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parable of shepherds

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Aziraphale has to herself something infuriatingly misleading: an impression of incompetency, a softness, something that appears to wordlessly signal lost in thought and probably also harmless — and it’s all lies, dreadful lies, she’s got a harder mind than anyone Crowley has ever seen, a tougher backbone. To sway Aziraphale, to touch her, borders with a miracle that Saint Peter himself wouldn’t be graced with.

Crowley wishes. She can only wish. She herself is spindly and brittle, snakelike, carved finely enough to entice — and perhaps, if she tries very hard, loud-mouthed enough to repel.

Perhaps.

 


 

Angel-face, a drunk, red-faced village man gushes at the perplexed Aziraphale one time, staggering close and groping to find purchase at this or that element of Aziraphale’s physique. 

Much to Crowley’s delight, the man doesn’t come out of the encounter with all his teeth intact.

 


 

‘Y’know, dear, I’ve never imagined you to be quite like this,’ Aziraphale later slurs, looking at Crowley through bleary half-lidded eyes whose expression toes the line with outright fond. Her hair has come undone from the thick braid, curling around her face. Still peering at Crowley, she proceeds to licks her lips thoroughly from all the residual homemade mead they’ve snatched from the tavern — half-sprawled across the table in a linen dress, one flushed cheek propped up on one hand, the fingers of the other curled loosely around her glass. 

Who’re you to talk? Crowley thinks desperately. There’s nothing—nothing of an angel in all this.

‘Imagined me often, then, have you?’ she mumbles instead, slouching even further in her seat. Everything seems to be spinning. It’s a pleasant spinning, though.

‘Well,’ Aziraphale murmurs, drawling out the word in a way that invites enough implication to slither in that Crowley’s breath hitches, ‘one does one’s best to stay away from the apple.’

There’s a pause. Crowley realises she’s not breathing, and it’s a whole scared second before she realises she doesn’t have to be.

‘But the apple just keeps being there,’ Aziraphale mutters contemplatively. ‘Doesn’t it.’

 


 

Trouble is a woman, they say. They’re only half-wrong.

Eve chose the apple, yes. 

Crowley chose Eve.

 


 

In 1685, a man is struck by a lightning. It’s a tragic accident.

‘Well, bless me,’ Crowley croons, face splitting into a nasty grin as she rubs her gloved hands together, ‘if that isn’t the fearsome Guardian of the Eastern gate herse—’

‘Oh, do shut up,’ Aziraphale snaps, shooting Crowley a murderous glance as she waddles closer, waving the shovel menacingly in the air. The petticoat emerging from below her blue skirts is smeared with something reddish which Crowley belatedly categorises as mud, not blood. 

It’s a relief in more than one way. 

‘And as crude as it will make me sound,’ Aziraphale adds breathlessly, wiping her forehead from sweat, ‘will you help me with the body or not?’

Crowley sobers in a split of second, her smile evaporating. ‘Er, yes,’ she says, abashed, procuring a second shovel with a snap of fingers. ‘Sorry.’

 


 

Twilight sneaks up early upon the graveyard, sprawling until it has them cocooned in morbid vagueness. Rare as it is, Crowley finds herself appreciating her nocturnally inclined eyes. 

An owl hoots close by. 

‘I couldn’t very well leave him like that, you understand,’ Aziraphale blurts out, sounding almost bashful, and folding her hands helplessly upon the shovel’s handle. Hair is falling haphazardly around her face, having sneaked out once again of whatever up-do she’d attempted. ‘Struck by a lightning — oh, for goodness’ sake, as if! I’ll have to have a talk with Gabriel about his execution of Godly Signs. Poor fellow didn’t even see it coming — I’m not sure he was even religious.’

Crowley quirks an eyebrow. If there’s anyone at all in this unholy world that can call Aziraphale on her bullshit, then — well. Crowley’s more than glad to be of use. 

