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Time is the Longest Distance

Chapter Text

 

This is a full-length story based off the comic by the wonderfully talented Lei_sam. If you have not seen it yet, you need to go check it out.

Updates on Tuesdays and Fridays until completed.

Art by the amazing Lei_sam.

Chapter Text

In his entire six-thousand-year existence on Earth, Aziraphale could not remember a single time where he ever had the desire to sleep. Not when he’d been trapped on the ark for forty days, not when the Black Death had ravaged all of Europe, not even during the Big Freeze of 1963, when all of London had been continuously covered by several feet of snow for almost three months. Not one single time in all of human history.

Except for last night.

It wasn’t that the angel really wanted the sleep. He certainly didn’t need it, and like always, there had been plenty for him to do to occupy his time. Aziraphale could have spent his evening reading one of the many books in his collection. The angel had tried for hours, but he’d been unable to fixate on any of the words on the pages in front of him. The second hand on the grandfather clock nearby seemed to echo around him in an almost deafening way. With each passing moment, the sound seemed to grow further and further apart, as if time itself was crawling to a halt. Maybe if he’d been able to fall asleep, the day wouldn’t have felt like such a waste.

Aziraphale had been present on Earth for six-thousand years. He had experienced time’s steady march for millennia and it had never gone by as slowly as it had the previous night. The angel had heard the saying “time is too slow for those who wait”, but he had never fully understood what that meant until he’d been forced to wait alone in his bookshop until ten minutes to seven on Friday evening. Then, and only then, had he permitted himself to finally head over to Crowley’s place for their first date.

The angel was absolutely giddy with nervous excitement as he bustled around his flat above the bookshop in an attempt to get ready. He’d been obsessing since the previous afternoon when the subject came up in one of their many casual conversations sitting on a bench in St. James’ Park.

It all started with a group of girls sitting several feet away from them on the next bench down. They were all sitting side by side, the two on the ends huddled around the one in the middle and, more specifically, the mobile phone in her hand. Normally, Aziraphale wouldn’t have even noticed them, but they were being unusually loud, giggling and pointing at the small device, chatting among themselves in a volume that was loud enough to be distracting, but not quite loud enough for the angel to decipher what was so interesting they had to try and ruin his perfectly good afternoon.

“Honestly,” Aziraphale huffed after the fourth time their laughter cut into the middle of his conversation with Crowley. The angel glanced over at the trio, shooting them a look of heavy disapproval that the girls promptly ignored. “Whatever could be so amusing on that infernal device? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time?”

The demon beside him chuckled, leaning back to glance over his shoulder. “My money’s on some sort of dating app,” he mused, turning back to look at Aziraphale through a pair of dark sunglasses. “Girls like them are the prime demographic for that sort of thing. Young, pretty, with enough free time on their hands to spend a weekday afternoon to flip through dozens and dozens of profile pictures for the fun of it.”

Aziraphale’s brow furrowed. Dating app? Profile pictures? Whatever was Crowley talking about?

Sensing his companion’s confusion, Crowley leaned back, lounging against the wooden bench, limbs spread out, hand gesturing wildly in the direction of the three young women. “It’s how young people these days find someone to court,” the demon explained, slipping into a vocabulary Aziraphale was more familiar with. “You know how their phones act like mini computers now?”

Slowly, the angel nodded his head. He didn’t understand it all, not really, but he and Crowley had discussed this sort of thing before, so Aziraphale at least had some sort of awareness of the new technology.

“Right,” the demon continued. “So, one of the things they can do on their phones is go onto a website where people create these…mini biographies of themselves called profiles. They can read through the profiles and pick the ones they like. If two people pick each other, they can start talking to one another and sometimes that leads to a date.”

Aziraphale nodded. He supposed that made sense. To him, it didn’t seem like a very genuine way to meet someone special, but it could have been worse. In some sort of construed way, it was similar to a blind date. Instead of other people setting the couple up, using this…’dating app’ allowed the individuals to set themselves up.

Strange, but he supposed it worked. As long as the relationship was genuine after the initial meeting, Aziraphale guessed it didn’t matter all that much how the couple met.

“Does using the dating app always involve so much giggling?” the angel asked, glancing past Crowley’s head over towards the girls once more just as one of them let out a shriek that he assumed must be from excitement. Either that or she had just seen some sort of giant insect or perhaps a normal sized mouse.

Crowley snorted. “Most definitely not.” His answer was so immediate, it took Aziraphale by surprise. “There’s a one-hundred and ten percent chance those girls are using the app to flip through profiles for the sole reason of making fun of most of the blokes they come across. No question about it.”

Once again, Aziraphale found himself frowning as his blue eyes looked over at them. “How unfortunate,” he commented, turning his attention back to the chattering ducks, impatiently waiting for the bread in his hand to make its way to the water in front of them. Aziraphale liked feeding the ducks. He liked feeding the ducks with Crowley. He liked spending time with the demon - it didn’t matter much what they did. Eating meals together, visiting the theater, going for long walks in the countryside after a nice afternoon driving around in the Bentley. Everything was enjoyable when he was with Crowley.

Six months had passed since the world hadn’t ended and life was good. Life was more than good . It was more than nice. It was more than any of those four-letter words the demon hated so much. Life on Earth, here in his little corner of London, here with Crowley by his side was absolutely wonderful. Aziraphale couldn’t remember a time when he’d been happier.

“I mean,” the demon was saying when the angel brought his attention back to the moment at hand. “To be quite honest, it’s not the worst thing in the world.” His amber eyes gazed out across the pond in front of them, grazing over the collection of ducks that had gathered before them. “Human relationships have been fragile at best from the beginning, haven’t they?

He paused, ripping off a rather large piece of bread and chucking it at the nearest duck. The scrap of food sailed through the air, nailing the poor creature directly on the tip of her bill, startling her so much that in the time it took the poor bird to calm down, the morsel had already been gobbled up by a nearby mallard.

“In ancient Greece, a girl’s father picked out who she would get married to.” The demon pointed out, roughly. “Then you had those Hebrew men with multiple wives and boatloads of children. And remember good ol’ Henry VIII? He basically flung a big ‘screw you’ to the Pope, just so he could dump one girlfriend and get another.” Crowley paused, golden eyes still fixed on the duck he’d hit earlier who was currently quacking indignantly at him. The demon pelted another chunk of bread at her. This time, she grabbed it clean out of the air, much to his chagrin.

“And don’t get me started on the ‘hippie years’,” he grumbled, crossing his arms and sinking down further into the park bench. The duck Crowley was staring at gave another loud quack before paddling off to join the others gathered closer to the angel’s side of the bench.

“Is a little bit of ‘judging a book by its cover’ really so bad? Considering how horrible dating has been in every other century?”

“Oh,” Aziraphale piped up, “I wouldn’t go that far, my dear. There were quite some wonderful courtship customs back in the late 19th century. I do believe you slept through them.”

Although he could not see Crowley’s eyes behind the pair of dark sunglasses, Aziraphale could tell the demon was glaring at him. Playfully, full of fondness and affection Crowley would likely never admit to, but glaring nonetheless. “Name one single thing they did back then that could be considered truly heartfelt or genuine.”

“Oh!” The angel’s eyes lit up with excitement as memories rushed back into his mind. Crowley heaved a sigh beside him, but Aziraphale plowed on. “Well, there was the obvious offering of compliments - “ almost immediately, he broke off, brow furrowing slightly. “The heartfelt ones, you know. Not the inadequacies you hear today.”

This correction seemed to get the demon’s attention. He sat up a little bit straighter. “You mean stuff like ‘I’d hit that’, or ‘Nice rack’? Or wait!” Aziraphale glowered at his friend as the demon sat up straight and grinned at him, wiggling his eyebrows slightly. “What about this one?”

And before the angel could lift a hand to stop him, Crowley had brought two of his fingers up to his mouth and released the most high pitched, ear-splitting duo of whistles Aziraphale had ever heard. Several heads turned in their direction, mostly from females in the vicinity, including the three they’d been discussing earlier, causing the demon to burst out into a fit of laughter that lasted nearly five minutes long.

“Are you quite done?” Aziraphale asked dryly as Crowley finally stopped to take a breath. He didn’t need to - the demon could have gone on for hours and Aziraphale would have waited patiently for him to finish. He might have done just that to spite the angel, but it was such a nice spring day - too nice for either of them to be spoiling it for the other.

“Probably not.” At least he was telling the truth. Although, come to think of it, Aziraphale couldn’t think of a time Crowley had ever lied to him. The thought warmed his heart like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s day. “But please, continue.”

Quietly, and with as much dignity as he possessed, Aziraphale cleared his throat and continued. “I meant, things like ‘the grace of eloquence is seated on your lips’ or ‘the brightness in your eyes would shame the stars’. Real compliments, from the heart, dear.”

When Crowley did not interrupt again, Aziraphale continued. “There was also the presentation of gifts: flowers, jewelry - “

“People do that now, angel.” Aziraphale huffed. Was he determined to do this during the whole conversation? How hard was it to just sit there and listen?

“Yes,” the angel agreed, pausing to think about it for a moment. “But it was more genuine back then. These days you can go onto any oldfangled computer and press a button and get some trinket shipped to your doorstep.” Aziraphale looked over to see Crowley staring at him with an amused smirk on his face. The angel simply rolled his eyes, knowing exactly what the demon was thinking.

“Just because I have an older computer that I only use for account keeping, doesn’t mean that I don’t know how they work, Crowley.”

The demon snorted, clearly amused by the notion. “Are you sure about that, angel? Because -”

Now it was Aziraphale’s turn to interrupt. “The point is, back then, gifts were lovingly selected after hours if not days or weeks of deliberation. Many of them were even handmade by the person giving them. They were special. And,” he continued before Crowley could think of some snarky comment to shoot back at him. “And I can’t count the number of times I saw a man give up his seat for a woman he admired, or offered to hold the door for her as she walked in or out of a building. The men were polite, and thoughtful, and very respectful of the woman and her family.”

“Sounds like a bunch of poppycock to me,” Crowley grumbled, but Aziraphale thought he detected a note of wistfulness. Perhaps he was only projecting, but there was a chance, wasn’t there? A chance that Crowley was genuinely interested? That maybe he regretted missing out on seeing that side of society as humanity had progressed.

“I believe you’d feel differently, had you the chance to see it in action.” The angel smiled softly to himself, momentarily lost in memories of satin gloves and cordial greetings and carefully chosen words, laced with poetry and imagery and heartfelt feelings. Coy smiles and hidden joys and a general thoughtfulness and respect that seems to have vanished into oblivion with the passing years.

Crowley snorted, the sound obviously directed at Aziraphale. “What a pity I’ve lost the chance. Whatever shall I do, angel?”

Aziraphale ignored his friend’s obvious jab. Crowley had never been one for grand gestures of undying love. He always made a big fuss whenever Romeo and Juliet was playing at the West End and Aziraphale dragged him along to see it. For Heaven’s sake, the demon’s favorite part about any romantic film they saw in the theater was heckling the characters and throwing popcorn at them from the sidelines.

Still, the angel wondered how his friend might react if the deep care and devotion were being directed at him for once. Would Crowley continue on with his belief that all romance was a farce? That relationships were broken from the start and would only ever be filled with disconnect and an overall emptiness?

A sudden idea popped into the angel’s mind. He grinned in anticipation, trying to ignore the wild fluttering of his stomach as he turned toward his best friend.

“Let me give you that chance, my dear,” Aziraphale urged, resting his hands in gentle fists upon his knees.

Crowley’s eyes went wide behind the glasses. Even with their reflective properties, Aziraphale could see the pupils narrowing into thin vertical slits.

“What?”

Almost immediately, the angel began to feel nervous. Had he said the wrong thing? Was Crowley upset by his offer? Had he misread the situation? Interpreted their relationship incorrectly? He could always try and backtrack. Play it off as some sort of joke. Crowley liked jokes. Surely that would be all well and good, wouldn’t it?

“Oh, well - ” Aziraphale stuttered, sighing inwardly at himself. “I just thought - you really did miss some splendid customs, dear boy. And I didn’t think it fair of you to write it off outright without having experienced some yourself. It was a ridiculous idea, I know - shouldn’t have even brought it up. Where were we? Something about the ducks, I’d imagine - “

The demon held up a hand, silencing Aziraphale immediately. He watched with wide blue eyes as, tentatively, Crowley let his sunglasses slide down his nose, just a hair. Just enough so that Aziraphale could see the true amber reflection dancing in the sunlight.

“I’m not - ” the demon started, then scowled, clenching his fists in his lap. “I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea…” he trailed off, as if not sure where to go with such a statement. Aziraphale waited patiently for his friend to gather his thoughts.

“Ask me again?”

Aziraphale cleared his throat, slowly reaching forward to take Crowley’s hand in his. His heart fluttered at the sharp intake of breath coming from the demon’s mouth the moment their skin made contact.

“Crowley, my dear, would you allow me to take you out on a date tomorrow night?”

A hint of a smile was followed quickly by a nervous chuckle. The demon did not once try to remove his hand from Aziraphale’s presence. “Yeah, sure angel. Sounds like fun.”

And that was how, twenty-seven and a half agonizing hours later, Aziraphale found himself standing outside a building in Mayfair, a bouquet of carnations in one hand, ribbon wrapped box in the other.

Perhaps the gift was going a bit overboard, but Aziraphale had mentioned it in his explanation of the courting customs of the time and he had promised Crowley to do his best to show the demon what life had been like while he was sleeping the century away. It wasn’t like the angel had gone out and gotten him something expensive. In fact, it hardly cost anything at all. Mostly just the time it took him to make.

After hovering in the lobby for long enough that people began shooting strange looks his way, Aziraphale opted to take the stairs. Perhaps if he made his way up the several stories naturally, instead of using the elevator or miracling himself up there,  the effort of it would help disguise how intensely his heart was beating inside of his chest. Perhaps, if he took each step one at a time, the angel might be able to focus on the gentle rhythmic tapping of his foot against the hardwood, rather than the way his stomach felt like it was going to permanently lodge itself in his throat.

He emerged onto Crowley’s floor, feeling like he could barely breathe. Why was his corporation reacting in this way? What did Aziraphale have to be so worried about? This was Crowley he was talking about. They’d been friends for centuries – millennia even, although Aziraphale wouldn’t have admitted to that fact until recently. The angel had absolutely no reason to be afraid. Even if this date was a total disaster, Crowley would still be his friend. They were on their own side after all. Nothing they could do would ever change that simple fact.

There was absolutely nothing to be worried about in the slightest. The angel was just being silly thinking otherwise.

Taking a deep breath, Aziraphale knocked on the door. The sound reverberated around him, echoing across the cool, sleek hallway. This whole building reminded the angel of an empty, modern showroom, where humans stored their fancy furniture and other trinkets of worth, but no one actually lived in.

Aziraphale shifted his weight back and forth between his feet three times before he bothered to knock again. Technically, he could just miracle the door open. Crowley almost always did this whenever the demon visited the bookshop. It wouldn’t be unwelcome, Aziraphale was sure, except…he was trying to prove a point here. The angel was supposed to be acting as a proper gentleman, here to retrieve Crowley for a date . It wouldn’t do to simply barge in, especially if his friend was still getting ready.

Quickly, Aziraphale pulled his pocket watch from the front pocket of his vest. He forced a sigh of air from his lungs. He was still a minute and a half early. No need to panic, yet.

After the third set of knocks, the angel decided that Crowley must not be able to hear him. That was why he wasn’t answering the door. Gently, he added his voice to the announcement of his arrival, leaning in so his lips hovered right by the doorframe.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale called, rapping his knuckles against the black door for a fourth time. “Crowley, dear, are you almost ready to go?”

Still nothing. The angel felt his stomach begin drifting up into his throat. He swallowed forcefully and tried again.

“Crowley?” What could the demon possibly be up to? Had he gone to take an afternoon nap and forgotten to wake up? Aziraphale supposed that Crowley had been known to do that before. There was always the possibility of it happening again. “If you’ve forgotten about our engagement, that’s alright. I don’t mind waiting for you to get ready. Or we could do it some other time if tonight doesn’t work anymore!”

