It was a dark and stormy night.
The weather was in a sour mood, sending down vicious strikes of lightning amid the torrential downpour of rain. Dark clouds rumbled far above.
A demon tore through the woods. Sticks crunched and branches snapped as he flung out his hand, invisible forces bending back the shrubbery so he could run through, then snapping closed behind him in thicker bunches than before. His wings were drenched and plastered against his back, slick and ebony in the darkness. Slitted yellow eyes gleamed whenever a flashlight fell upon him.
The thought of flying flashed through his head, but he wouldn't be able to flap his wings if he was soaked. The trees offered miniscule shelter from the buckets of rain hammering into him. He was drenched to his very core, the chill seeping into his bones and numbing him all over.
He didn't feel it when a branch of thorns sliced open his upper arm. Dark blood oozed from the wound.
Someone hollered in the distance.
He picked up the pace.
Gathering his wings close to himself, he took a sharp left and lunged into a sprint, focusing on the white beams in his peripheral vision. His pupils thinned and dilated, adjusting to the shifts in light. His feet ached.
"Southward!" a rough voice shouted, much too close for comfort.
Cupping his hand over the stitch in his side, he tripped over a root system and smacked into the ground, hard. A horrible crunch sound was accompanied by an explosion of pain, his sight blacking out for a moment as his broken wrist pressed painfully into the muddy earth. He groaned and pulled his knees under himself.
I have to move, he thought wildly.
Safety wasn't yet within his grasp.
With a sharp exhale, he grabbed a wet tree limb and hauled himself up, shivering. He cradled his injured wrist and staggered onwards.
The voices were growing louder. He was quickly exhausting his energy, but he couldn't stop now. His teeth ground together as he forced himself to jog, weaving through the labyrinth of dark trees in his path.
A brilliant stream of light starkly illuminated him.
"Here!" somebody cried out, the snapping of branches louder and faster.
He snarled and waved his hand.
The flashlight sparked and popped, the bulb shattering and dousing the person's feet in hot glass.
Renewed vigor coursing through him, he tore past leaf-laden boughs and bolted for the treeline, rain falling into his eyes and distorting his vision. His wings dragged in the mud, catching every stick they passed over. A soft buzz rattled above him. Hope coiled in his chest. Friends.
A demon dropped down from the trees.
She was small and thin, her hair a ratty mess and a pair of glittering translucent wings tucked firmly against her back. She, too, was dripping wet.
Her name was Beelzebub, and she was going to get him out of this mess.
"Come on, Crowley," she growled. She spun on her heel and vanished into the woods, Crowley in pursuit, dreading what would happen if she disappeared from his line of sight. Her voice carried despite the howling winds. "Hastur and Ligur are up ahead. Dagon's watching us. We need to be smart about this."
"Where can we go?" Crowley gasped out, every muscle in his body burning from exertion. "We're surrounded."
"Normally I'd say 'up', but obviously that's out of the question."
In confirmation, the sky boomed with thunder.
Beelzebub slipped beneath a tree limb. Crowley ducked after her. She paused only for a brief moment to tap Crowley's wrist, healing the broken bone with a whisper of demonic magic. Then she turned back around without letting him thank her.
They hovered in the shadows of the treeline. Vast, rolling hills spread out before them, shrouded by curtains of streaming rain. In the far distance, barely visible, was a cliffside.
This was freedom.
He could almost taste it.
Beelzebub went completely still. Her shoulders tensed. Carefully, keeping frozen in place, she said, "where are Hastur and Ligur?"
Silence. Rain pattered around them.
"Wait," Crowley said quietly, leaning close to open fields. "Is that them?"
Two figures were standing on the opposite end. One of them raised a hand, as if in greeting.
"It's a trap," Beelzebub hissed, but she was too late.
Something sharp struck Crowley between the shoulderblades, sending him pinwheeling forward into the grass. Beelzebub dodged the first knife, throwing herself to the ground, but when she tried to grab Crowley, a second needle-thin weapon came sailing out of the darkness and buried itself in her leg. Firey pain crawled over Crowley's skin, radiating from where the knife was sticking out of him.
A rough hand yanked the knife out and Crowley let out a shout, writhing in the dirt, until someone pressed their knee into his lower back, pinning him. His fingers clawed vainly at the grass.
"Stop wriggling," a hunter snapped at him. Coarse ropes tied his hands behind his back and a gag was shoved into his mouth, muffling his cries for help. A warm, prickling feeling spread over the wound between his shoulders, banishing the pain. Frantic desperation took hold of him as the hunter began to haul him to his feet; he lashed out with his heel, catching the hunter in the stomach and temporarily freeing himself.
He staggered a few feet with his hands tied before breaking the ropes and making a dash for it, tearing the gag from his mouth with a disgusted grunt.
God, his escape was so close. If he could get to the cliff, he was safe.
Behind him, Beelzebub screamed.
He skidded to a halt.
You're a coward, his mind said. Keep going.
She saved your life! another part of his mind argued.
Deciding in a split second, Crowley whirled around and ran back towards the hunters, who met him halfway. They were angels; their wings practically glowed in the darkness. He launched himself at the first one and tackled them to the ground, bashing their head as hard as he could into the ground. The angel groaned, dazed.
"Hastur!" he shouted. "Ligur! I could use some backup!"
As soon as he called out, the two demons appeared from the downpour. They looked haggard and wet, and both were breathing heavily.
"Dagon's on her way," Ligur said hurriedly.
Crowley nodded and took off for the edge of the clearing, where Beelzebub was struggling in the mud with an angel. She unsheathed her impressive set of claws and buried them in the angel's throat. They gurgled and choked and went still.
"I see you had it handled," Crowley said.
"Fuck off," Beelzebub spat. She slumped down, the knife still stuck in her leg. Hastur lowered himself beside her and yanked out the knife in one swift motion, sealing over the wound.
"There's more coming," Hastur told them, helping Beelzebub to her feet. "We need to move."
"Not without Dagon."
"She's holding us up," Crowley said. He shifted from foot to foot, his wrists still burning from the ropes. Right after he spoke, twin beams of light spilled into the clearing, blinding them. A high pitched ringing caused the gathered demons to double over.
"Got 'em," someone announced triumphantly, but Crowley couldn't see from the sensory overload, clutching his head and squeezing his eyes shut. He dimly registered being forced to his knees, his hands tied once more and the gag unceremoniously stuffed back in his mouth. This time, however, the hunter also bound his wings, tying them uncomfortably tight to prevent flight.
As if he could even fly in this weather.
The searing light dimmed and died, leaving them in darkness once more. Hastur and Ligur were viciously fighting their captors, attempting to maim or injure with every body part they could. Beelzebub was sprawled out on the ground, unconscious. Crowley tipped back and tried to surprise the hunter who was securing him, but only received a sharp blow to the skull as a reward. His vision blurred.
"Feisty things, eh?" one of the hunters remarked, kicking Hastur in the back of the head. Hastur swayed on his knees, blinking. "Glad we caught these buggers before they hit the cliff. We'd never catch 'em in this gale."
"Five in one day, what a haul!"
Five? Crowley thought dazedly.
They got Dagon.
"Well, better bring 'em in."
The hunter holding Crowley started to lift him up, when Crowley got enough of his wits together to feel the panic fluttering inside his chest. He threw his head back, smashing the nose of the hunter, then tripped forward and made one last-ditch effort to get away.
Pain erupted in his temple from the rough blow. He toppled over but was forced to stay standing from the unrelenting grip on his wrists, the ropes digging grooves into his skin.
"Little bitch," the hunter snarled in his ear, blood streaming from his nose.
Crowley's world went black.
*jazz hands* new idea!
I'm going to tell you all right now, this gets really dark. But it's been rattling around in my head for days and if I don't write it I may never sleep again. Reference the tags for possible trigger warnings.
An introduction to the world of angels, and a first meeting.
Two months later...
Large, cream-colored banners were strung up all around the city square, tied to balconies and niches, all printed in bold letters and proudly displaying the words, Auction Day.
The banners were a redundant visual, simply because there was no one in the city who was ignorant of Auction Day.
Aziraphale was not ignorant. He willfully did not participate. This was his first year of attending the auction, and it wasn't by choice.
Angels bustled back and forth down the narrow alleyway, and although it was nearly impossible to avoid bumping into others, most of them gave Aziraphale a wide berth. This wasn't due to his appearance, or his wings, which were a neat white color and were the same amount of messy as the general population.
No, the crowd steered clear of him due to his company.
An Archangel walked beside him.
Soft lilac scarves, immaculate cuffed sleeves, and a muted color scheme that did not retract from his alluring aura. His wings glinted a steely grey under the cloudy sky, the faint purple tips nearly indistinguishable from the rest. He wasn't smiling, but his eyes shone with excitement regardless.
"Small turnout," Gabriel remarked, raising his gaze to the rooftops. One angel squeaked and vanished into her home upon seeing him.
The turnout was less than impressive, Aziraphale admitted to himself. From all of Gabriel's praise, he had expected the event to be flashy and clogged with angels. So far, they had encountered little traffic and a rather underwhelming set of decorations.
"Must be less demons this month," Gabriel continued. He never monitored his volume, though Aziraphale had shushed him several times on the way.
"It appears so," Aziraphale said.
They entered the square together. The shops and markets that usually occupied the space were missing, replaced with a raised platform and six iron stakes pounded into the wood. The stakes gleamed jet black. Aziraphale frowned a bit. Angels milled around, chatting quietly and taking their places near the platform.
Honestly, Aziraphale didn't know what to expect.
It seemed to be a relatively informal affair. There was no dress code, that was obvious, and the only law enforcement around were the Powers. They stood at each end of the platform and at each exit. Their presence was comforting; he knew they were only protecting the gathered angels.
"Ah, it's been so long," Gabriel said, rubbing his hands together. He gestured to a makeshift bench, and they sat down. "I admit, the house has been a tad lonely since my last demon had that... Accident."
"Yes. The Accident."
Their circle originally referred to it as 'The Tragedy' and then 'The Incident' until they finally settled on a nice, neutral 'The Accident'. They didn't speak about the Accident in explicit details. Behind closed doors, and all that.
It also tended to upset Gabriel.
"I can't wait to have a new one," Gabriel said. He laced his fingers in his lap calmly, though his tapping foot betrayed his nervousness.
"It will be fine," Aziraphale soothed. "You did all you could for the last one."
"I know that. I just hope this one will appreciate my efforts."
Aziraphale uncrossed his legs. He had a vague idea of how Auction Day worked despite never attending one. There were no bidders, for one. No items to bid on. Only demons, and angels interested in owning one. Obedient and helpful, demons were the ultimate prized objects. Every lucky angel had one. Owning a demon often assisted in boosting social status.
Which was why Gabriel had dragged him out here.
"You're a shut-in," Gabriel would say over Saturday tea. "You shouldn't be alone all the time."
"All these chores," Gabriel would bemoan, "are beneath us angels. Hey, have you ever thought of buying a demon?"
"I get stuff done so much faster with my demon," Gabriel would say proudly, showing off his sparkling clean living room. "Maybe you could do the same...?"
Or any variation of the above.
Owning a pet was a daunting task to Aziraphale. He feared he would prove to be inadequate and be forced to ask Gabriel for tips. Admitting weakness in front of Gabriel was not a good habit to fall into.
Still, he knew Gabriel had a point. His house was too large for a single person and he needed the company anyway. He also needed to learn how to be more assertive, because his coworkers delighted in pushing his buttons and crossing his boundaries. Giving orders regularly could help strengthen his confidence.
He was drawn from his musings by a loud clang.
A nearby door to a sleek, tall building swung open. Gabriel tapped his shoulder eagerly, craning to see.
The first person to emerge was a Throne. The gatekeepers, the guardians of society. They kept things running smoothly behind the scenes.
The Thrones were clad in black protective gear. They walked in orderly lines, flanking the six demons who were brought out from the inside. Aziraphale stood to get a better view. Several angels whistled appreciatively. The Thrones led the demons up onto the platform, boots clicking on the wood. Two angels went with one demon, chaining them to the iron stakes. Each demon wore a thin metal collar.
"Welcome to the Auction," a Throne said, his voice projecting easily over the crowd. "We may have a smaller selection this month, but I assure you, our demons will prove to be perfect for your homes. Remember the rules: no touching unless you've made a purchase, highest price offer sells the quickest, and as always, peace be with you."
"Peace be with you," the crowd chanted in response. The phrase was burned into Aziraphale's mind.
With that, the Thrones retreated into the background and the other angels rose to their feet, ambling over to the platform. Gabriel practically dragged Aziraphale to look at the selection.
The first few demons were unremarkable. Brown and grey wings and menacing dispositions, the sort that put Aziraphale on edge. One demon, upon making eye contact with him, actually curled his lip in a faint snarl.
A Throne smacked him in the back of the head, and the demon's snarl vanished instantly, replaced with a barely-noticeable frown.
"Efficient," Gabriel said dryly. The demon didn't snarl at him.
In the middle of the line, Gabriel was distracted by one of the demons, so Aziraphale continued to the end, where there was a solitary demon with no admirers.
He was a lanky, scrawny thing. His wings were shiny and perfectly groomed, but Aziraphale could see the chunks of missing primaries, restricting his ability to fly. His hair was a tousled auburn mess, and when he looked up, Aziraphale was shocked to see his eyes were that of a snake's—slitted, yellow. He was pacing around his iron stake, tugging the chain along the wood with a quiet scraping noise. He stopped in his tracks when Aziraphale approached.
Off to the side, the Throne seemed pleased that his demon was receiving attention. He hurried over to greet him. "Hello, sir. Are you interested in owning a demon?"
"Yes," Aziraphale said, shaking the Throne's gloved hand. His grip was solid and firm. "Principality."
"Ah, thank you for service. Peace be with you."
"And you as well."
Aziraphale turned his attention to the demon. He flinched under Aziraphale's gaze, lowering his head. His chains clinked.
"This demon could serve you very well," the Throne insisted, flipping into salesangel mode within seconds. "His only defects are occasionally hissing when he speaks, though I'm sure it won't be an issue. He knows basic commands and fluently speaks our language, so no translation problems. He was difficult at first but we managed his defiance early on."
"‘Managed’?" Aziraphale said flatly, beginning to wonder if this was a bad idea.
"Oh, just simple behavioral redirections, nothing major." The Throne chuckled, in a way that suggested he knew there was nothing amusing and was laughing anyway.
"I see. What's his name?"
"We don't give them names. We've referred to him as Eight for the past few weeks, but you can name him if you choose to take him. Demons tend to easily accept their new names. Most homes have not struggled with adjustment."
Aziraphale let himself do a full assessment of the demon. He stood completely still, eyes fixed on the floor, hands hanging limply at his sides. Nothing about his posture indicated a troublemaker.
Slowly, hesitantly, the demon raised his eyes, looking up at Aziraphale. Fear rippled across his expression before vanishing.
In that moment, Aziraphale made his decision.
"I'll take it," he said. "How much is a fair price?"
"One hundred sanctorum."
Aziraphale fished around in his pockets, brought out the given price, and traded with the Throne. He pocketed the coins with a greedy glint in his eyes. Aziraphale accepted a thin leash from the Throne, which he clipped to the demon's collar. The Throne unhooked the chains, coiled it up, and cleared Aziraphale to leave.
"That was easy," Aziraphale said to himself, stepping down from the platform. The demon hurried after him. "Gabriel? Are you quite finished?"
"Almost!" Gabriel called back. He wrapped up the transaction and joined Aziraphale, a demon of his own in tow. "You actually followed through? I didn't think you had the gall."
"I'm not soft," Aziraphale huffed.
"Of course not."
They headed down the street to their neighborhood. They lived only two blocks away from each other, so they could walk together the entire way. Aziraphale noticed a slight contrast to the demons they'd purchased; Aziraphale's tended to walk in a slouch, sauntering vaguely in a way that indicated carelessness. On the other hand, Gabriel's demon walked proudly with her chin held high, looking directly ahead instead of at the sidewalk. Her clipped wings glittered with an iridescent sheen.
"I'll see you this weekend?" Gabriel asked, pausing by his gate.
"Yes, I rather think you will. We haven't been out as a group in much too long."
"Michael and Uriel will also have their demons, I don't know about Sandalphon. I'm excited to show them that you've finally worked up the nerve to buy one of your own."
"Oh, shut up." Aziraphale waved goodbye to him as Gabriel and his demon disappeared into the house. He wound the leash around his hand one more time. "Come along, now. Home isn't too far from here."
When they arrived at Aziraphale's house, he locked the gate behind him and led the demon inside. The entryway opened up to an empty bedroom on the left, continuing to an open kitchen, dining area, and living room. All of it was connected. There weren't separate rooms for everything. At the far end of the living space was the entrance to Aziraphale's bedroom.
It was quaint and spacious, with only one floor.
Exactly how Aziraphale liked it.
Lining one wall of the living space were top-to-bottom shelves, stocked to the brim with books. His personal library. The idea of fire always made him uncomfortable, so close to the flammable pages, therefore the fireplace remained permanently unlit.
Wide windows allowed in maximum sunlight, though he could draw the curtains closed whenever he pleased. The ceiling lights were encased in deep orange and yellow lamps, casting the area in warm tones. The hardwood floors clicked nicely beneath his feet. The walls, painted a gentle cream, created a soft and airy environment. The whole place carried the scent of papyrus and red cedar.
"Welcome to my home," Aziraphale said. He took off his coat and hung it up on the rack, then discarded his shoes by the door. "You can take those off too, if you'd like," he offered.
The demon shifted his weight, frowning for the first time.
"... that's alright," Aziraphale said eventually. "Here's where you'll be staying."
The unoccupied room had stayed that way for many years, used as a temporary storage space among other things. Aziraphale referred to it mostly as the guest room. Now, it belonged to someone.
"I meant to ask," Aziraphale began. The demon looked up from where he was inspecting the floor. "Do you have a name? Simply giving you one feels terribly selfish."
After a long, awkward moment of silence, the demon tentatively opened his mouth and whispered, "Crowley."
"Oh, what a lovely name. Crowley." Aziraphale smiled. "I knew you could speak."
Crowley almost looked ashamed.
"Now, Crowley, I'll leave you to get settled. Do come down when you're ready, though. I'll boil some tea and we'll be jolly good." Aziraphale unclipped the leash, smiled one last time, and stepped out, allowing Crowley some semblance of privacy.
The room had no doors.
Crowley noticed that first. Then he noticed ridiculously tall ceiling, the layer of dust coating the desk in the corner, and large windows with the curtains tied halfway over them. Sunlight pooled on the floor and over his toes.
In the kitchen, the angel was bustling around, humming to himself. Crowley wondered how long the good mood would last, once the angel got tired of him.
Spinning in a slow circle, he scanned the room. It was small, but not cramped. Easy to escape from.
As soon as those thoughts crossed his mind, he crushed them. Where would he even go? He had no idea where he was, much less how to get out. He wouldn't make it on his own. When they caught him, as they inevitably would, he wouldn't just be given back to the angel all wrapped up with a pretty bow. No, he'd be on the next train to the circus, and no one came back from that.
No demon, anyway.
He hadn't seen Hastur, Ligur, or Dagon since they were all shipped off. Beelzebub was with him until today, when he watched an Archangel—Gabriel—take her away. They hadn't been separated in years.
I may never see them again.
The painful thought gave him a migraine.
He flexed his fingers and allowed himself to scowl. His powers were a physical ache in his chest, squashed down and contained by the bloody strip of metal around his neck. He didn't try to remove it. He saw what happened to demons who tried to take off the collars.
His wings twitched at the memory. Running his hands down the length of his left wing, he sorely missed the long primaries at the end, clipped to prevent him from flying. The clipping itself hadn't hurt, but he still felt the loss. It had done more than inhibit him—it had disfigured him.
And he hated the angels for it.
One day, he swore to himself, I'm going to take back what is mine, and you'll rue the day you laid your blessed hands on me.
... but today was not that day.
He sucked in a deep breath, closed his eyes briefly, and walked out into the hallway.
Crowley and Aziraphale settle in. Beelzebub and Gabriel get off to a rough start.
Aziraphale didn't begin ordering Crowley to do tasks until the third day.
Up until that point, Crowley entertained himself by wandering around the house, mapping everything out, and completing menial chores for the angel. Washing dishes, folding laundry, et cetera. Aziraphale always beamed when Crowley did something unprompted, which gave him a twinge of discomfort.
The angel was... to put it lightly, odd. He smiled far too often and meandered around the place like a vaguely confused bumblebee. He also had a strange obsession with literature; Crowley learned quickly.
He slid a book out from the shelf, scanning the dust-coated cover, when it was abruptly snatched from his hands. Aziraphale frowned at him, the first time he'd done so.
"Do not touch these," Aziraphale told him, sharply. He delicately placed the book back in its spot and shooed Crowley away from them, sternly telling him to always leave the bookshelves alone. They were rather fragile, see, and he'd prefer they stay in tip-top condition.
Every night, Crowley curled up in his window and dreamed of freedom.
Of wide, open skies, and the rush of wind upon his wings. The lack of a collar around his neck. Free reign of his own powers.
All of it, taken from him.
He hated it.
In the end, however, Crowley was not a hateful being, and most of it merely simmered as resentment. He had faith that a deity or higher power would pity him someday, and he'd taste autonomy once more.
On the third day, which happened to be Tuesday, Aziraphale retrieved a package from the front porch.
"Crowley, do come here," he called, drawing Crowley from where he was inspecting the grease stains on the counter. He waited as Aziraphale unwrapped a square object, revealing it to be a book. A handbook, actually. "Ah, I ordered this yesterday, very fast shipping."
"What is it?"
Questions were safe in this house, Crowley had learned. Asking harmless clarifications was allowed and even encouraged. He kept his communication to a minimum, though—better to not risk anything by staying quiet.
"A manual," Aziraphale said cheerfully, "for training demons."
The floor wobbled beneath him. Crowley stiffened, wings folding up behind him, but Aziraphale didn't notice the sudden tension. He flipped to the first page and read it.
"Okay, so these are basic exercises for both of us," Aziraphale said. "First, it says to have you retrieve these items: a coat, a—mm, no, we'll forego the book—a dining utensil, and a quill." He looked up, smiling expectantly. Crowley felt sick. "Well, go on then."
Every instinct in him fighting against it, Crowley slowly turned around and walked to the front door. He fished a coat off the rack from there. Next, with the stupid angel watching him the whole time, he took a fork from the drawer, and a quill from an ornate crimson vase. With the items bundled in his arms, he returned to Aziraphale.
Like a dog, he thought bitterly, playing fetch.
"Good," Aziraphale praised. "Now, erhm, bring me a glass of water."
And so it went. Aziraphale would give him a little request, and he'd rush off to do it.
It wasn't difficult by any means, but the degrading aspect of it pained Crowley to his very core. He wasn't meant to be an angel's lap demon. He could fight with a sword and could create fire at a whim, yet here he was, retrieving paper and socks without a single defiant word.
"Alright," Aziraphale said, tapping his fingers against the manual's spine. He went over and sat down in a plush armchair. "In the mornings or evenings, whenever you're waiting for instructions, it says that you should sit beside me on the ground."
Crowley hesitated. He lingered a few feet away, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet as his mind warred with itself.
"Just this last exercise and we can be finished for the day," Aziraphale said gently. He closed the manual for good measure, then gestured at the space next to his chair.
Sucking in a breath and resigning himself, Crowley shuffled to Aziraphale and sank to the ground, folding his knees with his head bowed. Like he'd been taught.
He didn't realize how badly he was trembling until Aziraphale set a hand on his shoulder.
"You did well," Aziraphale told him. "Please don't be frightened of me, dear. I don't know what they do to you in those awful training centers, but I promise I will be nothing like them. I want you to have a home here, and that means earning your place. If we have an understanding of each other, this will go smoothly.
"You'll only have to kneel like that when guests are here. Otherwise, don't be afraid to sit on the couch or chairs."
This angel was, quite possibly, the weirdest of his species that Crowley ever had the misfortune to encounter. He was almost charmed by Aziraphale's thoughtfulness...
... then he patted the demon's head with a chuckle, and Crowley's resentment ignited anew.
Beelzebub stared at the wall and tried to force herself to sleep.
It was early morning, but she doubted that the angel was awake yet, so she might as well squeeze in a few more minutes before the day inevitably began. She just couldn't bring herself to close her eyes.
Her new house was, regrettably, very nice. Three floors, pristine interior design, spacious living areas, and not a speck out of place, she often felt dirty or impure by simply being inside. She suspected that it was intentional.
The first floor held the bedrooms and a conference table, for whatever reason. The second floor boasted the living area, kitchen, dining room, and a balcony. The balcony showed a nice view of the other houses and Gabriel's backyard, which was less maintained than the rest. Lastly, the third floor was a tad underwhelming, with only an office nook, the laundry room, and Gabriel's bedroom. His personal quarters were strictly off-limits to all demons.
She steered clear.
A purple/grey theme was prevalent in the furniture, the wallpaper, and Gabriel's clothing. The colors were dull for Beelzebub's taste, but Gabriel wasn't looking for fashion tips, so she didn't give them.
Upstairs, someone was humming.
Speak of the devil.
Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself up. Her wings automatically fanned out behind her; shimmery, iridescent things that shattered light into dozens of colors upon contact. She used to love her wings. Now, the clipped primaries made her curl her lip in disgust.
The collar around her neck chafed unpleasantly against her skin.
She pulled on a black jacket, the sleeves covering up her exposed arms. This jacket was her only relic of her life Before. Because now, her world was divided into Before and After, cutting up parts of her life into manageable pieces. Without the distinction, she feared she might go insane.
Controlling her expression, she headed up the stairs and to the second floor.
Gabriel was sitting on the couch, sipping a steaming mug in one hand and idly tapping his phone with the other. He didn't acknowledge her arrival, but she knew that didn't excuse her. She crossed the room and knelt at his side, fixing her eyes on the floor.
The Archangel kept sipping his drink and typing, ignoring her. At some point later, he drained his drink and held it out. She took it, walked to the sink, and rinsed it, leaving it to dry on a folded towel.
She returned to Gabriel.
Finally, he looked down at her, his purple eyes bright. "Good morning," he said.
"... good morning."
"We're going to do something a little different today." He crossed his ankles and set his phone on the arm of his chair. "I only want you to do one thing. Get me a glass of water."
"Yes sir," she said, the words leaving a sour taste in her mouth. She filled a glass and brought it to him.
He regarded the water, swishing it around a bit, then locked eyes with her as he tipped it over, spilling all of its contents onto the carpet, soaking it. Beelzebub's mouth hung open in shock and bewilderment.
"Oops," Gabriel said dryly. "Better clean that up."
She barely contained her fury. She lowered herself to her knees and started scrubbing the wet spot with a clean towel, Gabriel's eyes drilling into her from above. He was deliberately trying to piss her off, she could tell. Well, two could play at that game. When she finished, she hung up the towel and walked back to him, this time refusing to kneel.
With one eyebrow raised, Gabriel held out the empty glass. "Well? Aren't you going to get me another drink?" She took the glass from him, fingers digging into the smooth surface. "This time," Gabriel advised, "be quicker about it."
Beelzebub filled up the glass again.
Placing the water on the table, Gabriel leaned back in his chair, watching her with the faintest twitch of amusement. "Get me another drink. With less water, this time."
So she filled it up again, with less water.
Again, he didn't drink it.
"Hand it to me, don't shove it at me," Gabriel muttered. "Get me another."
Again. This time, he wanted her to add ice. This time, he wanted a wine glass instead. This time, he wanted her to smile.
By the eighth glass of water, Beelzebub was at her wits' end. She was ashamed of how quickly she let him get under her skin, but his infuriatingly calm expression and the quiet command in his voice just rubbed her in all the wrong ways. She handed him the glass of water and hoped he choked on it.
"Mm," he said, after taking a thoughtful sip. "That was your best attempt."
She bristled, wings puffing up. "What," she said tightly, "was the bloody point of all that?"
Though she shouldn't have spoken that way, Gabriel didn't rebuke her, or even acknowledge her hostile tone. He simply set down the glass and met her eyes. "The bloody point," he replied, "was to make sure you know my expectations. Everything must be done perfectly. I will not tolerate you half-assing anything."
"If you knew my expectations of things," Beelzebub shot back, aware of how she was pushing the boundaries but unable to stop, practically vibrating with rage. Damn her to the circus. Nothing could be worse than this arrogant, lordly, asshat of an Archangel. "Then you'd know that I never 'half-ass' my work. And I'm insulted you would insinuate anything of the sort."
There was a long, tense pause.
And Gabriel smiled.
It was a strained, hollow thing, born of ridiculous amounts of self-control, but he smiled all the same. The sight was so jarring that Beelzebub's anger faded in an instant.
"I like you," Gabriel told her warmly, his teeth glinting white. "In fact, you remind me of someone. Don't get me wrong, I definitely doubted your ability to complete stuff the way I wanted, but it's clear your desire to prove yourself is stronger than your hatred for me. So, it all works out."
Thrown by this bizarre turn of events, Beelzebub lowered herself to the floor and knelt. Gabriel's smile stayed plastered on his frustratingly handsome face.
"Anyway. Keep this up, and we might just get along."
Gabriel is a douchebag at this point, but he gets better I promise
Crowley takes on additional responsibilities, and Aziraphale arranges a meeting with Gabriel.
Crowley jolted awake, biting his lip so hard he tasted copper. Swallowing his rising scream, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and blindly stumbled to his feet, heading for the kitchen. A single lamp permeated the darkness.
His wings dragged on the ground. He was too exhausted to carry them properly.
In his hands, the glass shook, little ripples wobbling over the surface as he attempted to control his trembling. His breathing came in sporadic, harsh gasps, but he clamped his mouth shut to smother the noise.
Do not wake up the angel, do not wake up the angel, do not—
The water chilled to him in his bones. He bowed his head over the sink and steadied himself. When he closed his eyes, firey afterimages burned in his mind; he forced his eyes open again.
The dream had haunted him for weeks. The dream where he was spiraling, plummeting through the air, the sky a charcoal black backdrop against the tiny pinpricks of fire that fell from above. White flame crept over his feathers, incinerating them. The ocean below raced towards him, flat and still like a sheet of glass. All around him, other demons fell, burning and screaming and twisting wildly in the air, unable to slow their descents.
Someone familiar cried out nearby, but he was spinning furiously, wings flapping and his hands lashing out, clawing at the starry sky. The wind roared in his ears.
He slammed into the water.
Instantly, cold fingers latched onto his ruined wings, dragging him farther down. Icy cold darkness swallowed him up. He thrashed against the hands, but the grip was unrelenting. Far, far into the abyss was a halo of light, piercing the gloom and blinding his sensitive eyes.
There was an angel down there, and if he fell into its grasp, he would never come back out.
Moments before the angel reached out, its halo starkly illuminating its horrific face—four spinning wheels, thousands of luminous burning eyes, shrieks of the damned writhing beneath its skin—he woke up.
And here he was.
The dream first started up in the training center, where sleep was his only escape. No longer. Since then, he'd dreaded his encounters with his subconscious.
Crowley quietly set down his glass. Rubbed his hands down his face. Took in a deep breath. Shaking out his wings and scooping up any loose black feathers, he slipped back into his room, resigning himself to another sleepless night.
"It'll be so good for you to get out of the house. Here's my list, and they'll have some baskets for you. Have a nice trip, dear."
That was what Aziraphale said to him the next day, once the sun was at a considerable height in the sky. Crowley finished buttoning his coat, pocketed the shopping list, and stepped outside.
His first solo adventure in angelic society. Anxiety fluttered at the base of his ribcage.
Aziraphale trusted him enough to go shopping alone. Trust, or idiocy, both of which were viable options.
It was a cool day. The sky was clear, but a cold breeze was present, making him grateful for the coat. He resisted a smile as he strolled off down the sidewalk, relishing in his relative freedom. Unaccompanied. What a strange feeling. It didn't used to be. Before, he could go days on end without seeing another demon or angel, which was impossible now.
Now, he'd take what he could get.
His brief respite didn't last long. He noticed the Powers that stalked up and down the streets, eyeing the lone demons like vulnerable prey. They held long, thin sticks of metal. Batons, Crowley assumed. The Powers kept angels safe and demons in line, and so was the way of things.
Distracted by his surroundings, Crowley didn't correct himself until it was too late. Sharp pain snapped across his shoulder; he hissed, jerking backwards.
A Power glowered at him. "Head down," he barked, gesturing threateningly with his baton. "Keep walking."
Crowley lowered his head and hurried on.
Soon, someone else fell into step beside him. A quick glance revealed it to be a demon—deep blue wings, clipped primaries, and a collar around his neck. His hair was a tousled mess of black, but patches of iridescent green and purple glinted in the sunlight, from roots to tips.
"Good morning," the demon said carefully. As he spoke, Crowley noticed his canine teeth were sharpened.
It was the little traits that separated demons from angels, the little things that made demons lesser. Imperfections. Like Crowley's slitted pupils, Beelzebub's translucent wings, Ligur's color-shifting irises. The things that marked them as unique also marked them as targets. Angels got gold markings and shiny white wings; demons got ugly, animalistic attributes.
"Good morning," Crowley replied.
Crowley felt the list crinkle in his pocket. "Yeah. You?"
"Same. You'd think the angels are babies from how much we do for them." Shock faltered Crowley's pace, but he corrected it. The demon's expression had shifted into a scowl. "I mean it. Since when can't they get their own groceries?"
"It's not for us to decide," Crowley settled on.
"Yeah. Nothing is."
The bitterness in his tone struck a chord with Crowley. They turned a corner together, falling silent as two Powers walked by. Discreetly, the other demon narrowed his eyes and spat on the ground once the angels had passed.
"Well," the demon said, drawing to a halt. The clean, white shopping center loomed before them. "Nice chatting with you. I'm Amon."
Raising his voice, the demon added, "peace be with you" for the benefit of any nearby angels. Crowley finished the greeting appropriately. Amon offered him the slightest mischievous grin, bumped his wing against Crowley's and vanished into the shopping center. Crowley watched him go with an odd happy feeling swelling up inside him.
Normalcy wasn't entirely abandoned. He wasn't completely alone.
Rejuvenated, Crowley picked up a basket from the front and stepped into the shopping center.
The place was crawling with Powers, but more importantly, demons. All various ages, ethnicities, and genders. There was an undercurrent of speech, though it was mostly quiet. Demons chatted softly behind shelves and in corners, without the prying eyes of their angel wardens. All of them were shackled and clipped.
Crowley checked his list as he wandered deeper inside. Just a few household items, nothing too rare or difficult to find. He pulled a bag of flour from a shelf and came face-to-face with someone he knew.
"Asmodeus?" he whispered, surprised.
The senior demon immediately turned around, blocking Crowley's view. Crowley scowled and hurried to the other side. Asmodeus spotted him, attempting to slip over to the frozen section, but Crowley followed him, confused by the evasive behavior.
Crowley managed to corner Asmodeus behind a few carts. "How've you been?" he asked, grinning, but it shifted into a frown as Asmodeus grimaced. "Sorry, stupid question, I know."
"Keep your voice down," Asmodeus muttered. He feigned opening a freezer door, idly scanning the contents.
"So, I haven't seen you in a while. You got any daring plans of escape I should know about?"
He was joking. Mostly. But Asmodeus went pale, his shoulders suddenly lined with tension. He closed the door and faced Crowley, his faded pink wings fluttering slightly, agitated. "Stop talking to me," he said lowly. "Do you understand me, snake? Don't talk to me, don't seek me out, because I've got a good angel and I don't need you taking that away from me. Do not mess this up for me, or you'll be sorry."
Crowley blanched. Asmodeus glared at him one last time before storming off, fingers tight around the handle of his basket.
A demon nearby made eye contact with him and winced.
This was the end goal, Crowley realized darkly. The angels were slowly but surely turning them against each other, forcing their only outlets of frustration to be other demons. It was horrible, and brilliant. He was both disheartened and impressed.
"Prick," a demon murmured as they passed him, casting him a sly smile.
Crowley smiled. At least not all of them were broken yet.
"Nothing too extravagant, it's only him," Aziraphale instructed, showing Crowley how to arrange the pillows on the couch.
They were having guests over. Crowley didn't know who, only that it was another angel, an important one. Aziraphale considered this angel a friend, but he hinted that their relationship was mainly professional, so this get together shouldn't be too casual or too uptight.
Crowley followed the directions to the best of his ability, which Aziraphale seemed satisfied with. The living room cleaned up nicely; as if it was anything but in the first place.
Now, he waited in the kitchen, setting mugs of warm tea on a tray.
He could dump salt into the steaming liquid. Give him a few seconds of laughter for a few days or weeks of misery.
Almost worth it.
Suppressing a smile, he stirred the tea, tapping the spoon against the ceramic.
The doorbell rang. Crowley dropped the spoon in the sink and went to the front door, opening it. On the front steps stood the angel from Auction Day—Gabriel, he remembered. The Archangel. Gabriel wore a soft lavender coat with a big dumb grin on his face, which faded slightly upon seeing Crowley.
Crowley's attention was quickly captured by Gabriel's companion.
Iridescent wings. Bright blue eyes, occasionally glossed over with a sheen of red. Short stature. That signature scowl.
Barely, just barely, Crowley resisted a big dumb grin of his own. Instead, he moved back, allowing Gabriel inside the house. As Beelzebub passed him, she brushed her feathers against his. He shut the front door.
"Gabriel," Aziraphale greeted warmly, shaking hands with the Archangel. "And...?" His eyes slid over to Beelzebub, questioning.
"Beelzebub," Gabriel introduced. "Pleasure to see you again, Aziraphale."
"Shall we sit?"
The angels each took a seat in the living room. Beelzebub knelt at Gabriel's side. Crowley picked up the tray from the counter and brought it over, placing it on the coffee table, then mimicked Beelzebub's position, kneeling beside Aziraphale. Uncomfortable, but not unbearable. This meeting couldn't last long.
"So, Gabriel," Aziraphale began, "what did you want to talk about?"
"Not business, that's for sure." Gabriel waved slightly. He sank into the couch, shoulders slumping with a sigh of exhaustion. "Michael's been harping at me about those files relentlessly. Like I don't have a life outside of work."
"Shut it," Gabriel muttered. Aziraphale chuckled.
Beelzebub caught Crowley's gaze. She rolled her eyes theatrically, tipping her head at Gabriel. Crowley's lips tugged into a smile. She looked alright, he decided. Worse for wear, as they all were these days, but unharmed. He wondered if the same could be said for the others.
"I need a break from being an Archangel," Gabriel said, rubbing his temples. "I guess, consider this a social visit."
"Oh!" Aziraphale brightened, his posture relaxing significantly once the formality drained away. He picked up his cup of tea and sipped from it. "Well, it'll be good to chat about non-work things."
Gabriel accepted the cup when Aziraphale handed it to him. "This is very good," he remarked. "Did you make it?"
"No, I'm afraid that's all Crowley."
Unfortunately, Gabriel's attention was directed to Crowley, who felt himself wilting under the hard purple stare. Beelzebub raised an eyebrow, amused.
"Good job," Gabriel told him.
After a moment of internal conflict, Crowley settled for an acknowledging nod.
"What's his name?" Gabriel asked, his eyes—thankfully—moving away.
"Crowley. And yours?"
"Beelzebub. She's been a bit of a pain, but she makes up for it with her dedication. It's admirable, really."
"Ah. Crowley's been nothing but a pleasure, isn't that right, dear?"
Crowley glanced upwards. Aziraphale was addressing him. That warranted a verbal response, right? "I suppose," he said carefully. "I try to be."
Softly, Beelzebub snickered.
"Wish you would try," Gabriel said to Beelzebub.
"Keep wishing," she replied.
"See what I mean?" Gabriel huffed, taking a sip of his tea. "The dedication is hard to appreciate with all the yapping."
"Think of it as witty banter," Aziraphale suggested. "Intellectual stimulation. Hard to a find a demon who's willing to hold an equal conversation like that. I believe we both got lucky with ours."
Crowley's knees were beginning to ache. If this dragged on for much longer, he doubted his ability to stand back up again. Plus, the topic was veering towards uncomfortable, and he didn't want to sit through any more of these angels chatting about them like pets who could do tricks.
However, maybe this was a good thing. If Gabriel viewed her defiance as 'witty banter', then it heightened the likelihood of Beelzebub remaining safe. At this point, he'd be satisfied with any sort of protection. Anything that kept them alive.
"Thank you for your hospitality," Gabriel said at the end, shaking Aziraphale's hand. His expression became gentle as he leaned close and murmured something, for Aziraphale's ears only. "May peace be with you, and your home."
"To you as well."
Before they left, Gabriel stopped in the doorway, turning back. "I was thinking about the park on Sunday? With Sandalphon and the others?"
"Will Michael and Uriel be able to tear themselves away from their desks?"
"I'll find a way. See you there?"
Crowley was quick to see them out, catching Beelzebub on the way. He touched his wing to hers, and she gripped his wrist, briefly pulling him down to whisper harshly, "don't do anything stupid."
And then she was gone.
"What did you think of Gabriel?" Aziraphale asked. He clasped his hands, smiling a bit.
"Be candid, I won't mind. I know he has an intense personality."
"I thought he was..." Crowley hesitated. "... awfully self-righteous. Arrogant."
"Everyone sees that at first," Aziraphale agreed, "and once you get to know him, you find out that he's also cocky, deceiving, and very sweet, beneath it all. He's one of my oldest friends."
"Right," said Crowley, unsure where the conversation was leading.
"You seem to know Beelzebub. You practically lit up when you saw her."
Coughing, Crowley stuffed his hands in his pockets, staring at the floor. "I know her, yeah. Old friend. And all that."
"Perhaps," Aziraphale said delicately, "I can arrange more social visits between Gabriel and I." Crowley looked up, surprised. Aziraphale blinked innocently. "As long as you behave, of course."
"Amon, or Aamon, is a great and mighty marques; when he putteth on the shape of a man, he sheweth out dogs' teeth, and a great head like a mighty raven."
We get a glimpse into three other angelic households. Crowley and Amon talk more. Beelzebub uncovers a secret.
Several streets away from Aziraphale's was a tall, elegantly designed house with white archways and a clean interior. On the top floor, sitting at a desk, was an Archangel. At her feet was a demon.
The Archangel and the demon were polar opposites in terms of appearance; in terms of personality, they were rather similar. Both hardworking, both manipulative, both in a constant state of stressed out. The Archangel more so in that aspect.
"Quill," the Archangel said. The demon handed it to her. She scribbled a few illegible lines before balling up the paper and tossing it aside.
The demon fetched the discarded paper and disposed of it properly.
The Archangel did not thank him.
The demon did not speak.
This odd pair consisted of Michael, the Archangel, and Ligur, the demon. They had an uneasy alliance, in which they understood that working with each other would be mutually beneficial.
(Unsurprisingly, they were both opportunists.)
(Also unsurprisingly, they both despised this trait in the other.)
Regardless, it was an alliance, however uneasy. They did not trust each other, and only one of them held back his feelings of general disdain.
Ligur shifted his weight, easing the pressure on his knees. He spent so much time kneeling in this house, he figured it would be more efficient at this point to just start crawling everywhere.
He struggled to keep himself focused. His thoughts strayed to forbidden topics, like other demons and the state of the world outside of Caelum. By other demons, he meant one demon, the only demon he held a personal affection for. The only demon that he consistently worried over.
Hastur's whereabouts remained unknown.
A pang of longing hit Ligur. He buried his fingers in the soft carpet beneath him, trying to anchor himself. His wings trembled from how tightly they were folded. The dull red and orange was jarring against Michael's color scheme; gold and white, like her feathers. Pretty, but ultimately ruffled and unkempt. It seemed to be an angel thing.
Everything was an angel thing, these days.
And as much as Ligur desperately wanted to be free, he was also safe here, and security came before freedom in his mind. Keep his head down, obey orders, and he'd be safe. That was all that mattered.
He fought to control his emotions before Michael noticed. He intimately knew the colors of his moods, ever shifting in his eyes. He was a bloody open book to anyone who bothered to read him.
Sighing heavily, Michael shoved away from her desk and stood up, nearly crushing Ligur's fingers under her shoe. She whisked downstairs, leaving him to follow.
He rose to his feet and headed down the stairs.
On the opposite side of the city was another angel's house.
This house was smaller, but much more extravagant. A tapestry fluttered from the top floor balcony. In the living room, other pieces of artwork were stuck to the walls, covering up the patterned wallpaper. The pillows were stitched with little designs. All of it gave off a childish, quaint quality, though no children lived here.
The Archangel who owned the house was a young woman in her mid-twenties, over ten years younger than Michael. Uriel was considerably less stressed out than the demon who lived with her.
Hastur was indefinitely anxious. Anxious about the past, anxious about the present, anxious about everything in between. Anyone who knew Hastur before this stage in his life would've described him as reckless, bold, even malicious in his disposition.
Now, however, it was unlikely you'd find him speaking above a whisper.
Uriel and Hastur did not have an alliance between them like Michael and Ligur. They hated each other, but neither expressed it. Uriel wanted simple things in life; a happy home, validation, and time. She wanted more time for her artwork and less time for actual work. These things could've been achieved with determination.
On the other hand, Hastur wanted more complicated things. His wings back to their natural state, fire sparking at his fingertips, and Ligur. God, he wanted Ligur. He wanted Ligur so desperately.
None of those things were conceivably within his grasp.
"I'm only going to tell you once," Uriel said lowly, "do not touch the paintings. I don't want your filthy fingers all over my work."
Hastur retracted his hand from the frame. He was extremely tempted to tear the painting from the wall and rip the canvas to shreds, maybe set it on fire if he was able. Take something away from Uriel for a change.
"I will make you sleep outside," she added.
Sighing, he stepped away from the painting. Freezing cold temperatures weren't worth petty revenge.
"If I catch you anywhere near the ones on the wall, I'll have you shipped off." Uriel pushed past him, adjusting the frames despite them already being perfectly symmetrical. She purposefully kicked the coffee table, resulting in a loud crack as it collided with the couch. Hastur flinched violently at the noise.
A few days ago, Uriel had discovered how paranoid Hastur was. He'd jump or yelp at sudden movements, even if he wasn't in danger. She quickly found ways to use this to her advantage.
While darker, harsher emotions may have ruled him once, his only motivation now was fear.
"Just go to your room," Uriel said wearily, tired of him for obeying, apparently.
Gladly, holy prick.
The last household was the most tense.
One angel, one demon, one shared space. The angel sat on the couch, flipping through a newspaper. The demon lingered in the doorway, her face twisted in a scowl.
Dagon's fingernails dug grooves into the wall. Sandalphon's sneer made her blood boil.
After being separated from Beelzebub, Dagon's temper had quickly soured. That awful training center wasn't enough to break her spirit. She'd seen the way Hastur and Ligur were broken down, the way she could see them losing their hope. It was slow, and gradual, and it hurt. But she held fast to the idea that someday, she'd get her revenge.
For now, she would kneel and play the part, but there was no way in hell she would obey quietly. Sandalphon would know the extent of her wrath.
"Demon," Sandalphon called. He looked up at her, infuriatingly smug. "I believe you should be on the floor right now."
Her teeth grinding together, Dagon stepped into the living room and forced herself to kneel, her whole body shuddering with her mental resistance.
"Good," Sandalphon hummed, turning the page.
Then he reached over, as if to pat her head.
Dagon's hand flew up and grabbed his wrist, snarling, "don't fucking touch me."
Stars exploded in her vision, pain searing across her face as she toppled backwards, wings splaying out to catch her fall. Sandalphon rose to his feet, towering over her.
"I'd reconsider your position on all this," he said. "I've been forgiving so far, but I can turn it all around in an instant."
Dagon sucked in a breath, cradling her stinging cheek. Despite that, she glared up at Sandalphon.
"You don't deserve mercy," he told her. He crouched down and regarded her coldly. "I will make your life here miserable, demon filth." But he didn't strike her again. He only straightened, adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves, and said, "now, stand up and start thinking it over. I won't wait long."
He folded up his newspaper and walked out, leaving Dagon alone on the ground.
Crowley adjusted his grip on the umbrella, holding it over both himself and Amon. Rain poured down in steady sheets, accompanied with the low rumble of thunder. His shoes and socks were thoroughly soaked from trudging through the flooded sidewalks. The whole city was bound to be drowning by the time this storm passed.
He hated storms.
Beside him, Amon shivered, having gotten drenched after trying to race after Crowley to duck under his umbrella. His wings were a sopping mess of glinting blue.
"I don't know why we're expected to go out in this weather," he groaned, shaking his head to dispel the water.
"The Powers are out here too," Crowley pointed out, "dealing with the weather."
"That's different and you know it."
Yeah. Crowley knew it.
They walked in silence for a while. Rain drummed against his umbrella. Crowley was unbearably cold, the only relief coming from Amon's body heat. Almost unconsciously, Crowley leaned closer, absorbing the warmth.
"You know," Amon said quietly, keeping his gaze on the ground, "some of us have been talking."
"Talking?" A shiver trickled down Crowley's spine.
"Yes. Walking places and grocery stores are the only place we can really talk. The Powers don't watch as closely." Amon tugged at Crowley's sleeve as they turned a corner, going silent as an angel hurried by. He waited until they were out of earshot. "Some of us want to fight back. Turn the tides."
"You can't. It's impossible. Especially with these." Crowley gestured at his collar, and his clipped wings. "We're useless like this."
"Not useless. Not entirely. We can listen. We can spread the word." Amon's voice strengthened with his passion. "Gather information on our angels and use it against them. Figure out their weaknesses."
"And you're being cowardly."
"I'm being smart."
Amon growled under his breath, glaring at Crowley. His eyes seemed unnaturally golden in the grey, stormy light. "You're content, then, with being an angel's slave? Do you like being a fucking pet? Because I don't. I'm ready to be brave and take back what is mine. And when you decide to start being brave, we'll be waiting."
With that, he stepped out from under the umbrella and walked into the store, leaving Crowley to stand alone in the pouring rain.
Hours later, and he still couldn't get Amon's words out of his head. Was it worth it, to be quiet and keep his head down? In the long run, would he be better off?
He knew the answer was no.
Sinking his fingers into his feathers, he dragged his hands through his wings, freeing loose feathers. He was sitting cross-legged on his bed back at home, grooming himself while Aziraphale was engrossed in a book downstairs. Long black secondaries and shorter coverts were piled up beside him.
This was normally a relaxing activity, but the anxiety bundled up in his chest greatly reduced any pleasure he was getting from it.
"It's ridiculous," he muttered, not daring to raise his voice above a whisper. "One of these days, Amon is going to be arrested out on the street, and it'll be no one's fault but his own." He yanked out a feather too hard and hissed at the pain. "The Powers will haul him away and he'll never be seen again. The Seraphim will make sure of that."
Though Crowley didn't know much about the Seraphim, he knew they ruled the government and were responsible for all demons' current situations. They were a renegade group in the beginning, radicalists bent on turning demons into second class citizens. And they succeeded.
He remembered the early days. They all did.
