But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most? -- Mark Twain
Aziraphale never prays. He is, of course, aware of the concept: even before Christendom spread, humanity always found a way to try and get in touch with whoever was In Charge Up There, their attempts at communication often aided by great big quantities of slaughtered animals and sometimes other people. Most of their prayers even were addressed specifically.
Beloved Ishtar, let our love bear fruit.
Mighty Ra, bless our harvest.
Lord Poseidon, guard our journey.
Powerful Týr, grant us the victory over our enemies.
Some other prayers were shorter, far less elaborate (and far less gory). A quick thought, nothing more, but so often far more heartfelt.
To whom it may concern. Whoever’s listening. If there’s anybody up there.
Keep them safe.
We need you.
And if Aziraphale was near enough to catch it, he would. More often than not, it was not what he was meant to do, but if you’re at Lindisfarne to help ward off Viking raiders anyway, it’s not all that much trouble to put some Heavenly courage into a young novice’s belly as he lifts up the heavy altar candlesticks. Or, if you have to be in Rome to see to the election of a new Bishop of Rome, no matter your own thoughts on the papacy these days (don’t let Gabriel hear them, or you’ll never hear the end of it), what harm is there in putting a small blessing towards a mother, desperate not to lose yet another son to a war-mongering Pope.
And even if he stands aside and watches, does not put his power to use, the praying helps. Even without answer, or direct intervention, from the Almighty, Aziraphale can see the slow breath they take right after they open up their eyes, the way let their folded hands relax. He sees them walk away a little steadier, their faces a little lighter.
It moves him. The faith they have, so rock-steady, that there’s someone on their side, despite the sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
But he himself, he never prays.
Angels never do. They never pray in the same way that you would not pick up your phone to call someone who’s sitting in the same room as you are.
At least, that’s what he keeps telling himself. He doesn’t need divine intervention; he is divine intervention. If there is any trouble he cannot get himself out of, then everything is well and truly fucked.
There might be one little tiny exception to the whole ‘angels don’t pray’ principle.
And ironically enough, it has to do with a certain demon.
‘Didn’t you have a flaming sword?’
Angel’s don’t sweat, and Aziraphale hasn’t had his earthly vessel long enough to discover sweating is at thing. But he does get uncomfortably warm, cheeks flushing red as he stares at his toes and mumbles. This is the first half-decent conversation he’s had since he was sent down here, even if it has been with someone from the Other Side, and he can already see how it’s going to go from here: he will tell the truth, because angels don’t lie (not yet, anyway), the demon will laugh and scorn and jeer and mock and he, Aziraphale will be the biggest fool on this new earth.
He does not like that idea one bit.
But he tells the truth anyway.
‘I gave it away!’
And he demon, Crawly? His mouth falls open. His yellow eyes grow wide. ‘You what?’
There’s no laughing. No scorning. No jeering, no mocking and Aziraphale still feels like a fool but at least someone seems to approve of what he did, so he takes it. He takes the demon under his wing too, which he probably isn’t supposed to do but then again: he also wasn’t supposed to give away that blasted sword and he’s pretty sure he knows which offense will rank higher on the list if Upstairs ever finds out.
And when the rain subsides and the demon steps away with a graceful inclination of his head, disappearing into the desert with a cheery wave, Aziraphale finds himself thinking.
I hope I see you again.
Of course, that’s not a prayer. It’s not even a wish, merely a silent ‘wouldn’t it be nice if that happened’.
The first real prayer comes about six millennia later, but we’ll get to that.
But the next time he sees the demon Crawly, they’re in Mesopotamia where the skies grow dark and the air is alive with the nervous bleating and bellowing of hundreds of animals, who can only sense too well what’s about to go down. And Crawly scoffs and rails and looks so angry that even Aziraphale, who has been doing his hardest not to Question, feels something swoop and clench inside his gut.
The demon stalks off. Aziraphale watches him go. He can’t help the humans; it would go directly against his orders, and he is nowhere near ready to do something like that (yet). But if the demon wants to, if the demon wants to help, then by the Almighty, Aziraphale wishes him all the luck he is going to need.
