"He must fall," Her Archangels had beseeched Her. "He betrayed us. He was in league with an agent of the Adversary, and he averted the chance we had to end this conflict once and for all."
A moment passed. She could sense their fury, spilling from them, drenching them. She wished it was love, instead.
"He must fall," they repeated.
Of all the power She'd granted them, She'd stripped this from them eons ago, before they'd 'protected' Her into near-irrelevancy. They had shown Her, through the war they’d ignited in Heaven and the damnation of the dissenting angels without Her knowledge, that they could not be trusted with it implicitly. Never again would they cast out one of Her children against Her will. They'd believed that they were fulfilling their divine purpose, but damning the angels they'd fought against and broken without even asking for an audience with Her, that had given Her no choice but to limit them.
"He shall not fall." This was the word of God. Unquestionable. Aziraphale would not fall.
She could have said more. She wished that the millennia of attempting to change Her beloved Archangels had undone the instructions She'd charged them with, but She'd also made them to be immutable, above all influence. Even Hers. She could have said more, but it would have done no good.
"We understand," She heard Uriel say, though She could hear the underlying frustration more clearly than the words themselves. "We shall find another way to protect the kingdom of Heaven."
Because that was what they thought they were doing, these erstwhile children of Hers. Fulfilling their sacred duty, whatever the cost.
Before another word could be spoken, they were gone, and God was alone again.
The difficulty with creation being the strongest of Her powers, God mused, was that it sometimes overshadowed Her divine sight. For all Her power, even She could not foresee the full path ahead for that which She set into being and motion.
In other words, there'd been a hostile takeover in Heaven. It had left Her under house arrest and Her dark counterpart in Hell languishing in a cesspit of insanity and despair. It was a vast understatement to say that Morningstar—Satan—was in no shape to assist Her in fixing anything, even if he could have forgiven Her for what She'd allowed to happen to him.
But She was getting ahead of Herself. Perhaps we should go back to the beginning, or before even that, from the perspective of Her creations on Earth. We must go to the day of Her greatest anguish, the day so many of Her children were ripped from Her.
The Great Fall.
Just before our story truly begins, Aziraphale was bustling through the clean, beautiful landscape of Heaven, awaiting word of his next set of holy duties. He was, at that time, unable to put a name to the feeling scratching at his very being as he wondered why all the angels around him seemed either frightfully busy, or...something else he didn't have a word for.
Later, much later, he would easily find himself able to supply the words he'd lacked that day. Troubled, perhaps even worried, for the feeling he'd had at his lack of assignment. Agitated, to describe the demeanor of some of his brother and sister angels who had drawn his attention. Gabriel, for all he worked to affect an air of celestial tranquility in those days, had perhaps been the most agitated of all.
"She appreciates your benevolent dedication to bringing Her works into being, Aziraphale," Gabriel had said, "but the specifics of your next efforts are still a part of Her divine mystery."
Aziraphale, before the events of the Great Fall and his years on Earth, had been unable to hear the true message behind Gabriel's words that day. It wasn't until an otherwise uneventful day, centuries later, that Aziraphale first considered that Gabriel's words had more in common with the excrement left behind by herd animals than with any sort of earnest intention to communicate.
Crowley (not yet named Crowley, of course, but the name he'd carried in those days is now lost to all but Her memory) had just tucked his wings against his back as he landed near a few of his brothers and sisters he'd come to favor. His recent work had been taxing, hanging stars in the rich, dark blanket of the sky. The labor was hard: harnessing the elements to create them, then nudging them gently into place until a peace washed over him and he recognized the pattern as right . Though he had been molded by the hands of God Herself for this purpose, it required every bit of his strength and concentration to perform.
That a few of his fellow angels seemed to understand him better than the others, that they voiced the same thoughts he found himself plagued with, the words he wouldn't have dared to utter before discovering he was not alone in thinking them...well, the being who would one day name himself Crowley tried not to linger too long in questioning how the situation had come about. He finally had a sense of belonging. He'd always felt out of place among the rest of the angels, the strenuous and time-consuming nature of his duties separating him from most of the Heavenly Host enough to lose easy companionship.