Ten seconds ticked by. Aziraphale knew that to be true because he had taken his pocket watch out once more and watched each precise movement of the gold tinted hand. That was it. He was certain that Crowley had simply fallen asleep and couldn’t hear Aziraphale as he called, but it wouldn’t do to leave without checking to make sure his friend was alright first. If Crowley was indeed sleeping, Aziraphale would leave him be. They could always reschedule their date for another time.

With a flick of his wrist, the door popped open and the angel stepped across the threshold and into Crowley’s flat.

Something was wrong.

Aziraphale couldn’t put his finger on it, but he immediately sensed something was wrong. It was like a fowl scent lingering in the air, except he didn’t sense it with his nose. He sensed it with the hairs that had suddenly stood up on the back of his neck, with the ringing in his ears at the overwhelming silence that filled the entire space, drawing him in , taunting him, teasing him.

Something was wrong.

Nothing looked off as the angel stepped into the entranceway, letting the door shut tightly behind him. Nothing looked out of place. There was no shattered glass, no sign of a forced entry or a struggle. The living room was as pristine as it had been the last time Aziraphale had been here, black leather couch untouched. Not a single speck of dust on any of the sleek wooden surfaces. Not the coffee table, not the small table with the lamp by the couch. Not even on the rather large television mounted on the wall.

Slowly, the angel’s blue eyes drifted across the darkness, eyes focusing in on the set of double French doors at the opposite side of the room. The only light in the whole flat filtered in from that far window, spilling into the other room where Crowley kept his plants. Aziraphale had been here once before, on the night after the world hadn’t ended. He remembered the layout precisely and carefully made his way across this room to the double doors, squinting his eyes against the evening light spilling in through the glass separating this room from the next.

As he grew closer, the angel felt his heartbeat starting to increase. Each step took him further than the last and in just a few seconds Aziraphale had his hand wrapped around the cold metal handle and was sliding the door open as fast as he could, the sudden rush of air causing the nearest plants on either side to gently sway back and forth.

He looked down and Aziraphale’s heart stopped. There in front of him, lying face down in a pool of his own blood, was Crowley. He was dressed in a pair of black trousers and matching black suitcoat, with the edge of a white dress shirt peeking out from underneath the cuffs. The demon’s hair was combed and styled to the side, indicating he had put in a decent amount of effort getting ready for their night together. Potentially more time than Aziraphale had.

Sightless amber eyes stared ahead at the grey stone wall in front of him. Deep, rich blood had spilled across the floor, soaking into his shirt and coat and staining the demon’s cheek crimson where it touched the cold stone floor. The side of Crowley’s head had been bashed in with something, but from this angle, it was impossible to tell by what.

A strangled cry escaped from Aziraphale’s lips as he stood motionless in the doorway. No, nonononono, this can’t be happening. It couldn’t be happening, this couldn’t be real . Not Crowley. Not his best friend. No!

Aziraphale was on his knees in an instant, not spending a fraction of his attention to notice how the cold blood seeped through his trousers, sliding up against his skin in a sticky red mess. He didn’t care that his favorite suit was getting ruined, didn’t care that he was disturbing a crime scene. Didn’t care that he’d haphazardly dropped both the flowers and his gift on the floor by the door. The angel didn’t care about any of it.

All he cared about was pulling Crowley up against his chest, tears already falling from his eyes, mixing with the sticky mess marring the demon’s beautiful face. Another sob wracked Aziraphale’s body as he reached up a hand to brush the matted red hair away from his friend’s forehead.

“Please,” the angel sobbed, feeling like a knife was being driven deep into his chest. He couldn’t think. Couldn’t breathe. It was all just too much. “Oh, please, no…Crowley.”

The angel shut his eyes. He willed all of this to be some sort of dream – some sort of nightmare. He willed the blood to return to its corporation, willed the wound to close. Willed the breath back into the demon’s lungs. Willed his heart to start beating once more. He needed Crowley to be ok. Needed to see the demon smile again. Needed to feel the demon’s warmth pressed up against his body, indicating that he was still here. That he wasn’t gone from Aziraphale’s life forever.

“Crowley, please,” tears continued to fall as Aziraphale opened his eyes to gaze down at those beautiful amber orbs he adored. “Please don’t be gone. Please come back to me. Don’t leave me here alone.”

The chilling silence in the flat echoed around him, threatening to drown out everything else. Aziraphale gazed down at Crowley, clutching the corpse tightly against his chest, his tears never ending. Quietly, the angel pleaded. He cried out for a miracle, prayed that something could still be done, that his demon could be returned to him once more.

There was no response.

Chapter Text

“Now you listen here,” Crowley snarled, his amber eyes flashing in warning. “I have waited six-thousand bloody years for this night and I will not have some lame excuse for a plant mess this up for me.”

The row of potted gardenias began to tremble before the demon and Crowley smirked in satisfaction. In the several hundred years since he had started fooling around with gardening, he had never been more serious about his threats than in this moment. He would burn each and every one of these pathetic shrubs to the ground if they so much as wilted a single leaf. Aziraphale was due to arrive in less than two hours and if these plants were anything less than absolutely breathtaking , they would be nothing but ash by the time the evening was out.

Of course, Crowley was not going to use all of them. He’d started growing half a dozen of the plants, just in case they got any ideas. He found that a little bit of competition really brought out the best in them. Competition and a constant looming threat to their life. Crowley would accept nothing less than their absolute best. His angel deserved perfection. Crowley would likely discorporate from sheer embarrassment if he handed Aziraphale a plant covered with even the hint of a spot on the horizon.

Sending one last lingering glare at the plants, the demon stalked back across the room, shoving the slab of stone wall out of his way as he approached. The door gave easily, spinning on its axis several times behind him as Crowley made his way over to the mirror against the far wall.

Gingerly, he pulled at the white sleeve beneath his suit coat, brushing his palm against it, willing every last wrinkle away. Crowley stared at his reflection, frowning as he took in the sharp black lines, outlining his skinny frame. Was it enough? Too much? Aziraphale hadn’t said what kind of date it was. Were they going somewhere fancy? A nice dinner at the Ritz perhaps? Or should he dress more casually? In something that was better suited for a long walk in the park.

At least his hair looked good. Although, on second thought, maybe he should try doing something else with it. Crowley had spent the better part of an hour brushing and styling it just right. It looked effortless and suave and paired with his black suit and crimson tie rather nicely. But did Aziraphale like his short hair, or would the angel prefer something longer? Crowley could grow it out in the time it took him to cross to the other side of the room. He could chop it off at his shoulders, tie half of it up in a messy bun like he saw some of the university-aged humans doing. Or was it better to go all out? Style it the way it was back in Eden with soft red curls that reflected the evening sun, like when he and Aziraphale first met.

What did the angel like? What did Aziraphale want from him? Crowley had been dreaming of this for as long as he could remember. The thought of what could happen tonight filled the demon with both extreme excitement and unbridled terror. What if he messed it up? What if Aziraphale didn’t enjoy himself? What if he realized he and Crowley were better off just as friends?

What if he didn’t? What if Aziraphale realized he wanted more ?

Crowley took a deep breath and banished those thoughts from his mind. It did no good for him to dwell on them now. He needed to focus. Everything had to be perfect. He had to get another chance at this. Crowley would do whatever he had to in order to ensure he got a second date. And a third. And a fourth.

He would do whatever it took to ensure the dates never ended.

One more tug at his collar and Crowley was satisfied with his appearance for the time being. He shouldn’t be so nervous, the demon told himself as he turned around to head back into the other room. This was Aziraphale , for crying out loud. The angel that had, over the millennia, become his very best friend. They had been a part of each others lives since the very beginning. Even if this night was a total disaster, they would still have their friendship, wouldn’t they?

Please, someone , please let them still have that. Crowley didn’t know what he would do without Aziraphale’s friendship to ground him. He might just sleep the rest of eternity away. The demon had tried to do it once back in the 19th century. He wouldn’t put it past himself to do it again.

“Right,” the announcement echoed in the room around them. Gardenias along with several potted ferns and a shrub or two began trembling again as the demon took his place in front of them, his back to the wide window, afternoon light streaming in behind him. Crowley made sure to position himself in just the right way so that he was blocking all access to the sun as he spoke to the blossoming flowers. “You all know your jobs. You all know what is at stake. If that angel doesn’t cry tears of absolute joy when he gets here, I will throw you all into the incinerator.”

Crowley paused as the plants in front of him continued to tremble beneath his intense gaze. “Or the garbage disposal,” he added as an afterthought. A sly grin appeared appeared on the demon’s face. “I’ll even let you choose.”

There. That ought to do it. Crowley checked his watch. One hour and forty-five minutes to go. What should he do with all that time? He could go out into the living room and watch the tele. It was just as good as anything else he could come up with to do. Crowley was pretty sure there were some reruns of the Golden Girls on at this time of night. If not, well, he could always miracle up a DVD or two. 

He could also go back in the other room and check his appearance again, although, if Crowley decided to then sit down and watch the tele, he would have to get up again in an hour and re-check himself. To make sure there wasn’t a wrinkle in sight. Seemed like a waste of time, in his opinion. Might as well just wait and do all the checking at once, right before Aziraphale showed up.

“Oh, would you all knock it off,” the demon groaned at the still quivering plants. Their shaking only seemed to grow louder even though he hadn’t threatened them in nearly a minute. Usually, Crowley didn’t mind a bit of trembling, but the sound of it was louder than usual and it was cutting into his head, making it hard to think. He was starting to feel a bit nervous himself and that simply wouldn’t do. “If you just do your jobs right, there’s no need to panic.”

Still, the plants trembled. Crowley shut his eyes, trying to drown out the sound of their rustling, wondering if it was worth it to throw one of them out the window just to get the others to shut up. This was getting out of hand.

When he opened his eyes again, the plants were gone. The sunlight filtering in from the window behind him was gone. His whole flat was gone. Instead, the demon found himself pitching forward, legs suddenly unable or unwilling to support his weight. Crowley’s hands shot out in front of him, slamming into the hard stone floor as he landed flat on his stomach, inches away from smashing his face into the ground.

“What the - ?” The demon grumbled and pushed himself into a sitting position, turning his head to stare angrily at the crumbling stone wall beside him, covered in grime and thin trickles of water. Crowley stood back up and grimaced as he noticed the smudges of grey dust that had collected on his knees. Bending over, he gave them a quick brush, breathing a sigh of relief as the pants quickly became clean once more. 

Now was not the time to be soiling his appearance. Crowley had a date that he was absolutely not going to miss.

“Ow!” Reflexively, the demon brought his hand up to the back of his head, wincing as the sudden pain that had erupted across the back of his skull. Gently, he pulled his hand away, expecting to see some sign of trauma. There was nothing. No additional flare of pain with the contact, no sign of blood on his fingertips. The initial ache was already fading and Crowley would have thought he was imagining everything – that this was some sort of stressed induced hallucination. But then he turned his hand over.

He turned his hand over and the demon noticed how the shape began to shift, ever so slightly. He noticed how he could see the faintest outline of the stone floor below him through the hand splayed in front of him.

Slowly, ice began to creep down Crowley’s spine as his mind finally caught up with his surroundings. His heart attempted to leap from his chest in a panic, dragging the demon’s stomach along with it. Only through the sheer force of his will was the demon able to keep himself together as, finally, he turned to survey the rest of his surroundings.

“Fuck,” Crowley whispered, the sound echoing down the long, dimly lit hallway he found himself in. This was not good. In fact, this was the exact opposite of good. This was bad. Very very bad.

Somehow, from the safety of his own goddamn flat, Crowley had discorporated himself. He didn’t remember how it had happened. Couldn’t fathom how anything he’d done could have resulted in his death, but there was no other explanation. How else would he have ended up back down in the depths of Hell?

Aziraphale. The thought was so sudden, so strong, it knocked the breath from Crowley’s lungs. He had to get back to Aziraphale, as soon as possible. The demon didn’t understand exactly how he’d ended up down here, but based of the ghostly pain in his skull, it couldn’t have been very pretty. Aziraphale was due to show up at his flat in less than two hours. The last thing Crowley wanted was for his angel to think Crowley had stood him up, or worse – have Aziraphale walk through that front door to a bloody crime scene.

This was fine. Crowley took a deep breath and turned from one side to the other. The hallway stretched on as far as he could see in either direction. There was nothing discernable on the walls or the floor or even the ceiling that would indicate which way he could go. Nothing about this place seemed familiar, but Hell was a twisting maze of dark, damp hallways. All he had to do was pick a direction and start walking. Eventually, Crowley would run into something he would recognize.

Either that, or he would run into some one he recognized, which was not as ideal, but probably not life-ending. As far as they knew, the demons down here thought he had gone native - that he was immune to any threat they could throw at him. Crowley could use this to his advantage if he came across anyone that recognized him. Whatever it took to get back to Aziraphale.

Deciding that the initial direction did not matter, Crowley took off down the hallway to his right, stomach churning unpleasantly with each step that echoed off the stone walls surrounding him. Even the ceiling was made of stone. It was about fifteen to twenty feet tall and arched at the top, with crumbling slabs that looked as if they were about to fall on top of him at any second. The walls were in the same state of deterioration and sat closer together than the spread from floor to ceiling, but only just. 

Eventually, the hallway took a sharp left turn, leading the demon down an identical corridor that appeared to be just as long. Crowley scowled and, folding his arms across his chest, continued on his way. 

What a pain this was going to be. Not only did he have to find his way out of this maze of hallways, but once Crowley did find his way back to Hell’s central offices, he then had to find a way to convince Beelzebub to give him another body. Otherwise, the demon would be stuck in a situation similar to Aziraphale’s on the day the world didn’t end. Not that Crowley had any moral issues with possessing a human. The Earth might be better off if he did. Still, the prospect seemed like a lot of work and the thought of sharing a body with someone else’s mind gave made him extremely uncomfortable.

It was possible Crowley could convince Adam to return his real body once he got back to Earth, but there was no guarantee. In the past six months, he and Aziraphale hadn’t heard a peep from the boy. They had no indication that Adam still possessed all of his Antichrist powers. Even if he did, there was no way to know if what he’d done for Aziraphale and that old, red-haired woman. A lot of crazy shit had gone down that day and there was no way to know for sure what actions were legitimate and which a miraculous fluke.

Best not to bet too hard on the boy. Crowley was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Best case scenario, he made it back to Headquarters, waltzed into Lord Beelzebub’s office and the Demon Prince immediately signed the paperwork and booted Crowley out before the demon had to ask twice.

Worst case scenario - well, it was probably best not to think about the worst case scenario. Maybe the middle-case was a better one to examine. Crowley would do a bit of arm twisting, a smidge of poking and prodding and pleading and eventually Beelzebub would give in and give him what he wanted, just to get Crowley to leave them alone. He could manage that. If it got Crowley back to his angel’s side, he could manage anything.

Glancing down at his watch, the demon let out a low groan. Of course. Fucking shit, of course his watch wouldn’t work down here. What piece of technology would actually choose to work the way it was designed to? Why would he need to know what time it was when he was trapped in literal Hell? 

Just perfect. Crowley picked up his pace, biting his lip in pure frustration when the hallway split into two identical hallways, one leading left and the other right. This place was a fucking labyrinth. Well, that was alright. Crowley had nothing better to do with his time than race down dimly lit passageways, avoiding puddles of slimy sludge and mildew as he went. What better way to spend a Friday afternoon less than two hours before his first date with the bloody love of his life ?

At the intersection, Crowley stopped. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his rapidly beating heart. This was fine. He was going to be fine. He could figure his way out of here, no problem. All he had to do was think. Crowley was smarter than half the demons down here combined. It wouldn’t do to create this maze of hallways so complicated that half the population would get lost in it. There had to be some sort of pattern. Some sign to point him in the right direction. All he had to do was take a deep breath, clear his mind, and think .

Don’t worry, Aziraphale, the demon assured, mostly to himself than anyone else, I’ll make it back to you. I swear. Nothing is going to keep me away from you.

Amber eyes flashed open in the dim, flickering light. Slowly, Crowley turned his head to the left, eyes narrowing as he looked for anything that could be of use to him. Markings on the wall, the flow of water by his feet, patterns of moss or mold on the corners, indicating which way to go. Taking a step into the intersection, the demon’s hand reached out to brush the wall, wondering if there was some sort of secret hidden panel or message underneath the layer of grimy film.

