But after you speculate on that too long 'infinite' sort of loses all meaning.
Suffice to say: this is true, but most of these universes have a sufficient... inevitability where the paths return into one, those decisions that were made not actually being nearly as important as the people making them might have given them credit for.
This is not a story of one of those inevitabilities, at least not in the expected sense. Certain plans were, in fact, inevitable. They just sometimes took a lot longer getting on with it than you might expect.
On this particular night, a demon known as Crowley had been handed over The Adversary, a small child of a few hours old, and had received his instructions to deliver said child to a small convent to St. Beryl in Tadfield (actually the home of an order of Satanic Nuns who were tasked with delivering said Antichrist). Crowley was none too pleased with this assignment, owing to the fact that he rather liked Earth and all the little pleasures thereon, but orders were orders and he had made his way in his beautifully preserved custom Bentley arrived at the appointed Convent. Rather than picking up the basket that contained The Adversary, he instead picked the squalling infant up out of the back seat and shushed him with all the force a demon who had once been a snake who had once been an angel could muster. The Adversary did, in fact, shush.
He found himself greeted by a man he would later come to know as Arthur Young, husband to Deidre Young, but at the moment he was simply 'man outside with a pipe'.
"Has it started?"
"I think they were, ah, getting on with it, Doctor."
Crowley frowned, confused, but this was hidden by his ever present sunglasses, but then realized that of course a strange man come in the middle of the night to a birthing would, in fact, likely be a doctor. "Yes, well, quite."
"Is... is that your baby?" Arthur asked, confused by the baby swaddled in Crowley's left arm.
"Long story," Crowley answered without much thought and headed in, in search of Satanic Nuns so he could get on with his God's Blessed day and move on.
It was at this point that Crowley entered the convent and began to wander, only to be greeted a few steps down by a particularly frantic looking nun. "Ma-Master Crowley! There's... been a bit of a problem we could use your... expertise?"
Crowley didn't know what sort of expertise he was supposed to have, but he did follow her, and was brought to the infamous 'Room 4' where Harriet Dowling was attempting to deliver her baby (hence forth, Baby A, for clarity). He noted the problem almost instantly: breech birth, risk of umbilical prolapse, at least he thought that was the technical term for it now: feet down, risk of brain damage due to lack of oxygen, and while he supposed Baby A was generally thought of as expendable, he would still need to be delivered live for the deception to work.
Harriet Dowling then gave the most hellish scream Crowley had heard in at least a week and he fought down the reflexive urge to tell her to shut up, and then did it anyway. "Oh, do shut up!"
He didn't even feel vaguely bad about it, and he ignored the Ambassador on the teleconference who told him not to talk to his wife like that.
"Right, well..." He spent a few moments attempting to get his bearings only to realize he was still carrying The Adversary in one arm and he offhandedly gave the child to one of the nearby nuns.
After that, despite the lack of his actually needing to do so, he was then proffered a pair of gloves and a mask, which he donned for appearance sake. The concept of a demon familiar with childbirth might be odd to most, but there is a Very Good Reason for it, and one that Crowley rarely thought about, but as much as he might occasionally sneak around behind the back of his superiors to do such things, he figured there was absolutely no harm this time: it was for the Greater Evil, after all.
"Prep for potential cesarean," he said to his left, just because that seemed fitting. "Dilation?"
The answer was favorable enough for him to attempt to externally rotate Baby A, with an internal rotation for plan B, and cesarean for a last resort since apparently this room would be the surgical suite and even Crowley had standards.
Over the course of the next hour and a half Crowley successfully turned Baby A sufficiently to deliver him head first and with no cord entanglement and he sighed the sigh of an occult being who had already had a very long day thank you and just wanted it to be over.
But not too soon, Armaggedon and all.
"I need a drink." He then left the nuns to sort out the rest of it all and sat outside of the room with an annoyed and tired expression.
It was at this point that the nun who had been holding The Adversary for Crowley very helpfully - she thought - exchanged Baby A for The Adversary, and then brought Baby A out and very helpfully pawned him off on Crowley. Crowley, slightly surprised by the various birthing goop on the child now, thought nothing much of it due to the fact that he had just delivered a baby, and thus did the only logical thing: miracled them both clean.
Another nun then popped out of Room 3, saw him and the child, gave a very unhelpful: 'Master Crowley!' and then entreated him to go into Room 3 owing to slow progress on the child that Deidre Young was delivering (henceforth Baby B for clarity).
There were a great many tragedies that can occur when it came to childbirth, and Crowley was aware of most of them. As a rule, he was strictly opposed to causing them. He would very much never admit it, but the thing about childbirth had really been a low blow for Her. Deidre Young continued her exertions, but Crowley could already tell it was in vain, there was no life inside of her.
A doctor wasn't meant to know that with what limited resources were available to him, however, so he simply continued his instructions toward her, perhaps a touch more tenderly than he would have normally. All the while, internally, he was gritting his teeth and cursing Her. It was almost as if he was being punished again, just a little stab right into a very old wound.
Crowley eased the body that might have been a child from her, the lack of squalling from it was damning to anyone with any experience in this matter. It was still warm, having just come from a body, after all, but it felt... vacant. Nothing was home.
"Is he--?" Deidre was beginning to come around as Crowley held the thing that was never going to be a baby.
It was at that precise moment that The Adversary was being looked at in rapt awe by the nun who had previously held him for Crowley. Something was Not Quite Right. He knew this, even at only a few hours old, and in the very first instance of pushing reality to protect those he would come to love, the recently departed soul of Baby B that would later come to be known as John Young in this reality, and Warlock Dowling in many others, was shoved unceremoniously back into his body.
Baby B then did the only logical thing for a less than hour old baby whose soul was just shoved around: he started to scream.
Crowley nearly dropped it. He was certain it had been stillborn, and yet... Crowley did not ascribe this to Her, and he certainly didn't ascribe it to The Adversary, but he did ascribe it to one of those little things in the universe that his angel would have called ineffable.
He could then be forgiven for not noticing that the nun who had been holding Baby A (who he believed to be The Adversary), swapped them wordlessly while Crowley was not paying attention, and he retreated out into the hallway to stew.
At this point, he then recalled that he did, in fact, have a mission and it was not, actually, to deliver two babies. It was to deliver an entirely different baby in an entirely different manner, and so he headed in to Room 3 and swapped Baby B in and retrieved The Adversary (thinking him Baby A).
For those keeping track: Crowley now held in his hands The Adversary, Baby B was with the Dowling mother and Baby A with the Young mother. It is at this point where you are free to imagine while being weighed and measured Baby A and Baby B were again switched in a human act of cocking up since the whole day had been something of a cockup from the start, causing an entire three and a half hours resulting in a no-score draw if you like. That's what I'll do!
And so he sat in the corridor of a thankfully-not-actually-sanctified convent, The Adversary in his arms, eyes closed, waiting for a few moments to regain his balance.
"Everything sorted?" he heard, and his eyes snapped open and he looked over at the nervous pipe man standing a few feet away.
"Ah, yes? Congratulations it's a boy."
"I can't thank you enough," the man continued. "Coming out all this way, I imagine you're more of a city doctor."
Crowley made a grunt of acknowledgement.
"Especially owing to..." He gestured towards The Adversary. "Taking care of him for the wife?"
"I don't have a wife," Crowley answered without thinking, because of course he didn't have a wife, what sort of self respecting demon would have a wife?!
"Ah, girlfriend, then?"
"Why would I have--?" This was the point that the exhaustion in Crowley's body finally settled enough that he realized he was having A Conversation, one of those things that humans did from time to time and he was supposed to be a human and if he were to randomly not make any sense that might give away the whole Infernal plan and he really should have thought about this more beforehand. "Sorry, um..." He knew this, if he didn't have a girl person... what were they called now? "Partner."
"Oh!" Arthur made the noise of confused discovery wherein the very nice doctor who had delivered his son was also in some form of partnership and he might be a bit old fashioned and not really understand the appeal but he was sufficiently modern to not be bothered. "How nice! What's his name? And yours I suppose, too. Arthur Young."
"Crowley," he answered, tired, and then with a tired sputter he continued: "Anthony Crowley, and... um..." His mind was drawing a blank.
"You can't tell me you've forgotten his name."
"I usually just call him Angel," Crowley admitted, but that kick-started his mind again. "Azra, it's like Ezra, but with an A. No accounting for names these days really."
It was about then that the Mother Superior arrived, noting Crowley and Mr. Young and politely nodded to him: "Shall I take him, Master Crowley?"
Crowley looked down at The Adversary, and The Adversary looked up at him with bright blue eyes, and Crowley realized that this child (who he thought was Baby A) was likely going to be Disposed Of and he had never been much for killing kids. "Just a bottle's fine," he answered.
The Mother Superior knew far better than to argue and hurried off to provide him just that.
"What's his name, then?" Arthur gestured to the boy. "I'm afraid Deidre and I've rather let it run to the last minute."
Crowley had known many humans over the years, with many names, and all of them loaded with purpose and history. If it was destined to be ruled over by the Antichrist in the time that came after the Great War, well... there really was only one name: "Adam."
"Oh well that's lovely," Arthur answered. "I really should be getting in to see Deidre, though. It was a pleasure talking to you, doctor." He then patted down his pockets and provided a delightfully normal business card.
Crowley looked at it for a moment, realized he was likely expected to reciprocate, and he patted his own pockets. Arthur likely actually had business cards, but Crowley was hardly in that sort of business, so instead he miracled one up in the fashion Arthur likely should have expected proclaiming him: Dr. Anthony J. Crowley, Family Medicine, with his cell phone number and pair of snakes spiraled up in a caduceus, with the little flourish of the staff being headed by an apple rather than the traditional sphere.
For good measure, Crowley also offered a cigar. "Not around the baby."
"Of course, doctor, Anthony. Perhaps the boys could enjoy a play date when they're older!"
The Mother Superior returned with a bottle and although Adam didn't seem particularly hungry at that moment he did drink. "Well it's been a pleasure." He checked the business card. "Arthur. Regards to Deidre and all that."
Crowley then stood, walked out of the convent and sat in the front of his Bentley looking down at the child he had just named. That basically meant he owned the thing, right?
Never let it be said that Crowley did things by halves, so with a snap the back seat of his Bentley contained an incredibly fashionable baby seat, and the front a pitch black, sleek diaper bag with bottles, formula, and diapers; there were things Crowley forgot, of course, but he didn't know he'd forgotten them, so they weren't there. He then buckled Adam in and blazed off towards London Soho at approximately eighty miles per hour; it would have been ninety, but baby in the back seat and all.
He'd been so upset about the Spanish Inquisition, after all, even if he had gotten a commendation for it.
So while Aziraphale did expect to speak to Crowley sometime in the next day or so, he did not expect the ring on the door at 2:30AM. Aziraphale set down the book he had been reading and headed to the door, opening it because there was exactly one being who would bother to ring a doorbell that wasn't properly set up to allow actual buzzing and make it ring.
This was when he actually saw Crowley for the first time in probably a month or so: shoulder length hair, sunglasses, dark jacket, and something that announced itself as a 'babybjorn' strapped to his chest with a sleeping infant in it.
"He's the spare," Crowley growled, pushing his way past Aziraphale and into the bookshop. "You know how I feel about killing kids."
"Killing?!" Aziraphale wrung his hands for a moment before catching himself and looked at his old friend and adversary. "Wait, what are you doing here?"
"We need to talk."
"Yes, I suppose we do, but the baby?"
Crowley looked down at it. "Uh... I named him."
And while Crowley probably wouldn't usually go in for worrying about such things, he was not wrong that in naming The Adversary he had inadvertently taken over a sort of metaphysical ownership of the child that couldn't be broken by something as mundane as dropping him on a front stoop somewhere, and Aziraphale knew that, so he just nodded and the two of them left it at that.
After several hours and a great deal of wine, Aziraphale was convinced of the wisdom of helping to influence Warlock Dowling, believed to be the Antichrist, to hold a sufficient amount of both vice and virtue to avoid the destruction of the world at his hands.
"And him?" Aziraphale asked, pointing to the child still sleeping against Crowley's shoulder.
"Adam," Crowley answered. "I suppose it's Adam Crowley, I think I have a birth certificate somewhere..." He reached out and rummaged through the diaper bag and pulled out a sheet of paper waving it at Aziraphale, and the angel took it, pressed it smooth carefully, and read it.
"This is a Birth Certificate and Parental Order between... really, Crowley? Anthony J. Crowley and Azra Z. Fell. We aren't even people!"
"We're legal entities. You know I helped design that absolute monstrosity of a database for this stuff." He chuckled to himself at the trouble that whole thing caused. "Besides, if we practice on this one a bit we should be loads more competent to handle Warlock. When's the last time you saw a baby outside a baptism?"
Aziraphale didn't answer, as Crowley knew the answer perfectly well to be basically none.
It was a testament to their angelic (and formerly angelic) stock that neither one of them particularly noted the idea of the two beings being joined in their parental responsibilities to a tiny human being was a bit... queer.
"Well where are we even supposed to put him?" Aziraphale asked. "You know they don't check up often but both our sides do have the tendency to occasionally pop in, and with the Great Plan heading towards a conclusion they'll have every reason to pop in more."
"Well I can't have a baby," Crowley answered. "Demon, taking care of a kid, what sort of demon does that?"
"You, my dear boy," Aziraphale answered, with a wave of fondness, but quickly moved past it and considered. "Well the bookshop can't handle it either, the entire place is packed with books, I've nowhere else to put them, and..." He looked a bit embarrassed.
"Well, I'm not zoned residential Crowley, and you know how I feel about these things, you can't just go popping off a miracle to rezone and--"
Crowley grumbled. It wasn't as though either of them actually needed to eat or sleep or bathe or launder things or anything of the sort, but there were certain human niceties that they participated in regardless. Crowley loved naps, Aziraphale loved baths, Adam would actually need both.
"I've got it," Crowley said. "We'll move closer to Regent's Park so Adam and Warlock can go to school together if the Dowling's choose that, or we'll just send him to whatever public school they choose."
"Those fees are usurious!" Aziraphale complained.
"Brilliant, isn't it?" Crowley answered with a grin. One of his: elitist and snobby and annoying, just his speed. "You'll still work here, I'll still work from my flat. No electronics."
"Agreeable," Aziraphale said. He knew the 'rules', such as they were, concerning Hell's adoption of most modern technology as a communication method. Crowley had meant that they could use telephones, instead they had taken to invading personalized radio broadcasts or television programs. "And you want your son to go to school with the Antichrist? That seems a bit... troublesome."
"Hey, he'll divide the world up somehow, gotta get him in on the ground floor if this all goes to Great Plan."
And so it was that an Angel, a Demon, and the Antichrist moved in to a steeply overpriced two bedroom London flat in the nearest inhumanly possible vicinity to the Dowling's residence. One bedroom was, of course, Adam's nursery, the second bedroom was a study of sorts where Aziraphale moved some of the tomes that were under no uncertain terms ever going to be sold, including his misprinted bible collection that he treasured a great deal. It technically contained a pull out couch bed, but that was largely for Crowley's tendency to nap, not for anything else.
The larger portion of the living area, over the course of the next months and then years, came to be predominantly occupied by a pair of comfortable sofas, a painfully exceptional liquor cabinet, plants, flowers, and more plants, with one wall taken over by a number of trained ivy plants creating a living accent wall.
The next day, however, with Adam a brilliantly clever two days old, Aziraphale sat on one sofa extracted from the back of the bookshop and Crowley sat on another sofa also extracted from the back of the bookshop, with Aziraphale gingerly holding Adam while he drank his bottle.
"It won't do to have Adam only associate with public school boys," Aziraphale said after a few moments. "Some of those boys can be quite mean. I won't have that."
"Yeah, cuz kids are so polite usually, Angel."
Crowley was sprawled on his sofa, as he was wont to do, and his lack of thoughts was interrupted by a phone call. He startled, but patted down his pocket to withdraw his phone to show a call from an unknown number.
"Crowley," he answered. Expecting a call from Hell, to be honest.
"Oh Dr. Crowley, hello!" a polite and very feminine voice came through the headset. "It's Deidre Young, you may not recall, but--"
"Oh, yes, Deidre, I can't say we were properly introduced when we first met, you were a bit indisposed." Although he said it without a hint of innuendo - which he was quite proud of actually - Aziraphale gave him a look that said that he assumed the call was about work, an item that they had long ago promised not to interfere with but he still didn't like to dwell on. "How's Junior?"
