Crawly left the Angel of the Eastern Gate behind when the rain stopped, the both of them a bit awkward. He did not quite know what to make of a nice angel who hadn’t tried to smite him immediately and had given his holy sword away. It was interesting, and he sort of wanted to stick around and maybe talk more - he hadn’t had a decent conversation in ages. But giving up a heavenly weapon seemed like the kind of thing that might get an angel in trouble, and Crawly didn’t really want to wait for an irritable flock of the heavenly host to show up and do something drastic.
So with a casual-but-friendly ‘see you later, angel,’ he took off into the desert heading west. Technically he ought to go to Hell and report back on a successful temptation, but he didn’t really feel like it. Nobody needed to know he’d already finished the assignment. Crawly was keen on finding out what the rest of the world had in it, and not so keen on trudging back down to crowded Hell where nobody said five words without a threat and everything smelled a bit like sour milk.
Just a little bit of freedom, he told himself. Bit of a break.
An angel - not the nice one - found him before he’d even hit the edge of the desert.
“Fiend!” they declaimed from all three mouths - the lion, the bull, and the eagle. “Tempter! Foul serpent!”
“Well, now,” Crawly said, backing carefully away. “There’s no need to be insulting.” He rather wished he had a heavenly sword. Not that he’d know what to do with it. He’d missed (deliberately) the real fighting when...that all happened.
The angel roared, bellowed, and screeched simultaneously, producing a holy cacophony of sound.
Crawly had never actually been struck with holy wrath before. It was definitely an experience, which was a nice way of saying ‘it hurt, a lot, sort of like having all his skin scraped off with sandpaper and his heart ripped out and his skull cracked open all at the same time.’
Which was how Crawly was the first demon after the Fall to discover discorporation.
He landed back in Hell disoriented, confused, and with a metaphysical headache. It took him a bit to sort out what had happened (desert, angel, divine wrath) and even then he wasn’t sure what had happened, except that he’d had a body and now he didn’t, and was also a snake again, a state of affairs he wasn’t precisely pleased with.
Even less pleasing was the fact that Asmodeus picked him up off the ground by the tail and said, “Hullo, Crawly. Beelzebub’s been looking for you.”
Crawly hissed and made a valiant attempt to bite the hand that held him, with no effect.
The first question Beelzebub asked was, “izzz it done?”
“Absssolutely,” Crawly said. “Ssplendidly, if I do say so myssself. Got them kicked out of the Garden.” Ugh. The hiss. Beelzebub frowned, and narrowed her eyes.
“What happened to your body?”
“Ah, well,” Crawly said. “Bit of trouble with an angel. Sssurprise attack. Showed up back here like...this.”
Beelzebub frowned. “I didn’t know they could do that.”
“Me neither,” Crowley said. All in all, it did seem like a better option than total annihilation, though. Unpleasant, but not, well. Entirely fatal.
“Troublesome,” Beelzebub said. Then fell quiet. Crawly hesitated, and after several seconds Beelzebub blinked at him, flies buzzing around her head in an unfortunate sort of halo. “You’re still here?”
“I thought maybe I could get a new corporation,” Crawly said. “Go back upstairsss. Get back to tempting. They’re having a baby, you know. Probably there’ll be more babies down the line. Lotsss of opportunities.”
Beelzebub hummed. Or, well, buzzed. “Fine by me,” she said. “I’ll have you put down for a commendation.”
“Thanksss,” Crawly said, and slithered hastily away before she could change her mind. He wasn’t staying in Hell a minute longer than necessary.
At that point there was just one form that needed a signature. (Later, of course, they multiplied; eventually there was a form to get the form to authorize the form that gave permission to get the form for a new corporation, and that was without the incident report forms.) The demon overseeing the office of corporations barely even glanced at it.
“Can’t I get one more like the last one?” Crawly asked. “I liked the hair.”
The demon just looked at him blankly. Crawly sighed, and slipped into his new skin.
The new body was awkward. Completely different center of gravity, and the hips were different too. Walking was hard enough without that complication; he was still getting used to the entire idea of having legs.
It wasn’t hard to find Adam and Eve. There was a lot of world, and only two humans - or, well, four, since apparently while he’d been in Hell they’d gone ahead and made more of themselves. Be fruitful and multiply, indeed.
They weren’t doing much interesting, though. Crawly thought about poaching the heavenly sword Adam had just left lying around, but he didn’t really know what he’d do with it other than maybe hide it somewhere.
He settled for giving Cain the runs and went to go check out the ocean.
The fish were nice, though all a bit small; he’d been hoping for a glimpse of the Leviathan, or at least a really big shark. He experimented with swimming, but ended up swallowing salty water - and what was the point of water if it was salty? One had to wonder.
Standing knee-deep and letting some fish nibble at his toes, Crawly became aware of the telltale prickle of one of the heavenly host approaching. He turned around and broke into a smile on recognizing the Angel of the Eastern Gate, still in the same body himself, and looking rather confused.
“Hullo!” Crawly said cheerfully. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
The angel stopped and stared at him, looking rather bewildered for a moment, and then his expression cleared. “You!” he said, and did not sound pleased.
“Me?” Crawly said.
“This is your fault!” the angel said, turning a rather alarming shade of scarlet. “It was you who tempted Eve and, and - got me demoted!”
“Beg pardon?” Crawly said, and then realized it was true: the angel who had formerly been a Cherub was now a Principality. “What’d you get demoted for?”
He clammed up. “It doesn’t matter,” he said loudly. “What matters is - is-” the angel drew himself up. “You can’t be allowed to walk this earth causing trouble all willy-nilly!”
“Willy-nilly,” Crawly echoed, because that was the funniest thing he’d heard so far. The angel got even pinker. Then, because he wasn’t feeling very smart, he said, “what are you going to do about it? You don’t even have your sword.”
That may have been the wrong thing to say. The angel launched himself at Crawly and tackled him into the sea, and he inhaled out of sheer surprise, and it turned out that lungs did not like being full of water.
“Agh,” he tried to say, only it came out a bit more like “glglh.”
And then he was back in Hell.
“Blesss it,” Crawly said.
If this was what Topside was like, it was going to get old very quickly.
