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The Temptation of the Serpent in the Wilderness

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“For She so loved the world
that She gave Her Begotten
Son…” (John 3: 16)

 

On the day the Son of God was crucified, the Principality of the Eastern Gate and the Serpent of Eden came to watch.

If they were being honest, both would rather have better things to do than watch a man die in the most horrendous, cruelest of ways. The Serpent had been looking forward to getting absolutely hammered in an obscure inn right at the outskirts of Jericho, and The Principality would really rather continue exploring the Qumran Caves just off the northern shore of the Dead Sea (something about some musty scrolls), but both Sides have claimed that this is A Big One, and both Head Offices needed someone to oversee whatever’s going to be the outcome of this “Great Battle.” Though it’s becoming very clear to both overseers that their respective Officers had been deluding themselves once again: like all their skirmishes with humanity before, this One seems to be heading into a stalemate. Again.

“Did you… uh… ever meet him?”

The Serpent stares thoughtfully at the grisly execution that is unfolding before him -- a whipped, bloodied man whimpering as he is being nailed to a cross. Behind them the women of Jerusalem wail, and further still, storm clouds begin to roll towards the macabre hill that they are both congregated on. A wrathful deluge from the Almighty.

“Yes,” The Serpent finally answers. “Seemed a very bright young man.” He hesitates. “I showed him all the kingdoms of the world.”

The Principality looks at him, slightly alarmed. “Why?”

The Serpent shrugs. “He’s a carpenter from Galilee. His travel opportunities must be limited.” They wince as the nail digs deep into the wrist of The Son, eliciting a very excruciating scream from him.

“He was my ward, you know.”

The Serpent tilts his head, eyebrows raised, even though he has known this for quite some time now. “Oh?” 

The Principality nods. “Oh yes. They needed someone to help rear him up. Just on stand-by, right by his neighborhood, you know how it is.” He looks guilty. Slightly wretched. “Brilliant thing, he was. Kind and loving.  Never quite met a man like him.” 

“But he isn’t a man, angel. He’s Her Son.”

“Yes, quite aware of that, really.” The Principality continues to wring his hands anxiously. “Gabriel sent that note… won’t forget that. It’s just that… He’s never really seemed like it. On most days when he’s not doing miracles he’s just… human. So when the Head Office says he’s going to die in that terrible way… And that he’s actually accepted it…” 

The Principality inhales. “Well. Still can’t quite grasp my mind around it, is all.” 

The Serpent stares at the Angel beside him, then heavenwards, past the already erected cross, past the supplicating, crucified Son, as though deciphering the clouds could make him predict whatever game She is playing.

“No,” he agrees, even though he knows he’s lying. No one knows it better than the Son on the Cross, but he takes his chances anyway.

“I can’t understand it, too.”


“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil …” (Matthew 4: 1)

 

The Son blinked at him. “And what would you make me do with them?”

“The what?”

“All the kingdoms of the world. You offered to give them to me if I worship Your Master. What do you think I am going to do to them after?”

They were on top of the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem, one that overlooked past hilly Judea and into the honeyed lands beyond. The summer wind whipped dangerously all around them, almost as if it was welcoming the hundred-foot drop below.

The Tempter, whose name was Crawly, grunted noncommittally. Almost sheepishly. “I….gh…wha- whatever you wanna do with them, I guess. Be a tyrant, rule with greed, hoard your powers. You know. Usual human stuff.” 

“Not a very compelling argument, then.” 

“Wha-h-how is that not compelling?” Crawly sounded defensive now. Granted, he really had not thought any of the temptations through (as Hastur maliciously dumped the assignment on him at the very last moment, the boil-ridden bastard), but the questioning of his methods – as if they were not tempting enough – was really starting to annoy him. For Satan’s sake, he was the Tormentor, not the other way around.

Just like His Mother, he thought bitterly.

But he rallied himself anew. Crawly circled the Son slowly, like he always did to his prey, though it was more of a last-ditch attempt at trying to be intimidating. “Do you not want it?” he hissed. “A mere carpenter from Galilee with the world at your fingertips… You would be worshipped like an idol…. Face carved in marble and gold! Do you not want that?”

