It’s been an adjustment. Free agency, and all — in the form of probably too much time with his best friend — makes him nose-blind, or whatever the spiritual version of that is, to angelic forces, until he literally runs into the Archangel Uriel outside his flat. Crowley wants to say something witty and acerbic, but what comes out is, “Lurking isn’t Heaven’s usual style, is it?”
He’s spent six thousand years cultivating a very specific image: cool, casual, full of irony, a bit cheeky. That persona asked for a rubber duck in Hell a week ago. Crowley himself forgot to plan past getting into Heaven, and breathed Hellfire at a few Archangels instead of saying something interesting. He’s the kind of person who’ll quote movies for want of something better to say, and clutch dramatically at an inordinately decorated chair whilst shouting at God because feelings are hard and he doesn’t like them and really doesn’t like that he has so many of them. It’s not surprising that Uriel gives him an unimpressed look, but he wishes he could be a little more impressive.
Truthfully, he’s not very motivated. Sauntered vaguely downward is a fairly accurate description of how he fell, mostly because it’s a fairly accurate description of how he does most things, when he’s not being an utter drama queen.
“Hello, Demon Crowley,” she greets stiffly.
He rolls his eyes and opens his door. She’s not impressive either, even though she feels familiar. He has no idea why. She felt familiar up in Heaven, too, but he paid it less attention than he paid the whole summary execution bit. “Thought you Heavenly types decided to stay out of our affairs.”
“I just wanted to properly meet the demon our Aziraphale thought it was worth betraying Heaven for,” she says, letting herself into his space without even asking. But it’s not like angels ever really ask permission to enter people’s homes, unless you live in Sodom and they’re baiting you into being inhospitable, do they? No, it’s all fiery visions and boom-bang and now you’re on an impossible mission for a God who can’t be bothered to tell you Herself.
Not that Crowley’s ever been touchy about that.
“He didn’t do it for me, he did it for the people of Earth,” he replies casually, instead of trying to banish Uriel from his flat. He’s not sure he could, and he’d need some supplies if he wanted to try it. Belatedly, he adds, “And he didn’t betray Heaven, did he? God didn’t see fit to make him fall.”
“God doesn’t see fit to do much of anything, these days.” She stops her stupid angelic breezy swoop down his hallway, in awe of his (impressive) plants, and stoops low to run a finger along the fronds of his newest one. “Oh, these are lovely.”
“Don’t let them hear you say that, they’ll be insufferable for days,” he says, automatically, when the rest of him is a blinking neon warning sign. The bitterness in Uriel’s statement was enough to fill Crowley’s own mouth with the tangy flavor of disappointment and betrayal. He’s felt it enough to know it intimately.
Uriel straightens and turns to look at him. The room he keeps his plants in is the best-lit room in the flat, of course, so it makes sense that she’d stop here to have this...conversation? Is that what this is? She wants to have a chat with him? Almost hysterically, he wonders if she’ll ask what his intentions are with Aziraphale. He makes sure to fold his arms across his chest and lean on the doorframe, just in case. She frowns without frowning, an almost-there expression that Crowley’s learned to associate with angels, and says, “We had quite the conundrum. You were easy; send Michael with holy water, let them get on with it. But how do you solve a problem like Aziraphale?”
Crowley, generously, decides not to say anything about that phrasing. He just shrugs, smiling the kind of smile that usually tells people they’re about to have a Very Bad Day.
“Oh, don’t give me that look, you just took a nice bath in a tub full of holy water. You could’ve killed the Dukes of Hell and the Dark Council just by splashing them before anyone blinked, but you didn’t. You want to be left alone,” says Uriel, which...all right, maybe angels aren’t a stupid hive mind outside Aziraphale, but it takes a lot of charity to even think that after what he saw in Heaven. Her face does something he presumes is supposed to look soft. “I just want to understand. Aziraphale was a good angel, before the Rebellion. He used to help me with the low notes. And he was a wonder on the battlefield, even if he never killed any of you rebels. Did enough Divine damage that it didn’t matter.”
“Can’t really picture that,” says Crowley, thinking of how easily distracted Aziraphale is by good food and better wine. Then he remembers how he wasn’t consulted on policy decisions, and how easy it was for Aziraphale to wrest a gun away from Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and try to shoot a child in front of other children, and how he mourned the loss of books instead of the loss of lives (all Nazis deserve to die, but one would expect a being of pure light to be sad about the loss of potential redemption or whatever nonsense Aziraphale wasn’t sad about after all), and changes his mind. “Maybe.”