He slithered around something squishy and flesh-colored and decided it could not possibly get as old as Hell.
Crawly just happened to be on Earth when Cain killed his brother and humans first realized that they could die, and what dying meant, and that it was permanent. They were all - all four of them or so, though of course the fourth one (what was her name again?) was not quite old enough to really get it, but did a lot of crying anyways. As far as Crawly could tell, this was sort of what human babies did.
Hell gave him a commendation for introducing the concept of murder, even though it hadn’t been his idea. He took credit for it cheerfully enough, though, since it got him on Beelzebub’s good side, and he needed all the goodwill he could get on that front.
He’d learned that there were a great many ways one could be discorporated. While he got very good at avoiding angels, including the Angel of the Eastern Gate (who seemed to constantly be lurking around somewhere nearby), there were other perils.
Particularly unpleasant was the time he did find the Leviathan, after all, and was thoroughly devoured thereby.
Not ideal, certainly.
“There is concern,” Asmodeus intoned, when Crawly applied for his twentieth corporation in a half century, “that you are burning through corporations at a frankly alarming rate.”
“Really?” Crawly said with carefully cultivated innocence.
“Yes,” Asmodeus said. “Very much concern indeed. Wasteful, it is. And while we’d normally encourage wastefulness, building these corporations from scratch is not an easy process, you see.”
“I quite understand,” Crawly said. “It’s just rather perilous up there, you know. Many...perils. Quite difficult to avoid them all.”
Asmodeus narrowed his six eyes. “Our other field agents don’t seem to have this problem.”
“Probably because your other field agents aren’t nearly as actively involved as I am,” Crawly said. “I mean, look who you’re talking to. I tempted Eve in the Garden! And talked Cain into killing his brother! And...other things!”
Asmodeus’s eyes narrowed further. “Hm.”
“Look,” Crawly said desperately. “Just...give me another corporation, and I swear I’ll keep it safe. You won’t see me again for a century. No, two. At least. Swear by our Dark Lord.”
“Hm,” Asmodeus said, but then said, “I’ll have to run the approvals up the chain of command. Wait here.”
Crawly settled back on his heels - so to speak, as much as a snake could settle back on its heels, and waited. It seemed like every time he was back Downstairs the bureaucracy got worse.
Focalor came skulking around while he was waiting, of course, and deliberately stepped on his tail. “Hey, Crawly,” he said, sneeringly. “What’s the matter, get yourself discorporated by falling off a cliff again?”
“It wasn’t a cliff,” Crawly said, curling up to present less of a target for stray feet. “It was a rockslide. Don’t you have anything to do?”
“Between jobs,” he said. “Looks like you too.”
“Just about to be sent on a very important mission, actually,” Crawly said. “Absolutely vital. Can’t tell you, though. Need to know information.”
“Sure,” Focalor said. Crawly was almost offended by the doubt, despite the fact that he was, indeed, lying.
“Oh, look,” he said quickly. “There’s Moloch now,” and to his relief Focalor’s eyes went wide and he skeddadled in a hurry. No one really wanted to deal with the Princes of Hell if they could avoid it.
He’d have to come up with something good to keep Hell off his back for the next century or so. And also keep himself properly alive and un-discorporated this time.
Should be doable. Absolutely.
He ran into the Angel of the Eastern Gate almost immediately, in the huddle of tents that its inhabitants were calling a town. They were mostly all cousins, but it seemed to be going all right for them so far. And there was the angel, miracling up a well in the desert. “Why, look here!” he said loudly. “Here’s water! It’s a miracle!”
Crawly froze, like that would keep him from being noticed.
Nobody seemed to notice, and the Angel turned away with a huff and then saw Crawly. He did a double take.
“Ah,” Crawly said. “I’ve got to be going now-”
“Oh, dear,” the angel said, which was such a baffling response that Crawly stopped instead of doing the sensible thing and running away as fast as he could. The angel sort of jogged over to him, and he was still in the same old corporation, blond and curly and a little squishy. Oh, bollocks, Crawly thought. And he’d promised he’d not be back in Hell for a century. They were never going to give him a new corporation.
He braced himself to summon some occult powers, maybe some hellfire, though he was pretty sure that even as a Principality the angel was more powerful than he was.
“Hello again,” the angel said awkwardly. “I wanted to - ah. Apologize.”
Crawly blinked at him. “Sorry?”
“Yes, that’s right,” the angel said. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to, well. Kill you. I didn’t realize that was...well, possible, I suppose. Heard of it, theoretically, but never actually…” he trailed off.
“You,” Crawly said, feeling the need to be absolutely clear, “are apologizing to me.”
“Yes?” the angel eyed him. “I suppose I am. Doing that.” He paused. “Now that you say...that’s not entirely usual, is it? An angel, apologizing to a demon.” He laughed uncertainly.
“It is a bit unorthodox,” Crawly said. “But I don’t mind. Won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t!” the angel said. “Of course not, that’d be…” he frowned. “Well, I don’t think that my people would much like it.”
“Probably not,” Crawly said. “Mine either.” This was not going at all how he’d expected. Crawly was beginning to think he might get out of this without being discorporated at all.
“I don’t think I ever got your name,” the angel said after a brief and perhaps slightly awkward silence.
“Probably not,” Crawly said.
“Well - I’m Aziraphale,” the angel said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Is it really, Crawly wanted to say, but didn’t, because it seemed that might be pushing his luck a bit.
“What’s yours?” the angel prompted after a bit. Crawly grimaced. It had begun to occur to him that ‘Crawly’ was not a very good name, and not particularly conducive to one gaining respect. It was no ‘Asmodeus’ or ‘’Belial’ or even ‘Ligur.’ He’d actually begun to think about changing it, which was not really the Done Thing, but no one had actually said it wasn’t allowed.
“You aren’t going to make me guess, are you?” the angel said, sounding a bit apprehensive. “I’d just be sort of - smashing sounds together.”
“Crawly,” he said reluctantly. “It’s Crawly.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, and added after a brief pause, “that’s nice.”
