Actions

Work Header

Tight Trouser Never Won Fair Angel

Chapter Text

There are quite a lot of stories about fairy godparents in the world.

Whether any of these other stories are accurate or not is unknown; when it comes to Adam Young, though, it most certainly is.

Not that his parents knew, of course. No, to them, Mr. Fell was just their kind neighbor, who ran a bookshop and was so gentle, and such a comfort to Deirdre during her pregnancy, and it had only seemed natural to give him the honor of being Adam's godfather. They had no way of knowing that he was an actual fairy, and that they could not have chosen a better guardian for their son than him.

Aziraphale- for that was his name, or at least the name we must call him- adored Adam. He was a sweet, curly-haired child, rambunctious and excitable, but not exactly ill-behaved. He was prone to naughtiness, but Aziraphale, despite professing great value in morality, had always found naughtiness rather charming. And he was careful to teach the boy- and he had many opportunities, because Adam spent a great deal of time in Aziraphale's company- to draw the line between naughtiness and truly being Bad.

When Adam was two, his parents went away for the weekend- the first time since Adam's birth that they had felt able to leave him for more than a few hours- and left Adam with his godfather, who was quite looking forward to a weekend of doting on his rascally godson, taking him out for scrumptious desserts and then reading to him from a big storybook while Adam played in the garden.

And that is where our story begins- with Adam slightly sticky and running off a large amount of sugar in the garden while Aziraphale, his fairy godfather, reads to him stories that are not quite true, but could very easily be, and a pair of golden eyes peering at them both through a crack in the garden wall that was not there earlier and will not be there later on.

-/-

Every fairy story needs a villain, right?

Crowley was a goblin king. Not THE goblin king, just the king of this particular city, and he liked to think he was very good at it. He was a tricky sort of fellow, slinking out into the mortal world to cause mischief for the humans, sometimes granting their heart’s desire in twisted ways, sometimes hiding things that they wouldn’t notice missing immediately, sometimes being helpful in ways that were sure to come back and bite them later.

He liked messing about in their gardens. Crowley loved gardens, but he loved gardens that were allowed to grow naturally, and the gardens of humans were far too neat and tidy and controlled than the wild gardens of his realm. Plants should be guided, not led, and their growth was far more luscious when they were allowed to expand in the ways that came naturally. [1]

And stealing children, of course. That was his favorite game, stealing children away and leading their caretakers on a merry game through his labyrinth to get them back.

They always won his game, of course. Humans were too clever, and children far too sticky, for any other outcome to emerge.

Besides, they never seemed to fall in love with him, which he tended to think was incredibly unfair. He was a very pretty goblin, at least by human standards, [2] and he wore very tight trousers and had nice hair, so at least one human ought to have fallen in love with him by now.

He had been watching the house for a few days now, ever since deciding that this “Tadfield” was a much better place to put his realm than the growing city he’d been keeping it in before. Cities were too big for goblin mischief; it was being thirsty and being handed a lake. There was too much , no, little villages were best, and Tadfield was so small and idyllic that it practically cried out for a goblin city. Children in a village had a right to grow up with their good neighbors lurking around to wreak havoc.

This child he liked the look of, with his soft, pretty curls, and the excited way his eyes lit up as he explored the world around him. He clearly had a streak of mischief but he was so gentle as well. The first day Crowley saw him he’d been lying perfectly still in the grass, watching a bird hopping around a few feet away, not even daring to move lest he frighten her from her meal. Crowley liked that; he approved of mischief, but he had a soft spot for true gentleness.

And now the boy was in the care of some other human than his parents, a pretty sort of human in outdated clothes [3] reading fairy tales to him from under the tree. It was a perfect set up: the fairy tale book would make an ironic touch that pleased Crowley’s inner dramatic, and this human was almost hypnotically pretty and very much Crowley’s type, insofar as Crowley could be said to have a “type”, which would make it all the more satisfying to make him fall in love with the goblin king.

Crowley grinned to himself, and let his form shrink down until he was a in the shape of a harmless garden snake, and slithered through the crack in the garden wall toward the spot where the boy was playing.

-/-

[1] Guided with a healthy dose of fear, that is.

[2] By goblin standards he was too tall, too thin, and too altogether human to actually be considered attractive.

[3] Crowley worked very hard to keep up with changing human fashion, and resented any human who couldn’t be bothered.

Chapter Text

-/-

Aziraphale looked up from his book when he heard Adam babble about a ‘dog’ in the yard. Since Adam was currently going through a phase where every animal he saw was some kind of dog, this could be anything, and he didn’t like to leave well enough when it could be something harmful.

As he drew nearer, he saw that the “dog” Adam had spotted was a snake, climbing over the crumbling corner wall of the garden. Aziraphale took Adam’s shoulder and pulled him away, a quickly as he could without outright alarming the boy.

“No, Adam, you must be careful,” he said, and when Adam babbled at him in his incomprensible toddler speak, went on with, “This is a snake, my boy. Marvelous creatures, but many of them are harmful. You must always be wary of them.”

Crowley preened at that. It shouldn’t be possible for a snake to preen, but he was no ordinary snake, and preen he did. That’sss right, he thought. Beware of the dangerous ssssnake.

He reached the top of the wall and got to work draping himself over it, radiating smugness as he rested his head on his coils and sat staring the boy in the eye. While he did that, the man peered closer at him.

“You’ll find, in fact, that our handsome friend here is just a common grass snake,” he said. Crowley raised his head, offended. Common? “He’s quite harmless, really.”

Crowley hissed. Harmless! He wasn’t harmless, he was a menacing and dangerous goblin king! He ate babies for breakfast and their guardians for dinner! He was cruelty incarnate!

...okay, he didn’t actually eat people, even babies. But he wasn’t harmless, and he resented any implication otherwise.

On the other hand, the man had called him handsome, hadn’t he? Maybe he’d let it slide, then.

Crowley lowered his head to rest on his coils again, and stuck his tongue out. The boy mimicked him.

“Come along, my boy,” the man said, taking the boy’s sticky hand in his own. “If we leave our friend be, he may decide to take up residence in the garden. He’ll make a very pretty addition, don’t you think? But we must leave him alone, lest we frighten him away.”

It was anyone’s guess whether Adam understood the man’s warnings or not- he was a clever boy, but also only two- but he allowed himself to be led away while Crowley tightened his coils and snugged down into them, making himself comfortable. He was going to be there awhile; this human was going to be tricky to get the boy away from long enough to steal him into the goblin city.

-/-

What, exactly, is a goblin king?

To understand this, we must first understand a bit more about the fair folk. Not very much about them; they’re very prickly about their privacy, after all. But enough.

All of the fair folk- goblins, fairies, etc- possess the ability to create a pocket of space removed from any realm, which they are able to enter freely, the door to which they may move at will. For the most part, these spaces are small, metaphorically closet sized: the ability is a defense mechanism, little more. A way for the fair folk to hide themselves away from prying mortal eyes very quickly, or escape elsewhere if necessary.

Particularly powerful individuals can create roomier spaces for themselves, which allows them a more comfortable retreat.

Goblin kings- as well as queens, and fairy kings and queens, and etc- are powerful enough to create entire worlds for themselves. Goblin cities and fairylands and, you know, etc, are the names for these worlds. They are metaphysically tied to their owners, commanded by their moods and whims, and are populated by both lesser of their kind and any mortals who have wandered (or been led) into them.

Crowley was not very powerful, as goblin kings go: his realm was not particularly big, and he’d chosen the outer edges to be bordered by a desert so that he didn’t have to put in the effort of details. But compared to your average goblin, he had immense, untold power, and given that he had such a beautiful kingdom at his fingertips, it’s anyone’s guess why he chose to spend most of his waking time in the mortal world.

(Aziraphale, in case the reader is wondering, was also a fairy king, though only on a technicality. He did have a fairyland at his disposal, but he found such delight in living in the mortal world that he mostly only used it as a place to store his books.)

The thing about goblin kings is that while a goblin king in his own realm was subject only to his own rules, there were still things that were Done. Goblin kings stole away human children, it was anyone’s guess as to why, and they made mortals fall in love with them, which Crowley had never properly understood.

Crowley had tried, of course, but he was very punch-clock about it and it was always such a relief when the human realized he had no power over them and then took the baby home.

Perched on the wall here, watching the human man play with the small boy in the garden while the sun warmed his scales, Crowley was starting to realize the element he’d been missing.

-/-

Over the course of the day, Crowley watched as the man read to the boy from his book- sometimes while the boy played, sometimes while he curled up near or on his guardian to listen. Crowley would have thought this would make it easier to steal the boy away- his guardian was obviously more engrossed in his book than in looking after his charge, after all- but every time the boy began to succumb to the waves of curiosity that Crowley was sending his way, to draw him nearer and hopefully lead him through the gap in the wall, the man would call him back and remind him that he “mustn’t scare” their new friend away.

In fact, as he settled into his sun-warmed scales for a good sulk after his latest failure, Crowley was thinking that staying in this garden wouldn’t be such a bad idea. He could listen to this wonderful man read as long as he liked, and slither around the garden being beautiful to behold, and perhaps this mortal would trust that he would remain and not take issue with proximity.

The fantasy made him dizzy, and he raised himself from his coils and shook his head to banish the idea. No, there was a process, and it would be more fun in the long run to lead this man on a merry chase through his labyrinth than it would be to slink around as an ornament. Besides, he’d worked hard on his city and it labyrinth, and he wanted to show them off. He was sure that once the man saw all the effort he’d put in, he would definitely fall in love with its clever, creative goblin king, and want to stay there forever.

Crowley could bring him books, he thought, losing himself in another fantasy. All the storybooks he wanted, or any kinds of books at all, and food, he had watched the man eat their picnic lunch with such utter abandon that Crowley had no doubt food would make him happy. He would bring him food from all over the world, anything to put that look of complete bliss back on his face.

But first he had to figure out how to get the kid through the wall, or none of his fantasies would ever come to anything at all.

Chapter Text

-/-

It was nearing sunset, and Crowley was starting to lose hope of success when he finally saw his chance. The man had taken the boy inside to clean him up and get him ready for bed, but he’d left the back door open for some reason, and Crowley could hear him inside, talking to the boy as he tended to his evening ablutions.

Seeing his opportunity, Crowley slithered down from the wall and made his way to the door, peeking inside and hissing to himself in delight when he saw the boy sat on the floor, his guardian at the sink with his back to the door- and to the boy.

He reached out with his power, drawing the attention of the boy but taking great care not to let the man notice, and after a moment- payoff. The boy had spotted him.

Shhhh, he hissed, and the boy said nothing, merely climbed to his feet and toddled in Crowley’s direction. Careful, careful- Crowley pulled back, moving away faster than an ordinary snake would actually be able to.

The boy followed, hands outstretched, cherubic smile belying the mischief in his pretty blue eyes.

In this way, Crowley lured the boy to the gap in the wall. Once he was sure he had the boy, he slipped through, and the boy followed without looking back.

-/-

At that very moment in the house, quite unknown to Crowley, Aziraphale dropped the plate he was cleaning. It smashed to pieces on the floor, and Aziraphale, with an almost absent wave of his hand, restored it and placed it in the sink.

“Oh dear,” he said, in a calm tone that implied he would quite like to have said ‘oh, fuck’ instead.

The air around him changed for a second time, and Aziraphale straightened, spine tingling with an itch to lash out with his power at the man- well, man-shaped being- now leaning oh-so-casually on the kitchen’s doorframe. He suppressed this, and instead smoothed down the front of his waistcoat before turning around slowly.

“Oh,” he said.

He really should have recognized that snake for a goblin straightaway, he thought, but obviously the goblin king had been masking himself, and Aziraphale hadn’t thought to look beyond the obvious. Oh dear, he really had blundered, hadn’t he?

“Where is the boy?” he asked, trying to keep the waver out of his voice and failing spectacularly.

“He’s safe,” the goblin king said, pushing off of the wall and slinking over to circle Aziraphale, and added, “For now. He’s in my city.”

“Give him back, please,” Aziraphale asked, even though he knew it wouldn’t work. “I’ve been entrusted with his care. His parents will be very upset if I’m forced to tell them he was stolen by goblins.”

