Crowley peers down into his skyphos, the largest two-handled monstrosity he could find. He tilts his head back and opens his mouth, drinking it down in one go. In Hell, they drink wine from the rankest of grapes, and it boils and burns down to his vestigial stomach. Good thing he’s been discorporated, he thinks.
The music thrums around him, off-key lutes and choral wailing. The room takes on a sullen yellow hue, backlit by the sulfur pools. He has to wait another three months before he gets a new corporation, stuck in a Sisyphian queue, but he’s not exactly eager to head topside after how things went down before. What’s the point anyway? At least the demons are partying in Hell, high off their instigation of the Trojan War. It might be better here than facing a pissed off angel in the middle of a blood bath.
“Bad work up there, Crawly,” Dagon says, slapping his back. It leaves a wet slime on his toga.
“It’s Crowley, and it was mostly Lilith’s doing.”
“Nah, convincing Paris to run off with Helen? It was inspired!” She’s drunk, staggering into his shoulder before teetering away, a long string of mucus connecting them. She snatches a goblet off of a serving tray as a disposable demon passes by and pushes it in Crowley’s hand. “Drink up! Everybody’s talking about you.”
He looks down at the goblet. Something’s swimming in it. Ugh. “Why not,” he says, throwing his head back.
It was a big misunderstanding, anyway. How was he to know stealing Helen from Menelaus would cause a war? She and Paris were in love! In retrospect, he should have realised Lilith possessed the beautiful queen, but he’d been still distracted from that morning, waking up next to a passed out angel with their legs tangled together. The whole debacle earned him an arrow in the chest by an Athenian bower and a one-way trip back to Hades. He was discorporated before his body even hit the water.
He spots a flash of red from the corner of his eye as a chorus of cheers and beating chests resound. The demons clank their goblets and drum the wall as Lilith enters, slinking across the floor: the first wife, the department chair of Lust, and mother to the Lilim. She was the one who convinced Helen to trade her soul for eternal, damning beauty. He shudders when she catches his eye, and he darts away in search of more drink.
She catches up to him eventually, cornering him behind the bar. Looking at her is a bit like looking at a shadow, out of focus and bleary. She solidifies as she gets closer until she’s humanoid, long and lithe, red curling hair cascading down her back. He hates it. She’s a mirror image of himself.
“Hello, Crowley,” Lilith says. Her voice is sultry, musical in the way Hell is not, dark and thrumming. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
He grins and shows his teeth. The longer he’s stuck in Hell, the more demonic he gets, and his canines cut sharp points, glinting in the shadows. He toasts to her. “Good work up there. Helen, what a beauty.”
“We should celebrate. After all, you convinced Paris to run away with her.”
Aziraphale must have found out by now. He can imagine it, as much as he can imagine Aziraphale disrobed and tangled in the blankets on his straw mattress. He probably startled awake at the resounding toll of war bells with a hangover and a hundred curses on his tongue.
Crowley’s not sure he’s interested in Lilith’s idea of celebration anyway. The other demons have coupled off -- or tripled or quadrupled off -- into groups, rutting and writhing on the ground. Just the very presence of Lilith inspires frenzied lust, and a hundred demons wait in line for a glimpse of her attention.
“What makes you tick, Crowley?” she asks. She tilts her head and stares at him. He’ll never tell, not if he can help it. Every demon desires something, and his wants are the kind that’ll earn him eternal flogging or sulfur-boarding in the fiery pools of Hell. “You’re such a puzzle, a challenge.”
She says it with relish, passing him another goblet of wine before dragging her finger down his chest. It’s meant to be sexy, but her clawed nails sting as they scrape over his toga. He doesn’t desire her, but he’s terminally bored and alone and agitated. He’s the only one apart in a party meant to be celebrating his achievements.
Besides, the one he truly wants is topside, cursing his name from the Aegean Sea to Troy and back. “Why not?” he says, and takes the drink, slamming it back. “Go on, do your worst.” He grabs her by the throat, his nails lengthening with the greediness welling up inside of him, and he bites her mouth until it draws blood.
