Aziraphale roused himself from his dazed, groggy studies, blinked a bit and glanced about his shop. The sun was streaming in from the east windows. Again. His tea was not only stone cold but had evaporated down to thick sludge at the bottom of his cup.
Drat it, anyway. It wasn't like Crowley to have left him to his own devices for so long. In past centuries the two had often let years, even decades pass before once again crossing paths and engaging in inevitable, drunken brawls. And true, the times between path-crossings got shorter as they became somewhat more about drinking than brawling. And then there were the odd times when Aziraphale would hunt Crowley down just to share a particularly nice bit of poetry, or Crowley would slither up to his side with a bottle in his hand and a smirk on his face.
And really, in the past decade or so1, while looking over their erstwhile god-child (demon-child?) they'd certainly become accustomed to seeing each other weekly, if not daily.
But since the Apoca-wasn't, Crowley had been conspicuously... present. Always underfoot at the bookshop, sometimes absorbed in his own world while listening to his iPod, sometimes growling in boredom, (while ignoring the pointed reminders that he was a free demon and could choose to wile his time away elsewhere if he preferred) but most often just there.
He seemed to delight in rebuffing Aziraphale's customers. He would chuckle darkly, lounging back and crossing his arms behind his head when he thought up new and inventive ways to scare them off.
Recently he'd undertaken the arduous task of growing plants in the bookshop. Frankly, between the shelves stacked around and in front of the windows and the dark, bookish twilight that the old manuscripts seemed to generate of their own accord, there was little sunlight to be had. Completely undeterred, Crowley spent an inordinate amount of time whispering things to the terrifyingly green and lush vegetation that now called Fell's Rare Books, home.
So it was doubly annoying that Crowley had suddenly flitted off, because after a few more eye blinks to clear away the mental fog it was apparent that Crowley's plants were in worse shape than Aziraphale. They were drooping despondently, the whole lot looking like a commercial for those anti-depressants the Americans were always on about. They obviously missed him, the poor dears.
Aziraphale whole-heartedly sympathized.
Coming to a decision, Aziraphale snapped his book shut and stood up. If Mohammed wouldn't come to the mountain...
He stretched, a long, luxurious tensing and release of muscle and bone, then shook out his hair and wings. Soft, powerful fwumps sounded rhythmically inside the small shop. Grimacing a bit, he prissily straightened a few stray primaries before carefully tucking the soft, white masses away. It may indeed be true that most angel's wings were less well groomed than a demon's, but Aziraphale had only so much tolerance for messy feathers, be it vanity or no.
Besides, Crowley would tease so if he showed up with his feathers ruffled. He always seemed to know, whether Aziraphale's wings were showing or not. He'd ask who'd managed to offend the angel this time, and whether Crowley could get her number.
Smiling happily with thoughts of getting teased by, and teasing his counterpart in return, Aziraphale locked up shop and wandered down the oddly clean, nice smelling streets of Soho. To his left a flock of birds burst into ecstatic song and the park was full of laughing children.
What a perfect day.
Aziraphale beamed at a happily married couple who were holding hands, obviously very much in love. Then he turned and smiled to another couple. And another. His smile faltered, just a tad.
It really was quite a perfect day. Really.
Up ahead a little old lady was escorted by not one, but two, tall, strong gents in high-powered business suits. Both of whom hung up their phones in order to get her safely across the street, one on each arm.
Aziraphale's smile twitched and jumped a little, now a bit strained around the edges.
Really it was all quite... yes.
And then, just when he was reaching the roundabout, he watched two prominent MPs from opposite sides of the aisle shaking hands and affably complimenting each other.
Aziraphale's mouth dropped open in shock and horror as the men smiled with real sincerity and promised to work together on fixing that nasty Brexit business.
Aziraphale abandoned all pretext of enjoying the too lovely day. He imperiously waved a taxicab down (which was waiting conveniently by) and was quite short with the polite, perfectly groomed cabby in his new-smelling vehicle.
Upon arriving at Crowley's building he hurried up the front steps, barely even bothering to feel guilty when he miracled the lock open and dashed up the interior stairs. Puffing a bit with exertion he paused in front of Crowley's door and knocked, then rapped again. One didn't just go barging into a demon's sanctum, after all.2 Even when said demon was a particularly close, erm, associate? Co-conspirator? Fellow wine connoisseur?
Regardless, one simply didn't barge in on a demon when he could be doing Heaven knew what in there. Except that whatever Crowley was up to, it wasn't anything remotely like answering the door.
Now concerned past all good sense, Aziraphale drew back and gave the door a mighty kick, then spent a good minute limping about the landing and blessing under his breath. Then he straightened, glared at the door (which opened meekly before him) and marched into the flat.
