Chapter 1: Defy
A pram hit the back of Aziraphale’s calves and the woman pushing it let out a string of curses. That more than the collision had him jumping out of the way, profusely apologizing for stopping in the first place. Aziraphale didn’t think his apologies meant much—especially now that the infant had started screaming—so he miracled up a free coffee at the next cafe she stopped at and a good night’s sleep for good measure.
“Sorry, terribly sorry again…”
The woman gave him a dirty look as she swerved back into pedestrian traffic. Aziraphale shuffled off to the side.
Well, best to re-tie his loafers, yes? Never mind another miracle he’d performed years back, ensuring those bows would never again come undone (not after he’d nearly face-planted in Crowley’s company). One could never be too careful after all. So Aziraphale bent and spruced up one shoe, then the other. While down there he found that the cuffs of his pants could do with some straightening and there was a nearly invisible speck of dust on one knee. Maybe both. His waistcoat was always askew and the buttons could do with some polishing, his hair was—
“Fine,” Aziraphale sighed, lowering his hand from where he’d been patting his curls. “You look exactly as you always have, old boy, and it’s not worth putting this off a moment longer.”
That’s what he told himself anyway. It was quite another thing for Aziraphale to get his feet moving again, rounding the corner that would take him to the front of his shop. The feeling that had stopped him in the first place still hung heavy in the air and Aziraphale found himself fiddling with the buttons on his sleeve, more to waste another few, precious moments than out of any real desire to fix something.
There was a supernatural entity packed into the shop. Oh yes. Packed being the optimal word. Whoever it was had enough power to their name that it had seeped out of their corporeal form and spilled onto the street, drawing the humans’ gaze even if they didn’t know what they were looking towards. Could be a whole army of angels stationed among the books. Demons even. That might generate the sort of skin-prickling heat Aziraphale could feel now, growing hotter which each step he took towards the door. More likely though it was a single archangel.
“Perhaps,” Aziraphale whispered, now just an arm’s length from his well-worn handle; the collection of dates and times meant to deter too many from popping in. The faded paper seemed silly now, given that he would have rather hosted any thousands of humans over one of his brethren. So yes, perhaps he should rethink this. Head back out for a second lunch. A long, mid-day walk. Anything other then opening that door.
He could call Crowley.
Aziraphale was stepping across the threshold before he’d even finished the thought. No. They might be on the same side now, but that only meant he couldn’t throw his ally to the proverbial wolves. If his celestial siblings had decided to attempt a second punishment there was nowhere on Earth—or Alpha Centauri for that matter—where he could hide and Aziraphale’s last act as a Principality would not be dragging his beloved down with him.
“Crowley always did say I was stubborn as a mule,” he muttered.
There was something quite freeing about committing to a decision. It allowed Aziraphale to finally still his hands and lift his chin, determined to meet this challenge with at least half the grace Crowley had afforded him during his first trial. Or the sham of one based on the story he’d heard. That alone was enough to give him a burst of something resembling courage, propelling him through the door.
Aziraphale was so certain he’d be greeted by Gabriel’s smug smile that he nearly tripped over himself when he… wasn’t.
“Ah,” he said, arms splayed out in a comical bid for balance. “Hello. You’re getting tar on my favorite cushion.”
Pollution tilted their head, much like an owl spotting prey. They sat slumped in the chair tucked between the counter and the first bookshelf, long legs stretched out and yes, a small puddle of what looked like tar dripping down from their ear. It settled on the tartan pillow wedged behind their back.
“Sorry,” Pollution said and smeared the muck further into the fabric.
This was most definitely unexpected. Unprecedented. Other un-words that Aziraphale couldn’t hope to think of because his brain was currently the equivalent of an egg frying on the pavement. Yes, a Horseman would most certainly generate the level of power he’d felt outside and—wait. Scratch that. Two Horsemen, Famine stepping out from the shadows to stand at Pollution’s side. He gave a jaunty little wave.
“Hello angel,” he said.
Aziraphale winced, unused to the endearment coming from anyone other then Crowley. Not that Famine meant it in such a way. He might be able to fake it though, with that relaxed posture and easy-going smile. Aziraphale looked around, a bit wild, now expecting the other two to close in on him. When nothing of the sort occurred he was left standing in the middle of his shop with two of the most destructive embodiments to ever exist staring like they expected him to start this conversation.
So Aziraphale did the only thing worth doing when things went pear shaped.
“I’ll make us some tea.”
Humans were quite right that there was an art to this practice and Aziraphale had spent many centuries mastering it. He’d never admit it aloud, but he found that the routine of boiling, steeping, and adding produced a drink far superior to what he could simply conjure up with angelic whim. Whether that said more about his skill or miracles themselves, Aziraphale wasn’t inclined to say. Perhaps it was simply the act of engaging in labor before reaping the reward.
Whatever it was, routine gave him a good ten minutes away from the Horsemen, allowing Aziraphale to pick up such useful information as, “I haven’t been attacked from behind yet” and “Apparently physical manifestations of mortal failings do enjoy a good drink now and again.” Famine asked for milk and three sugars. Pollution wanted nothing in theirs. Between checking the milk’s expiration date and pulling down honey for himself, Aziraphale felt another urge to dial a long-memorized number. He needn’t even say anything. The fact that he’d called at all would be more than enough to get Crowley here in record time.
Instead Aziraphale hefted a tray laden with tea and molasses cookies back into the shop, hoping he wasn’t making another wrong decision.
“Here you are,” he said, marveling at how steady his voice was. “I fear I’ve never entertained Horsemen before. Or, ah…” Aziraphale’s gaze landed on Pollution, something wet and sticky now seeping out of their boot. “Horse… people?”
Famine chuckled. “‘Horseman’ is traditional and I hardly care for the labels humans give us. Do you?”
It felt like a dangerous sort of question. Any would have really, so Aziraphale kept his mouth shut and made a non-committed sort of noise in the back of his throat. He poured the tea and tried not to spill too much of it into the saucers.
Pollution was still staring. Then suddenly they leaned forward in their seat, a squelching noise filling the silence, showing too many teeth when they smiled. “He’s nervous.”
“He’d better be.” Famine spoke as if Aziraphale were no longer in the room. “We may not have had our Armageddon, darling, but I hope we’re not that out of practice.”
Two pairs of eyes slid his way.
“Oh! Yes. Very, very nervous. That’s me. Nothing but nerves I should say. I’m positively stuffed with them—like a goose!—and that certainly isn’t changing as you both… ah, look at me like that. Tea?” Aziraphale desperately held out a cup.
He shoved it towards Pollution though and there was a cold, suspended moment as he realized it was the one filled with sugar and milk. Then Famine stepped between them and took it for himself.
“Lovely,” he said, downing half in one go. This close Aziraphale could feel Famine’s aura, the gnawing, bottomless ache that had opened up in his stomach. Instinctually he reached for a cookie only to find that the box was already in Famine’s hands. “I fear we didn’t come here for the goodies though. Rather, we have a proposition for you, angel.”
“Something fun.” Pollution had taken their cup as well, though they didn’t drink from it. Their finger just went round and round the rim as a pungent smell began to emanate from the tea. “There’s a war coming. Your boyfriend realized it first. We want in.”
Back in the 1740s Aziraphale had the dubious pleasure of befriending three young boys, each too rowdy and smart for their own good. A bit of mischief had resulted, in its final act, with them yanking a prayer rug Aziraphale stood on—perhaps the only literal example of someone having the rug pulled out from under them. He experienced the same stomach dropping sensation now, the instinctual urge to bring out his wings.
“War?” Aziraphale said faintly. “But… we avoided the—”
“Yes, but humans always find a way, don’t they? Eventually. They’re more resourceful than all of heaven and hell put together.” Famine took another cookie, eating it with a pleasure that contradicted his purpose. “We’re not stupid, angel. We knew going into the war that it would end in our demise. All but Death’s, of course. Angels and demons don’t need to eat, you see. Erasing humanity means erasing me too.”
“And me.” Pollution’s voice had grown softer, though Aziraphale was hesitant to call it laced with anything like fear. “War would survive…”
Famine grimaced. “In a fashion.”
“But humanity,” Pollution continued, not seeming to hear the interruption. “What wonderful creatures. Even if they learn from those brats at the airbase and improve themselves, the two of us can still go on. Famine lives in every holy man of yours, fasting in the name of the Lord. I exist in all the children leaving sweet wrappers in forests and gum under their chairs. We might not be powerful,”
“But you’d exist,” Aziraphale finished. Famine inclined his head.
“And that’s just the pessimistic view. I believe that humanity will continue on as it has, now that you’ve given them that chance.” Famine’s grin was nothing like Pollution’s and every bit as unsettling. “Gorging themselves. Leaving the mess behind.” He finished off the cookies and obligingly dropped the box on the carpet, inciting a happy squirm from Pollution.
“I see,” Aziraphale said. He wasn’t entirely sure he did. “So you need me to…?
“Do nothing. Nothing at all, angel. This was merely a polite acknowledgement. You and that demon started something when you stood at humanity’s side. Know that we have every expectation you’ll finish it.”
Famine clapped him on the shoulder as he went by and Aziraphale nearly buckled at the hunger that ran through him. Pollution followed, having taken nothing but leaving plenty behind. The stench was overwhelming.
“We’ll be in touch,” they said and left a smear of oil on the edge of Aziraphale’s sleeve, grasping it briefly like a child.
“Y-yes. Lovely to see you. Toodle pip!”
Aziraphale had his hands on the phone three seconds after his door closed.
“Crowley? Well of course it’s me, who else—? Never mind. I suggest you get over here quick as you can. No, no, nothing like that. Just… bring dinner would you? I hardly care, dear, just get lots of it. Yes, I’m alright. Quite ravenous though, I’ll explain later. Oh really, Crowley, there’s no need for that kind of… of… innuendo over the phone. I’m hanging up now. Yes. Right now. Goodbye, Crowley.”
A beat passed with the phone pressed against Aziraphale’s ear. Then Crowley’s tinny laughter filled the bookshop.
“Well I don’t hear you hanging up either,” he groused. All of it—the banter, Crowley’s voice, the utter absurdity of this little disagreement—helped to loosen the tension in Aziraphale’s shoulders; alleviated some of the stench from his nostrils and cleared out the air. He sat with a thump and listened to the familiar sounds of Crowley starting up the Bentley. It perhaps couldn’t hurt to stay on the line just a little bit longer.
“Best pick up a few bottles of wine while you’re at it,” Aziraphale said, staring at the empty cookie box. “I just had the most unexpected visitors. I fear we have a great deal to discuss, my dear.”
Crowley cracked another joke about Aziraphale’s visiting practices and that right there was their first miracle in a while. Because despite Horsemen and the presumption of inevitable war, even with the reminder of their newly minted side and all the consequences that came with it…
One joke from Crowley made Aziraphale feel like it was all going to be okay.
Chapter 2: Wretched
Aziraphale had always had a soft spot for children’s books. One wouldn’t think it based on the antiques and religious texts crowding up the shop, but if you took your time and wandered all the way to the back you’d find a sizable collection waiting, enhanced by the occasional plush and toy truck. They were mostly books from the mid-18th and 19th century, didactic texts with (surprise, surprise) religious bents. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly had been a long time favorite of his, both for the brightly colored paper it was bound in and the absurdly long title by contemporary standards.
The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes. The New England Primer. Millions of Cats. Peter Rabbit, The Secret Garden, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland…that was about as modern as Aziraphale was willing to go—for now at least—with the exception of one co-authored series from the 1990’s.
“The Bailey School Kids,” Crowley read. He flipped through one at random, eyes already skittering away from lack of interest. The cover got an amused snort though. “Dracula Doesn’t Drink Lemonade? Wouldn’t mind showing that to old Bram sometime.”
“You’re welcome to take that copy if you ever pop back downstairs.”
“Isn’t he with your lot?”
“Can’t quite recall anymore.” Aziraphale’s fingers skimmed the spines until he found the book he was looking for. With a dramatic flourish he showed off this cover too: a glowing woman performing a kick in front of four children.
Crowley’s lips twitched. “Angels Don’t Know Karate.”
“I’ll admit this one certainly doesn’t.”
“‘She’s too good to be true!’ Well they got that part right at least.”
Crowley’s admiration was rarely verbal. He preferred actions over words and when something did come tumbling out it was quickly followed by an insult for balance. You’re so clever. How can someone as clever as you be so stupid, and so forth. Thus, Aziraphale waited for the blow and instead felt his cheeks heating when all Crowley did was glance up over his glasses, eyes soft. He’d bent to get a look at the book and having him in such a, ahem, submissive position did nothing to calm Aziraphale’s racing heart.
What absurdities human bodies were. His palms had begun to sweat so badly that Aziraphale feared he’d do damage to the pages.
Yet when he dropped one hand to brush against his trousers he found it caught halfway, Crowley’s fingers ensnaring his, right at the tips. He drew Aziraphale’s knuckles to his mouth and placed a kiss there, reverent.
“Too good by far,” he murmured.
“Oh,” and Aziraphale was floundering, choking a bit, trying to put the book down and pull Crowley forward all at once until they were simply a mess of limbs and laughter. They finally succeeded and as Aziraphale bent to press his own kiss into the hollow of Crowley’s throat he forgot the reason he’d brought him over here in the first place.
I was making a joke, he thought faintly. Then Crowley took his face between his hands and Aziraphale forgot that too.
It came to him thirty hours later when a stray cat nearly upended itself into a drain in its attempt to get away from Crowley.
That was it. The Bailey series was missing a title: Demons Don’t Keep Pets.
“Wretched beast,” Crowley muttered and Aziraphale kindly ignored that the words were spoken in the same tone as, ‘I’m not nice’ and ‘That’s ridiculous,’ and ‘Shut up, angel.’
“We merely startled the poor thing,” Aziraphale said. He kept his eyes straight ahead.
“Shut up, angel.”
Spending time in the company of demons resulted in all sorts of odd, but really quite predictable outcomes. The stench of sulfur and chlorine was a given. Aziraphale had long ago ceased trying to cover up Crowley’s scent with any human-made creations and after the first couple of hundred years he’d forgotten why he’d wanted to in the first place. Minor mischief was another. Not anything planned, demons simply had a sort of… bad luck that surrounded them. Minor falls, forgotten words, and lost socks followed them everywhere. There was the expected gravitation towards warmer climates—many were cold blooded by nature—and the inevitable itch to groom one’s wings once the encountered concluded. Though that was due more to self-comparative embarrassment than anything the demons actually did.
And then there were the animals. Needless to say, creatures of Earth didn’t take kindly to demonic entities from the literal depths of hell.
Over their multi-millennium friendship (Courtship, Aziraphale silently corrected himself, experiencing a little thrill) he had seen Crowley interact with every animal imaginable. Or rather, unintentionally terrorize every animal imaginable. Cats, as established, had enough sense to get out of his way. Dogs were a little dumber, but that just resulted in shaking, whimpering, and a pungent mess on the floor. The Bentley was beloved not only for it style, but the freedom it had afforded him. Over the years Aziraphale had watched Crowley get bucked off of horses, camels, donkeys, mules, and on one memorable occasion an elephant. Though there were upsides too, of course. This particular body was quite susceptible to bug bites, though Aziraphale never needed to worry about such things when on a dusk stroll with Crowley. In decades past a visit from him had been more than enough to scare off the rats and cockroaches plaguing Aziraphale’s home. Squirrels and other rodents never bothered them while eating outside. Birds wouldn’t dare to defecate anywhere in their presence (smarter than the dogs then). It had taken a hundred years for the ducks of St. Jame’s Park to become accustomed to their routine… and even today they very obviously only ate the bread on Aziraphale’s side of the pond.
In short, there was a reason that poor unicorn had bolted the moment Crowley come on the scene.
“You’re thinking about how I’m responsible for the extinction of the unicorns, aren’t you?”
Aziraphale faltered only briefly. Uneven pavement. Such a danger. “Not at all, my dear.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Zira.”
“I am quite accomplished in the art due entirely to your influence. Now hush and enjoy the sunset.”
Crowley grumbled, but slipped his hand into Aziraphale’s when they just so happened to brush. They did enjoy the sunset while strolling back from dinner and as they did not a single mosquito, bird, or daring cat came their way.
Crowley would have dearly loved to have a pet.
He’d never said as much, not even at their most inebriated, but the desire was clear as day to Aziraphale. Put aside how well they knew one another; Aziraphale was, quite literally, a being meant to understand and exhibit love, someone who could feel it in all its forms. He knew that Crowley loved animals with the same surety that he knew Crowley loved children. And him. The duck obsession, the drunken worry for all the ocean’s creatures, they were just neon signs pointing to an already obvious statement.
Aziraphale had briefly thought that Dog was the answer. Who better to love a demon than a hell hound? Sadly, a visit to the Young household established that Adam had been a bit too thorough in transforming Dog into a normal dog. The puddle on the family room rug had created quite the stir.
So, with Armageddon two weeks behind them and all the freedom to do as he pleased, Aziraphale went shopping.
“Angel, when you said you’d gotten me a present…” Crowley’s mouth worked for a moment, seeming to taste a whole lot of words before rejecting all of them. “Weeellll. Kinda thought it was another stuffy old book.”