“I’m not here to hurt you, and I’m not here to gather intel on you. If I’m honest, this is hardly about Aziraphale, either. I…” Uriel summons her wings, pure opalescent things laced with gold, and her voice reverberates with Truth. “I need answers about Earth, and I won’t tell anyone what you tell me.”
Crowley feels tiny. In Heaven, he was just a regular old angel, albeit one with an unexpected gift for architecture. From what he remembers, he, a nameless, lowest-tier angel, got to help build the universe, which had the somewhat unfortunate side effect of putting him into direct contact with Lucifer more than anyone else, and, well, when your mentor — who is God’s favorite, and much freer than the Metatron with answers to innocent questions — happens to be secretly planning a coup, it doesn’t matter if you meant to join the rebellion or not.
All angels learn how to fold themselves in by necessity. Aziraphale doesn’t go around flaunting his divinity like this. It’s terrifying. And it makes Crowley miss home, in a way that actually being in Heaven didn’t. The new Heaven, post-Rebellion, is sterile, washed-out, hollow. It’s unrecognizable. But this feeling…
“Oh, do get up,” Uriel says, sounding embarrassed. Crowley realizes he’s halfway to kneeling.
“Not my fault you brought out the big guns,” he pouts, scrambling to both feet. “Listen, I can’t exorcise you, and I doubt you’ll leave if I ask nicely. Could call Aziraphale, but then we’d both have to answer uncomfortable questions. But I’m not having this conversation sober, so you can either have a drink with me, or stand around uncomfortably watching me drink. Choose wisely.”
“I’ve never...I don’t know,” Uriel hedges, putting her wings away.
Crowley grins, because he’s still a demon, and he still likes to tempt people. Uriel is not, strictly speaking, a person, but that makes it even more fun. “It’s not like you’ll fall just for having a bit of alcohol. Aziraphale would’ve fallen a long time ago. Besides, once you taste a good wine you’ll start to understand why he — we — wanted to protect this place.”
“It’s important, then, this wine?”
“Let’s just say your boss approves of it so much she gave Yeshua the ability to turn water into it,” he tells her with a wink she can’t see behind his glasses. It’ll show up in his tone and body language. And because he knows how to set a scene as well as anybody else, he adds, “Climb every mountain, right?”
They’re still in the room with his houseplants, because there’s some part of him that’s always been a bit of a masochist, and she’ll drip her stupid divinity all over his beloved (behated?) indoor garden. It will take forever to scream away the stain of her, and it will hurt, and that will feel good. He’s stupid sometimes. Everyone is, he supposes, but especially demons. The fall helps with that.
He wouldn’t waste an expensive wine on any angel except Aziraphale, of course, but Uriel doesn’t have to know that. Crowley isn’t actually sure if this is a good wine — they aren’t all that different from each other, really, he just pretends to be discerning so he won’t be subjected to a tedious three-day lecture on winemaking — but Uriel clearly doesn’t mind either way. He chose a standard white for its (relative) sweetness, and she’s giggly and sloppy after only a glass and a half.
“So he said-” The liquid sloshes dangerously, and Crowley performs a tiny piece of magic to keep it from getting all over the floor of his plant room. Where angelic miracles make things, demons unmake them; it’s why Aziraphale couldn’t truly remove his paintball spot from his coat, but Crowley could. Similarly, he can’t actually create any kind of shield against the slosh, but he can make sure any wine that doesn’t go into her mouth gets unmade. It’s a wise choice; she waves her whole arm around this time as she finishes, “- It’s demonic, we must exorcise it! Did nothing, of course, it was just a kitten.”
“How’d a kitten get into Heaven,” he asks, not exactly invested in the answer, but very much invested in blackmail material. Even from his brief time in Heaven, Sandalphon seemed more like a sycophant than a leader, but it’s better to have too much information than too little.
“Must have hitched a ride on someone’s corporation. It happens. Usually with insects, but sometimes with other things. Dogs, birds, even a toddler one time. That was an HR nightmare.”
Crowley unequivocally does not giggle, but if one were to make that assumption, he might, might, not correct it. Out of charity. “Heaven has an HR department?”
