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Don't Lose Your Head

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Demons don’t need to breathe, not necessarily. Breathing is, in fact, rather impractical to those who’ve taken the sulphuric nosedive. In the bowels of Hell, breath can carry in the stench of putrescent flesh and its more archetypal metallic, bloody undertones. It’s the kind of odor that stimulates the senses, bringing the keen taste of anguish to the tongue and allowing it to ferment there.

Now, normally, this would be no issue to demonic entities; they pride themselves on torture and luxuriate in the rather palpable despair of others. Too much of a good thing, though, can bring on a truly terrible migraine, like an automatic air freshener that’s malfunctioned and spewed out its pumpkin spice-y contents all at once. Or perhaps a “rebellious” adolescent who’s layered on cologne a bit too thickly to mask the tell-tale scent of marijuana [1]. So most demons have opted out of breathing and live their trivial and inefficacious existences without sparing it a second thought.

Crowley, though, recognises that he does not need to breathe, and decides to do so anyway. He indulges himself in the pleasures of Earth-bound life, however frivolous they may be. The demon has a few joys. His car is chief among them; he cherishes the Bentley and has kept it in perfect condition since he drove it home from the factory in 1926. Though he’d be hard pressed to admit it, especially to the plants themselves, gardening is one of his favourite hobbies. He likes good booze, and drinking it, particularly with his closest friend. Those were a few of his favourite things.

How Julie Andrews of him. Aziraphale fervently loathed The Sound of Music [2]. The sudden thought of him was suffocating.

And, since he’s also come to rather enjoy breathing (an obscenely human vice, he’s aware), Crowley finds it especially perturbing when something prevents him from doing so. Although Crowley could breathe, and very much wanted to, he couldn’t. Not now.

His chest felt crushed by an invisible force when he became upset. Truly, a terrible human ailment; he is the product of his environment. What's worse is that with breathing left, so did other senses. Sight, for one.

The demon would never admit it, nor let another soul see it if he could help it, but his eyes were blurred with tears. They distorted the world around him and the Bentley into a nauseating kaleidoscope of colour. His fingers flex and curl around the wheel rhythmically, not that he can feel it. This tic, which usually soothes him, proved useless in the face of the profound numbness overtaking his body. Blood burned beneath his skin with a white-hot frigidity that turned everything tangible into cotton. His arms were, in theory, part of his body. A being such as Crowley need not worry about his physical form, being able to change it at will and such; however, there is something truly disconcerting about being able to clearly see your arms functioning as they should, yet feeling only a glacial nothingness in their place. The entire experience was reminiscent of Eden: he was an insignificant, vile, and limbless creature again, positively seething with misplaced resentment. It seemed that, even now, he refused to show his under-belly.

He shoves his Valentino shades further up; they begin to bite into the bridge of his nose, ensuring that his wet eyes remained hidden. A taste of pain in hopes of grounding his senses, but it proved futile. He only succeeds in making deeper, more tender grooves in his skin.

Crowley never feels completely worthy, so he continues to hide behind his sunglasses.

He taunts himself, fantasizing that tears alone could obscure his eyes, and with it, the truth of who he is. It was almost laughable. As if pain could wipe away 6000 years of existence and suddenly make him enough .

All in all, this combination didn’t make for the safest driving, but he was emotionally compromised, and it’s hard to think rationally when you are in the throes of any variety of passion. Impulsivity was another uniquely human trait that he had acquired, a byproduct of free will. But Crowley had discovered that demons, too, could be impulsive.

He raced down the M25 at 90 miles an hour in reckless mania. You Take My Breath Away by Queen blares through the Blaupunkt.

 

I lose control and shiver deep inside

You take my breath away

You can reduce me to tears

With a single sigh

(Please don't cry anymore)

 

Crowley flattened his lips, returning to his practiced façade of cold indifference. He would be able to break down and feel when hell froze over. He wanted to curse the Bentley for being more empathetic than him; it seemed that even his car surpassed his emotional intelligence. Come to think of it, his deficiency in the “emotional department” was the primary source of his current...distress. He had fallen from heaven long ago, but only now fallen from his angel’s good graces. There are two things on this Go—Satan forsaken Earth that he can never bring himself to curse: his car and Aziraphale.

In a fashion far more nuanced and progressive than anything Hastur could devise, the personal hell of Crowley’s mind created his own torture. Against his own will, it conjured images and memories of pure anguish.

He recalled the last time Aziraphale had pushed him away.

I don’t even like you.

His eyes, which had always looked upon his angel with softness, had turned empty and glassy with those words, but Aziraphale hadn’t seen how his words affected him then. His glasses were an Earthly protection (and a style choice), but also a curtain of privacy in those painful moments.

Then, it was dangerous. Then, it was “fraternizing with the enemy”, with the danger of eternal destruction. While the respective agendas of heaven and hell were still involved, their association was star-crossed.

Now, they were free to be and do as they wanted, but Aziraphale still hesitated, and it stung.

Better not.

Now, there’s nothing in the way but Crowley himself, and he’s intuitive enough to take the bloody hint. Despite all of his best efforts to be benevolent, he is tainted where Aziraphale is clean. He is fallen while Aziraphale remains holy. He is a demon, and Aziraphale is an angel. From the way Aziraphale smiles at him, he has no doubt that the angel wants to be closer. But as for whether Aziraphale can ever dissolve the fallacious conceptions of his diametric opposite ingrained into him since creation, he is unsure. He is scorched and scarred and brittle in so many places from being bathed in hellfire: it only took one true rejection for him to crumble.

He knows Aziraphale doesn’t mean to hurt; though he has some bastard in him, he is not cruel.

But sometimes, intent matters little.

You go too fast for me, Crowley echoed in his mind as he continued to accelerate.

His vision became even more bleary. The road and the other cars became little more than moving, liquid shapes. Crowley couldn't read the numbers, but he saw the faint outline of the white arrow moving steadily up and up and up the speedometer, faster and faster. The car groans an ugly, sputtering sound: the beloved Bentley attempted to save him.

“You are my car,” he croaks bitterly, through gritted teeth.

This tires scream and burn in protest.

“I would never hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anyone.” Betraying his inner maelstrom, Crowley’s voice cracks and sputters in tandem with the car.

The Blaupunkt skips furiously through Best of Queen , and the demon catches snippets of Freddie Mercury through the ringing in his ears.

 

Too much love will kill you—

Love kills, drills you through your heart—

Scars you from the start—

Death on two legs, you’re tearing me apart—

Do you feel like suicide (I think you should)

 

Crowley breathed in shakily.

 

Is your conscience alright—

Love of my life, you’ve hurt me—

Are you ready? Are you ready for this?

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?—

You can reduce me to tears

With a single sigh

I could give up all my life for just one kiss—

 

Crowley sighed, partially out of resignation, and partially out of a feeling he would never admit: deep, deep heartbreak.

With its master careening off the motorway, the Bentley attempted to right itself by jerking the wheel, sending them both rolling helplessly. Crowley finds the experience comparable to his descent; the line between memories of extraordinary pain and the present blurred until he could no longer differentiate between them.

The Bentley tumbling over the flimsy divider, turning over itself in a warped mass of black and chrome, evokes memories of the demon’s fall: saudade for the blissful ignorance of a heavenly existence. Just as from God, he was tailspinning at the mercy of someone he loved deeply, but ultimately failed. The sensation of hot iron burning through the roots of his feathers, one by one, now manifested as literal molten metal. It was slicing into his back, compressing him, crushing him—cauterizing the bloody wounds it opened. Blisters form and pop across his back, like bubbles in the boiling sulfur pools of Hell, leaving it raw.

Everything but a single thought slips away. A memory from deep in the abcesses of his mind flows forward like pus from an infection: love. Divine and unadulterated, of a strength palpable in the ambient air. It’s familiar to him, in the way your memories feel characteristic of you and your story: the nuances and intricacies of it are innately known.

Aziraphale’s love, for instance, was the scent of warm cocoa, even on a hot summer day in city smog where it has no business being made. The smooth severity of starched dress shirts. The roughness of old, yellowing paper and the crisp headiness of it—the overpowering smell of barley and ink in antique books.

It sickened Crowley to ponder the thought. A bile circulated in his stomach, rancid and ghastly. But the shape of it felt familiar, the impression of a lost jewel. Once he held the stone and thumbed over its surface, it was recognizable. Love in the imagination and holy conception of an angel’s mind: his mind, before his fall from grace.

Maybe he and Aziraphale were close before the fall...  

He pushes the thought away. It doesn’t matter.

Crowley’s infatuation with love, both agape and eros, had always brought him to this point. Whether it was hell fire or holy fire, he could never let go of burning passion.

His love of his Mother, his blind and juvenile faith in Her, had led him down this path. That and the company he kept [3]. It was She who taught him how to love, to feel compassion, to care unequivocally for Her creation, however effete and flawed it was. It was She who damned him, then and now, to his fate—which She had always known. It was She who damned him, but it was he who took the fall.

The demon never fully ceased believing in Her, but his faith was clouded by disillusionment.

Crowley occupied the liminal space of moral grey. He was a bad angel: too inquisitive, too empathetic. He was also a rubbish demon: too compassionate, too unorthodox. He was undeserving and incapable of love by design, but craved it regardless [4]. His efforts were always futile. Angel or Demon, it didn’t matter: when you stripped away his nature, his affiliations, the agendas forced upon him, he was simple: scared, wanting, and deprived.

And, most of all, he was a failure.

Simple tasks, literal world-ending tasks. He failed them. That is what he was at his core, and perhaps the burning Bentley around him was just another thing that he had failed. His last effort to save the car fails too, of course, but he manages the slightest of demonic miracles.

He’d tried so hard since his creation, and each time he was met with the same outcome. Some arrogant arse once said that was the definition of insanity. Crowley was not supposed to have free will, but he’d be damned if he didn’t attempt to exercise the right anyway. So perhaps he’ll break the cycle now, choose a new path. Perhaps the answer was, all along, to stop trying.

So he does.

 


 

1: For you Americans: imagine a fraternity member coated in AXE body spray, much to the same effect, except he also presumes that girls will find it attractive.

2: Crowley regarded this as a mortal failing.

3: Lucifer was a mama's boy once, just like him. They got on. That’s why he was sent to “go up there and make some trouble”.

4: It was his Mother’s gift to the world, after all.

 


 

A very distressed woman, seeming to be in her late forties and beginning to show the exhaustion of aging, paces next to her parked Jaguar. She holds on to her coat nervously, shaken by what she had witnessed.

Death is a private affair, but also a spectacle. Sensationalised so that even when it is gory and horrific, it is difficult to avert the eyes. Humans can never peel their eyes from rotting fruit.

Her hands fumble with her phone, tremor. With great care, she spells out 999.

“H-hello? Someone just got into a truly terrible crash. The car is all smashed. I-I don’t honestly think the young man driving could have survived, no. He— oh

Her soft whimper echoes across the line. Her gut swirls and clenches, and she feels that she will be immediately ill. A few seconds later, she sicks acid and water on to the concrete, her throat burning as her chest throbs from panic. Then, she composes herself: she must be strong.   

“No, no I’m alright. Nothing’s—I’ve just ventured in a bit closer now and it’s all burnt to—”

She raises her shoulder to her ear, holding her mobile in place. Her hands clutch at one another nervously, until the pinprick pain of her manicured acrylics finally coaxes her back to reality.

“No, no he’s dead.”

“He’s not breathing, he can’t be. What does he look like? Male, a Black Bentley. All gone up in flames. No- no, I can’t give you any more descriptors! I can hardly find a face at all, much less give you a bloody description of it. I’m not sure he has a face anymore.”

After a few minutes, her voice raises in frustration.

“The bugger was doing twice the limit!”

The police these days , she huffed, walking around the car to investigate per the responder’s instruction.

“Oh lord the smell —”

She gags at the odor of burning flesh.

“He was right sick. Terminal, I think. His eyes’ve gone all yellow, far as I can see.”

Her voice turned gentler, as if she gleaned empathy from the air.

“He must’ve been in so much pain, the dear. Diseases like those, they’ll sap the hope right out of you—must’ve wanted to go on his own terms.

“Oh, the accident? I didn’t see all of it, but the poor thing was speeding like the devil, skidding through grass with not a care in the world ! I don’t think he was really with us at all anymore, then. I—”

She was pulled from her tunnel vision back into the wider world as her panic shattered into general nerves.

“Please hurry. I’ve locked my son in the car with his sissy, and I just—something in me just doesn’t feel right leaving this man alone in this state.”

Mothers—at least the good ones—never abandon their children, even when all proper sense would say it is better to. And this woman, instinctually, felt that the man needed a mother’s love [1].

“I can’t imagine—Thank you, yes, I’ll stay on the line.”

She looks at her children, knocking on the glass of the car and calling for mummy. She hushes them, blowing them kisses, before walking over to the wrecked Bentley (at least, the shattered remnants of one).

Her mum always told her ‘everything happens for a reason’, and when her mum had passed, she'd had to tell herself that. It happened for a reason. Death happened for a reason.

She leans down to speak to the man.

"You'll be alright, dear," she comforted: a boldfaced lie. "It all will make sense sometime, you just have to will it so. It all happens for a reason, all of it, no matter how rubbish it seems.”

She murmured, thinking of her own mother. Mum would hold her cheeks after she fell and scraped her knee as a girl, before kissing it all better. “You'll be alright, love.”

She’s unsure of just how long she stands there, numb to the heat of the asphalt pulsing through the soles of her shoes, her hand resting on the man’s bloodied arm [2]. Some amount of time later she’s made aware of the world again by a light pressure on her shoulder and soothing murmur in her ear.

“Miss? Did you know ’im?”

She shook her head faintly.

“I had a look at him. He was deceased upon impact. I’m going to have to ask you to step away from the vehicle.”

A policewoman, a younger woman with a kind face weathered beyond its years by experience, walks past the frazzled mum and over to the coroner. She and her colleagues are unsure as to how the radio survived the crash. Anything inside the car would have been crushed to bits and bobs. Margot has been an officer for 20 years: she’s seen anything and everything on the streets of London, but nothing quite like this. Though muffled by the man’s body, Queen resounds loudly through the tunnel, an almost eerie anthem juxtaposed against the sizzling of hot metal.

 

So please don't go

Don't leave me here all by myself

I get ever so lonely from time to time

I will find you

Anywhere you go, I'll be right behind you

Right until the ends of the Earth

I'll get no sleep till I find you to tell you

That you just take my breath away

 

That’s “Don’t Take My Breath Away” , she realises. It was our first dance at our wedding.

She doesn’t know how eyes so obviously sickly, covered with the recognizable film of death, could look so sad. Something about it transcends nausea, leaving her deeply unsettled.

But the thought of her love, her partner, brings an unwanted personal connection. When she looks back over at the faceless man it’s so easy to see her sweet girl’s features in his—or what’s left of them.

Even the ambiguous structure of his face lends itself to Carol’s high-set cheekbones. The ones she especially loves to trace her fingers over when she crinkles up her eyes just so, gleaming with joy—her wife is so beautiful—just before she kisses the smile right off her smug face.

She turns, nearly retching hot bile into her closed fist. That is not her wife; her wife’s face does not belong on this poor man.

But she can’t quite unsee it now. She makes a silent promise to find whoever loves him and tell them personally. Someone must love him, after all, if he’s playing a song like that. It just keeps repeating. Over and over, until the lyrics are lost amid the cacophony of sound: the crack of splintering metal as the door is cut away and the roof is split to remove the body, the chatter of first responders, the spluttering of resilient, nearly-extinguished flame.  

The coroner approached, oblivious to her musings.

“Oddly enough, he has his arm outstretched. To the side, like he was coverin’ someone in the passenger’s seat, like it was second nature to him. Better check his identity. Call his family.”

The coroner continued, after thinking for a moment. “I would ask if we had a next of kin to identify the body, but I don’t think anyone could—”

The officer cuts him off.

“I don’t care. Order a test. Call it in.”

The officer wrenches open the glovebox.

Her hopes of finding someone to break the news to gently sink. All that tumbles out is ten, perhaps twelve pairs of designer sunglasses, some of them crushed beyond repair. She picks up one to inspect with a gloved hand, avoiding the blood splatter.

“He didn’t have insurance. No indication of living relatives. It’s as if he didn’t exist.”  

 


 

1: Unbeknownst to her, he did indeed crave his Mother’s love. And though Crowley would never know she stayed, it would have meant something to him.

2: Or, what she thought was an arm, anyway. It was difficult to discern.

 


 

Somewhere in Tadfield, a young boy shoots upright in bed. He buries his fingers in his dog’s coat when it begins to whine and nose at his fingertips.

“Someone’s gone and done something stupid .”

 


 

Aziraphale is cleaning his bookshop, sweeping and quietly humming, not a care in the world. He manages a fond smile at his Arthur Miller collection, gracing a finger over the spines. His hand rests on Death of a Salesman [1]. Aziraphale shuddered with the touch, figuring that, perhaps, a bit of the raw emotion and dread of the piece had wiggled its way from the text and found its home in his chest. Tricky things, works like those: the tragedy of them was tangible, what, with the unresolved grief of a lover left behind.

Suddenly, Aziraphale is struck by an immense pressure in his ears, and a fuzzy ringing. The edges of his vision blur and soften with a creeping darkness, casting the shop around him as an unsettling vignette. His world is captured in black and white: devoid of subtlety and movement. Soundless, airless, a moment frozen with perpetual suspense. Something feels innately wrong, and the only thoughts occupying his mind are of Crowley.

A circle of divine light illuminates the room with glory, its intensity almost blinding. Metatron’s booming voice reverberates through every corner of the shop and within every cell in Aziraphale’s body.

“CONGRATULATIONS, AZIRAPHALE, FOR COMING TO SEE THE ERROR OF YOUR WAYS. YOUR ROLE IN THE DISCORPORATION AND SUBSEQUENT EXECUTION OF THE DEMON CROWLEY WAS COMMENDABLE AND HAS PROVEN TO US THAT YOUR...PROBATIONARY PERIOD, SHALL WE CALL IT? HAS OFFICIALLY ENDED!”

Aziraphale’s knees buckle underneath him as a wave of visceral horror wracks his body. He leans on the chair behind him for support, attempting to stow any show of emotion.

“That’s...wonderful. We shall be in contact, then?”

The angel’s voice falters.

“WELCOME BACK TO YOUR HEAVENLY FAMILY, AZIRAPHALE.”

The light dissipates, and Aziraphale crumples to the floor as soon as Heaven is no longer watching. All of the strength leaves his body in a rush, leaving him shaking like an earthquake. He quickly moves to close the portal, erasing some of the white lines on his shop’s floors with his feet. To prevent any future untimely discorporation, of course. And the last thing he wanted to do at this moment was speak with Heaven.

It was his fault. Unequivocally, undoubtedly, he was to blame. His association with Crowley is—was a dangerous affair.

Everything in his being shakes, tremors rattling their way through his arms. He struggles to prop himself up, each effort to rise even the slightest of bits feeling inordinately laborious. Aziraphle’s entire body is numb and prickly. He collapses back to the ground, defeated, and buries an increasingly red face into clenched fists.

He’s never had to support himself alone before, not once. He’s always had a bit of help. He’s always had that presence, that lingering, subconscious knowledge that he’d be saved in a pinch, as comfort. Aziraphale has never been alone before, not even in his own mind.

Angels are not very individualistic creatures. Aziraphale has always had the comfort of another, or his faith—the solace of community and love. Give a human complete solitude and they will be happy for quite some time before they lose touch with reality. Angels were more the trial run. It doesn’t take long for them, not long at all. In fact, Aziraphale was just now discovering it only took a few minutes.

Heaven knows what Aziraphale has done to Crowley—and he hasn’t the faintest. Aziraphale has never harmed or killed a living thing, and the thought he even remotely caused Crowley to suffer...  not to mention, be praised for it; it sickened him. Crowley could be soaked in holy water, torn apart limb by limb, finger by finger. Stung by Beelzebub’s hordes of wasps every day before they burrow and nest in his hair and flesh, in perpetuity, for a truly Promethean punishment. He’s plunged into abject horror by the thought of a demon, face contorted into a sick caricature of joy, filleting Crowley’s wings and removing his flight feathers—to snuff out any hope of escape—before pulling at them and fisting feathers from the bases out in downy, bloody clumps.

Or perhaps they’ve reserved an honorary seat for him at some hellish reconstruction of The Rose, preserving its most abhorrent odors at the highest intensities. Perhaps they’ve bound him to his seat, forcing him to watch an amateuristic production of Shakespeare's King Lear, peeling his eyelids open to ensure he views each instance of severe paternal idiocy. Crowley always did hate the gloomy ones, this piece especially. How dull it is that Lear only views his misstep dethroned and bumbling. "How sharp a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child," indeed [2].

Oh lord, what if I’ve been doing it all along? What if I’ve been sapping the life out of him with each touch. He's a demon, after all, what if I’ve been hurting him by being near him?

His body practically shaking him to the point of discorporation, Aziraphale frantically scrolls through his memories, trying to find something, anything that’s been different from what they’ve always been. The way Crowley’s always been. He found nothing.

Crowley would surely tell him, Aziraphale assured himself, or show some signs of deterioration. Crowley had tiptoed around the church for him, so he knew his demon would endure pain for him, but not silently. He would have made a big fuss, really thrown a proper tizzy. Aziraphale knew Crowley—he wasn’t one to suffer silently.

Aziraphale stays on the ground and lets his lip tremor a few times; a scream has tangled itself in his chest cavity and nestled itself beneath his ribs, within his lungs. He chokes on the hiccuped breaths and whimpers that manage to dislodge from his throat.

