The Apocalypse-that-wasn’t should have been the pinnacle of his career--the very reason for his being. Not five days before, the universe had been on the brink of ending, destroyed for hubris. Together with Crowley, and young Adam, he had managed the impossible--and in the process he feared he had lost something precious and irredeemable.
Aziraphale had found, after six thousand years, that life on earth still had many pleasures to offer. Some of them, of course, finer than others, like crêpes. But even the thought of crêpes did little to brighten his mood; he was as glum as the ordinary, rainy day outside. A day which would be improved by a fire, a cup of cocoa and a good book. But those were pleasures he was denying himself. Really, any medieval monk would be envious of how well he was inflicting humility of the body and soul on himself.
Sighing wistfully, Aziraphale traced a meandering raindrop as it trickled down the windowpane of his bookshop. Some things had returned to normal; traffic was still horrendous, the weather was still damp, people marched on, oblivious to their probable fate. His beloved books--restored by Crowley the morning after the near end of the world-- surrounded him, brimming with words, thoughts, ideas, comfort. Only today they offered little in the way of either comfort or distraction. Try though he might, he couldn’t seem to find succor between their pages as he once had.
The jingle of the bell over his door scarcely penetrated his dark mood, and it wasn’t until he smelled the familiar odour of brimstone and leather that Aziraphale realized that it was Crowley, and not some bibliophile come to try and part him from his wares. Perking up a bit, the angel looked over his cream-clad shoulder at his old friend, “Hullo, Crowley,” he said, hearing the dullness in his tone yet unable to alter it. Something in his chest eased at the sight of the demon, however, and he breathed a little more easily, comforted.
Crowley stopped in the doorway, raising his dark glasses and piercing him with his golden gaze, “What’s this Angel? We’ve just saved the world--and in less time than it took to make it--and I find you sitting in the dark looking like a wet weekend.”
“I think I’m coming down with a ‘flu,” Aziraphale offered listlessly, turning away from Crowley’s all-too-perceptive stare and resuming his brooding out the window.
“You can’t have the ‘flu,” Crowley said disbelievingly, “You’re an angel!”
“I guess I can have the ‘flu if I want!” Aziraphale flared briefly into indignance, before he sank back in his seat and sighed, “No, I don’t suppose I can...I can’t get anything right, can I?”
Crowley paced across the room, full of his usual restless, barely-contained energy, fetching up beside him. Looming at Aziraphale’s side, he spoke, forcing him to look up the length of his lean frame to meet his eyes, “Come now, what is all this?”
Silly as it might seem, Aziraphale was hesitant to confide in Crowley. The other being might be a demon, but he didn't want a witness to his failure, host of Hell or not. Besides...Crowley wasn’t like the rest of them. Crowley was special. Then again, pride was a sin. Confession was supposed to be good for the soul, and all that. Although there were certain points of Catholicism with which he’d always quibbled--
“Angel,” Crowley said warningly, pulling him from his meandering thoughts and back to matters at hand.
Miracling a steaming pot of tea onto the low table beside his chair, Aziraphale gestured to the seat opposite, which he had long ago begun thinking of as "Crowley's chair." The demon sat down, louche as ever, although his sharp eyes and the line of his shoulders betrayed his anxiety. The knowledge of it cheered him a little; it was nice to know that someone thought enough of him to be concerned. Heaven had been worryingly quiet since the recent, er, contretemps.
Crowley took his teacup but didn't drink. He never did. "Now then, what's the problem? You seem awfully bloody depressed for someone who just saved the world." He scowled around the dim room, “Small wonder, when you’re sitting here in this poky room with not even a fire to warm you.” He glowered at the cold ashes in the hearth and they crackled obediently to life. The room was warmed by the cheer of the dancing flames, and further brightened when the demon snapped on the reading lamp. Some of the dark was pushed back to the corners; still there, but manageable. “What’s brought all this on, hero?” Although his words were sharp, his tone was gentle, “Shouldn’t you be getting fitted for a cape? Polishing up the old halo?”
Aziraphale felt the return of his disquiet. Putting aside his own tea--he didn’t deserve tea-- he closed his eyes, unable to see Crowley's judgment when he confessed. "That's just it...I may have helped save the world…but at what expense?"
Crowley repeated his words with disbelief. Leaning forward in his chair he planted his hands on his knees and searched Aziraphale's face keenly, as if he suspected him of going mad. He said it again, "What expense?"
