The knock at the door wasn’t unexpected. Crowley had invited Aziraphale over for drinks at seven, and it was only about ten minutes til. Usually, Aziraphale wasn’t one for punctuality; more often than not, he stumbled through endearingly late, apologizing profusely for having gotten caught up in some book or translation. So the fact that he was knocking early made something flutter horrifyingly gently inside Crowley.
It was the first time the angel would be visiting the flat since that fateful night a few weeks ago. Not much in the way of anything at all had happened then— Crowley had been exhausted beyond measure, and Aziraphale had been mildly disoriented due to his recent adventures in re-embodiment. They’d both been so out of it, really, that it was a miracle they’d been able to decipher Agnes’ prophecy at all before heading back out into the daylight to face their fates. Crowley certainly hadn’t had the energy to go anywhere near his internal treasure trove of fantasies regarding the angel’s first time in his flat.
So this was to be a re-do, of sorts. A proper get together. A casual evening, shared between two man-shaped beings who just so happened to no longer hold the mutual status of hereditary enemies.
Crowley quickly glanced around the place, confirming that it was up to scratch. There’s no way it couldn’t have been, of course, given that he’d spent the last six hours obsessively scrubbing every surface spotless and giving the plants a talking to that was unusually severe, even for his standards.
Satisfied, he ran a hasty hand through his hair, smoothed out the front of his shirt, got up, and swung the door open, trying to arrange his face into a pleasingly neutral expression.
“Hi! Crowley? Phew, I was worried I’d got the wrong place, all these flats look the same—”
It wasn’t Aziraphale.
It was a disposable demon.
He looked like all disposable demons, which is to say, he was of middling height, with dark skin, black-ringed eyes like a raccoon and protrusions of curly hair that resembled nothing so much as rabbit ears. His raggedy outerwear was Hell standard-issue, still dusted with dirt from the cold ground he must’ve just pushed up through to get there. He stood awkwardly in Crowley’s dark doorway, clutching what looked like a packet of paperwork on a red clipboard.
Crowley considered a sardonic snarl of No proselytizing, please, but thought the subtleties might be lost on his visitor, so ended up going with the old standby of, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“It’s your exit paperwork, Crowley, sir,” said the demon, holding the clipboard out reverently to Crowley, like a sacrificial offering.
“Exit paperwork…?” Crowley repeated slowly, leaving space for the demon to give his name.
“It’s Eric, sir, and yes, you see, well, they thought they were going to execute you, they really did, so they didn’t make preparations for the eventuality that you’d end up back here—”
As he babbled, Crowley grabbed Eric roughly by the dirty sleeve and hauled him wholesale inside the flat, letting the heavy door swing shut behind him.
“—I’ve been told it’s a liability issue, see, they just don’t want to be held responsible for anything you might be getting up to in your new capacity as a freelance traitor, so they sent me up here with this for you to sign which absolves them of all fault for your actions, on Earth and elsewhere, in perpetuity in all dominions earthly and spiritual, it’s all in there, if you want to read it…”
Crowley hesitated for just a moment before spitting, “Alright, give that here,” and snatching the paperwork out of Eric’s hands.
Paging through it, he could see that the demon seemed to have told the truth; the language was boilerplate-standard Hell legalese, and seemed to be designed to sever all ties with the demon Crowley in the most effective and complete manner, short of making him mortal. Fine by him, really, and in fact more than fine— this would do well to take a weight off his shoulders, stop the worries about Hell’s higher-ups changing their minds that had been nagging at him since his and Aziraphale’s twin escapades.
“You know,” Eric offered, as Crowley made his way through the stack, initialing as he went, “I was always a fan of yours. Before the betraying, I mean. Selfies, the M25, open-plan offices, TikTok, automatic software updates, paper straws, you’re a right genius, I’ve always thought.”
“Um. Thanks,” muttered Crowley, doing his best not to sound as flattered as he was.
