Pain. That is all these people could feel. They banded together in mass, banished from normal habitations of man. In all their fear and confusion, these people stayed together in a makeshift village where they could take in the rejected people of the world. One particular man took a residence on the outer rim of the dwellings. His head was bowed in prayer, his hands clasped together; the rash was already starting to spread so far. Pieces of skin were missing, exposing the red flesh underneath. Boils and sores covered nearly every part of his sun drenched dark skin. His greasy hair fell across his face, thinning all to early in his life. His lips moved in a silent prayer, the blistered skin cracked painfully with each word he mouthed but he didn’t dare let that stop him.
Aziraphale watched his man with great pity. The Angel of the Lord stood on a hill that overlooked the city of outcasts. He had his eye on this particular man for quite some time. All he could do was watch this man in prayer.
His own hands were clenched at his side nails biting into the skin of his palms, shaking in a rage that was boiling over the surface. His mouth was held tight together in a scowl that normally never appeared on his bright face. Rational thoughts were left behind and the only manta that echoed in his mind was, how could She allow this to happen?
Aziraphale was forced to witness the wrath of God many times in his stay on Earth. But this was too cruel… even for her. There was no need for this much brutality on this one poor soul.
A flash of red and black made its way through the crowd. Aziraphale shifted his eyes slightly to watch Crowley stop and talk to a few of those with leprosy, he handed a small child a loaf of bread. After a few moments he looked up from the people and saw the Angel standing on the hill. He made his way over to that same hill.
“Angel!” He said all to brightly, but quickly stopped in his tracks when he took in the expression on Aziraphale’s face.
“What are you doing here?” Aziraphale spoke tartly with no preamble of conversation.
“Uh… you know, trouble and all that stuff.” Crowley shrugged and walked to stand next to the blonde looking over the suffering of humanity as well. “Sick people are usually pretty easy to tempt. What about yourself?”
Aziraphale pointed at the man he had been watching earlier. “You see that man.” Crowley nodded but didn’t say anything else. “I am watching over him.”
“Isn’t he from Uz? Didn’t think the almighty cared for people in Uz,” Crowley remarked offhandedly.
That set Aziraphale off. “She doesn’t!” He snapped, throwing his hands in frustration. “Except that man has suffered for no other reason.” Crowley looked a little confused but didn’t dare to speak up against Aziraphale. “He was pious, more than any other person on Earth. Look at him Crowley.” Aziraphale made a gesture and Crowley couldn’t help but follow the directive.
The man had his head bent, and hands in prayer. He continued to speak his prayers silently, mouth moving with each word. He looked as if he was at death's door, yet it refused to open and allow a peaceful end to all his Earthly suffering. Crowley just looked back with a confused expression on his face.
“Do you know what he is saying?” Aziraphale sounded exasperated. Crowley shook his head. “‘Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not expect misfortune?’” His voice trembled slightly at saying those words. The Angel crossed his arms over his chest, to keep them from shaking in rage.
“I’m not quite sure if I am following you?” Crowley was trying his best to stay neutral but Aziraphale could pick up on the slight weariness of his voice.
“His name is Job.” Aziraphale started to explain, although he refused to look at the demon next to him. “He was- is very devout to the almighty. He was given a large amount of riches and land for being such a devout believer. I used to visit from time to time, it was so wonderful to watch him teach his family love for God. He had a large family too, 7 sons and 3 daughters. But now look at him.”
“The Adversary,” Aziraphale spoke darkly. “Well, I could blame him but it wasn’t really his fault. He told the almighty that the only reason he was pious toward Her was because of his riches and land. So what did she do? She took everything away just to show he would still be faithful.”
“What do you mean by everything?” Crowley’s voice sounded a little pained.
“I mean, everything Crowley. His sheep were killed by lighting. All his servants were beheaded right in front of him, and his entire family was killed in a sandstorm.” Aziraphale thought back to those trials, he tried to send messengers to warn Job of the impending calamity; although they arrived, fell to his feet and warned of disaster following disaster, it didn’t help. Everything still was taken from him. The angel walked the ruins of the homes of his sons, the sand covered every inch of the buildings, bodies were strewn on the floor with lungs full of sand. His heart ached, pain and suffering etched into his memories now.
“But that wasn’t enough,” Aziraphale spoke darkly. “The first thing he did was pray to her.” Aziraphale continued to keep his eyes on the man. His head shook and he slowly tore his eyes away to look into Crowley’s. The Angel’s normal soft blue eyes had a cold and sharp glare to them. “His own body was torn with the pains of disease, he was banished from his village. Now all he does is pray. Rarely eats or drinks. Just prays.”
Crowley could see something hidden in Aziraphale’s expression. They hadn’t known each other too long, but there was something deeper underneath, all of a sudden he had a realization. “You aren’t actually assigned to do anything are you?” Aziraphale shook his head. “Why are you so bothered by this one man?”