The angel is pressed flush against the wall, slouched into a position that is absolutely ungainly and undignified, but he cannot move his body. Aziraphale is not in control. Any human being would recognise this feeling as the common, existential fear of isolation and oblivion, but for a celestial being, this is a rather large wall to confront. The crushing embrace of a panic attack is another human trouble Aziraphale now knows intimately, too.

He sits there a while; his eyes flick up, then down, then up again. Aziraphale’s mind is completely blank in the worst way.

The first words the vaguely human-shaped being say in hours falter from his mouth, and his face crumples in on itself the moment he speaks:

“Please?”

All is silent again.

After some amount of time, Aziraphale sinks into his chair in the back, looking over to the space Crowley had liked to occupy for years: where the demon had set chocolate when he’d first opened shop, where he’d lean in that bizarre fashion against the desk, where he’d make snide remarks about his “customers”, where he’d drink wine and laugh and take off those horrible tinted lenses and show Aziraphale his eyes. Where he’d listened and smiled and rolled his eyes and told Aziraphale how silly he was. Where he’d offered lunch and straightened his tie and complained endlessly about Aziraphale and his dumb books.

Aziraphale looks to it and he finally says what has been on his heart for thousands of years, lurking in the air but never spoken.

“I love you.”

The answering silence is deafening.

He breaks then, and starts to sob.

Aziraphale clings to the hope that maybe they hadn’t executed Crowley straight off. Hell is about the torture of it, and they’re incredibly petty. Aziraphale had experienced it first hand, so of course, they’d want to exact their revenge slowly [3].

He would never wish torture upon Crowley, never, but Aziraphale is selfish. He just needs his demon to be alive. He needs him to be.

So he throws himself into research, hunting through every book in existence, trying to find ways to summon a certain demon. A month is not long, not in their lifetimes, but Aziraphale has never felt time progressing so keenly.

Aziraphale’s bookshop has remained closed for a while now. It falls quickly into disrepair, his books of prophecy neglected. They have now gathered a thick layer of dust, which causes Aziraphale great distress, but he tells himself that he must not mind it.

Crowley is all he can afford to think and care about, Crowley, enduring hellish torture. With every passing day his chances grow slimmer, the oceanic waves of time carrying pieces and grains of hope every time the tide comes in. Aziraphale’s immaculately manicured nails are bitten short, his hair is messy and matted, his suit jacket encrusted with a layer of grime. Aziraphale has not stepped outside in days, and it shows.  

After a while, Aziraphale tires, more in the mental than the physical sense. Hope is beginning to dwindle for the angel, and amongst a pile of unhelpful books, he sinks. If something does not materialize soon, Aziraphale will begin the slow and painful process of grief, which he had long been avoiding. He wondered if he merely delayed the inevitable, as he and Crowley with the Great Plan. Some things were ineffable, and who was he to argue with that?

For the record, great pustulent mangled bollocks to the Great Blasted Plan.

The tainted memory leaves a bitter taste on Aziraphale’s tongue, but it also carries with it an undeniable, nostalgic sweetness. Every memory of him is sweet, however childish their rows might’ve been. The angel’s brows upturn and his eyes soften, a kind of effortless and unintentional smile that could not be manifested by force. The scene plays like a film in his mind, each glimpse of Crowley pausing in suspended motion. He clings to what he can gather from Crowley’s expression: the twitch of a bitter smile, the lack of tension contorting his sharp features, his open, amiable stance. As Crowley’s expression shutters in the past, Aziraphale’s follows in stereo.

It’s over.

How silly he was, how daft. If he’d had any inkling of the future he would never have been so foolish, so cautiously adamant about the rules. Now that it was well and truly over, Aziraphale would never voluntarily wish the pain of regret on anyone, even when it was deserved. But it was a just penance for mistakes that could not be helped any longer.

The books are strewn about the floor in haphazard stacks. On this particular day, Aziraphale discovers a shelf of books he had acquired about a century ago, entirely forgotten. After brushing off the dust with one hand, Aziraphale reads the title on the cover aloud.

A Brief but Complete Guide to Botany by T. Pratchett”

After delays at the post and many weeks of waiting, a smile arrives.

He finds a stack of old gardening magazines from the second Great War in a discrete pile.

Aziraphale rests for the first time in days [4]. Setting the Brief but Complete Guide on the worn wooden side table, Aziraphale makes himself a steaming cup of cocoa. Sipping the sweet with care, he leans back into his favorite chair, magazines in hand, and begins to read.

Aziraphale is absorbed by them, adamant on learning everything in gardening there is to conceive of. If he let Crowley die, he wasn’t going to damn his demon’s beloved plants to the same fate.

After a long day of voracious reading, Aziraphale places the final magazine on his untidy heap of glossy print. He lays in the armed chair, staring at the ceiling thoughtfully, reinvigorated with a passion. The angel brushes some of the dirt off his collar, walking over to the occult book with the most promise, and thumbs through the pages. An anxiety comes over Aziraphale. He quickly traces his pointer finger down the list of materials before rushing off to gather them, as if fire threatened to devour his feet.

After collecting a large pile of various seemingly-harmless materials one would never guess could be used in a demon summoning, Aziraphale stopped in his cupboard. He stared blankly at a certain item on the shelf, as if it were sentient and could be intimidated into submission [5].

It was a spare tartan thermos, full of perfectly ordinary water, aside from the fact he had blessed it.

His hand slid around the plastic cautiously, as if it would burn him, knowing full well the devastation it could create in the right hands. Aziraphale hoped desperately that he was the right hands.

“For insurance,” he reasoned, as if trying to convince himself, too. A series of chills ran up his spine.

 


 

1: Truly a modern prophet if there ever was one. Just the right amount of righteous indignation that Aziraphale found himself to appreciate in the company he kept.

2: That bit in specific hits a bit too close to home for Crowley’s tastes, Aziraphale presumes.

3: Satan enjoyed a good rotisserie chicken.

4: Angels, strictly speaking, do not require sleep or rest, but their vessels may begin to show signs of wear if not properly cared for, as they are not holy and perfect. Occasional rests are necessary.

5: Even if it could have been, Aziraphale was poor at being intimidating. He was soft.

 


 

Dagon’s tone, inflicted with an invariable disinterest, hangs heavily in the blood-stale air of the rank cell, their words crafting their own miniature assault on the prisoner’s ears.

“Welcome back, Crowley. We’re delighted ”—the word is crooned— “to have you back in shape, serving your Master.”

The prisoner opens his eyes for the first time in his new body.

“Hold up,”

The upper right corner of the demon’s lip curls upward into half sneer. He looks around, incredulous, his voice raising an octave.

“Who the fuck is Crowley?”

Chapter Text

It has long been said that demons are some of the most uncreative creatures. And the same is true for angels, but frankly, it makes less of a difference in their job performance. With all the heavenly filing, naturally. It takes little imagination to be good and follow the rules, while a wild imagination can make rule-breaking much more gratifying and interesting. Most demons did not yet understand that.

Hastur was the least creative of his lot, driven far more by carnal desire for schadenfreude than intellectual satisfaction.

And so, the torture of Crowley became Hastur’s first attempt to be  “clever”. A traitor such as Crowley had earned a punishment so precocious that it was pretentious, and therefore painful in a more metaphorical sense. Particularly, Hastur’s torture for Crowley was an uninspired recreation of Crowley’s brilliantly mundane plots. It was reasonable, in Hastur’s vapid mind, that Crowley deserved to be the architect of his own demise.

Hastur began by giving Crowley a sense of his personality.

“I what?”

“You hated alcohol. It brought you away from your evil duties. Frozen yoghurt was a personal favorite of yours. You’d bring it on every temptation—no toppings, those didn’t keep. And you were very orthodox in your methods, famous for it. You were a fan of operatic tragedies. They really spoke to you, inspired you. You’d even—” At this point Hastur is barely keeping his composure. His glee is palpable. “ Star in them if you were available.”

Furthermore, Hastur recycles one of Crowley’s most egregious creations: jorts

If Crowley had retained any of his memories after discorporation, he would have laughed directly in Hastur’s face, sure to sprinkle some stray spit in his eyes. But this particular demon did not even know he was a “Crowley”, much less that he was usually snarky and bitter. He did not know who he was or what he was supposed to think of the frogged man attempting to transition him to a hellish desk job. (It was a bit curious that he, ‘Crowley’, was companionless; perhaps it is some kind of Darwinian promotional system? , he thought [1].)

Crowley, even with his factory reset, can feel the evil radiating off of the garment. It was evil for the same reason a fine, aged wine (which Crowley also loved, though he didn’t know it yet) is palatable: nuance. There is no satisfaction in these shorts, only humiliation, with the finest edge of untoward self confidence. Greatest of all had been Crowley’s ability to make them popular. Hell won millions of souls with jorts—they planted the seeds of self-inflated pride in human minds.

Hastur was not quite gifted enough in critical thinking to understand that using someone else’s torture device is a compliment to their competency. Nor did the Duke of Hell realize that his intended use for jorts, the Hell of public embarrassment, was not nearly as clever as Crowley’s artistic intent. But no matter. 

With caution, Crowley took the jorts in one hand. Though the demon remembered nothing of himself, his visceral gut feeling was strongly against wearing or even touching them. He squints at them, as if they would spontaneously combust or poison him.

Crowley started slowly.

“Something about these feels... off . Distasteful. I doubt I ever wore these, and it hardly seems necessary”

Hastur glares.

“Do you have something else I can wear, by chance?”

Hastur screeched, somewhat belligerent after Crowley did not comply with his masterful hoodwinking.

“What? You ungrateful little worm what could possibly—”

Beelzebub, still mildly traumatized from the holy water incident, cuts Hastur off with a grimace of a toothy smile and a raised hand. Hastur falls quiet. “Crowley. What seemzzz to be the issue?”

“Oh, nothing.” He holds his elbow, flicking the fingers of his right hand about in a very French display of melancholy, “It’s only that I have no reason to tempt or assimilate with the boring apes upstairs anymore, do I? Paperwork and all that. No reason for me to—” he stutters, looking away to hide his distress. A fanged smile sits in its place. (With his memory, it seems he’s also lost the ability to hold character. This break is truly unprofessional.)

“to wear the beloved ,” he savours the word, “jorts.”

Beelzebub sucks their bottom lip between their teeth and clenches their jaw so that their denticulation leaves bloody indents in the flesh of their vessel. A low buzz of irritation rumbles around Beelzebub. The dull throb of pain is a pleasant reminder that physical suffering, in any increment, is insignificant: incomparable to the absolute psychological torment of being required to endure Crowley. Amnesiac or not, he needed to be taken care of. Now [2].

The Prince of Hell grips onto the last shred of their composure as if it is a lifeline to shore. All will be worth it in due time; their work will come to fruition, they tell themself, attempting to avoid the eruption of wrath bubbling within them. The plan will be executed with glorious wickedness, so long at the asinine Duke beside them cooperates. 

With a shuddering breath, Beelzebub sets their Master’s plan into motion. Well, the Master approved plan, at least. Satan had signed all of the necessary paperwork: even Hell needs to keep their affairs properly documented.

“You are being assigned to temptation dutiezzz on Earth, Crowley,” Beelzebub states flatly. “Here is your uniform to help you blend in, your clothing of choice before your… unfortunate acczzident.” The demon instructs Hastur to hand Crowley a shoddily-folded stack of clothes.

With great reluctance, Crowley grazes his fingers over the pile. The scritch of his nails against what he can only assume is pleather sends a shudder of repulsion through his form. 

Fake. As if actual leather was some great expenditure. 

Crowley swallows his protests with a strained smile that twitches just so at the corners. He takes the clothes, as much as it pains him, to maintain some fragile image of subservience. Somehow, he knows he can pull an attitude, but open defiance is out of the question. Hell forbid what might happen if Crowley doesn’t comply. 

Crowley tucks the “uniform”—and wasn’t that just a riot. uniform.—beneath his arm and puffs out his lips in a facetious pout. His exhale blows a few wisps of hair into his eyes, effectively ruining whatever immaculate image he intended to preserve. His lips part, a snide quip resting at the tip of his tongue, before a few of the more treasonous curls enact a mutiny against him. Crowley groans in frustration, smacking his lips repeatedly at the stray strands caught between his teeth. With a long sigh of exasperation, some of the hair threads are sucked in. Crowley tries to dramatize the affair in an effort to save face, but it only exacerbates the situation. He coughs and chokes on it. The Prince of Hell deadpans, visibly tired. Crowley finally uses his elbow to remove the soggy bits (his hands are full), and Hastur leers over patronisingly with a smirk.

Bastard .

“And I suppose this lovely coat was mine, then?”

Crowley shows off a saccharine smile, fully intending to filibuster his way out of the outfit and conversation.

Hastur’s smirk widens, showing his sharp and rotten teeth. (A lone maggot wriggles out. Lovely ). His voice turns threatening. “Yes, Crowley, yes. And you loved wearing it every chance you got.”

Crowley looks between Beelzebub and Hastur, realising he has no way out of this.

“So,” Beelzebub continues suddenly, their hands clasped behind their back, posturing regally. “Put the uniform on. We’re szzending you up momentarily.”

Crowley’s eyebrows raise a little in confusion.

“So um...yeah, how exactly do I get back up there?” His voice teeters off in calculated uncertainty.

Beelzebub repeats themself, voice flat and head cocked to the side in exasperation. “We’re szzending you up momentarily. Put on the clothes.” Hastur let out a low, condescending laugh.

“Alright then.”

Crowley snapped, donning his new uniform. He could scarcely move his arms, and for a moment he was certain his “associates” had wrestled him into a straight jacket. The pleather—because that’s what the sickening material is [3], Crowley is certain at this point—squeals in a way that berates his eardrums at each subtle movement. The pain is similar to that unleashed by two styrofoam pieces rubbing together. It is nearly inarticulable.

He opens the faux leather trench coat to reveal a deep purple shirt with a bronze sheen. A set of laces are crossed loosely down the front to form a low neckline. Crowley feels his exposed chest with a bewildered expression.

Crowley doesn’t want to risk a look down, for fear of losing whatever dignity he’s managed to maintain. His thighs are chilled by a draught. It takes the demon a long minute to recognize that his trousers are torn. They are black, denim, and extremely skinny. Large gashes of his skin are visible. 

Crowley considers the clothes for a minute, giving himself another look over, posing and pouting out his lip. He runs his hands over the shirt and finds it surprisingly comfortable.

It’s not too bad, actually.

Beelzebub is growing impatient.

“Farewell, Crowley.”

Hastur jeered “Happy temptations!” with a condescending wave.

Suddenly, everything in Crowley’s vision went black.

 


 

Flies buzz in sluggish clusters in the far reaches of the room. Their incessant humming amplifies the audible flickering of the overhead fluorescents. Their presence can, perhaps, be attributed to the swift departure of their master. It could also be true that these flies are in no way hellish by nature, banal in every sense of the word, and are simply attracted to the faecal and mildewy smell of the tiled shack. Such an intense aroma could serve as a bit of therapy to the insects, much like incense or the overly-expensive hand lotions available at vegan stores; it could help divert the bumbling beings from an unfortunate existentialist spiral regarding their pitiful, inevitably-short existences. Above an unconscious body, two flies begin to become a bit tetchy about their meagre possessions and engage in a harrowing duel.

Unawares to the noble dispute occurring above him, Crowley shifts awake. He is quick to note his slumped position and is even quicker to note that his body was being propped up by a positively ghastly looking toilet, with the porcelain bowl painfully digging into his neck.

His lip curling in disgust, the demon jolts away from the bowl. The action leaves Crowley no better off, only managing to land his ass into a puddle of what he deeply hopes is water. With a disgruntled yelp, he launches to his feet. The seat of his pants would have clung and bunched uncomfortably had it not already been plastered to his backside. 

Standing up, Crowley surveys the lavatory with a higher viewpoint.

The squalor absolutely offends him.

Crowley diverts his attention from the ghastly thing and looks in the mirror for the first time, surveying the face he had always had but no longer remembered. The mirror comically distorts his features through grease and shattered plexiglass. His face is comprised of smudges: beige and pink in the face, a brushstroke of brown where he assumes his cheekbones have hollowed, twin yellow blobs where his eyes should be. 

Curious .

The entire room is disgusting, honestly. The “Let Us Know If The Facilities Are Not Up To Standard” sign, with its little smarmy smiley face, fills him with absolutely bodacious irritation [4]. 

Fuck them . He flicks the sign with dramatic repugnance.

He wishes it were clean.

With the wish, Crowley finds himself standing in a pristine bathroom. The tiling, an inconsistent checkerboard with a few cracked pieces, mends itself under his boots. Decades of repulsive stains, many of questionable origin, seep upward from the grout and dissipate around him. It would’ve all seemed quite lovely, like a first snowfall in reverse, the crystalline flakes lifting from the ground where they had started to melt. Or that would have been comparable if the liquid were not comprised of varying remnants of soilants, all equally disgusting. The flies call the duel a draw on account of them both phasing out of existence, and their companions are quick to follow. The long bar lights flicker on. The mirror becomes silvery and spotless; Crowley’s reflection stares back at him clear as day. His breath hitches and he drags his fingertips over the lines of his nose and jaw, rubs a thumb gently under his eye. He likes the hair. Good hair on him, if he does say so himself. He’s a handsome devil. 

He mulls over his appearance a bit, before jolting slightly.

A handsome devil, indeed.

A chuckle startles out of him. He knows deep down that it’s been a long time since he’s laughed. He may not have the faintest who he is, but he can appreciate that he, whoever he might’ve been, had been capable of delivering one hell of a zinger.

Fututus et mori in igni [5].... I’ve done it again. 

A toothy grin stretches across the demon’s face. He looks nearly giddy with self-satisfaction.

The smile is soon gone, though.

The eyes are what catches him. Seeing them uncovered makes him nauseous like he’s a carny act paraded about for all the world to gawk at. Frozen in horror, Crowley cups his cheeks, tempted to peel the skin away around the sockets. The demon pulls at it roughly, exposing the inner eyelid. He hates them, and something in Crowley informs him that this visceral sentiment is nothing new. 

They weren’t always like that; he knows it. He knows it like he knows that those dullards down below aren’t his “good mates from work”. Everything feels off , like some insignificant piece of the puzzle has been forced into the wrong spot. It condemns the whole picture to ruin, disfiguring the piece, and sentencing the puzzle to incompletion. 

Who forced the wrong piece?

He mourns his eyes as he mourns his memory, knowing intrinsically he’s missing something beautiful, but not knowing quite what. Both leave him feeling empty. 

Crowley slithers out of the bathroom, its sickly green lights closing in on him. He covers his eyes, staring down at the peeling linoleum. He investigates the understocked shelves with one goal in mind. It's difficult to tell whether the datedness of the merchandise is intentional or the resultant of neglect.

His finds the sunglasses display on a plastic tray that is broken in several places; it is held together by children's bandages and old chewing gum. Some of the lenses have fallen prey to the grubby little hands of toddlers and lay popped out of their frames. They are on par with the rest of the wares in the shop in terms of age (including the food). Twinkies with an expiration date of 03/10/1980 sit proudly in a mouldy cardboard tray beside the glasses stand. The sweets look pleased with themselves in their positioning, like killers that have achieved a perfect crime. 

One pair stands alone, and something peculiarly close to nostalgia stirs in Crowley at the sight of them. The gold mirroring glints seductively in the limited lights. The glasses trigger an itch in the back of his mind for security, picking at a few loose stones, as if the wall in his memory is beginning to crumble. He is reminded of something elemental and powerful, but of a human variety. Freddie Mercury The name whispers through the cracks quietly, and Crowley latches on to it before it can slip away.  

His hand curls around the frames and he blows the thick layer of dust from them, with some supernatural help. Crowley slides them on with swagger. Reinvigorated with a confidence he didn’t know he possessed, Crowley struts down the aisle. The lights flicker, not in any sign of demonic presence, but out of disrepair. They illuminate a vintage Shell sign: not one curated by collectors, but one that has become a collectable by never being replaced. The shop has been devoid of human presence for a long while: only evil lives here now.

With a leisurely snap of Crowley’s fingers, the begrimed doors of the gas station’s convenience shop crumble off their corroded hinges. The glass shatters; it’s truly a pity considering that the stop and shop had become a bit of an incubator for malevolence, almost a dedication to the evils long forgotten by time, mostly because they were blocked out of the collective consciousness. The flamboyant perms of the 80s, the synthesized beats of the drum machine, the good ol’ “trickle-down” economics of Ronny Reagan [6]. 

Huffing a sigh of exasperation, Crowley exits through where automatic sliding doors once were, dodging the mangled and rusted framework. Glass crunches beneath his heels, muffling the satisfying “clack” that should have accompanied his every step.

In full daylight, Crowley’s hellish ensemble is visible. His trench coat collar is popped up naughty; the faux leather shines in a way it definitely should not if it were attempting to appear realistic. The deep v of the neckline exposes his purple silk, the amorphous fabric draping over his clavicle in such a way that exposes a fine sliver of his chest. He adjusts the fabric from where it has slipped out of the waistband of his impractically ripped and slim trousers. His snakeskin boots, of the cowboy variety, glisten maliciously. They know what they have done, the crime they have committed by having the audacity to exist. Each scale is discretely perceptible and haughty. 

In the humid heat, Crowley trudges forward towards any semblance of human civilization. A feeling in his gut acts as a compass. He knows he should be tempting: wicked deeds of the most gruesome and sinful calibres. But the well in his stomach informs him that a more pressing issue must be dealt with first, or rather, located. He closes his eyes and breathes in deeply. Demons do not need to breathe, but Crowley discovers just then, it helps him calm and think. He keeps walking in a straight line, ignoring the kudzu over the wreckage of old cars on the side of the road. There is nothing there, any sensible bystander would wonder. From a much further distance, it is Crowley is making a beeline for the Atlantic.

