Inside the recently-purchased English home, a desk drawer smashes against the wall. Splinters of wood rain down on the sofa and into the carpet. This is not a random break-in.
The home’s brand-new owner shivers in the kitchen chair he’s been tied into. He’s long since given up trying to cry for help – the gag in his mouth has choked his voice, and the violent presence in the room keeps him from removing it.
A knife stabs into the mattress, and the homeowner cringes. The invader searches inside then shouts a curse and throws the entire bed aside. There’s a murderous scowl on his face when he wheels on the homeowner.
“Where is it?” he demands. His voice is low and growling. He rips the gag from the homeowner’s mouth.
“I don’t know!”
“You’re lying,” the invader decides. He roughly grabs the older man’s jaw, and glares deeply into his eyes.
“I’m not,” Hamael assures him. “They moved it yesterday. They didn’t tell me where!”
The invader, a demon, searches for a lie in Hamael’s eyes. Evidently, he sees none. “Fuck,” he says, stalking away and raking a hand through his blood-red hair. Then, almost as abruptly, he spins back around. “Well, you’re an angel! You must have some idea where your side would take something so powerful.”
Hamael shakes his head insistently. “They don’t tell me anything,” he says. “I’ve never even been to Earth before. All they said was ‘buy the house, be there to watch the package for a few days, then someone will come take it off your hands.’ I did as I was told. That’s all!”
The demon grits his teeth.
Hamael tries to smile reassuringly, but it wobbles.
The demon skulks closer again. He plants a hand on the back of Hamael’s chair and looms over the trapped angel. “You had better not be lying to me, Hamael,” the demon warns. “Because if you are…”
“I’m not!” the angel gasps, leaning as far away as he can. “I swear!”
The demon tilts his head. “Well, then…maybe you can tell me this: what is Heaven doing moving a vial of Holy Oil on Earth? They only use that stuff for executing angels.” Behind his sunglasses, the demon’s yellow eyes narrow. “Who are they after?”
Hamael swallows. “I—I don’t know…” he lies.
“Could it, perhaps, be the angel Aziraphale?”
The demon grabs his knife and stomps back over, pressing the blade painfully against Hamael’s throat. The angel whimpers, dreading how he can possibly explain losing this body already. It’s only three days old! Oh, the paperwork…
“Tell the truth,” the demon snarls. “And I’ll let you go.” Except, Hamael was specifically ordered not to say…
“I…I can’t—but please! Please don’t discorporate me! I was ordered not to tell anyone who we were after! I’m just doing my job! You must understand that!” Despite his pleas, Hamael knows better than to expect mercy from a demon. He squeezes his eyes shut and flinches away, but the strike never comes.
His chair wobbles as the demon stands up.
Hamael peeks open one eye.
The room is empty. And the front door is hanging open.
Hamael blinks in surprise.
“Too much love will kill you. If you can't make up your mind.”
The Bentley tears down the quiet, backcountry street, blaring Queen at top volume. Crowley scowls out the windshield, his mind racing. Could this be it, then? Could Heaven really be smuggling Holy Oil on Earth to kill Aziraphale? Who else would they go to all the trouble for? After all, Holy Oil is not only dangerous, it’s also extremely difficult to procure. The only reason that Heaven would ever risk using it would be to kill an angel that is, perhaps, immune to Hellfire...
“Torn between the lover and the love you leave behind; you're headed for disaster.”
Doing 110, the Bentley rips by a sign that says, “You are leaving Kendal. Have a safe journey!”
It has been nearly five years since the Apocalypse-that-wasn’t. And not a peep from Heaven… But that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten – or forgiven. Crowley’s always suspected they would eventually look for revenge.
Maybe that time has come.
“'Cause you never read the signs. Too much love will kill you - every time.”
The restaurant pianist plucks at the keys, producing some over-flowery version of Claire de Lune that Aziraphale doesn’t particularly care for. For the tenth time in an hour, the angel checks his watch. It’s nearly a quarter-to-two. Crowley is late, as usual.
The angel huffs and sips at his wine, then turns to eye the paintings on the wall beside his table. Monochromatic whites, all feathery and clean. Aziraphale makes a face and shifts so he doesn’t have to look at the empty, colorless renderings of winged men. Too many bad memories.
All around him, the intimate white tables are occupied by couples in love. Near the bar, a young man in a clean, black suit kisses his date’s hand. The young man opposite him and leans over to peck him on the lips.
Aziraphale sighs and looks at his pocket watch again.
Across from him, the table rattles as Crowley suddenly slides into his chair.
“Oh!” Aziraphale sits up, eyebrows hitting the ceiling. Unbeknownst to the angel, Crowley has miracled himself out of his roughed-up, house-invader clothes, which explains how he was able to drive all the way from Kendal to London in time for their lunch, while also looking rather dashing in his slinkiest black suit. “And where have you been?” Aziraphale asks, handing Crowley a menu, which he quickly discards. “You’re nearly an hour late!”
“Yeah, sorry,” Crowley says. He picks up the bottle of wine Aziraphale ordered and gives it a sniff, then pours himself a tall glassful. “I was doing things.”
“Things,” Aziraphale repeats, a bit miffed.
See, Aziraphale doesn’t know about the Holy Oil. The only reason Crowley knows about it is because he’s Crowley – he has connections—shady ones—and he hears things. And before you ask, no, he isn’t lying to Aziraphale, per se, more like…avoiding the subject. He does plan to tell him eventually…but Crowley would prefer to break such terrifying news as that to his friend after he actually knows where the Holy Oil is.
Better than saying “Hey, Aziraphale. Here’s a fun fact: there’s a vial of Holy Oil floating around somewhere on Earth. It could completely destroy you faster than you could say ‘Oscar Wilde’ and I’m fairly certain Heaven wants to use it to kill you. AND I have no idea where it is! Lunch?”
“Well, I hope you haven’t gotten yourself too tired out from all your things,” Aziraphale says, perhaps a bit uppity – not that Crowley minds. He sort of likes mouthy Aziraphale. “I need to ask you a question.”
Crowley is working very hard to put the Holy Oil situation out of his mind. He can’t do any more until he gets another lead anyway. “Really,” he says, leaning his chin into his hand and watching Aziraphale expectantly.
“Well, I was thinking of attending a wedding,” Aziraphale says, perhaps somewhat shyly. “And I would very much like it if you accompanied me.”
“A wedding?” Crowley says, twisting up his face. “Whose wedding?”
“Oh, a human friend of mine is getting married tomorrow,” Aziraphale says, doing very little to clear up Crowley’s confusion.
“You have a human friend?”
Aziraphale sighs impatiently. “He’s another bookseller working out of Soho. We compare notes and leads on rare books. You’re missing the point, Crowley! I’m asking you to go with me!”
“To a…wedding.” Crowley pauses, thinking it over. “I don’t know if I’m really the wedding type, angel,” he says after a moment.
“Oh, of course, you are! There’ll be music, and dancing, and—” But at Crowley’s skeptical frown, Aziraphale stops and tries to reign in his enthusiasm. “But, erm, you don’t have to…if you’re…busy, of course. With things.” He awkwardly sips his wine and pointedly doesn’t make eye contact.
Crowley tilts his head sympathetically and sticks out his lower lip. “Oh, all right,” he relents, and Aziraphale’s eyes light up.
“Yeah, sure,” Crowley mutters, picking his menu back up. “There’s usually an open bar at these things anyway.”
After seeing Aziraphale home that night, Crowley gets word of the Holy Oil being transported again – this time in Cambridge. It’s getting closer. They’re getting closer.
He does 120 miles per hour the whole trip, dodging other cars and miracling the police off his tail. He won’t be late this time. He can’t afford to let the Holy Oil get to London, so it has to be tonight.
Besides, he thinks, pressing even harder on the accelerator, I’ve got a wedding in the morning.
His source—a lazy, disloyal demon named Borod who likes to get paid in expensive alcohols (Crowley can sort of respect this guy)—tells him that the Holy Oil is kept in a flat in central Cambridge. He sends the address to Crowley telepathically, and it’s easy enough to find. Although it’s supposed to be heavily guarded.
He puts the Bentley in park outside the high-rise building. In the night, it looks like a towering obelisk dotted with lit windows. Even from here, he can feel the angelic power emanating from inside – like a throbbing migraine. Crowley doesn’t have a plan for getting past the guards until he sees the young woman walking down the street.
She’s petite, with dark-auburn hair and a tight, black dress. Her handbag is black leather and the cigarette that hangs from her lips is glowing faintly in the dark like a demonic eye.
Crowley slips out of the car and waves his hand to lock it.
“Scuse me, love,” he says, jogging to catch up to her. She turns and flashes an acid frown. Probably, she’s used to being approached by strange men on her nightly walks home and has developed a viper-like reaction to them.
Works for him.
“What?” she hisses.
Crowley snaps his fingers and her face goes slack. She drops both her handbag and her cigarette, which promptly rolls into the gutter. Admittedly, Crowley feels more than a little dirty doing this. He’s never liked possessing humans. Ever since the Beginning, he hasn’t felt like he had the right to just…waltz into their bodies and take over.
Although, you know what they say – desperate times and all that.
Crowley lays a hand on the woman’s shoulder and says, “Sorry about this, but I need a ride. I won’t get a scratch on it, promise.” Then, fazes out of his body and into hers.
There’s a faint thud just as he transfers – the sound of his real body hitting the pavement. It’s a custom model, straight from Hell’s best designers, and doesn’t have a real consciousness. Therefore, when he smokes out, it collapses like a sack of potatoes.
Crowley, inside of Stacey—which is the unfortunate young woman’s name—looks down at his crumpled body and lets out a low whistle. It sounds funny coming from her throat.
“Oof,” he says. “Face-down in the gutter. Not a very becoming position…thank Whoever Aziraphale didn’t see that…” Crowley-Stacey pulls his body against the side of the building and casts a protective spell over it so no one will bother with it.
That done, the last thing Crowley does is stoop down and slide the sunglasses off his face. He places them over Stacey’s eyes, more out of habit than necessity.
