It begins at the end. Or perhaps, more precisely, it ends at the beginning.
The Sunday afternoon after the Apocalypse, to be precise.
Seven days prior Adam Young had recreated the world.
Today an angel and a demon are are picnicking together in St. James Park.
It is a perfectly sunny day, the park is filled with perfectly sunny people, and the food Aziraphale has wrapped very prettily and tucked into an antique picnic basket along side a bottle of exceedingly expensive champagne is perfectly delicious.
Crowley is in hell.
Well, not literal Hell. Hell has been as good as their word, and left him and Aziraphale alone. Heaven too, for that matter. It has been a boon and a joy, so far, even if it isn’t likely to last. Yes, literal Hell was not where Crowley currently found himself. However, sitting across from the angel in the sunshine, watching him positively luxuriate in a chocolate pot de crème is a special sort of hell, all its own. One of the heart. One of the mind. One of his own making.
He does enjoy watching Aziraphale enjoy himself, and there are worse things than sunshine, and smiling people, and champagne, but all of it only serves to underscore one single fact—Crowley is unhappy.
Why, you may be wondering? Well, for one, because Aziraphale has been making himself rather scarce.
True, they have seen one another four out of the seven days that have passed since the night they’d spent at Crowley’s flat concocting their post-apocalyptic plan, and making their duplicitous switch, but worryingly, it doesn’t feel like enough. Something had happened to Crowley over the eighteen hours he had spent in Aziraphale’s body. Something had changed, and now he feels—empty somehow, hollowed out, sullied, base. In short, he feels fallen. It isn’t something he’s felt this acutely for almost 6500 years. Not since the Fall itself, really. But, he’s feeling it now—with a vengeance.
Aziraphale licks the last of the chocolate from his spoon, and then moans in a manner that can only be described as indecent, before leaning back on his hands on their shared picnic blanket, sliding his eyes shut, and turning his face toward the light of the sun. He smiles and then opens his eyes again to glance over at Crowley.
The smile disappears from his face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Why would you think something was wrong.”
Aziraphale blinks, his brow knitting for a brief moment, before he shakes his head. “Oh, I don’t know. You just seem—not yourself.”
And isn’t that just precisely the problem. He’s not himself. He’s not been himself since the switch. Or perhaps that’s not it at all. Perhaps he is exactly himself, and just feels it more now. Not so easy to ignore.
“I’m fine, Angel.”
“No. No, I don’t think you are.”
Aziraphale’s eyes widen a little at his tone, and then comes the coy, lowered lashes, and the small look of hurt, and Crowley knows, he KNOWS that he’s being played like a second rate fiddle, but Satan help him, he…
He sighs and flops onto his back, closes his eyes. The sun is too bright, even with the sunglasses. He hates everything.
“Perhaps if you ate something,” Aziraphale offers.
“Food isn’t the problem.”
Oh, but hunger is…
“Well then, just what exactly is the problem?” Short. Clipped. Just a little petulant.
Crowley grins in spite of himself. There’s the bastard of an Angel he’s used to. He doesn’t answer. He rather hopes to get Aziraphale a little more worked up, truth be told. It’s not what he really craves, but he can feed off it, at least. It will take the edge off, a little, to get Aziraphale all hot under the collar. It will allow Crowley to pretend he’s not the only sinner present.
“You’re impossible!” Aziraphale huffs. There’s a pout to it that’s infuriatingly endearing.
“Well, if you’re going to insist on ruining a perfectly good picnic with a—a mood, then perhaps we should just pack up and you should take me home.”
Crowley cracks open one eye behind the safety of his sunglasses. “The bookshop?”
“Of course the bookshop. Where else would I go?”
Crowley closes his eyes again and shrugs from his spot on the blanket.
“Oh.” Aziraphale has that tone. The one that means he’s just figured something out. “Your flat?”
“If you like.”
“I’ll take you anywhere you want to go. You know that.”
“Yes, alright. The flat, then.”
Crowley’s eyes pop open, and he sits up, brows ascending into his wind tossed fringe. “Really?” He internally kicks himself for how eager he sounds.
“Yes. Really.” Aziraphale beams at him, the beatific smile that always lights something up in Crowley, that hits him dead in the chest and makes his eyes feel tight.
“Crowley hops to his feet, feeling somewhat better. “Right. Off we go then.”
Aziraphale reaches out a hand for a help up, and then dusts imaginary blades of grass from his pristine trousers, before folding their picnic blanket and setting it atop the basket, which he hands off to Crowley. It’s not a far walk to the Bentley. The day is fine, and Crowley almost considers stopping to buy Aziraphale an ice-lolly, but then thinks better of it, given recent events and the still rough and raw associations.