“And the whole Brexit thing was really inspired, I know people were saying your commendation was premature, but in my opinion it was well-deserved as anything…”
Oof, that one definitely wasn’t me, thought Crowley grimly, flipping through the paperwork. On the last page, he signed with his full sigil where indicated. It glowed and sparked, before sending the whole packet dissolving into smoke and ash. The gray cloud lingered in midair for just a moment before whooshing downwards through the floor, its contents headed straight for Hell’s filing department.
“Well, then,” said Crowley, dusting off his hands and tossing the now-empty clipboard onto his desk. “I’m honored, I really am, by all that. But we’re done here now, no need to hang around, I’m a busy guy, got lots of— of traitory things to be doing. So, off with you, then.”
Eric nodded, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.
Crowley waited a few moments for something to happen, like a pop of black smoke as Eric disappeared back down to Hell, but the kid just stood there, rocking slightly on his heels, his eyes shut tight.
“The fuck are you doing?”
“Oh.” Eric opened his eyes, and then glanced down at his feet, abashed, before looking back up at Crowley. “I thought— you were gonna—?”
“Gonna what? ” Crowley was utterly lost. Gonna give him a hug?
“I’m— a disposable demon,” Eric said, as though that explained everything.
“Yeah, got that bit,” said Crowley dismissively, “but why’d you just go all Zen there?”
Eric narrowed his eyes. “Well, er. Um. The way this goes is, I come up here, deliver the message, and then… and then you kill me.”
“It would be an honor, sir,” said Eric, “to get killed by you, I’ve never had it done before, being as you spent most of your time up here anyway, and I spend most of mine down there, so I trust you’d be real kind with it, not so harsh like Hastur or Ligur or any of them Dukes, they make quite a sport of it, you know, got fed to a Hellhound the other day, that was a new one—”
Crowley’s head was spinning. He’d never had a reason to get clear on the details, but he did know that disposable demons were a class of Hellish creature with different standards of embodiment than fallen angels like himself. It would be easy enough to kill him, Crowley was aware— he wouldn’t even need holy water to do it.
But it’d put him in an awful mood, and make a mess besides. Plus, the fellow hadn’t even done anything! Sure, one of his kind had almost committed an act of physical violence against Aziraphale’s precious corporation on Sunday, but Crowley had seen to that with nothing but an intimidating smirk . Plus, he was rather unclear on if that had actually been the same person as the demon now standing before him. This boy was certainly harmless, utterly benign. He’d even come bearing good news, for Someone’s sake.
“Well, sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going murder you,” Crowley said, once more interrupting Eric’s chatter. “So you’ll just have to trot on home. Chop chop. Giddy up. Shoo. Et cetera.” He glanced nervously at his watch, which told him with chipper, machined precision that it was now exactly seven o’clock.
“Ah, can’t do that, though, can I?”
“Er. Why not?”
“They only issued me a one way pass,” said Eric. From inside his ratty overcoat he produced a red-stamped card that Crowley recognized as a single-use Earthbound transport ticket. God, he’d not seen one of those in ages. He hadn’t thought they still made them. Shouldn’t they have moved to contactless by now? He was halfway through making a mental note to send an Oystercard downstairs as an example before remembering, belatedly, the paperwork he’d just signed. No more memos to head office. He was officially an ex-demon.
“Why the Heaven would they do that?” Crowley asked.
“Like I said. I usually get… kkrrch .” Eric drew a finger across his neck to accompany the sound effect. “Saves quite a bit on fares, as I understand, to just give me the one way, on that assumption—“
Crowley pressed his fingertips to his brow, holding in a groan. Those repellent cheapskates, he wanted to scream. “It’s not happening, alright?” he snapped instead. “Nope. Not going to kill you.”
“Oh, wow,” said Eric, like he could barely believe it. Then his expression shifted, and he was eyeing Crowley with skeptical concern. “You— you do know what’ll happen if you don’t, though, right?”
Before Crowley could admit his ignorance once more, there was another knock at the door. Crowley’s stomach dropped a thousand miles to the ground and splattered heavily onto cold cement. Aziraphale.
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit!”
“Who’s that?” Eric said, craning his neck to look past Crowley, towards the door. “Have you got company?”