Reflected in the mirroring of Crowley’s aviators, the worn paint on the wooden sign near the road reads “WELCOME TO IDEAL, GA”, with the cursive subheading “Population: 518.” His eyes narrow.

Hell really has a nasty sense of humour.

 


 

1: Crowley did not actually use the term ‘Darwinian’ because he did not remember it, but I have saved you the trouble of sifting through his convoluted thoughts surrounding the search for an appropriate descriptor.

2: Beelzebub’s therapist, which they had acquired after the holy water debacle—many of the most famous psychologists and psychoanalysts were in Hell—had suggested that they remove all thoughts of Crowley from their mind. That would make him powerless. Unfortunately, this psychologist had not considered the extent of Crowley’s determination to dismantle Beelzebub’s life and work. They just wanted to sleep. Maybe enjoy a nice sugar water.

3: Hell loves plastic. Pollution and all. It's horribly evil. The accountants spent ages attempting to compare leather and pleather to determine which was more evil; the projector was used, a briefing was called, the works. Eternal beings have little better to do than debate semantics. It came down to a Venn diagram, and while leather is highly unethically produced and consumed, pleather has a much stronger...aura of evil. It is horrendous to touch or look at. So they continued with pleather.

4: In certain dialects, this means “unmistakable” or “outright”, while the more conventional definition is “admirable” or “attractive”. If you were to ask Crowley which he felt suited the moment more, I doubt he would be honest. The truth is, to some degree, that it was both.

5: The factory reset made Crowley more prone to defaulting to his native Latin, which is the primary language of all celestial beings. It had been a gift to Rome. His phrase roughly translates to “Fuck off and die in a fire”. 

6: For you Brits, American President Ronald Reagan believed that giving large corporations more money and power would benefit the poor, somehow. The national debt flourished under his guidance. One of Hell’s top dogs got themselves appointed as his secretary and was given a commendation for it. It worked wonders at making the rich, richer (and more corrupt), and the poor more desperate. They were also dying of AIDS, which didn’t help at all. 

 


 

Aziraphale sat in the park, at the bench he and the demon had convened at after pulling fast ones over on Heaven and Hell. He recalled Crowley’s lazy slouch (so unhealthy for his back) and his hands. Longer and thinner, fingernails and cuticles in horrendous conditions [1]. The skin was dry and scaly. Crowley was not an avid moisturiser like his angelic counterpart.

“Your body is a temple, Crowley. You’ve got to keep it spiffy,” he sighed.

It hit him again. No more Crowley, no more stubborn pushback against orderliness and the finer things. No more softness thinly-veiled with stabbing sarcasm. It hit Aziraphale like a brick in the chest. 

Standing up from the park bench, Aziraphale walked weakly towards the Ritz, fidgeting his fingers together. A table for one magically opened. The angel wasn’t hungry, not in the slightest (after all, celestial beings never are) but he wanted a drink.

He ordered a bottle of expensive wine: Crowley’s favourite.

“The usual sir? A dry, dark red?” 

Aziraphale nodded. He’s not sure he could have kept his composure if he had spoken.

The waiter returned with a very expensive, very large bottle, and two glasses. Aziraphale’s voice cracked as he waved away the extra glass.

“I’m not waiting for him this time, just me.”

“Oh, alright then.” The waiter pours him a modest amount and walks on to serve other customers.

Aziraphale sighs, pouring the glass almost full, a few drops staining the white tablecloth. He puts the bottle down without bothering to cork it and gulps down more wine than he usually ever does in one drink.

His eyes are empty, and he stares distantly at the label of the bottle. 

At a certain point, Aziraphale begins to drink from the bottle, foregoing the glass conduit. Red liquid spills down his cheeks. He doesn’t notice. He hardly cares that he is being messy, even. The angel starts to get tipsy, the mild and cloudy euphoria of drunkenness arriving; it is a very welcome relief.

He drinks the last drops, his head spinning. But at the very least, Aziraphale is not consumed by grief anymore—rather, he is consumed by alcohol. He leaves a few hundred pounds on the table and waltzes out without so much as a goodbye, stumbling wildly.

The waitstaff looks concerned. Aziraphale was usually very composed. Crowley, his companion, was a frequent visitor. And while he usually arrived brooding, even he was never so obviously upset nor so quiet. This was all very reasonable and well-founded grounds for worry, as Aziraphale was drinking to forget.

A hostess brushed his arm, attempting to ask what was wrong, but Aziraphale brushes her off like dust on his coat, or a pesky spider, without acknowledging her.

He doesn’t feel sorry. The angel’s thoughts are elsewhere, a swirling soup of them.

As soon as Aziraphale exits the cafe he sinks onto the sidewalk, his whole word spinning with inebriated vertigo. He does not sober himself. The pain of it, the headache, the soreness: he wants to experience it, in some twisted way.

What was the point in going home? His bookshop would be empty, there would be no Crowley to greet him there. For the first time, Aziraphale realised that he was completely and utterly alone in the world.

 


 

1: This was an affront to an angel who prided himself on his hygiene and grooming.

 


 

Crowley tsks as another wretched little mosquito settles down for supper on his exposed chest.

“Oh, Look at you. A brave one, aren’t you? You think yourself tough, do you? Tougher than all your brethren that have died by my hand?” [1] 

The mosquito buzzes disinterestedly. It leaves with a full belly before dropping dead a few feet away.

Crowley abhors the South [2].

Hands shoved into dreadfully shallow pant pockets, Crowley saunters out of the raucous town square slightly more irritated than he arrived. Quaint, charming cobblestone dissolves into beer-stained pavement, the occasional vomit stain offering a vile pop of colour against the mottled grey. The grating, lurid light of neon signs distorts the shadows. The faces of passing street pimps become monstrous in their glare, like grotesque beasts on the prowl. Crowley, too, was on the prowl, but in a different manner. 

He has  a plan and a good one at that. It reads as follows:

 

  • Find an aeroplane
  • Get the heaven out of bloody America
  • Breathe a sigh of relief because anything is better than the American South

 

He is rather proud of it. It is easy, concise, and in no way doomed to failure.

Crowley is currently pursuing step one, but it appears his sense of direction is fluctuant at best. He flattens the lapels of his coat with a sigh, fine lines of sweat smearing over the pleather as he does so. With an aggrieved whine, he miracles away the stains and resolves himself to asking one of the bumbling drunkards around him for directions. Crowley starts toward one of the cleaner gentlemen before a sharp whistle calls his attention elsewhere.

“Hey baby girl! Look at you hangin’ outa that top. You wanted somethin’ you just coulda’ asked,” purred an older man. He laughed through yellowed teeth and took a drag from a cheap cigar.

Another one chimed in, throwing a dirt-smeared dollar at her face.

“Give us a smile, sweetheart.”

A girl, no older than 18 or 19, stumbles down the graffitied, poorly-lit alley with great difficulty. She leans on the wall, holding her aching head with one hand. Her eyes blink open slowly, indicating that she will soon pass out, not too far from her current location. Her fishnet tights have large tears in the upper thighs, her candy red lipstick is smeared around her face as if her mouth had been used as a toy. Her cheeks are hollower than they should be for a girl her age; the joints in her knees jut out in harsh knobs. Her expression is one of resignation, exhaustion, and falsified sweetness. Her eyes are a light, delicate blue, but all notions of delicacy and innocence have been stolen from them, by men not unlike these two. 

A small detour couldn’t hurt. Surely, the plan could allow for a minute delay.

Crowley approaches the perverse men with a practised swagger; he bares his teeth menacingly in something that just falls short of a smile. He lowers his sunglasses to deliver a smoulder, and one of the men’s eyes widen when he sees Crowley’s.

The girl falls into Crowley, her brain and body consumed by inebriation that sends her into sleep unwillingly. Her entire weight collapses into the demon, and by a miracle he catches her, wrapping her arm around his neck with flair.

“Nothin’ to see here,” he grumbles, his accent standing out like a sore thumb. But he continues anyway, slipping into a smooth cadence.

"But I hear the sights in hell are just lovely. Given your recent behaviour, I have it on good authority that you'll have the privilege of sseeing them very ssoon, indeed.” His s’s lingered slightly long, and Crowley questioned whether he had always had a lisp. 

Crowley hums in grim satisfaction at the men’s disorientation and terror, his arm tightening around the girl’s frail figure as she begins to tumble forward. 

The largest of the men, speaking in terms of width rather than height, blusters and fumbles for words. His bottom lip curls in his fervour, saliva lapping at the brim, “It’s her goddamn job to give us a little sugar every now and then, and if you think that whore ain’t-”

With a flippant wave of Crowley’s hand, the man’s lips are sealed.

“Righto. Any other comments from the peanut gallery?”

The assemblage of vile men shakes in their unattractive boots. Crowley plants a seedling of doubt in each of their minds, remembering Hell telling him something about tempting and doubt. He’s certain this manoeuvre was being executed at least partially wrong, but he doesn’t particularly care [3]. The men begin to wonder whether or not they are justified, and that’s all Crowley needs to make an exit.

He guides, or carries more than anything, the young woman to her grimy little flat. After the ceiling assaults his forehead one too many times, Crowley decides that her set up just won’t cut it, so he makes some adjustments.

Faith McDonald awakens the next day with a cup of tea beside her bed, an aspirin, and several thousand dollars beneath a potted succulent left for her. The blanket on her bed is clean and impossibly warm for its thinness. A taser blinks cheerily from where it charges in her corner outlet.

Crowley is no closer to finding an airport than he was twenty-four hours earlier.

 


 

1: All the mosquitoes that bite you are, actually, female—they must bite in order to lay eggs, otherwise they would leave well enough alone. Crowley was not aware of this even before he lost his memories. He is not especially fond of reading.

2: In America, the South is famous for “rednecks”, a breed of Americans that aren’t even well-educated enough to wear sunscreen. They sustain themselves on game they hunt themselves and a deep bitterness for anyone from the city. More generally, they resent anyone who attempts to present them with an alternative point of view. The British South is far less distinct, although anywhere around London and Surrey you will find the poshest, richest, most privileged Britons, which Crowley is also less than fond of.

3: Aziraphale had once told him, “I like to think none of this would have worked out if you weren't, at heart, just a little bit, a good person”. If Crowley only remembered.

 


 

Aziraphale holds on to the railing at St. James’, gazing fondly at the water and around at the people that amble aimlessly. Aziraphale's attention had always been singularly focused on Crowley. He never noticed the others, the pedestrians in the background, nor what they did. 

They enjoy their spot of greenery amidst an iron jungle, walled in by asphalt and innovation. Crime, pollution, and festering hatred plague the surroundings: the Four Horsemen made their rounds through London even in their off time. But here is a little haven, a spot of green where their joy is impervious to the city around them. Here, there is a delicate bubble of untouched happiness. Their small worlds are oblivious to Brobdingnagian shifts in the universe. All they know at this moment is a day out with the family, a light jog. Two ageing men discuss the stock markets with ardour. The triviality of it all is beautiful to an angel who was never allowed to indulge in small pursuits of happiness: unapologetically and unremarkably human, which Aziraphale cannot help but be fond of. When people laugh and bicker, the world turns on. This reminds Aziraphale why he’d been so protective of humanity when it’d been threatened with cosmic eradication.

Aziraphale’s come in and broken the tranquillity. He’s brought in his despair, returned to this beautiful place the knowledge of heart-wrenching loss.

He only hopes no one else will bite the Apple or open another Pandora's box.

It is a characteristically British afternoon in early Spring: cloudy, humid, and gloomy. The pond ripples with a few stray raindrops. The clouds threaten to unleash a full London downpour and a pea-soup fog [1]. None of the people seems to mind. It rains often enough in Britain that it is not worth cancelling plans for a little rain: tomorrow could be a thunderstorm or heavier showers. Greying leaves from solemn willow trees drift along, with ducks pulling at the dying remains of greenery. A central fountain spurts water into the air, creating a mist in the lugubrious milieu.

The angel waits characteristically for Crowley, or at least, imitates the action of waiting for his demon. His hands tap on the metal to occupy his thoughts. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, he waits patiently for the gratification of a treat. But it will never come.

He retrieves a small paper bag full of the most delicious breadcrumbs from artisan bread loaves, and the ducks herd around him, expectantly. He and Crowley come often enough that the ducks recognize him, and while they do not know that Aziraphale is an angel, they do know that he always has some of the best breadcrumbs (better than most secret agents). Aziraphale unfurls the brown paper carefully and reaches his hand in, at which the ducks look up for falling foodstuff. He sprinkles a significant pinch through the water, forming a soggy galaxy in the swirling, dark greens and blues of the mossy water. The ducks dive frantically for the breadcrumbs as Aziraphale continues to drizzle them for the waterfowl. A few swans, normally shy, even grace by—curious as to the feasting.

They’re interesting little creatures, ducks. Born to the land and water and sky. Their webbed feet lend themselves to aquatic life; their beaks are engineered for picking through murky water. Ducks are, by design, perfectly fine where they are. But they never linger. Such fickle things they are, taking flight at the smallest shift in the weather. They will bid this park ado at some point or another, their presence fleeting. Aziraphale knows this, knows well that they are temporary. He finds that he enjoys them, regardless. The inevitability of their departure holds no influence over his appreciation, and oftentimes, he doesn’t even consider it. It would be needless fretting; it would be a child’s worried grasp at constancy. While the ducks always fly with winter once the pond is encapsulated by ice, they return the second the sun thaws the frostbitten land. They fly. They leave, they return, they die and reproduce, but one thing remains certain: there will always be ducks in St James’ Park come summer. The cycle is one that has remained unbroken for decades, and the consistency of the change coaxes Aziraphale’s own heart a smidgen back towards its usual warmth.   

Aziraphale’s quiet amusement at the ducks, his small chuckle at their desperation, devolves quickly into a muffled sob. His breath hitches without a sound in a mix of sweet remembrance and anguish, stewed so that the two are no longer distinguishable. One of the ducks has taken flight, the water on its back sloughing off like oil slick. 

He dips into the remaining contents of the bag and drops it onto the water’s surface, before folding the bag quickly into his inner coat pocket.

Aziraphale’s feet turn to leave, but he cannot bear to take his eyes off of the ducks, in fear they will be gone for the year as soon as he departs.

 


 

1: Aziraphale recalled the Industrial Revolution with much disdain. 

 


 

Crowley, thousands of miles above his treasured Earth, squirms uncomfortably in his seat, his spine serpentining between the armrests. With an irritated grunt, he lifts his leg and angles it just enough to be draped over the plastic divider and rest in the seat adjacent to him [1]. He rolls his ankle out leisurely, a rather impressive feat in calf-high boots, to test the comfort of his peculiar sitting style. Still no good. He lets his head fall back in exasperation, blinking skyward as if to accuse God of purposefully inconveniencing him. First the fall, now the positively nightmarish lack of space on commercial airlines. He shudders to contemplate the flat champagne and stale peanuts that will serve as his only companionship on the dreadful ride.

Which demon came up with this [2]?

A  lack of company is, perhaps, better than being dealt a terror of a neighbour. Across the aisle from Crowley sits a boy of 11, though he looks age 7 if one’s being especially generous. Bird-boned and wide-eyed, the child is clutching his passport with white knuckles. His eyes flick to it occasionally, as if the booklet could aid him in his quest to escape the prison of greased Hawaiian shirts and under-sized khakis he’s trapped in. The man sitting beside him, or on top of him, rather, is a larger fellow, balding at the top, and snoring with all of the gusto and force of a foghorn. Because of his obscenely poor posture, the man intermittently leans on the boy, squishing his curly head down until his little neck crinkles up. The boy maintains his silence, but his lip quivers and his eyes are notably glossy.

The whole affair is tasteless. 

It leaves Crowley with a truly horrid taste in his mouth, which certainly won’t do, primarily because he doesn’t eat. He doesn't know the joys of taste in his new body, and he will not have the introduction of human gluttony tarnished for him by this inconsiderate Boomer.

With a quick miracle, he asks over the attendant and shows her where he’d been “misseated” on his ticket. She flashes him an apologetic and plastic smile, which he returns with equal genuineness.

The issue is immediately rectified.

And if Crowley ensures that the arsehole’s beer is lukewarm? No one but the imbecile himself will raise a fuss.

He lowers himself into the chair beside the boy with a sigh and spares him a quick glance. With an artfully cocked brow, Crowley gives a nod to the open seat overlooking the window.  

“Go on, then,” he grumbles, feigning an irritation that had begun to wane.

The child’s mouth falls open in awe, and he nearly castrates Crowley in his efforts to clamber over his lap [3]. His ruddy cheek pressed against the glass, the boy’s hands stop shaking for the first time since departure. His elbows jutted out from his body at sharp angles as he points to the smallest of details in the patchwork Earth below them. Under the ministrations of the setting sun, the climbing network of rivers below shines as molten copper. Patchwork arrangements of yellow, brown, and green fields and other views of the pastoral variety gives way to a jagged coast, dotted with the shining rectangles of city high rises. And then, an endless ocean. The view is soon enveloped by clouds.

The child, face alight with wonder, begins to applaud. Crowley’s gaze is planted firmly on the boy. He finds himself mimicking the expression.

Crowley hails his new friend a flight attendant and orders him a snack (to encourage gluttony young, of course). After a series of introductions that feel more akin to pulling teeth than proper greetings, the boy, a newly dubbed Alby, finally begins to settle in his seat. The serpent of Eden, apple juice in hand, shows him how to work the inflight telly (to rot his brain). As the picture flickers to life, the boy’s knee stops bouncing. He shoots Crowley a Megawatt smile, albeit with a few teeth missing.

Alby’s mother had explicitly forbidden him from socializing with strangers on the aeroplane, and the boy had every intention of keeping to his word. Now that he had cleverly torn a loophole in the fabric of his mother’s plan by coaxing Mr. Anthony J. into introducing himself first, Alby proudly deems them acquaintances, and therefore one-million per cent safe to chat. Any regulations restricting him have vanished by his mischievous hand. The boy chatters endlessly at the demon with all of the speed characteristic of a child repressing their anxiety surrounding air travel. Crowley nods along and hums in affirmation as the boy explains innocently that he’s travelling to see his father in Dubai on holiday. Alone. 

Cute, not that Crowley cared. 

The comically small screen inlaid in the next row’s seat plays a children's movie that most definitely is not available to this particular airline. Prompted by a gentle tug at his sleeve, Crowley indulges the boy and peers over to watch the movie with him. Watch is a rather strong word for what Crowley had intended, as he had fully expected to remain a passive observer of the child rather than the movie itself. To Crowley’s chagrin, these plans are swiftly thwarted when he processes that the ever-excitable Alby is watching— Oh Christ— a feline rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet . He squints at the screen, judging the abomination for its very existence. 

Then the singing begins. 

 

I’m working on my roar

Thus far a rather uninspiring thing

Oh I just can’t wait to be king!

 

Once the jarring shock of it all finally begins to fade, Crowley brushes his palm from cheek to chin to wipe away a smirk that has found its home there.

If I recall correctly, sweet baby lion, you won’t be waiting much longer [4].

The baby lion, the Hamlet, whoever he is, struts about the pride lands with technicolour majesty. His (the lion child, not Crowley) advisor, the bird who is debatably Horatio (scholars are still out on the parallels and character equivalencies), is crushed to death beneath a rhino's arse on screen in lieu of a finale. 

Ah. So that’s what’s happened to the youth as of late. Noted.

He’s not sure why vibrant cartoon lions strike such a chord in him, but the mere thought of them, or perhaps the characters they represent, makes him wrinkle his nose. The incessant itching at the base of his skull returns with a vengeance. His eyes shutter closed with a wince, unnoticeable behind the mirrored lenses of his aviators. In his vision dance the sparks of disorientation in a sea of black. Beyond them, though, within his mind, are liquid shapes. They flail and bleed into one another, their existences as individual figures a lost concept. Crowley outstretches the essence of his being and reaches for it: for a lone figure raised above the rest as if on a stage, two figures that have blended to become one in their desperation to be close. He claws futilely at a wall of opalescent sludge before him, his nails pulling up and away from their beds at the effort. He is on the precipice of something, something essential to him. The memory, that’s what this is, he’s certain of it, is drenched in ambiguity; it is comprised of only shadowed figures and sluggish movement. Before a piercing pain jostles him out of his stupor, he is able to discern from the positioning of the figures that he, perhaps, enjoyed the theatre.   

Wonderful. Just wonderful. I’ve been absolutely enlightened. Thank you, oh gracious mind of mine, for your generosity. 

Crowley’s bitter musings are interrupted by a small voice, “Mr. Janthony—er—Anthony J.”

“Yes?” He can only hope his voice had sounded as collected as he believed it did. Crowley tacks on the easy cadence of sarcasm, just to cover all bases.

“Are you okay?”

“Hm? Oh, I'm just fine . Positively thriving, don’t you worry.”

Alby doesn’t look at all convinced, and for one moment Crowley believes that this literal child may call him on his bluff. He is saved, blessedly- damnably- thankfully , by the sky splitting open and pouring rain with a vengeance. The hollow metal rattles with the force of windblown rain, and instructions to buckle up are distorted to the point of incomprehension in the downpour. Alby yelps as the aeroplane begins to shudder, and several disgruntled passengers shoot him unsavoury looks. Crowley returns them tenfold, even behind the glasses. He turns his attention back to the matter at hand.  The boy’s gone and snotted up the back of his hand, the end of his sleeve substituting as an emergency tissue. His breaths stutter, hindered by little hitches in the back of his throat that prevent him from taking in more air. Alby’s small frame shakes and shudders in a rhythm entirely different from that of the turbulent flight. Fat tears dribble down his twitching cheeks, and his little face is screwed up in an expression of absolute terror. He makes for a picture so utterly sad that Crowley is forced into action.