And into a disaster.
The expensive furniture was ripped and mangled, the plants shredded and smashed. Claw marks scored deep grooves in the heavy, cherry desk and sulfur scented scorch marks fouled the walls.
In desperation Aziraphale rushed to the television, righted it where it lay on the ground, and thumped it a few times until it got the idea and lit up with a local broadcast.
"... again the Americans wish to make a public apology for their undeniable share in the global climate change crisis. And while they're making a go of it they'd also like to apologize for Trump, Scientology, that fad where the gent's trousers hang down below their arses..."
"Oh, Hell," he swore.
On the shores of Acheron there are walls. When one thinks of a wall, one imagines a thing built to keep unwanted things out. Or in. Depending on your point of view. The nastier, more vicious, more desperately awful a thing you have on the other side of the wall, naturally the taller, thicker, and more imposing the wall must be.
The walls standing along the river Acheron are the tallest, most imposing walls to be found anywhere in Creation3. They could be said to be ur-walls.
In front of these walls wander men - and women - shaped beings who run endlessly after their own self-interests, stung by hornets and wasps and eaten by maggots. These are the beings that never chose a side in the battle of angels and are doomed for all eternity to suffer for their lack of commitment. They have run like this since the First Battle, unchanged and unchanging. Until today.
"Oh, drat! Horrid, awful things, these bugs. Pardon me, your Grace. Didn't see your foot there. Hallo! I say, hallo there! Which way to the ferryman?"
Aziraphale was in Hell. Well, technically not quite, which is why he still needed to find the ferryman and get across the river. But if you've ever attended your 6000 year class reunion, and further if you'd been the bloke with the funny looking hair and the quiet smile rather than the rugby hero, well, you might forgive him for exaggerating a bit.
Such was the case with Aziraphale when he found himself amongst his companions of old. Thinking he saw someone he recognized4, Aziraphale set off at a brisk trot.
"I say, Rameel, er, wonderful to see you again," he puffed along, trying to keep pace with the staggering Nephilim.
"It's Qrita, now," the rotting, zombified, ex-angel croaked, shuffling along mechanically.
"Oh, right, yes of course. Say, would you be a dear and *ooof*!"
The *ooof* was an unintended result of the following. A notion had filtered in through the large, jagged hole in the top of Qrita's skull, bypassed the rotten neurons and dendrons and percolating in the sludge collected at the base. In response to this, Qrita creaked to a sudden stop, causing Aziraphale to have the bad luck of running face-first into his chest (Qrita had been quite tall in his Glory days). Unfortunately this meant that Aziraphale was now face to wriggling face with ten thousand maggots who happily called the zombie's chest 'home'.
He sprang backwards, swallowing repeatedly and reminded his body that it didn't really need to feel nausea just now, thank you.
"Hhheyy...." Qrita slowly exhaled, dust of the ages filtering out from his synapses and into the air. "Ain't you the Human lover?"
"Now then, there's no call to be resurrecting, as it were, all those old nicknames. I'm simply looking for the ferryman. Do you happen to know where he's at?"
The wasps, which had been momentarily baffled by Qrita's sudden stop, had rallied and circled back and were now swarming in and out of his skull, crunching and buzzing as their venom stung him and dripped down his chin.
"You are!" Qrita marveled. "Earth grubber, Human lover," he chanted, spitting yellow venom and maggot bits.
"Now I say, really," huffed Aziraphale, brushing at the front of his shirt with one hand.
"Earth grubber, Human lover, Earth grubber..." the giant zombie singsonged as he started shambling away.
"If you could just point me in the direction of -" Aziraphale began, then stepped on something brittle and crunchy underfoot. "Um, here, I believe this is yours!" he called politely after Qrita, who had already gone on ahead. And from the sounds of the horrible chant in the distance he wasn't at all missing the jawbone he'd left behind.
"Well, there was really no need to be rude," Aziraphale sniffed to himself, gathering up his tattered pride. Then he manifested his wings, gave them a good shake or two in annoyance, and launched himself from the shore. There was more than one way to get across a river, after all.
Unseen below him his great, luminous wings scattered wasps and decaying acquaintances with every down stroke, blowing a fresh, crisp breath of spring air into the very gates of Hell.
Crowley, was inhabiting his serpent form, and he hissed and writhed in a quiet, anguished way. Belial was a vindictive so-and-so, and even though the piercingly icy water would be easier to take in his demonic form there was no way in Creation he was going to let him get his hands on Crowley's wings. A demon had to have some sense of pride, after all. And even now, Go - Sat - Someone only knew how long after he'd been attacked and pulled back to Hell, he still held onto what shreds of himself he had left.