“You love when I give you stuffy old books.” Aziraphale had seen the small collection in Crowley’s apartment, as loved as anything else in that minimalist space.
“Is this a stuffy old book then?”
Crowley pointed to the box. The box moved.
In truth Crowley already knew what was inside. He could no doubt smell it, but he went through the motions of surprise all the same. Aziraphale watched how hard he swallowed and the shake in his hands as he pulled back the flaps.
“…You got me a snake,” he said and Aziraphale smiled at how wet his voice had gotten.
Specifically, Aziraphale had gotten him an Eastern Hognose Snake, black with a reddish tint to match Crowley’s hair. Docile and small, the little dear had no sooner tasted the air then it was making a beeline for Crowley, around his wrist and up onto his shoulder.
He’d been right. The curse didn’t extend to one’s own species.
“I’m surprised you never got one for yourself,” Aziraphale said. He watched as Crowley ran two fingers delicately over the scales, entranced. A soft, subconscious hiss was emanating each time he breathed. “It’s rather the perfect pick for you.”
“Way to toot your own horn. But nah, just… snakes. Not very cute, are they? Not the sort of thing people want in their home.” Crowley used his free hand to sit his sunglasses more firmly onto his face and… oh.
Aziraphale felt something in his chest tighten. He stepped forward and removed those glasses, despite the protest.
“I think they’re positively adorable,” and a laugh bubbled out of Aziraphale as Crowley spluttered. The tension in his shoulders released though and the little Hognose ended up better settled between them. “A snake will make a wonderful addition to this home, rest assured. You’ll have to give him a name.”
“Her,” Crowley croaked.
“Got any suggestions?”
“Not just yet.” Stepping closer Aziraphale laid his head on Crowley’s shoulder, eye-to-eye with their little lady. He wasn’t at all scared though. Like with the snake above him, Aziraphale knew he was perfectly safe. “I hear these lovelies play dead when feeling threatened, so the name must be something suitably dramatic. You see? You’re perfect for one another.”
“Shut it, angel.”
“And yes, there’s a collection of stuffy old books in the second box. You must read up on how to properly care for her. You don’t really think I’d pass up the opportunity to—”
“Somebody give me strength do you ever shut up?”
Crowley finally decided that the best way to achieve silence was to get it himself, which was precisely why Aziraphale blathered on in the first place. Kissing one snake while another watched wasn’t precisely what one would consider angel-like behavior.
Although, given that Aziraphale was an angel and here they were, perhaps it wasn’t so far off the mark after all.
Chapter 3: Power
What kind of fic author would I be if I didn't write a good old-fashioned 5 & 1?
“Crowley. Crowley, Crowley. Crowley, Crowley, Crowley, Crowley—”
He must have looked absurd, muttering the name over and over beneath his breath, but Aziraphale was far past the point of caring what this particular village thought of him. He’d arrived in the hopes of spreading an admittedly generic message of peace and love of God, only to find that the Welsh were not quite as welcoming of religious men as they once were. Not outsiders, anyhow. Upon learning that he was neither a Jones, Williams, or Davies, Aizraphale had promptly been left alone with his pears, though even dried fruit could not improve his mood tonight. And whose fault was that?
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, this time imbuing the name with all that sizzling frustration. He took a sip of his beer and then pursed his lips, trying out each syllable independently. “Crow-ley. Crow-l-y. Really, there’s hardly a difference between them. Crawley. Crowley. One letter! Don’t know why that serpent gets so bent out of shape about it...”
Funny that Aziraphale couldn’t get said serpent’s voice out of his mind though. Their last encounter had been a mere three days ago, passing one another on the road, Aziraphale’s cheery greeting met with a clipped correction. It was possible Crowley didn’t even care that much about the mistake. He had undoubtedly been in a foul mood and had taken every opportunity to express it. Surely his hissed “Crowley” was just another form of release. Like the way he’d stuck his forked tongue out and kicked stray stones at Aziraphale's back.
...Yet the tone remained. A strain of disappointment hidden beneath the anger. It had played round and round in Aziraphale’s head, wreaking havoc with his appetite.
So here he was, speaking “Crowely” round and round in a counterbalance; an overdue attempt to sear it onto his tongue. Aziraphale wouldn’t forget next time.
“Not because I care,” he muttered, popping another bit of pear into his mouth. “Certainly not. But there’s no reason to give him more to complain about, now is there?”
Aziraphale washed the treat down. He almost believed his own words.
“Crowley. Crowley, Crowley, Crowley.”
The blade sang down, close enough to Aziraphale’s cheek that he flinched from the air alone. At this range though he could see a multitude of ways to incapacitate Michael. Her grip wasn’t quite right. Her footwork unsteady. There was a hesitance to her strikes that told him she hadn’t had this body long. Most damningly—if one must phrase it that way—she knew only the regiment instilled in her from other angels; Aziraphale had spent centuries among humans and he eyed her crotch, resisting the urge to plant a solid kick there.
Instead he held his ground, giving her plenty of time to arc her sword back up and point it at his neck.
Aziraphale blinked down at the steel. Really, in Michael’s hands it wasn’t difficult to drum up an expression of fear. “I yield, sibling.”
“Excellent,” and the sword went into the sand. Michael’s own expression might have been termed pride, had it been anyone other than she who wore it. “I’m glad to see your time on Earth hasn’t entirely dulled your skills.”
Aziraphale was happy to disintegrate his own sword, turning the metal into seeds that scattered across the dunes. He watched their progress a moment before mustering up a smile, hesitant though it was. “Yes. The demons remain a troublesome lot. Nothing I can’t handle though!” His hands twisted in the edge of his tunic. “I’ve thwarted many, uh, diabolical plans these last few decades. Holy smitings and, you know... more thwartings. Doing right by Heaven and all that.”
Michael had a tendency to stare. Aziraphale had always felt the need to combat such looks with words and it seemed that hadn’t changed since they’d last met in Timbuktu. The fact that said meeting had resulted in a reprimand over his, to quote, “unseemly interest in human manuscripts” hardly helped matters.
“Perhaps you’d like an example? Let me—let me paint you a picture. There I was, observing one of the local priestesses— keeping her on the straight and narrow, don’t you know—when who should saunter in but my old nemesis, the serpent Crowley—”
“Crowley?” It was perhaps the twentieth word Michael had spoken since hailing him. Then summoning a sword and attempting to take off his head. “You mean the demon Crawley?”
“No. I don’t.”
The words slipped out before Aziraphale could even think to swallow them. He watched Michael’s eyes narrow even as the hot thing in his throat threatened to say even more. All sorts of blasphemous declarations about how Crowley’s name was his name and how dare you question that.
Never-mind that Aziraphale had once done the same thing.
What he gave instead was an argument so smooth and sensible that Aziraphale felt as if he was now watching from afar, observing someone else move his mouth and splay his hands. Something like possession maybe. He explained in persuasive words that Crowley’s latest rebellion was really a boon. Let his new name spread for all to hear. Humans should have this information for their exorcisms and encouraging the demon would just help him sink even further into sin. Let him continue to damn himself. Wasn’t this vanity at its finest?
Michael’s smile was brighter than the midday sun. Searing too. “We were right to give you this position, brother.”
Aziraphale inclined his head and was shocked to find that for the first time in a long time he felt like he was doing the right thing.
“Oh do cease that whimpering. I’m not going to smite you.”
The demon cowered at the back of the alleyway, a low-level grunt speechless in the face of one of God’s Principalities. Which was really quite hilarious, given that the demon was a mean looking fellow and Aziraphale was decidedly... not. The nineteenth century had done wonders for both his wardrobe and his waistline. Aziraphale was now, it seemed, the most terrifying dandy in London.
The demon let out a defensive growl reminiscent of a wolf. In response Aziraphale held up his hat in one hand and his cane in the other. No one would be snapping their fingers anytime soon, let alone the rather dramatic hand-on-forehead-burning-out-eyes business. The demon had some sort of muck dripping down from his hairline and if Heaven expected him to dirty his hands in that they were, to be entirely frank, expecting too much. Especially before dinner.
“I really couldn’t care less how you spend your night, demon, provided that you do it well away from The Criterion.” Aziraphale eyed the sparks emanating from the demon’s fingers. He’d caught him sulking about the shadows and as of yet had no idea if that was some natural, bodily function or the fuel to start a fire. If it was the latter then hell help this minion, there would be smiting tonight after all.
The demon was constantly shifting his weight, seemingly unsure about whether to attack, run, or hold his ground. “Foul angel—”
“You cannot reek from ten feet away and call me the foul one.”
“You would really let me go?”
Aziraphale considered the question. Put so bluntly it did sound bad and no doubt would look even worse on paper. If this creature told his fellows that an angel had cornered him without finishing the deed... well, that was precisely the sort of story that would spread. Upwards even, until it reached Gabriel’s ears. That wouldn’t do at all.
But smiting? Exorcism? Far too much work.
So Aziraphale lifted his chin and adopted as formidable a tone as he could manage. “Do not doubt that I would wipe you from this good Earth without hesitation, but, ah—” he faltered a moment before a nearby lamp caught his eye and the shine of yellow offered inspiration. “But you’re too insignificant! Hardly worth my time, demon. Not when I, Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate, have been charged with the holy task of defeating your better, the demon Crowley.” There. That would do quite nicely. Aziraphale replaced his hat and nodded once for good measure.
The demon blinked. “Wait. Crawley?”
“Stringy fellow. Always wearing those,” the demon mimed glasses with two boil-laden hands. “Human thingies?
“No. Look, he changed it. Thousands of years ago! How can your lot not know this by now? I simply can’t imagine the disorganization down there.”
By this point the demon had slithered out of the shadows, head cocked like a particularly curious pup. If pups made one gag and wish to look away in disgust, that is. Aziraphale fiddled with his pocket watch.
“Well why’d he go and do that?” he asked.
“Because...” Aziraphale’s mouth worked around a number of possibilities that were too personal for this creature and too intimate to be coming from him. “Because of, uh... crows! Yes! Obviously. Dark omens, aren’t they?” Aziraphale nodded when the demon merely went on looking confused. “Humans believe all sorts of things. Bringers of death. Bad luck. Get a whole flock of them and they’re called a ‘murder.’ What better name for a demon?”
This demon gasped. Like Aziraphale had suddenly introduced him to caviar. Or a bath. “Oh, I get it! Crowley. Always thought he was the dark omen sort. Very impressive.”
On his way out of the alleyway the demon slapped a hand against Aziraphale’s coat, leaving a stain he’d never be able to get out. “Thanks, foul thing.”
Aziraphale just sighed. “You’re very welcome.”
Aziraphale rarely prayed. It was a rather complicated thing nowadays.
There was once a time when he could have spoken to God by merely lifting his head and asking for Her presence. Not that Aziraphale ever did, of course. No, no, that was far above his pay grade, to put such an experience into modern terms. But he could have and that meant something.
Then there were the centuries when he might have drawn his sigils and lit his candles, only to end up speaking with Metatron instead. Now even that seemed an arduous task and Aziraphale was left to fold his hands and speak to an abyss, just like every other being on this planet. It was as joyous as it was horrifying. Realizing he wasn’t much different from them in the one way he’d thought had mattered.
Aziraphale did pray though. At least, he thought he did. Unlike a human there was nothing he wanted and he most certainly did not ask the Almighty any questions. He merely sent up soft, meandering thoughts about his life and his experiences and his hopes for the world. Over time he even began to think of Crowley, ideas and observations that just skimmed the edge of blasphemy. They were never fully formed. Rather, it was mostly just his name. A ‘Crowley’ that existed on the peripheral of his being. Aziraphale often wondered if God could hear him and if so, what did She make of it? He simply didn’t know.
He supposed that was faith and most days? It was enough.
Not today though.
Today, Aziraphale got off his knees and went to call Crowley instead. He could leave his thoughts in a voicemail and know for sure that they’d be heard.
“No, no, no it’s Crowley. A long ‘o,’ my dear. Like, ‘Oh dear me!’ Or, ‘Might I please borrow some more of that Beaujolais?’”
Their waitress, Huong, laughed as she ‘lent’ some wine into Aziraphale’s glass. Across from where she stood Crowley had nearly upended into his own wine glass, hoping that the red dregs would explain his blush.
“It doesn’t matter, angel,” he muttered.
“Well of course it matters! It’s your name.”
Huong had been serving them for three years now, the Vietnamese restaurant a favorite ever since Aziraphale had discovered their particular twist on green curry. During that time they’d learned all about Huong’s adorable baby brother (miracles expended on good health), her long-suffering girlfriend (a miracle to cure Huong of her snoring), and her dreams of finishing art school (miracles for scholarships, energy, good library spots, and winning a cappuccino machine in a competition she never signed up for). In that time they’d also learned that Huong had a devil of a time pronouncing Crowley’s name.
The fact that she didn’t have a spot of trouble with Aziraphale’s just didn’t seem to register.
Tonight they played out their old and welcome script. Huong would greet them at the door, lead them to the one table with a full view of the room, butcher Crowley’s name, and catch his eye with a smile when Aziraphale began another, drawn-out lesson.
“I’m sorry,” she said now. “I just don’t think I’ll ever get it...”
Aziraphale reached out to pat her arm. “I have complete faith in you, my dear. Your efforts are commendable. As is your pho.”
“I don’t make the food, Mr. Fell.”
Crowley snorted, watching Aziraphale flounder and dig himself deeper. Of course, Huong was perfectly capable of pronouncing his name. Crowley had known that for three years. She simply enjoyed what her mistakes produced.
More importantly, she knew that Crowley enjoyed it too.
Aziraphale spoke the name and watched as Crowley bowed under it, so forcefully that for a moment he feared it had been too much. Angels could create love just as easily as they felt it and their love was, first and foremost, holy. Here in his arms Crowley shook like blessed lighting had struck from the sky; he writhed like fire burned through his veins.
It was over now. Not Armageddon—neither of them were thinking of that—but the separation; the finality. Burned books and Bentleys had returned to them. Smoke no longer filled Crowley’s lungs. Aziraphale was learning to breathe with the new pair he’d been granted. Adam had gifted him arms as well and Aziraphale used them to say everything he hadn’t been able to for 6,000 years. Hands pulled Crowley even closer to him and said with their grip, ‘You’re staying.’
Standing under a bus stop, not thinking about the end of the world, it took a long time for Crowley to answer all that. When he did it was with the only word worth the struggle.
Everything went to shit the morning Crowley parked the Bentley across from the shop, music blaring so loud that it shook the panes of every window a block down and drew him a record number of dirty looks. Crowley grinned at all the little humans, enjoying the feeling of hot metal against his arm and the vibrating base. When Aziraphale stuck his head out the door with a comically offended expression, well. Crowley most certainly enjoyed that too.
“Hello, Aziraphale!” he called. His voice had to rise past the capabilities of normal vocal cords to be heard.
“Turn that down!”
“Turn it down, Crowley!” Azirphale’s arms did a funny kind of pressing motion.
“Yeah, no, really didn’t catch that. You’ll have to speak a bit louder!”
Which resulted in Aziraphale puttering across the street to join him because the day his angel raised his voice above a gentlemanly reprimand was the day the world ended.
And as they now both knew, that was permanently on hold.
“Enough,” he growled, reaching across the steering wheel to press uselessly at all the knobs. Crowley shut the music off himself with a secretive snap. “Are you trying to deafen every one of my neighbors? Or summon the cops? Really, Crowley, the last thing we need is them poking about when I still have texts whose placement here I can’t exactly explain in writing. Do you want to tell them why there is a Georgian Bible without a paper trail?”
Crowley just grinned and set himself to the task of enjoying this interaction. It was all a little goldmine: Aziraphale’s arm pressed against his chest in an effort to reach the controls. How his hair lifted slightly at the tips because he tended to unfurl his wings when annoyed and even across dimensions those could produce a breeze. The way he still, after centuries, had no real idea how the police force worked. Yes, Zira. They’re going to respond to a noise complaint and then segue into breaking down your door, terrorizing a pouty bookshop owner purely for the fun of it.
...actually, that sounded like a lot of coppers Crowley knew. Maybe Aziraphale understood more than he gave him credit for.
“Sorry, angel. Just got real into that song.” Crowley wouldn’t have been able to name the song if his immortal life depended on it. He’d just let the Bentley pick whatever on the way here. “Up for a spot of lunch?”
It was their routine. A planned interaction that Crowley knew by heart and was thus safe to indulge in. He’d show up ‘unexpectedly’ outside the shop. Do something to invoke Aziraphale’s ire. He’d then spend a few moments memorizing his reactions like after 6,000 years there was anything left to learn (there was). Then Aziraphale would make his token protests, cave, and off they’d go. In the face of change—of the biblical sort. Of the “We’re on our own side now” sort—Crowley sometimes felt like routine was the only thing holding him together.
So something cracked when Aziraphale ignored his question entirely.
“Zira?” Crowley leaned out the window to get a better look. Aziraphale was now circling the car with a staggeringly guilty expression, hands twisting at the lowest button of his vest. Crowley was a second away from tumbling out and finding whatever had put that look on his angel’s face when he began to speak.