“You’re fine,” he grits out, “Stop crying. You’re fine, really.” 

Alby latches onto the demon’s arm and begins to wail, much to the horror of both Crowley and his fellow passengers. Crowley clenches his jaw and resigns himself to his fate. Tense, awkward, and entirely out of his depth, he raises a hand to comfortingly rub the child’s spine.

“It’ll all be alright. A little rain never really hurt anyone, did it?”

Crowley’s thoughts betray him. He knew rain had hurt people. Rain floods and drowns and murders in anger. Rain is compelled by omnipotent wrath and promises only the solace of a rainbow in its wake. The gifts of rain are intangible, but what it steals away is permanent. It giveth and taketh away life Crowley thought with a tone.

But Crowley can murmur the reassurances with absolute certainty because it feels true. Rain can obliterate man with its floods, but it may never take the children. Crowley made sure of that; it will never take the children, so long as he is standing. He hasn’t the faintest where the protective urges stem from, why he coos and shushes and cares for the child that holds his arm in an iron grip, but silhouettes of waterlogged animals and a seacraft of massive size dance vaguely in his mind.

Alby quiets, sniffles once, and then the world is calm for a time. 

Alby doesn’t wake from his post-meltdown slumber until they’ve landed. Crowley shakes the fragile thing awake gently, as not to break him, and guides him to the gate for his connecting flight with an inconvenienced huff. 

Before they say goodbye, Alby gazes up at him, all doe eyes and admiration, and says, “My mother told me never to talk to strangers, but you seem nice- like you’re my friend. And friends can’t be strangers. Like- like my best friend. You’re nice to me. Will you be my best friend?” 

Crowley is stunned for a moment and makes a vague noise of affirmation.

If the corners of Crowley’s lips twitch upward when the boy bids him ado with a little wave, no one cares enough to look.  

“Goodbye Mr. Anthony J! I’d hug you but- my mum would get awfully cross with me. She doesn't know you.”

He’s not sure why he bothers so much, but he seems to have a matronly soft spot for 11-year-old boys. 

 


 

1: The seat is very much empty. As much as Crowley loves to stir a bit of trouble, the very thought of his feet in a stranger’s lap sickens him. Imagine the implications of it all.

2: It had, in fact, been none other than Crowley who created the hell of commercial airlines. Hastur had not managed to achieve a torture of Crowley’s own devising, but Crowley had managed to torture himself. 

3: Had he chosen to have genitalia on his form that day, at least. Angels and demons are sexless, and however preferable he found his male-presenting corporeal form, Crowley often forgot to manifest anything there.

4: Crowley could not, in fact, recall much of anything correctly. This snide remark was a complete and utter shot in the dark, guided only slightly by the context clues and general knowledge of the characters. Through sheer force of will, he just happened to be correct.

 


 

Aziraphale sits forlornly at his desk, surrounded by his shop, which looks quite unlike what it did a calendar month previously. For one, it is in far less disarray. This would be comforting if not for the usual cosy mess that characterises the shop, or rather, Aziraphale’s personal public library. The centre of the shop is devoid of everything except for a white painted summoning circle, beginning to chip at the outer edges. The wood floors have warped to accommodate the monstrous thing, the previously unblemished finish puckering with water stains. The tartan flask is rolled carelessly on to its side, lid open, and not even a drop left. The smell of incense permeates like a noxious gas, and the dusty ashes of the burned cones coat his desk and surrounding stacks of books and papers. 

Crowley’s plants decorate the empty corners of the main room, the back room, and the sitting room. A few smaller potted ones sit neatly on his desk, their leaves appearing healthy and pristine, just as the demon had always threatened they must be or else

The angel does not read, nor take notes, nor water plants: he only stares distantly, his eyes hollow. He is wearing a small lapel pin gifted to him by Crowley many moons ago, at the beginning of The Arrangement, a little snake curled around a pitchfork. The metal has lost its lustre, and any paint that once graced its golden surface is long gone. He continues to rub at it like a worry stone, mindlessly. Aziraphale is brilliant, bright as a newly-burning sun, but he does not put his mind to anything but worry anymore. He looks down at the pin under his thumb and smiles, a kind smile that does not entirely extend to his eyes, and murmurs.

“Good morning, my dear. I hope you’re well.” 

All Aziraphale has left of Crowley are such bits and pieces, small artefacts of a routine that could never be.

There is little to do now, no miracles to perform, no need to entertain nor stop the Apocalypse. Sometimes he reads, but he knows how every book in his collection ends, so it is a futile endeavour. He rewrote the endings, pictured plot divergences that would spur forth an entirely new adventure or avert tragedy. But it is tired. It's fruitless. He could not change the ending of his own life (or what felt like the ending of it), much less someone else's for much lower stakes or even that of fictional characters in a fictional world.

Aziraphale finds himself sorely out of commission, and massively, massively bored. To a large degree, he has accepted his fate. His eternity will be spent in perpetual loneliness, surrounded by dusting books, in a London shop that will crumble away as the centuries pass by.

Aziraphale slouches into a saggy armchair, his posture a feat that would truly concern him had the well of his emotions not run dry weeks ago. He massages his thumbs into his temples, smoothing the lines that have carved themselves into his skin and muttering to himself when the bell at the door rings. It chirps joyously, its first use in ages compelling it to perform flawlessly.

The angel yells to the unseen visitor, his voice crackly from disuse and dust.

“We’re closed for the foreseeable future. Come back another time.”

A confused but familiar voice calls back to him.

“Pity,” it says, punctuating the ‘t’. “I’d really rather stay,” the voice rallies back.

Aziraphale’s face brightens, and he rushes over to the door to open it

Crowley! ” he bursts out excitedly, enfolding the demon in a tight embrace. Aziraphale’s hand lingers at the back of Crowley’s hair fondly. Immediately, Aziraphale knows something is terribly wrong by the fact that Crowley’s arms tighten around his reciprocally. None of the haughtiness and irritation he’s grown so accustomed to characterize Crowley’s movements.

Crowley’s voice advances uncertainly.

“Why does this place feel right? Why do you feel right?” 

Chapter Text

 

Demons physically shudder in the presence of love. When presented with outward expressions of the emotion, they reel back like cats that have been flicked with water—or in the case of the damned, holy water—for misbehaving. Demons, by contrast, cannot sense love innately. Only angels can sense love. Demons can, though, feel hate like heat in the air, sickly and oppressive, because it is home to them.

Aziraphale is an angel that radiates love and affection for all living things in everything that he does. 

Affection, both giving and receiving, is a mild allergen to most demons, much like pollen. They react like asthmatics confronted by mould in air conditioner vents: they cough and curse the Creator for making an aspect of life so abominable.

Crowley, however, is equivalent to a florist or a lower-class individual living in Palm Desert. He makes do. In fact, when it came from Aziraphale, Crowley gravitated towards affection like a moth to a window, repetitively flying against the glass, attempting to break free. Without any sense of their surroundings, moths gravitate toward the light without any sense of propriety or futility.

And so, while Crowley is confused and somewhat bewildered, he does not push Aziraphale away. Aziraphale exudes a sort of energy far more positive than anything in hell. But it is familiar. An uncorrupted version of the hatred that fills hell’s pools of blood: kindness. They are hereditary enemies, Crowley can sense, but they hadn’t always been.

This man is an angel. 

Aziraphale lingers in the embrace, longer than he should, given the circumstances. His fingertips curl into the greased locks at the nape of Crowley’s neck [1], his pulse thrumming erratically. Had he been more concerned with the eccentricities of human aesthetics, Aziraphale might’ve glamoured away the vein pulsating anxiously at his temple. His thoughts race, far too plentiful to be contained by this simple human psyche. His corporeal form overcompensates, struggling to support all of his musings. A percussionist has taken a liking to his head; his cranium has been hollowed out and repurposed as a timpani. Hollowed, in this context, is not to be confused with its near-homonym “hallowed”. Aziraphale took pride in the fact that his head was already very much holy. He releases a shuddering breath, the pressure building behind his eyes, like needles threatening to blind him at any instant.  

Aziraphale releases Crowley, who does not protest. He does not say much of anything, simply stares at the angel intently, studying him, as if Aziraphale were a specimen in a natural history museum and he were a scientist attempting to unlock the secrets of evolution and life itself, presenting in a new and curious form.

“What did you mean, my dear?” Aziraphale starts, interrupting Crowley’s trance.

“Mean by what?” Crowley poses, his voice empty of the teasing snark Aziraphale had come to expect. He was not so keen on the direction this interaction was taking.

“Why do I feel right to you?” Aziraphale murmured, his voice frail as if the words could barely escape.

Crowley thought for a minute; even he wasn’t entirely certain why he had blurted it. Sometimes words tumble out of one’s mouth because they are correct, with little attached contemplation. Words can simply happen, and it is one of their most puzzling and equally problematic qualities.

“Oh, I’ll explain that,” he replies, entirely on impulse. He had intended to say ‘I’ve no idea’, but that didn’t appear to be the case. Even if it were, the bookkeeper is looking at him with such a wondrously hopeful intensity that Crowley cannot bring himself to dash it.

Some demon I am, he scoffs.

Crowley takes a pause, a number of half-formed ideas escaping from his lips as inarticulate grunts. His teeth dig rectangular ruts into his bottom lip as he fumbles with thought, the skin puckering a stark white around the indentations. The lip flicks outward with a vengeance the moment he unclenches his jaw, blood flowing up eagerly now that the obstructions have been cleared. Crowley nods, feigning an enlightenment he is nowhere near reaching. He’d just about kill for a hint right now [2], some smidgen of information to carry him through this absolute train wreck of a meeting. Crowley makes to shove his hands into his pockets, endeavouring to restrain them from the wild gesticulation he knows they are plotting, but he finds his pockets are simply too shallow. His palms are hardly covered, the constricting fabric stunting any and all escape attempts. He would pray for God to strike him down at this moment, but he feels as though his demonic status may make her all too eager to oblige. Crowley is pulled out of his head by a soft noise. A tut. He’s being tutted at.

Aziraphale’s fingers wrap around Crowley’s wrist in a tentative manner, akin to the way one would handle a baby bird: afraid to snap its fragile little neck with a wayward touch, driven nearly mad by anxiety as a result of the modern myths surrounding scenting and maternal rejection (birds do not have nostrils and cannot smell). With a steady grip, Aziraphale removes the demon’s hands from his traitorous pockets and guides them to a relaxed position. He draws away quickly, and Crowley’s fingers instinctively curl inward at their departure.

With a wavering smile, the angel manages, “Now, there’s really no need to strain yourself, my dear.”

This unassuming comment unleashes an entirely new train of thought, one that barrels into Crowley at full speed and leaves him in disoriented, fleshy pieces. 

My dear. So ambiguous.

Crowley wasn’t far off in his musings; the endearment could denote a multitude of things. ‘My dear’ is a mother consoling her child, cooing platitudes and lullabies in a last-ditch effort to return them to sleep. ‘My dear’ is an eccentric elderly gentleman excusing himself for catching a small girl with his elbow, offering his sincerest consolations before being shooed off by an all-too-protective father.  ‘My dear’ is a lover’s caress, a proclamation of undying affection that marks a balmy and pacific familiarity: the gentle wash of ocean waves and salt spray over the heart. ‘My dear’ is a multitude of loves, with nearly indiscernible differences in delivery, and only circumstances dictate its meaning. But ‘my dear’ is nothing if not affectionate, and that throughline is what catches Crowley unawares. 

There is affection in the way the angel speaks to him, in his phrasing and mannerisms and embrace. There is affection in his very being, woven into the fabric of his creation. It is so incredibly alien to Crowley, and yet familiar in a way he can’t begin to articulate. Speculating on his relationship to the being in front of him has only served to twist his presumptions in worse knots. The train of thought, brutal and silent in its approach, has left him stranded and shattered on the tracks, a mere spatter in a tunnel of profuse nothingness. Familiar affection, from an angel. He wonders what he could possibly have done to win the affection of an angel, especially one so overwhelmingly kind and hospitable.

Aziraphale watches Crowley subconsciously thumb his hair, the curls longer than he’s seen them in hundreds of years [3]. For the first time ever Aziraphale feels a profound wrongness about Crowley. Not even during their initial acquaintance in the Garden had Aziraphale felt uneasy around the serpent. Usually, Crowley possessed an innate charisma that made everyone around him comfortable, or at the very least open to a chat.

Something is terribly out of balance, and it takes everything in Aziraphale’s being to acknowledge the sinking dread in his stomach. The angel wishes to simply relish in the blessing of Crowley’s presence, but denial is fruitless, especially when the situation so clearly demands action.

Aziraphale might have given into the selfish desire had Crowley not entered further in the bookshop and encountered the chalk circle in the centre. “This is wrong- this- ow! Ow ow ow—” Crowley steps, clueless, onto some of the swollen splotches of wood and jumps about in pain. Aziraphale has half the mind to tackle him away from the blasted summoning circle. He’s caught somewhere between a fond memory and immense worry.

Surely he will remove himself from the area; he knows well why his feet are burning, Aziraphale reassures himself. 

Crowley does not know, nor is he going to realise it anytime soon.

Horror consumes Aziraphale momentarily, thinking the dried holy water could seriously harm him, but once Crowley starts hopping around in a depressingly uncoordinated go at the gavotte, or as in his attempt at rescuing Aziraphale from the Nazis in the church…well, Aziraphale stifles a worried smile.

The demon hops around like a hot potato on fresh coals, his snakeskin boots making for a proper hoedown. Crowley dances on the tips of his toes, every touch gifting him the white-hot pain of popping and bleeding blisters.

“What did you put on the floor, you snake [4]? What is this supposed to be? Some fantastically divine murder plot meant to put me in my place?” Crowley squawks, offended.

Aziraphale’s chest is squeezed by a small, sad reminder. He had never intended to hurt Crowley, never. A gaping, depressed pit within Aziraphale’s mind had opened while he’d presumed Crowley dead. It had dug deeper when Aziraphale had discovered his instrumental role in Crowley’s undoing, however unwitting and unwilling. He nonchalantly guides Crowley from the circle and over to his backroom, but not without complaint.

Crowley’s voice turns cold and mocking—not at all like the jesting Aziraphale had grown accustomed to.

“Trying for a promotion upstairs,” Crowley sneers, “bastard?”

Aziraphale freezes. His heart beats faster in his chest.

Crowley’s heart, however, stutters a handful of melancholic times as he tries to remember how to manipulate the more inessential muscles of his corporeal form [5]. He takes an honest moment to ponder whether an angel such as Aziraphale could possibly feel such profound ill will towards him as to be driven to killing. All of Aziraphale’s actions indicated unconditional care, but of what variety, Crowley still could not understand.

Were we like family? Close friends? A kind of lovers?

His mind wanders. 

Aziraphale shows Crowley to the fanciful blue and gold sofa, but Crowley threatens to slouch into Aziraphale’s seat, so he rescinds the guest’s privilege. He awkwardly jerks himself over in order to sit first, foregoing his good manners out of fear that Crowley will take his seat. When Crowley had been a regular in the bookshop’s back room, he’d always chosen the same cushion to Aziraphale’s right and proclaimed he was “imprinting evil into the very fabric of the couch”. To tempt and corrupt the patrons, Crowley had reasoned, and stuck to it stubbornly. He could hear Crowley’s voice in his head still, sauntering vaguely along in an uneven gait, the same way he walked. 

Aziraphale sits opposite Crowley and stares at him intently, searching his face for any scrap of familiarity. He finds nothing tangible. He removes Crowley’s glasses, and Crowley complies, not knowing why. He stares at Aziraphale, nonplussed.

Aziraphale’s known those eyes for millennia. He knows every twitch of every muscle. He knows which smiles carve fine lines into the skin beside Crowley’s eyes, and which grimaces make muscles in his neck protrude. Aziraphale knows what each of Crowley’s different smiles and guttural noises means, and there are many of them. They are a language all their own, and Aziraphale is one of only two fluent in it. He knows Crowley’s emotional state by the look in his eyes alone, even when his eyes were still hidden behind his glasses—which was no small feat. It had taken years of study to discern each nuance of Crowley’s being, but Aziraphale had been an adept student. 

All of the complexity behind them has vanished, leaving only emptiness, an absence. Crowley’s eyes are thoughtful but dimmed of the mischievous and childlike light that usually filled them. His eyebrows are pinched together in confusion, but the lines are soft creases rather than hard folds of vexation. There is no harsh judgement, no resentment. Crowley had always hated being lost; he felt it looked unflattering on his face. But Crowley is not consumed by wrath, that much Aziraphale could determine. The anger had been replaced by austere resignation; it swaddles him and radiates out from him in powerful waves. 

Nothing about Crowley settles properly with the angel, especially the way Crowley looks at him. Crowley’s eyes are glassy enough to serve as emotional mirrors, and Aziraphale can see his own analytical and inquisitive expression in them. It is chilling, enough that Aziraphale breaks the silence.

“Crowley. Do you...know me?”

Aziraphale leans back in his chair, creaking as it settles back into the shape of his weight, opposite Crowley.

A disgruntled, rattled Crowley fires back. “Of course I know you!”

“What is my name?” Aziraphale begins slowly, bracing himself.

“That’s eh- easy. You think so low of me- uh-“

“Crowley,” Aziraphale interrupts curtly. “Please.”

“A.Z Fell. Ezra... Fell–E—”

“Are you– are you reading the placard on my desk?”

“No.”

“You are!”

“Definitely not.”

“It’s Aziraphale,” he states, flatly, with a twinge of disappointment leaking through his tight lips, “Dear boy, you needn’t lie to me. I know you.”

The simmering aggravation within Crowley is brought to a boil at the surety in Aziraphale’s tone. His fingers clench around nothing at all, a phantom comfort coming over him. Fingernails bite into Crowley’s palms at the overzealous mania that’s swept his body. He finds himself needlessly enraged, the ghost of a vestigial resentment coaxing him toward an explosion.

“But I don’t know you! I don’t know who I bloody am, much less you!”

Crowley seethes, each exhalation hissing through his clenched teeth. His outrage is abruptly removed from the heat; the seething collapses into itself and returns his irritation to a calmer fricassee. 

“No, oh– don’t cry. Oh, why does everyone cry?” Aziraphale wrings his hands, and his voice creaks under the weight of his distress. 

“I’m not– I’m not crying.

“I can see you crying.”

“I’m doing nothing of the sort. You’re imagining things.”

“There are tears coming out of your eyes. I see them–”

“You’re sorely mistaken.”

A line of salt traces down Crowley’s cheek, despite his insistence that it did not exist. 

“My dear.” Aziraphale sighs impatiently. This was more the Crowley he was used to, which allowed  Aziraphale to relax slightly.

Angel,” Crowley volleys back, fondly. Aziraphale’s stomach drops and fills with acid that threatens to boil his throat raw. 

There is a moment of tense silence.

“What?”

“I...I don’t know why I said that.”

Crowley gave it a thought. He was drawn to the angel, and words simply seemed to roll off of his tongue around Aziraphale. It had felt like the right thing to say, and he didn’t know why. He didn’t remember. The words just happened, as if they had a mind of their own.

Crowley could sense a certain natural tenderness in the air around them that deserved preservation. And he liked it. It was friendly and loving, and good. It was certainly better than the frigidity and malice of hell or the red light district. Though Crowley could not have identified it, the feeling was akin to returning to a childhood home once its had been vacated: familiar, but devoid of its humanity and its sentimental dressings. 

Crowley stretches out on the sofa and contemplates the emptiness in his head. He gradually begins to shake, more and more until the cushions rub together and form a pillow earthquake.

“Why is it so bloody cold?”

“Oh, Crowley–you don't—”

“Aziraphale,” he began, pronouncing the name wrong. The angel shuddered. “If you ask me if I don’t know something, I may combust. Which now that I think about it sounds just lovely, angel, because I am freezing to death!”

Aziraphale smiles fondly, and then guiltily. “Terribly sorry, reflex.”

Crowley teases and mocks, Aziraphale’s response having gone over his head. The pet name simply slipped into his speech without his notice. The word had formed at his lips without permission and escaped unconsciously.

Terribly sorry, oh, I accept. Now that we’ve made up would you be so kind as to help me?”

“Well…” Aziraphale fidgeted with his hands, looking at everything but Crowley. “At times like these, you would ordinarily...er... shift into…” 

He pauses, and Crowley looks at him expectantly.

“I shall be direct. You would be a snake. Heat absorption and the like, and you'd sit by the fire, or a heater if none were available.” Aziraphale finished in a way that betrayed he was the one who made the fire available.

“I’d what.

“Surely you know–” Aziraphale’s eyes widen, and he fiddles with his collar. Crowley gives him a look. He huffs.

“Or perhaps you don’t. Well, you were—are—you are, a wily serpent. Made some trouble up in the Garden. That’s why your eyes are so unusual. You always have been unusual, always keep me on my toes.” 

Aziraphale laughs weakly, too terrified to ponder what else Crowley must have forgotten.

Crowley blinks very slowly.

“I. Me. I am a snake.”

“Well I really would use a more specific word–‘snake’ oversimplifies the whole thing.”

Crowley rolls the word around his tongue. “Angel.”

“Y-yes?”

Crowley stares and remains quiet.

“Why would I lie to you? I am an angel.”

Crowley lets out a slow hum of patronizing agreement.

“Yup. That is what I just said, thank you for confirming. So how do I–do it, then?”

“How do you do it? Well, that’s quite simple, really—” Aziraphale thinks aloud on accident. “Wait a moment, how do you do it?”

“You don't know?” Crowley shouts, and he sounds troubled. Aziraphale, by contrast, sounds some mix between bitter and saddened.

“Well, I’m not a snake so I wouldn’t know what it's like.”