A few seconds later, Crowley felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up straight. He turned around, ears pivoting from one hallway to the next, straining to listen as whispers began to sound at the edge of his hearing. They were soft and raspy, sounding almost like the hissing of a snake, but deeper in tone, more guttural, menacing. 

Crowley froze, ignoring how his stomach lurched in his chest, ignoring how his head and heart simultaneously pleaded with him to run. All he could do was stand frozen, wide amber eyes darting around wildly, looking for any sign of approaching danger. Trying to figure out which way to go.

The whispers grew louder, fiercer, more intense with every second that ticked by. Crowley’s breathing grew shallower each moment until it stopped altogether, his ears still fighting to make sense of it all. By now the hairs on his arm had joined those at attention on the back of his neck, pulling away from him as if they were trying to escape whatever was making its way closer and closer and closer.

A long high pitched scream echoed throughout  the halls from all sides and Crowley’s throat closed. He was in danger. He was in more danger now than he had ever been in his entire life. There was no way for him to know for sure how true that thought was except for the pure terror that coursed through him like a bolt of lightning. The demon tried to move, tried to run, but his feet were glued to the floor, legs unresponsive.

Move, you useless limbs! Get yourself into gear or so help me, I will - 

A second scream, just as horrifying as the first, was all Crowley needed to get his feet to finally listen. In the blink of an eye, he was off, fleeing down the nearest hallway, amber eyes stretched wide and fixed ahead of him, looking for any symbol or sign that would direct him out of this nightmarish labyrinth. Out of this overwhelming terror and back into the arms of his angel.

Panic clawed at his heart once more as Crowley sensed it. He sensed it with every hair on his body, every nerve in his fingers and toes. Every molecule in his entire discorporated form. Somewhere, deep in the darkest pits of Hell, somewhere far away from him and yet somehow still too close for comfort, he felt something stir from its slumber and begin the hunt.

Chapter Text

Crowley wasn’t gone.

The thought caused Aziraphale to bolt upright from where he knelt on the cold concrete floor of his friend’s apartment. His blue eyes flew open wide and the angel clutched the demon’s body a bit closer to his chest as he took a loud, gasping, sobbing breath.

Crowley wasn’t gone. He was just discorporated, which meant he wasn’t gone forever. Just temporarily. After he’d been struck on the head, the demon would have reappeared in Hell. He was down there right now, probably filling out mounds of paperwork to get a new body. There was no other way for him to get back to Earth. Not unless the demon started possessing humans.

Aziraphale paused. He supposed that was a viable solution, if asking for a new body didn’t pan out. It had worked for the angel in his desperate need to return to the verdant planet right before Armageddon. There was no reason the same wouldn’t work for Crowley. They could figure out how to go about getting him a legitimate body once he got back to Earth.

The thought of Crowley stuck in Hell for any longer than he had to be filled the angel with dread. There was no reason to suspect he was in any immediate danger. Aziraphale had been down there in Crowley’s place for the trial. He knew how frightened those demons had been and the angel doubted that they would be in any hurry to try anything too extreme.

But what if he was wrong? Aziraphale’s stomach clenched unpleasantly. What if Hell had figured out a way to harm Crowley in the six months since the angel had deceived them? What if they had finally figured out the trick he and Crowley had pulled? What if they knew he wasn’t quite as immune to Holy Water as he had originally seemed?

Panic seized at Aziraphale’s heart. What if Hell had been the reason for Crowley’s discorporation? They could have sent someone up to take care of him. Hell already knew where Crowley lived. They had sent demons after him before, but this time Crowley didn’t have a stash of Holy Water to protect himself.  It would have been all too easy to get the jump on him.

Hell could have been behind this. Or worse, what if it had been Heaven? Aziraphale didn’t want to imagine what would happen to his friend if Gabriel or one of the other Archangels got their hands on him. They had been willing to burn Aziraphale from existence. The angel couldn’t imagine what they might do to a demon, especially one like Crowley who didn’t have the full force of Hell behind him as protection.

Aziraphale had to find Crowley. There wasn’t time for him to wait around and hope that his friend managed to talk his way out of whatever sticky situation he’d gotten himself into. The angel had no idea how he was going to help, but he knew he couldn’t sit here on the floor crying until something happened. 

He also couldn’t leave Crowley’s body here. It was of no more use to the demon. Now that it was dead, Crowley wouldn’t be able to inhabit it again. He would need to find a replacement. Still, the thought of just tossing this one out on the street or in the garbage filled Aziraphale’s heart with overwhelming sorrow. He had so many memories of Crowley in this corporation. It wouldn’t do to just throw the body out. But he couldn’t just leave it here either. Eventually, someone was bound to notice the stench of dried blood and decomposing flesh. That would only bring a whole host of new issues. Issues that Aziraphale didn’t have the time or patience to deal with.

“Hold on, my dear,” he whispered, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead to Crowley’s, trying to ignore how cold his friend’s skin felt against his own. “I’m coming to get you.”

In the blink of an eye and the brief image of stardust flittering across the angel’s mind , the body was gone. Aziraphale also tidied up the blood that had made its way onto the floor as well as the stains on his own clothes. As he stood up, the angel winced, still feeling the sticky sensation of the demon’s blood everywhere it had touched him. He’d miracled the stains away, but the memory of them still clung to him like spider’s silk. Aziraphale still knew, deep down, they were there.

Downtown London housed a particular building, alongside all its other architectural structures. From the outside, it looked like any other building. Many stories tall, grey cement exterior, windows perfectly placed in symmetric rows on every floor. No one thought twice about it as they bustled past in their day to day lives. No one ever stopped to give it a second glance. No one ever opened the door and tried to enter. It was simply another boring building that did nothing except add to the city skyline. 

If someone were to go inside, they would find only a single set of escalators, outlined in fluorescent lights. One leading up, and one leading down. This area, the lobby that housed them, was the entranceway to both Heaven and Hell.

Aziraphale did not walk to the lobby. He did not run. He did not extend his wings and fly through the streets of London as fast as the wind would carry him. This matter was too important for any delay. There was a chance he was already too late to save Crowley. The angel refused to allow his dawdling to be the reason his demon was unable to return to him. Transporting himself directly to the building hardly counted as a frivolous miracle. Not when his best friend’s very existence was at stake.

The moment Aziraphale appeared in the lobby, he paused. Which way to go? Did he brave the depths of Hell? March down into the damp, dark space and demand Crowley be given back to him? Should he travel up to Heaven and request Gabriel tell him whatever he knew about Crowley’s discorporation?

Ultimately, the decision was a simple one. Crowley was in Hell, not Heaven. So, Hell was where the angel needed to go.

He took several steps forward, aiming for the escalator on the left, eyes fixed on the reflective floor beneath his feet, waiting for it to open up and send him down. Aziraphale had never traveled down to Hell on his own before. The only time he’d been there was when Hastur and the others had kidnapped him. In that instance, Aziraphale had been knocked out during the actual travel. There was nothing he could use from that experience now during his current predicament. 

Aziraphale had seen Crowley enter Hell, however. Many times. Surely, if he did exactly as the demon had done, the floor would open and he would be lead down. All Aziraphale had to do was keep walking. Keep walking and the doorway would open.

It did not. The angel made it all the way to the escalator on the far wall, leading down from Heaven, without a single panel in the floor opening up to him. He turned around, walked back to the front of the room, and tried again.

Still nothing.

“Um,” Aziraphale began, not sure what the protocol was for these sorts of things. He’d seen Michael down in Hell during Crowley’s trial. It had to be possible for an angel to get in, but maybe not through the front door. Perhaps there was a back way in. “Excuse me, but I would like to be let in, if you don’t mind.”

Silence. The angel frowned, trying not to let his worry overtake him. This was fine. Just a little bit of a miscommunication. He was sure that they would open the door for him in a moment. “It’s rather urgent business. I don’t really have the time to sit out here waiting.”

Still nothing. The angel glanced warily at the escalator leading up. He supposed it couldn’t hurt to head back up to Heaven and ask around. Surely someone had to know about a back door entrance. Aziraphale wouldn’t even have to bother Gabriel or the other Archangels. He could pop in and pop back out and they would never even know.

Biting the inside of his lip, Aziraphale strode across the room again and toward the escalator. His breath hovered in his chest, refusing to be let out as the angel waited to see what would happen. Slowly, the escalator began its climb and Aziraphale folded his hands properly in front of him, foot tapping nervously on the step below him.

Suddenly, the ever-constant escalator stopped. Aziraphale’s blue eyes widened in panic as, slowly, the device started moving in the opposite direction.

“Hey!” the angel exclaimed, taking a few steps up, bringing him back to the position he had been in moments ago. Vaguely, Aziraphale felt the escalator start to speed up. “What do you think you are doing?”

The faster he tried to climb, the more quickly the stairs moved in the downward direction, slowly bringing the angel back down to the floor where he had begun. As soon as Aziraphale removed his foot from the surface, the escalator reversed directions once more and began its methodical climb up toward the Silver City.

“You can’t shut me out of Heaven!” he hollered up the stairs, knowing no one who was listening would care to really hear him. “I’m still an angel, I’ve still got my wings!” Aziraphale could feel the frustration welling up inside of him as he tried again, to the same end. No matter how he stood on that escalator or tried to climb its steps, the infernal device would not let him ascend more than a few measly feet.

“You - you pathetic pigeon brains!” the angel called up at them, feeling the tears surfacing once more. “She hasn’t forsaken me. You have absolutely no right to do this! Uriel! Michael! GABRIEL!”

No one was listening. No one had ever listened to Aziraphale. Why should they start now?

He was shut out of both Heaven and Hell, with no clear way to get to Crowley. What else could he do? Where else could he go for help? Sitting around, waiting for Crowley to show back up wasn’t an option. Even if the demon did make it back to him relatively quickly, what was to prevent this from happening again?

If he couldn’t make his way to Crowley now, Aziraphale could at least find out as much as he could about the circumstances of the demon’s discorporation. If he could figure out who had done this to Crowley, he could better protect his demon in the future.

Casting one last menacing glare at the escalator, the angel vanished, instantly reappearing back in Crowley’s flat. He had miracled the body and blood away, but Aziraphale hadn’t touched anything else in the apartment. Surely there had to be something here that would be useful. Someone came in here and murdered his best friend. They had to have left some kind of clue behind. All Aziraphale had to do was focus enough to find it.

The angel tried. Aziraphale tried his best to go over every inch of the flat, but he just couldn’t stay focused. The longer he lingered here, the more his mind drifted to memories of Crowley. Memories of the night he spent here after the world didn’t end as he wandered about the living room. Memories of countless nights in the bookshop as he looked over the demon’s stash of fine wines. Memories of a smouldering church as he gazed at the statue Crowley kept at the end of his hall. 

There weren’t many things here in the demon’s flat, but everything Crowley had managed to hold onto over the years was somehow connected to Aziraphale. The angel felt tears pricking at his eyes and he furiously blinked them away, turning to face the glass-windowed double doors, leading back to the scene of the crime. 

If he was going to find anything of use, that would be the place to look.

As Aziraphale opened the door and crossed the threshold into the room, his eyes fell to the floor. To the scattered blossoms and overturned package that had spilled its contents all over the marble tiles when Aziraphale had dropped it earlier. Feeling tears advancing again, the angel gently knelt down and gathered up the box and its former contents, his fingers lightly brushing over the silky brown thread and soft white feathers, looking for any sign of damage.

In retrospect, a dreamcatcher seemed like such a silly gift to give. Crowley probably would have thought it ridiculous, but Aziraphale had been so proud of it. He’d spent nearly half the day making it, securely wrapping the tan thread around the metal ring, making sure none of the shimmering metal shone through. One by one, he’d secured the loops so that the network of thread in the center looked like a set of perfectly overlapping flower petals. Aziraphale had even attached three of his own feathers at the bottom, to ward away any bad dreams the demon might have, should Crowley choose to hang the gift above his bedpost at nighttime.

Aziraphale didn’t even know if demons had dreams. Crowley had never mentioned one way or the other. He knew the demon liked to sleep, so perhaps he didn’t dream. Or, if he did, perhaps they were all pleasant ones. Aziraphale had no way of knowing. He’d been overcome with the desire to present Crowley a meaningful gift and that had been the first idea to tumble into his mind. Deciding spontaneity on their date could only help his case, Aziraphale had run with it.

Now, looking down at the abandoned gift and wilting flowers on the floor, Aziraphale couldn’t stop the tears from falling once more. How could he have been so stupid? Crowley would have laughed himself silly over such an overly romantic presentation. He was a demon, for someone’s sake. Demons didn’t enjoy sappy, romantic things, did they? 

Tossing both the flowers and dreamcatcher to the side, Aziraphale pulled his knees up to his head and buried his face, folding his arms in front of his eyes to block out the fading sunlight. He let out a high-pitched sob and drew further into himself. Whatever was he going to do? There wasn’t anything here that could help him bring Crowley back. There had been no sign of a forced entry. No murder weapon. Nothing the culprit had dropped. The flat was empty. Empty of all clues, and empty of Crowley.

The sound of gentle rustling finally caught the angel’s attention. Aziraphale sniffed and looked up, noticing the collection of pure white flowering plants on the table beside him. They were shaking back and forth wildly, almost as if they were trembling, which seemed like a ridiculous thing for a plant to do. Frowning, the angel stood up and walked over to them. 

“Everything alright here, dears?” Aziraphale asked softly, wiping his tears with the back of his hand. Remembering how he’d caught Crowley snapping at his plants after Armageddon, the night the angel had stayed over, Aziraphale reached out to brush his fingertips against their soft leaves. Surely, if they responded to demonic criticism, they would hear the angel’s soft words of encouragement too. At the very least, he hoped the simple act could do something to calm them down, the poor dears. 

Gently, the angel rested a hand on the table nearby. He watched in silent wonder as one of the flowers actually leaned down and brushed its petals against the back of Aziraphale’s hand, right where his tears had collected.

Aziraphale’s heart filled with warmth for a moment. How sweet. Here these plants were comforting him, after the terrible day they must have had, sitting here helpless as someone had waltzed in and - 

Blue eyes flew open wide and the angel grabbed his hand back suddenly, clutching it tightly to his chest. “You - ” he began, barely believing what he was about to say. “You saw it! You saw what happened to Crowley!”

The plants shook even louder and Aziraphale felt hope enter his heart. “Who was it?”

Suddenly, the plants fell silent. The angel could have slapped himself. What a stupid question to ask. These plants couldn’t speak. Not in words, like a human or angel or demon could. He would have to go about this a different way.

Taking a deep breath, Aziraphale turned back to the plants waiting before him. “Did you see someone else in this room with Crowley earlier this evening?”

Once again, the plants began to tremble and Aziraphale let loose a stream of air he hadn’t realized he’d been holding back. This was good. This, he could use.

“Did you see this person hurt Crowley?” He asked. More rustling. “Did they hit him on the head?”

The angel wanted to ask them what the perpetrator had used to kill Crowley, but that wasn’t the type of question his witnesses could answer. His only options were questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Rustling for yes. Silence for no. Aziraphale could handle that. He might need a bit of time, but he could figure this out.

“Did they hit him with anything in this room?” The rustling stopped. That was alright. It explained why Aziraphale hadn’t been able to find anything useful in the flat that would lead him to any potential suspects. It also let the angel know that he wasn’t dealing with a complete idiot.

“Did they take the weapon with them?” Aziraphale already knew how the plants would respond, but he needed to hear their answer for himself. Their rustling confirmed his suspicions.

So, what had he learned? Someone had, in fact, murdered Crowley. They had somehow gotten in, struck the demon over the head with some kind of object, and then left again without leaving a single trace. Aziraphale looked around the room. The only way in and out of here was through the window or the glass paned doors. Unless, the culprit had miracles at their disposal.

Slowly, Aziraphale turned back to face the plants, his heart hammering away in his chest. This was it. This was the moment of truth. With a few more questions, Aziraphale could find out what happened to his best friend. All he had to do was ask.

“Was it a human who hurt Crowley?”

Their silence sent a flash of panic through Aziraphale’s body. He’d suspected there had been some Heavenly or Hellish fowl-play at hand, but to hear his suspicions confirmed out loud? It only served to cement just how much trouble Crowley was in right now. He had to find his friend. Before it was too late.