He debates his speed on their way to Mayfair. There’s something so satisfying in Aziraphale’s whinging and griping, but now he’s agreed to come back to the flat, and Crowley isn’t exactly sure how far he wants to push his luck. Besides, they’re close enough that they could have walked. He settles on a respectable 20 kms above the speed limit. Just enough to keep Aziraphale wiggling in his seat, not enough to incur outright disapproval. They get from Point A to Point B in just four and a half minutes.
The moment the Bentley pulls up to the kerb, Aziraphale marches out of the car and into the building as though he lives there, and Crowley realises that he very much wishes he did. The flat has seemed colder than usual the last week, especially at night. He sleeps to stop thinking, and then dreams of miles of white corridors, of pale, piercing eyes, and mouths that are straight, and hard, and cruel, and then wakes with a start.
Crowley joins Aziraphale in the lift and they ascend in silence.
The angel doesn’t speak again until they get inside the front door and lock it behind them. He heads for the kitchen. I’ll just put up the strawberries, shall I? And chill the last of the champagne—unless you want to finish it off now…”
Crowley doesn’t respond, he detours to his plant room, smoothes his hands over the glossy leaves, looking for flaws and failings. The leaves tremble at his presence. It’s gratifying and disquieting all at once. Aziraphale will be in to chastise him in a moment. He’d best find a slacking plant to make it worth his while.
You may be wondering why Crowley is so harsh with his plants. It’s not due to any failings on their part. They are rather fine specimens as far as house plants go—verdant, thriving. No, the plants are simply convenient, and by that I mean that they are there, and they are his, and they allow him the space to exorcise the demons within the demon, as it were. In short, they are living things he can project his own baser emotions on with very little guilt.
Oh, he would never admit this, of course, but it’s quite true. He holds them to the same ludicrous standards of attractiveness, usefulness, obeisance that he was once held to. Any deviation from the divine plan (the Divine Being, in this case, being Crowley), must be punished.
Do better, be better, or be cast out. Simple.
This afternoon he is feeling every inch the unyielding and unmerciful deity.
Upon a single, unfortunate leaf of a nearby dracaena he spots a smudge. Most likely dust, but close enough to a mealy bug infestation for his purposes.
He snatches it up, pinches it between his fingers. “What. Is. This?”
The plant trembles and tries to draw away.
“How many times do I have to say it? Hmm? Don’t make me say it again?”
He briefly considers tearing off the leaf, but shivers a little at the thought, and doesn’t in the end. However, he’s sure to make a bit of a show of it when he hears Aziraphale entering from the kitchen. There is a soft click of a tongue, and then the hum of a familiar body sliding up next to his. “Oh Crowley, for Heaven’s sake, must you be so hard on them. They’re clearly trying their best.”
Aziraphale is disapproving. It fills Crowley up to overflowing with the very warmth and comfort he has been missing. He feels right again. Himself again. He wants to lean into it like the poor beleaguered dracaena is currently leaning into Aziraphale, but he restrains himself.
“Ohhh, they know what’s expected.”
“They’re doing their best.” Aziraphale repeats with a little more strength. “Besides…” He tenderly strokes a finger down the dusty leaf. “This is a beautiful plant. Aren’t you? Yes you are.” He looks up and scowls at Crowley who is leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. “It’s just a little dust.”
Crowley just shrugs. “Could be pests.”
“And just how is that the plant’s fault?”
“Bah!” Crowley pushes away from the wall and strides into the office beyond. “Not my problem.”
“And not the plant’s.” Aziraphale is quick on his heel. “Crowley…”
He’s stopped short by the weight of Aziraphale’s hand on his arm.
“What?!” It comes out with all the snappish, acid he had hoped, but Aziraphale only steps into his line of sight, and stares up at him with something that looks suspiciously like concern.
“Are you going to tell me what all of this is about?”
“All what’s about?”
“This…” Aziraphale waves his hand vaguely up and down. “Mood of yours. You’ve been out of sorts since the world ended.”
“Well the end of the world does tend to have that effect.”
“But it didn’t end. It’s still here. And I thought…”
“You thought what?” It’s impatient, and weary, and all the things Crowley feels but can’t quite articulate.
“I thought you were pleased. If—if not for the humans, then—for us. To be left alone. To be on our own side once and for all.”