"Oh absolutely brilliant. We decided on John in the end."
"John, good name, John. Traditional."
"And Adam?" she asked.
Crowley looked over to where Aziraphale was grimacing with a slight distaste but still feeding Adam.
"Also brilliant," Crowley answered. "Azra's feeding him now. Took a bit of a day off, paternity leave, all that. Believe it or not he's actually the same age as John."
Aziraphale straightened, and frowned at him, but seemed all the more curious.
"Even more gracious then, taking the time to deliver two babies when your own had just been born!" A pause, a bit of hesitation, and Crowley could hear the wheels turning. "It's just... I don't know if you'd heard..."
"Heard what?" he asked, voice sharp.
"Just after we left, the whole convent burned down!"
"Hastur!" Crowley growled, before he realized one did not usually blaspheme with the names of the Duke of Hell. "I... that's awful. The... nuns?"
"Several didn't make it. I'm afraid I can't recall who exactly." A deep breath. "But as sad as that is that's actually not why I called, you see the fire... well we hadn't yet received the birth certificate and... well a doctor's signature is of course needed and..."
"And you need me to sign, of course." Do one good deed and it gets punished for days. He sighed, pulled out a pen, could write upside down, or in zero gravity actually. He followed that up with a pad of paper. "The boy's full name?"
Crowley jotted down the particulars, the boy's name, Arthur's, Deidre's, a few identification numbers, really everything a man would need to commit a massive string of identity theft, but Crowley really wasn't in the mood.
"And your address?" he asked, receiving what would in many other universes be a fated address of 4 Hogsback Lane, but was in this universe simply the home of a boy named John Young and his parents Arthur and Deidre.
"This is so kind of you," Deidre continued, and Crowley winced at the implications. Kind, he wasn't kind! "I do hope if you're ever in the area again you'll come visit! And bring that Azra of yours, I'd love to meet him as well, and you properly."
"I may have to take you up on that, Deidre, I may have to indeed..."
A finishing pleasantry and Crowley hung up before looking over to where Aziraphale was gingerly burping Adam.
"You don't put down a cloth I'm not miracling it out, Angel," Crowley said, and Aziraphale did just that to avoid a mishap.
"Who was that? You sounded positively... polite."
Crowley groaned. "Deidre Young, she's... I don't think I actually explained how I ended up with Adam in the first place." And so Crowley recounted the details of that night and due to being unaware of some of the baby swapping particulars Aziraphale was also none the wiser concerning the location of the Adversary.
"You delivered a baby? Two babies!?" Aziraphale asked, as though the notion that the Antichrist was now on the Earth was of secondary importance.
"What? It's not that hard. Women've been doing it for thousands of years." He didn't mention that She had decided it would be painful because of Eve and all that, and Crowley did not feel guilty about that at all, not at all. "Anyway, I need to get them a birth certificate, and we've been invited to Tadfield if we're ever in the mood. You'd like them, very... normal, very human."
"Well, that would be a good couple to befriend," Aziraphale answered. "Human and normal, exactly the sort of influence we should hope for!"
"I want him to befriend the Antichrist, gotta get in on the ground floor, none of this faffing about beforehand."
Crowley did agree, however, and that was the reason that when he had finished with creating said birth certificate and signing it and seeing that it was appropriately filed a few days later that he'd suggested, entirely nonchalantly, that perhaps they could deliver the certificate personally.
"Should we bring wine?" Aziraphale asked.
They settled for a reasonably recent vintage, most people didn't have two century old wine, and those who did didn't share, and some cupcakes from a local bakery before blazing out into Tadfield.
"Remember, they think I'm a doctor," Crowley said as they got closer to their destination. "Also remember that humans don't generally wear the same thing every day, if we see them again you'll need to change it up."
Aziraphale frowned, looking down at his very typical coat, vest, bow tie... he'd worn this since the 1800s! He'd hate to have to change now. "And I'm Azra, and we're... partners."
"Problem, Angel?" Crowley asked.
"No," he answered with a slightly annoyed tone. "I will have you remember I used to live in Soho," Aziraphale answered. "I... swish better than you."
"Don't make me make this a competition." Crowley didn't want to, but if Aziraphale kept pressing he would.
"And humans do all those... rituals, the fluid exchanges and the like."
Crowley snorted. "Never fucked before?"
"Really, Crowley. If you are going to be a bad influence save it for Warlock and not Adam! I meant kissing, which yes. I have."
That... that made Crowley... he didn't know what it was but it wasn't nice. He wasn't nice, however, so he supposed that was fine. "Well if they get all mushy..."
"We shall take it as it comes, my dear, same as always," Aziraphale answered.
"Well it seems we have something in common right from the start," Aziraphale said, chuckling.
Crowley opened the back seat and pulled out Adam before putting him in the babybjorn. Unlike Aziraphale he kept up relatively well with whatever amounted to current fashion trends, sunglasses, suit jackets, but he had forgone the usual layers to instead settling for a simple dark grey t-shirt and black jeans.
The door opened only a few moments later with a lovely woman with short blonde hair and a floral print dress opened the door and gave them a bright wave and headed their way. "Doctor Crowley, Mr. Fell!"
"Mrs. Young, a pleasure," Crowley came up to her and pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, carefully as to not squish Adam. "You seem to be doing well, and please, Anthony is fine. Let's consider it a social visit."
"Still feel bloated like a balloon," she confessed, but lit up at the invitation
"Will pass in a few weeks," Crowley answered. "My Partner, Azra," he gestured toward Aziraphale and the Angel reached for her hand, but then Deidre moved in for the kill, which meant she kissed his cheek as well and he returned the favor.
"We were a bit lost for gifts so..." He presented the cupcake box and wine with an apologetic smile. Baby bag over one shoulder.
"No wine while I'm nursing, I'm afraid," she said, but she took both of the offerings. "I'll let you two and Arthur enjoy though."
"Forgot that," Crowley said, shaking his head.
"Of course you did," Deidre laughed, friendly and light. "I imagine you're bottle feeding."
"Well I sure as Hell'm not breastfeeding," Crowley answered.
"Language," Aziraphale said as he passed Crowley and the two of them followed Deidre inside.
An entire Saturday afternoon was spent with adequate wine, cupcakes, and two small children laying on their backs in the Young family lounge.
"You didn't say that cigar was Cuban, Anthony," Arthur said. "You have impeccable taste."
"Well, what can I say? We all need our little vices, don't we, Angel?" He gave Aziraphale a beaming grin and the angel answered with a huff.
Deidre and Arthur, who had been married for several years and dated further beyond that couldn't help but be impressed with the easy familiarity between the couple. Nothing flashy, just a feel of 'yes, we are each other's halves'. They clearly knew each other implicitly. They were an oddly matched pair, with Anthony seeming to be more the love-em-and-leave-em smooth talker bad boy, while Azra was far more bookish and looked quite a bit like an English professor, but there was clearly more than enough 'opposites attract' to keep them together.
"If you don't mind my asking," Arthur began. "Where did you and Azra adopt? My understanding is it's very difficult for a... pair of partners who adopt even now."
Aziraphale and Crowley shared a glance, and in the silent way of their communication, Aziraphale passed the buck to Crowley and then Crowley, the one a bit more practiced with lies, decided what to spin. "I've got a brother," he answered, Lucifer had been an angel once, and Crowley's brother after a fashion even after the Fall. "He... ah... well he wasn't really up for raising the kid, so after he was born... one baby for us."
While this was obviously true for Adam the Antichrist, this was not true for Crowley's relationship to Baby A (who he thought the child to be), but if one assumed a transitive property of babies it was. It was also true enough that Aziraphale might not choke on it.
"Are you close?"
Crowley made the universal noise of 'no, not really' which was largely 'enh' with a particular inflection.
"And you, Azra?" Deidre asked.
"Family?" He made a nervous chuckle and swallowed. "They call once every few y-months," he corrected, remembering human time frames. "Not often, and... well they don't much approve of Anthony."
"So it's really just the two of us," Aziraphale continued. "Well, three now I suppose. Adam was actually a bit of a surprise owing to Anthony's brother's... leaving it to the last minute, if you will."
"He does do that," Crowley said with an annoyed tone.
"How long have you two known each other, for Arthur and I it's been twelve years."
"Mmm," Crowley looked over to Aziraphale and smirked. "Six thousand years, give or take."
Both Arthur and Deidre of course took this as a joke, because of course it was, and had a good chuckle about it.
"It has been a while," Aziraphale said, straightening his jacket to try to recover from the surprise of Crowley telling the truth, even if the humans thought it a joke. "We met at a... ah garden... party."
"I, of course, slithered right up and introduced myself," Crowley continued, glancing over to his angel again. "Love at first sight."
Aziraphale actually did flush at that. "Really, you don't have to tease."
"Actually I found him a bit commonplace right at the start," Crowley continued. "But, well, the angel had actually given up his... ah... coat, to this lovely pregnant girl I knew, and what can I say? Smitten. Who does that in this day and age?"
Aziraphale glanced over to Crowley, and Crowley didn't quite have the courage to glance back, but he was wearing enough of a smile that Aziraphale had to wonder if it weren't, at least in part, the truth.
"Oh that's darling!" Deidre almost squealed.
"And you, Angel?" Crowley asked, the wicked smile on his face leaving Aziraphale with little understanding of what the Hell he was supposed to think of that.
"Quite a bit after that, I should think," he answered. "I will have you know this..." Aziraphale sighed. "Well he's hardly the sort you'd think would be faithful," he continued, a bit defensively, because Crowley was a demon! The Youngs might not know that but he was! "We met a few times after that for... work, that sort of thing, a few bars and meals out, and against my better judgement he convinced me to consider a more frequent meeting arrangement. After that, I suppose it was rather inevitable."
"But when did you knooow, Angel?" Crowley teased.
Aziraphale gave him A Look, and given that he was an angel not particularly predisposed to violence it was actually bit frightening. "The books," he said primly, and said nothing more. He wasn't going to put his heart on his sleeve with Crowley teasing him like that.
"That sounds like a story," Deidre said.
"Yes," Crowley answered, "But fair is fair, not much of an even exchange so far, is it?" Secretly he was a bit amused, and also slightly surprised that Aziraphale could think up an answer so quickly, unless... there was a bit of truth. The angel had a particular bent to his lies, after all.
Thankfully the attention was deflected from Aziraphale and turned back on to Arthur and Deidre's younger days, and then less thankfully further conversation was interrupted by both Adam and John both deciding they were hungry, and by the time that was taken care of that thread of conversation was well and truly lost.
Wine was opened, gardens were discussed, and Crowley, Adam, and Arthur began what can only be a terrifying companionship over classic cars while Aziraphale, Deidre, and John puttered about in the kitchen. Aziraphale was absolutely hopeless in the kitchen, as much as he loved food, but he couldn't exactly admit that in the moment.
"The two of you are so very sweet," Deidre said. "I don't know what I was expecting, Dr... sorry, Anthony was so kind during the delivery and Arthur said they had a nice little chat after the delivery with Anthony holding Adam... and when he said he had a Partner I suppose there was a tiny bit of me that said 'my goodness!' but you two are just lovely."
Aziraphale, who truly had spent more than enough time around 'discreet gentlemen' to know a thing or two about these things, nodded magnanimously. "Nothing wrong with that," he answered. "It is nice that you've been so welcoming given the circumstances, not everyone would be. Anthony even mentioned our sons might be able to have something of a friendship. Tadfield isn't that far from London, and I think it would do Adam good to have some appreciation for nature and all creatures great and small."
"Yes, that sounds wonderful. Even if the boys don't get on... Tadfield can be a bit reserved and I hope for a friendship that's a bit more exciting. Oh I love it here, but though I'd hate to be telling tales out of school, our neighborhood watch fellow is a bit of a prat, if you don't mind my saying. And I don't think there's ever been a man alive who understands Arthur's love of his car like your Anthony."
"Well he does love his like a child," Aziraphale answered, helpfully taking John when Deidre had to continue her conquest of the kitchen. "I can't say I've ever understood the appeal, but when it comes to being a passenger I suppose I must."
It was this and many other small conversations over the course of hours that meant that one Anthony J. Crowley and one Azra Z. Fell were granted an open invitation to 4 Hogback Lane, Tadfield with as much regularity as they could ask for. The two beings, occult and ethereal by turns, took that offer seriously and their perfectly human child who just so happened to be the Antichrist took them up on that offer approximately monthly over the course of almost four years.
Nothing changed after that when it came to the visits, but that was where the next movements in the overarching Plan seemed most pronounced.
"Did you really mean that?" Aziraphale asked as he finally climbed into the passenger side of the Bentley after getting Adam settled.
"Which bit? I did a lot of talking."
"The Garden and slithering up to me and me giving my Sword away?"
"Maybe," Crowley demurred, putting the car in gear.
"Don't you 'maybe' me, you demon."
"What do you want me to say? Yes, I had very undemonic thoughts that day, found you quite endearing, and it's what made me... well... seek you out, suggest the Arrangement. Turnabout's fair play, Angel. The Books? The Blitz?"
"You walked over consecrated ground to save me from my own fumbling and then when I'd forgotten those books..." Aziraphale looked out the window. "There'd always been a fondness, I suppose, maybe as soon as Rome, definitely after Hamlet was a smash hit, but that was when I wondered if you might have some undemonic thoughts in return."
"Wanna exchange fluids?" Crowley asked.
"Really, Crowley! Not in front of the baby."
They did not, in fact, end up sharing fluids in great regularity. Being beings without a true form and without anything resembling a sex drive their acts of human intimacy were almost always for show, usually the Youngs, sometimes the other families they were introduced to via them, or when they made an appearance at Warlock and Adam's preparatory school, but that was it.
Crowley did very much like snuggling, and Aziraphale did enjoy running his fingers through Crowley's hair at whatever length he chose to keep it, so in practice that was all that changed, that and they lived together, and had a son... so quite a lot actually, but it usually didn't feel that way.
"Chicken, please," Adam answered from where he stood next to Crowley at the kitchen counter on a step stool. The boy was pushing three now, and he'd definitely inherited Aziraphale's 'if you please' mode of speech on some matters that Crowley found absolutely adorable.
He opened the refrigerator and pulled out the chicken from the deli, throwing some on the plate in Adam's general direction and his son picked up the bits and carefully arranged them to his liking while Crowley put the rest away. He then held up mustard - yellow and whole grain - and mayonnaise.
"Not yellow." Crowley stuffed the yellow mustard away and then gave Adam the mustard which he then messily squeezed all over the sandwich while Crowley spread a thin knife's worth of mayo against the other piece of bread.
Crowley put those away as well, pulling out the neatly separated lettuce leaves, one placed on the sandwich, and then he held up half a tomato. Adam shook his head, his blond curls flopping a bit as he did. "No thank you."
He pulled down a knife anyway and cut a few slices and neatly salted them against another plate.
Broccoli and carrots were offered - Adam went broccoli, a small pile of pitted cherries, and a stick of some sort of sharp cheddar that offended Aziraphale's sensibilities. Crowley then set a fork gently across the plate that had the tomato slices and then handed them both to Adam.
"Give the tomato to your dad, I'll be out in a bit."
"Thanks!" Adam then headed off toward the study and Crowley watched his son toddle off.
'His son', it seemed so odd to think. In truth he knew that neither he nor Aziraphale had had anything to do with Adam's conception, but Crowley actually thought the young man was turning out quite nicely all told. If this had been the Antichrist he was talking about he would have felt duty bound to make sure the kid was an unholy terror, but given that he actually had to put up with this kid and he was just coming out of the 'defiance for defiance's sake' stage, Crowley was inclined to let that heavenly light shine a bit more brightly.
The kid was no angel, no human was, but he was a good kid, all told. He was a saint compared to some of the little terrors he ran into in the park with the nannies in an attempt to get a scope on Warlock. He had received little to no instructions on Warlock beyond 'deliver' and to be honest he was sort of wondering if Hell had largely dropped the ball on it. Perhaps Hell assumed he would actually oversee the upbringing more closely but short of a report every year or so where he reported 'still alive, brat about toys' no one had come calling.
