The Problem, Crowley rather thought, was that there was only one moment in his existence that should be the cause of the excruciating pain that consistently dogged his footsteps—and that Moment was a firm 6000 years behind him.
Pain, anguish, suffering—demons were certainly no strangers to these, but more in the “sidelined soccer parent living vicariously through their children” sort of way rather than the “directly experiencing” aspect. Inflectors, bystanders, instigators, yes of course—but not they themselves direct participants. It was very much the way it should be, had always been, and in normal circumstances, would always be.
It was a simple equation: demons instigated all things dark and despairing. Naturally, this also included pain—physical, emotional, and otherwise. Generally speaking, if it was any form of suffering or despair, a demon excelled and delighted in bringing it about. Thus, naturally, demons were not expected to they themselves such trivial suffering—and certainly not emotional pain (or any other, unmentionable feelings, for that matter).
Crowley quite wanted to find that little voice of aughts and “would bes” and wring its metaphysical neck.
Every day of his existence was further proof that he was not typical, another wrenching jab of anguish that jerked and tugged at the invisible knife driven deep into his soul—or rather, the gaping, ravenous dark maw that encompassed everything his soul used to be. Each second that ticked by was another shock to his system, every moment that slipped past the dull thud of an arrow finding its mark. All the grains of sand trickling fleetingly through his grasping fingers to puddle at his feet were laughing, dancing reminders of the constant agony that washed against him. It was an endless barrage, pounding against the bulwark he had erected around the shredded remnants of his soul, leaping and plunging up and over and around and eating his defenses out from within.
It was agony.
It was hell.
It was glorious.
Masochism derived from the constant tear of what remained of his soul was not something Crowley, as a rule, practiced. Instances of a more physical nature, perhaps—he saw their benefits in the rushing routine of regular human chaos, slid them nicely into place in his massive mental filing cabinet up amongst other less-explored avenues—but in matters concerning a perpetually unceasing assault on his eternal being he tended to prefer a less-complicated route. His was an eternally optimistic nature, perpetually seeking the bright spot even amongst the most dismal days, refusing to be beaten down even as all others around him crumpled and caved.
Really, it was quite aggravating.
He was a demon, he was supposed to revel in the darkness, glory in despair. He was supposed to bathe in the blood of sinners (figuratively, at least, as the physical aspect was prone to staining and it was aggravating enough to will away clothing imperfections that didn’t contain iron) and bring portents of doom, etc. etc.
He was not supposed to find a silver lining, slither through cracks in his contract and settle for causing minor chaos, delighting in all the mundane things that Hell itself could, quite honestly, care nothing about. He was not supposed to delight at all.
Actually, he was not supposed to feel.
And that, of course, was the Problem.
Crowley could do nothing but feel. Every day, every conscious second of his existence for as long as he could remember being aware after his Fall, Crowley had a barrage of emotions stirring around within. Hope, humor, curiosity, joy, empathy, and even lo—that one.
He would always ferociously deny them all to any who even dared to question, to himself. It was not his lot in life to be dealt that hand of cards—wasn’t that why he had been cast down in the first place? Wasn’t it his punishment to not feel those things, to be long without the joys he had once known, so very long ago?
Apparently not, as it seemed his personal case was far crueler, to walk in the shadows just alongside the light, forever within reach of its glow, forever aware of it, but unable to reach out and truly, finally claim even the tiniest bit of it for his own.
Some days were better than others, when he could silence—or at least temporarily quench—the endless cacophony of voices inside, put the world on mute and slide out from between the ever-tightening vice locked around his essence. The problem was, they were still always there, these unending emotions glowing like unquenchable embers, an empathy he could never truly ignore consuming him from the inside-out.
He should have hated it, should have resented it from the moment he realized what exactly had happened—but how could he when every single twist of the knife was simultaneously connected to the one being he treasured more than any other in this tediously long existence?
He would take the pulsing, searing agony of emotion that fluttered within him every time he caught Aziraphale’s eyes, the scream of his neurons every time the angel’s skin happened to brush his own, the wrench in his chest with every shared smile, frown, or exasperated look.
Literature played up the dessicated man lost amid an oasis, but it could never capture the true unquenchable thirst that accompanied one who was faced, daily, with everything they could never have.
His angel made every century, every moment worth it all, though. Every parched breath, every stabbing moment of raw emotion—even when he was exasperated beyond reason with Aziraphale, that pulsing, pounding, treacherous mustard seed of pure, unadulterated lo—emotion burned deep within.
