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I Knew Only Shadows (I Thought They Were Real)

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Aziraphale knows that something about himself is not quite right. That he's an odd sort of angel. Or at least, he knows the other angels think so. He'd given away his sword in the Garden, lied to God about it, when she'd asked (and they didn't even know about that), and failed at guarding the Gate. Or rather, at guarding anything but the Gate itself. But those had been his orders.

He expected Gabriel at Sodom, had known that he had been present there, and it had been Gabriel who had summoned him. But instead, he meets Michael and someone new, called Sandalphon, who strikes him on sight as rather brutish. He finds himself nervous and stammering in front of them. Michael stares. She has always seemed very hard to Aziraphale, had never seemed to approve of him, to regard him as anything more than an insect to be swatted away.

“We have been dishonored here,” she says, loud enough that the surrounding crowds of people can hear her. “Help us to teach these towns a lesson.”

“What lesson?” Aziraphale says, wringing his hands. He hasn’t spent much time here, has heard that there are a great many male couples here, lovers, which wouldn’t have been of interest except that some people seem to have taken an aversion, and he had heard that Gabriel had been approached by someone who didn't know he was an angel… He opens his mouth to explain that this may not be the lesson she intends, but it will be the lesson they teach, but Sandalphon is looking at him like he’s a speck of dirt, and before he can stammer anything, Michael cuts him off.

“Sinners!” she shouts. “Prepare to meet the wrath of God.”

And it’s too late. They’re striking and smiting, and Sandalphon is positively cackling as his blade draws down and down and flashes of light blast as people turn to pillars of salt and fall, crumbling into white crystals.

Aziraphale cannot move.

“Aziraphale! Where is your flaming sword?” Michael shouts.

“I—”

“Use your blade! Foolish Principality!”

Aziraphale does not. Aziraphale does nothing.

***

When they are done, Michael and Sandalphon find him at the edge of the city, his body shaking slightly. For all he had wanted to leave, he had not dared to do so. But no more could he smite these people without cause or weapon.

“You were the Guardian of the Eastern Gate?” Sandalphon says. “That explains a lot,” and he laughs.

Aziraphale has never heard an Archangel laugh like this. He remembers laughter in Heaven; he remembers love there, friendship, and a great, almost unbearable tenderness, but the truth was, it hadn’t been like that at all—they were just feelings he’d had while he was there, back before the War. And it made no sense at all. How could he have felt those things? They didn’t exist. He’d barely existed before the War. And after the War? There had been only bleakness, swirling confusion. He remembers throwing down a bloody blade at Michael’s feet, spent and angry that he’d followed orders and still felt so hollowed out inside at watching angels Fall all around him. He wasn’t like her. He didn’t like it. It was why she’d sent him to Earth, to get rid of him. So he’s not prepared for what she says next.

“You’ll come back with us,” Michael says. “Gabriel will need to address this inaction.”

Aziraphale sighs. But what is there for it? 

***

Gabriel had not been long in Heaven when the War began. His first act was to deliver a message to the Principalities, instructing them in their duties for the War, shortly to be declared, after Lucifer was publicly struck down. He remembered Aziraphale from that night, because he’d been tearful when told what the Principalities would do in the War, which had confused Gabriel. Hadn’t he been created for this role? Why should his responsibilities upset him so? Was he questioning God’s plan?

“Gabriel,” Michael had said, when he asked her. “Don’t. I think there’s something…It’s not his fault.”

“No?”

“We might as well speak about this now,” she said. “I think he’s been corrupted somehow. He won’t Fall,” she added, as Gabriel opened his mouth to ask exactly that. “But he’s spent a lot of time with an angel who...well, who he shouldn’t have. An angel who is going to Fall.”

Gabriel had frowned at the way her lips had stretched across her face in a smile as she said this last.

“There’s still time for them to choose sides,” he said. “Even if...you can’t know that a certain angel is going to Fall. Except for those who were dispatched tonight, of course. Those who have already sinned. Has Aziraphale spent time with Gadreel or Lucifer?” Gabriel could not imagine it.

Michael did not answer him. She brought her fingertips together and said, “Bring me the Power Cadamiel.”

Gabriel had obeyed; finding the angel in the Forest one of the Principalities had made. He’d been confused at first, finding Aziraphale with this angel of the second choir. He had noted with some shock the way the Principality stood in the Power’s arms, pressed against him, both of them weeping, the way he tried to follow Cadamiel when Gabriel led him away. It was odd, but perhaps this oddness was the corruption Michael had meant?

He noted, too, the way Cadamiel shouted Aziraphale’s name before he Fell, not asking why he was Falling, not begging to stay, or to be forgiven, not calling out for Her, or even shouting at Michael or Gabriel with rage, not asking for anything. But no, I can’t just—Aziraphale! Aziraphale!  in that desperate, pleading tone, like the name was being ripped from his lips, like there was something about the Principality that made this unbearable to him. But what did the Principality have to do with anything? Why would a Power even notice a Principality? Shouldn’t he have called out to God, or directed any anger he’d felt at what stood between God and himself? It confused Gabriel.

