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He Touched Me On The Shoulder Once, and I Was Free

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He never expected kindness, and in the end, it was the one thing he had no defence for.

There is no comfort or pleasure in the touch of others in Hell.

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The smell and noise are a persistent annoying itch, always present but mostly ignorable. Too low ceilings press uncomfortably close, corridors torturously twist under sick flickering light that is both too bright and not illuminating enough.

Pungent ooze drips down the walls, slicking floors and the unfortunate inhabitants equally.  Nothing ever works properly in Hell, that’s the point really.

Demons are everywhere, shuffling, moaning, fucking, fighting, screaming. Violence, hate, anger, viciousness are how you survive, or at least earn yourself a place off the daily victim menu. Halls crowded shoulder to shoulder, no privacy, at least for the rank and file anyway.

There is no sleep for the wicked, as they say.

He suffered, endlessly, from the very first moment he woke, shattered, broken and burning, wings blackened, bent and buckled.  He learned all the different shades of pain, the slow cruel agony, the sharp bitter brightness of broken bones, the dragging ache of torn flesh.

Over and over, pain for the sake of it, the only joy to be had in Hell.

Sick with the mindless futility of it, the raw gaping wound in his being where his soul once was, racked with ever fading memories of a warmth, a light, that slipped further from his grasp, he …….. existed………he was damned and this was his unjust punishment.

Suffering was enough, he didn't have to think, or remember, or anything really.  Just endure.

…..and scream and scream and scream and SCREAM

***************************************************

Eventually, even he got bored with himself, the smart mouth that got him into this mess was the one weapon he had, and he learned to use it.  To make words cut, slice, rend and tear, bloodless but just as painful as claws down your back, when he wanted them to be.

A clever demon, a smart demon can carve a space for himself in Hell. If he is careful, if he pays attention, if he talks the right way to the wrong people, he might learn how to navigate the ebb and flow of horror.

He might be found useful, he might end up being seen to be just competent enough for a low level position no one else is interested in. And so, he finds himself in serpent form, with instructions to foil the latest plan of the Adversary.

"Get up there and fuck about a bit, will you? Could be there for while though, apparently it’s a bit a Project" the senior demon shrugged  "Make sure you report back regularly, mate, or…." He tilts his head over with the eyeroll that implies 'them upstairs will be pissy mate, and we want to avoid that, don’t we…..'

Shrugging, the demon now known as Crawly sighs "Just pass me the fucking paperwork, mate" and with a lot of initialling here, signing there, there and there (in triplicate) he is released from the prison of Hell and allowed into literal Paradise.

***************************************************

It was delightful, clean, warm and filled with unexpected delights.  His mission was simple really, tempt one of these new human creatures to the forbidden.

Oh, and avoid the angelic guardians set there to smite all invaders pays to read the fine print, especially in Hell.

After days spent luxuriating in the Garden so quiet, peaceful and alone he went exploring, avoided the first three of the angelic guardians, found the humans, did the tempting and met the last of the Gate Guardians.

Who, surprisingly didn’t immediately try and smite him, instead, rather oddly, they had a Conversation.

Of course, it caused a huge mess Upstairs, and Downstairs were delighted (as much as a demon can be).  Apparently Upstairs had installed a permanent angelic presence in place, and he was given the opportunity to be the demon equivalent.

With a show of outward reluctance, he agreed, and was released with the instructions to "Keep fucking about with their plans, the Project is still going ahead" the same annoying demon handing over an even thicker pile of documents and a scratchy biro that kept running out of ink "Sign your soul away mate" and he sniggered at his own sick joke.

Cursing at the fucking useless pen, he opened a vein and signed in blood instead, if it was going to get him out of here, he would agree by whatever method he could.

Get me out
Get me out of here now
Get me out
And I will run, I will run, I will run

***************************************************

In those days the world was much smaller, but it was still more than big enough for a demon to revel in the freshness of the air, blueness of the sky, the feel of sand under his feet (he had been upgraded to a corporeal form with the permanent posting).

Wind had been a revelation, as had breathing.  Turned out his demonic essence didn't need it to survive, but his human body needed it to function for things like speech.