‘Could’ve made a miracle,’ she murmurs, pointedly, fixing her cuffs so that any and all skin between the stiff fabric and her now-spotless gloves is concealed. She sniffs. ‘Could’ve watched them sort it out. And they would, this way or another. Besides — what’s it matter if he was religious? A miracle’s a miracle is how I see it, and I’m quite bloody certain your side is not all that picky either.’

Aziraphale looks at her, then, really looks — round shrewd eyes, still somehow bright in the graveyard’s murky half-light  — and purses her plump lips. Suddenly, the usually concealed hardness of feature is there, blatant on display, and Crowley wonders how anyone could have ever overlooked it.

‘You, dear, of all people,’ the angel says, voice softer than a field of fucking daisies and more biting than a spear, ‘should know the important difference between watch and do.’

‘Mhm,’ Crowley sighs, suddenly lacking a better way to signal sometimes you’re the only part of this world that makes sense to me. 

It’s blessed frightening.

 


 

They make a curious sight, of course, to any potential bystanders. Two women, both relatively well-dressed, standing sullenly over a freshly dug grave. One of them small and scruffy, and looking as though she is  pretending to pray; the other tall and pristine, looking as though she’s very pointedly not.

‘Them wicked witches back at it with ‘em covens,’ Shadwell the Graveyard Keeper and Undercover Witch-hunter mutters wretchedly. ‘We’ll have tae teach ‘em harlots ay lesson someday.’

 


 

All it took was one look, only one, for Crowley to choose which one deserved to be shown the duality, to be enticed, invited to question. And you will get to choose, you will get to decide, you’ll give birth to thought ant question. You beautiful pioneer, you explorer, you woman.

How it went wrong, wrong to such extent, she never understands.

 


 

St. James tends to be rather lovely in Spring.

‘Ma’am, why’re you always dressed all black? And why’re you always wearing the veil?’ Peter, Lord Grantham’s second — and even more dreadful, in her firm opinion — son asks skeptically, pointing a plump sticky finger at the sour-faced Crowley looming above. 

‘Because her husband’s died of galloping consumption, Peter,’ Aziraphale says consolingly, bending down to amicably pat the boy’s curly head. 

‘Poor fellow,’ she goes on, thoughtfully, ‘Took it all like a champ, of course — not much of him left, by the end, just sores and ulcers all over. All the better he’s gone now, don’t you think, Antonia, dear? One wonders … must’ve suffered terribly, the poor dear.’

‘Angel,’ Crowley says through gritted teeth, very nearly snapping her umbrella’s handle in two. ‘I ssswear.’

For a moment, a match of wills seems to be taking place: the sticky boy in white stockings levels the doggedly-kindly-looking woman in rumpled lace with something approaching condescending disbelief. 

It’s understandable, Crowley begrudgingly concedes, given that he’s quite probably not used to the conjunction of the words death, galloping consumption and ulcers uttered in his presence.

Aziraphale, predictably, seems to be winning the staring match, because —

‘Witch!’ Peter finally decides to yell, pointing a finger at Crowley once again and promptly dashing off. 

Aziraphale straightens, dusts off her lacy skirt, shakes her head.

‘Children,’ she says in a tone of vague disapproval, and sets out to resume her stroll along the pond.

Crowley tugs her back with the handle of her umbrella.

‘Aziraphale, you need to stop telling that goddamned story to everyone we stumble upon,’ she hisses. ‘I’m serious. You keep it up much longer, everyone’s gonna think we’ve gone and murdered that alleged husband of mine.’

‘Crowley,’ Aziraphale says blithely, a serene smile plastered to her face as a familiar-looking man passes by, ‘Dear. That’s what I want them to think.’

 


 

In 1743, Crowley finds herself cosied up in a secluded private nook of the Parisian Opéra. Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse is advertised as a ‘comic ballet’ — a juxtaposition of words she finds absurd enough to further investigate.

Regardless of the repertoire, the place itself does posses a certain showy ambience one might consider interesting, Crowley is willing to admit, quite pleasant overall, what with all the fancy velvet and lack of intrusive people swarming everywhere. 

