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Numerically speaking, I've always loved you

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Well, that was quite the most unusual encounter he has ever had in his whole existence.

Aziraphale has never seen a demon before. He was kept out of the way when Lucifer and his followers were banished from Heaven. He and the other younger angels were sent away and kept busy with what felt like rather unnecessary tasks, although they were of course happy to undertake them. But there had been a few rumours for some time, always whispered with nervousness and much looking around to check that there were no older angels in the vicinity. One youngster dared to suggest that Lucifer and Beelzebub were encouraging others to ask questions of the Almighty. He was immediately shushed by his companions, but he met Aziraphale’s eyes and nodded firmly at him as if to confirm his belief in what he had said.

As the younger angels continued their work, there was suddenly a great deal of noise in the distance, and the youngsters could hear angry raised voices. Aziraphale knew about angry voices. He had experienced them more than once first-hand from elder angels when he failed to complete his tasks to their expected standards. He wondered whether the recipients of this current anger would also be told what a terrible disappointment they were. He fervently hoped that they wouldn’t, even if they hadn’t completed their work successfully. It was a horrible feeling to be told that you were letting the Almighty down and that you needed to put more effort into your work. Aziraphale always put effort into his work, doing his best to produce a perfect result, and it was awful to be told that his efforts weren’t good enough. But he would fight back his feelings of distress and try even harder the next time. Somehow he hardly ever seemed to be able to satisfy his elders, and their withering comments were always terribly painful but he would meekly bow his head and promise to do better in future.

The angry voices became even louder, and then there was the strange sound of clashing metal. Some of the youngsters murmured in concern, wondering what was causing the sound, but Aziraphale recognised it. One of the few tasks he had completed successfully was making a new object called a sword, following Uriel’s instructions carefully and crafting the object with precision and devotion when Uriel explained how important it would be. He had been praised for his work, which made him feel marvellously happy, but Uriel hadn’t explained to him the purpose of the sword. It wasn’t for him to ask, of course, but he had often wondered about it since then. He had even enquired whether he could assist with making more swords, but Uriel had dismissed his request and told him that others were working on the task.

As the sound of clashing swords continued, Aziraphale wondered whether the sword he’d made was finally finding its purpose. He certainly hoped so. After all, why else would he have had to make it if it didn’t have a great and good reason for existing?

The young angels weren’t immediately told why Lucifer and Beelzebub and many other angels seemed to have disappeared or moved to another part of Heaven, neither was any explanation given of why some of the elder angels had wounds and scars which took an inordinately long time to heal. One of the youngsters dared to ask a hesitant question of their tutor and was immediately bundled out of sight. Aziraphale didn’t ever see her again.

Some long time afterwards, the younger angels were taught about the existence of a new place called Hell, inhabited by creatures known as demons and ruled over by Lucifer, who was now a demon himself and was therefore an “enemy.” Aziraphale struggled with the lessons, finding it hard to grasp the concept of anyone not loving the Almighty and their life in Heaven. He himself was always happy and full of joy whenever he was set a task and did his utmost to fulfil his purpose. He secretly thought to himself that maybe Lucifer and his friends might have been happier if they had been given the job of making more swords.

He didn’t learn the true purpose of swords until he was sent to the Almighty’s recent great project, a beautiful round planet called Earth. Even when Michael handed him the very sword which he had made and sent him off to Eden to protect the Gate, he wasn’t sure what he was meant to do if anybody should dare venture into the Garden. Michael hadn’t given him any specific instructions other than to look out for and prevent any evil incursion. What was he supposed to do if a demon came to the Garden? What use would the sword be? He couldn’t use it to push the demon away – the sharp cutty end could stick into the demon and hurt it and he didn’t want to do that. He just had to hope that the flames would dissuade any evil-doer from coming closer.

He had wandered around the Garden for several days, admiring the beauty of the Almighty’s creation and had completely missed the arrival of the serpent because nobody had explained that demons could come up into the Garden from underground. Maybe if he’d thought about it he should have realised this, but it didn’t occur to him until after the serpent had already tempted the humans. The first he knew of anything going wrong was when the Almighty addressed the humans, and the anger and disappointment in Her voice had Aziraphale cowering in a corner of the Garden and not daring to approach Her. He ached with sympathy for the humans, knowing from first-hand experience how they must feel, and once the Almighty had withdrawn he sought them out. A large hole had been blasted in the bottom of the wall and they were preparing to leave, their faces sad and bewildered. His heart went out to them and, without even thinking about it, he gave them the one piece of comfort he could offer. He was sure that the Almighty couldn’t object; She had created these wonderful people, after all, and even if they had disobeyed Her instructions, it wasn’t their fault, was it? And they would need warmth at night in the desert, and the flames from the sword would surely keep the animals away.