The damned imps around him took turns hacking at the flooding cage with swords, making Crowley flop and scream whenever they scored a hit. He was too tired, too sluggish to think of a way out. And it was impossible to stop moving. Every time he simply gave up, one of them would clang on the demonically cursed bars with such infernal glee that the vibrations would judder through the water and send him mad with agony.
So Crowley tried to keep moving, to stay conscious. His feeble hiss of defiance a paltry shield. All this over one stupid angel.
Aziraphale stormed huffily out of the Asphodel Meadows.
Virtuous pagans his left foot! Why, the things they'd been up to! The things they implied! About him. And Crowley! Well it just wasn't on. Really!
He'd been quite hoping that some of Crowley's drinking mates in Hell's first circle had heard a rumor or two about where Crowley'd been taken, and for what purpose. He knew from experience how Homer, Socrates, or Virgil could drink a fellow under the table if you weren't paying attention. It was possible that they'd winkled some intel out of an inebriated demon or two.
But when the fellows wouldn't pause in their revelry for even a few moments to answer his questions... well he had to admit that he'd started to get a bit irritated. And really how many times can one tolerate the same drinking song? It hadn't been his fault that Aristotle had spilled his wine down Chaucer's back. And he certainly hadn't thrown the first punch.5
Regardless, it was quite clear that he'd have to start searching Hell proper to find Crowley and bring him home again. He squared his shoulders, brushing a lemon peel out of his hair in the process, and marched determinedly towards the inner circles of Hell.
Crowley dizzily swam back up to consciousness. His snake-self was torn and bloody.
"You've made this harder on yourself than it needs to be," Belial murmured gently, fingering his sharp claws, then slashing down, his full weight behind it.
Crowley swore, hissing and curling up into a tight ball of scales and pain.
"Just tell me where the blessed angel is hiding it," Belial urged, oh so reasonably. "Tell us and we'll let you go. You can head back to wiling and wasting your time with the humans."
Crowley hissed in derision. "Ssssixss thousssand yearsss and you ssstill can't tempt worth a damn."
Bellowing in rage, Belial threw Crowley, cage and all, across the room. Then he calmed himself and stalked across the room to loom over the tattered Serpent of Eden.
"You're right," he cooed, his acidic breath making Crowley gag. "Even I can't tempt someone without offering something they actually want. Here, I've got a little present for you." And from behind his back he miracled a single, glowing white feather.
Crowley's yellow, slitted eyes widened. "No, you're lying."
"I promise you I'm not. And here's another promise," he gloated, dipping the feather in the trails of Crowley's blood. "Everything, every little thing I do to you, I promise I'll do to him, too."
Belial licked the bloody feather and smiled at him, and finally something small but important broke inside of Crowley, and he screamed.
"Excuse me, sir. Ummm..." a very nervous imp bowed and scraped at Beelzebub's foot.
"Yezzzz, what izzz it?" he buzzed, irritated at having his bi-monthly tax eval interrupted. The infernal laws changed so frequently that by the time he'd consumed and shat out this irritant, he would have to start again from the beginning.
"Your evilness, sir. There's been reports, strange reports from the outer circles."
"Be zzpecific, you worthlezz piece of offal. Which outer circlezz?"
"All of them!" it whined grotesquely. "The winds have stopped blowing in the second circle! The damned aren't lusting properly at all! They're..."
"Well, out with it!"
"They're composing sonnets!" it wailed. "And dancing!"
"Well, dancing izz very damnable," Beelzebub mused, scratching one black, razor sharp talon across the imp's scalp. "Even if a few of the damned zzouls are repenting, the dancing will hook them right back in and the winds will blow again zzzoon enough." He licked the green icor off his claw, wondering if the imp needed a bit of salt to go down well.
"But sir! They're dancing the gavotte!"
"What??" he snarled, bursting up from his chair, the foul stench of rotten meat wafting from his grotesque (but very well groomed) wings.
"And that's just the second circle! The Gluttons are helping each other up out of the mud, and the Avaricious are sharing... "
"Enough!" Beelzebub roared, grabbing the imp and squeezing its neck until its misshapen head popped off and rolled across the floor. "It izzz obviouzz! An agent of Heaven hazz infiltrated our deepest, most un-holy zzanctum to attack us from within!"
"Surely we would have noticed..." gurgled the severed head.
"ZZilence! Tell no one of thizz," Beelzebub warned, fearing for the blow to his own reputation if this should get out. He was nominally in charge of the forces of Hell and Homeland Security, after all. "I will deal with thizzz... encroachment."
