Crowley had fallen into the habit of visiting a particular coffeeshop nearly every morning. He’d fallen into a lot of habits, lately. Here he would sit and listen to the news on the tv above him, read the day’s newspaper absently, and sip his coffee.
Crowley had long since determined that the humans had invented two substances of gross matter worth ingesting; coffee and alcohol.
And ingest them he did. It had become his habit to drink a rather spectacular amount of coffee in the mornings (until he could feel the heart in this body racing), only to taper off into a rather extraordinary amount of alcohol each evening.
He liked this coffeeshop because the coffee was good, but far more importantly, the staff didn’t ask questions. He could feel that they were afraid of him, but in the sort of worn-down way of those who have been in the service industry too long, and learned to swallow their misgivings in hope of a tip.
Crowley tipped well (it was hard not to when you could feel the waitress’s fear of how she was going to afford diapers that month for her infant, or the cook’s fear of how he was going to make rent), but was otherwise silent except for his order, which the staff soon memorized and had waiting for him every morning, negating any need to talk at all.
That suited Crowley just fine. He was here on business. He caught up with happenings in the human world, and he jotted down notes in a little beaten, black leather bound notebook he carried. It amused him to think that the new waitress, who he knew speculated that he used the book to plan demonic acts, was absolutely on the money.
Sometimes he brought books. Not like the books Aziraphale read, full of heartbreak and philosophy and humanity, but textbooks. He never kept them, choosing instead to consume them at a fevered pace, only to discard each one for another. Crowley studied computer science, theoretical physics, meteorology, geology (that one was mostly for fun, as Crowley knew all of it was a load of clever bunk), and especially, astrophysics. It was rather interesting to watch the humans reverse-engineer what he had built, and try to figure it out, piece by piece, thousands of years after the fact. Of course, they got a lot of details wrong, but overall, Crowley was impressed. Clever humans were getting cleverer by the day. Thank Satan they were, or Crowley would have lost his mind from boredom.
He’d never actually tried to do his job before, so he’d never realized how tedious it all was. Downstairs sent him inane requests to convince people of things they already wanted to do, and a good portion of the time, Crowley did nothing at all and the humans sinned anyway. It was their choice, after all, so frankly all of these persuasion games between Heaven and Hell felt cheap to Crowley.
Not that he was consulted on policy decisions.
Today he was engaging himself in a rather dull transcription of a lecture series on the chemistry of human blood, and the speculated function of each component. They were right enough about what molecules did what, but Crowley sighed regardless. It was hard not to feel like these humans, necessarily myopic as they were in their brief lives, were entirely missing the point.
In frustration, he shut the manuscript rather suddenly, and saw a patron at the next booth over jump anxiously.
His very presence put humans on edge. He couldn’t quite decide whether that was simply because he was a demon, or whether it was because they were all the descendants of Eve, and somewhere, encoded deep in their very DNA, they feared him because of what he’d done to them.
He supposed that was fair enough.
He stood to go, leaving his customary change on the table and gathering his papers to go, tucking his notebook back into his back pocket. Sometimes the human’s wariness of him was exhausting.
He’d spent the last twenty years in a shaky balance between devoting himself to the work of being a demon and desperately trying to forget he was a demon at all. Crowley tried to accept what he’d become now (after 6000 years, it was about time), but he couldn’t stop the rebellious part of his mind that still mourned who he’d been.
The part that still dreamed of constellations, and shared smiles, and a world all coated, like honey on the tongue, in a diffuse warm light.
He’d been sleeping less and less to give his traitorous brain less time to dream. But that left a lot of time to fill, and he was finding he could only devote so many hours towards demonic deeds before his mind began to wander, and dwell on Before, rehashing the events right before the War, over and over and over and over, wondering, if he had just been smarter, if he had just been more careful, could he have avoided falling? Would Aziraphale and him still be together, on this earth or above it? He had been so young, and so reckless, and so defiant.