Or — it would be, were it not for Aziraphale squirming out of her skin right beside her.

‘Aziraphale,’ Crowley finally gives and hisses, giving the angel a sideways glare from behind the opera glasses, ‘what the hell is wrong with you?’

‘Corset,’ Aziraphale whinges cryptically, an expression of anguish staining her bright face. She’s wearing something blue and satin, with a rather revealing sort of neckline. It all looks just about impossible to breathe in.

‘Yeah?’ Crowley mutters, peeling her eyes away from Aziraphale’s skin with some difficulty and returning to peering through the glasses, ‘What of it?’

‘Well, it’s just—it’s a little tight, isn’t it? One may even say—ridiculously so.’

Crowley sighs. ‘Yes, Aziraphale, I believe tight might just be the point.’

Aziraphale scowls, giving Crowley’s heavy dark coat a skeptical once-over. ‘What about you, then? Where’s your corset?’

‘Me?’ Crowley says in feigned astonishment. ‘Why, Aziraphale, I’m in mourning. Can’t go around being too enticing while my poor husband’s still warm in his grave now, can I?’

‘How many years since he’s died, again?’ Aziraphale grits out, tugging at her waistband as though to pull it loose. ‘Surely he can’t be warm still.’

‘What can I say,’ Crowley muses, ‘one persistent bugger, that one. It’s like you said. Fought till the very end.’

 


 

Thing is, all these years after the Eden, and there’s still the guilt.

 


 

Crowley wins the cottage in a card came of bridge, in 1798, from a very drunk old farmer, who happens to conveniently die of cardiac arrest soon afterwards. Go — Dev — Someone rest his soul.

She decides to move in circa late September of 1801, equipped with a brand new four-poster bed, outrageously expensive silk sheets, a soft nightshirt and a full intention of sleeping through the next blessed century.

She doesn’t quite foresee Aziraphale showing up to nose around with a dainty little umbrella, under the pretence of inspecting the ceiling corners for mould. Then again, Crowley can’t say it’s exactly unexpected. 

‘Quite lovely, isn’t it?’ Aziraphale says, patting the flaking damp wallpaper fondly. ‘So much …’ there’s a meaningful pause. ‘Space.’

‘You know what, angel? You bring in all your blessed bookshelves for all I care,’ Crowley grouches, already wrapped in her silky bathrobe and night slippers, padding up the creaky stairs. ‘But don’t you dare wake me up before 1900.’

‘Will do,’ Aziraphale says brightly, elegantly manicured fingers stroking the wall as though it’s already assuming the form of bookshelves.

 


 

Predictably, Aziraphale does wake Crowley up before 1900.

‘Wh-whaa …?’ Crowley manages incongruently, thrashing among the silk and trying to focus her bleary eyes on Aziraphale.

The angel is sitting on the edge of Crowley’s luxurious four-poster, looking stricken.

‘Crowley, you must wake up,’ she insists, mournfully, punctuating the plea with a firm shake to Crowley’s bony shoulder. The nightshirt’s sleeve has slid down; the angel’s fingers are soft and feverish in touch. ‘Something terrible has happened.’

Crowley thinks of rising seas and falling angels. Apples. Hands. She holds her breath—tense, waiting.

‘You know Mr Collins?’ Aziraphale finally begins, plaintive, folding her hands back in her lap. ‘Our neighbour, Mr Collins? From the little parish nearby? Well, of course you don’t, you’ve already gone to bed when he’d come to pay us a visit. But Mr Collins — see, he’s a bit of a collector himself, and he was quite impressed by my books — he’s even shown me his collection in turn, and you wouldn’t believe it, Crowley, but he happens to own the one misprint of the Bible I’m lacking from the early King’s James Bibles, which of course makes for a very interesting —’

‘Angel,’ Crowley interjects, a dangerous hissing note emerging in her voice as she fixes the wayward sleeve with a sharp flick of the wrist,  ‘I ssswear, if you woke me up  just to tell me about a blessed priest that’s sssnatched a blessed Bible from under your nose, I’m going to discorporate you.’

