It started as a normal Monday morning. Celia Ross went to her little cubicle tucked in the back of the call center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she’d worked for the last three years. She answered calls, she filled out service requests and feedback forms. At some point that morning the thought occurred to her: I’m not meant to be here.
It was true she had initially taken the job to get her through grad school and planned it to be a stepping stone for next steps after receiving her MA in religious studies. However, she hadn’t quite gotten around to any other steps beyond those she took when she walked at the graduation ceremony. She’d grown comfortable here and, while she didn’t particularly like getting yelled at by customers and didn’t particularly enjoy the little white lies she was required to tell on a daily basis, she was kind and courteous and patient with the callers, which was more than could be said for Phil or Diedre, whom she could hear shouting on the phone multiple times a week. It wasn’t that she never lost her temper - she was known for throwing pens into a target she’d drawn on the back padded wall of her cube as well as taking brisk walks down the stairwell after a particularly trying call. She was, overall, as kind as one could be in the customer service industry and had a certain knack for the work.
The truth was, she was bored. She’d spent the last two years translating various religious documents, holding interviews with various individuals of a multitude of faiths, and had written what was more or less a thesis on belief in the United States. Answering phones for $13 an hour wasn’t cutting it anymore. And on this particular Monday - a cool morning in mid-June, Celia turned off her phone, cleaned out her cubicle, and quit her job.
It was as if something hidden that had been hibernating in her gut, in her heart, in her soul had woken up. By the end of the week, she’d packed up her apartment and given notice, sold or put in storage what she didn’t need, and bought a one-way ticket to London. She ignored the glimmers of anxiety that appeared about her budget and her life as she’d known it. But something was telling her everything would be fine, as soon as she crossed the Atlantic.
She messaged an old friend, Allyson, whom she hadn’t seen in years but who’d let her stay with her on vacations back when she’d been traveling during college. Allyson at least might give her an idea of where she could stay indefinitely, or point her in the direction of a hostel not filled with students and backpackers. By the time she’d arrived to the airport for her flight, Allyson had offered her the guest bedroom in her apartment and given her references of bookshops that might be looking for a specialist in used and antique books. One shop in particular jumped out at her: A.Z. Fell and Co: Antiquarian and Unusual Books.
That name is familiar, Celia thought. Why do I know that name?
She sent a brief message to Allyson about the shop, just as they were closing doors for the flight. Perhaps they’d visited it on one of Celia’s past trips.
Haven’t been there, Allyson replied. I hear it’s fantastic but has odd hours. Owner is rather secretive and an incredible collector. Worth a look?
Yes, definitely, Celia replied.
Something about it was still odd about the name of the shop. Celia couldn’t shake it, even as sleep began to overtake her on the international flight.
At the same time in London, a certain angel was waiting for the kettle to boil, surveying his bookshop. It had grown a bit cluttered of late, as Crowley had been spending move evenings visiting the shop, drinking fine wine and dining on whatever cuisine Aziraphale had a particular hankering for at the moment.
“You know, angel,” Crowley had said to him the other night, sipping a fine Merlot Aziraphale had gotten at some point in the early 19th century, “a lot on this earth has changed since Adam - Tadfield Adam, not the other one - yet I’m here still waiting for… what is that human phrase… something about waiting for it to drop... point is, I’m nervous.”
“Nervous? Why?” Aziraphale refilled Crowley’s glass.
“It’s been quiet. Too quiet. I’d expect Heaven and Hell to step back and lick their wounds for a bit but.... It’s more like the calm before the storm. Something’s brewing.”
“What, do you think?”
Crowley narrowed his bright yellow eyes as he thought.
“Waiting for the shoe to drop… that’s the phrase.”
“Right. And what exactly are you expecting to drop, other than metaphorically?”
“Dunno,” Crowley curled his lip. “Something nasty, I suspect. They won’t play the Antichrist card again. It’ll be something we won’t see coming. A bolt from the blue.”
“You do you like your aphorisms,” Aziraphale sighed.
“You heard from that lot of saintly stuck-ups since the Switch?”
“No. Not exactly…”
A few months back, Aziraphale and Crowely had switched faces to prevent Heaven and Hell from destroying them (Crowley by holy water, Aziraphale by demon fire). They hadn’t spoken of it much since but Aziraphale noted that Crowley felt a stronger hatred for Gabriel and the other archangels since then. A level of hatred which made Aziraphale wondered what exactly Gabriel had said in what he believed to be the “incompetant” angel’s last moments.
“What is not exactly?” Crowley’s eyes went dark.
“Um… well I did get a note.”
Aziraphale rummaged through a pile of paper. “I know it’s somewhere… no, not that one… ahah!” He dug out a pristine sheet so white it nearly glowed.
“Dear Traitor,” he read. ““We prefer to correspond with you by letter due to the tainted nature of our relationship. Until further notice, we have no need of your services. Continue to stay out of our way and we will stay out of yours. We have work we are doing on Earth and under no circumstances do we want you involved in it. Should you need us, you know where to find us. You had better not need us. Gabriel and Company.”
“Ugh, Gabriel and Company.” Crowley grimaced. “Sounds like an awful boy band.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by boy band. Isn’t Queen a boy band?”
Crowley choked. “Absolutely not!” he nearly screamed. “No, it’s the principal of the thing. It’s about the style and the artistry and… and… how have you been on this earth this long and not been able to distinguish boy bands from Queen?”
“I suppose I’ll need someone to educate me, won’t I?” Aziraphale winked. Crowley looked flushed enough to burst into flames.
“Er… boy bands aside, why would they tell you that they’re doing if they don’t want you involved?”
“Many reasons. To flout how disposable I am. To show their disdain and anger. Or… perhaps to lure me back? Perhaps they think I’ll try to prove myself to gain back in their good favors.”
“It’s a trap, then?”
“I mean… unless they believe I’m redeemable.”
“Do you want that, angel?”
Aziraphale studied Crowley. Redemption sounded nice - on the surface. But he had moved far beyond any possibility of that - not just with Gabriel but with himself. It wasn’t anything he wanted anymore. In fact, the less he dealt with “Gabriel and Company’s” idea of good and evil, the better off he was. Besides, any kind of redemption with Gabriel met never seeing Crowley again and that was unthinkable.
“No,” Aziraphale said. “No, I don’t believe I do. I can’t want it anymore. Not… not knowing how they would just throw this whole world away. Destroy all these people… I… I keep thinking about how wonderful a boy Adam is and how… how once he didn’t serve a purpose they don’t care anymore. Lucky him, he gets to live a happy life with his friends and his dog. But what about the other people Heaven and Hell have given up on?”
“Look at you - doubting and asking questions about the Great Plan. Whatever could have happened to you?”
“You did,” Aziraphale answered impulsively. That shut up Crowley for a good bit.
Now, days later, the question was still haunting him. Despite the avoidance of Armageddon and a new sense of hope in the air, there was still a heaviness that seemed to cling to certain things. There were books that weightier than before. Certain streets felt darker and certain voices - those on the radio calling for certain demands to be met and certain people to be sent out of the country - had a painfully piercing tone. A human had once called Aziraphale an empath and, in human terms, that was probably correct. Aziraphale sensed emotion on a higher physical level - in terms of touch and sound, sight and smell. And on the rare occasion, taste. Perhaps that was what made him such a gourmand - to be able to actually taste the love someone put into food was a rare experience indeed.
There was another fear he had - something that was difficult to put words to. These meetings with Crowley had continued despite the absence of the Apocalypse, but a lingering concern remained that these dinners around town and afternoons at the park would cease now that neither one sought out the other for information or covert operations. However, Crowley continued to invite Aziraphale out for dinner and Aziraphale did likewise. He certainly hoped they’d established a sort of routine now. He couldn’t imagine his days without rendezvous with Crowley.
Something indeed was changing - Crowley was right about that. What exactly it was, they would simply have to wait and see.
Celia slept fitfully during the flight. She had strange dreams that woke her suddenly, trying to grasp her bearings and remember what exactly it was that interrupted her sleep. There was something about a bookshop and witch and… well, she couldn’t remember anything more than that.
Over and over the dreams seemed to repeat, until Celia gave up trying to sleep. Around that time, flight attendants came around with tea and breakfast and the pilot informed them all that they would be landing within the hour.
The fear that Celia had so easily shrugged off before crept back in. What exactly was she doing, pulling up roots and running off to London? It wasn’t just because she was bored at work. There was something more there, something her heart was trying to protect but her brain was pummeling at the wall she’d built inside. No doubt it had something to do with Madi. Beautiful Madi, who’d broken her heart and moved to the other side of the US, who’d acted as if these sorts of things were commonplace. But it wasn’t normal to have a partner so possessive suddenly tell you they couldn’t love you because they were a broken person and you were too good for them and then ghost you every time you tried to reach out. It wasn’t normal for love to end so suddenly, unless it hadn’t been love at all. There was something to that, Celia was sure, that made it easy to leave. That and her parents - who’d adopted her when she was three - had happily retired in Florida and expected that Celia would visit at major holidays, but obliged her no more than that. She had no ties really - not any more. It was all too easy for her to pick things up and jump across the world. As long as she didn’t look too closely at the balance on her credit card, of course.
There was something else, though - something more than personal. Something… spiritual, Celia thought. The little part of her that was always seeking something, always looking for greater meaning assured her that she had to do this - that something she didn’t quite understand was coming together. Celia didn’t believe in fate but she did believe that certain things happened for a reason and that the world guided those along who listened and observed the right signs. Though Celia had been raised Catholic, her adopted parents were Protestant by birth and Allyson - who’s family had been like another adopted one in large parts of her life - were Jewish. Along with her studies and focus primarily in meditation, Buddhism, and mindfulness, Celia had come to believe there was something guiding her - perhaps not a god but a universal connection that kept the universe intertwined. At least she hoped there was. Most of the time it was the only thing keeping her from falling down the rabbit hole of existential dread and letting her anxiety take over. It was too easy that everything was meaningless and nothing mattered. And Celia had never taken the easy road.
It was late afternoon by the time Celia had landed in London and retrieved her luggage. She used Heathrow’s wifi to message Allyson that she’d made it and an anticipated time she’d arrive at the flat in Archway, then took the Tube to King’s Cross, where she transferred from the Piccadilly Line to the Northern Line. While trying to navigate King’s Cross, which she didn’t recall very well (somehow before she’d transferred in a much smaller station - she thought it might have been Leicester Square, but it had been too many years), a man approached her in the main concourse.
“Excuse me, miss,” he said in what sounded like an American accent. “I wonder if I might have a moment of your time.”
“Um…” she turned away from the station map she’d been ogling. “Sure, I guess so.”
“My name is Gabriel and I wanted to talk to you about a group I’m with. We call ourselves the Shepherds. We’re a group that meets up and discusses theology. If you’re in town for the next few days, we’ve got a meeting later this week. Here’s card for the time and location.”
“Oh. Thank you,” Celia smiled.
“Think about it, Ms. Ross,” Gabriel said and walked away.
“Wait!” Celia called, astonished. “How do you know my name?” But the man had already disappeared in the crowd.
The card was simple - it outlined the group’s principles (devotion and Biblical thinking in a broken world) and gave the location (a small church in Belgravia). Everything about the encounter was odd. Celia tried to shake it off, stuffing the card into her bag and returning back to the map.
After a few wrong turns and nearly missed connection, Celia exited at the Archway stop, and walked the handful of blocks to Allyson’s flat. Allyson was waiting, tea kettle boiling, looking rather smug with her good timing.
“You made it!” Allyson exclaimed.
“I did,” Celia smiled. “I did indeed.”
After a good dinner with Allyson, a great deal of catching up, and a long, restful night of sleep, Celia awoke feeling like a new person. Allyson had already left for work, but had left a note and a spare set of keys. After a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge, Celia decided she might as well listen to her gut and go to the A.Z. Fell bookshop.
She had no idea what she expected - to be turned down, most likely. But she hoped that wouldn’t be the case. It seemed incredibly unlikely that any shop would hire an American without a work visa. But this was about something more than job. "It’s about the universe," a hushed voice whispered in the recesses of her brain. That was usually the place where voices told her "You’re a failure" or "This is a terrible idea" or occasionally more irrational things like "Yeah, it’s totally normal to believe that hot dogs are a type of sandwich." To have something more esoteric appear there was quite a surprise.
Celia stood outside the bookshop, feeling as if perhaps she’d passed it before on one of her previous trips. It felt eerily familiar - she often walked through Soho, so that easily could have been the reason. But that strange deja vu was stronger than mere familiarity. It was greater than that. Almost… surreal.
Her boots softly clicked against the stone steps as she approached the shop. The windows were a bit dusty and a worn “closed” sign was pressed against the glass. Celia sighed and looked at her watch. It was after ten in the morning… perhaps she was just too early. But when she pushed against the door, it swung open, revealing rows and rows of wooden shelves filled with antique books. The smell of worn leather, aged paper, and something like a mix of bergamot and musk hung in the air as sunlight streamed in through the large glass windows. Somewhere in the back, a bell rang, triggered by the door, and a man appeared. A small pair of round spectacles were perched on his nose and he was dressed with precision and panache. A waistcoat and pocket watch - both golden brown - were layered under a fine cream-colored suit coat and a pair of finely polished loafers poked out under a pair of perfectly pleated trousers. He fulfilled Celia’s dream aesthetic for a bookseller or librarian on every count. For half a moment, she wondered if he was actually real.
“I’m sorry, we’re most definitely closed,” he said to her, his voice light and serene.
“The door was open,” Celia gestured. “I thought perhaps the sign hadn’t been switched…”
The man walked over and gave a tug. The door was locked. He gave her a quizzical look.
“Um… well, that’s weird.” This was not going how Celia had planned. “Er… I’m sorry. If it’s a problem, I can come back later?”
“Ah… no, it’s alright. You’re in now, after all. What is it I can help you with?”
“Well, I… I’m a researcher or scholar or… what have you. And I was wondering perhaps if you were hiring an assistant? I’ve just moved to town and I’m looking for work. I’ve got a masters in religious studies and… a copy of my CV somewhere.” She searched her bag. It had been crushed under a book. “Ah, here it is. A bit crumpled. Sorry.” She handed it out to him.
He seemed frozen, as if he was trying to process what he’d just heard. “You… want to work here?”
“Yes. Are you Mr. Fell by chance? My friend recommended the shop. I…” She stopped herself. She was rambling. Best not to ramble if she wanted to avoid saying something foolish.
“Uh, yes. I am. But I…I’m flattered, I suppose, but… it isn’t the busiest shop so I’m not certain how… how much work I could offer here -”
“Even a few hours a week is fine,” Celia said, regretting it as soon as the words were out of her mouth. She needed full time, really, if she wanted to make a living here. Her brain rapidly dove into dollar to pound conversions but before she could further contemplate that, Mr. Fell spoke.
“You’ve a masters in religious studies?” he asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“What kind, exactly?”
“I specialized in the overlap between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian myths - stories - tales… that sort of thing.”
“I see. Rather impressive. You speak Latin?”
“Somewhat. I’m better at Arabic.”
“Hmm. And you want to work here?”
“May I ask why? Shouldn’t someone with your talents… I don’t know, prefer to work at a university? Or a seminary even?”
“Something told me to come here.” It sounded a bit silly, now, saying it out loud. She’d flown all the way here for… what? A job in a bookshop? It was ridiculous, honestly.
“What sort of something?” Mr. Fell’s eyes focused on her.
“I don’t know. It… it feels like something beyond me. Something….”
Celia nodded. “You could say that. It’s...transcendental at the very least.”
“I see.” Mr. Fell was silent, his brow furrowed with thought. “Let us start with a probationary test, shall we? And see how that fairs. I’m certain if all goes well, there’s no reason not to keep around the shop during the week for say… £15 an hour?”
Celia gulped. She wasn’t sure what minimum wage was in the UK currently, but considering she didn’t even make $15 an hour back in the States, this was too good an offer to pass up. And clearly Mr. Fell was out of his mind.
“That would be wonderful. Thank you.”
“When would you like to start?”
“Is… is today too soon?”
Mr. Fell smiled. “Not at all. I’ll give you a tour. We’ll start with the backroom and storage areas…”
Celia followed him. She was in a dream. This had to be a dream. She’d gotten a job in a bookshop in London - how in the hell had this worked out?
After he’d given Celia a tour of the shop and set up some busy work of going through old invoices, Aziraphale called Crowley from the old rotary phone in his office.
“It’s me. I’ve just hired a human to work in my shop and I’m wondering if I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
“I’ve hired a human - “
“Yes, I heard that part. I’m trying to understand why.”
“She seemed… I don’t know. Something just came over me and… well, I agreed to take her on temporarily - for a probationary period, to see how it is.”
“All these years, angel, you’ve had that shop on your own. Why the change?”
“I was hoping you could help me figure that out.”
Crowly sighed. It was a fake sort of sigh, the kind you make when you pretend someone is causing you great exertion but truthfully you’re only too happy to help them. It was ripe with sarcasm and glee.
“Have at it then,” Crowley replied.
“Well… she shows up in my show even though the door is locked. And there I am, trying to figure out how she got in, when she outright asks if I’m hiring and hands over her CV and… well, she was the young American with a religious studies master degree and -”
“What is it with you and mad bookish Americans?” Crowley interrupted. “It’s like they’re intentionally running into you and you’re handing out favors to them.”
“That seems a great exaggeration, Crowley. You hit Anathema with your Bentley, after all. And considering my shop, it’s a wonder I don’t attract more bookish Americans.”
“How many can there be, anyway?” Crowley drawled. “Alright, so mad book girl comes in through a locked door, for some reason you’re enthralled by her CV - “
“It was impressive. And… oh, I don’t know, I couldn’t just kick her out of the shop. She was sweet.”
“I mean… kind.”
“Where is she now?”
“Hmm. Yes, that does present a problem.”
“Yes. How am I supposed to explain the finances to her? ‘Why hello, young lady. Let me present to you the ending wealth of this place, brought to you by the miraculous coffers of heaven.’ It would never work.”
“Yeah, don’t do that. What I’m wondering is why you never asked me to help you out in the shop then?”
“I know your inventory backwards and forwards, angel.”
“Of course I do. All those hours I’ve spent around those dusty old tomes? How come you never asked me?”
“I… I never knew you were interested.”
“Course I am. And I’m sure I know a good bit more than whatever this human girl thinks she knows.”
Aziraphale smiled into the phone. “Crowley, I do believe you sound jealous.”
“Jealous? What? No. Nooooooo, of course not. I simply fail to understand why you would employ a human. That’s all. Just a spot of nitpicking on my end. And you did ask.”
“Yes, I did.” Aziraphale thought for a moment. “Do you think you ought to meet her? I mean… perhaps she if she realizes she’s the only employee here…”
“Angel, I think she’s probably already gathered that, based on your records and the amount of dust in the corners. But I do think I should meet her. What if she ends up being bad news? Like that witchfinder fellow who got you discorporated?”
“Oh, but Shadwell didn’t entirely intend to -”
“I don’t bloody well care what he intended. He discorporated my friend. All humans hanging about the Principality Aziraphale must past the Crowley test. Agreed?”
“Agreed. Perhaps we could all have lunch. I have had a particular craving for Indian take-away as of late.”
“Chicken tikka masala and samosas again?”
“Yes please. And add on something for Celia.”
“Fine. I’ll see you around one. Oh, and angel?”
“If book girl gets you discorporated, I’ll end her.”
Hi! This is the author here. I have no idea how long this piece is going to be. It might be novella length. It might be longer. I'm sorry to torture you all with an unfinished piece but I appreciate those of you who've joined in for... wherever this is going. Stay tuned for more chapters... hoping to get everything I've got so far posted by the end of the week!
By early afternoon, Celia had decided that Mr. Fell was a time traveler. That was the only explanation for what she’d encountered in the shop. Firstly, there was his attire - no man, no matter how refined, had clothes quite like his these days. She was certain his tartan bow tie was probably from the 1920s, at least. Secondly, there was the book selection. She’d glanced at his private selection on the tour and the only possible way someone had first editions of Nostradamus and Yeats. For half a moment she considered how much they might cost but she didn’t think her mind could formulate sums that high and gave up. Thirdly, Mr. Fell owned a rotary phone, a Remington typewriter that appeared to be from the 1900s, and record player which played primarily classical pieces and showtunes.
Not long after making this decision, another man strolled into the shop. He was tall and lithe, with dark glasses and tight black clothes. At first glance, with his deep red hair and Mick Jagger strut, Celia thought he might be a musician. He certainly exuded a certain edgy vibe.
“Oy! Angel! Take-away has arrived!”
Mr. Fell came out from his office, a small smile on his face.
“Just in time, Crowley. I was going to give Celia her lunch break. Celia, come here and meet Crowley.”
“Hello,” Celia said, holding out her hand. Crowley took it and considered her. If she didn’t know better, it felt like he was almost looking into her soul.
“Aziraphale tells me he’s taken you on in the shop,” Crowley drawled.
“Ah… me. Yes, he means me,” Mr. Fell leapt in, momentarily pausing the unpacking of take-away boxes. “Mr. Fell is… well, it’s sort of a nickname? It’s technically the Principality Aziraphale so -”
“Enough, angel. You’re working here now, I understand?...whatever your name is?”
“Yes. I… I’m Celia. I’m sorry, how do you know each other?”
“Well, long ago,” Mr. Fell - or, apparently, Aziraphale began, “I was on apple duty and he was a wily old - “
“Stop,” Crowley cut him off. “We saved the world once. It was just a thing.”
“Is that so unbelievable?” Crowley raised an eyebrow at her.
“No, I just… you can’t say something like that and not tell me the story.”
“Sorry, another time. We’ve got food to eat.”
“I do hope you like tikka masala,” Mr. Fell added. “We’ve got a carton here for you.”
“I love it. Thank you.” Fell handed her the box and she began to eat, feeling Crowley’s dark glasses on her the entire time.
“So, tell me about yourself, Celia,” Crowley finally said between bites. “What brings you here ‘across the pond’?”
“Oh. Well… it’s kind of a strange. I had a gut instinct to come here so… here I am.”
Crowley studied her. “That’s the kind of thing that needs a story. You had a funny feeling you should move here - so you did?”
“More or less.” Celia stopped speaking for a moment to savor her meal. Wherever Crowley had gotten this, the restaurant’s spice mixture was top notch.
Aziraphale noticed her face as she was eating and smiled brightly. “Best Indian take-away in London, trust me. Have one of the samosas - they’re delectable.”
“I’m sure plenty of people get the inkling to move somewhere now and then,” Crowley said. “But why do it? And why London?”
Celia nibbled on a samosa, trying to think how to best phrase her response. “It’s going to sound ridiculous.”
“Try me,” Crowley smiled.
“All my life, I’ve had this… well, people call it a sixth sense or second sight. I call it an instinct. I know what I need to do and when it’s the right time to do it. Friends have found it a bit eerie but if they ask me if the timing’s right to buy a house or go on a vacation or ask their spouse to marry them, I know. It’s not their life situation, it’s not knowing anything about them - I’ve been asked for advice from complete strangers. I just… know. And everyone I’ve heard from after told me I was right. It’s… it’s usually small stuff but it adds up.”
Aziraphale and Crowley looked at each other. If Celia had to put a word to their look, it was horrified.
“So,” Aziraphale said, “have you… how do I put this… ever had any sort of prophecies? Predictions about the world beyond what someone has asked you? Predictions about the future that have turned out right?”
Celia shook head. “No. No predictions. Just these instincts. I know in the moment what’s the right move and what’s not. It’s like playing chess without knowing any strategy and seeing move to move how you’re going to get to checkmate.”
“Fascinating,” Aziraphale said. He still looked worried, even as he reached out for another samosa.
“Huh. Well, that’s weird,” Crowley leaned back, stretching out like a cat. “And that same instinct told you to work at this shop?”
“Do you know why?” Aziraphale asked. “I’m… I’m sorry if it sounds like we’re interrogating you, it’s just -”
“We are,” Crowley finished.
“I don’t know why it told me to come here,” Celia said, pushing back a lock of her thick brown hair. “I just… knew I needed to. And wanted to be here. It’s a beautiful shop. I don’t… I don’t know what’s happened here before but whatever mistrust you might have, I hope I can nullify that.”
“What are your feelings on witches?” Crowley asked.
“Uh… I mean, I love reading about them. They come up a bit, when you study religion long enough.”
“What is your perspective on the band Queen?”
“I love them. I remember this one summer - my parents and I had just moved to a new house, and we were unpacking and blasting ‘A Night at the Opera’ while trying to get the A/C to work and figure out where everything was. They’re… they’re very dear to me.”
“She’s good with me,” Crowley said, giving Aziraphale a long glance. “Weird, but what else do you expect from a human who ends up here?”
“What are you trying to say?” Aziraphale frowned.
“Do me a favor, Celia,” Crowley stood up, towering over her. “Don’t start any fires. Don’t hurt my friend. And most of all, do not start an apocalypse. Got it?”
“Yes. I got it.”
“Good. Have fun with your books.” He gestured to Aziraphale and the two of them walked into his office.
Who the hell is that guy? Celia thought.
Aziraphale felt oddly nervous in the office with Crowley. He couldn’t quite reason why. It was all very strange - Crowley’s odd protectiveness, his deep questioning of Celia, his insistence that he - who proudly had no interest in books - could have helped around the shop if Aziraphale needed someone.
“I’m sorry I didn’t think of you,” Aziraphale apologized bashfully. “The truth is, I didn’t think I needed help, then she showed up and… well, here we are. She won me over without doing a thing and I don’t know why.”
“There’s something weird about her. Adam from Tadfield weird,” Crowley took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Aziraphale liked it when Crowley removed his glasses. It gave him a chance to see his eyes, which were a lovely shade of yellow. Almost like buttery marigolds (not that Aziraphale would have ever told Crowley this).
“There is something… peculiar,” Aziraphale agreed. “I wonder if she isn’t somewhat like Anathema, with a sort of legacy or ancestry of… well, the occult, I suppose.”
“Certainly possible,” Crowley said. He stared long and hard at Aziraphale. “Angel… if anything happens… because of the book girl -”
“Oh, I don’t think anything will happen. She doesn’t seem dangerous. Odd, but not dangerous.”
