Salem, Colony of Massachusetts
Aziraphale pulled her white cloak more firmly around her shoulders. It was only September, but already the nights were growing cold. She finished drawing the last symbol on the dark ground in salt. She had gotten quite good at sketching out a serpent on the first try, if she did say so herself. Then she snapped her fingers to light the candles at the points of the pentagram.
The forest grew strangely silent for a moment, and then woke up again in a rush of wind and animal calls as something materialized in the center of the salt circle. It manifested from the bottom up, appearing first as three decadent golden tiers of a skirt, then a bodice of midnight blue with sleeves edged in black lace. Long, pale arms and graceful hands, then a low, square neckline, a choker of black pearls around a slender neck, and of course, fiery red hair wound in braids above the most beautiful face Aziraphale had ever seen. A black lace mask covered the eyes, and Crowley removed it to get a better look at her summoner.
“Did you,” she asked slowly, “seriously just go into the woods outside a Puritan settlement and summon the Devil? Angel, I'm so impressed.”
“You're hardly the Devil,” Aziraphale said, maybe a little breathlessly. The gown suited Crowley. Opulence always did. Fine clothes like that were intended to make their wearer look more beautiful. But of course, in Crowley’s case, it was she who elevated the gown.
And she was well aware of it. “Tell that to Le Roi Soleil,” Crowley said with a smirk. “So what am I doing here in lovely Massachusetts?”
Aziraphale busied herself scratching out the salt circle with her foot so that Crowley could step free. “I need a favor,” she said.
Crowley looked delighted. “Oh, so this is a demonic deal. What are you offering in trade, angel?”
“What do you want?”
The answer to that came in two parts: the truth and then a lie. The truth was in Crowley’s golden eyes as she swept Aziraphale’s figure from head to toe and then back again. Aziraphale was dressed in typical Puritan style: a modest black skirt and waistcoat over a white shift, a white apron in the front, and a white cap over her pale curls. The one deviance from custom was that her cloak was white instead of black. It was plain clothing, but Crowley looked at Aziraphale as if she were as magnificent as the royalty Crowley had just left behind in the court of Louis XIV.
The lie was what Crowley said. Not the words themselves, but in claiming to want something other than what she’d so clearly just asked for. “I have to go to Siberia for two weeks, tempt a few people to dishonesty in the fur trade.”
Aziraphale made a sympathetic face. It was already too cold for Crowley in Massachusetts in September, the poor thing. She removed her white cloak and draped it over Crowley’s shoulders. “That’s fine,” she said. “I’ll go.”
As Crowley accepted the wrap, her fingers nearly brushed Aziraphale’s. “So what am I trading for?” Crowley asked, her gaze lingering on Aziraphale’s hand.
Well. Here was the big moment. Aziraphale squared her shoulders. “Yes. Ah. Well—” Despite her best intentions, it came out in a rush. “You know how you tell Hell you do things that you didn’t do?”
Crowley raised her eyebrows. She pointed a finger at herself and then toward Salem. “You want me to take credit for that?”
Aziraphale folded her hands together a few times. “Well— you see, I was sent here a week ago by Heaven to investigate whether there really was a demonic presence here. There isn’t, as it turns out.”
“Humans don’t need any help denouncing each other as witches,” Crowley said darkly.
“No, apparently not,” Aziraphale said with a nervous laugh. “So, ah— as it happens— well, Heaven is actually spread rather thin at the moment. It took them a while to— to be able to spare me to come here at all. But there’s a great deal of suffering in Salem, more work than I could do in a few days.”
“And if there is a real demonic presence here, you could stay.” To Aziraphale’s great relief there was nothing but understanding in Crowley’s voice. “Eh, it’s all the same to me,” the demon said with a wave of her hand. “French court’s getting boring. Nothing but gossiping and feasting.”
Aziraphale felt her stomach rumble. Fine food was not in excess in the fledgling colonies. “Yes, I’m sure it must be,” she said dryly.