Or had God simply conspired against him all this time? Was he simply another helpless pawn in the Ineffable Plan, tossed aside when She grew tired of playing with him?
Without quite noticing, his feet had taken him the few blocks home, to his flat. Good. He was desperate to escape the constant rehashing of his mistakes in his mind, from Before the War, to the Garden, to every word, every shared look, every possible interpretation of his interactions with Aziraphale.
Round and round they went, tighter and tighter, reminding Crowley of all his mistakes, of all he’d lost, again and again. He’d fucked it up, all of it, and he’d been paying, again and again, even when he’d thought there was nothing left to take, ever since.
He thought of a hand above him, and saw, almost too clearly, the muscles loosening, the fingers letting go. He thought of Aziraphale’s face in the Garden, like the sun itself peeping its glorious head over the wall, and his face, so familiar, so dear, everything Crowley had longed for and wept for in the dark and the drowning, suffocating pain of falling--completely devoid of recognition. He thought of the placid features of Aziraphale’s polite curiosity, that tinge of wariness around even his eyes, the same one nearly every human had regarded him with since, the same one that reflected back at him with the same expression in a thousand, no, a hundred thousand, no, a million, no, a billion eyes.
He thought of the world looking at him, and thought of a hand above him, and looked up, surprised, to see his own, holding a bottle, half empty already.
He thought of what he saw in the mirror, expecting brilliant green eyes, but greeted with harsh yellow eyes with slit pupils, and felt his fangs elongate in his mouth with anger. “Ssstupid sssnake,” he heard himself mutter, swinging his body around to collapse, half sprawled, on the nearest couch.
They’d tried to warn him, all of them, over and over and over again, and they’d all known exactly what he was, even if he refused to admit it, even if he persisted in his arrogant self-delusions to the point of destruction.
The bottle (he thought it had been whiskey?), was empty in his hand, and he let it fall blearily to the floor, unable to keep his mind in the present, flashing back through thousands of years of memories, each more painful than the last.
For some reason it was harder to manage these things today. He had no idea what time it was, but a persistent sense of anxiety was nagging at his senses, growing stronger by the minute, like the shrill squeal of tinnitus, and it was driving him insane.
He thought of eyes, still open, reflecting the stars above that they could no longer see. Under the skies after the flood, in the plague carts, in the rubble after the bombs. What use were the stars to them, when they couldn’t see? What use was anything he'd built to the dead?
What use was the choice when it killed them?
That horrible sensation was getting louder, and Crowley conjured himself another bottle, doing it a bit sloppily so that a bit splatted onto the floor. Not that it mattered. Nobody ever came here to see the flat. Truly, it was a barren place at the moment, simply somewhere for him to sleep without being disturbed, and to keep his souvenirs…
He opened his eyes and saw them, scattered around him, like a dragon hoarding treasures that would bring him but cold comfort as he hid away.
There, on the far wall, behind his desk, was the sketch, ancient and yellowed, but still gorgeous, that Leonardo had made of him, when he’d begged him to sit for him, one last time. Crowley could still remember how his deft hands had crossed the paper with such confidence, how he’d begged Crowley to take off his glasses for the portrait, how Crowley had smiled sadly under the scrutiny of his doomed love. How he’d made a copy for Crowley to take with him, “to remember me by, wherever you are going”, and signed it in a long, loping script, “To Antony.”
Behind him towered the statue of an eagle, wings outstretched, looking far older than it was. Cast in simple concrete, it was full of pockmarks where rubble had hit it, and Crowley had memorized every one, making him love it all the more.
It stood vigil over him like a headstone, and for a moment, Crowley wondered if it was.
His body certainly wasn’t dealing well under the strain he’d been putting it through, but moreso than that, Crowley wondered what death really meant to a being such as himself. What was on the other side of holy water?
Maybe, blissfully, nothing at all.
Maybe he would just stop, whatever that meant, for a being that had existed before the world, in a place outside of space and time and reality, maybe he would just stop. And sleep, dreamlessly.
