“I’ve heard the locals say the mansion a few miles up north is haunted,” Crowley starts, taking Aziraphale’s mug, full of hot chocolate, and taking a sip. “The South Downs Mansion, or whatever. I think it’s a lot of nonsense.”
Aziraphale grabs his mug right back. “Well, you want to prove them wrong?” he asks, raising a brow.
He grins at him. “I’d love that.” There’s a pause; he’s still eyeing the hot chocolate. “I just think that, like, there’s no way for it to be haunted. No demons would worry themselves with such things, except for me.”
“You did haunt a few houses the last few centuries, dear,” he says, taking another sip and then giving it to him once again. “But we should be golden, then. Let’s hope it’s not for real.”
Crowley finishes the hot chocolate, puts it down before laughing a little. “You can miracle all the ghosts away if that’s the case, my love.”
Aziraphale laughs brightly. “I guess I could.”
The mansion doesn’t look like it’s sinking into disrepair. At least not from the outside.
Crowley scoffs at the sight, at how perfect it all looks. There’s no cobwebs, no creaky floorboards on the steps leading inside. “Are we sure this is the haunted mansion the humans were on about?” he mutters.
“There’s no other mansions anywhere around here,” Aziraphale points out. “It does look very unthreatening from here, though.”
“Looks like we could have a great vacation in it, I reckon,” he mumbles as he heads toward the door. The first sign that something is off is the way the door handle (a heavy steel thing) heats up at his touch, nearly burning his hand. He hisses out and pulls away, shaking his hand.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
“That damn handle—! It burned me!”
Aziraphale raises a brow and heads towards it, opening the door with no issue. “It didn’t burn me.”
Crowley makes a little noise, the change in reactions making him think there’s something else going on. But he doesn’t voice his worries, entering the mansion with a light step and the same swagger of always.
The house is sinking into disrepair when one gets inside it, as it turns out. Cobwebs and creaky floorboards, the smell of mold and dirt penetrating every single part of it. It’s rotting away, but it remains pristine on the outside. Crowley doesn’t quite understand it.
“It just looks like an old mansion to me,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley is already looking for something, though, because he knows there’s something about this place that it’s hidden in plain sight. He walks up to one of the walls, cobwebs in every corner, but there are no spiders he can sense. Abandoned, empty.
“This isn’t demons at work,” Crowley hisses out, watching as the mold in the walls takes form. It’s nothing outlandish, but with the way it shuffles and changes shapes— from wings, to clouds, to anything in between, it makes his gut tremble with fear. “No demon is this fixated on scaring humans. It’s not, it’s not a sure-fire ticket to get their souls in Hell. This can’t be one of mine or one of yours.”
“Then,” Aziraphale starts as the mold— the smell is acerbic, venomous, like rotten flesh, nothing like mold usually is— starts to spell out something, starting off with the letter C. “Then there must be other forces at work. Other occult beings. There’s… humans cannot be the ones behind this, either. It’s not an attraction, it’s nothing. It’s an abandoned mansion up north a seaside town.”
“Then what could it be?” he hisses out, eyes wide.
The rotten flesh, decomposing scent of the mold only grows stronger as it spells out, CRAWLY.
“Fuck,” he breathes. “Fuck!”
“We should go,” Aziraphale says, grabbing Crowley’s arm. He’s still staring at it, at the words, at how the smell infests every one of his senses, keeps him trapped. “We’re going, dear.”
He turns and follows his lead, fear taking ahold of him, his chest thumping where he thinks his heart should be as mold follows him through the wooden planks, gray-greenish flesh growing closer and closer to him, a matted mess of it as it catches him by his ankles. He yelps when he thumps down onto the floor. “Aziraphale!” he cries out, the grip of the mold only growing stronger.
Everything smells like burning flesh.
“Anthony!” he exclaims, grabbing at his wrist and struggling to get him out. It’s a game of tug-of-war, the mold eager to keep Crowley as one of their own. Aziraphale tries to make himself stronger, to perform a miracle of his own, but God’s light does not answer to him. In the abandoned mansion, all he gets from Her is silence.
“Aziraphale,” he breathes, tears pricking at his eyes, clawing at his hand, clinging onto him like he’s the only thing keeping him alive. He fears this, fears whatever is holding this place together and tormenting them. “Don’t give up,” he begs. “Aziraphale.”