“An angel?” Still silence. That only left one answer.

“A demon?”

More rustling filled the air around him and Aziraphale took a deep steadying breath. He wanted to ask the plants so many more questions - what did the demon look like? Did they know him or her? Where had they gone afterward? Did they say anything as they’d struck Crowley down? 

So many questions, none of which the plants could answer to his satisfaction. Still, they’d told Aziraphale that he was looking for a demon. That had to count for something. 

Armed with the new knowledge, Aziraphale looked around the flat again. Nothing stood out to him immediately, so the angel shut his eyes. He blocked off all sight and sound and focused on his more ethereal of senses, looking for even the faintest hint of a trail. Something he could latch onto. Something he could - 

There. The angel’s eyes flew open. The presence was faint, indicating the demon he was looking for knew how to mask it well, but it was still there. Aziraphale could feel the demonic stench in the air around him, so different to Crowley’s own scent. Sure, they had the underlying hints of sulfur in common, but with Crowley, Aziraphale often detected traces of burnt cedar or cinnamon, things that reminded him of a cool autumn afternoon.

This demon held none of those traits. His presence reminded Aziraphale of burnt rubber, of fly coated garbage and dripping sewage. Just the briefest whiff of it made the angel want to gag.

Overall, this was probably a good thing. It made the demon easy to follow. Aziraphale took a lap around the room, identifying where the demon had miracled himself into the flat. For the briefest of moments, the angel feared the culprit would have done the same to get themselves out as soon as the deed was done, but they hadn’t. The trail lead through the rest of the flat, over toward the front door.

Aziraphale followed, barely daring to breathe as he followed it out the door, down the hall and into the stairwell. He couldn’t believe his luck! Aziraphale was actually going to find Crowley’s killer. He would find him and then demand that the demon take him back to Hell where Aziraphale would swoop in to rescue his friend from certain doom, or at least several weeks of paperwork. There was no way Beelzebub or any of the others would say no. Not when facing a demon immune to Holy Water and an angel immune to Hellfire.

Together, the would be unstoppable. All Aziraphale had to do was get to Crowley and everything would be alright again.

He reached the building lobby in record time and strode toward the front door, nimbly dodging the residents that got in his way. Aziraphale was an angel on a mission. He wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way. There was a demon that needed to be caught and punished for what he had done. Aziraphale wouldn’t rest until the creature was found.

When he stepped out into the London streets, Aziraphale felt the presence begin to fade. Panic stabbed its sharp knife into him once more. No! No, he couldn’t lose it. Not now! Not when he had been so close. Without this, Aziraphale had nothing. He had the knowledge that Crowley was gone and some scumbag demon had been the one to rip him away from Aziraphale’s life. What good did that information do? How was the angel ever going to find his demon?

Another few steps and the trail vanished completely. Aziraphale stopped mid stride, ignoring the pedestrians as they angrily shoved by him. He reached out again, trying to grab onto something that would help, but it was no use.

The trail had gone cold.

Chapter Text

Crowley had been suspicious for quite some time now, but the events of this particular evening confirmed it. Running was the absolute worst activity humans had ever invented. Worse than waiting in line at the carnival. Worse than routine spring cleaning. Even worse than sitting in morning traffic on the M25.

He felt like he’d been running for ages. Longer than his legs should have been able to carry him and certainly longer than these repetitive hallways suggested he had. By now, the demon should have found a way out, but no matter which way he turned, he could not seem to escape this labyrinth of seeping stone walls.

Every breath that he took burned through his lungs like a raging fire. Crowley didn’t need to breathe. With every pound of his feet against the floor, the demon reminded himself of that fact. He didn’t need to breathe. He didn’t need to feel this pain in his chest. He could stop at any time. Seriously, anytime would be great. The sooner the better, actually, as the sensation was getting quite annoying.

Unfortunately for him, Crowley’s panicked body wasn’t listening. He was going on full autopilot now as he barreled down the long halls, desperate to round the corner before whatever was chasing him came into view. There was no way to tell how close it was, whether it was gaining on him or not. Crowley didn’t want to take the time to find out any of that. Not when even stopping for a second would mean giving that thing a chance to spot him.

Shadows danced upon the walls as Crowley ran by the dim, flickering lights, casting their bluish glow throughout the halls. Most of the time, through the quick glances he managed to get out of the corner of his eyes, the demon was sure it was his own shadows he was seeing as he flew down the hallway. Every once in a while, however, he would catch a flicker of motion that didn’t seem quite right. Shapes on the wall ahead of him that did not look familiar. A large scraggly wing. A pair of wide horns. Silhouettes that were straight out of the stuff of nightmares.

The whispers never stopped. They clawed at his ears like a rabid cat, piercing the dank air around him, shooting straight into his core. Crowley’s body filled with ice and he feared he was continuously moments away from freezing up altogether. The panic in his chest was the only thing keeping his body in motion as the demon searched for a way out. He had to get out of here. He had to survive this and make it back to Aziraphale.

His angel must be so worried about him. Crowley was surely going to miss his date now. There was no way around it. Even if he somehow managed to make it back up to Earth in the next half an hour, there was no way he would be ready to go out anywhere. For one thing, his suit was entirely ruined. The snakeskin shoes on his feet were not made for running and Crowley had stumbled in them more than once already, tearing at the bottom hem of his pants as he fought to stay upright. Several times, he’d felt the slimy filth of the wall brush up against his shoulder as the demon had made a sharp turn one direction or another. It even felt as if the very air itself was filled with particles of grime that clung to him  more and more the further he ran.

No, there was absolutely no way Crowley could possibly go on a date with Aziraphale looking like this. When he got back, he would promptly need a shower and a very long nap. They could try again in a few weeks when Crowley was back to normal, assuming Aziraphale was still interested. He would be interested, wouldn’t he? Go- Sat- for Someone’s sake, Crowley hoped he would.

What would Aziraphale think when he showed up at the flat to fetch Crowley? The angel was certain to wait outside the door for some time, politely knocking and talking to him through the wooden barrier. How long would Aziraphale hang around to see if Crowley would respond? A few minutes? More? Would he give up when he realized the demon wasn’t coming to the door to let him in? Would he try and open the door himself?

Please, oh please, don’t let Aziraphale walk into that flat. Crowley’s heart couldn’t stand the thought of the angel running across his dead body just lying there on the floor. The demon still had no idea how he’d ended up down here, but based on the ghostly pain he’d felt on his head at first, it couldn’t have been pretty. If Aziraphale entered his flat, there was no telling what horrors would be waiting for him. There was no way to know whether the culprit was even still in the room, lurking in the shadows, waiting for a chance to strike again.

What if it was a trap? What if whoever had decided to off him was trying to lure Aziraphale in and do the same to the angel? That thought terrified Crowley even more than his current predicament. He had been in Heaven to stand trial in Aziraphale’s place. Crowley had seen with his own two eyes the hatred the Archangels had for the Principality. He had stood witness as the punishment had been dolled out without even the smallest hint of a trial. They had all been too happy to destroy Aziraphale - the only spark of goodness left in all of Heaven.

If Aziraphale found himself back in Heaven, Crowley wasn’t sure the angel would ever be allowed to leave. That thought alone was unthinkable.

Another high-pitched scream echoed in the halls around him, sending a fresh wave of panic through Crowley as he skidded around yet another corner. Coldness soaked into his feet as the demon stumbled through a shallow puddle, splashing blackish-green sludge halfway up his pant leg.

No time to worry about that now. No time to worry about anything at all except for getting away from this bloody nightmare before it swallowed him whole. 

Shit! As he rounded the corner, Crowley could see a crossroads up ahead. A four way intersection with a chilling, grimy looking puddle in the center. There was no way to avoid it. No way to go around. Crowley was going to have to plow right through, picking a direction at random before he even had a chance to see where they all lead. 

Glancing behind him, Crowley caught sight of a flickering image against the far wall. It looked fairly large - larger than him, with a hulking form, two steer-like horns and wings that could easily extend further than the hallway allowed. This either meant one of two things. Either the beast chasing him was ginormous or it was very close. Either way did not bode well for him.

Banking hard to the left, Crowley scurried down the hall, his attention fixed entirely forward. Looking back would only slow him down, and the demon needed to be as fast as possible to escape whatever whispering, screaming nightmare had caught onto his trail. There was no particular reason the demon had chosen one direction over the other. He could have picked any hallway and the result would have been the same. He would still be running for his life down a dark, sludge filled hallway with barely any light to see by.

Hang on. 

Crowley blinked his amber eyes, squinting them against the growing darkness as he continued to run. His footsteps echoed off the stone walls, socks squelching with the newly acquired liquid. Was it getting darker? Where were all the flickering lights? Why did the hallway seem to be getting smaller the longer he ran down it?

With mounting horror, Crowley’s footsteps slowed to a halt. His hands rose shakily out in front of him, fingertips pressing against a series of cold iron bars blocking his advance.

Well, wasn’t this just fucking fantastic?

Gently at first, then with rising effort, the demon gripped the bars, pulling at them, shaking them, begging them to budge. To shift. To let him through. Despite all his tactics, they were unmovable.

Crowley fought to hold in his rasping breath. His legs screamed at him to stop. To rest. Screamed at him to sit down and give them a break, but the demon knew he could not. He could not stop. He could not advance. He could not go back the way he came. The creature was surely right on his tail.

He was going to die here. Crowley bit back a sob, knowing that hiding any noise he made now would do him no good. He was trapped. There was no way out. This thing was going to destroy him and he was never going to see Aziraphale again.

How had everything gone so wrong? They had saved the world together - stopped Armageddon. They had traded places to fool Heaven and Hell, to keep each other safe. They had spent six months in paradise, six months of dinners and walks in the park and shows at the theater and being friends out in the open. They had been hours away from an actual date. Crowley had been less than a hundred minutes away from spending a romantic evening with the creature he cared about most in all of creation, and now all of that was just gone . Gone, with no explanation, no chance to say goodbye.

This was so unfair. Crowley knew he was a demon. He knew he’d done wrong in the past - a lot of wrong. He knew he ultimately deserved this, but Aziraphale? His good-natured, helpful, kind, loving Aziraphale? The angel didn’t deserve to go through this heartache. Didn’t deserve to go through the pain of losing a friend, of Crowley disappearing never to return. 

Whispers grew louder, echoing across the walls, swirling around Crowley like an invisible cloud of smoke. Slowly, he turned around, amber eyes wide, taking in as much light as they could, searching for a way out, somewhere to hide, somewhere to flee. He didn’t want to die here. Not without seeing Aziraphale again. But what else could he do?

“SSsssssstupid demon,” he muttered to himself, hating how panicked he sounded. Crowley had gotten good at mastering his speech over the years, but every once in a while, under periods of duress, his hiss would slip back in, the serpent attempting to take over once more. It was rather annoying.

Suddenly, Crowley stopped. He blinked, and turned around, quickly gauging the size of the gap in the bars. Wondering...was it possible?

There was absolutely no reason not to try.

Faster than it probably should have, Crowley felt his body changing. The walls around him grew taller, the gaps in the metal gate larger as he shrunk in on himself. Clothing turned to scales, the red of his hair bleeding onto his belly as his body grew thinner and longer. His eyes shifted across his face to perch on either side of his serpentine nose as demon became serpent, coiling softly to the floor.

Crowley opened his mouth and tasted the air. He reached out with his other senses, feeling for the presence of the creature that was currently hunting him down. If he could only pinpoint it, figure out what in Hell’s name it was. Perhaps that would give Crowley the information he needed to get away.

In an instant, the demon was enveloped with a coldness so strong he would have gasped out loud had he not been in snake form. This thing was no ordinary demon. It was more than just evil. It was despair. Hopelessness. Worthlessness. It was darkness deeper than the deepest black. Emptiness more vast than the furthest corners of the universe.

It was oblivion, and it was coming for Crowley.

That sensation was enough to spur the demon to action. Without one more millisecond of hesitation, Crowley began to move. He launched himself at the base of the portcullis, forcing his narrow snout between the two metal bars. The widest gap in the gate was at the bottom, under a layer of murky water, but the demon didn’t care. He dove in face first, wriggling his serpentine body as quickly as it could go, pushing himself through. The only way Crowley survived this was by getting himself to the other side of this barrier.

One. Two. Three. Four. Crowley held his breath, pushing himself forward with amber eyes wide open, gaze fixed on the ground. He watched as the creases in the stone slid by him, too slow for comfort. This wasn’t going to work. He needed to move faster.

The demon lurched and shot forward another half a foot. He twisted and turned and lifted his eyes just above the surface of the water, glancing around to see where he could go next. Speed was of the utmost importance here, and although his serpentine form could wriggle into small places, it wasn’t necessarily very fast. Every second he spent in this configuration was a second for that creature to catch up with him.

Just a little bit further. Crowley could feel the sides of the metal bars brushing up against the thickest part of him. If he could get that part through, the metal barrier should be enough of a buffer to stop his pursuer long enough for the demon to find somewhere to hide. 

If it wasn’t, he was as good as dead.

Crowley’s heart stopped as he felt the slimy bars dig into his side. His forward momentum stopped abruptly as the demon realized he was too wide to fit.

No! This was not happening. Shouldn’t the gross, grimy, dingy sludge that coated this thing be helping him to get through? Not the other way around. All he had to do was keep wriggling and everything would be fine. He’d get through the gate. He’d put some distance between himself and that thing and all would be just ‘Tickety-Boo’ as one ridiculous angel would say.

He wriggled. He squirmed and he thrashed and just when Crowley felt like his insides were going to become squeezed and crushed and all mixed together, the slippery sludge did its job and he shot forward into the dark. A heavy splash sounded above his head as the serpent skidded through the rest of the filthy puddle, coming out in one piece on the other side.

If snakes could breathe sighs of relief, Crowley might have taken a moment to do just that. Instead, he slunk off into the shadows, pressing himself up into a crumbling crevice in the wall, coiling in on himself until the demon was sure he would meld into one indistinguishable blob, never to be separated again.

There was no way he could transform now. The whispers were practically right on top of him. If Crowley resumed his humanoid form, he would be seen for sure. Instead, he huddled in the cold and the dark, wishing that he could will himself back to the bookshop where there was always a large patch of sunlight streaming through the window, laying itself across his favorite armchair. What Crowley wouldn’t give to be curled up in that chair right now, the sound of Aziraphale’s voice murmuring in the background as the demon drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Amber eyes stared unblinking as a shadow appeared on the wall opposite the portcullis. Harsh footsteps sounded against the stone floor, sending vibrations through the earth beneath it outward in all directions.

The first thing he saw were two claw-like feet attached to long legs that looked like they were made for chasing. Further up, a strong, muscular torso set underneath broad shoulders with powerful arms containing claws of their own. The figure’s head was comprised entirely of the skull of a steer larger than one Crowley had ever seen, gazing outward with piercing red eyes that seemed to emit thin spirals of smoke. 

To top it all off, huge batlike wings protruded from the creature’s back, spread open wide as its tendrils of black hair whipped around its skulled face, although there was no breeze nearby to move them. The only clothing the figure wore was a scrap of leather fabric tied around its waist, the rest of its ashen skin writhing with darkness. The particles seemed to emanate from it, flitting around in a near proximity, sucking the light and the warmth from the air. Whispering incoherent nothings into the darkness.

You cannot run forever, the whispering voices coalesced into one sound, one thought, overlapping with each other, each projecting its own promise of fear and pain and total oblivion, striking icy terror into Crowley’s very soul. Eventually, you will tire and I will find you. I will always find you. 

The creature hovered outside the gate a moment longer, its burning crimson eyes flickering back and forth, looking for any sign of movement. Any hint that Crowley was nearby. The demon froze. He did not move a single muscle, knowing that in that moment, his life depended on it. If he ever wanted to see Aziraphale again, He. Could. Not. Move.

Then, with a rush of whispers and a piercing scream, the creature turned away, meandering down a different hallway than the one they’d run down earlier. Looking for a way around the metal barrier in its path. Looking for the quickest way to Crowley.

Chapter Text

He was trapped. Trapped in a never ending maze of dark, dingy hallways. Lights flickered against the walls, casting twisting shadows of monster-like figures as he passed by. Whispers echoed around him like a swirling fog, following him wherever he went. No matter how long he walked, the whispers only grew louder, the shadows ever closer. 