“All right, Stacey,” he says to female human quietly dozing in the back of his mind. “How do we feel about a little breaking and entering this evening?”
The front door of the building is magnetically locked with a passcode, and while he could miracle the door open, it’s much safer to keep the demonic energy in the low-zone for the time being. Angels and all that.
Instead, he goes around to the back and kicks the door in the old-fashioned way. It breaks one of Stacey’s black pumps, but he was planning to take them off anyway. Crowley likes a good pair of heels as much as the next person, but they’re not exactly good in a fight. He tosses the strappy shoes onto the concrete and saunters into the building barefoot.
He comes in through a gross backroom filled with boxes and storage crates and cobwebs. It smells like mildew and lemon floor cleaner. The lobby is straight ahead, a big square room with clean tile floors and easy listening pumping through the radio.
Taking the lift to the fifth floor is easy-peasy – there are no angelic guards downstairs at all. However, the weight of their Grace grows heavier with every passing floor, like the air is getting thicker. And smells vaguely of lilac.
The lift doors slide open to reveal two very proper-looking men in white suits. They look up in surprise. Evidently, the angels weren’t expecting visitors.
Crowley smiles. “Hell-o, guys,” he says, his voice coming out low and sultry, and feminine. Not gonna lie, he’s sort of digging it. Before they can raise the alarm, he thrusts out a hand, knocking them out. They’re angels, so they won’t stay asleep for long.
Crowley pads by them, stepping over arms and legs, and struggles to keep his skin-tight dress from riding up.
515 is the address. Crowley scans each door as he passes.
501, 503, 505…
He hangs a right.
510, 512, 514…
One more turn and – there. At the end of the hall, framed by two ceiling-height lamps. A pure-white door marked 515.
Crowley swallows and inwardly assures Stacey that she’ll be fine. Demon’s honor.
Still, he braces himself as he gets closer.
The door isn’t locked, probably because of all the angels coming and going. It creaks open softly and Crowley pokes his head in.
He finds himself in a posh, sparsely-decorated flat. The lights are off and, by the overwhelming smell of paint, he’d say the place was just renovated recently.
Quietly, he shuts the door and tip-toes behind a tall moving-box. Thankfully, Stacey is rather short, so he doesn’t have to hunch too much to be hidden. From an adjacent room, he can hear the angels talking, but it doesn’t sound like they’re terribly busy guarding anything.
“Well, did you hear what Hamael said?” one of them is saying.
“What, about the demon?” another says, snorting. “So, there’s one demon looking for the Oil. Who cares? It’ll be six against one if it ever shows up. I think we’ll manage.”
“Still…I say it’s trouble.”
“Oh, you’re too nervous. Earth isn’t as scary as they make it out to be Upstairs. I’ve been down here for almost four weeks now. No problem.”
Crowley frowns to himself and carefully lays his hand on the wall, trying to sense where the Oil is being kept. He’s never actually encountered Holy Oil before, so he isn’t sure what it’s meant to feel like, but he’ll probably know it when he senses it.
Problem is, he’s so focused on sensing unusual energies that he doesn’t notice the two very usual energies coming up the lift.
“What is this!” a voice from the hall demands.
Crowley startles, spinning around just as a new pair of angels bursts into the flat. He flattens against the moving box and holds his breath.
“Ophiel! Maliel! Get out here now!”
A door slams open and the two angels in the other room come rushing out. “Oriel,” one of the angels, Ophiel, says. “What’s happened?”
“The two we stationed in the hall are unconscious,” Oriel says grimly. “I fear we may have an intruder.”
“The demon!” Maliel says. “The who attacked Hamael.”
“Perhaps,” Oriel says. “Ophiel, you, Sariel, and I will search the flat. Maliel, fall back to the Oil. Guard it with your life.”
Maliel, a very stricken-looking angel, nods anxiously. “Yes, sir.”
As the other three angels take off in various directions, Crowley watches from the shadows as Maliel scurries into a nearby room and shuts the door behind him. Crowley waits until the other three have wandered away before leaving the safety of his cover.
Now, he has two choices. Either, he could do the safe thing and evacuate before he’s found… Or, he could go after Maliel and try to secure the Oil.
Here’s the thing – Crowley has spent weeks trying to find the Oil, and if he doesn’t get it, Aziraphale could be in serious danger. Plus, Crowley’s never been known to do the smart thing.
He darts after Maliel, using all the low-grade demonic miracles he can muster to keep himself hidden without causing too much of a power disturbance.
The room is fairly dark and empty, not exactly what Crowley was imagining when he pictured the Super-Secret Hiding Place for the most dangerous substance in all of Creation.
Maliel paces nervously, wringing his hands.
Behind him, on a low coffee table, is a dark-red vase sealed with a cork.
The energy radiating off of it is enough to give Crowley a headache. He can actually see the aura flowing around it like heat-waves in July.
Crowley flicks his borrowed wrist and Maliel sinks to the floor, unconscious. The demon can’t help but think that this is going too smoothly, but he refuses to let that make him nervous. He inches forward, fighting off the pounding migraine, and carefully reaches out to the vase.
The glass, alone, is hot to the touch. Crowley hisses and peers around. There’s an open box tucked in the corner containing curtains and window blinds. Crowley grabs a handful of grey curtains and wraps the Oil inside, just to make carrying it bearable.
It’s a surreal feeling, holding a container of Holy Oil. Under normal circumstances, the thought of a demon with this kind of weapon would be nightmare-inducing, but this particular demon isn’t taking the Oil for selfish or threatening reasons.
It’s quite the opposite, in fact. He’s taking it out of the hands of those who would use it for killing.
Slipping the Oil under his arm, Crowley sneaks back through the flat and out the open front door. Much to his despair, the pair of guards he knocked out are waking up now, sitting up and blinking owlishly. He grimaces, feeling the weight of all the miracles it’s taken to get him this far on top of the draining aura of the Oil, pressed into his ribs.
He isn’t sure he has enough energy to knock the angels out again.
And then something even worse happens.
Crowley’s heart jumps. He whirls around.
The main angel, Oriel, has spotted him. He calls for the others, who come swarming in seconds later, including the two outside, who block Crowley in. Within moments, he’s trapped in the doorway, surrounded by six very angry angels. Crowley straightens up and offers a tense smile.
“State your name, demon,” Oriel says threateningly. A white sword has materialized in his hand, glowing like a torch. Celestial steel. One cut with that is all it takes to seriously maim a demon. Any more would kill him.
Crowley doesn’t speak. His mind—and his heart—is racing.
“Put the vase down,” Oriel commands. “You’re in over your head with this, demon. Do you know what that is?”
“Holy Oil,” Crowley says, and Oriel nods, but he does look perturbed that any demon would be so brazen as to knowingly do something so insane as to steal what is essentially the occult/ethereal version of a bomb. Not even a bomb. A super bomb. A nuclear grenade. “Yes, I know exactly what it is,” Crowley continues, keeping his voice calmer than the rest of him. “And I know enough that if I were to, say, ignite this very, very dangerous vase – that it would completely obliterate every non-earth entity in this entire building. You included, Oriel.” He stares directly into the angel’s eyes and Oriel swallows visibly.
“Now…” Oriel looks at his friends. “There’s no reason to—”
“Oh, I think there’s every reason,” Crowley cuts in. “Back. Off,” he says. “Or I’ll destroy us all.”
“You’re bluffing!” one of the other angels says. “You would kill yourself!”
Crowley turns an evil eye on the interrupting angel, and just to make it very, painfully clear that he is not bluffing, Crowley lifts his hand, which erupts into flames. “Who says I care what happens to me?” he growls. This, coupled with Crowley’s best Demon Voice, makes the angel rethink his earlier statement and take an uneasy step backwards. “So, there’s your choice, fellas. Leave me alone, or die here. Right now.”
Oriel grimaces. “What do you want with it?” he asks, eyeing the vase regretfully.
“Absolutely nothing,” Crowley assures him. “It just happens to pose a threat to the way of life on my turf, and I can’t have that. You understand.”
There are a series of bobbing heads and Crowley wants to roll his eyes, among other things.
“All right, then,” he says, backing out of the flat with his deadly prize. “I’m going. Enjoy the paperwork, guys.” He slams the door behind him.
Crowley stores the Holy Oil in the boot of his car before returning for his body. He finds it just where he left it, slumped against a wall with a rat sniffing curiously at his pant leg. It screeches and scurries away when the real Crowley swaggers by, darkening the alley with his shadow.
He takes the sunglasses off Stacey’s face and tucks them into his blazer pocket, then touches the top of his hair. Possessing a body feels a bit like going down a tube slide. Everything goes dark and there’s an undeniable falling sensation (which he greatly dislikes) and then BAM! New body. Feeling slightly queasy.
Stacey falls down after he transfers, landing squarely on her bum. She blinks, staring straight ahead in a drowsy daze.
“See,” Crowley says, coming back to himself. He puts his glasses on and tiredly climbs to his feet. “Told you you’d be fine.” He offers her a hand.
She cringes and scrambles back, staring at him like he’s Satan himself. Sorry, love, not quite. “What the fuck are you!”
Crowley thinks about it for a moment. “Good question, actually,” he says thoughtfully. “Normally, I’d just say demon but considering how much Hell hates, I’m not sure if the term really applies anymore. Bit like calling yourself Christian if the Pope is your worst enemy, right? Plus, my best friend is an angel, so…” He sniffs and gives half a shrug, ignoring Stacey’s wide-eyed alarm. “I don’t know. Aardvark?”
“Holy shit,” she gasps, then turns and flees as fast as she can.
“Oh, hey!” Crowley calls after her. “Your shoes are over—they’re over he—oh, whatever.” He turns and marches back to the Bentley, too tired to care anymore. Sliding into the driver’s seat, he seriously contemplates relaxing for a moment before the drive back to London, but with all those pissed-off angels upstairs, he’d better not risk it.