If Crowley didn’t know better he would almost say that Aziraphale sounded hurt. It makes his chest go tight, makes him have regrets. Makes him feel the need to-to… He narrows his eyes and snatches off his glasses. Aziraphale’s gaze holds firm. In fact, his chin tilts up a little, almost as though in defiance of Crowley’s (ridiculous, petty, what the fuck is wrong with him anyway?!!) brooding.
Crowley takes a step toward him. Aziraphale stands a little taller.
“My dear boy, what is it?”
There is something in the casually dropped endearment, the tender, lingering flutter of Aziraphale’s fingers against Crowley’s shirt sleeve, the sincere wrinkle of concern between his brows, the fondness in his eyes and inquisitive turn of his mouth that makes Crowley want to curl up against him and tell him everything. He’s rather disturbed by the suddenness and intensity of the craving.
He has to look away.
“Heaven.” He finally manages, when Aziraphale continues to stand firm.
Aziraphale’s eyes go wide. His hand slides down Crowley’s arm, and disappears, and Crowley immediately feels the loss.
“What about Heaven?”
Crowley shrugs. “Pretty much how I remembered it. Gabriel’s still a prick.”
Aziraphale’s mouth spreads into a grin and he lets out a giggle before sobering again. He takes a step closer, and every atom in Crowley’s body wants to draw back, away, but he stays. He can feel the Aziraphale’s heat, his energy rolling outward like a steady, throbbing pulse; light, joyful—divine. So much. Too much. Too much for Crowley, anyway.
“Well… It doesn’t concern us now, does it.”
Crowley can’t breathe. “They were going to kill you. Without remorse. Like a human squashing an ant.”
“Yes. I imagine they were.”
“Thought of squashing all of them.” Crowley mutters. It’s barely a whisper. “But then I thought, the angel won’t like that.”
“Quite right. But not for the reasons you may think.”
Aziraphale’s hand has found its way to the cuff of Crowley’s shirt. A single finger has hooked there, just beneath the fabric, the back of one soft digit pressed against the pulse point of his wrist. Crowley can feel the smooth, buffed surface of Aziraphale’s nail sliding over his skin.
“You’re more brilliant, more cunning, and oh so much better than the whole lot of them put together, Crowley. They don’t deserve to be destroyed at your hand.”
The pronouncement is delivered with the same sweet, twinkling assurance as all of Aziraphale’s more brilliant proclamations, but Crowley can feel the shift in the angel’s energy, a dangerous crackle, like the electrified hush of an oncoming storm. It sends a shiver tingling up his spine, leaves him feeling a little dizzy, and warm all over, the same way he feels after sharing a bottle from Aziraphale’s choice wine collection.
He’s stepped closer before he realises, pressed his nose into rumpled and perfumed curls, closed his eyes. “I still miss it—sometimes.” I burns like Holy Water to admit. “Don’t know why. Shouldn’t.”
“It has a way of getting under one’s pinions, doesn’t it. But, it’s not real, Crowley.”
Crowley pulls back at that, stares down at the angel who, until just a week ago had seemed, despite all inclinations to the contrary, to bow to Heaven’s tug at every turn. “What isn’t?”
“Whatever it is you’re feeling after being up there. It’s not real.”
And Crowley wonders why he feels so ashamed that Aziraphale may have intuited it, intuited everything, why it is so overwhelmingly awful and sublime to be so clearly seen, so much worse than any punishment his lot could think to dole out, and so much more welcome.
“It’s just us now, remember. For the world, for ourselves. None of the rest of it matters, especially not what they, any of them, may think of you or me.” Aziraphale smiles, eyes crinkling, cheeks pinking. “I, for one, think you’re rather wonderful. A frustratingly moody bastard from time-to-time, with a penchant for driving too fast, and ruining perfectly good picnics, but in most other respects—wonderful.”
Crowley grins crookedly, despite himself, wishes terribly that he’d not removed his glasses a moment ago, because he’s quite certain that Aziraphale can see everything.
“Now,” Aziraphale gives the cuff of Crowley’s shirt a little tug. “I think we should go into the kitchen and finish the strawberries and champagne. It would be a shame to let them go to waste.”
“Here I am, baring my soul, and you’re thinking of your stomach.”
Aziraphale grins and lets go of his shirt, heads for the kitchen. “You’re always baring your soul, Dear, you just don’t realise it.”
And that is the story of how they ended and began. One week after Adam Young redefined the Divine Plan and recreated the world, an angel and demon fulfilled an ineffable one, redefined Heaven and Hell, and planted the first trembling, vulnerable seedlings in an Eden of their own devising.