he yelled, jumping back.
“Oy!” the girl yelled back, nearly at him now, “That’s MY sheep, you better watch it!”
“Teach your damned sheep to behave, then.”
She laughed again, “I take it you’ve never been a herder then, mister.”
“Not recently, no.”
She narrowed her eyes, still studying him. “Well, that’s all there is in these parts. What did you say your name was…”
“I didn’t. But. Anthony.” Crowley straightened from shooing off the sheep and stood, hair bundled in his arms, glancing around for any sign of civilization.
“I’m Mary. Not that you asked,” she replied, a bit petulantly.
“Great. Er. Mary. Could you please tell me where I might buy a horse?” Of course this damned girl had to be here now, when he could have just peacefully miracled himself somewhere tolerable. Maybe it was for the best. His head was already killing him from seeking out Aziraphale, the growing thudding in his temples warning him not to do any more miracles for at least a few days. He rubbed at them, irritated, thinking of how he’d have to get a horse, ride to the port, and charter some kind of ship, only to hop a train if he was lucky, and then still have-
Mary interjected. She, at least, was a sharp one. “Listen, mister, are you sure you’re well?”
Crowley waved her off with as much nonchalance as he could manage, “Yes, yes. Just need a horse.”
“Well, let’s get you somewhere less windy, and we can see about that horse, alright?” Crowley didn’t miss the concerned tone in her voice, the pity there. He supposed he must look a wreck, although he couldn’t help but curl the slightest smile at how the tables had turned, with him and these humans. Mary was still talking, and had lowered her crook, and offered it before her. “To help you walk, Mister Anthony. That’s an odd name, isn’t it? What’s it?”
“Italian.” Crowley grunted, pretending not to hear the bit about helping him walk, and straightening up with as much dignity as he could muster, refusing the crook. Leonardo had given him that one. Well, Antony. Crowley did allow himself a bit of modernization. A bit odd this far north, for sure, but Crowley was never one to refuse a gift, especially a gift of a name.
Mary stunned him from his thoughts, chirping, “I’ll take you to Pa, he’ll at least know where to send you.”
Crowley felt older than he had in a long time. Leonardo, those warm Florentine nights, were a thousand miles and five hundred years away. He needed to get back to reality. “What-“ Crowley cleared his throat, “What year is it?”
“You really are mad, aren’t’cha?” Mary stuck her hands on her hips and looked down the bridge of her nose at him. “It’s 1932, you daft bastard.”
“Right-“ Crowley muttered, but it felt as though he had swallowed a brick. How long was that, then? Nearly seventy years. Fuck. He’d overslept.
“How in the hell did you get out here, anyways?” Mary was still talking, but at least she was leading him somewhere now, “Nobody’s 'ere we don’t know and, it looks like you’ve been here at least a while.”
“Wanted to get away from London for a bit,” Crowley mumbled, ignoring the jibe about his appearance.
Mary laughed then, out loud, “Well I damn well say you succeeded! You’re about as far as you can get from London, except maybe Ireland.”
“Can’t-can’t do Ireland. Not since that Patrick bloke went muddling around and banished all the-“
Mary wasn’t listening, and Crowley trailed off. No point telling the truth anyway. Besides, his headache was strengthening with each step, and talking only made it worse.
So he simply trailed along behind her, lacking, for the moment, a better plan, and desperately looking about for any clues as to what might have happened in the last seventy years. Christ. (He felt at least entitled to that swear, after he’d gotten to know the kid so well.) Of course he’d been brilliant enough to throw himself all the way out here for a nap. At this point he could’ve slept through the rapture and not known it. And, from what he could tell, Mary wasn’t much of an indicator in that department.
They soon reached a run down sort of sod and thatch dwelling, with a few cows and a whole lot of sheep milling around outside. Crowley supposed this must be the farmhouse. He eyed the cows dubiously. Surely there had to be a horse here somewhere. Maybe he’d whore out, finally, offer them a perfect lambing season, cure their sick, or some other such nonsense, in exchange for a horse. His mouth ticked upwards. Aziraphale would love that. A miracle, a miracle, any miracle for a horse!
“Pa!” Mary yelled towards the house, “Broughtcha a present!”
From round the dwelling came a gruff looking man, poorly shaven, already yelling back, “Mary, what fool thing have you done no-“ but he stopped dead when his eyes fell on Crowley, and his mouth fell open.
Crowley took advantage of this opportunity, and pressed. “Have you got a horse? I’m willing to trade!”
The man ignored him, instead shouting at his daughter again, “What in the damned hells have you brought me?”
“Dunno!” She called back as they approached, “But he’s awful skinny, and can’t stay warm long in those rags.”
The man sighed, and rubbed a worn hand over his face, tiredly. “Well, he’d best come in at least.”
The interior of the house was sparse but homey, with wooden furniture worn smooth by years, and a small fire crackling in the corner. With far more reasonable suspicion than his daughter, the man settled heavily at the table, and motioned wearily for Crowley to take a seat across from him.
“Alright then. So what’s your story, Mr…?”
“Crowley,” Crowley supplied, glancing around the home, hands fidgeting nervously on the table before him, “Really, you needn’t trouble yourself. I just need a horse to ride back south. I’ve got money, I’ll pay.”
The rugged man raised his eyebrows, looking at Crowley’s ragged clothes and train of hair, “I think you’ll pardon me, Mr. Crowley, if I doubt that for the time being.”
Crowley sighed. He supposed that was fair enough. Besides, he wasn't even sure the money he had was still in circulation. Looks like he’d be walking then. He placed his hands flat on the table before him to stand to go, “Can’t say I blame you, but I don’t care to trouble you any longer. I’ll be going, the-“
“Wait.” The man’s attitude had changed suddenly, staring at Crowley’s hands, splayed out on the table. Crowley nearly cursed. The dratted things had taken to a tremor, and now the fingers each trembled, visibly. The man must have seen his grimace, because he held up his own hand, and Crowley saw, much more subtle, but still there, a slight vibration. “No need to be embarrassed. Plenty of soldiers down on their luck after Europe spat us back.”
Crowley stood still as a snake, hardly daring to move, eyes locked on the man’s.
“You fought in the war?” the man prompted, more gently.
The War. It haunted his dreams, still, holy water, falling like rain, melting those it struck, fire arcing across the sky, everywhere the scent of burnt wings and ichor, and amidst it all, two hands, intertwined. And then not.
His face must have betrayed his emotion, because the man patted the table to indicate he sit back down, and, cautiously, Crowley did. “My home is home for any who fought, and doubly for who came back with shell shock. I’ve no idea where you’ve come from, but it hardly matters now. What matters is, have you got anyone to go home to?”
Crowley met the man’s eyes, gentler now, and licked his lips nervously, thinking of Aziraphale in his bookshop. “Yes, I do.”
“Well. That’s settled then,” and the man turned to Mary, who had been standing, stock still and wide eyed in the corner, “Take him down to the post office at least, they should be able to get him further south from there. Did he say where he’s from?”
“London,” Mary said, a bit sheepishly, looking at Crowley with eyes wide as saucers.
“Right then. Better get a move on.” The man stuck a thick arm out towards Crowley, and grabbed his hand, warmly, “I hope you find who you’re looking for.”
Crowley hoped so too.
Song for this one is "Youthemism" by Coral Bones
Chapter 14: London, Year 5947, 1941 AD, Part I
The long-awaited WWII chapter... at least the first of several.
The humans had certainly been busy while Crowley slept. They’d always loved their tricky machines (especially the ones that killed other humans), but they’d really outdone themselves. In just seventy years, the Americans had ripped themselves apart and then halfheartedly sewn themselves back together, and then all of Europe had followed suit.
And now they were at it again, the goddamn fools.
Crowley once again felt his age. He could feel the weight of 6000 years pulling down his eyelids. But he’d tried sleeping, and waking up to find the world foreign was somehow… worse than living through the chaos.
At least the humans, clever as they were, had gone and invented something better to ride around on than horses. He honestly couldn’t believe that HORSES, of all things, had been the best option for nigh 6000 years. As soon as he’d gotten to London in 1932, he’d seen these new automobiles buzzing around the streets, and knew he’d had to get one. He’d gotten a proper haircut (the one he’d done himself on the road did little more than keep himself from tripping over his own locks, or have them eaten by blasted sheep), and he’d gone to buy himself a car. Since then, he’d been settling back into London, as settled as one could be at least, in London at the time. Somehow the first round hadn’t been enough, and all of Europe was readying itself, it seemed, for another go at each other. He’d gotten an apartment (convenient for his new building-mates, who would find themselves miraculously immune to the Blitz), and taken his things out of storage, and he’d tried, as best he could, to go back to normal.
Although this new normal was an interesting time, to say the least. The whole country was mobilized for war, families hurting for rations (strange how the bedraggled mother in the flat next door to him kept “finding” additional ration cards for her six children – it wasn’t as if Crowley ate, anyway), bombs falling from the sky. The humans were calling it the end of the world, although they couldn’t possibly understand how ridiculous they sounded, not realizing the world ended at least once a century, somewhere. This was business as usual.
But through it all, the attempt at normalcy and performing his demonic duties to keep upstairs sated (they hadn’t been thrilled he’d missed 70 years of board meetings), through his drives around the country, through the fear and the bombs and the haze of smoke that choked the streets, he wandered. London was nothing like he remembered. The streets were clean and swept, the livestock gone, the air choked with constant smog, a mixture of rubble dust, coal fumes, and fog hanging low over the buildings like a graveyard. Although, that fog was their saving grace, and he’d seen people thanking God for sending it. After all, planes couldn’t target through all that smog. After a while, though, it hadn’t mattered. They’d simply stopped targeting. He’d kept his ear to the ground, and carefully observed the intricacies of spycraft. The humans thought they were so clever, but all their lies were transparent to Crowley. After all, how couldn’t they be? They’d learned it from him.
When he’d been young, and angry, and rebellious, it had all seemed so obvious, so simple, to let the humans know good and evil, to allow them to choose. What a fool he’d been. He always felt the irony strongly when he was writing his reports to the head office, below, claiming responsibility. In his own way, all the atrocities the humans committed, that he took credit for, were his responsibility.
And through it all, as he tried to ignore it, a presence tugged at his mind, and he was tempted, but he resisted. After all, he’d pushed too hard, and Aziraphale had told him, clearly, what he wanted their relationship, or lack thereof, to be. The best thing that had ever happened to Crowley, Before or now, and he’d ruined it by asking too much.
His hunger, his constant asking for more, his incessant dissatisfaction, this is what had ruined everything, again and again. It had been what had struck him from heaven, and seventy years ago, it had driven him underground once again. He wouldn’t let it ruin Aziraphale.
So Crowley did his best to put his constant awareness of an angelic presence from his mind, and move on, finally. Like he’d been too selfish to do 6000 years ago, like he’d been too stupid to do ever since. Aziraphale knew it too. He may not remember Before, but he certainly knew what Crowley was, and what he was and wasn’t capable of.
It was time Crowley accepted the lessons they’d been trying to teach him; God, and Aziraphale, and the demons Below; to accept that this is what he was, and get on with it. Everyone else had, six thousand years ago.
Crowley sighed, and, mostly out of habit, reached his consciousness outwards, scanning for Aziraphale’s telltale presence. He was sure Aziraphale would be in his usual haunt; the bookshop, shooing off customers or hunched over his desk in the back of the shop with some new acquisition.
He scanned the bookshop and… nothing. That was odd. It was evening. Aziraphale was usually home by this hour. Crowley licked his lips anxiously. It really wasn’t his business. But it couldn’t hurt to just check. Surely, Aziraphale was at some new restaurant in the middle of the blitz, daft as he was.
Crowley threw his consciousness wider, and-
His heart jumped into his throat. Fear. Aziraphale’s aura was full of terror, and betrayal, and next to him, there were also- Surely not. Surely not even Aziraphale would be stupid enough to-
He was outside the church before he could think to stop himself, jogging inside. He hardly registered it was a church before he stepped foot over the threshold and felt as if he’d plunged his foot into hot coals.
“Ow! Ow ow ow!” He squawked, involuntarily, but still moving forward, hopping awkwardly from foot to foot. He glanced up at the scene before him, trying to take it in as quickly as he could. It was as he’d feared; Aziraphale stood before the altar, surrounded by three Nazi operatives pointing guns directly at his head. Behind them all towered a great stone statue of an eagle, wings open wide, as if to embrace the congregation.
Crowley’s appearance seemed to have started the occupants, and he capitalized on it. “Sorry! Ow! Consecrated ground! It’s like being at the beach in bare feet.” It did smart, for sure. Of course Aziraphale had to nearly get killed in a church, of all places.
Aziraphale whirled around, temporarily distracted from his near-discorporation experience. “What are you doing here?” he yelped, in genuine shock. Crowley knew what he really meant. Where have you been?
Crowley chose to answer the explicit question instead. “Stopping you from getting into trouble!” he replied, still hopping as he approached the unlikely group.
“I should have known. Of course. These people are working for you,” Aziraphale sniffed distainfully.
All this time, Crowley had been terrified of this moment. Terrified Aziraphale would look at him in disgust and assume him to be the same monster he always had. But now that’d it’d come, Crowley was only indignant.
“No!” He scoffed, “They’re a bunch of half-witted Nazi spies running about London, blackmailing and murdering people. I just didn’t want to you see you embarrassed!” He realized, belatedly, that if Aziraphale was discorporated, he may be found out as well, and added that to his justifications for being here. Crowley leaned against a pew, trying to take the weight off his feet as best he could. The burning was distracting.
“The mysterious Anthony J. Crowley. Your fame precedes you,” intoned one of the men before the altar, but Crowley honestly couldn’t be bothered with it. He was too busy watching as Aziraphale’s brow creased, and he looked at Crowley questioningly.
Crowley's heart fell slightly, despite himself. “You don’t like it?”
“No.” Aziraphale’s mouth was twisted in an odd sort of expression. “I didn’t say that. I’ll get used to it,” he reassured, hurriedly.
The woman holding the gun interrupted, annoyingly, “The famous Mr. Crowley? Such a pity you must both die.”
Aziraphale was still considering, “What’s the J stand for?”
“Ah- It’s just a J, really. Look at that.” Crowley’d been distracted by something else. Behind the group stood a font of holy water, glistening in the dim light. Strange, how innocuous it looked, after he’d spent so long pursuing it. “A whole font-full of holy water. It doesn’t even have guards.” He’d assumed, what with all of Aziraphale’s protesting, that it’d be harder to obtain. But he was running out of time now.