Throwing the Bentley in drive, he hits the accelerator and peels onto the road, doing his best not to think about the fact that there is a gallon of flammable Holy Oil in the boot…
Aziraphale has a problem.
See, while Crowley is busy securing the Holy Oil, Aziraphale is dealing with a problem perhaps of less immediate importance, but which is equally emotionally distressing. The problem in question: Crowley. Or, rather, the waves of anxiety that were rolling off him during lunch.
Angels can sense that sort of thing, you know. Strong emotions, be they positive or negative.
Ever since the Armageddon-that-wasn’t, things have changed between the two of them. Crowley seems more…well, not relaxed, because he’s always been fairly cool, but maybe informal is the better word. Codewords, alternative rendezvous, and general discomfort are things of the past. Crowley frequently shows up to the bookstore with a bottle of wine just for a visit. He throws himself in his favorite chair, kicks up his feet, and they spend all night just talking. About nothing, or anything, or everything.
The exact thing Aziraphale never knew he needed…
But the last several weeks, Crowley hasn’t been himself. He’s been distant, preoccupied, not exactly like he’s watching the clock, but more like sitting still makes him nervous. It’s almost like it was before, and that makes Aziraphale more frightened than he’d like to admit. Even at lunch, just today, there was something on his mind that he wouldn’t share. Things, he said. He was busy with things.
On the desk in front of Aziraphale, tucked under the corner of his angel mug, is the crisp, white wedding invitation that Tom sent him. The angels slides it out and examines the cover, all a-sparkle with glitter and printed with a big, pink banner and little, cartoon doves holding it aloft. It’s sweet, Aziraphale has decided. If a bit juvenile.
He flips it over.
“Bring a guest,” the card says happily. Below it is a black-and-white photo of Tom and his fiancée, Estelle. They look deliriously happy.
Aziraphale sighs and places the card under the mug again, then gets up to catch the kettle before it whistles.
Whatever is troubling Crowley, he decides, pouring the tea, I just hope he’s able to work it out soon…
Crowley trudges into his flat.
The houseplants shiver as he nears, but he pays them no mind. He’s so exhausted he could sleep for a decade, and demons don’t even need sleep. Damned Holy Oil. Damned angels. Damned miracles draining him like this…
He puts the vase in his safe, the one hidden behind the Mona Lisa, then stumbles into his bedroom. The lights are off already and he doesn’t bother turning them on, nor does he change into pajamas, or even pull back the covers.
Crowley collapses on top of his bed, his face smooshing into the Egyptian Cotton pillowcases, and lets his eyes fall shut.
I hate Holy Oil, he decides as he dozes off. And then, Shit. I’m going to have to buy it its own flat if I can’t find something else to do with it. He moans and burrows deeper into the pillows, pulling one over his head to try and smother the pulse, pulse, pulse of the Oil’s power flowing through his head.
But that’s a job for tomorrow, he decides, allowing himself to feel just a little satisfied at a job well done. Of course, it isn’t really done until the Oil has been disposed of…somehow. Or maybe next week. Whenever I wake up…
Aziraphale is beginning to get tired of checking his watch.
The wedding starts in twenty minutes and Crowley is nowhere to be seen. He’s already tried calling a dozen times, but no answer. Which is highly irregular. Aziraphale has half a mind to pop across town and give Crowley a piece of his mind, but he decides to try and call one more time.
“Excuse me,” he tells Andrew—Tom’s younger brother, who is about twenty minutes into a length description of some film—and slips away into the house. Tom’s mother’s phone is one of those blasted modern devices with a tiny dial pad and a screen to show you who’s calling. Aziraphale sniffs in distaste and miracles up a proper telephone in the bathroom. He sits primly on top of the toilet and dial’s Crowley’s number.
It rings and rings and rings, and Aziraphale is certain he’s going to get voicemail again. Blasted Crowley. It’s one thing to outright reject his invitation, but to accept and then stand him up! How rude!
“Hi—” Crowley’s voice says and Aziraphale frowns. He opens his mouth to leave a very specific message on the machine, but then—“Hello? Aziraphale, that you?”
The angel blinks. “Crowley?”
“Yeah.” There’s sleep in his friend’s voice, which should maybe be frustrating—the thought of his friend sleeping through the wedding—but it isn’t, oddly enough.
“Are you all right, Crowley?”
“M’fine.” He clears his throat, sounding oddly exhausted. “So, ah, what time is this…wedding thing, ‘cause I’ve got something really, very important on today.”
“Important?” Aziraphale asks innocently, ignoring a very insistent knock on the bathroom door. “Like what?”
Crowley hesitates. Now should be the perfect time to tell Aziraphale everything. He’s got the Holy Oil in his possession, the angels never even figured out his identity, and he’ll hopefully have figured out a safe way of destroying it by the end of the day. And there’s the whole nasty problem wrapped up in a big, red bow.
And yet he holds his tongue. “Ah, you know…” he says lamely. “Things.”
“Things,” Aziraphale says. If Crowley didn’t know better, he’d almost say Aziraphale sounded angry in the way that only Aziraphale can sound: light, like he doesn’t care, and a little disappointed. Crowley hates that tone; hates the way it tugs on his heartstrings. Hates it.
“Well, actually, angel,” he blurts out. “Um…there’s been something…going on lately, and I’ve somewhat avoided telling you about it, but…”
“Yes?” Aziraphale urges.
“Ahh…” Crowley’s eyes slide over to the Mona Lisa. A shiver prickles up his spine at the red-hot power seeping through the vault door. It makes his head spin. His almost 12-hour nap did nothing to help his bone-deep exhaustion. “I’ll tell you when I see you, all right? What time is this wedding?”
“Oh, erm…” There’s a pause. “It’s now, actually.” Aziraphale waits for a reaction, but the line is silent. “Crowley?” he asks, frowning. But then the phone is plucked from his hand, and the angel jumps.
“Really, angel,” Crowley says, snapping his fingers and making the antique phone vanish. “You shouldn’t hog the lou. It’s rude.”
Aziraphale jumps up, beaming. “Crowley!”
The demon is dressed, looking striking as usual—if a little groggy—in a surprising choice of outfit. With his white suit jacket and dark trousers, he looks a bit like James Bond. Aziraphale has never been one for action films, but he knows Crowley loves them—especially Bond—so the resemblance isn’t the least bit surprising. Although it is, admittedly, becoming…in a secret-agent sort of way.
“Ready?” Crowley says, gesturing to the door.
Aziraphale swallows, a bit red in the face, and says, “Yes,” in the most dignified tone he can manage. Crowley throws open the door and there’s Tom, gaping at the two of them.
“Scuse us,” Crowley says flatly, shouldering past him.
The ceremony is short and sweet. It’s set outside in an abnormally-sunny English field, as if Tom ordered up the nice weather especially for today. And although Crowley sits halfway sunk in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest, sunglasses on the entire time (obviously), Aziraphale can tell he enjoys watching it. However, it does raise a few questions for him.
“What’s the point?” Crowley asks about halfway through Tom’s vows. “Humans live such short, unpredictable lives, and yet they promise to spend eternity with each other.” He doesn’t look nearly as disgusted as he sounds, mostly just curious. “Why would they go through the effort of promising eternity to someone knowing they’ll either end up dead or heartbroken at the end? Assuming the marriage is even successful.”
Aziraphale looks at him out of the corner of his eye. “Oh, my dear, always the romantic.”
Crowley gives him a serpentine smile and says, “My point is: why even go through with it? They’re mortal. Aren’t they…scared?”
“Of their spouse dying, or dying themselves and leaving their beloved behind?” Crowley frowns straight ahead, and his brow is pinched above his sunglasses. “Just seems like a lot of heartache for no good reason.”
Aziraphale thinks about it for a while. He has to admit that Crowley has a point. For a mortal being to promise their heart and soul to another mortal is incredibly risky…and incredibly brave. Aziraphale has never been mortal, so he can only guess at their reasoning, but he rather thinks it might have something to do with loneliness.
“I suppose when you live such a short life, the idea of spending it alone is not a pleasant one,” he says thoughtfully. “Humans are social creatures, after all, and beyond mating—which doesn’t strictly require matrimony—I suppose they marry in order to feel…wanted. Loved.” He smiles at Crowley, who doesn’t move, but does make a low humming sound like something Aziraphale said struck a chord in him.
“I guess,” Crowley relents, and even though he sounds irritated and cynical, Aziraphale likes to think he understands. There was a time when the angel assumed Crowley, like all demons, was not capable of feeling love. Of course, he knew Crowley understood the concept – after all, he had been an angel once – but only in theory.
Now, he’s fairly confident that Heaven is wrong on that account. Demons—or at least Crowley—are most certainly capable of love, if given the opportunity.
“I do,” Tom says, smiling at his new wife.
There is an explosion of cheers and confetti being thrown into the air. Aziraphale claps madly along with the rest, and nudges Crowley’s ribs so he will join in.
“It’s done, then?” Crowley surmises lazily. “The mortals are bound, heart and soul, till death do they part?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “Now all that’s left is the reception.”
“The…after party,” Aziraphale clarifies, rolling his eyes when Crowley makes a delighted noise and gets up to follow the crowd.
The reception is held in a dance hall not far from the field. There’s music, food, dancing, and copious amounts of alcohol. The lights have been turned low and purple strobe lights swing around the dance floor, littering it with stars and hearts while Tom and his wife slow dance to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.
Off in the corner, Aziraphale and Crowley stand very close together watching the party from a comfortable distance, swaying to the music, despite themselves. Aziraphale has a paper plate of hor d’oeuvres and is smiling softly at the young couple as they twirl. Beside him, Crowley sips his wine and watches Aziraphale smile.
“Penny for your thoughts,” the demon says after a while.
Aziraphale glances at him like he forgot he was there. “Oh,” he says, flushing. “I was just thinking they look happy.”
“Hmm.” Crowley nicks a deviled egg off the angel’s plate and pops it into his mouth. “They do,” he agrees. “Just hope it lasts…”
“So, what was that very important thing you’ve been avoiding telling me?” Aziraphale finally asks. He turns to Crowley expectantly, chewing on an olive.