He doesn’t fuck often, but the last time had been different. Delicate. He doesn’t want to think about it. He wants to erase it. And if anyone can cure him of his chronically soft heart, it’s Lilith.
She grabs his wrist and drags him through the throng of writhing bodies. Her face shifts and changes as she catches the eye of the other demons, from being young and fragile to horrific and monstrous, reading the desires of everyone they pass.
She pulls him into a secluded corner and presses up against him, and he takes her face and draws her up to meet him. The kiss is ugly and bruising, and just what he needs. He’s a demon. He wants it to hurt.
She shoves him down and his back scrapes and stings against the wall. Straddling him, she rucks up his toga and sinks onto him, digging her fingers into his hair. He stifles a shout. There’s no foreplay here, no gentle touches and languid kisses. There’s no softness, no round bellies and thick thighs. She’s all angles and sharp, ragged edges, keeping him keening and angry with every thrust downward.
“C’mon you snake,” she snarls, keeping up an unrelenting pace. His hips snap up to meet her, but he’s uncoordinated and drunk. “What do you want?”
He shakes his head and lets out a pained, hissing groan. He bites his lip to keep his mouth shut from spilling all his secrets.
But he can’t help it, the flashes that pulse in his mind, just glimpses before he squashes it down. It’s a feeling more than an image. He desires warmth and kindness and laughter in the mornings. Just once more, he wants to wake up not alone.
The tightness coils in his abdomen, a clawing wailing urgency. He needs a distraction. He needs something, anything. He reaches up and digs his fingers in Lilith’s hair, fighting off his orgasm.
And then just before he comes, her eyes go wide. She tilts his head back and looks into him, and it’s painful to be seen, to be known like this. He can’t fight off his desire anymore. She shifts her form, curls of hair spilling over his fingers, white as snow caps and light as silk. Her face rounds and her eyes change to blue like the Eastern sky just over the wall of Eden. Her thighs thicken and soften, bracketing his gaunt frame, fingers gentling on his skull. Crowley comes keening, drawing her close, cupping the back of her head with his hand. He presses her face into his shoulder because he can’t look at her. She’s too eerily similar yet different enough. He knows this isn’t real but fucks through it anyway. It’s horrendous.
He shudders, his hips stuttering. His back arches. His fingers twitch. His breath -- needless in a place like Hell -- rasps in short, broken gasps.
When it’s over and he can open his eyes again, Lilith’s shifted back into her previous form, devilish and sultry. “ Oh,” she says and caresses his face with a sharp nail.
“You can’t tell anyone. Please,” he begs. If anyone knew what he wanted, who he truly wanted, they’d destroy him.
“I know a thing or two about wanting things I shouldn’t,” she says. “Your secret is safe with me.”
“What do you want for it?” He knows how demons work, after all.
“I took what I wanted,” she says, pulling away from him. She stands and the glamour slumps off her like dead skin, no longer decadent or desirable. She’s just a demon backlit by the fires of Hell, tired and bitter. She’s him. “I’ll see you around, snake.”
He lifts a hand and waves. “Later.”
His first thought is she’s bald. Babies look bald, but most have at least a smattering of hair. Crowley hasn’t been around a lot of newborns, per se, but he knows this one looks different. He’s careful not to touch her, bundling her tight in her blanket.
Lilith watches him with a look of bemusement, but there’s something else there too, sadness perhaps. Regret. “She won’t bite.”
“What are you going to do with it?” he asks.
It’s been seven months since he’s crawled topside, returning to his clay home in Sparta. Why Sparta? He tries not to think about it, busy with reestablishing himself. If he keeps an ear to the ground for rumours about an angel, then he’s just doing his demonic duty, looking out for his adversary. Lilith finds him ten months after their coupling with a baby strapped to her chest. She almost passes for human, but despite her loose chiton and himation, men and women alike turn to stare at her as she walks past.
“She’s yours,” she tells him. “She can’t stay in Hell. She’s too human.”
She’s not human enough, he thinks, not enough to pass. “She can’t stay here. She can be… one of your daughters.” Your incubi, he doesn’t say. Every demon knows what happens to the Lilim. “It can’t stay here.”