“But if it does. You know… You had better call me. With any other cock-ups or difficulties or whatnot. Yeah?”
“Of course, Crowley. You know I will. You’re my best friend and - “
“Yeah, yeah, don’t get saccharine on me, Angel. You on again for Friday night, same as last week?”
“Yes. Of course.” If Aziraphale didn’t know better, he could have sworn the demon was blushing.
Not far away, a bevy of angels were collecting themselves just past Piccadilly Circus. While some may argue that the technical term for a group for such beings is a flock or an assemblage, the correct term is bevy, though Pope Pius XII insisted “assemblage” was preferred due to its alliteration. The term for a group of demons is, perhaps not surprisingly, a pandemonium. Pius, of course, preferred droves.
It was rush hour and no one thought twice about a well-dressed group of painfully pretty people with stoic looks and perfectly polished shoes. At the head of the group was the Archangel Gabriel, his piercing violet eyes collectively surveying the bevy.
“It’s all going according to plan,” Gabriel said. “The girl is here, in the city. I’ve given the information to her about the meeting. I’ll meet her again - make it seem like serendipity. The same instinct that told her to come here will tell her to go to the meeting. All will fall into place after that.”
“What exactly is the plan after that?” Michael asked. “Come right out and the girl she’s a prophet? That some might call her Messiah?”
“Not in so many words,” Gabriel said. “She studies faith - there’s ways we can tell her of her importance and role in all that will happen without getting into too many gritty details. After all, humans like to be told they’re important.”
“She will need to know the full story, eventually,” Sandalphon added. “At some point, she must know what will happen.”
“Yes, of course,” Gabriel agreed. “Very astute of you, Sandalphon. Always thinking ahead.”
“Who would you have tell her? Initially, that is,” Urial asked.
“I will do it,” Gabriel said. “After all, she is familiar with my countenance. I’ll bring one of you with me for support - likely you, Sandalphon.”
“Are you sure…” Michael stopped before they could fully formulate the question. Asking critical questions, at one point, had ended poorly for certain angels. “You are, of course, going to be gentle? Remember Mary and her child -”
“Of course,” Gabriel frowned. “But how was I supposed to tell someone they were bearing the son of God, hmm?”
“Not like that,” Michael whispered too softly for Gabriel to hear.
“Right. Tomorrow night, Sandalphon and I will go to her domicile. We’ll remind her of the meeting. By week’s end, she’ll know of her part in the Divine Plan and all things will be set in motion. The Other Side will react and work to stop the girl’s accent into power. And then the Apocalypse will finally be set into motion.”
There was an awkward silence. Uriel glanced at Michael and the two silently contemplated who would ask the pivotal question.
Uriel spoke. “Just… one question, for clarification. How exactly do we transition from Prophet to Apocalypse?”
“All will fall into place,” Gabriel said assuringly. It was the sort of assurance you got from a doctor when they told you something wasn’t going to hurt when you knew very well it would. “It will take a great deal of work on our part but once the girl starts sharing her ideas, the forces of Hell will see that her destruction brings about the mutual destruction of humanity. It’s quite straightforward, really. And this time there will be no interference from… the Traitors.”
The angels winced. Gabriel’s anger was visceral, earthy and almost meteorological, in that it felt the way the air does before a hail storm or hurricane. It was the kind that in past times had brought about the destruction of cities and the razing of entire lands.
“Of course,” Sandalphon agreed. “And if there is, they will be destroyed.”
“Exactly,” Gabriel said.
“Is she really so dangerous, this girl?” Michael asked. Uriel shot them a look. It was somewhere between encouragement and fear.
“She’s like Agnes Nutter to the infinite exponent with her prophecies,” Gabriel said. “And like Abraham with her teachings. Once she fully comes into her power, people will start saying she is a god’s child - regardless of whether any evidence exists of it or not. She’s unstable. And thus, the perfect weapon to start Armageddon.” Michael smiled and surveyed the bevy. They were archangels, God’s chosen to lead Heaven to the end of the world. And blessed be, the Apocalypse was going to happen this time. Or Gabriel would bring it about himself.
For angels like Michael and Uriel (who are played by women in the series) I've opted to use gender neutral pronouns. I like the idea of them being non-binary and love how they're portrayed in the show. Since Gaiman says angels (and I assume demons) don't have a sex, I'm a fan of the angels choosing how they want to be portrayed. I'll likely introduce some angels who use she/her/hers pronouns down the road and I know Beelzebub and Dagon will be popping up eventually (I'm inclined to use she/her for Beelz and they/them for Dagon, but I'm open to ideas and discussion).
Thanks again for reading!
Still weary from jet lag and learning the book shop, the evening blurred in Celia’s mind. She slept for nearly twelve hours and woke up with just enough time for a quick cup of tea before dashing off to the bookshop. She’d had a strange dream again, something about an angel and a demon and a car on fire. She shook it off and took the Tube into Soho.
The day was quieter than before. A few customers came in to browse books. Aziraphale made himself busy sorting through some new acquisitions that had come in. Celia continued to learn where things were located in the shop and did some minimal tidying up. Aziraphale clearly thrived in purposeful disorganization, so Celia did some light dusty and evened up a few stacks of books. Mostly, she breathed. She’d been feeling jittery all morning, a tense feeling in her stomach and a twisting feeling in her throat and gut. This was usually her body’s warning to take things easy, that she’d piled on too much stress and was heading towards burnout - or worse, a panic attack. Though honestly she couldn’t always track her panic. Sometimes they appeared for no real reason. It was a thing that her body did, struggling through the constant fear and dread that always dwelled in the back of her mind.
In the early afternoon, Aziraphale emerged from his office, looking a little tired. “Well, that’s done,” he sighed contentedly. “Nothing better than organizing books, I think. Except for a well-made loaf of brioche.”
“Agreed,” Celia smiled. “My friend - my roommate, I mean - and I were just talking about this the other night. Organizing books, I mean. Not brioche. Although brioche is delicious.”
“It’s perfectly scrummy,” Azirapahle agreed. “What does your roommate do? Is she a researcher as well?”
“Sort of. She’s a historian. She’s studying at the University of London.” They had been talking the other night about the conflict between librarians, researchers, and archivists as Allyson had encountered it in her work. Each job had a different way of categorizing the same material and, for someone looking for specific documents, it was often like a treasure hunt.
“It’s all a construct, anyway,” Allyson had said. “Someone just went, ‘Oh, blimey, this is a good place for this book.’ It seems like World War Two history. But it could have been put under Polish history. Or history of the Holocaust. Or Jewish history. Or -”
“That’s overwhelming,” Celia said.
“Absolutely. Don’t get me started on fiction. I was trying to organize my own books and it was a nightmare.” Allyson shook her head. “But I’d rather have this problem, I suppose, than trying to write my thesis.”
Aziraphale was rather taken with Allyson’s career choice and asked Celia all sorts of questions about here - what specifically she studied (Reformation Europe, specifically religious reform, specifically John Calvin, specifically where on the spectrum of tolerance Calvin fell and if he was actually as angry as the paintings and woodcuts made him out to be), what had gotten her into studying that (a family holiday to Scotland where she’d seen a painting of John Calvin and had a recurring nightmare about him for the better part of the trip), and how Allyson and Celia had met (a Tumblr post discussing whether or not the Great Chain of Being was relative to the races in Lord of the Rings.)
“How did you end up in religious studies?” Aziraphale asked after Celia had thoroughly explained the differences between hobbits and dwarfs.
“Well…” Celia tried to track the many elusive switch and changes she’d made in career planning. “My parents raised me Catholic, but I was frustrated by the limited roles for women. I’m adopted and while trying to find who my birth parents were, I… sort of had a crisis of faith, you could call it. I stopped believing anything could be real or that anything could matter. I didn’t entirely stop believing - or at least hoping that there was something bigger out there but… I wasn’t sure of anything. And then… something changed. I found hope in the unlikeliest of places - I met Allyson and made other friends and decided… well, if nothing matters then everything matters if I want it to because it’s all about mindset. And since we can’t prove anything about the divine or spiritual then I might as well focus on what I feel inside and what helps me connect to other people and the community and… well, by that point I’d already chosen philosophy because I wouldn’t stop asking questions. So then I decided I wanted to learn more about what people believe and thought that, even if we’re all so different and some of us believe some pretty nasty things, there’s still things that tie us together. And maybe if we can reckon with and discuss those things maybe… maybe we can better ourselves and the world.”
There was a long silence after Celia finished. She suddenly felt self-conscious about what she had said. It was hard to explain the ins and outs of her personal philosophy. She’d often butted heads with other religious studies students who’d been perplexed, when, asked what religion she liked best, she’d said, “I like them all.” It was hard to put into words what she’d felt in a small church in Scotland that had been repaired by the congregation after a wealthy landowner had it vandalized to keep the lower classes off their land. It was hard to explain what it felt like to visit a meditation center and sit in silence for several hours with people she didn’t know. It was even hard to explain why she cried when she heard the mourner’s kaddish spoken by a rabbi or why the adhan recited from a mosque made her spine tingle warmly.
Aziraphale, however, didn’t look perplexed. In fact, he looked sort of blissful. “That’s rather lovely,” he replied.
“Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate that. Most think me rather stranger for not ‘picking a side’ as they say. As far as I’m concerned, religion is a way to explain the world and… well, we all have different ways of explaining it. But it’s the same world. More or less.”
“I suppose it is,” he said gently. “Did you ever find your birth parents?”
“No,” she said. “They’re from El Salvador. But the adoption agency wouldn’t give us more specifics than that. It’s less that my parents didn’t want to be found it’s more… they couldn’t be found. Or the agency refused to let us find them.”
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said.
“It’s not your fault. And I have my adopted parents. After all, it’s hard to miss someone you never knew. And yet… sometimes I do.”
There was another silence, one that Aziraphale seemed inclined to fill but was uncertain as to how. Eventually, he asked, “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“I’d love one. Thank you.”
Aziraphale smiled and went into his office. He returned a moment later, a package of biscuits in hand.
“Just put the kettle on to boil. Biscuit?”
“Yes, please.” She took one of the cookies and nibbled on it slowly. “Is this lavender?”
“Yes. I found these in Provence on a trip. They’re quite wonderful.” Aziraphale took several of the biscuits and sat back down. “Have you ever seen anything that made you think that… the ethereal or the supernatural exists?”
“Beyond my odd predictions? A few things. Why?”
“I have the strangest notion that… I could tell you that I was an angel that had recently averted the Apocalypse and you would someone easily accept that.”
“Is that why Crowley calls you angel? I thought it was a pet name.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
The kettle began to whistle from the other room.
“Hold that thought,” Celia told him and he dashed out to get a couple of mugs. He returned, the aroma of bergamot and steam in the air and handed off a mug to Celia.
“So, I’m having a lot of thoughts at the moment,” Celia said. “Most of them involve whether or not I mistakenly thought you and Crowley were dating. But I think that’s a story for later. Right now, I’m puzzling of things like ‘an angel who averted the Apocalypse.’ Because that’s not just a thing you can say without a story.”
Aziraphale told her the story. Celia completely forgot about her tea.
This chapter inspired heavily by a conversation I had with my BFF this past weekend about categorizing books. Hope y'all enjoy philosophical discussions and library science as much as I do.
“So while my brain plays catch-up here,” Celia said, “there’s a few things I want to clarify.”
“That is more than fair,” Aziraphale agreed.
“First, there’s a God. Maybe not the God I know and believe in, but at least one such God who… what? Has this complex plan that nobody gets?”
“Right. And you’re an angel. And Crowley’s a demon.”
“And you’ve been on earth for six thousand years.”
“Oh boy.” Celia put her head between her knees and breathed deeply. “Okay. Okay… this is a lot. This is… ohhhhh. Right. Right. So if you exist, do other gods exist?”
“Don’t you think maybe it’s possible? I mean… you’re not what I expected for an angel. Which is a good thing, I think. But… well, is it possible that another idea of Heaven and Hell from another belief system exists? Like something that’s not Judeo-Christain?”
“Um… I’m not actually sure about that. I mean, my department only communicated with itself, so I don’t know. I mean…. Possibly? I think strict Heaven protocol denies the existence of any other possibility. All that Heaven is the best, you know. But I suppose… I suppose from what I learned from Adam, all things are possible.”
“Wow. Okay. Well… this makes my philosophical beliefs a lot more complicated. I mean… I never expected them to be something tangible that would feed me cookies and tea.”
“Well, here I am,” Aziraphale said brightly.
“I think…” Celia sighed. “I think I’m going to go home and process this. And then I’m coming in tomorrow with twelve hundred questions for you. Is that okay?’
Aziraphale somehow seemed relieved that she hadn’t asked to quit. “Yes. Yes I think that’s just splendid.”
“Great. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Suddenly self-conscious that she was talking with an immortal being that had been, until recent fallings out with Heaven, a representation all that was good and holy in the world, Celia ducked out into the rainy London evening, trying to remember what exactly it was that had brought them to this conversation.
She puzzled over what Aziraphale had told her the whole journey home, so immersed in thought that she almost didn’t notice when she’d arrived at the flat. Allyson was out, working through deep revisions on her thesis, so Celia made dinner and turned on some music to try and distract her from the thoughts spiraling through her mind.
I’m working for an angel. His friend/maybe-boyfriend is a demon and has great taste in Indian food. The world almost ended and I had no idea. Well then.
The doorbell rang, jolting her out of her thoughts. Turning off the heat on the stove, she hesitantly walked to the door. Allyson didn’t know anyone who would just drop by without calling first and Celia wasn’t keen on answering if it was a neighbor or some door-to-door sales person if her roommate was out. She peered out through the small window at the top of the door, catching sight of the man she’d met in King’s Cross, accompanied by a shorter, stouter man. Celia gulped. Maybe this was just a coincidence. Yeah, that was it. They’d just chosen a neighborhood to go door knocking in (did religious groups even go door knocking in the UK? Celia wasn’t sure) and it was just a coincidence. This probably wasn’t going to end well, though.
She opened the door anyway.
“Good evening, I… Celia!” the man named Gabriel said brightly. “What a lovely coincidence!”
She remembered he had known her name in the station. And he remembered it now. She doubted it was coincidence.
“Hello,” she said. “Is this about your… group?”
“Yes, the Shepherds,” the man beside Gabriel replied. He smiled at her. There was something odd about his teeth. She couldn’t put a finger on what it was but it made her want to crawl into herself and hide.
“Sandalphon and I were telling people here about our meeting,” Gabriel said. His eyes flashed a bright lavender. Lavender? Celia hadn’t even known that shade of iris existed. “We hope to see you there, tomorrow night? You’d be an honored guest to have, with your knowledge of religion.”
Had she told them she studied religion? She’d been overwhelmed and jet lagged but she didn’t remember saying a word about it.
“Oh. Well… I’ll have to see. I’m still getting over jetlag. And I’ve just started a new job. But… I’ll do my best.”
“We really do hope you’ll be there. It’s sure to be an enlightening evening of conversation.” Gabriel studied her. Suddenly she felt like she had no choice.
“Yes. I’ll be there,” she heard herself say.
“Wonderful!” the shorter man said. “We’re looking forward to talking with you.”
“The directions are on this card,” Gabriel said, holding out another card like he’d given to her at the train station. “We’ll start promptly at 7pm. Do you have any questions for us?”
“Yes. What exactly is this all about?”
Gabriel gave a forced smile. “All shall be revealed, my dear. All shall be revealed.”
They walked away, leaving Celia stunned and more than a little afraid.
Celia had slept fitfully and drank several cups of espresso to make up for it the following morning. She burst into Aziraphale’s shop over-caffeinated and more than a little panicked.
“Have you ever heard of a group called the Shepherds?” Celia asked, breathless.
“Good morning. No, I haven’t.” Aziraphale frowned. “What’s this about?”
Celia told him about her encounter with the man called Gabriel. As she spoke, Aziraphale went pale.
“This Gabriel… what did he look like?”
“Like a monotone businessman. All in grey. Slicked back hair. Violet eyes. There was a man with him named Sandalphon -”
“Oh no. Oh no. It’s him. It must be. What in heaven is he doing?”
“Gabriel. The archangel Gabriel.”
Celia felt her stomach dropped out at the bottom uncomfortably, like when you miss a step climbing a staircase in the dark.
“The… the archangel? Your former boss?”
“He knew my name and about my studies… how did he know that?”
“I’m not entirely sure. The archangels have a certain level of omnipotence. Or at least observation.”
“They’ve been observing me?”
“But what does he want with me?”
“I haven’t the slightest. Are you… are you truly planning on attending that meeting?”
“I don’t know. I almost feel like I have to. But.... I’m also curious now. I mean… he’s got to be planning something, right? Do you think he knows I’m working for you?”
Aziraphale went another shade paler. “I certainly hope not. If he did… well, it would certainly put you in a high level of danger.”
“I think I’m already in danger.” Celia shuddered. “The other man, Sandalphon. Is he an archangel too??”
“Yes. He was quite the fan of smiting, back in the day.”
“Ah. Guess that’s why his smile reminds me of a shark’s.”
“It is quite predatory, isn’t it? I never realized...” Aziraphale paused for a moment, considering. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to… not go?”
Celia shook her head. “I’m sorry. I have to. My gut is telling me to...If only to see if I can figure out what they’re planning. Besides, if I don’t go, they’ll just keep popping up random places until they get the chance to tell me… whatever it is they want to tell me. I’d appreciate it if… well, if I could call you if anything goes terribly awry? If that’s not too much of an imposition?”
“Not at all,” Aziraphale let out a slight sigh of relief. “I’d prefer that, honestly.” He slipped a card towards her. “That’s the number of the shop. I’ll try to be around tonight but…” He took the card back and scribbled another number on the ivory paper. “That’s Crowley’s cellular. If I’m not answering in the shop, I’m out at supper with him so you can reach me there.”
“Thank you,” Celia said, tucking the card into the pocket of her jumper. “By the way, I still have plenty of questions for you and Crowley - you’re not getting off the hook so easily. But first I’m going to take care of this and let my mind chat up. This is a lot to take in.”
“You’re handling it very well,” Aziraphale assured her.
“That’s only because I’m repressing the freak-out I’m bound to have once I give myself the time to absorb this.” Celia went back to running inventory counts for the rest of the day while Aziraphale went into his office to call Crowley.
“What would you say if we made our dinner plans in Belgravia tonight?”
“Sure. Something happening there, angel?”
“Perhaps. I… um, I might have told Celia the truth about us. And she might have met Gabriel on her very first day in London. And he might very well have great plans for her.”
“Hold on… that’s a lot of mights. You told her about us?”
“I know, Crowley. It’s absurd. But it just came out of my mouth and… well, there’s something about this girl that makes you feel like you need to tell her anything. That you need to tell her… I practically told her our whole story, start to finish.”
“I hope you played up my parts effectively,” Crowley smirked into the phone. “How did she take it?”
“Well, she didn’t go mad or treat us like an eldritch horror.”
“Jolly good. Is that what you were expecting?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never told a human the complete story before.”
“Right. So she knows. And she’s met Gabriel. And when you say great plans, I assume you mean nefarious? As nefarious as an angel can be, I suppose?”
“Yes. Very nefarious indeed. Or is it harshly good? It’s becoming rather difficult to see the difference.”
“Indeed it is, angel,” Crowley agreed. “Indeed it is.”
Celia made her way to the Belgravia church afterwork, unaware that Aziraphale and Crowley were themselves heading to dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant. The church Celia had been asked to meet Gabriel at was austere, gothic, and pristine, as if nothing had touched it for centuries - not wind nor rain nor even the most gentle of church ladies. Celia walked in through the heavy wooden door into the atrium and found Gabriel and Sandalphon waiting for her in an alcove. She’d half expected to be led to a community room with other attendees, but knowing that this was an archangel who was planning something, she was somehow not surprised that it was only her and the angels in the dim light from stained glass.
But I’ve got to play surprised. I can't let them know I'm on to them, she thought.
“Is… is there anyone else coming?” she asked.
“Oh, we thought it better to have this initial meeting with you only,” Gabriel said.
“I’m afraid we haven’t been entirely honest with you, my dear,” Sandalphon added. “We are not who are appear to be.”
“There is no group called the Shepherds.”
“We are not here to discuss theology. We are here to give you a message. To tell you about a role you must play in the world.”
“You see.” Gabriel cleared his throat. “We are angels.”
Even though Celia already knew this, hearing Gabriel so openly admit it was a bit of a shock. She hoped she looked as stunned as she felt she must.
“Like… angel angels? With wings?”
“Yes.” Gabriel gave her forced smile like she was a rather stupid student he was tutoring. “We are archangels here at the bidding of God. We have a message for you of great importance. You see… you are the Second Coming. You are the embodiment of God on earth. You are here to lead the world to the end of time and to the great battle of Good and Evil. You have been chosen by God to lead us to victory and fight against this befouled earth and all of Hell’s devils. All you need do is join us and do as we say.”
Celia was speechless. Of all the things they could have told her, this was not what she was expecting. Not even a little bit.
“Um… well… I’m honored, I guess…”
“You are the spiritual embodiment of God. It is us who should be honored,” Sandalphon gave her a bow. His teeth glimmered like fangs. Something about this wasn’t right. What wasn’t right?
“Am I like… a messiah?”
“We wouldn’t use that word,” Gabriel shook his head. “You’re not… the son of God, you know. You’re a different entity all together. Jesus was here and did his thing. You’re yourself… but part of God.”
“So… I’m like Jesus in that I was begotten not made?”
“No. Nothing of the sort.” Sandalphon was frowning now. “You are yourself, an earthly child, possessed by the Holy Spirit and made to be a figurehead of Godhood. Do you understand?”
No. No, she did not understand. She wanted to scream at them. This couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t.
“Maybe?” she said sheepishly. “I just… I don’t see how… I mean, my life is full of mistakes. I’m not a holy person. Don’t you think maybe God made a mistake and -”
“God does not make mistakes!” Gabriel bellowed. Something in the church shuddered slightly as his voice reverberated around the space.
Okay, that was a sore point, the part of Celia’s brain that was still someone in control and not freaking the hell out reasoned. Definitely don’t mention that again. Ever.
“You have been chosen” Gabriel seethed, “as part of the Great Plan. It is not your place to question or ask why. Now, you will come with us and it will begin.”
“I actually would love some time to think about. You know, consider if I’m really the Messiah type,” Celia said. She was slowly inching towards the door, hoping they wouldn’t notice.
“You’re not a Messiah; you’re a spiritually possessed being,” Gabriel replied. “Those prophetic feelings? Your second sight? You have that for a reason.”
Those words stopped her. All her life she’d thought her weird ability had been some sort of bizarre personality quirk or blind luck. To have it so easily explained… it was tempting. Yes, very tempting. But as much as being “spiritually possessed” as Gabriel had put had a certain of a self-importance to it, Celia was not keen on being a part of this.
“If that’s so… and God is a part of me… don’t I at least get a say in whether I chose to do this or not?” Celia asked.
“Your human failings and earthly structure are giving you pause,” Sandalphon said. “Do not listen to them. Trust yourself. Trust us.”
“I do trust myself. Especially my earthly structure.” And before they could say another word, Celia bolted out the door.
Was it even possible to outrun an angel? Essentially, the answer was probably no. Angels had the ability to be all-seeing (in that they had the best security technologies known to the universe). But a quick escape was all Celia needed. She was blocks away when she remembered the card in her pocket and stopped to pull out her cell. She dialed Aziraphale’s number, not surprised when it rang and rang. She hung up and dialed Crowley’s number instead.
“This is Crowley,” the demon answered.
“Crowley! Hi! This is Celia! Aziraphale gave me your number in case anything happened. And - “
“Something happened?” Crowley cut her off.
“Yes. I’m… I’m...not sure where I am. Somewhere in Belgravia. Where are you?”
“Belgravia. At Il Convivio. Having a nice relaxing meal until you called.”
“Oh. Great. Yes. Sorry.”
“Are you breathing book girl?” He sounded somehow simultaneously amused and annoyed, and perhaps even a tiny bit concerned. No, Celia decided, it was just a different hue of annoyance.
“Um… no. Not exactly.”
“First, breathe. And secondly, do Aziraphale a favor and tell us where you are. Look for street signs. They might prove helpful.”
“Uh… yes. Let me see. Bourne Street, it looks like.”
“Great. What part of Bourne Street?”
“There’s a shop called Pinch.”
“You are amazingly very close. Turn left onto Ebury. Walk until you see the restaurant Il Convivio. We’ll meet you out front.”
Crowley hung up and Celia started walking as fast as she could. She didn’t want to run, lest she draw attention to herself. Regardless, she felt like she was being watched, though it was likely her own paranoia.
Minutes later she found herself in front of the restaurant. Crowley and Aziraphale were waiting, as promised, in front of a large black Bentley.
“Get in, book girl,” Crowley said. “You’ve got a story to tell us.”
Crowley loved three things most in the world - his best friend, his Bentley, and the music of Queen. He also sometimes included a good glass of Lagavulin on the rocks on a crisp autumn night, but generally he kept it to the main three. At the moment, he had his trinity of loved things all in one place and felt a bit prickly that something was interfering with it. However, this something also seemed to have a deep love for these three things and it was making him feel rather confused.
“This car…” Celia gushed for the fifth time since she’d first seen it. “I mean… I just. Wow. This is a beauty.”
“Thank you. It is,” Crowley started the Bentley and put it into gear. “Now talk, book girl.”
He hit the gas and she slid with a yelp across the back seat. She interrupted their dinner, she had to pay the consequences. He smiled smugly.
“Careful, Crowley,” Aziraphale chided. “Tell us what happened, Celia.”
She told them, in as many words as she could muster through Crowley’s erratic driving and her own rising panic. She felt her throat tightening and her tongue swelling and wondered how much she would be able to say before pure fear set in.
Almost all of it, it turned out to be. She was grateful. The only thing she hadn’t been able to tell them was the bit about being able to choose her part. She wheezed and gasps wracked her body. Feeling panic like this always awoke another fear, a fear of being out of control of her body. She began to cry and heavy sobs merged with gasps as tears ran down her face.
“What’s happening?” Crowley asked. “Is she alright?”
“Celia! Celia, tell me what’s happening!” Aziraphale cried. Celia wanted to. She wanted more than anything to be able to speak. She tried and cried harder.