“Nobody— it’s— just some people, coming over,” Crowley covered, waving a hand. It seemed very important, suddenly, that this intrusive, annoying agent of his former employers not know the identity of his dinner date— and, he realized with a jolt, vice versa. He could only imagine what Aziraphale would think if he saw another demon in Crowley’s flat. It would ruin the entire evening.
Eric’s face broke out into an eager grin. “Oooh, are you having a party? You know, they always said downstairs that you throw the best parties—”
Crowley sputtered, “That’s— well, I won’t deny it, but—”
“Crowley? I’m here!” The angel’s voice was muffled through the thick glass of the door, but it was definitely him. It was a lucky thing he was far too polite to bust right in like he owned the place, the way Crowley did at the bookshop.
Crowley did then what he did best, and thought fast. “Quick, in here,” he said, grabbed the demon’s sleeve again, and dragged him across the room, down the hall, and in through the doorway of his small linen cupboard. It’d come with the flat and never been used, other than to store one of those video exercise bikes that Crowley had obtained as a gratis gift for playing a part in their invention.
“Don’t make a fucking sound,” hissed Crowley, and slammed the cupboard door shut in Eric’s face, cutting off a desperate squeal of, “But—!”
“Coming, Aziraphale!” he shouted, towards the direction of the entryway. Spotting the clipboard lying empty on the desk, he swept it into a drawer and slammed it shut before sprinting for the door, taking a deep breath, and, for the second time that night, opening it.
And there the angel was, like he was supposed to be, his face breaking into a barely-held-back beam at the sight of Crowley, his hands clutched tightly around the neck of what looked like a bottle of ‘89 Latour.
“Hey,” Crowley said. “C’mon in.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Aziraphale brightly, stepping inside, and as he brushed past Crowley, bringing the scent of dusty books and that new cologne with him, all thoughts of the disposable demon in the closet were pushed cleanly to the back of Crowley’s mind.
The wine transferred itself with ease from bottle to glass to mouth over the next hour and change, and soon they’d moved on to emptying a counterpart bottle from Crowley’s collection. They were leaning over Crowley’s long, black dining room table, gesticulating loosely at each other, deep in discussion over the relative merits of the different versions of A Star Is Born .
A strange light had started to flicker in Aziraphale’s eyes, one Crowley could see was something beyond workaday drunken frivolity, but couldn’t possibly give a name to.
“Now you’re just being an idiot,” said Crowley, in response to some incomprehensible line of Aziraphale’s regarding Barbra Streisand. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were just contradicting me to get me to talk more.”
To this, Aziraphale only offered a small, fragile smile. Then, suddenly, he was getting up from the table, and making his way over to the large floor-to-ceiling window that comprised one wall of Crowley’s kitchen.
“So lovely,” said Aziraphale quietly. “Come, look.”
Crowley obediently peeled himself off his seat and sidled over to stand next to Aziraphale. He looked out over the city below, which had donned a lively evening look; cars and pedestrians and the gentle, steady light of the lamps filtering through the canopy of the park. He’d gotten this place for the view; an upgrade he’d thought he well deserved, after two centuries of the mews flat he used to own a few blocks away that merely looked out onto a row of other identical buildings.
“S’pose it is,” Crowley said. “Yeah. Lovely.” He was suddenly feeling far more unbalanced than could be explained away by mere intoxication. Aziraphale’s hands were held loosely at his sides, unbound from their sober position of being held primly at his front or back, and Crowley had to bat away attacking thoughts of how easy it would be to just... reach out and grab hold of one of them. Stop it, he warned himself.
Aziraphale turned to look at him, the side of his face lit by the glow from outside. He looked nothing less than perfect. “Thank you for having me here,” he said. “I admit, I’d— I wished I’d been in more of a state to appreciate this view, last time. It’s awfully nice to get another chance.”
“No problem,” Crowley said. “Anytime. Really.”
“That night, I…” Aziraphale began, and he coughed lightly and shook his head, seemingly trying to find the right words— to say what, exactly, Crowley wasn’t sure.
“I thought it might be the last time I ever saw you,” said Aziraphale, “if our plan wasn’t successful. I couldn’t help myself thinking of the most awful things, happening to both of us...” He was staring back out the window now, tracing a soft line on the clean pane with a manicured finger.