Aziraphale disregards her, wringing her hands helplessly. She’s wearing a loose muslin dress with little rosebuds on it, Crowley notes involuntarily, and thinks, huh, either the fashion’s changed again or Aziraphale has finally stopped giving a damn.

‘But the thing is, Crowley,’ the angel continues with a heavy sigh, ‘Mr Collins … well, he came in today, acting all … all peculiar, you know, with flowers, and … and started saying such odd things about how I always take care of him and I said, well, Mr Collins, we’re all God’s sheep, aren’t we, and it does say love thy neighbour, after all — I was, you understand, still hoping for that reprint he keeps in that dreadful mouldy little cellar of his, and he seemed to be so positively inclined — and then he — he —’

Aziraphale trails off with a sharp hitch of breath and stares into space with an expression of horror on her face.

‘He what?’ Crowley says warily, thinking along the lines of Mr Collins declaring he’s the head of a cult or burning all of Aziraphale’s books on a stake. Wouldn’t be the first time.

‘He asked me to marry him,’ Aziraphale reveals in a scandalised whisper.

Crowley manages a full, owlish blink.

‘So?’ she says at last, frowning.

Aziraphale’s blue eyes are rounder than the Queen’s Pound Sterling when she turns to face Crowley. 

So?’ she repeats, incredulously.

Crowley props herself up on her elbows among the sheets. Pinches the bridge of her nose. ‘Well, what did you tell him?’ 

Aziraphale looks apoplectic. ‘What did I—why, Crowley! I told him no!’

‘Okay. Well, then … what’s the big deal?’

‘What’s the—why, you’re impossible! The big—well, of course, the big deal is why did he think it a good idea to ask me in the first place!’ Aziraphale says shrilly, leaping to her feet.

Crowley’s gaze is heavy. Heavy. And so is her sigh.

‘Angel,’ she says, voice low and weary, ‘do you honestly want me to quote the Song of Songs in its entirety to you or would the words reproductive drive suffice?’

Aziraphale’s sharp blue eyes are half-incredulity half-murder. Her chest is heaving. ‘Oh, why did I think it was a good idea to tell you!’

‘Fair question,’ Crowley mutters, turning to burrow back under the silky sheets. ‘But I mean, can I just say? Don’t you dare get bloody married, Aziraphale, we’ve got enough shit on our hands on as it is. Goodnight.’

‘Oh, you—you’re dreadful, you are!’

‘Get out, angel.’

 


 

At some point during the first war, lacking schedules convenient enough to properly intercept, they start exchanging letters.

Dearest Crowley, Aziraphale writes in her perfectly rounded copperplate, I’ve been to the cottage lately, just to have a look at whether everything is all right and let me just say, we might be running out of space. I have brought in a couple of books and left a couple of jam jars in the cellar. There’s no more sheep, Crowley, I’m afraid they must have escaped into the wild. I sure do hope nothing dreadful has happened to them. And I sure do hope this dreadful war is not going to last much longer. You won’t believe it, but by now I’m almost thinking fondly of that dreadful Collins man. All in all, even with your lethargy, it all makes such a peaceful time to look back on to. Lots of love.

Angel, Crowley responds in her slanted spidery writing, you better not have done anything to the bed. And yeah, of course the sheep escaped, what did you think, that they’ll be waiting around for us to get back? I miss the quiet, too. Hopefully we’ll meet in Vichy in a month? Yeah, yeah, love and all that. Whatever.

 


 

In 1969, Crowley finds their letters circulating in print, originating in a well-known corporate publishing house, propped on a ‘Bestseller’ stall in Blackwell’s. The little book’s title reads Weathering by Words: the Female Look on the World Wars.

The blurb reads, A series of wartime letters spinning the tale of two women, one cottage, and a devoted friendship lasting years. 