Demons were not designed to feel so strongly, and Crowley, lacking the control variables against which to test his particular circumstances, could never be certain that what he was experiencing was anything remotely close to normal. Why could he feel if only to burn? Why question, why worry or wonder if only to have it yanked from beneath him like a quickly-withdrawn rug?
If he was not meant to care, to lo—that, then why have it at all?
So, of course, he took the bit between his teeth and set his heels in the ground and fought hoof and nail against every roiling, acidic wash of demonic instinct within him. Chaos was fine, chaos was fun, but rampant violence, murder, genocide, bigotry—the humans had enough of that without him, thank you very much. He allowed himself the luxury, blinding and agonizing though it might have been, of minor mischief and eternal glee, delighting in all sorts of experiences and feelings that should never have been there in the first place.
And, he indulged himself in that one Vice (by Hell’s standards) that even he would never name, slipping through history at his angel’s side, appearing as if by instinct at those moments precisely when Aziraphale would be most in need, spending countless hours simply enjoying his friend’s company. It was more than that, but to admit it to himself would be tantamount to his destruction, so he locked it away, deep down in the recesses of his being, bolted it into a chest and buried the chest, walled it up and lined it with barbed wire and armed guards and dogs (metaphysical Hellhounds, because why not?) and simply allowed himself the joy of being Aziraphale’s friend.
(friendly nemesis? it hardly mattered, because he knew what it really was, and as long as he kept it hidden from Below and Above and Aziraphale everything was just dandy)
The cynic in Crowley, when it slipped out long enough to manifest within his brain, screamed at him, beating within his temples and howling as he fell deeper and deeper into this trap of his own device, berating him and asking him why, why do this to yourself? And he had no answer—certainly it would be easier to walk away, would all but eliminate that uncomfortable tugging pull that he never went without, the forbidden emotions simmering within him—but when had Crowley ever been one to take the easy way out?
(the nineteenth century hardly counted, everyone was doing it—or at least, they should have been)
No, Crowley would take every nasty little non-demonic emotion, every moment of unrequited attention, for even a second of time spent with Aziraphale.
He was Lost, and he knew it.
When one has already Fallen, though, what more can one lose? After six millennia on the earth Crowley was no stranger to humanity—hell—heav—heck, he and the angel were practically natives by this point. Pre-apocalypse, post-apocalypse, no apocalypse—whatever. That time had come and gone, and now Crowley was left in this entirely unanticipated realm of complete and utter uncertainty.
There was no Hell—not for him anymore, at least, provided their little switch carried over for at least a while—and Heaven had all too happily stepped back from Aziraphale as well, turning stiff noses and cold shoulders and all but pretending the angel didn’t exist.
They were, to all points and purposes, left to their own devices (not Devices, though, they’d had quite enough of that, thank you very much).
It left Crowley feeling strangely berefit, yet oddly and inexplicably fuller than he had ever felt in his existence. For the first time, truly, he had no purpose, nothing that he was obligated to do, no chaos he had to cause, no paperwork to fabricate or disasters to (belatedly) tack his name to for an ill-earned commendation.
It was him and Aziraphale, cut loose and cast adrift amidst the constant flow of the Earth.
He was not prepared for this, and yet he reveled in it, those long-suppressed but never-forgotten Feelings surging up and easily demolishing every defense he had ever constructed (leading him to rather question their initial strength to begin with and wonder if it had even been worth the effort in the first place). He had never completely mastered those pesky emotions, his care slipping out even at the worst of times—Aziraphale could see right through him in most instances that didn’t concern lo—that one, and he had long since given up denying that the “spark of goodness” the angel so often cited did exist.
Of course, that left them where they were now—steadily working their way through Aziraphale’s reinvigorated liquor cabinet the evening after their lunch at the Ritz. They had eyed the wine, but after two delightful bottles earlier in the day had settled on a rather well-aged Scotch instead, bypassing some questionable ryes and vodkas in favor of their current choice.
Aziraphale watched, eyes askance, as Crowley willed two tumblers into being, pouring them each a generous portion of liquor.
“Was a miracle absolutely necessary?” he asked mildly, nevertheless accepting the glass with a small smile and a nod. “I have quite a collection of my own tumblers.”
“Of course,” Crowley scoffed, draping himself across the opposite chair. He slung one leg up over the armrest, flinging the scotch-less hand over the back and tracing idle patterns in the air as he took a sip from his glass. “The only glasses you used to have were far too small for the occasion, and I can only imagine what our young Antichrist might have set back in their places.” He smirked as Aziraphale’s face flashed from brief alarm and settled somewhere between resigned acceptance and blatant amusement.
