Fallen Angels

***

It was a small pub, and about the sleaziest Crowley had been able to find. It had a bar covered in cigarette burns, and a barmaid who seemed to be coated in a thin layer of cigarette ash, and a floor which was coated in both ash and little burn marks. Smoke clung to the walls. The ceiling was brown and flaking. The whole place smelled appropriately of stale beer, and, of course, ancient cigarettes. Crowley wasn't smoking, and he seemed to be the only one.

In the far corner were two drunks who were more part of the architecture than customers. Their table was littered with, well, litter. Beer bottles, glasses, crisp packets, peanuts, yet more smoke and ash and burning embers. . .Other than them and Crowley and a thin man on a barstool next to him, the place was empty.

The two in the corner, and Crowley, and the barmaid, and, Crowley assumed, the man next to him, all had something in common. They knew each other, or knew of each other. And they knew each other of old. None of them really liked the others, but that was the way, wasn't it? You just tolerated each other for the greater good. Sorry, greater bad. The two in the corner had been Dukes once, a long time ago, but had. . .fallen from favour. Everyone knew about them. And the barmaid, a skimpy little thing with diamonds in her ears and round her neck and diamonds for eyes and a big cold, hard diamond for a soul. Crowley had never spoken to her except for to order a drink, but he had heard stories from other young demons who had thought to test their luck. She was dangerous, but that didn't stop them. It was like a sport. Crowley shuddered at that idea. It was below even him.

He sipped his drink, and had to admit that she did make a good cocktail considering her available resources, which were beer, whiskey and smoky bacon flavoured crisps.

He glanced at the man next to him, who was dressed in green silk and was smoking a thin cigar. He tried to look at the man's face, but a sound from one of the drunks distracted him. One of them staggered to his feet and lurched towards the bathroom, hands clamped over his mouth. The second grunted and helped himself to the first man's drink. Crowley narrowed his eyes in the general direction of the table, then swivelled back to face the bar. He finished his drink, shoved the glass towards the barmaid, and sprawled on the bar a bit. He wasn't drunk, but he certainly didn't feel too good. He swayed a bit for effect, and made his own way towards the bathroom.

This place was even filthier, and covered in traces of people's smoking habits. There was the highly off-putting sound of drunk #1 being sick in one of the cubicles, but Crowley ignored it. He washed his face and hands in the sink, and met his own gaze in the cracked mirror. It scowled at him. He scowled back and told it that it ought to have more manners. His reflection sneered at him and may well have told him to sod off if it hadn't been just a reflection.

"You sod off," Crowley muttered.

"Who're you talkin' to?"

Crowley glanced round to see the loutish drunken demon watching him.

"Myself," said Crowley. "Anyway, Jegon, you ought to mind your own business. Take it as a friendly precaution. I've still got influence down there, unlike some I could mention."

Jegon grunted and staggered back into the bar. Crowley turned back to his reflection, gave it a long, cool glare, and returned to the bar as well. There was a fresh drink waiting for him. The barmaid, having failed in her task of finding a paper umbrella for his cocktail, had substituted a bit of lemon peel balanced on a cigarette. The cigarette paper had gone soggy, come apart, and released tobacco into his drink. He gave the barmaid a blank stare, then drank it anyway. It tasted like an alcoholic ashtray.

His skulky mood was interrupted by the door swinging open and admitting two black-clad figures into the bar. They were incredibly familiar to Crowley. Hastur and Ligur, two Dukes of Hell. They gave him a joint sneer, and clapped to get everyone's attention, which they did.

Ligur grinned. "There's a candle burning in the world tonight for another child who vanished out of sight," he announced.

"And," Hastur continued for him, "a heart is broken, another prayer in vain, there's a million tears that fill a sea of pain."

Crowley grunted at their pathetic review of their night's work. "Bloody poets," he hissed.

"Oh, and you've done better, Crawley?" snapped Hastur.