“Enough babbling!” Shouted one of the humans, “Kill them both!”
Crowley was talking fast now, his words nearly tumbling over each other before he could get them out, “In about a minute, a German bomber will release a bomb that will land right here,” The smog outside had only made it easier to divert a plane, subtly adjusting the readings on the dash, so that their intended target now appeared to be somewhat more westward, directly over the church. Maybe not the most elegant solution, but Crowley hadn’t had much time to think of a plan. Besides, no one would even notice an errant bomb in the midst of the blitz. Crowley continued. He had to at least give these humans a chance, right? That was him, the patron saint of choice, “If you all run away very, very fast, you might not die. You won’t enjoy dying, and-“ He paused a moment, wondering if they thought him mad, “you definitely won’t enjoy what comes after.”
“You expect us to believe that?” The German man admonished, “The bombs tonight will fall on the east end.”
Aziraphale was looking at Crowley for an explanation, seemingly baffled by the entire exchange.
Through gritted teeth, focusing hard through the pain in his feet, and the gathering pain in his temples, trying to keep several small needles on tiny dials far, far above them from slipping back into their accurate positions, he explained, “It would take a last-minute, ah, demonic intervention to throw them off course, yes.” Far, far above them, the bomb was released, and Crowley let go of the controls with relief, “You are wasting all your valuable running-away time! But if, in thirty seconds, a bomb does land here, it would take a real miracle for my friend and I to survive it.” It had been so long, Crowley couldn’t be expected to do all the work here. Besides, he had to know, after all this time, had Aziraphale forgiven him?
“A-a real miracle?” Aziraphale said, somewhat doubtfully.
“Yes!” Crowley insisted, hissing slightly.
“Kill them.” The other man, who had remained quiet until this moment, interjected, “They are very irritating.”
Dutifully, the woman raised her gun again, but the whistling had begun, and the three humans looked up, fearfully, and in a flash, Aziraphale took a step closer to Crowley, and Crowley saw him focus, scrunching up his face, and at the last possible moment, Crowley looked at the scene at the altar, and saw, clutched in the walking-dead man’s hand, a leather bag. Of course that’s what they’d wanted Aziraphale for! The books, he had to make sure that the books were safe, what other apology would suffice to make sure his angel forgave him?
Crowley snapped his fingers, and all around them, the world exploded.
The song for this is "Little Lion Man" by Mumford & Sons.
The silence somehow seemed more deafening than the bomb had been. Crowley opened his eyes, cautiously, to see the two of them, standing in the rubble of the church, levelled. Miraculously, both of them were entirely untouched, a small circle of clear floor around their feet. Dust blew through the air in a cloud, and Crowley took off his glasses, polishing them quickly before putting them back on.
“That was very kind of you,” Aziraphale offered, hesitant, even now.
“Shut up,” Crowley complained, leaning against some rubble and massaging his temples, which were beginning to flare. At least the ground seemed to no longer burn.
“Well, it was!” Aziraphale protested, “No paperwork, for a start.” He seemed contented for a moment, until a look of utter despair overtook his features, “The books!” he moaned, “I forgot all the books! They’ll have been blown to-“
Crowley reached down beside him, yanking the leather bag from the rude man’s hand, sticking partially out of the rubble. In a somewhat demonic twist of fate, although the man was crushed by a rather large structural chunk of the roof, the bag didn’t have a scratch on it. Twisting upright, Crowley thrust the bag out towards Aziraphale, who took it with a look of wonder.
“Little demonic miracle of my own,” Crowley explained, briefly. “Lift home?”
And as he walked past Aziraphale, and heard Aziraphale’s shoes crunching the gravel behind him to follow, he couldn’t stop the grin rising to his lips. He’d been forgiven, after all. This was a new chance.
Crowley sat behind the wheel with satisfaction. It was alright. He could start over, work his way back up. If it took another thousand years, it was alright. He had time. They had all the time in the world.
Aziraphale, nervously, opened the passenger door and sat, clutching the bag to his chest. He wrinkled his nose slightly, “So you went and got yourself one of these, er, automobiles?”
“First chance I got, angel. Sure beats horses,” Crowley looked over at the angel in his passenger seat, but the shadows hid his expression.
“I’ll give you that,” Aziraphale replied.
“The bookshop, then?’ Crowley asked, already starting the car because he knew the answer.
“Er-yes.” Aziraphale was looking at Crowley’s hands on the wheel with worry, “Crowley, are you alright?”
Blasted hands. Crowley glanced down at them, and sure enough, they were trembling again where they held the wheel. He shrugged, trying to play it off, “S’just shell shock, angel. Nothing to worry about.”
“Shell shock?!” Aziraphale seemed much more concerned than previously, and Crowley looked over at him to see him leaning forward, earnestly, hands fidgeting on the handle of the bag. “Crowley were you- did you fight in the war?”
“Nah. Not this one.” Crowley swallowed slightly, “S’just what some human told me it looked like, is all. It’s nothing.” He was desperate to turn to any other source of conversation as he pulled the Bentley away from the rubble, sliding through the empty streets. He could feel Aziraphale looking at him, intently, and Crowley couldn’t understand the look in his eyes.
“Where have you been, Crowley?” Aziraphale tried to sound nonchalant, turning his eyes back towards the road, but Crowley knew him too well. He saw the way his fingertips tapped nervously at the bag in his lap, he saw how his eyes darted between Crowley’s face and the road.
“I took a nap,” Crowley replied, simply.
“For a hundred years?” Aziraphale sounded incredulous, and it took Crowley a moment to remember that he didn’t sleep.
“Well, seventy, but-“
“Why?” The word was accusatory, tinged with that same something Crowley couldn’t place.
“It’s nice, angel. You should try it sometime.” Crowley said, knowing full well Aziraphale never would.
“Was it because of- You know, I am sorry. I shouldn’t have been so harsh.”
Crowley’s head whipped around in surprise at this, barely registering the road as he finally placed that tone in Aziraphale’s voice. It was worry, and affection. It was concern, for him. It was-
Aziraphale interrupted, voice rising anxiously, "The road, Crowley!"
Crowley yanked his gaze back to the road with effort, his voice low as he tried to keep it even, “You don’t have to say that, angel. You know I already forgive you.”
Aziraphale was more insistent this time, “Yes. Well. I feel I ought to explain. You see, I was, I was… afraid.”
This conversation was baffling to Crowley, and his hands trembled on the wheel. What was Aziraphale, Principality of the Eastern Gate, angel who had looked God in the face and lied, angel who attempted to trick Nazis and popped into Paris for crepes during a revolution and consorted with demons, possibly afraid of?
Although Crowley fought to keep his expression blank and his eyes straight ahead, Aziraphale must have noticed his alarm, because he continued, more quietly, barely audible over the rumbling of the tires, “I-I thought you would leave.”
They were approaching Soho now, and Crowley tried to focus on his driving, attempting to quiet his mind which was ricocheting from one possibility to another, pinballing around to each scenario more unlikely than the last. “Well, I did,” Crowley responded, somewhat numbly.
“N-no,” Crowley saw, out of the corner of his eye, Aziraphale look down at his hands, clenched on the handle of the leather bag, and saw him take a deep breath before forging onwards, “I meant- well, I was afraid you would leave, well, permanently.”
Quietly, Crowley pulled the Bentley to a halt outside of the bookshop, and looked at his hands, white-knuckled on the wheel and shaking, always shaking. “Oh. No, angel,” he murmured, softly, and looked up, meeting Aziraphale’s anxious gaze for the first time, bright blue eyes piercing the darkness around them like beacons. “I promise,” Crowley reiterated, more strongly this time, “I might leave, but I’ll always come back. I'll never leave like that.”
Something shifted in Aziraphale’s eyes, then, and he nodded, his shoulders slumping as though a great weight had been lifted. “Thank you for the ride,” Aziraphale added, somewhat lamely, looking away.
The moment had broken, and Crowley looked away as well. “My treat,” he said, flatly, exhaustedly.
Aziraphale opened the door and stepped out, still holding the leather bag as if it was the most precious thing on earth. He took a deep breath of the cool night air, and began to walk towards the door to his shop.
After a few steps, he stiffened, and spun on his heel, and as though on impulse, yanked open the door to the Bentley and yelped, as though against his better judgement, “Would you like to come in?”
Song for this chapter is "Hungover in the City of Dust" by Autoheart
Chapter 16: London, Year 5937, 1941 AD, Part III
tw for suicide, extreme guilt, self loathing, etc
Crowley scarcely dared to breathe as he nodded, stumbling after Aziraphale towards the bookshop, as though in a dream. He barely remembered to snap the Bentley’s headlights out; after all, it was after curfew on a night the bombs were falling.
Aziraphale was talking, rather too quickly, clearly nervous, “Well, erm, I haven’t got much in the way of light except a few kerosene lamps, wouldn’t want to ah, attract attention, would we? But that’s alright. Rations have been tight of course, but I’ve stashed away some wine from the turn of the century that I, er, thought you might like, if you came back, and it’d be lovely to share it, if, um, oh drat,”
There was a rattle as he shook out his keychain, with a great number of keys on it, and began to count them through again, having lost his place.
But Crowley was thinking of something else. Before he could stop himself, he heard himself ask, more harshly than he’d meant to, “Did you really think I wouldn’t come back?”
“Here it is!” Aziraphale exclaimed, clearly trying to avoid the subject, and, finding the correct key, opened the door and rushed through, leaving Crowley to drift along behind him through the entranceway.
The bookshop was as usual, dusty and full of leather-bound tomes on rickety little tables, the perpetual smell of ink and binders glue hanging in the air. The diffuse moonlight bathed it in a serene glow, slantwise from the windows, curtains open to catch the lights, stacks of books throwing teetering shadows against the far wall.
“Just a moment!” Aziraphale called from the back of the shop, and the door shut behind Crowley with a snap, making him jump. He rubbed at his temples. The headache from the miracles he’d done earlier was setting in, and only likely to get worse as the evening wore on. He was glad the angel had suggested wine. He wondered, absently, if angels got headaches from their miracles as well? Crowley couldn’t remember if he had, but then again, he hadn’t had a body then. Crowley took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves and focus himself. He wasn’t meant to be here. He’d been trying to stay away, because before, Aziraphale had made it clear that’s what he’d wanted. Now he invited him into the bookshop for wine?
“Crowley, are you alright?”
Crowley’s eyes snapped open, focusing in the dim light to see Aziraphale, standing at the far end of the room, squinting towards him, holding a kerosene lamp aloft to see by. Right. Crowley could see much better in the dim than he could, of course. He must’ve found his way to the back by memory alone. Crowley hoped he hadn’t seen him rubbing at his head, but by the frown of concern on Aziraphale’s face, he had.
“S’alright, angel. Just tired.”
A look of slight alarm crossed Aziraphale’s face and he asked, hesitantly, “Are you going to go to sleep again, then?”
Crowley considered, “No. Wrong kind of tired.”
“Ah, I see. Well then!” Aziraphale squared his jaw and stepped towards Crowley, holding the lamp high and stepping gingerly around the piles of books underfoot, “Come back where there’s somewhere to sit, at least.”
Crowley couldn’t help smiling a bit at that. “Angel, I can see just fine, you don’t need to risk tripping and setting this whole place alight.”
Aziraphale stopped and huffed slightly, looking a bit embarrassed. “Er, right. You would be able to see much better, wouldn’t you? Anyway, I’ve got a couch back here, and a few chairs, if you’d follow me.”
Crowley followed, carefully picking his way through the landmines of papers and books littering the floor to pass into the back room of the bookshop. This room, somehow, was even more of a tinderbox, absolutely stuffed with mouldering books and scribbled notes in the angel’s own ornate handwriting. Back here there were a few chairs, a sunken couch, and a large writing desk, upon which the leather bag from the church sat. Aziraphale shooed him over to a large armchair, which Crowley sat upon gingerly, and the angel began rummaging in a shelf next to his desk, eventually turning with a flourish to show two rather dusty wineglasses, and an even dustier bottle. It looked as though these items had been lying in wait for several decades at least, and Crowley felt his chest tighten.
Aziraphale set about opening the bottle, and poured Crowley a glass, then himself one, and then settled into the armchair across from Crowley. Aziraphale raised his glass, grinning a little giddily, and toasted. “To blasting Nazis!”
Crowley tipped his glass upwards as well, and felt the corner of his mouth go taught in a half-smile. He took a small sip of the wine, nervous. It wasn’t like Aziraphale to change his attitudes so suddenly.
Something had to be wrong. Here was a moment Crowley had dreamed of, in different places and different times, for centuries, millennia, and he couldn’t bring himself to trust it.
Aziraphale hadn’t answered his question. After before, Crowley was anxious not to push the angel too hard, but he needed to know. It was the elephant in the room, and too important to ignore. He cleared his throat, and asked softly, “Did you really think I wouldn’t come back?”
Across from him, lit from below by the flames of the lamp sitting on the table beside him, the angel’s face fell. He took a quick sip of his wine to avoid looking directly at Crowley, his free hand anxiously tapping at his thigh. “I worried.”
“About…?” Crowley pressed. He needed a straight answer for this.
Aziraphale swallowed, and looked into the flame of the lamp beside him, the glow reflecting in his eyes like embers. “Listen. I know you act like nothing bothers you, but- After our last conversation, well, I- I know you too well for that. And, what you asked for scared me. I was afraid it would mean I would lose you.”
Crowley let his breath go in a soft hiss, not even realizing he’d been holding it, and was unable to stop himself from telling Aziraphale the truth. “You weren’t going to lose me. So it was a fight, it happens. But I’ll come back.”
Aziraphale’s voice was taught as he replied, “Crowley, don’t be coy. You know what I really mean.”
An icy weight fell into Crowley’s stomach. So he’d meant it, then. And the angel, sitting across from him in the midst of the blitz, pretending the bombs weren’t falling around them, was afraid, still.
“Aziraphale.” The angel turned to meet his gaze, apprehensively, and Crowley, equally hesitant, reached a shaky hand up and pulled off his sunglasses gingerly. It made his stomach turn to think of Aziraphale seeing those awful eyes, but he needed his angel to know he was safe. Aziraphale gasped softly as Crowley removed the sunglasses, and it took everything in Crowley not to wince and hurriedly replace them. He was disgusted, and rightfully so, but still. Aziraphale deserved this. Trying to keep his gaze and voice level, Crowley leaned forward slightly, and repeated, “Aziraphale. I’m not going to leave. Not like that. I promise.” Aziraphale bit his lip, looking doubtful, still, and Crowley repeated, “I promise, angel, I won’t leave you alone here.” Slowly, eyes wide and a bit wet, Aziraphale nodded, blinked, and looked away, taking a long draught of his wine.