Not to Crowley though.
“I am so very sorry, my dear,” he said, seeming to address the Bentley’s hood. “I was quite cruel to you the other day, wasn’t I? Hardly sparing you a glance when you went up in flames like that. Yelling at Crowley to hurry things along. Oh... it must have hurt. Did it hurt? I’d imagine so. But please know that wasn’t at all an accurate representation of my feelings for you. Those were some rather extreme circumstances and I fear I was a bit out of my depth at the time. You see, I was forced to possess a woman by the name of Madam Tracy—a rather harrowing experience, all things considered—and there was an angry man pointing a gun at us, and the world was just about to end, you see, though I suppose you probably already knew that part—”
Crowley stared. Aziraphale was apologizing to his car.
Aziraphale. Was apologizing. To his car.
By the time he was done (finishing with a kiss to the front left light) Crowley had slithered down into his seat and was desperately trying to remember how to function.
“Whatever are you doing?”
“Suf—? Really. You show up here doing damage to all our eardrums and have the nerve to talk about suffering? Are you taking me to lunch or not?”
He’s perfect, Crowley thought, fumbling with his keys. He’s perfect and he just gave my car a more passionate love confession than I could ever hope to get.
If the Bentley seemed to have more of a purr to its engine that day Crowley chalked it up to his damaged hearing.
Scratch that, everything went to shit the day his Bentley realized they’d escaped the end of the world.
“It’s not alive,” a child had once told him, staring as Crowley yelled at the car for daring to stall on him. That was in the early days of their relationship. Winter of 1926, before they’d crossed many thousands of miles together, outrun other demons, discovered a shared love of music, had that wonderful romp across the Thames. Walking on water? Please. Try driving on it. Watch and weep, Jesus Christ.
That was far in the future though. Crowley had grown soft in his old age—really—and 1920s him wasn’t quite as forgiving. He’d figured a good reprimand was better than just magic-ing the problem away. This new Bentley needed to learn who was boss.
And here was this kid saying the stupidest things.
Crowley had looked her over. Wealthy little thing if that coat and frock was any indication. She’d been sucking a lolly and watching him like she’d ditched her shopping-obsessed mother and now had nothing better to do. Which was probably exactly what had occurred.
“How old are you?” he’d asked.
“Twelve years old and you’re saying nonsense like that?”
She’d gone so far as to stamp her foot, cheeks bulging from candy and indignation. “It’s not nonsense!”
So Crowley made a faulty approach—damn ice patches—and knelt down in front of her. He pointed upwards at a chaffinch. “That bird alive?”
“Well of course,” she’d said.
“Don’t ‘of course’ me, I’m about to blow your mind. Is the tree it’s in alive?”
“Yeah, right, both agreeing on that. Okay, how ‘bout the sun shining through its branches?”
For the first time the girl had hesitated. Crowley jumped on it.
“Ah ha!” he crowed. “Bit tricker, eh? Lots of science folks out there who might try to make that case. Is a river alive? Maybe not, but if it is does that make the rain alive too? All the pretty things it freezes into?” Crowley scooped up a handful of snow, dumping it over the girl’s head. She had jumped and squeaked but didn’t run. “Life’s a messy thing, kid. All those blurry lines for metal and heat and water and light. So if I take those blurry things and change them up until they’re a car—” he waved both arms at the Bentley. “Don’t you think the car’s a bit of a blurry thing too?”
The girl had bit into her lip. It was red with cold and nibbled raw. “...Maybe.”
Crowley nodded. “Last question: am I a man or a snake?”
“And that’s why you don’t go telling strangers their cars aren’t alive.” Crowley stood. He made a sound like a buzzer in the back of his throat. “Wrong answer, kid. But you’re asking questions so I guess you’re not all bad.” He’d miracled up another lolly and shooed her off. “Go find your mum.”
Crowley never had the slightest doubt that his Bentley was alive. Maybe it appreciated that certainty because their relationship got a whole lot better after that. Ninety-three years and no more stalling.
Today, in 2019, Crowley wished dearly that the Bentley was just a hunk of metal.
“Surely this is bebop,” Aziraphale said. Crowley resisted the urge to lay his head on the steering wheel and just give up completely.
Actually, who was he to deny himself anything?
“Please watch the road!”
“You watch the road,” Crowley mocked, swatting Aziraphale’s hand away as he attempted to gain control. During it all Diana Ross crooned from the speakers.
Two hearts that beat as one
Our lives have just begun...
He didn’t own any Diana Ross. He hadn’t turned on the radio. The song was just there as soon as they’d started off and Crowley was this close to selling the Bentley for scrap metal.
Because it had been doing this for days now. Anything Crowley wanted to listen to while out and about on his own? Sure. That was just fine. When Aziraphale decided to join them?
Cheesy love songs galore. Crowley’s hands tightened until his knuckles went white. He hoped the Bentley could feel it.
“Angel, do you have any concept of what bebop actually is?”
“Well...” Aziraphale faltered. “I know all the young kids are into it and this woman’s voice is quite risqué.”
“Literally none of that is right. Not a lick of sense. It’s 2019 how do you even function?”
The music increased in volume.
'Cause no one can deny
This love I have inside
And I'll give it all to you
My love, my love, my love
My endless love
“I’m setting you on fire again,” Crowley growled and pretended like he couldn’t hear Aziraphale humming along as the song repeated.
The next day Crowley opened the Bentley to find a bedazzled BEBOP charm hanging from his rearview mirror. The tacky monstrosity caught all the light as it slowly, spitefully rotated.
With a yell he chucked it into oncoming traffic. It was back again by lunch.
Aziraphale loved it.
(So fine, yeah, he guessed it could stay.)
After that more changes started to appear. Things that Crowley had never even thought about, let alone purposefully brought into existence. His Bentley suddenly had a cupholder for Aziraphale’s mugs of tea. There was extra space in the back for transporting books. One minor, throwaway comment about the sun being too bright and suddenly there were tinted windows, for heaven’s sake.
Crowley understood that his Bentley was alive, but it wasn’t supposed to have agency. Theoretically none of this stuff was bad, but who the fuck did the Bentley think it was, coming up with it all first?
By the time Aziraphale was commenting on how soft the seats were Crowley had had enough. He drove the blessed machine out to Tadfield with the express purpose of accosting an eleven-year-old.
“Did you give my car free will?!”
Adam was, objectively, the child most used to dealing with weird shit in his life. (Outmatched only (perhaps) by a young man named Warlock who’d had the dubious honor of growing up with a literal angel and demon over his shoulder. Both of whom were fools.) After coming into unfathomable power, nearly bringing about the end of the world, watching your not-Dad rise from the Earth in a fiery display, and then re-writing said world back to its basics, having a scrawny man yelling about free will while you were trying to eat ice cream didn’t even make the list of Top Ten Things I’m Dealing With Right Now.
So Adam dug more forcefully into his soft-serve. “Hey, Crowley.”
“Yeah. Hey. Nice day I guess.” It had occurred to Crowley right after he’d nearly hit the low wall of the Madisons’ garden and started shrieking at a group of children that this display would, perhaps, not be well received by the locals. And who wanted to deal with locals? So he reigned it in a bit and tried for a cheery wave at Mrs. Madison.
She scowled like a pissed-off peacock.
“Aren’t you going to say hello to us too?” Pepper demanded. She sat on the grass between Adam and Brian, the three of them trading ice creams every few moments. Adam now had the popsicle while Pepper had the soft serve and Crowley was decidedly not imagining him and a certain angel doing the same.
Wensleydale was off collecting ants to do Things with later.
Crowley sighed. “Hey, Piper.”
“What was your name again? No wait, never-mind, really don’t care. You. Antichrist—”
“Adam. Did you mess with my car or not?”
Adam took the cup of cookie dough from Brain and exchanged a Look. The sort of Look that only children could pull off after numerous adventures together, filled with an hour’s worth of conversation boiled down to just a few ticks and movements of the mouth. He then exchanged the same with Pepper. Wensleydale was still too far off to hear the conversation, but he looked back as if hearing an unvoiced call, giving Adam a thumbs up. Throughout it all Crowley stood with hands halfway mashed into his pockets, shifting weight from foot to foot. He could feel Mrs. Madison boring into his back.
The moment was a short one, but what passed within it was given a great deal of consideration and weight. See, the Them hadn’t the slightest clue what Crowley was on about and Crowley, it seemed, was working under a number of assumptions that led to him not explaining himself one bit. Cars? Free will? Adam’s eyes strayed to the Bentley and while he could admit that it was a very nice looking car—if old—that was really all he had to say about the thing. He hadn’t exactly composed an itemized list of everything he’d wanted during the confrontation at the airbase. The only thing he’d been able to articulate within his mind was a Dad, Daddy, my Daddy in a voice that had sounded far younger than he actually was. Everything else had just been a ripple coming off of that. Now Adam experienced the same feeling as when Mr. Fell had called him up to thank him for the new books and Adam had responded with a “Wut?”
What the Them did know was that this was all very important to Crowley. Adam’s potential involvement got him riled.
So Adam gave the only logical answer he could in that moment.
“Yes,” he said.
The result was, to use a phrase, bloody spectacular.
Adam got back his original soft-serve. Pepper had the cookie dough. Brian the strawberry pop. They ate contentedly as Crowley went on a surprisingly creative rant about how kids could not and should not and in the future would not be messing with his car. Off to the side Wensleydale pulled out his phone to record the display, taking time to zoom in on Mrs. Madison’s expression.
Adam was still pretty out of his depth, but after a detailed account of all the Bentley’s new behaviors he felt a niggling suspicion and was compelled to say, “Kinda sounds like it’s trying to tell you something. Maybe you should listen?”
Crowley turned the same shade as his hair and Wensleydale, cackling, started uploading to Youtube.
“Dear, Adam tells me there’s a record of you on one of these social media sites. Would you perhaps show me how to—”
“Don’t click that!”
One week later the Bentley stalled.
Crowley stared in shock as it inched a couple feet, a couple more, and then stopped completely, out in the middle of goddamn nowhere. Well, not really. After hearing a highly edited version of Crowley’s visit to Adam, Aziraphale had insisted on a proper get-together the weekend following. Now here they were, partway between rural visit and urban home. There’d been food and drinks and piling far too many people into Anathema’s little cottage, all the things that might have interested a demon if Crowely had been able to focus on anything other than the smell of Aziraphale’s skin.
Another new cologne.
“Ah, Crowley...?” He spoke now, light and hesitant. “Did you mean to stop here?”
‘Here’ was a deserted stretch at 9:13pm, the stars their only light for miles. “No.”
Crowley knew it with a certainty that set his teeth on edge. He couldn’t just miracle them going again. The Bentley wouldn’t allow it. Maybe it really was the influence of a kid capable of warping reality in ways no angel or demon ever could. Maybe it was just the result of decades spent in the presence of occult and celestial entities, soaking up a bit of power then and there until it had something worthwhile. (And if that was the case Crowley was terrified to think about what Zira’s bookshop might be turning into.) All he knew for sure was that his Bentley was different now.
Acting like a goddamn, meddlesome brat.
Aziraphale had shifted this way in his seat, that way, perhaps finally acknowledging to himself that he knew nothing about cars and therefore could do very little to help. Crowley heard a few more noises on his left and then, “The doors are locked.”
Of course they were.
Something about Aziraphale’s tone made Crowley pause. Swallow down the rising excuse and finally look at him.
It was quite the sight. Aziraphale’s cheeks were pink from Anathema’s wine and one of his curls was plastered to his forehead, a victim of the heat. Through the window Crowley could see the play of shadows along the fields, the stars he’d help hang, the moon nearly full. All of it paled in comparison to Aziraphale’s eyes though. Crowley figured 6,000 years, an unknowable amount of time before that... he’d still never seen anything like them. Most days he chalked it up to Aziraphale being all angel-y. On rare occasions he acknowledged that none of the other wank-wings’ eyes looked like that.
Love had a tendency to color the things it touched.
“Are you perhaps trying to tell me something?” Aziraphale whispered, a soft smile playing at his lips. It drew Crowley’s gaze.
He swallowed. “Not me.”
“Uh-uh. It’s the Bentley’s doing...”
“Ah, I see. Well, we wouldn’t want to disappoint your precious Bentley now would we?”
Aziraphale moved first. Six goddamn millennia and now he crossed the divide, pushing himself into the driver’s seat and half into Crowley’s lap. His hands made a beeline for his hair and cheek—one thumb tracing up towards the tattoo—and Aziraphale only paused for one more moment, six millennia plus one, his expression one of absolute rapture. Then he sighed and closed the gap.
Their first kiss tasted like something ineffable.
The Bentley began slowly making its way back towards London, leaving its occupants free to continue what they’d finally begun.
“I think,” Aziraphale laughed, pulling back as the scenery flashed by. “That this is the perfect speed for us.”
The car is their biggest shipper pass it on
Aziraphale was speaking.
Had been for the majority of their meal, pausing only to take bites of the Norfolk crab with ossetra caviar, veal fillet with asparagus in a wild garlic sauce, chocolate and hazelnut mousse for dessert with a second order of the fruit sorbet because he hadn’t been able to decide and really, why not both?
Why not both?, Crowley agreed. He adored watching Aziraphale eat. All those quirky mannerisms that positively screamed his personality for all to see. The way he would slide each fork-full from his mouth with agonizing slowness, ensuring that he’d picked up every morsel from between the tongs. Raising his napkin after every fourth or fifth bite, whether there was a mess to clean up or not. Aziraphale went deathly still when he ate, as if he couldn’t bear to distract from the taste with any unnecessary movement. Except when he’d taste something new or unexpected and then it was all wide-eyed surprise; that absurd little wiggle. Aziraphale flipped his spoon before taking a bite because, “The mousse should hit my tongue, dear, not the roof of my mouth. Obviously.”
Obviously. On nights like this Crowley was grateful they hadn’t had to keep up their ruse any longer. One look at Aziraphale-as-him digging into that popsicle and the whole jig would have been up.
And Crowley could never hope to re-create this.
So yes, he loved watching Aziraphale eat. He loved hearing him speak more though.
Why not have both?
“So I told the dear girl—quite firmly, I should say—that we would have to undergo a true apocalypse before I gave her those sigils. Hell would need to freeze over and such. Though I suppose you could manage that if you put your mind to it.” Aziraphale took another bite of his sorbet and dropped a wink that sent a flush rising up Crowley’s neck. “Anathema is a brilliant young woman but really? Giving her access to Enochian symbols? I can only imagine the horrors that would produce! And trust me, dear boy, I have quite the active imagination.” Another bite; another flipped spoon. “She swore she only wanted to study them, but if any mortal is capable of sketching out a true celestial circle it would be that witch. Then where would she be? Accidentally killed, that’s what. Or worse, getting through to them! Can you imagine Anathema summoning Metatron into that little cottage? No, no, no. We’ve had quite enough upheaval for one millennium, thank you.”
Crowley had long ceased trying to get a word in edgewise. In truth he didn’t want to. Six-thousand years together, but so little of it spent together. They’d meet randomly or clandestinely and it would never matter which because they knew it could only be for a brief moment or two. One side could always be watching them. Both, even. And it took Crowley decades to realize how much of that precious time was just spent posturing. Aziraphale feigning shock at their latest arrangement. Crowley pretending like that actually annoyed him. They had their routines down, a script they read from, and though Crowley had learned to love that for its familiarity, he hadn’t realized just how much he’d been missing. Hearing Aziraphale wax on about oysters or give summary accounts of Hamlet couldn’t compare to this: hours upon hours of meandering, casual thoughts.
Crowley settled his chin further into his hand. Beneath the table his free fingers circled in a clockwise motion, a bit of extra energy spent on slowing down time. Nothing terribly noticeable. It wouldn’t even affect the humans. Much. Just a devilish little miracle that would give Aziraphale more time than what the real world had to offer.
Because they’d been sitting here four hours now and Crowley was fully prepared to sit another four.
“What do you think?” Aziraphale asked. He downed the rest of his La Grande Année and smiled over the rim of the glass. Like he somehow knew that, whatever Crowley’s answer, it would be well worth knowing.
Problem was, Crowley hadn’t the faintest idea what Aziraphale had just said.
Hmm. Distraction via flipped spoon. It happened. Not that there was much danger here. Aziraphale had the distinct talent of being able to talk about a single topic for hours—if not days—on end. Always easy to slide into.
“Really, angel? Giving me a say?” Crowley pushed his own, untouched tart across the table. “I thought you’d already made up your mind about the witch?”
He’d meant it as a bit of light teasing. Poking fun, making jokes, being a nuisance and all that. So watching Aziraphale’s expression fall took the breath right out of Crowley’s lungs.
“Oh,” he said, voice suddenly soft. “Yes. I have been prattling on, haven’t I?”
And Crowley, in a moment of incredible insight and sensitivity said,
Aziraphale had been reaching for the tart but now drew his hand back, beginning to fiddle with the edge of his vest instead. “I’m terribly sorry. Rather rude, isn’t it? All things considered. I promise to make more of an effort in the future and you must stop me if I suddenly start rambling once again. You deserve to—” Aziraphale’s mouth suddenly clicked shut, eyes popping wide as he realized what was happening. Crowley could see his jaw working for a long moment. “I want to hear what you have to say too,” he said. Simply.
