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Take the Fall (What's a Second Time)

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It's not every day an idling demon finds a distraught angel in God’s paradise, but of course there haven't been that many days yet.

The angel is sitting beneath a tree, caged in the sunbeams fracturing through the branches and staring at something rosy and unapologetic in his palm. Crawly has seen him here and there in the garden, very rarely on the Eastern Gate. In fact he only assumes that the angel belongs to the Eastern Gate because, well, there are four gates and only three of them feature boring self-righteous angels posed like gargoyles of accountants with swords. This angel wanders, which is fairly inconvenient when you’re trying to be as incognito as a massive serpent can be, and has led to various near misses involving scales and angelic feet.

They’ve existed in the same sphere for all of current constructions of time,1 but they've not exactly been chatty. Personally, Crawly has been perfectly happy basking in sunlight and steadily putting off having to report anything to his superiors, and Engaging In Discourse With the Enemy presumably counts as report-worthy.2 Shame, really. Decent conversation's fairly hard to come by, above or below, and sometimes Eve's busy with her squidgy bits and it feels rude to interrupt.

How do you even introduce yourself to an angel? Be not afraid is already taken – or it will be, and that’s what matters.3 Something grand, naturally, but also eloquent, and above all else something to avert the imminent smiting. Crawly can’t bear the idea of speaking in verse, but he could probably break out a metaphor if he wanted.

At this point the demon experiences an extremely novel sensation, the likes of which he hasn’t felt since Lucifer whispered in his ear.4 There he is, well-settled into a good thought spiral, the likes of which can occupy him for those newfangled ‘hours’ as he follows the sun across the grass, and then a sound just cuts through all of it. One gasp. No thoughts.

It’s loud, it’s sharp, it’s clearly unintentional, and it sounds…wet.

Hell is other people, especially when those other people are demons with a keen interest in developing the burgeoning torture industry. Hearing that sound dredges up memories with the reluctance of scooping honey, just as stubborn and just as sticky. There used to be a lot of this sort of emotional display in Hell, only now they’re trying this new toxicity thing and it’s viewed as bad form. Any real demon shouldn’t even think of it.

A gasp, involuntary and inelegant and hiccupping, swiftly followed by a hand clamped over the mouth and the body hunching over, wings mantling, obscuring all but the vaguest suggestion of a face Crawly shouldn’t know so well from down here on the ground.

Is the angel…crying?

The angels who got to keep the title can cry; that’s not the surprise. The War involved much wailing and rending of flesh, and it turned out when angels cry the world is supposed to cry too. Swirling tempests and that sort of overdramatic bullshit. The divas aren’t quiet about it. What’s surprising is that this is just the opposite: private, alone, and at least trying to be quiet – to not be heard. Now that Crawly is focusing and his serpentine hearing is elevating to demonic levels, he can hear the unmistakable aborted gulps of someone absolutely resolute in their desire not to cry in the slightest, and as a result making rather more of a scene than if he'd just leant into it. The angel’s whole body is shaking, feathers quivering both individually and collectively, and presumably it's the body that's responsible for all of it.

Somewhere in the back of Crawly’s mind, a programme belatedly boots up and observes that the angel is not sitting under a tree, rather the tree, and is not just holding something rosy, but specifically an apple.

When the wings part, a hand feebly wiping at tears before anyone sees, Crawly’s freshly sharpened vision notes that his face is blotched unseemly red and sickly pale, eyes shot through with an alarming shade of pink, cherubic curls drooping with some of the tips wet where confused fingers keep dragging through them. It's possibly the least attractive image of an angel ever presented to the universe.

Crawly doesn't think he’s ever seen anything more perfect.

It’s so distracting, in fact, that he never does devise the perfect words. He’s so busy watching that he gets caught.

The angel startles, so suddenly that Crawly recoils too, even though there's only one threat to a demon present and he’s currently caught in a tangle of robes. The apple, interestingly, isn't dropped but whipped behind the body, as those blotched features frantically fight with the limits of corporeal malleability to appear unaffected, even aloof.

"How – " The angel sniffs, wiping his nose on his sleeve before belatedly looking down in dismay at and trying to surreptitiously clean it on the hem of his robes.5 "How long have you been there?"

Define long, Crawly thinks, tail twitching awkwardly.

"It was perfectly reasonable," the angel says, arranging his collar and tugging at his expansive cuffs in a manner which in perhaps 6000 years’ time will lead to extensive speculation concerning what precisely he has been getting up to. "It's not – oh dear," he mutters, hesitating long enough for his wings to droop once more, "I am in trouble, aren't I?"