Crowley looks at the dance floor. “Holy Oil,” he says.
Aziraphale is silent, and utterly still. “What?” he asks.
“Heaven was moving a container of Holy Oil here, in England. I’ve been tracking it for the last several weeks, trying to intercept it—”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale gasps, throwing his plate onto the table near them. He is horrified. “Holy Oil? Have you lost your mind! Do you have any idea how dangerous—”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.” Crowley gives him a stern look, and Aziraphale quiets down. Though he doesn’t look happy. “They were after you, angel,” he says, somewhat softer than before. “I’m almost sure.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me?” Aziraphale insists, touching Crowley’s arm. “Doing something like that: tracking angel movements, getting near Holy Oil…it’s utterly mad, but we could have done it together.”
Crowley licks his lips and tries to think of a way to explain it without including the fact that he preferred to do it alone because he couldn’t bare to risk Aziraphale’s life. “They were after you, angel,” he reminds him. “Bringing you along just seemed counter-productive.”
“But you could have been destroyed!” Aziraphale repeats, growing more upset rather than reassured.
“Well, I wasn’t,” Crowley says. “And I’ve got the Oil in a safe place. Heaven will need a good, long while before they’re able to find more.”
Aziraphale still doesn’t look pleased. “What will you…do with it?” he asks.
“Not sure yet. It’s not exactly easy to get rid of…”
“I’ll help you,” the angel volunteers.
Crowley doesn’t like it. If he had his way, Aziraphale would never get within 10 miles of the Holy Oil, but he can’t deny him everything. He’s already distressed enough knowing that Crowley kept this from him for all this time. Saying ‘no’ now would be a big mistake.
“Fine,” Crowley relents. “We’ll do it tonight. I want that bloody vase out of my flat ASAP.”
An hour later, Crowley and Aziraphale are standing in the demon’s office, way, way back from the Mona Lisa. The mysterious, Italian woman seems to shiver in waves of a powerful, crimson aura.
“For something Holy, it has an awful energy,” Aziraphale comments. He looks about as uncomfortable as Crowley feels.
Crowley grunts. “Tell me about it.” His hands still ache from holding it last night. “So,” he says. “What the Heaven are we going to do with it?”
“Holy Oil isn’t particularly dangerous to humans,” Aziraphale says. “Perhaps we could get a human to move it.”
“A human.” Crowley looks at him disapprovingly. “You want to trust the most dangerous substance in all of Creation to a human? Come on, angel, I like the little numbskulls as much as you do, but they can barely keep it together on a good day. Give a person something like this—” He gestures to the painting. “—and they could start World War III.”
“I know they can be rather…unpredictable, but not all humans are power-hungry!” Aziraphale argues, if a bit weakly. “We certainly met a few good ones during Armageddon. Adam—”
“The Antichrist.” Crowley reminds him. “No offense. He did well against his father, but I wouldn’t give that boy a water gun, let alone Holy Oil.”
“Well, what about Anathema Device? Sensible young woman. Intelligent, capable—”
“Moved back to America with that Pulsifer boy, playing house, or so I hear. Apparently, she wants nothing more to do with the occult. That includes us.”
Aziraphale thinks for a few more moments before opening his mouth.
“If you’re going to say Sergeant Shadwell, I will kick you out of my flat.”
Aziraphale closes his mouth. “Well, what would you have us do with it?”
Crowley grimaces at the vault. “I don’t know,” he says. “It needs to be hidden somewhere no one will find it.”
“Bottom of the ocean?” Aziraphale suggests.
“Too unpredictable. One false tsunami and the Oil washes up in Hawaii or something.”
“Well…” The angel chews his lip as a thought occurs to him. “There is one place I may know of…”
“A storage facility in Berlin. Very secure. Guarded 24/7 by German military. It’s enormous, contains all sorts of artifacts and priceless relics. Very rarely does anyone ever go inside and everything is kept in locked crates. If we manage to the Oil in, it’s possible no one will ever even notice it. Plus, we’d be able to keep an eye on it.”
“How do you know about this place?” Crowley asks, intrigued.
“I learned of it during the second world war,” Aziraphale tells him. “While I was working undercover.”
“You mean the time you were working for the Nazis?”
Aziraphale huffs. “I didn’t know they were Nazis!”
Crowley grins at him, and gives his plan a thought. “Could work,” he says. “Certainly better than anything I’ve got.” He nods, his mind made up. “All right. Come on, let’s get this blasted thing out of my house.”
“Ow, ow, ow, ow!” Crowley complains, laying the Oil as gently as he can in the Bentley’s boot without dropping it. Aziraphale follows him, grimacing with every pained noise his friend makes.
“I could have helped you!” the angel argues.
“It’s fine,” Crowley says, slamming the boot shut. He waves his hands in the air, blowing on them. Concerningly, they steam a bit. “The Oil is draining, but it’s especially bad for angels, you know that. I’m already exhausted from yesterday. One of us needs to be strong in case we find ourselves in trouble,” he reasons.
It makes sense. Holy Oil is the equivalent to Holy Water for angels. Just add fire and ta-da, one very dead angel – but that doesn’t mean Aziraphale has to like it. As Crowley slides into the driver’s seat, Aziraphale goes around to the other side and gets in.
Crowley winces when he touches the steering wheel, but it’s obvious he doesn’t plan to do anything about it until Aziraphale taps his wrist. He looks at the angel, who is holding out his hand.
“Let me see,” he says.
Crowley frowns. “Leave it, angel. I have definitely had much, much worse.”
“Crowley.” Aziraphale wiggles his fingers, a “come here” gesture.
“Seriously, I have had paper cuts that hurt worse.”
Aziraphale raises his eyebrows.
Behind his sunglasses, Crowley rolls his eyes and mutters, “Mother hen,” under his breath. He gives Aziraphale his hands reluctantly and stares out the window the entire time they’re being healed.
“There,” the angel says, satisfied. “Honestly, Crowley, I don’t understand why you get so embarrassed about being healed.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” Crowley grumbles, deeply and furiously embarrassed. He slams on the gas and Aziraphale is thrown back against his seat.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m an angel, my dear. Taking care of people is what I do. You’re just going to have to get used to it.”
Crowley scowls, red-faced and flustered, all the way out of London.
It takes all day and all night, plus about a thousand miracles to reach Berlin. Perhaps under normal circumstances, the pair could have simply appeared in Germany by will – but not toting Holy Oil. For that, they need transportation.
The facility is just as Aziraphale described: expansive, secure, and heavily guarded. 10-foot barbed-wire fences surround the entire place, and soldiers with assault rifles stand at every possible entrance.
Crowley parks half-a-mile away and turns off his lights. The Bentley idles with a low growl as the angel and demon survey the high-tech storage facility.
“Shouldn’t be hard to get in,” Crowley decides. They get out and round to the back of the car, opening the boot. Crowley sighs, already anticipating the misery of carrying the Oil. “Let’s get this over with,” he grumbles, picking up the vase.
“We’ll make it quick,” Aziraphale promises him. The angel lays a hand on Crowley’s shoulder and they disappear into thin air.
They land heavily, albeit on their feet.
Aziraphale stumbles, a bit blown away by the sheer weight of the Holy Oil. Spiritual weight, of course, but still…it was difficult. Beside him, Crowley sways.
“Oof,” he says, laying the vase down. His face has gone pale, and when Aziraphale reaches out to steady him, Crowley gropes for his arm and holds on. “That—” he pants. “—was awful.”
“I quite agree,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley smacks his lips and makes a face. “Do you taste pears?” he asks, perhaps a little woozy. “I taste pears.”
Aziraphale eyes him like someone watching a drunk spouting nonsense and isn’t sure if they’re concerned or confused. “Erm, perhaps we should make haste,” he says. “I do believe the prolonged exposure to the Oil is having…adverse reactions on you, my dear.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Crowley mumbles, straightening up, and it’s the first sensible thing he’s said since they landed. “Let’s go.” He picks up the vase, winces, and says, “Really, though. I taste pears. It’s disgusting.”
“Yes, dear,” Aziraphale says, ushering him along.
The facility really is enormous. Rows of metal shelves tower to the ceiling, filled with crates marked FRAGILE in big, red letters. It looks a bit like that show Crowley used to watch in the early 1990s. Z-Files, was it? Something like that.
“What do the Germans keep here?” Crowley asks, handing the vase from arm to arm like the world’s most dangerous game of hot potato.
“Oh, lots of things,” Aziraphale says. “Art and rare books, like I said. Secret military things. Files, failed prototypes, and the like.”
Crowley hums. “Fascinating. Where can I put this down?”
“Ah, right here.” Aziraphale gestures to an empty spot on a bottom shelf.
Crowley sets the vase down, then steps away, waving his hands like he’s just touched a hot stove. Aziraphale snaps his fingers and a wooden crate with a heavy padlock appears around the Oil.
“There,” he says, rather pleased. “That went easier than expected.”
Just then, the lights in the storage building turn red and an alarm begins to scream. Crowley flashes Aziraphale a dark look. “You had to say it, didn’t you?”
Pounding footsteps flood the facility, along with alarmed voices and the sound of guns being cocked. For half a moment, Aziraphale looks worriedly at Crowley, but the demon simply frowns at him and makes a complicated gesture that means get on with it, angel.
Just as the first soldier charges around the corner, Aziraphale snaps his fingers and the world freezes around them.
Crowley rolls his neck. “Done? Yes? Good. Let’s go.”
As the alarms continue to blare, Aziraphale miracles them out of the building. In a little while, the soldiers will come un-frozen and simply decide it was a false alarm and everything is just peachy.
Meanwhile, Crowley and Aziraphale are sliding into the Bentley, thinking—very reasonably—that all their problems are over. The Holy Oil is hidden and relatively safe, Heaven will have to take years—if not decades—making more, and now all that’s left to do is go home and have a nice cup of tea.
Except, everything in the last paragraph will not happen because of one, key factor that Crowley entirely forgot until now.