Crowley testily extended his arms out at Aziraphale. “You used the word! You said it was too simple—so I am a snake!”

“You are so much more than a snake, Crowley,” the angel sighs.

Crowley’s mouth curls up at the mention of his name, which tastes off in some way when it comes from Aziraphale. He groans. This man. Angel. This interaction is exhausting. He just wants to clamber into a nest of pillows and sink into oblivion; his head hurts something awful, the brick wall between him and his memories is crushing down his thoughts. He slides down to the floor, rubbing the side of his head, shielding it between his knees.

Aziraphale is at his side in a moment, cupping his cheeks and fretting over him like a concerned mum. Crowley lets his eyes fall closed again and breathes deeply, his chest rattling in pain. The light hurts, and the touch prods another smoking iron into the base of his skull. The angel’s hands ground him, though, and he focuses his energy into the contact: into the ridges of the palms, the pulse in the fingertips, and the cold press of a ring on the littlest finger. Crowley leans into the warmth of Aziraphale’s hand subconsciously, without even realising it.

Crowley opens his eyes. He darts his tongue out and scents the air; it smells like vanilla and scotch and love. Aziraphale smiles and places his hand under Crowley’s chin. The snake rests into the palm of his hand, content. He curls around Aziraphale’s arm and into his lap. Warm. Safe, he knows somehow. He hisses quietly, nothing antagonizing, just something of an exhalation.

Aziraphale looks upon the coiled pile in his lap, face nestled into itself and around his arm. The warmth of the fire Aziraphale had put on allows Crowley to relax. Stars show over them: the twinkling, heavenly fires of angels’ creation. 

“See? Simple.”

 


 

1: Crowley, in his disorientation and singular focus on getting to the bookshop, has forgotten the importance and necessity of hygienic miracles. In modern homes, such miracles have become commonplace: showers. If he had remembered his distaste for the 14th century, Crowley would understand why showers were truly godsends.

2: Crowley was quickly realising that, along with being a rather rubbish demon, he’s definitely not inclined to kill, maim, torture, or perform any other action of the First-Commandment-breaking variety. He didn't particularly intend to follow this Commandment, per se; Crowley disregarded the Bible as a whole. Nice guy, Jesus. Made one heaven of a chair. Needn't read the book since the news was all the sweeter right from the source. He just wasn’t a fan of bloodshed.

3: This was a lie; Aziraphale had blocked out Crowley’s 80s perm. “It’s punk,” he’d insisted. And it had been.

4: God laughed.

5: Crowley was especially hung up on the necessity of the human tongue. Such a disgusting, wriggly thing, and for what purpose? Speech, Crowley can understand. Tasting, he was less inclined to, but would appreciate more had he retained his memories of Aziraphale’s delighted reactions to dinner. It pains him to put any legitimate energy into manipulating the thing, but then again, it pains Crowley to put any legitimate energy into most things. He had intended to forgo it all together after an incident involving his teeth and an unwelcome journey into the inner workings of the tongue, and its subsequent reattachment. But alas, Crowley had to speak. 

 


 

Crowley’s feet are socked and propped up on the back of the sofa. The evening glow barely filters through the piles and piles of books in Aziraphale’s windows, positioned strategically to ward away potential customers. Almost none of the natural light reaches Crowley and Aziraphale. 

The angel, Crowley has discovered, favours a few pastimes: fretting, pacing, watching, and, when he’s feeling especially adventurous, an abominable combination of all three. He’s taken to observing the angel, Azirapal [sic] [1], and finds himself positively enthralled by the thrilling instalments of  ‘Angel fakes reading a book whilst sneaking discreet looks at his new pet demon’. Crowley throws his head back to lay on to the plush arm of the seat and lets out a great groan of frustration. He miscalculates the trajectory ever so slightly, though, and sends his skull sailing into air adjacent of his target. His neck pops menacingly, and the book tumbles from the angel's fingers in concern. With Aziraphale’s full and undivided attention, the air pockets between Crowley’s bones continue to crackle and subsequently dissipate, much like what remained of his dignity.  

With a great sigh, one leavened with gratuitous self-pity, Crowley casts his gaze to the crumbled book at his companion’s feet. 

Show’s over, he supposes, huffing a laugh at his own internal commentary, the thrilling chronicle of false-calm has come to a close.

His entertainment thwarted, Crowley is officially bored out of his eye sockets.  He wonders whether drinking is worth a try.

Crowley has no distinct feeling toward or against alcohol. It’s a beverage, and therefore unnecessary to his existence as a whole. It’s superfluous, is what it is. Hastur’s words, laced with that fine undercurrent of gleeful malice, are what make him blurt it out.

“Fancy a drink?” his mouth says, of its own accord.

I’ll discover my standing on alcohol myself, thank you very much Hastur.

Crowley is quickly discovering that he is a being of pure spite, sewn together at the edges with diluted strands of pomp. They’ve been diluted, of course, by a parasitical insecurity that Crowley certainly cannot yet name.

But as a being of spite, Crowley resolutely decides that he will indulge himself in each one of his “hated” activities. Show Hastur what for, the prick.

Aziraphale’s jaw has slackened, his mouth falling into a softened ‘O’ in his surprise. 

“Now? You–now, Crowley? Of all times?”

Crowley groans and drags a hand across his face, stretching the features in a manner that would have been comical had the situation not been so bleak.

“Reminding me that–that ‘Crowley’ ” his voice raises a bit, mimicking the distressed manner in which Aziraphale had spoken it, “is my name. Oh, bollocks [2]. Whose bloody decision was that? Almighty really hate me that much?”

Aziraphale pauses. He speaks slowly, as if to a child.

“Crowley. You named yourself.”

No.” He sounds positively scandalized.

“I’m afraid you did.” Aziraphale picks the words carefully out of the air.

“Oh I really need that drink,” Crowley muses lethargically, staring through Aziraphale.

Aziraphale still looks hesitant. He shifts from foot to foot, anxiety sloughing off of him in waves. It’s present in the way he wrings his hands and bites into his cheek. Crowley can spot it in the way his breath stutters occasionally, and in the way Aziraphale’s bow tie sits ever so slightly cockeyed, no matter how many times he pauses to adjust it.

Crowley is following a mental checklist, one that’s existed and evolved for millennia. It’s immense in its size and comprehensive in content and context. He’s unsure as to how he’d acquired it, but he seems to have his own angel manual.

He shifts his hips a bit, spreading himself out in the corner of the embellished sofa like a sunbathing cat.

“Alcohol.”

Aziraphale makes to protest. Crowley holds up a hand.

Alcohol,” he states authoritatively, with all the reverence of priesthood. It was remarkably ironic. “Extraordinary amounts.”

“Crowley, dear—mon. Demon. I just think it may not be all that wise to—”

“Oh come on Aziraphale live a little, will you? This whole–er–situation? Arrangement?”

“Not arrangement,” Aziraphale corrected, with an audible degree of discomfort.

“Nyeh, Seems touchy. Anyway, the situation. It’s all gone to hell in a handbasket. Or maybe heaven in a handbasket. The blasted handbasket is headed somewhere, and here we are, moping about it sober.”

“But we really should have clear heads, Crowl–”

“Oh come on. You’re sad. I’m mildly inconvenienced. Might as well go about this the human way.”

“You’re...certain?”

“Oh, it’ll be great. Just chipper. Pretend everything’s alright for a little while. Get so pissed we can’t tell up from down or wrong from right. Forget for a time. Then we’ll both have a little amnesia by the end of the night, eh? Fetch your best bottle.”

Crowley is not sure why he feels so naturally calm around Aziraphale. He feeds off of the angel’s anxiety and transforms it into confidence. 

Aziraphale is not phased by Crowley’s quick bounce back to his usual snark; Crowley is genetically predisposed. It is a bit of a comfort that Crowley’s sass is so innate it returns even without the usual triggers for his cynicism.

If only things could be normal, like old times, he had wished.

Aziraphale couldn’t lie that one of his primary motivations for allowing Crowley to drink had been to reminisce. Drinking together, just like old times; Aziraphale wanted to pretend that everything was normal, just for one night. So Aziraphale hunts through his wine fridge, stocked with the classics, for Crowley’s old favourite.

When he returns, Crowley is slouched over the sofa, a strange combination of Polonius and a Pharaoh. 

Crowley casts him a glance the moment he returns, and the guise of apathy melts into a cunning grin. Whether the grin is directed toward himself of the bottle, Aziraphale is unsure, but dormant selfishness sparks back to life within him in an indignant howl.

Truly, not the time.

Crowley slouches forward, reaching for the bottle with an aborted grunt. His shoulders obey the request, and the curvature of his spine is compounded by the momentum. Crowley’s fingers curl and uncurl in the air, purposefully missing the bottle. His eyes are wide and all too pitiful for a man who knows what he’s doing, and on a darker note, is too scared to forego avoidant behaviour. Crowley looks like a pouting child, and Aziraphale has to restrain himself from pinching the demon’s cheeks, but he knows he will get his hands cut off if he does. Crowley juts out his bottom lip, intensifying the effect.

Aziraphale sighs loudly and passes Crowley the wine, ensuring that their hands do not touch. Crowley takes a worryingly-long swig and clinks it back down on the table, letting out a small, refreshed ‘ahh’. He reclines back into the sofa and his legs spread lazily.

“That’s jolly good stuff.”

“Well, you do subsist on wine and wine alone.”

Hastur was lying, that dickhead.

Aziraphale smiles in his mind as he pours himself a glass. Even this Crowley, with none of his memories of refined taste, could agree that this was an excellent wine. Aziraphale smells the drink properly, perusing its bouquet, as Crowley’s head falls to the side. Even behind his sunglasses, Aziraphale can feel the searing, disappointed judgement in Crowley’s eyes.

“Is that really necessary?”

“I haven’t had this vintage in centuries, I wanted to taste it properly.”

“No really, Aziraphale, I’ve forgotten how to taste wine properly,” Crowley jokes. He had. But he would never admit that outright.

Aziraphale takes a sip and gives Crowley another look. There is something...off about him. Not in how he carries himself, or in his unusual behaviour, but about his clothes. Aziraphale can’t put his finger on it.

Then it smacks him. 

You are so dense. How did you not see it sooner?

“Crowley, what on God’s green Earth are you wearing!?”

Crowley looks down at himself, mildly offended. He takes off his sunglasses for a more complete once over and arrives at the same conclusion.

“How do you mean? I look good.”

“Are your trousers ripped? Crowley, that’s beneath even you. Your jacket! Oh dear.”

Aziraphale takes a long drink from the glass he poured for himself. He has half a mind to say something about the aviators, but he swallows the words before they can escape. It’d be wiser not to mention, he concludes. Crowley’s eyes and their associated accessories have always been a sensitive topic.

The sunglasses are clipped to Crowley’s shirt, settled just in the V of it. Normally, this would not ruffle Aziraphale’s feathers in the slightest: he is a being of practicality. But the sloping neckline of the silk shirt has left little to the imagination, and the aviators pay dearly for it. They dangle precariously at Crowley’s mid-abdomen, a minor miracle alone protecting them from a plunge to their doom. Aziraphale refrains from pondering the pleather overcoat. It is beyond any comment and all salvation.

In short, Crowley is draped in chaos of the most ostentatious variety.

He would have hated it; at least, the Crowley Aziraphale knew.

Aziraphale is unsure if his sudden lunge for the bottle is prompted by that knowledge, that his Crowley was well and truly repressed—he refuses to say gone—, or by the fact that he cannot handle Crowley’s ensemble sober. Nevertheless, he is resolute in his decision to get hammered.

Aziraphale promptly ignores Crowley’s peeved whine at the confiscation of his bottle and takes a swig directly from it, in a most impolite and uncharacteristic fashion. The burn traces white hot down his throat before curling warmly in his chest, a kind of solace from the cold fingers of dread creeping inward, closer and closer to his heart. He takes another sip, and then a few more, to ensure they are kept at bay. 

His sweet, wine-dark Ambrosia no longer in his possession, Crowley flops limblessly, albeit not literally, to the floor. He reaches upward with a wince, shielding his eyes from the onslaught of heavenly light piercing his retinas. As multicoloured splotches swim and multiply in his vision, the demon bares his teeth, his lip pulling upward into a hiss. He takes God’s name in vain, most vulgarly. The demon is certain that his destruction is imminent, and so he rolls about the dusty floor aimlessly in search of a solution. The light is inescapable, washing him in its oppressive effulgence despite his most brilliant strategy of ‘flail until something happens’. Crowley resigns himself to a proper smiting.

Aziraphale distractedly dims the overhead lamp. Crowley grumbles, saved.

His eyes flicker to the inelegant position Crowley has assumed on the floor, a tangle of gangly limbs and appalling fabrics. 

“Are you alright?” 

Crowley breathes harshly through his nose, the air rushing out in a kind of snort from how the thing’s been squashed against his face. He turns his head toward the inquiring angel with an undignified thunk, his head bouncing once against the (thankfully) rug-clad floor. Crowley doesn’t seem to notice the impact, much less be fazed by it.

“Peachy keen,” he draws slowly.

Aziraphale nods, rapping his fingers over the sofa cushions to relieve a bit of pent up agitation. In a misguided bid to fill the unfamiliar, stifling, and wildly uncomfortable silence, Aziraphale ventures,  “Well… would you like a hand?”

Crowley wrinkles his nose and waves his hand in front of his newly-straightened nose. He dutifully counts each finger, murmuring the corresponding numbers under his breath. Once he reaches five, he looks to the angel with an earnest expression.

“But I-I’ve got ‘em all.”

“No, dear boy,” Aziraphale reassures, realizing his mistake, “I was simply asking—”

“I’ve got all of ‘em right here, angel. I have–I’ve not,” Crowley fumbles for a bit, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth in triumph, “No snake hands!”

He looks so incredibly proud of himself in that moment that Aziraphale cannot bring himself to tell him that snakes do not, in fact, have hands of any sort. Although perhaps that was what Crowley was shooting for. Nevertheless, Aziraphale nods and sings his demon’s praises [3]. He is too sober for this interaction.

The angel continues to down the wine straight from the bottle, and Crowley becomes impatient. He snaps his fingers, claiming it for his own with a self-satisfied smirk. Aziraphale laments the resultant rufous stain on his collar, patting it haphazardly. 

Crowley is very much himself, Aziraphale notes with an embittered appreciation. Crowley’s snark is resilient, as is his bumptious disposition. Aziraphale can pick out pieces of his demon in the way Crowley gestures when he is at a loss of words, or how he shifts uncomfortably at minute shows of affection. His face is the same: his mouth still curls in odd, exaggerated shapes to express revulsion and his eyebrows still crest into high peaks at his most indignant moments. Crowley enjoys the same red he’s always been partial to, and his lips curl into the same delighted smile with every sip. For all intents and purposes, he is still Crowley.

Except, he’s not Crowley

Aziraphale can see where this Crowley is pulling apart at the seams, trying to uphold a façade that was painstakingly cultivated by his predecessor. He watches this Crowley act how he believes he is supposed to, rather than indulge in the impulsive free thought his Crowley celebrated. There is no history in this Crowley’s gaze, no nuance to his tone belaying thinly-veiled affection. There’s nothingness in the space his life once resided, and it’s left him dead behind the eyes. 

For the first time in his interminable existence, Aziraphale finds himself wishing Crowley would put his glasses on.

A few bottles later, neither celestial being is any measure of coherent. 

Aziraphale’s throat jumps and he swallows back his sombre mood. He’s never been a particularly sad drunk, and it would be doing both him and Crowley a great disservice to give him the wrong impression in this time of vulnerability. He’ll be happy for Crowley’s sake. 

Crowley hoists himself up and stumbles around the bookshelves, perusing the shelves. He picks up a particularly fat book, much to Aziraphale’s surprise. Its black leather cover, embossed with golden Tudor roses and crowns, was particularly beautiful.

“Hm...t-this William was very proli..pro...he wrote a lot.” Crowley’s words slur together more and more, and he caresses the binding.

Crowley plops down on the sofa with a creak, holding the massive Shakespeare volume over his head. He flips through until he happens upon Hamlet, his interest is piqued. The woodblock print of a murdered aristocrat was partially responsible, but the name seemed familiar. It was a memory just beyond Crowley’s reach, faint and fading. But it was connected to the movie he watched in the plane, with the lions, that he knew somehow. So Crowley began to read, much to Aziraphale’s astonishment—murmuring the words under his breath as he reads them, commenting where he sees it appropriate.

“N-now I don’t see th-the connection here between these two assholes and the–the adoptive– horn pig and long tunnel-rat...man.”

Crowley loses his grip on the Shakespeare anthology and it tumbles onto his face. He simply rolls onto his stomach to continue reading, unperturbed.

“Fuckin’– eh- Rosenstern. Guildencrantz. What twats. I much preferred the singing animals!” Crowley announces. “They knew how to be true friends.”

He gets quite passionate about the whole thing. Too passionate. A bit more vehement than necessary for children’s telly matters. Aziraphale frowns, struggling into a position he can better see Crowley from. His stomach lurches at the movement, vertigo swirling his world around as if his brain were stuck in the washer. Crowley’s expression of distress melts into a blurred spiral, and Aziraphale quickly determines that he should sober up, to support his drunken friend if nothing else. The demon looks to be on the verge of breaking, but whether he will break through or down, Aziraphale is unsure. Crowley kicks up pillows and bellows a great ‘no’.

Aziraphale rushes to his side in a tizzy, although his steps are lopsided in his haste.

“Everyone’s–Oh for- Oh- poison! Oh, it’s bloody everywhere. Poison in the mouth and poison on the blade and poison in th’- the baby lion. Oh, it’s just a mess.”

Each “oh” raises in pitch and distress until Crowley has a hand resting daintily on his forehead, much in the style of Victorian melodrama.

He takes Aziraphale by the shoulders.

“He-he had one true friend in the world and–and he was- he—”

Crowley trails off, blinking at Aziraphale. The angel cannot help but ponder the similarities between Hamlet and the Arrangement. It hurts his heart momentarily, a tender tug at his heartstrings. 

“Couldn’t trust anyone else- caught in- caught in one big ol’ hoax. That’s what it was. A big hoax. An’ he didn’t-he didn’t know if he could trust Horationno, but he did. And- and that was a-eh- debatably good decision. No. No, it was—”

Crowley claps a hand on Aziraphale’s cheek, a bit forceful from the effects of the alcohol.

“He was gonna die for him—‘n the end.”

A strange look passes over Crowley’s face. His lips downturn, his gaze flicking about erratically before settling at his feet; his eyebrows pinch together in an honest expression of pain. All at once, it smooths itself out. Aziraphale cannot help but think of Crowley’s ploy at the airbase. Crowley straightens and plasters a grin on his face.

“But that’s- stupid, hm? Th’ whole dying business? Just- too” Crowley’s hand slips from Aziraphale’s cheek as he waves it noncommittally, searching for a word. He elongates the vowel sound until he lights up. An epiphany. He snaps his fingers.

“Gloomy! Too blesséd gloomy. Nasty, nasty, nasty.”

Crowley wrinkles up his face, hiccups, and reaches blindly for Aziraphale because—curse it all—he was warm. Aziraphale allows Crowley to grab his shoulders and pull him closer to make a point.

“I just–I just said. All I’m saying is–books.” He claps his hand over the anthology, his b’s starting to sound like a gurgling toddler’s attempts at forming words. “Books are–err–they're flamala- flammable. Yeah. So alls I’m saying is- is that you should go digital with it all. It’d just–it’d be utter shit if it all blew, you know? All fire and-and such.”

Crowley turns darkly quiet.

“I—I don't like fire much.” 

Aziraphale turns sheet pale.

Why that? Why that of all the things he could remember?

It was progress, but it could hurt. He debates whether to intercept Crowley’s recollection of the burning bookshop.

Crowley curls up on the sofa, running his fingers through his hair and yelping when they hit a tangle. He pulls them out of his curls and looks at his hand as if it’s betrayed him. He flexes his fingers, curls them as if trying to grasp at the memory slipping through cracks in the cement. He repeats the motion again and again, before looking to Aziraphale. His bottom lip twitches almost imperceptibly: a hairline fracture in the mask. 

“I don't think I like fire very much at all.”

Aziraphale sits beside him and pats his hand empathetically.

“No. No, I don't believe I’m very fond of it, either.”

Crowley doesn’t shy away from Aziraphale’s hand.

He rasps through gritted teeth, his voice cracking, “I just want to remember it all. It's so–it’s so frustrating. Knowing it’s all there and having i-it..having to taunt you–it’s—”

Crowley cuts himself off with a self-deprecating chuckle. “It’s torture. Suppose I’d know, hm?”

Aziraphale sighs and wonders who is really being tortured of everyone in this predicament.

 


 

1: Crowley has dubbed the angel this both for the sake of the incredibly witty pun, as well as the fact that he cannot yet pronounce it.

2: In American, this is the equivalent of yelling “Balls!”

3: Not literally, of course. Although he was once a member of the choir of heavenly hosts, Aziraphale considers his musical career very much a thing of the past. Too much drama in the tenor section for his taste. 

 


 

Demons nor angels require sleep. It is a matter of personal preference that some sleep; to preserve their cover as human beings, or just for the fun of it. 

Crowley, however, was passed out for particularly unusual reasons. He had forgotten how to miracle himself sober, and his body needed time to process the alcohol the slow way. And so the demon lies only partially on the sofa, his hair cascading downward toward the rug in tortuous knots. His glasses are crooked across his face exposing one yellow, slitted eye, staring blankly [1]. Crowley’s jaw is slackened, his lips quivering around exhalations that are not quite snores, more akin to the rattle of a snakes tail. A bead of saliva threatens to drip from the corner of his mouth onto a woven rose in the rug. 