Meanwhile, Crowley’s elbow had slipped off the table and he nearly took the rest of the food with him. When he came back up there were splashes of champagne on his sleeve.
“I—why—?” Crowley tugged his glasses just low enough to take a good, long look. “I haven’t got anything to say.” Which wasn’t true exactly. Plenty of ribbing to indulge in when it actually managed to land, but right now Crowley had bigger fish to fry. Flay ‘em, cook ‘em, and serve 'em up with lemon butter so his angel would actually smile again. “What precisely are you on about?”
Aziraphale shrugged. He never shrugged. “Just thought I might be...”
“...talking too much.”
Crowley slipped off the table a second time.
“It’s just—”Aziraphale said, clearly trying to explain without continuing to talk. Which most people will realize is rather the lost cause. “Madame Tracy. Or rather, her friend. Or perhaps not a friend exactly. A client? Follower?” Aziraphale scowled when Crowley just went on blinking at him from halfway out of his seat. “A woman asked to speak to her dead husband and being an angel currently existing between planes I accommodated her and he told her to shut up.” He exhaled after all that, lips trembling. “Separated for who knows how long and the only words he had for her were ‘shut up.’ Because she’d never let him have his say. I... I would never want you to feel the same way, dear boy. I couldn't stand it. ”
If Aziraphale wanted him to talk more he was shit out of luck because Crowley’s voice had died a mangled, embarrassing death. Giving up the ghost via shock was like that. And oh sure, sure, plenty of things he could say if his vocal cords kicked back in. Like how Aziraphale was stupid for thinking he could compare them to some random human couple who clearly needed therapy. Or ask if Aziraphale had ever paid one ounce of attention these last six thousand years because if Crowley wanted to say something? He’d damn well say it. No fussy angel was going to stand in his way.
(Not unless he asked really nicely. Or looked at Crowley in that particular way of his. Or so much as thought about wanting him to shut up. Because those were all entirely different situations.)
Speech seemed to be the enemy now. Which was all kinds of horrible since Crowley liked Aziraphale speaking and had hoped to soak up another couple hours of it before the night was over. Who could put something like that into words though? Even when words were an option? Not Crowley.
So instead he summoned up a small black book and slid it across the table.
Aziraphale blinked. "What's this?"
Just a small, ironically innocent notebook. Every demon had one. Standard issue for the bastards lucky enough to go topside. Recounting your deeds was all well and good provided you actually remembered what evil deeds you’d been up to each day. Too often demons melted back into hell having forgotten half of what they’d done. They might not be good at record keeping down there, but there was something like an effort. So, yeah. Write it all down like a good little worker bee.
“Go on,” Crowley said, keeping his voice at a whisper. Aziraphale hesitantly took the book in hand. “Out loud.”
Crowley hadn’t written a deed down for thousands of years.
“June—” Aziraphale paused, having opened to a recent date. He swallowed hard. “June 3rd. Angel went on about gilding again all through lunch. Improper heating techniques and wet vs. depletion. I currently know more about pretty books than any decent demon ever should. Good thing I’ve never been decent.
“June 4th. Got reamed out for going over 90mph again today. Wonder how many times I can get Zira to squeak like that? Half-hour lecture to follow. Gonna start just as soon as he gets back with the shawarma. In three... two... one...
“June 5th. Talked a lot about knitting today. Thinking of picking it back up before winter. Zira had a whole pro/con list for crocheted vs. knitwear but honestly? If it’s warm?? Who cares??? Angel, apparently. There were many thoughts on socks.
“June 6th. Some bugger on the bus had his music blasting while I was trying to hear Zira’s latest Gabriel impression. The kid is gonna end up with wet jeans one way or another for the next week.
“June 7th. Right. Zira might have been onto something with the whole crocheted socks rant. Pretty sure this is one of Beelzebub’s inventions—Crowley.”
Aziraphale finally looked up, his eyes wet in a way that made Crowley shift uncomfortably in his seat. “You keep a diary.”
He winced. “It’s not a diary!”
“It most certainly is,” Aziraphale crowed, flipping through some of the older entries. “I'm astounded at what a faithful record this is—especially since Armageddon—and so many of them are about me. They're...” The impact of that last bit seemed to hit Aziraphale all at once, stilling his hands. “Oh. They’re all about me.”
Crowley shrugged. Because he was the one who shrugged in this relationship. He pressed the little book back into Aziraphale’s hand when he tried to pass it back. Crowley’s fingers ran over his knuckles then, soft and slow.
“Keep it awhile,” he said. “For the next time you get some ridiculous idea stuck in your head. Now, what were you saying about the witch girl? My memory’s worse than a goldfish’s, angel. You know that. Best you start from the beginning."
Aziraphale wasn’t much for public displays of affection, but he did bring their still-intwined hands up to his lips, resting them there for a moment.
When he started speaking again Crowley’s skin was gifted with the very first words.
I don't actually have strong feelings about crocheted socks because I tried crocheting once and decided that the two of us were never gonna be friends. My heart belongs to knitting.
Chapter 6: Discredit
Okay, I'm gonna be That Person and just provide you all with a link to this chapter because it's made up entirely of images and the last time I tried to chuck this many pics on AO3 the hosting was a nightmare. As was the formatting. And the fact that images would randomly disappear months later...
So do me a solid and just read this one on tumblr. Plain URL below.
7/5/19 Update: Here's a transcription of just the reviews. If you can I'd highly recommend reading the multi-media version on tumblr, but for those who prefer a plain text version here you go :)
A.Z. Fell and Co. Antiquarian and Unusual Books
London, United Kingdom
So I slipped into this place because I spotted my ex across the street and would have rather chugged a cocktail of bleach, lighter fluid, and a condensed solution of all my middle school years then talk to that asshole. Owner was on me the second I walked through the door and I thought he was gonna be one of those ‘Either buy something or get out’ types. Nah. I spilled the story, said I really wasn’t looking to purchase anything, and he LIT UP like nobody’s business. He gave me tea and promised I’d never run into my ex again. Which is a super sketchy promise on its own and also should have been hilarious coming from a guy a century behind in style.
...Kinda believed him though.
London, United Kingdom
Pretty sure this guy wants a library, not a bookshop. I mean, he’s nice and all when you first come in, but trying to actually buy a book? Good fucking luck. He’s too busy to see you right now (for the record he’s super bad at pretending to be busy). Or claims that this book has already been put on reserve (then why wasn’t it in the reserve pile...?). Or the price suddenly jumped an obscene amount. Or he just straight up hems and haws until you get fed up and leave. I watched him pull a novel straight out of a woman’s hands once when she claimed that price was no object and she wouldn’t be leaving the store until she’d purchased it. You’d think she was trying to kidnap one of the guy’s kids!
So yeah. Feel like popping in to browse, maybe take pictures for your research, all while making quiet conversation with someone who quite frankly knows his stuff? This is the place for you. Want to actually buy something? Go elsewhere. Pretty sure Fell doesn’t even own a cash register. At least I’ve never seen one.
He wants a library and I’d honestly tell him as much if he didn’t scare me just a little bit...
New York, NY
I stayed here for three days once. Found a bathroom off the romance section and a chair hidden away in the back. Way comfier than my mattress at home. Mostly played iPhone games and kept real quiet at night. Experiment ended when I popped out for breakfast and didn’t make it back before a random 10:00am closing. Don’t think the owner ever realized what was up.
London, United Kingdom
I really love this place. I’ve been coming here since I moved to London, about twelve years ago, and it’s one of the most soothing bookstores I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Yeah, you hear talk of weird things going on at Fell’s, but really? We could all do with a bit more quirky in our lives. And Fell provides that in spades: Annual plants that never seem to wither, let alone die. The smell of incense mixing with cocoa. Strange books tucked horizontally into the shelves, feeling like they have a touch of magic to them. Nonsensical conversations taking place in dark corners (I’m talking candid chats about the apocalypse and whether angels could actually bless all the rains down in Africa. I swear Fell and his boyfriend are the religion Mythbusters or something.) I’m going to sound like a total nerd here for a moment, but it feels like some sort of liminal space. You know when you were a kid and you were just desperate to receive your Hogwarts letter? Or find your own wardrobe to Narnia? That’s what walking into Fell’s feels like. Like you’ve finally found that portal and can stay as long as you like, provided you don’t try to take anything back with you into the ‘real’ world. Hell, maybe that’s why he won’t let anyone buy his books.
Union City, CA
There’s a snake?? In this shop?? A reALLY MASSIVE SNAKE????? What are y’all doing talkin’ about your meet cutes and shit someone call pest control!
London, United Kingdom
I’m not gonna pretend I have anything to say about whether this is a good bookstore or not, but if you ever want knitting help you should definitely stop by. Mr. Fell knows an absurd amount about crafts for a guy who looks like my grandpa and he’s now replaced Youtube as my go-to for alleviating “Omg please fix this how the hell did I manage to reverse the pattern??” panic. For the record, I didn’t just wander up to a random bookseller one day and demand that he help me salvage the ruins of my first sweater. I’d taken a seat inside to wait out a storm, had my messy sleeve stuffed into my purse, and he’d offered the help. Bit of a bastard about things like gauge and color--not everyone wants to wear tartan, dude--but you get used to that. He means well. Said I should come back to show him the finished piece, which I did. Things just kind of spiraled from there. He’s an absolute treasure trove of knowledge once you get him talking and a muffin to boot. If he were twenty years younger and in any way straight I would have asked him out in a heartbeat. As it is I’m considering setting him up with Grandpa.
London, United Kingdom
I’m not really a book person myself but I followed my wife in with our seventh-month old and was kinda embarrassed when he started making a fuss. Normally I’m full Badass Mom mode while in public--I’ve got a kid to feed, change, sooth, and you all can damn well deal with it--but this place was so quiet Liam seemed extra loud in comparison. I was about to take him back out when a man appeared out of nowhere. The owner I guess, based on how some of these other reviews describe him. Older gentleman with clothes out of some period piece. Anyway, he scoops Liam into his arms like he was born for it and started bouncing. Our fussy, temperamental, drama queen Liam settled in an instant and my wife got to browse to her heart’s content. I don’t know how he did it, but that man is an absolute angel. Full stars for that moment alone.
The Hague, The Netherlands
Anyone know if the old Bentley parked out front is for sale?
Update: It’s really, really, really not
QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS QUEER BOOKS SO MANY QUEER BOOKS!!!
London, United Kingdom
Run by this delightfully frumpy guy who sometimes hands out biscuits from a sewing tin like my gran used to. He asked me if I was looking for anything in particular and I told him my name was Jared, I was 19, but sadly I’d never learned how to read. I have NEVER seen a man more confused in my life. 10/10 would meme him again.
I’m setting the record straight here since there are a bunch of reviews claiming it’s just London folklore: there is a snake at A.Z. Fell’s. Must be an exotic pet he usually keeps upstairs because I’ve only ever seen it twice. Is it big? Yes. Scary? Fuck yes, but I’ve never seen it do anything more than give a warning hiss at this drunk who wandered in and started yelling. (Are snakes good guard dogs? This one is.) The other time he was just chilling on top of one of the shelves. Snoozing, I guess. I asked Mr. Fell if I could pet him and he said maybe after he woke up, but then I had to get to class and all.
Afraid of snakes? Steer clear. Otherwise I’d really recommend popping in and seeing if he’s around. Idk, maybe I’m just a snake fan but he looks super sweet and chill. Life is short. Boop the snake snoot.
London, United Kingdom
I live down the street from A.Z. Fell’s and let me tell you, this place is spooky as fuck. All sorts of weird lights and noises coming from it. At all times of the day and night too. Either this bowtie wearing bookworm has one crazy sex life or the place is haunted. Jury’s out on which.
London, United Kingdom
This shop smells. Not that old book smell either, oh no, but like something is molding. I took my little Johnny in here to try and get him interested in something other than those damned video games and I walk into what smells like a whole cloud of toxic mold! My boy has a weak constitution as it is and if he comes down with anything I will be pressing charges, you mark my words.
London, United Kingdom
Hey, does anyone want to talk about the fact that this place burned down last month? As in, completely up in flames, I saw it happen, nothing but a smoking husk afterwards? Does no one else remember this??
London, United Kingdom
Has anyone read this guy’s opening hours? I included a photo above: “I open the shop on most days about 9:30AM perhaps 10:AM. While occasionally I have opened the shop as early as 8, I have been known not to open until 1.” Absolutely insane. This guy’s a madman and I love him. If anyone actually manages to get into this place please let me know because I need to shake Fell’s hand.
City Centre, Manchester, United Kingdom
I told my girlfriend this shop’s got a snake named Anthony and she didn’t believe me. Going back for proof next week.
Update: got the snake selfie!!!!!!!!
Caught the owner snogging some hot twink behind the cookbooks. Well done, my dude.
Chapter 7: Command
Brief callback to chapter one, but nothing really needed to understand the fic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The call came at 1:08 on an August afternoon.
“Package for Aziraphale, Principality, angel of the Flaming Sword, Guardian of the Eastern Gate?”
All activity in the bookshop ceased. Though there wasn’t much of it to begin with. One young woman using an outlet to charge her cell and an even younger boy who’d ditched his mother three stores down. The dusty—potentially cursed?—tomes in Aziraphale’s shop were a whole lot more interesting than makeup and she wouldn’t notice his absence for some time yet. It was the boy who scrunched up his nose and demanded,
The man settled against the door-jamb. Package in one hand, clipboard in the other. “Aziraphale. Principality. Angel of the—”
“Yes, yes, that would be me. Thank you!”
A mess of white curls popped out from behind a tower of books, followed by a pudgy body and wringing hands. Aziraphale only released his own fingers to grab hold of the boy and the woman, gently (but insistently) urging them out of the shop. The woman was only just able to grab her phone before she was unceremoniously tossed across the threshold. The boy protested. Both stared as the postman gave a jaunty wave.
The door shut with a distinct click.
“Was that really necessary?”
Aziraphale liked to consider himself a dignified, level-headed sort of fellow. Had Crowley been in the room he would have announced that he was just pouting, plain and simple. Luckily, the postman didn’t put any more stock into that faux glare than a demon would have.
He shrugged. “Part of the job I’m afraid. Names are important. You know that.”
“...Yes. I suppose I do.”
Not just important. Names were arguably the greatest vessels for divine power currently in existence. Next to the Almighty herself, of course. Before Aziraphale had been given anything else—his orders, his sword, even the knowledge that he loved his siblings—he’d been given his name. Four syllables spoken in Enochian by Her, reverberating through all of Heaven, letting the rest of existence know that another angel had just come into the world. Names were lost when one Fell. They could be broken or warped or even, on the rare occasion, healed into something new. Yes, Aziraphale knew the power of names. Which was why the first thing he did after reprimanding the postman was to ask him his own.
The postman spoke it, letting it settle among the books and onto an angel’s ears. Aziraphale smiled.
“Very nice,” he commented, pouring cocoa from a kettle that hadn’t been there before. The weather was just ghastly and if anyone deserved a hot drink it was the civil servant running about in two feet of snow. “Marshmallows?”
“Well if we’ve gone this far...”
As the sweets piled high the postman observed that this was what he loved most about his job: the human interaction. Funny then that he should only get that today with someone who was, undoubtably, not human. It wasn’t just the order slip arriving in a circle of fire over his eggs that had cued him in. There was something about the density of air in this shop. A hum that was only just audible; how the light seemed to follow Aziraphale wherever he went, bending in accordance to him, not physics. Yes, the postman had grown quite adept at spotting the occult and the ethereal—the in-between too. Summoning up the Four Horsemen, dying, and coming back thanks to the antichrist would do that to a man.
It seemed his reputation preceded him. Aziraphale handed over the cocoa with a wariness not normally attributed to package deliveries. In the postman’s experience they usually generated quite the opposite effect.
He took the drink and traded it for the clipboard. “No worries. Just a normal delivery. Sign there please.”
Aziraphale’s eyebrow disappeared into his hair. “Is there such a thing when it comes to us? A normal delivery?”
“Sure! I’d like to think so, anyway.”
“My apologies then. You’re not the only visitor I’ve had recently so I suppose I’m a little... on edge.”
“Right,” the postman said. “Understandable. Ah—! Full name please.”
With a wince Aziraphale set down the pen he’d picked up, wiping his sweating palm down the side of his vest. He then twisted his fingers, not unlike a magician summoning up a coin. A holy light appeared between his thumb and pointer and the postman looked away as it burned into the paper.
The cocoa was, of course, extravagantly delicious. None of that powdered stuff in hot water. He could taste real chocolate melted down into the milk, just bitter enough to offset all the sweets on top. The postman took a slurp that left whipped cream across his nose as Aziraphale bent to inspect the box.
Nothing extravagant there. All browns and beige. Squishy edges.
“Other visitors?” he asked, bending close to inspect the letter opener Aziraphale had pulled from between the pages of The Sickness Unto Death. There were a pair of wings that arched up and seemed to hover over the blade. “Don’t tell me your superiors are still mad about that Armageddon business?”