“Pull over. Please, Crowley.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice. She alright, you think?”
“I hope so.”
Crowley pulled off onto a side street and parked. He and Aziraphale went around to the back of the car and opened up the door where Celia was sitting.
“Can you talk?” Aziraphale asked gently. She shook her head, gesturing with her hand like she was writing.
“Paper!” Crowley cried. “She wants paper.”
Aziraphale went through his pockets and found a scrap of parchment and an old ballpoint. “Here,” he held it out to her. Celia wrote, her hands shaking. In jagged letters, she’s written, “Panic attack. Help me breathe.”
“Right,” Aziraphale said. “Crowley, do you remember that meditation session we attended in India? How did it begin?”
“‘Course I remember it. Let’s see… something about getting air into the body…”
“Yes,” Aziraphale thought quickly. “You must breathe. Breathe with us. In… and out. In… and out. Your body knows how much air it needs. Even if you feel like you can’t breathe, you can. Inhale completely. Exhale completely. Other thoughts might intrude but brusht them away and go back to your breath…”
After several minutes of repeating similar prompts, Celia was calmer. Her lungs still hurt but the racing pain in her chest had subsided and her jaw unclenched.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “You could make a killing recording meditation prompts, Aziraphale. You’ve got a very soothing voice. Probably part of that angel thing.”
“I suppose so. Are you alright?”
“Well enough, considering,” Celia replied. “I hope that wasn’t too frightening. I know… I know I shouldn’t apologize - my therapist told me never to apologize for a panic attack, that I have nothing to be sorry for since it’s not something I can control. But it wasn’t great timing. Not that there’s ever a good time for that.”
“What causes them?” Aziraphale asked gently.
“Stress. Worry. Living every day of my life with generalized anxiety disorder. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t ask for any of this. The sixth sense. Being the Second Coming. And… Gabriel said I basically had no choice whether I’m used as a spiritual vessel or not. It’s too much. It’s just too much.”
She went back to focusing on her breathing, while Aziraphale and Crowley contemplated her. They certainly hadn’t expected another human showing up, harboring Armageddon so soon after Adam from Tadfield’s situation. Aziraphale and Crowley had rather though that Heaven and Hell might let things simmer for a while, come back in a couple decades (preferably centuries) and muck around again. Instead, they’d retaliated in less than a year and swept up another life into the great battle Gabriel and Beelzebub insisted on fighting.
Crowley had certainly been hoping he wouldn’t have to reckon with his former colleagues in the next millennia. He was truly hoping for a great deal of time to enjoy life on earth without having to worry about whether or not what he was doing would be approved by the demonic forces he served. Quite frankly, he had planned on finding out what sort of “good” things he’d been missing out on (Aziraphale had his heart set on a picnic at some point) and see if he could cajole Aziraphale into some “bad” behavior (drag racing the Bentley was a dream but Aziraphale wouldn’t go for that. Maybe he could get him to travel to Montreux with him and see the Freddie Mercury statue there, visit a winery or three, spend some time learning how to cheat in the casino). But now, here they were. Back at the Apocalypse. Again.
“Assholes!” Crowley yelled. “The lot of them. They couldn’t let things lie. Oh no. They had to restart their game of who wins at the end of the world and treating us all like pawns in their cosmic game.”
“Assholes,” Celia agreed. “Absolute assholes of the Apocalypse.”
Crowley nodded at Celia. Externally, it was a sign of agreement. Internally, it was a mental acceptance that this human, whoever she was exactly, was as pissed off and reluctant for the end of the world as he was. He might still resent her sudden appearance (a resentment he had yet to deeply dwell on) yet she hadn’t meant to get the two of them involved. Or had she? It was always hard to tell with prophets what they were they doing intentionally versus what happened fortuitously based on what they knew about the future. She also liked Queen. It was hard to dislike someone who liked Queen.
“Right,” Aziraphale said. “What are we going to do now? Likely Gabriel is tracking Celia down as we speak. If he finds out we’re involved, we’re doomed.”
“Been doomed. Survived that. Prefer not to deal with that again,” Crowley nodded.
“I had a thought,” Celia said. “I don’t want to play this game anymore than you do. But I need… I need time to figure out what’s going on. Understand… me and who I am now. I can’t do that here, obviously. Gabriel knows I’m here. But if I were to leave town, go somewhere else… at least it would buy us time. If you know anywhere that might be… safe, quiet…”
Aziraphale and Crowley look at each other. An idea dawned between them.
“I think we know a place,” Aziraphale smiled.
This is the first time I'm sharing something widely where I describe what a panic attack feels like. I experience them from time to time and they're hard to put into words (especially since they vary widely, not just between people but also how they occur within the same person). Again, any feedback or suggestions you have are much appreciated!
Celia called Allyson and told her she would be out of town indefinitely. She didn’t tell her the truth - something that was difficult as Celia had always worn everything on her sleeve to her oldest friend. Instead, she explained that her new job required her to go to some training and conferences outside of London and she’d be traveling for at least the next month. Allyson was the most relaxed, accepting person Celia knew so it didn’t phase her a bit. It also helped avoiding the whole “chosen one as the second coming to bring about the Apocalypse” which continued to bring a lump in her throat and a knot in her stomach every time she thought about it.
Meanwhile, Aziraphale and Crowley considered who should make a phone call.
“You’re nicer,” Crowley shrugged.
“Yes, but you’re more to the point. Better at asking for what you need,” Aziaphale replied.
“I put her off about hitting my car.”
“And I did the same by fixing her bicycle.”
Crowley raised an eyebrow. “I’ve an idea. We’ll both call.” He turned the phone on speaker and hit the call button.
A phone rang in Jasmine Cottage. Newton had insisted on having it installed so that he could keep in contact with Shadwell for “ witch hunting purposes.” Which was code for, “Shadwell is a strange bloke but I’m happy for him and Madame Tracy and I think we should do Sunday roasts together every couple of months.” It also had seemed smart to install the line should anyone else from London need them. In particular, a certain angel and a demon who had saved the world along with them.
At the moment, Anathema was curled up in an armchair, reading a book about tarot in the modern world. It had been a long time since she had been able to read for sheer pleasure and not for educational purposes to help her with Agnes’s prophecies. In fact she wasn’t certain she’d ever had that before. Her days were filled with reading, gardening, and making out with Newton. And most importantly, no longer worrying about the future.
Newton was on his way home from work - he’d landed a job in Tadfield with bookkeeping for an old company that kept paper records as well as computer ones. Newton took care of the paper trail and consulted with a coworker who had everything entered in the computer, to make sure the results added up the same. It was an ideal job. An ideal life. Things had worked out rather well, Anathema had to say.
She glanced at the phone as it rang again. It was late on a Friday evening - it was unlikely anyone from the village. Her mother called her via video chat so it wasn’t likely her. Madame Tracy and Shadwell were out enjoying a weekend in Edinburgh. That meant the caller was likely…
Oh no, Anathema thought. What now.
She stood and walked over to the phone. She looked as it rang again and picked it up. “Hello?” she said tentatively.
“Hello. Anathema?” a familiar kindly voice said. Her stomach sank.
“Yes. Hello, Aziraphale.”
“Hello! How are you my dear? I’ve got Mr. Crowley here with me.”
“Hi book girl,” Crawley said. “Other book girl. We’ve got multiple book girls now, it’s complicated.”
“I was doing fine, until you rang,” Anathema said. “I don’t suppose this is going to be ‘everything is great; just checking in and seeing if you’ve picked a date for the wedding yet’ call, is it?”
“No.” Aziraphale sounded rather downhearted. “Have you picked a date yet?”
“Not yet. Now what is this about?”
Crowley jumped in before Aziraphale could formulate what to say. “We’ve got a young woman here with us, name of Celia. She happens to be the Second Coming of the Lord incarnate. Or so she’s been told. She’d rather like to get away for awhile and sort it all out, yeah? And we were thinking she might come stay with you.”
Anathema let this sink in. She should have known better than to think after all of those years of being a professional descendant that a life of peace and quiet would come so easily. After all, Agnes had predicted this (more or less). Anathema sighed.
“Is there another attempted Apocalypse happening?”
“Um… possibly,” Aziraphale replied.
“Ugh. You two owe me. You have no idea how much you owe me. Bring her here. Newton and I… we’ll figure it out.”
“Thank you so much my dear! We’ll be there tomorrow. Bright and early. Ta!”
He hung up. Anathema thought about how she was going to tell Newton when he got home.
Celia was unwilling to go back to Allyson’s flat, afraid that if she spent the night there, Gabriel would find her. There wasn’t anything terribly important she needed - clothes would be nice but she could manage without them. It was most important she listen to the voice inside, the one that kept repeating run, run, run.
Aziraphale and Crowley decided it made the most sense to go somewhere where Heaven wouldn’t look for the night. And that was Crowley’s flat. Though Crowley had offered to have him over multiple times, Aziraphale had yet to take him up on the offer. It still made him nervous, somehow, even though the old battle lines between them had been dissolved. It was more to do with the feeling he got when he first started calling Crowley his friend (only very recently had he felt comfortable enough to add the superlative of best).
Crowley parked the Bentley in its usual space outside the flat. Perhaps it was everything else that was going on, but Celia wasn’t fazed by Crowley’s driving - much to Aziraphale’s surprise, Celia almost seemed to enjoy it.
The flat was pristine and minimalistic, cool and collected. Aziraphale and Celia stood awkwardly, looking around. With a snap of Crowley’s fingers, a long sofa and armchair appeared.
“Sorry, don’t entertain often,” Crowley said. Celia, suddenly drained from the day, fell face first into the couch and instantly fell asleep.
“Well, that’s that then,” Crowley shrugged. “Want a drink?”
“Please,” Aziraphale nodded. Crowley led him to an adjoining room, filled with a desk and throne-like chair. He snapped his fingers and another chair appeared, this one a plush, 19th century armchair. Aziraphale took a seat while Crowley opened a bottle of wine and poured them both a glass.
“I like your flat,” Aziraphale, taking the glass of wine from Crowley. “It’s lovely. Serene. Cool as a cucumber.”
“I don’t think anyone says that anymore, angel,” Crowley said. “But thank you. I’d give you a full tour but there’s not much to see.”
“No, please do. I’d like to see it regardless.”
Crowley showed him around, blushing more and more with the compliments Aziraphale showered on the aesthetic and the decor. They spent the most amount of time in the room filled with plants, Aziraphale reveling in their lushness.
“They’re absolutely exquisite,” he beamed. “However do you get them to grow like this?”
“I have my ways,” Crowley said proudly.
“Really, they’re incredible. Look at you beauties,” Aziraphale said. “So vibrant. So healthy. So -”
“That’s enough of that. Don’t get them conceited,” Crowley steered Aziraphale from the room. He leaned back in after the angel had left, hissing to the plants, “Don’t think I’m going any easier on you lot. Keep it up… or else.”
The plants trembled but also, deep in their roots, grew with a sort of self-satisfaction of impressing a guest.
Back in Crowley’s office, the two refilled their wine glasses and settled into their respective chairs.
“Really Crowley. I don’t know I didn’t stop by earlier,” Aziraphale proclaimed.
“Well, back then you were probably expecting sacrifices and animal hide.” Crowley slouched back and removed his glasses. “Not my style, really. To each their own, but blood starts to smell pretty fast.”
“I suppose it does.” Aziraphale gave a little sigh. “It’s odd, what our old sides thought suited us, isn’t it? I’ve much preferred finding my own atmosphere here.”
“Me too. You know, angel… you never told me how sterile Heaven feels.”
“Disinfected. Void of any misplaced hair or troubling thought. It’s… it’s not creepy, I like creepy. It’s… wrong, somehow.”
“Hell didn’t suit me any better. Crowded. Loud. Dimly lit and smelled of rotten potatoes.”
“Yeah! I’ve been trying to describe that scent for a millennia. Kind of fishy but moldy… That’s it exactly. To be perfectly honest, they’re both dreadful.”
“And yet here we are, back to having the two of them fighting.”
“Fighting over humanity, mostly. Seeing who can destroy us first.” Crowley drained his wine glass. “I wonder what my old lot’s going to think when they find out about Celia.”
“Whatever it is, it won’t be good. I mean…” Aziraphale frowned. “It’ll be bad for us. Taking her to Anathema… it’ll buy us time, but it’s not a solution.”
“No, it’s not. And I’m afraid this time there won’t be.” Crowley grabbed the bottle of wine. “More, angel?”
“Yes, thank you. If this anything like last time, I’m going to need to get thoroughly sloshed first.”
This chapter has some non-human characters drinking and deeper discussion of mental illness. (And I need to be more specific about triggers and sensitivities in the future, please let me know).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Celia awoke, alone and confused in a strange, spartan room. She stretched, slowly letting the situation set in and come back to her. She groaned, wishing it had all been a dream.
From another room, she heard slurred voices. She pushed herself off the couch and followed them into Crowley’s office. Aziraphale was perched on the edge of his chair while Crowley sat sideways in his, legs dangling over the armrest. A collection of empty wine bottles lay around them on the floor.
“You rather enjoyed that era, I think,” Crowley said. “Spent plenty of time talking about Oscar Wilde… didn’t you dance with him at that club of yours?”
“No, I never danced with Oscar Wilde. What a shame...He was such a dashing figure. But he never went to that club.”
“But you did meet him, right? You had to have met him?”
“I most certainly did. I went to opening for all his plays. He was most jovial person.” Aziraphale drained his glass, his eyes landing on Celia. “Celia, dear girl! Welcome!”
“Have a nice nap, book girl?” Crowley slurred.
“Yes. Got any wine left or have you chugging cherubs drank it all?”
“Chugging cherubs?” Aziraphale made something between a snort and a giggle.
“You’re weird, book girl. I like you.” Crowley made a glass appear and poured the remainder of a bottle into. “Don’t go trying to outdrink us. We could out drink you ‘til Judgement Day.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Celia replied. “Besides, I’m a one glass and done girl..”
“Why’s that?” Crowley seemed truly curious.
“I take SSRIs. They mess with that. I mean, they affect everyone differently but… I’m not the tallest human anyway so I already have a low tolerance...”
“SSRIs… Who’s responsible for those, you think?” Crowley asked.
“Humans, I should think,” Aziraphale said. “Neither side put much stock in science. A shame, really. Humans create the best things.”
“Absolutely. But I’m certain that Hastur had something to do with the pharmaceutical industry.”
“I’m sure he did.”
“A demon created the pharmaceutical industry?” Celia asked. “That explains a lot. Who’s responsible for mental illness I wonder?”
Aziraphale and Crowley considered this. They were a bit too drunk to formulate a complex response, but not drunk enough to understand the gravity of the question.
“I’m really not certain.” Aziraphale scrunched up his nose and thought. “There’s this line of free will that we give to humans. And… though we don’t always manage it as well as we should… this might be one of them. I mean, there’s the fight or flight response. That’s innate in human beings. But… might mental illness be something that’s created by society? Is it genetic? Is it chemical based? Is it all of these?”
“Largely chemical based, I should think,” Crowley said. “That’s why medication works.”
“But it’s more than that,” Aziraphale replied. “Things like therapy and meditation and other mental work help greatly. So do exercise and diet. It’s so innate in the body and yet so intangible and… I’m so sorry, my dear. I don’t know. I truly don’t know. I would like to think that my side had nothing to do with its creation. But… I think I know better now.”
There was a pause. Aziraphale put down his glass. “I don’t think I can manage any more, not if we’re moving to this topic.”
“Agreed,” Crowley said. “I had a thought earlier, angel. When book girl here was in the car, you could have just miracled her panic away, couldn’t you?”
“I don’t think I could,” Aziraphale said. “I mean… yes, I could have. It’s certainly do able. But would it have really helped? The fear would have just disappeared without a trace. It would have been better for Celia in the moment. But long term… would it have helped? What if it made it worse? What if it made her panic stronger?”
Aziraphale sighed. “Did I ever tell you about the time I met Vincent Van Gogh?” Crowley shook his head.
“You met Van Gogh?” Celia gasped.
Aziraphale nodded. “It was in his Paris years. When he was beginning to show larger signs of trouble. I, of course, am not Agnes Nutter and couldn’t predict what was coming. But I knew he was unwell. I… I tried to heal him. In little ways. Cure his colds. Stop his racing heart. It helped. For a while. But then… it grew too large for me to understand. It isn’t like a broken bone or a cut you can heal. You can’t just set the mind right and let it go. Besides, I can’t meddle much with the human mind. Some angels could - archangels like Gabriel, perhaps. Not that I’d want them meddling. But if I tried too hard, I might hurt whomever it was I was trying it on. My understanding… my understanding of the human mind has grown because humans have learned to better understand it. Maybe now, if I tried the right sort of miracle, it might help. But… oh, I really feel quite worthless. Gabriel had a saying… humans made their problems; now they have to fix it. I can respect not wanting a Deus Ex Machina to swoop in and save the day but… they’ve done so much to create these issues for humans. To make these problems arise. Who cares which side is to blame for mental illness when they’re the ones who made fear in the first place?”
Aziraphale was a bit breathless. “Sorry,” he said, calming himself. “I rather liked Vincent. Losing him was terribly hard.”
“Amen to all of that,” Celia said gently. “I’m constantly torn between wanting a miracle cure or a miracle drug and having it all gone, and feeling it’s not that simple. In the moment, at my most anxious, I always want it gone. Miracling it away sounds wonderful. But...even if you could just wave your hand and get rid of the symptoms or get rid of anxiety all together… I’m not sure what that would be like. It’s a part of me. I’m not happy about it, but it’s a fact. It’s part of who I am. And to have that gone… people talk about a cure. I don’t think there’s a cure. I think there’s coping and making this world a better place, to make it easier to live with conditions like this. But easy for me to say. I’m medicated, I’ve been through therapy… there were days before that, when I was at rock bottom, swearing at God and wondering why they hell they made me like this. What kind of God would create creatures with anxiety?”
“What kind of God indeed?” Crowley muttered.
“So I did the right thing then?” Aziraphale asked.
“Yes. You did the right thing,” Celia replied.
“Still worrying about that, eh?” Crowley said.
“Only as it pertains to our plan. To us.”
Crowley stared at him. “Say more about that. Us. Our plan.”
“Well… it would behove us to set a sort of… guiding principles, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Excellent. Three bottles of wine later and let’s create the bedrock of our moral compass.”
“I’ve only had the glass,” Celia said. “I’m perfectly capable of moralizing.”
“Have I mentioned I like you?” Crowley said.
“You did. I’m appreciating the change of heart since the bookshop. I imagine the wine helps.”
“Nah. Well… maybe. But it’s more that you’ve been through this much and you’re still fighting. I respect that. And anyone who cares about keeping this world as far away from the Apocalypse as possible is fine by me.”
“Right,” Aziraphale said. “So… I think we can all agree that our respective sides have not been very helpful in this world, yes?”
“You can say that again,” Crowley growled.
“And humans have… well, certain many faults. But they’ve also got a lot of wonderful qualities we’d rather not see consumed in fire and brimstone.”
“Much appreciated,” Celia said. “Perhaps we ought to be fighting for the greater good - I mean, a good greater than what Heaven and Gabriel can conceive. The kind of good that comes from real change and work and acceptance. From getting into the murkiness and getting dirty and shaking things up. The kind of love for all things that inspires and connects and an intolerance for pain and fear and violence. The sort of things Heaven and Hell were supposed to be fighting over all along.”
“Not bad, book girl,” Crowley smiled. “Not bad at all.”
“Hmm,” Celia smiled. “I’m philosophizing with angels over wine. I’m living the dream.”
“Technically, I’m fallen,” Crowley remarked.
“And I’m a perpetual disappointment,” Aziraphale added.
“Still angels. And I’m still human. Actually, isn’t it a bit odd that I can badmouth God and not choke up? Or be smote?”
“Well, like I said, book girl,” Crowley said. “You’re weird.” He refilled the wine glasses and held his up. “To the Greater Good.”
“To the Ineffable Plan,” Aziraphale added.
“To the World,” Celia said and they toasted. Celia drank and missed the look of surprise and tenderness that passed between Aziraphale and Crowley.
It's gala night at the theater where I work so it's busy but also lots of hurry up and wait. So you're getting lots of extra chapters from me today!
The next morning dawned too soon. Despite her nap the day before, Celia was still feeling drained and a bit ragged. Begrudgingly, she got up, trying not to think too hard about the day to come. Celestial beings didn’t need sleep but Crowley certainly enjoyed it and was disappointed to find himself awake long before he preferred to be. Aziraphale, feeling a bit jittery, curled up in a chair and read until early morning. Though Crowley swore he didn’t read, the demon had a suspicious number of books in his home (most of them were about Queen, which Aziraphale decided he should peruse).
He was halfway through a Freddie Mercury biography when Celia, blinking against the daylight, stumbled into the room.
“Morning!” he said cheerfully. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, but I could use another ten years of it. Where’s Crowley?”
“Getting some shut eye himself, I expect.” Aziraphale held the book he’d been reading up to her. “Did you know Freddie Mercury had a vocal range on par with many opera singers? He could sing over three octaves.”
“I did,” Celia answered. “He was incredible.”
“Without a doubt. I’m beginning to understand why Crowley admires him so much.”
“Crowley has good taste. But best not tell him I said that. I kind of enjoy this sense of fake disdain we have for each other.”
“He said he likes you though,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“Yes, he did say that. Several times. Because he’d drank several bottles of wine. But I’ve put his favorite person in danger, and he’s not going to forgive me for that any time soon.”
“His favorite person?”
Celia stared at him. “You, obviously.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s right. I’m not… I mean… His favorite person is…”
“Aziraphale,” Celia interrupted. “You are a sweet and wonderful person… angel… whatever. But you’re a bit dense sometimes.”
“I…” Aziraphale was at a loss for words. “How can you know that? You hardly know him… me… us.”
“It’s pretty obvious, to be honest,” Celia said. “I mean… I know he saved you from the prisons of France and then you ate crepes.”
“How did you - ”
“I know you went to Scotland together.”
“No, we… we haven’t.”
“Oh… yes. Yes, that hasn’t happened yet. I… oh wow. Suddenly I know things. I know a lot of things. I might have to start writing them down.” Celia flurried around an office, looking for a pen and paper.
“Are these… prophetic things?”
“Yes. It’s like… before, I only knew things when someone asked. But now it’s like a door opened. I felt something and now… oh my God… there’s so much I know.”
She sat down and furiously began writing.
“Is there - “ Aziraphale began to say.
“Uh-huh. No talking. Only writing.” Celia buried her head back in the papers.
Feeling confused and otherwise unhelpful, Aziraphale went into the kitchen and began making tea. Crowley came in a few minutes later, rubbing his eyes.
“What’s up with book girl?” he asked.
“She seems to be having some kind of prophetic breakthrough.” Aziraphale took the kettle off the stove and poured the boiling water into three mugs.
“Huh,” Crowley said. “That seems new. What’s changed?”
“I haven’t the slightest. She was saying something… about you… and then it hit her all at once.”
“Huh. Well then. What did she say about me?”
“She said -”
Aziraphale reached out to hand Crowley his mug of tea. Crowley reached out at the same moment to grab it and their hands met, Crowley’s brushing Aziraphale’s. They froze for a moment, Crowley’s hands cupping around Aziraphale’s holding the mug. A strange energy swept through Aziraphale, and the mug slipped from his grasp. Crowley caught it in his hands, clutching it instinctively.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” Aziraphale said. “How clumsy of me.” He felt his face flushing. What had just happened between them? What was happening now?
“It’s fine, angel. I…” Was Crowley blushing? “I’ll go check on book girl.” He grabbed another cup of tea and left the room.
Something felt tight in Aziraphale’s chest. It wasn’t as intense as the tightness as when he’d given Crowley the thermos of holy water back in the 70s or when he’d fought with him in the park. But it was a similar sensation, of losing something but also needing something. Of reaching out and grabbing only air. It was the reason he was too afraid to Crowley how he felt when they had dinner together, how it felt to see him speed through London at breakneck speed and change with every whim of fashion. Crowley could brush by and hurtle into the future, but Aziraphale was always grounded and stepping out of the past.
He’d been afraid before, afraid that Crowley might just walk away one day or that he would lose him to a darker fate. That Aziraphale too would just become part of the past. But every time he saw him, year after year, century after century, the same deep love that had been planted in Crowley ever since Aziraphale had told the demon he’d given away his flaming sword in the Garden of Eden only grew. It was terrifying to be able to feel that love, to sense it, and yet doubt it at every turn. To believe that it couldn’t possibly work because they were so different, because they were on opposing sides. Instead of recognizing the love, he downplayed it and ignored it. He decided it was just more of his shortcomings of being an angel that he couldn’t even properly sense emotion. What angel would ever believe a demon loved him? What kind of angel would think that?
Things had changed though. The lines drawn between Heaven and Hell no longer mattered. Perhaps it was time to process what he’d repressed for so long. Aziraphale gave himself a moment to breath, to close his eyes and flex his hands, remembering how it felt to have Crowley’s hands on his. Then he followed it, back into the other precious memories he had of Crowley. Ones he once had guilted himself for. If he didn’t know better it felt like he loved -
He loved Crowley. How long had he known this and never put words to it? At least since World War Two, he reasoned, since Crowley had pulled a demonic miracle and saved a collection of precious books. Perhaps before that - perhaps since Revolutionary France when he’d come to the jail? He was unsure. But it had happened. And now, decades or centuries later, his mind had finally caught up with his heart.
The world nearly ending the first time had gotten him to admit Crowley was his friend. And now the second time… now the second time… If he no longer ignored what he felt and what Crowley felt, if he let himself have what he’d longed for and craved for so long, there was no going back. He would finally have to move his feet from where he’d grounded himself, froze himself.
“What a fool I am,” Aziraphale whispered and went to join the others in the office.
After a brief and somewhat awkward breakfast, the three of them climbed into the Bentley and set out for Tadfield. Celia was still scribbling away, although far less furiously than she had in the morning. About fifteen minutes into their trip, Celia sighed and sat the notebook aside.
“Well, that was something,” she said. “Don’t know what that was about. Making up for lost time maybe?”
“Dunno, but if you do it again, can you warn us first?” Crowley growled. He’d had to carry her out to the Bentley as she’d refused to stop writing and he was still rather disgruntled.