“But you said it yourself,” The Son said simply, staring – to Crawly’s indignation – with curiosity at His Tempter. “I’m a carpenter from Galilee. What do I know of ruling the world?”

Crawly raised his arms in exasperation and surrendered. “Right. Whatever. You win.” He crossed his arms haughtily. “Bloody nuisance, this is. Couldn’t have even given me a heads-up.”

A slightly stunned silence.

“So… that’s all there is, huh?”

Crawly scoffed. “What else do you want? Can’t really change your mind, can I? If you’re really set on dying horribly on the bloody cross… mind must be made up, isn’t it?” He shakes his head. “For Satan’s—why do your lot care so much, anyway ? Going through all that just for a bunch of measly humans. She’s the goddamn Almighty. And it’s not like they’re actually going to care! You don’t even know that they’re going to like you! Let alone risk everything for you! It’s maddening! ” His frustration made him scream skyward. “OI! YOU HEAR THAT! MADDENING!”

He tried to take a deep, calming breath, still muttering darkly. It didn’t work

Crawly chanced a glance at The Son. He was quiet, gazing at the Kingdoms that Crawly had just offered to Him a while ago.

“Can you tell me something?”

“Ngk.”

The Son looked at him curiously. “Why do you speak as if you don’t know what it’s like to love? 

Crawly stared. “ What?

“You heard me the first time. Why do you speak as if you don’t know what it’s like to love?”

“I… wh-What-I- are you daft? ” Oh, that Jericho mead was starting to look really, really attractive right now. Crawly felt the beginnings of a truly awful headache building up in his temples. “See, this was why I told you to turn that rock into bread a moment ago. That’s the dehydration and hunger, that is.”

“You have not answered my question.”

“If you’re not gonna drop this,” Crawly snarled, “then I’m pushing you off this temple myself. Never mind what She thinks.”

“But why do you deny it?” The Son insisted. “I’ve seen you with Azriel myself, even though he’s tried so hard to hide you from me.” At this The Son smiled fondly. “I shouldn’t be surprised. He is not that good at keeping secrets.” He turned to Crawly. “Did you know that I was his responsibility?”

Crawly was the original Tempter. The Serpent who made reason. Made humanity fall. There really is nothing else in the world that could stump him. Render him completely speechless. Except God. ‘Course. But he hadn’t had to deal with Her for millennia.

And now Her brat was out here speaking words that He might’ve as well stolen from Her mouth. Soft. Gentle. A little tilt of an understanding smile. It was uncanny how alike they were. Infuriating.

But his train of thought had completely derailed when The Son had mentioned Azriel (that silly name that Aziraphale had chosen for this era), so he says, “I did. He doesn’t . He probably thinks I still think he’s out there looking for his scrolls.” Crawly rolled his eyes. “All for the better, no doubt. He’d lose it if he finds out I’m corrupting the precious Son of God .”

“But he is mostly out these days,” The Son says fairly. “Though he does visit me often.” He laughs, and Crawly hates how it was so reminiscent of Her from before the Fall. “I honestly cannot blame you for falling for him.”

That was the last straw for Crawly. He whipped around towards his companion, eyes narrowed. “What,” he hissed vehemently, “in the everlasting fuck are you talking about?”

The Son’s gentle face remained serene. “You don’t get sent to Earth without learning a thing or two from Her, don’t you? You’d think you’d give the ‘Son of God’ a bit more credit than that.”

“I… Wha--?!”

“Though to be honest, it doesn’t take that much finesse for someone to spot it.”

“I…ggh… ‘Course. Sure. ” Crawly’s tone was dripping with acid. “ Right. Tell me, O Prince of Peace. Lord of Lords, King of Kings! Pray tell; how does a demon love ?”

“Dozens of ways. Maybe more than you thought. Do you know Azriel keeps the new wineskin you’ve given to him?”

Crawly blinked. “How--?” he said hoarsely.