“You wouldn’t understand, you’re just-” Aziraphale stopped mid sentence and snapped his mouth closed. He looked away from Crowley, purposely avoiding eye contact.
“I’m just what, angel?” Now it was Crowley’s turn to start raising his voice. “Fallen? Unholy? Unworthy? Go on… say it.”
“You’re a Demon,” Aziraphale snapped back, the anger flaring in his chest. “You couldn’t be bothered to understand earthly suffering.”
“Right!” Crowley rolled his eyes. “I was only tossed from Heaven and forced into a place that is worse than you could possibly imagine. But your right, I don’t know anything about suffering.” Aziraphale never heard him speak of the fall before.
“It’s not the same-” Aziraphale started to explain himself but was cut off by the angry serpent next to him.
“I fail to see how it’s not the same,” Crowley shook his head. “Everyone suffers angel. So when I ask why you care so much about this one person it's because I don’t see why this one person is more important than everyone else.” It wasn’t that Crowley was trying to be heartless, Aziraphale knew this. The two of them had run into each other several times throughout the world, although they only had conversations in passing, he could tell that Crowley was not like a normal demon.
“Because, this man has no right to suffer,” Aziraphale nearly whispered in a harsh tone. He looked back up at Crowley. “All he ever did was be steadfast. And this is his reward for serving the almighty?” Crowley didn’t say anything back, all his witty banter and sharp tongue falling dead at Aziraphale’s tone. “If this is how She treats the pious, then what is in store for someone like me?”
Crowley’s head snapped to look at him. His eyes were wide in panic and he opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. Aziraphale continued to talk, “Within just a few days of being on Earth, I gave away something heaven assigned to me and lied directly to Her about it. How can I call myself an Angel if all I have ever done was defy Her. I am not a steadfast as Job, I have no hope.”
“Angel, you can’t be saying what I think you're saying.” Crowley looked absolutely horrified.
“How could I ever remain an agent of Heaven when She allows this happen to good people Crowley?” Aziraphale threw out his arms to point at Job, the man was still speaking his daily prayers. “He is faithful after all. The ark I could dismiss, those people were not. But Job remained Her faithful servant and was rewarded with more suffering.” Aziraphale spoke with the passion of his despair. He was just expected to condone, or worse- ignore, this man’s suffering just because it was on the name of the Almighty. If that was how Heaven is to be run, then maybe he shouldn’t be part of it anymore.
That idea weighed heavy on Aziraphale’s mind. It was an idle thought that creep up years ago, it came back to his mind when he heard about the trials Job was to undergo, it grew more and more with each passing day. Now he stood on this hill, watching this faithful man, dying of disease he shouldn't even have. All because God was in a childish bet to prove that people liked Her better.
Crowley grabbed his arm and yanked him to look him in the eye. “You cannot possibly be thinking about falling.”
“Why should I not?” The bitterness of his misery sank into his tone. He felt like he was giving up on who he was, but why shouldn’t he? Job hasn’t given up on God and look at him now. Suffering beyond measure, doomed to die an outcast, the grief of the death of his entire family weighing on his heart.
“You don’t understand what is it like,” Crowley spoke through gritted teeth. “The pain of falling, the burn of the wings, the love being torn from every molecule in your body. It’s not just physical and it never leaves. You always feel like some part of you is missing, and it can never be fixed.”
“Crowley, that choice may not be up to me.” Aziraphale’s voice was flat, it was almost as if he was giving up already. “When She knows everything I have done…” He shook his head and left the sentence unfinished. Crowley knew he was correct, falling wasn’t exactly a choice he made himself, it was one that was forced on him for no reason other then he asked a few questions.
Aziraphale pulled his arm from Crowley’s grip, which had loosened considerably at that that sentence. The pair watched in silence at the people in front of them. They watched as three men were guided by one of the outcasts towards Job. The angel knew these men, they were childhood friends of Job. They finally approached the man who was praying. None of the three friends wanted to interrupt him, they stood off to the side and waited until Job was the one to break the silence of his prayers.
“Maybe this is not the end of his story?” Crowley ventured after a few minutes of silence. “Maybe there is still some type of reward in the end?” Aziraphale felt as if he was just making something up to try and cheer him up. “I mean, God does her own games with the universe. But something like this, when she is trying to disprove the Adversary. She wouldn’t allow this man to truly suffer forever. Otherwise the Adversary wins.”
Aziraphale scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“Well,” Crowley drew out the word a bit. “The only reason Job is where he is now, is because it was the Adversary's idea to test his faith. God rose to the challenge, admittedly it was taken it a bit too far, but Job still remained faithful. If she just allows him to die like this, then the adversary gets what he wants. One less faithful person on Earth.”