It takes a moment for Crawly to realise these words are not actually directed to him, rather at him. Simple enough distinction and one he’s highly used to from Lucifer's monologues, not to mention the rest.6 Still, those speeches never sound so miserable; so, well, hopeless. After all, the Fallen do tend to pride themselves on the fact they did so.

"It was a mistake," the angel mumbles. Swallowing, he produces the apple once more and holds it out. "I never thought she'd – How was I supposed to know?"

Is he – he's pouting. An actual angelic pout. "They were told not to eat it, so it's not my fault, is it? Except I suppose it is – or they'll think that. That’s what matters, isn’t it?"

Crawly slithers closer, raising his head from the ground to look at the apple being presented. It's certainly very shiny, although colours are rather more difficult these days. Looks good. His tongue flickers out and he smells sweet crispness and succulent knowledge. He always has liked knowledge – that's the problem.

There's a bite missing, far too neat and perfect for the work of a human mouth. He’s seen Eve smile often enough, laugh even, and her mouth pulls too far too one side when she does that, and he's seen all her teeth lined up without anything like the regularity of the angels. Same with Adam, he assumes - it’s not like the man makes for scintillating conversation.

Another tongue flicker catches far more than expected, and the demon notices the other apples on the grass – or rather the remnants of what used to be apples. Incredible there are cores left at all, with how they look fairly devoured. It makes him think there must be more, shreds of seeds already lying there waiting to be pushed down into the soil.

The demon hisses for want of anything else to do. If he had a rattle he'd shake it and it would bode just as much ill, which is to say none at all. He's thinking, and when he thinks this body does it all on its own.

He circles past the angel, giving him plenty of room but exploring the abandoned cores. Something happened here, all right. Right under the Almighty's precious tree – which, really, he of all people knows that She doesn't play fair but this has to be on some new ineffable level. 7 If Lucifer pulled this shit they'd never hear the end of it.

He's never eaten these apples. If asked, he'd say he never saw the point, what with good and evil rather forced on him regardless. That would sound nice and cool, very casual. The truth, though, has more to do with a snake body being thoroughly uninterested in fruit. There isn't a mouse of knowledge of good and evil, or at least he hasn't found one yet.

"I'll be in so much trouble," the angel is saying, rubbing the fingers of his free hand together and winding them back and forth, tapping on the apple as if that will somehow help. It would be easier, Crawly thinks, if the angel actually had something to fiddle with, besides divine fruit. Like this, he's liable to hurt himself. "You don't know what they're like, you know, up there," the angel points a ridiculously furtive finger upwards, as if 'all-seeing' didn't exist in the job description. "Everyone's ever so on edge, and what with this being the big project and – " He sighs. "They’ve never told me what happened to the others, not really. They're just...down there." Another point.

Crawly takes the apple from him.

"You don't want to know."

The angel's head jerks up, eyes going comically wide, almost as wide as his mouth with all that air and shock and apparently no words to come out.

It's funny, having legs. Crawly promptly decides he dislikes this confrontation with gravity, bending over at a vertiginous angle as all that upright gets going, and collapses down into the lush grass. Hopefully that looked dignified; hopefully the angel also missed the squishing sound of fruit remnants experiencing further indignities on their mortal remains. Legs are a terrible invention and the one thing he might give the Almighty is that at least she experimented with other models.

"You're – " The angel swallows and makes a quite visible effort to school his face into something authoritative and angelic. This dissolves quickly into a much more believable model of disapproval as Crawly feels his mouth twitching insistently at the side.8 "You're a demon," the angel says, now sounding very displeased and distinctly waspish. It would be very impressive if his eyes weren't still so red.

"That is what they're calling us now," Crawly agrees. "PR thing, getting away from the whole 'angel but shit' image. Some of the higher ups aren't wild about it but I reckon it'll take off. Especially if you lot are using it too."

The angel looks around, as if this is the thing that's going to bring out any more observers lurking in the grass. There’s only Crawly on that front, though. He checked. "You shouldn't be here."

"Why not?" the demon asks. "Nobody else is."

The angel's mouth flattens into a hard line. "That is uncalled for. Though I suppose I shouldn't expect any better."

Blinking, the demon asks, "What did I do?"