The instant Crowley and Aziraphale disappear, an angel possessing a middle-aged human male with a receding hairline and a crooked tie steps out from the shadows. As soon as he reported the break-in to Gabriel, he was told the identity of the intruder: the demon, Crowley. And once they worked out who it was, tracking him was easy enough.
Hamael peers down at the wooden crate and snaps his fingers. He pulls off his coat and wraps the vase inside, carefully hefting off the ground so he won’t disturb the sloshing liquid inside too much.
“Yes, too much love will kill you. It'll make your life a lie. Yes, too much love will kill you. And you won't understand why.”
The Bentley rolls to a stop outside A.Z. Fell Book Sellers, but Aziraphale doesn’t get out. Instead, he turns in his seat. “Won’t you come in, my dear?”
“Eh…” Crowley waves the suggestion away. “I’m beat, angel. I think I’ll go home and sleep for a week.” True to his word, there are dark circles under his eyes and the way he leans his head back against his seat betrays his physical exhaustion.
“Are you sure?” Aziraphale asks. “You could always…rest up here. I have a lot of work to do, so I won’t be upstairs very much. It will be quiet.”
“You'd give your life; you'd sell your soul. But here it comes again.”
Crowley is still for the length of a heartbeat. And this is the test – the one that will tell Aziraphale, for sure, if things have gotten back to normal between them. Or, the new normal, anyway. The comfortable, companionable normal that he has so come to enjoy.
Crowley shifts in his seat, and for a second, Aziraphale is sure he’s going to say no.
“All right,” he says, turning off the car. “I’m too tired to drive home anyway.”
“Oh, splendid!” Aziraphale says, beaming and throwing open his door and stepping out into the cold. “I’ll make us a cup of tea, and then off to bed you go!”
Crowley follows behind him, snickering at Aziraphale’s excitement and suffering from a very warm and disgustingly fuzzy feeling. Maybe humans have got the right idea, he muses silently. It’s not all bad – feeling wanted.
“Too much love will kill you, in the end…”
In the end.
Crowley is asleep when it happens.
It’s the smell that wakes him – a pungent, sour smell like something halfway between lemon and almond. He doesn’t know it at the time, but that is the smell of Holy Oil.
Switch – the sound of a match being struck.
A cold prickle races down Crowley’s spine, and he shoots up in Aziraphale’s bed. Except, the figure in the dark room is not Aziraphale.
But it is an angel, he can tell by the scent.
The match drops. Hamael turns his head, just now sensing the evil presence in the room – but it’s gone by the time he looks.
In the time it takes Hamael to flee the city and the match to hit the floor—1.5 seconds—Crowley has blinked to the lower level of the bookshop, where Aziraphale is just setting a tome on its shelf.
“ANGEL!” he screams.
Aziraphale turns, alarmed, just as Crowley tackles him to the ground. And in the very same instant –
It feels like his Fall, that’s the worst part. Well, actually the second worst part, but we’ll get to the actual worst part in a moment.
Physically, it feels like heat. The hottest fire you’ve ever felt, rushing over his back, over his head, over his wings – which have materialized and expanded on instinct to protect him. The same, light-speed rush of fire that he felt falling from Heaven.
The memory is so visceral he cringes, expecting to land in an ocean of boiling sulfur.
But that isn’t really the worst part.
The worst part is Aziraphale. How, no matter how loudly Crowley screamed as the Holy fire lashed over him, Aziraphale doesn’t make a sound. Doesn’t move at all, even though he’s crushed under Crowley’s body, protected by wings and demonic power. He’s crushed so close that Crowley should be able to feel every tiny movement, every breath – yet he feels none.
He’s dead, a cruel voice yells in the back of Crowley’s mind. Maybe that voice is a whisper for most people, but not for demons. It’s loud for demons. An ear-piercing shout that’s impossible to ignore. He’s DEAD! You failed him! Aziraphale is DEAD!
As the initial blast sizzles out, content to burning normally, Crowley dares to lift his head.
He immediately flinches as a section of the ceiling caves in, throwing embers and broken chips of wood.
The bookshop is burning. Again.
Don’t think about it, he scolds himself as panic grips his chest. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.
“Aziraphale?” he cries over the roar of burning wood and paper. “Aziraphale?” He cups the angel’s cheeks, giving him a shake.
A section of the wall crashes down behind him, and Crowley jumps.
“Angel!” he shouts, but Aziraphale’s eyes are closed. Crowley’s hands shake, and chunks of flaming ceiling crumble down around him, as he presses two fingers to Aziraphale’s throat, closing his eyes and whispering a prayer to anyone, anything at all to let him be alive.
It’s impossible, that cruel voice hisses – and it sounds disturbingly like his own. A gallon of Holy Oil was ignited eight feet over his head. He’s dead. Destroyed. Gone forever.
“Shut up,” Crowley snarls out loud. His drops his hand. It’s shaking too badly to be able to feel for a pulse.
And the worst part—the truly worst part—is that he knows the voice is right.
Holy Oil doesn’t have to touch an angel to kill it. It just has to burn. The power that it puts off – the heat, the screaming, cosmic energy – is what does the job. Whatever angels are made of, Holy Oil is the thing that breaks it down. To the atomic level.
“Come on, Aziraphale,” he grunts, pulling the angel up and dragging him toward the door. A bookshelf has toppled over it, but Crowley shoves the entire thing out of the way with one hand. It flies across the room, crashing into the wall.
He kicks the doors open and drags Aziraphale onto the pavement.
It’s raining out, just like before. But the firefighters haven’t arrived yet, and although there is a small crowd growing in doorways and windows, the night is quiet and cold.
Crowley lays Aziraphale on his back and cups his cheeks again.
“Angel,” he says, his voice flat. The voice of a man trying very hard not to panic. Not to scream, and cry, and destroy the entire city.
Because he could.
If he wanted to, he could…
He could destroy London, and Kendal, and Heaven, and Earth. What’s the point of it all, he asks himself, if Aziraphale is gone? There’s no point at all. It might as well be gone.
“Aziraphale,” he says, tapping the angel’s cheeks, which are soft and lightly dusted with soot. Crowley rubs the filth away with his thumb. “You’ve got to wake up, angel. Come on.” He shakes him lightly, trying so hard to be gentle. “Come on.” He shakes a little harder.
“Oh, shit!” someone behind him says. “Is he all right?”
Crowley ignores the human.
“I’m calling 999!” the person says.
Good for you, Crowley thinks. His hands are still shaking—and burned, he notices distantly—as he lays his palm on Aziraphale’s forehead.
“You’re not gone,” he whispers to the angel, threateningly. “You’d better not be gone, you idiot.”
He closes his eyes, focusing…searching for that familiar presence…
It should be so easy to find. He’s used that presence for thousands of years to track Aziraphale all across the globe – in the Garden, in the church in Germany, and a million small times in between. Normally, he can find it without even trying. It’s like a song being played in the background. Always there. Always.
But now, he has to search for it.
He looks, and looks, and looks, and looks…
Crowley collapses when he finally feels it, like a sliver of light in a pitch-black cave. A gush of oxygen when you’ve been smothered.
Aziraphale is there, some small part of his essence—his Grace, his spirit, his soul, whatever you want to call it—that survived the blast. Shielded by Crowley’s demonic miracles.
He literally collapses, his head on Aziraphale’s chest.
“You’re alive,” he says, his voice an octave higher than before and breaking like a teenage boy’s. He laughs, sounding completely deranged to the concerned people around him. “Oh, my G—oh, angel. Oh, you’re alive…Aziraphale…” he rambles, breathing heavily in relief and pain.
The sharp whine of a distant siren pulls Crowley more or less out of his state of shock. He lifts his head and sees the buildings around him lit up in reds and blues. Faces twisted with worry are dark blobs that smear around him like wet paint.
As gently as he can, Crowley picks Aziraphale up and carries him to the Bentley. The humans try to stop him. They flutter around him, bless their hearts, saying he’s hurt (is he?) and they should wait for the ambulance! The firefighters will be here soon, they say. They can help you!
But Crowley shoos them like pesky flies and lays Aziraphale out in the back of his car, then gets in behind the wheel and floors it.
He peels out and is long gone before the firetruck even arrives.
He doesn’t go home.
Not now that Hamael is involved. He wouldn’t put it past the irritating angel to rig his flat. Aziraphale couldn’t take another explosion like that. Frankly, neither could he.
It’s amazing, though, the effect that shock and a little dose of adrenaline has on a physical body. Scare it enough and pain becomes a distant echo heard from the other end of a tunnel. Crowley’s entire body hurts, but he doesn’t feel it. His bones ache and his skin is burned so badly that it even hurts a demon, but he doesn’t feel it.
There’s a little house that Crowley keeps for emergencies. A safehouse, you might call it. Ever since Heaven and Hell have been on their tails, he’s had this place as a contingency plan. An escape route. It’s nothing special, just a small, one-room house set way back in the woods of the English countryside. There are hardly any furnishings except for a bed, a table, and one lamp – but that’s good enough.
He lays Aziraphale down and places a hand on his forehead again, checking once more, just to be certain, that the ray of heavenly light is still there…
Crowley sighs and deflates like a month-old balloon.
He settles onto the floor beside his angel’s bed and rests his eyes. They—much like the rest of him—feel hot. Hot, and chapped, and sore.
He doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but it happens. He’s so tired and numb that he doesn’t even feel his body slumping to the floor.
A.Z. Fell Book Seller burns all night, despite the best efforts of the firefighters. They were confounded, they later admit to a journalist writing up the disaster for a London newspaper. No matter what they put on the flames, they didn’t want to go out. Water, foam, chemicals, nothing. Only time put the fire out.
“It is a tragedy,” the article later says. “The two-hundred-year-old, family-owned bookshop was destroyed when a faulty gas line exploded inside the walls, according to the Fire Chief Gage. And although witnesses who were outside during the fire claim to have seen the shop’s owner being rescued from the burning building by an unknown male, the police are still considering Mr. Fell missing.”