Aziraphale paused. Blinked. “It was less than a month ago.”
“Yes, well.” The postman shrugged, giving a lopsided smile. “Habit from the missus, I guess. No arguments allowed to go on longer than a day. Past that it’s just time to stew, not think.”
“Oh. I quite like that,” and Aziraphale sliced through the tape with practiced ease. “Not sure I’d ever get my—er, that side to agree to such a thing though. I’m sure they’re still plenty mad. But no, it wasn’t them.”
The postman nodded, satisfied with that. There were only so many ‘them’s that might have stopped by in the aftermath of the world not ending. The postman could think of four groups, of which he was one. Not terribly hard to figure out then, but also not the sort of thing you wanted to say aloud. Not if it wasn’t necessary. As established, names held power.
“Not sure I’d want to invoke one of them without a package to deliver,” he muttered. Aziraphale hummed in the back of his throat.
On the small table before them the tape continued to part, easy as butter. Beneath that were the mounds of bubblewrap and tissue employed for the most fragile of objects. Aziraphale took a fortifying sip of his cocoa before setting to parting each one, taking his time, wary of creases. Anyone who had tried to pop into the shop right then—and a quick miracle assured they did not—would have thought the two were bent over a bomb, so tense were the lines of their shoulders. Aziraphale in particular had to stop halfway through and mop his forehead with a handkerchief.
After all, the package was addressed to him.
Quite obviously, in fact. Once he’d reached the bottom.
“Too small a box for your sword,” the postman said, clearly fishing. Aziraphale obediently lifted the object over the wrappings so he could see.
It was a medal.
“Very nice!” he said. “...isn’t it?”
“I’ve seen this before,” Aziraphale said, speaking each word slowly. Tasting them. He suddenly snapped his fingers, nearly dropping the medal in the process. “I have seen this before! 1800. The opening of my shop.” He gestured, as if the postman might not believe that there was, in fact, a bookshop in existence around them, right this very moment. “A, uh... family member tried to give it to me when I thought I was being recalled home. Oh good lord.” Aziraphale sucked in a breath. “He didn’t send it, did he?”
“No. Box would have a return address if he had. Even for them.”
“Well, then who doesn’t generate an address?”
They knew the answer. As one Aziraphale and the postman lifted their gaze towards the shop’s ceiling. There was only one person it could have been.
Neither spoke the name though.
“Sorry,” Crowley said, later that night after the postman had left with his forms and Aziraphale had invited him to the next gathering at Anathema’s. “But what’s it supposed to mean?”
“You guess is as good as mine, dear boy.”
Crowley’s finger shot out to point accusingly between Aziraphale’s eyes. He was six glasses into the merlot though and, truth be told, it was more of a listless point towards Aziraphale’s shoulder. “My guess is not as good. They’re your lot—”
“—were your lot for a long, long, looooong, long time, so you know their, you know,” Crowley made a series of complicated gestures with his glass. “Ways.”
Aziraphale wasn’t entirely sure he did. Slouched in his favorite armchair, watching Crowley waver around the room, he tried to conjure up some heavenly things that might make sense of the little package seated between them. He was eight glasses in though—having started while Crowley drove over—so all his brain could manage was a jaunty little jingle he’d heard over the radio yesterday. Something for insurance.
“Maybe,” he finally managed. “Maybe, yes. But not Her ways.”
Crowley conceded that with a grunt.
The medal rested in a velvet box, the same one Gabriel had opened over two-hundred years ago under the erroneous assumption that such a display would please him. The box remained untouched by time despite its age, as did the medal itself. That’s what the craftsmanship of heaven would get you. The only thing that had changed was a new layer of divinity lingering about the edges, seeped into the metal like something more powerful than even an archangel had handled it. Which of course, She had. The traces had sent Crowley scuttering back the first time he’d tried to touch it. Now he circled the box, wary.
“Ugly thing,” he said, hissing the words. “You’d th—thi—think that heaven would have better taste but nope! Nuh uh. Should give them some tips sometime. Interior decorating.” Crowley considered, downing more wine. “Their fashion isn't bad though. Just a little blah.”
Aziraphale’s fuzzy thoughts conjured up a picture of Crowley’s apartment and he resolutely decided against commenting. “Focus, dear. Perhaps this is a good thing.” He tipped his own glass towards the medal. “Gab—he tried to give me that horrid thing when heaven still thought I was doing a good job. So maybe,” Aziraphale gave a massive shrug, upending some of his wine. “Maybe She’s saying the same thing.”
Crowley blinked. “Wha? That She approves?”
“Mmm.” A staggering, hopeful thought.
“Or, or, it’s the opposite like. Said it yourself, angel. Heaven thought you were doing nothin’ but heavily things down here and you got the medal for doing them. The things you weren’t really doing. Payment for services not rendered. Maybe now that’s the message, huh? Get back on the right trickity-track. Or somethin’.”
Aziraphale spent a good two minutes trying to decide if any of that made sense. He eventually decided it did. “It’s a warning to be the angel they thought they were giving the medal to.”
“Isn’t that a bit convoluted?” Aziraphale squinted up at Crowley, now trying to figure out if it was him or the room that had tilted. His living room shrugged.
“Maybe,” Crowley admitted. “Or maybe this is it. Make us wonder and worry and talk in circles until it all comes bubbling out our ears.” He finally collapsed next to Aziraphale on the couch, both of them staring at the heavy bit of metal.
Aziraphale swallowed. “I wouldn’t put it past Her.”
“Exactly. ...Can we send it back, do you think?”
“No return address.”
“Oh. Chuck it into the Thames?”
What they did end up doing was placing the medal on one of Aziraphale’s shelves, still on display, but far enough back that they could ignore it if they wanted. It never lost the light of Her touch, so Crowley generally kept his distance. For the same reason customers were often drawn to the medal, commenting on it with a curiosity that never ceased to surprise them.
“An antique?” one woman questioned, a week after they’d begun their dance of giving the thing confused and frustrated glances. “What was it for?” She peered a little closer, knowing instinctively not to touch. “It doesn’t say.”
Aziraphale dithered. “Ah...not sure really. Records were lost somewhere along the way. No one knows anymore.”
“That’s too bad. Though I suppose the specifics don’t really matter. The point is it was important enough for someone to save and hand down to you, right?”
The woman smiled, inclining her head and apologizing for taking up so much of his time. Behind her Crowley had paused in surprise, casting the medal a glance. It shone bright, prominent despite their best efforts.
“So She’s thinking of us,” Aziraphale whispered, soft enough that his words were nearly lost among the stacks. “She cares. Which is not quite the same thing as approval, but...”
“Jury’s still out on whether Her caring is a good thing, angel.” But some of the tension had left Crowley’s shoulders. He ambled forward with a liquid grace that let him brush his hand 'accidentally' against Aziraphale’s. Their fingers intertwined.
A defiance, doing that in the circle of the medal’s holy light. Neither pulled away though and when Aziraphale tightened his grip he thought he saw an answering glint in the surface of the metal.
Perhaps that was just their own reflections though. Perhaps it was only what remained of his faith.
Time would tell.
So I 100% forgot the wonderful postman's name while writing this and just decided to run with that lack of knowledge ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
A park bench and supernaturally beautiful weather. A basket of sandwiches, fruit, crisps, and a rather large selection of chocolate truffles. A bottle of Pinot Noir between them. Crowley stretched out his legs and thought that if this was it, all they ever managed to wring from this world, it just might be enough.
“Divine,” Aziraphale proclaimed, polishing off the last raspberry truffle. The sun had left chocolate coated over his fingers and he set to licking it off, heedless of decorum. Crowley designed to watch.
“Not precisely the word I’d choose,” he said. “Considering I bought them and all.”
“But Mrs. Sutherland made them.”
“But you don’t know what I did to them between here and the bakery.”
Aziraphale froze, thumb halfway between his lips and a smear of chocolate on his cheek. The shock lasted only a moment before he was rolling his eyes. “Of course I know. You forgot to chill them so now they’re a half-melted mess.”
Not that half-melted messes had ever stopped him. Aziraphale continued to work his way steadily through dessert while Crowley watched the foot traffic in front of them, sneaking glances every now and then from behind the safety of his glasses. It was while he was most assuredly looking only at the changing leaves past Aziraphale’s shoulder that he noticed—
“That time of the century, huh?”
Aziraphale froze for the second time, eyes widening just a bit. But Crowley didn’t call him out on the absurd little wiggle he’d been trying (and apparently failing) to do subtly against the back of the bench. There was no one looking but Crowley and if he didn’t mind chocolate-covered fingers or crumbs down the front of his vest, there was little reason to think he’d mind this. With a sigh Aziraphale gave up and shoved the box away, reaching to scratch rather ferociously at his back.
“It’s so undignified,” he said, tone just this side of petulant. “I am meant to be an ethereal being. A creature of unsurpassed glory and wisdom—”
“Think rather highly of yourself, don’t you?”
“Not some, some, some common avian enslaved to his biology. I don’t even have biology. Not technically.” The last part was definitely a whine.
Crowley indulged in a snort and slid further down the bench, nearly boneless against the wood. Literally. His body bent in ways not generally allowed by spines and pelvises, but no joints dared raise a complaint. “You’ve got it easy, angel. I go through two of them.”
“Wings and,” Crowley gestured down his entire body, suddenly looking a little unsure. “You know. I am a snake.”
“Right.” Nothing like the embarrassment of another to sooth a bit of your own. Aziraphale cast him a crooked smile. “That’s... well. Quite sorry to hear it, dear boy.”
“You and me both.”
Another quick press against the bench and then Aziraphale deliberately went still. He let out a breath. Popped another truffle into his mouth and closed his eyes, trying to savor it. When he opened them again he could see Crowley’s concerned look, even behind the glasses.
“I’m fine,” he muttered. “Over sixty molts since the beginning. You’d think we’d grow used to them by now.”
Crowley barked out a laugh. “Grow used to what? The incessant itching? Constant pain in your back? Exhaustion? I slept for a month after my last molt. Only woke up because Beez themselves was looking for me. Molts are proof that She’s more than a little sadistic, angel.”
“Hush.” But the slap against Crowley’s arm was half-hearted at best. “I suppose I could return Upstairs. It’s always easier without a mortal body compounding things...”
“You really want to spend the next few weeks up there?”
No. He didn’t.
There was a certain understanding that came with annoyances shared across thousands of years. Without being asked Crowley miracled together the rest of their lunch and sent a quick thought towards the London traffic, urging it to thin out. He’d drive Aziraphale back to his shop, say goodbye like it was any other day... and then proceed to only call and text for the next three to four weeks. Their first substantial time away from one another since the Tadfield airbase, but they’d been expecting this. Molts, for all the grumbling, were intensely private things.
And as Crowley stood just outside the bookshop’s entrance, pressing the basket of leftovers into Aziraphale’s hand, he didn’t dare ask that they might change that too.
The bookshop was a disaster.
The space had grown considerably in the last two weeks, making room for a collection of supplies that would have rivaled any doctor’s office. Electric heating pads were a marvelous invention that Aziraphale now hoarded, along with the small pharmacy of mortal medications that didn’t seem to do much, but he was inclined to try nonetheless. Safe from the books were melting ice packs he used when unexpectedly feverish; weighted blankets when, a mere hour later, he was suddenly chilled. In the leftover space surrounding his most comfortable couch was the food, a veritable feast of everything salty and sweet. Some of it he’d ordered in, slipping the containers through the smallest crack in the door and slipping exorbitant tips back out. The rest came from Crowley. Per the unspoken promise he hadn’t stopped by again in person, but he could easily miracle things directly into the shop. Aziraphale often looked up from one of his books to find chocolates or tarts or freshly made bubble tea now sitting on the table. He gobbled it all up with a hunger he wasn’t supposed to feel.
Where there weren’t supplies there were feathers. A stunning collection of white that settled into every nook and cranny; an ethereal blanket of snow. Aziraphale didn’t bother picking up after himself whenever an old feather dropped and a new one began the arduous process of growing in. Most would disappear over the next week, fading out of this reality entirely. It was a rather convenient thing (perhaps the only convenient part of this whole process), with just a handful of flight feathers to deal with in the end.
Which was precisely what Aziraphale dealt with now, curled up on the couch with Persuasion resting forgotten in his lap. Disposal of these feathers was no minor thing. It required patience and careful thought.
...Which Aziraphale was quite happy to ignore once his phone buzzed. It took him a full minute to find it amongst all the mess and another to remember which button allowed him to light up the screen. Two more remembering his passcode. Really, he could appreciate humans’ continued advancements in technology, but did they have to keep making them so hellishly complicated too?
Ah. Now that he thought about it, that drive might have been Ligur’s doing.
hows it going?
Aziraphale smiled. Three simple words from Crowley and he already felt better. Though admittedly only a bit. One breath later and that incessant itch reared its ugly head again, along with the familiar ache in his lower back. One wouldn’t think that losing and re-growing feathers would be such a monumental feat, yet here he was, taking a moment to breathe before daring a response.
I’ve been better, as you know. Nothing to be concerned with, however. I expect only another week of this nonsense before things return to normal. Shall we get lunch together next Thursday? I greatly appreciate the food you’ve sent over, though I find myself craving something a bit more substantial after all these sweets. Italian would do nicely.
The response was immediate.
There was a beat of silence except for the tick of the clock and a very low hum emanating from two of the heating pads. Then,
need more time to gift your feathers?
Aziraphale’s throat tightened. He blamed it on his poor health.
No, I don’t expect they’ll be any travel this time around. It’s quite nice of you to be thinking about my needs though.
His words had the desired effect. Aziraphale’s phone suddenly buzzed as ferocious as a beehive, text after text coming through about how Crowley was not nice, they’d had this discussion, he was actually being selfish, if you’d just listen, and by the way texting isn’t the same as sending a letter you stuffy, outdated, impossible—
With a chuckle Aziraphale let him keep going, well aware that no answer was the best response of all. As he leaned further into the cushions another primary dislodged and settled in his lap. This one didn’t look like it was going anywhere.
Aziraphale stroked the feather tip to tip, thinking.
No. The person he wanted to give this to wasn’t far away at all.
Angel feathers had, shockingly, once been a part of an angel. Imagine that. As such, they had a bit more significance to them than what came from your average hawk or peacock or whatever else might be leaving bits of themselves behind. Aziraphale didn’t know why some primaries remained while the rest disappeared—another question on the tip of his tongue that he’d never dared ask—but every angel knew that they’d wind up with a small handful after their molting and those must be dealt with in the most careful fashion. There was a vault up in heaven that catalogued and stored each deposit, perhaps with the hope that the feathers might one day be turned into weapons against the enemy. For those on Earth, however, there was the expectation that they not allow these pieces of divinity to fall into the wrong hands.
Aziraphale knew it was the same among the demons, another similarity that others were too scared or blind to question. They would molt and be left with feathers that gave off what one might term a bad aura: nasty thoughts and feelings that radiated outward, soaking into the back of a mortal’s mind and strengthening the longer they held on. Aziraphale didn’t know what Crowley had done with his own feathers over the years, whether he simply tucked them away where they’d never be found, or handed them off to those who were later remembered as the more unhinged individuals throughout history. He’d never had the nerve to ask. He, however, had always considered the remains of his former wings to be a gift and gave careful consideration to who would receive them. Angel wings had rather the opposite effect, promoting feelings of goodwill, creativity, and a general sense of peace when held. Aziraphale had thus handed his off to writers who fashioned them into quills, great chiefs who wore them with pride, poor mothers who might not have jewels or vases to display in their homes, but they could set this on their mantelpiece and know that someone was watching over them. It was a process that deserved his utmost attention.
Though in truth, Aziraphale had an inkling of what he'd do with his next molt in 1941. Now, with Armageddon behind them, he was quite sure of his decision.
My deepest apologies, dear boy. I meant to say that you’re quite considerate. Is that better?
P.S. It’s hardly my fault humans have forgotten how to properly write to one another. Besides, you ought to be proud of me. Convincing this tech to put in line breaks was no easy task!
His phone blew up once more as Aziraphale shook out his wings, trying to encourage the remaining stragglers to finally let go. He must look a right mess, physically done in and sporting only half his usual plumage. It was perhaps no surprise that molting had become a rather private affair over the millennia. Anyone who saw an angel in this state might second-guess their supposed superiority. Aziraphale hadn’t bothered with a mirror in weeks.
The heat was doing wonders for the muscles surrounding his wings though. The ibuprofen, while perhaps not effective under normal circumstances, seemed to be taking the edge off his headache. Crowley kept up a vibrating litany in his lap. He was clearly busy, yet just a moment later Aziraphale caught the scent of garlic and looked up to find a takeout box of pasta sitting on the table.
Fondness surged, helping his new feathers to grow and his mind to settle. Aziraphale placed the primary on a stack of books beside the couch, safely away from his newly arrived lunch.
Thank you <3
He’d made his decision. Best to start the implementation of it early.