This hallway was impossibly long. He had to have been walking for days and days and still there was no end in sight. Nothing ever changed down here. It was just him and the hallway and the echo of his footsteps against the stone floors. The whispers that surrounded him and the shadows that crept ever closer, their flashes of wide horns and sharp claws  and needle-like teeth sending lightning strikes of terror to his very core.

Finally, he reached a turn. There was only one way to go, so he took it, hoping that this way would lead him out. Would let him get back home.

Instead, he began to hear another set of footsteps, quiet at first, but growing louder with each beat of his foot against the floor. He turned around and saw nothing but a dark passage and the fierce glow of ruby red eyes locked on his own. Panic overtook him and he began to run. Faster and faster and faster, trying to get away from whatever was on his tail. He had to get away.

The blue flickering lights turned red as the burning eyes drew closer, casting their crimson light upon the hallway as he ran. Flickering shadows began to peel away from the walls, reaching out for him, their claws tearing at his pants, his shirt, his hair. They were going to tear him to pieces. He was going to die down here, lost and alone and filled to the brim with fear and regret. 

He stumbled, foot catching on a crack in the floor. Hands outstretched in front of him, he caught himself on the cold stone floor, water soaking up through his knees as they fell into the shallow pool at his feet. He blinked, looking down at the swirling water beneath him, watching as the red light behind his head grew brighter and brighter. He tried to move, tried to stand up and keep running, but he was frozen in place, staring at the reflection beneath him, willing the water to steady so he could see clearly. He didn’t know why, but he knew this moment was important. It had to be. He needed the water to still so he could see.

When it finally did, he was met with a pair of bright amber eyes blown wide with fear, a heartbeat before the red light swallowed him whole.

Adam shot up in his bed, the sound of a scream dying in his throat. Air rushed into his lungs as he gasped for breath, hands trembling as he clutched at the bedspread that had tangled itself around him like the shadow creatures in his dream.

What a dream - what a nightmare that had been. He’d never experienced something so intense before. The whole thing had felt so real. Adam had never once feared for his life, not even when the world had been ending. Not even when he’d faced down Death himself, but now? The boy shuddered at the ghost of the memory. He had been terrified. During that nightmare, he’d known that he’d met his end. That the red-eyed creature was going to destroy him and he would never be seen from again.

There was no point in going back to sleep now, not when the shadows in his room clung to the walls so menacingly. Panic gripped at Adam’s heart and he flung the covers aside, nimbly dodging around blocks and legos and remote control cars as he raced to the light switch on the far wall. The shadows around him seemed to bend as he moved, following him, trying to reach the wall before he did, to prevent him from saving himself from the darkness that was slowly closing in. 

Without a second thought, the boy lunged forward and slammed his palm into the switch, flipping upward with one fluid motion. Light filled the room, pushing the shadows back away from him and giving the boy some solace from the darkness.

Slowly, Adam breathed a sigh of relief, his mouth suddenly feeling very dry. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to leave his bedroom this late at night, or early in the morning, as it now was. His parents didn’t want him sneaking downstairs to watch late-night cartoons or play video games when he was supposed to be sleeping. His bed was in his room and there was an adjoining bathroom, should the need arise. In their minds, there was absolutely no reason the boy should have to go downstairs before sunrise.

Unfortunately for Adam, he was not the biggest fan of room temperature tap water. Maybe, if he was really quiet, no one would notice him sneaking down to grab a quick glass of fresh ice water. And perhaps, if he went unnoticed still, the boy would be able to manage a quick phone call to a friend.

That nightmare had been more than just a bad dream. Adam was sure of it now, more than ever. Now that the darkness around him had momentarily been shoved aside, the boy could breathe easier and think. At the end, as he’d been staring in the pool of water, Adam had caught a glimpse of bright amber eyes. Amber eyes filled with helplessness and fear, so strong, it had jolted the boy from his slumber.

He knew those eyes. He had seen them once before.

No one in the house stirred. Not when he shut the door to his room with a soft click. Not when he slid down the carpeted steps as fast as he could, heart hammering away in his chest. Not when he reached the kitchen and flipped the light switch on, the panic in his chest only receding with the presence of that familiar golden glow. His parents slept soundly, and once Adam had poured himself a large plastic glass of the coldest water he could find, the boy turned to face the telephone hanging on the painted-grey wall.

With shaking fingers, he dialed the number. Anathema picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?”

“Um, hey, Anathema?” Adam began, trying to keep his voice down as quiet as possible. He was very aware of how timid he sounded in the moment and wished he’d thought to drink some water before giving her a call. His voice barely made a sound at all. “I need some help.”

Her voice was warm, comforting, and in just a few words she managed to banish the lingering fear still in the boy’s heart. “What can I do for you, Adam?”

“I think Mr. Crowley is in trouble.”


Anathema prided herself on being intelligent. She had always been top of her class in school. She was quick-witted, clever, and had a knack for puzzles and riddles and all activities that required her to stretch her mind out a bit. So, it was a rather frustrating experience when she arrived at the Soho bookshop to find the door locked, ‘closed’ sign visible for all to see, and the following message posted in the window.

I open the shop on most weekdays about 9:30 or perhaps 10am. While occasionally I open the shop as early as 8, I have been known not to open until 1, except on Tuesday. I tend to close about 3:30pm, or earlier if something needs tending to. However, I might occasionally keep the shop open until 8 or 9 at night, you never know when you might need some light reading. On days that I am not in, the shop will remain closed. On weekends, I will open the shop during normal hours unless I am elsewhere. Bank holidays will be treated in the usual fashion, with early closing on Wednesdays, or sometimes Fridays. (For Sundays see Tuesdays).

A.Z. Fell, Bookseller

Today was Thursday, precisely 2:15 in the afternoon. The perfect time to ensure he would be open. It was exactly halfway between his latest posted opening time and earliest posted closing time, if you ignored the caveats about ‘being elsewhere’ or ‘something needing tending to’, Aziraphale should be here. So why couldn’t she get in?

It was like he was purposefully trying to confuse customers and keep people away. Anathema rolled her eyes and smiled fondly to herself. The nerve of that angel.

Pursing her lips, the woman knocked gently on the door once more, wanting to give Aziraphale the benefit of the doubt. Wanting to believe her friend wasn’t purposefully trying to ignore her. Perhaps he truly was busy. Perhaps he had some important business to attend to and couldn’t take a moment to step away from it to come and answer the door. 

She knew he was still inside the shop. Anathema could sense his aura from outside on the front step. The first time she had met Aziraphale, on the night Crowley had run into her bike with his car, she’d sensed something different about the two of them. The sensation had stuck with her for a while and only after learning they were a demon and angel did everything finally click into place.

“Aziraphale,” she called, leaning in to peek in through the gap in the curtain. “Aziraphale, open up. I need to talk to you.”

Movement sounded from inside the bookshop, although it was muffled and impossible to make out any precise details. Anathema waited patiently for the door to open. When it did not, she tried again. 

“Aziraphale,” she knocked a little harder this time, raising the volume of her voice. “Adam asked me to come. Will you please open the door?”

That seemed to do the trick, because less than a second ticked by and Anathema heard the distinct ‘click’ of the door unlocking itself. Not wanting to waste another second, the woman pushed on the handle and let herself in.

The second she crossed the threshold into the bookshop, Anathema stopped, brown eyes wide. There were books everywhere . Yes, this was a bookshop, and yes, it was old, but she expected there to be some sort of order to it all. Instead, the young woman found herself face to face with a maze comprised entirely of stacks of books all at least waist high, scattered about the floor like a series of properly placed mines. It was a wonder the angel was able to move about at all with all these obstacles in his way.

She spotted him across the room, sitting at an old writing desk, pouring over a mountain of tomes. This wasn’t just a desk with a handful of books spread around. Aziraphale had stacked five books up on top of one another, a pile that was completely separate from the other seven all on the same surface. Not to mention the tent of scrolls he had strewn across the room, long pieces of parchment connecting various stacks of books, forcing Anathema to duck underneath them as she slowly made her way to the angel’s side.

“Adam sent you here?”

Anathema didn’t know what she’d been expecting when she arrived here. After Adam had called her the previous night and recounted the terrible dream he’d experienced, the woman had expected some kind of bad news. She had braced herself for the inevitable - Crowley had been summoned back to Hell. He was off on some secret mission. The demon had upset some other being with his lighthearted wiles and was now paying the price for it.

She had not expected to waltz in and find Aziraphale at his wit’s end. Although, thinking back to what she knew about them, she probably should have. The pair had a bond - she’d known that much from the first time they’d met. Of course Aziraphale would be worried about his friend. According to Adam, he had good reason to be.

The tremor in Aziraphale’s voice, the way his bright blue eyes glistened with unshed tears, the pure, agonizing hope that exuded from him in that moment made her heart ache.

What had happened to Crowley?

“Where is Crowley?” she asked softly, dodging his unspoken ‘why’. If Aziraphale didn’t know - if he wasn’t aware that the demon was in any trouble, should she really tell him? It would only upset him even more, and based on the state this bookshop was already in, Aziraphale had been researching something for quite some time. Perhaps he already knew. Perhaps there was nothing he could do.

Blue eyes blinked and a single tear fell across his pale, round cheek. “Oh, my dear,” the angel breathed, moving to stand. Anathema took a gentle step back to give him room, careful not to knock the stack of books over that was positioned directly behind her. “I’m afraid Crowley is gone, for the time being.”

Gone. Alright. That wasn’t exactly specific, but Aziraphale had said ‘for the time being’. That implied the demon wasn’t gone forever, right?

“How long will he be gone?” she asked, gently, stomach twisting unpleasantly inside her body. “Where did he go?”

Aziraphale sighed, and in that moment, he looked older than Anathema had ever seen him. She knew he was an angel, knew he had been on Earth since the beginning. For a six-thousand year old being, the angel normally appeared a spry forty or fifty years old. Now, if she knew nothing about him, Anathema might have believed it if someone had told her he was several thousand years old.

“Crowley has been…discorporated. Someone, another demon, killed his body. He’s been sent back down to Hell until he can find a new one.”

The angel paused, and Anathema held her breath. She didn’t like where this conversation was heading. Didn’t like the look of loss in Aziraphale’s eyes. Didn’t like the way her hear was beating rapidly in her chest, like the angel was about to deliver the worst kind of news.

Oh god, he was, wasn’t he?

“It could be...some time, before Crowley can return to Earth,” Aziraphale explained, his shoulders sagging under the weight of his grief. Anathema didn’t need to see auras to know the angel was hurting - deeply. “Hell isn’t exactly pleased with him after what happened last autumn. It could be a few years, or maybe a decade or two or - “ he broke off, blue eyes finally lowering themselves to the floor.

“Or, he could be gone for the rest of your lifetime.”

What? Crowley could be gone...for the rest of her lifetime. She was barely twenty years old. There was a good chance she could live to be eighty, ninety, maybe a hundred years old. And Aziraphale was standing here telling her that Crowley could take that long or longer to return to Earth with a new body.

She might never see the demon again.

“Oh, Aziraphale,” she breathed, pushing down her own hurt. Anathema had known the demon all of six months. The angel in front of her had known him for millenia. Her pain was nothing compared to what he must be going through. “I am so sorry.”

Another tear made its escape from Aziraphale’s eyes, sliding its way down his other cheek. “It’s quite alright, dear,” he sniffled in a way that made it clear that things were very much not alright. “We used to go centuries without seeing hide nor hair of each other. It will take some readjusting, but I’m sure the time will pass by eventually.”

He wasn’t lying to her, but Anathema could tell he wasn’t telling her the whole truth either. Adam’s dream had left her with the impression that the demon was not simply waiting in line down in Hell for a new body to be given to him. Aziraphale’s hesitancy with her only served to confirm her suspicions. Fearing what the angel might reveal if she pushed further, the woman changed tactics. 

“Do you think,” she began, lifting a hand to play with the ends of her long hair. “Would you like to put together a memorial for Crowley?” Anathema had no idea how Aziraphale might take this idea. She was sure that over the years the angel had been forced to say goodbye to many of his friends. He would have to say goodbye to her too, when her time came. It was all a part of an immortal’s life, she supposed.

Saying goodbye to Crowley was probably something Aziraphale had never had to face before. The angel should 

“It might be nice for all of us to get together again,” she prompted when he did not immediately respond. “You, me and Newt. The kids. I bet I could even get Madame Tracey and Sargent Shadwell to come. It doesn’t have to be anything big.” She was rambling now, but Aziraphale’s blank stare and tearstained cheeks was becoming all too much for her. If the angel was this distraught, it meant Crowley was never coming back. That, she just couldn’t accept. Anathema could live without seeing her friend again. She could say goodbye, if she had to.

But not Aziraphale. Not the sweet, kind-hearted angel she’d grown to adore. He didn’t deserve this kind of pain. Anathema refused to believe Crowley was gone forever. At the same time, she was determined to give the angel, and the rest of their friends, the chance to properly process their pain.

“We could have a few snacks. Play some music Crowley liked, and sit around drinking and telling stories about him, if that would make you feel better.” She offered him a hesitant smile. “I know it would help me.” 

Aziraphale sniffled and smiled back at her. It was the first one she’d seen all day that didn’t look entirely forced. The sight filled Anathema’s heart with warmth and she felt tears of her own pricking at the corners of her eyes. Hastily, she blinked them away.

“Yes,” he pulled a handkerchief out of his vest pocket and dabbed softly at his eyes. “I suppose that does sound quite nice. Let’s do it. Let’s put together a nice memorial for Crowley.”


Ultimately, they decided on a small, intimate gathering held at Anathema’s cottage. All four of the Them showed up, along with Sargent Shadwell and Madame Tracey. Newton was there too, of course. He practically lived with Anathema now, and the man was determined to help out as much as he possibly could in setting up for the event.

There wasn’t much to be done, if Aziraphale was honest. Anathema had taken care of all the food. They’d pulled together some of Crowley’s favorites. Wine, mostly, and sparkling juice for the children. Some slices of angel food cake, a bowl of popcorn, various assortments of chocolates. Aziraphale had even convinced Anathema to put out a plate of apple slices, not because the demon had particularly enjoyed apples, but because the thought of what Crowley’s reaction would have been if he’d been here to witness the display was too entertaining to pass up.

Before the event started, Aziraphale made his way over to Adam at the snack table, waiting patiently for the boy to grab his slice of cake. Once the angel was sure the boy wasn’t about to drop anything, he pulled Adam to the side, heart hammering away in his chest.

“Adam, dear boy,” Aziraphale began, wishing he didn’t sound so nervous. He knew this was a long shot, but if Adam could help in any way, didn’t the angel owe it to Crowley to ask. “I was wondering, well, Anathema mentioned you had been the one to send her to speak with me. I assume that means you had some inkling as to where Crowley might be, and I was wondering - I was hoping - “

Aziraphale stopped, biting at the inside of his mouth so hard he tasted blood. Get to the point. Adam didn’t have all day.

“Would you be so inclined to bring him back?”

A rush of air left Aziraphale’s chest as he finally forced the question from his lips. He could do it. Adam could do it, couldn’t he? The boy had brought Atlantis up from the ocean floor. He’d created aliens and spaceships and banished Satan back to Hell and saved the world . Surely he had it in him to bring one demon back to Earth. It would be easy work for the Antichrist.

Adam’s face fell, Aziraphale’s hope along with it. He should have known this was too good to be true. Why could his life never be easy?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Aziraphale,” the boy answered respectfully, “I would if I could, but I’m just a normal kid now. I don’t have my powers anymore.”

“Are you sure?” Aziraphale found himself asking desperately instead of simply walking away like he should have. “Could you at least try, please?”

The boy frowned, but lifted up his hands, offering Azirphale his plate full of cake. The angel took it from him quickly, heart hammering away in his chest. He shouldn’t bother trying to hope, it would only lead to heartache in the end, but Aziraphale found he couldn’t help himself. Just the thought that Crowley might reappear before him with a few simple words from Adam was enough to bring tears of relief to his eyes.

Please, oh please let this work. The angel stood transfixed in the hallway, his eyes never leaving Adam’s face as the boy scrunched it up in concentration, preparing for what came next. Please let me see Crowley again.

“Crowley, come back.”