Three months after the burning, there is still yellow tape wrapped around the black shell that was once A.Z. Fell, and Heaven has written a neat, clean “X” over Aziraphale’s face in their employee dossier, next to the word “Fired.”
The Archangel Gabriel takes the liberty of telling his contacts in Hell that the traitor Crowley has also been taken care of, thank you very much. Two points for Heaven. Suck on that, losers.
And now, it’s back to business as usual.
A year after the explosion, enough of Aziraphale’s Grace has regenerated for him to open his eyes. He doesn’t remember much, not right away. After all, the majority of his immortal being was destroyed by the Holy Oil. It’s a miracle that he remembers his own name.
Slowly, he sits up, testing his body. It doesn’t hurt, which is nice, although he would have preferred a cleaner place to wake up in…
The bed is dusty and cobwebs hang from the ceiling. The small house where the angel finds himself looks like it hasn’t been lived in for a year. It’s dark and smells strongly of mildew. The windows are so caked in grime that no sunlight penetrates in whatsoever.
Wrinkling up his nose, Aziraphale swats a spiderweb away from his face and spits the flavor of dust out of his mouth. And oh, his clothes! They are wrinkled beyond repair! It’s going to take weeks to get them fixed! Months!
Aziraphale’s train of thought abruptly stops when something occurs to him. He isn’t entirely sure what occurs to him because he can’t remember it. It’s like when you’ve forgotten a word and it’s right there, dancing on the tip of your tongue, and every few seconds you think: That’s it! But before you can grasp what it is, it’s gone again.
He sits there for a moment, face contorted in concentration, trying to remember what it was that he’s forgotten. It feels like a big thing. An important thing. The Most Important Thing That Ever Was.
Crowley! That’s it! He’ll call Crowley. Crowley will know what to do.
Aziraphale swings his legs over the side of the bed, squarely kicking Crowley in the face. “Oh!” the angel gasps, yanking his legs back up, but Crowley doesn’t even flinch. The demon is still laying exactly where he fell a year ago, cheek squashed against the wooden floor, sunglasses teetering on the edge of his nose. His skin has healed by now—not that Aziraphale knows it was burned in the first place—but his clothes have not. They’re still scorched even blacker than usual.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale asks, carefully stepping over him. He bends down, tapping the demon on his shoulder. “What are you doing sleeping on the floor? And where are we?”
Crowley barely reacts, just a low moan and a slight movement of his left foot.
Aziraphale frowns, his annoyance slowly shifting toward worry. After all, here’s him waking up in a strange house—in the woods, by the looks of it—and there’s Crowley, sprawled on the floor with an inch of dust on him. “Crowley,” he says evenly. “Are you…all right?”
Slowly, reluctantly, Crowley’s eyes open. He stares straight ahead for a moment, dazed, his mouth hanging open. Then, his brow furrows, he closes his mouth (which tastes like dust), and he looks very much like someone wondering why his cheek is smooshed into a hard-wood floor.
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, relaxing and smiling fondly. “You had me worried for a moment there.”
Crowley peers up at him, squinting. His pupils are perhaps a bit dilated. “Aziraphale?” He moves his arm as if to try and sit up, but he’s shaky and it takes longer than he likes. Aziraphale helps him, dusting off his back. “Wha…” Crowley looks around, swaying a bit. Eventually, his gaze settles on Aziraphale and his eyes grow huge as if he’s only just noticing him. “Aziraphale!” he gasps, stumbling drunkenly. “You’re alive!” he cries, and grabs the angel’s arms as if to make sure he’s real. Between the wood-creases on his face, his oddly wide pupils, and the slight slur to his voice, Crowley looks a mess. “You didn’t die!”
“What?” Aziraphale blinks, pulling back slightly. “Why would I have died?” He still can’t remember.
“The Holy Fire!” Crowley says, still gripping his arms, which is maybe a good thing considering how badly he’s swaying. “That damned Hamael set it off on top floor of your bookshop—ohh, your bookshop…” He finally lets go of Aziraphale’s arms and takes a stumbling step backwards, his face suddenly contorted with emotion. Aziraphale follows him nervously, afraid he might fall over. “I thought you were dead,” Crowley says after a beat, his voice cracking.
“Well, I’m not,” the angel assures him, his voice tinged with concern. “I’m just fine. Which is more than I can say for you, at the moment.”
Crowley ignores him. “How long have been here?” he asks, turning in a circle to survey the house. It has certainly fallen into shambles since he passed out.
“I don’t know,” Aziraphale says. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“It must have been a while,” the demon reasons, appearing to snap out of whatever daze he was in.
“What is this place?”
“Oh, just a little—” Crowley waves his hand, struggling for the word. He isn’t swaying so badly anymore, but he still doesn’t look good. “—safehouse, I suppose. Thought it might come in handy. Turns out, it did.”
“That was very clever,” Aziraphale says. Then, after a pregnant moment of worried silence, “Do you think Heaven knows we survived?”
“Don’t know,” Crowley murmurs, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Are you all right?” Aziraphale asks, getting closer again.
“Peachy. Come on, I want to know how long we’ve been asleep…” He stumbles to the front door, pushing it open.
The pair cringe in the sunlight, which is hotter than it should be for this time of year – or, so they think. Hotter and so bright it hurts their eyes, which haven’t seen proper daylight in more than a year.
Crowley recovers faster than Aziraphale. “Oh!” he cries, sounding devastated. “My car!”
“What—” Aziraphale rubs his eyes. “Oh.”
The Bentley is parked under an oak tree, and is covered in a year’s worth of pollen, and dust, and leaves, and twigs. The beautiful, black shine is smeared and scratched, and Crowley’s mouth falls open in horror. It looks like a junkyard car.
He hurries over to it, fussing like a mother over her child.
“Oh, no, what happened to you?” he moans. “Look at you! Oh, I’m so sorry! Don’t you worry, beautiful, I’ll fix you right up!” Crowley takes a dutiful step back and snaps his fingers.
Aziraphale is no longer looking. He’s studying the leaves on the trees with a confused frown, wondering how they’re so green and vibrant in autumn…when Crowley snaps, and then cries out. The angel whips around just as he keels over into the grass. His Bentley is still filthy.
“Ahhh…” The demon moans, this time in pain. As Aziraphale falls to his knees beside him, Crowley hugs his midsection, sucking air through his teeth. “Fuck,” he grinds out.
“What! What is it?” Aziraphale asks, bordering on panic.
“Holy Fire,” he says through gritted teeth. “Burned me up.”
Crowley doesn’t mean that the fire burned him physically, which it did. But those wounds healed month ago. No, he means the sort of non-corporeal damage that only the power of God, or Her hellish counterpart, can inflict – spiritual damage.
Aziraphale lays a hand on Crowley’s forehead, feeling his spirit, then gasps and pulls his hand back like it was bitten by a viper. “Oh, my Lord!”
Crowley watches him with hooded eyes. “That bad?” he asks miserably.
The angel looks stricken, too horrified to be tactful. “You—” he chokes out. “You’re badly damaged.”
Crowley gives him a humorless smile. “Shredded, more like.”
“Crowley, you…” Aziraphale’s hands are wringing just above his heart. He doesn’t finish his thought. It’s too horrible to say out loud.
“Help me up, angel.”
Aziraphale obeys without a word. Crowley leans on him while he gets his footing, and even after he’s stable, he holds onto him. Exhausted, yellow eyes meet Aziraphale’s watery, blue ones.
“Oh, for the love of— Don’t do that.”
“What?” Aziraphale demands, sniffing.
“Don’t do the waterworks.” He’s trying to sound annoyed, but really, he’s a little bit touched.
“I’m not,” Aziraphale says, trying very hard not to cry.
Crowley straightens up, leaving a hand on his midsection. He wobbles. “I’m gonna be fine, angel.”
Aziraphale looks equal parts hopeful and skeptical. “You have an idea? There’s a way you can heal yourself?”
“No.” Crowley continues quickly, seeing Aziraphale’s face twist up. “But I might know someone who can help.”
Crowley shakes his head. “Sorry, angel. Not telling.”
“What? Why not!”
Crowley gives him a steady look. “Because you’ll try to stop me.”
“Not if it means saving your life!” Aziraphale argues, desperate to know that there is indeed a way for him to be saved. “Please, Crowley. Tell me you know a way.”
“Well…” Crowley bites his lower lip. “There’s a certain demon I know—”
“A demon?” At Crowley’s I-told-you-so face, Aziraphale closes his mouth, although he doesn’t like it. What on God’s green Earth could a demon do to help? Why does Crowley still even have demonic ties? Hell wants him dead!
“His name is Borod,” Crowley continues tiredly, leaning on the hood of his grimy Bentley. “He’s the one who was feeding me information on the Holy Oil. He’s untrustworthy – obviously, he’s a demon - but well-connected. And the best part is: he’ll work with me.”
“To do what?” Aziraphale is almost afraid to ask.
Now, Crowley hesitates. He still doesn’t want Aziraphale to know, but what the hell? He’s already dying… “To smuggle me into Hell.”
“That is OUT of the question!” Aziraphale shouts, his face having turned a shade pinker. “Have you LOST your MIND, Crowley? Hell wants you dead! The moment you set FOOT inside, you’ll be swarmed with demons who hate you! They’ll kill you!”
“It’s the only way, Aziraphale,” Crowley says, calmly. “Besides, I’m already dying, remember? Better to take the chance at living, right?”
Aziraphale is still fuming, but Crowley’s argument has blown all of his out of the water. It is better, isn’t it? To try and live. To do whatever it takes, no matter how unlikely? And even if he does get killed, he was already dying to begin with.
Not much to lose…
“What do you need from Hell?” the angel asks, subdued.
“Hellfire,” Crowley says, wincing and holding onto himself a little tighter, like he can feel himself separating from his body already. Fading away…
“We demons are born from it,” Crowley reminds him. “It’s…well, not healing, per se—that would be too nice for Hell—but it sort of resets us, I suppose. Puts us back together when we get damaged. Ensures our master never loses his soldiers.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale swallows, the very beginnings of an idea toying in the corners of his mind. It’s too scary to think about directly, but it’s there nonetheless. “And this demon,” he prompts. “Borod, he knows how to smuggle things in and out of Hell? Without being spotted?”
