It was kind of a miracle, Crowley mused, that he'd stumbled around the Earth, fumbling temptations and demonic miracles for a little short of six thousand years, and in all that time he'd never managed to run into his divine counterpart.
He knew there must have been one; his successful temptations (which, in and of themselves, discounting any happy coincidences or unwitting assistance from humans, were few, but that was a secret he wasn't keen on sharing with hell any time soon) were sometimes undone soon after he'd accomplished them, in ways that must have counted as "subtle" and "mysterious" in heaven's books, but were often flagrantly incautious and flashy at best. Nearing the beginning of this six thousand year drag, heaven might have had the excuse of "inspiring faith" or "enlightening the masses" or what have you, but by now Crowley knew for a fact that ever since the business at Golgotha, heaven's policy on Earth had shifted to the indirect end of things, and yet their agent still managed to land themselves on the local news every fortnight or so, quite a few times on the front page, even.
Just going by that, Crowley had no particular interest to go anywhere near this person - thing - occult being. In Crowley's opinion, to have lived on Earth for going on five thousand years and not even learned the very basics of human normalcy, was pretty solidly indicative of the kind of old-fashioned-ness that comes with flaming swords and blazing eyes and a good healthy dose of smiting, were the angel to encounter anyone of the diabolic persuasion. So Crowley steered clear, and to his relief his counterpart never sought him, and so they'd co-existed till now, nearing the end of the 20th century.
But that all changed when his old counterpart was recalled, and a new one sent to the Earth in their stead.
Crowley should've known the tableau couldn't last. His old counterpart might've been an idiot, but that didn't mean everyone in heaven was one; someone was bound, sooner rather than later, to recognize the significance of the bloom in information technologies, particularly the Internet. With the heavy-handedness of their old days, very soon their new policy was going to be rendered null; at best, there could be a religious revolution; at worst, a personal cult surrounding their dolt of an Earth ambassador, and no-one in heaven was much of a fan of idolatry and hearsay, were they?
Unfortunately, all of this only entered Crowley's feather brain (a bit literally, as what was inside a demon's skull differed somewhat from what was inside a human skull) the minute he saw the new angel land in front of him, in broad daylight, white suit and blazing eyes and all, where Crowley was walking to his usual cafe to stress about the end of the month report, a few blocks west of Trafalgar Square.
A few pedestrians and a duck stared. The angel raised a hand; with a vacant expression, humans and duck went on with their day.
"Okay, you're brighter than the last one, I s'pose," he muttered. "Nice meeting you, good luck with the first day on the job, et cetera - could we do this later? Sorry, but I've got something urgent coming up -"
"DEMON CROWLEY," the new angel boomed. A shop window crumbled. A few car alarms blared.
Crowley hastily snapped his fingers; peace descended, though his ears still rang a bit. He left the broken window alone, though. There were some things that a demon just shouldn't do: repairing broken shop windows, for one. It was a matter of dignity.
"Could you not do that?" Crowley complained against the oncoming noise migraine, eyes screwing shut behind his sunglasses. "It's a pretty busy area."
"Sorry," the angel said, using human vocal chords, thankfully. He looked uncomfortable; and though the note of apology in his voice was real, he seemed as if he was steeling himself for something that though unpleasant to him personally, nonetheless Must Be Done. Ah. Crowley was familiar with those. "I'm new to this body."
"Uh huh, been there, done that," Crowley murmured absently, eyeing said body.
It was an unusual one, for any occult being but especially an angel. Generally, in Crowley's experience, angels went for a few things: beauty being primary among them (it didn't hurt, Crowley had to admit, putting a pretty face to a cause, something that hell somehow never cottoned onto), power the next, and the body in front of him...didn't precisely project either. Sure, the grey eyes were a nice touch, and the adorably full limbs and slightly round middle wasn't unattractive, but they didn't exactly inspire fear or the urge to prostrate one in front of them, desperately praising God.
As Crowley watched, the angel's previously white suit was rapidly bleeding into tartan; a touch of grey entering the corporation's hairline, while the chains of an old-fashioned pocketwatch dangled from one trouser pocket. The angel's personality imprinting itself onto the newly minted corporation. It was mildly fascinating to watch. The angel - whatever they're called - took out the watch, checked the time, and grimaced.
"So," Crowley ventured, watching the angel's open expressions with amusement and a stirring of interest, "you've already been told my name. Seeing as we'll both be spending the foreseeable future on this little planet -"
"Aziraphale," the angel said, and then immediately looked as if they wished they'd never said anything.