Crowley stares.

And stares.

‘Angel?’ she then calls out to Aziraphale — dressed in a shapeless trench coat and currently giving the  bookshop’s RELIGION section a look of utter and thorough disgust — and motions impatiently in the air, beckoning. ‘C’mere for a moment. You’re not gonna believe what I’ve just —’

 


 

She has bought the car in 1926: straight from the salon, straight from the balding little man that has sniggered crudely and all but turned away from Crowley (newly short-haired, in horse-riding trousers, black glasses and a tight blazer, attracting appalled stares like glue) — and straight after staring him down, quite literally, and watching the sneer melt into fear under the undefeated terror of her eyes.

Haughtily, she has said, ‘I would like to stressss, there will be no need for your collecting my details.’

He’s managed to say, ‘Y-yes, ma’am.’

 


 

‘I find this entirely unnecessary,’ Aziraphale later sniffs, clutching the books to her chest as Crowley leans across the gloriously leathery front seat, holding the passenger’s door enticingly open. 

‘Aaangel,’ Crowley croons, pushing up the glasses with a grin. She flutters her eyelids. ‘Come ooon.’

 


 

Paranoid, anyone with eyes would say, if let watch Crowley lock her stash of holy water behind a sketch that reminds her too much of something like better times. Absolutely bonkers.

Alright, Crowley concedes, swift shaking hands securing the lock and fixing the frame at a proper angle. Yeah. Paranoid. Bonkers.

You get like that, see, when one stupid mindless word suffices to punish half of humanity for what they are, by accident, and you get praised for it. You get like that — paranoid, just a little bit afraid of each movement of your traitorous hands, when there’s a goddamn Apocalypse looming above you.

Crowley arranges her spacious green seclusion, sketches out her strategies, secures her movements.

 


 

Thing is, all these years after the Eden, and there’s still the nightmares.

 


 

‘How much have you had?’ Aziraphale’s voice is stymied, vague, as though coming from a long distance, even if Crowley is impressively aware and focused on the indisputable and glorious fact of the angel’s hand pulling at her shoulder. ‘Crowley? How much have you drunk?’

Lotsss,’ Crowley slurs, her elbow slipping off the table when she tries to negligently lean up on it and shoot the angel a roguish smirk. 

She collides with Aziraphale’s soft woollen jumper instead of tumbling to the floor — and soon she’s being tugged up, arm laced firmly around Aziraphale’s shoulders. 

Oh — oh.

She’s strong, that angel of hers, deceptively so, has been since the dawn of time, when Crowley busied herself studying Aziraphale’s broad hips and shoulders in the wake of their first shared rain — and Crowley goes pliant and drowsy, a defeated sigh landing somewhere in the crook of Aziraphale’s neck, wherein she tucks her face. 

‘Nough to fill a whole damn sssea,’ she murmurs, eyes falling closed and everything swaying, ‘and the sssea will rise if I sssay so, and it’s risin’ now, it’s swallowin’ me whole, and we’re all gonna — we’re all gon’ drown.’

‘Nonsense,’ Aziraphale scoffs, but it’s soft, forgiving — and Crowley opens her eyes to realise that she’s been laid among blankets, face upturned to witness Aziraphale still shaking her head in reproach, bent over to draw Crowley’s hair from her face in a motion that seems needlessly nurturing.

‘How d’you know I’ve not drowned already?’ Crowley hazards, petulant, hands bunching in Aziraphale’s  jumper as though to drag her down. Down, down, down, always down. And it’s a valid question, too — would explain a lot, honestly, a lot of the swaying nausea, the stifling ache in her ribcage or the constricted throat — and how everything except Aziraphale’s face — never her face — remains in such constant motion, and nothing stays.

The angel’s voice doesn’t waver. ‘Because I still haven’t.’

The reply makes very little sense, even for Aziraphale, so Crowley drifts off.