“What are your prophecies like?” Aziraphale asked her.
“They’re a bit like instructions. Like if you were to cut up pieces of an instruction manual and throw them up in the air, then try to put them into some kind of pattern that made sense… that’s what I’ve got.”
“Give us one,” Aziraphale said.
“Okay.” Celia chose one at random. “November 21, 2020 - bring macarons to the wedding of a Witch and a Luddite. Dress warmly.”
“I believe we’ve just found the date for Newt and Anathema’s wedding,” Aziraphale said. “Well done, Celia.”
“Is Newton really a Luddite though?” Crowley asked. “He doesn’t hate computers. He just breaks them. Constantly.”
“Yes, but Celia doesn’t know Newton so… perhaps that’s the easiest way for her to put it. Give us another.”
“Uh…. Okay. This one’s for today. June 29, 2019. Before the sun goes down, reveal all that is within. Truth shall reveal truth. Open one’s heart and be vulnerable.”
“Well… that’s incredibly non-specific,” Crowley replied.
“The thing is,” Celia said, “I think several of these prophecies are about the same person. Or at least, will make sense to the same person.”
Aziraphale swore her eyes were boring into the back of his head. “Well, that’s incredibly convenient,” he murmured.
“Only if she knows the person it’s relevant to,” Crowley added.
“Hey, don’t knock my prophesizing. I have limited control over it at the moment, give me a chance to grow into it.”
“Do you know the person it’s relevant to, though?” Crowley asked.
“Um… yes? I think I do.”
“Could you confirm it with 100% certainty?”
“Does anything have 100% certainty? And no, because I know some of these prophecies are about the same person but I don’t know which ones out of the hundred I wrote this morning fall under that category.”
“Ugh, this is the problem with prophets,” Crowley groaned. “They have all this material but no way to connect it. It’s really an oversight.”
“Yeah, I’ll just tell Gabriel next time I see him, shall I?”
“Hopefully you won’t be seeing him anytime soon,” Aziraphale said.
“Yeah, me either,” Crowley grimaced. “He’s a piece of work.”
They drove on in silence until the question pressing up in Aziraphale’s throat was too much to bear.
“What did they have planned for me? Up there? What was my punishment going to be?”
Crowley was silent.
“You can tell me. Was it banishment? Adding to the fallen angels? Crowley please, I have to know.”
“Burning in hellfire,” Crowley said slowly. “Gabriel expected you just to walk into the fire without a trial. Willingly. To let yourself burn, to be murdered for him because it was what he expected of you.”
A heavy stillness fell over the Bentley. Despite the fact they were doing well over 80 miles an hour, there was a deep hush over the motor and interior of the vehicle.
Crowley finally broke it. “If I see him again, angel, I will kill him. Believe me. No one deserves that treatment. Least of all you.”
Aziraphale soundlessly tried to form words. After a moment, he said, “I certainly hope it never comes to that. But thank you, Crowley, for telling me. I… I needed to know.”
Celia was scribbling something in the backseat again. “I have a theory,” she said. “It’s beginning to sound like Gabriel is… a bad angel.”
“Indeed,” Aziraphale agreed.
“How can I trust what he told me? About the Second Coming? I mean… what if it’s not Heaven that’s using me? What if it’s Hell? What if… what if I’m something other than they say and I… I don’t know… I’m being forced into something I’m not?”
“You can always choose, Celia,” Aziraphale told her. “No matter what, it is ultimately your choice. Neither Heaven nor Hell can make you chose a fate you don’t. It’s the power of free will. And if it is your will, it will be.”
Crowley smiled at reached over to turn on the radio. Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” began playing. Aziraphale glanced at him.
“What?” Crowley shrugged. “I thought we needed a little mood music.”
Aziraphale smiled at him. After a moment, he decided to do something brave - or foolish. He reached out and rested his hand on Crowley’s. The energy from the morning was back, but it was different. Softer, sweeter, melodious. Crowley did not pull away. Instead, he took Aziraphale’s hand in his and held it, in between shifting gears, all the way to Tadfield. In the backseat, a sly smile crossed Celia’s face as she furiously wrote, the scratching of her pen across the paper overwhelmed by Freddie Mercury’s over three octave range.
This chapter is dedicated to my friend who is actually getting married on that date in November of 2020. I think I might have to bring you macarons now :)
Somewhere, in the universe, in an unspecified sector of Heaven, Gabriel paced. He did not like waiting. He preferred quick results and sudden answers. When he had been in charge of creating the world, he had made sure that nothing took too long to come together. He had excelled at single-cell organisms, algae, and certain fungi. He had particularly enjoyed making rocks as well. They were blissfully simple, rocks. You pieced together just the right molecules and, bang, you had quartz.
He’d also been a very efficient messenger. When he’d been asked to explain Daniel’s visions, he’d done so simply and quickly. When he’d had to tell Mary that her child was the Messiah, he didn’t beat around the bush. Some criticized his lack of tact and bedside manner, so to speak, but you couldn’t say he didn’t get the job done and have time to spare to give some mundane task to Aziraphale or one of the other principalities.
The fact that he’d failed such efficiency with his message to Celia vexed him greatly. Never before had he had a recipient flee, let alone disappear without a trace. She was entirely untrackable. Which didn’t make sense. Humans were easily trackable. That was the one good thing about them. But he and Michael had found nothing going through the back-logs of the Earth surveillance files. She’d stepped out of the church and effectively disappeared.
He’d asked Michael to comb back further, which had turned up some interesting evidence. There was an image of Celia walking into Aziraphale’s bookshop in Soho several times in one week. He’d asked Uriel to stop by and Uriel had found the shop shuttered and barred. He was running out of ideas. But there was one he hadn’t tried quite yet.
Cooperation between Heaven and Hell was frowned upon most days but, here of late, it had its benefits. With a fiery crackle, Beelzebub, lord of Hell appeared. Their expression was dour and their eyes dark.
“Whatever this is, Gabriel, it had better be important. We were in the middle of our quarterly reporting.”
“I do hate have taken you away from that,” Gabriel said, giving them a false smile. “I do hope all is good in your set of affairs.”
“It’s hell; it’s never good. What is this about, anyway?”
“Let me give you a brief summary. As we discussed in our last summit, I’ve found a woman who’s to be our fall guy. I was in the middle of briefing her and she ran out on me. Now, here’s the odd thing - I can’t locate her. What I do know is that she has been seen fraternizing with our mutual enemy, Aziraphale. Which means Crawley can’t be far behind. My question for you is if you have had any contact with Crowley since the… Incident.”
Beelzebub shuddered. “We most certainly have not had contact with the demon Crowley.”
“I have a follow-up question for you. As much as I would rather never again deal with these defectors again, it would behove us both to find the girl and, presumably, them, and be rid of all three. We don’t need the girl to come willingly - we just need her fall.”
“Agreed,” Beelzebub said. “What’s your plan, then?”
“In the past, I’ve used agents to track people. But, as they say, if you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. I was considering that, perhaps, for the moment, our collective sides might call a truce and track down this trio together.”
“A truce,” Beelzebub repeated. “I will have to take it up with a higher authority. Won’t you -”
Gabriel waved his hands and shook his head. “I don’t think there’s any need for that. I’ve got free reign to do what I need to do here. Let’s say this - meet me in London tomorrow at Aziraphale’s bookshop. If you show, we track them down together. If not, I’ll assume you haven’t gotten clearance. Regardless, they will be found and taken care of. Agreed?” He held out his hand.
Beelzebub shook it firmly. “Agreed. Let’s end the world once and for all.”
By late morning, the Bentley was pulling into Tadfield, swiftly winding down the curving roads. It came to a stop outside Jasmine Cottage, pulling off into the shoulder. Crowley parked, turned off the car and looked at Aziraphale.
“Well,” the demon said. “Here we are again.”
“It seems all things lead back to Tadfield,” Aziraphale replied. “I do wonder why that is.”
“Because it’s loved,” Celia said and climbed out of the car. The two occult (or as Aziraphale preferred, ethereal) beings paused and stared at each other. Celia peered back into the car. “C’mon. I want to meet my sister.”
“What?” Crowley cried.
“Not that kind of sister,” Celia said, marching towards the house. Aziraphale and Crowley briskly followed.
“Weird book girl is getting weirder,” Crowley hissed.
“You don’t say.”
They approached the cottage, Crowley and Aziraphale lingering back, wondering which of them should knock. They needn't have decided - Celia was already tapping on the door, looking strangely eager.
The door creaked open. Anathema stood, cool and poised as always. She was dressed as she always had, in a mix between fashionista and forest witch, which quite frankly was exactly what she was.
“Hello,” she said. “I wish I could say it’s good to see you, but under the circumstances…”
“Yeah, it’s a bit weird,” Crowley said. “A lot of weird. Seems to be the word of the day.”
“We do apologize for intruding on your weekend,” Aziraphale said. “I hope we aren’t interrupting any plans?”
“No, fortunately,” Anathema said. “I’ve had to get used to actually planning things on my own, without Agnes’s prophecies. But Newt and I didn’t have anything going on. Would you like to come in?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “And we’d like you to meet Celia. Celia, this is Anathema. Anathema this is -”
“Sister,” Celia said. “Sister of the coven. I have come to seek refuge and learn your ways. I… eh… that’s all I know. Sorry. Not sure how I know it but you know… it’s like when you merge files on a computer and you’ve got all this scattered information you’re supposed to sort through? It’s not going well at the moment.”
“Oh my God,” Anathema said. “You’re a witch.”
“I am?” Celia thought about it. “Oh yes. So I am. That explains a few things. Hopefully.”
“You’re a witch too?” Crowley cried. “Oh Satan spare me…”
“How long have you known?” Aziraphale asked.
“I only just realized,” Celia admitted. “I didn’t know until we got here that I had a link to Anathema and now… yes I must be a witch. That’s how I know these things. It’s why I can see backwards and forwards and so on. It’s been dormant and now… now it’s woken up.”
Anathema sighed. “Please come in. I’m afraid there’s something I need to tell you all.”
They came into the kitchen. Newton Pulsifer was standing in front of the stove, an apron tied around his waist, pulling out a pan from the oven.
“Hello,” he said. “I’ve made a cake. It’s only just come out so it’ll need to cool a bit.”
“Lovely,” Aziraphale smiled.
Anathema crossed the room to a small box settled on a shelf in the wall. She opened the box and pulled out a small charred piece of paper.
“Oh no,” Newton said.
“Oh yes,” Anathema replied. She turned to Crowley, Aziraphale, and Celia. “After… After Adam, we received a box. In it contained further nice and accurate prophecies from Agnes. I… I decided that being a descendant was no longer in my future so I destroyed them. Or tried to. They all burned… except this one.” She handed the slip of paper to Celia.
“‘Hear ye,’” Celia read. “‘In the year of 2019, a witch more powerful than I will rise. She will see beyond the scope of time with prophecies and knowledge beyond compare. Celia, thou art stronger than you know. Keep thine wits about thee and thine devil and angel on thy shoulder. And a word of advice: create an index.’
“That’s impressive,” Celia said. “That’s impressive indeed.”
“I believe we can safely assume this is about you?” Anathema asked
Celia nodded. “I’m a little overwhelmed though… am I that powerful? I mean… Agnes wrote that whole book…”
“You know about the book?” Crowley asked.
“She knows the past and the future,” Anathema gestured at the paper slip.
“Right…” Celia said. “And that’s… that’s not what Agnes did?”
“Agnes was brilliant, don’t get me wrong,” Anathema said. “She wrote the most accurate book of prophecy in the world. But she couldn't see all of time at once. You can.”
“Is she… is she a timelord?” Newton asked. Anathema stared at him.
“No,” she said. “But… if it helps to understand it...?”
“Oh.” He was a bit disappointed.
“I… I’m overwhelmed,” Celia said. “My mind feels… very full. Like it might explode. And I’m a little dizzy. I…”
“I’ll get you a cup of tea,” Newton jumped up and grabbed the kettle.
“The thing is, Celia, if you weren’t overwhelmed, it’d be concerning,” Anathema said. “You’re human. It’s a lot to have happen all at once. When I found out I was a witch, I was a child and I had an entire training regime to handle those responsibilities. You haven’t.”
“But I… what if I’m not entirely human?” Celia asked.
“What do you mean?”
“We did mention it. On the phone,” Aziraphale said. “She’s divinely… touched, or something.”
As Newton handed out cups of tea and slices of cake, Crowley, Aziraphale, and Celia did their best to explain what had happened since Gabriel had arranged the meeting in the church.
“That’s what’s overwhelming,” Celia explained. “I’m going from human with some weird traits to some kind of divinely-endowed being and a witch. It’s… it’s more than I can handle, I think.”
“You can handle it. You already are,” Anathema assured her. “You’ll be safe here - for the time being at least. Until I can teach you a few things you need to know. And then… then we’ll figure out what’s happening and we’ll stop the Apocalypse.”
“Just like we did before,” Newton said. Anathema looked at him and they shared a smile.
“Ooh! I almost forgot. Congratulations!” Celia cried. “November is a lovely month to be married. I’m wishing you all the best.”
“But we…” Newton began to say. He swallowed and laughed. “It’s hard to keep things a surprise around here with you lot.”
Anathema wrapped an arm around him. “Surprises are overrated. As a retired descendant, you learn to get used to it.”
Crowley was having a moment. Actually, he was having several moments simultaneously. Part of his mind was still back in the car with Aziraphale’s hand resting on his. Another part was thinking about that morning in the kitchen and how much he’d wanted to hold the angel in his arms, press Aziraphale’s head against his chest and breathe in the scent of his hair. Another part was trying to process what was happening next - not just with Celia and her new-found powers, but also what was happening with Aziraphale.
He was too close. Being this close was overwhelming. Crowley had never felt anything like it. To feel so drawn to someone you thought you might drown in them. To feel dangled on a string waiting to be pulled in - or dropped. He was waiting for a sign - anything to tell him what he needed to know. He was afraid of going too far, of making Aziraphale feel uncomfortable, of overstepping a boundary or losing him altogether. Aziraphale wasn’t fragile in the slightest (others like Gabriel might call him soft but his soft edges and tenderness was his strength. Crowley knew the angel had a heart as strong as steel). But Crowley didn’t want to push and prod and force him somewhere he didn’t want to go. But the demon did wish he would give him something to go on - anything. The waiting was excruciating - and if the world was going to end (again) Crowley wasn’t going to face it without getting some kind of answer to what he’d longed to know for so long.
On top of that, the tables had turned now. He and Aziraphale were no longer the ones with any kind of answers for Celia. She was a prophet, possibly bordering omniscient. To say this made Crowley a bit nervous was a gross understatement. He was frankly terrified what she might come to know.
“Right then,” Crowley said after the conversation had lulled. “Book girl is safe here. For now. But do we have any inkling what sort of Apocalypse might be coming this time?”
Newton sighed. “I can’t believe there’s more than one.”
“I can’t quite see. Not yet,” Celia replied. “But I know where we might look. Anathema, do you have a copy of the Bible?”
Anathema nodded and walked into another room to retrieve it.
“You think the answer’s in there?” Aziraphale asked.
Celia raised an eyebrow. “Of course it is. Really, what kind of angel are you?”
“Well, it might be another text, couldn't it? We’ve already had the book of Revelations apocalypse.”
“Or one interpretation of it, at least,” Celia said.
Anathema brought in the Bible, and Celia flipped through it until she found a particular passage in Revelations. “Yes, here it is,” Celia said. “So there’s the part with the four horsemen and the Great Beast and so on. But there’s an additional part. The Beast is defeated. And then there’s the Second Coming. Then there’s this bit about how Satan is released, ‘to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth” and there’s another war - the final war - and Heaven has judgement and casts those who are God’s enemies into a great Lake of Fire.”
“There’s just one problem,” Crowley said. “The first part with the horsemen and such… it didn’t happen. It wasn’t successful.”
“Right, and that’s the point, isn’t it?” Anathema argued. “They ignore the first bit and only focus on the latter - the Second Coming, Satan starting a war, the fire lake, that sort of thing. Besides, the Great Beast was defeated, more or less. He ceased to exist so that essentially counts.”
“Yes,” Celia agreed. “That’s it then. It’s basically like shutting down a computer device and rebooting to install an update. Apocalypse 1.0 crashed, so let’s load in 2.0.”
“Oh heavens,” Aziraphale said. “I’m not sure I completely follow that analogy but… I suppose it’s possible.”
“Sounds like something that lot would do,” Crowley sneered. “I can just hear Gabriel, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea. Let’s just rebrand, try a merger and…'” Crowley trailed off. “A merger. That’s it isn’t it? What was it I said? After the last one?”
“The last what?” Aziraphale asked.
“The last Apocalypse? What else?”
“You said a lot of things…”
“Yes, yes. I mean in the park. After I said both sides would leave us alone for a while.”
“Oh. You said… the next time, it would be all of them against us.”
“Yes. And so it is. Celia, do any of your lucky prophecies say anything about the forces of Heaven and Hell working together?”
“I’ll check,” Celia said. She rifled through her notebook until she found it. “‘In the summer of the end, the first angel and the lord of flies will join hands to make them suffer.’ Damn. I don’t even remember writing that one now…”
“Is there any advice? Anything else?” Crowley pressed.
“Only this. ‘Hide from many eyes. Run from those fleet of foot. Speak with a voice greater than the great.’”
“Well. Bloody lot of good that is,” Crowley rolled his eyes.
“Have you any inkling what our next steps are, Celia?” Aziraphale asked. “What it is we’re next meant to do?”
“Yes,” Celia said. “Wait.”
Crowley groaned and face-planted into the table.
Gabriel stood inside of Aziraphale’s bookshop, inhaling deeply.
“It smells evil,” he said aloud.
“Of course it does, you idiot,” Beelzebub said. “I’m here.”
“It’s not you. It’s a different kind of evil. It smells… It smells like leather and whiskey.”
“There’s only one demon who smells like that,” Beelzebub replied. “Crowley.”
“He’s been here then. Of course he has. We already knew that.”
“But… there is something else… a sort of incense-y scent,” Beelzebub observed. “It must be - “
“It’s the girl.” Gabriel sounded bored. “Her name is on the account logs. Why are you finding things we already know?”
“Because,” Beelzebub explained, “it’s important to be thorough and -”
“That was rhetorical; I wasn’t asking for an answer.”
“Well, maybe you might try using your eyes to find answers rather than your nose.”
Silence fell between them as they sorted through the odds and ends in the bookshop. Occasionally Gabriel would make a muffled sound, somewhere between a grunt and a laugh.
“Why do humans like these possessions? They make no sense,” Gabriel held up a book with green linen cover with an intricate tree gilded in gold thread.
“Generally they’re liked because they contain knowledge. Or stories,” Beelzebub replied. “I’ve never understood the appeal myself.”
“Humans are so simple,” Gabriel sighed.
Beelzebub felt inclined to argue - especially given Tadfield Adam and his refusal to take part in the Apocalypse - but it was far more reassuring to believe that being an occult figure made you far more intelligent and superior. As much as Beelzebub wanted to take Gabriel down a notch or two, it also meant taking themselves down. And they weren't going to stand for that.
Beelzebub stared at Aziraphale’s desk, noticing a photo pinned to the board behind. It was of a man and a woman, sitting close together and holding hands. “Christmas 2018!” the card read. “Happy Holidays from Newton and Anathema.”
“Look,” they said, gesturing to Gabriel. “Those two. Don’t they seem familiar somehow?”
Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “Not particularly. But… hmmm. I do seem to recall one of them. The woman. Was she in Tadfield? At the air base?”
“I believe so,” Beelzebub smirked. “Maybe our least favorite demon and angel have reconnected with some human accomplices.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Gabriel said. “It’s time to track down the Traitors.”
“Yes,” Beelzebub acquiesced. “But you do the honors.”
“What? No. I hate tracking Aziraphale down. He’s always eating… or thinking. It makes me nauseous .”
“Well I don’t like finding Crawley any better. He killed one of us with holy water, lest you forget.”
“Are you scared of them?” Gabriel goaded. “You? A lord of hell scared of a couple of witless turncoats?”
“I’m not scared! I’m just… uneasy.” Beelzebub drew a deep breath. “Fine. I’ll do it. But next time, you do the dirty work.”
“I’m an angel; I never do the dirty work.”
They snapped their fingers and both Gabriel and Beelzebub disappeared.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” Celia said, finishing the last of her tea. “I’m going to spend the rest of the day learning about witchcraft and trying to understand what the hell or heaven or… whatever is going on in my brain. You two... “ She smiled at Aziraphale and Crowley. “Why don’t you two go on that picnic you’ve been wanting to have for ages?”
“How did you -” Aziraphale began and stopped himself. “Right. Prophet. It is a rather good way to put to use such a lovely day, don’t you think?”
He turned to Crowley, who was holding a thick quilt and a large picnic basket. “Little demonic miracle for you. Let’s leave them to it, shall we?”
Aziraphale gave him an awestruck smile and they walked out into the midsummer sunshine.
“If they come back in less than an hour, give them another bottle of wine and send them back out there,” Celia instructed. “They have an awful lot they need to discuss and, while I love them dearly, I need to focus without them mucking things up.”
“You think they’d muck things up?” Newton asked, heating up more water for tea. “They seem on top of stuff enough.”
“Oh, yeah, they’re on top of how much they want to avoid the Apocalypse,” Celia said. “And I’m right there with them. Except for the minor fact that I’ve pissed off an archangel and the only reason he hasn’t found me and smote me yet is likely because I’ve got more magic mojo going on than I’m aware of. So.” Celia turned to Anathema. “I need to know everything.”
“Everything?” Anathema repeated.
“Everything you can tell me about witchcraft. We’ve got… hopefully two hours. Maybe less. It depends. My sense of time is all wonky. I need to know how I became like this and what I can do and how I can control it. So let’s start now.”
“Right,” Anathema said.” Okay… okay, right. So witchcraft generally runs in family lines. Agnes Nutter is an ancestor of mine and there’s always been some kid of witchy-ness in the family… since forever. Hedge witches, kitchen witches, you name it. My family specializes in divination. You’ve have that. But you’ve also got a lot more.”
“But where did it begin? How did humans have access to this?”
Anathema shrugged. “No one knows. There’s different lore. Different stories, depending on region, the source, so on. There’s the idea that witchcraft came from the Devil, that it’s dark magic bestowed by demons. Obviously wrong. Then there’s the idea that it’s pagan, that’s connected to something older, different gods or different beings. There’s something to that, I think. My mother always had a different story - one I’ve never heard of anywhere else. She talked about these beings in the Old Testament, mentioned more in Hebrew texts, about the Nephilim. They were these ethereal beings - beautiful giants, who were created when angels came to earth and slept with humans. They were said to be great heroes but... they were all destroyed during the Great Flood.”
“Why?” Celia asked.
“I don’t know. Some say that the Nephilim were too powerful and God no longer wanted her spirit to abide in mortals. Other say the Nephilim were actually the offspring of fallen angels - demons - and they had to be eradicated. Either way, they weren't supposed to exist. But… my mother always swore they had. And that traces of their blood and magic still pop in from time to time.”
“Do you… do you think…” Celia stuttered.
“I have no idea,” Anathema replied. “I suppose you’d have to find a Nephilim and ask them. And that’s impossible.”
“Are Nephilim actually mentioned in the Bible?” Newton asked, picking up Anathema’s worn copy and studying it.
“They are. Well, at least in some translations. King James just has them listed as giants. But the Hebrew Bible and the New American both keep them as Nephilim.”
“Huh,” Newton said thoughtfully.
“What is it?” Anathema studied him. Newton wasn’t as talkative as her, but she was starting to learn when he was thinking about something important.
“It’s just… well, hearing that. It makes me think about the Norse legends. You know? With the Jotun, who were like gods but actually giants…”
“Yes,” Anathema agreed. “Yes, there’s something to that.”
“There’s so much overlap with religions, really,” Celia said. “If you let go a little bit of dogma and credo and begin to see it as more metaphorical… there are so many lines between things. Nearly every culture has a flood narrative. Most cultures have stories about some kind of demon. Creation myths, myths about betrayal, myths about rebirth… they’re everywhere.”
“We’re all just stories in the end, aren’t we?” Newton agreed.
“I had no idea you were such a Doctor Who fan,” Anathema marveled.
“He had a TARDIS lamp for a while,” Celia offered. “It broke when a computer exploded. He always wanted another one. Okay, how am I doing this?”
“It’s like you’re reading my mind,” Newton gaped at her.
“Right. Think about how you track what you know, Celia,” Anathema offered. “You’re not just pulling it out of thin air. When you give us information, it’s connected to something. What is it connected to?”
“Well, I started when Aziraphale was talking about Crowley and I felt what he was feeling… what he was… it’s feelings. It’s feelings, yes! I was feeling what Newton was feeling about Doctor Who and I… I got a glimpse of his memories there.”
“That’s incredible,” Anathema said.
“Will that help explain how I’m doing this?”
Anathema shook her head. “We’ll probably never know how you’re doing what you do. I certainly only understand twenty percent of my magic. Agnes maybe understood sixty percent at best. It’s a bit like brain space, you know? We only use a tiny bit of what we have available. With magic, we can only track so much. My great-great grandmother used to say that if we could completely understood our magic, it would drive us mad. So no witch can truly understand it or know her full power, or it’ll drive her to destruction.”
“Do you think different emotions will give you different things?” Newton asked.
“Probably,” Celia said. “I imagine… I imagine if I were to track it, love might give me the most unique and varied responses. Anger, however, seems rather limiting. But I’ll take what I can get. Somehow, though, I’m still confused. Many of these prophecies are coming without emotions. Do they just happen?”
“Yes,” Anathema said. “They did for Agnes.”
“Some just have that kind of gift. And you do.”
“But why now?”
“Gabriel gave you an answer - because you’re the Second Coming. But you don’t seem keen on believing it.”
“I’ve trusted my gut my entire life and it just doesn’t feel right.”
“Well,” Anathema said. “The other option is that it’s all part of a plan we don’t understand and things are falling into place just as they should.”
“If any one of you says it’s ineffable,” a buzzing voice said, “I’ll kill you all.”