“Then throw her out. What do I care?” She says it, voice casual and unrestrained, but he sees the tight line of her lips. Her shoulders tense. After a moment she lets out a laugh, sharp and jagged, a glimpse of Hell peeking between her teeth. “She’s too nice. She’s the sweetest little girl I’ve ever had.”
Crowley hears the message. She’ll be eaten alive.
“This is your fault,” she says. “You’ve changed. You’re not like the others. You’ve gone native. Worse, you’ve gone and fallen in love with an a --”
“Shh!” he hisses. “Don’t say it out loud. I’ll take it.” He grips the baby in his arms. “I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but I’ll figure it out. Find a nice home for it. Something.”
“She has a name, you know,” Lilith says. “Medusa.”
Crowley looks at her in surprise. “You gave her a Greek name? I expected something a bit more… Hellish.”
“We were celebrating a Greek tragedy, were we not? It seemed fitting. Whoever takes her in, I hope she brings them good fortune.” Crowley will think later what a strange statement that is, a demoness wishing goodwill on humans. He’s too wrapped up in the little bundle in his arms, however, staring at her wrinkled cupid’s bow mouth and narrow nose. “She looks like me,” he says out loud.
When he looks up, he’s alone.
Crowley makes a plan to leave her in the country. There are a few homesteads and farmers who would take in another child in a heartbeat if it meant another working hand in a few years. Then two things happen. One: he unbundles her to change her linens and finds a smattering of black scales where her buttock meets her thigh, and two: she screams.
The scales make him hesitate. The Greeks are a superstitious lot, and they’d greet her with suspicion. They’d equate her with Hades, or -- if she’s lucky -- she’d be mistaken for a god. He runs a curious thumb over the scaly patch. If he gives her up, he won’t be there to teach her how to hide them. She’ll have to figure it out on her own.
But it’s the screams that frighten him. It starts as a whimper, a bit of fussiness, then escalates in pitch and volume, a proper wail. Worse, however, is the undercurrent vibration in her voice, deep and alluring. It does not affect Crowley, of course, but before he knows it, three of his neighbours appear at his door with an offering of goat’s milk as though summoned.
She may look like Crowley, but she has her mother’s gifts of enthrallment.
The neighbours coo over her once she’s settled again. They comment on her lovely complexion, the oddity of her bare head, and the almost yellow sheen to her brown eyes reflecting the candlelight. Crowley shakes through it all until he’s able to shove them out the door.
When they’re gone, he turns to look at her, afraid to touch. Asleep, she’s deceptively ordinary. She’s sweet, her newborn skin soft, and when she turns her head and opens her eyes, she looks almost like any other child.
He clenches his fist and bites down hard on the knuckle, fighting the compelling feeling inside him. He wants to keep her. He should be immune to her demonic thrall -- as natural to her as a heartbeat -- and yet he needs to keep her close. She’s his.
He knows this feeling. It’s an ugly undemonic piece of himself. It comes from before his Fall, this little piece of Heaven he just can’t shake. It’s the same emotion that comes crawling out, unbidden and unwelcome whenever Aziraphale’s in his line of sight.
But he and Aziraphale aren’t like that, and they don’t do those things, not anymore. This will have to suffice.
He makes a plan. He has to get Medusa out of town, somewhere in the countryside, perhaps. He can take cover as a farmer or a toolsmith until she learns to control herself. Crowley has had years of practice pretending to be something he isn’t. He can teach her how to do that.
He scoops her up and brings her close to his chest, running a finger along the delicate skin below her eye. She nuzzles into the touch. Soft and reverent, he curses. “Fuck.”
Crowley moves outside of Sparta, inland deep into Laconia. The terrain changes from salt-kissed seasides to lush greenery and forests encroaching on the main roads. He hires a carpenter to build him a home from clay and brick, a small space appropriate for the likes of a widow and dons the persona of a woman waiting for her dead husband to come back from the Trojan War.
It’s a convenient ruse. As a woman, he doesn’t have to move into the barracks or fight. He can maintain a household, staying close to Medusa.