Crowley, of course, had undergone something similar: frantic, fretful waking nightmares of Aziraphale, lashed by serrated tongues, torn apart by Hell’s dull, rusty blades, all in Crowley’s body, all in Crowley’s name.
“I knew we’d be okay,” said Crowley, instead of admitting to any of that. “We always are. Look at me,” he said, daring to brush a hand against Aziraphale’s shoulder, and the angel drew his gaze obediently back up to meet Crowley’s. “Look at me. We’re gonna be fine. No, even better. We’re gonna be brilliant.”
Aziraphale didn’t say anything. Instead, he began to lean in. Why was he leaning in? His face was drawing inexorably closer and closer to Crowley’s, his soft pink lips ever so slightly parted, and Crowley couldn’t move. He thought he might be dreaming. He wanted nothing more than to feel that mouth on his, and he didn’t usually get the things he wanted.
Behind his shades, his eyes fluttered closed, and his heart began, tentatively, to soar, as he awaited the soft press of Aziraphale’s lips, and then—
The noise came from the hallway behind them, a great thumping clatter like something heavy had fallen over. Aziraphale instantly jumped about a foot in the air, like a scared cartoon character. Crowley, shocked out of his freeze, stumbled backwards, away from the space that had so recently been occupied by Aziraphale’s gentle breath.
“Oh— that’s just my— my, er, my—” Crowley’s brain scrambled to form a coherent explanation for the sound, something other than the insane reality of I trapped a disposable demon messenger in my closet and then forgot all about him because of the way you looked at me when you opened the door. He had some pride left, and he didn’t want Aziraphale to think he was an idiot, especially now . “—New gadget I bought, must have, ah, gone off, one of those glitches, you know—”
Whatever gentle slackening had graced Aziraphale’s body, allowed for the swing of the arms and the lean of the neck and the parting of the lips, had now vanished completely, as he zipped himself back in, drawing up into propriety, patting down the front of his waistcoat, tugging at his sleeves and fixing his bow-tie. He would’ve pushed up his glasses, surely, had he been wearing them. “Oh, dear,” he said, “well, that sounds quite serious, I’d best leave you to to take care of it, I suppose.”
“You sure?” Crowley managed to croak, hoping he sounded casual. Fuck, hadn’t Aziraphale just been about to—? No— Crowley must have imagined it.
“Mustn’t keep you,” said Aziraphale. “It’s quite late, ought to be heading home, I— er. Lovely view, really is, yes—”
And then he was gone, pale-coated flash through the hall and out the dark door that swung shut behind him, leaving only the empty bottle of Latour on the kitchen table to show that he’d ever been there at all.
Crowley stood in shock by the window, bereft, for a mere moment before a cloud of fury descended on him with a vengeance. Cursing under his breath, he stalked down the hall and flung open the cupboard door, ready to scream and strangle and inflict some serious demonic damage.
“Ooh, sorry about that.”
“That thing is heavier than it looks!”
Looking out at him, from inside the dark cupboard, were two identical Erics.
It had been cramped enough inside the cupboard with just the one, but it seemed that the sudden appearance of the second had done a number on the exercise bike, knocking it to the ground.
As Crowley stared, his mouth hanging open in astonishment, one Eric waved at him, and the other simply stood there and shrugged guiltily.
Crowley moaned, “Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me.”
Aziraphale wanted to throw up. He’d never done it before, had always miracled his way out of physical discomfort, vanished offending substances from his system with a wave of a hand, but he was feeling that if there ever was a time to learn the ins and outs of shameful regurgitation, it would be now, after that humiliating incident at Crowley’s flat.
He’d been stupid. He’d been too trusting, too faithful, too wrapped up in his own idealistic narrative, as he always was. Just because he knew his paperback romances, knew their beats and boundaries by heart, didn’t mean his life would gamely play out like one at his urging.
