The presence was distressingly weak.
On a natural stone bridge on the Ayia Napa Sea Caves a figure stood, eyes closed, concentrating, feeling …
The figure could have been a man. He wore cream-colored trousers rolled up to the knees and a soft white button-up over a similarly-colored undershirt. Soft beige leather sandals adorned his feet and a tartan bow-tie of blues, browns, and creams completed the ensemble. White-blond curls sat upon his head like a cloud, ruffling in the soft breeze.
He looked like a man, and would never have been mistaken for anything else by any logically-minded person. A spiritually sensitive person, however, may have had an inkling that he was not, in fact, precisely what he seemed.
The figure, as it transpired, was an angel.
This angel wasn’t in Cyprus because of a blessing or a miracle, or a mission from Heaven. He was, as a matter of fact, on vacation: the first he’d allowed himself in several centuries. He’d heard rumors of late that certain...apocalyptic wheels had been set in motion, and thus was doing what he could to enjoy the wonders of the Earth while he still could. After all, it had been his home now for more than six thousand years.
He had been strolling along these picturesque beaches, enjoying the bone-deep heat of the afternoon sun and the calming scent of the clear ocean air when he’d felt the presence. His hackles had gone up immediately, of course. He had, in fact, been immediately prepared for battle, had it been necessary.
He’d relaxed a moment later, however, when he’d attempted to hone in on the presence and realized just how terribly weak the life-force in question was.
He should have ignored it. It was none of his concern. It may have fallen under the purview of Heavenly duties had it been a threat, but with the presence so insubstantial - barely alive, as it were - that certain wasn’t the case. There was absolutely no reasonable, logical grounds for the angel to do anything other than walk away and forget he’d ever sensed that little flicker of life.
It felt like… Pain. Loneliness.
And this particular angel - so very unlike his Heavenly brethren - was incapable of turning a blind eye to suffering.
That is how Aziraphale, former Guardian of the Eastern Gate and Principality stationed on Earth, found himself actively seeking out the presence of a demon.
The sun was hanging low in the sky by the time Aziraphale opened his aquamarine-blue eyes. It had taken much longer than he’d anticipated, but he had finally managed to grasp the thread of the demonic life-force and knew where he needed to go. A quick scan of the area to ensure there were no humans nearby, and then he took to the air, pearlescent white wings stretched wide against the evening sky.
He flew down the beach, focusing diligently on the wisp of life. Beneath two more natural bridges and through several winding, labyrinthine tunnels, the angel finally found that which he hadn’t known he was searching for. A cave, nearly engulfed by the tide and partially hidden by the shadows of the stone pillars around it, called to him like a homing beacon.
With only a minor sign of annoyance, he let himself flutter down into the crystal blue water until he was submerged to his neck and his feet found purchase.
The cave’s entrance was terribly claustrophobic. The narrow tunnel forced him to pull his wings back in, and once he’d rounded a corner the light source was almost entirely snuffed out. Up to his chin in water and plunging ever further into darkness, Aziraphale couldn’t help but consider his own foolishness. If anyone Upstairs heard that he’d gone out of his way like this to help a demon , of all things, he’d be the laughingstock of Heaven.
More so than they already considered him to be.
He thought again about how the correct action would have been to leave, push his curiosity and empathy deep down inside, and leave the demon to whatever fate it was enduring.
Aziraphale kept moving forward.
Eventually the ground beneath his feet began to incline, the water level began to drop, and the pathway began to widen. Soon the angel was standing on dry land again, his sodden clothes creating a painting of dark spots upon the stone. He squinted into the deep, dark cavern before him with a frown on his face.
“Let there be light,” he murmured with a snap of his fingers, and in one pale white hand appeared a small, soft sphere of light.
Shadows crept and crawled on the cavern walls around him. Somewhere nearby a steady drip made curious echoes that bounced through the open space, rebounding again and again. It was rather lovely, in a way, and yet…
“I don’t like this place,” Aziraphale decided aloud to himself. Then, feeling utterly ridiculous even as he was saying it, he added, “It’s spooky.”
The sound of his own footfalls against the stone reverberated around him as he walked, creating the unsettling illusion of being surrounded by many other moving bodies. He worried his lip and searched on through the ominous location, waving his light source to and fro, ducking his head into every nook and cranny as he went. The demonic presence was stronger here, but only in a sense of proximity. The life-force itself was still discouragingly weak. Painfully lonely. Heartrendingly miserable.