"You know perfectly well what – well, I – " The angel frowns, the visual equivalent of revving a third-hand car. “I almost tripped over you. I apologised.”

“You did, yes. Very polite.” Crawly might have been fleeing angelic detection but he had still been able to appreciate the bow.

The angel, for want of any other available word, grumbles. At least, he makes a sound which isn’t agreeing or disagreeing and focuses purely on displeasure at the entire situation whilst sidestepping the question of acute embarrassment. 9

[9] See YouTube cat videos for further reference.

Crawly could just leave it there, another meeting dissolving into petulant silence. The problem is that it takes almost no time to think about it – the decision really does only last a moment, barely meriting the noun. Perhaps he should have taken longer. Perhaps it should be something he had to think about.

He reaches out and prods the angel in the wing. "What are you moping about, then?"

Incredible, the way those cherubic features can arrange themselves into something quite scandalised. It’s a lot of movement for one face, especially when you’re usually a snake. Seems the sort of thing guaranteed to cause trouble - at least auras are straightforward. "There's no call for that sort of behaviour!"

"And demons are known for behaving?" To prove his point, Crawly prods him again. "Go on, then. What happened to the humans?"

The angel goes the sort of pale which somewhere in the far future would be very fashionable indeed, particularly when combined with black dresses and fainting couches and, ideally, cholera.

"Doesn't take that much brain to figure it out, and if there's one thing we've got downstairs, it's brains." This is a lie. Crawly considers himself clever, save for that one crucial time he fell for a very impressive propaganda campaign, but with every passing trudge of eternity it's becoming clearer to him that intelligence is not a prerequisite for Falling. "So. Where are the humans, and what does that have to do with this?"

He holds out the apple.

The angel takes it, very slowly and carefully, as if at any moment the demon is going to lunge forward and sink his fangs into his hand. Crawly notes with distracted surprise how much the idea rankles. "I just got a little...peckish."

"'Peckish'," Crawly echoes.

"Nothing major," the angel says, voice starting to speed up as the confession dam groans and gives up, "I really shouldn't have, only all of the fruit here really is quite lovely, and at first we did have some mix-ups with the mushrooms so I told Adam that that's all right, I can help, so I guess they were watching whenever I ate, which maybe meant – " He takes a deep gasping breath, like a man trying to save himself from drowning, or the sulphuric diving competition. "It's a hot day. I fancied an apple."

Crawly looks at him blankly. Slowly he tilts his head up to look at the tree spreading overhead, only distantly noticing the ridiculous weight of hair falling back. The leaves are dark green; the apples a perfect red. Not a flaw in sight; not a worm, not a bug, not a serpent.

He talked about this tree only once with Eve, when she'd questioned placing it in the centre of the garden, and he'd told her not to do anything unless she was really sure. There never was much wrong with taking a minute to think, he reasoned with her in a perfectly hypocritical manner. You should evaluate the situation. Wonder what exactly the Morningstar was up to when he smiled like that.

"You couldn't wait five minutes?" he asks. "Find another tree?"

The angel shifts on the spot, eyes flicking to the other side of the river and a perfectly decent pineapple tree. Of course, even snakes know when fruits aren’t worth the effort.

"I'm still getting the hang of time," the angel admits. "It is rather ridiculous, when you think about it."

"Hmm," Crawly says, who rather suspects that now he will, at length, and possibly whilst eating those grapes at the edge of the garden which have done something rather odd in the sun. Perhaps this angel might take an interest in those grapes too. "So you...What? Made it look that good? Worth going against...?"

He waves his hand vaguely upwards, and is both surprised and impressed when the angel seizes it to yank it back down. There’s a touch of proper angelic fire in those very blue eyes, the stuff that lights up swords, and as much as the demon misses the softness of before he finds he likes this too. This thought intensifies when the moment passes and he instantly wants to provoke that response again.

"They'll cast me out," the angel whispers, terror hissing through it. Crawly can feel his hands trembling, see it in the soundless whisper of feathers shaking. Celestial beings don't care much for age – there are two ages, 'us' and 'them' – but the thought does flash past that this angel can’t have existed much before the War. Not that Crawly knows what Heaven has been saying since then, obviously, but there’s just something about the naked fear in front of him. Something that lacks an idea of Before.

Crawly had Fallen, through too much questioning of the right people and too much unquestioned faith in the wrong ones. He doesn’t recommend the experience at all.