Crowley thought that was a little excessive, but - angels. One should never expect too much from them. Or demons, for that matter. Crowley rather thought that things would be all around smoother if hell expected as little from him as he expected from them.
Aziraphale cleared his throat; all trace of emotions were suddenly wiped from his face.
"Demon Crowley," he said, sternly, with the air of reading off of a sheet of heavenly stationary. "You have been Hell's agent on Earth for over five thousand years -"
"I prefer 'Correspondent,' thanks. Plus, 'over five thousand years?' Awfully imprecise of you -"
"And in that time," Aziraphale said, raising his voice to speak over the demon, "you have promoted evil, done irreparable harm to the fabric of human society and undermined the integrity of their faithfulness -"
"'Evil' is an excessive description, human societies evolve all the time, and they undermined their own faith with their wretchedness - is this what the other guy has been writing about me to your headquarters? Am I allowed to file a complaint?"
"For these reasons," Aziraphale spoke yet louder, with an overwhelmed look in his eye, "heaven has seen fit to administer punishment to your demonic person, effective immediately, to be delivered -" Here, Aziraphale choked a little: "By the hand of the Principality Aziraphale, Guardian of the Gate of Eden."
"Huh," Crowley said, falling silent.
So, heavenly punishment. He'd figured he was done with those, permanently, something like six thousand years ago. You know, white flash, big bang, heavenly fire, either public disownment or mass defection, however one preferred to look at the matter.
To be prescribed punishment from the old crowd again was - odd. Would it be entirely legal, by human standards? Say, a British agent defects to the Soviet Union. That had been a fad a couple decades ago. Would it really be - decorous - for the Queen's service to punish them, after they've been made Soviet nationals?
Who knew. They weren't humans, plus Crowley had been a bit preoccupied with the Beatles to follow international politics too closely back then. Besides, it wasn't like he could stop the angel.
"Delightful," Crowley said, with a smile and a wave. "Got it. We'll get right to that, shall we? Say, I just need to skip to the loo for a moment -"
He stepped back and into the circle he'd hastily drawn on the wall with one hand behind his back, one of the crudest and most ineffective sigils he'd drawn in a while. It would only transport him to the nearest non-crowded space, but one made do with what one had, and -
Before he could slither into the ether and reappear somewhere quiet and most importantly, free of stressed angelic agents on their first day of job, Crowley felt a warm hand on his wrist, and looked up startled to see Aziraphale suddenly there, his eyes acquiring a slight hint of steel blue in the middle of all that concrete grey, and his hand burned a little on Crowley's skin, bloody hell -
They reappeared, to Crowley's shock, in a public loo.
It was a relatively posh one, as well: dark marble floors, full-length mirrors, neatly folded hand towels, not a single germ-laden hand-dryer in sight. Faint scent of exotic perfume on the air. The stalls were empty. There was even a little sitting area, magazines and vase tastefully laid out.
Crowley grabbed the counter, disorientated after the short, rocky trip.
"I only said that to prevaricate, you know," he said, "I don't go to loos with strange blokes if I could help it. Not on a first date."
Christ, what did his reputation matter, when he was about to get the proverbial flaming stick, and more likely than not up the bum - either figuratively or, in the unlikely event, literally.
Considered that way, getting said stick from Aziraphale was certainly a better sight than, say, getting poured Holy Water by the likes of Gabriel or Michael.
Crowley could almost delude himself into thinking that this was nothing more than an illicit tryst with yet another mildly charming human, of the many that he'd done various things with over the centuries. (Said 'things' ranged from what the humans called a quick "handjob" to the full rigmarole, dinner, bed, and breakfast afterwards, and one time in the 15th century things had even lasted a good few months. Then he'd realized the artist was only human, too, in the end, and would die in a short few decades. He never got quite so attached again.)
Aziraphale, with a vaguely glazed look in his eyes, went over stiffly and locked the door to the bathroom. Crowley's brain short-circuited.
"Now if you would please -" Aziraphale said in an oddly formal tone of voice that was probably not meant to be arousing, but unfortunately was, exceedingly so - "take off your trousers."
Crowley was mishearing. Surely he'd misheard. He was losing his marbles after centuries of living past every lover he'd ever had, because he was not hearing a principality tell him to take off his bloody trousers, in the loo of the Ritz or the Wellesley or wherever his shoddy job had dumped them.
"Please," Aziraphale added, strained. "Do not make this harder than it has to be."
Crowley swallowed, dropped his belt, and dragged down his tight jeans with an effort.