Playing the widow has its other uses. He can walk about in mourning dress without being harassed about marriage -- after all, there are too many young widows about, though he doesn’t dwell on his role in that -- and no one will question his need to work. He takes a position in the mornings picking olives, strapping Medusa to his chest. It tends to be solitary work and allows him privacy from the other mothers, to protect them from his daughter.
Everyone who meets Medusa adores her. She’s so precious and beautiful, her skin as pale as the gods. People stop him on the roads or in the market, reaching to stroke her hairless head and ask to hold her. He shudders at the glazed look in their eyes, bundling her close to his chest.
Alone, she’s just a babe. Crowley understands what Lilith means when she says she’s too human. She has needs that demons don’t. She falls asleep and begs for milk. She’s curious, not covetous, strong for a baby but not violent. Her sweetness is to her detriment. They’d both be destroyed if they were found out.
Medusa’s first winter is grim and blustery, unusual for Greece. The powerful winds and early frost make Crowley wonder if it’s biblical. He tries not to think about an angry god and punishing floods, wearing a groove in his stone floor from pacing back and forth. They could kill her, either Heaven or Hell. He suffers through the first winter half-awake and on edge, fighting the urge to satisfy the snake inside who wants to bunker down for brumation.
Then he steps outside on an early spring morning and sees a shadow walking down the road, flowers blooming behind her. He snarls, slamming his front door shut. He picks Medusa up and bundles her to his chest, hissing when the knock comes at his door. There’s only one reason why she’d come back.
Giving up Medusa would make life so much easier. There’d be no need to hide away or cover her thralling tears. He could go back to his minor demonic activities and his own pursuits. He’d be free.
But she’s almost walking now. She can pull herself up on the bench at their table. She babbles and points and yearns for things, for Crowley’s attention. He has so much affection for her, try as he might to lock it down.
So when Lilith comes, donning her peplos made from the blackest wool of the hounds of hell, Crowley opens the door and snarls. “No.”
“Oh, Crowley,” she says and pushes her way inside. She mocks him with her glamour, hair white and curled, face round and soft. The sight makes his chest clench with both longing and disgust.
She sits at his table, straddling the bench. She looks at Medusa but doesn’t touch her. “She’s still hairless. What’s wrong with her?”
Crowley hisses at that and turns away. He runs a hand over her smooth skull and draws her close. “She’s still growing. Leave her be.”
“Hmm,” Lilith says. From under the folds of her peplos, she pulls out a pomegranate, cracking it open with her demonic strength, the gel-like arils oozing over her fingers. She scoops out a portion, dripping off her hands, and brings it to Medusa’s mouth.
“Don’t,” he says.
“It’s just fruit. Can’t I feed my daughter?”
Medusa opens her mouth and takes her mother’s fingers into her mouth before frowning and letting out a displeased whine. She spits the seeds out, and the whole house shakes with her displeasure. Lilith stills and looks up at the dust falling from the ceiling. “Well, that’s decided. She’ll stay here.” She frowns as she says it, gently cupping the baby’s face. Medusa’s mostly featureless except for her wide brown eyes and the narrow slant of her nose, still clinging to her baby fat and roundness.
And Crowley, out of pity and fear, says, “You could stay here with us.”
Lilith looks up, wild eyes. It’s a tempting offer. But they’re demons, and they know how to resist temptation, how to deny themselves their greatest desires. “I have a job to do,” she says. “Mouths to feed.” She gestures outside to the green shoots poking through the frost. She curls her fingers, and the flowers sprout upwards, unfurling in bloom, a dozen brilliant hyacinths lining the road.
She scoops out more of the pomegranate seeds and lifts them to Crowley’s mouth. He takes her wrist in one hand and makes a cup with the other to catch the falling juice. He licks it off her fingers and hums.
“What are they calling you these days?” she asks him.
“Anatola. And you?”
He chews the seeds with care, rolling the gel-like texture in his mouth. It’s odd but the flavour is sweet and bright, like sin on a hot summer’s day. He catches a flash of softness, the memory of thick, full thighs and burning skin. He swallows it down with an ache.
“I’ll go,” she says. She pats his cheek with a soft hand, more human-like and tender than he remembers. She follows it with a kiss to his cheek. She’s changed. He says nothing as he watches her go.