Aziraphale watches the demon’s chest rise and fall, unable to relax. Something in the air is missing, but he isn’t sure what. Something that has been with him since Eden, a constant presence. It slips away from him.

Instead, a memory arrives.

 

Crowley scoffs at a couple, tucked away in the back of the shop. Aziraphale finds it endearing. Crowley simply tsks and huffs.

"I understand love!", he bit back.

"My dear, you’re a demon." The angel’s voice possesses a didactic edge.

"Really? They’re snogging against the Dickens collection, angel. I just thought it would’ve upset you. Come on! look at ‘em. Just disgusting. The groping ‘specially."

Crowley crosses his arms and leans suavely against a bookcase. Aziraphale raises his head and straightens his coat, insistent.

"Love is never disgusting, not that you could ever begin to understand." 

Crowley lets out a low chuckle. “And how’s that, mm?”

"You’re loveless, Crowley. You’re a demon. You've not loved a thing in your life, in fact, I doubt you’re capable." 

A muscle in Crowley’s jaw twitches; he grumbles.

“I love the Bentley.”

“No living thing, then,” Aziraphale finishes.

Crowley pushed his sunglasses further up the bridge of his nose, hard. A small, reddened indent is left in the skin. 

“Well, I suppose, I’ll go spend some time with the one thing I love, leave you to tend to this display,” Crowley mutters, with paper-thin impassivity. 

He struts out of the bookshop, fidgeting with his keys.

Aziraphale calls after him. “I wish you a nice drive, my dear boy.”

 

That had been Aziraphale’s last conversation with Crowley, the proper Crowley, before…

Aziraphale cannot bring himself to think the words.

He misses him.  

He’s tempted to stay in the memory just a while longer, despite the pain that undermines its beauty, just to be with his Crowley a bit longer, to appreciate his presence.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, humans like to say, Aziraphale recalls.

Ah, yes.

The something in the air, which had hung around like a stubborn cologne since Eden: it had been love. And whose if not Crowley’s?

Aziraphale understood it now. 

The air was empty. It was gone.

 


 

1: Snakes do not have eyelids, and while Crowley’s human body had eyelids, he kept his eyes open out of instinct.

Chapter Text

Angels are, by nature, rather fickle beings. They’re stuck in their ways. It suits them; after all, they’ve been trusted to be the keepers of morality.  In many ways, angels are no better than demons. The primary distinction between the two is that angels are good at doing what they are told and getting things done. They’re a celestial police force, if you will. And just as in the police, or any other branch of the justice system for that matter, the original motivators for the use of force can be misconstrued within a haze of mindless compliance. You may be surprised to learn that some of the most brutal and cruel beings are angels in pursuit of righteous justice. 

Angels, ironically—although perhaps less so now that you have learned more of angels—struggle to wrap their metaphysical minds around “ethics”. They teeter precariously between one extreme and the next, uncertain of where the true balance lies. This applies to their work ethic as well. If they work too hard, they invite the sin of Pride to corrupt their beings; if they work too little, they fall prey to Sloth. Angels had remained stumped as to how to describe the phenomena that resulted from this predicament for centuries. That is, until a nifty little human by the name of Robert Southey presented them with a solution: the elusive middle-zone was henceforth referred to as “The Goldilocks Zone”. 

Aziraphale, an angel himself, knows well the complexities of The Goldilocks Zone. Before him are three options: 

  • Too Cold: Continue pretending that this Crowley is his Crowley, ignoring the situation at hand to wring a few drops of selfish enjoyment from the whole ordeal.
  • Too Hot: Devote every waking hour to Crowley and the rehabilitation of his memories.
  • Just Right: A healthy mix of hot and cold, ensuring to slot out a bit of time for himself as well.

Aziraphale has considered his options carefully and resolutely decided to pick none of the three. The angel has made his very own option, one that surpasses hot, scalding, and any other descriptor for positively searing. Aziraphale has poured a metaphorical bottle of lighter fluid over the whole mess of  “Too Hot” porridge, leaving it unrecognizable within the flame: a charred, bubbling slop. It’s a product of caring too much, Aziraphale supposes. Love is a potent incendiary. 

The angel is well aware that his determination may lead him down a path of ruin. He doesn’t care, at least not enough to stop himself from self-destruction.

Aziraphale will work until he finds a solution, until everything is set right again. It is Crowley’s only hope.

 


 

Sometime during the seven days of creation and with the aid of HER angels, God decorated the heavens. The entirety of the universe was filled with new and creative wonders. Among them were nebulas like spilt watercolour against the blackness of space. Galaxies upon galaxies of stars formed milky lines across the midnight sky. SHE adorned the pooling blackness of the heavens SHE had created, breathing life and light into it. Upon observing HER creation and the creations of HER angels, God said it was good. It was.  

On this particular night, Aziraphale feels a particular fondness for the night sky and for all of God’s beautiful creations. He had taken a book out to read, and the sun had set on his journey through  Oliver Twist . The sky had been unusually clear for a London night, so he’d stayed out until all of the light left. Crowley had joined Aziraphale there, laying in the grass with his hands caressing the leather-bound volume, engrossed in silent thought. 

Aziraphale’s eyes wander amongst the constellations. 

“Do you know their names?” he wonders, momentarily forgetting that Crowley retains little memory of anything.

The demon’s eyes wander between the stars. They remain suspended amidst a swirling fog of black and blue and purple; the bruised tapestry is testament to man’s mistreatment of God’s truest love. Smog and lurid neons compete with the heavens, blocking out the beauty of its stars, its twinkling angels. Crowley’s pointed finger raises to loosely circle a cluster in his field of vision. 

“Corvus. The raven, or the crow, jury is still out on that one. Not sure how I know that.” His lazy smile turns a titch bitter at the edges. “Bird of the gods. Well, one god. Oh, but it was one of the big ones, you know? None of those... Demi folk."

Aziraphale recalls finding Crowley’s astronomy books in his flat, pages upon pages about the stars and the planets. They had always fascinated Crowley.

“If I remember correctly from my reading, in the myth Apollo curses the raven, who failed to prevent his pregnant lover from leaving. He scorches the raven’s beautiful white feathers black. Poor fellow.”

"Wasn't the bird’s fault. ‘Lot to put on one bird, after all." he gazes to the constellation above. "Poor bastard couldn't control love. An’ he got punished for it."

The stars above him flicker, wisps of flame enmeshed by the black death of the night sky. With a howl, the breeze shifts and the flames splutter there; the wind carries the heavy scent of decaying peonies. The flowers’ perfume is corrupted, death gnawing at the neatly crimped edges of the petals and darkening their fragile veins. Crowley’s nostrils flare; a shudder wracks his angular form. His fingers raise to grace a fine circle around his neck, an orbital. A tune, hauntingly juvenile in nature, wriggles its way through the grout. His memory shrieks in discordant harmony.

 

Ladies and lords gouge their skin, let their blood, and wallow in their filth all while adorned with striking wreaths of flowers. Their pestilent boils are rubbed raw by the stems. Their necklaces do little to negate the mephitic odour that clings to their persons, the cocktail of death and life embittering the air. Smiles, contorted by grief, veil the faces of the infected. Seeking guidance from the heavens, they send their prayers up to a god that does not hear them, wish upon stars that have lost their master. Rings of flowers decay; they are soon to follow. 

 

The cheery pinks and velveteen petals are but omens of death.

Crowley stares intently skyward, his eyes flicking about wildly. The universe is great but not magnanimous. Some of the stars in Corvus are so far that by the time their light has reached Crowley, their sources have burned out: husks of red dwarfs or colourful waves of gas in the aftermath of novas. All that remains are the bones and hollowed flesh of hydrogen fusion. They are vestiges of a former passion, still upholding a façade for Earth.

How many of them are dead?

Crowley stares at the stars and contemplates what it means to die. As a demon, Crowley had never before confronted death so personally [1]. The deaths of the stars are—as all deaths are—a spectacle for the whole world to gaze upon and be reminded of the fragility of life. Regardless of their morbidity, regardless of their ephemerality, the stars are indeed  beautiful

He shifts on his side, propping his head up with a crooked arm. He fixes Aziraphale with a soft look and says with all of the casualness in the world, “I did good.”

“Hm?” Aziraphale looks to his side, caught slightly off guard by Crowley’s gentle expression. “And it’s well, dear. Grammatically speaking.”

Crowley scoffs. He rolls his eyes.

“Making those. I did  well,  didn’t I, angel?”

Aziraphale wonders what Crowley could mean. His voice has taken on a calculated buffer, as if every word is being spoken as soon as it is thought up. This is no accident.

Crowley pauses and runs his tongue over his teeth, chipping away at ancient stones in the farthest reaches of the memory-wall. Somehow, he could sense that these memories were not simply blocked off, but ones that hadn’t been reached for in a long while. A white heat begins to lick at his skull: waves of pain and rapids of molten iron berate him from all sides. He tries not to let the affliction show and sets his features in stone. Crowley wears a mask impervious to the worried glances of a certain angel, resistant to his incessant doting and the sedative, curling warmth of his touch. He doesn’t want Aziraphale rushing to his side again and disrupting his concentration, however painful the process could be.

I must remember more.

“No. No, I was right the first time. Did good making ‘em.” He gestures skyward. “They’re good things, so–I did some  good , once.”

“Did you?” Aziraphale can feel his heartbeat in his throat. He wracks his memory.  Which angel created the stars?

"Yeah. Yeah, I did.” Confidence enters his voice as the memory becomes clearer. Crowley remembers.

Not even  his  Crowley had told Aziraphale what he had been before the fall: what kind of angel he had been or who he had been: not even his name. He had never wanted to pry; in fact, Aziraphale was not even certain that Crowley had retained much of it before.

Crowley remembered now. 

 

The archangel opens his golden eyes to a blank cosmos, his pupils dilating to take in the void in full.   SHE  had created light, spoken it into being not much earlier, but it had not yet reached this place.  SHE  had not yet called it there. A sea of shadow laps at his form, casting his fully extended wings in a murky grey. Only pure darkness could cloud their brilliant white. He shifts, resisting the urge to cry out a plaintive, “Mother?” 

He is alone. He has never been left alone.  SHE  must be testing him.

“Do not be afraid, angel.”  HER  voice resounds from everywhere and nowhere, within the depths of his very being and from the farthest reaches of the dark. “I am always with you, as I will be with them.”

“Them?”

Silence.

He knows what he has been tasked with. He is an instrument in HER creation, not a free agent. SHE works in mystery. He follows, but not blindly, not without questions.

“Why? Why are you always with me?”

"I am all places. I am love. I am the great I AM."

The answer does not satisfy him, but he carries on.

Light fizzles at his fingertips, sparking and hissing with an ache for existence, before being consumed by the void. He frowns softly, invisibly. 

“Now, there’s no need to be difficult, is there?” he murmurs, coaxing the fitful scraps of light into orbs that dance between his fingertips. He smiles then, delighted at his creation, “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

The spheres stray from their course, circling the being much like excitable cats, kneading and brushing and pushing in their contentment. A particularly adventurous one manages to tangle itself in a crimson ringlet of hair. The archangel chuckles fondly and returns it to the fold, its brethren, with a gentle swish of his hand. 

He casts each out with great care, configuring stories that have not yet been written, conceiving histories that may never be tarnished or tamed. The stars, that’s what he’ll call them, settle into place and expand. They burn, a myriad colours peppering the black canvas. Yellows and blues and reds and oranges and whites perform an intricate dance, swirling around one another to create milky way after milky way. The angel’s eyes light up, both with the ambient light of his creations and with righteous joy.  

He loves them, as he is intended to love all of God’s creations. But this is a creation of his own. He’s never had one of his own before, and he finds he might be more partial to it than he is designed to be. He shall name each beautiful sphere of light personally, he decides. Two of them spin around each other closely, inseparable. A name comes to him before he sends the duet off into the abyss: Alpha Centauri.

 

The memory dissolves, but not because Crowley loses grip on it. There is nothing more tangible to be found there. It cannot be remembered: no mind is capable. It splinters into amorphous pieces.

 

“Why must they be tested?”

“Why must the world fall to ruin?”

“Why must sin separate them from you? Is your love not boundless?”

“Why 6000 years?”

“Are you well today, Mother?”

“What does it mean to think? Is to think to be evil?”

“What of the principality? You mentioned him before.”

“Must you turn your back on them?”

“Is it wrong to love, Mother? Is it selfish? One must love one thing above the rest, it is the nature of the beast.”

“Why don’t you respond? Why did you stop talking to me?”

“All this talk of love. Do you love me, Mother?”

“You know what they’re planning, don’t you?”

 

There is a dead silence within Crowley’s mind.

 

“Why?”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Can you make it stop hurting? Please?

 

“Will you take care of my stars?”

 

Crowley’s fingers twitch, the ghost of a movement once so familiar to him.  His muscles remember, but only faintly.

He wonders. “I did at least one good thing...what is it you do, angel?"

Aziraphale looks taken aback. No one had ever asked him such a thing, and in all his time he had never pondered it. He simply did. “Well. I have a lovely collection of first editions, wine that is just—Oh! it's just  delectable .”

Crowley snorts, dissatisfied with the perfunctory response, “Not what you have. what you  do .”

Aziraphale clasps his hands together, the pad of his thumb brushing over a dastardly hangnail. He picks at the corporeal imperfection mindlessly, the skin peeling back with each anxious stroke. His thumb stills. The hangnail is gone, along with his final distraction, miracled away by an impatient demon. Crowley always was—and is, apparently—so fatuous with his miracles; it is yet another thing he does. Aziraphale can list at length what  his  Crowley did, yet he’s bent over backwards trying to think of what exactly it is  he  does. He makes tea. He reads. He, as of late, mourns and stresses and chews his bottom lip raw. But none of that is of any substance; he’s sure it’s not what Crowley is looking for. 

Aziraphale flounders for a moment longer, white splotches boiling up on his knuckles where they are tightly grasped. They bloom outward and dissipate into his flushed skin, much like ink dripped onto water. Slight tremors in the angel’s hands only serve to aid the liquid effect. 

Crowley spares a glance to Aziraphale’s clenched fists and reevaluates his prior train of thought. The white patches are the liquid, not the hands, he supposes. The angel’s subtle shaking is a manifestation of  something , an emotion that’s boiled over into the physical. An earthquake. So, perhaps Aziraphale’s anxious reaction is more akin to raindrops splattering and staining a tremoring earth than it is to ink.

Crowley reaches forward without thought, stilling Aziraphale’s hands with his own.

“Stop that,” he mutters, caught in a budding memory. “Impossible to think with all that shimmying.”

At Aziraphale’s sore huff, Crowley squeezes where their fingers are intertwined to silence the angel’s impending remark. He’s on the cusp of something, something important, and he won’t have it derailed by a bit of whining. The knife twists in the back of his skull, and suddenly he’s gripping his friend’s hand for an entirely different reason [2]. His blunt nails impress crescents into the skin, and Crowley would have half the mind to feel bad about the whole ordeal had someone not taken a brand to his cerebrum.

Or perhaps a flaming sword. 

The white raindrops splotching the angel’s knuckles raise from his skin in fine droplets, as if someone has hit reverse. Crowley blinks. They press play. The raindrops beat down on barren earth. 

 

The first rainfall upturns the desert and brings with it the thick, intolerable musk of humidity. A lovely couple is drenched by the rain, dark skin awash in aqueous gold from the weapon they are wielding. The woman is heavily pregnant. Crowley is dry. The angel is weaponless. Above him, a plumule of white feathers shields him from the weeping sky. The demon and the angel stand upon a stone wall overlooking the vast and endless sands.

 

Crowley becomes pensive for a long moment, and then he speaks. “You want to protect me. That’s what you do. You protect what you love.”

Aziraphale opens his mouth to protest, and then closes it, his eyes widening slightly in thought as his hand fidgets with Crowley’s.

The truth of what Crowley has just said does not sink in with the demon himself, but Aziraphale sees it wholly. His chest fills with a warmth and kindness for Crowley, a warmth whose name does not elude him this time. Love, tender and fuzzy.

My dear, you’re not wrong.

 


 

1: He had: staring at holy water as Aziraphale handed it over to him. Crowley doesn’t remember, but he is also dumb as rocks on occasion.

2: That distinction came with the memory, not that Crowley would ever say it aloud. The two were a package deal, as seen on telly.

 


 

A classic British storm rolls in. A gloomy layer of clouds, a bitterly frigid wind, a constant pitter-patter of raindrops through all hours of the day. Only, as night approaches, the rain falls with more force; a constant sheet of noise, parading down on the old roofs. The winds blow rougher, pulling the trees around and slapping branches against windows. Cars cruising down the Soho streets slosh water up on the sidewalk, nearly hydroplaning. 

An angel and a demon shelter inside from the cold and the rain, even though they would hardly die of exposure. When one is immortal, taking a rain check on your usual errands and pastimes is easy. England is rainy 300 of the 365 days a year, granted, but you have infinite years to enjoy those remaining sixty-five in full.

Crowley lays down on one of the posh but slouched chairs parked near the angel’s desk. Aziraphale’s workspace overlooks a bay window covered in a film of dust and embellished with gold accents near the corners [1]. Crowley’s back curls up protectively around his stomach, as if to conserve warmth. His mind is blank, overcome by the sheer sound of the rain, and he stares distantly at Aziraphale: painstakingly reorganizing his books. 

In some strange fit, Crowley feels compelled to step outside. His face retains a contemplative expression as he wanders mechanically over to the door. Aziraphale stops his work, laying down the volume he had been regarding. 

“Crowley? Are you alright?”

Aziraphale’s voice does not register in Crowley’s mind, it merely rebounds: distorted and distant by the time it penetrates his ears. Crowley pulls open the book shop door and steps out onto the pavement, immediately drenched. 

He remains there for a minute, frozen. His clothes and body soak in more and more water. At one point, Crowley jerks, and then takes a weak breath. He turns back to Aziraphale, his hair flattened into a damp mass. The demon lifts his glasses to reveal his eyes: reddened and wet.

Aziraphale’s eyes widen.

“The children, on the, the bloody—” he breathes and realigns himself, his voice cracking slightly. “Did I get them out of the flood?”

Aziraphale’s eyes sadden as he realizes the memory Crowley has, with immense horror, relived.

“Why did SHE do that, Aziraphale?”, Crowley whispers, barely audible.

Aziraphale sighs, a million things crossing his mind, none of which he could tell Crowley in this state. 

Crowley knits his eyebrows together and stares into the rain now beginning to sweep into the shop. Aziraphale fears the worst and walks tentatively towards him. His arm links through Crowley’s and his hand caresses Crowley’s moistened forearm. He flicks the door closed with a gentle sweep of his hand.

“No, y-you did save them. Smuggled them aboard the bottom level. It’s simply…”

“Simply what?” Crowley asks, not shying away from the contact. He stares at the rain coursing down the windows.

“Simply unfortunate you all didn’t have more time together,” he lies. 

Crowley is just vulnerable enough to believe him. It is easier to lie when the recipient is eager to accept a reality more comfortable than the truth.

“And why’s that, hm?”

“Oh. Well. I, obviously, was helpless to thwart your wiles. It was too late at that point, so I was forced to aid you to, um,” Aziraphale trails off, looking just over the demon’s shoulder, “aid the children as it were.”

“. ..What?

“You taught them animals. The names, I mean. Made a whole song of it. I just happened to dampen the sound from the outside a bit. You all had such fun, it would have been absolutely malevolent to ruin it then.”

A sweet smile graces Crowley’s lips. 

“You covered for a demon. You  naughty  angel.” 

“Well- I was already thwarted. I was helpless. I would hardly call it naughty.”

A laugh bubbles up from Crowley’s throat, an infectious thing. Aziraphale finds the very same chuckle taking root in his own chest, his lips pulling into a grin that matches the demon’s. His arm around Crowley’s curls in tighter.

“I can’t believe you did a bad thing and I did a good one.”

It all nearly feels as it should. It is so close to the normality that Aziraphale craves that hope blooms foolishly within him, hope that is brutally snuffed out by one glance at Crowley’s feet. 

The boots.

His most worthy adversary. 

Aziraphale has not made failure an option. The cowboyish, snakeskin monstrosities must perish for the sake of  his  Crowley’s honour [2]. 

Aziraphale enacts Plan A.

“Oh dear!” He exclaims, blocking Crowley as he turns to make for the shop interior, “I really do think it may be best to leave them at the stoop. I couldn’t bear to see water tracked in, you know”

He beams at Crowley, his smile sugar-sweet. The demon levels him with an unreadable look, but the corner of his lips twitches ever so slightly. 

Crowley raises his hand purposefully, suspending his fingers in motion to relish the moment. With a snap of the demon’s fingers, the boots are dry. Aziraphale hardly holds back his scandalized gasp.

No.

Crowley leers at Aziraphale, a slow grin pulling his cheeks up and out, made prominent by hollows carved beneath them. 

“Right as rain,” he quips [3], and saunters into the shop with the rhythmic ‘click-clack’ of his boot heels accompanying him. 

Aziraphale can swear they’re louder than they were before.

 


 

 

1: A vestigial artefact of the gaudiness of the 70s.

2: And isn’t that differentiator tired. His Crowley was never really  his  Crowley to begin with. Aziraphale is simply offering himself small comforts in a time of desperation. It’s one of his more effective coping mechanisms.

3: The pun was lost on Crowley. This Crowley was not one for intentional puns.

 


 

Just as before, the rain passes. This is not to say it leaves agreeably. Gone are the winter days of waterlogged socks and skeletal remains of umbrellas rattling about in the gutters. Instead, the ever-capricious British weather has gifted its citizens with garish pit stains and unusually rancid heat. The shops that line the streets are crammed tight with uninterested patrons, each squirming body seeking out the relief of an air-conditioned space.