He pushed a button on his desk, and immediately a pleasantly dressed, professionally coifed woman appeared in the doorway. "Clean thizz mezzz away," he flicked his wrist, and the woman snapped her fingers and commanded the sudden hoard of imps and goblins that washed, waxed, and polished the floor before scurrying hurriedly away.
"Canzzel all my callzz, I'm unavailable," he instructed, then waved her away.
Beelzebub hadn't risen to be Lucifer's right-hand demon simply by being the vilest, most ruthless, most dangerous, and downright nastiest creature to walk Hell's halls (though it had helped). He was also quite intelligent, in a dark, crafty way that had made human's and demon's deaths an unending nightmare for millennia.
So it didn't take him much effort to figure out which angel, in all of Creation, was teaching the damned to bear their suffering with Grace. And if the Principality were here, then the demon he'd been buggering since that Garden fiasco was likely here, too.
But why? Why would Crowley waste time wandering through the outer circles? What could they be up to? Why would he...
Well, he wouldn't. Not if he were here by choice.
And if he weren't here by choice, then who would have the power, the cunning, the stupidity to go behind Beelzebub's back to force it?
He ruminated on this, his claws carving careless furrows through his tax sheets. It had to be Belial. Belial wanted Crowley? No. Belial wanted power. Of course he wanted power. How would Crowley help him to get power? The damned Serpent didn't have those kinds of connections. No, it didn't make sense. The only real connection the snake had was-
An angel. Who'd stood at the East gate of the Garden. Who'd given away, who'd downright lost track of...
Beelzebub's rotted heart actually beat for a thump or two in his chest. The sword. The flaming sword that had first been an angel's, then tainted and claimed by War herself. If Crowley knew where it was, and Belial had Crowley...
With a roar of pure wrath and greed, Beelzebub smashed out of his office, littering dead assistants in his wake on the way to Belial's domain.
Aziraphale waded out of the shallows on the far side of the river Styx, smiling and beaming like a new father. Behind him the Wrathful and Sullen were no longer fighting each other in the water or drowning each other under it. Instead they were engaged in something that very closely resembled (but couldn't possibly be) synchronized swimming.
He fluffed his feathers out, fanning them a bit to get nice and dry, waving cheerily as the Sullen competed in water aerobics to see who got to blow the whistle for the next set.
It seemed Hell wasn't nearly so bad as its PR department liked to make out. He'd met with some of the nicest folk, down here. A kind word here, a little helpful suggestion or two there. Really, one is never too busy for courtesy. He always said so. And just look at those happy, well-choreographed swimmers behind him. Some of his best work, if he did say so.
"All in a day's work, my boy," he murmured to himself.
Whistling merrily, he climbed up past blasted trees and scorched, salted earth, unaware that the very footsteps he left behind him bloomed and flowered with life.
His whistle hit a bit of hitch as he climbed over the embankment, though, then faded altogether as he rounded a rock. Up ahead the inner wall rose ominously, sullenly shouldering aside the clouds and looming with intent. Inside lay the Malicious sinners, and ringing the wall were the Fallen.
Now if you, as previously discussed, had been the slender, bookish type in your early years, and were at all used to being shut in your locker or having your head stuffed down the loo by the school bullies, then you may begin to have some inkling of what Aziraphale felt when looking at his Fallen comrades.
Now double that horrible, gut-sinking feeling by roughly one thousand and add in the likelihood of being torn limb from limb while laughing, raucous harpies fed on your flesh and your erstwhile brothers violated your still bleeding corpse, and you might be a bit closer to the mark.
"Oh dear. Erm... "
"And lo, the Principality of the Eastern Gate approaches. But where is his sword?" boomed Zebulon.
"He hasn't got it!" sniggered Beburos. "Gave it to the human woman, he did. She was so cold, and fat with child!"
"Fat lot of good it'd do him anyway," teased Aker. "With those plump, prissy little hands, he's more likely to drop it than swing it."
"Bet he used to lube up that handle, make it real good for himself," lisped Esdras.
"Now I say!" Aziraphale's shocked outrage sent a ripple of harsh, jarring laughter along the Fallen. "That's quite enough of that talk. I'm looking for Crowley, and though I don't expect you to help or do anything nearly as un-demonic as all that, I would rather appreciate it if you'd let me by."
The derisive, mocking laughter had them rolling off the wall and had Aziraphale seriously flustered by this point. "Well, I never. Well! Fine, if you won't help, just... "
"Just what, little angel snack," screeched a harpy, and Aziraphale whirled to see that he'd been flanked from behind. He spun back again, wings high and tight, to face the suddenly close bunch of Fallen from the front.