“He said ‘it was from a dear friend’. But I knew him too well for that. You see, for all his kindness, Azriel does not have quite a lot of friends.”

“Wha- that was used wineskin! Was gonna throw it out, didn’t have any need of it! And of course he has a lot of friends!” Crawly said, and there is a strain of desperation in his voice now. “He has a lot of those! Loads of wank-wings hovering left and right— “

“So much of them that he chooses to eat supper with you in that inn in Jericho, instead?”

“That’s not… it was an arrangement… it wasn’t…”

“And you were there, weren’t you?” The Son’s eyes were sharp, full of intelligence and memory. “When I was young. That day I got lost in Jerusalem during the Passover. I recognized you then, just as I recognize you now. The elder who led me to the Temple so I may be able to preach and begin my Ministry. You brought me there, so that it would be easier for both Azriel and my parents. Did Azriel know what you did, then?”

“Why should he know?! He was too much of an idiot, wasn’t he, letting the Son of God lose from his sight!? Getting you lost in the middle of the Passover, no less! And I was in the area, so I thought, what the hell, might as well see what this Jesus is capable of! It wasn’t about him!

“And yet you value his opinion more than anyone else’s. Even now, you seek for his happiness. His presence. His companionship…”

“BECAUSE I AM TEMPTING HIM!” Crawly roared, and in his fury his wings, sleek and jet-black, burst from behind his back, lifting him from the ground, snake eyes glowing maliciously. “IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR? I AM TEMPTING YOUR PRINCIPALITY, MESSIAH! AND I WILL SEE TO IT THAT HE FALLS ! THAT HE WILL BE AS DAMNED AS I AM !”

The Son only looked at him sadly.

“My dear boy,” he said, “a temptation asks for everything in return. You’ve proven that just now, haven’t you? And yet you….

“You… you give… and you give…

…And ask for nothing in return at all.

It was the “my dear boy” that finally did it; that broke his resolve. It was too cruel, too effective a torture: at those words he immediately saw Aziraphale’s face. His smile. His hand. 

It was too much.

Crawly slowly landed back onto solid ground, the glow from his eyes fading away. He swallowed the lump in his throat and looked upward, the better to blink the wetness away.

“I’m a demon,” he said, and he’d never thought he would  hear his voice this weary. This… broken. “I am the Serpent of Eden. I am unforgivable. Unlovable. I am the Damned.”

“I have Fallen.” 

There is a long silence.

“Has a crow ever stopped flying just because its wings are black?”

Crawly looked at The Son, startled. The Son gave him a knowing smile. And Crawly, despite all odds, returned it back.

“Go now. The Holy Hosts will be here any time soon, so they may assist me with my Ministry.” The Son raised his eyebrows. “I trust you know what to do?”

Crawly spread his wings and took off to the sky. He shrugged. “Sure. Rather.” He frowns at The Son. “We’ll probably meet again, I’m sure you know.”

The Son nodded. That knowing smile again. “More than you think.”


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not
envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is
not easily angered, it keeps no record
of wrongs…” (1Cor: 4-5)

On the day the Son of Man was crucified, an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crawly came to watch Him die for humanity. Perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all.

“Come to smirk at the poor bugger, have you?”

Aziraphale jumps at the sudden voice, and then looks at Crawly reproachfully. “Smirk? Me?”

“Well. Your lot put him on there.”

Aziraphale closes his eyes, as if he needs to take a break from watching the nailing of The Son of Man. “I am not consulted on policy decisions, Crawly,” he says faintly.

“Oh, I’ve changed it.”

“Changed what?”

“My name. ‘Crawl-y’ just wasn’t really doing it for me. It’s a bit too… squirming-at-your-feet-ish.”

“Well, you were a snake.” Aziraphale looks at him curiously. “So what is it now? Mephistopheles? Asmodeus?”

Has a crow ever stopped flying just because its wings are black?

The Serpent takes a deep breath.

**So I'll meet you.
I'll fall in love.
You don't need to love me back.

“Crowley.”