A week and two days later Aziraphale finally left the bookshop. He was what, in human terms, might be called an introvert. Had anyone asked him on an average day whether he’d enjoy spending nearly a month by himself, nothing but books and films to keep his attention, he would have gasped in pure pleasure at the idea. Now, having lived that life once more—one always tended to forget such things as the years went by—Aziraphale recalled how little fantasy matched up with reality. Taking that first breath of fresh air was an unexpected pleasure.
As was the company. Though perhaps ‘unexpected’ was quite disingenuous of him.
Crowley waited for him down the street, Bentley parked and providing the perfect object to lean against. Aziraphale took in his appearance, identical to when they’d last met with the exception of a pendant necklace spicing up his outfit and rather longer hair. Crowley must have encouraged the growth. Aziraphale was rather sure hair didn’t get to that length in just three weeks time, no matter how much Crowley might yell at it in the mirror. He had most piled up in a bun with the occasional wisp framing his face.
Perfect. Aziraphale couldn’t have planned it better if he’d tried.
“You don’t like it,” Crowley said, noticing his gaze, assuming the worst. One hand lifted instinctually to his hair, twitching like he wanted to start tearing it out. “I’ll change it back. If you want.”
In that moment, with Crowley framed by London traffic and the quickly fading light, Aziraphale had the uncomfortable realization that he could ask him to do anything. Anything at all and it would be done without question or hesitation. The power made him hesitate. Aziraphale knew now that he had to guard his words: ask for nothing more than what Crowley deserved to give; certainly nothing worse than what he’d forced him to endure before.
Wait for me.
“Not at all,” he said. “I love it! You’re just missing that final touch.”
They knew separation well. One month was nothing to them. Aziraphale slipped back into Crowley’s space, easy as you please, allowed to turn him slightly and gain access to his bun. Crowley was so focused on the hand Aziraphale had placed on his arm that he didn’t notice the object until it was slipped beneath his hairband.
“What the devil did you put—” Crowley stopped, catching sight of his own reflection in the Bentley’s hood. Aziraphale watched his eyes blow wide behind his glasses.
“Hardly the devil, my dear.”
With the molting finished Aziraphale had been left with eight primaries still in existence on this plane. He’d told Crowley as much over text and had patiently sat through reading the same thoughts he’d already had: it was suspiciously convenient, one might say miraculously so, that he had just enough feathers remaining to number the humans involved in stopping Armageddon. Well, seven humans and one antichrist. The brats deserve it, Crowley had said, voice surprisingly tender down the line. They’ll appreciate it, angel.
No doubt they would. Appreciation wasn’t quite what Aziraphale was going for though.
Upon getting the text that Crowley was outside he’d miracled one of the feathers into the fern he’d gifted him two months back, the only plant in his apartment given the honor of a room to themselves and (Aziraphale would bet) the occasional kind word. The white beauty would be the first thing to greet Crowley when he opened the door, stark against the otherwise dark space.
As Aziraphale donned his coat he’d sent the second feather into the pocket of Crowley’s favorite coat, a surprise for when the weather turned cold and his mood predictably plummeted. The third appeared pressed between the pages of The Extremely Big Book of Astronomy; the fourth now slipped beneath his pillow. By the time Aziraphale was descending the steps of his shop the sixth feather was on its way to Lesley, accompanied by instructions to deliver the inconspicuous envelope at a future date and time, to be decided. It never hurt to have another pick-me-up waiting in the wings. Pun most certainly intended.
The seventh currently rested on the Bentley’s dashboard, yet unnoticed because Crowley was reeling from the feather Aziraphale had slipped into his hair.
Just that. A breath. So much packed into one single, reverential word. Aziraphale had to swallow hard before he could speak himself.
“I know,” he whispered, trying for steady and failing spectacularly. “We needn’t speak of it if you don’t wish to. Simply know that this decision was the easiest I’ve ever made... and you look quite beautiful, my dear.”
Crowley’s hand rose to brush at the feather, shaking enough that Aziraphale could spot the emotion even in the fading light. He was steady enough to open the door for Aziraphale though, stumbling back around to the driver’s side, managing up until he spotted the second feather on his dashboard. Aziraphale watched him double over and thought that perhaps he’d made a mistake...
No. There’d been enough doubting between them and the care with which Crowley cradled the gift said it all. Even as the rest of him shot the Bentley recklessly through the streets.
For once Aziraphale did not call Crowley out on his driving. There was silence—not even any Queen—all the way back to Crowley’s apartment. Aziraphale caught the tinniest noise, like pain, when Crowley saw the feather in the fern and then he was moving again, nearly tripping over himself in an effort to get to the closet.
It was a door Aziraphale had never seen opened before. He couldn’t even be sure the space had existed before this moment. But the trunk Crowley pulled out was certainly real enough. Aziraphale sucked in a gasp at its age, wood now held together through will and more than one demonic miracle. Crowley hesitated only a moment before flipping the lid.
Inside were black primaries. A couple hundred at least. More than enough to account for one individual’s molts across the centuries.
“Never gave them away,” Crowley said. One hand gripped his feather while the other dove into the trunk, finding and extending a handful of himself. “I was waiting for you.”
Aziraphale tried vainly to keep the tears out of his eyes. He’d never been very good at that. Too soft. Too soft by far.
“Well... I’m here now.”
And he was. As Aziraphale knelt and took Crowley’s face in his hands the feather in his hair slipped out, drifting into the trunk. A spot of white among the black. New amidst the old. It nestled there, settling in.
As did those who had born them.
A lot of times the connection between my prompts and the end result aren't very clear. In this case it was a specific scene that came to mind: Aziraphale feeling feverish/having hot flashes during his molting. Hence, clammy ^_^
Crowley was unique. There was only one angel in existence capable of dancing on the head of a pin. Similarly, there was only one demon capable of imagination. More often than not this benefited Crowley. Unmatched temptations, creative excuses for running into an angel, and on one memorable occasion it would keep him from burning up with his car.
‘More often than not.’ What did that really mean though? That there had been moments over the millennia where imagination proved useful, seared into him because they were, quite literally, outside his norm? ‘More often than not’ didn’t cover the everyday. All the insidious little ways that imagination came back to bite you.
“My dear boy. There’s no need to be rude. Besides, why-ever would I want to leave?”
Imagination was a tool and a dangerous one at that. It gave humanity the ability to think up all sorts of things, from wars to casual insults, each more damning than what a whole platoon of demons could conjure up. Of course, humans had to work for it. Wars had to be planned and insults formed along the tongue, both providing plenty of opportunity to pull back if anything like a conscience appeared. It was a buffer system, a balance, one that had helped the world sit on a precipice for six thousand years. Crowley had no such buffer. He was a demon, and a powerful one at that. Like music in a Bentley or dead ducks in the park, what he imagined simply came into existence. Easy as you please.
“I don’t want you here.” Crowley stuffed his head further under the pillow, hands digging so forcefully into the sheets that he nearly tore them. A palm touched his back and he hissed, jerking away from it.
“But you do,” Aziraphale said. The smile was right there in his voice. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
A low blow, but true enough. Crowley set his teeth and this time willed him away, breath coming in short gasps that he drank back in, making his vision swim. His efforts resulted only in a sad, sympathetic tut.
“Really, dear. Who are you trying to convince? Not yourself. Certainly not me. Why not just relax for once and admit that you want this?”
The hand was back and this time Crowley let it settle between his shoulder blades. It was a steady, comforting weight. The exact amount of warmth to make him shudder, wanting to sink further into the mattress and just relax under a caring touch. He hated it.
“There we are,” Aziraphale murmured. “Was that really so hard?”
Except Aziraphale was miles East from here, holed up in his shop with a new book to peruse. Or taking a stroll through the park, enjoying tonight’s rare, almost balmy weather. Or he was soaking in a bubble bath, catching up on inventory, writing out the day’s events, taking in a film. Crowley couldn’t say for sure what Aziraphale had decided on tonight, he only knew that he wasn’t currently in his bed, kneading the small of his back like that was a thing they did.
With a hiss Crowley forced himself to roll away, getting caught in the sheets and stumbling off the bed. The laugh that sounded behind him was perfectly kind in its teasing, the exact sort of sound Aziraphale would have made if he’d actually seen that maneuver and been in a good enough mood to enjoy it. This one—the wrong one—was always in a good mood.
Crowley just let one of the sheets go with him, wrapping it around himself neck to ankle. His apartment was cold by his own design, contrasting the bookshop in comfort as well as decor. It was too dark in here and too bright outside, the street lights hurting his eyes. Crowley stared at them regardless. It was better than the thing sitting on his bed.
He knew what he’d see if he did look. Imagination was a skill like any other and Crowley had grown more adept as the centuries ticked by. What was once just a voice had turned into quick, phantom touches. Then a familiar face spotted from the corner of his eye. It used to trick him. Still sometimes did. Crowley would meet with Aziraphale only to realize, with dawning horror, that they’d never actually had that phone conversation. He’d never gotten a wave from across the field that warmed him for days to come. The thing he’d created was now a near perfect replica, feeding off of his knowledge, shaping itself each time Crowley learned a little more about his angel. It reached a point where he couldn’t be sure who he was speaking to until it was face-to-face, close enough to smell him, see the light in his eyes, the dimples in Aziraphale’s cheeks, all those little, wonderful details that the impostor never quite got right. Because as well as Crowley knew him, he couldn’t recreate him. Aziraphale was... Aziraphale. You couldn’t copy that. He couldn’t, though Crowley had never consciously meant to try.
“Come back to bed.”
Crowley winced, clenching his teeth so hard something creaked in his jaw. It was the right words, the right tone even, and yet horrifyingly wrong all the same. Because Aziraphale would have stuttered through a demand loaded with such additional meaning. Or he would have tried for flirty and failed spectacularly. To an outsider’s perspective anyway; perfect on Crowley’s ears. The irony was that all of these were still just his own imaginings. Aziraphale had never even been to his apartment. He certainly wouldn't ever be here, with him. Like this. Creating the impossible was making Crowley’s head ache.
The pain grew worse as footsteps sounded.
“You’re not Aziraphale,” Crowley whispered, shaking against silk, his breath fogging up the glass.
“Perhaps not,” it said. “But you know this is the closest you’ll ever get.”
The truth burned along with the touch and Crowley succumbed to it. A steady arm around his waist. The soft press of a stomach against his back. Chin on his shoulder and steady breathing in his ear. He hated it. He craved it. He didn’t reject it because... well. The impostor was right. What else could a demon turn to?
Out in his den a phone began to ring, unnoticed as Crowley allowed his imagination to run wild.
I am a creature of fluff but every once in a while I get an itch to attempt angst ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“Here we are. Isn’t this lovely?”
Pepper, as a rule, hated when grownups lied. There was nothing ‘lovely’ about the apartment complex she was currently getting dragged into. Everything was painted in shades of beige and it smelled exactly like her Nan’s place: mothballs and hand cream. On second thought though, it made a certain amount of horrible sense. She’d seen the decor of Aziraphale’s bookshop, so it was entirely possible that he did think this place was some kind of lovely.
She would have rather he lied.
“Do I really have to stay here?” Pepper asked, but she already knew the whine was going to fall on deaf ears. They’d all been playing hot potato with her since this morning. First Dad said he couldn’t drive her into the city for her dance lesson because he’d been called into an unexpected meeting. Then Mom said she couldn’t either because Mrs. Miller down the road was ill and you know she has no one else to help her. Each left the house that morning not realizing that the other wasn’t picking up the slack. So she’d ridden to the Young’s house, only to be told that Mr. Young was already at work and Mrs. Young would love to take her, really, but she’d just put a stew in that needed watching up until dinner. Why in the world do you need to go out during winter break? Pepper was about to head down to Brian’s when Adam suggested calling Crowley instead, their discussion producing the same passively bemused expression on Mrs. young’s face that appeared whenever something Armageddon related got mentioned. She’d handed Adam the phone without fuss.
Except instead of a demon in a Bentley she got an angel on a bus, one that definitely didn’t have a route out this far. Pepper was left scrounging up change for a very confused driver while Azirphale miracled her into a warmer coat and Adam snickered at the door. To quote the bastard who’d abandoned her, could she get a wahoo?
Now Pepper was getting fostered off on this lady.
“Terribly sorry about this,” Aziraphale was saying, puttering into Madame Tracy’s apartment and pulling her along for the ride. “Crowley went and got himself discorporated, can you imagine? Really, he never takes care of the bodies he’s given. Normally I wouldn’t pay him any mind, let the fool stew for a couple of decades, that's what I say. But given everything that’s happened I hate the thought of him down there for any considerable length of time.” Aziraphale looped the chain of his pocket-watch round and round his finger. For the first time that day Pepper decided to keep her mouth shut. “I intend to put a bit of pressure on Below with the hope that they’ll assign him a new body sooner rather than later. Perhaps even perform a summoning if necessary. If us angels are capable of a discorporated existence on this plane then it should be old hat for a demon of Crowley’s age. Oh, but of course you already know all that—”
Madame Tracy took Aziraphale’s twitching hand, giving it a pat. “He’ll be just fine. As will Pepper.” For the first time today an adult actually looked at her. “We’ll have great fun until your Dad picks you up, won’t we?”
“Eh,” said Pepper.
“You go off and give Crowley a hand. Tell him he’s more than welcome to share my body if he needs a place to stay.”
That brightened Aziraphale considerably. He gushed a couple more thanks, saying that yes, they just might take her up on that offer, before bending to sweep a hand through Pepper’s hair. She squirmed—what, did he think she was five?—but by then Aziraphale was already out the door, muttering something about occult incantations and misplaced books.
Kind of amazing. That this was her life and all.
“Well,” Madame Tracy said, surveying Pepper with the same look a butcher might give a yet ungraded cut of meat. “This is a surprising way to spend one’s Thursday.”
“You’re telling me,” and Pepper chucked her dance bag into the corner.
“Can I see a bit?”
“Fair enough.” Madame Tracy chuckled. “I’d show you some of my burlesque, but I don’t think you’re old enough for that yet.”
Pepper was left with her mouth hanging open as Madame Tracy wandered into the kitchen.
Actually, it wasn’t that surprising now that she thought about it. Pepper cast her mind back to that day at the airbase, picturing the woman who’d drawn her attention by arguing with herself before trying to shoot her best friend. That woman had fit in perfectly with the rest of the insanity around them, flaming swords and dying whales and Adam with glowing eyes. Pepper remembered thinking, in the disconnected way you notice things when everything else has gone to shit, that her wild hair was a much better red than that War lady’s. Her dress was objectively horrible, but it suited her, somehow. Pepper didn’t even know how she could say what suited a woman she’d barely met, but out of everything she could question that day, this wasn’t something Pepper was inclined to put much energy towards. The point was Madame Tracy had looked fun. Kooky, but fun.
“What happened to you?”
This Madame Tracy, the one whose hair had been washed of that fiery color, whose shirt matched the beige walls, no more makeup or big, sparkling jewelry, she paused in the act of making tea and hunched her shoulders, silent. Pepper wasn’t stupid. She’d heard all about Madame Tracy getting together with that guy she’d arrived with. The ‘finger guy’ as Brain called him and the horrible implications of that nickname were precisely why it had stuck. He’d been all critical and blustery. Calling Madame Tracey a ‘whore.’ Pepper might have said something if they hadn’t all been preoccupied with other things.
But hell, she could say them now. Pepper looked at the laundry pile on the kitchen table, a man’s shirts stacked on top. Looked next to Madame Tracy’s equally bland top. She put two and two together and came up with something like four.
She crossed her arms, all her weight settling into one hip. Pepper wished she had gum so she could pop it. “Right. You love this asshole?”
“I’m just calling it like I see it. Do you?”
Madame Tracy’s bright, artificial, I’m-suddenly-interacting-with-a-child-and-trying-too-hard smile melted into something soft. “Yes.”
“Well, can’t account for taste. But I’m gonna tell you a story. You listening? Because I charged Wensleydale five Wonder Woman comics and a chocolate bar for this same advice. Be grateful you’re getting it for free.” Almost free anyway. She might not have gum, but there was a selection of muffins on the counter. Pepper grabbed one on top before hopping up next to it. “Once upon a time my uncle told my mom she was too old to get another tattoo. She told him to flush his head in the toilet. The end.” Mmm, poppy-seed.
Madame Tracy, meanwhile, was wringing her hands. Huh. Kinda looked like Aziraphale. “No, no. It’s not as if Mr. Shadwell has ever said I couldn’t—wait. Why were you telling Wensleydale this?”
“He wanted his ears pierced. I did it for him. It’s super easy. I mean, as long as the guy you’re doing it on doesn’t squirm that much. Wensleydale kinda has two piercings on his left ear now.”
“Oh good lord.”
“Are you sure you and Aziraphale aren’t still sharing a body?”
“Now see here, young lady.” Madame Tracy marched up with what she probably thought was an intimidating air, but after an hour of Mrs. Rogenspern’s tap instruction no beast could have scared Pepper, let alone a friend. “You seem to be fond of making snap judgments, so let's set the record straight. Mr. Shadwell and I are very happy together and part of being happy means making accommodations for the person you love. It... unsettles him to have me be so,” she gestured at the whole of herself and Pepper dutifully imagined something other than that horrible wool skirt. “Flamboyant. A few sacrifices are a part of a healthy relationship. You’ll—”
“If you say ‘understand when you’re older’ I’m filling the toe of a shoe with peanut butter. And no, you won’t know which one until you’re wearing it.”