Ridiculously, you actually can see your face in the apple. Crawly notices that his eyes don’t remotely resemble the angel's, or what he was expecting in his own reflection, and turns it in his hand until he’s looking at the bite mark, so very perfect. "I suppose this is the damning evidence?" He winces. "So to speak."

How you could combine that much horror with such a prissy 'humph', the demon has no idea. It’s quite fascinating to watch.

“What did you say your name was? Is?” Time is hard, which has something of a knock-on effect for negotiating grammar.

With perfectly polite ice, the angel says, correctly, “I didn’t.”

Crawly purses his lips in the face of such logic. “Crawly.”

“It most certainly is not!”

“No, not you,” Crawly says, rolling his eyes and only realising a moment later that he doesn’t want the angel looking too closely at them. “Me.” Helpfully he indicates himself, oozing cool. “Crawly.”

The angel has the nerve to wrinkle his nose. “’Crawly’.”

Crawly decides that he most definitely does not want to hear that name in the angel’s mouth. Not that he doesn’t want to hear something, it’s just that this makes his tongue twist in frustration and let through more honesty than he’d like. “Allegedly.” Growling might not be the way to ingratiate yourself with an angel, but here they are.

“Ah.” The angel does not quite take a step back, although he does glance down and his wings somehow acquire something of an apologetic air. “Aziraphael.”

“Azira – ” Crawly catches himself just in time. Maybe in time he’ll be able to say that out loud, and maybe he would be able to now if the old demonic brain didn’t keep skipping over that syllable like a scratched record.

They both blink at each other – or rather Aziraphael blinks and Crawly stares, what with blinking being something that happens to other entities. Possibly Aziraphael gathers what the problem is, or possibly he’s just that attuned to the atmospheric taint of awkwardness. Either way, there’s a lot of stifled nodding and approximately no talking.

Crawly looks down at the apple, still sat there in his hand. Funny little thing. Has a weight of metaphor about it, and not a pleasant one at that. Rather like how he’s only ever seen this angel before when looking upwards.

The memory coughs politely.

"Didn't you have a flaming sword?"

Turns out one confession is all it takes. Just like that, he knows what he has to do.

Aziraphael is still babbling about expecting and no regular meals out there when Crawly leans forwards, and bites into the apple.

“What the Hell are you doing?” the angel demands, surging forwards and grasping ineffectively at the apple – ineffective because Crawly leans carefully back on his haunches, chewing thoughtfully as he looks at the offending fruit in his hand. For one bite, there seems to be an awful lot of juice, down his chin and his wrist. Ever the snake, bodies so malleable but muscle memory a pesky little thing, his tongue darts out to catch the line of sticky liquid running down his arm. When he raises his gaze, Aziraphael is staring at him, eyes wide and lips pressed tightly together.

“Don’t see what all the fuss is about,” Crawly drawls. “I mean, it’s nice, obviously, but hardly seems – ” He shrugs. “Well. You know. Diabolical.”

“It isn’t supposed to be diabolical,” Aziraphael insists. “It’s ineffable.”

“And I suppose that’s different, is it?” Crawly mutters, and then hastily holds up his free hand as Aziraphael swells up with indignant rage. “Sorry, no, questions, sort of my thing. Still,” he tilts the apple side to side, perfect bite opposing pronounced fangs and still bleeding juice, “I guess I expected something more. What do you think the demonic equivalent of fig leaf leotards is?” His bite interrupts the unnatural reflection in the skin, but he can still detect the glimmer of something uncomfortably close to pus yellow. If it wouldn’t make him blind, he rather thinks he should cover those up. As it is, he can only glance quickly away, feeling a little ill as his eyes itch.

“I shudder to think. And I’ve certainly never noticed any difference afterwards,” Aziraphael tells him, wonderfully oblivious, “but then, it’s not about us, is it? The Almighty never told me not to eat it.”

“And therein lies the problem, I suppose,” Crawly says. “Still. Should be easy enough to convince them otherwise.”

There is a rather fascinating twitch building in Aziraphael’s right eye, an imperfection Crawly finds as dazzling as the white wings fluttering behind him. “Convince who? Of what? Oh, why am I asking you,” he goes on, presumably to himself, “a demon would be loving this – or whatever it is you do.”

Crawly bites back an offer of ‘lust’, if only because strictly speaking it’s not an opposite. “You say you’ll be in trouble if they find out, but what if – ” He hesitates at the sweet taste of the words in his mouth. Demons don’t like sweet things – not unless they’re sickly. 10

“What if we said it was me?”