“I’m not,” he soothes as he lets out quiet pants of exertion, his head swimming. “I’m not going anywhere, love, n-not until— not until this thing lets go of you.” He digs his nails into Crowley’s wrist, pulls him out. “Let him go!” he breathes, unsure if the creature even understands. Unsure if it even has a conscience. “Let him go! I love h-him, let him go!” The mold-creature seems to shrivel up, growing smaller, when he says the word love. He takes note of it. “I love him!” he exclaims, grabbing onto Crowley desperately, repeating the words like a hymn until Crowley is free from its grip.
“Oh thank goodness,” Aziraphale breathes, hugging him tight. “I got so scared.” He looks away from him to steal a glance towards the creature, which is looking positively snake-like, slithering on the floor, closer to them once again. “Let’s get going, dear.”
They head towards the door once again, and Crowley reaches for the handle once again. The heat of it is even worse this time around— he wails from the sudden jolt of pain, nearly tripping back on the floor, his hand with a huge black mark across most of his palm, because that’s what Crowley believes human burns look like.
Aziraphale immediately helps him stand straight. “Are you okay?”
“Ngk.” He swallows thickly. “Damn mansion has it out for me.”
“It seems so.” Aziraphale reaches over to grab the handle himself, and as before, it doesn’t burn his hand off. He swallows and tries to open it, but this time it doesn’t work out. There’s not even a noise signifying that hey, it’s locked from the outside— he can’t even move the thing a millimeter. It’s stock-still.
“Seems like we’re trapped here,” he says slowly.
Crowley bites the inside of his cheek hard. “Seems so.”
“I think the mold creature thing has calmed down considerably. Perhaps we should just.. find a room. Sleep it off.”
“Sleep what off?” he exclaims. “We’re in a weird mansion that burns my hand but not yours— that a creature targets me but doesn’t seem to give a shit about you! You’re just lazy because it has done nothing to you.”
“Dear,” Aziraphale starts. “It scared the life out of me when it got you.”
“Yes,” he hisses, “but it has done nothing to you physically. If it was for you, we’d stay here forever!”
“No,” he argues, leaning in to give him a chaste kiss. “We’ll escape, I promise. But we have to find a way to first.”
“Ngk.” He hates the idea of being here too long, when the mansion clearly is vindictive towards him and him only. What has he done, anyway? He’s much better than other demons. He shouldn’t be the one getting burned and attacked. “We should start with that, then.”
Unfortunately, there is not a single easy escape out of the mansion. All the windows won’t budge, no matter what they try to break them with, and all the doors are stock-still, almost mocking them with how they don’t relent in the least. Crowley grows more and more skittish as the day goes on, as much as he would like to deny it. There’s just something sinister about the place, and he’s not saying that just because everything seems to be targeting him specifically.
“I think we might have to stay here,” Aziraphale tells him, frowning. “We’ve exhausted every other option we have, love.”
Crowley makes a noise, face scrunched up in distaste. “Okay. I guess we might have to.”
They make their way through the halls, the wooden floors seeming to creak with every step Crowley takes. He doesn’t pay it any mind, or at least, he tries to. He nearly jumps at the sight of rats scavenging at the corners, feeding off food from Hell knows where. They all have weird markings on their backs, white against brown, gray fur, almost in the shape of wings.
“There’s a bedroom,” Aziraphale says, grabbing his wrist and taking him to it.
The room is chillingly cold, it seeping to Crowley’s bones even more than cold usually does. His blood works like that, but still, it’s far too cold. More than usual. He clenches his jaw hard and heads to the bed. It’s a king-sized bed, spacious and comfortable-looking, but it tenses up as soon as he puts a hand on it. Like suddenly, the soft, bouncy mattress is made of solid wood.
“Are you ready to sleep, dear boy?” Aziraphale asks. “I’m not used to that, ah, whole sleeping thing, so I might just hold you. I hope that’s alright.”
Crowley smiles. “Yeah, that’s alright with me,” he says. He looks back at the cold, hard bed. “I might need it.”
“Yeah,” Aziraphale nods. “It seems as if this mansion has it out for you. But we’ll be out in no time, yes? We’ll be just fine, love.”
He swallows thickly as he slowly slithers into the bed, getting comfortable as much as he can. He’s used to those soft beds with great linings that seem to suck you into the mattress, but he can deal with something this uncomfortable. He can, really. It shouldn’t be an issue.