Crowley hadn't been joking when he'd suggested Adam as a benchmark for judging Warlock's development and his readiness to start the grooming, but now that Adam had reached 'please and thank you' and a certain amount of willful choice taking, Crowley figured they should probably start figuring out how to mold Warlock just enough in both directions to keep him from wanting to destroy the world.
Like a worker who had just finished an extended vacation, however, Crowley was not particularly keen to get back to work. Oh, he did the occasional temptation and the spot of minor inconvenience, but when he had to come home to Aziraphale's angel pout it lost a bit of its charm.
When he'd finished his bout of introspection he headed into the study where Adam was sitting on the couch next to Aziraphale. The angel was reading a parenting magazine, one of his new favorite hobbies, carefully cutting the pieces of tomato with his fork in one hand, while he sat next to Adam.
"Can we go the park today?" Adam asked.
"Hmmm." Aziraphale turned to him, setting down his magazine and putting his fingers through Adam's hair. "Well, we'll have to look at the weather. Finish your lunch and I'll talk to your father."
Crowley flipped to the weather app: spot of rain, nothing a kid wouldn't enjoy. Aziraphale would hate it, but the angel had finally given up on wearing the same damn coat every day regardless and he had enough 'casual' (read as: only 85% stuffy) clothing that he could let those bits of clothing go.
He frowned: sunny. Wasn't it... he could have sworn it called for rain.
"Weather's good," Crowley reported. "Finish your lunch."
He then plucked a cherry from the pile, and Aziraphale grabbed a bit of broccoli. "Daaaad." Both the angel and the demon ignored it and ate their prizes in smug silence.
"Angel, I've been thinking..."
"Tricycle, I know," Aziraphale interrupted.
"No, about... um..." He glanced over to Adam. "The job."
"The job--- oh." He looked over to Adam and realized that Crowley must have been thinking about the general age category, his responsibility level, his ability to process things. "Well, I-- Yes, I suppose it must be done."
"What's wrong?" Adam asked, looking between his dads with huge blue eyes.
Aziraphale, as ever, was a shitty liar, so Crowley stepped in and ruffled Adam's hair. "Well you're starting preschool soon, your dad and I are going to have too much free time on our hands and we have to find something to do."
That likely included: miracle an in with the Dowlings, spend as much time with Warlock as inhumanly possible while still juggling their own kid. Crowley knew he had a plan, a no score draw Antichrist plan, but he couldn't quite imagine leaving Adam to founder alone to tend to Warlock.
The discussion continued while Adam romped at the playground.
"Do you really think it's that time?" Aziraphale asked.
"More than I'd like to admit," Crowley answered. "We've probably let it go on a half-year or so long as is."
"Imagine thinking of a half year as a long time," Aziraphale answered with a shake of the head. "When you have a human to measure it against it goes much slower."
"Can you imagine how much time it's going to take?" Crowley asked. "We're with Adam almost constantly and he's barely started to act like a human being."
"Maybe that's a good thing. Think about it, it's not like our Head Offices know or understand that, we do. We put in the time, we send back the reports, we get our Heavenly and Hellish influences balanced..."
"Hope you're right, Angel."
"I really shouldn't mention, but I can't help but notice that Adam has become quite the well-mannered young man lately."
"Hellish kids someone else has to deal with are great, Hellish ones I have to put to bed at a decent hour are not."
Aziraphale chuckled. "A fair point. Alright, we'll have to get ourselves in with--"
"Dad!" Adam called from one of the swings, waving.
"Pretty sure that's me," Crowley said, standing. It was a difficult to tell sometimes, but Aziraphale's 'Dad' had strong emphasis on the first 'd', while Crowley's had the long and slightly whiny 'a'. Both of them ascribed it to Crowley being 'the fun one' which meant he was more likely to be called across a playground, while Aziraphale was the homebody who was far more likely to receive requests at a sedate volume designed to puncture a reading stupor.
He chuckled, watching Crowley lift Adam up into one of the swings and then give a gentle push, starting Adam's ascent into swinging. Aziraphale stood and headed over to the coffee cart, ordering a nightmare of espresso shots for Crowley, one of the sugary concoctions he hadn't tried yet, and 'your very smallest hot cocoa'. He paid and headed back toward Crowley and Adam arriving and gifting Crowley his coffee and Aziraphale started to drink his.
"Me?" Adam asked, hands out toward Aziraphale.
"Oy," Crowley said. "Hands in. It'll still be warm when you're done." More to the point Crowley would warm it up to just the right temperature when Adam finished because he was a dear and never wanted anyone to know.
When Adam decided he was finished, Crowley took the cup, a minor demonic miracle separated the whipped cream out and warmed both parts to optimal temperature for three year old mouths before he handed it over.
"Zoo?" he asked.
"Walk in the park," Aziraphale answered. "We'll go to the zoo some other day when you can enjoy it more."
"Just because you are polite does not mean you can just always have what you want," Aziraphale answered.
Adam pouted, but Crowley and Aziraphale both remained firm on it, and to the astonishment of the universe as a whole, Adam accepted that, despite his underlying ability to bend reality to his will and his parents would never know. "Fiiiine."
Their son barely made it halfway up Primrose Hill before he was all but passed out, and without a word Crowley pulled out a coin, showed both faces, and then flipped it.
"Tails." Aziraphale sighed when it landed heads. "You know, if I didn't win a decent amount I'd think you were cheating."
"I am a snake," Crowley answered, but he scooped up Adam, helping the boy's arm around Aziraphale's shoulder, and the angel held the boy's legs up allowing them to continue their walk at a slightly more sedate pace while Adam rode Aziraphale's back.
"We could wait for school to start," Aziraphale suggested. "It would be easier to meet other children and parents then..."
Two more months. Crowley considered. That didn't seem so long, really. "Alright, Angel."
Some two months later, Crowley was sitting in the driver's seat of his Bentley, Adam looking out at the nursery, a frown on his face. "I don't want to go, Dad."
"Well, your father and I do think it's important you get to know... kids." Crowley set his hand on Adam's curly hair and fluffed it affectionately. "You'd like to have friends you can see more often than John, right?"
He nodded, a bit defeated, but then looked out at the school again.
"You'll be having fun before you know it." Crowley closed his eyes for a moment and smiled. "Don't do anything your dad wouldn't do."
The two of them eventually exited the car, Adam holding onto Crowley's right hand and the two of them heading to the nursery reception.
"And what's your name, young man?" a kind woman with a clipboard asked, standing near the front.
"Adam Crowley," Adam answered with a firm word. "It's my first day."
"You'll be with Ms. Williams," the woman said, gesturing over to the left.
"Got everything?" Crowley asked? Adam showed his lunchbox and nodded, and Crowley leaned down and pressed a brief kiss to his son's forehead. "Off you go."
Crowley made his way to one of the nearby parks and made his very best effort to think up something that downstairs might find impressive and Aziraphale might not be mortally offended by. The angel was getting his shop back in gear for the first time in a week or so and Crowley had to fight down the urge to go see him regardless.
Things had become... comfortable between them. If you had asked Crowley back in the Garden, or even as recently as five years ago if he and Aziraphale would ever stop dancing around each other and start admitting to something a bit more... ineffable, Crowley would have laughed himself silly. Instead of being a pair of entities who went out on dates and saved each other's lives while not admitting they were dates, they had become an old married couple who didn't date because they had a three year old son.
His cell rang, and he checked the caller id.
"First day of school, huh?" he answered, waiting for Deidre's response.
"It's so hard to let them go!"
"Azra couldn't even look me in the eyes this morning he just went off to his shop, probably to sniffle over the whole thing."
So instead of even making an effort to tempt some mortals into something immoral he spent the next hour and a half gossiping with Deidre about anything and everything under the sun. A coffee and a stroll around the park followed before he finally returned to the daycare at the appropriate hour for such things.
No bright and cheerful 'Dad!' greeted him, even as several other children were milling around with their parents. He saw an exceptionally large boy, he didn't really look three at all, more a very large four or so, broad shoulders, a sullen glare, and more than a bit of extra padding. The child was being escorted into a black town car with two men who looked like Secret Service at the front. That gave Crowley pause, as he was fairly certain the only American diplomat at the school in Adam's age bracket would have been Warlock.
"Oh, Mr. Crowley!" he was greeted by Clipboard, who was looking exceptionally nervous. "Your... ah... Adam is over here."
Crowley took several steps until he rounded a brightly colored corner only to find Adam curled up in a fetal position, a few papers clenched in his hands, blue eyes red and puffy as he looked over to where Crowley had just arrived. "Dad..."
"What's all this?" his anger was immediately directed at Clipboard, not Adam, since the kid was three and really it was obvious there was something Wrong.
"One of the kids was mean," Adam answered with another sniffle.
Crowley ached to unleash every last torment of Hell on whatever brat had had the gall to hurt Adam and--
"It's quite delicate, I'm afraid," Clipboard continued, coming up beside him. "Well... you see it's the son of an American diplomat."
"Warlock Dowling?" Crowley asked, conveniently forgetting that he probably shouldn't know the name of the Antichrist really but that wasn't the point. He turned back to Adam. "What did he say?"
"He said having two dads is gay and I'm stupid and when I grow up I'll probably be a fa--" Crowley placed his hand on his son's mouth and winced.
Adam handed over the papers that he had been squeezing for dear life and Crowley took them, unfolding them enough to realize it was a picture of him, Aziraphale, and Adam that had been ripped to a few pieces. He sighed, and set the papers down, pulled Adam in and hugged him close.
"Needless to say we've moved Adam to another class and counseled Warlock, but... there's little we can do beyond that at the moment."
"Yeah, that's..." He shook his head. "Azra and I will have to decide if this environment is right for Adam." He gave a blistering look at Clipboard, took Adam's hand in his, and headed to the Bentley.
This, of course, led to Adam and Crowley sitting on another park bench, both of them with strawberry lollies while Adam curled up against Crowley.
"I don't want to meet other kids."
Crowley sighed. "Not everyone's like that. Dratted little Hellspawn." The Antichrist wasn't in and of himself something Crowley should naturally be opposed to, but apparently his demonic influence wasn't even necessary! In those hours of attempting to comfort his son, Crowley may have inconveniently forgotten that he was supposed to be trying to see Warlock into some manner of balance, but if the brat was already a homophobic little shit at three, well... Aziraphale had his work cut out for him. "Didn't you meet anyone nice?"
"Maria said she had two uncles," Adam suggested.
"Yes, well... I meant... nice, not comforting."
"We played blocks."
"See? Not all bad. Nothing's all bad." Well, Satan was, Crowley was supposed to be, but Adam wasn't any of those things, he was human through and through, and even Warlock had to have some redeeming qualities.
"Not even Warlock?" Adam asked, almost as though he was reading his mind.
"No, not even him." Crowley said. "People can choose to be bad and mean and evil, but no human, nothing about the whole entire world can ever be pure evil. Eat your lolly before it melts."
Crowley conveniently forgot that lollies do melt, and after three hours of very sedate progress on them the both really should have melted. Crowley had long ago developed a sort of reflexive miracle that kept his hot food hot and his cold food cold developed over millennia of time without refrigeration. Adam's lolly had no such excuse.
Well, it did: the excuse was that Adam had learned it from both of his fathers without even realizing it. If he didn't want his lolly to melt, it wouldn't, but he did want to finish it, so he jammed it into his mouth with a happy hum and smiled up at his dad instead.
"Positive," Crowley answered. Adam was off at preschool - the same one still, just a different class from Warlock. "This isn't like you, Angel, you usually see the good in all of them."
"Well, yes, but this one called my son a rude name!" Aziraphale answered.
It might be good to take a step back and consider what the universe was working with in that moment. In most universes Warlock Dowling was, in fact, Baby B, the biological son of Arthur and Deidre Young, and while he held no innate tendency toward good or evil he did have a slight penchant for maths from his father and a curiosity of spirit from his mother. This meant he blossomed into a slightly sullen young preteen with some academic accolades to his name and enough spirit and charisma to acquire a small group of friends, enough to create a relatively well-adjusted boy. Further well-adjusted elements were provided in this reality by Arthur and Deidre themselves which meant that Baby B acquired a small group of like-aged friends in Tadfield who were not as drawn to Baby B as they would have been to the Adversary, but they did rather like each other anyway.
In this reality, Baby A had become Warlock Dowling, the biological son to Harriet and Thaddeus Dowling, and they were both so... American. Baby A was tall for his age, and spoiled by nannies and butlers who were not nearly so restrained as a certain occult entity was in other universes. He was unwieldy and uncomfortable in his rapidly sprouting body and the only time he spent with his father was on the occasional weekend where play was given over to the American sport of Football. His desire to run into things and possibly hurt them was encouraged by a father who saw this as very good practice for when his son eventually ran for Senate.
All of that was to say that Warlock had some of the worst sorts of human influences that he could have given the circumstances, and he had, in fact, learned a very naughty word quite young from a particularly rancid member of his guards who was, perhaps, projecting a little.
Harriet had tried her best to correct the oversight after it came to her attention, but while she was well-versed in hair styles and fashion, she was less well acquainted with 'the gays', and so was at a loss for something to teach him beyond not saying it in public again.
And so bereft of fatherly attention beyond football and bereft of motherly attention most days, Warlock sprouted into a sullen pre-teen with few academic accolades and without the charisma to attract people to him for positive reasons. Instead he was gifted the strength to make people stand behind him so that he wouldn't punch them when he moved forward.
But that was still years from where our story is now, but that should grant enough clarity to understand what Aziraphale was working with within the moment.
"I don't know what to tell you," Crowley continued, unaware that narration had derailed his conversation. "I'm sending back glowing reports, Hell couldn't be more pleased, but you know how I feel about this! If he can't learn to respect and love this messy little planet... we're doomed, and more importantly, Adam is."
"Yes," Aziraphale agreed. "You're right. Oh, did Deidre get back to you about the birthdays?"
Crowley made a noise of agreement. "Fourth birthday, yes. I talked to Adam and he's more than happy to split with John. You know he loves Tadfield more than London most days. John will have a proper birthday on Wednesday, we'll have one here with Adam, and then on Saturday you, me, Adam, and Maria will head up to Tadfield for a little joint party and playing in the Young's back garden."
"Maria's parents have agreed?"
Crowley nodded. "Well, I should get some work in before I have to pick up Adam. And you... well, keep me posted, Head Office will want another memo in a month or so."
And so it went.
"If you don't mind my saying, you seem fairly distracted, Azra," Deidre accidentally broached the subject at the birthday party later that week.
"Oh, just had to take on a particular... side job for a while," Aziraphale answered, glumly, taking another sip of his wine. "It's left me without the same amount of time for Adam and almost no time for my bookshop. I feel absolutely terrible about it."
Deidre, as well as Pepper's mother Lucy were both incredibly sympathetic which led to some cooing over the issue while Crowley rolled his eyes and went back to discussing brands of car wax with Arthur.
The various children there, for their parts, ran through all of the games they could think of over the course of hours.
"Could you maybe get some help for the shop?" Arthur suggested some time later. "That would at least let you do some of the fun bits of running the shop instead of the drudgery?"
"That... might work," Aziraphale conceded.
"We could spend more time in the shop," Crowley suggested as well. "Adam's getting toward a proper reading age too, right... that's about now, right?" Crowley looked to the assembled humans and most of them had a chuckle or two.
"Independent reading, yes," Lucy answered with a little smile. "You do bedtime stories and the like as well?"
"Azra's absolutely batty for all those happy children's books: be kind to each other, I have two daddies, and all the like." Crowley had to admit this whole... new aged thing that had struck parenting in the more recent years actually seemed to be having a small bit of good here and there. He felt a bit of an urge to stop it.
"Lucy actually suggested several," Aziraphale admitted immediately. "Very... progressive."
The topic of good reading skills and such came up, and then R.P. Tyler's annual attempt to get Harry Potter banned, which Crowley found absolutely fascinating and amusing, but he really couldn't tell that to anyone but Aziraphale.
Maria and Adam both were conked out against each other in the back seat at the four of them headed back to London when Aziraphale finally admitted:
"I really am quite worried about Warlock."
Crowley understood completely. "If he comes into his full powers..."
The rest remained unsaid, and Aziraphale looked over his shoulder to their sleeping son and then down at his hands. "I can't help but think, win or lose, I'll lose two very important people."
Crowley swallowed down a lump in his throat. He knew exactly how Aziraphale felt. "I can't say I'm not a little offended at being referred to as a person."