Madame Tracy blinked.
“Besides, if a healthy relationship is all about sacrifice how come Mr. Shadwell isn’t making any? If you can put up with his stupid, misogynistic comments then he can damn well put up with your wardrobe.”
“Language,” she said, but it was an automatic response. The kind of thing adults said when they didn’t know what else to say so wahoo. Progress.
Pepper jumped down from the counter. She came up and took Madame Tracy's hand, tugging. “Listen to me for just half an hour. That’s it. You can pretend you only did it to entertain me, if it makes you feel better. Tell him the same if you want.”
Insults aside, there was a comfort between them. Pepper guessed that’s what happened when you were two of three women in a six men set. Which meant that later, when Madame Tracy went rigid over the sink and started speaking in what some might term tongues, Pepper just went on eating her third muffin. When it was over—damn but possession took time—Madame Tracy looked back up into the mirror and yellow, slit eyes stared back. Crowley blinked.
“Kid? What are you doing here? We’re babysitting for a bit. Lovely to have you back among us! Eh, thanks? Wait, are we dying your hair purple?”
“Uh huh,” Pepper said, tossing the muffin wrapper at their chest. They caught it with a fumble. “Purple’s gonna look great with your eyes. Now help me talk her into a nose piercing before my dad gets here.”
Pepper wasn’t sure who was smiling at her then. Didn’t really matter.
"Nose piercing? Nah, they're out of style nowadays. Trust me, we want one in our brow."
Point was she’d won.
Am I really gonna spend all my Good Omens energy on writing weird interactions between these characters? Yeah. Probably!
Crowley was tucked snugly in bed when the knocking began: a soft, polite, infuriating rap sounding at his door. It didn’t matter that there was only one being currently on Earth capable of bypassing the wards he’d doused his apartment in. Crowley would have recognized that knock anywhere.
Five minutes later he’d managed to stumble the distance from bed to door, wrapped in too big pajamas, duvet, and the pillow his arms had just refused to let go of. Crowley surveyed the angel before him, listing solidly to the left.
“Crowley.” Except it came out more like a ‘whoa’ and a ‘lee’ got mashed together, his slack mouth too tired to form anything as complicated as a hard ‘c.’ Aziraphale managed the smile though. As lopsided as his posture and twice as bright as his eyes. Crowley took a moment to bask in it.
Aziraphale, meanwhile, was patting his pockets.
“I’ve brought you a present, dear boy.” He whispered it, less like he was worried about waking the neighbors at a little past 3:00am, more like it was a conspiratorial secret. Which in a way it was. There had been a time—just a few months ago—when him showing up outside Crowley’s door would have been a sin of the greatest magnitude. Bringing presents too? Old Gabriel would discorporate on the spot.
Crowley leaned against the doorjamb, now enjoying this unexpected guest. “You’re drunk, angel.”
“No.” Aziraphale’s head shot up.
“No, no, no, I’m hardly drunk.” He tried and failed to fix one of the buttons on his vest. “Drunk is—are?—is lovely talks with you, my dear. Less fuzzy. Less tilty too. I,” Aziraphale held up a finger. “Am sloshed.”
Crowley rubbed a hand down the length of his face, mimicking an exhausted bastard, really hiding a grin. “Thanks for that synonym lesson. You should consider penning a dictionary sometime.”
“I did write the dictionary! You were there!”
Explaining sarcasm was a lost cause even when Aziraphale was sober. Better to just keep quiet and watch the show.
What a show it was too. All those little mortals who pictured angels as perfect, put-together entities missed how wonderfully human they were. At least, they missed this one. Crowley took in Aziraphale’s rumpled clothing gracing soft curves, the spread of his thighs and the heft of his stomach. His arms were stockier too, ever since Crowley had started treating him to lunches on the daily, and now they pat his own body down in an unintentional, inappropriate display. Aziraphale was rarely this free with his movements and Crowley was careful to appreciate how he moved without embarrassment or expectations. He’d gotten good at that over the millennia: observing Aziraphale. One never knew when he’d only have his memories to turn to.
A canceled apocalypse hadn’t changed that.
The triumphant cry startled him out of his thoughts. Crowley watched, bemused, as Aziraphale finally pulled a macaron from his side pocket. It was a little smushed, one side crumbling between them as Aziraphale held it up, and based on the light pink coloring it was raspberry flavored. Aziraphale’s favorite.
“There you are,” he said, dropping the macaron into Crowley’s open palm. “I saved it for you, my dear. You must eat more. Skin and bones! French cooking is best, certainly, so I said to myself, ‘Aziraphale—’” Except he struggled with his own name for a moment. Too many syllables on too thick a tongue. “‘Aziraphale, it’s not at all polite to enjoy this meal without Crowley. All this wine.’ But you were sleeping. So I thought, further thought, that I should at least share dessert. I fear I ate the others on my way over though...”
The potential responses numbered in the thousands. We don’t need to eat, angel. If you don’t like skin and bones just say the word, corporeal stuff is easy enough to change. Have I really missed out on being mother-henned like this over the centuries? How much wine did it take to reach this state? Because I sure as heaven haven’t seen it before. What the deuce were you doing walking the London streets at night when you could just appear here? Are you sure you want to give up the last raspberry macaron?
Impossible. All the logic in the world got trapped behind the massive bubble in Crowley’s throat. He had to clear it twice before any words decided to make themselves available.
“You walked here,” he croaked. “To share your dessert with me?”
So Crowley opened his mouth. Not the wide, unhinged dislocation he normally used to eat, snake instincts rearing up and encouraging him to swallow everything in one tasteless bite. This was a delicate opening, precisely the sort of move that made Aziraphale wiggle in pleasure at his manners. As he did now. Crowley ate the macaron in four little bites, watching Aziraphale watch him the entire time.
“Lovely,” he said when he’d finished, reaching out to wipe the crumbs from Crowley’s pajama top. “That’s all. I’ll let you get back to your nap now.”
That really was all, apparently. Aziraphale gave his cheek a pat and turned to wobble back down the corridor, unaware of the sear he’d left against Crowley’s skin. For his part, Crowley stood there in his doorway for the next twenty minutes, senses extended as he followed the path of Aziraphale’s grace back to the bookshop. It was only when he felt him slip safely inside that Crowley closed his own door in tandem.
Pajamas, sheets, duvet, pillow. He crawled back in bed and nestled down, certain that sleep was impossible. After all, Crowley’s mind was filled now with the image of a drunk—sorry, sloshed—angel venturing out purely to see him. His cheek pulsed and his mouth still tasted of raspberries. Who could sleep against the tide of all that?
Crowley did sleep though, astoundingly. He slipped into it between one breath and another, falling into something better than he'd been pulled out of. It was deep and comfortably dreamless.
After all, no one slept quite as well as those who knew they were loved.
Me? Writing drunk air conditioning fluff in the middle of night? It's more likely than you think!
It was a dark and stormy night. Crowley had said as much three glasses ago, tipping Aziraphale that particular grin which meant he knew he was making a horrendous joke, and Aziraphale knew that he knew, and the both of them should just glare at one another for, oh, a good ten seconds or so. Aziraphale had indulged him with fifteen seconds and that had seemed to please Crowley greatly.
It was a dark and stormy night though, that was the kicker. As Aziraphale wandered into his kitchen, drifting from side to side like the wine in his belly, he couldn’t help but pause in front of the window, taking in the lashes of rain and periodic thunder. It was rather magnificent, all things considered. Though perhaps not for the reasons most would assume. Where humanity saw power and mystery, even a blase routine of vapor forming into cumulus clouds, Aziraphale saw...them. Their beginning, that is. Oh, he knew they’d met before. Crowley had been an angel once, after all, and even forgoing that he’d hinted in the past that he’d watched Aziraphale in the Garden, sizing up the Angel of the Eastern Gate before making his move. So no, it wasn’t the beginning, but it was the one that had mattered. His wing above Crowley’s curls, sheltering him from the very first rain.
Aziraphale had been given the honor of ruffling the water out of Crowley’s hair just hours ago, the gesture losing none of its intimacy after six thousand years. The memory made him giggle. Well, the wine made him giggle, but the picture of Crowley’s face in his mind’s eye—mouth twisted in annoyance, overruled by bright eyes and red cheeks—certainly helped the laugh along. While standing there, whole body shaking in mirth, it occurred to Aziraphale that he had the real thing waiting just two rooms away. No mere memory. So whatever was he loitering around the kitchen for?
“Wine,” he pronounced. “That's what it was,” and Aziraphale grabbed the first bottle out of the cooler, hardly caring what it was now that he was in a hurry.
When he returned Crowley had tipped himself over the couch, knees hooked up top and head resting on the carpet. Crowley looked like the sort who could pull that off. All loose limbs and serpentine flexibility. Of course, Aziraphale could do that too. He wasn’t bound by anything as mortal as a crotchety body. Yet what was possible was entirely beside the point. Aziraphale was not the sort to hang upside down over couches and so, simply put, he would not.
Besides, observing Crowley was much more fun. His hair matched the carpet, spreading like red waves that broke over fiber.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to tell him as much, but what tried to emerge instead was a very ungentlemanly belch. He forced it back down with difficulty (okay, so perhaps his body wasn’t entirely obedient) and by the time that was done he’d quite forgotten what he was going to say.
“It’s raining,” Crowley observed, pointing somewhere over Aziraphale’s shoulder. Good old Crowley, always filling the silence. “When the heavenhell did that start?”
Aziraphale blinked. “Heavenhell?”
“Couldn’t figure out which was supposed to be the curse anymore, so I should just use both, yeah?
That made sense. In as much as anything made sense two bottles deep. Aziraphale hummed, trying to remember when he’d first picked up on the drum of water against the windowpane, or when flashes of lightning grew brighter than the candles he’d lit. Not that it mattered. The storm was here now and they were quite cozy in its center. Aziraphale thought about asking if Crowley would like to move back downstairs, settle in beside the larger windows and enjoy nature’s show...yet once again his speech was stolen away. When Aziraphale looked again he found Crowley staring past him. Not at the storm now. That much was obvious in his gaze. It was something only Crowley could see and he stared it down, unblinking in a way only he could manage after too many drinks. Aziraphale often forgot words. Crowley forgot he had eyelids.
“I could have done that,” he said, so soft that Aziraphale had to lean forward to hear. He reached his empty hand towards Crowley.
“Do what, dear?”
“Water. Rain.” Crowley finally blinked, focusing on Aziraphale before immediately looking away again. “With the, you know...” His fingers made a fluttery motion that Aziraphale’s brain managed to interpret as fire. “Could have summoned anything to put it out. Don’t know why I didn’t. Wasn’t really thinking straight at the time, I guess. Kinda embarrassing. Isn't it? The Great Serpent forgetting rain exists when he needs to put out a fire. Might have gotten my head on straight later, but...”
It hadn’t mattered. Not without someone to save the bookshop for.
Crowley shrugged, a rather impressive feat given his position. Now was not the time for such wandering observations though. Aziraphale wasn’t entirely sure how the atmosphere had changed, why he saw the storm as reminiscent of their beginning and Crowley their potential end, but it wasn’t the time for speculation either. Only action, old boy, move your feet.
The bottle slipped from Aziraphale’s finger’s, only remaining whole as it hit the hardwood because it knew better after all these years. With staggering steps he crossed the distance and as he did his hand rose, drawing a snap down through the air in one sluggish, but determined movement.
Let there be rain.
There were no clouds, but water still fell from the ceiling. Each droplet arched down and then evaporated, right before it could hit them or their glasses. Or heaven forbid his books. Crowley blinked up at the shower inside their den, arms beginning to shake like Aziraphale had messed with the temperature too.
“There,” he said simply. “No fires tonight, dear.”
Aziraphale finally closed the distance between them. Knelt and took Crowley in hand. Kissing someone half on the ground was rotten work, but Crowley would always be worth it. Aziraphale firmly told his knees to shush and focused on the cool press of lips instead.
“Before,” he said, breaking the kiss. Aziraphale tasted tart wine on his breath and felt a chill down his spine. Like one of the raindrops had managed to sneak beneath his collar.
“Before?” Crowley whispered. He was forgetting to blink again.
“Yes. I wanted to remind you that you’re beautiful.”
Aziraphale drew his hand through the waves of Crowley’s hair, his other palm keeping hold of his cheek. Crowley arched up to bury his face in Aziraphale’s neck, but he could see his bare toes curling over the couch’s cushions.
All around them the storm raged, balanced by the softer shower of Aziraphale’s making. He would surround Crowley, soak him, drench them both until this memory obliterated all the others. If losing the Garden was the price Aziraphale paid for releasing Crowley of his ‘What if’s, then he would oh so gladly pay it.
“I’ve always loved the rain,” Aziraphale said and pulled Crowley ever closer.
Three facts about this drabble:
1. It was meant to go in a totally different direction (that I might write later) before my brain decided it wanted more Soft
2. I keep trying to write Aziraphale as the bastard he is and he keeps choosing to be, you know, sensitive and shit instead. So I guess he's a bastard for not listening to me?
3. They're just gonna be drunk for 75% of this collection it's unavoidable
Chapter 13: Bribe
I'm alive! Writing is super hard now that the school year is underway, but I'm still chugging along. A little bit at a time <3
“He sent a letter.”
“Well yes. However else is he meant to contact us? It’s not as if we’ve been very free with our telephone numbers—”
“Speak for yourself.”
“—your lot are perpetually behind in technology—”
“Good of you to notice, Black Pot.”
“—and meeting in person without some warning would be... well.” Aziraphale smoothed down his vest. Then did it a second time, the worn fabric soft against his hands. “I'm grateful for it, is all. Strange as it may be. I say, will you at least pretend to take this seriously?”
With a roll of his eyes Crowley ceased terrorizing a starling, finally releasing the poor bird from his hypnotic gaze. It shot off across St. Jame’s park, off to tell the other birds all about the snake who was not a snake, who very much looked as if he’d eat her, but hadn’t. Within an hour it would be the talk of the nesting grounds.
“I am taking this seriously,” Crowley said. He rolled his neck and set back off down the path, leaving Aziraphale with no choice but to follow. “Course I’m taking it seriously! Demon contacts you out of the blue, wanting to meet all secret like, what’s not serious? It’s just...” he snatched the letter, holding it up to the sun. “I just didn’t know that Ligur could write.”
Aziraphale stumbled. “I’m sorry, dear. Did you just say one of your colleagues can’t read?”
“No, I said write. Keep up, angel.” Aziraphale once again made an attempt, both literally and figuratively. “He obviously can. Just surprised me is all. Why are you surprised? You know I don’t read.”
“Poppycock. You’ve read since humans started carving on stone slabs, you simply claim otherwise in an effort to annoy me.”
Crowley fiddled with his glasses, hiding his smile. “Huh. Is it working?”
“I will chuck you into the pond, dear boy. Don’t think that I won’t.”
“But this skirt is new!”
“Precisely my point.”
With grumbling on both sides the walk continued, the letter passed back and forth as if reading it again and again might change their circumstances. Crowley was well prepared to deal with any push-back from Beelzebub, curses laid around the bookshop and a new thermos of holy water locked up tight in his safe. Aziraphale, in turn, had mustered up the emotional energy needed to plot against his brethren—although he steadfastly avoided words as damning as “plot.” Too close to the original Rebellion for his nerves, thank you. The point, however, was that he had begun praying directly to God once again and found time among his reading for light sparing with a human-made blade, two activities that he hoped he never had to draw on under more dire circumstances. That was the fear though, wasn’t it? That hope alone would only carry them so far.
Thus, they had prepared for hoards and hosts; a veritable army of creatures set to take out the angel who wasn’t quite an angel anymore and the demon who, arguably, had never been much of a demon to begin with.
A surprisingly polite letter slipped beneath the door was... not on the list of expected threats.
Aziraphale shook the paper a bit. Or parchment, rather. He hadn't the slightest idea where Ligur had gotten it. “Didn’t you kill him?”
“Didn’t your bookshop burn?” Crowley mimicked and then immediately looked contrite. He bumped shoulders in apology as they walked. “Yeah. I did. Holy water right over the head. It’s gotta be the antichrist then, right? Brought him back along with everything else? Satan, but ten-year-olds are stupid.”
“That stupid eleven-year-old has a name,” Aziraphale said. “And I’d like to see you reset reality without a few, unfortunate consequences. We’re not going to blame Adam for what we did.”
“What we had to do,” Crowley corrected. Then he sighed. “Yeah. No argument from me. Over and done with, all that. Only question is...”
He trailed off. They’d come to the end of the path, with it a long line of benches. Their benches. Crowley’s hands curled into fists as he spotted a bedraggled figure seated in his usual spot, hunched slightly against all the sunshine and happy park goers that surrounded him. Ligur’s eyes shifted their way and Crowley took an instinctive step in front of Aziraphale.
“What does the bastard want?”
A hand landed on his arm, trailed downward, stopped just short of taking his hand. Aziraphale gave Crowley's wrist a squeeze.