Crowley followed suit, and opened his sunglasses up to replace them, only to hear a soft, “Don’t.”
Crowley looked up in surprise, to see Aziraphale looking earnestly at him, right in the eyes, without fear, without disgust, without anger. Just with… something else. Something warm. Something safe.
“Don’t, Crowley. There’s no one else here.” Aziraphale opened his mouth, and then shut it, choosing to leave the rest hanging, tantalizingly, in the air.
Slowly, Crowley nodded, and set the glasses carefully on the table, next to the lamp, shimmering in the dark. The silence stretched a few moments, with each of them taking a few sips of the wine. Aziraphale had really outdone himself, it really was exquisite.
Suddenly, in the quiet, Aziraphale chuckled softly, and Crowley’s head jerked up in surprise.
“Ah, I’m sorry, my dear, but I’m just, relieved. I truly worried if you’d ever come see me again. I was afraid I’d-“ A strange look crossed his face then. “Come to think, how did you find me? And at the perfect time, right as I was about to be, well,” he mimed a gun to his head.
Crowley choked slightly on the wine at that. “I, ah. Well, I keep tabs on you,” He admitted.
Aziraphale’s eyebrows rose. “Keep tabs?”
The wine was heady and Crowley was beginning to feel it. He gestured vaguely with a hand, “Er, you know how angels, er, feel love around them?”
“Well, demons, we can, sense fear.” Crowley took a swallow, trying to keep his tongue from betraying him once again.
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, skeptically, cheeks a tad flushed now, “So you, decided to keep an eye out for my fear in particular?”
Crowley snorted slightly, loosening up now, “Haven't you noticed, Angel? I followed you to the Blitz. I-I followed you to the Reign of Terror, and the Ark, hell, I even followed you to the damned garden and-“
“You what?” There was an odd tone in Aziraphale’s voice, a stillness.
Crowley forged on, trying to fix his mistake, “I followed-“
Aziraphale’s voice was strained and sharp, “Yes, I heard that, but the garden?” His words tripped over each other anxiously as he continued, “We didn't even know each other then! We'd just met!”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Everything had been going so well. Aziraphale had forgiven him. He’d listened when Crowley had promised he’d stay. There they were, sitting like old friends, like companions, drinking perfect wine in a perfect bookshop. Too perfect, in fact, to possibly allow Crowley to remain there, it seemed. Crowley took a long drink of his wine, and, hand trembling more than before, went to pour himself another shaky glass. He avoided eye contact with the angel, and he could hear his own blood rushing in his ears as he waited for the bomb to fall.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, barely audibly. He set down his glass and leaned forwards slightly, and Crowley could feel him fix his gaze on him, like an ant under a magnifying glass, burning in the concentrated light. “Crowley,” Aziraphale said again, although almost to himself this time, “you’re a demon. That means, that means you were an angel before you fell.”
Not daring to breathe, Crowley looked upwards, as slowly as he could, and met the angel’s eyes, sharp and blue like shards of the sky itself brought to earth.
Aziraphale continued, eyes locked on Crowley’s, murmuring as though in a dream, “So why don’t I know who you were? If you were an angel… why don’t I remember you?”
Crowley wished for nothing more on earth, in heaven or in hell, at this moment, than to have ignored his angel and left his glasses on. Staring directly into Aziraphale’s eyes as he made this realization was just too painful. Those shards of sky seemed to break, and Aziraphale’s mouth twisted. “Oh Crowley, I’m an idiot. I’m… I’m so sorry.”
Crowley didn’t know what to say. “S’alright, angel,” he managed, feeling lightheaded.
Aziraphale bit his lip, considering, seeming to size Crowley up, as if searching for something new, something he hadn’t seen all these six thousand years. He asked the question that Crowley had dreamed, in countless dreams and nightmares alike, that he would ask, “So, did we know each other, then? Before?”
In that moment, Crowley knew he was the worst demon that had ever fallen. Because even now, he found himself telling the truth.
“Yes,” He replied, voice husky despite himself.
Aziraphale smiled softly then, a sad smile, as if almost afraid to hear the answer to his next question, “Were we… friends?”
Stiffly, Crowley nodded. It was taking everything he had to keep his breathing level, to keep his white-knuckled grip on the arm of the chair, on the stem of the wineglass, forgotten now.
“Is- is that why you spoke to me on the wall?”
“Yes. Forbidden fruit, I suppose.”
Aziraphale’s eyes widened in surprise, and Crowley could have bitten off his traitorous tongue in that moment, expecting Aziraphale to finally be onto him, to call him out for what he was; a hanger-on, grasping at straws of what once was and what would never be again; a pining lost cause, trailing in an angel’s shadow. Aziraphale was watching him, carefully, and, upon seeing the fear Crowley couldn’t veil from his eyes, softened slightly.
“We must have been very close friends indeed, then,” Aziraphale mused.
Crowley hadn’t breathed in several minutes, and he felt as if the smallest movement here would shatter this moment into a thousand shards, sharp and cold and impossible to hold onto, and he was sure that, in a moment he would wake, gasping, in his own bed, alone, in the dark of the Blitz.
“Oh.” Aziraphale’s shoulder’s slumped slightly, “Crowley, I’m, I’m sorry. On the wall, when I didn’t-“ He looked away, out the window above the desk, face bathed in lamplight from one side and moonlight from the other, “That must have been very hard.”
“S’alright angel. My fault for falling,” Crowley twisted a corner of his mouth into a sardonic smile, blinking hard to fight back the hot pinpricks he felt at the corners of his eyes.
The angel considered a moment, his hands fidgeting in his lap, “I know this is very personal, but… may I ask why you fell?”
Crowley took a deep breath then, and closed his eyes tight before looking at Aziraphale again, “I hung around the wrong people, angel.”
Aziraphale nodded, biting his lip, clearly thinking something through. “What was your name, Before? I assume it wasn’t…. it wasn’t Crawly,” his voice sounded hopeful as he tumbled onwards, “Maybe I can remember something, or, if you like, I can call you by that, by your proper name. Mind, it’ll take some getting used to, so bear with me, but I can certainly-“
“No, thank you, angel. It doesn’t matter. That isn’t my name anymore.” Crowley didn’t think he could bear it, if his angel looked at him, and said his name, and knew nothing of what it meant. If he said the word without any of the substance.
“In the garden, then. You said you followed me? Did you- was the business with the apple…?”
The question hung in the air like smoke between them. Why? Why? Why have you done this?
“No, angel,” Crowley replied, trying to think of how to explain, “I just- I wanted to give them a chance.”
To his surprise, Aziraphale nodded, “Me too.”
Distantly, to the east, an explosion sounded through the night. Aziraphale looked out the window, looking much more mournful than usual, “You gave them the choice, and I the weapon,” he turned to look at Crowley, and cocked an eyebrow, giving a weak, breathy sort of laugh, “Funny if we both got it wrong, eh?”
It felt like Before. Although it was a world away, and thousands of years, and unimaginably more complicated than it had been then, every fiber of Crowley’s being ached for him to reach out and take Aziraphale in his arms, to comfort him, and tell him it would be alright. That he would make it alright, no matter the cost.
But this wasn’t Before. This was a dusty bookshop, in Soho, London, on Earth, and outside, bombs rained from the sky, the humans playing pantomime of the first true War, the one that stretched its terrible no-man’s land between the two overstuffed armchairs, between an angel and a demon, impenetrable. The one that stopped Crowley, every time.
Crowley swallowed, licked his lips nervously. “Why so many questions, angel?”
“Because,” The tips of Aziraphale’s ears burned red, even in the lamplight, and it took every ounce of willpower Crowley had not to reach out, across that invisible boundary between them. His hands tightened on the arms of the chair instead. “Because, well, because I never asked before! And while you were… gone, I kept wondering. And I realized, I’d, I’d never asked.”
Crowley felt lightheaded. What was Aziraphale saying? Why wouldn’t he just out and say it? And if he was saying what Crowley… hoped? Prayed? That he was saying, what did that mean? What could they possibly do? What world was there for them, after the War, after Earth, after everything?
Another explosion outside made Crowley’s headache return. He’d nearly forgotten about it, and now it returned with a vengeance.
He couldn’t do this right now. It was all too much. He wasn’t even supposed to be here. He would have planned, and now here he was, trapping Aziraphale into all of this, when he’d been cut free before, and all because Crowley was too fucking selfish to keep away, or to keep his mouth shut. He picked up his sunglasses from the table and put them on, ignoring Aziraphale’s small protests.
“Angel, I followed you, even when I shouldn’t have. Even when you’d forgotten me, and even when you told me to stop. I’m the one who should be sorry. I should’ve been more careful. I shouldn’t’ve said anything. I-I shouldn’t-I shouldn’t even be here.” Crowley lurched to his feet, the wine making the room sway slightly with the effort, but he shook his head to clear it and stood.
Aziraphale scrambled up from his chair in return, looking utterly lost, “My dear boy, when did I ever-“
Crowley should have left, then. He knew it. But he couldn’t. There was that stupid, hopeful part of him, that needed him to be sure, one last time, that this couldn’t be fixed. That there was nothing that could be done. His voice was low as he asked, “I just need to know. Do you really not remember me? Nothing at all?”
Aziraphale was protesting, loudly now, following anxiously behind him, fluttering his hands around, “Of course I remember you, Crowley! We’ve been friends since-since the world began! Honestly, you’re being ridiculous, I don’t know what made you think that-“
Crowley whirled around at that and pulled his glasses down his nose, staring Aziraphale down and flashing his yellow eyes which had narrowed to slits.
Aziraphale took a breath to steady himself, and his tone became gentler. “Listen, Crowley. I know who you are. I’ve known you since the beginning, and I know who you are.”
Crowley couldn’t stop the bark of a laugh that rose, along with the taste of iron, in his throat, “Yeah. Sorry about that too.”
“Sorry?!” Aziraphale followed him, nearly tripping in the dark over the books scattered around the shop as Crowley stalked towards the exit, fighting every impulse that told him to turn around, that there had to be something he hadn’t thought of, something to make it work.
But he’d been through this. That’s what had begun all of this. Without the holy water, there was no way he could guarantee Aziraphale’s safety.
Without Crowley, Aziraphale would be far safer. He’d tempted fate too much already. He’d tempted Her too much already, to strike Aziraphale down as She had struck Crowley from the sky, so long ago it felt more like a dream than a reality. Down his back, Crowley’s burns ached, reminding him it was all too real. His head was splitting, and the double doors to the bookshop opened before him like a pearly gate.
Aziraphale was breathless behind him, “Crowley! You have nothing to be sorry for! You’re a demon, it’s in your nature! Besides, for a demon, you’re-“
The doors shut behind him with a snap, but this time Crowley didn’t jump.
Instead, he walked quickly to the Bentley, yanked open the door, and drove.
He didn’t know where he was going. It hardly mattered, as long as he went away from Soho, away from the presence he could feel behind him, achingly afraid, and alone, and wanting nothing so much as for Crowley to come back. Crowley closed his eyes tight, this time unable to stop a few tears from squeezing out, running hot down his face.
“You are helping him, idiot,” he told himself, aloud, “You can’t- you need to learn what you are. This isn’t like Before. You can’t keep pretending. It only puts him in danger.”
Far to the east, a bomb exploded, and with it, Crowley thought the last bit of his thoughts that he couldn’t bring himself to say. And even now, that stubborn hopeful part of him wondered if Aziraphale could feel it, even through the distance, through the hurt, through the situation, through the husk that Crowley had become after he’d fallen.
I love you.
Musical inspo/rec for this chapter: "My Mistakes Were Made for You" by Noirre
Chapter 17: London, Soho, Year 5972, 1967 AD
Fixed my timestamps, bc whoo boy I guess one month out of college really hit my math skills hard. Anyway, tw for suicide again, stay safe friends.
Crowley sat down in the Bentley, exhausted. These humans really were kicking everything into high gear, but he liked that, most of the time. Kept him from getting bored. However, in this case, his mind was only swirling with worries. He rubbed at his temples irritably. How was he supposed to explain to a bunch of half-witted thieves that they had to ensure they poured the holy water so that not a drop touched the outside of the container, so that not a smidgen of residue could possibly come into contact with Crowley’s skin? He could try throwing more money at the problem, but there was no way Crowley could be there to supervise them to see whether they actually followed his instructions or not. Could he have them drop it off into a storage locker of some sort? But even then, when it dried off, would it be safe? Or would the surface of the container it had touched still be dangerous? He had no way of knowing. After all, he hadn’t seen the stuff since the War.
He shivered slightly, feeling memory of the rivulets of water run down his back, his wings, like lava, scorching trails through his very being. But that was as he was falling, still angelic enough to survive the holy water, a half-thing. Now the water would simply end him. And he’d promised Aziraphale he wouldn’t do that.
His chest clenched, and he reminded himself that was why he was doing this, all of this. He needed to be able to keep Aziraphale safe, he’d put him in far too much danger already. There was no way to take that back, but at least-
It didn’t matter. Crowley was going to keep his angel safe, and that was simply the end of it.
He closed his eyes for a moment, letting his consciousness expand to check on the angel, and nearly yelled in surprise as he felt his presence blindingly close. His eyes fluttered open in panic, to see Aziraphale sitting primly in the passenger seat, avoiding eye contact and staring out the window, looking faintly ill.
“What’re you doing here?” Crowley nearly spluttered, and it came out much more rudely than he’d intended.
Aziraphale stiffened, clearly offended, but Crowley couldn’t be bothered. His thoughts were racing. Aziraphale couldn’t be here. They couldn’t be so close, so exposed, so- so-
“Needed a word with you,” Aziraphale replied, voice taut as a bowstring.
“What?” Crowley snapped back, nearly accusatorially. He knew he had no right to do this. Especially not after last time, when he’d been such a fool. He’d led Aziraphale on (was that possible, he thought as an aside, when he wasn’t even sure if Aziraphale wasn’t just lonely and being polite?), and endangered him, and now, trying to fix it, Aziraphale himself arrives.
To Crowley’s surprise, Aziraphale’s voice wasn’t angry as the words spilled out in rapid, clipped sentences. Simply… afraid. The waves of fear radiating off the angel were overwhelming his senses. “I work in Soho. I hear things. I hear you are setting up a caper to rob a church.” There was a pause, and Crowley saw Aziraphale’s chest shudder briefly as he seemed to brace himself. He turned to look at Crowley, and all thoughts left the demon’s head. Aziraphale wasn’t angry… he was pleading.