This seemed to give the king pause, and it occurred to Aziraphale to wonder if he knew that he’d stolen a child from a fairy. He opened his mouth to say so, to drop his own mask and reveal the truth, but stopped himself. The goblin king already believed himself to have the upper hand; if he knew what he’d brought on himself, he might be more guarded.

No, better to keep that to himself, at least for now.

“Anyway, he wasn’t stolen,” the king said, and Aziraphale realized he’d been talking the whole time. The king winked. “He wandered into the city on his own. You’re welcome to come get him back, if you like. You’ll need to be quick about it, though. If he stays in my city past the thirteenth hour, he’ll be in my power for good.”

He took something from his pocket and tossed it to Aziraphale, who caught it and held it up to the light. It was an egg timer, a strikingly modern thing to have come from a goblin, and in its center golden sands trickled away the thirteen hours. Aziraphale turned it upside down, just to see, and was unsurprised when the sands continued to fall upwards.

“Good luck, angel.”

He looked up from the timer- the goblin king was gone.

-/-

Now, if Aziraphale were dealing with any other goblin king, his accidental tip about knowing that Crowley was a goblin might have made the goblin king in question stop and look a little closer at the figure before him. Said goblin king might have seen through the glamour and realized he was dealing with a fairy king, and then said ‘oh, hang on, didn’t mean to interfere, have your kid back’ and not thought any more of it.

They might, equally, have taken the opportunity for a bit of real cruelty, of course. Goblins and fairies are hereditary enemies, though it’s anyone’s guess why, and plenty of goblins would have jumped at the chance to get one over on a fairy, if they felt they had the upper hand.

Of course, this is rather moot, because all that happened when Aziraphale revealed he knew Crowley was a goblin was that Crowley had felt a stab of guilt over the idea that he might get this lovely man in trouble with his charge’s parents, and Crowley didn’t want that. If Crowley were not so- and we must cease pretending otherwise- smitten, a lot of trouble could have been avoided.

And a lot of fun.

-/-

Aziraphale’s instincts were telling him to go after the goblin king, to take back the child that was stolen and also do some damage to the goblin in the process. His protective instincts cried out for Adam’s safety; his fairy instincts begged him to do harm to the goblin king for daring to trespass in his territory.

Both of these things were counterproductive. As Aziraphale well knew, fairy magic is suppressed in goblin cities. [1] If he ran in blind, he would be going in powerless and completely at the goblin king’s mercy.

If Aziraphale had any hope of rescuing Adam, he would need to take steps to prepare himself.

He set the timer on the table, and gave himself a moment to fret before turning on his heel and entering his own fairyland.

-/-

[1] Unless the goblin in question deliberately restructures their entire realm to accommodate an individual fairy’s magic, but what reason would a goblin have for doing something like that?

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Aziraphale mostly used his fairyland as a place to keep his books. It wasn’t very big, as fairylands go, only taking up about as much space as a large library, ever expanding outward as his collection grew. He wasn’t actually sure how big it could get; he’d never felt the need to check.

It wasn’t just books, though. Every precious thing he possessed was there, his house only being furnished and maintained more for the look of the thing than any attachment to the objects within.

It was a foolish fairy who walked willingly into a goblin city. It was a stupid fairy who walked in blind and unprepared, and Aziraphale, though admittedly somewhat foolish, was not stupid.

He took what he needed, then, and returned to the house.

There was a gap in the garden wall. The gap had not been there before- Aziraphale took good care of his garden wall, but here, now, was a gap, just big enough for a man, or man-shaped being, to slip through. Aziraphale ran his hand over the edges of the gap, feeling the taint of goblin magic, and huffed. A goblin in his backyard. Well, behind his backyard. Still.

There was no more time to stall. It had been nearly half an hour now since Adam had been taken, and he knew the odds that the goblin king would cheat were high. He couldn’t afford any more time wasted.

He took a deep breath to prepare himself, checked the case he carried slung over his shoulders was still in place, and stepped through the wall.

-/-

Three things happened when Aziraphale entered the goblin city.

The first was that the power of the goblin city slammed down on Aziraphale’s magic, suppressing it so completely that he couldn’t even feel it anymore. Imagine a cartoonishly thick steel wall: this was the goblin city’s power, separating Aziraphale from his own.

The second was that, without his magic, Aziraphale’s wings were ripped rather violently from the hollow space in his back which contained them when he was in his human form. They furled out behind him, brilliant white and swan-like, a few loose feathers falling free and fluttering to the ground like snow after the rough treatment. He flapped experimentally once or twice, and was relieved that they were unharmed otherwise.

Other aspects of his glamour fell away at the same time-- chalk-white markings crawled up his neck and across spaces revealed by the destruction his wings had wrought on his clothes, his eyes now swirled all the way across with color rather than the static moss-grey irises he adopted among mortals, and the dandelion fluff cloud of his hair became wilder and more untamed than the soft, carefully managed curls of a respectable English bookseller.

The third thing that happened was that a ripple pulsed over the city until it reached the goblin king, sprawled on his throne with the child Adam on his lap. When he felt the ripple, he sat up straight for probably the first time in his existence and said, softly but with feeling, “Oh, fuck.”

-/-

The entrance to the goblin city was, rather appropriately, a hole in a garden wall on this side as well. However, unlike his garden wall, which was not very high or impressive, this wall was enormous. It loomed over him, encircling a garden that was not so much a garden as it was a forest, vast if Aziraphale’s natural sense of space wasn’t lying to him- which, well, it could be, he supposed.

Above him the canopy blocked out any attempt to see the sky, but light succeeded in filtering down through anyway, golden sunlight turned green as it passed through the leaves, dappling the carpet of the garden-forest with an impossible pattern of dancing light and shadow.

Another feeling passed over him, taking the place of the feeling of ‘big’ that had been overwhelming him. This feeling was big, too, expansive, encompassing- love, deep, all-consuming love. Someone or something in the area was feeling such an enormous amount of love that it was reaching him even here, in a place where his fairy senses were being weakened along with his magic.

While he looked around, considering his options and deciding the best path to proceed, he felt the goblin king appear at his side. He turned and met a gleaming golden-eyed grin.

“Hi, angel,” the goblin king said. “Welcome to my city.”

Aziraphale turned to him, and told his treacherous feet not to back away when the goblin king moved closer, looming a little before circling him, looking him over.

“Sooo,” the goblin said, once he’d made a full circuit. “A fairy, huh? How in the world did I manage to steal a child from a fairy?” He stopped circling and leaned closer, giving the fairy a disarming smile. “What shall I call you, angel?”

“My human alias is Aziraphale,” he said. “You may use it for me, if you so wish. And you?”

“Oh, I’m going by Crowley these days.”

“The child?”

“He’s safe. He’s in the tower- here, come up on the wall-” He held out a hand, and Aziraphale, after a moment, took it, and allowed the goblin king- Crowley- to lead him up a set of steps that grew out of the wall as they climbed.

They didn’t go all the way up. Just high enough that they were above the first canopy, and Aziraphale could see, rising from the center of the garden, a tower, pushing up, up, up through the second canopy and possibly even to the heavens above, for all Aziraphale knew.

“He’s in the highest room, with me,” Crowley said, holding out a hand once more and leading Aziraphale back down when he took it. “And now you only have twelve hours to reach him.”

“You could return him now. Save us the trouble.”

“Sorry, angel,” and he looked it, “but you know the rules. That’s not how the game is played.”

“I will win. I will take him back.” And added, because he felt he ought to, “You will not like the consequences.”

“Probably not. Good luck, then,” Crowley said, and let go of Aziraphale’s hand.

Behind him, a pair of back wings dusted with iridescent greens and blues unfolded, spreading wide and lifting him into the air. The canopy opened to allow him to pass through, closing itself tight behind him, lest Aziraphale get any ideas about just flying to the tower and dodging the labyrinth entirely.

(Not that he could. Magic was a necessity to making wings, even very large wings, powerful enough to life a fully-grown man-shaped-being in flight, and Aziraphale’s flight magic was suppressed as much as the rest of it.)

Aziraphale didn’t spare him another thought, and walked into the maze of trees spread out ahead of him.

-/-

High above him, Crowley sprawled on a tree limb and watched him through the gaps in the canopy. Crowley’s heart was doing things that he wasn’t used to it doing at all: it kept whispering new fantasies in his metaphorical ear, things like ‘fairies love the natural world, if anyone will appreciate your garden it’s him’ and ‘you could go flying together over the treetops, you’d only have to rework your realm to allow his magic’ and ‘his hand was so, so warm’. It was unsettling.

He had not expected to find a fairy in his realm: his glamour was very good, for Crowley not to have seen through it when he’d spent all day watching him.

Crowley wished he’d managed to. Without the glamour, Aziraphale was the most beautiful creature Crowley had ever laid eyes on.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

The feeling of love grew stronger the deeper Aziraphale moved into the labyrinth of trees. And it truly was a labyrinth: the trees parted to form a pathway, moved together to prevent him pressing away from the given trail, sometimes changing the pathway behind him as he advanced. He wondered if the whole of the labyrinth was a forest, or if he might at some point find places of stone walls, or grass, or hedges instead.

He wished he had some way of finding his way through the labyrinth more easily, but none of the tricks he’d prepared would help him there- there was nothing that could aid in the passing of a goblin king’s labyrinth, at least no trick of Aziraphale’s knowing. Only one who dwelled in the labyrinth by its king’s will could navigate it surely.

Which, come to that, perhaps Aziraphale might find one of the city’s inhabitants. He could strike up a bargain. A guide was not against the rules- in fact, very few tricks were.

He came to a fork in the path, and closed his eyes, letting what remained of his senses feel around. The feeling of love was coming more strongly down the left hand path, so he turned down that one. One of the labyrinth’s inhabitants, perhaps, who could be bribed into guiding him.

-/-

Crowley paced in his tower, thoughts on the fairy he’d inadvertently forced into his game.

“Aziraphale,” he murmured, tasting the name. Not his real name, of course, but such a radiant alias. It was sweet on his serpent’s tongue; as sweet as the fairy himself had, when Crowley had succumbed to the temptation and tasted the air around him.

The human boy chattered at him in his incomprehensible toddler syllables, and Crowley swooped down and scooped him up, giving him a playful toss before spinning him around.

“Aziraphale!” he repeated, making faces at the little human boy. “You’re such a lucky boy, you know. Do you know? You have a fairy godfather. Not many people have one of those.”

He stared intently at the boy while he replied, and then nodded very sagely, as if the child had just imparted some deep wisdom on him.

“I think,” he said, “that I need to make him fall in love with me. It’s never worked before, but this time, I’m sure of it.” And nodded decisively, and called to a nearby attendant goblin, “You! Go get my tightest trousers and my sluttiest shirt!”

And turned back to the child, spinning him in a silly, impromptu dance to the music that started playing as soon as he decided he wanted to dance. [1]

-/-

Another hour had passed.

Aziraphale felt like he’d made no progress whatsoever, and another hour had passed. How deep was he into the labyrinth’s depths? He was still surrounded by the same trees, still going down paths that all looked the same- had he been retracing his steps? There was no way of knowing.

He could sense that strong feeling of love growing, though. He eyed the trees directly aside his path thoughtfully, and then, with a few flaps of his wings- lifting himself off of the ground by half a foot- launched at the gap between the two nearest.

It almost worked- the trees hadn’t quite known what to expect when he’d started trying to fly, and had been focused on preventing him from breaking through the canopy. But the gap was not quite big enough to fit him through without magic, and he found himself stuck, the trees pressing closer to keep him from wriggling free.

“Well,” he said, struggling to pull himself free in first one, then the other direction. “That didn’t go as planned.”

-/-

Once Crowley had shimmied into his new attire, he flew off to find the fairy and start wooing him. His senses carried him closer to the beginning than he’d have liked- he frowned. The fairy should have made it farther by now, surely? What was keeping him?

The canopy parted to allow Crowley to descend, bringing him down to the fairy's location. He landed in front of him, and tried not to laugh.

“Oh my,” he said, hand covering his mouth. “Got yourself in a bit of a jam, have you?”

“It’s not funny,” Aziraphale pouted, folding his arms. “If you’re just going to mock me, then you might as well leave.”