"It's been so long since I've had me a fresh one," Esdras purred, and Aker and Beburos and Zebulon all surrounded him with their Hellish, evil eyes and hungry smiles.
And then a sound, a horribly familiar sound, floated up out of the walled city and across the gathered host. It was a scream. It was Crowley's scream, filled with fear and horror and the pain of unimagined suffering yet to happen.
"Oh Crowley," breathed Aziraphale.
And the scream kept sounding, reverberating in his head, maddening, deafening, until all he could hear or think about was making it stop. He clamped his hands to his ears, but couldn't keep it out. It destroyed carefully built walls in his psyche, crumbled resolve and decimated promises he'd made over and over again to himself.
There was a warmth at the back of his mind, tainted and fouled with a redheaded woman's laugh. He'd given his sword away in mercy, and it was his, always his to take back. But Red had had her way with it and he knew he shouldn't because... because something. It was slipping away. All his good intentions and well-reasoned thoughts were dissolving like sand under the waves of Crowley's agony.
Why not take the sword? Just for a minute. He could help Crowley, and then he'd give it up again. He could give it up whenever he chose. It was his, after all. And listen to Crowley scream and scream. Dear Father in Heaven how could he be expected to think with his dearest friend's agony ripping him to shreds like this?
And then a blinding pain ripped across his senses, and he opened his eyes and stared dumbly at his bloody chest. Esdras was licking his knife blade clean of Aziraphale's blood, and Aziraphale, the quiet, content, bookish little angel, saw Red.
Without thinking he took a step forward. And another. There was a brilliant, vital blaze in his clenched hands, now, and the Fallen around him fell back with each step he advanced. But it wasn't nearly enough to stop the rage. He burned with the power, was greedy to see their fear, was eager for the war.
And in his wrath, his War-maddened desperation, Aziraphale's friendly, carefully crafted earthly form started to crack. So powerful was his Divine Passion that human flesh couldn't survive its radiance, nor could human form endure.6
He grasped his flaming sword with both hands and swung with Grace and murderous intent. His incandescent self was unbearable to the darkened eyes of his Fallen brothers. He stabbed bloodless chests, parried useless counters, gutted and hacked apart damned filth, and used his wings to bludgeon and fell the weak, mewling creatures of the Pit. He spun and danced a grave, terrifying dance of Illumination, raining fiery Justice down on their unworthy souls.
He barely noticed when the last fell around him. They'd been nothing but shadows standing between him and his goal. The outward screams had all faded away but one still pulsed in mind, tearing at his sanity. He spread his great wings and advanced on the Inner circles of Hell.
Crowley came to himself slowly, muzzy thoughts filtering sluggishly into his head. He took flinching stock of his body and realized with horror that he'd been allowed to heal almost completely. Christ on a crutch, what torture was so awful that they'd been forced to let him heal just to endure it?
Voices, muffled and arguing from the far side of the room, slowly registered through his panic. Belial arguing with... oh Manchester, was that Beelzebub?
Crowley stiffly coiled up his still healing length and slid carefully into a protected pocket of gloom. They were shouting something about Divine retribution and massacred demons and War in Hell... No, War's sword in Hell, which could only mean the angel's sword...
Oh. Oh my. The bastard really had been lying. He didn't have Aziraphale, and now in his typically gormless fashion, he'd gone and forgotten about Crowley. It seemed Hell was still run by morons and tax accountants.
The two were screaming and pointing fingers, laying blame on each other and their greedy, conflicting plans. Apparently they'd each been plotting to acquire the flaming sword in order to lay siege to Heaven. Once they'd desecrated the Ivory Throne, they planned to reign supreme, second to none.
And now these miserable excuses for demons suddenly had a bigger problem than they'd ever dreamed of. That ultimate destructive force was coming to them, all right. Just not quite the way they'd hoped.
A deep, spasmodic rasping started low in his coils and came coughing out his serpentine lips. Laughter. He was laughing and Belial and Beelzebub were staring at him in horror.
"He'ssss comin' for you, matesss," he hissed, coils wrapped around himself in helpless gales of glee. "You wanted to know where he wassss hiding it? Well, he'sss brought it to you, expressss delivery."
And Crowley manifested a pair of dark, slick glasses and perched them rakishly atop his serpent's face. "If I wasss you gentssss, I'd get me a pair, too. Gonna get bright in here pretty damn quick."