“Crowley, it’s too dangerous. Holy water wouldn’t just kill your body.” Aziraphale looked away, swallowed, throat bobbing nervously, “It would… it would destroy you completely.”
So this was another attempt to get him to stop? Couldn’t his angel, his clever, clever angel, understand what he was doing? That he had to do this to protect him? That he’d already tempted the angel too far, far too far, and that this was the only hope he had to protect him from the legions of Hell itself, if something went wrong? Crowley clenched his teeth in frustration. “You’ve already told me what you think. A hundred and five years ago.”
Aziraphale paled slightly, but forged onwards, once again staring Crowley right in the face, even as Crowley felt his anger building. “And I haven’t changed my mind!”
Crowley could feel Aziraphale’s fear, and it made his stomach turn, but… it was good that he was afraid. Maybe then he would stay away. Maybe he would be safe. Aziraphale swallowed, eyes flicking anxiously from Crowley’s masked eyes to his lips, pressed tight into a white line, to his hands, clenched white-knuckled and shaking on the steering wheel. The angel seemed to soften slightly, and in a gentler tone, “But… I won’t have you risking your life. Not even for something dangerous.”
Crowley felt the anger about to tip over in him, boiling up like magma in his throat, and he closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. Aziraphale needed to be scared off, Crowley needed to do this, whether Aziraphale could see that or not. Had their conversations during the blitz meant nothing? Or did Aziraphale still think, even after all this time, that Crowley could lie to him? Crowley wasn’t sure which option was more painful.
“So you can call off the robbery,” Aziraphale finished, and Crowley’s eyes flashed open, only to see the angel holding out a thermos, jutting towards Crowley, “Don’t go unscrewing the cap.”
There was a moment of absolute silence, before Crowley found enough air in his lungs to finally breathe, almost inaudibly as he took it, his previous worries about grabbing the container with bare hands not even occurring to him now, “It’s the real thing?”
Aziraphale wouldn’t look at him, and the fear in him now was almost shimmering in the air. “The holiest,” he managed, voice husky.
“After everything you said?”
Aziraphale swallowed, and, seemingly unable to find the words, simply gave a tight nod. It felt as if a pit had opened in Crowley’s stomach. He’d been a damned fool. All this time, Aziraphale had been trying to protect him, as Crowley was trying to protect Aziraphale in return. And even then, even after all of this, even after speaking to him once in a hundred years, even after Crowley had rejected his kindness and left and spurned him… even then, Aziraphale chose to trust him. Because Crowley had promised he would stay.
Crowley felt lightheaded, and an odd sort of warmth in his chest. All traces of anger had gone, and he looked at Aziraphale, openly, in awe, in amazement.
“Should I say thank you?” Crowley managed, softly, trying his hardest to put all he was feeling into those five words. Trying to make them an apology deep as floodwater.
Aziraphale shifted uncomfortably in his seat, looking out at the neon signs beyond, “Better not.”
“C-can I drop you anywhere?” Crowley heard his voice pitch a bit high, his anxiety slipping out as he saw Aziraphale shifting as if to leave.
Aziraphale rested his hand on the door handle and sighed, deeply, “No, thank you.”
Crowley’s stomach dropped. So he’d been trusted, but not forgiven. It was understandable. Crowley asked so much, and Aziraphale, principality of the Eastern Gate, Bringer of the Dawn and Being of Love, had run out of forgiveness.
Aziraphale looked up at him, smiling sorrowfully, “Oh, don’t look so disappointed. Perhaps one day we could… I don’t know.” He looked wistful, and his eyes shimmered in the dim light, “Have a picnic. Or dine at the Ritz.”
“I-I’ll give you a lift,” Crowley licked his lips, unable to keep the desperation from his voice, “Anywhere you want to go.”
Aziraphale turned his face away, into the shadows, and managed, voice breaking a bit, “You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
Crowley, as always, had asked too much. And all he could do was watch as the angel that had believed in him, and loved him, all this time, even as Crowley had been too fool to see, stood and walked out into the night.
The thermos in his hands felt cold, and utterly small. Almost nothing at all in the vastness of the night. But he clutched it as tightly as he dared. If this was his just reward, so be it. He would wait. And he would watch. And he would keep Aziraphale safe. He tried, and failed, not to realize that this was the first time, in all of human history, that Aziraphale had come to him. And it was because he was too afraid not to. Crowley felt the tears run down his cheeks, and angrily brushed them away, hating how they felt like that first rain, in the War, hating the smell of sulfur they emitted, hated how they reminded him, how absolutely everything reminded him what he was, and how helpless he was to change it.
Musical inspo/rec for this chapter: "I'm Not Falling Asleep" by Andy Shauf
Chapter 18: Hell, Room 515, Year 5978, 1973 AD
Crowley throws himself into his work to distract himself from a certain celestial and finds he might actually be good at it. Also, even Hastur respects pronouns.
Crowley had been trying to keep his mind of off things. And for him, that meant pouring himself into his work. As it turned out, he was rather good at it. Head office, of course, had always thought he was brilliant, but up until this point he’d either only followed his marching orders or claimed credit for the human’s doings. Now he was having fun.
He couldn’t stop himself from smirking slightly, his moustache twitching in amusement as the tired demons filed into the room and sat down on the creaking folding chairs. He rocked up onto his toes impatiently. This was really brilliant on his part. Surely even they would see that he’d really struck gold with this one.
He’d rigged up a projector in the dim room, shining a grimy image of his grand plan onto the wall behind him. Clever humans and their clever machines. Too bad for them that he could be cleverer.
After what seemed an age, Beelzebub, who sat in the back of the room with their arms crossed, tapping their foot impatiently, raised an eyebrow and said, “Well? Get on with it.”
Crowley couldn’t stop a giddy grin rising to his face. “Alright, listen up, because this is a big one. A real doozy, if I do say so.”
Hastur, who was slumped in the front row (close enough, unfortunately, that Crowley’s snake sense of smell was rather overwhelmed, but he wasn’t going to let it dampen his mood), groaned, “They said ‘Get on with it!’”
“Right. Well.” Crowley scrambled to gather his thoughts, pulling out a dry erase pen with a flourish. “So the humans have been putting into place these plans to build a great big motorway around the whole of London, right? The aim is that it’ll reduce traffic, allowing people to drive around the city rather than through it.”
Crowley tapped his marker on the projector, and the image of the proposed M25 wobbled a bit on the wall. “So, thanks to three computer hacks, selective bribery, and me moving some markers across a field one night,” Crowley couldn’t stop his grin from rising to his face again. It had taken months of work, but this was the good bit, the payoff. “the M25 London Orbital Motorway, which was meant to look like this-“ he gestured to the fuzzy projection on the wall before swiping the page off the projector and replacing it with another, “will, when it opens in 1986, actually look like this, and represent the dread sigil Odegra, in the language of the Dark Preisthood of Ancient Mu!”
The demons in the room remained slouched over their chairs languidly, clearly not grasping the importance of what he was saying. Uneducated slobs. Although, truthfully, Crowley himself had found the sigil and the dark language while perusing through a truly ancient tome in Aziraphale’s bookshop that the angel almost certainly should not have had. He wondered, absently, if Aziraphale would realize Crowley had found the idea there. And if he did, Crowley wondered if he would mind.
Hastur was squinting at the screen in confusion, the toad on his head mimicking his expression uncannily. In the stuffy room, the silence was complete except for the soft buzzing of Beelzebub’s flies and the whirring of the projector fan.
“Odegra means, “Hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds,” Crowley offered, helpfully, and saw the far off dawn of gathering recognition cross Hastur’s features. Nevermind him. Crowley looked up at Beelzebub, making eye contact as he finished, “Can I hear a wahoo?”
Beelzebub rolled their eyes as all the demons around the room intoned, “Hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds”, with Crowley directing them as if he were the conductor of an infernal choir.
“And,” Crowley continued, gleefully, “Now we see a map of the South of England,” he tapped the screen again for emphasis, mostly just to see Hastur’s resulting jolt in his seat, “with Odegra around London, where the M25 is. Once it’s built, the millions of motorists grumbling their way around it are going to be like water on a prayer wheel.” Hastur, seemingly awake now, had raised his hand, waving it nearly in front of Crowley’s face, but Crowley pressed on, ignoring him pointedly, “They’ll grind out an endless fog of low-grade evil that will encircle the whole of London.”
Truly, Crowley’s only regret in this project was that construction wouldn’t take place until 1986. Although, after debating himself on the dilemma for quite a while, he’d decided that the impatience of the public with this project taking over a decade to complete was nearly as delicious as the project itself.
Hastur waved his hand so close to Crowley’s face he nearly knocked his sunglasses off, and Crowley asked, drily. “Yes, Duke Hastur?”
“What’s a computer?” Hastur asked.
Crowley glanced towards the back of the room to see that Beelzebub had already left. Evidently they’d heard enough.
“A computer, Duke Hastur, is a clever machine invented by humans.”
“Oh.” Hastur appeared to be thinking hard, finally asking, “Does it torture people?”
Crowley thought to the rooms of piled code, recorded on paper for posterity and painstakingly handwritten, with even a single error causing catastrophic failure of the entire program and potentially years of work. He thought of the hours he’d spent squinting back at his own lines of code, searching desperately for that one devious semicolon or dashmark, or, Satan forbid, loose bracket that had slipped in.
Hastur smiled at that, and stood to leave, his tall, gaunt frame nearly crushing his toad against the low ceiling as he rose. He chuckled to himself and Crowley heard him muttering under his breath as he left, “Yeah, I thought it must, when he said he was hacking with it. I prefer machetes but… to each their own.”
Bit of a short update today. I've been feeling a bit low recently, so have some Happy Crowley for once. I'm progressing with plot as well, but also heavily toying around with the idea of adding a few chapters about Mary Shelley (and for the first of them, with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley as well) so please let me know if that's something anyone would be interested in. Until then, much love and be safe, friends.
Song for this chapter is: "This Head I Hold" by Electric Guest
Chapter 19: London, 1987, Part I
tw for alcoholism, thoughts of suicide, and extreme emotional disturbance
Stay safe, friends. <3
Crowley had fallen into the habit of visiting a particular coffeeshop nearly every morning. He’d fallen into a lot of habits, lately. Here he would sit and listen to the news on the tv above him, read the day’s newspaper absently, and sip his coffee.
Crowley had long since determined that the humans had invented two substances of gross matter worth ingesting; coffee and alcohol.
And ingest them he did. It had become his habit to drink a rather spectacular amount of coffee in the mornings (until he could feel the heart in this body racing), only to taper off into a rather extraordinary amount of alcohol each evening.
He liked this coffeeshop because the coffee was good, but far more importantly, the staff didn’t ask questions. He could feel that they were afraid of him, but in the sort of worn-down way of those who have been in the service industry too long, and learned to swallow their misgivings in hope of a tip.
Crowley tipped well (it was hard not to when you could feel the waitress’s fear of how she was going to afford diapers that month for her infant, or the cook’s fear of how he was going to make rent), but was otherwise silent except for his order, which the staff soon memorized and had waiting for him every morning, negating any need to talk at all.
That suited Crowley just fine. He was here on business. He caught up with happenings in the human world, and he jotted down notes in a little beaten, black leather bound notebook he carried. It amused him to think that the new waitress, who he knew speculated that he used the book to plan demonic acts, was absolutely on the money.
Sometimes he brought books. Not like the books Aziraphale read, full of heartbreak and philosophy and humanity, but textbooks. He never kept them, choosing instead to consume them at a fevered pace, only to discard each one for another. Crowley studied computer science, theoretical physics, meteorology, geology (that one was mostly for fun, as Crowley knew all of it was a load of clever bunk), and especially, astrophysics. It was rather interesting to watch the humans reverse-engineer what he had built, and try to figure it out, piece by piece, thousands of years after the fact. Of course, they got a lot of details wrong, but overall, Crowley was impressed. Clever humans were getting cleverer by the day. Thank Satan they were, or Crowley would have lost his mind from boredom.
He’d never actually tried to do his job before, so he’d never realized how tedious it all was. Downstairs sent him inane requests to convince people of things they already wanted to do, and a good portion of the time, Crowley did nothing at all and the humans sinned anyway. It was their choice, after all, so frankly all of these persuasion games between Heaven and Hell felt cheap to Crowley.
Not that he was consulted on policy decisions.
Today he was engaging himself in a rather dull transcription of a lecture series on the chemistry of human blood, and the speculated function of each component. They were right enough about what molecules did what, but Crowley sighed regardless. It was hard not to feel like these humans, necessarily myopic as they were in their brief lives, were entirely missing the point.
In frustration, he shut the manuscript rather suddenly, and saw a patron at the next booth over jump anxiously.
His very presence put humans on edge. He couldn’t quite decide whether that was simply because he was a demon, or whether it was because they were all the descendants of Eve, and somewhere, encoded deep in their very DNA, they feared him because of what he’d done to them.
He supposed that was fair enough.
He stood to go, leaving his customary change on the table and gathering his papers to go, tucking his notebook back into his back pocket. Sometimes the human’s wariness of him was exhausting.
He’d spent the last twenty years in a shaky balance between devoting himself to the work of being a demon and desperately trying to forget he was a demon at all. Crowley tried to accept what he’d become now (after 6000 years, it was about time), but he couldn’t stop the rebellious part of his mind that still mourned who he’d been.
The part that still dreamed of constellations, and shared smiles, and a world all coated, like honey on the tongue, in a diffuse warm light.
He’d been sleeping less and less to give his traitorous brain less time to dream. But that left a lot of time to fill, and he was finding he could only devote so many hours towards demonic deeds before his mind began to wander, and dwell on Before, rehashing the events right before the War, over and over and over and over, wondering, if he had just been smarter, if he had just been more careful, could he have avoided falling? Would Aziraphale and him still be together, on this earth or above it? He had been so young, and so reckless, and so defiant.
Or had God simply conspired against him all this time? Was he simply another helpless pawn in the Ineffable Plan, tossed aside when She grew tired of playing with him?
Without quite noticing, his feet had taken him the few blocks home, to his flat. Good. He was desperate to escape the constant rehashing of his mistakes in his mind, from Before the War, to the Garden, to every word, every shared look, every possible interpretation of his interactions with Aziraphale.