 


 

Some of it gets easier with time: at some point, nobody pays much attention to Crowley’s trousers and glasses anymore, or to the flat rented in her own name. At some point, the broad-shouldered coat becomes something else than provocative. 

Out of the blue,  it’s her supposedly pandering to conventions. It’s disturbing, in a way, that she seems to have lost track of change. 

All the riots, all the corsets and veils, the Inquisition and and godawful parish priests; the whole damn never-ending stream of praise streaming through her malfunctioning Blaupunkt as she wrestles with ignition — Crowley should draw conclusions, should learn to think before doing, keep the collateral damage at bay instead of still getting surprised.

But it happens regardless: once again, the world, falling from her grasp as she stutters, distracted, and stares at —

— a girl, twenty-three at most, walking past, headed to campus. Tall-ish, with long legs and calves that seem to copy the curvature of Heaven’s first angelic order, all the shocking skin on display under the frayed denim of her shorts and an untucked flannel, and who would know how many doubts and judgement before she learned to say fuck it and learned to ditch the guilt, and maybe there’s a lesson to learn right here, right now

and Crowley clenches her jaw and stares right ahead, at an ordinary apple tree and sunburnt grass around it, and thinks of the difference between a human and a snake, thinks about what being a predator must surely entail. 

 


 

Is this it? she thinks, desperately, some ten years later, watching Aziraphale brew her tea — flyaway hair held up by something like a blessed ribbon, clad in a jumper which has been snagged more than once and a plaid woollen skirt acquired somewhere in the 1950s and worn steadily until now, when it’s had the misfortune to become vintage and wearable once more, much to Crowley’s dismay. Is it?

She studies the well-known lines of Aziraphale’s face: inconspicuous yet strangely harmonic, bright-eyed, drawing attention in spite of best wishes. Angel-face. Her eyes are blue, have always been, by some ironic insistence, as though to mirror Crowley’s indisputable give-out of inhumanity — but there’s a peculiar thought: the colour is the last thing you notice

First there’s the light, not even factual, but rather an awareness of light’s presence: contained somewhere in the iris, shaped into something round and vaguely baffled. 

Is it? The letters, the cottage, every damned word, is it what I think it must be?

Aziraphale’s hands are small and soft, her mouth precise and unhurried — there they are, drawing out vowels and trilling consonants, stroking and pinching yellowed paper day by day, redoing the laces of clunky oxfords and buttoning sensible coats. She seems to be woven out of irony and dust, of wool and muted light. 

Throat tight, Crowley thinks: an empty cottage, waiting somewhere in the South Downs, with thick green cold grass and possibly even wild bloody sheep; with Aziraphale’s calves in muddy wellingtons, heading up the hill to steal apples from the church orchard. 

‘I’m perfectly entitled to it,’ she’d insist, haughtily. ‘I mean, what with the late Mr Collins’s proclivities, it’s basically alimony.’

‘That’s not alimony, angel,’ Crowley would say with a long-suffering sigh, ‘that’s blessed theft.’

Wind, cold ruthless friendly wind, ruffling her hair and undoing the ribbon, and there — you could almost see the wings, even without looking. 

Is it?

Crowley closes her eyes, recalls the harsh bite of frayed denim and skin, shivers. Hard to tell. Hard to tell without falling further down.

 


 

She looks at the child and winces, just slightly livid, just because of the glaring connotation.

‘Why me?’ she asks, stupidly, because of course it needs no answer. 

Hastur frowns, as though he doesn’t understand the question.

And he probably doesn’t, if Crowley’s being fair with herself. Never been one of the brightest.

And anyway, there’s different questions to be asked: why does Crowley keep a car and a watch and why does she keep wasting time whispering people into large embezzlements and small annoyances, instead of shedding her silly modern garments and singing her capable lungs hoarse to lead lusting men astray? 

Put differently: why does she bother?