“Uriel, Hell doesn’t even have a DR department. It’s part and parcel of the whole experience. If it isn’t obscenely difficult to navigate, it isn’t Hell.”
“Right,” she says, frowning thoughtfully, “but if you don’t have HR, how do you measure your success? Or failure, as it were. Or does Luci — er, Satan still have a hand in your affairs?”
“Suppose he does keep an eye on things,” Crowley answers with a shrug. “Not my problem anymore. They’ve promised to leave me alone, now I’ve gone native, as they say.”
She’s quiet for a while, staring at the yellowish wine gleaming in her glass. He watches her. It’s funny; he’s always avoided angels, as a rule (with Aziraphale being the obvious exception), but she doesn’t seem so bad. If anything, she seems a specific kind of soft. He can’t put his finger on what it is, though. He didn’t think Archangels knew how to be anything but stereotypically angelic, but Uriel is morose, and possibly even...angry.
“I’m a bit jealous,” she admits softly after a while.
“You two, here on Earth. Maybe even that lot down in Hell.”
Something dark wrenches in Crowley’s chest — anger, hurt, hatred, something vile that he’s almost never felt, that most demons always feel. How could an Archangel even think about saying such a thing? How dare she? “What.”
“I just...you’ve got a leader who cares what happens, don’t you? When the Almighty left-”
“Left?” She blinks and leans back in her chair so quickly it wobbles. His plants quiver. Crowley reins in his temper — there’s a fine line between terrorizing his plants into compliance and terrorizing them to death, after all, and he doesn’t want to play host to a bunch of angry Archangels should Uriel go home complaining of an evil-induced migraine. “What do you mean, she left?”
“I mean she left. New universes to play with, new worlds to create. We don’t matter anymore,” she spits, and yeah, all right, this is the purpose of her visit, isn’t it? The alcohol probably isn’t helping, but he’s still surprised at how expressive she’s being. Angels generally don’t emote well. They’re not built for it.
The information is...well. It hurts. Crowley’s screamed at God, shouted at Her, cursed Her, hated Her, but he never stopped loving Her. It’s why he’s done all those things, and — does she even hear him? No wonder Uriel’s bitter. No wonder Gabriel’s an absolute dick. Satan might be a glorious bastard and the kind of sadist who doesn’t make it fun for anybody (probably not even himself), but at least he’s there. “She left us?”
“So long ago I can hardly remember what She feels like. And she took all of the upper Host with her, all except Aziraphale; he refused to leave his cute little human pets. That’s the thing, you see. Aziraphale should be leading us. He should have taken control. Cherubs are of higher rank! But he fucked off to Earth, and Eden disappeared, and someone had to give orders...so it was up to us, the Archangels. The Metatron hasn’t heard from the Almighty since the whole Yeshua debacle. I think Gabriel has it out for Aziraphale because he’s bitter he has to be in charge, but...I just...the truth is, you’re both obviously happy here. Nobody’s happy in Heaven. God has forsaken us. And I keep thinking, past couple of days, maybe Aziraphale was right. What’s the War for, if our side doesn’t have a reason to fight? We don’t have anyone to serve, and we can’t love, and it’s cold and empty and if you, a demon, taught him how to do love instead of just-”
“Pretty sure I didn’t,” Crowley snorts. He watches in amusement as she sloppily refills her glass and chugs the whole thing, swaying visibly. “Besides, aren’t angels made of love? It’s been too long, I can’t remember.”
“Bit of a misconception. ‘S like — two and two are four, yeah? Four is love, but angels are only two. You have to add something before you can get four. Two angels don’t work though, we’re all different two, and it cancels itself out, and I forgot what I was saying, but something. Four. Love has four letters. Nice word. Nice has four letters too.”
He does a thing that might be raising an eyebrow. “So does fuck.”
“And dull,” she shoots back. “What does it feel like, Demon Crowley? To love someone so much you would die for them?”
“How should I know,” he says flatly, tugging on the sleeve of his jacket. Only because, you see, his wrist is cold, not because the question is uncomfortable.
“I’m not an idiot. You feel like Aziraphale felt when we tried to execute him. Either you and he share an aura, or you possessed each other to cancel out each other’s weaknesses. I figured it out and I can’t tell anyone because I gave you my angelic promise.” Her voice cracks. “What’s worth defying your master for? What’s worth defying God for? What does it feel like? Why do you get to feel it and I don’t get to feel anything?”