"But he has a fucking point," Crowley grumbled. "Aziraphale is close with several Archangels. I'm in a good spot to get information. I could be a big help."
Did he want to help? Should he risk his safety for the greater good?
His instincts rebelled against the idea, but then he thought of Beelzebub, and all of his past friends who now lived as glorified pets. He had a chance to help them. A chance to... take back what was theirs.
Gritting his teeth, he dropped a fistful of feathers and buried his face in his hands.
Time to stick my neck out, he thought miserably.
Beelzebub spritzed the window and scrubbed the smudges with a rag. Somehow, despite no one ever touching the balcony window, it managed to get ridiculously dirty anyway.
She pushed open the windows and stepped out onto the balcony. A cool breeze tousled her feathers. The sky was a lovely blue after the storm earlier, puffy white clouds drifting lazily above. The balcony was constructed of dark iron bars, relatively high up from the ground.
"That'szz a nasty fall," she said to herself, scrubbing idly at the bars.
Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on the balcony ledge. The backyard was an overgrown mass of weeds, which made her wince at the idea of handling it. Whoever Gabriel's demon was before her, they obviously weren't a gardener.
She flinched and jumped back from the balcony. Gabriel stood a few feet away, an uncharacteristically horrified expression on his face. He grabbed her by the shoulder, pulling her back from the edge and slamming the windows shut. She jerked away from him, an indignant shout on her lips, but the look on Gabriel's face made her stop dead.
He looked positively terrified. His eyes kept flicking over her, reaching out a few times before stopping himself, as if he was afraid Beelzebub would shatter if he touched her. He was trembling violently.
"What were you doing out there?" he asked harshly, pressing his hands together to quell his shaking.
"Don't ever go on the balcony. Do you understand me? Do you understand me?"
"Y-Yeszz," she stammered out, bewildered.
Gabriel dragged his hands down his face and sucked in a shuddering breath, turning away from her. He barked out a hysterical laugh that sounded much too like a sob. "Not after the last one," he choked out, the words barely audible.
Before her eyes, she watched Gabriel's expression crumple and fold in on itself, replaced with something flat and empty. He straightened his posture, shook his head, and dropped his hands to his sides, forcing the tension from his shoulders. "Go to your room," he said quietly.
Not needing to hear it twice, Beelzebub set down the cleaning supplies and hurried off.
What the hell was that?
any ideas about what happened to Gabriel's last demon? ;)
Beelzebub and Crowley are invited to do something dangerous, while Crowley grows closer to Aziraphale.
Beelzebub hated going shopping, but today, she had an ulterior motive.
Demons ghosted along the aisles. Friends, coworkers, associates, all brought low. Many of them chanced a smile at her as she walked, while others ducked their heads and hurried on. She didn't have time for idle chit-chat anyway.
"Vine," she hissed.
The demon flinched. It was unusual to see him so nervous. His golden wings glinted in the artificial light, matching his equally golden hair. His eyes gleamed unnaturally bronze. "Beelzebub," he said, straightening his posture. "I heard you got put with an Archangel. How's that working out for you?"
"How do you think it's working out?" Beelzebub moved closer, slipping behind a rack of canned goods. "We need to talk."
"Talk social, or talk business?"
"Nope. I don't deal with Archangel pets."
Beelzebub blocked his exit. "I am not a pet, Vinéa." The use of his full name caused another flinch. "I know you have contactszz everywhere. I need you to gather information for me."
"Listen," Vine snapped, "I don't answer to you."
"I can change that." After a pause, Beelzebub leaned forward, dropping her voice. Vine shifted his feet anxiously. "I'm not asking for anything ludicrouszz. I just want to know what happened to Gabriel's last demon."
"Don't question me. Remember the power I uszzed to wield."
Vine reluctantly nodded. "Your speeches ended a lot of lives, I hope you understand. And if this puts me in danger, the deal's off." He scooped up his basket from the ground and shook her hand briefly, but before he left, he hesitated, lingering with a faint frown on his face. "Speaking of your power," he said quietly, casting his gaze around, "I know someone you might want to talk to. You're their biggest role model."
"I don't have any specific names, but their messenger is a demon called Amon. They've been stirring up thoughts of rebellion. Basically, they're considering suicide. I think they're your crowd."
And with that, he fled into the next aisle, his footsteps echoing behind him.
Crowley and Amon walked in silence.
It wasn't uncomfortable, per se, but it was certainly tense. Crowley felt the overwhelming urge to apologize for yesterday.
They were waiting at a stoplight when Amon spoke. "Have you changed your mind?" he asked, staring directly ahead.
"Good." Amon relaxed a bit, seemingly relieved. "Because you're not the only one."
"What does that mean?"
"Beelzebub joined us earlier today. Word gets around fast. She's just looking for information right now, but she'll get on board soon enough. They all do."
Crowley sighed. Beelzebub putting herself at risk wasn't anything new.
"We have our first mission for you," Amon told him. "Someone will approach you at the store. I'll be far away from you by then."
"No suspicion falls on you, huh? You preach about striking back and being brave and shit but I guess I was right about you being a coward."
Frowning, Amon kicked at the ground, stirring up dust. "Call me whatever you want. Just be ready, and for the love of God, don't let any Powers see you with him. Somehow, he makes people suspicious by simply being in the area."
"I bet it's great to have so many shifty demons in your little rebellion."
"You're a shifty demon."
Taking the long way to the store, they ended up by the riverside. The water chugged along lazily, clean and clear. Saving the planet from the disgusting influence of demons was another pitch the Seraphim used, turning the angel population against them. Crowley wanted to chuck some trash in there just to be petty.
"Who were you Before?" asked Amon.
The question caught Crowley off guard. His memories felt more like dreams now, fantastical escapes from a cruel reality. Normal no longer meant what it used to mean.
"I... I was a high school teacher," he replied, with some difficulty. "I taught ethics and moral philosophy. It was an unusual class for a high school, but I wanted my students to be aware, to be informed. I wanted them to decide the world for themselves."
"Did you teach both angels and demons?"
"Yeah. Mostly angels, but I had lots of mixed classes." Crowley didn't always remember his classrooms in a positive light. As political tensions reached a boiling point, his students often turned on each other, in ways he wasn't sure how to handle. He encouraged open-mindedness, but teaching his angel students became more and more difficult as time went on.
"I was a relationship counselor," Amon said. Crowley chuckled, and Amon nudged him in exasperation. "Really, I loved it. Settling things between married couples or friendships, it made me feel fulfilled. Of course, less people came to see me as the Seraphim started gaining popularity, but..."
They both went silent as two demons walked by. No one could be sure who was trustworthy these days.
"I don't know if I could go back to it," Amon admitted. "After all this."
"Teaching again would be rough," Crowley agreed.
As soon as they stepped off the river path, their peace and quiet was shattered.
"No, no, please," an angel sobbed, as a Power handcuffed and shoved them towards a sleek black van on the street. "I didn't, I didn't, I swear, you can't—"
"You're under arrest," the Power announced, "for aiding a demon in criminal acts and housing runaways against Seraphim laws. The sentence for these charges is execution, effective within forty-eight hours. Your family members will be contacted and your possessions will be distributed among the community."
Then a demon was dragged from the house, fighting viciously against the Power who was trying to restrain him. The demon lunged for the angel, hands outstretched desperately, before they were wrenched apart. The Power managed to pin the demon to the ground, tying his wrists and gagging him, muffling his frantic cries.
Both of them were thrown in the back of the van, and the Powers drove off.
Everything was unnervingly quiet.
Amon grabbed Crowley's shoulder and steered him firmly towards the store, forcing him to keep walking.
"Don't feel guilty for being grateful," Amon said.
"Grateful it wasn't you. It happens every day. This is why we're fighting. Let it be a lesson, okay? Let it be the reason you stick with us." Amon's voice softened as he noticed Crowley's distress. "We can't save everyone. But we can save some. As long as you're ready to do what it takes."
The angel's screams haunted him all the way there.
He rolled an avocado around in his hands, testing the firmness. He never did this sort of thing Before. Shopping was always done online, and if it wasn't, he didn't meticulously check avocados for signs of rot. It just wasn't part of his routine. Sure, soft apples and oranges were a concern, but he could deal with a lumpy avocado.
I'm losing it, he thought, shaking his head. He dropped the avocado in his basket.
"It's Crowley," he corrected, the old nickname startling him into turning around. His eyes went wide. "Aym?"
"Ah, you do remember me." Harborym, Aym for short, didn't smile, but his voice held a twinge of amusement. His eyes were slitted too, but they were a textured green color, like a cat's. His wings were a silky grey. "You're really invested in those avocados, huh? I said your name twice."
"This whole thing is getting to me," he said apologetically.
"I know the feeling." Aym glanced to the side. "I need you to listen to me."
"Beelzebub recommended you to us. We're the ones Amon has spoken of."
Oh. The rebellion. The network of demons who wanted revenge. The scheme that Crowley very reluctantly wanted to take part in.
"We need your help, Crawly."
Aym dismissed him with a hand wave. "Beelzebub is important. She holds high influence over demons and many still look up to her. You, on the other hand, you're sneaky. You have special knowledge that is vital to us. We have a mission for you."
"Yeah?" Crowley said, dread coiling in his stomach.
"Here." Aym pressed a small packet into his hand.
Crowley turned it over, inspecting the crude words scrawled in black ink.
"You've seen this before?" Aym questioned.
Faintly, he nodded. Hellfire flowers sprouted any time of the year, as long as it was cultivated correctly. The crimson petals were poisonous to angels, while they only gave demons a slight buzz. However, it was the seeds—what he held in his hands—that were the most deadly. The seeds, when broken or crushed, burst into flames of insatiable 'hellfire' that devoured everything in its path. Wielded only by daring demons and feared by all angels as the ultimate weapon.
The innocent seed packet already felt too warm for comfort.
"You know your way with plants," Aym said. "Find a way to grow these. Keep a steady supply and give us new seeds whenever you can."
"What are you going to use them for?"
Nothing good, he assumed, before Aym could reply.
"You'll be informed the closer we are to using them." Aym brushed his wing against Crowley's, his lips finally curving into a grin. "Armageddon is underway."
It was a beautiful day.
Aziraphale opened a window, relishing the warm breeze that filled the house, sweeping away the stagnant indoor air. He inhaled deeply. Today was the perfect day to go for a short flight, exercise his wings a bit.
His hope dissolved as Crowley walked into the room.
How could he go flying when Crowley couldn't? It wasn't fair, he decided, that he got full use of his wings while Crowley did not.
The demon was sensitive as it was, and Aziraphale hated the thought of upsetting him. He disliked upsetting most people, but Crowley was different, somehow. It felt personal. They shared a living space, after all. Aziraphale wanted this arrangement to be a good experience, though no matter what he did, it couldn't change the circumstances. Couldn't reverse the bloodshed that brought them together.
Aziraphale sighed heavily. He didn't like to think about the early days, when Caelum was first developing as a country. The fighting, the riots, the pain. Now it was all over, and they were better off...
... most of them, at least.
His heart ached at Crowley's solemn expression, teetering on his toes as he leaned towards fresh air, just beyond his grasp. His wings gleamed black in the sunlight.
Watching carefully, Aziraphale hid in the doorway, trying to leave Crowley undisturbed. Crowley wiggled his fingers at the fat, puffy clouds above. It was an affectionate, playful gesture. He must've missed flying very much.
Then his attention dropped to the little potted plant in the windowsill, wilted and parched despite Aziraphale's best attempts to keep it healthy. The demon cupped his hands around the poor thing and cooed at it, stroking one shriveled leaf with a delicate touch. He carefully poured some water into the pot, smiling.
"You like plants?" Aziraphale said, interrupting the quiet moment. He scolded himself for the intrusion as Crowley's expression dimmed, the listlessness returning once more. "I mean, you seem to know how to take care of them, and I don't, I'm definitely lacking a green thumb, and..."
He trailed off awkwardly.
Crowley huffed a laugh, though it wasn't quite genuine. "I'd say I'm good with plants, yeah."
"... would you like to see the garden?"
Containing his excitement, Aziraphale watched Crowley's eyes light up, yellow and slitted yet not threatening in the slightest. He nodded eagerly, black wings fluttering. Aziraphale beckoned for him to follow.
They walked down the back porch, into the yard. It was unkempt and overgrown with weeds, but for all Crowley's childish wonder gave away, it might've as well been a playground. A tall fence blocked them off from the prying eyes of neighbors. Aziraphale sucked in a breath at the state of the place, but Crowley looked absolutely delighted.
"I expect you to keep this in tip-top condition," said Aziraphale, though it lacked any real command. This was a gift.
"Right, yeah, of course," said Crowley. Distracted, he licked his lips.
With a gentle smile, Aziraphale extended his wing to Crowley's in an affectionate gesture. Crowley absently returned it, his feathers soft against Aziraphale's.
"I'll leave you be, dear," Aziraphale murmured.
Unbeknownst to him, a packet of hellfire seeds was tucked in Crowley's pocket, and now there was a place to plant them.
"Now, darkness and secrets are everywhere. Now, there has to be an 'us'. Because, now, there is a 'them'."
-The Handmaid's Tale
A few reunions take place. Gabriel tries to handle some problems.
Crowley was brimming with excitement. He yanked on his coat and stood by the door, waiting eagerly for Aziraphale to finish up. The angel tucked away a few stray papers in his bag.
"Ready to go?" he asked.
"Yeah," Crowley said. He opened the door, stepped outside, and hurried down to the front gate. Aziraphale smiled fondly at his enthusiasm.
Aziraphale locked the gate, and they set off.
It was Sunday. They were going to park to meet with Aziraphale's friends, which meant seeing Beelzebub again, among others. Hopefully, they'd even get a chance to talk. The thought made Crowley feel nearly giddy.
He crushed down his happiness as two Powers walked by. They sneered at him and exchanged pleasantries with Aziraphale, who sounded a bit uncomfortable but maintained his polite demeanor.
Do they make you nervous too, angel? Ha.
"Which route do you take to the store?" Aziraphale asked as they walked, casting Crowley a curious glance.
"Back the other way," he said. "Sometimes by the river."
"Oh, it's a lovely view, isn't it?"
The conversation stuttered and died.
Everything is so bloody awkward these days, good Lord, Crowley thought, chancing a look up at Aziraphale. The angel was frowning slightly, as if considering something troublesome. What are you thinking about, I wonder? What goes on in that blond head of yours? If I'm lucky, I'll never know.
"So," he said hesitantly, "who's going to be there today? Other than Gabriel?"
"Just a few other Archangels and their demons. There's Michael, she's very important in the government. She and Gabriel helped establish Caelum, you know."
Crowley nodded, thinking about how he'd like to get his hands, or maybe a knife, on them.
"Uriel is an old acquaintance of ours. She was a political activist in the early days." Aziraphale faltered there, which Crowley found interesting, but the angel pushed on with his story anyway. "She also likes to paint and such, so she helped design many of the churches here. Lastly there's Sandalphon. He knew Gabriel long before all of this."
Three Archangels and a Principality. A thrill ran through Crowley. He had the advantage of being in close proximity to many important angels. This was what Amon meant, when he claimed Crowley could be an important asset.
"Alright," he said instead.
Despite his general disdain of Caelum, he had to admit that this city was idyllic in its own right. The gridlocked street design, picturesque homes in neat rows, and one could almost overlook the demons being kept as pets. Almost. There was something slightly off about the place, something that crawled beneath one's skin and squirmed, sickly, in one's stomach, something so inherently wrong and itching of suspicion that one couldn't help but cringe away.
And once all that ugly wrongness was allowed to warp the image, to sharpen the blurred edges and saturate the colors, one could finally see what sort of country Caelum truly was.
"Here we are," Aziraphale said, drawing Crowley from his thoughts.
The park was located in a perfect circle of land with lush, vibrant grass, a few wooden benches, and several bushy trees that swayed in the breeze. Flying would've been so fun in this weather.
He gritted his teeth.
Aside from that, his attention was quickly captured by an Archangel and a demon.
"Michael," Aziraphale greeted warmly.
"Hello, Aziraphale." Michael beckoned to her demon, and Crowley finally got a good look at him.
Ligur shuffled over, his fire-colored wings folded neatly behind him, casting Crowley a sly glance. He hovered at Michael's side, looking bored but ultimately in good health.
"Go on, dear," Aziraphale said to Crowley, gesturing towards Ligur. "This isn't just for us angels, you know." He and Michael sat down on a park bench, leaving the two demons with each other.
Hesitantly, Crowley stepped closer. "Hi," he muttered.
"Hi," Ligur said dryly. "Well, got stuck with a Principality, eh?"
"You've got an Archangel."
"Fair 'nough." Ligur licked his lips, turning his gaze to the rest of the park. Crowley wondered if he was thinking the same thing—how good it would feel to sprint over the grass, the wind in his hair and his wings open, catching the breeze. How freeing it would feel. The rush of adrenaline.
I'm torturing myself.
"So," Ligur said, dropping to the ground in a cross-legged position. Crowley lowered himself down. "Heard anythin' about Hastur? Or Dagon? I know Beelzebub's with Gabriel."
"No. I haven't heard anything."
"Well, I know you've heard some things."
Crowley shot him a sharp look.
Ligur's mouth curved into a grin. "Amon's talked to you, right? He's like a representative of sorts. Tempting, innit?"
"Keep your voice down," Crowley hissed. The angels were chatting amiably in the background, but it would destroy everything if they got suspicious. Meetings like this might not happen again.
"'S fine, you bloody snake. Between you an' me, Michael's got selective hearing."
Shaking his head, Crowley plucked a blade of grass from the dirt and inspected it closely, very interested in the green surface. Ligur scoffed at him.
"Hey, hold on, is that—" Ligur cut himself off and scrambled to his feet. Approaching them was another angel, and another familiar demon. Aziraphale and Michael rose to greet them. "Hastur?"
Hastur's head jerked up upon hearing Ligur. He stepped forward, then paused, looking up at his Archangel. Uriel, Crowley supposed. Uriel waved him away. Hastur tripped over himself in his haste, hurrying to grab Ligur and drag him into a rough embrace. Ligur worried over Hastur, checking his wings and other limbs for any injuries.
So much for the hard exterior, Crowley mused.
The angels chuckled a bit over Hastur and Ligur. Aziraphale caught Crowley's gaze, offering him a smile. Crowley fought back the weirdly instinctive urge to return the gesture.
"You fucker, had me worried," Ligur growled, yanking Hastur to the ground and forcing him to sit.
"Good to see you too." Hastur rolled his eyes affectionately. He only nodded in acknowledgement at Crowley, which was fine.
No sappy reunions for him, thank you very much.
After that, Gabriel and Beelzebub joined them. Beelzebub was wearing a purple scarf that most definitely didn't belong to her. Crowley raised an eyebrow; she narrowed her eyes with an unspoken threat of bodily harm if he commented on it.
Hastur didn't get the memo. "What's with the purple?" he asked. "You borrowin' from Gabriel's closet or somethin'?"
"Shut it," Beelzebub said.
She didn't take off the scarf.
The last pair to arrive was Sandalphon and Dagon. As soon as she saw Beelzebub, Dagon brightened, poorly-disguised relief glittering in her eyes. Sandalphon waited a few minutes before allowing Dagon to join them, a nasty smirk on his face. Crowley hated him instantly.
"I'm gonna put a fucking knife in his back one of these days," Dagon grumbled, sitting down beside Beelzebub. "Asshole."
"I don't doubt it," Beelzebub said. She began to work through Dagon's feathers, while Dagon relaxed into her touch.
Crowley tried and failed to remember the last time someone else groomed his wings.
Instead of wallowing in his misery, he strained to listen to the angels' conversation, suspecting that there was an ulterior motive for this social outing. Angels didn't typically hang out like this. Not in Caelum, anyway.
"Have you received the briefing from Metatron?" Michael was asking.
"I haven't had the time," Gabriel replied.
"What's going on now?" Uriel said, frowning.
"Supposedly Libertas is increasing their tariffs," answered Michael. "Border security has been exponentially strengthened also. The Seraphim are concerned about the effect on trade."
"We're largely self-sufficient, right?" said Aziraphale.
"Yes," said Gabriel, "but we also rely on trade with Meridian. If more international pressure is placed on them, I fear we'd face being cut off." There was a lull in the conversation; then Gabriel turned and locked eyes with Crowley, saying, "I believe we have an eavesdropper. Come over here, Crowley."
The other demons fell quiet.
Crowley rose to his feet and walked to the bench, anxiety forcing his heart into a rapid, pounding rhythm. The angels watched him curiously. Aziraphale occupied his hands with a string in his sleeve.
"Are you interested in our country's politics?" Gabriel asked.
Swallowing hard, Crowley bowed his head and said, "yes, I suppose."
Gabriel hummed softly. He crossed one leg over the other, his expression unreadable. It did nothing to alleviate Crowley's fears. After a long moment, Gabriel smiled, any hint of displeasure vanishing from his face. "Perhaps I could lend you some books on international tensions. Very informative reads, I've been told."
Before Crowley could be shocked at this development, Uriel shifted uneasily, Sandalphon scowled, and Michael leveled a harsh glare at Gabriel.
"It would do you good to remember the law, Gabriel," Michael said severely. "First you spoil your own demons, and now others? We wouldn't want a repeat of the Accident."
Visibly, Gabriel stiffened.
A dangerous tension settled over them. Behind Crowley, the demons were silent.
"Awfully bold of you to bring up the law," Gabriel said finally, his tone light yet strained. Michael's poised demeanor faltered, a hint of unease crossing her face for the first time. "But, behind closed doors and all that." As he stood up, his eyes skipped right over Crowley. "Come on, Beelzebub. We're going home."
Crowley watched them go, feeling rooted in place. Gabriel's offer was a foolish one. Demons weren't allowed to read or write, or do anything really, but an Archangel, openly speaking about giving Crowley a book? What game was Gabriel playing? Breaking any Seraphim law was treason. Gabriel was either an idiot, or very smart.
"I believe we ought to go home also, dear," Aziraphale said softly, bringing him back to the present. Sandalphon and Dagon had left too, and Michael and Uriel kept inching closer to each other, so Crowley was quick to agree.
"Peace be with you, Hastur, Ligur," he said.
"You too," said Ligur.
Hastur waved absently, engrossed in his task of grooming Ligur's wings.
Aziraphale touched Crowley's elbow gently, guiding him away from the park.
"Gabriel means well," he sighed. "I just wish he had a filter."
This was a mess.
It had begun with organized chaos, as it normally did, but quickly evolved into a disastrous scattering of papers and piles of reports that would take Gabriel ages to sort through. His desk was a mound of smudged ink at this point.
He decided to sit on the floor instead of moving everything off of his chair.
The stack beside him was the newest reports, sent in directly from Powers at their northern border. He grabbed the first one and scanned it.
Increased military patrols, demon and angel civilians protesting against Caelum, lack of foreign government intervention. Some Powers were under fire for firing on civilians.
"Idiots," he muttered. "We don't need more tension right now."
He picked up another paper. It was a detailed summary of one demon's escape from Caelum. He leaned closer, his interest piqued.
Apparently, she managed to break off her collar, heal her wings, and make it to the cliff on the east coast, where she flew over the strait and landed in Libertas, the only country that rivaled Caelum in military might. She spilled her entire story to the press, which drew global attention and sparked new civil rights movements for demons within Caelum.
This was the reason for increased border security. Northward lay the country of Septrion, who had, at one point, been close political allies with Caelum, but after new information about their society came to light, Septrion withdrew from the armistice, along with most other countries.
Gabriel didn't blame them.
The demon, though. She had made a daring break for it, and succeeded. Any other angel would've called her a renegade, but the only word that came to his mind was brave.
Not many would've had that courage.
He clenched his jaw, forcing away the thought. He'd already fucked up royally by offering to give Aziraphale's demon a book, and now he was actually feeling proud of demons who slandered his country's reputation? What was going on with him?
This conflict of interest was going to get him—or someone close to him—killed.
Sighing, he glanced over at the vase of blue irises in the window.
He needed to get his act together, and soon.
*me writing Gabriel*: this baby can fit so much character development
and yes, Beelzebub /was/ wearing Gabriel's scarf
Crowley finds out some worrying information, while Aziraphale reflects on his old life.
this chapter is a tad shorter, but the next one will be longer
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There was a scream lodged in his throat, clawing frantically for freedom, rattling around in his mouth like a caged bird and making his teeth ache as he bowed his head over the sink, watching the water stream into the drain, his heart pounding erratically.
Crowley bit the inside of his cheek so hard he tasted blood, his fingers wrapped tightly around the faucet.
Falling, burning, screaming, ice cold water and blinding white halos—
His mind spun away from the dream and rebounded, slamming his consciousness right back into the midnight sky and vast oceans, pinpricks of demons plummeting from the heavens. He heaved a ragged gasp, his wings curled around him in a canopy of black, the water still running, terribly loud in the silent house.
Every night for the past three weeks. A few hours of sleep, then the nightmare. The self destructive cycle was beginning to affect his work ethic in daily life.
Pushing away from the sink, he stumbled over to the window, where he hauled himself into the windowsill and curled up, using his wings as a cocoon. Moonlight filtered through smoky grey clouds, masking the stars. The glass was cool against his cheek.
In his doorway, Aziraphale rubbed his eyes, frowning in confusion. He turned off the faucet and joined Crowley by the window, undoubtedly noticing his red rimmed eyes and subtle trembling.
"Are you alright, dear?" Aziraphale asked gently.
Crowley slowly shook his head, sniffling. "Nightmare," he said hoarsely, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around himself.
"Oh." Aziraphale grabbed a chair and moved it closer to the window. He sat down. "Do you want to talk about it?"
That was it. No prodding or pressing, just simply: okay. Crowley leaned against the window and closed his eyes, Aziraphale's presence oddly comforting. A few minutes of silence passed, when Aziraphale started to hum, a low tune that Crowley faintly recognized. Music by demon artists was outlawed, so this had to be an angel song.
Somewhere along the way, Crowley must've fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew, the sun was peeking above the horizon, golden sunbeams splaying over his body, still tucked in the window. Aziraphale was asleep in his chair.
Aziraphale stayed... for me?
Crowley unfolded his limbs, wincing at the lingering ache in his knees and neck, and swung his legs over the side of the windowsill. He carefully stepped around Aziraphale and headed to the kitchen. The coffee mug clinked when he placed it on the counter; he grimaced at the noise, but Aziraphale stayed sleeping.
As quietly as possible, he made a cup of coffee for the angel, stirring in the amount of creamer that he knew Aziraphale liked. He blew away a bit of steam and returned to Aziraphale's side, gently shaking the angel awake.
"Good morning," he said softly.
Aziraphale's eyes fluttered open. They were a perfect blue color, icy in the morning light. He smiled upon seeing Crowley. "Good morning, dear." He glanced down at himself. "Did I sleep here all night?"
"Yeah. Thanks for, um, being there. Last night."
"Anything for you," Aziraphale told him sincerely.
"That's my job, angel," Crowley teased, coughing to cover up how warm his face felt. Aziraphale's smile dimmed as he saw the coffee in Crowley's hands.
"I could've made that."
"I know, but I wanted to. As a thank you."
"You shouldn't have to thank me for that," Aziraphale murmured, but he accepted the mug anyway.
Crowley frowned a bit in confusion. He withdrew from Aziraphale, sliding the cuffs of his sleeves over his hands, and headed to his room to get ready for the day. He didn't see Aziraphale staring into his coffee, looking perfectly unhappy.
Vine was a peculiar demon, in Crowley's opinion. He was flighty, nervous, and yet he risked everything to gather information, not without due regard for the consequences. He didn't seek anyone out. Instead, he waited to be approached. So, Crowley approached him.
"I heard Beelzebub was investigating something...?" he said, the upturn at the end of his sentence shifting it into a question.
Eyeing him, Vine deliberately angled himself away, feigning interest in the shelves of canned goods. "And? You're not Beelzebub."
"I know you don't want to be seen with any Archangel's demon. I can pass on the information."
Vine's bronze-colored irises glinted in the fluorescent lights. He tugged anxiously at his collar, gaze focused on the floor, before moving past Crowley, muttering, "all I could find is that it was an accident. No one would tell me anything else."
An accident. Gabriel's last demon died under mysterious circumstances that no angel would shed light on, leaving them to speculate and invent wild theories in place of logic. Crowley could only assume the worst.
"Thanks," Crowley said, but Vine had already ducked out of view.
Running his fingers over the dusty volumes, Aziraphale slid a book from the shelf, minding the brittle cover. It crackled in his fingers, the once-colorful illustrations faded over time. He pulled out a chair and sat down. The book was the only survivor of his original collection, which used to be an impressive set of religious texts, philosophical novels, and various lore.
All those books were gone now.
He eased the book open, resting it in his lap. The first few pages was ruined by water damage, so he moved on to the middle. The ink was old, smudged, and indistinct, but years of reading had accustomed him to difficult works.
A sudden ache filled his chest. A yearning, an intense desire for the past. For his bookshop. The bookshop that had gone down in flames, the bookshop he had mourned like an old friend.
Memories tugged at his attention.
The Seraphim instituted new policies every day. First, demons couldn't own businesses, then demons couldn't work for angels. The two laws worked in tandem, leaving demons jobless and without a steady source of income. Aziraphale hadn't noticed the effects of these new regulations at first, but they were quickly becoming apparent in his daily life.
Though it broke his heart, he was forced to fire two young demons who cleaned his bookshop. They stared up at him with glistening eyes, pleads on their tongues, but they swallowed any protests.
Aziraphale suspected they were afraid of what he would do if they argued. Afraid of him.
He didn't know what to do with that fear. No one was afraid of him, not until now, at least, because he was probably the least threatening angel in the whole city. If anyone should be feared, it was Gabriel, his work acquaintance. Gabriel and his broad shoulders, tall stature, and strangely intense purple eyes, made for an intimidating figure.
Or even better, Michael. Michael was rightfully frightening, with her severe, angular features and cold blue eyes, so much more quietly dangerous than Gabriel.
In general, Aziraphale didn't know many demons. He'd lived in a city where angels were much more densely populated, so his opinions on the Seraphim were mostly neutral. They were extreme, sure, but he wasn't in danger. He didn't fear the Seraphim.
With that thought, came the guilt.
One night, watching the television, Aziraphale saw a government building engulfed in smoke, white light shining from the interior as some angels tried to flee the scene, dragging their coworkers and friends from the burning building. Demons ran also, but a majority stayed behind, throwing their hands out and leeching the fire from the building, containing the blaze. A rush of relief flooded Aziraphale as he saw the demons blow away the smoke, quenching the flames, working to protect both themselves and angels.
Such unity was a rare thing these days. Unfortunately, it didn't last.
Angels clothed in white robes, glittering gold symbols on their shoulders. They descended on the scene, and Aziraphale, rooted in place with horror, witnessed those demons be struck down by the Seraphim, blood splattering the ashy marble steps and screams filling the air as an angel drove a sword through one demon's chest, spearing them all the way down.
Aziraphale covered his mouth, sickened.
To make the situation a thousand times worse, some angels on the sidelines were actually cheering. They held up signs with gold symbols, the symbols of the Seraphim. They wanted this bloodbath.
"Let this be a lesson!" one Seraph shouted, his voice booming, a flaming sword brandished in one hand. "We will stop at nothing to save our holy race! Demon filth deserve no place in this world except at our feet."
The other Seraphim roared their approval, lifting their swords high into the air, firey beacons of light punctuating the smoky grey sky.
Our holy race. Angels. Angels were superior, of pure blood, perfect beings of Good.
That was what the Seraphim believed.
Aziraphale forced himself to agree with it. Demons were undeserving, evil, unholy. Demons belonged on the ground, on their knees, bowed before angels. That was the correct order of things.
It needed to be right, because if it wasn't, then all this violence was senseless. It needed to be right, because if it wasn't, then this fighting wasn't justified.
It needed to be justified, because if it wasn't, Aziraphale couldn't handle it.
And there was no one around to tell him otherwise.
Until that anxious, sweet, kind demon came into Aziraphale's life, with his warm yellow eyes and raven-black wings, taking everything that Aziraphale knew and grinding it into the dirt, flipping all his expectations upside down. It wasn't supposed to be like this. But it was, and they all had to live with it.
Aziraphale's eyes strayed from his book, landing instead on the coat rack, where Crowley's coat was hanging. Mid Autumn required more layers, so Aziraphale had provided the demon with a sleek black jacket for chilly days.
"Does he think I pity him?" he murmured, closing the book. "Or that the coat is supposed to win his gratitude?"
That wasn't it.
... then what was it?
Gently putting the book back on the shelf, Aziraphale sidled over to the window, peering outside. The gridlocked streets, arranged in neat rows, were bustling with demons and angels alike. He wondered if he could spot Crowley from here, most likely on his way back from the grocery store.
I ought to get out more, he thought. Maybe Crowley and I can go for a walk by the river, someday. I could show him my favorite place to feed the ducks.
He huffed a laugh. Imagine that. A demon and an angel, feeding the ducks. Such an odd picture.
With a sigh, he drew the curtains closed.
so, Aziraphale took the coward's way out.
I have so many awesome things planned for this fic, specifically a chapter in the late teens. I won't give anything away, but just know that the Hellfire features heavily in the climax ;)
"Do you even care about your wings anymore?" Ligur huffed, plucking a crumpled feather from Hastur's wing. His eyes shifted to a deep, concerned green.
"Haven't found the time," Hastur said.
Ligur scowled at him.
Hastur grinned sheepishly.
They were all at the park again. The angels sat in a semicircle, chatting about topics that were several miles away from politics or their personal lives. Lounging in the grass, the demons were relaxing, making the most of the outing. Crowley was splayed out across the grass with his eyes closed, arms folded beneath his head.
"I always find the time," Dagon said. Ligur made a noise of triumph, while Hastur groaned softly.
Crowley felt a faint smile tug his lips upward.
"Don't laugh at me," Hastur said, kicking Crowley's leg.
"He's not," Ligur assured Hastur, also kicking Crowley. Crowley whined and shifted away from them, flopping onto his stomach so he could watch them and avoid bodily harm.
"The main attraction haszz arrived," someone drawled. Beelzebub dropped down beside Crowley.
"Finally," Dagon said, moving closer to Beelzebub.
"Yeah, yeah." Beelzebub drew out one of Dagon's wings, flattening it so she could help the other demon preen, despite Dagon's feathers already being immaculate. Hastur and Ligur were too absorbed with each other to notice that they were alone now. "Szo. Vine has been avoiding me. Can't figure out why."
"Oh, right." Crowley propped himself up on his elbows. His message. Vine's information. "I said I'd tell you instead of him."
"Tell me, then."
"He told me it was an accident."
Beelzebub's frown deepened. "That'sz it? Nothing elszzze?" The buzz in her voice increased sharply with her incredulity, which prompted her to close her eyes briefly, calming herself.
"Nothing else. I guess if you want to know more, you'll have to ask Gabriel."
They glanced over at the angels. Gabriel was smiling in that dumb way of his, the sort of smile that indicated naivety, ignorance. A deceiving smile.
"He freaks out sometimesz when I do things, like step out onto the balcony," Beelzebub told Crowley and Dagon. "What if his last demon didn't juszzt die; they were killed?"
"Be careful," Dagon whispered.
"Don't do anything stupid," Crowley said, echoing Beelzebub's earlier warning.
Beelzebub's blue eyes hazed into a crossed red, a faint buzzing swelling up despite the fact that she wasn't speaking. Her eyes faded back to their normal color after a moment. She gave Crowley a sharp nod.
There was a room in Beelzebub's house that was, to her knowledge, empty. Used for storage, she assumed, but she hadn't tried to go inside anyway.
Something about it felt inherently off limits.
The door, unassuming and white, loomed before her.
She pushed open the door. The room was empty, stripped of any indicator that someone once lived there. The sheets were folded, the curtains were closed, and everything was coated in a layer of dust.
Except for one thing.
The desk, which was shoved in the corner, had a single blue flower sitting on top.
Crowley would know what it means, she thought, inching inside. The room felt sacred, and abandoned. It was deathly silent.
She stepped carefully over to the flower, minding the dusty carpet. The faint scent of ash reached her; as if something had been burned in this room. Swallowing hard, she moved to touch the flower.
"What are you doing in here?"
Whirling around, Beelzebub retracted her hand in surprise. Gabriel stood in the doorway, eyes wide and face pale. He was trembling.
"What are you doing in here?" he repeated, louder this time.
"I-I was cleaning thingszz up, and I figured I'd clean thiszz room too."
Gabriel slowly stepped forward, dragging his feet, his eyes trained firmly on Beelzebub. Like he was afraid to look anywhere else. When he reached her, he picked up the blue flower and stared at it, his expression vacant.
"Gabriel?" she said hesitantly.
"Get out," he whispered. His grip tightened around the stem, threatening to snap it.
"Who lived here?" she pressed, running her finger down the windowsill. It came up coated in dust.
"The demon before you."
"... what happened to them?"
Gabriel tore his gaze away from the flower, and Beelzebub was shocked to see tears sparkling in his vivid purple eyes. The flower dangled loosely in his hand. "I said get out," he said shakily, placing the flower back on the desk. "Leave. Don't come here again."
A pause. Beelzebub stayed where she was.
"What happened to the demon before me?" she asked again, stepping closer to Gabriel. He shuffled back, fiddling with the cuffs of his sleeves. "Gabriel. I need to know."
"Not until you tell me what happened. Crowley said it waszz an accident."
"Crowley doesn't know anything."
"Gabriel." Beelzebub waited until he looked at her, his lips tightened into a thin line. "Tell me."
With a shaky exhale, Gabriel lowered himself down onto the bed, cradling his chin in his palms. Beelzebub took a seat beside him. Slowly, he collected himself, sucking in deep, even breaths. Beelzebub's heart pounded with apprehension and excitement. She'd taken a risk by speaking to him like that, but it seemed like it was going to pay off.
His voice soft and pained, Gabriel said, "his name was Abdiel."
The Auction was Gabriel's first. Not the first since Caelum was established, but the first he bothered to attend. Much like Aziraphale in the beginning, he wasn't exactly sure what to expect.
In the middle of the selection was a young male demon. He had the deep blue and black wings of a hyacinth macaw, bleached curly ringlets brushing over the tips of his ears. His eyes were oddly dark, like empty pits, yet they glittered with life. He was standing still, head bowed obediently, a picture of youthful beauty.
"Hello sir," he murmured when Gabriel paused, enraptured by this alluring demon.
"Hello," Gabriel replied. "What's your name?"
The Throne had jumped in then, explaining the demons' lack of names and everything this particular demon could offer Gabriel.
Waving him off, Gabriel paid the Throne and took the demon home.
That night, Gabriel made them both tea as they sat on opposite ends of the couch. The demon sipped it carefully, cautiously, minding the hot temperature. Gabriel watched, fascinated, while the demon wrapped his pale fingers around the ceramic curves, tracing the designs.
"You must've had a name," said Gabriel.
"I did," said the demon. "Not anymore."
"Would you like me to give you one?"
Gabriel named him Abdiel, meaning hope. Meaning faith. They could all afford to gain some.
Time went on, and Abdiel came out of his shell. He was enthusiastic and very bright, eager to learn and eager to please. Gabriel laughed at his antics, always smiling whenever the demon was around. Abdiel seemed to carry sunshine with him.
On occasion, Abdiel would be reminded of Before, of the life that was stolen from him, and on those occasions he would grow quiet and solemn, and the world would dull a bit.
As an Archangel, Abdiel's misery was partially Gabriel's fault.
"I'm so sorry," said Gabriel over breakfast, seeing Abdiel reach for a phantom necklace and touch bare skin instead.
"I know you are," responded Abdiel, a sad smile creasing his face.
Despite the circumstances of their meeting, and their opposing natures, a friendship bloomed between them, something soft and warm and calm. Something that Gabriel had been missing, something that now filled his heart and soothed his soul.
Everything was okay.
Until it wasn't.
It was a sunny day, not a cloud in sight. The heat was uncomfortable but not stifling. Gabriel decided to take Abdiel on a walk, to see the other parts of the city outside of their neighborhood. The city was sharp metal edges and tall buildings jutting into the sky, streets aligned in rows, an orderly flow of people on each side. Cracks in the concrete provided unlikely space for little saplings to grow.
Abdiel was consumed with a passion for aesthetic, a perfect awe crossing his features when something new sparked his interest. The demon's boyish delight was enough to last Gabriel the rest of the trip.
Then someone cried out, and a colorful blur tackled Abdiel in a frantic embrace.
"Hey!" an angel snapped, shoving through the crowd and grabbing Gabriel's arm. "Sorry about my demon, I really don't know what's gotten into her..."
But Gabriel wasn't quite listening. No, he watching Abdiel. Sheer joy and relief radiated from the demon, giving everyone nearby a spring in their step. Abdiel spun the female demon in a circle, laughing recklessly, and she mussed his hair, wings flapping in excitement, stirring up winds that buffeted the two dumbfounded angels on the sidelines.
"Judah," whispered Abdiel, eyes shining.
"I thought I would never see you again," said Judah, hushed, shakily.
Siblings, Gabriel learned later. Twins. Judah had the same vibrant blue wings and frosty blonde hair, but she carried herself differently and with more bitterness than her brother. She was sharp, intense, motivated. Abdiel was soft, muted, passive.
They loved each other fiercely.
It had pained Gabriel greatly to separate them, but Judah's angel was insistent and bid Gabriel a curt goodbye, obviously irritated with his lack of intervention.
"Can you find out where she lives?" Abdiel asked that night.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea."
"Please, Gabriel? For me?"
Abdiel was playing off of Gabriel's weakness, the Archangel knew, and yet he allowed it. He wanted to see Abdiel happy again. He'd do anything to make the demon smile like that once more, so wide and euphoric. It was his fatal flaw. His uncontrollable desire to please others, to bring his friends and family joy. And, on some levels, he considered it to be his only truly good characteristic.
He would burn himself out, someday, and still manage to feel guilty about it.
So Gabriel searched. He dug out old contacts from his phone records, retraced their steps, even knocked on doors and personally asked. But he didn't get the angel's name, so there was virtually no way to find Judah.
The days dragged on instead of passing smoothly, and their friendship frayed. Abdiel became depressed, completing his tasks lethargically and vastly reducing communication with Gabriel. He began to act erratically. He got into scuffles with Powers on the streets, purposefully antagonizing them, and had to be hauled back to Gabriel's doorstep on more than one occasion. He lashed out and snapped at Gabriel, who did not reprimand the demon. It wasn't a battle worth fighting.
The longer time stretched on, the more Abdiel's faith was eroded away. Gabriel began to fear what would happen if he couldn't find Abdiel's sister.
"It's impossible," he admitted one day, dropping his papers and scattering them across the floor. "They're gone."
"They can't be," Abdiel said, shaking his head, mustering up his old liveliness for a brief moment. "I promised I'd find her. I promised. You promised."
"I shouldn't have."
Abdiel's expression crumbled and collapsed, swallowing hard as his eyes glistened with tears. Gabriel felt a lump rise in his throat. Pain, on Abdiel's behalf. "You promised," Abdiel said again, his voice cracking.
"I'm so sorry."
"I know you are." But it held no warmth. Not anymore.
Gabriel, ultimately, was selfish. He did everything he could, short of freeing Abdiel. Short of unclasping the collar and letting the demon find his sister alone. Gabriel didn't free Abdiel, because some part of him deep inside longed for the demon he first met, the one with a gentle, forgiving nature and an endlessly faithful disposition. The demon who, Gabriel believed, still existed somewhere. The demon who Gabriel had fallen for.
He didn't free Abdiel, and Abdiel didn't forgive him.
Hindsight is a fucking bitch.
The day Gabriel's life shattered was a chilly, overcast one. Abdiel refrained from speaking all morning. By early afternoon, Gabriel was itching to get out of the house, so he left Abdiel home alone while he took a trip downtown, fruitlessly trying to distract himself from his emotional turmoil.
How could he keep his happiness and Abdiel's at the same time? It's impossible, he realized, standing in front of a public fountain and watching the water bubble and froth, foaming white whirls flowing in circles.
Abdiel had said something to him, just before he left, something that now echoed uncomfortably in his mind on the walk home.
"You did your best."
A quiet confession, a reassurance, an apology, all of the above.
Gabriel unlocked the front door and stepped inside, dropping off his coat. "Abdiel?" he called uneasily. The house was eerily quiet. He checked downstairs first, finding Abdiel's room empty with only a vase in the windowsill. Blue irises represented faith. They were Abdiel's favorite.
And they were scattered across the floor haphazardly. Abdiel would never let his irises fall into such disarray. He kept the garden maintained, after all.
"Abdiel!" Gabriel shouted, urgently this time.
He rushed upstairs and into the living room, and saw the balcony doors thrown wide open.
There was another clump of blue irises lying there on the marble, and beyond it, scraps of fluttering cloth.
Abdiel was hanging from the railing, face pale and waxy and a thick cord of cloth knotted around his neck, wings and legs and arms dangling lifelessly, a single blue iris flower tucked into his breast pocket.
Gabriel collapsed to his knees and dry heaved, scrambling back from the horrific sight. Someone was screaming, someone was crying; he couldn't be both at the same time, yet tears spilled over his cheeks and wretched cries tore themselves free from his throat, Abdiel's glassy dark eyes burning in his mind.
Clawing himself forward, Gabriel tried to grab Abdiel and failed, the demon slipping from his shaking grasp as he wept, scrabbling to haul his best friend back onto the balcony, his best friend who was terribly, utterly still.
When he finally managed to drag Abdiel's body up, he bent over the demon and sobbed, the world grinding to a halt around him.
"I'm sorry," Gabriel wailed, rocking senselessly on his heels. Abdiel was limp and small in Gabriel's arms. "I'm sorry, please, don't go, I'm sorry, I'll try harder, just please..."
The neighbors, disturbed by the ruckus, found Gabriel crying beside his first love with the shredded remains of a noose hanging from the balcony railing.
When Gabriel finished his story, his voice had become hoarse and faint, wobbling with a hint of tears.
Beelzebub sat still, shocked. Never had this scenario crossed her mind, not once. It was so terrible that her own mind refused to conjure up the images that Gabriel's words induced, of a young demon drowning in hopelessness who saw no possible escape besides death.
It explained everything. His reaction to the balcony, his odd perspective on punishments, how he regarded her as more of a companion than a servant. How he did everything he could to make her happy. How he allowed her to go places alone, to see her friends, and to talk back without reprimand.
He had failed once, and now he terrified of ever failing again.
Something bitter and angry inside Beelzebub wanted to take advantage of this. The predator within sensed weakness and sought to sink its claws in deep, to wound as harshly as possible. It would've been so, so easy.
But, oddly, another part of her, a much louder part, vehemently protested against this course of action.
Gabriel was trembling, face buried in his hands, overwhelmed with guilt and fear and painful memories. He trusted her to listen and trusted her to not harm him. What would it make her, if she didn't return the favor?
A monster, she knew. But aren't I already?
Sucking in a ragged gasp, Gabriel tried to calm himself, rubbing circles into his temples.
He doesn't think I am.
Before she could make the logical, safer choice, she set her hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. Gabriel exhaled sharply, leaning into her touch.
"It wasn't your fault," she whispered, surprising herself. Gabriel shuddered and clenched his jaw. "I mean it. You did everything you could."
"Nothing I did was good enough."
"You did everything you could," she repeated. "Abdiel had given up. There's not much you can do for that."
"I just wish..."
Beelzebub forced him to look at her, meeting his shining purple eyes with a steady glare of her own. "Stop that. Moping about the past isn't helping the present. Quit thinking about what you didn't do and start thinking about what you can do. Step one means stop treating me like Abdiel's replacement."
Wincing, Gabriel glanced away. "I-I didn't mean—"
"Who gives a shit? Fix it and move on. That's how work gets done, that's how the world keeps spinning." Beelzebub released him, her fingertips burning from the close contact. "Yeah, you were selfish, but so was Abdiel. You messed up, he messed up, call it even. The only question is if you're ready to forgive yourself and heal."
She rose to her feet, leaving him alone on the bed. All the way to the door, she could feel his gaze tracking her.
"You’re falling further down
but I’ve got you by a thread
I wrap the cord around my arms
until my hands start to turn red
But it’s not enough,
it won’t be enough to save you."
-Banana Bread, Cavetown
Crowley does his part of the plan, we glimpse into Beelzebub and Gabriel's growing relationship, and Ligur discovers something about his household.
TW: Blood, death
The Hellfire flowers blossomed into pale orange and yellow petals, growing in neat rows where Crowley had planted them weeks before. Bees and other pollinators flitted by, but none paused at the flower, something instinctive warning them away from the alluring, rich colors, standing out so starkly against a backdrop of vibrant green.
Crowley rolled up his sleeves and carved out a space in the dirt with his hands, shoveling the soil off to the side. Next, he cupped his hands around one of the flowers, shaking it. Four little seeds fell into his palm. He planted two seeds and pocketed the other two.
He repeated the process with each of the seven flowers, laying the seeds out in a new row behind them. He collected fifteen seeds in total to give Aym.
Leaning back, he admired his work.
These seeds would grow into thriving flowers by the end of the week. Often, some doctors used Hellfire for treating sore throats or other common ailments among demons. Practices like those were eventually outlawed.
Behind him, the door swung open, and Aziraphale stepped outside.
The last few weeks had been a little odd. Crowley had certainly noticed it. The angel smiled at him and left Crowley alone more often than not, sometimes coming home with little trinkets and gifts that mysteriously showed up in Crowley's room. He wasn't an idiot; he knew Aziraphale was probably playing the sympathy card or something of the sort, trying to make Crowley lower his guard, but nothing like that was happening anytime soon.
Dirt was crusted underneath his fingernails. He scraped some off absently. He couldn't afford to show weakness with all this hinging on his ability to grow these flowers. Aziraphale's pathetic attempts at lowering Crowley's walls would have to take the backseat for a while.
Except Aziraphale was watching him. Rather curiously, with his chin in his palms and a faint smile on his face. It didn't feel intrusive anymore.
Crowley watered a couple of flowers before rising to his feet, the packet of seeds in his pocket.
"Oh, you're finished," Aziraphale said, sounding a tad disappointed.
"Yeah. Wanna take a look?"
Aziraphale brightened. He hurried down the steps and joined Crowley next to the Hellfire flowers. To his credit, he seemed genuinely interested, but Crowley knew on some level it was all a ruse. Aziraphale would snap someday and they'd be back at square one.
Stooping over, Aziraphale moved his hand as if reaching for one of the flowers.
"Don't touch that!" Crowley blurted out.
Aziraphale yanked his hands back, startled by Crowley's volume. Swallowing hard, Crowley averted his eyes.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to shout," he said hurriedly, "but that plant is dangerous. If you break the seeds they can start fires."
"Oh. Thank you for warning me."
Crowley patted the base of the flower. "You'd get an awful burn if you touched the petals, like this." He rubbed the orange petal between his thumb and forefinger in demonstration.
"Why doesn't it burn you?" Aziraphale asked, not accusingly.