“Michael?” he said, once it was done, and Cadamiel’s screams had subsided. Gabriel was not sure how to ask a question he couldn’t form. But she seemed to understand.

“Don’t ask me,” she said. “I never want to hear or speak his name again.”

Whatever Cadamiel had done to Aziraphale must have been terrible, Gabriel thought. He thought of them standing in the glade, their arms around each other. It hadn’t looked evil to Gabriel; it had looked like they took comfort from it, even as they wept. Aziraphale was clearly afraid, but he hadn’t tried to pull away from the Power. He hadn’t seemed to want to, by the way he’d tried to follow when he left. But perhaps he’d felt obligated to try to protect him when Gabriel had taken him away. Or perhaps Aziraphale really didn’t know that Cadamiel had corrupted him. Perhaps he thought he wanted to follow the Power. Certainly, he hadn’t known where Gabriel was taking him. But in any case, Cadamiel had Fallen. He must have been very wicked indeed.

He had not understood, then, when after the War had ended, when the wickedness of every one of the Fallen had been made clear to every member of the Host, Aziraphale had thrown down his blade and demanded. “Where is he?” And screamed when silence met him, when the others shuddered when Aziraphale spoke Cadamiel’s name, as if the news of the Power’s Fall was shocking and abhorrent to him. He’d screamed and screamed. There was no silencing Aziraphale and hardly any word at all from the Almighty, who had started then to speak to them less and less. Aziraphale wasn’t the only angel having trouble putting the War behind them, and dealing with this new sense of abandonment from Her, but he was the only one who wouldn’t stop raging, crying, begging, demanding. Even when he was silent, he moved slowly, sometimes quivering, and he always sat alone, never joining his choir for grooming. No one approached him, either. His wings were a sight. Gabriel had never seen anything like it, an angel so undone. So attached, and to one who had Fallen. Surely this was some kind of sin in itself? He thought he began to understand.

“What do we do?” Gabriel asked Michael. “Maybe we should make him Fall, too? He’s still corrupted, I think. It seems like it might be what he wants. He could be with—”

Don’t say that name,” Michael hissed. She paused, and Gabriel waited while her rage subsided. It wasn’t directed at him, he knew. She pursed her lips, then looked up, forcing calm. “ No. I told you. I’ll make him forget all of them,” she said. “You do the others. Not Archangels, but everyone else. Make them forget the Fallen. This is hard on everyone. We’ll...make a new start.”

***

Now, as Aziraphale stands in front of him, not looking at him, Gabriel sighs.

“Help me to understand,” he says. “Did it remind you of the War? I know the War was hard on you, Aziraphale.”

“It was a war,” Aziraphale says. “I rather think that’s part of the deal.”

“Well, especially hard on you, then.”

“I’m sure that what we just did was a great deal harder on the ones below.”

“They earned their fate,” Gabriel says, trying to keep his voice even, but he can’t keep from feeling appalled. "Their greed and rage and lust were a scourge. You see that."

“Oh, yes, of course,” Aziraphale says, absently. "But what is it you think they've learned, exactly—from being smote and turned to pillars, I mean?"

There’s a beat of silence, and Gabriel says. “Do you think you might want to come back home? Have a nice desk job? Something quiet, with no need for fighting.”

“No,” Aziraphale says. “I would much prefer to stay on Earth.”

“Good man,” Gabriel says. “You let me know if anything changes.”

But Aziraphale doesn’t seem to be listening. When he looks up again, his face is scrunched up slightly, like he’s thinking. “I would appreciate a bit more notice about what kind of task I’m being called to participate in. I didn’t even...I didn’t even bring a weapon.”

“You should always keep your weapon about you,” Gabriel says, and now he knows he looks appalled. He tries to tamp it down, tries to look sympathetic. 

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale says. “It isn’t always practical.” 

Gabriel sighs. “All right, Aziraphale. We’ll try to give you a bit more...notice.”

Aziraphale smiles. “Oh, thank you,” he says. “Well, if that’s all?”

“That’s all.”

***

The second time Aziraphale sees the demon, Crawly, it’s just before the Flood. Crawly isn’t what a demon ought to be, Aziraphale thinks, but perhaps that’s what makes him so dangerous. And he starts in again with the Questions; this time they hurt. Aziraphale so hates destruction, but he can’t do anything about it, had no hand in bringing it about. This time, at least. There’s nothing for it but to accept it, to trust that there is purpose. Why must Crawly remind him of his uselessness, of his dispensability? “Oh, not the kids; you can’t kill kids,” Crawly says. He wishes Crawly wouldn’t tease him like this—it isn’t as if he actually cares about children. He couldn’t—he’s a demon. He can’t let a demon see him cry.

And then he’s there at the Crucifixion. Crawly, tall and spare and wrapped in a abaya. Aziraphale thinks it probably wouldn’t do for them to be seen together—a man and woman, not married to one another, not related—but Crawly doesn’t seem bothered, moving in to stand close behind Aziraphale, to talk almost in his ear.  “Come to smirk at the poor bugger, have you?” he says, flippant as ever.

“Smirk? Me?”