“Going to make me?” Crowley leaned closer, so he was face to face with the fairy, their noses nearly brushing. “You don’t really seem in the position to be issuing threats.” He gave this a moment to sink in, then grinned and took a step back, moving nearer one of the trees. “All right, you lot, you’ve had your fun. Come on.” He rapped his knuckles against the wood of one. “Let him go, that’s right.”

With an almost reluctant shudder, the trees loosened their grip enough that Crowley was able to help Aziraphale wiggle out of the gap and set his feet back on the ground. He gave his wings a few shakes to unruffle them, and turned to Crowley.

“I suppose I should thank you.”

“Don’t. I didn’t do that to be nice, the game’s just not fun if you’re trapped in the trees. As for you,” he said, rounding on the trees that had held him trapped. “What are you about, going and letting him find gaps for him to pass through? You all know I don’t tolerate disobedience.”

He glared around at all of the trees surrounding them, which had begun shaking in- fear? Aziraphale frowned. No, it wasn’t fear he was sensing from them. It was… 

“Ha!” Aziraphale said, and then hastily covered his mouth with one hand when Crowley turned to him. “Nothing. It’s nothing. What did you come out here for, if not to gloat?”

“Oh, you know.” Crowley shrugged. Was he embarrassed? Aziraphale couldn’t sense anything from him, it wasn’t strong enough. “Just seeing how you were getting on.”

“I see.” Aziraphale looked him over for the first time since he’d appeared. “Did you change your clothes?”

Crowley beamed, and turned around so Aziraphale could get a good look. He’d changed from almost ordinary human attire to a billowing black silk shirt, buttons undone almost to his navel, and a pair of black skinny jeans that hugged him so tightly Aziraphale wondered if they might be just his skin painted over. [2]

“Do you like it? I wanted to wear something more flattering for our game.”

“I see,” he said. (He couldn't help seeing. Crowley wasn’t exactly leaving him a choice in the matter. His gaze lingered on the space where he’d finally done up his buttons, because it desperately wanted to move lower and he refused to let it.)

“You don’t like it?” he pouted. Aziraphale felt bizarrely bad about hurting his feelings, and reminded himself that this was a goblin king. They were notoriously vain; there wasn’t much Aziraphale could have done to not hurt his feelings. Also, he’d stolen Adam.

“They’re very tight, aren’t they?” he said instead.

Crowley nodded cheerfully. “You would not believe how much baby powder I need to keep from chafing,” he said. “They’re that tight.”

“How haven’t you cut off your circulation yet?”

“Oh, mm, you know.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Magic.” At Aziraphale’s disapproving look, he huffed, and added, “What, you’re telling me you never used magic to make your clothes more suited?”

“Well. I suppose I have been known to add tartan to things that lacked it.”

“Tartan? Really?”

“Tartan is stylish. Not that I expect you to understand- gallivanting about in-” He flapped a hand in Crowley’s direction, unable to stop himself giving the goblin another once-over. “-well, in that sort of get-up.”

He made to turn away, to turn his back on this absurd goblin king, and Crowley coiled around- too fast to track- so that they were still face to face. He resolutely tried to keep his ground, but it was difficult with this goblin king looming over him, close enough that he could see nothing but the gold of his eyes.

“Your mouth ridiculesss, but your eyess betray you,” he hissed, moving closer. He was so close now that Aziraphale could feel his words against his lips as he spoke. “But look all you like. I dressed this way for you.”

Aziraphale stared into those golden eyes, felt the movement of a forked tongue so close to his lips, and took a step back, took a deep breath.

“Thank you for getting me out of the trees,” he said, as politely as possible. “But I have little more than ten hours left, and I need to reach the tower before time is up and I lose my godson forever.”

-/-

[1] My Fairy King, in case anyone is wondering. Some things are universal, and the goblin city only knew how to play vaguely-appropriate Queen songs.

[2] His boots were still the same snake-skin boots that he’d been wearing earlier. Aziraphale’s eyes lingered on them, trying to discern whether they were actually boots or... something else.

Chapter Text

-/-

The forest was beginning to bleed into a more organized garden. The path beneath his feet was still carpeted with arboreal detritus, but it seemed more path-like than the forest trail he’d been walking on. On either side, too, the trees were beginning to thin out, with hedges filling the gaps between them.  

Aziraphale was starting to flag when he heard singing. Not good singing, mind you, rather, it was the sort of singing that one did when one was completely alone and very happy and singing solely for one’s own pleasure. The sound gave him a burst of energy and he hurried around the corner, following the voice- around a curve in the path, another corner-

The singer turned out to be a nun. Aziraphale came to an abrupt halt at the sight of her, singing quite happily to herself as she plucked the flowers from the hedge and placed them in a basket dangling from one arm.

A nun in a goblin city. Well, now he’d seen everything.

He cleared his throat in an attempt to interrupt her, and then a second time when that didn’t work.

When it didn’t work any better the second time, he said, “Excuse me, dear lady,” in as loud a voice as manners would permit. This, finally, got her attention: she gave a startled gasp and her basket fell to the ground.

“Saints and demons preserve us,” she said. “You gave me quite the fright, Master Fairy!”

“I do apologize,” he said, hurrying over to help her gather her basket of flowers. Once they had been gathered (he noticed as they did that she didn’t seem particularly interested in keeping the flowers from being harmed), he smoothed down the front of his waistcoat as best he could despite the tearing and said, “If you’ll excuse my asking, ah… well, are you really a nun?”

“Oh absolutely,” she chirped. “I’m Sister Mary Loquacious, from the Chattering Order of St. Beryl. It’s a pleasure to meet you~ Master Crowley said you might be coming along at some point, and look, here you are! Imagine, Master Fairy coming down my path of the Labyrinth! Gracious, though, look at you! I’d always imagined fairies to be wee little things with butterfly’s wings, but you’re a proper man-sized, aren’t you?”

She held out a hand, and Aziraphale took it, a little bewildered. “Yes, I… yes,” he said slowly, brain doing the necessary reordering that came from a first encounter with one of the Chattering Order. “That is to say, fairies are… anyway.” He broke off, trying to follow the chatter, and said, “My dear, if I may ask, why is there a nun in a goblin city?”

“Well I live here, of course! Well, not here , obviously, I actually live nearer the wall, Master Crowley says it’s vital that we all stay as far away from the tower as he can get us, but it’s really nice at the wall, he made us a new convent and everything, and even gave us a door into the mortal realm and says that we can go back out and live with the mortals again any time we like, but of course we all like it here so much that we’re very happy to stay, except on Thursdays when we go out bicycling. We could just bicycle in the labyrinth, of course, but it always just plays bicycle race on a loop when we do and we all get rather tired of hearing the same song on repeat the whole time. At least in the mortal realm we can listen to something other than Queen.”

“Um.” Aziraphale wished he still had his magic: he desperately wanted to put her to sleep, at least for a moment. He could see why Crowley would want her as far away from his tower as possible, at least. “Okay. Let’s see if I can get a short answer from you- why is there a convent of nuns in a goblin city?”

“That’s a very long story,” she said. “You see-”

“On second thought, no, I don’t want to know.”

“Are you sure?”

“My apologies,” he said, because she looked hurt, “but I’m in a hurry, you see. I need to reach the tower before-” He checked his timer. “-just under nine hours, or I will lose my godson forever. It’s very important, and I do not have time to listen to a long story of no consequence to my quest.”

She nodded. “Yes, of course, I understand.” After a beat, she added, “Would you like me to take you there?”

“Would you?”

“Of course! Just let me-” She set the basket of flowers down beside the hedge, and held out her arm in a companionly way. “All right, come along. It’s actually not that hard to navigate, once you get used to it.”

-/-

As they walked, Sister Mary chattered endlessly at Aziraphale, including her explanation of her order and how they came to live in the goblin city. It was not, in fact, a long story, once it was trimmed down from her telling of it, so we’ll summarize it here:

Some twenty or thirty years ago- Sister Mary wasn’t sure, and in a general sense the nuns had ceased to count or care how long they had lived in the timeless city- they had been living in a Satanic convent in the mortal realm. It was a nice convent, and the Sisters were all a cheery lot, quite a far cry from what one would expect of Satanic nuns unless one had spent any time whatsoever around Satanic nuns.

Crowley had so happened to leave his city near the convent for awhile, for reasons known only to himself, and when a fire had caught in the convent, trapping most of the order within, he’d allowed them sanctuary in his city to escape the flames.

After that, they’d sort of just… stayed. He hadn’t really intended for them to stay long-term, but their convent had been utterly destroyed and they had nowhere to go, so he’d just let them keep on as long as they liked. He’d even, as Sister Mary had said, built them a new convent in the city wall, and gave them their own exit so they could come and go as they liked.

(Privately, Aziraphale thought maybe he was hoping they’d leave, but it was very interesting that even though he’d made it clear as day that he didn’t like them around, he still allowed them to live there as they liked.)

“And so, we live here and keep the labyrinth for him, and it’s all very lovely, you know.”

“I’m certain,” Aziraphale agreed. “If you’ll pardon the question, what were you picking those flowers for?”

“That? Well you see, Master Crowley gave that hedge specific orders to grow white roses for if you came through, but it went and got confused and grew red roses instead, so I was snipping off the flowers so it could grow new ones before he found out. He does shout so much when the plants don’t listen, and it’s so dreadful to listen to. They will tremble so.”

“My dear, I think you may be mistaken,” Aziraphale said, grabbing her pause for breath as an opportunity. “This forest feels no fear for your master- only love.”

“Well of course it does!” she said, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. “He takes good care of it. Oh, he’ll make his noises,” she added, when he looked about to remind her of her earlier statement, “but we all know he wouldn’t really follow through on his threats. He takes very good care of us, and as for the plants- well, they’re metaphysically tied to him, aren’t they? He can’t hurt them anymore than he could hurt himself, literally, so they make a good show of being afraid to make him feel better and then just go on growing prettily for him.” [1]

As they walked, Aziraphale felt the now-familiar tingle that told him Crowley was approaching. He looked up, but saw nothing, and when his gaze dropped back down Crowley had appeared in front of them.

“Master Crowley!” Sister Mary gasped, and curtsied, and took off. “I was just leaving!” she called over her shoulder as she fled.

Goblin and fairy watched her flee, and once she was gone turned their attention back to one another. Aziraphale spoke first.

“You know, when most people talk of crowds of virgins being lured into goblin cities, I don’t think a sisterhood of Satanic nuns is quite what they’re picturing.”

Crowley snorted. “Virgins?” he said. “Don’t know much about Satanic nuns, do you? Breaking vows is what they’re good at. Also, I didn’t exactly lure them in here. I did them a favor and I’m still paying for it.”

“She spoke very highly of you,” Aziraphale said. “Why did she run away?”

“Because I’ve given that lot orders that they aren’t to come near me. Can’t handle the chattering, how you stood it long enough for her to get you this deep in the labyrinth is astonishing. So angel,” he added, returning to his habit of orbiting Aziraphale as they spoke. “You’ve got eight and some change hours, and you’re still not anywhere near my tower. Ready to give up yet?”

Aziraphale pursed his lips, and then turned and began walking again. “Of course not,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ve still got eight and some change hours.”

-/-

[1] Sister Mary is incorrect here, actually, but more on that later.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Crowley had implied that Aziraphale had gotten farther into the labyrinth than he’d thought, so Aziraphale took that as a sign that he was making good progress. Crowley’s warning about not being anywhere near the tower was dismissed; no matter how close he got, Crowley was sure to insist that he wasn’t making any progress at all.

As he walked, he kept his eye out for any more nuns, and for Sister Mary specifically, but it wasn’t nuns he saw first; rather, he came to a fork in the path. Almost literally, in fact: the road shot off in four directions from where he sat, looking a bit like an actual fork. Knowing what he did of Crowley now, he suspected this was deliberate. It struck him as the sort of thing Crowley would find funny. [1]

Guarding each path was one of four identical goblins. They were all pretty, in a boy-band sort of way, with hair that seemed to invoke… ears, perhaps? Or horns? He wasn’t sure, and felt it might be rude to ask.