"I'm a demon. I'm naturally immune. Angels... not so much." Crowley braced himself for Aziraphale to ask why, then, was he growing them if they were so dangerous for angels? But the question never came. Aziraphale simply accepted the answer without any follow-up.
Bloody stupid trusting angel.
Crowley stood, covering his pocket with his hand. "I ought to get to the store, yeah? We're running low on a few things."
"Yes, yes, good idea. I'll send you with some extra money if you see anything you'd like."
On his way, he was joined by Amon, which had become their routine. Amon seemed tired today, his wings a ruffled mess of awry feathers. They walked in silence.
"Here," Crowley said, sliding the seed packet out.
Amon stared at it, uncomprehendingly, before understanding what it was. He shook his head. "Give it to Aym. Not me."
"Why?" Crowley quickly pocketed it again. "I thought you were their messenger or something."
"Yeah, but... I can't risk it today."
When he didn't elaborate further, Crowley dropped the subject.
The store was a refuge now, for demons. It offered some freedom, however limited, to communicate with others. Crowley had no trouble finding Aym, with his grey wings and velvety green eyes, his confidence nearly palpable. Crowley wondered if his angel was lenient or just neglectful.
"You got some for us?" Aym asked, his gaze tracking up and down Crowley's body.
"Yeah." Crowley handed over the seed packet. Aym opened it and inspected the contents, a slow grin spreading over his face. "I'll have more next time."
Beelzebub had been watching Gabriel rifle through his closet for several minutes now.
After he came clean about Abdiel, their interactions became much less tense. Gabriel seemed happier and more at ease now, which reflected in his daily life. He often greeted her with a big dumb smile and a chirped "Beelzebub!", prompting her to respond with an exasperated "good morning." Now that he'd exposed his past to her, some semblance of trust had formed between them.
This chipper mood faded in public, where he put on a professional facade for other angel's sakes. She found herself hating those moments and longing for the pleasantry of their home life.
"Ah," Gabriel said, drawing her from her thoughts. He pulled out a lavender sweater—identical to all the others, by the way—and held it to his chest, looking thoughtful.
"You can't go out in that," Beelzebub said. She eyed the sweater distastefully. "Your fashion sense is abhorrent."
"At least I don't cloak myself in darkness every day like some overlord of Hell."
Beelzebub glanced down at herself. What was wrong with her leather jacket? "You bought this for me, idiot."
"Well, I didn't think you'd wear it all the time!" Gabriel huffed, shoving the sweater back into the closet. "If you're going to protest against my fashion choices, then what would you suggest I wear?"
She rose to her feet and crossed the room, drawing open his closet. The rows of purple everything made her wince. She pushed a bunch of clothes to the side and took a black sweater from the far corner, where Gabriel must've stuffed it away. Holding it out, she smirked as Gabriel sighed heavily, accepting the sweater.
The sweater was something that she would've worn in the comfort of her home, with no friends or family, curled up in front of the TV with a bowl of noodles in her lap. It was something she would've worn at her most vulnerable.
Gabriel looked so out of place in black. He crossed his arms. "Now I look like you. Trying too hard to be edgy."
Scoffing, Beelzebub placed her hand on her chest in mock-offense. "I do not look like that. You're the one obsessed with your eye color so much that everything you own is purple."
"Fine, you know what? If you get to decide what I wear, I get to choose what you wear."
Gabriel grinned at her. Beelzebub groaned in horror at what she'd done. Turning around, Gabriel grabbed a deep purple turtleneck and a matching purple scarf, brandishing it with a triumphant, brilliant smile. Beelzebub sighed so heavily her soul left her body.
Clapping excitedly once she had the turtleneck on, Gabriel moved forward and wound the scarf around her neck, his fingers brushing the exposed skin beneath her jaw.
An imperceptible shudder wracked her at the unexpected touch.
Gabriel didn't take notice as he finished up tying the scarf, looking infinitely pleased with himself. He gestured towards the mirror so she could see herself.
The purple turtleneck went frustratingly well with her jeans. She extended her wings a bit, watching the colors shift and change in the iridescent feathers, aware of Gabriel's little grin as he stood behind her, looking at his own appearance. To her surprise, the turtleneck effectively covered up the collar around her neck.
... did he mean for that?
Beelzebub glanced up, and Gabriel caught her gaze. His smile grew wider.
"It's not terrible," she chose to say.
"Yes, not terrible. I think it actually helps your edginess."
"Don't push it."
Ligur sat at the top of the elegantly curving staircase and wondered why Michael needed such a large house.
With two floors, vaulted ceilings, white carpets and walls, massive glass windows, and immaculate cleanliness, the place was more along the lines of a mansion. The second floor had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a storage closet. A winding set of stairs led down to the first floor, which boasted two dining rooms, a sitting room, a kitchen, a living room, and another bedroom.
Before him, it was only Michael living here, so what sort of angel required so much space? Perhaps she hosted parties or meetings here, but nothing of the sort had happened since Ligur arrived.
Or, maybe Michael liked to entertain the fantasy of a large family, of home. This place was clinical, impersonal, the farthest thing from cozy.
Despite his reservations, Ligur appreciated how open it all was. He had room to breathe here.
Sometimes, Ligur and Michael could go a whole day without interacting with each other due to the size of the house. Ligur was really only there as decoration, he was quick to realize. Michael kept up the appearance of genuinely wanting a demon servant, but at home, she treated him like an unpleasant house guest.
Which was fine. If she preferred him to stay in his room all day, that was alright with him. His room was on the second floor, several doors away from Michael's so she wouldn't have to see him early in the morning. At least, he assumed that was the reason.
Right now, Michael was in the living room, drinking and reading. She spent most of her time doing that. That, and pacing the length of the first floor with her phone pressed to her ear, muttering furiously to the poor angel on the other end.
Ligur leaned back, resting his elbows on the step above him.
Quiet. Exactly how he liked it.
"... ahead of schedule, I doubt I can... No, this is risky enough, I don't need... What?" Michael's voice drifted over to him, catching his attention. He leaned over to listen. "No, I can't. I'm telling you that Thursday won't work... Tomorrow? Absolutely not. Tomorrow is too soon. I can't... Do you want my help or not?"
Then she growled in frustration, a resounding click echoing as she slammed her phone down.
Her eyes met his from the opposite side of the railing. She scowled. "What?"
That night, Ligur knelt at Michael's feet as she leaned back in her seat, inspecting the label on a glass bottle. They always ended the night like this; not speaking, the lights dimmed, and a shared glass of alcohol.
She poured the drink and handed it to him. He took a sip.
"Not the best," Michael said, frowning a bit as she swished her drink around. "Gabriel, fucking liar. Either that or he has terrible taste."
"I'd lean towards the latter," Ligur muttered.
Michael stared at him. The corner of her mouth curved into a tiny smile. "Indeed. I think we'll stick with the regular tonight."
She got up to fetch another bottle, while Ligur stayed kneeling. Small victories, he thought. He allowed himself to relax, resting his shoulder against the arm of the chair, his gaze drifting to the sliding glass door on the back porch. The lawn was perfect, as everything else was. The moon peaked out behind some wispy clouds.
Someone slammed against the glass. Ligur jerked backwards. It was a demon, he could instantly tell by the clipped wings and collar, but she was pressing her palms to the window and pleading soundlessly, her eyes wide and frightened.
Jumping to his feet, Ligur ran to the glass and yanked the door open.
She toppled into his arms. Her hands and stomach were coated in blood; she coughed wetly, clawing at his shirt as she writhed in pain, trembling violently. Ligur kicked the door shut with his heel and lowered her to the ground, keeping her head supported. Her feathers, normally a pale yellow, were matted with blood.
Michael gasped. She set down the glass, alcohol forgotten, and hurried over, shock written across her typically-composed expression. "You're too early," she said faintly, hands hovering over the demon in Ligur's lap. "You weren't supposed to be here until tomorrow."
"What do you mean 'early'?" Ligur said.
The demon shuddered, her breath coming in ragged gasps. "Hurts," she whimpered, clutching her stomach.
"Get her downstairs," Michael said. Ligur slid his arms beneath her legs and lifted the demon, uttering hushed apologies as she hissed in pain.
Michael opened a side door that he'd never seen before. Concrete stairs yawned before them, leading down to a cold and empty basement. She locked the door behind them. There was a mattress in the corner, so Michael grabbed it and laid it out. Ligur placed the demon gently onto the mattress.
"Okay, okay," Michael said, wringing her hands, looking hopelessly lost. "What do I do?"
Ligur balked. She was asking him for help? On the mattress, the demon moaned, wings fluttering. He was a paramedic, once upon a time. The knowledge still existed in his mind. Drawing himself up to his full height, he summoned his confidence from the old days.
"I need you to let me see the wound," he said to the demon. She seemed hazy, most likely in shock, but she tugged up her shirt anyway, revealing a jagged slash slick with scarlet blood, pulsing flesh held together by only her hands. Ligur swallowed hard. "Okay. Michael, get me a clean needle and thread, water, and if you have it, gauze and medical tape. Now!" he added sharply, when she stared at him uncomprehendingly.
After she dashed off, Ligur turned back to the demon. She let out a hoarse sob, fingers digging into the mattress.
"I'm going to put pressure on it," he told her, guiding her hand away from the wound. "It's going to hurt but you cannot move." She nodded, sucking in a deep breath. Carefully, Ligur pressed down on her skin, keeping the wound momentarily closed. The demon yelped and twitched, but forced herself to stay still, panting between her teeth. "Okay. You're doing great."
The slice was deep. He didn't know how far down it went, but he suspected it either reached some vital organs or very, very narrowly missed them. This didn't look like a knife wound.
"Who did this to you?" he asked the demon, while waiting for Michael to return.
"Powers," she choked out, jaw clenched. "They h-ha-had swords."
"Shit. Why did you come here? Out of all places?"
"Safe h-house. Everyone kn-knows that M-Mi-ch-chael's house is sa-afe for us."
They do? Ligur boxed away his questions for another time. "Alright, well, I'm a trained medical professional, so you're in good hands. I'll help you."
The demon shook her head, a tear trickling down her cheek. "It's too la-late for m-me."
"No, no, don't talk like that." Footsteps; Ligur beckoned sharply at Michael, who set down the supplies beside him. "Pour the water over the cut, slowly, don't dump it." Michael obeyed. The demon made a strangled sound. Now that some of the blood was washed away, Ligur could see the exposed pink flesh beneath, glistening in the dim light. "Put your hands here, Michael, like that. Hold still, both of you."
Ligur picked up the needle and thread and steeled himself. He could do this.
With steady hands, he pulled the first stitch, tying it tight. The demon cried out, her whole body spasming with the pain, horrible sobs echoing through the basement. Ligur gritted his teeth and made the next stitch, ignoring the way Michael flinched and the injured demon fought to lie still.
Suddenly, the demon jolted, as if electrified. Her legs and wings thrashed, throwing Michael off balance and knocking the needle from Ligur's hands. The thread snapped. The needle vanished into the darkness.
"No!" Ligur cried out, but the demon was incoherent, sobbing as she struggled to escape from invisible attackers, blood splattering the mattress and soaking her clothes, tearing her wound open anew. She wailed when Michael tried to grab her, lashing out with her arm and knocking the Archangel away.
"Please, please," the demon moaned, her breath hitching. "I just want to go home, please let me go, please..."
"Let me save you!" Ligur shouted. He reached for her again, but she scrambled away, one arm wrapped around her stomach. "I can't help you if you don't let me!"
Pain-induced psychosis. Ligur didn't see it often. Mostly found in demons, but some angel cases had been reported.
The demon was suffering from agony experienced only in her mind, unable to acknowledge the real world. She was lost to them. Ligur couldn't do anything about it at this point.
She was going to bleed out, and he could do nothing but watch.
"What is she doing?" Michael said, gaping as the demon crouched in the corner, blood dripping steadily from her wound.
"She won't last for long, with a gash like that."
"The what do we do?"
Michael stared, taking in Ligur's despairing expression. "What do you mean?"
The lump in his throat felt more like a rock. "We can't do anything. You can't restrain her without hurting her more, and I can't finish the stitching. We have to wait and hope she comes out of it before she dies."
So they waited.
The demon eventually slumped against the wall, shaking and shivering, growing more and more pale by the minute. Her arms fell away from her stomach, leaving the wound bleeding freely. Ligur's hands were caked in dried blood. The night turned pitch black.
In the past, paramedics handled this sort of psychosis by remotely healing the wound instead of trying to physically touch the victim.
Now, the collar around Ligur's neck stifled his powers. He once excelled at his job, and now he was useless. Angels did not develop their powers beyond the teenage years, which meant that Michael couldn't help.
The demon had fallen silent. She was deathly still.
Ligur crawled over, leaving Michael sitting alone, and reached for the demon's wrist. She didn't move. His fingers pressed down, searching for her pulse.
He closed his eyes.
"Is she...?" Michael trailed off.
Michael made a soft "oh" sound, moving as if to cover her mouth but stopped when she saw the blood on her hands.
Ligur opened his eyes and pushed himself to his feet, swaying for a moment before steadying himself. "This is your fault," he said thickly, glaring at the Archangel. "You and the rest of your kind."
He staggered up the stairs and didn't look back.
We get some insight into Crowley's past. Gabriel makes a decision.
The streets were quiet today.
Something was going on, and Crowley was determined to find out exactly what. He'd waited on the corner for Amon, but to no avail. The messenger demon didn't show. Amon had been acting strange, or at least, strange to Crowley's limited knowledge. The last time he saw Amon, he had distractedly muttered something about the weather before vanishing down the street.
Theories rattled around in Crowley's head, fueled by his ever-present anxiety.
Dead? Or worse, arrested. Sentenced to execution for plotting against the Seraphim, knowingly and willingly. They wouldn't care even if it wasn't knowingly.
When Crowley didn't see Amon for the rest of the week, he was forced to assume the worst.
He remembered when demons began to disappear from their homes, going missing at workplaces, or being stolen away at night. He now knew what happened to them, but back in the early days, the uncertainty was terrifying.
As he walked, he reminisced.
Crowley leaned back in his desk chair and waved a hand, turning on the screen at the front of the classroom.
His class was a mixed bunch of angels and demons. The two races mingled with each other, still relatively calm despite rising political tensions just outside. He'd noticed how the demons moved to the edges and back of the room, avoiding the clusters of angels who outnumbered them.
The divide made him frown.
The reporter was an angel, and his bias was clear. He skimmed over demon disappearances then began to speak about this new fanatically religious group calling themselves the Seraphim. His tone was bordering on admiring, his expression animated as he explained their beliefs in a logical fashion, setting it up to be perfectly reasonable line of thinking. Crowley tried to maintain his neutrality.
When the news report was over, he turned the lights on. Some angels were murmuring to each other. In the back, the demons scowled, sinking lower in their seats.
"I think we'll skip our Monday debate today," Crowley said, sensing the tension.
"Aw, wait," one of them said, an angel named Mastema. She had an inexplicable affinity for arguing, a trait that often irritated even her close friends. "We should talk about the Seraphim. They're just doing what's best for us."
"For 'us'?" a demon snapped. Their name was Sitri, and they had never displayed such a temper in Crowley's class before; they were always quite well-mannered, with broad eagle's wings and a pleasant smile. They weren't smiling now. "Better for you, you mean? Racist bitch."
"Not racism, just speaking the truth."
A few demons stood up, glowering at the angels. Mastema's friends also rose from their seats.
"I'm not going to take shit from demon filth."
"Watch your language," Crowley said sharply, sitting up. The class hardly paid him any attention.
"You'd probably have us all shipped off, right?" Sitri said.
"At this point, yeah, maybe."
Several demons grumbled and shifted at that. Something tight and thin inside Crowley threatened to snap. He got up and tried to intervene again, but his class was no longer listening. Everyone was intently watching the hostility unfold. Crowley shot a glance at the window, hoping an administrator might walk in, but to no avail.
"You can't talk down to us," another demon piped up, a slightly nervous kid named Cimeries. "We're not inferior to you. Angels and demons are from the same stock, we learned that in biology."
"The education system is unfairly skewed towards demons, everyone knows that," an angel shot back.
"That's not true at all," Sitri said. They looked over at Crowley. "Mr. Crowley, tell him that isn't true."
"It's not factually correct, there haven't been any studies done," Crowley replied, hoping they would start listening to him now. "Angels and demons are different, yes, but in the end we're all the same. I believe the Seraphim are rather distasteful for their attempts at seeding distrust among us."
Mastema's frown deepened. "Just goes to show that demons are always against us."
"Now, that's not what I—"
But it was no use. The angels were now convinced Crowley was untrustworthy, opinions turned like the flip of a coin. Parental influences, he suspected. He'd experienced the disdainful looks in public, the way most angels regarded him, but he'd never felt that same racism in his classroom.
The Seraphim were a disease, and they were spreading everywhere.
After school, Crowley left a letter on the principal's desk detailing his concerns about angel on demon animosity and what plan they intended to implement to counteract it. Politics could not be allowed to interfere with education.
On his way home, he took extra—possibly unnecessary—measures to soothe his nerves about traveling alone. He walked near groups of demons, trying to not seem like a creep while he avoided groups of angels. Unfortunately, his route required walking through a narrow alley, which unnerved him greatly.
He set off a brisk pace, hoping to get this part over with as quickly as possible.
The fear of becoming a statistic, another demon off the map, was deeply rooted in his psyche. His eyes were the only outward indicator of his race, so he wore a pair of sunglasses, but anyone who got close enough would see the slitted pupils and unnatural yellow color.
Crowley froze in place. Terror squeezed his heart. He forced himself to glance back, only to find that the comment wasn't directed towards him. Instead, there were three angels tailing a demon on the far end of the alley, blocking him into a corner.
"Back off, wank wings," the demon snarled, his voice low and harsh, like he'd been smoking cigarettes for decades.
The angels jeered, closing in. The demon shrank back against the wall despite his vicious disposition.
Crowley warred with himself, torn between minding his own business and inserting himself into the situation. Physical pain wasn't worth whatever morality points his brain insisted he try to earn.
At the end of the alley, the demon threw the first punch. He decked one angel and swept under the other, bolting for the exit, but the third angel snatched his collar and yanked him roughly to the ground, kicking him in the stomach once he was down. The first angel wiped away the blood from his nose and slapped the demon harshly, pulling his hair and slamming his head into the concrete. They were hurling slurs the whole time, their strikes becoming less strategic and more brutal as their rage took over.
The demon fought back ferociously, but he was already dazed and overwhelmed. Crowley chewed his lip.
"Oh, bloody," Crowley said, dropping his bags behind a dumpster. He ran towards the scene, shouting, "get off him, you bastards!"
One angel glared at him. "Keep your nose where it belongs, because there's plenty of this to share." He looked down at the demon and raised his foot, stomping down on the demon's fingers with an audible, sickening crunch. The demon howled.
"Hey!" Crowley reacted instinctively, swinging his fist and feeling it painfully collide with the angel's jaw. He staggered back, looking shocked. Crowley sucked in a sharp breath. "I-I meant it. What I said."
For the first time, the angels seemed a little uncertain.
At their feet, the demon groaned, cradling his broken fingers.
"This ain't over," one angel warned, stepping away. "The Seraphim are going to win, and when they do, you'll all go where you belong."
"Yeah, yeah, scram," Crowley said.
They reluctantly exited the alley, heading off down the street. Crowley watched them go, ensuring they didn't turn around. When they were gone, he hurried back to the other demon, who was pushing himself up. The demon slumped against the wall, hissing under his breath.
"You alright?" Crowley asked, like an idiot.
The demon raised his gaze briefly, revealing eyes swallowed up by darkness. Disfigurement spotted his face, marking him as a demon. His wings were bleeding and missing some feathers. "The fuck do you think?"
Crowley held up his hands in nervous surrender. "Sorry."
"The hell do you want from me anyway, angel?" the demon said, spitting out the word 'angel' like a curse.
"I, uh, 'm not an angel." Crowley took off his sunglasses, exposing his snake eyes. The demon scowled even harder, and Crowley wondered how the expression hadn't fixed itself in place permanently. "Lucky I just got the eyes, yeah? I'm Anthony Crowley." He stuck out his hand.
The demon stared at him for a long moment. Lifting his uninjured hand, he shook Crowley's. "The name's Hastur. You know, my boss has been looking for demons like you."
Far away from where Crowley had made a false assumption about Amon's whereabouts, the demon in question wandered through the misty expanse of deep forest ahead of him, a bag slung over one shoulder and bundled up in warm clothes. He had not, in fact, been arrested, but had fled his household a week before in exchange for braving it out alone.
Amon tugged his jacket on tighter, the rustle of fabric and breaking of dead leaves beneath his feet seemingly a chorus of incessant noise that would give away his location. Every step crackled and crunched. Twigs snapped, branches bent before him.
The sky was crowded with the fractured canopy of ghostly birch trees, bone white in the overcast light. Civilization was scarce here; if he was unlucky, he might run across a lone farmhouse or settlement.
To his knowledge, however, there was no sort of shelter out here. These woods held a myriad of unpleasant things, memories of flashlight beams and gruff voices, ropes and fighting and capture. Crowley had told him once that he almost escaped through this forest. Hopefully Amon wouldn't meet the other demon's fate.
It would be winter soon. Amon was counting on his stamina to help him reach the cliff before the first snow, though the idea of good luck was a foreign concept.
Luck never placed its favor with demons.
Rubbing his hands together, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of gloves to warm his numb fingers. Shakily, he yanked the fabric over his hands. The cold was better than anything back in Caelum. He could deal with freezing temperatures, but if he had to spend one more day in that forsaken place, he probably would have turned to darker means of escape. His hatred had reached new depths, his loathing for angels knew no bounds.
He remembered nights of pain and humiliation. He remembered the mornings after, the mornings of scrubbing himself desperately to wash away his angel's touch, the mornings of splashing his face with cold water and praying he'd wake up from this nightmare.
Does your wife not satisfy you enough? Amon had said once, in a fit of furious defiance.
The angel had slapped him.
A branch whipped across his face, stinging his cheek. Amon scowled and pushed it aside.
It was still bright out, so he was hoping to make good progress before nightfall. The cliff was days away, and at the pace he was going, it'd be longer. The collar around his neck was chafing and cold. His wings were folded, clipped, useless.
"Shoulda put a tracker on me, motherfuckers," he said to himself, almost deliriously, his lips numb. "Try an' catch me now."
Even after his voice failed him, his internal mantra continued, loud and pulsing, Try and catch me now.
"Oh, this," Beelzebub breathed, shocked, "this is illegal."
Gabriel laughed smugly. "Yes, well, no one's scouring an Archangel's house for contraband. No one with any sense, that is. Care to have a look?"
"A-A look? Fuck yeah."
They were in Gabriel's basement, where there was a messy pile of newspapers and books. The media was all printed or written by demons, and to Beelzebub's knowledge, everything of the sort was burned once the Seraphim took over. She hadn't seen any newspapers since the birth of Caelum.
This was a treasure trove. Awed, she picked up the first page, scanning the headline. Idle news about sports and weather, the kind of bland shit she'd missed so much.
"You kept all of this? How?" she asked.
"I couldn't let all of it be burned. A waste of paper." Gabriel feigned nonchalance, but Beelzebub knew this was just another aspect of Gabriel's subtle doubt, his pitiful attempts at keeping the old days within reach. He missed everything too, though he was hesitant to show it.
He might've been roped into the Seraphim at first, but he was an active participant all the same. Hindsight was constantly scolding him.
"I must admit, there were some skilled writers out there," Gabriel mused, smoothing over a crinkled newspaper. "I was under the impression demons weren't very literate."
"We're not allowed to be."
Gabriel didn't look up from his paper. "Not my rules."
"You helped make the rules." Beelzebub clenched her jaw to stop herself from saying anything more.
Every day was a roll of the dice with Gabriel. Sometimes, he was receptive to her complaints and even sympathetic, expressing remorse for the things he'd done in the past. Other times, he was adamant, firm in his beliefs and right back to his misplaced loyalty with his fellow angels. Beelzebub could never guess what mood he was in.
"Pick a side," she muttered, turning away from him. Gabriel shuffled around behind her, but she was focused on the next pile of papers, rifling around for one in the middle.
They read in silence for a while, Gabriel trying to ignore the tension and Beelzebub trying to amplify it. Beelzebub discarded one newspaper after another, searching for something worth her time. She found several books, which interested her less. Gabriel eventually took a seat in the corner.
A few minutes later, Gabriel snapped open a newspaper and made a quiet, surprised noise.
Beelzebub glanced over at him.
Holding up the paper, he pointed at the headline, a disbelieving smile on his face. "Beelzebub, is this you?"
She looked closer. The picture was grainy and indistinct, but she could clearly see herself standing at a podium, her hand raised in a fist and a bright gleam in her blue eyes. A crowd of demons was gathered below her. "It... It is," she said after a moment, scoffing. "I remember that."
"What are you doing?" Gabriel inquired, leaning to see better.
"It was a rally. I don't know if you remember, but I was well-respected among demons. I held a lot of those rallies once the Seraphim started to be more vocal. They threatened me publically. I got into a brawl with one of them." Beelzebub smiled fondly at the memory.
"You held rallies? And speeches? Demons listened to you?"
"Angels too, but yes."
Gabriel appeared immensely troubled. He stared at the newspaper, skimming the paragraph over and over again. His eyebrows scrunched up and a tiny frown tugged his lips downward, giving Beelzebub the bizarre desire to either slap him or kiss him.
"You knew what you were talking about," Gabriel murmured. His fingers absently folded the tip of the page. "You went to college. You were the only one who could stand up to the Seraphim."
"And..." Gabriel closed his eyes. "I took that away from you. Your strength. The power you wielded."
"You did," Beelzebub said bluntly, not bothering to mince her words. "You and the rest of your kind took everything from me."
"I'm so sorry."
"Don't apologize to me, fucking idiot."
Gabriel jerked his head up.
"Do something," Beelzebub snapped. "Stop expecting everything to fix itself and actually start making things right. You destroyed me, now you have to live with the guilt until the Seraphim are ash in the wind."
There was a long beat of silence.
Finally, setting down the newspaper, Gabriel rose to his feet. The conflict in his eyes faded. It gave Beelzebub a thrill. "I know you're involved with a resistance of sorts. I even suspect you're pretty much their leader, correct?"
"That would be a fair assumption."
"Well, then, tell me..." Gabriel's lips twisted into a grim, determined smile. "What I can I do to help?"
Michael and Uriel navigate their relationship, and Aziraphale comes to a realization.
If Michael knew anything in this world, it was how to be patient.
Being calm was another matter entirely.
Oh, she could wait patiently, quietly, without a single complaint. But calmly? Completely composed? That was a nearly impossible feat. Though she was an organized angel, she was often also spur-of-the-moment and struggled to control her instinctive emotional reactions.
Especially around Uriel.
Closing her eyes tight, Michael fell back onto her couch, kicking up her legs in an uncharacteristic spasm of frustration. She felt childish, splayed out and whining to herself, but there wasn't much else she could do about it.
Ligur was upstairs, in his room. He hadn't emerged since the demon had died in Michael's basement, seized by a demonic illness before he could save her.
The devastation in Ligur's navy blue eyes was clear.
It wasn't Michael's fault, she knew. The demon had taken a risk by coming early, and she'd paid for it, so why did Michael still feel so guilty? Perhaps it was the way Ligur looked at her: quietly heartbroken, desperate and disappointed. Maybe it was how she had begun to consider him less of a nuisance and more of a slightly unwelcome roommate. Maybe she felt like she owed him something.
Which was ridiculous.
She didn't owe that demon anything. She was risking enough with this safe house she was offering. Her backchannels were highly illegal and posed a great threat to her and everyone around her. In truth, she only used the backchannels for selfish reasons; the demons who sought her out were ones who were truly suffering, while demons belonging to angels like Gabriel didn't have much of a pressing need to escape. She offered these backchannels to absolve herself of her sins, to ease the moral distress that all Archangels experienced.
It was a miracle that Ligur hadn't discovered it sooner. He was oddly perceptive, for a demon. He knew when someone was hurting and exactly how to fix it, like with his demon friend, Hastur. Michael hadn't known anything was amiss until Ligur found Hastur's wings in dire need of grooming, the feathers awry and tangled in disarray. Michael sometimes wondered how Uriel was handling her own demon.
Then again, Uriel could handle anything. She was warm and empathetic, yes, but she was also stubborn and had a remarkable capacity for cruelty.
They all did.
Caelum required it, for survival.
Michael missed the angel she used to know. Uriel was happy all those years ago, with a bubbly personality and a bright soul, always a laugh on her lips. Now, a genuine smile was rare. Michael understood, she did, but she still grieved the loss.
But she could not love Uriel, not here. Not now. It was not allowed, prohibited by the Seraphim, and she'd tried to convince herself it was for good reason, but it was the one rule she could not believe in.
A sin, the Seraphim called it. A crime against God.
If loving Uriel was sin, then Michael deserved to go to Hell.
Hanging on the wall, stretched tight canvas, the colors too bright and the lines too sloppy in the early morning light, was a painting. Yellow sunbeams slanted over the grey and silver strokes, splashes of purple illumined from behind. The painting depicted an angel, drawn in charcoal and peppered with bursts of color, brilliant white and gold wings spread out behind her. The angel was gazing into the distance, her lips golden and her eyes a harsh, cold blue.
Uriel sat in her studio and stared at the painting.
It certainly wasn't her best work. Her other paintings, the ones on display, were her most polished works, the ones that other angels were vying to buy.
And they were all terrible. The perfected paintings were lackluster, devoid of passion and love. The paintings that were loved found their places on the walls of her studio, seen only by the herself and the sun.
The painting was titled: Who Is Like God?
Uriel had painted this years ago, for Michael. The Archangel Michael, now. Those sorts of titles didn't exist in the old world. Uriel found she quite liked the power that Michael held, the sway she had over the country. It was intimidating and alluring. Uriel fell so easily for the aesthetic of things.
Shifting her eyes to the door, she frowned at the padlock. It was necessary, especially with the demon who lived here. Hastur would probably take any chance he could to destroy the precious paintings in her studio.
She didn't know what to make of the demon, sometimes. Hastur was always simmering with resentment and barely-concealed hatred. He was spiteful, malicious, and temperamental. Despite all this, he was good at following orders, and remarkably relaxed when Ligur was around.
He was oddly sensitive too, liable to yelp or shriek when startled, which was irritating at first until Uriel realized she could use it to her advantage. She couldn't bring herself to harm anybody, even a demon, but Hastur didn't know that. Threats of physical violence were enough to cow Hastur.
Uriel sighed. She rose to her feet and crossed the room to the door, hand hovering over the lock.
It could be worse.
She unlocked the door.
Five months from her capture and three months since the Auction, and Beelzebub was no closer to her goal.
After Amon's disappearance, many demons had retracted their assistance, terrified for their own lives. If someone as slippery as Amon got caught, what did that mean for the rest of them? Beelzebub had a tough time convincing Vine to help, much less the several dozen who fled at the slightest hint of danger.
This wasn't going to work. This was a fucking disaster and she was in charge of it, which meant this was her fucking disaster. At least she had Dagon, and Crowley. They were the only ones who stuck with her throughout it all.
Beelzebub held an empty mug tightly. The ceramic was cool under her fingers.
Even though Gabriel had promised to help, there wasn't much he could do either. Arguably, he was just as trapped as she was.
The mug cracked in her grip, a jagged split running down the middle. She gritted her teeth and squeezed it harder.
Shards flew everywhere as the mug shattered in her hands, slicing open her palms and clattering to the floor in a shower of ceramic. Her hands stung. A short gasp escaped her at the relief the action caused. Some of her stress faded away.
"Fuck," she growled, lowering herself to the floor to pick up the pieces. She'd never broken something before; not on purpose anyway. Dammit. Fuck, shit, damn, motherfucking hell—
Cursing in her head wasn't the same as cursing out loud.
"What happened here?" Gabriel, of course, stepped into the room at that very moment, confused and concerned.
"Sorry," she muttered. "Broke a mug."
There was a beat of silence. She glanced up. Gabriel seemed to be analyzing her, his stupid purple eyes looking her up and down. After a moment, he opened the cabinet and took out another mug. She frowned.
Slowly, deliberately, Gabriel dropped the mug. It shattered on the floor.
Is this another fucking test? Beelzebub thought, rage boiling deep inside her, just like the glass of water? He's going to make me clean all this up by myself, fucking Archangel, dipshit jackass fucker—
"Here," Gabriel said. He handed her a third mug. She reluctantly took it, resisting the urge to hurl it at his face. "Go on. Destroying things always helps me relieve stress."
... is he serious?
Bewildered, Beelzebub got to her feet, the mug gripped loosely in one hand. Gabriel fetched one for himself.
"At the same time?" he offered, raising his mug.
She huffed in amusement. "Sure."
Counting down together, they said, "one, two, three" and dropped the mugs with twin crashes. The floor glittered with shards, a carpet of glass. Beelzebub took another glass and threw it down with a bit more force than necessary, causing Gabriel to jump back to avoid the shards.
"Good one!" Gabriel said, grinning.
By the time all the cups were gone, Beelzebub was breathing heavily and surrounded by broken glass. Gabriel leaned against the counter, face flushed, his teeth blinding white in a wide smile. The heavy weight of frustration in Beelzebub's chest was gone.
Gabriel stared down at the mess with raised eyebrows. "Perhaps we should've done this outside."
Tipping back her head, Beelzebub laughed.
Aziraphale spread out his papers in a messy semicircle around him on the floor, sitting cross-legged under the lamplight. It was late at night, so Crowley was already asleep. The demon had been so tired lately, he needed this rest.
Picking up a pencil, Aziraphale began to sketch out a vague shape on some grid paper, hoping his hands would just lead him to the correct dimensions.
No such luck.
Sighing, he erased the lines.
There were pros and cons of working from home, and one of the cons was his lack of peer contributions. Sure, Gabriel could offer advice, but his duties as an Archangel were above Aziraphale's. Gabriel didn't have time to help Aziraphale with city plans. The only angel in their group that might've been able to help was Sandalphon, and Aziraphale was absolutely not seeking out Sandalphon.
He was so absorbed with his thoughts that he didn't hear a muffled groan from the other room, and the shuffling of feet as Crowley dragged himself into the living room, hair tousled and eyes wild with the aftershocks of one of his nightmares.
"Angel?" Crowley said, yawning. He leaned in the doorway, obviously self conscious of his appearance. "What are you doing up?"
Aziraphale gave him a tired smile. "Just finishing these." He scribbled something in the margin and dropped his pencil. "It's part of my duties as a Principality. I handle planning for new cities. I admit, I've been a tad stumped lately."
Crowley sank to the ground beside Aziraphale, looking over the maps. "You could put the plaza there. It opens up walkways all through the city."
Glancing over, Aziraphale huffed and wrote down Crowley's advice.
"And public markets should be spread out, like this." Crowley took Aziraphale's hand and guided his pencil, showing him the different placements. Aziraphale tried to control his shiver at Crowley's warm touch. "Depending on the population, you'll want the houses to be arranged like that."
"Oh, I see. I'm worried this might be too close to the outskirts."
"If you leave space here, it should be fine."
Aziraphale smiled despite himself. Crowley's eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, his tongue sticking out between his lips as he traced an outline, drawing the correct dimensions. He no longer looked meek and submissive, like he had several months ago. He looked confident. Self-assured. It was a welcome change.
When Crowley finally set down the pencil, the maps were cleaned up nicely. It was better than Aziraphale could've done.
"Thank you," he said sincerely.
Crowley flushed pink. "Uh, it's no big deal. I mean, it's just some maps."
"It's a big deal to me. I could've never done all this on my own. You're very good."
"Ha, yeah." Crowley rubbed the back of his neck. "I was a teacher, you know, so I took some engineering classes in college while I was trying to figure out my major."
Aziraphale's smile faded.
Crowley had a life. Family, friends, a job. He probably drank coffee in the mornings on his way to school, and he probably wore reading glasses for a lecture. He once stood in front of classrooms and talked about his passions, his slitted eyes bright with excitement.
He was a person. Not a pet, not a servant, not everything he'd been made out to be. Not anything that Aziraphale had expected.
This was all so wrong.
"Angel?" Crowley said tentatively, at Aziraphale's silence. "Was it something I said? I'm sorry."
"No, no, don't apologize. Never apologize to me." Aziraphale braced his forehead in his hands, suddenly exhausted. A weak, trembling noise escaped him. His wings shuddered, knocking free some white feathers. "God, what am I doing?"
"Planning cities, I thought?"
"Not that. This. This whole thing. With you, and the other demons, and that." Aziraphale jabbed his finger at the collar around Crowley's neck, the strip of metal gleaming in the dim light. "Why do you have a collar? You're not a pet."
Crowley shifted his weight uneasily. He folded his hands in his lap, casting his eyes downward. "I... I technically am. I'm registered as belonging to you."
"You shouldn't be." The vehemence in his voice surprised Aziraphale. But he knew it was true. "No demon should belong to anyone." Reaching forward abruptly, he said, "you shouldn't have a bloody collar, let me—"
"Angel, stop." Crowley carefully moved away, hands hovering over the collar almost protectively. He looked wretched. "You can't. You know you can't." Aziraphale shook his head faintly, desperately.
"I can't let you go on like this. I've been fooling myself all this time, but this is my fault, and..."
"No, hey. This is absolutely not your fault." Crowley scooted over, taking Aziraphale's hands in his own and clasping them firmly, his slitted eyes narrowed in determination. "You couldn't stop the Seraphim. None of us could. You've done everything you can for me. I'm so lucky to be your demon, okay?"
And that made it so much worse.
The fact that Crowley considered himself lucky to be in an angel's service, lucky to be completely at Aziraphale's mercy, lucky in comparison to other demons. This was not lucky.
"I can't do this anymore," Aziraphale said shakily. "I can't keep treating you like this. You deserve better."
"Listen. Angel, listen to me."
Aziraphale forced himself to focus on the demon's steady voice.
"You cannot do anything differently than before, do you understand that?" Crowley said, his gaze imploring. "It would put both of us at risk, and you don't want that, yeah? So it's all well and good that you've realized it, but you cannot act on it. It would jeopardize everything." Aziraphale sucked in a breath, trying to calm his stuttering heart. "Angel, please talk to me."
"Okay," Aziraphale breathed, nodding. "Okay. J-Jeopardize what, exactly?"
A pause. Crowley squeezed his hands, worrying his lip with his teeth, eyes conflicted. Finally, bowing his head, he said quietly, "there's a resistance. Demons and angels fighting against Caelum from the inside. Gabriel's in on it, and I think Michael too."
A resistance. People willing to make a change.
Not like cowards. Not like Aziraphale.
Aziraphale gave a watery laugh. "That's... That's wonderful. I never thought... I mean, I always assumed everyone thought the same way as the Seraphim, that I was surely wrong for doubting..." He brushed his wing against Crowley's. The demon intently returned the gesture. Crowley's feathers gleamed black in the light. "I never dreamed we might have a chance to fix everything. How can I help? Oh, please, tell me how I can help you."
"I don't know. I shouldn't have told you, I don't..." Crowley exhaled sharply. "I'm not sure you can do anything."
"I'll be of use however you need me," Aziraphale promised. "Please."
Crowley didn't respond for several moments. When he seemed to come to a conclusion, he put on his bravest smile and tightened his grip on Aziraphale. The heat radiating from their joined hands was pleasantly unbearable. "Alright, angel. You're in."
Dagon hated Sandalphon's carpet, almost more than the angel himself. She used to think the shiny scales on her face were the ugliest things ever, but the brown carpet was an offense to the eyes.
Weeks of living here and nothing improved. Sandalphon treated her like less than dirt, taking every opportunity to force her into degrading and humiliating acts of servitude. She was his personal plaything, nothing more than a toy to throw away when he was done. But she could handle it. She could wait and bide her time, and she'd strike back at him one day.
This confidence was conspicuously absent as she knelt on the floor of his bedroom, noticing how the carpet in here was closer to beige than brown.
She was nervous, if solely for the reason that Sandalphon never allowed her in here, yet she'd been specifically ordered to be in his room by ten in the evening. So, here she was, kneeling and listening to the nightlife stir outside.
The door creaked.
Sandalphon stepped inside. Pointedly, she kept her gaze fixed forward, on his bed. He moved around behind her, and she heard the sound of clinking glass. Okay. So he was getting a drink.
No red flags yet. She tried to calm her anxious nerves.
Finally, she heard him set down the glass and the rustle of feet on carpet. He stopped right behind her.
She flinched violently when he placed his hands on her shoulders. She curled her fingers into the carpet, resisting a full-body shudder. Whatever was happening, pain would come from resistance.
Sandalphon squeezed her shoulders, thumbs pressing into the sensitive skin of the back of her neck. She wasn't sure if she was still breathing. Slowly, his fingers moved upwards, tracing her jaw and the scales on her cheek, light and careful, causing her to twitch involuntarily. Revulsion squirmed in her stomach.
More firmly this time, he put two fingers beneath her chin and tilted her head upwards, forcing her to look him in the eyes. His expression was hungry. His other hand cupped the side of her face possessively.
"You know," he murmured, voice rough and low, "you really are quite a pretty thing. We should put that mouth of yours to work, don't you say?"
The door locked.
Thank you guys for 200+ kudos!! I don't always respond but I see all of your comments and they give me warm fuzzies inside. Thanks for all the support and validation <3
And the first action chapter since Chap. 1 is coming up on Tuesday! Y'all excited ? ;)
The angels pull off something daunting.
Imagine it, would you?
The grass, scraped and torn away in favor of empty, packed dirt. Raised wooden platforms scattered around the newly-formed arena, the space framed with large ascending bleachers. Colorful lights hoisted up on tall poles. A massive white tent just outside, full of rickety metal cages and gruff voices shouting instructions. Squawks of pain rising and fading with the commotion. Sparkling, vibrant costumes and shaky voice warm-ups, single iron manacles glinting the sunlight.
All demons dreaded it, feared it, loathed it. The final destination. The ultimate punishment.
Beelzebub had started thinking about it a few weeks ago, and hadn't been able to get it out of her head since. Being in a position of relative authority, she knew she had the power to really change things, but was the circus too lofty of a goal? Perhaps she should begin with something smaller, something less dangerous.
Until she realized that the smaller something involved the Hellfire seeds. That was technically her first operation.
Maybe it was time to move onto larger things.
So, with this in mind, she sought out Gabriel. Despite being on stable ground with him, she absolutely did not trust him with the more secretive workings of the demon community. He was an Archangel, no matter what. Still, she needed his knowledge.
"The circus is taking place in a nearby city soon," Gabriel had told her. "What do you have in mind?"
She had so much in mind.
Destruction wasn't necessarily a part of it, but she would enjoy the experience a lot more if she was able to burn or ruin something.
For simplicity's sake, only Crowley, Hastur, and Ligur were included in this operation. Dagon was too close to Sandalphon to be of any trustworthiness. Ligur's house was known as a safe place among demons, which confused Beelzebub, but she wasn't going to jinx it. If Michael was willing to help, by all means.
"Are you ready?" Gabriel asked now, bundled up in a coat and a grim expression on his face. They were standing outside of a roped-off section of land, just beyond the actual circus. Other angels and their demons filed into the arena and to the bleachers, taking their seats. The white tent in the distance gleamed in the twilight. "We don't have to this tonight if you're not up for it."
"Shut up," she muttered, subtly pushing him towards the bleachers. "I'm not the one with the starring role tonight."
This was the big test. To see if Gabriel was really in it for the long haul, she'd placed most of the pressure on him, leaving everything hanging on his dedication. It may have seemed like an unwise move, but she was confident she was playing her cards right.
"Remember," she said, "this hingeszz on you."
Gabriel swallowed audibly.
The stars peeking out above them, they joined the crowd. Beelzebub stuck close to Gabriel, uneasy with so many angels around. There was some chatter here and there, eager whispers amongst bold demons. She searched for familiar faces, but the continuous flow of colorful wings and clothes proved her efforts futile. Guided by flashing signs, the crowd swerved to the side and was forced into a narrow stream to enter the arena, everyone sticking out their arms to be stamped by an angel at the checkpoint.
"Gabriel," an angel said, stepping over to them. His wings were a painful neon green tipped with black, and his hair was, unfortunately for Beelzebub's eyes, the exact same shade. He grinned at Gabriel. "It's been a while, yeah? Good to see you."
The line shuffled forward. Gabriel's laugh was unnervingly cold.
"Ah, Daniel. It's good to see you also."
"You got a new one? Cool." Daniel's eyes landed on Beelzebub, calculating, slightly hungry. "She's pretty, for a demon." He chuckled and elbowed Gabriel jovially. "They just don't make them the same these days. Mine was a blonde, she wore out real quick. Stopped being fun after the first few times. Looks like yours is lasting though. Lucky you, eh?"
The smile plastered on Gabriel's face became a strained grimace. "Mm, yes."
Beelzebub felt sick. She leaned closer to Gabriel, fingers curling into his sleeve. Daniel didn't notice.
"Well, I can't wait to see the show," Daniel said, clapping his hands together. "Peace be with you."
"You as well."
As soon as Daniel was gone, the tension drained from Beelzebub's shoulders and she slumped, breathing out. Gabriel glanced down at where her hand was touching his arm, and didn't comment on it.
"He has no right to speak about you like that," Gabriel muttered, guiding her to the outside of the line for fresh air.
"Not much you can do."
"Not to him, yes, but I'll be doing something tonight."
Inside the arena, already seated on the bleachers, were Aziraphale and Crowley. They were close to the bottom with a good view of the whole show. The arena was a circular plot of land with several raised platforms and a few angels bustling around, checking the stability of the wood before the performance.
Crowley was nervous. That was a guarantee at any given moment with him, but he was a bit more on edge tonight than usual. The very nature of the circus was inciting a rush of anxiety.
He had never seen it in person until now, but he'd heard enough stories. A cruel display for an angelic audience, showcasing different oddities and exploiting demons for entertainment. Owned by the Dowling family.
The only reason Crowley knew of the Dowlings was because he used to tutor their only son, Warlock. He was a bright but stubborn angel, secretly eager to please despite his hostile front. Crowley grew to consider Warlock as his own child; until, of course, the Dowlings pulled him from school to remove him from "unholy influences".
Seeing Warlock tonight would make all this worth it.
"Are you okay?" Aziraphale asked quietly.
Crowley gripped the hem of his shirt to quell his jitters. "Yep. Fine."
Aziraphale's fingers settled inside Crowley's wrist, comforting and warm. The angel kept his gaze on the arena, but a small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
The crowd began to quiet down as soon as several brilliant fluorescent screens flashed on, illuminating the arena. Angels murmured in hushed tones. Colorful signs and lights cast different tones over the space, turning Aziraphale's blond hair green and purple. Spots of blue danced over Crowley's clothes.
Oohs and ahhs rose up with the appearance of an angel in the center of the arena, clad in a regal crimson and gold suit. His speckled brown wings were adorned with dangling tassels, and a long rod was brandished in one hand.
This was a much different setting than when Crowley had seen him last, but he recognized Warlock's father all the same.
"Welcome one, welcome all," Thaddeus said, his strong voice booming over the eager audience. "Prepare, for tonight, you shall witness performances that will change your perception of this world, that will alter your reality, that will usher you into a new existence. Prepare, for tonight, I present to you, the Circum Daemoniorum!"
Cheers erupted from the crowd, angels waving flags and whooping. The demons stuck out, as they were the only ones sitting in silence. Across the arena, Crowley caught Beelzebub's eye; she looked like she was trying to vanish into the floorboards.
"For our first act tonight," Thaddeus continued, spinning in a slow circle to face everyone, "we have a demon with the ability to multiply itself."
From all sides of the arena entered dozens of identical demons, their eyes dusted with a dark powder and their hair styled in two points. One of them pulled ahead; the original, Crowley assumed. Metal cuffs glinted around his wrists, but his wings weren't clipped. They were a glorious jet black, similar to Crowley's own, with the exception of a bright yellow streak in the primaries.
"All identical. A hive mind of unholy origin, this demon shares a consciousness with these copies. It can make scores, even hundreds, if given the time."
The duplicates moved in a carefully rehearsed routine, all exactly in sync with each other. A spotlight followed the original demon. Thaddeus waved the rod in his hand, and the demon followed, keeping up with the complicated gestures that the angel was forcing him to complete.
"And to add another layer of unusuality," Thaddeus said, "if one dies, another takes its place."
Crowley barely had time to react before Thaddeus whipped a knife out of his pocket and stabbed the closest duplicate, slitting its throat in one swift motion. Blood spurted from the wound. The duplicate gurgled and choked, and fell to its knees in the dirt.
The angels whooped and hollered.
In unison, every single duplicate shuddered, hands flying to their necks as if they shared the pain. Crowley felt sick at the thought.
Closing his eyes, the original demon's form blurred and shifted, splitting into another copy that stumbled away and joined the others. The original was trembling violently, his fingers skimming over his throat, warily staring at Thaddeus and his bloody knife.
Thaddeus cleaned his knife off with a satisfied smile, the whole crowd cheering loudly. Crowley's ears were ringing. Aziraphale's grip on his wrist tightened.
"Helpful for venting frustration and not much else," Thaddeus said in amusement, inciting a chorus of laughter. "But disposable demons aren't all we are here for, isn't that right?"
Taking the cue, the copies grabbed hands with each other and faded away, vanishing down the line until only the original was left, who scurried off as quickly as he was able.
"We have demons who can duplicate, but what about demons with magic? Demons so evil they can harness the elements." Thaddeus' voice took on a reverent, dramatic edge. "Demons, unholy spawns of the underworld, capable of accomplishing incredible feats through their ties with Satan."
The sky rumbled. Crowley looked upwards, as did everyone else, craning their necks to see. Clouds were forming in a dark roiling mass, obscuring the stars. The hairs on the back of his neck rose; the sharp scent of ozone filled the area.
Electricity crackled through the heavens and amassed in a pulsating, white-hot ball, blinding the angels and demons watching in awe.
With a massive boom of thunder and a snapping noise, lightning snaked down from above and struck the ground, dirt erupting outwards in a shower of soil, crawling wreaths of electricity dancing through the storm clouds, screams sounding as people shied away from the spectacular display.
"Able to capture the stunning power of the lightning." Thaddeus's voice was fainter now, drowned out by the groaning thunder in the sky.
Crowley strained to see, blinking away the spots in his eyes.
In the center of the arena, hands coated in shifting electricity, hair tousled by the wind, wings extended to their full length and glittering with white sparks, was a demon.
"Known in his former life as Newton Pulsifer," Thaddeus introduced, "this hellspawn now performs for us, cleansing himself of his sins under the watchful eye of God. He once wreaked destruction with technology, now he creates wonder and impresses crowds of thousands."
Pulsifer didn't react to this description; he only stared at the ground, fists trembling from the exertion of holding the act together. Lightning swirled and buzzed around him, shining above his head in a shaky halo.