He kept his silence much more than his compatriots did, but he felt at home in their acceptance of their own uncertainty. It had begun as a shared secret, hidden by those who felt this underlying urge for more, and they indulged in it only when they were amongst themselves—though the most daring of them had become more vocal of late. It wasn't until they got quite vocal indeed, that Not-Yet-Crowley noticed the too-familiar looks of distrust on his companions’ faces as he remained silent when the others began to speak openly of their doubts.
An unease settled deep within him at the prospect of losing their acceptance and finding himself isolated again.
If he could have seen what was coming, he would have felt quite foolish for thinking the worst fate that could befall him was a return to loneliness among his angelic brethren in Heaven.
She had been consumed with the light of a new creation in these times. She had conceived of an Earth among the planets in the universe, which She would bless with an unrivaled variety of beasts and flora. Her hands had sculpted the details of the mountains and plains, set the depth of the seas, and formed the creatures who would creep, slither, and soar around Her gifts of the land, sea, and sky.
This place would be an idyllic home for beings She was making in Her own image, giving them a favored place in this wondrous new world. She loaned Her divine power to some of Her angels, giving them one small area to mold with perfection for these favored creations. The angels created flowers and lush grasses with a wave of their hands, caused trees to rocket into the air with a gesture. She named the garden Eden, and created a pair of humans to appreciate it.
As She prepared to breathe the first gasp of true life into this creation, one She intended to be Her finest, everything fell apart.
As Crawly—when that had become his name, he couldn't recall—fell, a searing pain consumed him. It tore at his wings, etching an ache into him that he somehow knew he'd never again be without. His mind struggled to understand the depth of this loss, misinterpreting it in the constant attempts to label it. He felt blind, though he could see, and deaf, though he could hear. Something was missing. Something vital, something from deep within him.
It was as though he was being torn apart from the inside, gutted and left gasping. He hit the river of sulfur, his physical form twisting in agony and changing itself in a panicked grasp at survival. The smell hit him, not unlike the fires that burnt within the stars he'd loved into place with his graceful fingers, but this fire was set against him, reforging him against his will.
He cried out, hearing the echoes of despair from the others who'd fallen with him, and knew suffering for the first time.
Aziraphale was deeply shaken when he discovered how the Archangels had ended the war. He'd been fighting, tears of anguish blinding him as he tried not to cause any actual harm to his opponents, when the atmosphere went suddenly still. Half the combatants disappeared, and the army of Heaven stood down.
Then the Fall was announced, sending Aziraphale to his knees in disbelief. It was unthinkable, how many they'd lost, how many had been cast out . He had so many questions, mourning this deep loss that cut through Heaven and left a gaping wound in its wake, but he knew better than to give voice to them.
It was specified, after all, that the threat brought by those who questioned Her and Her works had led to the war. There was nothing Aziraphale wanted more than to please Her, so he banished his doubts, sealed his lips shut, and stayed silent as the tears continued to fall down his cheeks.
God recalled, though Her being recoiled at the memory, how the Great Fall had come about. Each angel was a part of Her, but She'd trusted the Archangels above the others, having taken great care when forming them to imbue them with the full strength of Her protective nature. They were to oversee Heaven as an extension of Her, to spread Her light and give fulfillment to their brethren.
She recalled the duty She'd charged them with when the last of them had come into being. "It is for you to protect the peace and harmony of that which I have wrought. It is your divine gift and responsibility, as the highest of all My angels."
This had been said when She was in the fevered aftermath of creation, as forging beings as powerful as the Archangels strained even the unlimited bounds of Her power. If She had been less wearied, perhaps Her divine foresight could have gifted Her with a vision of what was to come, and She would have tempered Her words.
Her grief was as immense as the strength of Her powers, a vast torment which had woven itself into the very fabric of the universe. She recalled with perfect clarity the moment She'd felt the Fallen wrenched from Her, but not before their anguish and pain had wrung through Her.
She loved the Archangels as She loved all of Her creations, all of them imperfect in some way, as She found beauty in the small flaws She'd breathed into them. Every error in the universe began with Her, and She knew Her most trusted angels had only sought to do Her will and protect the tranquility of Heaven.
She had forgiven Her Archangels for inciting the conflict. They'd begun peacefully enough, ordering the dissenters to excise the offending impulses from within themselves. Yet they'd promised to restore the peace, and when the two sides had come to an impasse, the Archangels had acted. They'd wielded, with no doubt of their own righteousness, the mighty power She Herself had set into them, casting out those who threatened serenity with uncertainty and the spectre of change.