Aziraphale is especially pleased on these days. Fell’s decorum is crafted with dutiful circumspection. While the angel is unwaveringly partial to certain aesthetics [1], each creaking shelf and claw-footed furniture piece serves a practical purpose as well. Aziraphale cannot stand for ostentatious showings of wealth. His shop is a bubble, one that remains impervious to the passage of time. To the average Londoner it would appear archaic; so archaic, in fact, that it would not have installed fans, much less air conditioning for the masses. Aziraphale actively wards off customers, and in the heat, such methods were especially effective. He settles into his chair just a bit further, looking like a cat who’d gotten the cream.  

His reverie is curtailed by the bright chiming of a bell and the raucous shouts of children. The two siblings [2] race in hand and hand, the boy stumbling to match his sister’s purposeful strides and longer legs. She halts abruptly once she reaches the counter; her brother, however, continues racing forwards. With a muted thud and a muffled ‘ouch’, his forehead meets the polished cherry wood. Aziraphale moves to rise, perhaps perform a minor miracle if the boy were bleeding, but the young girl brings her palm up to stop him. The boy blinks slowly, sneezes into the crook of his arm, and flashes his audience an enthusiastic thumbs up. 

“Hello sir,” the girl starts, her voice cheerfully lyrical as she rocks back on her heels. “My name’s Elaine, but I don’t like it much. ‘S after me gram, and I’m not me gram—she has a much worse off face than I do—so you can call me Lainey instead, got it?”

Aziraphale manages half a nod, before Lainey continues. Her energy is infectious.

“This is my brother James, he—”

“I like Harry Potter!” He interrupts,  bouncing ecstatically. Each jump is higher than the next, and it takes a moment for Aziraphle to realize the boy is using the desk as leverage. 

“Shut  up  when I’m talking, James!” She gives him a playful shove and they both giggle.

Aziraphale clears his throat, his finger slipping from where it marks his spot on the page. A travesty, truly. Nevertheless, an encouraging smile finds its way onto his face, “Thank you for the lovely introductions. I’m simply charmed.” Aziraphale’s face glows with kindness. “My name is Mr. Fell, and I’m sorry to ask this, but I really must know where your parents have gone off to.”

“Well, Dad’s dead,” Lainey states bluntly. Aziraphale cannot help but wonder which direction he went after.

James nods quietly, “Yeah, an accident.” It doesn’t last. “But mum’s just over getting coffee at the shop!”

“Which is gross. Coffee is gross. Tea is much better!”

Much  better,” her brother adds.

“I must agree,” says Aziraphale, with all the mysterious charm of Willy Wonka [3].

As refreshing as the children’s company is, they’ve pulled Aziraphale from his reading. His thumb, which he had just set back in place, skims dangerously close the page’s edge, its function as a bookmark nearly lost. Aziraphale has—though petty and unwritten—rules to uphold, a sales book to keep intact and unopened. He cannot bend to the will of children, even the most polite and precocious of them. Aziraphale makes to send them away but then—

“Can we look? We don’t–our mum hasn’t given us our allowance yet, but we just wanted to look, promise.” 

“Yeah! Just wanted a look. Mummy’s stingy,” James pouts.

Without diverting her attention from Aziraphale, Lainey whacks his arm. There’s a kind of familiar grace to the action, a practised precision that only a sibling could master.

Aziraphale can’t help but chuckle. He’s only focused on returning Crowley’s memory for the longest time, and, though he loves the demon dearly, it’s been emotionally taxing.

He hears a faint tumble from his back room. A soft curse follows. “You should’ve grown better. But you didn’t deserve to die.”

Crowley’s grown [4] softer toward the plants since his amnesia took root [5]. His touches have become lighter, his standards more lenient. He more coerces than threatens at this point, his tone never escalating to anything higher than steady consternation. The plants have taken to bowing toward him rather than away, and Aziraphale has a sneaking suspicion that Crowley had, perhaps, been treating them kindly all along. 

There’s another series of soft curses, underscored by the grating scrape of terracotta shards along the floor. The children are enthralled by the foul language, and Azirraphale would have snapped at Crowley for it, had he not been distracted.

The horrid noise stops, succeeded by a mournful sigh.

Well, best to avoid Crowley as he plans his plant funeral. Or miracles it back to tip-top shape. 

At the very least, he shouldn’t leave these children alone in favor of helping Crowley process the seven stages of his plant grief. 

Aziraphale does hope it wasn’t one of the basil plants, though. He’s taken a liking to those.  So practical! So fragrant!

He digresses.

The children look at him eagerly; he returns a welcoming smile and leans down. “Well, you may look all you like until your mum returns.”

“Do you have Harry Potter-?” She asks, squeezing her little brother’s hand, “James-”

“I like Harry Potter!” Interjects the other child. He grins, satisfied now that he’s established his indisputable admiration. 

Lainey huffs. “You said that already!” James opens his mouth for a retort, but his sister clamps a hand over his mouth before he verbalizes it. Her quick thinking works only for a moment, though. Her features twist into an expression of utter horror and revulsion. She grimaces around a rather hyperbolic gag.

“Did you just  lick my hand? ” 

James nods triumphantly,  and his sister responds with a shriek.  She frantically wipes her damp hand on his shoulder out of spite. Her mortified brown eyes flicking back over to the bookkeeper.

“Sorry! Sorry, he just  really  likes Harry Potter. I prefer classics. Like Wilde.”

It seems as though Crowley materializes beside Aziraphale at the utterance of the name. Where there was once nothing, there is now a looming, irritated figure. Soil encrusts his nail beds: the blood of a fallen compatriot, the spectral reminder of Banquo the basil. 

“Wilde. Hmm, too pretentious for me.” Crowley glances further down the shelf with little knowledge of the names. “You should try Woolf.”

Aziraphale chokes on the very air he is breathing.  His  Crowley never read a day in his life. Aziraphale was not certain he’d known how. The shock is soon overpowered by his book snobbery. If Crowley had read, he would  never  be so tasteless as to call Wilde pretentious.

“Y–Woolf?  Less  pretentious?”

“Yes.” Crowley replies flatly, tossing  Orlando  to the girl.

She fumbles horribly. She’s exceedingly uncoordinated, not at all athletic. Once, playing football, she’d kicked a goal for the other team with so much vim and vigour that she’d ended on her back in the mud. No sports from then on, decreed her mum, as her little girl wept into her shoulder.  Good.  She didn’t care for them much anyway. 

Crowley watches on, unimpressed. His gaze lingers on the pair a bit, as if he’s trying to place them, before he grunts and slinks back to tend his plants.

Aziraphale chances a look back at him. He sighs, a tender smile gracing his lips. Crowley’s almost remastered his saunter. A little jerky on the upswing, but Aziraphale is sure he’ll smooth that out.

There’s a tug at his sleeve.

“Sir? Excuse me, sir? D’you have Harry Potter?”

He crouches to the boy’s level, his knees refraining from a nefarious pop through a minor miracle alone.

“Well, dear, I’m not sure that I do. We can certainly look while your sister,” he casts a look to the preteen curled in the chair like she belongs there. She’s engrossed, “reads for a bit. Let’s not distract her, Hm?”

And so, somewhere in the shop, Harry Potter materializes.

Upon finding it (“all by myself!” The boy cheers proudly), he plunks himself right on the floor where he’s standing and—quite literally—shoves his face in the book. He looks as if he’s trying to absorb the text rather than read it. Aziraphale is delighted to see such voracious readers.

A honk outside jolts both children out of their books, and they scramble to return them to the shelves. The little boy hugs Aziraphale, but only reaches slightly above the angel’s waist.

“Thank you for letting us read—”

“Yeah, Thanks!”

And then they’re gone, before Aziraphale can utter a word.

She seems like a lovely mother, judging by her children.

The Jaguar outside pulls away carefully, with all the caution of someone who’s seen how metal beasts can tear apart lives.

Crowley saunters over to the door, watching the Jaguar drive off, as another splintering heat cracks the back of his head.

“The car seems awfully familiar.”

 


 

1: Antiquated, Crowley would call them. Aziraphale preferred “sophisticated”. He has standards, after all!

2: Aziraphale would presume, but he does not have to. He can easily sense the love the two have for one another.

3: It is necessary to clarify that this is not in reference to the Jim Carrey interpretation, or even the original Roald Dahl novels, but the Gene Wilder portrayal.

4: Ha

5: Ahaaaa

 


 

Crowley is a stolid flesh statue adorning Aziraphale’s elegant stairway, perhaps of the Roman or Byzantine variety. This description was close but ultimately incorrect. There  was  a sculpture of the Renaissance variety floating around, as Crowley once posed nude for Michelangelo [1].

The demon winces and leans into the doorframe for support, clutching at the nearby winding staircase. His hand finds an ornate, hand-carved banister, the wood worn from loving touches. Some of the strips of wood peel under Crowley’s fingertips, threatening him with splinters. He is on the verge of collapse, but he positions himself to appear as though he is standing at one of his classic jaunty angles, where too many bones pop out in ways they shouldn’t.

Crowley’s tremoring form slumps against the wood accent, the illusion of carved stone crumbling to reveal the derelict structure beneath. A muscle in his jaw jumps and twitches, at odds with the visible, rhythmic throb of his jugular. He hisses through clenched teeth, his breaths agonal. Crowley’s demeanour screams of pain, a pain Aziraphale has gradually come to understand as the return of a memory. He perks up slightly in what he can only describe as morbid excitement, and the angel is sickened by his own giddiness and anticipation.

Crowley’s sunglasses slip down the bridge of his nose, and Aziraphale catches a glimpse of his eyes, haunted and wounded. What he sees there makes his chest twist and his ribs snap, but the angel is unsure if it is out of anxiety or hope. Petty optimism has been a plague on his house since Crowley’s return, but the hope has been distorted by something contrite, made grotesque by the pain that is tied to Crowley’s recovery.

Well, Crowley did always prefer one method of killing pain—when he didn’t just miracle it away.

Before Aziraphale even concludes his train of thought, Crowley has his fingers wrapped around the neck of a wine bottle, origins unknown. He is beelining for the sofa.

I suppose some things never change.

Aziraphale notes Crowley’s stiff posture, his shaking hands, his aversion to eye contact, his distant expression without a hint of cool façade. Crowley’s voice lacked the bitter seasoning of snark it had always been flavoured with. Aziraphale reaches for the bottle goodnaturedly. Crowley flinches with distrust. 

And some do.

The angel can only hope the action is born of some lingering skepticism within Crowley: a product of his misanthropy rather than direct animosity towards Aziraphale. It is painful to experience anyway, when Aziraphale had spent so many years winning Crowley’s trust. A rueful smile quirks his lips, and the toe of his slipper draws invisible, sweeping patterns on the floor. He preoccupies himself with the silly shapes as Crowley nurses his drink, waiting for the buzz to take effect with bated breath. 

The Lion King ,” Crowley shouts, effectively dismantling the silence. His exclamation is accompanied by a single self-congratulatory clap, an inward appreciation for his epiphany, which is as jarring in its arrival as it is in its departure. The noise is sonorous in the intimate space, like the crackle of a gunshot. It is deafeningly present, and then quickly snuffed from existence by the mundanities of background sounds. Crowley’s excitement is still present in the room, lingering through residual sound alone, but an oppressive silence threatens to ride the coattails of its echo. Aziraphale simply cannot stand another stretch of  breath in, breath out, listen to the bustle, listen to the irate honking of modern vehicles pray for Crowley to open his mouth to speak and not sip , so he improvises a conversation topic from the scrap the demon has given him.

He briefly wonders if Crowley recalls their time at the Globe. Crowley taps his fingers on the glass, the faint ringing keeping the silence at bay just a bit longer.

Aziraphale, sensing his time for contemplation wearing thin, blurts a half-witted inquiry about Crowley’s sudden interest in the movie. The demon sways once, the claret liquid in his glass sloshing dangerously at the brim, and mutters something about a best friend. His voice is laboured; he slurs more subdued consonants and hisses his S’s, the tone pitched warmer than Aziraphale’s heard it this entire debacle. With a soft hitching of breath, Aziraphale is warmed from the inside. The frost of his grief is melted ever so slightly by his friend’s proclamation: hope reignites in his chest with a vengeance.  

Crowley silently laments the loss of expertly punctured juice boxes with the wings folded up, bright gap-toothed smiles, and singing beasts.

“Any more movies like that one?”

Aziraphale’s face lights up as a plan formulates within his mind, ravelling itself in real-time. His eyes sparkle with a genius beyond measure. The angel lingers on the plosives with explosive excitement.

Mary Poppins!”

Aziraphale lurches toward his shelves in an ungainly scramble, his elbow catching the thing and sending its contents skittering to the floor. With a triumphant ‘ aha!’,  he retrieves the tape from the floor and miracles the mess back into tip-top shape. Spinning on his heels, he turns and pops the VHS into the player in an impulsive attempt to jog Crowley’s memory. Crowley lets out a bemused chortle before he shrugs and leans back, continuing to nurse his alcohol.  

As the bright colours begin to flash across the screen, Crowley is consumed by them. Aziraphale watches him intently, focused single-mindedly on Crowley. He rests his gaze fondly upon Crowley’s little smile, the lights flashing across his face like transparent fireworks. Aziraphale can’t help but be reminded of the church bombing, the bright red and orange light fizzling over the dark London sky. 

Crowley’s eyes illuminate like yellow lamps as Mary Poppins begins to sing ‘Stay Awake’, sparkling at the sight of the sweet, dozing children. His facade is completely dropped and shattered. Suddenly, Crowley clutches his heart, entirely scandalised and clutching at invisible pearls. 

“Where’s the kid.”

“The what?”

“Our— ‘the what,’  he says— Our bloody child, Azirafeel- Azur- angel.”

He struggles to find the word again but it feels right [2].

Aziraphale spits out his blessedly bourbon-free cocoa in shock. Disregarding Crowley’s stumbling over his name, Aziraphale is baffled, before his heart heats up with a forbidden joy. 

“We had a child, I’m certain,” Crowley reiterates.

“What is our child like, Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice trembles with a sweet hope.

“Brown hair, fuzzy little gremlin. Short."

The gentle singing of one of  Mary Poppins’ lullabies sifts through Azirapahle’s ears nearly unnoticed. His ears ring like alarm bells.

 

Go to sleep my darling boy, you will reign when Earth’s destroyed…”

 

The song quickly fades. Crowley’s lighter than he’s been since he woke up in that shoddy gas station bathroom. He looks to Aziraphale and repeats.

“Where is he?”

Aziraphale doesn’t hear him for a moment. It takes a bit for the words to pierce the barrier of ‘ his smile is so lovely ’.

“Oh- the...” Aziraphale’s voice crackles and mutes toward the end of the syllable. He must choose his next words extremely carefully, lest he ruin Crowley’s rehabilitation.

“Our child, yes.”

“He uh- right. Our child. You see, we- we were more. Godfathers.”

“... godfathers?”

“Yes?”

Aziraphale holds Crowley for a moment, by his face, rather self indulgently. The demon looks up at him with a completely new softness.

“We, us two-“ Crowley gestures sloppily between them, “How about that? We godfathered a little baby together.”

“Yes, my dear.” Endearments have a way of slipping out around him.

Crowley’s stiff posture begins to unravel. With a gentle sigh, he leans into Aziraphale’s palm, nearly careening to the side in his drunken stupor.

He lifts a hand to cup Aziraphales’, steadying himself. His fingers trace over a gold ring on Aziraphale’s pinkie finger [3], an imperceptible furrow folding his brow. The band is smooth and lightly cool to the touch, regardless of the warm body it adorns. The gentle, accidental drag of his finger opens an electrified current, a shock of emotion zinging up his arm straight through his chest. Years of worrying and fidgeting have embedded the accessory with palpable affectations of the Crowley variety, laced with the faintest undercurrent of acrid anxiety. Love, true but afraid, continues to prickle throughout Crowley’s body. He gasps quietly, rolling the little ring around with a single digit. 

Oh ,” Crowley utters, his voice hitching in awe.

Aziraphale is thoroughly perplexed.

“We–  oh . That explains...yeah, alright. Yeah. Cleared that right up.”

“What, Crowley?” The angel asks, placing maximum effort in attempting to discern what exactly it is Crowley is referencing.

Crowley huffs in frustration and clumsily grabs at Aziraphale’s other hand, pressing it to his chest.

“All that...stuff,” The demon says inelegantly. His fingers hover between Aziraphale’s, covering but not entwining. They twitch in consideration for a moment, his thumb pressed to the pulse of the ring. The current of love flows steadily through him, euphoric in a way he’s never experienced [4].

Crowley watches Aziraphale as he studies him. The angel’s gaze is soft and full of the same love he can feel in the gold pressed against his skin. Crowley feels drawn to him in a way that he assumes Aziraphale has been missing sorely if what he suspects is correct. Crowley leans in imperceptibly, testing the waters, and the angel does not flinch away. His fingers squeeze around Crowley’s reassuringly. 

Crowley leans forward in drunken grace, but he misses horribly. The angel turns board stiff—it is important to note that this was out of shock and not unhappiness—as Crowley’s lips make contact with Aziraphale’s nose and cheek rather than his mouth.

Soon after, Crowley projectile-vomits onto Aziraphale’s antique rug and collapses on the floor, never having learned how to sober himself. Perhaps he is too drunk to remember how. Sleep clobbers him brutally with an old, teethed cudgel. A faint, hissing snore escapes Crowley’s mouth even before his head slumps against the legs of the sofa.

Aziraphale finally allows himself to breathe again, his face a dull pink, as he lays back in his chair.

Crowley had assumed they were married! No wonder he kept looking at the ring, you foolish angel.

It shook Aziraphale to his very core, mostly because some part of him wished it were true, that he could simply tell Crowley it were true.

The first place Aziraphale’s eyes go to is the boots, the godforsaken boots.

His tender feelings matter not. They’re wrenched from him abruptly, his chest going frightfully icy. Barren.

The boots.

He narrows his eyes, focusing only on the monstrosities. Aziraphale manoeuvres carefully, ensuring not to wake the demon, and begins to remove them from Crowley’s feet with a steady hand. Crowley’s hissing fills the room with a constant, low-grade noise.

Aziraphale tries desperately to prevent his thoughts from straying too far into idealization as he enacts a quickly forming Plan B. He fails, and they creep in like shadows in the evening light of the setting sun. 

If he were Crowley’s husband, if they were parents, like Crowley had asked, he’d do this regularly. He’d take a drunk Crowley and remove his shoes as gently as he could, savouring every second of Crowley’s thinly-veiled gratitude. He would give Crowley’s feet a little massage, his hand a little kiss, as if he were tending to an elegant prince. Aziraphale would carry him to the flat above the bookshop and tuck him into bed. A mere formality for celestial beings, but Crowley would love to be held— Oh no.

Focus on the boots, Aziraphale. For there true evil resides. 

Aziraphale steels himself, releasing a great sigh. His fingers flex in preparation for the greatest magic act of his amateur career: making the hideous boots disappear. The sofa creaks and a rustling of fabric brings Aziraphale’s attention upward. The demon is shifting restlessly in his sleep, his hissed breaths interrupted by the occasional snort. His muscles twitch and jump, and his lips curl around soundless curses. A sluggish kick narrowly avoids Aziraphale’s stomach, missing its mark only by way of a minor miracle and rotten form. The boots cling to his feet, disregarding gravity and all other natural laws in favour of wobbling precariously at the tips of their master’s toes. Their scales glint in the light, taunting, jeering. Aziraphale would certainly give them a stern talking to for their abominable behaviour had his intent not been arson. A booming clack breaks his concentration as Crowley brings his heels together.

Make that especially violent arson.

The angel would find himself in a moral crisis ordinarily, but playing judge jury and executioner worried him not. Their guilt, their evil is incontestable. With a mighty tug and a whispered prayer, the boots come tumbling off. 

Aziraphale gasps. Joy and triumph surge through him; he barely manages to suppress a cheer. His heart pounds as he lifts them, pinching the atrocities between his thumb and forefinger. A shudder runs through him, icy tendrils of low-grade evil pulsing from the point of contact. With a battle cry rivalling a diving hawk, he flings them into the fire.

Aziraphale watches them smoulder and crumple in the heat. The red glow reflects in his irises: suggestive of a fall he never had.

Crowley makes it seem so easy. And truly, he can see the boots for what they are: boots. 

But Aziraphale can also see how they are more.

Crowley can throw the insignificant out of the way and simply be; he was not afraid of change: he welcomed it. Crowley makes it seem so  easy:  to simply reject what was given to him from his memory’s conception, foolish as it might be to do so. He makes it seem so easy to be free and unashamed. To not be caught up in the technicalities of existence. 

Aziraphale glances at the boots. They are ash.

Perhaps I should take a page from Crowley’s book.

The angel looks at Crowley with love, falling all over again for a demon who wasn’t afraid to be bold when it mattered. 

 


 

1: He had long thought it one of his finest lustful temptations. All things considered, he did enjoy watching Michelangelo sweat and shake slightly as he chipped away at the stone down there. Crowley did not wish to partake—he never did, really, and often forgot to manifest anything there—but it amused him nonetheless.

2: He succeeds in targeting a specific memory but is unaware of its true meaning. Fool. Crowley once asked him how someone as smart as him could be so stupid. Right on the nose, truly.

3: Crowley has forgotten that wedding bands traditionally go on the fourth finger, but no matter. He has forgotten many things.

4: This was true, but nearly not so. Crowley had a rather self-destructive cocaine binge in the ‘70s, after a particularly nasty row with Aziraphale. The demon had simply wanted to feel good again and forget everything. His wish came true 50 years too late.