(Later, days later, when he is safely tucked away inside Noah’s Ark, he hears a noise from the far end of the hull, all the way behind the bales of straw and hay that have been stacked up there. It sounds remarkably like a small child unable to hold back a hay-induced sneeze.
Aziraphale thinks for a moment and decides not to investigate. But as he goes upstairs to prompt Noah to send out the dove, it’s a good thing no one is there to see him smile. Except for the gnus).
And so it goes. Through the ages, through the first millennia in which humanity is learning to stand on its own two feet, learning to walk, slowly learning to run even, he bumps into the demon ever so often and every time, Aziraphale feels… something. The same clenching-swooping sensation he felt on the wall of the Garden, on the Mesopotamian plains, a something he cannot give a name to but which feels important.
Important enough that he can never let the demon go without sparing a thought to go with him. It’s not a blessing; he’s not sure what would happen if he tried to bless a demon but he doubts it would be pretty. It’s not a prayer either, not only because angels don’t pray (see above) but also because prayers go all the way Upstairs and what would his superiors think if they found out he’s been praying for a demon?
But the thoughts are there. Small and ineffective as they might be, but they’re there nonetheless.
I hope we meet again.
Keep out of trouble.
Look, I am not any happier about this whole carpenter crucifixion business than you are but like it or not, there are going to be a lot of very enthusiastic religious people about very soon, so if you can, get yourself somewhere safe. I don’t think they’ll go north anytime soon, though, so maybe go and see Brittanica? I hear that’s lovely, and there’s a lot of red hair around there. You’ll blend right in.
Take care of yourself.
He never prays and if he did, it would merely be this. Simple protection. Good luck. Godspeed, or Someone’s speed anyway. He never wishes for more; some might wonder why. If he cares for the demon, and he slowly, ever so slowly realizes he does, shouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he wish for more? Shouldn’t he wish the demon a better fate than damnation, shouldn’t he try and ask the Almighty if redemption, however undeserved it might be, might be on the table?
He never does. First of all because Crowley would murder him stone cold dead if he ever found out, and secondly. He’s not sure he wants to. He likes the demon just the way he is, with his snark and his flashy clothes and his complete disregard for any kind of authority.
He doesn’t like the other angels much, although he’d be careful to never let that show. And he’d hate for Crowley to turn into one again, however selfish that may sound.
(It does sound selfish, he is well aware. Which is why he never admits it, even to himself, and sticks purely with the ‘he will kill me stone cold dead’ argument. Which works just fine anyway).
Later, after the Arrangement is (more or less) firmly put in place, when they meet up more often than once every two hundred years or so, the thoughts remain. They even grow a little stronger, as does the swooping-clenching, which worries Aziraphale to no end.
The thoughts grow, into proper words he wants to say but can’t. Won’t. Not yet, perhaps not ever, but certainly not now.
I know the young Boleyn girl deserved better. But I trust you will do right by her daughter.
I know fire can’t hurt you, but I’m glad you got out of London alright. Also, don’t think how I didn’t see you helping that family with their broken down cart. Broken axles don’t just up and repair themselves. Well done.
An independent America. Are you sure that was a good idea? (Actually, he does voice this thought out loud. Crowley laughs, but then looks uncertain and shrugs. ‘We’ll see,’ is all he says).
And then, all of a sudden, it’s 1862, they’re in St. James’ Park and Crowley has handed him a note. That is the first time the swooping-clenching does not go away, not even when Aziraphale has stormed off after trying to throw the note into the pond and failing. It stays with him, all the way through the rest of the century and beyond. As does the thought, which is as close to a prayer as he’s ever come so far:
Please don’t go there.
But that’s still not quite there. It’s a wish, heartfelt and etched into his bones for the years and years to come, even after the church and the Nazis and the bombs and the books, and even after he has handed Crowley his favorite tartan thermos himself.
Please don’t go there.