Well, we've reached novella length at this point and I'm still going full steam ahead so I think it's safe to say this fic is an extremely long sequel no one asked for. Thank you for humoring me regardless.
While Celia was educating herself on witchcraft in the cottage, Aziraphale and Crowley had gone past the garden gate into the meadow behind the cottage for their picnic. It was so idyllic it made the evil bits in Crowley twist and turn. The problem with being in love (especially as a demon) was that it made you feel wonderful and pissed off at the same time.
“Oh, isn’t this lovely!” Aziraphale exclaimed. He’d set himself delicately upright on the blanket, legs crossed at the ankles, arms pressing into the earth. Crowley had thrown himself sideways, one leg cocked upwards, the other sprawled out across the worn cotton quilt. One arm propped up his head while another fiddled with blades of grass he’d ripped up. C’mon, angel. Give me a sign. Take me, a voice inside him whispered, louder and louder.
Aziraphale uncorked the wine and poured two glasses. He handed one to Crowley.
“You know,” he said, “I always wanted us to have a picnic. But I never thought it would be in Tadfield, outside a witch’s house.”
“Life has a way of surprising you,” Crowley agreed.
“Croissant?” Aziraphale held out the buttery pastry. Crowley took his and inhaled it in ten seconds flat, while Aziraphale gingerly took small bites of his, savoring every crumb.
“Mhmm,” he sighed. “The French really do know their baking.”
“Angel,” Crowley said. “What are we doing?”
“Well, I’d rather say we’re trying to avert the Apocalypse again.”
“No. I don’t want to think about that. Right now. What are we doing right now?”
Aziraphale paused. This was it. He had to tell him.
“We’re on our 365th dinner date,” he answered.
“You’ve been counting?” Crowley cried.
“Of course I have.”
“Well, you’ve missed one.”
“What? No, I haven’t.”
“Did you count the one in Saxony?”
“We only stopped in for a pint of ale.”
“Still counts. Any drinks or meals together counts.”
“Well… I rather suppose it must,” Aziraphale said, a bit miffed.
“Why have you been counting them?”
“I… I suppose…. I…”
In theories of physics, scientists have speculated that time and speed up and slow down depending on the powerful forces in play in the universe. For example, in Einstein’s theory of relativity, time slows down in a black hole due to an extreme gravitational field. In this moment in time, Crowley found himself being pulled into his own kind of black hole, between knowing and not knowing what Aziraphale was going to say. In this moment - which by earth clocks only lasted a handful of seconds, Crowley passed a whole eternity.
“I don’t believe I’ve been entirely honest with you,” Aziraphale said finally. “All those years… when I said I hated you. I… I was hiding that I… that I… am quite fond… of you.”
“Fond?” Crowley pressed.
“Yes. You see… you see when I try to put it into words I lose them and I… well I get a bit flustered. I suppose… as much as one non-corporal being can I…. well… I…”
Aziraphale paused and steadied himself. It was now or never. There was no going back.
“I love you.”
Crowley let out a sound somewhere between a gasp and a cry. He fell into the blanket and lay there a moment.
“Crowley? Crowley, are you alright?”
“Six thousand years, angel,” he said, his voice a bit muffled by the fabric. “Six thousand years I’ve waited for you to say those words. Why did it take you so long?”
“I…I rather thought there was no possible way this could ever happen. You were my mortal - immortal - divine enemy. And when I first noticed what you felt… At first… at first I thought I was being played. Then I thought I was rather awful at feeling love. I was a mediocre angel, so why not be garbage at that too… And then I kept feeling your… Your…”
“Love?” Crowley offered.
“Yes,” Aziraphale replied. “And… then I was terrified that nothing could stand the test of time. it was only at the end of the world… the first time…. That I was afraid of losing something more than the world.”
“Oh, angel,” Crowley said hoarsely. He slid towards Aziraphale and cupped his face in his hands.
“Say it for me,” Aziraphale pleaded. “I want to hear you say it too.”
Crowley took a breath. “I love you, angel.”
The words were hardly out of his mouth when Aziraphale’s lips met his. It was soft, gentle, but entirely consuming. It was six thousand years of dancing around each other like binary stars and finally merging together into a supernova. Crowley’s hands slipped into Aziraphale’s soft curls while Aziraphale’s hands curled into his back. Crowley deepened the kiss, opening his mouth slightly and pressing more firmly. Aziraphale responded in kind, pulling Crowley more tightly in an embrace.
The kiss lasted a moment, a minute, a millennia more. Eventually the two pulled away gasping slightly.
“That…” Aziraphale tried to steady his voice. “That was exquisite.”
“Damn right it was,” Crowley smiled, a little smug.
“Humans do have the strangest ways of expressing emotions, but that I rather like. Why do you suppose they meet lips like that? Is it all the nerves and sensations in the -”
“Angel. I love you, but you’re ruining the moment.”
“Sorry. Just nervous, I think.”
Crowley looked at him tenderly. “After all this time, you’re still nervous?”
“Yes. I… I know I took my time, but I wasn’t ready before. Until… Until everything about Heaven and Hell that kept us separated fell apart and I realized that you did… that you do…”
“That I love you?”
“Never stop saying that,” Aziraphale said, resting his head on Crowley’s shoulder.
“I’ll say it for the rest of eternity.”
Intoxicated by being so close to one another, enraptured by simply being in one another’s embrace, the world around them had fallen away slightly. They did not notice when a figure appeared and a pair of piercing violet eyes fell upon them.
“There won’t be any eternity for you two,” the figure said. “But whatever comes next, it’ll be full of suffering.”
“Gabriel,” Aziraphale gasped. To Crowley’s relief, the angel did not pull away, but instead clasped Crowley’s hands tightly in his. What did it matter what Heaven and Hell saw now?
“I’d ask what you two are doing out here but I don’t actually care,” Gabriel said. “You’ll both be an unpleasant, distant memory soon enough. As we speak, demons of hell are taking your friend Celia to an undisclosed location where she will accept her fate. As for you two, I’m taking you to the prisons of Purgatory where we’ll find a way to destroy you. If holy water or demon fire won’t do, I know there are other ways.”
“Angel,” Crowley whispered. “I want you to listen to me very carefully. Don’t try to help me. Don’t try to save me. Don’t bloody discorporate yourself. When I give the word, run.”
“No buts. I -”
“Whatever you’re whispering about, it’s annoying and it’s not going to work. You’re coming with me or -”
“Run!” Crowley shouted. Aziraphale leapt up and bolted, bound across the meadow back towards Jasmine Cottage. He heard yells and the sound of conflict behind him, but he did not let himself stop and turn around, no matter how desperately he wanted to. It was only when he’d reached the door of the cottage that he looked back.
Gabriel and Crowley were gone. The picnic sight was in disarray and bits of the blanket were smoldering.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale cried. “Crowley, where are you?”
But Crowley did not appear. Gabriel had taken him most likely. Aziraphale had lost his best friend -his love. But come hell or high water, he was going to get him back.
For those of you waiting for fluff, your time has come. I haven't written romance in a LONG time so that was nice.
For those of you who are upset about said fluff being interrupted by a very rude archangel, I'm sorry.
Also I can't decide who I'm angry at more - Gabriel for being such a jerk or me for writing it.
Moments before Gabriel interrupted the picnic, Beelzebub had arrived in Jasmine Cottage. They glared at Celia, sizing her up. For someone so small, she was certainly causing a great deal of trouble.
“You,” Beelzebub hissed. “You are coming with me. It is time you face your fate and do what you must. The end times are upon us.”
“Who are you?”
“Beelzebub. Duke of Hell.”
“Okay. And what if I refuse?”
Beelzebub smiled cruelly. “Then you will kill your friends.” Another demon appeared, with sickly white skin and dark black eyes. “Hastur here will be more than obliging to separate your friends souls from their bodies,” Beelzebub explained.
Celia thought quickly, the gears in her mind whirling. She knew what came next - she didn’t like it much, but she knew it was what must happen. How exactly to get there, she wasn’t certain. A feeling crept into her gut and an idea began to form.
“I won’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on here,” Celia said, “but I’m going to assume you’re not angels.”
“Not anymore,” Hastur sneered.
“We were, once,” Beelzebub explained. “We’re demons.”
“And you’re working with Gabriel?” Anathema blurted.
Beelzebub smirked. “There are few things that would bring Heaven and Hell together. Destroying humanity is one of them.”
“Why do you want to end the world so badly? I’m a little lost on that,” Celia asked.
“You do not need to know,” Beelzebub replied. “It is unimportant.”
“Actually, it’s terribly important,” Celia argued. “Why would I want to help you end the world if I don’t even understand why you’re doing it in the first place?”
“Ours is not to ask questions,” Beelzebub was starting to get angry. They hadn’t anticipated that this human would be so annoying. “Ours is to carry out the Great Plan.”
“That might be your way,” Celia said, “but I’m a human with a pretty great imagination. So I’m going to need some motivation here. What’s my want? What’s my intent here? What’s driving me in this scene?” She’d taken an acting class in college and had clearly launched herself back into character drives for the sake of wasting time.
“You just want the world to end. It’s that simple,” Hastur spat.
“Nothing’s ever that simple. Especially for humans.” Celia looked at Anathema and Newton. “Here’s what I think - you let my friends go. I go with you… wherever the hell that is.”
“Exactly,” Beelzebub said. “We go to hell.” They stepped towards her.
“Anathema,” Celia said, not taking her eyes off of Beelzebub, “whatever you do, make sure Aziraphale gets to Fort Will-”
Before she could finish, Beelzebub grabbed the front of her shirt and the two of them disappeared.
While Aziraphale had run, Crowley had faced Gabriel with as much strength and fury he could muster. He was fallen, but he wasn’t a monster. Yet seeing this angel’s smug facade brought out all the dark qualities within him. Knowing this being wanted the worst harm for Aziraphale made Crowley feel as if he could burn the wings off of Gabriel’s back.
Crowley, of course, did not do this. Feeling one thing and acting upon that feeling was entirely another. He did, however, give Gabriel a good punch in the nose.
“Ow!” Gabriel yelled. “You little shit.” He wiped away a stream of blood and moved faster that Crowley could calculate. Crowley tried to run, but Gabriel was already in front of him. Eyes flashing with a dark electricity, Gabriel hit Crowley in the gut, making him double over.
“Listen here.” Gabriel grabbed the front of Crowley’s shirt, pulling him upright. “You can try and protect your boyfriend all you want. But we will catch Aziraphale eventually. And you won’t like what we’ll do to him.”
In a flash, the world around them disappeared. When Crowley’s vision cleared, he was in a place he’d never seen before. It was grey and foggy, with row after row of wrought iron cells. Low lying clouds hung over head and, at their feet, eddies of mist broke against rocky outcroppings.
“What is this place?” Crowley asked.
“Glad you asked,” Gabriel said. “Welcome to Purgatory.”
“Purgatory? I thought that was closed after 16th century.”
“It was. We’ve reopened it. Temporarily.” Gabriel opened a cell and shoved Crowley inside. The door clanged shut behind him.
“What? Are you just going to leave me locked up in here?”
“Yeah, that’s the idea,” Gabriel brushed off his hands. “You know the best part of this place? No way for you to get out from behind those bars without discorporating. And even if you do discorporate and get yourself out of there, only angels can get in and out of this place.”
“I am an angel,” Crowley said through gritted teeth. “Fallen, but still an angel.”
“No,” Gabriel leaned in towards him. “You’re not.” He walked away, leaving Crowley alone in the fog.
Aziraphale stood outside Jasmine Cottage, trying to steady his breath. Between exerting himself running and Crowley having vanished, it felt like his heart was going to pound right out of his chest. As he approached the door, it burst open and Anathema and Newton stormed outside.
“Aziraphale!” Anathema said in surprise. “Where’s Crowley?”
“Gone. Gabriel took him. Where’s…. Where’s Celia?”
“Gone,” Newton said. “A demon… Beelz something? Took her.”
“Beelzebub,” Aziraphale groaned. “Oh no. Oh God no…”
Anathema gave an aggravated sigh. “This is the first time I’ve regretted burning Agnes’s prophecies - what if she left us something that would have prevented this? Or told us what to do next?”
“That’s always a possibility,” Aziraphale said. “But we’ve got a new prophet now. Did Celia leave her notebook behind?”
Anathema and Newton looked at each other and ran back into the house. Aziraphale followed behind. Sure enough, the book was right on the table where it had been earlier in the day.
“If they’re anything like Agnes’s prophecies, it won’t matter where you open it to,” Newton said. “What you need will be right there.”
Aziraphale held the book in his hands for a moment, then opened it to a random page. “‘When the way looks bleak, read these words, foolish principality - ’ oh my, she rather is like Agnes isn’t she? ‘Head for the north to the glen and the ben and find the truth of Heaven.’ What does that all mean?”
“Celia was saying something, right before they took her,” Anathema said. “Make sure Aziraphale gets to Fort Will - something. Then she was cut off.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what she could have meant,” Aziraphale sighed.
There was a moment of silence as the three of them considered, then Newton blurted, “Ben Nevis.”
“What?” Anathema asked.
“The prophecy said head for north, with the ben. Celia said Fort Will - she must have been trying to say Fort William. Ben Nevis is there. The highest mountain in the UK.”
“Celia did say something about Scotland earlier today,” Aziraphale smiled. “Well done, Mr. Pulsifer.”
“Great, so we go to Scotland,” Anathema said. “What’s in Scotland?”
“I couldn’t pretend to know,” Aziraphale confessed.
I was in Fort William just over eight years ago and I really want to go back. So I'm going to live vicariously through these characters for a bit...
It was a cold day in hell, not that there was any other kind . Contrary to popular belief, not all of hell was hot. Beelzebub’s office was always cold and damp with a leak in the ceiling that never stopped. Try as they might to plug the leak and get the fluorescent lights to stop flickering, nothing ever resolved the problems.
Celia was sitting in a bent metal chair with one leg shorter than the other so each time she moved, the chair teetered forward or backwards. Beelzebub was glaring at her, checking the clock on the wall.
“They’re late,” they moaned. “They were supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago.”
A moment later, two angels strode into the room. Beelzebub rose to greet them.
“Michael, Urial,” Beelzebub said. “At last.”
“There was an issue with our security clearances,” Michael replied. “Your man Hastur believed that it would be Gabriel, not I, who would be attending.”
“My apologies. There must have been a miscommunication. I know that Gabriel is attending to other business.”
“Yes, he is,” Urial replied. “Is this the girl?”
“It is indeed.”
Michael and Urial bent towards her, the way a certain kind of teacher might loom over a misbehaving student.
“Celia,” Michael said with a hollow smile. “I am the archangel Michael. This is the archangel Urial. We’re here to tell you how imperative it is that you accept the mission that Gabriel has bequeathed to you.”
Celia blinked slowly. She would not swear at an angel. She would not swear at an angel. She would not -
“You can tell Gabriel he can fuck off,” she spat. Okay, so much for trying not to swear.
Electricity flashed between them. Urial leaned in closer.
“I would not say such things if I were you,” Urial hissed. “You are in Hell, after all. The belly of the Underworld. Humans were not made to be in such a place. If you are here too long, you will die.”
Celia gulped. She hadn’t anticipated that they would be so… cutthroat. How in the world had Aziraphale ever been one of them? Or Crowley, for that matter? Even if he’d fallen, he was nothing like them.
Michael cleared their throat. “Will you listen to us then and heed what we have to say?”
What could it hurt at this point? She was literally a captive audience. “Yes. I’ll listen.”
“Good.” Michael stood up a little taller. “As Gabriel informed you, you are a spiritually possessed being. Some might call you a messiah but that is factually inaccurate. If you want the details, we have the paperwork we can show you. You are part of a Great Plan to lead us to the End Times. You prophecies will lead you to a great sacrifice - a sacrifice of yourself to the Greater Good.”
“What?” Celia cried.
“With your death,” Michael continued, “you will begin the Apocalypse. You will die at the hands of evil, causing our forces to being the Final War between good and evil, us and humanity.”
“Uh… mainly my question is why.”
“Look the earth,” Urial said. “It’s flawed. Dirty. Filled with wasteful people doing foolish things, squandering important time. It’s time to destroy it, once and for all. It is time for Heaven to conquer and become the sole place of life and leadership. The true home for humanity.”
Celia remembered a conversation she had when she was much younger, with a very devout classmate who believed that nothing material mattered, not in a zen minimalistic sense, but in a very spiritual “we are all working for what we will gain in Heaven” sort of way. She had meant well, Celia thought, but she refused to do her homework, wouldn’t make friends, and didn’t have any hobbies because her only purpose was preparing herself for God. It was something she eventually came to terms with in high school, when she began to believe that the world was full of gifts that God had given to people. Celia had found seeing her work through this process incredibly important and it came to mind when she met other rigid fundamentalists who in one way or another had restrictive ideas of what earthly life should be like.
“That isn’t earth,” Celia replied. “Yes, it’s flawed and yes, it needs a lot of work, and yes, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. But we haven’t had the best guidance. We’ve had a lot of powerful people abusing that power and systems that work to hurt people. And… and it’s easy for you to stand back and criticize when you aren’t working to try and fix the problems. What are you lot doing up there, anyway? Looking down at what a bad job we’re doing when you could be sending down miracles and -”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Michael interrupted. “We’re under strict protocol for miraculous intervention. There’s only so much involvement and guidance we’re meant to give. Human-made problems are meant to be fixed by humans. There are those that are given divine attention through prayer and intercessions for which we give special attention, and with our equity and inclusion credo -”
“Oh please,” Celia interrupted. “Do you even hear yourselves? You’re making excuses the way my job used to make excuses about diversity initiatives. When was the last time any of you actually talked to the Lord about any of this?”
There was a heavy silence.
“Is that why we’re having this meeting in Hell? So that God doesn’t find out about Gabriel’s plan to start an Apocalypse God didn’t approve?”
“Enough!” Michael cried. “It is part of the Plan to lead God’s angels to -”
“Who’s plan? God’s? Or Gabriel’s?”
Michael snapped. In a blur of motion, their hand was clenched over Celia’s jaw. “Not another word,” they hissed. “If you keep talking, I’ll make sure that you stay alive long enough to witness what we do to your friends Crowley and Aziraphale.”
“If that miserable excuse for an angel thinks that it was bad when Gabriel had him demoted from Cherubim to Principality, he has no idea what’s coming,” Uriel simpered.
“What do you mean?” Celia asked.
“The idiot screwed up right out the gate,” Uriel replied. “Let us all down at the Garden of Eden. Gabriel was very cross and had him rightful demoted and publicly humiliated. Served him right.”
“And did God condone that act or was that all done on part of Gabriel?”
“Stop asking questions,” Michael spat. “You have a choice to make. Either you will die in our service and die a heroic death, a death that will make you a legend, a death to lead Good to victory. Or you will die here and the Apocalypse will begin nevertheless. It’s really a minor stipulation - but you can decide how it comes about.”
“Why does my death matter? I’m not that important.”
“No, you’re not,” Michael agreed. “But we had to choose someone. You just got lucky. So what will it be? The hero? Or the unknown, forgotten coward?”
Celia narrowed her eyes. “I am not a coward. No matter how much I have been bullied by you, I will never be a coward. I will not sacrifice my life for you. I will not let you kill another brown body in the name of whatever goal you’re claiming to accomplish. I will not let you kill me. I will not let you erase my story. And most of all, I will not let you start the Apocalypse.”
Michael gave a cold, curt laugh. “Bold remarks from someone who will spend the rest of eternity in Hell. Beelzebub, you know what to do.”
Beelzebub yanked her out of the chair and dragged her out of the office.
Aziraphale, Anathema, and Newton were staring at Dick Turpin, Newton’s car. There was some disagreement about whether it could handle a drive to Scotland.
“It’s just had an oil change,” Newton said positively, “and fresh tires put on.”
“Right,” Anathema said. “Well, Aziraphale, you can always perform some kind of miracle on it, right?”
“Yes, but I probably shouldn’t. They’ll be monitoring that sort of thing pretty closely and if they can track me more easily, they’ll leap it.”
“They can track you?” Newton asked.
Aziraphale shuddered. “Oh, they can do so much more than that.”
Anathema and Newton glanced at each other. “Sounds a bit Big Brother-ish, I think,” he murmured to her. She nodded.
“How long is the drive going to be?” Anathema asked.
“Well, we went to the Highlands on holiday once… not from here obviously, but it was about eight hours I think,” Newton replied.
Anathema groaned. “Okay, unless we take the train -”
“Too dangerous,” Aziraphale said. “It would be so much easier for one of Gabriel’s people to find us there and we’d have no escape.”
“And it’s slower. More stops,” Newton added. “Unless…” His eyes landed on the Bentley.
“Oh, no, we couldn’t possibly,” Aziraphale said.
“It survived the first Apocalypse. It can survive anything,” Anathema said.
“Crowley would kill me if anything happened to it,” Aziraphale retorted.
“No he wouldn’t. He’d never kill you. He might kill one of us though.” Anathema looked at Newton. “What do you say?”
“I’ve always wanted to drive a Bentley,” Newton smiled.
The pair looked at Aziraphale.
“Fine. Fine. We take the Bentley. We get to Fort William. We save the world.”
“Yes!” Newton cheered.
“Do you have Celia’s notebook?” Azirphale asked.
Anathema held it up for him. “I also packed snacks.”
He smiled at her. “You think of everything.”
“I know,” she agreed. “Alright, Mr. Pulsifer. Are you ready to embark?”
“Absolutely. I was born for this drive.”
“I do hope the both of you like Queen,” Aziraphale said.
The earth was having a weird day. Aside from all that was going on in Tadfield, there was a general shift in the atmosphere. No less than three corrupt American politicians made headlines about unethical policies and no one blinked an eye. A new study about climate change was released and, other than an intake of breath from the most ardent of environmentalists, there was largely radio silence. New wars broke out, momentous disasters occurred - three earthquakes and two tornadoes, and for a whole hour, not a single new life entered the world. And yet time ticked on. People were weary - times were tumultuous and the more tumultuous they got, the more adapted to the terrible and horrific people became. It was this sense of dread mixed with apathy that heralded the beginning of the end. The world would end, as T.S. Elliot had said, “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”
The four horsemen would not ride this time - at least not until the very last moment, when the end hung like a thread about to snap. They could do their work elsewhere and accomplish just as much - more, perhaps. But the one, who had always been and always would be, planned to make a special visit that day. Death gathered up his scythe and took a long walk to Hell.
It had been a long time since he had been to Hell. Perhaps he hadn’t been - not since it had been established with Lucifer’s falling out (both literally and figuratively). He was quite disappointed to see the state that it was in. He’d had a long conversation with Dante about the levels and punishments throughout but this was nothing like that, really. It was overall quite mundane.
He swept past a group of demons fighting over who would get to tempt a CEO that day and made his way down the twisting halls to a series of barred rooms. He found the one he was looking for, where a small, dark haired girl was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees. He entered the cell and waited.
“Have you come for me?” she asked. She was calmer than he expected.
“Yes,” he replied. “And then again, no. I have come for you. But I have not come to take you with me. If you catch my meaning.”
“I’m not… you’re not going… You’re Death.”
“Yes, I am.”
“But I am not dying.”
“All mortal lives are slowly moving closer to me,” he explained. “But you will not die today. That much I can tell you.”
“I hoped as much,” she said. “But it was one prophecy I couldn’t see.”
“And for good reason,” Death said. “It was not a fate that was not yet decided. But you have chosen. You refused to die for the angels. And so you will not die today.”
“But if I stay here -”
“You will not stay here,” Death assured her. “You will leave here and go meet your friends, as you must. Until then, I have come with a message for you.”
Death bowed, the best way he could convey a nod in his large hooded robe. “Things are not as they should be, in Heaven and in Hell. If the Apocalypse were to begin now, both sides would destroy themselves and the entire world with it and it would all be for naught. They believe that there is some sort of victory they must reach - something that will either put Heaven or Hell in greater power. But they are two sides of the same coin. Destroy one, you destroy the other. The angels might have fallen, but they are eternally connected. In their mutual destruction lies only Death. Only me. And I have no interest in being the sole victor of such a war. So, here is what I ask - that you, in your prophecizing, find a way to set things right. Return the balance of Heaven and Hell. Make them see they need one another. Remove those who have turned a blind eye, who have grown dangerous with power.”
“When you say remove…” Celia began.
“You will know in the moment what is right,” Death assured her. “One day, time will end and I will be waiting for it all. But the world ending is different. Since I rode with my fellow horsemen, I have come to understand it differently. The world has ended many times - it is always ending. And it is always being born anew. Help build a new world, Celia. Not was a messiah. But as a person who cares.”
“Yes.” Celia gasped in awe and happiness. “Yes, I will.”
“There is one more thing I must say to you,” Death continued. “Gabriel does not lie when he says you are spirit-touched. One of your brethren is housed here in these cells. I can take you to her - but I cannot be responsible for how she may react. She has been alone for a very long time - practically millennia.”
“What do you mean?”
Death turned his head at her. “You already know. You have always known. Your prophecies told you and you listened. In Jasmine Cottage -”
“The Nephilim,” Celia cried. “They’re real?”
“Indeed,” Death replied. “Most of them have been destroyed, but she has survived.”
Celia’s head spun as she absorbed this. The Nephilim were the key to… something. She wasn’t sure what, but she knew they were important.
“Take me to her,” Celia said.
I owe Terry Pratchett a lot - he influenced my writing more than I know (which I'm only beginning to see as my style becomes more of my own after grad school) and introduced me to powerful female characters. I love the character of Death in the Discworld series and wanted to do a little crossover and pay homage to him here.
Gabriel was not happy with Beelzebub. He’d called them on their private line and had a furious conversation about how things in Tadfield had gone.
“There were two of you,” he spat. “Hastur should have easily managed to have gotten Aziraphale. But you kept him in the cottage pestering the humans.”
“There were three of them - they needed two of us to keep them in line,” Beelzebub sulked. “Besides, it isn’t my fault you let Aziraphale escape.”
“I did not let him escape,” Gabriel retorted. “That is your fault. It doesn’t matter - we have Crowley and Aziraphale is nothing without him. He’ll turn up soon enough looking for his demon lover and once he does, we’ll destroy them both.”
Beelzebub blinked at him. “And how exactly are we to do that? Considering it went so well the last time.”