“Only one way to find out. Together then?” and he tugged them forward.
Meetings in public spots. It was all very spy-ish. Clandestine. It occurred to Aziraphale that he might have enjoyed this immensely under other circumstances. Problem was, meeting publicly meant actually getting the public involved. Living, breathing, entirely ignorant human beings flitting here and there, the perfect hostages should Ligur take it upon himself to secure one. It made his otherwise lovely lunch sit rather heavily in his stomach, but Aziraphale stood firm before the demon, still slouched as he was over the bench. Crowley had taken up position behind Ligur, pacing and chewing a strip of gum he’d gotten from Heaven only knew where.
Hmm. Not that there was much chance Heaven actually knew. Or Hell. The only person who might have any idea was Aziraphale himself, and he didn’t, so he supposed Crowley’s gum was simply one mystery he’d never solve. Unless God herself decided to descend and tell him—
Crowley caught his eyes across the bench. There were no words. But then, after 6,000 years you didn’t really need any. The message was clear: Stop panicking!
I am not panicking.
I know your panicking look, angel, thoughts all over the place.
Then stop staring at me!
Crowley did, settling for staring down at Ligur instead. He poked him hard in the shoulder. “You wanted something?”
“Well too bad. Whatever it is you’re not getting it.”
Ligur shot off a glare, but it was halfhearted at best. With the exception of Crowley, all demons were a bit of a mess. Aziraphale didn’t know how they could stand it, wandering around in filthy clothes reeking of all sorts of unmentionables. Hair unkempt. Those nails. Yet despite this all being quite normal for his lot, Aziraphale had the distinct impression that Ligur was more ruffled than usual. He appeared not just sloppy, but run down. The sort of look Aziraphale might have been tempted to adopt had his bookshop been well and truly gone.
All of which was made clear when he turned fully towards Crowley and said. “You killed me.”
“Yeeeaaah,” Crowley said. One hand snuck to the back of his neck. “But you deserved it! You tried to kill me first! Is that it then? Out for revenge and all that?” He frowned, looking around at the sunny day. Not a trap or another demon in sight. “You’re not very good at it...”
Ligur snorted. “If I wanted you dead, Crowley, you’d be dead.”
“What? Like last time?”
Aziraphale valiantly tried to turn his laugh into a cough—and failed rather miserably. He wilted under the look Ligur shot him. “Sorry.”
“Revenge,” he sniffed. “Who exactly do you take me for? We’re demons, Crowley. I’ve never trusted one of my own and I never will. Of course we’re out to kill one another! No sense getting worked up about it. What? Are you going to get mad at feathers here for shooting rainbows out his ass?” Aziraphale blinked under the onslaught of that image while Crowley’s mouth slowly unhinged. “No. It’s in our nature. I’ve got no problem with that. Besides, bucket of holy water over the door frame? Spark of genius that. Even if the rest of your work lacks craftsmanship.” Ligur shot up a boil-laden hand when Crowley moved to protest. Aziraphale could see a hissed what? already forming on his lips. “I died. Our Lord’s son brought me back. Pretty straight forward, far as I’m concerned. All I care about now is how you did it.”
A young jogger shouted out a “Left!” and Aziraphale stepped aside, instinctively moving to join Crowley on the other side of the bench. He wanted to take his hand this time, but settled for turning the letter over and over again instead. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. You just said it. Young Adam was responsible for your resurrection. I’m afraid such miracles are beyond our power. I couldn’t begin to tell you how he accomplished it. Nor, would I guess, could he.”
“What? I’m not talking to some snot-nosed mortal boy. Even if he is the Deceiver’s child.” Ligur sat on his knees, arms now folded across the bench’s top. He rested his chin on his hands and the chameleon atop his head blinked, oh so slowly. Both sets of eyes remained trained on Crowley. “I’m talking about what came after. What everyone’s been whispering about downstairs. How’d you do it, Crowley? As someone who has had one very nasty encounter with holy water and is not eager to repeat it: How’d you survive that bath?”
Aziraphale’s gasp was, luckily, drowned out by a shout from afar. A group of children playing, their joy unexpectedly saving him from what might have become quite the predicament. Crowley risked a glance his way, but had a better poker face than expected. Then again, hadn’t they been preparing for this? The day when Heaven and Hell finally figured out what they’d done.
Except it wasn’t Heaven. Or even Hell. Just a single demon, now gripping the sleeves of his jacket with a desperate intensity that nagged at Aziraphale. Tempted him to reconsider things that, to be frank, were best left not considered. Because if he—Heaven forbid—ever started feeling sorry for any demon other than Crowley... well. It didn’t bear thinking about. Not when their neat and ordered world was already so topsy-turvey.
And yet, that had been his holy water. His blessing that had driven Ligur off of this plane. Funny how Aziraphale could feel so much regarding an indirect killing than he had when he’d leveled a gun at a child.
Luckily, Crowley wasn’t the sympathetic type. Not when it came to his fellows, anyway.
“Now why would I give up a secret as big as that?” Crowley asked, leaning right in Ligur’s face.
The demon gave as good as he got, rising up until they were nearly nose-to-nose. “Because I dropped that letter off at your angel’s precious bookshop. Because I chose this spot knowing you two come here every Thursday. I know you, Crowley, and if you don’t tell me I will dedicate every free moment I have to making the both of you as miserable as possible.”
Crowley paused. “Got a lot of free time then?”
“Since I technically got off the roster thanks to your murder? Oodles.”
A stare. A smile. A full minute of silence that dragged in the worst way. Then Crowley clapped his hands.
“Right! C’mon then,” and to Aziraphale’s quiet shock Crowley turned on his heel and began marching across the grass. Once again someone was watching out for them—Her, fate, just a hefty dose of luck—because Ligur was vaulting the bench, too immersed in keeping pace with Crowley to take note of Aziraphale’s stunned expression. After a moment he shook himself and began to follow.
What a trio they made: Crowley in flowing skirt and lace top, a skimpy middle finger to the heat; Aziraphale in linen and a lighter vest than usual, but otherwise buttoned up; Ligur trailing a coat so dirty and infested it seemed to squirm around his shoulders. If anyone thought their manner of dress odd, a quick miracle took care of that. Crowley led them through throngs of mortals enjoying the day, each giving them a fond glance that Aziraphale took strength from.
What was even better for the nerves than love though was food. Perhaps blasphemous to say so, but true nonetheless. When Crowley stopped at their favorite ice cream cart Aziraphale had already bustled his way to the front. He suddenly needed a cone and flake like nothing else, all but throwing himself into Toby’s line of sight with a miracled fiver in hand.
“Usual, Mr. Fell?” Toby said, already scooping up an extra-large serving. “‘Ello, Anthony. Can I tempt you to one of my strawberry pops?”
“Grape today,” he said, earning a pleased smile. “And my friend here will have a vanilla cone. Best you’ve got in stock.”
Toby chuckled. “Righty then. Best cone, best scoop, best jimmies. Coming right up.” He was entirely oblivious to the sarcastic tilt of Crowley’s ‘friend,’ or the near panicked look that shot across Ligur’s face, followed quickly by disgust. Over his own mouthful (Toby was mercifully quick) Aziraphale couldn’t help but compare the expression to another, similar one he’d seen not too long past: Gabriel’s horror over him eating sushi.
Too many commonalities. Too many implications. Aziraphale stuffed his mouth full of ice cream and decided to let sleeping reforms lie. Best to let Crowley do whatever it was he was doing. Or thought he was doing. Hopefully they amounted to one and the same.
Things became a little clearer when he gestured to the cart with a vaguely reverent air. “This is it, Ligur. You wanted my secret, you’ve got it. The jig is up,” and Crowley accepted his grape popsicle with exaggerated gratitude.
Ligur hissed with displeasure. “Do you take me for a fool?”
“Yes. But that’s not the issue here. Why would I lie?”
“Because you wish to keep such a significant advantage for yourself.”
Crowley shrugged. Beneath Toby’s nose he unhinged his jaw and swallowed the popsicle whole. Gum too. It went unnoticed. “I mean sure. Makes sense. Except you just promised to make our lives a living heaven and I believe it. Not worth the risk. Besides, me giving up the secret doesn’t mean you can use it.” Crowley tossed the stick over his shoulder. Aziraphale waved his hand, sending that and the bit of paper stuck to his cone into the ether.
“I see.” Ligur’s eyes narrowed as Toby handed him his treat, decked out in as many jimmies as the ice cream could hold. “You say eating this will make me immune to holy water? You think I wouldn't suffer through this for such a reward?”
Under the sun, Aziraphale began to sweat.
“No. Ice cream won't make you immune.”
He began to sweat harder.
Crowley just managed to catch Ligur’s wrist before he chucked the cone at his face. With his other hand he wagged his finger back and forth like a disappointed parent. “Patience. You’re going to need a lot of it if your= really want that reward. Because ice cream is just step one.”
Crowley spread his arms, this time encompassing not just the ice cream, but the entirety of the park. The world, as Aziraphale soon understood. “You’ve gotta be human, Ligur. Or as close as we can manage. That right there is your ticket.” He nudged the demon in his chest… then frowned at whatever sticky substance had adhered to his finger. Toby kindly handed him a napkin. “Thank you. As I was saying, you’ve gotta blur the lines a little bit. I mean, you’ve seen humans. Those righteous ones flicking holy water at each other every Sunday.”
Ligur shivered. “Repulsive.”
“Right? But the corrupt ones do it too! Take the nastiest, awfulest, most foulest, meaniness—”
“Those are not words, dear.”
“Shut it, angel. You picture that lot, the ones we’ve helped turn, and you think about whether they really function any differently.” Crowley made a shushing noise as Ligur tried to speak. “No, no, no, don’t actually think. I know it’s hard for you. Luckily, I’ve got the answer: they don’t! the most sin-ridden human on the planet can still waltz into a church un-burnt; dump a whole vat of holy water over their head if they want without anything going all melty. Why? I mean, we could get into Her favoritism and all, but really the ‘why’ doesn’t matter. The point is they can. So if you want my advantage...” Crowley tilted his head, grinning. “You’ve got to become just a little bit human.”
Ligur was still. Not in any way that a person would have been able to achieve—and wasn’t that just the point? Azirphale found that he was holding his breath, trying to stay just as still, until slowly, agonizingly, Ligur dropped his gaze back to the melting cone in his hand.
The distaste was apparent. Yet he licked it once, like a cat indulging in a wary taste. Aziraphale found himself impressed.
“There you go!” Crowley cheered. He made to thump him on the back, remembered sticky fingers, and awkwardly dropped his hand.
Ligur took a bite this time, leaving ice cream smeared over his lips. It was impossible to tell whether he liked it or not. “And how long until I’m more... human?” His teeth chattered over the word.
Crowley shrugged, but Aziraphale’s eyes were sharp. There was nothing casual in that gesture. “Hard to say. I mean, we’ve been here since the beginning, so...”
Beginnings. Ligur had to start somewhere and Crowley pointed him towards a patch of grass where a group of teens were playing Frisbee, encouraging him to join in. Aziraphale was both horrified and curious as to how that would go over. Would he finish the ice cream first? Drop it? Catch a Frisbee one handed? Use it to decapitate one of the teens? He flexed his fingers and resisted the urge to give them all invulnerable necks.
“Do you think that will work?” he hissed to Crowley, both of them watching Ligur approach and say something to a young woman that, astoundingly, brought a smile to her face. “I mean, how long before he picks up on the ruse?”
“Is it?” Crowley murmured. “A ruse? I mean... when was the last time you encountered any hell fire?” At Aziraphale’s startled look he laughed, tilting his head upwards. “I don’t know, angel. I really don’t. But I figure at the very least I've bought us a six thousand year buffer.”
Aziraphale considered. Huffed. Returned to watching Ligur examine the Frisbee (still with ice cream in hand) and ignored that awful tug around his chest, encouraging him to consider impossible things.
“I suppose,” he said. Aziraphale finally took Crowley’s hand like he’d wanted to, safe in Ligur’s distraction. It was warm and tight in his. A solid, reliable weight.
“And think, all for just the price of an ice cream.”
Okay then. Here we go. If he was doing this—and Someone help him, he was doing this—then Crowley would be further damned if he didn’t do it right.
“Sorry,” Anathema said. She set her teacup down. “But are you asking my permission to court Aziraphale?”
“Uh... might be. Yeah.”
She didn’t have to use that tone. Like the request was ridiculous or something. Aizraphale was old-fashioned, even by an immortal’s standards, and as such Crowley had spent the last week recalling, reviewing, and trying to implement every human romance ritual his angel had ever made heart eyes at over the millennia. What Crowley had ended up with was a room flooded with notes and the realization that most of this stuff just wasn’t on the table for them. Well it was, yes. Literally. On the table. His table back at the apartment was, as established, currently covered in the fruits of his labor. No literal fruits though. Apples might send the wrong message given their history and besides, if he wanted to impress his angel with food he’d pick up an opera cake or something equally decadent—
Crowley stared. Across her own, stupidly clean table Anathema stared back.
“I might be panicking,” he said.
“Yeah. Picked up on that.”
Wasn’t that supposed to help? The whole ‘I see you’ nonsense that humans were always harping on about? Instead Anathema’s gaze just made Crowley’s skin go all itchy; fueled the desire to turn into a snake and find somewhere warm to hide. The look did jump-start his brain though. Linear thoughts. Right. He could do that.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley explained, speaking slow and precise entirely for his own benefit, “Is old. All our other friends? Dead. Family,” his eyes jumped to Above and for a moment his burning rage eclipsed the itch. “I’m not asking those bastards for permission.”
“Do you need permission?” From confused to forceful in a heartbeat. Anathema leaned her arms onto the table, nearly knocking her teacup off and slamming their heads together. “I mean c’mon, Crowley. It’s the twenty-first century. Aziraphale is a grown man! Er, angel. You know what I mean. He doesn’t need anyone’s permission to date—and neither do you.” She rapped her knuckles three times against the wood. “There’s a difference between old-fashioned and outdated.”
For the first time in a week Crowley smiled. “Yeah I know, but...try telling him that.”
Anathema continued to look at him in that skin-crawling way. Crowley kicked her shin. “I’m not saying he’s logical! Just that he’ll appreciate it.”
“Appreciate me giving you permission to date him?”
“Even though I’m in no way a parent or guardian or even a relation?”
“Even though I’ve only known you two a few years?”
“Satan save us, book girl, would you just say yes!?”
Anathema laughed, a startled sound that burst right out of her. She picked her cup back up. “You’re an idiot if you think I haven’t been saying ‘yes’ since you walked in, Crowley. I never needed convincing, but that outburst seals it. You two really are perfect for each other. Look. I'm only getting sappy once, so pay attention. I'd do anything for you two, including giving you something you want but I don't think you need. That's fine. You have it, and I hope to Heaven, or Hell, or wherever that you both receive all the happiness this world has to give.”
It should have been a touching moment. Might of been, if Crowley hadn’t accidentally set the edge of the table on fire the moment she'd finished. That happened sometimes. Totally natural for a demon. Not that Crowley had ever seen it happen to another or bothered to ask them about it, but he knew it was true. Because otherwise this was just a thing that happened to him, when he was embarrassed, and that just couldn’t stand.
Never-mind. The real takeaway here was that wooden tables burned spectacularly and Anathema was a peach in a crisis. While Crowley cursed and tried (and failed) to picture a table sans flames, Anathema calmly bent beneath the kitchen sink and retrieved a fire extinguisher. Moments later the flames had disappeared via the magic of human invention, their little sit-down was covered in foam, and despite the kindly expression, Crowley got the distinct impression that Anathema would have liked to take that extinguisher and brain him with it.
“So,” Crowley said.
“So.” Anathema agreed. Her lips were twitching.
“I’m just gonna...” and he thumbed at the door, lanky legs meandering backwards. Anathema let him go with both a smile and a glare. The tally then: three hours of her wasted time, a hefty dose of buffoonery from him, one permission secured, one damaged table, scorched teacup, and a cottage that would smell of smoke for the rest of the day, at least.
All in all, it could have gone a lot worse.
He was three miles into the trip back to London when his phone buzzed, a text from Anathema with, ‘at least you’re still hot,’ complete with emojis. It made him snort. Then laugh out loud. Then finally relax into the driver’s seat, the Bentley curving around him in comfort. It was absurd to ask for permission, particularly from someone who, in the grand scheme of their lives, Crowley barely even knew.
He found he was happy to have it regardless.
Probably slightly less so, however, if he’d known that Anathema had texted Aziraphale shortly after him. Just to say that Crowley would be there by nightfall, he had something to tell him... and perhaps Aziraphale should insist on having that conversation somewhere other than the bookshop. Why? Oh, no reason. Just something-something-precious books and fire.
From then until 8:00pm Anathema’s phone was blowing up with rather frantic texts. She ignored it in favor of surveying the damage done to her kitchen, wondering if she could carve the table into something a bit more interesting, using scorch marks to her advantage.
Anathema was just pulling out a pencil to sketch possibilities when her phone went suspiciously silent. After a full minute, she smiled.
Good. They’d figure it out.
Short but (hopefully??) sweet