A smile played over Crowley’s mouth. “Had the worst tarte tonight, angel, I’m telling you—well, here, see what you think.” A quick blink and Crowley was holding a plate of dessert that smelled more delicious than anything Aziraphale had encountered in a while.
She swallowed a laugh, looking at the demon with her hand out, offering the treat. “Apples, dear, really?”
Crowley gave her a look of complete innocence.
When half the torte was gone, Aziraphale remembered to remark snootily on the dryness of the crust and Crowley laughed. “Ah, yes, farewell and good riddance to France, then.” She plucked at her elegant skirts. “I suppose I’ll need to change my clothes.”
That was a shame, but Aziraphale was sure Crowley would miracle up something more modest but equally stunning, in line with what the wives of rich merchants wore in Salem Town. She was surprised instead to see the demon choose coarse fabric, cut simply. Not the clothes of a rich woman. Instead she matched Aziraphale, except all in black, of course.
She looked magnificent anyway. The demon definitely hadn’t lost her touch, Aziraphale admitted to herself, as she ate the last bite of apple.
They walked the grounds of Salem Town together the next morning. Crowley looked around with great interest. Her eyes, hidden behind dark glasses, took in the wooden buildings, hard packed dirt, people dressed in drab colors. Crowley’s scarlet hair was a spark of life in a world of black and white.
“So this is religious rule,” the demon said appreciatively. “You’re sure you want to interfere, angel? I thought this was what your lot was working for.”
“If it were done properly,” Aziraphale said firmly, “it would be out of love, not fear.”
Crowley twisted her mouth a little. “I’m not sure humans are capable of that. I’m not sure anyone is, except you.”
Aziraphale gave her an incredulous look. “You’ve known me to be afraid, Crowley.”
“That’s not fear,” Crowley answered, turning her head to take in the meeting house. “It’s self-preservation. My point is,” she said, a little more kindly, “you’re never afraid of anyone on principle. Otherwise, you and I wouldn’t—”
Aziraphale gave a sudden laugh and Crowley turned to watch her closely, as she always did when Aziraphale looked happy. “Careful, dear,” Aziraphale cautioned. “It almost sounds like you’re claiming to be harmless.”
Crowley snorted. “You know, I could show them what demonic possession actually looks like.”
“Oh, you hate doing that. Upsets your stomach.”
Crowley shrugged. “Thought you wanted me to make trouble.”
“I actually specified that I wanted you to claim to be making trouble—”
“What’s this?” Crowley had stopped walking at the entrance to a small wooden building. “I can feel the pain in here.”
“It’s the jail,” Aziraphale said softly. “It’s where I spend most of my time here. There’s—”
But Crowley had moved ahead of her, pulling the door open, descending the steps into an earthly version of Hell.
They were by the river, that explained the dampness of the shared cell. And the water rats. And part of the stench. The rest was from unwashed bodies and other...uncleanliness. As Aziraphale came down the stairs behind Crowley, she realized that the demon had stopped breathing. But not from disgust.
Crowley’s voice was stark in the humid air. “Why are they chained down?”
“To um, make it harder for their spectres to menace the populace. You see, the trials are based mostly on spectral evidence, and people somehow seem to think that chaining the physical body can inhibit that sort of thing.”
“Spectral—” Crowley was cut off by a small wailing sound. Aziraphale could feel its effect on Crowley beside her. The demon pulled off her dark glasses with a shaking hand. There was dim lighting down here, but Aziraphale waved a hand to keep Crowley’s eyes in shadow, just in case. It wouldn’t do to have an actual demon sighted in the Salem jail.
“That’s a child,” Crowley said in a voice that Aziraphale rarely heard from her. She sounded dangerous .
“Well, there are just four children here at the moment,” Aziraphale said, in a tone that could console no one. “And only one’s been accused. Dorothy Good. The rest are just here because their mothers are.”