“Heigh-ho, Master Fairy,” said the one at the far end, and the one at the opposite end to him added, “Which path shall you choose, Master Fairy?”, the call then being taken up by another, with, “For four paths stand before you, but you are yet one, and can only choose one to take.”

“That’s a good question,” Aziraphale said. “I suppose there’s some sort of puzzle or trick to it.”

He was careful not to frame it as a question. The trick could be the number of questions he could ask, and he didn’t want to waste his.

The fourth one, who hadn’t spoken yet, said, “Each path will take you to a different part of the garden. Each path will take you closer to the tower, and also farther away. Each path is a test: the test of courage, the test of might, the test of will, and the test of testing well.”

“Ooh, that one sounds promising.”

“Choose you my road, then?” asked the one on the end.

“No no, let me think a moment.” He waved them away, and checked the timer as he considered his options. Seven and a half hours. Time was running short, he didn’t have long to think.

The test of might he didn’t like the sound of. Without his magic he would need to rely solely on the strength of his body, and a lifetime of decadence and indulgence had left him pleasantly soft.

The test of courage would probably show him his greatest fear, he suspected; it was an old Fae trick, and even if he knew the illusion was an illusion, he didn’t particularly relish facing his fears even in a fantasy.

The test of will he could probably pass. His will was iron-strong: he had one goal in mind, and one goal only, and that was saving Adam. Anything else he might be tempted by would not draw him away from his goal.

The test of testing well- he didn’t know what to expect from that. And right now, the unexpected was something he would prefer to avoid.

“I choose…” There was only one he could be sure of passing, wasn’t there? “I choose the test of will.”

As he said the words, the four boy-band goblins merged, as did their roads, leaving behind one singular pathway. The goblin(s?) stepped to one side and bowed him onto the road.

“Good luck,” they said, and spoke with four identical voices layered on top of each other, and then a single voice added, much lower, “You’ll need it.”

-/-

Despite the ominous warning, for a while the path appeared harmless. The path itself was a hill between two ditches, running between another line of trees that formed a firm wall on either side. Their roots grew up into the path, forming a kind of walkway that he marvelled at. He didn’t exactly make a habit of hanging out in goblin cities, but he suspected none other were so creatively built as Crowley’s.

As he walked along, the trees began to thin out and the path to widen, until, quite without warning, he came out at the base of the tower. He stopped short, stunned a little. Had he reached it already? In less than half the time?

Tentatively, he pushed open the door, and felt a sense of vertigo that told him that while the door to the tower was at its base, the entrance led into the highest room.

Inside that room were Crowley and Adam: Crowley, sprawled on a soft couch, Adam, asleep on his chest while he sang a soft lullabye to him. Aziraphale’s heart thudded to a halt in his chest, but before he could say anything Crowley spotted him and his face split into a wide grin.

“Aziraphale!” He said. He got to his feet in one fluid motion, setting Adam down on the couch and shh shh ing him when he fussed a bit over the transfer. Once the boy was calm, Crowley turned back to Aziraphale and grabbed his and, pulling him close and dancing them in a circle.

“You made it,” Crowley said. “And with this much time to spare! Knew you had it in you.”

“Um. Yes. Rather.”

Crowley spun him around, Aziraphale following along in a dazed sort of way. “So how did you get past the test of will?”

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “I was walking down the path, waiting for the test, and then I reached the tower.”

“Huh. That’s weird.” Crowley considered this for a moment, scrunching his face up as he looked out into the labyrinth with his awareness of his realm. After a moment he returned to their own space and shrugged. “Must be broken.”

“Lucky for me,” Aziraphale said, frowning. Something seemed off. “I, er. I suppose I’ll just. I’ll be taking my godson now.”

“You can’t,” Crowley said, and then added very hastily, “I mean, I guess you can, but, well. You’ve still got half your time left. Sure you don’t want to- I dunno- stay? For a bit? Spend a little more time with me?”

“I beg your pardon, but I have no intention of allowing my godson to remain any longer in this realm than necessary.”

“Right, right! Of course, didn’t even think of that- all right, hold on-“ He waved a hand, and Adam vanished from the couch. Aziraphale gave a shout of concern, and made to run towards- well, where he’d been, anyway- but Crowley’s hand in his pulled him back. “He’s safe, I sent him home. Stay a bit longer, Aziraphale? We can- we can talk! I can show you more of my labyrinth. That chattering nun took you on a shortcut so you didn’t even get to see all the things I had prepared for you. Come on, what do you say?”

“I don’t know,” Aziraphale fretted. Something wasn’t right here. “I’m not really…”

“Aziraphale,” the goblin king said in a low, dangerous voice. “You are in my city. You are still powerless. Think very carefully about your answer.”

Aziraphale froze. “You’re not real.”

Crowley’s eyes widened. “Of course I’m real!” The dangerous shadow pulled away, revealing a sunnier smile again. “I just- I really want you to stay! We could be brilliant together, you and me, I know you’re attracted to me, we can be- you know, we can just, we can be together. Keep each other company. Wouldn’t you like that? Wouldn’t you like some company?”

He would like some company, was the thing. He liked humans and he loved Adam, and he had lots of human friends and acquaintances, but none of them were really the same as having another Fae king around. He didn’t even have any inhabitants to his realm, even if lesser Fae and stolen humans weren’t much more of an option.

And there was no way for Crowley to know this, unless the Crowley in front of him was an illusion basing itself on his heart’s desire.

Unless Crowley was lonely too, a part of his mind told him. He couldn’t be the only Fae king to be lonely for the company only another Fae king could provide.

“Hey,” the illusion asked in a soft voice, and part of his heart broke. Was this an illusion? “Talk to me, Aziraphale,” he said-

-and Aziraphale knew .

“You’re not real,” he repeated, more firmly this time, pulling away from the illusion still grasping for him. “You are an illusion and I will not be taken in by your tricks!”

For a long, tense few seconds, Aziraphale expected the illusion to refuse, and then it grinned rather nastily at him and the room, and illusory Crowley, shattered, falling away and leaving Aziraphale falling into nothingness.

-/-

[1- He was correct.]

Chapter Text

-/-

Aziraphale didn’t land particularly hard, in the end- after a disorienting minute or so of the entire world seeming to spin away from him, it came back into shape and sharp focus abruptly again, sending him sprawling onto the stone floor beneath him less from any physical fall than from the having the metaphorical rug yanked out from under him.

He lay there for a minute, getting his breath back and taking inventory on his body: two arms, check, two legs, check, two wings, check, check. The case he’d slung over his shoulder before entering the goblin city was still there, all contents accounted for. Clothes still there, mostly in one piece apart from the tears his wings had created. Every atom right where it was supposed to be. Check, check, check.

He was fine. He climbed to his feet, and checked the time.

Seven and some change hours. Oh dear- he was nearly to the halfway mark.

Aziraphale brushed himself off while he looked around. He’d landed in a dungeon of some sort: stone walls all around, stone ceiling overhead, stone floor beneath. There were no windows in the walls, no entryway in the ceiling for him to have fallen through, and apart from a small grate in the floor- just big enough to get a hand through- there was nothing on the floor, either.

The presence of a dungeon gave Aziraphale pause. It wasn’t that he would never have expected to find a dungeon in a goblin king’s labyrinth, but he’d found he was rather not expecting it from Crowley, whose city thus far had seemed to be a vast garden with a tower in the center.

Still. A dungeon was a dungeon, and he needed to get out. He began feeling around in search of an exit.

While Aziraphale was feeling along the stones that formed the dungeon, a shimmer behind him made him look around to find the wall melting away. Behind the expanding gap in the wall was a figure of a- a goblin? A human? Aziraphale couldn’t say for sure; it looked human enough, but more like a goblin attempting to be a human than an actual human. On the other hand, sometimes humans looked more like goblins attempting to be human.

The wall finished melting away, leaving an arched doorway, and the figure stepped across the threshold, hands clasped behind his back.

“Welcome to the dungeon, laddie,” he said. “I’m Sergeant Shadwell, and I’ll be your keeper s’long as you’re here.”

Human, then. Goblins didn’t give names so freely.

“It’s, er, nice to meet you,” Aziraphale said, and, after scrunching up his face a moment, “Actually, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to leave.”

“Why?”

“Well, because.” He swapped his assumption to goblin; a human wouldn’t have felt the need to ask. “I had plans, you see, and this is rather interfering with them.”

Shadwell cocked his head. “What sort o’ plans?”

Aziraphale sputtered. “Why-! Your master has kidnapped my godson,” he said. “I must get him back within time!”

“That doesn’t sound right. That flash bastard in the tower wouldn’t hurt a fly, hasn’t got the stones for it.”

Ah. Definitely human, then- no Fae would dare speak so ill of their own king, but humans were remarkable at being able to flippantly disregard each other even when allegiance should be owed.

“I assure you, good sir, that I am speaking one hundred percent truth. Now will you release me or not?”

“Ah… no.”

“No?”

“Well, I mean, if you’re going after Master Crowley I have a duty to stand between you and him. As a sergeant in his army, you know.”

“He has an army? Is it… a large army?” This was.. Unexpected. Very few Fae realms boasted actual armies- a watchguard, yes, sometimes, because one never knew when hostile forces might find their way inside, but actual armies were all but unheard of.

“Oh, aye.” Sergeant Shadwell looked suddenly nervous. “There’s, ah, General Smith, and, and, ah, Colonel’s Green and, and… Jones?” He took out a pocket handkerchief and wiped at his forehead. “And, ah, Majors Jackson, Robertson, and Smith, and-” He cleared his throat. “And Majors Saucepan, Tin, Milk-Bottle- deceased, unfortunately- and Cupboard.”

He looked strained. Aziraphale grew concerned. A general, some colonels, and that many majors? It must be a large army. He hoped they weren’t all nearby.

On the bright side, his nerves gave Aziraphale an opening for a bit of fairy trickery. He reached into his bag.

“Calm down, sir- there’s no need to be nervous now, here- tI’ve brought some wine, why don’t we just… there, there…”

Shadwell eyed the bottle he was offering suspiciously. “Fairy wine,” he said. “I’ll not fall for your tricks, ye’ great southern pansy.”

“Why would I trick you? Oh for heaven’s sake-” He popped the cork on the bottle and took a long drink from it, letting Shadwell see very clearly that he was drinking. Once he’d swallowed enough that he felt he’d made his point, he held out the bottle to Shadwell in offering. “It was merely an attempt to calm your nerves. Take it or don’t.”

Shadwell continued to eye him suspiciously, but he did take the bottle, and, still not taking his eyes from Aziraphale’s face, tipped it back and drank slowly.

He was almost halfway through the bottle when the effect hit. He pulled the bottle away, furrowed his brow at it, and said, “Strong stuff,” before hitting the ground face first.

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said, pulling the bottle from Shadwell’s slack grasp. “He had a stronger stomach than I realized.”

He sealed the bottle back up and returned it to his bag, then holstered the bag properly and, with one last glance at the Sergeant, stepped over him and out through to the tunnels.

A moment later, his hurried footsteps brought him back, and he rolled Shadwell over onto his back before hurrying away again.

-/-

Crowley lay on his stomach on his couch, trying not to think about Aziraphale and failing absolutely.

The thing was, Crowley desperately wanted to court Aziraphale, to woo the fairy and make him fall in love. He didn’t want him to leave, which was, of course, exactly what he was going to do as soon as he’d got his godson back. And Crowley had no idea how to make him stay- he’d never figured out how to get the champions to like him, and he’d never thought that mattered because he hadn’t really liked any of them either.

But Aziraphale was different . The boy wasn’t even his and Aziraphale was still risking everything to save him- had willingly walked into a goblin city, despite knowing full well the handicap he would be putting on himself when he did.

The boy toddled nearer, and Crowley reached out for him, scooping him up and rolling onto his back with the baby held in the air.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are, boy?” he asked.

The boy said something to him that Crowley couldn’t understand. He nodded anyway, as if the boy had just imparted some sage wisdom.

“Of course, of course..

A few more minutes of this, and Crowley rolled over and set the boy back on the floor, letting him return to toddling about having his toddler fun.

“I wonder what Aziraphale’s up to?” he said. “I think I’ve left him long enough. Let’s see how far he’s made it.”