Aziraphale chuckled, and Crowley didn't see the fond smile there, but he could feel the way the Angel's smile lit up the car.
"And we'll figure something out," Crowley assured him. He was a demon, of course, so it was a lie.
The truth was he was simply a mediocre sort of person, average, with a less-than-average wardrobe and a less-than-average haircut, but he would have liked to be able to do something about computers but apparently there was some aspect of him that was still stuck in the 17th century when it came to these things.
He had the paper spread out in front of him at the cafe while he drank his tea. All of the normal sorts of ads were online now, but really the sort of person who might hire someone like him was likely far more inclined to post in a paper like this one.
There were plenty of ads that seemed like get rich quick schemes and the like, before Newt finally stumbled across an ad that seemed fairly new: A.Z. Fell & Co. booksellers needed a shop assistant. Normally Newt wouldn't have looked at it twice, but the ad made it quite clear that the bookstore records would be paper, which almost sounded too good to be true. Interviews would take place at... Tuesday between 9:13am and 10:13am, and so Newt selected his sharpest suit (it was not particularly nice), and headed to the Soho bookshop arriving just a touch after 9, and even though he didn't see anyone come to the door, at exactly 9:13am the sound of the external locks clicked and Newt knocked very politely and walked in.
A tall, thin man, dressed in all black with a set of tortoiseshell rimmed sunglasses glanced over at him, a glass of wine resting between the fingers of his dangling hand. He was leaning against one of the many structural columns in the bookshop and Newt cleared his throat.
"Do I look like the type to run a bookshop?" he asked.
"Well... no, but..."
"He's in the back. Name?"
"Newt. Newton Pulsifer."
"Where did you get that jacket? I need to visit the place so I can burn it to the ground."
"My mum tailored it, please don't burn her house down."
The man walked toward him with the sort of movements one might expect of some human just learning to walk who didn't quite have the hang of it. He reached into his back pocket with his free hand and handed him a pair of fifty quid notes. Newt looked down at it, flabbergasted. He then hooked his finger through Newt's tie knot, and even though Newt was very certain it had been properly tied, he felt the finger wiggle there and the purple paisley tie slipped free and into the man's hand.
"I'm burning this," the man said. "Go 'round the corner." He gestured. "Second on the left, say: 'Anthony sent me, make me look less tragic in a quarter hour'. I've already got one of you stuck two centuries in the past, I don't need another."
Newt realized he could have probably buggered off, a hundred quid for a tie, but he decided if someone in the shop was handing out that much just to make him change his jacket, the pay might actually be acceptable, so he made his way, quick as he could, around the corner and did exactly as he had been told.
Much to his surprise, he found a suit store just there. When he said exactly what the man, Anthony, he assumed, had said, and he found himself whisked away, into the back, measured with incredible speed, handed a shirt, tie, jacket, and slacks and ushered in to change, which he did with as much speed as he could manage. He did, actually, look a good bit better, although his hair ruined the best of the effect.
He received a twenty and some coins and he headed back towards the booksellers, checked the time: 9:40, and reentered.
The same man was standing there, lounging, and he looked Newt up and down before nodding. "Much better."
Newt glanced around and did notice a suspiciously tie-shaped smudge on the ground, and tried not to think of it further.
"Well, really, my dear, you don't need to shout." A primly dressed man with soft curls of hair that defied platinum blond and headed toward white stood at a back doorway. A cherubic pre-school aged boy with blond curls and bright cheeks stood at his hip. "Oh! An interview?"
"Adam, why don't you finish this up with your father?" the man asked, giving the boy a little nudge.
The child, Adam, looked up at him with bright eyed wonder. "Hi."
"Hello," he answered, and then cleared his throat. "Mr. Fell?"
"Yes, quite," the man said. "Azra, and you?"
"Newt. Newton Pulsifer."
He was then lead into what must have amounted to a back office, just a slightly more private area with a sink, a desk with a computer that looked like it was old a decade ago and hadn't been turned on in ages.
"I feel like I should be honest," Newt admitted. "I'm absolute rubbish with computers."
Azra looked over to the computer and shook his head. "No need to worry on that, dear. I use that for my taxes only." Now that he actually had a chance to listen to Azra, his mind seemed to suggest that Mr. Anthony not-Fell and Mr. Azra Fell seemed to both be... well... pretty gay. Otherwise the man seemed completely unassuming, a little behind the times fashion wise and quite earnest.
"Now, it really has been quite some time since the shelves have been straightened and organized," Azra began. "I miss my books dearly, but with Adam starting school I somehow have less time, can you imagine?"
Newt shook his head, no, he couldn't imagine.
He found himself introduced to the back area, dozens upon dozens of books that were actually just ledgers of what must have been the thousands of books that made up the store. Mr. Fell showed him the till, mercifully mechanical, and the various stacks.
"No cards here," Mr. Fell continued. "Cash only. There's one of those little pen things at the till."
What Newt noticed after a few minutes was that it didn't so much seem that he was having an interview as he was having a first day orientation, and he didn't mind that in the slightest it was just particularly odd. The rules and expectations seemed fairly small: refer to the ledger for prices after checking the dating on said pricing, never sell a bible, a book of prophecy, or anything by Oscar Wilde, and clean, straighten, and catalog the shelves as time permitted.
"You may open and close as you like," Mr. Fell continued. "Refer to my posted hours of course when deciding if you wish to open."
Newt had read them, the hours seemed to basically be 'whenever the fuck I want between 8am and 8pm except Sundays'.
"It would be nice if you opened by eleven, as that's usually when Adam is getting out of daycare and I do love to have him here when it's open. How many hours would you like to work a week?"
Newt was confused. He was supposed to be told when to work, not the other way around. "Maybe... thirty to start?"
"Excellent," Mr. Fell answered, and then offered him far more than he would have expected as a shop keep and then assured him that 'I do hope you will earn it'. "Oh, and of course this is my partner, Anthony Crowley and our son Adam."
"That's very nice," Newt answered, reflexively.
Anthony stuck out a hand and Newt shook it awkwardly.
"Now that that's handled, go on and open up. I shall be right here, just, in the back, as you do."
Newt realized that perhaps he shouldn't have been comfortable about having an orientation after all, but he turned the sign to 'open' and then after nothing exploded in the first few minutes he gathered a dustpan and disposed of the remains of his tie. A few further minutes passed and Newt was not fired yet, so he looked around the store and started to make himself busy.
Aziraphale had not mentioned 'loss prevention' as one of his duties, but what Newt didn't know was that there was something of an aura around the shop that prevented anyone who entered the shop from actually being able to go through with the thought of shoplifting, and so that had really never been a problem.
He went to retrieve one of the ledgers in the back, thinking perhaps it would be a good place to start, and he saw the beings he thought of as Azra, Anthony, and Adam on a couch together, the older two men's arms draped on the back of the couch against each other, with Adam between them, a book in his lap. This gave him the distinct impression he was simply being asked to babysit a shop while two fathers enjoyed time with their son. It was actually quite cute.
The event unknowingly placed all of the major players of this version of Armageddon on the appropriate routes to destruction.
For the first two days of 'work', such as it was, Newt was actually incredibly nervous. Very few people stopped by the shop, and those that did didn't buy anything, and he was completely uncertain how he was supposed to be supporting the operation of the bookshop at all. He did, however, soon discover that with only slightly more regular opening hours, A.Z. Fell & Co. began receiving far more of the requests for old and rare books, which Newt dutifully recorded and passed on to Azra. There was also apparently 'a twitter', which Newt was of course hopeless about, run by one of the neighboring coffee shops that would tweet when Newt arrived, since obviously neither Newt nor Azra did.
His boss never seemed to actually like that books were being sold, until Newt realized that really all he wanted to hear was how excited or relieved the customer was to find what they were looking for, and then the man always perked right up.
It was strange, but that was how one Newton Pulsifer, who had never much been good at talking to people, began to slowly integrate into what might be called 'being social'. His first pay packet was given to him without a word by Anthony some week and a half after he started with exactly his proper pay without him ever providing so much as a time sheet. Anthony then added another hundred and said: 'clothes make the man'.
And so Newt Pulsifer, just finished his A-Levels, found himself with a well-paying job in the city that he found fulfilling and he had a strange set of father figures in the form of Azra and Anthony, as well as a clothing allowance. And if that wasn't a miracle in this day and age, what was?
This effect only minimally affected his fathers, owing to their angelic stock, but the world around him did subtly bend to his will more often than not. The weather was always nice when he wanted to play, and rainy when he wanted to hunt for frogs in the park. It was always sunny when his dads went out for a rare date and left him with a sitter, and the plants in his home grew into beautiful and resplendent versions of themselves even without Crowley's usual... encouragement.
Years later, the day before their son's eleventh birthday, an angel and a demon sat in Crystal Palace Park watching a very surly Warlock deface a plaque concerning a dinosaur.
Crowley had been describing the finer points of the Hell Hound that was to arrive in the coming days, and Aziraphale watched the boy, doubt and fear and many other emotions pulling at his heart.
"I'm saying you could kill him."
Aziraphale swallowed. "I've never actually... killed anything." But in that moment, he was tempted. It wasn't the universe, it wasn't the world, it wasn't old composers, it wasn't sushi. It was the young boy who would be getting off from school in another hour or so they both called son.
"I can't," he finally said.
"Not even to save everything? Not even A--?"
"Crowley, please don't tempt me," Aziraphale answered, and that got a shocked look from Crowley, he never would have thought he was actually tempting the angel, but apparently he had been. Crowley felt his own temptations, of course. He'd also never killed a child, or really anyone with his own hands (he'd certainly been responsible for many a death, however). He couldn't be responsible for it, however. He might not want the world to end, but a demon killing the Antichrist just wouldn't do. "We'll... go to the boy's party, perhaps I could stop the Hell Hound, and then... come what may, we'll go home and celebrate Adam's birthday. Just because the world might be ending doesn't mean he shouldn't have a good birthday."
"If it all goes wrong..." Crowley said, looking over at the angel. He sighed. Not like Alpha Centauri had breathable air for a human. "They're all so... fragile."
That night, Adam snuggled down in his covers; Aziraphale sat to the boy's right, Crowley his left, and just sat like that for a long moment.
"Can I have a bike for my birthday?" Adam asked.
Crowley hummed in acknowledgement. "Sure."
"And a dog?" Something deep in Adam's mind said that he was getting a dog, it was a feeling even stronger than his desire for a bike, but he knew that there were rules about these things...
"Err, no," Aziraphale answered, his hand ruffling the boy's hair. "What would you do with a dog? I'd never let him in the bookshop - slobber and mud everywhere, and he'd dig up your father's plants and you know how he'd feel about that. Besides, the flat doesn't allow pets."
"Maybe John could keep him?" Adam argued.
"You can't..." Aziraphale sighed. "You have responsibilities, Adam, you can't take a life under your protection and not protect it. Getting a dog and fobbing it off on someone else."
"Just isn't done that way," Crowley added. "What if we'd fobbed you off on someone else?"
"Crowley!" Aziraphale gasped, annoyed at the whole idea. It had been eleven years. Not long for their lifespan, but that decade had felt far longer than some centuries had.
"I'd be sad," Adam answered. "But... you wouldn't do that, right?" A hint of worry crept into his voice.
"Of course not, Dear," Aziraphale said. "We are here with you to the end. A--after your birthday tomorrow, what do you say we go out to Tadfield?"
"We'll have a great time," Crowley continued. "Straight through the weekend."
"Really?" Adam smiled. "I'd like that. Can I have the bike first? So I can bike with the Them?"
Aziraphale leaned in and pressed a kiss to his son's forehead. "Of course. I'm sure the Bentley can have a bike rack, no problems."
"Now, your father and I have some work to take care of in the afternoon tomorrow," Crowley continued. "But we'll be home for supper. Spend the afternoon in the bookshop, alright? I believe Newt will have it opened."
"OK," Adam promised, and then after another moment Crowley leaned in and gave his son a kiss on the forehead as well.
"We'll have a morning in the park," Crowley promised.
The two of them headed out into the next room and shared a look of concern. "Eighteen hours," Aziraphale said.
"Let's get drunk." Crowley held up a finger for a moment, and then ran his hands along the wall, producing a perfectly fitted, blisteringly red, ten-speed bike. After another thought he tapped a finger at the center of the handlebars producing a perfect replica of a Bentley hood ornament.
One of the greatest advantages of their nature was that the two of them were able to become blisteringly drunk over the course of the next six hours and still be perfectly sober when Adam eventually woke up that morning.
It was a morning like many others: Adam got dressed and they headed out to the park, had coffee and cocoa, Adam got his knees bruised and stained by the grass. At one they returned to the bookshop, where Newt had been open for about an hour. After almost seven years he had truly embraced the benefits of a 'I do what I want' hours schedule, and actually owned glasses that were to his liking, a decent haircut, and clothes he enjoyed.
"We've got to go," Aziraphale said, giving Adam a hug. "Back soon."
Aziraphale and Crowley made their way into Warlock Dowling's birthday party, blended in with the help, and just like in many other realities found themselves utterly confused when the clock struck 3:05PM and no Hell Hound had arrived.
"I delivered the kid myself!" Crowley said, turning to Aziraphale. "He is the Antichrist."
A call to Head Office and the pair were even more confused, the Hell Hound had been released, it was somewhere on Earth, and...
His phone rang. Crowley looked at it, a call from Aziraphale's work...
"Adam?" he asked. There was really only one person who would call him from the bookshop while Aziraphale was with him.
"D...dad," his son's voice came through the phone, sounding nervous and a little scared. "There's... there's a huge dog here and I don't know what to do."
A dog? With Adam? That... That wasn't possible. "We're on our way. Whatever you do," Crowley said, turning the car on with a snap. "Do not name it."
Crowley threw the phone down on the seat between them and then looked over at Aziraphale's startled face.
"Well... I... I think our son might be the Antichrist."
"But..." Aziraphale looked out over the road, eyes wide. "No. No. Absolutely not."
Said son was, in fact, the Antichrist, and as an angel and a demon blazed along the streets of London toward a Soho bookshop, said Antichrist was standing in the middle of his father's bookshop while one Newt Pulsifer - who had in many realities been in the middle of being recruited to the Witchfinder Army - sidled around to the doorway where a dog the size of his boss's boyfriend's Bentley was standing in the foyer.
"I'm just going to..."
In another lifetime, in many other lifetimes, Newt would have already passed out, or made a run for it, but in this lifetime, he cleared his throat, wiped his brow, and neatly turned the 'open' sign to 'closed'.
"Adam?" he asked, gently. The boy was still holding the phone from where he had called his father and he also looked very scared by the huge dog.
"Dad said not to name him. You can't name things or you have to take care of them, and dad said I can't have a dog." Adam actually would have liked a dog; he had asked for one, after all. In other universes this dog would go on to become the sort of pedigree mongrel who was a bit of everything fun about a small dog, but while those Adams had grown up in the great outdoors, this Adam was a city boy... and a small, tiny part of him wondered if he might be able to have... But no, Adam held firm, and waited for his dads to arrive.
His dads did arrive only fifteen or so minutes later (owing to Adam's dad's reckless driving), but it felt like an eternity as Adam waited and the dog snarled, low and rumbling in a way that shook his chest and made his heart feel like it was climbing up his throat.
Something in the back of his mind kept saying: 'don't listen, this is yours, yours, take it, take anything you want, take it, take it' but the Antichrist held firm, and when his dads tumbled through the front door and the Hound wheeled on them with a snarl that had been bred for millennia in Hell, Adam uttered a very firm: "No!" and the Hound was quelled, returning to an oddly domestic sort of state, down on its paws, as though beseeching forgiveness.
"Oh dear Lord," Aziraphale said.
And Crowley looked at the thing with a mix of wonder and terror. "Um..."
Now that he had arrived and seen the Hell Hound for himself, Crowley was actually completely at a loss.
"Newt," Aziraphale said after a few moments. "Could you be a dear and close up shop and then head out?"
"Should I... come in tomorrow?" Newt asked, trying to decide if his boss thought this was normal or...
"Best not to worry about that just yet," Aziraphale answered, and Newt fled the bookshop, headed around the corner and ordered three very, very stiff drinks.
"Adam, I realize this isn't really the best time," Crowley said, finally collecting his thoughts. "But if you name that hound you'll start the end of the world."