“Well, your lot put him on there,” Crawly says, resentfully. What’s it to him? Aziraphale wonders. Here he goes again with this cruel teasing. And does he really imagine that Aziraphale would feel amused by this disgusting spectacle? He, of all angels, has no idea what the Almighty is planning. It’s ineffable. And he has to obey, and not ask questions.

“I’m not consulted on policy decisions, Crawly,” Aziraphale says evenly.

“Oh, I’ve changed it,” Crawly says. “Crowley.” It has a nice sound, Aziraphale thinks. But he doesn’t say this. He shouldn’t compliment a demon. He’d probably selected the name to be more tempting or something, anyway. In other words, he already knows it has a nice sound. Aziraphale shouldn’t admire it.

“Did you ever meet him?” he says, because Crowley is still hovering there, just out of his range of sight, and it makes him uneasy.

“Yes,” Crowley says. “I showed him all the kingdoms of the world.”

“Why?” Aziraphale says. 

“Well, he’s a carpenter from Galilei,” Crowley says. “His travel opportunities are limited...oh, that’s got to hurt.” They had hammered a stake deeper into Jesus’s arm. Aziraphale feels his eyes filling with tears, forces himself to harden. This is Her will. Somehow the demon’s presence comforts him. He holds on to it for a moment, that feeling of not being alone. When it’s certain that the Almighty’s son is dead, Aziraphale chokes back his tears and jerks himself out of it, ashamed. How could he have taken comfort in the presence of a demon? If Crowley didn’t really seem evil, well—that was no excuse. Aziraphale knows better. He turns and walks away, without a word, without a glance at Crowley, even when the demon makes a little surprised noise. When Aziraphale is halfway back to the village, he glances back and sees Crowley facing away from the crowd and the spectacle, watching him.

***

He remembers that feeling, the sense of not being alone. He remembers the way Crowley had looked, standing there there, apart from the others, staring after him, almost forlorn. Could the demon have felt the same thing he had? Just a sense of not being alone? Could demons—did they ever just want to talk? Aziraphale isn’t sure. But he had been horribly rude, and he regrets it.

The first time they’d met, in the Garden, he hadn’t really understood what was happening. First there was a shining, rippling snake, and then there was Crawly, a beautiful, fearsome looking being that Aziraphale had only slowly realized was a demon. Oh, he knew Crawly was a demon, of course, especially after what had happened with Eve and all, but he didn’t know he was a demon. The kind he’d been warned about. At least, not at first. He’d just looked like an angel with strange coloring and and unusual eyes. It didn’t really occur to Aziraphale what that meant. He’d just been a little wary because he’d approached and spoken as if he already knew Aziraphale, who certainly didn’t know him, and something about him had seemed a little sharp, a little cutting, a little less bland than angels usually did, and then there was the whole matter of his introducing sin into the Garden. But when it came down to it, there was nothing monstrous about Crawly. Not the way Aziraphale had been warned about. There were no slimy creatures clinging to his head, nothing dripping off him. He didn’t even smell of brimstone. No, he was quite lovely to look at—his body and face strong, yet delicate, his hair and black wings beautifully groomed and shining in the sun, but best of all were his eyes, wide and bright, with vertical pupils that drew you into them. And he didn’t do anything to Aziraphale. He just stood there next to the angel, smiling like they were friends, and chatting about Adam and Eve. It felt...odd, but easy . Not like talking to Gabriel or Michael, or trying to figure out what to say to the other Principalities. And by the time Aziraphale realized he was a demon demon, it was too late to do anything but continue the conversation, even when Crawly started asking Questions, which he knew was wrong. But he suddenly felt guilty because what if he’d smited Crawly? He had no idea who he’d hurt in the War (but he knew there had been a lot of them, and sometimes he hated himself for it even though it was part of the Plan). And yet here was Crawly, talking to Aziraphale, giving him a chance, reassuring him, even. So when it had rained, he’d put up his wing when Crawly seemed uneasy. In Heaven, they hadn’t ever discussed such a thing as storms before the War. Aziraphale knew that Crawly wouldn’t know what was happening. As he stepped fully under the curve of Aziraphale’s wing, tentative and careful not to get too close, Aziraphale wondered how he was supposed to feel threatened by someone afraid of rain.

It wasn’t until later, when Crawly was gone, that Aziraphale thought about it and realized that he’d been manipulated, tempted, even if it hadn’t felt that way. He shouldn’t protect demons. Even from such a dubious threat as rain. Even bright-eyed, fragile-looking demons who smiled and smelled clean. But he hadn’t wanted to move away when Crawly had stepped closer. It would have felt cruel. But shouldn’t he have felt that disgust, that instinctive desire to repel, the way Gabriel had said he would? Shouldn’t he have wished he had his sword back so he could smite the Foe, as Michael had said he should do? Why was everything so hard for him? What would Gabriel and Michael say if they knew what he’d done? He’d felt his face grow hot all over with shame. (It was odd having a body.) He would have to be more vigilant with demons.

He knows he ought to, anyway, reminds himself of it every time he sees Crawly—Crowley , but...it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel right. Not any more than it feels right to watch people drown, to stand alone and actionless as he’d watched the Almighty allow misguided barbarians to torture her kind, wise son to death.