Chapter Text

Demons relish in pain. This is no surprise to the masses, but the extent to which they enjoy it can be shocking to discover, particularly after one dies and begins to suffer at their mercy. Pain invokes an unparalleled endorphin rush within the fallen. Put simply: torture gets them off. Seeing others writhing in agony is comparable to a cocaine high in their minds. The reaction is most likely resultant of a coping mechanism developed from the fall, a give and take of pain. The gentle plip plip of bloody droplets on the derelict concrete and slap of the occasional severed phalange serve as wonderous stimulants: akin to the first sip of coffee in the morning, or petting a beloved dog after a long day at work. Toes are tapped, albeit offbeat, to the absonant screams of the Chorus of the Damned (the most popular booking for Hellish weddings, in which divorcées are forced to rejoin in unholy matrimony for all of eternity).

In summation, pain is Hell’s most treasured commodity. It is a currency sought after with greed and adored by all. Except for Crowley.

Crowley’s mind isn’t wired as most demons’ are. Rather than lighting up his circuit board, a gruesome display can leave Crowley shut down for 2-200 business days [1]. Pain makes him grievously ill: the kind of wretched sickness that not even a few bottles of good booze can wash away [2]. It’s led him to cultivate a very specific style of evil, diluted so finely that one may hesitate to even refer to it by such a name.

Crowley practices what can be considered as, for lack of a better word, softcore evil. Glueing loose change to busy street corners, aggravating traffic, downing phone lines: they produce a simmering irritation rather than a boiling agony. Mild inconveniences suit him just fine, and the lines blur so easily that Crowley’s little temptations towards wrath can pass as something far more dastardly to Head Office.

At least, the fully functional Crowley operates this way. Even as a shadow of himself, Crowley still retains a residual aversion to pain, but to none more so than Aziraphale’s.

Every time the angel winces, every time he looks away when Crowley makes a certain kind of comment, Crowley can’t help but console him and rejuvenate that innocent happiness in Aziraphale’s eyes.

But Crowley never noticed the twinge of guilt that lurked underneath that joy.

 


 

1: See: the Spanish Inquisition

2: Ibid.

 


 
LET THERE BE LIGHT.

The glow of dawn radiates across Soho, warm and soft. It is God’s special blessing over creation to remind them that even after the darkest nights, good remains; it returns. SHE washes the mirrored glass windows with pinks and oranges. SHE paints the puddles with washes of yellow. Browning leaves on trees, beginning to wither and go dormant, are haloed by the morning glow. The light touches everything, wraps its fingers around all manners of metal and plaster; sun bleaches the leather and cloth covers of vintage books stored carelessly by glass windows.

The light fails to permeate the windows of a certain bookshop. The glass is clouded, made opaque by dust, protecting Aziraphale’s most treasured volumes. As dawn goes down to day, the yellow turns to an ephemeral gold. It transforms stacks of books and loose papers into illuminated manuscripts, the fractals of dust in the air into flecks of silver. It turns the fake bronze of Crowley’s forgotten aviators into red hot liquid metal, melting where they had been folded on the table. Aziraphale had laid him down for a good sleep, a priceless moment of solace and rest between them. But only so an hour; Eden sinks to grief when the gold fades. After all, nothing gold can stay: this precious moment of peace and love between two unlikely lovers, too, will fade.

The blinding sun of late morning pours into every crevice it can reach. Light pours in a thin rectangle over Crowley’s eyelids. When he opens them, his pupils constrict in snakelike avulsion around invisibly prey. An angered hiss pushes through his teeth, lisped and rattling. The gold of Crowley’s irises nearly conquers the black, save for a small stronghold, a thin line in the centre. He curses the Almighty and all the angels in heaven.

“Oh fuck, oh shit, it’s bloody bright.”

But the light cannot compete with Aziraphale’s heavenly radiance, and his pupils dilate at the sight of the angel. Black washes back over in an uncontrollable tidal wave of affection, parting the golden sea, opening the doors to Crowley’s carefully hidden secrets.

Crowley croaks out a sound much more befitting of an unoiled door than a man-shaped being. He glances over at Aziraphale, sleepless against the sofa.

Cute.

The demon squints and leans over on autopilot, planting a tender kiss on his neck. He struggles back onto his side and presses his face into the pillow. With his cheek contorted and obscuring his mouth, Crowley manages a barely intelligible “good morning, darling”. It crackles warmly, like the last embers of a lovingly tended fire.

Aziraphale is left surprised by the feeling of Crowley’s chilly lips on his skin. At least, until he remembers that the prior evening had gleaned Crowley both a new memory and husband. However pleasant the thought was, however pleasant and gentle the kiss had been, Aziraphale remains stiff.

The angel begins to splinter under the weight of his conscience. His silence had paved the way for an obscenely black lie by omission. His stomach simmers with a guilty warmth while his spine prickles in horror. All he wants is to be free. To be in control.

Bugger all!

What he’d give to be relaxing with a cup of tea in some semblance of normality. Aziraphale prayed he would find peace and quiet amidst the air raid in his conscience, not at all unlike his encounter with Crowley in 1941, and dodge a few bullets. The angel is trapped in a dilemma of his own making, one that he’d been unwittingly crafting for months now: it would take a miracle to escape this one unscathed.

Oh dear, I’m thinking in metaphors. I’ve been ruined, he thought ruefully.

Demons could love; he’d been foolish to assert otherwise. And where had it gotten him? It was all too obvious, but Aziraphale couldn’t help but wonder.

Would Crowley ever be like this with his memory intact? 

The demon shifts on the sofa with a grunt. A Crowley-shaped groove, imprinted on the sofa cushions, puffs up in muted protest. He smacks his lips, the sour taste of morning clinging to the roof of his mouth like a bad memory. Stale alcohol settles in the crevices, adhering to his taste buds with a cruel precision. His temples are played like a drum at the hands of his hangover; piercing white throbs make thought impossible. With a wrinkle of his nose and an indignant huff, Crowley reaches out to his angel, pleading for a miracle. Something, anything.

At least, he attempts.

His fingertips twitch valiantly at his efforts, but the arm disobeys his commands. It falls lifelessly on his face with a dull slap after its strings are snipped. Crowley stares at it, appalled by its flagrant disrespect for its master. With his cooperative hand, he gingerly picks up the limp arm. Without preamble, he forcibly jerks it around, cursing under his breath when pins and needles jolt to life beneath his skin.

“Bloody incompetent human bodies. Stupid, asinine limbs. Don’t even need ‘em. Fine without ‘em.”

He sneers, his lip curled just so as he whacks his sleeping arm to and fro.

Aziraphale just about melts at the sight. A pang of familiar guilt wells up his throat and settles there, and he turns away to the kitchen before it can suffocate him.

To the lovely, rhythmic underscore of Crowley’s arm-revival efforts, Aziraphale begins to make tea. The muffled thumping Crowley’s been nodding to is broken by a sharp crack of skin on skin and an outraged, threatening “Do you know who I am?!” His voice lowers. “Because I don’t.”

Aziraphale’s breath stutters, interrupted by a pesky-but-mild concern. After a tense moment, he chuckles to himself and returns to his open tea box. He has long since learned to ignore plights such as these. They would resolve themselves eventually. And besides, there was something comfortingly human about it. Crowley wasn’t some far off, incomprehensible supernatural being: he was right there in his mundane parlour, flopping about like a seal on a slippery rock attempting to find footing. It brought a certain warmth to his heart, a gentle flutter to his chest. Aziraphale smiled in spite of it all and continued along with the small pot he intended to make for himself.

There’s a brief golden silence, before Crowley croons, “Coffee?”

“What?” Aziraphale sighs, thumbing over the tea tag held between his diligent fingers. His tongue darts out to wet his lips, and he debates whether or not to indulge the demon with an immediate answer. After all, he’d just been reading the loveliest message about seizing the day when Crowley’s whining had pulled him away. Aziraphale looks down. A cartoon-esque frowning face has replaced the little beacon of positivity on the tag.

“Oh, Crowley, really? That’s very immature.”

He’s met with a groan of frustration and the sweeping sound of pillows being rearranged. The sad little tag dissolves before his very eyes.

Coffee,” the demon whines, like the absolute terror he is.

“Dear, surely you can make your own coffee.”

“Angel, I’m incapacitated. My arm is gone.”

Aziraphale huffs. “Oh, don’t be a silly. You slept on it wrong, that’s all.”

Crowley sighs dramatically. He places his dead hand across his forehead with his live one, mimicking a Victorian damsel [1].

“Oh!” he cries, air rushing out in a plaintive shriek, a desperate cry for caffeine, “if you truly love me, husband mine, you’ll get me some blasted coffee.” His character slips a bit at the end, gravel sneaking into his tone. “Head’s gonna...gonna explode.” He mimics the noise with a gutteral exhalation of air and spittle through pursed lips.

Love...husband...

Aziraphale drops the tea cup he had been cradling only moments earlier, shards of china littering the kitchen floor. Loose, wet tea leaves soak into a book of loose leaf poetry scattered across the kitchen floor, but he can’t even bring himself to care. Wrongness creeps up from the spill. It wraps its fingers around his neck and raises goosebumps along his spine.

Aziraphale walks back to the sofa with shaky legs, crunching over the shards of porcelain and choking on the words in his mouth. His adam’s apple bobs with his attempts to swallow air. The principality settles down at Crowley’s side, small.

Crowley plays the part of a worried husband, because he really has grown attached to the snobbish little angel. He cups Aziraphale’s cheek, recalling the angel’s tender hand on his own cheek. He murmurs quietly in his ear, “breathe.”

Crowley may not love him, not properly, but he’s grown fond enough of him over their shared time together. It was easy enough to tell he had before, seeing as Aziraphale was so giddy to restore Crowley’s memory, and Crowley felt so vulnerable around him. The rhythm of it seemed to come naturally. And anyway, the angel was kind to him, though a bit tediously so at times. He felt more at home here with this holy bastard than he did in his brief stint in Hell, that much he knew. It’d be a shame to hurt him.

“Don’t die on me, angel. Or whatever our lot does.” Crowley leans his forehead on Aziraphale’s, not knowing why. “Would be a mess, I bet.”

Our.

Sounds and images flash unbidden through Aziraphale’s mind. Iron-wrought supports climb upward from a hexagonal base, curling and flourishing at the top as vines would, adorned with a glass roof that reaches toward the heavens. He sees himself there, sees his far too hasty anger blooming and the false words tripping along his tongue. There is no our side, he’d said then. Everything dissolves as the image of Crowley retreats.

A chilling breeze cuts straight to his chest, and another scene soon follows. He sees the fine tremors wracking his frame. A face, cherubic in nature yet aged beyond his own years, manifests in a flash of holy light. The Metatron’s voice booms in his ears, a congratulatory message that makes his skull rattle and his ears pop. The stinging pain in his ribcage is nearly unbearable.

If only you knew. Oh, Crowley, there are so many things you don’t know.

Crowley then sinks into Aziraphale’s lap, placing his head dramatically on his angel’s legs. Good thing too: just then a silent tear dribbles down Aziraphale’s face, and then another. Pillowed on his lap, Crowley looks as sweet as a demon can. His face is devoid of rigidity and tension. A soft smile graces his lips. With a great yawn—he had been denied his coffee, after all—Crowley resettles himself, pressing his cheek comfortably into the curve of one of Aziraphale’s thighs. The demon’s lithe fingers trace curling patterns into the fabric, his nails never catching in the angel’s trousers [2].

Crowley is completely obvious to the rainstorm above him; Aziraphale is overly cautious in staying quiet and wiping every tear away before it reaches Crowley’s peaceful form on his lap. He can’t bear to ruin the perfectly smooth and beautifully freckled skin on Crowley’s cheek. It’s the longest he’s seen the demon without his trademark sunglasses—the angel is starting to worry Crowley may have forgotten about them entirely. The last thing Aziraphale wants is to tarnish this fleeting, golden moment of vulnerability. Despite Aziraphale’s best efforts, a tear slides down his cheek and lands squarely on Crowley’s nose.

Crowley flinches in surprise. “Angel? Has the shop sprung a leak?” He peers up at the ceiling, studying it. “Place as old as this, must do.” He looks over to Aziraphale before the angel can miracle away the moisture.

“Oh.”

Crowley’s voice evaporates from his throat, betraying him.

You’ve got the leak, haven’t you?”

Aziraphale stares blankly. Crowley ‘tsk’s, moving to wipe the tears away. That is the husband-ly thing to do, after all. “Things old as us must. We all get leaks. Marriages as old as ours must have cracks.”

Aziraphale flickers away at Crowley’s gentle rub on his cheeks. The demon’s voice softens beyond expression. “Everybody has ‘em, angel. There’s no need to hide ours away.”

The angel recoils. Crowley’s expression becomes unreadable and he slithers off of Aziraphale’s lap. In that moment, Aziraphale’s compunction hurtles towards undeniability: the worst punishment for sin was the feeling of being eaten alive from the inside out. As his stomach drops to the floor of the bookshop, Aziraphale wonders if sushi will ever sound good again.

“Well, Crowley, I believe- I- Well, I might’ve led you astray.”

Crowley looks at him to prompt further elaboration. He brushes a thumb over the swell of Aziraphale’s cheek. “Don’t tell me you’re not an angel. That would really be one heaven of a downer. Just be awful. Have to find a new clever nickname.”

Aziraphale sighs shakily and takes Crowley’s hand in his, pulling it away from his face. It hurts, but Aziraphale isn’t sure who it hurts more. Crowley’s smile drops a bit. When Crowley’s fingers twitch to worry his ring, Aziraphale flinches his hand away.

“Oh dear.”
“Yes?”
“No. no that wasn’t…”
Angel?

Crowley chokes on his words.

“Crowley, I’m sorry. It seems I’ve just taken a rotten situation and made it worse.”

“...What.” Crowley blinks slowly, his pupils turning slit small, locking all of his feelings in the heavily-guarded cell deep within. Aziraphale would have mistaken him for a lion basking in the sun if he were not acutely aware of Crowley’s inner turmoil. The demon was coping, to be truthful, as hard as he tried to hide it [3].

“I’ve...I’ve been incredibly deceitful. We’re not married. We never had children, only watched over one. Very separately.” Aziraphale fidgets with Crowley’s hand; it was a distraction, not a pleasure.

For a moment, Crowley makes no move. He stares with belying, cold apathy. All too suddenly, the golden glow in his eyes gives way to hard ice; every twinkle of congeniality fades.

Aziraphale had become blissfully unaccommodated to the sight of Crowley’s callousness in the time since he’d gone and lost his memory [4]. Seeing Crowley’s defenses snap back into place, rigid and inexorable as usual, leaves a wretched taste in the back of Aziraphale’s tongue. It serves as a fetid cherry atop the intolerable slop of a sunday he’s concocted for himself.

Please, Crowley, do something. Say anything.

“No...No, you’re wrong. We—”

Crowley illuminates with a rare ray of hope. Aziraphale knew the demon never allowed himself to depart from a healthy skepticism; at least, not after his fall, no matter how much he wanted the world to be kinder in its punishments. He had learned his lesson. And now he had forgotten.

Crowley’s eyes, for all the anticipatory joy reflected in them, are grim. They are glassy, filmed over with wanting. The curtain is too sheer to mask an underlying emptiness.

“I walked down the aisle for you. Hurt like—well, hell, I suppose.” His voice cracks dejectedly.

Crowley massages his temples and hisses out a breath. His eyes slam shut as a white heat fogs over him, and he reaches further and further through the burning waves, deep into the ocean of his consciousness. His lungs issue a despairing cris de coeur but he stays. He grasps at the sand strewn across the seafloor, and bleary images surface.

 

A fount of holy water sat unguarded. It taunts from in the corner. The scent of burning. Burning! Burning, yet so different from hell fire. Blistered feet. A conglomeration of people at the altar. There he is. The angel. Indignant. Astonished. Underneath, he is pleased. Pleased to see him. A warmth in his heart, in spite of the pain. Love. It was all for love. It always would be.

 

“You’re certain we weren’t involved?”

He winces, clutching at his temples again, uttering a soft “fuck”. He looks to Aziraphale with a befuddled expression. “You’re certain?”

Aziraphale almost breaks. This is a new kind of temptation.

“I find it hard to believe that I'd become so-eh-verklempt, if not,” Crowley manages, his throat constricting painfully around the words. Aziraphale startles.

Verklempt? Lord, where did he learn that one? [5]

“Crowley,” he starts, but no thought follows. In his immense wealth of knowledge there is no solution to this predicament. He’s backed himself into a corner, into a liminal space without exit. Yet he’s managed to construct one: crafted the frame with his deceitful words, unlocked it with all the grace of his illusory actions. He could take the exit, he supposes. The door creaks open a hair, and he entertains the possibility. He could step out of this purgatory and bask in the warm glow of Crowley’s love, entwine their fingers and their bodies, talk and talk and talk as if not a thing in the world could touch them. The fine white hairs on Aziraphale’s arms stand on end. He looks upon his exit, the door groaning on its hinges. How easy it would be to step through, to accept the opportunity before him and succumb to an unscrupulous but blissful future. 

But all under false pretenses. It would be sin. Worse, it would be cruel.

He slams the door shut.

The door before him is, indeed, an exit. It is an escape: a coward’s fire escape that leads only upwards, with no refuge from the blaze in sight. The heat would lick at his heels always, golden and unforgiving. Climb as he might, it is inevitable that the flames will consume him, and that combustion will be far more painful.

Aziraphale elects to stay, and he traps Crowley there with him, electing to prolong both their torture. Demons rarely need to break a sweat: the real torture of Hell is other people.

“I’m certain.”

Crowley turns abruptly. He rescinds his palm from Aziraphale’s and smacks it against the wooden table with a franticness the angel hasn’t witnessed in eons. His hand swipes across the surface violently.

“Where are my bloody glasses?” A bitter hurt in his voice cuts through his franticness and Aziraphale’s nerve.

Aziraphale steps away delicately. “C-crowley, there’s no really need—”

“I’m just hungover, that's it, light, my— oh it must be the snake in me, hm?”

Aziraphale collects himself at the misconstrusion, eagre to assert truth. “Snakes aren't nocturnal, Crowley.”

The tension seeps from Crowley’s body a bit once the shades are on.

“Well, this one is.”

Crowley’s shoulders curl in slightly as he exhales. He looks like a toddler playing dress up in his mother’s clothes.

“Right. Well, figures we’re not married.”

The silence is vexatious.

“Divorced? Separated?”

A scorching knife twists into the back of his neck, the heat radiating up his spine like a thousand spiders skittering up to nest in his hair. Unwelcome, oversaturated, and overcolorized, a rush of memories possesses Crowley. They buzz and spin like migraine auras. Crowley’s eyes slam shut, invisible behind his protective sunglasses, as the nightmarish visions swirl around and consume him.

 

“I am not bring you a suicide pill, Crowley!”

“I can give you a lift. Anywhere you want to go.” Crowley leaned over and pouted slightly, meeting Aziraphale’s eyes as the angel turned away. “You go too fast for me, Crowley.”

“We are an angel and a demon. We have nothing whatsoever in common. I don’t even like you.” Crowley said something in return, ut it was all a bit blurry. “There isn’t an our side, Crowley. Not anymore. Its over.”

“I’m going home, angel. I’m getting my stuff. And I’m leaving. And when I’m off in the stars, I won’t even think about you!”

 

Crowley shivers with a deep understanding of what he has just witnessed. It is enough to bring tears. Everything goes blurry.

“My mistake or yours?” he coughs out through bitter laughs. “Oh, I’m sure it was me. Demon, and all. It’s in my nature.” Every word is another dagger in Aziraphale’s heart.

“It was always me, Crowley. Always. I can assure you.”

I love you, Crowley.

Crowley doesn’t hear him. He sighs, “After all, you’re a great deal holier than me. You don’t even like me.”

Aziraphale’s body is flooded by a sharp, electrical current. It crackles mercilessly in his throat, and hums dangerously around his fast-beating heart. Numbly, he realizes his face is damp, and he lifts his fingers to his face to do something: to hide himself, to collect himself, to contest himself. His hands linger uselessly, suspended in their uncertainty. The metrical plip plip of his tears are muffled as they hit his shirt collar, yet the sound rings in his ears. A keen pain makes itself known in his chest. The dull ache that’s found its home there the past few months sharpens into something much more acute.

He levels the angel with an accusatory nod and turns away. “Isn’t that right?”

Aziraphale’s eyes widen in grief-stricken horror. “How could you say such a thing!?”

“I’m quoting, Aziraphale.” For the first time, he doesn’t stumble.

Aziraphale braces himself against the table as The Flood washes over him, the weight of innocent blood. Crowley was far from innocent in Heaven’s eyes, but not to this angel.

What had Crowley done? Damn original sin. He remembered nothing, how could he be held to it?

He had taken advantage, stripped Crowley of his choice in the matter. And all Crowley did, even now, was blame himself.

Aziraphale knew it was blasphemous to presume to know more than THE CREATOR HERSELF, for SHE was wiser than he. But the angel could not help but ask. It was the same mistake Crowley had made, before his tragic fall.

A small sliver of Aziraphale’s holiness eternally dissipates from his being.

“I’m leaving, angel.”

Crowley brushes past Aziraphale with a harsh shove, snapping the shop doors open, stepping out into the rain.

Aziraphale carries the horrifically selfish hope that maybe, just maybe, while Crowley takes his leave, he will finally remember.

 


  

1: Crowley was once trained in the art of Victorian melodrama, but since he had participated in Restoration works, a bit of the outrageous style had crept into his performance.

2: Crowley employed an unintentional minor demonic miracle here. His nails were simply too long and too sharp.

3: Which was not very well. He needed more practice.

4: Even in the sanctuary of his own thoughts, Aziraphale refuses to refer to the incident as anything more than a mild impediment, a bump in the road.

5: The colloquialisms of the South tend to stick to a person. Like two white cousins in the same geographical area.