He had so many questions and no one at all to stop him asking.  Instead it was positively encouraged.  He revelled in the illicit freedom, he was certain Hell had no idea at all what Earth was like, or they wouldn’t have sent a smart mouthed minor demon, just to get him away from fucking up with their internal politics.

After some pointed memos from Downstairs he went looking for his angelic adversary, who was off being holy in Mesopotamia somewhere.  He learned the joys of herding goats, while he sat outside a small village, and scoped the joint.

In a sea of tanned bodies and dark hair, the dirty white blond hair of the angel was unmistakable.  Surely it couldn’t be?

It was, the idiot from the wall who gave his flaming sword away.  Who had chatted with a demon rather than smite him.  Az something or other.

Guess he wasn’t the only one being punished, and leading the goats into the village, causing chaos and havoc as they ran amok, he tracked the angel down, sauntered up, looked him up and down grubby white shift isn’t really his look, hitched a thumb in his rope belt, nodded and snarked "Sword still lost I see?"

The angel hadn't been paying attention to the tall black clad stranger with long red hair until addressed, he had been fretting over whether to have olives or dates for dinner and not paying attention the angel had quickly adapted to several of the delights of the new world, food in particular being an extraordinary experience.

He startled upright, and took a hesitant step back, wary "Oh!" then recognising the demon, relaxed a bit "Oh its you" and he paused meaningfully for the demon,

"Crawly" came the relaxed, slightly toothy reply

"Aziraphale" the angel breathed back in formal reply, and then rather tetchily "What are you doing here, demon?" and eyed him sideways, as if expecting an immediate demonic attack.

"Relax, I'm not here to" waves hands to indicate random violence "I got posted here as Demonic Liaison" shrugging carelessly, so that his black shift slipped off one elegant shoulder.

"M'here to do evil and whatnot"  collapsing in a random tangle of limbs on the ground under the shade of the tree "Hotter'n hell out here" and giggled a bit.

"Oh for the love of!" the angel bustled back to his shack, and bought back a skin of water, and slowly fed it to the protesting demon, who apparently hadn't yet learned about dehydration or heat stroke.

It was a kindness, the first of many.  He never asked the angel why he didn't just let him suffer under the hot sun.  Knowing that any other angel would have, probably poured the water on him and laughed doing it.

None of the others would have sullied themselves with his demonic touch. He didn't know how to ask Why?

***************************************************

They encountered each other regularly but infrequently.  When major events were happening, they tended to run into each other, and as the decades and centuries wore on, they became less adversarial.

Convivial even, having discovered the delights of alcohol, Crowley (as he was known by now) had given up on food after having snot in the form of oysters shoved down his throat in Rome.  Alcohol however offered all sorts of delights, especially when he learned to control the body's chemical reactions and not suffer a god awful hangover.

He kept *that* secret from the angel for a while though.

As the centuries started to stack up into Millenia, it became harder to resist the companionship of the only other being on the earth who knew him, who understood him. 

Friendship (hotly denied by either party had the question been asked) evolved slowly over time.  The Arrangement came into being and they fraternised (as the angel liked to term it) more often.

He …………liked it. He liked spending time with the angel.  With Aziraphale. Who smiled at him, talked to him like he mattered.

Who never shied away from touching him.  A brush of the hand here, a pat on the shoulder there, a nudge with an elbow, a tap on the ankle under the table, an occasional arm slung around his ribs as they staggered drunkenly from a revel.

Who never, ever, hurt him.

Who showed him nothing but kindness and grace.  Even when Crowley was a bit of bitch when he got bored. He got bored easily.

Yes, Aziraphale was an angel and that was his shtick, but Crowley had met other angels, and most of them were complete fucking arseholes. Just as violent and vicious as demons, in their own way.

By now they had completely given over to lying to their respective Head Offices, both of which clearly didn’t give a shit.  So long as the reports told the story they wanted to hear, and the evidence could be construed in an appropriate manner from their rather limited points of view, Up and Downstairs appeared to be happy with both their performances.

***************************************************

There were words branded deep inside him, the kind that could only be revealed in the cold dark time before dawn, when no one else could possibly see. Words he whispered in secret pain, clutched close to his broken soul, words that no demon should ever be able to contemplate.

Words that were beginning to describe a feeling he had when he looked at his angel.  Words that terrified him, for what it could mean.  Terrified him so much, he buried them deep.  Whats one more scar blazened across the space your soul used to be?

