Here’s something that’s true: Aziraphale gets stuck in time, dresses herself in fashions long since gone by, plays bee-bop on the record player in the back room of her bookshop. She likes old things, and there’s not much that makes Crowley nervous, but that does; she keeps her Bentley mint, of course, but that’s different. That’s a Bentley. Aziraphale’s ongoing affair with the past speaks to one of those niggling bits of reality Crowley’s always trying to dodge, the kind that will inevitably land on her windshield and smear everywhere, blinding her.
Here’s something that’s true: humanity was borne of angels, and War was borne of humanity. She was an unexpected side effect—Pestilence was necessary, Famine was inevitable, and Death’s an angel in his own right, not that you’d know it to look at him. War simply rose, hair red and eyes wild, from the mire of chaos surrounding her. Her first words, not to put too fine a point on it, were “Give me that fucking sword.”
Here’s something that’s true: Aziraphale gets stuck in time, but Crowley doesn’t. Sin’s always in vogue. War’s never gone out of style.
The first time, War comes to Crowley. She has walked the earth for all of six hours, and already looks like she owns the place; Crowley is momentarily possessed of the urge to slither down to snake, before she remembers that she’s got all the power.
(She doesn’t, actually; when she looks back on it, cast in the bright light of hindsight, she’ll notice that she didn’t really have any power at all. At the time, she’d thought War was brash. Silly. Pushing her bounds. Terrifying.)
“Oooh,” War says, “if it isn’t a fallen angel.”
“I prefer Crowley,” says Crowley, and War smiles. She’s naked, and she’ll be naked for years hence, riding into battle with a laugh on her tongue and Aziraphale’s flaming sword held aloft. She’ll learn to dress as the humans do eventually, learn the power she could garner in cloaking herself, but she’s only had six hours. Crowley will have to give her time.
“I bet you do,” she says, and time, as it happens, is what they’ve got.
She’s had many names, War. Red Zubinger. Penthesilea. Helen of Troy. That Bitch.
Crowley knows all of them, though it would take her all of history to write them down. She can’t be sure, but she thinks that’s probably the point.
Aziraphale wears her hair long, and always has; it puffs up and around her head, goes fuzzy in inclement weather, tangles rough in the wind. No matter what she is doing, no matter what body she’s wearing, it looks like a halo, and Crowley knows she knows it.
Crowley wears her hair short, and always has; it settles against her scalp in tufts and spikes, is as dark and jagged as the rest of her. In the right light, it looks like horns, and that is by design.
War’s hair is never the same twice. It’s long and it’s short; it’s braided and it’s loose; it’s tangled and it’s combed and it’s run through with prickers and brambles.
It is always, always red.
Listen, child, and I shall tell you the secret of good and evil: humanity doesn’t really believe in either one. Good and evil, bless them, are tasked with the weight of believing in themselves. There has never been a human life entirely black or white—we are creatures of the grey, and have been since the dawn of time. We look to good and evil as a lost traveller might look to Polaris. Good and evil are way-markers. Good and evil are tipping points. No one has ever asked you to believe in the stars.
Look at what we have wrought; look at the blood we have spilled; look at the map that has been carved into earth with that which was meant to be a plowshare or a pruning hook. Look at history, and tell me humanity doesn’t believe in War.
“The humans are saying war is hell,” Crowley says one night, caught in the tender skin between War’s thighs. The first time, War came to her; since then, Crowley has been going to War. “You got anything to say about that?”
“Pet,” War says, and that rankles, but the power crackling off her in vicious waves rankles more. “I say be careful what you wish for.”
Crowley and Aziraphale get more human with every century, which is dangerous, which is safe. It’s dangerous because humanity is dangerous; it’s safe because humanity eats its own, but only when every other resource has been stripped to bare bones.
Power is everything, and there’s power in the masses. Crowley’s not sure what possessed Above and Below, creating a majority, but Aziraphale assures her it is ineffable.
War’s humanity never increases, and never wanes; her power grows, but then again, it would. War lives everywhere and nowhere, and War follows trouble the way trouble follows her, and War’s always spoiling for a fight. War was born starving and has never been sated. War’s sword was stolen from Above, and War’s tongue was stolen from Below, and War has never belonged to either one.
If you cut humanity to the quick, split it open, found its soul, it would have dark red hair and bright wild eyes. That’s the oldest story in the book. No one ever tells it right.
Crowley fucks her way through history, and fucks her way through hell; when push comes to shove comes to too many bottles of wine, Crowley fucks Aziraphale, breathing ragged into parts of her that never quite taste holy. Crowley has built a life, a thousand lives, on being the bitch at the back of the party—Crowley is a smooth operator, because her Side invented that, thanks very much.
War, though. War fucks Crowley, and she is the first and last one to do so. War fucks Crowley and Crowley grits her teeth and lets her, grinds up into her, drawn to the sparks that hiss between her teeth, almost—but not quite—familiar. Crowley digs long nails into cold skin (because War is always cold, has never been anything but cold, a freezing sort of burn) and draws blood, and War laughs and laughs into her mouth.
In the middle of the first Crusade, Crowley catches Aziraphale leaving War’s chambers as she herself goes to enter them. Aziraphale’s hair is everywhere and her eyes are hard, not frightened; they stare at each other across the hallway, nothing said because it doesn’t need saying, because the truth is laid bare between them, ugly and unavoidable.
“Girls,” War calls, “I’m still hungry,” and Crowley lowers her eyes first, follows the voice inside.
Of the two of them, Aziraphale’s always been the stronger. Of the three of them, it’s War. No contest.
There is a story Aziraphale never reads and Crowley never listens for. This is because they are afraid of it. It goes like this:
God created the heavens and the earth, Man and the Angels that guide him; to hear it told, it’s easy to believe that God created Good and Evil. And maybe he did, he probably did—there’s a reason Aziraphale clings to ineffability like a safety blanket, a reason Crowley likes to hide her eyes. There is a power Above and a power Below, and they both have their ways and means. It has been posited that they are the same power, and really, Crowley wouldn’t be surprised.
But what’s never talked about, what’s never discussed, is the growing power that is neither Above nor Below. There is a new realm, and it is called Between, and who’s to say that Crowley doesn’t serve that calling? Who’s to say Aziraphale’s master hasn’t been something other than God for millennia?
Crowley falls into bed with War, and the humans slaughter one another for bad reasons. Aziraphale falls into bed with War, and the humans slaughter each other for good reasons. War drags them both to the floor, and the humans don’t know why they’re fighting, but they fight all the same. Something here is event, and something here is effect. Causality will be causality. Ineffable is really the wrong word.
The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, doesn’t much matter. Unless you’re the egg. Then it matters rather a lot.
Left alone in Crowley’s Bentley for two weeks, every tape becomes something it wasn’t before. Left alone in Aziraphale’s bookshop for two weeks, every fine wine is surprised to find itself finer. Left alone with War for five minutes, anywhere becomes a combat zone.
Everything is about power. The masses have the power. Everybody’s fighting for something. How do you think the world’s going to end, again?
“Blood and fire,” says War.
“What about it?” says Crowley.
“Sorry,” War says, and her smile is rich with more evil than Crowley has ever known. “I thought you asked me something.”