"Yet even the most incredible of demons is outshone by the shining star of our circus," Thaddeus said. The lightning fizzed out and the clouds dispersed, and Pulsifer exited the arena. Thaddeus stepped away from the main platform, walking around in a slow circle, speaking directly to the crowd. "An unholy union. Born to a demon father and an angel mother, this is a creature of darkness and evil."
The ground began to tremble, vibrations humming beneath their feet. Crowley gripped his seat for support.
"Angels and demons alike, I give you, the Antichrist!"
With an echoing roar, the platform exploded, pieces of shrapnel spinning in a wild vortex around a single focal point. Angels gasped and jeered, yelling slurs and insults. Crowley could not tear his eyes away. The Antichrist was a young boy, with a head of golden curls and eerie red eyes, hovering several feet in the air without any wings.
"The Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan and Lord of Darkness," Thaddeus rattled off, each new title earning a round of shouts from the crowd.
The Antichrist moved with careful deliberation, his strangely intense gaze sweeping over the audience. When his stare landed on Crowley, the demon found himself shrinking back.
Similarly, across the arena, Beelzebub felt frozen in place.
There was a power inside this boy, a power that pulsed within and set her heart into a pounding rhythm. Apparently, she wasn't the only one experiencing this; nearby, a demon was shivering, and Beelzebub caught sight of Hastur with his arms wrapped around himself. The angels seemed largely unaffected.
"Hybrid filth!" one angel hissed.
Thaddeus was soaking up the attention, hands clasped with a wide smile plastered on his face. Red light blurred and flitted around the Antichrist's head, whispers fading and redoubling and rattling vehemently inside Beelzebub's mind, her thoughts drowned out by the young boy's iron will.
"As you can see," said Thaddeus with pride, "we accept only the best for our performances. We give sinners a chance to divert their talents from destruction. They need us."
Frowning now, the Antichrist swiveled around to stare at Thaddeus, his eyes cold.
Beelzebub felt the pressure inside her lessen as the Antichrist focused his attention elsewhere. Gabriel's hand on her elbow was a comforting weight, grounding her.
"Behold how I exert my authority over this unholy beast." Thaddeus pointed his rod at the Antichrist.
Very, very slowly, a great reluctance in his movements, the Antichrist lowered to the ground, the light fading and the trembling ground coming to a standstill. Angels murmured amongst themselves, impressed. The boy tipped his head towards Thaddeus in submission. The manacles around his wrists clinked.
"See how evil can be tamed."
The last few acts were flying performances, a bitter reminder of Beelzebub's useless wings. As soon as it was over, they rose from their seats and shuffled to the exit, her heart pounding with excitement. Gabriel looked pale and slightly ill.
"Showtime," Beelzebub whispered.
Nodding sharply, Gabriel split off from her and vanished into the crowd. He went around the main exit and ducked beneath the bleachers, keeping the white tent in his sights. There were a few other tents scattered around, so he avoided them.
He did not blend in very well. With his height and his stature, he was conspicuous, but he was relying heavily on the idea that no one would question him among the other oddities this circus had to offer.
Gabriel jumped, whirling around, only to find himself staring into slitted yellow eyes. Crowley snuck up on him, completely silent.
"Why aren’t you doing this part?" Gabriel huffed. "You're stealthier than me."
"Not my rules. Beelzebub's in charge." Crowley dug around his pockets and retrieved a small packet with an unfamiliar word printed on it. "Here. Crush them under your heel or something, not with your fingers."
Gingerly, Gabriel accepted the packet of seeds. "What will you be doing?"
"Finding Aziraphale and getting home. Good luck."
And with that, Crowley disappeared into the rapidly-descending nighttime, slinking away with the lithe grace of a venomous snake. Gabriel sucked in a breath. Okay. He could do this.
He held the packet in his pocket and hurried across the grass, quickening his step at the sound of voices. Thaddeus Dowling was still dealing with the crowds. Hopefully that was one less angel he might encounter. This was especially dangerous for him due to how recognizable he was; being an Archangel was a detriment in scenarios like these.
There wasn't any time to question himself or wonder if all this risk was worth it, so Gabriel pressed on, ignoring the subtle itch in his mind that begged him to turn around and face Beelzebub's disappointment instead.
The first tent rose up before him. Gabriel carefully lifted up the entrance flap and peered inside.
Now a single being, the disposable demon was looking into a mirror and scowling at his reflection, rubbing his neck where Thaddeus had brutally stabbed a duplicate. He closed his eyes, sighing.
"Demon," Gabriel whispered, his voice disgusting weak and faint.
He froze. His eyes went wide, terror stiffening his frame as he scrambled to stand upright, bowing for Gabriel. "Sir," he said shakily.
"Come on, get up." Gabriel waved at him impatiently. "Give me your wrists."
"We don't have all day, let's go."
The demon extended his chained wrists, wincing preemptively.
Gabriel slid his fingers beneath the clasp and broke the first manacle, dropping it to the ground. The second one came off the same. The demon gawked at him.
"Go on, get out of here," Gabriel urged, opening the packet and tipping a single seed into his palm.
Moment of truth.
With great caution, Gabriel placed the hellfire seed on the ground and stepped on it.
Flames exploded from the tiny seed, shooting upward in a plume of acrid smoke and ruby red sparks, the tent instantly catching fire. Gabriel tripped backwards and scrambled away from the flames, throwing up an arm to shield his face from any awry sparks. The hellfire was all-consuming, racing along the ground.
Gabriel stared at the sight in an odd mix of terror and awe.
And that was when it truly hit him, how powerful the demons were. They could manipulate this fire. Crowley was growing it with no risks to himself. If she so desired, Beelzebub could set him on fire in his sleep and he wouldn't be able to defend himself.
What am I thinking?
The deep crimson flame licked at his shoes, prompting him to struggle to his feet and burst out of the tent, which was now a beacon of fire and smoke. He heard screams in the distance and spotted another tent on fire. Michael.
And another tent, not too far away. Uriel.
They were all in this together.
"Focus," he snapped at himself, forcing his legs to move as he ran towards the next tent, the seed packet warm in his pocket.
In a small tent, Adam Young was pressing his ear to the wall, listening intently to the screaming from just outside. The fire flickered in strange shapes, distorted and eerie.
"Someone's stirring up trouble," he mused. He sat down on his bed.
He could hear Thaddeus Dowling shouting, his authoritative voice rising above the panicked cries of angels who were attempting to escape the hellfire. This was organized, Adam could tell. Systematic. He'd seen some demons in the audience whose thoughts tugged at him, secretive and suspicious. Perhaps they were behind this.
Standing up, Adam tugged open his tent flap and spared a glance beyond his quarters.
At least five tents were on fire now, curling wafts of grey smoke floating into the dark sky. The red flames blazed brightly against the starry backdrop, specks of freed circus demons flying away in clusters. Adam smiled.
Stumbling towards him, wide-eyed and frightened, Warlock Dowling collapsed against Adam, half supporting and half supported. He flung his arms around Adam and hugged him tight.
"I thought you'd gone," Warlock gasped out, face buried in Adam's shoulder. "Dad's furious. So many are escaping, I didn't know where you—"
"I wouldn't leave without you."
Warlock laughed. His wings fluttered behind him, colored a rich brown. "Okay. Good. Here, let me..." He pulled a knife out of his pocket and broke Adam's cuffs off, discarding the metal bands. "Alright, then. Let's get the hell out of here."
They'd been waiting for their opportunity to leave. Warlock was unhappy here, and his parents were borderline neglectful nowadays, so when he'd ran into Adam while wandering, they became fast friends. Adam found refuge in Warlock, and vice versa. All they needed was a diversion. And it was here.
Adam gripped Warlock's hands as the angel spread his wings, took a few staggering steps forward, and launched them into the air.
"Is that okay?" Warlock asked, shifting his position to hold Adam easier.
"Yeah. 'S fine."
They set off for the treeline, leaving the circus and the flames behind.
Beelzebub crouched beneath the bleachers, grinning ridiculously wide as she watched the chaos unfold.
The circus was on fire. Great plumes of smoke and brilliantly bright flames clawed at the sky, lapping against the tent fabric and crawling over the ground, forcing angels to take to the air in order to avoid being burned. Tongues of fire swept across the land with vicious speed, crackling and hissing like millions of snakes in dry grass.
It was glorious.
The air was cluttered with angels and demons alike, fleeing the fire. Demons let out whoops and cries of triumph, spiraling high into the night, while the ones restrained to the ground loudly cheered their encouragement.
Some circus demons plummeted from the sky, clutching the manacles around their wrists and convulsing, until Beelzebub shot out from her hiding place and grabbed Thaddeus Dowling from behind, throwing him to the ground with a furious satisfaction.
"We don't need you," she snarled at him, stepping on his chest to hold him down. "We will never need you."
"Get off me, demon filth—"
"I am not filth."
Beelzebub drove her heel down into his ribcage with a sickening crunch! She ground her foot for good measure, sneering at him as he choked and spasmed, eyes rolling back.
"Prick," she muttered, scrubbing her bloody heel against the grass.
"Aw man, I wanted to kill him," a demon said nearby, dusting herself off. "You cannot believe how irritating he is. Or, was, I guess." She giggled; the sound was filled with sheer delight. "Anyway. Thanks. Got a name for me to thank you with?"
"I'm Hav." She shook Beelzebub's hand firmly. Her fingers were tipped with wickedly sharp claws. "Thank you. For everything you did tonight."
Beelzebub nodded in response.
"Well, you coming with?" Hav's wings flashed open; golden, spotted with dark smudges. "No one left behind and all that."
"I... I can't." Beelzebub gestured to the collar around her neck.
"I'll snap that right off for you, if you want."
She hesitated. The collar could come off and she'd be out of Caelum within the week. She'd be out of this disgusting place where angels were free to look at her however they wanted, where demons were defenseless and she was always at an Archangel's mercy. Freedom was hanging before her and she was Tantalus, unable to reach it.
Because she needed to stay. For the other demons, for Dagon especially, and to pursue her goal of destroying Caelum from the inside. She needed to stay and keep an eye on Gabriel. At least, that was what she told herself.
"No," she decided finally, stepping back from Hav. "Go. I'll get out eventually."
"Alright." Hav shrugged and stretched, rolling out her shoulders. "See you, Beelzebub." With a showy twirl, she leaped into the sky and soared off, vanishing into the darkness.
"We were home by the time the fires started," Gabriel said, a bounce in his step, his hands pressed together to hide the remnants of soot on his skin.
"Yesz," Beelzebub said.
"All this anarchy, so concerning. I should look into the culprits immediately."
They glanced at each other.
In the aftermath, everyone is in high spirits.
this chapter Refused to be written
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Gabriel opened his eyes, and closed them against the harsh burn of sunlight through his blinds, his lips tugging into a petulant frown. His sheets were twisted around him haphazardly, his mouth dry and his hair flattened to one side.
He was exhausted.
After their little escapade the night before, he had slept fitfully, roused from sleep every few hours with a jolt of fear, expecting to hear knocking on his door at any moment, Powers come to haul Beelzebub away. She had collapsed into bed as soon as they'd arrived home.
Last night, he'd seen a side of her that he had never noticed before. Something vicious and cruel, something that unnerved him.
He'd pretended to not see the bloody stains on her boots.
Sinking into his bed, he sighed heavily. He didn't want to get up and face the consequences of yesterday. Angels had been killed because of him. He was a traitor to his country and his race.
Gabriel squeezed his eyes shut. Thinking about those moral implications was too much for a Sunday morning.
He turned his thoughts away from himself. Aziraphale and Crowley, what was up with them? Yes, that was a more comfortable topic. Aziraphale, that bumbling Principality who had somehow gotten himself wrapped up in all this. Crowley, the high-strung anxious mess of a demon whose snake eyes bought his way into Aziraphale's heart.
Aziraphale had a soft spot for his demon, Gabriel suspected.
Then again, he thought tiredly, so do I.
What was wrong with him? Why did he always have to fall head over heels for every demon who showed him any attention? Perhaps he could boil this down to interest. He was interested in Abdiel, and now he was interested in Beelzebub. That was all.
Except, there was something about Beelzebub that was more than intrigue. She was strong and unshakeable in her confidence, both admirable traits.
Abdiel had been an infatuation. Gabriel respected Beelzebub more than that.
He was too tired for this.
Rolling over, he buried his face in his pillow and tried to go back to sleep.
Beelzebub didn't force herself to get up until late morning, when the sun was steadily climbing in the sky and a bird was chirping annoyingly near her window.
Last night caught up to her within moments.
Grinning, she sat up, stretching out her wings and shaking out loose feathers. She wrapped her arms around herself and laughed.
They really did it.
"Fuck," she whispered, practically vibrating with excitement. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, folding her wings, and stepped out into the hallway, listening for Gabriel. Silence. It seemed he was still asleep. Good, some peace before the day started. She grudgingly acknowledged that he'd done well and deserved this extra rest.
She rifled through the cabinets and settled on an apple for breakfast. Gabriel could make his own food today. Today, she was on top of the world.
Eventually, Gabriel trudged downstairs with a mumbled "good morning". He looked like hell.
"Szleep well?" she said, rocking slightly on her knees. She found she preferred kneeling these days. The floor was, oddly, more comfortable than Gabriel's couch.
He grumbled in response.
A comfortable silence settled over them. Gabriel sprawled himself out on the couch and sipped his tea with half-lidded eyes, bundled in a grey sweater that did not give him the right to look as cozy as he did. Beelzebub let her head fall against the armrest. The quiet set her on edge; not that Gabriel noticed.
"You know," said Gabriel at one point, lifting his steaming tea in the air. "We should celebrate. It's the least we deserve."
Beelzebub considered it.
"If you want to," he added after a moment, interpreting her lack of a reply as a refusal.
"I would like that," she decided. She didn't see it, but she could imagine Gabriel's pleased smile, purple eyes bright.
Had it not been for Aziraphale's calm reassurance, Crowley would've worked himself into a frenzy. He'd returned from the circus shaken and jittery, unable to sleep, finally hopping up onto the countertop where Aziraphale had found him, pale and half-delirious in the morning.
And then there was a knock at the door.
"It's alright, my dear," Aziraphale tried, but Crowley could not stop his heart from climbing into his throat, freezing with fear. "I'll answer the door, just stay right there."
Crowley stumbled over to the couch, dropping to his knees in case the visitor was important. He heard Aziraphale chatting amiably with someone outside. He was unable to pick out any distinct voices.
"Would you like some tea?" Aziraphale was offering.
"Yes. My companion is fine."
"Crowley," Aziraphale called. Crowley jumped to his feet. "Chamomile, please."
Hurrying to the kitchen, Crowley nearly had a heart attack at the clicking from the stove. He set the kettle on top and waited, resisting the urge to turn around and see who was here.
The angels were still talking by the time the tea was finished. Crowley's hands trembled as he poured it into cups.
He made his way into the living room, carefully clutching the tea. Aziraphale was seated in a chair, and two other angels were on the couch.
Crowley barely avoided dropping the tea.
He recognized this angel. The Throne smiled tightly at him, a smile that always held the promise of punishment, a smile that haunted Crowley's nightmares.
Maion. The Throne of discipline.
Controlling himself, Crowley placed the tea on the coffee table and sank to his knees beside Aziraphale. He kept his head bowed and his eyes on the ground. The angels' tones grew noticeably more tense when he entered.
"As a Principality," Maion said, "I'm sure you understand the security concerns. If any angels were involved in this awful attack, we need to know about it." His sickeningly bright green stare fixed itself on Crowley. "Ah, the snake. You were one of my favorites. If there can be such a thing, with demons."
"You knew each other?" Aziraphale said, surprised.
"Yes. Quite... intimately." Maion's grin stretched wide, like melted plastic. "He gave me trouble in the beginning, but he's a quick learner. I hope you've found him satisfactory?"
"Did you give him a name? I suppose it would be disrespectful to refer to him as Eight."
"His name is Crowley." Crowley noticed how Aziraphale chose his words; not "I named him" or "I gave him the name", but simply letting Maion know that Crowley was always his name, and Aziraphale didn't change it. It was very subtle, a blink-and-you-miss-it scenario.
By the expression on his face, Maion didn't miss it. "Crowley." He rolled the name around, drawing it out, making Crowley swallow thickly. The pronunciation edged on a 'craw' sound instead of 'crow'. "Come over here."
Every instinct fighting against it, screaming danger danger danger!, Crowley shuffled over to the angels.
Maion grasped Crowley's jaw with cool fingers, studying him. He tilted Crowley's head to the left, and to the right, his smile staying perfectly in place as Crowley didn't resist. "I've taught you well. Kneel." With Maion still holding his face, Crowley lowered himself to the ground, Maion's grip forcing his head up, exposing his throat. "Good boy. Now, we only have a few simple questions for you. I know you can understand orders, so this shouldn't be too difficult."
"You never know with demons," the Power muttered, prompting a chuckle out of Maion.
"Yes, they're quite stupid creatures when you get right down to it."
Crowley thought his ribs were going to shatter from the force of his pounding heart. He cast a frantic glance towards Aziraphale, who looked a tad ill. Then Maion's fingers curled under Crowley's chin, angling his face towards the Power. The cruelty in Maion's hard gaze was clearly visible.
"Are you involved in any illegal activity?" the Power asked bluntly.
"Verbal answers, please," Maion purred.
"No," said Crowley, nearly choking on the word.
"Have you ever considered partaking in illegal activity?"
"Are any of your friends involved in illegal activity or you know to be plotting against the Seraphim?"
You can't even guess how many, motherfucker. "No. No one."
"Have you ever neglected to disclose valuable information at the risk of yourself or your friends? Would you ever consider doing so?"
He hesitated just long enough for Maion's nails to dig into the sensitive skin beneath his jaw, the angel harshly jerking his head to the side. Maion leered at him, mottled grey wings puffing up with his agitation. "Don't lie to me, demon. You can't lie to me. Don't forget what I taught you."
How could I ever? Crowley forced away the rising nausea in his stomach. "I'm not lying, sir," he whispered, closing his eyes preemptively.
"You’ll find yourself changing your mind very soon."
Before anything could escalate, Aziraphale's voice rang out, sharp and stern, "take your hands off my demon." Maion stiffened. Crowley couldn’t breathe. "This is not your abhorrent training center, this is my home. I do not condone this blatantly disrespectful behavior."
For a long moment, there was a tense quiet.
And then, with a painfully strained smile, Maion released Crowley, drawing back and settling into the couch. "Many apologies, Principality. I mean you no ill will."
"I suspected nothing of the sort." The steel in Aziraphale's words claimed otherwise. "Now, are you quite finished with this interrogation? Crowley knows nothing; he is a demon, after all."
"Of course. We merely intended to cover all routes." Maion and the Power stood. "Peace be with you."
"You as well."
The door clicked shut. Crowley exhaled. He shot Aziraphale a look that hopefully communicated gratitude. The angel swallowed hard, wrung his hands, and hurried off into the hallway, leaving Crowley kneeling and trembling on the living room floor.
Dagon sank to the ground beside Hastur and Ligur, who were whispering furiously among themselves. She leaned backward, wincing at her sore joints, then extended her wings and wrapped them around herself. Beelzebub wasn't here yet, which leeched all the pleasure out of this trips to the park. Their angels seemed to be in a good mood today.
Most of the angels.
Sandalphon was hovering on the edge of the group, looking slightly left out. Dagon hoped they would include him. Maybe he'd be nicer at home. I'm fucking losing my mind.
"It's a pity you couldn't join the fun," said Hastur, pulling her into the conversation. "Last night was a riot."
"Literally," added Ligur.
Crowley, who was lazily entwining blades of grass, said, "I didn't stick around, but I heard it was..." He grinned. "Explosive."
Hastur blinked at him.
"The fires," said Ligur, for clarification.
"Ah." Hastur nodded. "I get it. Jokes."
"He doesn't get it," Crowley whispered to Dagon. He wilted a bit when she didn't respond.
"You sleep enough last night?" asked Ligur, elbowing Dagon.
Not at all. "Enough," she agreed.
"Uriel would tell you to drink water," said Hastur. "She's a health freak. Doesn't grow her own fruits, though. Say, Crowley, would Azzy let you come over and do some gardening? The backyard needs it desperately."
"I'll see if he'd be amenable."
"Oh, learning big words to make me feel stupid, that's how we're playing?"
"I learned that word to make myself feel better about living with an academic, actually."
They let Dagon slip into dazed silence, her vision blurring into a palette of green and blue and brown. Faint confusion tugged at her as ringing filled her ears, drowning out the playful argument between the other three demons. Her heart was pounding in her skull.
A hand landed on her shoulder.
Dagon jerked backwards, baring her fangs in a frightened snarl as her wings flashed open behind her, expecting to see Sandalphon looming over her.
Ligur recoiled, his mouth twisting into a frown. "Jumpy? Thought that was more Hastur's thing." Hastur made a noise of affirmation.
"You don't go around touching people like that," Dagon snapped. She crossed her arms over her chest.
"I said your name three times," Crowley said.
Hastur raised an eyebrow at her. "We were trying to say that Beelzebub's here."
The demon in question sat down next to Dagon, a borderline cheerful look on her face. "Don't say you started the party without me." She reached for Dagon's wing, as she typically did, but Dagon flinched away from her. Beelzebub tilted her head. "What?"
"Not today," Dagon muttered. Her skin crawled at the thought of being touched in such an intimate spot.
Beelzebub, thankfully, didn't press the issue. The other demons returned to their conversation, and Dagon was left to listen quietly, a heavy feeling in her heart and itching anxiety in the back of her mind.
While it had taken Ligur some time to come to terms with Michael's back channels, he'd accepted his role in it. Whatever it might've been: guilt, moral obligation, or other, he didn't question Michael's reasons for doing all this. As long as she wasn't actively worsening situations in this country, he was satisfied.
Right now, he was packing a meager bag in the basement, which he'd turned into a makeshift pantry. A demon hovered nearby, ushered down here by Michael a few minutes earlier.
"I don't exactly know where to go," the demon said when Ligur handed him the bag of supplies. "I really don't know about any of this."
"Would you rather stay here? Figure it out."
"No, wait—" The demon grabbed Ligur's arm, eyes pleading. "Show me the way out. I won't bother you anymore, just don't leave me out there alone."
Ligur ended up dragging the demon through the woods behind Michael's house, leading her to a secluded spot with a fork in the trail. The late November wind made him regret not bringing more layers. The demon shivered in her coat, clutching the bag to her chest and looking utterly pathetic.
"Head that way," Ligur instructed, pointing. "You'll come to a clearing. There's a cliff. Once you're there, you can fly across to Libertas. You'll be safe there. Don't come back, don't go off route, just stay in that direction and you'll be good."
She nodded rapidly. "Okay. What about my wings?"
"Right." Before she could back away, Ligur reached behind her and broke the clasp of her collar. The metal was cool in his hands. "There. Heal your wings."
Closing her eyes, the temperature dropped several degrees as her demonic miracle spread along the tips of her wings, growing out new primary feathers and covering up the clipped sections. She gasped, eyes flying open. Ligur felt a twinge of jealousy.
"What about you?"
Ligur clutched the broken collar. "What about me?"
"You could come with. Show me the way. We wouldn't get lost, then, either of us. Michael won't report you missing, that would expose her whole operation." The demon's expression was imploring. She made so many good points. It was unbearably tempting. "Come on. Let's get that collar off you."
She moved forward, and he stepped back.
"Can't," he said, his mouth dry with the refusal.
"I've got to stay. To get more demons out. Besides, I'm working with Beelzebub, and..." And there was no way he could leave Hastur. Not here. "... it's not possible right now. Go on without me."
"Are you sure? I feel bad, leaving you after how you've helped me."
"You know how you can repay me?"
Her eyes were big and emphatic.
"Find the cliff and get the fuck out of here."
It was raining.
Amon was freezing. He curled up beneath the thick boughs of a gnarled oak tree, sheltered from the worst of the drizzling water. His feathers were heavy with moisture. The sun wouldn't set for a few more hours, but there was no way he could travel efficiently in this downpour.
Well, he thought, infinitely better than Caelum.
Digging into his bag, he was thrilled to find a few dry matchsticks at the bottom. He also found a pocket knife, which he placed in his lap. Striking the matchsticks against each other, one, two, three, a tiny petal of flame flickered to life, glowing orange in the rainy gloom. He pressed the match to the tip of his knife, heating up the metal.
When the knife began to look faintly red, he flattened his hair and carefully reached back, angling the knife to the clasp of his collar. He jammed the heated tip into the clasp.
After he wiggled the hot edge against the metal, he yanked at both sides of the collar, and to his delight, the metal snapped in half.
His shoulders heaved with a hysterical, yelping laugh, doubling over and grinning so wide it hurt as his power flooded him, soothing his tired limbs and healing his clipped primaries, the constant pressure in his head completely absent. He tasted salt and found that he was crying.
If anyone had cared to look, they would have seen the shadow of a winged man tucked into a tree hollow, then the lithe form of a wolf with shiny golden eyes in the darkness. A pair of raven-colored wings were folded against its back.
The wolf's fangs shone white in the dreary downpour.
Gripping the straps of the bag in its mouth, the wolf crept out into the cold afternoon, a shadowy tail vanishing into the trees.
And if anyone had cared to look in the late hours of the day, as the sunset was bruised pink and orange, they would have seen a towering cliff's edge and black wings soaring over the deep blue sea.
I know it's been heavy with Ineffable Bureaucracy so far, but there's going to be several Aziraphale and Crowley centric chapters soon.
Do you guys have a favorite moment from this fic so far? Drop a comment and tell me!
Aziraphale and Crowley attend church. Hastur and Uriel find some common ground.
TW: Violence, gore, death
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley was falling apart.
This place was chipping away at him, shredding him to pieces bit by bit, setting him on edge of forcing him to suspect everyone around him. He was never safe here, but every day came with a stronger hint of danger that he could never escape nor rationalize.
He constantly had an itch of anxiety in the back of his mind, leading him to jump or lash out at sudden movements. When Aym had clapped a hand on his shoulder at the store, Crowley had whirled around and wrenched Aym's wrist behind his back in a panicked action fueled with blind desperation.
All the demons in the vicinity had frozen, eyes wary. Aym sucked in a sharp breath. Crowley instantly released him and jerked back, rigid with shock and horror at himself.
"Fucking snake," Aym had growled, storming off and rubbing his wrist.
Crowley avoided touching anyone after that.
In addition to all this, he was unable to find refuge in his sleep. His nightmares increased in frequency and vividness, replaying the same scene on the cliff and the water over and over and over again. Now, however, his dreams were including recognizable people. Maion would shove him off the cliff. Beelzebub, Hastur, Ligur, and Dagon would fall with him, burning. The angel in the ocean had piercing blue eyes.
There was no escape.
"You're allowed to do that?" Crowley asked, surprised.
Aziraphale lowered his reading glasses and peered at him. "There are no rules against anything of the sort," he said primly. "Besides, I'm a Principality. I doubt I will be reprimanded."
"Yeah, but church? Aren't demons unholy and all that?"
"The Lord regards us all in the same light." Aziraphale smiled gently. "The Seraphim are mistaken if they believe that God doesn't love everyone. Do you believe in a higher power, Crowley?"
"I mean," Crowley said. "Uh."
It was a complicated subject. Crowley had issues with a God who allowed all this to happen, who didn't intervene, and was overall a distant douchebag. However, he used to find comfort in the idea of some deity looking after them. It meant there was someone who cared, even when it seemed all was lost. Still, Crowley never attended church Before, because he saw it as a waste of a Sunday morning.
"I guess," he settled on, instead of going into an in-depth explanation.
"Well, then, they should have no problem with me bringing you." Aziraphale's tone left no room for discussion.
So, they were off. Crowley walked slightly behind Aziraphale, head down, watching his feet and trusting Aziraphale to guide him away from obstacles. The sky was an ashy grey, reminding Crowley of a week before when they'd burned down the circus. Damn, that was satisfying.
He was eager to see what Beelzebub thought up next, and what sort of destruction he'd get to participate in.
That vicious thought made him wince at himself.
They passed the street corner where he used to meet with Amon every few days. The demon may have been zealous and a bit antagonistic, but Crowley had genuinely considered him a friend and hated wondering about what sort of grisly demise Amon might have met.
"We're here," Aziraphale murmured.
Crowley lifted his eyes from the ground.
The building was made of dark concrete, the roof sloping into an upside-down V with a large cross jutting out from the top. Angels walked inside in orderly lines, exchanging pleasantries with each other. A greeter handed out papers at the front.
Inexplicable dread washed over Crowley. This was going to be terrible. Aziraphale should not have brought him along.
"Dear," Aziraphale said. Crowley tore his gaze away from the church, focusing on the angel's warm expression. "It'll be okay. We have to keep up certain appearances, you know. This will help deter suspicion."
"Yeah," Crowley said, not really meaning it.
They walked into the church.
The golden cavernous ceiling rose up above them, the wood gleaming in the candlelight. Angels settled into pews, and several stained glass windows allowed in shifting beams of green, red, blue light, splaying across the pristine floorboards. Whorls of dust were illuminated by hanging lamps. Tall pillars supported the elegant archways of marble. The place seemed to glow.
A strange sort of heaviness came to rest at the base of Crowley's ribcage. He'd forgotten that such architectural beauties existed. His daily routine had nearly fooled him into believing aesthetic laid no claim on Caelum, in this alien world of odd parting rituals and masked selves.
The jolt of reality made his pace falter, reaching instinctively for Aziraphale's sleeve.
Aziraphale stiffened. Crowley instantly released him. Eyes wide and worried, Aziraphale stepped into the nearest pew, sitting down. "Not here," he whispered, apologetic.
Crowley nodded tightly.
Though he tried to focus on his feet or his lap, he occasionally snuck a glance upwards, admiring the church and its stunning artwork on the walls. Once, he caught an angel's eye, who scowled at him and began muttering with their companion. They both shot Aziraphale poisonous looks.
When Aziraphale's hands curled around the edge of his seat, Crowley knew he had seen the angels.
"It will be okay," Aziraphale breathed, faintly.
Crowley wanted to believe it. He attempted to and failed at relaxing into the pew, the hard wood digging into his lower back. Pink streamed through the skylight. This place was unnervingly peaceful. Holy.
"Hello everyone," a voice echoed over the gathered churchgoers. Angels fell silent, turning their attention to the preacher at the front. He had unusual eyes, stricken with heterochromia: one brown, one bright blue, and his wings were a sleek white. He gave them all a warm smile. "It's a chilly morning, isn't it? We must thank the Lord for our pleasant weather thus far, when others elsewhere are suffering extreme conditions. We are quite lucky to be here."
Surprisingly, a few angels actually lifted their heads and murmured their thanks.
"Today," the preacher said, "I'd like to cover a sensitive topic, in the wake of the tragedy that struck the circus this weekend. Loss. Grieving. We've all lost someone, and if we haven't, the day will come. When death or loss is upon us, we may feel confused or frightened. We may feel like we are stumbling in the dark.
"Fear not, for there is light. God is our light, our shining star. He walks with us, comforts us, guides us to a land of acceptance. Our loved ones are with the Lord now, for which we are eternally grateful." The preacher dipped his head forward, hands clasped in front of himself. "Do you know who He speaks through? Who is here on earth with us, leading our glorious country of peace?"
Crowley shrunk down in his seat. The preacher's voice was confident and wise, and he spoke as if he was laying out all the facts of life. It made Crowley deeply uncomfortable, though the words might have appeared harmless.
"The Metatron!" the angel proclaimed. "Yes, indeed, the Metatron has heard the words of God and acted accordingly. The Seraphim are his loyal servants. It is a deep honor to serve them and Caelum."
"Hallowed be their names," the congregation chanted in eerie harmony.
Crowley flinched at the sudden noise. Aziraphale's lips moved, but he wasn't speaking.
"Though hard times may fall upon us, I know the Lord is with each and every one of you. Even the evil among us, the unholy, will feel God's eternal love and retribution, for our God is fair and just.
'Tremble before him, all the Earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the Earth be glad; let them say among the nations, The Lord reigns!'"
After the sermon, Crowley and Aziraphale walked home. Aziraphale made a quiet comment about it being different these days, and Crowley said in reply, "everything is, angel." They took a detour through a remote area of the city, enjoying the walk and the sights. Crowley relished any chance he got at seeing the world, even if the world was Caelum.
"If we ever make it out alive," Aziraphale murmured at one point, "I'd much like to go flying with you. Perhaps we could see who's faster in the air."
"Oh, so confident."
"I mean it. It's just anatomy, angel, look at our wing shapes. Mine are meant for speed. Yours are better for gliding."
"You seem to know an awful lot about this."
"Hastur used to argue with me. I read as many books as possible so I could beat him."
"The more I learn about you, the more I think I would've abhorred your company." Aziraphale smiled teasingly at him, and Crowley scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Perhaps you would've despised my company also. I mean, a teacher and a bookshop owner?"
"You had a bookshop?"
"Yes. My pride and joy. I didn't do too much of any actual selling, but I scraped by."
Crowley found himself grinning fondly at Aziraphale's animated expression, bright with memories of a time long lost. There was a twinkle in his eyes, one that made Crowley think of crystal blue gemstones held under a light. Aziraphale fell silent when other angels and demons walked by, but his voice still carried the same joyful, slightly conspiratorial tone, the sort that Crowley's students would use when they thought he wasn't listening.
"Hold on," Aziraphale said, pausing in his step. Crowley halted. "Do you hear that?"
Yeah. Crowley heard it. The faint rustling, a soft whimper. Aziraphale hovered in the alleyway entrance, moving to investigate the source of the sounds.
Crowley gagged on the stench of blood and fear and wild rage.
Before he knew what he was doing, Crowley threw himself forward and collided with another demon, the force of it knocking the air from his lungs. The demon hissed and spat, clawing at Crowley's eyes and throat with jagged nails, and Crowley haphazardly shoved the demon backwards, heart pounding in his chest. Aziraphale cried out behind him. Staggering to his feet, the demon raked his claws down Crowley's shoulder.
White hot pain dragged vicious lines across his skin; Crowley's breath caught in his throat, strangling his rising scream.
"Traitor to your race, protecting this fucking angel," the demon snarled, crouching like a feral animal, his pupils blown wide with desperation.
Crowley choked on a gasp. His hands were slick with blood, staining his clothes. He watched the demon warily, standing in front of Aziraphale, ready to shield him bodily if necessary. The demon cursed in their native tongue, and Crowley anticipated him this time as the demon launched himself at Crowley, sending them both crashing to the concrete in a tangle of wings and sharp claws, Crowley's head smacking into the ground and stars exploding across his vision.
"Crowley!" Aziraphale shrieked.
"Bloody disgusting," the demon was growling, wings flapping wildly and his elbow pressing into Crowley's collarbone. Crowley yanked up his knee and kicked the demon off of him, then scrambled to grab the demon's wrists and pin him to the ground, restraining him. If anything, the demon became more frantic, thrashing furiously in Crowley's grip and hurling slurs and insults in a feverish pitch.
"Stop," Crowley panted, "stop, stop—"
"Let go of me, fucker—"
"I don't want to hurt you!"
"I'm gonna rip your eyes out of your—"
"You need to calm down. You're angry but please—"
The demon jerked his head forward and smashed into Crowley's nose with an awful crunching noise. Crowley howled, blood spurting from the shattered cartilage, his grip on the demon loosening. Aziraphale was crying out for help, but no one was coming, no one was around this part of the city, and Crowley could feel tears welling up in his eyes and the demon was twisting his arm, a horrific pain wracking his elbow and shoulder, and he was groaning in agony—
Crowley screamed. His arm was bent at a horrible skewed angle, glistening white bone breaking the skin, and his sight was blurry and red and the demon was writhing and fighting him and suddenly—
—everything was still.
"Crowley," Aziraphale whispered.
His voice sounded like he was underwater, wobbly and distorted. Crowley could only stare at the demon's neck: crooked, broken. His eyes were open and glassy, blood beading at the corner of his mouth. Heaving a shallow gasp, Crowley forced his fingers to relax, leaving dark purple imprints on the demon's skin.
He... He was dead.
He was dead.
Crowley had killed him.
A high-pitched, keening sob wrenched itself out of him, knocking him back on his heels as he cradled his arm to his chest, his head spinning and a dead demon laying before him.
"Crowley, Crowley, dear," Aziraphale was rambling, grabbing at Crowley's uninjured wrist and tugging him to his feet. "We need to go. This was an accident, but the Powers won't see it like that, we need to go home." He dragged Crowley out of the alley, panicked, shaking violently and pushing him down the street towards their neighborhood. "Come on, dear, please."
"I can't—No, we can't leave him there, I—"
Aziraphale shushed him loudly as he took a sharp left, avoiding a pair of Powers. "I know you are distraught but it is of the utmost necessity that we get out of here."
"Angel—" Crowley's voice faltered, breaking.
What have I done? The resistance is about unity, and I've killed another demon. I've...
I've killed another demon.
"I didn't mean... I didn't... Aziraphale, I—"
"Dear, said with all my sympathy and understanding, save it."
Crowley's words dissolved into incoherency and his thoughts began to swirl together in a relentless mantra: I killed him, I killed him, I killed him.
I am a monster.
Of all the things Hastur had been expecting of his Thursday night, this didn't make the top hundred.
Uriel was sprawled out on the couch, wings spread open and ruffled, her eyes closed and a half-empty glass bottle dangling loosely from one hand. She had, somehow, gotten drunk enough to collapse outside of her room, and more importantly, outside of her locked room. It was no secret that she was wary of him. She was nervous enough to have a deadbolt on her door for nighttime.
And now, she was completely defenseless, vulnerable, at Hastur's mercy.
There were so many things Hastur wanted to do. Snap her neck, drive a knife into her chest, strangle the life out of her. It was impossibly tempting. The itch beneath his skin was growing more irritable by the moment.
... and yet. And yet.
He didn't. He didn't do any of those things he wanted to do. He only closed the curtains and turned on all the lights, so waking up would be as uncomfortable as possible. She'd have an awful hangover, if the couple of empty bottles under the couch were any indicator.
Scooping up one of the bottles, he knocked back the last dregs and shuddered at the bitter taste. What had Uriel been drinking? Liquid wormwood? Ugh.
He ended up discarding all of the bottles in the trash can.
While he waited for her to wake up and come to her senses, he lounged on the opposite chair, knees tucked up to his chest and wings curled around his body. He picked out a few bent feathers, dropping them into a messy pile on the floor. Uriel was completely out of it. If he knew what was good for him, he'd kill her and run.
But he'd always been an idiot. He didn't kill her. He just watched her with growing impatience.
After several hours of boredom, Uriel finally began to stir, her hand flexing as if reaching for a bottle. Her eyes cracked open, then closed again as she winced from the intensity of the lights.
"Hastur," she slurred, her wings fluttering weakly. "Off, off, turn them... turn off the light."
Grinning to himself, he dimmed the lights.
Uriel rubbed her temples, sighing. "What time is it?"
"Eleven. At night."
"Are you going to your room now, or what?"
Uriel jolted upright and immediately groaned, clutching her head. "I-I'm in the living room? Why..." She stared at Hastur, mouth agape. "Why didn't you... You had every opportunity to kill me in my sleep. Be done with me for good. Why not? I thought you hated me."
"I do. I hate you so much." Hastur loved the way it felt to say those words. "I should've killed you."
"Why didn't you?"
"I'm still deciding."
Uriel frowned at him.
Hastur smiled. "You and I, we're one in the same."
"We are not."
"Aren't we? Me, separated from the only demon I care about. You, pining hopelessly for an Archangel you can never have. It's your fault you can't have Michael, you know." Hastur took great pleasure in the way Uriel flinched. "At least I can love Ligur freely. You have to do it in secret, then come home and get shame-drunk in the living room."
"I was not getting..." Uriel trailed off, casting her eyes downward. "Stop talking, you insufferable demon filth."
"Sure. But the next time you feel the need to almost give yourself alcohol poisoning, do it somewhere I don't have access to knives."
Hastur grinned maliciously as Uriel hurried up the stairs and locked the door behind her.
Happy early Halloween!
Though it probably won't be mentioned in this fic, Halloween in this universe is a demon holiday as a celebration of their heritage. It is banned in Caelum and angels look down harshly on the traditions. Some demons, however, celebrate the holiday in private, even convincing kinder angels to help them. Michael & Uriel would never acknowledge or admit it, but they love when Halloween rolls around because they get to spend time together while Hastur & Ligur celebrate.
Crowley woke up feeling absolutely awful.
Aside from his day-to-day emotional shittiness and general self-hatred, opening his eyes the next morning had the unfortunate effect of slamming him with a wave of terrible physical sensations that he was very much opposed to feeling.
Burning pain crawled up his arm and shoulder, his wounds screaming as he shifted in bed, vainly attempting to get comfortable. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Bundled against his chest was his broken arm, in a sling and wrapped in a hasty patch job. Couldn't fault Aziraphale for trying.
There was a moment of peace, of sleepy blissfulness, but it trickled away as Crowley was dragged into awareness.
His nightmares, if possible, had become harshly realistic and horrifying. He was struggling by with a few hours of rest each night, plagued with visions of flaming wings and terrified screams, always ending with a blinding white angelic halo in the depths. Now, as he spiraled through the air in an uncontrolled plummet, recognizable demons fell with him. The demon he'd murdered would grab frantically at him, his neck skewed at an irregular angle, eyes wide and pleading. Crowley would kick him away and watch him smack into the ocean, a tiny splash, and he was gone.
Breathing in slowly, he ignored his throbbing wounds and pressed his eyes into his knees, head pounding.
It was fine. It was all fine.
He was fine.
Setting his train of thought on a different track, he focused instead on Beelzebub. She'd been borderline happy recently; a sharp contrast to her usual sulking nature. He assumed things were going well at home. While he still didn't like Gabriel—the Archangel's businesslike smile and grating laugh was infuriating in itself—Crowley could grudgingly admit that if Beelzebub trusted him, then so did Crowley.
The other day, Gabriel was visiting to discuss paperwork stuff with Aziraphale, and Crowley had made a mistake. He fetched the tea, as normal, and after he set it on the table, he'd accidentally sat down beside Aziraphale instead of kneeling.
Aziraphale froze. Crowley went stiff, instantly regretting it.
Gabriel's gaze slid between the two of them, blank, before his face split into a dopey grin and he laughed in the annoying, flat way that Crowley despised. "Come up here, Beelzebub," he'd said, waving at her. "Join us."
The arrangement stuck.
His momentary relaxation abruptly ended as he leaned back and was hit with a wave of nausea, forcing him to go still and close his eyes tight. His mouth tasted like iron.
"It's fine," he whispered, hoping audible affirmation would help.
A day later, Crowley's hands were shaking badly as he tried to pour Aziraphale's tea, biting back any noises of discomfort. He suspected his wounds were infected. Best to not bother Aziraphale.
"You look rather pale, dear," Aziraphale remarked when he stepped into the room. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Right as rain." He placed the tea in Aziraphale's hands and opted for the opposite couch, sprawling out across it and shutting his eyes to soothe the way they were burning. His limbs were heavy and ached like hell. He was almost considering going to the garden and seeing if the Hellfire would make a difference.
Warm hands touched his forehead.
Crowley flinched and involuntarily gasped in pain as he jostled his broken arm. Aziraphale quickly withdrew, muttering apologies.
"I didn't mean to startle you," Aziraphale worried. "I said your name twice, see, and when you didn't respond I wanted to check on you. Are you sure you're feeling alright? You're burning up. I think you may have a fever."
"Ngk," Crowley said, eloquently. Someone was driving nails into his brain, that was the only explanation. "I don't get sick."
Aziraphale frowned at him over his reading glasses. Crowley snorted at the unexpectedly endearing sight.
"I think we ought to visit the doctor," Aziraphale said, "before this progresses further. Getting those injuries checked out should've been our first step, I'm terrible sorry."
It had been two days since the fight in the alleyway. Over a week from when they burned down the circus. Crowley didn't know much about the healing process, but he doubted that properly-wrapped wounds were supposed to be this painful. Still. He could deal with it. It was fine, after all.
Then Aziraphale was talking, his voice distant and hazy, "up, up, my dear, let's go." Crowley let Aziraphale haul him to his feet, his lithe frame trembling and weak, pressed into Aziraphale's side. The angel tutted as he guided him towards the front door. "I do wish you would tell me how you're feeling. This must be awful to go through."
"’S really not that bad."
"I'm sure." Aziraphale bundled him up in a scarf and a distasteful tartan coat, deft fingers popping the buttons through the loops. "Watch your step, pick up your feet. Alright."
Crowley stumbled vaguely along the street, Aziraphale tugging on his sleeve and exchanging polite greetings with passersby who gave them strange looks. Being upright was worse than lying down; Crowley's injured arm bumped against his chest with every movement, his bandages dampening with fresh blood.
"Slow down," Crowley whined. He tripped over a crack in the pavement and gasped sharply as Aziraphale used his upper arm to catch him, setting his wounds aflame with agony.
"Sorry!" Aziraphale cried, releasing him. "It would've hurt more if you had fallen."
"Yep, yep, got that. Can we get on with it?"
"Oh, of course. Let's make it snappy."
"It's an expression and you know it!"
Their bickering ceased as a building rose up before them, white and modern with a general air of foreboding surrounding it. Crowley suddenly did not want to go in there.
He didn't resist, though, as Aziraphale pulled him inside.
A sterile scent struck him, the white floors clicking beneath their heels and fluorescent bulbs overhead filled the space with glaring light. Crowley closed his eyes reflexively. The lobby opened up into two different hallways on each side, both of which took an abrupt turn, preventing him from seeing what lay beyond. An angel sat at the desk, checking things off of her paper.
"Excuse me," Aziraphale said.
She looked up at him. "Yes?"
"My demon here is sick, and to my knowledge this is the doctor's office, correct?"
"Technically, yes." The angel's eyes flicked over Crowley, hardly paying him any attention. "Take the hallway on your left and veterinary is the first door to the right. Sign in here, please."
As Aziraphale scrawled his name, Crowley gritted his teeth.
Veterinary. Like demons are animals.
"Thank you," Aziraphale said to the angel, then they stepped into the left hallway. There were several doors lining the walls, all identical to the last. They paused in front of the first door to the right. Sure enough, a plaque on the door read 'Veterinary'. Crowley tried to prevent his knees from buckling. Aziraphale knocked three times.
"It'll be alright, dear," he murmured, fingers rubbing soothing circles over Crowley's palm.
The door swung open inwards. Another angel in a clean white coat greeted them, his white wings folded neatly against his back and his gray hair combed back. He gave Aziraphale a cold, clinical smile.
"Come right in."
The angel shut the door behind them with a decisive click.
"I'm Raphael. What can I do for you, today?" he asked, sliding on a pair of gloves. Crowley shivered at the temperature difference; it was irritatingly cold in here.
"My demon is sick," Aziraphale repeated from earlier. "I suspect he may have a fever, and he also has a few other injuries that aren't healing."
"Well, let's take a look." Raphael patted a large flat table in the center of the room, which Crowley had been stubbornly not looking at. It looked extremely uncomfortable and reminded Crowley of vet offices in the old days. "Have him hop up here, would you?"
"Go on," Aziraphale said.
Reluctantly detaching himself from Aziraphale, Crowley clambered onto the table, hissing faintly at the pain the action caused. He was relieved to be sitting, though. A second longer on his feet and he might've fallen over.
"Oh, serpentine eyes?" Raphael said, leaning forward with interest. "Does he have any other snakelike traits?"
"Um... I think he can hiss...?"
"Remarkable. We've found with demons who have animal traits that they also have the ability to shift their corporeal forms into said animal. We think the collars suppress this ability, so they can't escape." Raphael's words were much-too enthusiastic on the subject, enough to make Crowley feel deeply unnerved. Aziraphale's smile grew tight and strained. "Anyway, you said he's injured? Can you show me where?"
"Of course." Aziraphale gave Crowley a look.
Crowley fumbled with the buttons on his coat, his fingers shaking, until he managed to shrug off the heavy material and place it in Aziraphale's arms. Next, he carefully pulled up his shirt, grateful for Aziraphale as the angel helped him out of it. The cold air chilled him to the bone. He felt exposed.
"Hold him," Raphael instructed. Aziraphale set one hand on Crowley's wrist and the other on his shoulder. His touch was warm and comforting. Raphael pinched the edge of the bandages and peeled them off, discarding them in a trash can nearby. They were stained dark red. Crowley shuddered as Raphael ripped away the rest of the bandages.
Three jagged slashes marred Crowley's shoulder, caked with dried blood and raw, shredded flesh glistening in the light. The skin around the wound was a sickly yellow color. He inhaled sharply at the sight. Raphael's eyes were steely and observant.
"Those are quite some scratches you got there. When did this happen?"
"A day, two days ago."
"Yep. They're definitely infected. These look like canine claw marks. Do you have a dog?"
"No." Aziraphale wrung his hands, casting Crowley a side glance.
For a long, terrible moment, Crowley was filled with dread at the thought of Raphael knowing they were lying, knowing they were hiding something and prying further. They hadn't prepared a cover story. This could be the end. After everything, this was how it ended.
But Raphael only nodded. "Home injuries. I understand. Demons forget their place and accidents happen. I see it all the time. I think, however, that angels also forget how fragile demons are, in the end. Resilient animals, sure, but animals all the same." He popped open a bottle of antiseptic and unceremoniously poured it over Crowley's shoulder, causing him to jerk backwards with a quiet yelp. Aziraphale held him still. "As long as the wounds don't get infected, don't be afraid of disciplining him in the future."
Crowley's jaw dropped open. Aziraphale spluttered for less than a second before recovering with ease, quickly agreeing with Raphael's obliviously incorrect assumption on the origin of Crowley's wounds.
This—This bloody angel thought that Aziraphale had done this. As discipline. Crowley felt sicker than before.
"Now, about that arm," Raphael tsked, removing the makeshift sling. Crowley flinched as Raphael pressed his fingers into the tender skin near the break, inciting another spike of pain. "Good news is that it looks like a clean break. I'll just have to realign it, or else it won't heal correctly. It's important that you keep him still."
"Right. Can do."
Raphael slid one hand under Crowley's wrist. Crowley tensed, bracing himself. "One, two—"
Crowley choked out a strangled noise, biting down on his bottom lip to stifle an instinctive shriek as he jolted in Aziraphale's grip. His heart pounded in his ears. Raphael smiled in satisfaction at his handiwork.
"There we are. Quick and painless."
Opening his mouth, ready to snap the words, "no it fucking wasn't", Crowley was saved from making a mistake by Aziraphale's loud and forced laugh.
"I just don't have the stomach do to such things myself," Aziraphale said, withdrawing from Crowley. "I don't know how you doctors do it."
"It's tough, sometimes. Gotta have a high tolerance for squeamish stuff." Raphael began wrapping a soft material around Crowley's arm, covering up the bruised areas. "So, I'll have my assistant stay with you while I get some antibiotics for his infection and we'll work on those wings next. Excuse me a minute."
