Crowley doesn't enjoy working underground.
The noise-sucking quiet, the oily darkness that snuffs out even the strongest lights, the stench of earth, the dampness that seeps through his clothes and into his skin …
Some creatures find comfort in these things but Crowley never has. It's the closest one can come to the experience of being entombed alive, which he has been once or twice.
Not for long though. And mostly just for show.
Unfortunately for Crowley, Hell happens to be the basement of the whole Goddamned planet, so there are times he can't avoid it. But he doesn't spend more time down there than he needs. Below ground is where the world forgets about you.
Which is why Evil tends to reside there – scheming and dealing and lying in wait.
Like this latest pet project of Hastur's, grown from the seedier alleys of SoHo downward, churning through the underbelly of the city.
A bordello - one that appeals to a very specific clientele with detestable desires.
And Crowley doesn't approve.
As demons, they're supposed to influence humans to act upon their baser instincts not physically create the means for them to do so. If Hastur wants so badly to infiltrate the sex worker industry, then he should get the humans to build their own bordellos. Of course, humans have been doing that for thousands of years without demonic influence, and worse.
That's the problem.
Like Crowley told Aziraphale ages ago, humans come up with much more diabolical ways to bring each other down than he ever could so he'd often let them have at it. Is it his fault that Hell commends him for things that were never his doing? The First Barbary War, the Second Barbary War, Fulani Jihad in Nigeria – he got the credit but he was asleep when all of that went down.
Best century of sleep he's ever had really.
Hastur doesn't have anything close to Crowley's reputation (or dumb luck), but that's because they spend a great deal of their time below. But they crave the recognition. And this haven of sin has managed to reap some pretty remarkable souls for their Master – everyone from celebrities to clergy.
Crowley can't stomach it. He would rather be creative with regards to his tempting than to simply put a gun in someone's hand and aim it for them. This masterpiece of Hastur's is on a level of Evil that Crowley, even as a demon, doesn't subscribe to. He feels that Hastur has gone a bit too far, but seeing as it has tipped the scales in Hell's favor, Beelzebub chooses to routinely overlook some of the finer points of the demon's plan.
But it's a slave trade, pure and simple.
Crowley has seen slave trades - centuries of humans caging fellow humans and using them against their will as labor, guinea pigs, or for sex.
That's what this is. A sex slave trade.
And some of the slaves that Crowley has seen being held here are children.
It turns his stomach to the point of wringing dry but he's not in a position to say anything. Demons by the hundreds work down here, lurking in the shrouded corners, overseeing the day to day in order to raise their own numbers. Crowley can't possibly fight all of them single-handed.
If he can sneak Aziraphale down here to bless them, maybe this can get sorted out without anyone knowing he was involved.
"So what do you think, Crowley?" Ligur asks, closing in on the end of his unsolicited tour. Hastur had summoned Crowley down there – to gloat, more than likely. But they're nowhere to be seen, so Ligur has been playing guide. "Impressive, wouldn't you say?"
"That's one word for it," Crowley grumbles, ambling along the yards of musty hallways, peeking over the frames of his glasses into room after room. They all look the same – a table, a lamp, and a single bed with some poor, hypnotized bastard chained to it. Crowley gets no joy out of this, unlike Ligur, beaming villainously, particularly when they pass a room housing a whimpering teenage boy and Crowley grinds his teeth together.
"Don't be a sore loser just because you didn't think of it … then again, you wouldn't have, would you?"
"Probably not," Crowley says, massaging his tense jaw. "The zoning laws alone must be a nightmare …"
"Always with the jokes, you." Ligur grimaces in disgust, presuming disrespect by this clown for Hastur, an esteemed Duke of Hell. "That's not what I mean and you know it. You have a soft spot for these mortals, don't you?"
Crowley chuckles. It's hollow, rather unconvincing, but he's never actually cared what Hastur's pet lizard ever thought of him, Duke or no. "I don't know what you're talking about. I only care about one being on that miserable marble of a planet and that's me. That's all."