Round and round they went, tighter and tighter, reminding Crowley of all his mistakes, of all he’d lost, again and again. He’d fucked it up, all of it, and he’d been paying, again and again, even when he’d thought there was nothing left to take, ever since.
He thought of a hand above him, and saw, almost too clearly, the muscles loosening, the fingers letting go. He thought of Aziraphale’s face in the Garden, like the sun itself peeping its glorious head over the wall, and his face, so familiar, so dear, everything Crowley had longed for and wept for in the dark and the drowning, suffocating pain of falling--completely devoid of recognition. He thought of the placid features of Aziraphale’s polite curiosity, that tinge of wariness around even his eyes, the same one nearly every human had regarded him with since, the same one that reflected back at him with the same expression in a thousand, no, a hundred thousand, no, a million, no, a billion eyes.
He thought of the world looking at him, and thought of a hand above him, and looked up, surprised, to see his own, holding a bottle, half empty already.
He thought of what he saw in the mirror, expecting brilliant green eyes, but greeted with harsh yellow eyes with slit pupils, and felt his fangs elongate in his mouth with anger. “Ssstupid sssnake,” he heard himself mutter, swinging his body around to collapse, half sprawled, on the nearest couch.
They’d tried to warn him, all of them, over and over and over again, and they’d all known exactly what he was, even if he refused to admit it, even if he persisted in his arrogant self-delusions to the point of destruction.
The bottle (he thought it had been whiskey?), was empty in his hand, and he let it fall blearily to the floor, unable to keep his mind in the present, flashing back through thousands of years of memories, each more painful than the last.
For some reason it was harder to manage these things today. He had no idea what time it was, but a persistent sense of anxiety was nagging at his senses, growing stronger by the minute, like the shrill squeal of tinnitus, and it was driving him insane.
He thought of eyes, still open, reflecting the stars above that they could no longer see. Under the skies after the flood, in the plague carts, in the rubble after the bombs. What use were the stars to them, when they couldn’t see? What use was anything he'd built to the dead?
What use was the choice when it killed them?
That horrible sensation was getting louder, and Crowley conjured himself another bottle, doing it a bit sloppily so that a bit splatted onto the floor. Not that it mattered. Nobody ever came here to see the flat. Truly, it was a barren place at the moment, simply somewhere for him to sleep without being disturbed, and to keep his souvenirs…
He opened his eyes and saw them, scattered around him, like a dragon hoarding treasures that would bring him but cold comfort as he hid away.
There, on the far wall, behind his desk, was the sketch, ancient and yellowed, but still gorgeous, that Leonardo had made of him, when he’d begged him to sit for him, one last time. Crowley could still remember how his deft hands had crossed the paper with such confidence, how he’d begged Crowley to take off his glasses for the portrait, how Crowley had smiled sadly under the scrutiny of his doomed love. How he’d made a copy for Crowley to take with him, “to remember me by, wherever you are going”, and signed it in a long, loping script, “To Antony.”
Behind him towered the statue of an eagle, wings outstretched, looking far older than it was. Cast in simple concrete, it was full of pockmarks where rubble had hit it, and Crowley had memorized every one, making him love it all the more.
It stood vigil over him like a headstone, and for a moment, Crowley wondered if it was.
His body certainly wasn’t dealing well under the strain he’d been putting it through, but moreso than that, Crowley wondered what death really meant to a being such as himself. What was on the other side of holy water?
Maybe, blissfully, nothing at all.
Maybe he would just stop, whatever that meant, for a being that had existed before the world, in a place outside of space and time and reality, maybe he would just stop. And sleep, dreamlessly.
Crowley was so, very old, and so very tired.
Even sleep didn’t come restfully any longer, plagued as it was with fretful dreams, star-studded with loss.
Unwillingly, his mind drifted to another keepsake of his.
Behind the portrait of himself, smiling sadly, hair long and dark and eyes altered to look human (as Leonardo had known he would like to see them), he knew there lie a safe. Within its fragile walls there lie a small, tartan-printed plastic thermos. It seemed so ordinary, so insignificant.
And to any human, it would be. Hell, they could drink the entire thing and be just fine.
But to Crowley, it contained a question.
How had he fallen before? He’d asked too many questions.
And recently, he’d felt the pull of this question, unanswered, tugging him along like a fish on a hook towards his destruction. Did fish ever wonder, his brain wandered despite himself, even as the barbs caught in them, even as it hurt, if the world above might be safer?
This was one question he couldn’t answer. He’d promised Aziraphale. He’d promised he wouldn’t leave.
He was trying so hard not to go too fast, but Aziraphale was the only thing that quieted the maelstrom in his head, the only thing that allowed him a respite, a safe place to rest, even if just for a moment.
Crowley didn’t need long, didn’t need much. He just needed to know if he’d ruined it all, forever.
If there was any chance Aziraphale might forgive him, even if it took a thousand years, five thousand, ten thousand.
Aziraphale had asked him to be patient, and here Crowley was, cracking under the pressure after only two decades.
Crowley asked too much. He always had. Selfish snake. Pathetic.
The room swam around him.
He wondered, absently, if Aziraphale might be safer without Crowley in the picture. He seemed happy enough, tending his bookshop and living his life, reading and eating. Experiencing humanity. Living.
Something occurred to him then that had never occurred to him before, something so awful that he was nearly sick on the spot.
Maybe God had taken Aziraphale’s memory to protect him from Crowley himself.
After all, it had been Crowley, Before, who pushed them for more, and Aziraphale who followed, trusting him even as the path lay askew. It had been Crowley who led Aziraphale by the hand into disaster.
It had been Crowley, after all these years, who still couldn’t manage to keep himself away, even if he knew it was best for Aziraphale himself, if it was the only way to guarantee his safety. Idiot demon.
The holy water had been a compromise, a lie he’d convinced even himself of; that perhaps if he had the holy water, he could protect Aziraphale anyway. Perhaps if he had a weapon in one hand, he could justify holding Aziraphale’s with the other.
But he knew better now. He’d pushed even Aziraphale too far.
Why could he never be satisfied? What was wrong with him, so deeply wrong, that nothing was ever good enough?
He was tired. So tired. Perhaps he’d nap for a bit after all. He felt the slow, thudding lull of alcohol in his head, dragging down his limbs leadenly, sinking him down into sleep. Maybe it would be dreamless.
“Crowley!” he heard, vaguely, at the corners of his consciousness. No such luck for a lack of dreams, then. He closed his eyes, let the bottle fall to the floor, and settled in. Who knew how long he’d sleep this time. It hardly mattered. The greatest danger to Aziraphale was Crowley himself, so if he was locked away, sleeping, then-
“Crowley!” Aziraphale’s voice came again, irritatingly, along with a strange thudding noise.
The sense of fear that had followed Crowley all day, clinging in his nostrils and ringing in his ears, had reached a fever pitch even his bleary awareness of the world couldn’t ignore. Crowley frowned and, with great effort, brought his arms up to his head on either side, clasping his fingers behind his neck and seeming to hold himself together by force alone.
“Crowley! If you don’t open this door right this second, then I’ll-“ Crowley squeezed his eyes shut. This was all too loud and confusing, and all he wanted was to sleep peacefully, not with these spectres haunting him, carrying out their horrible kabuki theatre even behind his own eyelids.
Muffled, as if from far away, there was a dull splintering sound, and as Crowley finally drifted off into a stupor sleep, he heard footsteps echoing in his dreams.
Musical recommendation and something I listened to a lot while writing this chapter: "I Just Don't Care That Much" by Matt Maeson
Chapter 20: London, 1987, Part II
I nearly made myself cry while writing this, so here we go. Phase II/III of this fic, the problem-solving, begins now.
It was dark when he awoke, and he opened his eyes just a sliver to see a single lamp on, on the far side of the room, like a beacon.
He was still hunched in his chair, limbs tangled amongst themselves, and his tongue tasted like he’d licked asphalt.
He hated when he left a light on for these sorts of nights. He’d much rather miracle away the mess he knew was there in the dark, so he didn’t have to look at it, or feel the shame rising in his cheeks.
Groaning, he stretched out his legs. He’d best at least move to bed if he was going to sleep for a while. He could deal with all of this in the morning. Or whenever. He hauled himself up, and dragged a hand over his face wearily, rubbing his eyes and taking a step towards the light in the corner to turn it off.
He stopped dead.
Despite himself, his mouth dropped open.
Beneath the light, curled up on one of his own armchairs from the bookshop, sat Aziraphale, face drawn and pale as he read something fretfully. At the noise from Crowley’s footstep he looked up, and relief painted his features.
“Oh, Crowley dear, you’re awake!”
Crowley didn’t know what to say. How had this happened? How? Why had Aziraphale decided to come back now? And what was he doing in Crowley’s flat? But at the same time, despite all of this, overwhelming it like a tsunami, was relief. Aziraphale was here, and he was smiling. Even if he looked exhausted, drawn too tight, a small smile of relief graced his lips.
“Wha-“ Crowley managed, before Aziraphale peered into his face closely, as if inspecting him for flaws.
Crowley was suddenly acutely aware that he had lost his glasses sometime in the chaos earlier, and he turned away, unable to meet Aziraphale’s intense scrutiny.
“How are you feeling?” Aziraphale asked, urgently.
Crowley shrugged, helplessly, studying the floor intently. He was too confused and mortified to say anything at all. How was this happening? Twenty years without contact, and Aziraphale finds him a drunken mess. What must he think of him?
“I did what I could with the drunkenness, but I’m afraid there was only so much I could do for the hangover, as a good bit of the whiskey had already, set in, as it were.”
Crowley couldn’t meet his eyes, staring, stunned and shameful at the floor. He was completely unable to understand what was happening or why Aziraphale was here. Had he been coming back? Was Crowley forgiven, again, and he’d ruined it with his absolute stupidity, again? It seemed absolutely too cruel to take that away from him at this, the last moment.
Stupid, stupid fucking snake.
But maybe it was for the best. After all, his very presence in this room was putting Aziraphale in danger, maybe it was best if he was disgusted once and for all by Crowley. Maybe it was best if Aziraphale finally ran out of forgiveness.
“Crowley, please say something.”
Aziraphale’s voice was plaintive, and the quick pulse of fear that emanated from him made Crowley jerk his head up, despite himself, and meet the angel’s gaze.
With great effort, pinned under that sky-blue gaze, Crowley found his tongue and managed, hoarsely, barely above a whisper, “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t quite know what he was apologizing for. Maybe his current state. Maybe for going too fast. Maybe for dragging Aziraphale into all of this, again. Maybe simply for being his own wretched self.
Maybe for all of it.
He opened his mouth again, to say something else, but dropped his gaze again despite himself, fixing his gaze on his hands, trembling visibly before him. “I’m sorry.” It was slightly louder this time. He balled his hands into fists but they wouldn’t stop trembling. “I’m sorry.” He heard a rustling from the chair, no doubt Aziraphale shifting his position. “I’m sorry.” Maybe it wasn’t Aziraphale shifting, after all, but him leaving, disappearing back to his bookshop. “I’m sorry.” Christ. Even his apologies were burdening Aziraphale further, but he couldn’t stop. “I’m sorry.” His head was pounding, and he could hear his own heartbeat in his ears. “I’m sorry.” His cheeks were wet, when had that happened? “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Over and over, faster and faster, like a dying thing gasping for air. He didn’t even know if Aziraphale was still there. A part of him hoped he wasn’t, but the rest of him simply heard the words, without meaning any longer, they’d been repeated so often in his long, long life, and kept choking them out, and watching his own hands threaten to shake themselves loose, and he found himself on his knees suddenly, his entire body trembling now, as all of him began to truly rattle apart, and he was hunched, wishing suddenly that he dared to return to his snake form and bury himself deep, deeply, into the dark cool earth, where everything would be safer, and quieter, and maybe, just maybe, he could-
“Crowley, please stop,” the voice was quiet, but close, and Crowley jerked his head up, to see Aziraphale was crouching next to him on the floor, less than a foot apart, and in shock, fell silent, unable to stop himself from shaking and utterly helpless for whatever was about to happen next.
He waited for the sword to fall, raised above his head upon the chopping block.
Instead, Aziraphale looked directly at Crowley, his eyes shimmering in the dim light and murmured, barely audible, “I’m sorry I took so long.”
It was all Crowley could do to keep his breathing under control, as it threatened to spiral faster and faster, rasping already in the silence, but he managed, “Only t-t-twent-ty y-years.”
Aziraphale smiled then, a small smile, but one nonetheless, “Only that long? It felt longer.”
“A-angel, w-why are y-you h-here?” Crowley mentally cursed his own bastard tongue, which never worked when he needed it, and his lungs, that seemed to be choking on air, unable to hold any of it. A shiver went down his body, involuntarily.
Aziraphale’s smile disappeared and he looked anxious again, “Crowley, dear, breathe.”
This only made Crowley more urgent, his hands trembling still where he’d pressed them against his thighs, and he managed to demand, in panic, “W-why?”
The tips of Aziraphale’s ears pinkened slightly, but he replied, honestly if hesitantly. “Well, I… well I kept thinking about how you’d kept tabs on me, and always shown up when I most needed you, and…” he looked away, “it only seemed right, with the arrangement and all, that I at least do the same.”
What the hell was Aziraphale saying now? That this was transactional, still part of the arrangement? Had his angel truly been so absolutely dense as to think Crowley had saved him all those times as a mere convenience to himself? He had to press his eyes tight for a moment at the thought that Aziraphale really thought him such a bastard, and muttered, unable to hide his honesty in his current state, “I-is that what y-you think I d-did it f-for?”
Aziraphale was so close beside him that Crowley heard him swallow in nervousness, “Crowley, you forget, I’m an angel.”
Crowley barked a laugh despite himself, “A-as if I c-could forget,” Crowley instantly regretted saying it as he saw the flash of hurt cross the angel’s features.
The angel lowered his gaze, “Angels can sense love,” he said, simply.
Crowley felt his face go slack as Aziraphale slowly rose his gaze to meet his. His great blue eyes were so completely, absolutely lonesome that Crowley felt his own eyes begin to tear again. In that moment, he would do anything, absolutely anything to make it so that Aziraphale would never have to look at him or anyone else with that depth of despair in his eyes.
A moment of understanding passed between them, then, utterly unspoken. Crowley could remember them, together, and Aziraphale could feel his remembrance, and here they sat, faces not a foot apart, but so utterly separated by battlelines carved through the earth as a whole that they may have well been lightyears apart.