“It hurts,” he admits, and decides he’s not nearly drunk enough to say anything else, so he drinks straight from the bottle of cheap Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s nicer than the Pinot Grigio, probably because it’s not so sweet. He watches Uriel watch him — bless, she’s being accommodating, which has some interesting implications, but then, half the things she’s saying are close to treason. They’re the questions that, in the old days, she’d be cast out for asking.
“Everything hurts when we’re wearing bodies, my — Demon Crowley,” she slurs, once he’s made it clear he’s not going to continue, at least not without prompting. That familiarity pricks at him again.
There’s something on his face. Skin, there’s skin on his face, but it feels as tight as his eyeballs. His tongue, already somewhat clumsy inside his mouth when he’s sober, does the thing where it can’t decide whether it’s a snake’s tongue or a more human-shaped muscle when he tells her, “Yeah, but love hurts so much you feel like you’re drowning, even when you’re happy, because there’s so much to lose. What if he gets permanently discorporated before we do the things we want to do? What if someone hurts him and I can’t do anything about it? What if you lot get your hands on him and finish the job? He’s my best friend. It’s so much to lose, and I’m a jealous person — I’m covetous, I’m petty, it’s in the job description — and it hurts, because there will come a day when I lose him. Or he loses me, and I won’t be around to witness his heart breaking, but I feel bad about it anyway, in reverse, because I’m stupid. This is stupid. Love is stupid.”
“It sounds brilliant,” she retorts, very quiet, very drunk. “It sounds big and messy and disorganized. Can’t imagine someone like Aziraphale not wanting it.”
Crowley makes a throaty noise. “Course he does. He spends hours and hours doing taxes on his computer, and reading, and eating, and doing little pick-me-ups for the shop girl with the shit boyfriend or the boy whose parents still call him Eloise or whatever, and I used to think, I run into a blessed church to save him in the middle of a war and he — how do you not notice? I was so angry when I asked him to run off with me and he said no. But I’ve realized, it’s not that he doesn’t love me, it’s that he loves the Earth more than I do. One life for all of creation. That’s what he chose. Ruthless bastard.”
“Sounds like he finally did something angelic for once. We’re made to inspire love,” she says. Bitter again. “We can’t feel it ourselves, you know, or at least I didn’t think it was possible until recently. The only one we’re allowed to love is God, and she’s gone. She’s gone, my apprentice. She’s gone.”
Crowley never had a celestial name. Angels of his rank never got one; he was never important enough to have one. But he remembers, hazily, as though it were a dream, opening his eyes to Uriel’s face. She was nearly covered in gold flakes then, a shining vision, opalescent wings always visible, and her tender blessing didn’t exactly bring him into being, but it did bring him into awareness. He was supposed to be hers. He was supposed to learn her songs, to sing praises under her direction. But the Almighty had him work with Lucifer instead, on a team of angelic architects, and he forgot her until she tried to kill Aziraphale.
“You looked different before I fell,” he says, dumbfounded. And found.
She nods morosely. “I lost a flake for every underling who fell. And I’m losing more all the time. Humans lose faith, Archangels lose divinity, and God hasn’t bothered to fix it. And your boyfriend hasn’t even noticed.”
Crowley believes it. If Aziraphale is really a Cherub, he won’t have gold flakes at all; his incorporeal form is just terrifying to behold, and inherently divine. It isn’t fair. God isn’t fair. But then, She never has been, and Crowley fell for having the audacity to point that out.
“Look,” he says. Considers whether he wants to. Decides it’s the — eugh — right thing to do. “I’m going to teach you how to sober up. I’m not really the person you should be talking to, and going to me first was the coward’s way out. If you want an in with my angel, grow a spine.”
“I don’t want to fall,” she murmurs, voice so small it could get carried away on a gentle breeze. His apartment is so still that every word hits like a mallet.
The truth is, even if Uriel falls, it won’t matter. For the first time in six thousand years, Crowley doesn’t regret it. Hell is, well, hell. But, he imagines, Nothing is far worse. He smiles. It’s not a very nice smile, sort of sharp-edged and as bitter as their conversation, but it is one. “You won’t.”
Could be a lie. It’s probably the truth. Crowley really, truly doesn’t care, and it’s like a breath of fresh air after six thousand years in prison.