Gabriel glared at them. “They aren’t immortal. We’ll find a way to erase them out of existence even if I have to tear their hearts out myself.”
“You know,” Beelzebub said, “I rather hate the two of them. But I’d say your loathing is something not yet seen in Heaven or Hell. Remarkable, that.”
They hung up and Gabriel was left to fume over the situation alone.
Crowley was staring at the bars of the cell. He’d managed to pick the lock (Shadwell, back in the 70s when he'd been planning the church heist, had taught him a few tricks he had up his sleeve) and the door swung open in the fog. Crowley strolled out, feeling a little bit freer. It wouldn’t matter much - he evidently couldn’t leave, but at least he didn’t have to look at iron bar anymore. Instead, he had this rather nice nihilistic fog to gaze into and ponder what exactly had gotten him here.
Back at the beginning, Crowley hadn’t exactly been the typical example of mayhem and rebellion. He wasn’t exactly the model of propriety that other angels were - he’d have never measured up to Aziraphale’s exuberant cheer or Gabriel’s principles of steel or Sandalphon’s unquestioning commitment. He had rather liked a chap named Lucifer who asked a lot of questions and didn’t stand idly by while big decisions were made. When it came to crafting the Universe, Crowley had a large hand in it thanks to recommendations from Lucifer and his friends. He’d been rather proud of the stars and nebulas, especially how they looked from a distance. Falling stars had been his idea too, having no idea that soon it would be an apt metaphor for the fate of Lucifer and the others.
Though he hadn’t wanted to fall, he was rather glad he did given things as they were with Gabriel. He would have been worse off staying, he reckoned, and working for that moron. But how different would things be? Would Adam from Tadfield have successfully become the Antichrist? Would Celia have ever even become a part of all of this? For that matter, would he ever had developed a relationship with Aziraphale? They certainly never would have shared a picnic on Earth if he had. It didn’t matter really, what could have been. What mattered was now. And right now, he was stuck in a misty un-world and he was rather pissed off about it.
Purgatory, in its initially state, had been a holding pad, a waiting zone for those who had died. It was used to balance and measure people’s choices to decide whether they’d gain entry into Heaven or Hell. Certain religious sects on Earth had talked up the waiting in Purgatory and, eventually, due to unexpected demand of turning Purgatory into another option for the dead, it was closed (the sphere of the afterlife being a whole business Crowley admitted having no experience or understanding in. Aziraphale had once mentioned he thought there was a dimensional aspect to it and that multiple versions of the afterlife coexisted at once. The angel was quite certain that fundamentalists who insisted that only those who believed in X or those who believed in Z gained admittance into Heaven were missing the entire point of it in the first place. Besides, Heaven Proper where Aziraphale went for his check-ins with Gabriel was like the business office of a retail chain - only the angels resided there. Heaven for human souls was… somewhere else).
Now, Crowley was here… wherever here was. Perhaps Gabriel was bluffing - maybe he could leave this place without getting discorporated. But would he risk that and, if he did discorporate, wait until he found some poor soul to possess? He wasn’t sure yet. He would wait, for now, and hope against hope that Celia, in her mostly all-knowing ways might be able to give Aziraphale a tip to come find him. He’d saved Aziraphale plenty of times - surely it was time for the angel to return the favor. Then again it was a long shot that he’d know how to find him. In which case he’d be here… well, forever.
“Don’t dwell on it,” Crowley growled to himself. “Don’t think about it. It’s a long shot, but you’re damn lucky. And if it comes to it, you’ll get yourself out of here no matter what.”
Celia stood before another cell, the steel door rusted and dented. She felt afraid - but of what, she wasn’t sure.
“You must be careful,” Death told her. “Turiel was considered an angel once - until her mix of human and angelic blood caused her to be among the Fallen. She turned against Hell eventually and has been locked up ever since. I do not know how she will react to being freed after so long.”
“I’ll be careful,” Celia assured him. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome. Until we meet again.” Death pushed open the cell door and disappeared in a flash of black feathers and flickering stars.
Celia stepped inside the cell. Sitting on the floor was an extraordinarily tall, blonde-haired figure. Her attire was worn and dirty but her face shone with fierce, bright light.
“Who are you?” she asked. Her voice was like a bell tolling.
“I’m Celia. I’m… I’ve come to release you, Turiel. And… I’m hoping you can help me.”
The Nephilim eyed her suspiciously. “You’re human. How is a living human in Hell?”
“It’s a kind of a long story. The thing is, I think I need your help to get out of here. And possibly to avoid the Apocalypse.”
“The Apocalypse? Have the Horsemen already rode?”
“Yes. Well, no. It’s… complicated. I’ll explain, but first we need to get out of here. I know you’ve been here a very long time but… I need to get back to Earth. And I need to find my friends. I’m hoping you can help me.”
“Why?” she asked. “Why me? And why should I help you?”
Celia considered this. It was a fair question.
“You are important - I can see that,” Celia replied. “I can see the future - parts of it, at least. And whatever happens, you’re with me in this. I… I’ve been told that you are my brethren.”
“Who told you this?” Turiel asked sharply.
“You have met Death?”
“Who precisely are you?”
“I don’t know,” Celia said truthfully. “A lot has changed for me very quickly. I’m possibly spiritual possessed, commonly mistaken for a messiah, or I’m a very powerful witch. Possibly both. Maybe something else entirely?”
Turiel was quiet for a moment. “They say I am the mother of witches. They are not wrong. If you are a witch, then likely there is some link between us. I gave humans great power and, while it has dwindled over the years, it appears now and again.”
“Is that why… is that why you ended up here?”
Turiel did not reply.
“I’m sorry,” Celia said. “I didn’t mean to ask about that. I -”
“You are curious and have many questions,” Turiel interrupted. “But there are some things I do not think you want to know.”
Celia gulped. Turiel was not like Aziraphale or Crowley. There was no earnestness too her and no acerbic humor. She was stoic, blunt, and forward, more like Gabriel or Michael than anyone else. But there was something more underneath - a hint of rebellion, a hint of darkness, a hint of something Celia couldn’t quite put her finger on. She might be making a terrible mistake putting all of her hope in this mysterious Nephilim. But then again, her gut was telling her to do this. And her gut - or prophecies, or what have you - had never led her astray.
“I think you’d be surprised what I already know,” Celia replied. “I know that Heaven is not as Good as it seems. I know that an angel and a demon - a fallen angel - are probably making an enormous mess of things as we speak, but they care more about Earth than any greater powers out there. I know that I can tell the future and that whatever happens next, we walk out of here together.”
Turiel considered this. “This is the reason Adam and Eve at the apple. Sheer curiosity. Did they ever need any prodding from a wily snake? Perhaps they would have made such a choice on their own. The human mind never stops working - it’s why I’ve admired humanity for so long. It’s why I shared my gifts with them.”
She rose, towering far above Celia’s stature. “Whoever you are, human girl, I believe that you believe in yourself and Death entrusts you to do what must be done. We will go. But I am not on the side of Good or Evil in this.”
“Nor are we,” Celia replied. “We’re on our own side. If we go to Earth, you can meet the rest of us.”
“We’ll have to go out through the main entrance,” Turiel said. “It’ll be the only way to get you out of here.”
“Sneaking past a thousand demons. It’ll be fine. They won’t even notice. They’ll be too distracted by this.”
Turiel threw a fireball and the cell instantaneously caught fire.
“You’re probably wondering,” she said, “why didn't I do that centuries ago to get out of here?”
“Maybe. A little. Yes, actually.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to get out past those locks and I would have burned. I can do all manner of magic but those locks were more powerful than me. Timed locks that stretch back further in time than I can see to pry at. Your friend Death cut right through them. Handy skill, that.”
“Locks that stretch through time?” Celia said, incredulous.
“We’ll discuss it later. Right now, run,” she said. And not for the first time in the last several days, Celia was running for her life.
Fun fact - there is really a fallen angel named Turiel mentioned in the Book of Enoch. There’s also a grimoire allegedly from the 1500s written by a magician explaining how to summon Turiel (the book also seems to plagiarize another book of black magic). Thanks to Wikipedia and humanity being continually fascinating, I really didn’t have too far out on a limb here to create this character.
Also, I can’t help picturing Turiel as played by Gwendoline Christie. But I'd love to hear how you imagine her!
“The Show Must Go On” was blasting from the Bentley as they crossed into Scotland. It was late afternoon and, while they wouldn’t reach Fort William until late evening, the trio was determined to drive as hard and as fast as possible, stopping only when necessary for food and rest breaks. Aziraphale had begun coming through Celia’s prophecy book, trying to make sense of what she had written. Her work was not linear in time as the events would occur but linear as they had come to her, which made it damn tricky to tie things together. So far, Aziraphale had determined that Anchorage, Alaska, would soon be having its hottest day on record, an ancient palace in Iraq would be discovered when water levels fell in a reservoir, and a python that could eat a human would be on the loose in Cambridge. Fascinating, but not currently helpful, Aziraphale deduced and put them aside.
Then there were other prophecies, that were vague enough to seem potentially relevant. Multiple entries discussed “an angelic giant” who would stand against the forces of Heaven and Hell with “a fallen one and a principality”. This was clearly Crowley and Aziraphale - but who was the angelic giant? Aziraphale recalled that humans had once described the Nephilim as giants, but they had been destroyed long ago, in the Flood. It had been a rather ugly business and Aziraphale had felt a great deal of remorse over it.
Yet another set of prophecies spoke directly of someone who must be Celia. She wrote of herself in the third person, denoted as “the mad prophet” who “turned her back on the path defined for her and made her own.” Evidently, this mad prophet was going to meet Death and come back to Earth with a plan to save the world. Or at least “a map to avoid the end-times.” Strangest of all was the simple line that said, “The mad prophet will fall.”
“A little more specificity would have been appreciated,” Aziraphale murmured. “You needn't have become more like Agnes as you wrote on.”
“Anything helpful?” Anathema asked from the front.
“Plenty, I’m sure, but half of it is impossible to interpret at the moment,” Aziraphale sighed. “Why must prophets write like this?”
“It’s sometimes out of their control,” Anathema explained. “Like Agnes… writing about cars before they existed and so on. You get what the universe gives you and you put it into whatever form you can so it makes some kind of sense. It’s kind of like creating art really…” She trailed off, clearly deep in some internal thought process.
“But if prophets can see the future,” Newton said, “can’t they see that they’ll be vehicles like cars and things?”
“Not exactly,” Anathema replied. “It’s like… looking into the surface of a pond. Sometimes the water is smooth and clear and yet a mirror-like image of the sky above you. But sometimes the water is rough and you can only get the colors and the feelings of it all. The rougher the water - or in this case, the more happening in a certain moment of time or the further out of someone’s current understand it is, the harder it is to put in to words. I can try to predict the future all I want, for example, but if I something involving an event or person or idea I don’t have the vocabulary for, it’s hard to describe if I don’t even know what it is. The future is never completely written in stone, after all. There’s always room for mutability, flexibility.” Anathema paused. “Agnes did like riddles though. But there’s so much more to it than that.”
“That’s… that’s incredible,” Newton was a bit taken aback. “It’s not like other kinds of fortune telling, is it?”
“Not really, no,” Anathema agreed. “What Agnes and Celia do is unique. But that’s not to impugn other kinds of future casting. But it’s damn difficult. Mostly what the rest of us can do is give sign posts and meditative thought. I particularly like tarot, which I find to be the most effective. It won’t tell me what’s going to happen, but it can help me understand a situation, better understand myself. And it can be really modern and progressive.”
“Question,” Aziraphale said. “Does falling or the fall mean anything in terms of tarot?”
“Yes,” Anathema replied. “One of the major arcana - The Tower. It’s usually drawn as a tower collapsing or someone falling from a tower. Why?”
“There’s a prophecy here… it made me wonder as we were talking about tarot. What does it represent, usually?”
“Destruction,” Anathema said. “Chaos. Bringing things down that are built on an unstable foundation. Sometimes it’s a huge shake-up, not actual destruction. But… it’s not nice. Kind.”
“Hmm,” Aziraphale murmured.
“Is it something Celia’s predicting?” Newton asked.
“I’ve no idea,” Aziraphale admitted and he dove back into reading the notebook.
Sandalphon was working on a report on smiting when Gabriel stormed into his office.
“The girl’s refused us,” Gabriel said, throwing himself down in a chair across from Sandalphon’s desk. “We give her everything and she refuses. How can humans keep doing this?”
“What can I say? Kids these days, Gabriel,” Sandalphon shook his head. “They aren’t taught to properly fear like they once were. A whole rebellious lot, not doing what they’re told and not being smote. Back when I was working in the field -”
“Yes, I know, Sandalphon,” Gabriel interrupted. “It was great work you did. But it doesn’t help us at the moment.”
“It doesn’t really matter though, does it?” Sandalphon said. “Either way, she’ll die. And her death will tip things back towards the Apocalypse.”
“Yes,” Gabriel sulked. “But it was going to be far more interesting to have her be a scapegoat. It was all so perfectly planned out - turn over her book of prophecies to the right people, have humanity call her Messiah. Have Beelzebub or one of their cronies kill her and have her fulfill her own prophecies. Now she’ll die and we have to do all of this retroactively. Which is far less interesting.”
“Does she really predict her own death?”
“Well, something that can be made out to be death. You know how it is with prophets. Always mucking about with vocabulary.”
“Yes,” Sandalphon agreed. “So what’s next?”
“I need your help to find our old friend Aziraphale,” Gabriel said. “It shouldn’t be hard - the idiot can’t go a day without some superfluous miracle. Use that or locate him the old fashioned way. Once we know where he is, we’ll pay him a final visit.”
Sandalphon smiled cruelly. “I look forward to it.”
Gabriel’s refusal to take responsibility for anything was starting to wear away at the truce Beelzebub had made with him. It was one thing to have high standards to work together. It was another to outright refuse to accept that he had screwed up in letting the angel Aziraphale escape. It hadn’t been part of the plan for Beelzebub to deal with the angel - that had been Gabriel’s responsibility.
Beelzebub was mulling over this when faced with the fact that they too were trying to avoid accepting responsibility for something that had gone wrong. The cell where the human girl had been was empty. And the cell where a Nephilim had been imprisoned for centuries was now on fire. This day had gone from bad to worse.
Now, Beelzebub was pacing in their office, waiting for a phone call. There were two possibilities of which might come first - the good news, the girl had been found and recaptured and safely shut back away in the depths of Hell. Or the bad news - a call from their boss. Beelzebub really didn’t have to talk to the boss today.
The phone rang. Beelzebub reluctantly picked it up off the cradle.
“Yes?” they said.
“Beelzebub,” a familiar voice growled. “What is the meaning of this?”
They stifled a groan. “Hello, Satan.”
“Why is the Nephilim’s cell on fire?”
“We… had a bit of an incident.”
“What sort of an incident?”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” Beelzebub muttered. “Don’t worry about it, your Dark Lordship. Your right-hand demon has it under control.” At least, they hoped they did. And they certainly hope the found Celia and the Nephilim before the forces of Heaven had found out they’d escaped.
It was drizzling in Fort William when they arrived in the Bentley. Newton drove to a hostel on Bank Street that had been highly recommended by backpackers. Attached to it was a restaurant where they grabbed a meal and retired to their shared room (which Anathema had insisted on not just for the inexpensiveness but because she was convinced splitting up would be dangerous, citing something called “Scooby Doo” which Aziraphale had absolutely no idea what that was). Newton grabbed hot water and tea from the common room and they huddled around the hot mugs, trying to get the chill out of their bones.
“Something I’ve been wondering,” Newton said, “has there ever been a prophet who was dangerous? You know, like… someone who knew too much?”
“Do you mean in a mob sense or like a dark magic sense?”
“Dark magic. Wait, has there been a prophet taken out by the mob?”
Anathema rolled her eyes. “Not to my knowledge. But dark magic wise, yes. I mean, there’s stories about women like Cassandra, who weren’t believed and were persecuted. And of course many like Agnes who were killed for what they said or did.”
“But no one like… has tried to take over the world with the prophecies?”
“Not to my knowledge. Why?”
“It just seems… well, if Celia knows so much, what’s to keep her from… I don’t know… using it to her advantage?”
“She will - in some ways,” Anathema said. “But if you’re thinking she’s going to use it to attain power, you’re wrong. She can see the future but she can’t make the future bend to her will. She’s not the Anti-Christ. Although she’s plenty charismatic. No…” Anathema thought for a moment. “The good thing about prophets by and large is they’re not megalomaniacs. Seeing large swaths of time all at once is a pretty humbling experience and doesn’t leave room for a huge ego. So-called prophets who are working to gain power are usually frauds. And also cult leaders.”
“Ahh,” Newton sighed in relief. “That’s good. It’s just… spooky, knowing someone who might know your own fate.”
“Is it?” Anathema looked a bit hurt.
“No! I mean… well… It’s something I’m still getting used to. I just… it was one thing with Agnes’s pre-written prophecies but… to see someone write them. It’s strange.”
“It is uncanny,” Anathema agreed. “But it’s a part of the world I know.”
Newton nodded. “I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean to offend. I’m still learning.”
“You are. Apology accepted.”
Aziraphale, who’d been silently reading through Celia’s book of prophecies looked up suddenly. “I’ve found something odd.”
“What is it?” Anathema asked.
“‘A great storm will come to shake the earth in two,’” Aziraphale read. “‘Two by two will they come in a quartet to stand against the end. Listen - listen. The answer is in your reach.’ And then there’s something scribbled about ‘prophet’ and ‘queen.’ And… it looks like…” Aziraphale strained to read Celia’s handwriting. “‘See prophecy 152.’”
“She was making an index,” Anathema smiled.
Aziraphale flipped through the notebook until he found the corresponding prophecy. “All it says is ‘Listen to the Prophet’s Song.’ What does that mean?”
Anathema shrugged and pulled out her phone. “Prophet’s Song… it’s a song by Queen. Does she really want us to listen to -”
Before she could finish, her phone began to ring.
“Oh my God,” Anathema gasped. “It’s her. It’s Celia.”
How exactly Celia had gotten to Hell was lost on her, but getting out sure was a pain.
“They don’t expect living people to just show up here,” Turiel said. “So of course there’s no easy way to exit.”
“Can we get back out?”
“Well I certainly can. I’m an ethereal inter-dimensional being. You, however, are human. Which means…”
“Where do we need to go?”
“Fort William, Scotland.”
“Got it. Just a warning...this may hurt.”
Turiel grabbed her hand tightly and stepped towards a shimmering gate in a corner of hell. “Hang on.”
Celia had studied astronomy one semester in college with a professor who far too gleefully explained why (hypothetically) would happen to the human body when pulled through a black hole, using a current politician at the time as the case study. Being pulled into spaghetti was the general image and it had scarred Celia for the rest of the semester. Being pulled from Hell back to Earth felt a bit like this.
She hit the Earth with a heavy jolt, the impact zagging up the backs of her ankles and legs. She moaned and crouched over, breathing.
“Are you alright?” Turiel asked.
“Fine,” Celia croaked. “I think my spleen is in my shoulder, but I’m fine. Let’s never do that again.”
“I’m not sure I could do it again. Once was hard enough,” Turiel brushed a bit of dirt from her clothes and looked around. “Right. Is this the place?”
“Honestly, I’ve never been here,” Celia replied. It was a decent sized town, with cobbled streets coated in rain. “I told my friends to meet me… if we can find an antique Bentley, we’ll find them.”
“I can do that,” Turiel said. She concentrated for a moment. “Right, this way.” She stalked off into the night.
Celia bolted after her, nearly jogging to keep up. “You found it?” she gasped.
“Yes,” Turiel said coolly. “Objects are easy enough for me to find. People, not as much. Who are your friends, anyway?”
“Well, there’s a couple I’ve just met - Newton and Anathema, and then there’s Aziraphale -”
“Aziraphale?” Turiel turned to her. “Do you mean the principality?”
“Lord,” Turiel shook her head. “I haven’t seen him in ages. Not since… well, that was long ago.”
“You knew him?”
“Briefly. Before we Nephilim were… ousted. I remember when he was still a cherubim…”
“One of the angels who questioned me mentioned that… what happened?”
Turiel shook her head. “It’s not my story to tell. Ask him if he’s your friend.” She stopped abruptly. “Right, this is it.”
The Bentley was parked on a side street, rainwater collecting on its windscreen. Celia could have hugged it she was so happy to see it. She called Crowley’s number, but only got the voicemail.
“Oh,” she realized. “Oh, no.”
“I hadn’t been paying attention, I didn’t realize…” She scrolled through her phone, trying to find Anathema’s number. They’d traded them in the cottage, on a gut instinct Celia felt and now she understood why.
“Didn’t realize what?”
“I ignored a prophecy,” Celia said. “Crowley isn’t here. We’ve got to get him back.” She put the phone to her and waited. “Anathema? Hi…. Yes… Yes, I know, it’s a miracle - perhaps quite literally. Look, we don’t have much time. I’ve just discovered where Crowley is. Meet me at the Bentley.”
“But how?” Newton asked as the trio bolted out of the hostel.
“I have no idea. But she’s here. She’s -”
They rounded the corner where the Bentley was parked and came to a sudden halt. Celia stood on the sidewalk, a tall blonde woman towering over here.
“Celia!” Aziraphale cried. “How - how did you get here?”
“I had some help.” She gestured to Turiel. “Um… this is Turiel. She’s a Nephilim.”
“A Nephilim?” Anathema repeated in awe. “How did you meet a Nephilim.”
“Long story; I’ll tell you later.”
Aziraphale took a step closer. “I didn’t know any of you survived.”
“I barely did,” Turiel said. “After the Flood, I was handed over to Hell for them to decide what to do with me. They let me live. Which is more than what Heaven would have done.”
“I’m afraid you’re right,” Aziraphale said quietly. “I’m glad… very glad to meet you.”
“As am I.” Turiel turned towards Celia. “You certainly know how to pick your friends.”
“Do you know one another?” Newton asked, trying to process everything that was happening.
“No,” Turiel said. “But one hears things, even when imprisoned for centuries. Or perhaps especially being imprisoned. It becomes so much easier to eavesdrop and hear gossip. Is it really true that you can survive demon fire?” she asked Aziraphale.
“Ah. Yes, well -”
“Sounds like a story,” Celia said. “And as much as I love stories, we’ve got a problem. Crowley’s in Purgatory.”
“Of course Crowley is wrapped up in this,” Turiel said.
“Oh, you know everyone,” Newton marveled.
“I met him a few times. Small social circles on Earth in those days. He was trying to tempt some of the humans I’d bedded. It got rather complicated, not knowing which side we were on. He seemed decent, for a demon.”
“He is,” Aziraphale agreed. “What’s this about Purgatory?”
“Gabriel’s captured Crowley there,” Celia explained. “From what I’ve gleaned prophecy-wise, he can’t get out without being discorporated without angelic assistance. So… you’re going to have to go find him.”
“But I’ve… I’ve never been to Purgatory.”
“It isn’t hard to find,” Celia said. “I can roughly give you directions - they make no sense to me, but I assume to angelic minds it pans out.”
“You could go with me!” Aziraphale cried. “Yes, you’ve got the directions -”
“I can’t go,” Celia said firmly. “I’ve just literally gone through Hell and it felt like I was being torn apart. Humans are not made for interdimensional travel of this sort.”
“I’m not an angel - it’s too much of a risk to have to try and get both Crowley and I out of there,” Turiel explained.
Aziraphale swept back his hair, looking overwhelmed. “But I… I…”
“Aziraphale,” Celia said gently, stepping towards him and pulling him away from the rest of the group. “Tell me what’s going on.”
He tried to understand what he was feeling. It was a sudden deluge of feelings and it made him feel twisted up inside. “I… I don’t want to go alone because if I muck it up, it’s his life on the line. I’m the world’s most incompetent angel and if I get there and I… I can’t get him back… I’ll never forgive myself. I can’t lose him. I can’t.”
Celia grasped his shoulders. “You aren’t going to lose him. Trust me. You’re the only one who can do this and I know you can do it. You aren’t incompetent - you’re the best angel by any account.”
“What if he’s hurt? What if Gabriel’s done something terrible to him? Or if -”
“He’s fine - for now. But the longer we wait, the better the chances are of Gabriel getting bored and doing something terrible. You can’t keep wasting time and waiting for this to resolve itself. You’ve waited long enough for him.”
Aziraphale considered her with an awe-struck look in his eyes. “I have,” he agreed. “You know so much.”
“I know what I didn’t know back when I waited for someone for all the wrong reasons. When I wouldn’t put myself out there and risk trouble to get what I needed. Take the risk. Be vulnerable.”
“You have a story I want to hear now,” Aziraphale said. “Is this what it’s like to be human? To be full of stories?”
“Yes,” Celia said. “It is. And being best friends means we keep wanting to hear one another’s. Now serious, get out of here. Go get your husband.”
“Husband?” Aziraphale cried.
Celia gave him a tight hug. “If you don’t realize how married you two are, I can’t help you.”
Aziraphale smiled and disappeared in a flash of light.
“Right,” Newton said, still processing. “Just one thing is bothering me.”
“Just one?” Anathema said, bewildered.
“Okay, many, but we’ll go with this one. Did you really want us to listen to a specific Queen song. If so, why?”
“Technically that’s two questions,” Anathema teased gently.
“To buy me time to get here,” Celia said. “Also because it’s epic. And you’ll be glad you heard it later.”
“Let’s go in; it’s chilly out here.”
The first thing Aziraphale felt about Purgatory was that it was wrong. It was a place that, in his opinion, should have never existed and carried with it a discoloring, a taint of something gone sour and rotten.
It had been a controversial choice, back in the day when Purgatory was established. Gabriel had claimed it was a good way to utilize resources after the whole apple tree business and the realization that humanity would have to choose their path. The whole Purgatory business was murky, though, as the whole premise asserted that there were only two paths and only one iteration of Heaven, which simply wasn’t true. Gabriel didn’t have a monopoly on beliefs - at least not yet. Aziraphale, looking back on it, had the suspicion that this place was created without God’s full input something just outside her line of sight for some nefarious purpose. It still gave Aziraphale bit of an eye twitch to link angels and nefariousness together - there was a time when he wouldn’t have even been able to consider such a thing, but times had changed. Something was rotten in the state of… Heaven.