Crowley nods. He has no idea what Aziraphale is not-thinking. “He’s all right, as demons go. Likes expensive alcohol.” There’s half a smile in his voice.
“And how would one…contact this Borod?” Aziraphale asks innocently.
“Well, first I’ll need a sheep heart and the blood of four virgins—”
Aziraphale looks horrified. Crowley snorts, despite his pain. “I have his number on my phone.”
“Oh, thank God.” Aziraphale heaves a sigh.
Crowley takes his phone out, which still has a full battery. Its battery never drains, much like the Bentley’s petrol tank. Aziraphale waits until he’s unlocked it before speaking up.
“I could try to heal you.”
Crowley frowns over his mobile. “You’re still too weak,” he says dismissively.
“We don’t know that.” The angel takes a nervous step forward. He wants to try it. To try anything except for this. “I feel fine.”
“Even if you are somehow completely back to normal, which you’re not—” Crowley flashes him a stern look. “—I’m not strong enough for an angelic healing, either. It would vaporize me.” He looks back down, perhaps a touch embarrassed, or maybe just trying to be cool under the pressure of his fear.
“Crowley—” Aziraphale says, finally resigned to the idea he didn’t want to think about. “I haven’t thanked you yet. For saving me.”
Crowley doesn’t look up. “You don’t have to thank me,” he mutters.
“Yes, I do. You saved me, despite the risk of your own life. It was incredibly—”
“Don’t say kind.”
“—kind and brave. And I don’t care what the Almighty says, you never should have Fallen.”
Crowley’s hands freeze over the keyboard of his smartphone.
Aziraphale’s mouth hangs open. He didn’t mean to say that last bit out loud, it just sort of…tumbled out. Aziraphale covers his mouth. “Oh, Crowley…” he says between his fingers.
The demon doesn’t move, nor does he continue to type. Instead, he swallows thickly and—much to Aziraphale’s heartache—drops his head like a man trying not to show sorrow.
“Oh, oh, no…” Aziraphale flutters. “I’m so sorry, Crowley—"
“—I never should have—"
“No, really, Aziraphale,” Crowley warns. His voice is black as night. “Shut. Up.” Without breaking eye-contact, Crowley hits the call button next to Borod’s name. It rings twice before picking up.
“Crowley? Is that you?” says a demonic voice on the other end.
“Shit. Head office said you were dead."
“Well, they’re wrong,” Crowley grumbles. “Not that I want that going around.”
“Of course. So, what can I do for you?”
“I need something smuggled. Meet me at the usual place.”
Crowley and Borod’s “usual place” is not nearly as nice as his and Aziraphale’s once was. Rather than the bright, charming greenery of St James’s Park, the demons apparently meet…in a dark car park. Across from a couple of, erm, working ladies.
Borod is short and rumpled, wearing a tee-shirt four sizes too big and grey sweatpants. He appraises the pair as they arrive, having been dropped off by the bus. He straightens up, frowning. “Woah, woah,” the demon says. “You never mentioned your angel coming along.”
“Sorry,” Crowley says, trying to walk upright. “He insisted.”
“Hello,” Aziraphale says politely, earning a flat glare from Borod.
“Whatever,” the grungy demon mutters unhappily. “So long as I get paid. You’ve got the stuff, right?”
“Yep,” Crowley says. “Three cases.”
“Nice.” Borod shifts his stance, relaxing just slightly. “All right, what do you need smuggled?”
Borod’s eyebrows go up. “Sorry, mate, but you do realize Hell will kill—”
“Yes, yes, I’ve already gotten the whole warning from my angel friend. I know the risks. I’m willing. I need to get into Hell. Can you do it or not?”
Borod hums and looks at Aziraphale. “Testy today, ain’t he?”
The angel laughs nervously. Borod rolls his eyes and looks away.
“I can do it,” he says.
Crowley opens his arms. “Then do it.”
Just as Borod begins a very serious-looking chanting ritual, probably some kind of…stealth…spell, or something, Aziraphale interrupts.
“Ah, one moment, gents. I just need to—”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley protests lowly.
“—speak with Crowley, just briefly.” Aziraphale hauls Crowley away, causing him to wince and limp.
“What!” the demon barks once they’re a fair distance away. “Aziraphale, we don’t have time for this. If you haven’t noticed, I’m somewhat dying.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, it’s just…” He glances over his shoulder like he’s afraid Borod is listening in. “I can’t let you do this.”
Now, Crowley looks truly infuriated. “Angel, we have been through this—”
Aziraphale snaps his fingers, and Crowley slumps. Aziraphale catches him and lowers him carefully to the ground. “I’m sorry, my dear,” he says. “You’ll never forgive me for this, but you got hurt in the first place saving me, and I can’t let you put yourself in any more danger.” Gently, lovingly, Aziraphale smooths Crowley’s hair and allows himself a smile. “I’ll be back,” he promises in a whisper. “After all, I have a lot more to lose.”
Borod’s arms are crossed when Aziraphale returns to him. He scowls. “Where’s Crowley?”
“Oh, I, um—there’s been a change of plan. I will be the one, erm, going Downstairs.”
“You.” Borod stares judgmentally. “An angel. In Hell.”
“Actually, I’ve been before,” Aziraphale says with a smile.
Borod is not impressed. “Most people don’t make return trips if they can help it.”
“Yes, well…” Aziraphale flounders, eager to get on with it before Crowley wakes. “I suppose I’m not most people. And I am in a bit of a rush.”
“Fine. Who cares?” Borod finishes his chant and sends Aziraphale on his way. It’s a good thing he doesn’t delay because it’s a long, long way down.
Hellfire is, in reality, a rather common commodity in Hell. It’s everywhere, really. Absolutely flush with Hellfire, Hell is.
But how does one bottle up Hellfire and take it back topside? Especially with a deadline. Especially when one is an angel and deathly allergic to Hellfire.
Hm. Perhaps Aziraphale didn’t think this completely through.
Then again, that was the point, wasn’t it? Not thinking about it. Because if he did, he would have chickened out. Most people don’t make returns trips if they can help it, after all.
Borod dropped him in an empty hall in a desolate section of Hell. The walls, floors, and ceilings are bare metal and screws. The light fixtures ping and flicker, and insects of all sorts swarm around, desperately trying to escape. In the center of the dark corridor is a big sign that reads “FOR MORE EFFICIENT SERVICE, JUST RIP YOUR OWN THROAT WITH A STAPLER.”
Aziraphale dashes along, not wanting to remain here any longer than he needs to.
There is a trick that demons can do to summon a torrent of Hellfire. Crowley told him about it after their body-swapping foray. It involves stones from Hell arranged in a circle and splashed with boiling sulfur. Apparently, that was the method with which Heaven planned to execute him… Another thing Aziraphale would rather not think about.
Instead, he races along the dark hallway, searching a door outside. That, he assumes, is where the rocks will be. And the sulfur.
Somehow, outdoor-Hell is worse than indoor-Hell. Which, Aziraphale supposes, is likely why the demons built an indoor section…to escape the outdoor section. Which is not air-conditioned, by the way.
It’s very similar to what you might imagine: black cliffs swarming with winged monsters, great chasms filled with bubbling magma, and standing pools of sizzling, spitting sulfur. Aziraphale pokes his head out and immediately starts to sweat, the heat is so intense. Thankfully, there appears to be no one out here, so he darts outside and starts grabbing up rocks. He doesn’t know how many he’ll need – enough to make a circle, he guesses. He has to miracle himself a bag to hold the rocks, which tires him out, and then a heat-safe container for the sulfur, which tires him even further.
Maybe Crowley was right. Maybe he isn’t entirely healed.
Once the bag is heavy, he checks his watch and runs for the nearest pool of sulfur and dips the container in, filling it just about halfway up. Five minutes left before Borod brings him back to Earth. In five minutes, he has to be back on that exact same spot inside – the place where he landed when he arrived. Otherwise, Borod will leave him here.
The demon made that very clear: make the deadline, or else.
Just as the winged beasts from the cliffs start to circle overhead, probably curious about him, Aziraphale flees back inside and slams the door.
Four minutes to go.
Clutching his bag of ingredients, Aziraphale awkwardly runs back down the empty hall. It should remain empty, according to Borod. He uses it all the time for smuggling. No one ever checks. It’s too close to the outside, and no one wants to go out there.
Up ahead, he can see the throat-ripping sign and a part of him buzzes with satisfaction. He’s almost out.
Three minutes to go.
Just as Aziraphale gets in position, he hears a metal door crashing open.
“I’m telling you,” someone says in a rather nasty voice. “I smell something. Smells like…goodness.”
“You’re losing it,” another demon grumbles, but follows along anyway.
Aziraphale looks around in a panic. The corridor is barren. No place to hide, no place to run. He sets his bag down and braces himself, more terrified than confident.
The demons spot him not long after.
“What the f—”
“Hello, lads!” Aziraphale calls out, for some reason. “Erm, any chance at all that you’ll just…turn around and pretend you never saw me?”
The demons gape in disbelief, then their faces contort with evil smiles and they shake their heads. “Nope!”
The demons charge and Aziraphale steadies himself. It’s been a long time since he’s had to fight, but he thinks he remembers how it goes.
Three minutes later, Borod brings him back to Earth.
Aziraphale, hefting his bag of stones and sulfur, smiles pleasantly as if nothing happened. “Thank you, Borod,” he says, straightening his tie. “I’ll make sure you’re paid in fair. With perhaps some on the side for the change of plans.”
Still, the demon looks unimpressed. “Are we done?”
“Um, yes.” Aziraphale takes his bag and hurries to where he left Crowley, who is still asleep and waiting for him.