Aziraphale's Presence thundered through the pestilent city, his electrifying brilliance sweeping stark Breath into its fetid air, a blast void of living or un-living things. He cast a shadow of spread wings and unbearable brightness on the thronged streets below him, a shadow of the Divine Wrath that swept all before it. Any who stood against it were burnt beyond recognition.
In his heart of hearts Aziraphale knew something was a bit off. Of course he was all about thwarting wiles and smiting the wicked in theory. But he'd always rather have left the smiting up to his angelic brethren. Really, he just wanted to pause a minute, take a nice sit down with maybe a hot cup of tea to think things over.
Except it seemed he didn't have the time. He was Here. The Source of his Agony. And surely something was really dotty in his head because he was starting to think in all capitals.
He landed in a small room and shook his head, trying to rattle loose whatever was gumming up the works. He vaguely registered a hoarse scream and an irritating, buzzing sound from somewhere around him. And there were beings attacking him, screaming and clawing and cutting at him. It distracted him and kept him from figuring out what the deuce was wrong. Irritably he spread his wings wide and sent forth a burst of liquid sound, the beginning chords of Divine Destruction.
Blessed silence resulted, free of screams or battle cries, or...
"Angel! Blessss it, angel! For the love of Manchester drop the ssssword already!"
Something about that voice made him think of sunny days by a pond, ducks and bread, long nights laughing over good wine and better company.
And really, it sounded like good advice. He'd just put the sword down, just for a moment, just to have a bit of a look around...
In the back of his mind, a redheaded woman laughed and the sword flamed hot in his hand. Aziraphale's mind was on fire, and then his whole body. Wrath gave way to Lust, and he threw his head back, mouth open, savoring it. He burned with it.
"Angel. Aziraphale! I promise, I'll never sink another duck again, just give me the sword, just put it down..."
Aziraphale's formless, all consuming lust suddenly narrowed down to center on one being. Six thousand years of covert glances and careless fingers brushing the collar of his shirt, the smell of that gorgeously sinful skin, the hunger in his slitted eyes, all rose up inside of Aziraphale.
He swept forward, willing Crowley's shape into the form he Lusted for and pinning him to the far wall. He crushed his lips against the demon's, plundered its moist sinfulness with his tongue. He needed this more than anything, more than breath or Grace or God, more than -
With a musical clang the burning sword hit the stone floor, and with a decidedly unmusical thud, a very unconscious Aziraphale followed it.
"You're welcome," gasped Crowley, panting and flushed, his cock hard in his trousers and his fist bruised from bashing Aziraphale across the head.
"...sssnap out of it, will ya?" Crowley hissed worriedly, slapping the angel's pale cheeks with the back of a hand.
Crowley looked around him in dismay. The room he'd been "rescued" in had been demolished. Large, gaping holes smoked in the sides of brick walls. Huge chunks of masonry occasionally gave up the ghost and let go, falling hundreds of feet to crush unwary beings below.
He didn't think that Belial and Beelzebub were dead and destroyed. And he honestly didn't know which way would mean more trouble for him. So wisdom dictated getting the Hell out of Dodge.
The angel would likely get a commendation out of it, regardless. If Heaven gave those sorts of things out. Which, come to think, they likely didn't. Sin of pride and all that.
Aaaand now he was rambling. In his head. Bless it anyway. And the angel seemed intent on taking his first beauty sleep in thousands of years, in the middle of a ruined tower where any passing Fallen angel or flying imp could wander by and get them in serious trouble.
Frustrated beyond all reason, Crowley resorted to low-down, dirty tactics. He slid his hand behind Aziraphale's head, threaded his fingers into the soft blonde locks and fisted them tightly. Then he leaned in and brushed his lips over the angel's.
Fine. Aziraphale'd gotten them into this mess in the first place. He had it coming.
Crowley went back for more, parting his lips and capturing the angel's in his own. He'd intended it to be a wild, plundering, searing kiss, but he got caught up in how good the angel tasted. Like sunshine and wild crab apple blossoms. He snuck his tongue out to taste the full, really quite sensual lips, and shuddered as a thrill of liquid fire exploded in his chest and pooled down to his groin.
He brought his other hand to Aziraphale's face, brushing a thumb sweetly along the curve of his jaw and feathering light, barely-there fingers down the maddeningly perfect column of his throat. It was intoxicating, exhilarating. He moaned and sunk his teeth into the angel's perfect, plump lower lip.
"What?" he drew back and demanded irritably. "Do you mind? I was in the middle of something."
Aziraphale opened his intensely blue (inhumanly, angelically blue) eyes and smiled blearily into Crowley's slitted yellow ones. Crowley sucked in a breath as though he'd been sucker punched. He felt a bit like he was drowning and flying all at once.