"I mean…" the angel trailed off, swallowing painfully around the unhappiness and fear lodged in his throat. "I've seen what Heaven thinks of me, thinks of mankind--of all of--” he waved a weak hand around, encompassing the vast array of humanity and the world and all of its myriad wonders, “--this. What has it all been for? All these centuries of shepherding them, worrying over them, trying to ensure the will of Heaven was being fulfilled?"
There was nothing harsh in Crowley's eyes or tone when he finally answered. In fact, his voice was quite soft, and his eyes even more so. Aziraphale had never realized how like sunlit honey his old friend's yellow eyes were. "Angel," he smiled, putting his hand over Aziraphale's clenched fist and giving it a squeeze, "You've spent the last six thousand years trying to shepherd these foolish mortals and to thwart Hell's influence. In one day you not only saved every human alive, but those not yet born. And you not only thwarted Hell's plan, but you used me, the Devil's handmaiden to do so."
He leaned back, fingers wrapped around Aziraphale's, a warm, anchoring weight, "I'd say you succeeded wildly, Angel." He snapped his fingers and nodded at the abandoned teacup, “Now pick that up and drink it.”
Sniffling, the angel reached obediently for his teacup and brought it to his lips. Discomfited and delighted, he pulled back, staring into the cup. Licking his lips he gave Crowley a tremulous smile. The demon had altered the contents into cocoa, laced with Amaretto. His favourite. Tears glossed his eyes, and Aziraphale had to blink to clear them away. He was afraid to trust in Crowley’s words; not because he distrusted his friend but because he worried that he was being tempted to false comfort, "But they're all so disappointed in me. What if-what if Heaven casts me out?"
"I defied them. The plan--"
Crowley smiled craftily, "The Ineffable plan, wasn't it?" At Aziraphale's hesitant nod he continued, "What if you were meant to act as you did all along? You kept the Antichrist from triumphing and you subverted a demon--that's me by the by, hello--to work with an angel, more than that, to work against Hell--seems pretty angelic to me." He smiled with a little flicker of his forked tongue, “And it was easily the coolest thing you’ve ever done.”
"You don't think…" He wasn't quite ready to let go of his fear, although a bright spot of pleasure kindled in him; in six thousand years Crowley had never called him cool. Aziraphale hurriedly spoke the last of it, unwilling to see his image tarnished in his friend’s eyes, but unable to keep his agony to himself any longer, "You don't think I'm Fallen, do you?"
Crowley's eyes were bottomless wells of regret, "No, Angel," he said gently, "If you were Fallen, you'd know." His tone was dark, "They'd let you know."
He bit his lip, crushed and appalled, "Crowley… I-I didn't think, I'm so sorry--" Not for all the world would he have ever spoken those words with the intent to hurt Crowley.
The demon smiled, sliding his dark glasses back on, cynical mask slipping into place, "Enough of all this doom and gloom, eh? How about lunch at the Ritz?"
"It's ten in the morning," the angel sensibly pointed out. That didn’t stop his stomach from rumbling; he hadn’t the least idea when he’d last eaten but it was far too long in the past. He was aware that Crowley wanted to change the subject, so he wouldn't mention it again. For now. But he thought his old friend should know just how much he admired him. They would be returning to the subject again. Crowley had brought him so much relief and happiness today...it was only fair to return the favour.
"Breakfast at the Ritz then," Crowley grinned.
"Alright," Aziraphale agreed, following him out to the Bentley, happiness ballooning inside him. Nothing seemed quite as dark when Crowley was around.
Like…the day. The previously gloomy day. Tipping back his head, Aziraphale regarded the clear, sunny sky in delight. Looking across the roof of the Bentley he saw Crowley's face turn red. Instead of saying anything about the little favour his friend had done him, he asked brightly, "Do you think they have crêpes?"
Crowley's eyes flashed at him as he angled his head, looking at him over the tops of his dark glasses, "I'm sure it can be arranged." He winked, "Get in, Angel."
Aziraphale slid into the passenger seat and closed the door, feeling lighter already. All because of one not-so-Holy being. Perhaps Crowley was right...he might have been part of the divine order all along. He'd certainly succeeded in bringing one not-so-wicked demon a little closer to the light. "Thank you, Dear," he murmured, and was warmed through by his friend's pleased smile. Dimples popping up in his cheeks, Aziraphale twinkled at Crowley, as he recalled something, "The Devil's handmaiden?" and delighted in Crowley’s blushing scowl.
The engine purred to life and they whipped out into traffic, going far too fast as usual. But Aziraphale didn't quibble; somehow it didn't seem so bad. He might be growing used to it. Or perhaps…perhaps Crowley wasn't going too fast for him after all.