They'd rent Heaven in two, their fury creating a dark shadow of Heaven for the Fallen to inhabit. Their actions brought the very concept of sorrow into being, traveling outward in waves throughout past, present, and future, and changing more than a few too-inquisitive angels could ever have hoped to.
Aziraphale would never know how close he'd come to being among the Fallen.
When Michael, Gabriel and Uriel had last spoken before the conflict began, they'd talked at length about the angel who didn't fit with the rest of them, yet wasn't technically among those who dared to question Her works. Aziraphale did tend to separate himself from the others, and was different in a way that seemed dangerous in those times, when harmony and unity had become the most prized virtues.
It was Michael who'd recalled Heaven's need for a Principality to watch over the Earth, the newest of Her creations. The thought of spending most of the wide eternity away from their divine home and communing with the low creatures that were to move about the Earth was abhorrent to many of the angels. Were it Her will, any of the faithful would accept the task and take up the mantle with honor, of course, but if one among their number seemed naturally suited to it, well...
Perhaps Aziraphale could escape his dire fate by accepting a more mundane one, reasoned Michael.
The demons forged a new existence for themselves, their grief twisting inside them to anger and hatred. They tested the limits of their new powers, fueled by the remnants of their divine natures but bent by their pain into something darker than any of them had conceived of before.
They spied on the angels finishing their work on the creation of Earth, discovering that many of them seemed to favor some of the creatures over others. The Fallen felt a kinship with the shunned, the ones not sought out or cooed over like those that were furry and warm.
It became the custom amongst the demons to choose one of these maligned creatures and remake themselves to resemble it. Lucifer, their leader and the most powerful among them, had added features of nearly all of God's “lower” creatures to himself, growing massive and imposing, leaving all traces of his old angelic form behind and taking the name 'Satan.' He was, truly, no longer the Morningstar, but a being of pain, anger, and frustrated ambition.
There was one among the demons whose fall had surprised many of the others, and they whispered to each other of how he'd never been vocal in his questioning of Her, how they couldn't sense more than a touch of their own thirst for power and chaos within him. Yet it was Crawly whose talent at remaking himself rivaled Satan's, as he could transform into a serpent who could fool God Herself. He could do this without the degradation of his non-serpent form, a talent almost none among the demons possessed. While the others rotted and deformed or lost the ability to morph fully away from their chosen animal forms, Crawly changed himself at will, his true face and form remaining fair, save for the eyes he'd taken permanently by choice.
And they hated him for it.
When Heaven sent the Principality Aziraphale to guard the Eastern Gate of Eden, Satan desired an agent of his own there to sow the seeds of discord and evil. Hatred burned in the place where his soul used to be, and he shared with his subjects the fire within him to subvert Her works and prove themselves more worthy and righteous in their exile.
Satan charged his closest lieutenants with the selection of the chosen one who would do their master's bidding on Earth. The reasons Satan's most trusted gave for their selection of Crawly were praises of his shapeshifting ability, the way he'd be able to hide in the open among the divine creations around him. Crawly was known to be crafty, more thoughtful and calculating than most. He was the perfect choice, they argued, and Lucifer agreed.
And Ligur, Hastur, and Beelzebub grinned darkly to each other, satisfied that sending the most loathed of their number away, where his appearance and demeanor would no longer torment them, had been so easily accomplished.
Caught up in the joy of creation, God had sequestered Herself and thrown all Her energy into Earth, never noticing until much, much later how seamlessly the Archangels had taken over the administration of Heaven. They had summoned up their powers and created for Her a conduit, a voice to stand in Her stead. In the fevered heat of the final steps of the Earth's creation, She accepted their gift of the Metatron wholeheartedly, feeling their overwhelming love for Her imbued into him, and She trusted above all that Her works were infallible.
Infallible, they were. Her Archangels would never forget the sacred duty She had charged them with, and would pursue it through eternity. Peace in Heaven at all costs, and they would do anything to secure it.