Aziraphale didn’t speak but did consider that idea. It made sense in a way, if the other side wanted less faithful people on Earth they usually tried to tempt them to their side, but letting them die-- even while faithful-- would still yield the same result, one less faithful person walking on the Earth.
“Perhaps you are going through your own trial as well.” Aziraphale didn’t say anything but looked at the redhead. “You are questioning your faith in yourself as well as Heaven. Perhaps you are being tested for your loyalty? And if you fall, then you are only proving the Adversary right.”
The Angel chewed over those words but didn’t say anything back. Even if Job was given some type of reward for these trials, that still wouldn’t make everything better. His entire family was killed and he would always have to live with that, his home, his livelihood, everything. It was more pain than anyone should have to bear.
“Does it matter?” Aziraphale sounded defeated. “Why should I continue to serve a God who allows this of Her subjects?”
Crowley narrowed his eyes and turned to look at him with a scowl. “So don’t stay for Her!” Crowley practically shouted. Aziraphale blinked and looked at the demon next to him. “What good will happen if you fall. You’ll become another worthless demon-”
“My dear, your not-” Aziraphale was cut off by Crowley holding his hand up to silence him.
“Shove it!” He dismissed the angel harshly, “You’ll become just another pitiful demon, damned to spend the rest of eternity pissed off at someone who obviously doesn’t give a crap about anything in the Universe. So don’t stay loyal to heaven for Her. Do it for them.” Crowley extended his hand out to gesture at the people below. Aziraphale’s eyes followed the movement and couldn’t quite understand what Crowley had meant. “Stay loyal because you can help them so much more as an Angel. You can perform small miracles to make their short lives so much better, extend your Heavenly love to ease their suffering, and maybe convince upstairs to take it easy on a few of them. As a demon you can do none of that, just add to the suffering.”
Aziraphale looked at the people below. They were outcasts banished, yet they still stuck together to try and make a life somewhat better. Crowley was right, Aziraphale would be allowed to help them as an Angel. He could do it and claim to be spreading peace and love in the Almighty’s name. He could save a few of them, especially if those people were devout believers.
It was almost like a warm light had blossomed in his chest. It was a wonderful notion, he could use this time on Earth to help those that needed it the most. Who cares what Heaven or the Almighty wanted, he was assigned to Earth. It was his call of what who he could help and as long as he performed the miracles on Earth that they demanded of him, he would be free to help so many more people. Perhaps he could even enjoy his time here. Aziraphale looked back up and smiled warmly at Crowley who smiled back, for the first time in a while he could feel the gentle love radiating throughout his body.
“Right,” Aziraphale took in a steady breath even though he didn’t need it but the act helped to calm himself. “Perhaps I should go up and talk to someone about Job.” He placed a hand on Crowley’s shoulder, the demon looked a little startled by the touch but didn’t move or object. “Thank you so much, I don’t know what I would do without you here.”
“Don’t say that,” Crowley took a step back making the hand fall back to Aziraphale’s side. “If Hell ever found out about this conversation…” He trailed off not wanting to finish the thought.
“Of course,” Aziraphale nodded. “Having someone to talk to about this really helped though.”
The pair stayed in silence a bit longer. Eventually Aziraphale was able to convince Heaven that Job had suffered long enough and was given permission to use some magic to bring Job his eventual reward. Due to his piety and reverence he was healed of all wounds and given with twice as much of the world's goods as before. Aziraphale made sure to use a little more miracles than was strictly required, Job eventually had more children and lived until the end of his natural life with peace and happiness surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. In Job’s final days, Aziraphale came to visit. He watched as Job happily lead his entire family in prayers and talked about the lessons he learned throughout his life.
As Aziraphale walked away from this full and loving home, he saw Crowley waiting on the outskirts of the property.
He smiled warmly as he approached the redhead. “Good evening Crowley.”
“Angel,” Crowley spoke in greeting. He did have a smile on his face as well.
“I discovered that you are correct after all,” Aziraphale clasped his hands behind his back. “I help so many more people by staying loyal to Heaven, and that it what I’ll do.”
“I’m glad to hear that angel.”
Crowley leaned against a tree and crossed his arms over his chest. “So where to next?”
Aziraphale had to think about it, “Egypt I believe.”
“Oh yeah, heard there was trouble brewing there.” Crowley nodded in understanding. “I guess I’ll see you around sometime.”
Aziraphale nodded and didn’t move from the spot, there was one more thing he wanted to bring up. “And perhaps,” Aziraphale continued. “You are also right about an eventual reward like Job. Something to balance out everything here on Earth, I just have no clue what it would be.”
“It better be something good, because it took a demon to convince you to stay.” Crowley remarked with a smirk on his lips. Aziraphale chuckled, he knew that this would have to be a well kept secret between them. They smiled at each other once more. Eventually the pair would get their reward, it would come in a few thousand years after a botched apocalypse. But for now, they continued to enjoy the small company they could keep without drawing attention of either side.