To the world .
Aziraphale startled awake. His senses came to him slowly, achingly, his body sore and cold. As he opened his eyes and peered around him his heart sank. He was surrounded on all sides by cold metal bars and beneath him was an equally frigid metal bottom.
He was in a cage.
He was shackled.
He was in Hell .
Aziraphale’s last clear memory was of the Ritz and the clinking of glasses as he and Crowley toasted to victory. Past that, nothing. There was just the damp darkness around him, something dripping nearby. As he struggled to sit up, shackles on his wrists and attached to a chain connected to a stake in the middle of the cage, he looked around.
The room he was in was unfamiliar - he’d only seen a small portion of Hell while wearing Crowley’s skin, after all. The walls were a drab, cracked, dark stone that glistened with moisture as if they were underground. He supposed they were, in a way. Around him were other cages with other figures in various positions.
A cold dread settled over him when he realized very quickly that they were all angels . Some of them had their wings out and bent into strange positions, feathers pressing through the bars of the cage. Others had no wings but were dressed in tattered, filthy heavenly uniforms.
Someone in the cage beside him groaned in pain and then went silent. Aziraphale’s unnecessary heart beat rapidly in his chest as he scrambled back toward one of the corners of the cage, the chain pulling taut. On instinct he reached out for a miracle, intent on easing some of the abject suffering that threatened to suffocate him in the room.
It was as good as calling hellfire as the bindings around his wrists began to glow red hot, sending shooting, burning, smoldering pain through his every nerve. He screamed. There was no other description for the sound that came tearing out of his mouth as every ounce of him burned for a few long seconds and then ceased.
He collapsed onto the metal ground, his whole body trembling uncontrollably as he choked back tears. The immediate burn was gone but the sensation of it continued to linger on his skin, simmering. He sobbed. It was worse than anything he’d ever experienced in his life and he wondered if it was what Falling felt like.
“Oi none of that!” A rough voice barked as something hit the bars of his cage, barely making it through the haze of pain. “No miracles you fuckin’ twat. You’re damaging the merchandise and it is just gonna make it worse for you when someone finally claims your sorry arse.”
Aziraphale, eyes filled with tears, blinked up at a rather scraggly looking demon he didn’t recognize. The fellow was thin, tall, dressed in stained and tattered clothes. He was quite certain his robe had blood stains splashed across the front, brown and dry with age.
“...who?” Aziraphale’s mouth refused to work, tongue thick. He closed his eyes.
“Your new Master will arrive soon. Try not to fuck things up before he gets here, eh?” The demon banged something against the bars of the cage again and then Aziraphale listened to his departing footsteps.
His trembling died down as the pain slowly faded except for what remained ringed around his wrists. Aziraphale tried to bring his thoughts back together, puzzling through what exactly this was. Humanity had won the Great War. Adam Young averted the end of the world. Why did it look like Heaven lost?
“I promise, m’lord, you will be absolutely pleased with this one. I’m told you might even know him from back in the Garden with all that apple business.” It was a different voice, another one that Aziraphale didn’t recognize. Likely another demon.
“Oh?” An unimpressed voice answered and Aziraphale’s head immediately shot up, eyes widening. Crowley .
“Here he is m’lord he, ah, looks a bit rough right now but I was just told he tried to use a miracle. He won’t make that mistake again, I promise you that. Not after his punishment.” The voice laughed nervously. “Of course if you want a different angel, one that isn’t so...well. Injured…”
“No,” Crowley said. “I was promised this one, so this one I will take. I have no interest in playing games. I don’t even want this one, but I’ve been told to reject it would be an insult so here I am.”
“You know sire, not everyone is granted the gift of an angel.”
“You don’t need to remind me,” Crowley growled. “I’m very well aware of what I’ve earned.”
“Y-yes sir, let me just...unlock this.”
Aziraphale heard the lock click open followed by the sound of a bolt being moved out of place. The hinges creaked as the door opened and rough hands grabbed him by the shackles.
He cried out in pain, the metal digging into his burned wrists.
“Come on you piece of shit, your new master is here,” the same demon that had been speaking with Crowley said as he dragged Aziraphale from the cage. The chain connecting his shackles to the stake dropping through demonic magic. Aziraphale stumbled to try and get his feet under him but he wasn’t given the chance. Instead he was tossed at Crowley’s feet.
Crowley made a disgusted sound and Aziraphale heard a slap echo through the chamber followed by the whimper of a demon.
“Don’t treat my property like that you idiot,” Crowley hissed.