He swung his feet around to a sitting position and pressed his hands to his temples, expanding his awareness out into his labyrinth, seeking out the fairy’s location within its borders.

Suddenly he was on his feet, wings manifesting behind him as he ran to the balcony and leapt off of it, soaring out over the vast canopy of the forest below.

-/-

Aziraphale walked along a stone tunnel for what felt like an interminable amount of time- he checked the timer. Six and a half hours. Oh dear. He started walking faster.

Eventually, after an eternity of endless stone walls that all looked more-or-less the same, he found himself coming to an exit. He stepped out into the fresh air and sunlight-

-and immediately back into tunnel as the full force of the bog hit him face-first.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Fairies can sense strong emotion.

Ever since Aziraphale set foot into the goblin city, he’d been awash constantly in feelings of love and affection. The trees shook with it, the flowers basked in it; every leaf, every stem, every blade of grass and grain of sand, completely and totally consumed by a feeling of loving and being loved. The people, too: Sister Mary had carried joy and affection for her sisters and for her master; the boy-band goblins had radiated adoration for the labyrinth surrounding them; even Shadwell’s casual disrespect had been wrapped in a layer of fondness for the goblin king he spoke of.

Everything in the labyrinth, insofar as Aziraphale had seen, loved and was loved in return.

The bog reeked of terror.

It was a physical terror: so strong that it drip-drip-dripped down from the branches in a gentle acidic rain, curled up from the ground as mist. It clung, slick, viscous to the trees in a sticky layer of sap and slime. It pressed heavily down on Aziraphale as he picked his way slow and steady across the bridge through the bog.

As if that weren’t bad enough, interwoven with the terror were other things, painful things: Anger. Loathing. Grief. And underneath all of that, the rotten-apple taste of loneliness.

Aziraphale pressed a hand over his heart and folded his wings around him, as if that would shield him from the strength of the emotions bubbling in the waters of the bog. He needed to get away from this place, from the sickening stench and its horrifying implications.

“You shouldn’t be here.”

He spun on his heel- too fast, too fast, he nearly fell; his wings beat the air frantically to hold him until he could steady himself. It was Crowley- of course it was Crowley. He didn’t have the now-familiar looseness to him anymore: his limbs were stiff, his shoulders hunched. His yellow eyes were wide, unnaturally so for someone so human. There was hatred in his frame, and rage, and Aziraphale took an involuntary step back. It was occurring to him, only now, only halfway through his trial, through the Game, that he should perhaps be frightened of the goblin king.

“This place is off limits,” Crowley said, stalking toward him, leading with the head like the snake he was. “You shouldn’t be here.”

He was close now, and Aziraphale took another step back, and Crowley noticed, and stopped. Something unreadable passed across his face, and he took a step back as well. Turned away.

“Leave,” he said, voice hoarse and tight.

“I- I am trying to,” Aziraphale reminded him. “I don’t really… know the way.”

Crowley spared him a glance, and waved his hand. In a heartbeat, the world around Aziraphale dissolved, and he found himself in a grove of fruit trees, the wall of the goblin city behind him.

He crumpled, there and then. The wall? That meant he would have to start over. How was he supposed to get to Adam in time now? He had less than six hours left, and it had taken him that long to get as far as he had in the first place.

-/-

Once Aziraphale had gone- had been banished- Crowley raised his gaze to the bog around him. He didn’t say anything. Didn’t yell, or scream, or rage. He just looked, and the tree nearest him began twisting and curling around itself, branches slowly, painfully stripped of leaves while the bark cracked and creaked from the strain. Wood split, sap flowed free, and the tree screamed in silent agony until Crowley finally took his gaze from it.

It sagged, then, hanging twisted and mutilated, bare and broken branches trailing in the acrid bogwater.

Crowley turned slowly on the spot, letting his gaze linger briefly on one, then another of the bog’s inhabitants. The plants all trembled, worrying that they would be next, but it seemed that he’d vented enough on the first tree, because none of them repeated their companion’s experience.

“This place is off-limits,” Crowley snarled, once he was clear the entire bog was listening. “No one, and I do mean no one, is allowed in here, d’you hear me? Especially not him! D’you think he’ll want to stay now? Now he’s seen- seen- this? Now he knows the truth? D’you- d’you think he won’t flee in terror now? You’ve run him off! Lost him! I’ll never make him fall in love with me now, d’you understand? Not now he’s seen this place!”

Anger shook his entire body; he spun, chose a tree at random and with one flick of his hand began peeling the bark off, slender strip by slender strip.

“What was I thinking anyway? He’s a fairy, he’s a being of joy and love, what would he want with a goblin king anyway?” He sank to the ground, hanging his feet off the edge of the bridge so that the tips of his shoes trailed in the water. Behind him, the casual torment of the tree stuttered to a halt, the half-peeled strips of bark still clinging to the raw surface. “Especially… this goblin king…”

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

What, exactly, is a Fae realm? The realm of a Fae, obviously- their hiding space from human eyes, their way of moving through the world unhindered by space. But what i s that space, and how does it exist? Why do some Fae have very small pockets of space that could only so bear them in it, while others have great enormous kingdoms, vast expanses that other Fae- and humans, for no Fae realm is complete without humans- can inhabit?

Well, to put it simply, Fae realms are the realms of imagination. A Fae creates their realm by imagining a space they can slip into, and then do. Fae rulers, to expand on that, imagine a very large space, and then imagine things that must exist in it.

You may conclude, then, and rightly so, that a Fae realm is just an extension of its ruler- that entering a Fae realm is to enter into the Fae’s imagination.

Still with me?

Crowley’s realm- the goblin city he had created- was as much an extension of him as any realm is an extension of its master. It existed in the shape it did and in the way it did because he imagined that it would. He imagined, for example, that there would be a vast wall around it, because then he could have a nice solid border. He imagined a convent into the wall, and suddenly there was, and he even let the nuns’ desires further shape the convent around them.

But Crowley’s realm was unique, for reasons that will be explained later, and what this led to was that his realm was not just an extension of himself, it had developed a consciousness of its own.

The realm bent and responded to Crowley’s will, but it also had its own will. And it loved Crowley.

So while Aziraphale sat hunched over on the ground, wings forming a cocoon around him, and Crowley slouched moping on the bridge, letting the plants in the bog twist in agony, a ripple of conversation rumbled through the vast gardens that made up the bulk of the living labyrinth.

The master wishes the fairy to stay

What does the fairy wish

The fairy wishes the child

(This is, of course, an enormous oversimplification of an actually deeply detailed conversation about the nature of desire and the different ways it manifests, but if we were to translate the vast and incomprehensible language of plants into its most literal analog, we’d be here all day and barely understand a tenth of it. What you are reading, therefore, is a version the human brain can follow, for the author assumes you are human, and apologizes if this is incorrect.)

What will the master do if he keeps the child

The child will become a goblin king like him

And what will the fairy do if he has the child

Unclear

The child is not a fairy prince

The child is human

Then what could the fairy desire of him

(“Now hang on,” You’re probably asking right about now, “What’s all this?”

How is a Fae ruler born? In fact they are not born at all, but rather made. Think of a beehive: how is a Queen born? A baby bee is chosen and fed a special diet of royal jelly and becomes a Queen, and really there’s nothing special about her at all before then. Fae are much the same way, apart from one major difference: rather than choose Fae children to metaphorically feed the royal jelly to, they need human children. Only human children can become Fae rulers. Every people has their own custom of acquisition: Goblins have the Game.

The Game has been played for countless millennia. The rules are simple. The goblins steal the child, and if the child remains in the goblin city past the time limit, the child belongs to the goblins. But the child must be given a chance. The goblins must allow a champion to fight for the child. And if the child’s champion should happen to fall in love with the master of the goblin city in the process and remain to raise the child alongside them- well- where’s the harm in that?

Fairies, for the record, have a very different way of going about it. Supposedly it’s a more fair method that depends on the premise of equal exchange but ‘fair’ is a definition that really depends on which part of the equation you’re standing on when that is decided.)

If the fairy falls in love, will he stay

He will

Then he must be made to fall in love

How can this be arranged

It should be easy

How could he not love the master

He fears for the child

If he could be made to see the master will not harm the child, will he reconsider

He will

He must

What other could he do

He must be shown

How? 

How? 

How?

Ask the madame

The madame will know

The madame

Send for the madame

The madame

She will be sent

-/-

Deep in the labyrinth there was a meadow that was so packed through with wildflowers that no green could shine through the petals. Fat honeybees drifted over the flowers, carrying nectar from all over the labyrinth back to one of the many hives that dotted the meadow.

A lane passed through this meadow, and in the center was a house: a cottage straight out of a fairy tale. And in the door of this cottage an older woman in a slightly girlish dress stood listening to the conversation passing through the labyrinth.

As the conversation died out to the excited murmurs about the madame, she nodded firmly.

“All right, then,” she said. “Let’s see what may be done.”

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Aziraphale was not entirely certain how long he sat on that path feeling sorry for himself, but the reader will likely be relieved to know that it was only about ten minutes of his allotted time gone before a figure came over to him, a human woman, who touched his shoulder in warning before kneeling before him.

“There you are, Master Fairy,” she said, not-unkindly. “You’re of no good to your little lad like this- come along, let’s get some tea in you-”

And without much trouble at all, she brought him to his feet and guided him down the path, which opened out into a meadow filled with an entire color spectrum of flowers and fat, contented honeybees and a picturesque cottage in the middle. He stopped short, frowning, and turned around- he could have sworn that a moment ago they were surrounded by enormous redwoods, but the meadow was bordered by oaks and birch and the like, not a redwood in sight.

“Now you’re getting it,” the woman said, and led him to the cottage. “Now, come along, come inside- let’s get you some tea and then sort you out. You’ll need to be on your way soon, if you want to find your little boy.”

By the time the woman set tea in front of him, Aziraphale was back to himself and feeling rather silly over his previous behavior. It would be difficult reaching the center of the labyrinth from the wall in such a short time; it would be impossible if he wasn’t even trying.

“Thank you, my dear,” he said, taking a sip of the tea. It was a bit sweeter than he liked, but the warmth was reassuring. “How may I address you?”

“Oh, everyone around here calls me Madame Tracy, or just Madame. No need to ask who you are- the labyrinth has been talking about you nonstop since you came here.”

Aziraphale gave an alarmed start at that- “It has?”

“Course. It’s been awhile since Master Crowley played his little Game, you know- of course you’re gonna be a source of gossip.”

“I suppose.” Aziraphale sipped his tea, and the sweetness burned the back of his throat the same way the question did, and he said, “Madame, if you’ll pardon my asking-”

“You want to know what a hag like me is doing in a goblin city,” she finished for him.

“I would hardly call you a hag,” he said, affronted. “But there is a trend among the humans one finds in a Fae realm and, well…” He fidgeted with his teacup. “Nuns, and old soldiers, and…”

“Old Jezebels?” she said sweetly, and batted her eyes at him before taking on a more serious tone. “I don’t really know that it’s that complicated. I needed somewhere to go, and I knew there was a goblin city at the back of the alley near my home, so I went there and asked if I could stay. He said I was welcome as long as I didn’t bother him. And then built this cottage for me, said he wanted me to keep an eye on the bees for him.” She shrugged. “So I did. It’s not a bad life- the bees pretty much tend themselves, and I go out with the nuns sometimes if I get the itch to be around humans.”

And that was another thing that gave Aziraphale pause for thought- he’d never known a Fae realm where the humans were free to come and go as they liked. Most Fae rulers worked very hard to ensure that their pet humans would never even want to leave-

-ah, but that was it, wasn’t it? Crowley didn’t treat them like pets. Rather, at the very most, employees, people hired to help him look after his labyrinth. (Which seemed strange in itself, the realm was an extension of the Fae’s thoughts, why would it need tending?)

Aziraphale looked around him while he sipped his tea and Madame Tracy chattered about her most recent adventure with the nuns. His eyes landed on the bundles of dried plants hanging from the ceiling, carefully cut and preserved fruits and vegetables and herbs to always be on hand when she needed them- he doubted there was a such thing as winter here in the goblin city but at this point it wouldn’t surprise him.