It’s more than a wish. It’s a need, pure and simple.
He knows the demon’s heard it. He knows he’s all but screaming the words until the cramped interior of the Bentley rings with it.
He just wishes he can be sure Crowley does not just hear, but will also listen.
It appears he does. It appears Aziraphale has greatly misjudged both Crowley himself and the purpose of the holy water, and he has never ever been more grateful to be proven this wrong.
But they’re not out of the woods yet.
Armageddon has been averted, and although it’s not with any real help from them, they still get the blame shafted onto them. Which Aziraphale doesn’t really mind, because it’s better than the hosts of Heaven and Hell taking it out on the humans who are actually responsible, but still.
It does mean that he has to watch, helplessly, as Crowley is bound, gagged and dragged away from him by four archangels who would smite him on sight if they only knew. And even though this was the plan, and they have practiced and rehearsed it to the best of their ability within the time they had, that does not mean Aziraphale isn’t gripped with a sudden terror that is nothing like the swooping-clenching from before.
It’s not for him. He’s not afraid, although he probably should be, for what Hell is about to do to him. But if Crowley gets found out, if he so much as lets out a single wahoo or decides that what Gabriel needs most is a good punch in the face (never mind how much Aziraphale would agree with that sentiment at the moment), there is no amount of snarking or snake-rimmed sunglasses that will save him.
Crowley will die. And Aziraphale will not be there to say goodbye.
Aziraphale’s knees buckle, and it’s not just from the blow that’s just been dealt to the back of his head.
And for the first time in over six millennia, he finds himself grasping for the straw that carried humanity through the ages. A wordless plea, shot up into the ether with everything he’s got and addressed to whoever might be listening Up There.
Please. Bring him back to me.
That was the first time he ever prayed, in all his time on earth.
The second time comes a couple of hours later, when he is unceremoniously dumped back onto the earth by a shaky demon who vanishes Downstairs again immediately.
Aziraphale doesn’t notice. Aziraphale doesn’t care.
Because there is a park bench, not a hundred yards away, and on it is a demon, sprawling Aziraphale’s vessel all over the dark green wooden slats and grinning.
‘Hey, you made it back! Well done!’ Crowley calls out. ‘Don’t forget to dry the socks, will you? Don’t want this whole charade to be for nothing, that’d be a shame!’
But just as no amount of snark could have saved him in Heaven, there is also no amount of snark that can conceal the white-knuckled grip the demon has on the railing of the bench. Or the way his voice, even when it comes out of Aziraphale’s vocal chords, is just a bit too high to be genuine.
Aziraphale has known Crowley for over six thousand years. He has seen him in every state imaginable, from cheering on the charioteers in Rome to genuine grief and outrage when word reached them about the battles in Belgium in 1916. He knows the demon’s tells and giveaways, even better than his own.
The fact that the demon is currently occupying Aziraphale’s body doesn’t even matter at this point.
Aziraphale does not run. He does not jump up and run towards the demon and fling himself into Crowley’s arms. Instead he stands up slowly, carefully because there are a lot of lanky limbs to unfold and he is just trembling enough that everything might come crashing down again as soon as he starts to move.
He stands up and makes his way towards the bench. He sits down. Closes his eyes and blindly reaches out, feels his own heavy hand close around long, slim fingers and holds on tight.
The clenching-swooping in his gut is gone. Heaven and Hell are gone, for now. Crowley is talking, something about him scaring all the angels and making Gabriel shit his stupid pants. Aziraphale laughs, because yes, he would have liked to see that, and he tells Crowley about how he splashed around in the holy water, and how he asked about a rubber duck and how he asked Michael for a bath towel. And Crowley, now in his own body again, throws his head back and laughs and Aziraphale chuckles as he watches the demon, his hair aflame in the late afternoon sunlight, still sniggering at the image of Beelzebub quaking in their boots and all the angel can think is:
There is no reply from Upstairs. But there is a nightingale, singing its heart out in the middle of the city, and that’s just about the same thing.