She shall be called woman, Crowley thinks, smoking as she drives, hands shaky on the steering wheel, listening to the child’s feeble and nerve-grating wail. She’s biting her lips so hard they bleed into her mouth, nauseating. For she was taken out of man.

There’s something irritably wet in her unblinking eyes, and ah, such a cliché, isn’t it, cue the waterworks — only, even in Hell, they hardly ever tell you most of the crying you’ll do will be out of frustration.

 


 

‘I just, I wonder what would happen,’ she says sullenly, some five hours later, huddled by the counter of Aziraphale’s cluttered bookshop in Soho, ‘if I just stopped the car right there, on that dark and damp and empty road, and took the basket and swung it round and round and let go and …’

She trails off and makes a vague but telling gesture in the air.

‘Well,’ Aziraphale says wryly, raising her eyebrows over the rim of her teacup, ‘I’m glad to hear all your maternal instincts are in place, Crowley.’

Crowley nearly spits out her cigarette, earning herself a cautionary hiss from the angel. 

‘My what?’ she grits out.

‘Oh, you know what I mean,’ Aziraphale says impatiently. ‘Aren’t we all supposed to know?’

‘I really, truly don’t know what you mean,’ Crowley retorts, darkly, screwing her eyes shut. ‘I really, truly don’t want to know. I really, really want to —’

‘— get drunk?’ Aziraphale guesses with a weary sigh, setting down the winged teacup. ‘Yes, I should think so. Come, I think I still have that Bordeaux in the backlot.’

Bless you,’ Crowley whispers, and means it.

 


 

Woman or not, you can’t stop the inevitable, no matter how hard you try.

So when it’s done, Crowley kisses Aziraphale there and then, between a muttered remark and a touch of the shared wine bottle: lips charred and wine-stained, the angle all messed up. 

Her suit jacket is burnt and torn-up, bony hands are positively shaking, and she clings to Aziraphale, tugging her upward, forward, trying to annihilate all other sensations with this, just this, please, please don’t leave me, please —

Aziraphale is, of course, smarter. Moving calmly, she realigns them so that it’s Crowley’s face that is being cradled; makes it all into something soft and expected, long overdue, thoroughly welcome. Crowley still keeps clinging, inhaling the most human that ethereal has ever been, still torn by doubt.

Damned, we’re bloody damned, she thinks, or maybe says, too shocked by the sudden physicality of it all to know the difference.

It doesn’t matter — Aziraphale straightens, leans away, and there’s that hard light in her eyes, again.

‘We’ve been long ago, and long before you did anything.’

And in many ways, it’s the kindest thing that Crowley has ever been offered, and at the same time — most frightening.

‘I don’t know,’ she says, because it’s the truth, because there’s no way to be sure if anything done differently would make any difference at all.

‘Must you?’ Aziraphale says, and strokes her cheekbone. ‘And anyway — you’ll hear me saying this once and once only, Crowley, so listen: it’s one thing to make a mistake, and it’s another to stand by with full knowledge and capacity of intervention and let it unravel. I, for one, know who not to blame.’

‘I think,’ Crowley says, voice hoarse, ‘that I love you.’

 


 

Trouble is a woman, they say.

What they don’t tell you is this: even a woman has no way of halting progress once the whole damn universe takes to it. What they don’t tell you is that gambling always comes with a risk of casualty and consequences rarely mirror intention. 

What they don’t tell you is that trouble is only a different name for life

But what you can find out, maybe, is that the English sand is coarse and grainy, and the sea-water is cold. There’s a cottage up a rocky cliff, quite unprepossessing, and someone with a book in the pocket of her tartan-patterned skirt, with muddy wellingtons, walking lost-in-thought towards a church orchard, with wind-ruffled hair tied with a black ribbon. 

Occasionally she would pause, and look down onto the coast line, where someone else, tall and dark and slender, is standing in the shallow water with eyes closed, looking almost like it’s the Beginning, and the water and wind are first, and the feeling and moment are first — and everything is right yet, and everything will continue being.

If you squint enough, you can almost see the wings.