And then he met the demon who had caused all the trouble. Strangely, he wasn’t the least bit afraid of him even though he didn’t have the sword to wave at him. And anyway, the demon seemed friendly enough although he raised a lot of questions, which filled Aziraphale with a combination of horror and a begrudging admiration for his daring. Still, Aziraphale thought it his duty to explain to the demon – who had introduced himself as Crawly – about the Great Plan and its ineffability. Crawly didn’t seem to be paying attention and was more interested in the absence of the sword, which surely proved that it was indeed a fearsome object. Again, Aziraphale was surprised at himself – he ought to be concerned that he had nothing to protect himself, but Crawly seemed so impressed, indeed amazed, that Aziraphale had simply given it away that he couldn’t bring himself to believe that the demon would try to harm him.

It was while Crawly was wondering aloud whether he himself had been wrong – or, rather, right – in persuading the humans to eat the apple that Aziraphale saw Adam in the distance, waving the sword at an approaching lion. He watched nervously, hoping to see proof that the flames would drive it away. The lion, however, seemed unfazed by the fire and kept approaching the couple and after a few more attempts to frighten it off Adam lifted the sword and slashed it down onto the lion’s head. The lion dropped to the ground and didn’t get up.

Aziraphale stared in horror. Surely this wasn’t what the sword was meant to do? Surely Heaven wouldn’t make something designed to hurt other beings? Oh, this was terrible; his pretty sword had been used for a purpose it had never been designed for.

He didn’t have time to think further about it because the demon was still talking, apparently joking about how both of them could have got it wrong. Crawly smiled so nicely at him when he said it that Aziraphale couldn’t help returning the smile until the words sunk in and he had to protest that there was nothing funny about that. When Crawly turned away and shrugged Aziraphale felt disappointed in himself for wiping out that lovely smile.

He would have apologised but then water started falling from the sky. Aziraphale had no idea why this should be happening, and apparently neither did Crawly if his nervous shuffle towards him was anything to go by. Aziraphale didn’t hesitate: he lifted his left wing to give Crawly the space to get closer to him and then realised a second purpose for it and hoisted it upwards and over the demon’s head. Aziraphale didn’t know how much water was going to fall and whether it was ever going to stop, but he was certainly going to do all he could to protect his new acquaintance.

So it really has been a very unusual day so far, and Aziraphale would quite like to sit down and think about everything that has happened. Crawly left shortly after the ... apparently it’s called ‘rain’ ... stopped, saying that he had to report back to head office, but added casually that he might pop back later. Aziraphale finds that he’s already missing his company and hopes that he really will return. He reminds himself that demons are wily and dishonest and not to be trusted and so he might never come back, or he might bring a horde of demons with him to try and do harm to one single angel with no back-up and not even a sword to wave at them ... or slash onto their heads ... no, he doesn’t even want to consider taking that action. He doesn’t have much time to fret about it before a message is beamed down to him that the Garden must be shut off from the rest of the world forever and that Aziraphale must therefore seal the hole which the Almighty blasted in the wall.

It’s a fairly straightforward task and he’s soon lifting the last boulder. He bends down to peer through the gap, taking one last wistful look at the Garden before fitting the stone into its slot, ready to be sealed to the rest of the wall. He straightens up and is about to admire his work when a beam of Heavenly light shines down on him from behind and a Voice – Her Voice – sounds from the skies.

“Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate.”

He quails internally. Oh, no! The demon! is his first thought. What if She saw him and is going to punish me for talking with him? Then a worse thought strikes him. What if She’s going to punish him for spoiling the Great Plan? What if he’s already returned from Hell and is somewhere nearby?

He realises that he can’t just keep standing here with his back to Her and nervously turns around.

“Yes, Lord?” he asks, anxiously waving in Her direction in an attempted friendly manner.

“Where is the flaming sword I gave you, Aziraphale, to guard the Gate of Eden?”

Oh, that’s a relief, he thinks. She just wants to know about the sword ... oh, but wait, what if Crawly hears Her voice and comes to investigate?

He hopes fervently that Crawly – if he is around – will be sensible enough to stay well out of Her way, then finally remembers that he was asked a question.

Oh no! He can’t tell Her what he did with the sword. She might find out what Adam used it for, and seeing as She can’t possibly have intended it to cause harm to anyone or anything, She might be very cross with the humans. And She’s already cross with the humans, and Aziraphale would hate to give Her a reason to be even more angry.

So he blathers vaguely about where he might have put it, and eventually She gets bored and leaves without waiting for a full explanation. Relieved as he is that She hasn’t pressed him, Aziraphale feels horribly guilty about not being truthful with Her.