That, Crawly thought, was the most scathing response he’d ever gotten to anything he’d said. He was definitely changing his name. Would just have to think of something good and easy to remember. “Thanks,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” the angel said, and he actually sounded sincere. And then jumped a bit. “Ah! I suppose you’re here to do some - sinister deeds, is that right? Demonic wiling?” He sounded almost hopeful. Crawly shrugged.
“Something like that,” he said evasively. “Figured I might spoil some food. Or something. I’m still thinking about it.”
“You know I can’t let you do that,” Aziraphale said. He didn’t sound terribly pleased about it, just sort of reproachful.
“Suppose you’re still in a bit of hot water with your bosses over that whole sword issue, is that it?” Crawly said, not without sympathy. Aziraphale pressed his lips together but didn’t deny it. “Well,” Crawly said after a moment. “Don’t suppose there’s anyone to know if I just...move along somewhere else. As a thanks for holding back on the smiting.”
Aziraphale looked profoundly relieved. “Oh! Really?”
Crawly shrugged. “Sure. Why not? Heard there’s some other continents somewhere with really weird birds. I’ll just send a report back saying I put someone’s dates in someone else’s tent, made it look like they stole them, people will get upset...it’s not as though they’re going to check.”
“You’d lie?” Aziraphale sounded shocked. Crawly shrugged again.
“Of course not!”
“You ought to try it,” Crawly said. “Makes everything much easier.”
“I couldn’t possibly,” Aziraphale said. “It would be - well - dishonest.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Crowley said. “But suit yourself.” He fidgeted a little. “Anyway, I’m off. Hope I don’t see you later.”
For just a second he thought the angel looked disappointed. “Right,” he said after a moment. “Yes.” And added, as what sounded like an afterthought, “behave yourself, demon.”
“Constitutionally incapable,” Crowley said. Aziraphale laughed, though he quickly turned it into a cough.
Crowley took off before the angel changed his mind about smiting, feeling very odd about the whole conversation. On the other hand, it was also the most enjoyable one he’d had since - well. His first conversation with the same angel.
He certainly was a strange one, wasn’t he.
There was a new crowd on Earth.
They were angels, though they didn’t much act like it. If there was any justice in the world (there wasn’t, Crawly knew that), they’d have Fallen already, but apparently either God was being nice or God hadn’t noticed yet.
It was Crowley’s misfortune to run into a gaggle of them while he was in the middle of an elaborate tempting involving a donkey, three figs, and a floor mat.
“Demon,” one said, and they all turned to look at him like a flock of predatory birds. Crawly was seized by a very snakelike urge to slither under the nearest rock as quickly as possible. Three of them were Cherubs, the last one a Throne, and that didn’t bode well for his chances in a fight.
He drew himself up instead, and tried to look properly intimidating. “That’s right,” he said. “And you’d best ssstep off if you know what’sss good for you.”
The Throne laughed. “Cute,” she said.
He’d been right about his chances. She slammed him into the dirt face-first. He thought himself a bit more snake-ish, twisted around and bit her. She didn’t like that at all, and expressed as much by kicking him very hard in the torso several times. His venom did for one of the Cherubs who tried to join in, and had another one on the ground howling, but by the time the Throne stopped his corporation was protesting vehemently.
The Throne squatted down next to him, and Crawly thought himself into a snake and made, so to speak, a run for it.
She caught his tail. He bit her twice more, feeling a little satisfied that the previous ones were starting to turn purple and black. If nothing else, at least she’d lose the arm.
Crawly was pleased with himself about that, at least until she crushed his skull under her heel.
That was...legitimately traumatizing. It wasn’t like it was his brain getting squished into mush, not really, but it still wasn’t a fun feeling.
The whole thing was a nasty, messy business. The first he heard about it was a recall notice from Downstairs, particularly smug. Curious, he did some nosing around. Didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. Not the End of the World, but certainly a lot of peoples’ worlds were going to end.
It seemed a bit like overkill to him, but nobody’d asked.
He ditched his current corporation and went back down to Hell before the real deluge started. Most of Hell was celebrating like they could take personal credit for the whole thing.
You know when they’re all dead there’s not going to be much in the way of temptation opportunities, Crawly thought about pointing out. He wasn’t feeling good about the whole thing at all. Humans were fun. They were interesting, and they made choices, and you never quite knew what they were going to do.
The one upside of the whole thing was that Heaven cut their field department down to one agent after the Flood, and so Hell did the same, which meant Crawly was much less likely to run afoul of any unexpected members of the Heavenly Host. He could avoid one angel.
He spent the next many, many years taking a long vacation on one of the new islands. Sent a few fake reports Downstairs. It was sort of fun, making up temptations. Even if he was pretty sure no one down there was appreciating them.
Crawly checked back in on humanity and found they’d been busy. There were a lot more of them again, for one thing. Also something going on in Egypt that smelled like Heaven had its hands in it, which meant that if he had any sense he should keep well away from there.
GO YOU TO EGYPT, CRAWLY, said the note that a rather miserable looking vulture coughed up on his foot. It smelled like brimstone.
Humanity had been busy. The Hebrews had left Canaan at some point, and didn’t seem to be doing terribly well. Honestly, Crawly didn’t see why he was needed here at all. Wrath, Envy, Lust, murder, general dickishness...it seemed like the humans were covering a lot of ground all on their own.
Oh, bless it. Of all the rotten luck. Crawly turned around and raised his eyebrows at the angel - Aziraphale - trying to look nonchalant and undisturbed.
“Hello again,” he said.
“Yes, hello,” the angel said. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Crawly said automatically. The angel squinted at him.
“Really? ‘Nothing?’ That seems unlikely. Up to no good, I’ll wager.”
“Sort of in the job description, innit,” Crawly said, looking for an escape route. “Speaking of - better be going, think there’s a temptation calling down in Waset-”
“Hang on,” Aziraphale said. “Stay where you are.”
Crawly stayed. And then wondered why he’d done what an angel told him rather than the sensible thing of running, or, even better, attacking.
“I’ve been wondering where you went,” the angel said, sounding a bit accusatory about it.
“You know, around,” Crawly said. “What’s it to you?”