Crowley was so, very old, and so very tired.
Even sleep didn’t come restfully any longer, plagued as it was with fretful dreams, star-studded with loss.
Unwillingly, his mind drifted to another keepsake of his.
Behind the portrait of himself, smiling sadly, hair long and dark and eyes altered to look human (as Leonardo had known he would like to see them), he knew there lie a safe. Within its fragile walls there lie a small, tartan-printed plastic thermos. It seemed so ordinary, so insignificant.
And to any human, it would be. Hell, they could drink the entire thing and be just fine.
But to Crowley, it contained a question.
How had he fallen before? He’d asked too many questions.
And recently, he’d felt the pull of this question, unanswered, tugging him along like a fish on a hook towards his destruction. Did fish ever wonder, his brain wandered despite himself, even as the barbs caught in them, even as it hurt, if the world above might be safer?
This was one question he couldn’t answer. He’d promised Aziraphale. He’d promised he wouldn’t leave.
He was trying so hard not to go too fast, but Aziraphale was the only thing that quieted the maelstrom in his head, the only thing that allowed him a respite, a safe place to rest, even if just for a moment.
Crowley didn’t need long, didn’t need much. He just needed to know if he’d ruined it all, forever.
If there was any chance Aziraphale might forgive him, even if it took a thousand years, five thousand, ten thousand.
Aziraphale had asked him to be patient, and here Crowley was, cracking under the pressure after only two decades.
Crowley asked too much. He always had. Selfish snake. Pathetic.
The room swam around him.
He wondered, absently, if Aziraphale might be safer without Crowley in the picture. He seemed happy enough, tending his bookshop and living his life, reading and eating. Experiencing humanity. Living.
Something occurred to him then that had never occurred to him before, something so awful that he was nearly sick on the spot.
Maybe God had taken Aziraphale’s memory to protect him from Crowley himself.
After all, it had been Crowley, Before, who pushed them for more, and Aziraphale who followed, trusting him even as the path lay askew. It had been Crowley who led Aziraphale by the hand into disaster.
It had been Crowley, after all these years, who still couldn’t manage to keep himself away, even if he knew it was best for Aziraphale himself, if it was the only way to guarantee his safety. Idiot demon.
The holy water had been a compromise, a lie he’d convinced even himself of; that perhaps if he had the holy water, he could protect Aziraphale anyway. Perhaps if he had a weapon in one hand, he could justify holding Aziraphale’s with the other.
But he knew better now. He’d pushed even Aziraphale too far.
Why could he never be satisfied? What was wrong with him, so deeply wrong, that nothing was ever good enough?
He was tired. So tired. Perhaps he’d nap for a bit after all. He felt the slow, thudding lull of alcohol in his head, dragging down his limbs leadenly, sinking him down into sleep. Maybe it would be dreamless.
“Crowley!” he heard, vaguely, at the corners of his consciousness. No such luck for a lack of dreams, then. He closed his eyes, let the bottle fall to the floor, and settled in. Who knew how long he’d sleep this time. It hardly mattered. The greatest danger to Aziraphale was Crowley himself, so if he was locked away, sleeping, then-
“Crowley!” Aziraphale’s voice came again, irritatingly, along with a strange thudding noise.
The sense of fear that had followed Crowley all day, clinging in his nostrils and ringing in his ears, had reached a fever pitch even his bleary awareness of the world couldn’t ignore. Crowley frowned and, with great effort, brought his arms up to his head on either side, clasping his fingers behind his neck and seeming to hold himself together by force alone.
“Crowley! If you don’t open this door right this second, then I’ll-“ Crowley squeezed his eyes shut. This was all too loud and confusing, and all he wanted was to sleep peacefully, not with these spectres haunting him, carrying out their horrible kabuki theatre even behind his own eyelids.
Muffled, as if from far away, there was a dull splintering sound, and as Crowley finally drifted off into a stupor sleep, he heard footsteps echoing in his dreams.