Rated T for possibly disturbing imagery of the Crucifixion, and because I worry. Any/all thoughts about the Crucifixion are Crowley's, not my own.
Much thanks must be given to my two marvellous betas, without whom this story would be a mere shadow of itself (and a good 500 words shorter.)
The characters of Aziraphale and Crowley are not my own, to my deep sorrow. Jesus belongs to no one, and everyone. The crowd members - if you want 'em, take 'em.
Crowley shoved through the crowds of women, listening to their crude taunting and dodging their shaking fists. His long black hair covered his anxious expression and golden eyes. Trust the angel to be in the thick of it, he thought, scowling as a brave young female threw her arms around him, burying her nose into his collarbone. Crowley couldn't hear her wails of distress, but felt the hot tears skittering down her long nose and seeping through the thin fabric of his tunic. He commended her for her courage – no one else was openly mourning, at least in his sight - but he didn't have the time at the moment. Although why he felt such an urge to be with Aziraphale was beyond his comprehension. Detaching her more gently than he would ever care to admit, he saw with horror that she started yelling – screaming insults at the top of her lungs. The tears were forgotten as she spat at the man dying to save her.
He cast a glance up at the figure above them; arms stretched wide, blood still seeping down his hands and feet; eyes raised imploringly towards the overcast sky. Even as a servant of Hell, Crowley didn't exactly hold with this whole crucifixion business. Sure, he was in favour of the suffering and dying on principle, but he found that when put into practice, it was a bit ... much. And besides, what was the point of killing someone who was already guaranteed a spot in Heaven anyway?
Screwing his face against the throaty jeers, he pushed further into the crowd, tongue flicking out unconsciously as he tried to locate Aziraphale. He knew the angel would be here – how could he not? Crowley knew that Aziraphale had missed the radiant feeling of Heaven, and that for the past thirty-three years a small part of that ache had been replaced. Now, today, that small comfort would be ripped back, until the second coming.
Not that Crowley remembered what that felt like, of course.
Dodging a pair of flinging arms, his head whipped around, tasting Aziraphale's distinct scent beneath the smell of blood, bodies, and incoming rain.
There was the angel. Even through the awful movements of the crowd, he could be spotted quite easily. No one else could be as motionless, as oblivious to the throng. As Crowley advanced, he saw that the taunting lessened as he got closer to Aziraphale. Stumbling past kneeling women, their heads thrown back in misery, he could see the angel's rigidity and steeled expression. It was obvious he was finding this difficult – although, how could that be surprising?
"Hey," he said, raising a hand as if to lay it on the angel's shoulder. He smoothly pretended to scratch his nose to recover from his faux pas. Crowley could've saved himself the effort - Aziraphale ignored him, his entire being fixed on the tormented man dying so cruelly in front of them. Face raised against the high keening surrounding him, he looked almost peaceful.
If peace still existed.
"Please, not now, Crowley." His face crumpled from its previous serenity, like a piece of fragile, archaic text being crumpled and thrown into a flame. Bright azure eyes stared at him, wild and uncertain. "I just – you need to leave."
Crowley was knocked closer to Aziraphale by a flailing mourner, who, after touching the demon, started bellowing her doubts as to whether he really was the Son of God. The women around her turned and started to voice their own opinions, biting and clawing at hair in their wish to be heard.
Fully turning towards him, Aziraphale gripped his shoulders, each finger clenched, giving a wordless cry of distress. Crowley hadn't noticed that the angel's face was dirt-smeared, and that each eye had deep hollows under them. "You couldn't possibly do anything more here today. Hasn't he been through enough pain? Why must you turn these people against him?" Still holding Crowley at arm's-length, his eyes drifted back to the raised crosses. "You need to leave."
A hollow laugh burst from the demon's throat. "I didn't come to make life difficult for anyone. Not even you."
"You lie!" Aziraphale spat, his head whipping back to look at Crowley and taking him aback. "Look what you've done. Look me in the face and tell me you didn't mean it." The demon scanned his eyes over the - it couldn't be called a crowd. It was a mass of teeth and claws. A riot of disturbing words and mocking praises. Even Crowley flinched at the vicious terms being thrown from those – those beasts.