Aziraphael’s fingers tighten in his robes, fresh creases to join the grass and apple stains. Not that angelic clothing should stain, really, but that’s corporation for you. No reason the sun should feel good on scales either.

“They’ll never believe you,” Aziraphael says. Also, a beat later, “There’s no ‘we’ in this.”

“Well, obviously we won’t say ‘we’,” Crawly acknowledges. “But that can be the story. They told me to go up here and make some trouble; might as well pretend I was doing what they want.”

“That’s encouraging demonic wiles,” says Aziraphael primly – rather too primly, in fact. No angel actually talks like that, unless things have really changed up there. The same goes for that extremely unsubtle flicker of the eyes, from demon to apple and back. So unsubtle is it, in fact, that Crawly is much more consciously aware than usual of not being smote (smitten?). “Why should I give the dark forces the satisfaction?”

“You’d rather give them you?” The very idea fizzes unpleasantly, cider gone sour. He can’t help trying to unstick his tongue, to spit the metaphorical taste out. “They’d love that. The War’s still their biggest hit in the spin department, and one of these days it’s going to wear very thin. A new recruit who’s gone and tempted the Almighty’s pet project – think of what they could do with that.” He tilts his head in as meaningful a manner as he can possibly manage. “Do you like the idea of being Hell’s little poster boy?”

“I can’t tell whether you’re trying to tempt me or dissuade me,” Aziraphael says flatly. “It’s not working, though.”

“Which one?”

Either.” He sighs, rubbing at his face. “Wouldn’t this be doing you a favour?”

“Win-win,” Crawly reassures him, inching ever so slightly closer. “Or stalemate, or whatever cliché you want to use.” 11

“I suppose there’s a catch?”

“No catch,” Crawly says, and finds that he means it. More than that, he wants the angel to know that he means it. “Just one lie. That’s all.”

Aziraphael really needs to stop shifting on the spot like that. It makes Crawly want to follow him, left to right, regardless of what these ridiculous human hip-joints deem possible.

If I agreed to this – ” Aziraphael bites his lip. Somehow Crawly manages to restrain himself, just. “If you were – What would that mean for them? The humans?”

Crawly hasn’t even realised his wings have been hanging there the entire time, not until he feels them flap, just once. “Er.” He frowns, his turn now for his face to pull itself into all sorts of new configurations without the slightest conscious thought. “I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think this is going to get them back into Her good books whatever happens.”

Being a demon, he’s far more used to screams and cries of pain. However, there’s still a familiar edge to the soft sound emanating from Aziraphael, one which doesn’t quite match his mouth. “No, She did sound rather definite about that.” He pushes his index fingers together, seeming to take an interest in the intermingling of pink and pale. “How are you supposed to have tempted them? I’ve never seen you show much interest in any of the food around here.”

Crawly feels his eyebrows raise. So much for subtlety. Then again, does that mean Aziraphael has always known there was a metaphorical snake in paradise, or just a literal extra one? And, more to the point, what did that mean vis-à-vis near-tripping accidents?

“I don’t have to have done. I’ve talked enough to Eve; let them make their own assumptions.”

“Oh, you can’t let them blame her.” For the first time – and it actually is the first time, how about that – Aziraphael genuinely looks appalled. “Adam was the one saying it should be fine if an angel did it.”

“Wait.” Crawly narrows his yellow, yellow eyes. He’d rather assumed, what with the crying and devastation and all, that the angel had stumbled onto all this rather tragically after the fact. “How do you know that?”

Aziraphael takes up an interest in anywhere but Crawly’s face.

“Close by, were you?”

“If I agree to this,” Aziraphael snaps, “do you promise to stop asking about it?”

He shouldn’t. Crawly might not be a particularly enthusiastic proponent of the party line, but he can tell that he should keep prodding at this. Peeling back the layers. Why settle for humans when you can undo an angel into the bargain?

Except, he reasons, they already have enough of Fallen down there and humans really are supposed to be the next big thing. Certainly Crawly doesn’t see Lucifer spending more time on this angel than gloating over another middle finger to their collective Mother. Which is stupid, really, because this angel is just as interesting as Eve and only more unexpected for seeming so factory-standard on the outside.

Lucifer doesn’t deserve this one, another toy for him to waste.

“No more questions,” Crawly agrees. He holds out his hand.

Aziraphael leans forward, swaying almost, reaching out then pulling back. At any moment Crawly expects him to flee, or at least find a useful alternative to a flaming sword. Then, exhaling, he finally grasps Crawly’s hand in his own.