He stepped out of the room and was replaced by a younger angel, who shyly introduced herself as Kalaziel and seemed almost nervous to be around Crowley. She kept shooting him discreet glances, wide-eyed and apprehensive.
"You can say hi, if you'd like," Aziraphale said quietly.
Kalaziel blinked. "Oh. Um." She crept closer, her wings a washed-out blue in the artificial lighting. "Hi...?"
"Hi," Crowley said.
She gulped, tugging at her sleeves. "What's your name?" she whispered.
"Crowley. Friends used to call me Crawly, though." When she stared at him, Crowley laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's, uh, it's just a joke. 'Cause they heard my name wrong the first time. Anyway."
Giggling, Kalaziel said, "do you belong to that angel?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Crowley replied, at the same time Aziraphale said, "no, he doesn't." They stared at each other.
"Yes," said Crowley as Aziraphale said, "no."
Kalaziel glanced between them, confused.
"Kinda," said Crowley, as a compromise. Aziraphale crossed his arms unhappily.
"How old are you?" Aziraphale asked. "You seem too young to be an assistant for this sort of profession."
"I'm sixteen," said Kalaziel. "I'm training to work here. My dad owns the building."
Cutting their conversation short, Raphael strolled back in, carrying a fluffy towel and a pair of small, sharp feathers. Another angel followed him inside. Upon seeing the scissors, Crowley recoiled, pushing himself off the table and folding his wings tightly against himself. He knew what those scissors were for.
"Elyon," Raphael said.
The angel who'd come along with him moved around the table and grabbed Crowley, not too roughly, and pried his first wing open, spreading apart the newly grown primaries. Crowley's breathing hitched.
"What are you doing?" Aziraphale asked.
"When their wings get too long, we clip the feathers for their safety and the safety of those around them," Raphael explained, cleaning off the scissors. "It's a regular thing. All demons have to do it. We might as well get it over with while you're here."
"Hold on," Crowley said faintly, flapping his other wing anxiously and trying to separate himself from Elyon, the angel's grip squeezing his upper arm in a way that suggested this could be much more painful if Elyon willed it. "Wait."
"Relax," Raphael told him, an edge to his voice that was absent when addressing the angels. He ran his hands down Crowley's wing and in one clean cut, snipped three inches of the feather. Crowley inhaled sharply, watching his glossy feather land on the floor for Kalaziel to pick up. Raphael continued the process with every primary feather on his wing, and Crowley could only stand stiffly and train his eyes on the ceiling, pretending like a crucial part of him wasn't being methodically removed.
By the time Raphael was finished, Crowley's severed primaries littered the ground, starkly black against the white tile.
"All done," the vet chirped, tucking away the scissors. "Make sure he takes those antibiotics every day until his infection is gone, and keep an eye on those scratches. Bring him back in a few months for another clipping. Peace be with you."
"You as well," Aziraphale said.
The angels filed out of the room, with Kalaziel casting a solemn glance backwards at them before closing the door. Crowley slowly tucked his wings back in, sorely feeling the loss of his flight feathers. Aziraphale wound an arm around his shoulders and wearily, Crowley fell into the embrace, letting Aziraphale guide him out of the building and towards home.
oops this took longer than I intended
We pick up where we left off with Aziraphale and Crowley. The circus escapees make their way to freedom.
As soon as they were home, Crowley collapsed onto the couch a quiet groan, burying his face in his arms. This whole fucking country could go to hell.
It will, he assured himself. Someday.
Crowley lifted his head, peering out from between his fingers. Aziraphale was scowling at a glass bowl like he was attempting to shatter it with his mind. Picking it up rather brusquely, he dropped it on the counter and bowed forward, the tips of his silky white wings brushing the ground. Long primaries glittered in the lamplight. Unbroken. Whole.
Eyes squeezed shut, Crowley pressed his forehead into the couch.
"This is ridiculous," Aziraphale said. "All of it. I just don't understand—Why is it an angel's first instinct to be cruel? Why are we unable to heal this species divide? Anyone with an ounce of intelligence would know we all originated from the same stock."
"You're smarter than most," Crowley said, his voice slightly muffled. He could almost feel Aziraphale's incredulous stare burning into him.
"I shouldn't have to set an example for all of angelkind!"
"Volume, angel, please."
"Apologies." Aziraphale crossed the room and sank down to the floor beside Crowley, blue eyes wretchedly bright. "Crowley, I'm so sorry. Your wings are beautiful; Raphael had no right to do that. I'm sorry I couldn't stop him."
"It would've been suspicious, I'm not holding it against you."
"You should," Aziraphale practically wailed, running a hand through his hair and causing them to spill over his ears in an unruly mess of blond curls. "I feel as if I'm not doing enough for you. After everything you've done for me, and I'm useless! You and the other demons are brilliant, but us angels are doing what? Sitting around? Having clandestine meetings at the park because there's nothing else to do in this bloody city? We've ruined everything and now we can't even clean up our own messes."
Crowley slid his elbows beneath his chest and propped himself up, meeting Aziraphale's gaze. "Angel," he said seriously, "please don't say that. You're not doing nothing. You've kept me safe so far, you haven't ratted us out to the authorities, you even played a part in the circus incident." When Aziraphale began to protest, Crowley respectfully cut him off. "You did help, whether you think so or not."
"But it's not enough."
"Maybe it's not. Nothing will be enough until we're out of here. But we're all doing the best we can."
Aziraphale looked down at his hands. "I just feel so inadequate."
"Who doesn't?" Crowley said with a laugh. "Join the club."
That succeeded in winning a tiny smile out of the angel. Crowley managed a lopsided grin before pressing the heel of his palms to his eyes, trying to ease the burning sensation. His headache had eased somewhat, though he doubted it would stay that way for long. He sighed heavily.
"Dear," Aziraphale spoke up after a moment.
Crowley cracked one eye open. Aziraphale's hand hovered over Crowley's wing, which had tumbled off the couch and was splayed across the carpet. Tongue between his teeth with indecision, Crowley flapped his wing, shaking the dust and various grime from it.
"Knock yourself out," he yawned, settling back into the couch. It might not have made much sense, but he trusted Aziraphale to be gentle with him.
He didn't mention what wing grooming meant to demons, fearing any subsequent awkwardness. Culturally, wing grooming held a different significance with angels than demons. Demons groomed wings as both a friendly gesture of trust and a courtship ritual. Among angels, however, wing grooming was a private affair that even partners didn't participate in together. A social taboo of sorts. Crowley never understood it.
Aziraphale must've seen the way they treated each other at the park. Maybe he noticed how Crowley never let anyone touch his wings.
This was due to the simple fact that he wasn't very close with the other demons in terms of friendship; they'd all known each other for several years, sure, but he always hung on the outside of their circle. Hastur and Ligur were a thing, of course, and Beelzebub and Dagon were childhood friends. Crowley didn't exactly belong.
Oh, but the feeling of the angel's touch on his wing was positively heavenly. Crowley shuddered, gripping the edge of the couch. Aziraphale quietly asked for affirmation, and Crowley managed a faint, "yeah, yeah, perfect" before Aziraphale's fingers sank into Crowley's feathers, combing through the secondaries and working his way up to the wing joint. The slight scratching was excellent at relieving any itches, tingles of pleasure rippling over Crowley's shoulder blades as Aziraphale massaged the strong muscle at the base. Crowley couldn't remember the last time someone did this for him.
"Is this alright?" Aziraphale murmured, his voice low and soothing in Crowley's ears.
"Amazing," Crowley said, rather hoarsely, to his embarrassment. Aziraphale laughed softly. "D-Don't stop."
Aziraphale meticulously went through each feather, aligning them back in position after their rough handling at the doctor's office. At one point, ever so lightly, Aziraphale's hand trailed down the sensitive nook between his wings, his warm touch sending shivers up Crowley's spine.
"You're quite stiff, you know that?" Aziraphale said. Crowley made an unintelligible noise. "I'm going to work out some of this tension, is that alright?"
It occurred to Crowley, puncturing through his hazy bliss, that Aziraphale could easily hurt him like this. He could snap Crowley's wings or injure him in other ways, and Crowley could do nothing to stop it. He was extremely vulnerable.
But Aziraphale was gentle and tentative, shying away every time he tugged too hard on a feather. He was crouching in an uncomfortable position to groom Crowley's wings and didn't seem to be doing it out of obligation. Aziraphale still owned him, still held a certain power over him, but Crowley somehow knew that his angel wouldn't hurt him without a good reason.
I won't give him a reason, he swore. He closed his eyes and succumbed to the wonderful feeling of Aziraphale stroking his wings.
Outside, the first flakes of snow dusted the windowsill.
"That's not right," Adam murmured to himself, watching a low-hanging tree limb begin to collect falling snow. "It shouldn't snow until we're home."
Slowly, as if the entire world was grinding to a standstill, the snowflakes paused in their descent, suspended midair, twinkling gently. Adam carefully reached out and brushed his fingertips against a speck of white. It melted upon contact with his skin.
Wings folded around them, head resting on Adam's shoulder, was Warlock. The angel shifted in his sleep. Adam knew the snow wouldn't dare reach Warlock, not with these trees casting adequate shelter over them. At once, the dark limbs shivered, bending forward. Pleased, Adam lowered his hand to settle on Warlock's shoulder. Warlock leaned into the embrace.
Some angels are bad, Adam decided, but not this one.
"You are weirdly warm," Warlock said, voice slurred with exhaustion.
He'd flown with the weight of two people for several hours before they collapsed into a pile of leaves in the forest, from which they had only recently ventured away. Neither of them knew quite where to go, but Adam trusted his senses to guide him. If there was anything he'd learned after a year in the circus, it was that his powers were immense and possibly more intuitive than he himself was.
"We ought to get moving." Adam sat up a bit, nudging Warlock into awareness. Warlock yawned dramatically, shaking out his wings and disrupting a few hanging snowflakes. "Septrion's what it's called, innit?"
"Yeah. I heard Dad—" Warlock faltered.
Thaddeus Dowling was a sensitive subject, in that they both had varying opinions on the dead angel. Adam disliked feelings of hatred or resentment. He viewed them as ugly emotions, as a weakness of character. However, despite his personal hesitance to loath Thaddeus, he couldn't resist being pleased that such an awful person no longer lived on this plane of existence. Warlock was a different story. Thaddeus had been his father, though not a wonderful one. Adam knew that Warlock still felt lingering affection for his distant and now late father.
Warlock took in a deep breath. "I heard Dad saying that Septrion is a barbaric place where demons can live freely." He gave a weak smile. "It's pretty much paradise."
Nodding, Adam grabbed a branch—which had grown sideways for the sheer purpose of being there when Adam needed it—and hauled himself to his feet. "It's north. So, that way." He pointed vaguely at a cluster of trees on the horizon. Warlock eyed him doubtfully. "The border is close. It should take us less than two days."
"Honestly, anywhere besides Caelum is fine at this point. I don't care if we don't even make it to Septrion. As long as we're far away from that place."
"Yeah." Adam took an experimental step forward, listening to the dead leaves crunch under his heels. "Flying'll be faster. And less noisy. You up for it?"
"... uh-huh." Warlock spread his wings. The feathers glistened darkly under the overcast sky. "Hop on." Adam allowed Warlock to wrap his arms around Adam's chest, spread his wings, and set off into the air, gaining speed until they cleared the treetops and Warlock settled into a comfortable glide. Stark, bare trees stretched beneath them, blurs of shadow. Adam's legs dangled freely, but he knew Warlock wouldn't let him fall. The wind was icy and stung his eyes.
Warlock grumbled about the cold until Adam looked up. The clouds swayed under his gaze, dissipating, leaving a clear blue in their wake. Grinning boyishly, Warlock dropping into a dizzying spiral, clutching Adam tight.
The horizon sped towards them.
They'd hardly been flying for a few minutes when Adam became aware of someone else keeping pace with them below, obscured by the trees. Two someones. He strained himself, closing his eyes to feel them better.
Vaguely familiar ones.
"We're being followed," he said mildly, hoping not to alarm Warlock.
"What? By who? Are you sure?"
"They're friends, I believe." Adam turned his gaze downward, perusing the forest. "I'd wager they're wary of us as well."
"Hey!" Warlock shouted, swooping lower with a jolt, barely keeping Adam's feet from brushing the tops of the trees. "You down there! Come on out, why don't you? We won't hurt you!"
For a moment, there was nothing. Then, a pair of broad wings burst free from below and a demon soared up towards them, hand extended in a friendly wave. The demon flapped a bit, steadying himself, before easing into an idle drift. Adam recognized him, then, with the dark smudges beneath his eyes and his hair styled in two tufts upon his head.
The Disposable Demon eyed them hesitantly. "Adam? That you?"
"Hullo, Eric," Adam replied.
"And... Master Dowling." Eric's face contorted briefly, but smoothed out a second later. "Wouldn't've guessed that. You lot on your way north too?"
"Septrion," Warlock confirmed. "Where's your pal? Adam said there were two."
"Oh. Right." Eric tilted his head down. "Oi! Come up! It's only the Antichrist!"
The second demon joined them, flapping rapidly to keep up with the others' sweeping wingspans. Newt had shorter wings, like a songbird, though Adam couldn't place the exact species.
They exchanged greetings. Newt spoke in a nervous, perpetually awkward stammer that confirmed Adam's initial trust in him.
"We ought to be getting close, yeah?" Eric asked, shifting Adam in his arms. He'd taken to holding Adam when Warlock had grown tired.
"We ought to be," Adam said.
"I'm going to collapse the second we land," Newt informed them, rubbing his hands together and blowing on them to warm himself up. They really weren't prepared for this sort of typical November weather when they all made the collective, rather rash decision to make a break for it the second the opportunity arose. "I'm bloody exhausted."
"Well, I'm going to get a cup of hot chocolate," said Warlock, dreamily. "With marshmallows and everythin'."
"That sounds amazing," said Eric.
"I just want to sleep in a bed. A real one," said Adam. "And play in the woods, like a kid should. Not enough kids play in the woods these days."
"No kids in Caelum, maybe," said Newt, "but kids elsewhere do. How old are you, anyway?"
"He's got nothing to do with it," said Eric, bitterly.
They all fell silent. The wind whistled in Adam's ears, tousling his hair. When Eric handed him back to Warlock, Adam mused that it was like a game. Pass the Antichrist. When everything was a game, it was easier to deal with. The circus was an unpleasant summer camp. This relentless journey was a game. The uncertain future was a roll of the dice.
That last one didn't make him feel much better.
"There! There!" Eric shouted, gesturing at the tall post rising above the treeline. On the horizon, distant lights twinkled. Civilization. Freedom.
Warlock let out a cheer, nearly dropping Adam in his excitement. "We're almost there," he cried, putting on a burst of speed that made Adam's eyes tear up from the wind. Newt and Eric hurried to catch up.
"I imagine you oughta slow down," Adam advised. "Those border guards prolly can't see us."
"Right. Right, sorry." Warlock spread his wings wide, the feathers waving in the breeze. "Should we yell or something?"
"No yelling at the border guards," Newt said, forehead creased in concern. "It gives the wrong impression."
Before Adam could come up with a better plan, he twisted out of Warlock's grip and dropped into a freefall, the forest spinning dizzily below him at a reckless speed, but he just closed his eyes and felt a jolt as his momentum slowed. His body was suspended mid-air, an eerie red glow shining over the trees. Warlock was making indignant noises above him. Newt squawked worriedly. Adam simply guided himself to the ground, knowing the others would follow him down.
As soon as his feet touched hard-packed dirt, he released his powers, and they shrank back into his chest to rest there until further notice. Warlock landed heavily and grabbed Adam, saying sharply, "don't do that again, you, you buggin."
"It's 'bugger', actually."
Warlock glared at him.
"... sorry. Just figured we shouldn't be racing at them full speed, y'know? Might scare them. And scared people tend to shoot. So, we're walking."
So, they were walking, because Adam had decided on it and no one was anywhere near a point in their lives where they would even consider arguing with the eleven-year-old Antichrist, Spawn of Satan, Prince of Lies, and all those other titles that no one—much less the exhausted author—could be bothered to remember.
Their trek through the woods was interrupted by a gruff voice and the beam of a flashlight, blinding them as it swept over the ragged and tired group.
"We don't mean any trouble," Newt said, suddenly sounding very faint.
Someone emerged from the treeline, holding the flashlight loosely in one hand. He was dressed like Adam had never seen before; clad in black protective gear, the image of a compass printed on his breast pocket. His wings were a deep, lovely violet.
"Are you okay?" he asked them, tucking his flashlight away. "You're officially on Septrion land. Welcome to the true north."
Warlock braced himself on a tree. Adam felt rather weak in the knees. Laughing a watery laugh, Eric staggered forward and dragged the border guard into a hug, burying his face in the guard's shoulder.
They were free.
Adam was free.
Adam wasn't the sort to cry, which was why he was shocked to find his vision blurring and tears slipping down his cheeks, an embarrassing lump in his throat and his heart abruptly pounding like he'd run a mile. Because he was just a kid, after all, a kid who'd been through hell and never truly believed he'd find the light at the end of the tunnel. The border guard slid an arm around Adam's shoulders and drew him close, whispering quiet words of comfort.
One sob wrenched itself from his chest, then another, and then quite out of his control Adam found himself crying, enveloped in the strong arms of the border guard who might as well have saved their lives personally.
"Thank you," Adam wept, and the guard held him tighter.
This is out of character, a voice within sighed. Sort of shameful.
I don't care, Adam firmly told that voice. We're free.
I suppose there's always that.
The border guard led them into the light and the warmth and the freedom, and Adam's sobs turned into laughter, and despair turned into hope, and everything was all right.
i love meta jokes
im so tired
Beelzebub deals with the fallout of the circus incident.
TW: Graphic violence, suicide
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It started out as a normal morning, as they tended to.
Most mornings had been comfortingly normal. The few outliers included when Crowley showed up at the park with an arm in a cast and acting like he was slightly tipsy, which prompted a gentle reassurance from Aziraphale that he was not the cause of the injuries. Beelzebub was so focused on Crowley that she hadn't seen the jealous, hurt gleam in Dagon's narrowed eyes as they all worried over the serpentine demon.
Another outlier was all the days when Gabriel stayed awake all night poring over reports at his desk, concentration unbroken until Beelzebub pressed a mug of coffee into his hands, one eyebrow raised as she reproachfully told him, "don't drop dead on me now, Archangel."
Her home life was not the only place she was thriving.
Beelzebub celebrated an unprecedented success rate with the resistance, though she still hesitated to call it that; it was still in the beginning stages, though her addition to the mix certainly sped things up. Ligur smuggled demons out every few weeks, slowly but surely swaying Michael to their side. Crowley's Hellfire garden became the source of much praise, as Aym and Vine found ways to distribute the dangerous plant among other demons, setting the plan into motion.
Beelzebub had a perfect vision of the end result: Caelum up in flames.
They were getting there. Unbelievably, ridiculously, they were getting there.
But there were other things she'd heard, too, things that hadn't seemed real until she saw them with her own eyes. Rumors of unrest; not only from the demons, but from their angels. Rumors that couldn't be any more than just that.
So it started out as a normal morning, as they tended to.
Like every day, Beelzebub woke before Gabriel, prepared a pot of coffee, and had it waiting on a tray when the Archangel stepped downstairs. He took his regular seat, flipped open a book, and began to read, while Beelzebub knelt beside him and basked in the peaceful quiet.
Then Gabriel's phone rang. He frowned at it, as if hoping it would stop ringing on its own. Beelzebub knew by now that it was too early for any important work yet.
"Yes?" he said irritably, pressing it to his ear. "Michael? Wait, wait, slow down... What do you mean? Are you sure?" His expression soured. "Okay. I'll be there. No, I'm not leaving her alone... Yes. Yes. Bye."
He hung up and pushed his half-empty mug into Beelzebub's hands. She left it in the sink.
"We're leaving," Gabriel said, grabbing his coat. "Get your jacket on."
His clipped, tense tone set her on edge. Beelzebub shrugged on her jacket without voicing any of her questions. She began to fiddle with her hair, suddenly self conscious of her ruffled appearance, but Gabriel rushed by her with a quick: "Don't bother with that, come on."
They set off at a brisk pace down the street, towards Crowley's house. Beelzebub hoped they would stop there, but Gabriel took a sharp right and led them down the main street. A young angel ran past them, shouting something about the square.
"I know," Gabriel snapped at them. He clasped Beelzebub's arm and forced her to quicken her step, matching his lengthy strides. God, she hated being short. "Listen, very closely, Beelzebub. You and I are handling crowd control. Don't be afraid to use force if violence breaks out. Defend yourself if you need to."
"What'szz going on? What crowd?"
"Angels," he replied tersely. "Follow me."
They entered the square.
The scene before them shocked her, right to her core.
Angels filled up the whole square, spilling into side streets. They were shouting and brandishing big white signs. A few strong voices rose above the clamor, but everyone there was angry. Fury hovered over the crowd like a building storm.
"Archangel!" one protestor yelled, noticing Gabriel.
Suddenly the crowd erupted with jeers and hollers, pushing and shoving to get a word in before being swallowed up again by the mass of angels.
"Racist," an angel spat, shoving her sign at Gabriel. It read DEMONS AREN'T SLAVES in huge block letters.
"Alright, everybody," Gabriel tried to say, but no one was interested in hearing him out. The passion of the crowd both surprised and excited Beelzebub. There were angels out there who disagreed. Angels who were trying to make a difference too. The rumors were true after all. Glancing up at Gabriel, Beelzebub found him rigid with tension, hands curled into fists at his sides. He looked like he was regretting his decision to bring Beelzebub along.
He was terrified, she realized. Terrified for these angels. If they carried on like this, someone more important than Gabriel was going to notice, and that would not end well for anyone.
Beelzebub abruptly understood the importance of dispelling this protest.
"Hey!" an angel cried, pointing to Beelzebub. "You don't deserve to be kept as a bloody slave. Demons deserve rights too!"
"Yeah!" The gathered angels rallied behind the declaration.
"Listen!" Gabriel shouted. His voice, strong and powerful, rang out over the square. "Do you want to deal with me, or with the Powers? Is this really a battle you want to fight?"
The crowd hissed and booed at him. One angel spat on his shoe. Another tossed a rock, which nailed his chest.
"Gabriel," Beelzebub started to say. Gabriel, you have to handle this. Gabriel, be an Archangel and handle this. Before something worse happens.
He cut her off. "Shut up." The stress in his tone unsettled her; he sounded more distraught than anything, as if he didn't know exactly how he was supposed to react to a situation like this.
With a jolt of horror, Beelzebub realized Gabriel wouldn't be able to quell the crowd. They were too angry for negotiations. Gabriel didn't have anything to sway them with.
"You can't silence us or them!" a protestor yelled.
"Seraphim lap angel!"
"You've chosen your side!"
Each proud, echoing cry reverberated inside of Beelzebub, warming her from the inside out. She'd scarcely acknowledged the insane rumors, but...
The Seraphim might have a revolution on their hands; not only from the demons, but from the angels also.
It hadn't been feasible until she'd seen it with her own eyes.
The unity ended as soon as it began.
A scream rose up from the crowd, Beelzebub caught a glimpse of glittering golden sigils—and it was all over. Powers flooded the scene, wielding long batons and striking any angels who tried to run, barking out orders, and angels were shouting in a panic now as several took to the sky, wings splayed out against the cold blue above.
Gabriel's hand closed around her upper arm and dragged her backwards, hurrying away from the violence.
Twisting in his grip, Beelzebub glared up at him. "Thoszzze are your people!" she growled. "Aren't you going to do anything?"
"Lower your voice," he said tightly.
"Are you too much of a coward to—"
Cutting her off, Gabriel jerked her to the side roughly and his face remained impassive as she yelped, her shoulder strained in the wrong direction, but before she could loose all the angry demands on her tongue, Gabriel announced loudly, "she's mine."
Beelzebub turned. There had been a Power approaching them, obviously having spotted Beelzebub and assuming the worst.
She was suddenly very, very glad that Gabriel forced her to shut up.
"Carry on, Archangel," the Power said respectfully. "Watch this exit. We don't want any leaving before this really gets going." They gave an ugly laugh and jogged back over to the commotion.
As soon as they were gone, Gabriel released her, a subtle miracle easing the pain. He pressed his lips together, eyes fixed away from her.
Someone cried out; an angel hit the ground, palms slamming into the concrete, face bloodied and shirt torn, then a Power grabbed him by the wing and yanked him to his feet, shoving him against several other equally distressed angels. Their posters were crumpled and destroyed. No one was confident now. Anxiety and pain hung in the air like a thick fog, setting Beelzebub's heart into a nervous rhythm.
A nasty, gleeful little part inside her reveled in this. Yeah, now you know how it feels. Finally, I'm the one who's safe.
She told that little part to get fucked.
"Stay where you are!" one Power shouted, snapping his baton against the ground. "You're all under arrest for treason. Be grateful to our merciful Seraphim that you may even keep your lives."
What happened next registered in slow motion.
A flash of dark wings, a manic grin, demonic black eyes locking gazes with her, and Beelzebub hardly had the chance to grab Gabriel by the wrist and shout a warning before a plume of deep crimson flames erupted in the middle of the crowd, swallowing up the Power in a screaming pillar of fire and burning him into a blackened, charred husk.
Angels screamed and ran from the hellfire. Those unfortunate enough to be close to the blast were crumpled to the ground in a scorched heap, killed instantly by the deadly flames. Gabriel lurched backwards, gasping, while Beelzebub pushed him away from the panicked crowd, heat licking at their heels.
The demon knelt beside the blaze, laughing, head tipped back and teeth bared to the sky, her name unknown but the malice in her laughter unmistakable. Beelzebub shuddered at the vicious, crazed sound.
Beelzebub flinched as an elbow jammed into her side, an angel shouldering past her, and then the stampede was upon them, dozens of angels pushing and shoving to escape certain demise, the hellfire racing along the ground and devouring anyone in its path. An angel tripped and was rapidly consumed by the red flames, their agonized wails rising high into the air and ringing in Beelzebub's ears.
Gabriel is shielding me, she realized numbly, when the jostling stopped. Gabriel had wrapped his strong arms around her and was blocking her from the worst of it.
She trembled in his grasp, closing her ears to the sound of tortured screams.
"Thizzz wazzzzn't the plan," she spat out, her voice hoarse. "I didn't authorizze thizzzz, I szzzwear, pointlezz dezzztruction is not the point, we're not evil, we're not like that, they're innocentzzzzzz—" She broke off abruptly when the buzzing became too much to bear, inhibiting her speech and warping her words. "I didn't mean for thizz," she finished, and Gabriel held her tighter.
"I know you didn't, he said, but he sounded pained, wavering, as if he was trying to convince himself. "I know you wouldn't."
But I would, she wanted to shout at him. I am capable of horrible things. I could do things that would haunt your nightmares and I would feel no remorse.
I am a MONSTER.
Why won't you see that, you stupid angel?
"I know you wouldn't," Gabriel said again, fiercely this time, and they stumbled away from the carnage behind them and pretended like what they tripped over was only a stone and not a bleeding, writhing angel with all the feathers burned from their wings.
Surrounded by hellfire, eyes alight with insanity, the demon choked on a hysterical laugh as she lifted a blade and slashed open her wrists.
Hellfire had ravaged the square, causing irreparable damage to surrounding buildings and resulting in an undetermined death count. The Powers were still digging bodies out of the ash.
Directly after, Gabriel took her to Crowley's house nearby. A concerned Aziraphale welcomed her while Gabriel hurried off to help search for survivors, and Beelzebub floundered for a bit on how to act in another angel's house. She knew the rules with Gabriel. Aziraphale was different, strange.
Crowley trusted him, though, so Beelzebub trusted that she was safe.
"There you are," Crowley muttered, handing her a steaming mug. She didn't drink it. Aziraphale and Crowley watched her, worried from a distance, as she leaned against the side of the couch with her knees pressed into the carpet, arms wrapped around herself.
All of her careful planning, trying to get across the message that demons weren't evil or destructive, all of it was gone in the wake of one reckless act by a demon driven crazy.
Beelzebub couldn't really find it in herself to cast blame.
"How about this," Aziraphale offered, "Crowley, take Beelzebub for a quick trip to the store. We're rather short on oranges and it should take your mind off things. Do wear gloves or something, dear, you know it's cold out there."
So, despite her instinct to stay inside, Beelzebub drew her jacket tight and followed Crowley down the street. They clearly avoided the main route through the city, instead detouring by the river. Ice glistened along the edges where the water was still. They kept their heads down when angels hurried by, often covered in grime and looking worse for wear.
News of this would reach the Seraphim soon. Beelzebub dreaded the thought of all this being shut down before it ever truly started.
At the store, Beelzebub sought out a certain green-eyed demon.
Aym was loitering by the back, basket filled with fruits, and for all intents and purposes appearing pleased and rather content. He whistled softly, swaying to an inaudible beat, silky grey wings open and relaxed behind him. Beelzebub didn't feel a single twinge of regret as she stepped up beside him, startling him into nearly dropping his basket.
"Hey," he said, once he recovered. "Half-priced crackers. What a deal." He laughed, shaking the box of crackers.
Beelzebub wanted to slap him. "Forget about the crackerzz. Did you hear about the hellfire? In the szzquare?"
"Oh, yeah. I think I gave her those seeds."
Aym frowned sideways at her, wings folding slightly. "I was doing my job. She wanted to help, so I gave her the seeds. No one could've predicted she'd do something as stupid as light up a bunch of angels." At that, a wistful expression crossed his face. "Must've felt on top of the world before she bit it."
"You're szzick and twisted, you know that?"
Shrugging, Aym put a rotten bunch of grapes back on the shelf. "Don't be a hypocrite. You're the one who's in charge anyway."
Beelzebub bristled, but she didn't dare make a scene under so many watchful eyes. Especially not after this morning. While Aym strolled leisurely down the aisle, she followed, buzzing, "I don't advocate for the murder of innocentzz. That iz not the point. We have to convince the angelzz that we're the same az them, not evil or monsterzzzz."
In his grip, a crack formed in the basket handle. Aym's knuckles were white. "That's bullshit. We're not trying to convince anyone of anything. There's no one to convince. No angels are fucking listening, don't you get that?" He spun to face her, eyes thinned into black slits. "This is about revenge. About proving we're stronger than they think. This isn't about proving our innocence, because we're not innocent, Beelzebub. Demons are naturally aggressive and violent and nothing you're spouting will change that. The time for negotiations and is long past."
"Why is it such a fruitlezzz endeavour to change even a few mindszz about usz? There are already angelszz out there who are listening. What about my angel? Or Crowley'szz? They're listening."
"Few, few are listening. Not enough to matter. This is up to us and no on else." Aym sighed, head dropping forward in sudden exhaustion. "I don't want to argue. I just want you to understand that this is not about proving that we're on the same level as angels in goodness or purity or some other shit. We're not the same as them, but we deserve the same rights, regardless. Do you get it?"
And Beelzebub did, at least to some degree. She gave a slow nod, disliking giving ground to him but acknowledging he made a valid point.
Aym swung his basket in his hand, whistled a high note, and walked out of the aisle when he was roughly snatched by a pair of Powers, knocking the basket to the ground and scattering the items around their feet. Beelzebub leaped backwards, bumping into a shelf. Aym made a sharp noise, trying to free himself, but one Power grabbed his collar and used it to drag him to his knees, cutting off any protests. The other Power shoved Aym's head down in forced submission.
Gasps and noises of surprise rose up from the gathered demons as they crowded together, shying away from the commotion. Beelzebub took a step forward, but Crowley appeared behind her and snagged her sleeve.
"Don't," he said, shaking his head, yellow eyes slitted with fear.
"You've been found guilty of treason," the Power said as he restrained Aym, eliciting a cry of pain when he bent the demon's arm too far, "and harboring potential weapons. The sentence is timely execution by holy water."
Aym gritted his teeth, panting. "Fuck off," he snarled.
The Power yanked him to his feet and struck him, sending Aym crashing to the floor. The other angel stepped forward and hauled Aym back up on unsteady legs.
Laughing, Aym shouted for all to hear, "yeah, I fucking did! I gave her the Hellfire. I got dozens of you fuckers burnt to a crisp. Fried angel wings are in, everyone! Get 'em while they're still smoking and twitching on the ground! You don't stand a fucking chance against us, wank-winged goddamned fucking heavenly pricks!"
Several demons were howling with laughter now, on the verge of actually booing the Powers. Beelzebub just felt sick. Aym jeered insults and brazenly took all the credit for the resistance, effectively diverting attention from the rest of them. It was a ridiculous, self-sacrificing, idiotic tactic, and Beelzebub had never respected him more.
Then the Powers led him outside, and the doors slid shut.
"Why are you still standing around?" a Throne nearby growled at them, shaking his fist. "Scram, filth."
The demons dispersed into the aisles, buzzing with excitement. Registering the feeling of the shelf digging into her shoulder, Beelzebub pushed herself up, lightheaded. Crowley was muttering unintelligibly, sounding dismayed.
"How could they have known?" Beelzebub said, and her voice came out too sharp and devastated than she was comfortable with. Crowley shook his head mutely. "We've been careful." For a moment, she was horrified to think that maybe their last conversation had been enough damning evidence for nearby angels to arrest Aym. She should've known if someone was listening in. If that was the case, then... this was her fault.
"If you ask me," a sickly smug voice said, "I think he got what he deserved."
Beelzebub turned, a dark rage flashing to life within her.
Asmodeus casually plucked an item off the shelf. He sneered down at them. "Traitors and execution go together like... hm, is this butter? Like butter on toast."
Beside her, Crowley hissed.
"You... You reported him?" Beelzebub was at a profound loss for words, yet her incredulity would not allow her to let Asmodeus off the hook. "But you're a demon. We're trying to help you."
"You're trying to destroy everything I've built here. I'm happy, you idiots." Asmodeus glared at each of them in turn. "I have a good angel. Caelum isn't entirely terrible. You lot need to learn to be grateful for what you have, and stop messing things up. Angels were killed because of you today, and I hope that haunts you for the rest of your lives."
With a scoff, Asmodeus strolled past them, very noticeably shoulder-checking Crowley as he went by.
"Oh, I'm going to—" Crowley cut himself off, mouth twisted in a snarl. "Throttle that bastard. See how he likes being fucked over."
"Don't retaliate. It won't help."
Beelzebub was generally self-aware, but in this instance, she found it absolutely not hypocritical when she tailed Asmodeus out of the store, stalking close behind and waiting for a lull in pedestrians. She desperately wanted to bash in the back of his head, but she contained herself. His pink wings looked faded in the sunlight.
"Out of the fucking way," someone snapped in her ear, and Vine pushed her to the side, gold eyes blazing with fury. He spread his wings and launched himself in the air, keeping aloft for a few short seconds before abruptly sailing towards the ground, his clipped primaries failing him, but it was long enough to cross the distance between them and Asmodeus.
She'd never considered Vine a violent demon before. That opinion changed in an instant.
Vine's hand latched onto Asmodeus' shirt and dragged him to the street, kicking him in the stomach, before clambering atop the other demon and punching him across the face. Asmodeus' head snapped back with a yelp. Vine reeled back his fist and punched him again, and again, breaking his nose with a crunch! and showering the pavement in glistening blood, grabbing a lock of his hair and slamming his head down onto the edge of the curb with such vehemence that Beelzebub winced reflexively.
"YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!" Vine was screaming, over and over, his knuckles bloodied, a wretched crack in his voice that Beelzebub had never heard. "YOU GOT HIM KILLED!"
Him. Aym. Beelzebub hadn't wondered why they seemed close, but it was all so clear now. Vine lost someone he loved.
Asmodeus' face was a bruised and broken mess, ravaged by Vine's vicious blows, and the revenge didn't seem to be ending anytime soon. A cruel, satisfied streak coiled in her heart, Beelzebub slowly turned around and walked off in the opposite direction, Vine's heartbroken sobs fading into the distance behind her.
hey guys, how are y'all doing on this fine evening that I'm spending inside?
In which Beelzebub and Gabriel argue.
As soon as Beelzebub made it home, Gabriel intercepted her on the front porch.
"We have a problem," he said, looking flustered and rather nervous. He handed her a letter than he had opened and sealed again. "I know you just saw him but I need you to run to Aziraphale's house and give this to him. It's of the utmost importance."
Suppressing a sigh of exhaustion, Beelzebub stuffed the letter in her pocket and hurried down the street, back the way she came. Crowley's house was nice, she supposed, and she appreciated the lack of purple and grey. One could only put up with lavender for so long before it became terribly offensive to the eyes.
Aziraphale opened the door; he looked very pale and worried. Some of the anxiety faded when he saw Beelzebub. "What is it now?"
Wordlessly, Beelzebub handed Aziraphale the letter and watched him open it. Aziraphale's blue eyes went wide and his lips tightened into a thin line.
He shut the door on her.
Beelzebub was suddenly quite exhausted. She didn't want think about the angels in the square, dying of burn wounds. She didn't want to think about Hellfire and Armageddon. She didn't want to think about Aym, dragged away to certain death, using his last words to cover for everyone else. To cover for her.
She didn't want to think right now.
Walking home, she tried to keep a steady pace, but her legs kept wobbling at random moments and she was forced to stop several times and lean on a fence, which got her a few dirty looks from Powers. She didn't care. Not in the slightest.
She was so tired.
A bed sounded so nice. She lingered in the hallway once she was home, taking a second to bask in the warmth and safety of Gabriel's home.
"Where are you going?" Gabriel asked. He was standing in the living room, his grey suit still stained with grime, a smear of dark ash marking his cheek. His wings were in a state of disarray. He looked haggard, worn. Tired.
"We need to talk. The Seraphim have issued a statement regarding the increase of hellfire accidents, which means we need to be more careful from now on. I'm sure Aziraphale is handling it with Crowley..." Gabriel trailed off at her lack of a response. He added weakly, "we should make a plan, don't you think?"
"There iz no 'we', Gabriel." Beelzebub lifted her eyes to meet his. "And there never hazz been."
"What are you talking about? I... I'm helping you."
"I don't want your help if it'zz from zzome kind of moral crizizzz you're having," she told him. "You only want to help to abzzolve your guilt. Zzo. I don't want it." Shaking her head, she started to head down the hallway.
"Don't turn your back on me."
Beelzebub froze; stiffened. Gabriel's voice was brittle and sharp, an edge of frustration to his tone. His purple eyes flashed bright. He hadn't spoken like this to her in months. She hadn't seen him angry like this before, not since he'd pulled her away from the balcony and demanded that she never go up there again. But that was different. That anger was out of fear.
This wasn't the same.
Maybe she'd gone too far this time.
"Beez, I..." Gabriel raised his hand, lowered it, and breathed out, closing his eyes. "I don't like giving you orders. I don't like it, okay? But I need you to listen to me sometimes. Will you listen to me?"
Stupid angel. Still asking for permission like he isn't in charge. Beelzebub nodded, forcing herself to relax. Gabriel's anger, however brief, had set her on edge.
"I know that the circus was a test. That you don't really trust me. And—And I can't blame you." Gabriel swallowed thickly. "I know I'm being selfish and I don't do things for the right reasons, but you won't even let me try. You aren't giving me a chance to prove myself. Every time I try, there's always some reason why I can't.
"Why am I not—" Gabriel took in a shuddering breath, expression twisted with pain. "Why am I never enough for you?"
"... you can't zzay you feel inadequate. Don't do that." Wrapping her arms around herself, Beelzebub tried to ignore the gritty aftertaste of ash on her tongue. "You're an Archangel. You can't be inadequate."
"I'm just not adequate for you, then?"
"That izz not what I—" Beelzebub stopped herself. She shifted her weight, her feet aching. "That'zz not what thizzz iz about."
"Then tell me what it's about. Because apparently, I don't know what we're arguing about either."
They stared at each other in tense silence.
"I only ever wanted to help," Gabriel said softly, hanging his head, almost in shame. "And I mess everything up. Please tell me how to fix it. Let me help you."
Beelzebub blinked a few times, and when the spots in her vision didn't dance away, she braced herself on the wall with one wing, hoping she didn't collapse in the middle of their conversation. "I'm juzzt az lozzzt az you," she admitted faintly. The buzz in her voice was grating. Incessant. "How am I zzupozed to lead a whole revolution? I'm only a demon. And not a very good one."
"Oh, please. At least you're doing something. Most can't say that."
Barely noticing what she was doing, Beelzebub slowly slid to the floor, letting her head fall back. Gabriel crossed the distance between them and sank down beside her. They sat together, both staring at the opposite wall.
"What are we even arguing about?" Gabriel muttered, eyebrows scrunched up.
Beelzebub sighed heavily. "No idea."
They looked at each other. Beelzebub let out a huff. Gabriel's lips tugged into a smile.
"We're idiotzz," Beelzebub said.
"But we're the bezzt we've got."
Beelzebub closed her eyes. Feathers brushed over her forehead; she peered through a canopy of grey to see Gabriel grinning fondly at her. Choosing not to fight this battle, she reached up and drew Gabriel's wing completely over her face, prompting a quiet laugh from the angel.
"Are you going to sleep?" Gabriel asked.
"Seemzz like it."
Sorry for the short length! I wanted to post something as a bridge of sorts to the next chapter, where we delve into the demons' pasts and what they went through in the training center.
As always, thanks for reading!
We delve further into Beelzebub and Crowley's pasts.
TW: Violence, emotional abuse
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the end, Beelzebub was satisfied with her turnout.
She hadn't expected so many to show, especially with the danger it posed, which meant she was pleasantly surprised to find the plaza crowded with demons, clustered together in small groups and talking to one another in low tones. Beelzebub didn't spy any angels among them. Good.
"This way, boss," Dagon said, pulling her behind a hastily-constructed platform.
Dagon had been with her from the very start, ever since they were children. They survived high school and college, and when the Seraphim first showed their ugly faces, Dagon had called Beelzebub, demanding that they needed to do something about this immediately. Dagon had a fire in her that Beelzebub respected.
"You know the drill." Dagon shoved a bunch of notecards into Beelzebub's hands. "Standard stuff, okay? Don't try anything this time around. Too much on the line."
"I'm not worried about pushback. Why should I cenzzor myzzelf?"
"It's not censorship. It's common sense."
"Hey, hey! Beelzebub!"
Crowley practically tripped over himself to reach them, wings flaring out to catch his fall as he tripped on a crack in the concrete and nearly bit it in front of them. He was missing his sunglasses. Odd. Beelzebub knew he must've been incredibly stressed out to leave his sunglasses.
"Don't you think you should have more security than this?" Crowley said nervously, fidgeting with his hands. Behind him, Hastur and Ligur emerged; they looked out of breath and irritated. Crowley probably slipped past them. "The Seraphim threatened you, or have you forgotten already? It's too soon to try something like this!"
Oh, Beelzebub remembered. It happened after she accepted an interview with a notoriously angel-run news station. The reporters asked her some uncomfortable questions about being a demon, as if she was an interesting specimen to inspect.
She left feeling like a scrutinized bug.
That night, that same news station welcomed 'an enterprising political leader and racial advocate', which was a lot of fancy talk for the head of the Seraphim, a fanatical angel known as the Metatron.
"Beelzebub says our methods are dangerous," the Metatron said, his voice easy and confident. "I say we are bold! We need angels who are willing to do the right thing at any cost. If there's collateral damage, then, well, it's a pity, I admit, but we are striving for the greater good. I'd like to refer to Psalms. 'Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes. The wicked will see and be vexed, they will gnash their teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.'"
A reporter asked him what that meant, and the Metatron, with a sickly smile, turned as if he were staring directly into her eyes, and said, "it simply means that those who are divine will surely rule over the filth and scum of this earth. As it is written."
"Do you have any parting words for Beelzebub or other demons out there?"
The Metatron steepled his fingers calmly. "You will return to the place you belong, Beelzebub, there is no doubt in my mind. 'But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.' Romans 2:5. Thank you."
Now, Beelzebub leveled a glare at Crowley. "I'm not afraid of a few terrorizztzzzz," she retorted.
Thankfully, Dagon pulled Crowley away, forcing him to focus his anxious energy elsewhere. Beelzebub didn't need any more apprehension than she was already feeling. Perhaps he made good points, but not necessary ones.
Falling into step beside her as she headed for the stairs, Hastur and Ligur flanked her. They'd volunteered to personally guard her during this rally, seeing as how it would be broadcasted live across the entire nation. It had to be done right.
This was her final stand before she gave into Crowley's demands and fled the country, with everyone else. It was too dangerous otherwise.
She glanced at her notecards. Weak. They were weak. Crowley had written these; he wanted her to play it safe, wanted to turn her image into one of peaceful supplication.
No, this would not do.
Beelzebub passed the cards off to Ligur. She would not compromise her values to appease some crazy angels with a deluded mission of divine righteousness.
"Um, boss," Hastur said. "You sure you don't want the notes? Dagon said—"
"I don't care," Beelzebub cut him off. She straightened her coat collar, schooled her expression, and stepped up to the podium.
Demons filled the plaza. They jostled each other for a place to see, their murmurs dying away as Beelzebub came into view. In the past, her arrival would've been met with lively enthusiasm. Now, there was an eerie quiet.
They were scared.
"We have been threatened," Beelzebub began, her voice booming through the speakers and echoing over the crowd. Her face stared back at her in the large screens, pale and exhausted. "We have been attacked, banned, made to feel unzzafe in our own homezzz. Our streetzz offer no protection. The news only zpeakzz of hate and chaozzz.
"We don't need more fear. We have to zztand together and face thizzz." She slammed her fist into the podium, the noise sharp and final. Demons muttered amongst themselves. "The Seraphim don't know who they have challenged. We will not go quietly. Thizz iz our home; fight for it!"
As if waiting for her command, the demons instantly erupted into raucous cheers, the plaza filled with flapping wings and shouts of defiance. The ground seemed to tremble with their fury.
"No matter what," Beelzebub said once everything settled down, "we will alwayzz defend one another. Do not let them tear uz apart."
More cheering, somehow even louder, rose up.
"And to all you Seraphim out there..." Beelzebub lifted her gaze to the cameras, now addressing a live audience of thousands. "Go fuck yourzzelvezzz."
The crowd screamed their approval. Beelzebub grinned at the reaction, before a rock came sailing from the mass of demons, narrowly missing her, and clattered to the ground at her feet.
Everything went silent.
Except for one.
Beelzebub narrowed her eyes. From the crowd, a flash of white appeared, and an angel leaped into the air on pale wings. They were joined by one, two, three more, all donning white cloaks with the golden symbol of the Seraphim.
The demons stirred, grumbling at the intrusion, many of them also hovering in case violence broke out.
Behind Beelzebub, Dagon growled, "we should get out of here."
"I'm not going to run away," Beelzebub hissed back. Focusing on the angels, she loudly said into the microphone, "you're not welcome here. We don't bow to the likezzz of you."
"You will," one of them said. "You all will."
"We don't want violence," another called out. "We only want what's best."
The angels were lying. Beelzebub tightened her grip on the edges of the podium.
This was a riot poised to explode.
An uneasy quiet had fallen over the plaza. The demons hungrily eyed the angels, but they all waited for Beelzebub's words. She controlled how this crowd reacted. Everything wobbled on the edge of disaster. Beelzebub could taste the tension; ripe, palpable, bitter. She cast a glance backward. Dagon was watching her carefully.
Before Beelzebub could speak, a demon from the crowd surged upwards, swiping at an angel, and cries of warning erupted around them as a golden knife flashed in the angel's hand, driven down into the demon's chest and burying itself in flesh. The demon screamed, and they toppled back into the crowd and vanished.
The crowd roared, demons flinging themselves into the air and slamming into the angels, grappling with them, wings flapping wildly and shrieks of pain punctuating the chaos.
Beelzebub lurched forward, but Dagon grabbed her and hauled her back, shouting, "we need to go!"
"Come on!" Crowley yelled ahead of them, black wings dark against the grey sky, straining to push him higher into the sky as Beelzebub and Dagon followed. Below, Hastur and Ligur took off after them.
"We can't leave," Beelzebub tried to tell the others, but Crowley wasn't having it.
"We've stayed too long as it is. Septrion's closing the border tomorrow, this is our last chance."
"They are our people!"
"I get that and all but we're also running out of time, and I don't know about you but I don't want to be here when everything boils over." Crowley's wings flattened, stabilizing his flight. Beelzebub struggled to do the same. They needed to save their energy.
The rioting crowd and the achingly familiar city behind them shrank with distance, until it was merely a speck on the horizon.
Beelzebub turned her eyes away, to their destination.
The colors came to him first.
Grey, flat and monotone. A gritty texture. Then, gaze drifting down, crimson, rust, corroding the walls. Hazy, pale, harsh fluorescent lights.
Crowley's heartbeat quickened, the sensation drumming in his skull, every breath a ragged inhale as he became aware of an ache in the back of his head and a chafing burn around his wrists; he strained to see, unable to focus. His eyes struggled to adjust.
Without moving, he took stock of his limbs. All in one piece, it seemed. His wings were crushed uncomfortably beneath him. Painstakingly, he lifted one arm and squinted.
The skin on his wrist was inflamed, rubbed raw with the imprint of a rope. He suspected his other wrist bore the same markings. He was wearing only a shirt and jeans; his feet were bare. His jacket and shoes had been taken from him.
Muddled memories floated just beyond his reach, toying with his consciousness.
It was freezing in here.
He sat up with great care; he felt blurry and slightly confused, like a mild hangover. Pain shot up his wings when he tried to open them, and he doubled over, squeezing his eyes shut. His joints protested against the movement.
Slowly, slowly, he remembered.
They had made it to the border. They presented their passports, only to have the angel at the checkpoint to regretfully inform them that their visas were invalid.
That can't be right, Beelzebub had said.
I'm afraid so. I'd help you if I could; Lord knows things are getting dicey over there. The border guard had jabbed his thumb towards the place they were fleeing. Libertas has open borders for now. Better be on your way if you want to catch them in a hospitable mood.
What's your name? Dagon had asked. I won't forget this.
The border guard had only shook his head, forlorn. Terribly sorry, I am. Not my laws, though.
Off to Libertas they went. The only entrance from their country was a cliff, and over the strait, a short flight, was a place of refuge. Crowley gritted his teeth. He remembered the rain-streaked cliffside, the rough voices calling out, a brief struggle, and then darkness.
They had almost made it.
Where are the others?
Suddenly filled with panic, Crowley swung his feet over the side of the bed—which, upon further inspection, was merely a worn cot with a thin sheet—and stood on wobbling legs. He braced himself on the wall, head spinning. The wall was bumpy and mottled with flaws beneath his fingers.
The space was small and cramped, with four grey walls, a single cot, a thick metal door, and a rectangular slot towards the base of the door. Crowley stuck his hand through the slot, feeling around for anything useful, but he could only feel cool metal. He retracted his hand.
Set into the ceiling were three blinding lights, illuminating the room in uncomfortable clarity. Crowley wrinkled his nose at the clinical, tangy scent, along with a faint whiff of copper. Blood.