“Oh dear,” he says regretfully, but tries not to think too hard about it as he turns around to seal the final stone into the wall.

He doesn’t get a recall notice once he’s finished and he can’t return to Heaven until it arrives, so he wanders out into the desert. There’s no sign of Adam and Eve, and he skirts around the body of the lion still lying in the sand and walks further away to climb the nearest dune. The sun has almost set by the time he reaches the top and he scans in all directions for any sign of light from the sword but there is darkness all around. He’s relieved that they took his advice and got far away before night fell.

With nothing better to do, he miracles up a small fire and settles down beside it.

The lion’s body is out of sight, but he can’t stop thinking about it. Why hadn’t he wondered before whether the sharp edges of the sword had a specific purpose? He had only assumed it was a decorative object, or maybe an award to be given to deserving angels who had carried out very good deeds, not some kind of ... weapon. Why would Heaven need weapons?

The shock hits him a few moments later. He made his sword long before Lucifer initiated the rebellion, and Uriel told him that other swords were being made. Surely they had had a different purpose back then? But what?

His thoughts keep crashing in on him as he begins to realise the possible truth. What if Heaven had been expecting a rebellion, knew that it was inevitable and that angels would turn against each other and want to fight each other? What if swords were made in anticipation of the rebellion?

And then Aziraphale lets out an anguished groan when he remembers the elder angels who had been seen with injuries and scars after the youngsters had been sent away and had heard what he now realises was a battle. Many of those wounds were long and thin and could have been caused by ... oh, no. He buries his head in his hands and cries quietly. Was his sword used in the battle? Did his sword cause some of those terrible injuries?

Was his sword always intended to kill, like it did the lion?

And worst of all, was his sword partly responsible for the expulsion of so many angels from Heaven? Former angels like Crawly?

Aziraphale whimpers. He doesn’t dare contemplate the possibility that Crawly might have scars.

“Still here, then?”

Aziraphale yelps and scrambles back across the sand, flailing around as if searching for something to defend himself with, then he relaxes a little when the approaching creature slithers closer. He has only met one serpent but he has to assume that this is the same one, especially as it’s able to speak in his own tongue.

“Oh, hello, Crawly,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant and completely not-at-all panicked. “I wasn’t sure whether you would come back.” He casts a wary eye out into the darkness, looking to see if there are any other demons lurking out there, but so far Crawly seems to be alone.

The serpent raises up off the sand and shimmers into his human form. His grin suggests that Aziraphale’s casual greeting hadn’t been at all convincing. Aziraphale averts his gaze, trying to pretend to himself that his eyes hadn’t been raking over Crawly’s body as he changed, looking for any signs of old wounds or scars.

“I thought you might be gone by now,” Crawly remarks, stretching his arms above his head and bending sinuously from side to side while spreading his wings wide. “Then I saw the fire in the distance. Assumed it couldn’t be the humans if they knew what was good for them, so figured it might be you.” He lowers his arms and peers at Aziraphale. “Why aren’t you back upstairs?”

“Well,” Aziraphale begins hesitantly. “I’m just ... keeping an eye on things for the time being. I’ll be recalled shortly, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you will. It’s not like they’d forget you down here, would they?”

Aziraphale frowns a little. He’s not sure he likes Crawly’s sarcastic tone. He’s also not sure he likes the slight stab he feels in his heart when he realises that it is actually possible that Heaven has forgotten him, or been distracted by something far more important than recalling a principality who apparently doesn’t even know where his sword is.

“So,” he says, trying to change the subject. “You came back up outside the wall, I assume?”

“Naah, came back up the same way I went down,” Crawly says. “Easier to tunnel through already-broken soil.” He grimaces and brushes his robe down. “At least I thought it would be.”

“How did you get out of the Garden?” Aziraphale asks. “It’s been sealed up.”

Crawly gives him a withering look. “Serpent,” he says pointedly. He flamboyantly gestures down his body and then apparently realises that that wasn’t the most appropriate move now that he’s in human form and drops his hands to his sides. “Good at slithering up walls, you might remember.” He pauses for what appears to be dramatic effect, then continues. “Also good at slithering down walls on the other side.” He pulls a face. “I could have burrowed underneath, but the soil was awfully sticky since that ... what was that wet stuff called?”

“Rain,” Aziraphale tells him.

“Right. It was a real bugger, anyway, getting up into the Garden through all the stickiness, and I didn’t fancy doing it again once I realised the wall was sealed all the way around. Plus I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to use my wings if I changed into this form.”

His gaze becomes distant for a moment and he looks a little distressed. Aziraphale wonders whether he should ask if there’s anything wrong, but isn’t sure if that would be polite.