Nothing. The boy had said the command with as much fervor as he had six months ago, but Crowley still wasn’t here. Adam really was just a normal boy now. There was nothing he could do to help Aziraphale. There was nothing anyone could do.

Aziraphale thanked Adam quietly, handing the boy back his cake. Silently, the angel watched as Adam scampered back to his friends, heart heavy with loss. He and Anathem had pulled this thing together to give the humans all a chance to say their goodbyes, but to Aziraphale, it felt an awful lot like he was being forced to say goodbye too. 

No. He wasn’t ready to give up. Not yet. There had to be a way to get Crowley back. He just needed a little more time. Some more research and he could figure it out. Aziraphale wouldn’t rest until he did.

But for now, he could put aside his worry for the evening and give his friends the closure they needed.

“Thank you all for coming,” Anathema announced later, once they’d all had their fill of food and fellowship. “I’m sorry it had to be under such circumstances, but I want you all to know how much it means that you could be here tonight.”

The young woman turned toward the end of the room where they had set up a small table in honor of Crowley. At the center of the table sat one of the gardenia plants the demon had left behind, along with a pair of sunglasses, a framed photograph of his Bentley, and a single white feather. They were the only things left on Earth that Crowley had owned. The only things the demon had really cared for, in the end.

Aziraphale didn’t possess one of his friend’s black feathers, so he’d had to make due with one of his own. The angel hoped Crowley wouldn’t mind. In all honesty, if Crowley had been here to see this, he would have rolled his eyes behind a pair of those sunglasses and groaned in embarrassment. This would have all been too sentimental for him. The demon would have absolutely hated it.

The thought made Aziraphale smile, if only a little.

“Right,” Anathema continued after a moment of silence. “I think it might be nice if we all went around and said a few words. It doesn't have to be anything grand, and you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.” She paused for a moment, looking around at everyone until her eyes came to rest on Aziraphale. Slowly, the angel nodded in her direction, letting her know he was ready to begin.

Aziraphale would have been lying if he said he’d listened to everything that his friend said that night. The angel was entirely too preoccupied with his own thoughts, stomach churning as he fought with the words he was planning on saying. How could he possibly put it all into words? There weren’t enough words in all of the languages on Earth to describe what Crowley meant to him.

He caught the bit about Crowley running into Anathema on her bike, and how the kids thought it was cool he’d driven in a car while it was on fire. Even Shadwell had something nice to say, although Aziraphale was pretty sure his recollection of the demon’s assistance with a witch hunt a few years back was entirely made up.

Finally, once all the others were done, Aziraphale stepped forward to say his part, hands wringing together in front of him as he raised his blue eyes to glance at each of their faces, one by one.

“Crowley was my best friend,” the angel admitted. “For so many years. It took me so long to recognize what he meant to me, and even longer to say it out loud.” Tears were pooling in his eyes, but this time Aziraphale didn’t hold them back. The whole reason for this evening was to give them all a chance to mourn properly. Was it really a memorial service if no tears were shed?

“Through all the important times in my life,” the angel continued, after taking a swig from his glass, “Crowley was there for me. He was there to celebrate my achievements.” Aziraphale paused, remembering how his friend had showed up to the bookstore on opening day in 1800 with a box of celebratory chocolates for them to share. “He was there to comfort me in times of pain.” Oh, there had been so many of those. Too many to count. 

“I know I will see him again someday,” Aziraphale vowed, bringing his speech to an end. “And I hope that day will be soon, but until then - “ he looked around the room, smiling softly at the group of people, the humans, who had come out tonight to support him as much as they were here to remember Crowley. “Until then, I will remember him with fondness in my heart.”

With the heartfelt words said and done, they moved onto the part of the evening Crowley would have liked the best. Newton popped a CD in the player and cranked up the music. Brian passed out sunglasses for everyone and they made a toast. To the demon who may not have been the best demon in the world, but who had easily become their favorite. To the demon that had stepped up to do his part to save the world. To the demon that was their friend, now, and always.

Throughout the rest of the night, they sang, and they drank, and they laughed and they drank some more, and for the first time in weeks, Aziraphale didn’t feel quite so alone.

Chapter Text

At this point, Crowley would have given anything to have his watch working once more.

It was maddening, roaming these repetitive halls with no sense of how much time had passed. There was absolutely no way for him to know. His watch was inoperable. There was no exit to the outside world down here. No way for him to gauge based on the cycle of the sun. Crowley didn’t feel hunger like normal humans did. He didn’t need to drink water, didn’t need to use the bathroom. And now that he no longer had his corporation, the demon didn’t even grow facial hair.

There was absolutely no indication of how much time had passed. Had he been down here a few hours? Days? Had it been over a week? No matter how much he tried, Crowley had been unable to come up with an answer.

So many times, Crowley had wanted to give up. He wanted to sit down, lean his back up against the cool wall, and just shut his eyes. It had been some time since the demon had seen any sign of that creature that had been chasing him before. Crowley wasn’t stupid enough to believe he was in the clear yet, but he did take the opportunity to slow himself down. There was no point in running now that he wasn’t in immediate danger. The sound of his racing footsteps would likely only alert that monster to his presence, which was the absolute last thing he wanted.

What even was that thing? Crowley had never heard of such a creature before. He knew it was a demon - there was no other alternative. Some undetermined time ago, he had been discorporated, which meant he was somewhere in Hell. Only demons lived in Hell. Therefore, the only conclusion Crowley could make was that thing with the skull head and glowing red eyes was a demon.

No matter how insane that sounded, he knew it had to be true. What kind of demon lurked in the depths of Hell alone? What kind of demon hunted others? He’d never heard of anything like this before. Granted, Crowley had made it a point to spend as little time in Hell as possible over the centuries, but surely if this was a problem, someone would have mentioned it.

Maybe it wasn’t a widespread problem. Maybe he’d landed himself in some remote corner of Hell where no one else went. If that was the case, his need to get the fuck out of here had just increased a hundredfold. There was no way he wanted to be stuck down here a second longer with this unknown threat in a part of Hell where there was no one around to hear him scream.

Not that anyone would come running to save him, even if they could hear him. Not after what had happened the last time “he” was down here. Not after what he’d done to Ligur.

Everything felt so hopeless, but Crowley wasn’t going to give up. Aziraphale was up there waiting for him and Crowley wasn’t going to let his angel go through the rest of his time on Earth alone.

The demon could have cried tears of joy the moment he came across another gate. It was similar to the last one, made entirely of rusting metal bars that hung vertically from the stone archway above. But this one, this one had a set of stairs on the other side leading in the upward direction. He was saved. This had to be the way out.

Crowley reached for the bars, trying and failing to suppress a shiver as the chilling metal seemed to seep into his exposed hands. He tugged at the bars once, twice, three times, glancing around warily as the sound of metal scraping against stone echoed around him. Heart in his throat, Crowley waited and listened, not daring to breathe.

There was nothing. No sudden coldness in the air. No hairs standing up at the back of his neck. No chilling whispers or haunting screams. The creature was nowhere in sight.

Slowly, the demon turned back to face the gate. He’d dealt with one before, Crowley was sure he could do it again. These bars looked no different from the last ones. It had been a tight fit, but by using his snake form, Crowley had made it through. This time, there was no puddle of water to squirm through and no terrifying creature trying to catch up to him. As Aziraphale would say, it should have been ‘Tickety-Boo’.

‘Should have been’ was the key phrase there. Crowley wasted no time in shifting forms. Once again, he allowed his body to collapse on itself, slower this time, as he was not in a race to escape a very unfortunate fate. He felt his limbs begin to fuse together, his skin begin to cover itself in scales. Eyes shifted positions on his head as Crowley’s face began to morph and his surroundings began to grow larger and larger as his body grew smaller and smaller.

Once the transformation was complete, the demon opened his mouth, tongue flicking through the air. Still no sign of the beast that had chased him earlier. Had he been able to, Crowley would have breathed a sigh of relief. Quickly, the serpent turned his head back toward the gate and crept forward, feeling rather than seeing where he was going.

Cold metal brushed up against his nose and the demon stopped. He’d found the gate. Now, all he had to do was slip through it and he would be one step closer to getting home. Crowley move his head to the left and pushed forward. Once again he felt the chill of the bar against his skin and he was forced to stop.

What was going on? The bars shouldn’t be this close together. Why couldn’t he get through?

Crowley tried again. He slithered over to the far side of the gate until he tasted stone on the tip of his tongue. Deliberately, he shoved his face down into the ground where he knew the gap was the widest. He turned his body sideways, trying to force his way through, but there was nowhere to go. It was as if the hole had shrunk in size.

No matter. Crowley was nothing if not flexible. What did it matter if the gap in the bars was thinner than he had originally thought? Shrinking down to a smaller snake wasn’t so difficult. It would take a bit of concentration on his part not to slip back into his natural size. He winced at the thought, imagining what the cold steel bars digging into his sides would feel like if he lost his focus even once.

The demon turned his attention to the metallic barrier in front of him, imagining the sensation of gritted teeth and a furrowed brow. A snake had no way to display the image of immense concentration, but Crowley wasn’t going to let that stand in his way. If anyone had been down here in this prison of a maze to see him, they would have felt his desire burning in the air around him.

He was going to do this. He was going to get through and then he was going to race back to Aziraphale’s side. Nothing in all of Heaven or Hell would stop him from seeing his angel again.

Hang on, Aziraphale , the demon thought to himself as his form shrunk even further. I’m on my way.

When he’d reached approximately a tenth of his original size, Crowley stopped and took a moment to feel around him once more. This should be more than good enough to slip through with little to no effort.

Crowley moved forward again and was surprised to feel that same metal bar brushing up against the right side of his face as his left side touched the stone wall. How was that possible? He’d been just on one side of too big earlier. How could he still not be able to fit at a tenth his original size?

The demon moved down the hall. One by one, he tested the openings against the floor, arriving at the same dilemma every time. He rose up off the ground a few inches and tried the gaps further up. This time his nose managed to slip through, but the momentum stopped when his eyes drew level with the front of the gate.

Impossible. Crowley slid backward through the hall until he was pressed up against the opposite wall. Facing the gate, the demon glared at it for a moment, as best as a demon in snake form could glare. His eyesight was not the best down here. The damp, chilly corridors turned almost everything around him into a dull, darkish grey, with the flickering lights upon the wall his only source of warmth to hone in on. Their location on either side of the gate did nothing to help him see the outline of the metal bars in front of him - not with his current set of eyes, that were better suited to detecting the slight variations in temperature than actual visual cues.

No. If Crowley wanted to really see what was going on, he was going to have to transform back.

It took a lot of his energy to force his body from one form to another, and even more if he was trying to do so in a very specific way. Normally, Crowley would simply focus his attention on one end or the other. He would let his instincts take over and allow his body to shift however it wanted to through the in-between phases.

This time, Crowley needed to do things in a specific order. He needed his normal eyesight back first, before he started to grow in size. That was the only way to see what in the world was going on with this blasted gate.

So, with more mental capacity than he had the right to possess in that moment, Crowley began to change. The image in front of him began to lighten as his eyes shifted around toward the front of his face. He fixed all his remaining attention on the collection of metal bars in front of him and the set of stone steps just beyond that. The steps that were his ticket out of here. 

Cold dread filled him as the demon began to grow in size once more. Before his very eyes, the bars began to grow with him, they expanded in thickness, spreading themselves out so that the gap between each rung was just too small for him to fit through. How was this possible? What kind of place was this, with terrifying monsters and magical barriers that wouldn’t let him pass?

He was truly and utterly trapped. Crowley finished his transformation, the back of his suit scraping up against the stone wall as he collapsed to the floor, amber eyes wide and unseeing. Someway, somehow, the barrier had altered itself to prevent him from going through. There was an exit right there, a staircase that would lead him home - would lead him to Aziraphale, and it didn’t matter. He couldn’t get through.

Tears filled the demon’s eyes and Crowley buried his face in his knees, letting out a strangled sob. “Aziraphale…” he moaned as the heart inside his chest began to crumble. What was he supposed to do now? Where was he supposed to go? How was he ever going to get home?

“Aziraphale, please,” the demon whispered into the nothingness around him, praying that his best friend would somehow hear him, even though deep down he knew it was impossible. “Please help me get out of this mess.” 

As much as he hated to admit it, Crowley wished Aziraphale were here more than anything. They’d stood against Heaven and Hell. They’d stopped the end of the world. There was nothing they couldn’t do, together. If Aziraphale were here, he would know what to do. If Aziraphale were here, they would figure it out together, just like they’d done everything else in their lives.

Aziraphale wasn’t here. He was back on Earth, probably sick with worry, and Crowley was trapped in the deepest bowels of Hell. Completely and utterly alone.

Sniffling, the demon wiped his tears away, frustration and anger seeping into his chest like the tiniest spark of a flame. The breaths he drew in and out to calm himself down only seemed to fuel the newfound emotions, and soon enough Crowley found himself moving to stand, amber eyes narrowing back in on the gate.

There was something there, etched into the stone on the left-hand side. So small, Crowley had missed it the first time. With cautious steps, the demon approached the gate once more and brushed his fingers against the mark, brow furrowed in confusion.

It was a name. Just as the mark by Crowley’s right ear identified him as “Crowley”, other demonic marks were used to differentiate between other demons. He didn’t need to be familiar with this particular mark to know what it meant. All demons could read the marks and understand.

“Cortaz,” Crowley muttered to himself. It wasn’t a name he recognized, but that was hardly surprising. There were close to ten million demons down here in Hell. Crowley was lucky enough to only be acquainted with a few dozen.

A frown still etched upon his face, Crowley turned back to the gate in front of him. Tentatively, he brought his hand forward and slipped it through the opening, squeezing his eyes as he did so, waiting for the worst to come.

Nothing happened. Crowley didn’t know exactly what he had been expecting. A shock of electricity, his hand to start vaporizing right before his eyes, some kind of booby trap to fall down from the ceiling and slice it off. Something to give him any other clue as to what might be happening here. There was nothing.

Or, perhaps it wasn’t nothing. The gate was against him getting out completely, but not crossing over the threshold. Interesting, but not entirely helpful information. Still, the fact that he could reach through the bars was something. Maybe, just maybe, there was something to be seen on the other side.

The problem with that theory was Crowley couldn’t see much of what was on the other side except for the staircase. The bars were too narrow to fit his head through, only his long, skinny arms. Still, not entirely helpful, but it was something.

Crowley leaned forward and rested his head between two of the bars, wincing at the cold that seemed to seep directly from the bars right into his core. Think. There had to be something he was missing. Some sort of clue. Some sort of loophole he could exploit. He found his way into Eden all of those years ago on his own, hadn’t he? What made this predicament any different? He could figure his way out of here. Crowley just had to think a little harder.

Subconsciously, the demon’s hands fell to his pockets. He paused, looking down as he pulled out a pair of shiny black sunglasses. For a moment, Crowley just stared down at his reflection on the glass, grimacing at how dirty he looked. Grime coated his cheeks and his forehead. His hair was sticking up in all the wrong places and the collar of his beautiful, expensive white dress shirt had practically turned brown. He was a total disaster.

Hang on. 

The demon paused. He could see his reflection practically perfectly. Maybe there was something he could do after all.

Without waiting another second, Crowley reached back through the bars, sunglasses in hand. He cursed himself internally as they began to tremble, making the image almost impossible for him to decipher. “Pull yourssself together,” the demon hissed at himself. This was no time to be losing his cool. With one final breath in, Crowley forced himself to relax and he focused his eyes on the object in his hands.

There. He was right. There was something carved into the wall on one side of the door. Quickly, the demon shifted the glass object in his hands and saw to his amazement that the exact same symbol was repeated on the other side of the gate, exactly level with the other one so that if someone were to draw a straight line between the two, it would create a barrier striking horizontally through each of the metal bars. 

These carvings were much more intricate than the first one had been. He could tell immediately that these were done with painstaking care. There was not an indentation out of place. If these markings had been carved by artists, the first one Crowley had seen was the work of a child. They were that different in style, and apparently in meaning too.

On his side of the wall was the mark of a demon. A single name with nothing else to go along with it. If he had to guess, Crowley would have said the mark was made by a demon like himself, wandering around the tunnels, lost and alone, trying to make sense of this never ending maze. Trying to leave a trail so he’d know where he’d been.