Aziraphale knew something was off from the tone of Crowley’s voice but chalked it up to keeping up pretenses. If Crowley was here to rescue him, perhaps he needed to pretend he was still on Hell’s side.
“Can you stand?” Crowley asked as he crouched down in front of Aziraphale, grabbing his chin and forcing him to make eye contact. His uncovered eyes searched Aziraphale’s for something , but instead more tears came. They slid down Aziraphale’s cheeks and he watched a disappointed look slide across Crowley’s face.
“Come on then,” he said as he put an arm around Aziraphale and hoisted him up onto his feet. “Slagar, you can rest assured that Lord Beelzebub will hear about your treatment of unclaimed property.”
“M-m’lord…” The demon didn’t follow them. Aziraphale focused on keeping his feet under him, leaning heavily into Crowley.
“This is ridiculous,” Crowley mumbled and then snapped his fingers. Their surroundings shifted and Aziraphale looked around. They were in some sort of sitting room. Still in Hell, if Aziraphale’s senses weren’t completely off kilter.
“Crowley,” he said, emotion welling up as he pressed into Crowley, shackled hands straining against the metal as he yearned to hug him.
As soon as he was close to Crowley he was shoved back roughly, stumbling and falling onto his rear. The shackles continued to rub his wrists raw and he gazed up wide-eyed at Crowley who looked at him, somewhat panicked.
“You know my name,” Crowley said and Aziraphale realized with a sinking sensation in his gut that something was very wrong .
“O-of course I do. Do you not…” Aziraphale couldn’t get his tongue to work, the trembling starting up all over again as exhaustion began to catch up with his corporation. “Remember?”
“Slagar mentioned the Garden. I remember an angel with a flaming sword.” There was a strange look on Crowley’s face for a split second before it was gone and he looked down at Aziraphale with barely masked disgust. “None of that matters now. I’ll let you know this: I didn’t want a slave, let alone an angel slave. But I’m not allowed to turn this down without bringing heat down on my own head so here we are.”
The realization that everything was wrong threatened to drag Aziraphale beneath the waters of his own panic as his breathing started to pick up. His body ached and he reached out with his mind to Heaven in desperation as his mind raced. Where was She? He tried to reach out for divine threads and they were there in the universe somewhere, but there was static and feedback in the way.
Something was, for lack of a better understanding, blocking his signal. He began to really panic.
“Take these off take these off,” Aziraphale began to gasp as he shook his hands and tried to tug at the shackles. They dug into his tender skin and he pushed past the pain, crying out as fresh tears fell from his eyes. “Take these off please.” He couldn’t breathe. He curled in on himself, head between his knees as he struggled to catch his breath. Every inhale felt like fire, burning him from the inside out.
“Stop, stop,” Crowley insisted and hands came up on either side of Aziraphale’s head, holding his face as tears slid down his cheeks and chin and he struggled to breathe. “Just breathe. Inhale. Come on.”
“Burns,” Aziraphale whimpered.
“I’m sorry for this,” Crowley said as Aziraphale blacked out.
He woke up again, this time in dim light. Aziraphale squinted and glanced around only to jump as something slid off of his forehead onto the ground. It was a wash cloth. He touched his forehead.
“You’re awake,” Crowley said quietly and Aziraphale glanced over. He realized they were in some sort of sitting room, Crowley sprawled in an armchair. Aziraphale was laid across a couch.
“I am,” Aziraphale rasped as he sat up and exhaled slowly, trying to collect himself. He glanced down at his wrists. The shackles were gone, the only evidence left the raw, reddened skin that still burned. He reached up and touched his neck, startled to find a leather collar on.
He looked back at Crowley, confused. Crowley looked exasperated.
“Do they not tell your lot anything about how this works?” Crowley asked with a scowl as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Look, I’m sorry about the collar. Normally there’s a little bit of pomp and circumstance to go along with it but I had to put it on you in your sleep in order to remove the shackles.”
Aziraphale touched the charm dangling from it that he had trouble seeing. “What does it look like?” He didn’t know why it mattered, but it did. Something in Crowley’s face softened.
“Black leather, imprinted with my name in red runes on the back. Black snake charm like my tattoo,” he tilted his head and motioned to the tattoo at his temple. “Is it comfortable? I tried to choose a soft leather for the lining…”
It was far more preferable to the shackles, but the weight of a collar around his neck would take some getting used to. He nodded anyway and then stared down at his wounded wrists.
“Your wrists, do they hurt?” Crowley asked.
“Yes,” Aziraphale replied. “Quite a lot.”