The angel searched faster.
When he finally - and rather suddenly - came upon what he’d been seeking, he was just barely able to hold back a gasp of shock and dismay that wished to rip itself from him at the sight.
The being collapsed on the stone ground before him was most definitely a demon, but it could have very easily been mistaken for a man. A man who had, it seemed, been imprisoned and tortured within an inch of his life.
He wore only scraps of black clothing, torn and shredded so that they scarcely resembled a series of rags clinging to hips and shoulders and neck. The skin that was visible beneath was terribly pale, the body thin, long, and all sharp angles, and very nearly every inch of it was splattered with dried, blackened blood. A second horrified look revealed angry red lashes and immense black bruises across his ribs, back, stomach, and thighs. A cursory examination would conclude that he’d been both whipped and beaten. Likely repeatedly. Possibly over an immeasurable stretch of time.
Long hair pooled on the ground around his head, so caked in dirt and blood that it was impossible to discern the true color.
A length of change was pulled tight around bony wrists and affixed to a stake in the wall behind him, locking his arms behind his back. A strange metal circlet wrapped around his throat. A dirty length of black material - likely torn from his tattered clothing - was wrapped around his eyes.
He lay awkwardly on his side, perfectly still, barely breathing. Demons didn’t need to breath, of course, any more than angels did. However, Aziraphale knew firsthand that donning a human corporation made certain actions reflexive, therefore the weakness of those instinctual breaths could be quite concerning.
The angel approached cautiously, waving his little ball of light back and forth as he went. It didn’t seem likely that this was a trap (what other angel would be foolhardy enough to even investigate such a situation?) but it didn’t hurt to remain wary.
“Hello?” he called (practically whispered). He wasn’t expecting a response, but there was definitely a reaction. The demon’s body twitched, almost imperceptibly, and a tiny sound floated toward Aziraphale. It sounded distressingly like a whimper.
Spurred forward by the pitiful sound, the angel rushed forward and dropped to his knees in front of the wretched creature. He reached out, determined, words of comfort gathering in his throat, and brushed his fingertips along the curve of the demon’s bare shoulder.
The result was visceral.
The demon lunged forward all at once, mouth open wide and baring a deadly set of fangs that snapped at Aziraphale’s arm. The angel flew backward with a yelp, landing hard on his rear end while the demon hissed low in his throat. The chains pulled tight, keeping the demon from reaching the angel, but not for lack of trying. Aziraphale’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates.
It was over almost as quickly as it had begun. The demon collapsed back to the ground with a cringeworthy thud, gasping and wincing, having put what little energy it had left into the failed attack. A strange noise came from his lips - a kind of high-pitched keen - and he seemed to be fighting to keep himself from crying out in pain.
A voice in the back of Aziraphale’s head told him to stand up, turn around, and walk away. It told him to leave this horrid beast to discorporate in his own time, just abandon him to his wounds.
But a louder voice told him that there was absolutely no way he could walk away from this.
“Now, there’s absolutely no need of that,” the angel huffed as he righted himself.
The demon made a small choked sound and seemed to curl in upon himself.
Waiting for a retaliation strike , Aziraphale realized. Gentling his tone significantly he added, “I’m here to help you, you know.”
The demon hissed again at that, but it was a pathetic attempt that made him sound like a wounded garden snake. It was clear that he was barely hanging on to the ledge of discorporation. It might have even been kinder, Aziraphale thought, to just help him end it. He would be returned to Hell and have a truly torturous amount of paperwork to deal with, but he’d be out of his misery (so to speak) and out of the angel’s life.
The angel couldn’t quiet down that little voice that wondered...wondered whether the demon would be even further punished when he went back to Hell. Certainly the legions of the Fallen were not likely to be pleased by their agent on Earth being captured, tortured, and discorporated. What would they do to him? It couldn’t be worse than whatever he’d already been put through, could it?
Slowly, wishing to avoid the possibility of another outburst, the angel reached out and placed his hand on the demon’s shoulder again. There was a twitch, an even weaker hiss, and a shudder, but he didn’t seem to have enough strength left in him for anything else.
“There now,” Aziraphale soothed, keeping his voice low and soft. “Shh...be still. I just want to help.” He summoned a bit of angelic grace and let it was over the demon like a cleansing breath of warm wind. It wasn’t enough to help wounds, but he hoped it would be enough to be a balm to the demon’s pain and panic.