There is a spark – more of a tingle, really – but Crawly certainly isn’t going to flinch from such a small pain and Aziraphael seems far more focused on the sight than any sensation, staring down at their joined hands. There’s a line of tension running all the way up, centering in his shoulders and making his wings quiver.

The sky overhead remains the exact shade of blue She had chosen personally. The birds sing and the cicadas chirrup. The air tastes of paradise.

Eventually, Crawly says, “So. We’re both still here.”

That brings Aziraphael back, as he performs something like a full-body shiver akin to receiving an electric shock. He snatches his hand back as if Crawly is currently and not merely formerly on fire, and then continues the general backward momentum until he is on his feet, staring down at the demon in a way which feels like it should be glaring except the eyes aren’t playing ball. Crawly gazes up at him, folding his hands in his lap for want of anything else to do with them.

Aziraphael pats himself down, perhaps checking for missed smiting stains. “So we are. And what is your plan from here?”

Right. Planning. That’s a thing, the planning.

Crawly’s fingers find the apple once more, marked by both of them. “It’s temptation, right? One bite each. Tell everyone that’s all it took, and it might not go quite so badly.” Not that Heaven has proven itself to be a paragon of mercy. Still, maybe humans will be different. Crawly can’t help thinking of Eve, smiling with a spark, talking so freely about the nonsense and the sublimity of her life – of both their lives. Adam’s never come off as the brightest bulb but he loves her, there’s no question of that, in a way that isn’t love of God. Their own special thing. Two halves of the whole human, and maybe that part hadn’t been the absolute worst idea She ever had.

Aziraphael’s hand covers the top of the apple. The shadow dims the reflection and Crawly exhales without meaning to. “Perhaps,” he says, with the sadness of a lying parent. Familiar enough to make Crawly lower his head. “I should point out that these clearly aren’t human teethmarks.”

“Nobody will know,” Crawly mutters, caught between dull resignation and quite the opposite, something flickering through him in this cocoon. “We’ve been the only two talking to them. Never seen another angel show any interest – not any real interest.”

It was like the stars all over again, the stars and all the rest besides. Glory in God’s work but no kind of independent investment, no sense that an individual angel had preferences or concerns, had any interest in any of the details – and of course ‘individual angel’ used to be a contradiction but that was Before, and they still couldn’t be bothered with the details. Love everything equally and distantly. Make love as hollow and impersonal as pain for a demon.

A hand finds his wrist; gives it the slightest, kindest tug. Obediently Crawly rises to his feet, although he never stops looking down. Head bowed.

“Hadn’t you best be on your way?” Aziraphael asks, and if Crawly didn’t know any better he’d say it sounds like gentleness. And he doesn’t know, not really, not anymore.

“Probably,” he agrees. “Wouldn’t do for you to be seen fraternising with the other side, would it? Not if we want to pull this off.”

The fingers tighten, then abruptly let go. It turns out the advantage of wings is theyo hold you steady when your treacherous legs try to sway forwards.

“Right. Of course.” Aziraphael nods. “Fraternising with the enemy.”

“Hmm,” Crawly says, glancing instinctively at the sky for want of anywhere else to locate Her. Omniscient, that was the word. This can’t have escaped Her notice, no matter how angry She is at the humans. She’s taking that one personally, but She is more than capable of raging at multiple creations at a time. 12

All he can hope is that maybe, just maybe, this will work. Let him take the blame.

“If this works – maybe I’ll see you again. Maybe on the wall.”

It isn’t like he can Fall again.

---

Bad day. 13

The worst part is that he’d almost let himself forget. A lot of the days after the Notageddon have actually been good, in the sense of the pleasant and tolerable. It’s hard to feel otherwise when you have a literal angel so regularly curled around you, a thousand flavours of love distinctive even with his own burnt tongue. It’s all too easy to let his walls fall that bit further everyday, to allow himself the delusion that he can have something this nice.

Good thing he has these reality checks then, in the sense of reminders as to who and what he is which is not good at all. The days when he wakes up with the ache deeper than ever in his legs, fingers twisting and burning in his bones, his muscles ripping. Walking never feels pleasant, even on the best of days, but sometimes the thought of getting out of bed and putting any weight on these ridiculous limbs at all tastes a fresher horror than anything Hell had thrown at him, even in its innovative early years. Demons get bored. Divine punishments do not.