Crowley licked his dry lips, not breaking eye contact, and barely whispered, “How long?”
As in, how long have you known? How long has this been hovering, torturing you as well as me?
How long have I left you to deal with it alone?
“Since the beginning.”
“Yes. But, well,” Aziraphale looked away a moment, then flicked his gaze back to Crowley’s anxiously, still seeking his reassurance, even now, “It faded for a while after that. I thought… I thought I’d imagined it.”
Crowley wondered if he wished he had, now.
Aziraphale forged on, bravely, “But then it started to come back. Slowly, at first. Enough that at first I thought it might just be… background radiation. And then it became strong enough that I couldn’t ignore it. And it was… well, it became clear where it was coming from.”
“I’m sorry,” Crowley repeated, numbly, feeling as if he was falling backwards.
Aziraphale ignored him, continuing, “Beyond everything else, it was… relatively constant. So I kept tabs on you. To make sure you were safe. And tonight… you weren’t,” his eyes widened, “For a moment, after I arrived, there was… no signal at all, and I thought-“ his voice trailed off, helplessly.
“N-no angel. I p-promised,” Crowley reassured, fear thick in the air.
Aziraphale looked stricken, his fear doubling, “Tonight, that wasn’t enough. Can’t you- you were an angel once, can’t you-“
Crowley knew what he was asking. “N-no. Before, I could. But demons… l-love doesn’t help us. We sense fear. Helps with b-business.”
“Couldn’t you tell from that alone?” Aziraphale’s voice almost broke, and he sounded so helpless, in that moment, that Crowley twitched towards him, on impulse, even after 6000 years apart, but pulled himself back at the last possible moment.
“Angel, I thought you were afraid of me.”
Aziraphale fixed him with a bewildered, wide-eyed gaze, as if the possibility had genuinely never occurred to him before. He shook his head, jerkily, “Crowley, I’ve never once been afraid of you. You’ve never given me any reason to be.”
They were so close together they could feel each other’s breath on their faces. They simply stared at each other, for just a moment. And in that moment, Crowley couldn’t stop a flood, a torrent of affection and earnest, deep love that cascaded from him like an avalanche, causing Aziraphale to gasp softly with the sheer force of it. Crowley tried, desperately to stop it, after all, nothing in their circumstances had changed. Nothing had changed. This still wasn’t safe.
Before him, Aziraphale’s shoulders slumped in relief, and the smog of fear that had been filling the room, choking Crowley so utterly, dissipated in an instant.
As the fog cleared, Crowley saw Aziraphale smile, directly at him, bleary and tearstained, and his smile felt like the dawn.
Or perhaps like a rainbow after a storm.
Crowley couldn’t stop himself from grinning back, both of them laughing slightly at the insanity of the situation, giddy with the sheer enormity of what had just been conveyed. But Crowley felt so light, so much lighter than he had in so very long, that he hardly cared about the worries crowding into his head from all directions.
Because even though Heaven and Hell alike were still an ever-present threat, even though this chasm still stretched, impenetrably, between them, even though Crowley’s hands still shook and his head still ached, he knew that absolutely everything had changed.
For the first time in six thousand years, neither of them were facing this alone.
I just want to say thank you all so much for those who have kept up with this, and especially those who leave such heartfelt comments. It truly means the world to me and has made things so much brighter since I've begun this fic.
Song for this chapter is "Putting the Dog To Sleep" by the Antlers
“Why did you bring your own chair?”
Aziraphale had the grace to blush slightly, “Well, I, er. I felt as if I shouldn’t seat myself as I wasn’t exactly… invited.”
Crowley couldn’t stop himself from laughing at that. How typical, how ridiculous, how utterly him. “Thank you,” he managed, and felt a small splash on his left cheek, then another on his right.
Aziraphale frowned in concern, “Crowley, dear, what’s-"
Dear. Crowley dear.
The words rang in Crowley’s ears as he couldn’t stop the sobs from coming, rippling up and out of some hidden place inside him that he’d tried, for so many years, to bury. It was all Crowley could do to draw his knees up to his chest and bury his face in them, his whole body shaking once again as he allowed himself, for the first time, to really hear Aziraphale’s soft voice, his concern, his affection, his love.
Crowley’s lungs shuddered, and he forgot he didn’t need them as he gasped, floods running down his face, and felt Aziraphale’s slight pangs of fear, so very close, as Crowley’s narrow shoulders shook harder than he’d thought possible for this frail human form.
As if from far away, Crowley heard Aziraphale fussing, “Crowley, oh, did I say something wrong? I’m so sorry dear, I only meant-“
Crowley shook his head vigorously, cutting off the angel’s worries, and took a deep, shuddering breath, focusing. He couldn’t manage to speak at the moment, but he felt.
He felt Aziraphale smiling at him, in the Garden, in Rome, in the Globe, in Paris, in a ruined church, in a bookshop under lamplight. He remembered a sword, given away, an outstretched wing. He remembered crepes and wine and dusty bookshelves and oysters. He remembered all of the times when he’d thought of Aziraphale, when everything was going wrong, when he needed to remind himself of a light in a dark world.
He let himself feel it, and by extension, knew that Aziraphale could feel it too.
But he knew Aziraphale deserved more clarity than that, so he found his breath and managed to gasp, “I’ve just… I’ve just missed you.”
Crowley peeked up from his folded arms, face still wet but not bothering to wipe it off this time, and barely managed to make enough eye contact to see Aziraphale dabbing frantically at his own face with a handkerchief.
He laughed, a bit shakily, and Crowley couldn’t help but grin a lopsided grin back, exhausted, and then they were both overwhelmed again, and crying with such relief, with incredulity, that either of them had made it this far, and most importantly, that they weren’t alone any longer.
After a few minutes, the tears and the shaking subsided, and they simply stared at one another, blankly.
It was all Crowley could do to listen to their breaths, heavy and loud in the silence, and remind himself that this was real. Aziraphale appeared equally as stunned, and gruffly handed over his handkerchief, wordlessly.
“Thanks,” Crowley muttered, trying to return all the emotion in a single word that he knew that gesture represented.
A bit hurriedly, he dabbed at his mottled cheeks with the cloth, only to hiss and drop it on contact. It burned . In confusion, Crowley stared down at the innocuous piece of tartan fabric on the floor.
Aziraphale snatched it back up, hurriedly, and stuffed it back into an inner pocket of his coat, grimacing a bit. “I’m so sorry, dear, I should have realized.”
Crowley simply looked at him, still not piecing it together.
Aziraphale replied with a half smile, “Angel tears, not exactly holy water, but-“
He trailed off, but Crowley understood. He took a deep breath, trying to stop his traitorous thoughts from reminding him that none of this was safe, that this was not Before, no matter how much of a pale resemblance it might bear. Crowley looked around at the monastical flat, barren except for the faint but telling traces of disarray from the night prior; a bottle rolled against the wall, Crowley’s throne chair at odd angles with the desk, a sticky spill of dried whiskey on the floor.
“What’s that look?” Aziraphale asked, suddenly.
Crowley frowned slightly, trying to wrest control of his features, not realizing Aziraphale had been looking, “What look?”
“That one, just now. You’ve gotten it since I met you.”
All in a flash, Crowley remembered where he was, what he was doing, and who this was before him, wide blue eyes seeking answers, just like Before. A bolt of panic struck through his heart and he pulled himself backwards, slightly but noticeably, putting space between them. “You ask too many questions.”
Aziraphale looked a bit indignant at that, “You’re one to talk.”
“No, angel, I mean, you ask too many questions for an angel.”
There was a moment of dead silence, as what Crowley had meant hung in the air between them.
It seemed Aziraphale couldn’t help himself. “Is that why you…” he ventured, leaving the question hanging in the air, unfinished, so that it wasn’t technically a question, perhaps. Aziraphale was good at those, always had been. Encouraging Crowley to answer questions that he hadn’t asked.
Crowley nodded, and swallowed nervously. This was new, and foreign, and every cell in his body was urging him to cut and run, his heart nervously fluttering in his throat and his eyes fixed, unseeing, on a spot on the floor.
“Before you said it was because you ‘hung around the wrong people’.”
Crowley didn’t know how to answer this, other than to swing his gaze up and stare, unblinking, into Aziraphale’s eyes. He could feel the shaking in his hands and his chest returning no matter how still he tried to hold himself. He could trust this new Aziraphale, but the habits, the fear, pulled him back again, clamping onto his chest, constricting it so he could scarcely breathe.
Aziraphale’s eyes widened as he understood, and he smiled, hesitantly, fearfully, pointing at himself questioningly.
Crowley nodded again, eyes moist. This was too much, too fast. It was everything he’d hoped for, for so long, and he couldn’t trust it, and he fought against every impulse, every muscle in his body straining for him to get out, as quick as he could, to go back to where it was safe. Instead, he clenched his hands into fists again, feeling his fingernails dig deep into his palms.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale asked, gently.
“What’s that look mean?” Aziraphale asked, barely above a whisper.
Crowley swallowed, looking down at his hands, open and shaking in his lap. He tightened them to fists, but it only made the shaking worse. “It’s… Aziraphale, it means, sometimes looking at you is like looking at a ghost. And the thought that you might not be real, that this might all be some kind of… I don’t know, some kind of impossible dream, or trick, or something that will never work again, because of what’s happened, is-“ He cleared his throat, cutting his own rambling off, and managed, huskily, “I’m so afraid this isn’t real.”
As if without thinking, there was a rustling beside him, and Aziraphale’s manicured hand reached out and rested atop Crowley’s, warm and heavy and solid.
“It’s real,” Aziraphale murmured, and their hands shook together.
Sorry this chapter took so long to write. I had to rewrite it a few times before I felt I got it even partially right.
Hope you enjoy.
Song for this chapter is "Fire and the Flood" by Vance Joy.<3
Chapter 22: Soho, London, March 1988, Part I
Finally! A first date! Unfortunately, first dates never go according to plan.
As you can probably tell, I have eaten an oyster. Once.
The plants on the windowsill stood out starkly verdant against the dreary early spring outside the windows of the flat.
Things had been jarringly ordinary. It had been months, now, since the night Aziraphale had visited, but Crowley couldn’t stop seeing him like a specter over the scene. There, on the floor, a small scuff, where Aziraphale had gotten out of his armchair rather too quickly to join Crowley on the floor. The answering machine on the desk was suspiciously empty of even telemarketer calls, as Crowley had been nearly leaping across the apartment to pick up every possible ring, and checking his messages each evening like a ritual. The neat stacks of textbooks stood slightly askew where Aziraphale had thumbed through them in feigned interest, looking for something to take the tension that night, to restore some sense of normalcy.
And for once, normalcy had cooperated, perhaps too willingly. Everything, at least on the surface, appeared just as it was before, which is why Crowley couldn’t bring himself to miracle away the scuff on the floor, or straighten the books, or correct any other small detail that reminded him it really happened.
It had seemed that, after what they’d experienced here, together, the world itself should have reformed around them; that they should be able to suddenly surmount 6,000 years of waiting and simply move onwards with life. With love.
But it was nothing like that. The tears had dried on their faces, and they had shrugged and laughed, a bit embarrassed. They had made conversation, awkwardly. Aziraphale had skimmed the books. Crowley had cleaned up the mess from the night prior so they needn’t look at it any longer. The apartment had been quiet, and eventually, Aziraphale had bid him goodnight, and Crowley, unsure of what else to do, had returned the pleasantries, and Aziraphale had miracled his chair back to the bookshop, and Crowley had gone to bed, and all of it was absolutely haunted by the question neither of them had the courage to ask, which was, “What now?”
The seemingly insurmountable distance that yes, Aziraphale felt the same way , had been bridged, only for them to realize the journey was so much more treacherous than that. The battlelines still stretched between them, all razorwire and jumpy triggermen and pitfalls, and being able to see Aziraphale clearly on the other side for the first time ached more than he was prepared for.
And so they waited.
Not because they knew what they were waiting for. No, just the opposite, because they didn’t know when to stop waiting.
To keep up appearances, he needed to keep working. And he’d done decent work in the past year, (definitely better than whatever paltry offerings Hastur could serve up), but nothing brilliant, just the standard rote busywork. Crowley had never seen the inspiration in that, honestly. Tempting humans to do things they wanted to do anyway seemed entirely too easy. That was the thing with Sins; they all came with immediate, material satisfaction. More of God’s games, Crowley supposed, but it really did seem to give Hell the upper hand, at least where the humans were concerned.
But, now of course, everything was substantially simpler for the humans, in the cold, clear logic of God Herself. What was the punishment for a tempted angel?
Crowley’s scars on his back tingled. He knew all too well. Aziraphale didn’t. He couldn’t. There wasn’t a way he could even conceptualize what falling would mean.
Maybe he understood that. Maybe he, too, after all of what had happened, had gone home, and sat in quiet silence, and tried to imagine himself falling.
Crowley shuddered in the flat. It had never felt so cold or sparse before. But then again, it had never been anywhere but a place to sleep in peace, to keep his souvenirs and plants, and to receive messages. All of it could be moved at a moment’s notice, and Crowley had been swallowing the intense urge to do just that; to leave with no message, to keep Aziraphale safe from the threads Crowley could already see unravelling.
But every time he had stopped, thinking of Aziraphale in his bookshop, keeping tabs on him, and wondering why.
Aziraphale had already forgiven him once, twice, so many times, and here Crowley sat, paralyzed by a simple question that he’d once dreamed of asking; what now?
The longer it had been since that meeting, the more the longing grew in Crowley. What he had dreamed of, all these years, was materializing in front of him, the ripe apple hanging on the branch before him… yet he didn’t dare take it. What if Aziraphale wasn’t sure? What if he didn’t realize what he might give up?
What if he fell? What if he fell?
And, moreover, what if it was like last time? What if Crowley took the fall, again? There was nowhere left to fall. He couldn’t imagine what the forces of Heaven and Hell would think up for him then.
These questions buzzed around and around his head like Beelzebub’s flies, but suddenly he found himself ignoring them, and striding over to the phone, picking it up as if in a daze, with a good part of him hoping the phone would simply ring on and on. The other part of him didn’t dare think of what that might mean.
Briiiiing. Put it down, Crowley told himself.
Briiiiing. This is gonna get you both killed, idiot.
Briiiiing. He clearly doesn’t want to talk to you anyway. Hang up, stop making a fool of yourself.
Brii- “Crowley?” Aziraphale said in his ear, sounding slightly out of breath, and despite himself, Crowley felt his face melt into a smile.