His father's words broke whatever spell had started to brew in the back of his mind, and he swallowed, nervously. "But I like the world... Go on," he said, "Shoo."
The Hell Hound did not 'shoo'.
An angel, a demon, and the Antichrist retired to the back room; the hound was too large to follow them, but the creature padded outside of the doorway, continuing to rumble and snarl, awaiting the name that his Master would give, he was bereft of purpose, adrift in an animalistic way that was incomprehensible to it.
"So..." Aziraphale looked at Crowley, and the demon looked back at him. "This... it's a very long story, Adam, and I'm afraid we haven't much time to tell it."
"Eleven years ago, I delivered two babies in Tadfield," Crowley said, taking another deep breath and wishing desperately for a drink. "One was Warlock, one was John, and there was a third baby, you... and it was my job to give you to Warlock's parents."
Adam looked up at him, confused. "But I'm... here."
"Well, yes, you know how I am, make a mess of things all the time. Don't I?"
Adam chuckled, because even if there was a Hell Hound in the middle of his dad's bookshop it was true that his dad could make a real mess of things if he tried.
"And we love you a great deal, Adam," Aziraphale said, looking at him. "But we were... unprepared for this. You see, you... you were originally meant to start the end of the world."
"But..." Adam looked up, confused. "Like... those weirdos on the streets? The end is nigh! Whatever 'nigh' means."
"Yes, exactly." Aziraphale sighed. "Your father and I really didn't want to bring religion into the whole thing, but... the world was created six thousand years ago, and well... the son of Satan was prophesied to end it and begin a Great War between Heaven and Hell."
"But the world... why would I want to destroy it?"
Crowley took a long, deep breath, and let it out. "Well we don't want that, of course, but... you could."
"Just being honest, Angel, isn't that what you'd want me to do?"
"I heard... something," Adam admitted, softly. "It told me to take what I wanted."
Crowley, who had in fact been the originator of the concept of taking what one wanted, winced. He found himself back in the Garden somehow, this time trying desperately to have one mortal not give in to an easy temptation. "The voices... they'll continue, Adam. They'll only get stronger."
"Why do you know all this?" Adam asked.
Crowley and Aziraphale traded a quick beseeching look, and then Aziraphale took Adam's hand. "I know we don't much talk about... religion, that sort of thing. Do you know what an angel is?"
"God's messengers?" Adam asked.
Crowley shrugged, close enough.
"Well, it's a bit more complicated than that," Aziraphale said, and he tried to compose some sort of treatise in his head about falling from Grace and all that.
"A demon is an angel who has lost the light of God within them," Crowley said after a moment, clearing his throat, and then clearing it again, and yet the lump there remained. "They... they don't force you to do evil, just make a little path for you to follow, easy as you please, until you've gone and done something terrible all on your own."
"Angels aren't always that nice either," Aziraphale interrupted, perhaps noticing Crowley's discomfort, perhaps not. "The truth is neither Heaven nor Hell is particularly much like Earth."
"How do you know?" Adam whispered again.
"Well... I..." Aziraphale stumbled over the words. "I am an angel and your father is a demon."
Adam looked between them, back and forth, confused, beyond confused, reeling in this new and confusing knowledge. "Dad's not evil," Adam protested to Aziraphale immediately.
"Yes, I know, dear. That is why I love him very much. But... your father's a bit odd for a demon," Aziraphale continued.
"I'm dating an angel, for a start," Crowley added. "Adam, ten million angels and ten million demons have been waiting since you were born to start a war."
"But... a war with each other? Between you and dad?"
"Yes," Crowley answered. "I don't want to, I've never wanted to, but..."
"You can't fight," Adam said. "You can't."
"We will try our very best," Aziraphale said. "We will, but the truth is your father and I, we're just making this up as we go. We don't know if it can be stopped. Now... let's have some supper? Everything's a bit better after you've had a bite to eat."
It wasn't that any of the three were ignoring the literal Hell Hound in the room, it was simply that Crowley and Aziraphale had enough practice being British to politely ignore it. There was no food at the bookshop, and so the family headed out onto the streets of London, Soho, a Hell Hound stalking patiently behind them that no one seemed to be able to notice, and it growled with as much menace as it could muster while an angel, a demon, and the Antichrist tried to have dinner while momentarily ignoring the looming end of the world.
Adam learned a hard lesson over the next hours, one that many a man had learned throughout history, and as yet another he would have to learn it as well: giving in to temptation is easy, resisting it is hard. Resisting temptation is not one single moment of resistance, it is an eternity of moments of resistance. At this point he felt little innate temptation to name the dog; his fathers had been more than clear enough on that, but the constant entreaty: 'take it, make it happen, make it real, take your crown, rule, make it real' began to grow ever louder as the hours wore on.
The Serpent of Eden, the Tempter of Christ, held his son in his arms as he cried as the voices grew ever louder and he shouted for the hound to leave him, to go back to the depths of hell.
"Three days," Aziraphale whispered as Adam clung to his father and wept.
He passed out around two in the morning, now in Aziraphale's arms, and the angel held him and touched his hair and knew not what to do.
Crowley had headed out to get some air, as Aziraphale had done several hours ago. And a demon looked up at the Heavens, drew the shades from his eyes, and entreated Her: "He's just a kid. Please. Let this cup pass from him."
As ever, there was no answer.
"Crowley," the annoyed name came from the phone in his pocket. Hastur. He looked down at it, drawing it out and realizing that was probably bad. "Where. Is. The. Hound?"
"N-not my fault if it got lost in transit! How should I know, isn't that your department?"
"The Horsemen are being summoned, Crowley, they will find him even to the ends of the Earth. This is what we have waited for."
Crowley waited for the demonic call to end and he hurried back inside, only to see his son now whimpering in his sleep, the hound continuing to stalk the foyer.
"The Horsemen are being summoned," Crowley said. "We... this is happening, with or without him."
"But if he names it? Isn't that the beginning of the end?"
"Apparently the end's got more than one beginning, Angel. I-- look." Crowley went down on his knees, and he removed his glasses and he looked Aziraphale in the eyes. "This isn't me tempting you. You know I don't want this to end, but there are only two options here: let him name it and do what we can... or..."
"Or what, Crowley?"
"End his suffering."
"You know I can't do that."
Crowley couldn't either. He closed his eyes and willed himself to have the strength to see this through.
"Adam," he said, voice soft, brushing his son's hair with his fingers. The boy stirred, and then whimpered. "Do you remember what we said about naming things and responsibility?"
Despite the fact that the boy had been resisting the voices of hell for many hours he nodded into Aziraphale's chest.
"That Hell Hound must keep you safe, it must protect you from harm, and it must be everything you want it to be. It is duty bound. If you want it strong enough... it can help you accomplish whatever you desire."
"Crowley..." Aziraphale said, voice low and warning.
"It's ok?" Adam asked. "What... what if I don't want the world to end?"
"I don't know," Crowley said. "This is the only Armageddon we've got, but there's more going on now. We need to keep going."
Adam nodded. "I... well." He tried to stand, and Aziraphale and Crowley helped him to his feet, out to the hell hound that waited for its master. He looked at it. "You've got to be a good dog," Adam said, sleepy, but still with a note of command. "I don't know, but we're gonna stop the end of the world, right?"
The hound cocked its head in confusion, but this was his Master's will.
"Your name is Percy."
The dark, jet black marks around the hell hound's eyes grew lighter, not light, but a soft, dark, chestnut brown. The dark pits where eyes should be became softer, rounder, the whites of eyes becoming obvious and producing two shining buttons of love and laughter; the teeth shrunk, all but disappearing; and the pink tongue lolled lazily from its mouth. It had a very fluffy butt as well, and a tail to match.
"It's..." Aziraphale was at a loss.
"It's a corgi," Crowley finished, looking down at Percy. The dog was now small enough that even Adam could have easily picked it up in two arms.
"I... I need to sleep," Adam said, weariness of the day still weighing heavily on him. "Would you read me a story?"
"Of course." Aziraphale sat on one end of the couch, and he was quite startled for the hell hound... for Percy to jump up just beside him. Adam then sat, and laid down, resting his head against the dog's side and his eyes fluttered closed. "Interesting choice, Percy."
"Well we can't keep a big dog," Adam said, reasonably and sleepily.
Crowley rummaged around and pulled out a tartan blanket, spreading it over Adam's body and brushing a hand along his forehead. "I need to get to my place," Crowley said after another moment. "Orders are going to happen whether I like them or not."
Aziraphale nodded, and then rummaged around, pulling out a book and opening it primly.
The Hell Hound had been on earth for approximately twelve hours, and it decided it was nice, and warm, and he liked this far better than standing and waiting. And, as is the way of most dogs, he had one, important, all encompassing thought: I'm a good dog.
For the record, Gabriel's tact, timing, and understanding of humans had not improved in the last two millennia. And so it was that the Archangels Gabriel and Sandalphon descended on a Soho bookstore at approximately ten in the morning on a Friday.
Newt Pulsifer, who was also politely ignoring the fact that his boss's child had had a very, very large dog yesterday and now had a corgi, politely greeted the pair with a: "Good morning, Gentlemen."
Said corgi, Percy, was settled in comfortably on one of the couches and Adam was curled up against him, eyes closed and dozing. He was rather tired from his previous day, after all.
Gabriel, for his part, retrieved a book and placed a hand over it. "We wish to purchase one of your material objects."
"Books," Sandalphon provided.
The two angels were drawing a few particular looks from some customers by that point, as one might expect given how socially awkward they appeared.
"Yes, well. I can help you at--"
Aziraphale had, at that point, realized that Gabriel had arrived and exited the back room into the shop area proper and tried not to let his concern that his son, The Antichrist, was dozing a few feet away from Gabriel show on his face.
"Yes, can I help you?" Aziraphale asked, hoping the tension didn't show too badly on his face.
"Let us discuss my purchase in a private place, because I am buying, uh..."
Aziraphale resisted the rather tempting urge to facepalm at how inept his Brothers were at this. "Gabriel, come into my back room."
Sandalphon, of course, who could not leave well enough alone continued: "We humans are extremely easily embarrassed. We must buy our pornography secretively."
It's a well-known fact that kids, especially the younger ones, had an innate ability to hear exactly the wrong things that their parents really wouldn't have wanted them to hear, and so Adam's tender young ears perked up at the word 'pornography'. He wasn't certain what it was, but he knew some of the older boys he sometimes saw would mention it from time to time.
Adam looked over to Newt, who was glancing towards the back room with the sort of confused curiosity that was impossible to hide.
There were not actual secret passageways at A.Z. Fell & Co. but there were sufficient amounts of books and shelves that hiding in hearing range of the back room was something that Adam had long ago perfected.
"All good?" he heard his father's voice ask.
"Well, all going according to the Divine Plan," the more pompous of unknown the voices continued.
Adam swallowed at that. His dads had been very clear on what the Divine Plan was, and Adam was none too pleased with it. He missed the rest, just noting something about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and he frowned. He didn't know what this had to do with the X-Men, but that was actually a little cool if he thought about it. The X-Men weren't real, however, so Adam shoved that thought down and went back to his eavesdropping.
"About time, that's what I say," the other unknown voice said. "You can't have a war without War."
Adam frowned. What?
"Sandalphon, that's very good. You can't have a war without War. I might use that, Huh?"
Adam had not fully heard the earlier exchange about material objects and pornography, so this was the first time the outright lack of understanding of how humans should communicate struck him, and he was without a doubt unimpressed.
"No problems?" Gabriel continued. "How was the Hell Hound."
"I... ah..." Adam listened more closely as his father stammered. "Large? Quite Hellish I should think."
"Thank you for my pornography!" Gabriel all but yelled out into the shop, and Adam scrambled away from the door before tumbling to his knees behind a different stack and burying his face in Percy's coat so he could giggle without worrying he'd be heard.
He missed the rest of the conversation, and his father escorting the two angels out, instead sitting in one of the farther corners, fingers fluffing Percy's coat as his Hell Hound looked up with him with adoration. "Well they were silly."
As soon as they were gone, Aziraphale wheeled and began poking his head around in search of his son, only to find him giggling madly in one of the more hidden corners of the bookshop.
"Who were they?" Adam asked in a hushed whisper.
"My... superiors," Aziraphale answered, coming to rest on his knees and then looking between Adam and Percy.
"They seem a bit daft," Adam continued. "Who says 'can't have a war without War?' might as well say: 'can't have a bum without a bum!'"
"Language," Aziraphale answered, but his heart wasn't in it.
A bit across town in Mayfair, Crowley was lounging in his office, wondering when Head Office would get in touch. His mind wandered through several uncomfortable paths while he did: his son was the Antichrist, the Horsemen were already being summoned, the world was likely to end in about a day and a half, and he had no idea what to do.
"Hello, Crowley," Hastur said.
Crowley worked his way through the status report, and did his absolute best to get what he could about the Antichrist and the Horsemen out of Hastur and Ligur.
"And the Dowlings will be at the Fields of Megiddo...?" Crowley prompted, because he didn't have the connections in the State Department and he needed to know exactly how long he and Aziraphale had to work with Adam until Hell found out that Warlock wasn't the Antichrist.
"One in the afternoon, or so," Hastur said, and then he preened a bit. "I'll be meeting the boy there!"
"He's a great kid," Crowley said, a slight smile on his face as he thought of Adam, but then continued, remembering he was supposed to be thinking of Warlock. "Takes after his dad."
When the conversation ended, Crowley checked his watch: approximately twenty-six hours until the deception would be obvious. Warlock and his family would be at the Fields of Megiddo, Hastur would be there, and when the boy arrived with no dog, no powers, and no voices in his head, the deception would be up.
At that point, Crowley didn't know when Armageddon proper was supposed to start, but he probably had five or six hours until... well... that. That meant that he and the angel had about that long to protect themselves and their son from the forces of Heaven and Hell while things either worked themselves out or... not.
He did the only logical thing in his shoes: opened the panel to access his safe behind his sketch of Mona Lisa, opened said safe, and looked inside. Still there. With painstaking care over the next several minutes Crowley removed the thermos, packed it tightly in a case designed for exactly this purpose, wrapped that in a plastic bag, and then a second plastic bag, placed the rubber gloves in that bag and tied the whole thing up before deciding that would probably be enough... for now.
After almost eleven years, Crowley kept little at his Mayfair flat beyond a few pieces of art that weren't appropriate for young eyes or young hands, and what amounted to his infernal office. Most of the things that one would have termed proper possessions had made their way to their Regent's Park flat.
He made his way to Soho, parking and hopping inside only to find Aziraphale and Adam on one of the sofas, Percy very happily getting his chin scratched.
"Heard from your side?" he asked.
Aziraphale nodded. "You?"
"We should head out," Crowley answered without answering the question asked while still providing exactly what needed to be known.
The three of them made their way to the door and Aziraphale stopped at where Newt was sitting, slightly discomforted by Percy but still obviously happy enough. "We're headed out of town for the weekend," Aziraphale said after a few moments.
"Tadfield?" Newt asked, clarifying something he didn't really need to.
After a few moments, Crowley sighed, dug into his back pocket and pulled out a fifty quid note. "Close up the shop when you'd like. If things get... weird, feel free to head out that way. Don't bother to open again until... well..."
Crowley looked to Aziraphale for an answer or something to say. "Monday at the earliest, I should think."
Monday was, of course, not guaranteed to happen at that point, so the least Newt could do would be to have a nice weekend.
The little occult and ethereal family made their way to their flat, Adam packed for a long weekend, Crowley and Aziraphale didn't really need to pack, per se, but both added a change of clothes, a bible, and a few snacks and juice boxes. Adam was waiting for them with his suitcase, Percy's food and water bowls and a mostly full container of dog food. Percy was torn between wondering if he was going to get walkies or if they were actually going in the car. Both were, of course, just as good as far as the good dog was concerned.
Aziraphale miracled a bike rack without much fanfare before opening the boot and looking inside. "Crowley, what's that?" he asked of the dark trash bag.
Crowley coughed. "Insurance."
"You can't mean..."
"I do," Crowley answered, throwing Adam's suitcase, his and Aziraphale's, and all the various other detritus in before closing the hood and heading to the driver's side.
The two of them shared intelligence over the hour and a half or so it took to get to Tadfield on a Friday afternoon.
"So who are the Horsemen?" Adam asked after his fathers had exchanged information about Megiddo and that they had a little more than a day to breathe before things went mad again. "I figured it's like X-Men: Apocalypse, right? But I don't think Magneto is going to be there."