Crawly shakes his head as if forcing himself to focus on the conversation. “So a good slither seemed to be the order of the day, and the sticky stuff wiped off on the wall and ...” he gestures at himself again ... “I was clean by the time I got back down to the ground.”

“Oh. Of course,” Aziraphale says, then gestures to the fire. “Well, please, do join me if you’d like to.”

“Thanks.” Crawly flops down a few feet away.

“Sooo ...” he says after a moment. “Gonna introduce yourself?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry! How very rude of me. I’m Aziraphale.”

Is there a momentary flash of recognition in the demon’s eyes? It’s so fast that Aziraphale barely has time to wonder before Crawly turns his gaze away and looks into the fire.

“And you’re Crawly,” Aziraphale says.

Crawly shrugs. “I am now,” he says.

“What do you mean, ‘now’?” Aziraphale asks.

Crawly’s eyes are fixed on the fire. “Got a message from Herself after I tempted the humans. I hung around the Garden to see whether my tempting had worked. Shouldn’t have, really; knew it might be dangerous but if I’d gone back down and then found out that eating the apple wasn’t the big bad thing that they’d been threatened with, I wouldn’t have been very popular. So I hung around, made myself comfortable in a tree – not The Tree, I’m not stupid – and waited to see what happened next. What did happen next was that a bloody great archangel turned up, all massive wings and dazzling light and booming voice, and gave me a right bollocking on Her behalf.”

“Which archangel?” Aziraphale asks.

“Dunno,” Crawly shrugs. “I had my eyes averted the whole time.”

“Oh.” Aziraphale tries not to feel hurt that the archangel didn’t visit him or let him hear they were there. “What did they say?”

“Don’t want to talk about it,” Crawly says shortly.

“Of course. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

Crawly falls silent for a while, then sighs.

“Let’s just say that there’s a reason why my eyes don’t change when I take human shape,” he says quietly, “and why I’ve got this brand.” He gestures to the mark near his right ear. “And I’m now stuck with the name Crawly, to remind me of my ‘sin’ for buggering up Her timetable.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale says sympathetically. “I’m so sorry.”

Crawly shrugs again. “They found it hysterical downstairs when I told them. Once he’d stopped laughing, Lucifer said he reckoned he could fix it so I might be able to change it in a few thousand years’ time without going up in a massive burst of spontaneous combustion.”

Aziraphale is diplomatic enough not to ask what his name used to be, even though he’s burning with curiosity. They sit in silence for a long while and it isn’t until the first hint of dawn’s light appears in the east that Crawly lifts his head.

“Aziraphale ...”


Crawly’s voice is hesitant. “Was that ... Her talking to you outside the wall yesterday?”

“Yes, yes it was,” Aziraphale admits. “You heard Her? Well, obviously you did. I have to say, I was rather worried that She might be looking for you.” He grimaces. “I didn’t realise that She had already ... well, you know.”

Crawly nods. “What did She want with you?” he asks.

“Oh, you know ...” Aziraphale swallows. “Actually She wanted to know what I’d done with the sword.”

“What did you tell Her?”

Aziraphale wriggles awkwardly. “Well, I didn’t want to tell Her that I gave it to the humans, so I just pretended I’d put it down somewhere and couldn’t remember where.”

Crawly turns his head and stares at him, that same amazed stare he gave him on the wall. “You naughty angel!” he says in an admiring tone.

Aziraphale ought to be offended – or at least embarrassed – at being called that, but he’s so unused to being complimented that he can’t help but feel a little pleased. He smiles tentatively at the demon, who returns his smile. Then they both seem to remember that they’re supposed to be on opposite sides and look away awkwardly.

They sit in silence for a long time, then eventually Crawly sighs. “I miss Her,” he says quietly.

Aziraphale doesn’t know what to say to that. No matter how hard he thinks, he simply can’t come up with any appropriate words, so he remains silent.

Eventually Crawly stretches dramatically and stands up. “Places to be,” he says.

Aziraphale stands too. “It was nice to meet you,” he says politely. “Will you be returning to Earth again?”

“Dunno,” Crawly shrugs.

“Maybe we’ll meet again.”

“Seems unlikely,” Crawly tells him. “Even if we both get sent here again, what are the chances of us bumping into each other? It’s a great big planet, and once the humans start breeding and spreading out, we’ll be travelling all over the place.”

“Well, you never know.” Aziraphale offers him a hopeful smile.

“Yeah, you never do.” The demon looks thoughtful, then gives him a small grin. “All right, then. Perhaps we will run into each other sometimes.”

He smiles more widely. “See you around, angel.”

Aziraphale can’t be sure, but that sounds more than just a description of what he is. He can’t understand the warm wave of affection that sweeps over him as he watches the demon stroll away.

He rather likes it, though.