“Well, I - ought to know what nefarious deeds my eternal enemy is doing, oughtn’t I?” Aziraphale said. Crawly shrugged. “What am I meant to tell my superiors, that I don’t know where you are?” Crawly opened his mouth, and Aziraphale said, “don’t tell me I could lie.”
“I won’t, then,” Crawly said. “Look, angel, you really want to know what I’ve been doing? Sunning myself. Relaxing. On a beach. There’s this great reef-”
Aziraphale gaped at him. “Relaxing on a beach?”
“Yeah,” Crawly said. “Basically.”
Aziraphale blinked at him several times. “Ah,” he said, and then seemed lost for words.
“Great catching up with you,” Crawly said, and started to back away.
“Hang on - Crawly-”
“It’s Crowley,” he said, and realized when he said it that it was, indeed, Crowley, and he liked that much better, and was going to stick with it. Aziraphale looked even more perplexed, and he said, “my name. S’Crowley now. Never did like ‘Crawly’ much.”
“You can...do that?” Aziraphale said. Crowley shrugged.
Aziraphale didn’t seem to have an immediate answer to that.
“What did you want?” Crowley asked, when he didn’t say anything for a while. Oddly, the angel flushed.
“Never you mind,” he said snappishly. “Just - behave yourself! I’ll be watching.” And he swept off.
“Huh,” Crowley said. He found himself wondering if Aziraphale was, perhaps, a little bit mad. He was certainly odd. Crowley liked odd.
Also, this was the second time they’d met where Aziraphale hadn’t even made a token effort at discorporating Crowley, which was surprisingly upstanding of him.
Maybe Egypt wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
The plagues hit. Which, well, wasn’t exactly fun, but he could’ve managed the blood and frogs and gnats and flies and pestilence of livestock and boils. The thunderstorm of hail and fire was a bit much, though.
The fire just had to be blessed, didn’t it.
Heavenly fire caused the kind of hurt that carried over post-discorporation.
Crowley hissed a few curses in the direction of God and Heaven and slithered weakly into a dark corner of Hell to work on repairing himself.
The question occurred to him: is it really worth this?
Looking around (hot, dark, crowded, miserable, the don’t lick the walls sign posted), he decided that yeah, still was.
Did seem like, considering human fragility and the variety of everyday perils, it was a miracle of its own that any of them stayed alive up there at all.
“Been a while, Crawly,” said the demon who took his corporation application form.
“It’s Crowley, actually,” Crowley said. The demon gave him a long, steady look and then stamped the form.
“Good luck with that, Crawly,” she said. He decided against correcting her again.
Lacking specific orders, Crowley went looking for the angel, figuring that was as good a place to start as any. His new corporation felt a little funny; he’d gotten accustomed to the old one, and this one was at least two handspans taller. Took some getting used to.
Either Aziraphale was shocked to see him loitering around the edges of the Israelite camp, or that was just what his face looked like.
“You look absolutely wretched,” was the first thing he said.
“Thanks,” Crowley said. He felt it, a bit, but he hadn’t wanted to keep lurking around Downstairs waiting, with every chance another demon might decide they didn’t like his face.
Aziraphale squinted. “What happened to you?”
“Heavenly fire raining from the skies,” Crowley said sourly. “Remember?”
“Pardon?” Aziraphale said. Crowley stared at him.
“Egypt,” he said. “Rivers of blood, loads of boils, fiery hail? Ring a bell?”
“Oh!” Aziraphale said, with dawning comprehension. “Yes, right, that does-” He froze, and Crowley could almost see the moment of realization. “Are you saying you were discorporated?”
“No,” Crowley snapped. “I just nipped back Downstairs to wait out the divine wrath.” Aziraphale began to look oddly relieved, and Crowley said, “yes, I was discorporated, that’s what happenss when there’s blessssed fire coming down like rain.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said after a beat. “I suppose that would make sense.”
“No shit it would,” Crowley said. Aziraphale cleared his throat. He looked...well, not shocked, anymore. Just sort of uncomfortable.
“That’s...unfortunate,” he said.
“One word for it,” Crowley said coldly. He didn’t know why he was here. “Anyway. I’ve got wiling to do. See you around, probably.”
Aziraphale didn’t stop him. Bit dense, wasn’t he, even for an angel.
Buggering heaven, he hurt. Blessed fire left a lingering mark on occult matter, it seemed.
“Bit odd, innit,” Crowley said, sidling up to a couple Reubenites. “Having a god without a temple. Not right. Might be nice to have a placeholder, eh? Stand-in of sorts during this transitionary period?”
There, he thought spitefully. Let the angel deal with that.
Crowley thought he was getting better at this corporation business. He hadn’t lost one in over four centuries (after a spate of unfortunate incidents during the time of the Shofetim), and he’d been busy. He’d perfected his techniques, too: direct temptation was so old school. Much better - and faster - to just set up a few dominoes and let humanity collectively sin themselves into Hell.
One little wrench in the works and bam! people damning themselves left and right. That was efficiency.
If not always that satisfying. He could understand wanting the odd personal touch here and there.
He didn’t run into Aziraphale again, either, though that was partly because he made a concerted effort not to. Even if it was a bit lonely, and he kept wondering what the fellow was up to, and wishing for a bit of decent conversation with someone who really understood...angels and demons, and all that. Bad idea. And even if Aziraphale hadn’t tried discorporating him since the first time, which apparently had been an accident, angels were still angels.
Even, Crowley thought, not particularly good ones who seemed to enjoy indulging in human pleasures a little too much.
Then they both ended up at King Hezekiah’s wedding party and, well, sooner or later Aziraphale was going to notice, and anyway Crowley was a bit drunk and more than a bit bored.
“What d’you think of the wine?” he asked, sidling up, and Aziraphale jumped like a cat that’d had its tail yanked.
“Craw- Crowley!” he said. “Who put you on the invite list?”
Crowley was stupidly pleased by the fact that Aziraphale remembered his new name. No one Downstairs used it. “I know a guy,” he said mysteriously, rather than admitting that he’d just snuck in and no one seemed sober enough to care. Aziraphale looked very interested, and he added quickly, “doesn’t matter. Been a while, hm?”
“It has,” Aziraphale said. “I was actually wondering if you’d-” he cut off, abruptly. Crowley raised his eyebrows.