In the low light, a cold celestial glow emanated from the angel's murky eyes, and Crowley thought he could almost see the outline of his wings behind him, fanned out, its prismatic, otherworldly luminescence putting the light fixtures in the restroom to shame.
It'd been a long time since Crowley had seen a heavenly being in any kind of up close situation. Too long, in fact, to count: the years and decades and centuries turning into hot desert sand and gritty winds through his fingers, miles upon miles of arid earth, seasons that brought forth naught but despair and desolation. Drought, flood, pestilence, misery as far as the eye could see. Tribes drifting lost in the wasteland, never to be recalled again.
Reaching back through the sand dunes of time left a rancid smell of blood in Crowley's nostrils, sharp and acrid: the scent of blood left out in the desert for days to dry, and layered on top, open wounds feeding the last of its sluggish reserves into the bloodied underpass of the land, where the dead leaves and entrails and carcasses lay, empty husks of animals staring with dead, white eyes.
Crowley shuddered, shaking his shoulders like he could shrug the memories off, an extra layer of skin.
This was why he'd never sought his counterpart, even when at times, the other's corona was a tantalizing blaze just out of the corner of his eye. That light, when looked at too closely, dredged up memories and faded parts of himself, dead limbs returning to excruciating, ghostly life. Raining afternoons sometimes had the same effect, as did the white glare of a lamppost, directly overhead, in summertime twilight.
He remembered this, like a distant nursery rhyme, as the angel - Aziraphale - crowded up behind him, his glow a whirl of vertigo, stripping Crowley down to his barest self. Crowley let him take his jacket, his shirt, his underwear, too flayed and hungry for the warmth to resist. His shades landed on the floor with a far-off clatter.
"Foul fiend," Aziraphale was muttering in his ear, "Do you repent?"
Crowley only laughed, the laughter broken up by a choked-off gasp as he felt the angel reach between his legs, and then the hot bump of what was unmistakably - oh.
He didn't know heaven made their equipment quite like...that. He'd have thought they were too prudish to go in for that level of detail and - shall one say - artistic liberty. It was impressive.
Aziraphale grabbed his hips.
"Wait," Crowley gasped, panic and concern for his corporation breaking through the surface of anticipatory bliss, "Wait - Let me just -"
Aziraphale eyed him strangely in the mirror, the blank incomprehension on his face nothing so much as resembling human: cold, impersonal, a being untouched by pain and fires, who'd never been on the other end of a bolt of lightning. Crowley wanted to laugh, again, but instead he said:
"Just one second, you don't want me to end up in an A&E afterwards, right? A hassle to get sorted, that. Delicate memory work left and right. You don't want to have to file a report on your first day, do you?"
Aziraphale continued to stare at him, uncomprehending, and Crowley took the chance to ease himself open, make himself as slick and ready as he could under the circumstances, going on two centuries of abstinence leaving his motions awkward and unfamiliar. But the need, the hunger, had burned to a living flame inside of him, higher it has ever been before, and he wasn't deterred even when the angel opened his mouth:
"The punishment -"
"Could wait," Crowley said blithely, "I thought we were doing this first?" And guided the angel inside of him, an uneasy breach, hesitant to begin with and then, once the angel’s instinct took over, a single, brutal shove.
It felt - it felt -
"Oh," Aziraphale said, behind him, rocking forward helplessly, sinking deeper, and Crowley moaned, fingers digging on the marble counter, one leg propped up near the washbasin, the cold shock of porcelain on his knee a sharp contrast to the heat spreading from their every point of contact, through his entire body, down to his fingers and toes.
Like sitting in rings of campfires in long-ago wintry nights – but just a little too close, perhaps, just a little short of incinerating oneself.
"For your five thousand years of wickedness -" Aziraphale was saying, harsh and ragged, as if reciting a script, as if he couldn't help saying it, "For leading humanity astray and plunging the world into chaos and doom -"
“Didn’t have to do a lot of plunging, or leading, did I,” Crowley panted. “Not when they had that well in hand; and besides, in the next hundred years it’s all going to go out with a bang anyway -”
The angel paused at that, and Crowley had to fight to stop the whine in the back of his throat from escaping.
“That soon?” The angel murmured.
Crowley craned his neck around, half-way – the position didn’t allow for much more – and scrutinized the angel.
“Do you care?”
“I -” Aziraphale paused, “- do not, of course,” the second half of the sentence came out harsh and flat and lifeless, the split-second doubt gone as if it never were.