She must eat the food here, then, but if she did, would she be able to come and go so easily? A human who ate the food of the Fae would only by some miracle be able to bring themselves to leave, would then spend the entirety of their life trying to return. But- not so, here? How?

But all of this was irrelevant. There would be time for questions later. For now, Aziraphale set his empty teacup down. “My dear, I do apologize, but I must take my leave now. My godson is still in your master’s power, and I must save him.”

“Course,” she said, standing and accompanying him to the door. “You needn’t worry so much- just trust the labyrinth. It’ll guide you right to where you need to go, and when you need to get there. Go on-”

And shooed him out onto the trail that passed through the meadow. He made his way down it, eyes drawn to the flowers- so many, and so varied, and so truly, completely random. This, he was slowly beginning to realize, was not a Fae realm as he was accustomed to.

He’d reached the border of the trees, and stepped through the arched entryway that would lead into the dark forest. This time, he was wholly unsurprised to find himself in a lane that passed through a grove of fruit trees, rather than the story-book fairy-forest that guarded the meadow.

He turned around, just to see. The lane stretched on behind him, curving gently away.

Ah. So he was at the mercy of the labyrinth, then.

Five hours.

He started walking.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Madame Tracy had told Aziraphale to trust the labyrinth to guide him, and he was, but so far he had been walking for twenty minutes and seemed to have made no progress whatsoever in the fruit grove it had taken him to.

“I have been told to trust you and so I shall, but I must say, you’re doing a remarkable job of testing that faith.” He halted, and looked around, wondering if perhaps there was a turning he’d missed- but no, the lane stretched on either side.

There was always the option of leaving the path, of course. The trees were spaced apart reasonably, not keeping him in as they had in another part of the labyrinth. He decided to test this theory, and stepped from the path-

-and into a new part of the labyrinth entirely.

Aziraphale wobbled, the world tilting slightly on its axis at the abrupt transition.

He’d stepped into a greenhouse, apparently. He stood in the doorway, looking around him at the various plants. There was something different to these- he peered closer, and saw immediately. Some of them were wilting, others had leaf spots. Mold. Parasites. Some had their stalks broken, others were yellow and shriveled. One tree was held up by a sturdy splint, while an immense break in its trunk healed over.

“Oh my,” Aziraphale murmured, walking between the tightly packed rows of the greenhouse, inspecting the injured plantlife. His mind went involuntarily back to the bog, and the mangled greenery and the fear radiating off of them.

These plants weren’t afraid. They were weary more than anything.

Ahead of him, a hedge with half its leaves off rustled, and out popped-- a boy? A teenager. A human teenager, definitely; there was no way a goblin could look so gangly and awkward. A goblin prince? No, there was nothing of the goblins in this boy. Whatever age he’d come to the city, it had been too late for the magic to change him, at least not the way it did stolen children.

“Excuse me,” he said, catching the young man’s attention.

The boy turned to him, surprised, and dropped a spritz bottle he was carrying. He hastily stooped down to grab it, then dropped it again, and gave it up for lost, straightening up and giving Aziraphale a nervous kind of smile.

“Um, hi. You must the fairy I keep hearing about.”

“What gave me away?” Aziraphale asked, rustling his wings.

“Well, the wings were a tip-off. And the, you know, glowy eyes.” He squinted, and, “I thought fairies had- you know, butterfly wings.”

“You’re thinking of pixies,” Aziraphale said. “They’re a lot nastier than fairies- but much easier to step on, too, so it evens out.”

“Ah.” The boy nodded, as if this were nothing more interesting than a discussion of the weather. He reached down to pick up the spray bottle again, fiddling with it as he stood. “I’m Newt, by the way. You’re, uh, looking for Mr. Crowley?”

Mr.? Was this boy… not of the labyrinth? Aziraphale’s brow furrowed. “Are you… how long have you been here?”

“Like… today, or, you know, in general? I got hired on a couple years ago, but I only just got here today like… an hour ago? Might be longer, time moves weird here. But I always get home in time for supper, so.” One gangly shoulder rose a bit, and fell.

“You don’t… live here?”

“Nah, this is just kind of an after-school hobby for me.”

Aziraphale was a fairy king, and he had been a fairy king for a very long time. He felt he had a firm grasp on how loosely reality held together, and the fact that pretty much anything could happen at any time. For the first time in his long existence, he suddenly found himself doubting the possible reality of what was right in front of him.

He made a confused sort of noise and sat down on a nearby stool, which held a wilted fern in a pot- he grabbed up the fern as he sat, and stared down at it.

“An after-school hobby,” he repeated weakly.

Newt shrugged one lanky shoulder. “Gets me out of the house, you know?”

The fern was brown at the edges of its leaves. Aziraphale turned his attention from fern to the various other plants in the greenhouse.

“Wait, what is this place?”

“It’s the punishment room,” Newt explained. “It’s where Mr. Crowley brings plants that aren’t up to snuff, to punish them until they get their act together. My job is to look after them.”

“How does he punish them?” Aziraphale asked, eyes drifting to the fern and thoughts taken forcibly back to the bog. Some of the trees there had been twisted unnaturally around themselves, some had their bark stripped away, others had broken branches trailing down in the water. Was the bog the final destination of plants who didn’t make the cut?

“To be honest, he mostly just comes here about once a day and lectures them about how important it is to look their best. I guess listening to him lecture must be a punishment, because it always seems to work. Eventually things heal up and get returned to their part of the labyrinth.”

“And if they don’t?”

Newt shrugged again. “Dunno. It’s never come up. He says they’re due for the mulcher, though.”

Aziraphale looked down at the fern in his lap, trying to sense any fear from it. It didn’t seem afraid- admittedly, it was harder to pinpoint feelings from a singular source, but he couldn’t sense any fear in this place.

“The labyrinth wanted me to see this place,” he said. “Why do you think that is?”

“No idea.” Newt shrugged once more. “Mr. Crowley doesn’t like visitors to come here, though.”

“Why not? Has he told you?”

“Um- he says that- uh… ‘nobody falls in love backstage’?”

A thought occurred to Aziraphale- a hunch. “Newt… do you know anything about the bee’s meadow? Do you know if that place is off-limits too?”

“You mean where Madame Tracy lives? Yeah! She says the labyrinth has pretty strict instructions not to let anyone playing the Game see it, either.”

“Are there many places like that? That you’re aware of?”

“Uh, a few? There’s the convent, Mr. Crowley says cause it belongs to the nuns, and there’s Sergeant Shadwell’s barracks, same reason… then there’s places like here and the bee meadow. A couple more places along those lines.”

“Backstage,” Aziraphale murmured. “Yes, I begin to see.” He stood, and set the fern down carefully onto the stool, then reached into his case and took out a vial of golden liquid. “Here, my boy, take this. A single drop in your spritzer there will help the plants heal faster and stronger. A gift from me.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a healing cordial- a fairy’s trick. I brought it in case I ran into trouble, but I rather think I’m not going to need it. Put it to good use here, instead.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Newt took the vial, then uncapped both it and the spray bottle, squinting as he carefully let a single drop dribble into the bottle. For a moment, the water in the bottle glowed with the magic in the cordial, and then it faded back into a slightly more shimmery water. “Nice. I’ll- uh-”

He looked around, startled.

Aziraphale had already gone.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Backstage, Aziraphale thought. The bells and whistles- the strings that were pulled on to keep the labyrinth running smoothly. Bees, and a nursery to heal injured plants. Caretakers for the gardens.

And places that visitors weren’t allowed to see, because no one falls in love backstage, but the labyrinth was deliberately taking him to these places.

So, the labyrinth wanted him to see the work Crowley put into his city. To distract him? To endear him? Or to drive him away? How much was the labyrinth working against Crowley’s orders?

(It shouldn’t be able to work against his orders at all, Aziraphale told himself, and immediately knew this was incorrect. The labyrinth, he was beginning to understand, knew its own mind.)

Aziraphale walked deeper into the greenhouse, unsurprised when he didn’t seem to be drawing any nearer to the exit. He stopped.

“All right,” he said, to the labyrinth as a whole. “I’m paying attention. Where would you like me to see next?”

A murmur went through the plants, and a curtain of half-healed, shriveled ivy parted to reveal a pathway. With a gracious nod, he stepped through-

-he was beside a lake, between two narrow ditches that streamed away from it. He could see other such tributaries farther away, disappearing into the dark, undefined wall of trees that lined the shore.

The trees here seemed… different. He looked closer, and the details made themselves more apparent, as though a mist had hung in front of them and now it was removing itself. He smiled. Now that was a familiar sight, wasn’t it? He was much more at home with this sort of Fae realm behavior than the rest of the labyrinth’s habit of staying-

Of staying…

Ah.

Yes, he understood now.

“Scuse me, Master Fairy,” said a familiar voice behind him. He turned to see two of the boy-band goblins from before, one carrying a pitchfork over his shoulder and the other a long bargepole. He moved obligingly out of the way, and the one with the bargepole shoved one end into the water, wiggling it around a bit.

“Are you… the same goblins I spoke with before?”

“Goblin,” said the one with the pitchfork. “There’s only me.”

“There were four of you.”

“There’s as many of me as I like there to be,” he corrected. “One goblin in many bodies.”

“That sounds useful.”

“Yeah, ‘specially since I’m the only goblin here, apart from Master Crowley.”

A goblin city with only one goblin? Not that Aziraphale had any room to talk, he had a fairy realm without any fairies at all. And at least Crowley had humans in his. Aziraphale just used his to keep his books.

They- he?- turned back to the job at hand. The one with the bargepole had apparently found whatever he was looking for, and the one with the pitchfork waded into the water and began digging into the ground beneath him. A second or so later he pitched it up- ah, so that was it. A huge wad of river grass came flying out into the banks, roots and all. A few seconds later, a second wad joined it.

Aziraphale turned to the one with the bargepole.

“I have a guess, but can you tell me where these tributaries lead to?”

“Into the labyrinth,” he said absently, still mucking about in the water with the pole. “There’s a really complicated underground irrigation system set up to keep the plants watered.”

“Thank you, I rather thought that was the case.” He looked around once more, taking in the many ditches- carefully created and, apparently, maintained, in order to give the entire garden a freshwater source.

He began to make his way along the ditch he was standing beside, trusting that it would lead him to the next place he was meant to be, and considered the checklist in his head.

Bees, to pollinate the flowers.

A nursery, to tend the ones that needed healing.

(A second nursery, for the seedlings? Very likely, though he hadn’t been shown one.)

An irrigation system, to keep them watered.

Caretakers for the gardens.

Food that could be safely consumed.

And a place where the trees went a bit vague if he didn’t look too closely at them.

He’d been, for the past ten minutes of thought, walking between a row of hedges, though he couldn’t say when he’d actually passed from the lake’s edge to the garden again. He didn’t suppose it mattered- the places between the backstage spaces were really just meant to give him somewhere to think, or that was what he was assuming.

Aziraphale checked the timer, and his heart sank to see that he had a little under four hours left.

“Oh dear,” he murmured, and then out loud, to the labyrinth, “I think I’ve seen what you wanted me to see. But now I’m running out of time- my godson is in danger. I must find him. If I cannot save him, all of this will have been meaningless. Please.”

He closed his eyes, letting the labyrinth choose for him, and took a blind step forward.

When he opened his eyes, he was in a park.

It was a beautiful park- quite probably the most beautiful park he’d ever seen. A carefully cut path of glittering stone sprawled out through a maze of flower beds and topiaries and fountains and statues. In the center, a pond shimmered, ducks of all sort and sundry floating along the surface or waddling on shore. Ornate benches were set along the path, so one could stroll merrily and sit and rest whenever one felt like.

Aziraphale was standing under the archway of a stone gate, bracketed by a pair of eagle statues with their wings outstretched in flight.

And draped over one statue, staring up at the vast leafy canopy that formed his sky, was-

“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed, face softening in delight at finally seeing the goblin king again.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

“I don’t suppose there’s any point in telling you that you aren’t supposed to be here, angel,” Crowley said, not looking at Aziraphale.

“Your labyrinth is making all of the decisions,” Aziraphale said. “I think it wanted me to see this.” He looked around, and added, “It’s very beautiful. Why is it meant to be off-limits?”