The carvings on the other side of the wall were much more significant. They said more than just a name. These markings had a power to them that Crowley could not explain. He could see the energy swirling an inky black and blue within the crevices, illuminating the air around each of them with a soft, almost imperceptible glow. 

It was a seal. A powerful one that had been placed here a very long time ago.

He glanced at the image again, reaching out his other arm to help keep the sunglasses steady. There had to be some kind of clue here. Something to help him figure out what he was up against. Something to help him get home again.

A few seconds later, he saw it, and Crowley growled in frustration. There, right next to each of the original markings was an additional, very familiar one. It was so small compared to the others that Crowley had missed it the first time, but it was obvious to him now. Someone had added his mark to the wall, effectively trapping him down here as long as that seal was still in place.

Fuck. He could just not catch a break, could he?

 “Who is Belial?” Crowley asked aloud, his attention drifting back to the swirling black and blue light as he read the name on the larger sigil. With no real reasoning, his mind immediately filled with images of ruby red eyes, dagger-like claws, and wide wings surrounded in darkness. He shivered in spite of himself. “And why did someone want to lock them away down here?”

So many questions, and no one around to help answer them.

Crowley paused mid thought, pulling the sunglasses back toward him and tucking them safely away in his pocket. He took a step back and examined the mark on his side of the wall one more time, just to be sure. Once he was convinced that’s all it was - just a name carved into stone with no other properties to it - the demon allowed himself to smile, if only slightly.

He was trapped, that much was indisputable, but perhaps Crowley wasn’t entirely on his own after all.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was no artist. He’d tried once at the end of the 19th century after he’d attended an annual art exhibition in Paris and saw “Starry Night Over the Rhone” for the first time. The angel wasn’t really one for trying new things, but at the time, Crowley had been absent for quite a while and he had grown bored. Learning the Gavotte had turned out well for him, so Aziraphale had tried his hand at learning how to paint, thinking it might be just as enjoyable, if not more.

Unfortunately for him, there seemed to be some kind of disconnect between his mind and his hands. No matter how hard he tried, things didn’t turn out the way he wanted them to. The angel could visualize what he wanted to create easily, but when it came time to transfer it to paper or canvas, something always went awry. Eventually, after several years of dabbling, he gave up. 

Not this time. This time, the stakes were too high. This time, everything had to be perfect.

After hours of meticulous work, hours of erasing and redrawing and kneeling on the cold wooden floorboards, the angel finally rose to his feet and looked down at his masterpiece. Aziraphale felt a small smile creep across his face, the first one he’d experienced in several weeks. This was going to work. After weeks of research and planning and practice, he’d finally done it. 

He’d finally perfected his summoning circle.

The entire contents of the bookshop had been displaced. All the shelves had been moved to the side, all the furniture miraculously crammed into the back room. The large ornate rug was haphazardly bunched up under one of the windows, and in the center of the old wooden floorboards, where an entirely different circle once stood, was a collection of candles and intricate drawings made from mud and ash and coal.

Outside, the posted sign had said he’d been closed for nearly two months. Aziraphale hadn’t opened the shop since the day Crowley had been discorporated. All of his attention had been focused on how to get his best friend back, and today his hard work would finally pay off. 

Today, he would finally get to see Crowley again.

Glancing back at his notes one more time, Aziraphale dusted off his hands. Carefully, he stepped around the outside of the circle, avoiding any close interaction with the candles that were spaced exactly three feet apart from each other. It wouldn’t do for him to knock any of them over. The last time he’d had a mishap like that, the entire bookshop had burned to the ground. Aziraphale couldn’t afford to have that happen again. Not when Adam wasn’t able to fix it like last time.

“Right,” the angel muttered to himself, releasing a deep breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “Here we go.”

The angel reached behind him and grabbed a notebook from the cluttered desk. He’d spent nearly three days translating text used for the ancient rituals. Although Aziraphale was pretty sure he had the words memorized based on how many times he had already gone over them, he didn’t want to risk any disruptions. The fact that Crowley had been gone for almost two months without a single word meant his friend was likely in some sort of trouble. Crowley was counting on Aziraphale and the angel would not disappoint.

Aziraphale’s words echoed throughout the bookshop, starting off soft, then getting louder by the minute. At the beginning, the angel kept his eyes fixed on the paper in front of him. He gritted his teeth as the words began to shift around, vibrating up and down before his eyes. This was not what he needed right now. Aziraphale couldn’t afford to mess this up. 

It took a moment for the angel to realize the words were moving, not because of some occult magic, but because Aziraphale couldn’t stop his hands from trembling. He sucked in a deep breath and released it quickly, forging along with his repetition of the ritual written out before him. In the back of his mind, the angel willed his hands to steady. They could shake all they wanted later when Crowley was back in his arms.

Eventually, the angel chanced a glance beyond his worn parchment. What he saw nearly took his breath away. The sigil on the floor was glowing, actually glowing. A faint orange light was rising up from the floorboards, outlining the dark charcoal marks. Aziraphale could feel the occult energy building in front of him. The lights from the candles began to flicker as the rising energy crackled like lightning around him. Tiny sparks of blue electricity jumped from one black line to the next in front of his very eyes. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and Aziraphale had to tear his gaze away from the whirring magic before him and back to the page in his still trembling hand.

He couldn’t stop now, no matter how quickly his heart was beating. No matter how blurry his eyes were growing with the tears that Aziraphale could not seem to hold back. He had to keep going. He had to finish this.

He had to see Crowley again. This had to work.

“I summon thee, Demon Crowley, Serpent of Eden. Come to Earth and do my bidding.”

Aziraphale finished with thunderous assurance, flinging his arms to the side, paper still clutched in his shaking hand. Blue eyes flew wide as he imagined what was sure to happen next. He imagined the blue energy leaping toward the middle of the circle. He imagined the orange light glowing blindingly bright so he had to look away. He imagined the roar of wind displacing stacks of papers all around his bookshop as it rushed toward the center of the room.

Any second now. Any second and the breeze would surge around him, coalescing in fire and earth as it swirled within the sigil, and when the dust settled, Crowley would be there.

The air did rush by him, and Aziraphale’s heart raced alongside it. He waited, hardly daring to breathe as the orange light flickered in front of him, and then promptly went out. 

Aziraphale blinked. What had happened? He looked down at his notes, blue eyes rapidly scanning for anything he might have done wrong. No. The words had been perfect. Perhaps the sigil?

All colored light had faded from the floorboards. The design was still in tact, though, which was probably a good sign. Aziraphale half expected his whole setup to explode in bright flames and searing heat if even one part of the process was done incorrectly. He had several buckets of water standing by for such an event. Normal water, at the moment, but with a quick blessing, they would be quite effective against anything unwelcome Hell might send his way.

Stumbling backward, the angel made his way back to his desk and picked up another bit of parchment. This one was attached to two ornate brass rods, one at either end. Aziraphale glanced down at the scroll, then back to the black-marked floor at the center of his bookshop. His eyes traced over each and every line. Each curve, spiral, and hash mark. They were all here. Every single one of them was in its proper place.

So what had gone wrong?

Aziraphale frowned. Maybe he had gotten his pronunciation wrong. Shuffling through some more papers on his desk, the angel found what he was looking for. He stood there staring at the page for what felt like an eternity. Blue eyes danced slowly over the words, looking for any hint of a discrepancy.

His heart sank when, many minutes later, Aziraphale came up empty. Everything seemed to be in perfect order.  

So why hadn’t it worked?

Turning to face the circle once more, Aziraphale took a step forward. He clutched the words of the ritual close to his chest once more and began to speak, this time, reciting the words from memory.

Almost immediately, the sigil began to glow once more. This time, Aziraphale did not look away. He spoke the ancient words with a fierce determination, his blue eyes flashing in the candle lit room. The angel kept his gaze upon the softly glowing sigil and watched as, word by word, it began to glow brighter and brighter.

“I summon thee,” Aziraphale spoke again, his heart aching inside his chest. “Demon Crowley, Serpent of Eden. Come to Earth and do my bidding.”

For a second time, there was a light rush of wind, scattering a few pieces of paper by Aziraphale’s feet. The candles in front of him flickered and the steady orange glow pulsed brighter one time, and then went out.

Tears pooled over the edges of Aziraphale’s eyes. He didn’t understand. This should work! He’d done everything exactly right. The words had been perfect. The sigil had glowed . The ritual had worked, but it hadn’t brought Crowley back.

Why?

Heart hammering in his chest, Aziraphale tried to think things through. Why wouldn’t the ritual work? Why had Crowley not returned when Aziraphale had called him? What force could possibly be keeping his friend down in Hell, unable to return to Earth?

There was one possibility he hadn’t considered yet. One possibility that Aziraphale refused to consider.

Crowley wasn’t gone. Not permanently. Not forever. He couldn’t be. Aziraphale would know if Crowley was gone. He would have felt something. Something more than this dull ache in his chest. They’d been together since the beginning. Crowley always knew when Aziraphale had been in trouble. He’d found his way to Paris when the angel had been imprisoned in the Bastille. He’d walked across consecrated ground when Aziraphale had walked into a Nazi trap. Crowley had always known how to find Aziraphale. Surely that sense - that connection - went both ways.

And so, Aziraphale reasoned, Crowley couldn’t be gone. Not completely. Aziraphale was quite certain that at this point, he didn’t know how to exist without Crowley. If his friend really was gone, then how was Aziraphale still here? If Crowley really had disappeared for good, how was the angel’s heart still beating in his chest? 

Grimacing, Aziraphale turned to face the design on his floor once more. Something was wrong. It had to be. He’d picked the wrong ritual or someone had written the steps down incompletely. Aziraphale would prove it to himself. He would repeat the ritual one more time with a different demon’s name. When it failed a third time, the angel would go back to his research. He would find a way to get Crowley back, no matter how long it took. 

For the third time that morning, Aziraphale faced down the sigil upon his floor. His voice rose in volume as the orange light appeared, candles flickering with the light breeze that whipped up suddenly around him. Blue eyes stared unblinking at the intricate design as the sparks of electricity began to dart between the charcoal lines one more.

“I summon thee Caim, minion of Hell. Come to Earth and do my bidding.”

It hadn’t been a difficult choice who to summon. Aziraphale didn’t know many of the demons’ names and he didn’t feel like wasting time researching which one to summon when the angel was sure this ritual wouldn’t work the way it was intended. Crowley didn’t like to talk about his limited time in Hell or his former coworkers, but after knowing him for over six thousand years, Aziraphale had picked up on a few names. He had no desire to bring forth any of Crowley’s superiors, but demons like Dagon and Beelzebub hadn’t been the only ones his friend had mentioned over the years. There were a few names Aziraphale remembered - names of lesser demons who Crowley found more annoying than anything else. Any one of them would have been fine for his purposes, so Aziraphale said the first name that came to mind. 

The wind blew around him, ruffling Aziraphale’s white-blonde curls as it went by. The candles flickered and the orange light pulsed with energy. Even though this was the third time this had happened, Aziraphale found that he could not tear his gaze away from the crackling blue energy as it leaped from one black mark to the next, starting at the outer edge of the sigil and rapidly working its way in. As the sparks reached the center, there was a bright flash of light accompanied by the stench of sulfur and Aziraphale had to shut his eyes, both to the bright light and sudden tears as he tried to expel the wretched scent from his lungs in a fit of coughing.

When he opened his eyes again, Aziraphale found himself face to face with a palm-sized black bird. It was hopping around the center of the sigil, flapping its wings about haphazardly, as if it was trying to figure out how it had suddenly appeared inside the bookshop.

He blinked again, noticing the extra pair of taloned arms that lay beneath those fluttering wings. No normal bird had those, Aziraphale was sure of it. 

No . This couldn’t be right. He had to be seeing things. There couldn’t be a demon here, in his bookshop. The ritual was broken. It didn’t work. So how…?

“Caim?”

The demon looked up at him, coal black eyes glistening in the flickering candlelight. “Oh, how rich.” His voice sounded nothing like Aziraphale expected a bird’s voice to sound like, if birds could talk. It was a deep, resonating thing, causing the shelves around him to shake with every syllable. “An angel, summoning a demon. Headquarters is going to love this.”

Aziraphale stared down at the small creature as it hopped around in its cage. The ritual had worked after all, which meant two things. One, Caim was trapped in Aziraphale’s bookshop until the angel sent him back to Hell. And two, Crowley wasn’t coming back. Crowley couldn’t come back.

“I don’t work for Heaven anymore,” the angel stated through gritted teeth, eyes hardening as he continued to look down at the demon before him. Desperately, he fought back tears. Now was not the time to lose his composure. Today wasn’t a complete failure. He had managed to summon a demon here - a demon he was currently talking to. That was progress.

Maybe Caim knew where Crowley was. This minor demon was here, after all, under Aziraphale’s summons. He would be compelled to tell the angel all he knew.

Hope flared to life in Aziraphale’s chest as he stared down the creature before him. Caim had stopped moving around, realizing that the sigil on the floor was sealed tight. There was no way for him to escape. Not until Aziraphale released him from his bonds.

“Where is Crowley?” the angel asked harshly, meeting the bird-like creature’s gaze. He watched as the sharp black beak parted for a moment, shifting up and down as Caim moved his head in a silent laugh.

“Answer me!” Aziraphale commanded, fists clenching beside him as a hot wave of anger crashed against the inside of his chest. “What did you do to him?”

Caim’s feathery shoulders rose and fell with a gentle shrug. His taloned arms crossed in front of his chest as he extended his wings in a long stretch. “How should I know? We haven’t seen hide or hair from him since you two botched the Apocalypse.”

Fury swept through the angel. He could feel the energy in the room begin to pulse as Aziraphale struggled to hold himself back. “You’re lying,” he hissed, knowing his claim had to be true. There was no way Crowley could have been discorporated and ended up anywhere else except for Hell. Even if Caim hadn’t seen Crowley, he would have heard about his arrival. He would have known if Hell had done something to Crowley. Based on what Aziraphale remembered of this particular demon, Caim was a gossip. He liked to listen in on rumors and enjoyed spreading them even more. 

If something had happened to Crowley, which it obviously had, Caim would know.

“And here I thought they said you were clever,” Caim drawled, causing Aziraphale’s fists to clench even tighter. He had never really understood the phrase ‘seeing red’ until this very moment. The angel’s entire body was shaking. His gaze had tunnel-visioned, practically eliminating all peripheral vision from his sights. All Aziraphale could see was the self-satisfied demon perched in front of him, beady little black eyes piercing straight through the angel. “You drew this pattern, yeah? Then you should be aware that I physically cannot lie to you while you have me trapped here in this prison.”

Aziraphale drew in a deep breath. “Then I command you to tell me where Crowley is,” he reiterated. “He was discorporated two months ago, which means he would have ended up back in Hell. There is no way you haven’t heard some bit of information or rumor about him. Tell me what you know.”

Caim snorted sounding more like a several ton bull than a small black thrush. “I know nothing.”

Once again, the energy in the room began to spark. Celestial and infernal joining together in the air around them. Aziraphale paused for a moment to calm himself down. If he wasn’t careful, he might end up destroying the bookshop anyway.

“Then tell me what you’ve heard.” As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Aziraphale knew Caim was right about one thing. He could not physically lie in that circle when asked a direct question. He could, however, bend the truth so much it became unrecognizable. The angel would have to choose his words wisely.

Caim took a deep breath and fixed his gaze on Aziraphale. “I have not seen that pathetic excuse for a demon since he bathed in front of us all in a tub full of Holy Water.” He sneered and Aziraphale felt his stomach clench violently within him as rage reared its ugly head. “And I hope to never see his disgusting face again.”

A bolt of white-hot lightning fell from the ceiling, landing mere inches from where Caim was currently standing. The demon shrieked, flapping its wings ferociously as it rose from the ground, desperate to get away. Demons could not feel heat - they were born of fire. They lived in it. This sort of radiant energy was the closest they ever came to it, and for a being who wasn’t used to the sensation, it could be quite disturbing.

“Don’t speak about him that way,” Aziraphale commanded. “You can say all manner of things against me, but I will not tolerate anything of the sort about Crowley.”