And dearest Crowley, stepping in the last second, to save Aziraphale from himself, spare him the embarrassment, as he always did. He’d quite obviously fabricated that little raucous excuse of his, as a convenient escape hatch for the both of them, letting Aziraphale off with no harm done. What would he be thinking of Aziraphale now? Pitying, probably— oh, that poor angel, getting all maudlin, all sentimental, doesn’t he know that isn’t how this has ever worked?
How naive of him, to have imagined the night would end in a different way— taking to Crowley’s bed, the demon’s skin flushed and fair beneath his hands, even just a glimpse of those eyes, yellow to the edges, wide with anticipation— but no. Some things were meant to remain forever out of reach.
With every minute that passed, Crowley was regretting more and more his decision to not murder Eric the very moment he option had been put to him.
After he’d opened up the closet door to reveal the bonus disposable demon, he’d sagged weakly against the doorframe, experiencing something akin to shock, and they’d both sauntered out past him into the flat, casual as anything.
“Aww, your party ended already?” one of them was asking now, standing in the atrium and poking his head around the doorway to the office, seeing nothing but the empty room. “Shame, was looking forward.”
“This flat is wicked, ” added the other one, who’d gone in the opposite direction down the hallway and was now running a finger along the black marble of Crowley’s kitchen countertop. “Man, your hustle is strong. A place this size down in Hell would cost centuries of demonic wages.”
“I feel like I’m missing something here,” Crowley said helplessly, watching the Eric in the office (the original? he couldn’t possibly tell) sit down on his plush red throne and kick his legs up onto the desk.
The second Eric strolled out of the kitchen and back down the hall, stopping in front of Crowley to tap at his watch demonstratively. Crowley reflexively snatched it out of his reach, and Eric put up his hands with an overly friendly oops-my-bad wink.
“It’s my schedule,” Eric said, “a hundred minutes or so for the first division. Though it varies, depending on internal temperature, astrological alignment, and the general mood of the collective.”
“Your schedule? The collective? ” Crowley squeaked, but instead of clarifying further, Eric wandered right past him, oohing and aahing at the architecture of the space.
Crowley dragged his hands down his face. Aziraphale was probably back at his shop by now, sobered up and shame-faced, embarrassed at how far he’d let himself go, vowing to never let himself darken Crowley’s door again...
“You’ve really got to get out of here,” said Crowley, following the second Eric through to the atrium, where the kid had started intently admiring the fiddle leaf fig, stroking its glossy leaves.
“But I’ve got nowhere to go!” he whined, batting those luscious lashes pityingly at Crowley. “My ticket, I told you, it’s only—”
Crowley jabbed a finger at the view out the window. “You’ve got a whole city, buddy. A whole planet."
“I can’t go out there!” called the Eric in the office plaintively. “There’s— there’s humans out there!”
“Yes, that’s the whole point of the place,” said Crowley, through gritted teeth. He was disappointed to find that when he began to give serious thought to slaughtering both Erics where they stood, it gave his stomach a turn. It’d only been a week since he chose humanity and less than a day since he signed his exit paperwork, was he really losing his essential demonic self so quickly?
What he needed to do was get in touch with Aziraphale, but he just couldn’t do that with these minions of mischief running amok through his palace. Who knows what kind of further humiliating interruptions they’d bestow upon any of Crowley’s attempts to communicate? He was confident he could get this dealt with in a timely manner. Then, and only then, would he extend his apologies to the angel.
“But humans scare me,” admitted Eric.
“And I don’t?” Crowley said, aghast. “ I don’t scare you? Me, Crowley, the betrayer of Hell who stopped Armageddon and survived a bath of holy water?”
Eric laughed. The other Eric laughed too. “Maybe a little at first,” one of them said, “when I got the assignment I was nervous, sure, but then you didn’t kill me, and then, well, it was pretty muffled through the door but I’m pretty sure I heard you laughing from the other room while you were having your party, so I knew you were alright.”
“I want you out,” said Crowley, willing his face not to redden. How had it come to this? Why did he have to be such a goddamned loud drunk?
“Please don’t make me go back, sir,” pleaded the one closest to Crowley, leaning dramatically against the wall of the atrium like a fainting Victorian. “Yeah! This is like a vacation, it’s brilliant!” crowed the other one, who’d gotten up onto Crowley’s spotless desk with those dirty boots and was standing astride it and looking out the window, a goth-bunny Friedrich’s Wanderer.