“I’ll give you that one, my dear,” the angel replied, smacking his lips in appreciation as he savored the alcohol. “I’m afraid my book collection has grown rather more diverse since the events of the last few days.” He gave the towering stacks of books a sideways glance as though half expecting the new additions to leap from the shelves to announce themselves.
“Yes,” Crowley drawled, one eyebrow arching beneath his sunglasses, “I can imagine the presence of literary abominations such as Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe and the collective works of Twain have you quite in a tizzy.” His traitorous, treacherous heart leapt in his chest as Aziraphale laughed, smiling that soft smile of his that emerged only when he was well and truly at peace, his eyes alight with a sheer, overwhelming joy. It spilled out from him, boundless and unconfined, catching Crowley tightly in its grasp and squeezing until he gasped.
Aziraphale’s brows drew together. “Are you quite alright?” he asked, mouth turning down slightly in a concerned frown.
Heart pounding unnecessary in his chest, Crowley waved a dismissive hand, realizing too late it was the one holding his glass. He swore as Scotch slipped over the rim, most of his drink finding its way onto the carpet. “Da—He—blast!” he exclaimed, lunging forward and banishing the glass and stain simultaneously with a ferocious glare. It made for a comical image, the demon half-risen from his imperious sprawl, one hand extended in the air as the other gripped the backrest of his armchair, sunglasses perched at the tip of his nose from where they had slid with the force of his sudden movement.
He floundered for a moment, as ungainly as he had ever been, attempting to shift his weight back onto his makeshift throne. Before he could completely retreat, however, Aziraphale had lunged forward lightning quick and without thinking, removing the omnipresent sunglasses and casting them carelessly beside him on the sofa.
Crowley blinked, startled into stillness. “What—“
“I’ve been such a fool,” the angel said softly, his normally joyous face overshadowed with more regret than Crowley ever hoped to see in it again. Unbidden, his hands rose to catch Aziraphale’s where they sat limply in his lap, fingers curling around that pale, smooth skin and tracing gentle patterns across his palms. “I’ve been ignoring so many things,” Aziraphale continued, regret sliding seamlessly into anguish as he peered earnestly into Crowley’s face, “and I’m afraid you’ve suffered greatly for it, my dear.”
Unconsciously, Crowley’s hands tightened around his angel’s wrists, eyes glinting amber in the lamplight as every single emotion he had ever attempted to lock away suddenly surged up within him, a clawing, ravenous beast clamoring for release. His pulse jumped in his veins, traitorous, extraneous heart pounding in his chest, his breath hitching in his throat as the surge of feeling threatened to overwhelm him.
“Me?” he managed to choke out, doing his best to come across as unruffled but failing miserably and instead managing somewhere around a five on the Richter scale. “Never—I’m fine, me, always fine. Never been better.”
Aziraphale’s pale brows rose slightly, his gaze passing from Crowley’s unnaturally-bright eyes to his trembling hands, now wrapped loosely around his own and wracked with tremors. “Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale exclaimed, twisting his hands to take the demons’s, fingers caressing their lean lines and long fingers, twining through the trembling digits and securing them in place, pressing palm against palm and anchoring Crowley solidly in the present as he locked their eyes together. “How have you borne it for all this time, all alone?”
Floored, Crowley lost his tenuous perch in the chair and slid down to the rug with a dull thump, knees hitting the ground as he fell forward, hands still clutched in Aziraphale’s unrelenting grasp. His head slid down to rest against the angel’s thighs, eyes sliding closed as he was overcome by that unrelenting wall of emotion he had been bottling away for so long. “Dunno what you’re talking about,” he mumbled obstinately into Aziraphale’s trousers, diligently ignoring the moisture seeping from his eyes to stain the soft fabric. “I’m fine, always have been.”
One soft hand left Crowley’s to curl around his chin, thumb gently tracing his jaw, slowly tipping his head back so that yellow eyes met blue.
Crowley blinked, and then blinked again, overwhelmed by the well of emotions he saw in Aziraphale’s gaze. “You…” he said, hope fluttering in his chest like an ill-tamed beast raising its head after a long hibernation. He dared not allow it much purchase, setting his jaw and obstinately attempting to shove it back into its dark cave, not caring to have this one remaining shard of himself shattered and cast to the wind—
—but Aziraphale refused to let him, the hand at his jaw keeping purchase, locking his eyes in place and refusing him the luxury of hiding his face. Its partner rose to settle at the back of his head, carding gently through the fine red hairs at the base of his neck in a soothing pattern. “I’ve been deliberately obtuse, I’m afraid,” the angel told him softly, somehow managing to pack centuries of regret into a single statement. His thumb traced lightly over Crowley’s lips, and the demon shuddered in his grasp.
