“Butterflies,” Crowley says, apropos of nothing.
“Butterflies?” Aziraphale repeats with an owlish blink. They’ve been drinking for a solid seven hours now, and have been sitting in comfortable silence for about three. Crowley is currently half-melted into a lazy sprawl of black along the whole length of the Chesterfield.
“Yeah. It’s like butterflies,” he says with a satisfied sort of nod. As if he’s threaded a particularly difficult needle of language. As if he’s found a clever answer to a question.
“Butterflies?” Aziraphale repeats again, trying to keep the slur out of his voice, hoping to convey his confusion.
“Yup.” Crowley reaches down to the floor and lets his fingers catch on a wine bottle. He lets it sit on his chest for a moment before he takes a drink. “Wot you think about ‘em, angel?”
“I don’t—” Aziraphale has no idea where this conversation is headed. It sounds like Crowley is leading up to one of his grandiloquent drunken speeches. Or possibly a diatribe. Bit of a coin flip, really. Sometimes it’s delightful, sometimes it’s irritating, and sometimes there’s a third side of the coin where it’s wounding. “I like all God’s creatures. ‘S a tiny thing. Don’t tell me you don’t like butterflies! I shan’t have it!”
Crowley scoffs with fanged teeth and ripples onto his feet with a dangerous sway. “Should’ve known you’d like them. Everybody likes butterflies!” He utters the word with contempt.
“They’re pretty,” Aziraphale says with hot cheeks, feeling incredibly shallow for a six thousand year old being who can see the very fabric of creation. “And they’re an important part of the ecologic-ecosysmatic-ecolologic-echolocate—they have sex. With the flowers.”
There’s another snort from the demon, “More like they’re marital aids to the flowers. And they’re not pretty. They’re monstrous.”
Aziraphale frowns, putting his wineglass down. “Monstrous!?”
“Have you ever looked at their mouths?” Crowley sticks out an incredibly long, thin, snake-forked tongue and curls it into a loose coil. “Wi’ the’ thothothcith?”
Crowley rolls his eyes and his tongue zips back into his mouth like an elastic cable cut from tension. “With their proboscis, keep up, angel!”
“What’s wrong with their proboscises? Probosci?”
“‘S weird. Having their mouths on the outside like that. You know they taste with their feet? And there’s their hairy little bodies and their wire-thin legs and weird proportions… And everyone fucking loves them!”
“I don’t think the blueprint for butterflies is that unseemly or unusual,” Aziraphale points out mildly. “There are far more species of insect on this planet than people or kangaroos or emus or—”
“They’re hideous, ” Crowley insists, stalking around the back room, working himself up into a properly demonic fury. “You know how they’re made, right?”
Aziraphale follows Crowley’s pacing, and it almost makes him ill to track the motion. “I… oh, do slow down, please, my dear! You’re making the room sway!”
Crowley grunts, but he barely halts for more than a heartbeat. “They eat themselves.”
“Eat themselves!?” Aziraphale repeats, alarmed.
“Well, no,” Crowley reasons aloud to himself. “They just break down all their tissues and turn into soup.”
“Soup?” Aziraphale repeats, evidently transformed into a weak echo.
“Yeah, great big pot of caterpillar goo.” Crowley makes a truly awful noise through his teeth—though what this is supposed to be indicating, Aziraphale has no idea. “They disintegrate down into… into soup! Just… all boiled up!”
Aziraphale desperately tries to remember his time on a silk farm in the Heian period. “I don’t think you’re supposed to boil them,” he says mildly. “Not unless you want silk, anyway.”
“You’re not listening to me, angel!” Aziraphale is taken aback by Crowley’s sudden vehemence. So much so that he sobers up immediately, the taste of iron coating his mouth. “The point is—my point is—it all breaks down. Just some discs that, nh, make the production happen. Little nodes. Like a skellington, almost. ‘Cept it’s not. Imaginal discs, they call it.”
“Imaginal discs?” Aziraphale feels something like fear spider down his spine.
“Melted down, until you’re all fucking digested by your own enzymes, and-and-and all these changes happening, while you’re sitting there aware the whole fucking time of being something else before—”
“Crowley.” It feels like his heart has leapt up into his mouth.
“Cause they remember it, y’know, caterpillars. Remember stuff before they go into their little cocoons. And you sit there with all the memories of how it used to be before your fucking juvenile hormones ran out, because that was the only stuff keeping the whole process at bay—”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale pleads, because he doesn’t want this. Not like this, not when Crowley is so drunk he doesn’t realize he’s answering a question Aziraphale never asked.
“Before you grew up and dared to ask questions and ask, ‘well, why shouldn’t I be something other than a mindless leaf-eating machine in a leaf-eating factory?’” Crowley rakes a hand through his hair, leaving behind a rumpled mess that makes him look positively manic. His eyes wild and swallowtail yellow from corner to corner. “Sssso, made your chrysalisss and now you get to lie in it.”
Without warning, Crowley stops his pacing and drops back onto the couch, pounding his fist on the coffee table as soon as his arse hits the leather. “That’s why it’s bullshit that everyone loves butterflies! They don’t know what it—what it’s—” Crowley looks decidedly lost, bewildered and in pain. “It’s all goo. Disgusting, putrid, ugly soup! And people only like them because they don’t know better!”
The silence that falls between them sends terrible, steel-cold goosebumps all down Aziraphale’s body. The moment he cautiously raises his eyes to meet Crowley’s, the demon looks away, flopping down and rolling over to face the back of the couch. “....Yeah, so just… think butterflies are overrated, ‘s all. Moths are on thin ice, too.”
Aziraphale twists his hands nervously. Crowley hit the third side of the coin, but the worst of its edge came down on him. “You know, I find that I still do rather like butterflies, even given all that.”
Crowley scoffs, and his shoulders tighten up towards his ears. “You just like how it looks at the end. Nobody likes the disgusting bits in the middle.”
“On the contrary, my dear boy,” Aziraphale says gently. “It’s really quite remarkable that the caterpillar can survive all that. The transformation process… well, it only helps me appreciate the butterfly that much more.” He holds his breath, praying he’ll be heard, that he’s said it right.
“Yeah?” Crowley finally asks, his voice the quietest thing Aziraphale has ever heard.
“Yes, to undergo such a radical transformation must be… shocking, to say the least.” Aziraphale clears his throat. “That a butterfly still comes out so beautiful and gentle… and yes, even wiry-legged and oddly proportioned… it’s nothing short of a—” He swallows thickly. It’s a gamble, but he doesn’t know any other word to describe it. “A miracle.”
There is a long sigh from the couch, and a curious sort of shifting to Crowley’s shoulders. Aziraphale realizes the demon must have sobered up, because when he pushes himself up and swings his legs over the couch, his eyes are clear for the split second Aziraphale sees them. The sunglasses go back in place, black like the wings of an emperor butterfly. “I should go,” Crowley says blandly to his knees.
Neither of them move.
Butterflies, it strikes Aziraphale as he studies Crowley, are fragile things, as well as beautiful.
“...Sorry I made it weird.” Crowley pushes himself to his feet, hands brushing over his legs. Toothpick thin and far too long, and before Aziraphale can even protest or tell Crowley he has nothing to be ashamed of, he’s fluttered his way out the door. Aziraphale hears the engine of the Bentley roar to life, grow louder, and then fade away as the demon makes his escape into the wild.