The mist swirled around Aziraphale’s ankles as he trod across the rocky landscape. Barred cells appeared in the distance, becoming clearer in thinner patches of the fog. A dark figure was slumped on the ground ahead and for a moment, Aziraphale caught a glimpse of crimson hair.
“Crowley!” he yelled, running to the figure.
Crowley sat up, a little disoriented. He’d been bored, so he’d napped. Waking up here was like waking up after falling asleep in the early evening, unsure if it was the middle of the night or a week later.
“Angel,” he murmured. “Am I dreaming? This is the best dream.”
“You’re not dreaming, you silly. I’m here.”
Crowley became more awake and realized it wasn’t a dream. Aziraphale stood before him, almost glowing in the mist. Crowley wasn’t fond of sentimentalism, at least externally - he had a badass reputation to protect after all - but internally he was quite the fan, and he couldn’t help but see the angel as a beacon guiding him back to Earth out of this nothingness.
He stood, not breaking eye contact with Aziraphale. They stared at each other for a long moment.
“I was afraid I might not see you again,” Crowley confessed. “Or that you wouldn’t come here.”
“I was afraid I wouldn’t get here or I’d muck it up,” Aziraphale replied. “I… I can’t lose you, Crowley.”
Crowley silenced any further things he might have said by wrapping his arms around the angel’s waist and pulling him in for a deep kiss. Their lips lingered and time slowed and stopped for a moment. “I can’t lose you either, angel,” Crowley murmured.
“Oh my dear boy,” Aziraphale said. He kissed him again, this time with an edge of ferocity mixed with great tenderness. There was so much he was learning he could express through his lips - gratitude, joy, desire, and above all, love.
“As much as I don’t want this moment to end,” Crowley said, his voice a bit uneven, “we should go. The longer I stay here the more… tired I feel. Like I’m fading out of existence.”
“Maybe that’s what this place does. Makes things disappear.” Aziraphale gulped. “Right. I can do this. I can get us back.”
“How did you find me in the first place?”
“Clever girl,” Crowley said with a hint of pride.
“Now,” Aziraphale said, straightening his posture and fixing his bow tie. “I’m going to have to concentrate very hard. Take my hand.” He held his out, waiting.
“You sure that’ll help you concentrate?” Crowley said saucily.
“It’ll help me hone in on Earth. Feeling your heart, your love… It’ll guide us home.”
Crowley took his hand, giving it a squeeze. “Then let’s go home, angel.”
Aziraphale smiled and closed his eyes. In a blink, they disappeared.
As Kurt Vonnegut said, "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt." <3
Celia was pacing around the room in the hostel, getting more and more nervous as time passed.
“They should be back by now,” Celia said, looking at the clock on her phone for the fiftieth time that hour.
“Wouldn’t you know if something happened?” Newton asked.
“No. Yes. Maybe. It’s hard, when it’s not on Earth. There’s a lot of distortion and -”
Celia’s phone chimed. “It’s them!” she cried.
“What’d they say?” Anathema asked.
“Celia - let us in. It’s bloody cold out here. C.”
“Crowley signs his texts? Who signs his texts?” Newton asked.
“It’s kind of classy, don’t you think?” Anathema said as Celia ran out into the hall.
They were huddled under the awning of the front door, dripping slightly with rain. Before either of them could say a word, Celia pulled them both into a hug.
“What - okay,” Crowley said. “What’s this about, book girl?”
“I got worried,” Celia said, her voice a bit muffled in the hug. “I couldn’t see anything. Purgatory was all blurry in my mind. I just…” She sighed. “I just want to end this. I’m tired. So tired. I’m putting so many people on the line and… I feel guilty for it. Like it’s my fault somehow.”
“Your fault?” Aziraphale said. “You're the last possible person to be at fault. You were swept up into this against your will and, if anything, you’re more than allowed to blame the both of us for not doing our jobs properly the first time around.”
“I hardly see how it’s your fault. If you’d done your jobs, the world would have ended,” Celia said.
“Or blame Gabriel. That’s always the best option in my mind,” Crowley said.
“Yeah, let’s just do that. I like that,” Celia agreed. “Speaking of which… I know how to end this. To keep Gabriel from ending the world - again. We should get inside - I’d like to explain it to you all at once.”
“Okay, first questions first,” Crowley said. “Who drove my car?”
Newton nervously raised his hand.
“Right. I understand this was an emergency so I’ll let this go. But - if there is any damage or anything wrong or even the slightest part out of place, I’ll… you don’t what to know what I’ll do.”
“I assure you it isn’t… uh, sir,’ Newton stammered. “It’s vintage, very dear - I drove it like I would the most expensive car on Earth.”
“He did,” Anathema said. “We enjoyed the Queen music.”
Crowley nodded. “Good. Thank you.” With peace of mind over the Bentley, he noticed Turiel for the first time. “What in the name of bejeezus? Turiel? Is that you?”
“Hello, Crowley. It’s been a long time.”
“I thought they drowned you back the Flood!” Crowley said incredulously. “How did you survive?”
“A satanic miracle, perhaps,” Turiel said. “It got me imprisoned for the better half of a millennia, but it kept me alive. I… demons, however evil, have a certain justice streak. Beelzebub decided it was better to keep me jailed than hand me over to Heaven and deal with whatever fallout that interaction brought. I think they hoped that maybe one day I might be demonic enough for them, that I would work with them, become a secret weapon for them. But I never measured up. So there I sat, wasting away. Until now.”
“Incredible,” Crowley said. “Well, I’m happy you made it out. Though once they know you’re gone -”
“Yes,” she said. “But it’s better to risk that. I don’t care if Heaven finds out now for all it matters. I’ve missed too much of the world - you all will have to catch me up at some point.”
“We will,” Aziraphale promised. “It’s quite nice, the World.”
“I rather imagine it is,” she said, giving Celia a smile.
Something small ignited in Celia that she hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Oh no. This was a terribly inconvenient time for her heart to start thinking on its own again.
Content warning: This section discusses toxic relationships, codependency, and trauma.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had been a long, trying day and Newt and Anathema had fallen asleep quickly in their bunk. Aziraphale and Crowley had stayed up later, talking to Turiel about Earth and catching her up (briefly) on what had happened in the last several centuries - and more importantly, in the last year with Adam and the almost-Apocalypse. Eventually, Celia began to doze off during their conversation only to awake suddenly, sometime in the night, her throat closing and her pulse racing.
She had pushed away the fear and worry for so long, it had built up to a solid lump in her gut. During the business of the day, she’d managed to pay little attention to it, but now while resting, it had sunk its teeth into her.
She wheezed, tears beginning to form in her eyes. She was terrified of tomorrow, she realized. Terrified of not knowing if she was doing the right thing, terrified that she would make a mistake that would kill them all. Terrified that the world really was resting on her shoulders and that no matter how far she ran, she would never escape the weight that balanced on her. She cried into the sweater she’d used as a pillow, trying to muffle her sobs. But the harder she tried to stay quiet, the greater her grief became.
She felt a hand rest on her shoulder.
“Don’t hold it in,” Turiel said. “Let it out. You’ve been strong for so long. Allow yourself to be exhausted and tired.”
“I’m sorry,” Celia said.
“Sorry for what? For disturbing silence? For feeling emotions? You have nothing to apologize for.”
“But I…I feel so weak. So stupid. I don’t know what I’m doing but everyone trusts me like I’m some hero and… I don’t want to be a hero. I just… I want this all to be over. I want to go home but… I don’t know where home is now.”
“You are your own home. You’ve always been your one home, ever since you were young,” Turiel said. “You fought and found a place to be since you were a child. I can feel these things within you, Celia. You will always fight to belong and for the world you believe in. It makes you very important indeed.”
Celia grabbed Turiel’s hand, feeling a sudden bit of energy and vulnerability. “I have been fighting. Since my parents brought me home after the adoption. Since I moved out and went to school. I’ve been battling to belong physically in the world but also in my own mind. I keep hoping one day the fight will be over. And it never is. Will it ever be?”
“I cannot say,” Turiel said. “You are the prophet, after all. And if you don’t know, I certainly wouldn’t.”
“Is it… is it okay if I rest my head on your shoulder?” Celia asked. “Being close to someone helps ground me. Helps me focus on my body and not the panic.”
“Of course,” Turiel said. Celia leaned against her. Her heart beat in double time being this close to her, so Celia put more focus on steadying her breath. Turiel leaned in, resting her chin on Celia’s hair. Celia’s skin flushed but the panic had momentarily muffled other emotional reactions. Still, underneath, she felt a wealth of affection growing. She exhaled.
“Tell me a story,” Celia said. “I don’t know you at all and yet… I get this sense I do. Why is that?”
“They say the Nephilim created witches,” Turiel said. “It’s certainly possible - we had children and our children had children. They escaped the fate that the rest of my kind had. If my kind led to yours, there might be some link between us. Or at least… something kindred. Something the same.
“I will tell you then about the creation of my kind. There were angels in Heaven who had desire - who wanted to explore this and what it meant to possess a body. At the time of the Fall, when Satan and his rebels were ousted, another group of angels became intrigued by humanity. After the newborn race began to inhabit the Earth, they came and wooed them. They found pleasure from exploring their bodies, something that many angels did not understand. They agreed to accept those who slept with humans and their offspring, calling them Nephilim to distinguish them from the others. But as time wore on, they became unhappy that anyone would choose a human corporal form over the celestial brilliance that angelic creatures felt they had. They decided we were dangerous, too much like demons, and should be eradicated. So that is what they did.”
“Except for you,” Celia murmured.
“Except for me.”
“Did you… did you enjoy being on Earth?”
“I did. I did not have as many consorts as some but I enjoyed those I spent my time with. Mostly, though, I enjoyed learning about people and hearing about their experiences. Most of all, I’m curious to learn about yours.”
“It’s not every day you meet someone who survives a trip to Hell. Tell me - how did this all begin?”
It was a long story and Celia did her best to summarize. She started with the day she quit her job and followed the curving trajectory that had brought her to Fort William.
“I think...” Celia thought for a moment. “I think this is the first time I’ve really felt like myself in a while. I’ve been… I’ve been refinding myself for awhile. I got my heart broken and… well, for too long I’d defined myself as who I was with another person, rather than who I was myself. It’s been a journey of rediscovering myself and… learning who I am again. And recognizing… recognizing that love… love looks a lot different when it’s real.”
“What do you mean?” Turiel asked.
“The whole time, with Madi - my girlfriend at the time - I thought that love was doing anything for the person you cared for. I realized, when I did everything and got nothing for it but heartbreak, that of course that wasn’t it. Love isn’t about giving everything to another person. It’s about boundaries and caring about yourself and communicating and respecting one another and… and it took me too long to realize I didn’t have any of those things with Madi. I’d fallen in love with the idea of love and the idea I had of Madi in my head. But it wasn’t real. None of it was real.”
“That sounds so difficult. I’m so sorry, Celia.”
“Now you’re the one who shouldn’t apologize.”
“There’s no great way to express commiseration, I’m afraid,” Turiel said. “At least not for these kinds of things. It’s hard to go through things like that. I… I have never loved, I don’t think. Not like those two.” She nodded her head towards where Aziraphale and Crowley were curled beneath a blanket.
“Has anyone? I mean, you’ve known them only a handful of hours and you can see it.”
“It’s as obvious as the sun,” Turiel said.
Aziraphale’s face appeared above the blanket. “I can hear you, you know.”
“You’re awake,” Celia said, surprised.
“Yes,” Aziraphale stood, recovering Crowley with the blanket and joined them in the corner of the room. “I don’t actually sleep. Crowley chooses to - he quite enjoys it. I find it makes me feel rather groggy.”
“So you’ve been listening this whole time?”
“He has,” Turiel answered. “All things I’m sure he’s happy to hear about.”
Aziraphale blushed. “I won’t deny it. I feel rather shy about it somehow. I didn’t realize… I didn’t realize what it would be like to be seen like this. It’s all very new. It’s like… it’s like this kind of transparency that exists now, where everything can be seen. I didn’t… I didn’t know how much I was keeping inside. How much I hid from myself. I’m starting to see I’ve rather hated Gabriel for a very long time and I’m only beginning to realize. Hearing you… hearing you talk about what love should be like and how people should treat one another… I’ve spent a lot of time having Heaven treat me like a piece of rubbish. I think they rather hurt me in ways I never quite saw. Until I realized not everyone treated me like that. Until I realized that someone was different. And then it took me another five thousand years to process it.”
“Heaven certainly put you through the wringer, that’s for certain,” Turiel said.
“What happened?” Celia asked.
Aziraphale gulped. “Well… it happened after the garden. After I gave up the flaming sword to Adam and Eve. I… I’d been reprimanded by Gabriel but then everything with the Nephilim happened and he was rather cross and thought it best to make an example of what could happen. That even though the Fall was over, angels could still… could still lose status. So, I was demoted. Publicly shamed and… and… well, it was a kind of pain I’d never experienced before.”
“Damn,” Celia murmured. “Aziraphale, I’m so sorry. I mean...That’s terrible. It sounds… it sounds so sounds hurtful.”
“I didn’t think most angels were that creative,” Turiel added, “but when it comes to cruelty… well, they certainly think up the worst things. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed. “That was quite horrible. I was never a fan of it, even back then. I’m afraid that angels do have a certain kind of creativity but it’s a grim one. A justice - no, not justice. Righteousness-oriented one. And judgemental.”
“Why do they create things only to destroy them?” Celia asked. “Why?”
“I’m not sure,” Aziraphale said. “But I… I think there’s something else going on. Something larger than we can understand. I’m beginning to think Gabriel is playing one game but God… God very well might be playing another.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Turiel sighed. “From what I heard, you’d be better off playing table tennis with a blindfold in the bottom of a well than try and fathom what goes through her mind. Does God have a mind? Or is she just a sort of everlasting consciousness?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Aziraphale shrugged. “I’ve had very limited interactions. Mostly what I’ve seen looks like light. It’s…”
“Ineffable?” Celia offered.
“Exactly,” Aziraphale replied.
“How are you feeling?” Turiel asked Celia.
“Better, I think. Still anxious but… the panic has subsided. For now.”
“Why don’t you sleep here? If you wake up in a panic, I’ll be right beside you,” Turiel offered.
Celia nodded and leaned more heavily against Turiel’s shoulder. “ ‘Ziraphale,” she yawned. “Does Crowley know what happened to you? With the demotion?”
“Somewhat. Not the whole bit.”
“You should tell him. Some day. Not right now - he doesn’t need to be any angrier at Gabriel at the moment. But… soon. Keeping trama welled up doesn’t do any good.”
“Have you done that too? Welled it up?”
Celia nodded. “I was in a toxic relationship for two years and it took me two and a half to open up admit it to myself, let alone tell anyone about it. I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t eating right. My jaw ached from clenching my teeth because I was constantly worried about saying the wrong thing to Madi. And it wasn’t just physical symptoms but ones in my mind… the constant self-doubt and cringing whenever someone raises their voice. Feeling exhausted - not just from the lack of sleep but like my mind was in a fog. I have flashbacks and shame and trust issues and fighting against the urge to stay constantly busy and hypervigilant to keep away thoughts of what happened. I’m getting better, I’m healing but… I couldn’t keep it inside. Maybe it’s not the same for you, yet I still think… only good can come from opening up about it to someone you care about.”
She yawned again and settled onto Turiel’s shoulder. Within moments, she was asleep.
“She’s special, this one,” Turiel murmured. “Not in a messiah kind of a way. A human way. A remarkable human soul.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed.
Turiel and Aziraphale were silent for a while as Celia slept. Crowley was dead to the world, coiled up under his blanket, and Anathema and Newton were fast asleep. One of them was snoring but Aziraphale didn’t have the slightest idea if it was the witch or the witchfinder.
After some time, Aziraphale spoke. “ Back...before the Flood. When you and the others were up… with humans? I… I never understood why angels and Nephilim would choose to be with humans. I… I rather found it disconcerting and unnerving. And… I want to apologize. Now… now I understand what I didn’t then. That love happens between people unexpectedly and… you can’t help who you… well, who you fall for. There are still things I don’t understand and I… I want to better understand.”
“I appreciate that,” Turiel said. “Thank you. You’ve shown something none of other angels ever did - wanting to understand and humility. What makes you different, do you think?”
“I always thought it was because I was a rather lousy angel,” Aziraphale remarked. “I think… I think maybe it’s something else. I’ve been on Earth long enough to know that the angels up there who’ve never spent any time here have no idea what it’s like… what humans are like. They know nothing about the beings they helped create. And sometimes it makes me very sad that they’re missing out on all of this.”
“Yes,” Turiel agreed. “It is very sad. There is so much world here and it’s worth exploring and living and being in. That’s why I did what I did. Because I knew after living this way I couldn’t go back. My heart was so much fuller, knowing how humans loved and kissed and… well, it opened something within me that I didn’t know was there.”
“I feel much the same way,” Aziraphale said. “Though there are things I still can’t fathom.”
“Yes. I’d say that there are certain… shall we say inclinations that I have no interest in. I can respect that they exist but they aren’t for me.”
“I see… For me, I think… I think there’s a part of me that has no interest in… certain physical relations. And this put me off your kind for so long because I didn’t feel that way.”
“I once couldn’t fathom not wanting to enjoy physical pleasures. But there’s more. There’s so much more.” She shifted slightly and pulled Celia in against her chest.
Celia woke slightly. “How are you weirdos still awake?” she mumbled and fell back asleep.
“Oh,” Aziraphale realized. “Oh my.”
“You mustn’t tell her,” Turiel whispered. “She has to decide for herself. If her heart is ready, if she is ready, if I… if I am what she chooses.”
“I understand. Of course I understand.” He gave her a deeply knowing look, the kind that said, “I have been in her place for 6,000 years and I know.” The two angels ( or perhaps more accurate, almost angels) sat in stillness, sharing empathy and understanding long until the night until the sun began to rise.
I keep reading metas about Aziraphale being a trauma survivor and, as a survivor myself, I really love that angle. It allowed me to dive a little deeper into the baggage that Celia carries with her (who is also mirroring some of my experiences along with Aziraphale). It feels a little mind dump-y to me as I'm trying to get this all out at this point of writing (because writing a chapter at at time with little revision is TOUGH - serial writers are made of stronger stuff than I) but I'm hoping it fits in as best it can.
I like Celia am afraid of where this is going. I too can only see so far into the future for how this ends…but I'd also swear on my life as a hobbit-y Hufflepuff that everything is going to be fine. At least that's what I keep assuring myself.
If Gabriel had been able, he would have had flames spouting out of the side of his head. Being an angel, he of course couldn’t. But that didn’t mean his violet eyes weren’t flashing dangerously as a heavy sort of electricity enshrouded him.
“What do you mean, the girl escaped?” he bellowed.
Michael closed their eyes momentarily, as if that might soften the impact of Gabriel’s wrath. “Our agent sent word not long ago that a disturbance had been caused and the girl had escaped, along with another prisoner.”
“How? A human does not just walk out of Hell.”
“It would seem she had help,” Michael replied.
“Who? Who helped her?”
Michael grimaced. “It would seem… an adversary we thought long extinct has survived and… came to her aide. The other prisoner who escaped… was the Nephilim Turiel.”
“Turiel?” Gabriel was lost for words. He moved his mouth soundlessly. When he could speak, his voice was strained with rage. “They’ve kept that monster alive all this time?”
Gabriel slammed his fist on the desk. “Inconceivable! What… why?”
“I don’t know,” Michael replied. “I understand now why you didn’t think we could trust Beelzebub or - “
“This is more than distrust. This is a crime… a crime against everything we stand for. I want Beelzebub on the phone right now. And if they don’t answer, I’ll go down to Hell and tell them what I think myself.”
Michael called Beelzebub. The phone rang and rang.
“They aren’t answering,” Michael said, putting down the phone.
Gabriel’s eyes grew even darker. “Then I guess we’ll have to pay them a visit ourselves.”
Morning came far too early for the majority of the hostel room occupants. Celia felt like she wanted to cry and Crowley hissed when Anathema pulled the blanket off of him.
“We have to go,” Celia groaned, rubbing her eyes. “We’ve got to get to Ben Nevis before it gets much later. Otherwise… otherwise we’ll lose the element of surprise.”
“What exactly are we doing?” Newton said. “Do we have a game plan? An offensive strategy? A hat trick?”
“It’s too early for sports metaphors,” Anathema yawned. “But I would like a plan. And coffee.”
They ambled down to a shop for coffee, tea, and pastries. Celia felt too nervous to eat but she managed to nibble on part of a croissant, giving the rest to Aziraphale who was only too happy to polish it off.
“It’s going to sound mad,” Celia said, “but our strategy is a Queen song.”
Crowley smirked. “Makes sense to me. Please tell me it’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust.’”
“‘I Want it All?’”
“Good one, but no.”
“‘We are the Champions?’ ‘We Will Rock You?’ I’ll keep going.”
“It’s ‘If You Can’t Beat Them.’”
Crowley’s mouth fell open. “What?”
“You know the saying - if you can’t beat them, join them. That’s the idea - although for Freddy Mercury and Queen, it was more along the lines of pretend you’ve joined them and then steal what power you can get from them. It’s not giving in, it’s getting better. And that’s what we’re going to do. Get better.
“So,” Celia took a deep breath, trying to steady her voice. “This is what we have to do. We have to go to the base of Ben Nevis. It’s the highest point in the UK and for some reason not understood by me, that makes it easier for me to connect with… well… I have to summon the voice of God. The Metatron. Or whatever. I mean, I’d really like to reach God but it seems she hasn’t been taking calls and all you get is voicemail since like 900 A.D. So. I talk to the Metatron, which is really a ruse to make Gabriel aware of where I am. And he will come and find me and then…”
“And then?” Anathema prompted.
“I don’t really know,” Celia said. “It all gets fuzzy after that.”
A weighted silence fell over them.
“Is it fuzzy because it’s still changing,” Turiel asked, “or is it fuzzy because you’re afraid you’re going to die?”
“Oh God,” Newton said sharply.
“I can’t predict my death,” Celia said. “So… I don’t know.”
“We are not taking you to your death. Not even the chance of it,’ Aziraphale said. “There must be another way.”
“If there is, I don’t know of it,” Celia confessed. “Anything else would put us at a disadvantage, I think. This is the only path I know has remotely a chance of working. I don’t… I don’t want to be a martyr here. But I have no idea what exactly will happen. I need… I need you to trust me. Even though I wouldn’t trust myself in the past. Even though I only know so much. Even though I’m terrified out of my mind. If you refuse to go with me, I understand. You must decide for yourself. I’ve already made my choice.”
“Of course we’re coming with you,” Aziraphale said, taking Crowley’s hand in his.
“Absolutely. I’ve been taking the easy road for too long,” Crowley said, adjusting his dark sunglasses. “I’m ready to blow some shit up.”
“Do you think that will be necessary?” Aziraphale asked him.
“Probably not, but it’s not going to stop me.”
“Well, you’ve got my witchcraft,” Anathema said.
“And my ax,” Newton said. Anathema gave him a confused look. “It’s a ‘Lord of the Rings’ reference? Never mind.”
“I am by your side until the bitter end,” Turiel announced.
Tears filled Celia’s eyes. If ever she felt alone again in her life - assuming there would be life after today - she hoped she remembered this moment, of people (and demons/angels) who had once been perfect strangers supporting her into the unknown.
“Alright,” Celia said. “Let’s go to the end of the world.”
They were too many to fit in the Bentley and so they walked. It was midmorning when they reached the foothills and Celia insisted they rest before she did “the summoning” as she called it. Newton was pacing nervously while the others sat. Anathema noticed and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Oh. Fine. You know… just didn’t think I’d have to live through two apocalypses. Not really enjoying the fear of being killed or maimed or killed and maimed or killed, maimed, and set on fire. Or -”
“Breathe,” Anathema said. “It’s going to be okay. You’re with me. We’re going to be fine.”
“How do you know?”
“Because if we weren’t, I trust Celia would have told us.”
“But what if she doesn’t want to make us more afraid? What if she’s hiding something from us?”
Anathema sighed. “You have to trust her, Newton. Just like I had to trust Agnes all of those years. She never put me wrong. And I trust Celia just the same.”
Newton nodded and hugged Anathema. “If we survive this,” he said, “do you think we’ll ever have a normal life?”
“For me, this is normal,” Anathema said. “Do you want it any other way?”
“Sometimes,” Newton admitted. “But I think without a bit of adventure, it’d be rather boring.”
Anathema kissed him. “Yes,” she said. “Yes it would be.
Beelzebub didn’t want to say it was the worst day of their existence - there had been worse days, after all. Falling through burning skies and ectoplasm into the pits of Hell during the Fall certainly won the prize there. But today was certainly ranking higher up on the list than others.
“Let me get this straight,” Gabriel said. He was standing in front of her desk, his body so straight and rigid he looked distorted. “You let the prophet escape. And not only that, you let a known adversary, whose kind were meant to be eradicated centuries ago, not only survive for this long but also escape with her?”
Beelzebub was silent for a moment. Nothing they could say would make the situation better. But better was not what a demon wanted. Perhaps they should focus on making it worse.
“I appreciate how, no matter what happens, it’s never your fault,” Beelzebub spat. “It’s rather devilish of you.”
“Don’t you dare call me devilish. I-”
“You should have been able to handle this on your own. Capturing the girl, getting her to follow the path she was meant to. But you. You botched it up. And when it all goes to shit, somehow it’s Hell who’s at fault.”
“How dare you, you… you kept the Nephilim. Why would you do that?”
“What were we supposed to do with her? We didn’t have any issue with her.”
“I… you… Look, you may not understand, being fallen, how it looks for us to have those… creatures… still alive. But they are a travesty to the names of celestial beings. Surely you must understand why we need to stop her and eradicate her existence.”
“Not really, no,” Beelzebub sat down at the desk, propping their feet up on the water-stained papers that were piled there. Nothing would make Gabriel angrier more quickly than disrespect and improper etiquette. And Beelzebub planned to make him very angry indeed. “I don’t quite understand how I, your nemesis, should really be doing much to help you at this point.”
“Because, we’re on the same side. We both want the Apocalypse. We want to destroy the Earth. Erase humanity. Flatten it all to the ground.”