Crowley scowled at himself as something became clear to him: he could just miracle the door open. Easy as hell. The angel must've hit him harder than he thought, because everything felt foggy, as if he was looking through a frosted window. He tottered over to the door and set a hand on it, mentally seeking out the locks so he could slide the mechanisms out of place.
He frowned. Tried snapping his fingers, pushing the door, even kicking at it, which in hindsight was a mistake seeing as he was barefooted.
"Fuck it," he muttered. He reached through the door slot again and tried to grab the handle.
Pain exploded across his knuckles as something hard smacked his fingers, forcing him to recoil, clutching his throbbing hand to his chest.
"Hey!" Crowley shouted. "What the hell's going on?"
Silence. No explanation was offered.
But he didn't stick his fingers in the slot again.
Time was hard to judge here. The lights gave no indication of daylight; they did not dim or brighten, so when he eventually wore himself out and attempted to sleep, the lights made it very difficult. He slept fitfully, for how long he wasn't sure, but the next time he awoke it was to a clattering noise.
He blinked, his vision adjusting the brightness. On the floor, below the slot, was a small plastic band. Crowley stared at it. It was the sort of thing you got at trampoline parks, or hospitals. A tiny 'eight' was printed in black.
At first, he just left it on the ground. But soon, his curiosity overcame him, and he slipped the band around his wrist, clipping the ends together.
"Happy?" he said to no one.
This was insanely frustrating. He was confused, tired, and sore, and he just wanted to go home. He approached the door and banged on it a few times.
And there was nothing for a long while after that.
"Please let me out," Crowley whispered, leaning against the steel door. "I don't want to be alone in here anymore."
The lights only buzzed steadily in response.
"What did I do? What do you want me to do? I'll do anything."
Then, miraculously, came a sound Crowley had not heard in ages: footsteps. They halted directly outside of the door. He scrambled back, moving out of the way in case it opened inward.
"Hello?" he said tentatively.
"No talking," a gruff voice said.
Crowley shut his mouth. He wouldn't dare jeopardize his chance out of this room.
Three sharp clicks, like someone snapping their fingers, rang out.
"Face the wall and kneel on the ground," the voice instructed. Crowley hesitated. The voice didn't speak again. Gritting his teeth, Crowley went to the wall and knelt, the cold floor biting through his meager clothing.
Behind him, there was a low creaking; the door opening, he assumed. Heavy footsteps. Boots on concrete. Crowley turned, straining to look, only to receive a sharp cuff to the back of his head.
"What's your fucking problem?" Crowley snarled, wings bristling as he tried to climb to his feet.
"I said—" Someone landed a solid kick to his shoulder blades, knocking him forward. Crowley caught himself on his elbows, but rough hands grabbed him by the hair and pressed his face into the ground, forcing him to lie flat. "—no talking." The floor was cool against his cheek. Crowley went still out of sheer terror.
The unknown person hummed, appreciative.
"Better. No more outbursts like that in the future, understand? We'll get along just fine that way."
Crowley tried to close his wings, hating the vulnerable position they were in. A boot heel stepped on the tips of his primaries, pinning him, a quiet whimper escaping him as the feathers were painfully strained.
"Don't move unless I tell you to."
His heart pounded like a caged bird, fluttering in his rib cage and climbing into his throat. After a moment, the person eased off of his wing and released him, but Crowley didn't dare stand up. In the future, they'd said. They were promising more of this to come. Before Crowley could work himself into a panic, the person spoke.
"Slowly now, get on your knees and face me."
Folding his wings first, Crowley pushed himself up, dropping back down onto his knees before shuffling in a circle to look at his assailant.
Mottled grey wings. Bright green eyes. The angel's features were cold, sharp, reminiscent of marble statues with their stony expressions and chiseled noses. Crowley had always hated those.
And his face was suddenly very close to Crowley's. "Did I say you could look me in the eye?" the angel demanded, wings flaring up behind him in a show of dominance.
No one did that sort of thing anymore. It was a tradition to open one's wings during... intimate moments with partners, or more commonly in fights. Crowley and Beelzebub sometimes did it playfully. Never had anyone openly threatened him like this before, wings puffed up in aggression. Crowley shrank back from the startling display. The angel glowered at him.
"I—" Crowley started, but then he saw the glint in the angel's eyes, and quickly lowered his gaze to the floor, focusing on the angel's feet. Everything about this was fucked up and wrong.
"You're terribly misguided," the angel said, now soothing. "Speaking to an angel in such a manner? With that remarkable amount of disrespect? Looking me in the eyes as if you are my equal? It's sad, really, what this world has come to." He tsked. "Nonetheless. We shall remedy it, promptly." Crowley flinched as the angel sank his fingers into Crowley's hair. Almost... petting him. Crowley swallowed back his vehement protests. "You're an intelligent demon, I can see, so I'll lay out my expectations plainly. You will do everything I tell you, regardless of your personal opinions on the matter. You no longer have opinions. You are a demon, which means you are less than."
The angel's voice softened when Crowley squeezed his eyes shut. "Be calm, darling. You'll only receive punishment if you make me dole it out. When I come to see you next, I expect to see you in this exact position, waiting for me."
When the angel left, Crowley leaped to his feet and ran to the door, hoping to grab it before it locked, but the latch clicked a moment before he made it.
He growled in frustration.
This is fucking hell.
Oh, Crowley, honey, you have no idea.
This chapter got so long I had to split it in two. The next update will be out much sooner!
The rest of Crowley's time at the training center, and Auction Day from his POV.
TW: Emotional abuse, violence, self-harm, and non graphic rape/non-con
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The angel didn't show up again for a while, though at this point Crowley didn't trust his ability to comprehend the passage of time. The lights ceaselessly glared at him from above. He slept fitfully and in short bursts.
Sometime later, he jerked to attention at the sound of three consecutive clicks.
He frowned at the ceiling.
The door swung open, the angel's stare landing on him.
Shit, Crowley thought, and before he could climb off the bed the angel was upon him, grabbing him roughly by the throat and slamming his head against the wall. His vision was engulfed in white. His hands flew up to scrabble at the tight grip, but the angel's fingers squeezed and Crowley went limp, gasping for air.
"I thought I'd made myself clear," the angel snapped. "Or are you duller than you look?"
Crowley wheezed helplessly, the back of his head throbbing. He faintly felt something warm drip down the nape of his neck. The angel sighed. His hold on Crowley's throat loosened, allowing Crowley to suck in a shuddering breath, chest heaving.
Everything was fuzzy and bewildering and Crowley could only think, the bloody door is open.
He pulled his knee up and kicked at the angel, forcing him backwards, and Crowley scrambled over the angel's clawing hands to bolt for the open door, for his escape, pitching forward with his arms outstretched—
The door slammed shut. Crowley collided with the metal, the force of it knocking him to the ground, panting.
"No," he cried, horror sinking into the pit of his stomach.
"Wrong decision," the angel said lowly.
A hand seized the back of Crowley's collar and dragged him away from the door. Crowley thrashed, thinking very hard about turning into a snake to make this extremely difficult for the angel, but still, nothing happened. His powers were coiled uselessly somewhere deep within him. Frustration made him grab at the angel's wrist, trying to push him away.
Crowley smacked into the hard wall, wings throbbing and pinned beneath him. The angel had tossed him like he weighed nothing.
Real dread began to set in.
"Don't you get it, filth?" the angel said, looming over him. "You made me do this. I didn't want to hurt you"—motherfucking liar—"but you pushed me too far. Now, I think you have something to say to me."
Crowley slowly ran his tongue across his bottom lip, tasting blood. He shook his wing, discarding a few black feathers. He looked up at the angel, who didn't reprimand him for making eye contact this time.
The angel watched him expectantly.
"Go," Crowley said, "fuck yourself."
The angel's expression clouded over, but before he had a chance to respond, Crowley bared his teeth and hissed at him. The angel kicked him in the stomach, causing him to double over, curling in on himself, and Crowley hardly felt the flash of pain as the angel stepped on his fingers, crushing them.
Trembling, Crowley grinned up at the angel and laughed coldly. "And I meant it. Fuck you."
Fury filled the angel's eyes. He twisted his fingers in Crowley's hair and hauled him up on his knees, holding his head back and leaning close. "Was it worth it?" he demanded. "Was it really worth it, you scum of the earth? You are a scourge, a blight, and if I had my way I'd wipe all of you from existence."
"Then why don't you, if you hate us so much? Why drag this on?"
"Because..." The angel's rage drained away, expression shifting back to one of inexplicable calm even as his lips curled into a sneer. "Because I'm going to enjoy crushing all this defiance out of you. I'm going to really enjoy seeing you cower at my feet. But do you know what I'm looking forward to the most?"
The angel's voice dropped to a whisper as he yanked Crowley's head back farther, eliciting a whimper of pain. "I'm going to enjoy seeing you realize that you are never getting out of here."
Crowley completely lost track of time after that.
He stopped trying to count the days or the visits from the angel, finding it useless. The lights, ceaseless, became his reality. It seemed like there was always some undercurrent of pain, whether it was lingering injuries or fresh ones from when he displeased the angel, which wasn't difficult to do.
There was no way of telling what would set him off. Crowley didn't care much about making the angel happy, but he was beginning to suspect it would be easier if he just did as he was told. Maybe it wouldn't hurt the way it currently did. Maybe...
He shook his head. Theorizing never made him feel better.
Recently, he was able to recognize and anticipate the signs of the angel's arrival. Three clicks, and five seconds to get on his knees before the door opened. Then, the angel would enter, lock the door, and their session would begin.
He found himself shaking at the clicking sounds, his heart stuttering into a terrified rhythm as the footsteps grew louder, and hating his fear, his weakness.
For someone's sake, he was a demon. Cowering should not be an instinct.
The angel's mood dictated the pace and intensity of their intermittent meetings. Sometimes, he would be patient, almost caring as he forced Crowley to answer questions or complete tasks. Other days, he was violent and rough, leaving Crowley bloodied and shaking on the floor when he left. Crowley could never predict which it would be.
This resulted in a low thrum of panic, all the time, that never released Crowley from its grip. Even when he was alone.
Right now, he was trying and failing to groom his wings. Blood and grime matted the feathers, sticking them together in a congealed mess. His fingers were stained with red.
Crowley closed his eyes briefly. He folded his wings, leaving them as they were, and drew his knees up to his chest, fixing his eyes on the opposite wall. The greyness stared back.
Carefully, he felt around deep inside himself, looking for that little bundle of power, the core of his being, everything that made him a demon. It was like a rock, lodged beneath his rib cage. It didn't move when he prodded it.
And quite suddenly, Crowley felt angry.
"I don't want to be a demon anymore," he snarled, grabbing his wing and bending it uncomfortably close to him. "I don't want it." He buried his fingers in a group of silky black coverts and tore them right out, gasping at the firey pain that snaked across his wing. "I don't want any of it! I don't want these wingsss, I don't want my eyesssss—" His hands flew up, clawing at his face, his nails digging sharp grooves in his skin, drawing blood. "I don't fucking want it!"
He only stopped when the pain became too much, white-hot and stinging. He folded his ruined wings around himself, buried his face in his hands, and cried.
He didn't hear the three clicks, or the door opening, or the angel crossing the room, but when someone touched his wrists Crowley jerked back, a hoarse sob escaping him.
"Hey, hey," someone said, pulling his wings open to expose him. "Calm down."
Crowley went still. He forced his eyes open, despite the pain, only to find himself inches away from the angel. Panic swelled up in his chest but he crushed it. The angel reached out and skimmed the ugly wounds on his face.
"What happened? Did another angel...?"
Shaking his head, Crowley tried to slow his breathing, hating how comforting it was to be close to another being. The angel held his wrists gently, bright green eyes shining with strange, uncharacteristic concern.
"You did this to yourself?" the angel said.
"I'm sssorry," Crowley managed, looking away in shame.
The angel made a quiet, contemplative noise. "No, you're learning. It's good. But..." His grip tightened, ever so slightly. "I'm the only one who gets to hurt you. Not other angels, not yourself. Do you understand?"
Crowley was silent.
"Perhaps I need to give you a demonstration."
In an instant, the angel pushed him onto his back and pinned his wrists above his head, knees straddling his waist. Crowley's heart lurched and he tried to free himself, but the angel bent down and growled, breath hot against Crowley's ear, "I wouldn't recommend fighting me."
The angel released his wrists, eyes bright with warning. Crowley stayed very still.
Warm fingers traced his collarbone. One of the angel's hands pressed his shoulder down while the other slid down the small of his back, touching his hip. Crowley felt lightheaded, unsure if he was even breathing. His heartbeat pounded in his skull.
"What are you doing?" Crowley asked, faintly, not able to look anywhere but into the angel's hungry stare.
"That's just it," the angel said. "I can do anything I want. Do you know why?"
Crowley shuddered as the angel reached up and grabbed Crowley's wrists again. One hand gripped his shoulder.
"Because you're a demon. An evil, destructive, loathsome creature. You don't have autonomy. You belong to anyone who wants you. That means you don't have a choice in whatever I want to do to you. You don't have the choice to say no."
"Pleasssse," Crowley whimpered.
And without giving him a chance to comply, the angel did it for him—shutting him up with a rough kiss, forcing Crowley's mouth open and slipping his tongue inside. Crowley snapped his head to the side, breaking it off, struggling frantically even as the angel slapped him, hard, and pinned him firmly to the floor.
"You don't have any right to resist," the angel hissed. "Do you hear me? I can take whatever I want from you."
"No," Crowley said hoarsely. His mind was hazy, detaching itself from the situation, though he vainly tried to keep his grip on reality. "No, you can't."
"I can." The angel kissed him again invasively, leaving Crowley shaking with revulsion and fear. "And I will."
Crowley could only weakly sob as the angel violated him, striking him whenever he moved too much, but it never went farther than that. The angel didn't go any lower than his chest. With sickening hatred for himself, Crowley felt relieved. The angel was showing mercy on him.
This was more than he deserved.
The worst part was when the angel wasn't violent.
When he was kind, gentle. When he spoke softly and soothingly. Crowley hated those moments. He hated it, because then he lost himself, unable to resist from caving in to the comfort, his shattered psyche desperate for any sort of affection. And the angel knew it.
The pain started to come at random intervals, leaving Crowley plenty of time to wonder what he'd done wrong, and how to fix it next time. The angel liked to make him guess at his offence and when he inevitably failed, the angel would punish him. Crowley deserved it, really. There was only one being in this world who gave any sort of shit about him and Crowley couldn't even act right for the angel.
Just a worthless failure of a demon.
No, not worthless—the angel ensured he knew he was useful. If he could serve, then he wasn't a waste of space. He only had to learn to do it correctly.
Today, the angel was in a good mood. He'd brought in a chair and sat down in it, flipped open a book, and started reading.
As he was expected to, Crowley knelt on the uncomfortable floor with his head bowed. His auburn hair fell past his shoulders now, tangled and grimy. His wings had healed from when he'd tried to tear out his feathers. That meant at least a week had passed. But he didn't care much about keeping track of things anymore.
"Ah," the angel said, closing his book. "It feels good to relax sometimes, don't you think?"
Crowley knew quite better than to respond. He only dipped his head in acknowledgement.
The angel shifted in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. He looked down at Crowley. "You're coming around very nicely," he said, pride in his voice. "I can't wait to see what you're made of in the real world."
The real world? Crowley idly scratched his wrist, eyes trained on the floor. The angel almost never spoke about life beyond this room. Crowley often didn't like to think about it. Thinking gave him hope.
"You know what? Since you've been so good for me, I'm going to reward you."
Crowley chanced a look upwards; the angel smiled, and it was frighteningly genuine.
"You can either ask me three questions, which I will answer honestly and with no consequence. Or, I'll arrange something with my colleagues, and you can see another demon from this facility." The angel chuckled at Crowley's expression. "Choose wisely. Something like this may not happen again."
He didn't want to make a choice. He wasn't used to it. The angel usually made all the decisions for him, so being asked to make a choice now just felt wrong.
"You won't be punished for doing what I've asked you," the angel encouraged, sliding his hand into Crowley's hair and idly petting him.
Wearily, Crowley leaned into the touch. The angel's smile grew broader.
"... three questionss," Crowley said after a long pause, his voice scratchy and weak from disuse. Seeing another demon would only make him feel worse. This was the safer option. The more familiar one.
"Alright. Ask away."
Crowley thought very carefully about his questions. They had to matter. They needed to be smart. If he worded them correctly, perhaps the angel would give away more information than intended. Yes, he had to be very careful.
He cleared his throat. "Are other demons here?"
Alright. Not off to a great start. Crowley shifted his weight. "Where are we?"
"In the remnants of a corrupt, impure country. This place is known as Caelum, now. It means 'Heaven' in our language. You wouldn't understand it, being a demon and all."
Quiet fell over them as Crowley considered his last question. The angel continued to run his fingers through Crowley's hair. Crowley found he rather hated it.
"One more," the angel prompted, at Crowley's extended silence.
"... what's your name?"
The angel laughed softly. "Really? That's what you're desperate to know?"
"It's my last question."
"Yes, I suppose it is." The angel sighed playfully and patted Crowley's head. "If you insist. My name is Maion. I'm known specifically as the Throne of Discipline, though you wouldn't know anything about the hierarchy. You'll learn soon enough." And with those ominous parting words, the angel—no, Maion—uncrossed his legs, picked up his book, and left.
Crowley's shoulders slumped and he rocked back on his heels, knees aching. He rubbed his eyes, berating himself, y ou should've chosen to see another demon.
"The Seraphim are at the top," Maion said, pointing to a chart he'd hung on the wall earlier. Crowley knelt on the floor, relishing in the rare opportunity to look up at the angel. "They are in charge, utterly. We are all incredibly lucky to be in their service."
"Yes, sir," Crowley said. Maion had been allowing him to speak lately, but he knew better than to say anything besides what was expected of him.
"Below the Seraphim, but of great importance also are the Archangels and the Cherubim. The Archangels make up the Council, which handles new laws and passes them with the Seraphim's approval. They mainly deal with the paperwork." Maion laughed, like he'd made a joke, which he hadn't. "The Cherubim are typical government workers. Thrones worked in training centers and with demons."
Crowley sort of wished Maion would pick a more interesting topic to lecture about.
Not that he wasn't curious and all, but he really didn't care about angelic politics. However, he understood that knowing angels' different roles in society would make it easier for him to do his job—serve them.
Maion went on to describe the Second Choir, or class, which consisted of Dominions, Virtues, and Powers.
Dominions trained new angel recruits and were in charge of the Powers. Virtues were the doctors and healers, the ones who were most adept at using miracles. Powers were the warriors, the military; they resembled police officers of the old days, who enforced Seraphim laws and kept an eye on everyone.
The Third Choir had Principalities and Angels. Principalities handled architectural projects, city planning, and community outreach.
"Like mayors?" Crowley said tentatively.
"Something like that." But Maion's expression dimmed with displeasure, and Crowley shut his mouth.
Regular Angels were the workforce. They typically didn't own demons, just because they often didn't earn enough money to purchase one. Some angels, like retired Powers, received compensation for their service. Compensation simply meant they got a demon without paying.
"You will have to memorize all of this," Maion told him, nose upturned, brandishing his pencil. "Surviving in Caelum demands it. It will not be easy, but you have to be able to handle it."
Other days, instead of teaching, they went through a variety of exercises.
Kneeling with his toes touching, wings folded tightly against his body, head bowed almost to his chest was a favorite position of Maion's. He would make Crowley stay completely still as the angel stalked in a slow circle around him, adjusting his posture as he saw fit. Another was kneeling with his spine impeccably straight, hands crossed behind his back and wings tilted slightly forward.
No matter what, Crowley was always on his knees.
Crowley rarely needed to be disciplined anymore; his obedience met Maion's expectations, sometimes exceeded it. Though on occasion, Crowley suspected that Maion just liked to hurt him.
It was unfair, he knew, but some broken part of him had begun to tell him it was perfectly reasonable. He was property, after all. Undeserving of opinions. If Maion caused him pain for no reason, then it was all quite fine because Maion didn't need a reason.
Their routine stayed mostly the same.
Until the fateful day that the clicking rang out, Crowley knelt, and the angel who came in was not Maion.
"Up," they said. He rose to his feet with his head bowed. "Go on."
The angel prodded him, unnecessarily, because he was pushing Crowley towards the door, where Crowley was not complaining about going. Crowley hesitated just before stepping outside. It was cold out there. He swallowed hard.
"I said go."
The angel pushed him and he stumbled into the hallway, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and exposed. The hall was long and illuminated with bright lights, with large metal doors lining the walls to the left and right. Crowley had been within reach of other demons this whole time. Farther down the hall, more angels were wrenching open doors and ushering demons out, marching them along in a ragged line to the double doors at the end of the hall.
Though he desperately wanted to, Crowley didn't try to guess the identities of the others. Everyone kept their heads down and hurried to comply.
Past the double doors was a large, open space, reminiscent of a gym. Some demons murmured in surprise.
They were split up into small groups of two, and that was when Crowley realized how few of them there were. Only six. He'd assumed there would be more.
"Hey," the demon nearest to him whispered. He had the black and white wings of a stork. "I'm Malthus, you?"
Crowley shook his head, mouth dry.
Malthus frowned. "What's wrong with you?"
"Hey!" one of the angels snapped. They both jumped. "No talking. Get over here."
They shuffled over. Clad in white, an angel handed Crowley a pair of socks and shoes. He looked at the items in his arms blankly.
"Put them on," the angel said, not unkindly. Crowley obeyed. "Lean down." He inclined his head in submission, allowing her to guide him easily to his knees. She wound her fingers in his hair, and he flinched, but she didn't pull or hurt him. She only gathered it up into a bundle, and snipped it off.
Inwardly, Crowley sighed in relief. He hated his hair long. It gave Maion more leverage. The angel kept cutting until it was trimmed short, a bit longer on the top, which wasn't his typical style but he was in no position to complain. Beside him, Malthus also had shoes now, though it seemed his hair was short enough already. Crowley wondered what the purpose was for all of this.
After that whole ordeal was finished, the angel reached into her bag and pulled out a thin strip of flexible metal that glinted in the light. Crowley averted his eyes. She placed two fingers beneath his chin and tilted his head up. He struggled to not look at her.
"Hold still," she said, shortly this time. She wound the metal around his neck and fit the clasps together.
Instantly, Crowley felt the difference. The emptiness that he'd been feeling for weeks abruptly shifted to a painful ache, as if someone was stepping on his chest. He swayed a bit, shoulders heaving as he pitifully tried to take a deep breath.
"Wings out," the angel said.
Crowley closed his eyes and opened his wings, still beautiful despite all the abuse they'd been put through. His racing heart steadied somewhat. The angel passed her hand over the bleeding patches, and Crowley was unable to prevent a soft exhale, the healing miracle soothing his pain.
"Poor thing," the angel remarked, as she picked up another pair of scissors. "Hurting yourselves like this. Hold still."
She thought they had done this to themselves? The notion was so ridiculous, Crowley wanted to laugh.
With a gentle touch, she spread his primary feathers, snipped the scissors once, and chopped off his wingtips. Crowley jerked back on accident, eyes wide with horror, and in an instant the angel's expression became hard.
"I told you not to move," she snapped, yanking him closer to her. His training kicked in and he dropped his head, shoulders slumping. "Bloody disobedient creatures." Much less carefully, she trimmed the rest of his feathers, switching to the other side once she was finished. Crowley could only stare bleakly at the floor, fighting to crush the sob that was building in his chest.
All that pain, humiliation, and a fucking collar on top of everything? What the hell are they playing at?
The angel made quick work of him after that, healing any remaining injuries, though they'd mostly faded by now. She steered away from his wings and left his feathers as they were.
"All done," she said. Crowley realized that was probably his cue to get up.
A Throne in black led him back to the group. All of them had shoes and clipped wings now, like they were a matching toy set. Malthus grumbled something and earned himself a smack to the back of the head.
"Hello," a voice whispered behind Crowley. He froze. Maion leaned in, his breath hot against Crowley's ear. "Miss me?" Though he laughed darkly, he didn't touch Crowley besides gripping the ridges of his wings, as the other Thrones were doing.
"Walk!" an angel barked out.
In unison, the Thrones turned to the right, forcing their demons to turn along with them. Ahead, a door swung open from the inside, and grey light shone through, momentarily dazzling Crowley as his eyes struggled to adjust to the shift. Maion pushed him forward, unhurried, and they stepped out into the world.
It was terrifying.
Large buildings rose up on every side, boxing in the open square. They were being marched up to a wooden platform with ominous black hooks and chains. Angels filled the space, chattering amongst themselves, though the conversation's tone turned excited when the demons came into view. The angels looked well-fed and comfortably dressed, milling around without a care in the world. Above, the sky was coated with thick grey clouds.
Crowley ended up at the far end of the platform, where Maion and another Throne hefted the chains and clipped it to his thin collar, instantly weighing him down. He started to sink to his knees, but Maion halted the movement, gripping the back of his shirt.
"Stay standing the whole time," Maion muttered. "They'll want a good look at you." He sounded almost jealous.
So, Crowley tried not to list to the side as the heavy chains set him off-balance.
An angel was speaking. "Welcome to the Auction. We may have a smaller selection this month, but I assure you, our demons will prove to be perfect for your homes. Remember the rules: no touching unless you've made a purchase, highest price offer sells the quickest, and as always, peace be with you."
The crowd below chanted the eerie phrase in return. Crowley shivered.
Behind him, Maion drew back, leaving Crowley his space. Fraught with anxious energy, Crowley began to nervously pace around the hook in the wood, his chain scraping as he went. Maion didn't stop him.
He knew exactly what this was. The Auction was one of the recent things Maion had taught him about; it was a sick event for angels to buy demons, like merchandise. This was why Maion wanted him to stand.
They were supposed to be on display.
Then, Crowley noticed the angel approaching. He stopped in his tracks. Maion perked up, though when he spoke he sounded flat, vaguely enthusiastic in a way that he clearly didn't mean.
"Hello, sir. Are you interested in owning a demon?" he asked, shaking the angel's hand.
Crowley gulped. The angel's voice was warm and soft, his accent carrying a low, soothing cadence. He spoke gently, as if afraid of frightening Crowley.
"Ah, thank you for service. Peace be with you."
"And you as well."
Crowley felt the angel's gaze fall upon him. He quickly ducked his head. The angel's shoes were shiny.
Maion and the angel kept talking, discussing Crowley as if he was an interesting product and Maion was running through a sales pitch. The angel didn't seem too eager about all this. Crowley wondered if he wasn't good enough. If he wasn't doing this right.
Very hesitantly, Crowley cast his eyes upwards.
The angel was beautiful. His wings gleamed white, almost blinding to look at. His clothes were utterly unfashionable, with a little tartan bow tie completing the look, but he managed to make it work. His face was round, cherubic. He wasn't smiling, but Crowley suspected he would be even more beautiful with a smile.
He felt familiar.
And his eyes, they were the most glorious bright blue, calculating and intelligent as they skimmed over Crowley.
It wasn't fear that crossed Crowley's expression. It was awe.
"I'll take it," the angel said, shaking Crowley out of his reverie. He forced his gaze back to the ground, but he was trembling with excitement and apprehension now, barely noticing when Maion hissed under his breath and unhooked the chains, pocketing the hefty price that he'd demanded from the angel.
With that, Maion passed over the metaphorical reigns, and Crowley left with the beautiful angel.
"Gabriel, are you quite finished?" his angel called.
An angel, Gabriel, with a ridiculous purple suit on, hurried over. Crowley nearly broke when he saw Beelzebub trailing behind, her chin lifted high and her eyes proud. Her expression spasmed upon noticing Crowley, but it smoothed over quickly.
Their angels seemed to be friends. This might actually work out.
His angel, with those lovely blue eyes, quietly encouraged Crowley to follow.
They headed home.
For the majority of this story so far, Crowley has done an admirable job of blocking out most of what happened to him at the training center. This is why he was so reluctant to join the rebellion at the beginning, because his subconscious had learned that acting any way that suggested defiance would earn punishment. Now, with Aziraphale, he's starting to unlearn some of that, because despite all his faults Aziraphale tries to treat every living being with respect.
Aziraphale at this point is interesting too. He was passive in the beginning, but now that he's personally seen a demon suffering from society in Caelum, everything has become very, frighteningly real for him. He wants to, he needs to help because if he doesn't, his guilt is going to drive him insane. However, he is also in the process of unlearning his thought process of "demons = lesser", so while he may treat Crowley with kindness, he's still having trouble shifting his mindset. He pities Crowley, like one pities an abused dog; there's no real respect yet. And there won't be for a while.
Another thing that should be noted: Maion's behavior is NOT typical for Thrones at the training center. The other Thrones all had a detachment from their demons. He's grown rather... attached to Crowley. His hatred is personal. He's sadistic, and cares much more about his work than any other angel at the training center, which is why the other demons were all in better shape than Crowley. Maion is sick and twisted. The worst of his species. In comparison, the Metatron is almost philanthropic.
(also!! it's pronounced "my-on")
Thanks for reading!!
Picking up with Aziraphale and Crowley after Beelzebub delivered the letter, Maion makes a reappearance.
Aziraphale was hardly breathing when he closed the door on Beelzebub, a letter clutched tightly in his hands.
Having crept around the corner, Crowley peered over at him, curious. "What's going on?"
"New regulations." The paper crumpled in Aziraphale's grip. "Hellfire has become too big of an issue, especially with the latest riots. The Seraphim are coming down harshly on anyone in possession of flowers or seeds."
Crowley went pale.
"My dear," Aziraphale said, struggling to keep his voice even and measured, "I think it would rather be in our best interests for you to remove the flowers from the garden. Immediately."
"Right. No, right, I..." Crowley hurried off into the backyard, the door clanging shut behind him.
Aziraphale walked to the kitchen window and drew the curtain aside. A few blocks down, he dearly hoped Gabriel was taking the same precautions. There had always been an undercurrent of danger with this operation, but it had never felt so looming as it did in that moment.
He wondered, not for the first time, if all this was really worth it.
We're comfortable here. Safe. Protected, even, the little obstinate voice in his mind argued. Other places are filled with corruption and greed, doomed to fall apart. Demons and angels can't coexist the way we used to, it's just not progressive. It's better this way.
That little voice sounded awfully like the Metatron.
Aziraphale shook his head. It wasn't better. Better for some, maybe. Certainly not better for Crowley. He turned, looking out over the garden. Crowley was carefully extracting the hellfire flowers by their roots, then packing down the soil and kicking leaves over the space. It wasn't perfect, but it would have to do.
With a small bit of his anxiety eased, Aziraphale picked up a book from the shelf and tried to focus on the words. A headache was building behind his eyes.
"Why can't it ever be simple?" he said to no one, his fingers suddenly itching to rip the page he was touching.
He closed the book.
The back door groaned on its hinges as Crowley swung it open, cradling a bundle of luscious orange and red petals, spilling dirt all over the entryway. He lowered himself down to a crouch and placed the flowers on the floor.
"You got all of them?" Aziraphale asked.
"Yeah." Crowley shook one of the flowers by the stem, and three little seeds fell into his hand. He repeated the process with each of the flowers until he had a pile of volatile seeds, stacked in his palm.
"What do we do with the petals?"
Crowley bit his lip. "Maybe put them in the books? Like flower pressing?"
"Absolutely not." Aziraphale had sounded a bit harsher than he'd intended, and he didn't see it when Crowley flinched. "We can figure something else out." He went over to the corner of the room and knelt, pulling up an eternally-loose section of carpet that had always bothered him. "Put them under here."
Crowley slipped the petals beneath the carpet. Aziraphale patted it down. With great care, Crowley slid open a drawer nearby and tucked the seeds into a little nook, where they wouldn't break on accident.
"That will have to do," Aziraphale sighed.
"I suppose we wait. And pray."
Wait, they did. Pray, not so much. Crowley paced the length of the house three times over the next few days, not even daring to leave for groceries. The world was very quickly becoming a dangerous place.
Not that it wasn't already.
It was early December, the trees had been thoroughly stripped of their leaves, and a light dusting of snow coated the grounds when there was a knock at the door.
Aziraphale froze mid-sip, steam wafting up from his tea. The dish Crowley was washing clattered into the sink.
"The door, please," Aziraphale said, placing his tea on the coffee table.
Crowley dried his hands, instinctively tried to push his sunglasses up before remembering he didn't have them, and opened the front door.
Maion's green eyes appeared greyish the overcast light. "Hello," he said.
Though his insides twisted with terror, Crowley shoved down his fear and stepped aside. Maion and two Powers entered, hardly sparing him another glance. Crowley was grateful for that.
"Ah," Aziraphale said, upon seeing Maion. "How can we help you?"
Crowley hovered in the doorway, trying to make himself look smaller. Aziraphale sounded perfectly pleasurable, but Crowley could see the tightness of his smile, his features pinched with insincerity. Maion wore a similar expression.
Dread was slowly tying Crowley's stomach into knots. This could only end badly.
He turned his eyes to the floor, pointedly not looking at the corner where the hellfire was stashed.
"New regulations, you understand," Maion said.
"Yes, I'm aware."
"Oh?" Maion's stare was positively predatory. "Already? I was under the impression that only the upper choirs received the notice."
Don't lie, don't lie, he'll catch you in it, Crowley thought desperately.
"I have certain connections," Aziraphale said, a challenge in his voice. "Is having work acquaintances outlawed too? Perhaps we are no longer allowed to befriend those outside of our choirs?"
"Of course not," Maion said smoothly. "I'm simply being cautious."
"Mm. Well, if you must conduct a search, feel free to do so."
"Endless gratitude for your hospitality." Maion turned to his companions. "Backyard, upstairs." They split to the respective areas. Maion himself prowled the main floor, delicately lifting papers and turning over books, opening cabinets and perusing the contents. Crowley knew he probably shouldn't try to slink off to his room, no matter how much his anxiety was mounting.
Maion was in his home. Quite possibly the only place where he was truly safe. He was invading Crowley's sanctuary, his very presence reeking of danger, his every movement edging on sending Crowley into cardiac arrest.
He never looked at Crowley directly, though. He seemed to be purposefully keeping him out of his line of sight.
Crowley didn't know whether to be relieved or petrified.
The Powers returned, having found nothing. Maion, too, came up empty-handed.
Crowley and Aziraphale would never know that when the Powers went to the backyard, they quite immediately found the scuff marks in the dirt, the haphazard piles of leaves pathetically covering what was obviously a garden.
What Crowley and Aziraphale would never know that the Powers only exchanged a look with each other, kicked a few more leaves over the area, and returned inside. They were young, see, hardly out of adolescence, and their parents had been wonderful influences and they'd saved a demon last week, and thought that this whole thing was rather out of hand.
"Technicalities, I'm sure you understand," Maion said, "but all indoor plants must be confiscated. Contingencies and all."
There was a small potted plant cupped in his palms, flushed green with life. Crowley had spent many weeks trying to revive the withered little thing. Aziraphale had given it to him. It was his.
"Wait, don't," Crowley said, before he could stop himself.
"Crowley," Aziraphale snapped. He looked over at Maion. "Terribly sorry, I'll be sure to deal with him."
Maion's stare pinned Crowley in place. The angel waved a hand, dismissing Aziraphale, as he strode across the room in sweeping steps until he was towering over Crowley, who trembled under those severe green eyes. Maion held the plant in one hand and deliberately clicked his tongue three times.
Instinctual terror sent Crowley collapsing to his knees, legs aching from the jarring movement. He faintly heard Aziraphale gasp.
"What did you say to me?" Maion said quietly.
Crowley shook his head, hair falling past his face. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Tell me what you said."
"... I said 'wait'."
With his free hand, Maion curled his fingers under Crowley's chin, forcing him to look up. Crowley's gaze skittered away from Maion's, his stomach twisting. "What's so special about this plant? Are you part of a little rebellion after all? Did you lie to me?"
As much as he could, Crowley shook his head. "No, sir. It's... It's mine. I'm growing it." His voice faded away at the end, his words failing him.
"Yours?" Maion tsked. "Nothing is yours. You're a demon. Nothing in this house is yours, not even the bed you've been allowed to sleep in. This principality has been kind enough to house and feed you, and you still dare to claim ownership? Ungrateful piece of shit." He released Crowley's chin, only to draw back and slap him viciously, knocking Crowley to the side and to the floor.
Crowley's cheek stung, his eyes watering. He sucked in a ragged breath and pushed himself up, back into position, dipping his head down. "I'm sorry, sir," he whispered.
"Are you sorry? Because I don't believe you."
This dance of theirs was exhausting, as it always tended to be. Some parts were easier than others. This part was where Maion wanted Crowley to prove he was sorry. Groveling usually did the trick in the past.
But that was then. Now, Aziraphale was standing just a few feet away, his blue eyes shining with poorly-disguised tears. Crowley couldn't let the angel see him like this, never like this. Maion couldn't destroy whatever semblance of dignity Crowley had managed to build up.
Maion was waiting for an answer. Crowley just hung his head, silent.
A sigh came. It reeked of disappointment. "You know how forgiving I can be," Maion said, bending down to Crowley's level. "Which is why it's rather sad to see you take advantage of me like this. You were worthless. I made you worth something." His hand went to Crowley's head and grabbed a fistful of his hair, yanking his head back to expose his throat. A high-pitched, panicked noise escaped him, and Maion's grip tightened. "I think you ought to be taught a lesson in gratitude."
Crowley dragged his eyes upward, forcing himself to look into the angel's face. His throat convulsed as he struggled to swallow. "Haven't you taught me enough?" he hissed through gritted teeth.
The atmosphere was thick, dangerous; a knife would've been impossible to remove if one had endeavored to cut the tension.
Then Maion laughed, and it was so much worse than being punished. Crowley's scalp ached.
"You're right," Maion said, still chuckling as he withdrew, leaving Crowley slumped back on his heels and panting. "I've done enough. Why don't we have your owner step in for me? You're not my demon, after all." He glanced back at Aziraphale. "He needs to be punished for speaking to me like that. Care to do the honors, principality?"
"M-Me?" Aziraphale said, sounding sick. "It seems like you have the situation under control."
"Well, it's not quite my place to punish another angel's demon. It's only proper for you to handle him yourself." Maion folded his hands behind his back, his smile glistening white, voice dripping with sugarcoated sincerity.
Aziraphale wrung his hands, fiddling with his wrist cuffs. He looked towards Crowley, pleading for something indiscernible. Absolution? Forgiveness? Whatever it was, Crowley was in no position to give anything of the sort. He bowed his head as Aziraphale approached. He didn't want to look into the eyes of someone he trusted while this happened.
Which, of course, raised the question: did he trust Aziraphale?
Panic drowned out his thoughts on the matter—Aziraphale stood before him, stance uneven, his shoes gleaming under the lights. Crowley stared very intently at Aziraphale's shoes.
"I find it's effective to make him beg for it," Maion advised.
"I've got this, thank you," Aziraphale said, and Crowley could no longer decipher his tone. Perhaps he was excited. He'd never hurt Crowley before. Maybe this was a fun experiment for him.
Better to think of it that way, Crowley thought miserably, even as his mind shouted at him for reducing Aziraphale's warmth and kindness to something so cruel. Aziraphale would derive no pleasure from this.
A hand settled on the ridge of his wing, sinking into the feathers. Crowley's breathing hitched.
Maion watched, eyes narrowed.
Aziraphale tightened his grip, and yanked out a fistful of feathers.
Pain exploded across Crowley's wing, blood welling up from the small missing patch. He choked on a gasp. His vision blurred with hot tears as Aziraphale moved to a different section, methodical, appearing perfectly calm despite the circumstances. And then Aziraphale struck him, though it wasn't nearly as rough as Maion's slap. Crowley swayed on his knees, a sob wrenching itself from his chest as he braced himself on the floor. Bright red blood dripped from his feathers.
"I'm sorry," Crowley sobbed, shaking violently, curling in on himself with his forehead pressed to the ground. "Please don't, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
Aziraphale hesitated, then.
"You can't go easy on him," Maion said.
"He's a wreck as it is," Aziraphale argued, stepping away. "I think this is rather irritating to deal with on a Sunday afternoon. I'd like to get back to my tea."
"Hm. Yes. A... wreck." When Crowley painstakingly looked up, he found Maion scowling, displeased. "I suppose we'll leave you to it, principality. Don't let him forget himself. It's difficult to rectify. Peace be with you." And with that, he spun on his heel and marched out, hands curled into fists at his sides. The Powers trailed after him.
Crowley had never broken that quickly before. There was always some build-up, some resistance, but the moment Aziraphale had laid a hand on him, he'd shattered into a million pieces. Maion worked for weeks to get to this point.
Pathetic. Weak. You've gone and humiliated yourself, worthless filth. This shouldn't be enough to reduce you to tears.
"With you, as well," Aziraphale said. The door slammed shut.
Instantly, footsteps hurried over to Crowley. Aziraphale touched his arm.
"Please," Crowley cried, flinching backwards, his wings aching and trembling as he tried to fold them. He squeezed his eyes shut.
Aziraphale inhaled sharply. "Oh, dear, I... I'm so sorry. I could try to heal you, ease some of this pain..."
Crowley shook his head, attempting to ground himself by digging his fingernails into the floorboards. Aziraphale wasn't a healer. He didn't know how to heal properly, and besides, Maion could come back at any time; Aziraphale could be punished if Crowley didn't heal naturally. They couldn't afford to risk anything else at this point.
"What do you need, dear?" Aziraphale said softly.
"... a minute." Crowley winced at how hoarse he sounded, hating himself for the way he trembled. Aziraphale was just trying to help.
Aziraphale did this to you, a dark corner of his mind snarled.
Crowley pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes, preventing any more tears from slipping through. Something twisted agonizingly inside his ribcage. He suspected it was his heart. Aziraphale sat nearby, simply as a comforting presence. Crowley felt nothing but sheer, overwhelming revulsion at the idea of being touched by the angel.
Aziraphale tearing out his feathers, Aziraphale hurting him, Aziraphale striking him, Aziraphale's face blurring with Maion's until Crowley could no longer tell green from blue, grey from white, and they were awfully similar after all, weren't they?
On the floor, the ceramic pot cracked and spilling dirt, the little plant tipped over and fell.
One step forward, five or six steps backwards.
Next chapter features our circus escapees and their new (not entirely pleasant) lives outside of Caelum!
Our circus escapees adjust to life in Septrion.
Two years ago, if you'd asked Newton Pulsifer where he saw himself in the future, he would've responded with something vague and boring like "at a desk job", or "trying to convince my family to send me letters instead of emails because I can't use computers".
He would not have, in any thread of reality, even begun to consider he'd be living in a refugee center among dozens of other traumatized demons with no friends, no family, and no desire to move from the tiny niche in the wall he'd crammed himself into a few minutes earlier. The tight space made him feel hidden. Safe.
Well. Perhaps "no friends" was too harsh. He had friends. Or, sort of friends. They were familiar, offering some semblance of comfort amidst this startlingly strange new reality.
They’d been separated upon arriving here. Adam and Warlock were shuttled off to another building, while Newton and Eric were issued clothes and refugee identification cards.
He turned his over in his hands. The piece of plastic displayed his name, race, and the names of anyone he was looking for. The latter spot was blank.
When he was in the process of being registered, Newton met another demon refugee named Amon who showed him around the place. Newton couldn’t help but feel put off by his relaxed, nearly jovial disposition, so at ease despite the horrors they’d escaped from. Newton asked, once, what Amon was running from.
Amon’s deep, luminous golden eyes fell to the floor. “You know how it is,” he said vaguely, waving his hand. “Back there.”
Newton did know. He didn’t press the issue.
The edge of the niche was digging into Newton’s wings. His joints ached. He attempted to stretch a bit and failed. Sighing, he wrapped his wings around himself and covered his face with feathers, hoping the darkness and quiet would lull him to sleep.
“Sir?” someone said softly.
Newton jerked back, flattening himself against the wall, peeking out over the ridge of his wing. A volunteer stood before him. She had a badge, but he couldn’t see it.
“Sorry if I startled you,” she said. “I wanted to make sure you’re doing alright over here. You know we have beds, right?”
He nodded slowly. “It’s... I’m fine here.”
“If you say so.” She hesitated. Her eyes seemed much larger through her glasses, almost owlish. The closer he looked, the more unusual she appeared; wearing a poofy green and black dress from the middle ages, an immaculately bound book in her hands, and inked drawings decorating her forearm. Her wings were a pale, robin’s egg blue, speckled with brown. Both her ears and her primary feathers were pierced with glittery gold trinkets.
“I’m Newton,” he said finally, when she didn’t leave. “Pulsifer.”
“Anathema.” She stuck out her hand. He stared at her until she dropped her hand, frowning. A glance at her badge told him that she was an angel. “What? Scared of germs or something?”
“Er. Not really.”
Anathema’s expression communicated the exact emotion as a question mark. Newton shifted, crossing one foot over the other.
“I don’t like touching people,” he whispered, knotting his hands in his shirt. Gentle blue sparks leaped over his knuckles. “They break.”
“Oh. I see.” Anathema furrowed her eyebrows in sympathy, then reached into the folds of her dress and pulled out a pair of dark green gloves. She tossed them into his lap. “There. It’s cloth.”
"But won’t I still...?"
“Cloth is an insulator; it won’t conduct electricity. You can’t shock people if you’re wearing those.” Anathema dragged over a chair and sat down so they were at eye level. Newton slipped on the gloves and rubbed his hands together. “If you can create electricity, how have you not learned what conductors and insulators are by now?”
"My parents didn’t exactly like it when I made lightning. I guess I didn’t need to learn if I wasn’t using it."
Newton blinked, impressed by the disregard in her voice. “I suppose it is. Um, I’m sort of curious: what else is a conductor?”
“Well, conductors are metals, like copper and aluminum...”
Anathema wasn't caught off guard easily.
She'd seen awful things in this refugee center, things that would make most angels cringe or recoil from. Traumas came in every variety around here. Still, she could never truly be prepared for each new refugee, and Newton was no exception.
His file briefly described his remarkable ability to manipulate electricity, so she told herself she couldn't startle him, and then promptly startled him. She knew she was lucky to walk away unscathed.
But he looked so uncomfortable in that niche that she felt the need to approach him.
He was an odd creature. He spoke in a strange, halting manner, as if he was surprised he still had the capacity to speak. Throughout their whole conversation, he gawked at her like she was incredibly fascinating. She pitied the poor thing. He seemed intelligent, but there was a shiftiness there, preventing him from coming out of his shell.
Anathema was determined to help him open up.
In the early days, nearly two years ago now, Anathema had been a freelancing psychic. She picked up several easy office jobs, but she made the most money reading people's futures, telling them things based on their auras and consulting her ancestor's book of prophecy. Her abilities ran in the family.
From Newton's aura, she knew right away that he was extremely unhappy. It was a flat yellow color and quivered around his body, like a cloth rippling in the wind, and occasionally pulsed with strikes of blue.
She tended to see many fractured or weakened auras around here, so this wasn't unusual. Still, it pained her every time.
So much suffering. So little comfort.
The moment she had arrived here, directly after the government was overthrown, she had dedicated herself to helping other refugees in need. Hopefully, someday, her efforts would pay off, and Caelum as a country would be abolished.
Despite Septrion being regarded as a safe haven, its faults had to be acknowledged. Septrion's population content fell heavily on the demonic side. This meant that they had certain opinions on Caelum, but also on angels—angels who, in their eyes, caused all of their woes. In fact, the few angels that had escaped Caelum were housed in a different section of the facility, due to the violence between slighted demons living in close quarters with the angels.
Being a volunteer, Anathema knew the risks of working so closely among demons. They glared at her with open distrust, though none had gotten physical yet. She could handle herself if the situation arose.
It wasn't only the refugee center that dealt with this sort of racial divide. The topic held the spotlight of most political debates and discussions.
Some prominent demon politicians claimed that angels from Caelum shouldn't be allowed to enter Septrion, seeing as they had it good over there. Other demons advocated for the deportation of every angel already living in Septrion, as long as they were unmarried and of age.
It scared Anathema to know that peace didn't truly exist anywhere. Not in Caelum, not in Septrion. She was sure that even in Libertas, the so-called land of the free, was not as perfect as they were portrayed in the news.
Anathema reached into her pocket and fished around for her gloves, only to remember she'd given them to Newton.
Warlock drew the sheet up to his chin, tucking his knees in. That was Adam, whispering from the top bunk, probably moments from climbing down to check on him.
"Fine," Warlock whispered back.
Now that, his mind said, poisonous and sickly, is a lie.
"Okay." A pause. "Do you wanna talk about it?"
Adam couldn't sense the emotions of angels like he could demons, but that didn't stop him from having a scary amount of intuition. A nightmare had roused Warlock from a fitful rest, and moments later, Adam had spoken. Warlock suspected Adam had simply heard him rustling around or something.
"I'm fine," Warlock insisted.
Nearby, curled up in a pathetically thin cot, an angel narrowed their eyes and shushed them. Warlock rolled over and squeezed his eyes shut. Hot tears threatened to spill over as he bit his fist, trying to stifle any noise or Adam would undoubtedly come down just in time to see Warlock cry.
Breaking down in front of his only friend was the very last thing Warlock wanted.
He tried to think about something else, something besides his increasingly painful and terrifying recurring dreams, but the images kept forcing their way to the forefront of his mind, blocking out all other thoughts.
He wasn't there for his dad's death. He didn't see it. But he heard his mom screaming his name, desperately searching for her only child in the midst of the chaos, inevitably stumbling upon Thaddeus' body and assuming someone had done away with Warlock as well.
She thought he was dead. That was, if she was still alive herself.
Warlock choked on a sob and quickly clapped a hand over his mouth, muffling the sound.
And it wasn't just his family that was creating this painful ache in his chest. He was unwanted here and he knew it. His dad had hurt so many demons, and they blamed Warlock for it.
I didn't do anything! he would shout in his nightmares. It wasn't me!
An angry crowd of demons—Newton, hands sparking; Eric, a knife in his chest; Adam, eyes glowing red—would converge on him anyway, scrabbling to grab his wings, his wrists, yanking him back at forth like some sick game of tug-o-war until he split right down the middle, and then he would wake up.
Warlock hiccuped as a pair of small arms hugged him. Adam settled into the bed beside him and held him while he cried, making soft, broken sounds around his bleeding fist, horrible whimpers burning his throat. Adam hummed quietly, sinking his fingers into Warlock's wings and soothing him, his unnatural aura working to ease some of Warlock's pain.
"I-I'm sorry," Warlock breathed, stumbling over the words, his brain and his mouth refusing to cooperate. "Didn't mean to—to wake you"—sniff—"I just can't do this any"—sniff—"anymore, and I—"
"Don't be stupid," Adam murmured. "You can do it. You have to."
"I don't want to."
"I know. Neither do I, sometimes." Adam gave Warlock a comforting squeeze. "It's hard."
Warlock rubbed his eyes and tried to calm himself, focusing on Adam's repetitive ministrations to ground him. "I just didn't want him to hurt anyone anymore," he confessed faintly, turning to lean against Adam's shoulder. "I'm glad he's gone. I feel awful. That makes me awful, doesn't it? To want someone gone?"