Crowley went into his bedroom and screamed into his pillow. When he came back out a bit later, slightly calmed down and ready to negotiate some kind of deal, there were five Erics roaming around his flat, and he lost his shit all over again.
Aziraphale waited for a call to come in, some kind of clarification; perhaps Crowley would even show up to the bookstore. But when neither of those things happened, even after hours went by, Aziraphale knew what he had to do. He must have offended Crowley, and the demon deserved an apology for the imposition of it all. Aziraphale couldn’t fathom another eighty-year break in their friendship on his account, so soon after everything they’d been through together— no. He had to make it right.
“I do hope you’ll let bygones be bygones,” Aziraphale said aloud to the empty shop, practicing his lines. He sometimes felt like he’d spent six thousand years practicing his lines. What he would say to head office, when they checked in about how things were going. What he would say to his human friends, when they asked why he never seemed to get any older. He’d thought the end of his employment would’ve meant the end of that kind of rote approach to eternal life, would’ve meant a new lifestyle of improvisation, of taking chances for once. But he’d given that a try, last night, and it’d fallen apart almost instantly.
“So it goes,” he sighed, not half dramatically, and began the long wait for the sun to rise.
It was morning, and Crowley had not slept.
This was probably down to the fact that Eric had not left.
And he’d done more than just not left, at that. Top to bottom, every room and every surface was Eric. It was pure chaos. At Crowley’s last count (and it had been a hard count to make, given the state of things) there were nearly thirty full-sized Erics running amok. His precious, perfect, modern lair of a flat, scrubbed clean for the angel, was now sticky with the grubby fingerprints of disposable demons, none of whom could seemingly could resist pawing at every surface, opening every drawer, emptying every shelf and generally engaging in a kind of tactile tourism with the sheer novelty of the place.
Every so often there would be a little wet pop! and one of the Erics would unceremoniously split in two, the new one a bit wiggly around the edges for a few seconds before solidifying. It reminded Crowley, quite unhelpfully, of the way Aziraphale had separated from Madame Tracy back at the airfield, but accompanied by a distinctly Hellish scent of sulfur. It had become clear to him that the reason killing them was such a common pastime downstairs wasn’t simply due to regular demonic cruelty (though he wouldn’t discount that completely)— it was a legitimately a functional necessity to keep their numbers down.
Still, Crowley didn’t know what to do. He could have killed the first Eric. He could have even killed two of them. But he’d been too slow on the uptake. His brain had been deeply scrambled by the recurring, persistent image of Aziraphale’s face, lit by the window-light, moving in so close to his, and at this late point if he wanted them gone he’d have to enact some kind of massacre.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d been literally any other demon. Crowley could’ve handled slaughtering a legion of Ligurs, a herd of Hasturs or a drove of Dagons, would’ve done so with glee, in fact. But each and every Eric seemed so genuinely happy to be as of yet unmurdered. And with their youthful countenances, how that each of them were more or less, to his eyes, newly born— the whole idea of the thing hung a bit too close to killing kids for Crowley’s comfort.
So naturally, his flat had become an asylum, and they’d taken over. It was unbearable. It was demeaning. From every corner came the unceasing, vapid commentary of an embarrassment of Erics, treating the place like their personal museum.
In the foyer, at the statue: “So like, they’re definitely going at it, right?”
“No, I think they’re wrestling.”
“I can see penetration!”
“Get your eyes checked, you nutter. It’s metaphorical.”
In the office, at the Da Vinci:
“She looks like a sweetheart.”
“Was that one of his human lovers, you think?”
“Ooh, yeah. I bet he had a harem, and all that. Maybe still does. Maybe he’s hiding them around here somewhere—”
Crowley, from his position across the room tugging an Eric away from the lever that would reveal the hidden bookcases set in to his office wall, shouted, “I will rip your throats out, I really will!”
“Oh, Crowley,” said one of the Erics admiring the Da Vinci. “You’re a real laugh.”