Shaking him, the angel screamed, "Look what you've done!" Crowley had never seen Aziraphale lose control like this before. He had always assumed him to be mild, disapproving at worst. Never violent – never someone to fear.
Had he really been the cause of this? As Crowley tried to wriggle free from the angel's bruising grasp, he caught sight of the Son, heaving pained breaths upon the cross. Even if he hadn't been concerned by Aziraphale's reaction, Crowley would have reined in his demonic aura at this sight. Even he, the Serpent, knew when to have mercy.
The people did not become still, or quiet. The noise became worse, if only because it was the heart wrenching sound of thousands upon thousands expressing their horror with high, terrified screams. Aziraphale's face took on an expression of grim satisfaction, radiating utmost sorrow throughout the enormous crowd. It came to a fever point as the angel, still gripping Crowley as if he would never let go, exacerbated their misery by throwing his head back and giving one high wail.
Crowley could feel Aziraphale's cry reverberating, ripping at the celestial soul hidden within him. "Angel!" he shouted, hoping that he would be heard. "This needs to stop!"
He felt rather than saw Aziraphale come to himself again. His eyes widened at his still-brutal hold on Crowley, and at the sheer force of the women's grief. Squeezing his eyes, a feeling of accepting calm began to sneak through the minds of every person surrounding the crosses. The crowd began to quiet; the hoarse sobbing dying away as the man they were mourning slowly did. An unearthly silence settled upon the hill and the land nearby -the difference between mere seconds ago was almost eerie.
Everyone knew that it was now time.
Peeling Aziraphale's fingers from his shoulders, Crowley saw from his strained expression that the angel was having difficulties enforcing the silence of both voices and minds. The mob was now completely motionless, except for the calm breathing of each individual. It was syncopated, though, each person on their own. Aziraphale gave a little groan of exhausted irritation, and swayed towards Crowley, trusting the untrustworthy.
It would have been so easy to destroy, this feeling of holiness and impending salvation. Aziraphale was drained. It would have been effortless to overpower his tentative hold on these people, to take control of them. Crowley could imagine the angel resisting his aura at first, but eventually succumbing to its superior power, and, ultimately, Falling from Grace. For if Crowley could subdue Aziraphale now, the angel could be forced into temptation – whether it would be one, or many, it wouldn't matter. Either way, it would be mesmerising to see those wings darken from white to dusky grey, and finally, to black.
But the demon stood, and did nothing. No commendation or acclaim from Hell would be worth seeing Aziraphale's face cracking under the misery of the Fall. This had been bad enough.
Aziraphale was shaking from the effort of the enforced silence, and Crowley slid closer, practically supporting the weary angel by his waist. He wanted to assist him, if that would give him any comfort, but didn't dare. Aziraphale wanted to do this by himself - that was plain to see.
He gave a brief cry as Aziraphale's knees gave way, dragging the two beings down onto the dirty, dusty ground. A brief miracle was made, and they ended up flopping quite gracefully, the angel's head resting, if not comfortably, then softly, onto Crowley's shoulder.
The only sound was the now synchronized inhalations and exhalations of the people around them. The angel and demon found themselves unconsciously breathing at the same rate. Quite unnecessary, perhaps, but it gave them a kind of solidarity with the humans. It was as if they too were a part of this world – sharing both in their suffering and their peace.
The whole world stopped, just for a moment, to watch the last struggled breaths of the man upon the cross. The two, both blessed and cursed with supernatural hearing, were the only beings located so far away to hear the final uttered words of the Son, before his eyes closed, and his spirit was lifted gently away. Crowley hadn't realised how tense the angel had been until they saw the sketchy, half-transparent figure of Azrael collecting his soul, and Aziraphale's weight pressed against him.
The silence went unbroken. Crowley watched Aziraphale turn paler and more drawn with the continued effort and the tearing of the Son's presence from his spirit. After a few minutes full of terrible finality, Crowley whispered, "I think you've done your job." Then Aziraphale released everyone present back into their own lives. Crowley hoped with all his might that they would contemplate this day in years to come.