******************************************************************************************

Demons couldn't weep, but in the cold dark of a night, he discovered his body retained the ability.  Sometimes, when the weight was more than he could bear, he would dull it with alcohol, curl up in a ruined mess on the floor, and scream his pain until he reached catharsis.

It hurt, how he felt, what he felt when he was with Aziraphale, but if there was one thing Crowley knew how to do, it was take his pain and use it.

Turns out all that torture had a use after all.

So he channelled it into acts of service.  He kept tabs on the angel, rescued him from many stupid situations and a few dangerous ones.  He spent time with him (it wasn't a hardship at all now), drinking, talking the hours away idly.  Bought him books and random gifts.  A veritable parade of food, over the centuries.

Walked on the consecrated ground of a church, under a falling bomb, not knowing if it would destroy him, to save his angel.

He watched, when he could, often from afar (they could sense each others presence up to a point), and he always always came back, like a homing pigeon. Even after the bitter words spoken at his request for Holy Water.

Home could be a person, not just a place

Now, when the angel touched him……….it…….burned.

And he fucking loved it. 

It was the price he paid for playing with the pain.  It was nothing and everything he deserved.

For he was blighted, ravaged, forsaken.  He was Fallen.  Cursed with filthy serpent eyes, he wore dark glasses, so he didn’t sully the visage of his angel with them.

He hated what he was, not because he was a demon, but because he had been deceived, betrayed.  Their pride had goeth before his fall.

And the only real emotion that demons were capable of was Hate. 

Wasn't it???

Every time Aziraphale touched him, he felt that burn, and it reminded him.  Steadied him.  Succored him when nothing else did.

Craved it, so much that he, cautiously began to invite it.  Just a little, here, there.  A lingering when he might have pulled away.  A casual stretch of the leg a bit further than he might of.  Soft brush of the fingers in the pass of a wineglass.  

He put himself in the way of the angels touch, never ever initiating it himself.  That was the rule, while he could *be* touched, he could never reach out.  He had learned the lesson all too well, the touch of a demon bought nothing but pain and misery.

Instead, he found so many ways to gently worship his angel, and receive his patient, if unknowing benediction.

The angel who had dared touch a demon in kindness under a hot desert sun.

And the demon who loved him for it 6000 years later.

You bought me water in the desert once, do you remember?

***************************************************

Sometimes when he was particularly maudlin, he cursed at the unfairness, how a creature made to love, could be loved so deeply by another creature incapable of it.

He thought it was the biggest fucking joke of the Universe, until a meeting in a cemetery one night, and he was handed a basket containing the Antichrist.

He would have happily suffered, pining, for Eternity, in fact, had almost looked forward to it.  With a screeching halt, every possible future was completely derailed, and hooked up to the Armageddon train. 

In desperation they cooked up a plan, not knowing that it had already gone quite fucking pearshaped, and with days, hours, minutes to go, they tried.  Tried so fiercely, they damn near destroyed themselves in the doing.

Miraculously it worked.

Fucking miracles.

***************************************************

One last fiendish plan to thwart the anticipated retribution from Management

Oh and how he had enjoyed breathing hellfire at Gabriel

He was getting right royally sick of the Fucking Ineffable Fucking Plan, but, maybe, just maybe, they might have got free and clear now.

For a while anyway. 

So here he was, champagne flute in one hand, at another lunch at the Ritz, celebrating the continued existence of the world.

For the moment, they still had the possibility of Eternity together, but it was different now.  Certain things had been said, confessions been obliquely made.  Silent questions had been asked in long unspeaking gazes.

Crowley had the rather uncomfortable sensation that the real showdown was yet to happen.  The one where he was going to have to speak some of the words he had hoarded, his precious, burnished, tarnished words.

He was pretty sure that he only had to do just one simple thing, yet it was the thing he had promised himself he would never do.

There is no comfort or pleasure to be found in the touch of others in Hell. 

He had sworn never to taint the brightness of his angel by touching him, and that included speaking the words that would surely choke in his throat if he tried.

As they clinked the champagne glasses together, the sound he really heard, was that of his heart, splintering into razor edge pieces, cutting harder, sharper and deeper than they ever had before.

Where was his fucking miracle now?