“If I’d what?”
“Nothing,” Aziraphale said, too quickly. “I just don’t like not knowing where my enemy is, that’s all.”
“Right,” Crowley said, narrowing his eyes. Aziraphale cleared his throat.
“The wine,” he said. “It’s very nice.”
“I spiked some of the barrels,” Crowley said casually. Aziraphale’s eyes widened.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said with a grin. “Anyway - new corporation?”
Aziraphale looked down at himself as though he’d forgotten, his face doing something strange. “Oh,” he said. “Yes.”
“When’d that happen?” Crowley asked. “And how? This your first one?”
Aziraphale’s expression turned uncomfortable. “Yes, actually,” he snapped. “I’m very careful. It was just - there was a camel involved. Loathsome creatures.”
Crowley stared at him, and then hooted with laughter. “A camel!” he said, delighted. Aziraphale drew himself up, face tightening.
“I don’t see as it is a laughing matter,” he said stiffly.
“I dunno,” Crowley said. “Seems pretty funny to me.”
“It hurt,” Aziraphale burst out. “And I got a lecture about carelessness, and my new corporation felt strange for the longest time, and - the whole thing was just dreadfully unpleasant!”
He sounded, Crowley realized, honestly distressed, and he stopped laughing.
“Oh,” he said. “Well...yeah.”
“Is it always like that?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley shrugged. “More or less.”
“But that’s…” Aziraphale was giving him the strangest look. “You always seem to look different. Are they all...new corporations?”
Crowley blinked at him. “What did you think they were?”
“I don’t know,” Aziraphale said. “Shape-shifting? You can turn into a snake.”
“Yes, but that’s-” Crowley waved a hand. “Different.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale said after a moment. He had that strange look on again.
“What?” Crowley asked peevishly. Aziraphale shook his head.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing. Never mind. More wine?”
Crowley narrowed his eyes suspiciously in his direction, but decided to let it go. “Please,” he said.
That marked the first time that he got drunk with Aziraphale. Very much not the last, however. Crowley discovered that Aziraphale had an appalling singing voice. Or at least he did when he was drunk.
The entire thing was altogether too much fun. “We should do this again,” Crowley said, and took off before Aziraphale could come out with a definite ‘no.’
The Temple fell. The exile came and went (sort of), and some Macedonian conquered a large swath of the world, then died and left an admirable amount of chaos in his wake. Mattathias ben Johanan started a revolt and his sons founded a dynasty. Rome rose, and promptly set about trying to do Alexander III of Macedon one better in the conquering department. Jesus came and went, and accidentally founded a new religion.
The Temple fell again.
Meanwhile, he and Aziraphale drifted in and out of each others’ orbits, generally assigned to the same place at the same time, which made getting things done hard.
Crowley lied on a lot of his reports.
He had decided that Aziraphale was most definitely mad, and that was possibly why Heaven had stuck him on Earth, because mad angels were probably embarrassing. Bit of a spot on the whole ‘perfection’ bit. In Crowley’s opinion that made him, if not a good angel, certainly good company.
They ate oysters in Rome, and noodles in China, and wild boar in Alba. Aziraphale liked food. A lot.
They didn’t discuss the fact that roughly a quarter of the time they ran into each other Crowley had a new corporation, though there was a little line that appeared between Aziraphale’s eyebrows that Crowley read as ‘disapproval’ or, more worryingly, ‘concern.’
“What’s your problem,” Crowley snapped over dinner one night when Aziraphale kept staring at him in silence. He startled.
“Nothing!” he said quickly. “Nothing. Have you tried the gravy?”
Crowley decided to leave it at that, though he wasn’t happy about it. Their relationship was still...well, he wasn’t going to count on it. You know what they say about angels and demons. And you never knew when things might go south and a dinner companion could turn into an enemy, or heavenly bliss could turn into…
As a general rule, he tried to make it a policy not to count on much of anything.
Crowley remembered his first time being exorcised. Wasn’t the kind of thing you forgot.
It’d be one thing if he’d been possessing someone at the time. Which he wasn’t; Crowley’d never much liked possession. It always felt a little funny. Sort of like wearing someone else’s clothes that didn’t fit very well. But that would’ve been one thing. Still bad, still hurt, but not the worst that could happen. Could even be entertaining if you were in the right frame of mind.
The other kind, though, when it was your own corporation getting chained up and repeatedly blessed while some enthusiastic priest menaced you - that was bad. The one saving grace was that the holy water’d been improperly sanctified, so it just burned a little as opposed to causing immediate annihilation.
The real kicker was the part where said enthusiastic priest somehow actually managed to rip ethereal occult essence from physical occult matter.
“You bassstard,” were Crowley’s last words.
It wasn’t as bad as his first discorporation. Just ‘spine ripped out of your body’ bad. Least it was over fast.
Crowley couldn’t say the same for the ‘talking to’ he got in Hell.
He surfaced eventually in a new century and went on a spree of particularly nasty tempting before going to sleep for a decade.
“Where have you been,” Aziraphale hissed when they ran into each other in Alexandria.
“Sleeping,” Crowley said shortly.
“You have a new corporation.”
Aziraphale gave him a vaguely wounded look. “Yes, I noticed. What happened?”
“Exorcism,” Crowley said. “Don’t recommend it.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale said, shuffling his feet a bit. “Yes, I can imagine that wouldn’t be...enjoyable.”
“Not really.” Crowley made some of the fruits in a nearby stall go rotten, though he left them looking perfect on the outside. Aziraphale was still frowning at him, and Crowley sighed and relented. “I’m back now, angel. Are you going to keep fussing?”
Aziraphale pinked a bit. “I’m not - fussing. Ask a simple question-!”
“Get a simple answer,” Crowley said, and grinned, feeling cheered in spite of himself. “How’ve things been up here?”
“Oh, you know,” Aziraphale said vaguely. “Fine. Quiet. You didn’t miss much.”
Crowley didn’t think he believed that. He hadn’t been in a single century that really qualified as ‘quiet.’ “Really?”
“Absolutely,” Aziraphale said, and it was a very convincing bald-faced lie, for an angel. Crowley narrowed his eyes.