“Because it’s not finished yet. It’s missing something.” Crowley slithered down from the statue to join Aziraphale; Aziraphale gave him a subtle once-over and, deciding that it would be appreciated, an obvious twice-over. Crowley grinned. “Thought you’d like this better than the last one.”

He’d swapped out his billowy shirt and tight trousers for a jazz suit, deep navy with red checking, and a brown homburg to top it off, a snake-headed walking stick suddenly dangling from one hand. He obliged Aziraphale’s sheepish thrice-over with a twirl before leaning on his stick, one hip cocked out.

“Well, it is a good look for you,” Aziraphale admitted, and then held out his arm. “Come join me, I want to talk to you. You can show me this beautiful park you’ve made.”

Crowley, for one long moment, just looked at Aziraphale’s arm like it was some kind of new intruder in his labyrinth, something for him to inspect for danger levels before deciding what to do about it, and then, very hesitantly, looped his own through it.

“You… want to talk to me?” Oh, they were walking now. All right.

“Yes.” 

Despite this, he was silent for some time, just looking and taking in all of the beautiful things the park had to offer. (Crowley, for his part, watched Aziraphale, and was glad that Aziraphale was paying too much attention to the park to notice.)

(Aziraphale noticed.)

“Have you been monitoring my progress through your labyrinth?”

“For a little while. I spent some time in- um- after I left, I came here and watched you. You were with Newt when I tuned in.”

“Ah, yes.” Aziraphale smiled. “The boy who comes here for a hobby and always gets home in time for dinner.”

Crowley shrugged. “He’s a good kid. Kind of dim, but all right. Takes home fruit to his mother when he thinks I’m not paying attention.”

“And she comes to no harm from eating food grown in a Fae realm,” Aziraphale stated, and finally turned to Crowley with a soft smile. “It’s all real, isn’t it? Everything, or nearly everything. You didn’t imagine it.”

He turned to meet a dazzling grin from Crowley. “Figured it out, did you?”

“Your labyrinth told me- or rather, gave me the clues to realize for myself.” His grip slipped down Crowley’s arm to join with his hand. “It’s astonishing. Truly. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Crowley said nothing. His brain had stopped, his gaze fixed rather firmly on Aziraphale’s hand laced with his own. He made a sound a bit like ‘Ngk?’, and when that proved insufficient, followed it up with, ‘Unk?’ This also proving fruitless, his brain gave up the ghost and he fell silent, content to stroll hand-in-hand through the park with this wonderful, brilliant fairy.

Eventually, his brain rebooted, and he broke the soft silence floating around them.

“The- in the goblin city I was brought up in- the king there was really into, mm, you know, brutalist design. Really dank and crowded and unpleasant. Demotivational posters. That sort of thing.”

Aziraphale said nothing, merely squeezed Crowley’s hand, and waited for him to say more.

“I wasn’t the only prince there, I had a few siblings, but- I was always different to them, and I was a little bit the favorite, too. So I got to go outside a lot- outside, you know? Into the mortal realm. It was always so much better there. Filled with wonderful things. Exciting things. I loved it- and I loved the gardens best of all.”

“So you built your own,” Aziraphale guessed.

“Mm. Tried to- tried just imagining one up, but I could never get it- you know, right. Then I figured out that the less stuff I was imagining, the more space I could create, and decided to do things the hard way- brought in soil and seeds and water. I built this place, from the ground up.”

“It’s beautiful. It’s nearly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Nearly?” Crowley asked, and Aziraphale gave him a Look so significant that his cheeks flamed as red as his hair and he suddenly became very interested in a pair of ducks arguing on the surface of the pond.

He cleared his throat nervously, and Aziraphale said, “You said this place wasn’t finished yet. What is it missing?”

Crowley turned to Aziraphale to tell him that he wasn’t sure, but before he could say so he was struck by how right the fairy looked in his park, surrounded by the most beautiful things he’d been able to collect for six thousand years, set out on display in tidy rows and careful arrangement but always, always missing some crucial element that he couldn’t define, and what came out of his mouth was a sound a bit like, “Mrngh?”

“Sorry?”

Crowley cleared his throat and tried again. “I said, it doesn’t matter. You said you wanted to talk to me? Or was that what you wanted to talk about?”

Aziraphale gave him a smug, sidelong look. “My dear, I didn’t say I wanted to talk to you about anything.”

Crowley clamped his mouth shut with a click. He was rapidly losing his footing with Aziraphale: he had thrown on the suit in the hopes of flustering him some more, but so far Aziraphale was the one doing all of the flustering. If Crowley’s ears got any hotter, he was going to catch fire.

And there was the matter of the bog- he wasn’t sure why, but he suddenly wanted to explain himself. But how could he even start? ‘I have an entire area of my labyrinth that exists for me to take out my anger on’? Aziraphale seemed willing to overlook what he’d seen, or at least not bring it up yet, and Crowley would happily keep putting it off as long as he had to if it got Aziraphale to look at him like that again.

They had circled the duck pond and were approaching the eastern gate to the park. Aziraphale instinctively checked the timer Crowley had given him, and made a quiet pained noise.

“Three hours,” he said softly, an ache in his voice that shook Crowley to his core.

Crowley brought them to a halt under the archway of the gate. “Angel,” he murmured, and the fairy looked up at him with eyes that swirled from sea-grey to moss-green in a violent whirlpool of anxiety. Crowley took his hand, brought it to his lips. “This is where we part. You’ve reached the last leg of the labyrinth and I can’t help you here. No one can, not even the labyrinth. You have to do it on your own.”

“I know,” Aziraphale whispered, turning his gaze to their joined hands. “My godson…”

“He’s safe. He’s in my tower, and I’ll be waiting for you there with him.” That was all he’d meant to say, but suddenly he needed Aziraphale to know, to understand. “Listen… angel… I never had a champion. No one came for me.”

“Oh my dear…”

Crowley kissed Aziraphale’s hand again. “I’ll be waiting for you,” he murmured against his skin, then turned and was gone.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Beyond the eastern gate to the park was a series of tunnels that cut down into the deep stone the labyrinth was built on. They formed a maze of their own sort, but not an intentional labyrinth: just the unnavigability of a house that one is unfamiliar with. It seemed there was a main tunnel that cut straight through, though, and Aziraphale did his best to stick with this one.

Along with the smaller offshoot tunnels, there were also cavern entrances dotting the tunnel. Aziraphale chanced a peek into some of these; they were round, with smoothed walls and flat floors, and little vents in the roof that he could sense fresh air passing through.

Once you strip away the layers of culture, there are actually very few fundamental differences between fairies and goblins. One of these was their wings, which fairies were born with but goblins lacked. [1] The other main difference is how they make their homes: goblins burrow, but fairies nest. It is for this reason that Aziraphale can be forgiven for how long it took him to realize the purpose of the tunnels he was walking through, and once he did, he came to a halt, realization freezing him to his middle.

Homes. Goblin tunnels, enough to house a vast swarm, and only one goblin resident.

“Dear Crowley,” Aziraphale murmured, placing a hand over his heart as a wave of environmental loneliness washed over him. “Oh, my dear Crowley.”

Aziraphale picked up his pace. He wasn’t sure why- he knew, now, that there was no way Crowley would allow him to fail, would not keep a child from their champion once one came for it.

-/-

An hour passed as Aziraphale made his way through the tunnels, and then another. Aziraphale tried not to fret too much. The tunnels had been meant to house a vast swarm; it would naturally take time to pass through them. But the longer he went without any sign of an exit, the more he began to doubt. Not Crowley’s intent; rather, he doubted his own judgment. Should he have taken a turning at some point?

But if he tried one now, would he lose time? He couldn’t be sure, had no way of knowing.

He was starting to miss the labyrinth being able to help him. Its complete control over the space in it had been a boon to him, he realized.

-/-

Another hour passed by before Aziraphale reached an actual change in the path. The corridor he’d been walking down had opened out into a wide cavern. At the end were two identical doors, one at either end of the wall; in front of them, chained to a spot equally between them, a-

Aziraphale’s instinctive word for the creature was dog, but this was not entirely accurate. The being was as much a dog as a pomeranian was a wolf, and as like as a wolf was to its much more vicious pre-historic ancestors. The humans called them hellhounds, because only hell could spawn something so carnal, but it was really just another sort of Fae creature.

And it had spotted Aziraphale. It rose to its (enormous) paws and padded slowly between the two, keeping equidistant between each as it slowly came to the end of its chain, growling low in its throat.

Two doors, firmly guarded. Aziraphale could only choose one; he would have just enough time to reach one before the hound’s jaws closed on his throat, and he wouldn’t have the option to come back in and try the other once he’d passed through. But which one?

Probably there were some clues, but Aziraphale was getting antsy. He checked the timer. An hour. He didn’t have time to look for answers.

“All right then,” he murmured. “Where are you, Crowley? Which door will take me to you?”

He closed his eyes; he felt a pull to the right.

He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t be sure.

He took off running toward the right-hand door.

-/-

Aziraphale could feel the hound’s hot breath on his heels as he flung himself through the door, slamming it behind him before the creature could wrap its fangs around his leg and drag him back. He leaned back against the door, panting, and listened as the dog scrabbled at the door for a moment before letting out a snapping bark and walking away.

He gave himself a few more seconds to still the pounding in his heart, then stood and moved forward to see where he’d come out at. A stone awning sheltered the doorway, but it looked as if he was in a desert of white sand that almost glowed in the darkness beyond the doorway.

The tower was just visible in the distance, and the air was hot and dry. This was the heart of the labyrinth, then- the space that the rest of the labyrinth spawned from. Aziraphale stepped out from under the awning-

-his knees hit the hot sand as his legs folded under him in absolute awe. He’d thought to see more of the leafy canopy over his head, or just an empty space, but the sky over the labyrinth’s heart was a brilliant tapestry of stars, the arm of their own galaxy stretching across.

It all seemed so close. Aziraphale had seen the night sky uninterrupted, of course; he had existed in this world for six thousand years, long before light pollution was even conceivable, but here, in the labyrinth, he felt as if it would only be a matter of a few wingbeats to reach out and touch the stars, to hold them in his hands.

Perhaps it would, he thought. Perhaps Crowley had created a place where he could do that. Why not? What was stopping him? He’d already done so many other amazing things with his labyrinth-

“Adam,” Aziraphale said, remembering why he’d come here. He levered himself to his feet and spread his wings for balance, then took off across the sand.

-/-

[1- Crowley was a bit of an outlier in this case. Not in that he had wings at all- it was not much for a goblin king to imagine himself up a pair of wings if he should want them. No, Crowley had wings because he would like to have wings- or rather, he’d felt he ought to have wings, and where he hadn’t before he suddenly had. Were he anyone else he would have had to put some effort into creating them, deciding what they’d look like, etc, and then in maintaining their existence while he had them. Instead, it was more like he’d always had them and they’d been waiting for him to draw them into reality.

It’s probably for the best that Crowley doesn’t know this is unusual, because if he stopped and thought about the implications of it, the realization that he had effectively been abandoned not once but twice would probably break him.]

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

Crowley paced the length of his tower room, hands clasped behind his back, wringing, wringing, wringing- where was that blasted fairy? He should be here by now, why hadn’t he made it yet? Was he stalling? Had he run into trouble? Had he taken a wrong turning in the tunnels, tried going down one of the offshoots? Crowley let out a guttural hiss and ran his hands through his hair. No, no, he couldn’t think like that. Aziraphale was fine, he would make it in time- he had to make it in time.

He’d never forgive Crowley if he didn’t.

Crowley spun sharply and went over to the window to gaze out at the sands, relief flooding him when he saw the figure approaching across his desert. His shoulders sagged with relief- Aziraphale was about ten minutes away, and he had eleven minutes left- he would make it in time, barring incident.

Hopefully there would be no incident. Part of Crowley wanted to smooth the sands down before him, but he didn’t- couldn’t. There were rules; he was allowed, nay, encouraged to cheat, but there were certain things that had to happen on their own, one way or another. He couldn’t interfere with Aziraphale’s path directly, that wouldn’t be… Faer.

