6,000 years from now, when Crowley smells a sun-ripe peach, he will still picture apples.
But apples were just invented, so Crawly sees nothing mysterious about the cloying aroma dripping down the branches of the apple tree, a scent that clings to his very scales and whispers of something lush and obscene.
Crawly’s been watching Eve. He’s not jealous of the humans; he actually finds this one quite charming. (He could do without the husband—Crawly thinks he’s a bit of a deadbeat.) I don’t have to actually do anything to them to cause trouble, Crawly thinks. All I have to do is point out how stupid Her rules are.
“Yea,” Crawly hisses in Eve’s ear, “hath God said, ye shall not eat of this fruit tree, in the middle of a garden with a ‘don’t touch’ sign?”
“She did,” Eve says. It goes without saying that she has never questioned this.
“Well, go on,” Crawly urges, “this apple will give you wisdom of good and evil. Don’t you want that?”
Eve smiles at the serpent, heartbreakingly kind. “Am I supposed to want it?”
Crawly was not prepared for questions. “Ehh, possibly? Dunno why you shouldn’t. What’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil anyway?”
Eve seems to consider this. “Well, all right then,” she says, giving Crawly a gentle pat, “if you think it’s a good idea.”
Crawly frowns. It’s an odd look for a snake.
When Eve goes to show her husband what she’s done, a shadow falls over Crawly. Or, to be more precise, two shadows: one dark as crushed velvet, the other thin as a gossamer veil adrift on an ocean breeze. For a split-second, Crawly wonders if he is about to get smote down, but he quickly realizes this is no angel.
Far from it.
“It looks like you beat me to it,” the decidedly unangelic thing with two shadows says.
Whatever the thing is, it feels crueler and sharper than any demon in Crawly’s memory. Crawly shrinks back self-protectively.
The being crouches down to Crawly’s level, and he sees that its eyes are as glittering wine-yellow as his own. It is paler than anything to ever trod the Garden, but it is not sickly.
It is beautiful, and Crawly is afraid.
“It,” Crawly thinks. He does not know how he instinctively knows this. Not he, not they—it simply is as it is.
It reaches out one graceful, mist-white hand to give Crawly a long sensuous stroke from the top of his head to the tip of his tail, and what terrifies Crawly most is that he wants it to not stop. He wants to arch up beneath its palm. He wants to escape the thing, and he despairingly wants for it to keep touching him. It feels like every hope, and every fear, he has ever known.
If Crawly had really been forced to go to war, instead of just Sauntering Vaguely Downwards, he would not have wanted to die for Lucifer.
In Crawly’s heart of hearts, he fears that he might die for this thing if it asked.
The thing knows this, and it smiles like the edge of a silver blade.
“You insulted me,” it purrs.
“I’m sorry?” he squeaks.
“No,” it says, “not yet. But you will be.”
Crawly’s blood goes colder than normal.
“I’m supposed to come first,” it says. It looks up and away, and its mouth quirks like it just thought up a joke, but it does not share it. “As I have done for billions of years. All you are, all you will ever be, little snake, is an opportunity which arises after I come. Yet when I tried to speak to the human’s heart, she acted like she couldn’t even hear me.”
Suddenly, something like understanding dawns on Crawly, and he shakes his head back and forth in a state of panic: “She couldn’t,” he says. He is not above begging. “Please,” he says, “she couldn’t hear you, because she didn’t know yet …”
The being stands. “Huh,” it says. “You know, that actually makes a lot of sense. I bet you’re right.” It laughs, light as glass. “But also, I don’t care. Logic is far too tedious a pursuit for my realm, that’s the kind of thing my brother agonizes over. I follow my fancies. And right now”—it rubs Crawly under the chin, and to his abject horror even now he still melts into the touch with a sigh—“since I didn’t get to play with Eve, I fancy you, and the games I could play with you.”
When it lets go of Crawly’s chin, he feels no relief. He even feels … disappointed?
“Look to the East, little snake,” it says softly.
Crawly blinks, manifesting eyelids for the sole purpose of communicating his confusion, but he does as he’s told. Truthfully, he has no choice.
“Oh,” he breathes, taking in the golden figure guarding the Gate.
He is perfect. He is the answer to every prayer of Crawly’s She ever denied. Crawly would implore for the chance just to lay his life down for him, again and again—
He is … off limits.
Every element of Crawly left that ever knew some joy seems to be sinking into the earth under his belly.
Crawly raises his head to the thing that smiles at him now. “Why?” he whispers. “Why would you do that?”
“Oh, come on,” says Desire, with a gleam in its eye. “Don’t you have a sense of humor?”