“Yeah. But that’s not going to happen now. You’re plans gone to pot. You’ve lost your messiah. You’ve got a new enemy to deal with. And you’ve pissed off the Prince of Hell.”
“You seem to have forgotten something about this temporary truce, Gabriel,” Beelzebub smirked. “I don’t take orders from you.”
There was a momentary silence. “Excuse me?” Gabriel gasped.
“You have no authority over me. None. So, here’s what I recommend - you rethink how you want this to work and I reconsider your agenda for the Apocalypse. Otherwise I recommend we go back to our plan. It’s much simpler. We’ve got plenty of Anti-Christ in supply, it’s easy enough to plant one and -”
“No. No no no noooooo,” Gabriel waved his hands. “We’ve already done that. We aren’t doing that again. It’s stupid to the same plan twice.”
“Oh, like you’ve never done the Messiah bit before?” Beelzebub crossed their ankles. There was a vein in Gabriel’s forehead that was beginning to swell. It hadn’t reached maximum proportions yet but it was getting closer.
“Not like this, we haven’t. And it’s going to work. Even with her resistance. If you kill her, then -”
“Why do I have to kill her?”
“She has to be killed by a force of evil. That’s how these things go.”
“I’m still not taking orders from you,” Beelzebub said. “I’m rather afraid this agreement is not working. You’re either going to have to find another demon to do the task or you’re going to have to do it yourself.”
“Would you really trust another demon to do it? After all, one of your own informed on your own failings to us.”
Beelzebub gritted their teeth. “I’m well aware of that. Seeing as I don’t trust anyone, least of all you, I don’t see -”
“But of course you can trust me,” Gabriel gave them a sickly sweet smile. “I’m an angel.”
Before Beelzebub could respond, a strange expression appeared on Gabriel’s face. “She’s been found. The girl - she’s trying to contact the Almighty. Oh, this is going to be good.” Gabriel considered the Prince of Hell. “The offer still stands if you’d like to help end the world.”
Beelzebub sighed. “What the hell. It’s better than sorting out the paperwork down here.”
By my reckoning, I should be wrapping up this story soon (it'll have 42 chapters - you're welcome, Hitchhiker's Guide fans. Unless things go completely off the rails that is. We shall see what the next bit brings...
“Okay,” Celia exhaled. “Concentrate. That’s what I need to do. I just… hmm…”
“What is it?” Aziraphale asked her. They’d been standing on a rocky outcropping in the foothills of Ben Nevis for some time while Celia had paced and reconsidered where she should be standing.
“It’s just…” Celia paused. “I know what I need to do. I just… don’t know how to do it. I feel…like it’s rather too simple.”
“I assure you,” Aziraphale said, “whatever you have to do might superficially might look simple but underneath, there is a complex system of communications and emotional connections you’re making. It is a divine spiritual call to aide a quest. It is -”
“Totally insane but you know it’ll work right?” Crowley said, pulling his glasses off to consider her.
“I think so. I mean… I haven’t gotten any sign otherwise.”
“Good. A word, book girl?”
Celia nodded. Crowley pulled her aside and leaned down, his snake-like eyes gazing deep into hers. “You would tell me if you knew anything was going to happen to Aziraphale, right? If you know… if you see anything… you would let me know?”
“Of course.” Celia rested a hand on his arm. “I wouldn’t hide that from you. Anything from you, really. I promise.”
“Good,” Crowley said. “That’s good. Thank you.”
He walked away, kicking a rock at a shrub and trying to look threatening. Celia could have hugged him.
Celia walked back to a little rocky patch with a smooth stone in the center. She’d dug up a bit of chalky stone which she’d used to draw a pentagram and a circle around it. Standing just outside the circle, she closed her eyes, folded her hands together over her heart, and began to pray.
“Do you think this will actually work?” Crowley whispered. “Has any human actual summoned the Metatron?”
Aziraphale shrugged. “It would take a miracle.”
Crowley cocked his head.
“Beyond what I am capable of,” Aziraphale clarified. “A bigger miracle… an utter phenomenon.”
“Hello,” Celia murmured. “I need to talk to God. Please. It’s urgent. The fate of the world is at stake. I am a prophet… a seer…. A messiah? Please. Answer me.”
A beam of light appeared inside the circle. Within the light, a wizened face appeared, gentle yet stern.
"I'll be damned," Aziraphale whispered.
“I am the Metatron,” the face said. “Why have you summoned me, my girl?”
“We don’t have a lot of time and I have much to tell you,” Celia said, as quickly and clearly as she could without sounding frantic. “The archangel Gabriel has come to me, saying I’m meant to be a sacrifice, a messiah of sorts, to start the end of the world. I have a lot of questions, mainly surrounding when murder and killing became the affairs of Heaven. But I’m also urgently hoping that perhaps we can make the choice to not try and destroy the world. Seeing as I’m rather proud of it, even if it needs a great deal of work.”
“My child,” the Metatron said, shaking his head. “You are sweet, but simple. You fail to see what the end times will bring - the triumph of good for all of eternity. The end of existence as we know it. The end of pain and suffering, of hunger and disease, of trauma and injury. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Those are the results I want, but I don’t believe the means are justified,” Celia said. “Why would you kill for eternal life? Or create war for peace? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“It is beyond human comprehension.”
“Then I’m supposed to die? Is that part of God’s plan? Is she really a part of this or is Gabriel working on his own master scenario of the universe? My friends have been threatened and kidnapped, I got dragged into Hell and only got out because… well, because of a lot of circumstances not limited to the existence of a Nephilim who you lot failed to kill. I’m very tired and I’m very stressed and I just want to know why this is happening.”
“I cannot answer that. I am afraid that I am not… uh… not entirely certain… You say that Gabriel dragged you to Hell?”
“Not technically Gabriel. It was a demon. But that’s the thing. Gabriel is working with demons and -”
“That is absolutely absurd.”
“What humans speak is not real truth. It is merely -”
“OH PLEASE,” Celia bellowed. “Don’t you dare tell me I’m making it up. Don’t you dare.”
The Metatron cleared its throat. “Hmm… This is most unanticipated. Tell me - did you summon me just to have an argument with God?”
“Yes. I rather believe I did.”
“It seems Gabriel is out of the office and… I will need to discuss this with upper management. Can I call you back?”
“Sure,” Celia said with a forced smile. “I’ll wait.”
The light evaporated and Celia stood, shaking a little from adrenaline. Turiel stood across from her, a look of admiration on her face. Crowley and Aziraphale were off to the left. Aziraphale looked torn between terrified and impressed. Crowley had an utterly unreadable expression on his face.
“As brilliant as that was,” Aziraphale said, “We’re all going to stay very, very far away from that circle for the next few minutes. And from you, I’m afraid.”
“Yeah, odds in your favor for being smote very soon,” Crowley grimaced. “But at least you that in. Be a shame to be smote and not get into an argument with the Metatron in first.”
“Was that… was that God?” Newton murmured from behind Celia. Anathema attempted to explain what the Metatron was while Turiel took a step towards Celia.
“What are you doing?” Celia asked. “You can’t… it’s too dangerous.”
Turiel put a hand on Celia’s shoulder. “I said I would be by your side until the bitter end. And I will be.”
Celia took her hand and held it in hers. “That’s just not a thing you can say without a story.”
“We survive this, we’ll both have stories we’ll have to tell one another.”
Aziraphale groaned, looking at a nearby field. “Don’t shoot me or the horse I rode in on, but the enemy has arrived.”
“Don’t what?” Crowley frowned.
“Isn’t that the saying?”
“You’re mixing your aphorisms, angel. There’s ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ and ‘screw you and the horse you rode in on’ but that one, that’s… that’s not a thing.”
“It should be a thing,” Celia said. “I like it.”
Aziraphale smiled. “The prophet agrees.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Point being, we’ve got company. The arch-douche Gabriel and Beelzebub.”
“Right,” Celia said, holding Turiel’s hand tighter. “This is what we do. Aziraphale, Crowley - stay there. If I need you, I’ll give you a sign.”
“What sign?” Aziraphale asked. “Is it specific? Is it a hand gesture. Will -”
“You’ll know. Newt, Anathema - I need you to keep an eye out, make sure there’s no surprise attack from anywhere around us. Or some poor hiker wanders into this mess. And if you’ve got a second to brainstorm some backup plans for if everything goes wrong, it wouldn’t hurt.”
“Is everything going to go wrong?” Newt asked.
“I sincerely hope not,” Celia said, holding Turiel’s hand tighter.
Gabriel and Beelzebub, who’d appeared in the field with a flash of light and fire some moments before, approached the group.
“Hello, Gabriel, Beelzebub,” Celia said with a forced smile. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“I’m sure you have,” Gabriel glared. “Beelzebub, restrain the angel and the demon.”
“Gladly,” Beelzebub seethed. “You bastards are in for it now.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Celia said before Beelzebub could move towards Crowley and Aziraphale.
“And why is that?”
Celia thought quickly. “Because… now that neither one of them are solely an angel or a demon, they’re entirely unpredictable. You can’t know what they’re going to do. They’re chaos incarnate.”
Crowley gave a wicked smile and Aziraphale waved merrily. Beelzebub stopped in their tracks and considered this.
“Don’t listen to her,” Gabriel urged. “It’s nothing you can’t handle.”
“Then you deal with those two and I’ll deal with the girl.”
“No,” Gabriel said. “The girl is my domain, my charge. I have to deal with her.”
“You really needn’t worry about us,” Crowley said. “We’re really just bystanders in all of this. Swept up into it all now. Like dust in a… whatever dust gets swept into.”
“Really,” Celia said. “I’m who you came for. And I something to tell you. I’ve reconsidered, you see. About your offer about the messiah thing…”
“What?” Gabriel spun towards her.
“I’ll be a messiah,” she replied. “I’ll be the best damn messiah you’ve ever seen - but only on my own terms. The word messiah is interesting - in Hebrew, it literally translates to ‘the anointed one’ such as one who’s been anointed with holy oil. In Arabic, they have their own word for messiah, which translates similarly, but it also means ‘the traveller’ or ‘one who heals by caressing.’”
“And what’s the point of this boring etymology?” Gabriel rolled his eyes.
“It’s that you really didn’t think this through,” Celia said. “You thought messiah could mean the same thing to everyone. But it really doesn’t. Not even close. I personally like traveller - or healer by caressing. I’d rather like to see the world and help people. Do the work you angelic lot should be doing, which Azriaphale has managed to do pretty well on his own. Giving them the tools and guidance and advice they need to thrive in this world. I won’t sacrifice my body or my health but I can at least give what I’ve learned and share it. Life is meant to be shared. And… well, I’m going to fight for this world every day of my life.”
“Oh hell,” Beelzebub gasped.
Gabriel’s eyes flashed. “No. Take it back. Undo it.”
Celia could feel something shift around in her brain as thoughts appeared that were not her own. It should be destroyed. Destroy it, it’s the only way. Burn it to the ground. Build something better. Burn it, all of it. People are not to be trusted. Think of Madi. Think of the customers at your old job. Thinks of -
“No,” Celia said aloud. This felt like battling the dark voice of her anxiety, the ones that emerged when she was at her most fearful or her lowest state of mind. She had learned not to give these voices time and energy and not to let them take control. Whatever Gabriel was doing to make them appear in her mind would not work.
“No,” Celia repeated, smiling softly. “I’m the messiah now. I don’t serve you - I served something bigger than you. And I’m going to make sure this world never, ever ends. Not when I die, not after I die. Not because of some foolish humans not paying attention. No, we’re going to rebuild a world to last. And it starts today.”
“You… you can’t just sweep away all of my plans with a few words,” Gabriel spluttered.
“I believe I did, actually. Took a page from the Anti-Christ you know. It worked pretty well for him.”
“I can’t believe I fell for that again.”
“Believe it. ‘Cause you did.”
“I can still remove you from this earth. I can still kill you, you fucker.” Gabriel lunged towards her as a flash of light appeared. Inside the circle Celia had drawn earlier, the Metatron appeared.
“Language!” the Metatron bellowed. “Gabriel, what the Heaven is going on?”
Gabriel froze. “Metatron,” he said, turning slowly towards the glowing face. “I’ve been dealing with most wretched human. She’s ruined everything we’ve planned for and -”
“We’ve planned for?” The Metatron blinked slowly. “I have discussed this with the Almighty - it doesn’t seem we were all on board with this plan. Rather, it seems this is an unauthorized appointing of messiah-hood and an unauthorized Apocalypse. The Almighty has asked that you come back to the office so that we can investigate this further.”
Gabriel paled. “I don’t… I don’t understand. This is part of the Great Plan. Ending the world. How is this… how is this not right?”
“We really need to discuss it back in the office. Please come as soon as your able.”
The Metatron disappeared. Gabriel spun towards Celia.
“What have you done?”
“What someone should have done a long time ago and told your boss about your terrible management style,” Celia folded her arms across her chest. “You won’t be involved in any Apocalypse planning any time soon.”
“You can’t do this. I’ll -”
Gabriel rushed towards Celia. As he moved, Turiel stepped in his path and gave him a mighty shove. Stumbling backwards, Gabriel fell into the ring of light. He stood frozen for a moment and bellowed a string of curses the likes of which Celia had never heard before. With an explosive pop, Gabriel disappeared into a shower of sparks.
“Is he gone?” Newt asked.
“For now,” Turiel said. “Discorporated.”
Aziraphale cringed, remembering his own discorporation. “He’s going to be absolutely dreadful when he comes back.”
“He won’t be coming back any time soon,” Celia said reassuringly. “He’s got to deal with the Almighty first. And we’ve got to deal with Beelzebub. Where’d they get to?”
“Gone,” Anathema said.
“Disappeared when the Metatron came back,” Crowley said. “No demon at their level wants to be anywhere close to the Almighty. Especially when they’re about to chew out an angel.”
“Fair enough,” Celia said. “I don’t suppose any of this is really over, is it?”
Crowley shook his head. “First Beelzebub will want to get even with Gabriel for being dragged into all of this. And then they’ll come for you and for Turiel. They’ll find a way to start the Apocalypse, no matter what it takes.”
“But we’ll be ready,” Turiel said.
Celia squeezed her hand. “Yes. We will.”
“Well, perhaps we should get lunch,” Aziraphale suggested. “There’s a lovely little restaurant up here - the Ben Nevis Inn.”
“I could do with a proper tuck,” Newton agreed.
“Dust devils!” Crowley cried.
“What?” Aziraphale asked, terribly confused.
“They’re what pick up dust,” Crowley said.
“Oh my… let’s just go find that restaurant,” Azirphale sighed.
“Who do think they’re best mate is going to be at their wedding?” Anathema whispered to Celia. “Because it better be one of us. Or one of us is best mate and the other’s mate of honor.”
“You’re damn right about that,” Celia agreed and the group traipsed off across the field.
And here it is - the battle! It still feels unfinished to me but it'll do.
I allowed myself only one f-bomb in this story as a challenge to myself (otherwise there'd be loads more swearing) and I chose to give it to Gabriel. It felt right, somehow.
Also, I definitely accidentally made up the aphorism Aziraphale when out with my parents a few weeks ago. I, much like Zira, think this "don't shoot me or the horse..." thing works. XD
After a solid meal - which took twice as long because Aziraphale ate slower than all of them, carefully savoring every bite while Turiel and Crowley argued about who’s version of Hell got it the most accurate (Dante or Sartre) which resulted in them needing to map out their arguments on paper while Aziraphale grew bored and ordered dessert - the group walked back to the hostel where they considered the Bentley. After much argument - mostly between Crowley and Aziraphale about miracle-ing an extra seat into the car versus sticking one of the book girls in the trunk (“There’s space in the boot!” Crowley cried, who was highly against any augmentation of his car. “They're small enough anyhow. Give ‘em a blanket and a book and safety-belt thingy and they’re fine!”) Anathema and Newton offered to rent a car for the ride back to Tadfield. It also helped that Newton was a little afraid to find out what Crowley’s driving was actually like and Anathema was in no rush to get back into the Bentley after her prior experiences.
The drive back felt longer somehow - there was no rush to get anywhere, nothing propelling them forward, nothing that needed finishing. There was time to enjoy the drive and take in the scenery. Crowley was still doing 90 miles per hour but he took the scenic route to allow them a nice look at the glens and lochs, and to give Turiel a chance to question what she did next.
“I could go anywhere in the world,” she said, “and there’s so much world to see. Considering I haven’t seen any of it for centuries, I don’t know where to start.”
“Well, Athens is very lovely this time of year,” Aziraphale suggested. “And Tokyo’s very nice. Oh, and Sao Paulo too. And - Crowley, watch out for those sheep!”
Crowley gave a snort. “If they’re dumb enough to wander in the road, they’ve got it coming.” But nevertheless he swerved around the flock of meandering sheep and Aziraphale gave a little sigh of relief.
“That all sounds lovely,” Turiel said, responding to Aziraphale’s suggestions, “but I haven’t even seen London. Maybe I should start there. It would give me the chance to… settle on some things.” Celia swore the Nephilim’s eyes darted towards her for a second. She felt her heart flutter.
“Yes, well, there is always that. You could see the bookshop!” Aziraphale said gleefully. “Which reminds me… Celia, dear… I am afraid I have some bad news for you.”
“I do as well, actually. I meant to mention, while doing the books… you know you’ve only sold five books in the last fifty years?”
Aziraphale gave a sound like he’d been hit. “Five books? That many?”
“Uh…. yes. I rather imagine you’re not actually in the service of selling books so… I don’t know how to put this, but… I think my talents would be put to better use elsewhere.”
“On that I agree. Thank God. I was afraid I was going to have to fire you and I was absolutely dreading it. However… As I am in the pursuit of collecting manuscripts of prophecies, I wouldn’t mind getting a copy of your notebook? And I think we could do with a bookshop prophet on staff.”
“I think that can be arranged.” Celia looked over at Turiel. “You know… I am hoping to do a fair bit of traveling in the future. If you’d like… well, maybe you’d want to travel with me? I’ll start in London and then maybe take a trip home to Minnesota. And then who knows? Maybe New York, Paris, Reykjavik, Istanbul, Marrakesh - who knows? That is… if you’d want to.”
“I would love to,” Turiel said.
“Good.” Celia paused for a second then, following an internal instinct, leaned over and kissed Turiel on the cheek. Turiel turned, cupping Celia’s chin in her hand and kissed her back on the lips. Celia felt her face flush and her heart sped up as the world fell away. For a moment, there was nothing but the two of them, the taste of honey and mountain air on their lips. When they parted, Celia registered that Aziraphale was telling them to let them know when they were in Paris, as he’d had a certain hankering for crepes for the last decade.
“Of course,” Celia murmurmd, not certain if she was answering Aziraphale or some unspoken thought between her and Turiel. She rested her head on Turiel’s shoulder as Queen’s “Heaven for Everyone” began to play through the Bentley’s speakers and watched as the glens of Scotland fly by, relishing that, in this moment, she did not worry at all.
Beelzebub had received word that Gabriel was being investigated for his work at trying to orchestrate another Apocalypse. There were rumors that he might be demoted, which Beelzebub doubted. No doubt he’d get a chewing out, a reprimand, and things would go on as before. He was an archangel - the odds were in his favor. But Beelzebub had learned an important lesson from this temporary truce - don’t trust an angel. And the ends did not justify the means. They would never work with Heaven to achieve the end of the world again, as far as they were concerned. The were better off making their own plans and carrying them out. Which was why they’d called Hastur to their continual molding office.
“Hastur,” Beelzebub said, propping their feet up on the desk, “if you could do one nasty thing on Earth, what would it be?”
“Only one?” Hastur said, a little disappointed.
“Yes. You’d better make it good.”
Hastur considered this. “Can it be one thing but to many people?”
“It depends. What thing would it be?”
Hastur smiled cruelly. “I want to tear humanity limb from limb and, at the very end, destroy that prophet girl, Crowley, and that twisted angel boyfriend of his.”
Beelzebub buzzed joyfully. “I think that might be arranged, duke of Hell. What do you say we pay Heaven back the favor of their attempt at the Apocalypse and plan a little of our own?”
Hastur laughed and laughed and laughed, until Beelzebub began to grow uncomfortable. “You don’t have to ask me twice,” he finally replied. “When do we start?”
“We already have.”
Gabriel was not having a good day. He was on cherub duty, meaning he had to mind a group of cheerful, giggling fools who thought their idea of the Great Plan meant bouncing on clouds and pretending that other clouds were marshmallows that could be used to build edible fortresses. He had always thought cherubs were a mistake - some cross-contamination from the Greeks. Maybe Zeus had just kicked them out of Mount Olympus for being so incredibly annoying and they’d ended up here.
It wasn’t the worst task he could have been given. He could have been assigned to the file room. Fortunately he hadn’t been placed there or he might have done something regrettable. He couldn’t risk any bad behavior. He needed to get back on God’s good side - and soon. He wasn’t going to waste precious time babysitting cherubs and doing corporate training sessions. He wanted back out in the field. The sooner, the better.
Uriel approached him, frowning slightly.
“Don’t say anything,” Gabriel said. “Not a word about it.”
“Right,” Uriel said. “I was going to ask if you’d heard from Beelzebub.”
“No. Not that I’d be able to get word at the moment.”
“Our agent has heard that Beelzebub is planning again.”
Gabriel sighed. “Of course they are. Does the agent know what, exactly?”
Uriel shook their head. “Not yet. I’ll stay in close contact though.” There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. “Did you try to explain? To the Almighty about how we’d be better off without Aziraphale and his boyfriend around?”
“I did try. But believe me, talking with God is mostly being talked at. There’s little chance for response. Once I’m out of here though… I do believe you’re right. It’s time to take care of those two morons once and for all.”
Gabriel watched the cherubs bounce from cloud to cloud as a dark violet light shone in his eyes. Soon, he assured himself. Soon.
It was evening in London. It had been about a week since the second spoiled Apocalypse. In that time, Celia had spent a great deal of time with her friend Allyson, trying to explain as much of what had happened as she could, without sounding mad. She’d also been spending a great deal of time trip planning with Turiel and deciding where they would travel first.
Crowley and Aziraphale had decided that they deserved a bit of a holiday. Aziraphale closed up the shop (not that it was open often to begin with) and the two decided they would spend the weekend in Cardiff, relaxing and dining out. Before they left, they spent Friday evening in Regents Park, watching the sunset over the city. Aziraphale had brought a bottle of fine wine from his cellar (“only for the most important occasions,” he’d said) and Crowley had put together a basket of bread, cheese, fruit, and chocolates. As they had their second long awaited picnic, one they were assured would not be interrupted by a vengeful angel, Aziraphale enjoyed feeling the change that had occurred between them. For so long - centuries really - there had been this tension, this unease, between them that had tormented Aziraphale. He had always believed it was because he’d chosen to work with “the enemy”. Now he knew it had been so much more than that. There was a connection between them, one that had become a bond. Realizing that this tension had frizzled and sparked with love for six thousand years and had now led them to this (whatever this was now) had become something Aziraphale was excited and nervous to explore.
“Well. Here we are.”
Crowley made a hiss of agreement. “Survived the Apocalypse. Again.”
“We should get a medal. A prize. Something.”
“Absolutely… The question I have, Angel, is what do we do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Big One is still coming. Heaven and Hell aren’t just going to stop. If anything, they’re going to try harder.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale contemplated this. “I do suppose you’re right.”
“I think the best thing to do is start going through Celia’s prophecies. And have her keep track of things for us.”
“It is tremendously useful to have a living prophet to navigate through the end times.”
“Yes. If she’s traveling, maybe she’s going around, talking to people, telling people.”
“What, like preparing them?”
“Yeah. Might be.”
“That would be rather brilliant of her.”
“It’d be on brand, that’s for sure. I wonder what she knows.”
“Ngk,” Crowley spluttered. “Everything. Us.”
“Yes… I mean… I suppose we’re a sort of item now?” He looked at Aziraphale hopefully.
“An item? Whatever do you mean?”
“You know… like a… couple.”
“Oh. Going steady, as the Yanks say.”
“Yeah. Except I don’t think any Americans have said that since 1963.”
“Regardless, yes. I would say we are some sort of ‘item.’ What exactly does that entail, though?”
“Well… It depends, I suppose?”
“What we… what we want.”
“Of course. And what do we want?” He gave Crowley a sly smile.
“Uh… well. We should decide. I know… I know what I want. I want… I want to lay beside you and watch time go by and just hold your hand in mine. Feel you heart beat. Feel your fingers twitch and relax. Learn what your palms and fingerprints feel like against mine.”
Aziraphale folded his hand into Crowley’s, intertwining their fingers together. “I want that. And so much more.” Aziraphale kissed him lightly, his lips brushing gently across Crowley’s mouth. Crowley’s teeth brushed Aziraphale’s bottom lip and Crowley bit it gently. Aziraphale moaned and pulled Crowley in closer.
Time stopped and the kiss lingered, becoming more intense, then softer and light. It could have been minutes, hours, days before the two parted.
“Well,” Crowley said, his voice rough and hoarse. “That. I want that. And more of it.”
“I think that can be arranged, my dear.”
The sun had begun to set and the sky was awash in pinks and golds as the sun sank lower. Think cirrus clouds looked like pulled pieces of spun sugar and the sky above was lavender struck with hints of green and blue.
“You know, of all the things that were made,” Aziraphale said, pouring a glass of wine, “I think sunsets are one of the best.”
“Can’t argue that.” Crowley took the wine glass Aziraphale handed him. “This world… it’s a rather precious thing isn’t it?”
“It is. It’s worth fighting for. Always.” Aziraphale raised his glass for a toast.
Crowley clinked his glass against Aziraphale’s and smiled. “Always.”
That’s it. That’s the show. I can’t believe I started this a month ago and that’s it’s over already. I’m a bit sad, actually - this piece has really become dear to me.
Thank you all so, so much for reading and for all your lovely comments. It’s been a long time since I wrote a fic and you’ve all been so welcoming and kind. I conveniently ended this in a way so that I could write a sequel to my sequel if I wanted. XD Otherwise, I’m certainly going to write some short pieces about these dear Ineffable Husbands and likely Celia and Turiel as well. And maybe a fic or two about Beelz and Gabe, since I love writing arguments between them. Stay tuned for that and thank you all again!