Adam was quiet for a moment. "I don't think it does. You wouldn't be awful even if you were the one who killed him. Whoever did it did the right thing."
"He was terrible. Being a father didn't make him any less terrible. Still..." Adam sighed. "I know he was your dad, and it's complicated for you."
"I want my mom to tell me it's okay," Warlock said, and his voice broke, more tears slipping down his face. "I want my mom." His whole body shook with his sobs as he crumpled into Adam's embrace once more.
Adam didn't move away. He simply held Warlock, an anchor in the stormy sea.
"I'm not your mom," Adam said. "But it's okay. It's okay, Warlock."
Warlock only cried harder.
They stayed that way until the first splinters of sunlight fell upon a new day, and the night dissolved into oblivion.
I'm not totally great at writing Newt yet, but I hope did justice to Anathema!
Up next: The bandstand scene, but a thousand times worse :)
Relationships are formed and broken, and tensions rise.
Next on: The Author
- I can't decide on a tone for this story and I'm sorry
- this chapter fought me, it did not want to be written, but I'm content with it
- I stayed up very late writing this
- I'm sorry for choppy storytelling it's something I'm working on
- The wordcount for this chapter cut ties from me and ran for the hills
- Thank you for coming to my TedTalk
TW: suicidal ideation, referenced rape/non-con, and violence.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley stared at the small pile of seeds in his palm. He tilted his hand from side to side, watching the seeds slide off each other and shift back and forth.
Remarkably sturdy things, they were, until you exerted the tiniest bit of pressure, and then the rough exterior split and a chemical reaction within the shell ignited a voracious flame, devouring everything it came into contact with. When the fire felt the presence of something holy, it snagged on with hungry tongues and clung to it, desperate to destroy whatever unfortunate angel it had touched, eating away at the angel's essence until only ashes remained.
Crowley looked at the seeds. He looked at Aziraphale; glasses fogged up with steam, blue eyes trained on the book in his lap. He looked back down at the seeds.
How easily the angel would alight. How easily he would burn.
Slowly, Crowley picked up his potted plant—not his, never his—and pressed a few seeds into the damp soil, not looking at the uprooted little green thing sitting sadly on the coffee table. He smoothed the dirt over. The outside garden was no longer an option.
He was becoming less and less concerned with his role in all this. It didn't seem worth it, not really. Beelzebub was fighting so hard to make this happen, and here he was, blindly supporting it despite not knowing the plan at all. Beelzebub held that information close to her chest. Peace was not an option that he could entertain. The Seraphim had made themselves clear on that matter.
Crowley jumped, nearly dropping the pot. He clutched it tightly. Aziraphale had set his book down louder than necessary.
They glanced to each other at the same time, and quickly looked away.
It was easier to pretend things were normal. If such a thing existed here. There was a constant itch beneath Crowley's skin; a subtle tremble in his breath, a pounding heart. His chest was a metal cage, and anxiety was a wild bird, untamed, wings flapping and feathers scraping the edges of his ribcage.
In one brief visit, Maion utterly destroyed Crowley's fragile state of mind. Crowley's nightmares had finally begun to lessen, but the evening after everything, Crowley woke in the middle of the night with tears in his eyes and terror lodged in his throat, strangling his sobs.
Maion destroyed a lot more than just that, too.
Crowley could no longer look Aziraphale in the eyes. The angel tried, sure, but something had broken between them, something with jagged edges that Crowley frequently cut himself on. This new friction rubbed them both the wrong way.
Perhaps it was a long time coming, though. Crowley had never really been comfortable with all this in the first place. It was nice to have a kind angel, nice to have someone willing to cover for him, but Aziraphale's kindness had always seemed born of pity. He felt bad for Crowley. That was it.
Crowley wanted what Aziraphale seemed incapable of giving—genuine love.
The angel loved him in the way that Crowley loved his plants, loved his sunglasses, loved little kids. Superiority. The distinct knowledge that what you were loving could do nothing if you decided to revoke it.
Aziraphale had been frustrated with him as of late. Little things seemed to get on the angel's nerves: the untidiness of the living room, plates in the cabinet set crookedly, the speed at which Crowley returned from the grocery store.
Things that Crowley both could and could not control.
He'd just have to try harder. Keeping the angel happy, or at least contented, was key to protecting himself. Crowley sometimes thought of Aziraphale's gentle touch on his wings, the warmth in his smile that was rapidly dwindling each day. Crowley sometimes wished he could go back to how things used to be. He sometimes wondered if this was the beginning of the end.
But thinking never did anybody any good. Not in the training center, not here.
Crowley set down the pot and dusted his hands off. He picked up the little green plant, displaced from its soil, and tucked it into his pocket.
By the time late December rolled around, Beelzebub finally felt as though she'd gotten her shit together. It was hard to be a scattered mess when so many depended on you; so, she wasn't.
The whole disaster with the hellfire regulations had forced her to expand the operation. Gabriel arranged meetings with angels downtown, so she could introduce the rebellion to the demons and even the angels when Gabriel trusted them enough. This had resulted in a swell of demons wanting to help, spreading messages from house to house and making everyone aware of which demons not to approach. Namely, Asmodeus and others like him.
Pious, cowardly sons of bitches.
With Aym gone, Vine missing, and Crowley a scattered mess, circumstances were forcing Beelzebub to rely more and more on Gabriel for help. She hated it.
It wasn't that he was anything but helpful. No, quite the opposite. He was eager to be of assistance, doing everything she asked to the best of his ability, putting himself in danger for her. It was strange. She'd never had anyone care about her to this extent.
She wanted to believe he was sincere.
Gabriel made himself appear so genuine, but that was the problem. In public, around other angels, it was scary how easily he could switch to his businesslike façade, perfectly polite, as if nothing was amiss. Beelzebub admired the sheer level of self control he possessed. It did frighten her a bit when Gabriel wore his false, hollow smile at home, on particularly stressful days where she could only tell his true emotions through his eyes.
How could she truly know if Gabriel was being truthful? All of this could've been an elaborate mask, just another personality that he threw on for convenience. He seemed to be manipulative without meaning to, intimidating on accident.
Beelzebub didn't know quite what do make of it.
And that unnerved her.
Today was one of those rare days when Gabriel had to physically go into work. He typically completed most of his paperwork at home, but on occasion, his boss would call him in and he would leave Beelzebub alone, to her own devices. He'd left her a list of chores to occupy her time with.
She skimmed the list. A few household things, and a few errands. Shouldn't be too difficult.
As Beelzebub threw on a coat and headed out, Gabriel was sitting in his office, slowly but steadily working through the large pile of paperwork on his desk.
A good majority of it was menial, barely worthy of his attention. He knew, of course, why Michael had given him these assignments. It gave the illusion everything was normal. It just wouldn't do if he never came into work anymore. He couldn't spend all of his time with Beelzebub, no matter how much he wanted to.
Gabriel smiled a bit, thinking about the demon.
She was nothing like anyone else he knew. Her firey personality was a welcome change from the falsified peace of Caelum. She'd quite rudely forced him to reconsider everything he thought to be true, and he would always be grateful for that. He cared deeply about pleasing her, which was slightly difficult at times, but she hadn't really yelled at him in weeks, so he was doing something right.
Absently, he scribbled a smiley face on the margin of his report, then quickly erased it. He shook his head, still smiling.
Beelzebub refused to call them friends.
Allies? Gabriel has suggested once.
She'd wrinkled her nose. Gabriel wanted to tap it. She probably would've bitten him or something, so he didn't. That'zz not right either.
Roommates implies that you're here willingly, Gabriel mused.
Who sayzz I'm not?
A slight blush colored his face at the memory.
Gabriel had raised an eyebrow at her. Beelzebub scoffed and went back to halfheartedly dusting a shelf. The collar around her neck gleamed in the sunlight. Gabriel hated those things. They were demeaning and ugly, and Gabriel had often debating whether or not he should take it off for her. Most collars required an owner override to come off, but he knew there were a few early models that could be taken off by anyone determined enough.
The one and only time he offered to remove it, Beelzebub had turned him down. She claimed it was easier to simply leave it. She would tell him if she wanted it gone.
So, he'd dropped the subject.
Gabriel blinked rapidly, attempting to push Beelzebub from his thoughts. There was paperwork to do.
The blush didn't go away.
Currently, the Archangel Michael was trying hard and failing harder at ignoring the demon beside her.
It wasn't like this was any different than any other night. With Michael in the chair, Ligur on the floor, and a bottle of wine between them. The lights were dimmed to a comfortable, washed out yellow.
Ligur wasn't kneeling, but rather slouching against the side of the chair, his head very close to resting on Michael's arm. If she moved, they would touch.
Michael kept very still. She sipped from her glass, and obliged Ligur when he lifted his empty one.
The silence bordered on uncomfortable, but perhaps that was merely her imagination. Michael watched the light slant over the shiny surface of the wine bottle and waited for the alcohol to kick in.
"Ligur," she said after a moment, shattering the quiet. "Could you get me some water, please?"
Using the back of Michael's chair to pull himself up, Ligur flapped his wings, steadying himself, before going into the kitchen. His feathers were beautiful, colored in burnished reds and oranges like the sunset. Michael looked down at her own wings. She felt almost dull in comparison.
Ligur pushed a cup of water into her hands while easing the wine away from her. He placed it on the table. As she downed the water, she didn't question it when Ligur moved behind her.
"Ow!" Michael cried, jerking away from him. He pinched a broken white feather in his fingers.
"It was broken," Ligur said. "Would you've preferred to let it fester and get an infection?"
Michael huffed. "You could have warned me first."
"Well, then I wouldn't have gotten ta see the look on your face." Ligur grinned. It always seemed like he had too many teeth. "C'mon. Sit back. I'll do the rest."
Reluctantly, Michael settled back into her chair, holding her breath in anticipation.
A tingling sensation shot up her spine as he touched her wing joint. She straightened, breathing in sharply.
"Did I hurt you?" Ligur asked.
"No," Michael managed. Ligur's tentative touch returned, rubbing small circles into her tense shoulders. "You just startled me."
"D'ya want me to stop?"
Michael barely held back a groan when Ligur's fingers sank into the downy white feathers along the ridge of her wing, setting some back into position and plucking others that couldn't be salvaged. Ligur took her silence as consent, and moved to the long primaries, full and golden at the tips. A spike of guilt interrupted the bliss as Michael caught sight of Ligur's own immaculate wings, clipped short.
"It's a mess back here," Ligur scoffed, his voice low. "Disgraceful, is what it is. None of you angels take care of yourselves."
"It isn't a priority of mine."
Michael opened her mouth to say something else, but Ligur switched to the next wing and a frisson of pleasure ran through her. Her shoulders slumped, succumbing to the sensation. Ligur worked efficiently, going from one section to the next, adding to the growing pile of broken or loose feathers. Michael found it a tad difficult to drag her eyes open when Ligur was finished.
"Better?" Ligur said, a teasing edge to his words.
Michael hesitated to give him the satisfaction, but angels don't lie. She nodded.
"I won't always be around to fix you up. You should probably figure out how ta do it yourself."
"What do you mean?"
Ligur regarded her with an unreadable expression. "We won't be here forever. You signed up for that when you smuggled out your first demon."
Folding her wings, Michael leaned forward and picked up the wine, pouring herself a generous amount. "I signed up for nothing."
"You're telling me you prefer this place? You can't even touch Uriel here."
Michael slammed the wine bottle down, rattling everything on the table. "Do not," she said evenly, "talk about things of which you know naught."
Ligur's eyes were a dark, unsettling crimson. "You're not happy here. You can't deny that."
"I am content here."
"But not happy."
Michael stayed silent.
"That's what I thought." Ligur scooped up the pile of broken feathers and set them on the counter in the kitchen. Michael heard the sound of running water. A few minutes later, Ligur returned empty handed. He sat down cross-legged beside her as she filled her glass again. "You know," he began, quieter this time, "I've never seen Uriel smile."
"Of course she wouldn't smile around you. You're a demon."
"Nah, I know that. But she don't smile 'round you either."
"She used to," Michael murmured, staring into her glass. The liquid sloshed against the sides.
"Hm. Yeah. I betcha you used to smile, too."
He was right, he always was, but Michael was tired and drunk and felt as though this conversation could wait for another day. She stumbled to her feet. The room spun, and she clutched her head, waiting for everything to go still. Ligur stayed on the floor, tugging at a loose thread on the carpet.
"Michael," Ligur called, before she vanished upstairs for the night.
"Think about it, yeah?"
"Think about what?"
Ligur smiled again; his teeth glinted in the light. "Leaving."
Yes, she would certainly think about it—once the floor stopped warping beneath her feet.
On the opposite side of the city, another angel and demon pair were arguing. The argument had began as something simple: a minor dispute over Uriel's paintings, or maybe over Hastur's curious habit of anxiously prowling the house at night, but regardless of the cause, they were arguing.
And it was escalating.
"All I ask is for you to listen to me," Uriel shouted, "but you can't pull yourself together for one second to do even the most menial of tasks. I have to constantly micromanage you!"
"You shouldn't have gotten a demon if you weren't prepared for something like this." Hastur gestured at himself scornfully, face screwed up with self-loathing. "I know I'm a bloody mess. I know I'm awful and useless and clumsy and I don't need you to tell me all the time." His fingers knotted in his coat, heart pounding as the tensions in the room heightened. He didn't like arguing. He wasn't quick or smart enough to have a chance at winning—Crowley had taught him that long ago.
"You go above and beyond being a pain, I don't understand why you can't just be normal!"
"Ha, you're one to talk about 'normal'."
"Do you see any other demons like you? No! You're insane even for a demon."
Hastur's fingers were beginning to ache from how tightly they were wound in his coat. Uriel had knocked something loud over earlier, and he was still jumpy from the noise. The angel waved her hands at him, irritated, as if all of his imperfections would vanish by sheer force of will. He'd wished for that enough.
"Why can't you be as good as your little demon boyfriend?" Uriel demanded, her typically calm voice rising with her anger.
Hastur snapped. A button popped off his coat. "Because Ligur's bloody perfect and I'll never be good enough for him, I'll never be good enough for anyone!" He reached up and yanked at his hair, his eyes burning. "I hate myself," he whispered.
He wrapped his arms around himself and shook, unable to stop from crumpling to his knees, upset and horrified at the way he'd dared to speak to Uriel. She was surely going to be furious at him now, if she wasn't before. He was a fuck up who wasn't worth all the things Uriel had given to him: the roof over his head, three meals a day, relative comfort and safety. He was going to be punished for being ungrateful and he would deserve it.
It was silent for several moments before Hastur ventured a glance upwards.
Uriel was staring at him, wringing her hands with a peculiar look on her face. Her eyes were glistening.
"I," she started, taking a step forward. She closed her mouth. Swallowed hard. "I didn't know you..." She leaned slightly on the wall, as if for support. "I didn't know you thought so lowly of yourself."
"I'm sorry," he croaked.
"No, no, I'm sorry." Uriel was shaking her head; Hastur looked up in shock. "I never wanted to make you feel... I thought you were cruel to me for no reason. Not that you need to have one," she muttered to herself. "I didn't know that you..." She waved vaguely at him.
Hastur's mouth was dry. He didn't respond.
"I've been a fool," Uriel said. She moved towards him slowly, hands up as if to show she wasn't going to hurt him. Hastur hunched his shoulders and fought the increasingly strong urge to bite his fist. Ligur told him that was an unhealthy copulating mechanic or something. "I don't think I can say anything else," Uriel sighed. "Will you—Will you please—" She cut herself off.
They stared at each other for a long while, both at a loss for words.
Finally, Uriel rose to her full height as she regained her composure. The golden marks on her face seemed to glow in the dim light. "Don't stay up too late," she said quietly.
She didn't lock her bedroom door that night, and she never would again.
Little by little, Dagon could feel her sanity crumbling.
It was tiny things that got to her. Inconsequential things, really, but they added up to a barrage, a cacophony, that drove Dagon up the wall. Footsteps. The rustle of fabric. Shutting a door. Normal things with now awful connotations.
She crouched at the foot of her bed and wedged her fingernail into the small space she had created, separating the nail from the wood.
Close, now. She pinched the head of the nail and wiggled it, feeling a rush of delight as it moved more easily than it had previously. One nail missing wouldn't make the bed collapse. She would've liked a screwdriver.
Although. She didn't exactly trust herself with any sort of tool.
She didn't trust herself for the same reason that Sandalphon didn't allow her access to any knives or sharp objects in the house.
It was because they both feared she might do something desperate.
Ha. Dagon's fingertip had begun to bleed. She tugged at the nail. It would come out eventually. Eventually. Everything happened eventually, here in Caelum. The Seraphim would eventually crack down on the hellfire once and for all. Sandalphon would eventually wear her away into nothing. The rebellion would happen eventually.
The fucking rebellion. Dagon twisted the nail and barely felt it when her fingernail was nearly torn off. The whole concept of it was ludicrous, really.
Beelzebub didn't have a plan. No one did. They were all being secretive and intriguing for the aesthetic of it, for the illusion that they would eventually get out. That was downright hilarious. There was no escaping from Caelum. Dagon wanted to start laughing and never stop, but she doubted she could prevent it from turning into sobs if it turned that way, so she stayed quiet, hissing silently as blood dripped down her hand.
Ridiculous. Idiotic. Beelzebub was deluding herself if she thought they had a chance. She never shared her plans with anyone. Perhaps they didn't exist.
Or, Dagon mused, switching to her other hand, maybe she shares her plans with everyone else but me. Maybe she doesn't trust me not to fuck it up. I'd certainly fuck it up somehow.
Beelzebub used to trust her. Ah, those were the good days.
Dagon had no real idea what she was going to do with this nail once she freed it from the wood.
She could carve words with it. It'd been so long since she'd written something.
She could hide it in her sleeve for the next time Sandalphon called her into his room. She could show him exactly how good her fingers were.
The wood released its hold on the nail and she fell back from the force. It sat in her palm, an innocent little piece of metal. She was already bleeding and hadn't even used the sharp point. She was sure there was symbolism there.
There was a way to escape Caelum. It was, arguably, the easier way.
Dagon pressed the pad of her thumb to the end of the nail. It stung. She could slide it across her skin, feel it drag over her veins and watch the deep red blood well up. It probably wouldn't even hurt all that much. What was a bit of pain compared to staying here, in this house, with Sandalphon so close at hand? She wondered what he was doing right now. Reading? Drinking coffee? Thinking about his demon plaything, and the delicious way she cried while his hand covered her mouth, muffling her sobs?
If he wasn't thinking about it, that was fine. Dagon could do it enough for the both of them.
The nail went into the heel of her shoes.
It was a beautiful day. Uncharacteristically warm for December, with a healthy dose of sunlight when it deigned to peek out from behind the sparse grey clouds. The birds were beginning to make their way back from the north.
Crowley had seen them pecking around his old garden. He would've been annoyed if he still used the backyard. These days, the pot of hellfire seeds stayed perpetually stashed under his bed. Beelzebub had shifted the workload from him to demons from the downtown area, allowing him a chance to relax somewhat. He wished she'd done that when he was capable of relaxing.
On a day such as this, Aziraphale might have once ventured, "a lovely day, is it not?"
And Crowley might have once ventured to reply, "yeah, it's nice."
They might have smiled at each other.
Now, they walked in silence, Crowley falling a pace behind with his head bowed. Aziraphale didn't try to breach the quiet. It was a nice day. It still felt bland and sad.
They arrived at the park in no time at all. Everyone was already there.
Beelzebub flapped her wings upon seeing Crowley, a wry smile on her face. Crowley struggled to return it. Hastur and Ligur were already bickering in the grass a few feet away, playfully tumbling with each other. Dagon didn't break her forward gaze.
"Merry Christmas," Crowley said, electing to remain standing. He leaned against a tree because it made him seem more cool and less exhausted.
"Get outta here with that bullshit," Ligur called out. Hastur smacked him.
"They don't celebrate Halloween," Beelzebub reminded him, holding herself up by her palms on the ground. "So we don't celebrate Christmas. Simple as that."
"Fine," Crowley said. "I'm still going to miss those old seasonal coffees and shit they'd make."
"Oh, thozze were amazing."
In the old days, soon after they met, Crowley had a daily routine which involved dropping by this local coffee shop that served the best peppermint mocha in the world. He would get himself one, buy Beelzebub the most sugary thing on the menu, and then they'd spend the morning drinking coffee and annoying each other while trying to focus on their work.
Crowley smiled fondly at the memory.
"That was where I got my nickname," he said. "They put 'Crawly' on my cup instead of Crowley." Beelzebub snorted. "Don't laugh. They didn't even bother writing yours most of the time. They'd just write a random combination of letters as long as it had 'B' and 'Z'."
"At leazzt I wasn't mistaken for a mythical creature." Beelzebub nudged Dagon with her foot. "Right, dragon?"
Dagon blinked at her, as if confused. "What?"
"Dragon. You know? 'Cauzze it was close to Dagon."
Beelzebub raised an eyebrow. "You're acting weird."
"I think she's more bearable this way," Crowley said with a laugh, but Dagon wasn't laughing. Hastur and Ligur sobered up, sensing the atmosphere. "No, really though. What's wrong with you?"
After a moment, Dagon lifted her wing, covering up one side of her face. "'M not supposed to be talking," she muttered, eyes downcast. "Sandalphon says he doesn't want to hear my voice anymore." She wilted at Beelzebub's murderous look. "Don't say anything. You'll make it worse."
"I'll kill him," Beelzebub growled.
Dagon groaned softly in dismay.
"Listen," Crowley said. "Our angels are different than yours. They might be able to convince Sandalphon to go easy on you."
At that, Dagon's expression darkened, and she shoved herself to her feet. "Yeah? Easy on me? You think he's been just hard on me?" She laughed as if any of it was funny, but the sound was harsh and short. "You don't know anything. You don't know what it's like."
Crowley raised his hands in surrender. "Alright. Sorry, I shouldn't have—"
"You think everything will turn around because you talked about it? Having deep and meaningful conversations isn't the fix-all solution that you're banking on!" Dagon flapped her wings, stirring up the grass. Crowley cast a nervous glance over at the angels. "Not everything is sunshine and rainbows again just because your angels are soft and afraid to punish you properly!"
"Dagon," Hastur said, eyes darting, "shut up."
"No, I won't fucking shut up. What's the deal with everyone wanting me to shut my goddamn mouth? All of you just wish I couldn't speak at all, right? Would that be good for you? If I shut up so you could get on with—" Dagon stopped there, thankfully, before she revealed something she shouldn't.
"That'zzz not what we're zzzaying," Beelzebub snapped. "But you need to be quiet."
"I don't need to be anything."
But the damage had been done. The angels had taken notice.
"Crowley!" Aziraphale called. "Would you come here, please?" Crowley pushed up off the tree and hurried over, the other demons trailing after him. "What's going on over there, dear?"
"Oh, well..." Crowley glanced back at the others. "I..."
"Just a silly spat," Ligur muttered, waving his hand.
"I don't think so," Sandalphon said. His voice was an ugly drawl, accompanied with a sickly smile. "Dagon, care to explain?"
Dagon went rigid. She stood a few paces away from him, but she still cringed when he spoke. She opened her mouth, and made only the slightest noise when Sandalphon cut her off sharply.
"Didn't I tell you no talking?" he sneered. "Are you really so dull that you can't follow even a simple order?"
"Sandalphon," Gabriel said, a hand on Beelzebub's shoulder. "Surely we can discuss this calmly."
"Keep out of it, Gabriel."
"No," Dagon whispered.
Sandalphon turned. "What did you just say?"
"I said no." Dagon's hands curled into fists at her sides. "I'm not following your fucking orders."
"Dagon." There was a warning edge to his words now.
"Don't you dare use my name."
But Dagon was frowning now, her eyes glinting and her wings fluttering, opened in a defensive position. She gave Sandalphon a disdainful look and snarled, "that's not what you were saying when you made me suck your dick."
Everything happened so fast.
Sandalphon slapped Dagon across the face with such force that she tripped backwards and hit the ground, yelping. Beelzebub lunged towards her, but Gabriel grabbed her arm and held her back, despite her frantic attempts to escape. Hastur and Ligur cowered behind their angels. Crowley felt rooted in place with shock.
The blows kept landing, and Dagon's cries of pain rose in volume until they cut off into a stifled sob as she curled in on herself, a vain attempt to protect her chest and stomach. Sandalphon kicked her between the shoulder blades and stepped on her wing, ignoring her increasingly desperate pleas.
Aziraphale tightened his grip on Crowley.
"Angel," he said hoarsely, but Aziraphale just shook his head, mouthing 'don't'.
In a moment of pathetic optimism, Crowley looked around for any Powers, hoping they would intervene or stop it or anything. He caught sight of one across the park.
The Power stared at him, then at Dagon, crumpled and bleeding on the ground, and purposefully averted their gaze.
No, no, please come back, don't let this happen—
Blood streamed from Dagon's broken nose, her skin splotchy with fresh bruises. She wasn't struggling anymore. She was pressing herself into the dirt, a last-ditch resort to appease Sandalphon's fury.
Restrained by Gabriel, Beelzebub was shaking violently, her eyes wide and her jaw clenched tightly.
Finally, finally, Sandalphon stopped. He reached down and grabbed Dagon roughly by her collar, forcing her to stand unsteadily. She hung her head in submission and shivered.
"We're going home," Sandalphon growled, and he dragged her off down the street.
On the ground, Dagon's blood was smeared across the pavement.
"I..." Michael began, her voice weak. "I believe we'll be going home as well. Peace be with you, Gabriel, Aziraphale." She paused. Her hands were trembling. She set a hand on Uriel's shoulder and guided her away. Hastur and Ligur hurried after them.
Gabriel opened his mouth, and closed it. For the first time, he seemed truly speechless. Beelzebub had gone still in his arms, her eyes vacant.
"I'm sorry," Gabriel said eventually, sucking in a sharp breath. "Goodbye, Aziraphale." He met Crowley's eyes. "You too."
Then they were alone.
Aziraphale audibly swallowed, running his hands through his hair. He released Crowley with a quiet apology for his grip. Turning away, he murmured, "let's go home, dear."
Crowley allowed Aziraphale to pull him away, a heavy feeling settling in his chest.
Beelzebub tried to go upstairs when they got home.
She didn't think she could stand to look at Gabriel, knowing he had done nothing, knowing that he had allowed Sandalphon to hurt Dagon and made Beelzebub watch. She started to head for the stairs, but Gabriel touched her shoulder lightly. When she jerked away from him, he withdrew.
"Sit, please," he said, suddenly looking very tired.
Beelzebub reluctantly sat down on the couch. Gabriel walked over to a cabinet and returned with a bottle of alcohol, along with two glasses. He poured a generous amount into both.
"Have a drink." He gestured to one of the glasses.
"It'zz not allowed. The Seraphim—"
"—are not here," he finished, then knocked back his drink like a shot. Beelzebub gaped at him. "So. Have a drink."
Beelzebub took the glass and sipped from it. She hadn't had alcohol in ages. She cringed a bit at the taste.
"I know you want to demand things of me," Gabriel said. He refilled his glass. "You want to know why I didn't help Dagon." His eyes, so comfortingly purple, were dark and shadowed.
"You understand that if I had stopped Sandalphon, it would've raised questions that none of us were prepared to answer. Everything hinges on being able to act normally. Arguably, I should be angry with you for not silencing Dagon sooner. But," he added, seeing her expression, "I know that Dagon isn't your responsibility. I'm not blaming you for what happened to her."
"You could've zzaid something. He would have liztened to you."
"I couldn't risk your safety. Do you get that, Beelzebub? I was trying to protect you from a worse fate."
"I don't need you to protect me."
Gabriel sighed. "I know. I know you don't need me. I just... I want to keep you safe."
Beelzebub stared at him. The glass in her hands was cool against her skin.
"I'm afraid," Gabriel confessed softly, "of repeating my mistakes with Abdiel. I am trying so hard to not fail you. I'm sorry, Beelzebub, that I couldn't protect your friend too."
A light, warm feeling swelled up inside Beelzebub, and it wasn't the alcohol. She set down her glass. Gabriel did the same. "Thizz isn't a miztake," Beelzebub told him. Her face grew warm at the return of Gabriel's smile, and though it was small and wavering, it was real. "We'd both be fucked if it wazz."
Gabriel huffed in a poor imitation of a laugh. "Yeah. We would be."
Beelzebub watched him with slight confusion as he rose from his seat, crossed the room, and slowly sank to his knees before her, putting her in the dominant role.
"Beelzebub," he whispered, tilting his head up to look at her directly. "I am requesting permission to protect you. No matter the circumstances."
"Why do you have to ask?"
"I want it to be on your terms."
They held eye contact for several moments, neither willing to break the spell. Beelzebub found she rather enjoyed seeing him on his knees; Gabriel smiled in that stupid way he always did, except this time, his eyes flickered with mischief. Carefully, Beelzebub reached down and slid her fingers around his tie, tugging it loose. He leaned closer. His clothes carried the scent of lavender.
"I think you like thizzz," Beelzebub murmured, tossing his tie aside and moving to his suit. Gabriel placed his hands on the sides of her thighs, holding still while she worked on undoing his buttons.
"It's not a sin to subjugate oneself," he said.
"Oh, but to a demon? Certainly you are damned."
Gabriel's smile grew wider. "It cannot be damnation if it's you, sir. If anything..." His hands moved up, to her waist. "... it is salvation."
"You're an idiot." She finished unbuttoning his suit. Obliging her, he shrugged it off, and she opened the first few buttons of his undershirt. "And not 'sir'. Not 'ma'am' either."
"Lord?" he suggested with a laugh.
Beelzebub traced his bare chest with a finger, feeling his warmth, his strength. She trusted him. She trusted him. Gabriel caught her by the wrist and lifted her hand, kissing her knuckles gently. "Lord," she mused, resting her chin in her palm. "It hazz a nice ring to it."
"Lord Beelzebub," Gabriel said softly, and he spoke her name as if it were a prayer. "May I protect you? Will you allow yourself to be taken care of?"
In response, Beelzebub grabbed him by his collar and pulled him into a heated kiss. A sort of dizziness filled her head, sweeping away her thoughts as he wrapped his arms around her, turning them around so he was leaning back and she was straddling him. She broke away for a moment, panting. Gabriel's hair was a tousled mess, his mouth hanging open and his violet eyes blown wide.
"Yes," Beelzebub said, lips tingling, Gabriel's hands warm on her hips. "Alwayzzz yes, for you." She touched the collar around her neck. "I'm yourzz."
"No," Gabriel managed, "I'm yours."
Beelzebub laughed and kissed him again.
Crowley was at his breaking point.
He watched Aziraphale while the angel picked through his bookshelf, wholly interested in the novels as if nothing was wrong. Everything was wrong. Everything was wrong and Aziraphale was pretending it was all fine. What a remarkable ability, to block out the terrible things in the world, to be able to retreat to a place of comfort when distressed.
Crowley could not stand for it. Not one more second.
"Angel," he said.
"You just stood there." Crowley felt something inside him snap. "You stood there and did nothing while he hurt her."
"There wasn't much I could do, dear."
"You're lying. You could've done something. Don't think I haven't seen those recruitment letters. Why would the Seraphim want to promote you if you could do nothing?"
Crowley had read the letters when Aziraphale wasn't home. They all remarked on Aziraphale's intellect as well as his combat knowledge. Aziraphale was not helpless, no matter how much he tried to paint that narrative. Crowley was tired of the masks, of the lies.
"What other angels do with their charges is none of my business," Aziraphale said, still not looking at Crowley.
"Charges?" Crowley said incredulously. "You mean slaves, right? Pets? That's what we are, Aziraphale."
Aziraphale slid a book out, inspected it, and put it back.
"If I was just your charge," Crowley said, "then I wouldn't have this." He pointed viciously at his collar. Aziraphale winced a bit. "Dagon couldn't protect herself and you did nothing. Or did you think she deserved it?"
"Of course not," Aziraphale snapped. "Don't put words in my mouth. I don't think anyone deserves that."
"You don't stand by and watch if you don't think someone deserves it!" Crowley threw his hands up and stalked to the other side of the room, pulling the curtains closed. The room got a little bit darker. "And you especially don't join in." He hadn't meant to say that. But some part of him had wanted to. Some part of him hated Aziraphale for complying so quickly for Maion. Some part of him cackled with delight when Aziraphale stiffened.
"That was different," he said.
"How? How was it different, Aziraphale?"
Aziraphale shook his head, turning away. "This isn't an interrogation. I'm not playing into your guilt trip attempt."
Crowley recoiled. "You don't feel guilty, then? Not for any of it?" Hurt squeezed his heart; it felt rather difficult to breathe. "No regrets if it's a demon, right? No need to feel bad when I can't retaliate."
"That is not what I meant. I feel immensely guilty for what was done to you, but—"
"What you did to me. You did it. You didn't have to. You and I could've taken Maion together. But you went along with him anyway. Barely put up a fight." Crowley yanked at his shirt collar. It was hot in here. "Maybe you'd been waiting for an excuse to put me in my place, and Maion handed it right to you."
"You're being ridiculous. I'm not a sadist, Crowley!"
Crowley was seeing red. His voice had risen in volume and he was pushing the limits, testing them farther than he ever had before, but Dagon's cries rang in his ears and her terrified face flashed before his eyes, and then it was Maion's cruel green stare and violent hand, and then it was Aziraphale tearing out Crowley's feathers—
"Who knows? You were probably living vicariously through Sandalphon, enjoying every bit of it. You probably enjoyed it even more to hold me back."
"Crowley," Aziraphale said quietly. He clenched his jaw, staring at the wall, and Crowley didn't see the tension in Aziraphale's shoulders or hear the warning in his tone.
"Then what sort of worthless angel are you if you can't stand up to your own fucking peers?" Crowley snarled, swinging around to face the angel.
It took him a split second to realize he'd gone too far.
Stars popped across his vision, white hot pain lighting up his face as his head snapped to the side from the force of the blow. Crowley tripped and fell to the ground, clutching his face and hissing. Shock rooted him to the carpet.
Aziraphale had slapped him.
His face white and his expression twisted, Aziraphale lowered his hand, trembling as badly as Crowley was. He swallowed roughly and said, his voice wavering yet steely, "this is still my home. You are living here because I allow you to. It would do you some good to remember that."
Crowley shifted onto his side, tentatively touching where a bruise was surely forming. The sheer terror inside him hurt more than the actual injury.
He'd let himself forget where he was, and who he lived with. Aziraphale was an angel. No matter how nice or kind he seemed, he still owned Crowley. Crowley was still his servant.
They weren't friends. They weren't even equals.
Crowley screwed his eyes shut, ignoring the feeling of hot tears threatening to spill over.
"Go to your room," Aziraphale said, sounding choked up.
It wasn't a request.
Crowley struggled to his feet, bowed his head, and folded his wings submissively before shuffling around Aziraphale and up the stairs to his room. He chanced a glance back and saw Aziraphale leaning forward, clutching the shelf wall like a lifeline. The angel let out a noise that closely resembled a sob.
Cheek stinging, Crowley vanished around the corner.
Aziraphale tries to mend his relationship with Crowley.
TW for homophobic slurs, because Sandalphon is a dickwad.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale had never hated himself more.
After Crowley disappeared for the night, Aziraphale lurched into the kitchen and shakily poured himself a glass of water, sipping it slowly in an attempt to soothe his rattled nerves. He'd never struck someone before, not counting the time Maion forced him into it. Much less someone he cared about.
And that was just it, wasn't it? He couldn't care about Crowley. That wasn't how this worked. If the Seraphim suspected anything was amiss, they would both certainly lose their lives. Or, perhaps even more terrible; Crowley could be sent back to the training center, forced to endure Maion's torture without ever knowing what had happened to Aziraphale.
No, he would not stand for it.
Yet. Yet that horrible ache in his chest did not go away. He set his drink down harder than he needed to.
Crowley had been out of line. No one had any right to say those things to Aziraphale, especially when those things were out of his control. He couldn't interfere when it came to Maion or Sandalphon, or any other angel. What others did with their demons was none of his business, and he'd told Crowley as such.
... though, it felt like it. Didn't he owe it to Crowley? The demon had done so much for Aziraphale in these last few months.
And in return, Aziraphale had hurt him.
He buried his face in his hands.
Aziraphale was horrified of becoming like Sandalphon, taking sick pleasure in the way his demon cowered on the ground, or like Maion, with his twisted mind games. But he had done so several weeks ago, and he had done so tonight. He hurt someone who had done nothing but serve him.
Quite peculiarly, he began to tremble, feeling weak and slightly dizzy.
Tomorrow would be here before they knew it. Going out in public, as was expected of him, meant that for the sake of appearances, he would be unable to begin remedying the rift that he'd created between them.
Perhaps he should just cancel his plans. No, no, Crowley wouldn't want to be cooped up with Aziraphale all day.
I wouldn't either, Aziraphale thought miserably.
A new day would shed some light on this, he decided.
Aziraphale gentle set down his glass and stepped out into the living room. He hesitated by Crowley's room. There was only a consuming, pervasive silence. He swallowed with some difficulty, turned, and walked away.
As it turned out, a new day did nothing but increase the depths of Aziraphale's self-loathing.
Crowley had gotten up first. He was kneeling by Aziraphale's chair, wrists crossed behind his back and wings folded immaculately. A tray on the table held a steaming mug of tea.
When he opened his mouth, Aziraphale intended to say something along the lines of, "oh, Crowley, you didn't have to do that for me. I'm so terribly sorry about last night, I'm just so scared all the time and I don't know how to handle my fondness for you, oh please don't feel obligated to forgive me, you deserve so much more than any meager apologies I could offer."
That was not what he said.
What he said was nothing, as his voice spectacularly failed him upon seeing Crowley.
He drank his tea in silence. Crowley didn't speak a word.
Afterwards, Crowley gathered up the dishes without looking at Aziraphale and washed them, then returned immediately to Aziraphale's side.
"You," Aziraphale said, faintly, and Crowley flinched. "I could have washed those."
Crowley stared very hard at the carpet. "It's my responsibility, sir," he whispered. His wings trembled a bit, strained from being held so close to his body. Aziraphale gripped the hem of his shirt to keep from reaching over to soothe Crowley. Physical touch was absolutely the last thing the demon needed right now.
He needed distance from Aziraphale. They both needed time away.
Aziraphale gave a short nod. "Alright." He grabbed a piece of paper from the table and scribbled out an address with instructions. He held it out for Crowley to take, along with a sufficient amount of bronze coins. "I'll need you to run an errand for me, dear. It's downtown, farther than you're used to, but I'm quite sure you can handle it."
Crowley read the address and tucked it into his pocket. He started to stand up.
"Crowley," Aziraphale said. The demon stopped, slitted yellow eyes downcast. "Take as much time as necessary. I will completely understand if you do not hasten to return."
Dipping his head in acknowledgement, Crowley headed to the door and pulled on his coat, slipping his wings through the slits in the back.
The door clicked behind him.
Aziraphale sank into his chair and felt rather like crying.
Crowley didn't slow his pace until he could no longer see the house. It was as if an immense weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he could breathe freely again. He was alone now.
Well. Not quite alone. The city was busy today, with everyone sharing the streets and bundled up in their winter gear.
It was almost difficult to separate the angels from the demons. The only visual differences were their postures; angels walked with purpose, gaits filled with confidence, knowing they were safe and secure. Demons moved shiftily, hurrying out of the way and scurrying out from others' feet. It was the instinctive desire to make oneself invisible, to avoid attention. All demons had learned this walk by now.
Crowley had always been adept at staying out of sight.
He could sometimes spend whole days without running into anyone. It was a curse, then, to be ignored, but now it seemed a blessing. No one paid him any mind as he slipped into an alleyway.
He found a dumpster and crammed himself behind it, attempting to minimise the space he took up. Here, with his black wings wrapped around him, he was unnoticeable. He gave himself a moment to just catch his breath, stilling his pounding heart. He wondered, momentarily, what Aziraphale was getting up to, then quickly shook himself. He didn't want to think about Aziraphale. God knew Aziraphale probably wasn't thinking about him.
The paper in his pocket crinkled. He pulled it out and read it slowly, having not really comprehended it earlier. It was the address of a department store with steps he needed to follow once he got there. Aziraphale had included a few landmarks in case Crowley got lost.
He was supposed to buy new sheets. Crowley smoothed out the wrinkled corner of the paper, watching with slight fascination as Aziraphale's neat copperplate letters smudged into a blob of grey.
Finally, after a long moment of gathering himself, he exited the alley and continued on his way, feeling slightly less stressed than before.
The city really was beautiful, if you could look past everything else. He and Aziraphale lived in the suburban area of the city, where the houses were arranged in neat little rows and rarely went above two stories. As Crowley walked, however, the landscape began to shift to a more modernized scene, akin to the big cities of the old days. There were streets here, though no cars. Cars were another thing that Crowley missed; the Seraphim had banned cars, claiming all they did was push them farther from traditional values. Besides, everyone had wings.
Not that anyone used them.
Demons had an excuse for not flying; they quite literally couldn't. Angels, on the other hand, didn't fly due to a sort of social taboo. This same social taboo was responsible for the implications around wing grooming and physical contact between angels. Lack of touch encouraged purity, godliness.
It only made sense for demons, unholy creatures of evil, to be comfortable touching one another.
Aside from the abandoned streets, downtown boasted some impressive structures: towering skyscrapers, rising high above the smaller buildings. Shops and cafes filling the empty space, populated with angels. The sun shone brightly, too bright for December, and did little to combat the chill.
Crowley didn't pause to admire the view. He understood why Aziraphale preferred a more modest space. It felt hollow, cavernous out here, exposed and looming, but oddly free. Open. Still, the armed Powers at every street corner set Crowley's nerves on end.
A stuffy Principality with a book penchant wouldn't cope well in such a sleek, urban setting.
Quickening his pace, Crowley vainly tried to banish Aziraphale from his thoughts.
"Hey!" someone snapped, when Crowley accidentally bumped into them. "Watch it, filth."
"Sorry," he muttered, sidestepping the offended angel.
"Where's your owner, huh? What are you doing out here by yourself?"
Crowley stopped as soon as the angel addressed him. He hung his head, putting on his best show of shame and deference, and brought out his piece of paper. "He sent me on an errand, sir. It wasn't worth his personal time."
The angel took it from him, and Crowley resisted the urge to snatch it away. The angel looked over it with a sneer.
"I'd never let a demon out of my sight if I had one."
"But you don't," his companion said, sounding exasperated, as she grabbed the paper and passed it back to Crowley, much to his surprise. "So step off and let him get to it, yeah? His owner probably won't be happy if he's late, so don't fuck him over."
The first angel grumbled, but turned and headed off down the street. The second angel lingered a bit, as if assessing Crowley, before also leaving. Crowley didn't waste another second, tucking the paper into his pocket and hurrying in the opposite direction, watching the street signs to ensure he was on the correct course.
He was nearly accosted by a pair of Powers before he turned the corner, but he managed to slip in with a group of demons and use them as cover until the angels were gone. This city was a goddamn minefield.
"Thanks," he muttered.
One of the demons looked at him a bit strangely. "You're the Serpent, aren't you?"
Crowley choked. "The what?"
"The Lord of the Flies said you were supplying us with the..." He lowered his voice. "... ammunition. Hellfire. She called you the Serpent."
"Code names are new to me. But, uh, yeah. That's me. It kinda has a nice ring to it, eh?"
The demon grinned as his friends pulled him away. "Yeah, man, it's badass."
Gaping openly at their retreating backs, Crowley tried to control his baffled expression. Lord of the Flies? The Serpent?
Why the fuck hadn't anyone told him they were getting codenames? He closed his mouth with a click. It was all juvenile and cinematic and rather silly, but he supposed Beelzebub had a good reason. Perhaps it gave them an extra level of protection. Less of an opportunity to sell everyone out if a new recruit didn't have names.
The department store was at the end of the street. Crowley trained his eyes on the sidewalk the rest of the way there, not willing to have any more run-ins with either angels or demons. His social interaction meter was drained enough.
Once inside, he was awash with the scents from the old days. He took a moment to simply hover in the entryway, taking deep breaths, before actually doing his task. He found the racks of sheets towards the back and he skimmed the tags, looking for the exact ones Aziraphale had specified.
"Need any help, sir?" someone asked, much more chipper than he'd heard in ages. A demon stared at him expectantly. Her hair was silvery, glinting beneath the fluorescent lights and wound up in a bun. The collar around her neck starkly caught his attention; it was a bright green color, almost glowing in its intensity. He'd never seen collars in any other color but grey.
"I'm good," he said cautiously. "Do, um, do you work here?"
"Work?" She laughed, waving her hands. She looked unscathed, practically shiny with health, not a mark on her skin of any sort. Crowley unconsciously touched his cheek, where his face still ached. "Work implies employment. I didn't attend a job interview or anything."
"Right. Of course. Sorry."
Her smile faded a bit. "No need. I'm guessing you're not from around here."
"I live uptown. I've really only ever been to get groceries."
"That's too bad. It's a bustle here, sure, but at least something happens every day. Do you get bored, spending all your time at home?" The demon began to fiddle with some stuff on a shelf, probably to appear like she was working.
"On occasion." Crowley lifted up the folded sheets from the rack. "I'll be on my way, then. Thanks for the chat."
She bid him goodbye and wandered off to another customer. Crowley went to the checkout, where an angel hardly spared him a glance, scanning the tags and naming the price.
"How much is ten sanctorum?" Crowley asked timidly, holding out a handful of the bronze coins. He had little to no clue how currency worked here. Aziraphale always paid for his groceries beforehand. The angel pointed out the correct amount in flat, bored tone, and Crowley quickly passed them over.
He left with a pile of sheets in his arms and a burning desire to get home in his hurried steps. He could almost forget who would be waiting for him.
When he eventually got to the house, his feet were aching and the sun was a bit past its peak in the sky. He really needed to get more exercise, he mused, as he pushed open the front gate.
"Peace be with you," said a sickly familiar voice.
Crowley looked up from where he was latching the gate shut. On the front steps of Aziraphale's home were Sandalphon and Dagon, turning his way to leave. Immediately, fury rose up inside Crowley, seeing Sandalphon's face not a day after he'd brutally punished Dagon in broad daylight. Dagon barely looked any better than yesterday, with a cut on her forehead and bruises marking her skin.
Her eyes went wide upon noticing Crowley.
"You," Sandalphon said, gesturing at Crowley. "Get over here."
Crowley clutched the sheets closer to his chest and slunk over, his gaze on the ground. He had a thought, briefly, that if he were to take a swing at Sandalphon, he'd have the element of surprise on his side, and he highly doubted that Dagon would stop him. Aziraphale, despite their fight the night before, probably wouldn't stop him either.
Dagon seemed to sense his thought process. She shook her head slightly over Sandalphon's shoulder.
"He's too soft on you," Sandalphon said. He reached over and gripped the ridge of Crowley's wing. The demon shuddered, but he kept his head down, staying still. "Looks like you finally got what you deserved, snake."
Crowley placated his anger by gripping the sheets tightly.
At the lack of a response on Crowley's part, Sandalphon sighed in disappointment. "Pity Aziraphale doesn't do more with you. I always thought he was a fag."
Hot, ugly rage twisted viciously inside Crowley. He stepped away from Sandalphon, curled his lip, and spat, "With all due respect, my master is nothing of the sort. If you would excuse me..." He lifted the sheets. "I have an errand to complete."
Sandalphon glowered at him, but Crowley was too busy mentally screaming at himself.
Where did 'master' come from?
It was a reflex. A complete accident. He should've felt sickened. Instead, he just felt a spark of pride at the fresh hesitance in Sandalphon's expression, the knowledge that even though they were in the middle of a dispute, Crowley still clung to his trust that Aziraphale would protect him.
Even Dagon looked surprised, raising her eyes from the ground to gape at Crowley.
"Well," Sandalphon said darkly, "I suppose I'll leave you to it."
Crowley sniffed. "Let me get the gate for you." He swung the gate open so Sandalphon would have to walk past him in order to leave. He smiled cordially the whole time, and brushed wings with Dagon when she went through. She gave him a tiny hint of a smile. Crowley counted the day as a success after locking the gate and closing the front door behind him.
"Ah! You're back," Aziraphale said, his words dripping with good cheer. Crowley nodded and placed the sheets on the arm of the couch. "I know you want to ask me why Sandalphon was here."
Right. Crowley was pissed about that. "Yeah."
Aziraphale folded his hands in front of himself, looking pleased, though Crowley couldn't imagine why. "Let's just say that Dagon will be receiving a much-needed reprieve in about a week's time." His pale curls caught the light. The chair was digging into Crowley's lower back. "Sandalphon is leaving for a convention, as are the other Archangels, so I figured I would offer to 'give him a break', as it were, from his demon. Dagon will be staying with us for the duration of the convention."
For a long moment, Crowley was speechless. "You... You did that for her?"
"It is the least of what I owe to you. All of you."
Some of his tension from encountering Sandalphon faded away. Crowley breathed out slowly, his eyes dropping to the floor by Aziraphale's feet. His trip downtown had given him some time to clear his mind, and he found himself to be a bit more at ease than he was this morning.
Aziraphale was trying.
One little favor wouldn't fix everything, couldn't take back the bitter words or heal the wounds, but it created a subtle trickle of hope.
Crowley managed to look up.
The angel smiled a slightly tense, anxious smile, the sort that wavered at the corners and gave the impression of being liable to disintegrate at any moment. Even with all his doubt, Crowley could see the guilt in his baby blue eyes.
"That's kind of you," Crowley said quietly, turning away.
Earlier that morning, soon after Crowley left, Aziraphale picked up his phone and dialed a number he'd never called before.
"Sandalphon," he said, forcing himself to sound perfectly pleasant. "It's Aziraphale."
An hour later, Sandalphon showed up on Aziraphale's front porch with Dagon at his heel. Aziraphale graciously allowed them inside, serving them both a cup of tea. Dagon appeared shocked at being included.
Aziraphale was not a fighter. Not anymore. He knew he wouldn't be able to stand against Sandalphon in an outright conflict, so he wielded his words instead, using his educated mind to steer the conversation how he willed it.
"You will be attending the convention next week, yes?" Aziraphale said, stirring honey into his tea.
"I assume it's somewhat of a hassle to travel, especially with extra passengers. I haven't left the city precisely for that reason." Aziraphale smiled with good humor.
"Gabriel was supposed to travel with me," Sandalphon said, sounding a tad resentful, "but he canceled abruptly. I'll have to arrange something else."
"You know, I do think it would reduce your stress if you were to leave your... charge, at home."
"Dagon?" Sandalphon raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't leave her alone under any circumstances. I'd probably come home to a pile of ashes."
"Well, we can't have that."
Aziraphale tapped his spoon twice on the rim of the teacup. "I propose a solution. Why don't you leave her with someone? I'm sure whoever you chose would be delighted to have more help."
"Are you volunteering?" Sandalphon asked, frowning a bit.
"I admit, sometimes it's difficult to handle things even with Crowley. I wouldn't object to having an extra hand for a few days while you're gone."