Crowley made a displeased noise with his teeth. “Your collar will have the same effect if you try to use divine magic. May I look at your wrists?”
Aziraphale studied him from his place on the couch. “I don’t imagine I have much of a choice even if I didn’t wish you to.” He tried not to let too much bitterness seep into his voice. All of this was so terribly wrong and he didn’t have the faintest idea what to do. This was not his Crowley, but at the same time there had to be a piece of what made his Crowley in this one.
He just had to figure out how to bring it to the surface.
At that moment, Crowley looked disgusted and Aziraphale wasn’t entirely sure if it was in regard to the situation or him specifically.
“It isn’t like that,” Crowley tried to insist, then frowned. “Of course I have to take care of you. You’re my property, my thing , but you’re not just a thing. You get to have some agency, at least here, when it is just you and me.”
Aziraphale exhaled slowly and shakily before he nodded. “You can look at them.”
Crowley rose from the chair and crossed the room in a couple long strides, sitting beside Aziraphale on the couch. He lifted his hand to inspect the burns, frowning. He pressed his fingertips to the red skin and Aziraphale yanked his hand back with a yelp, glowering.
“That bad?” Crowley asked, torn between annoyance and amusement. Aziraphale scowled and tried to look menacing.
“What do you think?” Aziraphale bit out tartly, the skin throbbing.
“You’re a spitfire aren’t you.” Crowley shook his head. “You shouldn’t speak to me like that you know. It makes me look bad.”
“To whom?” Aziraphale asked, glancing around. “It is just us.”
For the first time since Aziraphale had woken up in the cage Crowley smiled. A comforting warmth spread out from his chest at the sight of it.
Crowley waved his hand and a jar appeared on the couch cushion beside him along with what appeared to be gauze wrap and tape. “Let me see your wrist again.”
“No,” Aziraphale grumbled, not exactly inclined to be touched again. There was a flash of annoyance before Crowley took a steadying breath.
“Let me see your wrist,” Crowley said again, more firmly. “Now.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest but made the mistake of looking into Crowley’s familiar golden-yellow eyes. There was heat in them, warmth, similar to what had settled in Aziraphale’s chest after his smile. If he couldn’t trust Crowley, even this Crowley, then he was doomed to accept this strange new fate he’d fallen into.
He offered up his wrist and Crowley’s mouth relaxed from the thin line it had become. “Good.”
The praise sent a shiver down Aziraphale’s spine. The quirk of Crowley’s eyebrows told him he noticed. Aziraphale willed his blush away, which was easy once Crowley began to spread a glob of some sort of white ointment on his wrist.
He tried to pull away as the ointment stung but Crowley’s hand moved to grab Aziraphale’s elbow, holding him firmly in place. “Be still.”
“Crowley…” Aziraphale winced.
“You should call me Lord, or Master, or Sir,” Crowley mumbled. “You shouldn’t use my name. Did you not receive any of the training? I thought…” He looked up at Aziraphale and then shook his head. “Nevermind.” He smeared more of the ointment onto Aziraphale’s damaged skin.
Then he waved his hand over it and it tingled, but this time in a soothing way. Aziraphale immediately relaxed. “Oh.”
“Yeah, ‘oh’,” Crowley griped, rolling his eyes in what amounted to fond exasperation. “I’m not going to go out of my way to hurt you.” He wrapped the soothed skin in a gauze bandage and taped it.
Aziraphale happily offered Crowley his other hand which he took quietly and proceeded to go through the same process, muttering soft ‘sorrys’ whenever his touch caused pain. Soon enough he was able to wave his hand over the ointment and the same comforting coolness spread across Aziraphale’s skin.
“I’ll do it again tomorrow,” Crowley said as he finished wrapping Aziraphale’s second hand and let it go. “After that it should heal well enough on its own.”
“Thank you.” Aziraphale set his hands in his lap. A million questions swarmed through his mind and he struggled to pinpoint exactly which one to start with. Perhaps the most obvious? “You don’t remember me.”
“The garden was over 6000 years ago,” Crowley pointed out, sitting back against the arm of the couch. That was enough of an answer. After the Garden, they hadn’t kept running into each other. Something in this universe kept them apart. Or, perhaps Aziraphale never got to live on earth in this reality. The thought made his heart ache.
“Of course,” Aziraphale replied and Crowley gave him a strange look. “What am I meant to do exactly?”
Now the strange look drifted into one of confusion. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Aziraphale tried to keep his voice even, tried to hold back his frustration at knowing nothing about the situation, “what is going on and what is my purpose here? You said I was what - your slave?”