“Hi angel,” He started. He hadn’t planned this conversation. He had no idea what he was going to say. But he knew he had to say something , to hear Aziraphale’s voice again.
“Hello Crowley,” Aziraphale replied, warmly, and Crowley could hear the smile in his voice, and felt the corresponding odd flutter in his chest.
“I -ngk- I was wondering, if you’d like to, ah, er,” Crowley floundered, “If you’d like to get dinner. Your pick. My treat.”
“My dear boy, it’s three in the afternoon.”
“Ah, well, er-“
“So there will be a condition,” Aziraphale interrupted him, a strange tone in his voice.
“Ah, yeah, what is it?” Crowley replied, anxiously. It was understandable for Aziraphale to want something. After all, how could he simply trust Crowley, a demon’s, word? How could he possibly have waited months, and not want something in return? Crowley’s thoughts were racing. What could it be? Could this be the final trap, the final punishment for his demonic nature?
“You must do this for me,” Aziraphale continued, low and solemn, “You must… eat an oyster!” he said with relish, and Crowley heard him snort softly on the other end of the line, unable to hide his mischief.
Suddenly, Crowley’s eyes were very wet, and he was grinning despite himself. He rubbed at them impatiently, “Yeah, yeah, ‘course I will, angel.”
Crowley could hear the smile in Aziraphale’s voice broaden, “Perfect. It’s settled then, I will go to dinner with you at three in the afternoon. We must go somewhere with oysters though, there’s this lovely seafood house…”
Crowley was going to pick Aziraphale up at the bookshop. He wondered, frantically, having already gotten into the Bentley, if he should have dressed up. Oh Christ, what if Aziraphale was in a tuxedo or something? What if this place held black tie dinners only? Crowley really should have asked more questions on the phone, but he had been so distracted (and ecstatic) that Aziraphale had agreed to see him that all thoughts of logistics had gone from his head.
His driving was downright terrifying as he made his way to the bookshop, trying not to focus on the fact that he hadn’t been here in nearly fifty years, even though it was only a few minutes away.
He pulled up to the curb outside and took a deep breath to steady himself, stretching his fingers on the wheel. It was all going to be fine. Aziraphale was clever. And besides, they’d gotten dinner dozens of times before, and no one had noticed. This was no different, he told himself, knowing it was a lie.
He gathered up his courage close to his chest and strode to the door, knocking on it rather harder than he’d intended and plastering a casual smile on his face, hoping that and his glasses would successfully disguise his nervousness.
The door opened almost instantly, and Aziraphale stood in the doorway, only a few feet from his face. With the door opening, the smells of the bookshop washed outwards, over Crowley, and he was suddenly brought back to a night, long ago, when the bombs fell over London, and a demon and an angel sat drinking wine in a bookshop. The smell of Aziraphale himself was there too, although it was rather similar to the smell of the shop itself. Old paper, spilled ink, cocoa and- was that cologne?
Shit. Shit! That’s what Crowley had forgotten, standing there in Aziraphale’s doorway, probably reeking of sulfur himself.
“Crowley dear, are you all right?” Aziraphale was peering at him, brow furrowed in concern, and Crowley realized he’d been staring over Aziraphale’s shoulder into the shop, looking just like it had years before, except somehow, impossibly, even more stuffed.
“Y-yeah,” Crowley managed. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get away without an explanation of some sort, but there were no bombs here, and he didn’t want to remind them that there had been, so instead he joked, “Just contemplating my fate of having to eat an oyster.”
Aziraphale flashed a small smile before stepping out of the shop and locking the door with his ridiculous keyring with a flourish.
“Shall we?” He asked, a bit anxiously, and followed Crowley to the Bentley, taking his seat in the passenger’s side cautiously as Crowley sat in the driver’s seat. The air was charged with what Crowley knew they were both thinking; of a night where bombs fell, and Crowley had saved the books, and Aziraphale, once again, had saved Crowley.
“Not changed a bit, eh?” Aziraphale said, softly, and Crowley nodded stiffly, unsure what to say.
The weight of everything unsaid between them was too heavy to try to sift through now. For a moment they simply looked at each other, before Aziraphale ventured, “Can I ask a question?”
“You just did,” Crowley replied impishly, sure he didn’t want to answer whatever the angel was about to ask, and also sure he would answer it anyway.
Aziraphale smiled, seemingly building his courage, and Crowley braced himself, “No harm in another, then.” The angel took a breath, and then hesitated. There was a beat where indecision flashed on Aziraphale’s face, before he finished, lamely, “Do you know the way to the restaurant?”
The ride to the restaurant was silent. But not like the usual, comfortable silences they had shared before. This silence was instead full of second guesses and anxiety. Crowley couldn’t help but wonder if this had been a bad idea.
“Yes?” Aziraphale practically jumped to answer him, and Crowley swerved, cursing from the sudden movement, hearing Aziraphale squeak, “Sorry!” in a much higher tone from beside him.
“Christ, Angel, I was just going to ask if you’re alright. You seem, y’know, a bit jumpy.”
“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale appeared to be intentionally not looking at the road, instead choosing to fiddle with his signet ring, “I just… was surprised you called today.”
There was silence for a bit as Crowley processed this, and his heart sunk. He bit his lip, and replied, “To be honest, so was I.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said from beside him, and Crowley didn’t dare to look at him, afraid of what he’d see. His hands twitched on the wheel, every instinct in him screaming to go, to hide, to get away from Aziraphale, to keep him safe.
But he continued driving.
The restaurant was beautiful, nearly as beautiful as the perfect parking spot that miraculously came open just as they arrived.
Nowhere near as beautiful as the company.
Crowley silently thanked Whoever was responsible for the fact that the moments in the car thawed somewhat when Aziraphale looked at the restaurant before them in open-faced glee, eyes gleaming, and Crowley looked at him much the same.
Quickly, before Aziraphale could notice, Crowley looked away and shoved his hands deep into his pockets, to hide the trembling building there, and grumbled, “I bet you’d try to get Jesus himself to try an oyster.”
“Heavens no!” Aziraphale seemed genuinely scandalized, “He was forbidden from it!”
Crowley’s brow furrowed in confusion for a moment, “Why aren’t we forbidden then?”
That seemed to catch Aziraphale by surprise, “Not sure,” he paused, deep in thought for a moment before his expression cleared, “But! The matter remains that it’s not forbidden for you, so our deal stands! None of your wiles will get you out of this one!”
Crowley snorted, despite himself, and followed him into the restaurant, where a table for two was open just by the window. They settled in and Aziraphale ordered happily (and without looking at a menu), and Crowley looked out the window to the street below, worrying over what had been said.
He cleared his throat, “For the record, angel, I am-I’m glad I called. I didn’t mean-“
Aziraphale cut him off, “I’m glad you called too.”
The waiter returned, miraculously quickly, with a tray of oysters in a half shell, gleaming slimily in the light. Crowley’s lip curled slightly despite himself. He looked at Aziraphale, rather helplessly,
“Are you sure there’s no way I can get out of this?”
“Absolutely positive,” Aziraphale said, his smile hiding just the tiniest hint of wickedness.
“Best get it over with, then.” Crowley scooped up the shell and slurped the oyster off of it, swallowing it as quickly as he possibly could and nearly gagging in the process while Aziraphale giggled at his reaction, picking up his own and slurping it down with relish.
“Angel, that is utterly revolting. Why would you possibly do this to yourself? All the foods in the world and-“ Crowley was interrupted by Aziraphale eagerly grabbing another oyster from the plate, and contentedly dabbing at his mouth with a napkin.
Crowley groaned aloud, and, giving up, snapped his fingers for the waiter to appear, “Wine, red. Two glasses. Whatever’s strong enough to wash the taste of oysters from my mouth.”
The waiter, disgruntled, gave a glance between Crowley, in his sunglasses, and Aziraphale, who was cheerily eating the rest of the oysters. He moved considerably faster once Crowley pulled some bills out and laid them on the table, and hustled off to get the wine.
Aziraphale sat back, contentedly, “You know, Crowley, you’re really one to talk. If I recall correctly, you once ate a mouse?”
“That was a long time ago, angel, and even mice don’t have the texture of a cold lougie sliding down the throat,” Crowley grumbled.
The wine arrived, putting Crowley in a rather better mood, and he drank it as Aziraphale continued to work his way through the courses he’d ordered.
“Crowley, won’t you at least try something? I really don’t see how you can see all this absolutely scrumptious- oh! The calamari! You really must at least try-”
“Wasn’t the deal, angel,” Crowley shot back, with an impish smile.
It felt like old times, and it was a relief. They chatted about whatever came into their heads, from philosophy to how the bookshop was doing (terribly, Aziraphale replied with delight), to what sort of plants grew best in this climate, to, inevitably, memories.
“So how does this stack up to Petronius?” Crowley asked, trying to steer the conversation away from where he knew it was heading.
Aziraphale pouted slightly, “It doesn’t. But there’s no way they can. The oysters are smaller than they used to be. They say it’s overfishing.”
“Mm,” Crowley mused, watching the wine swirl in his glass, “Clever humans makes for sad oysters, I suppose.”
“I believe it was you who taught them that, if I’m not mistaken, my dear,” Aziraphale said casually, but Crowley stiffened.
“Nah,” Crowley set the glass down, and felt the room spin slightly as he leaned forwards, voice lowering, “I never, for one, had a vested interest in the oyster trade. Or taught them to kill, for that matter.”
Aziraphale at least had the grace to wince slightly, “That wasn’t my intention, as you well know,” he sniffed.
“Wasn’t mine either, angel, yet you keep bringing it up.”
Their eyes met. Crowley wasn’t sure if he was angry or just profoundly sad. Here they were, in a restaurant, eating oysters, laughing and sharing old memories, right across from each other. Here they were, having crossed so many boundaries, having risked so much, risking so much even now.
Crowley risking himself, but even more than that, risking Aziraphale, risking everything , and even now, his everything glanced across the table and, without thinking, branded him a sinner.
Even now, is that what Aziraphale saw across the table? A demon and nothing else?
“My dear, I’m sorry, it’s just-“
“It’s just what? ” Crowley hissed, voice low and dangerous now.
Aziraphale fidgeted in his seat, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve-“
Crowley could feel the anger rising in him now, but he couldn’t stop it. Aziraphale cared for him, absolutely. He knew that. But he’d dared to imagine Aziraphale had cared about him as an equal, as a partner, not a plaything, not one of his distractions, not one of his damned oysters, to comment sadly when it wasn’t as good as it used to be.
“Shouldn’t’ve what, angel? Shouldn’t’ve fraternized?”
Aziraphale flinched, and straightened up, indignant, “No! But, it’s not as if I can just forget that I’m an angel and you’re a demon!”
Crowley dug out a wad of cash and threw it on the table, having no idea how much it was. He stood, clumsily. “C’mon, angel. We’re leaving.”
Crowley stalked out of the restaurant, trying to will his fangs not to emerge, trying to calm his breathing. He shouldn’t’ve expected any more. It was his own damn foolishness that kept expecting Aziraphale to be something he wasn’t.
Aziraphale found him in the Bentley a few minutes later, head pressed gently into the steering wheel. Crowley heard him open the door, and the soft squeak of leather as he sat down. There was silence for a few moments, before Crowley lifted his head and looked straight ahead.
“I’m sorry, angel. Let me take you home.”
Hello everyone! I'm so sorry for the delay in getting this chapter out. I promise I haven't forgotten about or given up on this fic! There should be more updates relatively regularly now, unfortunately for the past few weeks this flash bastard has been more of a clinically-depressed bastard. An extra-long chapter as a thank you for your patience, then!
As always, thank you so much to anyone who reads this, and please know your comments make my day every time! It feels so wonderful to have people be invested in this silly thing I make that I assumed would only be valuable to me, so that's wonderful!
Stay safe <3
The song for this chapter is "New Slang" by The Shins
Chapter 23: London, Soho, March 1988, Part II
(Psst. There's a kiss in this one.)
The drive back was silent except for the tires rumbling along the road. Crowley, unconsciously, found himself driving under the limits, delaying the inevitable.
He knew what he had to do, and frankly it scared the shit out of him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at Aziraphale in the passenger seat. He sat stiffly, staring out the window away from Crowley, hands clasped tightly in his lap, looking tense enough to snap. Crowley longed to comfort him, but he felt much the same, and it was all he could manage to keep the car in its lane, and to keep his hands white knuckled on the wheel to stop their trembling.
After what seemed an age (even for Crowley, who had lived through more than one), they finally arrived, and as the car pulled up and the tires stopped rumbling, the silence clung thick in his throat like cotton padding, choking him.
From beside him, he heard Aziraphale swallow, “Well, er-”
“Can I come in?” Crowley heard the words before he’d decided to say them, all in a rush like a confession.
He hadn’t looked at Aziraphale to say this, but from beside him, he heard the angel’s sharp intake of air, and Crowley prayed.
“Yes. I-I would like that very much,” Aziraphale finished, and Crowley glanced over to see the angel attempting a small, anxious smile, as if afraid to say anything else.
Crowley realized something, then, “Aziraphale, do you know why I was so upset? In the restaurant?”
The angel’s anxiety seemed to double, “I imagine it was along the lines of-“
“Okay then, so no.” Crowley sighed, deeply, exhaustedly. Here was an angel, his angel, who loved him, who was trying so hard to understand how erratically Crowley was acting, and who was so absolutely afraid.
Crowley’s heart broke for him.
He opened the door of the Bentley and stepped out, with Aziraphale following hesitantly.
“Angel, I gotta show you something.”
Aziraphale frowned, looking confused, “In my bookshop?”
The shop was silent as ever, the looming shelves standing like monoliths over them. Even though it was daylight out, the shades were drawn, and the dim light threw shadows in all directions. Absently, Crowley wondered whether Aziraphale had ever allowed workmen in to install electric lighting. Somehow, he doubted it. They stopped, in the main room, standing about ten feet apart and waiting for the other to make a move, like reluctant duelists.
There was nothing else to do about it. His hands moved like they were numb with cold, but he managed to grab the black leather jacket he had and pull it off, tossing it aside.
“Crowley-“ Aziraphale’s voice had risen slightly, but Crowley ignored him.
Crowley grabbed the sweater he had, some oversized knit with black and white chevrons, and pulled that off as well, throwing it vaguely in the direction of the jacket and careful not to dislodge his sunglasses when doing so.
“What are you doing?!” Aziraphale squeaked, and Crowley glanced at him to see his ears burning scarlet. It was cold in the shop, and involuntarily, a chill went down Crowley’s spine.