“Everything all right, Crowley?” comes Aziraphale’s chirpy voice from out of the corridor, and Crowley lets out a long low groan into the pillow. “Now now, I know you don’t like mornings, but it really is glorious outside. I was thinking we could even go for a picnic in – ”

Where they were going for this hypothetical beatific sun-drenched picnic remains a mystery for the ages. Without any conscious input, Crowley’s mouth opens and emits the sort of strangled moan of which a singing cat would be proud. The silence afterwards has echoes, echoes within echoes, which etch themselves into the air as they squirm away.

The bed sinks down and Crowley flinches. The hand on his leg doesn’t hurt, but it focuses his attention precisely where he’s trying to ignore.

“Crowley.”

One word, without the slightest pleading. Crowley likes to think that he can resist all sorts of things: food, comfort, light. The one exception, and it’s an unspeakable relief to stop pretending otherwise, is Aziraphale.

“Just leave me to it, angel. I’m no fun like this.”

“The ‘fun’ is hardly the point.” Mercifully (as ever), the hand removes itself, although the bed shifts from side to side as Aziraphale seats himself on top of the covers, back impressively almost bending to slump against the backboard. “I can hardly leave you like this. You make quite the pathetic sight, you know.”

“And you say you’re the nice one,” Crowley grumbles.

“I lied,” Aziraphale says, in a voice clearly intended as calm and factual despite the pleased mischief wiggling inside. “To spare your feelings, you understand – and my back, for that matter. I do much prefer getting thrown against a mattress to a wall.”

The idea of ever moving again, let alone to doing something so energetic and mobile, seems quite impossible, and not even the thwarting-the-end-of-the-world kind of impossible. This Crowley holds to be so, despite the way Aziraphale’s words try to coil hot inside him. “You’re wasting that kind of talk, you know.”

“Never fear. I have a flawless memory.” Crowley lets out a cackle into the pillow which only cracks a little bit. “Well, at least for the things I care about.”

Responding to that would require acknowledging the feelings behind it, and as much as Crowley enjoys basking he still finds it hard to squint at those details too closely.

“Shouldn’t you go care about something else? Somewhere else?” he asks, attempting a raised eyebrow which might not have been as successful as usual, what with the majority of his face currently squashed against a pillow. When Aziraphale’s face pinches in a manner which threatens far higher levels of clucking than anybody’s constitution can take, he adds, “I’m just going to be asleep, angel – or trying to, same thing.”

“All the more reason to be here,” Aziraphale says, producing a book which looks rather resigned to its teleportation. “We don’t want you missing another century, not when there’s so much going on.”

There is nothing ‘going on’, that’s sort of the point of tricking their old bosses, yet Aziraphale has evidently decided that whatever they’re doing together now warrants a similar level of brisk dedication. It’s flattering, while not entirely conducive to self-pitying naps. Especially when your reasons for self-pity feel very fucking valid, with your legs aflame.

Aziraphale lifts the book a little too high to be comfortable or to entirely hide his face. “Besides. I feel rather…responsible.”

The thought of feigning ignorance does cross Crowley’s mind, albeit at a rather leisurely pace with a sinuous slide to it. Unfortunately, Aziraphale has a nasty habit of praising his intelligence and it’s possibly gone to Crowley’s head just a little. Instead, as is traditional, he resorts to metaphorical (and literal) hissing. “Don’t you dare.”

“I hardly – ”

“Don’t you dare,” Crowley repeats, propping himself up on his arms as best he can and dismissing the throb in his thighs. “You didn’t do this. You know exactly Who did.”

“But it wasn’t your fault, Crowley. I had rather hoped – ”

“What? That I’d be forgiven?” He doesn’t spit the word the way he sometimes does, but it still has a hellfire sizzle inside. “You can’t walk back that sort of thing, not when it’s inscribed in the bloody Bible.”

“As if that’s all meant literally,” Aziraphale tuts. “All the same, if I’d known what would happen, I would have, well…”

“What?”

“Well, I would have stopped it! Somehow! I could have – ” Aziraphale inhales sharply. “I could have told the truth, to start with. By all rights it should be me bedridden, not you.”

“I’m not bedridden, I’m not one of your Dickensian bodice-rippers.14 I’m choosing to stay in bed today. That’s normal. Got a lot of sloth to catch up on.”

Aziraphale looks at him in a way which does too good a job of conveying that Crowley is hardly active at the best of times, to which Crowley offers a return volley observing that Aziraphale can’t really talk on that front.