It was as though a dam had broken loose in Crowley, all of the burning, brilliant emotion he had carefully and continually kept contained breaking free and cascading through him like an electrified current. He choked, gasping for air, his hands flying to his temples and dislodging Aziraphale’s tender touch, as the events of the last week—and really, few thousand years—finally caught up to him.
Gone gone gone, his mind chanted, everything was almost gone, Aziraphale was almost gone, you were nearly alone, unloved, unwanted—and still are, a dark portion of himself cooed, cruel tendrils curling up and out to creep across the burning brilliance that currently threatened to consume him from within. Crowley whined and sank entirely to the floor, curling into a ball, hands wrapped over the top of his head, fingers digging into his hair as he struggled to quell the voices within him vying for dominance.
Cool fingers wrapped around his wrists, and dimly he registered being pulled from the ground, drawn into a solid, soft chest, arms wrapping around him and cradling him close, head tucked underneath a familiar chin. Breathing deeply, Crowley ground his teeth and took a deep, shuddering breath, silencing the dark voice of his doubts with a harsh command, stomping it down into the ground and into a bottomless pit that he sealed off with a flourish and a foul dismissal. That done, he was left to face the brilliant, searing well of emotions surging forth within him.
Sparks crackled underneath his skin everywhere it touched Aziraphale’s, from Cowley's nose where it was pressed to his throat to the angel’s fingers against the back of his neck as he cradled Crowley against his chest.
“My poor demon,” Aziraphale murmured, not without a good bit of wonderment and awe, “how much you’ve kept hidden from me.” He smoothed a damp strand of hair from Crowley’s forehead, the demon whimpering at the contact and burrowing deeper into his neck. “I spent centuries thinking you couldn’t possibly, didn’t have the capacity— and here you are, proving me wrong time and time again. My dear, can you ever forgive me?”
Chapped lips curved into a smile against Aziraphale’s neck. “You need someone around to knock you down a few notches, Angel,” Crowley murmured, still unwilling to open his eyes. He had accepted that something had Changed, a monumental shift in things that left a few new doors (and windows) open, but even as his arms tightened around Aziraphale’s waist he could not bring himself to quite face this new reality head-on, terrified that it would slip from his grasp like grains of sand, leaving him stranded in an endless and lonely desert.
“Crowley,” and when Aziraphale spoke in that tone, Crowley was unable to refuse him. Blinking, he shifted to sit back slightly, raising his head so that it was level with Aziraphale’s and retrieving one hand to swipe it across his traitorously crusty eyes.
He shook with the effort it took to raise his eyes to his counterpart’s, terrified of the imagined rejection he would find seated deep within those eternal blue depths. Instead, he was met by endless, boundless love—the deep-seated, inherent Love possessed by all angels, yes, of course, he had seen that before many a time, but this time it was accompanied by something so much more personal. This was a specific love, one that spoke of centuries, even millennia of development, of a complexity that superseded anything conceived by mortal or immortal to that point in time.
Crowley knew it well, for it was the exact same combination of emotions that had plagued him for so long.
He gave a great, choking gasp and before he had even realized it he had surged forward, catching Aziraphale’s chin in his grasp, slotting his lips over the angel’s and drinking him in, claiming that long-sought-after oasis and never intending to let it go.
Skin slid against skin as Aziraphale responded in turn, angling his mouth and parting his lips slightly in silent invitation.
Crowley whined softly, tongue darting out to accept, seeking and tasting and reveling in the overwhelming sensations that were laying siege to his senses. He palmed Aziraphale’s jaw, deepening the kiss, and now it was the angel’s turn to gasp, breath hitching deep within his chest as his hands flew up to bury themselves in Crowley’s bright hair.
Eventually they withdrew, breathless even without needing to breath, eyes shining, hands slipping down to twine together between them. There were so many things that could be said, so many emotions, thoughts, longings, desires to be confessed—but there would be time for that later.
For now, the angel and his demon—or the demon and his angel—were content to simply sit in silence, shifting to lean back against the couch, nestling heads into shoulders and pressing kisses to brows, palms pressed together and arms intertwined. Conversation would come later, talk of the future—their future—a conversation for a later day.
After all, they had all the time in the world.