Crowley snorted. He'd taken Adam to an all-day showing of the X-Men reboot verse about a year ago and had thought the whole thing was well enough, but Adam had apparently learned about the Cuban Missile Crisis and hate crimes through it, so it was a mixed bag all told.
"Well, there are four of them," Aziraphale began primly. "And who exactly they are and what exactly they mean has been debated for many a century, but the truth is simply that they are supposed to represent those things that destroy the human race. War, well that's quite an obvious one, on a red horse and such."
Adam nodded. He knew a bit about war, the truth was the whole world had been at war in one manner or another since he was born. "But war is just because... people are different, right? They want stuff and land and oil and things."
"That is the most basic jist of it, yes," Aziraphale answered. "I hate to admit, but War or something like it has existed for most of the history of the human race. Regardless, she is red, and she will kill one quarter of the world's population as is her duty."
"The black horse, Famine, is also quite self-explanatory," Aziraphale continued. "When war begins to ravage the land, food will become scarce and too pricey for many to have, and then a quarter of the world's population will die to him, bereft of the food they need for life."
Adam swallowed, thinking about that. He knew his fathers loved to dine out, well, Aziraphale did, Crowley was more of a drinker, and he knew that there were many people even now who did not have the food to survive. He had done a report on it last year in school! He'd gotten high marks for it too. When Adam had asked why, he had discovered the answer to be, in part, what his father Crowley had called 'bureaucratic inefficiency', which Adam didn't really understand a lick of, but had nodded with all of the wisdom a ten year old could muster.
"The white horse, many years ago, was Pestilence, that's disease mostly, and of course diseases still exist, but the infectious ones are far less of a problem now. You wouldn't know that with the vaccination rubbish in America, but there you are." Aziraphale cleared his throat again. "And more recently he was replaced by Pollution, they... well I imagine you've seen their work more often than the others."
Adam nodded again. Litter on the ground, oil spilled here, reactor leaks there. Adam didn't listen to the television or radio often owing to the family rule that he didn't quite understand concerning electronics in the house, but he read the paper most days... or his father did and they discussed several articles. Around seven or eight he had at least taken to picking up litter from the ground and he and his father had even gone out planting trees from time to time for school trips and the like.
"And they'll do another quarter?" Adam asked.
"And the last one?"
"The pale horse, Death." Aziraphale didn't know what to say beyond that in truth.
Adam ruminated on that, although he didn't actually know the word 'ruminate', it was a bit bigger than his usual words. War you could have Peace, of course; Famine there was Plenty to go against; Pollution could be Cleaned, but Death... Death was just... Death. Adam had come to have a childish mortal understanding of the concept already. Plants died, animals died, a few of the kids in school had lost parents or grandparents and Adam had heard about it and discussed it with his fathers and he had a general understanding of the concept.
"And so they'll all kill everyone between them?" Adam asked.
"That's The Plan," Crowley said through gritted teeth, finally adding something to the conversation after several long miles. "And while that's going on, all the angels and demons of heaven and hell will be fighting."
"Because that's The Plan," Crowley answered with a tone that Adam had come to recognize as his father's way of saying that he thought the answer was stupid even if he was giving it. "Look, Adam, you know how I feel about questions. Keep asking, but the truth is there's a lot your father and I just don't know."
"Aren't angels and demons supposed to know everything?"
"That would be the Almighty," Crowley answered, with an annoyed and bitter tone that Aziraphale recognized, but was unaware of the cause of. It was, of course, because Crowley's Fall had been one of curiosity and questioning, and he was still very much bitter about it.
"And the Almighty's plan is... ineffable," Aziraphale continued. "It's not meant to be questioned or understood by anyone, even angels."
"Well that's just stupid," Adam answered. "You just told me The Plan, right? Sounds like you understand it just fine."
"Yes, but the reasons behind it, that's the ineffable part."
"But why?" Adam asked, and Crowley couldn't help but feel a surge of pride. He'd had similar conversations with the angel over the millennia and Aziraphale had roundly shut him down on most occasions.
"I've asked those questions before, Adam," Crowley answered. "Never got an answer for it, but the Almighty doesn't exactly take my calls any longer."
"Not like She takes mine either," Aziraphale added. "I haven't spoken to Her since the Garden."
"Well, I don't like the Plan," Adam decided after that. "I don't want all the people in the world dying and I don't want my dads fighting, so um... F the ineffable plan."
Aziraphale gasped, scandalized. Crowley laughed.
"I have never been more proud in all of my years on this wonderful little ball."
This, interestingly enough, was something that Crowley shared with Her, although separated by several thousand years. There was a fundamental disconnect between the predetermination that was required by the Great Plan and the concept of Free Will as defined by philosophers throughout the ages: how could everything progress according to a divine Plan while also allowing each and every being to also have Choice.
The answer to this is astoundingly simple, and also complicated: that philosophical question was the reason that Crowley and Aziraphale were currently in joint purpose to save their son, and also the world, rather than having a spat concerning their ontological natures. Each and every universe was planned and each and every universe followed every path of free will across thousands of years.
There are even universes where this is a fictional story, and not real, if you can believe that.
All of this was to say that across many different universes, at least the ones where Aziraphale was the Angel of the Eastern Gate and Crowley was the Serpent of Eden - and occasionally when the roles were reversed - the Serpent had convinced Eve to eat the apple and Principality had seen her on her way with his flaming sword. And She liked those stories, She liked the curiosity behind the Serpent and the empathy behind the Principality. It made Her proud.
Crowley would, of course, have been horrified, but he didn't know, so instead he was proud. Ignorance is, on very, very rare occasions, bliss.
As if to punctuate this, the Bentley very helpfully began to play We Are the Champions without prompting.
Although Aziraphale would never mention it explicitly, he did covet the book quite a bit, even if he knew he couldn't have it. The person who did have it, Anathema Device, just so happened to be in Tadfield, Jasmine Cottage, owing to more than a few of the prophecies being quite clear that Tadfield was where the end times would begin.
In most iterations, this was due to an unfortunate hospital mix up placing the Antichrist with the Young family. In this iteration it was again owing to an unfortunate hospital mix up, and the fact that it had caused Crowley to become good friends with those same Youngs.
This meant that Anathema was having what one might call a devil of a time finding the Antichrist owing to the simple fact that he was not, yet, in Tadfield. He was approximately twenty miles out at that point, letting Percy take a widdle along the M40.
All of her things were settled in Jasmine Cottage, her board filled with every possible prophecy that might help her discover the location of the Antichrist and figure out what, exactly, to do about him. It was owing to this factor that Anathema had not yet been introduced to Antichrist's innate shielding from prying occult eyes, and so when she did pick up a reading that suggested the Antichrist was in the south of Tadfield she hopped on her bike and cycled as fast as her legs could carry her. She was so amazed by the discovery that she may have made more than a few miscalculations on the matter of bike safety, and so that was how Anathema found herself quite literally running into the Antichrist, or at least his father's Bentley.
"You hit someone!" Aziraphale said, shocked.
"No I didn't," Crowley answered. "Someone hit me."
The angel and the demon hopped out of the car immediately, and Adam rolled down the window to see what, exactly, was going on.
Anathema laid on the side of the road, moaning, in more than a bit of pain owing to a broken wrist and a thoroughly rung bell.
"No bones broken," Aziraphale said, waving his hand across the wrist and Adam watched in amazement as the hand tilted just so and although he couldn't see it he could tell that something had changed and bones that may have once broken no longer were so.
A loud popping noise came from the other side, and Adam bolted to see his father run his hands along the Bentley and he could hear the rather pointed noises of the car's exterior popping back into what was its right place. His fathers had, of course, said they were an angel and and a demon, but it was something else entirely to watch miracles actually occur, even at a distance. He looked back the other way to note as his father picked up the bike and although the handlebars had been bent terribly they were now right as rain.
"Might we give you a lift somewhere?" his dad offered.
And, of course, in response his other dad sighed.
"I don't--" She then glanced and saw the smiling and cherubic face from the back seat. Anathema reasoned in that moment that the pair were either very kind and very considerate or the absolute worst sort of scum in the universe.
"Hi!" Adam said, waving at her.
She smiled in response. "Hello. Are you from around here?"
Adam shook his head. "No, we just come on weekends from London." Percy then looked out the window as well, fluffy paws against the sill. "Say hi, Percy."
The Hell Hound woofed.
Anathema decided that the two men must have been of the pretty alright sort, and after Aziraphale opened the back passenger door and Percy and Adam had returned to their seat behind Crowley, Anathema slid into the seat and slightly relaxed. This motion dislodged the Nice and Accurate Prophecies from her bag, but it was rather light out, and Adam had the eyes of a young boy, so he immediately noticed where it had tumbled to, and reached to pick it up as dad turned the car back on and Bicycle Race began to play.
The song was only a few minutes long, and so after its conclusion, Adam tilted the book towards Anathema. "My dad loves prophecies!"
"Does he now?" Anathema asked, trying to take the pulse of the car as much as she could without giving too much away.
"Indeed I do," Aziraphale answered from the front seat, thereby unknowingly announcing himself as 'Adam's dad' even if it hadn't exactly been a secret. "I have as many first edition books on the topic as my study can hold."
This was, obviously, an incredibly strange hobby for someone who, unlikely Anathema, was not a professional descendant.
"I don't think you have this one," Adam said, guileless and oblivious to exactly how unlikely that was.
"That is very nearly impossible, Adam," Aziraphale assured him.
"The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter," Adam announced. "I haven't seen that one."
"I--" Aziraphale was caught in a strange spell, the sort that Crowley might have wished to cast in their early days when there was still Tempting and Thwarting that held a bit of real heat to it. "You're right. I do not have that one."
This was the sort of moment where one might expect a record scratch. It’s that sort of moment, when honest and earnest words are said without much thought and the meaning is so monumental as to defy reason. Instead, Crowley slammed on the breaks and his Bentley did the very best it could to stand in for the missing record player.
"Oh, hush," Aziraphale said. "Most of the copies were destroyed and she was blown up before I-anyone could have met her."
"Never stopped you before, Angel," Crowley answered, but he had recovered sufficiently to return to actually driving.
Anathema had several realizations in particularly rapid succession in that moment: first, it was very possible that the young man sitting beside her did, in fact, have two dads; second, angel was an absolutely darling term of endearment; third, who collected prophecy books, honestly; and fourth, prophecy 3008: 'when the angel is given this book by the issue of by mine, the end of days are certes upon us. Open thine eyes to understand. Open thine eyes and rede, I do say, foolish principalitee, and spill not thy tea upon my book'.
There had been a truly impressive amount of speculation on the meaning of that prophecy over the ages, because certainly an actual angel wouldn't have gotten their hands on a book. Anathema reasoned that Agnes might not have had a way to say 'adorable gay men in a vintage car' either, most of the language to suggest as much would have been verboten in the day, and so... 'angel'.
"Uh, if you'd like, you could come in and take a look. An extra set of eyes on a prophecy is always... fun." Anathema didn't know if she would call it 'fun' but it was certainly an interesting way to get further insight into the end of days, and Agnes had specifically mentioned it, so she was certain it was alright.
"Oh, I can't imagine anything I'd like more."
"Really, Angel, nothing?"
"Fine, a few things, but this is very near the top."
The five of them, including a very adorable Hell Hound, arrived at Jasmine Cottage and Crowley parked with the enthusiasm of a man who knew he was going to piss off R.P. Tyler and he absolutely adored it.
Crowley and Aziraphale had rented Jasmine Cottage on a number of occasions, usually for a few weeks in the summer, here and there, as there was nothing that might be called a hotel or B&B in the general vicinity of Tadfield. This was to say that the horseshoe that hung over the front door already had a pair of nails loose, causing it to hang just crooked enough to allow Crowley and the Hell Hound to enter, unmolested, just behind Aziraphale, Adam, and Anathema.
This did reveal something of a problem, however, that Crowley voiced as soon as they were all inside. "Well, we can't rent Jasmine Cottage. Where do you suppose Adam will stay tonight?" Crowley asked.
Anathema found the question a bit odd, clearly the entire family would stay somewhere, but the 'Angel' had no comment on that particular aspect of it.
"Something will turn up," Adam said, with the assurance of a kid whose powers shaped the very fabric of reality.
It turned out, at that very moment, that Sister Mary Loquacious (the one responsible for the switch between The Adversary and Baby B all those eleven years ago), had actually not opened up a conference and management training center and had, instead, opened up a B&B in the remains of Tadfield Manor. Crowley discovered this approximately two hours later, and upon discovering Master Crowley had visited, Sister Mary Loquacious quite graciously offered him a luxurious two bedroom accommodation for the foreseeable future.
This was far less generous than one might usually think, owing to the impending Armageddon, but it was the thought that counted.
"Would you care for anything to drink, Mr...?" Anathema prompted.
"Azra Fell," Aziraphale answered, looking at the book of prophecies on the table with a voracious hunger. "And... whatever you have, dear, tea?"
Anathema ignored the strange thrill there, that Azra had asked for tea, that tea was mentioned in the prophecy Anathema believed referred to him.
"I'm Adam Crowley," Adam added. "What's your name?"
"Anathema Device," she answered with a little grin, glancing over toward the only being who had not yet named himself.
"Anthony Crowley," he answered with an annoyed tone. It wasn't that he was bad at social situations, he was actually fairly decent at it, better than his angel most days, but there was that whole bit about the world ending that made him worried that Aziraphale drooling over a book of prophecy was not what they should have been doing.
This did, however, confirm another of Anathema's suspicions. If Adam had called Azra his father, and Anthony provided the last name, they were, in all likelihood, quite the gay little family.
Azra was currently mooning over the title page, Adam sitting with him, snuggled up on his lap.
"I'm going to see if I can find somewhere for us tonight, Angel," Crowley said.
Crowley spent another moment thinking. "I'm going to set R.P. Tyler's mailbox on fire."
Anathema snorted, realizing the pair were very well familiar with each other, and Anthony was yanking Azra's chain.
"Flaming sack of shit through his front window."
"Dad," Adam laughed, looking up at his father, but he reached down and Anathema watched as Anthony gave the boy a tight hug and a kiss on his son's forehead, before he repeated the same gesture with Azra. "Don't do anything Dad wouldn't do."
"Ruin my fun," Anthony said, giving Anathema a nod and heading out into the Tadfield afternoon sun.
It wasn't that Anathema timed anything, that would imply she could have, but Azra had just flipped to the page that contained prophecy 3009 when Anathema placed the tea just next to the book, and she watched, a bit surprised, as Azra seemed to recognize himself as the angel in the prophecy. She didn't take much time to consider that, but it did strike her as a bit odd. Adam, during that time, seemed to have gotten bored, and he reached down for the dog, Percy, who knocked into the table with a good deal of force, causing the tea cup to wobble, and then tip to empty itself toward Agnes's book.
Azra did what any self respecting bibliophile would, snagged the book and pulled it away from the table, only for the two of them to have a little panic over the spilled tea and Adam to look suitable abashed.
"No, it's alright," Anathema said, giving the boy a bright smile. "You didn't mean to, right?"
"Of course not," he answered.
The table was then patted down, and triple checked by Azra for dryness before he set the book down again and went to the restroom, presumably to change his slacks, which had taken the brunt of the tea.
After they had all recovered from the spilled tea, Azra looked at the book again and placed a gentle hand on it. "You... believe we are in the end times?"
"Yes," she answered, waiting for him to ridicule her for the assessment.
Instead he nodded and turned back to the work, flipping to find his lost place. "And does... Agnes have much to say on the matter?" he probed.
"We've got about a third of the prophecies unaccounted for," Anathema answered. "Some are obviously about... now, and some are others that we think might have happened, but you can never be too sure of these things."
Aziraphale could have torn through reading the prophecies in barely a thrice, but he both wanted to savor them and he wanted to make sure that he was keeping them well in mind for his movement forward.
Anathema seemed to not expect him to read much faster than he was, so she had brought some chocolate biscuits and tea for Adam and the two of them had taken to talking. Adam had never really taken up his father's love of literature - not enough pictures - but Anathema had pulled out a few issues of a magazine called The New Aquarian, and Adam found those interesting at least.
"Atlantis discovered?" Adam read. He then had a nice half hour reading the article about the government hushing it up. "Dad, is Atlantis real?"