Aziraphale settles down with no issue, the bed sinking against his weight. Soon enough, Crowley wraps himself up around him, long, thin limbs making their way around his body. “Ngk,” he breathes, burying his face on the crook of his angel’s neck. “I’m… tired. The bed is really stiff on my side.”
Aziraphale clicks his tongue, leans in to press a kiss to his forehead. “Of course. You’ll sleep just fine, dear. I believe in that. You need to rest.”
Crowley hums softly. “I do.” He pauses. “Good night, angel.”
“Good night, my love.”
He melts, smiling, and falls asleep, curled up around Aziraphale, snoring softly.
Crawly. Crawly. Crawly. Crawly.
He’s in a field. No, he’s in a garden. There are flowers everywhere, a huge tree, a tree that seems to go on forever into the stratosphere. It’s an apple tree, but he can’t focus on it, with how he’s being cornered towards it.
He cries out when his feathers start being plucked out by seemingly no one, by a force he can’t quite make out, that he can’t quite feel , one by one, white feathers falling around him like a semicircle into the freshly cut grass. Tears slide down his cheeks, each pluck more painful than the last, as a crowd surrounds him. He can’t make out any faces, but they all have white wings. Their eyes are solid gold.
Crawly. Crawly. Crawly. Crawly.
One of them steps up. Soon enough, it’s clear who he is. His bleach-blonde locks of short hair, his baby blue eyes, his slight gut— he’s unmistakable. He’d recognize him anywhere. And he’s wearing his… his robe from back then. He’s perfectly angelical amongst Crowley’s blackened robes, the way they wrap around him, almost constrict his airways.
And Aziraphale looks at him like he’s the scum of the Earth, of Hell, of Heaven, of all the universes and dimensions thereof.
He says just one word— “Traitor.”
Crowley wakes up crying, as much as he tries not to, startling Aziraphale from his half-asleep state. He gasps and whimpers as he holds onto him, shaking like a leaf, panting. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, fuck, Aziraphale, I’m sorry!” he says over and over again, like that will fix anything, like that will fix the fact he Fell.
“Anthony,” Aziraphale breathes, hugging him rather awkwardly as he wiggles into a more comfortable position, holding him up, looking at him with wide, worried eyes. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Nightmare,” he breathes, slowly calming down. He realizes he’s never had a nightmare before, and he promptly collapses on top of Aziraphale. “I’ve never had one of those before.”
“Must be the mansion,” he mumbles, pressing a kiss to Crowey’s forehead. “You’re okay. Want to tell me what it was about?”
Aziraphale kisses him again. “It’s okay if you don’t. But I just think of how it’s targeted you… maybe it has something to do with why?”
“I dunno,” he replies, looking away, staring at the wall. “It’s just… I don’t want to burden you with it. It’s stupid.”
It was over six thousand years ago.
“There’s nothing stupid about you, Anthony,” he reassures him.
“It was about me Falling,” he whispers, voice strained with tears.
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, uselessly.
“I— there were so many angels cornering me to - to the tree I tempted Eve at, and then you— you stepped out and—” he makes the most wretched sound, tears nearly spilling down his cheeks, but he holds off on that. “And you called me a traitor.”
“Oh, dear boy,” he says, leaning in to kiss his forehead. “It’s okay. You’re not a traitor.”
“I am,” he breathes. “And I didn’t even mean to Fall.”
“Shh. What’s done is done now, love. You’re perfect just how you are.”
But he’s sinful; he’s wretched. The bed is still rock-hard beneath him, not softening in the least. He doesn’t reply, as much as he’d like to fight that idea, to argue that no, he’s not perfect, that he will never be perfect, especially after being cast out of Above. He was too curious, he asked too many questions, he hung out with the wrong crowd. And now he pays the price.
“Do you want to keep sleeping, my dear?”
“I…” He swallows thickly. “I don’t want to have a nightmare again.”
“Okay.” A pause. “Would you just like to cuddle, then?”
He ponders what he can do. Because there’s only so much he can do, really, and he just needs to escape this place. He keeps getting images into his head, how it all has to do with his Fall, how he has to seek redemption to get out of this damned mansion. But the mere idea of redemption makes his whole body twitch with distaste.
Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t deserve it. Sure, he might’ve only sauntered vaguely downwards, instead of falling without a parachute like Beelzebub or Lucifer, but he still Fell. He still got to the darkest pits underground and made the best out of the situation. And it has, again, been over six thousand years. How can he seek forgiveness now? And why would he? Angels are stuffy, weird creatures. As much as he loves Aziraphale, and as much as he enjoys his company, the other angels aren’t the same. In the span of millennia they’ve all grown even more stuffy, he reckons.
The only thing keeping him with any sort of regret over his Fall is…
Well, it’s Her.
“I think I know,” he starts while they’re at the living room, keeping the mold at bay by making himself comfortable in one of the chandeliers. As much as they can’t do many miracles, they can still shapeshift one way or another. “I think I know how to… how to escape this.”
Aziraphale raises a brow, having been cleaning one of the books in the mansion by hand, trying to read it. “What’s your idea, love?”
“I have to be sincere,” he says.
“About... “ He only looks more confused now. “About what, dear?”
Crowley grits his teeth and makes his way down, going back to his usual, tall and lanky form, no longer able to fit in the chandelier. “About… Her.”
That seems urgent enough for Aziraphale to leave the book. “Her?” he echoes. He makes a vague motion to the ceiling. “Like… Her ?”
He swallows audibly. “Yes. Her.”
“What could you be dishonest about?”
“Everything,” he says. He remembers when he called out for God, went into a crisis about how and why She needed to test humans to destruction. Why did Armageddon need to happen, why did one side have to come out victorious. Now that it hasn’t happened, he’s put all those questions at bay, but they’re still there. She’s omnipotent and omnipresent and omniscient, sure, but he almost feels like they interfered into Her perfect, ineffable plans.
Aziraphale sits down into one of the couches, folding his hands together on his lap, looking nervous.
He looks at the ceiling. He opens his mouth, but words don’t come out as much as he tries to. Hot tears prick at his eyes and God, he just wants to say it without fearing like the world is going to be ripped apart at the seams because of his admission. The admission of his mistakes, of his guilt.
“I didn’t mean to Fall,” he starts, staring at the chandelier. It flickers on and off. “I didn’t mean to Fall, I didn’t want to Fall, I never wanted to join that sad little gang of demons, I just thought they were decent.” The chandelier turns off, and he’s submerged in darkness. But it’s too late to take it all back now.
“I didn’t mean to Fall, and I’ve found myself regretting it,” he continues, his voice trembling. His hands are shaking, and the floor creaks with every step he takes, like a warning of sorts. Maybe the mansion will collapse when he’s done talking. “I regret Falling. I regret Falling.” After what seems like longer than his entire existence, he breathes out, “I miss Her.”
He falls down to his knees, but the wooden floor does not creak beneath him. He’s crying, as much as he’d like to deny it, silent tears being engulfed by the complete darkness they’re in. Aziraphale makes his way towards him and envelopes him in a hug. “Oh, Anthony,” he breathes, pressing a kiss to his scalp.
After a few minutes, the chandelier flickers before burning brighter than ever before.
His step is lighter, and nothing creaks underneath him.
“I think we’re free.”
Aziraphale smiles at him and leans in to kiss him. “I think so, dear.”
They make their way through the building, Crowley still shaking ever so slightly, his skin, everything about his corporeal form seeming off. When they finally reach the entrance door, the big one that nearly burned him, his stomach sinks. What if they’re not free? What if his hand still burns?
“A leap of faith,” he mumbles, a tad sarcastically, as he steps towards it. Aziraphale watches him rather worriedly. He grabs the handle, and nothing happens; it’s just cool like the usual iron. He opens the door with a loud creak, but they see the stars outside, shining down at them.
Aziraphale beams from ear to ear. “We did it,” he says, pulling Crowley into a quick kiss. “We’re out of there. Let’s go back home.”
Before they can go home, they sense a presence around them. It makes Aziraphale visibly nervous, fiddling with his hands, but he doesn’t say a thing. Crowley can feel it too, like it’s all around him— there’s something nostalgic about whatever it is. Like something he hasn’t seen in many years. He doesn’t pay it any mind, though.
They walk around the corner, meaning to go back to their cottage, when they stop. And their eyes widen at the sight of Her.
It’s not really a sight, granted, but She is there, smiling at them.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” God says. “I’d like to talk with you both. The Demon Crowley, especially.” She tilts her head at him. “I believe we have much to discuss.”