“She knew I didn’t do it and She did it anyway, and made a whole example out of it, and it’s nothing like what happened to Eve. Or Adam, for that matter.”

Aziraphale’s mouth presses into an unhappy line, the way it always does whenever the conversation has the undercurrent of crawl on your belly.

Crowley glances away. “She did ask if I was sure.”

“What?”

“In those days She still talked; She just didn’t listen. She asked if I knew what it meant, I said I was absolutely sure as well as a few other choice words…” He shrugs. “It’s just pain, angel. At least this time it means something.”

He is very much not expecting Aziraphale to reach out and cup his chin, lifting his head up again. Crowley has no idea why Aziraphale so constantly insists on seeing his eyes, the demon pulsing through, or why starting this has made him only more determined to do so. Sometimes Crowley thinks that’s worse than the ache in his legs – generally when it’s been a while since a Bad Day.

“She should have let me help you.”

“Divine punishment, angel. No miracles to fix it, nothing to make it better – ”

Aziraphale’s thumb pushes against his lips. “She should have let me help you. Now.”

Something hideously sappy is building inside him, the way it always does when Aziraphale doesn’t quite blaspheme. Try as he might, Crowley can feel it growing, so that if Aziraphale moves even a millimetre away it will all burst out of him. Disgusting sentiment all over the sheets. His fingers twist tight, nails digging into his palm in a flash of actual useful pain.

Aziraphale’s other hand catches the closest wrist. “Stop that.”

“You don’t – ”

“Crowley.”

Crowley falls silent.

“I’m not going anywhere. And I’ll help you however I see fit, whether you like it or not.”

Crowley’s bed is exceptionally soft and comfortable, an exception to his general aesthetic because of days exactly like this one. The same’s been true throughout his history, lush four-posters and even an expensive waterbed which at least had encouraged his body to stay still out of fear of causing a deluge of his own. He would be perfectly fine with spending the rest of the day, or the week, or the month, or the year on it.

That said, when you had the option of lying on an angel, who filled the air with soft reactions to his book whilst combing his fingers constantly through your hair – well, Crowley might have volunteered for eternal punishment, but he isn’t stupid.

---

It will be a life of pain unending. Your body turned against you. Never flying again. You will be hated by those who believe; praised by those Below. You will be the Serpent of Eden. Original sin. You will not simply take this angel’s place; it will be worse. The stars inside you will fill your mouth with dust.

Is this the story you choose?

Ironic, really. There never was any question in his mind.

“Yes. It fucking well is.”15

Footnotes

[1] The advent of humanity has led to a metaphysical administrative pileup to which the Gregorian calendar, AD vs BC, and Daylight Savings Time can only aspire. Back

[2] As the Book of Demonic Regulations states, ‘If the capital letters fit, you must send a writ’.Back

[3] Demons have no qualms about tearing ahead in the calendar to read all the quotes and pretend to be a genius.Back

[4] Not that Crawly wishes to be in a epic poem, but it is worth noting that said whispering had a great deal more in common with drunken pointing at karaoke resulting in a singalong. Probably Under Pressure.Back

[5] He’s about as successful in this attempt at subterfuge as you’d expect from a Host which dictates that it’s not a good visitation without manifesting in a literal blaze and ruining Mary’s favourite chair.Back

[6] It's the done thing Downstairs to have your own little self-indulgent gripe at the ready, but the overcrowding does tend to make it dissolve into farce when you can't hear yourself soliloquise.Back

[7] ‘Eff’ being the operative syllable herein.Back

[8] Oscar Wilde would one day witness this expression and subsequently describe it at length to the originator of the role of Lady Bracknell.Back

[9] See YouTube cat videos for further reference.Back

[10] Never steal Beelzebub’s dinner unless you already have an appointment with the dentistry demons. Back

[11] Angels invented clichés and blamed demons as an example.Back

[12] Crowley had certainly never been asked to take a number and read a magazine whilst waiting for his damnation assessment. Back

[13] Most of Crowley’s days have been bad, of course. Demons are supposed to be bad, and for all that the sides are now immaterial for him, the celestial taxonomy makes its way into the decidedly material.Back

[14] Crowley’s grasp of Victorian literature is as detailed and extensive as Aziraphale’s understanding of bebop.Back

[15] Crowley didn’t invent the word ‘fuck’, but he was the first to see its full potential.Back