Nearby is an abandoned warehouse. That’s as good enough a place as any, Aziraphale decides. He whispers a quick reassurance to Crowley before running off to set up his bonfire. Hellish bonfire, that is. Once everything is in place, he returns for Crowley, dragging him rather unceremoniously into the warehouse.
The stones have been set in place and Aziraphale bites his cheek as he holds the container of boiling sulfur. Nervous butterflies tickle up and down his back. Then he looks at Crowley, his head lulled to the side, almost peacefully, and a bit of courage rustles the angel’s wings.
“Here’s goes…” Aziraphale pulls back the bucket and heaves it into the ring of stones.
Aziraphale jumps back, making a rather unimpressive squeak as a cyclone of raging Hellfire explodes upwards, so high that it licks the ceiling of the warehouse. A suffocating amount of heat rolls off, and Aziraphale has to run outside to get some air.
Meanwhile, inside the warehouse, Crowley begins to rouse. Although he doesn’t wake up completely, his face turns toward the fire, and his hand—dragging along the concrete floor—reaches for it. The corner of his sleeve catches alight.
Aziraphale coughs, covering his face with a hankie and fanning the smoke out the door. It’s a good thing this place is abandoned, he thinks. A working sprinkler system would be a real bugger right now.
Blinking away stinging, heat-induced tears, Aziraphale braves a trip back inside. However, he stumbles to a halt at what he sees.
The warehouse is brighter than it was before, brighter, and hotter, and redder.
Crowley is on his feet now, his huge black wings unfurled around him and stretching to their full reach. And he’s completely on fire.
Maybe “on fire” doesn’t describe it particularly well, actually.
More like, there’s Crowley standing in the middle of the room, and there’s a hurricane of Hellfire swirling around him. The flames are so powerful they shake the floor, but Crowley just peacefully rolls his neck like he’s taking a hot shower.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale calls over the roar of the flames.
His eyes glow, even amid the fire, which abruptly goes out. Even the column of fire Aziraphale summoned from the stone circle sizzles and goes dark like it was splashed with a bucket of water.
Crowley scowls, and Aziraphale knows he’s in trouble.
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Crowley snarls, charging over with his teeth bared.
“I was thinking of saving you!” Aziraphale says.
The demon hisses loudly and shoves Aziraphale into the wall. “You could have been killed,” Crowley growls. “I was perfectly capable of going to Hell myself.”
“And so was I,” Aziraphale says. He’s not scared at all, which annoys Crowley just a little bit. He glares daggers at Aziraphale a moment longer, then lets go of him and stomps away, raking a hand through his hair. The angel straightens his bowtie. “Are you…healed now?” he asks. “Did the Hellfire work?”
Crowley gives him a sulking glare. “Yes.”
Aziraphale dares a smile. “I’m glad.”
Crowley, for all his temper and frustration, says, “Me too.” Then, with a sigh that drains him of his fury. “I’ll have to Borod’s payment to him ASAP. He doesn’t like being kept waiting.”
“Do you think he’ll keep it secret, that fact that we’re alive?”
Crowley shrugs. “Probably. Borod doesn’t get mixed up in office gossip.”
“And you…” Aziraphale follows Crowley to the middle of the room. “You’re really healed? You’re back to normal?”
Crowley wants to be irritated, really, he does. After all, Aziraphale can’t keep doing these insane stunts, knocking him out and going to Hell, of all places. He could have died. Crowley could have gone, he wasn’t that bad…probably.
He should be furious… “I’m fine, angel,” he murmurs, crossing his arms. “Hellfire worked like a charm.”
“All right, but—I mean, are you sure? Because you very nearly—”
“Oh, for the love of—” Crowley wheels around and grabs Aziraphale’s hand, pressing it to his own chest so the angel can feel his heart, and his freshly-healed spirit. “Just check for yourself if you’re going to keep asking me.”
Crowley’s eyebrow arcs at the subtle reddening of Aziraphale’s cheek, but the angel refuses to make eye-contact. For just longer than a heartbeat, the angel stares at his chest, and his hand pressed against it.
“No, no…” Aziraphale says. “I trust you…” He takes his hand back, and Crowley lets him.
“Sure?” he asks.
“Yes. Very, definitely sure…” Aziraphale swallows and nervously darts his eyes up to meet Crowley’s, then looks away just as quickly. Crowley watches him walk toward the exit with an eyebrow still in the air. “Erm, perhaps I will…ah, oh! I should scatter these Hell stones,” Aziraphale says, speaking like a man who is trying to think of an excuse to escape an embarrassing situation. “While you, ah, pay Borod.”
“Right…” Crowley says, watching him flounder and clumsily pick up the stones. “Aziraphale?” he calls, just as the angel is about to run off.
“You probably shouldn’t go home…” he says, slightly softer than before. “To the bookshop, I mean.” Aziraphale looks confused, but Crowley continues. “Meet me at my place. We’ll talk there.”
“All right. I’ll be, erm, popping off then!” And then Aziraphale flees, still red-faced and nervous.
What did I do, Crowley wonders.
Aziraphale scatters the Hell stones all over Earth. Some at the bottom of the Atlantic, others in the Sahara Desert, and others on the moon. No one will ever find them, which is the good news. Problem is, his spirits are sinking the whole time.
That’s what he felt when he touched Crowley’s chest. An overwhelming gut-punch of love that washed over him so suddenly, and without warning, that he felt like he was drowning in it. Crowley hadn’t meant for him to feel that, he could tell. He had—unintentionally, mind you—eavesdropped on the demon’s own, personal emotions – which is a big no-no among ethereal beings.
After all, how would you like someone reading your mind? It would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it?
So, Aziraphale backed away and fled as fast as he could, leaving Crowley all by himself and looking very confused. And maybe a little hurt.
True to form, he scolds himself afterwards, sitting glumly on the surface of the moon with his head in his hands. I’m always running away from Crowley... He sighs miserably and flicks a moon rock off into space.
There’s a gentle whoosh, like a cool breeze against the back of Aziraphale’s neck – except there are no breezes on the moon. And he can smell a familiar scent, magnified a thousand-fold on the otherwise barren moon. Cinnamon and smoke.
“Feeling sorry for ourselves, are we?”
Aziraphale turns, his throat constricting as Crowley sidles up beside him. The demon, politely ignoring Aziraphale’s obvious emotional turmoil, is wearing different clothes now. A velvety, black dress-shirt crawling with snake-print and tight, black trousers. He must have gone home and changed, then probably waited around for Aziraphale to show up – but he never did. So, Crowley came looking.
He always comes looking.
“Join you?” he asks.
Aziraphale shifts nervously, but nods. “Of course.”
Crowley sits, reclining comfortably. “So,” he says, drawing the word out. “I never thanked for you for saving my life.”
Aziraphale makes a noise in the back of his throat. A dry, cynical sound. “You don’t need to thank me, Crowley,” he says glumly.
The demon looks at him. His eyes are hidden behind sunglasses again, but Aziraphale can feel them boring into him. “What’s eating you?”
Crowley snorts. “Right. ‘Cause you’re normally so miserable.”
“Well, I did just go through literal Hell,” Aziraphale reminds him. “I think I’m entitled to be a bit down.”
At that, Crowley nods and says, “Got that right.”
They sit in silence for a while, Aziraphale chewing the inside of his cheek, Crowley gazing at the distant blue planet. The Earthlight glows on his face and he looks beautiful. The cliché term would be angelic, but what does that even mean, really?
“What do you think of the South Downs?” Crowley asks out of the blue.
Aziraphale frowns, trying to connect the dots in his own head and failing miserably. “The South Downs? Well, they’re nice, I suppose. The shore is lovely.” He looks at Crowley. “Why?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking. Heaven and Hell might think we’re dead, or they might be waiting for us. And besides—” Now it’s Crowley’s turn to look nervous. “Your bookshop,” he prompts. “I checked up. It’s, erm, gone.”
“Burned down. For good, this time.”
“I’m really sorry, angel.”
“No, no, it’s…fine.”
It’s not fine, of course, but Crowley knows that too. Which is why he continues with, “Anyway, it might for the better. I’m not going back to my flat, either. Too dangerous.” Aziraphale nods in agreement, but he looks sad. It’s the end of an era, it would seem. “I was thinking about a little cottage in the South Downs,” Crowley says. “Something small. With a garden.”
Admittedly, Aziraphale smiles at the thought. But that’s before Crowley drops The Bomb.
“You could come too,” Crowley says. “If you want.”
Aziraphale turns to him, his expression a jumbled mess of emotion: fear, and hope, and regret, and warmth all wrapped in with an anxious smile. “You mean…live…with you?” he asks, and Crowley shrugs.
“If you want,” he repeats.
“Well, I—” Aziraphale is breathless. He isn’t sure whether he’s trying to smile or cry. Maybe both. “What do you want?” he asks diplomatically. He expects evasion, the too-cool-for-you attitude that Crowley has coasted on since the Beginning.
What Aziraphale doesn’t expect is for Crowley to say, very clearly, “I think I’d like it.”
The angel’s mouth wobbles and finally settles on a big, weepy smile. When the question dropped, it felt like a bombshell, but it didn’t last. In fact, now it feels like the opposite – like Aziraphale has had a timebomb strapped to his chest for 6,000 years and someone’s just cut the red wire. He feels like he can breathe. “I’d like it very much, also,” he says.
Crowley regards him behind his sunglasses, a slow smile gracing his lips. “Then it’s settled,” he says. “And I do believe a vacancy on the shore has just miraculously opened up.”
Aziraphale’s delighted laugh is almost a giggle. He stands up when Crowley does, all pains and terrors forgotten, and the two of them vanish from the surface of the moon.
Maybe this is how it will always be with them, Aziraphale muses much later, months after they’ve settled into their quaint, seaside cottage in the South Downs.
Maybe he’ll always have doubt. Because that’s sort of who he is, isn’t it? The angel whose faith has always been a wee bit shaky. And maybe he’ll always be afraid, of Heaven, of Hell, of the Almighty – but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Because Crowley is there now, always. The fearless, unshakable demon, always tempting him further and further away from Grace…and deeper and deeper into Love.