"No. But at least I don't rhyme about it." Crowley turned back to his highly addictive drink. He felt Hastur and Ligur sit down next to him. He stared into his drink, his thoughts drifting into space. He sometimes caught himself wondering if there was a better place, and knew that, of course there was. And he'd had the chance to stay there and rejected it. Such was life. You fell, and you fell, over and over. You ended up in place like this, while your betters lorded it over you up there in Heaven with Him. You did your best. your worst, whatever, and you moved sideways from day to day not knowing that sideways was the new down, and you just kept falling. It was a thing which kept going. It was a loop with no end, and big sharp pointy teeth. What was the term? Vicious circle. Life was one of them. And you got ash with your beer, and you drank it anyway.

Embers glistened in the ashtray by Crowley's arm. They were important. They were symbolic of something. Aziraphale the angel would probably say they were symbolic of symbolism. The fires of Hell were symbolic of pain and torture and all that stuff. Crowley didn't go in for the brimstone, and certainly not the gnashing of teeth (it was too much bother winding them up every day). He specialised in general annoyance. It took less effort, and it laid the groundwork for the big stuff, the stuff you could really sing about. He told himself it was important and knew it wasn't. This was where fallen angels went, where they bragged to each other, and he felt out of place even here, amongst the smoke and the smells and the stains. He felt uncomfortable in his flat, too, and in the Ritz, and in fact in most places. The only time he could be himself was with Aziraphale, and that was ironic because Aziraphale was an angel and an incredibly dull one too. Crowley could see none of the Lord's famous justice in that.

He turned to the green-clad man on his right. "Where the Hell is God, eh?" he muttered.

The world shifted, and Crowley suddenly knew that no one else in the bar could hear them, or for that matter want to pay them any attention.

"Everywhere, Crowley," said the green-clad man. "Even here."

The young demon's eyes widened. "Uh, sorry, Lord," he muttered.

"Yes, I get that a lot."

"Sorry - "

"Alright, alright." The incarnation smiled. He sipped his drink. "Your friend's wrong, you know. Prayers are never in vain."

"Hastur's often wrong, Lord."

"I know."

Crowley grinned nervously. "Oh yeah. The omniscient thing."

His drinking companion shook his head. "Personally, I favour the Process Theodicy. Alfred Whitehead, what a guy."

"Oh," said Crowley, while he tried to think of something more intelligent and/or useful to say. He couldn't, so he settled for "So why are you here, Lord?"

"I said. I'm everywhere."

"Oh yes. Omnipresence."

"I suppose so. Crowley, where do Fallen Angels go?"

Crowley blinked. But you didn't ignore a question from this guy." They keep falling," he said with a small shrug.

"Why, Crowley?"

"Because it's what we do. It's a habit, I guess."

The green-clad figure leaned forwards so that Crowley could see the whites of his eyes, and what Crowley could see was that there weren't any. There was just blackness in the sockets, pocked here and there with twinkling stars. Crowley tried to lean back, but he couldn't. No one could escape that infinite, calm gaze. Suddenly he felt calm and - yes - he felt at home. Home, he thought. That's where I ought to be. Where I came from. Where I belong. Home. . .

The figure nodded. "Come home, Crowley. My son . . . You don't know how much it pains me when one of you fall. But you can come back. Just say the word. . ."

Crowley opened his mouth, then something tugged at his attention. It said, you don't need to. You can live on your own. You'll be fine, and it'll be because of you, not because of him. Do you want to end up with Aziraphale's dress sense? Do you want to be stuck in a little dusty bookshop in Soho? Just think about it. . .

And Crowley the demon shook his head. "No," he said. "Not today."

The bubble burst. The bar flowed back. Jegon and his friend were singing loudly in the corner, Hastur and Ligur were congratulating themselves on their night's demoning. The barmaid was filing her nails. The green-clad figure was gone, but his drink was still there. With a small shrug, Crowley tipped it into his own glass. He began to hum under his breath, his mind on his angelic counterpart.

"Somewhere out there

There's a light shining,

And I ought to be with you tonight,

And with all we're nowhere,

We still pay the price,

Yeah, the Devil seems to get his way,

In downtown Paradise."

***

Disclaimer: Crowley, Aziraphale, Hastur and Ligur belong to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The others belong to me. The song "Fallen Angels," who's lyrics I have used, is © Aerosmith. God belongs to everyone and to himself.

Feedback please! And flames will be used to torture my muse until he does some work.