It seemed to work. The demon’s breathing slowed and became deeper, calmer, his fangs retracting. The tension seemed to - mostly - go out of his body.
“There now, that’s much better, isn’t it?” said the angel with a smile. “Now, don’t panic , okay? I’m just going to get that blindfold off you.” He reached for the scrap of material as he spoke and was surprised when the demon flinched back, almost as though he didn’t want the barrier removed. “It’s okay,” Aziraphale assured him as gently as he could.
Then he carefully set his little ball of Heavenly light on the ground and used both steady hands to delicately slide the dirty material up and over the demon’s head.
The demon had his eyes squeezed shut. Aziraphale assumed he could see the light through his eyelids and was fearful of blinding himself after so much darkness. The angel waved a hand to soften the intensity of the light before encouraging the demon, “It’s okay. You can open your eyes.”
It was a tiny, jerking movement, but the demon very clearly shook his head.
This surprised Aziraphale. A reaction to torture, perhaps? he wondered, his chest panging at the thought. Did his captors punish him for looking at them? How horribly cruel!
With a kind of righteous anger guiding him, Aziraphale reached out to place a healing hand on the demon’s head. He summoned his grace again, allowing another thread of it to flow, calming, through his own body to the other, soothing the demon’s psyche. “It’s alright,” he whispered, as one might do to calm a crying child. “I promise that no harm will come to you as long as I am here. Now...please, open your eyes?”
The demon hesitated, but the soft trembling of his body had abated. Aziraphale waited patiently.
A long moment later, the demon’s eyelids fluttered slowly open, and the angel had to work hard to suppress a gasp.
The hissing suddenly made infinitely more sense, because the demon’s eyes were unmistakably those of a serpent. Slitted pupils, long and thin and indicative of stress, stared back at the angel from amid irises of deep, honey gold that nearly devoured the whites of the eyes. Any human would surely find these eyes upsetting at best and terrifying at worst. Any angel would look upon them with unrestrained disgust.
Aziraphale thought they were painfully beautiful.
He only realized he’d been staring when the demon curled back in on himself, averting his gaze.
Ashamed… the angel thought, sadly. “No,” he said, quick but soft. He let his hand drift down from the demon’s head to his cheek and felt him tense under the touch. “Please, don’t hide them from me.”
He knew it was incredibly unprecedented. He was confident that his brethren would be aghast, horrified, perhaps even furious. Yet Aziraphale simply could not stop the words as they tumbled from his lips: “Your eyes are very lovely.”
Amber orbs peered up from beneath dark eyelashes. Cautious. Suspicious. Disbelieving.
“It’s the truth,” Aziraphale insisted, helpless to stop himself. “They’re such a beautiful color.”
He must have gazed another beat too long because the demon blinked, looked terribly bewildered, and made a weak hissing sound that had the inflection of a question.
Aziraphale felt an unusual heat rise in his cheeks and hastily pulled his hand away. When he spoke again his voice was strangely flustered. “Let’s get those chains off, shall we?” he practically squeaked.
What the Hell is wrong with you? the angel berated himself as he moved around the demon to inspect his chains. It’s bad enough that you’re rescuing a demon in the first place without fawning over his eyes like a hormonal human teenager.
This demon who was an angel once…
The demon continued to breathe slow and steady (if not a bit rigidly) while Aziraphale used a tiny, hopefully un-noticed-by-Heaven, miracle to break the links of the metal from his wrists. Violent black-and-purple bruises were left behind, practically throbbing visibly. Aziraphale’s fingers twitched to rub the pain away, but while he was still contemplating the implications of that urge the demon drew his arms around himself and pulled them toward his chest. Trembling fingers hovered over the destroyed wrists, punctuated by an almost-too-quiet whimper. Aziraphale’s heart hurt at the sound. He ached to heal the demon’s wounds but knew that such a use of a miracle would be too much of a risk of attracting Heaven’s attention. Instead, he promised himself that he would pay special attention to those wrists once he got the demon home.
(The little bit of ‘proper’ angel still shrieking at him inside his own head gasped, scandalized, at the revelation that yes, Aziraphale was planning to take the battered and broken demon to his home .)