He’d been delivering threats along those lines all night, and naturally they’d decreased rapidly in effectiveness the longer he went on giving them and not actually making good on them; the Erics seemed to be treating them now as charming conversational interludes in between pulling out food from the fridge to taste and raiding Crowley’s closet for coats and hats to try on.
“I remember the last time you came downstairs, reporting on the Antichrist,” the one Crowley had by the wrist said, “I thought you were so flash. I never thought I’d get the chance to actually hang out with you!”
“I don’t understand,” Crowley said, accursedly curious as always. “How do you remember that? You weren’t even alive then! You came out of that one ten minutes ago, I saw it! How— how do you work? ”
Eric’s face lit up, as though he’d been waiting thousands of years for someone to ask him that. To be fair, he probably had. Certainly nobody down in Hell would ever have cared enough to inquire before they ripped his head off, or whatever method was the murder du jour.
“Well, see,” he began, “the memory isn’t individual, it’s collective, the brains in these bodies are just, er, receivers, sort of, and really there’s just the one brain, the one me, and it’s all the way down in the eighth circle, about fifteen feet square, great glob of orange jelly, with—”
Unfortunately, just as he was really getting into it, Eric was cut off by Crowley abruptly turning around. A loud, repetitive knocking had started happening from somewhere in the vicinity of the door. Crowley let go of that Eric and pushed his way past the half-dozen more that stood in between him and the flat’s entrance.
“Who is it?” Crowley called through the door, leaning his head up against it, unwilling to open it even a crack, because he was pretty sure he knew who was on the other side.
“It’s Aziraphale, can you please let me in, Crowley—”
“I’m sorry, a bit busy here, can you come back later?” Crowley said, hating himself.
“Another party?” said the Eric closest to Crowley, lighting up. “No, we’re not busy! We’re ready to go! Have you got any music? I’m actually a decent DJ—”
“Shut up!” hissed Crowley.
Aziraphale’s muted pleading continued. “Crowley, I really must insist I come in and say my piece, you deserve an apology—”
Crowley had certainly not counted on Aziraphale’s angelic strength being put to use in this situation, but there it was, coming to bear on the door, and the comparatively noodle-armed Crowley’s feet slid uselessly on the concrete-slab floor as he struggled against it. Finally, with one last great insistent heave, it was flung wide open, and Crowley was squashed uncomfortably between the wall and the door, hidden completely from view of the room.
As soon as the door was open, the flat fell completely silent, for the first time since the Erics had begun to multiply and fill the place with their chatter. Crowley couldn’t see what was happening through the pane of the door, which, when he pushed gingerly at it, refused to give way under the firm, ethereally strong grip the angel still had on the handle.
From his boxed-in vantage point Crowley heard the most awful noise break the quiet: a single shriek that was soon many cries, echoing from every room in the place.
Then came the sound of what could only be a stampede— dozens of booted feet rushing out through the door in a great thudding mass, accompanied by a great mass howl of demonic fear. Crowley could just about make out some of the component syllables of the shout, blending together in a terrified Erickian chorus of: “ Ohshitohshittheangelhesherehesgonnakillme imsorryiwouldnthavehityou dontkillmewithyourfreakyangelfire imsorryfucksorrysorry —”
The sound of the stampede died out, leaving a much emptier quiet than the crowded silence that preceded it. Aziraphale, sounding shaken and slightly panicky, called out: “Crowley? Oh, good Lord, Crowley, where’ve you gone, have they taken you—”
Crowley’s insides twisted horribly in recognition, remembering his own broken cries in the midst of the burning bookshop. “M’back here,” he said, as loudly and clearly as he could with his face immobilized against the door.
“Oh!” The pressure was released on the door, and Crowley nearly toppled forward as it swung freely away from him. “Oh, my dear, I’m so— oh, goodness, look at the state of you, you look like you haven’t slept a wink, did they all arrive after I left last night? How did they get in? What did they want?”
Crowley couldn’t speak. He just stared gratefully at Aziraphale, framed as he was by the background of the newly emptied flat. Remnants of the invasion were everywhere. A toppled plant in the atrium, accessories flung over chairs, things in the kind of state that would normally send Crowley itching to tidy— but the presence of Aziraphale superseded all such tendencies.
