The first sign of consciousness was pain, it always was. Crowley woke knowing it was going to be a bad day. They had all been bad days recently. He tried not to read into it. Eyes still closed, he dragged his fingers over the grey silk sheets, searching for a sensation besides the dull ache in his legs. The rise and fall of the wrinkled cloth was smooth against his skin. He noticed a steady drumming of rain at the window. That would help explain the pain today. The sun was hidden behind the heavy clouds that blanketed London. Crowley lay in bed for a while longer, eyes still closed, held there by the unrelenting soreness.
It had been like this since he had left his serpent form behind. He figured it was some Divine Punishment for re-growing legs. Truthfully, he didn’t care why he hurt. No matter what he tried, and he tried a lot, there was an ache deep in his legs that would never subside. Every century or so, doctors had a miracle cure for pain, but nothing made it go away completely. Some days it left him unable to walk, and the irony was not lost on Crowley. Most days it was manageable because he had lived with it for so long. Little miracles to help him along, sitting when he could, using a cane when fashion permitted. But on some days, days like this, the pain was too much for him.
When he could manage to push his eyelids open, his eyes found the digital clock next to his bed. 10:47 was illuminated in unforgiving block numbers. Crowley sighed. He was not an early riser, but he had promised to help Aziraphale re-shelve some things at the bookstore at 10:00. The angel was probably pacing around the bookstore in a huff. Crowley figured he should call, but he lacked the energy to get up to his phone or miracle his phone to him. There was nothing else to do for days like this. Crowley re-positioned himself gingerly and slid his eyes shut again.
Aziraphale was used to Crowley showing up just in the nick of time for their meetings, but he was never late. Ten minutes was excused for traffic, even though Crowley didn’t care for laws. Twenty minutes for oversleeping, though that hadn’t happened since the nineteenth century. After thirty minutes, Aziraphale began to worry. He called Crowley’s flat and verbally wrestled with the answering machine. He remembered Crowley had a mobile phone and called that with the same result. After twenty minutes of anxious pacing, Aziraphale stepped out into the rain and hailed a cab.
After trying and failing to make conversation with the cab driver, Aziraphale’s thoughts turned towards his friend. It was unlikely that Crowley had forgotten his promise to help, and Hell hadn’t bothered him since the Apocalypse-that-wasn’t. He watched the raindrops race down the window over the London skyline and hoped nothing had happened.
The cab stopped, and Aziraphale thanked the driver before stepping back out into the cold deluge. The building stood tall, modern and sleek, untouched yet by years. Aziraphale didn’t understand the appeal until he had gone to Hell in Crowley’s stead. Crowley’s flat was open, with large windows and clean lines that protected him from the dingy, cramped stink of Hell. It was bright and clear while Hell was diseased and damp. Outside the door, Aziraphale fumbled for the spare key. Finding it, he stepped inside to silence and an aura of suffering. He shut the door softly behind him and hung up his coat.
“Crowley?” His call echoed into the flat. He made his way inwards, each room sparsely decorated and devoid of life besides Crowley’s terrified plants. The door to Crowley’s bedroom was closed, and out of courtesy Aziraphale knocked, but his concern overrode custom and he entered without waiting for a response. Crowley was there, under dark linens which had been tossed about haphazardly. His eyes were screwed shut and he was curled in on himself tightly. Aziraphale stood in the doorway for a few moments, unsure of what to do. Finally, he sat down lightly on the edge of the bed near Crowley’s feet.
Crowley felt something at the edge of the bed and half-opened one eye. Aziraphale’s bright form swam into view. Startled, but lacking energy, Crowley opened both eyes and slightly uncurled. “I know re-shelving books has never been your favorite activity. But you did promise, you know.” Aziraphale’s light-hearted attempt at scolding fell flat as Crowley groaned and pushed himself into a sitting position against the headboard.
“My dear, what’s wrong?” Aziraphale stretched a hand forward onto the bed, “what is the matter? What can I do? Talk to me.” Crowley smiled sadly at Aziraphale’s hand before turning his golden eyes up to the angel’s face. The air between them was heavy, sagging with the weight of this burden Crowley had carried in secret for over 6,000 years, now brought to light. With a twinge of guilt, Crowley began to speak, his voice more fragile than Aziraphale would have liked.
“In the Garden, I was a Serpent”
“Yes, I know that, dear. Full of wiles.”
“Let me finish? Yes. Ok. When I cast off that form, the Almighty was—displeased. I was not supposed to have legs. It was my punishment for Original Sin, that I would crawl for all eternity. Hence the name Crawly. I never liked that, though. So I made the human form that you see before you, and the Almighty, never one to be out-maneuvered, decided my legs would cause me pain for the rest of my days. And they do, angel. All the time. Hurt, I mean.”
The explanation had left Crowley winded and pale, slumped against the headboard. Aziraphale was reeling, he had known Crowley since the Garden, he had watched him turn from Serpent to Man, and yet had no idea. Hot guilt pooled in his stomach and flushed his cheeks.
“All this time? Every day?” The question was barely a whisper.
“Every moment. You wondered, when I delivered the Antichrist, why I was so afraid of eternity? Because my eternity is pain, angel. I feel eternity every morning when my first waking sensation is aching and every night when it lulls me to sleep.”
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale had no other words. What other words were there? He climbed up the bed slowly, careful not to bump Crowley, and gently grasped his hand. “I’m here now. I wasn’t before, and I’ll never be able to make up for that. But I’m here now. I can’t make it go away. But I can be with you. That’s all I can do.” Crowley squeezed Aziraphale’s hand and nestled his head on the angel’s shoulder.
They sat there, uncaring as time passed by around them. Crowley slept curled into Aziraphale, his breaths tickling the angel’s neck. Aziraphale wondered how a Creator that claimed to be good and righteous could do this. Crowley was a demon, but he was a force of good. He loved children and music, he supported Aziraphale’s bookshop, he fed the ducks too much bread, and he was always looking for creative solutions to mundane problems. Aziraphale felt another pang of guilt for never noticing his friend’s pain, but he pushed it aside. What’s important now, he reasoned, is helping him when he needs it. I can do that now. I have to.
Crowley began to stir, and Aziraphale lowered him back onto the bed. He wandered into the kitchen and began to make tea, watching the rain continue to fall outside. He was lost in thought and did not notice when Crowley entered the kitchen, holding his duvet around him like a cape.
“Good afternoon, angel.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Better. Making tea?” “Yes, I know how you like it. And Crowley, I’m here now. You know that right? You don’t have to explain anything if you don’t want. And if you need something, just say so. You aren’t alone. I don’t know what your pain feels like but… you don’t have to feel alone.”
Crowley smiled as he sat down at his kitchen table. “Thank you. Truly. I suppose I didn’t tell you at first because I was afraid you would use it against me, with us being on opposite sides. And after a while, it had been too long to bring it up. So I never did. But I’m glad you know now. It feels better.”
The kettle began to whistle, and Aziraphale poured the water into their mugs and set them aside to steep. He took one in each hand and sat opposite Crowley at the kitchen table. The silence was comfortable, broken only by the light tapping of the rain on the windows and the sounds of traffic below. They both breathed deeply, enjoying the scent of brewing tea and each other’s silent company. Crowley curled his fingers around the duvet, leaning into the warmth it provided. He met Aziraphale’s gaze across the table and they shared a look of gratitude.
“Angel, I was wondering, there’s a perscription bottle on my nightstand. Would you bring it to me?”