Crowley didn’t say anything else, and so Aziraphale started her rounds. “Good morning, Alice, Mary. Ann, Sarah.” The women looked up as she passed and reached out to take the bread and cheese Aziraphale handed them. It was miracled food. Only those in chains could be aware of it, just as people outside didn’t notice Aziraphale visiting the jail at all.
Aziraphale felt someone brush past her and looked up to see Crowley lifting a child into her arms. “Dorothy,” Crowley said cheerfully, as if she were greeting a friend. “Look at you. Haven’t had your breakfast yet, have you, love?” Crowley held out a hand to Aziraphale, who quickly miracled her a cup of milk. As the child drank, Crowley checked her over carefully. Dorothy looked cleaner when Crowley put her down, wrapped firmly in Crowley’s black cloak. Crowley reached out to yank the white cloak from Aziraphale’s shoulders and passed it into the cell as well.
Outside the jail, Crowley was quiet. It was unusual for Crowley to be quiet, and Aziraphale was waiting for whatever loud noise was going to come to make up for it. She tried to steer Crowley back out of town before it happened, but of course, they were met at the edge of the woods by John Richards, a member of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. The court that was in the business of sentencing people to their deaths for witchcraft.
“Good morning, Abigail,” Richards said warmly to Aziraphale. “And who is this?”
Aziraphale gave him as polite a smile as she could. “Good morning. This is my friend, Charity.”
Aziraphale expected Crowley to be startled by the name, but the demon was not in the mood to play. “Yes,” Crowley said, not warmly or politely. “Charity Good.”
Crowley hadn’t chosen the last name as a joke either. Aziraphale reached for her arm, but it was too late. “I’m a relative of little Dorothy Good, the four-year-old you have in jail. She’s no witch. The Devil does not make deals with children.”
Richards made it worse for himself. He laughed, broadly and brightly. “To deny the existence of witches, spirits, and demons is to deny the existence of God!”
Crowley gave him a smile which bared her teeth a little. “Oh, I’m not denying anything. But if those people have made a bargain with Satan, where is their reward? They’re starving in a filthy cell. Is this what they traded for, dying of disease or at the end of a rope? Do you think the Devil is so ungenerous?”
Richards looked to Aziraphale in confusion, and then back to Crowley. “You ought to be careful of your soul, as unprotected as it is in a woman’s body,” he said, sounding like he meant to be helpful.
“Men and women are equal in the eyes of the Lord,” Aziraphale cut in, with more annoyance than she’d hoped.
“Well, yes, of course,” Richards agreed. “But not in the eyes of the Devil.”
Crowley grinned, and it was one of the few looks Aziraphale had ever seen her wear that was not pretty. “But what of children, John? Surely you don’t believe Dorothy can understand what it means to sign away her soul.” She took a step closer to Richards. “You know, I could arrange for you to ask the Devil personally.”
Aziraphale snapped her fingers. Richards froze, his mouth partly open. Crowley whirled on her. “You’re handing out bread while they die in there, Aziraphale.”
“If I make too much noise here Heaven will remove me!” Aziraphale snapped. “Then I won’t be able to do anything!”
Crowley stared at her a moment, and then said, “Fine, then. I’ll do it.”
“Oh, really? And how are you planning to explain the rescue to Hell?”
Crowley shrugged. “Turnabout’s fair play, angel. I’ll just tell them you did it.”
Aziraphale rubbed at her eyes, feeling the start of a headache, which was unusual for an angel. “Crowley, If we tell our superiors that you’re here pinching children in the meeting house to convince people that witchcraft is real, you’ll get a commendation. Telling Hell I rescued witches is fine, but how are we going to sell that kind of— of behavior to Heaven?”
Aziraphale felt tears in her eyes. “Look, I can’t go outside the system, not with Heaven, not here.” She waved her hand at their surroundings. “It’s— this isn’t witchcraft, it’s politics! The wealthy versus the poor, the urban against the rural, religion warring with superstition, men trying to control women. A jailbreak isn’t going to fix it! I can’t— I can’t fix it.”