"No, Plato used it as an allegory, loosely based on the sinking of Helike," Aziraphale answered without even looking up. "Mu does, of course," he continued. "Ask your father about that."
Anathema opened her mouth, confused, and then closed it. It wasn't that she deeply believed everything in these pseudoscientific magazines, but Atlantis had far more cultural traction than Mu. What Anathema did not know, nor could she given that Mu had long ago sunken beneath the waves of the Pacific, was that Crowley had co-opted their language long ago in order to produce the sigil Odegra within the M25 motorway.
"It was destroyed, though?"
Aziraphale hummed an acknowledgement. "Yes, after Eden was sealed, of course."
Adam, of course, nodded and returned to the magazine, leaving Anathema even further confused.
"Kraken?" he asked.
"Biiiig bugger," Aziraphale answered. "Actually on top of Mu. Supposed to rise up to the surface in the end."
Aziraphale was so caught up in Agnes's book that he had conveniently forgotten that he was telling the story of the end times to the child capable of making it happen.
"And the sea boiling," he added after a moment.
Adam decided that was no good at all. No boiling sea. "That would kill the whales and dolphins."
"Exactly," Anathema answered then, wondering if she was supposed to be drawing the boy's curiosity to the end times or not. They then discussed the horrible tragedies of Japanese 'Research' vessels, the melting polar ice caps, deforestation, and more.
Adam was a bright boy, but even he was suffering from something of an informational overload over the next few hours. Many things like red skies and extreme weather and all sorts of terrible things and innocuous things were filtered into his mind, and it could only hold so many of them. As ideas passed through his mind, they were either accepted or discarded: no boiling ocean, yes kraken, and the cracks in reality that Adam's very nature created spilled portents of the end times out into the world.
In the end, Aziraphale found absolutely nothing that would help with stopping Armageddon, there were certainly plenty of prophecies that seemed to relate to it, and little to none on how to stop it. He'd taken special note of the few mentions of riding and horsemen and the like, as those were most likely to be meaningful to them. Several likely would have been instrumental in discovering the Antichrist if said Antichrist weren't, in fact, sitting at the kitchen table with him at that moment.
"Seed of myne own undoing?" Aziraphale asked, curious.
"Not sure," Anathema admitted. "Well, I am sure, it would be the descendant of the man who put Agnes to the flames: Thou-shalt-not-commit-adultery Pulsifer."
"Oh. Newt?" Adam asked.
"Newt Pulsifer, he helps dad in his bookshop."
That was just one too many coincidences for the moment, and Anathema felt a bit of a pounding in her head, but she bit her lip after a moment. "Is he... nice?"
Aziraphale, who had continued his reading and had stumbled across the prophecy that no doubt made it very clear what Newt and Anathema would get up to. He cleared his throat and flushed. "Very... ah... generous," Aziraphale said.
Anathema flushed in response as well. "Well that's good."
They were in the midst of comparing notes on some of the more obvious end time prophecies when Adam gave his dad's shoulder a light poke. "Dad, I'm getting hungry."
"Oh, yes," Aziraphale said, realizing that it had been over eight hours since their last meal, and unlike Aziraphale, Adam had to eat. "Well, we can just--"
A soft tap on the door came first, followed by Crowley entering without even an if you please, and then holding up a rather excessively large paper bag. "Bull and Fiddle takeaway."
"You are a saint," Aziraphale said.
"Keep those slanders to yourself," Crowley answered. He did set the bag down and opened it up. "Book Girl," he said, looking up at Anathema. "You more of a light salad with light dressing and light flavor type, or fish and chips?"
"The fish," she answered, slightly rolling her eyes.
Crowley then set down a styrofoam container that Anathema opened to find steaming hot fish and crisp, hot chips. Adam received a cheeseburger (no ketchup, extra mustard), also with chips. Crowley had gotten Aziraphale a meat pie, and he took the salad for himself, not that he had any intention of eating it. He'd never developed the same knack for it as Aziraphale had and he certainly wasn't going to have the least decadent food served in the whole of Tadfield.
"I've never had takeaway that actually stayed... hot."
"One of Dad's tricks," Adam said, picking up a plastic knife and cutting the burger neatly into quarters before picking up one with a napkin.
"Find anything interesting?" he asked, pushing the salad toward Aziraphale, who took several bites of it over the course of his own meal while Crowley simply observed.
"Perhaps," his angel answered. "The main ones seem to be geological and meteorological phenomena, signs for identifying the Adversary, a few ah... prurient additions."
"I like the witch already," Crowley said with a wicked smirk.
"More than a few bits about the Horsemen, however."
Crowley perked up at that owing to the fact it was their major concern at the moment.
"It seems as though there's meant to be a second set of four?" Aziraphale looked to Anathema for confirmation.
She was ungracefully plowing into the fish and chips that were better cooked now than they were when Crowley had been given them at the pub a half hour ago. Just because he didn't much have the flare for food Aziraphale did didn't mean he lacked standards.
"We've never been able to sort that," she admitted. "But Agnes does make it seem like that: Four Horsemen and then four other riders. Our main hope is that it says Death will own his defeat. Does that mean the others defeat him? We don't know."
"One lives in hope," Aziraphale said, primly.
"I have to say, I can't help but feel you guys are taking this in fairly good graces. Most people don't even go in for end times stuff, and the ones who do are more focused on the fire and brimstone not... stopping it."
"What's brimstone?" Adam asked.
"Sulfur," Crowley answered. "And that's because we rather like the world."
That didn't really answer Anathema's question, but after a meal and another hour or two of comparing notes, Crowley drove Adam, Aziraphale, and Percy to Tadfield Manor and they all sat comfortably in the small sitting room shared by the two bedroom suite.
"When I was at the Bull and Fiddle there was mention of a kraken," Crowley said when they were finally all alone.
"Oh." Adam looked down at his hands, ashamed. "I think that might have been my fault? Anathema was talking about Atlantis and then Dad was talking about Mu and the Kraken and I think it just sort of... popped out."
Aziraphale and Crowley shared A Look.
"I'm sorry?" Adam offered.
His fathers sighed. This might be harder than they thought.
One more part to go! The next part is a bit less put together than the last three, but hopefully I'll post day after tomorrow at the latest.
In most ways, this wasn't Adam's fault; reality bent to his will without him even trying, with Percy by his side he had fully come into his own powers and that was enough to make the changes that he knew, in the back of his mind, signaled Armageddon. The skies darkened and bled red, weather festered and grew dark.
Aziraphale and Crowley were largely ignorant to these changes owing to the fact that they were up late getting plastered and discussing prophecies.
"I think it might have something to do with Them," Aziraphale said, meaning the four children who made up John Young's small posse in Tadfield. "They do love their bikes, and this... it makes it sound as though there will be a confrontation between a pair of four riders."
"So we round them up?" Crowley asked.
Aziraphale shook his head. "That's the trouble with prophecy, I'm afraid. Perhaps this is inevitable, the children will always make their way to wherever the world ending begins and perhaps they'll be there because we shoved all of them in the back of the Bentley and took them there ourselves."
"And Agnes says the world will start ending here, in Tadfield?"
"Yes, it is quite clear. That is why Anathema was here already, after all, and I do believe Newt may have some role to play in all this."
"Newt?" Crowley asked. "Why?"
"Well, if Agnes's prophecies are to be believed he and Anathema are destined to... swap fluids. I believe regardless of any personal feelings, Anathema will do so regardless."
Crowley took another long drink of his wine and frowned. "All that does is trade Her for someone else. Can't say I approve of being told how to live my life."
"No, I suppose not."
Azirphale glanced over to Crowley, and the demon looked back. He reached out and lightly placed his fingers against the glasses and tugged gently. Crowley closed his eyes, but otherwise allowed it, and after he felt them fall away from his eyes he blinked, opening his eyes slowly to see Aziraphale's fond smile.
"I will say," Aziraphale continued. "No matter what happens in all of this... this has very much been one of the best decades of my life."
Crowley sighed the sigh of a man who did not want to admit exactly how much he felt the same, and then shook his head, the fond smile that he had grown to cultivate over the last decade crept in soon after that. "If you'd told me all those years ago I was going to end up raising a child with you..."
"Precisely. And what sort of an angel falls in love with a demon?"
"The sort who had a demon in love with him for millennia," Crowley answered with a grumble.
There wasn't really anything more to be said, to be honest. Crowley put his head on Aziraphale's shoulder, his arms wrapped loosely around the angel's waist, Aziraphale threaded his fingers into Crowley's short hair and gently scratched his fingernails against his scalp. Aziraphale pressed his lips against Crowley's forehead and stayed there, eyes closed, breathing in the slightly fiery scent of the demon.
Crowley napped, Aziraphale simply left his eyes closed. In a small sense, he prayed. The Almighty hadn't answered one of his prayers in millennia, but he prayed regardless: Keep my son safe, keep Crowley safe, keep the world safe...
She listened, of course, She always did, but as ever this was up to Her creations, and so she waited.
Adam awoke early that morning, and after a quick breakfast down in one of the B&B common areas, the family took a long few moments to go over their options.
"Can I go play with Them?" Adam asked.
Neither of them could really think of a reason why the boy shouldn't be able to. Maybe they should have grounded the boy due to Armageddon but that seemed a little harsh, all told.
“Yes,” Aziraphale answered, finally, a few seconds later. “But if you feel even the smallest inkling towards the destruction of all creation... well, call your father.”
Crowley turned and gave Aziraphale his long-standing look of ‘really, Angel?’ but then nodded as well.
They considered their options, and after a several long minutes Crowley looked at his phone and sighed. “Warlock will be at the Fields of Megiddo in about an hour. That’s when Hell will know.”
“That he’s not the Antichrist?” Aziraphale asked, although he obviously knew the answer. “And from there?”
“Hastur and Ligur will probably try to kill me,” Crowley said, completely matter of fact.
“Discorporate?” Aziraphale questioned, hoping that was what Crowley meant.
“No... I won’t allow it.”
“You don’t really have much choice, Aziraphale,” Crowley answered. “Even if I didn’t mean to do it the way I did, that’s completely botched Armageddon, no self-respecting demon would cock it up this badly. It will rightly be seen as a betrayal of Hell and if you think She has a dim view on that sort of thing you wouldn’t want to hear what Hell thinks.”
The two of them shared a glance, and Aziraphale looked rather distressed at the whole thing. "What do you intend to do, then?"
"Fight," Crowley answered without any thought in the world. Of course that's what he'd intended. "Brought my backup plan and everything."
"The holy-- I'd thought that would be for you."
Crowley looked slightly abashed. "Well... I figured, toward the end, win or lose, things wouldn't exactly be... tickity-boo." He ignored that thought, and the face that the angel made in response, and then continued. "No demon would ever expect to go up against holy water when facing another demon," Crowley continued, rather reasonably. "They come for me... hopefully can get 'em both in one go."
Aziraphale looked positively sick to his stomach, if that were possible for an angel, but instead nodded. This was demons they were talking about, after all. He didn't much care to think about Crowley's work but the truth was it was most certainly not all puppies and rainbows.
Speaking of puppies, however, Percy was thoroughly enjoying playing fetch at the moment, surrounded by children who wanted nothing more than to ruffle each and every inch of him, and this was exactly the sort of thing a dog could go in for.
In many universes, Tadfield and The Them were quite the peculiar bunch. When John Young had been Adam Young, and the Adversary rather than Baby B, he had held in his heart a deep and abiding love for consistency. He had never known this consciously, but anyone who had been considering leaving the small Oxfordshire town suddenly decided that they'd rather not, anyone who had wished to make Changes found themselves deciding better of it, and when progress and those sorts of things started to come along they just somehow... stopped. All of that was to say that a slightly behind the times Oxfordshire village had stayed locked in a sort of perpetual innocence and youth for the eleven years the Adversary had been on the Earth. Or at least that was how it was in most realities.
In this universe, however, the Adversary had grown up in the thick of downtown London, with some structures older than Shakespeare and others blisteringly young and modern. Adam was instead a boy who frequently visited everywhere from the Globe Theater (his dads always seemed particularly mushy there, too) to the London Eye. Instead of burgers, ice cream, and little else, this Adam had experienced curry and Thai food and the Ritz. This Adam had experienced Bentleys that could go ninety miles and hour in Central London and Queen and Bach and most music in between. The Antichrist, not yet fully into his powers, could no more have held London in a globe of timelessness than any other impossible thing.
The truth was that after eleven years Adam absolutely never would have wanted to.
Two millennia ago, Adam's father had shown Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world to tempt him away from his celestial destiny; today, Adam hadn't seen them all, or even most of them, but the ones he had seen he rather liked.
All of that is to say that the relationship between the Antichrist, an accountant, a feminist, and a dirt magnet was quite different than the one between a slightly moody young man, an accountant, a feminist, and a dirt magnet. They still biked everywhere, they still caused trouble, they still got muddy and fought with sticks and ran through the woods, but it was no longer the relationship of a budding young Prince and three subjects, it was four friends, equal in their own ways, but all very different.
"We'd best have a really good day today," Adam said to them as they all took their turns playing fetch with Percy.
The four kids didn't know why this resonated so deeply with them, but it did, and so the five of them hopped onto their bikes and blazed through the many hills and back roads of Tadfield, Percy running along with them before finally being deposited in Pepper's bike basket.
None of them had exactly planned for Armageddon, after all, and Adam didn't know enough about Agnes's prophecies to know that one was set in motion to mention his father's book clerk, so they were all very surprised when Newt's car, Dick Turpin, rounded a corner, noticed five young kids biking along without a care in the world, swerved, and up-ended itself rather spectacularly in a matter of an instant.
They were near Jasmine Cottage, of course, because that was where they were all Meant To Be, and with the enthusiasm of a bunch of rowdy young pre-teens, they helped Newt to Jasmine Cottage. Adam did have some sense that that aspect was meant to be, after all. Anathema was not surprised to see any of them.
The five of them stood, a bit lost for what to do next, and for the first time Adam got a good, proper look at one of the many images Anathema had pinned to her board: an image of Satan, or perhaps Adam himself, horrible and evil and ugly in his wickedness. A few thread lines connected the image across several locations in Tadfield, and Adam just... stared.
Was that him? Was he supposed to be... that?
The universe punctuated the dark thoughts with a crash of thunder, and in that moment he felt a connection. A connection to Them. Not 'The Them', his friends of a decade, the Horsemen, Adam could feel them, could feel them latch onto him and tie themselves the way those lines of thread had and he could feel himself drawing them, pulling those threads towards himself even though he didn't want to.
He shook his head, trying to clear it, and he glanced over to where Pepper was looking at him, concerned.
It was at that moment that Hastur, and the Dowling family, were at Mediggo, and Hastur was Not Happy. As a demon it was not really his usual state to be happy, but he was particularly unhappy upon having realized that he'd been played. It was time for the Horsemen to be summoned, and even without wanting to, Adam did it.
’Let them come', the voice said. 'Take them in hand', 'rule them!!'
The hypnotic spell fell over him, pushed him, pushed his mind this way and that, 'rule them', 'you have the power', 'take it', 'this is yours!'.
Percy whimpered from beside him, and it was that that finally snapped Adam out of his daze, almost an hour having passed as he struggled to not summon the Horsemen, even as he knew he had.
He reached for the phone of Jasmine Cottage, dialed his father's phone number... and it went to voicemail.
Adam swallowed, hard. His father had never not picked up for him.
"Come on," he told his friends. "We need to not be here."
They made it only a short way down the road before another storm whipped up, and the five of them darted into 4 Hogback Lane, and Adam jammed his back against the wall. Percy in his lap.
"No, nonononono," he muttered, grabbing his head. The voices inside of his head continued to rage.
"Angel!" He screamed, as best he could, which was better than most owing to the fact he didn't actually need to breathe.
At that exactly moment, Aziraphale was having a rather nice discussion with Sister Mary Loquacious (nee Hodges) concerning her biscuit recipe. It was Satanic, in point of fact, but Aziraphale was still curious on the topic, until he heard Crowley scream for him.
So an angel and a formerly satanic nun dashed up to Crowley's two bedroom B&B suite only to find Hastur, the Duke of Hell, forcing Crowley closer to the door. Aziraphale had never really worked up to a good smiting, it wasn't really his area, more a Gabriel thing, but these were the sort of extenuation circumstances that forced an angel to try.