“You’re lying,” he said, and Aziraphale jumped, and then puffed up like a pigeon.
“I’m - I would never! How dare you accuse me of such a thing!”
“Cause you are,” Crowley said. “Proud of you, angel! Took you long enough to figure it out.”
Aziraphale sputtered, and glared at him, and said rather huffily, “I don’t know why I bother.” He whacked Crowley rather pointedly with one wing when he took off.
“Admit it! I’m a bad influence!” he shouted after, to no response. Crowley chuckled about it for the rest of the afternoon, though, in a much sunnier mood.
The Crusades were messy. Crowley received a commendation for ‘inciting war and associated atrocities,’ even though he didn’t actually do anything. He took credit anyway, though. Someone might as well.
Of course he tripped over Aziraphale in the smoking aftermath of the sack of Constantinople, sitting on a heap of rubble and looking despondent. Crowley sat down next to him.
“If you gloat,” Aziraphale began, his voice tight.
“Why would I?” Crowley interrupted. “Wasn’t my idea. None of this was.”
Aziraphale’s head swiveled toward him. “Don’t lie to me,” he said bitterly. “This has Hell’s fingerprints all over it. If it wasn’t you it was certainly your side.”
“You sure about that?” Crowley asked. “Pretty certain this is just...good old humanity all on its own.”
“Free will, angel,” Crowley said snappishly. “That’s what it is. Free blessed will.”
Aziraphale fell silent. His shoulders slumped and he stared at the ground.
“I saw one of the Crusaders kill a mother and child,” Aziraphale said. “Cut her down right in front of her daughter, and then killed her daughter too. I didn’t dare try to resurrect them. The Home Office has gotten very strict about that sort of thing.” Aziraphale looked ill. “I wish I’d done it anyway.”
“Yeah,” Crowley said awkwardly. It didn’t feel like there was a lot else he could say.
“I just don’t see the point of-” Aziraphale cut off abruptly with a sharp intake of breath, and glance quickly at Crowley like he was trying to see if he’d noticed. That sounded like doubt, Crowley thought, and almost said, but it felt...mean.
Which probably meant he ought to say it, but he didn’t want to.
“It’s ineffable,” Aziraphale said, to himself, like a mantra. “Only God knows all ends. I cannot presume to judge what I do not understand.”
Crowley wondered how many times Aziraphale’d had to tell himself that, and if he really believed it.
“It’s a bad business,” Crowley said after a few beats of silence. “The whole thing.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said after a lengthy quiet. “I suppose it is.” He mumbled, like he was afraid of being overheard.
Crowley leaned back on his hands. “I’m off for some business with the Khamag Mongol.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to hang around for the rest of the sack?” Aziraphale said snippily. “Seems like just the sort of thing your kind would enjoy.”
That stung more than Crowley wanted to admit. He got up and brushed off his clothes. “Absolutely,” he said bitterly. “I’ll just go bathe in some virgin’s blood, shall I? Perhaps follow up by devouring a baby.”
He stalked away without waiting for Aziraphale’s response, fuming and, more troublingly, hurt.
You are getting dangerously attached.
Crowley was distracted enough by turning over that worrying prospect that he didn’t notice the sword that ran him through.
“Bugger,” he said, or rather, gargled. He wasn’t even dead when his attacker started rifling through his pockets. Despite the significant hole in his chest, he lingered painfully on until the young man noticed he was still alive and cut his throat. Crowley had just enough wherewithal to give him a nasty case of shingles before he was summarily ejected from both his corporation and the mortal plane in a final burst of spectacular agony.
Crowley was given to understand that there were demons who were into that sort of thing. It would probably make things a lot easier if he were one of them.
Everyone got a bit twitchy in the 1300s. People started getting suspicious of the dark glasses. They seemed to think Crowley was hiding something, which he was, but that wasn’t any of their business.
The people of the town he’d been sent to, well, fuck with, didn’t seem to agree. Someone ripped off his glasses and that was that. Couldn’t seem to decide if he was a demon or a witch, but either way they didn’t like him. They liked it even less when the attempt at burning did absolutely nothing.
They were just debating whether to try stoning or pressing when Aziraphale turned up. He took one look at Crowley, another look at the townspeople, and said, ‘disperse!’, his voice echoing with impressive divine authority. He also put the fire out, which was unnecessary but very dramatic.
They stared at each other while the people wandered off, looking a little dazed. Crowley miracled himself out of his bonds and stretched.
“You didn’t need to do that,” he said. “I had it all under control.”
“Of course you did,” Aziraphale said, frowning. He looked annoyed. “It certainly looked it.”
“Fire can’t hurt me,” Crowley said. “You know that.”
“And what if they’d decided to hang you?” Aziraphale said. “Or drown you, or - what if they had a priest and tried holy water?”
“I can handle myself,” Crowley said, a bit annoyed himself, now.
“You don’t,” Aziraphale said. “It hasn’t even been a century and you have a new corporation, again.”
“Yeah,” Crowley said. “Some arse got me in Constantinople. Right after I last saw you, actually.”
Aziraphale’s eyebrows pulled further together. He looked decidedly unhappy. “But that’s…” He coughed. “Rather unfortunate. Don’t you...get in trouble? With…” He made a vague gesture toward the ground. Crowley shrugged, trying not to think too hard about what had happened when he did ‘get in trouble.’
“They don’t love it.”
“What if they didn’t let you come back?”
They’d threatened. But the thing was that most demons didn’t want this job. And Crowley had a fantastic record. Never mind half of it was a pack of lies. “They would. Eventually.”
“But-” Aziraphale cut off and pressed his lips together.
“Why,” Crowley said with a grin, miracling himself a new set of sunglasses and sliding them on. “Would you miss me?”
Aziraphale sputtered a bit. “Don’t be absurd,” he said. “I wouldn’t - I would hardly-” He coughed again. “It isn’t as though we’re friends.”
That hurt. It shouldn’t have hurt, but it did, even if it was true, they weren’t, they were mortal enemies. Just mortal enemies who sometimes sat down for lunch, or dinner, or drinks. “Course not,” Crowley said stiffly. “That’d just be ridiculous.”