Aziraphale was surprised to feel Crowley’s hands on her arms, gentle and soft. She looked up into golden eyes, the dark glasses removed. All in black like this, with her red hair glowing in the sun, Crowley was so starkly beautiful that Aziraphale was almost afraid to look at her, afraid to let her heart’s desires be so obvious. So unprotected.
“You’ve been here too long, angel,” Crowley said softly. “Places like this aren’t good for you.”
“It’s my job.”
“It quite literally isn’t. Maybe you ought to actually listen to Heaven once in a while.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Aziraphale demanded. “Leave?”
Crowley frowned. “Well, maybe— what you said before. Politics, conflict. You know, we’re rather good at sorting that kind of thing out, you and me. Between us, at least.”
Aziraphale huffed a tiny laugh. “I suppose we are.”
“Because you’re right. What’s happening here isn’t even about religion. It’s about using fear as a weapon to control women and the poor. We just need to turn that weapon around somehow.” It was at that moment that Crowley seemed to realize that she was holding onto Aziraphale, and she pulled back. Aziraphale felt dreadfully cold without her touch.
“Turn it around,” Aziraphale repeated, trying to fight away the flush she could feel rising to her face. “That’s— yes. Oh. Oh. Because if someone like, say, the wife of Governor Phips were denounced as a witch—” A little smile played across Crowley’s mouth, and it encouraged Aziraphale. “Well, I doubt they’d accept spectral evidence in her case,” the angel said. “And— and if the exception were made for her, they might have to then abandon the concept entirely. And that’s all they really have on any of these women.”
Crowley looked delighted. “Sowing a seed of doubt as to religious evidence, angel? I continue to be impressed.”
Aziraphale huffed at her. “Put your glasses back on.” Crowley did and Aziraphale snapped to awaken the unfortunate Mr. Richards.
He blinked at them. “Abigail! How nice to see you! And who is this?”
“Shall we to Boston then to visit the governor?” Aziraphale asked, as they walked through the woods.
Crowley was quiet, but she was fidgeting, so Aziraphale knew something odd was coming. “Actually, if you don’t mind, I think I'll stay. At least until the kids are released. Maybe after. Make sure they get on okay.” Crowley frowned. “You know, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the meeting house, or at least a corner of it, somehow got unconsecrated.”
Aziraphale stared at her. “You’re going to live in Salem. As a Puritan. A quiet, obedient, church-going woman.”
Crowley made an uncertain noise. “Well, it’s an easy sell to Hell isn’t it? I mean, I’m going to claim credit for all this anyway, might as well hang about.” Her voice dropped low. “Some people here definitely deserve a little true demonic attention.”
Aziraphale knew she was approaching thin ice. It was never a good idea to call Crowley kind, even when it came to the welfare of children. It was as uncomfortable to her as talk of Heaven’s shortcomings was to Aziraphale. So with practiced skill, Aziraphale turned it into a joke. “Living up to our name, are we, Charity Good?”
Crowley sneered at her.
Aziraphale hid a smile. “Well, I’ll see to the southwestern corner of the meeting house, and then I’m to leave Salem, just as ordered. I think I might stop over in Boston a few days. Of course, I’ve heard Siberia is lovely this time of year.”
“Til we meet again then, angel,” Crowley said, sounding a little falsely cheerful, as she usually did when they parted.
Aziraphale took Crowley’s hand. She hadn’t meant to, hadn’t weighed the consequences of it. It was just that she missed the heat of Crowley’s hands so much that she could hardly stand it.
“You know I would have done it for you anyway,” Aziraphale said, in a wavering voice. “It's much too cold for you in Siberia, you poor serpent.”
A lovely bit of color burned in Crowley’s cheeks. She looked down at their hands. “If you need anything while you’re there—”
“Don’t worry, dear. I'll summon the Devil.”