"You, umm. You bit me," Aziraphale frowned, touching his fingers to his lips.
"Just a little!" Crowley protested, wondering if he could sneak in another kiss before the angel caught on.
Aziraphale blinked and scrunched up his face in a sleepy, confused way that was not at all adorable, then struggled to sit up. Well damn. There went a perfectly fine plan gone to pot.
"Grgkl. H'w much did we drink?"
"Not nearly enough, you bloody stupid angel," Crowley sighed. The avenging angel of War had fled the building, and in its stead had left his blessedly irritating, tweed wearing, bookish little Principality. Really, Crowley felt a bit faint with relief. "C'mon, we've got to get out of here."
Aziraphale frowned patted around on his chest for his spectacles. "Oh dear, wherever did they go..."
"I think you vaporized them when you took out half the bleeding city!" Crowley hissed. "Now stop dithering and help," he ordered, levering his floppy, exhausted angel to his feet.
"Surely not half," Aziraphale protested, swinging them off balance to stagger over to a hole in the wall. "Look, less than a quarter I'd say. Perhaps a fifth."
"You owe me a fifth. Of the finest gin you've got miracled away," Crowley groused, swinging an arm over his shoulder and maneuvering them through the destroyed remains of the wall. "Bless it, angel, we can't possibly sneak out of here with you glowing like a Christmas tree topper. I don't suppose your people will special deliver a body to Hell?"
"Oh fudge," Aziraphale exclaimed, only now realizing that he was indeed lit up like the Las Vegas strip. "I liked that body, too."
"Yes, well, reminisce later. Focusss, angel! We need to get out of here, and even aside from glowing like a neon sign advertising your blessed Presence to every Hell spawn in a fifty mile radius, we can't go back to Earth with you looking like this."
"Well, for the first part my dear, I don't think anyone will care overly much." Aziraphale pointed down and over the bridge they were limping across. Crowley looked around one seriously ruffled (glowing) wing and stared. Hell was in chaos. It was anyone's guess whether more damned and Fallen were cursing and sobbing or screaming in terrified agony.
"Oh, my," Aziraphale breathed. "I did cause rather a mess this time, didn't I?"
"Almost as good a job as that Babel thing."
"Now really, it's positively unkind of you to bring that up at a time like this," Aziraphale scolded.
"And that's another thing," Crowley hissed, apropos of nothing. "What in Heav - Earth made you think staging a one angel raid on the gates of Hell was a good idea? Were you trying to Fall you great, stupid idiot?"
Aziraphale had the grace to blush (an annoyingly endearing, peachy pink that flushed his skin nicely) and bit his lower lip. Crowley closed his eyes, fighting the conflicting urges to run for his life or maybe offer to bite the angel's lip for him.
"My dear," he murmured, not meeting Crowley's eyes. "It had just been so long since you'd been... and things were such a dreary, unbalance mess up there, and then I found your flat and I just had to do something."
"And this was the best you could come up with?" he spat, levering Aziraphale up against a mostly intact wall and pressing his body firmly up against him.7 "You could have been destroyed. You could have Fallen."
"Well, Crowley, it was the humans!" he insisted. "They were all agreeable and, and helpful, and the Americans actually apologized for, well, everything!"
"Doesn't sound like something you should be objecting to," Crowley narrowed his eyes, knowing an evasion when he was fed one.
"But don't you see? They didn't have any choice in the matter. It doesn't count if they can't choose to do good works. That's what this whole thing has been about! And besides, mrfldmmdhth.... " he trailed off.
"Sorry, what was that last bit?" Crowley pressed even closer, soaking up the angel's warmth into his battered soul. Aziraphale smelt so good. His serpent self was making arguments for winding around him and curling up for a nap. Or other things. The heat in his gut pulsed and flared again.
"I said," Aziraphale muttered a bit louder, "that we missed you. The plants and I, that is." He looked shyly up through ridiculously long lashes, hope and something liquid and promising in the deeps of his eyes.
Crowley had been seducing and wiling since the Beginning, and he knew a first class temptation when he saw it. He kissed those gorgeous, stubborn, pouting lips, and groaned in bliss when Aziraphale's mouth opened to his and warm, plump hands cradled his face in return.
"Mmmm, angel," he gasped, rubbing luxuriously against Aziraphale. "Tell me this isn't... wassit. A hangover. From the flaming sword thingy."
Aziraphale wrapped his radiant wings around them both, hiding them from the hideous reality of Hell and holding Crowley close, warming an old serpent to his core. "You didn't notice me planting one on old Fly-face, did you?" he teased, breathing moist air into the shell of Crowley's ear.