Undoing his tie was too much for his hands at the moment, so he simply loosed it enough to get it over his head, and flung it aside. Aziraphale was silent, for once, as Crowley forced his bastard fingers to make an attempt at the buttons on his shirt, fumbling poorly through each one, every precious second they wasted another second in which Crowley might lose his nerve.
Finally, he threw the shirt itself aside, and, barechested, turned away from Aziraphale, eyes squeezed tight and trying to control his breathing.
The soft gasp of horror behind him was exactly as he’d imagined, and Crowley squeezed his hands tight.
He knew what Aziraphale saw.
Over his back, where there should have been smooth skin, or even the radiant wings he’d once had, there was a minefield. The skin hung loose and wrinkled from his frame, mottled with ribs and swirls of scar tissue like a storm, pitted and ridged and discolored purple and red in blotches. The skin had bubbled and melted and sloughed off, again and again, and barely pulled itself back together with a fragile frankensteinian madness that had created something altogether alien.
It was a ruin.
The humans Crowley had allowed to see it had always commented on it, gasping softly at its extent, covering his entire back and creeping around the sides of his ribcage, spreading its wrinkled harpy wings up over his shoulders and down his hips where the flames of Hell had licked at him, hungrily.
“Oh,” the humans had always said, “What a terrible accident.”
“No accident,” Crowley would murmur, and they would be afraid like he’d never seen them before, at what kind of being would bring this sort of destruction, this pain to someone on purpose.
Ironic, Crowley thought, that he had been the one to put the fear of God into so many.
The bookshop was cold, and the strange, poorly connected nerves on Crowley’s back prickled uncomfortably. It was so silent he could hear his own shallow breathing, and far off, buried somewhere in the mess, a clock ticking.
The silence seemed to last an eternity, and Crowley felt like he might burst, shame and fear bubbling up from his chest, hidden when he’d hoped they’d been purged centuries ago.
There were scuffing footsteps behind him, coming fast, and Crowley whirled in panic only to have Aziraphale run into him, chest to chest, and hold him tightly.
It took a moment for Crowley to realize what had happened, and a moment more for him to get the courage to slowly lower his arms (still raised in alarm) gently around Aziraphale’s shoulders.
The angel’s hands, always so restless, were pressed warmly against Crowley’s back, seeming not to mind at all the ugliness of what was there. Aziraphale’s head pressed into Crowley’s shoulder, and Crowley could feel his short breaths against his chest. Through all of Aziraphale’s layers of coats and undercoats and sweaters, still, Crowley could feel his heart beating, frantically.
Without thinking, instinctively, he held his angel in return, one arm wrapped around his back, one hand holding the back of his head, buried deeply into the angel’s impossibly soft curls.
For once, his hands were steady. It felt so absolutely, completely safe to be standing there, holding Aziraphale close, feeling his warmth.
For the first time in nearly six thousand years, it felt like home.
Pressed tightly against his bare skin, Aziraphale shook. His hands shook, but it was more than that, the kind of shaking that starts deep in the stomach and radiates outwards through a person, complete with small, staccato sobs.
Without moving an inch, Crowley tightened his grip slightly and murmured, “Angel, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
Aziraphale’s head pressed deeper into his shoulder, as if trying to prove to himself that Crowley was real before him, his protests muffled, “It’s not! It’s not at all! Of course it’s not! Oh, Crowley, how could they-?”
“You know how it was in the old days, angel, all fire and brimstone and-“
Aziraphale let out a little wail, interrupting, “I’d forgotten about the brimstone!”
“Angel, it’s okay, it was a long time ago, and-“
“And me, an idiot, keep reminding you of it- a-and,” the angel squirmed slightly in his grip, pulling back, looking at Crowley’s chest where his face had been pressed, “And now I’ve got snot on you, and-“
Crowley pulled him back towards him, gently, to shush him, and Aziraphale went, and Crowley couldn’t help himself but to breathe a massive sigh of relief, his chest expanding and falling, Aziraphale rising and falling with him. Tears sprung to his eyes with the release of so much tension, so much fear he hadn’t even been aware he’d been holding.
Crowley pressed his face into Aziraphale’s fragrant curls, kissing him on the head, just once, and murmuring, “I don’t mind, angel.”
Aziraphale murmured something into his shoulder, too quietly to be audible.
“What was that?” Crowley asked, worriedly.
Aziraphale looked up at him, massive blue eyes swimming and shimmering like a clear summer sky; like the first dawn; like earth itself from far away, and asked, “Can I see your eyes?”
It felt like the bottom had fallen out of Crowley’s stomach, but he nodded, very slowly, and held completely still as Aziraphale untangled one arm and, gently pushed Crowley’s sunglasses back up onto his head, and looked him full in the eyes.
“Oh,” Aziraphale said.
But it was nothing like the “Oh”’s of disappointment or misunderstanding or anxiety that they had shared before. This one escaped Aziraphale’s lips like a prayer, like words in any language he’d ever learned in his time on earth wouldn’t suffice.
There he stood, his coat rumpled, one hand still on the bare small of Crowley’s back, tears still running down his mottled cheeks, hair mussed, bow tie crooked and eyes wide, and absolutely, unbelievably perfect.
Crowley kissed him.
There was nothing else to do. Aziraphale was here, holding him even after seeing how ruined he was, hand still pressed lovingly onto the scars on his back themselves. Here was Aziraphale, absolutely miserable over the pain he hadn’t realized he’d caused. Here was Aziraphale, whose soft eyes shone in the dim light, whose soft, rounded jawline begged to be cupped, whose heart was full to bursting and just a touch rebellious, who loved humanity and sushi and waistcoats and theatre and literature and a demon, despite himself. Aziraphale was here, in Crowley’s arms, seeking comfort there, even after all that had fallen apart between them, again and again, and he was warm, and soft and real, so very real, and Crowley had been feeling his breath on his chest and there was absolutely nothing else for it but to kiss him.
Their lips met, carefully, as if anything more might break the moment, might shatter all of reality around them and leave Crowley waking, in a cold sweat somewhere. But it couldn’t be a dream, none of his dreams had ever been so kind to him before.
Aziraphale’s lips were softer than he could have imagined, and, through his chest, he could feel Aziraphale’s heartrate quicken, pounding harder than before, and so he pressed deeper into the kiss, hand against the back of the angel’s head, fingers entangled in his curls, and Aziraphale pressing back, his warm hands steady now, pulling deeply on Crowley, so insistently that Crowley could feel it even through his ruined back.
Somewhere, in some forgotten recesses of Crowley’s mind, of his very self, he felt something flickering, a sensation he hadn’t felt since he’d been struck from Heaven itself.
Crowley, once an angel, now fallen, sensed love.
Hello everyone! I hope you are all well! Your waiting has paid off! 40k words is a lot to ask someone to be patient for, so I hope you all got the kiss you deserve to see!
The song for this chapter is "I Have Made Mistakes" by the Oh Hellos
Much love, Alex
Chapter 24: March 1988, Part III
The thrilling conclusion of 1988, with the big reveal about Crowley's earlier identity.
The song for this chapter is "Sleepyhead" by Passion Pit.
For the first time in centuries, Crowley slept without dreaming.
It seemed strange that it would be that way, curled up in such a contorted fashion on an old, threadbare couch in a bookshop. But then again, the company was impeccable. It was a shock he’d slept at all, as he’d been flopped on the couch with Aziraphale half laying over him, tucked under an old musty quilt the angel had pulled from some unseen shelf.
Even the slight scent of him lingering on the blanket was electric, and for the moments before Crowley opened his eyes, it felt like a dream transgressing into waking. Opening his eyes to blearily see the bookshop, tinted much too brightly (where had his glasses gone?), and feeling the tiny stitches of the quilt rustling against his bare chest, and breathing the air, heavily scented with ink and dust and cologne seemed just as surreal.
Despite the perpetually chilly air of the bookshop, the quilt was thick and comforting, and Crowley curled himself deeper into it. “Where’d this come from?” he murmured, half to himself.
To his surprise, the answer came from a few meters away, measured and warm, “An old friend made it. I’m sure she’d be pleased it’s finally gotten some use.”
Startled, Crowley’s eyes snapped open and focused on Aziraphale, sitting in one of the worn armchairs, happily thumbing through some absolutely ancient looking tome. Awkwardly, Crowley sat slightly upright, but as the blanket fell from his bare shoulders and exposed them, he regretted it and pulled it up to his chin. Trying to regain composure, he attempted, gruffly, “Er. Ngk. Thank you, anyway. For letting me… borrow it.”
Aziraphale’s gaze rose above his book to make eye contact and fix him with a smile that suddenly made the cold bookshop feel warmer than the basking stones of Eden, “Of course, you’re welcome anytime, my dear.”
Crowley felt his heartbeat quicken at that, but ignored it and looked around the bookshop, searching for the sweater he’d worn last night, as well as the rest of his clothes. He found them, folded, in a neat pile on the far arm of the couch, and this time couldn’t stop a flush from rising in his cheeks, which he tried (unsuccessfully, based on Aziraphale’s slightly smug expression), to hide with a falsified coughing fit as he grabbed the sweater and the jeans he’d worn and threw them on as quickly as he could before settling back onto the couch. He didn’t fail to notice that not a single page was turned in Aziraphale’s book as he did this, even though his nose remained buried in the pages.
His fingers fiddled with the edge of the quilt in his lap. What now? When he’d loved humans, it had always been such a tragic thing, as he always lived knowing they would die. Crowley had stayed to watch some of them die, but it never ended well… once they noticed he didn’t age, they often jumped to wild theories, or accused him of witchcraft, or, worse, far worse – asked if he was an angel. It was better to make some excuse, that he had to leave them… but he always wondered if they could sense the lies in him, that he had to tell them. He was sure they could, and so they always had held him at arm’s length. It was better for everyone that way.
After all, if they found out, who could love a demon?
“Dear?” Aziraphale asked, somewhat hesitantly, and Crowley looked up, blinking.
“Sorry, angel. What were you saying?” Crowley cursed himself, at his mind running off on him again.
“I wasn’t saying anything. Just wondering if you’re quite alright.”
Crowley looked back down at the quilt in his fingers, where he was running his fingertips over the seams, again and again, “S’nothing, just thinking.”
Aziraphale shut his book with a muffled thud, startling Crowley again despite himself. Aziraphale offered a slightly anxious smile, “May I ask too many questions yet?”
Crowley owed him that much at least. After all of this, he’d have to keep his wits about him to survive. Even Crowley couldn’t protect Aziraphale from the wrath of heaven again, not now. He looked back down to his hands, clutching the quilt and trembling gently, and nodded, once.
Aziraphale stood, walked over to the couch and sat gingerly on the edge, on the cushion furthest from Crowley, as if afraid to venture closer without permission. He appeared to gather his courage before finally asking, almost too quietly to be audible, “Does this mean you might forgive me?”
Crowley’s anxiety dropped away instantly, replaced instead with sheer incomprehension. For a moment, he simply stared at Aziraphale, brow furrowed in utter confusion, until he finally managed, “A-Aziraphale, you have nothing to be forgiven for.”
The angel’s face was drawn tight as he turned, pleadingly, “Of course I do my dear, I’ve been treating you like… like an enemy, and I shouldn’t’ve, and I can see the hurt it’s caused and-“
“Angel, you’re not the one who needs forgiven.”
Now it was Aziraphale’s turn to look incredulous, “Crowley. We’ve known each other for nearly six thousand years and you’ve been nothing but patient-“
“And rude. And resentful, and sullen and stubborn and-“
Crowley’s racing thoughts were stopped in their tracks by Aziraphale’s warm, heavy hand closing over his, that had nearly been tearing a hole in the quilt.
“Crowley, don’t,” Aziraphale said softly.
“S-sorry,” Crowley mumbled, shocked and overwhelmed and numb and suddenly exhausted by these casual displays of affection, of care. He wished for nothing else than to go back to sleep.
Aziraphale gave his hand a tiny squeeze, “No need.”
Slowly, Crowley turned his hand over to intertwine their fingers. His entire hand tingled with the charge built up there, and he could scarcely convince himself that this moment was real, that here before him was an angel, who had put down a book for him, who held his hand and cared.
Crowley swallowed before saying, voice slightly hoarse, “Angel, you don’t need to ask for my forgiveness. You’ve always had it.”
The resulting squeeze from Aziraphale’s hand was longer and firmer than the one before, and this time, Crowley returned it, feeling utterly lost, as if except for Aziraphale holding his hand he might spin off, uncontrolled, into the universe.
“Can you tell me anything about Before?” The question burst from the angel like he just couldn’t hold it any longer, like he’d been desperate all these years to know the answer. And of course he had. Why wouldn’t he have? Crowley held all the pieces and here was Aziraphale, holding his hand, anchoring him to earth itself, who knew nothing of what that meant.
Aziraphale continued, “I-I know it’s painful for you, but…”
He didn’t need to finish. Crowley could hear the longing in his voice, echoing against his empty memories like a strange mausoleum. Stiffly, Crowley nodded.
Aziraphale considered a moment, “Can you tell me your name? From Before? If I hear it, I must remember, right? I can remember and we can figure all of this-“
The angel’s face broke into the dawn, smiling in relief and awe. It felt just as it had so long ago, when the sun rose over the eastern gates of Eden, and filtered through gorgeous wings outspread. It felt like even longer ago, when the smile of God Herself would shine on him, when lights would appear in his hands as he sculpted them into paintings larger than any chapel could dream of.
“Oh, of course you are, my dear. You’re radiant.”
Crowley felt his heart break and melt simultaneously. He thought of the lights in his hands, and remembered all the plans he’d abandoned, extinguished without a thought, “Was, angel.”
Crowley was suddenly struck with the thought that, on a deep and profound level, he was not Raphael any longer. Before, Aziraphale had fallen in love with Raphael, and Crowley couldn’t promise that person even still existed. Crowley was whatever had Fallen from Raphael, whatever had been wrung out of his exhausted, limp form after falling, after boiling sulfur, after brimstone and hellfire and loss and six thousand years of loneliness and fear and blood on his hands.
From beside him, Aziraphale lifted his hand to his mouth and kissed his knuckles. “Are,” he corrected, gently.
Crowley looked at his hand, and saw that again it was holding a light, but one grander than even his grandest designs could have imagined. Of all the plans abandoned, of all the lights he’d held extinguished, of all the grand suns, rising and setting over planets a billion times over, singing celestial harmonies, this one spark had survived, and it was the most brilliant of all.