Ligur snickers. "I bet. Speaking of, Hastur has arranged something special for you. Sort of a consolation prize, seeing as you won't be the favorite around Hell anymore. Not when things here get off the ground."
Crowley looks at the demon with his eyes popped, not a single clue what that could mean and not in the least eager to find out. "Oh, uh … I … no. That's alright. I'll abstain."
"Are you sure? Because I think you're going to want to see this."
There's a surreal sing-song quality to Ligur's voice that leaves Crowley cold. Ligur is an old-school demon with no sense of humor that Crowley knows of. Even the sarcastic quips he's come up with are uncharacteristic for him. His attitude over the past hour can best be described that way.
Uncharacteristic, but in a cocky way.
Yes, that's it.
He's confident about something. Something he thinks can make Crowley change his tune.
That thought sends armies of sharpened steel nails crawling up Crowley's spine.
"Fine," Crowley says, grousing to cover up this new and very real concern. He suddenly feels he's walking into a trap, and like an imbecile, he waltzed into it willingly. "I'll take a look. Why not, right? While I'm down here. Before I go. Seeing as you lads went through the trouble ..."
Ligur leads Crowley further into the labyrinth of this bordello, hallways winding in on themselves, opening at the last, then leading to new ones. Farther and farther they walk - down, Crowley suspects when the air gets chiller and the torches around them flicker, each one after burning lower and lower, struggling to find air to breathe. With each step, the hallway gets darker, quieter, more removed from the hustle and bustle they left. Crowley stops seeing rooms before they ever reach the final hallway, no more poor souls trapped against their will. There is one room up ahead – a single doorway that this hallway was built to house.
That fact disturbs him on its own.
But it's the light coming from the room that raises every alarm in Crowley's body, every hair on his skin standing entirely on end.
A soft blue glow.
A familiar blue glow.
So familiar, in fact, that Crowley calls out before he's even at the room.
Crowley runs for it, forgoing the cool, calm, and detached act he'd been plying until he could get himself out of here and go for help. He slides into the doorway, the slick soles of his snakeskin shoes finding no traction on the smooth stone floor. Crowley expects to see the same as the other rooms – a table, a lamp, and a bed. But there's none of that here, and their absence makes the scene in front of him that more sinister.
In the center of the room he sees an angel on their knees, white wings extended outward in both directions, kept spread and aloft by chains dangling from the ceiling wrapped around the joints. The angel looks like Aziraphale, but in many ways not like Aziraphale. He looks ethereal but artificially so, as if his wings, hair, and skin have been miracled to appear whiter than they would normally whilst down here with Evil slowly seeping into his brain. He's bound, arms behind his back tied from elbows to wrists in a complicated gauntlet made of steel rope, simmering with the subtle red cast of damnation so they can't be miracled away by holy magic, the ends locked around his ankles, giving him no slack to stand. He's been re-dressed from his usual attire into a loose-fitting drape of a garment, reminiscent of their robes from Eden, only this one has no sleeves and a neckline so baggy Crowley can see straight down to the angel's chest and back. Aziraphale's exposed skin seems to be marked, carved with symbols whose origins Crowley doesn't know.
It's not just the marks on Aziraphale's skin that bother Crowley. There's a hardness to his face. Instead of looking peaceful in this semi-sleep state, he looks charged, ready to fight.
Ready to kill.
Crowley glares at Ligur, his eyes behind dark lenses burning like a sulfuric flame. "What have you done to him?"
Ligur grins. Crowley doesn't scare him. Who cares if he is one of Satan's favorites? He's a joke. A fool. Hastur tells them constantly. Vain and insipid Anthony J Crowley, who drives a human car, wears human clothes, drinks human alcohol, lives among them like a native.
And worst of all – who fell in love with an angel.
"Wat? We've done nuthin' to him. Nuthin' at all."
"Then what the Hell are those marks!?"