Aziraphale chuckled, making all sorts of interesting things move and rub between them. "My dear. Dearest. Let's go home."
"Yes. Right then. Home," Crowley sighed, brought back to current events with an unpleasant thud.
"What in the world are we going to do about my, er, problem?" Aziraphale coughed delicately.
"I know you're new to making an effort, angel, but really after all this time haven't you figured a least a few things out?" Crowley teased, grinning wickedly.
"Not that!" Aziraphale flapped his hands, thwaping the demon's chest. "I meant about getting me a new body! I'm not exactly here under Heaven's orders in the, erm, strictest sense."
"Really?" Crowley drawled sarcastically, hooking Aziraphale's arm over his shoulder and getting their two-being train moving again. "They didn't sanction you to make a frontal assault on Hell in order to rescue a demon so that humans would start feeling like sinning again? I can't imagine."
"Don't be flippant," Aziraphale sniffed, limping gamely along. "I wouldn't have caused all this mess in the first place if it weren't for you. It really is your fault, my dear."
"My fault?" he demanded, their voices fading into the darkness as they climbed higher and higher out of hell.
"If you hadn't been screaming like a banshee, really my poor nerves were just shot..."
"Well if you'd just keep track of that blessed flaming sword I wouldn't have been dragged down to Hell and placed in Belial's tender mercies, which is to say none at all..."
"And wherever are we going, my dear?"
"Heh. I know where the under-demons keep the spare bodies. Feel up to a little Theft to top off your deadly sins for the day?"
"Well, all in a good cause, I say," Aziraphale deadpanned, a sly twinkle in his eyes.
It was a week after Aziraphale had rescued Crowley from Hell8 and Crowley still hadn't worked up the demonic pride to slither out of the angel's really quite cozy bed.
Granted, part of that had to do with a reluctance to see for himself the damage to his flat. He suspected the thing was a total loss, and resigned himself to starting over. Perhaps somewhere a bit closer to Soho. There were some very reasonably priced, high-end flats now that the world financial crisis had bottomed out the housing market. (Not that he'd had a thing to do with that. Miserable, homeless people tended to think small when it came to sinning, since they were just trying to survive. Besides, watching people freeze and beg on the streets or in shelters was just boring).
But Crowley was man, er, demon enough to admit that avoiding the wreckage of his flat was only part of the reason he'd stayed. Aziraphale spent an inordinate amount of time bringing him tea and biscuits in bed, and had hardly objected at all when a very respectably sized flat screen television had suddenly appeared on his dresser top.
Sometimes the angel would wander in while Crowley was watching his daytime soaps, laughing gently and cosseting him. He would touch Crowley, running soft, strong hands down the demon's body. 'Checking to see how you're healing up, my dear' was the usual excuse, which more often than not led to wicked laughter, radiant smiles, and lips seeking out tender, exquisitely sensitive places that no being had ever sought out on either of them before.
Crowley knew that he'd have to get up eventually. He'd have to get going on restoring the balance and tempting the humans back to folly and sin, after all.
But gazing down on Aziraphale, sleepy, mussed, and radiant beneath him in the midday sun, he decided it could wait.
In the rubble-strewn chambers above a partially smited city, a sharp metal object gleamed dully from under powdered stone and brick. Across the room a twisted, dirty little imp coughed on the still lingering dust in the air, seeking refuge from the Hellish power struggles that raged in the city beyond. He was just an imp, powerless and worthless, good only for being commanded by greater beings and destroyed when they were finished with him.
He tripped over a broken brick and went tumbling head over tail down the strewn mortar pile, landing with a pitiful whimper at the bottom. Then he opened his eyes very, very wide.
1 Eleven years, to be precise
2 And if one does bypass the courtesies expected of visitors and guests, say in the mid-eleventh century or so, one really shouldn't be surprised if one gets an eyeful of naked, writhing demon in the midst of tempting a few willing and nubile young chambermaids
3 With the possible exception of the walls surrounding a pair of enormous Pearly Gates. While the two have never been compared side by side, they were built by the same architects and fulfill the same basic function.
4 i.e.: someone who had spent more time polishing his sword and breastplate than thinking of ways to embarrass Aziraphale in front of the archangels
5 Though if questioned, he might admit to having something to do with the kick to Saladin's trouser region, courtesy of Crowley back in about 5 AC ("I can't always be there to bail you out, angel! Now focussss...").
6 He'd lost a body just that way once in the 3rd century, while trying to impress on a band of local boys that no really did mean no. Crowley had laughed at him for months.
7 To make sure they both stayed upright, of course.
8 Or Crowley had rescued Aziraphale from Hell, take your pick