“Absolutely,” Aziraphale said. “Ridiculous.” He cleared his throat. “Well. I’d best be going.”
“Why did you even show up here?” Crowley asked. Aziraphale blushed.
“I was going to - er - bless a couple the next town over. She’s been trying to conceive for months. The Head Office said ‘now, see, Aziraphale, why don’t you just go off and take care of that?’ And I just happened to notice…”
He looked uncomfortable. Crowley suspected he was lying, but he couldn’t quite work out why he would. “Mm,” he said.
“So I’ll just - be doing that,” Aziraphale said. “Have a pleasant evening - ah, that is, cease your infernal activities, foul fiend, lest you face divine wrath.” He looked almost bewildered by the words coming out of his mouth. Crowley could not help but find it charming.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Crowley was in Spain when the Inquisition was in full swing. He didn’t want to be there, but that was the assignment. Nobody asked what he wanted. It was an honor, Dagon told him. All that misery and suffering, all kinds of opportunities for temptation and damnation.
“What fun,” Crowley said.
“Indeed,” said Dagon. Most demons didn’t have an ear for sarcasm.
So there he was, in Spain, mostly getting along all right. No one should have had any reason to look twice at him.
Someone, Crowley thought, had ratted him out. Not a human - humans wouldn’t’ve known to use blessed chains. He was pretty sure this wasn’t Above, though. Not quite the right style. Someone Downstairs, jealous, trying to take him down a notch. Or several. Or perhaps all of them.
Humans were really, Crowley thought distantly as one of his shoulders popped out of its socket, astonishingly inventive. All that imagination. In some ways Hell had nothing on them.
Thumbscrews, for instance. Absolutely ingenious. Simple, basic, and very, very effective.
At least whoever had tattled seemed to have left it at ‘demonic’ rather than ‘demon,’ based on the line of questioning. Could’ve been a lot worse, otherwise. Though at the moment, with stripes of flesh being stripped off one of his arms, he was having a hard time thinking of how.
“Have you consorted with demons?” one of the Inquisitors asked. Crowley laughed, maybe a little wildly.
“You have no idea,” he said. “Ssso many. Jussst. Demonsss everywhere.”
The Inquisitor frowned at him. “Is that a confession?”
“Absssolutely,” Crowley said.
“What were the names of the demons with whom you consorted?”
“Beelzebub,” Crowley said. “Dagon. Moloch ssstepped on my tail once.”
The Inquisitor blinked. “Your...tail?”
“Yep,” Crowley said. He was feeling dizzy. Woozy. “I was a sssnake at the time.”
“You are claiming that you changed shapes,” the Inquisitor said slowly. “That you are able to take the form of a serpent.”
“Sure,” Crowley said. “Fangsss and...all that. Like...you know what sssome sssnakes have?” He grinned, though it was really more baring his teeth. Fangs, now.
And spat venom in the Inquisitor’s face.
Oh, they didn’t like that at all.
Aziraphale turned up while they were stretching him on the rack. They’d shoved a rag in his mouth to keep him from spitting, and his corporation was a mess of pain and blood. Things were starting to go the kind of fizzy that meant he was beginning to detach from his current physical form.
Hell wasn’t going to be happy. There’d be forms to fill out. Excuses to make. Torture to endure. Of all the rotten luck.
“Crowley?” he heard, and blinked until his blurry eyesight focused on a dimly familiar face and a substantially more familiar ethereal signature.
“You aren’t meant to be in here,” one of the Inquisitors said, taking a step toward him.
“Be at peace,” Aziraphale said, rather peevishly, and the man wobbled and then went to sleep. The other three gaped at him, and then at Aziraphale.
“You, too,” he said to them. “Be at peace.” It was definitely more command than reassurance, this time, and they all dropped like stones.
Crowley stayed where he was and focused on breathing despite the fact that part of his ribcage had been stove in and he’d lost an appalling amount of blood onto the floor, and the chains he was currently wearing weren’t letting him do anything about that.
“Hullo, angel,” he managed. Aziraphale was staring at him with an expression of abject horror.
“Crowley,” he said, voice decidedly odd, and started toward him, but consciousness was rapidly slipping through his fingers, as was his tenuous hold on his corporation. He thought he felt, for just a moment, a flutter of Grace, but afterward he was sure he’d imagined it.
Predictably, no one in Hell admitted to setting him up. And after they finished disciplining him, he certainly wasn’t hanging around waiting for an apology.
Crowley knew that wounds that caused discorporation didn’t actually stuck around after the fact, but that didn’t stop him from feeling as though he’d been put through a wringer. He could’ve sworn his shoulders still felt funny, and he kept checking to make sure his fingers were working right. Honshu was nice, at least.
He’d only been there maybe a year when Aziraphale showed up. He practically felt him land. Crowley didn’t bother to try to hide himself, or avoid him; he found a nice tea house and set up to wait.
He didn’t have to wait long. Aziraphale showed up within the hour. He paused in the door, stared at Crowley for several seconds, then walked stiffly over.
When he said nothing, just stood there, Crowley leaned back on his hands and said, “Nice to see you too. I’m doing just peachy, thanks.”
Aziraphale pressed his lips together into a line, but he sat down. And looked around, his hands folded on the table. “This doesn’t seem like your sort of spot.”
“Not really,” Crowley said. “But it seemed like yours, maybe.”
“That’s very...thoughtful.” Aziraphale sounded strained. Crowley’s eyebrows twitched.
“Something got your feathers out of joint?”
“No,” Aziraphale said tersely. His hands folded more tightly together.
“Thought you didn’t lie,” Crowley said. “Thought that was unangelic.”
“I’m not lying,” Aziraphale said, his face somehow pinching even more. “My feathers are fine.”
Crowley narrowed his eyes. “Did you get some kind of reprimand? Upstairs giving you trouble? I told you, the best thing to do is just-”
“Are we not going to talk about what happened?” Aziraphale interrupted. Crowley blinked at him, behind his eyeglasses.
“The last time I saw you.” Aziraphale was sitting very straight, and Crowley’s skin prickled with slight unease.