Of course the angel had been the secret weapon all along. Eric must’ve lingered long enough at the trial to watch the little fire-breathing trick Crowley pulled, instilling in him the kind of deep primal fear that Crowley, humiliatingly, had spent the entire night failing to awaken. If Crowley had just sensibly refrained from shoving the initial Eric into the closet, and let the angel do the honors of scaring him off when he first arrived, bottle in hand, who knows how the night would’ve turned out.
“Crowley, who were they? Why did they all rush out like that? Was it… was it something I said?”
Still in a state of shocked relief, Crowley could only shake his head and let out a weak laugh.
“Listen,” Aziraphale went on, wringing his hands, “if I’d have known you had company, perhaps I would’ve come at a more appropriate time, but I— I simply couldn’t leave it until later, until too late, because I know it was forward of me to— well, to assume— to presume that you— I mean, I hope you’ll let bygones be— oh, darn it, I’m getting it all wrong—”
The angel frowned, stopping short. “Yes?”
“Please be quiet,” said Crowley. “I’ve had a very, very long night.”
Then he stepped forward, and kissed him.
Aziraphale was frozen for only a second under Crowley’s searching mouth, but almost instantly he was melting against him, relief palpable in every inch of his body, especially in his hands as they clutched Crowley to him with that desperate strength.
And perhaps it was the chaos of the invaded night that had left Crowley stripped of his usual protective structures, or maybe Aziraphale’s touch had always been the key to tearing them all down, but either way: no disbelieving thoughts remained in Crowley’s head as he gently cupped Aziraphale’s face to his, fingers brushing delicate ears and the trimmed edges of white curls.
Finally, Crowley, feeling like he owed Aziraphale a full explanation, reluctantly broke the kiss to tell the angel an abridged version of the night’s tale. He tried to figure out a way to get the gist across without making himself come across like an utter dunce, and rather failed, but in the end it turned out he didn’t care much at all about how it made him look, now that he had the angel in his arms anyway.
“But— what if they come back?” Aziraphale said worriedly, casting a look around the flat as if to turn up hidden Erics crouching in the corners.
Crowley grinned. “I think as long as you’re here, we’re safe.”
“Well,” said Aziraphale, businesslike. “In that case, I suppose I’d best not go anywhere.”
“Honestly, fine by me.”
Aziraphale blushed, averting his eyes for only a moment as if overwhelmed before meeting Crowley’s again. “Shall we take to your bedroom?”
“I— ah— m— yeah, although— mm— the Erics really did a number on my throw pillows—”
“I think we can make do, my dear,” said Aziraphale. He moved a hand from the small of Crowley’s back to the curve of his bum, and gave a quick squeeze that produced a jolt of heat down Crowley’s spine and a wordless ngk from his mouth.
As they moved towards the bedroom, Crowley very pointedly did not look out the window. Whatever those disposable demons were getting up to down there, it was no business of his.
But, just in case any were watching from the street, he used the hand that wasn’t slung around Aziraphale’s shoulder to throw up a very rude gesture.
Somewhere in Mayfair, a growing crowd of disposable demons were gathered around a single red phone booth, all attempting to edge their way inside.
The Eric closest to the phone snapped his fingers and produced a coin of no denomination known in England, slid it into the slot, and picked up the phone to dial.
“Yeah? Yeah, it’s me—”
“And me, too!”
“Shut it! Listen, I need a ticket back downstairs— well, thirty tickets— you can charge it to the demon Crowley’s account, it’s his fault—”
A harsh buzz from the other end of the line, and then:
“... What do you mean, he doesn’t have an account anymore?”
The Eric next to the Eric on the phone groaned. “Because of the exit paperwork—”
There was a pop! and the door of the booth buckled against the weight of another disposable demon. The Eric on the phone was squeezed even tighter into the corner.
“M-make that thirty-one,” he managed to choke out.
1. He’d never even considered using it. Certainly not, when the whole point of the device as he’d designed it was to sit around wholly unused, leaking a steady stream of guilt and regret out into its environs. [^]