"They're demonic locks, meant to keep him down here. Hastur's latest and greatest idea …"
"Hassstur …" Crowley hisses under his breath. "That ssson-of-a …"
There's no reason for Hastur to devise such a plan against the angels. Demons don't kidnap angels. That's not in the nature of their battle against one another. Besides, Gabriel and Beelzebub are too egotistical to let their sides duke it out on their own and risk anyone rising victorious without the virtue of their leadership. So in their infinite wisdom, they decide when and where wars between angels and demons take place.
Another one's due in about eleven years – an all or nothing, take no prisoners battle between good and evil – so such a weapon would be pointless.
Which means these locks were created to target Aziraphale and Aziraphale alone.
But this doesn't end with Aziraphale. Crowley would be blind not to see it.
Capturing Aziraphale and bringing him below ground, binding him to this place and then parading him in front of Crowley …
… this was a plan by Hastur to get to Crowley as well.
Either to exact revenge or to figure out where his loyalties lie.
"Each demon put one on, that means each demon would need to unlock their own for the angel to leave, so don't get any bright ideas. Unless …"
Crowley's eyes don't leave his angel's face. Only a single raised brow signals that he's still listening. "Unless …?"
Ligur shrugs as if the answer to Crowley's question is ridiculously obvious. "If you corrupt him, you can save him."
Crowley swallows hard.
Make him fall?
Crowley can't do that, not even to save him from this. Of course the horrific truth is he'll have to if there is no other way. Would Aziraphale understand?
Would he forgive him?
"And how do you expect me to do that?"
"I don't know. You're an expert on corrupting humans. You spend all your time with them. I'm sure you can think of something."
"Ligur!" Crowley growls at the demon's back as they begin to saunter away.
"He's already on his knees," Ligur says, waving a dismissive hand. "That's a good start from what I hear. Use your imagination."
Ligur's cruel, throaty laugh echoes as a door appears, just to slide closed behind them. It seals out the light, plunging Crowley and Aziraphale into total darkness. The only hint of illumination Crowley sees comes from the angel himself, but only just. Overwhelmed by the Evil around them, it's fainter than Crowley has ever seen.
And growing even more so.
Which means he may be running out of time.
If that light goes out, Aziraphale won't need Crowley to corrupt him.
The deed will be done.
The only difference is Aziraphale may turn on him after.
Crowley has often suspected (backed by things he's seen and things he's heard) that if Aziraphale were to fall, it would need to be at Crowley's hand, or else he risks Aziraphale becoming his enemy. It's the nature of demons to avoid one another when possible, be distrustful of each other constantly.
In his wickedest dreams, he'd hoped that if Aziraphale ever fell, it would be whilst the two of them made love, wrapped in each other's arms.
Then they could be with each other forever.
If that is to be the way of it, Crowley refuses to let that happen here.
But will he have a choice?
Crowley drops to his knees. "Angel!?" He grabs Aziraphale's upper arms and gives him a shake. "Can you hear me?"
"Mmm … Crowley?" Aziraphale replies, the voice sliding between his lips a mixture of the one Crowley knows and something tainted and coarse.
"Thank God," Crowley breathes before he can catch himself. "Angel? I need you to open your eyes and look at me. Can you do that?"
Aziraphale hums in response. "I'll … I'll try."
"Don't try! Do it, Aziraphale!" Crowley's head falls forward, his forehead finding Aziraphale's and pressing gently against it. "Please, Aziraphale? Open your eyes. Do this for me. I need to make sure …" Crowley can't finish, the words clogging his throat, wrenching his windpipe shut.
"All … all right." Aziraphale clears his throat in between but it does nothing. Every word becomes rougher, the lyrical nature of his angelic voice eaten away. "I'll … try." His face scrunches as his eyelids pull, fighting to split and look upon his demon. Crowley hears him groan with the effort, this small task Herculean for some unknown reason.
Except there is one Crowley can think of, and it makes what's left of his soul wither with the agony of defeat.
After several tense seconds of active praying on Crowley's part, Aziraphale tips his head up, opens his eyes … and a single word escapes Crowley's mouth. "No," he says, shaking his head. "Please, God … no," as Aziraphale comes to and blinks blood red eyes.