“I thought they did some sort of orientation for all of you prisoners of war,” Crowley said. “I was told you were ready to start service.”
“It has been a trying time,” Aziraphale replied, trying to cover up his lack of knowledge. “I’m meant to serve you then?”
“Yes, something like that. You’re part of the spoils of war, the result of Hell’s victory over Heaven in the Great War - yada, yada.” Crowley waved his hand dismissively, as if he didn’t really subscribe to the reality he was a part of.
“You said back there in the cages that I was a reward?” Aziraphale asked.
“Yes. Consider yourself a commendation for a job well done with the antichrist.” Crowley tossed his booted feet up onto the coffee table.
“Adam Young,” Aziraphale said.
“Adam Dowling ,” Crowley replied, the strange look back on his face. “What were you, stashed under a rock during the war? I suppose you don’t look like much of a fighting type. Would explain a lot.”
Dowling. That meant the babies hadn’t been switched. There had been no error on Hell’s part. Adam was raised by an American diplomat and allowed to come into his power likely without the influence of his friends and everything in Tadfield. Aziraphale’s heart sank, followed quickly by a keen sense of nausea.
“You look like you’re about to pass out,” Crowley said with some trepidation.
“I’m alright dear boy,” Aziraphale said as he sat back on the couch, taking a deep breath.
“Really, you should get in the habit of referring to me respectfully,” Crowley mumbled, as if he didn’t really want to enforce it. “I’ll catch shit if the others overhear you saying things like ‘dear boy’. You’re not some human grandfather, you’re my -” Crowley frowned. “Ssslave.”
“Right. Er. Right, sir ?” He shot Crowley a questioning glance. Crowley shrugged.
“Good enough for now.” Uncomfortable silence settled between them, something Aziraphale wasn’t used to. Silence with Crowley had grown so easy in 6000 years and now they were back to being half-strangers in even stranger circumstances.
“I need you to answer this honestly,” Crowley said after a moment. Aziraphale looked up sharply and Crowley met his gaze. “Do you know what you’re doing? What you’ve gotten into?”
Aziraphale looked away. “No.”
“So you escaped whatever basic training you’re supposed to have, whatever orientation they put captured angels through?” Crowley sounded like he was frowning. “How?”
“I don’t know.” Aziraphale didn’t have any other answer. He didn’t know how to explain to Crowley that he was from a different reality, a different timeline, that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong and he wasn’t sure how to fix it.
“You’re not lying. I’d know if you were,” Crowley said. “Somehow, despite all the odds, you not only made it through the war but you made it through the post-war without any fucking idea the position you’re in. I don’t know whether you’re the luckiest angel, or the unluckiest one right now. I suppose time will be the judge of that.”
“I suppose so.” Aziraphale considered his nails, still well manicured, as they had been before they’d averted the end of the world. Even his clothes seemed to be in good condition compared to those of his compatriots, dirty in a way that made them look well used, but not unraveled or frayed. What’s happened? He asked in his own mind, forcing himself not to glance upward. Where are You? She had to be out there somewhere, this had to be some part of the plan.
“Look,” Crowley said, breaking Aziraphale out of his contemplation. “I’m not going to be needlessly cruel. Like I said before, I didn’t even want an angel, but I suppose if you had to get stuck with someone it is lucky it ended up being me. I’m not going to go searching for answers, I’m not going to make you go through the training, but I need you to understand this: we’re not friends.”
The words struck Aziraphale in the chest and he bit back his retort. It was like the bandstand but in reverse. Yes we are .
“You will refer to me as sir at the very least, Lord in front of the others if you will. You will run errands for me, you will keep these quarters clean, you will be available to do all of the tedious things I don’t want to do. In return for good behavior I promise I will not hurt you, control you, or force you to do anything against your will within these walls. Out there, though?” He motioned to one of the walls, referring to the rest of Hell, “I will treat you however I see fit in order to play their stupid game. But know that you are always under my protection and no one has any right to hurt you. You are collared, you are mine ,” and there was something fierce in the way Crowley said that last part, “and anyone who messes with you will be punished.”
He took a deep breath. Aziraphale followed suit. It was a lot to think about and he was a bit dizzy with it.
“Clear?” Crowley asked.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said.
“Yes…?” Crowley prompted and Aziraphale grimaced.
“Yes, sir .” Aziraphale amended.
“Good,” Crowley smirked and Aziraphale shivered again and ducked his head.
This was going to be a challenge.