He let out a breath and spun once more on his heel, scooping up the boy on his way by. He shooed away his goblin attendant and turned to hurry up the steps to the tower roof, where the final confrontation would take place.

Hurry, Aziraphale, he thought. You’re almost out of time.

-/-

The tower in the heart of the labyrinth sat in the middle of its own oasis, more greenery- and night-blooming flowers, glowing white in the moonlight. Aziraphale spared them an admiring glance, but barely that: he had only a minute or two left, no time to smell the flowers.

The door sprang up at his touch, and Aziraphale hurried in, the door at the base taking him to top room without bothering to wait between. Aziraphale was tempted to call foul play- much as he wanted to win, winning at the cost of the Rules could lead to worse things- but he’d seen no stairs in the room he’d glimpsed through the door before entering, and could only assume that this was a normal function of the tower.

Anyway, Crowley wasn’t in the room. Only a spiral staircase off to one side suggested where he might be- Aziraphale took off at a run, time was running out- he took the stairs a few at a time, using his wings to at least give him some speed even he couldn’t fly -

-he burst through the door to the roof to find Crowley lounging on the rim of a large clock, Adam perched in his lap, held carefully in place by one hand. Aziraphale crossed the roof in a few strides, reaching them, reaching out, just as the second hand ticked over, just as the last first of thirteen final grains of sand sank through slot in the timer.

“He’s here, angel,” Crowley said, and the clock bonged once.

“Give him to me. Please,” Aziraphale begged, and the clock bonged twice.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. You could stay here. Stay with me.” Three. Four.

“I can’t. I have a life of my own.” Five. “He has a family, his parents love him.” Six.

“You could change their memories. Make them forget they ever had a child at all. Or leave them a replacement, isn’t that what your lot do?” Seven. Eight. Nine.

“Please.” Ten.

Crowley’s face crumpled. Fell. Eleven. “Then say the words, angel.” Twelve.

“You have no power over me,” Aziraphale murmured.

Thirteen.

The world cracked.

Adam was gone. The clock was gone. The stars were falling; the tower was crumbling beneath him. The sky was going black, and Crowley looked like his heart was breaking alongside his world.

Aziraphale took a step forward, into Crowley’s space, and looped a finger through the ridiculous shoe-string tie Crowley was wearing. Pulled him down so that he could ghost his lips on Crowley’s ear.

“Breakfast is at eight, my dear,” he said, barely audible over the crack of magical drama around him. “Feel free to arrive early, if you like.”

He felt more than heard the hitch in Crowley’s breath, and then darkness.

Aziraphale opened his eyes slowly to find himself once more in his kitchen. Adam was curled up asleep at his feet, and Aziraphale crumpled to the floor and scooped him up, clutching him close while relieved sobs wracked his body.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

-/-

When Deirdre and Arthur Young arrived home the next afternoon- a day early, but they’d spent most of the previous night feeling as though they needed to be with their son, and concluded that perhaps they weren’t ready to leave him for an entire weekend after all- they found that Mr. Fell had a guest, a lanky-limbed man with fiery red hair and dark glasses shielding his eyes. He was sprawled out at the table in Mr. Fell’s breakfast nook, the remains of tea spread around the table, and Adam sat on his knee. 

Man and child appeared to be having a very serious conversation about- as near as they could guess- whales, but when Adam spotted his parents he babbled a delighted “Da da da da da!” and reached out for them eagerly. The man handed him over, albeit a bit reluctantly, and stared down at his fingers while Mr. Fell introduced him as his “new friend Mr. Crowley”.

By the time the Youngs left, Deirdre had noticed the longing way Mr. Crowley looked at Mr. Fell when Mr. Fell wasn’t looking, and Arthur had seen the way Mr. Fell kept casting fond little looks over to Mr. Crowley when Mr. Crowley was turned away, and both had decided that it was nice that Mr. Fell, who had always seemed so lonely in his big house without any family, had maybe found someone to love him.

-/-

Once his neighbors had left, Aziraphale magicked away the tea things rather than clear them himself, and then snap of his fingers summoned a pair of wine glasses and a bottle of wine.

“Not fairy wine, I’m afraid,” he said. “But it’s a good vintage.”

“S’all right, I don’t feel like getting proper drunk right now anyway.” Crowley watched as Aziraphale poured the wine, then took the offered glass and, once Aziraphale had sat as well, offered a toast. “To… new friends?”

“To new friends,” Aziraphale agreed, toasting with him. “To finding each other.”

“To incompetence!” Crowley said, and barked a laugh. “Can you imagine if we’d been good at our, you know, jobs, I guess?”

“You mean, if you’d noticed I was a fairy or I’d noticed your city in my backyard.”

“Yeah.”

Aziraphale considered this, and had to concede it was a good point.

“Can I ask you something?” Crowley asked, after a few moments of comfortable silence, and at Aziraphale’s affirmative hum, “If you were just going to invite me for breakfast, why did you put me through the whole pining and longing thing?”

Aziraphale hummed thoughtfully at that. He took another sip of his wine, considering, and finally said, “I had the idea fairly early on- it occurred to me that I didn’t want you out of my life once I had Adam back. But I couldn’t say anything until I knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That you would let us go without a fight.”

“Of course I was going to let you go without a fight.”

“Mm, yes. I figured that out eventually- I think that’s what your labyrinth was trying to tell me. Why it kept showing me all of the people who belonged there.”

“I thought you said it was showing you that the place was real?”

“That’s what I assumed, before you told me what you did…” He trailed off. He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to bring it up, but Crowley just gave him a weak, pained smile.

“It’s not that I don’t like being a goblin king. I can do magic and I’m immortal and I don’t have to be bound by human laws- but-“

“But no one ever came for you,” Aziraphale said softly. “Yes.”

Crowley nodded, slumping a little. “I don’t want to be human or have not been taken or anything. It’d just be nice to think that my parents wanted me back, that’s all.”

They fell silent again, Aziraphale not quite sure how to answer, and in the interest of changing the subject, Crowley asked, “So what would you have done if I hadn’t let you go without a fight?”

Rather than answer, Aziraphale set his wine down and stood, disappearing into the kitchen. Before Crowley had much time to wonder, he had returned with the bag he’d carried throughout the labyrinth. Crowley had wondered what was in it, and kept expecting it to see it at every turn, and now he set his wine down to lean forward while Aziraphale unclasped the latches and took out a long, thin bundle wrapped in cloth and set it on the table.

“Don’t touch it,” Aziraphale said, when Crowley reached out curiously. He unfolded the cloth wrapping, revealing a sword. It was a nicely made sword, more interested in being usable than being ornamental, and even with the space between them the blade rubbed against Crowley’s senses in a way that made him want it as far from him as possible.

Despite the warning, he reached out an experimental finger, and then yanked his hand away with a hiss as it burned to the touch.

“That’s an iron-bladed sword,” he said, incredulous, and sucked on the end of his finger where it still sizzled a little. “You brought an iron-bladed sword into my city?”

“You stole my godson,” Aziraphale reminded him, rebinding the sword with slightly twitchy hands. The cloth must be magical, then; as soon as the blade was wrapped the influence of iron was muffled and now barely noticeable. A wave of his hand, and the sword was gone.

Crowley sat back in his chair, wine back in his hand, and took a long drink. Well then.

All right then.

“You never used it.”

“I never felt the need to.”

Aziraphale took his seat back, this time sitting closer to Crowley than before, and reached over to rest his hand over the goblin’s, and smiled. Crowley’s eyes widened-

-he turned his hand to lace their fingers together, and smiled back.

-/-

Chapter Text

-/-

“Sure you want to do this, angel?” Crowley asked, reaching out a hand for Aziraphale’s. “Coulda been a long game I’ve been playing- I could be leading you to your death for a laugh. Ever think of that?”

“I won’t pretend the thought hasn’t crossed my mind,” Aziraphale said, wrapping Crowley’s hand in his own. “That it’s just the sort of trick a wily old goblin king might play.”

Contrary to what the words might suggest, Crowley positively glowed at what, for him, was high praise.

“But you still trust me?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Well then- after you.”

Aziraphale nodded, and took a step off the tower. As the wind rushed up toward him, he spread his wings-

(It had taken nearly two years to overwrite the magic of the goblin city. Two years of carefully going over every bit of it so that there was nowhere in Crowley’s realm that Aziraphale’s magic would be suppressed- nowhere he would be weakened. He could have done it in a moment, of course, but there was no telling how that would affect the many real, wonderful things he’d brought into it over the past six thousand years. Besides, if there was one thing he’d learned from working with real things, it was that doing things the hard way was a lot more reliable than just imagining things the way he wanted.)

-and flew.

Aziraphale spiralled lazily upward, and as he passed by the roof of the tower he heard a whoop and Crowley nearly barrelled into him, knocking the two into a spin in midair before the goblin pulled him up higher, keeping him aloft while he got his wings back under him, so to speak.

Even after Aziraphale had righted himself, Crowley didn’t let go of his hand.

“Come on,” he said. “I want to show you something.”

Aziraphale followed. He felt like he knew where Crowley was taking him— he had, by now, been shown every inch of the labyrinth, save for one spot: the bog, a black spot he could feel against the warm love of the rest of the garden.

He’d tried not to think about the bog, and what a place like that could mean for Crowley, but if Crowley was opening up to him, he wasn’t going to stop him.

He wasn’t surprised when Crowley brought them down through the canopy to light on the bridge that passed through the bog. Nor was he surprised by the wariness that rose from the bog itself as its master appeared.

But he was surprised to find that the bog was no longer as broken as he remembered. Once-twisted trunks had smoothed out, once-broken branches no longer hung down into the water. The bog-water was still as foul and tepid as it had once been, but it now teemed with new growth, and underneath the wariness felt by the bigger plants, these radiated fondness when Crowley passed near them.

He led Aziraphale along the bridge to the biggest tree, which grew from the center of the bog. He laid a hand on its trunk, and gave it a sad sort of smile.

“This is one of the oldest parts of the labyrinth,” he said. “One of my first attempts at making a garden from scratch. I kind of… I botched it up. Couldn’t get things to grow right, couldn’t get things to stay alive without shooting them full of magic. It was just something else I couldn’t be right. Couldn’t be a human right, couldn’t be a goblin king right. Couldn’t even grow some plants right. And the more I failed the angrier I got and the worse I felt. I ended up taking it out on the bog over the millennia and made it worse and worse but it was easier to-“ His hand curled into a fist against the trunk, trembling. Aziraphale remained silent, giving him a chance to speak on his own terms.

“I don’t want to do that anymore,” he said, so low that Aziraphale had to strain to hear him. “I’ve been trying to heal the damage but I don’t think…” He sighed. Turned to lean his back against the truck and sank down to sitting, back pressed against it with his knees folded to him. “I don’t know how. There’s only so much I can do.”

Aziraphale sensed it was his turn. He moved over to sit beside Crowley, reaching over and finding the goblin’s hand to fold it in his own between them, and leaned his head on one boney shoulder.

“There’s only so much you can do alone,” he corrected gently. “But I’m here now. I’ll help you.”

He sensed, rather than saw, the gentle, relieved smile that touched Crowley’s lips, and he turned his head and pressed a single kiss to Crowley’s shoulder before settling back to look out over the bog.

-/-

End 

Chapter Text

-/-

The boy’s parents didn’t want him. Crowley had been watching the family long enough to tell that- the father wanted a Legacy, a Son, but he didn't want a child, he didn’t want parenthood. The mother was uninterested in him at all, uninterested in the child she’d brought into the world out of some sort of obligation to womanhood and her husband.

The child was more often in the care of his nanny, a wiry, pastel-covered genteel sort of woman who was far more interested in the doings of the family’s plump, aging punk of a gardener than the child she was being charged with looking after. If he took the child, Crowley knew, no one would come after him. And if the nanny did, she would not care if she failed, beyond the reflection of her own worth and the loss of her job.

Neither nanny nor gardener were paying attention as the crack appeared in the garden wall and the snake slithered through, but the boy saw. He climbed down from the gardener’s lap and hurried off to investigate, singularly ignored by the adults who were meant to be watching him.

“That’s right, little boy,” Crowley hissed, slithering backward through the growing gap in the wall. “We’re going to have lots of fun, you and me.”

-/-