Aziraphale allowed the conversation to lapse into silence as Sandalphon considered it. Kneeling on the ground, Dagon looked sickly and pale, having barely touched her tea. Aziraphale tightened his jaw when he saw bloody patches on her wings where feathers had been torn out.
"It'd be no trouble?" Sandalphon said after a moment.
"No, no trouble at all. I assure you, ah, despite what Gabriel thinks of me, I am not incompetent." Aziraphale laughed and sipped his tea.
"Hm. I imagine I'd like to take you up on your kind offer, Principality. I'll be seeing you in a week."
"Lovely. The door should be unlocked."
And that was that. Aziraphale had hoped for it to be a surprise, but Crowley came home earlier than expected, so he figured he might as well explain the situation before Crowley assumed wrongly. The demon had received it better than Aziraphale could have hoped. Perhaps this was not unfixable as it seemed.
He dearly hoped this all went well. Then, maybe someday, they could put all this behind them and begin anew.
One step at a time.
Last day of the decade! Wow!!
Gabriel and Beelzebub are paid a visit by someone important. Aziraphale and Crowley welcome a guest into their home.
it's soft Gabe and Beez hours
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"You drink coffee or tea every morning, have zzzome variety in your life."
"I'm content with my routine, thank you."
"Sure, but other drinkzz in the world do exist. Water doezzn't count."
"Water counts!" Gabriel threw his hands up in the air with an exasperated huff. "Let me drink my coffee in peace, you fiend."
From where she was lounging on the couch, Beelzebub grinned and stirred her own tea. She'd mixed several tea bags in the name of the aforementioned 'variety', and was now attempting to drink it without grimacing. Gabriel watched her knowingly.
"It'zzzz. It'zz good."
"You just spat it back into the cup."
Gabriel bit his lip to stifle laughter as Beelzebub took another pained sip. "Hm. I guess you won't mind, then, if I use the rest of the water for my coffee."
"No, no, asshole, I'm making another cup." Beelzebub dumped the leaf juice monstrosity in the sink and went with a single teabag this time. Chuckling quietly, Gabriel propped up his phone on the table to watch an article published by the Seraphim. Beelzebub returned to the living room to find the angel's good humor had faded. "What'zz up?"
"They're talking about hellfire again," Gabriel replied wearily. "You'd think a few weeks of lying low would be enough. They're beating a dead horse."
"That analogy haz never made zenzze to me."
"It's not an analogy, it's an idiom."
"It'z still dumb."
Gabriel rolled his eyes and turned off his phone.
"Any planzz today?" Beelzebub asked, kicking up her foot onto the armrest.
"Well, packing for our trip, I suppose. But it can wait."
"You're coming, of course," he said. "I want you to get a taste of what it's like outside of our city. Though, life in Caelum is pretty much universal." He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. "But I can hardly speak for the whole country."
"Thizzzz... convention. What iz it, exactly?"
"Just a meeting of sorts for upper level government workers. Seraphim members themselves won't be there, but you can count on Archangels and Cherubim to show up. This is our vacation of sorts."
"Vacation?" Beelzebub snorted. "You already work from home. You hardly do any paperwork these dayzz."
"Less paperwork doesn't mean less responsibilities," he reminded her. He drained the last of his coffee, rose from his seat, and crossed the room to sit down beside her. Beelzebub leaned back into his warm embrace, resting her head on his chest. His wings fanned out around them, the feathers a stormy grey. The purple tips matched his eyes. Gabriel's voice vibrated in her head. "This is your vacation too. Take a break from all the work you do. You deserve it."
"No rezzt for the wicked."
"You're not wicked." Gabriel's fingers skimmed through her hair. She used to never let it get this long, but she found she rather liked it. "You're just... a demon."
"Those two typically go hand-in-hand."
"Wickedly beautiful, maybe."
Beelzebub groaned and slapped his hand away. "Shut up. Zzztupid zzap."
His laugh a deep rumble, Gabriel poked her shoulder. She shifted in his arms and scowled. "You love it."
"I do not."
"I beg..." Gabriel sank his fingers into her wing, petting the translucent feathers. She hated how easily she melted into the touch. "... to differ," he finished, sounding pleased.
She made an unintelligible noise, closing her eyes.
When he kissed her forehead, Beelzebub's face flushed with warmth and she tipped her head back, giving him more room. He pressed a kiss to her temple, her cheek, bending over her to playfully nip at her jaw. Beelzebub wiggled in an attempt to get closer to him.
"You're in a mood today," she muttered, breath hitching as his teeth gently skimmed over her throat.
"Mm." He continued to preen her feathers while he kissed her, the simultaneous sensations causing her to writhe against him and groan a bit as he teased her. "So needy. What shall I ever do with you?"
"Is that what you want?"
Beelzebub reached up and tugged at his collar, growling.
"Use your words," Gabriel said, a playful edge to his voice. A strong tingling feeling spread across her wing as he tweaked a few feathers. She gasped. "What did you say?"
"You're a bastard," she managed to hiss.
"Oh, that's not very nice."
Before Beelzebub could show him what nice really was, a steady knock sounded at the door, startling them out of their rapidly heating up mood. She jumped up and ran her hands through her hair, ensuring she didn't look like the wreck she felt, then pulled at her shirt collar to hopefully hide any marks that Gabriel made. He folded his wings and buttoned up his suit.
"I'll get it," Beelzebub said. She opened the front door.
She stared at the Metatron with poorly-hidden shock. The spokesangel of the Seraphim. He looked exactly the same as he used to, with salt and pepper hair and a slick, businesslike voice. His wings were the only thing amiss. They were bedraggled, the faultless white now edging towards grey and several feathers in desperate need of grooming.
He smiled tersely at her. "Is your master home? I'm afraid I have some rather important things to discuss with the Archangel Gabriel."
Beelzebub coughed. "Yezzz. Right thiz way, sir."
Once inside, she led him into the living room, where Gabriel was waiting for them. Surprise quickly made way for a cold welcome as Gabriel realized who was here. The Metatron shook his hand.
"It's been too long, Archangel," he said. "I wish I was visiting on a better occasion."
"What's going on?"
"Let's talk. Do you have any tea?"
"Yes, yes," Gabriel turned to Beelzebub. "Get our guest a cup of tea."
Beelzebub strained her ears to listen as the angels talked while she stared at the kettle, willing it to boil faster. The kettle sat there and heated up agonizingly slowly.
"I hope you're finding your lodgings to be comfortable?" the Metatron was saying as Beelzebub placed a cup of tea in front of him. "Only the best for a diligent believer such as yourself." Gabriel tipped his head modestly at the praise. "We aim to foster peace here, you understand, so it's quite unfortunate when someone makes a ruckus of things."
"A ruckus? You mean the hellfire?"
Beelzebub knelt at Gabriel's feet and focused on the carpet.
The Metatron's mouth twisted. "Among other things. I specifically mean demons who've crossed the border into nearby countries. The most recent one calls itself Amon."
Amon. The skittish wolf demon who invited Beelzebub to join the rebellion. Everyone thought he was discovered and executed. He was alive, to Beelzebub's shock and awe, and apparently 'making a ruckus of things'. Pride swelled up inside her.
"It went to the Septrion press," the Metatron said, "and spread lies and slander about our nation. The citizens of Septrion are in uproar."
"How worried should we be?"
"Reasonably concerned. We're handling the backlash as tactfully as we can, but I doubt we will be able to quell our northern neighbors. Libertas is increasing tariffs against us as well." The Metatron paused there and turned his gaze on Beelzebub. "Is it wise for your pet to be in here?"
"She's fine," Gabriel assured him. "She knows better than to eavesdrop. Anyway, what could she do about it?"
"So," Gabriel continued, though the Metatron seemed unconvinced, "what would you suggest is our best course of action? Meeting with Septrion's ambassador is out of the question, I would assume, seeing as the population is primarily demons."
The Metatron nodded. He still hadn't touched his tea. "Libertas is too hostile to engage with. Our only ally is Meridian and they are very close to cutting off trade with us."
"They trade us fish and clothing for our wooden and metal products," Gabriel said, mostly for Beelzebub's benefit.
"Yes. We need to focus on becoming more self-sufficient as a country if we want to survive. I will not allow them to starve us out."
"New agricultural branches, then?"
"I do think so."
"Would you like me to pass on the message to Michael, or has she already been informed?"
"Michael will learn soon enough. I was on my way there anyway." The Metatron rose to his feet and smoothed down his suit. His tea had gone cold. "Thank you for meeting with me, Archangel. Your input is greatly appreciated as always."
"Anytime. Peace be with you."
"And you as well." The Metatron hesitated by Beelzebub. She could feel his eyes on her, but she stayed where she was, head bowed submissively. After a moment, he scoffed and left.
The door clicked shut behind him.
"Damn," Beelzebub said, slumping back on her heels. She flexed her wings.
"Damn indeed. Not sure why he felt the need to make a house call." Gabriel frowned, troubled, but waved his hand and stood up. "Should we pick up where we left off?"
"I think we need to talk about thiz, Gabriel. It could be more zeriouzz than we thought. Why elzze would the Metatron come see you personally?"
"Because he's a jackass who likes to toy with people?"
"You know it'z more than that."
Gabriel looked away. His status as an Archangel had its pros and cons; among the cons included the increased scrutiny, and harsher punishments for failure. Safety came with a price. If the Metatron was paying closer attention to Gabriel, that meant they needed to watch their backs from now on. No chances could be taken with an angel like that.
"I'll take care of it," Gabriel told her. "At least the bigger problems are from the outside. When the Seraphim are distracted, you have more room to work. This could be a positive thing."
"You better hope zo. Juzzt... be careful at thiz convention, okay?"
"We talked about this already. I'm not leaving you here. Especially not now, with the Metatron snooping around." Gabriel's tone left no room for argument. He sighed. "I'm going to keep you safe. Don't worry."
"You can't zzzay that and win every time," Beelzebub complained.
Gabriel brushed his wing over the top of her head in an affectionate gesture. "You haven't stopped me yet."
Crowley tossed a sheet over the couch and painstakingly tucked in the corners. He'd always hated this part. Sheets didn't like to cooperate with him. He set a folded blanket down on top of the sheet.
Outside, Aziraphale was discussing the arrangement with Sandalphon, who was set to leave tomorrow.
Crowley conducted a quick sweep of the house, setting things back in their places and adjusting the general aesthetic. Aziraphale would have a fit if he saw anyone touching his books, so Crowley, feeling a bit rebellious and no longer concerned with the consequences, picked up several books and put them on the shelf.
He didn't dare damage them, though. That would be going a little too far.
"Do have fun!" Aziraphale called after Sandalphon, opening the door. "Peace be with you." He shut the door with some force, but not enough to rattle the frames. Dagon nervously hung behind him. "Ah. Thank you, dear, for cleaning up. I'm afraid I was allowing the mess to get out of hand."
Crowley nodded; Aziraphale deflated at the lack of a verbal response. Crowley really couldn't find it in himself to feel guilty.
"So. Welcome, Dagon," the angel continued. "We're quite pleased to accommodate you. Please, feel free to explore."
Dagon looked as though she was definitely not going to do that.
With his hands pressed together, Aziraphale smiled faintly at them before vanishing into his room, leaving them alone. Crowley and Dagon eyed each other.
"Want a drink?" Crowley asked, scooping up a wayward cup from the table. "There's water, coffee, tea, wine. Wine's always my go-to. I'm gonna get some wine." He went over to the cabinet and brought out a shiny bottle. Dagon hadn't moved from her spot near the door. "How do you feel about Merlot?"
Despite the silence on her end, Crowley poured two glasses anyway, taking a generous sip. Dagon inched slightly closer but made no move to take the wine.
"It's not poisoned," he added. For emphasis, he swished the deep red liquid around.
"Not allowed, is it?" Dagon said quietly, staring at the wine with intense apprehension. "Not for us."
"Technically. Technicalities, yuck."
"What about your angel?"
"What about him?" Crowley shrugged, pouring himself more. "He's not going to stop me. Might say something, but he won't stop me."
"How do you know?"
"It's just how he is. He doesn't care about stuff like whether or not I'm allowed to drink wine. He cares about..." Crowley thought back to the night they fought, and how his anger had blinded him to Aziraphale's turmoil, his own pain drowning out anything else. He thought about the guilt in Aziraphale's eyes. "... other things."
Dagon reluctantly picked up her glass. The scales on her face shimmered like a fish's. Crowley wondered if they were smooth, and highly doubted that she would let him touch.
"You can sleep there," Crowley said, pointing to the couch with the sheet. "Or, I mean, anywhere really. On the floor if you want. It's probably uncomfortable, though."
"Thank you," Dagon murmured.
Crowley blinked at her. "We're in bed late and up early, but you can sleep in or whatever. We'll try not to wake you." He finished off his wine and placed the bottle back in the cabinet. "That's, uh, that's pretty much it."
"Ah, sorry dears," Aziraphale said, slipping into the room. Crowley fell silent and Dagon hastily set the wine down. "I meant to grab a book for some light reading in the evening, but I suppose Sandalphon's visit distracted me. Did you put it away, Crowley?"
"On the shelf," he said.
Aziraphale retrieved the book. He tucked it against his chest and offered Dagon a smile that Crowley recognized; gentle, comforting, a promise of kindness. "If there's anything else we can do to make this an enjoyable experience for you, please don't hesitate to tell me. Crowley will oblige any requests you may have." His smile faded ever so slightly as he glanced at Crowley. "And Crowley, dear?"
Crowley bowed his head and looked down, away from Aziraphale.
Another reminder. They weren't friends. Crowley did not deserve to meet an angel's gaze.
Aziraphale's voice was soft and pained. "Nevermind."
He disappeared out of sight.
As Aziraphale's warm demeanor worked to put her at ease, Dagon’s wings relaxed from their folded position and she rested a hand on the table, raising an eyebrow questioningly.
Crowley sucked in a deep breath and muttered, "What he said."
You might think there's a while between updates because I'm working at a steady pace and revising the chapter, but in actuality I wait until over a week to write everything in one burst and then post it as soon as I'm done :))) when I said "not beta'ed", I meant it
Gabriel and Beelzebub leave for their trip.
Since all angels were idiots and refused to fly anywhere, Beelzebub had resigned herself to an uncomfortable train ride to the convention.
The train itself was a long, sleek white thing, the metal warm to the touch and curving windows offering a wide view of the scenery. The interior boasted minimalistic grey carpet, tall ceiling, and rows of seats on each side, designed with open backs for wings. Due to Gabriel's status as an Archangel, he was able get them one of the nicer cabins, towards the end of the train.
"Privacy," he'd said, smiling sideways at her.
The cabin was larger than Beelzebub had expected, with plenty of room to move around without touching. The plush white seats could unfold into a bed, and two other seats faced each other across a desk.
"It'z cozy," Beelzebub said. She reached up and pulled down the overhead storage, then shoved their bags into it.
"You have to hand it to the angels who built Caelum," Gabriel said, "they knew style."
For the majority of the trip, Beelzebub stayed in their cabin, reading pamphlets and watching the city sights rush by outside the train. When Gabriel became jittery in the confined space, he left to explore a bit, so Beelzebub ended up alone and increasingly bored. Maybe this ride was fun or relaxing if one was an angel, but Beelzebub's options were severely limited. She stretched out across the seats on her stomach, feeling the train vibrate beneath her.
Someone tapped her shoulder.
Beelzebub shot upright, blinking rapidly. Gabriel chuckled at her.
"Sneaking in some beauty rest?" he asked.
"I fell azzzleep? Ugh."
"Yeah, we're almost there. I figured you wouldn't want me to wake you."
"You figured correct."
Gabriel pushed a bag into her hands. "The snack bar was lacking, and I wasn't sure what you would like."
"You assumed I would like..." Beelzebub inspected the label. "Spicy chips?"
"Shut up, there weren't many options."
"I'm not complaining." In fact, Beelzebub was actually excited to rip the bag open, having not eaten anything like this in ages. Not that snack food didn't exist in their city, but one of Gabriel's only non-negotiable rules included no snacks in the house. He refused to sully his God-given temple with greasy junk.
Personally, Beelzebub's vice was snack food, therefore she considered this rule to be bullshit.
"Look," Gabriel said, pointing at the window.
Beelzebub climbed over him to slide into the opposite seat. Outside, a deep grey fog engulfed the city, shrouding the bases of tall skyscrapers and completely obscuring smaller buildings. Despite this, people still walked along the streets. A few kids—angels, she guessed—raced alongside the train, lifted a few feet high by wildly flapping wings before crashing to the ground again, shouting and laughing until the train left them behind.
It looked normal; painfully so.
"Thiz iz our stop?"
When the train groaned to a halt, Beelzebub shouldered both of their bags as they departed. Gabriel tried to take his, but she shot him a warning look. It wouldn't be right for an Archangel to carry anything when he had a demon.
Beelzebub eyed other pedestrians while they walked. Mostly angels, it seemed, with the occasional demon tagging along. She wasn't sure if that meant there were less demons here, or that demons were not given free reign of the city. Back where she was from, the angels placed an absurd amount of trust in their demons to go from A to B without fucking around along the way. That didn't seem to be the case here.
"Um," Gabriel said, pausing at the corner of an intersection. He glanced to the map in his hands. "Why aren't any of the streets marked?"
"Never got around to it, I guess," an angel chirped, ambling up to them. She was older, laugh lines creasing her face and a hint of grey in her tangled mess of red curls. The angel reminded Beelzebub of Crowley. "Marked streets are a luxury not all can afford."
"Ha. Yeah. Would you mind pointing us to the Nitens Hotel?"
"Of course. I'll show you." She set off down the street and Gabriel hurried after her, leaving Beelzebub to bring up the rear. "In town for the convention?"
"We end up hosting a lot of those. Sometimes it gets tiring, but we do love tourists. I'm Tagas, by the way."
"Gabriel. This is Beelzebub."
Tagas looked back at Beelzebub, a soft frown curving her lips, but she turned around before Beelzebub could interpret the expression. "You're of the first choir, then?"
"I'm an Archangel."
"It's an honor to meet you."
"You too," Gabriel said, sounding uncomfortable. "Second choir?"
"Retired Virtue. I liked healing, but it simply grew to be too stressful for my body." Tagas raised her worn, calloused hands in example. "Miracles can't be taught, I think. It's unfortunate to me that angels have abandoned our innate talents and instincts. Tell me, Gabriel, when was the last time you flew?" She gestured at the grey sky.
"... quite a while."
"Hmf. Someday our wings will shrivel up and fall off because we never use them."
Gabriel seemed unsure how to respond, so he just nodded slightly. Beelzebub found herself taking a liking to this angel.
"Here we are," Tagas said, drawing to a halt in front of the hotel.
It was an imposing structure. With a medieval castle-esque appearance, the hotel glowed in the fog, illuminated by brilliant white lights that cast eerie swaths of shadows over the front. A fountain decorated with flowers had a glittering golden symbol painted onto it—six wings, dozens of eyes, words in a foreign language. The mark of the Seraphim.
"It's certainly a piece of work," Gabriel said, head tilted up to see the whole hotel. It had to be at least four floors.
"We say we're humble," Tagas said, "but we really have a flair for extravagance."
"We do, don't we?"
Tagas glanced at Beelzebub, then at Gabriel. She placed a hand on Gabriel's chest, but he didn't move away. Beelzebub almost gasped—she didn't have her powers, but she could still sense the pulsing energy forming around Tagas, the sweetness of a miracle on her tongue. "Archangel," Tagas said quietly. "You have a good heart. But it is not your sole source of strength."
A smile twisting her face, Tagas retracted her hand, and the miracle fizzled out, allowing Beelzebub to suck in a lungful of fresh air. Gabriel looked deeply unsettled. "Nothing. Just me rambling. Have a nice stay."
With that, she wandered off back the way they came. Beelzebub swallowed the saccharine taste in her mouth.
"How can I help you?" asked the angel at the front desk of the hotel.
"A room for two, please." Gabriel flipped out a card from his pocket. "Archangel."
"Very sorry, sir, but I'm afraid angels and demons are not allowed to share rooms at our establishment." The angel smiled flatly. "Separate lodging for demons has been arranged."
Beelzebub shifted her weight, uneasy, and Gabriel sighed.
"Alright," he said. He took his bag from Beelzebub and paid for his room.
"You will be able to call your demon down at any time you wish," the angel said, rifling through some papers on his desk. "Would you like to claim it?"
"Claim? What does that mean?"
The angel regarded him with just enough disdain to make Gabriel squirm. "You can claim the demon as yours. If you fail to do so, your demon may be called upon by other hotel guests for various services."
Beelzebub stiffened. Gabriel let out a weak laugh. The angel didn't laugh.
"No, no, I'll claim her. How do I do that?"
The angel walked him through the process briefly, but Beelzebub wasn't really listening. She stepped closer to Gabriel, whose wing opened a bit to comfortingly brush against her shoulder. Gabriel finished up with the angel at the desk. He turned to her, biting his bottom lip.
"Okay," he muttered. "I'm just going to..."
Beelzebub bowed her head as he reached around to the back of her collar. It would have felt uncomfortable and invasive with anyone else. He rested one hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently, and swiped a finger over the side of the collar. It made a beeping noise.
"There we go," Gabriel said. He didn't pull away immediately. His touch lingered for a moment.
"Here's your room key," the angel said, interrupting them. Beelzebub wanted to kill him for making Gabriel step back, his warmth receding. "Loray will show your demon to its room."
A demon hopped up beside Beelzebub, gaze fixed on the floor. "This way."
Some of Beelzebub's apprehension melted away as Gabriel nodded towards her, his violet eyes particularly striking under the lights.
Loray tapped Beelzebub on the arm and started to walk, so she hurried after him, not daring to look back at Gabriel again. Loray led her to the end of the hallway, to the right, and down a long corridor, all in complete silence. Beelzebub noticed that his collar was green, not grey like the rest of them.
"Fancy," she remarked dryly, pointing at it.
"Not so," he said. His voice was higher than she expected. "Distinguishable. I work here; it simply wouldn't do if angels thought I was a common demon."
"Seraph, Cherub, Archangel, Virtue, Principality. I'm employed, not enslaved."
"You really believe that shit?"
Loray cast her an icy look. "Whatever shit keeps me sane, yeah."
They fell into silence.
"You're lucky, you know," Loray said. "That your angel decided to claim you. Some of them are fine with sharing."
Beelzebub shivered. "That'zz awful."
"You're a cold-hearted zzzon of a bitch, you know that?"
Loray paused, and Beelzebub almost ran into him. He spun on his heel to jab a finger at her. "Don't think I don't know who you are, Lord Beelzebub. Stirring up trouble wherever you go. My cousin died in the circus fiasco, thanks to you. You're delusional if you think we can make a difference. And even if you somehow manage to succeed in your city, what about the rest of the country? Don't pretend your organization stretches across all of Caelum. We're all in this together, sure, until thousands of demons get left behind because you acted too soon and too rashly."
Beelzebub drew herself up, scowling. "You're a coward. At leazzzt I'm trying, when all you are izz at any angel'zzzz beck and call. Pazzzzivity will only get you zzo far."
"What have you even done since the circus? Nothing. Better get on that soon, or else demons will start losing faith in you and you'll be back at square one."
"We have a plan," she spat through gritted teeth.
"See, I don't think you do."
"Loray!" someone hissed. Another demon, sporting the same green collar, marched up to him and grabbed him by the sleeve. "What the fuck are you doing? Hofniel is waiting. Do you have to fucking harass every demon that stays here?" She turned to Beelzebub, and her demeanor shifted instantly to something more pleasant. "Hello. Terribly sorry for the delay, do forgive our customer service." She leaned close and whispered, "Loray is a dick, don't worry about it."
"Don't you have duties too?" Loray sneered. "I thought every angel in this hotel wanted a piece of those pretty wings."
Her wings were beautiful. Streamlined and impeccably groomed, they were colored like a scarlet macaw. Bright red along the top, a layer of yellow below, then a strip of green and brilliant blue primaries. The stunning colors reflected in Beelzebub's translucent feathers.
The demon glowered at Loray. "Go. I'll show Lord Beelzebub the rooms."
Loray hesitated for a moment, but ultimately, the macaw demon won out the staring contest and Loray vanished around the corner.
"Asshole," Beelzebub muttered.
The macaw demon laughed. "Tell me about it. Come on, it's not far." Finally, they arrived at a set of unmarked doors. The macaw demon produced a key from her pocket. "Before you go in, you should probably know what to expect." Beelzebub nodded. "You'll find an empty bed on the right. The right side is for claimed demons, and the left is for unclaimed. After dark, talking is forbidden. If your angel calls for you, one of us—" she tapped her green collar, "—will come fetch you and you'll be the given the room number if you don't know it already. Got it?"
"Good. When you're done with your angel, come back down here and one of us will let you back in. At sunrise tomorrow morning, all of you are expected to be awake and ready for the day. Your angels will come get you until they come back to the hotel." The macaw demon stuck the key in the lock and turned it. "Also, be careful who you talk to, okay? Not all of them are good at keeping their mouths shut."
"Okay. Thank you."
"No problem, my Lord." The macaw demon flashed her a grin. She pushed open the doors.
The room before them was reminiscent of Beelzebub's college dorm, which she had shared with six others. The ceiling was flat but relatively tall, and several mounted lamps illuminated the room. Both sides were lined with fifteen cots and minimal space between each, only enough to stuff belongings beneath. A single window on the far end showed only a foggy alley.
Some of the demons were talking quietly, but they all went silent upon seeing Beelzebub. The macaw demon gently guided her inside.
"This one's open," a demon on the left said tentatively, pointing their wing at an empty cot on the right side. "Feel free."
Beelzebub dropped her bags onto the cot.
"Bye." The macaw demon slipped out and locked the doors behind her.
"I'm Morax," said the demon across from Beelzebub. Left side. Unclaimed. They had flat, beady black eyes that unnerved Beelzebub, though she couldn't say much when she was friends with Crowley. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
"Finally, huh?" Beelzebub shook hands with them.
"You bet. I'm a huge fan."
Beelzebub chuckled humorlessly. Her conversation with Loray had not put her in the best mood. "Fan of what? My one accomplishment, which wazzn't even all that amazing in the firzt place?"
"The circus thing was incredible, what are you talking about?" Morax reached over and brushed their wing against hers. "You're my biggest inspiration."
"I'm a dizazzter."
"Aren't we fucking all?"
That wrung a small laugh out of Beelzebub. She grabbed her bag and kicked it under her cot, then stretched out her legs, thoroughly exhausted despite sleeping on the train earlier. "So, when'zz thiz convention thing?"
"Tomorrow night, I think," Morax replied. "Whoever your angel is determines your job for the night."
"You, um, have an okay angel?"
Beelzebub eyed them. "How'd you guess."
She noticed Morax's collar, then, which was colored black. Beelzebub couldn't see hers, but assumed it was a different color than normal. "Yezz. You're not?"
"No." Morax sobered up, their expression turning solemn. "Mine doesn't give a shit about what happens to me."
"So am I. Can't wait to find out what happens to unclaimed demons here."
"Nothing good," said another demon nearby. A bruise bloomed on the side of his face.
Morax pinched the bridge of their nose. "Jesus Christ."
Beelzebub rolled over, toed off her shoes, and shut her eyes tight. This was going to be a long week.
A list of things:
- This chapter sets off a series of events that will culminate in the climax, which should be around chapter 33/34
- Ineffable Bureaucracy has consumed me but I'm not complaining
- Inspiration for the Nitens Hotel came from the Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka, Arkansas
- If you've been wondering, the symbol of the Seraphim looks like this
- Would you guys prefer if I posted in the morning or the night? Or the afternoon? Or evening time? Whatever you guys want, I'll tally up the majority vote and start posting consistently at that time
thank you for your time and get ready for the rising action section of this story
Crowley and Aziraphale finally talk.
Chapter TW: Burns, some medical stuff but nothing graphic
okay. so. the 1992 Good Omens screenplay is awful, I know. it's bad. it's really bad. but I also enjoyed it, because it offered a unique spin on the story we're all familiar with. It's OOC, but I also think that's what Gaiman intended, so it would never come to fruition. thank you, Neil. Crowley is just so terrible to Aziraphale, but Aziraphale is literally a fucking idiot so I guess 1992!Crowley is right?? but the message of Good Omens is about free will and humanity, and this screenplay had a complete lack of that.
despite all my complaints, I did like how Satan had a bigger role and actually seemed like an interesting character. Anathema and Madame Tracy too. maybe this could've been a good story if developed by the right author.
that being said, to cope with how bad it is I'm going to write out the whole script in novelized form w/added scenes because it was genuinely intriguing and I'd like to explore the motivations behind these characters that are so different than the ones we're used to. like a Bad Omens AU.
anyway. thanks for listening to me rant and onto the chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In a lot of ways, Dagon had found, living with Crowley and Aziraphale was almost worse than Sandalphon. At least with him, she knew what to expect. She knew the way things worked.
Everything was strange here.
Dagon always assumed that Crowley had a great relationship with his angel, just from the way they acted around each other in public. Completely at ease. Crowley never stiffened or jumped when Aziraphale touched him before.
Before. Before what? Something had changed, that was for sure. Something big.
"You didn't have to," Aziraphale would say, when Crowley served him a cup of tea in the morning.
Of course, though, Crowley did have to. Demons didn't refuse their angels. Dagon didn't know Aziraphale; she didn't know if he liked to play mind games or not. This might have been a ruse to make Crowley lower his guard, slip up, and that was when Dagon would see how punishments worked in this house.
But Crowley wouldn't fall for it. He never did. He would only make a quiet sound in response, and Aziraphale wouldn't press the issue.
Dagon didn't like the tension between them. It made her feel uneasy, the way Aziraphale seemed to walk on eggshells and not the other way around. Maybe nothing had happened after all and Dagon was just misinterpreting everything.
In the end, it didn't matter.
What mattered was Aziraphale's worried little apologies if Crowley ever struggled with a task. What mattered was how Crowley sharply recoiled from the angel's touch, as if burned. What mattered was how they both dropped their obvious problems to help Dagon get settled.
Nothing made sense here.
The first night that Dagon stayed with them, she found herself unable to sleep. The couch was comfortable, sure, but she couldn't shake the feeling that any moment, this respite would be ripped away from her and she'd be punished for relaxing.
Eventually, she stopped trying to keep her eyes closed. If she was going to be awake, she might as well do something useful with her time.
Aziraphale hadn't asked anything of her yet. But she knew it was only a matter of time. He would soon realize that Sandalphon was fine with sharing, and that Dagon was here for no purpose other than to be of use. Maybe he expected Dagon to come to him. To take initiative.
She got up and went to Aziraphale's room.
The angel was sitting in bed, holding a book close to his face under the lamplight. His wings were a pristine white, fanning out around him like a shield. The warm glow made his eyes appear tinted golden.
"Ah! Hello, dear," he said, shutting his book. "Is Crowley asleep?"
Dagon nodded hesitantly.
"Good. He needs it, poor thing. His nightmares have only gotten worse. I'm afraid I've been no help." Aziraphale sighed and rubbed his forehead. He looked very tired all at once. Then, his expression cleared and he offered her a slightly strained smile. "What can I do for you?"
"I..." Dagon coughed and shuffled into the room, tucking her wings in tight to prevent from touching any of Aziraphale's belongings. "I was hoping, um, sir, that you would allow me to show you my gratitude for taking me in."
Gratitude only ever meant one thing in Sandalphon's house. Dagon sank to her knees before Aziraphale, praying that she'd said the right thing. Sometimes, if she was particularly pleasant to Sandalphon, she would be rewarded with less cruelty than usual. Although, it never really mattered what she said. Only if Sandalphon thought it was good enough.
It almost never was.
The angel was quiet for a long moment. Dagon snuck a glance upwards to find him staring at her.
"Your... gratitude?" he said faintly, looking stricken.
"Oh. M-My dear, I couldn't possibly." Aziraphale got to his feet, holding out a hand to her as if to help her up. She tentatively took it, and he pulled her to a stand. "Please don't feel the need to... please me in any way. I'm so very sorry that Sandalphon made you believe it was necessary."
Dagon hunched her shoulders, confused, as Aziraphale gently guided her into the living room.
"Here we are," Aziraphale murmured, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders. "Would you like some tea?"
She slowly shook her head.
"That's alright. I prefer saving tea for early morning, anyways. Now, dear..." He sat down beside her, maintaining a comfortable distance between them. "Whilst you stay with us, please never expect to be punished or, heaven forbid, used in any way. I am not Sandalphon. I am not going to hurt you. And I'm trying very hard to not hurt Crowley further."
Dagon could only stare, shocked and bewildered. Aziraphale moved as if to set his hand over hers, but seemed to think better of it and settled it in his lap instead.
"I'm sorry," Dagon whispered. "I-I don't..."
Aziraphale pressed his lips together. "I am not going to—" He cut himself off, his wings bristling with agitation. "I am not going to use you for my own sexual pleasure and damn Sandalphon to the devil for ever laying his hands on you. You did not deserve anything that has happened to you, Dagon, you must understand."
And the angel didn't stop there. He rose to his feet and paced to the windows, his socked feet sliding over the hardwood. "Sandalphon is a sick, perverted bastard, and if I could I would tear down this whole country for normalizing the twisted things he's done. I would burn Caelum to the ground if it meant you all would finally be safe and happy for the first time in ages. I never wanted this!" he cried, hands flying up to drag through his hair. "I never wanted any of it!"
Dagon pulled the blanket tighter around herself as she gaped at Aziraphale, stunned into silence.
"It's all so bloody unfair," Aziraphale snapped at no one. "You shouldn't have to live like this, scared out of your damn wits. Crowley shouldn't have to wear that collar and he certainly shouldn't have to live with me, especially after I—"
He stopped, breathing hard.
"This," he said, "this is so awful. Every last bit of it."
They both startled. In his doorway, Crowley stood still. His deep black wings were drawn around his body, serpentine yellow eyes bleary from sleep. His expression was unreadable.
"You can tell it to everyone else, then," he said. His soft voice was impossibly loud in the sudden silence. "But not me. Right?"
"Crowley," Aziraphale said, and he sounded broken, but Crowley was already gone.
The next day had not proven any less uncomfortable. Dagon wanted to know what was going on, how this rift between them had formed, but neither seemed interested in talking about it. Aziraphale skillfully deflected whenever the topic arose, and Crowley less-than-skillfully wiggled out of the conversation.
It was, quite frankly, infuriating.
Around noon, Dagon was helping Crowley with the dishes; he washed them, she put them away. Aziraphale hadn't asked them to, but then again Aziraphale never asked them to do anything.
"Crowley," Dagon said, shutting the cabinet.
He didn't stop scrubbing the plate in his hand. "Yeah."
"What happened? With you and..." She lowered her voice. "... the angel."
Crowley set down the plate and moved onto another one. "Don't know what you mean."
Dagon stared at him until he shifted with discomfort. She stepped closer and tried to muster up her signature glower from the old days, but she knew she'd failed when Crowley only raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. "Stop playing dumb. Something happened. Why else would you be moping around here like a kicked puppy?"
"You're one to talk," Crowley snapped. He twisted the hot water knob and let it pour over his hands.
"That's not fair."
"Nothing's fair in this hellscape."
Good point, but Dagon wasn't giving it to him. "You don't get to say shit like that. You have no idea what it's like." To her dismay, her voice wavered a bit towards the end.
Crowley swallowed audibly. "Shit, ah, I'm sorry, Dagon. You... you're right." He shook his head. "Shouldn't've said that."
"Yes, you shouldn't have." Dagon picked up a cup and put it on the shelf. Her hands trembled. Gritting her teeth, she clasped the edge of the counter and silently reminded herself that she was safe here. Safer, at least, than anywhere else. Sandalphon was miles away.
They lapsed into silence, and Dagon strived to make it as awkward as possible.
Crowley was being a dick. He could deal with it.
When the back door swung shut and Aziraphale stepped inside, Dagon noticed Crowley's movements quicken as he began to practically shove plates at her.
"Calm down," she snapped at him, slowly drying the plate with a rag.
"Crowley!" Aziraphale called, before the demon could slink off to his room. Crowley braced himself against the counter and turned away from Aziraphale. "So glad I caught you, dear. Can we..." He pressed his hands together. "Can we talk? Just for a moment?"
Dagon glanced between them. Crowley had taken up a deep and consuming interest in the floor.
"Please?" Aziraphale added.
Shaking his head, Crowley pushed off the counter and grabbed his coat from where it was draped over the couch. "Sorry. Dagon and I have to beat the rush downtown."
"We do?" Dagon asked.
With a lost little frown, Aziraphale lowered his gaze. "Alright. Do be safe out there."
"Will do," Crowley bit out. "Let's go, Dagon."
This was ridiculous, Dagon decided.
More specifically: they were ridiculous. Even more specifically: Aziraphale and Crowley were ridiculous.
Dagon would never claim to be good at talking about herself, or sharing her pain with others, but the sheer level of miscommunication between those two dwarfed her by a landslide. They were incapable of just talking to each other.
"Okay," she said, following Crowley down the street, "what the hell was that?" Crowley didn't respond, and Dagon grabbed his wing, dragging him to a stop. He turned and snarled at her. "Don't even start. What happened between you two? This isn't how I remember you. What did you do?"
"What did I do? Nothing!"
"Obviously something happened, or else you wouldn't run every time the angel tries to get you alone."
"I'm not running."
Dagon squeezed his wing, none-too-gently. He yelped. "You're dodging the question."
Crowley wrenched himself out of her grasp, rubbing the spot where she'd held him. He stubbornly didn't look at her as he combed his feathers back into place, taking much longer than necessary, until Dagon moved as if to grab him again. Reeling back, he raised his hands defensively. "Okay, okay. Relax."
Crossing her arms, Dagon glared at him expectantly.
"Not here," he muttered, looking around the open street. A few Powers seemed to be eyeing them with suspicion. "This way."
They continued walking farther away from the house, heading to the fringes of the suburbs, where it began to transition into the downtown area. Dagon hadn't been in this part of the city before, but Crowley seemed to know where he was going.
When the streets began to thin and they found themselves mostly isolated, Crowley slowed his pace to a saunter.
"Well?" Dagon said.
"Well..." Crowley kicked at the concrete. "After that day in the park, we... we started arguing. I was so angry. I think I'd been angry for a long time. We both said things we didn't mean. I shouted at him, I overstepped, and he... he hit me." He reached up and his hand ghosted over his face. "I don't think either of us knows how to fix it."
Dagon stopped walking. She wanted to grab him and shake him very hard, and she probably would have if they hadn't been in public. "You are so stupid. You are so stupid."
"Why are you letting one fight destroy your friendship? You are friends, right?"
"I... I thought so. But we can't be friends. He's an angel, I'm a demon, we're not—"
"Shut up, Crowley."
He shut up.
Dagon pressed a hand to her forehead and groaned softly. "You're a stubborn asshole. Aziraphale is sorry. He's practically been begging for a conversation with you and you've been ignoring him. You don't have the upper hand by refusing to move on. It was one time, Crowley, and it sounds like you pushed him into it."
Crowley opened his mouth, and Dagon cut him off.
"I'm not saying it was right. I'm not saying you deserved it. What I'm saying is this." She forced him to look at her directly. "You both fucked up. Aziraphale smacked you around once, so what? He's your friend. Friends make mistakes and forgive each other. You're not doing anyone any good with this cold shoulder bullshit. Get your fucking act together."
"You don't need to swear at me," Crowley muttered. His wings folded behind himself at the chastisement, which Dagon found very satisfying.
"I think I did."
Crowley bit his bottom lip and frowned, looking properly ashamed. "Sorry."
"Apology not accepted until you talk to your angel." Dagon glowered at him. "Fix. It."
Crowley felt that it made a perfect sort of sense for Dagon to be the one to set him straight. She had always been reasonable, with an aura that screamed 'tired of everyone's shit'. In the old days, she kept everything in line. It was only right for her to take note of things that Crowley couldn't even see inside himself.
Upon coming home, Crowley and Dagon found a scrap of paper on the counter telling them that Aziraphale was out visiting an old friend and wouldn't be back for a few hours.
He'd added that they should not answer the door for anyone, seeing as several Powers had taken up a habit of springing surprise house calls on angels to ensure that nothing untoward was occurring. Crowley, knowing how close Beelzebub and Gabriel had become recently, was suddenly grateful they were out of town.
When one's only role in society was to serve, life became very boring very fast.
Crowley and Dagon quickly found themselves with nothing to do. The house was always clean, and all the chores for the day were wrapped up already. Beelzebub didn't have anything for them.
"It's almost lunchtime," Crowley said, peering into the fridge.
Dagon joined him in staring at the food.
"I haven't cooked in a while," Dagon said eventually. "Shall we try our hand at it?"
Crowley's grin was edging on wicked. "So we shall."
They ended up trying to make pasta; a relatively simple dish. Crowley burned himself on the boiling water, Dagon managed to spill half the jar of sauce, and they were both a mess on the floor by the time they were finished. Thankfully, the disaster was contained to the kitchen, so Crowley was able to clean it up with little to no effort. It would've been easier if he could snap his fingers and vanish it—but that was impossible.
"Bon appétit," Dagon said graciously, sliding two bowls of pasta onto the table. "Truly we've outdone ourselves."
"Compliments to the chef." Crowley twisted his fork in the noodles and took a bite. Dagon watched him swallow before she copied the action.
Dagon grinned, and it startled Crowley a bit. It was the first real smile he'd seen from her since she came to stay with them.
"I hope Aziraphale likes overcooked pasta sauce," Crowley mused, stirring his food around.
"No, no, he's an angel, he's above shitty college comfort food."
Crowley snorted. "Yeah. He told me once that one of the things he misses the most is fancy restaurants."
"I've never been to the Ritz in my life, nor did I ever plan to." Dagon looked a bit melancholy for a moment, but she shook her head and jabbed her fork at her bowl. "Nothing but rich snobs and tiny plates at the Ritz."
"The one and only time I went to the Ritz, I felt like I was playing dress-up as a distinguished individual."
"You were, weren't you?"
"Well, yeah." When Dagon snickered, Crowley gestured at her with his fork in mock-indignation. "You don't have to point it out!"
"I didn't! You did!"
They dissolved into laughter, their subpar meal forgotten. Crowley might have hated doing the dishes, but with Dagon, the most menial of tasks seemed fun. They flicked water at each other and Dagon bent over with laughter at the soap suds in Crowley's hair, and in retaliation Crowley took every opportunity to splash soapy water at her, showering her pale blue wings in bubbles.
"I hate it when they're wet," Dagon complained, dragging her fingers through her wings.
"I hate it when my hair is wet," Crowley countered.
His hair had grown out to the middle of his back, tangled and firey red. He kept it tied up most of the time, and often considered whether or not to cut it to a more manageable length. Beelzebub, too, had let her hair grow long, which was a far cry from the cropped short style she used to wear so well.
By the time they were done screwing around and actually finished up the dishes, it was two in the afternoon, and Aziraphale wasn't back yet.
Crowley dug up an old checkers set from storage, and they ended up spending a good amount of time playing. Outside the tall windows, the sun slipped further down, and the pale blue sky began to fade into a rich cobalt. Dagon was beating him six games to four when the front door lock turned. Aziraphale was home.
The angel looked exhausted. He was clutching a bag in one hand. With a sigh, he set the bag down near the door and stumbled towards his room, seemingly not noticing the two demons on the couch.
"Hey, angel," Crowley said quietly, nervously.
Aziraphale's head jerked up. He stared at Crowley, then at Dagon. "Hi," he replied, and his voice was shaky. "I hope you had a nice time to yourselves."
He ducked into his room.
Silence reigned for a moment. Dagon leaned forward, took three of Crowley's pieces, and said, "talk to him."
"Not... right now," Crowley said. "I'll talk to him later, when he's less..."
"Of a wreck?"
"I was going to say something more tasteful than that but yes."
'Later' turned out to mean not for the rest of the evening, seeing as Aziraphale didn't make another appearance. Crowley won their final round of checkers and they both had leftover pasta for dinner.
Dagon tossed back the sheets on the couch and dimmed the lights. "Go to sleep," she said, rolling over.
Probably wise. Crowley went around the house turning off the rest of the lamps, then hesitated by Aziraphale's room. "Angel?" he called softly.
Shuffling. A cough. A single warm lamp flickered on, revealing Aziraphale's ragged figure. He looked to be in worse shape than before. "Yes, dear?" he asked, but now he sounded perfectly fine.
"We made food earlier, if you want something to eat."
"Oh, that's alright. Thank you."
Crowley frowned. Aziraphale never skipped meals. As much as he was hesitant to have this conversation, Crowley was worried about Aziraphale, and if Dagon's little intervention had forced him to realize anything, it was that he still considered Aziraphale his friend. Friends didn't leave when the one was hurting.
Aziraphale had never left him.
"Are you sure, angel?" Crowley pressed, taking a step into the room. "There's plenty. You've got to be hungry, you've been gone all day."
"I'm okay, Crowley, I promise. You should be getting off to bed."
That isn't an order, Crowley patiently reminded himself. He's not going to be upset if you don't listen. He's sorry. He didn't mean it.
"At least eat something small," he said.
Aziraphale gave him an odd look. "Okay."
Crowley nodded, moved back, and slipped into the living room, intending to sneak past Dagon as quietly as possible. Alas, right before he reached his room, the scaled demon sat up to raise a judgemental eyebrow at him.
"Shut up," he hissed.
The next day, Crowley and Dagon left early to beat the rush at the store, just to grab a few items they were missing at home. Aziraphale, to Crowley's best knowledge, was still asleep when they came back.
"Dagon," Crowley said flatly, watching her yawn in the middle of putting away the groceries.
"Go back to bed."
"Sounds like a plan." Dagon flopped onto the couch and was asleep within minutes. Crowley shook his head with wry amusement, shutting the cabinet gently.
He started to close the curtains when a soft noise distracted him. Not Dagon, she was sleeping. And he assumed Aziraphale had been too.
The sound was coming from Crowley's room.
He crept around the corner and froze.
Aziraphale was bent over the pot of Hellfire flowers that were typically stashed under Crowley's bed. The angel was shaking as he tried to extract the seeds from the plant. Burns streaked over his fingers and palms, angry red and inflamed. Aziraphale bit his lip to muffle his noises of pain.
"Aziraphale!" Crowley cried. He ran forward and grabbed the pot, pulling it out of Aziraphale's reach. He hurriedly scooped up the fallen seeds and stuffed everything back under the bed, where there was no chance of any accidents happening, then gathered the angel's hands in his own. "What the bloody hell are you doing? You know those petals can hurt you! What the fuck were you thinking, you stupid angel?"
To Crowley's mounting horror, Aziraphale sniffled, his blue eyes glistening, before he began to cry.
Crowley gaped at him, gripping Aziraphale's burned hands.
"I'm sorry," Aziraphale wept, chest heaving. "I'm sorry, I know, I'm being stupid, but I just wanted to be able to do something." He bowed his head and trembled, tears slipping down his face. "I wanted you to know that I'm sorry and I would do anything for you, even if it meant sacrificing my own comfort."
"I don't want you to hurt yourself! In what universe could you ever think that's what I want?"
"I hurt you," Aziraphale choked out between sobs. "Don't I deserve to hurt? After everything I did?"
"What about what I did?" Crowley insisted. "I pushed you to your breaking point. I escalated it. I knew you were struggling and I was difficult anyway. I'm sorry, angel."
"Please don't apologize to me. Never apologize to me. I need to make it up to you in any way I can."
"Not like this, Aziraphale, please."
"I care about you so much." Aziraphale sniffed, reaching up to wipe away his tears. "And I hurt you. All you ever did was try to help me and I hurt you. You are wonderful and strong and you shouldn't have to put up with me. I had no right to argue with you about any of it. You were right, Crowley, you're always right." He buried his face in his hands and shook.
"Angel," Crowley said, very softly. He gently tugged Aziraphale's hands away, meeting the angel's watery blue gaze. Aziraphale's bottom lip wobbled. "Thank you."
Aziraphale let out another broken sob. Crowley opened his midnight wings and wrapped them around Aziraphale, pulling the angel close.
"How can you bear to be close to me?" Aziraphale whispered, crumpled in Crowley's embrace. "I... I betrayed your trust."
Crowley closed his eyes briefly. He placed a hand on Aziraphale's cheek, his tone imploring. "We've both made mistakes. Awful mistakes. I killed a demon, Aziraphale."
The angel winced.
"But you forgave me then. When I didn't even know I needed to be forgiven."
Aziraphale's breath hitched and he leaned into Crowley's touch.
"I'm sorry, angel," he said. "And I forgive you."
After a long moment, Aziraphale looked up at Crowley, finally meeting his eyes. A weak smile crossed his face. "We're just rubbish at talking to each other, aren't we?"
"Only about the stuff that matters."
They stayed in that position for some time, simply being close to each other, with Crowley's dark wings shielding them momentarily from the ugly, harsh world beyond. Aziraphale's burned hands radiated heat, so eventually, Crowley urged him to his feet and led him into the kitchen to run his hands under cold water. Crowley kept one wing cupped around Aziraphale's shoulders.
"These aren't going to heal well," Crowley murmured, carefully dabbing the water from the wounds with a towel. "You'll need to make sure you don't aggravate them."
Crowley guided them to Aziraphale's room as to not bother Dagon, who hadn't so much as twitched despite their raised voices. The first aid kit was under the sink. Crowley fetched it and took a few things out. Aziraphale sat down on the edge of the bed, his injured hands held up in front of him.
"You don't have to do all that," he said.
He wrapped Aziraphale's hands in gauzy white bandages. The angel flexed his wrist and fingers when Crowley instructed him to, ensuring that he had good mobility.
"I'm sorry, dear boy," Aziraphale said after a moment.
Crowley clicked the first aid kit shut. "For what?"
"For all my..." Aziraphale waved vaguely at himself, at his bandaged hands. "My silliness, I suppose. I wasn't thinking quite right."
"We've all been there. Next time, come to me. Don't do something like this again, alright angel?"
Aziraphale nodded. His voice was slightly hoarse. "I am sorry."
"We, us, I... things may never be the same."
"I know, angel."
Crowley did know. He could see it in Aziraphale's eyes, in the burns covering his palms. Crowley saw it all. He saw Aziraphale. He saw his angel below all of the guilt and pain, below the mistakes. He saw the kindness and love and warmth, and Crowley found that he hated the Seraphim for what they had done to Aziraphale, for how this place strived to strip away all that was soft and lovely in this world. He hated how he was unable to truly see Aziraphale until now.
Shifting over, he stretched out his wing and swept it around Aziraphale, encouraging the angel to rest his head on Crowley's shoulder.
"It's okay," Crowley said quietly, drawing Aziraphale close. "I know."
Dagon and Crowley are Very Good Friends and you can't stop me
okay so I wrote this last year in December and it didn't get a lot of attention so I'm putting it here. it's straight- cough, gay -crack and I'm not even sorry. give it a read if you want to see me play fast and loose with names/pronouns