But Crowley knew, and he tried to hold onto that as Aziraphale redoubled his vigor, bending Crowley further forward as he said, “Your actions were what set their world on a doomed course, Serpent -”
"Do you really want to argue philosophy and theology right now?" Crowley groaned. "I could, ah, if you go for that sort of thing, because I mean, you people foretold the - oh - whole, apocalypse nonsense, we're perfectly happy roasting in our own hell if it's all the same to you -"
And then he lost his voice, the angel's fingers no doubt leaving spectacular bruises on his hips and all along the back of his thighs. On a vicious upward thrust Crowley almost banged his head against the mirror; he propped a hand on its slippery surface and looked up, through a haze of pain and lust, right into the angel's eyes, stormy as black clouds amassing on a desert's eastern skies. In a blink Crowley was transported to another point in time, jumping through tens of centuries at once, landing in a balmy afternoon in the very first days of creation.
The face of the angel, the one who’d guarded the Eastern Gate, had been slowly eroded and effaced through the centuries. As irretrievable as sand through fingers, as frescos left to cake and peel in abandoned temples.
Or so Crowley had thought.
In that single, blinding second, however, the face came into brilliant clarity. Revelatory.
"Oh," said Crowley, skin almost afire under the onslaught of the angel’s divinity. "Oh, that was you, I remember - Eden - the Eastern Gate – "
Strangely, this was what made Aziraphale's cheeks colour. Instead of the on-going buggering.
"We are not discussing my wrongdoings, fiend," the angel hissed, eyes averted, "this punishment is about you -"
But Crowley was too far gone to process that statement properly; otherwise, it may have come to his attention that the angel’s current objective differed somewhat – or entirely – from Crowley’s.
"So you've been away, all this time?" Crowley gasped. "I'm afraid you've missed rather a lot - Adam and Eve's sons and daughters – Abraham and Lot - ah -"
One of the angel's hands had tangled up in Crowley's hair, dragging his head back; the other grabbed Crowley's thigh and bent it further upwards, to the side. Crowley hissed at the strain, and then had to choke back a moan at the better - deeper - access this granted the angel, the lick of flames into the very core of him.
He felt - laid bare. Like there wasn't one inch of him that the angel couldn't take, couldn't lay waste to, if the other so desired.
Which was, after all, probably true, and on more than one level.
“Repent, demon,” Aziraphale insisted again, “Turn back from your sins and transgressions -”
“What’s in it for me?” Crowley said and smiled bitterly, even as he felt the waves of pleasure mixed with pain creeping up on him like turbulent seas, threatening to tip over into one crashing wave with each punishing thrust from behind. “I’m a demon, like you said, I’m – ah – unforgivable – even if I do repent. Why do you keep saying that, anyway? Not exactly top notch – dirty talk, is it? Is it a kink?”
The silence from the angel this time had a nonplused air about it.
“Are – fuck – are all angels like you?” Crowley tried. What answered him was a brutal twist in his hair. “Do you all go in for - Lord - carnal pleasures like this? Reminds me, I could introduce you to a great many Earthly delights, I could. You’ve missed – so much – drinks, art, music, how do you feel about food, personally not my favorite, but you might see the appeal, who knows, ah -”
Crowley’s forehead dropped to touch the cool stone basin, while Aziraphale roughly dragged his wrists from where they were propping him up and wrenched them to the small of his back – Crowley let out an involuntary hiss - trapped them with a tight, unforgiving grip, bones grinding together.
Crowley bit his lips to keep from crying out. The angel’s halo was ablaze; the air was charged with holiness and wrath, promises of retribution, the purest form of destruction – oh, the pain would be beyond imagination, worse than all the fires in hell combined, Crowley could feel it like oncoming storms - but the moment never arrived, the blast of lightning never came.
Instead, there was only Aziraphale’s breath, warm and quick and heavy by Crowley’s ear, the weight of his body strangely reassuring instead of crushing, and the relentless strokes inside that turned Crowley’s spine to liquid fire.
“Angel – angel – Aziraphale -” Crowley gasped.
Aziraphale’s aura enveloped him, bright and pure like a blade. He wanted - needed -
The angel's movements were growing frantic, and the heat was almost becoming too much to bear, brilliant and agonizing all at once.
“Don’t use my name,” Aziraphale said, pained, emotion bleeding over the blank white of his façade. Crowley could almost taste it on the air, sour -
“Please, please,” Crowley babbled, no longer knowing what he was asking for: he had to get away, had to give in, had to –
“Stop talking,” Aziraphale commanded.