While the angel worked that outrageous concept through his confused and conflicted brain he watched the demon shift his body, spreading the long fingers of one hand against the ground. Then, suddenly, he was trembling, a high whine of sound coming from his throat. One leg bent up a little, a desperate attempt to gain some purchase on the stone with one bare foot.
He’s trying to get up , Aziraphale realized.
And if the shrill sounds and labored breathing were anything to go by, he was killing himself in the process.
“Stop! Stop!” the angel cried, scrambling back around the demon to face him. He immediately regretted his rise in tone and volume as the demon responded by letting himself fall the few inches he’d gained before curling up with a whimper, eyes squeezed shut.
“On no, no, goodness me,” Aziraphale fussed, careful to keep his voice soft and gentle this time. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. But really, you are in no condition to be attempting to get up under your own power.” The angel considered the shaking form before him and worried his lip. It would have been so simple to place a hand on the demon and miracle them both back up to the surface. But if he’d been worried about Heaven picking up on an unusual healing miracle he was absolutely certain that they would notice him spiriting another human-shaped being through physical space.
There was really nothing for it then.
“Come here,” Aziraphale decided. “I’m going to take you out of this place.”
It was a bit difficult because he was so conscious and fearful of exacerbating the demon’s wounds, but a few whimpers and pained gasps later he had the poor, broken thing in his arms. The demon stared up at him with wide eyes, shocked and confused and terrified.
“It’s okay, my dear,” Aziraphale assured him, failing to notice his own use of the endearment. “I’m going to take you out of here now. I could miracle us out, of course, but, well, an angel helping a demon? We really don’t want Heaven to notice us. So just be patient with me, okay?”
The demon made not a sound, but Aziraphale saw a tiny shift in his head - a nod.
“You’re awfully quiet, you know,” Aziraphale pointed out with a playful smile. “You can speak to me if you like.”
The demon’s eyes darkened with something like sadness. He gave a gentle shake of his head and lifted one hand to flutter his fingers against the odd metal circlet around his neck.
“Oh.” Aziraphale felt his heart drop into his stomach. “That thing robs you of your voice?” he guessed.
The demon nodded - another tiny motion - and let his head fall so that he was gazing into the shadows.
Aziraphale frowned. “Well, we’ll just have to get rid of it as soon as we get you safely away from this place.”
The demon didn’t react. Aziraphale stifled a sigh.
It was a difficult trek back out of the caverns. It wasn’t that the demon was heavy - even if he hadn’t been a thin, bony wisp of a thing, Aziraphale had once been a holy soldier in God’s army and hardly even noticed the weight in his arms. No, the problem was that as the tunnels once again became narrow and flooded, the angel had to twist, turn, lift, and maneuver in awkward ways to fit both himself and the demon through the restrictive path. A few times he even verbally begged the walls to widen just a bit and let them pass. The demon sent a strangely amused glance his way during that moment.
As they approached the exit Aziraphale expended a small miracle to keep them high enough above the water’s surface to protect the demon’s head from submerging. He wasn’t certain if, in his current state, the poor thing’s corporation would be able to survive any water getting into its lungs, so he justified the risk.
Breaking back through into the outside world felt like a miracle in and of itself. In the time since Aziraphale had entered the cave the sun had set and a full moon had risen. Thousands of bright pinprick stars shone down on them from a perfectly clear sky and reflected in the mirror of the still water of the beach. The illusion created was one of being surrounded in every direction by a sea of sparkling diamonds on velvety blackness.
“Oh, how lovely!” Aziraphale sighed with a soft grin. He couldn’t help looking down to share his joy with the demon, but what he saw there gave him pause and made the smile slip from his face.
The light of the stars reflected in glassy eyes. A thin sheen of moisture made the golden orbs quiver as if molten, and as Aziraphale watched those beautiful eyes take in the majesty of the galaxy above, a single tear slid down the demon’s cheek.
Aziraphale stared for a few moments. A complicated whirlwind of emotions and painful feelings pressed insistently against his rib-cage.
How long were you down there? the angel thought, biting back his own tears. Long enough to believe you would never see the stars again?
The demon’s eyelids fluttered closed as Aziraphale unfurled his wings and took to the sky.
He was halfway back to his little rented villa (careful not to come across the path of any humans as he flew) when he realized that the demon had fallen asleep in his arms. It was so unexpected, so surprising, so...terribly tender, that it nearly broke the all-too-human heart in the angel’s chest.