He managed about a three-quarters smite, all told, largely discorporating Hastur but not making a truly final blow about it.
"Crowley!" he shouted, coming to where the demon was struggling, only to realize that he was, actually, currently choking on more than a few remaining maggots from Hastur. An attempt to heal the affliction did little more than make Crowley gurgle and scream.
This was more than enough for Mary Hodges to lose more than a bit of nerve: a smiting, a pair of demons, and one of them appearing to be dying took a lot out of someone, even someone who had formerly dedicated themselves to Satan himself. She promptly passed out.
Crowley coughed, spitting out more than a few maggots across the floor as he did, and Aziraphale pressed his hand to Crowley's shoulder, holding him. "Hell knows."
"Hush," Aziraphale said, swallowing down a rather large lump in his throat.
"I will protect him with my life," Aziraphale answered, his eyes starting to water.
That was about when Crowley's mortal form finally gave out, having been gnawed into far too deeply by an exceptionally aggressive set of maggots. Aziraphale flicked his hand, smiting away the remains as best he could, and he hung his head. Discorporation was not something that happened to them... pretty much at all, they had both kept their bodies well tended for years...
If Crowley's essence, such as it was, ended up in Hell, he'd no doubt be there until the end of days, if not longer.
"I'm surprised, really," Crowley said, behind him, and Aziraphale wheeled, seeing no one there except Mary.
"Conveniently Satanic nun," the body that Crowley was wearing answered. "Basically ours already. Did you smite Hastur?!"
"Well of course I did," Aziraphale answered, primly. "He was trying to kill you!"
"Adam!" Crowley gasped.
"Yes, we'll need to see to him promptly."
"No he..." Crowley - or Sister Mary, really - got down on his knees and started fumbling around under the couch, hand reaching before he finally grabbed his phone. He sat, back against the couch. Trying to get his phone to work with unfamiliar fingers.
The text appeared moments later: I summoned them.
"Shit!" Crowley turned the phone to Aziraphale, who looked at the words there and gasped.
The two of them dashed down the stairs, intent on the Bentley, only to whip open the door and suddenly be buffeted by intense winds, slamming the door shut and gasping.
"That's... not good," Aziraphale said. "And you! You could have called earlier if you knew they were coming."
"I didn't want to get you involved," Crowley answered with a slight frown. "Better they not know we're involved. It was my screw up... but you smited Hastur a bit so..."
"I'm not sure he saw me," Aziraphale answered.
"Yes, because of course I'd be able to smite him," Crowley growled in response.
The two of them gave each other a rather tired look, but Crowley's was far less effective than usual owing to the strange face. With little to do other than wait for the weather to die down, Aziraphale cleaned up the mess (also known as two and a half demon corpses and some holy water).
Crowley tried to call Adam, only for John to be the one to pick up the phone.
“There’s something wrong with his head,” John explained.
Crowley bit down the reflexive: ‘I’ve always known that’. “Ask him if he knows where.”
In the background, the wind howled and he heard the kids trying to talk to his son, but they weren’t able to get a response. “Have him call me,” Crowley finally concluded, deciding he’d likely have to wait out the storm regardless.
While Newt and Anathema were across town in the midst of... interfacing, Aziraphale, Crowley, and Mary got to know each other a bit better considering Crowley was currently possessing her.
“Do you remember much about the night the Antichrist was delivered?” Aziraphale asked, still curious about that after so many years.
“He had lovely little toesy-woesies,” Mary answered, and then Crowley contorted her face in slight disgust.
“Oh, come on, Crowley. He did have cute toes.”
“Master Crowley handed me the child, of course, while he delivered the baby, and I switched them before giving him back the ambassador’s child.”
“Well that explains part of it,” Crowley continued. “That wasn’t the ambassador’s kid at all... but then I should have ended up with John.”
The three of them chatted a bit further, trying to untangle the whole thing, but ultimately it was a bit too tangled, and Crowley didn’t have all of the pieces, or even most of them. When the storm finally died down, and Crowley and Aziraphale were prepared to head off only for the phone to ring again. Adam.
"Adam, are you alright?" Crowley asked, more than a bit worried. He clicked the call over to speaker just so Aziraphale could listen in as well.
"No," his son answered, sounding absolutely miserable. "I didn't mean to, Dad. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to at all it just... got all so overwhelming."
"That's fine, son," Aziraphale said, calming and gentle voice hopefully getting that across. "They were going to be summoned regardless, but... we do need to know where they are going."
"The air base," Adam answered, almost immediately. "I feel like they're... making it bad."
Newt and Anathema were also coming to this conclusion at approximately the same time, and the two of them headed toward the air base in Dick Turpin.
Crowley and Aziraphale were farther away, but after a few more minutes on the phone with their son they hung up and headed toward the Bentley... but it wasn't there.
"Where the Heaven is my car?!" Crowley yelled, but he didn't have time to think about that. Mary tugged them toward the back garage and her motorcycle. "I appreciate a motorcycle, of course," Crowley continued. "But where. Is. My. Car?"
What Crowley did not know is that over the course of the last ten years he'd rather made a nuisance of himself to one R.P. Tyler. That wasn't true, Crowley knew, but the extent of it was truly the stuff of legends. After all, Crowley represented nearly everything that R.P. Tyler hated about the changes to Tadfield: gays with kids in his quiet town, blasting his music at all volumes through the center of town, and his son had most certainly torn up his flower bed on at least two occasions.
So, when given the opportunity, he encouraged his dog to take a rather purposeful piss on the Bentley's driver's side.
Objects like the Bentley, that had been exposed to Crowley for almost a century, had naturally taken on something of a life of their own. Just as no one could possibly steal from A.Z. Fell & Co., absolutely no one could do something as rude as pee on it and get away with it. So, despite the fact that it was desperately needed to get to Tadfield Airforce Base, or maybe because it was, the Bentley quite purposely through open its driver's door, and R.P. Tyler found himself and his dog compelled inside, and then locked in.
The Bentley then helpfully put on 'Don't Stop Me Now', and added just a little bit of a feel of infernal hellfire, before greatly appreciating the way R.P. Tyler screamed like a wuss as it blazed through Tadfield at far too many miles per hour. A quick change to 'I Love My Car' after that, and the Bentley began its blaze up toward Tadfield Airbase.
A quick miracle had Aziraphale and Crowley arcing across the sky on the way to their son.
"I feel like he should be grounded..." Aziraphale said. "Don't you?"
"Angel, if he stops Armageddon I'll forgive him pretty much anything."
"Dad?" Adam looked at Sister Mary. "Why are you two people?"
"It's complicated?" Crowley answered.
Crowley was then unceremoniously tugged out of Sister Mary, and it was good to be back in his old body without having to go through Hell, especially since Hell was probably not too fond of him at that moment.
"You... young people!" R.P. Tyler headed over to where the Four Horsemen were standing, squared off against Them. "You blasted goths and your hair and those motorcycles are not appropriate! Breaking into an airbase and causing this mess, you’re going to start World War 3!” He was, obviously, ignorant of the fact that was entirely the point. He continued his telling off while the Horsemen stood in stunned amazement. The telling off was truly exceptional, all told.
Toward the end, The Them giggled, and they were rounded on after that, with further telling off.
Unknown to any of them, Anathema and Newt continued to wrestle with what to do about the impending Armageddon, while Them accidentally squared themselves off to take on the Horsemen, one on one.
The tales of Pepper, Wensleydale, and Brian merit very little telling; most are already familiar with their triumphs: the three children held in their hearts a profound love of that which countered their adversary: Pepper had long been raised to value peace, Wensleydale to value a health and filling diet, and Brian despite his general mess still appreciated that the world itself should be clean.
But while the other three had these qualities that allowed them to counter the Horsemen, it was quite another thing to ask a regular, ordinary mortal to stand against Death, and yet John seemed determined to do exactly that.
Most would think, owing to John already being dead the once, just after his birth, he would be at a disadvantage in the matchup, but the truth was that such an occurrence actually meant that Death was rather on the back foot in the matter.
None of that is to say that John simply made a gesture and made it so, but he did stand up to Death with an amount of dignity most 11 year olds couldn’t quite muster.
“We don’t want this to end,” he explained, rather rationally he thought.
“There is nothing to be done,” Death answered. “Soon the rockets will fly and nothing will matter: you may defeat their avatars as many times as you wish, they will ever remain within the hearts of man.”
When the computers were shut down by Newt, and the missiles failed to fly, the feeling of foreboding lifted and all of them breathed a sigh of relief.
“Leave,” John reiterated. “We’re Adam’s friends, and we’ll be with him to the end of the world... but that’s not now.”
Death took his defeat with something akin to grace, leaving the ghostly presence of distant stars blazed into the back of every mind present.
Percy and The Them all piled against Adam, hugging each other tightly. “Thanks...” he whispered as they all finally started to feel it was over.
“Not yet,” Crowley said, breaking them apart with his words. “That took care of the mortal part, but both sides still want a war.”
“What happened to ‘can’t have a war without War’?” Adam grumbled. His dad tilted his head, confused, but both of them came up beside him, a hand on each of his shoulders.
“We’re with you to the end,” his father encouraged him.
Gabriel and Beelzebub arrived in manners suiting their natures, and the two of them immediately rounded on Adam.
“Young man, the war must restart.”
Adam, completely unimpressed, shook his head. “I’m not letting you make my dads fight.”
“You have but one father,” Beelzebub countered, her unimpressed gaze glancing between Crowley and Aziraphale. “These pathetic excuses for occult and ethereal beingzzz have no power compared to your father.”
Adam thought that might have been true, Satan was his dad’s boss if he thought about it. But that didn’t matter to Adam, and he shook his head. “But they are my fathers, not some pathetic excuse for a father who was never there.”
“You owe your father everything,” Beelezebub argued.
Adam laughed in the Lord of Hell’s face. “Maybe I owe him my life, existing, but that’s not everything by a long shot. He didn’t feed me, he didn’t teach me to read, he didn’t help me with my homework...”
Gabriel and Beelzebub both had no idea what homework was, and they exchanged a few confused looks.
“To deny your father is to deny your purpose,” Gabriel said, still confused.
Crowley rolled his eyes, but the effect was ruined by his sun glasses. “Not like my side doesn’t know about rebelling against a disappointed parent.”
God’s strength and the Prince of Hell left, Beelzebub promising his father would hear of the betrayal. Ultimately... stopping Armageddon didn't actually stop... well, his Dad.
Crowley tumbled as the ground shook. "Oh, that... that'll be his father, then."
"He's not my dad," Adam said, reaching a hand down and taking his father's hand in his. "How could he be?" He then reached out for Aziraphale as well, taking his hand while Aziraphale did his very best to look intimidating with a flaming sword. "You're my dads."
"It doesn't really... work like that," Crowley said, not wanting to burst his son's bubble, especially after how much he’d stood up to their superiors, but that was the truth. "I mean... yes, I wiped your ass more times than I can count and sung that ridiculous train songs, but..."
"No," Adam said, firmly, looking between his fathers, his real fathers. "I refuse. You're my dads."
The ground shook, Satan himself made an appearance, and Adam told him off with all of the might he could muster. And then... it was true. Aziraphale and Crowley were his dads, they always were, they had never not been, and Adam returned to where his fathers were standing, dumbstruck, and he took their hands in his.
"Can we go home?"
"Yes," Aziraphale said. "Let's do that."
One very traumatized R.P. Tyler and one equally traumatized dog found themselves sitting on a bench in central Tadfield with a box containing a crown, scales, and a sword, and since it was requested of him, he of course signed for them.
Adam slept in his own bed, Percy curled up beside him, while Aziraphale and Crowley got blisteringly drunk. Crowley got a call from Newt late into the evening informing him about a prophecy, and after a bit of back and forth with Anathema they had their plan in place for that.
An angel and a demon spent their Sunday morning in St. James's Park, a young man and a dog watching them from a careful and respectful distance. Reality no longer bent to his will, however, so he was forced to watch helplessly as his fathers were kidnapped, hoping against hope nothing too bad would happen.
An older woman sat beside him, and he was about to ask her to leave when he recognized Her.
"Are my dads going to be alright?" he asked.
She gave a nod, and a further smile. "They will be just fine."
"Why did you do all this?"
A radiant chuckle that warmed every inch of Adam followed, even the Hell Hound winced away just a bit from the radiance. "Just like your father, always asking questions."
"Well maybe if you answered some I wouldn't have to," he decided reasonably. "I don't see what's so bad about asking questions anyway."
His grandmother didn't answer, just looked out over the park. "Did you know, there are traditions that worship the Snake from the Garden?"
Adam shook his head.
"Well, if you look at it a certain way... he gave them every bit of knowledge they would need: the knowledge of right and wrong, and the rest logically would follow from that."
"Even knowing that, we still tend to muck up everything," he continued. The rainforest was built a bit back up, the ice caps a little less melty, but the changes that Adam had let leak out in the days before had largely begun to fade. "I would have liked to make it perfect... but I'm not sure it could be both: perfect and people, 'cuz you can't really have both."
"No you can't," She answered. "You can't even have angels and perfect."
"Are all the angels and demons like Gabriel and Beelazbub?"
His grandmother didn't answer for several long moments. "Mostly."
"I'll take Earth over that any day. Have you ever had a strawberry lolly?"
"I have not," She answered.
So the Almighty and the Antichrist walked through St. James's park with a pair of ice lollies and a Hell Hound.
"You never really asked anything for yourself," She said as they sat under a particularly comfortable tree.
"Well... it would be nice if the flat let us have pets?"
She smiled. "Of course." After that She chuckled as well. "When you see them, you tell your fathers I'm proud of them, and you as well."
"Right." Adam had little to no idea how momentous that was, so he just nodded a fairly innocent nod. "You know... it might be fun to have a little sister. Do you think my dads would mind?"
"Why don't you ask them?" She asked.
Adam resolved to do just that.
"You could have ruled the world, you know," the Almighty said after a long silence stretched between them.
"Nah," Adam answered. "I've got all the world I need. You could come for dinner sometime."
"I might," She answered, but they both knew it was a lie. "Heaven and Hell are changing, and so are your fathers. You have a long road ahead of you, Adam Crowley. Enjoy the rest of your summer."
After that, She was gone, and Adam stretched, letting his back pop before he gave Percy a scritch under the chin. "Let's go find my dads."
Both had just returned when he arrived at the ice cream stand, and the two of them wordlessly swapped ice creams before giving a little wave to Adam. He dashed over to both of them, and even though they still wore the wrong faces, he could tell them apart immediately.
"Home?" he asked.
"I had a nice talk with grandma while you were gone," he said as they walked toward the street to catch a cab.
"What?" Dad... well Anthony's body and Azra's mouth blurted out, shocked.
"Mmhmm!" Adam said, a bright grin on his face. "She said I could ask you for a baby sister!"
The pair of them exchanged a confused and a bit terrified glance before returning to their walk.
"And she's proud of both of you."
That stopped them both in their tracks. Aziraphale had always worried that he was too soft, too human, too empathetic with humans, and that he had done something terrible. Heaven had tried to destroy him for what he'd done. Crowley hadn't felt Her for millennia, and Hell had tried to destroy him for his crimes. He'd never been a very good demon, either... except for that bit with Eve. He loved an angel and the Antichrist.
The pair took far longer to recover, but they did eventually hail a cab, and if they switched seats on the ride home to their flat, the cabby certainly didn't mention it.
"You really want a sister?" Crowley asked.
"Or a brother," Adam decided. "But I think a sister would be better."
"Somehow I doubt this is one of those instances of 'God will provide'," Aziraphale added as they entered the building that housed their flat and called the lift. "But I don't see why not? We did so well with the last one."
Crowley shook his head. "Ok, yes, sure, fine. You can have a little sister."
When the three of them (and Percy) entered their flat, a fluffy cloud of a bassinet greeted them all, and a little baby with pale blonde hair and amber eyes waited. She also had fluffy silver wings.
Both angel and demon had doubted their son to some extent, the Almighty didn't exactly make house calls anymore, but as the two of them stood over the tiny little creature nestled softly on her pillowy cloud they glanced at each other. When Crowley picked her up, a blindingly white envelope rested underneath her.
Aziraphale picked it up and opened it.
To my sons, love Mom.
"Oh." Aziraphale swallowed the lump in his throat. He glanced over to Crowley and looked away, politely pretending that the demon wasn't crying.