The world flared into non-existence, pleasure and pain cresting in sync until all thoughts were blotted out, burned clean, the way his name and his self had once been reduced to smoking cinders.
He came to himself, dazed; the angel was stilling inside of him, harsh breaths fanning out on Crowley’s cheek, in the curve of Crowley’s shoulder.
There was a low, terrible burn inside of him, spreading. Crowley hissed, and then bit his tongue to keep from making a noise, then finally had to resort to biting his lower lip clean through, iron and sulfur on his tongue, to keep from screaming.
“Fuck,” he said, trembling, when it was finally over. He felt light-headed, like he had been bleeding for days; on a metaphysical level, that may not be far from the truth.
The electric charge in the air had dissipated, leaving only a faint smell of ozone. Crowley planted both feet on the floor – the angel had pulled away from him at some point – and nearly collapsed when he tried to stand.
He managed to stay upright by grabbing the basin; from the back of his legs, something viscous was sliding down, slow and still smarting faintly.
His glasses were nowhere in evidence. Crowley adjusted his eyes to the light, clumsily pouring inordinate amounts of Power into the task. He located them, kicked a few foot away, underneath the counter, and reached down with a numb hand to pick them up. He set them on the counter and ran the faucet. Wet fingers through messy hair; a materialized hairband to keep it at the back.
There was nothing he could do about the angel’s come sliding out of him, so Crowley merely dragged his underwear and jeans back on, after shoving his shades onto his nose.
A good, long nap sounded great right about now. Preferably in a spot of sun. Screw the report, anyway. He’d just say he fucked an MP’s husband, or something.
The angel – Aziraphale – was standing next to the chaise lounge, stock-still, visibly a wreck of guilt (two-fold, Crowley saw), self-hatred, and doubt (very nearly the capitalized kind).
The last was…interesting.
“I couldn’t do it,” Aziraphale said abruptly. “They ordered me to, but I couldn’t go through with it, couldn’t-”
“I felt that,” Crowley said easily. “You held back. Are they going to come after you?“
“I don’t think so. Being on Earth, it’s – none of them really wants to. I – I volunteered.” Aziraphale lowered his eyes. “I didn’t know they also wanted me to punish you.”
Crowley squinted at the complicated, half-masked micro expressions on Aziraphale’s face. There was something there – something –
“You remembered me, didn’t you?” Crowley hedged, but confirmed his suspicions when he saw Aziraphale’s eyes twitch. “You did!”
“Well – yes.” There was a pause. “Gabriel came down to question me, after we talked. He was - a little vexed, that I'd given away the sword. That blasted sword," Aziraphale sighed. "I worked in the Earth Records Department, after.”
“Huh,” said Crowley, shrugging his jacket on with some difficulty. "Well, Gabriel has always been a bit of a prick."
He could feel various parts of his body beginning to shut down, systems slowing to a stop. He needed to get home, clean himself up, and then sleep for a good bit, before he got himself discorporated and had to explain to Dagon precisely why his corporation had failed.
“I don’t know what they’ve arranged for you down here,” Crowley said, contemplating picking up a bottle of good wine once he’d woken up. “But if you need a place to stay for a bit, my flat’s pretty empty.”
He got to the door, staggering a little – his legs were more difficult to wrangle than usual – and looked back, one hand on the handle.
The angel looked quite flabbergasted.
Crowley raised an eyebrow. “Don’t know about you, but I quite enjoyed that. Now are you coming or not?”
When he woke up, the angel was in the living room, poking at the remote control to the TV with extreme puzzlement.
“I’d be careful with that if I were you,” Crowley said, faux casual, as the angel jumped a foot away from the control, “the TV presenters have a nasty habit of turning into my superiors downstairs.”
“By ‘downstairs’, do you mean -”
“Yeah,” Crowley said, swinging the fridge open. Ah, there was the leftover beer. He took a long, immoderate swig, and then brought another bottle out for Aziraphale.
“So,” Crowley said, cracking the cap as Aziraphale eyed his sunglasses – it was night, but he didn’t comment, and Crowley didn’t elaborate. “Any particular plans? Directives from Above?”
“Even if there were, I wouldn’t tell you,” Aziraphale said stiffly, and Crowley grinned, mocking. “Oh, this is foul,” the angel said after a dainty sip, frowning.
Crowley shrugged, downing half a bottle at once, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“To be honest, this isn’t the best that the Earth has to offer,” he said. “Does the job, though. Tasting foul is a plus.”
“How so?” Aziraphale asked, bewildered.
Crowley eyed him. “Never mind. What do you say to dinner?”