Yet God was still anguished on the day She set life into motion on Earth. In the last moment prior to The Beginning, She found Herself pausing as Her eyes cast over Eden. The life there vibrated with possibilities yet to come, and She wondered if any among them would come to the dark fate of the demons. Each of Her creations had divine flaws, from the humans, complex in Her own image, to the smallest and simplest bacteria. How could She know if those flaws would sow discord anew? Could it again taint everything, destroying all it touched and rendering Her greatest creation dead and barren?
In Her wisdom, She placed a tree in the most prominent of spaces, its branches laden with the most delectable fruits hanging heavily, inviting a taste of their flesh. With a single thought, She made the tree and its fruit forbidden, an edict settling into the being of every creature, unquestionable. It was a test, no more, no less. To taste of this fruit would bring the gift of knowledge, but it would also doom them to doubt. Doubt would lead to grief and pain, and if another of Her creations chose this over tranquility, She would have to alter their existence accordingly.
She saw the flicker of panic in Gabriel and Michael's eyes as She informed them of Her newest decree, before breathing life into the Earth and causing creatures who had been mindlessly twitching with potential to suddenly burst into the full continuum of existence. She knew uncertainty disturbed Her Archangels. Yet, as She sat later, alone and watching over what She had created, Her mind recalled the narrowing of their eyes before they'd replaced their tranquil countenances. That reaction spoke of a conflict to come, but the path to it was, as yet, unclear. It rested, at least partially, on those who were out of Her reach, obscuring Her view of what was to come.
In the end, Crawly found the temptation of Eve so simple as to almost be uninteresting. He burrowed down into the Earth to breach the garden, using the power of his serpentine form and reveling in the clever design of the animal he'd adopted as his own. He'd slithered close to the woman, whispering promises to her of novelty, of choice, of something other than the sameness in which she'd existed since her first breath, and the apple had been in her hand almost before his snake's eyes could blink.
It felt just , that he had been the one to lead the humans to such a noble gift. It was what he had been cast out for, the unforgivable sin of simple curiosity. A desire for change, for novelty, for discovery. Before he'd reached them, the humans had barely cast their eyes up to revel in the gifts he'd placed for them in the sky, much less thought about what might be outside the boundaries of the paradisiac prison of Eden.
He did feel rather foolish though, watching the ensuing fallout. Why had he expected more mercy for these poor beings than had been granted to the Fallen? He was disgusted with himself, at his genuine surprise as Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, abandoned to the merciless environs outside the garden.
He shouldn't have been naïve enough to hope he might have won these humans a mere loosening of the bonds to their idyllic but changeless home. There was no mercy left in Heaven, and the darkest part of the wounded remains of his soul doubted there'd been any to begin with.
Crawly was careful as he approached his adversary, an odd angel who outwardly seemed to be bumbling and unassuming, yet radiated blinding waves of inner power. Crawly expected to be threatened, blamed. Cursed. A smiting with the flaming sword the angel wielded didn't seem entirely out of the question.
Yet, he knew he'd be reprimanded if he didn't attempt contact with the enemy. Avoiding a skirmish or an opportunity to gather information about the other side would not be appreciated by those idiots who'd taken to calling themselves Dukes or Lords or whichever ridiculous title they'd dreamed up to set themselves apart.
The angel, Aziraphale, instead floored Crawly at every turn of their conversation. Though Crawly had circumvented the angel's guarding of the gate and set into motion the most disastrous of events for the forces of Heaven on Earth, their exchange was...amicable? Crawly had teased and prodded, waiting for the angel's righteous fury, and received instead a confession of Aziraphale’s own transgression with the sword and an oddly philosophical debate over the nature of right and wrong. He'd even stayed for a truly humiliating amount of time, sheltered from the first rain to fall upon the planet under the angel's protective wing. As much as he wanted to deny it, it was all because he almost couldn't bear the thought of leaving.
A shiver passed over Crawly when he parted from Aziraphale, unsettling him for far too long afterward. Something in his core growled, demanding more, needing to chase that feeling again, a drive to bask in the angel's nearness with a hunger he couldn't comprehend.
He didn't know, couldn't know, that She had been watching, and through them, Crawly and Aziraphale, the path to the future was becoming ever clearer to Her. She hadn't yet decided on the outcome of the game, but She could sense the pieces beginning to move into place.
Yet for now, She could only observe, holding back Her final judgement.