The bird-like demon fluttered back to the floor and sneered at him, careful to avoid the still smoldering char mark Aziraphale’s attack had left behind. “Why should you care what I say about Crawly ?” Caim spat in the angel’s general direction. “He’s only a demon after all.”

Just like the first time, this second bolt had no warning. It erupted downward from the rafters, striking the ground quicker than either of them could comprehend. Aziraphale’s blue eyes flashed brilliantly in the dim bookshop lighting and when the miraculous strike had cleared, leaving behind a twin singe mark on his hardwood floors, Caim was gone, leaving behind a handful of black feathers that fluttered nervously to the floor. 

For a moment, the only sounds Aziraphale could hear were his own soft, shallow breaths accompanied by a high pitched ringing that resonated loudly in his head. He felt a sharp pain in his hands and slowly uncurled his fists, raising his palms to inspect the sensation. A row of crescent indentations marred the skin on each of his hands where his fingernails had bit into his own flesh. It hadn’t been enough to break the skin, but Aziraphale had been close. He couldn’t remember a time ever feeling that much anger and hatred before. It had left him feeling quite drained.

Aziraphale’s reaction had been so sudden, he hadn’t given the demon a chance to speak. The angel hadn’t even given himself the opportunity to say a single word to Caim before he was so violently discorporated and sent back to Hell. Perhaps the demon would spread his story among his acquaintances down there. Perhaps word would spread that Crowley had gone missing and Aziraphale was searching for him. That Aziraphale wouldn’t stop until he had his demon by his side once more. He’d lost his chance to make his intentions known this time around, but that hardly mattered.

Next time, he would be sure to pass along the message.

Chapter Text

The voice was so out of place that when he first heard it, Crowley paid no attention. He had been walking around this fucking nightmare of a dungeon for an eternity and he wasn’t getting anywhere. Half the gates he passed by lead to darkened hallways and more uninhabited corridors and the ones he did come across that held promises of escape all contained those same seals. He was effectively trapped in this place with no discernible way out. 

Maybe he should have spent more time down in Hell. Would that have helped him now? If he’d come down for a check-in every now and then, would someone have mentioned the name? The seals? This supposed separate area of Hell that he could not escape from?

He had to find a way out. Crowley knew he was clever. He was resourceful, but most of all, he was determined. He could do this. He could figure a way out if only he had a moment of silence where he could think . If only this infernal noise would stop for a moment and let him breathe.

Ugh ! Crowley couldn’t stand this. It was one thing to be trapped down here in this never-ending maze by himself, but an entirely different kind of torture to be trapped and stuck listening to this racket. Honestly, the song drifting down the hallway wasn’t even that catchy. If anything, it sounded more like raucous chanting than singing, and though he couldn’t decipher all of the words, Crowley was pretty sure the chant didn’t even rhyme. 

Wait. What?

The demon stopped dead in his tracks, all too familiar dim lights flickering around him, casting shadows of himself against the walls. Crowley was being extra careful to keep an eye on the shadows. They would be the first telltale sign that something was wrong. Either that or the whispering. He hadn’t heard the haunting whispers or terrifying screams in a while. In fact, this was the first sound he’d heard outside of his own breathing since he’d transformed back out of his snake form.

A chant? Another voice? The demon’s heartbeat began to increase and not entirely because of his sudden increase in pace. Who was it? Where was it coming from? Was it possible that there was someone else down here, trapped with him? Or had Crowley finally lost his mind?

Thwick, thwack, packity-whack
Glip glop gloo-who-who
Yig yup yoop
Floobity-doo! Floobity-doo. 

Crowley darted around the next corner and skidded to a dead stop. There, clinging to the wall like some kind of spider, was another demon. He was much smaller than Crowley, around a foot and a half tall with deep red leathery skin, sharp black claws on his hands and feet, and a thin tail that was currently whipping back and forth, sharp stinger thwacking up against the stones he clung to.

Upon hearing his footsteps, the small demon turned, fixing his bright yellow eyes on Crowley’s face. For a moment, he simply stared, his tail still thwacking against the stone, the sound echoing around them. Heart hammering away in his chest, Crowley stared the small creature down, unsure what to do. He didn’t look all that threatening. If forced, Crowley could probably take him in a fight. Not that he really wanted to. What Crowley wanted most was information. Information that, maybe, this creature could give him.

“What’s your name?” It was as good as any place to start. 

The other demon looked up at him with his beady little yellow eyes. “A name’s a game that must be played before the words that can be sayed.” with a flutter of his bat-like wings, he drifted toward the ground, hopping around in circles as he casually chased after his barbed tail.

Crowley rolled his eyes. Of course. Of course the first being he came across that didn’t want to kill him was stark raving mad. 

“My name is Crowley,” he tried again, trying to slip as much patience into his voice as possible as he knelt down to be closer to the little imp-like creature. “I’ve gotten myself lost down here and I’m looking for a way out. Do you know the way?”

The imp paused in his hopping, turning his head to gaze up at Crowley. “Hard to say,” the creature began, cocking his head to one side. Behind him, his tail flicked sharply back and forth, thwacking against the cold stone floor with an irregular tempo. “Which way is up, down, out, or in. All ways become one in the maze.”

A sigh escaped Crowley’s lips. He rose to his feet, resisting the urge to bury his face in his hands. There had to be something useful this thing could tell him. Even if he was insane, the creature had to know some sort of fact that might help Crowley get out of here. 

What else could he ask? What else might this creature know after being down here as long as he had? How long had he been down here? Was he even coherent enough to be able to know something like that?

Crowley shrugged. At this point there was absolutely no reason not to ask. Worst case scenario, he got some kind of rubbish answer and was forced to try something else. 

“How long have you been down here?” Crowley asked, fixing his amber gaze on the tiny, angular face. “Are you stuck like me?”

The imp cackled as he reached out a hand and grasped onto the end of his own tail, hoisting it victoriously over his head. “Stick stack stuck. Flitter free and count the clocks. Tick tock. Tick tock. Stick stack stuck.”

Another frustrated sigh left the demon’s lips. He would try one more time, and then be on his way. Walking around aimlessly for hours upon end didn’t seem to be helping him, but neither did speaking to this creature. At least when he was moving, Crowley felt like he was making some progress. At least when he was moving, he felt like he was putting some distance between himself and whatever that Belial creature was.

“Where are we?”

Three blinks of the imp’s yellow eyes in rapid succession. “We are here,” he responded, like it was the most obvious answer in the world. Crowley growled deep in his chest. This was hopeless! Crowley would be better off drawing pictures in the sand than trying to talk to this brain-dead thing.

He paused, suddenly, and looked down at the ground. There was a decent layer of dust and grime in this passageway. Perhaps it would be enough.

Stooping to the ground, Crowley held out a finger and began to draw, smiling to himself as the imp stopped tugging on his own tail and turned to watch what he was doing. Slowly, an image began to appear - a symbol that would appear to be some sort of complex wiggly line to anyone other than a fellow demon.

Grinning, his pointed teeth glinting in the dim light, the imp hopped forward and placed his own finger in the grime, dragging it around rapidly until a very familiar symbol lay present on the floor across from Crowley’s.

“Cortaz,” Crowley murmured, the information clicking into place. So this was the demon whose mark he’d seen earlier. The one who had been marking each gate Crowley had passed by. Why? If he wasn’t sealed in down here, why didn’t the creature just leave? He was small enough, he would fit through the bars. Why hadn’t he left this place already?

Crowley could ask, but he doubted he’d get any straight answer. It was likely this imp was just too stupid to realize he could walk away. He didn’t need to eat, didn’t need to sleep. There was no reason he needed to be somewhere else. What reason did Cortaz have to leave here? Perhaps, for him, this area was a better alternative to the rest of Hell where it was loud and crowded and he likely got bossed around day in and day out. Perhaps that was the reason he left.

“Why haven’t you left yet?” he asked, knowing the answer would be unsatisfactory. “Why haven’t you tried to go home?”

The imp blinked again, seemingly disappointed their drawing game had come to an end. With a loud huff of his breath, he clambered across the floor and back up the wall, clinging to the damp stone like a squirrel to a tree. “Home is what you make of it.”

Fine. If this thing didn’t want to give him answers or was too stupid to come up with them, Crowley would leave him be. He stood up, not even bothering to brush the dirt and grime off his pants this time. This whole entire outfit was going straight into the fire as soon as he got back to his flat. He would let it burn up with all these terrible memories

Hold on, my dear, he could hear Aziraphale’s voice whispering in his head. Crowley sighed and closed his eyes, once again fighting back tears, trying to keep his crumbling heart in one piece. There is still one more question you need to ask him.

Crowley rolled his eyes, crossing his arms as he huffed out loud. He imagined Aziraphale down here standing beside him, blue eyes twinkling softly in the dim light. The demon just barely resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at the angel, an act he knew Aziraphale would respond to with a soft ‘tut’ and a gentle smile tugging at the corner of his lips. 

What’s the point, angel? He asked the imaginary Aziraphale inside his mind. He’s not going to know anything.

The phantom angel simply smiled and shook his head, blonde curls bobbing back and forth with the motion. What Crowley wouldn’t give to be able to reach over and pull the angel into his arms right in that moment. He would hold Aziraphale close, bury his hands in the angel’s soft hair and never ever let go.

Just because he says nothing, does not mean he knows nothing.

Of course. Aziraphale was brilliant, even when he was only a figment of Crowley’s imagination. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

“Hey, Cortaz!” Crowley shouted, gathering the imp’s attention once more. The moment those beady little yellow eyes were locked on his, the demon snapped his fingers and Cortaz froze, clinging to the wall with a single hand, his other dangling uselessly beside him. He gazed up at Crowley with a blank look on his face, mouth hanging open ever so slightly.

“Right,” Crowley began, knowing he had the imp’s undivided attention now. “Now you listen here. I have a series of very important questions that needs answering. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” the imp answered breathlessly, the trance holding onto him with a firm grip. Crowley smiled to himself and continued on.

“Who is Belial? Where the Heavens am I, and how the bloody Hell do I get back to Earth?”

The moment the name Belial entered into the air around them, Cortaz began to shake. His yellow eyes went even wider, wings flapping erratically behind him. There was no mistaking the scent of fear emanating from his body as the imp tried to flee, but was trapped in place on the wall.

“Belial…” Cortaz croaked in a voice that suddenly sounded much more lucid. “We are in Belial’s territory.”

“Yes, yes,” Crowley interrupted, frustrated with how this creature’s reaction was pulling his fear to the surface as well. “I figured out that much. Who are they, Cortaz? How do we escape?”

“Esssscape,” the imp hissed, baring his teeth at Crowley. It was disconcerting how wide his eyes had grown. How he hadn’t blinked at all since the demon had asked his question. “There isss no essscape.”

Cortaz’s voice grew more hushed, more urgent, and yet it seemed to fill the space around them, echoing off the stone walls in a way that turned Crowley’s blood to ice. He wanted to turn around, wanted to check behind him to make sure he was still safe, but if he broke eye contact, there was a chance the imp might flee and take all of Crowley’s answers with him. Demons weren’t like humans. With humans, Crowley could keep his hypnotic spell up indefinitely. He didn’t have to look them in the eye, didn’t have to be standing right beside them, but demons? He had limited resources and even more limited time. Crowley had to act fast.

“Who. Are. They?” He reiterated, widening his own eyes to match the imp’s, trying desperately to ignore the rapid beating of his heart and the way his palms were beginning to sweat.

The hairs on the back of Crowley’s neck stood on end a split second before Cortaz answered. The hissing that had left the imp’s mouth a second earlier turned into whispers and Crowley knew he needed to run.

“They are heeerrreee….”

Cortaz’s high-pitched answer melded into the scream that echoed from down the hall. Crowley broke eye contact and glanced up in front of him, seeing, to his dismay, a single hallway stretching on for what seemed like miles. He couldn’t go straight ahead. Based on his body’s reaction, Belial was close. Even if he sprinted forward, there was no guarantee he would find another passage to dart down. He could reach the end of the hall to find a dead end. And even if he didn’t find himself trapped by stone walls, Belial would spot him long before he reached his destination.

He had to play the waiting game. Had to hope that this nightmare of a creature was here hunting an insane imp, rather than himself. But where could he go? The nearest gate was back the other way, a way that he absolutely could not go. What was his other option?

There. Another crevice at the top of the wall. This one a bit wider than the last. Crowley could only hope it would be high enough that Belial would not notice him.

Crowley transformed quickly, slithering up the wall as quickly as he moved across the floor. If he were a normal snake, such a feat would have been impossible. Luckily for him, demonic serpents had a few extra abilities to help out in sticky situations such as this. He reached the crevice in record time, confident Belial had not spotted him.

Holding his breath, Crowley coiled in on himself, his snout mere inches from the opening in the wall he was hiding within. From here he could see the flickering light below. He could see the shadows dancing on the wall as Cortaz fluttered about in shock, too paralyzed by his shock and fear to flee. 

Get away, Crowley urged him, unable to do anything to help. Get away you stupid, useless imp.

Amber eyes widened as he caught a glimpse of a familiar shadow on the wall. Determined to know what he was up against, Crowley had kept his human eyes in place, allowing him to see more than just the heat signatures around him. He watched, breathless, as a large black wing came into view. He watched as broad horns stretched out below him, the demonic figure coming to a stop less than five feet below where he was hiding.

Even though he couldn’t see them as he gazed down at Belial’s backside, Crowley could imagine those terrifying red eyes, blazing with light as they looked over at the imp thrashing up against the walls. Looking for an escape where none existed.

All of a sudden, the whispers and screaming stopped. The air around them froze, silence becoming deafening as Belial reached out with a taloned hand and grabbed Cortaz cleanly out of the air, pinning the imp’s wings to his side. Red light began to pulse between them as thin black tendrils of fog crept outward from Belial’s face and mouth and head, twisting their way around the imp’s body, latching onto every empty bit of skin they could find.

A new scream echoed around them, breaking the silence. It struck at Crowley’s heart, latching onto his very soul, threatening to drag it clean from his body. Crowley shrank back in his sanctuary, watching as Cortaz’s yellow eyes burned bright, illuminating the space around them for what felt like both an eternity and no time at all.

The light was so bright, Crowley had to momentarily close his eyes. If he’d been in his humanoid form, the demon was certain his heart would have lodged itself in his throat, never to be removed again.

Suddenly, the screaming stopped and Crowley’s eyes flew open. The bright yellow light instantaneously shut off, revealing Cortaz’s cold lifeless eyes for a brief moment before his body crumbled away into dust.

Without moving, without taking a step forward or moving his head or making any indication at all that they knew where Crowley was, Belial began to speak.

I am the darkness in every street, the whispering voices hissed, coalescing into one sound that struck simultaneously at Crowley’s mind and heart. It was almost as if Belial knew he was here. Almost as if the creature was toying with him. Wanting him to break with fear the way Cortaz had. The crumbling buildings where the desolate sleep. The slice of razor against soft supple skin.

I am the empty bottles strewn across the floor. Crowley held his breath, knowing deep within his twisted heart that this was the end. He was going to die here. His heart, body, mind and soul destroyed in a flash of brilliant light. 

The harsh gaze of every mirror hanging on the walls. The pierce of the needle that brings promises of oblivion, but will never deliver. I am every thought of judgement, every assurance that you’ll never be enough.

One more high-pitched scream echoed throughout the halls, and for one horrifying moment, Crowley feared it was his own. But Belial did not react. Belial did not turn their gaze toward him. They simply stood motionless in the hall, specks of darkness hovering around them. For a moment, Crowley thought they seemed to pulse with a soft yellow light, but that would be ridiculous.

There is no escaping me. Creation will always believe they are less than perfect, that they are lacking in every way that matters. And, therefore, I am eternity.

Crowley shut his eyes, waiting for the inevitable to come. Waiting for that clawed hand to wrap itself around his neck, waiting for the tendrils of darkness to latch onto his skin and pull the very light of his soul out of his body, leaving him as nothing more than crumbling dust. Waiting with bated breath for oblivion to take him.

It never came.

You cannot escape. Belial took a step forward, its footsteps echoing throughout the hall. Crowley’s eyes flew open, hope flaring to life inside his chest despite the situation he currently found himself in. He was safe, for now. Belial hadn’t found him yet.  I will find you. We have all of eternity to play this game, little one.

It is a game I intend to win.