“Right,” he said uncomfortably. “Yeah.” He didn’t particularly like thinking about his discorporations. And that one had been...especially bad. Maybe top five. “Bad timing on your part, eh? Could’ve shown up a few hours earlier, would’ve been helpful-” He stopped. Aziraphale looked...stricken. It was not an expression Crowley liked seeing on his face. “I’m joking.”
“It isn’t funny.”
“Just a little,” Crowley said. Aziraphale frowned, and drew himself up even straighter.
“I wanted to - assure you that I had no idea-”
Crowley waved him off. “I didn’t think so. You’re not that nasty. Nah, this was someone Downstairs having it in for me.” Aziraphale took a sharp breath in. “Happens.”
“You seem very...cavalier about this,” Aziraphale said.
“Like I said,” Crowley said. “Happens. I mean. This time around was - well, bad, but it’s not like I’m dead.”
Somehow Aziraphale’s lips thinned further. “How many times have you been discorporated?”
“That’s an awfully personal question,” Crowley said. “Gosh, angel, buy me dinner first.”
Aziraphale’s nostrils flared, though a very faint blush touched his already somewhat rosy cheeks. “Answer the question.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” Crowley said, stretching out his legs so they were thoroughly in Aziraphale’s space. He didn’t know why he didn’t want to answer. Just that he didn’t. Aziraphale frowned severely at him, and Crowley relented. “All right, all right. Lost count, okay? Went through a bad string back in the BCs. Got better at it since then, though there was the run-in with the plague that one time-” He shuddered. Aziraphale’s lips had practically vanished.
“You’ve lost count.”
“I suppose you haven’t,” Crowley said, beginning to feel a bit peevish. “Good for you, then.”
“That isn’t-” Aziraphale cut off and sucked in a breath. He turned away and stared rather fixedly at one of the walls. “I’ve gotten rather used to having you around, you know,” he said finally, voice gone a bit odd. “You’re not terrible. As far as demons go.”
Crowley frowned. “You don’t have to be insulting.”
“I just mean,” Aziraphale said more loudly, “that I shouldn’t like to have to deal with a - a replacement.”
“Not likely,” Crowley said. “Not with my record up here.”
“It’s much more likely when you’re so careless!”
Aziraphale’s voice rose sharply. A few people glanced round, promptly forgot why, and went back to their conversations. Crowley leaned back a little. “You’re upset,” he said blankly.
“Yes - no,” Aziraphale said. “I’m not - upset, I’m just a bit - a bit bothered that I could be inconvenienced by your indifference to staying in one piece!”
“You sound upset,” Crowley said.
“I’m not,” Aziraphale said upsetfully. “I’m just - I wish you would be a little more cautious, that’s all.”
Crowley stared blankly at Aziraphale. Aziraphale sat back and stared at the wall.
“You’re telling me to be more careful not to get discorporated,” he said slowly. Aziraphale didn’t say anything.
It honestly had not occurred to Crowley that there might be something wrong with his admittedly rather casual approach to discorporation. That it might be a problem. Hell only disliked it as a waste of time and resources. At least a few demons - clearly - thought he deserved it.
He certainly would not have thought that it would matter to anyone.
And sure, it might just be a matter of convenience, and Aziraphale not liking the notion of dealing with a different demon, but Crowley was...touched. Yes, that was the word.
“Honestly,” Aziraphale said, and his voice sounded odd again, “someone might think you were trying to get yourself killed.”
“Course not,” Crowley said promptly, because he wasn’t. It was just something that...happened, sometimes.
“Yes, well,” Aziraphale said, “you might forgive someone for wondering.”
“Not exactly the forgiving type,” Crowley said. Aziraphale shot him a look. Crowley decided not to ask is that what you think because he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer, or maybe just didn’t want to put Aziraphale in the position of having to say. “Like I said. It just…”
“Happens.” Aziraphale sighed. “Well, maybe you could try to make it happen a little less. I don’t want-” He coughed, and cleared his throat. “As I said. I shouldn’t like to know what sort of replacement your infernal masters might send in your place.”
Are you saying you like me? Crowley thought. He almost said it, too. But he was pretty sure if he did Aziraphale would run away and he wouldn’t see him again for another three centuries, or else he’d scoff and say don’t be absurd and either way it would be unpleasant.
He tapped his fingers on his leg and said, “think I can probably keep clear of any more Inquisitions.”
Aziraphale jerked his head in a nod.
“And plagues,” Crowley said. “And Crusaders. And exorcisms. And avenging angels - ‘cept maybe one, I guess. And-”
Aziraphale was looking distressed again. “Crowley,” he said. “You said - it hurts. Every time.”
Crowley shrugged. “Sure. And?”
“But-” Aziraphale shifted. “You always sound like it’s just an inconvenience.”
Oh, Crowley realized. Right. He dredged up a smile. “Well, you know,” he said. “Everything else sort of pales after the big one.” Aziraphale looked blank, and Crowley made an illustrative gesture. “You know. Having the grace ripped out of you.”
Aziraphale suddenly looked ill. “Ah,” he said, after several beats of silence. Crowley was very glad of his sunglasses. It was almost, he thought, like Aziraphale had somehow forgotten. What he was. What they were. The enormous and unbridgeable gulf that separated him.
“I should go,” Crowley said. “Just figured you’d want an update and might as well clear things up sooner or later.” He uncoiled from the cushion on the floor and stretched. Aziraphale looked like he wanted to say something, and didn’t. “See you around, angel,” he said, deliberately casual.
He thought, for some reason, that Aziraphale was going to say something more. He didn’t.
Crowley walked away, feeling funny in a way that he didn’t quite want to pin down. Sort of melancholy and confused and warmed all at once.
Maybe he could try to be a bit more cautious. It was boring wasting time down in Hell anyway. He missed all kinds of things on Earth in the meantime. And Aziraphale had a point about a replacement. They probably wouldn’t have any appreciation for the subtler ways or doing things. No creativity. Earth deserved better.
Probably no appreciation for a slightly mad angel, either. They’d eat him alive.
I’ve gotten rather used to having you around, you know.
Crowley smiled, sort of. That was almost like being liked. Crowley hadn’t had anyone like him in a long time.
He wasn’t going to count on it. But it was still nice.