"Thank you," he said, extricating himself from Crowley's grasp as the humans came back to themselves, their crying now punctuated with heartfelt praising, and, once, a song. The two occult and ethereal beings sat in the dirt, waiting, letting the women leave of their own accord until they were the last.
"No problem," Crowley replied gruffly, looking away as he rose gracefully. "Why weren't you with the rest of the Host?"
"Oh, well," the angel said, getting up far less lithely. "There had to be someone to experience it from a human's perspective. For the Book, you know."
The demon accepted this version of the truth, knowing that it was far from the only reason. He wondered if staying on Earth was actually easier for the angel – surely it was less painful than returning to Heaven and filling up on His Presence, only to come back and find that every bit of Holy Light had vanished.
Crowley determinedly kept himself from empathizing how painful it must have been, that first descent to Earth. Almost like Falling, in a way.
"Any suffering is worth it for the sake of literature, eh?" Crowley contained himself to as they walked away from the crosses, hopefully for the last time.
"Mmm," agreed Aziraphale absently, stopping to look back over his shoulder at the now empty crosses. Crowley was struck by how he was hunched over, arm wrapped around himself as if in physical pain, and the way his light eyelashes fluttered up and down as he blinked rapidly. "Yes," he said, sounding deceptively calm as they continued to walk away. His lower lip was bloodied. Not that Crowley gave a damn, of course.
Keeping a half-step behind him, Crowley trod in silence, unsure what to do or what was expected of him. He had satisfied his annoyingly insistent conscience when checking up on the angel. It had even been granted the extra bonus of allowing Aziraphale to comfort the crowd in peace. But now he was being plagued by an awful sense of guilt so strong that he was sure the angel could feel it.
He noticed that Aziraphale's shoulders were shaking, just slightly, and Crowley quite politely pretended to not hear his tiny cries of sorrow – much smaller than the one before, but just as sincerely grieved. The clouds grew darker, and closer, as the sun began to set.
It wasn't like Aziraphale wanted him to be there, or to offer consolation. Go-, Sa -, Somebody knew that he wouldn't have any idea what to say.
They had reached the very edge of the nearest town when Aziraphale turned around slowly, wiping the tears out of his eyes. Crowley completely lost track of what he had been thinking mere moments ago. How could he have known what the sight of a crying angel would do to his heart?
Those were true tears, not the wild, teetering on demonic cries of before. Poets, in times to come, would declare them the purest of all things. While Crowley doubted they were more pure than any other tears, he secretly agreed there was nothing more depressing than seeing an angel's eyes wet and red-rimmed.
And he knew, without an ounce of doubt, what Aziraphale would want him to do. "Look," he said abruptly, "I don't know why I'm saying this, but I am."
"Saying what, my dear?" The tear-stains had streaked through the dirt, causing little brown droplets to form at Aziraphale's chin.
"Would you like to stay with me, for a while?"
Aziraphale beamed at him, so sincerely that Crowley felt the distinct urge to slither away and hide from the purity. He was disgusted at himself. How could he feel such joy in making an angel smile? An angel who by now could have Fallen into temptation – and by Crowley's hands, no less.
Not to mention the warm, comforting feeling he was so thoroughly enjoying – the feeling of being able to offer something without expecting anything in return. It was almost like being an angel again.
Not that he missed it. It was boring, Crowley reminded himself. The endless praising and the beautiful sound of massive choirs singing out – were uninspiring. Monotonous.
"Thank you, dear, but I have duties to attend to," Aziraphale spoke softly, "but I appreciate the offer."
Crowley mentally smacked himself for feeling so disappointed.
"I don't suppose –" he said, as Aziraphale continued,
"I always knew – oh, go ahead, dear."
"I don't suppose that this is a good time to mock you for looking so effeminate that you blend in with a crowd of women?"
The angel's smile faded, and the joy which had so briefly shone out of his eyes disappeared. "No, I don't suppose it is."
Damn. "I guess I'll save it for later."
"I have absolutely no doubt that you will."
And as Aziraphale unfurled his wings and took off into the opening Heavens, Crowley realized that the angel had never finished what he had been about to say.
The title is taken from the last line of the Good Friday hymn 'O Love, How Deep'.
Constructive criticism is pure writerly gold.
Finally - thank you for reading.